MYTH - part 2
XENA WARRIOR PRINCESS
by Anita Louise
It had been many turns of the sandglass and the Bard had not returned, the women in the village had all been discussing her departure. Many looked at Xena with sadness but none were brave enough to talk to the woman, none except a certain blond Amazon.
Ephiny had been searching the village looking for Xena and was just about to give up when Queen Melosa approached her and asked, "Have you lost something?"
Looking at the Queen she replied, "I was wondering where a certain person was."
"If it is Xena you are looking for, I saw her heading toward the inlet earlier today."
Thanking the woman she turned and headed in that direction. It didn't take her long to make it to the clearing as her eyes caught sight of the woman. She was sitting on a large rock, staring off into the vastness of the ocean. She was so deep in thought, she never even heard Ephiny until she was almost upon her.
"There you are, I have been looking all over for you."
The warrior turned to gaze at her friend as she said, "Haven't been lost."
Sitting down beside Xena she said, "Hate to tell you this, but, you have been lost since the day Gabrielle sailed away."
Seeming perturbed the woman said, "Your imagination, just because I like the peacefulness here does not mean I am pining away for Gabrielle."
Feeling the closeness of the woman against her right arm Ephiny said, "You
are, and maybe no one else wants to speak to you about it, but I will.
Gabrielle will be fine, I've seen the way she handles herself. You two have
been almost inseparable for three years and it will do you both good to have
a little time apart."
Glowering at the woman, Xena said, "She just got her memory back, what do you know about separation!"
Ephiny lowered her eyes as Xena said, "I'm sorry, it was insensitive of me, I know you are still hurting over Epinon. I just can't accept, that Gabrielle is out there sailing on that ship."
Standing Ephiny stared down at the woman and said, "Is it so much she is sailing on that ship or are you afraid she will like it and not return?"
Seeming distraught the woman replied, "I, I don't know but I have had an uneasy feeling since she left. I should have insisted and gone with her."
"Xena, look at me, Gabrielle made a promise to Sea and she is keeping it. We both know that she will keep her word. When she thought you were dead, she was going to take you back home to be buried next to your brother because she promised you she would. Try to understand, she also made a promise to Sea."
Getting to her feet the woman managed to smile at her friend as she said, "Always there to keep me on the path my friend, you are right but I still miss her."
Ephiny stared off at the water then brought her gaze to Xena as she said, "Even in death, the pain of loss is there. I will miss Ep always and I will never accept the fact that she is gone."
Pursing her lips Xena reached out and touched Ephiny's right arm and said, "I've got an idea, instead of my being 'lost' as you say, let's gather some supplies and go to Tofstan."
"Are you serious?"
Placing her hands on her hips the woman replied, "I've never been more serious. Maybe we can find out what happened and if there are any survivors."
Ephiny dug her right toe into the soft dirt as she said, "I don't want you to feel this is something you have to do."
Reaching out the warrior placed her hands on Ephiny's shoulders and said, "Look at me, this is not the face of someone that feels she has to do anything. Now, in our past it seems you left what we could have had, because you, thought for me. Don't make the same mistake again."
Nodding her head the woman said, "All right, I'm ready to face whatever is there as long as you are by my side."
The two women turned and started toward the village leaving the sounds of the incoming surf behind.
When she woke the next morning, she found herself sprawled across the two pallets. Slowly sitting up she stared around the room. The rays of the sun were now making their way through the open window. She could see the candles had burned out long ago and she got to her feet and walked over to the pail of water. Taking a drink she closed her eyes and said, "It didn't happen, you didn't come to me last night. I knew it was an old folks tale."
Taking a whiff she realized a dip in the hot springs was needed and she walked over to a trunk and removed a towel and a bar of soap. Leaving the hut she started down the trail toward the springs. It didn't take her long to find them as she removed her clothes and waded into the welcoming water. Relishing in the warmth on her body she laid back, keeping herself afloat she closed her eyes and enjoyed the sensation of the bubbling water.
