True Tiger

5th Part of The Darkness and The Light series

By Mikael Helbo Kjaer

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Website: .dk

Disclaimer: Xena, Gabrielle and all other original characters portrayed in the TV show Xena, Warrior Princess are the exclusive property of Renaissance Pictures, Studios USA and Universal Television. No infringement is intended by this piece of fiction. The story is however the exclusive property of the above mentioned author. This story can be freely copied and distributed online under the condition that any website or list informs the author about the posting or the author approaches the website or list with the story for posting. The story and this note must be presented unedited except for any HTML added for presentation purposes. All other situations must be negotiated with the author as named above. No commercial gain must come from the usage of this story.

Setting: Post FIN

Sexual references: GEN (with subtext)

Violence: This story contains scenes with and descriptions of intense violence

Rating: PG-15

Summary: 5th installment of the series 'The Darkness and The Light'. The grieving and emotional Xena is slowly making her way towards the final resting place of Gabrielle's body, while her thoughts are plagued by her memories of her own struggle to return to the side of her bard. What will she do, when she learns that the witch Jenn is about to undo all the good Gabrielle did for Chin?

Author's notes: First of all I want to thank Karen and Sarah for their help and patience, Maureen for being a friend and everyone else who reads my stories for doing so. In this one I am challenging myself to write outside of my usual mindset to deal with grief in a person not emotionally strong enough to handle it against the backdrop of an adventure. When finished the PDF version of this can be found on my website.

Prologue:

She rode her brown horse along the dusty trail. The tracks on the road in front of her revealed that a large army had passed this way not long ago. She didn't care. Her eyes and ears were not trained on finding any threats approaching either. Her guard wasn't raised, as she rode all alone through the bamboo forest. Her eyes were red and puffy from crying. Her black hair was unkempt and her usually tan skin was pale. She slumped in her saddle, trusting her horse to continue on without much input from her. Xena was beyond caring for herself. In her mind she had only two tasks left. Two small things she had to accomplish, before she could have some peace. But these last few days she had lost the focus to do even that.

Her thoughts had at first been to go to the dragon that had taken Gabrielle's body from the battlefield and demand it to be handed over for a proper burial in Amphipolis after some ceremony with Gabrielle's Amazons. But then it had changed.

She had become angry. She had become angry at the Chinese for letting her friend die for their cause. She had become angry at herself for being to late. Gabrielle had died around the time she had gotten back on her feet and maybe just maybe if she had thought faster or ridden directly to Chin, then maybe Gabrielle would be alive at her side. In the end she had even become angry at Gabrielle for dying, for dashing her fragile hopes for some lasting happiness.

Then her search had become frantic. A burning hope, that maybe she could force Ares or Aphrodite or some other god into resurrecting her bard, had driven her. But as the reality of her situation sunk in even that hope died, just as her rage had. A great emptiness had followed as she set out across the vast lands of the Empire to find the mysterious valley of the dragon.

Now she cared less and less for anything each passing day. She just rode through the forest heading northwest hoping that she would find her friend's body soon and maybe if she didn't have the means or will to move it, end it all there.

Xena didn't even notice that she had a fever and hadn't eaten in days. She was on the final stretch in her mind. She kept assuring herself that it would all be over soon. The valley couldn't be far and when she reached it, her journeying would be over at last.

Two pairs of eyes peered out from under a bush as Xena passed on her horse. "She doesn't look like much of a threat," the scout whispered to his friend, who like him had shed their Imperial army uniforms for a simpler and stealthier garb of green cloth and brown hide not long ago.

"Well, she had been following the army for a least a couple of days. We should challenge her and find out whom she serves. She looks an awful lot like one of those northern barbarians we're hunting," his friend said as they crawled back out from under the bush just as the black haired woman passed out of sight.

"The Warrior Bard was a foreigner as well and she saved all of Chin from their tyranny. You can't use her looks as an excuse to get yourself a new horse," the soldier clad in Chinese garb said as he walked over to his weary steed and took its reins. The scouts walked out onto the road. "She looked ill," the other soldier said as they set out to follow the trail of their army hoping to catch up to it soon.

