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Xena straightened up as a new contraction took hold of her. The pains
seemed to be more intense now, spreading from her womb to her lower
back, and this one was the worst so far. When it eased up, she moved to
the opening of the cavern. Pulling the cloak tighter around her, she
stepped out from behind the large boulder and peered up at the sky,
noting the position of the constellations. The moon still lingered, low
and slightly hazy, in the western sky. Within the hour, it would set,
and the first hints of dawn would soon follow. She turned her gaze to
look down the hillside, scanning the rough trail for as far as she could
see. There was no sign of movement, no hint that anyone was coming.
Glancing back at the moon, Xena shifted her weight impatiently. Where
was that girl, that Calandra, the one she had hired to be her midwife?
Surely Deros had delivered the message and the girl was on her way to
the cave by now. But maybe she couldn't find it -- even though, when
Xena had brought her here two weeks ago, Calandra had said she knew the
area well and could find the place again easily.
Frowning, Xena went back into the cave. Maybe Calandra had simply
decided not to come. Who knew if the girl could even be trusted? She
might have just taken the retainer fee with no intention of following
through on her promise. She might be sitting in her house right now,
laughing at the warrior's plight. Well, Xena knew she could get through
this thing alone, if she had to. How hard could it be to have a baby,
after all? You just sweated through a few hours of pain, pushed the baby
out, and cut the cord. It was as simple as that. And when it was over,
when she had gotten through it, she would hunt that worthless girl down
and make her suffer. Yes, she would be more than sorry she had ever even
considered breaking her word to the Warrior Princess!
It had not been difficult for Xena to find the village midwife. One
discreet inquiry, made of a woman carrying a baby in the marketplace,
had led her to the small house where Petra lived, beside the
blacksmith's shop. But Petra had been unwilling to meet the demands Xena
put forth. She had other clients, she said, women of the village, who
were likely to give birth soon. She would not desert them to run off to
a remote cave in the hills someplace to deliver Xena's baby. Frustrated,
the warrior had offered more money, had argued and fumed, but seemingly
to no avail. Then at last, Petra had left the room and returned with the
girl, whom she introduced as her daughter, Calandra.
Xena had balked, at first, at the idea of using a girl of only
sixteen winters as her midwife. But Petra assured her that Calandra had
been helping attend births for the past five years, and vouched strongly
for her competence. Xena still wasn't happy, but she appeared to have no
options. So the three of them had haggled over the details of the
arrangement and the fee to be paid, until finally all was settled.
Calandra had agreed to come at any time to the cave and to stay there
for as long as she was needed. And most important of all, both she and
Petra had promised to keep their mouths shut about the entire affair.
As well they should, Xena thought, considering what she was paying.
She made her way to the back part of the cavern and crouched down beside
the rocks where she had stashed her supplies. Sorting through them
quickly, she pulled out a small cooking pot, then crossed to the bedroll
to pick up the waterskin. Taking both items outside, she walked to the
edge of the stream and knelt down, dipping first the waterskin and then
the pot into the cold water. When both were full, she got to her feet
and carried them, dripping, back towards the cave, stopping to look down
the path once more before retreating to her rocky den.
The fire had made the cave warmer, and Xena found a certain measure
of comfort in its cheerful glow. She set the pot down a short distance
from the fire circle and then added a couple of good-sized logs to the
flames. Resuming her seat on the bedroll, she leaned back against the
rock wall and closed her eyes. For the first time, she allowed herself
to feel her body's weariness. What a pathetic excuse for a warrior she
was -- her labor had barely begun, and she already felt so tired. She
grimaced as the pain came again, tensing her body to meet it. Then, as
the contraction began to weaken, she relaxed and, without any intention
of doing so, fell asleep.
