Part II: The Rite is Caste
by L. M. Townsend
DISCLAIMERS: The characters of Xena, Gabrielle, Eve, Argo, Virgil, 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, and I thank them for their creation and for allowing me to live in their universe for a little bit. (Melysë and The Amazons belong to themselves and I dare any man to say different!) The stories are mine, though, and written just for fun, not profit.
Subtext? Subtext? Well, yeah. There is. Some of it obviously implied, some blatant, though nothing graphic, and some of it's in the eye of the reader; WHILE THERE ARE NO SEXUAL SCENES OF ANY KIND, there is kindness, affection, loyalty, and yes, lots and lots of love, so, if you read anything into any of the words or situations these characters find themselves in, then you have only yourself to thank/blame (depending upon your point of view!) If you have a bug up your butt about people of any persuasion loving each other and sharing their lives, then I pity you. I won't apologise for them, though, so if you have a problem with any of these stories, it's up to you to go and read something else. Remember, no one's holding a sword ( or a chakram) to your throat!
Violence: Oh, yeah - this is a story with Xena in it. Remember, she likes to fight. Nothing too gory, but maybe little kids shouldn't read this.
*Spoiler Alert - several references to various episodes throughout the history of the show.
*Major Spoiler alerts for DREAMWORKER, THE DEBT, THE QUEST, GABRIELLE'S HOPE, FINS, FEMMES, AND GEMS, ADVENTURES IN THE SIN TRADE, PARADISE FOUND, LOOKING DEATH IN THE EYE, LIVIA, EVE, and MOTHERHOOD
I also need to explain a little about this story. The first time I watched an episode of X:WP, it was an early episode - Death in Chains, I think. I remember thinking how sad it was that Gabrielle was talking about finding someone to love her, all the while not realising that she had that already in Xena. Then, after Fins, Femmes, and Gems, I thought about how sad it was for Xena that Gabrielle was only hanging around until a suitable husband-type came along - I mean that look when Gabrielle almost said...never mind. It made feel sorry for Xena - and Gabrielle. Obviously, no one will ever love her the way Xena does. Now, in these later episodes, it's clear that Gabrielle has grown to appreciate what she has in her soul-mate. But I just couldn't shake off that old doubt when Virgil turned out to be a bard too, so.....
Anyway, keep reading - bear with me and I promise a happy ending for all concerned (well, in the stories, anyway. In "real" life, you can't please everyone!)
Feedback is very welcome. Please let me know if you like my stories. Anything mean or nasty will be ignored. You can e-mail me at QueenLaese@aol.com. Thank-you for reading.
Xena whistled as her horse, Argo carried her closer to the Amazon village. It was her goddess-daughter, Arynë's birthday celebration which brought her and she had just the gift - Argo's foal was now old enough to begin training and was tethered behind her mother as they all made their way along the road. She glanced over at her best friend and closest companion, Gabrielle. Gabrielle had been uncharacteristically silent for days, now, and Xena was concerned, but when Gabrielle wanted to tell her what she was thinking, she would. Xena had never been good at what Gabrielle called "sensitive chats", but when it came her best friend, well, that was another matter.
"Nearly there," announced Xena.
"Oh, good," said Gabrielle, then went silent again. At one time, Xena would have been glad for the quiet, but Gabrielle had outgrown the ceaseless chattering of her youth and Xena was now concerned enough to stop Argo and turn to her.
"Alright, Gabrielle, out with it," she said, refusing to move out of the Bard's way.
"What, Xena?" asked Gabrielle, refusing to meet her friend's blue eyes.
"Whaddaya mean 'what'? Something has been on your mind for this whole trip," said Xena, impatiently. "Get it in the open and we'll deal with it, but in the mean time, whatever it is that's driving you crazy, it's driving me crazy as well!"
"Never mind, Xena," said Gabrielle, quietly. "We can talk about it later - after the celebration."
"Now, Gabrielle, or we're not going an another inch until you do," Xena warned her friend.
Gabrielle sighed. "Virgil," she said, her voice barely above a whisper.
Xena smiled, even as her heart sank. Not again, she thought to herself. "Ah, we have a name - there's a start," she said, softly. "What about Virgil?"
"He - asked me to marry him," said Gabrielle.
"Gabrielle! That's - that's great! What did you say?" said Xena, her own emotions warring within. She knew Virgil to be an honourable, kind and gentle man, the son of a very dear friend, now dead, but the thought of losing Gabrielle - even to Virgil - tore at her soul.
"I said - I'd think about it," said Gabrielle. "And I am - thinking about it, I
"What do you want to do?" asked Xena, steeling herself for the answer, dreading what her friend might say.
"I want - I don't know what I want," said Gabrielle, miserably.
"Gabrielle, do you love Virgil?" asked Xena, hating herself for asking it, but needing to know, just the same.
"Of course I love him, Xena," said Gabrielle. "I also love our life, on the road, doing what we do - you know, fighting for those who can't fight for themselves. I'm just not sure I can give that up right now. And then I start thinking of having children and settling down - I'm not getting any younger, you know - and I just think, maybe it's time. I don't know, Xena - what do you think?"
Ah, my Bard, you really don't want to know the answer to that, thought Xena. She was quiet for a few moments, searching her heart, then said evenly, "Gabrielle, you know that all I have ever wanted for you is to be happy. And if Virgil makes you happy, I think you should go for it."
Stupid, stupid, Xena! You did the same stupid thing when it was Perdicas, thought the warrior, clenching her jaw to keep from saying it. Let her go. She doesn't want...never mind that. She loves him. He'll protect her, make her happy, yadda, yadda, yadda. Bottom line, this is about what Gabrielle wants....
The women began riding again. "You know, that's what you said about...Perdicas," said Gabrielle, quietly, unknowingly mirroring the thoughts of her soul-mate.
"Ah, now we get to it," said Xena. "Memories of Perdicas keeping you from being happy with Virgil?" Do they break your heart, Gabrielle, like they break mine? Like I think mine is breaking even now...gods, I know it's been a long time since we've shared...that - since before Eve was born, but I had hoped...oh, damn Ares for putting us on ice! We'd still have a chance at it if Eve was still a baby...if things hadn't happened this way, she probably wouldn't be thinking of children now...something I can't give her - not like that, anyway. Is that why she's turning to Virgil now? Gods, I'm being selfish again. No, she loves him. No reason why she shouldn't...he's a good man.
"Not -- not exactly," said Gabrielle. "Although, those wounds will never heal, I know that Perdicas is at peace and that he would want me to be happy, like you do. It's just - every man I care about seems to die on me. Am I a jinx, Xena?"
