Disclaimers: For full disclaimers, see Part 1.
I wish to acknowledge a wonderful website, The Amazon Connection at: http://www.ifi.uio.no/~thomas/lists/amazon-connection.html It has a host of links to several great sites on Amazons, both past and present, fictional and real.
XIV. GABRIELLE'S SCROLL ENTRY
I didn't know what to expect when I saw Callisto for the first time since she was sentenced in the Forum for abducting me, but I hardly anticipated the appearance of the woman standing before me in that smelly slave dungeon that the Romans call the gladiators' dormitorium. The months in captivity as an enslaved sport killer had produced a woman who was still lean, but who was fit and solid and had acquired a deep tan and a few choice scars about her neck and arms. Her hair was shorn, its once sun blond color almost white. The contrast between her nearly blinding hair and darkened skin made her both striking and menacing looking at the same time. The sinister charm was still present, however.
Callisto had proposed to Xena that she, as well as my Northern Amazon Sisters, our female friends and I fight her and the Mesopotamian Amazon gladiators in the Colosseum. Of course Callisto would do that. However, I was amazed at Xena's response when the enslaved Amazons' leader, Aster Zemarian, after being offered freedom by Xena, endorsed Callisto's suggestion instead. For a single moment, Xena looked at me. I saw so many emotions in her eyes in that moment. Turning back to Aster, Xena simply said, "I'll think about it."
"How soon will we have an answer, Babania Conqueror?" Aster asked.
Xena's eyebrow rose at the strange honorific, if in fact that is what it was. "I'd like to meet your Sister gladiators first."
Nodding her acquiescence, Aster stepped into their dormitorium chamber and quickly emerged with six Mesopotamian Amazons. It was obvious to me that Xena was studying each of them as they stepped out of the room. "I like the odds," she finally said to Aster.
Aster chuckled. "Si, Babania," she said. "Me too."
"I presume that you blame me for your current predicament, Aster," Xena said. "Although I wasn't the one who personally enslaved you, ultimately, the burden falls on my shoulders. I totally understand your desire for vengeance."
Aster smiled. "Ira furor brevis est et fortes fortuna adjuvat," she said in Latin. Anger is brief insanity and fortune favors the brave. "No vengeance, Babania. I am very proud of mi borgata, mi familia. This is good, la cosa nostra."
"La cosa nostra?" Xena asked.
"This thing of ours," Aster replied.
Xena nodded. "You'll have my answer in an hour," she declared before leading us out of the dormitorium.
We returned to the royal viewing vault to discuss our options. The vault was a location in the Colosseum where Octavius and his patrician cronies would sit to observe the games. "Well," Xena started, "there's eight of them and eight of us. We couldn't get better odds."
I didn't say anything at the time, but made a mental note to mention to Xena later that there were actually nine of us.
"Do you actually assume that we're going to fight our Amazon Sisters to the death, Conqueror?" Amarice asked angrily.
"There doesn't appear to be any hesitation on their part to fight you to the death," Xena responded.
The often-boisterous Amarice lowered her eyes and stood back as Charicleia, the eldest of our Amazon friends, came forward. "We're talking as if we've been presented with an offer that we can't refuse," she said. "I heard no such offer, Conqueror."
"It was more than an offer, Charicleia," Xena stated. "It was a challenge. So yes, we have to accept it or reject it."
At that moment, Palaemon stepped up. "Well, we can't reject it, my Liege," he proclaimed. "If we do, the entire Realm will come across as weak and cowardly. That's exactly what Callisto wants, and many of the Romans as well. You know how they think, Majesty. We Greeks fear blood, they say. We're feeble for not adopting this blood sport on Greek soil."
Charicleia shot Palaemon a dirty look while Amarice fired back, "Sure, you can say that, Commander. No one's expecting you to fight to the death."
"Oh, please," Palaemon returned condescendingly. "Like I never had to fight for my life before."
An argument between Palaemon, Marius and the Amazons quickly ensued. Xena grabbed Palaemon and Amarice's shoulders, effectively silencing them. Xena looked at Stanislas and Hadiya, who, along with Bahri, had been silent up to that point.