She dreamed that she was running -- running on crippled legs over
rough terrain, trying to escape Ming Tzu's dogs. With each step she
took, her legs felt heavier, and the ache grew stronger in the old
broken bones. Her terror mounted as the dogs gained on her. Already she
could hear them panting and snarling and snapping their teeth. Gasping
for breath, she forced herself forward, step after torturous step. If
she could just get to Lao Ma, she knew she would be safe. And so she ran
on and on, until finally her legs gave out and she sprawled on the
ground, clutching at Lao Ma's silk robe. "Help me!" she
gasped. But Lao Ma only shook her head. "I cannot help you, Xena,"
she said sadly. "I cannot help you until you learn to love peace
and forgiveness more than you love anger and hate." Then, pulling
her robe loose from Xena's grasp, she turned and walked away.
"No!" cried Xena. "Lao Ma!" But the dogs were
already upon her, snarling and ripping into the soft flesh of her belly,
sending a shock wave of pain through her body. She woke with a strangled
cry, startled to find someone standing between her and the fire.
Snatching up her sword, she thrust its point defensively at the
intruder. The silhouetted figure was that of a woman -- a slender woman
with dark hair and dark eyes -- and Xena, in the first moments of fear
and pain following her nightmare, believed it to be Lao Ma. Almost
immediately, she realized her mistake.
"Calandra," she said flatly. "It's about time you
showed up. I was beginning to think you weren't coming."
"Well, it doesn't look like you've had the baby yet," the
girl said offhandedly, "so I guess I'm here in plenty of time. And
besides," she continued, "if I'd known I would be greeted at
swordpoint, I might have reconsidered about coming at all." She
slipped off a pack she'd been carrying over one shoulder and set it
down. "Why would you take a thing like that with you anyway, when
you're just going off to a cave to have a baby?"
Xena slowly lowered the sword, then laid it aside. The flippant tone
of the girl's voice grated harshly on her nerves. "I'm a
warrior," she said coldly. "I don't go anywhere without a
Calandra shrugged and unwrapped the wool mantle she was wearing over
her linen chiton. Picking up her pack, she moved to the other side of
the fire and laid her belongings down. "It's actually kind of homey
in here, with the fire and all," she said, looking around.
Xena watched her, but felt no need to answer.
The girl moved closer to the fire and held her hands out to warm
them. Looking across at Xena, she now became very businesslike.
"When did the pains begin?" she asked.
"I had dull pains all day, kind of like cramps," the
warrior responded. "Then the sharper pains began around midnight.
And my water broke."
"Good," Calandra said, nodding. "I assume you've made
an offering to Hera," she added.
"Why would I do that?"
"Well, to ensure a safe delivery, of course," Calandra
said, sounding surprised.
Xena laughed. "I don't put much faith in that god stuff,"
she said. "The only god I care anything about is Ares, and I doubt
if he takes much interest in the fact that I'm having a baby."
The girl didn't answer, only stared at the warrior and rubbed her
hands together somewhat nervously. After a few moments, she came over
and knelt beside Xena. "I need to check to see how far along you
are," she said.
Xena looked at her and then opened her cloak.
Calandra folded back the tunic and ran her hands over the warrior's
belly, probing gently here and there. "The baby seems to be in a
good position for delivery," she said, then glanced at Xena's face
and added, "Now I'll just find out how much you've opened up."
She slid her hand down and Xena suddenly realized what the girl
intended to do. Biting her lip, she slowly spread her legs apart. The
last woman to touch her in that place had been Lao Ma. She fixed her
gaze on the opposite wall of the cave and resolutely shut out the
"The opening is about two fingers wide right now," Calandra
reported, holding up one hand to demonstrate. "Before the baby can
be born, the opening has to be five fingers wide."
Xena frowned. "How long will that take?" she asked.
Calandra laughed. "If I knew that, I could be the oracle at
Delphi, now, couldn't I? It will take as long as it takes. With every
birth, it's different, but my guess is that it will be at least six or
eight more hours."
"Six or eight more hours!" Xena exclaimed, slamming her
fist down on the blankets. "I haven't got time for this! I have an
army to lead and a war to fight! What in Zeus' name am I doing stuck
here in this wretched cave waiting for--" She broke off with a
small gasp as the pain of a new contraction caught her by surprise.
