The characters of Xena and Gabrielle and others are copyrighted by Renaissance Pictures and are used here strictly for purposes of enjoyment. The story depicts women who are lovers and their physical relationship is a little more overt than on the TV show.
It's a fairly typical archeological dig site. The location is an area which would have been on the outskirts of Alexandria, Egypt when the Romans ruled there about 50 BC.
Lettering on the door of a beat up old Land Rover proclaims that this dig is funded by the Center for Historical Accuracy: Key Research in Ancient Mythology (C.H.A.K.R.A.M.). Piles of dirt here and there denote the industriousness of the laborers. Tunnel construction is crude using railroad ties to support the new passage, which inclines deeply into the clay. Workers are abuzz as they have just discovered a small cavern. It could be a tomb.
The two leaders of this expedition, Prof. Lucia Armstrong and her partner Sharon Blackburn, are carrying bright electric torches as they carefully step over loose rocks in the passageway. Workers had removed these rocks from the cavern's entrance only moments before the arrival of the two women. Once past the debris and through the entrance, the women use their torches to push down thick cobwebs, as they peer around cautiously and curiously. Inside are two small burial urns. There are no jewels nor any gold or silver. There are no furnishings of any type except for a truck-sized metal chest which supports the urns, and a shiny metallic object which is shaped like a flattened donut. Only it's more the size of a standard frisbee. There is some etching around the rim of the object. It's propped up against one of the urns.
"Look at this, Lucia!" exclaims the taller of the two as she picks up the round object. "It's Xena's chakram! It has to be!"
"Now, Sharon, don't get your hopes up too high. Wait till we have some more proof."
"We've been looking for this tomb a long time. We've followed a long trail of clues. And this looks just like the chakram that was found in Macedonia in the 1930's, except that this one's in one piece. I can't help but be excited, Lucia. Come on, let's open the chest."
They struggle together and pry the chest lid open. Their eyes widen and enormous smiles spread across their faces. They say in unison, "Scrolls!"
"Oh, come on, Lucia, see if you can read any of this top scroll."
Lucia, ever so gently, picks up the top scroll and the way that she begins to unroll it is almost a caress. "It's in ancient Greek, Sharon, so I can read it. The handwriting matches the Xena Scrolls which were found in that Macedonian tomb. It says here?'After the days of the gods, life was happier for everyone, especially for the women named Xena and Gabrielle?' Oh my Goddess, Sharon, I think we have found it! I think this is Gabrielle's tomb! And everyone thought we were crazy to search here in Egypt."
Sharon grabs Lucia's shoulder with that big grin all over her face again,
"Does the scroll really say 'for the women named Xena and Gabrielle?' One of the Xena Scrolls recorded the death of the Warrior Princess in Japa. It said that Gabrielle carried Xena's ashes back to Greece and enshrined them there. But could this new scroll be saying that Xena lived on with Gabrielle?!"
Lucia grins: "I don't know. Maybe. Let's get these things to a safe place and read on."
Some time later, Lucia and Sharon are in a spacious canvas tent. Lucia is excitedly looking through the scrolls while Sharon is fingering the chakram and trying out various possible throwing holds with it.
"Sharon, guess what? These scrolls are actually numbered! We started reading the last one first. Ah, here's number one."
"Well, read it! Please!" Sharon begs as she drops onto the bench next to Lucia.
I was standing on the deck of a small oriental boat, feeling a little nauseous as I always do on any ocean voyage. I was feeling a little silly too, because whenever I spoke to Xena's spirit, it seemed to anyone else who saw me that I was talking to myself. I knew I was the only one who could see her spirit. And even when I didn't actually see her, I could sense when she was around me. Nonetheless no one else either saw or "felt" her presence so I had to try to speak with her only when we were alone together or else I'd be thought to be crazy.
"Xena," I whispered, "We're almost to Macedonia. I hope we've agreed that I'm going to get off here to find a place to bury your ashes."
"We've agreed." Xena replied.
"Oh thanks for understanding. I just can't take your ashes back to Amphipolis. The family tomb is too vulnerable there. Half the world seems to know where your family is buried. Grave robbers, vandals and souvenir seekers would just love to get their hands on your remains."
"Hey! Okay already, we've agreed. Don't get carried away with it." Xena barked.
"You're not angry that I'm not taking your ashes with me? You know, Xena, that would be just as tempting to the greedy and the needy and more dangerous for me?"
