by Joseph Anderson

Xena, Gabrielle, Callisto, and all elements from the TV series Xena: Warrior Princess are the property of MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures. All other characters belong to the author. No copyright infringement is intended with this fan fiction, which may not be sold, can be copied for personal use only, and must include all copyright notices and disclaimers.

This story contains graphic violence and references to child abuse.

This story refers to events in my "Kimberly" stories and Callisto: Child's Play.

Guilt overcame her for what she was putting Xena through. She knew it was her fault entirely. Xena had received a message from an old friend requesting help and the warrior princess had told her she couldn't come with her. It was too dangerous and she couldn't protect her. But the bard had decided now was the time to put her foot down. Xena had left without her and the bard had followed. The warrior had practically begged her to stay away. She owed her life to this friend and couldn't refuse him help, but it was no place for Gabrielle: it was a chaotic war zone contested by four different kingdoms, each with several mercenary forces augmenting their armies. The bard had refused to be left behind. Xena's friend wasn't even a major player; he was just trying to keep his family alive and called in his marker with Xena to help him accomplish that, to get them out.

Now the bard was in the remains of a burned out tavern. One side or other had thought the owner was friendly to the wrong soldiers. Xena had practically been weeping as she left her to go help her friend, and ordered her to stay out of sight. The bard could periodically see roving bands, each with their own insignias on helmets or shields. Screams rang out occasionally. Gabrielle peered out the tavern window and was sickened to hear a shout of discovery. She moved away from the window holding her staff in white knuckled hands. She could hear the sound of several men approaching, laughing, armor clanking. I'm sorry, Xena, she thought. Suddenly she heard shouts of a different kind, and running and fighting. Another band saw them. Maybe, I'm in luck! After a brief flurry of sound there was silence.

"Knock, knock. Anybody home? Oh, yoo hoo."

Gabrielle spun around from the window and looked at the burnt out opening where a door used to be. Framed in it was a slight figure looking at her with head cocked to one side. Her features were indistinct in the darkness but the blonde hair was unmistakable.

"Callisto?" the bard said without thinking.

"Nope, try again."

"Jilly! What are you doing here? Get in here, it's not safe," the bard hurried over to the 15 year old.

The girl laughed as she sauntered in, "I'll say! I don't know if those soldiers out there even knew themselves whose side they were on. What are YOU doing here? How could Xena bring you here?" She allowed Gabrielle to grab her arm and bustle her inside protectively, amused.

"Are those soldiers still there, Jilly?" the bard said, trying to prepare for action, worried about protecting the girl.

"Here and there. Go see for yourself. Don't worry, their lying down on the job now. Besides you've got your trusty staff. That's what Kimberly always says, 'Gabrielle and her trusty staff, Flicka'."

The bard looked at the girl, then went over to the door and peered out. She staggered outside and began retching. Jilly came up to her. "Ah, bardy no feel good? There, there. Here, let me give you a hand. Ha, ha. I love that one no matter how many times I do it or someone does it to me. It's a classic! You should see the stuff Weldon and Kimberly and me pull when it gets dull. They're so great! Don't you think?" The girl wiped the bard's mouth with a cloth she took off one of the bodies and led her back inside, finding Gabrielle's waterbag and pouring her a drink in a cup she found in the bard's pack.

"What are you doing here, Jilly?" Gabrielle finally said.

"Trying to keep you alive. That's the A-number one priority, as Kimberly says. Better to have an irritating little blonde than a bitchy big brunette. Kimberly has people all over who send her word when they see you and Xena. Did she ever tell you about the Bitch of Tartarus."

"No. The last I saw her was that time with you and Weldon when you were talking to Xena."

"Oh. That's a great story. That was the very end you saw when Kimberly killed Callisto." The girl's voice lost its light bantering tone on the last words and her eyes momentarily had a scary look. She resumed lightly. "She and Weldon are having a romantic little getaway but she sent me here to give you a hand. No, no, don't worry. You'd be ready NOW! That wouldn't be funny AT ALL!"