She could see the two of them as if it were just yesterday when Sea had brought her to the springs. She was happy to get into the water and enjoyed soaking in it. Sea was also enjoying the water and had been splashing around making waves. Gabrielle had tried to float, but, it was becoming impossible as she looked up to see her friend playing havoc with the water. "What are you doing?"
Sea grinned at the woman and said, "You looked too comfortable, thought I would stir the water up some."
Swimming toward the woman Gabrielle dove under and grabbed Sea's waist pulling the woman down with her. The two swam in circles as Sea tried to escape the Bard's hold on her. Gabrielle wouldn't release her so the woman let her body sink. Becoming frightened Gabrielle pulled her to the surface as she said, "Sea, are you all right?"
There was no movement and the Bard was getting frantic as she pulled the
woman from the water. Laying her on her stomach she pressed on Sea's back
several times but there was still no movement. Rolling her onto her back she
straddled the woman and began to pat her face. "Sea, Gods, I'm sorry come
on, wake up!" She lowered her head and listened to Sea's chest it was then
she could hear the heartbeat as she said, "You faker!"
The woman's green eyes gazed up at her as Sea said, "I got what I wanted."
"Yes, just what is that?"
"You wouldn't release your hold on me and let me rise to the surface."
Smiling Gabrielle said, "You are also sneaky, I was just about to give up. How much longer could you have stayed under?"
Reaching out she placed her right hand on Gabrielle's waist and said, "Don't know, never been timed but I learned from Posiden a long time ago how to hold my breath under water. He said it was the longest he had ever witnessed."
The Bard had by now sat down beside the woman as she said, "Well, you certainly got my heart beating today."
Sitting up Sea turned her head and gazed into Gabrielle's eyes as she said, "I hope the day will come when it is our love that does that."
Standing Gabrielle reached down and said, "Take my hand, let's have no more of that talk, you know..."
Sea took her hand as she rose to her feet and said, "I know, until you get over this infatuation you have for the Warrior Princess, mark my words woman, the time will come when you will realize just how much you care about me."
A sound brought her back to the present, wiping the oncoming tears from her eyes she whispered, "I miss you in my life."
The two women had stopped to camp for the night, they had traveled the rest of the day and into dusk. When Ephiny spotted the stream and pointed to it, Xena nodded and turned the horse in that direction.
After gathering firewood and laying out their blankets, Ephiny looked around for Xena. The woman had been gone for quite awhile. She had started a fire and had a pot of water hanging over it. Looking in the saddlebag she found the makings for tea and was in the process of doing this when she heard footsteps approaching.
Xena walked into the camp with a satisfied smile on her face. She was holding four beautiful fish on a small branch. Getting to her feet, Ephiny walked up to her and said, "Well, it looks like you have been busy."
Holding the fish in front of the woman's face Xena Replied, "Thought you might be hungry like me and I didn't want to face dried meat again."
Taking the fish from the woman Ephiny said, "You even cleaned them, guess someone has..."
Scowling at her Xena said, "Don't even go there. Gabrielle always cleans and does the cooking, I was just giving you a break."
Smiling Ephiny walked over to the fire and proceeded to put the fish on a spit. Xena watched the woman intently and when she had finished Xena walked over to where Ephiny was kneeling and sat.
Ephiny reached out and grasped the pot of tea and said, "Would you like some?"
Xena's bottomless blue eyes reached out and took in Ephiny's light brown ones as the woman answered, "I want, some."
Ephiny didn't move for a second then she realized what she was doing and grabbed a mug and poured the tea, then she handed it to Xena. As Xena went to take the mug her fingers grasped Ephiny's and the two were locked in that moment. Finally Ephiny pulled her hand away and sat as she reached for a mug and poured herself some.
"Taking a sip then turning her attention back to Xena she said, "What has gotten into you? You are acting very strange."
Smiling at Ephiny she said, "Nothing, must be all in your mind."
Xena had gotten up and walked over to her blanket and sat down. She didn't take long to remove her armor and boots. After she removed her leathers the woman fell back on the blanket. Ephiny had been watching her and thought about offering to help but changed her mind. Xena had been acting peculiar and she thought better of it.
"Fish is ready, want me to bring it over to you?"
Raising her head she stared over to Ephiny and said, "It could wait."
