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Subtext: This story portrays a loving relationship between two women. If you are under 18 or if it is illegal for you to read this text please do not continue.
It was a placid, gentle night. Gabrielle chose to walk towards the lakeshore. The full moon hung over the waters. In its perfection commanding awe from the young woman. She sat on a series of flat smooth stones that formed a terrace over a cliff. She looked down. She could survive a dive into the pool if its depths were tolerant. Her body eased, her muscles released their tension as she lost conscious awareness of the passing time.
sensed no imminent harm still she took leave of their campsite to seek out the
bard. The image was stunning.
Gabrielle’s reclining figure with moon and waters in the background.
This was beauty in its greatest simplicity.
Confirming her partner’s well being she hesitated in disturbing
felt Xena before she heard her approach. Sensing
her beloved was within sight she extended her hand as an invitation.
She felt Xena take possession of her offering as she sat beside her. Gabrielle leaned her head against Xena’s powerful body.
“I love you.”
use to be I was the only one who needed to get away.”
what do you think I was doing while you were gone?”
smiled at that simple truth.
squeezed Gabrielle’s hand. “You’re
being very quiet. I was afraid I
had forgotten something. It’s not
your birthday or the anniversary of the first day we met.”
laughed at the latter. “Our first
day? I don’t think so!”
continued. “It’s not my
responded with unexpected sincerity, “You are timeless.”
by surprise and having no immediate words to convey her emotion, Xena placed her
arm around Gabrielle’s waist and pulled her closer.
voice betrayed her fatigue. “Where’s
knew the real reason for Gabrielle’s thoughtfulness was now at the forefront.
“Asleep. You shouldn’t
don’t understand why the Northern and Southern tribes would be in conflict.”
both know that when I killed Artemis I killed the Amazon’s patron god.
They’ve lost their common bond.”
was only part of their bond. Amazons
are so much more.”
agree but the loss of Artemis has been difficult for the Southern tribe to
the North worship the earth goddess and the South, after all these years goes on
praying to a dead god. How can I
make sense of it?”
and Ariel must believe you can. They
wouldn’t have requested your mediation if they didn’t.”
not as if I’m going to say one tribe is right over the other.
Xena, we’ve seen Tartarus and the Elysain Fields, Hell and Paradise.
Eve was given to you to be a messenger of Eli’s god.
Aphrodite is a friend and then there is always Aries.
We know our souls will return. You
and I have our own Ways. I’m
telling you they’ve asked the wrong person.”
it’s because you know all those truths that you are the right person to
mediate. And, you are recognized as
their queen. Tovi and Ariel, queens
in their own right acknowledge your ultimate authority.
are both new, young queens.”
Don’t you think they could use some of your sage advice?”
Our twenty-five years of sleep don’t count.”
is it that’s troubling you?”
traveled this road of faith before. I’m
not done with it myself.
wished she could give Gabrielle the assurance she sought but time had taught
Xena better than to try. She stated
the simplest truth. “Same road,
different place in the road. Think
of it as another chance to learn.”
daybreak the three continued their travels.
Xena led with Damia and Gabrielle riding side by side behind.
Gabrielle had taken measure of Damia.
She was young and intense. Her
dark features and sharp chiseled face reminded Gabrielle of the women she met in
the desert tribes. Amazons came
from many nations, many people. The
women reflected a diversity of beauty, intelligence and skills.
Damia was a fine example of what made the Amazons a strong nation.
Damia had done a commendable job in finding her out and conveying the
Amazon’s summons. Gabrielle noted
that Damia had not been too conversant. Was
it the mystique of being with a queen?
responded with no obvious emotion. “Well.”
was not satisfied. “Why am I not
looked to the legendary queen. She
was uncertain of what could, should be shared.
Her own confusion and concern was palpable. “I don’t know. Ari,
Jamine, the Captain of the Guards and I have been friends for years.
In times like these Jamine and I can’t seem to help Ari.
She stands alone.”
made note of the familiar use of ‘Ari’.
“Having someone you can trust and count on is very important.
You offer her that.”
though Ari does ask our console it’s still she who carries the burden.”
is what it means to be queen. Tell
me about Tovi.”
was more animated when describing the Southern Queen. “She’s a puzzle. By
all accounts she is an intelligent, brave warrior and leader but you wouldn’t
say so when you first meet her.”
was intrigued. “Why not?”
is quiet. She defers to her
council. She will not carry a
weapon in the village. She spends a
great deal of time off by herself. She
reads whenever she can and is known to barter heavily for scrolls especially
those from the Athens Academy. She
is relentless in this dispute and yet it is said that she does not worship
make for challenging negotiations.”
isn’t negotiating. She has
silently observed as the temple priestess has presented her arguments.”
same. Our shaman is representing
our tribe. Ariel told me that she
will only negotiate with Tovi, queen to queen.”
the dispute isn’t between the queens. That’s
good to know.”
it if they refuse to sit at a negotiation table together?”
was obvious to Gabrielle that Damia did not understand the underlying protocol
being exercised. This wasn’t the
time for her to explain. “I need
to speak to Xena. Please give us
rode forward, matching Xena’s pace. Xena
looked aside. “Everything all
getting Damia’s perspective. I’ve
been puzzled by something.”
