22 March 2021
The Healing Waters and the Forgotten Scrolls
Xena had finally fallen asleep. She lay prone with a peaceful expression on her face. The firelight was softening and enhancing her features alternatively as the flames moved in harmony with the gentle breeze that was blowing from the cave's mouth. Her bare back was covered with a light, loosely woven sheet because the heavy furs' weight was still bothering her, causing the muscles to cramp. The deep bruises had by now faded, and the wounds had healed well. Still, the play of her muscles as she moved in her sleep fascinated Gabrielle whenever she glanced over to her sleeping soulmate.
Since she wasn't yet sleepy, Gabrielle sat watching Xena, clutching an empty scroll to her chest. Her thoughts were on her brave warrior, who had been in so much pain since that last battle in the town of Jericho. The strange thing was that Xena had injured her back when a wall collapsed on her while she was trying to save a family that had taken refuge in the temple nearby, and not in an epic battle. It was quite bizarre that the sturdy stone walls suddenly crumbled as if they were made of sand when a mysterious blast from a horn was heard outside the city walls. Stranger still was that the dynamic duo was there only because of a favor their friend and healer Hippocrates had asked them to do. Apparently, the clay in the mountains and beaches of that region had miraculous healing properties, and he wanted a sample to study and analyze to see how he could use it on his patients. Gabrielle also wanted the opportunity to explore the mysterious and interesting sea where, according to her friends in the Academy, everything floated. The vast expanse of water was dubbed the Dead Sea because apparently, it was too salty to sustain life. But because of Xena's injuries, they hadn't had the opportunity to go to the lake… till today.
They were lucky to have found the cave where they had been living for the past two months, because Xena's injury had become so excruciating that her legs would go numb if she stood for a short while, so walking any distance was out of the question. Gabrielle tried to tend to her as much as she possibly could, by giving her massages and applying warm poultices to her back. But nothing seemed to help. Finally, Gabrielle wrote to Hippocrates, appraised him of the situation, and asked for his advice.
Thankfully, the messenger had heeded Gabrielle's request to hurry up, and he had returned today with good news. Hippocrates wrote them in a letter that his friend Aristotle knew of the healing waters of the Dead Sea and had many a time encouraged people to go and bathe in them. Since they were anyway there, what better way to try that treatment? He also said that they should not worry about what they might hear, or be afraid of the vast expanse, because initially, people were wary of the salinity, but once they started, they could not get enough of the healing waters.
Xena was by then a bit better and thankfully strong enough to make the short journey to bathe for the first time in the Dead Sea today. The look of happy incredulity on her face when she floated nearly weightlessly on the surface was enough to bring tears of happiness to Gabrielle's eyes. Thereafter, the peaceful nap that followed was like a gift of the gods.
Gabrielle started the day by writing in her journal. She had taken lessons in Aramaic from a merchant who would deliver their purchases to the cave. She thought it would be interesting to write in a lesser-known language, sort of like a secret language. She could put her thoughts, her feelings, and most of all her love for Xena in as much detail as she wanted to without being worried that someone would read and misconstrue the deep and enduring connection that she had with her Warrior Princess. She was getting better every day and reveled in the secrecy and the mystery she was creating with her tales and thoughts. She was grateful to the Muses for the inspiration she would get while writing, and most of all for the gift of learning new languages quite quickly.
These new scrolls were not to contain their usual exploits that she extolled on her travels. These were deeply personal, even a bit racy and maybe, just maybe, to be handed down to any child she might have in the foreseeable future.
Xena shifted and moaned in her sleep. She had goosebumps over her back and arms as the gusts of wind became stronger and cooler. Gabrielle immediately got up and covered her back, where the sheet had slipped off. She was grateful that they had this quiet time together, predominantly to let Xena heal. But she knew that the restlessness of her friend was just bubbling under the surface, and she hoped that the treatment would finally be effective and they could start the journey back home.
