Yes, the finality of the last episode struck us where it hurt most, our hearts. We can derive some comfort in the fact that Xena and Gabrielle meet again in another lifetime. Hopefully these stories in the 'Final Chapter' series will do that. And hopefully we will all get the closure we so badly need.
Disclaimer: Xena: Warrior Princess belongs to Studio USA and Renaissance Pictures, and my heart. No infringement on these rights were intended.
Subtext Disclaimer: In case you haven't noticed, subtext is maintext now. I tried to keep all the characters true to their depiction as in the show. However, I couldn't help but insert a bit of sexual innuendo between women. It's just a little bit, I've left much to the imagination. Hopefully there are still those of you out there with an imagination?it adds spice to you know what? And, yes, there is violence, just like in the show. Oh, and if you are under the age of 18, you might want to consult with a parent or legal guardian before reading this or maybe it's best that you don't read this at all.
Many thanks to my Beta Readers, Erin/AKA Drumgrrl193 and Kim Linonis.
Gabrielle sat up slowly, and her hand reached up to touch her head. There was a war taking place somewhere between the back of her neck and the front of her skull. Her forehead hurt as if someone on the inside were pounding a cudgel. Eve's hands rested on her shoulders and she looked at Gabrielle with warm eyes. Recent memories flooded Gabrielle's mind, a lone assassin crouched by the trees, Varia's cry of warning before she brutally thrust her sword through the assassins chest, and the gush of warm sticky blood as it oozed from an arrow in her side. She glanced down, the skin was smooth and clear, there was no scar, or any indication that anything had pierced her. She even touched the area with her fingers just to reassure herself. Absently she touched her belly with her hand.
Varia walked over to her bedside from the fireplace where she had been standing and knelt down on the floor beside her. Her newborn was tucked securely in a fur-lined baby sack that Varia wore on her back. The baby yawned at her from over Varia's shoulder and scrunched her tiny eyes shut.
"Gabrielle?Gabrielle." Varia's eyes were clouded with worry. "Are you all right?" She rested her hand on Gabrielle's thigh.
Gabrielle patted Eve's hands which were still on her shoulders, steadying her.
"Yes. I think so." She replied a little foggily. "I?I'm confused. How long?"
"You've been asleep for several weeks, Gabrielle." Eve interrupted trying to explain.
Gabrielle's eyebrow lifted and then her face froze.
"I?I thought I was wounded, but I don't see anything." Gabrielle spoke slowly still slightly stunned.
"You were, Gabrielle, but Eli healed you and gave you a gift." Eve told her and Gabrielle extended her arms, palms out.
"Okay?now I'm really confused." Gabrielle said and then thought about her dream. A flush crept into her face and when she put her hands on her cheeks she felt their warmth.
"You willed it to happen, and it did." Eve said simply.
"Eve, you're still being cryptic. Exactly what happened?" Gabrielle's voice sounded strained and she looked at Eve questioningly.
"You dreamed that Xena was with you, and your souls actually connected with each other in the place between the present and the future. That is where Eli met up with you and with his help you have a part of Xena within you."
Gabrielle stared at Eve incredulously for a moment before all the pieces fell into place. "Wait?are you saying?I'm pregnant?" Gabrielle exclaimed with a stunned look on her face.
"Yes. Your son will be a hero, but not in the way you think." Eve said and smiled. "And your daughter will make her place in history."
There was a long beat of silence. Gabrielle's face mirrored her internal turmoil when an unbidden image of Hope appeared. Hope was a child that she was forced to bear by an evil god named Dahak. She saw herself as a mother to this child and she acted as any mother would, she did what she had to do to protect her child, no matter what the cost. This blinded her to the truth. Hope was not her daughter, she was the daughter of the evil Dahak, and she was evil as well. But once, Gabrielle came to realize the truth, there was also the painful realization that Hope had to be destroyed to prevent her father's evil from entering the world. Seeing the stricken look on Gabrielle's face, Eve rushed to re-assure her.
"She will be a good child, they both will." Eve said and rested the palm of her hand on Gabrielle's cheek. Gabrielle sighed softly with relief then smiled faintly.
"Ha, ha, ha." Gabrielle laughed weakly.
The room became so quiet that Gabrielle could hear her heart beating rapidly in her chest.
"Oh boy." Gabrielle dropped her head in her hands.
"Wow." Varia echoed.
"That's an understatement." Gabrielle said and shook her head. "Look, I?I need some time to absorb all this." She flipped the skins that covered her over to the side of the bed, swung her legs over and stood up slowly. She paced the room, her fingers absently scratching under her chin and she chewed the inside of her lip. Varia raised an eyebrow at the slightly worn area on the wood floor in front of the fireplace as Gabrielle's feet shuffled across it.
"Okay." Eve said, her voice soft.
"Thanks." Gabrielle replied and drew a long breath.
When Varia turned towards the door, her baby woke and began to fuss. Varia stopped and Eve put her hands under the baby's arms and lifted her gently from the carry sack on Varia's back. Eve cradled the infant in her arms and Varia smiled over her shoulder. They walked out of Gabrielle's hut together.
Gabrielle stopped her pacing and walked back across the room to a table and sat down. The chair made a slight scraping noise as she pulled it in across the wooden floor. She put her elbows on the rough tabletop and rested her head in her hands. She jumped when there was a flash of light. The God of War, Ares, appeared and she dropped her head back down into her hands, and shook her head in exasperation.
"What do you want, Ares?' She said through her fingers.
"I don't know whether I should congratulate you or offer condolences." Ares replied. A smile played around the corners of his mouth, and he folded his arms against his wide chest.
Gabrielle dropped her arms down on the table, turned her head and pinned him with a scathing look.
Ares chuckled and said, "Look, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but you got trouble. I need my best man on it."
"Really?" Gabrielle said in resignation. "You wouldn't happen to have a hand in this now would you, Ares?" Gabrielle asked sarcastically.
"Hey, I do what I do." He winked and clicked his tongue. "You're it." He pointed at her before flashing out of sight.
"Oh, for the love of Eli." Gabrielle said wearily.
Dawn was just breaking, a chill, frosted morning half-light that had crystallized the dew of nightfall on the trees and brush and left the land white with a covering of false snow in this early fall morning. Gabrielle stepped outside her hut and stared around her at the beauty of nature. Her own breath clouded the air before her face and the chill slipped between the folds of her open fur cloak.
The Amazons usually spent the early morning hours in training so Gabrielle went in search of Varia near one of the practice compounds. She trudged up the pathway that wove between the thick pine trees to a set of steps. She climbed, her boots slipping a bit from the morning dew on the smooth stones, and gently pushed aside branches that dipped downward as she climbed.
She ducked instinctively when she heard a noise. She craned her neck around the tree she was crouched behind and her eyebrows rose. About a hundred yards from her a blond long haired Amazon was leaning up against a tree, her cloak was open and she was untying the strands of leather lace on her halter top. A voice spoke, but she couldn't make out the words. The owner of the voice walked into view and over to the woman. She placed her hands inside the woman's cloak, leaned down and kissed her deeply and passionately. A flush crept into Gabrielle's cheeks. She did a quick exhale and crept forward quietly and continued up the steps.
She heard Varia's commanding voice through the thick stand of trees on her left. She reached a clearing and saw Varia standing inside one of the practice compounds barking out instructions to several young women. When Gabrielle moved nearer the practice arena, she slipped into the rear of the semi-circle that formed around the compound. When Varia's gaze swept over the circle, she spotted Gabrielle and nodded. Gabrielle smothered a grin when Varia and a young girl sparred with each other, using staffs. The young girl reminded Gabrielle of herself at that age when she was first learning the art of the staff. The young Amazon moved with practiced ease, her staff twirling through her hands, meeting each of Varia's advances, stroke for stroke.
"You're being predictable!" Varia barked. She shoved her backwards, crouched and swung the staff under the young girl. The young girl was thrown off her feet and down to the ground on her back. Varia slammed the butt of her staff on the packed earth and glared down at her.
"You need to be creative! Mix them up! Create new ones! Surprise is the element here!" She shouted.
"Okay, tell you what, how about I demonstrate this, hmm?" She said in a calmer voice and then glanced at Gabrielle.
"Queen Gabrielle, would you do me the honor?" Varia asked and motioned to a spot next to her.
Gabrielle hesitated for a few seconds as all heads swung around to stare at her, then she stepped forward. The Amazons parted respectfully so she could pass through and into the practice arena. Gabrielle walked over to a rack that held staffs of various heights and thickness. She picked up a few, hefted and spun each of them, until she finally found one that seemed to suit her.
Gabrielle turned, holding the staff in her hand, and stepped calmly into the fighting circle. At a nod from Varia, she assumed a fighting stance and twirled her staff. They circled each other, their staffs twirled and shifted from one hand to the other, and their feet moved slowly, with quiet purpose across the dirt. Each woman was waiting and watching for the other to strike. Gabrielle feinted quickly to the left, spun right and swung her staff down towards Varia's head. A soft gasp was heard from their audience. Varia lifted her staff just in time to stop Gabrielle's downward strike. She lifted an eyebrow at Gabrielle before she pushed off and swiveled behind Gabrielle and swung her staff towards Gabrielle's lower legs. Gabrielle jumped over Varia's staff, spun on her heel, and countered. Varia somersaulted over Gabrielle. Gabrielle spun with a round house kick that sent Varia back a few steps and she stumbled. Varia hit the dirt, rolled, and flipped herself upright. She delivered a crescent kick to Gabrielle's ribs and brought her staff down over Gabrielle's head. Gabrielle countered and their staffs cracked loudly in the air between them, and they gazed into one another's eyes. Varia pulled her staff away and set the butt in the ground, indicating that the bout was over. She pinned a steely gaze on the young women in the semi-circle.
"All right, partner up!" she ordered sharply.
Varia turned towards the rack of staffs and Gabrielle fell into step beside her. They exchanged small smiles and returned their staffs.
"Good moves." Varia said.
"Thanks. You too."
"Absolutely." Gabrielle waited a beat before continuing. "I need to talk to you then. Ares paid me a visit."
"That's not good news." Varia rolled her eyes skyward and walked back to the practice arena.
Gabrielle decided to pass the time by taking a leisurely stroll out to the cliffs. She walked to the other side of the clearing and climbed down the stone steps that were set into the hill. At the bottom she followed a narrow and seldom used path. She had to step over fallen trees and navigate her way between large stone boulders covered with patches of green moss. Her boots crunched on the fallen twigs and dead leaves that littered the ground. She stopped at one point to listen to the sounds of nature all around her. She turned her head just in time to catch a rabbit scurrying for cover under a nearby bush, and smiled a tiny smile. Up ahead in a tree, an owl hooted, and the light breeze rustled the pine needles in the trees.
When she passed the last of the trees, she stepped out into the bright sunshine where several acres of grassland covered gentle hills. She walked forward into the tall grass, her hands gently brushing the top of the long blades as she waded through. In the distance near the cliffs she saw a someone kneeling at the foot of a tall marble monolith.
Gabrielle squinted and when she realized that it was Eve, she walked briskly through the grassy field.
Gabrielle approached Eve who was kneeling on a prayer blanket, her head bowed, her long chestnut hair fanned out on her shoulders in the breeze, and her hands were folded in her lap.
"Eve?" Gabrielle whispered.
Eve didn't get up, but turned her head sideways and Gabrielle saw the trail of wetness on Eve's cheek, and sorrow reflected in her eyes.
"Oh, Eve." Gabrielle said softly. She knelt down and reached for her at once, took Eve in her arms and held her close. Eve cried silently. Gabrielle buried her face in Eve's soft hair and rocked her gently, all the while saying nothing as her own eyes brimmed with tears.
After a few moments, Eve extricated herself from Gabrielle's arms and wiped the tears from her face and gazed somberly at Gabrielle.
"I miss her, Gabrielle." Eve whispered and her gaze shifted back to the marble monolith.
"I know. I do too." Gabrielle said.
"To most people, she was Xena, the Warrior Princess, but she was my Mother." Eve's gaze returned to Gabrielle's face.
"Yes, I know." Gabrielle agreed and cupped Eve's face in her hands.
"How do you go on without her?" Eve asked and reached up to touch Gabrielle's comforting hands.
"I just do. Life goes on, but Xena will forever live within us." Gabrielle's eyes misted and she placed her hand over her heart.
Eve smiled small smile and reflected on Gabrielle's words. "You chose to continue and face life with courage. You are alive to tell the tale and your journey is just beginning. You will continue to teach people the lessons you have learned."
Gabrielle looked over at the monolith, brought her fingers to her lips, kissed them and then touched the pommel of the marble sword that stood with its blade in the ground.
"Where will you go from here, Gabrielle?"
"I haven't given it much thought yet. My pregnancy?um?complicates things a little." She paused with a wry smile. "I have thought about one thing. I don't want my children growing up surrounded by hate and violence."
Eve reached over and squeezed her hand.
Eve and Gabrielle sat together in companionable silence as the sun rose and the warm rays permeated the chill of the cool morning. Neither of them moved until the sound of drums were heard from the direction of the Amazon village. The drums meant only one thing, a call for all Amazons.
Gabrielle stood up and placed a comforting hand on Eve's shoulder before she turned and walked back to the Amazon village.
When she arrived at the village, there were Amazon guards surrounding a dark skinned woman and her horse. Judging by the attire that she wore, Gabrielle surmised that she was an Amazon, but not one from these lands. She was holding the reins to a white horse with a curved neck several hands taller than most of the horses in this region. Gabrielle had never seen such a beautiful creature. A shield made of bronze hung from the saddle horn of an intricately tooled leather saddle. The woman stood proudly and her ebony colored eyes shone with curiosity. Her dark hair was braided and strung with ivory, gold and silver beads. Her short vest and trousers were made of dark leather and embroidered with ivory, gold and silver beads as well. Dark tattoos wound around her arms and on her fingers. A small dagger was tucked into her leather boots and she wore thick gold bracelets and bracers on her arms. The most interesting piece of jewelry she wore was her necklace. A round gold amulet with several large pieces of ebony and ivory on either side hung from a gold chain around her neck that connected one gold earring to her gold nose ring. She held a wooden staff decorated with gold, silver, and colorful feathers by her side. But, what was truly fascinating was the bird that sat perched on her shoulder. It's feathers were mostly dark brown, but sprinkles of cream colored it's face and neck. The bird's talons gripped the leather padding on her shoulder. Its face swiveled slowly from side to side, its eyes blinked and did not seem agitated at all by the increasing number of women that continued to gather. Gabrielle surmised that the bird was a hawk, an elegant creature found only in the far southern lands, perhaps in Egypt or Libya.
The Amazons parted and Varia walked up to their new visitor and stopped. They observed each other silently before Varia gave her the Amazon salute. The woman returned it and nodded. Varia flicked her hand at the Amazon guards who sheathed their swords and stepped back.
The woman turned to her horse and pulled out a leather bound object from her saddle bag. She turned back and unwrapped the object which she then presented to Varia.
"A gift from the east to west." The woman said. "I am Antileon, formerly of Egypt. Our tribes have never met before. We are the Thermodontine Amazons in what you call the Caucusus Mountains."
Varia took the proffered gift and lifted it above her head, so that those around her could see. It was an oval mirror set in hand wrought gold. Varia smiled, then bowed to show her appreciation for the unique gift.
"Thank you Antileon. I am Varia, Queen of the Amazons. Welcome."
Antileon immediately knelt and saluted Varia again. "You are whom I seek, Queen Varia." She said and stood up. "I seek your help. The Scythians attacked my tribe and there are but few of us left. The Scythians are nearing the green valley and I fear your tribe may be next."
"Antileon, let us sit and talk, we must know more about what happened, and of your tribe." Varia indicated to the communal hut and guided her towards it. The communal hut was really a cave burrowed deep into a small cliff. A scaffolding rose high above it and several Amazons on the platform kept a wary eye over the village. Symbols of the crescent moon were painted on the stone to either side of the entrance. The guards swept open the wooden doors and members of the Queen's council, including Gabrielle, walked inside. They sat down at the large oval table, chairs scraping, and then silence settled on the small group as the guards went about lighting torches in brackets on walls, and starting a blazing fire in the fireplace. The fire crackled and popped on the dry wood, but sent much needed warmth into the chilly room. Earthen symbols and colorful Amazon drawings were painted on the walls. Staffs, shields, swords, halberds, and animal furs and skins where stacked in an orderly fashion by one wall. On another wall were shelves where scrolls and parchments were stored. Several bear skins lay about on the floor.
"We are nomadic during the harsh winters. We travel to Asia, Turkey, and Libya, then migrate back to the green valley when warm weather returns. We are herdswomen and cattle ranchers. We once lived peacefully with the Scythians who live along our borders, but their new leader is bent on conquest, and hundreds of my sisters died trying to defend our homeland."
Gabrielle went cold. She leaned forward and folded her hands carefully atop the table. "She speaks of Catal, the new leader of the Scythians." Gabrielle spoke up and drew everyone's eyes to her own. "I read about him while I was in Alexandria. He's conquered much of the northern and eastern lands, but I never thought he would come this far south and into Amazon lands." Gabrielle frowned.