Tovi would consent to have the women who killed Artemis on Southern tribal
think Tovi doesn’t see any reason to worship Artemis. She either agrees with the Northern tribe’s beliefs or is
indifferent but as queen she is trying to respect the beliefs of her people.
She is going to make them face the death of their god at our hands.”
I killed Artemis, not you.”
were both protecting Eve.”
was heartened by Gabrielle’s constancy. “If
you’re right we should be prepared for a cool reception.”
may try to use you. She may ask you
will you do?”
the truth. That’s all I can
spoke with a glimmer of hope. “There
might not be much to mediate.”
was more sober in assessing their prospects.
“Don’t be so sure. The
zealots won’t give up easily. You
take away their god you’ve taken away their identity.
They’re facing a spiritual death.”
I wonder if undisturbed illusions aren’t healthier.”
can’t believe that.”
have to have something to hold on to.”
wrong with the truth?”
did not hide her frustration. “Whose
truth would that be?” She picked
up her horse’s pace and rode forward. Xena
chose not to challenge the distance placed between them.
She waited for Damia and proceeded in her company.
Damia correctly sensed that this was not a time for conversation.
All traveled in silence.
evening camp continued in relative quiet. With
the meal eaten and the horses groomed, Damia made her bed a discrete distance
from her companions. Xena had taken
to her bedroll. Gabrielle remained
by the smothering fire. The bard’s thoughts were focused on the embers.
Like the flames of the fire the concerns which consumed her day had
drifted from her consciousness. There
was nothing to be done until she reached the Southern village.
She considered her options. She
practiced scenarios knowing what she would ultimately say and do would be
determined in the moment.
felt Gabrielle lie beside her. Gabrielle’s
voice carried an intimate plea, “Xena, are you awake?”
She turned onto her back and offered Gabrielle her complete attention.
you for not being angry.”
said I’m not angry.”
you were angry you would’ve pretended to be asleep.”
I that predictable?”
extended her arm. “Come here.”
took her place resting her head on Xena’s shoulder. “I love you.”
placed a kiss on Gabrielle’s forehead. “Rest
now.” As was her habit the
warrior listened intently until her bard had fallen a sleep.
Only then did she allow sleep to take her as well.
was mid-morning when they arrived at the village. Entering the main courtyard two women exited the Counsel
Chambers. Both Gabrielle and Xena observed how the two walked in unison.
It was a simple task to distinguish their tribal affiliations.
The women in Northern dress stood a couple fingers taller than her
companion who was dressed in the fashion of the Southern tribe.
Ariel had long brown hair swept back.
She wore black skins that both revealed and complemented her deeply
tanned form. On her hip a dagger
with leather wrapped hilt. She
moved confidently with long, decisive strides.
Tovi in turn was lighter in complexion.
Her reddish hair was cut to her shoulders. She did not have as commanding a presence as Ariel.
In deed she walked more casually. Dressed
in cloth, clay in color and weapon less the descriptive word that came to
Gabrielle in terms of Tovi was unpretentious.
As protocol mandated Ariel and Tovi jointly greeted the visiting Amazon
queen. The seeming level of comfort
between the young queens pleased Gabrielle.
three dismounted. Damia offered to
stable the horses. Gabrielle and
Xena willingly surrendered their reins and turned to their hosts.
Ariel was the first to speak.
Gabrielle, thank you for coming. I
am Ariel, Queen of the Northern Amazons.”
Gabrielle took Ariel offered hand.
missing a heartbeat Tovi spoke. “And
I am Tovi. I welcome you on behalf
of all the Southern Amazons. I hope
you traveled well.”
clasped Tovi’s arm in turn. Gabrielle liked the bright almond glisten in the
young woman’s eyes. She motioned
to her partner. “This is Xena.”
gave a minor bow. Ariel approached
the warrior. “Xena, knowledge of
your history with our tribe has been passed down through the generations.
We value your efforts to give our tribe a renewed life.
You remain an honored friend.”
was moved by the expressed acceptance. “Thank
looked up to find Tovi’s intent gaze upon her.
Xena matched it feeling her defiant nature rising to the surface.
Tovi stepped up. “Xena, I am not one to be shy with words.
The Fates presented you with a choice, either to save your daughter, an
Amazon given the right of caste by Queen Gabrielle or to bring about the
twilight of the gods by your own hands. We
have felt the loss of Artemis and struggle because of it.
But let me say that no Amazon can imagine that the sacrifice of your
daughter should have been necessary to appease a god.
Your legacy with Queen Melosa, your friendship with Queen Ephiny and your
commitment to Queen Gabrielle is how we judge your truth.
could not have imagined a finer reception.
By it she was left to wonder. There
was no outward animosity. Why
couldn’t the dispute be reconciled?
turned to Gabrielle. “We have
prepared a lodge for you and Xena. I
can show you the way if you wish to rest. There
is time before our mid-day meal.”
the privacy of their quarters Gabrielle and Xena exchanged assessments.
Neither of their expectations were met.
Gabrielle decided she would interview each queen separately.
Ariel was the first.
me about the goddess.”
stood before Gabrielle who sat comfortably in a tall back chair.
