The Amazon Queen
Part XII: Malatyra(2)
by L. M. Townsend
and Becky Love
DISCLAIMERS: The characters of Xena, Gabrielle, Cyrenê, Virgil, Eve, Alti, Callisto, Autolycus, Joxer, et al (meaning anyone else we didn't list and should have.) are the property of MCA, Universal, and Renaissance Pictures and anyone else who has a legal claim (thanks for letting the girls come out to play!) Melysë and The Amazons belong to themselves, though, (and I dare any man to say different!)This story is ours, though, and written just for fun, not profit.
Subtext? Subtext? - YES
Violence: YES, some very mild.
Language: Some - pretty tame, though.
*Spoiler Alert - several references to various episodes throughout the history of the show, especially LOST MARINER, HOOVES AND HARLOTS and THEM BONES, THEM BONES
Okay, this is the alternative version of Malatyra - the non-graphic one. If you're looking for explicit scenes, see Part XI, otherwise this is essentially that same story, with a few other changes. The story arc in part XI will be continued - as soon as Becky is back on-line - and I plan to continue the series along the same lines as it began as well - so hopefully, we'll have something for everyone. I want to thank Becky for her friendship and for her considerable input in this one. Part XI is really mostly hers.
This one is lovingly dedicated to my Chosen Sister, "Tai'" - the first person who ever read my stories, and encouraged me to keep writing. Thank-you, Sister - for everything. You mean more to me than you can know.
Xena dismissed the Amazon runner and tucked the parchment into her zona for later. Smiling, she lightly touched the familiar seal insignia. It had been a moon since her heart-mate, Queen Melysë had received word of her cousin's impending betrothal, begging the priestess to come and perform the ceremony and a week since she had travelled to Themiscyreia, the capital city of the Amazon Nation, and Xena missed her. If she had not been needed here in Aemetzainê, she would have followed, but as the Warrior Queen of this Tribe - and as a parent, she had responsibilities that kept her.
Not like the old days, when I was free to roam, just Argo and Gabrielle and I, walking or riding along the trail, each day bringing a new challenge, thought Xena. No responsibilities - except the purging of my own conscience, that is. No trouble - except bandits, warlords, capricious gods, and bounty hunters - and the constant reminders of my past. Except for Gabrielle, those were dark days, indeed. Still, I miss... some of it...
Just then, the warrior's thoughts were interrupted by her girls. Arynë, the very image of her mother, Melysë, with her dark hair, fair skin, and green eyes, came in, carrying her youngest sister, Neiromei, also the very image of their mother except for her arresting blue eyes - which were Xena's own. Selenë, the mirror image of an adolescent Xena, followed them, quiet as always. Neiromei giggled at the sight of her 'other' mother, Xena, and wriggled out of her eldest sister's grasp to climb up the warrior.
"Hey, I'm not a tree, you know," chuckled Xena, bending to pick up the little girl. Gods, gotta watch this one - that's all I need, to be rescuing kittens and baby Amazons from trees! "Selenë what are you doing out of school? Not playing hooky, are you?"
"No, tanti-meia," said Arynë, her eyes shining up at her hero. Unlike her two sisters, Arynë did not share Xena's blood, but she was certainly the warrior's daughter just as much as they, her place in her godsmother's heart securely bound. Arynë would, in fact, succeed Xena as the Warrior Queen of this Tribe.
"Primeia - grandmother - let me go because the runner came," said Selenë. "She said it was probably a letter from Mother - is it?"
Xena smiled at her girls. Since coming to live among the Aemetzainê, Cyrenê, Xena's mother had taken over the Academy. She was a strict but much beloved teacher and headmistress of the Amazon school and she adored her granddaughters and their mother, Melysë. She too, would have gone with Melysë, but with the crossing over of her oath-sister, Queen Amnaëlë, Xena's mother found thoughts of the city too painful.
That's Mother, thought Xena, fondly. Always running something - if not a tavern, then a school. Looks like I came by my many skills honestly...
"Yes, it's from your mother," she said.
"Meia," said Neiromei, squirming.
"Well?" said Arynë, raising an eyebrow.
"All right," said Xena, pulling the parchment from her zona and slowly unrolling it.
How I miss you! All of you, for I know the girls are reading this with you. Things are going well here. Laesë is well loved as High Queen and her betrothed is (surprise!) not a warrior, but an artisan! She is very good to Laesë and I couldn't have picked a better mate for my cousin. It's nice to see her so happy.
I do wish you were here with me, all of you, but I'll be home soon - maybe I'll bring back some chaeko! Anyway, my Heart, I do miss you terribly and will hurry home after the ceremony - and, of course, the celebration! You know the Amazons! But it just won't be the same without you. I love you all very much.
Xena carefully re-rolled the parchment, smiling at the post-script Melysë had added for her eyes only, promising herself she'd read it later - when she was alone.
"Yep," she said, tucking it back into her zona. "Come on, it's time for lunch."
"I'll make it," Selenë hastily volunteered. Her sister and her warrior-mother, while possessing many skills, could not include cooking in that list. Just then, a sentry arrived at the queens' cottage.
"Your Majesty, there are riders approaching the western boundary, about an hour away," she reported. "I couldn't quite tell how many, but they appear to be Amazons."
"Very well," said Xena. "Get the Honour Guard ready to ride out. We'll meet them and see that they have food and lodging."
"Tanti-meia, may I ride with you?" asked Arynë.
"Well, I was going to ask you to wait with your sisters," said Xena. "But Selenë is old enough to stay alone with Neiromei. Sure you can."
So Xena and Arynë mounted up, collected Gabrielle, the Queen-Regent, and rode with the guard to greet the riders while Selenë stayed and tried to teach her little sister how make an edible lunch.
They awaited the visitors at the edge of the forest that marked the boundary of Aemetzainê territory.
"Hm, they look like Amazons, but they're not," said Xena, frowning. "If I'm not mistaken, they're Celts."
"From Britannia?" said Gabrielle.
"Or Eire - hard to tell from here," said Xena, studying the approaching riders. At last the riders arrived and were greeted by the Amazons.
"Benlai - welcome Sisters," said Xena, in Amazonian. The leader nodded and gripped Xena's forearm, and Xena noted the blue tattoos on the other woman's arm.
"Thank-you," she said. "I am Rowan, leader of this mission. We've come seeking an audience with Queen Melysë - are you she?"
"No, I'm Xena, Warrior Queen of this Tribe," replied the Warrior, smiling smugly - she had been right, the Leader spoke Amazon with a distinct Celtic accent. "This is our Regent-Queen, Gabrielle, and my heir, Warrior Princess Arynë. We have arranged for lodging and refreshments for you."
"That will be most welcome," said Rowan, gravely, as Xena and the Honour Guard led the group to guest huts. Once they arrived and dismounted, Rowan again addressed Xena. "Will we be able to meet with Queen Melysë soon? Our mission is quite urgent."
"I'm afraid not," said Gabrielle. "Our priestess is away at the moment. Perhaps one of us could..."
"No, it must be the priestess," said Rowan, abruptly. "Will she return soon?"
"I hope so," said Xena, biting back the irritable words that came to her mind. "I mean, she'll be back in a few days - as High Priestess of the Amazon Nation, she is officiating at the betrothal of her cousin, the High Queen." In truth, Xena felt Melysë had been called to Themiscyreia far too much of late. She may be half-god, but she is still mortal, thought the Warrior. There's only so much she can do...I know she promised Hekate that she would help Laesë, but Laesë is well-established as High Queen now and shouldn't need so much help. Of course, she also has to ensure the security of the Crown for our daughter, but I miss her when she's gone.
"Very well, we will wait for her," said Rowan.
Xena returned to her cottage with Gabrielle and Arynë, all puzzled about the Celts' mysterious "mission", Xena more than a little annoyed at their abrupt manner. They found the table set and Selenë serving lunch, while Neiromei beat a wooden spoon on the table, tunelessly humming, though she frowned in concentration while she hummed.
"Hey, how'd you'd know to set five places?" asked Gabrielle, delighted. Selenë merely raised an eyebrow and smiled, going back to serving the food.
"I'll bet she knows what they want," said Arynë, grinning at her younger sister. "Selenë knows everything - just like Mother."
"What who wants?" said Selenë, frowning as she grabbed her younger sister, who trying to climb into Gabrielle's lap, and plopped her into a chair at the table. The child looked so forlorn, Gabrielle smiled.
"It's okay," she said. "Romy can sit with me." Delighted, the little princess clambered down and giggled as Gabrielle lifted her up. "These visitors, the Celts, they say they have to speak with Melysë - and only Melysë - about some mission. It's very strange."
"That is strange," said Selenë. "But no, I don't know anything about them. But I do know mother will be home tonight, right after the celebration."
"Tonight? How do you know that? We just got her message..." said Arynë.
Selenë giggled. "Because the ceremony is on the full moon and that's tonight," she said. "And Mother will use her powers to come home to us as fast as she can, you know."
"That's true," said Xena, smiling in amusement. "It would take a messenger a lot longer to deliver her message. She must have sent it as soon she arrived."
"See, no magic," said Selenë. "Just logic. Tanti-meia, can I wait up for her?"
Xena smiled. "We'll see," she said, though she had already decided to let the girl stay up as long as she stayed awake. "Depends on how late she gets in."
"Thank-you," said Selenë, blue eyes shining.
Xena sent Selenë back to school after lunch, but went to the drill field with Gabrielle and Arynë to work out her frustration at the visiting Celts on some practice rounds. 'Ryn took up her staff and began a solitary set, but a runner approached Xena just as she set about her sword drills.
"Your Majesty, one of the sentries fell from her tree - the healer respectfully requests your assistance," she said. "She's not hurt too badly, but the healer says she fell because of a fever. She wants to know which herbs to use, since Kaia's reacted so bad to willow bark in the past."
"She shouldn't have been on watch if she's ill," said Xena, frowning.