Getting to her feet Ephiny walked over to Xena and knelt. Her eyes surveyed the lengthy form of her friend as she said, "All right, what is the joke?" Xena seemed perplexed as Ephiny continued, "This is not like you Xena, you constantly run from my advances, so, tell me what you are up to?"
Smiling up at the Amazon, Xena crossed her arms and said, "Maybe you have finally run me into an about face. Maybe I have decided I should take you up on your offer."
Getting to her feet the woman threw out her right hand as she stuttered, "Now, now, wait a minute. Something is definitely wrong here. I'm going to go eat if you get hungry, you know where I'll be."
Xena didn't even have to mouth the words, her face said it all as Ephiny said, "Hungry, Xena for the fish." Xena laughed as she watched her friend hurry to the campfire. Reaching out she grasped the blanket and rolled up into it.
Ephiny had been sitting by the fire, she had eaten and cleaned up the area. Xena never did come to eat and from her lack of movement she seemed to be asleep. She could not understand what had happened to her friend, Xena never acted like this. This was more like something she would do.
The next morning when Xena woke she immediately noticed the Amazon was no where in sight. She sat up and looked around.
"Good morning sleepy head. Feel like eating something?" Ephiny was standing by the campfire staring at her.
Xena managed to get to her feet continuing to keep the blanket wrapped around herself and walked toward her friend.
Holding out a mug of steaming liquid she said, "Here, some strong herbs, felt you might need them."
Xena hesitated as Ephiny laughed and said, "I'm on to you, have to admit you had me going."
Taking the mug Xena looked surprised as she said, "First, is this really strong herbs and second you are on to me, what are you talking about?"
Laughing, Ephiny sat down and stared at Xena as she said, "Come sit by me, after you drink the tea, not strong herbs and your more awake, I'll explain."
Following her friend to the ground, Xena stared at her and said, "Give, what are you talking about?"
Leaning back on her elbows Ephiny gazed at Xena and said, "Your complete change of character, coming on to me, tempting me, and acting like you want me. I'm not a child and it won't work. You think if you do to me what I was doing to you I will run."
Her blue eyes sparkling down at the woman Xena said, "It worked."
Sitting back up Ephiny grinned and said, "You're right, you had me running. Truce, at least until we find out what happened at Tofstan. I knew you would never seriously take me up on my advances."
Taking a sip of tea Xena thought for a minute then she said, "We are adults and we need to stop and think before getting ourselves into something we might regret."
"Regret? If by chance you might take me up on my offer, it could never be regretful"
Reaching out to touch Ephiny's right hand Xena said, "Yes, it could be, Gabrielle almost lost her life because of us and now she is gone and who knows when she will return."
Ephiny seemed distraught as she said, "I never meant to hurt anyone and especially Gabrielle. Our customs are so different and even now, it seems they just don't mix. I have offered to apologize to her."
Setting the mug down Xena stood and said, "I'm going to get dressed, I see you already have Argo saddled, we can leave as soon as I am ready."
Ephiny called after her, "Need any help?"
The woman turned and wrinkled up her nose as she said, "Lost your chance last night. I think I can do this all by myself."
Ephiny called after her, "What if I had taken you up on your actions? Would you have run?"
Xena ignored her and Ephiny walked over to the fire and began to put it out as a slight smile crossed her face.
Kiera had walked into the cooking area, her eyes darted around for Alexia. The woman was standing by the back door talking with one of the stable hands. She watched until the man left the room then she approached the woman and said, "Has Gabrielle returned?"
Turning to see Kiera, Alexia shook her head and said, "No. Is something wrong?"
Kiera walked over to a chair and sat she seemed worried as she said, "I don't think so but if she hasn't returned I am beginning to get worried. See that Black is saddled."
The woman's eyes widened as she said, "Mistress Kiera, has Sea returned?"
Shaking her head the woman replied, "No, I'll ride the horse, get some provisions prepared that I can take with me. If Gabrielle is all right, she is probably running low on supplies, either way."
Pardon me Mam, but, shouldn't a hand or even myself do this, it is not good that you..."