Xena replied in that tone of voice that always relieved my anxiety, "I know that you're doing the right thing, Gabrielle. You always do."
I cleared my throat to hide the huskiness. Leaving Xena would be the hardest thing I would ever have to do. I was sure of that. But Xena's spirit was beginning to fade as we got closer to our homeland of Greece. I believed I soon wouldn't be able to see or hear or even feel her presence anymore and I had to find a safe place for her ashes. Xena was a real Hero. I had written many scrolls about her exploits and adventures. About all the good she had done for the helpless, the poor and the pure of heart. About how she had changed from a vicious warlord to a courageous warrior-for-good in order to redeem her soul. And she had done it! She had redeemed her soul. That great soul deserved to rest in peace. Even though I couldn't be with her anymore, her ashes and my scrolls of her deeds needed to survive to be found by future generations.
"Xena, I think this will be a safe area although I don't really know it all that well. I'm wondering how I'll find an appropriate burial place without attracting too much attention."
"You're right to be concerned about that, Gabrielle. Your accent will stand out here. Believe it or not, I think you should ask for help from Aphrodite once you're safely off the ship and away from the docks."
"Aphrodite?" I sputtered," Did I hear you correctly?"
"I know she can be a little dippy sometimes, but she's always seemed to come through for us when we needed her and she especially likes you." Xena said suggestively.
"Now wait a minute, Xena. There was never anything between Aphrodite and me. Nothing like between you and Ares?" I snapped.
"Oh, I know. I know." Xena responded appeasingly. " I'm just teasing to stop your mopey attitude. Anyway, we don't have any other friends here. But we know she'll come if you call her. She always has in the past."
"Yeah, I guess you're right. Sometimes she really can be helpful and she's kind of cute too?hmmm," I said as if daydreaming about the possibilities.
"Okay, I deserved that. Enough, Gabrielle!"
"Can dish it out but you can't take it, huh, Xena? Well, we'll be docking soon. I'm going below to get our stuff. You coming?" I said laughing throughout.
"No thanks. I'm a little tired. I'll just rest a while."
So I went below, little suspecting that Xena was not resting but rather meeting with Aphrodite herself on that mysterious spirit plane which most of us never see until we die.
Xena filled me in much later on what transpired between them. This is what Xena told me:
Aphrodite appeared to Xena only moments after I left the deck.
"You know, Aphrodite, I'm beginning to almost feel it in the air when you show up; just the way I do with your kinsman, Ares, only not quite so creepy," Xena muttered.
"You don't have to keep your voice down, Xena. No one else around here can see or hear us. The only one with half a chance is Sweetpea and she's gone below. Look, I'll show you." With that, Aphrodite threw her arms out wide, let out a whoop and gave her body a seductive shake. No man on board reacted in the slightest way. Xena tried to look unimpressed, but Aphrodite had gotten her attention.
"What do you want, Aphrodite?"
"That's better, Xena. Let's get down to business, shall we? You promised before you and Gabrielle went to Japa that if I would keep Gabrielle safe from that jealous Akemi, then you would owe me one when you got back." Aphrodite gave Xena an admiring look and continued, "Boy, did you call that one right! That Akemi was a real bitch. She would have gone after Gabrielle in a heartbeat if she hadn't managed to trick you into dying and staying dead."
Somewhat incredulous Xena asked "Are you calling in a debt? But you really didn't have to do a thing. Gabrielle took care of herself just fine. I was the one who stepped into a trap."
"Hey, don't be a spoil sport. A deal's a deal, Xena. I did my part. I was there watching just in case she needed me."
Distracted, Xena muttered to herself, "Gabrielle didn't need help. But Akemi really pulled one over on me again. Only this time it's even worse. This time I'm dead, my spirit is fading and I'm going to have to let Gabrielle go because she deserves to live her life." Xena's voice quavered a little on the last words. In a normal tone she mused, "Maybe I should have asked you to protect me, huh? I thought Gabrielle had taught me all about love. But I didn't know enough about 'feminine wiles.' Ares never taught me those skills. Even I know more than he about that. But I still don't know enough. That's how Akemi tricked me each time."
Aphrodite looked at Xena askance, a little concerned and a little skeptical. "You mean all that stuff about dying and staying dead in Japa wasn't part of your plan? And I thought it was such a brilliant move on your part!"
Xena looked half dejected, half annoyed. "Leave me alone."
