In light of what has gone before
(Come as you are)
by Branwyn of Llewelynn
Disclaimer... 2, 3, Not mine, no monetary gain. The Gods belong to uh, the Gods. Rhiannon, Vivian, Eanfled, Eilan, Gwydion and Lizzeah are mine. Sex, well, if you can't stand the thought of two women kissing, touching and licking each other's erogenous zones click away now. Violence, some, but mostly defense. It's a good idea to read part 1 and 2 of this tale, coz then this one just might make more senseJ The story is copyrighted to B-Bard4sure. August 2002.
Feedback is the fuel we bards need to keep on keepin' on, so let me in on what you think, feel about the tale at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Author's note: I have let myself be inspired by Marion Bradley's Avalon Trilogy, but during the course of writing, personal idea's have sprung to mind about what female druids would be up to when Brittain was under siege by the Romans. I gladly claim Avalon in this and the next two parts of the story as mine. I still thank Bradley for the inspiration though. This story (from part 1) would be happening before Lady of Avalon, around 61 BC.
My thanks go to Sam Ruskin, Enoon Erehwon, HkdonXetG, aka Jane, my cyber Sheila and Zuke, brilliant bard and beta reader, for their advice, idea's, patience and friendship! You rock guys.
Here are the links to p1&2:
Oh Avalon, my Amazon
Within the realm of flying
Divide and council
At the far end of the conference hall of the Greek Amazon village, five Amazons were arguing by candlelight until deep in the night. The rough but sturdy comfort of the hall holds five chaotically chattering Amazons.
"Ladies please. We are talking in circles here. Let's walk it through from the top once more so we are all clear on what we think." Gabrielle eyed her sisters' faces one by one. She was sensing that her subjects and friends were not all together in consensus about how to deal with Velasca's loyalists. She wasn't quite sure what to do herself. "If we can't reach an agreement on what tactics to follow, how are we supposed to keep the nation united?" What would Xena do?
"Good point my Queen," Solari agreed. "But how will it come across when Ephiny takes her leave in the middle of it all? Won't it look strange when she's not here for Summer Solstice, among other events?" The Amazon's voice was hard and demanding as she gave the Regent a nudge with her boot, under the cypress long-table.
Ephiny opened her mouth to speak and closed it again. The frown on her forehead deepened. I think I'll wake these ladies up after they've all said their two dinars... again. Gods I wish Melosa was here. This 'miscussion' is going nowhere.
"I don't think we've decided on that question yet," Eponin said in a slightly bored tone, picking at the stitches of her worn scabbard.
Looking at Eponin, Ephiny's face flushed red with anger and her clenching fists traveled up to rest on her hips. Hey, I expected more of you.
Lizzeah stood, slamming her hand on the table. "That's obviously out of the question. The Regent is needed here now more than ever and would never desert her Queen and sisters at a time like this." She stated her claim loudly, gazing at her oldest and best friend grimly before hiding her face behind thick, long, black hair.
"Mind your tone and place woman," Gabrielle hissed at the Mistress of Ceremonies. "Let Ephiny speak her mind before you make it up for her."
Queen and Mistress stared at each other and the tension in the hall grew to an almost tangible level. Lizzeah sat down when she saw that Ephiny was on the brink of exploding and her Queen wasn't far from reaching boiling point either.
"Just sit down the lot of you and I will make matters very clear for everyone," Ephiny said and only managed to keep the anger out of her voice by breathing deeply and controlled. "Queen Gabrielle." The curly blonde focused on her friend's gentle but worried face and continued. " I will first go and fetch some documents from my quarters. I need them to clarify a few laws that will back up a proposal we could vote on, as this Council is set up to do." Ephiny paused for a moment, looking at her sisters, one pair of claiming eyes after another. "If I may speak freely, the way we are approaching the situation is far too personal."
"Agreed" The Bard nodded and sat down with a sigh. "While you're gone, the rest of us have some time to temper those personal emotions and think more clearly." The Queen nodded at Ephiny, who immediately set off towards the door.
"Wake up, Rhiannon." A sharp slap of skin on skin followed the elf's crying plea.
"Please, wake up. I can't do this alone. We need to pay someone a visit lass." The Ancient was leaning over the unconscious woman and stroked her face. She finished making a bed of fern leaves at the edge of the stream and now wondered how to get the warrior there. The first task had already cost her more energy than she could afford to lose and she hated hurting the plants. "I suppose the cause is just." She said to the surrounding trees and cringed despite herself.
Rhiannon stirred and mumbled something incomprehensible. Her body shivered as one of her arms moved to block the elf's hand before it hit her cheek a second time.
"Good girl, come back to me. That's it." The elf cupped a few large leaves filled with water close to the Celt's lips as the woman came round.
Rhiannon drank eagerly while holding on to the elf's arm for balance. It felt like the ground could collapse from under her at any time and her head ached as if an ox and cart had run her over.
"You're still here?" Rhiannon croaked.
"Of course I am silly," The elf said, smiling and sniffing back a few tears. "I need you. Where did you go anyway?" Green fingers twirled with the Celt's red, sweat- soaked braids and green eyes met.
Rhiannon rolled her head and tried to move a little. Leaning on her elbows, she took a deep breath and another swig of water from the stream. Splashing the remainder of water over her face and unfastening the pin of her cloak she said, "This passing out thing is becoming annoying."
The confused and drained look on the elf's face told Rhiannon that time was running out. The elf could not sustain herself much longer. With a moan she sat up and took the ancient's hands in hers.
"You know where I was but I'll tell you." Rhiannon took a deep breath, stretched her neck one more time and continued. "I went to Avalon, Erie, Atlantis, Lemuria, Mother's house and all these places more than once and not in the same order or this time space." A shaky sigh escaped the woman's mouth. "I can remember again, but I'm scared." The last two words came out in a hoarse whisper, as if she was afraid to admit it even to herself.
"I know you are lass. So am I, but I have to take you... somewhere." Unable to control her body and suppress similar emotions, the elf threw herself into the Celt's arms shivering and hid her tears. "I'm nothing without you. Don't leave me."
Rhiannon chuckled blandly and cleared her throat. "Well, aren't we the tuff dark-elf and seasoned warrior all of a sudden. We know who we are now, but not what we are about to become. I'm back to square one." Rhiannon buried her face in the elf's hair and caressed the creature's back in sympathy. "Passing out doesn't seem so bad anymore."
Rhiannon pushed herself and the elf into a sitting position, cupped a hand under the ancient's chin and whispered, "I need you too, lass." Putting on a brave smile, the redhead asked, " Now, where are we going?" Ceridwen save me for I think I already know.
"You're not going to like this," The elf replied, wiping the tears from her face with a sleeve.
"Hey, I recognize the pattern, lass, so don't feel bad." A bitter laugh interrupted the calm trickling sound of the stream. "It's got to happen if I like it or not, so tell me."
The elf took a deep breath and uttered, "Amazonia." Closing her eyes, she waited for a reaction.
The Celt's jaw dropped as she sucked air in shallow pants and her stare went, stone cold and right through the elf.
After waiting almost forever for the Celt to react, move, or just say something, the elf cautiously opened one eye and took a chance by saying, "Ephiny." She better not start at me for saying her cutie's name. I've got to get through to Rhi some how.
Rhiannon heard the elf say the Amazon's name but couldn't move. All she saw were the trees dancing around them and the image of Ephiny projected on the ever-moving green canopy. A smile lit up her face and a surge of energy emerging from her heart, filled her body slowly. The warm tingling sensation spread out over her like a thick, fuzzy blanket.
At the same time the elf was struggling to stay conscious while she crawled closer to Rhiannon. "Don't leave yet. You need me there with you." Shaking the Celt's shoulder didn't break the trance. Taking a deep breath and summoning all the power she had left, the elf struck Rhiannon in the face once again and yelled, "Stop."
A sharp sting to the left side of her face brought the redhead back to the moment. Rhiannon cradled her jaw and yelped. "This is getting to be a habit." She laughed through teary eyes but snapped out of her daze when she saw the worsened shape the elf was in.
"Come with me." Rhiannon helped the elf to her feet and supported her the few steps down to the very edge of the stream. "Dangle your feet in the water and ground yourself. The Goddess will strengthen our bond to this place so we come back safely." When I decide to. "If we travel following the waters, she will guide us for sure. I mean... we've never been further than Britannia before so see this as a safety n-" Rhiannon sat down next to the elf with a thump and had to catch her breath before she could utter another word. The cool water penetrated her boots eventually and calmed her nerves some. Astral traveling was not her favorite way to journey but it made sense. Everything was starting to make sense now.
She was an elfling, an Ancient both by her mother and father and would become whole the moment she recognized that fact with her heart, body and mind unconditionally. Her soul already knew that but remained ignored until now. The creature sitting next to her would become part of her again. That is what the elf wanted all along too.
Rhiannon had seen her pasts during many feverish dreams and connected the images with the sacred knowledge she was taught at Avalon. Slowly she realized that hiding who she really was, had been an elaborate plan from the day she was born, fit to suit the needs of everybody but herself. The fact that this plan was failing and setting off all kinds of changes in and around her world was more likely the way of the Goddess. The rest was just monumental prejudice and the blatant fear of mortals. Including her own.
"Look at me love." Rhiannon claimed the elf's attention with soft words, "I need to pay a visit to my one true anchor in this universe. It's time we stopped talking to, uh, ourselves and started putting matters into capable hands. Mine preferably."
Class is in
The sun was climbing over the rouge colored clouds of a damp and misty morning and warming the earth for another day of productivity and grace. Birds sang merrily and enhanced the tranquil, uplifting ambiance of the Dream Stone. Gray squirrels darted to and fro over a bouncy moss carpet that spread out between the old, woody souls of the forest. A soft, sweet scented breeze caressed anything airborne and slowly drove a lingering mist bank away from ground level over to one of the many streams. There it eventually dissolved back into its source.
The beauty of the ancient, mystic surrounding was completely lost on Xena. Sitting against the trunk of an aged oak, the Warrior brooded about her predicament. She ran through the variety of landscapes with the mind-frame of a prisoner, plotting her get-away. After candle marks of running through forest, marsh, open fields and more forests, Xena realized that to this place came no end. Calling out the Celt's name over and over didn't do much more than give her a sore throat. She sat herself down to think and catch her equilibrium.
"By the Gods, this place is like nothing I have ever seen. Think woman, what do you need to do first besides eat?" Xena asked herself, rubbing her fiercely grumbling belly. "How am I supposed to play along with Eanfled's game if nothing happens for... for days, for all I know?" Xena said out loud. Resting her back against the tree again she closed her eyes for a moment to think.
Jumping to her feet a blink after a small lump of mud landed on her thigh, Xena looked up with eyes cold as ice.
Another helping of mud found it's way successfully to Xena's arm, followed by a salvo of nuts on direct route towards the Warrior's head and torso.
Xena covered her face with her arms and kept looking up through the falling objects to see who or what was aiming at her. Finally something happens.
She picked up high-pitched giggles, coming from somewhere between the thick leaf coat of the oak tree she was sitting under. Her grin turned slightly feral and her entire body tensed. She pushed off the ground and somersaulted vertically, landing on a sturdy branch, half way up the trunk.
Crouched on the branch like a panther, the raven-haired Warrior listened with her head cocked to one side. The giggling has stopped but there was definitely something up there.
"Faren, Lucar and Siobhan, get back to your seats... RIGHT NOW. " An impatient and annoyed, boyish voice rang through the canopy. The delicate pitter-patter of feet scurrying over wood could be heard. Then all was silent again.
"Master, there's a woman out there on the first branch. We saw her just then, honest." The timid voice of a girl child replied.
"Well, we'll just have to wait and see what she will do, won't we, children?"
The male voice sounded very young to Xena. Eanfled's voice was like that too.
The Warrior got comfortable on her perch and decided to find out where this discovery of life would lead her. There was no sense of danger and she was close to getting frustrated before becoming a playful target. Frustration would get her into trouble; she knew that all too well.
"But Master, she can't just sit there all day. What if she gets hungry, or thirsty, master?" Siobhan's voice shrieked with worry. "And what- what if she falls and gets hurt? Oh Master, we must do something to help."
"Why do you think she is here lass?" Her Master asked.
"Master, Master." A thumping sound accompanied a boy's plea for attention.
"Yes Faren, what is it?"
"She won't fall because she just flew up the tree. She can do magick too, I bet."
The boy's excited tone spurred Lucar to join in on the debate.
"Yeah, she might even be a Fawn. Her hair is very dark and she's sooo tall."
The master chuckled at his pupil's vivid imagination. "Alright Lucar, calm down. You too Faren. So sit down and stop pulling at Siobhan's wing tips.
All settled down again.
"You can climb up now, Hero," The Master called out.
Xena's grin grew wider as she carefully made her way higher into the oak tree.
Brach by branch the Warrior climbed her way up, making sure she didn't catch her skin on the sharper twigs, wedging her fingers in the cracks of the bark for a good grip.
Resting on the tree's center fork, hidden from sight by layer upon layer of leaves, rested a small wooden platform, big enough to hold a small class of young elves and their teacher, Eanfled. The three youngsters' eyes almost popped out of their heads when the Warrior's head broke clear of the foliage and appeared very close to their benches.
