by Gayle Baker
See Part 1 for disclaimers.
Of Intrigue and Illumination
When Xena was sure that Brynthis could stand; and that she wouldn't run, at least not so far as not to return; Xena released her hold on her. The sun was just beginning its descent.
'Oh, C-C-Caesar and H-H-Herod, I-I-I for-for-got about th-th-them. Ex-cuse m-m-me.' Brynthis maneuvered around Colinthia, who still knelt before her, half propped on Brynthis' lap; and was off, having recovered sufficiently to break into a jog. She was literally itching to be free and a tiny shiver made its way down her spine when she could at last no longer feel the prickliness of the warrior's wet leathers against her back.
'Why did you let her go?' Gabrielle whispered into Xena's ear.
'Because she needed to. She was becoming a bundle of nerves in my arms.' Xena nodded and smiled, 'And, that will help assure that she'll be back. Besides, what did you expect me to do? Tie her to me? The first time I dozed, she would have gnawed her arm off to get away!'
Colinthia arose and joined the women on the bench. They watched Brynthis disappear.
'Long day!' Colinthia said by way of conversation.
'Hmmm. How are you going to tell her that she was dead?' Gabrielle felt perfectly at ease asking this woman almost anything, now.
'Ummm. I'm going to say, 'Brynthis, please come here. Go ahead, have a seat. You'll need it for what you are about to hear. Gabrielle and Xena have something to tell you!'' It was good to hear the silver tinkle of Colinthia's laughter.
'And just as much as she needs to know about her death, especially before someone else tells her; you need to know about the scars on her body.' Xena said quietly, unconsciously tracing the dips and hollows of a scar on her own hand as she spoke.
'I know,' Colinthia replied in a small voice. 'I just can't. . ., what I mean to say is, I don't understand why she hasn't told me before now? I mean, she's told me things about herself that she's been too embarrassed to say aloud in front of her own reflection in the mirror! Why not this?'
'Maybe she honestly doesn't remember.' Gabrielle offered.
'I know that's a distinct possibility in the case of some traumas, but 'chickweed hairs,' those injuries were due to sustained trauma, not an overnight accident.'
'Maybe her death will have healed some of those memories.' Xena proposed, then scratched her head, 'And an even greater question that we've ignored in the after shock, how did she come back to life?! And why?'
No one had an answer for that.
'What if her death erased her physical scars?' Gabrielle wondered aloud to her companions.
"No, I felt some of those scars through her tunic as she carried me on her back."
'She still has the little scar under her chin that she got when she was three and went sailing over the top of one of father's marble tables. She was trying to fly.' Colinthia replied distractedly. 'I saw the scar.'
'What?' Gabrielle tried to follow the nonlinear reasoning.
'Oh, sorry. There is a scar on her chin that she got in a childhood accident that was still there a few minutes ago.' Colinthia reiterated as though that cleared up any misunderstanding.
'But you know, when she got that cut on her chin and was bleeding and Mother asked her what happened, she couldn't remember. She remembered playing, but she didn't remember how she actually got cut or on what. It frightened Mother half silly to see all that blood and off to the healer Brynthis was whisked. First time she ever got stitches and it scared her to death??not so much the stitches, as the healer strapping her down to the table and covering her eyes so she couldn't see what he was doing.' Then Colinthia confessed, 'I cried because I could hear her screaming.'
Gabrielle's eyes teared in sympathy at the remembered pain.
'Come to think of it, lots of times she'd have scrapes and bruises and couldn't remember how she got them. But she always played hard, and never stopped to pay attention to the injuries??they were inconsequential to her??just a nuisance to be ignored. Besides they'd heal quickly. So I guess I shouldn't be surprised at her lack of memory. But still . . . ,'
'What I saw were not gained in childhood play, no matter how rough. They were maliciously and purposely inflicted.' Xena cringed to remind Colinthia.
'Didn't Stephanos say she visited the port in Joppa frequently? Perhaps there?' Xena suggested, although she didn't consider that possibility even feasible herself.
'But why would she keep going back if she was being hurt there?' Gabrielle blew an errant piece of hair out of her eyes.
'No, not there, I'm sure. Alexandros was with her a lot there, and Stephanos usually followed. He was always like a big brother to us, and he especially watched out for her and Alexandros. When Mother saw Brynthis head west, she never felt easy about her going until she saw Stephanos slip out after her. Then Mother could go on about her work. Thank goodness he was never actually called upon to defend Bryn. I think probably the sheer magnitude of his physical presence served as deterrent enough to any would be assailants.' Colinthia ventured.
'Ummm. Not exactly a big brother.' Xena slipped in nonchalantly.
'What?' Colinthia frowned and waited for an explanation.
'Stephanos was not watching over her as a big brother, nor just a friend . . . ,'
'What are you saying? That Stephanos was capable of this? That's just not possible . . . !' Colinthia's voice rose as she defended her friend, her nape hairs bristling.
Xena interrupted Colinthia before she could continue her tirade, 'No, no! Stephanos was in love with her.'
'Oh, wait until he finds out she's alive!' Gabrielle brought her hands together excitedly. She could envision the large man's elation.
'In love with her? No, you're mistaken. Stephanos was always a bear of a man. He was over six feet tall when we first moved here and he had to be around thirteen or fourteen then . . . ,' Colinthia faltered, but her mind refused to deny Xena's assertion as forgotten comments and actions came to her mind.
'Twelve . . . .' Xena corrected.
'Okay, twelve??but he always protected the smaller kids. All of them.' Colinthia argued stubbornly.
'I'm sure that's true! He is a good man. But, he was in love with Brynthis from the moment he first saw her.'
'How do you know this?' Colinthia hesitated, but was disinclined to surrender ground.
'He told me.' Xena replied simply.
'He told you? How come he never told me, or, Brynthis?' Colinthia asked in a perplexed voice.
'He was afraid he would loose her totally if he said anything because she was always so afraid of people. He contented himself to love her from a distance; and offer her his friendship and protection where she allowed.'
'No, she wasn't always.' Colinthia said somewhat sorrowfully.
'Wasn't always what?' Gabrielle asked.
'Afraid of people!'
Both Gabrielle and Xena raised their eyebrows and exchanged inquisitive glances. Puzzle pieces?! 'What do you mean?'
'Well, she was always shy, but only gradually became terrified of people after about her fifth birthday. It gradually grew worse until we moved here. She's never recovered from that panic.'
'What happened when she was five?' Gabrielle prompted.
'Nothing, that I know of. Father was very successful in his military career at that time and Mother was busy painting and trying to keep up with the ever increasing social demands that Father's success brought??banquets, parties, celebrations, honors and the like.'
'When did she start wearing oversized tunics?' Xena inquired, seemingly for no specific reason.
'Who, Brynthis? Oh, she's always liked her clothes baggy. She says she feels less restricted and can do anything she likes without being afraid she'll rip out something. She was so hard on clothes as a child.' Colinthia spoke in such a motherly way, Gabrielle couldn't help but smile.
