The Amazon Queen
Part XVII: Warrior... Godess of War?
by L. M. Townsend
DISCLAIMERS: The characters of Xena, Gabrielle, Cyrenê, Virgil, Meg, Autolycus, Joxer, Velasca, 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.
SUBTEXT: - YES, though nothing explicit.
VIOLENCE: Yes, please see special disclaimer below.
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, especially DESTINY, THE QUEST, and A NECESSARY EVIL
SPECIAL DISCLAIMER: This story is darker than anything I’ve written before. I’m not quite sure why it’s evolved the way it has, but here it is. This borders on a horror story, and involves vampires and some of the various lore and superstitions about them - including some of the violent ways to destroy these beings. If this bothers you in anyway, please read no further.
I want to thank my Chosen Sister Tai’ for her input and especially - as always - for her unconditional love and support. Blessed be, Sister.
Thanks also to Crow, who helped inspire some of the ideas for this story.
My thanks to the Bards’ Village for giving me a “home away from home”, where I’ve found support and caring friends and family. Thank-you, Villagers!
The queens had been recovering from childbirth 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.
Xena came into the room she shared with Melysë one morning after drill to find the priestess rocking both of their newest daughters. 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. “‘Lysë, I’ve been thinking. Arynë is perfectly capable of leading the drill and the warriors. And Selenë has become quite the priestess. How about you and I take some time off and just be mommys for a while?”
“Oh, Xena, do 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?”
Xena leapt to her feet and ran, almost running into Gabrielle. The Bard Queen held her new daughter close against her chest, her bright green eyes terrified.
“Xena, did you hear?” she asked, her voice almost a whisper.
Yes,” said Xena, grimly, unsheathing her sword. “Velasca - she escaped...somehow. And Pitana.”
“This Velasca - she’s the one who got Pitana out of prison,” said Arynë, her dark green eyes - so like her mother, Melysë’s - worried.
Pitana had been imprisoned when Arynë was still an infant. She was Melysë’s cousin and had challenged the priestess with a Royal Challenge for the Throne of Aemetzainê. She lost, but had returned several years later - to challenge her cousin’s infant daughter - Arynë. Pitana had declared a fight to the death, demanding that Melysë - because of her god-blood - could not participate, all the while believing herself immortal - due to ambrosia. Because of this breach of honour, Melysë had stripped Pitana of the title and rights of an Amazon - and because of the danger Pitana posed to the Aemetzainê Tribe and Amazon Nation - Melysë had ordered her imprisoned where she could do no harm.
“Who is Velasca?” asked Melysë, rising to quiet the now crying babies in their cradles.
“Velasca...was the adopted daughter of Melosa,” began Gabrielle, tears forming in her eyes.
“Oh, of course,” said Melysë, lifting Leilae and patting her quiet. “I remember the story - she killed Melosa - and tried to take the Mask of Queenhood from you.”
“Yes, but what you don’t know - what no one really knows - is that Velasca had gotten ahold of ambrosia,” said Xena. “We trapped her in a lava pit with Callisto, but Callisto escaped. Now it seems that Velasca has too.”
“Oh, Goddess,” said Melysë, sitting back down. “That table-thing Ares had! The one that could - the one he bumped when I fell - and the lava pit! Oh, Great Mother, what did we do?”
“‘Lysë, it’s not your fault,” said Xena. “It’s just as well - she would have probably escaped eventually - somehow - anyway. At least now, we’re able to do something about it.”
“That’s right, Xena - you have the power to kill gods now,” said Gabrielle, sighing her relief.
“Yeah - so let’s just take care of this little matter right now,” said Xena, grimly as she strode out of the room, Arynë following close behind. Melysë and Gabrielle went to the window, looking out. They could see Velasca and Pitana, leading a large Amazon army towards the boundary of Aemetzainê.
“Blessed Goddess,” Melysë whispered at the sight.
“Yeah,” said Gabrielle, with sigh. “Prayer - that’s the way to go, alright.”
Xena approached Velasca, her sword twirling, Arynë close behind, her sword also drawn. Suddenly, Velasca threw a lightning bolt at the two Amazons. Swiftly, Xena thrust Arynë away, out of danger, ducking the lightning herself. There were two more bolts thrown, one after the other. The first was an easy dodge for the Warrior Queen, but the second....
“Xena!” Melysë cried, as her heart-mate was flying backwards, falling to the ground. Arynë leapt forward, swinging her sword, protecting her gods-mother. Melysë laid Leilae back in her cradle and used her powers to transport herself down to her warrior and her daughter. “Stop!” she cried, raising her hand and throwing her own lightning at Velasca. The immortal was thrown backward, giving Melysë time to gather Xena to her and grab Arynë’s hand, taking them all back to the Lodge. “Help me,” said Melysë, sitting on the floor, holding her unconscious warrior. The three lifted Xena to the bed next to Neiromei - who continued to sleep through the whole thing, while Melysë looked her warrior over, a worried frown furrowing her fair brow.
“How did this happen?” asked Gabrielle, patting little Melosa who was crying, as were the other two infants. “Xena has the power to kill gods - doesn’t she?”
“Who gave her that power?” asked Melysë, quietly, taking the warrior’s hand.
“I ... it was the archangel Michael who told her ... as Eve’s protector...” said Gabrielle, trying to soothe her daughter.
Melysë closed her eyes and sighed. “She’s no longer Eve’s protector,” said the priestess, quietly. “Eve ... didn’t want her to....”
“Oh, gods, that’s right,” said Gabrielle. “That must mean she no longer has the power to kill gods - ‘Lysë, what are we going to do?”
“I don’t know,” said Melysë.
“Mother,” said Arynë, standing by the window looking out. “Come and look.” Melysë joined her daughter at the window. The armies were withdrawing. Melysë saw her cousin dragging Velasca from the field. “Guess your lightning was stronger than hers, Mother.”
“Well, that’s something anyway,” said the priestess, returning to her warrior’s side as Xena groaned into consciousness.
“What hit me?” asked the Warrior Queen.
“Velasca,” said Gabrielle. “Are you alright?”
“Yeah,” said Xena. “Just feels like my skull was split by an axe - but I’m fine.”
Melysë sat beside her, wrapping warm arms around her, the priestess’s healing touch working her magic. The warrior visibly relaxed as the pain in her head eased and then left.
“Thanks, ‘Lysë,” said Xena, smiling.
“Anytime, Love,” said Melysë, returning the smile with relief.
“So, what do we do now?” asked Arynë.
“I don’t know,” said Melysë, frowning, as Xena slowly rose to her feet.
“Well, obviously my idea is a bust,” chuckled the warrior. “Guess I don’t have the ‘stuff’ anymore, huh?”
“So it would appear,” said Melysë.
“Well, now we have two immortals to fight,” said the warrior. “Is Hercules still around?”
“No,” said Melysë, quietly. “He went back to Thebes to take care of some problems there - then he’s coming back.”
“That’s no good,’ said Xena. “We can’t wait. We need an immortal to fight immortals. You think Ares....?”
“What do you think?” said Melysë.