Xena's heart almost melted at the sight of their tiny green faces and little leafy outfits. She levered herself onto a branch, pulling her weight up on her elbows. She stopped an arm length away from the platform and got comfortable. Winking at the elven children, she hoped to reassure them that she was no danger to them.
Eanfled was dressed in similar attire as his pupils and this time round seemed more his size. Five foot something of dark-elf was standing with his arms folded across his chest, an amused smile on his face. His sinewy body was covered by a tight fitting bodysuit made of fallen leaves in all shades of brown. His bow and arrow stood leaning against a stool behind him.
"Hi kids. Very nice tree-school you've got here." The raven-haired woman waved and then focused on Eanfled's face. "So, what's up, teach?" Xena pulled up a knee and hugged it, resting her chin on her arm.
After unfolding his arms and rubbing over his chest a few times the Ancient spoke. "We were exploring the boundaries of perception, Hero. You are very welcome to join in, right children."
In unison the children yelled yes. They flew over to the Warrior together and pulled her onto the platform, cheering enthusiastically. Eanfled stood by and flung his long, bluish black hair back with an almost feminine gesture.
Chanting herself into a deep trance with an unconscious elf leaning
heavily on her back, Rhiannon prepared for the journey ahead.
At first, nothing more than a faint green glow surrounded the two
forms sitting back to back on a huge, mossy log sticking out of the
dead calm stream.
Rhiannon felt the elf lose consciousness during their first attempt
to synchronize heartbeats and decided to concentrate on herself.
We are after all the same being. Eanfled created the illusion of my
split person, She slowly brought her hands together in front of her heart
with her slender fingers pointing down. Their attempt to ground themselves
in the stream had succeeded to Rhiannon's relief, because the elf didn't fall
from the log when she let go.
Slowly but surely, the world around Rhiannon faded and all went dark
before her eyes. She filled her lungs with deep long breaths.
She knew that with each inhalation, the grounding cord of energy that
exited from her tailbone and went down into the stream grew stronger.
So did her connection with Gaia and the inner waters that would bring her back.
A slow and deep thudding sensation coming from her back ensured
Rhiannon that the elf was alive and slipping into the joint trance
with her. Eventually their two energy cords joined as one. Vibrations
starting outside her body and with every inward breath traveled up her
spine. The rising energy felt as though ants crawled through her veins
carrying little burning torches. This bittersweet torture was
eventually replaced by a warm, almost orgasmic sensation. It filled
her entire pulsing body and her aura as fast as lightning striking home.
Her vision grew clear again after the final impact, and she saw that
everything in the universe was one and the same- all part of the same
source and matter. What usually looked like individual objects or
beings lost their demarcation and melted into a brew of color,
vibration and sound.
Rhiannon was now ready to ply reality to a higher will. Her senses
were sharp and her mind still.
The green glow had grown stronger while the Celt prepared for travel.
The forest immediately around the two women was dead quiet. Even the
wind had died down. The flat surface of the stream stirred as a spray of silvery mist
emerged from between the trance-bound Ancients, covering them
Rhiannon shivered as she felt the material part of her body slowly
peel away- like a child casually plucking the petals from a flower,
one by one-- and be replaced again without its weight or former
preconditions. Once she could feel her whole body again, the sense of
orgasm grew to a peek and images of her past; present and future
flicked past her mind's eye, bringing linear time full circle. Pathways
to the many dimensions were now open and waiting for her.
After a while, one single being floated gently up from the silver
mist. A slight pulse of her majestic, silver-gray wings lifted her
into the air and she slowly dissolved like honey in hot water. The
only reflections left were that of the sun and the faint climbing sickle
of the moon.
and I will come to you my love
with the passing of the days
and I will set you free each time
your heart is bound in chains
Now it was all fine and dandy that I wanted to reunite with Ephiny and finally woke up to the how and when; did that wish coincide with the patterns of life, the will of the Goddess if you like? Tricky question that, even for a (rebellious) priestess of Avalon.
If I had known how much easier it would be to answer such questions with the full acknowledgement of my elven heritage sooner in life, I may have never known Ephiny. Instead of the angry, vengeance-seeking person I was surely becoming, embarking on an astral voyage- I became a thankful and peaceful elfling setting off to fulfill a promise made, soul-to-soul, many ages ago. Finding out about my old, new self would all be part of the journey. Knowing if my wish coincided with the Lady's...well why wouldn't it, for all is on, right?! For those who doubted that... any false move and it repeats on me times three. Or as a dark-elf would say, "Mi nthalay sildamna."
Ephiny took her time reaching the royal hut. Listening to everyone's viewpoint tired her and the short walk did nothing to relieve some of the pent up nervous energy. I really need a rest before sanity leaves me all together or I beat up the entire tribe.
She remembered how she acted after Phantes got himself killed. Her moods then were nothing compared to how confused and angry she felt now. Lighting a few candle stumps as she entered her dwellings helped make the darker memories ebb away, to the Regent's relief.
"Okay, to the archives Eph." She reminded herself why she was on her way to the study and kicked a stool to kindling, which was unfortunate to be standing directly in her way and opened one of the many scroll chests. "What point was I trying to make to the Council?" A deep sigh followed her question, while a few scrolls received flying lessons over her shoulder and the candles blew out.
"Hades," Ephiny cursed under her breath.
"Nope. Try again"
Dropping the lid of the chest, startled by the unexpected reply, Ephiny immediately unsheathed her sword and turned, her face flushed and eyes flinging poisoned arrows into the dark. "Show yourself."
"If you keep that blade pointed at me lass, I'll be staying right here, thanks," A gentle, teasing voice, thick with accent answered.
Ephiny stabbed the sword through the lid of the chest with one hand, slapped herself up side the head with the other and yelled, "See, I'm going mad. I'm definitely going Callisto; paranoid and pathetic." Her suppressed chuckle grew into drawn out hysterical laughter.
Rhiannon's idea was to pleasantly surprise Ephiny, but she stepped from behind the study door fast when the Amazon's fragile emotional state became apparent. The redhead saw her trembling and yelling incoherently until the Amazon exploded into a sardonic fit.
"Ephiny, it's me. Calm down lass." Focusing most of her energy on staying solid, the Celt slowly approached the love of her life and hoped she could calm her down.
From within the thick haze of her confusion, the Regent felt someone cupping her cheeks and stroking her temples tenderly and the laughing stopped. By the Gods, that was me laughing like a Bacchae and she's really h-
Ephiny's inner chaos subsided enough, letting herself melt into the embrace of the one she longed to feel and touch in more ways than in her dreams. In a reflex, she grabbed hold of the Elfling's behind and squeezed to make sure she was truly there. In that case...
Now the Regent wouldn't be the Regent if she and Rhiannon hadn't ended up on the floor after a crashing tour through the study, kissing each other senseless, until both women found it almost impossible not to go any further.
Rhiannon reined in her raging want for more skin contact and broke away panting hard. Sweet mother of Love, I want this woman so bad. Emerald fingers tangled in the Amazon's hair and Rhiannon pulled the trembling woman's head to her heart. Tears seeped from under closed lids.
As she slowly came back down to earth, the tempo of Ephiny's breath and heartbeat matched her loves'. I don't know how she got here but everlasting Elysia, I'm so glad she did.
Like a mild summer rain licking at parched earth, conscious thought took over again and Rhiannon stirred the comforting silence first, bringing them both back to the here and now. Nuzzling through blonde curls she took a deep breath and inhaled the Amazon's smoky scent. "I have to go soon, my love."
Holding onto the Elfling for dear life, trying to block her words out by burying her face in red locks and braids, Ephiny whispered, "No."
"I wish it were different Eph, but I'm here to tell you that Xena and I are well and determined to get back soon." Knowing she wasn't completely sure about the 'soon' part, Rhiannon pulled the Regent's arms from around her waist and tried to make eye contact while she pulled both herself and Ephiny up. Hello in there. Notice anything...different perhaps?
Forest brown eyes veiled by tears looked back at Rhiannon reluctantly. Ephiny's face betrayed every emotion rioting through her body and mind, but she said nothing and just stood there.
The Celt felt her heart breaking at the sight of her love hurting, but it mended instantly at the realization that what she shared with the Amazon went way beyond looks and pulled her in for another embrace. "I love you." She breathed into Ephiny's ear. So this is what home feels like. "I really wish we had more time."
Her voice failed her terribly, so the Regent just coiled a hand around Rhiannon's neck and kissed her Elfling long and tenderly. She poured every confusing and earthshaking feeling she had for this woman into the kiss. Her free hand found a way under her love's leathers and was circling over Rhiannon's back, running into curves she hadn't felt there before. Not that Ephiny had very much experience to compare with, in the elfling department. Licking her way down Rhiannon's jaw line and neck made the eager recipient of her blood quickening attention shudder and retreat.
"Wow there, Amazon." Taking a step back and leaning against the wall to get her breath back and let her blood cool, Rhiannon held her eager Amazon at arm length. "Not so fast, lass. You'll drain me to oblivion before long. This is the astral representation of my body. A touch of magick and your love is keeping me here, lass."
"Hmm, right, and you promise me to come back with the whole kit, intact?" A slightly more relaxed Amazon smiled at the redhead and licked her lips, in approval. "You are looking better every time I see you."
"You're a sight for sore eyes yourself." Rhiannon replied and chuckled. What's she going to think when I show up again with the wings visible and my skin almost black?
"Do you really have to go tonight?" A hesitant voice implored while trembling fingers traced the Elfling's wing-shaped ears, her eyebrows, nose and soft green lips.
Letting one of Ephiny's fingers briefly slip into her mouth and suck on the tip, against better judgment, sent a heat spreading like wildfire through both of them. Before the blonde's hands got any more adventurous ideas, Rhiannon started to say what she felt needed to be said and slowly let her body dissolve again.
"Baby, please listen to me." Two fingers silenced the Regent's protest about being pulled into the Elfling's arms backwards. "Velasca is permanent history now." Leather and feathers mashed together and Rhiannon's grip tightened as Ephiny attempted to turn and face her. "I will come back as soon as I can. I plan to never leave you again after this mess is over. Be sure to tell the Bard her Warrior is working hard to get back here too. And never forget that I love you, Ephiny."
Warm wet lips descended on the Regent's neck and her hairs stood on end when Rhiannon's breath whispered across her skin, "Goodbye for now, my love."
In a slight panic, Ephiny turned with all her might and launched herself into a full spin only then realizing the Elfling was already gone. "I love you, come back soon," she cried. She listened to the lonely echo and hoped that it reached Rhiannon, wherever she had gone.
Determined, although still physically numb from her visitor's distracting presence, Ephiny plowed through the archive and vowed she'd have the mess on this side of the world fixed before her love came back.
"Now that I know Velasca is dead, done and dog's dinner for real, it's become an entirely different horseshoe game."
The collection of thoughts that started to resemble something of a plan made Ephiny's mood and posture lift. With a confident stride and an arm full of scrolls, she made her way back to the conference hall, only making one detour to see the healer's apprentice.
It's not so much the how
Listening to Eanfled's teachings about... well... whatever he was teaching, Xena concluded fast that it was about as fascinating as watching grass grow.
So far, he sounded like Hephaestus or Asclepius, trying to explain their trade to a moron so that they looked smart. And the kids are smart because they DO understand! A flustered huff escaped her mouth.
"I think it's time we did something to make it easier on Xena, hey kids?"
Eanfled laughed and snapped his fingers.
Xena, who was sure she was sitting up a tree just a heartbeat before- wondering why that elf always had to make her thoughts public-- found herself standing at the edge of a cliff, looking over a small village with Siobhan by her side. A fairly doable drop down from her position, a band of ten, up-to-no-good, ruffians walked the dusty road into the vaguely familiar village.
The Warrior felt a light tap on her left shoulder, the same time her skin started to crawl in an unpleasant way. "And what could you possibly want from me now, Ares?" Xena asked as she kept facing the village and pulled the elf behind her.
The God of War could have sworn he felt an icy breeze ruffle his curly, black mane as the frozen stare of his pet fixed on him in slow motion. "It's good to see you too, Xena." Arrogant laughter filled the air.
'How about we join those sorry excuses for soldiers down there and lead them to glory- together? It's not like you have much else to do... here, besides baby-sit...
That." Ares poked a tongue out at Siobhan and waved his bulky arms at their barren surroundings, giggling at Xena's "bored close to dying" expression. "I know you are close to snapping in this fuzzy forest full of idiot little flies."
"Go tease Daddy will you, Ares." Xena hissed at the god through her teeth, grabbed onto the little elf first, then dropped from the edge of the cliff and rolled over to break her fall and protect the girl. Siobhan caught on to the Warrior's idea fast and hid herself in a bush while she watched Xena sprint in the direction of the thugs.
A well-known war cry sounded across the valley where the village nestled. The Warrior picked up speed to vault over the group of men and land in front of their surprised leader. With one knock to his face, the entire huddle of men bowled over backwards.
