An alternative telling of The Price
You have two guesses. Are the bastards finally grinding me down, or am I just going through my... "not myself" phase? Or am I simply rendered speechless?
Either way, I will now do something new, I shall expose you to something completely different: me writing a serious review of a story. Bear with me, gentle reader, though I stumble with inexperience, I do promise that your patience will be rewarded. Not so much with my gifted prose, but with the story that will follow.
(Man, after such a build-up, I'm not quite sure how to begin...)
One thing you need to keep in mind before you read this story - though mostly self-explanatory and a wonderful piece of writing, you will not be able to enjoy it fully if you have not yet seen the episode "The Price". You remember - Xena and Gabrielle coming across the lair of the Tasmanian Devil (of the Pre-Mycenian kind), running off into a besieged fortress and having a grand old time right up until the end. That one. And, you know, many of you would have been able to figure out almost as much just reading the title, but I hate to give you the benefit of the doubt. I shall spell it out - if you haven't seen "The Price" you will not be able to catch on to the debilitatingly wondrous nuances of this story. Not all of them, anyway.
"The Price" was one of those episodes that resonated with the fans on the same level "One Against An Army" or "Is There a Doctor in the House" did. In all three episodes we have been shown a Xena who was forced into assuming a role which clung to her, but did not necessarily fit her so well anymore - that of a mercenary with an overriding focus, fiercely intent upon her goal to the detriment of everything and everyone else. Be it stalling the entire Persian Army despite Gabrielle's imminent demise, tending to the dying and the wounded despite of Gabrielle's (you guessed it) imminent demise or, as in "The Price", taking on the task of saving a handful of Athenian soldiers from an enemy that horrified her, while putting her hard-fought and fragile peace of mind on the line.
Unlike in the "OAAA" or "ITADITH" (feel free to make up your own titles from these letters. Like "Once An Apple Ached" or "I Thought Ani DiFranco Is Torpidly Homosexual"), where we see Xena having a wonderfully emotional moment (or two) due to the risk of losing Gabrielle, in "The Price", where the scale holds her humanity in one hand and lives of the people in the fort in the other, there is never a moment of doubt in Xena's mind. The self-sacrificing warrior is willing to forgo two years of personal redemption and emotional and mental struggle in order to ensure the survival of a number of bedraggled soldiers and her precious Bard.
Or so TPTB (Those Pettily Trite Buttheads)would have us think. And since it's become painfully obvious that they don't know crap about shit (get over yourself), let me introduce you to one of the best reworkings/retellings of an episode that I have encountered.
What Kauri has done here, in a fairly limited space, is gave a depth to the relationship between Xena and Gabrielle which truly could not have been explored on television (and not only for the obvious R-rated reasons). She has taken a slice, an episode from their life and superimposed it over the two years they have already spent together. Since you are already familiar with my twisted fondness for tortured love stories, and if you've seen the episode in question, you can by now get a fairly good idea as to what might happen in a besieged fortress where hope is scarce and humanity is a liability.
What, as I once again harp on, you will not be ready for if you haven't read this story already, is the strength of the language deployed, beauty of the prose evoked, and the simple elegance of unbridled emotion presented here. The whole story is contained in the first paragraph. There is no surprise as to wherein lies the rub - we know (and if you didn't by now, you will after you finish reading this) that Xena's gone bad trying to do good, and that Gabrielle will not accept that solution. We also know that there is a happy ending to this story, at least in the way the producers have presented it to us on the screen.
But that's not the point, is it? Once again, the stalest of the sayings rings true - it's about the journey, not the destination. The fan fiction that touched me the most has always been the kind that gave me something more than the show could (beside the nudie scenes), left me with a wider point of view, a brighter spectrum of colors. Kauri here has created a whole new palette. If you don't like angst, if you like your Bard fluffy and your warrior nice, don't bother. This will agonize you. However, if you like to read so sometimes you can just get lost in the language, get enveloped by the story, beyond the plot, beyond what the author is trying to impart on you, go ahead.
War is a wager and victory carries a heavy price. That could be a nice summary or a caption for this story. And it would be correct. Somewhat. What we must not forget is another hackneyed saying - all's fair in love...
And if love is like war, which one inflicts more damage?
Go find out...