Chapter 11

(Song: Farewell by Apocalyptica)

It was dawn and the sun slowly crept to the horizon, an emerging source of light and warmth that began shedding light on the encampment. The smokes were from fires that were just starting to die out but new ones were already being lit.

The warriors and fighters awoke and arose; the camp began bustling with noises of battle preparations being made. A great many were tired because they were battle weary, a couple were tired because they had not slept. All of them knew they had to keep going no matter what. Some fought with hopes of returning to their loved ones soon while others fought for future chances of being in love.

Along with the sun, an army of riders rose into sight from over the hills. The marching shadows approached the encampment at a languid but paced speed.

Halfreor had been making plans with Kalan along with a few other warriors when the arrival of the reinforcements had been announced. The small group soon moved to welcome the newly present.

As the small army reached the camp, it dispersed on its own, each warrior finding friends among the current occupants to help them with their belongings and horses.

Sigrid was at the head of the troop and had just marched on towards the group of warriors greeting her before dismounting. She was with a giant bear hug by Kalan and a few respected nods from the others.

"It's good to see you old friend," Halfreor said, clasping her hands in his and observed Sigrid in the light of dawn, noticing the play of emotions across her eyes. "I'm sorry to have taken you away from her."


The small army that has now grown twice its original size marched up to the plains and regarded the sea of Raiders opposing them. As they halted, the horses neighed uneasily and stamped their hooves.

There was no wind, and the sun was semi-occluded by the thick layers of traveling clouds. A deathly silent blanket had already settled upon both uneasy and opposing masses.

Leading the army of the Northern villages were the three at the frontline, with Sigrid sitting on Arsol in the middle, flanked by Halfreor on one side and Kalan on the other, both also on horsebacks.

"Are you ready for this, my friend?" The dark bearded man looked over at Sigrid.

Sigrid regarded him for a moment, then turned to Kalan. The two exchanged a knowing smile and she looked back to Halfreor.

"We're ready."

They raised their weapons and charged.


The rhythmic sound of the ocean crashing into the rocks below was soothing. The ocean, though basked in the same dark glumness she felt, seemed so much more peaceful. She envied that peace because at that moment, her heart was constantly dying in a thousand violent ways. She wished to have that peace she knew she'd never get.

For an instant, she willed the ocean to transfer it to her, just as futilely as she had willed for Sigrid to return home to her safely.

It had been almost an entire season now. They had won the war against the Raiders but had lost many of their finest warriors. Amongst those who were lost and to be remembered were Halfreor and Kalan, and Torvald. A scowl formed at the edge of Gunnhild's lips, Sigrid didn't even die in her real name.

Apparently, news from survivors of the battle told of a godly presence, a fierce warrior who had arrived when they were at the verge of losing their line. Not only did he drive the enemies back, but he had devised strategies after strategies afterwards to take out the most prominent adversarial troops. It had been rather unfortunate that some of the more desperate measures involved the greatest sacrifices.

Gunnhild was almost certain that Sigrid alone was the reason the Northern Villages finally stood victorious against the Raiders, pushing them back into the south and into exile for decades to come. Without the reinforcements that Sigrid led to the front, the people there probably wouldn't have stood a chance. That much Gunnhild had to admit to herself, that it was all justified and not in vain.

None of it all really meant anything to her, however. Not anymore. Part of her died the day she saw her warrior princess stride off, because she knew she wouldn't be coming back.

Closing her eyes, she recalled fairly clearly the day a figure on a horse rode towards the villa. She didn't even try to feel hopeful. Simply by looking the gait of the horse and its rider, she knew it wasn't Arsol or Sigrid.

She had prepared herself. Honestly, she had. Still the tears came as naturally as the wind blowing and the snow falling when the man delivered the unfortunate news. Still there were cries of anguish, and sleepless nights, and days without meaning.

Gunnhild stood at the edge of the cliff; her lifeless eyes scanned the horizon, almost as if expecting the burial boats to float in from the waters. Where one of them would be empty and would drift ashore to welcome her, with promises of bringing her to the same place Sigrid had gone.

"Even in death…" she whispered as she closed her eyes, feeling an almost familiar breeze wrap around her.

Though she had never heard those words before, she felt as though those she had been listening to them since forever.