"Are you willing to fight?" Xena asked them.
The Parisii couple looked at each other and then at Bahri. "To preserve the honor of the Realm, yes, Conqueror, we'll fight," Hadiya announced. "Stanislas and I only ask that we not combat the leader, Aster Zemarian."
Amarice folded her arms. "Why?" she asked haughtily. "You two scared of her or something?"
Before either woman could answer, Xena was practically in Amarice's face. "You need to watch your smart-ass tongue, girl," she warned before looking at the couple. "These women have faced death more times than you can fucking count."
I stepped between Xena and Amarice. "Aster killed Niall of Calleva, Amarice," I said. "I suspect that they don't want to kill the woman who executed their most reviled enemy." I looked over at the two Parisii women, both of whom acknowledged my comment by nodding.
"So who's going to fight her, my Liege?" Palaemon asked. "Who's going to fight Aster Zemarian?"
"I'd love to, but I'm going to be too busy fighting Callisto," Xena said before looking skyward, pondering. "I could fight them both," she said to herself.
"No you won't!" I shot.
"I'm the eldest of the Amazons here," Charicleia announced. "I'll fight her."
"Oh no you won't!" Bahri shot. The intensity of the moment and the anticipation of what might come were obviously creating a high level of anxiety on our group. Another argument ensued. Frustrated, Xena threw up her arms. "Silence, all of you!" she exclaimed before quickly calming down. "Back to the palace, everyone."
"And do what?" Palaemon asked.
"Prepare, pray, I don't care," Xena responded. "Gabrielle and I need to think this thing through with just each other."
Palaemon nodded and gently touched Xena's shoulders before exiting the vault. Marius lowered his eyes and followed Palaemon. I'm sure that he was blaming himself for ultimately being responsible for our current predicament with Callisto. As Xena nodded to her loyal Guardsmen, Stanislas, Hadiya and Bahri, I grabbed each of the hands of my Sisters, one by one, as they left the vault. Escritt's hand was the last one that I touched. "Whatever you decide, my Princess," she said, "I'm with you."
After everyone was gone, my body collapsed into a chair. My heart felt as though it had sunk to my stomach. I was frightened.
"This is a bad situation, Xena," I said.
Xena sat next to me and took my hand into hers. "Yes, it is," she said as she turned her body to face me. "What do you think we should do, Gabrielle? What does your heart tell you?"
"What does your head tell you, Xena?"
I looked into her magnificent blue eyes. "My heart tells me to leave Rome, you and I, and go away, far away, and forget all of this insanity."
Xena looked at our clasping hands. "But that's not what my head is telling me, Xena," I continued. "Callisto cannot be freed. She's too dangerous."
Xena looked back up at me. "It's freedom or death, Gabrielle," she stated. "Are you prepared to accept that reality?"
I didn't immediately answer. I wasn't thinking about Callisto's death. I was thinking about Xena's. "Xena," I finally spoke up, "you said that there were eight of them and eight of us."
"Yes," she responded.
"Who are you not counting? Me?"
"Yes," she answered, "but not for the reason you think. Like I said, it's freedom or death... and you're not a killer. In the Colosseum, Gabrielle, even if you win, you lose."
"Don't you think that I should make that choice?" I asked.
Xena thought for a moment. "Bahri, Hadiya and Stanislas are willing to fight. Who of your four Amazon Sisters, all of whom have killed before, will you ask to sit back and watch as you fight to the death in their place?"
Xena had a point. "So, what do you suggest I do?"
At this point, Xena became unusually enlivened, turned her full body toward me and tightened her grasp on my hands. "I have a plan, Gabrielle," she said. "I have a plan that could possibly spare some, if not all, of your Sisters... Charicleia, your Steppe Amazon Sisters and the Mesopotamian Amazons."
"What is it, Xena?"
"As my Consort, you share my level of power," she started. "Your authority outranks that of my top military commanders, my city magistrates, my provincial governors. You outrank everyone, Gabrielle. Palaemon, Marius, Octavius."