“Hm, yeah - I suppose Aphrodite’s out as well?” said the warrior.
“She’s a lover - not a fighter,” said Melysë, dryly.
“Okay, well, at least you bought us some time, knocking out Velasca like that,” said Xena.
“Not nearly enough, though,” said Gabrielle, grimly. “They’ll be back.”
“Yeah, they will,” said Melysë, going to the cradles and picking up Leilae, patting her quiet as Xena went and picked up Dylanda, also quieting the infant.
“Mother, what do they want?” asked Arynë.
“I’m not sure, Love,” said Melysë. “They’ve both tasted of ambrosia - and they’re both quite mad because of it. Perhaps even they don’t know what they want.”
“But what do you think?” asked Arynë, troubled.
“I think they have some misplaced sense of vengeance,” said Melysë, sitting and beginning to feed the infant. “They both think that the Amazons denied them their ‘rightful’ place as queens.”
“Did we?” asked Arynë, thoughtfully.
“No,” said Xena, joining her priestess in feeding her daughter. “No, ‘Ryn. Those women had no business leading the Amazon Nation. I know that sounds funny coming from someone like me,
but - “
“What do you mean, Xena?” asked Arynë, sitting beside her mothers. Xena was quiet for a long moment.
“I was a warlord, ‘Ryn,” she said quietly. “You know that already. I was ... pretty brutal, bloodthirsty ... cruel, even - unnecessarily cruel.”
“You never harmed women and children,” said Arynë.
“Not deliberately, no - but some were hurt because of me anyway,” said Xena, looking at her heart-daughter intently. “I was very bad, ‘Ryn. Ruthless - anything that stood between me and what I wanted was destroyed. I once had my army build a dam to divert a river so that it would run closer to my camp. Three villages downstream suffered draught and famine because I didn’t want my men walking so far to water and bathe my horse. Now here I am, Warrior Queen of a Tribe of Amazons. There are some who would say your mother was inviting trouble, entrusting an Amazon army to my command.”
“But you changed,” said Arynë. “I know the stories, Xena. I heard a lot in Themiscyreia and in Hatussas. But I know about all the good you’ve done, too - and I know you, Xena. You’re my tanti-meia - my other mother.”
“Yes, now,” said the warrior, smiling proudly at her protégée, in spite of herself. “But I had a lot of help getting to where I am now.”
“Do you think Velasca and Pitana could change, too?” asked Arynë.
“I don’t know, ‘Ryn,” said Xena. “But we don’t really have time to find out. They pose a very real - and immediate - threat to us and to the whole Amazon Nation.”
Arynë nodded and slowly rose. “I’m going to increase the guards about the perimeter of the Village - and I’m posting sentries here, too, tanti Gabrielle,” she said. “I’m also going to send out the scouts - we need information on that army. I want to put our troops on alert, Xena.”
“Good judgement calls, ‘Ryn,” said Xena, smiling with pride. “Go ahead and brief them on the identity of our enemy, too - they need that information to stay alive - but tell them no heroics - no one is going to take the leaders of that army down single-handedly. Remember, a lot of the warriors will remember Pitana - they may think with displaced loyalty and try to go after her.”
“Right, Xena,” said Arynë, leaving.
“What about what she said?” said Gabrielle, thoughtfully.
“About them changing?” asked Melysë, patting Leilae.
“Yeah,” said Gabrielle. “Do you think they could?”
“No!” said Xena, fiercely. “We can’t let ourselves ... “
“Go soft?” asked Melysë.
“Yeah,” sighed Xena, patting Dylanda as Melysë silently arose and laid the sleeping Leilae in one of the cradles.
“I think they could change,” said Gabrielle. “If Ares and Hera could, then ...”
“I think they could, too,” said Melysë, taking Dylanda from her warrior and laying her in the other cradle. “But I don’t believe they would. They have no reason to change, no ...”
“Motivation?” said Xena.
“Something like that,” said Melysë, sitting again beside her warrior. “We have to do it, Gabrielle. We have to ... remove this threat.”
Pitana stood back and watched as her “rescuer” paced back and forth expounding on the downfall of the Amazons. Something like worship filled the warrior’s grey eyes as she watched this magnificent queen - for so Pitana believed Velasca should have been - as she fumed and stormed about. For a moment doubt slipped in - She’s ranting, thought Pitana. Then shaking her head, she lost the thought and watched. Finally Velasca finished her “briefing” of the troops, grabbed Pitana by the arm, and led her into the command tent.
“Tell me about your cousin,” said Velasca. “Where did she learn to throw lightning?”
“Well, from what I had heard - before I was locked up, she’s the daughter of Ares - only Ares despises her,” said Pitana, eyes narrowing. “What’s more, I understand he’s mortal now anyway.”
“Perhaps not,” said Velasca, nostrils flaring. “She’s obviously got something from her father. And Xena! Where in Hades did she come from? Is Gabrielle with her?”
“Yeah - the Bard was there when I was fighting Xena,” said Pitana. “Ares asked Xena to come and take care of Melysë before Arynë was born.”
“No, I mean why is she still alive?” seethed Velasca. “Do you have any idea how long I was trapped in that lava pit? They should have died decades ago!”
“Oh, that,” said Pitana, bored. “Ares froze them for twenty-five years - it’s a long drawn out story - nothing you’d be interested in - I know I’m not. Who cares about Xena, anyway? You already knocked her on her ass - she’s no threat to us.”
Suddenly, Velasca’s temper flared and she grabbed Pitana by the collar of her jerkin. “You have no idea, do you?” she said, her voice dangerously quiet. “Did you see how fast Melysë was out there, protecting them, rescuing them? You really haven’t a clue, have you?”
Pitana shrugged. “Whatever you’re thinking, Melysë is a wimp,” said the warrior. “The only reason that lightning she threw worked is because it was a surprise. You’re way more powerful than she is - she won’t even fight. What kind of an Amazon won’t fight?”
“One who doesn’t have to,” said Velasca, thoughtfully. “There’s more to it. More to her - and to Xena. Something I’m missing. Still, it may be better to use a more ... subtle plan. There must be a way to get that priestess over to our side, Surely she understands that the Amazon Nation is in danger of crumbling from weakness ...”
“Forget it, Velasca,” said Pitana, pulling away from the other warrior’s grasp and straightening her clothes. “I’ve tried that already. She’s too ...”
“What?” said Velasca, grinning.
“Soft,” said Pitana. “She’s mush - she’s of no use to us - because she won’t fight.”
“Hm, I don’t know - given the proper motivation, I think she’d fight very well indeed,” said Velasca, musing.
Melysë paced nervously in her room at the Lodge. Both infants were sleeping and Neiromei was in the kitchen with Cyrenê and Meg. The priestess was frustrated. Knowing that the enemy was camped so close to the Aemetzainê village, she worried for her people. She also worried for her family there in the Lodge. Pitana was her own kin- she really didn’t want to shed her blood. But if it came between that and saving her family, Melysë knew she would do what was necessary. And according to Xena and Gabrielle, Velasca is relentless - she won’t stop, thought Melysë, nervously biting her lip. She fingered a small silk pouch tucked into her zona. It takes an immortal to fight an immortal, she thought. Maybe it’s time....
