The Amazon Queen
Part XX : Daughters of Ares
by L. M. Townsend
DISCLAIMERS: The characters of Xena, Gabrielle, CyrenL, Joxer, et al (meaning anyone else I didn't list and should have.) are the property of their creators and anyone else who has a legal claim (thanks for letting the girls come out to play!) 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. Xena and Gabrielle, while still soul-mates and the very best of friends, are not a couple in the romantic sense of the word. They are joined to others as heart-mates.
Violence: Yes, but no more than you'll see on the show.
Language: Pretty tame, so far.
Spoilers: (so far) The Deliverer, Gabrielle's Hope, Maternal Instincts, Sacrifice I&II, A Family Affair, Livia, Eve, The God You Know, Path of Vengeance
Other: If you haven't read the previous instalments in this series, you may have difficulty following along with who's who.
Melysë felt a crackling in the air and looked up. Shimmering silvery things, like rain, floated before her eyes and she found herself standing before a great throne in a dimly lit cavern. Persephone sat on the throne, her face pale and sombre. She was dressed in a black silk robe. A deep crimson velvet cloak was fastened at her throat by an ornate gold brooch. Her long, auburn hair cascaded in loose curls over her shoulders and shone softly in the sputtering torch-light.
"Cousin, what ... ?" began the priestess. "You look ... different since last I saw you in Ephesus."
Persephone allowed herself a slight smile. "I know," she said with a sigh. "This is my time to reign here - soon, though, I will rejoin my mother. You asked a boon of me, cousin."
"Yes, Joxer - he delivered a message through my daughter," said Melysë. "Xena and Gabrielle need to question him further regarding this matter of the Destroyer."
"So you want me to allow one of the dead to return?" asked the goddess.
"For a time," said Melysë. "Just long enough to find out a few things."
"I am rather fond of this man, Joxer," said Persephone, frowning.
"So are Xena and Gabrielle," said Melysë. "I assure you ..."
"No," said Persephone, shaking her head. "You misunderstand. I am willing to allow him to return."
"But ... ? said Melysë.
"I would ask a boon of you in return, Cousin," said the goddess, her full lips curling into a smile which did not reach her dark eyes.
"Ask," said Melysë.
"This Destroyer poses a danger to all the gods," said Persephone. "If you and your Amazons were to put yourselves between him and the rest of us ..."
"What?" said Melysë suspiciously.
"Olympus would be eternally grateful," finished the goddess, shortly.
"I will not risk my Amazons needlessly," said Melysë. "That the Destroyer poses a danger to all is not in question. The Amazons are honourable, but we are not stupid. Naturally we will do whatever is in our power to stop this threat, but we will not sacrifice ourselves just to protect the gods. What?s more, the Olympians are not the only ones at risk."
"Fair enough," said Persephone, nodding. "And that?s true, what you say - the Olympians are not the only ones in danger - the entire world is at risk. I should have already known that the Amazons would do all in their power to quell this danger."
"Yes, you should have," said Melysë, frowning. "Joxer is where?"
"Elysian Fields," said Persephone, waving one hand imperiously. Suddenly, Joxer stood beside Melysë.
"Oh! Uh, hi, your majesty," said the would-be warrior. "Um, make that ?majesties?." He bowed clumsily to Persephone and then to Melysë. The Amazon saw Persephone?s smile at last reaching her eyes when she looked at Joxer.
"Joxer, my cousin has requested that you return with her - but it?s up to you," said the goddess.
"Go back?" said Joxer with a goofy grin. "Really? Can I?"
"You aren?t happy in the Elysian Fields?" asked Persephone.
"Oh, no, your majesty - I am, very happy, but ... well, while I?m there, I just ... it?s funny, but I forget - until I hear someone thinking of me and then I get a little ... well I miss everyone," said Joxer.
"Very well," said Persephone. She turned to Melysë. "What will it be, Cousin? Shall I return him to life, then? Or should I just send him back as a ghost for a time?"
"Why do you ask me?" asked Melysë.
"You?re the one asking for him," said Persephone. "And you will be ultimately responsible for any repercussions of this."
Melysë rolled her eyes and chuckled. "Why am I not surprised?" she said. "Joxer what do <you> want to do?"
"Wow - to go back to life? To actually be alive again? I can do that?" said Joxer. He thought for a moment. "Of course, being alive has it?s disadvantages, too ... like, having to die all over again. Actually, that wasn?t as bad as I thought it would be..."
"Joxer?" said Melysë, softly.
"Oh, yeah - I want to live again," said the would-be warrior.
"Very well," said Melysë. She turned to Persephone. "You heard the man."
Persephone sighed."As you wish then," she said, waving a hand.
Melysë found herself back in her cottage with Joxer.
"Wow," said Joxer, looking around. He looked down at himself, garbed in his old armour and then looked at his hands. "Hey, I?m still young!"
"Yes," said Melysë, smiling. "When you go to the Elysian Fields, you go back to the age you liked best when you were alive."
"Yeah - that's why there are so many kids there," said Joxer, grinning. "Hanging around with Xena and Gabrielle was the very best time of my life - that's why I went back to that time. Funny, I just kept waiting for them to show up, but they never did - then when Persephone would take me out of the Fields to hang out with her in the Judgement Hall, I would remember everything I forgot in the Fields - until I went back - I sure didn't expect to get to stay this way, though."
Just then, Romy came running in from playing outside.
"Hey!" cried the little girl, throwing herself into the man?s arms and hugging him. "I didn?t think I?d get to see you again! Did meia use her magic to bring you?"
"Magic?" said Joxer, gently disengaging himself from the child?s arms. He looked at Melysë.
"Yes, my meia is - " started Romy.
"That?s enough, Neiromei," said Melysë. "Where is Xena?"
"She?s at the Lodge, talking with tanti Gabrielle," said Neiromei. "Real serious stuff, too - they made us all go out and play so they could talk."
"Okay - thank you, Romy," said Melysë. "Go on back and play, now. Joxer and I are going to go to the Lodge.
"Aw, meia," said Neiromei. "Can?t Joxer come an? play with us?"
"Neiromei, you know very well men aren?t allowed this far into the Village," said Melysë. "I have to use my magic to take Joxer to the Lodge."
"Okay," sighed the little girl. "I'll see you there, Joxer!" She skipped out the door, singing, "Joxer the Mighty, roams through the countryside ..."
"I taught her that," said the would-be warrior, proudly.
"Why am I not surprised?" said Melysë, smiling in amusement, even as she shook her head. "Come on, Joxer. I should have asked Persephone to send us directly to the Lodge. If the Amazons see you here, they?ll ... well, let?s just say it will be a very short resurrection for you."
Joxer gulped. "You?re going to use ... magic?" he said.
"It?s painless, I promise you," chuckled Melysë. "Come on, Joxer - all the stories Gabrielle tells of you have led me to believe that you were fearless in the face of any danger - you can?t be afraid of a little magic, can you?"
Joxer puffed out his chest. "Gabrielle said that? Well, of course, it?s true. A great warrior like myself - " He didn?t have time to finish before he and Melysë were standing in the front yard of the Lodge.
"Wow - hey that was pretty neat!" said Joxer, looking around. "This is Gabrielle?s place?"
"Yes and Virgil?s - if he ever comes back," said Melysë frowning in concentration. She had just a bit more magic to do before she brought Joxer inside.
"Virgil ...? Oh - he married Gabby, didn?t he? Where is he? What do you mean if he ever comes back? Is he missing?" The barrage of questions did nothing to distract Melysë and finally she smiled.
"Virgil was working on an epic about Atlantis," said Melysë, gently. "He went to Thera to do some research and was injured in an eruption - nothing serious, but I think the shock and trauma ... well, he?s a wandering bard with no memory of his past. I have complete faith that his memory will return, though, and so will he."
"He better," said Joxer, frowning. "I taught him better than to abandon his family like that. What was he thinking? An epic?"
"Actually, Virgil is a very good writer," said Melysë.
"Good? Of course he?s good," said Joxer, proudly. "It?s just the way he gets when he writes - he?s ... distracted."
"That?s one way to put it," chuckled Melysë, putting an arm around Joxer?s shoulders. "Come on - you have some people to see."
Melysë led Joxer into the main room of the Lodge. Autolycus sat there with some shining gadgets in his lap. Joxer grinned widely and as quietly as his clanking armour would allow, snuck up behind the King of Thieves.
"You kids get outta here - this delicate work," Autolycus said, not looking up. Joxer ignored the warning and sprang on his friend with a clumsy embrace.
"Hey Auto - I?m back!" cried the would-be warrior. Autolycus jumped, spilling the bits all over Gabrielle?s highly polished wooden floor.
"Aw fer the love a? - Joxer!" he cried. "Look what you did, ya moron!" Suddenly, realisation washed over the King of Thieves and he laughed out loud, hugging Joxer back.
Just then, Xena and Gabrielle came in and Autolycus quickly let go, though Joxer continued to grip Autolycus in a tight embrace.
"I?m glad to see you, too," he said, oblivious to the entrance of the Warrior and Bard.
"Leggo, Joxer," said Autolycus, his voice muffled.
"Joxer," said Gabrielle, her voice little more than a whisper, as tears sprang to her already reddened eyes for the second time that day. At last, Joxer let go of Autolycus, his face lighting up at the sight of the Bard. Gabrielle rushed to hug her friend, weeping.
"Well, the gang?s all here," said Xena, looking to Melysë, one eyebrow raised. She smiled. "Good to see you, Joxer."
"Not quite all," said Joxer, as Gabrielle released him. "Where?s Meg?"
Gabrielle shot a worried glance to Melysë, who merely smiled. The group heard a squeal from the kitchen and Meg came running into the room.
"Gab - Xena! Look at me!" she cried, happily. Meg no longer appeared to be a woman in her eighth decade; instead, she looked just like Xena. Suddenly, her happy grin faded. "Joxie! What?re <you> doing here? Oh, gods! Am I dead?"
"No, Meg, not at all," said Melysë, soothingly. "Joxer is back from the dead - we are all very much alive."
"What ...?" began Meg, frowning. "Aw, never mind - C?mere Joxer! I missed ya."
"Wait, Meg," said Xena. "I promise you two will have the time you want to ... um ... catch up on things. But first, Gabrielle and I need to talk with Joxer."
"Oh, yeah, sure," said Joxer, nodding. "Meg, I?m kinda hungry - coming back from the dead takes a lot outta a guy - you got anything in the kitchen?"
"Right!" said Meg, her eyes shining, her crooked smile brightening her lovely face. "I?ll just go fix ya something while you talk with Xena and Gabrielle."
"That?d be great," said Joxer. "And later ...." He wagged his eyebrows suggestively. Meg grinned and left to the kitchen.
"Joxer, come on," said Xena, grabbing his ear and pulling him toward the back room where she had been talking with Gabrielle. "?Lysë, come with us, please."
Melysë frowned and followed the group, sitting in a chair Xena pulled out for her. Gabrielle sat next to her and smiled. "Thank you - for Meg, too," she whispered to the priestess. Melysë smiled.
"I couldn't let her stay old - not with Joxer coming back this way," she said softly. "That would have been too painful for both of them - although I suspect it wouldn't have mattered to Joxer - he loves Meg very much. They deserve more time together."
"Yes, they do," said Gabrielle, her eyes shining. "I just wish Virgil were here, too - he would love to see his dad."
"He will," said Melysë, patting Gabrielle's arm. "I just know he will. Have faith." Gabrielle nodded, then turned her attention to her best friend as the warrior spoke.
"Joxer, what?s this about the Destroyer?" asked Xena.
"Oh," gulped Joxer. "Yeah, the Destroyer - almost forgot about that."
They were interrupted by a knock on the door. Xena made a face and rose to answer the door.
"Yeah?" said the warrior to the sentry who had knocked.
"Um, Warrior Queen, there are riders approaching the boundary," said the girl, intimidated by the Warrior Queen?s scowl of annoyance at being interrupted. Xena sighed.
"How many and who?" asked Xena.
"Two women - something strange, though, your majesty," said the girl.
"What?" said Xena impatiently. <I am really gonna have to take over the sentry training myself.> thought the Warrior. <She should already have known to give me all the information without wasting my time like this.>
"Kala, how?s your mother?" asked Gabrielle, rising with a smile for the young Amazon.
"Oh, she?s very well, Queen Gabrielle," said the young woman, brightening, her nervousness dispelled by the bard?s friendly question. "Thank you for asking."
"Of course - give her my greeting, will you, Kala?" said Gabrielle.
"Alright - social visit over?" said Xena through gritted teeth. "Now - Kala, is it? What was so strange about these riders?"
"I?m sorry, Warrior Queen," said Kala, straightening her shoulders. "There are two women about four miles from the eastern boundary of AemetzainL. One is pregnant - very close to her time, I?d guess. The strange thing is, the other is an Amazon - at least she looks like she is, but she isn?t. The other one - the pregnant doesn?t look it, but she has the ... I can?t describe it. She is obviously an Amazon - or the daughter of one."
Xena understood what Kala meant. For years she had been mistaken for an Amazon - except by the Amazons. When she had agreed to become the Warrior Queen of this Tribe, Melysë told her she would have to accept Initiation into the Amazon Nation. It had not been a decision that the warrior had made lightly, but something within her told her that it was right. Only after accepting Initiation did she know why the Amazons knew her to be not one of them when others did not.
The Amazon Initiation was a sacred rite which bestowed the Amazon identity to those who took it with a true commitment to the Amazon Nation, Amazon Honour, and that ineffable entity which Melysë called the "Amazon Spirit". Like a magic "cloud" it had settled upon the warrior as soon as the words of the oath left her lips. She could feel a bond with each individual Amazon in this Tribe as well as others. It wasn?t exactly something she could explain with words, but it was feeling of oneness and unity with the rest of the Amazon Nation. It was that bond which allowed the Amazons to be so formidable in battle and it was that bond which allowed one Amazon to recognise another.
