THE BETWEEN THE LINES SERIES
(or what happened between the episodes)
by Linda Crist
Xena: Warrior Princess ended its six-season run in June 2001, and has been released on DVD. I plan to re-watch the entire series, and after each episode, write a short story, usually told in the first person from the viewpoint of one or more characters. The stories may focus on what happened during the episode, or they may reveal thoughts and events that take place between episodes.
While you can probably enjoy these without re-watching the corresponding episode, to get the most from these stories, I strongly suggest you do re-watch them, or perhaps go read the transcript or synopsis for them. One good source is the Episode Guide atWhoosh.
I have no schedule in mind, but anticipate two or so stories a month. I'll post them first to myChat List and Updates List, then will edit them and send them to The Royal Academy of Bards and MaryD's Bard's Corner, as well as to My Website.
Note to Readers of my Xena & Gabrielle Series: The Between the Lines series does not tie into my X&G series; it is completely separate.
Disclaimers: The characters in this series/story belong to Robert Tapert. No copyright infringement is intended, and it was not written for profit. My ongoing gratitude goes out to the creators and owners of Xena, for their generosity in allowing the fandom to thrive, in part, because of the fan fiction based on the show.
Violence: Absolutely, in proportion to what we saw on television.
Sex: There be subtext here. And I do believe at some point the relationship was consummated, although as yet, I'm not sure when. We shall see. <g> I'll make the appropriate disclaimers in that regard, as they become necessary.
1.1 -- LOOKING FOR TROUBLE
(post "Sins of the Past")
X: "You know, where I'm headed, there'll be trouble."
G: "I know."
X: "Then why would you want to go into that with me?"
G: "That's what friends do-- They stand by each other when there's trouble."
X: "All right, friend."
--Sins of the Past
It's that quiet time in the pre-dawn hour, when the morning star appears over the treetops, and the very first birds begin to stir in the branches. I always listen for those birds. If they're singing, it's a pretty good bet there's nothing else lurking around out there beyond this clearing.
I slept fitfully last night, but that's nothing new. Here in the relative silence, I can hear my own breathing, and feel the cool misty ground fog as it tries to creep under my sleeping furs, and I know I might as well get up. I think about everything that's happened recently, and I'm amazed I'm alive. Amazed, because three times in the past week, I fully expected to be dead.
I should feel grateful, I suppose, but right now, all I feel is old, and at the end of my rope. The darkness weighs more and more heavily upon me, and I find myself at times cursing the fact that I found my long-lost conscience. Sometimes I wonder if I'll ever shake it -- if I'll ever find a place where I feel like I belong, because right now, even my own skin doesn't fit me anymore.
I had such naive and good intentions when I left Hercules. I honestly thought I could just ride out on my own and start atoning for my sins. I wanted so much to be like him, but the problem is, I'm nothing like him. He's a demigod, and he's always been good. He has no horrible past to overcome, nor does he have more prices on his head than he can count.
Everyone likes him, or at least the ones who count do. And he has Iolaus by his side, and the memory of his family to keep him going. See, Herc, he'll get to go be with his family in the Fields someday. Me, I'm on a one-way trip to Tartarus, and I'm going there alone, and I don't think there's enough good in the world for me to do, to ever change that.
I lie here for a while, contemplating the coming dawn, and the day that will follow. I've been wandering around since I left Herc, with no clear sense of purpose or direction. It all came to a head when I decided to ride through a village my army had torched a while back. I remembered the place well enough, but I sure didn't expect to find anyone still hanging around. I was just riding through, on my way to nowhere in particular. I certainly never expected to find a little boy there, picking around through the rubble.
"Came down out of the sky in a chariot, throwing thunderbolts and breathing fire?" That's one of the better whoppers I've heard. Was a time when my ego would have taken a stroking over that one, but this time, it hit me right in the guts so hard, it made me want to puke. That boy was a homeless orphan because of me. This time, all it made me want to do was die.
And dying is exactly what I was planning on, when Draco's men chased those villagers through my clearing. All I wanted to do was bury my armor, set Argo free, and find a quiet place to end it all. Damn if I can't even manage to kill myself in peace.
Next thing I knew, all these frightened villagers were being chased right over my burial spot, and I saw my own past being replayed before my eyes. How many times have I rounded up people, to kill, sell, or trade? My blood boiled over. I don't know if I was angrier at myself, or at the slavers. After that, I don't know what happened. The fighting instincts kicked in, and next thing I knew, those villagers were looking at me like I was some kind of damned hero.