Raising her arms into the air Kiera said, "Nonsense! You would all have me in my grave already, I do not need to be handled with such delicacy, that is, unless I feel it is to my advantage."
Smiling at the woman Alexia said, "I'll see the horse is ready and provisions are packed. About the horse..."
Kiera was on her feet as she said, "Yes, it is a horse, I do ride."
"It's just he is so high strung and hasn't been ridden since the last time Sea was here, it could be dangerous."
Walking up to Alexia she placed a hand on the woman's right cheek and said, "My dear Alexia, you are so like family but do not worry, it will be fine."
Kierra had changed into riding clothes and was now standing at the corral waiting for them to bring out the Black. Alexia had walked with her and seemed to be wringing her hands in fear.
When the stable hand brought the horse out of the corral she could see that the provisions had been strapped to the back of the saddle. Approaching the woman he handed her the reins then glanced at Alexia.
Kiera turned and said, "Alexia, keep things running smoothly, I will be back in a fortnight. If I don't return by then, send someone out to look for us."
Alexia nodded her head then stepped back as she watched the woman place the
reins over the horses head. The stallion was sidestepping as it tossed its
head from side to side. Several times it reared on its back legs as the two
front struck out at the air. Kiera seemed to pay the animal no heed as she
patted its neck and said, "Now, now, it was I that helped you come into this
world, we are old friends."
The animal's eyes widened as it snorted but stood still. Alexia cried, "Mistress, be careful!
Placing one foot in the stirrup the woman grabbed the saddle horn and in an
instant she was sitting. The horse made several crow hops but she was now
glued to the saddle and seemed to get a thrill out of it. It was plain to
see that this woman knew how to handle a horse. It didn't take her long to
get reaquainted as she waved at the two and turning the horse, galloped from the area leaving a cloud of dust behind.
Gabrielle had been spending a lot of time at the beach. She loved the expansiveness and it seemed to give her a feeling of peace. She had tried her hand at fishing and found she was not very good at it, but she did manage to get wet and had a good time. She had just climbed a palm tree and threw down a coconut. She knew that it would be good and the milk would be a welcome change.
Sitting, after she managed to crack it open, she leaned back against a tree and drank the sweet nectar. Then laying it on the sand she closed her eyes, the days she had spent here had been an eye-opener and she had plenty of time to mull over things that had happened. The warmth of the Sun and the slight breeze felt good as her mind took her to another time.
The two women had been staying at the hut for several days. Sea had promised her mother she would make sure it was in top shape. She had even helped the woman do a little repairing to the building. Their time together only caused her to admire Ann Bounty more. With each day she felt a new feeling and with each day she wondered if she could ever leave this wonderful life.
They had been at the beach and she enjoyed watching Sea, fishing. The woman was a marvel and she was beginning to think that there wasn't anything she couldn't do. Sea tried to show her how to fish but she was enjoying the closeness more than listening to the words.
When they finally collapsed on the sand, laughing in elation, she turned to Sea and said, "Go ahead, tell me, I am hopeless."
Wiping sand from her arms Sea grinned and said, "Never hopeless, if you find you are in a situation and can't catch a fish, there is always the coconut."
Gabrielle had been wrinkling up her nose at the woman and Sea reached out and touched it with a finger and said, "Cutest nose I have ever seen."
"All right, if I can't catch a fish, what about the nut?"
Laughing, Sea pointed to a tree and said, "Way up top, you will find them, after we rest, I'll show you how to get one. The coconut is a traveler, some fall into the water and are carried far away and come to rest on another island and before you know it there is another tree."
Laying back on the warm sand Gabrielle said, " You are such a tease, guess they can even swim away from me."
Sea had fallen back and was now resting by the Bard. Gabrielle could feel the woman's arm against hers as she said, "You know, you have it all."
Reaching out the woman grasped Gabrielle's right hand and said, "Not all."
Turning her head and glancing into Sea's emerald green eyes she said, "What do you mean?"
Bringing Gabrielle's hand to her lips she softly kissed it and said, "I don't have you, I know at this moment you are here but I also know..."
