Amazon Liberties – The Discovery
Skylark and Cath
Comments? Questions? Email Skylark at email@example.com, or Cath at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The characters of Xena, Gabrielle, Mel, Janice, and others belong in their entirety to Universal/MCA, Renaissance Pictures, and all the other powers that be. No copyright infringement is intended. We wrote this story at the urging of our muses; it should never be used for profit. Please do not copy or cite elsewhere without express permission of the authors.
This story depicts scenes of violence and/or their aftermath. Readers who are disturbed by or sensitive to this type of depiction may wish to read elsewhere.
This story depicts a loving friendship between two consenting adult women. If you are under 18 years of age or if this type of story is illegal in the state or country in which you live, please do not read it. If depictions of this nature disturb you, you may wish to read something other than this story.
Caution: May contain spoilers for several Season 5 episodes of Xena: Warrior Princess.
Our deep appreciation and gratitude to the Tavern Wall regulars, [Mezzo in particular] for their encouragement, suggestions and requests for more -without which the story may not have been told, the poems never composed, nor the two woven together. Skylark’s thanks to Cath for allowing her the opportunity to work with a very talented bard, a very patient collaborator, and above all, a super friend. Cath thanks Skylark for her inspiration and patience as a treasured pal and co-conspirator.
Chapter 1: Now…
You know what’s funny about garage sales, flea markets, and such? It’s the people behind the table. I always wonder about them. What do they really know about what they are selling? Let me relate a recent incident and I’ll let you make up your own mind about it.
It’s billed as the world’s largest flea market and I wouldn’t dispute that. For miles and miles along the Highway, tables, trucks, and tents were lined up cheek to jowl. What caught my eye first was the beat up steamer trunk sitting innocently but expectantly off to the side of the table. The elderly gentleman was peeking at me, but I strolled further down, hoping that upon my return the intriguing item would still be available.
An hour later, it was. I fingered some Art Deco jewelry he had displayed on a card table. He looked at me. I looked at a pair of earrings. ‘Hmm, does he know what I really want?’
"Mornin’, hot, isn’t it?" A simple enough start.
Great, Mr. Motor Mouth.
"The earrings, know anything about them?"
"Got ‘em in Charleston, they’s selling off some stuff from an old house. Mos’ of this came from there."
Well, I might as well bite his hook. Besides, I was getting hot and very thirsty.
"This old trunk, get it there too?"
As a conversationalist, he was a dud. I moved around behind the table and bent over to inspect the top. It was an old fashioned steamer trunk, the kind you might see on an ocean liner like the Titanic. It had a massive lock on it. I picked up one side. Very heavy. With an "Oooff", I let down gently. The lock was rusted, but undamaged. Well, he hadn’t bothered to pick it. Then I noticed faded gold initials in the middle of the top: M P J C. That must have been some name, four initials.
"You put a price on it yet?’"
He pushed a sweatstained panama up from his forehead and spewed a thin stream of brown tobacco juice toward the road.
"Five dollars and you gotta carry it outta here," he answered as the tobacco plug was shoved around his mouth and finally settled back in his cheek.
"Four and half." Said with a glare.
I glared back. "Three and a half or keep it."
He was probably as hot and dry-throated as I was. Or he knew more about the trunk than he let on. "Three seventy-five."
I handed over the money and he handed me a piece of rope.
"Mebbe you can drag it. "
Anyway, I eventually loaded it into the truck, poured down a gallon or so of iced tea, and headed home.
After a bit of a wrestling match with the trunk, it was finally installed in the middle of my so-called den/library/whatever. I attacked the ancient lock with saw and knife. Sometime in the night, the mighty lock gave up the ghost. So, might I add, did I -- almost. Flopped back on the floor. The trunk and I studied one another for awhile.
I finally knelt beside it and lifted the lid. Truly, I was not prepared for what I found. Scrolls of faded parchment, binders, and marble-fronted composition books, loose sheafs of graph paper, pages of neat handwritten notes clipped together. I carefully lifted the top set of papers out.
The heading on the topmost document read: Notes from the Covington-Pappas Expedition of 1947. A pleasant chill coursed up my spine.
Barely controlling my excitement, I picked through the remainder of the items. Then, reverently unrolled a scroll, just to look at it, to savor the fact I held a potentially ancient artifact, perhaps an actual scroll scribed by the Bard of Potidaea, Gabrielle, Queen of the Amazons.
The initials on the trunk’s lid finally registered. M P J C really stood for two owners: Melinda Pappas and Janice Covington.
Armchair archeologist that I was, I had followed the careers of Dr. Covington and her scholarly partner, Dr. Pappas in various articles and journals. Both had roots in archaeology and concomitant daring adventure. The surprise discovery of the Xena Scrolls in 1940 was the stuff of legend. Throughout that night and the following days, I carefully catalogued each item from the trunk.
Dr. Pappas had kept a running account of their discoveries, which included both narrative and verse scrolls. It seems that in one of the excavations the pair had discovered a large cache of what were ultimately named "The Private Scrolls." In my mind’s eye, I pictured the two of them the day of the discovery:
Chapter 2: 1947
Dr. Janice Covington snapped back the tent opening in haste, then paused abruptly at the sight of her lover seated before their campaign table. Several sheets of paper were laid side by side in front of her and a stack of books rested on the corner. Heavy heat blanketed the tent, the two of them, the world. Melinda Pappas, master translator of ancient languages, sprawled rather ungracefully on the chair, beads of sweat rolling down her temples, the glorious mane of hair brushing the dusty floor, her upper lip glistening. The Southern beauty was not quite at her best, particularly after their late night.
She lazily twisted her head to gaze at the good Doctor standing by the door. Janice wore a cocky half-grin on her face, the green eyes softening at the sight of one sweat bead sliding down a long neck to disappear beneath Mel’s khaki lapel. Janice’s figure was limned by a setting sun, the golden hair flattened by the fedora usually anchored to her head. Beyond, silence reigned as the crew sought cool shade for their evening meal.
Janice’s green eyes were captured by an intense sapphire gaze. Mel’s eyes narrowed as a finely tuned perception picked up barely suppressed excitement just beginning to roll from the smaller woman’s body.
"You found somethin’," she stated simply.
The cocky half-grin spread into a wide smile and the green eyes glowed.
"Yeah, come on."
Taking Mel by the hand, she pulled her out of the chair, slid her arm around the lean waist and twirled her in a vigorous circle.
"Why, my goodness, Janice. What are you doing?"
"Dancin’, darlin’. Just wait ‘til you see." The archeologist imitated her partner’s smooth, Southern drawl, bringing a broad smile to the tall, dark woman’s beautiful face.
Janice grabbed Mel’s hand and they hurried out the tent door like two kids at Christmas.
The tent stood at the far western side of the excavation, the location of which had been concealed. Dr. Covington, the professional, did not believe in disclosing too much too fast to the academic world; Janice Covington, her father’s daughter, was naturally suspicious. Their search for Arborea, alleged land of one tribe of Amazons, had been cloaked in secrecy.
They strode briskly to an area on the southwest excavations, marked off by stakes in a rectangle.
"Look close at the corner, Mel. Whaddya see?"
Mel gracefully squatted down, glancing at her lover. She obediently looked at the corner to see the end knobs of several scroll cases. The blue eyes widened and a smile matching Janice’s flashed across her face.
Janice had disappeared and Mel peered more closely at the side of the excavation. In a fairly straight line just below the knobs were dark rectangular marks as though stones had been placed as a floor.
"No," Mel murmured, "it’s like a foundation wall."
She dropped down beside the wall, gently scraping away age-encrusted dirt. Air stirred as Janice landed lightly next to her. She handed Mel a small brush.
"Here, use this. You’ll tear your nails." She herself carried a trowel and screwdriver.
The pair began to gingerly remove the bits of stone and darkened dirt around the cases, all thoughts of enervating heat, and the weeks spent with no discoveries, forgotten. Mel swapped her brush for the trowel, still intrigued by the dark rectangles. She ran the trowel’s tip along the top of them , stopping occasionally and tapping lightly. Meanwhile, Janice dug a small tunnel the length of her arm next to one of the cases and was scraping away layers of crumbling, brittle soil.
Almost on cue, they stepped back to survey their work. Janice clambered out of the depression and disappeared for a second time. She was back shortly with pencils, a tablet, and two dripping canteens of water. Handing the second canteen and other gear to Mel, she poured half of the water down her parched throat, and the rest on her head.
"Drink as much as you can, Mel. Don’t want you passing out on me."
Mel sipped at the cool water, then sat in the dirt and began a sketch of the wall.
"Well, begin measuring, Janice. The light’s going fast. What’s the designation for this area?"
"B-8," Covington replied, beginning a tunnel on the other side of the cluster of cases. "How do you think we can…. Mel, come over here. Your arm’s longer. Dig back here, while I scrape off the top layers, OK?"
They worked diligently for an another hour until the cluster of cases was completely exposed. Dusk had settled on the site and the crew retired to their quarters. Very delicately, the women removed the cases from their long entombment and placed them in an artifact crate.
Considering their possible age, most of the cases were in decent condition and the few scrolls they had examined proved to be well-preserved. The removal of the dirt and debris revealed some crumbling fragments of other scrolls, shards of pottery, and the beginnings of a floor plan.
"Come on, Mel. It’s getting too late. We might miss something. "
Mel sensed her partner’s unease.
"You alright, Janice? What’s the matter?"
"I’m just fine. It’s still hot and I want something to eat."
Truth be told, Covington’s excitement had just worn the dynamo out.
Work continued for several more days on Site B-8 and several sites surrounding it -- A-9 and B-7.
As more debris were cleared away, it became apparent that a fire had swept through the area as a thick layer of ash testified. They had uncovered the foundations of two structures -- one very large square building and a smaller one on the rim of the excavations. The smaller was constructed of stone and held the largest collection of scrolls they had found to date. But, on inspection, the contents were dry lists of supplies, armaments, inventories, and the like. Mel labeled it the archivist’s hut. No scrolls of tales or drama were found there, except for a fragment or two. Janice surmised that many of the contents had been lost to the fire.
The larger building proved to be a lodestone of artifacts -- crumbled leather bits, a broken knife blade, a curious small pile of thick leather strips, very worn on one side, neatly trimmed at one edge. The leather strips puzzled Covington for a long while, until a certain scroll was translated.
The number of scrolls was tallied at 38 in narrative form, 5 dramatic pieces, 20 in poetic form, a piece of papyrus, and other assorted writing.
The narratives had been carefully packaged and hand-delivered by Covington herself to an associate at the National Museum in Athens -- one Dr. Kelly, a master translator of
Classical Greek narratives. The remaining artifacts were retained on-site awaiting Mel’s expert attention.
Janice and Mel had been diligently at work for over a week when a courier arrived from Athens. The pair was having a quick dinner when Mikos scratched at the tent door.
"Dr. Covington, someone from Athens. He has a package."
"Bring him in, Mikos."
The two men approached the tent, the taller holding a legal size leather folder. He handed it to Janice.
"Dr. Covington, this is from Dr. Kelly. He says this is the first batch, more on the way." White teeth flashed in a glittering smile as he gave a slight bow.
Mel’s voice lazily drifted to the front of the tent, followed by Mel, herself. Janice grinned broadly.
"Told you ol’ Kelly would come through. Mikos, give the messenger some food and have him return in a hour or so. I’ve got a note to send back."
The two men headed for the cook tent as Janice tied the door flaps together. She strode briskly over to the campaign desk and swept aside the notes on which she’d been working. Pulling out a chair for Mel, she sat down and looked up expectantly.
"Come on. Let’s see what we have." Gleaming green eyes met steady blue ones.
"We are going to finish our supper and clean up this tent first."
Janice was suddenly on the receiving end of "The Look" and capitulated.
Mel leisurely returned to her seat and proceeded to neatly consume the remainder of the souvlakia and dolmates that Nicoles had prepared. She amusedly watched Janice rush around the tent between bites and swallows, straightening piles of notes, kicking a box beneath a table at the wall of the tent on which were stacked pottery shards, several scrolls and the pile of leather strips which so fascinated the archeologist. Janice paused and picked one up, staring earnestly at it, as if awaiting it to give her a message.
"How’s that?" she asked, standing in the middle of the tent.
Mel ignored her as she stacked the dirty dishes in a basket and placed it by the tent door. She took down several candles from a packing crate cabinet and set them in various strategic locations around their bed/sitter. Sliding a small square table by same, she arranged two glasses and a decanter of sweet white wine on it.
"Take that dusty cover off and help me put this on," she ordered, unfolding a multicolored cotton throw. Janice obediently removed the cover, tossed it over the basket and took the proffered corner. They draped it over the sofa.
"Bring three or so cushions over and light the candles, please," she said, smoothing the throw and straightening a wrinkle. Janice tossed the overstuffed cushions at her and proceeded with the rest of her task. She picked up the leather folder.
"How come you’re making this so, so…"
Mel’s eyes glittered in the candlelight, a barely suppressed gleam in them. "Y’all will see." A shiver of anticipation washed through Janice’s body. Mel sat and bent to pick up her translations and a notepad.
Janice was transfixed at the sight of russet flecks in the silky hair and the way the candlelight polished a sheen on the cheekbones and jaw of her lover. The flare of the candle washed over the aquamarine robe of silk that had magically appeared in place of the crisp white shirt and khaki Mel now favored. Janice swallowed hard.
"Uh, Mel," she barely got the words out as she tugged the collar of her own shirt. "How ‘bout you opening up this, ah, folder while, ah I, I check on something?" She pitched the folder in Mel’s direction and disappeared toward the back of the tent. Mel bent and picked the portfolio up with a little secret smile on her lips.