"Do you know where he is now?" Varia asked.
"I saw his army riding towards the Thermondon Pass. About a week away."
"We don't have much time." Gabrielle said grimly.
"Gabrielle, what would you do?' Xena's voice echoed in her head.
Gabrielle stood up and walked over to the shelf that held her scrolls and parchments. She pulled out a long rolled parchment, returned to the table and spread the map out before them. Antileon quickly pointed out the location of the Caucusus Mountains and then to a place just southwest of them.
"I saw him here. About five hundred soldiers." Gabrielle and Varia looked up and exchanged glances. Varia's face was grim and Gabrielle swallowed. Gabrielle looked back down at the map and searched for something, anything that might give them an advantage against this huge army. Her gaze narrowed on the map and then she looked up and found Varia staring back at her.
"I have an idea. If we block the pass here, it will force them to reroute. They will have to march through the valley between these cliffs. We could strike them there. There's no way out, except back though the mouth of the pass where they came." Gabrielle said. Varia shifted her gaze back to the map and scanned the drawing. Her head lifted and she nodded at Gabrielle.
"Do it." "Khalti, when Gabrielle is ready, I want you and five of your guards to accompany her." The young Amazon by the entrance snapped to attention and gave a short nod.
"Juli, gather the scouts and send them to the Thermondon Valley. I want them to report back to me in two days . Also, send messengers to the other Amazon tribes. We're going to need their help." The second guard nodded and left the hut.
"Gabrielle, I need you to leave as soon as you are ready." Gabrielle nodded and stood up. She walked absently to her hut and paced angrily across the well worn floor, her hands clenched at her side.
"Ares!" Gabrielle shouted angrily into the empty air. She pulled her sais from her boots when there was a flash and Ares materialized.
"You rang?" Ares quipped.
"Are you behind this? Gabrielle growled.
"You are SO cute when you're mad!" Ares smiled arrogantly and sauntered towards her.
"Are you trying to destroy the Amazons!?" Gabrielle said between clenched teeth to keep from shouting.
"No! Of course not. I just see a great battle in the making. Exciting isn't it?" His smile morphed into a huge grin.
"Ares?" Gabrielle struggled to restrain her anger, but clamped her mouth shut when the war god lifted his hand for silence.
"Look, I taught Xena everything she knew. And then she in turn taught you. It's all up here." Ares tapped his forefinger against the side of his head.
"Like I said, I believe you have potential, but just how much have you got?" he taunted before he smiled again and winked out.
"Arggghh!" Gabrielle grunted in exasperation and ground curses between her teeth.
She was frustrated by the War God's intervention, but was determined not to let this new development destroy her people. The Amazon nation suffered a catastrophic blow from the son of Athena when he waged a war against them to avenge his Mother's death. The battle at Hellicon was disastrous for the Amazons. Almost half of this tribe of brave women perished. Over the past year the Amazons recovered and the nation began to grow again, but they were still few in number, perhaps a total of a hundred or so, not counting those that were too young, or those who immigrated from Rome and were not yet trained to fight.
For several days Amazon scouts rode in and out of the village with information on the progress of the Scythian army now approaching the pass. The village was bustling with activity, preparing vacant huts and setting up temporary quarters for their sister Amazons who traveled great distances to join up with them. So far, the number of Amazons willing to fight, swelled from a mere dozen to almost a hundred.
Gabrielle, Varia and other Amazons skilled in battle tactics spent days formulating a plan. The Scythian army was only days away, and Gabrielle decided that it was time to set the trap.
Gabrielle sat on Hero and her hands rested comfortably on the saddle horn as she looked down over the broad horseshoe shaped valley bordered by jagged cliffs. The open end on the west side lead to the grasslands, then to a rock strewn lowland and in the distance, to the forests of the Amazons. The eastern end was open also, but narrower, and lead out to the Black Sea.
The saddle creaked when Hero shifted. Gabrielle wore a long sleeved blue linen shirt with a thin chain mail vest over it. Her black trousers were tucked into black leather boots that sported her sais. Her katana sword was slung across her back and the chakram hung once again at her side. Xena had given her the katana sword, the favorite weapon of samurai warriors. Locks of her blond hair lifted in the wind that blew across the flat grasslands and up over the cliffs. Hero stamped her hooves impatiently and Gabrielle patted her sleek neck. She urged the mare forward into a soft canter and five Amazon guards trailed behind. They rode across the craggy cliff to the edge and stopped. Gabrielle dismounted and pulled the chakram from her belt. She scanned the jagged cliffs that jutted up around her before she threw the chakram towards the western end of the valley. She threw it so hard that a cry burst forth from her. The chakram sailed swiftly through the air, separated into two smaller ones, one going to the left, and the other to the right. A few minutes passed before the familiar whirring sound was heard, and a soft 'clink' as the two smaller chakrams re-joined. Instinctively she reached out and caught the chakram as it flew by her. She glanced at it in surprise for a moment before she returned it to her belt. She was still trying to get used to the idea that she was now the new owner of such a powerful weapon. Sometimes it seemed as if it could read her mind and acted on her wishes, and other times it required precise timing and placement.
"You do what you have to, Gabrielle. Your people need you." Xena's voice whispered.
"Come on?come on." Gabrielle whispered.
At the western mouth of the pass, the huge boulders at the top of a cliff began to move. They rolled forward, then rapidly down the cliffs, gaining momentum. As the boulders tumbled down they uprooted everything in their path, trees, brush, loose rocks, and clumps of dry grass. The ground rumbled as the debris settled at the bottom between the two cliffs, and huge dust clouds billowed upwards. The pass out of the valley into the fertile hills and Amazon lands was blocked. Gabrielle breathed a sigh of relief, mounted her horse and sped back to the Amazon village, with five Amazon guards in her wake.
When Gabrielle returned to the communal hut, Varia and several other sisters were still gathered around the map. Everyone glanced up when she entered. She nodded and said, "It's done."
Varia settled back into her chair, easing herself away from the table to relieve cramped muscles as Gabrielle walked up to the table and seated herself. The sound of a galloping horse was heard and it came to an abrupt stop just outside. An Amazon scout rushed in and saluted Varia. Varia nodded and the scout spoke, "The Scythian army is about a day's ride from here and headed straight for the pass."
"Thank you Caslie." Varia said and the woman exited swiftly. Varia stood up and spread her hands on the table.
"Gabrielle, we thought about your plan and this is what we've decided." Varia pointed to the cliffs above the now blocked pass. "We're going to attack from here and here, on either side of the pass from the top of the cliffs and from the caves. We will also come in from behind, at the east end, cut off their route of escape." Varia continued.
Gabrielle murmured her assent and Varia straightened, her arms falling to her side.
"We part company here then. You all know what to do."
Varia lifted her baby from her lap, kissed her forehead, and hugged her tightly to her chest. Varia sighed and with Gabrielle, they stood up and walked out of the hut. Just outside the hut Eve sat on a folding stool in the warm sun. She was helping a young girl weave ornamental leather lace in an leather cloak. Eve looked up when their shadows fell over her. Varia kissed her baby once more before gently sitting her in Eve's lap.
"Eve, if anything should happen to me, give her to Sali." Varia instructed and Gabrielle's eyebrow rose. Eve nodded and smoothed the baby's hair from her face. Varia turned to Gabrielle and sighed.
"Okay, let's go." She said.
"Who's Sali?" Gabrielle asked.
Varia's lips curled into a tiny smile. "A friend."
"Uh huh." Gabrielle shifted her gaze to Varia's face and smiled.
Three groups with a little over a dozen Amazons in each, rode out onto the grasslands and split up. The first group rode down into the valley and hid in the caves near the eastern end of the pass. The thick carpet of foliage on the floor of the pass muted the sound of their mounts as they rode, and the rugged cliffs towered up around them. The pass was tinted red with the fading sunlight and covered with grass, shrub and saw grass. The Amazons stopped and dismounted. They paired up and disappeared into the lower caves, taking their horses with them.
The second group bounded up into the cliffs, following narrow trails, the horses' hooves breaking the stillness, echoing through the crags and rifts of mountain rock. As Gabrielle, Varia and the rest of their group rode higher into the rocks, footing became less sure, loose rock littered the narrow paths and cracks split the surface. Then abruptly they stopped, for before them a huge chasm opened and dropped away to the grassy floor of the pass below. Above them were sheer cliff walls that seemed to bend inward until all that remained was the thin blue line of the sky. Gabrielle and Varia remained on their mounts and observed the activity below, while the Amazons dismounted and went to the edge of the cliffs.
The third group rode swiftly along the base of the cliffs towards the caves along the western ridge. Their horses pounded into the dry earth, sending up a broad cloud of dust behind them. Clusters of stone boulders and small trees dotted the western side of the pass and a thin stream trickled down out of the cliff and pooled into a small hollow lined with cattails.
Antileon reined in her horse on the grasslands just before the opening to the pass and gently placed her gloved hand under the talons of her hawk. The bird calmly stepped onto her hand and blinked at her expectantly. She raised her arm and the hawk's wings expanded. The bird crouched and launched herself into the air. She sent out a single cry down to her master as she soared overhead. Antileon observed her companion for a minute before taking up the reins and urging her mount forward to follow her comrades.
They swung left and followed a broader path that took them to the caves higher up in the cliffs. They dismounted and guided their horses into the dark openings of the caves.
The air cooled noticeably as the sun dipped lower in the sky. Gabrielle sat on her steed and pulled out her fur cloak. She wrapped it around her shoulders and gazed at the sunset. From her vantage point on the cliffs, the sunset lit the sky in a blaze of scarlet and gold. The moon's silver disk rose, and one by one, stars blinked into view and the silence deepened. Wordlessly she observed the Amazons crouched at the edge of the cliffs. Those with bows slung across their backs would line the edge, shooting down into the army below. The others would file down into the pass and engage in hand to hand combat after the archers had sent down the arrows. Gabrielle felt that the defensive positions had been well chosen. When the attack came, they would be ready.
Just as the night began to deepen, the sound of muted hoof beats from the floor of the pass reached them. Varia raised her hand for silence. A lone rider came into view and stopped at the rockslide that blocked the western part of the pass.
"It's a scout. Look at his uniform, he's Scythian." Varia whispered.
"We're not letting him ride out of here!" Gabrielle whispered back.
He was about to turn and ride off when Gabrielle pulled the chakram from her belt and threw it in his direction. The chakram flew straight down the cliff face and shaved blades of grass before it arced sharply upwards and hit the unsuspecting rider on the side of the head. He slumped forward on his horse and then fell to the ground. Varia heard the chakram slicing through the air and her eyes followed it back up the cliffs and watched silently as Gabrielle pulled the chakram out of the air above her. She shook her head in amazement before she waved for someone to go down and retrieve the unconscious form and its horse. Varia moved her mare closer to Gabrielle so that their legs were almost touching.
Varia looked over at Gabrielle. "Tell me what you know about Catal, Gabrielle."
Gabrielle sighed and rested Hero's reins around the pommel of her saddle. She reached down and pulled the sais from her boots. "Catal was the son of noble family from Gaul." Gabrielle absently twirled a sai and gazed off into the distance. "When the Romans, commanded by Livia, invaded the city of Gaul, his father was killed during the battle and Livia had his mother crucified. He was a young boy then, and saw things that no child should ever see."
Gabrielle slid her sais back into her boots, leaned back in the saddle and looked up to the starry sky. " He was sold into slavery and became a gladiator for Caligula's amusement. Eventually he escaped to Scythia and joined the Scythian army against the Roman Empire. The Scythians were able to keep the Romans from invading their country, but for a terrible price. Hundreds of Scythian troops were slaughtered and many innocent women and children were killed, including his own wife and three of his four sons. His only surviving son was almost burned alive. Catal vowed that he would build his own empire and eventually conquer Rome."
"He's crazy." Varia muttered.
"After each battle, I lose a part of myself." Gabrielle whispered as she tilted her blood spattered face up to gaze sadly at Xena.
"War's tough on the soul, Gabrielle." Xena's voice echoed.
"His hatred for Rome blinds him to the wrongs he has committed. What he experienced and saw as a child, damaged his soul, and after each battle he lost more and more of the man he was or of the man he could have been." Gabrielle whispered.
Varia nodded in silent understanding.
They turned when an Amazon messenger walked up to them. "Part of the Scythian army is approaching the pass, but a small contingent remains camped to the north. What are your orders, my Queen?"
"We wait." Gabrielle said flatly.
She signaled for the arches to ready their bows. Gabrielle turned her head and watched as the archers pulled arrows from their quivers and cocked them.
Dawn broke and a deep gray mist covered the whole of the pass below. The mist faded as the pale yellow light of sunrise crept over the eastern cliffs and down into the pass. The sunlight advanced over the grassy pass like a curtain being pulled back. The Amazons held their posts, crouched and waiting. Soon the sound of many hoof beats reached their ears and Varia signaled. The Amazons immediately dropped to their stomachs, flattening themselves on the ground. Gabrielle dismounted, lowered herself onto her stomach and crawled up to the edge. Down below, mounted soldiers were beginning to enter the pass from the mouth on the eastern side. The leader of the group rode a few feet in front. Abruptly he stopped and raised his hand. His men behind him stopped, most of them just inside the entrance to the pass. He shifted in his saddle and swept his gaze across the cliff walls. His horse danced impatiently. He raised his hand again and signaled for them to continue forward.
The line of Amazons on either side of Gabrielle glanced in her direction, their bows held ready. Her eyes narrowed and she waited and watched.
"Patience, Gabrielle." Xena's voice echoed.
When the last of his men cleared the eastern mouth of the pass, she pulled her chakram and swung it towards the large boulder at the top of one of the eastern cliffs. After she released the chakram, she brought her arm up and flung it forward, the signal the archers had been waiting for. Amazons lifted themselves up from the dirt into a crouch and bows hummed, hundreds of arrows flew all around the army down below, and bodies fell. Arrows were notched quickly and another volley flew and more men were slain. Gabrielle heard the leader, his horse dancing nervously, order his men to fall back and regroup. Varia trotted forward to Gabrielle with Hero's reins in her hand. Gabrielle heard the sound of the chakram returning and plucked it out of the air. She stood up, placed her boot in the stirrup and mounted her horse. She shifted her gaze from the chaos below to the eastern mouth of the pass.
A boulder moved. Slowly the entire cliff face began to slide down into the opening of the western side of the pass. The ground rumbled as the debris rained down over half of the Scythian army before it settled and blocked the army's route of retreat. Horses and riders screamed and went down. Most of the army had disappeared in the avalanche of earth and stone
"They are trapped now, the only way out is for them to ride or climb by foot up these cliffs." Gabrielle said and looked sadly down at the carnage.
"Are you okay?" Xena asked as Gabrielle stared sadly at the sword in her hands.
"Yeah, I did what I had to do. I rallied the troops." Gabrielle answered, her voice breaking.
"Gabrielle, I can see that you are in pain?"
"Xena, don't?don't say that!" Gabrielle interrupted angrily and spun around to face her. "Don't try to make me feel better about this! Half my tribe lies dead on the beach!" She continued, and her voice lowered. "Now, I have to be as cold and as ruthless as I can be. I will do whatever it takes to keep these women alive."
"Let's end this now then." Xena replied and Gabrielle nodded somberly.
"You know what you have to do." Xena said before she turned on her heel and walked away.
Varia gave signal and the two groups hidden in the caves charged out on horseback and rode down into the pass. The charging Amazon screams, shrill and savage, startling the men, who stopped and stared in disbelief before scrambling quickly over the bodies of those who had fallen. With a crunch the two masses collided and Gabrielle swallowed her revulsion as the Amazons brutally cut into the Scythian army.
"Hyah!" Varia yelled suddenly at her mount.
Varia bolted down the cliffs, her arm raised and the sword in her hand glinting in the pale sunlight.
"Varia!" Gabrielle shouted. She galloped down after her.
Varia pushed and shoved her way to the Scythian commander who selectively attacked the younger and inexperienced Amazons, and had just wounded one of them. Varia snarled when his sword cut into the chest of another. None of the Amazons had been able to pull him down from his horse, but Varia rode right up to the side of his mount, grabbed him by the belt of his trousers and yanked him down from the saddle. The commander grunted in surprise and landed face down in the dirt. He looked up and his face twisted with hate when he saw Varia. Varia stepped down from her horse and stalked menacingly towards him, her sword ready and glinting by her side. He picked up his fallen sword and they paced each other warily. Varia kept an eye on the daggers that were tucked into his belt.