Gabrielle had bought an ornate scroll case made out of beaten copper in the market, and she carefully rolled up and placed her scrolls there every time she finished her writing in the evenings. She was sure that the scrolls would be quite safe from the elements in the beautiful case. For now, she had stored her Greek as well as her Aramaic scrolls together, but she decided that she would buy another case whenever she would earn some tips when she went into town for a few more bardic sessions at the local inn.
Gabrielle liked the cave they were living in for now. As a matter of fact, she preferred it to the inn, which was overcrowded and not very hygienic in the best of times. The cave itself was roomy, it had good ventilation, and there was a waterfall towards the back that flowed into a small but deep pool. The water was quite sweet and potable, and of course the waterfall acted as a built-in shower, so personal hygiene was always ideal. Now it was even more useful since they would be washing the salt off after their dips in the Dead Sea.
"Gabrielle," said Xena,"are you there?"
"Yes, I'm here, my love. What can I do for you?"
"I am feeling so much better today!" she said in her husky, sleep-induced voice. "I am looking forward to another dip in the sea."
"I am so happy to hear that, Xena, but remember we don't want to overdo things in the quest to hurry things along. As our friend Aesop said, slow and steady wins the race."
"Hmph," grunted Xena, halfway amused as well as miffed by the proprietorial vibes she was getting from Gabrielle. "I do want to get better soon, and I do believe that I will."
"Then we shall go together at sunrise tomorrow morning," answered Gabrielle. "There isn't anyone around at that time, and you will be able to soak as long as you like."
"That sounds like a good idea", said Xena, and promptly fell asleep again.
Gabrielle was happy that Xena trusted the surroundings, and most of all her, to sleep well. That definitely was paramount to her healing too.
The next morning, Gabrielle woke Xena up just before sunrise with a cup of fragrant mint tea. She noticed that Xena's movements while dressing were not as painful as they had been before. Thanking whatever god was listening, she let Xena finish her ablutions and restrained herself in trying to help. She knew that the proud warrior didn't like to feel helpless.
Today, the trip down to the Dead Sea was easier. And as soon as she could, Xena stripped off her shift and waded into the water, where she started to float on her back like a happy porpoise.
The days passed with a renewed light feeling that both of them had started to sense after a long dark time. Since the accident, they had felt a deep despair and helplessness at Xena's plight. Now, however, Xena had started light exercises and had promised Gabrielle that she would be careful not to strain her back. She had decided to start with gentle Tai Chi and yoga that she had learnt from Lao Ma, and when she was feeling considerably better, only then would she start her tactical drill and practice with her weapons.
While Xena concentrated on getting better, Gabrielle spent her days at the inn getting paid in money or food for her stories and entertainment. Her evenings were spent writing her scrolls in the new language while Xena slept. She had found a natural shelf a few feet above where they were camping and stored her scroll case in a deep niche she had found there every evening. It was good to know that her precious scrolls were safe and out of reach in case of rain or fire.
One day, Gabrielle woke up with a start to a roaring sound. It sounded as if there was a flash flood somewhere. The sound of rushing water was getting louder and louder. Apparently, unbeknownst to them, there had been torrential rains at night that caused the waterfall to swell and the indoor pool to flood rapidly. Looking outside, she saw that the rain had also caused deep puddles higher up and massive flooding in the valley. There was no way that they could stay in the cave anymore. They were in danger! They had to move out as quickly as possible, otherwise they would have been caught in the floodwater and dashed against the jagged rocks below. With Xena just on her way to healing completely, she could not afford to be injured again.
Gathering up as many of their possessions as they could, they exited the cave and gingerly made their way down to the path and immediately climbed up to a higher hill where there was some modicum of refuge from the rapidly moving water that was now disgorging from the cave and flowing like a rapid river below. Thankfully, they found a well-used path on the hill and were able to make their way towards the nearest town. Sadly, the hamlet where Gabrielle practiced her bardic skills was already under water, and the buildings were more or less swept away.
They found another cave to shelter in. It was more of an outcrop, but at least they were dry and the fire burnt well, keeping them warm. The weather cleared after a few days and the sky became blue once again. Looking around, in spite of the mud and wet spots, one wouldn't have thought that just a few days before this place was a scene of devastation. The scenery was beautiful and the trees were lush green. Even more so after the rains.
