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This General Fiction (no sub-text) short story is rated PG.

The name Uryus is pronounced like furious without the f.

Title: Grief

Author: Eidolon

If there is one saying more true than another, it is this: great griefs contain within themselves the germ of their consolation. - Alexandre Dumas

Xena stood in the center of the village and secured her cloak tightly around her neck. The bitter wind from the plains would be stinging exposed faces by dusk, so she was glad to see that the villagers were already settling in for the night. The elderly woman next to her at the well took a dinar from a pouch tied at her waist and offered it to Xena as payment for helping her draw three pails of water. Xena smiled and shook her head. The woman nodded, replacing the dinar with a smile of her own as if she knew Xena wouldn't accept it, then she lifted all three pails with a staff and walked off to her dwelling. Xena had offered to carry the pails, but the woman had refused, claiming that she'd done such work long before Xena had arrived in Oravia, and she'd be doing it long after Xena had left. Xena hadn't argued. She knew that some people will only accept so much help.

After she was certain the woman was safe at home, Xena turned back to the stable at the edge of the village and braced herself for what lie ahead. She knew Uryus would be right where she'd left him: tending to Argo as he had each night since their group of four had stopped at this village after their recent efforts to help the King of Layos. Gabrielle and Joxer were alone in a weathered dwelling on the other side of the village having the talk that was long overdue, the talk that wouldn't give either one of them what they longed for, but the talk that had to happen lest Joxer's frustrated desire finally claim him, while Gabrielle continued to be in the dark about all that he felt. Xena knew that Joxer had suffered enough, especially since Gabrielle would continue to say things that made his pain even greater until she knew the extent of his feelings.

But the man who's finally given Joxer the words he needed to explain how he feels had better be prepared to explain himself, Xena thought. And not just to me.

Xena was about to walk to the stable to confront Uryus, but she couldn't help thinking for a moment about what had brought them all to Oravia.

* * *

Days before the last full moon, Xena and Gabrielle had been attacked on the road by unwitting thieves who thought them an easy target. The thieves then explained at the point of Xena's sword that many skilled and unskilled hands were attempting to recover a precious garment that had been stolen from the King of Layos. Hermes had supposedly given the garment to an ancestor of the king, who then passed it through succeeding generations until it became as precious to the royal lineage as the crown itself. The Kings of Layos had been good kings, though the current one, Ermolai, relied primarily on the status the garment gave him rather than his own ability to rule effectively. So once he received word that the garment had been stolen by a warlord and his men, Ermolai dispatched part of his army with ransom money to get it back. But by then, word of the theft had spread, and other thieves had set off hoping to retrieve the garment so they could either collect the ransom or demand even more. And many of them were ready to steal from the least skilled of the adventurers who'd set off only to retrieve the garment with no thoughts of a reward.

Xena decided that she and Gabrielle would find the warlord before the others did, retrieve the garment, and meet Ermolai's soldiers on the road before they reached the warlord's lair. By the time they met up with the soldiers, Gabrielle would have a scroll ready for Xena's signature which would explain to Ermolai where his true ruling power lie, and that such a thing should never happen again if the garment was stolen. Later that same day, they found and saved Joxer from thieves, Joxer having thought himself capable of retrieving the garment alone, then they met up with Uryus after the young man fought along side them when they encountered a group of twenty thieves who'd banded together to rob the soldiers of the ransom money. They found out from the thieves that the warlord holding the garment had a savage group with him at a fortress by the sea, so Xena agreed to let Uryus help them recover the garment. Though she thought his earlier attempt to retrieve the garment alone foolhardy, she respected his willingness to help them when he heard their story.

Working together, they were able to slip in and slip out before any of the warlord's men even knew they were there. And they'd placed the garment in the hands of the soldiers, who were less than a day's travel from the fortress by the sea, before the warlord's men were done arguing over who had taken the garment to claim the ransom for himself. During the pursuit and recovery, Xena, Gabrielle, and Joxer had come to respect Uryus for different reasons. Xena saw him as an effective fighter with a courageous heart. Gabrielle found in him a fellow writer with whom she could discuss the great writers of the day. And Joxer found in him the side-kick he'd always wanted. He kept saying that Hercules had Iolaus. Xena had Gabrielle. Now he had Uryus. And Uryus was willing to go along with him, though the differences in their skills were painfully obvious, because Xena had explained to Uryus that with his help, she wouldn't have to worry about Joxer at times when she simply couldn't. The four of them had since traveled to Oravia to wash away the dust of their travels, and it was here that Joxer had finally declared himself to Gabrielle.