"Well, I see the coincidences, Gabrielle, but I just don't believe in jinxes," replied the dark-haired warrior, frowning at her own dark thoughts. Though I almost wish I did...except Virgil is a good man, a good friend, and even to keep...no, don't go there, Warrior Princess. The women rode the rest of the way to the Amazon village in silence, each lost in their own thoughts.
They were greeted at the Amazon village by Queen Melysë, herself. The two were cherished friends of the Amazon Queen, especially Xena.
The Queen had earned the Warrior Princess' respect and affection with her quiet, gentle ways - and her iron will and great inner courage and strength. Melysë was not only the queen of the Amazons, but their priestess, consecrated to the Amazons' Triple Goddess. She had been trained in the Great Temple of Ephesus and educated at the College of Sappho on the isle of Lesvos. Melysë listened,
giving the other person her undivided -- and non-judgmental -- attention, making no comments or suggestions, and offering no advice or opinion until asked. And when asked, she would invariably answer with wisdom. Xena could see how Melysë was the great queen - and priestess - that she was. She was a true Amazon, and the daughter of a Warrior Queen - although she herself usually chose not to fight; she was a shape-shifter - due in part to her divine legacy and part to her training as a priestess - and she could hold her own in combat, but really preferred to serve among the healers when it came to battles and war - which as queen, she had avoided for many years. Oh, there was always the stupid warlord who sought Amazon slaves and would invade, but they soon capitulated when they learned that this Tribe was under the protection of Xena - as well as the
queen's brother - Ares, God of War. Maybe Melysë will know what to say, tell me how I can deal with this - again. Xena thought, hopefully.
"Xena, Gabrielle!" cried the Queen, rushing to embrace them both as they dismounted from their horses. "Oh, my! Is that what I think it is?"
Xena smiled. "If you think it's birth-season gift for a certain Amazon princess, then yes," she replied, untethering the foal and handing the lead to the queen.
"Oh, Goddess -- Xena, Gabrielle -- and Argo look what you did!" said Melysë, stroking the foal's soft muzzle. "Arynë's going to love you, Little One!"
"Speaking of my goddess-daughter," said Xena. "Where is she?"
Melysë looked at Xena and smiled. "She heard you were coming and set about finding every wildflower and bit of greenery to decorate our cottage - in your honour," she replied. "She's still at it with her best friend, Tecmessa. Only now I think they're out hunting for wild berries - you know, those red ones Gabrielle likes so well. I think she's hoping to convince you to make those little dumplings with them. And she convinced me to bake nut bread for you."
"Oooh," said Gabrielle, smiling. "You know I love nut-bread!"
"Oh yes," laughed Melysë. "Quite the hero you two have become to our little one since she's learned to read."
"Already?" asked Xena, raising an eyebrow.
"She's been reading for three years now," said Melysë, proudly. "Thanks to Gabrielle's scrolls - and their subject matter."
"Oh, and you had no small part of her education, I suppose?" asked Xena, eyebrow still cocked, a smile playing about the corners of her mouth.
"I only taught her the letters and their sounds - she learned how to put them together by herself," said Melysë, still the proud mother, linking arms with her friends and leading them to her cottage as an Amazon led their horses to the stable. "But come, now. You must both be exhausted and wanting a bath - why Gabrielle is so tired she's hardly said a word!"
"Yeah, how 'bout that?" said Xena, smiling gently at the bard.
Gabrielle smiled a little. "A bath sounds good," she said. "But how about some of that nut-bread first?"
Melysë laughed, hugging both women as they walked to her cottage. "Whatever you like," she said. "I'm just so glad you've come! I hope you can stay a while." Just then a small body hurtled through the door and into the arms of her mother. "Arynë!" cried Melysë. "What's wrong?"
"Lion," gasped the little girl. "Chased us. Tecmessa - made it to her house, but the lion-"
"Where?" said Xena, grabbing her sword and chakram. She paused, puzzled as Melysë smiled and shook her head over the little girl. "Did the lion follow you into the village?" she asked.
"Oh, no!" cried the little girl, looking up at her mother. "We made sure - we dropped the basket of berries and the lion stopped and ate them all up, then it left. I'm sorry, Tanti Gabrielle, we had to give it your berries so it wouldn't eat us!"
Melysë smiled, and wiped the tell-tale berry stains from her daughter's chin. "Well," she said, gravely, despite the twitching at the corners of her mouth. "I'm glad - and rather surprised that there were any berries left to give to the lion - after you and Tecmessa ate your fill."
Arynë grinned, sheepishly. "Weeellll," she began. "There weren't very many left. Actually, there weren't many ripe yet - is there nut-bread?" Melysë smiled and gave the little one a loaf. Arynë took it, then handed it to Gabrielle. "I'm sorry we ate all the berries, Tanti," she said. "We kept thinking we'd find more, but there really aren't many ripe yet."
Gabrielle gathered the little girl into a tight hug, relieved she had been spared the dumpling-making. "I'm just glad that you're safe from that old berry-eating lion," she said.
"Tanti," Arynë said, worried. "You know there wasn't any lion - don't you?"
"Of course, Sweetheart," she said.
"I didn't", muttered Xena, putting her weapons back down.
"But it would have been a great story if there had been one, wouldn't it?" the little girl asked. "A story, like in one your scrolls?"
"Well, yes, Arynë," said Gabrielle, solemnly. "Sort of, except the stories in the scrolls are all true."
The child's eyes widened. "True?" she whispered in awe, then turned to look at Xena, who smiled and nodded. "You mean, the Titans, and Prometheus, and the Cyclops and giants, and the Harpies, and Hercules - everything?"
"True," said Gabrielle, smiling.
"Wow," said the child, considering.
Melysë rose and took her daughter's grubby hand in hers. "Come on, 'Ryn," she said. "Bath time - unless you want to go first, Gabrielle?"
"Meia - Mama - can't Gabrielle give me my bath?" she said. "That way, if she's already in the tub, she can wash my hair and it won't matter if I splash her."
"Oh, I don't think - " began the queen.
"No, it's alright," said Gabrielle. "I'll give Arynë her bath."
"Alright," said Melysë, smiling. "Just don't blame me if she squalls and thrashes when you wash her hair."
Arynë confidently placed her hand in the bard's and looked up. "I won't do that," she said, then leaned up and whispered to Gabrielle." As long as you don't tickle like Meia does." Gabrielle smiled and led the little girl out to the bath house.
"So, Xena, what's up with you two?" said Melysë.
"Why do you think anything is 'up'?" asked Xena, raising an eyebrow.
"Come on, Xena," said Melysë. "If it's too personal, just tell me so and I'll butt out, but don't pretend there's nothing. I know both of you far too well for that."