Then Aphrodite put her hand on Xena's shoulder and laughed, "Hey, get a grip, woman! Xena Warrior Princess is dead in Japa and everywhere else for that matter. By sacrificing yourself for those forty thousand souls whose deaths you accidentally caused, you redeemed yourself once and for all."
At Xena's surprised look, Aphrodite narrowed her eyes and leaned in closer to peer into Xena's eyes. "You do realize that, don't you? The Japanese believe you are dead. That's all that matters to them. But you're not in Japa anymore, Xena, and you don't have to be dead here," Aphrodite harrumphed.
"What are you saying? That I could be alive again here and still fulfill the Japanese need for my sacrifice?" Xena gasped.
"Sure. Look, it's like there are different Afterlifes, right? There's Tartarus for the Greeks, the Amazon afterlife, the Indian cyclical afterlife and the Japanese afterlife! To those Japanese departed souls, you're dead and always will be for so far as they know. Therefore, they are avenged and you really did do right by them." Aphrodite explained somewhat impatiently.
"But, Aphrodite, my body is just ashes. Hey, can you fix something like that?" Xena asked eagerly.
"Duh. Of course I can. But look, Xena, you already owe me for one favor. Let's get back even-steven before we start talking about me doing you another one, okay?"
"Okay, Aphrodite, like you say 'a deal's a deal.' What is it that you want me to do?" Xena submitted.
"I want you to get Ares out of my hair for a very long time. I don't care how you do it, Xena, although I guess you better not kill him as that might cripple me too. He's just been having his way for too long. I think it's time we let Love have a try at ruling instead of War."
"You want me to get Ares out of the way! How am I supposed to do that?" Xena hissed looking down at herself. "I don't have much to work with here."
"Oh, Xena, I'm sure you can think of something to keep Ares busy and distracted for a very long time, " Aphrodite replied with a smirk. "After all he's a spirit too, ya know?"
The light dawned on Xena's brow. "Ooooh no, Aphrodite. I've been over this a million times with him. I simply can't abide him after all he's done to me and Gabrielle. I'm glad I never made love with him. It just makes me sick to think of it now."
"Well, that's probably just as well, Xena. You remember that time you got the Furies to believe that Ares was your father so that you wouldn't have to kill your mother? I got quite a hoot out of that trick of yours. But the funniest part was that I knew that what you were saying was true. Ares really is your father and he's got a bunch of other brats around too."
Now it was Xena's turn to look skeptical and concerned. But Aphrodite continued, "Hey, don't give me that look. It's true. He had this idea to sire a human who would become his own general on earth. He scattered his seed about pretty liberally until you were about nine or ten years old. Then he saw something in you which made him decide that you were the one to be his Chosen. He worked away at your education and training for years."
"Ares certainly has given me a lot of military skills."
"Yeah, well I'm telling you why, Xena. Through you, his own daughter, he planned to take over the world. But I couldn't just let him take over the world with his constant wars and hatred. I determined to do something to stop him somehow."
Aphrodite's eyes scanned Xena's face intently. "Now I think that I've found the way. I think that you will do whatever it takes to stop him. Because if you don't he'll just follow Gabrielle around and pester her the way he did you to become his new general. The pig." Ares' promiscuity over the years had made Aphrodite very bitter.
Xena's breath sucked in. Then she responded, "You're right about that. He was starting in on Gabrielle even before the trip to Japa. He'll never stop trying to tempt Gabrielle. Will she be able to hold out forever?" Xena squared her shoulders. "I guess I'll have to stop Ares from doing that."
Then Xena had another thought. "But what's to stop you from following Gabrielle around offering her white chocolate milk baths?" she glared.
"Xena! Honestly! I'm not perverted like Ares!" with that Aphrodite disappeared in a shower of sparkles, leaving Xena behind frowning as she thought about what her plan would have to be.
When I came back on deck, Xena told me she needed to fade out to rest a while. So after an uneventful landing, I kissed the beach then wobbled inland to secure a place to stay and some fresh supplies. I was a little low on money but I couldn't risk any story-telling here, not without giving myself away and therefore endangering Xena's ashes. Instead, I ate a light supper of cheese and bread in my room. Then I whispered "Good night" to the air. I could feel Xena out there somewhere, but she didn't respond. I thought her being tired was merely an excuse. This felt like one of her silent moods. Funny how the soul really seems to be our essence and how Xena, even as a spirit, still had those dark and moody spells. I went to sleep that night believing that Xena would bounce back and be her warm and loving self by morning.