"Yeah, I know, but she's new - just Initiated - she wanted to tough it out," said the runner, shrugging.
Rolling her eyes but grinning, Xena called to her protégée, "Keep an eye on things, will you, 'Ryn?" Then she cast a meaningful glance at the two visiting Celts who had come to watch the drills. Arynë nodded knowingly, though still frowning in concentration on her staff's movements. Gabrielle watched proudly as her old "friend" spun about in her gods-daughter's skilful hands, remembering how many times that very staff had saved her life - and Xena's.
Distracted by the scene, she almost didn't notice Virgil, wandering out of the Lodge, wearing his new crimson tunic, a pack slung over his shoulder, scroll case in hand. Curious, she jogged over to him. The Celts watched in interest as the Amazon Queen approached the strange man in red - and right in the village, too! - spoke for a few moments, then briefly kissed him and turned away, shaking her head, bemused, fingers brushing over her lips.
She noticed the Celts staring at her, their disdain evident. Gabrielle grinned inwardly. Oh, yeah? she thought. Walking confidently up to the taller one, she introduced herself, firmly grasping the woman's forearm in a warrior's greeting.
"I'm Gabrielle, Queen-Regent of the Tribe," she said, her usually disarming warmth somehow lost on the stranger, who looked at her blankly. "Oh, I'm sorry, don't you speak Amazonian?"
"We do," said her companion, coldly. "With Amazons."
Cursing, 'Ryn dropped her staff and looked over at the group.
"What's that supposed to mean?" she called as she bent to pick up her weapon.
"Does your Tribe allow men to dwell with you - the more easily to bestow your favours - like kisses, perhaps?" said the taller Celt, with a sneer.
"Oh, you mean Virgil?" said Gabrielle. "He's my...consort."
"So this Tribe names its pets?" said the other visitor to her friend.
"You, know," Gabrielle said chuckling, coldly, drawing her sais with an expertly precise flip. "Ordinarily, I'm a pretty easygoing person, and I wouldn't suggest this, but I've had a really bad day - starting with your arrival - and I owe Britannia one anyway - so, you want some of me?"
The taller Celt eyed the sais and looked appraisingly at Gabrielle.
"Yeah, I do," she said. "You give Amazons a bad name. But I've never the seen weapons like those - how about staffs?" Gabrielle, stepped back, smiling as 'Ryn grinned widely at her, tossing the staff in her hand to her gods-mother, who neatly caught it - Goddess it felt good in her hands again! The Celt grabbed a sparring staff leaning against the wall, and took her stance.
Gabrielle waited, eyeing her opponent as she began to twirl her staff. Suddenly the Celt lunged at her, swinging the staff in a short series of quick hard strikes. Grinning, Gabrielle easily blocked them, and began her own attack. Catching the Celt off balance after a blocked head shot, she quickly knocked her down. Struggling to her feet, the Celt started again, glaring in amazement as she landed once more on the ground before a minute had passed.
'Ryn stood back, arms crossed watching the master in action. The stubborn Celt refused to stay down and 'Ryn shook her head. Maybe we should have warned them; the staff is tanti Gabrielle's first weapon - and still her best. Nah, she had this coming. No one insults my gods-mother!
Finally unconscious, her opponent stayed down. 'Ryn came forward and offered to help carry her to the healer's hut, but her friend grabbed up the staff and from behind, swung it at Gabrielle's head. Unarmed, 'Ryn leaped up and spun, her foot connecting solidly with the attacker's midriff, knocking her out as well.
"Thanks," said Gabrielle, a little breathless from the fight, as she tossed the old staff back.
And thank-you, too, old friend.
"Sure, leave me your light work," teased her gods-daughter, catching it neatly one handed, as they summoned help to carry the fallen ones to the Healer's hut.
Xena looked at both of them, one eyebrow so high it was nearly hidden by her bangs.
"So you just challenged her to fight you," she said, her voice betraying nothing of her thoughts.
"Yeah," said Gabrielle, defiantly. "Yeah, I did."
"And wiped the floor with her? Our guest?"
"Kicked ass, " 'Ryn piped up proudly, then quickly looked down as Xena shot her a look.
"They are our guests," said Xena, quietly, enunciating each word. "And you beat the holy hells out of them."
"Yes, we did," said Gabrielle, more quietly.
"Damn, and you didn't even save any for me!" chuckled Xena, putting an arm around each of them. "Consider yourselves reprimanded. Next time, though, let me in on the fun, will ya?"
The two wounded Celts fared less well with Rowan, their own leader.
"So their ways are different than the Gwiddonot - that doesn't mean you endanger our mission here, you idiots!" she raged. "And that is exactly what you have done. I told you to gauge their fighting strength, not to engage them in a fight!" The Celtic Amazon paced the guest hut furiously, then slowly calmed. "Well, at least we know that even their young maidens are mighty warriors, so you have not failed completely, but this does change our plans. Perhaps you have you not done so ill, after all. Rest and regain your strength - you will be needed later."
She left the hut and sought out Xena, ostensibly to apologise, but her mission was to gain more information from the Warrior Queen. She found her at the dining hall, helping to reinforce the roof against the coming spring rains. Xena saw her approach and jumped from the roof, landing neatly catlike on both feet before her. Wiping her hands on a rag, Xena looked the Celtic leader in the eye and waited for the other woman to speak.
"I apologise for the behaviour of my people," Rowan said finally. "They had no right to pick a fight. I have reprimanded them severely."
"Yeah, well, Queen Gabrielle had a bad experience in Britannia a long time ago," said Xena, shrugging. "That and her consort taking off for Thera with no warning today probably didn't have her in the best mood, so she was probably ready for a fight anyway. No hard feelings. Come on, I'll buy you an ale."
"Agreed," said Rowan delighted - nothing like spirits to loosen a warrior's tongue! she thought.
After about three mugs of Cyrenê's strong brew, she decided that this one would never loosen her tongue. In fact, the tall blue-eyed warrior grew quieter with each mug consumed. Rowan was about to rise and leave, when the door opened and there stood a woman of most regal bearing. Not as tall as the warrior, certainly, but with a presence which drew the Celt's eyes. Holy Brighid, with those eyes and that skin, she looks like she's from Blessed Eire! thought Rowan. The woman's dark green eyes sought - and found the warrior queen, her lips curving into the sweetest of smiles. As she approached, Xena looked up and turned, a smile gracing her own lips as she rose and gathered the woman into a tight embrace.
"Gods, you feel good!" said Xena, softly, her breath tickling Melysë's ear. Melysë backed up and grinned. "I missed you."
"Missed me so much you broke open the ale, I see," she said, chuckling. "Who's your friend?"
"Oh, this is Rowan, leader of the Celtic Amazons, the Gwiddonot," said Xena, stepping back, her arm never leaving the priestess's waist. "Rowan, Queen Melysë - whom you've been waiting to meet."
"Your Majesty," said Rowan, stumbling a little as she rose. How did she do that? she thought as righted herself and bowed low, almost falling on her face. She drank more than I did. Graciously, Melysë extended her hand and raised the Celt back up, then firmly grasped her forearm in greeting, noting the blue tattoos that Xena had noticed earlier.
"Benlai - welcome Sister," said the priestess, warmly. "I hope you have found our hospitality congenial."
"Ah, well," said Xena, hastily, leading Melysë back towards the door. "You've had a long trip - and Selenë is waiting up for you. So, we'll see you in the morning, Rowan. We can, um, discuss ... things then. Goodnight."
Melysë laughed as they walked arm in arm to their cottage.
"Goddess, Xena, I know you missed me, but really," she said. "Who is that Rowan, anyway? And just how much ale have you had?"
"I was raised on that ale," said Xena, smugly.
"Yeah, but how much did you drink tonight?" said Melysë.
"Not that much," said Xena.
"Oh, good," said Melysë, snuggling closer.
They arrived at the cottage to find Selenë sound asleep in the chair. Melysë smiled as Xena gently lifted her and carried her to her bed, tenderly kissing their daughter goodnight and closing her door. She and Melysë sat together in front of the hearth, Xena wrapping strong arms around her priestess.
"So, what happened?" asked Melysë, leaning back against her warrior as Xena began plaiting strands of Melysë's long dark hair.
"What do you mean?" said the Warrior.
"I mean, what didn't you want me to find out from Rowan?" said Melysë.
"Oh, Gabrielle and Arynë sort of got into it with a couple of her warriors," said Xena.
"Sort of?" said Melysë, sitting up and turning to face Xena. Gently, Xena placed her hands on her priestess's shoulders, and lowered her back down, against her chest, holding her close.
"It's alright," she said, softly. "It's all been taken care of. How was the ceremony?"
"Oh, Xena it was lovely!" said Melysë. "Laesë and 'Cheia are so happy! I wish..."
"What, Love?" said Xena, stroking Melysë's hair gently.
"Nothing," said Melysë, settling in closer.
"You know that whatever you wish for, it's yours if I can give it to you," said Xena, her lips softly brushing Melysë's.
"I know," said Melysë, smiling. "And that's why I have everything I want, right here."
The next morning, Xena rose, as usual, before the rest of her family. Smiling at the priestess, still snuggled under the warm sleeping fur, she went to wake Selenë for school. After knocking softly on the door to her room, Xena pushed it slowly open.
"Selenë?" she said, looking around. The girl's bed was empty. Xena went out to the bathing chamber, but found it empty. Worried, she woke Melysë. Melysë slowly opened her eyes, then closed them again. Xena wished they had some klafé - that always seemed to do the trick in Themiscyreia. Yeah, well, until Laesë sends us some.... Xena leaned forward, planting tiny kisses all over the priestess's face and neck. Melysë's eyes snapped open and she smiled, stretching, like one of her cats.
"Selenë's gone," said Xena. Melysë's smile abruptly left her.
"What do you mean gone?" said Melysë, pushing the sleeping fur back, and jumping up to grab some clothes.