"I'm sorry, Melysë," said Xena. "It's just...all I can tell you is that the day is coming when Gabrielle and I won't be on the road together anymore."
"Oh, Goddess, Xena, I'm so sorry!" said Melysë, placing a comforting hand on Xena's arm.
"No, no, it's ok," said Xena. "I - I'll miss her, that's all. I guess I always knew this was coming. I've watched Gabrielle grow up, from a simple village girl who never stopped talking and dreamed of being a bard into a formidable warrior, an Amazon Queen, a talented bard and an exceptional woman. But underneath, despite her denial of it all these years, she still carries that simple village girl's dreams of a home and family. And I can't give her that. I just want her to be happy."
"Xena, I don't understand," said Melysë. "I thought the day when you two parted ways would never come - she's your malatyr - your soul-mate. How could this happen?" Xena smiled, weakly.
"Well, his name is Virgil," she began.
Melysë frowned as understanding dawned. "I see," she said.
"I think he's the best thing that ever happened to Gabrielle," said Xena, quietly. "They have so much in common. Virgil is good man and a very dear friend. He worships Gabrielle and he'd do literally anything to make her happy. They're perfect for each other. And even though Gabrielle won't admit it, I know she feels the same for him. She loves him more than anything on this earth."
Melysë, gently took her friend's hand. "Except you, Xena," she said softly. "You are the other half of her soul, though Virgil may be the other half of her heart. Nothing is going to change that, Xena. Your bond with Gabrielle is too strong for anything to break it - especially not something as wonderful as love. And Gabrielle has more than enough love to go around."
"Yeah, I know that," said Xena, considering. Heartmates ... and soulmates? Can a person have both? "It's just - everything will change, and I don't want it to. But I won't stand in the way of Gabrielle's happiness, either."
"Oh really?" said Melysë, with Xena's own characteristic eyebrow raise.
"What do you mean?"
"Think about it," said Melysë softly. "If Gabrielle knows you are unhappy, how will she feel?"
"She won't know," said Xena, shrugging.
"You don't think so?" said Melysë. "Have you ever felt anything that Gabrielle didn't feel also? That's the way of soulmates - what we call malatyra - one soul inhabiting two bodies, and you don't think Gabrielle will know that your heart is breaking?"
"What can I do?" asked Xena. "I can't help the way I feel. I'll miss her."
"Yes, you will. And she'll miss you, too," said Melysë, hugging her friend. "But you two are never really apart, no matter what the distance is between you. If you hold that in your heart and mind, you can be really truly happy for her - and with her."
Xena smiled. "How did you get to be so wise?" she asked. "I can see why the Amazons love their queen so much."
Melysë sighed. "Oh, yes, they love me," she said. "I'm just afraid of failing them."
"How?" asked Xena, around a mouthful of nut-bread.
"There's a warlord called Agres who has camped his army on the western boundary of our hunting grounds," said Melysë. "There's another warlord, Scolopota, who has encroached on our northern boundary. Their armies are hunting our game and I'm afraid I won't be able to feed the Tribe this winter on just our crops. The armies' horses have been set loose in some of the grain fields to eat what they will. And I can do nothing about it. I don't know what to do. My mother wouldn't have let those men within an arrow-shot of Amazon Lands. I think she'd be disappointed in me."
"Oh, no," said Xena. "I don't think so at all. I never met Lyssë, but I have heard the Amazons speak of her. It's true, she was a formidable warrior, and some say a hard woman, but they say when you were born, she swore you would be the greatest queen of the Amazons since Hypolite."
"Hypolite. I haven't thought of my godsmother in ... well, a while," said Melysë. "She was a priestess-queen, too, but she was also a warrior. My mother was very devoted to her, and Hypolite was devoted to my mother as well. They, too, were malatyra. She was as much a mother to me, in fact, as Lyssë. They died together, by the same arrow. I miss them both very much."
"They hear your thoughts," said Xena, softly.
"And I know they feel my love for them," said Melysë, smiling.
"So what are we going to do about these armies?" asked Xena. "What about Ares? I thought he let it be known that this Tribe was under his protection."
Melysë rolled her eyes. "My brother made an appearance, alright," she said. "Scolopota laughed at him and challenged him to a fight. Of course, Ares backed down and said it wasn't his fight."
"Figures," said Xena, darkly. "Why don't you send troops - "
"Xena, there are two fairly large armies practically surrounding us," said Melysë. "If we attack one of them, we'll have the other at our backs, probably attacking. And whatever casualties we suffer leave us just that much more vulnerable to either army. I have to think of a way to drive off both armies,
without losing any more Amazons than I have to."
"Can I help?" asked Xena.
"Oh, Goddess, yes," said Melysë, hugging the warrior with tears of relief and gratitude. "I am their queen and I must do everything in my power to protect them. I will do my best for them, but I do need help."
"And you will," said Xena. "With my help. But now, tell me, aside from all this unpleasant warlord business, what else is happening with you?"
"Nothing," said Melysë. "Just - raising Arynë, leading the Amazons, and priestessing. Same as always."
"Are you sure there's nothing else you want to tell me?" said Xena, looking intently at the Queen.
Melysë hesitated a moment. Goddess, if only I could, but not now, it would seem so...never mind, not now. Maybe not ever...
"No," she said, smiling. "Nothing at all."
"Meia," called Arynë, coming into the room with Gabrielle. "Guess what? Tanti tickles, too."
Melysë sighed in relief at this welcome interruption. Xena was just too damn perceptive, she thought, as she gathered her small daughter in her arms. Gabrielle rubbed a towel over her short blonde hair, grinning. "You were right," she said. "She does squall and thrash - but it was fun."
"Well you tickled," scowled the little girl, but then broke into a grin. " But it was fun."
"I'm glad you two enjoyed the bath," said Melysë. "But how much water do I have to mop up?"
"Oh, none," said Gabrielle. "We already took care of that, didn't we, 'Ryn?' The child nodded.
"Well, thank-you," said Melysë, rising. "And now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to get a certain seven year old dressed for her birthday celebration."
Arynë jumped up and down excitedly. "Tanti Xena," she said. "Did you know I'm seven today?"
"I sure did," said the Warrior. "Gabrielle and I were here with your mother when you were born."
"Oh, that's right," said Arynë, nodding. "Meia told me."
"Come on, 'Ryn," said her mother. Mother and daughter left the room.
"Xena," said Gabrielle. "About Virgil - "
Xena took her best friend's hand. "I want to help plan your wedding," she said, smiling. "And so help me, if you name any daughter 'Xena', I'll - "
"Oh, Xena!" Gabrielle cried, hugging her friend. "It means so much to me that you can be happy about this! I mean I know that we..."
