The Amazon Queen
Part XVI: Warrior...Bard...Priestess
by L. M. Townsend
DISCLAIMERS: The characters of Xena, Gabrielle, Cyrenê, Virgil, Meg, Autolycus, Joxer, Velasca, Iolaus, et al (meaning anyone else I 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!) The character of Hercules, although a mythical/historical figure in his own right, for the purpose of this story, also belongs to them. Melysë and The Amazons belong to themselves, (and I dare any man to say different!)This story is mine, though, and written just for fun, not profit.
WARNING: If you haven't read the previous stories in this series, you'll probably get lost in this one
Subtext: YES, though nothing explicit.
Language: Where there are warriors....I do try to keep it semi-"clean", though.
*Spoiler Alert - several references to various episodes throughout the history of the show.
OTHER: Everything I know about Avalon, I learned from Marion Zimmer Bradley's "Avalon" series. Ms. Bradley's work was a great inspiration to me and this story is my "homage" to her.
Melysë shivered and pulled her woollen cloak more tightly around her. It was the coldest and darkest time of year, but she had been too restless to sleep. It's getting close, she thought, her hand straying over her abdomen, as the child within stirred, as restless as its mother. The priestess smiled. Soon, little one, you'll be in my arms instead.
Inside the cottage, her warrior slept, but Melysë, watching the sky lighten to pre-dawn grey, knew that she'd awaken soon. She went into the cottage and stirred the embers in the hearth, re-building the fire and began to prepare breakfast for her family. She always loved the way Xena coddled her through her pregnancies, but had been delighted at the opportunity to return the favour when Hekate had gifted the three queens with these children. She knew that Gabrielle was being doubly coddled by both her mother-in-law, Meg, and Autolycus. The King of Thieves seemed to have grown quite fond of the Bard Queen.
Sighing, Melysë still wished this part were over. She missed the contact with Xena - they couldn't even hug, now. Yet she was a bit apprehensive, too - how was this going to happen? Since Hekate had caused the conception of these children, presumably at the same time - would they all be born at once, too? That's going to be one crowded birthing chamber, thought the priestess, stirring a pot of porridge.
Then she felt a soft kiss on top of her head and turned to see her heart-mate grinning at her. She smiled back wistfully, reaching over to gently caress Xena's cheek.
"You're so quiet," chuckled Melysë, pulling the pot from the hearth.
"Here, let me," said Xena, reaching.
"No, I've got it," said Melysë. "Go ahead and sit down. I've got your breakfast."
Xena sat, though raised an eyebrow at the priestess. "You're not planning on feeding me porridge, are you?" she said.
Melysë smiled sweetly and presented her warrior with a plate of golden eggs and a thick, pink slice of ham. "I would never, ever feed you porridge, my Love - your mother told me you've loathed it since the day she weaned you."
Xena chuckled and began her breakfast, starting to rise at a knock on the cottage door, but Melysë motioned her to remain, smiling again, with that smile, which she reserved only for Xena.
The priestess answered the door and saw a runner standing before her, panting slightly.
"The sentries told me to report to the Warrior Queen," she said.
"Xena's having breakfast," said Melysë, frowning. "Can you tell me?"
"Yes, your Majesty - three riders approaching - two are - men," said the girl, at last catching her breath. "About a quarter of an hour from the first post."
"Very well," said Melysë, sighing. "I'll meet them - have the Honour Guard assembled and ready for me."
"B-but your majesty," said the runner, eyes wide. "X-Xena said..."
"Said what?" asked Melysë, dark green eyes narrowing.
"That you're not to be riding," said Xena coming up behind her, with a grin, and placing her strong hands on the priestess's shoulders.
"Will you quit sneaking up on me?" said Melysë, with a mock glare, then she smiled. "Very well, have the Princess Arynë ride out with the Honour Guard to greet our visitors."
"But - " began Xena.
"If I'm not riding, neither are you," said Melysë. Xena sighed and gestured to the runner to carry out the priestess's orders. With a bow, the girl ran off to obey and Melysë closed the door and turned to her warrior.
"And for your information, Hypsyple declared me healthier than ever at my last check up," she said.
"And I want to keep you that way," said Xena, smiling.
Arynë smiled as she rode her battle-trained mare, Amnia. A daughter of Xena's horse, Argo, she was probably the best-trained mount in the stables - and to 'Ryn's eyes, the most beautiful. Arynë had always had an easy rapport with all animals, but Amnia was special, a First-Initiation gift from her gods-mother Xena, Arynë had grown up with Amnia and had trained her herself. In fact, she had been offered Amnia's weight in Hittite gold in Hattusas for the golden mare, but 'Ryn would never part with her companion.
They had been practising when the runner had relayed her mother's message. Arynë had wheeled Amnia about, showing off with a grin, and had galloped to meet the Honour Guard to ride out and greet their visitors. Like her gods-mother, Xena, Arynë was an early riser, but her malatyr, Tecmessa, had still been sleeping when 'Ryn left their hut. She had been sleeping more since Melysë had changed her assignment from the House of Maidens, caring for the young girls, to the House of Mothers, serving midwife duty and caring for the new-borns and the little boys still young enough to remain with their mothers on Amazon Lands. Tecmessa had also stopped talking about having a baby of their own so soon. Mother really does know best, Arynë thought, smiling. In a few years, maybe, but for now, it should be just the two of us...
The sight of the three riders interrupted her thoughts. Two men - one very tall and...well, buff was the only word 'Ryn could think of - and one somewhat smaller, but still well built, with a happy grin which appeared permanently fastened upon his open, honest face. The woman who rode with them had flame-coloured hair and was obviously a warrior in her own right, though not an Amazon. She was compactly built, slender as 'Ryn's own mother usually was, but well muscled and she sported weapons. The riders came closer, then stopped at a respectful distance and raised clasped hands over their heads.
"What are they doing?" whispered one of the guard to Arynë.
"That's the Thracian Amazon sign that they mean us no harm," said Arynë, smiling and riding forward to greet them. "It's alright, Friends. You can relax. I am Warrior Princess Arynë, first daughter of Priestess Queen Melysë and heir of Warrior Queen Xena. Benlai - welcome to Aemetzainê."
"Xena's your Warrior Queen?" said the smaller man, grinning. "Figures."
"Iolaus," said the taller man, smiling indulgently at his friend. "Thank-you, Your Highness. I am Hercules, your mother's brother. This is my best friend, Iolaus. And this is Morgan of Eire."
Arynë grinned widely and reached out, clasping hands with the newcomers. "Then you are all most doubly welcome here, Uncle and your companions. Please let us escort you to the Lodge, where our male family members reside when they visit. I know my mother and my gods-mothers will be pleased to see you."
They were led to the Lodge, where Gabrielle gave them a tearful and joyous welcome, settling them in the very best rooms she had, and sending a runner to fetch Melysë and Xena. The other two queens hastened to greet the visitors.
Melysë was wrapped in her brother's strong embrace. As if they'd been raised together, there was a rapport between them that was palpable to all others in the room. Iolaus was just as exuberant in his greetings of the Three Queens - especially Gabrielle. Morgan stood alone, quiet, but Melysë sensed a fiery spirit bubbling below that silence. When she did speak, her lilting words mesmerised the Priestess and somehow reminded her of her mother, Hypolite.
"I'm so pleased you're here," she said, smiling.
"It's good to see you all so...well," said Iolaus, grinning.
"Iolaus," said Hercules, shaking his head, for Melysë had explained to them about the Goddess Hekate's Gift to the Triple Queenhood of Aemetzainê - three children, who would be the future hope of the Amazon Nation. "Actually, much as I wish it were, this isn't just a social call. We have a problem. Morgan, do you want to explain it?"
"Aye," said the red-haired warrior. "As you know, there is now no true priestess in the High Seat of Avalon, the Sacred Isle of the Celts."
"What is that to us?" said Xena, dark blue eyes narrowing at an anticipated threat.
"A great deal, if ye'll just let me finish me tale, Warrior Queen," said Morgan, casting bright blue eyes of her own on the Warrior. Xena stood in her usual place, protectively behind Melysë, both strong hands on the priestess's shoulders.
Melysë turned and smiled sweetly at her warrior, then looked back at Morgan. "Go on," she said, gently.
"As I was sayin', the last one to call herself 'Priestess' disappeared right after she kidnapped yer daughter," said Morgan, pausing to sip at a mug of Cyrenê's best ale before continuing. "Now, Britannia has little to do wi' Blessed Eire as a rule - ever since that bloody damn Roman, Caesar stepped foot on Britannia, the land's gone bad and all the folk within. Now there's no true priestess in the High Seat of Avalon to keep that corruption from spreading to me own land."
"I'm sorry, Morgan," said Melysë, smiling gently, and reaching to lightly touch the other woman's hand. "How can we help?"
"In a few days is the Feast of Brighid, one of the Goddesses of Eire," said Morgan, responding to the priestess's healing touch. "'Tis a Festival of Purification as well. We need a priestess to purify the land and to stop the corruption of Rome."
"Morgan, as you can see, I'm in no condition to travel," said Melysë, sadly.
"Um, actually, 'Lysë," said Hercules. "Morgan is an immortal in her own right - she can take you there safely and bring you back."
"But I'm an Amazon Priestess, consecrated to Hekate, not a Priestess of the Celts," said Melysë, frowning as she felt Xena's tenseness through her hands on Melysë's shoulders.
Morgan swiftly grabbed Melysë's arm and pushed up the sleeve of her tunic, revealing a tattoo, which Melysë usually kept covered. "This says different," said the warrior. Xena growled and had started to move on the smaller warrior, but Melysë clasped her warrior's hand, and squeezed gently, stopping Xena's attack.
"Why should she help you?" said Xena through gritted teeth. "Britannia's been nothing but trouble for us."