Turning onto her side Gabrielle stared down at Sea and said, "You have always known, Gods, Sea, you have worked your way into my life and I don't think I could ever face another day if I knew you weren't in it in some way."
The noise of birds in flight woke the woman as she got to her feet and
looked around. Someone was heading in her direction, it was the Black and it
looked like a statuesque woman riding it. Her hair was blowing in the
breeze. Gsbrielle's heart seemed to jump into her throat, as she felt a
blackness engulfing her.
Ephiny and Xena had arrived in Amphipolis and the Warrior had left Ephiny at her mothers while she went to ask a few questions. Ephiny was happy to have some time to visit with Cyrene and at the same time eat a good meal. She was not the best cook and her friend didn't even like to hear the word.
She had been sitting watching the comings and goings in the tavern. Several people ran in to one another when they spied the woman. Ephiny just smiled and went about devouring the heavenly smelling meal that had been placed in front of her.
Cyrene watched the woman for several moments then she dried her hands and poured two goblets of port. When she was finished, she headed toward Ephiny's table, goblets in hand. Ephiny heard the woman approaching as she looked up with a mouthful of roasted rabbit.
Setting the goblet down in front of the woman, Cyrene pulled out a chair and sat. She smiled at Ephiny and said, "I take it my daughter doesn't take the time to prepare a good meal."
Swallowing, the woman said, "We have had food, just not as good as yours."
Leaning back in her chair Cyrene replied, "Well, that is one way to avoid an answer. Tell me, how are you doing? I heard about Tofstan."
"I'm all right, I have had your daughter there to help me through. We are going there to see if we can find out what happened and if there were more survivors than that man Xena and Gabrielle talked with."
Cyrene seemed to be deep in thought and finally said, "Gabrielle, where is she? I heard about the battle at the falls. The four of you are the topic of conversation."
Ephiny related the past events to the woman. Cyrene listened carefully then she said, "I feel there is something missing, I am after all a mother and we have certain instincts. How is my daughter taking this?"
"She's right here mother, why don't you ask her instead of getting Eph all jittery thinking she will say something that will bring the wrath of Xena down upon her."
The blond Amazon smiled up at her friend and said, "Xena, so glad you could join me."
Pulling out a chair the woman plopped down on it and said, "Whatever she is having, I want." Gazing at the remnants on her friends plate she continued, "What's left smells good."
Cyrene got to her feet and said, "This isn't over yet young lady, I'll be back with your meal. Then we will talk."
Raising one eyebrow and staring at the plate then back to Ephiny, Xena said, "Must have been hungry, what did mother say, that I was starving you."
Pushing the plate away, Ephiny answered, "She made a comment but she didn't use those words. That's two things Gabrielle and I have in common."
Sighing the woman said, "If mother were to have her way, I'd be married and having children. She thinks that is what life is all about. For some it is but for me, it is not. Now, what do you mean two things you and Gabrielle have in common."
Ephiny smiled and said, "We both like to eat and we love you."
Xena rolled her eyes as she said, "There you go again, I think you really like to confuse me."
With a look of anticipation on her face Ephiny leaned forward and asked, "What did you find out?"
Xena leaned forward and as the two women's foreheads touched she whispered, "Nothing."
Ephiny leaned back in her chair and said, "What was all that about? You made me think you had learned something."
Spying her mother walking toward the table she winked at the woman and said. "Tell you later, right now, I'm famished."
Cyrene tried to talk them into staying the night but Xena told her that they would make camp along the trail. She said they were anxious to get to Tofstan. Her mother seemed sad but she hugged them both and whispered in Xena's right ear, "Daughter this will not make a difference, I will save my questions till you come by again."
Kissing her mother on the cheek Xena smiled and said, "I know."
The two traveled the rest of the day and well into the night. They finally stopped near a group of trees. Ephiny was happy to have solid ground under her feet once more and Xena was just thankful to finally rest.
It wasn't long before they had a cheery fire going and camp set up. Argo had been released into a grassy area nearby and Xena had laid out their blankets. Walking over to the fire Xena squatted and reached for the pot of tea. Ephiny watched the woman pour it then she said, "It's been a long day, what do you think we will find tomorrow?"