Sometimes the Initiation Rite did not bestow the identity. Very rarely did that happen, but Xena had seen it. Most often that happened to Amazon daughters who only took the oath to please her mother and the Tribe or because, as the daughter of Amazons, it was simply expected of her. Inevitably, these women left the Tribe and the Nation to pursue other ways of life.
"Alright, Kala," said Xena, more gently. "Thank you for the information - keep Arynë posted - we will be in conference for some time and it?s important that we not be disturbed again - alright?"
"Yes, Warrior Queen," said Kala, saluting as she left. Xena closed the door and Melysë laughed.
"Xena, you have got to stop intimidating them," said the priestess, shaking her head.
"I do not - Son of a Bacchae!" began the Warrior Queen. The other two turned to see that Joxer was gone and the other door, leading to the kitchen was ajar.
"It?s okay, Xena," Melysë soothed her warrior. She arose and went to the door. "I?ll go and get him. He must be very hungry, that?s all."
Xena sat with a sigh.
"Xena, what about these riders?" asked Gabrielle.
"I don?t know," said the warrior with a shrug. "Probably just visitors. You know we?ve had a lot of Village women take the Initiation - maybe one of their grown daughters coming to visit. Most likely, she?s being escorted by an Amazon whose Initiation didn?t take - it makes sense if you think about it. Those poor girls nearly always take escort duty."
"And any other duty which takes them away from that pain - to be a member of the tribe and not feel that bond - that must be tough," said Gabrielle, sadly shaking her head.
"Nah - once they leave and find their own place in the world, they?re happy," said Xena.
"I suppose," said Gabrielle, doubtfully. "Hey, Xena - I almost forgot - did you get a strange message yesterday? Just a blank parchment and two feathers."
"One black one white?" said the warrior.
"Yeah," said Gabrielle.
"Yeah, I did - but as soon as ?Lysë touched them, she was ... ?gone?. When she came back, she had that message about the babies. That sort of took precedence and I really didn?t think anymore about the feathers," said the warrior. "What does it mean, I wonder?"
"I don?t know," said the Bard, troubled. "I didn?t recognise the seal. This whole thing is just weird."
Just then, Melysë returned, looking grim. "Joxer and Meg are gone," she said.
"What?" said Xena through clenched teeth. "What do you mean, ?gone?, ?Lysë?"
"They are not anywhere in the Lodge," said Melysë.
"Great!" said Xena with a growl. "Now what do we do?"
"Well, we need to find them, obviously," said Gabrielle. "I just hate to send anyone looking - I mean, how embarrassing for the one who finds them." The Bard chuckled.
Melysë smiled, slightly. "I don?t think we have to worry about that - they took the kids with them," she said. "From what I heard from CyrenL, it was very cute - Meg packed a picnic and she and Joxer took the kids to the river. Romy was very excited, CyrenL said."
"Virgil told me once that Meg and Joxer always put him and his brothers and sisters first, before anything else," said Gabrielle, softly. "That sounds about right."
"That?s all very sweet and nice, but we have <got> to talk with Joxer!" said Xena, impatiently.
"You?re right, Xena," said Gabrielle with a sigh. "Come on - let?s go to the river."
"Wait - what about the riders approaching the boundary?" asked Melysë.
"You and ?Ryn take the Honour Guard and meet them," said Xena, frowning. As Warrior Queen, it was tradition that she meet any visitors herself, but the need to speak with Joxer took precedence over tradition - and anyway, 'Ryn would be there with Melysë if these visitors posed any threat to the priestess or the Amazons. Xena's protégée, Melysë eldest daughter, the Warrior Princess Arynë was as able as Xena herself to defend the Priestess and the Tribe from any threat - Xena had made sure of that when she trained the girl.
Warrior and Bard rode out to the picnic at the river. They saw Joxer standing, his back to them, Meg and the children listening to him, enthralled - all but Neiromei, who sat frowning.
"Of course <I> put Athena in her place - " said the would-be warrior, his chest puffed, voice deeper than normal.
Romy leaned in towards Meg.
"That?s not how I heard that story from <tanti> Gabrielle," she whispered.
"I know, Sweetie," said Meg, patting the little girl?s arm. "But I just let him tell it his way. Makes him feel ... brave and heroic."
"But he already is brave and heroic," said the little girl, shaking her head. "He doesn?t have to make up stuff to be that way." Suddenly, the little girl smiled and jumped to her feet.
"<Tandos> Joxer, tell us about the time Callisto had Xena and Gabrielle tied up an? she was just about to burn <tanti> Gabrielle at the stake - ?member? You came in and saved them? Or how about the time you saved Argo when Callisto had hurt her? Or the time you helped to stop Hope by letting yourself get captured with the Hind?s Blood dagger? Or how you saved <tanti> Gabrielle from Livia, just before - " began Romy. Suddenly she stopped, remembering what happened right after that incident. Her jaw dropped as she realised that she had no recollection of ever hearing those stories, and yet she knew them as if she had been present when they all happened.
Joxer stopped for a moment and grinned at the child just as Xena and Gabrielle approached and dismounted.
"Yeah, how about all those times, Joxer?" said Gabrielle, smiling gently. "If it weren?t for you, we?d have been lost all those times - and more."
"Yeah, well ..." stammered Joxer, hesitating for a moment before regaining his composure. "All in a day?s work for a hero such as myself."
"Yeah, well, ?Hero?, we have more work for you," said Xena. "Sorry gang, but the picnic is postponed - I have a mission for Joxer and it?s very important." She grabbed Joxer by the back of his collar and pulled him away from the group.
"I want to hear everything you know about the Destroyer - now, Joxer," said the warrior, shortly.
"Okay," said Joxer with a sigh. "The Destroyer that killed Hope - it wasn?t the <real> Destroyer."
"What do you mean? Come on Joxer - I don?t have time for this - just ... spit it out," said Xena, impatiently.
"That?s all I know - honest, Xena," said Joxer. "When I was in the Elysian Fields, there was this guy - apparently he was one of the priests who served Hope - remember when Gabrielle jumped into that lava pit?"
"Yeah?" said Xena, listening intently.
"Okay, well, Persephone had me there in her Throne Room with her - she liked having me around her - said I amused her or something - so she let me out of the Fields a lot," said Joxer, smiling with pride.
"Get on with it, Joxer!" said Xena.
"Okay, okay - anyway, I happened to be there when his time came and he was being sentenced to Tartarus," said Joxer. "He said he wouldn?t be there long because when the first of the Destroyers came into her powers - "
"Wait, wait - <her> powers?" said Xena.
"Yeah," said Joxer, nodding vigorously. "That?s what he said, Xena - Warrior?s oath."
"Okay - I believe you - go on," said the warrior absorbing this information.
"Well, he said he wouldn?t be there all that long because when the first of the Destroyers came into her powers, she would open the gates of the Underworld and release all the prisoners held within to serve her grandfather, Dahak," said Joxer. "He also said that the Amazons would the first to be slaughtered - that the hope of the Amazon Nation would be lost and the nation would fall soon after. Well, I knew that I had to get that information to you and Gabrielle right away, so I asked Persephone if I could give you the message, only you and Gabrielle couldn?t see or hear me - I had to go through Neiromei - she?s a cute little kid, Xena."
"Yeah, she is," said the warrior, her face softening into a slight smile for a brief moment. "Okay, Joxer - how reliable do you think this guy was?"
"Xena, they can?t lie in that room," said Joxer. "If he said the Destroyer was out there, then she is."
"Thanks, Joxer - why don?t you go back to that picnic, now?" said Xena, kindly.
"If it?s all the same to you, Xena, I think I?d rather help you and Gabrielle when you go up against the Destroyer," said Joxer, solemnly.
Xena smiled and grabbed him in a tight hug.
"Believe it or not, Joxer, I?ve missed you," she said, shaking her head.
"Why wouldn?t I believe it?" asked the would-be warrior.
"Never mind," said Xena. "Come on - we have some work to do."
The group headed back to the Lodge where Autolycus informed that Arynë had come and taken Melysë with the Honour Guard to meet with the visitors. Xena sighed.
"I suppose we?re too late to go and join them," said Gabrielle.
"Probably," said Xena. "We?ll just have to wait for ?Lysë and ?Ryn to come and tell us what it?s all about."
It wasn?t a long wait. Melysë entered looking grim. Accompanying the priestess was her eldest daughter, Arynë and two other young women who looked to be around ?Ryn?s age. One of them was veiled and very pregnant. The other was dressed as an Amazon.
"Gabrielle, Xena, I would like to introduce our guests," said Melysë. "This is Anaxilea, warrior of Thraso?s Tribe."
The golden-haired Amazon saluted the three queens, solemnly.
"And this," said Melysë, nodding toward the veiled pregnant woman," is Lucina, daughter of Eve of the Elisians."
Xena and Gabrielle gasped as Lucina dropped her veils. The young woman was a mirror image of Xena - and now Meg, as well.
"Oh, my!" said Lucina, her eyes widening at the sight of her grandmother.
"By the gods," whispered Gabrielle, looking from one to other of the women.
"H - how is this possible?" asked Lucina.
"Eve is my daughter," said Xena, quietly. "As for Meg - I?m not sure how <that> happened."
"Eve is your ... you are my <sabaema> - my grandmother, then," said Lucina, pondering.
Gabrielle clapped her hands over her mouth, suppressing a giggle at the look on the warrior?s face.
"Uh, no, Lucina, I mean she is, but ... why don?t you just call her ?Xena??" said the Bard.
"Yeah," said the warrior. "That?ll work."
"Anaxilea was kind enough to escort Lucina to us after she left the Elisians," said Melysë.
"Alright," said Xena, glancing around at the children all watching the scene. "Lucina, Anaxilea - we?ll meet with you at the Queens? Cottage after you?re settled in."
"<Carami> - with respect, Your majesty, Warrior Queen," said Anaxilea. "But I would like to move on - I am on a quest of great importance, and - "
"What quest?" asked Melysë, sensing deception from the golden-haired warrior.
"I ... um," began Anaxilea.
"There is no quest, is there?" asked the priestess, gently.
"Yes, of course there is," said Anaxilea, defensively.
"It?s alright - we?ll discuss all of this later," said Melysë. "I am requesting that you remain with us to rest from your journey. You may move on in the morning if you wish."
"<Carami, Amida> - with respect, Lady - as you wish," said Anaxilea, saluting the priestess. Xena sensed anger - no, worse, <rage> emanating from the young warrior. Instinctively her hand moved toward her chakram. The warrior dropped her salute and inclined her head, waiting for Melysë to dismiss her, then turned at the gesture and walked stiffly out of the Lodge towards the barracks. Xena watched, her deep blue eyes narrowed; this visitor would bear watching.
Melysë shook her head sadly, then smiled and turned to Lucina. "You must be very tired after your journey," she said.
"A bit," admitted Lucina.
"Well, let?s get you settled in - as family, you are welcome to stay in the Queens? Cottage with Xena and me, or perhaps you would like a guest cottage?"
"Or she can stay here with me," offered Gabrielle with a bright smile.
"Maybe Lucina would be more comfortable in the House of Mothers," said Xena.
"Or with <your> mother, Xena," said CyrenL, entering the room with a smile and an embrace for the young woman. "Meg just told me - welcome, Little One. I am your great-grandmother."
"I - I ..." began Lucina, before bursting into tears, clinging to CyrenL.
"What?s wrong?" asked the older woman, wiping the tears from Lucina?s face.
"I?m just so overwhelmed," said Lucina, calming under the older woman?s touch. "My mother ... never told me we had family other than the Elisians ... I have just never been so ... so ... Everyone here is so kind, offering me a place in their homes and ... and ..."
"Lucina, of course we want you," said Melysë. "You are family - and an Amazon, as well. You have a place here for as long as you wish it."
"Me ... an Amazon?" asked the girl, confused.
"Well, of course," said Gabrielle. "Don?t you know? I felt it as soon as I saw you. You haven?t been Initiated?"
Lucina laughed. "Oh, no! Of course not - the way my mother feels about Amazons, how could I?"
"And just how is that?" asked Melysë, one eyebrow raised.
"Never mind," said Xena, quickly. "Well, what will it be, Lucina? Where would you like to stay?"
"I think tonight, I will stay with Anaxilea," said Lucina, thoughtfully. "She has been kind to me and I don?t when - if ever - I will see her again."
"Very well," said Melysë. "I will have a guest house prepared for you two. In the meantime, I think a visit to the <shamenki> is in order for you, young lady. You look very near your time."
Yes," said Lucina, one hand over her swollen middle. "I am nearly. It?s funny, I didn?t expect to be surrounded by people who actually care for me when the time came."
"Really?" asked Melysë. "What about your mother?"
"It would have been just me and a midwife," said Lucina, shrugging. "Mother is ... busy. She has a lot of responsibility, leading the group."
"And the father?" asked Gabrielle. Lucina rolled her eyes.
"Let?s just say he didn?t marry me for love," she said.
"What do you mean?" asked Gabrielle.
"I am my mother?s daughter," said Lucina simply.
"I don?t understand," said Melysë, frowning, looking to Xena and Gabrielle. "I thought that love was what the Elisians were all about?"
"We are," said Lucina. "Or we were."
"What do you mean, ?were??" asked Xena.
"Mother ... well, Mother has her own ideas about what the Elisians are about," said Lucina, hesitantly.
"What ideas?" asked Gabrielle, alarmed.
"I can?t ... really, I?m not sure I should mention anything," said Lucina, her eyes growing wide like a rabbit in a trap. "I?m sure Mother has the best interests of the group in mind - everything she does is for Eli and his followers."
"To the exclusion of her own daughter?" asked Melysë, sadly.
"No, please - you misunderstand," said Lucina, desperately, tears springing to her eyes. "The important thing is to spread Eli?s message - right?"
"What message is that, Lucina?" asked Gabrielle.
"That ... that Love is the Way, the only Way and that Love is the only weapon anyone ever needs to fight evil," said Lucina, reverently. "Isn?t that right?"
"Yes, it is," said Gabrielle, relieved.
"And as long as that message is spread, then it doesn?t matter how," said Lucina.