"Because if ye don't stop the corruption there, it'll eventually find its way here," said Morgan. "And because o' yer mother, Hypolite, who was herself a fine powerful priestess - and who woulda been Queen o' the Gwiddonot in Eire if she hadn't left to Themiscyreia. That crown is yer own birthright, Queen Melysë, and one ye should be claimin', if not for your own self, then for the wee ones coming."
Melysë looked stricken, then, as swiftly as her now-awkward body would allow, fled the room and the Lodge altogether, running to the only place of comfort she could think of - the Temple.
Xena, torn between wanting to throttle Morgan and wanting to run after her priestess opted for the first, since Gabrielle ran after Melysë. Snarling curses at the smaller warrior, the Warrior Queen grabbed Morgan by the throat in a lightning fast move, holding the struggling Celt up off of the floor. Then Hercules was beside her, his strong hand on her arm, his voice gentle but firm.
"Xena, put her down," said the demi-god, as Morgan struggled, choking and gasping.
"You brought her here," Xena growled, dropping the smaller woman unceremoniously to the floor and whirling on the son of Zeus, menacingly. Her eyes narrowed and sparked like blue flames.
"Xena, Morgan is right," said Hercules, calmly. "If the problem in Britannia isn't stopped there now, it will spread - and it will affect all of Greece - and the Amazon Nation."
Xena sighed and sat down, resting her elbows on the table and placing her head in her hands. "Alright," she said . "I may have over-reacted - seeing Melysë upset like that - "
"No real harm - I've had worse," said Morgan, grinning as she stood, rubbing her throat.
"So what do we do now?" asked Xena, looking to Morgan.
"If Melysë will come, I'll take her to the Holy Isle of Avalon," said Morgan, sitting across the table from the Warrior Queen, and sipping at her mug of ale.
"I'm going, too," said Xena, in a voice that dared any to contradict. Morgan shrugged.
"If that's yer wish," she said. "Once there, she performs the purifying ritual, cleansing the land, and I bring you back."
"That's too easy," said Xena, eyeing the small warrior, suspiciously. "What's the catch?"
Morgan looked up at Hercules. "Well, it may be that she meets with some ... resistance," he said.
"What do you mean - 'resistance'?" asked Xena, eyes again narrowed.
"There is a faction there which embraces the corrupt changes," said Hercules. "They may not want things, ah - 'cleaned up'."
"Stop being so gods-be-damned cryptic!" said Xena. "What are we up against?"
"Avalon itself," said Morgan. "The priestesses there have grown powerful - they control all the magic in the land, save that of the Faëries themselves, but they use it not to benefit the people as 'twas intended, but only to gain even more power over the lives of those they're to serve and protect. Holy relics have been misused to strip the magic of all those not behind the corrupt priestesses."
"But if Melysë goes there, won't they do that to her?" asked Xena, concerned.
"Nay, her fey blood is immune to their foul tricks," said Morgan.
"Her what?" asked Xena, quietly.
"'Tis why we need her help - Hypolite's sire was of the Faërie folk," said Morgan, again sipping at her mug.
"Oh, gods," Xena groaned.
Gabrielle stopped, breathless and sat down on a bench outside of the Temple to rest. Melysë had gone into the Temple and Gabrielle decided to wait for her there. Maybe she just needs a few minutes to herself, thought the Bard Queen. I wonder why that upset her so much, though. Surely she knew - but even if she didn't, why would it matter?
Melysë emerged from the Temple a few minutes later, her face tear-stained, but calm. She sat beside the Bard and the two remained there in silence for a few minutes. Then Melysë sighed and extended her arms.
"My mother had one of these," she said quietly. Silent, the Bard merely listened, mentally recording. "I asked her about it once...I was very young. She told me that it was given to her where she had trained to be a priestess, when she was Initiated. I told her I wanted one, too - to be a priestess like her. She said she hoped the day would never come that I would bear the mark of 'that place' because it had become corrupt. That's why she left. It all makes sense now. My mother was a priestess of Avalon."
"And Queen of the Gwiddonot in Eire," said Gabrielle, softly. "Don't forget that. The corruption hasn't reached there yet."
"That's true," said Melysë, her eyes glazing in trance. "But Britannia....it's too late. They are a conquered people. They have seen power in the hands of their conqueror - and they want it for themselves. Not just to reclaim their own power - that I could help with. But they want the same power over others they've seen the Romans wield. So the corruption grows from within. I can do nothing to change that - the course of events there must be allowed to follow through. But I can protect Eire - and I can protect the Amazon Nation."
"What about the Amulet of Persephone?" asked Gabrielle. "Doesn't that protect us from Rome?"
"Yes - from Rome," said Melysë, as her eyes cleared. "But Rome is not the problem - just the initiator of the problem. The corruption grows from within - I have to prevent it from starting in Eire and among the Amazons."
Xena sat in the Lodge, lost in her thoughts as the visitors left to their rooms to finish settling in. Selenë came into the kitchen and sat silently with her warrior mother. Xena glanced at the girl and smiled at the image of her younger self she saw there. Only Selenë will never know the darkness I did, thought the warrior. Not if I have anything to do with it.
"Xena," said the girl, her voice soft. "Where's Mother?"
"She went to the Temple," said Xena. "She had some...disturbing news."
Selenë nodded. "I felt her...upset," she said. "About her mother?"
"Yeah," said Xena, sighing. "I don't know why it upset her so much, though."
"It has something to do with that place, doesn't it?" asked Selenë. "That place where that Rowan took me?"
"Yeah," said Xena. "It does. Your Uncle, Hercules is here. He brought this warrior from Eire with him who wants your mother to go back and do some ritual or ceremony there. I don't think 'Lysë wants to go, but Morgan - the warrior - told 'Lysë that her mother, your grandmother was from that place - and your mother sort of had an obligation to fix a problem there."
Selenë frowned. "I wonder why that upset Meia?" she said. "It really wasn't all that bad a place - it was actually quite pretty - and except for kidnapping me, the people were nice."
"Except for that, huh?" said Xena, smiling and gently brushed the dark hair from her daughter's face.
Selenë smiled back. "Well, that really doesn't count against the people there who didn't kidnap me, does it?" she said. "Actually, I sort of liked that place. The land itself seems to speak, telling all of Her secrets and stories. I wouldn't mind going back some day. There's so much to learn there."
Xena looked proudly at her daughter. Hypsyple, the shamenki - Spirit Healer - of the Tribe to whom Selenë was apprenticed, had told them that Selenë had learned all she could teach the girl - it was time to Initiate her as a full shamenki in her own right. Then she would go on to be trained as a priestess - where, Xena didn't know, since Ephesus, the once sacred city of the Amazons where Melysë had received her training was now a place neither of her mothers wanted her to be. It was corrupt, due to Roman influence. Just like Britannia... thought the warrior.
Melysë came in with Gabrielle and Selenë jumped up to hug her mother.
"Meia, are you alright? I felt you - " said the girl, looking at her mother with concern.
"I'm sorry, Sweetheart," said Melysë, smiling gently at her daughter. "I guess I wasn't shielded properly. I'm fine."
"That's okay meia," said Selenë, proudly. "I know how to shield myself, now - I just didn't want to in case you needed me."
Melysë's smile widened. "That's sweet of you, Selenë, but I really am fine," she said. Selenë took her mother's hand and gently turned her arm to look.
"This one is like your mother's, isn't it?" she said, softly.
"Yes,' said Melysë, quietly, as both mother and daughter looked at the symbol inked there.
"But Mother, it's not a bad thing," said Selenë, her eyes glazing in a familiar way. "Neither was your mother's. The goddesses themselves gave these to both of you - because Hekate wanted you to have them. These used to be a mark of honour - for you, they still are. As they will be for me."
Suddenly, with a flash of pain in her dark green eyes, Melysë knew her daughter spoke the truth. Selenë would wear the mark of a priestess of Avalon. And she also knew she would go and do what she must to protect the future of her child.
Xena strode out to the drill field to watch Arynë lead the drills. Even though she was temporarily "off duty", she still enjoyed keeping to her routine. And that included morning drill, even as an observer. She stood there for a while, watching until Hercules came to stand beside her.
"She's good," he observed, watching his niece, astride Amnia, shouting orders, jumping down to correct a stance, then leaping back astride her mare.
"She's the best," said Xena, proudly.
"You trained her," said Hercules. "She's a lot like you."
"Yeah," sighed Xena. "And she's grown up the way I should have, with no warlords destroying her village, turning her into..."
"You've changed, Xena," said Hercules. "I thought you put your past behind you."
"I did," said Xena. "But sometimes it sneaks up on me. I remember the things I did and I wonder why I have what I do now."
"Morgan's getting anxious," said Hercules.
"I'm supposed to care?" said Xena, finally looking at him, eyebrow raised.
"You don't like her, do you?" said Hercules.
"No, I don't," said Xena, turning her gaze back to Arynë.
"Xena - " began Hercules.
"Hercules, Melysë has enough to do and to worry about without Morgan's problems to handle as well," said Xena.
"It's not just Morgan's problem," said Hercules.
"Yeah, well, she's just going to have to wait," said Xena. "Melysë was up all night with Neiromei - "
"Neiromei?" said Hercules.
"Our youngest," said Xena, proudly. "She had a fever and she's coughing. Melysë was up all night, taking care of her, so she's not going anywhere today."
"Your...is she alright?' asked Hercules, smiling at the thought.
"Yeah, she will be - just a touch of croup," said Xena, returning the smile.
"You were up all night too, then," said Hercules.
"Yeah," admitted the warrior. "'Lysë would have done it herself, but - "
"Motherhood becomes you, Xena," said Hercules.
Xena chuckled. "I guess it does," she said, as Arynë, the morning drill session completed, rode up to them.
"Tanti-meia, Uncle," she greeted the two observers.
"How are they, 'Ryn?" asked Xena. Arynë rolled her eyes.