And that was just the strangest thing. I'm no hero, and anyone who thinks I am is just deluded. There isn't enough water in all of Greece to wash the blood off my hands. It flows across most of the known world. Even the people in that village -- Potadeia -- couldn't figure out what to make of me. Some of them had heard of me, and I can't blame them for being afraid. On another day in a time not so far in the past, I could just as easily have been part of the slavers that were going after them. I'm surprised I havenít sacked Potadeia at some point. It's just like so many of the villages my army attacked as we fought our way to Corinth.
But there was this one girl there, a kid, really. She has some fire in her. She said she's not like the other village girls, and I'll have to agree with her on that. Most village girls just do what they're told, but not her. Offered herself up to the slavers if they'd set the others free. And once I jumped in and stopped them from whipping her, damned if I didn't look up and see her fighting back just as hard, kicking and punching a man twice her size. I was so surprised to see that, that I lost my concentration and got knocked in the head for it. And after the dust settled, and I'd left that village, she came after me, even though I warned her not to.
I look across the ashes of last night's campfire. Yep, the kid is still there. She talks in her sleep, that one does, which shouldn't surprise me, considering how much she talks when she's awake. Last night I think she had nightmares. Part of me wanted to go over there and wake her up, but another part of me wondered if waking up in the middle of the night with an ex-warlord leaning over her might be more of a nightmare than whatever she was dreaming about.
So I laid here and listened to her, and listened to the night sounds. Had to make sure nothing else out there heard her and took a notion to check us out. It's such a part of me now that even when I sleep, part of me knows what's going on around me. It's difficult to explain, but it's ingrained enough now, that my body just seems to know which sounds it's alright to sleep through, and which ones I need to wake up and take care of.
And so when I heard her crying out in her sleep, of course I woke up, because that -- that's a sound I'm not used to at all. I've been alone on the road ever since I left Hercules. Argo's the only one nearby at night, and she has the good sense to just sleep when the sun goes down, when she's not off chasing stallions.
No telling what the kid was dreaming about. I have to wonder if she ever slept outdoors before she met me. Hades, I have to wonder if she's ever been outside Potadeia before. She knew enough to find Amphipolis. She said she studied maps. Where in a place like Potadeia she found maps to study in the first place is beyond me.
She's such a strange kid, but she has guts at any rate. She sure wasn't afraid to stand up to me, or my entire village, for that matter. Wasn't afraid to follow an ex-warlord with a reputation that reaches from the Norselands to the Mongolian Steppes, although how much of the story has reached Potadeia, I have no idea.
I still can't figure out why I let them talk me into coming back to their village in the first place. The kid kept insisting they needed to take care of my injuries, and that I must need water and a meal. I've had so much worse than the pithy bruising I took in that fight. No one even drew my blood. Maybe I agreed to their hospitality, if only because I can't recall ever being invited into a village before.
I think it was just this overwhelming thing that hit me. After sacking so many villages, that was the first one I saved. Maybe I was in shock. I know that's partly why I went to Draco and asked him to spare them. After killing so many, and ruining so many lives, I'd finally saved some. I figured I'd go home and say goodbye to my mother, but I still planned to kill myself. But I just couldn't bear the thought that this one good thing I'd done might be destroyed -- that Draco might simply go back after them again.
And then I went home, but on my way there, I learned that Draco was coming after Amphipolis instead. So there I was, back in the exact same spot where everything went wrong in the first place, only this time, none of them would listen to me when I told them they needed to mount a defense. And Draco's men telling everyone they were my army.
I can't blame Amphipolis for not believing me. Not like Iíve done much in the past ten winters to earn their trust. I've brought nothing but shame on them, since the day Cortese defeated us. Brought nothing but shame on myself. It was poetic justice, when the first stone hit me. I wasn't even going to have to commit suicide. Amphipolis was going to do it for me. And I would've let them, but this kid comes busting in and talked them out of it, and next thing I know, I'm following her out of my mother's tavern, and hauling her up on Argo's back behind me.
Do you know how many times anyone has ridden my horse with me? None. I have no idea why I let her talk me into letting her come with me, even though she did save my life. I'm no hero. This kid here, beyond all reason, thinks I am. Yeah, sure, I saved her from the slavers, but does she understand she's already prevented my suicide, three times over?