"What?" said Xena.
"I mean, sometimes we have to ... um ... do whatever is necessary to get that message to as many people as possible, right?" asked the young woman.
"Like what?" asked Gabrielle.
"I don?t know - just ... sometimes I think Mother may ... ?embellish? Eli?s message - to make it more powerful or more attractive to others," said Lucina.
"Alright," said Melysë, putting one arm around the young woman?s shoulders and leading her to the door. She glanced back, worriedly at Xena and Gabrielle, then looked at Lucina and smiled. "We?ll talk of this later, Lucina. In the meantime, I really want you to see Hypsyple - she?s our <shamenki> - our healer and midwife. Then you need a bit of rest. We?ll have dinner in my cottage and you can tell us all about this then, okay?"
Lucina looked relieved and nodded as Melysë led her out of the room.
"Xena, what - ?" began Gabrielle.
"Sounds like Evie?s following a new Way," said Xena, grimly. "Or maybe not so new."
"What way is that, Xena?" asked CyrenL, worriedly.
"The Way of Power," said Xena, shaking her head. "Eli?s Way ... it?s hard - and even Eli said that it?s not for everyone. But it sounds like Eve is interested in getting as many followers as possible, regardless of whether it?s right for them or not. That?s not Eli?s message."
"What is his message, Xena?" asked CyrenL, curiously. "This Way of Love - it does sound attractive in its own right - Love, peace, non-violence - I don?t understand why it?s a problem to gather followers for this Way."
"It?s not that, Mom," said Xena. "Do you think <I> could follow it?"
"I don?t see why not, Xena," said CyrenL.
"Thanks, Mom - but the bottom line is that my Way is the Way of the Warrior," said Xena. "That?s the path that?s right for me. I respect Eli?s message and the faith of the Elisians, but it?s not for me to try and follow - if I did, I would not be true to myself."
"Ah, I think I see - so if Eve is recruiting people who are not suited to this Way of Love, then the message is distorted - and over time ..." said CyrenL.
"Eli?s true message will be lost," said Gabrielle. "We can?t allow that to happen, Xena."
"I don?t intend to, Gabrielle," said Xena, grimly.
"Lucina, does the sun burn you?" asked Melysë, as she walked the young woman to the <shamenki?s> hut.
"No, not at all - I love the sun - why?" asked Lucina.
"I was just wondering about the veils," said the priestess
"Oh," said Lucina, quietly. "A few years ago, Mother ... started wearing them and then she said that Eli told her that every woman in the group was to wear them, too."
"I wonder why?" mused Melysë. Lucina shrugged.
"I don?t know - I guess I don?t need them anymore - or maybe I do - I don?t know - if Eli really did tell her that, then I should keep wearing them, just in case." Lucina sighed, then pulled the veil from her head to rest on her shoulders like a shawl. Melysë noticed a small mark on her arm. She frowned. Lucina had said she was not Initiated as an Amazon, but it appeared to be a tattoo like an Amazon priestess would receive at the completion of her training. She looked again, not recognising the symbol, although it looked somehow familiar, then dismissed it as a birthmark.
"Why would Eli want all the women in the group to wear veils, I wonder?" Melysë said.
"I don?t know - the will of Eli is not to be questioned - he does know what's best for us," said Lucina. "I guess. Sometimes, I just get so confused. I know Eli's message and I believe it with all my heart, but sometimes ... well, I think the group puts too much emphasis on <Eli> and not what he had to say. He's dead - why should he care how we dress or what we eat, or ... or who shares a bed with whom? Sometimes, I just feel so out of place with them, and yet we all share the same faith - sort of. We are all untied in Eli's message and a commitment to follow the Way of Love - I don't know why, if I believe that, why I can't just go along without questioning so much all of the time."
"Lucina, I think your confusion lies in the way Eli's message is being presented - surely you can discern for yourself what is right and wrong, can't you? Why would wearing veils be part of Eli?s message of Love? That just doesn?t make sense," said the priestess.
"You said you were a priestess - does your goddess speak to you?" asked Lucina, thoughtfully.
"Yes, She does," Melysë replied.
"Does everything she says make sense to you?" asked Lucina.
"Eventually," said Melysë, thinking of Hekate?s most recent message.
"Really?" asked Lucina, troubled.
"Yes, really - Hekate doesn?t expect Her followers to follow blindly, trusting everyone who claims to be Her mouthpiece - She Herself has encouraged us to question everything until we have discerned the truth for ourselves," said Melysë. "As the Goddess of Free Will - among other things - She always offers choices - and She wants us to make those choices with all the knowledge we need to make the wisest one for us."
"But ... " began Lucina, biting her lip.
"What?" said Melysë, gently.
"Doesn?t that make life a lot more complicated?" asked the young woman.
"Yes, it does," said Melysë, smiling. "But it also makes our lives our own - and it?s worth the complications when that happens."
"I don?t know," said Lucina, doubtfully as they reached the door of Hypsyple?s hut. Melysë laughed, placing a gentle hand on Lucina?s shoulder.
"Oh yes you do - that?s why you?re <here>," said the priestess.
"Hey," said the priestess breaking the silence. Xena looked up and smiled slightly.
Hey," said the warrior, quietly.
"Where are the girls?" asked Melysë.
"Meg and Joxer took them for a while," said Gabrielle, rising. "?Lysë, what do you think about all this?"
Melysë sat next to Xena before answering.
"Lucina is a remarkable young woman," said Melysë. "She's torn between what she knows to be true and wanting to fit in with the group. I think she's very troubled by her mother's actions. According to Lucina, Eve has written a book about Eli and in this book, she records 'messages' from Eli - including laws about how the Elisians are to dress and what they may eat, along with certain laws about how the Elisians are treat one another - which is silly, since if they follow this Way of love, they would not need those rules. There are even laws about who one can marry and bear children with." Melysë shook her head. "Add all that to the fact that her emotions are not really her own right now and it's no wonder Lucina is upset."
"So am I," said Xena. "Eve was born to be Eli's Messenger. If she's really distorting his message, I want to know why."
"I think that the temptation to power for a person in Eve?s position is difficult to resist," said the priestess.
"Especially for someone like Eve," said Xena, quietly.
"Perhaps," said Melysë. "But I think it would be difficult for anyone."
"No, ?Lysë, Eve is cursed with my blood, my darkness ... my ... ?legacy?," said Xena.
"If that is so, then so are Selenë and Neiromei," said Melysë, gently. "And they will both face the same challenges when they come to their places of power."
"There?s a difference, Melysë," said Xena. "Eve has my darkness and Callisto?s spirit in her. Selenë and Neiromei have your ... light, your conviction -"
"And your strength, Xena," said Melysë. "As Eve has. Perhaps she has only lost her way for a time."
"She could be right, Xena," said Gabrielle. "Maybe if we go and talk with Eve - "
"No," said Xena, shortly.
"Why not, Xena?" asked Melysë.
"Because - it won?t do any good," said the warrior with a sigh. "She won?t listen to us."
"Why ever not?" asked Melysë.
"She just won?t," said Xena, rising and going into the other room.
"Gabrielle, what happened between Xena and Eve the last time you two saw her?" asked the priestess.
Gabrielle sighed and sat in the chair recently vacated by the Warrior Queen.
"It didn?t go well," said the bard. "Eve gave Xena a very hard time for being a warrior. And when she found out that Xena had accepted the Amazon Initiation ..."
"What?" asked Melysë. "What is it that Eve has against the Amazons?"
"Other than the fact that we put her on trial for her life?" said Gabrielle.
"Well, but ... what did she expect?" asked Melysë, frowning. "After what she did ... and we did release her in the end, after all."
"Yeah, but Eve holds a grudge," said Gabrielle.
"Well, her own daughter has the Amazon Spirit within her - even without Initiation," said Melysë.
"Eve had my Right of Caste," said Gabrielle, quietly. "Naturally, she forfeited that when she was Livia and committed all those crimes against the Amazons. I think Lucina inherited it by default."
"Eve never knew that she was an Amazon Princess, did she?" asked Melysë.
"No - no one did when she stood trial except Xena and me - good thing, too," said Gabrielle, shuddering.
"Yes," said Melysë, grimly. "We are harsher with our own - still, I think Eve's case could be considered special circumstances. I doubt very much she would have done those things if she had known."
Gabrielle looked at Melysë solemnly for a moment. "'Lysë, how could she not have <felt> it?" asked the bard quietly, pain evident in her eyes.
"Gabrielle, Xena's mother was an Amazon and she didn't feel it - look at what she did to the Amazons," said Melysë gently.
"And yet, the Amazons forgave her," said Gabrielle.
"Xena went back and made it right again," said Melysë.
"Yes, she did," said Gabrielle. "And Eve ... Eve holds a grudge against us, as if <we> wronged <her>. She hates the Amazons and everything we stand for."
"So much for the teachings of Eli," said Melysë, shaking her head. "Gabrielle, I still think we should go and talk to her - at the very least, she should know that her daughter is safe and well - as a mother, I?d be frantic if one of my girls was missing."
"That?s true," said Gabrielle, smiling. "And that may just be our ?foot in the door? to discuss other things with her, too."
"Very well," said Melysë, rising. "Let me just go and tell Xena - "
"Tell me what?" asked the warrior emerging from the other room.
"We?re going to see Eve," said the priestess. "Just to let her know that Lucina is safe."
"You could send a message," said the warrior, one eyebrow raised. She looked at the determination on both Gabrielle's and Melysë's faces and realised this wasn't just about letting Eve know that her daughter was safe. Xena sighed. "Alright," said the warrior. "I?ll go with you."
"That?s not necessary, Love," said Melysë, gently.
"Oh yes - it is," said Xena, coldly. "Depending upon just how far Eve has fallen, you may need me."
"Xena you don?t think - " began Gabrielle.
"I don?t know what to think," said the warrior. "But I?m going anyway."
"Alright, but we have to make this quick," said Melysë, frowning. "You know we really shouldn?t all three be gone at once."
"Never mind that - just ... do the thing, ?Lysë," said Xena, grimly.
Melysë sighed and used her magic to transport the three queens just outside the boundary of the Elisian Commune.
"Who?s there?" called a man from the high stone wall surrounding the property.
"We come in peace to see the Messenger," called Xena.
"Who?s there, I said?" came the voice again.
"I am Queen Melysë of the AemetzainL Tribe of the Amazon Nation," said the priestess. "And these are my fellow queens - Xena and Gabrielle. We come ... bearing a message from Lucina."
Swiftly, the great wooden gates swung open to allow the Amazons to enter. Melysë hesitated, then a great burly man jumped out from behind the wooden gate, grinning.
"Ah, don?t ya worry - we won?t bite ya!" he said. Melysë found his grin infectious and offered her own small smile. "Good ta see yer agin, Xena - we been missin? ye here, that?s fer sure."
"Josiah - good to see you too," said Xena, even as the bear of a man called Josiah caught Gabrielle up in a great hug, swinging her around.
"Ah, Gabby! We missed yer stories come ev?en time - you be stayin? long enough ter tell a few by the fire tonight?" he asked.
Gabrielle smiled. "I?m sorry, Josiah, we can?t stay that long," said the Bard.
"Aw sorry ta hear that - you got news of little Lucina?" said Josiah, a worried frown puckering his great bushy brow.
"Yes," said Xena. "She?s fine - she?s with our Tribe. She and another Amazon warrior came to us just today."
"Ah, that?s good," said Josiah, smiling happily and nodding. "She?s a sweet thing, little Lucina. Her mother just about tore up the whole place when she ran off."
"I can imagine," said Xena, wryly. "Where is Eve?"
"She?s in the Common Building. Come on - I?ll take you to her."
Melysë followed a little behind the other two, picking up almost imperceptible whispers from the Elisians who were all about, doing their work. She felt their unease at the sight of the Warrior and the bard and curiosity concerning herself. Melysë smiled at one small boy, who grinned back, displaying a prominent gap where he had lost a tooth, reminding her of Neiromei. His mother glared at the priestess and grabbed him up, taking into the house. Melysë frowned at this and then shook her head sadly, not understanding.
The Amazons were led to a large building in the center of the commune. It was cool and dark inside. Josiah strode through the corridors and up to a wooden door. He knocked three times.
"Enter!" came a man?s voice from behind the door. The door swung open and Josiah led the three women inside. Melysë saw a woman with silver-streaked auburn hair peeking out from beneath a heavy woollen veil seated behind a desk piled with parchments. Her face was lined and her blue eyes looked weary until she saw Xena. Then they sparked with anger and she rose.
"Leave us," she waved her hand imperiously and Josiah escorted the other man, protesting, out of the room, closing the door behind them.
"What are you doing here, Mother?" said the woman, frowning angrily.
Xena started to speak.
"Eve, Lucina is with the Amazons," said Gabrielle, eyeing the warrior's angry frown.
"That ungrateful little bitch!" cried Eve, slamming her fist heavily upon the wooden desk. "How dare she go running to my enemies! I suppose she told you all sorts of little tales about me?"
"No, Eve, of course " began Gabrielle.
"As a matter of fact," Xena interrupted her. "She has mentioned a few disturbing things, yes."
"I thought so - and of course, you believe her," fumed Eve. "So ?Mummy? and ?Auntie? Gabrielle came to scold me, huh? Well, don?t bother - everything is fine here."
"Eve, why didn?t you tell me you had a daughter?" asked Xena, softly.
"I <told> you the last time we met that I wanted nothing more to do with you and your violent ways," said Eve, coldly. "I can?t believe you came here - though at least this time you had the decency to leave your weapons behind."
Xena glanced down, then looked at Melysë, who shrugged slightly; they had left the cottage so swiftly, there had been no time for Xena to grab her sword and chakram.
"Eve, we really just wanted to let you know that your daughter is alright," said Melysë, gently. "I know how I would feel as a mother if - "
"Who are you?" Eve interrupted.