'When did your mother start letting her wear oversized clothes?' Xena reworded her question.
'Hmmm . . . , I guess when Bryn started dressing herself when she was five or six. Mother couldn't stop her. She'd borrow mine, or someone else's clothes who were bigger than she was. But what does oversized clothes have to do with her fears or scars?'
'Better to hide them . . . , and body definition.'
'You think she had scars to hide by the time she was five or six? But remember, we bathed together until she was five and I saw no scars then!'
Xena did not answer her directly. 'You said something earlier today. You said that you and Brynthis protected each other or you'd have never made it out of childhood alive. What did you mean by that?'
'When did I say that?'
'As Brynthis died in your arms,' Xena reminded her gently.
'Oh . . . ! Ummm. Well, Father had a temper and we knew to stay out of his way when he came in and a battle had gone badly for him that day. And then to flip the coin, sometimes when he and his soldiers won and they were celebrating, well, some of his men drank a bit too much and then we had to steer clear of them 'cause they forgot who we were.' Colinthia grinned at a sudden memory, 'Brynthis would kick their shins if they so much as looked in my direction.'
'But she never defended herself?' Gabrielle lightly pried.
'A five year old? Humph! The only way she got away with kicking them when I was involved was because Father thought it was so cute.'
"What was your father's name?"
"Corthaus. General Corthaus of Larisa."
"Hmmm." Xena pulled at her earlobe. 'I don't believe I've ever heard of him.'
"Where is your mother, at present?" Gabrielle asked deliberately.
"She returned to Troas to help care for an elderly aunt, oh, I guess, about three years ago, now." Colinthia looked toward the gleaming colors of the sunset. 'We'd better get back to the inn. Julia has had all of supper to handle herself and I do need to help her. Besides,' Colinthia turned across to Gabrielle and winked, 'don't you owe us a story this evening?'
'After all that has happened you still want me to tell a story? Where do you get your stamina?'
'Oh, Gabrielle! You might want to check out a story that Brynthis told me regarding a man named 'Apollumi' and the love of his father.' Xena mentioned offhandedly.
"What?!" Both Gabrielle and Colinthia looked at Xena aghast, 'When did Brynthis tell you a story?!' They asked in unison, incredulously.
'Oh, when she carried me up the steps in the cave. She wanted to take my mind off my 'claustrophobia'. . . , by?the?way, I am not claustrophobic, not really. I just don't care for caves and holes because my family and friends keep getting swallowed up by them.' Xena defended herself.
'Right! You keep telling yourself that, dear, and you'll soon be able to enter one under your own volition.' Gabrielle patted Xena's right hand, patronizingly.
"Hey!" Xena said indignantly, "I've climbed in and out, up and down, enough of them that I think you can safely assess my 'phobia factor'!"
"Yes, dear!" Gabrielle answered dutifully. "Of course you have." Then she leaned forward across Xena and in a stage whisper informed Colinthia. "It's only when she's had no other choice!"
'Hmmm.' Colinthia interrupted their friendly bantering. 'You know, that story sounds a lot like one of Yeshua's. But," she paused and craned her neck, "Where did Bryn get off to? I do need to talk to her before any of the villagers see her.'
'Do you think that's likely?' Xena asked wryly. Then her face became pensive; she raised her right hand to cup her chin and her left hand to support her right elbow as she softly mused, "You know, I don't think Brynthis is afraid of being physically hurt. I mean, I think that I could have beaten Brynthis to within an inch of her life and she wouldn't even have flinched. She's not afraid of my abilities. But she's deathly afraid, terrified really, of her disabilities." She allowed her right hand to drop to her lap. "She was driven up the side of that cliff by her fear of disappointing you and me."
Colinthia and Gabrielle slowly nodded in agreement as they processed Xena's observation.
"You're right. That's as good a summation of Bryn as I've ever heard," Colinthia acknowledged as she continued to nod.
"Ummm. Don't you need to get out of those wet leathers?"
The three women slowly stood in unison as if by some unspoken, mutual consent; and sauntered in amicable silence back along the path they had hurriedly transversed earlier that afternoon.
They arrived at the inn to pandemonium.
Stephanos' back was to Colinthia as she opened the back door. He was smoldering in the kitchen, animatedly gesturing into Julia's face, demanding, 'Where did she say she was going?'
The cook could only shrug. She had tried to tell him as best she could that, 'no, Colinthia was not in. No, she didn't know where she was. No, she didn't say how long she'd be. No, she didn't mention where she was going'.
Stephanos whipped around at the sound of the door opening and spied Colinthia. He ran to her and grabbed both her shoulders in his big hands, "You have to come with me. I need you to tell me why these people are coming out of their graves. Examine them or something??find out why!' He was to the point of raving.
'Stephanos, calm down! What are you talking about?!'
'There are dead people, I mean. . ., well, they're alive now, but they were dead??they walked out of their tombs after that earthquake. You gotta help me!'
Brynthis chose that inopportune time to slip in the side door. She wouldn't have done so had she known people were there, but her mind was mid-project and she didn't notice until she'd already stepped through. She quickly and silently bowed back out the door.
Stephanos only glanced toward her and continued for a few more words when it registered what he had just seen. He looked at the now empty doorway, 'Brynthis?' He looked back to Colinthia for explanation.
Colinthia smiled and raised her arms and shoulders in a sheepish answer. "The tombs were opened?"
Stephanos sprang toward the door and was out of it before Colinthia could react. She ran after him, 'Stephanos! No! She doesn't know!'
He stopped, but desperately wanted to continue. It was written in his stance and gestures. He turned back to Colinthia. 'Doesn't know what?'
Brynthis had made it into the lengthening shadows of the inn's walls. She stood hidden by the growing darkness and the landscaping. She dared not move, if she did??she would be seen.
Brynthis blended with her surroundings so well that Xena almost missed her there. The outdoor lamps had not been relit, yet.
Hmmm. I suppose now is as good a time as any for her to find out; and Xena started edging her way unobtrusively into the shadows.
'That she was dead!' Colinthia almost shouted it into Stephanos' face.
Xena was now close enough she heard the gasp. She was also close enough that she could intercept any flight should the lone figure choose to do so.
'How can she not know she was dead?!' Stephanos was only a decibel softer than Colinthia had been.
'Because she doesn't remember.'
The indecision in her step caused her to hesitate a moment too long, and the friendly arm of a tall woman that materialized to her right, descended to rest across her shoulders. And just as suddenly, a smaller woman appeared from the shrubbery at her other side, and a hand gently grasped her left upper arm. Brynthis stiffened. Liquid brown eyes turned first to meet dusky blue; and then with a swivel of her head, subdued green; both sets of eyes darkened by the twilight. Xena realized it was only the second time the slender woman had actually looked her in the eye, since they had met. Brynthis found a strange sense of understanding and empathy in the smaller, of the two, womens' eyes. Both Gabrielle and Xena could sense the anguish and confusion written in Brynthis'. Their silence was affirmation of Colinthia's revelation.