"Make the kill, Xena. Take his army and lead them like the true vessel of destruction you were shaped to be. I can smell your blood-lust from here, Warrior of mine." Ares' deep, annoying voice panted in her ear as she stood over the leader, her blade up, hanging, waiting for her to follow through on what started out as a reflex move to save a village and kill the villain. It was a village that could have easily been Amphipolis. The villain was still a young man.
"If you want this to have a bloody ending, go ahead and run yourself through my blade. It's your funeral." Xena spoke as calmly as she could to the man in the dirt, under her sword. Focus woman, talk first, and kill later if it becomes a necessary last resort. Ares has no control over me here or anywhere.
Ares and the thugs and the village dissolved the moment Xena thought of her situation clearly. Instead of hanging over a bloody-nosed fool, she stood at the ragged edge of a collapsed bridge staring down a very deep ravine.
Gasping, Xena staggered backwards and clung to the splintery railing, closing her eyes as soon as she found her balance. "That was close." She panted and replaced her sword.
"So you finally made it huh?" A pompous, throaty voice bounced at her from the ravine walls and died at the end of its echo.
That's it! I'm going home. NOW! Xena snapped her eyes open, to find Julius Caesar standing on the other half of the crumbled bridge, only a temptingly manageable leap away from her.
"For the Gods sakes, Eanfled, the theme is wearing out fast." Blue eyes rolled and the Warrior looked around, feeling insulted and confused. The only things around her were the ravine, a smashed bridge and then nothing. Well, except for big, bad Caesar over there. I'm not falling for an easy kill. I'm not going to kill, period. I'm here to find someone... aren't I?
"Well hello there, little ones." Caesar squatted so he was at eye level with his guests. "What an unexpected surprise. Look Xena, we have company."
The hatred Xena felt for the first Caesar of Rome, the wrenching knot she kept buried deep down inside for her Bard and maybe eventually for her own redemption, pulled tighter still.
At first, Caesar kept his so-called guests at sword point. Lucar and Faren shrieked as his thick arm eventually enclosed them and held the both of them closer to the edge of his side of the bridge. "Join us in this divine leap to freedom, Xena. What have we got to lose up here? There's gold of the purest kind down there." The Roman pouted and kissed the tops of the little elven heads. "Aren't they cute?"
"Xena, help us." Lucar screamed before a large hand slamming down hard on his mouth, muffled his cry.
"Don't you dare hurt them, you piece of sh"
A soft tap on her thigh and a crying child's voice shook Xena back from the edge of going completely Conqueror on Caesar. "Don't leave me alone here, Xena."
The Warrior cringed and sank to her knees, gently pulling a frightened and sobbing Siobhan to her. Over the elf's head she kept an eye on the Roman. He in turn watched her comfort the girl and felt his guests get restless and angry in his arms. Another step closer to the edge settled them down fast enough.
"Siobhan, do you know how to get out of this place?" A desperate Warrior asked the elf gently. Are you even real? Ares and Caesar hopefully aren't, but I can't be sure about you three. Would Eanfled be that sick? Is the elf posing as Caesar?
The child gasped and cried astonished, "Why do you want to leave? Don't leave me here, Xena."
"Oh, to Hades with it." Xena growled and stood, letting go of the elf. "It's always just the old me in new clothes every time I get even close to doing something good. There's no point in killing you or not killing you."
Siobhan covered her ears against the thundering echo of Xena's voice, rolling off the ravine face.
"I always do everything you've done much better." One more step and Caesar would take the elves over the deep end with him. "And you can't stand that." A grin appeared on his boyish, over confident face.
"Ya know something, Julius?" The raven-haired warrior rubbed her chin for a moment and poured on the sarcasm. "You are so right, it's giving me the shivers. Now go away already. Jump if you must but leave the elves alone or I will come over there and rearrange your face." Her tone was cold and thick with hatred.
"XENA," yelled Siobhan, "You don't understand anything do you?" The frustrated, teary elf was almost out of breath. "Sit down and listen to me." Pointing at her brothers she added, "They aren't going anywhere as long as you stay here with me."
A baffled Warrior knelt down on one knee and took one of Siobhan's hands in hers.
"I don't understand. What is real and what isn't? I don't know your world."
"Only you know it as my world, Xena." The elven child cupped Xena's chin and smiled at the confused Hero, who looked so small, it almost hurt to see. "What is Caesar so right about?"
"He's right about being better than me at everything I once was." After clearing her throat, Xena supplemented with a dry laugh, "I can't stand it and hate him for it. I'm having a very hard time letting go of that hate." A hand smashed down on the bridge deck with a thump. "There. I said it. Happy now, Eanfled?"
"Do you want to let it go, Xena, or does the hate still serve a purpose?" Caesar joined in on the analysis.
Ignoring him, Xena searched the face of the young elf, wise beyond her looks. "How did you get so smart, kid?"
"Oh, being thirty-five summers does help." Siobhan giggled in response.
"I suppose you've figured out who he is to me already?" Xena casually pointed a finger at the Roman and frowned in irritation when Siobhan's expression stayed neutral. "Let me help you then." She volunteered. "I became a victim after falling for his bigger-than-life ambitions and way too perfect charm." As soon as Siobhan's words sunk in, Xena's head snapped back to the youngster. "Did you just say thirty-f
Like a sheet of beeswax in front of an open fire, Caesar and the bridge and the elves melted away.
This turn of events left Xena kneeling in-between Lila and Hecuba, who were in turn defending the Warrior to Gabrielle's livid father. Oh boy!
"She make's Gabrielle happy and that's what counts, Daddy," Lila declared straight from her gentle heart, risking a serious skin-full from her father.
"Playing bed-warmer for a warrior that balances between being a hero and a murderous she-demon isn't what I would call a sane decision. That bitch has poisoned our little girl," Herotodus yelled and shook his fists at the kneeling Warrior.
Before the furious man could lash out at his child to get to Xena, Hecuba shielded Lila with her body and dared him with a cold stare.
Herotodus' left arm rose, and he aimed to slap the back of his hand across Hecuba's face.
"Not while I'm around you don't," Xena shot up and caught the man's hand before he could do any damage, all but snapping his wrist like a twig.
The Warrior winced at the sound of her lover's voice and let Herotodus' hand go like she would drop the stiff corpse of a rat.
Gabrielle stood in the doorway of her parental home, Siobhan hanging onto the rim of her skirt. "What are you doing?" The Bard whispered.
"You are doing it again, Xena." The elf child said disappointedly.
Xena took a few steps back and leaned against the table breathing heavily.
The other occupants of the room jumped headlong into another statement and counter statement match about the Warrior and how bad she was for the Bard. Even Gabrielle ended up trapped in the cycle of abuse, when all she did was try to clarify all sides of the story. Nobody seemed to notice Xena anymore.
Siobhan walked over to Xena gingerly and slid her small hand in one of the Warrior's much larger ones. "Now what do we do?"
"What would you do, Siobhan?" Xena asked her wise little friend, completely in the dark when it came to overprotective, and in this case, violent, parents-in-law.
"Probably the same as you," came the elf's reply, accompanied by a giggle when she saw Xena's face.
"Oh sure you would. I'm sure you'd attack them and bury them ten feet under... alive... and... ravish their daughter on the still warm earth afterwards." An almost feral sneer strained Xena's face as she cased up the child and let go of the small hand like it was on fire.
"Scary warrior, oh my. You covet the guilt that much then, Hero?" Siobhan snapped her fingers and disappeared while Eanfled laughed until he cried from the pain in his stomach, materializing where the child was a moment ago. "As long as you live for the guilt, Xena, this place is your home. And by the looks of you... that's going to be for a long, long time."
Xena sat there with a look of horror on her face, her insides wrenched together by the emotional ride she'd been taken on by that sadistic dark-elf and his minions. She was still no closer to finding Rhiannon.
"WHAT DO YOU WANT FROM ME?" Xena howled, running wit her arms stretched straight for the dark-elf's throat.
Five is company
"Good evening, my Queen." Deverra, the village healer and fifth member of the Council, bowed slightly for Gabrielle and repeated the gesture for Ephiny. "My Regent. I received urgent word from Letha that Council is in session and ended my retreat to assist you, pray the Gods I am on time."
"Yes Deverra, thank you. Your opinion is much valued and needed. Especially at this point." Ephiny embraced her old friend and pulled up an extra chair for the elderly woman. "Please sit down with us. We are not able to reach any kind of consensus yet."
The healer took her time to greet the council members and get comfortable. She reached for the parchments that were spread out over the table and studied the Queen's neat scribing. Stray wiry, gray locks fell over her timeworn face as she nodded a few times and eventually asked, "So the question is, may the Regent go on a retreat while the Nation is struggling with loyalty issues and the Queen is present and active?"
"That is correct," Ephiny replied and felt the calming effect of the healers presence work wonders on her debate-weary sisters, who were doing their very best not to argue over everything- and failing miserably.
Deverra folded her hands in her lap and got comfortable. Her expression gave away her amusement. "Tell me then, why do you search the archives when it is in your hearts you will find an answer?"
All the Amazons sat back in their seats and eyed one and other, thinking what no one was able to put into words. Even if someone could, no one volunteered to speak her mind.
Deverra sat forward in her chair and neatly rolled up all the scrolls while she spoke.
"Sisters, in the history of the Amazons, the one constant has been that there is no constant besides battle. The Amazons are a variety of tribes that are united because they hold the freedom of a woman sacred. The practice of this freedom is not a given in the known world, so we make appeals to various gods for assistance and form communities for safety. Among ourselves, we debate and battle about the best way to protect each other and our future. Do you follow me so far?"
"You are saying we all have the same goal but not the same intentions." Gabrielle thought out loud, processing what the healer had just said, her glassy gaze fixed on the table.
"Exactly, my Queen." Deverra gave the Bard a warm smile.
"And we are all scared of change, although change is the only true certainty in life." A flush on the Bard's face told the healer that the most competent, peace- loving Queen this tribe had ever known, since her late daughter Melosa, was awakening to an inner strength. She edged her along just a little more. "That's right. Now place that picture on your problem and tell me what you see, Your Highness."
Lizzeah was listening with great indifference to the old woman and wondered how much longer she would be able to keep quiet. Her hands fidgeted aimlessly with a piece of leather binding while her legs jittered under the table. The old bag will get tired soon and we can get back to debating tactics. And look at the rest of these sheep; my gods are they sellouts or what? Hades, this is the local council of five. Wait till the High Council of Queens hears of this!
Her attention wandered to Ephiny, who, in her opinion, was dishonoring herself like a personal slave to a master- serving Deverra water and fetching her a pile of straw to soften the seat.
Solari noticed Lizzeah's growing agitation and didn't wait for the woman to act on it.
Lizzeah jumped in her seat when Solari's arm landed firmly around her shoulders and squeezed. She answered the Amazon's warning look with a smirk and paid attention to the Queen again. What's that little girl doing on the throne anyway?
Gabrielle was explaining her view on battle and leading the Amazons with great enthusiasm.
"If I were to address the Nation on loyalty, I would only ask those who want to live here under my leadership freely to follow the rules and regulations we have democratically voted on and accepted. Those who do not are free to leave and do as they please elsewhere in peace, or will be removed with force. I do not want to war over the Mask or my place on the High Council for that matter. I will, however, defend this Nation from those who wish to harm her with all the skills at my disposal." And a few pointers here and there from Xena no doubt, but why rock the boat now and mention her?
The Bard stood up and paused for dramatic effect, a little baffled by her own words, for she knew this declaration was worth more than any symbolic item of power changing hands. For the first time, Gabrielle knew where and how to start her reign and maybe make a difference, like she always dreamed of after receiving the right of cast.
"I will appoint and train an official scribe, who will record any laws and agreements that the Regent or I have issued after a debate and vote. Waiting for me to visit and update scrolls that only a handful of Amazons can read is unproductive. I will ask for a vote on opening a school for any who wants to attend after we have cleared up present problems." Okay, getting ahead of yourself there, Bard.
The only Amazon that wasn't smiling, voting yes and being openly enthusiastic about Gabrielle's declaration was Lizzeah. She cleared her throat and shifted back in her chair when many questioning eyes fell on her. "Your proposal sounds pretty sweet to me, my Queen, all except for the fact that you forget how deep god worship runs in the veins of many Amazons. In which case it all sounds rather naïve, don't you think?"
"Maybe," Gabrielle retorted and walked to the head of the table keeping eye contact with Lizzeah. "Maybe not. Amazons have battled their way to freedom and battled some more to protect that." The blonde ran a hand through her hair. "What if reaching for arms has become a habit, where before it was the only means of survival? Gods or no gods."
"Zeus woman, and what if you are an Amazon that still worships Ares or Velasca? They surely kill and wage war for the sake of it. Do you want to sit down over a port and discuss with them?" The Mistress of Ceremony was now getting close to defending her own trade and huffed, "Eponin, enlighten the Queen. Tell her the last time Melosa and Ephiny tried that." My posse won't take this lying down, that's for sure.
Eponin growled at Lizzeah, folded her arms over her chest and stated, "The Queen wasn't finished and you are missing the point Lizz."
"Thank you sister." The Bard took over again, ignoring Solari and Lizzeah's little catfight.