Blessed Goddess, Xena - is your daughter suicidal or just terminally rude? thought the priestess, barely reining in her anger - and her words. She knew that Xena was in pain, seeing her daughter this way and that only served to make the priestess even more angry with Eve. Xena's jaw set and she glared at Eve, then sighed sadly, shaking her head. The warrior turned and left the room, leaving the door ajar. Just outside the door, the warrior saw the man who had been in with Eve just before their arrival. He stood there, glaring at the warrior.
"Do I know you?" asked Xena.
"No - I'm Darius, Lucina's husband," said the man, momentarily laying aside his suspicion and smiling, holding out a hand to Xena. Xena ignored it.
"You're Lucina's husband, huh?" said Xena, raising one eyebrow, appraising the man. He was tall and painfully thin. His face looked as though he eaten something which tasted bad and the stupid grin he offered the warrior only served to make it worse.
"Yes, I am," said Darius, defensively.
"Why'd she pick you?" asked the warrior.
"What?! Well ... I mean, I ... what do you mean by that?" asked Darius. Xena waved him away and walked back into the room, hoping the poor kid Lucina carried would take after her side of the family. One look at her daughter, however, made Xena think twice about that wish.
"I asked you a question, Amazon," said Eve, her eyes narrowed. "This is <my> place and I require an answer from you - I don't care who - or what - you may be to the Amazons; you are among the Elisians now and I am the leader here."
"I am Melysë, Priestess Queen of the Amazon Nation," the priestess replied. Eve laughed bitterly.
"A priestess?" said Eve with a sneer. "Oh, please - Mother, what are you doing here? Trying to convert me? Or better yet, don't tell me - the priestess is going to convert to Eli's Way, right?"
"Certainly not," said Melysë frowning. "Although I respect Eli's message, following his Way is not for me. Just as our ways are quite obviously not for you."
"Oh, Priestess of a false goddess," said Eve, sarcastically. "Come to teach <me> about Eli?s Way - obviously you have been misinformed - Eli?s Way of Love is the <only> way to salvation."
"Salvation from what?" asked Melysë, curiously.
"There is only one god - the god of Love - the god of Eli - all those who don?t follow him are damned to eternity," said Eve.
"Eve, what are you saying?" asked Gabrielle, tears springing to her bright green eyes. "Even Eli himself said that not everyone can follow his way."
"He said nothing of the sort!" said Eve, furiously.
"But he did - " began Gabrielle.
"No!" cried Eve. "You will not speak your blasphemies in my presence! I am the Messenger of Eli - don?t you think I know his will? Don?t you think he would have told me this himself if it were true?"
"When was the last time Eli spoke with you?" asked Melysë, quietly.
"Are you deaf or just very stupid? I just <said> that I am Eli?s Messenger - he speaks with me all the time!" said Eve, exasperated.
"When was the last time you <listened> to him?" asked Melysë, her dark green eyes flashing flames of anger - especially at the pain in her warrior?s eyes.
"Eve, I was Eli's first disciple and even though I couldn't follow him totally, I know his truth - the truth he shared with me," said Gabrielle. "That Love is the only way to end the cycle of violence - and that Eli's true message was to teach mankind to revere life - <all> life, including your own - and sometimes, Eve, that means some people must be warriors - at least until everyone hears and chooses to stop fighting."
"If you know so much, <'Auntie'>, why didn't Eli pick <you> to be his Messenger? Huh? He didn't, he picked me and I am trying to spread his message as is my destiny, so you need to just butt out and let me do what I was born to do," said Eve. "And as for you, Mother - I told you once I wanted nothing more to do with you and your violent ways - now heed me. Take your Amazon harlot and get out of here - and as for Lucina, you can tell her she can just stay with Amazons - I never want to see her here again, either." Eve spoke coldly, but Melysë saw a flicker of fear in her eyes when she looked at Gabrielle again.
"Very well, Eve," said Melysë, steel in her usually gentle voice. "But let me just leave you with one thought - Eli?s god is <not> the only god - and if you are wrong about that, what else are you wrong about?"
With a deliberately bright flash, Melysë transported the Amazons back to her cottage. Well, the cottage had been her intended destination, but the three landed just outside the boundary of Amazon lands.
"?Lysë, what - " began Xena as another bright flash blinded the Amazons and there before them stood a beautiful winged creature. Snarling, Xena reached for her sword before realising that she didn?t have it with her.
"Michael," said the warrior with a growl.
"Xena, do you know why Eve is corrupting Eli?s message?" asked the archangel with a sneer of contempt.
"No, but I?m sure you?re gonna tell me," said the warrior.
"Do you remember when Caligula wanted to kill her and you stopped him?" asked the archangel.
"Yeah?" said Xena, one eyebrow raised suspiciously.
"You should have let him," said Michael, grinning. "Eve is Eli?s messenger - her message was in her martyrdom and now ..."
Angrily, Melysë stepped forward. "For a god of ?Love? and ?Peace?, there certainly have been a lot of people who had to die in his name," she said.
"That's true," said Michael, sadly shaking his head. "And many more will follow if Eve is not stopped."
"So what are you saying, Michael?" said Gabrielle. "We have to kill Eve to preserve Eli's message of non-violence and peace? That just doesn't make sense. None of this does."
"No, I think it's too late to kill her now," said Michael, grinning at Xena. "She listens to another now. It may be too late to do anything. But if the Warrior Princess has learned yet what is meant by making someone 'small', you may accomplish what needs to be done." He looked sharply at Melysë and then offered her a gentler smile. "You, Little Sister, must be more cautious than any - if the entity Eve now listens to succeeds, you and all the other followers of the old ways are doomed. Have a nice day."
With that, the archangel threw back his head and laughed, then disappeared, leaving the three queens standing near the banks of the river.
"Blessed Goddess - he's supposed to be one of the <good> guys?" said the priestess, shaking her head, as she wrapped comforting arms around her warrior.
"Never mind that now," said Xena, grimly. "We have more urgent worries."
"Xena ..." began Melysë, biting her lip.
"What, ?Lysë?" asked Xena.
"Do you think Michael was right? About Eve?" asked the priestess quietly.
"No," said Xena. "There was no way I was going to allow Eve to be killed - Michael knew that - everyone did. He used me to keep Eve alive - and to get rid of Caligula. If he had been allowed to live, then all of Eli?s followers would have been killed and the message of Eli lost. No, he?s playing me - I just can?t quite see what his motive is - yet."
"Let?s hope we can figure it out - and soon," said Gabrielle. "In the meantime, we have the Destroyer to deal with."
"And the children," said Melysë, her voice breaking a bit.
Xena sighed. "Okay," said the warrior. "One thing at a time."
"Where do we start?" asked Melysë.
"With whatever hits us first," said Gabrielle, with a sigh.
Anaxilea slept fitfully, awakening herself from the nightmare. She looked around at her unfamiliar surroundings. The guest cottage was dark, but the warrior felt the heartbeat of another in the room with her. <No,> two <heartbeats,> she thought to herself, making her way over to the other bed. The dark-haired woman slept deeply - indeed, Lucina had cried herself to sleep after the three queens had told her of their visit to her mother, although Lucina had expected nothing else. The young woman was grateful to the Amazons, for Melysë had told her that she might stay with them forever if she wished. Even the Warrior Queen had been kind to her - well, at least Lucina could tell she was trying, anyway.
Anaxilea gazed down at the sleeping woman. Lucina?s dark hair was swept back on the pillow, exposing her slender neck. Anaxilea withdrew a dagger.
<It would be soooo easy,> she thought darkly. <One move - it would be painless - and two lives, especially the life of the unborn - how much time would that buy for me away from the blood and the fire?>
Suddenly, Anaxilea backed away in horror, realising what she was contemplating. She dropped the dagger, which landed silently on the rug covering the polished wooden floor of the cottage and ran outside. As she stood there, gulping lungfuls of the cool night air, the last vestiges of the nightmare receded from her mind. Anaxilea glanced back once at the door of the cottage, then ran off into the woods terrified of what she might do if she didn?t get away.
She ran deep into the forest, into the darkest part where the trees grew so close together their leaves blocked even what faint light shown from the stars and the slim crescent of moon. Still, Anaxilea made her way through the trees, oblivious to the owl which flew from tree to tree after her, watching carefully ...
The morning dawned and as usual, Xena arose first glancing fondly at the still sleeping priestess. There was a lot on the warrior?s mind this morning. She was still trying thinking about Michael?s remark. Xena was tired of being "played" and used by the various pantheons - almost, she wished she could spite them all and do nothing. Then she looked again at Melysë. The priestess had slept restlessly most of the night and Xena knew that she had been "working" in her sleep. At that moment the warrior resolved that she had to make her own daughter "small". The alternative was unthinkable.
Her thoughts wandered to her grand-daughter, Lucina. Xena shuddered at the thought of being a grandmother. <Although the way ?Ryn and Tecmessa are talking, it may be sooner than later ,> thought Xena. Then she chuckled softly. <What am I saying - Lucina is here - it already has happened.> Xena knew the magic of Themiscyreia was keeping her youth, as well as that of Melysë, Gabrielle, and her own mother CyrenL. The twenty-five years she and Gabrielle had spent frozen had robbed her of Eve?s childhood, but it had buffered the shock of seeing her daughter look so much older than herself.
Shaking her head, Xena thought of their youngest daughters and Gabrielle?s. It might just be best if they did leave the Amazons. Painful, yes, but that would make sure that the "hope of the Amazon Nation" survived. And Xena had an idea just where they should go ... someplace safe, but also where she herself could keep an eye on them and make sure they were alright. No matter what Hekate might think, Xena was perfectly capable of keeping their identity and location a secret - even from Gabrielle and Melysë, if necessary ...
Her morning reverie was interrupted by a knock on the cottage door. Xena answered to a sentry.
"Your Majesty - the warrior Anaxilea is missing," said the young girl, saluting.
"What do you mean ?missing??" asked the warrior, one eyebrow raised.
"Her companion raised an alarm - Anaxilea?s horse is still stabled and her things are still in the guest cottage she shared with Lucina, but the warrior herself is gone," reported the sentry.
"So, maybe she just went for a walk or something," said the warrior queen with a shrug.
"Yes, your majesty, but Lucina was quite insistent that we inform you," said the sentry.
"Okay, thanks," said Xena, closing the door after dismissing the young woman. "I wonder what that?s all about?"
"What?" said Melysë. Xena turned to see the priestess standing there, her dark hair still sleep-tousled.
"Apparently Anaxilea is missing - only her horse and belongings are still here," said Xena, shaking her head. "Lucina sent out the alarm. I suppose I?ll have to remind her that this isn?t the Elisian commune - people are allowed to take walks here."
"And they?re not among the Elisians?" said Melysë, frowning.
Xena shrugged. "The last time Gabrielle and I were there, Eve said that Eli told her that no one should leave the place alone," said the warrior. "Sounded like a load of ... well you know - to me, but that?s what she said. Listen, ?Lysë, about what Eve said to you - "
"Never mind that, Xena," said Melysë, smiling and wrapping her warm arms around the warrior?s waist.
"I should have said something to her, though," said Xena, quietly
"My Love, do you think that is the first time anyone ever called an Amazon a name?" said Melysë. "We couldn?t care less what people who refuse to understand us think of us. Eve was raised by Rome - her behaviour is no reflection on you. I only wish it were in my power to turn back time and let you raise her."
Xena smiled. "You would, too, wouldn?t you?" said the warrior, quietly.
"Yes, I would," said Melysë. "As it is, you do have a chance to know Lucina - and her child."
"Yeah, I do," said Xena. "Speaking of which, I need to go and have a talk with her this morning."
"Breakfast first?" said the priestess.
"Nah - I?ll pick something up later," said the warrior. "I?ll just go to drill from there. What are we going to with her, anyway?"
"What do you mean?" asked Melysë, frowning.
"Well, what do you see her doing here with the Amazons after the baby is born?" asked Xena as she Melysë walked back to the bedroom so the warrior could dress.
"That will be up to Lucina," said Melysë. "Surely she has some skills to contribute to the Tribe."
"Yeah, but I can?t see an Elisian among the Amazons," chuckled Xena.
"I?ve got news for you, my Warrior - Gabrielle is an Elisian and she does just fine," said Melysë.
"Gabrielle fights," said Xena.
"Only when she has to - she follows Eli?s Way with all her heart - she knows the truth of Eli?s message and would die fighting to defend it," said Melysë. "I also sense that there is more to Michael?s message than his words."
"Like what?" asked Xena, frowning as she pulled a tunic over her head.
"He's trying to help us," said Melysë, thoughtfully. "In his own nasty little way."
"You don?t think he?s just still pissed off at me for Lucifer?" said Xena.
"No - no, I think you played right into his plans for Lucifer in your own unique way," said Melysë. "I just wish instead of all this deception and game-playing, he would be straightforward with us and just tell us what he wants - that archangel is more cryptic than the Delphic oracle." The priestess shook her head.
"I think I understand why," said Xena, quietly. "The archangels are the right hand of their god, the god of Eli. He looks at mortals as just so many children, with no capacity for wisdom or understanding. When Gabrielle and I were on the road, the first few years, I kept my plans to myself - how could a simple village girl possibly understand what the mind of a warlord was planning?"
"So how could mortals possibly understand the mind of a god?" said Melysë, softly.
"Very good, Little Sister." Melysë whirled around to see her brother, Ares standing there, nodding approval with a grin on his face.
"Ares, didn?t our father ever teach you how rude it is to simply appear in someone?s bedroom?" said Melysë, scowling at the god.
"Nah - besides, I?ve appearing in Amazon bedrooms for centuries - none of them ever seemed to mind before," chuckled Ares.
"Yes, but Ares - they weren?t your sister," said Melysë, shaking her head, but smiling fondly at her brother.
"How many children do you have, anyway, Ares?" asked Xena, quietly. Something about the god?s presence triggered something deep in her mind and it now gnawed away at her, trying to come to her consciousness.
"Amazon?" asked the god of war.
"Any - how many?" asked Xena.
"I have no idea," said Ares, proudly. "There were two that I know of, but one was the Destroyer and he?s dead."
