“We have to kill her. It should still be easy enough.”
“No!” the shout tore out of Gabrielle with more strength than she expected, startling them both. Across the sunny clearing, the little girl looked up in curiosity from where she was methodically tearing up grass and piling it beside her. She looked around three years old, with delicately bouncing curls and wide blue eyes.
She was, of course, born only two weels before.
“She is my child!” Gabrielle hissed, forcing her voice quieter.
“I know that,” Xena’s voice was low and intense but not harsh. “But she’s also a vessel for evil that has to be stopped.
“She’s just a baby,” Gabrielle’s voice cracked and she looked at the apparently oblivious girl with tears in her eyes.
“Look, I promise she won’t suffer. You don’t have to be here.”
“No! There has to be another way. I won’t let you touch her!”
“Alright!” Xena held up her hands in a soothing gesture. “Alright, we’ll try to find another way. But you have to understand what it might come to, you have to be ready. It may be her or the world.”
Gabrielle took a deep breath, trying to collect herself again. “I understand. But it won’t come to that.”
That night Gabrielle slept on the other side of the fire, Hope cradled in her arms. Xena didn’t sleep at all, sitting up with half her brain watching the child with mistrust and the other half desperately searching for a solution that would spare her love heartbreak. She came up with nothing but a headache and stiff legs.
Gabrielle jerked awake as though from a nightmare, but comforted herself with the soft touch of Hope’s hair. Watching her unseen from across a sheet of smoke, Xena felt her own heart ache. All she’d wanted was to protect her, and her own pride and selfishness had gotten them into this situation. There was no stopping Dahak attacking Gabrielle or un-impregnating her, so she’d have to deal with Hope.
She knew there was only one option. But she was also willing to risk a few more days for Gabrielle to have with her daughter. Of course, she’d have to be careful. Gabrielle, blind with love, had seemed to find it cute when Hope had thrown a fit and burned a large section of grass. As sweet as her capacity for love was, it was also dangerous. Did it really make her so callous to see that the child was a threat?
But she said nothing as Gabrielle cooed at Hope through breakfast and packed up Argo in silence. She pretended not to see the hurt in Gabrielle’s eyes as she led Argo out of the camp site without offering a ride for Hope. But there was only so much patience one warrior could muster for the child of evil incarnate, especially when she kept sending things flying behind her mother’s back and reaching with longing towards the knife strapped to Xena’s saddle.
It was a long time before Gabrielle stepped up beside the horse and spoke, “So. What are we going to do to save my daughter’s soul?” Her tone had a sharp edge to it that was new.
“No!” Hope giggled—almost maniacally, Xena was sure.
But she remembered sneaking through the woods with baby Solan and forced her voice calm. “I’m not sure yet.”
“Are you even trying?”
“Yes! Casting evil out of an evil being isn’t exactly a stab and slash operation, Gabrielle!”
Gabrielle’s eyes narrowed. “How do I know you’re bothering to look for a solution? I know you hate her.”
Xena’s voice stuck in her throat. She couldn’t deny that. “But I love you.”
Gabrielle held Hope tighter and looked away. It was a long, quiet day of walking aimlessly.
Finally, towards evening, Xena said softly, “There might be a way.”
Gabrielle said nothing but Xena could feel her eyes.
“Actually, there’s two groups that might be able to help. The Amazons and the centaurs both have ancient rituals we could look through.”
“Great! We’ll talk to Melosa then. *She’ll* help.” The edge hadn’t left Gabrielle’s voice.
It was a three-day trek to Amazon territory, and it was an aganizing three days. Gabrielle all but ignored Xena, and her half-hearted attempts at conversation fell flat.
Finally they passed the familiar marker and were almost immediately met with cries of “Halt!” from the surrounding trees.
Xena had started to raise her arms to signal peace, but had hardly opened her mouth when Gabrielle shoved past her. “My name is Gabrielle, this is Xena, we don’t know any of you but I’m one of you through right of caste, and we really need to speak to Queen Melosa, *now*.
The Amazons dropped silently from above, then huddled together several feet away to discuss it.
“I was going to say that,” Xena hissed softly.
“Mmm. We don’t always have to do it your way.”
“*My” way—that isn’t my way, it’s the proper Amazonian way...you know that.”
“Mmm,” Gabrielle muttered again and looked toward the curly-haired leader approaching them.
“Follow us,” she said and briskly started off. The others fell in around them, except one who ran ahead.
It was another hour of walking in which very little talking went on. Xena had thought she’d grown comfortable with silence, but this particular silence was so charged as to be painful. She patted Argo’s head just to remind herself that someone was always on her side.
Eventually they came to a large clearing filled with huts and wooden lookout structures, firepits here and there. Women milled about, laughing and chatting with each other. Xena was sure she caught a glimpse of a couple of them kissing in a dark corner, and she ached with jealousy. Gabrielle hadn’t kissed her since before Hope came along, and now seemed to think she was the enemy.
They were led to the largest hut, where the woman who’d clearly been leading the patrol disappeared and then reappeared a moment later, with Melosa following her. Her long dark hair was loose and she wore the same comfortable, exposing clothes as the others, no sign but her regal demeanor betraying that she was Queen.
She was smiling, “Xena! Gabrielle! I’m glad to—” but she broke off suddenly, staring in Gabrielle’s direction, and her warm demeanor disappeared. “What. The. Hell. Is *that*?”