"There are two ways to unite the tribe, with or without the Regent present. I could rule by instilling fear and creating violent laws or by earning trust and creating common ground for learning. I chose the latter, if that wasn't obvious already." Standing with her hands on her hips, Gabrielle asked in a determined voice, "Does the Council accept?"
Five hands raised and the Council applauded all except for Lizzeah.
A sigh of relief escaped the Bard's mouth. "Now, who wants to break the news to the Velasca loyalists?" Chuckling from the pent up tension and the look of contempt on Lizzeah's face she added hastily, "Kidding. I will inform all Amazon's of their rights and privileges during the next public gathering. I expect you all to explain the ramifications to your own clans. That way it will spread to all layers of the Nation. Protests and new ideas can be made public through Council members as well and they will be brought before me in cases of national importance or when a council member needs assistance."
"If you still rely on the fact that your Council members are chosen by the clans, meaning they represent and protect the voice of all the clans, you've got another cartload of trouble coming." Lizzeah flung at her Queen and stormed out of the hall, smashing the door closed behind her.
Eponin blocked Gabrielle's attempt at running after the furious Amazon as she signaled Solari, who in tern pulled Ephiny to her feet and nudged her towards the door.
"The Regent will talk to Lizzeah, my Queen. She knows her mind, don't you, Eph?" Solari made it impossible to get out of this one by escorting the reluctant Amazon all the way outside.
"Make sure you have it out with her Eph. You are the only thing she feels she has left to lose," Deverra reminded the Regent on her way out. " Surely you knew this was coming, dear."
Shadows over Beltaine
The sound of a table splintering under the weight of a broad sword startled the young priestess making up the bed. She braced herself for one of Boadecia's famous rants and hid behind a chest, out of the Queen's line of sight.
"Andraste, grant me patience." Another crash and the Leader of Celts flew out the door of the guest hut, raced through a small crowd of priestesses and into her daughter's building.
"Vivian, what in The Morrigan's name are you playing at?" Boadecia kicked her way into the room where her daughter was prancing around before her maidens and slammed a piece of parchment in front of the young woman.
"Mother, don't be like that." Vivian slapped Boadecia on her wrist playfully and dismissed the girls with a wave. "I just made some changes to the guest list for Beltaine, as you can see. I want Nimue here to assist me and I don't care what you think of her. The invites were sent out moons ago."
"I don't like this one bit but explain to me why, Viv, why send invitations to only a handful of royals, when they are all welcome on Avalon by the full moon of Beltaine?" Boadecia frowned and read the list once more. "You've made very significant changes and must have a reason that goes beyond your friend Nimue's presence. Will you let me in on it so I can lead my men with eyes open? Traveling druids and priestesses are a major security risk these days. Governor Paulinius has twelve legions stationed close by and doesn't need much of a reason to attack. I could have warned my brother of the changes if you had spoken of this to me." Donnal is going to spit fire if he finds out he wasn't at least informed that all the High Priestesses of the Goddess are together on Avalon. I wonder whom the priestesses have chosen to be the stag? For the sake of Britain, let it be a Celt!
Vivian giggled when she saw her mother's' depressed reaction to the changes and poured two drinks. "Trusting me has never been your strong suit, Mother. Rhiannon, used up my portion, but you will have to do it anyway. I am after all the High Priestess and you are not by far a High Queen." The redhead faced Boadecia and handed her one of the horns filled with herbed mead. "Cheers, Mother, to the birth of a united country, both spiritual and regal." Good thing you are bound by blood ties and cannot repeat anything I say outside these walls.
"There isn't going to be any grand ceremony on Mona and your copy of the list is an old draft. All the High Priestesses will be here, yes. The people of Vernemeton, Orkney and Mona will celebrate Beltaine at home. They've all sent one representative each and they are already here so relax. Take your worries about Rhiannon out by checking on Gwydion or something like that." Vivian slammed her horn on the table and smirked at Boadecia.
"Mind your tongue, lass. I can still appoint my younger sisters Caillean or Lhiannon to the post as Guardian of the Sacred Rites of Avalon." Boadecia raised her drink less enthusiastically and spat out the first swig of warm mead. "May I live to see the day all the clans of this land unite." So I can get life back on track and lead a country, instead of arguing with druids and priestesses about things I don't want to know.
After her explosion, Boadecia went looking for The Taliesin. She wasn't sure what to make of her daughter's much-too-casual attitude and needed distraction from her growing worries fast. She found the Arch Druid and First Bard on the other side of the island, working on documents with his apprentice, and maybe, future successor, an adolescent lad named Merlin. Women were normally not allowed anywhere near the druids' inner sanctum, but the Celt had special privileges.
When the druid saw his Queen enter, he shooed Merlin out of the room with his staff and held out an arm for Boadecia. "My dear Lady, how may I assist you?"
"Any word on Rhiannon or Xena? Are you sure the Warrior caught up with my lass on time?" A very worried mother implored and sat down next to the druid at his orderly desk.
The Taliesin placed his sinewy hand on that of the frustrated Celt and patted it gently while he smiled sympathetically. "I'm worried too. Xena's with her on the Dream Stone. She would be poking her nose around here if she weren't, by now. It's not Eanfled's unpredictable nature, but the violent tendencies of the Warrior that unsettles me most. If anything happens to Rhiannon and she doesn't make it back for Beltaine, I hold Xena responsible."
"I should never have let her interfere, Gwydion." Boadecia winced at the thought of Xena doing any more damage to her family. "If there's anybody to blame, it's me. Now Vivian is getting ready for the pre-initiation wake, she doesn't seem to care about her sister at all." Boadecia swallowed hard, gazing sadly into her friend's sympathetic eyes.
"Would you like some chamomile tea to calm the nerves, dear?" The druid asked. "It can't be easy, dealing with so many personal blows in a short time, even for a great leader like yourself."
"No, no. You have much work to do. I will tend to some correspondence of my own, old friend." The Celt rejected the kind offer with a thankful smile and pushed her tired body up from its comfortable seat sighing. "The Romans aren't off my land yet so there's no rest for the wicked."
"Send that lad back in here if you run into him outside. The blasted boy has many lessons to catch up on." Shaking his head, the untamable mess of white, wiry hair danced around his mousy face. "Vivian brought him along one day and said he was the latest big talent. I'm beginning to doubt if he is druid material at all. Knowing Vivian, she was probably referring to his more earthly talents."
Old problem, new solution
Ephiny woke early after a rough night and decided she'd bring some breakfast to her best friend and former, occasional lover. The communal baths were still deserted at this candle mark of the morning so, she was presentable and carrying her friend's favorite fruit and nutbread pudding across the village center in the pleasant calm within no time. Oh how I could get used to this kind of peace and quiet.
Taking a few samples of the thick, goat's milk cream, the Regent wondered what it would take to help Lizzeah get past the obsession she had over them one day joining happily ever after. Fatigue from a short night and deep thought, made Ephiny completely miss the single file line of guards marching behind her. She knocked on Lizzeah's door, hoping she'd have more luck than last night, when Lizzeah refused to see or talk to anyone after leaving the Council like Mount Etna about to erupt.
There still came no answer after another few knocks on the door. Ephiny's patience was wearing pretty thin by the time all the cream was gone and a naked, spotty pudding stared back at her from the bowl. "Now where would the walking, raging stomach you were supposed to feed be and do I really want to find her?"
"Why Ephiny, did someone spike the pudd or are your attempts to get hold of Lizzeah that disturbing?" A sleepy Solari walked by with a dry grin, slapping her Regent on the back amicably.
"One... she doesn't want to be found," Ephiny counted on her fingers, glancing at a disappearing Solari from the corner of an eye. "Or two... she won't open the door. LIZZEAH." She yelled and side kicked the door hard. "Wanna stick around and see what she'll do today, Sol?"
Solari yelled back, "Pass!", and turned her head decisively, resuming her journey towards the springs, mumbling to herself, "Nope, she's your problem for now, Sis. I just finished an extra night shift again thanks to her. Good riddance, if you ask me."
With one more kick, Lizzeah's hut door flew open and crashed through the cramped little hall. Ephiny shoved her way into the two joining rooms that made up her friends living quarters and was not completely surprised to find that Lizzeah was not there. Most of her private belongings were not there either.
Ephiny dropped like a sack of turnips onto the bare cot as an old fear gripped her heart tightly. Something bounced up from the cot as she landed. The moment the Regent recognized the object as the talisman she had given her friend- she leaped up from the bed and ran for the Queens hut like mad.
Gabrielle was standing in the conference hall with Eponin when Ephiny sped by the open entrance. Hooking an arm around the nearest support column, she made a U-turn running into hall, closing the door behind her. "Gabrielle, Ep, Lizz is gone." She panted and came to a halt up against Eponin's back.
Eponin didn't even flinch but arched her eyebrows and steadied her friend. "The stupid piss-ant also managed to persuade twenty-seven warriors to leave with her."
"So far that's how many friends and family members have reported someone missing since early this morning." The Bard paced in a small circle, staring at the floorboards with a deep frown knitting her brows together. "The search party has also found no trace."
Ephiny noticed the blue rims of a sleepless night around the Queen's eyes and Eponin only just managing to stifle a yawn. So leaving is no longer an option. Thanks Lizz.
"Why didn't somebody wake me up?"
"Yeah, like having an exhausted Queen and Regent as a result would help." Gabrielle crashed on a stool and added gingerly, "Besides, aren't you officially on a retreat as of today? I should be logging you as absent, not the Mistress of Ceremonies and her band of misguided rebels."
"I don't think you realize how dangerous Lizz can become when she's on one of her 'I want what I want, and I want it now' rages, Gabrielle," Ephiny explained to the Bard, who was still ignorant about her rocky past with Lizzeah.
"I have three patrols out scouting for trouble in all directions and an extra five shifts of guards working their butts off. What else would you suggest we do?" The Bard threw her hands up and yawned.
"Make an enormous offering to Artemis and hope Lizz hasn't aligned with other outcast Amazons and tribes susceptible to her smooth talking." Ephiny sat down next to the Bard. "She's a natural when it comes to leading in ceremony and battle but so very lost when there's nothing to fight for. She can smell a twisted mind a league away but has no control over herself sometimes. I really thought she was over it after the last episode, three summers ago. She finally gave up and accepted Deverra's help."
"So now she is out there somewhere, believing Ephiny will fall for her misplaced heroics, plotting her attack in the name of Velasca, for Hades sake." Eponin filled in the last blank and moaned, burying her head in her large hands, muffling her comments. "And she's already got twenty-seven arrow happy, young Amazons at her beckon call. Aaargh"
Ephiny remembered something Rhiannon said and let out a sigh of relief. "At least we only have to worry about Lizzeah's next move. Thank the Gods that pretender of a lunatic god Velasca is not around to accept her offerings. Poor Lizz 'd stand a snowball's chance in Tartarus even if they were on the same side."
"Look at the bright side, Eph." Eponin squatted in front of the Regent and made eye contact. "At least our Chief deals with her problems the same way each time her control on reality slips. She couldn't help herself since the day she was born. We can however."
"What do you mean, Sis?" Ephiny asked puzzled.
"It's simple," Eponin said. "Let her act out her twisted fantasies all she wants, while we ignore her."
The tall Amazon stood up again. She could tell from Ephiny's tormented face that the curly blonde was going to protest and she quickly continued. "You will do nothing, Ephiny, and we will only defend the village if she has the nerve to attack. Usually we stay out looking until we find her and she revels in the attention. Because you once made the decision to give in to her and did your best to discover if there were any romantic feelings you didn't know about, she's come to expect you to at least go after her. You, on the other hand, see her as a friend that grew up with you like a sister. Your closeness is blinding you, Eph. Stop protecting her like a child."
"Eponin is right." Gabrielle came to the same conclusion after hearing the full story and rested a hand on the Regent's shoulder. "It's time to cut her lose, my friend."
"So be it," Ephiny hissed angrily, weighing the thought of dropping all responsibility she carried for her oldest friend. A glazy, cold stare shadowed the face of the Regent, as she remembered their history together. "But may the Gods hold me back if Lizzeah comes anywhere near me because, this time round I don't think I can ignore my desire to belt her in the face."
The dark tone in Ephiny's voice made Gabrielle's neck hairs stand on end. There's more to this than they tell me. My strong but gentle Regent feels trapped here?
"Now get out of my sight, Regent. You are relieved of your duties. Lizzeah is now my responsibility. Let me know roughly where you plan to go before you leave." Queen Gabrielle ordered, before she got back to business with a confidants that put Ephiny's mind about the tribe's safety somewhat at ease.
I need to get away from here. Everything is closing in on me. Gabrielle is a big girl and with Ep' and Solari's help she'll handle it just fine.
"Make sure you and Solari take good care of our Bard and Queen." The Regent saluted her sister and pointed at Eponin. "I appoint you as co-regent until I return."
Eponin placed a hand on her heart and saluted her Regent, as an Amazon guard offering her life and services would. "You've got it Eph."