An air of formality pressed upon the empty space between the two.
you know Artemis had never been a dominating presence to us.
Our shamans have slowly relearned their once lost arts.
We less worship the goddess than recognize her connection to us.
The moon, the stars, the waters, the earth – through the gifts of
grains and meat we live.” Noting
Gabrielle’s attentiveness Ariel began to relax.
“What is important is the link between each Amazon and between the
Amazons and the world we live in. We
recognize the cycle of life and death. It
is a cycle of renewal. We hold up
fire, ether, water and essence.” With
her last words, Ariel had bent to one knee and taken a handful of dirt.
She released it slowly and then held Gabrielle’s gentle eyes with her
own. “We are body, mind, heart
and spirit.” The Amazon took to
her feet again. “We are in the
midst of change and still all remains the same.”
was intrigued. “Why do you have a
dispute with the Southern tribe?”
was dismissive. “We don’t.
They can worship as they please. This
is all Tovi’s doing. She is
frustrated with the priestess’ insistence that Artemis continue to be
worshipped. She has heard of our ways and would like the Southern tribe
to embrace the goddess. I do not
understand all her motives or her tactics.”
has told you this?”
Tovi is aloof and careful with her words. But
it is obvious that she cannot negotiate what she doesn’t believe.
I admire her integrity though I do not appreciate being used.”
assessment was fascinating. Gabrielle
needed to understand all the dynamics. “How
does you shaman feel about the discussions?”
Amazon smiled. “Isra is enjoying
every exchange. She finds it a
great opportunity to share the goddess with her sister Amazons.
At least those who are willing to listen.”
concluded, “So, no harm is being done.”
acquiesced, “None, if inconveniencing our queen is not weighed in the
is no reason to be concerned.” Gabrielle
raised her hands and held them together thoughtfully.
There was a remaining question she wanted answered.
“Ariel, why have you accepted my authority?”
took Ariel by surprised. Her first
response was quick, “Why would I not?”
Within herself she questioned what manner of queen sat before her that
she did not expect her queenship to be acknowledged. The thought was quickly replaced by the original question.
Why did she accept Gabrielle? Ariel
spoke her answer as it came to her. “Your
wisdom is revered. It is true that
Xena has touched our tribe more directly than you have but the story is still
told of your efforts to stop Alti after Otari released her soul.
was earnest. “But I failed.”
and Xena persevered. It was you who had faith in Xena.
It was you who knew when to pour the amber over Alti’s pitiful
stories do live on.”
they not what reminds us from where we have come from?
Do they not tell us who we are and give us hope in who we are to become?
smiled. “You are a
countered. “No, but I strive to
be a worthy queen and that means living with and without the sword.
Tovi is your philosopher.”
Amazon affirmed. “I believe you
will be impressed.”
sensed a new truth. “Is Tovi
aware of your high esteem?”
She began to pace. “A certain distance is prudent.”
could not help a kind-hearted challenge. “And
will you maintain that same distance with me?”
stopped and turned to her inquisitive leader.
“My Queen, there will be no secrets of consequence between us.”
smile returned. “But there will
grinned. “My life is my own.”
nodded in approval. “As it should
be. Ariel, you are right to protect
the most intimate parts of your life. Even
as queen you never stop being a woman.”
pleasure was apparent. “We
understand each other well.” She
especially enjoyed making her next question.
“If you have no further need of me I have someone waiting.”
queen suppressed a laugh. “Yes,
watched Ariel leave. Alone in the
serenity of her lodge she felt an overwhelming desire for Xena.
How love can be with one, always a companion, a foundation to steady the
self. Seeing the whimsy in
Ariel’s eyes was a joy, ever the more so because Gabrielle knew her beloved
portrayal of Tovi gave Gabrielle reason to anticipate an enjoyable interview.
The young Amazon stood at the threshold.
invited her warmly, “Tovi, come in.”
entered. She surveyed the room.
To Gabrielle’s eyes Tovi’s intensity was corporeal.
It was a part of her as taunt as the muscles that defined the beautiful
youth. Gabrielle doubted that she
would equal the success she enjoyed in breaking down the formality between
herself and Ariel. The Northern
queen had been down right casual by the time she took her leave.
first words only reaffirmed Gabrielle’s expectations. “What would you have known of me?”
took Tovi’s directness in stride. “What
would you have me know?” Her
inquiry was met with silence. Gabrielle
would need to take a more active approach.
“Am I right to say that you have no differences with Ariel?”
Southern queen spoke tightly. “We
now promised to be an uneasy meeting. “What
I meant is that you seem to have a respectful relationship.”
holds her office as queen with dignity.”
could no longer justify not going directly to the heart of the reason for her
summons. “What can you tell me
about the negotiations?”
leave it to Seda, our priestess.”
leaned forward. “But you are the
has tolerated different cultic traditions throughout the ages.
Seda’s insistence to worship in the past is not shared by all tribal
members. She projects our loss of
Artemis as a betrayal and is desperate for accountability outside of our
you disagree with her why do you sponsor her accusations?”
was adamant. “I sponsor nothing
other than Seda’s freedom to give voice to her beliefs.”
challenged. “And give false
gave the only witness necessary in my greeting of Xena.”
queen confessed. “I suspected you
would want Xena and I to testify to Artemis’ death.