"Maybe you should have thought about that before you messed
around and got pregnant," Calandra said, with irritating smugness.
"Getting pregnant wasn't my idea, believe me," Xena said
grimly through her pain.
Calandra laughed. "Xena, the Destroyer of Nations, finally
conquered by a tiny little baby! That's quite an image, isn't it?"
she said. "And just what are you going to do with the child once
it's born?" she went on. "It's really going to cramp your
style to have to nurse a baby out on the battlefield, isn't it? Have you
figured out yet how you're going to do that?"
"I'm not," Xena said bluntly.
"Oh, you're not. Well what, exactly, are you going to do with
the child?" Calandra asked sarcastically. "Are you going to
just kill it, like you do everyone else who gets in your way? Is that
why you brought the sword? So you could kill your baby as soon as it's
Xena met the girl's gaze unflinchingly, but offered no answer. She
saw Calandra's eyes slowly widen in horror.
"You are, aren't you?" the girl whispered. "You're
going to kill your baby!"
"What I do with the child is my own business," Xena said,
her voice cold and flat.
"No, you're wrong about that," Calandra shot back.
"You're paying me to help you deliver a healthy baby, and that
makes it my business, too!"
"I'm paying you to help me get through this thing alive."
"Oh, and you don't even care what happens to the baby?"
Xena hesitated for the slightest moment, and then said, "No, I
Calandra sat back on her heels, shaking her head slowly as she
continued to stare at the warrior. "I've never heard a mother talk
like this," she said finally.
"I'm not a mother," Xena snapped. "I didn't choose to
be a mother, and I refuse to be called by that name!"
"What about the baby's father?" Calandra asked. "Does
he feel the same way? Or do you even know who the father is?" she
finished, in a snide tone of voice.
Instantly, Xena's hands shot out, her fingers deftly targeting the
pressure points on Calandra's neck. The girl gasped in sudden pain and
fear. "What have you done to me?" she choked out.
Xena grinned. "I've cut off the flow of blood to your
brain," she said calmly. "If I don't release the pressure
points, you'll die in less than a minute. That's how easily I can kill
you, and don't think I won't do it if you make me angry enough."
She leaned close to the girl and tipped her face up so that the
frightened dark eyes looked into her own. "Now, you don't have to
like me," she went on. "That's not what I'm paying you for.
I'm paying you to do your job, which does not include insulting me. I
don't like being insulted. It makes me angry -- especially when I'm in
pain. Do you understand what I'm saying?"
"Good," said the warrior. Then, in a quick motion, she
released the pressure points and sat back against the wall again.
Calandra slumped forward, her body trembling as she drew in great,
ragged breaths. Her long, black hair lay spread across the bedding and
over one of the warrior's legs. Xena felt her rage drain away almost as
quickly as it had come, the physical sensation of it now replaced by a
sharp labor pain. She closed her eyes for a few moments, then opened
them and sat watching the girl's huddled figure, feeling all at once
strangely moved by Calandra's youth and vulnerability. Perhaps she had
acted too harshly. Lao Ma would have said she was using an axe to kill a
mosquito. Xena smiled grimly. Well, it was probably too late to feel
sorry now. The damage had been done. Calandra would likely go running
home to her mother, and the warrior would be left all alone to give
Maybe it would help if she apologized. But apologies had always come
hard for her. She reached out to touch the dark hair where it lay across
her leg. She hesitated and then, finally, she said in a low voice,
"Calandra, I--" She stopped to take a deep breath. "I
shouldn't have done that. I'm sorry."
The girl raised her head and stared at the warrior, but she did not
speak. After a moment, she got slowly to her feet and moved, a bit
unsteadily, to the other side of the fire.
"You're going to leave me now, aren't you?" Xena asked.
"Well, go ahead. Everyone else does."
Again the dark eyes turned to her, and after what seemed like a long
time, Calandra said, "I guess it's really true what they say about
"What do they say?"
"That you're a ruthless killer who cares nothing for anyone or
anything except herself."