"Recruits," she said. "Not one of them trained yet."
"Good," said Xena.
"How so?" asked Arynë, dismounting.
"No bad habits for us to break," said Xena. "We can train them right the first time."
"Yeah, you're right," said the girl, nodding. "I'm going to take Amnia for a run - want me to take Argo when we're finished?"
"I think she'd appreciate that," said Xena, smiling. "She hasn't had a good run in a while."
"Right then," said Arynë, leading her horse towards the stables.
"You let her ride Argo?" said Hercules.
"She's one of the few," said Xena, chuckling. "Did Melysë tell you about the time she took off on Argo?"
"No," said Hercules, grinning.
"Yeah - a warlord attacked the village during 'Ryn's first Initiation feast," said Xena, smiling as she remembered. "Grabbed 'Ryn and rode off. Next thing I saw was 'Lysë riding after them like the Furies were behind her."
"Yep," said Xena.
"And you just let her?"
"Well, I figured if Argo had no objections, why should I?" chuckled Xena. "Actually, I was glad she was on Argo - she was pregnant with Selenë at the time and I knew Argo would protect her. Funny, that was before I realised how much ... anyway, I caught up to them to later. After 'Lysë and Argo caught that warlord."
"Amazing," said Hercules, shaking his head.
"Yeah, she is," said Xena. "As for Morgan - I'll try, Hercules, but there's just something about her that bugs me."
Melysë opened her eyes and stretched, catlike, looking over at her sleeping daughter. The child had been awake all night, sick and miserable, but had finally fallen asleep in her mothers' bed, tucked securely between them. Gently brushing her daughter's dark curls, so like her own, away from the child's face, Melysë leaned down and softly kissed the little girl's head, relieved to find her fever gone.
She and Xena had taken turns holding the child while they dosed her with willow bark to get the fever down so they could employ steam to break up the cough. Finally, they had succeeded, but it had been a long night for all concerned. Carefully so as not to wake the child, Melysë arose and dressed, going to the kitchen hearth of the cottage and noticing that Xena had made her some klafé, keeping it warm in the hearth-coals. Melysë's cousin in Themiscyreia kept them well-stocked, knowing how 'Lysë loved the hot drink - especially in the mornings. Hypsyple had warned her to keep it to a minimum and Melysë did try, but mornings without just didn't go as well. With a smile at her heart-mate's thoughtfulness, Melysë poured and sipped gratefully, just as she heard a knock on the door. Sighing, the priestess set down the mug and answered it, stepping aside to admit Morgan.
"Come in," said the priestess. "Have you had breakfast?"
"Aye," said the warrior, restlessly looking about. "Where's Xena?"
"Probably watching drill - she does that, even though she's not leading right now. Our daughter has taken over till the babies are born," replied Melysë, retrieving her mug.
"It's time we were goin'," said Morgan. "The Feast o' Brighid is - "
"Still several days away," said Melysë, her dark eyes narrowing. "I'm sorry, Morgan, my youngest had us up all night, sick. I'm not leaving her right now."
"Xena can stay and care for the wee one," said Morgan, eagerly. Too eagerly for Melysë.
"Xena's coming with me," she said, firmly.
"Aw, now - that warrior o' yours, she'll be causin' naught but trouble," said Morgan, pacing. "And someone like her's got no place near a sacred ceremony - least of all, a purifyin' ceremony - she's got too much violence in her - and too many deaths behind her. How a priestess like yerself can tol-- " Suddenly, Morgan found herself flat on her backside, sliding across the polished wooden floor until her back hit the wall. Melysë stood there, her fist still clenched, her eyes literally green flames.
"Not nearly as much trouble as I'll be causing if you try that one more time. No one talks about Xena like that - no one," said the irate priestess. Suddenly, Melysë whirled around at the sound of a chuckle behind her and saw both Xena and Hercules standing there. Xena was grinning, Hercules was open-mouthed, but Melysë thought she saw a hint of amusement in his eyes as well. With a sigh, Melysë extended her hand to assist Morgan to her feet.
"Should have let her finish her klafé this morning," chuckled Xena as Morgan stood without Melysë's help, glaring at both Amazons. Hercules grinned, at last no longer able to contain his amusement.
"Xena, you should have warned us my little sister had a temper," he said, eyeing the glares between Melysë and Morgan, warily.
"Melysë? A temper?" said Xena, thoroughly enjoying herself. "Nah, she just doesn't allow anyone to push her around. Right Morgan?" Angrily, Morgan strode out of the cottage, Melysë's dark green eyes following her.
"I'd better, uh...." said Hercules, watching Morgan as she made her way back to the Lodge.
"Go on, Hercules," said Melysë, wearily. "I won't say I'm sorry - I meant what I said - but I probably shouldn't have hit her...so hard."
Shaking his head, but smiling, Hercules followed the small warrior out the door. Xena came up beside Melysë, wrapping a strong arm around her shoulders and planting a kiss on her cheek.
"Thank-you," she said.
"For what?" asked Melysë, smiling at the warm closeness of her warrior.
"Protecting my honour - and popping her such a good one - I've been wanting to do that since she got here," said Xena, chuckling.
Melysë raised an eyebrow, then grinned. "Cocky thing, isn't she?" she said.
"And then some - but if you're going to do this, we are going to have to work with her," said Xena.
"I have to do this," sighed Melysë. Just then, both mothers heard a whimper and went to Neiromei, who was just waking up. Melysë, smiling, gathered the child in her arms, happy at finding her still fever-free.
"I'll get her some broth," said Xena, softly stroking the little one's dark hair, as Melysë smiled at her.
"Thank-you," said the priestess, carrying their daughter to the main room and sitting with her, gently rocking the child, who snuggled in close to her meia.
"Hey, how's Romy?" asked Gabrielle, coming into the room.
"Better, thanks," said Melysë, smiling at her friend. "How'd you know?"
Gabrielle rolled her eyes. "Morgan's ranting about the delay," she said, then chuckled. "Heard you flattened her - that's pretty good - you know she took Hercules when they first met - and you just knocked her flat!"
Melysë smiled and shrugged. "Element of surprise - she wasn't expecting it," said Melysë. "She insulted Xena - and she's very lucky I can't use my powers or she may have met the snow leopard."
"Whoa," said Gabrielle. "Insulted...she is lucky."
"Hm, yes but now she's angry," said Melysë frowning. "Still, she needs me - so she'll just have to go along with my wishes. Then we never need to see each other again."
"That's true," said Gabrielle. "How are you today?"
"I'm okay," said Melysë, smiling a little. "I just ... it was unexpected, hearing about my mother like that then having it all come back. Selenë gave me the insight I needed, though. It's true, Hypolite said she never wished for me to wear these, but she wouldn't have known then that Hekate willed it. I think once I go and 'clean up' the Sacred Isle, my mother's honour will be restored."
Suddenly Melysë's eyes glazed over in trance and she "saw" Hypolite's flight from Avalon.
"Hypolite, you owe the Goddess this daughter," said the priestess. Melysë saw the woman through her mother's eyes. She was small, yet imposing, with hair the colour of night, eyes like emeralds, but cold and distant.
"No!" cried Hypolite. "Lyssë and I - "
"Your Themiscyreian lover has no say over this," said the priestess, coldly, her eyes flashing in anger. "You Amazons must learn that there are forces to which even you must bow."
"Never will I bow to you," said Hypolite. "Nor any of my daughters."
"I say to you now, Hypolite, daughter of Ro - "
"Don't say it - I am no daughter of his!" hissed the Amazon.
"Whether I say it or no, I have foreseen it - your daughter - this daughter will bear the same mark of Avalon you wear," said the priestess, smiling triumphantly.
"Not if I can help it," said Lyssë, leaping in and grabbing Hypolite, pulling her safely through a battle which raged between the Themiscyreian Amazons, together with the Gwiddonot as the warriors of Avalon and Britannia fought for the Priestess Queen and her unborn child.
"Go if you will, Hypolite but your daughter - and hers - shall return to us someday," the priestess called after them as the Amazons fled with their new Priestess back to Themiscyreia.....
With a gasp, Melysë came back to herself. "She left because of me," whispered the priestess, absently stroking her small daughter's dark head as the child whimpered at her mother's distress. "To protect me from....them."
"What's wrong, 'Lysë?" asked Xena, entering the room with Romy's broth and seeing Melysë's eyes. The warrior handed the broth over to Gabrielle and took Neiromei, also handing her to Gabrielle then knelt beside her priestess.
"Oh, Xena, I'm okay," said Melysë, still looking troubled, as she took the warrior's hand. "I just ... 'saw' ... my mothers escaping from Avalon. The Gwiddonot fought with the Themiscyreians. I think we could get them to help us again. And I think these marks on my arms will be the key - again."
Melysë walked to the Lodge. Xena had stayed with Neiromei and Melysë had smiled at the two of them, napping together. Gabrielle had gone home earlier, saying she had to feed her own younglings - and their guests.
Melysë pushed open the door and saw Autolycus in an apron, carrying a basket of roots to peel.
"One word - just one - to Xena, and I'll - " he growled at the priestess.
"You'll what?" said Iolaus, similarly garbed, coming from the kitchen. "You better leave Herc's sister alone, Auto - she popped Morgan a good one this morning - must run in the family. Come on - Gabrielle's waiting for those."
Melysë grinned. "Where is Morgan?" she asked.
"Uh, you're not going to - ?"
"No," said Melysë, shaking her head. "As long as she doesn't insult Xena again, we'll be fine. Where is she?"
"Out back, sparring with Hercules," said Iolaus over his shoulder. "Come on Auto - we've got to get these done." Rolling his eyes, Autolycus grinned at the priestess and followed.
Melysë went to the back yard and watched the warrior fight, hand-to hand with her brother for a while. Then as if sensing her, Hercules stopped and grinned in her direction, approaching.