Gabrielle jumped down from Hero, pulled the sais from her boots, and charged into the fray. Out of the corner of her eye she saw the glint of a sword and swung her sais up to block the attack. Her sais caught the blade between its prongs, and she yanked the sword out of his hand. She bent and kicked backwards, her foot hitting an attacker in the stomach and sending him sliding in the dirt on his back. She raised her sais over her head and threw the sword into a belly. She shifted her body and plunged a sai into the belly of another, when another rushed her she pulled it out, blood dripping, and plunged it into his chest. The sai in her other hand blocked a thrust. She kicked and her foot collided with his chin, and a round house kick to the side of his face sent him twirling to the ground. She pulled her sword after she threw a sai at another bearing down on her. She used her sword to battle her way to the fallen men so she could retrieve her sais. Her hands were slick with blood and she wiped them on her trousers. She felt the warm wetness on the skin of her thighs as it was absorbed through the light cloth. Refusing to look down at her bloody hands, she swallowed hard and forged ahead.
At the top of the cliffs, Ares stood, his feet were planted apart and his hands rested on the pommel of the sword on his belt. A satisfied grin spread across his face.
The commander was no match for Varia. He was an older man with scar on his face that ran from the corner of his mouth to his ear. She could tell that he was beginning to tire, so she accelerated the pace of her attacks. Her sword pounded down on him relentlessly. He could barely fend off her attacks with his blade. He was back peddling and stumbling. With each step back, his anger intensified.
"Anger makes you vulnerable. You need to control your anger, Varia." Xena's voice echoed in her head.
Varia blinked, stepped back and let her sword fall to her side. The commander raised his sword and with a hateful cry, rushed her. Varia slowly brought her sword up, and as she did so the commander ran into it, and impaled himself. Varia's face twisted in disgust when he looked up at her, and she watched the life drain from his body. With her boot she pushed him off of her sword and he fell to the ground.
"Just know that your sisters will live or die by what you choose to do." Xena's voice continued.
When he fell, his men began lowering weapons in surrender. Varia cut the scarf that was tied around the commander's neck with her sword and waved it under a soldier's face. The soldier flinched as the tip of the sword touched the skin at his neck.
"Catal?" Varia asked flatly.
The soldier gulped and shook his head negatively.
"Take these men as prisoners." Varia instructed sharply.
"It's not over yet." Gabrielle whispered to no one in particular.
The clear night air was chilly, the moon was full and it cast a bright light down upon a group of women on the barren cliffs. Some sat silently at the edge keeping watch, and others lay asleep on the cold ground.
Gabrielle laid a hand over Xena's stomach, the leather was smooth and soft to her touch. She lowered her head on a broad shoulder and caressed the long wavy locks of dark hair that peeked out from under her cheek.
"Are you okay?"
Gabrielle sighed inwardly. She knew by the tone of her voice and by the shortness in which the word was uttered that something was bothering the warrior.
"What is it? "Gabrielle propped herself up on her elbow and studied Xena's somber face.
"Do you know how I feel about you, Gabrielle?"
"Yes?"Gabrielle said carefully.
The warrior bit her lower lip and remained silent. Gabrielle sighed and picked up the threads of the conversation.
"Was this conversation going somewhere, Xena?"
Gabrielle narrowed her eyes and stared hard at her friend.
"Something's on your mind, Xena. Please talk to me. You know you can tell me anything."
"Oh, I don't know. This might scare you." Xena whispered and her eyes glinted mischievously.
"Really? Try me." Gabrielle said seriously.
"I love you." Xena said softly and glanced up at Gabrielle.
"Uh huh." Gabrielle smiled in amusement.
"I mean that, Gabrielle."
"You know, you seem to forget that whenever an attractive bad boy shows up, I have to keep an eye on you to make sure that you don't get carried away." Gabrielle reminded her and poked her on the chest.
"So I have a weakness, I'm only human, or at least I think a part of me is. Look, I've never felt this way about someone before, and I can't imagine my life without you." Xena said with sincere honestly.
"We all make mistakes, Xena. We've certainly made our share of them." Gabrielle nodded somberly.
"And look where we are." Xena commented.
"Still together." Gabrielle answered.
Gabrielle looked down at clear blue eyes that smiled up at her. A warmth spread through her and she felt her body responding to that need. Her head lowered, their lips touched, then parted. Her heart beat rapidly her chest, her breathing quickened, and she felt her skin flush with warmth. Gabrielle had never felt this way with a woman, and surprised herself with what she had just done. She kissed a woman, this woman in leather lying beneath her. She lifted her head and smiled unashamedly down at Xena.
"Is that what you wanted to tell me? You thought that this would scare me away?"
Gabrielle kissed her again and wound her fingers in Xena's dark tresses.
Xena's arms wrapped themselves around Gabrielle's waist and held her tight.
The first rays of sunlight brightened the horizon and glanced over the top of nearby trees. Gabrielle and Varia were awakened by a scout entering their circle. Gabrielle's eyes snapped open and the dream of a time long ago slowly faded away into the recesses of her mind. She was bone tired and her stomach felt hollow. Gabrielle and Varia stretched gingerly, their muscles stiff from sleeping on the cold ground. Gabrielle pulled her fur cloak tighter about her as she sat up. The Amazon scout joined them and they ate a cold breakfast of day old bread, dried fruit, and nuts, and they washed it all down with the water from their skins. Gabrielle glanced at the group of Amazons siting at the edge of the cliff and then shifted her gaze to a group sleeping on the ground. They had been up all night keeping watch.
Gabrielle put the chakram on her belt, and slung her sword across her back under her fur cloak. Varia shifted the scabbard that she just slung over her back. She wrapped her bearskin around her shoulders for warmth.
"The legion that stayed behind is heading out towards the pass."
"They're going to see that the pass is blocked. They will climb up the hills and come across these cliffs." Gabrielle said and a worried look crossed her face.
"Then we need to get down there and head them off." Varia said anxiously and stood up.
"Wait!" Gabrielle grabbed Varia's arm to stop her. "No, there must be another way." After a short pause Gabrielle had an idea. "Firebombs!" She exclaimed. She squeezed Varia's arm. "We need the firebombs from the village."
"Solia!" Gabrielle shouted, and red haired Amazon turned to her. "Take a few warriors with you, go back to the village, and bring us as many firebombs as you can. Go!" Gabrielle commanded.
The woman nodded before moving quickly up the pathway. Hoof beats were heard as several horses rode rapidly away.
"Do we have time?" Varia asked with concern.
Gabrielle turned her head, her mouth was set in a grim line. "We will not die here."
Varia nodded and turned back to the group of Amazons that began gathering around her. She shifted the sword on her back and resettled the bearskin cloak on her shoulders. She straightened her back and looked at the inquiring faces before her.
"The other half of the Scythian army is on its way. They won't be able to ride through the pass so they will go around to the hills on the other side."
"We're going to have to improvise. I need people in the caves with fire bombs. I need a group at the base of the cliffs out of sight of the advancing army, and I need a group up here, archers and fighters."
A group of women mounted their horses and rode down a narrow rock strewn path down the side of the cliff. They rounded a bend and moved out of sight. The second group rode to the opposite side of the cliffs, dismounted, and guided their horses down a very narrow and steep path, craggy with jagged rocks and loose gravel. The group that remained on the cliff took the reins of their horses and walked to the opposite side, winding between large rough boulders and gaping fissures.
The sun was high in the sky and its heat radiated its warmth to the women exposed to the blustery autumn wind. Gabrielle shed her cloak, stood at the edge of the cliff, her feet apart, and shielded her eyes against the sun. A gust of wind whipped her short hair about her head and the fabric of her loose clothes flapped behind her. She looked out over the expansive grassy plains and could see the Black Sea in the horizon, many miles away. Then she noticed movement. In the far distance columns of men were marching towards them.
"An army out in the open has the advantage because they have plenty of room to maneuver." Xena's voice said.
Gabrielle sank to her knees and covered her mouth with her hand. She shook her head slowly, trying to think of a way to stop the bloodshed, she didn't want to lose any of more of her sisters, nor did she want to go into another bloody battle.
"If only the firebombs would get here soon." She thought. No sooner did she finish that thought when she heard rapid hoof beats pounding across the flat part of the cliffs towards them. She stood up and ran to Varia's side. The Amazons reined their mounts sharply to a halt. Saddle bags were bulging with the ceramic jugs of the flammable liquid and powder. Gabrielle breathed a sigh of relief and ran to the horses. She started pulling out the jugs and handed them out to the Amazons.
"Okay, we need to get some of these buried down below, now! Go! Go!" She shouted and grabbed a few for herself.
The Amazons scrambled down the cliffs to the ground below. Gabrielle watched as they dug holes and buried the jugs. When they were done, they climbed as quickly as they could back to the base of the cliffs and into the caves.
The air was eerily silent except for the whisper of the wind as it brushed across the grass in the field below. Gradually they heard the sound of horses and the clanking of armor. The Amazons continued to remain in hiding and waited patiently.
The army continued to march closer and when they were directly below the cliffs, Varia gave the signal and the Amazons on the cliffs loosened their arrows. The arrows rained down on the army by the hundreds. Gabrielle turned to shout over her shoulder.
"Start the fires!" Gabrielle ordered. Pairs of Amazons along the cliff struck splints and smoke curled into the air.
Gabrielle turned back and they watched as the arrows felled soldiers by the dozens. After the second wave of arrows, Gabrielle shouted, "Now!" Amazons, including herself, picked up flaming logs from the fires, lit the long fuses on the firebombs, and threw them down upon the chaos below.
The exploding firebombs ignited the ones buried under the soldier's feet. Bodies flew into the air as they exploded, one by one. Within the fire and the smoke the men tried to group themselves together.
"Where is their leader?" Varia asked.
"I don't know, but they seem to be fighting as if their lives depended on it." Gabrielle answered.
Varia's face froze and she pointed to a figure just beyond the fire and smoke. A lone figure on horseback rode right into the soldiers. His helmet was made of bronze and had several feathered plumes along the top ridge. The face was hidden behind a facemask, but the voice rang out over the noise.
"Attack!" He stabbed a soldier that was trying to run away. "I said attack! Do it, or I will kill you where you stand!" He threatened.
Varia signaled, and once again the bows sung and a volley of firebombs fell into the mass below.
"Shields! Shields!" He screamed just before an arrow hit his shoulder. Men on startled horses jostled the foot soldiers about, pointing and trying to get a clear view. Cart drivers stood up on their seats, peering ahead and then jumped down to crouch by their carts for cover when Amazon arrows struck against the wood slats and on the ground around them.
He grimaced when he broke off the shaft of the arrow that jutted from his shoulder and then he jumped down from his horse. At Varia's signal, Amazons swarmed out of the caves with raised weapons and fierce yells. Their shrill war cries were deafening to one's ears. The soldiers were stunned, they stared at the groups of women advancing rapidly upon them.
Gabrielle and Varia ran down the cliff, sliding on loose gravel, bounding over fallen trees, and scattered rocks. The choking smoke billowed over them and Gabrielle pushed ahead through the flames and the smoke. She coughed, her throat was raw and it burned, and her palms sweated around the pommel of her sais. Squinting through the dense smoke, a young Amazon stood frozen next to a body of a dead soldier. She was overwhelmed with anguish and confusion at what she had done. She stared down at the blood stained sword that dangled from her bloody hand. Gabrielle scrambled across bodies and sprung to the young woman's side in time to deflect a blow that surely would have killed her as she stood there motionless. As if gone mad, Gabrielle tore into the advancing soldiers, thrusting them back from the young Amazon. With a howl of rage a soldier charged Gabrielle and she knocked his feet out from under him. She straddled his back, tucked her sais into her boots, and pulled her sword from its scabbard. She grabbed a fistful of his hair, pulled his head back and slit his throat with her sword. Her pulse was racing, and her chest heaved. She looked up at the young Amazon standing in front of her, who stared down at her in shock.
Meridian, held a dagger over Khrafstar, Gabrielle's new friend, and chanted, "With this blood, we praise Dahak, the Dark One."
Gabrielle finally realized that her friend was about to be murdered; sacrificed for evil purposes. She sprang into action, attacked the priests and fought off the evil priestess. She grabbed the dagger from Meridian's hand and freed her friend. When she turned the priestess lunged at her with a sword. Gabrielle stabbed her in the stomach with the dagger and the priestess died. Gabrielle looked at her bloody hands and at the dagger she still held in her hand with horror.
"No!." Gabrielle screamed and fell to her knees. "NOooo!" She screamed again.
"Xena, it hurts inside."
"What?" Xena asked.
"Everything's changed, everything." Gabrielle replied.
Gabrielle swallowed, and pushed the memory away. She stood up, walked over to the young Amazon, and shook the young woman by the shoulders.
"Snap out of it! Come On!" She shook the woman harder and finally got her attention.
The young woman looked at Gabrielle with blank eyes and tried to step away. Gabrielle tightened her grip and shook her again.
"Look, I know the first kill is hard. But you will get yourself killed if you don't pull it together! Now is not the time to think about this!"
The young Amazon nodded, straightened her back, and determination sparked in her eyes. She lifted her chin firmly. Gabrielle slammed a fist into the face of a soldier as he lunged at her from her left, and then punched at a face behind the young Amazon. She sheathed her sword and pulled out her sais. The young Amazon's eyes darted around like a frightened deer, but her sword went into motion as more soldiers advanced on them. Gabrielle feinted, thrust, kicked, and hit as many of her attackers as she could. Gabrielle turned her head slightly to check on the young Amazon and saw her plunge a sword into the chest of a soldier. This mistake almost cost Gabrielle her life. Her feet were suddenly yanked from under her and she lay sprawled on her back. Her head hit a rock and she shook her head to clear the fogginess. When her vision cleared, a soldier stood above her and his sword was swiftly coming down upon her. Her eyes widened in alarm and she raised her arms, intending to use her sais to stop the sword. Gabrielle heard a fierce yell and as if suddenly gone wild, the young Amazon slammed into him, knocking the soldier to the ground. She thrust her sword into his chest with a fierce cry.
She turned her head and they exchanged glances. What Gabrielle saw in those young eyes sent chills down her spine. Her eyes were bright, and her mouth curved in a feral grin. The young woman's face and the front of her clothing were almost completely covered with blood. She reminded her of Xena, in the way her dark hair flew about her wildly, and in the way she turned and screamed a war cry before viciously plunging her sword into another.
Gabrielle jumped up and searched for Varia. She peered through the billowing smoke. Varia was lowering herself into a fighter's crouch and swung her sword against the heavier and longer broadsword of the mysterious man in the bronze helmet. Gabrielle worked her way through the smoke and broken bodies. She absently wiped her hands on her trousers, smearing more blood on them. Out of the corner of her eye there was movement and she stepped sideways as a sword sliced down in front of her. She thrust her sais forward and caught the sword in its prongs. She leapt and kicked out to the side, connecting with the attackers jaw. He flew backwards and landed hard on his back. She shook the sword out of her sais and it clattered to the ground.
The man in the bronze helmet was showing signs of tiring. His uniform was torn and bloody. His sword dragged on the ground after Varia struck him. With a huge effort he inhaled deeply, and with a yell, swung his sword over his head and lunged. He was taller, stronger and had much more mass than Varia and his lunge forced her backwards and off balance. Varia stumbled and fell, but she rolled onto her stomach, and with a wide sweeping kick she knocked his feet out from under him. As she rolled, she pulled her blade clear. He landed hard on his back, the sword was jarred from his grip, and bounced out of reach. He pulled a dagger from his belt and threw it at Varia. Gabrielle threw her sai and knocked the dagger away. Varia nodded appreciatively before she took up her fallen sword. Varia stood up slowly with her back to him. She heard the scraping of the blade in the dirt as he retrieved his sword. He jumped up and lunged at her. Varia flipped the sword behind her, and impaled him on it before he could even touch her. Her lips curled in disgust when she pulled the blade from his body. She turned slowly on her heel and watched as his limp body fell to the ground, wide-eyed and staring.
Gabrielle swallowed when his body fell. She looked around her, her sai was held loosely in one hand by her side and the other was stained with blood. Bodies, both Scythian and Amazon lay on the ground, and tears welled up in her eyes at the loss of life. Their blood ran like rivulets between clumps of trampled grass.
Gabrielle and Varia turned when they heard the sound of hoof beats behind them. The rider was unarmed and he held his arms in the air. His face was hidden behind a steel face mask.
"I call a truce!" He shouted.
"Who are you to call this truce?" Gabrielle shouted back.
"I am Kathar, son of Catal." He indicated the man Varia had just killed and removed his helmet. His face was horribly scarred on the left side, and Gabrielle felt for him. He stepped down from his horse and limped towards her. Gabrielle's face was one of compassion and sorrow when he stood silently before her.
"A truce it is then." She said after they stared at one another for a moment.
"Get your men out of here and then come back alone at sunset and we will discuss the terms of our truce." Gabrielle tilted her face and swallowed the sadness that she was feeling.
Varia's face twisted in anger and she grabbed Gabrielle's arm. Shocked, Gabrielle looked at Varia sharply, but allowed herself to be led away.
"What are you doing?" Varia hissed.
"We are going to settle this peacefully, Varia." Gabrielle replied sternly.
"That army was hell bent on destroying entire Amazon tribes, and you're just going to let them go?" Varia's eyes flashed in anger. "What about Amazon justice!" Varia demanded.
