From the moment we arrived in Corinth, Xena threw herself into the task of governing her new empire, and since I was the Empress' assistant, that meant I was very busy. Yet, despite being busy, my job had become routine. I had started to feel restless. I knew I was meant to do more, to be more than just Xena's assistant.
I kept thinking back to what the travelling seer had told me about my fate: that I'd meet a mighty warrior, and I would help this warrior change the world. Well, I met a mighty warrior, Xena, but my world had changed very little. I took notes in advisory council meetings, organised her correspondence, arranged her schedule, and ran errands. I no longer had to tidy up her quarters or bring her meals; she had a palace full of servants to do that for her. It wasn't until my relationship with Xena changed from professional to personal that my world changed.
Gone were the days when I waited in camp while the Conqueror was off leading her army into battle; after Xena became Empress, she and I spent much of our day together, officially as well as socially. Once a week she would invite me to spend the day with her. Sometimes we'd go for a ride into the countryside just to sit in a field, eat some lunch, and escape the problems in the city. If it was raining, we'd go to the library and hunt through the scrolls, or I would read one of my stories for her.
One day, near mid-summer, we travelled along the coast with the intention of staying out overnight. The air was still and oppressively hot, like standing in front of a blacksmith's forge. There wasn’t even a cool breeze off the sea to alleviate the heat.
Xena seemed unaffected by the temperature, and we’d been on the move without a break for quite a while. As she strolled along the road leading her horse, my efforts to keep up with her long strides were making me tired and thirsty. I felt as though I was going to pass out if I took another step. I stopped and leaned against a tree just to rest for a moment and catch my breath.
"Here, have a drink."
I turned to see the Empress offering me her waterskin.
"Thank you, but I have my own. You need yours for yourself."
"One mouthful won't hurt. Besides, we should reach the river before I run out."
I gratefully accepted the waterskin. The water was warm and did nothing to cool me, but it was wet and very welcomed. I handed the waterskin back to the Empress with my thanks.
With a fluid movement, Xena leapt up into the saddle, reached down, and grabbed my arm. Before I had time to react, I was hoisted into the air and deposited into the saddle behind her. She kicked the horse into a trot and we resumed our progress along the road.
Riding did nothing to alleviate my discomfort from the glaring sun. I squirmed as beads of sweat trickled down my back. Eventually, with the sun's brightness and the horse's steady gait, I surrendered to fatigue, closed my eyes, and drifted off to sleep.
I woke with a jerk. Overhead, the sky was darkening and a few stars were just visible. The smell of sweet blossoms was carried on a cool breeze. How did I get here? Where was here?
I jumped at the voice, and turned to see the Empress crouched down by my side offering me a plate of bread and cold meat.
"Oh, Your Highness," I cried as I tried jumping to my feet, "please forgive me. I must've fallen—"
"Easy," Xena restrained me with a strong hand on my shoulder, "it's okay."
"Shush!" she commanded.
She handed me the plate and laid out her sleeping roll nearby. I looked down and saw that I was already lying on mine.
"You fell asleep behind me," she explained. "You didn't wake when we stopped, so I laid you down on your bedroll."
I felt a sudden pang of arousal at the image of her carrying me in her strong arms and gently laying me down. "Uh…thank you, My Liege," I finally replied, hoping she didn't see the blush that erupted on my cheeks.
The Empress shrugged. "No trouble, but if you fall asleep while riding tomorrow, try not to drool on my back," she warned me with a chuckle.
"Yes, My Liege. I mean, no, My Liege. I—"
"I know what you meant." She smiled. "Next time, don’t wait so long to tell me if you’re tired."
She started a small fire and settled down to sharpen her sword.
I listened to the rhythmic strokes of the whetstone and the gentle crackle of dry wood burning. As I did, I imagined the two of us as good friends, camping beneath the stars, travelling the world together and fighting for the greater good.
It wasn't until the sound of stone on metal abruptly stopped that I realised what I had just said. I had often thought of her as Xena, but this was the first time I had spoken her name aloud.
I could see a dark look settling over her face as she sat frozen in her actions.
"Don't ever forget who I am," she growled. "I've put up with a lot of lapses in protocol from you, but gods be damned, I won't tolerate such familiarity from a subordinate. Do you understand?"
"I'm very sorry, My Liege. It won't happen again." I felt awful. She had shown me kindness and I had allowed myself to forget my position. Sometimes it was hard to remember that she was the Empress of Greece when we were alone.
