Graphic by Lucia to honor this story and the child it is dedicated to.
A Promise Kept
Copyright Disclaimers: Xena and Gabrielle are the property of MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures. The author does not benefit financially in any way from this story.
Note: My thanks to my beta reader and best friend Katia for her wonderful help in writing this piece and for my new wife Shuana, who is helping me breakdown some walls.
Dedication: I dedicate this story to a small boy I met in the hospital. Life kicked him in the balls and he never complained. I hope you can hear me Johnny Boy, I kept my promise as best I could.
Summary: Xena the Conqueror and Gabrielle the healer ease the passing of a small boy.
She wore a long silk kimono of rich hues with patterns woven into the garment made of gold and silver thread. Her long, black hair perfectly contrasted with the colors of the outfit. Her rich, blue eyes scanned the reports that her Chancellor had brought her this morning.
A small smile barely registered on her lips but glowed alarming in her eyes as she read the report on her sons latest escapades. "Soon, Solan, soon," she said to no one in particular, "Soon, I will be able to send for you, my son. Soon, you will take your place as my son and heir. Soon, you will have to fulfill your own destiny. So, enjoy your normal life for a little longer."
The next scroll caused fear to cross the face of Xena, the Conqueror of the Known World. Quickly, she reread the scroll about her son and breathed a sigh of relief. There was no hint of trouble in the document.
A plague had come to Greece and was killing her people. For a moment, she wondered if one of her few remaining enemies had somehow caused this plague, but immediately dismissed the idea because it was too clever and subtle. Men that clever and subtle were either one of her men or dead.
Then she got another idea. She closed her blue eyes and thought, Ares.
The God of War appeared before her clad in black leather studded with brass. "What do you want, Xena," asked the arrogant God, "Name it and it is yours. Nothing is too good for My Chosen."
The Conqueror was woman of direct action. So she wasted no time in getting to the point by asking, "Is a God or Goddess plaguing Greece?"
"No, it is but a thread of the Fates," replied the Dark Warrior.
"Thank you," she replied as she dismissed him with her ambivalence.
"Thats it? You called me for that," huffed the disappointed God.
"I ask nothing from any God or Goddess, except to be left alone," answered the raven-haired woman.
The tall woman paced the floor after Ares left and was in deep thought. Then she returned to her seat and scanned the reports of her various hospices. The numbers were staggering. The death rate at each of her hospices was eighty-four percent.
Private hospices were only doing slightly better at seventy-six percent. The difference could be attributed to a healthier and better fed clientele. However, one small hospice in the poor quarters only had a 42% mortality rate. The Conqueror sent a guard to go fetch her director of hospices.
A well-dressed and well-fed oily man entered fawningly into the Conquerors private chambers. The Dark Warrior hated these toadies, but they were a necessary evil in running an empire. She asked one question, "How is it that all my hospices are failing to stop this plague?"
The man looked totally confused as he asked, "What plague?"
The Conquerors features darkened and the man visibly winced at what he saw in her eyes. The incensed ruler called for her guard and instructed him, "Take this man to every hospice in the city. I want him to kiss the ass of every plague patient in each hospice. He is to wish each of them speedy recovery. At the last hospice I want him to work as a laborer until he contracts the plague or until the plague is stopped. Should he survive the plague, he is to be released and is ordered to leave the city ... forever."
She waved her guard away and they practically had to drag the stunned man from the chamber. The harsh empress had no time for incompetent administrators. She wondered if the person who is running the hospice in the poor quarters could do as well with her hospices. He was obvious a good administrator, because he had obviously had done much with very little.
The Empress of the Known World called for her maids and changed into the appropriate outfit for an excursion into the poor quarters.
The Conqueror walked royally and stiffly through the small hospice. She had heard about the quality of care at this hospice and wanted to meet the person that ran it. The empire was being ravaged by a plague and this hospice was the only one to have saved any of its victims.
The tall woman with the royal carriage walked proudly through the rolls of beds and eyed each patient with a detached and critical eye. She could tell that each person had the plague and that many were dying. Yet, she also noticed that each patient was clean and comfortable.
Could this be the healers secret? That she makes sure that each patient is kept clean, warm and comfortable, thought the Empress of the known world, It makes sense. She knew that cleaning a wound kept it from turning rotten.
The Sovereign of Greece noticed a small boy quietly praying to a God or maybe a Goddess. She knew that it was useless to expect anything from any God or Goddess, except trouble. She went over to boy for some reason she couldnt explain.
She looked down at the boy, who smiled weakly at her and asked, "Are you a messenger from Him?"
A black eyebrow shot up over her blue eye as she answered the boys question with a question of her own, "Who is him?"
The boy looked confused when he replied, "The one God of the Hebrews that Gabrielle told me of. She says that if you pray to him that he sends messengers to help you."
The Conqueror of the Known World knew of the Israelites. They were a tough group of fanatics, who were willing to die for their God. She had seen it first hand and knew that their God had proved more helpful to them than her Gods had ever been to her. Yet, she had managed to subdue most of them.