"But Xena..." was all that I was able to get out before Xena continued.
"From this seat in this royal vault, you have the power of life and death. You have the authority to say when each bout ends."
"I don't understand... authority to end a fight?"
"Yes," Xena explained. "When two gladiators are fighting, and one has gotten the upper hand, but both are still alive, the highest ranking official in the Colosseum can order either the death or mercy of the losing fighter. You do that by a simple gesture with your thumb. Raise your thumb and the winning gladiator must spare the downed gladiator. Point your thumb downward and the winning gladiator is given the order to end the other gladiator's life." Xena smiled. "See?"
I pulled my hands out of her grasp and looked away from her. "It's a nice idea in theory, Xena," I said. "But if there's one thing that I've learned from watching people fight, it's that it rarely ever comes down to one person standing over another waiting for someone else to give the order to kill or spare." I looked back at her. "I have watched you kill ten men in the blink of an eye, Xena. Our friends have killed and the Mesopotamian Amazons are obviously effective killers as well."
"But Gabrielle..." Xena spoke up before I interrupted her.
"I know that this isn't a battlefield," I said, "but nonetheless, women are going to die today, Xena. That is my reality."
At that point, Xena grabbed my shoulders. "Don't ever underestimate your power, Gabrielle," she said. "And I'm not just talking about your 'label' as my Consort. Your original goal was to save these women gladiators... to save their lives and their souls. Your power is absolute. Use it. You could reach them. Show them compassion. You could save them... like you saved me."
She released my shoulders and stood, looking down at the huge arena below. My eyes began to well. "Xena, I don't want to lose you, not now. Not tonight."
I placed my fingers on her lips, silencing her. "I know, Xena," I said. "I know how good you are at dispatching death. Just, just be careful, please."
I lowered my head for a brief moment before Xena placed her fingers under my chin to raise it. We looked into each other's eyes before closing in for a long and wonderful kiss. Breaking it, we embraced each other tightly. "I love you, Xena," I said.
"I love you too, Gabrielle," she responded. "So much."
As the afternoon sun's glare moved beyond the ground of the Colosseum, the arena filled up fast with patrons. Our friends returned, outfitted as Secutor gladiators. Each Secutor wore a breastplate and a helmet with a fish crest, and each carried a shield and wielded a large sword. Palaemon, Marius and Octavius accompanied them. Xena looked over the women. "Who has decided to fight Aster Zemarian?" she asked.
"I have," responded a woman's voice behind a helmet. It was Escritt.
"And why you?" Xena asked.
"Because I'm the strongest."
"You all look ready for contest," Xena said, always willing to rally the troops. "This isn't a typical battle for any of you, but you'll have a powerful ally watching over you and your opponents as you combat." She looked over at me. "Gabrielle will oversee the games. If I should perish today, who better than her to take my place as Ruler of the Realm."
I had never once thought about that.
We still don't yet know what drives these Amazon," Xena continued, "so be careful and diligent. Most importantly, honor, super omnia." Honor, above all.
A brief silence followed. "So, my Liege," Bahri spoke up, "will you be donning this ridiculous get-up as well?"
"I don't need a helmet," Xena replied before turning to me. "So, Lady Gabrielle, how shall we do this?"
Having never observed a gladiatorial combat, I spoke before my mind had a chance to process what I was about to say. "The fights will be one at a time. Xena the Conqueror fights last."
"Sounds good to me," Xena responded.
The Colosseum was at capacity when Claudius Mauritius Porcius, one of the managers and profiteers of the gladiators, stood to announce the first contest.
"Good citizens and subjects of the Realm of Xena the Conqueror, I bid you greetings," he started. "Today, a contest for the history annals. Today, our illustrious Ruler, Xena the Conqueror, the great and powerful Warrior Princess, and a carefully chosen group of Amazones and elite Femella Imperial Guard, will fight the greatest ever of women gladiators of our time... The Great Sicilian Seven, Viragones Infernae, and Callisto of Cirra, Femine Graecia Equitis."