"I mean, she's not in her room, and she's not having her bath, and I can't find her," said Xena.
"Where else did you look?" asked Melysë, dressed now. Xena looked at her, then grinned sheepishly. "You didn't look anywhere else, did you?"
"Where else is there to look?" said Xena. "She's not in the cottage. It's too early to be in school already."
"Maybe Hypsyple needed her early this morning," said Melysë, going into Neiromei's room and looking in on the baby asleep in her bed. "She is the shamenki's apprentice, after all. Or maybe Ephiny came and got her and they're off planning some mischief somewhere - you know those two."
"Yeah," said Xena, relaxing slightly. "You're right - I just got worried when she wasn't where I expected her to be. Besides, as late as she was up, I'm surprised she woke up at all, let alone early."
"Yes, well, I believe our daughter inherited your self-discipline - Goddess knows I haven't any - in that respect at least," said Melysë, smiling. "She's probably off with Eph'', plotting some great joke on us. She'll be here in time for breakfast."
Melysë went to the hearth to stir the fire and put on some porridge for Neiromei and Selenë - and presumably, Ephiny, since where one went the other tended to follow. Just as she was about to pour in the honey, she heard a commotion outside the door.
"Relax, I got it," said Xena. Melysë smiled her thanks, wondering again why the Amazons insisted on posting a guard outside her door now - she couldn't have better protection than Xena, after all. Xena returned, looking puzzled.
"That was odd - it was Ephiny - thanks," she said, sitting at the table as Melysë poured some tea for her.
"Why odd? I told you those two were up to something," said Melysë, sitting with her.
"Odd because when I told her to tell Selenë to come home or she'll be late for school, Ephiny ran off crying," said Xena, frowning.
"Crying? Really truly, as in tears, crying?" said Melysë.
"Yeah - she said she had some dream that Selenë was in trouble and had to come and check," said Xena. "And when I told her the joke had gone far enough, that something like that might worry you, she said there was no joke and if Selenë wasn't here, then it was no dream - and ran off crying."
"Xena, Eph' doesn't cry - not for a joke," said Melysë, suddenly very worried. "We need to talk to her - fast."
"Right," said Xena, rising and donning her cloak. "I'll go and get her from the House of Maidens. - I think I'll have a look around in there, too. Just in case. You stay here with Romy, okay?"
Melysë nodded, distracted, until Xena leaned in close and gently kissed away the tears that had begun to form in those green eyes she so loved.
"We'll find her," said the warrior, confidently. Melysë merely nodded again, dazed but somewhat comforted.
Xena strode out the door. She really hated it when Melysë cried - she always had. It made her want to do just about anything to make her stop. Chuckling Xena thought to herself, Funny, that's how it all started - trying to get her to stop crying - and boy did it work! Still does ... gods, after all these years, she can still get to me. Must be the green eyes ... never could resist those green eyes ... and if I ever had these thoughts about anyone else, 'Lysë would probably do the leopard, but with Gabrielle, thank the Goddess she understands ... us ... Lucky for me...
Melysë arose from her chair, going to Neiromei - whom she could hear waking up. The baby was delighted to have her meia home and giggled happily as Melysë changed her.
"You're dry little one. Has tanti-meia been complaining about changing nappies again?" said Melysë, smiling as her daughter giggled at her. She could just imagine Xena muttering about warriors standing "diaper duty" - all the while gently tickling their youngest daughter to make her laugh. "Well, it is about time, young lady, to get you out of these nappies and going like a big girl in the privy."
Melysë lifted the little girl off of her dressing table - which she had all but outgrown and carried her to the table, where her porridge had been cooling.
"Blessed Goddess, Romy, you may have my face, but you'll have your other mother's height, that's for sure," said Melysë proudly, as the child dug into her breakfast with her little wooden spoon. "You're getting so big, Sweetheart."
"Romy's a big girl," sing-songed the child, banging her spoon on the table between bites.
"Yes, you are," said Melysë, catching a bit of fallen porridge with a napkin. She rose at a knock on the door and went to let in Gabrielle.
"Oh, good, you're home," said the Bard, hugging her fellow queen.
"Yes, got in late, but god-powers do come in handy," said Melysë, warmly returning the embrace. "I heard about what happened yesterday with our 'visitors'."
"Oh, that," said Gabrielle grinning and reluctantly releasing Melysë. "Well, we don't have to worry about that again. They've left."
"What?" said Melysë. "When?"
"Last night sometime, I suppose - why?"
Melysë relayed the news of Selenë's absence and Ephiny's odd behaviour.
"Oh, gods," said Gabrielle, sitting down. "You don't think..."
"I don't know what to think," said Melysë, wiping Neiromei's face and hands before the child clambered into her favourite seat - her tanti's lap. "At first I thought she and Eph' were playing some game - you know how those two are."
"Yeah partners in crime," agreed Gabrielle, chuckling as Neiromei wriggled down and toddled into the kitchen. They heard the banging of the cupboard doors and some crashing of pots and pans, but since the kitchen was "baby-proofed", neither was concerned. Melysë was generally lenient with Romy, so long as her safety wasn't at stake. The toddler loved to bang on pots and pans - the noisier the better.
"You remember that time, before they were born, I had that craving for squid?" said Melysë, grinning.
"Oh, gods!" said Gabrielle, laughing. "Yeah, and after you mentioned it, I just had to have some too! Of course, I was still having morning sickness and that pressure point - gods, you'd think I'd have learned better the first time I used it!"
"Yeah, but you wanted yours raw," said Melysë, wrinkling her nose, but smiling. "Xena went in the dead of winter - not even complaining - and managed to bring some home. To this day, I have no idea where she got it. And she's not telling."
"We probably don't want to know," chuckled Gabrielle, feeling the old camaraderie of those days anew.
"True," said Melysë. "Born less than a year apart and they might as well be twins."
"That's the way of malatyra," said Gabrielle. Melysë looked down for a moment, then quickly smiled at her friend, taking her hand.
"Thank you for trying to get my mind off of this until Xena gets back," she said, her eyes beginning to tear up again.
"That's what friends do," said Gabrielle, warmly. "I know Selenë's all right. Ephiny will probably come bouncing in here and telling us it's all a joke after all."
"Maybe," said Melysë, doubtfully.
But Ephiny said no such thing. When Xena brought the girl back, she was adamant in her denial. And upon hearing that the Celts were missing as well, Xena swore, grabbing her sword and chakram and storming out of the cottage.
"Now what?" said Melysë, bewildered.
"I don't know - maybe she went looking for them," said Gabrielle. "No one can track like Xena."
"I keep trying to tell you," said Ephiny. "Those people have her - and they're using magic to hide. Selenë told me. Xena won't find them - nobody can. Nobody but me. Why won't anyone listen to me?"
With that, the girl dashed out the door. Melysë and Gabrielle looked at each other.
"What do you think?" asked Gabrielle.
"I think we should've listened to her," said Melysë, rising. "Now we have to get both her and Xena back here in order to find Selenë. Let's take Romy to Cyrenê and then get them back so we can figure this out."
They could find no trace of either Ephiny or Xena after leaving Neiromei with her grandmother, so Melysë and Gabrielle went to Arynë and Tecmessa. Tecmessa was a master tracker and 'Ryn was in charge of the troops in Xena's absence.
"Don't worry, Mother, we'll take care of everything," said Arynë. "You and tanti Gabrielle go back to the cottage and wait in case they come back there. Try not to worry, we'll find them. Tecmessa's good." She smiled at her malatyr, who blushed.
"I'll do my best," she said.
"But no one is going to find Xena if she doesn't want to be found," said Gabrielle.
"No, and if she doesn't want to be found," said Melysë.
"It's better to not go looking for her," finished Gabrielle.
"Exactly," said Melysë, glancing at her fellow queen and smiling. "So just concentrate on Ephiny for now."
Arynë frowned, but agreed. Melysë and Gabrielle collected Romy from Cyrenê, who went with them to wait. While Cyrenê puttered about the kitchen, Gabrielle told Neiromei stories. Melysë was too restless to sit, but caught herself listening, and finally settled into a chair, caught up in the sound of Gabrielle's voice as she told Romy the story of how she became an Amazon Princess herself. The baby listened intently, until her eyes began to droop and she drifted off into a light doze.
"Naptime - but you can finish that story first - I like that one," said Melysë, smiling. "You didn't know Terreis all that long, but you sure must have made an impression on her - Rite of Caste is a very precious thing."
"Heh, yeah," chuckled Gabrielle. "Only at the time I didn't how just how precious - I just thought it might be fun to be an Amazon."
"And has it?" asked Melysë. "Been fun, that is?"
"Oh, I don't know - parts of it, yeah," said Gabrielle, shifting Neiromei to a more comfortable position. The child woke up and clambered down, going to play with some toys on the floor. "It's definitely been worth it - all of it. Especially now."
"Uh, oh," said Melysë, catching the look of intense concentration on Romy's face. She jumped up, grabbing the child and rushing her into the privy. She returned with the child and set her back down to play. "Almost made it that time."
"I remember potty training - thank the gods that's over," chuckled Gabrielle. "Fortunately Virgil taught the boys, since I didn't have a clue there, but I think Terreis was the toughest. Ephiny was easy. So was Lilia. I was so sick and tired of nappies by the time it was all over, though."
"Hm, I think it's safe to say that Xena's sick of them, too," said Melysë, smiling. "I don't mind so much. I almost wish they'd stay little forever. I wish...ah, well, never mind."
"That you had a dozen more?" said Gabrielle, smiling back.
Melysë chuckled. "Yeah, something like that," she said, looking over at Romy, who had begun humming and beating a spoon on the floor.
"Romy the tidy,
Doesn't need a didy..."
Gabrielle choked. "Romy? What...how..?"
"What did she say?" said Melysë at the same time. "Romy?"