Turning her gaze on the woman as she blew on the hot liquid she said, "I don't know, are you prepared?"
Staring into the leaping flames the woman said, "If it were Gabrielle, would you be prepared?"
Sitting down on the ground the woman said, "Sorry, I would never be prepared for that so I have answered my own question. Ephiny, why don't you go back to mothers and I'll go on alone. It might be easier."
"Oh no, you're not getting rid of me that easily. If I have to face the worst then I will but I won't."
Seeming confused the warrior said, "You won't, do you know something I don't? Am I in a fog or something, what do you mean?"
Ephiny heaved her shoulders and said, "I just know, she would not leave me like this."
Taking a sip of tea, Xena replied, "Sometimes a person can't chose their destiny. I lost a brother who I thought would go on to do good for our people. I lost a close friend to an evil warlord. We cannot pick and choose when it will happen."
"I know, but it helps me to handle it this way. I'm sorry about your brother and friend."
Looking deep into the fire she said, "So am I. Now, we had better get some sleep."
She set the mug down and got to her feet, walking over to the blanket she sat and stared at the woman who hadn't moved. "What's the matter now?"
Shaking her head Ephiny said, "Nothing, thought I would stay up a little longer."
Taking off her armor she said, "Look if it's about last night, I won't do it again, now get over here and keep me company."
Smiling Ephiny got to her feet and walked over by the other blanket. She dropped to her knees and said, "Thanks, I hate to sleep alone."
When she opened her eyes they were staring into the face of Kiera. The woman had been patting her face with water. The look she displayed was fear as she frantically cried, "Gabrielle, please wake up!"
Reaching out to grasp the woman's hand the Bard said, "Kiera, I thought..."
Before she could finish her sentence the woman cut in and said, "It was my fault, I never stopped to think that you might see the horse and think it was Ann."
She put her right arm around Gabrielle and helped her up. Swaying the Bard blinked her eyes then said, "I knew you and Sea looked a lot alike, just never realized how much."
Releasing her grasp she stepped back as her eyes took in the woman's form. Feeling uneasy Gabrielle said, "I know, I am wet, dirty and must be a sight."
Laughing the woman replied, "No, you and my daughter have a lot more in
common than you might think. There have been many times that I have seen her
looking just like you do right now. She was never like most girls, she liked
to climb trees, ride like the wind was after her and always getting into
scraps with the boys and girls." She walked up to the Black and took a water skin down. Turning she handed it to Gabrielle and said, "Drink, it's much better in than out."
Accepting it Gabrielle smiled and said, "I tried my luck at fishing."
With her hands on her hips she surveyed the woman and said, "Looks like the fish won."
After she had taken a fair amount of the liquid she thanked the woman and handed it back to her. Attaching it to the saddle Kiera said, "Have you had enough time child? Are you ready to go back and face things?"
Gabrielle answered, "I have to go get my pack, it's at the hut. Jez is just
over there." She pointed to the grassy area and the palomino that was
grazing. They walked in silence to the horse and after Gabrielle mounted she
watched the woman step up as if she did it all the time. "You are quite a
horsewoman, Sea never told me."
Reining the horse in the direction of the hut the woman said, "I hope there are a few things Ann hasn't told you."
Seeming perplexed Gabrielle asked, "Oh, and what might that be?"
Urging her horse on she called back, "Meet you at the hut!"
Smiling Gabrielle urged Jez after the woman.
Kiera was dressed in a pair of cotton pants and she wore a blouse that was buttoned at the neck. Her dark boots showed signs of wear and the way the woman set a horse it was plain to see that her friend had left out a lot when it came to her mother. Of course, Kiera knew things Ann never thought she did so it was possible even Ann didn't know half of the things her mother could do. It was plain to see this woman was not an invalid and she was exhibiting a vibrancy not usually seen in a person her age.
Except for the scared side of her face she was still beautiful and anyone would be proud to know this remarkable woman.
She followed the Black's dust until she reined up in front of the corral. Kiera was already down and had removed the saddle and bridle from the horse and it was romping in the area. She gazed up as Gabrielle rode in and said, "Glad you could make it."