“Well, the additional sentries are posted, the troops are on the alert, and the reserves have been called to duty,” Arynë reported to Xena. “I’ve sent three scouts to the enemy camp, but we have no word from them yet.”
“Excellent,” said Xena, smiling proudly. “Have you sent word to our allies?”
“Yes, I sent message birds to my father in Hatussas, to mother’s oath-sister, tanti Tai’ in Lycastia, one to Xenan, leader of the Centaurs, and others to our closest allies,” said Arynë. “It’ll take them some time to reply, though. If they can even get here in time. I think Xenan’s people and probably the Lycastian troops, but the others....”
“It’s okay, ‘Ryn,” said Xena. “It’s probably not even going to come down to all out war. Velasca’s bound to want a one-on-one confrontation. With my ability to kill gods gone, though - ”
“Xena,” said Arynë, quietly. “I think ... I think this is my fight.”
“Why?” said Xena, gently.
“Pitana - she made the Challenge against me,” said Arynë, looking beyond her godsmother. “And Velasca said she was here to fight Artemis - that’s me, too, isn’t it?”
“It was,” said Xena, placing a firm hand on Arynë’s shoulder. “But I’m more concerned with you, Arynë - why do you think you’re alone in this? You have the entire Tribe - and Nation - behind you. Pitana made the Challenge against you, yes - when you were three days old. I was your Champion - and I beat her on your behalf. She can’t Challenge you again - gods, ‘Ryn, she isn’t even an Amazon anymore.”
“No, she can’t offer a true and legal Challenge against me, “ said Arynë, sighing. “I just think, if it comes down to it, it should be me who fights them, one-on one.”
“Arynë, it takes an immortal to fight an immortal - you’re not Artemis anymore,” said Xena, gently.
Not yet, anyway... thought Arynë, fingering a small silk pouch she had carried for many years, as she nodded and walked silently away.
She was stopped by a runner. “Princess! Your Highness! The scouts!” cried the young woman, eyes wide in fear.
“Calm down, Evandre,” said Arynë, grasping the messenger by the shoulders to steady her. “What about the scouts?”
“They....they’ve...oh, Goddess, it’s horrible!” the messenger broke down, weeping and pointing to a group of Amazons carrying three stretchers, but what was being carried on those stretchers made Arynë’s blood freeze and she shivered involuntarily. She shook the weeping messenger.
“Pull together, Evandre,” said Arynë, quietly. “I need...my mother. The Priestess-Queen, Melysë. She’s at the Lodge. Get her - and find Xena for me, too - tell....tell her of this. And then get yourself to Hypsyple - you may need...help with...this.” I know I will, thought Arynë, swallowing hard at the sight of the mutilated bodies of her sisters.
Melysë arrived at the Village, leaving her youngest children with Cyrenê and Gabrielle. Selenë was with Hypsyple, working with her to help those who had witnessed the remains of the doomed scouts. Worriedly, Melysë sought out Arynë. She found her, sitting behind her hut in the shadows, her sword drawn, staring off into the distance.
“‘Ryn?” said Melysë, approaching slowly. Arynë seemed not to hear her, remaining motionless. “Arynë? It’s me... it’s meia. Talk to me, ‘Ryn.”
“I sent them,” said her warrior daughter. “They were our very best. I knew, out of all the scouts, they’d be able to get the information we needed back to us. They were our very best. I sent them to their deaths. Worse than death, Mother - they were tortured.”
“Oh, Goddess, ‘Ryn,” said Melysë, gently, sitting next to her daughter, wrapping warm arms around her daughter, but for some reason, her healing touch was not working it’s usual magic. “Arynë, where’s Tecmessa?”
The Warrior looked at her mother, her eyes dry, her face like stone. “Tecmessa was one of our best, Mother,” she said quietly.
“‘Was’? ‘Ryn, did she...?” Melysë, whispered, tears springing to her dark green eyes. Arynë looked away, silent once more. “Oh, Goddess, oh no, Blessed Goddess, Oh, ‘Ryn, I’m so sorry.”
Melysë rocked her daughter back and forth, but Arynë remained stonily silent, her dark eyes gazing off into the distance, dry and unseeing.
Xena grimly strode up to Hypsyple’s hut. Busy night for the shamenki, thought the warrior. Damn! Wonder how ‘Ryn’s doing? I remember the guilt of having scouts I sent out come back dead - but this.... Well, ‘Lysë’s got her. She’ll be okay...
Xena entered the healer’s hut and saw the group of Amazons milling around. Selenë saw her warrior mother and with a cry flung herself into the warrior’s arms, weeping.
“Selenë, it’s okay, sh,” said the warrior, as soothingly as she could. “I know, it’s bad, but it’ll be alright, I promise.”
“No, tanti-meia,” sobbed the girl, clinging tightly. “No, you don’t understand. Oh, Goddess, ‘Ryn! Where’s ‘Ryn?”
“Shh, Selenë, she’s with your mother. She’s fine,” said Xena, hugging tighter, dismayed at her daughter’s distress.
“Oh, no, I don’t think so,” said Selenë, raising her tear-stained face to look up at her other mother. Quietly, Selenë led the Warrior Queen to one of the stretchers. The Warrior looked down on the only one not mutilated, and cursed, plucking a piece of parchment which had been pinned to the tunic of the stretcher’s occupant.
Thus do we treat spies! I wanted this one to be identifiable, though. I know she meant something to you. She told me - right before she died - well, she screamed right before she died, but before that, she told me...everything.
Enjoy her pyre!
“Tanti-meia, I think you’re the one ‘Ryn needs right now,” said Selenë, calmly, though tears remained in her deep blue eyes.
“Are you going to be okay, Selenë?” asked Xena, worriedly.
“Yes. I have work to do here. The work...eases my heart...some,” said Selenë. “But ‘Ryn...I’m scared for her.”
“Selenë, your mother’s with her,” said Xena. “She won’t let Arynë do anything...stupid.”
“It’s not just that,” said Selenë, her dark blue eyes glazing over in trance. “She’s standing at the same precipice you faced - remember?”
Xena, stunned, allowed the full force of the memory to hit her.
Caesar had put Xena and her followers in chains. They were taken in chains to the beach, where they were placed upon crosses.
“The ship is secured, Caesar,” said Brutus.
“Good,” replied Caesar, then looking towards Xena, “Where’s that friend of yours—the Gaelic slave girl?”
“I had to kill her—because she betrayed me,” gasped Xena, painfully seething in anger and frustration.
“Really?” said Caesar. “Well I don’t blame you. Still, she would have fetched a good price with the gladiator dealers.”
“Is that what you have planned for me?” said Xena, her teeth clenched. “We were going to conquer the world together. What happened to those plans for us?”
“Us—there was never any us, Xena—only Rome. And I am Rome. Still—don’t think that what we had was meaningless. I’ll always remember it—and you’ll have a special place of honour—among my conquered.”
