The characters Xena and Gabrielle are the property of MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures. No copyright infringement is intended.
The lines at the beginning and the end of this story are excerpts from "Through a Glass, Darkly" by General George S. Patton, Jr.
"Through the trevail of ages,
Midst the pomp and toil of war,
Have I fought and strove and perished,
Countless times upon this star..."
"Sarge. Sarge wake up."
The eyes of Sgt. Mike "Frosty" Powers, USMC, snapped open and quickly focused on the skinny silhouette standing over him. He blinked a couple of times before answering the pimply faced farmer's son from Oklahoma.
"Yeah, what is it, Mills?"
"It's Martinez," the boy whispered urgently. "He, he says to tell you he's got some movement on his right."
Sgt. Powers checked the luminous dial on his watch--02:55 hours it read. Damn it, he thought. This was the first night in over a week the Japanese navy had not steamed down "The Slot" to pound the hell out of Henderson Field and he had hoped to finally get more than a couple hours sleep for once but, as usual, the Japanese did not seem to want to cooperate.
Powers rubbed his hand over his unshaven jaw and looked up at the kid. "Okay, get hold of Ralston and tell him to get the lieutenant's ass up here pronto."
"On your way over there tell Parker and Simpson to move their thirty caliber over to the left, by the creek. Tell them I think that stuff over by Martinez is a sucker play. They're going to hit us on the left tonight."
"The left?" asked the kid in surprise.
"What's the matter, boy, you deaf?" whispered Powers fiercely.
"No, Sarge," stammered the boy. "It's just...well, they've never hit us there before."
Powers grinned at the boy and patted him on the head. "Well, they are tonight. Trust me, kid. So move your ass, okay?"
"Okay, Sarge," smiled the boy, happy the sergeant was not really angry at him. Private Chester Mills stood up, shouldered his Springfield, and disappeared into the gloom. "You dumb ass," he chided himself, "don't you know by now the Sarge is always right?"
It was true. Sergeant Mike Powers was always right. It was uncanny. The man seemed to know where every sniper was, every mine, every stake pit. His men had on more than one occasion watched in amazement as he had suddenly collapsed as if thrown to the ground only to have a sniper's bullet zing over his head a split second later. In this their first battle, he had somehow, some way acquired combat savvy and guile equal to someone that had experienced many, many battles. Unbeknownst to the men in his platoon, of course, was the fact that this was actually what he had done.
On August 7,1942 he had landed on Guadalcanal as a private in the First Marine Division and saddled with the reputation as something of a klutz. From the very first day, however, it became evident to his buddies that something about him had changed. Powers was now so acutely aware of everything around him. He never seemed to miss a trick. In their many firefights over the next few weeks he established himself as the very epitome of what a Marine should be-smart, tough, careful.
And soon, as is inevitable in war, attrition began to take its toll on his platoon. When his squad leader was killed Powers was the obvious choice to take his place. The guys in his outfit used to kid him about his remarkable evolution but they didn't do it much anymore. Whenever they did, though, Powers would just shrug and mumble something about not judging a book by its cover. For Sergeant Mike Powers, USMC, was damn sure not about to tell anybody about her. The guys would all think he was nuts.
She had first came to him in a dream the night before they hit Guadalcanal. He remembered lying there in his bunk on the transport and, like just about everybody else, was having trouble going to sleep. Finally he managed to drift off and he was soon surrounded by a strange sensation. In his dream a breathtakingly beautiful woman appeared to him. She was tall, dark haired, and dressed in garb of a very old style. Immediately he was spellbound. She was a mountain of contradictions. There was something dark and foreboding about her but he could sense her goodness and integrity. In his dream that first night she had not spoken to him but merely drawn her sword and smiled. He could also sense the dark woman was not alone. Another visage, fair skinned and smaller-not quite as distinct-hovered in the background. She seemed to be waiting for some signal from the dark woman.
From that night on he could feel their presence, especially the dark one.
She became his mentor, his teacher. At first he doubted her. Who was she?
Why was she doing this? Am I going crazy? he had wondered many times. But she persisted and he began to learn the art of survival in war. Sometimes she was in his thoughts, sometimes he could hear her enchanting voice, and sometimes...sometimes he could even feel her strength.
Like that day on patrol when he had felt himself literally picked up and thrown off the trail just in time to avoid being blown to bits by a mortar round. He couldn't believe anyone or anything could have that kind of strength-but she did.
Once, in a particularly vicious firefight, she had even appeared to him in broad daylight. While clawing his way along a rotten log in a desperate attempt to seek cover from the murderous enemy machine gun fire he had happened to look into a small puddle of water formed by the seemingly eternal rain. The warrior woman's, for it was now obvious to him that's what she was, face appeared to him in the puddle and told him what to do to get himself and his men out of their predicament. That was the day he had learned her name.
"Who are you?" he had asked her.
"My name is Xena."
"Why are you here?"
"To help you," was all she would say.
The Marine decided to drop it. But he did as she suggested and he and his squad were able to extricate themselves from a nasty situation.
Since then Powers had begun to feel the fair haired one was, in some way, becoming more assertive. While she never once spoke to him he could feel she had her own special qualities. About a week later he found himself borrowing those old yellowed paperback books the guys had gotten from the USO and reading them whenever he could. Something of a goof off in school, "Frosty" Powers was now not only interested in reading stories but how they were crafted as well. He knew it was the small one's doing.
Xena had told him the movement on his right was a feint, the main assault was going to come on his left. By now Powers now trusted the warrior woman completely. Had she not saved his life a half dozen times already?