If she hadn't shown up at my campfire night before last, I was finally going to give myself some permanent rest. I didn't see how there was going to be a better time for it, and figured I might as well get it over with before I screwed my life up any worse. No way was I going to get back into Amphipolis' good graces. Even after defeating Draco, the village elders offered me the loot they had gathered for him. My own village is afraid of me, and sees me as a greedy warlord, and frankly, I deserve their scorn.
But my mother forgave me, and I figured it might be best to end it all sooner rather than later, while I at least had that one sweet note to die on. But this kid, she comes poking her way into my campsite, and tells me she won't go home, that she'll run away again, even if I try to send her back there. What was I supposed to say to that? No way I can just turn her out into the darkness, and let her run off on her own. As if they had a mind of their own, my hands tossed her an extra blanket to sleep on.
Why did I do that? She said she wants to come with me, wherever I go. Kid, the next place I planned on going was straight to Tartarus, but I can't exactly take you there with me, now can I?
So here we are. We survived a day on the road together. I didn't scare her away, and she didn't talk me to death. It won't last long. I'm purposefully heading back toward Potadeia, in a roundabout way. I figure a few more nights of sleeping on the ground with the bugs, and a few more days of walking all day long next to Argo should be enough to send her running back home as soon as we're close enough. It's only a matter of time before someone comes after me, and her, be extension. Bet the first time she sees me kill someone, she'll want nothing more to do with me.
I finally give up procrastinating on morning, and sit up. There's a stack of firewood over to the side, so I go over there to get the breakfast fire cooking, but something makes me stop, and I just watch the kid for a minute or two. She looks so peaceful, and so young, with her arm curled up under her head, and that fist tucked under her chin.
I'd never admit this to anyone, but it was kind of nice yesterday, not being alone for a change. She never stops talking, and she asks questions from dawn until dusk, and then some. Long as she doesn't expect me to actually respond every single time, I can deal with it for a few more days .
I know she was exhausted by the time we made camp yesterday. She must've stumbled on the road a dozen times, and that damned long skirt -- I think I had to help her unsnag it from roots and thorns at least three times before the sun was halfway across the sky yesterday. I saw her rubbing her feet when she took her boots off last night, but she never complained, not once.
Instead, while I went off to hunt us down something to eat, she gathered a decent armload of wood, and laid out the bedrolls, and re-filled the water skins in the stream back behind this clearing. At least she didn't fall in. I think she would have brushed Argo if Argo hadn't prudently taken off for nearby pastures.
The kid even tried to start a fire, and I found myself showing her how to use a flint and striker. I thought she was going to float away, she was so happy when she succeeded in getting a little pile of tinder to burn. Hopefully she won't use this new skill to start a forest fire.
What happened to you back there in Potadeia, kid, that it was a better choice to follow me into the great unknown, than to stay at home in your nice warm bed? I sat in there while your mother tended to my bruises. It didnít look like such a bad place. Mother and father who love you, a sister, and a decent guy who wants to marry you.
Not like the other village girls, huh? I can understand that. Neither was I. Maybe that's the one thing I have in common with this kid.
You think you want to be my friend? Oh, kid, I don't think I'm capable of being anyone's friend. I donít have friends, only acquaintances of convenience. I use them and they use me for mutual, and sometimes not so mutual, benefit. And those fighting skills you admire so much -- have you the first clue how they were developed? How they were used? Do you know what all I've done? Surely not, because if you did, you'd still be in Potadeia where you belong. You need to finish growing up, and I'm just not the right person for the job of raising you.
I watch her and feel this stupid smile tugging at my lips, and I shake my head. Happened several times yesterday, despite my best efforts to not be friendly. She'd say something and it was all I could do not to laugh. And it's been so damned long since anyone made me feel like laughing. But I can't let her get too comfortable with this arrangement. Anyone who travels with me becomes a target, and the last thing I need is to be carrying her body back home to her family.
No, it's best she see me for what I am, and understand that nothing good can come from following me. It's fine if we travel together for a few more days. Maybe that will get the wanderlust out of her system. Then she can go back home and marry that guy, and have some adventures to share with her grandchildren someday. She does like to tell stories.
I think Iím gonna miss her when she's gone.
NEXT in the BTL Series Ė ďFinding TreesĒ (post Chariots of War)