"Want a turn?" he whispered for her ears only. Melysë smiled and shook her head.
"Already had my morning workout with her, thanks," she whispered back. "Um, Hercules - could I talk to Morgan, please?"
"You're not going to - ?"
"No," said Melysë, with a sigh. "I didn't mean to this morning, but..."
"It's okay - she doesn't stay mad long," said Hercules, with a another grin and a hug for his sister, as he left the two of them alone. Melysë approached, offering a smile and her hand. Morgan hesitated, then grinned back, taking the queen's hand.
"I shouldn't have lost my temper," said Melysë. "But you should know, Xena is very dear to me - I'll not tolerate another word said against her. And those things you said would have hurt her more than you can ever know."
"Maybe I do know," said Morgan, casting her eyes down. "I have me own past to live down - and I should have known better. Ye're very like your mother. She stood up to the Lady of Avalon in defence of Lyssë. That's not done lightly."
"Did you know my mother, Morgan?" asked Melysë.
"Nay, but our Bards still tell her tale," said Morgan, proudly. "She led the Gwiddonot of Eire against the forces of Britannia when they would 'a invaded our island. The people were moved to stand with the Gwiddonot and fight. 'Tis a fine proud people, the folk of Eire. We'll never let our island be taken by any."
"Tell me of the Gwiddonot," said Melysë, indicating a bench and sitting with Morgan.
"They're Amazons," said the warrior. "The Tribe of Eire is fiercely proud, but the Tribe of Britannia follows the lady of Avalon. They do her bidding, like lap dogs."
"That explains Rowan," said Melysë.
"Nay, she was but a priestess - not Gwiddonot herself," said Morgan. "And not the one who sits in the High Seat."
"Who is that?" asked Melysë.
"A woman by the name of Nerys," replied Morgan. "A cold, hard, cruel woman, she is, and that much more to you, as Hypolite's daughter should ye seek her out - which ye must if ye're to succeed."
"Who leads the Gwiddonot of Eire now?" asked Melysë, frowning, thoughtfully.
"'Tis yer mother's sister, Queen Ruarí, who leads them now," said Morgan. "But she only holds the crown for yer mother's heir - which is you, Melysë."
"I don't want it," said Melysë, absently.
"Want it or no - 'tis yours," said Morgan.
"No," said Melysë, firmly. "It belongs to the one who's held it all these years - and to her daughters after her."
"Aye," said Morgan, nodding her approval. "Ye are your mother's, alright - same stubborn sense of fairness - I should know, since I've been tasked with bein' the Spirit of Justice - thanks to yer brother. But just or no, there's a law and tradition - "
"To Tartarus with the law," said Melysë, eyes sparking green flames. "I won't take it. I'll abdicate in Ruari's favour. I have enough to be responsible for right here."
Morgan chuckled. "Aye, if ye do that, ye'll still be within the law," said the warrior. "Ruarí's a damn fine queen - 'tis she who's kept the Tribe together and free of the corruption in Britannia. Ye'd do well to keep it in her hands. Her daughter, now, that's another story."
"Why? What's wrong with her?" asked Melysë, concerned.
"Nothing - Vivien is good folk too - and she has the Sight, strongly - but she's no warrior," said Morgan, sighing.
"Neither am I," said Melysë, grinning. Morgan looked at her, wide-eyed.
"But you - " she said.
"Xena's the warrior in this family - and my daughter, Arynë," said Melysë, chuckling.
"Aye, then, Nerys doesn't know what she's in for," chuckled Morgan.
"I'm counting on that," said Melysë.
Xena awoke to her daughter's gentle patting. She smiled at the little girl and put out her arms. Neiromei grinned and cuddled close to her warrior-mother, placing her little hand on Xena's stomach.
"Little sister," said the child.
"Yes, that's your little sister," said Xena, smiling fondly at the child. "Just think, Romy - you get to be a big sister now."
"Like 'Ryn and S'lena?" said the child, popping back up, her blue eyes wide.
"Yes, just like 'Ryn and Selenë," said Xena, chuckling. "Only you get two little sisters to play with."
"Want to play with 'em now," said Neiromei, the beginning of a pout appearing on her little face.
"I know," sighed Xena, rolling to her side to get up. "Believe me kid, I wish you could too. Come on - let's see where your meia went."
Distracted from her pout, Neiromei grinned, letting Xena dress her, then took Xena's hand, skipping out of the cottage towards the Lodge. Xena saw Melysë sitting with Morgan, talking earnestly. "Well, looks like that worked out," said the warrior.
"What?" asked Neiromei.
"Meia and Morgan quarrelled this morning," said Xena.
"Nuh, uh," said the child, shaking her head. "Meia slugged Morgan, 'cause she said mean things."
Xena chuckled. "How did you know that?" she asked.
"Heard it," said Neiromei, distracted by birds flying overhead. "I heard tanti and meia talking and meia said Morgan said mean things about you - I wanted to slug her, but meia already did it. Boy, was my meia mad. She said Morgan was lucky she couldn't do the snow leopard now."
Xena looked at the child. "You know slugging people isn't always a good thing, don't you?" she said.
"Yeah, but if meia does it, that's diff'rent," said Neiromei. "Meia don't slug people 'less they need it."
"Doesn't," Xena corrected automatically. "She doesn't slug people unless they need it."
The child grinned up at her warrior mother. "But you do," she said.
"That's because most of the time, most of the people I run into need it," said Xena, grinning back. "Come on, let's get your meia."
Melysë looked up to see Xena leading Neiromei by the hand towards her. She smiled brightly, noting that the child still looked a little pale, but at least Xena had dressed her warmly, with her little woolen leggings and thick tunic. Hmm, that cloak's getting a bit too small, though, the priestess noted. I'll have to make her another before too much longer - she's going to be tall, like Xena. Maybe I can get some of that wool like Morgan's wearing in Eire when we go - it looks so warm, and just as important, soft. Won't do for my little one to go itching...come to think of it, Xena could use a new cloak, too - maybe I can get enough to make her a tunic for under her leathers, too....
Morgan looked at the priestess's face as she watched the two approaching. 'Tis lucky indeed I am, 'twas only me pride that got a bruise! she thought, smiling. I'll not be makin' that mistake again! And what a lovely wee lass! No wonder she'll not leave so easy...I miss me own daughter, I should know what that's like....and Brigit not even ailin'... I'd be hard put to leave her if she were, too...
Melysë arose and took her little in her arms, cuddling her close as Xena smiled at them. Melysë looked to her heart-mate. "What brings you two out here?" she asked.
"Just making sure Morgan lives to take us to Eire," said Xena, grinning.
"Xena, little ears...."
"Have already heard all about it," said Xena.
"Meia, tanti said you 'flattened' Morgan when you slugged her, but she looks alright to me," said the child staring at the warrior.
"Uh, Neiromei, I didn't really - " began Melysë as Morgan came near, grinning at the child.
"Aye, she did, wee lass - 'tis a strong arm your mother has, too," said the small warrior. "But 'twas no more than I deserved - and I'm very sorry, Xena, for the things I said. I've no room to talk meself."
Xena looked into Morgan's eyes for a moment, then held out her arm for a warrior's clasp. Gratefully, Morgan took it. "No hard feelings," said Xena, quietly. "Sounds like we have a lot in common."
"Aye we do," sighed Morgan. "But that's a talk for another day - when the sun's not so lovely bright and we've a few cups o' ale before us - and behind us."
Xena chuckled. "You're on - someday," she said. "For now, we have a mission to fulfil - the sooner it's over, the better."
"Aye, Xena, 'tis truth ye're speakin' now," said Morgan. "Only a few days 'til the Feast o' Brighid - and if we miss it, 'twill be too late. The 'Lady' of Avalon will have gained enough power by next year that no matter what we do, we'll not defeat her."
"Well, since Romy seems better," said Melysë, kissing her daughter on top of her head as the child snuggled closer to her meia. "I guess I'll take her to Cyrenê - we can leave this afternoon. I'll need to speak with Queen Ruarí first, I think, before we try taking on Avalon."
"Who's Queen Ruarí?" asked Xena.
"My aunt - leader of the Gwiddonot of Eire," said Melysë. "I'll explain everything, Xena. Let's go see your mother - Morgan, I'll see you this afternoon."
Cyrenê was, as always delighted to have charge of her youngest - so far - grand-daughter, despite her worries about Melysë and Xena travelling in their "condition".
"Are you two sure this can't wait another moon or so?" asked Xena's mother, eyeing them both carefully. "Or maybe not even that long, by the looks of you."
"Mother -" began Xena.
"Tanti, it'll be alright - I promise you'll be there for this one," said Melysë, smiling, as she handed her small daughter over to the child's grandmother.
Smiling her delight, Cyrenê took the little girl in her arms. "Well, if you're sure," she said. "Just...please be careful - that Morgan looks .... dangerous."
"No more so than, 'Lysë, Mom," said Xena, chuckling.
"Xena," said Melysë.
"Very well, girls - just hurry home and be safe - and don't dare either of you have those babies without me!" said Cyrenê as they left.
"I think we've been warned," said Xena, chuckling, as she put a warm arm around Melysë's shoulders.
"Yep - and now I've promised - so don't you dare make me break my word, Warrior!" said Melysë, wrapping her own arm around Xena's waist as they headed back to their cottage to pack and prepare for the trip.
True to her word, Morgan landed them safely in Eire. Melysë gasped at the beauty of the place. A rolling mist did nothing to hide the lush greenery; rather, it added to the mysterious feel of the rich dark earth peeking from the tilled fields. The priestess felt the land calling to her in a whisper, telling her things which she couldn't quite make out in words, but felt deeply all the same.
Xena felt only an unease, as if hidden people were whispering all about her, and she was even more alert than usual, her hand never straying far from her chakram. Morgan bounced along, joyful in her homeland, and eager to share all of it with these two visitors.