But with your declaration it’s no longer necessary is it?”
it isn’t. By not challenging my
words you concurred to the truth. Artemis
is dead by Xena’s own hands, a consequence of the god’s attempts to kill an
innocent. Seda stood in silence. I
do not know whether her silence will continue.”
was not the only one being used by Tovi. “You
may have angered your sisters.”
Southern queen was unyielding in her mission.
“I was aware of the risk. I
am prepared to suffer the consequences.”
leaned back into her chair. “Hopefully
they will be mild.”
will measure whether forgiveness is the companion of passing time.”
could only admire Tovi for the effort taken.
She did seem to have the best interest of her tribe at heart.
“Would you like me to speak to Seda?”
mother of the child would be a more profound witness. Seda won’t turn away from Xena’s eyes with ease.”
now knew that Ariel and Damia were each right in their estimation of Tovi’s
talents. She was brilliant.
Tovi, this young, unassuming and yet confident Amazon understood the
human condition as well as the machinations of governing her tribe.
“I will ask Xena.”
you my Queen.”
were still other concerns to discuss. “Have
you thought of how you will temper the blow?”
and others have had the opportunity to hear Isra speak of the Mother Goddess.
They are not left completely without a faith.”
but right now it is only Isra’s words.”
argues that the goddess abounds everywhere.
She is with us each moment of our lives if only we choose to see, hear,
taste, smell and touch her bounty. Seda’s
sensibilities are of a religious. It will take only an open heart for the goddess to reach into
her soul and write a new truth upon it.”
words resounded in the space. It
filled the emptiness with hope. Gabrielle
suspected Tovi’s soul was not only of a philosopher but also of a poet.
“What place does the goddess have in your life?”
is a belief that instills gratitude and respect for our earth.
She is a symbol of love and nurturing.
For those who must have a god she will be as strong as a stone held in a
tight fist. The weight will be
heavy and sustaining. But I am one who also needs to reason the illnesses, the
accidents that harm, the torrents that wash away and the quakes that injure and
destroy. Are they not also the
Mother Goddess? If I held the stone
in my fist it would fatigue my hand and take the space of a gentler essence.
I have not the faith to hold to it.”
was confused. “Then why welcome
the goddess into your tribe?”
it is not my tribe. I am as
transient as the wind. As transient
as I believe we all are. My people
must have a sustaining belief to replace the loss of Artemis. If I could offer a pure truth I would but I have never
interjected. “Not in all the
scrolls you’ve read?”
shared her first smile of the interview. “The
Academy is a bastion of ideas. All
their philosophies are flawed but they are still worth investigating.
None propose an honored place for women.
Amazons can accept nothing less. At
least the Mother Goddess gives us that.”
next? You must have a plan.”
had been so intent on obtaining from Gabrielle what she needed that she had not
taken the time to consider the woman. Gabrielle
was giving. There did not seem to
be a reasonable request she would not honor.
Even now she invited Tovi to make her proposal for surely Gabrielle had
intuited that a proposal was forthcoming.
you consider traveling to the North. To
not only honor our sister tribe with your visit but to learn more of the ways of
smiled. “And who would accompany
Isra, Damia, Cici…”
last was a new name. “Cici?”
Tovi stumbled. Gabrielle witnessed the first hint of vulnerability.
The Southern queen recovered quickly.
“A member of her guard. And
Seda and myself, if I can be so honored.”
sure Ariel wouldn’t object to hosting us.”
wondered if there was a sigh in Tovi’s last words? Was there indeed a sense of relief? “Tovi, do you have any other plans I should know about?”
realized that to Gabrielle she had been quite transparent.
“No, my Queen. Is there anything else you need from me?”
I’ll let you know what Xena and Ariel decide.”
bowed satisfied with the outcome of the meeting.
was baffled. “Xena, if you
don’t want to speak to Seda.”
not it. Damia, Cici and I spent the
day working with Tovi’s engineers to repair the cross bridge over the south
ravine. I didn’t expect to be
leaving so soon. The work will take
at least a half-moon cycle, maybe longer. I
hoped to see it through.”
appreciated that the bridge building presented her partner with a challenge, one
that promised a sense of satisfaction outside of the realm of war.
“Why don’t I go on to the North.
You can join me when your work is done?”
Xena this wasn’t a completely satisfactory solution. It meant a separation. “I
knew it. You are trying to get rid
of me. Is it Ariel or Tovi that has
caught your eye?”
The word rolled out upon Gabrielle’s tongue promising retaliation.
you going to save Ariel from Cici or are you going to save Tovi from her
had inadvertently redirected the game. “What
about Ariel and Cici?”
what I can tell the Northern queen has her hands full.
Cici is a spitfire.”
regrouped. “If that’s the case
then I’ll focus on Tovi.”
responded with an honest observation. “She
has many fine qualities.”
queen’s eyes glimmered. “I’m
only attracted to the best.”
stood mute. The humor ceased.
Gabrielle was aware of whom she had before her.
Her voice dropped to a whisper. “I’ll
miss you my love.”
felt the tug. It was familiar.