Xena sighed. "I suppose that's an accurate description,"
she said. "But if you knew I was like that, why did you agree to be
"I guess I didn't quite believe that anyone could be that
evil," the girl said, staring briefly at the fire before looking
back at Xena. "But mainly I agreed to come because of the
money," she went on. "Most of the women whose babies we
deliver try to pay us somehow -- maybe with some vegetables they've
grown, or some eggs, or even a whole chicken. Or sometimes they give us
a nice piece of fabric that they've woven. But the chance to earn as
many dinars as you were offering�I just couldn't pass that up."
"Don't you have a father to help support you?"
Calandra shook her head. "No, he took off when I was very young
and never came back again," she said. "Since then, my mother
has supported us with her work as a midwife and by doing some sewing and
Xena was silent for a minute, then she said, "My father left too
�when I was young. I just woke up one morning and he was gone. My
mother said she didn't think he'd ever come back, and it turned out she
"So we have something in common," Calandra said.
"Yeah, I guess you could say that." Xena looked at the girl
for a moment and then looked away.
Calandra bent to pick up some wood and add it to the fire. "Was
it just you and your mother after he left?"
"No, I had two brothers. We ran a tavern. I guess my mother
still does. I haven't seen her for years."
"Do you miss her?"
"Sometimes," Xena said. "Mostly I try not to think
about her." Struggling to her feet, she walked to the rocks at the
back of the cavern. Another contraction was beginning, but she tried to
ignore it. She knelt down and pulled out a roll of furs and blankets
from the pile of supplies. Then, as the pain increased, she clutched at
one of the rocks and moaned softly.
A hand touched her shoulder, and she looked up to see Calandra
bending over her. "Must be a bad one," the girl said.
"I'll be all right in a minute," Xena muttered.
"Where do you feel the pain?"
"Here," the warrior said, putting a hand on her lower back,
"and also around here in the front."
"Well, I hate to tell you this, but it's going to get quite a
bit worse before it gets better," the young midwife said with a
"Yeah, I know," Xena said grimly. The pain faded and she
straightened up, offering the bedroll to Calandra. "These are for
you, if you think you want to stick around."
"If I promise not to insult you, will you promise not to kill
me?" she asked.
"Okay, then I'll stay." Calandra grinned and reached out to
take the bedding. Returning to the fire, she began to lay out her bed
across the fire circle from Xena's. "What kind of food did you
bring?" she asked.
"Nothing fancy," Xena said. She stood up and walked to the
back wall, where a basket hung suspended from an outcropping above her
head. The rope which held the basket was knotted around a small boulder,
and untying this, she lowered the basket.
"Why did you hang it up there?" Calandra asked.
"To keep animals out of it."
"Oh. Good idea."
Xena peered into the basket. "It's mostly dried stuff -- fish
and vegetables and fruit. Oh, and a packet of salt and some herbs for
tea." She handed the basket to Calandra, then went back to her own
bedroll and opened the bundle she had brought from the camp. "I've
also got some bread and fresh fruit. Here, put this in the basket,"
she said, handing over the food.
"Are you hungry? I can make some fish broth," Calandra
said, looking up at the warrior. "It will help keep up your
"Okay," said Xena, although she didn't feel very hungry.
The girl went to work cutting the dried fish into pieces, while Xena
resumed her restless pacing. For a time, neither of them spoke, but then
Calandra said, "How did you become a warrior?"
Xena sighed. She didn't feel much like being sociable and this girl
was proving to be more talkative than she had expected. "A warlord
attacked our village," she said in a tired voice, "and my
brother and I organized a defense." Xena stopped speaking as a new
contraction began. Leaning against the cave wall, she waited for it to
pass, and then began walking again.
"What happened after that?" Calandra asked. "After you
defended your village?"
"I took our little army out and started conquering all the towns
around there. I was just going to make a buffer to keep Amphipolis safe,
but one thing led to another and-- Well, I ended up a warlord
The girl considered this information for a moment, then said,
"How old are you?"
Xena stood still and stared at her.