"Whew!" Janice exhaled gustily and wiped forehead and face with a grimy handkerchief. She looked at it, then crumpled it into a ball and threw it at the laundry basket. Pouring water in to the china bowl, she dunked her face in and out, then scrubbed vigorously. Ripping off her own wrinkled and grimy pants and shirt, she rapidly rinsed the muscled body and donned an exotic pair of dark green silk pajamas with a pattern of delicate red dragons. They were short sleeved and displayed her sculpted arms. She padded barefooted into the living area of the tent and paused watching while Mel poured wine. As she leaned back, Janice bent and brushed Mel’s head softly with her lips.
"Come on," came a throaty whisper. She vaulted over the back of the
sofa and plopped down. "Here, I’ve read the cover letter…"
"Oh, hell," exclaimed Janice, "I gotta write Kelly a note. "
"It can wait ‘til mornin’, " said Mel. "It’s nightfall now and the courier can’t leave."
"Yeah, you’re right. So, what do we have?"
Mel immediately turned into the scholarly translator. "Dr. Kelly has stated in the cover letter that as of right now, he has translated twenty chapters, plus an epilog, of a long narrative. Here’s the remainder of his translations, he’s numbered them in the order in which we sent them, so we can correlate them to the poems I’ve already translated. You know how we found some of them, folded in with ‘em, that hide tied to one, the papyrus…."
"Did you ever figure out what the hieroglyphics said?" Janice mumbled as she flipped through the neatly typed pages of Dr. Kelly’s scholarly work.
"Not enough to make much sense," Mel replied while arranging her notes and translated poems. Janice leaned back against the sofa and ran her fingers through the black silk hair curving over a blue clad shoulder.
"How do you want to do this?" she asked as Mel shivered slightly. "You read the poem, me the stories, vice versa, or..."
"Let’s alternate reading story and poem, " Mel said. "That way, we may get an idea of the chronology, where to place them."
"All right. Me first, then."
Janice began reading aloud to her partner from the narrative chapters. As the compact blonde’s rich, resonant voice filled the tent, Mel fingered the poems and listened intently, trying to discern where to interject them in the story.
Chapter 3: Then…. (and 1947)
Amazon Liberties -- Part 1
From the Private Scrolls of Gabrielle, Bard
Under normal circumstances, taking one's place as a Queen of the Amazons involves something simple and relatively dignified, such as donning a heavy, feathered mask and catching an eyeful of scantily clad dancers as they wriggle and writhe sensuously before the queen's platform. Maybe it means signing a scroll that seals the pact of queenship. This is how the Greek Amazons initiated my reign. (The Greek Amazons are "my tribe," as Amarice would put it. Dear Amarice. I pray that she journeys happily with our sisters on the other side, and wish I had seen her just once more… The necklace she made for me shortly before her death in battle serves as a constant reminder of our loss.)
But these Northern Amazons are different. Perhaps the cold, desolate sweep of their lands makes them tough and contrary. Maybe it's a cultural thing. But they relish rough ritual and self-abasement in a way unknown to the sisters of my homeland. The operating motto of the Northern Amazons must surely be: "What doesn't kill us, or embarrass us to death, makes us stronger."
Or maybe they just wanted to toy with me and test out their new queen. They probably thought me a soft, pampered innocent from the warmer Greek territories and needed to discern my readiness to assume command.
The first ritual of queenship involved stripping to bare essentials and dancing with my sisters in the moonlight. No problem. Most people who know me realize that I finally learned a few moves during my travels with the Warrior Princess. Once upon a time, the elders of Potidaea barred me from dancing at our village harvest festival. They claimed that my participation brought a bad crop. However, my skills have improved since then.
Well, anyway, back to the ceremony.
I was dancing and swaying in the moonlight, caught up in the rhythm (dare I say ancient rhythm?) of the Amazon drums. A voice from the circle of dancers surrounding me commanded that I kneel. I obeyed and went to my knees, my head back and my body open to the sky. I could almost feel the liquid moonglow washing over me, pouring cold heat on my naked skin. From the darkness, Cyane appeared. Out of the corner of my eye, I caught the glint of moonlight on metal. Before I could react, the young Amazon leader drew two long, deep lines on my right shoulder with the sharpest knife I had ever felt. Despite the shock, I fought the temptation to move away or strike back. I bit my lip to keep from screaming. This cutting constituted part of their queenship ritual. Enduring it without question was my duty.
Searing pain came, and ebbed. I grasped the shoulder with my left hand, then pulled the hand away and stared at my moist, red palm. The moonlight took on the coppery tint of blood. I thought I would pass out, but managed some deep breaths and remained on my knees until two of my Northern sisters helped me to my feet and began to soothe my cuts with warm, herb-scented water. I don't remember much beyond that, except dancing and drums until the moon left the sky. Then, Xena stopped them from sacrificing a horse to celebrate the gift of my right of caste as Amazon Princess to Eve, our daughter. The only blood sacrifice that night was mine.
After the ritual, several of the Amazons escorted me to a torchlit hot spring just outside the village. There, they allowed Xena to help me bathe away the blood and sweat. She carried me back to the hut we shared and we made quiet love, so as not to awaken the infant sleeping near us.
In the dawn light, Xena examined my stripes.
"That's gonna scar," she growled as she gently rubbed them with a healing salve and wrapped a clean cloth around my upper arm and shoulder. I could only nod. Then, to my surprise, she placed a tender, almost reverent kiss on the bandage that covered my wound.
Janice paused as Mel riffled through her papers. She pulled one out and tilted it to the candlelight.
"I think this one might fit here."
"Let’s hear it," said Janice as she rested her head on the back of the sofa. The translator began. Her slow, sensuous Southern accent filled the night.
First Set of Notes from the Covington-Pappas Expedition of 1947
This is one of several fragments of scrolls found at Site B-8.
Safe in Xena's Hands
I never felt that I could stand
And look the day right in the eye,
Until she stood beside me, resting
Her hand on my shoulder.
I never knew fierce strength
And gentle touch could meld
Until she stroked fire on my skin
And cooled my fevered soul.
I never saw the depths of earth and sea
Until her hand reached out and
Clasped me to her side.
I never touched a hand and wrapped myself
Until she draped my head with fingertips of gold
And sealed my lips with hers.
I never thought to give my heart in full surrender
Until she wrapped long fingers 'round my gift
And crowned her own with mine.
It is forever safe as we are forever one.
Translated by M. Pappas. Ascribed to Gabrielle, Bardic Warrior.
Mel finished her reading. The pair looked at one another in awe.
"By the way, excellent rendering there, partner," the archeologist broke the silence with a compliment for the translator, adding a wink and a grin. Even candlelight couldn’t disguise Mel’s blush at those words.
Janice picked up the narration from the point where Xena had kissed Gabrielle’s wound.
The whole ceremony had bothered my companion. Not only was she forbidden to participate, not being an Amazon, she detested the idea of bloodletting in the name of our daughter.
As I watched her put away the medical supplies, an alternative came to mind. Why not use water to symbolize the new life bestowed on Eve with this right of caste?
She liked my suggestion, as did the Northern Amazons, and a new tradition was born.
I thought that was it. I could just settle in as queen now. But "my tribe" had another traditional ritual in store for me. Did I say ritual? What I meant was traditional torture and torment…
Amazon Liberties -- Part 2
During the month following Eve’s rite of caste ceremony, I settled in to the queen’s role for my new tribe. It felt good to be needed and, for once in my life, I knew I could do this.
Many of our older, wiser warriors died in the battle with the Samite raiders just before Xena and I arrived at the village. Tragically, the battle also claimed our friends, Amarice and Yakut. Most of the survivors were just young girls. This left Cyane and myself as tribal "elders." Imagine that – Gabrielle, the kid from Potidaea, now an Amazon elder. (I am smiling sadly as I write this.) Xena rolled her eyes when we discussed that concept, but sometimes, when I held court, I caught her watching me. A look of intense pride crossed her face, ever-so-briefly, when I said or did the right thing. At these moments, my heart leapt and I wanted to lose myself in her – to be the innocent Gabrielle of old – to tell her that I still needed her so badly it hurt. I could not, and cannot, because I am no longer that Gabrielle.
"Wait," exclaimed Mel. "This one has to have been written then. Listen…"
Second Set of Notes from the Covington-Pappas Expedition of 1947
A second smaller scroll fragment found at Site B-7, close to a foundation stone. Covered with a layer of ash and dirt. One edge is slightly charred. The fragment was enveloped in a leather envelope with a bluish-green stone as decoration. Condition-badly deteriorated.
Has ever a friend stood at your side
More fiercely than my mate?
Has ever a beauty graced this earth
More lovely than my beloved?
Has ever courage shone in a heart
More fiery than my Queen?
Has ever devotion filled a woman
More truly than my love?
Has ever a love suffused a soul
More passionate than my Gabrielle?
Translated by M. Pappas. Tentatively attributed to the Warrior Princess, Xena. Penmanship is a different style than the first fragment. Hand is bolder, more forceful with sloping characters and pointed letters. Questionable translation of the word "suffused". More translation needed.
"What? You think Xena wrote this poem? Xena?" Janice asked in disbelief and amazement.
"Yes, I do. Look at the words and the style of handwriting," Mel said.
The two heads bent over the scrap of parchment in Mel’s lap.
"How’re you gonna prove it?" questioned Janice.
"You’ll see. Now, go on," Mel ordered.
Janice continued with the story.
I still need her, but it is a need born now of something more than my dependence or hero worship. It is a more mature, yet primal, need that I cannot explain yet.
Xena tried to fit in, but I sensed her wanderlust in little gestures: her impatience with the youngsters of the tribe; her refusal to plan beyond the next sunrise; her procrastination at fixing up our hut. We never argued outright, but we snipped and snapped at each other, just like my mother and father had after so many years together. Our love for each other, and for Eve, bound us through it all. I wish the Greek gods weren’t trying to kill our daughter – I’d like to thank someone for Eve.
Ah, but I digress. This is, after all, a tale about rituals.
Things were quiet until the next full moon. On the day before the lunar sphere waxed its largest, Cyane came to me and explained that the queen had certain ceremonial duties during her second full moon with the tribe. Although I already wore the scars of my first full moon ceremony for the right of caste, I agreed to this second ritual. I wanted to do my best for my young sisters. A lesson: Never consent to an Amazon "event" until it has been fully explained.
Cyane mentioned that the full moon ceremony involved the usual: dancing and drumming, plus some body decoration. I was OK with that as long as it didn’t involve more cutting, or tattoos. Xena snorted a bit when I described the ritual to her. To this day, I wonder if she actually knew what was going to happen. I imagine her chuckling in the warmth of our hut, snuggled beneath a sleeping fur, cuddling Eve, while I was outside, stark naked, howling at the moon!
This is true.
Indeed, they had me baying at the silvery orb, doing my best imitation of Sister Wolf calling to Sister Moon, until Sister Sun returned to the sky. I could barely speak above a whisper the next day, and never knew I had so many sisters.
Also, this occasion provided a great excuse for some curious youngsters to strip the queen and paint her body with mud. The stripping occurred rather quickly and unceremoniously. One moment I was clothed; then next moment I was not – no sacred words or grand gestures. Cyane had conveniently forgotten to explain that part.
"But it’s clean mud!" one young Amazon insisted when I shook my head and started to back away. Three of them pinned me in place, playfully, as a fourth began her artistic endeavors. I could have easily shaken them off, but decided no harm could come of it. The girls dancing around me seemed to think it special that the queen would allow herself to be touched this way. Many others took their turns with the sacred mud.
Cyane stood by, smirking, and explaining about Sister Wolf and Sister Moon. I noticed that none of the others painted their bodies or howled, including Cyane. But they whirled and cavorted to the beat of Amazon drums until Sister Sun made her way into a brilliant Northern sky.
Amazon Liberties -- Part 3
A difficult month passed between Eve’s right of caste ceremony and my moonlight mud anointing ritual.
Xena’s attempts to fit in with the tribe became increasingly half-hearted. She yearned for the open spaces and made no secret of her disdain for communal living.
On the other hand, I found a home here, and envisioned the revival of this community and restoration of its proud heritage. My first goal was to transcribe their oral traditions to written scroll. Most mornings found me asleep atop a pile of my writings, following a night of candlelit labor. Sometimes Xena would guide me to bed. Other times, I woke to find our bed empty and the Warrior Princess outside, gazing at the horizon with genuine longing.
I had plenty to do and took to it with enthusiasm, enjoying new sensations of competence and power, as well as the distraction from our disintegrating relationship.
Perhaps I could be a real queen after all? Part of me had always felt like a "pretender." I was not born an Amazon and had earned my right of caste only through a gesture of naïve, thoughtless heroism. Long ago, I shielded a fallen Amazon Princess from marauders’ arrows with my body. A foolish act of youth (and an unsuccessful one at that) made me an Amazon when the fallen princess passed her title to me with her dying breath.
In my anger and frustration at Xena’s noncommittal behavior, I hinted that she might be jealous because she was not an Amazon, and, perhaps, could never join, because she had killed Amazons during her dark past. This allegation hurt my companion. Her pain showed in her sullen attitude toward my sisters. I regretted the accusation immediately, but the words that escaped my lips had done their damage.
We grew apart.
Mel could not refrain from interrupting as Janice recited Gabrielle’s pointed statement.
"Oh, Janice, that is so sad. How did somethin’ like that happen? How could it?"
"I don’t know."
"Let me read this poem. I’m not certain, but it sounds like it would fit in. The timing’s right."
"Go on," replied Janice as she rested her head on Mel’s shoulder and listened intently.
Mel began somewhat shakily, but the rich contralto strengthened as she declaimed the poem:
Third Set of Notes from the Covington-Pappas Expedition of 1947
Brief description of Site B-8: Rough square outline, foundation stones at six points, oriented southwesterly. In the westerly corner, a large number of scroll cases, fragments and a small pile of torn and crumpled scrolls with several badly decomposed vanes beside them was found.
This is a medium-sized fragment. The writing covers only three-quarters of the sheet.
Several oblong and circular stains on the right-hand margin obscure some of the words.
Her smile for me has faded,
Her smouldering eyes, their brilliance dimmed.
Her fingers' heat, all vanished.