As they rounded a curve a little up the road, they found the brown horse standing over its fallen rider. After looking at each other then back at the body the two scouts shrugged and after looking for any signs of one of the contagious diseases they picked her up and slung her over the back of her horse. They rode after their army, the formerly horseless scout using Xena's massive mount as if it was his.

"General Wu," a voice called from outside his command tent. He recognized it as being owned by one of his commanders.

"Come in," he offered and looked towards the tent opening.

Commander Chang stepped into his tent with a neutral expression on his face. It was clearly nothing important as he recalled this man for all his courage and experience still had a tendency for wide eyed looks, when reporting important news. It gave the commander a slightly innocent air that fit his otherwise sober personality well. He wondered if it was a habit Gabrielle had encouraged in the man that had served as the captain of her regiment. "My general, my scouts have returned and confirmed my suspicions that my soldiers were followed on their way up here. They captured or rather found a black haired warrior woman on our trail. I think she could be one of the northerners. Her weaponry and armor is different from anything I've seen before, but I stillā€¦"

Sun interrupted Chang. "It is a tall subtly muscled woman with black hair, who rides on a tall brown horse right," he said. His commander nodded mutely.

"She is no enemy of ours. Actually I was hoping to meet her again. I think, you would want to exchange a couple of words with her as well," he explained and smiled at his commander's confused expression.

"Why would I want to talk to her?" Chang asked.

"I met her in Chang'an. She walked into the palace, managing to get as far as the hall in which I was practicing with my sword. She claimed, she was seeking the one we knew as the Warrior Bard," he took a drink from a jug of water to stave of the heat of the midday before continuing.

"I didn't believe her, but then she told me her real name and claimed to have lived and adventured with her for six years. She knew things that even I haven't heard in any of the stories circulating about her life not that there are many," Sun wiped a hand across his forehead and indicated that his commander should sit down and refresh himself on the water as well.

"I asked her to prove her knowledge of the Warrior Bard to me. I asked her to tell me the name of the bard and her hometown. She told me both those things and I even learned the name of the land from which Gabrielle originated: Greece, it is called," Sun explained proudly.

"She asked me to tell her, where her friend was. I would have told her the sad story of our friend's untimely demise, but I was heading into the field just after that and I had a lot to do, so I sent her to a man much better equipped to tell the story of his Little Dragon," he explained.

"You sent her to Master Fong," Chang said his eyes far away and his thought probably lost in the very same type of memories every mention of the blonde bard seemed to bring out in all her friends in Chin.

"Yes, and if she is here now, then she is probably still bent on seeing her friend even if it is only her lifeless body," Sun pointed out and slowly rose from his chair.

"I would like to meet her," Sun said and walked towards the curtain meant to keep out the worst of the dust and heat outside. Chang rose and followed him.

"That might turn out to be a slight problem," Chang tried to explain as he walked purposefully towards the commander's troops, where he expected to find the tall warrior woman.

"Why?" He asked and looked at the younger man.

"She was found as I tried to explain. She is sick. I sent her to the healers' tents under guard of course," Chang explained and gestured towards the collection of small and large tents that were the domains of his healers. Sun headed that way a frown creasing his forehead as he was guided by his commander towards the resting place of the friend of a friend.

The black haired woman lay on a small bed in a shadowy and cool tent. Her eyes were closed and her hair was wet from her own sweat. A healer was slowly giving the woman, who looked a lot thinner and paler than the last time he had seen her, some water and fruit juice, while another was putting wet cloths on her head to cool her down.

"What is wrong with her?" He asked the healer that had just risen from the woman's side.

"She has not been taking care of herself. She needs food and water. And to top it all off she has caught some fever. If we don't get her temperature down as well as get her to drink and eat, she will take permanent damage in the head or die from this. In fact in her condition it is a wonder that she hasn't died yet," the healer explained and looked down at his patient.

"Take good care of her," Wu asked and left the tent feeling no more comfortable amongst the healers than he usually did when there were screaming and crying men around. Healers' tents held too many bad memories for him to spend much time there.

Nobody noticed how the woman behind them whispered in her dry throat: "Gabrielleā€¦ I am coming." Her mind wandered into her fevered disrupted memories for comfort and found a land filled with moaning shadows.