The cross is raised and settled into the sand with an agonising thump.
“She was an easier prey than I expected,” said Brutus, observing.
“Divide and conquer, my friend,” said Caesar, smugly. “You divide a woman’s emotion from her sensibilities—and you have her. I could’ve sold you and all your friends into slavery, Xena—but that’s what any common warlord would do. But with this—and especially with you—I define myself—to all those who would dare oppose me—all those who would dare prey on Rome. Goodbye, Xena. Break her legs.”
At Caesar’s order, a Roman soldier took a very large sledge hammer, swinging it into a crushing blow to her lower legs ...
As Xena hung on the cross, her arms in almost as much agony as her shattered legs, she heard the Romans speaking to someone approaching in the dark. “Who goes there?! I asked you a question!”
M’Lila rescued Xena and took her to Mt. Nestos, to Nicklio, the Healer. “What is this?!” said Nicklio, as M’Lila half carried, half dragged Xena into his hut. “Nicklio!” said M’Lila, then she said something to the healer in Gaelic. Nicklio helped M’Lila lay Xena down, then began to work on her injuries.
He set Xena’s broken legs and Xena remembered the fresh agony of that act, even as she remembered anew Nicklio’s quiet compassion as he used the needles to stop her pain. “You have amazing recuperative powers. How are you feeling?”
“Fine—much stronger. Those needles are fascinating,” said Xena.
“Hmm.” said Nicklio, smiling slightly.
“M’Lila—up on that cross—I wasn’t sure that I wanted to live,” said Xena, puzzled. “You—you had no reason to save me, but you did. Thank you. I know you can’t understand.”
M’Lila said something in Gaelic. And Nicklio translated “She wants to know if you feel anger—towards Caesar.” Before Xena could think to answer, the Romans came bursting in, trying to recapture Xena. “There she is!” “Get her!”
M’Lila fought fiercely, and Xena, in spite of her broken legs, also fought. Suddenly, M’Lila flung herself upon Xena as a soldier shot a crossbow at her, taking an arrow in the back. Xena felt the horror anew as she remembered M’Lila gazing at her, a look of love in her eyes - pure love, the love of a sister, which she had never had before - and believed she would never know again. In a blind rage, Xena killed the soldiers. To the last one, she applied the “Pinch” - the pressure points she had learned from M’Lila. “You’ll be dead in thirty seconds. But know this—you won’t be the last. Tell Hades to prepare himself. A new Xena is born tonight with a new purpose in life: death.”
“Gods, you don’t think Arynë could be capable of...” said Xena, in horror.
“I ... can’t say, tanti-meia,” said Selenë, once again very much a young girl, scared and facing a horror no one should have to face. “Could anything - or anyone - have stopped you...then?”
“I don’t know, but you’re right,” said Xena, grimly. “I’ve got to try.”
After folding up the parchment and tucking it into her zona, Xena left the healer’s hut. She found Melysë, still holding Arynë, humming softly. The priestess saw Xena and cast her a desperately hopeful look. Leaning in, Melysë whispered to her daughter, then planted a kiss on top of the young woman’s head. She rose and came to Xena, to be enfolded in the comfort of the warrior’s strong arms.
“Oh, Xena,” said Melysë, tears springing again into her dark green eyes. “She’s so...lost. I can’t get through to her - even my magic isn’t working. We have to get her to Hypsyple fast.”
“I don’t think that’s such a good idea right now,” said the warrior. She leaned in closer and whispered, “Tecmessa’s there.”
Melysë frowned and looked up at Xena. “Why there and not the Temple like the others?” she said, quietly.
“I don’t know,” said Xena as she released the priestess and pulled the parchment from her zona, handing it to Melysë. “But she’s not...mangled like the others, either and this was attached to her tunic.”
Melysë took the parchment, her dark eyes narrowing in anger as she read it. “What are they playing at?” she said, her voice dangerously low.
“What do you mean?” asked Xena, one brow arching.
“Pitana didn’t write this,” said Melysë. “It’s not her handwriting and it’s written in a different dialect than ours - looks like somewhere north of Thrace. Pitana couldn’t spell to save her life, and certainly not in another dialect.”
“Well, ‘Lysë, she could have gotten someone else...” began Xena, but Melysë set her jaw, her dark eyes still narrowed.
“This is not from Pitana,” said the priestess.
Pitana stormed angrily into the Command Tent to confront Velasca. “You - You mutilated their bodies!?” she cried. “The torture wasn’t bad enough, you...you had to... desecrate ...”
Velasca leaned back in her chair, smiling. “Mmmmm, yessss .... the Torture,” she purred, licking her lips. “Their screams of agony and pleas for mercy were ... exquisite. Wouldn’t you agree?” Pitana merely stared at her, unable to speak. “Well,” continued Velasca. “You said you wanted Melysë to ‘squirm’.”
“Squirm, yes, but not...” said Pitana, quietly.
“A little squeamish, are we?” gloated Velasca. “Come on, Pitana. You have to let go of all that ‘Amazon Honour’ nonsense! Oh, but that’s right - you did that, didn’t you? Isn’t that why Melysë had you locked up - until I let you out, that is.”
“No, that’s not why,” said Pitana, quietly. “She was afraid of me...afraid of what I might do to her daughter...and her Amazons.”
“Well, I guess now she knows that she was right,” said Velasca, smugly leaning forward and grinning.
“What do you mean?” asked Pitana, eyes narrowing. Velasca was suddenly on her feet, and behind Pitana, grabbing her arm and twisting until the bones snapped like tinder. Pitana cried out at the sudden pain and grimaced as the bones, under the influence of ambrosia slowly and painfully knit themselves back together.
“I mean, my dear, that while you were hiding in the trees, throwing up over my lovely torture - didn’t think I knew about that, did you? - I was jotting a note to your beloved cousin - and signing your name to it,” sneered Velasca, shoving Pitana across the room.
Pitana merely looked at her, incredulous. Then, thinking hard for the first time in many years, Pitana silently left the tent, the sound of Velasca’s mad laughter mingling with the screams of tortured Amazons she could still hear - and probably always would - in her head.
Melysë left Arynë with Xena and headed to the Temple to help prepare the Funeral Rites for the dead scouts. Again, she wondered why Tecmessa had been taken to the Healer’s hut instead of the Temple with the rest of the victims. Then too, Tecmessa’s body had not been ... defiled like the others. Melysë shuddered at the memory of the sight of those poor women. Although she was grateful Tecmessa had been spared that indignity - even in death - she still wondered why it should be so. And that note, she thought. I know Pitana didn’t send that. It’s all very ... eerie. And poor Selenë! So much pain... and anger....and raw grief... Selenë’s an empath like me ... maybe I should go to her first....
The priestess turned and made her way to the Healer’s hut, leaving the Temple - and the dead who awaited her there - until after she attended to her living daughter.