Gabrielle was looking at the girl in fascination. "You are 15 years old. How could Kimberly send you here alone?"

"I've got a fake ID. That's something else Kimberly says. I don't get it. Do you? But seriously, I think she thought I would bring some men. I didn't want to risk them though. This IS dangerous and Kimberly always worries about her men; so I should too. Besides, bardy, I haven't had a chance to talk to you in years. Since that time in the inn before Ares gave me back my tongue. It can be just us girls."

Gabrielle remembered. "Well, Jilly, Xena told me to wait here, so I guess you can wait with me."

"Fine!" the pretty teenager said, flopping down in a chair.

"Jilly, do you mind if I ask you a question?" the bard asked. She had never seen anyone like this. The closest would be Callisto but Jilly had a genuine friendliness that Callisto never had. The girl was frightening but she didn't seem to be necessarily trying for that effect.

"Sure," the girl had taken an apple out of her bag and was biting into it with relish. "Boy, stuff tastes different when you've got a tongue. Know that?"

"How did you meet Kimberly?"

"I went to kill her," The girl said matter-of-factly. "I really bit off more than I could chew there, speaking of having a tongue. Lucky for me I didn't hurt any of her men or she'd have killed me right there. I was 12."

The bard had to ask. "Since she killed your friend Callisto, why do you like her now?"

"Ares explained to me that Kimberly was Callisto's friend too, and she did it to keep her from being killed in a really bad way later. Kimberly knows about stuff like that. Callisto trained Kimberly just like me. That's one reason I can't pull anything on her. I shouldn't but I kinda like that. Hope I don't have to kill her later."

"What!? Why would you have to kill her?" Gabrielle asked, shocked.

"To take the army over. I don't think I will. I think Kimberly will just hand it over to me when she thinks I'm ready. Weldon'll probably be with me too, I hope; unless he slows down. When she leaves I hope she takes Joxer, though. Don't tell her I said this but he is SO irritating! She's got this whole history with him so I understand why she wants him around. But, I mean battles get complicated enough without having to worry about people who can't take care of themselves. Oooops! Sorry. I shouldn't have said that."

"Is that how you see me?" Gabrielle asked.

"Did Xena want you here?"

"No." The bard stood up and walked over to her pack, pretending to look for something so she wouldn't have to look at the girl. Gabrielle was scared to death and the girl was in her element, just like Xena was. Xena might even not be performing as well as she could because of worry about her. "Would Xena be better off without me, Jilly?"

The girl quickly stood up and came over. "NO, NO, NO! Remember what I said about the A-number one priority. We gots to keep that big ol' gal happy, and that means she has to have her little bardy! Kimberly just drummed that into me. I don't know. The fighting sounds kinda exciting to me but she says this is what Callisto would want. So that's good enough for me!"

Gabrielle stared at her. She had no idea what she was talking about. It was just like with Kimberly. They were acting from knowlege she didn't have and the bard was just mystified all the time by their motives.

"Are you hungry?" the bard said, changing the subject. The girl nodded and Gabrielle began pulling food out of her pack. "I don't have much."

"Wait a minute," the girl said and was out of the room so fast Gabrielle hardly saw her move. Several minutes passed before she returned carrying two leather bags. "They don't need this anymore." She opened them up. "All right, bardy! Look at this stuff! Get a fire going."

Feeling queasy Gabrielle said, "Wouldn't a fire attract attention, Jilly?"

"That's a good question. Don't worry about it though. I would want to meet anybody who would come past what I set up out there. Hope, Xena doesn't jump to conclusions and kill me. Oh well. I'll deal with that if it comes up." Jilly was busily emptying the large bags. "Come on, get a fire going. I got the FOOD! I wouldn't look out the door or window if I was you."