After a moment she returned to sharpening her weapon. I stared down at the plate of food she had prepared for me. Suddenly I didn't feel too hungry and put the plate aside.
I lay down and closed my eyes hoping to sleep, but I wasn’t tired. I was haunted by the scrape of stone on steel and the crackling of the fire: the very noises that led to my blunder.
Mercifully, the scraping stopped, after what seemed an eternity though could have been mere moments.
"Gabrielle," she said in a quiet voice, "I… I'm sorry I snapped at you."
I opened my eyes and looked at her. It was the first time I had heard her openly apologise. Xena had her back toward me, so I couldn't see her face, but I saw her shoulders raise and lower with a heavy sigh.
"You see, for so long I've kept people at arm's length. Since it's hard to know whom to trust, it was easier not to let anyone get too close. You're different, Gabrielle. I can't explain why really, but I feel we're somehow…don't know…connected." She turned around to face me. "You're much more to me than just an assistant, Gabrielle. I—" She lowered her eyes and twirled her sword in the dirt. "I consider you a friend."
"Thank you, My Liege. I feel the same way about you...uh, a friend I mean."
She looked up at me again. "You may call me 'Xena' when we're in private."
"Yes, My Liege," I replied diplomatically, still unsure after her reprimand.
A coy smile formed on her lips. "I guess this could be considered private, don't you?"
"Yes, my Li—"
She raised a finger to silence me.
"Yes, Xena," I said with a smile.
Xena. It felt so right to say it. Just as it felt so right when she said my name.
Being Xena's friend wasn't easy. Friendship required mutual respect and an understanding between equals, but the ruler of an empire had no equal. In private, she allowed me a semblance of equality, but in public I was still just her assistant and a subject, and certainly not her equal.
This was never made clearer than the day she discovered not everyone in her empire saw her as a noble and munificent ruler.
The Empress was not in the best of moods that morning. When I first saw her, she was skulking along the corridor near her study, brooding about something.
"Gabrielle! Come with me!" she snapped.
I hurried to catch up and follow her. "What’s wrong, My Liege?" I did my best to keep up as she thundered down the stairs that led from the royal apartments on the second floor to the first floor of the palace.
"Dissidents!" she hissed, thrusting a parchment at me.
As we crossed the centre courtyard, I unrolled the parchment. On it was a crudely drawn caricature of the Empress, wearing only a neck collar, copulating doggy style with Ares, the God of War. The caption read "Ares' Bitch". It was unflattering, but hardly the work of dissidents, I thought.
"I’ve been hearing rumours about a group that's been spreading this sort of centaur dung," she continued. "They think they can do a better job of ruling the empire than me. Ha! They're lucky this isn't Rome!" She was furious and getting angrier by the minute.
We left the palace through the hall and went out into the southern courtyard. A company of palace guards, under the command of Lieutenant Darphus, was assembled in front of the stables.
"I’m going to put a stop to them. I’m going to wipe out any dissenting voice in my empire," Xena growled as we crossed to Darphus and the soldiers.
"Attention!" Darphus barked as the Empress approached him.
The soldiers neatly obeyed the command.
"I want the perpetrators of this treason found and crucified by tomorrow morning." She snatched the scroll from me and threw it at Darphus.
The lieutenant caught the scroll.
"It shall be done, My Liege," he replied, without looking at the contents of the parchment.
"Also, anyone found in possession of any material speaking out against me, I want crucified."
"Yes, My Liege."
"And Darphus, if you can’t find the perpetrators, start random executions until the culprits come forward."
"You can’t do that," I protested, "not over a harmless pict—"
My words were cut short when Xena backhanded me across the face.
"Don't ever contradict me again!" she roared. Her eyes were seething with rage.
I dipped my head and struggled to maintain my composure as tears welled up. I knew that the Empress despised weakness, and strangely enough, it still mattered what she thought of me.
"Forgive me, Highness."
"Leave my sight. Now!"
"By your leave, Empress." I bowed and with as much dignity as I could muster, turned and walked back into the palace.
Once inside, I ran through the centre courtyard gardens to my favourite spot, the carp pond. I often went to that tranquil spot to sit and think, or write. I reached into the pond and scooped up some water to soothe the spot where Xena had struck me.