The baby smiled up at them and toddled off to the kitchen with Cyrenê.
"Did she just..." started Melysë.
"...sing that song?" finished Gabrielle.
Cyrenê emerged from the kitchen, laughing and carrying Neiromei.
"Girls you've got to hear this," she said, "Go ahead Romy." The child stuck a finger in her mouth and shyly buried her face in Cyrenê's shoulder. "Oh, she won't do it now. She just sang the cutest song. Melysë, I didn't know you started potty training her yet."
"I think Xena did," said Melysë, barely containing a giggle. "That sounds more like something she'd come up with."
"Not exactly," said Gabrielle, looking at the baby, who squirmed to be put down and clambered into her lap. "Unless Xena thought it would be funny to ..."
"Girls, come see this," said Cyrenê, walking to the window. Melysë and Gabrielle, carrying Neiromei followed. Outside, a thick, impermeable fog had arisen. Gabrielle turned away, sadly and sat back down, saying nothing. Melysë turned and went to her, laying a gentle hand on her shoulder.
"Tecmessa is good," she said. "In fact, next to Xena, she's the best we have. She'll find Ephiny."
Gabrielle looked up at Melysë and smiled weakly.
"Yeah, I know," she said. "This isn't just fog, though, is it?"
"No," said Melysë, looking down, unable to conceal her own fear from her friend. "Ephiny said something about the Celts using magic to hide. I remember that Rowan had a tattoo on her arm. I don't think she was just a warrior."
"No," said Gabrielle, quietly. "I don't think so either. Her 'warriors' couldn't fight worth Centaur droppings." Melysë sighed and sat next to her.
"I wish Xena were here," they said, then looked at each other blankly for a moment, breaking into giggles. Cyrenê, watching them, frowned a moment, then shrugged and looked back out to the fog. You're not the only ones, she thought.
"Gods-be-damned Furies - no, I killed 'em. Can't be them pissing me off," Xena muttered, stalking through the woods, slashing with her sword at the errant tree or shrub which got in her way through the thick, swirling mist. "Callisto! Nah, that's Eve, now - though I'm not too happy with her right now either, ungrateful, sanctimonious brat! Ares - no, he's sort of okay now. At least he leaves me alone now that he thinks he's got me back - one way or another. Idiot!"
Xena could feel her mood growing darker as the moments passed. The cold, damp fog grew thicker and Xena soon forgot just why she was stomping through the woods. All she knew was her anger and a growing darkness which clamped down on her mind and heart. She had heard the Amazon trackers combing the woods. No damn good - not one of 'em, she thought, grinning wickedly, her blue eyes glinting cruelly, like hard chips of ice. How in Tartarus do they expect to find any game making all that racket? Suddenly her cold steely gaze narrowed at the sight of a small huddled form, shivering in the deep, dark woods. The wicked grin she wore turned almost feral as she approached the shaking bundle.
Silently, she came closer, raising her sword, then stopped. The coldness that had seemed to seep from the fog and gather around her heart melted away as she saw Ephiny, shivering in the damp mist, her shoulders shaking with heart-wrenching sobs. Suddenly she realised why the trackers were so noisy - they weren't searching for game, after all. She quickly sheathed the sword and hurried over to the child, whistling the birdcall for calling off a search.
"Hey, shh, it's okay," she said, kneeling and gathering the freezing girl into her arms. "I gotcha, come on, let's get you home. You got a lot of important people worried about you, Little One."
Xena wrapped the girl in her own cloak and carried her to the cottage where Gabrielle took her gratefully, holding her close in front of the blazing hearth, talking soothingly to her.
"Good to have you back, too, Love," said Melysë. "I was worried - this fog - it's not natural."
"No, it isn't. It was ... doing things to my mind that I really didn't like," said Xena, watching Gabrielle and Ephiny for a moment, then turning a smile on Melysë. "Now we just have to get Selenë - any ideas?"
"Yeah, I'm going under to see if Hekate has seen her there," said Melysë. "If anyone can help us it's Her. Maybe the only one..."
"Hey, don't think like that," said Xena, holding her. "We're getting her back."
"I know," said Melysë, revelling in the comfort offered by those strong arms. "Okay, ready?"
"I'm right here," said Xena, tightening her embrace as Melysë slipped into a trance. The priestess wandered through the familiar territory of the spirit realm, coming at last to the cross-roads where she always met with her Goddess.
"Oh, Mother," she cried, running to Hekate, who rose from her throne and caught the priestess in Her arms, comforting Her Chosen. "Mother is Selenë here? She's been taken and we can't find her."
"Hush, My daughter," said Hekate. "She's not here, but she's safe. I know what has happened, as I know all things. She's in the company of the priestess of Avalon."
"Avalon?" said Melysë looking up at the Goddess Who was wearing the face of her own mother.
"Yes, the Sacred Island of the Celts," said Hekate. "They want her power. Their priestess foresaw Selenë's arrival in Avalon as the catalyst to bring about the re-birth of a great soul, the harbinger of a new era. But Selenë will not allow them to use her so. She has entered a very deep trance and is safe in that realm."
"I must go to her," said Melysë.
"No, My daughter, you must not," said Hekate, firmly, though tenderly brushing a lock of Melysë's hair from her face. "She is safe there. They cannot reach her, but if you go to her, she will be distracted. Trust your daughter, Melysë. She is wise in staying put. The only one who may safely reach her is her malatyr."
"Ephiny," said Melysë.
"Yes," said Hekate. "Even now, a part of Ephiny is with Selenë, as it always is. It is she who can lead you to your daughter's physical form. But you must hurry. The longer she is in trance, the more danger of her never returning. And a part of Ephiny will remain lost as well."
"Very well, Mother," said Melysë. "Thank-you."
"I am always here, My dearest one," said Hekate, as Melysë made her way out of the trance, following her anchor's strength. "I will help you all I can. When you reach the place where Selenë's physical form is, I will send you a special guide."
Melysë came to and smiled. "She said Selenë is all right."
Xena sighed her relief. "Where is she?" asked Gabrielle, approaching with Ephiny.
"In the Land of the Faërie folk," said Ephiny, her eyes a little glazed. "The priestess put her there. They know we're coming for her."
"'We'?" said Xena, raising an eyebrow at the girl. "I don't think so. You're not going anywhere. It's too dangerous."
"Xena, Hekate said Ephiny will lead us to Selenë," said Melysë, placing a gentle hand on her warrior's arm. "She has to go. She's with our daughter, even now. And if we don't get to her in time..."
"What?" said Gabrielle, gently.
"They're both in danger," said Melysë.
"Then let's go," said Gabrielle.
Xena took Neiromei to her mother's cottage, explaining to Cyrenê what they had to do. Since her mother already had charge of Gabrielle's two younger daughters, Xena suggested Terreis and Lilia could help out with the baby.
"Don't you worry, Xena," said Cyrenê, her eyes twinkling. "We'll be fine. I'll keep up with her training - and maybe we'll add a verse or two to that adorable little song."
Xena raised an eyebrow at that, then shrugged. Sometimes Mom can be a little weird, but she's great with the kids, thought the warrior as she returned to the cottage. As soon as she arrived, she could see Melysë and Gabrielle were both anxious to be going, so the three queens and Ephiny linked hands and Melysë, although worried, brought them safely to solid ground. Xena looked around.
Rowan and her group were waiting, swords drawn. Xena grinned, gently pushing Melysë and Ephiny behind her as she and Gabrielle advanced on the group. The two friends looked at each other and laughed.
"Two against nine, Xena," said Gabrielle, shaking her head. "Hardly fair odds."
"Think we oughta cut 'em some slack?" said Xena.
"Nah," said Gabrielle, drawing her sais.
The two jumped in and started fighting, while Melysë took Ephiny to safe place in the trees. "Stay here," she told the girl. "I mean it, Eph''."
The girl nodded, and sat down, her back against a tree, as Melysë ran back to the fight. She was just in time to see Gabrielle, glancing back toward her daughter, take a hit in the head and fall. Suddenly, rage overtook the priestess and the snow leopard hissed as Melysë leaped upon the attacker, then looked about as the remaining Celtic warriors fled in the face of this new opponent.
"Damn it, 'Lysë," said Xena, grinning. "You never leave any for the rest of us when you do that."
Melysë, once again herself, took Gabrielle's hand, helping her to her feet. "You okay?" asked the priestess. Gabrielle smiled a little, rubbing her head.
"Yeah, fine," she said ruefully. "Maternal instincts got in the way, there. Is Eph' alright?"
"She's fine," said Melysë, smiling, as she extended the healing power through her hand into her friend. "Better?"
Gabrielle's eyes closed for a moment.
"Yeah - thanks," she said.
"Thank Hera - if it weren't for her, that little 'power surge' would have left 'Lysë exhausted," said Xena, smiling at the two, as they walked arm in arm over to Ephiny. The girl had her eyes closed, and she was smiling. The Amazons waited a moment, then she spoke.
"It's okay," said Ephiny, opening her eyes. "I know where she is. You have to go in there." She pointed to small hill, not far from a wooden building at the centre of a cross-roads.
"Okay," said Xena, crossing her arms. "How in Tartarus do we get in there? It's a mound of dirt, for crying out loud!"
The Amazons were startled by a flash of light and suddenly, there stood before them three women. The women each wore a gown of rich velvet and bright embroidery, their hair - one blonde, one dark, and one silver - was long and flowing, and each wore a crown.
"Welcome," they said, as one. Melysë stepped forward.
"Thank-you," she said, bowing slightly. "We are seeking my daughter. We understand that we must enter that hill to retrieve her. Can you help us?"
The dark-haired one, the youngest by her appearance, laughed. "That is why we are here," she said. "I am Rhiannon. These are my sisters, Cerridwen and Arionrhod. We are goddesses of this land. The Great Mother, whom you call Hekate, has sent us to help you. We are disappointed in our priestesses - never would we condone such behaviour as taking a child from her mothers."