The bard took the girl's word for it and found the fireplace. Soon she had a fire going and they were making a delicious smelling stew--it wouldn't be as good as Joxer could make of course, but it still smelled good. She doubted she'd be able to eat but the girl seemed hungry. And Xena might be hungry too when she came back. At one point while they were eating they heard voices and men. Then some frightened yells and nothing else. Jilly ignored it. Gabrielle thought she should see whatever the girl had set up out there in case she ever wanted to describe Tartarus in a poem.

Jilly insisted she eat too so Gabrielle did and her appetite came back once she started. As they were finishing the girl said, "Gabrielle, can you tell me a story? I've never heard a real bard."

"Sure, Jilly. What would you like to hear?"

"Anything. Well, nothing bad about Callisto," the girl said seriously.

Gabrielle was surprised and genuinely touched. She thought something light would be good for the situation, so she told her about Xena's first adventure with Autolycus. The girl listened intently, completely enthralled by the tale. The bard could tell another part of the girl was monitoring their surroundings though, almost like she had different personalities inside her capable of doing different things simultaneously. When there was a sharp noise outside her hand snaked to her sword, but her face showed no change at all listening to the story. When it was clear her horse had made the sound, the hand moved away from her weapon seemingly of its own volition. Gabrielle had kept up the narrative; she had her own professionalism to think of.

When she finished the girl clapped her hands together. "That was SO great! How can you just do that?"

"That's what I do, Jilly. It's like you and fighting, I guess," the bard said. The girl was making her reassess some of her assumptions, like in a perfect world there would be no warriors. She always had thought that warriors would be happier and better off being something else. That was how Xena talked. But seeing Jilly, and what she had seen of Xena rather than what Xena said, made her think that maybe there were natural warriors just like natural bards. Why was that so hard to accept? Because they dealt in death? Nothing could be more natural.

"Can I tell you about how Callisto rescued me from my father? Maybe you could use it in a story some time. All the stories about her are bad, but she wasn't all bad. SHE WASN'T!" The girl's face was red and teary. Suddenly it changed and was smiling lightly, like a mask dropping over it--just like Kimberly's veil--just like Xena's calm--just like Callisto's wisecracks.

"Sure, Jilly. I'd like that."

"Whatever," the girl said, with apparent indifference now.

"Oh please tell me about Callisto, Jilly!" The bard felt like she was in HER element now. Touching people with her storytelling and then helping them deal with what they were feeling. She knew exactly what to say to bring the girl out. This must be the way Jilly feels when she is slaughtering people, she realized.

"Okay, if you want," Jilly said. Gabrielle smiled encouragingly.

Gabrielle tried to keep from crying as she listened to the brutal story. When she talked about her mother's murder, begging for food, being raped by her father and used by him to pay small debts her stomach turned over. When it reached him cutting her tongue out the bard wanted to cover her ears. Then Callisto came. Gabrielle felt like Xena rescued her from her boring village life but this was something else entirely.

After the girl finished the bard asked,"Is your father still a beggar, Jilly?"

"No. We went back and finished him off . Ares told Callisto he would be even more miserable after Hades got him. Callisto left him with only half a brain and no hands, so that's saying a lot. We went back and grabbed him and took him out in the country. He lasted almost a week. Callisto said I should know how to do this anyway so she showed me everything she could think of."

The bard found herself lying on the floor looking up at Jilly's face. "You just keeled over. All right now?"

"Yes, Jilly. Thank you." The bard sat up, noticing she was clammy with a cold sweat. "That's some story, Jilly. Thanks for telling it to me. I'm going to have to chew on it for a while before I use it, but I definitely will." The girl lifted her up and set her in a chair. She was far stronger than she looked--just like Callisto.

"Jilly, I..." she was quiet when the girl made a quick gesture to her. Gabrielle looked at the doorway where she could hear something coming. She looked back at Jilly and the girl was gone. The bard watched the doorway. A huge figure was standing there in heavy armor. He saw her and made a coarse laughing sound and began walking toward her. The bard ran to get her staff but heard Jilly's voice suddenly. "Don't! Just stay out of the way, Gabrielle."