The coolness of the water felt good against my burning cheek, but it didn't stop me feeling sick to my stomach. She had slapped me with enough force to nearly knock me to the ground, but the pain in my cheek was nothing compared to the ache I felt inside — convinced that it was the end of our friendship. I couldn’t hold back the tears or the nausea any longer.
I heard footsteps approaching as I wiped away the last of the tears and vomit. By the familiar sound of boots on stone, I knew it was the Empress. She knelt down and took my hand in hers. From the regretful look on her face, I could tell she had come to apologise. But she had humiliated me in public, and I childishly snatched my hand away.
"I'm so sorry, Gabrielle."
My initial shame had long since turned to indignation. I should have known better than to speak out in public, but she should have shown some restraint in reprimanding me. Xena may rule an empire, but that gave her no excuse for striking me so viciously, and in public.
"And I'm sorry that I contradicted you in public," I said softly. I continued in a firmer tone, "But that will be the last time you ever hit me, Xena."
"I didn't mean to hit you. I just reacted to the words, not the person speaking. I wasn't thinking." Her voice sounded ragged, as though she was on the edge of losing control.
"No, you weren't," I snapped. "You've isolated yourself for so long that you're incapable of behaving like anything other than the Conqueror. I can't be your friend in private if you insist on treating me no better than a dog when we're in public. Where's your compassion?"
"It's not about compassion," Xena answered brusquely, "it's about control. Show weakness in front of others, for even one moment, and someone will try to take advantage."
"Showing compassion is not a sign of weakness," I replied.
"It is to me. I have to maintain control," she said, softening her former brusque tone but without losing her authoritative edge.
"I don't care about your control, or your power," I asserted, "I care about you, Xena. I spoke out for that reason. I don’t want people to hate you. I want them to see you as I do. If you persist in this act of being ruthless and unfeeling, then you’re going to have to hit me again, because I will speak out again."
"It's who I am," she declared.
"No! It's who you choose to be. There's a difference." I paused to tone down my frustration, and then looking directly into her steely-blue eyes, I continued, "I know you can be warm and kind, because you’re that way with me when we're alone. You don't need to be cold and hateful in public to be an effective ruler."
I watched her expression change as she absorbed my words: at first bewildered; then conflicted. I knew our friendship meant a lot to her, but the public façade of the Conqueror was important to her, too.
"There’s nothing stopping you keeping control, only your insecurity," I said. "I admit I was wrong to speak out today and I could’ve made my point more diplomatically, but I didn't deserve to be treated like a slave. I won’t let you treat me like that again. Not if you want my friendship." I took a deep breath, "I’d rather leave."
"No, Gabrielle, please." She grabbed my arm. "You can't, I need you. I-you're a good friend, Gabrielle — a very special person in my life, and I don't want to lose you." The expression on her face was heartbreaking.
"You can disagree with me. You can ignore my advice. You can even shout and scream at me, but if you ever hit me again, I'll—"
"I won't, I promise!"
"Don't!" I snapped. "Don't make promises you can't keep." The anger in me finally receded and I softened my tone, "all I ask is that you consider what I've said."
"I will. What can I do to make up for this? Name it. Anything."
"You can rescind your order about crucifying the dissidents," I suggested.
The Empress hung her head. "Anything else, but not that." She lifted her eyes to look at me. "You understand I can't back down on that order, don't you?"
I had expected that response. A part of me was pleased about that. I never wanted Xena to be an ineffectual ruler, and I recognised her need to deliver justice in her own way.
"I'll reconsider the order of the random executions," Xena continued, "I'll just use that as a threat to get the dissidents. I promise I won't have any innocent people killed."
"You don't get it, do you?" My frustration flared again. "Those sorts of threats are the very reason why the dissidents exist."
"Okay, okay. I won't even threaten to have innocent people hurt. But I won't tolerate threats to my power. I'm going to make an example of any dissident I find."
"You know, you'll get an ass to pull your goods to market faster with a carrot than with a whip," I replied.
"What is that supposed to mean?"
"It means, executing the dissidents isn't going to solve the problem, it's only going make the problem worse. On the other hand, if you listen to their grievances and show them mercy, they'll carry the message back to their comrades that you are a wise and just ruler — a champion of the people."
"Perhaps in an ideal world that might work. But in this reality, it takes a strong and powerful ruler to build a better world."
I nodded wearily. "There is something else you can do to make it up to me."