He stood up and silently began creeping from foxhole to foxhole to make sure his men were alert and ready. Within a few minutes he was joined by Lieutenant Campbell and, surrounded by the almost suffocating stench of rotting vegetation and the incredible blackness of the jungle, they waited for the inevitable attack.
Xena watched the young man move among his men and gave a smile small smile of satisfaction. This one had caught on quicker than most. For more than three thousand years now she had been doing this. Once about every century or so Hades, in gratitude for her services, allowed her to return to earth and give some poor soul her help. For centuries she had usually chosen some high officer but in the last few hundred years they had, for the most part, stopped taking active participation in battles. Now she usually selected some young one that seemed to have more trouble than most learning the art of war.
Gabrielle, her love of thirty centuries, could never understand it. Time and time again asked her why she went back to face once again all that carnage and death. But Xena didn't really have an answer for the bard. She knew someone like Gabrielle could never understand. She had been... still was...always would be a warrior. It had been all she had ever known. They only thing that had changed during her lifetime was the fact she had begun to use her sword to help people instead of to conquer them.
And each time Xena returned to earth her precious bard had shrugged her shoulders, swallowed hard, and did as she had always done...follow her warrior.
This Powers was her twenty-third "student" as she liked to call them. Xena still remembered every one of them, their names, whom they had fought for, and ultimately, their fate. Most of them had survived but, of course, in spite of her best efforts some had not. Some of them she had grown quite attached to. Like the ruddy faced Roman boy at the siege of Carthage. Although barely nineteen years old he had taken to her instruction like a duck to water. When he was killed Xena felt a great sense of loss. The captain of archers at the battle of Agincourt had been another favorite.
But perhaps her favorite had been the last one.
The gentle teacher was still new to his command when he was given the critical task of holding the extreme left of his army's line at a place called Gettysburg. It was only after his brilliant and unexpected success in that battle, with her help of course, that Xena learned his first name. To her delight it was the same as that great Israelite general from so long ago and whose memory was still so firmly etched in her mind-Joshua.
Joshua L. Chamberlain reminded Xena so much of Gabrielle. Both were almost possessed by their love of the written word, both were compassionate beyond description, and both had that rare ability to call forth immense courage when the situation called for it. Maybe that was the real reason she had liked the quiet professor of rhetoric so well, thought Xena.
Powers stood in the still weak light of dawn and surveyed the battlefield. Last night's engagement had raged for more than three hours. Early that morning the fighting had, at one point, been hand to hand. He remembered being charged once by four Japanese soldiers with their bayonets fixed and after that his mind had just sort of went blank. When he came to himself the four men were all dead at his feet. The warrior woman! It must have been her, he thought.
The Japanese had been slaughtered. By Lieutenant Campbell's estimate there were almost two hundred dead men strewn about in front of the Marine's positions. Sgt. Powers shook his head slowly and went about the business of checking on his own men. Martinez? Dead. Ralston? Dead. Mills?...the farmer's son would never plow his father's field again.
Powers took the dog tags of the dead and stuffed them into his shirt pocket. Looking toward the direction the enemy had came from he gritted his teeth and said, "Well, you bastards, you gave us a damn good bloody nose but we're still here."
Xena watched the same sunlight force its way throught the jungle canopy. She felt a gentle tug on her elbow and turned to face Gabrielle.
"Xena this is horrible," whispered the bard.
"Yes it is," replied Xena softly. "It always is." The Warrior Princess touched the bard on the cheek and continued, "This was my last one, Gabrielle."
The little bard couldn't believe her ears. "Do you really mean it?"
"Yes," replied Xena. "The qualities that make a good warrior, courage, skill, and honor, aren't worth much in this day and age. All you seem to need now is a more powerful weapon than your enemy."
She turned her eyes to the Marines busy gathering up their dead and going about the business of reinforcing their positions. "I must say though, I like these men."
She looked at Powers and said, "I've done all I can for this one. It's up to the Fates now. C'mon, Gabrielle, let's go home, for good."
Powers felt it immediately. She's gone, he thought. That...force or whatever it was that had done so much for him was no more. For a brief moment a sense of panic came over him but he quickly came to realize what had happened. He knew the warrioress felt she had done all she could do for him.
From out of the stillness of the jungle he heard a voice whisper, "Good bye, Mike, and may the gods smile on you always."
The Marine smiled and, without thinking, answered aloud, "Thank you...for everything."
"What did you say, Sarge?" asked Corporal Simpson.
"Frosty" Powers turned to the man and shook his head. "Nothin', Corporal. Nothin'."
Sergeant Mike Powers survived the war and returned home with a renewed sense of purpose in life. There were those that called him a hero. For his actions on that bloody night on Guadalcanal he was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. People assumed that his reluctance to talk about it was just modesty on his part. Mike Powers never told anybody the truth about that night. He felt he didn't deserve the medal. Whatever he had done, and only after he had read the recommendation did he find out, was all to the Xena's credit. It really had been her honor.
He took advantange of the GI bill and went to college. After graduation he worked hard and eventually became what he had aspired to be since those early days on Guadalcanal-an author.
Whenever "Frosty" Powers thought of the fair haired...ghost, spirit, angel, whatever one wanted to call her he would smile to himself and wonder if she was not actually the more powerful of the two of them after all.
"...So as through a glass, and darkly
The age long strife I see
Where I fought in many guises,
Many names---but always me."
The Bard's Corner