Porcius looked over to where I was sitting in the royal viewing vault. Octavius and his wife, Livia, sat with Palaemon, as well as Marius and me. There was an uncomfortable silence until Palaemon leaned over to me. "He's waiting for you to give the go-ahead for the first fight," he whispered.
And how was I supposed to know that? I thought. "What do I do?" I asked.
"Just wave your arm or something," Palaemon answered.
I conjured up the most "royal" gesture with my hand. Porcius nodded and introduced the first contestants.
"First to fight," he started, "From Britannia, a proud Indomita of the Parisii Tribe, Imperial Guard Stanislas the Secutor. Her opponent, the Sicilian Gladiator, Berenice Ptolemy the Retiarius."
Stanislas entered the arena from the west, Berenice from the right. As a Retiarius, Berenice was fitted with just enough garments to cover her breasts and hips. Her weapons were a net and a trident lance. She wore no helmet. I leaned over to Palaemon. "This isn't fair," I said. Stanislas is clearly more protected than the Mesopotamian."
"Sorry, Gabrielle," he responded. "That's just the way the Romans have these fights conducted."
From where I could observe, Stanislas seemed to dislike the arrangement as well, for just as the Amazon Berenice took the attack position, Stanislas motioned to her to stand down before putting down her weapons and removing her helmet and breastplate. She then picked up her weapons and nodded to Berenice, indicating that she was ready to fight. There were gasps from many in the audience.
The two women were an even match. Although slightly shorter than Stanislas, Berenice was slender, firm and graceful as she wielded her net and lance. After many moments of intense fighting, she also succeeded in drawing first blood, poking her lance into the edge of Stanislas' right thigh. The crowd cheered. The Parisii warrior winced in pain only momentarily before slicing her sword across Berenice's chest. The crowd cheered louder. As she started to bleed, Berenice attempted to throw her net over Stanislas. When she missed, Stanislas saw it as an opportunity to ground her. Using her shield, Stanislas pushed Berenice until she lost her footing and fell. The crowd was ecstatic. As Berenice lay on the ground, bleeding profusely from her chest, Stanislas threw down her shield and, taking her sword, hoisted it up in the position where she could easily impale Berenice. She then looked at me.
"This is where you get to spare or condemn the Sicilian, Lady Gabrielle," Governor Octavius advised.
Although the majority of the people in the Colosseum were cheering and frantically pointing their thumbs in the downward condemn indication, I stood and quickly raised my thumb skyward. Stanislas then lowered her sword and helped Berenice to her feet. The crowd was not happy with my decision and began moaning and cackling. I didn't care. Stanislas survived and an Amazon was spared.
Two gladiator guards carried the injured Berenice to her companions as Stanislas limped back to where Xena and the others awaited their turns. The next two contenders then entered the arena.
Porcius announced the second fight. "Second to fight, from the vast forests of the Carpathian steppes, an Amazon Warrior, Amarice the Secutor. Her opponent, the Sicilian Gladiator, Pella-Onava Ptolemy the Retiarius."
Amarice had removed her helmet and breastplate prior to entering the Colosseum. A young woman of no more than 18 years, Amarice looked like a mere child in the presence of the older, larger, battle-worn Pella-Onava. My heart started racing.
"Why does this Amazon have three names?" Palaemon asked me as the two women began fighting.
"Mesopotamian Amazons with two given first names were raised by two Amazons," I responded. "The birth mother and her chosen life companion. The third name is from their paternal line." Moments later, Pella-Onava impaled Amarice's arm with her lance. I stood to signal to the Mesopotamian to spare Amarice, but in all of the noise and chaos of the crowd, she didn't bother to look my way. As Amarice gripped her arm and went down on her knees, Pella-Onava kicked her in her face. At this point, I instantly climbed up and braced myself on the banister. Raising my thumb up, I began yelling, "Pella-Onava, SPARE HER!!" Although my commands were drowned out by the cheering Roman audience, Pella-Onava could clearly see me. After Amarice landed with her back to the ground, the Mesopotamian rather casually threw her net over Amarice, looked up and smiled at me, and then gutted her in the abdomen. I began screaming, "NO!" when I saw another person run out onto the arena. It was Darda.