"Gabrielle, how could I not be happy when you are?" said Xena, meaning it."You are the dearest thing in all the world to me, and your happiness is mine as well."
"Do you think we can get Melysë to leave the Amazons long enough to perform the ceremony?" asked Gabrielle. "It would mean a lot to me to have an Amazon priestess...I mean, if I marry him. I still need to think some things through. I mean, this is a big step. But if there is a wedding, I'd really like Melysë to do it. She's not only a priestess, she's like family."
"I think she would, but right now, there's a problem," said Xena, grimly, relating the news to her friend. "Once that's taken care of, I think we can tear her away long enough to officiate at your marriage feast." But I doubt we'll keep her away for very long. Seems there may be something - or someone - here to come back to. Melysë is very discreet - as a queen should be, but I think Gabrielle could get it out of her - my bard is so very good at that - gods, I'll miss her!
"Tantis, look!" cried Arynë, running into the room.
"Doesn't that child ever walk?" asked Xena, grinning.
"Not often," said her mother following her into the room, smiling.
Arynë twirled around in a full set of leathers, similar in design to Xena's. "Now I can be a Warrior Princess, just like Xena," she said, hugging the warrior.
"Arynë," said Xena, holding the child so she could look her in the eye. "Do you know what a warrior princess does?"
"Of course," said Arynë, looking at Xena, puzzled at her godsmother's sad demeanour. "A warrior princess fights for people who can't fight for themselves. Xena, do you think that when I'm a real warrior princess, I can go with you and Gabrielle and fight giants and Cyclops's, and harpies and mean, evil warlords?"
"Well, when that time comes, you can decide if that's what you really want to do," said Xena, with a sigh, her heart dropping once again as she thought about Melysë's child becoming a warrior. And by the time that happens, where will I be - without Gabrielle?
"Don't worry, Tanti," said Arynë, patting Xena's face gently, intuitively knowing the warrior was saddened by her words. "I promise to only fight when I have to, like you always say. But I will be a warrior princess 'cause I'm already an Amazon princess, and I will learn how to be a warrior to protect myself and the Amazons when I am their queen."
Xena hugged the little girl tightly. "And you'll be a good one, too," she said.
"Arynë, go out and find Tecmessa," said Melysë. "You can show her your new clothes."
"Ok, Meia," said the child, depositing a kiss on the cheek of each of three women in the room, before running outside. Melysë sighed, and fell into a chair, looking exhausted.
"You should rest," said Gabrielle, concerned.
"Oh, I know," said the Queen. "But I couldn't if I tried. I still have the ceremony and the feast to attend to."
"Can we help?" asked Gabrielle.
"I don't know," said Melysë smiling. "Either of you have any priestess-training?"
Melysë was clothed in the ceremonial robes of a priestess. She stood in the front of the Amazon Temple before the assembled Tribe, just as when the new-born Arynë had been presented to them in her Dedication Ceremony. Arynë also stood before her mother, with Xena and Gabrielle on either side of her as her godsmothers. At the last minute, Aphrodite, Arynë's third godsmother, blinked in for the ceremony.
Amazon mothers usually chose three godsmothers for their daughters, in recognition of the Triple Goddess they worshipped. At the time of the child's Dedication, the godsmothers promise to raise the child if anything should happen to the mother. At the time of the child's first Initiation, when the child becomes Daughter of the Tribe, her godsmothers are released from their vows, but even after the first Initiation ceremony, the girl usually remained close to her "other" mothers. At the girl's second Initiation, after she has learned the Mystery of the Moon-Blood, she takes her own vows and is recognised as a full sister of the Tribe and the Amazon Nation.
"Arynë, daughter of Melysë," said the Priestess-Queen, solemnly. "You are old enough to make a choice between right and wrong. You are old enough to know the difference between truth and a lie. You are old enough to know that a promise must be kept. I ask you, are you ready to keep a very important promise?"
"Yes," said the little girl, trembling, though whether from excitement or fear - or a little of both - her mother could not say. Resolutely, the Priestess put the part of her that was Arynë's mother away to the back of her mind.
"Do you promise to serve the Goddess, in perfect love and perfect trust, with all your heart, all your soul, and all your being?"
"Yes," said the child, her eyes wide, but solemn.
"Do you promise to treat the elders of the Tribe as your mothers and grandmothers, respecting them and obeying them as you do your own mother?"
"Do you promise to treat your age-mates as your sisters?"
"Do you promise to obey and respect your teachers and to be attentive to your lessons, as is proper gratitude for their teaching?"
"Do you promise to love and respect yourself and to become the very best person you can be?"
Melysë smiled, proudly at her daughter and hugged her close, as if she would never let her go. Xena and Gabrielle saw the unshed tears shimmering in the Queen's eyes, but her voice was still strong and sure.
"Then be welcome, Arynë, Daughter of the Tribe," she said, removing the stopper from a small vial of fragrant oil. She knelt before the child and began anointing Arynë. "Blessèd be thy mind to know Her will. Blessèd be thine eyes to see Her beauty, thy lips to speak Her Names and Her words. Thy throat to sing Her praise, thy heart to know and to share Her Infinite Love. Blessèd be thy hands to serve Her, thy knees to kneel before Her altar. Blessèd be thy feet to walk Her path. Be thou blessèd."
"Blessèd be." responded the assembled Tribe.
Melysë turned to the godsmothers. "My Sisters, I thank you, on behalf of the Tribe, for the love and the care you bestowed upon Arynë," she said. "Xena, you were her first champion. Be thou blessed. Gabrielle, you were her first inspiration to learn. Be thou blessed. Aphrodite, you were the first to care for her in my - her mother's absence. Be thou blessed."
"Thank-you and Blessèd Be." repeated the Tribe.
Then the ceremony was over and the Tribe gathered around the long tables set up outside in the Temple garden, laden with the feast. Amazons wandered about, talking and laughing, congratulating Arynë and presenting her with gifts. Xena, chuckling to herself about the Amazons' propensity to party at any excuse, went to the stables and retrieved Argo's foal.
"Oh, Tanti!" cried Arynë, joyfully wrapping her arms around the young horse's neck. The foal gently nuzzled the little girl and the bond was forged.
"Where's Melysë?" Gabrielle asked Xena. "She would want to be here for this, I think."
"Maybe not," said Xena, quietly, looking around for the queen. "I'll see if I can find her."