It was only the three of them here. Hercules had opted to remain and keep an eye on things at the Lodge as it seemed Autolycus and Iolaus had entered into a friendly - or not so friendly - competition for Gabrielle's attention. When they left, Gabrielle was complimenting Iolaus for building a fire in the main room's hearth so swiftly.
"Old hunters' tricks," boasted Iolaus.
"Yeah, " said Autolycus, producing flint and steel, seemingly from the air. "With a little help from this." Iolaus felt frantically at his pockets.
"Hey!" he said. "Give that back!" Auto had chuckled and held it above the smaller man's head, making Iolaus jump for it in a less than dignified manner. Hercules had just been stepping in to mediate when the three women left.
"Oh, Morgan, it's beautiful here," said Melysë, softly. "No wonder you love it."
"Aye, that it is," agreed Morgan, leading them to the Gwiddonot village. "And with yer help, it'll stay so. We're a fine proud people, fightin' folk, all o' us - we'll not go down without a battle - but we'll gi' ye the last crust o' bread in the house if ye're hungry and the last scrap o' wool if ye're cold. We take care o' our own, we do."
"Speaking of wool," said Melysë. "Before we leave, I'd like to buy a few lengths - Romy's needing a new cloak - she's nearly grown out of hers."
"Aye - she's a fine wee lass," said Morgan. "And she'll be a leggy one - like yer warrior, she will."
"I hope so," said Melysë, proudly.
"No fret, I'm thinkin' the folk here'll have just what ye're needin," said Morgan. "Warm and soft as for likes of our own wee ones. But first, we have work to do - or, more truly, you do."
"Yes," said Melysë, nodding soberly. "Let's get to it. Where's Ruarí?"
"Who's lookin' fer me?" said a tall warrior, with hair even more blazing than Morgan's, long and flowing in curls held back from her face with a gold circlet. Her skin was as fair as Melysë's own and her eyes just as dark and as green. "Morgan? What're ye doin' here? I thought ye went fer Hercules to get that fake priestess out o' the Sacred Isle?"
"I did," said Morgan, greeting the Warrior with a handclasp. "But Hercules had a better idea - his sister, Melysë - Hypolite's own daughter."
The warrior looked carefully at Melysë, glancing warily a few times at Xena, standing protectively close behind the priestess. Melysë raised an eyebrow at the scrutiny, but otherwise stood still and silent.
"Aye, she's a Gwiddon of Eire, alright," said Ruarí, nodding approvingly. "And she has the looks o' me sister - but has she the sign?" With a sigh, Melysë pushed up her sleeve and showed the tattoo to her aunt.
"Aye - and placed there by the Goddesses themselves," said Morgan. "And not by Nerys, the Pretender."
Suddenly, Melysë found herself enfolded in her aunt's arms, tears streaming from the older warrior's eyes, as Morgan gestured to Xena that it was alright. "By Brighid's brightest blessings," said Ruarí. "Welcome home, daughter of Hypolite."
"I am Melysë," said the priestess, returning the embrace, warmly. "And thank-you - I didn't know Mother had kin here. I'm very glad to meet you."
"Ye've come home to us - at last - and ye bring us a daughter," said Ruarí, releasing her.
Melysë frowned. "No - I've come to help - that's all," she said. "I don't want your crown - I have my own - as does my daughter - all of my daughters."
"As you wish, then, Melysë," said Ruarí, grinning broadly. "I'll be happy to keep holdin' the crown for ye - or yer daughter, as long as ye wish."
"How does forever sound?" said Xena, arms crossed in front of her.
"But surely, Melysë, ye'll be wantin' - " began Ruarí.
"No," said Melysë, firmly. "I have my own place - this is yours, Aunt. I'll abdicate in your favour and that of your daughter. You've held the Gwiddonot together with honour - you've earned the crown."
Solemnly, Ruarí nodded. "I need no further sign that ye're me own sister's child," she said, voice quavering. "'Twas always fair and just, she was. Honour - ye're an Amazon true, Melysë - as was yer mother."
"Thank-you," said Melysë, tears springing to her own eyes. "I...I miss her...I miss them both....especially now. Seeing you - and where she came from..."
Suddenly, Xena had her and Melysë laid her head on her warrior's shoulder, as tears flowed freely from her green eyes. The Warrior glared at Ruarí. "Is there somewhere she can sit down - or something?" she asked quietly.
"Aye - what are we thinkin'?" said Ruarí, hastening to lead them to her own hut, and clearing a bench for Xena to sit with Melysë, while Morgan went off to greet some of the others and to find Vivien, Ruarí's daughter. Xena continued to glare at Ruarí. "Is me face turned green, Warrior?"
"No," said Xena, with a sigh. "I just hate it when anyone makes her cry."
Ruarí grinned again. "Aye, 'tis understanding you I am," she said. "Let me make you both some tea whilst you get her settled down. And 'tis sorry I am."
"That's alright," Xena sighed again. "I can't really blame you. She just gets like this when - "
"Will you stop talking about me like I wasn't even here?" said Melysë, wiping her eyes.
Now it was Xena's turn to grin, sheepishly. "Sorry 'Lysë," she said, softly.
Melysë sighed. "No I'm sorry - sometimes I don't know what gets in to me," she said. "I just...really miss them sometimes."
"Nay, 'tis alright, Little Sister," said Ruarí, bringing them two steaming mugs and retrieving one for herself as well. "I miss them, too - Lyssë as well as Hypolite, for she was as good a friend as any could be. But it's glad I am ye're here at last. Almost brings her back to me a bit. You look quite like her, you know, save yer hair's darker. And you, warrior, you look very like Lyssë. 'Tis like turning back time, it is."
The three merely sat for time, then, sipping their tea, until Morgan came in, accompanied by a small, dark-haired girl. She looked at once to Melysë and smiled slightly. "Welcome, Cousin," she said.
"Me daughter, Vivien," said Ruarí, proudly.
"Vivien," said Melysë, rising with a smile. "It's good to meet you."
"Aye, 'tis good to meet you, too, Cousin," said Vivien, returning the smile. "The mother of my successor and my own kinswoman."
"Wh-what?" said Melysë, her smile quickly fading.
"Oh, don't worry," said Vivien. "I knew it as soon as I saw you. You'll put me in the High Seat as Lady of Avalon - and 'tis your middle daughter who'll follow me there. After we restore the goodness to that place, of course."
Melysë sighed, resigned. What will be is yet to be determined, thought the priestess. "Sight" or no "Sight". "Tell me of this place - this 'Avalon'," she said.
"'Tis a place of great power - and great beauty," said Vivien, smiling slightly, her eyes seeing far away. "'Tis between this world and the Land of Faërie, an isle, hidden in the mists of the lake. Folk have been known to wander for years, lost in the mists, seeking the hidden paths to the Sacred Isle."
"Have you been there?" asked Melysë.
"Oh, aye," said Vivien, smiling wider. "I know the secret way. All with Faërie blood can 'see' the hidden paths. They glow to faërie eyes for they're faërie-made."
"You'll lead us there, then," said Melysë.
"Nay, but I will, though ye'll see for yourself," said Vivien.
"Wh - what do you mean?" asked Melysë.
"She doesn't know?" Ruarí asked Morgan.
"Ye didn't tell her?" said Morgan to Xena.
The warrior sighed. "'Lysë, Morgan said your mother's father was man of the Faërie-folk," she said, gently.
"Oh," said Melysë, frowning in thought.
"Nay, not just a man, but a king - of the Dark Elves," said Vivien, shaking her head.
"Dark Elves?" said Melysë.
"Aye, neither evil nor good, but something in between, that lot," sighed Ruarí. "They have the strongest magic of all the Fey."
"Would they help us? Against Nerys, I mean," asked Melysë.
"Likely not, for 'tis your grand-sire himself who put Nerys in the High Seat," said Ruarí. "Many years ago, he did - you see, Melysë, Nerys is our mother - your grandmother."
"My - Blessed Goddess!" said the priestess, dismayed. "What am I supposed to do against my own blood-kin?"
"Make her small," said Xena, softly.
"I don't understand," said Melysë, turning to her heart-mate.
"Neither did I," said Xena, quietly. "But I do now. I'll help you, 'Lysë."
"Aye, Warrior ye will," said Vivien. "Ye're her strength, her anchor - her heart. But where's the third?"
"Third?" said Morgan.
"The third part of the Triad," said Vivien. "I had foreseen a Warrior, a Priestess, and a Bard - a heart-bond, a soul-bond, and a spirit bond - 'tis a powerful magic these three have together. We need the third."
"Gabrielle," said Melysë. "Our third queen - she's a Bard. She stayed behind to-"
"Morgan, " said Vivien.
"Right," said the small warrior. "I'll go and fetch her."
While Morgan returned for Gabrielle, Vivien led Melysë through the misty forest and the priestess could indeed see the path glowing, a silvery sort of shimmer, like a beam of moonlight. They followed the path and Melysë was grateful for the glow, for the mist soon closed in around them until the shining trail was all the priestess could see. Soon the mists thinned and drifted away and from their hiding place among the trees, Melysë could see a high, rocky hill.
"That's the sacred tor," Vivien whispered. "'Tis an ancient place of great power - but its power wanes with misuse. There are priests on this isle who call themselves Druids - but they are not true Druids."
"Just as the priestesses are not true priestesses," said Melysë.
"Aye, Cousin," said Vivien, nodding. "Now what I brought you here to see - there."
Melysë looked to where Vivien pointed and saw a man being bound up in wicker, while others standing about, hands bound, were each in turn being mutilated. A great bonfire blazed nearby. The captives were making strange noises and Melysë suddenly realised they were screaming, but their tongues had been cut out. She shuddered in horror and looked away as the wicker effigy was tossed into the fire while the robed figures stood about chanting words Melysë didn't recognise, and drinking what appeared to be blood - presumably that of their victims.