Velasca chuckled darkly, her mad eyes gleaming in the dimly lit tent. Poor stupid Pitana! she thought. Yes her bones heal quickly enough, but ambrosia has not evolved her as it did me. Pity, I had such hopes for her. Unfortunately - for her - no matter that Melysë stripped her of the title, the fool is still very much an Amazon. Ah, well - I still have uses for her. And then, I shall feed off her pain - and after tasting of ambrosia, she’ll last a long time before that pain ends....
Pitana wandered through Velasca’s camp, thinking and listening to the whispered conversations. She found these Amazons’ strange speech difficult to understand - like so many other things had been difficult for her to understand all her life. But now, she listened more carefully and realised that she could get a word here and there - and finally the essence of what they were saying penetrated. Horrified, Pitana ran deeper into the forest. Oh, Goddess, if ever I was one of your chosen daughters, help me now! she thought, desperately taking to the trees and hiding in them. I’ve got to warn them! Oh, Goddess! I’ll be captured on sight! I’ll be put back in prison! Maybe even executed - whatever was in that cursed note? It doesn’t matter - I’ve got to warn Melysë. Maybe I can slip into the village...somehow. But then I’ve got to find her...and evade Velasca...
“Ares! Ares! If you have any feelings at all for your daughter, come here to me,” cried Pitana, jumping from the limb of the tree in which she had taken refuge.
“What daughter?” Pitana whirled around to see the god standing there, arms crossed.
“Melysë,” said Pitana, tossing her head. “She’s in danger.”
“Yeah, maybe she is - from you,” said Ares, coldly. “But Melysë isn’t my daughter - ah, but you weren’t around when that came out weren’t you? Too busy plotting and scheming against your cousin. How’d you get out, anyway?”
“Not ... not your daughter? Oh but that doesn’t matter!” cried Pitana. “It’s not me! It’s Velasca. Ares, she’s going to destroy the Amazons. I have to get a message to Melysë, please!”
“Really? And why should you care if the Amazons are destroyed? You aren’t one of them anymore,” said Ares. “In fact, you have every reason to hate them - especially Melysë. Why the change of heart? Why now?”
“I ... I don’t care about any of that right now,” said Pitana, swallowing hard. “You don’t understand...you couldn’t. I ... heard their screams...I still hear them. Ares, please. Please - at least carry a message to Melysë.”
“What about you? What about when Velasca catches you and finds out you betrayed her - and she will, you know,” said Ares.
“I...don’t matter now,” said Pitana. “It’s the Amazons - the entire Nation could be lost if Melysë doesn’t get this message. Please Ares.”
“You really don’t care what happens to you now, do you?” said Ares, grinning. “As long as the Amazons are safe.” Pitana nodded. “Cool! Come on - if Melysë is going to get your message, she’s going to get it from you directly.”
Pitana sighed, resigned to whatever fate awaited her among the Amazons as Ares grabbed her arm and faded from the forest with her. Well, at least the Amazons don’t use torture... she thought.
Ares and Pitana appeared inside of the healer’s hut. Melysë was standing beside the body of Tecmessa, studying the serene face of her daughter’s bond and soul mate, tears flowing freely. Melysë had known the young woman all of her short life, had indeed taken Tecmessa into her heart as another daughter, even before she and Arynë had been Joined. Selenë stood next to her, their arms around each other. Sensing her brother’s presence, Melysë looked up, startled to see both him as well as Pitana. Pitana approached and fell upon her knees before her cousin.
“Melysë, I don’t care what you do to me - as long as you listen to what I must tell you,” she said.
Frowning, Melysë approached and extended her hand, assisting Pitana to her feet. The priestess looked into Pitana’s eyes for a moment, then nodded. “Velasca - she’s crazy - she wrote a note...”
“I knew that wasn’t you, Pitana,” said Melysë, quietly, glancing up at her brother, who stood ready to intervene if Pitana showed any threat to Melysë.
“You - You did?” said Pitana.
“Yes, I did,” said Melysë, gently. “What do you need to tell me, Pitana?”
“The scouts - Velasca’s warriors...” said Pitana, frowning in thought.
“Take your time, Cousin,” said Melysë, kindly, placing a calming hand on Pitana’s shoulder.
“In their land, there are these...creatures...Bacchae...only Velasca’s Amazons call them ‘nosferatu’ - the ‘not-dead’ - but they’re just like Bacchae,” said Pitana, encouraged by her cousin’s patience with her. She was always patient with me...even when we were kids...even when I picked on her...oh, Goddess! Why didn’t I realise it...why did I ever think....?
“Pitana?” said Melysë, gently pulling her cousin’s wandering attention back to her. “These ‘nosferatu’ - the only way you can kill them is by...impaling them and...beheading?”
Pitana nodded, relieved. “And sunlight - sunlight kills them, too. Velasca told her Amazon warriors that your scouts were these...nosferatu...”
“So they acted out of fear - and did what they thought they had to - to protect themselves,” said Melysë, quietly.
“Yes,” said Pitana. “But there’s more - she’s told them that the whole Village are Bacchae - nosferatu. They’re attacking just after dawn because daytime’s when these ‘not-dead’ creatures are at their most vulnerable. They sleep during the day and rise when the sun goes down. They drink blood and turn their victims into creatures like themselves. And...and that’s one of them - there, behind you.”
Startled, Melysë turned around to see Tecmessa, still lying there, her face quiet and serene - as if, indeed, she was only sleeping.
“Pitana, is there any other way to...to kill these nosferatu?” asked Melysë.
“I don’t know,” said Pitana. “I really couldn’t understand most of what those women said. I - I’m sorry, Melysë. For ...everything. I’ll...accept whatever you decide to do with me.”
“Pitana,” said Melysë, once again glancing up at her brother, who nodded. “I forgive you. Welcome back, my Sister Amazon.”
“Wait,” said Pitana, stepping back from Melysë’s proffered hug. “Just like that? You forgive me - and give me back my place in the Tribe and the Nation? Why?”
“You risked everything - your freedom, even your very life - to come to me and tell me this - to protect the Amazons,” said Melysë.
“You put the Greater Good before your own welfare,” said Ares, grinning at her. “That’s why I was able to help you.Hekate, the Goddess of the Amazons heard your prayer - and sent me to you. Once I knew you were sincere, I was permitted to bring you back here.”
“You showed the honour of an Amazon,” said Melysë, smiling at her cousin, in spite of the situation. “You’ve earned your way back to us, Cousin. At long last.”
“I - I did?” said Pitana.
“Yes, you did,” said Melysë as Pitana finally accepted the hug. “You and I are family, Pitana. You have your freedom - and you have your place with us again.”
“Okay,” said Pitana. “But I have... a lot of things to catch up on.”
“Yes, you do, said Melysë. “Selenë, I want to introduce you to our cousin, Pitana. Pitana, this is my daughter, Selenë. And my brother you already know.”
“Your bro - oh, boy, I do have to catch up, don’t I?” said Pitana, rubbing her head.
“Yes, and I know just the person to help you,” said Melysë. “Selenë - I want you go and get Ephiny from the House of maidens and take Pitana to Gabrielle. You can explain things.”
“Mother,” said Selenë. “You’re trying to get us out of the Village - to where you think we’ll be safe - aren’t you?”