"What's that?" She reached out and gently touched my bruised cheek.
I winced and pulled away slightly — my cheek and my pride still hurt a little. "You said you couldn’t show compassion, then allow me to show it for you. Let me be the voice of your conscience. That way you can maintain your ‘Conqueror’ image, if it means so much to you."
"I don’t understand."
"I want a job where advising you isn't out of line, a job with more responsibilities. I want to be able to advise you in front of people without seeming to undermine your authority. You've asked for my advice in private and I've offered it, and I've disagreed with you in private and you've accepted it. To me, that sounds more like an advisor than a personal assistant. Don't you think?"
Xena didn't respond right away, which I took as a good sign. "Alright," she nodded thoughtfully, "I’ll make you my Advisor for Civilian Affairs. But, I still expect you to 'assist me' with your company and your friendship."
I realised how significant a promotion this was. It put me on equal footing with the Empress' other chief advisors, like General Darnell. However, more important than the job to me was Xena telling me I was a special person in her life. That meant our friendship was genuine, and I felt a weight lift from my shoulders.
My reception on my first day as Advisor for Civilian Affairs was only marginally better than the reception I got as the Conqueror's new personal assistant. There were no lewd comments this time, but it was not greeted with enthusiasm — especially not by Darnell.
"What exactly is her authority?" he asked the Empress forcefully.
"Seeing that the people are pacified, and whatever else I decide." She fixed a challenging stare at him and he backed down. "It leaves you and me free to concentrate on more important things."
Though her final words may have sounded as if they were belittling my new position, I knew she was only saying it to placate Darnell. The general was very possessive of his position in Xena's court. He seemed to take the idea of the Empress seeking advice elsewhere as a personal affront.
"My job is only to advise Empress Xena on what I think is best for her people. As you know, she is free to disregard my advice at her will." I said. I wanted to put his mind at rest — to point out that my advice might not always be heeded, and that he shouldn't feel threatened. I then realised I had been witness to his advice being dismissed. I hoped he hadn't taken my comment as an insult.
Darnell kept silent, but I could see by his clenched jaw that he had taken my words the wrong way.
"Let's get down to business," said Xena, destroying the uneasy silence that was building. "Have the dissidents been caught yet?"
Darnell swallowed hard. Even I could tell what his answer would be.
"Any leads at all?" growled the Empress, before Darnell spoke.
"None," the General answered. "Shall I have Darphus start rounding—"
"No," Xena cut him off, giving me an embarrassed look, "keep looking."
"As you wish, Your Highness." He relaxed once he knew Xena was not angry with him for lack of results. But at the same time, he looked disappointed.
After the Empress had dismissed her council of advisors, Darnell cornered me in a corridor.
"This is the real world, little girl, not a game. Be careful," he whispered menacingly. Then he strode off.
If his intention was to threaten me, it failed. I had no wish to make an enemy of General Darnell, but he and I both knew that the Empress would hurt him if he ever threatened me. I took his little show as nothing more than an expression of his insecurity. However, the one thing that did bother me was calling me a "little girl". On the wall opposite me was a brightly polished shield, and I studied my reflection in it. I could see his point. I didn't look that old. If I wanted to be taken seriously, then an image change was necessary.
Xena opened the door to her study and blinked at me in surprise. "What? You—"
I allowed myself a smile of satisfaction as I walked past her. She closed the door and stood there staring at me. It wasn't often the Empress was left open-mouthed and speechless.
"Do you like it?" I touched the back of my head where my long hair had been cut short.
She walked around me, examining me from every angle, before passing judgement. "Yes," she said quietly and nodded. "Yes. It suits you. But why?"
I wondered about telling her the truth. If she knew it was a reaction to Darnell's comments, it would've led to unnecessary trouble. "I think it looks more professional," I said.
Xena laughed softly and reached out to ruffle my newly shorn locks. "Well, it's too late to change it," she observed. "C'mon, let's eat."
We sat down, but hadn't even begun to eat when we were disturbed by a knock. A soldier saluted when Xena opened the door.
"General Darnell sent me to inform you the dissidents have been captured."
"Where are they?"
"In the main square. They're waiting for you to witness the executions."
Xena glanced in my direction, and then turned back to the soldier. "I’ll be there right away. Dismissed."
The soldier saluted and hurried away.
"Come with me, Gabrielle."
My heart started pounding hard. "No. I can’t… if you’re going to execute them, I don’t want to watch."