* * *

But now, Xena thought as her recent memories faded, Gabrielle and I may be leaving here alone. Joxer will need time to himself once he and Gabrielle finish talking. And once I talk to Uryus, he may need the same unless he's ready to pursue what awaits him.

As Xena approached the stable, she saw through the partially open shutters that Uryus was about to cover Argo's back with a blanket. One of the other things that had made her believe that Uryus was a good man was the care he'd shown Argo when he'd first met her. After the confrontation on the road with the twenty thieves, Xena had introduced her two companions, then her faithful steed when Uryus nodded at Argo as if it was just as important that he meet her as well. And they all couldn't help but smile when Uryus produced a cube of sugar which Argo took from the palm of his hand, never shying away from him. At times Argo trusted too easily, especially when treats were offered, but after Uryus had risked his life to fight with them, Xena knew that Argo's trust was not misplaced.

Xena stepped into the stable as the warmth of the enclosed space embraced her. She thought about taking off her cloak lest she find herself chilled once she went back outside, but she didn't think her talk with Uryus would take that long. She was rarely much for small talk, and never at times like this.

"Xena," Uryus said, his face betraying not a hint of why she might be there. "Argo's ready for the night unless there's something else you think she needs." He adjusted the blanket before he scratched the horse gently behind the ear. "Or something else she thinks she needs."

He's definitely no thief, Xena thought, but if he was he'd make a believable con-man.

Xena stopped a respectful distance away from him even though she knew it wouldn't soften the abruptness of her words. "Uryus, I'm here about Gabrielle."

His expression changed immediately from one of convincing bliss to one of guilty reluctance. He knew there was no point in pretending that he didn't know what she meant. Joxer had declared himself to Gabrielle, which meant Gabrielle had talked to her, and now she was there to talk to him. He ran his fingers through Argo's mane as if he'd missed a tangle earlier, then he turned to Xena and waited for her to continue. There were many things he could have said in reply, but he decided to wait until he had something more specific to reply to.

Xena was solemn but unthreatening. "Gabrielle and Joxer are talking right now on the other side of the village."

"It's long overdue."

"That it is. And judging from the way he first spoke of his love, it's obvious he had some help."

Uryus didn't look away. "It was me, Xena. You wouldn't be here if you thought otherwise. And you can probably imagine that when Joxer came to me and told me how he felt about her, as if I couldn't already see it from the time I've spent with you, he was desperate. I told him that expressing his love for her was something that only he could do, and that even if the words he used weren't what he thought they should be, they'd still be far better than words that came from anyone else."

"But?"

This time Uryus looked away momentarily. "But as I said, he was desperate. And he was also honest with me about something that I think took real courage to explain. He wasn't sure in his heart of hearts, which is a polite way of saying he was already convinced, that anything he said to her wouldn't bring them any closer than they already were. But if there was any chance whatsoever that I could help, he had to take it. I couldn't refuse him, Xena. But I did say to him that I wouldn't tell him what to say. I'd only sharpen his own words so that he'd be more polished than he usually is. I was aiming for what appeared to be intense preparation, not an unbelievable transformation. I guess I wasn't successful."

"You were in sharpening his words. They went from you to him to Gabrielle to me, yet they were still beautiful."

"They were?" Uryus asked, his expression slightly at odds with the eagerness in his voice.

"Yes. But they weren't Joxer. And once Gabrielle has time to think about it she'll realize that. She first has to get over the shock of how he feels, though."

"She really didn't see it coming?"

Xena shook her head.

"So he was right when he said he didn't have much hope?"

Xena sighed but not disgustedly. "Gabrielle cares for him. We both do. But what needs to be there for something to happen between them isn't there for her. And the sooner he faces that and deals with it, the better off he's going to be. There's a point beyond which he can't go with false hope without it affecting his mind."