"No, she isn?t," said Melysë, quietly, gazing at the amulet which hung from the god?s neck. She had seen that design elsewhere very recently and now she struggled to remember where.
"What?" said Ares, staring blankly at his sister. "What do you mean, ?Lysë?"
"We just heard - the Destroyer is not dead - and it?s a she," said Xena, grimly.
Ares grew pale under his tanned skin. "How is that possible?" he asked.
"We don?t know," said Melysë. "But Hekate herself confirmed this - and she said the babies are in very grave danger."
"We all are," said Ares. "What are we going to do?"
"?We??" said Xena, with a slight smile. "Since when do you volunteer for the dangerous jobs, Ares?"
"Since now," Ares said with a growl. "If the Destroyer is alive, then the gods are in big trouble."
"Ares the entire <world> is in trouble," said Melysë.
"Okay, okay," said Ares. "So - what?s the plan?"
"We don?t have one yet," said Xena, frowning at the god. Suddenly, she remembered something. The warrior reached over and took the amulet, lifting it to look at it more closely. "I?ve seen this recently."
"So have I," said Melysë. "I was just trying to remember where."
"Anaxilea - when she saluted - she this mark on her arm," said Xena. "It looks like a birthmark, but it was this symbol, right here."
"Xena, I saw that mark on Lucina?s arm, too," said Melysë, remembering.
"You son of a Bacchae!" cried the warrior, rearing back and planting one fist in the god?s face with some force. Ares fell backward against the wall. "They?re both your daughters! You were with Eve - <my daughter>!"
"Xena," said Melysë, quietly and fearfully as Ares arose to his feet, blood streaming from his nose.
Xena looked, her eyes widening for a moment. "What does it mean?" asked the warrior, her voice barely above a whisper.
"I think ... I think you have the power to kill gods again," said Melysë, going to her brother and helping him to clean up. "I?m just not sure how - or why?"
At that moment Gabrielle ran in, holding baby Melosa.
"Xena, Melysë! There?s trouble - Xenon and the Centaurs are in the council chamber, waiting for you," she gasped. Then she saw Ares, blood streaming from his nose. Melysë found a handkerchief and pressed it to his face to stop the bleeding. "What happened?"
"I?m sorry, Ares," said Xena. "I ... just lost my temper for a minute."
"Hey, no problem," said Ares, grinning. He pulled the handkerchief away and the bleeding had stopped. The god snapped his fingers and all traces of the injury were gone. "It?s gratifying to see that you haven?t lost that fire, in spite of all this domestic bliss."
"Gabrielle, what?s going on?" asked Melysë.
"Apparently a Centaur hunting party was attacked early this morning by an Amazon," said Gabrielle. "She killed two of them and then took to the trees."
"An Amazon?" said Melysë, shocked. "Who?"
"They didn?t know her, but they assumed she was from this Tribe since it?s the closest to the Centaur Village," said Gabrielle.
"Anaxilea," said Xena, quietly, but her eyes were like chips of ice. She looked at Ares. "I?d better not find out that you had anything to do with this."
"Xena! Why would I?" asked the god of war.
"I don?t know - but she?s your daughter," said the warrior. Melysë leaned in close to Gabrielle and showed her the bloody handkerchief.
"So is Lucina," the priestess whispered and the bard nodded as understanding lit up her eyes.
"Come on, ?Lysë, get dressed - we?d better not keep Xenon waiting," said the warrior, striding out of the room and pulling Ares behind her.
"Alright, Ares - what are you doing here?" asked the warrior after closing the door behind them. She knew that Melysë would fill Gabrielle in on the morning?s events.
"Honestly, Xena, I do not know," said Ares. "One minute I was lounging on Olympus with ... well, never mind." The god grinned, then quickly went back to his explanation at the look in Xena?s eyes. "Anyway, I just felt a strong need to be here, in AemetzainL. I though it was you or Melysë calling me - and you know when either of you calls me, I can?t help but respond."
"Hm," said the warrior. "Maybe it was Lucina - the Elisian prayers start out with calling upon ?Abba" - which means ?Father? in their language. Outside of the Elisian compound, you would be able to hear her. So tell me something - how did you get to Eve?"
"Xena - that was a long time ago," said Ares, backing away.
"Relax - I?m not gonna hit you again," said Xena, smiling.
"Uh, you might when you hear this," said Ares.
"Spit it out," said Xena, arms crossed over her chest.
"I .. Uh .. I disguised myself and appeared in her bedroom," said Ares.
"Uh, huh - disguised as what?"
"Who ... or is it whom? ... actually," said Ares. "As Eli."
"Oh, of course," said Xena. "She didn?t recognise you?"
"Yeah, actually she did - but she didn?t ... um .. refuse me, even then," said Ares. "Only afterward, when I tried to convince her to come back to me - then she started talking about her ?sin? and trying to convert <me> to Eli?s Way - that?s when I knew it was never gonna happen, so I left and I haven?t been back since - I didn?t even know about Lucina."
"I believe you, Ares," said Xena with a sigh. "If you had known about Lucina, you would have been all over that compound, trying to recruit her - or at the very least, kidnap her."
"Sad, but true - but I've reformed now," said Ares. "So - what about the Centaurs?"
"I don?t know - I really hope we can avert a war," said Xena with a sigh. "No offense, Ares."
"None taken - remember, technically, I?m no longer god of war," said Ares, wistfully. "Though I do still love a good battle."
"There?s no such thing as a ?good? battle, Brother," said Melysë emerging from the room. She had not simply thrown on a simple tunic and trousers, but was dressed as the priestess she was, in full ceremonial robes, cloak, and a veil over her braids and curls.
"Okay - we just have to agree to disagree on that point, Little Sister - wow, you look ... official," said Ares, whistling in appreciation. "Hey, can I borrow that design for my priests?"
"Ask Hekate," said Melysë, absently. "Are we ready?"
"Evidently," said Xena, smiling at the priestess.
"Ares, can you do a ?god-thing? and - " began Melysë.
"Disappear?" asked the god, disappointed.
"No - I want you at the meeting, but I think it would be better if the god of war was invisible," said Melysë, smiling slightly.
"No problem," said Ares. He snapped his fingers and disappeared. "How?s this?" came his voice.
"Perfect," said Melysë. "Let?s go." They took the children to the Lodge where Joxer and Meg were delighted to watch them until the Council adjourned. Romy looked at her mothers sadly.
"I wish I could go, too, <meia>," she said.
"Neiromei, it?s not a place for little girls," said Melysë, gently. "You have to be very quiet and very still. And I know how very difficult that is for you."
"But, <meia> I can if I hafta," said Romy, earnestly.
"I know you can," said Melysë, wavering. <Romy is to be High Queen of the Amazon Nation - maybe she should start learning now,> thought the priestess. She and Xena had wanted to spare the little girl the burden of her royal birthright for as long as they could, but Melysë remembered attending Council Meetings with her mothers and how special she felt to be allowed to be there among the adults. She looked at her young daughter?s hopeful eyes and then to Xena, who nodded slightly. "Alright, Romy - but remember you must be very still and very, <very> quiet."
"Oh, I will, <meia>, I promise," said the little girl. "Will ?Ryn be there, too?"
"Yes, she will," said Xena, looking at Melysë and smiling. "?Ryn is learning how to be a queen - and so should you."
"Me?" said Romy, scrunching up her little nose. "How come?"
"Never mind, Little One - just come on," said Melysë, taking her daughter?s hand and leading her to the council chamber.
The three queens entered the council chamber and saw the Centaurs, led by Xenon as well as the Amazon Council of Elders were already there, sitting in an uncomfortable silence. Xenon looked grim, but managed a small smile as the three queens came in with Neiromei. Melysë felt some small relief - Xenon didn?t want war either, she knew. Neiromei grinned back at Xenon and waved, breaking the silence as the entire chamber chuckled. The tension broken, Melysë took her place at the head of the chamber. Romy watched as her older sister, Arynë stood beside Xena and both warriors took their protective stances behind the other two queens, Gabrielle and Melysë. Romy herself stood in front of her mother, looking all about the council chamber wide-eyed.
"Greetings, Friends," said Melysë, smiling at the assembly. "Now, can anyone tell me what has happened?"
"With respect, your majesty," said Xenon, inclining his head in a request to approach the three queens.
"Yes, Xenon," said Melysë. She saw the grief in his eyes and wished she could be done with all the posturing and just give her friend the comfort of a hug.
Xenon came forward and bowed his head. "On behalf of the entire Centaur Nation, I would offer my apologies to you and your Tribe," he said.
"I don?t understand," said Gabrielle, frowning in puzzlement. She looked to Melysë and Xena. "Xenon, what happened?"
"A group of young Centaurs was hunting on Amazon lands this morning," said Xenon. "Apparently, they were caught and ... well, two of the party was executed. As stated in our treaty, the Amazons have every right to execute poachers on sight. We merely wish to extend our apologies for this breach and to assure you that it will never happen again."
"Executed ...?" said Melysë, looking around the room. "I gave no orders for execution - did you, Xena?" The warrior shook her head. "Gabrielle?" The Bard looked at her.
"No, of course not," said Gabrielle.
"Xenon, I am sorry for your loss," said Melysë, quietly. "I know what our treaty says, but even to me, it seems a rather harsh punishment for poaching."
"Yeah," said Xena. "I mean, I know that to young Centaurs, hunting on Amazon Lands is sort of challenge - and after all, what?s a hare or two?"
Melysë looked sharply at the warrior, then turned back to Xenon. "That aside, I assure you, Xenon that no execution was sanctioned by any of the queens of this Tribe. We will investigate this matter thoroughly and you keep you posted."
"Melysë, the crime was ours," said Xenon, quietly.
"No, Xenon - if we have an Amazon executing people without our orders, this is a problem which must be addressed immediately," said Gabrielle.
"I know the practice has been to look the other way," said Xenon, noting Melysë?s deep frown at his words. "But I also understand that this cannot be permitted. It is a breach of our treaty and young or not, the Centaurs responsible will be punished."
"Xenon, I would like to speak with them first, if I may," said Gabrielle. "We need a description of the Amazon responsible."
"Of course," said Xenon, nodding.
"Xenon, rest easy," said Melysë, offering her friend a smile. "None of us want to go to war over this. I?m just very sorry those young people lost their lives."
"So am I," said the Centaur. "But at least we know that no one else will in war. Thank you, Ladies." He saluted the queens, then motioned for the other Centaurs to follow him out of the Council chamber. Melysë turned to Xena after they were gone. Xena saw the look in her eyes and gestured for the council to be dismissed. She glanced uncomfortably down at Romy, who was gazing up at her mother in awe - Romy had never seen her mother in council and the child was impressed - she never knew her mother wielded such power!
"?Lysë, um - can we discuss this at home?" asked the Warrior Queen.
"Look the other way?" said Melysë, quietly. "Since when are my orders set aside? Do you know who - and what - lives in our forest? To allow hunting - even a hare or two - by anyone except Amazon Hunters is a breach of a sacred trust! Would you have me foresworn and bring that wrath upon our heads?"
"Melysë, what are you talking about?" said Xena. Melysë looked at Gabrielle.
"Xena, there is ... an entity ... living in the forest," said Gabrielle, glancing at Melysë. "This Tribe swore to protect it."
"Why wasn?t I told about that?" asked the Warrior Queen.
"You were - you dismissed it as nonsense," said Melysë, shortly.
"Are you talking about ... that myth?" asked Xena, one eyebrow raised.
"It is not a myth," said Melysë, firmly.
"Xena, I?ve seen it and so has Tecmessa," said ?Ryn.
"Okay," said Xena. "So what do you propose?"
"The next time anyone who doesn?t belong there is caught in that forest, they should be escorted here to the Council Chamber and their elders contacted to come and pick them up," said Gabrielle. "That way, the other villages know what their younglings are up to - and we leave their punishment to their own people."
"It also gives us a chance to question them and make sure they?ve not seen it," said Melysë. "And if they have ... well, I?m not averse to doing a little ?god-thing? to make sure they don?t remember it."
"Excellent!" said Ares, materialising. "So - what fell creature are you harboring in your forest, Little Sister?"
"Never mind, Ares," said Xena, shaking her head.
"Aw come on - you can trust me," said the god.
"Ares, if I were to tell you, that would be breaking a trust," said Melysë. "Only Amazons are to know that secret."
"Okay - you can?t blame me for trying," said the god, disappearing. Xena held up one hand, listening.
"All the way, Ares," she said, dryly. "Go on - I know you have better things to do."
The god re-appeared, grinning. "I forgot you can do that," he said.
"So can I," said ?Ryn, frowning. "And Mother."
"Jeez, alright," said Ares, shrugging and disappearing with a bright flash.
"<Meia>, why don?t you want <tandos> Ares to know about the funny horse in the forest?" asked Neiromei.
"How do <you> know about that, young Lady?" asked Xena, one brow raised. "You?re not supposed to go into the forest by yourself."
"She didn?t," said ?Ryn, quickly, catching the look in Melysë?s eyes. "Tecmessa and I took her to see the unicorn."
Neiromei looked gratefully at her older sister, who winked at her.
"Why didn?t you tell me, Romy?" asked Melysë. Romy was quiet a moment. She had indeed been bursting to share that experience with her mothers, but she had held it inside. ?Ryn had taken her there for her first Initiation gift. Her big sister, whom Romy idolised, had told her that all the adults in the Tribe already knew this secret and now Romy was in on it, too. That fact had made the little girl feel very special, indeed. That she shared this secret with the adults was enough to keep her quiet. To have told even her mothers or <tanti> Gabrielle would have made the experience seem ... less, somehow.
"I can keep a secret," said Romy, solemnly. "Like in the Initiation Oath - I know how ?portant it is keep a promise an? I promised to keep the unicorn a secret - but you already knew, <meia>."
"Yes, I did," said Melysë, looking at her young daughter, proudly. Then she looked sternly at Arynë. "Why, ?Ryn?"