Brynthis purposefully started toward Colinthia, "'Thia? 'Thia. . .? Dead . . .?!" but she was held in place by the insistent pressure of bard and warrior, who assumed that she was about to take flight.
Brynthis tried to shrug them off, her mind was set solely on her sister, but they were adamant. Grasshoppers, that little one was stronger than her lithe body would suggest. And she'd already had previous dealings with the muscular warrior, and had no desire to oppose her.
The slight tussle within the shadows caught Stephanos' peripheral attention. He had heard Brynthis' question and knew with whom Xena and Gabrielle wrestled. His heightened emotions gave rise to his protective instincts. Knowing that Brynthis was afraid of physical touch, he started toward them. "If you hurt her, I will . . . ," his large hands balled into fists and he left the rest of his threat unvoiced, but continued on his path directly toward them.
Xena released Brynthis to quickly step between the menacing Stephanos, and her companion, and the woman now locked in Gabrielle's grip. She held up her hands to Stephanos, "Wait! This is not what you suppose. We are not trying to hurt her." The big man was half a head taller than Xena, outweighed her by a hundred pounds, and was quick and strong, but the warrior knew she was faster and felt confident in her fighting abilities in facing him. She did not retreat. But she had no desire to engage or hurt this gentle giant in order to stop him. He was only reacting in, if not a somewhat dazed manner, a perfectly normal one for a . . . lover.
Stephanos continued toward them, looking to Brynthis for confirmation, while directing his question to Xena, "Then what are you trying to do?" It was a growl.
Brynthis opened her mouth, but no matter how hard she struggled to produce a sound, was unable to speak. She finally corralled her wits enough to nod mutely. The gesture was insufficient for Stephanos. He was confused, but did come to a stop a few feet in front of Xena. Was Brynthis shaking her head to agree with Xena's declaration that they were not trying to hurt her, or was she responding to his query that they were?
Colinthia eased between the two opponents and used her body to separate them, planting a hand on each of their chests and forcing them to back off slightly. "Stephanos, they are not trying to hurt Brynthis. She, as you well know, has the habit of running," she paused and looked around Xena's shoulder, smiling tenderly at her sister. "They were just trying to help her maintain her focus."
'Bats gnats', Gabrielle thought, what a diplomat!
And it worked.
Everyone relaxed from their tense stances. Even Brynthis quit resisting and stood still. Gabrielle dropped her hands, for she had been forced to engage both to restrain the runner.
The five remained rooted to their positions for long moments. Finally the least likely of the group broke the silence.
"No one has ever done that for me before." Brynthis' voice, hushed in childlike wonder, without a stutter, was directed toward the big smithy. She looked directly into his hazel eyes, colored gray by the dim light, commanding his gaze. A look of utter fascination and amazement spread across her face. Her right hand moved to clutch her chest, resting over her heart. "No one."
It was an epiphany for all.
Then Brynthis stepped to face Colinthia, her nose only inches away from, and higher than her sister's, and she whispered, "D-d-dead?! Wh-wh-what d-do you mea-mea-mean, 'Thia?" She tentatively raised a hand to grasp Colinthia's shoulder, then let it drop quickly. She stared down unblinkingly into the smaller woman's matching brown eyes. The rest of the world did not exist for that moment.
Stephanos fidgeted. This time it was he who wanted to run, move, jump--do something besides stand listening to the coming recount of his desired's death.
Xena refused to move.
Colinthia's arms encircled her sister's waist, then she looked up directly into Brynthis' face, her eyes shifting and studying the familiar features long moments before she reached up to gently stroke Brynthis' cheek. Finally, with great tenderness and difficulty, she spoke. "Bryn," her voice broke around her sister's name. She paused and cleared her throat, but her words caught and she wound up sobbing, "You died."
This time Brynthis reached for her sister's face without hesitation and wiped the tears gently with both her thumbs, she ached for Colinthia's pain, but quipped, "And you th-thought this was a . . . p-pro-problem?!"
The healer choked and coughed a combination laugh and cry; and lightly swatted her sister's left hip. "You imp!" She admonished. She gave a long shudder and continued. "No, Bryn, you really were dead."
"And-and you c-c-came to this c-c-con-conclusion, how?" Brynthis stepped back and looked down at her body, patting her arms, sides and thighs. "N-n-nope! All st-still here, intact and b-be-behav-behaving p-properly." She lightly announced to her sister, innocence written all over her face.
"Because you were shot!" and Colinthia dared to reach to touch the spot on Brynthis' chest where the arrow had entered. Her hand was caught mid-flight and clasped kindly by her sister's larger hand. Brynthis brought it up and kissed Colinthia's open palm.
"I kn-kn-know where I-I-I was sh-shot!" Brynthis' shoulders twitched involuntarily, "But be-be-being 'dead' doesn't necessar-sarily f-follow be-being shot!" She turned to the warrior for support, "Does it?"
"No," Xena answered slowly, "but in your case, it did."
Stephanos just listened in amazement at the interchange. He'd never heard Brynthis speak this much. And to be this close to her. He longed to reach out and take her into his arms; to soothe all the pain away. He felt a taste of shame that he was jealous of Colinthia's proximity to her. Gabrielle watched, with fascination, the emotions flitting across his open face. She waited for him to extend a hand to touch Brynthis to assure himself she really was alive. But he maintained his distance respectfully.
Brynthis seemed at ease standing within the big man's shadow, or at least as at ease as Gabrielle imagined the runner could be knowing people were around. Typically, Gabrielle had noticed, the taller woman seemed to carry herself with a wary alertness, always just on the edge of flight. But, the bard reasoned, she wasn't fighting Xena being near, either. The townspeople would have had strokes!
"I can still hear the sound of when you were shot, the sickening thud of flesh being pierced and ripped through." Colinthia . . . cried.
"It t-t-took me a f-few mo-moments t-t-to realize it was my ch-ch-chest and my w-wound. But, I dunno', s-s-sound-sounded more l-l-like a 'squish' to m-me."
"I assure you, it was not funny."
"And I w-w-would ne-never d-d-denigrate your sorrow."
"We've been through that too many times before."
"Yes, w-w-we h-h-have. Gaeros and Alexandros are g-g-gone. B-b-but, 'Thia, I'm not d-dead."
The conversation between the sisters flowed as though it could have been, save for the stuttering of the younger, one person speaking continuously.
Brynthis began to patiently explain to the stubborn Colinthia, "N-no, I m-may have b-b-been sh-shot. And I may have b-b-been hur-hurt; per-haps, ev-ev-even b-badly; but I never died."
"Ah, little Kisbah! Then what do you call the cessation of life, the stiffening of limbs, the absence of heartbeat and breath, the parting of body and spirit? Ah . . . , the vacuum in my soul?" Colinthia asked tenderly.
Brynthis had no other answer. She finally admitted, "death." She stopped. "But. . . !"
"Uh-uh. No, 'buts.'"