It had become a part of her, the tug that drew her vulnerability up from
the depths of her soul onto the surface. And
with it, even after the passing years, came a shyness.
“I’ll need Cici’s help on the bridge work.
I’m sure there’s plenty of heat in her flame to keep me satisfied.”
it was Gabrielle who remained silent. There
were moments such as this when the pleasure of their word play was lost.
In her heart she consented to share Xena with others during the daylight.
There was no choice. Her
heart was not so generous during the night.
felt the intensity of Gabrielle’s gaze. There
was no escaping it. It was the tug
of her love. It defined her.
Xena’s voice betrayed her emotion.
“I have no life without you. You
Gabrielle awoke abruptly from her nightmare.
She breathed hard, quick, shallow breaths.
here.” Xena took the bard into
her arms. “I’m here.”
repeated Xena’s name. Her voice
still radiating her fear.
bard begged. “Stay with me.”
I’ll always be with you.”
dream, the nightmare had vanished from Gabrielle’s memory but not the
corresponding fear it carved into her. “I
don’t mean to take you for granted.”
reassured. “I’ve never felt you
placed her palm upon Xena’s cheek. Her
breathing began to return to a calmer rhythm but her voice betrayed her
desperation. “I’m so sure of
your love. It’s as if my heart is
always held in your caress. I may
be sad. I may be happy. It doesn’t matter. Your
love is always with me.”
you return I’ll be here waiting. I
sometimes can’t believe you love me.”
understood. “When I first met
you, when you begged me to take you away from Poteidaia, it was impossible for
me to believe that anyone would simply want to share their life with me, without
condition, without ulterior motive.”
mused. “It seems so long ago.”
“I remember as we walked away from Amphipolis you called me friend. Friend!” Xena shook her head recalling her disbelief that she, the Warrior Princess would have a friend in the youth. She continued her verbal recollection. “With the passing moons I saw your truth and compassion. What I once believed to be your innocence I soon learned was your wisdom. Gabrielle, the beauty of your soul eclipse all that I had ever seen and I had seen so much.” Xena took her partner’s hand into her own and examined its capacity for both tenderness and defense. “I couldn’t understand why you came into my life let alone why you chose, why you fought to stay. Not until you slipped into the crevices of my heart with your love.” The warrior kissed Gabrielle’s palm. “I couldn’t deny you. I couldn’t discount myself because every time I felt myself getting lost in my darkness I knew you were by my side, in spirit, with your love and I couldn’t betray that love. I could betray and deny the rest of the world but not you. Gabrielle, you are my soul mate.”
Gabrielle was overwhelmed by the confession.
wouldn’t be denied. There was
more to be said. “I remember in
Indus, you said you would not have learned about selfless love if it weren’t
for our friendship. I don’t know
when you believe you learned that lesson. I
swear it was always a part of you. I
know it’s the gift of you that gives my life meaning. How can you doubt my love?”
felt terribly insignificant in the presence of her partner.
“I don’t doubt your love. I
doubt I’m worthy of it.”
one is more worthy of my love. And
no one is less deserving of you than I am.”
rose and took Xena’s lips into her own. Xena
responded with equal passion. The
warrior’s embrace became a vise, a hold promising safety.
Gabrielle pulled her head back then buried herself within the crook of
Xena’s neck. She trembled as she
had done their first night. Her
trembling was always a sign. Her
body commanded her over and above thoughts and words.
There was no place for logic only emotion.
Xena had learned Gabrielle’s unspoken language.
She knew Gabrielle was at her most vulnerable and most needy.
Xena’s emotions were always torn.
When Gabrielle trembled Xena relished knowing that Gabrielle needed her
so viscerally but at the same time her heart felt a press of its own.
Gabrielle’s trembling reverberated throughout Xena’s body.
She felt she held a wounded dove and needed all her strength and
tenderness to restrain its pinions in order to prevent further harm and allow
healing. And then the words came.
Spoken in a low whisper. “Xena,
make me yours tonight.” Xena
lowered Gabrielle back to the flat of their pallet.
She released the woman. She
leaned over her, gazing into her emerald eyes.
Time stopped. Xena would
have sworn that both their hearts stopped beating in that moment.
In that shared gaze they saw into each other’s souls and accepted the
light and the darkness that composed them.
In the shared gaze their souls joined.
They were spiritually one. Xena
moved forward and gently took and released Gabrielle’s lips.
And then she spoke her command, the only one that would appease her
beloved. “You are mine.”
In the embrace of the night the world’s distractions were stripped
away. They were two women alone in
their skin and yet through touch and involuntary moans, they transcended their
corporal separation. As they
breathed in unison and moved in rhythm they became physically one.
The mystery of soul and body united realized.
They were complete.
was furious. “You speak to
Seda! Gabrielle, I have only
so much patience. Not even an angel in heaven would convert her.”
didn’t think it was for us to convert her.
Just convince her that the gods gave us no choice but to fight for
is indignant. There is no reasoning
with her. She has conveniently
separated my killing Artemis from my saving my child’s life.”
you can’t separate one from the other.”
responded calmly. “I will.”
She took a deep breath trying to cleanse the tension from her chest.
Seda had touched a painful cord in Xena.