Gathering their belongings once again, they slowly made their way west and tried not to hurry or over-tax themselves so that Xena was able to get even stronger day by day. They crossed over a ridge in the mountains and saw a town in the horizon. On reaching it, they found that it was actually a bustling and friendly looking town. They were also happy to see that it was an established port with active marine trade.
Xena left Gabrielle to settle and get comfortable at the inn they were staying and herself went to see whether she could book a passage on one of the trade boats to Greece. It was about time they went back home. She was missing her Greek soil, especially her horse Argo, and she was sure that Gabrielle would enjoy a visit to the Amazon Village. While she was walking towards the docks, she heard someone call out to her. She turned around in surprise and was happy to see her old friend Autolycus hailing her.
"Xena! Praise the gods! You are alright! I heard that you were injured, and even possibly dead!" Autolycus was thrilled to see Xena alive and well and moved towards her as if he was going to hug her, but then he checked himself when he realized that he was getting too emotional. "Praise the gods!....Ummm….Praise Calliope?"
"Autolycus!" smirked Xena. "Yeah, I missed you too! What are you doing so far away from home?"'
"Well…I heard of the riches of this land and wanted to sample…ummm…. see for myself whether the tales were true…"
Xena laughed heartily 'and asked her friend where he was staying. It so happened that it was the same inn they had just checked in, and they had missed each other by just a hairsbreadth.
Autolycus was, like Xena, looking for passage back to Greece. He actually knew one of the captains that had docked there, and invited Xena to accompany him. The captain was happy to have three crew/passengers, though he was told that Xena would not do any heavy work, but she could be on board as a healer, while Gabrielle would be the cook/bard. Autolycus said he would help with any manual labor required. Since the ship was to sail that evening with high tide, they both bid the captain farewell for now and said that they would be back within the hour to help prepare for the ship's departure.
Xena and Autolycus hurried Gabrielle along with packing and buying last minute provisions for the journey. They also had a hearty meal at the inn before they left. All of them were relieved that they were finally on their way back home. Xena especially was looking forward to seeing Argo once more. She hoped that her brother was taking care of her properly.
The ship set sail just in time and the crew got busy hoisting the sails and taking advantage of the winds. Gabrielle immediately became busy in the galley, cooking the evening meal for the captain and the crew. They were all so busy that they didn't have much time to think. Xena also had her hands full with the minor aches and pains of the crew.
After dinner, Gabrielle sat with Xena near the prow of the ship. They looked up towards the beautiful star-studded sky and sighed in unison. They were happy sighs, of contentment and the sheer joy of being together. Gabrielle hugged Xena gently and put her head on her shoulder. It felt so familiar. She had missed this while Xena was injured and savored every moment of that loving hug.
All of a sudden, a thought occurred to her. Her scrolls! Had she packed them? They had left the cave in such a hurry that she hadn't given the scrolls much thought at the time. To be sure, she rummaged frantically in her pack…. But the reality was that she had left her copper scroll case with the Greek/Aramaic scrolls inside the cave. Even though she had hidden the case where she thought the flood waters wouldn't have reached, she was still upset that someone might find them one day and read about her inner thoughts and feelings. Some stories were quite racy and were supposed to be for her and Xena's eyes only!
Well, it was too late now, and they were hopefully quite well hidden or even flushed away. She sighed in resignation and snuggled up to Xena once more. Her home. Her person. She was looking forward to going back to Greece, to visit Amphipolis and of course her Amazons. But the best part of all was being with the one person she loved the most in the known world. Her Xena, her Warrior.
Breaking News – March 17th, 2021
Israeli archaeologists on Tuesday announced the discovery of dozens of new Dead Sea scroll fragments bearing a biblical text found in a desert cave and believed hidden during a Jewish revolt against Rome nearly 1,900 years ago.
The fragments of parchment bear lines of Greek text (presumably) from the books of Zechariah and Nahum and have been dated around the 1st century AD based on the writing style, according to the Israel Antiquities Authority. They are the first new scrolls found in archaeological excavations in the desert south of Jerusalem in 60 years.
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