"This is but further evidence of the corruption which has beset our people since the influence of Rome," said the blonde, whom Rhiannon had introduced as Cerridwen.
"Yes, but a cleansing of that corruption has already begun," said Arionrhod, smiling. "And you Amazons are the ones who have begun it."
"Okay, that's fascinating; really, it is," said Xena, impatiently. "But how do we get Selenë back?"
"Warrior, your disdain for gods is amusing - considering..." began Rhiannon, smiling.
"Hush Sister - it's too soon," said Cerridwen. "We will help you, but first, Melysë, you will need a sign from us to show the folk of Faërie. Otherwise, they will not release your daughter."
"Wanna bet?" Xena muttered, fingering her chakram.
"That's enough, Warrior Queen - your weapons are useless in Faërie - unless you have a bit of pure iron?" said Arionrhod.
"No," said Xena. "I don't - Melysë can't stand it near her."
"Pity - neither can the Faërie. Ah, well, once you have our token, Melysë, you will need no weapons," said Cerridwen, taking the priestess's hand. "Come, this won't take but a moment and 'twill hurt for a bit less..."
"'Hurt'?!" said Xena and Gabrielle lunging for them at the same time, but Melysë and the goddesses were already gone.
"Great!" said Xena, fuming. "That's just great! Now what are we-?"
But Melysë was back - alone - before Xena could finish. The first thing she noticed was her heart-mate's forearms both bandaged. Melysë was a bit pale, but otherwise seemed all right. Gabrielle hugged her.
"Are you all right?" she asked, concerned.
"I'm fine," said the priestess, smiling. "Just a bit sore. It will heal though."
"What did they do? If they hurt you..." Xena felt herself succumbing to the darkness within once more.
"No, Xena!" both Gabrielle and Melysë cried, rushing to wrap their arms around her, pulling her back from the edge.
"Xena, I'm fine. It's only a couple of tattoos. Please don't give me that look Xena; I didn't exactly have a choice," Melysë calmly explained. "They won't kill me - who knows, you may even get to like them." She grinned at Xena's raised eyebrow. "These mark me as a Celtic priestess, as well as an Amazon priestess. If we want to rescue Selenë we need them. The goddesses told me we're to go to that hut we saw. The entrance to the faërie realm is just behind the hill. Gabrielle, you and Ephiny are to stay there." Both mother and daughter began to protest, neither wanting to leave her soulmate alone.
"But why me, Melysë?" Gabrielle queried. "I can understand Ephiny, she's so young, but do you really just want me here to watch her?"
"No, Gabrielle," the priestess soothed, placing her hand on the Bard-Queen's shoulder. "Within the faërie realm time loses all meaning; especially if one eats or drinks of the food. Then you lose all thought of the world outside. You and Eph' need to stay behind because Xena and I will need you to bring us out of there. You are Xena's malatyr, as Ephiny is Selenë's - and I as Xena's druleilë - heart-mate should be able to link to you through her bond with you."
Swallowing another argument, Gabrielle nodded. "Then go get Selenë and let's get home," she said. "Because I really hate this place."
The queens and Ephiny went to the hut on the hill. They saw the opening in back of the hill, as the Goddesses had foretold. Xena entered the hut first, assuring herself that her soulmate and her daughter would be safe while she and Melysë were gone. The hut had two rooms, one which was an open living space, and a smaller one in back with two cots. Gabrielle and Ephiny entered this room and lay down on the cots. Melysë knelt between the two, placing her hands on their heads as Xena watched.
"All right. Ephiny, you know the way to where Selenë is. Find her, tell her that Xena and I are on our way. Gabrielle, close your eyes and open yourself to me. Let me lead you to the cross-roads. I will meet you there, once we retrieve Selenë. Keep watch for me there. Remember our getting home depends on you." Melysë re-iterated, as the bard did as she was bidden and allowed Melysë to lead her to the spirit realm. When both were under, the priestess kissed their foreheads once and rose, reaching out for Xena.
"Now let's go get our daughter," Xena said gruffly, taking Melysë's hand and blinking back tears as she realized how Gabrielle was placing her life on the line for their daughter once again. Just like when she took on Alti in the spirit realm before Eve was born, she thought, as they left the hut, and proceeded to the opening in the hill. Once inside, they followed it as it curved around a corner. They came to what seemed to be a shimmering wall of pure energy. Beyond that, they could see what appeared to be a primeval forest, lush and green. Tightening their grasp of each other's hands, the two queens stepped through, putting their trust in the heart and soul of one bard and one young girl to bring them home.
Once through the veil, Xena and Melysë did find themselves in that forest, on a small path that meandered around through the trees and seemed to go nowhere. "Hekate said that She would send someone to guide us.... Oh my!" Melysë stopped as a small man literally popped in front of them.
He was about five feet tall, and was almost completely green. His clothes, wild hair, and eyes sparkled with the colour of newly grown grass. He grinned mischievously at them, sizing them up with a trained eye. Xena stepped in front of Melysë, demanding harshly, "Now who in the nine hells are YOU??"
"Puck pops in, Puck pops out, for he is ever about.
Does not fly, he's a guy, never gadding about.
Puck I am called, though thou wilt soon see,
That Robin the goblin also is ME!"
Here he laughed and danced around the women, watching to see what the pretty blue eyed one would do next.
"I take it that you our faërie guide? Stop with the poems already and tell us where to go!" Xena demanded.
With an injured look, Puck replied only,
"Call me not faërie; Puck is an imp of the hills!
To make him so weak as to have wings or gills.
That would be quite wrong! So desist blue-eyed maiden,
Or else take I thy bride so thou wilt not be so 'laden'."
Here Melysë began to chuckle, amused at the one called Puck, seeing how he affected her warrior so. He glanced at her, and bowed low before her.
"Dark haired maiden, light of skin.
Truly, thou glowest from within.
Care to play with Puck awhile?
He is sure to make you smile."
"Hey, lay off her, faërie. Unless you want to taste my steel." Xena drew her sword and held it to him.
"Silly mortal, don't you see?
Human hands cannot harm me.
Only iron, strong and pure
Can harm the green man, that's for sure."
Looking her up and down once more as Xena released him, Puck grinned. He was enjoying this even more than usual.
"Oh now blue eyes, why so cold?
Thinkest thou that Puck's too bold?
Fear not my dear; know this too,
Puck shall play awhile with you."
With a growl of pure rage, Xena leapt at him, only to have him pop out once more. Melysë grabbed her. "Xena, stop! He's only playing. Don't antagonise him, or we'll never find Selenë."
"Antagonise him! That little minx is hitting on you! And then me! Don't tell me you actually LIKE that!" Xena shouted.
"Well, no, not particularly," said Melysë, stifling a giggle as Puck made faces behind Xena's back.
"You do like it," said Xena quietly, her dark side edging dangerously close to the surface again. "Why don't you just go off with the little freak, then, and be done with it."
Melysë stepped back, aghast at what Xena had just said. "Do you really think so little of me? How dare you! How could you even think that I would ever....?"
"Well? Did you even hear what he said?" said Xena, dark blue eyes growing darker and narrowing dangerously.
"Oh, Xena just quit it," said Melysë, annoyed. "This is way over the top - even for you."
"Why I don't just quit - period," said Xena, quietly.
"Whatever you want, Xena," said Melysë, coldly. "I'll just get Selenë myself."
"Yeah - like you can do anything by yourself."
"What's that supposed to mean?" said Melysë, angrily, hands on hips.
"'Oh, Xena can reach that shelf? It's too high for me," said Xena, her voice cruel in mimicry. "Oh, Xena, can you fix the roof? It's leaking. Oh Xena, can you fight these bad guys? You know I can't fight for myself..."
"I'm sorry to have bothered you so with such stupid things," said Melysë quietly, her head down to hide the tears of hurt which sprang to her green eyes.
Unseen by the Amazons, Puck chuckled and danced about with amusement at his sport with the foolish mortals, rubbing his small hands together.
"Blessed Puck! Even the Goddess laughs for your antics. Providing you do no harm to Her Chosen Ones.... Even you, She created, with a Divine chuckle of mirth. And She even allows you your irreverence - but go not too far.... lest it is Her wrath you incur, and not Her divine sense of humour." Hekate appeared to him, also unseen by her Amazons
With a sombre chuckle, Puck knelt before Her.
"Aye my Lady Divine, fear not of this Faërie.
For to anger the Goddess would not make him merry.
Puck sings and plays, and teases the mortals,
But rest assured, dear Lady, he shall return to his portals."
Sighing at his endless impudence, She turned once more to the queens. "Now return them to themselves," She said, fading from his sight. Chastened, Puck gestured to the Amazons.
"Oh, gods, 'Lysë, please don't cry! You know I hate it when you cry," said Xena taking the priestess in her strong arms. "I'm sorry, really I am - I don't mind doing those things for you - in fact, I love doing those things for you. Just...please don't cry. I don't know what got into me."
Melysë chuckled through her tears, returning the embrace warmly and with relief. "Probably that little green guy," she said. "Who, I suspect is still around here somewhere, enjoying his little game with us. Now, Puck, show yourself. Where are we going?"
Puck reappeared, bowing low to them and skipping about them in a circle.
"Forward you must go, but be sure to go back.
Directions you see, are the things that you lack.
Trust Robin fair, he'll help you find your way.
But be thou nicer, lest he lengthen your stay."
Back to his usual self, Puck cavorted around the women and sang out,
"My pretties, so sweet, come hither my dears,
And listen, for Puck will be sweet to thy ears.
Come play now awhile, and forget all this work.
For truth, I care nothing of that which you shirk."
"Listen here Puck, if you don't give us the directions I'm going to...." Xena trailed off as he bowed once more and spoke these words.
"To find the young maiden, one so dark and deep,
You must find the place where the trees sit and weep.