My hand to her has stopped,
My desire, colored grey.
My heart is ripped with loss.
Our fire, cooled.
Our lips that burned are now apart.
Our nights of passion, disappeared.
All I can ask is, why?
Translated by M. Pappas. Ascribed to Gabrielle.
This fragment was folded and inserted toward the Private Scrolls describing the events with the
Mel finished in barely a whisper.
The archeologist noted the translator’s dismay. Whereas Covington was able to detach herself and look at the events from a historical perspective, her companion’s poetic nature made detachment nearly impossible, especially when said events concerned their heroic descendants.
"Want me to go on?" Janice asked gently.
Janice continued reading Gabrielle’s narrative aloud.
Xena avoided me and we took to separate beds. We never expressed this hostility outright. Perhaps we should have just aired it and fought, but the memories of another painful time in our relationship still ran deep. So we bickered and sniped.
The same day that Cyane told me about my obligatory participation in the full moon ceremony, I watched Xena’s unenthusiastic attempt to learn some traditional dance moves from several young tribeswomen. My companion has more grace and natural rhythm than anyone I’ve ever met. When she gave up and walked away from the group, I knew it was out of sheer boredom and contempt. Disappointment clouded the girls’ faces. I had to say something.
Blocking Xena’s path, I boasted that even I could dance better than that, hoping a touch of levity might ease the situation. Failure. The counteraccusations flew and she loudly proclaimed that Amazon communal living did not suit her. The gulf between us widened even as we stood toe to toe. We could not pull back.
In a voice too nonchalant, Xena suggested a separation. She told me of her plan to take Eve with her to the northern river territory.
"The salmon are running. It should be good fishing, " was how she announced her intention – and broke my heart.
The prospect of losing Xena and our daughter, even for a few weeks, almost shattered me. Stubborn pride kept me from protesting her plan. Perhaps Xena wanted me to stop her, to beg if necessary. My reply was unrelenting silence. I dreaded the thought of just Eve and Xena alone in the wilderness, although no one could ask for a more formidable protector than the Warrior Princess in full motherhood mode. I couldn’t argue that Eve remain with the tribe; she belonged with her real mother. This thought tore at my soul. I would miss them terribly, and the uncertainty of our future together added another stone to my burden.
Xena planned to leave two days after the full moon ceremony. I imagined that things could not get any worse. I was wrong.
"No, they couldn’t have separated, could they?" Mel said forlornly, turning to her lover.
Janice clasped the two hands clutched in Mel’s lap.
"Hey, don’t cry. We know they didn’t leave each other permanently." She gently squeezed Mel’s hands.
"Here, have a sip of wine," and she held Mel’s glass of the golden liquid to her mouth. Mel opened it and sipped delicately. The wine glistened on her lips, which were grazed gently by Janice.
"Yeah, but I think you should read the fourth set. I’m not sure I can do it," Mel murmured as she rested her head on Janice’s shoulder. She let the fire of the wine and her companion’s honeyed voice carry her back to a bleak time. Janice began the fourth poem, which seemed to fit the tense situation between Xena and Gabrielle.
Fourth Set of Notes from the Covington-Pappas Expedition of 1947
A rather well-preserved and larger fragment found at Site A-9. This site is on the outer
rim of the excavated area and appears to be an archivist's hut with several badly decomposed scroll cases near a stone vault.
The lips my mouth consumed,
The tongue that danced with mine,
Long-forgotten who and where,
Her shoulders pillowed me for endless days,
Her fingers painted fire in my heart.
Now the air is full of loss and
Whispers mist against my eyes
As deep within my soul
Roil malaise and desolation.
For a lost love who not again
Can smooth her face to mine with pleas and moans.
I know love sang sweet murmurs in a far off spring
That melded to a dead and dry decay that dirges in infinity.
Yet, a song once sung is never truly gone,
Carving patterns in the air and tracing fingers on the heart.
Translated by M. Pappas. Ascribed to Gabrielle, Bardic Queen of the Amazons.
Janice finished the poem and gazed at Mel.
"Uh-huh. Keep on."
The husky voice flowed into the night.
Amazon Liberties -- Part 4
By the afternoon following the full moon howling and mud painting, I had recovered enough to resume my duties. Granted, I still dug the occasional grit out of various orifices, but I had managed to wash or scrape off most of it. I was grateful for short hair. Once upon a time Xena would have joined me in the hot spring and scrubbed me clean, then we would have returned to our hut and…
I shook my head to vanquish that thought. Several deep breaths helped contain the passionate fire that threatened to scorch body and soul.
Xena was walking out of my life. She reassured the young Amazons that our separation was only for a few weeks, until we worked things out. She never said that to me. She knew I never subscribed to solving problems by running away from them. My erotic notions took on irate overtones.
"Back to work, Queen Gabrielle," I commanded aloud. I refused to cry. The transcribing tasks would make me forget.
Mel broke in excitedly.
"I know this one goes right here. I know it does. Listen!"
Fifth Set of Notes from the Covington-Pappas Expedition of 1947
A small torn fragment found with #4
My Xena, does your body sing for my flame?
Do your lips hunger and burn?
Do your fingers yearn to stroke my skin?
Does your mind soar at my whisper?
Does your spirit fly to the stars?
Does your heart cry for my kiss?
Translated by M. Pappas
"Whoa. That one came right from her heart," said the archeologist, marveling at the creativity of her ancient relative.
Janice continued reading.
Several hours passed. The work took my mind off our situation. A commotion outside the queen’s throne room caught my attention. I glanced up from my scrolls to see an angry, determined Cyane stride through the hut’s main entrance. Two burly Amazon guards followed, with a frightened, young woman pinioned between them. They had tied her hands behind her. My heart began to beat faster, signaling the beginnings of blind rage. (Ever since the Romans crucified Xena and me, I react instinctively to anyone bound and helpless. Indeed, this Bard has a temper.)
Without hesitation, I scattered the scrolls and leapt down the steps toward the foursome. I brushed Cyane aside, snatched a knife from one guard’s belt, and severed the bonds that held their young captive. Her wrists bore raw, scarlet welts. My rage grew. The other Amazons simply gaped.
"What is the meaning of this?" I demanded in a chilling tone that sounded much like my companion when she wanted to intimidate and humble a foe – another lesson gleaned from the Warrior Princess.
Cyane explained that the young Amazon, Phillippa by name, had been caught in a compromising position with a boy from one of the nomadic tribes that sometimes camped outside our village. The lad had escaped, but Cyane was organizing a raiding party to drag him back to justice. Meanwhile, tradition demanded that I pass immediate and harsh judgement on the trembling woman who had collapsed to her knees before me. Cyane stated that the minimum sentence was banishment – in effect, a death sentence for one so young.
I helped the girl to her feet, then asked for her side of the story. When Cyane interrupted, I ordered silence. Phillippa explained how she and the boy became childhood friends since his tribe had passed through our lands regularly. Recently, she served as one of Eve’s caretakers and was most curious as to what it took to make a baby. Phillippa and the boy had decided to engage in some research.
Phillippa’s undeniable innocence shone through. Their attempted coupling held no intent of evil or seduction. I fought back a smile and told her that I understood. She looked relieved, until Cyane reminded us both that the traditional punishment for this offense was banishment for the female, and death for the male.
Despite her obvious capability as my second-in-command, Cyane was starting to annoy me. I turned on her and stated flatly that some traditions must be broken if this tribe was to survive.
At first, she looked stunned, then her countenance hardened, and she laughed mirthlessly. She straightened to her full height and stared down at me with flashing, brown eyes.
"You’re not fit to be queen. Xena is the real Amazon, not you."
No doubt about it -- Cyane knew how to hit below the belt. She inserted the dagger and twisted. Her words ripped my self-esteem. I had all I could do to keep from admitting that she was right, then walking out of the room, and away from my confidence forever.
Instead, I stood my ground. I ordered that Phillippa never see the young man again, without a chaperone, until she reached her eighteenth year. Further, I announced the pending appointment of a suitable mentor to answer the girl’s questions about love and sex.
The Amazon guards nodded. They appeared to agree that this constituted punishment enough. But Cyane was like the proverbial dog with a bone.
She had enjoyed my discomfort during the queenship rituals, and inflicted both real and emotional wounds on me in the name of tradition. Now, she issued the ultimate challenge – combat for the right to be Queen of the Northern Amazons.
I wanted to laugh and say "not again," then tell Cyane to lighten up. But her next words struck home. She desired a fight to the death.
Amazon Liberties -- Part 5
"You cannot be serious!"
I barely managed a rational reaction to Cyane's challenge. My body shuddered at the thought of mortal combat. I was certain I could defeat her, but for what? A fight to the death over a young Amazon's sexual indiscretion seemed foolish in the extreme.
Cyane's voice conveyed threat when she replied. She accused me with the truth. To her, I was an outsider who came to the tribe at their time of need - a pretender to the queenship of all Amazons, Greek and Northern alike. As a born Amazon warrior and elder of this young community, Cyane deserved to be queen - at least in her own mind.
Given the current state of my private life, I might have conceded on the spot. It would be easier just to walk away and allow Cyane to have what she wanted. I would be free to regain Xena's favor and restore our bond…
I was captured in my thoughts and preparing to surrender when Phillippa interrupted.
"The tribe wants Gabrielle," she proclaimed softly to Cyane, then she turned to me.
"That's why we asked you to lead us. We asked you, not Cyane. We know the story… Xena's legend, and yours. Yakut predicted you would come."
Phillippa spoke with conviction. Once again, my duty overrode my desire.
I stole a sidelong glance at Cyane. She did not react with anger or try to silence Phillippa. For a moment, her expression betrayed deep hurt, then her veil descended. In that instant, I realized Cyane's potential. She was not bloodthirsty like Velasca, who had once challenged me for the queenship of the Greek Amazons. Perhaps she was a little power hungry, but Cyane cared about the tribe as much as I did. No wonder she held so stubbornly to its traditions.
I called a truce for one day, during which time Cyane would reconsider her challenge and I would rethink Phillippa's sentence. (Although, that is the one thing I thought I did right during this confrontation.) Meanwhile, I asked that Cyane postpone her hunt for Phillippa's young friend - no use provoking his tribe, with which we were currently on friendly terms. I ordered Phillippa to attend to Xena until I decided her fate. The girl would help my companion prepare for the journey that would take her and Eve out of my life.
"Leave me," I commanded with all the confidence and regality I could muster.
Cyane and the Amazon guards marched Phillippa out of my hut. I waited until I was sure they were gone, then I sat on the steps of the throne platform. I remember looking up at the queen's chair and the writing table with its scattered scrolls through burning tears, then nothing.
Baying at the moon all night took its final toll. Gabrielle, Amazon Queen and part-time Bard, fell embarrassingly asleep on the steps below the throne.
Amazon Liberties -- Part 6
A cool, callused, yet wonderfully soft hand caressed my cheek. What a pleasant dream! Xena?
The Warrior Princess knelt beside me, gently stroking my face, trying to rouse a sleeping Bard. It worked. This was no dream. Opening my eyes to the breathtaking countenance of my companion, I drank in all the beauty my thirsty heart could hold.
Xena looked at me with a tenderness and concern I hadn't seen for weeks. She asked if I was all right. I responded that the day had just been a bit much and sleep won out over work. I resisted the urge to tell her about Cyane's challenge, just yet.
She appeared genuinely relieved. Then, she smiled - a broad, loving smile that took my breath away. Our eyes met. A long silence followed.
"What?" I asked at last.
"I read your scrolls."
"You read them?" This was turning out to be one heck of a day.
"I always said I would. I shared them with Eve." Xena’s eyes sparkled. Had she been crying?
Now, tears came for me as well.
I started to say something. I wanted to let her know how much her gesture meant, but she placed two fingers lightly on my lips and ordered my silence.
Perhaps I mumbled, or moaned. My initial reaction escapes me now. All other memories vanished, save for the sensation of her strength as she pulled me closer; the power of her mouth meeting mine, and the thrill of her hands -- exploring, igniting, soothing, possessing…
"My Gabrielle, my Bard, my Queen." With these words, Xena claimed me once again - body, heart, mind, and soul - all of me. I know I groaned here.
I started to pull away to catch my breath, but she held me fast, almost as if she hungered… maybe afraid to let go?
"Mmmmpphh. Thank you, Xena."
I finally managed to squeeze out a few words between kisses, strokes, and caresses. Of course, the words were woefully inadequate. Sometimes even a Bard can't rise to the occasion verbally. Still, I think Xena knew my heart and mind despite my lack of eloquence at that moment. The fact that I was sweating, writhing, grasping, moaning, hardening, tingling, and begging for more as she took me repeatedly may have had something to do with it.
Her ministrations compelled me to reciprocate. Soon, she was sweating, writhing, grasping, moaning, hardening, tingling, and begging for more. Obviously, we shared the same good taste in soulmates.
I forgot that we were making love in a most public place. After all, I was queen, and these were Amazons. Such liberties came naturally.
At last, we collapsed on a rug behind the throne platform, having used the entire hut, vertically and horizontally, to explore our long-dormant passion. Xena's head rested on my abdomen. Occasionally, she would turn a bit and plant a feathery kiss on my nearest exposed area. I stroked her hair. My thumb made gentle circles at her temples. She sighed.
I had just about decided to remain in this position the rest of my life, when the Warrior Princess spoke.
"What's this about a challenge from Cyane?" she asked.
"Who's Cyane?" I tried to elude her question.
"Gab-ri-elllle," Xena rumbled as only she could.
Our blissful reunion melted away like ice at the first Spring thaw.
"Oh, my, right in the Queen’s hut, they were making love?" Mel said in her thoughtful Southern drawl. "That’s where this poem came from, I know it. Listen."
Sixth Set of Notes from the Covington-Pappas Expedition of 1947
This is a rather well-preserved and complete scroll found at Site B-8.
Hands slide in and cup a head,
Drawn to your lips,
Mine softly meet you,
As time falls away,
Suspended in touch,
Lips to a temple,
A gentle kiss, another.