"Oh, I'm sorry! I shouldn't have asked that!" the girl said
"No, it's all right-- It's just--" Xena paused in
confusion. "I guess I don't really know how old I am anymore. I
haven't been keeping track. Let me think." She calculated in
silence for a few moments. "Nineteen," she said finally.
"I must be nineteen. Or maybe twenty. But I really think it's
"So you're not much older than I am," Calandra said softly.
"No. Not in years, anyway." Another pain came, and Xena
moved to the back of the cavern and sat on one of the rocks there.
Calandra watched her for a moment and then dumped the fish and some
salt into the cooking pot and set it in the coals at the edge of the
fire. "You must be a good commander," she said.
"Otherwise the men wouldn't follow you into battle."
"Yeah, I'm good," Xena said with a cynical smile. "In
fact, leading an army may be the only thing I'm good at."
Calandra regarded the warrior for a few moments, then asked abruptly,
"Are you going to kill the centaurs?"
"Absolutely!" the warrior said, her smile broadening into a
grin. "I'm going to kill them all! Just as soon as this crazy
birthing business is over, my army is going to wipe them off the face of
"But why?" Calandra asked. "Why kill them? What do
they have that you want?"
Xena's grin faded and she looked narrowly at the girl. Did Calandra
know about the Ixion stone? How could she? No one in her army even knew
about the stone. Only she and Borias had known, and they had had a
difficult time of it torturing the information out of one of the
centaurs they'd captured. She got up and began to walk again, more
slowly this time. "It's not that they have anything I want,"
she said, as casually as possible. "It's just that they are dirty,
disgusting creatures, and the world would be better off without them.
That's reason enough to kill them. Surely the people in the village
"Yes, some of them would," Calandra admitted. "Some
villagers hate the centaurs, just as you do. But some of us feel
differently." She bent forward to stir the broth, and Xena stopped
her pacing and stood watching her.
"We've had a lot of contact with the centaurs," the girl
went on, "more than most people have, I guess, since their
settlement is so close to our village. Many of us played with centaur
children when we were young. We attended their celebrations and they
often came to ours."
Feeling another contraction beginning, Xena moved slowly back to the
rock and sat down. "So you like the centaurs?" she asked,
"Yeah. Well, I mean they're just like anybody else. Some are
more likable than others." She hesitated, and then added, "My
older sister married one of them."
"Married one of them!" Xena exclaimed. "You've got to
Calandra shook her head.
"You mean to tell me that your sister actually shared a bed with
one of those filthy animals? That she let him--"
"Yes! And he wasn't a filthy animal!" Calandra said
fiercely. "He was kind and brave, and he loved her deeply. They
loved each other very much and they were very happy together!"
The girl turned away and stared into the fire for a minute. Then she
got to her feet and began to pace slowly, as Xena had done. "My
sister died in childbirth two years ago," she said quietly. She
stopped a couple of paces from the warrior and looked at her, then
turned away and went on speaking, as if to the wall of the cave.
"My mother and I did everything we could for her, but the baby was
so big, and my sister's hips were so narrow. Both of them died . . . but
only after three days of horrible agony." Her voice broke and she
walked to the wall, reaching out with one hand to trace a pattern in the
Xena sat watching her, not knowing what to say. She hoped the girl
would go on talking, but she didn't, and when the silence had lasted for
several minutes, the warrior finally felt compelled to break it. "A
Roman I used to know--" she said, and shuddered slightly as
Caesar's image flashed across her mind. "This Roman once told me
there was a way to cut a woman open and take the baby out. In fact, he
claimed that he himself had been delivered by this method."
Calandra turned and looked at her, and Xena was surprised at the
depth of pain she saw in the girl's dark eyes. "Yes, we'd heard of
that procedure, too," she said, "but we weren't sure how it
should be done. My mother had never performed any type of surgery, so
she was afraid to try it -- especially on her own daughter."
"But if you knew your sister was dying-- You might have at least
been able to save the baby. I think I would have taken that risk."