"The fighting has stopped, Varia. They surrendered. Do you want more of us to die?" Gabrielle said through tight lips.
"Take a good look Varia, look out there and tell me what you see!" Gabrielle shouted and pointed angrily at the bloody battleground. "Do you see the enemy or do you see our sisters lying out there?" Gabrielle's said sharply and her eyebrows drew together in a frown.
"Amazon justice has already been served. He has no army left." Gabrielle said quietly. Gabrielle turned to the battleground and surveyed the carnage grimly.
"Sometimes you have to know when it's a time to fight and when it's a time to stop." Xena's voice echoed in Varia's head.
Varia followed Gabrielle's gaze and exhaled slowly as her eyes took in the annihilation spread out across the plains. Across the grassy field lay bodies with arrows jutting from various parts of anatomy, uniforms were torn, tattered and bloodstained, and men lay haphazardly over drivers seats of the carts. There were Amazon women on the field also, their blood had oozed from mortal wounds into the ground that they so valiantly fought to protect.
"You are truly our Queen of wisdom, Gabrielle." Varia said after a moment of quiet reflection.
"Make the negotiations for the return of the prisoners with him and make sure that the Scythians never try to invade us again." Varia said before she turned on her heel and walked away.
The night air was cool and Gabrielle's naked body shivered as a slight breeze brushed across her skin. Steam rose tantalizingly from the hot springs. The full moon cast a romantic silvery light upon the foliage around her. Flecks of silver glistened on the water's surface. She heaved a sigh of relief as she lowered her body into the hot springs and the water warmed her cooled skin. Her mind went over the details of their truce with the Scythians.
The negotiations with the Scythians went very well. Kathar was a good man, well educated, and did not see eye to eye on many things with his father, and especially with the aggressiveness and the killing. They agreed amicably on almost everything except where the borders between their two lands should be. Gabrielle persuaded him to return the lands that once belonged to the Amazons before his father invaded and reluctantly, he agreed. She wrote down every word of their conversation on one parchment and on the other she wrote the terms of their agreement. They both signed the truce and she started in surprise when he bowed to her before he left.
Kathar agreed to the safe return of Antileon's sisters who were captured. They were to be sold into slavery, but during their voyage on the seas they overpowered their captors. Kathar believed that they came ashore in Scythia and may still be hiding in the dense forests of the Shinerva mountains. Antileon sent her hawk skyward with a message tied to his talons. The hawk, she said, will find them and let them know that it is safe to return home.
The word 'home' struck a lonely chord within her. Xena often entered her thoughts and now her voice spoke to her, a message from the past.
"You did good, Gabrielle." Xena said.
"I had a good teacher." Gabrielle responded.
She smiled and closed her eyes. She could still picture Xena in her mind. Xena; tall, dark, and beautiful. Her eyes; the bluest of blue, her hair; dark and the long tresses only added to her mystique. Gabrielle flexed the muscles in her legs. She was tired and achy, the heat from the springs made her drowsy and she dozed.
"Xena, are warriors born or are warriors made?"
Xena's eyebrow lifted. "That's a good question. I'll have to get back to you on that."
"Well, I've been thinking about it."
"Yes. I believe some people are born with the instinct to protect what is important to them and they will fight to protect it. Then there are those who have absolutely no interest in their own welfare or the welfare of others."
"Umm..Hmm.." Xena murmured.
Gabrielle twirled her sai as she thought about what to say next.
"Now, soldiers are trained to fight. Does that make them good warriors? No."
"Uh huh." Xena murmured, listening intently.
"Then there are those who never received training. How did they learn to fight so well?"
"Instinct." Xena replied and Gabrielle glanced sharply at her friend.
"That's something I don't think I have." Gabrielle replied, her voice was tinted with a trace of disappointment.
"Oh, yes you do, Gabrielle. You just don't realize it, nor have you been put to the test."
Gabrielle blinked and chewed on her lip as she mulled over Xena's words.
Suddenly there was a bright flash and Ares materialized unannounced. Gabrielle's eyes popped open, she reached back and snatched her sais from the stone shelf behind her. She dove forward into a fighting stance, the water splashing around her hips.
"Whoa." Ares said and raised his arms. "Sorry to interrupt your dream but?"
Ares stopped abruptly, his mouth hung open, and his dark brows raised. He stared at Gabrielle's chest and rested his hands leisurely on the pommel of the sword that hung from his waist.
"You know that does not look very warrior like, Gabrielle." A devilish smile danced around on his face and his eyes twinkled as they roamed leisurely up and down her body.
Gabrielle's face paled slightly when she realized that Ares was gazing at her naked body. She ducked down into the water, and Ares chortled.
"Aw, Gabrielle, I was enjoying the view!"
"What do you want Ares?" Gabrielle asked through clenched teeth.
"Well, I gotta hand it to you. You did good, really good?almost too good."
Gabrielle narrowed her eyes, "Why? Does that bother you?"
"Oh no, on the contrary. This opens up new possibilities. As a matter of fact?"
"Ares! Go away!" Gabrielle snapped, turned and swam back to the seat she had just leapt from.
"Aw?" Ares tried to interject.
"I said?Go?Away." Gabrielle said forcefully.
"All right, I'll find something to do for a while, but I'll be back." Ares replied and pointed a finger at her.
"Of course you will." Gabrielle said in resignation after Ares disappeared in a flash of light.
"Hmm, this is really good. What is it?" Gabrielle asked after taking a sip of the aromatic and warm liquid in her cup.
"We call it toddy. But, um, I wouldn't drink too much of it Gabrielle, especially if you've never had it before."
"It contains alcohol?" Gabrielle said in surprise.
"No, no alcohol." Varia replied. Varia glanced across the table at Eve who was holding her daughter. She was beaming down at the young infant cooing in her arms.
"Did you decide on a name for her, Varia?" Eve asked.
"Yes. Her name is Natasha." Varia answered smiling as she gazed at her child nestled in the comfort of Eve's arms.
"That's a wonderful name. I believe it means, one of determination, intelligence, and strength." Eve responded.
The Amazon drums began a slow rhythmic beat as the victory dance began. Varia and Gabrielle walked up to the raised platform and Varia raised a hand for silence. Wisps of smoke from the funeral pyres drifted by as a reminder of the price they paid for their victory over the Scythians. Varia began her speech and addressed everyone within earshot. Her tone was both grim and elated.
"We are about to celebrate a victory. A victory that came with a heavy price. We lost seventeen of our sisters. They suffered and died. But they died with honor. With their pain they acquired a victory which we could not have gained otherwise."
Her voice grew stronger and carried farther and farther until it reached the very edges of the village
"This was a great battle, and people will talk of the powerful and strong Amazon Nation for years to come!" Varia's words sent chills down Gabrielle's spine and her skin shivered with excitement.
Gabrielle laid a gentle hand on Varia's arm, indicating that she had something she wanted to add. Gabrielle's voice was clear and crisp. It gathered momentum and strength as she spoke.
"Remember that they were hurt for us! Remember that they died for us! Remember that we have freedom and victory and LIFE because of them. You all fought bravely. The Amazon Nation is ours! Let us fight to make our world a place of peace!"
Cheers erupted from the Amazons. Gabrielle's gaze roamed over the huge gathering of Amazons before her, making eye contact with as many as she could before finishing her speech.
"To a strong Amazon Nation!" She shouted and raised her fist triumphantly in the air.
"To a strong Amazon Nation!" Varia echoed and raised her arm alongside Gabrielle's.
When they finished, the cheering went on for a long time.
When the cheering died down, they stepped down from the platform and joined the women in a dance. Gabrielle could feel every beat of the drums vibrating in her chest. As the drumming increased and became louder, the ground pulsated and she gave herself in to the music. She spun and swayed and her mind emptied of the images of the battle. She was aware of the other women dancing around her. The heat from their bodies and the familiar scent of the oils that they used made her slightly heady and electrified her entire being. Gabrielle felt at peace and felt a sense of belonging even though she was not born into any of the Amazon tribes. She earned the respect of the Amazons through her acts of courage, sacrifice and wisdom. She was in every essence, an Amazon Queen.
She didn't know how long she danced, but she only stopped because her throat was parched. She was hot and beads of perspiration ran down her face, chest and back, staining her halter top and skirt. The beaded necklace that she wore around her neck stuck to her chest and the fur-lined armbands were damp with sweat. Steam rose from her body in the cold night. She pushed her damp hair out of her eyes and started when someone grasped her hand and began pulling her to the communal hut. She smiled at Varia and followed her lead, the bright moonlight illuminating the way. After all that they had been through, she felt a special kinship with her, as if she were really her sister. Most of her family and friends were gone, her mother and father, Xena, Joxer, Ephiny, Amarice, and Eli. Now she had a new family, Xena's daughter, Eve, Varia, Virgil, her sister, Lila and her niece, Sarah. She would soon welcome her own children into the world, which reminded her that she needed to start thinking of names soon.
A woman fell in along side Varia as they were walking. Her light brown hair was held back by braided lace and her green eyes twinkled. Varia introduced her to Gabrielle.
"Gabrielle, I'd like you to meet Sali."
"Hello." Gabrielle smiled.
Suddenly Sali grinned at Varia and said, "I don't know about you two but I intend to get drunk enough to?well?take off my clothes and dance on the table."
Gabrielle and Varia exchanged amused glances. Sali laughed heartily and rested a hand on Varia's arm before she ambled away.
They met Eve on their way to the communal hut. She had Varia's baby in her arms and was about to put her to bed. Varia picked up Natasha and held her, smoothing the curly dark hair from her forehead. She bent down and kissed her gently on the cheek, before handing her over to Eve.
"Make sure she has her milk, before you put her to bed." Varia said and tucked a corner of a fur under the tiny chin.
"I will." Eve replied. "And I'll wait in your hut until you return."
"Thank you, Eve. It may be a while though." Varia and Gabrielle watched Eve's retreating back for a moment before turning back to the communal hut.
When Gabrielle and Varia walked into the hut, it was ablaze with soft amber light, and welcome warmth emanated from the large fireplace. The hubbub of many conversations could be heard above the noise of the beating drums outside. When Gabrielle sat down at a table, curious heads turned. Her gaze glanced over the women and she raised her eyebrows inquiringly.
"Queen Gabrielle, tell us about Cleopatra and the Egyptian Amazons." One of the younger Amazons asked as she propped her elbow on the table. Varia returned from fetching their mugs, sat down and set Gabrielle's mug in front of her. Her hand curled around the cup and she took a long sip of her drink.
"Well, Cleopatra was one of the most fascinating women in Egypt. She had great intelligence and beauty, and unknown to most people, she was of Greek heritage. When her father died, he willed to her the Egyptian kingdom. She was only eighteen years old at the time. Unfortunately the Egyptian kingdom was already starting to fall. Egypt and Rome had a pact with each other but Egypt had to pay heavy tributes to Rome keep the peace."
"Cleopatra knew that her people were suffering under the heavy taxation, so she did what she had to do to save her people and to save the city of Alexandria, whatever the price."
"Her brother tried to ally himself with a Roman commander, Marc Antony because he wanted to rule Egypt and he knew that Marc Antony wanted Cleopatra's navy.
Now, we have another Roman, Octavian, who was Julius Caesar's adopted son, who also wanted Egypt. Octavian wasn't interested in ruling Egypt, he just wanted to help the Egyptian people. Unfortunately Cleopatra was murdered before he could talk to her.
Cleopatra was able to send a messenger to Xena just before she died. So Xena and I traveled to Egypt. Xena took Cleopatra's place as the ruler of Egypt and saved the country from certain destruction."
"Xena smuggled herself through Roman lines by hiding herself inside a carpet and had it delivered to Marc Antony. Can you imagine his surprise when they rolled out the carpet and there lay who he thought was Cleopatra!"
"Anyway, Xena, now playing the part of Cleopatra, conspired with Marc Antony and then she conspired with Brutus, another Roman Commander vying with Marc Antony and Octavian for control of Rome. Both men thought that they could turn Cleopatra into a puppet for their own use, but no, she outsmarted them. She convinced Marc Antony and Brutus to send their armies to Egypt but when their ships met on the seas, they fought each other for control over Egypt."
"She was able to convince Marc Antony by seducing him, and by winning his trust and his love, and then in the end she betrayed him. With Brutus, she appealed to his hatred of Marc Antony, and tricked him into believing her."
"Xena brought Cleopatra's own ships with the help of Octavian, and met both Antony and Brutus on the seas. Antony and Brutus hated each other so much that they never saw how they were manipulated until the very end, just before their deaths."
"Octavian became the new Emperor of Rome, spared the city of Alexandria and the city became a Roman province."
"I don't know anything really about the Egyptian Amazons, but perhaps we should ask Antileon." All heads turned to look at Antileon. She had changed into a pair of breeches made of soft skins. A leopard skin was wrapped around her waist and her trademark beading adorned the dark jacket that she wore. Her companion was missing from her shoulders.
Varia pursed her lips and said, "I think I should call a tribunal meeting so that we can introduce the Thermodontine tribe, and Gabrielle, I would like for you to record the history of all the Amazon tribes, so that our heritage will not be lost, but treasured for generations to come."
"Varia, that is a wonderful idea! I'd be honored to do that." Gabrielle said and smiled widely.
"Queen Gabrielle," an Amazon spoke up and Gabrielle shifted her gaze to a young face. "How did you become an Amazon? We've heard bits and pieces of the story, but we've never heard it in its entirety."
"Well, I was very young for starters," Gabrielle began and all heads swung in her direction. "Xena and I were seeking passage through Amazon lands one day. Amazons greeted us and were escorting us to Queen Melosa when we were attacked. An Amazon princess, Terreis, was mortally wounded and I tried to protect her. Before she died she gave me her 'right of cast'. Terreis was Queen Melosa's younger sister."
Gabrielle was grinning now, and gesticulating quite a bit more as she talked. Varia couldn't help but smile. "I was taught how to fight with a staff with the help of Eponin and her partner Ephiny, or Queen Ephiny to those of you who knew of her." Gabrielle took a long swallow from her mug and set it down clumsily, the liquid splashed noisily against the sides of the mug. "She was the greatest Queen the Amazon Nation has ever known." Gabrielle smiled sadly, rested her hand on Varia's leg and leaned against her.
Gabrielle's speech began to slur and she ran her hand along the smooth skin of Varia's inner thigh. Varia raised her eyebrows. She had no control over how her body reacted to Gabrielle's soft touch. Her skin flushed and she could feel the heat creeping into her face. Varia exhaled sharply and took a deep swallow of the liquid in her mug as if it might cool her down.
"Varia." Gabrielle whispered and leaned into her ear, "exactly what was in my drink?"
"We use a number of spices to give it a tangy flavor, and I told you to sip it." Varia answered.
"I did! But I don't feel right. I probably shouldn't have drank it. I think I'm going to bed." Gabrielle said and tried to stand up, but stumbled and landed in Varia's lap. Varia was so startled that she nearly spewed the liquid contents in her mouth.
"Gabrielle, are you okay?" Varia set her mug on the rough wood table. Gabrielle's eyes closed and her head rested on Varia's shoulder. Varia frowned worriedly and stood up, and the other Amazons stood up also to help but she waved them away. Varia draped Gabrielle's arm over her shoulders and walked to Gabrielle's hut.
Varia groped for the edge of the flap that hung over the doorway. Once she found it and flipped over her, she stepped into Gabrielle's hut and sat her on the bed. She shook Gabrielle's shoulders gently and Gabrielle opened her eyes about halfway and gazed up at her.
"Xena, you are so beautiful." Gabrielle whispered and reached up to touch one of Varia's dark tresses. Her face was solemn. "I love you." she said softly.
Varia's breath caught at the words and her eyes misted when she saw the deep love in Gabrielle's green eyes. Varia swallowed and said, "I love you too, Gabrielle. Now lay down and sleep now."
Gabrielle closed her eyes as Varia gently laid her down and pulled the furs over her. As Varia turned to leave, Gabrielle spoke.
"Xena, where are going? Please come to bed." Gabrielle pulled back the furs and patted the empty side of her bed.
Varia took a deep breath, turned, walked over to the other side of the bed and slipped in. Gabrielle took her arms and wrapped them around her. Varia felt the slight swelling of pregnancy in Gabrielle's stomach. She cradled Gabrielle gently in her arms and kissed the top of her head.
"The Amazons are a sisterhood, Varia. You broke those sacred bonds!" Gabrielle shouted.
"I give you my word, as an Amazon Queen, I will not hurt you." Varia tried to ease her guilt and console Gabrielle with this solemn promise.
"We can't leave her here, Gabrielle." Gabrielle considered the logic behind Xena's words and reluctantly agreed with her. Gabrielle walked up to Varia and snatched the necklace that was a symbol of queenhood from her neck.
"I'll take your word, Varia, but you are no longer Queen!" Gabrielle said between clenched teeth.