“Yes I am,” said Melysë. “No arguments, Selenë. Just ...get Ephiny and ...Pitana, please escort them to the Lodge?”
“Of course,” said Pitana, and Melysë saw the warrior’s awe at this act of trust as she gave Melysë a proud salute.
“Thank-you,” said Melysë, turning her eyes to Tecmessa. “I have...work to do .. here.”
Pitana took up a protective pose as she escorted Melysë’s daughter from the hut.
“Ares, I need Xena, but ...” began Melysë, biting her lip.
“But you need her to stay with Arynë right now, too,” said Ares. “How about I stay with ‘Ryn - or I can get Aphrodite to...”
“Actually, how about both of you staying with her - could you take her to Olympus for a while?” asked Melysë. “I have to...I don’t want her here when I have to...”
“Hey - no problem - I understand completely,” said Ares, disappearing.
Melysë returned to gaze down upon the body which had once housed the other half of her daughter’s soul, now lost. “Oh, Tecmessa,” said Melysë, softly. Cautiously, she slipped into a half-trance and reached out, seeking Tecmessa’s essence. In horror, the priestess pulled away. There was nothing of Tecmessa within this shell, now. Instead, there resided something ancient and dark - and evil. Grimly, Melysë picked up a silver dagger and held it, poised over Tecmesa’s still heart, but hesitated as she heard Tecmessa with her entranced mind.
“It’s okay, tanti. It’s the only way. I don’t want to be trapped in here with this...thing...doing unspeakable things. Please, free me...and tell ‘Ryn...I love her. I always will....”
“Oh, Goddess,” whispered Melysë, lowering the dagger and stroking the girl’s cold, still face.. “Oh, Tecmessa, I can’t do this - I have to get you back. And somehow, I will.”
Xena found her, still in the Healer’s hut, talking quietly with Hypsyple. Upon seeing her warrior, Melysë arose and approached. “Xena,” she said, softly. “How’s ‘Ryn?”
“The same,” replied the warrior, quietly. “Ares told me...everything. He took her to Olympus. Good call, ‘Lysë - that’s probably the safest place for her to be right now.”
“Yes,” said Melysë, her dark eyes filled with pain for her daughter. “Xena, I’ve spoken with Hypsyple - we don’t have a lot of time before sundown.”
“Right,” said Xena, placing a strong, yet gentle hand on her priestess’s shoulder. “I’ll do it, ‘Lysë. You and Hypsyple go on out. I’ll take care of ... everything. Don’t you worry about anything.”
“Xena, there may be another way,” said Melysë, softly.
“Really?” said Xena, hopefully.
“Yes, but I need to speak with one of Velasca’s Amazons,” said the priestess. “I need to find out everything I can about these nosferatu - including how this could have happened to Tecmessa - and how to reverse it. I know there has to be a way.”
“So you need me to go and, ah, ‘convince’ one of them to come and speak with you?” said the warrior, one eyebrow raising.
“Yes, if you can,” said Melysë, a small smile beginning to tug at her lips.
“If I can? After all these years, my priestess, are you doubting my skill?” teased Xena, the brow raising higher as her lips curled into a smile of her own.
“Never,” said Melysë, smiling fully now, despite the situation. “I just wasn’t aware kidnapping was one of the many.”
Xena’s smile faded. “No - just one I never thought I’d use again,” she said, quietly.
“Xena - for ‘Ryn - and Tecmessa - I’m glad it is,” said Melysë, gently. She wrapped warm, healing arms around her warrior and whispered, “Hurry back safely to me, Love - they don’t have much more time.”
With a gentle kiss to her priestess’s forehead and a nod to Hypsyple, Xena left them. Melysë sighed and glanced warily at Tecmessa, then out the window to check the sun before sitting once again with the shamenki.
“Melysë, are you sure you’re up to this?” said her old teacher, concerned. “You’re still recovering from childbirth - and this task you’ve set for yourself is no small feat.”
“Tanti, I have no choice,” said Melysë. “My daughter is hurting, half of her soul ripped away from her. And Tecmessa is ... cursed, the Amazons are in danger. So, either we ‘kill’ Tecmessa - or rather that entity residing within her body now - thereby forever trapping part of my daughter with her in the Land of the Dead, or I find a way to save them both. And whatever the cost to me, I must try to save them.”
“And if you fail?”
“Then you know what you must do,” said Melysë, looking grimly at Tecmessa’s body.
Xena silently made her way towards Velasca’s camp. Keeping to the shadows, the warrior moved almost invisibly. Suddenly, Xena was trapped by a net, falling over her and snugged tight as Velasca’s warriors descended gracefully from the trees and surrounded the Warrior Queen. Cursing silently, Xena forced herself to remain still, fighting the urge to struggle against her bonds, for she knew that would only tighten the net around her.
Melysë watched over Tecmessa, keeping vigil at the same time over the movement of the sun while Hypsyple prepared the things they would need for the task ahead.
“Hey, ‘Lysë,” said Gabrielle, coming into the hut. “Where’s Xena?”
“Gabrielle,” said Melysë, rising and hugging her. “Xena went to, um, get something for me. Where are the children?”
“It’s okay - Selenë told me everything,” said Gabrielle, softly, looking over to Tecmessa. “Pitana is protecting them - along with Autolycus and Iolaus. In fact, Auto’s spoiling for a fight with her - says he still owes Velasca for a broken arm she gave him - a long time ago. Listen, Iolaus has had some experience with these nosferatu. He told me what to do to protect ourselves - without harming her.”
“Thank-you Gabrielle - and Goddess bless Iolaus!” said Melysë, tears of relief springing to her green eyes.
These Amazons were a quiet group, Xena observed, efficiently binding her, while trying, at the same time, to remain a “safe” distance away from the warrior. In between their wary glances toward her, Xena’s sharp hearing picked up snatches of their whispered conversation, but their language was only marginally Amazonian and heavily accented at that. The warrior did pick up “Velasca” and “nosferatu “, however and she understood that these women feared that Xena was a creature like Tecmessa would soon become - unless Xena could escape in time to help save her.
Cautiously, Velasca’s warriors hauled Xena into their camp, depositing her in Velasca’s dimly-lit tent. Xena glared at the immortal, but remained silent.
“Oh, this is so good,” chuckled Velasca, her eyes glittering as she approached the warrior. “This is better that even I could have hoped for - the Mighty Xena, Warrior Princess, brought down before me. This is even better that having that fool Pitana in my camp - and don’t think her betrayal has gone unnoticed. But I’ll deal with her - later, when I have the leisure to enjoy her punishment.”
“What do you want, Velasca?” asked Xena.
“Let me just tell you a little story, Xena,” said Velasca, sitting in a chair across from the still-bound warrior. “Once upon a time, I was trapped in a lava pit. Then one day, there was an eruption and I was free - just like that. Of course, my first thought was revenge - but as you probably know, landscape changes over the decades. I knew how long I’d been trapped - and assumed you two long dead. So I decided to go after the Amazons - I went to the homeland of ‘my’ Tribe first - and found them already gone. Ephiny, Solari, Eponin...all long dead. But just north of them, I remembered, was another Tribe - one who had taken me in the first time I was denied the Queen’s mask that was rightfully mine. So I went to them. They worshipped me, Xena. They recognised the goddess that I was asked for my help against a mighty warlord who had invaded their forest. I knew that if I defeated him, there would be no end to the devotion and adoration of these women - the same women in this camp - they still follow me, you see.”