"You would have taken that risk to save a baby centaur?"
Calandra asked skeptically.
Xena looked away. She had forgotten that small detail.
The girl went back to the fire, crouched down, and stirred the
contents of the pot again.
"Calandra," Xena said, "you, of all people, have good
reason to hate the centaurs. It's their fault your sister died. If she
hadn't married one of them, she would be alive today."
The girl sat back on her heels and looked at the warrior. "You
have a strange sense of logic, Xena," she said. "My sister
might have died in childbirth no matter who she married. It wasn't her
husband's fault. He was such a gentle, caring soul. He would have died a
thousand times if that would have kept her from harm. He stayed with her
through the whole ordeal. She died in his arms." She stopped for a
moment to brush her sleeve across her eyes. "He was devastated by
her death -- I think he took it even harder than we did." She
looked at Xena again. "I could never blame Kaleipus for what
happened. Never, in a million years."
"Kaleipus!" Xena said in amazement. "Your sister was
married to Kaleipus, the leader of the centaurs?"
"Well, he wasn't the leader then, but he is now. They couldn't
have chosen a better leader, if you want my opinion. He's so brave and
wise, and he cares so deeply about what is good and right. And he's not
the only one, Xena. There are many wonderful, noble centaurs. All they
want is peace. I don't see why you have to kill them."
Xena stared at her. Her mind was spinning, and the blur of thoughts
and images made it impossible for her to think straight. All she knew
for sure was that another contraction was about to start. "I'm
going outside," she said. "I need some air." Then she
lurched awkwardly to her feet and stumbled out of the cavern.
* * * * *
She stood on the verge of the stream, feeling the contraction swell
and then ebb within her. The moon had set and only the dim outlines of
the shapes around her were visible in the darkness. Could it be true,
she wondered, staring at the rushing black water. Could it be true that
Kaleipus and the other centaurs were really the fine and noble creatures
Calandra had portrayed them to be? The girl was young and had seen
little of the world. What did she know of goodness? Or of evil either,
for that matter? Xena, on the other hand, was well acquainted with evil.
She knew that the centaurs were evil. She had been told so by many
people. How could all those people be wrong?
But she could not shake the image of Kaleipus holding his dying wife
in his arms. This was not the Kaleipus she had seen on the battlefield.
The warrior Kaleipus was a skilled fighter, fierce and brave -- she
would grant him that. But she had never imagined that he or any centaur
was capable of human emotions such as love or grief. Yet Calandra would
have her believe that such a thing was possible.
She sighed in frustration and raked her fingers distractedly through
her tangled hair. She might have dismissed the girl's story more easily
if it had not been for the fact that Borias had described the centaurs
to her in much the same terms. "Noble," "generous,"
"honest" -- why had he used those words? And how had he come
to see their enemies in such a positive light? Well, Borias was dead
now, and she would never know what had happened to change his thinking.
It was just like him, though. He had always been thinking, always trying
to understand his opponents and defeat them in some clever mind game.
She herself had had neither the inclination nor patience for such
nonsense. Those who wouldn't give in to her demands would simply be
killed. That was the best way, the fastest way.
But it took a strong army to do things her way. It took a lot of
power. That was why she needed the Ixion stone. And that was why Borias
had apparently decided she shouldn't have it. What had he said to her
that night? She cast back in her mind, trying to recall. "That much
evil power doesn't belong in the hands of someone like you." That
was what he had said. And she had responded sarcastically, "Oh, and
it does belong in the hands of someone like you?" "No,"
he'd said, "neither one of us should have such power. The centaurs
understand that and they will die before they let us get ahold of that
stone." "Fine!" she'd said. "Let them die then. One
way or another we'll still get the stone." "Not if they're all
dead," he had said, wrapping his hand around the back of her head
and pulling her roughly close so that he was speaking right into her
face. "Not if they're all dead and no one is left to tell us where
the stone is hidden." Then, releasing her abruptly, he had turned
and stalked out of the tent.