"Why...why did you show me this?" she said, tears filling her dark eyes at the horror and the helplessness she felt.
"They say they honour the old gods in this way," said Vivien. "They lie. They use this...ritual to silence and remove any dissenters - any who cross them are thusly treated. It must stop. Let there be no doubt in your mind, Melysë, and no hesitation - at any cost, Nerys must be stopped. Any cost."
"No," said Melysë in a horrified whisper as the man's tortured and wordless screams came to her from the flames. "No, I won't....I can't...but I will stop her. What god could find honour in...that?"
"Ask Morgan about Cernunnos," said Vivien, taking Melysë's hand to lead her back. "Or, actually - better you don't, after all. Come on."
Gabrielle was already in the Gwiddonot village when they returned, Melysë pale and quiet at the horror she had witnessed. The priestess hadn't touched the supper laid out for the visiting Amazons, though the food had been excellent. Nor had she said more than a few words since her return, merely looking down and almost whispering a response when anyone addressed her. Xena kept watch on her, worried. Whatever she saw in that place, it must be hellish, thought the warrior, glaring at Vivien for subjecting her priestess to whatever had affected her so. 'Lysë has seen war and blood and death and torture - what could've been bad enough to affect her like this?
Xena watched her priestess, sitting with Vivien, talking quietly, Melysë's eyes troubled. She walked over to them and Melysë smiled brightly.
"Xena," she said, softly. "Come and take a walk with me."
"Sure," said the warrior, warmed and somewhat comforted by the smile. Arm in arm they walked to the edge of the Gwiddonot village, and Melysë related what she had seen near the tor. Xena, too, was horrified.
"Even at my worst," she said quietly. "Even then - I never....'Lyse, Vivien is right - we have to stop Nerys."
Melysë nodded silently. "I intend to," she said, too quietly. "But Xena, I can't kill her."
"You may not have to," said the warrior, thinking. "You said in your vision, she foresaw your returning here."
"Yes, but the Sight is an imperfect tool," said Melysë. "Divining the future can never be perfectly accurate because every decision and every act has the potential to change the future. Like you've always said, we really do make our own destiny. Nerys may have seen my return, but she obviously didn't see the reason behind it - to stop her. She would have assumed that I was coming to serve her and Avalon."
"And that's not going to happen," said Xena, darkly.
"No, it isn't," said Melysë. "I can't help but think there's more to his, though. Remember when we were in Themiscyreia and Amnaëlë told us that my mothers fled Themiscyreia when Hera was looking for them?"
"Yes," said Xena stopping to wrap an arm around Melysë.
"They came here first," said Melysë, laying her dark head on her warrior's shoulder. "Hypolite wanted to try and make peace with Nerys, her mother - and to leave word with Ruarí. About me. But Nerys held her against her will, trying to keep her imprisoned until I was born - she would have taken me from them, but Ruarí sent word to Lyssë and Lyssë brought the Themiscyreian warriors here and rescued my mother - with Zeus' help. He transported them here and then got everyone back to Themiscyreia - except my mothers. Hera was looking for them by then and it wasn't safe. So Zeus took them to what is now Aemetzainê and there they founded the Tribe."
"So Zeus did sort of..." said Xena.
"Yeah - sort of," sighed Melysë, wiping away a stray tear. "Once in my life. Oh, what do I care? I'm an Amazon. We don't ... very few of us even know who our fathers are."
"But you have powers inherited from Zeus - he should have given you some guidance, or something," said Xena, frowning.
"Would have been nice," the priestess sighed. "But I did have my mothers, at least. I couldn't have asked for better than them. I really miss them, Xena."
"I know," said the Warrior, drawing her as close as she could.
"I will make these marks on me a thing of honour once again - before our daughter wears them, I swear it," said Melysë, quietly.
"What? Which...'Lysë what do you mean?" asked Xena.
"Selenë," said Melysë, her eyes far away. "Hekate has made a place for her here - she will be a mighty priestess, great in power. She will do much good here - for many. And she will keep safe the secrets of power and of magic until the world is once again ready for them."
Xena merely nodded, for she had anticipated this. "What about Nerys?" she said.
"I'm going to confront her," said Melysë, quietly. "My mother deserves that. But I will not be the one to defeat her. On the day of the Feast of Brighid, I will forge two new weapons against Nerys and the corruption she has embraced."
"Weapons?" said Xena, raising an eyebrow.
"I will Initiate Vivien and Selenë as true priestesses of Avalon," said Melysë. "They will be the ones who will battle Nerys and her followers."
"You're going to allow our daughter to - " began Xena, alarmed.
"I have no choice, Xena," said Melysë, pain in her dark eyes. "It's her time to be tested. I did not choose this testing for her, but I cannot keep her from it. If there were any other way...."
"We could just leave - go home," said Xena.
"No, we can't," said Melysë. "We can't just run away. Neither can Selenë - or Vivien. It's the same as when we allowed Arynë to fight her first battle - only this battle is a spiritual and magical one. Selenë has the power and the strength to win. It's her time now. Xena, we have to let her do this."
"I know," said Xena. "But I don't have to like it."
"Neither do I, Love," said Melysë.
Morgan had gone once more to Aemetzainê and had returned with Selenë. The girl delighted in her Gwiddonot kin, especially Vivien, for the two were very close in temperament. Except for missing Ephiny, her malatyr Selenë was very happy. Selenë and Vivien spent much of the time closeted with Melysë as she instructed them, preparing them for Initiation. It was intense work and with so little time, Melysë feared that the girls wouldn't be ready in time, but both were strongly gifted with power and intuited much of what Melysë was teaching them.
At last it was the day. Melysë presided over the ceremonies for the Gwiddonot, then performed the Ritual of Purification, cleansing and absolving the Tribe for another year. Finally, she spoke the words of Initiation to Selenë and Vivien, heard their responses and presented the Gwiddonot of Eire with two new priestesses - true priestesses - to a roar of acceptance and joy. Ruarí beamed proudly at her daughter - even as Xena did, grabbing Selenë in a tight embrace and whispering to her of how proud she was. Selenë glowed with praise from both of her mothers.
Then, gathering the girls, along with Xena and Gabrielle, Melysë prepared to march at the head of the Gwiddonot warriors, alongside Ruarí. She and the girls led them through the secret paths to Avalon. When they emerged at the foot of the tor, however, the Gwiddonot faced two armies assembled there - the warriors of Avalon had joined forces with the warriors of the Dark Elves.
Nerys approached them, smiling triumphantly. "I told my daughter you would return - and bring a daughter to Avalon yourself," she said.
"I have not returned to serve you," said Melysë. "And my daughter is a free soul - though I pray I have taught her better than to serve the likes of you - Nerys."
"You will address me as 'Lady'," said Nerys, nostrils flaring.
"There is only one I call 'Lady'," said Melysë, defiantly. "And it certainly isn't some self-serving pretender - false priestess! What you did to my mother is unforgivable!"
"Your mother," spat Nerys. "Would you like to hear about your mother?"
"I wouldn't believe anything you said, anyway," said Melysë, coldly.
"She was a coward," said Nerys, smiling cruelly. "She didn't have the guts to follow me to the High Seat - that why I let her leave."
"She stood up to you," said Melysë, eyes narrowing. Then she smiled - but it was not her usual warm smile. "And you didn't have to power to stop her. She was stronger than you - she always was."
"Wrong!" cried Nerys, outraged. "That - that - that girl had no power! No magic! She didn't even have the Sight. She was nothing."
"Oh, but you're wrong," said Melysë, still smiling - Xena grew uneasy watching her. She had never seen Melysë quite like this. "You couldn't touch her - because she was much stronger that you. And so am I. Your only power comes from him." Melysë pointed at a man astride a battle steed, wearing a gold crown.
"Very good," said the man, riding forward. Melysë noticed his hair was silver, his dark eyes bright as he gazed at her, almost seeming to gaze into her. His speech was strongly accented. "You are very wise, Your Majesty, and strong in the gifts of power and magic."
Melysë remained silent, watching. "You give her a title," said Nerys, derisively. "She's nothing, too. Just like - "
"No, she's a queen in her own right - and she bears the blood of a god, as well," said the king, still looking intently at the priestess.
"Indeed?" said Nerys, taking new interest in Melysë. "Which one?"
"Zeus," said Melysë.
Nerys made a rude noise. "Don't you Amazons usually claim Ares for a father?" she taunted.
"No - we usually claim no man as father," said Melysë.
"Well, well, 'King' of the Olympian gods," said Nerys, smiling coldly. "That means you do have some power, however diluted. Power which I may have a use for after all."
"You can't have it," said Melysë.
"What?" said Nerys, unsure if the Amazon was really defying her. "Of course I can - I am Lady of Avalon - I may take from you what I will."
"No, you can't," said Melysë, calmly. "I won't give it to you. And you aren't strong enough to take it from me by force."
"I'm not, am I?" said Nerys, smiling cruelly. Suddenly, Melysë saw a bolt of hot white light flying directly at her. Annoyed, she deflected it with a wave of her hand, much to Nerys' surprise. She threw another, thinking this upstart's defence a fluke. Melysë deflected that as well. Suddenly,
Selenë and Vivien flanked the priestess and sent their own bolts back at Nerys - who knocked them out of the air with a flourish. "Your 'apprentices', I presume?"
"My daughter and my cousin," said Melysë. "Easily your equal - or rather, both your betters. I know where your power comes from, Nerys. I've dealt with your kind before. You steal magic and power from others and use it as your own."