She opened her arms and plunged to the rocks below.


Epilogue

"By the Gods! NO!" Gabrielle choked and whimpered, then realized she had been sobbing in her sleep. She cried out instinctively.

"No!" Still confused by her sleepiness, she gasped, coughed and thrashed, all the while trying to get her bearings at the same time. All she knew was that the feeling of loss she felt at that very moment was near unbearable. "Xena!" She couldn't lose her. "XENA!" She practically shrieked. Not this way.

"It's alright, Gabrielle!" Xena's voice. Strong familiar arms quickly encircled her petite form and closed around her flailing arms, holding them down steadily but not forceful enough to cause injury.

Simply hearing the warrior's voice had already made the young bard less bewildered.

"I'm here, it's alright…" Xena's voice carried deeper as she attempted to soothe her companion, while the small blonde stopped struggling and began crying quietly.

Gabrielle was unable to understand why she was acting this way – all she knew was that she felt awful. Xena, looking almost heartbroken, held her tightly while gently stroking her soft flaxen hair, trying to calm her sobs. It was visible from the wet streaks on the warrior's face – though less abundant than Gabrielle's – that she had just been crying in her sleep as well.

The bard took a few short deep breaths as reality began to settle in and the haze from the dream began clear. They were at the grassy clearing they found earlier before settling for the night; the fire they made had already burnt out and the two were sitting in the dark. The feel of the bedroll beneath her as she shifted reminded her of where she was, or rather, who she was.

Forcing her breathing back to normal, Gabrielle swallowed hard. "Xena, I just had the worst dream…" She whispered, tightening her arms around the other woman; she had to make sure that the dream was a dream and that this wasn't – that in this reality and Xena was still there. Her gesture was reciprocated as the two sat motionless in the obscurity.

"I know." The warrior finally said, her voice was slightly dry and unsteady, but filled with complete understanding.

Gabrielle pulled away from Xena and searched for her eyes. The pale irises glinted in the soft moonlight and smiled at her. The bard was unable to distinguish much else except maybe for a faint outline of Xena's face.

"You mean…"

There was some hesitation. "…Yes." Gabrielle sensed Xena nodding in the dark.

"Were you…?"

"I was."

"And I must've have been…"

"Yep."

She let go of Xena, reflecting on the new meaning behind this revelation. The warrior princess propped herself on her elbow, studying her friend as she let it all sink in. The two sat in silence, contemplating alone but together.

"Their life was so sad…" The bard finally breathed. "What do you think it all means?" She almost started tearing up again as she thought about the dream.

"I don't know." Xena said simply. She honestly didn't want to mull over it too much. She shifted about and rearranged the fur blankets. "Let's just go back to sleep, okay?" She had settled back down onto the bedroll even before finishing the sentence.

After a bit, Gabrielle followed suit.

As she laid down, she sensed Xena's strong arm wrap around her waist and pulling her in. The blonde's body molded comfortably to the warm, elongated form. Though neither of them spoke a word, Gabrielle knew that Xena didn't fall asleep right away.

"Xena?" Gabrielle ventured.

"Hmm?" A low growl, the warrior sounded like was starting her journey to Morpheus' land already.

"They were just like us, weren't they?"

There was silence as Xena thought about it; she wasn't sure what Gabrielle meant exactly and wasn't sure how to answer. She simply pulled the other woman in closer and buried her face into the strawberry blonde hair, knowing at that instant, that she wouldn't let go of that familiar scent for the world.

"Soulmates." Gabrielle explained, sensing almost immediately Xena's answer through the beat of the warrior's heart against her back.

"Yeah," Xena finally said, delivering a gentle kiss on Gabrielle's head and the feeling of it seemed to spread down the bard's entire body, enveloping her like a protective shell of love. "I guess they were."

THE END


("Without You" From RENT, the Soundtrack.)

Without you, the ground thaws, the rain falls, the grass grows.

Without you, the seeds root, the flowers bloom, the children play.

The stars gleam, the poets dream, the eagles fly, without you.

The earth turns, the sun burns, but I die, without you.

Without you, the breeze warms, the girl smiles, the cloud moves.

Without you, the tides change, the boys run, the oceans crash.

The crowds roar, the days soar, the babies cry, without you.

The moon glows, the river flows, but I die, without you.