Smiling she climbed down and said, "You are quite a horsewoman, I guess this is a skill that Sea has forgotten to mention to me."
"My daughter prefers to think of me as an invalid, someone she feels needs her and I don't ever want that to change. I have my moments but I keep going. I will never let the aches of my body win. I love this Island, it holds all anyone would ever want."
She watched as Gabrielle led Jez into the corral and removed the saddle and
bridle. Patting the palomino she walked out and closed the gate. Kiera gazed
at her and said, "You love animals just like my Ann, what say we go inside,
I need to rest before we start back and a cup of tea would be nice. You can
fix tea?" She wrapped her left arm around the Bard's waist as the two women
walked into the hut.
It didn't take the Bard long to build a small fire and put a pot of water on to warm. She watched Kiera as she stepped across the room and stopped by the two pallets. She turned to look back at Gabrielle and said, "Have you had company?"
Shaking her head the woman said, "No, I like to stretch out."
Dropping to her knees the woman sat on one of the pallets as she said, "I know, you felt that if you laid Ann's out, you would feel closer to her. After all, last night there was a full moon."
Gabrielle walked over to her pack and picked it up. As she began to rummage through it she said, "You are so astute, you ask a question but already know the answer. And no, I was by myself all night."
Laying back on the pallet the woman said, "Don't give up, it is true, and has been known to happen. It is a lovers moon and has been know to reunite many. Wherever my daughter is, she is in deep pain and you and I are very close to losing her. I feel it more each day and I don't know what I will do if she doesn't return. Not so much for my selfishness, but, she is such a good person. I know she always had it in her but since she met you Gabrielle, she has changed so much. You should see how she has helped the people on the Island, and those in other villages."
Walking toward the woman her eyes widened she said, "Sea has done this?"
"Oh yes, she has done so much for so many and now..."
Kneeling by the woman she reached out and touched her right hand and said, "Now, we wait for her. She is alive I know it, and the more positive thoughts we have the more she will hear. We cannot give up, we won't give up."
Sitting up the woman gathered the Bard into her arms and held her as she said, "I won't, and neither can you."
Gabrielle softly cried, "Never, Gods, Kiera I miss her."
The sounds of the two women crying in one another's arms was all that could be heard.
The two women were just reaching the outskirts of what once was Tofstan. Sitting on the palomino they stared at the devastation that lay ahead of them. Xena called back, "Sure you want to continue with me?"
Wrapping her arms around the woman's waist Ephiny answered, "I'm sure."
What had once been a thriving village was now just ruins. There was little left to let anyone even know people had lived there. The bodies were gone and left were the huge cracks in the ground along with pieces of someone's life. Reining Argo in, she said, "Let's get down, we can walk around and check it out."
Sliding to the ground Ephiny said, "Doesn't look like there is much left to check out."
She waited for Xena then the two women began to search through what was left in the rubble.
They had been going through the rubble most of the day and had found little, except remnants of what once was a child's doll, pieces of beds, furniture and clothes. The smell of smoke and death still lingered in the air and Xena was worried for her friend. Although Ephiny talked a good picture of strength she had seen the woman start to crumble.
Her mind had drifted to the Bard and she had fought to bring it back to the present. She missed Gabrielle but at the moment, Ephiny needed her and she knew this is where she would stay, at least to see her friend though this. She had noticed Ephiny fall to her knees and wondered if she was all right, but when she saw her reach down for something she hurried toward her.
Staring down at the woman she could see she was holding something in her right hand as she said, "Ephiny, what is it?"
Looking up at her the woman said, "It's the ring I gave her, got to get her out of this."
She began to dig into the dirt with her hands." Dropping beside the woman, Xena reached out and grabbed her hands and said, "Ephiny! Stop!"
She turned her face toward Xena as the tears began to flow she screamed, "What are you doing? Help me, if she is under this we have to get her out!"
Xena fixed her gaze on the woman and said, "Ephiny, look, there is so much destruction here, you will never find her!"
Jerking her hands free she pushed Xena away and said, "Then go, leave me, I'll do it myself!"
