"I feel as if I failed my part against this god."
"Hercules," Thor replied. "You did as much as I and my hammer. 'Twas Odin and Gungnir that turned the tide of battle. I fear had he not arrived when he did, the Northlands would have been lost."
"And the rest of the world as well, I regret to say."
"But is not Zeus as mighty as the tales we hear?"
"My father is stronger and more powerful than all the Olympian gods combined, but when I saw how quickly this god in a woman's body grew so strong and so indestructible, I don't know if all of us, including Zeus, could have defeated it, once it strengthened to its full power. Maybe, if he freed the Titans, and they fought alongside us, we might have had a chance."
Just then Thor noticed Sif approaching.
"Sif, why are you not keeping watch over Gabrielle?" he asked.
"There is no need for my presence. Ares has come. He is with Gabrielle, and I gave him the Chakram. He says he wishes to speak with you."
"Then I shall go to him. Hercules, will you accompany me?"
"If you wish."
When the three of them arrived, Ares was standing over Gabrielle and the fallen Xena, her Chakram dangling loosely in his fingers. Gabrielle had not moved: she was still holding Xena tightly, rocking back and forth, mumbling something to Xena over and over.
"Friend Ares, you must know we all mourn the death of Xena. She was…."
"No need to say anything," Ares interrupted. "When I put my hand on Gabrielle's shoulder I read her thoughts about what happened. No one is to blame. She is an unfortunate casualty of a terrible but necessary war. But she was a warrior; she knew that one day it might take her life."
"What has my father said about Xena's death? Surely he knows," Hercules asked.
"He knows. He, of course, is grateful that this god has been vanquished."
"You will take her back to Greece, I assume," Thor said.
"That is why I am here. Just as soon as Gabrielle is ready."
They all looked down at her, but it was obvious she was oblivious of anything but her dead lover she held so tightly in her arms.
"It appears it may be a while," Thor commented. "But evening approaches, and the nights are extremely cold. I fear with no fire and no coat nor blanket she may die. And Xena's body will surely freeze solid. Plus, there are wolves in the forests that will come to the smell of blood."
Ares was about to speak when Gabrielle looked up at him.
"Where is she?" she asked with a trembling voice.
"Her soul, where did it go?"
"I don't know," he replied.
"Tartarus! She's in Tartarus, isn't she? I knew it. After all this, she would never be allowed into the Elysian Fields."
"I can't say. Only Hades can make that decision. But we are so far from Greece…."
Gabrielle then turned to Thor.
"Then is she in Valhalla? Please tell me that's where she is," she pleaded.
"She is not. She lived as a mighty warrior and certainly would be welcomed there. But I cannot say where her spirit has gone."
And once again tears fell from Gabrielle's eyes as she pulled Xena's cold body to her.
Thor turned to Sif, "Seek out Gunnhildr, have her bring blankets here."
Sif hurried to comply.
"Ares," Hercules said, "there is nothing more I can do here. Will you take me to Mt. Olympus? I would like to see our father, and give him a first-hand account of the battle."
"I will, then I will return and wait until Gabrielle is ready to come home."
Ares put one hand on Hercules' shoulder, and they were gone.
Thor knelt down to Gabrielle and tried wiping the tears from her eyes, but she still shed them.
"Had I known what was to happen, I never would have come to you and Xena. There are no words to express my sadness – my sorrow and regret."
"I know. But it was her choice to…."
Gabrielle's voice broke and she could only sob.
Gunnhildr ran up with two heavy bearskin blankets and wrapped one around Gabrielle's shoulders and covered Xena's body with the second one.
"She should have something to sit upon," Thor said. "The ground is as cold as the air."
"No," Gabrielle told her. "I'm good. Just as soon as Ares returns I will have him take us to Amphipolis. That's Xena's home village. I need to see to her burial. She always said if she died she wanted to lie next to Lyceus. He is her brother who died defending Amphipolis."
"Then let us wash her and dress her in our finest linen," Gunnhildr said. "It is the least we can do to honor her sacrifice."
Barely able to speak, Gabrielle nodded her thanks, then allowed Thor to pick up Xena to carry her back to the Great Hall in Asgard. He ignored the sticky blood covering her back, and now his arms.
When Ares returned, Xena was lying on a massive oaken table, wearing a white linen dress down to her ankles and calfskin shoes. A sheer linen sheet covered her from head to foot. Gabrielle had bathed and was wearing clean clothes.
After giving Thor and Gunnhildr grateful hugs, and a polite nod to Lady Sif, Gabrielle told Ares she was ready to go. And as he had done with Hercules, Ares put his hands on both Gabrielle and Xena's shoulders and in an instant they were inside the small family mausoleum, with Xena lying on the stone slab cover of the unadorned sarcophagus where Lyceus was.
"Before you go," she said to Ares, "tell me, why have you been so helpful and so cooperative? That is so unlike the Ares I knew."
Ares paused before he spoke, then said, "I have to admit some of it was because of Zeus. After that little misunderstanding between Thor and myself a few months ago, Zeus instructed me to do what I could to make amends, especially since it was the Norse gods who would take the brunt of the battle against that other god."
"And that's all?" Gabrielle felt there was more.
"No, not all. I also was hoping that if Xena saw I was not the old, untrustworthy Ares she knew in the past, maybe she would think about rejoining me."
"That would never happen. But regardless of your intentions, thank you for all your help."
Ares nodded, then disappeared. Gabrielle then set out to make Xena as presentable as possible. She wished she had Xena's armor and sword to dress her in, but then decided perhaps she would look less intimidating wearing the simple linen dress.
As she arranged the sheer linen covering, the dress, and hair in a way she thought was pleasing to look at, she wondered what to do with the Chakram. Should she place it on Xena's belly with her hands over it? Or should she hide it away, in case someone might want it for himself? She finally decided to place it under the dress, under Xena's calves, and out of sight. And despite doing all she could to keep from breaking down, Gabrielle stopped several times to sob uncontrollably.
When she felt everything was done that could be done, she went to the inn owned by Cyrene to break the horrific news. By nightfall, more mourners than she expected had passed by Xena's body, some leaving a little something – a flower or some other item, in reverence and respect. Cyrene wanted to stay, but her sorrow was as great as Gabrielle's and could not bear to see her daughter so cold and lifeless, and she returned to the inn.
Although Gabrielle only knew Cyrene, and none of the others of the town, the only one who looked out of place was a tall, handsome, well-dress man with dark hair and mustache. He obviously was not one of the villagers, and he hung around until everyone else had gone.
"Did you know Xena?" she asked him, slightly suspicious.
"You might say that," he replied. "My name is Autolycus.…"
Gabrielle stopped him abruptly. "The so-called King of Thieves! I've heard of you, and I know your reputation. But why are you here? There's nothing worth stealing."
Then Gabrielle stopped, retrieved the Chakram, and held it up threateningly.
"You're after Xena's body, aren't you? Is there a reward for her? Any warlord would pay handsomely for her body."
"No! No, it's nothing like that, I swear to you."
"Then what is it like? And how do you – did you, know Xena? I've been with her for years, and I've never seen you."
"Well, it's complicated."
"How about if you un-complicate it?"
"I can do that, but first I need for you to close your eyes."
"Why would I do that?"
"Just – humor me, okay?"
"All right," Gabrielle said slowly, now even more suspicious. She started to close her eyes, but first she put the Chakram behind her back and held it tightly with both hands – she still didn't trust him.
After her eyes were closed she heard … Xena's voice:
"Gabrielle, it's me. I'm here. I'm in Autolycus."