The hardened warrior in her laughed at the boys naiveté, but the woman and mother in her was more by the faith of a boy that was obviously dying. However, her practical side won the argument when it pointed out that faith was easy when you were dying. But something about this young man moved her so she said, "I hope your God saves you."
Suddenly a older woman came up to the Royal woman and said, "Your Majesty, he is not praying for himself, he is praying for Gabrielle."
This revelation surprised her as she asked, "Why would he pray for someone else? He is the one that needs help."
The graying woman replied, "Maybe you should ask him, Your Majesty."
She liked the woman. It took guts to talk to her like that. Maybe this was the woman that ran this hospice. So the Conqueror said, "Id like to complement you on your hospice and I have come to ask you to show your methods to my other hospices."
The elder woman laughed as she responded, "I only work here. You want to speak to Gabrielle, Your Majesty. I will get her, if she is awake. She has not slept much in the past two weeks and we are very protective of her sleep."
The Conqueror nodded at the wisdom of this logic, but she was busy and she had to get control of this plague before it ravaged her empire. So she reluctantly gave the nurse a royal command, "You will find this Gabrielle person and you will wake her if she sleeps. You will tell her I am here to see her and you will bring her here. Do you understand, old woman?"
"Yes, I do," responded the older woman as she backed away from the dangerous woman. Then she started off to Gabrielle sleeping quarters by the long way.
The Dark Warrior looked down at the young boy as he said his prayer. She could see the sincerity in his eyes and wanted to know his story. She called over one of the hospice workers to get the boys story. A tall clumsy man almost fell over an empty bed as he approached her.
"How may I help you, Your Majesty," asked the terrified man.
If she was going to get information from this man, she was going to have to ease his fears. So she gave him a broad smile and asked, "Can I have your name, young man?"
"Joxer," he stammered out in reply.
"Joxer, maybe you can help me. I would like to know what you know about this young boy," the tone in her voice let him know it wasnt a request.
The willowy man swallowed hard and replied, "He is an orphan, Your Majesty. He has no name, he is called Fourteen, because he was tagged Boy Child #14 at the orphanage. No one knows who his parents were. He was only a few days old when he was left there."
Dissatisfied with the answer, the Conqueror inquired, "Why wasnt a handsome boy child adopted? Im sure he would have made a fine son for some farmer."
Joxer looked down at the floor and answered, "Your Majesty, the boy was born with a club foot. He is deformed. No one would think about adopting a crippled child that would be more drain on a family than a benefit."
The Hardened Ruler looked into the boys innocent eyes and mentally remarked on how they so much reminded her of Solans eyes. She dismissed the nervous worker and called for a chair and decided to talk to the boy for a bit.
The boy looked at the obviously important woman and smiled weakly. He was in apparent pain and yet he kept his spirits high. She had seen many acts of bravery on the battle, but none so brave as this young boy.
She sat next to the spirited child and talked with him for several minutes. The Conqueror learned that the boy was eight years old and that he had a pet mouse named Snickers. It was amusing how the ill child talked so easily with the most feared person in the world.
Eventually, the conversation got around to the Conquerors favorite horse, Argo. She told the young boy about how she would take her out for rides when she needed to be by herself. The normally stoic ruler spoke of the wind in her hair and the rich green scenery.
Finally, the child said, "I never got to ride a horse."
This didnt surprise the Dark Empress, because most peasants couldnt afford a workhorse, much less a riding animal. A thought entered her mind and she asked, "Have you ever wanted to ride a horse?"
Despite the sores from the illness and his pale complexion, the boys face lit up with anticipation, as he said, "Yes..."
"Well, when you get better, I will take you on a ride on Argo," announced the raven-haired Warrior.
The boys face still smiled, but the light went out of his eyes as he announced, "I will never leave here. I heard them talking yesterday. My heart is sick."
The Conqueror tried to be reassuring, "You are getting the best care in the city. I will see that you get everything you need. When you get out of here I will take you to the palace, would you like to live with me?"
The smile in eyes returned as he replied, "Yes."
A voice spoke behind the Conqueror, "Hi, Fourteen. Id like to talk to the nice lady. Can I?"
The boys face brightened even more at the person who was speaking. The tall Ruler knew she was about to meet Gabrielle and she turned to look upon the miracle worker of the poor quarters. When she turned she saw a beautiful young woman with strawberry blonde hair and emerald green eyes. The Dark Empress of the Known World was stricken speechless by the sight of the young healer.
The young woman smiled and asked the striking woman, "Could we speak in my office, Your Majesty?"
The Conqueror knew that she wanted to talk about the boys condition alone. That meant it couldnt be good. Her spirits sunk and her shoulders slumped as she rose from her seat, as she said, "Lead the way."
The ill child called out to the Conqueror, "Dont worry about anything. Ill pray for you. God is a friend of mine."
The stoic ruler sat in the offered seat in the small office. The young healer had to climb over the small table to get to her chair. Scrolls were everywhere. Nonchalantly the Conqueror picked up one of the scrolls and read it. It wasnt medically related, it was a scroll about her. It was a story about her when she was a pirate.
The Tall Conqueror lifted her head from the scroll and looked at the blushing healer. The Dark Ruler lifted a questioning eyebrow as the young healer shrugged her shoulders and said, "I write down the stories I hear in the inns. I like to write."