Queen Melysë had left the gathering, drained as she always was after a ceremony. She had to find a place away from the onslaught of the thoughts and emotions of people around her which invaded her own mind. The ritual which opened her up to the divine power of the Goddess also left her open to all the minds around her. She had to release and ground the power which was still inside of her, boiling, threatening to explode, before she could replace her normal shields. Stumbling, she fell and pulled herself up on shaking arms, then gave up and lay in the cool grass, moonlight streaming through the trees, bathing her in an ethereal glow.
Xena found her there, lying quietly, letting the earth drink the power from her. Slowly, the warrior approached. "Melysë, it's Xena," she said softly, so not to startle her friend. "Are you alright?"
"Oh, yes," whispered the Queen. "Just - very tired and...weak. Tonight took more out of me than usual. Probably because it was my own daughter and -"
"Hey," said Xena, holding Melysë's long, dark hair back and wiping her forehead, as she got sick in the grass and fallen leaves.
"Oh, Goddess, Xena!" cried the Queen, when she was finished. "This isn't exactly one of those experiences I want to share!"
"I know," said Xena, soothingly. "It's okay. So who's the father this time?"
"Why do you assume I'm pregnant?" said Melysë through clenched teeth. Too damn perceptive, alright. Goddess! What else can she see?
"Because you are," said Xena. "I've seen it before. When were you going to tell me - us?"
Melysë glared at her. "I am an Amazon - and a queen," she said, teeth still clenched. "I answer to no one for my actions. Not even to ... you, Xena."
"Okay," said Xena, gently. "I'm sorry - I didn't mean to pry. I - we care about you. I remember, if you don't, how close Gabrielle and I came to losing a good friend when Arynë was born. I was worried. That's all. Who is it? Not - that boy - you know, Arynë's father? You seemed to have - a little compassion
for his feelings, even though it wasn't the greatest experience for you."
"No, not him," sighed Melysë. "And I'm not saying anymore about it, so let's just drop it - ok?"
"Ok," said Xena. "But I'll bet Gabrielle can get it out of you."
"No, she can't, Xena," said Melysë, firmly. "And the subject is closed. Please, Xena."
"I will drop it on one condition," said her friend.
"What's that?" asked Melysë.
"That when you feel ready, you tell me," said Xena. "I won't push you but it's important to me to know who it is. Alright?"
"Why?" asked Melysë. "Xena, I know you're not an Initiated Amazon, but you are one of us and you know our ways. You know it is considered an insult to ask the identity of an Amazon's father. Why is this so important to you?"
Xena sighed. "Hope," she said, softly.
"Oh," said Melysë, understanding dawning. "Gabrielle's...? Oh, no, Xena, it's not like that. Not at all."
" I thought that you... I mean...I know how you felt about...well, I remember what you told me about how you couldn't fall in love because of...complications, being the queen," said Xena, uncertainly.
"Xena, bearing children to one's Tribe has little to do with falling in love - for an Amazon," said Melysë, smiling a little at the warrior's discomfort. It's not the falling in love part I can't do, Goddess knows - it's the who and what to do about it - especially now. thought the priestess
"Yeah, I know," said Xena, grinning herself. "Poppy juice, right?"
"Not this time," said Melysë. "Just...a little magic. Remember, I am a priestess."
"And half god?" said Xena, raising an eyebrow.
"Mm, I figured it was about time that god-blood did me a little good, for once," said Melysë. "Aphrodite helped a little, but this child is no demon. Okay?"
"Okay," said Xena, relieved.
"But Xena," said Melysë, seriously. "Let's keep this between ourselves, alright? I don't want to dredge up anything unpleasant or painful for Gabrielle. And I really don't want this child set apart from the other Amazons any more than any child of mine already will be, alright? As far as anyone else is concerned, this is a child of the Full Moon Rites."
"Alright. There you go," said Xena smiling, helping the queen to her feet. "Why don't you go see Arynë? I think you'll find her in the stables."
"Did she like your gift?" asked Melysë smiling.
"Love at first sight," Xena said, grinning.
"Ryn?" Melysë found the girl in the stables, brushing her horse.
"Meia," said the child, not turning around. "Do you think this horse will happy here with us?"
Melysë knelt beside the child and pulled her close. "I hope she will," said Melysë, steadily. "Have you named her yet?"
"No," said the child. "What do you think I should call her?"
"Hm, I don't know," said Melysë. "It's really up to you."
"I think I like the name 'Argo'," said the child.
"But 'Ryn, everyone should have their own name," said the Queen, gently.
"Yeah, you're right," said the little girl, thinking. "How about Amnia - 'friends'? 'Cause I think - 'cept for Tecmessa -, she'll be my best friend, like Argo and Xena."
"I think that's a perfect name," said Melysë, gently stroking the little horse. "Now you have a party to attend, Young Lady," said the Queen arising. "Remember, you are still the Princess and you have been raised with manners - now go use them."
"Ok," said the child, running back to the feast.
It was then Melysë saw Gabrielle in the shadows. "Gabrielle," said Melysë, turning to her. The bard got no further as suddenly the sounds of revelry changed to angry shouts and screams. The women rushed out of the stables to see the festival had become a bloody battle. To her horror, Melysë saw Scolopota, riding in and out, killing Amazons. Her blood turned cold when she saw her young daughter brandishing the sword of a fallen Amazon which was entirely too heavy for her and run after the warlord. Then Melyse saw him reach down and pull Arynë onto the saddle before him and ride off. "Noooo!" she screamed, and without a further thought she turned back into the stables and leapt bareback upon the first horse she found, and rode off after her daughter before anyone could stop her.
Xena saw Melysë's mad ride, but was shocked - then relieved - to see her on Argo's back - and the golden mare was not only allowing her to ride, but was obeying the Amazon's body's commands - just like an Amazon horse.
"Xena, we've got to go after - " began Gabrielle.
"She'll be fine - Argo's got her," said Xena. "Let's teach these men how Amazons party! Sheeeee yaaaah! Hai ai ai ai ai ai ai!" With her distinctive and ear-battering war-cry, Xena somersaulted into the middle of the battle, grinning, as Gabrielle took on the nearest male warrior with her sais. The
Amazons, hearing Xena's cry, rallied themselves, grabbing weapons and fought back until every man who was not dead was captured.
"Now, I'm going after the queen - and Scolopota," said Xena coldly.
"But Xena," said Gabrielle, "She has Argo - how -?"
"Gabrielle, there's more than one horse in the stable," said Xena, impatiently, saddling a chestnut mare she knew belonged to Melysë, crooning to the horse, and finally leaping amount. "You stay here, Gabrielle - there's another army out there who might just think the Amazons are easy pickings now. Yah!"