“I take it you defeated him,” said Xena, her voice disinterested. As long as I can keep her talking - distracted....for now...
“Oh, I did more than just defeat him, Xena,” said Velasca with a nasty smile. “I destroyed him - but not until after I learned from him - he was much more than just a warlord, you see. And after he initiated me, I drained him of his blood. Funny thing, though - as I drank him dry, I not only received the blood-nourishment I now crave, I also received all of his knowledge - all of his memories and all of his power. In the end, he was just an old man with more lifetimes - and more power than he knew what to do with. He took me under his wing and made me nosferatu. Just as I did with sweet little Tecmessa.”
“What?” said Xena, quietly seething.
“Yes,” said Velasca, grinning. “Yes, you see the only thing I crave even more than blood is pain - inflicted upon others, of course - I’ve always loved that, inflicting pain. It will be especially sweet to see how your priestess handles Tecmessa. Tell me, Xena is she a fighter?”
“When she has to be,” said Xena.
“And what do you think your priestess will do when Tecmessa rises tonight, hm?” said Velasca. “Will she be able to wield the impaling instrument and cut the head off of her daughter’s beloved?”
“Melysë will do whatever she has to do to protect her Amazons,” said Xena, growling.
“Her Amazons...yes,” said Velasca, musing. “Wonder what that will do to her daughter...your daughter...”
“What in Tartarus do you want, Velasca?” snarled the warrior.
“What I want, Xena,” said Velasca. “Is what I’ve always wanted - the Amazons. If not as queen, then...”
“That’s why you came looking for Artemis...goddess of the Amazons,” said Xena., frowning. “You wanted to Challenge her - to be the goddess of the Amazons yourself.”
“Very good, Xena,” said Velasca. “After I was Initiated in Blood, I stood at the foot of Olympus and called Artemis out - I challenged her there and then - but the coward never appeared. So I came looking for her. I can sense she’s here - or she was.”
Xena chuckled. “I have some bad news for you, Velasca. I already killed Olympian Artemis,” she said. “And she wasn’t the Goddess of the Amazons. She may have been named for Her, but she wasn’t the Amazons’ Great Mother - I’ve met Her, Velasca - and I guarantee, you’re no match for Hekate.”
Velasca’s eyes narrowed. “What are you saying?” she said. “That the Goddess of the Amazons has appeared to you? You really expect me to believe that?”
“Actually, Velasca, I don’t care what you believe,” said Xena, shrugging - and as she shrugged, faster than Velasca could move or even anticipate, Xena’s breast dagger flew up from it’s sheath and landed between the warrior’s teeth. With a dip of her head, Xena’s bonds were off and the Warrior Queen was on her feet, chakram in hand. “Because the truth is, you’re not even a match for me , let alone a real goddess like Hekate - you fake!”
With a growl, Velasca leapt to her feet, her teeth suddenly appearing longer. Xena pulled open the tent flap, allowing the late afternoon sunlight in. Velasca, jumped back, then chuckled evilly. “Oh, the sun doesn’t bother me nearly as much as the others, Warrior - I have the protection of ambrosia. True, I’m not at my best during the day - a little weaker, but otherwise quite safe from the sun. The only reason your little priestess’s pathetic lightning bolt had any effect on me, you see, was because of the sun.”
Xena brandished the chakram. “I know your kind are immortal - unless you’re beheaded - you wanna taste of this? Keep coming at me, Velasca!” she cried, grabbing the nearest Amazon and pinching a pressure point until the woman collapsed in her arms and Xena took her up into the treetops, running through the branches and leaping down within the village, removing the pressure point pinch before her “hostage” was dead. She brought the woman to Melysë in Hypsyple’s hut.
“Here you go,” said Xena, shoving the woman down into a chair.
“What happened?” asked Melysë, rising and approaching them. The stranger cowered away from the Aemetzainê queens, fearfully.
“Long story,” said Xena, rolling her eyes and tossing grapes from a bowl on the table into her mouth. “We need to get the information we need and do whatever we’re going to do before sunset.”
Melysë nodded, then looked to the stranger. “Hello, Sister,” she said, in the woman’s own language. “We mean you no harm - we need your help.”
“No,” said the woman, her eyes wide as she stared at Tecmessa. “You befriend nosferatu - you are no friend of Kaschka’s!”
“Is that your name?” asked Melysë, gently. “Kaschka? That’s lovely. I’m Melysë, this is Gabrielle, this is our healer, Hypsyple, and you’ve met Xena.”
“Healer?” said Kaschka, looking warily at Tecmessa once more before returning her gaze to Melysë. “You can’t heal the nosferatu - all you can do is free the souls trapped in with the darkness.”
“There must be a way,” said Melysë, sitting with Kaschka, pouring her a glass of wine. “You must understand, Kaschka. We mean your people no harm. We are not ‘nosferatu’.”
“No but Velasca is,” said Xena, darkly.
“I...had suspected that she was,” said Kaschka, bowing her head. “I knew this warrior was no creature of darkness - the nosferatu do not eat grapes - they only drink blood. Nor can they endure the garlic with which you festooned this place.”
“I thought I smelled something,” said Xena. “Won’t that hurt Tecmessa?”
“Tecmessa won’t become fully one of them until she drinks blood,” said Gabrielle. “She won’t like it - but it will keep her from ... it will protect us - and her.” Xena raised an eyebrow. “Iolaus and Hercules fought these undead once - he told me a few things.”
“Okay,” said the Warrior Queen. “How do we get Tecmessa back?”
“If you destroy the one who Made her before she drinks blood, she will return,” said Kaschka. “Right now, her soul is trapped - halfway between the Land of the Dead and within that body with the darkness that craves the blood.”
“Uh, oh,” said Melysë, looking out of the window. “The sun - it’s nearly - “
“Tanti-meia” Melysë looked up and saw Tecmessa, sitting up, her face bewildered, her eyes glittering strangely. “What happened? Where’s ‘Ryn?” She started to stand and saw the garlic blooms surrounding her, shying back. “Tanti-meia - help me - I can’t...can’t move!”
“No, Tecmessa,” said Melysë, gently. “You’ve been ill - you must remain there and rest.”
“But...but I’m so hungry!” wailed Tecmessa, again trying to rise. Melysë looked carefully at the one who wore Tecmessa’s body. She saw an unfamiliar guile in those once open blue eyes and an evil aura, like translucent black smoke, hung about her.
“I know, Tecmessa,” said Hypsyple, soothingly. “But with this illness, you may not eat or you will grow worse. Just lie down, now and let us help you, child.”