Darda attempted to strike Pella-Onava with her sword, but the murderous Mesopotamian, using the staff of her lance, was able to knock Darda's sword out of her hand. Darda stood dumbfounded for a single moment before Pella-Onava punched her with enough force to cause Darda to land on the ground. As she raised her lance to impale her, I decided that I was done standing around watching my young Northern Amazon Sisters die needlessly. Looking at Octavius, I said, "On your feet and get your thumb in the air," before I barreled out of that vault and headed down to the arena ground.
I ran as fast as I could to where Xena and my friends were. I couldn't see what was going on down in the arena, nor did I know at the time that Palaemon was following me. It took me several moments to get down there, as I had to maneuver my way around a crowd of maniacal Roman patrons. When I got there, several gladiator guards were removing three bodies from the arena. Two were brought toward me. The other was taken in the direction of Callisto and the Mesopotamians. One woman remained standing in the center of the arena, covered in blood. It was Escritt.
Just as I noticed my young Sister standing alone out there, strong hands grabbed the backs of my shoulders and flung me around.
"What are you doing here, Gabrielle?" It was Xena.
"I came to help my Sisters!" I was angry, overcome, confused.
"There's nothing you can do down here," she said.
"There's nothing I can do up there either, apparently."
"I need to help these two," Xena said as she rushed over to Amarice and Darda. Xena's skills as a healer continued to amaze me as she quickly assessed their state of health and began treating them. I stood there for a moment, fighting back tears, until something inside of me brought my healing instincts to the fore. I joined Xena. "Amarice has lost too much blood, Gabrielle," she said. "But Escritt got to that Ptolemy before she was able to do irreparable damage to Darda."
As I began applying pressure to an unconscious Darda's wound, I looked up and over at Escritt, whom was still standing out in the Colosseum alone listening to the disgusting applause of the crowd. "Is she okay, Xena?"
"Yes," Xena replied. "That's the Sicilian's blood. Escritt ran out there and decapitated her in a rage before the guards could do it."
At that moment, Escritt turned and ran toward us as Porcius announced the next fight. His announcement was rather muffled from where we were situated, but I heard the names clearly. Bahri was scheduled to fight one Nicaea-Rhada Samyah. Xena and I were still tending to Darda. Escritt knelt next to Amarice and grabbed her hand. Although Charicleia, Stanislas and Hadiya were each tending to Amarice, all three knew that she would be crossing over soon. They were trying to make her as comfortable as possible. As much as I wanted to be with Amarice, I was worried about my dear friend Bahri.
"Xena, I'll tend to Darda," I said. "Please keep an eye on Bahri. Don't let this happen to her."
Xena kissed my forehead. "Yes, my darling," she said as she stood and walked over to the passageway entrance to the arena ground. Moments later, I heard the quiet weeping of Escritt and Charicleia. Amarice stopped breathing. I began weeping as well.
Out on the Colosseum ground, Bahri was fighting the Mesopotamian Amazon for what seemed like an eternity. Once I had Darda stable, I motioned for Stanislas to tend to her while I joined Xena in observing Bahri's fight. Charicleia and Hadiya were watching as well.
"They're both getting tired," Xena announced. Nicaea-Rhada was about Bahri's height and size. She was older, as I suspect that all of the Amazon gladiators were at least in their early thirties. Her short tightly coiled hair was speckled with gray, her skin was a light tanned complexion, and her facial features were a combination of Far East and African origins. She and Bahri looked as though they could be cousins.
Where they both were lacking in physical agility, because of fatigue, they both made up for in verbal dexterity. Both women began taunting each other.
"Come on, you murderous bitch," Bahri said. "Show me what you got."
"A fa Tartarus, stunade," Nicaea-Rhada replied. "Sta ta zi."
"I have no idea what you're saying, but you can kiss my Egyptian ass."
"I say to you, go to Tartarus... rot there, you idiot. You talk too much."
"You don't like it?" Bahri taunted.