"Actually I was wondering how you were going to catch up to Argo," Gabrielle sighed as Xena rode off, then she began organising the after-battle activities, triaging and treating the wounded, and posting the sentries about the perimeter of the village and the compound where the prisoners were being held, awaiting the Queen's judgement. Gabrielle didn't envy them. Melysë was known for her soft voice - and heart, but she had a firm hand - and especially since Arynë was involved.
She really had wanted to talk to her about Virgil - and Xena - but hopefully she could catch her alone again before they left. I just wish I knew what thew right thing to do was.
Melysë's mind was empty of everything but the black horse galloping before her. She hadn't realised at first that she was on Argo and not her own horse, but that didn't matter. In fact, her own horse - Amazon bred and trained though she was - would never have kept up with the black horse. She patted Argo and thanked her for the ride, apologising for the pace. Argo snuffled and sped up, as if to say, "Never mind - let's just go get 'em!"
Suddenly, a wave of dizziness and nausea struck her and she felt her mind flying high above. She could still feel Argo, galloping under her, the wind blowing her long hair out behind her - in fact all of her senses were sharper. She felt the energy in the clouds around her and gathered it to herself - why not? She was Zeus' daughter, after all - and her daughter was in danger, being stolen away from her. That must not happen. The priestess gathered the energy into a ball - not too big, because she didn't want to kill the man, just get her daughter back.
"Heads up Scolopota!" she yelled and threw the ball of lightning at the warlord's broad back. It hit him squarely between the shoulders, knocking him off the horse. Melysë saw her young daughter, clinging to the mane of the speeding black horse with all her child's might, and still holding the sword. Suddenly the little girl leaned over the horse's neck and Melysë was afraid she was falling off, but the horse suddenly wheeled around and trotted to the queen. She saw Arynë, grinning, her little cheeks flushed with excitement.
"Meia," she said, breathlessly. "This horse listened to me. Wow! Xena let you ride Argo?!"
Melysë chuckled and pulled her daughter in front of her on Argo, taking the sword from her little hand. "I think it was more Argo let me ride Argo," she said.
They rode, leading the black horse to the fallen warlord. Melysë dismounted, the "borrowed" sword in hand, and approached the man. She heard a groan and knew that he was still alive, but not up to fighting her. She found a length of rope in one of his saddlebags and tied him securely to the black horse, then they rode back towards the Amazons.
Xena, riding the Queen's mare, was not making as fast a time as Melysë had on Argo, but she was still more than half-way to where the Queen had thrown the lightning when she met up with them.
"Xena, I'm so sorry," said Melysë. "I didn't realise it was Argo, and - "
"Sh - it's ok," said Xena, seeing Arynë's head bobbing to sleep. "I'm glad you had Argo. I knew she'd take care of you. I see you got Scolopota?"
"Yeah, well, that'sinteresting - ah, I mean an interesting story," said Melysë, as they all headed back to the Amazons together. Glad I took her beloved horse? Because Argo would take care of me?
Arynë perked up at that. "Meia threw the lightning," she said.
"What?" said Xena, looking intently at the youngster.
"Mama threw lightning at the bad man," she said again, snuggling back into her mother who looked at Xena and shrugged.
"When did you learn to control lightning?" said Xena.
"I don't know that I have learned it, Xena," said Melysë. "It - I just - I can't even explain it. I didn't know I could, and then I just did. All I was thinking of was getting my daughter back before Scolopota could hurt her - or worse. Suddenly, the lightning was flying at him and he fell off the horse. That's really all I can remember."
"Well, Zeus was your father," said Xena. "I suppose you could have inherited - "
"No, Xena, I thought so, too, at first, but now I'm not so sure," said Melysë, thinking, but not about the lightning.
"Do you think you could do it again?" asked Xena.
"I don't know," said Melysë, giving her an enigmatic smile. "Xena we need to talk."
They rod back to the village slowly, so as not to wake the sleeping princess, and spoke of many things, but neither brought up the lightning again.
They arrived at the Amazons' village and were greeted by the sentries Gabrielle had posted. Melysë looked approvingly at the organisation of the Amazons. The Temple had become a hospital for the Amazons' wounded; Scolopota' soldiers were being treated outside in the courtyard, since no man was permitted inside the Temple itself. Melysë made a mental note of how many wounded Amazons there were versus how many men and was gratified that the latter outnumbered the former. Many Amazons had been killed in the initial surprise attack, however and Melysë sadly arranged for the pyres for the next day.
Xena had taken over the post-battle activities from Gabrielle, who went to sleep for a few hours in the Queen's cottage with Arynë. Melysë wandered about, overseeing the preparations for the funeral pyres, taking a shift in the Temple with the wounded, and re-inforcing the battle-ready discipline of her Amazons. "Remember, there is another army within our borders," she said. "They may attack at any time, thinking us weakened by all this. But we will be ready for them."
Finally as the sun began to rise, Xena found her and told her to go and sleep."You need to rest," she said firmly. "You can't keep this up."
"Xena, I know my own limits," said Melysë, her eyes dark-ringed, her voice betraying her weariness.
Xena gently put a hand on her arm. "Your limits, yes, but you have to consider someone else, now, too," said the Warrior, smiling gently.
"Huh," said the Queen. "Yeah, you're right. Ok, but promise if anything happens - "
"I'll handle it," said Xena. "Remember what we talked about. I can lead the Amazons against Agres. No warlord will invade Amazon lands for a long time after we finish with him."
Melysë nodded and went to her bed, curling protectively around her daughter who still slept, worn out by all the excitement and activities of the day before. When the queen awoke, Arynë was gone and the sun was high. She arose and washed, fighting the nausea of morning-sickness - she didn't remember it being this bad with Arynë - and changed into her fighting leathers. She took down the
snow-leopard mask and put it on, raising it off of her face, then grabbed her staff.
"Hey, there, Sis."
Melysë, whirled around to face Ares. "Hey...Bro'," she said. "What do you want?"
"Ringside seats," replied the god of war, grinning. "You gonna fight?"
"Got a problem with that?" asked Melysë.
"With fighting? Never," laughed Ares. "With you fighting, I don't know. Looks like you're coming into your powers, Sis'. Better late than never, huh?"
"Ares, I have always had power," said Melysë. "I'm just finally learning to fully control it. Priestess training helps."
"Yeah well, I heard Aphrodite slipped you a 'little something'," said Ares, glancing at Melysë's still-flat abdomen. "Sure it wasn't ambrosia?"
"Ares the only thing Aphrodite 'slipped' me was a little instruction and guidance," said Melysë, impatiently. "I have never tasted ambrosia. What do you want?"
"I want to know how you controlled that lightning," said Ares. "The kid - well, that makes sense - in a way. That's like, women's magic, or something. But the lightning, that's something else. How did you do it?" The horn sounded, calling her to the battle.