Varia swallowed at the painful memories. "I'm glad Xena stopped me from making that fateful mistake. I'm sorry my betrayal made you so angry. I deserved it. I really thought that Bellerophon would spare my tribe if I killed you. I know better now." Varia whispered.
"You are wise, Gabrielle, and I need your guidance. Xena taught me how to be a warrior, but I need you to teach me wisdom. Xena was right when she said you are a loving soul, and that's what makes you so special." Varia said softly into the soft blond hair before her eyes closed and surrendered to sleep.
Sun was streaming into the hut through the slats of the wooden shutters in the windows. Gabrielle popped open one eye, yawned and then opened the other. She started to get up but then realized that there was an arm across her stomach. Gabrielle's eyes darted sideways and peeked cautiously at the form lying next to her. Her heart leapt when she saw the dark tresses sprawled across the sheets. She knew it wasn't Xena, but her heart wanted to believe that it could be. When she leaned over, Varia turned her head and Gabrielle jumped when Varia snapped opened an eye, then looked down at Varia in confusion.
Varia rolled over onto her back and brushed her hair from her face, "It's not what it looks like, Gabrielle. Nothing happened, okay?"
"Okay." Gabrielle replied. "But ?"
"I brought you here because you had a little trouble getting here by yourself." Varia said with a laugh.
"Gabrielle, it's okay. Look, I know you loved Xena and you always will until the end of time. The two of you are soul mates and will always be together. How can I possibly compete with that?" Varia gently turned Gabrielle's head towards her. "I do love you Gabrielle, but I'm satisfied with just being your friend."
Gabrielle felt a sense of relief for she cared about Varia, but she knew that her soul was still entwined with Xena's somewhere. Even though Xena was dead, she could still feel that connection. So, how could she love someone else when she was still in love with Xena? Gabrielle smiled and hugged Varia tightly.
Varia pulled Gabrielle's arms down and held her hands gently. "I'd better go. I have a council meeting to arrange." Varia stood up, put on her boots, and winked at Gabrielle before she left. Gabrielle chuckled and swung her feet out bed. She swallowed as a wave of nausea rolled over her.
"Oh, I hate this part." Gabrielle mumbled and she staggered out of her hut.
Gabrielle returned to her hut, sat down at the table and put her head in her hands. She raised her head when there was a knock at the door.
"Enter!" She barked.
"Queen Gabrielle, Varia asked me to bring this to you if you got morning sickness. This should help you feel better." The Amazon set a steaming cup in front of Gabrielle. Gabrielle smiled at her wearily and thanked her. The Amazon smiled back at Gabrielle sympathetically before she left.
Gabrielle picked up the cup and breathed in the minty scent. She took a sip and the warm liquid soothed her throat. After a few more sips her stomach calmed down enough for her to realize that she was hungry.
She walked out into the cool crisp morning and dodged her way between children that were chasing each other in a game of tag. She entered the warm dining hut, where voices were raised in a wall of sound, dishes clattered, and Amazons called to each other from across the room. She walked along the tables and heaped a plate with berries, nuts, and porridge. Her stomach growled incessantly and she quickly found a herself a seat at a small table. She heard her name being called so she looked in the direction of the voice and smiled. The group of Amazons that she told stories to the night before were seated a few tables in front of her and nodded to her in greeting. She ate quickly, but savored every bite and every delicious morsel. When she finished eating, she got up and rinsed her plate in a tub of water that sat next to the door, and set her plate on the stack already on the table.
When she walked outside, Varia spotted her.
"Gabrielle!" Gabrielle turned when she heard her name being called.
"How are you feeling?" Varia asked and stopped in front of Gabrielle.
"I'm feeling better now."
"I was on my way to see you. The council is getting ready to meet and I would like for you to be there. I could use your wisdom."
Gabrielle stepped behind Varia so she could play with Natasha's tiny fingers as they walked. Natasha squealed with laughter when Gabrielle tickled her. They entered the hut where members of the Amazon council were present, queens from each Amazon tribe, chaired by Varia, queen of the Amazon Nation. They were seated in high backed wicker chairs around the long wood table. Gabrielle pulled out a chair, sat down, and folded her arms on the rough wood of the table.
"Good morning, Gabrielle of the sun." Antileon greeted her with a solemn nod. Her companion had returned safely earlier that morning and was perched faithfully on her shoulder. She received word that her sisters had returned to their lands in the Thermodontine mountains and she would be leaving soon to join them.
Gabrielle gave her a shy smile and nodded and gave a quick glance at the bird perched on her shoulder.
Varia rolled the map out before them and spread her hands to hold the edges of the parchment down.
"Gabrielle, what are the terms of our truce with the Scythians?"
"The Scythians will be permitted to build an outpost near the pass." Gabrielle indicated the location on the map. "We can trade with one another at the post. They have agreed not to set foot on our lands, except for safe passage, which they will request first and then be escorted." Gabrielle leaned forward and continued, "I believe that Kathar wants to co-exist peacefully with us. He seems to be an honorable man."
"We trust your wisdom, Gabrielle." Queen Galenara's green eyes smiled at her.
"We make this a pact with the Scythians then. Does anyone disagree?" Varia asked and she looked at each council member in turn.
"All right, Gabrielle, write up the pact and deliver it to Kathal." Varia said. "Make it clear that we will not tolerate intrusions upon our lands, especially by men." Varia said sharply. She continued in a softer tone and addressed the council, "I have a project that might be of interest to all of you. I've asked Gabrielle to write about our Amazon culture. I would like for her to visit each of your tribes, so that these stories can be read by generations to come."
"There is wisdom in the Amazon ways, Xena."
"Oh, like the time they painted you blue and made you howl at the moon when you were consecrated as queen?" Xena quipped.
Gabrielle smiled and there was a far away look in her eyes.
"Gabrielle?" Varia said. Gabrielle swung her attention back to the present. "Where would you like to start?"
"Eve is leaving for Athens and I think I'll ride with her, and then go north and visit my tribe, the Northern Amazons."
"There are rumors of Roman legions in the northern provinces, Gabrielle."
"I'll be careful, I promise."
It was snowing the morning Eve and Gabrielle left the Amazon village for Athens. The large flakes floated down and layered everything in a puffy blanket of white. As the weeks wore on, and the further north they went, the weather turned colder. Gabrielle battled constant morning sickness and Eve got into the habit of waking early to make mint tea to help settle Gabrielle's stomach. Gabrielle remembered where most of the sheltered caves were on those nights when they were far between towns. They would stay at inns whenever they could, for sleeping in damp and drafty caves was very unpleasant even with a fire blazing because the cold air could still seep in.
On one such night, Gabrielle guided them into a cave, and out of the cold. Despite the damp they were able to salvage enough dry wood and kindling to make a small fire and sat cross-legged by it, taking in its warmth to ward off the evening's chill. They hung their travel cloaks on a line stretched overhead, and the horses were tethered close by. They ate a sparse meal of cold beef, fruit and nuts that they had packed into several saddle bags. Sometimes they sat in companionable silence around the fire and at other times, they talked about events of the day, or whatever was on their mind. Eve talked much about Eli's teachings and Gabrielle was helping her write them down on parchment. One night as they sat by the fire, Gabrielle felt strange, as if something surreal was happening. Suddenly her chest felt as if it were about to implode and her vision narrowed. Lights swirled and images came to focus. A northern Amazon in the attire of a Shamaness, spoke to her. Her deep voice echoed in Gabrielle's mind.
"You must come, Queen Gabrielle." Was all she said. The vision disappeared and other images flew in, one after the other. Her belly was swollen, Eve and two northern Amazons half carried, half dragged her to a hut as she screamed in agony. Two young children, a dark-haired Amazon girl and a blond-haired boy slept peacefully in a bed. Sparks flew as her sword clashed with Ares' while a young dark-haired Amazon woman stood nearby, her blue eyes blazing.
The image swirled and then spiraled into circles making her dizzy, and she collapsed on her side. Eve rushed over and cradled her head in her lap. She opened the water skin and Gabrielle instinctively swallowed the cool liquid. When her mind cleared, she pushed herself up slowly with Eve's hands resting on her shoulders for support. Gabrielle brushed her fingertips across her forehead and pressed her temple. She relayed to Eve that she had been sent a vision from her tribe.
On one cold and rainy wintry day Gabrielle and Eve rode into the city of Athens and turned onto one of the clean, wide cobbled streets. Hero's hooves echoed on the smooth stones as they ambled along and stopped before a two-story brick house. This was the home of Virgil, son of Joxer. Joxer was a friend to both Gabrielle and Xena and they had many adventures together. Unfortunately he was killed by a ruthless Roman commander, a woman by the name of Livia before the One God converted her to the way of peace. Livia became a non-violent and peaceful woman and changed her name from Livia to Eve. The name given to her at birth by her mother, Xena.
Gabrielle took a deep breath, knocked on the thick wooden door and heard muted voices from within. The door opened and Virgil's face registered surprise when he saw his two friends standing in his doorway.
He ushered them inside and helped them out of their heavy winter cloaks. He paused after he hung them on the wooden pegs by the door. When he turned his face was somber and he took Gabrielle hands in his own.
"I'm sorry about Xena, Gabrielle."
Gabrielle gave him a small smile and nodded.
"I thought about riding out and tracking you down, but then I found out that you had gone to the Amazons and figured I probably wouldn't be welcome there."
"Virgil, you will always be welcome, wherever I am." Gabrielle rested her hand on top of his. Virgil squeezed her hand before letting go and turning to Eve.
His voice was cordial, but reserved as he still had some feelings of resentment towards Eve when she was Livia, and still held her responsible for his father's death.
"Hello Virgil" Eve said quietly.
"Come, warm yourselves by the fire. I'd like to introduce you to someone."
He turned and they followed him through an archway and down a short set of stairs. They walked past the kitchen to a sitting room where a large fire blazed on the stone hearth. A wicker broom and a weaving loom stood in one corner. Thick braided rugs covered the wood floor and oil lamps hung from the whitewashed walls. Sitting together at a long table were two women bent over a parchment. They turned when they heard them enter. The one woman Gabrielle didn't recognize, but the other, she did in a way. The woman's name was Meg and physically, she bore a striking resemblance to Xena, close enough to be her twin, except that she was much older. Gabrielle took a deep breath and exhaled slowly, helpless in controlling the increased beating of her heart at the sight of Xena's likeness.
"Mom, Gwen, Look who's here!"
"Gabrielle!" Meg's face lit up.
"Mom, this is Eve." Her face sobered. Virgil had related the entire story about Livia's reign as a vicious Roman commander, the death of Joxer, and Livia's metamorphosis into Eve, a prophet of Eli.
"Hello, Eve." Meg's voice was neutral. "Welcome to our home."
She ushered them to seats at the table.
"You look chilled to the bone. How about some hot tea?"
Gabrielle and Eve nodded and she brought out cups and poured the warm steaming liquid into them. Gabrielle and Eve wrapped their hands around the mugs and drank the hot tea gratefully. Gabrielle glanced at the parchment that the two women had been examining. She tilted her head to get a better look at the writing. She recognized her writing on the parchments.
"I recognize those scrolls. Joxer had them, didn't he?"
"Yes, we found a few of your scrolls several months ago. We've given them to the Academy as he did for you when he was alive." Meg's hands shuffled the parchments together and darted a quick glance at Eve. "But we kept this one, since we hadn't finished reading it. This is absolutely beautiful. I never imaged that a country like Chin was so culturally different from ours. The way you described their traditions and the scenery, absolutely amazing."
"You must be on the first part, the part where I had just arrived in Chin. I wrote their world through my eyes, eyes that had never seen such an unusual country or people." Gabrielle's eyes darkened with a touch of sadness and she lowered them. "I can't believe how na´ve I was then, I almost cost Xena her life." When she shifted her gaze she gave Meg a rueful smile.
"But you lived to tell this wonderful tale about a very unusual woman. She was brave, intelligent, and powerful." Meg replied.
"And beautiful." Gabrielle added and Meg chuckled. "Yes, and that too."
Gabrielle exhaled and changed the subject. "Um, I need to find a tailor's shop."
"You be looking for a bigger outfit to replace the skimpy one, hmm?" Meg asked with raised eyebrows. "I know you're expecting, I can tell." She patted Gabrielle gently on her forearm.
Virgil started in surprise.
"Well?" Gabrielle paused for a beat and inhaled. "Now that that's out in the open, I need to ask a favor." She turned to Virgil.
"How do you feel about fatherhood, Virgil?"
"Who, me?" Virgil pointed a finger at his chest.
"Virgil loves children, right Virgil?" Meg prompted with a look.
"I want you to foster my son." Gabrielle said bluntly.
Virgil blinked in confusion and stammered. "Um, I would be honored, Gabrielle, but?"
"I chose you, Virgil, because I trust you. My son cannot stay with the Amazons, so I will bring him here before his first birthday."
"Why not stay here with us in Athens?"
"I can't. My tribe needs me and I want to raise my daughter as an Amazon. She will be next in the royal line."
"Twins!" Virgil and Meg said in unison and exchanged surprised glances.
"Okay, let me get this straight, you're going to stay with the Amazons and raise your daughter there, but I'm going to be the guardian for your son and raise him here in Athens?" He gestured with his hands, sorting it out.
" Yes, and I have this nagging feeling that Ares will try to corrupt my daughter like he did to Xena and Livia." Gabrielle's face took on a look of fierce determination. Gabrielle, Meg and Virgil glanced at Eve.
"I will not let that happen." Her voice was hard.
"How do you know all this?" A perplexed Virgil asked.
Gabrielle and Eve exchanged knowing glances.
"It's a little complicated." Eve said.
"Well, well, looks like my son will be raising a baby boy. This should be good. Wakey, wakey, and smell the diapers, son!" Meg cackled and slapped him on the arm. Gabrielle's face broke into a wide grin.
"I think this is wonderful! Virgil and I were just talking about having a family." Gwen spoke up.
"That reminds me, Gwen and I have been talking about getting married." Virgil took one of Gwen's hands in his own and smiled at her.
"Oh, Virgil that's wonderful!" Gabrielle exclaimed.
"Gabrielle, I promise Virgil and I will take very good care of your son." Gwen added sincerely.
"Well, it's about time!" Meg laughed. "Now, how about I whip up some food?"
After lunch Eve, Gabrielle, Virgil and Gwen walked down the wide street that zig-zagged along the cliff to the market which was located near the center of Athens. Central Athens was a large complex that held temples, markets, theaters, and baths. They passed the Parthenon, dedicated to the Goddess Athena, which was once the finest monument in all of Greece. Gabrielle gazed sadly at the temple. The temple was vacant and in serious disrepair, dead grass grew in the cracks of the smooth marble steps and dead vines crisscrossed the interior. The monumental gold and ivory statue of Athena had lost its luster and shine. The bright and colorful paintings that covered the walls had faded, a thick layer of dust and dead leaves covered the floor and the cold rain did nothing to improve the dreariness from within. However, the unique golden glow of the Parthenon's columns and the sculptured friezes that adorned the temple remained intact.
Gabrielle looked past the red tiled roofs of the houses that lined the streets and up to the mountain ranges that framed the city of Athens with is splendor. Gabrielle turned to Eve and spoke quietly.
"No other city has contributed more to the civilization of mankind than Athens. This is the place where Socrates was born, Plato, Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides. This is the place where humanism and democracy was born. The intellectual light that Athens has created will always be alive."
Eve, head bowed, looked up and gazed at Gabrielle in silent reflection.
"Here we are." Virgil said when they stopped at a storefront and Gabrielle peered inside. "Aiel is a friend, a little eccentric, but he's a good tailor." Virgil walked between them and into the shop. Gabrielle followed with Eve and Gwen in her wake.
"Aiel!" Virgil called out and walked towards the rear of the shop. Gabrielle walked between two rows of merchandise. She pulled out several outfits, scanned them, grimaced and put them back.
"No, no, no, no." Gabrielle jumped at the deep and mellow voice over her shoulder.
"You are much to pretty to wear those, my dear! Come, let me show you what I have." He took her hand and walked her delicately to another row of clothing. Gabrielle's eyes rose at Virgil and he shrugged. Aiel, the tailor was a thin man of average height, with long brown hair tied back with braided leather lace and soft brown eyes peered out from a clean shaven and narrow face. He wore a long sleeved red shirt tied loosely in the front and a pair of black trousers. A measuring tape was draped over a shoulder and a bolt of cloth was tucked under one arm.
"Virgil tells me that you are a mom-to-be, an Amazon, and that you've traveled the world. Hmm. Let me see?" He stroked his chin as he gazed at her form. Gabrielle dipped her chin to gaze down at herself, then back to his face. He set the bolt of cloth on the table next to him.