"Th-there is a 'but!' I d-d-don't remember d-dieing."
"Ah, there's the rub! Where do you think you were, between a little after noon, and the end of the third watch?"
"Ummm, h-h-heaven?" Brynthis joked, giving a lopsided half-grin.
Gabrielle moved to where she could see Brynthis' face. Xena and Stephanos had unconsciously moved to get a better view, moments before, in an even closer position flanking Colinthia. Now, without realizing it, all four stared at Brynthis, apprehensively awaiting her answer. Brynthis' eyes were still locked onto her sister's, but she now noticed the others and stepped back a few feet.
"Oh, ummm, y-y-you m-m-mean serious . . . ummm . . . ly? Well, ummm . . . ," And suddenly the transformation from darkness to light, from ambiguity to perspicacity; astonished the four individuals watching. Gone was the teasing half-wit, and in its place stood an intensely sober young woman. Brynthis paused to gaze long moments into each of their eyes, questing, searching for the missing clues. So focused was her intensity, they felt that she almost looked through them. Xena found the same questions registered there, as Brynthis had asked her hours earlier in the town center, moments after this complex woman had been shot. With a sudden illumination, Xena now realized the queries were in pursuit of the mysteries of the universe.
Suddenly Brynthis' eyebrows shot up, and the four could see an acute awareness cross her face, "Oh, no! Oh, n-no! I d-d-d-didn't die. I w-w-was more alive th-then than I've ever b-been! Yes! It was h-heaven."
Slowly Brynthis smiled; a far away look claimed and gentled her face; she gazed upwards toward the heavens; then closed her eyes. "I don't remember what it was," with her eyes still shut, she pointed to her head, "I was spared those memories when I returned, for somehow I know I would not want to remain on this earth while remembering them. But I know what it is!" and she laid her hand over her heart, and bowed her head reverently, "it is beyond my wildest imaginations!" She opened her eyes and looked directly at the four in front of her, "Yeshua is the Truth, indeed!" She enunciated clearly, without a stutter.
Gabrielle spoke first. "Are you talking about a religion?"
"I'm not talking about a religion, at all. It is not in any religion, or sect, or creed that we find our heart's yearnings. The answer to our need for significance, security and love come from a relationship with a Person. Only the Creator of our hearts can answer our heart's cry."
"And this is 'Yeshua'?" Xena asked, a bit perplexed. "Are you saying this person is a god?"
"He is God!"
"Then you aren't aware that he was just crucified?" Gabrielle recalled that the news of the crucifixion came to them after Brynthis had been shot.
"Oh, yes! He was crucified! But the victory of Yeshua is not in overcoming the cross, but in defeating death. It is not his death that sealed the bargain, but his resurrection."
The four looked at her as though she had lost her mind.
"What?" Brynthis opened her arms outward.
"You're speaking in riddles," Colinthia protested softly. "I don't understand."
Brynthis stepped forward to lovingly cup Colinthia's face with both her hands. "Ah, the paradox of the universe is that God's perfect, holy, love can be found by sinful humankind, who don't give a wit. That is not theology, for the sake of theology; but truth, for the sake of truth. No matter how we try to reduce God to fit our boundaries, we must go by His parameters to be included within His boundaries."
"Are you talking about exclusivity?" Xena asked, endeavoring to follow the excited woman's line of reasoning.
Brynthis dropped her hands and turned to Xena, the longing to be understood written in every feature. "This is neither exclusive, nor inclusive: in that--all humankind, whosoever, chooses, may come, but only those who come, may be included."
Brynthis looked to each to gauge the level of understanding. "I'm so sorry--my tongue has never been cooperative, and I'm just not very articulate. Ummm, the way is open and simple and free; but it is neither easy, nor cheap. And Yeshua is that way."
"Ah, Kisbah, it's as though you think . . . well, that Yeshua is alive."
"It is, as they say, 'a done deal'. Death has been defeated." Brynthis reiterated, then shrugged.
It was clear the tetrad still doubted the current soundness of the mind of the . . . , wonder of wonders, . . . eager, woman facing them!
"Okay, if indeed I did die, as you say; and, from the terrestrial point of view, I cede its validity. How do you explain my presence here? Hmmm?" She waited for their response. When none came she continued gently, "Death has been defeated. From our village alone: Dorcas, Patobia, Nereus, and Ampliatus--all are testimony to this. They, who were 'dead', are all alive and walking about. Am I not right, Stephanos?"
Stephanos nodded dumbly, then managed, "How did you know this?"
Brynthis chose to leave his question unanswered. "And people are going to try to explain this by some natural phenomena. Let me put your minds to rest. The only things that they will find in common for all those who have returned from the dead--not just from our town, but the entire region--will be: they all died within the last three years, they were buried in tombs, and that meadow saffron was found growing near each tomb. But . . . , we all will die again in our times."
"And . . . ?" Xena asked.
"And they still will have missed the truth. For the answer is not in natural phenomena. They will also find that many, having the same three things in common, still lay in their graves. Yeshua died at the moment of the earthquake, or I guess I should say, the earth shuddered at His death." Then her eyes twinkled, "And in three days, He will be resurrected!
"If you do not believe me, wait and see!" She turned to go, then paused and addressed Colinthia solely, in a low voice, "I know now what I couldn't remember before." She spoke with her eyes to her sister and the healer realized she wasn't referring to her death, but to her life. And Colinthia's eyebrows shot up into her hairline and her eyes widened.
The runner left four dumbfounded mouths hanging open behind her.
Brynthis took a few steps, then broke into a run and quickly disappeared around the edge of the building.
"She's gonna' leave us hanging like this?"
The other four stood rooted to their places.
Finally Gabrielle said, "You do realize she just got away from us, don't you?"
The foursome still stood just gazing at the spot where they had last seen Brynthis.
"Yep!" Xena answered.
"Hmmm. Stephanos, won't you stay for dinner tonight . . . , on the house? Gabrielle is going to be telling us one of Xena's stories."
"Sure." He answered cryptically.
And not one member of the quartet moved.
"Hmmm. What's 'meadow saffron?'" Gabrielle asked.
"Uh. It's also called 'Rose of Sharon.'" Colinthia answered, vacantly.
"It is used to treat blood malignancies." Xena continued.
"I do want to find out more of what she was talking about," Colinthia sighed.
"Yep!" Xena answered again.
And they were still standing there when the lamplighter came to refill and light the lamps in the courtyard.
Xena sat with her back to the outer wall in the large great-room. It was filled with round, square and rectangular tables--designed, according to Colinthia, so as to accommodate different sized groups, so that each member within the group could be seen and heard, equally. The room was fast filling with townspeople and travelers. Colinthia had told them that Friday evenings at the inn were considered family nights and that most of the families in the village chose it as a rather 'weekly holiday'.