Be careful, Puck warns, for the place whence you go,
For to come home again, one must be in the know."
"That's it!" Xena pushed the startled green man up against a tree, slicing the top of his tunic as she held the sword to his throat. "Stop being cryptic! Just show us the way!"
"Xena, calm down!" Melysë pulled her heart mate away from Puck, and into her arms. She wrapped her arms around her warrior tightly, and held her until she stopped shaking from anger. "This place is causing you to revert to what you know best. Look at me, dearest. Feel my love for you. All will be well."
Seeming to sense that he should tone down his teasing, Puck walked forward and did the best he could, for he was incapable of being serious; 'twas not his nature you know.
"Blue eyes, come don't dawdle and hurry along;
Don't you know? Sweet confusion is the way of my song.
Remember now this only iron can hurt,
Too bad that's just steel with which you just pierced my shirt."
Before Xena could set upon him again, he began to dart down the path, leading them through the dense forest. Xena and Melysë followed, trying to keep up as he dashed from spot to spot. Finally, they lost sight of him around a bend. Slowing to let Melysë catch her breath, Xena heard Puck's voice just ahead. Motioning for the priestess to be silent, they crept around and saw Puck gazing into a pool. They saw that it held a picture of the outside world, focusing on Gabrielle's sleeping face.
"What manner of maid doth my eyes behold,
With eyes so green and hair so gold?
In truth, I see now why Puck was denied;
All would be wrong ere this maiden cried."
He sighed quietly, then spun around as the queens made themselves known with a deliberate cough on Xena's part. "So, now where do we go, little man?" Xena could hardly be angry with him anymore, the love she saw reflected in the faërie's eyes was so apparent as to cause her to shudder softly at the intensity.
Puck raised his eyes to her, and smiled mischievously. Dashing off once more, he led them into a clearing where many faëries were gathered.
"Oooh, Xena look! It's a party!" cried Melysë, rushing forward, till Xena, grinning, casually grabbed the back of her tunic and gently pulled her back.
"Now who's reverting to what she knows best, my Amazon?" asked the warrior with a chuckle. Suddenly, her deep blues widened in surprise.
"What?" said Melysë, disappointed.
"By the gods, I don't believe it," said Xena, shock evident in her quiet voice. "It can't be. It's impossible!"
Patiently, Melysë followed Xena's gaze to a rather dashing man, lounging back against a resplendently garbed Faërie woman, who was feeding him by hand. By the crown she wore on her flame coloured tresses, Melysë guessed her to be the Faërie Queen. The man, however was a mystery to her.
Apparently not so to Xena however. Her blue eyes narrowed as she stepped forward.
"Autolycus, what in Tartarus are you doing here?" she demanded.
Startled, the man leaped to his feet, nervously chuckling as he very quickly regained his composure. A little too quickly, thought Melysë, suspiciously eyeing the man.
"Ah, Xena, yes, ah...nice to see you again," he said, with a charming grin, as he straightened his shirt. "What are you doing here?"
"Cut the crap," said Xena. "I asked you first."
"Ah, yes, well ... there it is," said Autolycus. "I mean, so you did. Ah, Xena can I talk to you - alone?"
Melysë, arms crossed, raised an eyebrow at her warrior. Xena smiled at Melysë, putting an arm around her slender waist, then turned back to Autolycus. "You can talk to us alone," she said.
"Hm, interesting proposition," said Autolycus. Melysë felt the snow leopard stirring a little, but it was Xena who growled. "Alright, alright, ah, Your Majesty, will you excuse me?"
The Queen merely smiled and nodded slightly, as Autolycus took the Amazons off a little way from the others.
"Xena you're gonna blow it," he hissed. "I got a good thing going here - and what are you doing here anyway? Who's this? And where's Gabrielle?"
Xena merely glared at him. "I am Queen Melysë, High Priestess of the Amazon Nation," said Melysë, as graciously as she could manage. "And you are...?
"Ah, my apologies, Your Majesty," said Autolycus, finding his charm again, as he swept a low bow. "I am Autolycus, King of Th....uh, friend of Xena. And Gabrielle. Where is the little Bard, anyway?"
"Long story," said Xena. "And I still want yours - only make it a short one. Now."
"Okay, see Xena, there was this travelling bard - not as good as Gab, but - "
"I said make it a short one," said Xena. "We're a little pressed for time."
"Okay - long story short - Faërie gold - lots of it," said Autolycus, as Melysë looked at Xena, confused.
"But you can't take Faërie gold from here," she said, frowning. "Once outside the Faërie Realm, it turns to dust."
"What?" cried Autolycus. "Aw, for the lov' a Zeus! You mean I've wasted...ah...um...however much time I've wasted here ... for nothing?"
"Autolycus, old friend, you've no idea," chuckled Xena, slapping him on the back.
"Autolycus, have you seen a little girl here?" asked Melysë.
"Hm, little girl, little girl - what's she look like?" asked Autolycus, rubbing his chin, in thought.
"Well, she's twelve, but tall for her age, with long dark hair ,and the loveliest big blue eyes," began Melysë hopefully.
"Hm, tall, dark hair, blue eyes - hey, what is this a joke?" said Autolycus.
"Hardly," said Xena. "She's our daughter and we were told she was here."
"Your - what?" said Autolycus. "Oh, no. This is too much - first the gold, then Xena shows up, now you're telling me..."
"Please," pleaded Melysë, desperation in her voice, and tears welling in her green eyes. "We're running out of time."
"Autolycus, if you make her cry, I swear I'll - " snarled Xena.
"Hey, wait a minute now," said Autolycus, raising both hands to ward off the warrior. "I haven't seen her. I did hear the others talking, though. Some young mortal girl wandered in here, but they said she was mute."
Melysë looked at Xena hopefully. "If she's in deep trance, she wouldn't speak," she said.
"Where is this girl now?" Xena asked.
"Aw, Xena, I dunno," said Autolycus. "I wasn't paying that close attention - had other things on my mind - if you know what I mean."
"Yeah - only too well," said Xena. "Damn it, Autolycus - this important!"
"I know, Xena, but I can't tell you what I don't know!" said Autolycus.
"She'd know," said Melysë, nodding her head towards the queen.
"Ah, Your...Priestess-ness - or whatever," said Autolycus as Melysë started towards the Faërie Queen. "Uh, she's the queen - you don't - "
"Relax, so's 'Lysë," said Xena, following. "And so am I."
"Wha'- ?" said Autolycus, looking at them approached the Faërie Queen. "Oh, gods! This is too much! Just too much."
He wandered away, his head in his hands as Melysë and Xena came upon the Faërie Queen. Melysë, inclined her head slightly, by way of a bow.
"Your Majesty, I am Melysë, Priestess Queen of the Aemetzainê Tribe of Amazonia, and High Priestess of the Amazon Nation. This is Xena, Warrior Queen. We're seeking our daughter, Selenë - we were told she was here."
"Yes?" said the Faërie Queen. "And what is it you want me to do? Come and join us - eat, drink - your daughter will still be here after our feast - if indeed she is here at all."
Just barely restraining Xena, who growled and started towards the Faërie Queen, with one gentle hand, Melysë smiled. "Your own goddesses confirmed this to me - Selenë is here, and we've come to take her home with us - now."
"Oh, dear, this is a problem," said the queen, furrowing her lovely brow, then she smiled, sweetly. "But come and join us, eat and drink whilst we puzzle it out."
"Thank-you, my dear colleague," said Melysë, asserting her own position. "But no. We would appreciate it, however, if you could tell us where our daughter is."
"You refuse my hospitality," pouted the Faërie. "Why will you not join me in the eternal feast? Surely our fare is not so different from your own?"
Melysë leaned in close and almost whispered. "Because, Elphame, Queen of the Fey, it is an eternal feast, for the mortals who partake of it forget all of their former lives until such a time as they are somehow reminded."
Elphame's eyes narrowed. "You know my name. You know that to thrice refuse the food of the Faëries means I may not tempt you again. What is the third Sign, oh, Priestess of the Amazons? Show it to me, I will give you your daughter - and safe passage from my realm."
Slowly, Melysë unwound the bandages from one of her arms. There in blue ink was the sigil of Hekate, the Triple Goddess.
The prince-consort, bowed briefly, and motioned for the Amazons to follow him. Consort? Melysë mouthed silently to Xena, who merely shrugged and grinned. They followed him to a clump of willows near a stream. There sat Selenë, her blue eyes glazed in deep trance. Melysë knelt beside her, gathering the girl into her arms.
"Oh, Xena she's so far under!" cried Melysë. "I don't know if I can bring her out of this."
"Sure you can," said Xena, sounding more confident than she felt.
"No, I can't - not here, Xena. We've got to get back to our own world," said Melysë, as fear clutched at her heart. Suddenly, she felt a gentle caress in her mind, tentative at first, then bolder.
Visibly, she relaxed.
"It's Gabrielle," said Xena, smiling.
"You felt that, too," said Melysë, returning the smile. "Come on, let's get our girl and get of this place."
"You got it," said Xena, wrapping her strong arms around both of them as Melysë descended into a trance deeper than she had ever gone before. The landscape in this realm was unfamiliar to her, but she felt no fear, as she sensed two anchors securing her. She could still feel Xena's arms firmly around her even as she felt her daughter in her arms, and felt Gabrielle's touch on her mind like the hand of a friend in hers as she roamed this strangely beautiful realm.
Suddenly, she saw Rowan, garbed in white robes and holding a flaming sword, blocking her way deeper into the realm, where she knew Selenë - and Ephiny - awaited her.
"Hold it Amazon!" said the Celtic Priestess. "Go no further - this place is only for the Priestesses of Avalon."
"My daughter is in there," said Melysë, her dark green eyes narrowing. She could feel the snow leopard, straining to get out, but this deep in trance and in this unfamiliar realm, Melysë didn't dare let her go.