Return to innocence
Over the reflection of a thin, pale moon, black flecks of decaying bark floated gently by, leaving tiny whirls in their wake. Every so often, a new piece of bark would join the row of sailors on the journey down stream. Rhiannon sat at the water's edge, mesmerized by the sensations inside her new body and from seeing Ephiny again. Closing her eyes to focus on the bittersweet fragrances of the night, the Elfling threw the last piece of bark on the water and sighed.
Taking one curious last look at her reflection in the water, the redhead got up lazily and stretched out her limbs, one by one. Her tattoos were still on her cheeks and her skin was quite a few tones lighter than Eanfled's. Her leather top was torn at the back, where two silvery see-through wings now poked out limply.
The journey back and the first night on the Dream Stone had been nothing short of a nightmare, leaving Rhiannon exhausted. The dreams and visions of war and destruction kept plaguing her, day and night. Rhiannon played hide and seek with her own reflection, slowly adjusting to the newness. She didn't move from the stream, unsure of how to proceed. "It's time I got out of this place," Rhiannon said to herself yawning. She started walking up-stream, without a direct reason besides moving, when her body tensed of its own accord and she picked up soft footsteps coming from behind.
"Hello there, young thing." A male, dark-elf stood a few paces away from the Elfling, arms folded over his dark chest, studying her with mischief twinkling in his eyes. "Looking for me?" Somlas idehandras te dai. She's beatiful.
"Eanfled?" The redhead's voice sounded down and ambivalent, and she dropped her head. Staring from under her eyebrows at the elf warily, Rhiannon wondered if she should try leaving the Dream Stone of her own accord but realized that she needed him. "Curiosity get the better of you then?" I may be beautiful in your eyes but imagine what I will face back on the main land. Yahan ir sai, father?
"I do what I like, when I like." Eanfled chuckled when he saw Rhiannon's brow frown and her arms fold in the same manner he did, His laugh grew louder at her inner elfish reply. "You on the other hand, are very lucky I didn't throw your unguarded body off the Stone while you weren't there to protect it." He added sternly, shaking a finger at the redhead. And that is the only way you can leave my realm, stubborn girl. Tavlah!
"What's it to you, how and when I leave this realm?" Rhiannon shrugged her shoulders and resumed her walk up-stream. She took a left turn into a thicker part of the forest to avoid her father's stare. As if you care what's going on outside the Dream Stone. You are only interested in having control, and are happy to sit up your tree, watching passively like it was all a game. Tavlah, yourself.
With a smirk on his face, Eanfled took flight and crossed the short distance to his daughter with a few strokes if his wings. "And where do you think you are going?" He asked and hovered just above the ground, flying back a pace every time Rhiannon tried to pass him. "Why don't you use your wings, my dear?"
"I'd much rather walk, thank you very much," The Elfling retorted with a snarl and picked up speed. Just keep walking, Rhi, he's NOT in charge of your life.
Keeping up with Rhiannon by air-walking next to her, just high enough above the grass to stay eye level with the now angry young woman, Eanfled cocked his head and asked, "Can't do it, can you?" Oh my, the Elfling can't fly. What use will you be to the Goddess now? How will you follow through on the visions?
The redhead stopped dead in her tracks and looked at Eanfled's smug expression, her fists clenching so hard her knuckles turned white. "What do you really want from me, father?" The last word came from her mouth sounding like she had just tasted the most disgusting dish in the known world.
"I want to help you, teach you what you need to know about life in order to survive what you have created." A slender green hand traced over the scar between Rhiannon's brows. "Remember, Warrior." That knife left a deeper mark than any needle with indigo pigment would, priestess.
Although a long silence passed between father and daughter, Eanfled's mood softened. He'd deny it in all languages if you asked him, but the Elfling reminded him of himself, when he stood at a crossroads as a young lad and gave up the safety of his elven world to follow his love into the land of humans. He didn't have the strength to stand it for long and accepted his limits. Not that he'd even consider lending his aid to the Taliesin if he didn't feel it was right, the task of Gate Keeper suited him perfectly. Life on the Dream Stone, among other things had prepared him for this moment. His child, this delightfully innocent moonchild, did posses the power and the courage to be a bridge between worlds and was hear to learn that, or as he'd rather say, remember.
Eanfled landed in front of his child with a warm smile and very gently pulled the confused and exhausted Elfling into his arms. Souna bai kemerrha sa deises, Rhiannah ad Avalon.
Rhiannon winced at first, rejecting her father's invitation to peace between them, yet her resistance lasted but a heartbeat at the sound of his voice in her head. I'm scarred.
"I know, lass." The Gate Keeper whispered into his daughter's ear as he hugged her tight. "The final vision you had on your way back from Ephiny is merely one of the many outcomes that can be achieved." You are absolutely right in thinking that these events can be altered, my child. Believe in yourself and trust the Goddess to guide you.
Rhiannon let her father go and wiped her damp eyes with her palms. "I know."
"Then what is it Rhiannon? Let me in." Confused, Eanfled tilted Rhiannon's chin with a finger. "Tell me Warrior, how can I assist you?" Feeling her focus turn inside, away from his reach again, Eanfled tried a different approach. "Priestess, in what way can this old elf be of service to you?"
Rhiannon blocked her mind the moment her father mentioned Ephiny. With an abrupt push, she shoved the elf back, and resumed her high-paced stroll into the woods.
Eanfled relentlessly followed Rhiannon and grabbed hold of his daughter from behind, just before she slammed her head into a low hanging branch. Then he lifted her up along the slender, white spine of a birch tree, dodging branches on his way to clearer sky.
"As above, so below," The Gate Keeper's voice bellowed. " Now fly, stubborn lass, fly." As Rhiannon's feat nicked the highest leaf on the tree, with all his might, the dark-elf took his child up into the clouds and let her go.
Rhiannon's anger changed to panic as she tried to grab hold of the tree, only to be left with a hand full of leaves. The moment they cleared the trees, the air got thinner and the redhead gasped for breath, struggling to break free. Blood pounded in her head, and when Rhiannon registered how far up her father had taken them, his strong arms suddenly relaxed.
In a reflex, Rhiannon trod on air, clawed and grabbed at nothing but space and saw the night-cloaked earth racing towards her fast, despite her efforts to delay what she believed to be the inevitable. Her muscles soon started burning and breathing was no picnic either.
Eanfled dropped into a free fall when he saw his daughter on the verge of giving up and yelled, "What's the matter Moon Warrior? Is it too hard for you already?" Draping his wings around himself like a mantle, the elf tumbled towards Rhiannon. The moonlight reflecting off the surface of Eanfled's silver thread wings made them appear as a solid disk that deflected its rays towards his daughter's body.
Rhiannon was blinded by the stinging, bright light that surrounded her like a vacuum and felt herself slowing down. Since her return to the Dream Stone, her wings remained limp and useless. Ephiny had not even been able to see them and she certainly couldn't feel them. With the moon's light bathing and filling the minute veins and nerves, Rhiannon definitely felt her wings come to life.
Unlike her father's bat-like silhouette, Rhiannon spread out both arms and found her wings unattached to them. They followed the curve of her arms and stretched at least four hands longer. The silver-threaded structures joined between her shoulder blades, right were the tattoo had appeared and her leathers split open. Like a butterfly fresh out of her cocoon, charging her wings in the sun for the first time, the Elfling took flight under an almost full moon.
With his hands folded behind his head, floating on a breeze, the Gate Keeper watched over his daughter. A smug smile plastered on his face when Rhiannon tried her first loop and got caught in a cross-wind and resorted to free fall in order to get out of the slamming air pocket. "That's my girl," He purred with delight, rubbing his chest proudly.
Rhiannon was up in the sky for as long as the moon allowed her, boldly practicing the stunts she'd seen Eanfled demonstrate. With every success, after plenty of failures that got her tangled in the trees, she would catch her breath and fly up to her father, throwing him a mischievous grin.
"You may not win any of my praise for being a wonderful father but this makes up for plenty." Rhiannon looked at the dark-elf wistfully, not quite sure what to think of him yet. Getting aquatinted with the wind under her wings, and the moon's energy pulsing through them was like nothing she had ever experienced before.
"Alright, now that we've had the fun part, its back to business, lass. You need to know what you've inherited from me, and what's typical dark-elfish." Eanfled snapped his fingers and waited for his daughter to appear beside him on the forest floor and ended up waiting for a very long time.
Miffed, the elf flew up into the nearest tree, perched on a sturdy branch and sulked. "If that trick doesn't work on her anymore, I must be getting old or she's just that good. A proper thank you or good bye would have been nice." Ambahvai, Rhiannah ad Avalon.
From the moment Rhiannon took flight, the weight and complications of her problems seemed to fall from her heart, like fairies fleeing from the cold. She knew how she could become one with the heavenly currents and all below it, no longer distracted by the ever present and demanding voices of her family. The last shell fell from her eyes.
In one final ascent, the Elfling raised her hands up to the moon, tugged her legs in and dove down headlong towards the earth. A hair's width before smashing into the trees, she pulled up by focusing on the horizon and raced over the edge of the forest, away from Eanfled. "It's my turn now." A light spray of rainwater from the clouds trailed in her wake. Ambahvai, Eanfled, sai Par.
Rhiannon scoped the areas she past, and sensed a faint human life-sign at the bottom of a small ravine, just across a marsh behind the forest.
"Who else has he got trapped here, I wonder?" Rhiannon asked herself, carefully descending through the canopy of trees, ivy and shrubs, down to the shallowest part of the ravine. "At least the forest is staying in one place now. I can actually see better at night than I can during the day. Must be a dark-elf thing!" Rhiannon giggled, amused with the latest detail of her elven heritage shining through.
Beside a fallen and rotten oak stump, Rhiannon spotted a shivering Xena, curled up between its bare and uplifted roots. Her hair was all over the place, with bits of leaf and tiny twigs poking out of the chaotic locks. Her aura shone bleakly in contrast to the nocturnal silhouettes around her, but bright enough for Rhiannon to find her.
Climbing over rocks and more organic, seasonal off casts and dead trees, the Elfling approached the Warrior carefully. Rhiannon's heart swelled at the thought of Xena caring so much about her. "You followed me here?" She wondered, not realizing she had spoken out loud.
Xena's body flinched as she felt a warm, cautious hand on her shoulder. "Gabrielle?" She managed to utter and lifted her head.
Rhiannon pulled the Warrior into a sitting position, supporting her from behind with her arms and whispered, "It's me, Rhiannon: I've got you." When the confused woman tried to stand up, the Elfling tightened her hold and stroked Xena's head gently. "Shh, relax for a moment, Warrior. You are on the Dream Stone, and I'm here to take you home."
Xena leaned back into Rhiannon's warm embrace when the young woman started massaging her scalp. Xena felt her muscles release the pent up tension, one by one. A delicate tingling sensation began under the Elfling's nimble fingers and spread out all the way down to her feet. Eventually the fear and anger lines etched on the Warrior's brow softened and she opened her eyes.
"By the gods" Xena gasped when she turned to face her friend.
Rhiannon was very glad that Xena couldn't see her face flush a deeper green in the dark and sighed, "Ta daa."
The Warrior's trembling hand reached up and traced the Elfling's cheek with her fingertips. "It's good to see, err, feel you, my friend." She croaked and felt around Rhiannon's body in search of something. "Water skin?"
"Water," Rhiannon stated decisively and scooped the Warrior up onto her feet.
Staggering through the ravine, leaning on Rhiannon, Xena felt her strength return a little. It was enough to hold on until they found a clearing.
"Hold still a moment." The Elfling leaned Xena against a boulder and pressed a hand against the Warrior's chest over her heart. "You are too heavy for me to lift."
A sensation slightly stronger than the one her friend caused earlier, spread through Xena's body in a rush and she felt her limbs become lighter. Other than that, she became drowsy. The damp night air racing past her skin and the sudden loss of solid ground under her feet, forced Xena to snap her eyes open again.
Blinking against the moonlight, Xena focused her sight on the shadowy horizon, trying to regain some sense of control but failing. Her body went limp, held up high in the arms of a deeply concentrating Elfling.
A moan of relief came from Rhiannon's mouth as she approached a wide river, meandering into a thinner part of inclining, rocky forest. Her skin was saturated and her lungs started to sting from the exertion of flying with cargo. "Almost there, Xena," She panted.
It's a good thing Xena wasn't conscious enough to feel the free fall coming, but the bite of cold water and sudden lack of air brought her back like a slap in the face.
Xena broke through the surface of the water, sputtering and coughing, a few moments before Rhiannon spiraled up a stroke away, blasting the Warrior aside and under again with a crashing wave.
Rhiannon dove back into the river, taking some time to calm down and relish in the feel of cool water against her over-heated skin. By the gods, I made it!
Xena managed to catch her breath and swam to the rocky bank of the river. Dragging herself up onto a flat ridge above the waterline, she searched for Rhiannon and yelled, "Stop being such an elf and help me find a way to get us out of here!" Oh no, Eanfled the second?
In one last spiraling flight up, sparkling droplets slid off the Elfling's wings easy as water from ducks' feathers. She flew over to a visibly annoyed Xena and perched herself on the ridge next to the Warrior. "Eanfled played a pretty harsh number on you, didn't he Xena?" She asked calmly and smiled at her friend.