Cradled in heated fingers,
Stroked to the brink.
Colors rocket in a brain.
Flames from a tongue,
Sliding down a velvet cheek.
Ivory teeth sink in my flesh with tiny bites.
Lightning streaks to a heart.
Gold, red, white sparks in my vision
Surround a cherished face.
Thumbs sweep on brow, in hollow to jaw.
Gliding over lips of anticipation.
Fiery beads on my neck
A tongue glides to mine
And we dance.
A rush, a sea of passion and
A welding of sensation, lances streak from out lips
In mulithued waves as
Fountains and waterfalls, all silver and diamonds,
Cascades white-hot tear loose our souls.
Translated by M. Pappas Ascribed to Gabrielle, Queen of the Amazons. Found with a Private Scroll recounting an incident concerning the reading of some earlier scrolls, a rug, and a certain challenge.
"Whew! Gabrielle was some he…"
"Janice! She could paint wonderful images. Such a sensitive person."
A sly smile crossed Janice’s lips. A tremor of desire rippled through her compact, muscular body.
Yeah, I know," she responded, her voice low, husky.
Janice cleared her throat, consigned her passion to the back burner, and continued reading.
Amazon Liberties – Part 7
Have you ever been so at home in a place that leaving it threatened to break your heart?
That's how I had felt a moment before, with Xena's dark-maned head resting on my stomach. Our bodies still glistened from our exertions. We wore matching, satisfied grins. I sighed. She hummed quietly.
Then, the Warrior Princess ruined it by mentioning Cyane's disagreement with my recent decisions, and her challenge for leadership of the Northern Amazons. She told me that news of the challenge was all over the village immediately after Cyane and the two guards escorted Phillippa from the throne hut.
Desiring to postpone the inevitable, I steered our conversation back to pleasanter topics by asking Xena how she came to read my scrolls. She responded that she had encountered them while cleaning out Argo's saddlebags in preparation for her departure. She started with the one I called "The Return of Callisto" and had read three of them already. Her voice took on a hint of awe as she described each tale, with a running commentary that they all made her look better than she deserved. I signaled my disagreement, but she stilled my protest.
"I shouldn't have waited this long to read them, Gabrielle."
With this simple declaration, the Warrior Princess poured warm sunlight on my soul.
In my joy and gratitude, I moved so that Xena's head rested under my chin. I tilted her face upwards and kissed her firmly on that inviting mouth. She responded; we resumed our explorations -- almost.
She pulled away and sat up. My hand traveled the well-muscled contours of her back, then moved lower and toward the front.
Xena stilled my wanderings by grasping my fingers firmly in hers. My frustration mounted. I sat up too.
She asked a direct question: Did I want to designate her as my champion to battle Cyane? I stated that I would refuse to fight Cyane. I planned to run far away, as the tagalong sidekick of a certain Warrior Princess and her beautiful baby daughter - if they would take me with them.
Xena smiled, then reminded me that I never ran from anything in my life.
"Then maybe it's time," I grumbled.
"That's not you, Gabrielle," Xena scolded softly.
"Xena, I can't seem to keep out of trouble when I become a leader, here or in Greece. There's always a Cyane or a Velasca. Whatever made me think I could be a good queen?"
Her reply came without hesitation: "Your heart."
Xena continued. "Anyone who writes like you, who finds grace and meaning in everything that happens - is sure to make a fine queen. And that's worth sticking around for."
I couldn't find the words to express my gratitude, so I just looked at my love and gave her a smile that, I hoped, would tell her everything.
'Now, my Queen, how shall we handle Cyane's challenge?"
I was out of answers and told my companion so. It would be ridiculous to fight over a naïve, young Amazon's sexual awakening, but I knew that Cyane's resentment ran deeper. She thought that she deserved to be queen of our tribe, and my intuition told me she might make a good ruler. I had to find a way to allow her to preserve her dignity without one of us killing the other.
Xena and I sat in silence for several minutes.
Then, Xena's face lit up and she turned to me, grinning.
"I have an idea."
"Well, actually it's your idea, Gabrielle."
I must have looked at her with a very puzzled expression. She chuckled.
"You're the one who wanted to run… Then why not a run for the right to be queen?"
She paused, awaiting my response.
"It's worth a try, Xena, if the tribe will bend tradition a bit."
She winked at me, then added: "Except that I'll be the runner…"
Amazon Liberties – Part 8
"No! You’re not fighting this one for me, Xena."
I reacted without thinking and hurled myself against Xena’s chest, forcing the surprised Warrior Princess onto her back. I wasn’t angry, just indignant.
By all the gods, why couldn’t we just have a simple conversation that didn’t end in enmity or embrace? What was it, and what is it, about this relationship?
Xena could have countered and pinned me, easily; she had done so before. Instead, she chose to smile even more broadly, and moved one arm under the back of her head, then crossed her legs. She presented the picture of a woman at leisure – albeit very arousing leisure, with her perfectly formed breasts and firm abdomen exposed.
I knelt beside her, frustrated, stimulated, pleased, but mostly frustrated.
Xena kept silent. My move.
I recounted the battle with Melosa, Queen of the Greek Amazons, when Xena acted as my champion. I told of the time that Xena defended me when I became the target Velasca’s wrath.
"And what is your point exactly?" asked the Warrior Princess, sounding slightly bored.
"Xena, please let me do this on my own, my way," I almost pleaded.
Xena wanted to teach Cyane a lesson for challenging my right to be queen. I wanted to give Cyane the chance to prove that she could be queen. (My mind didn’t know it yet, but my heart had already decided to follow Xena when she left the village, as, indeed, she would.)
We discussed the risks. Cyane could reject the proposed contest and I might have to fight her rather than race her. Even if we didn’t battle to the death, one or both of us would inevitably sustain injuries. If Cyane chose to accept the footrace, she might turn out to be a great runner, in which case I would really lose – a prospect that didn’t bother me as much as it seemed to bother Xena. I might defeat Cyane and end her chances of assuming leadership, but she was the only other person who could lead the tribe at this point, young as they were. Xena adamantly refused to let me just walk away. So many possibilities loomed, and none seemed for the best.
"I don’t see many other options" I proclaimed sadly. "I’ll try to convince Cyane to race me."
Xena started to protest, but I silenced her with the logic that a footrace was about endurance as much as strength. I probably had greater reserves of stamina, given that Eve’s birth was not that far in the past. Logic prevailed.
Xena pulled me on top of her. I found my favorite "pillow" spot on her breast. We lay together like that for awhile longer, then dressed and headed off to confront Cyane.
My challenger was sitting outside her hut, surrounded by the few Amazons who constituted Cyane’s loyal supporters. She watched warily as Xena and I approached. Her faction let us pass, but remained close. I sensed their anxiety, but no outright hostility. Cyane was another story.
She fired the opening arrow -- accusing me of neglecting tribal tradition. I defended by citing the two rituals I had willingly endured; even Cyane had conceded there was no need for a blood sacrifice when Eve received my right of caste, so Xena’s interference in that ceremony had been accepted. As our debate continued, I forced Cyane to acknowledge my attempts to document our traditions for the tribal scrolls, if only for historical purposes.
After further argument, I gambled. I offered a footrace as the alternative challenge, explaining that the issue did not merit combat, let alone a duel to the death. As anticipated, Cyane opposed this idea.
Then, I recalled the telling of an old Amazon legend that occurred during my first queenship ritual, where Cyane inflicted the two cuts that now marked me as a leader of the Northern Amazons. It was the opening I needed.
"Cyane, do you remember the tale of Samsara and the Utma, the first Cyane
of this tribe?"
Cyane could not deny this story, wherein a young girl, the first Cyane, and a great warrior, Samsara, battled for tribal leadership in a grueling footrace.
"I propose another race, like that one. The winner takes the throne."
Cyane’s expression softened for an instant, then turned menacing.
"I accept, on one condition," she stated.
"Yes?" I asked.
Cyane paused dramatically, and looked at her followers. Then she met my eyes with her next challenge.
"The winner also decides the fate of the loser."
Amazon Liberties - Part 9
Reluctantly, I accepted Cyane's dark condition for our footrace.
Now, I had to win. Lives depended on it. Although I could count on Xena rescuing me if Cyane triumphed and ordered my death, it would mean pitting my dearest friend against my Amazon sisters.
Fortunately, I had some experience with running.
As a girl growing up in Potidaea, my mother often scolded me for racing with the boys. I even won a few contests, but it was not conduct becoming a young female of our village.
When I started traveling with Xena, an occasional footrace eased the boredom of too many days on the road. Early on, I cheated or demanded a handicap. Still, she always triumphed, or, when I won, it was because she allowed it. But I grew stronger and leaner during our journeys. Xena's long legs and incredible energy made it nearly impossible to defeat her, although I came close several times - without deception or a head start. I sensed a new respect from her. It was no longer a game between a superior and an inferior; it was friendly competition between equals, testing each other out, and laughing at how easy we were with our bodies. Sometimes our footrace ended in a passionate embrace that naturally proceeded to… Well, to another activity that accelerated heartbeats and breathing.
Then came the dark time when Caesar hunted and harmed us. After our resurrections, Xena's pregnancy curtailed some of these recreational activities. It had been awhile since I ran, but I preferred the upcoming race to the deadly alternative.
Cyane selected the course: a rough, country trail crisscrossed with hills and streams, tangled brush, and some open, flat country for sprints. Amazon scouts would monitor us at several checkpoints along the way. It was an out-and-back run. We would reach a turnaround point, then retrace our steps to the village.
Cyane, Xena, and I rode the route the morning before the contest. As we maneuvered our horses through the arduous territory, I fought to control my growing anxiety. A person could die out here - drowning in a swift stream, falling into a deep ravine. Despite the checkpoints, the terrain offered plenty of opportunity for an "accident" that could eliminate a competitor. I hoped that I had correctly gauged Cyane's intent and wouldn't have to be on guard for an attack. It would be tough enough just to outrun her in this event.
The afternoon before the race, Xena walked into our hut balancing Eve on one hip and holding my spare pair of boots in her free hand. She had disappeared right after lunch and I hadn't seen her all day. I glanced up from the scroll I was editing.
"Eve and I have something for you," the Warrior Princess announced with a wink, handing me the boots. Eve assented to the gift with a quiet baby noise that sounded somewhere between a laugh and a gurgle. My boots felt lighter than usual as I took them.
Xena explained that she had trimmed down the protective leather and inserted a soft, light cushion of sheepskin to line the boots' inner soles. I had imagined running the race barefoot and told her so.
This time, it was Janice who broke off reading. She grabbed one of the little bits of
"So, that’s what this is!" she shouted.
Mel smiled indulgently and pursed her lips.
"Looks like it. Now, will you please finish the story?"
"OK, " the archeologist grinned sheepishly.
"How can you take your victory walk if your feet are bruised, cut, and swollen?" Xena asked. "Besides, in a race this distance, you'll have an easier time if you can walk or run to the finish line, rather than crawling."
Xena's confidence touched my heart, but I did not share her opinion. I was certain that a tougher Cyane would handle the course without boots -- her bare feet giving her an advantage in speed. Yet I could not reject Xena's gift. She even added a joke about dedicating the boots to Nike, Greek Goddess of Victory. We agreed it was not a very good joke, given that every god in the Greek pantheon was out to kill Eve. Still, a touch of humor helped ease the tension.
And the boots felt wonderful. I thanked my companion with a hug, and a kiss for our sweet daughter. I wore the boots the rest of the day to break them in.
During dinner, Xena gave me a pre-race lecture, and insisted that I drink several goblets of water. For the race, she suggested that I bind my breasts tightly and wear a modified skirt with cloth between the thighs to prevent chafing. A band of cloth about my head would keep the sweat out of my eyes. This brief outfit, and the boots, would be the only clothing I wore for the run.
"You'll look like a true Amazon tomorrow, Gabrielle," advised the Warrior Princess. "You must intimidate Cyane from the start, but pace yourself. Let her take the lead now and then - just stay close. And drink from the waterskins at every checkpoint. Water is your secret weapon."
I listened and nodded. Xena knew about these things. My life depended on retaining the information she provided. She informed me that she would be scouting the trail to prevent any misdeeds on the part of my challenger. She distrusted Cyane.
After dinner, we strolled the village, then spent a quiet twilight in our hut - Xena polishing her sword and leathers, Eve playing with a doll that Phillippa made for her, and I recording the details of these events.
Throughout the evening, my sister Amazons dropped by to wish me luck. They did not favor the condition that Cyane had placed on the race. They knew that one of us might die tomorrow. The younger Amazons worried about what could happen if Cyane became queen. However, when I questioned them on why Cyane would be an unfit ruler, they had no answers. The woman was a good warrior; generally firm, but kind to other members of the tribe; intelligent, and brave. During the battle with the Samites, she risked her life to defend several of the other warriors. One of the young visitors divulged that Cyane felt intense remorse because she had failed to save Yakut and Amarice.
At last, the visitations ceased and the tension of the day claimed me. My limbs felt heavy and an overwhelming grogginess made it difficult to get through my evening bath. I didn't bother to dry off completely, just kissed Eve goodnight, and crawled into bed. The last thing I remember was Xena smoothing the hair back from my forehead and whispering that she loved me. I wanted to reply, but felt paralyzed. Even though this might be our final night together, I could not summon the energy to respond. I detected a sly grin on my companion's face.
As I drifted off, I suspected that Xena had added a sleeping powder to some of that water she made me drink.
Amazon Liberties - Part 10
I awoke to a pounding, uncertain whether it was in my head or at the door to our hut.
The pounding continued, accompanied by a voice calling for Queen Gabrielle. It was not in my head, after all. I rolled out of bed, pulled on a shift, and shuffled to the door. Gradually, my brain registered suspicion that Xena had slipped me a sleeping potion last night. My jaw tightened in anger. Why did she still try so hard to protect me? Why couldn’t I prove myself to her once and for all?