"And here she will stay," said Rowan, smiling smugly and brandishing the sword. "This is her destiny - to serve Avalon. We need her power."
"And if she were to give it to you freely, I would not stop her, though I would question it," said Melysë. "But she has not done so - that's why she's here - because you can't get to her - but I can."
Melysë advanced on the priestess, who suddenly swung the flaming sword at her - and was blocked by a pair of sais as Gabrielle leapt in front of her.
"'Lysë go get the girls - I'll take care of her," she said, circling the priestess.
"Gabrielle, no! You've never done this before!" cried Melysë.
"Oh yes I have - tell you about it later, though - just...go and get them," said Gabrielle, blocking another sword swing, and manoeuvring the priestess away from the path which led deeper into the realm.
Reluctantly, Melysë ran past the fighters and deepened the trance. The place grew darker as the foliage got thicker, and Melysë could detect no source for the dim twilight which barely illumined the path.
"Meia!" she heard. She looked and saw the two huddled forms, holding each other.
"I'm coming - hang on!" she called, for sound had a strange quality in this place. At last she reached the girls, gathering them close to her for as long as she dared. "Come on, let's get Gabrielle and get out of here."
The three ran up the path to where Gabrielle still battled Rowan. Just like her warriors, she stubbornly refused to stay down, but even Melysë could see it was only a matter of time before Gabrielle triumphed.
"Just...go on," yelled Gabrielle. "I'll catch up to you."
Again, Melysë was reluctant, but she had to get the girls out of here - their time had almost run out before Selenë and a part of Ephiny were lost forever. Melysë nodded her assent and took the girls up and out. Gabrielle spared a glance back at them to make sure they were gone - and like before, her opponent took advantage of the opening, striking her in the head. Gabrielle went down, unconscious, even to the spirit realm. Triumphantly, Rowan raised the flaming sword and prepared to strike the killing blow....
Melysë opened her eyes at the same Selenë did. "Xena, we have to go - we have to get to Gabrielle," she said, anxiously. "I ... I can't feel her anymore!" Quickly, Melysë told Xena of the battle.
"Let's go," said Xena.
"Hold it right there!"
Rowan stopped in awe. The three goddesses stood before her.
"How dare you?" said Cerridwen. "How dare you attack one of Hekate's Chosen?"
"And how dare you handle that sword?" said Arionrhod. "You know that is intended for another, yet to be born!"
"You have misused your power - power which we gave you. You are no longer worthy to wield that power and you are not fit to call yourself our priestess," said Rhiannon, darkly, as she raised a hand and drew a rune in the air, which shimmered for a moment. Where Rowan had stood, there now grew an ash tree. Arionrhod bent and picked up the sword, tucking it into the folds of her gown, where it disappeared.
"What about the Amazon Bard?" said Cerridwen, kneeling beside her.
"Hekate said all would be well," said Rhiannon. "Perhaps even this is part of Her plan. We can do nothing for her, but we can keep watch over her until it is time."
"Time for what?" asked Cerridwen.
"I don't know - it is Hekate's will," said Rhiannon. "Come, Sisters, let us sit by her and keep watch."
Selenë, weakened by her extended trance, couldn't stand, let alone walk. Melysë realising how close a call it had been, shuddered as Xena swung the girl up into her arms and ran, Melysë close behind.
"Autolycus, come on!" Xena yelled as she ran past him, handing the girl off to Puck as she passed. "Get her up there - now! And no funny business, or I swear, I'll - " Puck grinned, and bowed before disappearing with the girl. Xena, still muttering threats, reached back and grabbed Melysë's hand, pulling her along when she faltered, breathless, Autolycus running close behind.
They passed easily through the veil, and came out into the bright sunshine, rushing into the hut, where Puck waited with Selenë, grinning at them as he gently set the girl down into a chair. Seeing that their daughter was safe, they hurried into the back room. There they beheld a sorry sight.
Ephiny knelt over her mother, crying and trying desperately to wake her. "Meia!! Please meia wake up! Tanti Xena, why won't she wake up? You and Tanti 'Lysë are out of the faërie realm, what's wrong with her?"
Hurrying to the Queen Regent's side, Xena replied, "It'll be okay, Eph'. Hekate told us that she would be like this. Go into the front room and be with Selenë. Melysë and I know what to do."
Anxious to see her malatyr, Ephiny quickly left the room, closing the door behind her. Melysë knelt next to Gabrielle. "Why did you tell her that? We don't know what to do, Xena, and I'm terrified."
"Shhh, Love. We'll fig.... " Xena's voice trailed off as the room was bathed in golden light, and the voice which they recognized as that of Rhiannon.
"Truly, you know that all things holy come in threes, know this now: you are the first Triad of Amazon Queens in many centuries. Hekate has ordained that through you three, the Spirit of the Amazon Nation shall live unto Eternity. You can wake your Sister and your soulmate with a simple kiss, Xena." The light faded until the room was as it had been.
"Oh, 'Lysë, I never expected this. I don't want to hurt either one of y..." Melysë covered her mouth with first her hand, then her lips briefly.
"Come, Love. Wake your soulmate. We can discuss this later." Xena nodded, and knelt beside the cot which held Gabrielle's still form.
Grasping each other's hands with one hand, and taking one of the Gabrielle's with the other, Xena bent and pressed her lips to her soulmate's. As they kissed, Gabrielle stirred. Without opening her eyes, she smiled and began to respond, deepening the kiss. At this touch, there was a flash of light, and a current rushed through all of their bodies and pushed them together harder, melding them into one for one second. Startled out of the kiss, the Queens broke apart, keeping their hands joined. Xena and Melysë gazed down as Gabrielle's eyes fluttered and opened.
"Wha...what was that? Xena...'Lysë.... why did you..?" Gabrielle stopped, at a loss for words when she saw the love reflected in not one, but two sets of eyes before her.
"Gabrielle, it's okay. We were visited by the Celtic Goddesses," Melysë explained, squeezing both sets of fingers.
"And now I must tell you what is to be, My dear daughters." Hekate appeared to them once more, opening Her arms to all three.
Autolycus stumbled from the mouth of the cave, having been left in the dust as the queens raced out with Puck and Selenë in tow. As he entered the cottage, he saw Selenë hugging another girl. This must be Gabrielle's daughter, he thought. "Well girls, it's nice to see you found one another, now if you'll just excuse me, I'll be going." He turned to leave, hoping to make it back into the faërie realm before Xena got a hold of him. But he suddenly saw Queen Elphame on the edge of the room. "Well hello there, your Majesty. Couldn't wait for me to return?" He grinned down at the queen, who simpered and replied,
"Come hither, sweet king and pray you do tarry;
Come dance in my pastures and let us make merry.
Forget thou these mortals, whomever they be,
And remember only that thou hast kissed - ME!
Here the Queen suddenly turned back into his true form, that of the laughing Puck. Autolycus gasped when he realized his error, and fell dead in a faint, from both the shock of this new occurrence, to the sudden wonder of how long he had been wooing the wrong Queen.
Selenë and Ephiny began to laugh, having been warned by Puck to keep silent and watch his game. He strode to them, laughing and said,
"What love in such littles! Puck ne'er did see.
From one soul two bodies did come to be.
Puck sees in thine eyes the joy thou hast found.
Soulmates, my dear children, make the world go round."
"Yes they do, Puck." Xena said from the now opened door. She strode into the room, followed closely by Melysë and Gabrielle.
Puck, seeing Gabrielle face to face for the first time, dropped to one knee, gazing up at her adoringly.
"Waked up Puck sees, little one with hair gold.
A kiss Puck now asks, if he may be so bold.
What, no? Not forthcoming from one doubly taken?
Fear not, my sweet thing, though Puck's love is not shaken."
"Is he always like this?" Gabrielle laughed, bringing a grin to her soulmate's and sister-queen's faces. Now he rose and reached to grasp all three together.
"Now thrice blessed daughters of the Goddess divine;
Go well on your journey is a blessing of mine.
Be well with thy children, both old and anew,
For who could know so many could come from so few?"
"Puck HUSH!" A disembodied voice rang out, startling all in the room. He grinned sheepishly and bowed once more, before vanishing. A last refrain could be heard as he faded.
"Know this blessed mortals, thou shalt see Puck again!
For Puck shall be with thee in Amazon land.
He'll dance with the lilies, he'll sing with the trees,
And teach fair young maidens about birds and bees!"
All three queens laughed at this. "Well, I'm sure that there must be some Amazon who will want to play with him, " Xena chuckled. "Just as long as he leaves my druleilë and my malatyr alone."
Ephiny looked up at her questioningly.
"It's a long story, Eph'," Gabrielle said to her daughter. "Come now, I'll tell it to you once we return home. Ready to do the god-thing, 'Lysë?"
"Ready." They all joined hands, with Xena and Gabrielle grasping those of the still unconscious Autolycus. "It's a good thing he's out. He'd probably just faint again," Melysë joked. She focused on home, and in a few moments they appeared in front of Xena and Melysë's cottage. As Arynë and Tecmessa rushed out, Xena said only one thing to them.
"We're going to be having a ceremony."
The time had come. The air buzzed with the excitement and anticipation of not only this most sacred of occurrences, but as this was an Amazon ceremony, the biggest festival in the history of the tribe. Preparations had been made for the last two weeks as all three queens took time to be alone and meditate on what this ceremony meant. Each queen had been asked by Hekate to compose something regarding her feelings.
Melysë spent her time in the temple, communing with Hekate where she felt closest to Her. She took comfort and joy in the knowledge of the blessing she had been given in Xena and Gabrielle.
Gabrielle closed herself within her hut and wrote constantly, putting to scrolls all that had occurred in Britannia, and recalling the bliss that she had felt when finally coming out of the trance.
Xena, for her part, decided to go into the forest, and focus solely on the ramifications of what was happening. She of all three felt the most apprehensive in this. She worried at the potential problems, but was somewhat soothed when Hekate came to her in a dream to reaffirm that all was well and going according to Her divine plan.