There had been no joy only fear and doubt during their flight from the
gods. Xena never asked for her
second child though she felt how right the baby was from the moment she became
aware of her conception. She also
had not asked for the power to kill gods although it was her lone defense, the
only means to shift the odds towards her and Eve’s favor.
spoke harshly, “I am not so easily manipulated!”
assessed the elder. She was the
spiritual leader of the tribe and her anger could not be taken lightly.
She spoke Seda’s name in acknowledgment with the hope to calm.
priestess would not be mollified. “Why
should I listen to you. You consort
with Artemis’ assassin.”
patience was great but even for her there were certain lines drawn that no one
should cross. Seda had struck
personally. She was dangerously
close to the intimate. The queen
spoke sternly, “This has nothing to do with Xena.
If you are going to accuse, accuse me because I did everything in my
power to protect Eve. Either as a
child or as a young woman I consider Eve no less than my daughter.”
Gabrielle paused. She knew she had to be above defending herself.
“Seda, you admit that Artemis is dead.”
you claim to once have been. If you
can come back among the living there is nothing to say Artemis won’t return.
And if she sees we have not been constant to her we will bear her wrath
and justly so. There are many
followers of Artemis among my tribe.”
to have died.’ The thought echoed
within Gabrielle’s mind. ‘To
have claimed to have been nailed on a cross by order of Caesar.’
She involuntarily looked downed into her hands as one thumb rubbed into
the palm of the other. No remnant scar, nothing but the memory that could still be
far too vivid to bear. Seda noted
the queen’s silence, how she had turned within herself. There was something haunting in Gabrielle’s demeanor.
It had changed as if a raven’s wing had flow across her face and left
the imprint of its shadow. Gabrielle looked up from her hands. She became self-conscious in the presence of Seda’s
queen found her voice. “Your
tribe looks to you for leadership. Seda,
travel to the North with me and Tovi. We
will learn from our sisters. And
they can learn from us.”
Seda’s passions had visibly lessened her challenge remained.
“And what would you teach them?”
knew her answer would be taken as a statement that addressed both tribes.
What would she teach them? The
only lesson she knew. Her voice
carried the confidence of a woman who had struggled and continued to struggle
with the meaning of her life. “I
would teach the North as I would teach the South.
To follow your own way in living for the greater good.”
could find little about the last moon cycle to celebrate.
She had one interest and no opportunity to pursue it.
Tovi was an enigma. Ariel
wanted to study her counterpart. The
formalities of tribal tradition had dictated their interactions.
Traveling together promised the possibility of learning more about the
woman who maneuvered people with acumen.
for Isra, the Amazons rode side-by-side in twos. Damia and Jamine led followed by a singular Isra, then
Gabrielle and Seda and finally Ariel and Tovi.
decided it was time to pursue her interest.
“Tovi, I noticed you packed a number of scrolls.
turned her gaze toward the Northern queen and waited for a completed thought.
obliged. “You do like to read.”
was cautious. “Yes, I do.”
have you learn from them?”
learned that even though the great thinkers harbor the same questions I do they
haven’t had any better luck in finding the answers.”
wondered about these men of Greece. She
allowed her wit to surface. “What
makes them great thinkers? The fact
that they are literate and take the time to write.”
tone reflected a serious scholarship. “If
they weren’t literate their thinking would not have survived through the
years. I can read their original
thoughts instead of hearing what someone else said they said…although there is
some of that in the scrolls, as well.”
wouldn’t want someone to misquote you?”
quipped. “Only if they made me
sound wiser than I am.” She took
a breath and then spoke more seriously. “Tovi,
I mean no offense…”
Southern queen offered an invitation. “Go
Northern queen was heartened. “It
seems a waste to spend so much time with dead words.”
explained. “That’s the
difference between you and me. The
words are not dead to me.”
protested. “They are of lives and
times far from our own.”
right,” Tovi conceded. “I
haven’t read mention of the Amazons, at least not any that speak knowingly.
But they do speak of the human condition.”
condition? What do you believe
Tovi? Do you believe our lives are
a condition? Where is the
sacredness in it?”
considered Ariel. The questions
were sincere. The tinge of sarcasm
had subsided and been replaced with curiosity.
“I don’t know what I believe. I’ve
read Gabrielle’s scrolls. Those I
could find. Gabrielle and Xena have
lived for the greater good. I
wondered what that meant. I
wondered what kind of women they would be given all that they have done.
I was humbled to see that they are just women making choices each and
every day, finding strength within themselves and in each other.
Can it be so simple? Live a
good life. Accept what life may bring.”
observed. “They are not without
their own struggles.”
clarified. “I said simple, not
was the chief engineer on the bridge project.
Xena liked her. Though
young, Karis knew her profession. She
took care in choosing materials and she managed the work site efficiently.
Her concern for the safety and the welfare of her crew was obvious.
She also had the prerequisite maturity and confidence to listen to
others. Xena offered suggestions to
improve both the bridge’s stability and to simplify their work.
Karis was attentive. After
taking time to consider she shared her own thoughts to improve upon Xena’s
suggestions. Discussions between
them and the balance of the crew were thoughtful and void of ego.
That was when Cici remained outside of their circle. The
Northern Amazon was intent on proving her superior expertise to the exclusion of
others. Given that this effort was
not a military operation Xena felt no need to take command.