I opened the door with a snarl. Phillippa and two other Amazons stood there, looking sheepish. Phillippa found the courage to tell me that Xena had sent them. The girl informed me that the race would start soon, and I needed to consume some food and water.
My anger turned to bewilderment. Why did Xena drug my drinks last evening, then send someone to awaken me this morning? Had she intended to take my place in the contest, but changed her mind? The Warrior Princess had some serious explaining to do.
And why wasn’t my head protesting the agony that usually accompanied a sleeping draught? In truth, I felt well-rested and pretty good, considering I might forfeit my life this day. If I lived, I planned to ask Xena for the name of that drug she used on me.
I dressed as the Warrior Princess suggested: a strip of cloth wrapped tightly around my chest and a short skirt with a layer of cloth between my thighs to prevent chafing. As I tied the sweat band around my head, I closed my eyes and pictured the rugged course. My mind’s eye saw Gabrielle, Amazon Bard and Princess, gliding to effortless victory over the forbidding terrain.
Cyane possessed a reputation as a formidable distance runner. Xena and I had discussed where to keep up with her, exceed her pace, or hang back and rest. Years spent walking the road with my dark warrior had given me considerable stamina, but not speed. The recent acquisition of a horse reduced my time afoot, so even the stamina might be questionable. Xena convinced me of the need to use head and heart to win this race. My running ability would not suffice.
I pulled on the comfortable, protective boots with a blessing for Xena and Eve – who had given them to me yesterday. The Warrior Princess was right. This course was unforgiving – no bare feet allowed.
For a moment, I considered tucking a sai or dagger wherever a weapon would fit on my sparse attire. I abandoned the idea: too much weight and no concealment. Later events proved this a serious miscalculation on my part.
I left our hut (for perhaps the last time?) and strode toward the dining lodge. A few Amazons encountered along the way wished me luck, but the village appeared deserted. Presumably, most of the tribe had taken their places near the starting line or along the trail.
Xena and Eve caught me as I exited the lodge munching a thick piece of nutbread and sipping from a large mug of water. I started to scold Xena for drugging me. My anger eased when she explained that she self-administered the same formula to relax before her battles. She knew that I would not have slept last night, given my anxiety about today’s events, and that I might have resisted taking the potion voluntarily.
Enchanted by those glacier-blue eyes and her shining smile, I shrugged and let it all go. Only the challenge mattered now. Xena, Eve, and I made our way to the contest area.
Cyane awaited my arrival. She nodded as we approached. I tried a smile on her. She ignored the gesture. I noted her lean, strong body, and long legs. She was not as tall as Xena, but she projected formidability in an outfit almost as meager as mine. And she was barefoot. Tough woman. I decided that Xena’s advice about intimidating Cyane might be the only way.
Xena pulled me aside and made me drink another mug of water. Then, with Eve cuddled between us, she leaned down for a lingering kiss.
"I’ll be watching you," my Warrior whispered after we let go of each other reluctantly. "If Cyane tries anything, she dies." Xena’s statement held a chilling reassurance.
"Thank you, love," I replied. "I’ll do my best. Don’t hurt her; just don’t let her hurt me. And have a warm bath waiting when I return. Please?"
Xena scowled, but nodded "yes."
I placed a kiss on Eve’s forehead, then looked up into the eyes of the woman I loved.
"Xena, if anything happens…"
She cut me off with a firm hand on my shoulder. The spot still smoldered after she withdrew. It was a gesture beyond words.
The moment of truth arrived. Xena explained the rules in a commanding voice, and focused her coldest glare on Cyane when she came to the rule about no foul play. Cyane glared back.
I joined Cyane at the starting line – literally a line drawn in the dirt. My body shook with excitement, and fear.
"Runners ready!" Xena shouted. I took my stance, but turned slightly to memorize her face, and Eve’s. Xena flashed me a brilliant, confident smile.
Suddenly, I felt calm. A deep breath relaxed me further.
Cyane and I hurtled down the trail toward an uncertain outcome.
Amazon Liberties - Part 11
With the cheers of our Amazon sisters fading behind us, Cyane and I trotted along the road from the village, eyeing each other warily. At first, we maintained a moderate pace, unwilling to test each other. As we jogged up a slight hill, Cyane accelerated. I easily matched her and we crested the hill together. I took the lead on the down slope. She caught me when we reached the flat.
This game continued for almost an hour – testing our abilities, vying for position. Though the day was overcast and cool, I started to sweat.
We came to the first checkpoint. I accepted the waterskin offered by one of the Amazon guards and drank as much as I could while still on the move. I tossed it back to the guard, who had jogged apace with me. She snared it and waved me on. I shouted my thanks.
The challenger did not pause for water. When I turned to the guard, Cyane surged forward, putting several lengths between us. I pushed hard and came up just behind her. She slowed for an instant, then dashed ahead again. I matched her step-for-step, but labored a little more this time. Suddenly, I remembered the steep hill not far ahead.
Cyane planned to wear me down, then outdistance me on the climb. I chose not to play her game.
Again, my opponent set a blistering pace. I sped up only enough to keep within striking distance. She glanced back over her shoulder, but did not slow down.
She hit the hill at a dead run, but stalled midway up the slope. I kept a steady pace and closed the gap between us. I drew within arm’s length as we topped the hill and headed down. This seemed like a good place to reciprocate with some intimidation of my own.
I had just passed her on the treacherous downhill grade when disaster stuck.
Rocks and dirt skidded past. I heard a muffled cry and looked back to see Cyane hurtling down the hill directly towards me. She had lost her footing and was out of control. Before I could leap aside, she crashed into me. We both flew through the air. I hit the ground and tumbled, trying to roll as much as possible to avoid sliding on any one part of my body. Cyane rolled with me.
We came to a halt in a cloud of dust at the bottom. Cyane was on her backside, leaning up the slope. I was prone, on my belly, facing down the hill.
I lay there trying to determine if I had fractured anything in the fall, save my dignity. My breath came in ragged gasps. Fiery scrapes burned my chest and stomach, as well as my arms and the backs of my thighs and… well, all over. Nothing seemed broken, though, much to my relief.
Cyane looked as bad as I felt. Her body was a mass of fresh abrasions. She had also skinned her nose and left cheek. Blood oozed from a cut over her left eye.
I turned over, sat up, and then eased myself to my feet. My opponent flinched when I walked toward her. She refused the hand I offered, and rolled to her knees. Once standing, she grimly set off at a slow trot.
I called after her, urging her to stop and let me check her for injuries. She ignored that gesture too.
I had no choice. Despite the pain, I continued after my stubborn rival.
We jogged together into the next checkpoint. This time, we both paused. The young Amazon waiting for us stared in horror at two scraped and bloodied competitors. I tried to smile at her as she handed me a waterskin and a piece of bread. Part of the waterskin slaked my thirst; the other half cooled the scratches that covered my torso.
The blushing Amazon nodded toward my chest. The slide down the hill had caused my bandeau to slip, revealing more breast than I cared to uncover. I retied it and thanked the girl.
Cyane stood to one side, rinsing her wounds between sips of water. Her hands were shaking.
Quietly, I asked our "hostess" if she had seen Xena. She responded that the Warrior Princess had ridden through this station not long before Cyane and I arrived. Just knowing this made me feel better.
After a few more minutes, Cyane dropped the waterskin and loped off without a word.
Before starting out after my opponent, I told the young Amazon to let Xena know that we were both slightly injured, if the Warrior Princess returned, and that she should try to stay close. I explained to the girl that neither of us was really in shape to finish this race.
Still smarting from our fall, I set out to catch Cyane.
The tumble down the hill would soon prove the least of our worries.
Amazon Liberties - Part 12
The day wore on. The overcast sky prevented an exact estimate of the time. Mercifully, the heavy clouds kept the heat at bay.
I found that place between pain and oblivion where I could continue to run, and keep up with Cyane.
We forded several cold, swift streams - always with Cyane in the lead. The cool water soothed my cuts and bruises. I removed my boots at each crossing. This slowed me down, but the thought of running all day in wet leather provided great motivation for a break.
I noticed that my opponent was lagging as well.
On one stretch of flat, smooth trail, I decided to test her again. Digging deep into my energy reserves, I sprinted up behind her, then past her. Cyane failed to respond. In fact, a quick look back over my shoulder showed that she wore a glassy-eyed stare. I glanced down at her feet. Blood and dust caked the tops of each; I imagined the horrendous condition of her soles. I paused and waited for her to catch up.
"Please, Cyane, let's call this off," I pleaded as we shuffled along side by side.
"No, Gabrielle. One of us must win and one of us must die." She sounded hoarse, tired.
"Says who?" I challenged, and managed a weak smile.
"One of us must win and one must die," she repeated. Her voice trailed off and she refused to look at me or talk further.
"I know you don't believe that."
She greeted my argument by lashing out with her arm. Caught by surprise, I stumbled and went down. She continued on her way.
It would have been easy to just lay there and rest, but my fury got the better of me. This whole contest was ridiculous! And now, we were struggling just to keep going, battered and bloodied. We had not even reached the turnaround point yet.
Anger, pure and simple, propelled me to my feet. I ignored the pain and exhaustion as I dashed past her with a snarl.
"You asked for a race, Cyane, you got it," I thought in my rage.
I rushed along the path, leaving her farther and farther behind. Soon, she was out of sight. And just over the next rise was the place where I would turn and head back to my village, my victory.
I reached the turnaround mark - a large, shady tree - the only one of its kind in the area. But where were the two Amazons supposedly waiting there to ensure that we both arrived at the tree before turning back? It looked as if no one had been here.
Too tired to ponder their whereabouts, I paused to rest and stretch, expecting Cyane to appear at any moment. Several minutes passed and she did not come.
My concern grew. I jogged in the reverse direction, heading home. There was no sign of my opponent at the point I would have expected, given her pace. I started hunting for tracks.
Finally, I picked up the prints of someone moving along the trail in bare feet; drops of dried blood dotted the path here and there. Then, I noticed a second set -- bootprints. They were fresh, and too large to be Xena's.
Cyane's tracks left the trail at one point and headed into a brushy area. The other set of tracks did the same. My heart pounded as I continued to trace the Amazon and her "stalker" into the brush. I wished now that I had taken my sais or a dagger, weight be damned.
I sensed the body before it hurtled into mine from the bushes. We hit the dirt with a thud and a powerful hand covered my mouth.
I struggled to bite the hand and roll from beneath my attacker, at least enough to kick with my legs.
"Silence, Gabrielle!" came the harsh whisper. It was Cyane, and she had me pinned beneath her. Gods, she was strong despite her ordeal. Had she turned crazy and decided to attack me?
"Stay quiet and keep down," she ordered as she rolled off me. We got to our feet and made our way into a tangle of bushes, crouching as low as possible.
"What is this?" I demanded in a hushed voice.
Cyane explained that she discovered we were being followed and had left the trail, then eluded her pursuer. She caught a glimpse of him, and identified the man as a Samite raider - a sworn enemy of the Amazons.
My mind tried to comprehend what was happening. The tribe had defeated the Samites just a few moons go, at the cost of Yakut and Amarice, as well as several other brave women. What was a raider doing out here?
Cyane read my thoughts. "Most likely a straggler or deserter," she surmised.
"We have to go back to the trail and find Xena."
Cyane raised an eyebrow in surprise. I explained that the Warrior Princess was probably not far away, and that she had planned to watch over the contest from start to finish. By abandoning the trail, however, we made her job more difficult. Cyane nodded and we stealthily backtracked.
Suddenly, the sound of several male voices filled the air. I raised my head just enough to see three large men moving in our direction, gazing intently at the ground. I could not tell if they had spotted our footprints.
Cyane tugged my arm. She gestured down at her feet and my heart almost broke. She whispered that she could not hope to outrun our pursuers, and that I should go on without her. Alone, I might have a chance. If I waited for her, we were both lost.
I shook my head and began formulating an alternate plan. I figured I had enough energy left to draw them off, then double back and join Cyane in hiding. By then, Xena would find us.
Cyane was about to protest when the voices drew closer. I guessed that they had picked up our trail.
I ordered her to wait while I lured the raiders away. They were on foot and I knew the area. I had a slim chance of outflanking them and doubling back. Cyane would remain in hiding, then make her way to the trail. The Samites may not have yet suspected that they were tracking two Amazons.
We would be caught if we hesitated, and Cyane couldn't flee. Our best hope was for her to find Xena once the Samites started pursuing me. I kept faith that the Warrior Princess would rescue her bard. She had a knack for doing that.
Cyane squeezed my arm hard, and indicated her assent.
As the voices came closer, I checked my boots, stayed low, and took off at an angle away from the Samites, running as fast as I could. I heard them call out to each other.
The chase was on.
Amazon Liberties - Part 13
I scrambled through the brush, ignoring the rough branches that tore at my clothes and skin. Thank the gods (and the Warrior Princess) for my boots!
I glanced back. The three men pursuing me fanned out, flanking their prey. They yelled and whooped. Obviously, this was their idea of fun. I managed to stay ahead of them, dodging and dashing - doing my best imitation of a scared rabbit.
A stabbing pain in my side told me I couldn't maintain this pace much longer. I remembered the river several lengths to the east. Deciding I might evade the Samites there, I veered in that direction, praying for Cyane to find Xena soon.
Two Samites still followed, doing some scrambling and stumbling of their own. I could not locate the third raider. Fear that he had found a shortcut to the river and would surprise me there added wings to my feet. Pain forgotten, I charged up a small hill, then saw the riverbank just ahead.
My nightmare came true when a large, ugly Samite raider holding an equally large, ugly sword stepped to the top of the riverbank, blocking my path.
I cut sharply to my left, still dashing for the river. This gave one of my pursuers an angle and he closed the distance faster than expected.
The other two started in my direction. I skidded to a stop and reversed angles - still imitating that rabbit. The raiders skidded and tried to change direction with me, but the maneuver gave me an extra step. I saw my opening.
