I’m a huge fan of Xena, but I have to admit I can probably count the numbers of Xena fan fics I’ve actually read on the fingers of one hand.
The other half, also an avid fan of the show, who voraciously read everything she could way back then, was a little taken aback at my admission. “Here!” she said. “Read this for starters!” and thrust The High Pass my way.
I’m grateful for her good sense in doing so. It’s exceptional. From the moment of the opening line I was hooked and couldn’t stop reading it until I reached The End.
It’s told in omniscient viewpoint. A narrator leads us into the story, setting the scene….of an impending tragedy. They even tell us this fact in the first sentence.
From there, Jim lets the story unfold. On a successful trip, heading back to Greece, tragedy does strike and Xena and Gabrielle face starvation and ultimately death. It’s Gabrielle that manages to provide them meagre sustenance, in a land ravaged by famine, by negotiating with inn keepers, that she will entertain the local villagers with her Bard’s stories, for a room and food and a share of profits. The bargain not always in their favour.
Over weeks, Xena painfully watches Gabrielle getting thinner and weaker. Resisting offers from local Lords to join them in collecting taxes from the starving villagers, for which she will be paid handsomely. She is torn by her one weakness: Gabrielle. Willing to do anything to keep her safe, yet knowing Gabrielle could accept nothing from such spoils.
Of course Gabrielle’s unwavering faith in Xena, and her belief that she will find a way out of their situation, never falters. Even when Xena makes the disastrous decision that their best bet is to head over The High Pass.
This is a brilliantly crafted and wonderfully written story. Just when you think there may be a possibility to take a break for a cup of tea, Jim slips in a comment from the narrator, once again hinting at our duo’s doom and you’re not going anywhere until you travel that path with them.
The characterizations of Xena and Gabrielle are just perfect. This ‘is’ the Xena and Gabrielle we know from the show, but Jim takes it a level higher in giving us a Xena as we all imagined her to be; the potential that was there, that never quite made it on screen. If only this story could have been an actual episode, what a worthy episode it would have been!
This was Jim’s debut fic. As yet, I have no idea if this author wrote any others. If not, then it’s a loss to the Xenaverse community. Thankfully, we have still this one. If they did, I hope someone knows where they’re posted.
If you’ve never read any Xena fics (or like me have only read few) or are looking to add one to your list to read, then I urge you to make it this one!