That was his way, she thought. He had always been so logical about
things, always trying to think things through instead of acting from the
gut as she did. But why had he betrayed her? She still didn't understand
it. When he betrayed her in Chin, the reason was obvious -- he was angry
because she wrecked his negotiations, first with Ming Tzu and then with
Lao Ma. And then he saw a way to profit from her kidnapping of the boy,
Ming T'ien. Anger and greed -- those had been his motives, and they were
motives she could easily comprehend.
But this thing with the centaurs -- that had been a different matter.
Had Borias really been so convinced of the nobility of the enemy that he
had gone over to their side? Had he so feared the consequences of Xena's
getting hold of the Ixion stone that he had acted unselfishly for the
greater good? She supposed that it was possible. But maybe he had only
pretended to befriend the centaurs so that he could get the Ixion stone
for himself. She swore softly under her breath. She would never know,
for the grave would never reveal its secrets.
Turning, she walked back to the boulder at the cave entrance and
slammed the palm of her hand against it. "Borias, you
bastard," she muttered. "How could you leave me like
that?" She leaned against the cold, rough surface for a moment,
then pushed herself away and paced back toward the creek. He hadn't
wanted her to have the power of the Ixion stone. Well, she would show
him! She would get it anyway. There was no way he could stop her now.
The pain came again, not sharp this time, but an aching in her lower
back. She felt the child moving within her and laid her hands on her
belly. Then, for no reason at all, she began to think about Lao Ma
again. Lao Ma had been through this. She had known the pain of giving
birth. But unlike Xena, she had wanted her child, had wanted and loved
him fiercely, even though Ming Tzu had sold her away to Lao and kept the
boy for himself. Xena had not known, when she kidnapped the strange,
silent child, that Ming T'ien was Lao Ma's son. Not that it would have
made much difference. At that point, Xena would have simply viewed the
corrupting of Ming T'ien as revenge for Lao Ma's civilizing influence on
Borias. And she had done her best to corrupt the boy, teaching him what
she herself had learned only by bitter experience -- that love was a
fraud and that those who claimed to love you would only betray you in
the end, betray you or reject you. Love was a thing of weakness, an
emotion not to be trusted or believed in. That was what she had taught
Ming T'ien. And she had taught him, too, the power of fear, that you
could make people do anything you wanted them to if they were afraid of
She started at the sound of her name, and turned quickly toward the
cave. In the dim light, she could just make out the figure of a woman
with long, dark hair. "Lao Ma!" she exclaimed softly.
There was no answer for several moments, then the young woman said,
"The broth is ready, if you want some," and disappeared behind
Xena walked slowly back to the cavern, entered, and sat awkwardly on
her bedroll. Calandra brought her a steaming bowl of broth and a large
piece of bread, then returned to the other side of the fire and poured a
bowl of broth for herself. Sitting cross-legged on her blanket, the girl
regarded the warrior for a time in silence. Finally, she said,
"What was that name you called me?"
"What name?" asked Xena, dipping her bread in the broth and
chewing off a piece.
"I don't know. It was a strange name -- Lao or something like
"Yeah, that was it. I heard you say it once before, when I first
got here. I think you were having a nightmare or something."
Xena glanced at the girl, then lifted her bowl with both hands and
sipped from it.
"So who is he? Or she?" asked Calandra.
"A woman I knew in the Kingdom of Chin," Xena said flatly.
"The Kingdom of Chin? Where is that?"
"It's to the east, many weeks' journey from here."
"What were you doing there?"
"Mostly killing people," Xena said matter-of-factly. Then
she bit into her bread and tore off a mouthful, watching the girl's
Calandra grimaced and sipped her broth. "Was Borias there,
too?" she asked.
"Borias? What do you know about Borias?"
"Just that the centaurs consider him to be a great friend -- a
"Oh," Xena said, raising her bowl to her mouth again.
"So was Borias there?" Calandra persisted. "Was he in
that Chin place with you? Did he kill people, too?"
"Oh yes, he was there," Xena said with an evil grin,
"and I'm sure he killed at least as many people as I did."