Nerys' eyes narrowed and she muttered a few words Melysë didn't know. Suddenly, the priestess doubled over as sharp pain lanced through her. Melysë opened her eyes to see that she no longer stood on the battlefield, but was in that strange place where she and Gabrielle had confronted the false priestess, Rowan. The pain had eased, by Melysë knew, it was but the first of many. She looked about. The place was peaceful, its beauty was no less than the last time she had been here, and was enhanced by a great ash tree. She heard the whispers of the land deep within herself and looked about for the source of the "voices" At last her dark eyes settled on the tree.
"Who calls to me?" she asked, her voice sounding strange in the ethereal mists which drifted in.
"I, Rowan," said the voice. "You must listen - I was wrong - wrong to believe the lies and false promises of Nerys. I would repent and help you, now, True Priestess of Avalon."
"Why should I believe you, now?" asked Melysë, looking at the tree from whence the voice came.
"This is my punishment - the goddesses have cursed me to this state. In the 'real' world, I am a dryad" said Rowan. "If any cut down my tree, I die in this world as well as that. Now, I have told you my secret, you must trust me - please - listen - there isn't much time. Nerys has your physical body. She will keep you in this trance state until your child is born - and she will take that child and make it like her - her successor. You must stop her."
"Xena won't let that happen," said the priestess.
"Xena can't stop it - even now, they battle over you - your daughter and your cousin, too," said Rowan.
Xena leaped to Melysë's side, to pull her back - and found her gone, even as Selenë and Vivien stood together, glaring at their grandmother.
"You shouldn't have done that to my mother," said Selenë, quietly. Only Gabrielle recognised that particular tone of danger in her voice - she had heard it many times over the years. The Bard steeled herself, remembering what always came after.
"What are you going to do about it, Little Girl?" Nerys sneered.
Selenë threw back her head and let out a cry not unlike Xena's battle cry. Suddenly, the sky was filled with dragons. Even Vivien was surprised, and stood, looking up into the sky, then over to her cousin in awe. The Elf King threw back his head and laughed.
"At last - a daughter of the Blood!" he cried. "Come, my warriors - to the Gwiddonot. We battle Avalon!"
Suddenly, the Elven Warriors rode across the field of battle, fighting the warriors of Avalon - including the Gwiddonot of Britannia. Xena was pulled off to the side by Gabrielle. The Bard glanced back once to Morgan fighting among the Amazons of Eire. Ruarí had fallen and Gabrielle could find her nowhere.
Selenë stood in the middle of the field, watching the dragons flying overhead, breathing flame at the enemy as the Elven Warriors fought on foot. Suddenly she saw Vivien, kneeling beside Ruarí, weeping. Quickly, the Amazon princess made her way to her cousin and her great-aunt.
"She's..." cried Vivien.
"No, she's not," said Selenë, calmly, kneeling beside her cousin. Gently, the girl pushed the hair out of the fallen queen's face, and wiped the blood from her head. "See, she's still bleeding. If she were dead, the blood would have stopped. Here, let me."
Selenë laid her hands on the warrior's head wound as her eyes took on a far away glaze. She began to murmur words in her own language and the wound closed. "My mother taught me that when my older sister first started fighting. She'll be okay now - but we'd better get her out of here." The two girls lifted the queen and carried her to where Xena waited with Gabrielle.
"Tanti - Xena - can you look after her?" asked Selenë.
Melysë stood looking at the tree which had seemed to speak, then decided she wasn't imagining it after all - considering where she was. "What do I do?" asked the priestess.
"You must escape - wake yourself up, Melysë," said Rowan, shaking her leaves. "You must get out of this realm."
"How do I do that? I don't even know how I came here," said Melysë frowning.
"Follow the path - the way you took your daughter and her friend, but beware - Nerys will try to stop you - even as she did your mother," said Rowan.
"She didn't stop my mother - my mother got away from her," said Melysë, panicking slightly as another contraction hit her.
"Yes she did," said Rowan. "And by so doing, she saved her honour. Look again at the tattoos. See what they say, Melysë. But for now - flee! Nerys approaches - and she is angry - the battle goes against her..."
Melysë ran from the sound of her grandmother's ranting and crashing through the forest about her. She followed the path as swiftly as she could, but found the way blocked by a wall of thorns. Turning to confront the woman who chased her, Melysë gasped - this was no woman, but a manticore- snorting and pawing at the ground, before striking the priestess with sharp tail spikes. Melysë warded it off as best she could, but saw several small punctures in both arms from the creature's tail. Suddenly, it flapped its wings and flew over her, preparing to strike. Melysë, knowing her child's birth was imminent, feared no harm to the child now, but was afraid to use her powers in this strange realm, not knowing what would happen. Blessed Mother Goddess! she thought. I really haven't much lose at this point, have I?
Melysë raised both arms, pointing at the creature who wheeled overhead and cried out a word of power she didn't know she knew. Then she saw the marks inked into her skin glowing on her raised arms and smiled. Here, she could understand the sigil and she knew who she was.
"Nerys!" she cried. "Come out and face me!"
Suddenly, her grandmother stepped out from the trees, glaring at the priestess. "How dare you?" she hissed.
"I dare because I am right," said Melysë, calmly. "You don't have this mark on you, do you, Grandmother?"
"I am marked with the sacred signs of the Triple Goddess!" cried the woman.
"Yes," said Melysë, nodding. "But those marks weren't put there by the goddesses themselves, were they? As they are on all true priestesses, Chosen by the Goddess Hekate, Herself to serve Her."
"Why? Why was I not Chosen? Why was I not given the power which is my due?" cried Nerys.
"Because, Grandmother, what you have done with the power you were given - you've abused it," said Melysë.
"I have not! I was just protecting it - the Legacy - my own daughter betrayed me - and now my grandaughter," said Nerys, eyes narrowing in anger. "But it won't happen again."
"No, it won't," said Melysë, once again raising her arms and crying out.
Xena saw her priestess suddenly standing nearby. She rushed to Melysë. Xena had laid the priestess down on her cloak. Melysë breathed easier now.
"'Lysë, are you alright?" asked the bard as Xena used her healing talent to check Melysë over.
"I think that bloody Harpy induced labour," Melysë gasped as another contraction struck her.
"But...it's too soon - isn't it, Xena?" asked Gabrielle.
"Not necessarily,' said Xena, smiling soothingly at Melysë. "Everything's going to be fine. We just have get you home. Gabrielle, where's Morgan?"
"Fighting," said Gabrielle, worried.
"Alright, 'Lyse, can you relax? I'm going to use a pressure point - it should slow things down, alright?" said Xena.
"Is this one of those 'but it'll hurt more when I take it off' things?" asked the priestess, warily.
"Not this time, Love," Xena chuckled.
"Okay," Melysë sighed. "Go ahead, Xena." Swiftly, Xena punched three fingers into the priestess's lower back.
"Uh, Xena?" said Gabrielle.
"Um, you better do me, too," said the Bard. "I think my water just broke."
"Mother!" Selenë cried, running up to the three queens. "The baby? She's coming? And Gabrielle, you too? Oh, Goddess, Xena!"
"It's alright, Selenë," said Xena. "We'll be fine."
"No, I think we'd better wrap this up," said Selenë, eyeing them critically. "Come on, Vivien."
The two girls ran back out onto the field and together lifted their arms, both crying out the words of power. Suddenly, the battle ceased. The Elf King rode up to them and dismounted, bowing to his great-grand-daughters.
"This has gone on long enough," said Vivien. "Nerys must be deposed - at once."
"I concur," said the King. "But which of you will take her place?"
"Vivien," said Selenë. "I will follow her, but not yet. I must return to my own land for a while, but I'll come back and take my place here, too."
"As you will, then," said the king, bowing again. From nowhere, he produced a silver horn and blew it. All of his warriors came to him as the warriors of Avalon bowed to him and the girls. The dragons wheeled about overhead, circling watchfully. "Hear me, I king Roarke, ruler of the Dark Elves declare Vivien, daughter of Ruarí, the new Lady of Avalon."
"Noooo!" screamed Nerys, flying at him.
"It was only a matter of time before I would have replaced you, Nerys," said Roarke, coldly. "You have abused this place long enough. Never did I think you would sink so low as to the way you treated our daughter - and now our grand-daughter! I was only waiting for a true priestess to emerge to take the High Seat. Now we have two. As for you, Nerys, I loved you once, but now...what you have become has killed that love. You know the penalty for your crimes, Nerys. Our grand-daughter spoke truly - you have no power to compare with our descendants. They do not need me to reign here. I will take you to my kingdom - and deal with you there." The king and Nerys disappeared, with all the warriors, in a blast of light and smoke.
Selenë rushed to her mother. "Are you alright, meia?" she asked, looking very young.
Melysë smiled. "Yes, Love, we're fine," she said.
"Where's Morgan?" asked Xena through clenched teeth.
"Many of the Amazons - Gwiddonot - were wounded,' said Selenë, distracted, looking over her shoulder. "Morgan was among them."
"So?" said Xena, frowning. "She's an immortal - she should heal very fast."
Selenë looked back at her warrior-mother, and shook her head, grimly. "No the warriors of Avalon were using magical weapons," she said. "Her powers were...taken. For now. Many of the Gwiddonot were wounded by such weapons. Vivien is collecting the weapons, but they need me to--"
"Go on, Selenë," said Melysë, softly. Selenë looked at her mother with a tiny smile and nodded once before running off to the wounded.
"Great," said Xena, sitting awkwardly beside Melysë and Gabrielle. "You know my mother's going to kill me."
"What?" said Gabrielle, chuckling and shifting - or trying to - to a more comfortable position beside Melysë on a pallet Xena had made them.
"I sort of promised Cyrenê that she'd be there when we had the babies," said Melysë, sadly.
"Oh, boy," said Gabrielle. "You are in trouble." Suddenly, a huge shadow fell over them.
"Tiamat," Melysë whispered in delight at the sight of her old friend. The black dragon looked at them with violet eyes which always seemed to twinkle with amusement. "Thank-you and thank your people."