The raven-haired woman finished the scroll and handed it to the young healer and said, "Its fairly accurate. You have a fine hand. Maybe one day I will tell you the complete tale."
Those words made the young woman smile as she thought, Well, she thinks we have a future together. I have to admit I find her strikingly beautiful, but I have to remember that this is the most ruthless person in the world. This is the woman that has crucified hundreds of people.
So, to play it safely, the young healer comes to the point by saying, "I heard you conversation with Fourteen. I know you meant everything you promised. He is such a sweet soul, but Im afraid he will never leave the hospice. Hes dying."
Those words shocked the Conqueror, not because of the boy dying, she had suspected as much, but because of the effect the words had on her. They hurt. She had come to care deeply for this young child in a very short period of time. So, she needed to be sure, "Are you positive? I have seen the figures, you have a remarkable record in healing plague victims."
The green-eyed healer could see that the Dark Ruler cared deeply for the child and wished she had known of the child sooner, maybe he wouldnt be dying. However, she could offer no hope, so she replied, "I am sure. The boy was not healthy to begin with. He was born with a weak heart and the orphanage does not take very good care of the children. He was malnourished and very dirty. By the time they brought him here, it was too late. All I can do is ease his passage."
Tears welled in her blue eyes as she willed them to stop. She asked softly, "Does the child know?"
The young blonde could see the grief etched into the womans dark features and was moved. The Conqueror cared. The most feared warrior on Earth had a heart that could love. It was an epiphany. The World thought that this woman had no feelings, but the truth was that her feelings were so intense that she had to control them or they would destroy her. When she felt, she felt with intensity. So, the strawberry blonde answered her truthfully, "Yes, he knows. We told him yesterday that he should make his peace with his God."
The words that the boy had told her came back to her, God is a friend of mine. Yet, the boy knew that he was dying and that his God wasnt going to say him. The tears forced there way through and the most feared person in the Known World was sobbing openly for a dying child, who she barely knew.
The young healer leaped over the table and pulled the Dark Empress into her embrace and held her, tightly. The Conqueror didnt care she needed the comfort. She felt something she had not felt since... since ... Lyceus and she poured more grief into her tears as they were absorbed by the clothing of young healer that held her furiously.
After several minutes, the Conqueror regained control and looked up into loving green eyes and announced, "We must talk later, but I have a promise to keep."
The guard at the door had heard his Empress crying and did not expect to see the young healer emerge from the small room. The Conqueror could show no weakness and those who witnessed it in her died quick deaths.
So his face showed surprise when the Healer followed the striding Empress from the small office. The tall ruler knew that this guard had her weakness, she needed to reaffirm herself in his eyes or rumors in the barracks would weaken morale. She looked at him and order, "Get Argo, now. If she isnt outside that door when I emerge, you will feel the cross."
The determined woman reached the boys bed as the guard was exiting the building. She scooped the boy into her arms and started for the door. Another healer called out, "Your Majesty, the boy is too weak to be moved."
She glared at the man until he visibly shrunk before her eyes and said, "I am told that no more can be done to save him. Would you condemn him to days of suffering or to a few precious hours of happiness?"
The healer hung his head and looked to Gabrielle who said nothing. The Conqueror followed the mans eyes to the young blonde, who nodded her agreement to the Dark Ruler. The Conqueror of the Known World held the boy to her breasts and strode forcefully from the room. Argo was waiting at the door while being held by a sweating and heavy breathing guard.
The raven-haired leader leaned over and whispered into the guards ear some instructions. For which he saluted and assured their timely completion.
She looked to man one more time after she was mounted and order, "Report to your guard captain. Tell him I said that you were to receive a promotion to the next rank. All of my guard will bare witness to my order."
Then she rode off to the nearby meadows.
The wind whip through their hair as the young boy squealed weakly with the delight of being alive. He watched the racing scenery of the green meadows and the blue sky and he smiled. He didnt fear death anymore. He had experienced life and was very content. Slowly the boys head slumped and his breathing stopped. The smile never left his face.
The Conqueror felt the body of the boy grow cold and she knew that he had died. She reined in Argo and dismounted with the boy. Suddenly, Ares appeared and said, "My Chosen, I hate to see you sad. Let me ease your burden. I will heal the boy."
The grieving woman felt hope for a moment, but then realized from whom the offer was coming. She then looked at the face of the child and saw peace. The Conqueror of the Known World, the Dark Empress of Greece, the Destroyer of Nations, the Warrior Princess became Xena for a moment and said, "Go away, little man."
She turned her back to the God of War and pulled a camp spade from her gear and began digging a grave in the meadow where the boy found life. Tears slowed her progress, but she soon had it dug. She lined the grave with stones she gathered from about the woods and fields. She then laid the boy to rest. She covered the grave with heavy stones so that no animal would get to the body.
A cart was headed to meet her. In the cart was a statue of a horse, driven by a newly promoted guard. He had kept her faith and brought the grave marker. At its base was carved, "Here lies Lyceus the younger. He was loved by everyone who knew him and God is a friend of his."
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