Xena had selected a round table in the back of the dining area, mostly out of habit, so she could monitor the activity within the room. Old habits die hard. She preferred the security of a wall at her back; if there was ever to be fighting, and if, for whatever reason. Also from here, the warrior was tall enough, while seated, to look through the food service window, built through the kitchen wall, and into the kitchen. In fact, she was pleased to note, she had an unobstructed view of the kitchen's back door.
Even though Colinthia thought the crowd might be a little thin that evening because of the day's events, she was wrong. It had had the opposite effect and the dining area had to be enlarged by opening the panels built into the side of the inn, so the overflow crowd could spill out onto the balcony. Logistically this might have had an adverse effect on how many folks could hear Gabrielle's story later in the evening, had Colinthia not moved the storyteller's stool away from its customary position beside the Seltzer Bar, and placed it closer to the opening in the outer wall. The innkeeper also placed a large screen, having soft shades of color splashed across it, directly behind the stool, as a backdrop.
"Let me guess," Gabrielle had asked Colinthia when she had referred to the Seltzer Bar earlier, "you've heard of 'Lord Seltzer'?"
"Lord Seltzer? No, I don't believe so. Who is he?"
"Oh, an old friend," Xena supplied. "He was the first to market seltzer drinks, that we know of."
Colinthia gave a nod. "Well, a few years ago, a couple of inn employees came back from a trip to Joppa excited about information they had picked up regarding a new method for enhancing drinks. We did our own experimentation, added some flavors using syrups that I make from the fruits in our orchard, and found we'd made some very palatable drinks. We've been serving them ever since. The children seem to love it! Combine the flavors with cream, and even the adults favor them over wine."
Xena now sat nursing a Cherry Cream Seltzer and had to admit it was quite tasty.
Gabrielle joined Xena. She reached out to stop a serving boy hurrying by, "Do you have a town storyteller here?"
"Ummm, no," he answered shyly, his task forgotten, with her hand upon his arm.
"Then, why does Miss Colinthia have a little stage built beside the Seltzer Bar?"
"Oh, that. Well, mostly that's for the skits we put on; or for the kids when they sing or perform on their instruments; or for the traveling bards, like yourself. But we don't often have traveling bards through here, so we're excited you've come!" He nearly dropped the tray he was carrying, but juggled it, to save it in time. He knew he was babbling, but he couldn't help himself.
Gabrielle released his arm and he hurried on his way.
"You know, they do have a storyteller," Xena said quietly, "she just has no voice."
"Um-hum. Her style reminds me a lot of your's, except I didn't notice her using her hands as much as you do!" Xena teased, for in addition to the actual story, Gabrielle often almost acted out the tales with her gestures.
"Why? Were her hands otherwise occupied?" Gabrielle very well knew where Brynthis' hands had been.
She was rewarded with a blush.
"Uh . . . ," Xena faltered.
"Weren't they cradling something else, at the time?" It wasn't often Gabrielle had the Warrior Princess, and she wasn't about to let go very easily.
"Gabrielle . . . !"
"And I'm sure, climbing those steps, she had things firmly in tow. You know, a real, weighty matter." Gabrielle smiled sweetly and innocently.
Xena was saved at that moment by the arrival of Colinthia.
Noticing Xena's reddened cheeks, Colinthia apologized, "Oh, I'm sorry. I'm interrupting something, aren't I? I'll come back later."
"No! No, please sit down" Xena offered with relief. "Gabrielle was just commenting in regards to her story this evening." Xena gave Gabrielle a glare.
"R-i-g-h-t!" Colinthia drew the word out, knowing by the two friends looks that that wasn't the whole story behind Xena's embarrassment. "Well, I was just wondering if you would mind Stephanos and I joining you this evening at your table? Although, we don't want to intrude if that is inconvenient for you . . . ."
"No, we don't mind at all." Gabrielle smiled. "That's why Xena chose this larger table. But, won't Brynthis be joining us as well?"
"That's hard to say." Colinthia was truly puzzled. "Before this afternoon, I would have said 'no', immediately. But after all that has happened, I wouldn't dare to answer for her. However, if previous times are any indication, most likely not. But I will bet that she will not miss your story!"
Xena felt inclined to choose 'previous times'. People don't change that quickly or easily. The warrior scanned the room for possible hiding places, where a person could see without being seen. Of course, there was the balcony running above them on the east and west sides of the great-room. The rooms of the inn occupied the entire second floor, both east and west, and had shallow balconies overlooking the dining area. On the west, the inn's rooms were above the kitchen area, and were the first to be filled with guests. The inn's overflow rooms were located on the second floor of the east side, directly above the first floor rooms occupied by the hospice.
Above them, in the great-room, four large cedar logs spanned the width of the room at 20 foot intervals. These supported the thick ridgebeam running the length of the building. Where the four logs rested on the outer support logs in the walls, a small ledge ran above the room. The 'ceiling' of the room was actually the roof of the building, thirty feet above them, supported by rafters placed approximately a foot and a half apart. Xena noticed for the first time that the roof had framed 'windows' running lengthwise, about twenty feet long and four feet wide, one on either sloped span. She nudged Gabrielle and pointed to the ceiling. Colinthia followed the direction of her finger.
"Oh, I see you've found the stained glass skylights!" Colinthia smiled and crossed her arms. "They are best appreciated in sunlight, or under a full moon."
Gabrielle squinted, but appreciated them just as they were. "Someone's favorite color is, ummm, blue, isn't it?"
"Actually, Mother designed and chose the colors for that, and, uhhh, 'Willow' designed tools and equipment to make it happen. And, viola, there you have it!"
"Doesn't it weaken the glass to be cut into small pieces?" Xena asked practically, ever looking at the structure and 'how-to' of things.
"What you can't see is, that there are actually three layers of panes up there, each set divided into sections and supported by thin rods of steel running across it." Colinthia stopped for a moment glancing away from the skylights to address the two friends, "'Willow' make something unsafe?! Pshaw! That artisan always overcompensates! Makes most things a little heavier and a klipdassie to move, but . . . !" And Colinthia shrugged her shoulders.
There it was again. A klipdassie? Don't these people ever swear in koine Greek?
Stephanos joined them and surreptitiously handed Colinthia a cloth bag, which disappeared into one of the many pockets of her apron, creating a weighty bulge. She politely excused herself and headed toward the hallway leading to the hospice area.
Gabrielle didn't mind being nosey when she felt it was warranted . . . ,
. . . which tended to be often, Xena observed, chagrined.
"Ummm, was that the money you collected from tonight's meal?" Gabrielle attempted to appear pococurante.
Stephanos looked at her startled, "Ummm . . . , well, yes . . . , yes it was." He said quietly. "Why?"
"Where is she going with it?"
Even Xena thought the question was a little bold.
"I'm not sure Miss Colinthia would want me to tell." Stephanos was uneasy even talking about it.
"She's going to give it to the man whose wife died, isn't she?" Xena conjectured. "But, I got the impression he was wealthy?"
"How did you know?!" Stephanos was astonished at her aptitude. "And, no, Mr. Kamal had used his last resources to pay for his wife's medical treatment, and was rather stranded here. He has no way to take her body back to their homeland."