The day dawned clear and pristine, heralding the blessed event. Gabrielle, Xena, and Melysë each woke with a sense of urgency, rushing from their beds to prepare themselves for the ceremony, confirming the fulfilment of a divine prophecy.
Melysë emerged from her room, dressed in a simple, long tunic of royal purple, belted about her waist with a silver zona. Her long, shimmering curls flowed freely, held back from her face with a silver fillet, simply adorned with amethysts and fire opals.
Gabrielle had dressed in a similar tunic of saffron, belted with a zona of gold braid, her blonde tresses plaited and intertwined with a gold chain that was set with rubies and pearls.
Xena, who hadn't given all that much thought to her ceremonial outfit, was being fussed over by Cyrenê. She wore a scarlet tunic of silk, flowing and elegant, her dark hair was unbound, save for tiny braids on either side that Cyrenê had carefully plaited while a restless Warrior Queen fidgeted.
"All right, Mother," she said impatiently, pulling away from her mother's fussing hands. "It's done." She saw Cyrenê's broad grin. "What?"
"Oh, I'm just happy - and so proud of you, Xena," said her mother, hugging her. Rolling her eyes but secretly glad, Xena quickly returned the embrace. "Can we go, now?"
Cyrenê chuckled, and shooed her out the door, following close behind.
Once ready, they proceeded to the temple, to a back room, each entering through a different door. As they entered, Hekate appeared before them. "Blessed be, my children. Come, sit, and share your hearts with one another. Appease the fears you hold within you and allow yourselves this joy." As the queens sat, the Goddess gestured to Gabrielle to read her scroll first.
"This is called 'Beloved', for that is what you both are to me.
When I look into your eyes, I see truth.
When I hear your voice, I hear joy.
When I feel your skin, I feel my home.
When I smell your essence, I smell heaven.
When I taste of your sweet lips, I taste perfection.
Before you, I realized nothing, I felt nothing.
All things in my life were as a dream, passing me by.
My heart knows only you as its home,
My lips yearn ever to touch yours for all time.
Leave me never, I beseech you, dear ones,
For you are my true soulmates,
And I love you both, forevermore."
With tears in her eyes, Gabrielle lay down the scroll and leaned forward to kiss both women on the cheek. Xena took her turn next.
"Mine is called "A Plea to My Beloveds", and I know I'm not much for poetry, but this is how I feel.
My heart sings. Love has come again unto me.
Where there was once darkness and pain,
There now exists only light and joy.
How precious this feeling is!
I weep for longing this to be real.
Say not that it is not so,
For if thou sayest this,
I will be nothing forever and aye.
I know that I among all deserve not thy love,
But I rejoice in this gift of not one,
But two who are most precious to me."
At this, both Gabrielle and Melysë began to cry openly, knowing how much of her heart Xena had placed in those few lines. Composing herself finally, Melysë rose to read her scroll.
"I have no name for this, but it is from my heart.
Exiles in a hostile world, we wept
And the salt of our tears mingled with the salt of our Mother's seas
And she heard our pain, and sought us out
Each alone, in solitude
And yearning to be whole.
The Mother wept with her children
And together She drew us, one by one
Each with our gifts, our love to share
She brought us one to the others,
And with love, forged the bond which made us One, within Her."
As she lay down her scroll, Xena and Gabrielle caught her into their arms, all three holding one another close; the bard, the warrior, and the priestess.
"Come now, daughters," Hekate said from the side of the room. "It is time."
The temple was filled to bursting with all the Amazons of Aemetzainê and hundreds from Themiscyreia, Libya, Anatolia, the Northern Steppes, and several of the neighbouring villages. A hush fell over the sanctuary as the three queens appeared in the back of the temple, striding forward as one to kneel at the altar. A light suddenly filled the temple as Hekate appeared before the kneeling queens.
"My blessed daughters, I call you together to this, the ceremony of bonding your heart, your soul, never again to part. Because it is this bond which will ensure the survival of the Amazon Spirit unto Eternity."
She walked to Her right, placing Her hand on Gabrielle's bowed head. "Gabrielle, My bard Queen. You have suffered much for Me and for others. You tell the whole world of My children. Blessed be, dear daughter.
Moving on to Xena, again reaching forward to place Her hand upon her head. "Xena, My warrior Queen. You have suffered much for Me and for others. You protect My children from harm. Blessed be, dear daughter
Stepping at last to where Melysë knelt, She took the same position. "Melysë, My priestess Queen. You have suffered much for Me and for others. You bring Me to the souls of My children. Blessed be, dear daughter.
Standing back, raising Her voice so all in the temple might hear Her, She proclaimed, "My Amazons, My dearest children of all. This day portends a new beginning for you all. For you are now united anew with this, the bonding of the Triune Queenhood. Each one is unique, and each one is the same. They are three, yet they are one. As above, so below. Know this; that I have blessed them, and so I have blessed you. Honour them as such, for all time."
Looking down upon Her Chosen, She spoke again. "Rise, My daughters, and join hands. Xena has suffered in the past for what she has done, Melysë for who she is, and Gabrielle for who she has loved. Know that you now will always have each other to anchor and hold you true to yourself. You must share the sacred five-fold Kiss. Do so now to seal your bonds, and never again be parted, for you are already thrice blessed. You carry within your wombs the joy and the hope of the future nation: Splendour, Good Cheer, and Mirth. Be well my daughters, and know that you are truly forever Mine."
The three queens did as the Goddess bade them.
She smiled lovingly down at the three Queens, then faded from sight, until nothing was left save the intense feeling of Her love. Amazed at what they had just been told, Xena, Melysë, and Gabrielle just gaped at one another for a moment. The entire temple filled with the cheers of all there. From above the noise, one voice rang out. "Let's PARTY!"
Melysë looked up for the source of that cry and laughed. Little Neiromei, giggling, and bouncing in Cyrene's arms, as if already the toddler heard the beating of the Amazon drums which were to follow the ceremony. Xena grinned. "No wonder Hekate picked her to be next High Queen," she said quietly. "Amazon all the way." Suddenly the voice of Hekate rang through the Temple,
"You heard your Princess - get on with it!"
The roar of delight was deafening within the Temple walls, and the Amazons began to spill out into the feasting area. Melysë saw Toris, standing with Jox, holding the little boy's hand. She rushed to embrace her son, as Toris greeted his mother and sister. Cyrenê had set Neiromei down and the baby promptly began climbing her uncle.
"What is it with her and that?" said Xena, bending to retrieve the baby. "She did the same thing to Autolycus."
"She's an Amazon, Xena," said Gabrielle, holding out her arms to take the child who gleefully snuggled with her favourite tanti. "Amazons climb things."
"Yes, and I think we've finally got her trained," said Cyrenê, proudly, causing the child to break into her song - which Gabrielle and Melysë noticed, had grown by a few verses. Xena looked at her daughter, one eyebrow raised and sighed, then smiled. "Welcome back," she said under her breath, so only Romy could hear her.
"What 'Lysë?" said Xena.
"Oh, nothing - just, now it starts all over again," she said, her eyes shining.
Xena groaned. "Gods! more diaper duty."
"Times three," said Gabrielle, grinning at her.
The drums started up and the three queens made their way to the High Table on the dais overlooking the dancing area. They watched the ceremonial dances, then afterwards, the Amazons began to dance just for the joy of the occasion and a joy for life.
Arynë approached them, hand in hand with a shy Tecmessa.
"Mother, tanti-meias," she said, smiling. "We have a gift for all of you. We made them ourselves. They're made from your hair - and believe me it wasn't easy to collect." She and Tecmessa bent and fastened braided anklets on each of the queens.
"Oh, 'Ryn, they're lovely," said Melysë, bending to admire them - two dark locks and one light.
"Well, it was Selenë's idea. She said it would be a part of each of you made into one - a circle, for Eternity," said Arynë. "Something else - Tecmessa and I, we wanted tell you - we've decided on a Joining."
"Oh, 'Ryn - Tecmessa," said Melysë, softly, pride in her eyes, for Arynë had grown to be a beautiful and strong young woman. "I'm so very happy for you."
"So...you're pleased?" said Tecmessa, shyly raising her eyes.
"Of course," said Melysë, gathering both girls in a warm embrace.
"C'mere you," said Xena grabbing 'Ryn. "Finally - took you long enough to ask her."
Arynë laughed. "I didn't," she said, smiling over at the furiously blushing Tecmessa.
"Good girl," said Gabrielle, hugging Tecmessa, as Xena raised an eyebrow and grinned at her daughter's malatyr.
"We were wondering if you would perform the ceremony," said Arynë looking at her mother.
"Of course," said Melysë. "Better make it pretty soon, though - I don't want to be standing before the Tribe looking like ...like..."
"Like what?" said Xena, taking her hand. "You're beautiful when you're pregnant."
"So are you," said Gabrielle, smiling at Xena.
"We all are," said Melysë, looking at the other two.
Suddenly Gabrielle grabbed both Melysë's and Xena's hands, pulling them to their feet.
"Come on, we have to dance," she said.
"Oh, I...um," said Melysë looking down. Gently, Xena raised her face to look into those deep green eyes. She smiled. "What 'Lysë?" she said softly.
"I can't...my leg...when I was wounded... I can't dance anymore. Not like I used to," said Melysë, sadly. As an Amazon priestess, she had danced beautifully for the Goddess in the ceremonies, but since taking a spear in the leg, she felt her movements to be stiff and awkward and not had danced since.
"Come on," said Xena. "You'll be fine - with us."
Melysë smiled at them and together they walked to the dancing area, followed by the cheers of the Amazons.
Together they danced for the joy in their hearts, Melysë held between the other two, whose strength and support kept her from faltering in her steps. They danced for the future of the Tribe and the Nation. And they danced for the love in their hearts, for each other and for the Amazons.
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