Feeling at loss the warrior didn't know what to do except to try to help her friend and she began to use her hands to dig at the dirt and throw rocks away.
As dusk began to creep on the land, the two women lay in a heap their fingers still buried deep into the dirt. Their bodies had succumbed to exhaustion and neither was aware of the man and woman that stood among the trees staring down at them.
The smell of food was entering the woman's subconscious as she tossed her
head and slowly fluttered her eyelids. It seemed they were too heavy and it
took several tries before she managed to open them. Staring down at her were
the darkest eyes she had ever seen and as she started to move a hand reached
out and pushed her back down as a soft voice said, "Please, rest, it is all
right you are with friends."
Realizing her hands were in pain she raised them to her face. They were covered in bandages and the look on her face was questioning as she said, "My hands, what have you done to them?"
Reaching up to brush the hood from her head the woman said, "You bloodied them digging in the rubble. I merely tended to the cuts."
Focusing her eyes Xena stared at the woman, she had a vacant face and silken hair that fell in curls past her shoulders, her eyes though dark were soft, she was thin lipped with a voice that was warm when she spoke, and her skin though weathered still showed the traces of youth. Turning her attention to the doorway, Xena said, "My friend? Where is she?"
The woman answered, "She is fine, like you, she has cut up her hands, she is in another room."
Rising up on her elbows Xena said, "Have to go to her, she can't be alone, not now."
Pushing her back once more the woman said, "I know about her friend but there is nothing you can do now. Lie back and relax, I'll go get you some tea."
Xena angrily said, "Hades in Tatarus, I don't want any tea, I need to see my friend. What part of what I have just said is so hard to understand?"
"I understand you, but you don't seem to understand me, Xena."
A look of amazement in her eyes she asked, "You called me Xena, how do you know my name?"
Smiling the woman said, "Your friend has been calling your name but even if she had not, your dress and your legend precedes you."
Scowling at the woman Xena said, "You are listening to myths, that is all it is, I am just a woman no more no less."
Getting to her feet the woman said, "A great deal more, everyone has heard of the deeds of the Warrior Princess."
Letting her head rest back on the pillow Xena replied, "I have done a few things, but never by myself. So forget your myth and take me to see Ephiny."
Leaving the room the woman called back, "I'll get that tea now."
Cursing under her breath Xena sat up, slowly letting her legs fall to the floor. Her hands cried out in agony each time she moved them. Managing to get to her feet she started toward the door. Glancing into the outer room she saw the woman talking to a man, it was the man she and Ephiny had seen at the tavern. What was he doing here? They seemed to be so deep in conversation they didn't even see her creep from the room.
It didn't take her long to find another door and open it. Glancing inside she spotted the form of Ephiny stretched out on a large bed. Gently closing the door she edged closer to her. Staring down at the woman, she could see she was sleeping peacefully. Slowly dropping her eyes to the woman's hands she could see they too were bandaged. Feeling a little shaky she sat down by the bed and watched. She didn't know how long she had been there because she had drifted off to sleep and it was Ephiny's voice that woke her. "Xena... What...Where are we?"
Opening her eyes she looked straight into Ephiny's, a concerned voice quivered as she said, "I was worried about you."
Ephiny looked at Xena's hands and said, "Guess we have the same problem, if anyone saw us they would think you and I had been in a fight and from the looks of our hands neither won."
Reaching out to touch her friend's right arm, she grimaced and said, "I'm so sorry."
Tears were glistening in the woman's eyes as she said, "Me too, I should never have let you come here with me. I am the one that is sorry, can you ever forgive me?"
Managing a smile she replied, "Nothing to forgive I wanted to come and nothing would have stopped me. You know, my head is as hard as yours."
"Why did you try to help me? You knew it was hopeless."
Shrugging her shoulders Xena answered, "Maybe I could have put the pinch on you and taken you away, but you would just have gone back."
Closing her eyes trying to keep the tears from coming she said, "You are right, I would have. But look at you, your hands..."
Laying her head down on Ephinys chest Xena whispered, "They will be fine and so will you."
The woman opened the door and stared at the two, then shook her head turned and left.
Continued in Chapter Five
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