"How much was it?" Gabrielle persisted.
"Ummm. I don't know."
"Well, how many people came through the door?" Xena asked before Gabrielle could. She sighed internally and shrugged, 'might as well help her with this!'
"Well . . . ," Stephanos didn't care for the turn of the conversation, and he countenanced his objection, but answered Xena's question anyway. "Miss Colinthia doesn't charge that way. She, uhhh, has the townspeople pay what they can afford, some of them have large families and wouldn't be able to do this, if she charged that way. She has a suggested price for travelers, but if they don't have the means to pay, she drops it down for them, too."
"How can she stay in business that way?" Gabrielle straightened her head in surprise, and stared at Stephanos.
"I don't know much about her business affairs, but I do know she is a good manager. She can make a dinar or shekel, scream, she pinches it so hard!" Stephanos finally grinned at that. "In fact, I don't know how she can afford this place at all, because she does the same with her hospice patients!"
"How much would this evening's meal have cost, say, one of us?" Xena asked.
Stephanos looked confused.
Gabrielle thought perhaps he needed elucidation, "How much would I have been told to pay had I come to the door as a stranger and a traveler?"
"Nothing," Colinthia's voice came from over Stephanos' shoulder as she approached, "remember, you're our entertainment! And you're singing for your supper!"
"What about me?" Xena asked quietly.
Colinthia smiled kindly at her, "You've both, already, more than paid for your supper--several nights over! But you," she turned back to Gabrielle, "I'm taking shameless advantage of, and since you agreed to it, w-e-l-l . . . !" She shrugged and shook her head, as though there was no hope for the bard. There was not one shred of remorse in the response.
Then Gabrielle spoke plainly, "How much will you accept toward the purse you just handed Mr. Kamal?"
"Oh! Stephanos, you told?" Colinthia stood directly behind Stephanos and placed a hand on his shoulder, peering down at his now, upturned face.
Xena rescued him, "No! He didn't tell us. We . . . , uhhh, guessed."
"Well, then," Colinthia pursed her lips in thought, gazing at the two friends, "I guess, however much you feel so inclined to give. Your generosity is, indeed, whatever you can afford and what you desire it to be."
"Oh, that makes it more difficult." Gabrielle said slowly, as she tilted her head toward Colinthia.
"Sacrifice is never easy. But, please, don't feel compelled to give, that's not even a decision to be made here." Colinthia paused, then beckoned a server over to the table, as she sat down. "But what you choose to eat this evening, is."
"Tonight we have lamb stew, broiled fish and roasted chicken." After noting the menu selections, the server leaned down to whisper into Colinthia's ear, then straightened.
Colinthia grinned broadly up at the boy, her eyes twinkling, "I knew she was up to something! Thank you."
The meal began with a loaf of freshly baked bread and little tubs of honey-butter. Fresh vegetables and salads soon joined the selections. The servers moved with dispatch, bringing out one dish after another.
When Gabrielle questioned the availability of such foods so early in the growing season, the friends learned, it was courtesy of the inn's greenhouses.
The main dishes were indeed savory. Colinthia had not deceived them when she said that many had said, that the meals she served, were delicious. Xena especially enjoyed the pickled olives, and made a mental note to get the recipe from Colinthia, for the brine she used.
And all too soon, it was over, and time for Gabrielle's story. Gabrielle was a little nervous; she hadn't expected so many people. Nor so many children to be present. She had promised Xena she would tone her story down for the children's sake, and change the participants' names. Xena reached over and patted the bard's arm under the table, then winked at her.
As the servers were out in the great-room attending their guests, Xena saw Brynthis slip into the back door of the kitchen. The woman balanced a yoke across her shoulders with tubs hanging from both ends. She set her burden on the worktable and disappeared out the back door again. She made several trips, each time depositing a pair of mysterious tubs, before disappearing again. Xena lost count at twenty.
Colinthia moved to where she had set the storyteller's chair and began the introduction. "This evening we are indeed privileged to have Gabrielle of Poteidaia, a Greek bard of some renown, here to share her songs with us. In honor of the occasion, the inn has added an extra treat to the dessert menu, which will be served after Bard Gabrielle's story. Please finish your dinners and assist the servers in every way possible in clearing your tables, so we may begin."
'Oos' and 'ahs' and excited giggles, answered Colinthia's announcement. A flourish of activity followed as children and parents hurried to finish their dinners and help get their tables cleared.
Colinthia returned to their table. Xena furtively glanced above her to see where Brynthis was hiding. She didn't see anything out of the ordinary and she wondered where the younger sister went after her last trip to the kitchen, for the healer had assured them that Brynthis would not miss Gabrielle's story.
It took a few moments for the crowd, and Xena, to notice the soft staccato harp music, marching from behind the colorful backdrop, in the bard's corner. The music became a little more animated and emphatic, and the townspeople recognized this as their signal that the entertainment was about to begin, they shifted their chairs to comfortable positions, and all became quiet. The music soared, played with dexterity and abandon, then slowed to drop into a tender passion, only to climb on a series of running arpeggios to a frenzied rage. Servers blew out half the lamps throughout the room, lowered the wicks in the other half, and placed a special lamp on a low table directly in front of the bard's stool, that, through a system of mirrors, brightly illuminated that specific spot. The music climaxed with several majestic glissandos and then cadenced with five softly plucked notes, followed by the deafening silence of muted strings.
The crowd began thumping their feet on the floor.
"That's your cue." Colinthia took Gabrielle's arm gently, and assisted her up and forward.
As Gabrielle made her way to the front, Colinthia slid into the bard's vacated chair behind the table, and relaxed.
Gabrielle smiled at the crowd, nodded her head in deference toward Colinthia, and began.
I sing the song of the Warrior Princess; who was as beautiful, as she was deadly.
And from the opening line, sharp little eyes, as well as widened, big ones, were glued to the bard.
Many years ago, in a small village called Amphipolis, in the region of Thrace, in the country of Greece, there lived a young girl whose family was destroyed by war. She lost her home and her younger brother to an ugly warlord, named Rawah, whose sole bent was destruction, selfish-profit and death. The young girl vowed she would seek revenge for her brother, that he would not have died in vain. She bottled up her grief and pain, set her heart to stone, and embarked on her course of action.
She left her mother's side, to train in the military arts, giving her soul over to their perfection. She became deadly with a sword. Excelled with her chakram. Cunning with her crossbow. Accurate with her spear. Unfeeling in her assaults. Brutal in her craft.
In the midst of the ferocity, the young warrior lost sight of what she came to eradicate--the ruthless warlord, Rawah, and the odious crimes which he represented. She became the very thing she detested. Instead of defending the helpless, she became drunk on her own power, and exploited the weaker for her own gain.
She became known as 'The Destroyer of Nations.'
But, one day, in the midst of a battle, the proud warrior heard a wee baby's cry that caught her unexpectedly vulnerable, and pierced through the cold barrier she called her heart, and found the tenderness beneath. She could neither explain it, nor comprehend it, but it changed her forever.