"Next question. How do we get OUT of his quaint little freak show?" Xena snarled and wrung the water out of her dripping hair with more force than necessary, hoping Rhiannon would drop the subject.
Rhiannon couldn't help chuckling at the warriors screwed up face and retorted amicably. "I'm not my father, Xena. Relax... drink plenty of water. We are leaving."
"How?" Xena asked, not so sure what to make of her friends new found confidence and planted her hands on her hips firmly. My track record with elves is shit so far honey. Indulge me.
"Get out of your head, Warrior Princes, and talk to me." Rhiannon snapped at Xena. Rhiannon took the woman by the shoulders and turned her around, facing up stream. "See the mist hanging around the waterfall just around that jagged drop of rock?"
Xena nodded, following the line of sight a green finger pointed out over her shoulder.
"The way in is also the way out." The Elfling said evenly.
"If everything would stay in the same place for more than a candle mark, it might be." Xena chided in frustration. "By the time we've reached that waterfall, it'll be somewhere else or gone completely."
"Believe it or not, that's only the way it looks to humans. Follow me, my friend. Our presence is badly needed elsewhere."
"What do you mean? Haven't I been through enough of this crap today without you adding some insane quest or something?" Xena refused to walk before she got an answer.
Rhiannon had already made it to the first ledge up, but flew back to the Warrior. Placing a hand on the exhausted, sulking woman's cheek, she whispered, "Be patient Xena, it will be all right" Through the slight contact with Xena, the elfling caught enough of a glimpse to know what her father had put the woman through and shivered despite herself. "It's because of the Taliesin we are here, and he'll get his own back soon, I promise my friend."
In the night before Beltaine, Vivian initiated herself the new High Priestess of Avalon with the help of her dearest friends. As the tradition breaker Vivian was, no stag entered her, no fires burned and no spells were cast. Her vows were simple and profound. My sister was waking up to the realities of life in Britain, under the laws of the Druidical system. There was no true system and a priestess made her vows to the Goddess, not to a man. Besides, any self-serving reasons of an Arch Druid or a High Priestess to mold the present and future would always backfire.
Some Royals would try to bribe their way to wealth and power, backed up by a druid and a good army if they were lucky. The rest just ran around like sheep, hiding from nature and raiders. Outside the relatively safe haven of Avalon, the Orkneys, or other places dedicated to worshiping the Goddess in her various forms, Rome was threatening their existence with a cruelty, she could no longer ignore. Vivian claimed the position of High Priestess because she knew all her life that it was her place, even though she never wanted to admit it before Rather Vivian saw herself as the wife of a wealthy royal, so she could indulge in her more decadent interests. No such life would be hers now that the Goddess, under an almost full moon, accepted her vows.
Sisterhood of the Moon
As the many brightly dressed guests arrived on Avalon, Vivian hurried around, making sure everybody felt welcome and at ease.
The Village Square was decorated with large platted wheat wreaths and flower arrangements. Many torches lit the outside of the white round huts, built around the square in the shape of a pentagram. The fires gave the buildings a warm glow, and from the slight elevation of the well, you could see fires already burning around the Tor. At the south side of the settlement, just through the apple orchid and up the hill, white and brown robed women were hard at work, building woodpiles for the annual celebration of Beltaine. Each pyre contained the wood of twelve sacred tree types. Tents were set up to the west of the village. Vivian expected at least one hundred and fifty guests. Beltaine was Avalon's busiest time of year.
Vivian's attention was drawn to a tall, thin young man in the darkest corner of crowded Hall of her Lady- the two-story building in the middle of the square were many rituals and communal activities took place. The young man's uncombed curly hair hid his cobalt blue eyes, but didn't disguise his wise expression. Dressed in a torn kilt and goatskin vest, he didn't resemble any of the wealthy young bards or druids in training, that ran about the orchard daring each other to cast spells.
"Nimue, will you divide this chore list among the maidens and make sure extra torches are available for later." The one-night-old High Priestess of Avalon asked her colleague and friend before she turned to the lad.
Nimue walked after her sister and grabbed her by the elbow. "Don't let him know we've already initiated you. Just make sure Gwydion is out of the equation," she whispered to the redhead and winked knowingly.
The High Priestess nodded and squeezed her sister's hand with gratitude for her discretion and sharp mind. "He's one of mine, dear." She whispered back.
"Thank the Goddess, because he's very strong for his age. I can feel him from here." The blonde woman shot an appraising glance at the young man from the corner of her eye and chucked softly, "Where on earth did you find him, Viv? He's so pure and alert. Maybe a little too alert if you ask me."
"He followed me here from the Orkneys, like a stray dog and vowed his destiny was entwined with mine, as the next Arch Druid of Avalon." Vivian caught her sister's dreamy expression and gasped. "Why my Lady of Corium, I said Arch Druid, not lover."
Misty mauve eyes refocused on the redhead. "And the intentions of this young thing are guided by his heart and the Goddess, not by his desire to get under your robe?"
"Oh, my robe is safe, my dear." Vivian retorted with the most innocent look she could manage and sucked on her index finger." It's your robe we might get worried about, by the looks of it, and I don't think he's that young."
"I'll be, uh, outside if you need me." Nimue's voice sounded a little huskier than she hoped it would, and as she dashed out of the hall in a hurry, someone crashed into her in the doorway.
Scrambling to her feet, rubbing her throbbing head, the blonde priestess looked up and gasped in surprise, "Tu ta Danna, watch where you are going," and then fell back on her behind when she saw who it was standing before her, nursing a bruised chin.
"It's good to see you too, little Nimue." Rhiannon looked as surprised as the blonde, at Nimue's new High-Priestess robe. "Next time let me enter before you hug me." Rhiannon moaned when she rubbed over her painful jaw. Then she yanked Nimue up and along with her towards Vivian. "Emergency gathering right now, Sis."
Vivian, who was standing over by Merlin, leaning gingerly against the wall as the young man explained something to her, saw her sister coming and pushed the animated lad aside. Thank the Gods she made it! She's mad as a wounded bull but she's back. And where's Xena, Rhiannon? What have you done?
"I want to see you and Nimue in the orchard. Right now." The Elfling breathed hard, trying to keep her face neutral and not attract too much attention. The spell she had cast on herself to appear like a maiden would wear off soon. From the cover of her white hooded robe, she signaled Merlin to walk passed her. As he did, she slipped him a note before shoving him aside. "Make sure it's the clearest mead you can find," she yelled after him, and left the hall through the back door, her sister's close on her heals.
In dire straits
A small group of miffed boys and girls hurried passed the gates of the orchard, after a hooded maiden told them to vacate the garden immediately, or risk the wrath of all 12 of the High Priestesses. The youngest boy flinched when he passed Vivian and Nimue and ran for the village crying for his mother.
"Where in the Goddess' name did you come from Rhi, and what's with the"
Nimue's teasing rant abruptly fell silent after Rhiannon shook the spell, flung back the hood and faced her sisters.
"You were saying?" The Elfling asked and approached the well-armed High Priestess of Gaul daringly. In contrast to her own circle, the druids and priestesses of Gaul bore arms, and were notorious shadow fighters.
"Err, well... oh, I give up. What potion did you drink and where can I get hold of some and why didn't you tell me about this, Viv?" Nimue slapped Vivian across the belly.
"You don't want to tease her just now Nimue. Rhi is still a little touchy about her appearance and"
"Oh shut your trap, Viv. If you can't talk about anything else, get lost." Rhiannon eyed her twin with a grin and giggled when she saw Vivian grow pale. "First things first." At least some people stay predictable.
"I heard that," Vivian and Nimue retorted simultaneously.
The Elfling ignored their remark and sat down under the oldest apple tree in the back of the field, motioning the others to follow her lead. Her eye fell on one of the Shetland ponies that the maidens kept to keep the grass short. The poor thing was stumbling through the orchid, and she giggled at the single horn on its head. The pony was having a hard time keeping its horn out of the lower branches and whinnied her irritation. "So Eanfled and Eilan aren't the only ones that like to experiment around here." She said with exasperation. "If only all magick was this innocent." She clapped her hands once and the pony was set free of its unnatural burden. The animal galloped out of the orchard with wild abandon. Rhiannon focused her attention on her sisters again.
"Vivian, I have learned a great deal but there is no time to fill you in on every detail now. Let us form a circle and join hands, then I can show you what you both need to know." She nodded at Nimue, who looked pensive, and reached out her left hand to the blonde woman. "You too, sister. " Realizing that Nimue was not going to join the circle without more of an explanation, Rhiannon dropped her hands. "I'm a half-elf, Nimue. My father is a dark-elf, and be glad you can't see how dark my skin really is. Now deal with it, Sister. There's something else that needs our attention."
"Hold on a moment." We already know of Gwydion's plans, Rhi." Vivian straightened her posture and summoned up the face of The Lady. "Merlin told us everything. He was born with the Sight, like us, Rhi. The boy has managed to rectify the Taliesin's wrongs so far, under my supervision, of course. The old man's invitations never made it off the island. Now he can't try any new schemes without Merlin knowing about it."
Rhiannon's face went pale as she listened to her twin sister. By Ceridwen, she's good.
Vivian rolled up one of her sleeves to show the dried blood on her arm and continued. "I have already taken the vows to be High Priestess. I've even denounced the name 'High Priestess' and taken on the original title of First Dalmane." Vivian's voice sounded serious for once, as she disclosed the information.
Rhiannon knew that Dalmane was the title of the Lady of the Lake, before the women joined forces with the Druids or Dergwid, and made changes to satisfy the Romans twisted religious hang-ups. Ever since that day, a priestess would have to prove she was untouched, just like the Vestal virgins of Rome, or be raped and sold as a slave.
"Gwydion is in the dark about everything. The Avalon Druids are preparing to banish him from the country during Beltaine, so all those loyal to the Goddess will witnesses his fall. The Arch Druid of Vernemeton, Bendeigid, is aware of his treason and will support us. He will also appoint the new Arch Druid for Avalon.
Nimue listened to Vivian explain matters to the elfling half-heartedly, and circled Rhiannon, taking in the various details that had changed on the face and body of her old friend. So the elven folk are not a myth yet, thank the Goddess.
"I will also disclose my new identity during the opening ceremony." Vivian said. All the High Priestesses of the Goddess have agreed that the First Dalmane resides on Avalon. We thought of reconstructing the initiation ritual for the priestesses and maidens but decided to stick with the cleansing fires. A lot more is going to change around here, Rhi. And I don't mean reinstating all the old ways."
Rhiannon stood up abruptly as tears welled in her eyes. Her heart pounded in her ears, as the pride she felt for her sister replaced the contempt she used to feel. Touching the sickle-shaped scar between her brows, and then bringing the hand to her heart, she saluted her Lady of the Lake. "I saw this in my vision, but I couldn't recognize your face, Vivian. Forgive my commandeering manner. I am at your service." Taking a deep, shaky breath, the Elfling paused and closed her eyes for a moment. Seeing Ephiny's face appear before her minds eye strengthened her decision. I have to tell her I'm leaving, as soon as Beltaine is over.
Vivian was linked to her twin by Site in the strongest way possible. She saw and felt what her sister did and her heart swelled with relief and sorrow, all at the same time. She couldn't hold back her tears either and stood to embrace Rhiannon. It's all right, Rhi. I won't force you to stay on Avalon. I know your love is waiting for you in Greece.
Nimue picked up a twig and focused her attention elsewhere, to give the sisters some privacy. Her heart warmed at the thought of the legendary Iceni twins finally making their peace. Rhi would be half-elf, wouldn't she? I mean, the ears, her acute sense of hearing and ability to communicate with animals had to come from somewhere, right? She could already do that as a kid! It suits her to be free from the shadow of her sister and mother. Oh Goddess, look at the cuties.
"Goddess, Vivian, you saved us all," Rhiannon panted in her sisters' hair and let all the tension flow from her body, sobbing freely. She was safe, in the arms of her twin sister and Lady, the First Dalmane of Avalon.
Pushing the Elfling back a little, Vivian made eye contact and asked. "I saved who, sweetie?"
Rhiannon took hold of her twin's left hand and placed it over her brow. "Take a look."
After a fraction of a heartbeat, pulling her hand away as if she just touched a hot cauldron, Vivian tugged the Elfling to her chest again. This time she held on tight and scoped the orchard for signs of intruders. Not only was she shocked by Rhiannon's vision, her senses also warned her that they were no longer a threesome.
Nimue glanced at the two sisters now and then, who were reacquainting themselves, without saying so much as five words. She felt her skin crawl when she shifted position to get a better view of an almost full moon. Unsheathing her sword, the woman slowly took to her feet and followed the vibes coming from the apple-drying shed at the back of the orchard. I think a spell just wore off over there.
Vivian heard Nimue think and noticed her sister arm herself, She let Rhiannon go and turned to follow Nimue. Rhiannon resisted walking along with her.
"Stop," Rhiannon hissed through her teeth. Slightly pushing her weight off the ground, the Elfling took flight for a few moments and landed before Nimue.
It's all right. A warrior is in there recovering and hiding. Trust me, she's my friend.
The redhead winked when the young blonde made eye contact. Thank you for being so alert all the same, Nimue.