"Mother ..." began the young warrior. "When I saw him, I just wanted to share that with Romy. I knew she could be trusted. She?s a very special little girl. And he is so beautiful - I just wanted her to share in that. I can?t explain it - you should have seen her face - it was magical."
"I would have liked to," said Melysë, gently, seeing the beaming hero-worship on Neiromei?s face at her older sister?s words.
"Oh, Mother - of course you wanted to be the one to - I?m sorry, <Meia>," said ?Ryn, looking down.
"No, ?Ryn, that?s alright - I?m glad you took Romy to see him," said Melysë. The priestess had seen these two daughters growing closer since Selenë had left to train with Melysë?s oath-sister, Tai?. Arynë and her <malatyr> - soul-mate and life-partner - Tecmessa often took the little girl for outings and excursions and Melysë was grateful. Instead of seeing her little sister as a pest, ?Ryn genuinely enjoyed the little girl?s company and Melysë knew that Romy thrived on ?Ryn?s attention. She just wished Selenë was there with them, too.
Xena cleared her throat. "Alright," said the warrior. "Now, we have a killer to catch. ?Ryn, can you and Tecmessa round up the trackers and a few warriors?"
"Naturally," said ?Ryn, grinning. "I was already going over the roster in my head."
"Why does this not surprise me?" asked the Warrior Queen, smiling proudly at her protégée.
"Alright - once we find her, please bring her to the cottage," said Melysë.
"Mother, it?s Anaxilea, isn?t it?" asked ?Ryn.
"I believe so, but we won?t know until we talk to the Centaurs," said Melysë. "Gabrielle, can you wait at the cottage with me, please?"
"Of course - let me just collect Melosa and we?ll be right there," said the Bard. "I?m sorry - I just can?t seem to bear having her away from me right now."
"No sorry?s necessary," said Melysë, kindly. "She can play with Dylanda and Leilae - and Romy, if Romy doesn?t mind?"
"No, <meia> I love playing with the babies," said Romy. "An? I better get all the playin? I can with them, ?cause they won?t be here forever, will they, <Meia>?"
Xena looked at the child and shook her head. "No, Monkey, they won?t," said the warrior, sadly.
"Then we better get started - come on, <meia>," said the little girl, pulling on Melysë?s hand.
"Romy, wait a minute - we?re not quiet finished here, yet," said Melysë.
The Centaurs who had witnessed the incident were ushered into the Council chamber and Gabrielle smiled at them.
"Hi, boys," she said. "So, what happened this morning?"
The young Centaurs looked everywhere around the room but at the three queens.
"Come on - you?re not in trouble with us," said Gabrielle. "We just have to know what happened so we can make sure it doesn?t happen again. We need to find the Amazon who attacked you."
The Centaurs looked up, surprised. "Oh, no - she didn?t ...not really," said one. "We weren?t supposed to be there."
"No, but that?s not how the Amazons do things," said Xena. "So - what did this Amazon look like?"
"Well, she looked a little like her - I mean, Queen Gabrielle," said another, nodding in the Bard?s direction. "Her hair was the same colour, at least."
The third Centaur muttered.
"What was that?" asked Gabrielle.
"She wasn?t an Amazon," he said.
"How do you know?" asked Gabrielle.
"She doesn?t look like the rest of you," he said. "My mother is an Amazon, so I can sorta ... see. You know."
"Yeah, I do know," said Gabrielle, smiling encouragingly. "So, she wasn?t an Amazon - that puts this in a new light. Did you notice anything else about her - anything at all?"
"Yeah - she didn?t look like she <wanted> to kill Bran and Epo - it was like, she <had> to - like she couldn?t stop herself," said the first Centaur
"Anything else?" asked Gabrielle. "Anything physical that will help us find her?"
"She had a mark on her arm - like this," said the third Centaur, drawing the symbol in the air.
Arynë looked at Xena, who nodded and the young warrior left them to organise the searching party.
"Thank you - I?ll make sure to let Xenon that you were all very helpful," said Gabrielle.
"Boys, just one more thing," said Melysë as they turned to leave. They turned back to look at the priestess. "Please - whatever you do - the Amazon forest is very dangerous to all who are not Amazons - and not just because of this ... person. Please, please - stay out of there - and tell all your age-mates to stay out, too. I don?t want any more of you to lose your lives, especially on Amazon Lands."
"Your Majesty, have no fear of that," said the first Centaur. "I don?t think any Centaur will ever enter those woods again. I know I won?t."
"That?s all we ask," said Gabrielle. The Centaurs left them, then and Melysë sighed, taking Romy by the hand.
"We? d better get the babies and go to the cottage," said Melysë. "We?ll wait for you there."
Melysë left. Xena held Gabrielle back a moment. "Anaxilea has the mark of Ares," said Xena, gravely.
"And so does Lucina - Xena, Ares has been with countless Amazons - we don?t know who her mother is."
"I think I do," said Xena, darkly.
"Xena, that?s impossible - Anaxilea is too young to be Hope?s daughter - you saw Eve and she?s years younger than Hope?s daughter would have been," said the bard.
"Maybe - but remember, Gabrielle, we were kept on ice for twenty five years - who?s to say that Hope?s daughter wasn?t kept in a similar way until it was time for her to be found," said the warrior. "What?s more, she does resemble you slightly."
"Okay - I?m not saying it?s impossible, but Xena, Meg, Leah, Diana - they all looked <exactly> like you - and they weren?t related," said Gabrielle, running her hands through her blonde hair, nervously.
"She bears the mark of Ares," said Xena. "What?s more, she was in the Amazon forest - that forest is the border between us and the Centaur village - and you know what - or <who> is imprisoned there."
"Gods, Xena - will that nightmare <ever> end?" said Gabrielle, her voice barely above a whisper.
"Yes - at least, we?ll do our best to make it so, Gabrielle," said Xena, looking out the door as Melysë stopped with Romy to wait for them. "Listen, Gabrielle, we don?t have much time - if Anaxilea is the Destroyer and she?s on her way to free Dahak, we have to get these children out of AemetzainL before she?s found."
"What do you have in mind, Xena?" asked Gabrielle.
"Have Joxer and Meg and mother take the children to Amphipolis - for a visit," said Xena, hastily. "We need to take Romy, Terreis, Lilia and the boys, too - just so the kids aren?t worried - you know how Romy is," said Xena, thinking.
"Yeah? And then what?" said Gabrielle, looking intently into her best friend?s eyes. She thought she saw deception there, but she wasn?t sure. Xena smiled brightly.
"That?s all," said the warrior. "Just get the kids out of immediate danger." <For now,> thought the warrior.
"Xena, what if they?re attacked on the road?" said Gabrielle. "I think I should go with them and ..."
"Gabrielle," said Xena. "You know we need you here. I?m sending ?Ryn and Tecmessa with them."
"I know," said the Bard, quietly. "I just ... wanted to spend as much time with her as I could before ... you?re right, Xena."
"Okay, let?s go and tell ?Lysë," said the warrior, bracing herself for the coming confrontation. <Which will be nothing compared to what would happen if Melysë or Gabrielle find out what I really have planned,> thought the warrior, grimly.
Anaxilea wandered through the trees. Here in the treetops, she was safe. She sat on a broad limb and put her head in her hands, weeping. She hadn?t meant to kill the Centaurs - had only meant to warn them away.
<Goddess, I have probably started a war between the Centaurs and the Amazons,> she thought miserably.
The ancient animosity between Centaurs and Amazon had risen up within her and she had attacked. The rage she felt was nothing she had ever felt before. Usually in battle, she was detached, killing only those who would kill her if she didn?t kill them first. It was a matter of survival. These young Centaurs had posed no real threat to her, she knew. But they had been on Amazon Lands - and they had also been between her and ... what? Something was pulling her, but she didn?t know what. She had tried to resist at first, but a blinding headache had struck her when she did that. And visions of fire and blood plagued her through the pain. So she kept moving until she saw the Centaurs.
As soon as she had killed those two, the pain and the nightmare visions left her and the realisation of what she had done hit her with a wall of remorse, washing over her like an icy wave. She had taken to the trees - floating up to the highest limbs, instead of climbing, and, terrified, ran from the scene of the slaughter - the young Centaurs had been armed only with light bows and arrows for hunting small game. They had been no match for Anaxilea, but they hadn?t run away from her, either, standing up to defend themselves and each other.
With a sigh, the warrior arose and began moving again, almost without thinking about it, towards whatever was calling her. Then her mind went blank and she knew no more for a while ...
Melysë took the news with surprising calm. The priestess looked intently into Xena?s eyes. Xena had an uncomfortable moment when she knew that Melysë saw everything, but the priestess did not protest. With pain in her dark eyes, Melysë nodded her assent, then started getting the children ready for their trip. Xena recalled Arynë and Tecmessa from the search and told them they would be escorting the family to the Tavern in Amphipolis. Arynë looked puzzled for a moment, then Xena told her everything.
"Why didn?t you tell me this before, <tanti-meia>," asked the young warrior. "Won?t I be needed here to help fight the Destroyer?"
"No, I think that will be my task. Why else would I have the power to kill gods again?" said Xena. "Besides, you are needed more to protect your little sisters, ?Ryn. They are the hope of the Amazon Nation. At least according to Hekate."
"Well, I can?t argue with the Goddess," said Arynë, with a sigh. Xena chuckled.
"Why not? I do it all the time," she said.
"Xena, your ... disdain for gods is well-known," said Arynë, grinning at her foster-mother. "But I was raised by a priestess, remember? And I quite like Hekate - she?s always been pretty fair. Not like the Olympians."
"True," said Xena. "I do respect her - although I?m not thrilled about her latest command."
"I know, Xena - and I?m sorry," said ?Ryn, sadly. She looked up at Xena, thoughtfully. "What if Tecmessa and I were to take the babies? Someplace far away. We could raise them and they?d be safe. We could even maybe take them to Avalon with Selenë and Ephiny."
"?Ryn, that?s incredibly sweet and I appreciate it and so would your mother and Gabrielle, but that won?t work," said Xena.
"I guess not - Hekate wants them away from the Amazons, doesn?t she?" said Arynë with a sigh.
"Yes, but not out of this world, as Avalon is," said the warrior.
"Alright, Xena - just tell me this - if the babies should ... um ... ?disappear? from Amphipolis, should I go looking?" asked Arynë.
"I trained you too well," said the warrior, dryly.
"Well enough to screw up your plans if I go looking for children you don?t want found," replied Arynë.
"Alright - then you already know the answer to that question, don?t you Warrior Princess Arynë?" said Xena, one eyebrow raised.
"Yes, I guess I do," sighed ?Ryn. "Alright, Xena, Tecmessa and I will be ready before the kids. I?ll meet you and Mother at the Lodge."
Xena walked quickly to the messenger bird cote. She was beginning to think too many people already knew what she had planned and if that was the case, she would have to think of something - and fast. But the important thing was to get the children out of danger. Already she was beginning to think that Anaxilea would not be found in time to keep her away from the cave in which Dahak had been imprisoned. If she managed to release Dahak before the children were out of AemetzainL and on their way to safety ... Xena shook her head. <No time to doubt now - and no time to think of another plan - better just forge ahead and hope for the best,> thought the warrior.
That was another thing. Eve. Her mother had essentially exiled her from her own people. That just didn't fit with the rest of Eli's teachings. Her talk with Melysë the previous day had made her think hard about just what her mother was doing. Lucina knew it was wrong, no matter what excuses her mother made. She had no doubt that Eve had only the best interests of the group in mind, but still it was wrong to change Eli's words around. For the first time in her life, Lucina began to doubt much of what she had been taught; the Book, for example, the one her mother had said was Eli's messages, spoken through her. So many of them were strange.
"Eli is dead," said Lucina to herself, shaking her head. She sat on the bed and put her head in her hands.
Startled, Lucina looked up to see a shimmering apparition. A man, with long dark hair and a beard, clothed in a brilliantly white robe stood before her, smiling.
"Eli?" Lucina whispered in awe.
"Yes," said the apparition.
"You're not ... dead?"
"None of us ever die, Lucina," said Eli, gently. "We just move on to new life. Like the life you are carrying within."
Lucina looked down.
"I am so sorry for the things I said, Master - " she began.
"No, never call me that," said Eli, gently placing a hand on Lucina's shoulder. It was a warm, comforting hand and Lucina felt peace flowing over her troubled mind like oil on water.
"Eli, why does Mother want everyone to fear you?" asked the young woman.
"She doesn't," said Eli. "She wants everyone to fear <her>."
"But why?" asked Lucina, wanting to weep at the sadness in Eli's blue eyes.
"I'm sorry, Lucina," said Eli, gently. "I know that even among the Elisians, there are those who must have their wine everyday - even to excess. There are even those who must have their poppy juice. It is like that with your mother and power. At one time, many feared your mother and she grew accustomed to that power. She was able to put that aside for a time, but now ... another voice speaks to her and calls to that desire within her. She cannot help herself."
"How can I help her?" asked Lucina, tears welling in her eyes.
Eli smiled and reached out to gently caress Lucina's face, wiping away the tears which spilled from her eyes to her cheeks. "There is so much love in your heart, Little One," he said. "Even now, when Eve has hurt you so deeply - even abandoned you, and you seek to help <her>. Truly you are a credit to my message - and that is why I chose you to be my new Messenger."
"Me? I am not worthy, Eli," said Lucina, looking down. Tenderly, Eli lifted her chin and looked into her eyes.
"You are worthy of much more than this, Lucina," he said. "I also choose you to bring my soul back into this world - if you will consent?"
Lucina looked startled for a moment, placing a protective hand over her swollen middle and considering the child she carried. "What? But ... what happens to the soul who already resides there?"
"Ah, that is a mystery," said Eli. "It has been said, 'The two become one and the one becomes three; and the third is the sum of all parts.'"
"I don't understand," said Lucina.
"The souls will unite into one, Lucina - this child shall be me as well as who he already is, but we shall be the same being," explained Eli.
Lucina frowned. "Forgive me, Eli, I still do not understand, but I know that no harm will come to my child with you."