"Melysë, we are allies - my people are forever indebted to you and the Amazons for releasing us from the Mages," said the dragon. "And now, it is in my power to aid you once again. Can you climb up to my back? Your daughter tells me you need to be home - swiftly. I will carry you all there. Tanit will bring your daughter when her work here is done."
"Thank-you," said Gabrielle, gratefully.
"I don't think I can - " began Melysë, as Xena helped her to her feet. "Xena, my legs are numb!"
"Sorry," said the warrior, grinning, sheepishly. "I forgot about that." She punched three fingers into the priestess's back again and Melysë's knees gave way, as the warrior caught her.
Slowly, the three made their way to Tiamat's back and the Queen of the Dragons gracefully rose up into the sky, carrying the three queens home.
Cyrenê and Hypsyple greeted them, assisting Melysë and Gabrielle down from Tiamat's back. Cyrenê shaking her head. "Leave it to my daughter to bring you two home on dragon back - and in labour, too!" she said as Melysë doubled over, breathless again.
"Come on let's get you three into a birthing chamber," said Hypsyple, smiling gently and nodding in greeting to Tiamat.
"Three!" said Cyrenê, looking sharply at Xena. "All of you?"
"Tanti," Melysë gasped. "Please scold her later."
"Oh, of course, Dear," Cyrenê crooned to Melysë, helping her into the Temple birthing chamber as Xena rolled her eyes.
"Like it's my fault," muttered the warrior.
"I heard that, Xena," said Cyrenê.
"She must get that from you," Gabrielle chuckled as Hypsyple assisted her to a birthing chair and made her as comfortable as possible. Cyrenê chuckled as she began to help Melysë, but the priestess had other ideas, instead going to Xena, and gently guiding her with a smile.
"Xena's been at this longer than we have - haven't you, Love?" she said.
"What? How'd you know that?" said the Warrior.
"Tough old warrior," said Melysë, smiling and planting a kiss on Xena's temple as she settled her into the chair. "When will you learn you can never fool me? You've been having pains since this morning - right through the ceremony - you just didn't want to spoil it for Selenë, did you?"
Xena merely scowled, then closed her eyes and uttered a quiet moan. Melysë blushed and giggled. Xena cracked open one eye and glared at her. "What's so funny?" she growled.
"I just remembered the last time you made that sound," whispered the priestess, smiling softly. Xena closed the eye again and grimaced.
"Yeah, well - see if you hear it again any time soon," she said. Melysë's face went blank and she would have fallen if Cyrenê and Hypsyple, standing close by, hadn't grabbed her and guided her to the third chair. "'Lysë? Melysë, I was only kidding! I didn't mean...." All at once, all three queens were silent.
Melysë looked about and saw they were in the Place of Souls. She smiled at her fellow queens and led them to a grassy hill where three figures stood. Melysë ran and was embraced by two of them.
"Mothers!" she cried. "Is it time? Are you coming back with us?"
Hypolite smiled through her happy tears, while Lyssë tenderly brushed the dark hair from the priestess's face. "Yes, my daughter," said the warrior. "It's our time - finally."
"Xena," said the third person standing there.
"Lyceus?" said Xena, scarcely able to believe it as she grabbed her brother in a tight embrace.
"Yeah, Sis'," grinned the young man. "I get to come back, too."
Gabrielle stood, happy tears coursing down her cheeks. Suddenly, Hekate appeared. "Are you all ready?" she said, smiling gently. Hypolite looked at her in awe.
"You wear my face?" she said.
"Sometimes," said the Goddess, smiling at Melysë. "Come now. It's time." She touched the brows of the three waiting souls and all of their past memories receded to a deep place within them. Suddenly Melysë saw three little girls, standing before them, hand in hand, beaming up at them. Gazing lovingly at the blonde child, Melysë had a pretty good idea of what Gabrielle had looked like as a little girl. Each mother took the hand of her daughter and led them through the doorway.
All of a sudden, all three queens opened their eyes. Hekate appeared at Melysë's side, gently urging her on as Cyrenê and Hypsyple assisted the other two. All were soon greeted by squalls of outrage as three new Amazons were ousted from their warm nests and introduced to their new world. Selenë came rushing into the chamber, breathless, her cheeks flushed.
"I missed it?" she said, disappointed.
"You can make the announcement, Sweetheart," said Melysë, smiling as the Goddess handed her small daughter.
"Really?" said the girls, grinning in excitement.
"That's the priestess's job," said Gabrielle, looking at her own small bundle and smiling, too. Xena remained silent, gazing adoringly down at the tiny person Cyrenê had placed in her arms. Tears oozed from her blue eyes, and Melysë carefully and painfully arose, bringing their other new daughter over to her. Hypsyple merely looked at her, shaking her head. "You never do what you're supposed to, Melysë," said the shamenki. Melysë grinned up at her old teacher, unrepentant, as she carefully sat beside her heart-mate.
"They need names," she said softly, wiping a tear from her warrior's face.
"Yeah," said Xena.
Gabrielle looked thoughtful for a moment. "I was going to name her Melosa," she said quietly, gently stroking the soft blonde fuzz on the baby's head.
Melysë smiled. "That's a good name - she was a great queen," she said softly.
"Yeah, she was," said Xena, finally taking her eyes from her tiny daughter and smiling at her friend. She looked at Melysë. "What about these two?"
"I don't know," said the priestess, gently stroking the dark curls of the infant in her warrior's arms, then touching the face of the whimpering child in her own. "They're so beautiful, all of them. I just...don't know."
Selenë approached and smiled down at the child in Xena's arms. "This one can be called 'Dylanda' after the last great Warrior-Queen of Themiscyreia and this one," she said, touching the child in Melysë's arms. "This one can be called 'Leilae' after her sister, the last great Priestess-Queen of Themiscyreia."
Gabrielle beamed at the girl. "You remembered," she said, proudly.
"Tanti, I remember everything you've taught me," said Selenë, grinning.
Melysë looked to her Warrior. "Well?" she said.
Xena smiled up at Selenë. "Well done," she said. "That's just what we'll call them. Thank-you Selenë. Now - are you going to go and make that announcement? Or do we all have to get up - like your disobedient mother - and announce this ourselves?" Selenë laughed and ran out of the birthing chamber to fulfil her first duty as a priestess in her own Tribe.
The three queens were recovering at the Lodge under the watchful care of Cyrenê and Meg - as well as Autolycus, Iolaus, and Hercules. Even little Neiromei, who had joined them at the Lodge - although delighted with two new baby sisters to play with - helped out, making a show of holding her nose while carrying out soiled nappies an arms length from her little body. Hercules proved to be a huge help - more so than Iolaus or Autolycus who kept tripping over each other to wait on Gabrielle. Melysë chuckled at them - she had scryed Virgil and knew him to be alive and well, though he had been injured in one of the tremors which had hit Thera and now wandered about with no memory of his life; but with a head full of stories, he was making a living as a traveling Bard. Melysë thought it was only a matter of time before he remembered who he was and came home. She told Gabrielle so and the Bard Queen had sighed her relief, rolling her eyes indulgently at her two "suitors".
Xena came into the room she shared with Melysë one morning after drill to find the priestess rocking both of their newest daughters while Selenë sat, reading a scroll and Neiromei was already down for her nap, asleep in the bed. The warrior smiled at the scene before her and made a decision. She approached Melysë and took one of the babies, laying her in one of the cradles.
"You ready to go home, 'Lysë?" she asked softly.
Melysë looked up at her and smiled. "Oh, yes," she said. "Everyone's been great here, but I'm ready."
"Good," said the warrior, taking the second baby and laying her in the other cradle before sitting next to her priestess, wrapping a strong arm warmly around Melysë 's waist. Selenë looked up at them and grinned, rising to leave. "No, Selenë, you can stay. Tell us what happened after we left Avalon. There's been no time and I'd really like to hear it."
Selenë sighed and sat back down. "Well, not much," she began. "Vivien and I worked on the wounded. Then Hekate came and...."
"Show me, Selenë," said Melysë, quietly. The girl rose and pushed back her sleeves. Melysë gazed at the marks inked into her daughter's skin.
"Who did this to you?" Xena growled.
"Hekate," replied the girl, looking down. Her mother smiled gently, raising the girl's face.
"It's alright," said the priestess. "I guess it's what you'd call a 'family tradition'. These are marks of honour, now Selenë. You may wear them proudly. As I do."
Selenë looked up at her mother, smiling hesitantly, then looked to Xena. "Tanti-meia? You aren't angry with me?" she asked. Xena held her.
"No, of course not, Selenë," said the warrior. "I only would have been angry at the person who hurt you."
"Oh, it didn't hurt at all," said Selenë, brightly.
"Mine did," said Melysë.
"You said - " began Xena, raising an eyebrow at the priestess.
"I didn't want you to be angry," said Melysë. "Besides, it was over so fast - and it wasn't that bad."
"Vivien got them, too," said Selenë. "And so did - "
All of them looked at each other, eyes wide, at the Bard's angry yell. Selenë rose quickly. "I'd better go and...um - "
"Go on Selenë," said Xena, chuckling. Selenë ran from the room to rescue her malatyr from the Bard-Queen's wrath. "'Lysë, I've been thinking. Arynë is perfectly capable leading the drill and the warriors. And Selenë is becoming quite the priestess. How about you and I take some time off and just be mommys for a while?"
"Oh, Xena, you mean it?" said Melysë, her eyes shining.
"Yeah," said the warrior, pulling her priestess closer. "Yeah I do."
They were suddenly interrupted by their eldest, Arynë, bursting through the door.
"Mother! Xena! Pitana's escaped!" she cried. "And that's not all...."
Xena looked at Melysë, dread in her eyes as she heard a voice she remembered all too well outside.
"Where is she? Where is Artemis, goddess of the Amazons, my enemy?"
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