It was for Karis to rein in Cici. Observing
Karis Xena felt the engineer was exercising a high degree of, maybe even too
much diplomacy, tolerating behavior in the visiting Cici that members of her
crew would have never thought of acting out.
took a break to have their mid-day meal. Karis
approached Xena who sat alone off to the side of the work site.
“May I join you?”
somewhat of her own surprise, Xena welcomed the company.
took a place opposite her very capable work partner. “Xena, I want to thank you for your help.
I’m certain we would have gotten the job done.
But it would not be going as smoothly nor would our bridge have been as
smiled. “Well, lets wait until we
are done before we congratulate each other.”
you wish. Is there anything I can
do for you to make your stay more comfortable?
I am Tovi’s regent. She
would never forgive me if I did not offer you the best in Amazon hospitality.”
you for the offer. I’m fine.
Gabrielle’s quarters are far better than what she and I are use to on
also want to thank you for your patience.”
Karis looked up and over to where the work crew sat and ate.
“Cici was been trying at times.”
say. Why don’t you slap her
upside the head and knock some sense into her?”
laughed. “I wish it was my place.
Relations between the tribes is very important right now.
I would not want to create an incident.
My duty is to make life easier, not harder, for Tovi.”
I have no allegiance to any specific tribe.
If Cici gets on my nerves again, do you have any objections if I express
would welcome it as long as you demonstrate appropriate restraint.”
don’t worry. I may not answer to
the tribes but I still have to face Gabrielle.”
smiled approvingly. “You do not
veil your affection.”
wondered why the observation would even be made, “Should I?”
voice betrayed her amusement. “Doesn’t
the Warrior Princess have a reputation to uphold?”
picked a stick and hurled for emphasis. “Let
people think that love has made me weak. It has only made be wiser and stronger.”
Karis affirmed. “I don’t doubt
Xena turned to the young Amazon. “What
about you? Have you someone special
in your life?”
humor lessen. “I value my
is nothing more to say.”
judged the handsome young woman. She
estimated Karis to be equal in height to Tovi, about four fingers taller than
Gabrielle. Xena noted that the
blackness of Karis’ hair matched her own but its length was closer to
Gabrielle’s. It suited her well.
Her eyes were deep dark pools one could lose oneself in.
She wore a black tanned leather bodice and skirt.
Visually, she seemed more warrior than engineer.
The dagger on her belt was fine and Xena had no doubt Karis knew how to
use it for more deadly purposes than cutting a cord.
And finally, Xena observed Karis’ strength. She had the strength of someone who was not afraid to work.
Her taut muscles were formed from labor more than from sport.
A woman like Karis was not meant to be alone.
Xena felt compelled to reassure her.
“Someday you’ll find her.”
mused. “The question is will she
arrived at the Northern village. Ariel
received an enthusiastic reception. The
pitch for Gabrielle was equally as high. The
same could not be said for Tovi and Seda. All was polite, too polite.
The wariness was somewhat mitigated by Isra’s fine humor.
The young shaman enjoyed her time in the south.
Now on her own lands surrounded by her own people she knew the older
priestess would feel ever the more at a disadvantage.
Teaching the spiritual sage their ancient ways promised to be an
is never easy to be an outsider. Tovi
felt the distinction. She judged
that it could have not been any easier for Ariel, Damia, Cici and Isra to be in
the south. She only wished she had
brought a companion to commiserate with. Seda
had never been a confidant. Tovi
was happy to have Gabrielle. After
their first interview she knew a friendship would be in the making.
But only after tensions eased. Tovi
was certain Gabrielle’s generosity was boundless.
For now, with the interest of two tribes at stake, Gabrielle did not need
to be placed between two queens hungry for her favor.
sense of displacement only increased. She
knew Tovi’s beliefs lay away from Artemis. Though Tovi followed ceremonial and civic traditions she
never worshipped at the temple. The
tribe’s young kinswomen followed Tovi’s example without need to justify.
Why should they, they were no different then their queen.
It was ironic that Tovi who was a subtle, invariable threat now stood by
her as queen and defender of the south. By
simply standing among strangers Seda’s uncomfortable isolation mutated into
venom. Her assessment leaped to a
new conclusion. Tovi’s placement
was not ironic. It was
continued her role as host. She
accompanied the three visitors to the lodges that would soon be made ready for
them. She then invited them to join
her for evening meal. There would
be a ceremony that evening to give tribute to the Mother Goddess for their safe
passage and the blessings surely to have been enjoyed by their people during
altar was simple in construction, a flat white cut of granite supported at each
end by finely hued stones. A vase
held wildflowers. Upon the altar
lay tubers, grains, berries and fish, a jar of water, another of wine.
There were four tall, unlit candles, one at each corner.
visiting royalty Tovi could not forego the ceremony. She stood front with Gabrielle at one side and Seda at the
other, a placement to convey the Northern tribe’s respect for their visitors.
Tovi found the altar quite beautiful.
Upon it lay those things that give life to her and her sisters each and
every day. She could appreciate the
importance to pause and acknowledge their abundance.