Eli smiled again and placed a gentle hand on Lucina's abdomen before fading from her sight.
Eve was having a very bad day. Her son-in law, Darius, had been harping on her to bring Lucina back into the fold. The voices were getting louder, too - Eli?s and that other one. For a time, Eli had stopped talking with her, then he had begun to scold her, in his ever so gentle way - which only made the scoldings worse, since the very gentleness made Eve feel guilt. That was when she had started to wear the veils. And just so no one would suspect, she had made it part of the Elisian "scriptures" that all the women in the commune wear them, too - not to mention the fact that the last thing Eli had said to her was that she was no longer his Messenger and that he must now find another strong woman to take her place. Eve knew that if the women all wore veils as she did, they would not be able to hear Eli, either.
She missed her daughter. That night with Ares had been a mistake, but for the fact that Lucina had come of it. Eve regretted it only slightly - she had backslid, if only a bit, reverting to what had worked in Rome. Using her body to try and get Ares to convert to the Way of Love - if only it had worked! To have the god of war become a god of peace - there would be no more war, then the message of Eli would spread itself. She should have known better. That had been the beginning of her downfall. Sick with remorse, Eve had declared that Eli?s will was that no one was to share his or her body that way except within the confines of an Elisian marriage. Then she knew she was pregnant with Lucina and desperately had to cover herself. She had married hastily, but her husband didn?t live long afterward. As luck would have it, he died while trying to fell a tree while building a house for them.
Eve relocated the Elisians here, settling in and building a community for her people. She had also made sure her daughter would not follow her on the path to sin, marrying her off to Darius as soon as Lucina was of age, despite the fact that she did not trust Darius? ambition. Eve had hoped that marriage to her own daughter would satisfy that ambition, but it was not to be. Darius took over the leadership of the Elisians in all but name. Now he was pressing her to be allowed to go and bring her daughter home.
As much as Eve missed Lucina, she realised that her daughter would be the natural choice as Eli?s new messenger and Eve wasn?t quite ready to give up her position. The visit from her mother and Gabrielle - and that other Amazon - had left Eve feeling very unsettled. She had known that there were other gods out there, of course - Ares, for example - but her goal was to make the god of Eli the one and only god worshipped in the known world. That would make her position very secure indeed - and as the leader of the world?s only religion, Eve would wield power over more people than she would have even if she had become Empress of Rome. For their own good, of course - never would Eve entertain the intoxication of power in and of itself - that was Livia, not her.
Eve raised the veil slightly. Silence. Eli was silent, which was frightening - what if he had already chosen his new messenger? But so was that other voice that terrified her even more than Eli's silence. It was that voice which had led her to let her daughter go that morning. It made so much sense on the one hand, yet still Eve thought that letting her daughter out of the realm of her own control may have been a mistake even though that other voice had assured that with Lucina among the Amazons, their defeat was close at hand ...
"Romy, take the babies in the other room and ... entertain them, please," said the priestess.
"Okay, <Meia>," said Neiromei, taking her little sisters by the hands and walking them into the common room.
"Xena, I?m sorry," said Melysë.
"For what?" asked the warrior, gathering Melysë into her arms.
"For this morning, in the council chamber," said Melysë. "I shouldn?t have ... scolded you - especially not in front of Romy and Gabrielle. Or, really, at all. I?m just sorry." Tears again sprang into her dark green eyes and she laid her dark head against Xena?s shoulder.
"Hey, it?s okay - you?re right," said Xena, stroking Melysë?s long hair. "I undermined your authority and that was wrong. I?m sorry, ?Lysë. We have to stand together - especially now."
"It?s just - everything is falling apart - spinning out of my control and I ... don?t know what to do," said Melysë, sniffing.
"I know," said Xena, soothingly.
"Xena, the babies aren?t coming back from Amphipolis, are they?" asked the priestess, looking up at the warrior with her tear-stained face.
"No," said Xena. "I should have told you, but ..."
"No, the fewer people who know, the safer they?ll be," said the priestess. "So, how were you going to keep everyone from raising the alarm when the babies were missing?"
Xena frowned. "Never mind, 'Lysë," said the warrior, recognising one flaw in her plan - were there anymore? Xena had never before lost her focus, no matter what the situation and she certainly couldn't afford to do so no, yet there was no time to re-think this plan. The Warrior just hoped 'Ryn could pull off her part of it. "Just trust me, okay? We'd better get going - the sooner these children are safely away, the better. The Destroyer could be here any time now."
The two mothers packed their little ones off to the Lodge. Xena left them there, slipping quietly and unseen off to the Temple. She looked around for any novices or junior priestesses who would be sure to tell Melysë they had seen the Warrior Queen there - Xena wasn't a frequent visitor to the Temple, despite being Joined to the Priestess Queen. It wouldn't do for Melysë to know that Hekate hadn't been part of Xena's plan from the beginning.
Xena knew Melysë kept an office in the Temple building and she made her way there now. She had been there with the Priestess recently, so if she was questioned, she would simply say that she had left something there that day. Xena entered the quiet room and closed and locked the door behind her. The room felt so peaceful in its silent, cool dimness. The scent of the Temple incense mingled with the scent of parchment and beeswax candles and Xena breathed deeply, taking in the solitude and quieting her mind. Finally she spoke.
"Alright, Hekate - I guess this is just as good a place to talk with you as the sanctuary," said the warrior.
"Better," said the goddess, appearing with a smile. "Melysë often finds it so, at least."
"Okay - you got me here," said Xena. "I need your help."
"I can see how painful that is for you to say, Xena, so just tell me what's on your mind," said the goddess.
"The babies - for now," said Xena.
"Ah, yes - your plans for taking their 'disappearance' into your own hands," said the goddess.
"You knew about that," said the warrior, not really surprised.
"Naturally," said the goddess. "Very, very clever, my Child. However, I have made other plans."
"What other plans?" asked Xena.
"Never mind, - you know that the childrens' safety - and the safety of the Amazon Nation depends upon this. Xena, do you think I <want> this?" asked Hekate, shaking her head, sadly. "This wasn't what I intended to happen when I gave you these children in the first place."
"Then why ...?" began Xena, frowning.
"I can see the fates of all the world's inhabitants unfolding before my eyes, all the time," said the goddess. "Since humankind has free will, the future is not set in stone. I can only see what is happening and what will come out as the result of all the billions of choices humans make every moment of every day.
"I knew we made our own destinies," said Xena.
"Yes, you did know that - and you are quite correct," said Hekate. "I cannot tell you exactly what the future holds because every second it changes, based on all of the choices everyone makes all the time. I can, however, anticipate certain events and trends. And that is why I know that these children must now leave you. I am truly sorry that it must be that way, my daughter."
"So am I," said Xena. "But I still need to know where these children will end up."
"Xena, do not test me," said the goddess, suddenly growing very cold. "I am the mother of all - including these children. I know you - and I have known you since before you were born - the first time. This is one time I will not indulge you. Too much is at stake. This is one time you have no choice but to bend to <my> will."
"That will never happen, Hekate," said Xena, quietly, but there was steel in her voice.
"This is one time I cannot offer you a choice, Warrior," said the goddess.
Suddenly, Xena felt a strong wind blowing. The room grew very dark and the wind screamed in her head. "Hekate! What are you doing?" Xena cried. She looked at the goddess and saw a terrible being, so beautiful, it hurt her eyes to look.
"I'm sorry, Xena, but you must learn respect for the Mother of All Living," came the voice from the being.
"Other gods have tried," said the warrior through gritted teeth.
"Still you remain stubborn," said the goddess, sadly. "And so you shall remain here, in the Land of the Dead until your children are safely away where you cannot find them. I'm sorry it must be so, my Child."
With that, the goddess left and Xena looked around at the barren landscape. She was alone.
Finally, 'Ryn, seeing the look in her mother's eyes, told Romy that maybe the <pony> was too small to go all the way to Amphipolis and perhaps Romy had better ride Amnia with her after all. Neiromei, who loved her pony, decided that was best after all. Tecmessa, CyrenL, and Meg each took one of the babies with them, strapped to their chests, although the toddlers were almost too big for the baby carriers in which they rode. Joxer was driving the wagon with the other children safely tucked inside and Melysë told him to guard them all well, causing him to puff up with pride for but a moment. The he looked into her eyes and saw sincerity there. He became serious and gave her an Amazon salute.
"With my life," he said, solemnly. Melysë's dark eyes welled again with tears and she smiled with effort, waving good-bye as her family rode off to Amphipolis. She had looked at Arynë and Neiromei on Amnia. The two sisters looked more like mother and daughter to the priestess.
"Where's Xena?" asked Gabrielle, fighting back her own tears as they rode off.
"I don't know," said Melysë, frowning. "You know how she is, though - she probably just couldn't bring herself to be here."
"Hm," said Gabrielle, nodding. "Either that, or she's following them at a discreet distance."
Melysë smiled weakly. "Yeah, that sounds like her, too," said Melysë. "But she knows we need her here when the Destroyer comes."
"True," said Gabrielle. "Maybe she's in the forest, beating up a tree or a something."
"Or looking for ..." Melysë began.
"Maybe," said Gabrielle. "She wouldn't want us to know that, though."
"No," said Melysë, smiling. "After all, it's just a myth, right? Still, I think I'd better go and check."
"'Lysë, do you think it's safe?" said Gabrielle. "I mean, remember the woods are where the Centaurs were attacked."
"I'll be fine," said Melysë. Already the priestess felt an emptiness inside which she attributed to her family being gone from the Village. "I need to, Gabrielle."
"Do you want some company?" asked the Bard.
"Yeah," said Melysë, smiling. "That'd be nice."
The two queens made their way into the forest, under the watchful eyes of the village sentries. The sentries were posted throughout the woods, except in the areas deemed forbidden by Melysë. It was into one of those areas the two queens ventured.
"Have you seen him yet, Gabrielle?" asked Melysë.
"Only a brief glimpse," said the bard, feeling excited despite the day's sadness.
"Gabrielle, why do you think Xena has the power to kill gods again?" asked Melysë.
The Bard frowned. "The Destroyer," began Gabrielle, her voice quiet and sad. "Would be part Dahak and possibly part Ares - after all, he was chosen to father the first of the Destroyers. The last one was very hard to kill. In fact, I don't think Xena killed him at all."
"What do you mean?" asked Melysë.
"I think he died of a broken heart when he killed his mother," said Gabrielle.
Suddenly, Melysë put out a hand, motioning the Bard for silence. The women stopped walking and Melysë listened carefully. The two women heard sounds of a battle. They ran towards the sounds.
"How did you - I didn't hear anything," said Gabrielle.
"Neither did I," said Melysë. "I felt it."
She had felt the disturbance in the earth under her feet and in the trees. Moments before, she had been wondering about her place in the world to come - now, as natural as breathing, the world, the earth itself had re-claimed her; she was as much a part of this earth and it of her as the very soil beneath her boots and Melysë would fight for that place for as long as she lived - which, if Hekate had her way, would be about forever.
They arrived at a clearing in the forest to see Michael battling Anaxilea. The warrior's eyes were flat and dead - they were like polished onyx with absolutely no light in them at all. The Unicorn was struggling in a rope snare. Gabrielle grabbed up a fallen limb and entered the fray. Michael grinned at her, then resumed fighting. Melysë ran up to the Unicorn and pulled the ceremonial dagger she always wore from her belt, slicing the ropes which tethered the magnificent creature. The unicorn ran deeper into the forest, escaping.
At the movement of the priestess behind her, Anaxilea turned and howled with rage.
"You will pay for that!" she said. Her voice sounded deep and somehow unnatural. She advanced upon the priestess, while Michael tried to get between them. Gabrielle shook her head at the swiftness Anaxilea displayed and simply called out to Melysë, tossing her the makeshift staff. Melysë caught it neatly, nodding her thanks to the bard.
"Come on then, and make me pay," said Melysë, her voice low as she took her stance. Anaxilea came at her with a speed Melysë knew couldn't be humanly possible. "So, you <are> the Destroyer!"
Anaxilea laughed. "No, not me - I am only the door through which they will arrive!" she said, lunging. By sheer luck and momentum, Melysë evaded the sword and came back with a swipe, knocking Anaxilea's feet out from under her. In one smooth motion, she was back on her feet, almost as if she had never fallen, but Melysë had managed to put a little distance between herself and her opponent while Michael circled, looking for a place to jump back in.
"Blessed Goddess!" said Melysë through gritted teeth as she barely avoided another swipe of Anaxilea's sword. "Where is Xena?"
Silently, the priestess berated herself for that thought - she must stand and fight her own battles - and this was one of them. She was still holding her own and again managed to put some space between herself and her opponent. <She's so damned fast> thought the priestess as again Anaxilea was again nearly on top of her. Suddenly, Melysë had an idea. Again she strove to distance herself from the Fury flinging the sword, but this time, she whispered a chant and made a swift gesture, effectively casting a spell which removed the supernatural speed with which her opponent moved. Now she could hold her off and breathe at the same time.
Michael managed to get closer. He moved between the combatants, motioning Melysë out of the way. The priestess nodded gratefully and stepped away from the battle. She walked over to where Gabrielle stood, tense and ready and handed the makeshift staff back to the Bard.
"Thanks," said the priestess. Gabrielle nodded, debating to herself whether or not to jump in. Suddenly, she was startled by two figures approaching the clearing.
"It can't be," she said, her voice a mere whisper. Melysë looked to see a man walking towards them.
"Gabrielle, who - ?" began Melysë.
"Perdicas ... but he's dead," said the Bard, tightening her grasp on her staff.
"Dead?" said Melysë, watching as the Bard approached her dead husband. The priestess looked up at the other figure approaching and saw a woman dressed in flowing robes, a sword in her hand.
"Where is Xena?" she said, looking around. Her piercing eyes caught Melysë in their glare and she pointed at the priestess with the sword. "Where is she?"
"Who are you?" asked Melysë, hands on her hips.