Swiftness born of fear carried me down the riverbank. I plunged into the flow, hoping that the Samites would not want to spend their day in wet armor.
I paddled to the middle of the river, letting the current carry me downstream. The Samites ran along the riverbank, but brush and fallen trees slowed their progress. I outdistanced them and started to consider my next move. Then, an ominous sound reached my ears -- the roar of a waterfall or rapids? Either was a fearsome prospect, even if I wasn't already battered and exhausted. I had to get out, but the opposite riverbank loomed steep, canyonlike, with no place to land. That meant returning to the territory still occupied by my pursuers. As I battled my way to shore, I kept an eye upstream, along the banks. The Samites were nowhere in sight.
I spotted a patch of sandy beach and began paddling toward it, fighting the relentless current. The cold water drained my energy and the shore seemed leagues away. If I didn't make this landfall, there would be no second chances. I stroked and kicked with every aching muscle in my arms and legs. When I dared to look again, I had made it!
With my last bit of strength, I dragged myself from the water and collapsed in the sand. I was shivering and spent, but knew I had to keep moving. My boots were soaked and my clothing almost nonexistent. I pulled off the boots, laced them together, and hung them around my neck, then retied the strips of cloth about my chest and hips. I could follow the river in either direction, but chose to backtrack, slipping in and out of brush and reeds, watching for any signs of my pursuers. Hopefully, this diversion had given Cyane enough time to find Xena, and safety.
Slowly, painfully, I made my way in the presumed direction of the trail, and my Warrior Princess. My only thought was surviving to see her and Eve again. If Cyane won our silly race, she could do whatever she wished to me, as long as Xena's powerful arms embraced me just once more, as long as I could inhale the fragrance of the new life that graced both Warrior and Bard. Eve smelled so good… Xena felt so soft, so strong…
I shook my head to clear the distracting images. Still no sign of the Samites. I left the concealment of the riverbank and staggered along the flat open space toward where I might rejoin the trail. I kept down.
Unfortunately, those Samites were good rabbit hunters. I looked back toward the crest of the riverbank in time to see one of them pointing in my direction. By waiting patiently on the high ground, he had spotted me. His two companions were now charging my way. My instincts told me to return to the river, but did I have enough strength left to outrun them?
Ignoring the rocks and brush that cut my feet, I whirled and dashed back toward the safety of… wait, there was no safe place. I had my choice of rapids or raiders.
I stopped running and turned to face the three men now bearing down on me, swords drawn, yelling fiercely. I took a deep breath and tried to stop shaking. Maybe I could reason with the Samites, or at least buy some time for Xena to rescue me.
Amazon Liberties - Part 14
As the raiders approached, I kept my arms at my sides, making no sudden moves, trying to appear brave, impassive, but not threatening. They slowed. When I didn’t run, they surrounded me warily. I met the gaze of the man who stood in front of me.
His eyes drifted to the striped scars on my right shoulder – the insignia of my royalty. I had forgotten those scars that marked me as a queen. Did the Samite recognize their meaning?
Obviously, he knew. A cold grin spread from ear to ear. He gestured toward my shoulder. The other two smiled, and one of them reached out to touch the scars.
I kept still, and avoided flinching when his rough fingers traced the marks. He grunted in satisfaction.
I found my voice and managed to retain some authority as I spoke.
"I am Gabrielle, a queen of the Amazons. I am not your enemy. Let me go and I will guarantee your safety as you pass through our lands."
To my surprise, the tall man standing in front of me replied in an almost civil tone, but with an ominous message.
"We have captured an Amazon Queen. Our safe passage is already assured."
He turned to the other two men and nodded toward me, adding, "This queen will be an offering to our chief. If we bring him Amazon royalty, he may spare our lives and let us return."
So, they were deserters after all. At least they planned to keep me alive until they rejoined their tribe.
One of them seized the boots from around my neck and examined them.
"If you intend to take me back to your tribe, then please let me put those on to protect my feet. Otherwise, I’ll hobble along and slow you down."
I directed this request to the tall man who seemed to be their leader. He nodded and the other Samite returned my boots.
I sat in the dust and made a great show of pulling them on. Wet boots would not be much good for walking, but I was stalling for all I was worth. Surreptitiously, I looked around hoping to spot a Warrior Princess riding a tall horse.
Once I exhausted the boot ploy, I slowly got to my feet and brushed the dust from my body.
The leader took a long strip of leather from his belt and started to bind my hands behind my back.
"Uh, we’ll move along faster if I have my hands free. I won’t run," I lied. We compromised and he bound my wrists in front.
The leader appraised me once more, then took another strip of leather and tied it loosely about my neck. He pulled a rough length of rope from the pack at his feet and secured it around the strip, in effect, leashing me. He tugged on the tether and we set off.
I employed every stalling tactic I could think of: stopping to use the bushes; stumbling to my knees several times; removing phantom rocks from my boots; pausing to point out the scenic wonders of the northern Amazon territory. My repertoire was just about exhausted when we halted for the day.
The Samites tied my wrists to my ankles, no doubt in revenge for all the bush stops. But they fed me some dried meat and water prior to securing me for the night. One of them brought a thin sleeping fur and laid it across my shoulders. I rolled onto my side and tried to rest in this awkward position. Morning would find one sore, stiff bard huddled beneath that fur.
Although I faced an uncertain future when they caught up with their tribe, their current treatment bordered on courteous. Perhaps they needed me "in tact" as a gift to their chief; or perhaps the Samites were more civilized than their reputation suggested. They weren’t particularly threatening. They saw me as a means to an end.
Two of the three men ate their evening meal beside a small fire, while the third kept watch.
I called out to the leader and he strolled over to where I lay. I had nothing to lose and needed to talk, so I asked a direct question.
"Why did you desert?"
He stared at me and cocked his head to one side. In the dim firelight, I noted his puzzled expression.
"We didn’t desert," he explained sadly, "we were banished."
I rolled over and tried to sit up. He helped me.
My curiosity aroused, I asked him to tell me more.
The leader began his tale.
Several tribe members had opposed the latest attack on the Amazons. Realizing a need to cross Amazon territory as part of their migratory route, these men proposed a treaty with my tribe, then refused to participate in the raid. They violated Samite tradition and the tribal elders cast them out, even though many of the tribe silently agreed.
Now, I provided their chance to get back to the tribe and survive. In their world, the tribe meant life.
I couldn’t help laughing a little. I told the leader that I was running a race to the death when they captured me, because I, too, had broken with tradition. And I was the queen of my tribe! We agreed that tradition had its place, but was not all it was cracked up to be.
I think he tried to smile. Then, I mentioned that two of my friends had been killed in the latest conflict with the Samites, and I wasn’t even there to fight beside them. He shared that he had lost his brother to an Amazon spear on the last day of battle. We concluded that it had to stop someday. Our thoughts turned inward.
Finally, he spoke again, softly, respectfully.
"Queen Gabrielle, my name is Stanos. I bear you no anger, although you are my enemy and my prisoner. Know this, though -- you will be given to our chief as an offering so that we may reunite with our tribe. By custom, we torture our enemies before we execute them. If I can prevent this and ensure your swift and painless death, I will."
With that dubious assurance, the leader released the bonds holding my wrists to my ankles. I thanked Stanos and watched as he returned to his place beside the fire. Though still bound loosely hand and foot, I would sleep more comfortably because of his gesture. That is, if I could shut down the storyteller’s imagination that conjured nightmarish images of torture and pain at the hands of the Samites. Just my luck to encounter another old tradition.
It had been a very long day. I stretched out on my back, closed my eyes, and listened to the sounds of the night -- waiting for Xena.
Amazon Liberties - Part 15
The air was wet, the ground was wet, and my sleeping fur was soaked. A light rain had started to fall during the night and continued into the metallic, grey dawn. I could barely control my shivering as I sat up with a groan. Every muscle in my body protested the movement.
Stanos took pity and brought me a cup of bitter, cold tea. (The rain had snuffed their fire.) Still, the liquid felt good in my mouth and soothed my raw, sore throat. After I finished the tea, he untied my hands and ankles so I could attend to my morning routine - which included finding some roots to clean my teeth, and a visit to the bushes.
When I returned to camp, the leader retied my hands and fastened the tether about my neck. We skipped breakfast that morning and set out toward the north.
The four of us trudged wearily through the drizzle and intermittent downpour, occasionally slipping in mud. Yesterday's dry, dusty terrain now soaked up the moisture from the heavens, and churned forth sludge. Darker clouds capped the high hills ahead of us. Silver lightning flashed through the deep purple sky. We faced more than a light rain when we reached those hills.
My body carried on automatically; my mind tried to grasp the situation. I wondered if Cyane ever found Xena, and how the Warrior Princess would track me when the rain washed away my bootprints. This weather would challenge the tracking skills of even the Warrior Princess.
I thought about leaving signs along the trail, but had no clothing to spare and nothing else to drop. Besides, the quiet man leading me by my tether would have noticed. I didn't want to test his good will.
Again, I silently thanked Xena and Eve for my boots. Even damp leather felt better than cold, bare feet at this point. I hoped they would survive this trek. I hoped that I would.
The rain continued throughout the day and the hills seemed no closer.
We stopped by a stream to eat more dried meat. I suggested catching some fresh fish, but Stanos said we had to keep moving. We rested in the shelter of a ledge, near the water. I asked if I could rinse my hands and face in the stream.
As the leader unbound my wrists, I caught him studying me intently. I looked down and realized that I wore next to nothing, all of it wet. The band about my breasts was torn in several places -- held together with strategic knots. My skirt hung in shreds from its woven belt. Had it been only yesterday that I donned these running garments for the first time? It seemed an age ago.
"I could use some clothes," I said as I watched him watching me.
"Your looks are pleasing this way," he responded. "And I don't have any clothing to spare." His last statement sounded like an apology.
"Maybe the sleeping fur?" I asked, then added, "I'm cold."
He ordered one of the others to bring the thin sleeping fur. I took it gratefully and wrapped it around my shoulders. It was damp and smelled of wood smoke, but I felt warmer and less exposed.
Stanos nodded toward my feet.
"Good boots," he commented.
"They are a gift from my companion and our daughter," I replied.
Stanos stared at the boots a moment longer, then called the other two men to join us.
He looked at them, then at me.
"We should let this woman return to her people," he stated flatly.
His companions stared at him like he had grown a second head.
Frustrated, cold, wet - their rain-soaked tempers flared.
They argued that I was their means to reunite with their tribe. Stanos countered that they had broken with their elders. During the heated exchange, one of them disclosed that they had already killed an Amazon, just yesterday. My tribe would treat them as murderers.
(My heart ached. Now I knew why my sisters failed to meet us at the turnaround point of the race. I could only guess what happened to the second woman.)
More angry words filled the air. Suddenly, swords were drawn. I rose from the rock and moved aside, letting the sleeping fur slip from my shoulders. I was better off out of the fray. A tense scene played out before me.
One of the men opposed Stanos outright; this raider still wanted to turn me over to the Samite chief. The third man seemed undecided. Stanos and his opponent worked to convince the vacillator of the rightness of their separate plans.
I began to edge away. This argument might provide my last chance to escape. I prepared to run for my life -- again.
Amazon Liberties - Part 16
My opportunity came as Stanos' opponent slashed at the leader with his blade, while the third Samite raider looked on in fear. So caught up were they in their argument, the trio failed to notice my slight movements away from the stream.
At a sufficient distance from the two combatants and their onlooker, I turned and ran as if Cerberus himself hounded me. I aimed toward a stand of trees just a ways in the distance, hoping to lose them in the forest.
Shouts of pursuit rang out from behind.
Short of the grove, I reached another streambed. Steep banks flanked both sides of the rushing torrent, but I had no choice. I could hear the Samites closing in. I was too valuable to kill right now, but they could make my remaining days miserable if they caught me.
I plunged down the bank toward the stream, then into and across the chilling waters. I emerged on the other side -- soaked and shaking, but scrambling up the muddy slope to safety. My brain kept repeating "the forest" again and again, willing me there.
Without warning, my head jerked violently as one of the pursuers snagged the leather collar around my neck. I fell back and the momentum carried us both down the slick bank and into the water. We wrestled together in the chilling current.
Stars crowded my vision as his hands tightened around my throat. I fought to catch my breath. Desperation infused courage. Snatching a large rock from the streambed, I slammed it against the side of his skull before he recovered from our slide. He rolled off me without a sound, unconscious or dead.
I seized the downed Samite's sword, staggered to my feet and prepared to face the remaining raiders. They came at me straight on - Stanos and the undecided third man. Both had weapons in their hands, but I had the advantage. They needed me alive. At this point, I didn't care whether they lived or died.
Stanos stepped into the stream and ordered me to drop the sword. The other raider followed. I tried to speak, to tell them to leave me, but no sound emerged. The tether's sudden jolt to my neck and throat had robbed me of my voice! I shook my head and backed away as they approached.
The leader and I crossed blades, but with little enthusiasm. I parried his first thrust and he withdrew, then lowered his sword. The other man chose that moment to charge me. I blocked his slash and readied for the next attack. A sudden thunderous rumbling and rolling of the earth forced all three of us to look upstream…
…Just in time to see an unstoppable wall of mud, trees, and rocks descending on us. It struck with such force that the swords flew from our hands and we were tossed like leaves before the wind. I tumbled, trying to roll with the flow and avoid the small boulders and tree limbs carried by the flash flood.
As the water swept us downstream, I grabbed for anything I could along the banks, hoping to find an anchor and haul myself out of this deadly onslaught. A large branch slammed into me from behind and I went under. More stars; disorientation. I clawed my way to the surface and sighted a tangled mass of roots protruding from the bank immediately ahead. I reached out, grasped one of the large roots and held on with all my might. The force of the water actually propelled me onto a dry ledge. I lay there, face down on the rock; panting, shaking, and dazed, but alive.