I awoke at dawn the next day and thankfully Xena was a least speaking with me again. She insisted on having a talk with me while I was trying to eat some breakfast. This allowed her to do most of the talking and allowed me little chance for discussion. She told me of the conversation she had with Aphrodite while still on the ship and of the deal she had made. She asked me to solicit Aphrodite's help in gathering some of the materials she needed in the tomb in order to carry out her plan. I was also given instructions on how to play my part in her plan. I was certainly given plenty to think about and to do. Some of what Xena said about Aphrodite was very disturbing and distracting, but I had to concentrate on the plan and my part in it. My next steps were to find Aphrodite and, with her help, to find a tomb site.
Luckily, it wasn't hard to find a temple to Aphrodite in Macedonia. She was as popular there as in most places in Greece. Once in the temple I didn't even have to say a thing. Aphrodite just bubbled up out of nowhere in a cloud of pink lingerie in that embarrassing way of hers. She quickly agreed to help me find a suitable cave for Xena's burial place. Of course she refused to help me actually clean or prepare the cave in any way. Just too dirty a job for the goddess, you know.
Almost instantaneously I found myself in the perfect underground room. It was roundish, flat floored, and mostly rock. It was very dry (good for preserving the scrolls). It was spacious (about thirty feet in diameter and nine or ten feet to the roof), heroic in size without being pretentious. Without thinking, I spun around gaily to face Aphrodite. "Oh, yes! This will be perfect! With only one entrance too! Good for security. I can start preparing this space right away. But Xena has asked for two things which would be very hard for me to get but easy for you, Aphrodite."
"Actually, Gabrielle, I should point out that there is another smaller entrance around here somewhere?hmm?hard to see isn't it? Will it be a problem?"
I still couldn't even see it. "No, I'll find it and take care of it." Then I had to get back to the main topic. "But, Aphrodite, would you mind transporting the Eye of Hephaestus here and some of Death's tears for security purposes?"
"Boy, you sure are needy, aren't you? What needs protecting more, Xena's ashes or those scrolls of yours?" Aphrodite exclaimed.
I'd been doing pretty well hiding my feelings of anguish and loss over having to part from Xena forever, but my face must have betrayed me abruptly, because Aphrodite suddenly went all maternal and apologetic. She reached out to put an arm around my shoulder (I pushed it away) and she crooned " Oh, I'm so sorry, Gabrielle, I know this is really hard for you but I'll help you get through this. For now, I'll leave you and get those things you asked for. It's really not a big deal for a goddess."
She was gone in another of those annoying sparkling pink clouds. At first I was still so shaken that I was a little dizzy. I kind of stumbled backward a few steps as I tried to catch my balance. Then my calves bumped against something and I sat down hard. I wasn't hurt, just surprised. When I recovered from the near faint, I found I was pleased. I had sat down on a flat-surfaced raised rock that was almost like an altar and large enough for a full-grown man to stretch out on. It would be the perfect place for Xena's urn. Instantly, I felt fully recovered and I took my torch and began to look around for a place to safely store the scrolls.
Xena suddenly materialized beside me. "Awfully eager to be rid of me all of a sudden, aren't you?" she accused.
"No, of course not. If you'd been here just a minute ago, you'd have seen me on the verge of tears." Then because I was annoyed at being made to feel guilty I turned the tables. "Where have you been?" Of course I immediately relented. "Oh, never mind. I'm just glad you're back. Let's not fight now. It seems we have so little time together."
Damn, that Xena could always put me through an emotional spin. Yeah, my face must have been an open book that day and the book must have read. I'm in enough pain. Please don't add any to it.
Xena relented, "I'm sorry, Gabrielle, I can see you're hurting and so am I. You're right. I just want to be here with you for as long as we have time together. I'm miffed too that I can't even help you. All I can seem to do is watch."
"It's okay, Xena. It helps just to have you here with me. I can't believe this is really the end for us. We've been through so much together."
"Well, don't think about that now, Gabrielle. Just keep doing the things that you know must be done to complete your plan. It's a good one," Xena said with that sweet smile that just turns up the corners of her lips. How I wished I could have kissed her mouth but I couldn't. That was why I had to continue with the plan to give Xena Warrior Princess a safe place to rest for all eternity. Xena let her image fade then and I was glad of it. Since I couldn't touch her physically, I felt better just being surrounded by her spirit.