"What's you're name?" the girl's voice asked. The bard saw Jilly now. She seemed to be moving ghostlike around the room; the exact opposite of the massive lumbering warrior.

"Vas?" he said, disbelievingly. He wasn't any taller than Xena, the bard could see, but he looked three times as wide. He carried a huge heavy shield of hide and metal, and wore a Thracian helmet. He drew his sword though he didn't seem sure what he was facing exactly. Gabrielle heard a familiar whizzing sound and saw a chakram hit his sword, bounce to his helmet, off a wall and return to Jilly. She heard a girlish laugh as the warrior again said, "VAS?". The chakram returned and struck his sword hard near the handle and he dropped it. Cursing he bent to pick it up, quickly for such a big man. The ghostlike figure was on his back and reaching around his neck quickly. She straightened up and kicked and his helmet went flying off as Jilly leaped off him and seemed to bounce off a wall like the chakram had. The warrior rose looking panicked and spun around. He began swinging his sword around him, trying to create a safety zone. Gabrielle heard the girlish laughter.

"Vas, vas, vas, vas," Jilly sang lightly. The chakram flew again and the man cried out as his left knee buckled. His sword momentarily stopped its movement and the slender agile figure was actually standing on his shoulders and striking down. Then it leapt off again as the now blind warrior began bellowing and swinging his sword again.

"Vas." A dagger flew and the man's sword dropped from his useless hand. "Vas." The chakram flew again and his other knee buckled. Gabrielle watched the teenage girl saunter toward the warrior now with her sword out. He was trying to hide behind his shield but she simply walked around, behind the blind man and reaching in with her sword forced him to drop the shield, which she kicked away. "And, VAS!" Her sword was sticking out of the man's chest, expertly driven through the edge of a patched spot on his breast plate. Jilly watched as the man teetered on his knees and then fell. She continued to watch him. She walked near him and kicked him in the head and Gabrielle heard a cracking sound. "Not bad. That was a smart move," the girl said to the body as she set a small foot on his chest and pulled her sword out. "Help me pull him outside." The bard helped Jilly drag the dead warrior out the door. Gabrielle was careful to keep her eyes on the dead man she was pulling. She didn't want to see whatever Jilly had set up earlier that this man was brave or stupid enough to cross.

Back inside the girl said, "Are we even now?"

"What do you mean, Jilly?" the bard said, though she was afraid she knew what she meant.

"You told me a story so I gave you a good show. That was fun. He was a pretty good warrior. I wouldn't mind having him in my army if I hadn't just killed him."

Jilly could have killed him anytime. The girl had dragged it out like that for her benefit. "If you were defeating him as fast as you could what would you have done?" How much additional suffering did he go through just because the girl wanted to entertain her.

"Instead of unstrapping his helmet I could have cut his throat. Or before that I could have got his face with the chakram and then gone in and finished him off. That's a good question. I'm glad you think that way," Jilly said smilingly. Then she added, "Don't feel bad for him. He was going to rape and kill you, in case you don't know that. You're as bad as Joxer! Kimberly says I need to find my own Gabrielle or Joxer, but I just don't see why I need somebody telling me not to give people what they deserve. Callisto didn't need that."

Jilly again became alert and Gabrielle's heart began beating rapidly. The girl leapt to the window and looked out, smiled back at Gabrielle and said, "By bardy, it's been great seeing you!" and she was gone, followed a moment later by Argo galloping into the room with Xena looking out of her mind, her sword in her hand.

"Gabrielle! Are You All Right!?" the dark warrior's eyes were never still, scanning the interior of the room but always coming back to her friend with relief. "What happened here? Do you have any idea what is outside? Gods!"

"I'm fine, Xena. I'm so sorry I put you through this. I shouldn't have come. It was just like you said. I belong here as much as you belong in a contest with Sophocles."

"But what happened, Gabrielle?" Xena said. Her relief was tinged with exasperation. What did Sophocles have to do with anything?"

The End