“No!” screamed Tecmessa, leaping up and over the garlic bulbs which surrounded her bed. Xena reached up and caught her in mid-air, applying a pressure point to her neck. Tecmessa slumped in her arms and Xena quickly laid her back in the bed.
“This is gonna get old real fast,” said Xena. “Whatever we’re gonna do, we better do fast - because I can’t leave that on her for very - “
“Mother! Xena! What are you doing to her!?” Melysë looked up and saw Arynë had burst into the hut, her sword drawn.
“Arynë!” said Melysë. “What are you doing here?”
“Never mind that now,” said Arynë, sheathing her sword. “What were you doing to Tecmessa?”
“‘Ryn, we’re trying to help her,” said Gabrielle.
“I’m sorry,” said ‘Ryn, looking down. “It just looked like - “
“It’s okay, Arynë,” said Melysë. “How did you get back?”
“Xena said ... it takes an immortal to fight an immortal...so I ...” said Arynë, hesitantly, then looking up at her mother.
“Ambrosia?” said Melysë, pain lancing through her heart.
“Tecmessa is ...gone... I had nothing else left to lose,” said Arynë, quietly, withdrawing a familiar silk pouch from her zona, now empty. The young warrior looked up at her mothers, her dark eyes determined. “Velasca wants to Challenge Artemis? She’ll get her wish.”
“Arynë, it’s not that simple,” said Xena. “Velasca is ...”
“Undead - I know,” said Arynë, quietly. “It doesn’t matter. She can’t ... harm me ... now. And if - when I kill Velasca, Tecmessa will be restored.”
“And you?” said Melysë.
“What about me?” frowned her daughter.
“Immortality lasts an awfully long time, ‘Ryn,” said Gabrielle.
“That doesn’t matter, either,” said Arynë. “I’ll pay any price to save her.”
“I know,” said Xena, softly, placing an arm around Arynë’s shoulders in comfort. “We’ll help you. Just...do what you have to do.”
Arynë nodded and looked to her mother. “Please, meia take care of her? If anything happens to me...take care of her? You know what I...”
“Of course, ‘Ryn,” said Melysë. Arynë left them, striding out towards the boundary of the Village. Melysë turned to Hypsyple.
“Let’s give it to her,” she sighed. Hypsyple brought over a cup of broth and Xena took off her “Pinch” long enough for them to get most of it into her without choking her. Tecmessa lay down, her blue eyes rolling back. “Garlic broth - that’ll keep her weak enough to manage until...until ‘Ryn is finished.”
Hypsyple stepped up, binding Tecmessa’s hands and feet with garlands of garlic flowers. “You go on - I can handle her now,” said the Healer.
The three Amazon Queens left the Healer’s hut and followed Arynë’s trail. Standing behind her, they watched.
“Velasca! Velasca!” cried Arynë, unsheathing her sword. “You Challenged Artemis? Well, here I am - come on out and fight me - fight me for the Amazons!”
Melysë’s eyes widened. “What is she doing?” hissed the priestess.
“Baiting the trap,” said Xena, observing.
Suddenly, with a flash of smoke, Velasca appeared, grinning smugly. “How interesting,” she said. “Artemis re-born? As the Amazon queen’s daughter and Xena’s protégée. How very interesting.”
“Shut up and fight,” snarled Arynë, twirling her sword.
“Very well,” said Velasca, smiling nastily, and drawing her own sword.
The two warriors battled fiercely, neither truly scoring a hit, since both of their wounds closed almost immediately. Melysë watched, her jaw tight, hands clenched. “Oh, Goddess!” she whispered, but she would not close her eyes. Xena reached down and took Melysë’s hand in hers, squeezing gently. Melysë smiled up at her warrior and took Gabrielle’s hand in her other one. Together the three queens stood there, hand in hand, as a slight glow began to surround them. Melysë whispered prayers to Hekate, watching, as all of a sudden, Velasca had her daughter down, her sword poised over Arynë’s chest.
“Go for it,” sneered Arynë. Velasca hesitated. “Go ahead - I have nothing left to lose, now, since you took Tecmessa - so go ahead - kill me. I honestly don’t care.”
Velasca’s eyes narrowed. “It’s a trick,” she hissed. Arynë laughed aloud.
“Well, if you insist,” she said, leaping up, knocking Velasca’s sword away and landing several feet away from her adversary. Arynë reached down into her boot and withdrew a silver-shafted arrow with one hand, while holding up in her other hand something resembling Xena’s chakram. Arynë threw the arrow like a dart and it landed true, in Velasca’s chest, causing her to bleed for the first time since the battle began. Then Arynë loosed the spinning disc to fly and finished her off. What was left of Velasca rapidly decomposed into dust and blew away. Arynë walked up and retrieved her arrow, almost absently raising her hand and catching the rebounding disc. She returned to the queens and said only one word, “Tecmessa,” before hurrying to the Healer’s hut.
Rushing to Tecmessa’s side, Arynë quickly threw off the garlic blossom garlands, gathering her malatyr into her arms. “Tecmessa!” cried the warrior, weeping.
“Velasca ... killed her before she changed her,” said Hypsyple, gently. “That ...thing...inside of her is gone, but Tecmessa....”
“‘Lysë, can you...?” said Gabrielle, weeping. Melysë, shedding tears of her own, shook her head.
“I can’t...I’m not allowed to...interfere,” she said, her voice unsteady with holding back a sob. Xena stood, watching silently, pain for her heart-daughter evident in her body’s tenseness and the set of her jaw.
“It’s alright,” said Arynë, tears flowing down her cheeks, but she was smiling. “Ares...explained it. I know what to do.” Gently, she laid Tecmessa back down and laid both of her hands on either side of her beloved’s face. A soft glow surrounded both of them and Tecmessa opened her eyes and gasped. Then wrapped her arms around Arynë’s neck. “Immortality is really overrated,” said Arynë, grinning at the Queens.
Melysë laughed. “You knew, you little beast!” she exclaimed. “You had no intention of remaining immortal, did you?”
“No,” said Arynë, her eyes shining and never leaving Tecmessa. “I talked to Ares - he told me what to do. And he gave me this really neat weapon.”
“A chakram,” said Gabrielle. “Xena, that’s just like your old one.”
“I know,” said Xena, arching an eyebrow. “Wonder where he got it?”
“I don’t know,” said Arynë, frowning at the shining disc. “But he said every warrior princess should have one of these.”
Xena shook her head. “One of these days, I’m going to have a long talk with your brother, ‘Lysë,” she said.
“Yeah, but you know what?” said Melysë.
“No, what?” said Xena, wrapping a strong arm around her priestess.
“We have new babies to take care of - and you made me an offer earlier that I plan to take you up on,” said the priestess, snuggling closer.
“You sure?” said Xena. “That’s really what you want - to leave the Village and the Amazons to the girls ... for a while?”
“I think we’ll be leaving the village in very safe hands - for a while,” said Melysë, smiling up at her warrior.
“Yeah, I think you’re right,” said the warrior, smiling as she looked at Arynë, pride shining through the tears in her deep blue eyes.
(To be continued in part XVIII, “Cyrenê’s Tale”)
alt fic index <> homepage