I went back to work with determination. I soon found a grotto-like area in the walls not far from the main entrance where I discovered that I could scrape away into the stone. Using one of my boot knives I bored into this softer rock. I worked away until I had made enough holes to hold all the scrolls. Once again a perfect hiding place. Hours must have gone by while I worked at this drilling and scraping. I was finishing up when Aphrodite appeared again.
"Here's the Eye of Hephaestus, Sweetpea. That was some trick finding. Good thing the old boy's dead or I'd never have been able to get it for you. Oh yeah, and here's a bottle of Death's tears. Celesta says 'Hello' by the way. When I told her that Xena was dead and that you were on your own now, she cried so much it was easy to get this vial filled."grinned Aphrodite, the eternally bubbly and upbeat.
"Thanks for the help, Aphrodite. It's nice to know that some of the few remaining gods have feelings," I think I sneered at her. I needed her help, but I couldn't seem to keep my irritation with her from showing. "I can understand you're not caring about Xena's death. But doesn't the death of Hephaestus and the other gods upset you at all? Weren't they your family? I never knew you could be so cold."
Aphrodite looked as if I had struck her. "Ouch, Gabrielle, that hurt! Family is more important to me than you know, " she whined. Then suddenly angry she spat, "But those gods never behaved like my family. They always treated me like the village idiot. Just because I'm blonde and good looking, doesn't make me stupid!" She looked at me sympathetically then. "But you know that, don't you? Don't you hate people who treat you that way?" I had to admit I did. Thinking of the gods again she continued her rampage, "Plus mostly they were mean, arrogant and stupid. You know that." Softening yet again, she focused on me. "I am sorry about Xena's death, Sweetpea. I know how much you're hurting. But our situations are different."
"Sorry, Aphrodite, " I said recovering my usual polite demeanor.
After awhile I broke an awkward silence with a request. "Please help with one more thing, will you? I need to get the Eye of Hephaestus up on that area of wall over the altar stone. I've already made a niche for it."
"Okay, but I can't break any nails. There's a love-in I'm supposed to lead tonight."
"I've heard this Eye is supposed to protect whatever its gaze rests upon," I said to keep a conversation going as we struggled to get it into place. I was bearing the brunt of the weight but I had expected to with only Aphrodite for help. I was grateful that she supported just enough weight so that I could lift and maneuver it into the place I had prepared.
"It does more than that, Gabrielle. Those who fall asleep under its gaze are zapped into eternal dreamland." Aphrodite explained, showing her willingness to engage in small talk.
"There. We've done it, Aphrodite." I breathed. Then I stretched a little and looked around me. Amazingly enough, the tomb was ready for the final touches that I wanted to add in private. "Would you mind leaving me here now, Aphrodite? I want to say my last farewells to Xena alone." I pleaded.
"Of course, Sweetpea. You just call me anytime you need a friend. Don't be shy."
And with that Aphrodite was gone.
I went to my carrypack and took out two goblets, some vials, a small skin of wine, some bread and cheese and the sari that Xena had chosen to wear while in India. The sari was so beautiful I had never been able to part with it even though Xena hadn't worn it since leaving India. I placed all of these things on the altar. I also took Xena's chakram from my belt and laid it on the altar beside Xena's urn. With everything prepared, I called softly "Xena."
She immediately appeared sitting before me on the altar itself. "I'm here, Gabrielle," she said looking directly into my eyes.
The effect of that appearance was visceral. My stomach did a little flip, my heart skipped a beat, my breath caught in my throat and I started to reach out to touch her face. Then I remembered that I couldn't touch that face and tears sprang to my eyes. I choked them back and said "Everything is ready, Xena. I think I've prepared a handsome resting place for you. And I hope you don't mind that I've left some of your favorite things on the altar too, you know, like the Egyptians do?your chakram, your sari,"
"Wow, you carried that all this time...?" Xena exclaimed incredulous, flattered.
"?some of the scents you used to like me to wear and a little symbolic wine and cheese. But this is really hard for me to do, Xena. So if you don't mind, I think I'll just drink the wine myself."
"Of course, I don't mind, Gabrielle. Have some for me too, will ya?"
With that I filled a goblet, raised it to toast Xena then drank off all the wine in rapid gulps. "I'll always love you, Xena, but now it's time for me to go on with my life."
"I've always loved you, Gabrielle. Don't forget me."
Tears began to roll freely down my cheeks when Xena said that and I replied in a hoarse whisper: "I could never forget you, Xena, you've been the best thing in my life."