Nimue nodded knowingly and replaced her sword in its fur-lined scabbard with great care. Vivian told me she went after you to the Dream Stone. This is one Warrior I have got to meet. The blonde smiled and relaxed. Now, what are we going to do about that weasel of an Arch Druid, who is up to Eilan's old tricks?
With all the followers of our Goddess and Xena here, that shouldn't be a problem, Rhiannon boasted with a chuckle and resumed conversing out loud, "You say yourself the Druids will banish him, no?"
"What do you mean, all Her followers are here?" The First Dalmane enquired with a voice that suggested something else was the case.
"You said a while back that you rectified Gwydion's wrongs with Merlin's help and" A sigh followed when Rhiannon saw her twin's confused expression.
"Yes, we reported him to the Druid's syndicate for stealing the Omfalos gem of Atlantis, and hiding it in our part of the caves of the Tor. During the whole ordeal revolving around the Amazon-goddess you froze in one of the Tor caves, the stone got sealed in with her. Eilan tried to get the stone and the powers of the Amazon out, but got sucked in trying. Taliesin probably thinks he'll be more successful with you and Xena out of the way. I think he wanted everyone out of the way and tried sending every initiate to the Island of Mona."
"You mean there are still sisters and druids celebrating Beltaine on Mona tomorrow night?" Rhiannon could hardly speak because of her chest imploding at the thought that her vision might still come true, and there wasn't anything she could do about it from Avalon. The redhead sank to her knees as the images of her sisters being slaughtered invaded her mind again.
Vivian saw the same images and pulled Rhiannon back on her feet.
"By the Goddess, so that's what Gwydion was really planning. He wants the entire line of Priestesses annihilated and is playing into the hands of the Romans, who are doing their best to eradicate Druidry all together. If I didn't know better, you'd start to think that Gwydion would sell out his fellow druids to those that follow the Nazarene of Palestine at Ynis Withrin, so only the Druids survive his wretched plan."
"Yes," the Elfling croaked with difficulty. "I wouldn't put it past him, the traitor."
The sun was setting and the day before Beltane eve started.
"So what do we do now? I mean... Merlin made sure most of the invitations for joined Beltaine celebrations on Mona were destroyed, so all circles and syndicates celebrate safely at home this year. With Paulinus's men scattered over the west coast, it's too hazardous for them to gather at Mona. I say safety comes before tradition. I did invite some personal friends over for my initiation and thought we'd dealt with the Taliesin's troublemaking. It now seems I haven't done enough." Vivian's voice raised half an octave and her jaw set.
"What if we go find him and you ladies let me drive a sword through the bastard's gut?"
The three women turned around with surprised faces, to find a leather-clad warrior standing in the orchard, with a feral grin on her face.
"So you are okay now, Xena?" Damned, she's good at stealth.
"Yes Rhi, I'm okay. According to your story, Gwydion is better dead today than tomorrow, but that's just my opinion."
'If we kill him now, we'll never know what else he's got planned," Nimue quipped, slightly worried Xena might up stage her.
"Besides, we need him to secure the Omfalos gem," Vivian added. "Without that, the last remnant of our ancient legacy is lost. Only a Druid can touch the stone."
Xena grew impatient and mumbled, "He won't be doing much touching if the stone is sealed in the cave, now will he?"
"We are going to have to play this one by ear, sisters," Rhiannon concluded with dread in her voice.
Centurion Dominic Peregrinus stood on a grassy hilltop, close to the town of Deva, on the boarder of colonized Britannia Superior. He glanced down at the trampled field where his soldiers had camped until high noon- now bare and bathed in the soft anthracite and indigo of dusk during a full moon. All that remained, to the side of the field, were a handful of tents and half a Century of men.
"Another successful day of hunting, and three and a half happy Legions on their way to the next victory." A large callused hand swiped over the Roman's short beard and his leather armor crackled. "Paulinus will be delighted when five carts filled with buckskins and another fifty additional carts loaded with fresh slaves, arrive at his station by sunrise. Britania Inferior will be ours by tomorrow and the Keltoi Druids will be no more."
"I hear you hand picked the healthiest female specimens and even managed to throw in a few of those mysterious Picts." Dominic's right hand man, Gordian of Ravenna, grinned at his comrade in arms. "That should remedy any complaints he has about Boadecia's brother getting away with two of our finest catapult rigs, among other things." Gordian's eyebrows jiggled suggestively. "I must say you handled Gwydion the Crazy with great finesse, my liege. He will pay for selling out his kin, I'm sure, but in the mean time, we get first kill."
Both men chuckled and Dominic slapped his friend on the back playfully.
"Let's get back to our men and brief them on tomorrows attack on the Island of Mona, my friend. We should only need twenty men to squash the druids and their women while they celebrate Beltaine together. They won't stand a chance." The Centurion rubbed his hands together excitedly. "I want this region secured by the time the Governor issues Adeicito Sterilivm. The fleet has arrived at Deva and will strike at first light. The Governor's orders to set up shop and collect the taxes will follow soon after. I don't trust the Ordovician clan elder yet. He ran to that Iceni bitch and her druids for help the last time we tried to claim the west coast. Caesar got whipped by the she-demon."
"But this time, they won't see us coming and with the Silurers backing us from the rear, victory is ours." An evil little giggle escaped Gordian's otherwise stoic expression. "What say you Centurion, shall we down a skin of that mead we confiscated from the Abby to celebrate and get warm?"
"By Bacchus, that's the best suggestion I've heard all day, comrade."
The full moon rose higher still as the Romans strolled down hill to camp.
Well worn leather sandals poked out from under the threadbare rim of the Taliesin's robe in frantic rhythm with his running. "It's all going terribly wrong, Merlin." He shouted at the young man, who was running at his side with great ease.
"There are more guests crossing to Avalon than Vivian and I invited. Everybody should be happily settling in on Mona, for Hearn's sake." Stopping to catch his breath, the old man leaned heavily on his staff and panted. "You... are you sure you gave the right parchments to the right courier, boy?"
"Yes My Lord," Merlin said politely, keeping his head down in the manner the Arch Druid demanded. "Just as you instructed, My Lord."
"I want you to run to Vivian and tell her not to do anything besides making our guests comfortable until I return. The Druid commanded sternly, fiddling with a strand of his beard. "Understood?"
As Merlin shot back toward the village, Gwydion hurried to the east of the island, on to The Lake shore where the thick mist veiled Avalon from the world. At the edge of the pebbly shore, the old man placed his hands on a neat pile of rocks and summoned the Gate Keeper in silence.
"Brought me a new toy then, Arched Druid with a stick?" The boyish snickering announced Eanfled's presence and the elf landed before his guest with an amused grin dancing on his face.
"I'm quite bored with the Warrior. She broke because she wouldn't break, can you imagine?" The elf whispered in disbelief and covered his eyes with a hand. "She'll not bother you again, or anybody for that matter."
"What about my Elfling?" Gwydion implored impatiently. Stop being a nuisance.
You know what I'm here for, elf.
"Well, she's a lovely lass to look at, a real chip off the old block but between you and me," Eanfled motioned for the druid to come closer, "she ran into the forest of Fawns the moment she saw her elven reflection and vowed she could never show her face in the outside world again." Embracing the druid's shoulders like a friend, he added cheerfully, "She's welcome to stay here of course and uh, add a little color to my collection of sentients."
"That was the whole point of bringing them here genius," The Taliesin retorted with a growl. "Vivian and Nimue will be brought to you by my pupil next. Think you can handle them?"
Eanfled's grin widened from one ear to the other. "No sweat, Druid. Someone has to do it. Do I get the boy too?"
"Yes, well, make sure you keep them here and I'll release you from your bonds to the Dream Stone after all the diseases are removed from the Nation's spiritual heart." The Taliesin closed his eyes for a moment to savor his vision.
"Diseases huh?" Eanfled snickered and lifted off the ground with his arms raised.
"By The Power's That Be, it is granted, TIMES THREE."
The last two words sounded like a gong ringing in his head and Gwydion sank to his knees, slamming his hands over his ears in pain.
Praying over the druid like a hawk, the Gate Keeper's voice grew louder still.
"One... for the Elfling"
The druid's robe and all that symbolized his status vanished from his pale, bony frame.
"Two... for Avalon."
Draining from him like blood out of a gaping artery, the druid felt his connection to the initiates of the mysteries and the knowledge of the Sacred Geometry leave his grasp.
"Three... for the Goddess, whom you discarded in your blind lust for power, the Arch Druid of Avalon no less."
"No, not my sight." Gwydion screamed and clawed through the dirt, looking up at a fading Eanfled and begged on a raspy breath. "Please, I shall reform for the Goddess' sake."
"Oh no old man, you don't just lose the use of your eyes. The Sight goes too, for the Goddess' sake."
The naked old man lay by a curiously neat pile of rocks on The Lake shore. His wracking body was slowly embraced by the soft and traitorous caress of the mist.
A Druid's bitter song
The Second Druid of Avalon, Athelwold of the Cantiaci, paced up and down the narrow lane between his hut and that of the Arch Druid. How he didn't know, but Gwydion lay on his cot dying. Not that this fact saddened him in any way. The Arch Druid had desecrated every vow he made to his syndicate and the Goddess many years ago, and was sure to pay for his selfishness. Athelwold just didn't think it would be in this manner. Something or someone had clearly stripped him of everything that made him a man, druid and initiate of the mysteries, and it was not the direct work of the Goddess. A more devious mind had gone to work on his peer. On discovery of the near lifeless body, he sent Merlin to fetch Vivian. His healer's eye told him the man was beyond saving, and not a bone in his body wanted to try either.
"M'Lady, hurry," Merlin panted at the door of Vivian's quarters. "Gwydion is dying and Athelwold is asking for you."
The redhead looked up at the young man, frowning in confusion. "Dying?" She asked the lad, standing up from her table as she walked over to him.
"Yes'm." The lad hid his face in his hands as he bent over to catch his breath, hoping Vivian would just go to the druid's village and not drill him for more information. "He was found out by the Lake this morning when the druids did their daily round."
"And?" Vivian asked, feeling the lad knew more, sensed more at least.
"Well." His shoulders slacked under the burning gaze of his Lady as he gave in to her. "He carries a slight trace of energy similar to that of the Dream Stone."
Vivian chewed on the inside of her cheek for a few moments, staring at her sandals.
A small grin grew on her face as she thought about what the boy said. "You run back to Athelwold and tell him to let the bastard rot in his bed. He can finish the job himself, for all I care. Justice has been served, no matter who took care of it."
Rather a harsh reaction for The Lady of Avalon, don't you think? Rhiannon communicated with her sister from the next room.
Stay out of this Rhi. I thought you wanted him gone as much as I did?
Gone, yes. Dead is an entirely different matter.
Butt out RedTterror!
Right, it's your show, but I think you earn the title of "Red Terror" now, Viv. You have it in you to let a man die, I don't.
And that is what... bad? Considering he and the Romans are responsible for flogging mother half to death, almost raping us and killing every Druid and Priestess in sight. Meanwhile, they enslave the rest of our people, to send them to the led mines to die, and this all happens because Prasutagus died and the bloody Governor can't decide on a new client. You better believe I'm capable of letting a man die. Especially if it's a Roman or Gwydion
I love you Viv, and I'm glad you're the First Dalmane now!
Then let me get on with things... my way, sweetheart. The sooner this is over, the sooner we can focus on uniting the Celts and bringing forth a High King to rid our lands of Romans and all the other raiders!
"Well, what are you waiting for, Merlin? Scat." The redhead muttered at the giggling lad, hissing like a cat for emphasis. "And keep your mind out of my and my sisters business."
"Yes'm, consider me gone already."
After being tricked by Eilan, Gwydion, and my entire family for that matter, I wasn't really looking forward to celebrating Beltaine... again. Although the last time around, Eilan issued the celebration without waiting for the proper season. This event was laden with a heavier load than the last. I knew too much and couldn't shake the images of death and destruction from my mind. Even the metallic taste of blood flavored my mouth from time to time. I counted the candle-marks and arriving guests to kill time after explaining to Xena, over and over again, why we needed her to play such a large part of ridding ourselves of the Romans. She wasn't thrilled, to say the least, but knew she was already in too deep not to help. Besides, I felt her hatred for anything Roman and played on that. Only two things kept me from running and leaving everyone and everything far behind: The though of my love for Ephiny and my trust in the fact that the Goddess went far above and beyond any frame or ritual to contain Her. I also trusted that Vivian, mother and uncle Donnal would pick up their part in the bigger picture. I felt a new sense of connection to them. The Avalon Sisters even accepted my true nature once I showed my face around the village. Still, the tugging force at my heart, originating from elsewhere grew stronger than all of this.
My family or those that were left, together with Eanfled, the Iceni tribe and Avalon. I couldn't care enough to stay. All I truly hoped for was to make it back to Ephiny alive, to start a new life.
Her fourth face
Standing in between three arguing women left the Warrior little room to breathe, let alone pace. Xena's nerves were raw, her leathers soaked and she didn't like what she was hearing one little bit. Although she slowly understood more of Rhiannon's culture and trusted the Elfling, the Warrior had been somehow strangely aware that something was going to go wrong from the start of the festivities. Only this time, it involved a force greater than the gods she knew and hated.