Broken, she looked inward to find what she did not want to see. She loathed her very life for what she had become and done.
She put away her sword and vowed she would fight no more.
But the very day in which she buried her sword, she came upon another savage warlord, this one intent on taking what was not his, and selling that which he did not own. He came to a small village to steal young women for slaves.
The warrior did not stop to think of her own safety, for she had removed her armor and buried her sword, but she came to the rescue of that town with all her might and all her strength and only her bare hands; sustaining personal injury in their stead, so she could stop the barbaric marauder Aven.
And thus, the Warrior Princess was born. She rose to answer the call of the downtrodden and despairing. She fought for the rights of those who had no tongue to speak. She sought justice for those too frail to stand.
And she was statuesque: very tall and extremely beautiful. She had deep, blue eyes--the color of the ocean; and, long, raven-colored tresses. She was strong, but of slender build. Her face was bright, and her features, well-formed and fair. The warmhearted Warrior Princess was graceful in every way. She sat straight and regal, astride her noble steed Argo.
She became what her younger brother would have been proud to know and claim as his sister.
But, many who had profited from her former ways did not want her to change. And they especially did not want to see her sword lifted against theirs.
Through countless battles and much personal loss, the Warrior Princess grimly persisted. Every saved child, every rescued village, every preserved crop, every protected heart--served to sustain her resolve through the long days and nights of self-torture and self-doubt.
The warlords sent scouts to follow the Warrior Princess and to harass her on every side. They fought with her ceaselessly. They tried to tempt her back into evil by bargaining with her own life. With adeptness, she circumvented their machinations. She refused to bow.
One day, a warlord known as Kakopolus, vowed he would neither eat nor drink until he had taken the Warrior Princess. He set a trap for her. He baited her with a young frightened boy, and lured her into a small village; all, under the guise of a cry for protection.
The Warrior Princess knew it was a trap, but the face of the young boy that had been abused haunted her. She had to fight this battle. She had to stop this warlord. She had no choice, for that's who she now was.
Kakopolus threatened the local innkeeper with harm to his family, if he did not cooperate. The innkeeper could not even warn their hero. For, although he did not know her, he had a great affinity for her, for her exploits on behalf of the afflicted, were legend. In despair, he consented. He was to drug the warrior with a strong potion, mixed in her supper wine.
At the appointed time as the Warrior Princess sat for her evening meal, the innkeeper's wife set the tainted glass before the tall woman. Fear and regret were evident in the smaller woman's eyes, and in her every strained gesture.
Suddenly, a small voice broke the breathless silence of the room, "Don't drink it, Warrior Princess! It's poison!"
Light laughter sprinkled throughout the room.
The warrior could smell the drug in her cup, but she knew that she was being watched and that the warlords would hurt the innkeeper's family, if she did not drink. The spy was satisfied when he saw her take a big gulp of her wine, and he hurriedly left the room to get Kakopolus. However, what he did not see, was the warrior spit the wine back into the cup, when she raised it for another sip.
The room erupted in applause.
Kakopolus and his army swooped down upon the town in full battle regalia, their war horses' manes flying. But the town offered no resistance. They led him to the room where the Warrior Princess lay slumped in a chair with her eyes closed.
An older voice called out, "She was only faking it!"
From the screen behind her, Gabrielle heard a soft whisper, "S-s-she has a h-habit of d-d-doing that!" And there was no rancor, malice, nor regret, in the statement.
Xena did not understand the huge smile that crossed Gabrielle's face, but was pleased to see both the bard and the people enjoying themselves.
The warrior allowed herself to be tied and taken back to the enemy's camp. If she had not done so, the fight would have taken place right there in that little village and innocent people would have been hurt.
Her armor was removed and her body thrown roughly over the back of her own mount. Her hands were tied to her feet, with a rope extending underneath her horse. Kakopolus paraded her through the town streets for hours before jerking her horse to follow his, breaking into a gallop, subjecting the warrior to a grueling, bruising ride back to his camp.
Several women in the room winced and crossed their arms over their chests in sympathy.
She was dumped mercilessly onto the floor of one of Kakopolus' supply tents. The warlord kept the warrior's sword as his trophy, but her armor he felt was worthless and heaped it atop his prisoner, burying her from sight, all the while laughing at his own wittiness, and congratulating himself on his cleverness. Then he left her alone, for he knew she would sleep for days. There would be plenty of time to take care of the Warrior Princess later.
The camp celebrated. Kakopolus had not eaten nor drank wine for two days because of his vow, so he was very hungry and very thirsty. The warrior worked herself free from her bonds with a small knife hidden within her armor; however, every time the men came to the tent to retrieve more wine, she still lay upon the ground, unmoving. The party was soon in full swing and all of Kakopolus' men drank freely. They even made up bawdy camp songs about the warrior princess. Festivities ran long into the night.
But the Warrior Princess, herself, was forgotten. And she did not sleep, nor was she idle.
When Kakopolus awoke, two days later, he found himself and his men tied, stripped of their armor and bravado, and laying in their unmentionables in the back of wagons driven by the Macedonian militia, who had, until that time, been unsuccessful in their attempts to capture his outlaw band.
The Warrior Princess had used Kakopolus' own potion, in his own wine, to his undoing.
And no one has been able to force the Warrior Princess to raise her sword in defense of Evil, at the expense of forsaking Good, since that time, for she who was 'The Destroyer of Nations', is now 'The Deliverer of Peoples'.
Colinthia was gratified at the enthusiastic response to the bard's tale. The harpist escorted the bard back to her table with thunderous applause, stressing the instrument's strings to their limits. Only after the townspeople finished their standing ovation, and Gabrielle resumed her seat, did the music ritard and soften to a graceful and smooth, soothing continuous round of arpeggios. The harpist receded, fading into the background as a softly lapping ocean wave, purposing that the dessert serenade would go unnoticed. The room was returned to its former brightness as lamps were relit or adjusted.
"You were wonderful!" Colinthia beamed. "And the people loved you! Thank you!" She bent and impulsively kissed Gabrielle on the cheek.
Stephanos reached over and covered one of the bard's small hands with one of his huge ones for a brief moment. His shining eyes conveyed his appreciation. "Ay', first-rate, little one!"
Colinthia waved the servers forward, laden with their wares. Quickly, the clapping resumed when the crowd discovered what the treat was.
"You really were very good, tonight!" Xena praised the bard quietly. "You had them eating out of the palm of your hand!" Then she confessed, "and me too! And you did a great rewrite for the children. Thank you!"
A basket containing small jars of fruit, and other assorted syrups, was first deposited before Xena and Gabrielle, followed by trays of pastries and date nut bread and small bowls of crushed nuts. Gabrielle grinned. Bowls and utensils came next. Finally the surprise arrived: two large bowls of a creamy looking substance, each complete with a scoop. One bowl contained a brownish mixture; the other, white.