I kissed the air near her mouth, then turned and stumbled away and out the cave entrance. Once outside I brushed my tears away more roughly than Xena would have done if she could have touched me. Resolutely I began rolling stones up to seal and hide the entrance. Time and erosion would eventually finish the hiding job.
I found out later that inside the cave, Xena was not crying. She was restlessly moving about the cavern ineffectually kicking at things and muttering under her breath. " I died for that woman. I would never have left her alone. So much for the soulmate theory?ha!"
Suddenly Ares appeared a few steps behind Xena. She stopped and turned with her eyes widened. "This is a surprise, Ares. You haven't been able to sneak up on me like that for a long time, if ever."
"Well, Xena, I think you were a little preoccupied by this latest betrayal by Gabrielle.
How could she leave you behind like this? I'd never do this to you," Ares said in a way that made you almost believe him except for that cocky body language of his.
"Knock it off will you, Ares. What do you want anyway? To gloat over my pain and my impending permanent demise?"
"No! No! Xena, you've got me all wrong. I came to make you an offer. Thanks to you I'm still alive and thanks to you I'm still a god. I can give you back your body and get us out of here?and I think you know what's coming?if only you'll be my wife and bear me a child."
"I could never be your wife or give you a child, Ares, after all you've done to hurt me and Gabrielle."
"Xena, I promise you, now that Gabrielle's shown her true colors and left you, if you'll only turn your loyalty to me, I'll never hurt you and I'll never have to hurt Gabrielle again either." Ares moved in close to Xena. Since they were both in spirit form she could feel his nearness and it seemed to give her gooseflesh.
"Ares, I'd like to believe you. But being with Gabrielle and Eve has changed me, you know. I can't live with a cold-blooded killer anymore?can't live with someone who craves power and self-indulgence."
"I know that, Xena. I've changed too since the Twilight began and rocked my world to the foundations. I realize now how important you are to me. Together, you and I, we could build a better world?a better future, Xena. Won't you believe me?"
"If you mean it, show me. First, restore my spirit to a body and then drink a marriage oath with me in our own blood," Xena responded. "I'll drink your blood if you'll drink mine." She knew that Ares hated to shed any blood.
"By Myself! Xena, is that really all you ask? So let it be."
Immediately Xena's leathers disappeared as she became flesh again, standing there before Ares as naked as the day she was born.
Ares eyes dropped and his mouth dropped open as well. Xena looked down at herself too and said, "Nice job, Ares. I think this body looks better than the one I lost in Japa!"
Then Xena slowly and deliberately glided toward the altar with her back to Ares, who still gazed after her, stunned and aroused. When she reached the altar, she picked up her chakram and drew it quickly across her left palm. Then she reached for a goblet with her right hand and, while her body blocked the view from Ares, she also picked up and broke a vial into her left hand. Turning back toward Ares, Xena held the goblet with her right hand as she dripped blood into it from her left hand. After a few seconds, she sat down on the altar, put both hands around the goblet and held it out toward Ares calling, "Come here and drink a marriage toast with my blood, Ares."
Ares covered the distance between them in two swift strides, then he took Xena's hands between his own and brought the cup to his lips. "I make my eternal pledge to you, Xena," he exclaimed as he drank off her blood in one gulp. He swallowed, then smiled contentedly and slowly licked his lips.
"Here now, " he said turning to reach out for the chakram, "let me prepare my blood for you to pledge with." While he was reaching out, his eyes abruptly rolled up into his head and he slumped forward over the altar. He was out like a campfire after midnight.
"Good night, Daddy." Xena spat.
In that same instant, Xena saw my face peering at her from the small back entrance of the cave. She stood and her eyes misted over.
I simply hadn't been able to wait any longer after sealing that front entrance. I'd rushed around to the rear tunnel entrance, praying that I'd given Xena enough time. I managed to stop myself short of running into the cavern and peeked out onto the scene instead. Clearly, I had given her enough time, because there was Ares' body draped across the altar and there was Xena standing tall and not draped in anything at all. I didn't hesitate another second. I ran to her and threw my arms around her.
"Oh, Xena, we did it! Ares must have behaved just as you predicted he would!" Then pushing away a little to look at her, I cried out, "By the gods, Xena, you are beautiful!" Then I hugged her even closer than before. How I had missed her embrace and her warm flesh!
Xena didn't say anything for a long time. She just kept hugging me and running her fingers though my hair. After a while she managed to say, "Hey, Gabrielle, let's finish this job and get out of here."