She looked at me with a neutral expression. "You’re my Advisor for Civilian Affairs. And this is a civilian affair."
"You wanted responsibility, Gabrielle. Take it. In this job, you can’t just deal with the things you like."
I nodded half-heartedly and trailed behind her.
A chariot was waiting in the courtyard for us. Xena jumped in and looked back at me. She had a gentle, thoughtful look on her face, hardly the look of someone going to witness an execution. She took the reins and offered me a hand up. I quickly climbed in next to her. As the chariot moved off, a heavy feeling settled in my stomach. I couldn't have felt worse if I was on my way to my own execution. By contrast, Xena seemed almost unnaturally calm.
We rode out of the gates of the palace, down the hill, and into the city agora. Xena placed her hand on my forearm — she knew I didn't want to be there. I glanced up at her, and she gave my arm a gentle squeeze and winked.
We rode in silence through the streets and before too long we arrived at the main square. The soldiers gathered there snapped to attention at a barked command from Lieutenant Darphus. Xena brought the chariot to stop before slowly climbing out. A hush descended among the crowd. I waited for Xena to move away before I got out and reluctantly followed her.
The late evening sun had dipped below the buildings, casting the square in cool shadows. Three prisoners were being held near three newly erected crosses in front of an anxious crowd. Darphus beamed proudly as he watched the Empress walk towards the dissidents. I walked a couple of yards behind Xena, hoping that this would be over quickly. Darnell was also present. He stood in front of the prisoners until the Empress neared, at which point he stepped aside.
"It seems you have a problem with the way I run my empire," she addressed all three.
"Rot in Tartarus, bitch," spat one of the prisoners. He was a stocky man with unkempt, shoulder length red hair. His partners in crime were identical twins, tall and wiry with curly black hair.
"I’ll take that as a ‘yes’," Xena said with amusement. "You three have the honour of being the first to face the judgement of my new Advisor for Civilian Affairs."
I wanted the ground to open up and swallow me. I couldn’t believe Xena would do such a thing without telling me beforehand. By the expression on General Darnell's face, he was as stunned as I was.
She turned and walked towards me, a gentle smile curling her lips. "Do what you think is best," she whispered to me as she stopped by my side.
I thought I detected a subtle emphasis on the word "you". Would she really accept my judgement if I let them go? I wondered.
"Go on," she encouraged me gently, "you can do it."
I stepped forward to the prisoner who had cursed Xena. He gave me a disgusted look.
"Did she give you that bruise?" he asked.
My hand went to my face where Xena had hit me. "It was a misunderstanding on my part," I replied.
"She beats you and you defend her. What chance do we have? You may as well crucify us now."
"What’s your name?" I asked him.
He studied me for a few moments. I half expected Xena to interrupt and tell him to answer me, but she kept out of it, allowing me to do this my own way.
"Larrius," he said eventually.
I looked to Darphus. "Is there any evidence linking Larrius to the...‘material’?"
"Yes," Darphus said with a smirk. He handed me a scroll that contained another picture: the Empress seated on her throne eating a sumptuous meal while starving people ate discarded scraps at her feet.
"Did you draw this?" I asked Larrius.
He turned to look at his two companions before answering. "Yes."
He blinked in surprise, not expecting such a question. "Because the people deserve to know the truth."
"And what is the truth?"
He nodded his head at the picture. "That is."
"So, you’re saying that the people are starving?"
"And how long have they been starving?" I countered immediately.
"What?" His green eyes narrowed in suspicion at my question. He looked as though he didn't like the direction the discussion was going,
"People have been starving for generations," I explained, "it’s a fact of life — not Empress Xena’s fault."
"But she’s not doing anything to stop it," Larrius persisted.
"And how does drawing these pictures help? Have you given the starving any money or food? Have you tried to help them find work so they can buy food for themselves?" I felt angry, but kept my voice calm.
Shamefacedly, the dissident leader avoided my questions.
"No, I didn’t think you had. Do you really want to help the poor, or are you merely stirring up trouble out of boredom?"
I must've hit a nerve, because Larrius became emboldened once again. "She promised us peace and prosperity," the prisoner pointed a finger at the Empress, his shackles clanking as he did, "but where is this prosperity? Instead of helping to rebuild villages and farms laid waste by warlords in advance of the Conqueror's army, she's building armies, palaces, and temples to Ares. She's no better than the tyrants she overthrew."