"Today is your lucky day. I have something!" He twirled on his heels and plucked several outfits from a rack. He swung back around and draped the outfits over his arm for display. One of Gabrielle's blond brows arched and she smiled. Taking the proffered items she walked towards the rear of the shop and into a changing room, her friends trailing behind. She tried on all four outfits but adored the last item she tried on. It was made of soft, strong light brown leather. The bodice snapped onto a belt in the skirt and could be adjusted by tightening or loosening the leather lace in the back. The skirt was open along the sides, providing ample room for movement and the snaps on the belt allowed for the expansion of the waistline. It was a little long, but she was sure that Aiel would be more than happy to make the adjustments. She would also ask him to add some beadwork as well. After snapping the last snap on the belt she patted her slightly swollen belly and beamed into the polished mirror. She turned and peered over her shoulder, her back was bare, except for the crisscrossing leather lace, and she gazed fondly at the dragon tattoo. Pulling back the cloth curtain she stepped out and almost collided with Aiel.
"Sorry, I thought maybe you were having trouble in there." He said worriedly, but then smiled, held her arms out and stepped back. "Wonderful! You look fabulous!" He beamed at her. He turned, walked down the aisle and pulled down a dark brown hooded cloak and brought it back for her to try on. Gabrielle shrugged into it and noticed that the thick fur lining was snapped into the inside of the cloak. Noticing her looking at the cloak, Aiel said, "It's removable. Snap in." He snapped his fingers. "Snap out." And snapped his fingers again.
"I like you Aiel." Gabrielle laughed. "Could I have beadwork sewn into this?"
"Of course, Amazon I presume? And the skirt shortened?"
"Yes. Thank you." Gabrielle smiled into his lean face. "Also, we need clothes for Eve." Gabrielle nodded her head towards Eve who was trying on a leather jacket.
"My pleasure, lovely lady." Aiel half bowed as Gabrielle turned and stepped into the changing room.
Gwen and Virgil were standing at a table near the changing rooms, sorting through children's clothing.
"Virgl! Look! Isn't this cute?" Gwen held up a tiny blue smock.
"How about these?" Virgil held up a pair of baby booties and grinned.
When Gabrielle came back out she handed her clothing to Aiel. "It'll be ready for you tomorrow, about mid-morning. I'll also have clothes for your friend, Eve as well." He told her and disappeared to the rear of his store.
"I told you he was eccentric." Virgil said and walked up to her.
"That's what you call it?" Gabrielle grinned.
"Yeah, why? What do you call it?" Virgil asked, perplexed.
"Never mind, Virgil." Gabrielle bit her lip, glanced sideways at a grinning Eve, and led them out of the shop.
Eve lagged a bit behind the others as they walked, taking no part in their idle chatter on the way back. Her head was bent in concentration and there was a deep frown on her face. So wrapped up in her thoughts was she that she was not aware that Gabrielle had dropped back to walk beside her. She was jolted from her thoughts when Gabrielle's hand touched her arm. Her troubled face jerked up abruptly to find Gabrielle regarding her.
"Eve, what's wrong?" Gabrielle asked.
Eve shook her head, but the frown did not leave her face entirely.
"I'm all right."
"Something is bothering you. You are so much like you mother in that way. You've been brooding all morning. Come to think of it you were rather quiet yesterday too."
Gabrielle's hand on her shoulder brought Eve about to face her. "Come on, Eve. What is it?"
Eve hesitated, then sighed and nodded. "It's you."
"Me?" Gabrielle said in astonishment. "I don't understand."
"Gabrielle, there's a wall between you and I, and I didn't put it there."
Gabrielle opened her mouth, then shut it. She looked away and began walking forward slowly.
"You're right. I resented the fact that Xena had you, a daughter. I had a daughter once, but she's lost to me forever. She belongs to her father, the evil Dahak." Gabrielle stopped and faced Eve. "I'm sorry, I can't help the way I feel. It's not your fault."
Eve took Gabrielle's hands in her own. "Gabrielle, I understand, and I don't blame you. You've been through a lot, much more than most people, but you are still a good person. You have a loving soul. Please let me in."
Gabrielle looked into Eve's blue eyes and felt tears well up in her own. Gabrielle realized that Eve was Xena's daughter and that she should be happy that a part of Xena still lived. With that realization she gathered Eve in her arms and held her. Eve sighed and hugged Gabrielle. They smiled at each other when they pulled apart.
They rapidly walked up the winding road towards the Parthenon and caught up with Virgil and Gwen. From this angle the temple seemed to dominate the entire cliff and to the south and east was the blue expansiveness of the Mediterranean Sea. Gabrielle decided to stop and visit the large temple. Her boots crunched on tiny bits of gravel as she made her way to the long and smooth marble steps. The temple was indeed massive, dozens of columns ringed the courtyard and hundreds of friezes were carved into the marble facades. The towering ivory and gold sculpture of Athena stood in the center. Gabrielle brushed away the wet leaves with her foot to expose the colored mosaic tiles in the floor. Out of respect, Gabrielle refrained from walking into the temple, honoring the ancient rule that only priests could enter the Goddess's temple. She turned and brushed her fingertips over the surface of one of the golden columns. Rubbing her temple, Gabrielle walked away and rejoined her friends who were waiting patiently for her at the edge of the street.
"Are you all right, Gabrielle?" Eve asked.
"Yeah." Gabrielle answered and smiled wanly.
They continued their trek up the winding road to Meg and Virgil's home. Meg had them seated promptly once they set foot into the house and served them a delicious stew and mulled wine before exiting through the alcove, across the courtyard, and into the inn. Meg and Virgil both managed one of the busiest and most popular inns in Athens. Like most inns, lunch and dinner were served, along with brew and wine well into the night. One thing that set their inn apart from the others in Athens was the absence of fights. Meg had strict rules about fights in her inn and promptly threw out anyone who instigated or participated in one.
Gabrielle helped herself to seconds as Gwen cleaned up the table. When she returned from the kitchen she sat down and wrapped a hand around Virgil's arm.
"Gabrielle, tell us a story about Virgil's father." Gwen's voice was soft.
Gabrielle paused between bites and pursed her lips in thought.
"How about the one with the Bacchae?" Gwen interjected enthusiastically.
"Good one. Okay." Gabrielle said, finished her last bite of stew and washed it down with mulled wine.
"One day, Xena and I were walking through a town when we were asked to help locate some missing girls. We agreed to help and went to the woods where they were last seen. At first I didn't sense any danger, but I didn't feel right either. It was almost as if an invisible pair of eyes were watching my every move. Xena was showing signs of anxiety and had unsheathed her sword. It was then that I realized that we might be dealing with the Bacchae. I mentioned this to Xena and she asked me if I knew the story about the Bacchae?."
Gabrielle's voice was articulate, clear, and captivating. The fire from the stone hearth flickered across their rapt faces and the only other sounds were the occasional crackle from the fireplace and the drumming of rain on the roof.
The next morning dawned bright and clear. The air was still cold and wintry, but there was some warmth from the sun. Gabrielle woke early and started feeling nauseous. She got out of bed and went down into the kitchen to make her mint tea. Meg turned at the sound of her boots on the stone floor and held out a steaming mug.
"Here, try this. It helped me."
Gabrielle took the steaming mug and sipped its contents. The warm liquid soothed her throat and stomach. She glanced at Meg over the rim of the mug.
"I'll make sure you take this with you when you leave." Meg said and held up a large pouch.
"Thanks." Gabrielle answered.
The sound of boots and quiet talking came from the sitting room. Meg nodded towards the archway and Gabrielle followed, cradling her mug in her hands.
"We'll be eating breakfast shortly, so wash up!" Meg ordered.
"I'll show you where the bath is." Virgil indicated the building across the courtyard and they followed him.
"Ladies first." He said and opened the heavy wood door. Gabrielle, Eve, and Gwen stepped in and lit the oil lamps. Gwen walked down a short flight of steps and over to a firebox where she stoked the coals. This heated the water in the large pool just above it. Gabrielle stripped quickly and stepped into the steaming water. She sat down on the wooden ledge, leaned back and closed her eyes. She heard water splash when Eve and Gwen entered the pool.
"You are so quiet, Eve." Gwen stated and glanced over at her. Eve opened her eyes and said, "Not always. I speak when I have something to say."
"Tell me about Eli and his teachings. There is much talk around the City about this one God."
Gabrielle smiled and ducked under the water. The water flowed into the area above her head and she ran a hand through her short hair. She surfaced, squeezed the water from her hair and picked up a towel laying on a shelf nearby. She half listened the conversation between Eve and Gwen as she rubbed her hair dry. She redressed and slipped quietly out the door. She walked quickly through the courtyard, clutching her cloak tightly about her to ward off the chilly air and entered the warmth of the house. The smell of hot porridge wafted through the air and she breathed deeply. Her stomach grumbled as she hung her cloak on a peg by the door. She turned, walked over to the table and sat down when Meg motioned her to a seat. Meg placed a steaming bowl in front of her. She was joined shortly by Virgil who sat across from her and ladled himself a bowl. They made small talk until Eve and Gwen arrived about a candlemark or so later.
After breakfast Eve, Gabrielle, Gwen, and Virgil returned to the tailor's shop to pickup Gabrielle's new clothes. Eve and Gabrielle had already said their good byes to Meg before she left to tend business at the Inn. They walked down the smooth cobbled streets with the Eve and Gabrielle's horses in tow. They stopped at the tailor's and flagged down a young boy to hold the horses' reins while they conducted business in the shop.
Aiel was folding clothes at an oversized table but set them down when he noticed the four of them walk in. He greeted Virgil enthusiastically and smacked his bottom. Virgil jumped and stared after him incredulously. Gabrielle turned away, smothered a chuckle and pretended that she never saw the exchange that occurred between them.
"Ah! Gabrielle!" He walked towards her and held out his arms with her clothes draped over them. Underneath were clothes for Eve. He indicated the changing rooms so Gabrielle and Eve took their clothes and entered the tiny cubicles. Gabrielle undressed and tucked her old clothes into her saddle bag. She put on her new clothes and beamed at herself in the mirror. She shrugged into the new cloak, tucked her sais into the front of her belt, slung the saddle bag and sword over her shoulder and stepped out of the fitting room. She was joined by Eve wearing light blue trousers, a white long sleeved, high collared shirt, with embroidered silver lions, and a dark blue fur-lined cloak. A deerskin pouch was slung across her torso. With both hands, Eve gave her cloak an adjusting shake to settle it over her shoulders.
They glanced at each other silently in approval and Gabrielle pulled out one of her small pouches from her saddle bag. Pulling out several coins she attempted to pay Aiel for the clothes but he refused.
"You don't remember me do you, Gabrielle?"
Gabrielle looked at him closely, but nothing familiar surfaced. "No, I'm sorry, I don't."
"You saved my hide when a warlord attacked my home village. I remember the sight of you and Xena riding into my village and driving the attackers out. I was just a boy then, but I remember." He took her hands in his. "I owe you my life. Please, go and be happy." He patted her hands before releasing them. Gabrielle cocked her head to one side and frowned. She inhaled and opened her mouth as if to speak. Aiel placed a finger on her lips to silence her. "Gabrielle, I said I owe you, so any time you need my help, please come by, and uh, don't forget Virgil." Aiel winked at Virgil who smiled awkwardly. Gabrielle hugged Aiel and said goodbye to him before she turned, and with the others, exited the shop.
Outside, a scattering of people walked hurriedly up and down the streets anxious to get home for lunch, out of the cold and in front of a warm fire. Eve and Gabrielle hugged Gwen and Virgil farewell. They mounted their horses, gathered up the reins and turned their mounts northward. They trotted slowly out of the city and headed northward.
As they traveled through Europa they kept to the hills and thick forests, out of sight of roman legions that occasionally traversed across this land.
Snow began drifting down from the sky, the light flakes dusted everything like a fine powder. Eve and Gabrielle had climbed up a forested mountain in Etruria, near the city of Rome. Scattered around them were dozens of hills, barren trees stood stoically among the lushness of green pines, under a thin layer of ice a clear brook wound down and around large boulders.
A cold unfamiliar tingle ran across Gabrielle's scalp and down the back of her neck. When they crested the ridge they could see the city of Rome on the horizon. But today, Rome was on fire. Red and yellow flames licked the dirty plumes of smoke that billowed to the sky. Gabrielle and Eve stopped and stared southward.
"Rome." Gabrielle said quietly.
"It's on fire." Eve said.
"Let's take a look." Gabrielle said and they turned their mounts southward.
They stopped on a knoll at the far side of the city. They saw people streaming out of Rome by foot, on horse back, and in any way they could. Eve and Gabrielle sat on their mounts, mesmerized by the catastrophe that was unfolding before them. Roman legions appeared and tried to bring order to the chaos. They moved people along swiftly but prohibited anyone from entering the city.
"Rome." Gabrielle said again in a quiet voice. The mere mention of Rome brought forth bitter and unhappy memories for both Eve and Gabrielle. Rome was not kind to either of them. They turned their mounts northward towards the forest and continued on their journey. The sharp chill wind blew into their faces from under the folds of their hoods, and they bent their heads against its force. The horses plodded through half frozen puddles as they passed along the rutted forest trail.
The sun began its slow descent and with it the little bit of warmth that it had provided waned. Fragmented images of villages, and fences, and gardens, slipped into view then away. The air chilled and misty vapors formed from their warm breaths. Eve and Gabrielle trudged through the thick forest in the deep snow with their horses in tow. Suddenly arrows rained down around them, and they stopped abruptly. Gabrielle pulled back her hood and clasped her hands over her head. Amazons in deerskin and fur clothing, boots, and headdresses appeared from behind dense clusters of trees and brush, and some vaulted down from the trees above.
Slowly, they lowered their weapons when they recognized Gabrielle. The women stepped aside and a young blond woman came forward. She wore a heavy beaded necklace adorned with an amulet. The fringes on her deerskin breeches and jacket swished as she walked. A thin strip of leather crowned her forehead. A bow and a quiver full of arrows were strapped to her back. The snowshoes on her calf length moccasins made no sound as she walked across the snow covered forest floor to stand before Gabrielle.
"Welcome, Gabrielle. Lieset told us you would be coming." Cyane smiled at Gabrielle warmly.
"Cyane!" Gabrielle grinned and hugged the young woman. Eve moved forward and hugged her as well.
"Come, Lieset is anxious to meet you." Cyane turned and Gabrielle fell into step beside her and Eve trailed behind them.
"Who is Lieset?" Gabrielle asked.
"She's Yakut's grand-neice. The ways of the Shamaness were passed down from Yakut to her neice, Shalti. Shalti died a few years ago from an illness. Shalti was ill for several years, and knew that she was dying. She taught Lieset everything she knew." Cyane informed her.
"I see." Gabrielle said after a moment and shifted the sword on her back into a more comfortable position as they climbed a small hill.
"Lieset may be young, but she's very wise for her years." Cyane said softly and gazed over at Gabrielle. She stopped and touched Gabrielle's arm to get her attention. Gabrielle stopped and looked up at Cyane questioningly.
"She says that, like Queen Varia of the southern tribe, your daughter will be important to the Amazons. She says that your daughter will return the Amazon Nation to its former glory." Cyane's face went serious.
"Really?" Gabrielle said in astonishment. Cyane nodded sadly and Gabrielle caught the slight surge of emotion in her eyes. Cyane turned and walked forward with Gabrielle again falling in by her side.
"You care for her don't you?" Gabrielle said.
Cyane turned back to her and her face was sad. "Yes, I do. I loved her, but once she became our Shamaness, her responsibility to this tribe became her life. A Shamaness cannot take a partner, for the emotional bond with a partner could restrict her sight and she would not be able to foretell danger, or protect us effectively."
The hair on the back of her neck stood up and Gabrielle looked up when they crested the hill. Her vision narrowed in on a woman dressed in the traditional Shamaness attire. Her fur-lined deerskin breeches and jacket were adorned with beadwork and fringed on the outside. She wore warm fur boots and mittens on her hands, and on her head was a fur headdress of deer antlers. She stood with her feet planted apart and her arms were folded across her chest. When she saw Gabrielle, she dropped her arms and strode forward purposefully. She wasn't very tall, perhaps an inch taller than Gabrielle, but in the way she carried herself, she seemed taller. She stopped before Gabrielle, bowed her head and saluted her.
"I am Lieset, Queen Gabrielle." When she looked up Gabrielle gazed into the softest brown eyes she had ever seen. Immediately she felt that she could trust Lieset with her life. There was also some kind of a bond, Gabrielle felt warmth, a kind of positive energy flowing between them. The last time she had experienced a similar reaction was when Xena initiated her into the ways of a Shamaness. The same feelings occurred between herself and Xena then. She was surprised to feel it again. Lieset noticed the puzzled look on Gabrielle's face.
"What you are experiencing is energy, or the life force of a Shamaness. You feel mine, and I feel yours. We can tell when one of us is near or when one of us is in danger. I can teach you more about the ways of the Shamaness." Lieset's dark eyes penetrated deep into Gabrielle's own.
Gabrielle tilted her head and opened her mouth as if to speak. Her mouth curled and smiled instead. Gabrielle walked towards her yurt and Lieset fell into step with her.
"You sent me that vision, didn't you?" Gabrielle asked.
"Yes. We are in danger here, and you must not bear your children alone. You will need my help, and your sisters' help." Lieset spoke softly "Delivering twins will be difficult, Gabrielle, it's risky for both you and your children."