"Come do something about it," Bahri goaded, continuing in Latin, "Quis aliqui illius volet?" Who wants some of this? At that moment, Bahri began thumbing her nose at the Sicilian. This seemed to enrage the woman, who took the staff of her lance and swung it at Bahri's head. Bahri ducked, barely missed being struck, and was likewise immediately enraged. "You fucking bitch!" she yelled as she actually threw down her weapons and charged Nicaea-Rhada, tackling her to the ground. The impact of Bahri's body caused the Sicilian to drop both her net and lance. As she landed hard on her back, Bahri straddled her and began punching her in her face.
"I'm calling this fight," I said to Xena and began stepping out on the arena ground to raise my thumb when I saw three Mesopotamian Amazons charging toward Bahri. Passing me from behind, Charicleia, Hadiya and Xena.
"Bahri, get Gabrielle to safety!" I heard Xena yell as she began fighting one of the three women. A very tired Bahri stumbled over to me. I took her arm and guided her back to the safety of the passageway where Palaemon awaited us. As I walked toward that entrance, I kept looking back at Xena and the others. This was no longer a contest. These women were at war with each other.
When I reached the entrance, I watched in horror as six women fought as though they were bitter enemies. A seventh emerged as Nicaea-Rhada slowly stood, grabbed her lance and attempted to attack Xena from behind. "XENA, LOOK OUT!" I yelled as Xena quickly turned, knocked the lance out of the Sicilian's hand and then kicked her. She flew several lengths before landing and rolling over. I couldn't tell if she was unconscious or dead.
The fighting didn't last long. Xena and the others either killed or seriously injured their Mesopotamian opponents, who were carried out by the guards. Charicleia suffered two minor stab wounds and Hadiya's shoulder was dislocated. They gave their swords to Xena before escorting each other back to where we were. Xena remained in the arena, taking in the cathartic cheers of her Roman subjects. The Conqueror was emerging, ready for her next conquest. Placing the two swords at her feet, she pointed her own sword skyward as the crowd chanted "Virago Principessa"... Warrior Princess... over and over again. Smiling that evil smile, the Destroyer of Nations then pointed her sword toward the entranceway where the two remaining gladiators, Aster Zemarian and Callisto awaited. She then looked in our direction. Escritt, sensing that this was her cue, ran out onto the arena ground and stood next to the Conqueror. She turned and looked at me for a single moment before turning away and facing her enemy, Callisto, as she and Aster made their way onto the arena ground.
The Conqueror and Escritt faced Callisto and Aster. "Lose the lances," she said to the two women as she picked up Charicleia and Hadiya's swords. "Take these."
Callisto was smiling ear to ear as she threw down her net and lance and took the sword. Aster looked likewise content. For her part, Escritt threw her shield to the ground.
"You ready to die, Callisto?" Xena said.
"Are you, my darling?" Callisto replied.
"Always and never," Xena stated as she raised her sword to Callisto. The two women fought like they were on a mission. It was painful to watch, partially because I sensed that both women were actually enjoying what they were doing. It was obvious that months of fighting as a gladiator had created in Callisto a formidable opponent. Her skills seemed to almost match those of Xena. For her part, the Conqueror seemed to welcome the challenge. Xena the Conqueror has a dangerous dark side, but I was quickly learning that that dark side was necessary sometimes. It has saved her life on more than one occasion and, I must admit, it has saved my life as well.
As I was intently watching Xena and Callisto fight, I didn't immediately notice that Aster had sliced her sword across Escritt's midsection. As the mighty Northern Amazon went down, Aster swung her sword in an effort to decapitate her. Escritt was able to block the blow with her sword, but she was growing weaker from her injury. She was powerless to deflect Aster's next assault as the Mesopotamian gladiator took the butt of her sword and struck Escritt in the face. Rendering the Northern Amazon unconscious, Aster turned to Xena, who had her back to Aster. She raised her sword. At that moment, I ran out onto the arena ground, quickly grabbed one of the lances and charged after Aster.
"Xena, look out!" I yelled.
Xena turned to me. "Gabrielle, NO!!!"
Continued in Part 15...
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