A shout from upstream compelled me to raise my throbbing head. About five lengths away, Stanos clung to a vine jutting out from the opposite side of the stream. Did I say stream? No. This was a snarling, raging, terrifying river, determined to finish us.
He shouted for help. The vine was slowly twisting, detaching itself from the weakened, soaked earth. In moments, it would break and the fierce waters would carry him off. Part of me rejoiced, until I remembered his small gestures of kindness.
Damn. I couldn't let him go - enemy or not. But what to do?
I looked around for something to throw to him and haul him over. Nothing materialized. I tested the roots that had saved me from the flood. They seemed well-anchored. If he could just fight his way toward my side of the river, I might be able to grab him as he floated by. No other plan came to mind.
I started to shout instructions, but could barely raise my voice above a whisper. I stood on the ledge and gestured for him to let go and try to drift toward this spot. Somehow, I conveyed that I would catch him. He smiled and shook his head, probably thinking it was an Amazon trick, or that I was not strong enough. He didn't know me.
I gestured again, this time with urgency. No matter what he believed about my plan, nature forced his hand. The vine snapped and the water carried him away from the bank, his eyes wide with terror and surprise.
Stanos fought his way in my direction. I rolled from the ledge back into the icy water, holding to the roots with my right hand, stretching my left arm out as far as I could. I had to hook him, then swing him toward the ledge so we could both get out of this alive.
He sped toward me. I risked extending my right arm to move further into the stream. I was now spreadeagled in the flood, ready to snare my enemy, and hoping a tree trunk didn't spear me while I waited.
Stanos floated past. He nearly leapt out of the water toward my outstretched arm and hand. He grasped that hand and held on. His weight wrenched my left shoulder, and I let out a strangled scream, but managed enough leverage to arc us both toward shore. He grabbed another set of roots and clung to them.
Unfortunately, my roots failed under the momentum of two people. I felt them pull from the mud, giving way torturously. I fought to grab anything, but there was nothing else. Stanos could not reach me. The water captured me – roots and all - and began to drag me away from shore. I had saved the Samite at the cost of my own life.
My panicked brain registered only the faces of Xena and Eve.
I never saw the boulder that struck the next blow.
Amazon Liberties - Part 17
I came to. But was I in heaven, hell, Tartarus, or the Elysian fields?
None of the above. I forced my eyes to focus on the surroundings. I rested beside a small fire, in a dry cave, under a warm sleeping fur, wearing nothing.
My head ached, and a sharp, excruciating pain signaled definite injury to my left shoulder. I had no idea how I got there. I vaguely remembered the icy, raging torrent, then blackness.
I was also very, very thirsty.
"Water." My lips formed the word, but no sound came forth.
A hand, strong arms, a familiar essence….
Tears filled my eyes. I struggled to speak, but she placed a finger on my lips to silence me.
"Glad to have you back among the living," quipped my friend as she gently lifted my head and brought a cup of cool water to my lips. I dribbled most of it and almost choked on the rest.
"Easy," she soothed. "Take small sips. That's it."
The water trickled down my raw, parched throat.
"I'm alive?" I mouthed the question.
"Just barely. You've been out for almost two days." Concern gave her voice a husky quality. I liked that.
"Let's just say I got there in time," Xena replied mysteriously. "No more talking now. Rest. That's an order. I'll have something for your shoulder and headache in a little while."
She lowered my head to the sleeping fur, but sat beside me and stroked my cheek. I smiled through the tears and pain. Sleep claimed me once more.
When I awoke the second time, I couldn't see Xena. I turned onto my right side and tried to raise up on my elbow. That simple motion brought the kind of nausea I hadn't experienced since my early days aboard ships. I groaned and rolled back.
Xena knelt beside me, telling me to keep still.
Cradling my head carefully, she held a steaming cup of liquid to my lips and I drank a small amount. As always, the medicine was bitter. But I trusted that it would help the pain - if I could keep it down.
"Stanos?" I whispered hoarsely when she pulled the cup away.
Xena looked puzzled, then understood. She gestured toward a corner of the cave with her head and helped me turn to look in that direction. The Samite sat against the stone wall, his hands and feet bound, and a gag in his mouth. He watched us intently. Did I just imagine a quick flash of relief in his eyes?
"We're taking him back to the Amazons," Xena growled, glaring at her captive.
I was too tired to argue. That could wait. Right now, the pain and nausea overwhelmed me. I fought the urge to throw up, sure that if I did, my head would burst.
Xena sensed my need to just lie still. She held me as I drifted in and out. Finally, I felt some energy returning, accompanied by curiosity.
"Tell me a story?" I asked in the barest whisper.
"Tell me how you rescued me, my Warrior Princess."
She made me drink more medicinal tea while she related events in her matter-of-fact style.
Cyane had found Xena on the trail. They encountered another Amazon who survived the Samite ambush at the turning point of the race – the ambush that took the life of her sister. Xena entrusted the injured Cyane to the survivor's care, and set out after me.
She tracked me to a river's edge, then lost my trail, but presumed I had drifted downstream. She found the beach where I had emerged from the water. That part of the search had cost her some time. Then, she located the spot where the Samites captured me and trailed us throughout the day, but was forced to slow down when Argo came up lame in the dampness and mud. Darkness fell. She had to stop for the night. In the morning, she set out again. She came across the remains of our campsite.
Finally, from a distance, she glimpsed a small figure running like a madwoman, with three warriors in pursuit. She guessed it must be me. (I grinned at the way she told the story, as if I did these things every day.)
However, the flash flood interrupted her rescue and the next time she saw me, I was helping Stanos. As I fought the raging waters, a rock tumbling along in the current connected with my skull and I went under. She thought she'd lost me, but she managed to haul me out. End of story - until I regained consciousness in the cave.
Her medicines had eased my headache and reduced the pain in my shoulder to a dull throb. With Xena's assistance, I sat up, wrapped in the sleeping fur and propped against her saddle. She fed me more tea and some sort of mush.
My voice had not returned, but I didn't feel much like talking anyway. I was content to bathe in the warmth of her care.
Xena and I slept close together that night. Although she couldn't hold me due to my injured shoulder, her proximity was almost enough...
...Until I felt Stanos watching us through the darkness.
Amazon Liberties - Part 18
After another day of rest, Xena pronounced me ready to travel. We planned to take it slowly, given Argo’s sore hooves and my injuries. The weather cooperated – no rain. While Xena left the cave to catch some breakfast, I rested. She had helped me dress in what was left of my clothes and I lay by the fire, gathering the energy to get through this trip.
A muffled sound from Stanos caused me to look in his direction. For the past three days, Xena had taken care of him, allowing me to avoid contact. Last night, she had asked me gently, but directly, if the Samites had attacked me sexually. For a moment, old scars surfaced and my body remembered the fiery invasion. I was no stranger to rape. But I had survived, and grown past my experience of Dahak.
I assured her that nothing had happened with the Samites. Relief shone in her eyes.
Simply put, I had been just too tired to think about Stanos’ fate or deal with him.
Now, he gestured forcefully that he needed something, and Xena was out. I walked over and knelt down, pulling the gag from his mouth with my good arm and hand.
He asked for water. I brought him a cup and held it while he drank. He looked at me gratefully, then spoke.
"Thank you for saving my life back there in the flood."
"It was the right thing to do," I responded, not knowing what else to say. My voice came out just barely above a whisper.
Stanos told me he knew the Amazons would kill him in revenge for the death of our sister a few days ago. I asked him if he was the one who murdered the girl. He shook his head, and I saw truth in his eyes. I assured him that I would do everything to prevent my tribe’s vengeance, but that there were no guarantees.
"Let me go," he pleaded, "and I’ll walk away from here."
My heart battled with my head. Stanos didn’t deserve to die, but he had kidnapped the Amazon Queen. Some punishment was due.
Once more, I held the cup to his lips. He drank deeply. Upon finishing, he trailed those lips along the hand that held the cup – planting small kisses down to my wrist, and causing a faint tingle to run the course of my spine.
Surprised by his ardor, I almost dropped the vessel.
Stanos looked up at me, his eyes filled with admiration, perhaps love.
"You would make a worthy consort for any man, my Queen."
It had been a long time since "any man" had flattered me so. (Joxer didn’t count.) I felt a warm blush spreading from neck to forehead. Part of me suspected the motive, but I recalled his kindness when he held me captive, and his reluctance to continue the fight when we crossed swords. I closed my eyes and almost gave in to the feeling. The thought of Xena and Eve brought me back.
I withdrew. Stanos pursued, eyebrows raised, flashing a suggestive smile.
"Untie me. Join me," he commanded with quiet passion.
"Don’t, please." My tone was gentle.
His smile turned sad. He leaned toward me, his hunger obvious.
"Why?" he asked.
I backed away, still blushing, but managed to whisper my reply: "I belong with another."
"Xena?" he said her name incredulously. "She’s a woman, Gabrielle. Such love is not nature’s way. You belong to be with… a man."
"Not me, Stanos. My love for her feels right. Sometimes, it’s the only thing that does."
He pondered for a moment, then admitted that he saw the love between us. He added that Xena had done more than just haul me out of the flooded river. Stanos had watched her risk her own life as she leapt into the raging waters and used her tremendous strength to drag me ashore.
I decided to remind the Warrior Princess about false humility at the first opportunity.
A sound from the cave’s entrance made us both turn and look. Xena stood there, her expression impassive. I was certain she had been watching Stanos’ actions. She said nothing – just tossed some freshly caught fish by the fire and prepared breakfast for the three of us.
Tension lingered as we finished travel preparations and set out for our village. I rode Argo, with Xena leading her. Stanos walked before us, his hands bound behind his back and his gag in place. Occasionally he slipped in the mud. Xena helped him to his feet, none too gently.
We were only a day away from the Amazons now, but even riding Argo taxed my energy. I couldn’t use my left arm, my head throbbed, and the nausea returned.
Xena stopped for the night. I was helpless and could only rest on a sleeping fur by the fire as my soulmate prepared a small meal and fed Stanos and myself. We exchanged all of ten words through the whole meal. Stanos watched us like a bird of prey.
Finally, Xena snarled at him and told him to mind his own business or she would add a blindfold to the gag. He obeyed and focused on something beyond us in the darkness. She half dragged him to a rock some distance from the camp, threw him a sleeping fur, and left him for the night.
She returned to the fireside and sat opposite me, gazing into the flames.
I knew she had something to say. I did too.
Amazon Liberties - Part 19
The fire faded to glowing embers and the night chill settled. Numerous thoughts and feelings stilled our voices.
Xena moved around to sit beside me and covered us both with her sleeping fur, adding to the warmth provided by mine. Her presence warmed me too - from the inside.
It seemed up to me to start the chat.
I spoke of the plan I had been formulating since that morning. We would use Stanos' original strategy of taking me back to his chief as an offering, then convince the chief that peace with the Amazons was in the Samites' best interest. Of course, Xena would follow very closely and rescue me (again) if anything went wrong. This scheme would also allow Stanos to return to his tribe.
Xena stared at me dumbfounded. Her "no" resounded through the night.
"You've already done more than your share for nobility this week," scolded my friend. "Besides, you're injured."
My mouth raced ahead of my mind to protest.
The Warrior Princess laid a strong hand on my good shoulder and squeezed.
"Gabrielle, no." She paused and inhaled deeply. "This is the closest I've come to losing you since…"
Xena didn't have to say anything else. The crucifixion still haunted us. Her sparkling eyes had a dreamy, faraway look, and her tone shifted from commanding to pleading.
"Please don't even think of this again."
She broke my resolve. I nodded. Silence followed. Peace with the Samites would have to wait.
After some time, I proposed an alternative.
"Xena, we have to let Stanos go. The tribe will execute him, and I'm certain he didn't kill our sister."
We argued quietly about the raider's fate. I failed to change her mind on this one too, and dropped the issue for the night.
But, Xena wasn't finished.
"In fact," she challenged, "I thought you might want to keep Stanos around."
Where did that come from? Caught off guard, I couldn't summon a rejoinder.
"Gabrielle, the way you acted with him this morning…. I saw you blush from across the cave…"
"I couldn't help myself, Xena," I stammered. "When he touched me I felt… felt… something…"
I hadn't realized my soulmate's fragility in this arena. Her stoicism concealed so much. The moment took on great significance, perhaps critical significance, for our relationship. A return to silence seemed best for now.
Xena pondered awhile, then spoke again.
"I understand that feeling. I wonder at times if you've missed out on something by staying with me."
In truth, my only "traditional" sexual experience had occurred one beautiful, ecstatic night with Perdicas, my husband. But that happened long ago. The next morning, he died at the hands of our bitter enemy, Callisto. My heart was torn from my breast when I held his lifeless body. Healing came -- very slowly. Then, while I never forgot Perdicas, a more complete and passionate love made its home in my heart and soul.
Carefully, I crafted an answer that might satisfy both Warrior Princess, and Bard.
"Xena, I won't deny the pleasure I felt when Stanos kissed me. You know how I like to be pursued…" I flashed what I hoped was a wicked smile. "But those kisses were flattery. They meant nothing to my heart."
"Looked like you enjoyed it. Guess I was a little jealous, that's all."
"Just a little?" I scoffed. "I thought you were going to kill him at least twice on the trail today."
The comment had been a jest, but she frowned at me, then asked, "Is that the same way you feel when… when I'm with a man? I mean, like Ares?"
Side-stepping seemed my best course of action.
"Well um, actually, Xena, Ares is more of a god, and…"
"Gab-ri-ellle….." she growled.
"Yeah. I'm jealous." There. The truth was out. "I desire only one love in your life, Warrior Princess - me!"
"Well…" she stated, cocking an eyebrow. My spine and various other regions really tingled.
I reached for her hand and brought it to my lips, kissing and nipping. My finger traced up her wrist and forearm, over a potent muscle, to her shoulder. With my good arm, I drew her toward me. My next kiss graced her luscious throat. I worked my way to her mouth. Her pleased groan told me I was on target.
I rolled to my knees and made lingering contact with her lips, my tongue dancing, pleading entrance.