Gabrielle nodded in assent. " I agree with you, Lieset." She paused and then continued. "You said we were in danger here. What did you mean by that?" Gabrielle spoke with a touch of concern.
"That will be revealed in due time." Lieset smiled reassuringly. "Right now, let's get you comfortable so I can take a look at you."
Lieset put an arm around her shoulder and they walked into Gabrielle's yurt. Gabrielle flipped back the deerskin flap and stepped inside. It was just as she remembered it. It smelled slightly smoky, but the thin plume of smoke from the fire in the brazier curled upwards through a small hole at the top of her yurt, and it was warm. A log table and several wooden chairs stood in the center. A head of a buck with nine-point antlers hung as a trophy on one of the wooden supports and a bookcase with scrolls stood nearby. Bearskin panels served as a partition between her sleeping area and the rest of the yurt. Her low platform bed was covered with layers of furs and bearskin rugs lay scattered about on the wooden floor.
Gabrielle and Lieset shrugged out of their coats and hung them up on the pegs just inside the opening. Lieset pulled off her mittens while Gabrielle walked behind the partition and sat down on her bed. Lieset followed, knelt on the floor next to Gabrielle and unsnapped the top from the belt on the skirt to expose Gabrielle's bare belly. She placed her hands gently on the swollen mound, closed her eyes and tilted her head. Gabrielle watched as a smile formed on her face. When Lieset opened her eyes, they were clear and gentle. She took a deep breath and looked up at Gabrielle thoughtfully.
"You seem to be doing fine, so are your children. I'd say you're about four months along." She re-attached the top to the belted skirt and squeezed Gabrielle's thighs. She noticed the sadness in Gabrielle's eyes.
"You have lost your soul mate, your companion. I understand your sorrow, but know that Xena has found the peace that she has searched for and eluded her for so long. She carries you with her always."
Gabrielle gave her a small smile of thanks. "I believe you."
"I know the burden of being a Queen has been painful for you. It must seem unjustified. You asked for none of this. Yet, you carried out your duty as Queen with passion and with pride. You have restored us as a people, and shown that we are honorable." Lieset stood and walked over to the brazier. She lifted a pot and poured the hot contents into a wooden mug. Gabrielle pushed herself up wearily from the bed and walked over to join Lieset, took the proffered mug and sniffed its steaming contents. Lieset chuckled and sat down at the table. "Just tea." She remarked. Gabrielle smiled, drank the hot liquid and sat down next to her. There was a long silence. They stared at one another in the stillness of Gabrielle's yurt. The flicker of the oil lamps danced across their faces.
"Gabrielle, do you remember the last time you were here, when you gave Eve your right of Caste?"
Gabrielle nodded as she sipped her tea.
"You realize that she still has that right? As Queen you must choose who will be next in the royal line. Will it be your daughter, or will it be Eve?"
"I know." Gabrielle paused and set down her mug on the rough wooden table. "But Lieset, Eve is my daughter."
"She is your adopted daughter, Gabrielle, not your biological daughter. There is a difference. Eve has already chosen her path, and it is not with the Amazons. You must speak with her about this." Lieset's voice was hard, insistent.
"Lieset?" Gabrielle straightened, a hint of warning in her voice.
"You must do it soon, Gabrielle. Perhaps at the second full moon a ceremony can be held. Eve must relinquish her title to your daughter." Lieset interrupted ignoring Gabrielle's warning tone.
"I will make that decision, Lieset!" Gabrielle snapped. Lieset conceded and bowed her head but her expression did not change.
"I'm sorry, Gabrielle. I did not mean to be hasty, but you must do it soon." She persisted, gentler this time. Gabrielle paused and looked over at Lieset's bowed head. Gabrielle's hand reached up and rubbed her temple. She didn't understand the urgency of this matter unless?and then it dawned on her.
"Am I going to die?" Gabrielle whispered.
"We all die, Gabrielle." The young Shamaness made it a statement of fact.
"That's not what I meant!"
"But, that's what you asked."
"Even if I ask again, you won't tell me what I really want to know, will you?"
Lieset took a long moment and shook her head. "Knowledge of the future is a dangerous thing. Sometimes the future can be changed, but sometimes it should not be, for it is as it should be."
Gabrielle narrowed her eyes. "So, you're saying that if you give me the answer, I might be able to change my future from what it was meant to be."
Lieset gave Gabrielle a slight nod and held her gaze steady. "You must continue on the path you have chosen. I brought you here, because I alone cannot protect the Amazons from the danger that threatens them. But, you can, and you will."
Gabrielle studied Lieset's impassive face for a moment. She was but a young woman, yet she possessed great intelligence and power. Gabrielle had to acknowledge that Lieset was a good and kind soul but her Shamaness sight made her seem much older and wiser beyond her years. Gabrielle didn't feel like a Queen in her presence and felt a bit intimidated and miffed by Lieset's low and commanding voice.
Gabrielle tamped down her anger when she realized that Lieset was acting out of kindness in her Shamaness way, and had given warning that her life might be much shorter than she expected. Gabrielle decided that Lieset was right, she must think of the future of the Amazons and of her daughter. Eve was a spiritual prophet of Eli, and would probably never join the Amazons. She did not believe in violence and therefore most likely never take command of the Amazons during an act of war if need be. Gabrielle made her decision and lifted her gaze to meet Lieset's brown eyes.
"Very well. It shall be done." Gabrielle said flatly and Lieset leaned towards her.
"Gabrielle, believe in yourself. You have experienced and overcome some of life's greatest challenges. Your legacy is one of courage and strength stronger than the doubt and fear that makes you question yourself."
Lieset paused. "Give me your hand."
Gabrielle held out her hand to the young Shamaness. Lieset clasped it tightly in her own.
"Here is my hand and my bond. Thus here is my oath to you. You will never be alone. I believe in you, and so did Xena." Lieset's eyes stared deep into her own once again and Gabrielle felt as if she were laid bare. She swallowed the lump that had formed in her throat and blinked back tears. Finally she was able to look away and stared into her wooden mug. When she spoke her words were almost a whisper.
"Thank you, Lieset."
Lieset nodded, rose slowly and deliberately from her chair. She set a gentle hand on Gabrielle's shoulder before she left. Gabrielle shook her head in confusion when the deerskin flap fell back in to place. She remained in her yurt for a long time, sat in the silence and stared unseeing at the bookcase that held a few of her scrolls.
In the deep forests to the north, the Roman army marched into Germania. They were challenged and held back by a well known warrior.
Gabrielle spent several months gathering up all the old histories and stories that she gleaned from the elder members of her tribe and put them down on parchment. She told of the story of a legendary warrior, Samsara, whose lust for blood perverted the history of the Amazons for many decades.
On one such day, after completing the story she was working on, she laid down her quill, put on her heavy fur cloak, boots, and fur-lined mittens. She tacked a pair of snowshoes on the bottom of her boots and pulled her hood up around her face. The scabbard that held her sword, she slung over her shoulder and her sais, she tucked into her belt. She lifted the chakram tenderly from the peg and slipped it on a hook at the belt on her waist. She lifted the heavy flap of skin that covered the entrance to her yurt and stepped outside. The air was very cold, and she stared up at a hill just beyond the trees, against the early spring evening light. She slowly made her way to the top, using the thinner trees to help push her now awkward body forward. Gabrielle sat down on a smooth stone boulder, and folded her arms under her breasts.
The day ended with a brilliant burst of red and lavender that flooded the whole skyline before her. For several long beautiful moments the sun seemed to hang at the crest, lighting the roof of the forest, and weaving shadows among the trees with still, soft bands of darkness. The air chilled dramatically and Gabrielle hugged herself tighter. A mittened hand reached up to smooth a lock of blond hair from her eyes. Then slowly, daylight slipped into dusk and night washed the color from the sky. She sighed and stood up pulling her hooded cloak tighter about her. She turned and began her descent from the rocky outcropping to the Amazon village sprawled out below. A pair of hands reached out and helped her navigate the last part of the rough and rocky trail. Lieset had insisted that an Amazon guard escort her on her trips outside the village, including her hikes up the hill to her favorite spot that overlooked the forest. In a way she resented the intrusion into her private moments, but was also glad for the support as it was becoming more difficult for her to move around as she wished.
Everyday she performed her daily duty at the Communal hut by chairing council meetings and settling minor disputes between her sisters. She was on her way to one such meeting when an Amazon ran into the village. When she spotted Gabrielle she shouted, "Gabrielle!"
Gabrielle spun around quickly at the shout. "Come quickly!" The urgency in the Amazon's voice sent Gabrielle sprinting as fast as she could after her.
She ran into the forest and stopped abruptly when she saw a young man slumped against a tree. He looked up when she approached. His leather tunic was splattered with mud and the dark stain of his blood. His breath came in ragged gasps. Gabrielle slowly squatted down, balancing herself with the young Amazon's help. She took his face in her hands and looked closely at the crest on his helmet. The crest with two rearing horses behind round shields told her that he was from Britannia. She shifted her gaze back to his dirty face crisscrossed with a myriad of cuts and bruises. Blood oozed from his ears, he'd been beaten severely and his injuries were most likely mortal because his skin was cold and his eyes were glassy and unfocused.
"Xena?" He whispered hoarsely.
"No, Xena is dead. I'm Queen Gabrielle."
"Then my suffering has been for nought." He rasped.
"No! Tell me what brought you all this way looking for Xena." Gabrielle pleaded.
His eyes began to close but he pulled out a folded piece of parchment from inside his tunic. Gabrielle caught it as his eyes closed and his head listed sideways in her hands. She felt for a pulse, but found none, he was dead. Gabrielle swallowed and rested his head against the bark of the tree. She took one of the hands offered out to her and stood up, unfolded the parchment and read it out loud.
"Rome marches west towards our land once again. Please come and fight by my side against our one common enemy, the Roman Empire. -Boadicea
"She's alive." Gabrielle whispered, stunned.
"Even after all these years, she's still alive." Gabrielle was astonished and small laugh escaped from her lips.
Gabrielle remembered Boadicea and how Xena had betrayed her.
"Hey-- what's up?" Gabrielle asked Xena.
"Does anything have to be up?" Xena snapped irritably.
"Xena, I think you have mixed feelings about this. I mean, you say you wanna help a friend. But you don't sound very friendly towards her."
Xena sighed and said, "Boadicea and I were allies a long time ago in Gaul."
"You were allies?" Gabrielle interrupted, surprised.
"In a sense. She thought I was a friend, and I just needed an army. So I let her think whatever she wanted to, until I took control of her men."
"You used her." Gabrielle whispered and shook her head.
"I ordered her killed. But she escaped, and then she and Persuticus joined forces. They attacked me-- but I defeated them-- and they retreated north to Britannia. So you see- I'm not the only one dealing with betrayal." Xena's voice was filled with regret.
Gabrielle rushed back to her yurt, pulled her saddlebags out from under her bed and began stuffing items into them.
Cyane and Eve came running in, breathless and confused.
"Gabrielle, what are you doing?" Cyane asked.
"Gabrielle, you should stay here." Eve said.
"No, she must do this. She will return." A low voice spoke behind them and all heads turned towards the voice. Lieset stood just inside Gabrielle's yurt and glanced at each of them in turn. Gabrielle glanced away and continued packing while Eve and Cyane stood by wordlessly.
"Eve will stay here for she will be needed later. Cyane, you will accompany Gabrielle." Lieset told them.
"Gabrielle." Lieset spoke Gabrielle's name softly. Gabrielle turned, and Leiset took Gabrielle's hands in her own. "Be well, Queen Gabrielle." She said before she squeezed Gabrielle's hands, turned and walked softly out of the yurt.
Cyane and Eve followed Gabrielle outside and an Amazon brought Hero to her from the stables. A wood box sat on the ground next to the mare and when she stepped forward two Amazons lifted her by the arms and up onto the box. She slipped her foot into the stirrup and swung herself slowly into the saddle. Cyane mounted her horse and waited for Gabrielle to get settled. Gabrielle gathered up the reins, and with a short nod at Eve, she urged Hero into a soft canter out of the village with Cyane right behind her.
For almost a week, Cyane and Gabrielle rode swiftly northward keeping well inside the forestlands. They cut across the crags of the Rock cliffs, and across the narrow blue ribbons of the Rhine River. Once they crossed into Germania they rode out from the protection of the forests and down into the valley of Ellors where a walled compound stood.
The compound was a small stone fort, with a few buildings standing inside, and several soldiers walked along the catwalk at the top of the walls. Evergreens sprawled across the fields around it and early spring flowers were just emerging from some sunny areas.
A low wall of rocks enclosed a practice yard several hundred yards from the compound. Grunts and groans from Britannian and Germanian soldiers were heard as they engaged themselves in practice rounds. Gabrielle focused on a woman, her long red hair flying about, and her heavy broadsword pounded down upon her sparring partner relentlessly. Hero trotted towards the practice yard and everyone stopped to stare at the small woman on the large white horse. The woman warrior turned, squinted, and shaded her eyes from the bright sunlight. Her wavy red hair was long, thick and sprinkled with white. She was much older now, but age only made her face that much more handsome. She wore a celtic skirt in red,black and gold colors and a white high collared shirt under her chain mail and leather armor. A large silver brooch attached a matching celtic sash to her shoulder. Her brown leather armor was studded with round silver and bronze conchos. She sported smaller bronze conchos from silver loops in her ears and a small tattoo on her temple.
"Gabrielle!" she exclaimed when Gabrielle reined Hero to a stop.
"I got your message, Boadicea." Gabrielle said and climbed down from Hero gingerly. Cyane stopped a short distance behind Gabrielle and dismounted.
Boadicea's eyes widened when Gabrielle turned towards her and the sunlight glinted off the chakram at her side, and from the sais tucked into the front of her belt. She also glanced briefly at the unusual sword on Gabrielle's back. Boadicea sheathed her heavy sword into the scabbard strapped to her back and with long strides she met Gabrielle and extended her forearm. Gabrielle took her arm and they shook briefly. Boadicea stepped back and nodded at Gabrielle's belly appreciatively.
"You look good." She said, but frowned when Gabrielle's face turned somber.
She glanced again at the chakram that hung on the belt around Gabrielle's waist and nodded in understanding. "Xena's dead, isn't she?"
At Gabrielle's nod, she lifted her head to the sky and closed her eyes wearily. Her shoulders slumped forward and her arms hung limply at her sides.
"I shall miss her." She whispered sadly. She shifted her gaze back to Gabrielle and asked, "Why have you come all this way to tell me this?"
"I came to help you. I understand Roman tactics and I had a good teacher." The last sentence elicited a raised eyebrow from the woman warrior.
"Ah, yes. Divide and conquer." Boadicea said and they exchanged rueful smiles.
"Boadicea, this is Cyane." Gabrielle waved Cyane forward and the two women greeted each other.
"There are three Roman legions in the Brean Woods." Boadicea said as Gabrielle and Cyane followed her down a narrow path into the compound. Once inside they entered one of the larger buildings. Boadicea led her down a short flight of steps and opened the door into a well lit room. A long table sat in the center, laden with maps and parchment sheets. Oil lamps sputtered on a metal ring hung directly above it, suspended by heavy chains from the support beams in the ceiling. Folding chairs and stools encircled the table and a plain wood divan cluttered with a few plush pillows sat next to the door. Boadicea strode to the table and pointed to a location on the map indicating the Brean Woods. "Soon they will be entering the Teutoburg forest which is just over the mountain ridge to the east. We planned to stop them here just as they ride out of the forest."
"Why are they traveling into the forests?" Gabrielle asked, puzzled.
"I don't know, I think it's a stupid move."
Both women were studying the map intensely when a horse thundered into the compound. A tall wiry man entered the room. His face scowled darkly and close cropped black hair curled out from under his helmet. He wore a high collared black shirt under a chain mail vest and leather armor and a black, white, and green celtic skirt peeked out from underneath. His black cape swirled about his feet. He took off his helmet and cape and tossed them on the divan next to the wall. He strode forward and his green eyes observed Gabrielle suspiciously. A green emerald glinted from the brooch attached to the sash on his shoulder.
"Arminius, this is Gabrielle and Cyane." Boadicea introduced them.
"Where's Xena?" Arminius demanded.
"Xena is dead, Arminius. Gabrielle is here to help us." Boadicea explained.
"Really?" He said sarcastically and Gabrielle's eyebrows rose. Cyane stepped forward, her face dark with anger at his tone of disrespect towards Gabrielle. Gabrielle laid a gentle hand on her arm to restrain her.
Boadicea stalked up to Arminius, planted her feet wide and set her hands on her hips. She said between clenched teeth, "Yes, she knows what Xena knows. She can help us."
Arminius set his hands on his hips, leaned forward and snarled into Boadicea's face. "The only reason we haven't taken up swords is because we need each other too much."
"That's right, we both want the Roman empire out of our lands. And until then, I am in charge!" Boadicea leaned forward so that they were practically nose to nose.