During the Beltaine opening, Nimue, the very young and ambitious new High Priestess of Corium from Gaul, announced Vivian as First Dalmane and the crowd became ecstatic. The blonde preceded the opening ceremonies by invoking the Goddess and fell into a trance that shook many that attended to their core. Xena could almost taste the frustration in the air and her body tensed up ready to fight, or run.
The young blonde's mantra started out as a harmless praise to the Goddess, but Nimue soon sank to the ground convulsing uncontrollably. Vivian leaped up from her chair on a small platform, assembled at the top of the Tor for the ceremonies, and ran to her ailing friend and confidant at the center of the stone ring. Passing two enormous sacred fires she pushed the huddled and startled priestesses aside with a snarl and joined her sister and mother at Nimue's side.
Rhiannon was busy tarring the collar of the shaking priestesses' robe open and laid her hands on the woman's overheated shoulders to steady her. Spreading her wings made it impossible for the crowd to get to close and the also blocked the searing heat from the fires from reaching the priestess. The moment her hand made contact with Nimue's clammy flesh, Rhiannon froze.
Boadecia crouched down at Nimue's feet, and held the girl's kicking limbs down. When she caught sight of her daughter's expression, her head dropped. A loud, frustrated howl escaped her mouth.
Vivian sank down on her knees, opposite her sister. "Poor child, you never could stand the fasting well." She sighed, and like Rhiannon, went completely stiff when her hand rested on the still convulsing priestess' forehead.
Xena, who had been invited to attend Beltaine, the true Beltaine celebration, as Rhiannon had explained, had remained at a polite distance throughout the opening rituals. She jumped from her seat halfway down the Tor and made a run to the top as soon as she saw four women go down. By the time she got through the nervous crowd, an Elfling, a High Priestess and their mother, the Queen of Celts, were almost at each other's throats. The twins, surprisingly enough, were on the same side this time and had their mother backed up against a standing stone. Nimue was resting against another stone and looked as if she had seen a ghost- several of them actually.
Breaking the furious women up and settling the crowd was not the hardest part. It was what they asked her to help them with after that which made Xena's thumping heart make an ascent to her throat.
"What?" The raven-haired Warrior croaked, looking quite disheveled. Hades will eat his helmet before I get involved in this.
"We need you to help us drive away Romans that are attacking the sacred Island of Mona as we speak, Xena." Vivian began to explain as she walked over to Xena with a seductive smile on her face.
Rhiannon looked at Xena, swallowing hard. She decided Vivian was nowhere the right person to persuade a skeptical Warrior, and as her inappropriately flirtatious sister glided past, she stuck out her leg. You really can't help yourself around Xena, can you, Sis?"
The First Dalmane of Avalon almost fell flat on her face, tripping over her sister's foot. Rhiannon caught her just before she hit the dirt and flung her towards their mother's strong, waiting arms. "My Lady, please assist your mother by escorting her to the boat. She must leave to reinforce her brother as soon as possible." In a hiss the redhead added angrily, "Time to get serious, Sis. Now run and hurry back."
Taking a few deep breaths, Rhiannon composed herself and took Xena by the hand.
"Stay close Warrior, I'll fill you in on your part soon." Rhiannon whispered in Xena's ear. Facing the crowd, she let the Warrior's hand go reluctantly. Taking another deep breath, she flew up onto the altar in the center of the standing stones.
The gathered priestesses and royals became restless once they caught sight of Boadecia and the High Priestess leaving the Tor, and poured into the ring of stones. A priestess falling into a trance was not uncommon, but the departure of their Lady and Queen running downhill, surrounded by no more than three maidens was rare.
"My Lords." Rhiannon bowed slightly to the few royals and druids present. "My Ladies, and Sisters." A green hand tipped the scar on her forehead and then her heart as the Elfling also bowed for the women. "In the name of the Goddess, please listen to me."
Nimue grabbed the hem of her dark blue robe and walked shakily up to the altar. She raised a hand so that Rhiannon could take it and pushed back her hood. "I implore you, blessed children of our Lady, please hear what Rhiannon has to say." Her soprano voice traveled farther over the crowd than the Elfling's plea had managed, and the volume died down with a rumbling hush. Only the exploding pieces of bark, flying from the fires, disturbed the buzzing quiet.
My Lady, Great Goddess, this is for you and those that died in vain, before my eyes were opened, Rhiannon prayed to herself and let go of Nimue's hand. She closed her eyes and bent through her knees a little, pushing herself off the altar and a few feet into the air. By pumping her wings gently, she managed to hover above the slab of basalt and focus on the moon, now climbing to its zenith above the ring of stones. Her silver white rays of light cleared the last age-old giant and hit the altar directly below Rhiannon.
"May my eyes be your eyes," Rhiannon shouted, raising her arms up to the moon. Her body went rigid but hung still, and the sound that swelled up from the crowd was lost on her.
Cries and moans and screams filled the night air as all the people present saw the vision Nimue had encountered that day and Rhiannon had seen on her astral journey back from Amazonia.
Xena, who had observed the Elfling's theatrical moves stoically, doing her best to suppress the urge to walk away while she still could, froze to the spot when the moon reached its highest point. Blinded by the reflection of light that seemed to be amplified by the altar somehow, Xena reached for her sword and found it wouldn't budge from its place. The hilt felt cold and her fingers stuck to it like water on ice.
A few moments later, Xena saw images in the bright light. Images that started out as brown and red blurs darting about, became uniformed Romans, savagely plundering and killing and setting fire to everything in sight. Attempting to escape the vicious clutches of the Romans, women- young and old-- dressed in dark blue or white robes, screamed and ran for their life, only delaying their death by a heartbeat.
Xena struggled with her sword and gave up, grabbing at thin air as she snapped in to "Warrior mode". The vision went beyond the dream-like experience she was used to. Her body and mind fought for control. Xena knew it was a vision but her body reacted in a reflex to the unfolding atrocity. In reality, she began beating up a stone four times her size and weight, and left deep dents in it like a hot knife in butter.
Another loud voice similar to Rhiannon's but half an octave higher, yelled out above the moaning crowd. "As above, so below. It all ends here and it will end NOW!"
Rhiannon dropped onto the altar like she was cut from a cord. The impact brought her back and her lungs automatically sucked in air.
Xena's knees almost buckled as the vision vanished and she would have fallen, had her fists not been wedged in a standing stone, elbow deep. By the gods, what in Tartarus am I doing?
Silence fell over the Tor once again. Vivian climbed up onto the altar, pulling Rhiannon to her feet on the way up. She held up her sister until her twin found her balance. This gave her the opportunity to summon her face of the Goddess and whisper to her sister, "Let's get to work."
Rhiannon flew down from the altar and joined a rather baffled Warrior Princess in the shadow of a stone. "Come take a short walk with me, Xena." She pointed towards the dark side of the Tor and led the outwardly stoic woman away from the circle.
"Lords, Ladies and my dear Sisters." Vivian stretched her arms out to her people and spoke to them with a voice that echoed over Avalon. " You have all just witnessed a band of Romans carry out the orders of Governor Paulinius. At this moment, our sisters are being slaughtered because the Empire sees us as an embarrassingly-resistant commodity. The Celts are known throughout Europe as a pest that won't die."
Vivian's face seemed to beam as bright as the moon, and the crowd gasped in awe.
"My children, it is necessary to protect your future and heritage once again. We have always been a flexible, family of clans that will settle anywhere in peace. Now we are backed all the way into this last little corner of Gaia. We must stand and fight."
Cheers filled the night air as the ritual fires flared up, licking at the black, star- flecked sky. Vivian waited for the crowd to become silent again.
"The Lady is touched by your willingness to act on the cowardly attack of Rome, but I ask you all to refrain." The First Dalmane slapped her hands together at the height of her heart and then pulled them apart gently. Between her hands a small flame burned. Vivian powerfully flung her arms forward and let out a long, deep breath that made the flame burst into thousands and thousands of tiny gold petals that spread over the ritual ground and most people present like a fragrant snow. "We feast until dawn and will not give them any more power or sacrifices during Beltaine. Bring your thanks to the Goddess and place your trust in her as you jump over the cleansing fires. She will show her face and reckon with the evil that was done tonight." The last words Vivian spoke rang over the Tor.
Xena and Rhiannon were back and the Warrior vaulted towards the redhead in time to catch her from falling. "I've gotcha, Viv."
Rhiannon signaled the drummers to set the pace for a more celebratory mood. The steady thumping heartbeat spread across the Tor, and Nimue led the maidens in a dance. Within no time, the Tor was alive with laughter and the smell of incense; mead and roasted, spicy flatbread dominated the night air of Beltaine, as they should. Vivian was accepted as First Dalmane with great abandon, and all present pledged their loyalty to her.
Looking back over her shoulder at the festivities, Rhiannon shared ruefully with her sister, "Just imagine if Eanfled's plan worked and we had all been on Mona like during the 'old school' days."
"Old school?" Vivian uttered in question, leaning heavily on Xena's shoulder.
"I didn't know Initiates Of The Mysteries had different schools."
"They didn't, until we came along," Rhiannon said with a mischievous grin before she flew ahead, across the Avalon village square, to open the door of her sister's hut. Now we are complete, her fourth face will be revealed soon and we will reckon with the Romans or die trying.
Outside looking in
Xena found herself a comfortable chair out of the way while she waited for the priestesses, or Dalmane as they called themselves now, to prepare for a chant. She didn't need preparations anymore. Sitting quietly in the dark was what she at least needed to stop herself from going "Conqueror" on the entire village. Her mind wandered back to her conversation with Rhiannon, just after the vision had stopped.
"Are you mad? Has that Dream Stone place completely emptied you of your senses?" The Warrior hissed and felt the blood drain from her face. Or mine, for even still being here.
Before Xena could push her away, Rhiannon placed a hand over the Warrior's heart for a few moments and got flung back by an incredible force. "I thought as much," The redhead mumbled, getting back to her feet. "You've been to the other side... Shamaness."
"Would you not do that and just ask me what you want to know, Rhi? Gods, I'd tell you what ever you want to know by now. You are my friend. That's not how to treat a friend... remember," The insulted Warrior almost barked at the Elfling.
"I know Xena, there's just not enough time for idle chit chat and politeness. Listen to me carefully."
Rhiannon pulled the woman along with her to the shadows of a standing stone and leaned back against its cool surface.
"Vivian, Nimue and myself will endeavor to leave on an astral journey to the Island of Mona, about three days riding from here. It's too far away to reach in time to warn them of the pending attack of Paulinus IXth legion if we traveled by horse. I saw this in a vision... by Ceridwen. You saw it too."
"Yes, but I still don't see what I could do other than guard your bodies or join Boadecia in a fight against the Romans."
"Xena, the Goddess has four faces... we need the face of evil to be complete and strong enough to "
Fuming, Xena slammed her hands on the young Celt's shoulders and breathed, "You see me as evil, little girl?" I know exactly where this conversation is headed, and I'm not interested, dear.
"Uh, no, but... well... that hurts." Gesturing at her left shoulder with her chin she continued. "You know evil, Xena, and know how to use and ply it to do good."
Letting the younger woman go, Xena took a few steps back and let out a frustrated howl. "So what's in all this for me, besides risking my soul and not getting back to Gabrielle sooner?"
"Tell me, Xena, why would you not want to help us fight off the Romans, one more time? They are your worst nightmare too, right?" Circling the Warrior while she spoke, hoping she'd touch the right nerve this time, Rhiannon continued, "Caesar won't be a happy camper if he hears we got the better of his precious IXth legion, without so much as raising a sword. He might crucify his own governor for losing face to women, again."
Xena balled her fists so tight, she drew blood from her own palm in order to stop herself from lashing out at Rhiannon. She felt close to letting go of the rage that she'd kept pent up since they managed to get off the Dream Stone. She felt it start to seep from her control, like a dam about to burst. If I give in to your request, who will get me back?
"I won't let you slide, Xena, I promise. You trusted me enough to follow me here and to the Dream Stone. Do you trust me enough to safeguard your light?"
A nervous twitch around the corners of Xena's mouth warned Rhiannon that Xena was already close to the edge, so she stopped circling her and fixed her gaze on the woman's icy blue eyes. "Vivian can be devious, Nimue can be arrogant and I can be stubborn. It's just not enough to summon her fourth face. We need someone that knows true evil."
Xena staggered out of the Celt's reach and covered her face with her hands. Gabrielle, what should I do?
"Please, Xena." The redhead tried again, hating herself for what she was doing to her friend. "I think Gabrielle would have asked you for help, if she were standing in my place."
"Do you know how much like your father you are right now, Rhiannon?" The raspy, alto voice of the Warrior retorted.
"Yes," The Elfling replied in a self-conscious whisper. And I can't even begin to express my gratitude to you, my friend, but I will... soon.
"Alright... I'll do it," came the Warrior's final decision, before she stomped off towards the top of the Tor.
Part 4: 'Ash moon rising' is the next in line!
Part 5: 'Come full circle, time and again' will follow after that.
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