Breathlessly, she broke away. "Your shoulder…" she began.
"What shoulder?" I questioned amorously as I leaned in again, planning to topple her backwards and banish all thoughts of jealousy.
She took my face in both hands, reversed the lip-to-lip assault, then gently separated, leaving me breathing hard -- aroused, ready and willing to pounce.
I straightened my left arm for better leverage. A blinding flash of pure agony destroyed our moment entirely.
"Owww! I yelped.
"That shoulder," the Warrior Princess advised.
I collapsed with an anguished gasp.
Xena gathered me in her arms and held me until the pain subsided.
"Don't hurry, my Bard," she whispered. "We have many lifetimes to share those kisses, and so much more."
She helped me into our bedroll and embraced me until she fell asleep. I lay awake with what I imagined was a silly grin.
Then, I joined her in slumber. Tomorrow would bring its own surprises.
Amazon Liberties - Part 20
I poked my head from beneath the sleeping furs, then instinctively reached for Xena.
The other half of our bedroll was empty
Humming from across the camp…
Xena busied herself with packing. She had let me sleep in, for which she received a big smile and a quiet "thank you." I stretched and tried to figure out which body parts weren’t stiff or sore.
She hauled Stanos to his feet and brought him back to the center of the camp. Removing his gag, she allowed him to eat some berries and dried meat.
He looked at me and his eyes begged my intervention.
I asked Xena to join me a little distance from Stanos. Again, I suggested that we let him go. Cyane had probably taken charge in the village by now. Stanos would die if he remained our prisoner. More death would not bring back the dead. Further, I faced an uncertain fate. Theoretically, Cyane had won our race and claimed the power of life and death over the loser -- me. I also worried about Eve.
Xena reassured me that even Cyane would not harm an innocent, especially an innocent with the right of caste as an Amazon Princess. Our tribe loved Eve; that was the only reason Xena left her daughter there when she came after a wayward Bard-Who-Would-Be-Queen.
The Dark Warrior appeared unmoved by my argument. She looked deep into my eyes and brushed my hair back from my forehead.
"Gabrielle, how can I ignore what he did to you? And what they planned to do when they brought you to the Samites?" She glowered at Stanos, then asked another question.
"Do you know what they do to their captives?"
"Stanos said something about it, but he didn’t explain..."
"It’s best that you don’t know everything, then," she continued mysteriously.
"Xena, he tried to convince them to let me go. I can’t turn him over to Amazon vengeance. Please."
She dismissed me and returned to her preparations.
Immovable Warrior clashed with stubborn Bard. I stepped in front of her, forcing her to pay attention.
"If you don’t, I will," I threatened.
She moved to brush past me, but I squared my shoulders and blocked her path. It was her turn to look astonished.
"You feel that strongly about this, then?"
"Yes," I responded with conviction.
She smiled at me strangely, as if remembering something long-forgotten.
"Whatever Gabrielle wants…" Xena half-whispered to herself.
She stepped around me, drew her sword, and walked swiftly toward Stanos.
"Xena, don’t…" The entreaty left my mouth before I realized what she intended.
With two swift strokes of that sharp-edged blade, she cut the ropes binding our prisoner and hauled him to his feet. He staggered.
"Get out of here," she barked at the stunned Samite. "You’re damn lucky to have Gabrielle to plead your case. Otherwise, you’d be dead now, or tomorrow when the Amazons got you."
"Go on!" She shoved him backwards. "And don’t let me catch sight of you again, or you’re a dead man."
Stanos looked over at me with an expression of relief and gratitude. Then, he turned and ran down the road.
"Wait!" I shouted after him. He skidded to a halt in the dirt and glanced back in fear.
I grabbed a waterskin and a pouch with a few provisions, then walked out to meet him.
"You’ll need these," I said as I handed him the supplies. "And stay off the trails. There may be patrols."
"Thank you, Gabrielle."
"Go in peace, Stanos. Good luck."
As I strolled back to camp, the Warrior Princess stared at me – her expression unfathomable.
She strode toward me and grasped my good arm so hard I flinched.
"I don’t deserve you," Xena declared in a ragged voice, her eyes filled with tears. "Gabrielle…"
I freed my limb from her grip and used it to pull her to me.
"We deserve each other, Xena. Now shut up and kiss me," I commanded.
Amazon Liberties -- Epilogue
Xena, Eve, and I stayed in the Amazon village for another two cycles of the moon - long enough for my shoulder to heal. I even finished recording the Amazon traditions on a series of scrolls. The tribe added my works to their treasured library. Perhaps one day Eve could return here and read about her heritage.
Cyane's experience during our death race taught her much about sacrifice and tolerance. She did not usurp the queenship in my absence, but commanded that the Amazons search ceaselessly for Xena and me.
I ceded my title to Cyane, with the consent of tribe. She would make a good ruler. I regretted missing her coronation rituals though, since we had to leave before that time. The thought of putting my rival through the same "tortures" I had endured summoned an evil grin more than once.
One morning, not long before we departed, the Royal Guards escorted a small group of men, women, and children into the village. Their leader was tall, proud, and familiar. Stanos. He had come of his own volition, with followers, and an offer to broker peace between the Samites and Amazons. After I managed to calm her down, Xena convinced the tribe to give him a chance. It would take time, but I sensed the leader might just pull it off.
I avoided Stanos for most of the days we were in proximity; the memory of his inviting kisses still lingered. However, we did share a mug of tea one afternoon - and talked of reconciliation. I thanked him for what he was trying to do. He thanked me again for saving him, and introduced me to the woman who would soon become his life partner.
As we packed to leave, the Warrior Princess noticed that I wore the running boots she had fashioned for my race with Cyane. Xena advised that I get rid of "those ratty things" as she called them. I firmly refused. A valiant struggle ensued, which concluded when the victor (guess who?) removed the boots, among other articles of clothing, and made mad, passionate love with one very willing Amazon Princess.
Of course, the Amazon Princess still wore the boots when the wandering trio took to the road.
Tonight we rest together under the stars - Xena, Eve, and I. Our child snores softly between us. I am writing this by the fire's glow.
Yesterday, Xena informed me that she plans to take us to Egypt for rest and relaxation. I barely control my excitement and anticipation. Egypt! As in days of old, the Bard of Potidaea follows her Warrior Princess to adventure. How wonderful it is to feel young again, and in love.
The darkness envelops us like a deep, weightless, ebony fur. My companion's gentle sigh signals her desire. I put away the quill and scroll.
Xena holds my hand. The sensation of her thumb stroking my sensitive palm sends waves of pleasure rolling through my body. She whispers in a lovely cadence, worthy of the most skilled bard:
"I wanted you in my arms tonight.
I wanted my head cradled close to your neck.
I wanted your palms spearing heat to my brain.
I wanted mine smoothing your thighs.
I wanted the scorch of your kiss on my lips.
I wanted my lips to burn deep in your heart.
I wanted your eyes to drench me in passion.
I wanted my soul to drown in our joy.
I wanted the trace of your tongue on my lips.
I wanted to plunder, to taste of your mouth.
I wanted your hands ablaze on my skin.
I wanted my nails raking your flesh.
I wanted your fingers exploring delicately.
I wanted my hands pressing you closer.
I wanted you draped in a net of stars.
I wanted us to be the night's music."
"You found it!" I exclaim with quiet awe when Xena finishes.
I had written the poem during my captivity with the Samites, but abandoned it when we moved on. They had slept heavily that night. I used a piece of hide, with charred wood from the campfire. I just needed to create something to keep her close to my heart.
A foolish risk? Yes. Worth it? Definitely.
"I found your poem when I tracked you to that first camp," Xena offers. "I love it, Gabrielle, and you."
Yes. The cherished women with whom I share this night are definitely worth any and all risk -- my Xena, and our Eve.
End of Gabrielle’s Private Scrolls
Chapter 4: 1947
They were brought back to the present as a candle sputtered, sending rippling shadows through the tent. Mel pinched out the tiny lights of all the candles except for the cluster nearest her shoulder. Janice rose from the couch and ceremoniously poured the remainder of the mezzo sweet wine in the two glasses and, with old-fashioned courtliness, handed one to Mel.
Orange highlights sparked in the glasses as they raised a toast to their ancestors. Resuming her seat, they toasted one another with a "Salut!," then drained the glasses.
Janice picked up the final page with the last translation. She reclined against the lanky body, molding herself into Mel’s curves. A long arm snaked around the cool silk shoulder and pulled her closer. Janice smoothed a wrinkle from the waist of the robe and slipped her hand in, splaying the fingers through thick soft curls. Mel’s body vibrated slightly.
With a throaty growl seeping into Mel’s ear, Janice commenced reading the poem they had entitled "To Hold A Queen"
"This is the one we found with folded with two Private Scrolls" the archeologist whispered reverently.
Eighth Set of Notes from the Covington-Pappas Expedition of 1947
This is another unusual artifact found at Site B-8. The following is a short narrative followed by a poem. Explanatory notes follow.
While searching for Gabrielle and her Samite captors, I located their first camp and
found what I took to be a message from her. I had forgotten how beautifully my bard
could craft words, how her simplest phrases could pierce my soul. What I read was exquisite, provoking, stimulating. After rescuing her and tending her injuries, we rested until we could embrace. These words came to me. How cherished and loved my soulmate is!
To Hold A Queen
To feel her body settle down upon me,
Its sweet heaviness melding to my bones.
To have my hands blaze sunlines on her sides,
Their need echoing in my every nerve.
To have her fingers caress each scar, each knot of muscle,
Torching indescribable sensations, gentling old pains.
To have my vision load with broken bits of color,
My eyes blinded by her beauty.
To feel her lips rake my skin, burning, searing.
Branding her to me.
To trace my tongue in delicate exploration,
A pearly ear, an aching mouth, a pleading nipple.
To hear her heave of breath sweet and hot, piercing my heart,
To the hollow of my soul, the icy cave where once I lived.
To hold my beloved as though an urn of crystal,
Fragile, yet unbreakable, shot through with green and gold.
To have her voice of honey flowing on my breast,
It's beauty seeping to my bones.
To feel my heart explode with thunder,
Matching beat for beat, her quivering heart.
To have her arms wrap around my heart,
To hold a queen.
Translated by M. Pappas.
This artifact was found folded with two Private Scrolls detailing an account of the rescue of Gabrielle by Xena, an apparent aftermath of the challenge race and subsequent events. It is assigned to Xena, Warrior Princess as evidenced first by the trademark initial "X". A different hand wrote this work, reminiscent of the second scroll-very bold and forceful, the letters more sloping. With the evidence of the "X" on the scroll, I can now be reasonably assured that the second scroll fragment was written by Xena and is indeed her composition.
Let us now address ourselves to the medium itself. It is not the usual parchment material. It is papyrus and on the reverse are scribed what appears to be hieroglyphics. Translation is needed by an Egyptologist. The material has been neatly trimmed into a rectangle 38 mm by 50 mm.
I have taken the title from the last line.
As she finished reading, Janice raised her head to devour a sapphire glow. A jeweled chain pulled the burnished gold head to a black silk net to lightly smooth its cheek against the other one. The paper fell forgotten to the floor. Rustles of silk against silk, quick whispers. The soft "thunk" of a tumbling glass broke the silence.
A hand traced the sweet line of neck on the body above it. Lips flared along the curve of a breast. Half-spoken words floated on stillness. Ivory flashed as a nipple was attacked. Limbs entangled as they pulled closer. Heaves and pants counterpointed with a ballet of tongues and stroking fingers.
A stifled moan, the dimly silhouetted shapes rose and fell, melding into a single form. Faint golden light washed the figures, the discarded silks, the decanter, creating a smooth shadow on a far wall. Silence, and all breath was held; a joined cry, then stillness.
As the candlelight evaporated, two voices whispered together "To hold my queen," and a quiet, full darkness enveloped them.
Chapter 4: Now….
I drowsily stirred in the old Adirondack chair, then looked around. I wasn’t in Greece any more. My head was falling on my shoulder, arm dangling to floor, my ice tea was warm. Still in the house, still holding one of Dr. Pappas’ notebooks in my hand. ‘Gee, some dream.’ I could still see bits of it - a tent, Covington digging around a scroll, Pappas intently making notes.
"Well, tomorrow, we gotta get you cleaned up and call our good buddy the writer over here," I explained to the old trunk. "She’ll go nuts."
The trunk just sat there expectantly.
Following is the translation of the seventh poem and accompanying notes in their entirety:
Seventh Set of Notes from the Covington-Pappas Expedition of 1947
This was found at Site B-8. See explanatory note below.
I wanted you in my arms tonight.
I wanted my head cradled close to your neck.
I wanted your palms spearing heat to my brain.
I wanted mine smoothing your thighs.
I wanted the scorch of your kiss on my breast.
I wanted my lips to burn deep in your heart.
I wanted your eyes to drench me in passion.
I wanted my soul to drown in our joy.
I wanted the trace of your tongue on my lips.
I wanted to plunder, to taste of your mouth.
I wanted your hand ablaze on my skin.
I wanted my nails raking your flesh.
I wanted your fingers exploring delicately.
I wanted my hands pulling you closer.
I wanted you wrapped in a net of stars.
I wanted us to be the night's music.
This was written on a very worn square of cured deerhide with what appears to have been a piece of burned kindling wood. Trans. note #1 possibly filched from a campfire as the writing medium is not ink, but rather a charcoal like substance. The hand is not quite as neat as usual.
The hide was beneath and tied to a Private Scroll further detailing a challenge to the death made by one Cyane, Queen-Aspirant. The challenge involved a foot race across Amazon territory. Unusual for this collection of writings, there is at the bottom, beneath Gabrielle’s mark, this addendum:
This came to me during what might be last night alive while awaiting rescue by my lover. The Samite exiles are sleeping (they keep a pitiful watch) but I dare not attempt escape. My feet are killing me
Comments? Questions? Email Skylark at email@example.com, or Cath at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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