"Ares, I don't know how it happened," she said. "And I don't have time right now to discuss this with you. So, either you fight beside me, or get the hells out of my way!"
She stepped out of her cottage and was greeted by Gabrielle. "Melysë," said the surprised Bard. "What are you doing? Xena said...you probably wouldn't be up to fighting today."
"Where's my daughter?" asked the Queen, still feeling annoyed with her brother.
"In the Temple, with the rest of the children," replied Gabrielle. "Are you going to fight?"
"If I have to," said the Queen.
"I need help protecting those in the Temple," hinted Gabrielle.
"Xena assigned you to the Temple again?" asked Melysë, smiling gently, despite herself.
"Yeah," chuckled Gabrielle. "It used to really bother me that she kept me away from the main battle, but when she explained to me that I had the most precious treasures to guard, the children, well, that level of trust turned it around for me. So, what do you say?"
"Yeah," said Melysë. "A priestess belongs in the Temple, huh?"
The two women posted themselves within the Temple at strategic places. Arynë came running up to her mother, dressed in her Amazon leathers. "Meia, are you fighting the bad men?" she asked, touching her mother's leather armour in wonder.
"Only if I have to, Little One," replied the Queen.
"Can I help?" asked Arynë.
"When you are older, and you have been properly trained to handle a weapon, you can help fight," said Melyse. "And I still want to discuss that sword with you - later."
"Will Xena keep them from getting us?" asked the child, worried.
Melysë looked down at her daughter. "If anyone can, it will be Xena," said Melysë, quietly.
"Will Xena be hurt?"
"Arynë, I know you're too young to understand this," said Melysë. "And I don't quite know how to explain it to you right now. When people fight, sometimes they get hurt. That's why we only fight when we have to - as a last resort. So we aren't hurt and so that we don't hurt others needlessly. Now, I need for you to go over to your friends and play - quietly. Mama has to keep watch."
Arynë's eyes widened, and she obeyed.
The afternoon wore on. Sounds of the battle grew louder as the fighting neared the village. Suddenly the outer doors of the Temple shook under the force of a battering ram. Melysë looked wordlessly at Gabrielle, and gathered their wards together, herding them into a chamber behind a hidden door, built for just this emergency. The wounded were already inside. Melysë and Gabrielle stood together, battle-ready, and met the attack head on. There were probably about a dozen men who burst through the doors.
Gabrielle started fighting. Melysë used the staff to keep the majority of the men off her fellow queen so she could fight one at a time. Suddenly, Melysë felt the same nausea and dizziness that had struck her the night before. She felt herself stop swinging the staff and saw the men back off. Gabrielle turned and looked at her, gasping.
Melyse felt claws at the end of her fingers, fangs in her mouth, her blood sang in her ears - but she was in control. She allowed the transformation, knowing she had control. With a hiss, she leaped on all fours at the men attacking the Temple and swiped at them with her claws. The men jumped back, yelling in terror and ran.
"Gabrielle - stay here," she said, though it came as a growl, and the Bard merely nodded, as the Queen ran on all fours, swiftly out of the Temple and onto the battleground. Melysë felt herself running. She still had control - she could stop and turn around whenever she wished, but she knew this was the best way to end the bloodshed. When she arrived at the battlefield and saw the fallen bodies, she wept. Not too many were Amazons, but with another consciousness, she realised all were Her children. She saw Xena, fighting furiously, then stop as the man she battled saw the Queen and dropped his sword, crying out in fear and fleeing. Xena saw the Queen and stopped fighting, bowing her head slightly.
"Stop!" cried the Queen, transforming to her own shape again and she was heard over the din of the battle. "No more fighting. The Amazons are under My protection. These are their lands - leave them and do not return - " She was interrupted by an arrow flying at her. Melysë caught the arrow and turned her eyes at the archer, Agres. The warlord laughed - until he saw the wrath in the Queen's eyes. She snapped the arrow in two and strode over to the man. Picking him up by the collar, she shook him like a rag.
"You dare..." she hissed, half-way shifting to the great cat she had appeared to be, and then back . "If you and your men do not leave these lands, never to return, you will suffer My curse for the rest of your life - and beyond - do you understand?" The warlord screamed and ran as soon as he was put down, his men following, not bothering to pack up their gear or collect their wounded. The
Amazons looked to their queen and each knelt before her.
"Rise up, My daughters," said Melysë, tenderly. "You have done well this day and I am proud of you." Melysë suddenly felt the power drain out of her, but she turned and walked back to the Temple as herself before collapsing, out of the sight of the Amazons. Xena came running after Melysë and found Gabrielle holding her in the Temple.
"Is she alright?" asked Xena.
"Yeah, I think so - just real tired," replied Gabrielle. "Xena, what - ?"
"She is a priestess," said Xena.
"You mean, that was really - ?"
"What?" said Melysë, coming around. "An illusion? It sure wasn't all me!"
The secret door slowly swung open, and the children, led by Arynë, crept slowly out. Seeing her mother, the child cried out and flung herself into her mother's arms. "Are you hurt?!" she cried.
"No, Sweeting, I'm just very tired," said the Queen, holding her daughter.
"Is anyone hurt?" asked child fearfully.
"Yes, a lot of our sisters were wounded," said the queen, truthfully. "But they fought very bravely and the bad men are gone. We will take care of them, don't worry."
"Xena!" cried the child. "You're bleeding!"
Xena glanced down at half a dozen gashes, the worst was her shoulder. "I'm ok," she said.
Melysë stood, a little shakily. "Yeah, but a couple of those need to be stitched," she said. "I'll take care of them. Gabrielle, can you triage the wounded - the men will be treated in their own camp, but I want our healers there, too. Let the survivors carry the tale of the Amazons' mercy."
"And their 'Protector'," said Xena quietly.
"Right," said Gabrielle, leaving.
"Arynë, I have a job for you," said Melysë. "I need for you to gather your friends and the older children, too. We need you children to gather wood and collect water from the river. I also need you girls to run errands and carry messages between here and our people in the men's camp - older girls can do that. Go on, Child, get them organised. Let me see just what kind of a Warrior Queen you'll make some day!"
Melysë smiled at her daughter's solemn expression and was touched by the imitation of an Amazon salute, as her daughter went to the other children and got them started on the various tasks outlined by her mother.
"Good thinking," observed Xena. "Get her focus off the 'hurt' part and on what can be done about it."
"Speaking of which, you need stitches," said Melysë, walking her friend over to a healing chamber. Gently, Melysë cleaned the wounds and stitched the worst ones. "You have a light touch," observed Xena. "I don't think I could have done it more painlessly myself." Melysë smiled at the compliment. "Well, I have had some practice," she said.