"He was close to that when he came to me. In some ways I think he was actually beyond it."

Xena nodded. "I've seen how hard it's been for him to travel with us at times. Because she had no idea how he feels, she's said things at times that have hurt him without realizing it, things I know she never would have said if she'd known. But regardless of that, Uryus, if you're feeling something for her yourself, you should act on those feelings."

"Feeling something for her myself?" His voice cracked as he asked the question.

Xena gave him a look that told him to abandon his earlier coyness. "Yes. I didn't just see the help you gave Joxer. I saw some of your own feelings for Gabrielle come through the words he spoke. Even though the words came to me after the fact, some of what he said, combined with having seen you and Gabrielle together, points to something between the two of you that Joxer will never know."

Uryus was shocked. Xena's words weren't just speculation. "Did she tell you that?"

Xena's brief hesitation made it apparent that she would never have stepped into the middle of this had she not thought it necessary. "She said that if you had come to her and said the same things the outcome would have been different."

He shut his eyes and shook his head. The sigh that followed was mournful.

Seeing his discomfort, and thinking he needed to be prompted because he'd never intended to reveal his feelings as he had, Xena spoke. "Uryus, if it's Joxer you're concerned about, don't be. He'll either face this or he won't. But either way you have something here that you shouldn't pass by because of your concern for him. It's admirable, and I wouldn't expect anything less of you, but you shouldn't turn away from this if you feel this strongly."

He looked at her just long enough to shake his head again before he turned back to Argo and readjusted her blanket. He did it absently, though, as if his mind wasn't on the task and was being done simply because anything was better than continuing the current topic.

"What is it?" Xena asked. Though she would have asked such a question only to prompt him again, she asked it in part because she sensed that she'd struck another chord unintentionally.

Uryus turned back to her. The expression on her face told him that although they hadn't traveled together for long, there was still a bond between them that he could trust. Whatever he needed to say could be said without hesitation.

"I helped Joxer because I see some of myself in him. He mirrors my own desperation. One of the reasons why I've continue to travel with you is because I can't return to my home village until I resolve the feelings I have for another woman. And when Joxer came to me, I saw a chance to say some of the things that I've been thinking about saying to her for some time. And I didn't do it by the way just to see if any of it would work. I honestly hoped I could help. There was never anything for him in Gabrielle that I could see. Not that I was watching for it. But she never smiled at him with anything other than politeness. Her glance never lingered. She never even looked at him when he wasn't in a position to see her. But I figured who really knows what's in anyone's heart? Certainly not I. And though I'm touched by the fact that Gabrielle said what she did about the outcome being different, it's not her I was trying to reach, though if it was I'd probably be looking at far more success."

Though she was already thinking of ways to alleviate what Gabrielle would soon be feeling once she found out that Uryus did not feel for her what Xena had thought, Xena knew he needed to hear something comforting from her.

"How can you be so sure about this other woman, Uryus? You just said yourself who really knows what's in anyone's heart? I think any woman would love to hear the words you helped Joxer say."

"But it all depends on who's saying them. Suppose just for the sake of argument, Xena, that Joxer, or King Ermolai, or that king of thieves you told me about, or even I since I'm standing here, said similar things to you. Would the words reach that something inside of you that isn't there in Gabrielle for Joxer?"

It was Xena's turn to look away briefly. She knew she'd soften the only answer she could honestly give him, but she felt she had to begin with the blunt truth just as Gabrielle was doing with Joxer.

"No. But that doesn't mean it isn't there for some other woman with any of you. The only way you're going to know for sure in your own case, though, is to confront this woman and tell her how you feel. The Uryus I've come to know wouldn't hesitate to do exactly that regardless of what's waiting for him."

During the brief silence that followed, Xena waited as patiently as she could while Uryus moved Argo into a stall for the night. After collecting what few things he had with him, Uryus slung his pack over his shoulder and walked to the doors of the stable.

"I can't do that," he whispered as he walked by her.

She was about to ask him why, then she saw the answer in his weary eyes just before he stepped out into the chill of the early evening.

Because he just did, she thought.

The End