Gabrielle watched the interchange between Arminius and Boadicea with fascination. Gabrielle spoke, breaking the tension.
"You said, three legions. That's around three thousand soldiers." Gabrielle looked out the small window at the practice yard. "How many soldiers do you have?"
Boadicea clenched her jaw and Arminius sighed heavily. "All together about a thousand men."
"We're outnumbered three to one, Gabrielle." Boadicea added.
The sound of thunder rumbled in the distance and Gabrielle walked to the window. Huge thunderclouds were forming near the horizon. Gabrielle chewed on her bottom lip and her fingers rubbed her chin absently.
"Aren't there bogs in the Teutoburg forest?" Gabrielle turned and raised a blond brow. Boadicea and Arminius exchanged glances "Yes." They said in unison.
"That storm is on its way. There are Roman legions heading into the forest. So, when it rains, the bogs?"
"?rise and swell" Arminius interjected.
"They will be incapacitated in the bogs!" Boadicea added.
"Exactly." Gabrielle said triumphantly. "It was a stupid move."
A flicker of movement registered at the edge of her vision, movement that came from somewhere within the surrounding evergreens. She sat on her horse silently for a time, waiting for something more, but there was no further movement or sound. It was either an animal or one of the soldiers disappearing into the brush. The air smelled of pine and of rain. The evergreen trees swayed slightly in the breeze.
A faint sound, the clinking of armor reached her ears. She turned Hero around and trotted up the hill to a small boulder. She moved behind it where Boadicea, Arminius and Cyane waited. The sounds became louder, the whickering of horses and boots marching across the forest floor. The soldiers approached the bog, which was little more than a muddy creek. The murky water squished loudly as they marched into it. A flash of lightning made Gabrielle wince and the thunder sent Hero into a nervous dance. Gabrielle pulled on her reins to settle her horse down.
The sky opened up. The rain came down in sheets, lightning flashed, and thunder rumbled overhead. Gabrielle blinked through the water that dripped into her eyes and tried to ignore how cold and wet her feet were becoming as they rested in the stirrups. She buttoned her cloak and pulled the hood over her head. Hero shook her mane and a spray of water arched over her. Gabrielle patted the mare's sleek neck, calming her restless steed.
Arminius looked to his right and nodded at one of his soldiers, and Boadicea looked to her left and did the same to one of hers. Arrows were notched quickly. Men stepped out from behind the evergreen trees and sighted their bows. The long bows sung as the arrows flew down into the Roman legions by the hundreds. Men jumped out of hiding in the hills and began chopping down trees with huge axes.
The rain continued to fall heavily and the water in the bogs rose. The Roman soldiers tried to form up and raise their shields but they slipped and fell in the now ankle deep muddy water. Trees began to fall down on them, cutting them down by the dozens, their screams of agony and terror could be heard over the pealing of the thunder.
Gabrielle raised her arm and then sent it forward. More men came out of hiding and attacked the Roman legions with javelins. The Romans retreated into a small cove out of the water and were able to come to some kind of order and fortify themselves. Unfortunately, the rain continued and the waters continued to rise. They were unable to fight effectively in the confined space of the cove and were hemmed in by the surrounding forest. Britannian and Germainian soldiers ran down the hills, screaming and waving their weapons.
Arminius and Boadicea spurred their horses forward and galloped down the hill along with them. They drew their swords and attacked the Roman soldiers, but Gabrielle and Cyane remained behind and watched the battle unfold below them. Gabrielle swallowed and stuck out her chin bravely, but her eyes filled with sorrow.
The loss of the three Roman legions was a major defeat for Rome. This defeat pushed the Roman empire's borders back behind the Rhine River.
The mid-spring morning dawned bright and chilly. The sun gave little warmth and Gabrielle let the wind whip her fur-lined cloak about her. Her fur-lined hood sheltered her face from the cold bite of the wind and her breath was white mist. The forests and plains that Cyane and Gabrielle traveled through over the last week were still wrapped in winter.
Arminius and Boadicea were elated by their victory over the Romans. Their weary soldiers returned home to their families and loved ones. Before Gabrielle left Germania, she was able to resolve the tense situation between Arminius and Boadicea. It was a blood feud that had been carried from generation to generation. The hatred between the families occurred when decades ago, several prominent men from both families were murdered. Each family blamed the other and the violence escalated. Once Arminius and Boadicea realized that they were not responsible for the killings, and yet carried on the hatred, they decided to somehow try to be more civil to one another.
Gabrielle saw sparks fly between Arminius and Boadicea several times after the battle, but they were warriors and sometimes sparks between warriors can kindle a flaming romance. She should know.
One of her gloved hands pulled on the reins and Hero turned, walking briskly across a tiny brook. The water trickled underneath a thin layer of ice and a startled deer ran past. Her stomach was full from a filling breakfast she ate at the compound before she left. Absently she rubbed her swollen belly and blinked to keep her eyes open. Suddenly she felt a sharp pain in her belly and she bent over the saddle gasping. Cyane noticed Gabrielle grasp the saddle horn. She urged her mount forward and rode alongside Gabrielle. She reached out and touched Gabrielle's arm.
"Gabrielle! Are you all right?" she asked.
When the pain subsided somewhat she forced herself upright. Cyane saw the color drain from Gabrielle's face. She grabbed Hero's reins and urged their horses into a faster walk.
Gabrielle felt her contractions begin and squeezed the tall pommel of her saddle with both hands. She bit back a cry as the pain began again. In the distance she heard the pounding of horses hooves coming steadily closer to them. Her body jerked and an image of Lieset appeared.
"Gabrielle?Gabrielle?hold on?.hold on."
When she rounded a bend, four Amazons on horseback were racing towards her. They stopped and along with Cyane, guided Hero down the steep slope and supported Gabrielle's swaying body in the saddle. The pain was intensifying, she couldn't hold it in any longer, so she screamed.
She didn't remember her entrance into the Amazon village, only the pain. Her screams brought many of the women running. Eve pushed her way forward as they eased Gabrielle down from her horse. Eve slung one of Gabrielle's arms over her shoulder and they half-dragged, half carried her towards Lieset.
"Good, you found her. Come! Quickly!"
The Amazons that had gathered parted as they walked towards Lieset's yurt. Lieset stood outside, holding the flap up, her face was impassive, but there was a touch of worry in her eyes. Gabrielle screamed again and her body twitched painfully. A thin sheen of sweat covered her face and her arms.
They stopped near the brazier and Cyane and Eve helped support Gabrielle as she knelt on the floor. Through the pain Gabrielle heard Lieset's voice.
Gabrielle opened her eyes and screamed as another wave went through her. She squeezed the hands that held her up and panted. Lieset wiped the sweat from Gabrielle's hot face with a cold wet cloth. Gabrielle shifted her gaze back to Lieset's face.
"You're doing fine, Gabrielle. But don't push yet. They're not ready. Wait!" Lieset spoke urgently, her brown eyes gazed gently into her own.
Gabrielle nodded weakly and resisted the urge to push. Lieset unbuttoned Gabrielle's heavy fur-lined cloak and tugged it from her arms. She removed the chakram, sais and sword, setting them by the wall. She unsnapped Gabrielle's leather corset and skirt and removed them gently from her body. With a cold cloth she wiped the sweat from Gabrielle's arms and chest. She gazed at the colorful dragon tattoo on Gabrielle's back as the cloth moved across her perspiring skin. She wrapped a soft linen sheet around her. With her hands Lieset felt for movement in Gabrielle's belly. She rubbed her hands gently in a circular motion and stood back. She wiped the sweat from Gabrielle's face as she screamed again.
The Amazons took turns supporting Gabrielle as the hours went by. It was well into the next day before there was a change in her condition. Lieset's hands felt the babies turn in Gabrielle's belly and nodded up at her.
"Now, Gabrielle! Push!" Lieset said. Gabrielle didn't need to be told again, she pushed, and pushed, and pushed. Water dribbled into her mouth and she drank it greedily. A cold cloth wiped her face and a new set of hands gripped her arms and draped them over their shoulders.
"Come on, Gabrielle, keep pushing!" Lieset commanded. Gabrielle took a deep breath and pushed.
"One more, Gabrielle!" Lieset urged. Gabrielle laughed weakly when she heard a high pitched cry. Through bleary eyes Gabrielle watched Lieset wrap the baby in soft linen and hand it gently to Cyane.
"We're not done yet, Gabrielle. Push!"
Gabrielle pushed again and heard another wail. Tears fell down her face and she laughed weakly once more before succumbing to unconsciousness.
After the birth of her children, Myrine and Lyceus, Gabrielle remained with her tribe and chronicled the legend of the Northern Amazons. Her scrolls flowed from the shelves in her yurt.
She enjoyed raising her children. Gabrielle was filled with joy and wonder at the miraculous life that came from within her. She watched Myrine and Lyceus take their first steps and utter their first words. Feeding them was both a treat and a nightmare. Myrine would eat anything that was put into her mouth, while Lyceus was an extremely picky eater. He would spit out anything and everything he didn't like. The amazons would joke with her about what the children had to eat. It was usually obvious, she often ended up wearing what Lyceus wouldn't eat. Chortling and giggling were often heard when she would walk by on her way to council meetings. At the meetings there were grins all around as Gabrielle, always with a sponge or knife, would clean the food from her deerskin jacket. The year had gone by much sooner than she anticipated.
Her one year old daughter, Myrine and her twin brother, Lyceus waddled on either side of Gabrielle. Each had a tight grasp of her forefingers in their tiny hands as she guided them to her bed. She adjusted their deerskin smocks and lifted them onto the furs on her bed. They curled up and she covered them with the furs. She smoothed down her son's golden hair and brushed her daughters dark hair from her eyes. She stepped back and stared down at the beautiful sight of her two children side by side, innocent in sleep.
The silver beads on her daughter's necklace shimmered in the lamp light. A week after her daughter was born she had a talk with Eve. Eve agreed to relinquish her title, and seemed relieved at Gabrielle's request. The initiation ceremony was performed during the full moon on the next night. The moonlight cast a silvery light as Gabrielle stood in the center of the village in her full royal attire. She held Myrine in her arms and as the Amazons danced and the beating of the drums reached a feverish pitch, she raised her daughter to the heavens. The moonlight washed the tiny form in her hands with its pale white light. Eve knelt before them and recited the ritual where she formally renounced her title.
She sighed, turned and walked to her table. Pulling out a chair she sat down and reached for a scroll. It arrived earlier in the day from Athens.
"Dearest Gabrielle," It read, "We received your last letter and will be expecting you this month. We are excitedly looking forward to meeting Lyceus and Myrine."
"Gwen and Virgil finally tied the knot and I just found out today that I'm going to be a Grandmother. But, not to worry, we haven't forgotten about Lyceus. I'm overjoyed that there'll be two young ones running around! This should be fun for Virgil! He is such a gentle soul and I can just picture all the different expressions he'll have on his face!"
It was signed, "Meg."
Gabrielle chuckled and set the parchment down. She turned in the chair and glanced at her son. She took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. The year went by so fast, Gabrielle thought. Soon she will be taking him to his new home in Athens. She was sure that she had made the right choice. Meg, Gwen and Virgil will take good care of him. The schools in Athens will provide him with the best education and he will have a positive male figure to look up to. Gabrielle planned on visiting often.
Gabrielle turned back to the table and shuffled her scrolls around until she found the one she was looking for.
"Gabrielle, I hope all is well with you. Love and peace to Lyceus and Myrine." It read, "Trouble is brewing here between the Romans, the Jews and the followers of Eli. I however, have managed to keep myself in one piece. My brothers and sisters and I are staying here in Egypt for a few more weeks. Love you. Eve."
She set it down on top of the one from Meg and pulled out a parchment that already had writing on it. She was writing a story about the Southern Amazons. Gabrielle picked up her quill and began writing where she had left off.
Five years later?..
Gabrielle did a forward flip and landed softly on her feet. Her daughter Myrine gazed at her in awe.
"I wanna do that!" She exclaimed.
Gabrielle smiled and squatted down. "All right. Come here." Myrine ran up to Gabrielle.
"First bend forward and touch the ground with your hands." She laid a hand on her daughter's stomach and Myrine bent forward and laid her palms flat on the ground.
"Now lift your legs and swing them up into a hand stand."
"Good!" She said as Myrine stood on her hands. "Now, bring your one leg forward and let your other leg follow."
"Quickly, use the momentum to carry yourself forward and up." Myrine tried to bring her body up but she was off balance and fell down, landing squarely on her rump.
"Hmph!" Myrine grunted.
Gabrielle chuckled. "That's good! The first time I tried that, I sprained my wrist."
Suddenly, Myrine jumped up and swung a fist at Gabrielle. Gabrielle side stepped and flicked it away with her forearm. Myrine pivoted on her toes and delivered a crescent kick backwards. Gabrielle crossed her arms, blocked the kick and pushed forward. The push sent Myrine into the dirt. She rolled over and glared at her mother. Gabrielle smiled down at her and offered her a hand. Myrine took it and dusted herself off. She stamped the dust from her deerskin boots and breeches.
"You needed to tuck yourself into a ball and roll forward, hon." Gabrielle instructed. Gabrielle placed her hands on her daughters shoulders. The deerskin jacket was soft and she brushed away an errant leaf that stuck to the beadwork on the one sleeve. Her daughter looked up at her with crisp and clear blue eyes. A simple band of brown leather lace circled her head and her dark hair curled over her shoulders. Her full lips curved into a smile.
Gabrielle frowned when something glinted on Myrine's belt. She reached inside her daughter's jacket and pulled out the object. It was a small hunting knife.
"Where did you get this?" Gabrielle demanded, her voice edged with anger.
Myrine swallowed but stuck out her chin and said nothing. Gabrielle turned around, reached up and rubbed her temple. She turned back and placed her hands again on Myrine's shoulders.
"Myrine, where did you get this?" Gabrielle asked again in a softer tone.
"Cyane gave it to me when she took me hunting. She said no Amazon should be without one. Especially me, an Amazon Princess. She told me not to let you see it. You might get mad."
"I see." Gabrielle said faintly surprised. She thought for a moment. "All right, you can keep this for now," Gabrielle squatted down, took her daughter firmly by the shoulders, held her gaze and said in a very serious tone, "but, don't ever, ever, use it on anyone, either out of anger, challenge, revenge or otherwise. Do you understand?"
Myrine nodded solemnly and Gabrielle tucked the knife back in her daughters leather belt. Suddenly, Myrine jumped and her eyes widened, staring over Gabrielle's shoulder. Gabrielle sighed heavily, stood up and turned slowly to face Ares, the God of War. He sauntered towards them with a hand on the pommel of his sword.
"I told you I would come back." He opened his arms wide and smiled. Gabrielle folded her arms tightly across her chest and grimaced.
"I missed you, Gabrielle." An amused glint twinkled in his eyes and he looked down at Myrine.
"I haven't missed you at all, Ares." Gabrielle stated flatly. "Nor do I want to know what you've been doing for the past five years."
"Owww. Now that hurts. But, I forgive you." Ares said in a mockingly hurt voice, dismissing her and Gabrielle narrowed her eyes at him.
"So, this is the mighty Amazon Princess." Ares glanced down at Myrine. Gabrielle set a hand on her daughter's shoulder and pulled her back behind her.
"I can tell she'll be following in someone's footsteps. I mean, look at the fire in those eyes!" Ares said excitedly. "What do you think, Gabrielle? Doesn't she look like a certain warrior princess we both knew and loved?" Ares smiled and his dark brows rose. "I can't wait until she grows up!"
Gabrielle's face froze and her lips thinned in anger.
"No." Gabrielle whispered and shook her head.
Ares laughed and rested his hands on the pommel of the sword that hung from his belt.
"Hello! You are but a mere mortal, Gabrielle. You do realize that someday she will be on her own?" Ares walked up to Gabrielle and leaned into her ear.
"But don't worry, I'll take her under my wing." His voice whispered in her ear.
"No!" Gabrielle shouted and shoved Ares in the chest with enough force that he staggered backwards.
Gabrielle pushed her daughter back behind her and lifted a threatening finger at the War God, and said through clenched teeth, "You will not have her, Ares!"
Ares lifted his arms in the air. "You can't stop me." He said flatly.
Varia knelt in the dirt, sobbing for her dead sister and lost tribe. Xena stood before her and the Queens of the Amazon council.
"This is the pain that awaits you if you follow Ares' path." Xena stated and she pointed her sword at Varia.
Gabrielle exhaled sharply and her heart was beating franticly in her chest and thought about her son.
"And leave my son out of this!"
"Ha, ha! Oh, pah?lease, Gabrielle, he's a wuss! The muses can have him!"
Gabrielle's eyes narrowed, and her hands flexed into tight fists.
"Ares, you're up to something. I just know it."
"Well, gotta go, bye." Ares flashed out.
"Who was that, Mommy?" Myrine asked.
"Someone I don't want you to know." Gabrielle answered, and Ares' laugh echoed around them.
To be continued in Part III, A Warrior Returns Home.