"Okay, you’ve convinced me you care about the people. You risked execution for them. But you are wrong about the Empress. She cares enough about her people to create the post of a civilian affairs advisor. So if you have a grievance, bring it to me and I'll see what I can do to help."
Larrius' face went from defiant to pensive.
"Do you have anything else to say in your defence?" I waited for a response, but he merely lowered his eyes and said nothing. His two associates stood mutely a few paces behind him.
I took a deep breath and remembered Xena's words: do what I thought was best. "This is what’s going to happen. The three of you are going to spend twenty-eight days in the dungeon as punishment for spreading seditious lies and pictures of Empress Xena. I suggest you use that time thinking of more constructive ways to help the poor. When you complete your prison sentence, you are to have three proposals for improving the condition of our poorest citizens. Then your next twenty-eight days will be spent implementing your plans."
"Take them away!" the Empress ordered.
Darphus order his men to lead Larrius and his companions away. General Darnell gestured to the officer in charge of the execution detail, who in turn ordered the crowd dispersed.
After giving me an incredulous sneer, Darnell turned to face the Empress. "May I speak to you, in private, Your Highness?"
"You may speak freely in front of Advisor Gabrielle, Darnell."
I noticed the use of a title with my name, and not with his, rankled Darnell. It surprised me that Xena belittled him so readily, and I wondered whether it was a good idea to antagonise him. But Xena had known him for years and he was loyal to her.
"Very well. I fail to understand your decision to allow this, this…" Darnell groped for a word while he raised his hand in my direction. It appeared he thought better of it, when the Empress squared her shoulders and gave him a threatening look. He continued with barely disguised contempt, "…these traitors to escape execution, and give them what amounts to a slap on the wrist. Mark my words, Highness, this course of action will only encourage the dissidents, not deter them. And Rome will take this as a sign of weakness."
Xena's face remained impassive; however, her eyes grew cold at the word "weakness."
"I appreciate your advice, General, and your efforts to find and arrest these malcontents. I assure you I have not gone soft. I have learned that sometimes you'll get an ass to pull your goods to market faster with a carrot than with a whip."
Darnell looked confused at Xena’s words. He opened and closed his mouth a few times, then finally gave up trying to think of a reply.
"Now, if you will excuse us, General, I need to speak to my Advisor for Civilian Affairs."
Darnell snapped to attention and bowed, "Your Highness." He did an about face and left.
I waited until the general was well out of earshot and Xena and I were alone, before I spoke. "Xena, I'm sorry if I put you in an awkward position. I wasn't prepared and I—"
"No, it's fine, Gabrielle. You handled that very well."
"Even though I didn't have them crucified?"
"It was your decision to make. Whether I agree with it or not, you still did a very good job."
"General Darnell didn't seem to think so. Maybe he's right. Maybe this will just encourage the dissidents to become bolder. What if I made a huge mistake?"
"Never underestimate yourself, Gabrielle. You have good instincts — never doubt them. A word of advice though, you are now in a position of authority. Be confident in the decisions you make and the actions you take. Never let yourself be seen as indecisive. You can’t afford to show any weakness."
From that pearl of wisdom, I better understood why Xena appeared so inflexible at times. And from my first official act as the Empress' civilian affairs advisor, I learned that I better heed her advice. I couldn't afford to appear weak or indecisive when dealing with dissidents — or Darnell.
"May I ask you something?"
"Sure, what is it?"
"Did you use that analogy about 'the ass and the carrot' just to cover for me with General Darnell, or do you really feel that way?"
"Well, let's just say that I'm willing to concede there may be times when it is better to use a carrot than a cross." Xena flashed a wry smile.
"In any case, if my idea doesn't work, I can still have them crucified," I said in all seriousness.
"That's a joke…right?"
"What do you think?" It was my turn to flash her a wry smile.
Her face lit up in a smile, then returned to a more serious expression. "Gabrielle, there might be times when decisions either of us make bring us into conflict." She raised a hand and gently squeezed my shoulder. "I want you to know now that whatever professional disagreements we may have, it won't affect our personal rela..." Xena paused and cleared her throat, "I mean we'll still be friends."
I looked up into soft blue eyes and said, "of course we'll be friends — that will never change."
I truly believed that. No matter what the Fates threw at us, we would always be friends.
GO TO CHAPTER 8