The girl chewed her bread silently for a time, then asked abruptly,
"Is he the father of your baby?"
"You ask too many questions," Xena grumbled. She tipped her
bowl up and drank the rest of her broth. Then, wiping her mouth on her
sleeve, she glanced over at Calandra and saw that the girl was still
waiting for an answer. "Yes," she said finally. "Borias
is the father."
"What did he think about the baby? Did he think it should be
"He didn't know about the baby. He betrayed me," Xena said
bitterly. "He betrayed me and deserted me. I never got the chance
to tell him."
Calandra got up and moved around the fire to take Xena's bowl.
"Are you the one who killed him?" she asked.
"No," the warrior said in a tired voice. "I ordered
him captured and brought to me unharmed. I don't know who killed
"Did you love him?"
Xena stared at the girl as a sudden realization struck her. Looking
down at her swollen belly, she said in amazement, "The pains have
"Yeah. I haven't had one since I came back in here."
"Did you have any while you were outside?"
"One or two, but they were weaker than before."
Calandra crouched down beside Xena, setting the empty bowl aside. She
felt the position of the baby and then checked the opening again.
"Three fingers," she said and sat back on her heels.
"What's wrong?" Xena asked anxiously. "Why did the
Calandra shrugged. "It happens sometimes. My mother says it
happens when a baby is having second thoughts about being born."
She gave the warrior a hard look. "Would you want to be born,
knowing that your mother was waiting to kill you as soon as you came
out?" she asked.
Xena looked at her without answering.
Calandra picked up the empty broth bowl and stood up. "The
contractions will start again," she said. "In the meantime, I
suggest you get some sleep, if you can."
Xena sat there, still without moving, watching the girl cleaning up
the bowls and adding wood to the fire.
After several minutes, Calandra looked over at her. She hesitated,
then came back around the fire and knelt next to the warrior. "Why
don't you take your cloak off," she said. "Then you can lie
down and I'll cover you with it."
Xena unfastened the cloak and leaned forward so that Calandra could
take it off of her. But when the girl reached over to do so, Xena laid a
hand on her arm. "Isn't there some way to get the contractions
started again?" she asked urgently. "Some herbs or something?
I need to get this over with. I have to get back to my army."
Calandra shook her head. "The baby will be born when it's
ready," she said. "You can't make it come any faster just by
"Stop willing," a gentle voice repeated in Xena's head. It
was the voice of Lao Ma.
Calandra patted the blanket beside the warrior. "Just lie down
and try to rest," she said.
Xena stretched out on her back and Calandra spread the cloak over
"Do you want to take your boots off?" the girl asked.
"Yeah," said Xena and started to sit up again.
"Lie still. I'll do it."
Xena hesitated, then sank back down on the blankets, wondering how
bad her feet smelled after not having been washed for a couple of days.
Letting someone else take care of her made her feel distinctly
uncomfortable. She much preferred to take care of herself.
Calandra unlaced the boots and pulled them off, then gently began to
massage one of the warrior's feet.
"What are you doing?" Xena demanded, pushing herself up on
"I'm rubbing your feet," the girl said with a smile.
"Just lie back and enjoy it."
Xena lay down again. "Is that part of your job," she asked,
"rubbing pregnant women's stinky feet?"
"It's part of my job to help you relax, so it will be easier for
the baby to be born."
"I'm not very good at relaxing," Xena said.
"Well, try to, anyway. Does this feel good, what I'm doing to
"Just close your eyes, then, and think about how it feels."
Reluctantly, Xena closed her eyes, then took a few slow, deep
"Do you know what I like to think about when I'm trying to
relax?" Calandra asked.
"What?" mumbled Xena, having no real interest in knowing.
"I like to imagine that I'm just sort of floating in a great big
pool of warm water."
Xena didn't answer. The girl's small hands and soothing movements
reminded her of Lao Ma's. Little by little, she felt the tension sliding
away from her heavy body. And then, at last, she sank into the soft
darkness of sleep.
Continue to Part 3
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