"Your Majesty," said a young girl, saluting Melysë. "Warrior Princess. We are reporting as ordered for errand and messenger duty." Melysë looked at the four girls standing before her, solemnly, and nodded. "Very good," she said. "What are your names?"
"I am Teisypyte," replied the first girl, then indicating each of her companions, "Barkida, Alcibie, and Aëlla."
"Thank-you," said Melysë. "Stand by, Teisypyte, Alcibie. Aëlla, Barkida, go to the camp and report to Alcinoë - she's the healer in charge over there. Thank-you, Little Sisters."
The girls saluted both the Queen and Xena, then left to their duties. "Arynë," said Xena, grinning. "Are you sure she's only seven?"
"You were there," laughed the queen. "Now, I have a lot of other warriors to treat - Gabrielle should have everyone triaged by now. I - I will have to see to the...pyres - later."
"Why don't you let me do that?" said Xena, gently.
"Because I am their queen and priestess," replied Melysë. "I have served the Dark Lady before, Xena. If I can ease my sisters' journey back to the Mother's Womb to await rebirth, it eases my own heart a little at losing them."
"Ok," said Xena. "How's the little one?"
"Oh, I think she's better than any of us right now," said Melysë smiling.
"She? Are you sure?" asked Xena, smiling widely, placing a hand over Melysë's abdomen.
"Oh, yes," said Melysë, putting her hand over Xena's and smiling.
It was late when the queen's duties were finished. The pyres were burning out as her sisters' souls sped their way back to the Goddess. Xena had sung for the fallen Amazons and Melysë had shed tears she didn't know she had. She made her way back to her cottage where Arynë slept, Gabrielle already curled around the child in the small bed. Melysë smiled, and closed the curtain to her daughter's room. She turned and almost ran into Xena. "Goddess! You're quiet," she whispered.
"Sorry," said Xena grinning. "How are you?"
"I lost a score of sisters today," said Melysë with a sigh as she sat before the fire in the hearth. "Another score or so may go tomorrow. How are you? Shoulder hurting you?"
"A little, but it's nothing I haven't had before," shrugged Xena. "You were really something today."
"Yeah but what?" said the queen, poking the fire. "I'm still not sure what happened"
"I am," said Xena. "You walked out on the battle-field and I could have sworn I saw - never mind. I did see it. A huge snow-leopard."
"What else?" said Melysë, smiling.
"Well," said Xena. "Gabrielle could tell you better - she has a way with words. A light was shining out of you, a warmth. And I could feel such sadness - and anger - but mostly it was warmth, and ... love. I wasn't afraid. In fact, I felt comforted, in a way."
Melysë nodded. "It was the Goddess. Her heart is broken when Her children fight and kill each other," she said. "But Her Love and Her mercy are infinite. You know, Ares showed up just before the battle."
"What did he want,?" said Xena.
"He wanted to know if I was coming into my powers because of ambrosia," said Melysë. "He knows about the baby - and the lightning. It was the lightning he was most interested in."
"Probably jealous. Well have to keep an eye on him," said Xena. "What did you tell him?"
"I told him I've never had ambrosia, but that I've always had power," said Melysë. "My training as a priestess probably brought it out, but I was always a little afraid to use it in case it used me. But when Arynë was taken, I didn't think about the fear, I just went and got my daughter back. I think that's what finally broke down the barrier."
"I guess you've achieved control over that power," said Xena. "You know when word of this gets out-"
"There will be a lot of really stupid warlords who will want to beat up the Goddess and her Amazons," Melysë sighed. "My heart is still not in fighting and warfare, though. I doubt if we can scare them all off as easily as today. And with watching out for Ares and this baby coming, we really have our work cut out for us."
"Yeah, but I was hoping we'd get Gabrielle married first," laughed Xena. "She has her heart set on you doing the ceremony." Melysë smiled.
"Oh, I think we have some time before the first stupid warlord tries anything," she said. "I would be proud and honoured to serve at her wedding feast. I have to meet this Virgil. If even you think so highly of him, he must be quite special."
"Hey, are you guys talking about me?" came a sleepy voice.
"Yep," said Xena. "Just discussing how we're gonna marry you off to poor Virgil."
"'Poor' Vir - oh, I get it - Funny! Ha, ha!" said Gabrielle. "You know, if I do marry Virgil - "
"You mean when you marry Virgil," said Xena "No, Gabrielle, I mean it - you two were made for each other. He's the other half of your heart. I can't be happy if you're not - you are the other half of my soul."
"But, Xena - "
"No buts, Gabrielle," said Melysë, rising and hugging the still-sleepy Bard. "Xena and I have decided your fate for you - and poor Virgil."
"You guys think you're being so funny," said Gabrielle, grumpy from just waking up. "What will you do, Xena, if I do marry 'poor' Virgil?"
"Melysë has asked me to stay here with her and be Warrior Queen of the Amazons - and I've accepted," said Xena.
"I don't..." said Gabrielle, her mind still sleep-fogged.
"I've asked - and Xena has agreed to be the Warrior Queen of this Tribe. We've been without one since my mother died. I am no warrior - I can't lead the army in battle - and daily, warlords and kings - and Rome - are encroaching on Amazon territory - and I can do nothing to stop them - alone. The Amazons will not just fade from this world without a fight, giving way to whatever army despises us for who we are. This is not the legacy I would leave my daughters."
"Xena," said Gabrielle. "You decided this without talking to me?"
"Gabrielle, I made a promise, a long time ago to Ephiny, our friend and sister Amazon, that I would not allow the Amazons to die out without a fight," said Xena. "This is a perfect way to keep that promise."
"What if I decide not to marry Virgil?" demanded Gabrielle.
"Well," said Melysë smiling. "There's always room for a third Amazon queen, like in our ancient history. You certainly have the experience. Time has not been kind to my Tribe, leaving us with only one Queen, who is not equipped to go to war to defend her people."
"Actually, I have decided to marry Virgil," said Gabrielle, grinning. "But it's nice to know I have options. But then, you already knew that I was going to marry him, didn't you?"
"Pretty much," said Xena, smiling.
"I was just - I didn't want to leave you alone again, Xena," said Gabrielle, looking up at her soulmate and her friend and fellow queen, gazing at each other. Melysë dropped her eyes, blushing.
Gabrielle grinned. "Guess I don't need to worry anymore, huh?" Xena looked up, startled, then smiled, embracing her malatyr.
"Gabrielle, don't you know?" said Xena, smiling gently and hugging her. "I am never alone - you are the best part of my soul. And you are always with me."
"Always," agreed Gabrielle, smiling.
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