"Okay, Xena, here let me wrap you in the sari. You can't go out like that."
"Yeah, thanks. Hand me the chakram too, will ya?"
I was happy to give Xena the chakram, which had been in my custody since Japa. After all, the chakram was special to her, while words had always been and always would be my own weapon of choice.
When I handed her the chakram, Xena hauled back, swung her arm and let the chakram fly. It caromed off the cave wall a couple of times then smacked into the Eye of Hephaestus, which immediately shot out a stream of red light directly onto the altar and Ares' body. The chakram split into three pieces. Two pieces were from Xena's original dark chakram which had broken in two when Callisto hit her in the back with it on the Ides of March a couple of years ago. Those pieces just crash-landed on the floor. The third piece, a complete chakram in and of itself, was the light chakram. Xena had taken the light chakram from Kal's temple after she had joined it together with her dark chakram. The light chakram flew back to Xena, who caught it by reflex action and then stared at it in her hand for a moment before attaching it to a loop at her waist.
Xena looked at me and said, "The activated Eye of Hephaestus will keep Ares asleep forever, I hope, just like Aphrodite told you. Now let's get out of here. This place is starting to give me the creeps."
"Wait one more second, Xena, please. Let me put the broken chakram with the scrolls. This is still a shrine to Xena Warrior Princess, you know."
She feigned impatience but I noticed that Xena didn't insist on an immediate exit. Maybe she needed a moment to say "good-bye" to her old self or maybe she knew that I needed a moment before we confronted Aphrodite again. Whatever her reason, I was glad for that time to ground myself. I installed the dark chakram pieces near the scrolls. Then grabbing her hand, I looked into her eyes, nodded my willingness to move on, and started pulling her toward the back exit saying "Okay, let's go."
Once outside, we began laughing like children as we worked together moving stones to seal up that entrance. Xena even used her chakram to create an avalanche which completely concealed the opening. It was no big surprise that Aphrodite appeared as soon as we finished the task.
Aphrodite addressed Xena with a big smile, "Well, Xena, you've done it. You've repaid your debt to me by putting Ares in storage forever. And, I see, you got you body back on your own, clever girl. Now you're free to do or be whatever you want."
Xena turned completely serious. "We still have some unfinished business, Aphrodite. You should have told Gabrielle about her parentage yourself instead of making me do it."
I turned my head quickly and focused on Aphrodite to gauge her reaction. Aphrodite exclaimed defensively, "Whoa, Xena, how did you figure that out?" Clearly what Xena had guessed was the truth! Aphrodite is my mother!
I was speechless. But Xena went on, " You told me yourself! After you confirmed for me that Ares was my father and pointed out the clues: the way he often protected me, taught me all he knew, gave me fast healing bodily organs and so on. I stopped denying the evidence. And I knew I had to put him away as you had asked because I couldn't let him keep pursuing me or Gabrielle." With that Xena looked at me with something like devotion in her eyes. I suddenly found it a little hard to concentrate on the conversation. But Xena continued speaking to Aphrodite. "Then I began thinking about some of Gabrielle's similarities to me: about the many times she had died and come back to life, about how quickly she could heal from the worst of wounds and about all of her wonderful skills. This little girl from a village even smaller than Amphipolis could read and write, even ancient dialects. She had an amazing memory and learned so quickly. She had poetry in her soul?" Xena reached out and began caressing my hair again as she said, "And her soul, unlike mine, had no hatred in it, only love. She too had to be the child of a god!"
"Yadda yadda," Aphrodite blurted. "So what's that got to do with me?"
Xena pulled her eyes away from mine to focus on Aphrodite again. "I remembered that you seemed more concerned about Gabrielle's life than the lives of Athena, Hades, Artemis and the other gods. Finally, I remembered when I suggested that Gabrielle might need protection from your lusty ways. You said that you were 'not perverted like Ares.' In other words you would not seduce your own daughter! All the pieces came together. It had to be you. But why? And why did you never tell her?"
I managed to regain some composure and to spit out, "Yes, Mother, how have you been using me?"
"Oh you're right, Sweetpea, I have been using you. But in a good way. I'm sure you'll agree. You see you've been my weapon in my personal war against Ares' effort to take over the world. When Ares looked with favor upon Xena and started trying to train and recruit her to be his general, she was only nine or ten years old. I realized I had time to create the perfect soulmate for Xena. I decided to create you, my darling, the one person who through love could win Xena away from Ares and all his warrior-evil." Aphrodite reached out toward me again imploring forgiveness, but I pulled away. I was still too angry and confused to let her near me.