It is only when one thirst and hungers that one does not hesitate to
express one’s gratitude for the satiation of an appetite.
stepped forward holding a small candle. The
amusing naiad she seemed to be was all but gone.
She embodied the reverence of the ceremony.
She walked purposefully drawing all eyes to her.
Her long blond hair fell over a simple green robe.
Her eyelids were drawn down humbly.
The small candle’s flame flickered with the evening breeze.
Isra stepped up to the altar lighting each of the tall candles.
Returning to center she held her hands up to the heavens.
Goddess. We, your daughters stand
her to give thanks for the life you have given us.
For the food abundant in our lands.
For the health we enjoy…”
looked around. The whole tribe was
present. Every one.
Every age, young and old. Every
occupation, from baker to seamstress; from warrior to healer.
What she would give to have this kind of witness at the temple. How old and discarded her own kinswomen made her feel.
And here she stood among them. It
was heresy. She herself must be giving offense to Artemis by seeming to
participate in veneration to another deity.
She no longer heard the words of the shaman.
She heard her blood pounding against her eardrums.
She heard different words within her mind.
‘This is blasphemy.’ ‘This
is wrong’. The priestess willed her aged body up the steps to the altar,
raising her skirt with her arthritic hands.
Isra stepped back stunned. Not
knowing Seda’s intent. With both
arms Seda swept the altar. The
tribute crashed to the dirt.
was mortified. Her words were a
private prayer. “By the
ran up and secured Seda’s arms from the rear.
“Old woman what do you think you’re doing?”
defended herself. “This is
countered. “You have no right to
came and stood before the priestess. “Seda,
stop this now!”
who in the struggle was lashing her body back and forth seeking her freedom
stopped resisting and raised her eyes to the queen. Gabrielle entreated her.
old woman quit. Gabrielle directed
Tovi to give Seda her release.
questioned. “My Queen?”
insisted. “Do it!”
complied. She looked over to Isra.
“You have my deepest apologies. I
had no idea this would happen.”
nodded. There was no amusement.
Only the pain of a woman fighting to her dying breath what was an
inevitable defeat. Until this
moment Isra had no idea of the depth of Seda’s pain.
As a spiritual woman she knew it was her position to help not ridicule
the priestess. Isra whispered to
Ariel who had come to her side. Ariel
turned to her tribe and called them to their homes.
The ceremony would not continue.
sought a private interlude to the rising emotions. She had underestimated Seda.
Never did she expect the priestess to be capable of such contemptible
behavior. Her desecration of the
altar was a sacrilege. The injury
to her hosts was compounded by her accusations of heresy. What Seda did not fathom was that the humiliation was her own
and no others. She lost both
Tovi’s and Gabrielle’s esteem. Gabrielle’s
only relief was that protocol dictated that Tovi be the one to censure the
small sweat lodge was situated beyond a grove of ash. It was hers to privately enjoy.
The steam heat penetrated her flesh and seeped into her muscles.
She drifted in thought. She
missed Xena. In the passing days she found herself looking out among the
women searching for the tall warrior. She
yearned for her partner’s counsel. Just
to have someone listen to her in total confidence as she tried to weigh the
possible outcomes to her decided action. The
loneliness of being queen never leaves her but it is lessened in Xena’s
company. She desired the
companionship of her friend who would take her hand and guide her to a new
plateau of observation. She saw
more in the independent dimension of Xena’s eyes.
She ached for her lover’s touch, for the magnificently strong yet
gentle embrace Xena offered.
was time to return to her duties. Gabrielle
stepped out of the lodge. The cool
air refreshed her. She stood
relaxed and hopeful. The sunlight
that cut through the canopy of arbors was muted. No longer the sharp rays of the mid-day sun.
She appreciated the difference. The
sun’s journey from horizon to horizon was announced by the colors of varying
degree of richness at dawn and at dusk.
chill traveled up her spine. There
was something wrong. She scanned
her surroundings but saw nothing to merit caution.
Still, she knew better. Gabrielle
heard the sound with dread. It was
the sound of an arrow cutting across the ether.
She moved to her left towards the lodge entrance.
The impact of arrowhead cutting into her flesh jerked her back.
Her left hand released her cloak. An
involuntary groan escaped her throat. She could not hesitate.
The assassin would certainly shoot again. The second arrow hit the lodge threshold just as Gabrielle
found shelter within.
fell to the ground. With her right
hand Gabrielle pulled her knife from her belt and planted it before her on the
dirt floor. With a quick stroke she
could kill an intruder. She leaned
against the lodge wall for support. For
a moment she closed her eyes focusing, calming her breath, taking inventory of
her body and her self. She explored
the wound. The blood loss was not
too great. She had time before she
would have to worry about loss of consciousness.
She knew she could not leave the lodge until nightfall. Even then the
risk was great. For now she
harbored the fear that her assassin would cross the arbors and continue the
quest to kill her. How would she
know whether an approaching Amazon was a friend or death dealer? Gabrielle’s spirit fell.
It was an Amazon, a sister who had attempted to take her life.
There was only one person who she trusted.
Xena was five days travel to the south.
Ariel and Tovi. What of
them? When would they miss her and seek her out?
She took measure of her breaths striving for clarity.
With each breath she spoke a silent prayer that she would be missed.