"I am Najara - and Xena and I have some very unfinished business," said the woman, smiling brightly. Melysë frowned at the woman. She could feel a pang of some unfamiliar emotion tugging at her - what "business" had her warrior left unfinished with this woman? Melysë recognised the emotion - jealousy; it was pouring off of this Najara like a foul scent, enveloping the priestess in a miasma of destructive power.
Resolutely, Melysë shook it off and looked anew at the stranger. "I don't know where Xena is right now - what do you need with her?" she asked.
"As I said, we have some unfinished business," said Najara, again with the creepy smile.
Xena wandered through the barren, grey landscape. She kicked at an errant stone, then squatted down, her chin in her hands, growling in frustration.
There was a flash of light and Hekate stood before her. Xena leapt to her feet, brandishing her sword.
"Back off, Hekate - I have the power to kill gods again!" said the warrior with a snarl.
Hekate shook her head sadly. "I gave you that power again, Xena - do you really think I would have done if you could kill <me> with it?" she said. "Besides, even if you could - and did - you would be trapped here forever."
Xena was silent for a moment, then nodded once, grudgingly acknowledging the truth of the goddess's words. "What do you want, Hekate?"
"What I want is for you to stop being so damn stubborn and look at the bigger picture - you used to do that without even thinking about it," said the goddess.
The warrior dropped her head, her shoulders slumped in defeat. "I let this get too personal, didn't I?" she said, quietly. "I lost my focus - I have never done that before. What's happening to me?"
"Only you can answer that, Xena," said Hekate, gently. "I really need you back in AemetzainL."
"Why?" said Xena, sitting on large rock. "I don't seem to be of much use anymore."
"Xena, stop this right now!" said Hekate, sternly. "Don't let him get to you this way!"
'Who?" asked the warrior.
"Dahak," said Hekate. "Already he begun to send the Destroyers against the Amazons."
"What!?" said the warrior, leaping to her feet once again.
"Yes," said the goddess. "Look."
The goddess swept one arm before Xena and a scene began to unfold before the warrior.
"Perdicas?" said Xena, quietly, frowning. "And Najara!?"
"Yes - remember, the Destroyers are insidious creatures without souls. That is not really Perdicas - it is in his image, but it is a Destroyer. Guilt," said the goddess.
"Oh, gods," said Xena, softly. "I think I understand now - the Destroyer - it isn't some ... monster that we can battle with swords or staffs, is it?"
"No," said Hekate, gently.
"And Najara ... ?"
"Jealousy," said the Goddess.
Xena watched as Perdicas grabbed Gabrielle by the arms and spoke intently with her, the Bard weeping silently, tears streaming from her eyes.
"That's not fair," said Gabrielle, quietly. "You said yourself that you weren't ready to marry me then, either."
"Then you should have never married me at all," said Perdicas, grabbing her arms roughly and squeezing so that the Bard knew there would be bruises there later. She suffered the pain, knowing that he was right; she deserved to let him hurt her this way - it was her fault he was dead, just as he said. If she had married him in the beginning as her parents wanted her to, if she had only stayed in Poteidaia and never followed Xena ... Gabrielle dropped her head and wept with remorse.
"Bastard!" said Xena, as she watched tears start to roll down Gabrielle's cheeks. "Why doesn't he take <me> on?"
"Xena, you have lived with guilt for so long - I will not say that you're numb to it, but you are more accustomed to handling it than Gabrielle," said Hekate.
"What the Hades is Najara saying to 'Lysë?" said Xena, her deep blue eyes narrowing as she watched Melysë fold her arms over her chest, her jaw tightening in a way that Xena knew so well.
"Melysë seems immune to Najara's power," said Hekate, her voice tinged with pride over the strength of her chosen. "Perhaps she has discovered the power behind the destroyers and is thus armed against them - or perhaps it is because this power is not intended to be used against her. Either way, Najara cannot touch her - see?"
Xena watched as Najara tried to attack the priestess and came up against an invisible barrier. Melysë stood watching, rolling her eyes as Najara shouted something Xena could not hear. Then she saw Najara turn and go towards Perdicas and Gabrielle.
"If Najara is supposed to be my opponent, can she hurt Gabrielle?" asked Xena, worriedly.
"I don't know," said Hekate, shaking her head.
"Well, would you mind sending me back now so we can find out and get this over with?" asked Xena, arms folded across her chest. Hekate nodded once and Xena found herself standing in the clearing with Melysë.
"What's going on, 'Lysë?" asked the warrior, quickly glancing around the clearing.
Melysë did not answer right away, but grabbed the warrior and held her very close for a moment. "Xena, be very careful here," she said, releasing her. "The Destroyers - "
"Yeah, I know," said the warrior, nodding once toward the bard and her tormentors. "They are 'soulless', alright - Dahak has taken all of the destructive emotions and raised the dead to embody them."
"Exactly," said the priestess, relieved at the warrior's quick understanding. "And with that knowledge, you should be able to defeat them - meanwhile ... "
Melysë's eyes travelled to where Anaxilea and Michael still battled.
"Stay out of that Melysë," said Xena, running over to where Gabrielle battled a double assault of guilt. The priestess frowned, watching her warrior run over to the confrontation, but suddenly felt a familiar, comforting presence.
"Hekate," said the priestess, turning to face the goddess. "What are you doing here?"
"Melysë, you must return to the Village - Lucina is in labour," said the goddess.
Melysë turned quickly back to the sound of swords clashing and saw that Xena now battled the woman called Najara. Michael and Anaxilea still fought as well, neither showing any signs of tiring or defeat.
"But - " she began.
"Child, there is nothing you can do here," said Hekate.
Melysë glanced back at the combatants, biting her lip worriedly, then nodded slowly.
"Of course, Mother," she said, running back to the Village.
The goddess watched her Chosen running back toward the village, then placed her attention grimly upon the battles taking place in the clearing.
Melysë ran back to the village and found Lucina in a birthing chamber within the House of Mothers. CyrenL and Hypsyple stood with her, crooning and coaxing. With a pang, Melysë remembered the birth of her youngest, now torn from her.
"Melysë, thank goodness," said CyrenL approaching. "She's incoherent and babbling something about Eli and her baby."
Melysë frowned and approached the girl.
"Lucina?" she said, softly. Lucina looked up at her and smiled.
"I'm glad you're here - will you please protect him?" she said, softly.
"Of course," said the priestess, soothingly. Lucina grabbed both of Melysë's shoulders tightly, lifting herself partway off of the bed and looked intently into her dark green eyes. With a sigh, the younger woman let go and lay back down.
"I'm sorry," said Lucina. "I know that you will - you can't help it - that is who you are."
"What ... what do you mean?" asked Melysë, grabbing a damp cloth from the table beside the birthing chair and gently dabbing Lucina's brow.
"Just ... you are an Amazon," said Lucina. "Amazons protect those who can't protect themselves. That's what you do. That's what Xena and Gabrielle do - are doing, even now."
Melysë nodded, slowly as Lucina's breathing quieted and the priestess knew that she was resting. "It won't be long now," said Melysë, rising.
"Where is Xena?" asked CyrenL.
"Fighting," Melysë replied with a shrug.
"She should be here," said CyrenL disapprovingly.
"Tanti," began Melysë. "Both Xena and Gabrielle are fighting for this child's life - besides, Lucina has you - and me - "
"And me." Melysë was startled by the voice. She turned and saw Eve entering the birthing chamber.
"What are you doing here?" asked the priestess, her dark green eyes narrowed, arms crossed over her chest as she stepped in front of Lucina defensively.
"I'm here for my daughter," said Eve. "I'm her mother - I have the right."
"Aside from the fact that you were exiled from Amazon Lands as punishment for your treachery," said Hypsyple, quietly.
Eve looked defiant. "I have done my penance for that," she said.
Melysë looked at her suspiciously. "Maybe you have," said the priestess. "And you do have the right to be here with your daughter at this time. I would give you immunity until this child is born, if only ..."
"If only what?" asked Eve.
"How did you get here?" asked the priestess. "And how did you know when to come here?"
Melysë looked intently into Eve's eyes and saw terror.
"I ... just ... did," said Eve.
"That's not a good enough explanation," said Melysë. "Who brought you here and why?"
There was a flash of light. "I did, Sis'," said Ares.
Melysë eyed the god of war, suspiciously. "Why?" she asked.
"Hey, what can I say?" said Ares with a shrug. "This is my grandchild - and hers. She should be here. You taught me the family thing, Sis' - remember?"
"Yeah, I guess I do remember," said Melysë, softly. "Very well, but Ares you can't be here, you know."
Ares looked quickly at Lucina, then shuddered. "Ah, that's okay - I'm gone," he said, stepping away in preparation to leave, but he hesitated, watching as Eve approached their daughter.
"Mother," Lucina whispered.
"I'm here, Luce," said Eve, smiling. Her face was transformed. Melysë smiled herself and stepped back a bit. Eve lowered her veils, tentatively. She closed her eyes briefly. Blessed silence, thought Eve.
"Don't worry," Melysë whispered. "He can't get to you here."
Eve started. "I don't know what you're talking about," she said.
"That other voice is Dahak," said Melysë. "He's busy elsewhere at the moment."
"That's insane," said Eve, angrily. "You think I wouldn't know an evil voice if it spoke to me?"
"No," said Melysë, shortly, turning away from Eve to tend Lucina. "I don't think you would."
Ares restrained Eve, whose blue eyes narrowed as she started towards the priestess. "Now, now - can't have you losing sight of all those ... peaceful, loving ideals, can we?" he murmured so only Eve could hear him. "One false move, Eve, and I can pop you right back where I got you - understand?"
Eve glared at the god, but nodded once. She stepped forward once again, deliberately brushing past Melysë. With a sigh, the priestess took Eve's arm and firmly pulled her aside, away from Lucina.
"Look Eve, this is my realm - here I am in charge," said Melysë, reining in her animosity towards her warrior's daughter.
"I am Lucina's mother," said Eve again.
"Keep saying it - maybe it will help you get over what you did to her," said Melysë.
"Look, I'm here, aren't I?" said Eve.
Melysë looked carefully at the other woman and saw the fear in her eyes. Suddenly, the priestess's heart softened towards Eve. She had swallowed her pride to ask Ares a favour and had braved execution by coming among the Amazons after she had been exiled for terrible crimes against the Amazon Nation.
"Look, let's just call a truce, okay?" said the priestess, smiling at Eve. Eve nodded, still a little uncertain. Melysë put one arm lightly around her shoulders and guided her back to her daughter.
"Son of a Bacchae!" the warrior said with a growl. Najara cocked her head and simpered at the warrior.
"What's the matter, Xena?" she asked. "Someone else have Gabrielle's attention?"
"Shut up, Najara," said Xena.
"Oooh, no, I don't think so," said Najara, her smile brightening further. "Remember, she's your weakness."
"One of many, Najara," said Xena, twirling her sword, waiting for Najara to strike. "And Gabrielle can take care of herself - it took me a long time to learn that, but now ..."
Xena moved in swiftly, attacking without hesitation.
Perdicas was attacking the Bard with his words even as Najara attacked the Warrior with a sword.
"Why, Gabrielle? Why couldn't you just do what you were supposed to do? None of this mess would have ever happened if you had just acted the way a normal girl did," said Perdicas.
"Normal?" said Gabrielle, looking up at him. "When was I ever normal? You wouldn't have liked me if I had been normal."
"I would be alive," said Perdicas, solemnly.
"Yeah? Would you still be a jerk, too?" said Gabrielle, growing angry.
"Gabrielle, what are you saying?" asked Perdicas, his eyes welling with tears.
"Oh, stop it - the Perdicas I knew would never ..." the Bard's annoyed words trailed off. "The Perdicas I knew - you're not Perdicas!"
"Very good, Gabrielle," came a sinister purr as Perdicas metamorphosed into a beautiful blonde warrior. She threw back her head and screamed in laughter.
"Callisto!" said Gabrielle, eyes narrowing in hatred. Xena whipped around, suffering a blow from Najara in the process.
"So Gabrielle is no longer a distraction to you, hm, Xena?" said the zealot with a sweet smile.
"I don't have time for <you> ," said Xena, fighting Najara in earnest, beating her back
"What's wrong Najara - the Djinn talking to you, distracting you?" The warrior chuckled coldly. "Or is Dahak your puppet-master now?"
Najara stopped fighting and her eyes narrowed in a glare. Suddenly, Xena found herself looking at an older enemy than the zealot.
"Ming-Tien," she said. He threw back his head and laughed, his body growing and transforming until he was a great green dragon, towering over the trees. Xena stared up at the monster who was breathing smoke. She heard Lao Ma, her mentor and mother to the monster before her, in her mind.
"Make him small again, Xena."
"I can't," said the warrior through clenched teeth. "I don't know how." She glanced quickly over to Gabrielle, who was staring down, of all people, Callisto. The warrior was worried. Perdicas, she knew, would probably never harm Gabrielle. Callisto was another matter. Could Gabrielle hold her own? Xena doubted it. Gabrielle had certainly grown into a competent warrior in her own right over the years, but it took more than competence to defeat Callisto. It took skill and ...
Xena looked up at the dragon, searing the treetops, again and was torn. She had been wanting to slay a dragon for years now, ever since the Mage War in Themiscyreia when Romy was a baby. Yet she knew that Gabrielle couldn't handle Callisto. The only thing she had to decide was who/what to kill first ...
"Now who needs to be made small?" Xena whirled around, momentarily turning her back on the dragon and Callisto.
"Ares," she said.
"Come on Xena, what are you going to do?" asked the god, arms folded over his chest. "Tough decision, I know - do you become Dragon-slayer or do you save your friend? Shouldn't be that difficult for a warrior of your stature to do both, though, right? In the meantime, though, I thought you should know that your great-grandson has been born."
"What?" said Xena.
"Yep - Eve is here, too," said Ares. "Well, she was, but the truth is she grabbed the baby and ran."
"What!?" Xena cried, advancing on the god. "Why didn't you stop her?"
"Well, I was a little busy at the time," said Ares, turning his arm to show a bloody bandage. "Anaxilea showed up."