Aphrodite dropped her arms to her sides and sighed, "So I found your mother, a fair and lovely virgin at the time, living in the neighboring village to Amphipolis and I planted the seed of your life in her." The memories softened her tone even more. "Your mother was such an innocent." Then she chuckled, "But she was a farm girl, so she realized pretty quickly that she was pregnant. Of course it was easy to make your step-dad fall in love with her soon after that and they married pronto." Aphrodite paused and crooked a finger to her lips. "But I think your step-dad was always suspicious?you being so incredibly bright and golden haired and all. Did you ever notice that he seemed to like Lila better?" My look of pained astonishment was all the answer she needed. "Sorry, Sweetpea, but I did try to make it up to you. I've been at your beck and call all your life. Who do you think brought Xena to you?" Then she turned toward Xena again. "But most importantly my plan worked! The power of love finally led to Ares' defeat here today!"
Incredulously I sputtered, "So you're saying that all I've been is your weapon against Ares all these years?"
"Well, yes, Sweetpea. It started that way. But you've become much more to me and I'm so proud of you." Aphrodite glowed.
Xena clapped Aphrodite on the back and crowed, "Aphrodite, I never really believed that you were as dumb as you pretended to be."
I was still trying to sort out my feelings about Aphrodite and her explanation when Xena turned those blue eyes on me. "So, Gabrielle, that explains why you felt the need to follow me the first time we met and why you've never left me despite all the nasty things I've done or caused to happen to you. You couldn't help but love me. You were born to do so." Leaning closer toward me and lowering her voice she continued, "But knowledge is power too, Gabrielle. Now that we both know about the gods' plans for us, we can choose our own paths. You don't have to stay with me. I'll be alright now that I'm free from Ares constant pestering."
I'd had all day to think about the revelations Xena had made to me during her breakfast lecture. The fact that Ares was definitely her father. The idea that she believed Aphrodite to be my mother. I hadn't been able to deal with all my feelings about Aphrodite. But I had expected this from Xena. I had expected her to pull out her old "this-is -your-chance-to leave-me" routine, once she had Ares safely out of action. Xena had known how Ares would react to our set up. (Ha! Who didn't?) But after all my years of traveling with her, I knew my Xena's reactions better than she knew herself.
I composed my face carefully before I answered. "You know, Xena, I just got you back?" Here I had to put a finger over Xena's lips to stop her from interrupting me. "I've been thinking a lot about this ever since you told me about our parentage. I think we have a real opportunity here. With all of our gifts and skills we can really do more good for people. And you know we make a great partnership. With Xena Warrior Princess dead and buried, you could reemerge as Xena, Woman of the People, purveyor of wisdom and love. And I can write to my heart's content. Besides, I haven't forgotten that you promised me a trip to Egypt. I hear Alexandria has good fishing and a great library."
I could see the softening in Xena's eyes. What I was saying was what she had wanted to hear. Confidently I moved in a step closer to her and looked up into her eyes. "Xena, there's something I want you to understand. We both have families we that we were born into but as we grow and change we build our own. For me, our partnership binds us closer than blood ever could."
That melting smile poured out of her lovely eyes as Xena responded, " For me too, Gabrielle." Then she lowered her lips to mine.
I never saw the pink sparkles, but Aphrodite had discreetly left by the time I came up for air. I mentally scored her departure as a point in her favor. I would need to confront Aphrodite about this again one day, but for the time being I needed only to be alone with Xena.
THE END..?. GABRIELLE
It is now so dark that they must use their battery-operated lamps, but Lucia and Sharon are still in exactly the same positions as they were when they began reading the scroll.
With a long soft sigh Lucia says regretfully, "That's the end of the scroll, Sharon."
"Oh, Lucia, " Sharon exclaims. "Xena lived on! And look at all these other scrolls! I can hardly wait to hear what Xena and Gabrielle did when they got to Egypt."
"Well, it's too late to read anymore tonight. But at least we know there's plenty of adventure ahead for them. Why don't we go to bed now and have a little adventure of our own?" Lucia agrees as she puts down the scroll and reaches for Sharon's hand.
"Absolutely! There's no better way to celebrate our latest find than to practice what Xena and Gabrielle taught us. Love in all its forms." Sharon's eyes twinkle as she rises to guide Lucia from the table and to the bed.