The same sequence of delivery happened at tables all around the two friends, until everyone was served. Xena had seen the bowls filled from the tubs that Brynthis had deposited in the kitchen earlier.
"Frozen cream," Colinthia grinned in explanation. "Try it!" She sat down and, at first, she served both women small servings, for them to taste. The townspeople had no such need for the smaller helpings, but dug right in, pouring syrups and nuts atop their heaping bowls. Gabrielle could see they were a creative lot! Murmurs of delight and gratitude were heard all over the room, from both child and adult.
And the harpist played on.
"Oooo," Gabrielle and Xena said in unison, surprised delight on both their faces.
"That is good!"
"What is the brown one?" Gabrielle asked.
"It's made from cacao beans originally imported from the Ivory Coast, but now grown in our greenhouses."
"And the white mixture?"
"From the pods of an orchid, called vanilla--also originally imported from the Ivory Coast."
"I'll be good and I won't even ask 'how'?," Xena lifted her chin high, with an audible 'Humph'.
"Well, I will!" Gabrielle began experimenting with some of the syrups she found in the basket, following the lead of some of the surrounding tables.
Colinthia laughed, much too tired from the day's activities to try to explain. "You'll have to ask Brynthis to show you her operation. I only make up the base mixture."
"Ummm. It's too bad Brynthis didn't make it to hear your story." Xena consoled Gabrielle softly, as she took a mouthful of caramel topped, cacao frozen cream.
Gabrielle looked at Colinthia, startled, then winked at the innkeeper. She turned back to Xena, "Who says she didn't?"
Xena almost choked on her dessert, "She was here? You saw her?!"
"She was. And I didn't have to." Gabrielle replied smugly.
"Then how do you know?"
"Oh, let's just say 'I have many skills,'" The bard smiled mischievously.
Colinthia joined in, "Oh, Brynthis assured me she wanted a 'front row seat', so to speak. And since she so rarely asks me for anything, how could I say 'no' to my baby sister?"
Xena instinctively glanced at the table closest to the bard's stool. She saw only a village family there.
Stephanos grinned, "And Miss Colinthia couldn't let the little one here go unaccompanied. Get's mighty lonely at the front of the room, or so I'm told. Very unsporting of her, it would have been!"
Xena's head shot up as she looked toward the screen where the music still emanated. And as if on cue, the music stopped for a few moments. Xena could hear a slight rustling, before the music resumed, this time with a slightly different style and level of competence. She rose gracefully and strode toward the screen, dodging serving boys and girls as she went.
Colinthia listened to the music and shook her head sorrowfully, "I think she waited a bit too long!"
Xena pulled back the screen to startle a young man sitting at the harp. He faltered and stopped.
"Have you been here all evening?"
"Uh-uh-uh, n-n-no ma'am, I j-j-just got here." Well, at least the stutter sounded familiar, Xena concluded.
"Where is the woman who was just here?"
He jerked his finger over his right shoulder to indicate where he thought the woman was standing.
Xena looked, but found no one there. "Where?"
He glanced over his shoulder and jumped off his stool, almost into the warrior's arms. "S-s-she w-w-was there a-a-a m-m-minute ago." His face turned pale. There was no door or hallway for her to have exited by, and she certainly did not venture out into the crowd.
"I'd better go rescue Paulus before she takes his head off!" Colinthia smiled. She could see the frustration in Xena's gestures as the warrior spoke to the boy.
It only took Colinthia a few moments to reach the bard's corner. "Thank you, Paulus. Please continue playing." Colinthia motioned for the boy to take his seat. "If you'll excuse us, Miss Xena is needed elsewhere for a few moments. So nice of you to fill in for us like this. Thank you!"
Paulus grinned his relief, as Colinthia took a warrior elbow in her hand and guided Xena away from the bard's corner.
"You're going to frighten all my help away! You just scared the picrorrhiza out of Paulus!"
"Didn't mean to," Xena grudged.
"Xena," Colinthia reproved. "Paulus doesn't know what's going on. He doesn't even know who Brynthis is! 'Sweet gum bark', I'm her sister and I don't know who she is!"
The harp music resumed, tentatively and unmelodically at first. Colinthia winced and grinned weakly.
"Ah," Xena mentally exprobrated herself, and started, "I bet you think I'm acting petulantly. I just, I just, " she searched for a word to describe her feelings, "uhh . . . I don't like being ridiculed."
"First of all, why would it matter to you what I think?" Colinthia gazed steadily at Xena, gaining a true affection for this tall, enigmatic woman.
At that moment, they were distracted as a small hand slipped into one of Colinthia's and the two women were forced to stop and look downward at a little girl standing before them. She could only stare up at the tall warrior towering over her.
Colinthia dropped to one knee, face to face with the child and kindly asked, "What is it, Miriya?"
The little girl stuck one chubby little finger into her mouth for a moment. Then removed it and reared back to point up, with the wet finger, at the warrior. She almost lost her balance and toppled backward with the effort except Colinthia caught and cradled her. Then she struggled upright and announced, still pointing upward, "Wawa' Pwincess."
Colinthia looked up at Xena, "Ah well, there you have it!" she smacked her left thigh with her left palm, for emphasis. Then the healer turned and smiled at the three-year old, and explained, "Miriya, this is Miss Xena."
The little girl would not be swayed, but shook her head solemnly, little luminous eyes answered, "Uh-uh, Wawa Pwincess."
At that moment an embarrassed mother came to shyly reclaim her child and apologized for the intrusion.
"Ummm, I think they've recognized the 'deep, blue eyes' and 'raven colored tresses', or maybe it's the 'statuesque' beauty?" Colinthia stood up and back to critically appraise the warrior, taking Xena's arm and turning her back and forth. In spite of the fact that she was once again dressed in her blue tunic and breeches, the warrior could not hide her 'straight and regal' bearing. "Yep, I think they got it pegged right!" She smiled. "But come, why don't we go for a walk, what say? I think more than one family has recognized you!"
Xena glanced around the room to find numerous pairs of covertly adoring eyes watching her every move.
"But . . . Gabrielle . . . ," the warrior protested mildly, as Colinthia nudged her toward the door beside the Seltzer Bar.
"Yes, wave nicely to them! Uh-huh, just like that, and let Stephanos entertain Gabrielle for now. He really is a very good conversationalist." Gabrielle waved cheerily back and nodded her understanding when Colinthia pointed toward herself and Xena and then the door. "I can only guess what their topics of conversation will be," she had a mischievous twinkle in her eye, "You and Brynthis, perhaps?"
Once outside, Colinthia slipped her arm to interlink with the warrior's and led them on a slow amble around the lamplit gardens. The wood chipped path crunched lightly beneath their feet. For a few moments they walked in silence: Colinthia enjoying the spring breeze, Xena brooding at her own spontaneous eruption. A few night birds called to one another. Crickets chirruped. Then the healer continued their interrupted conversation, "Now, no--it's never 'petulant' to desire respect. That's only what any of us wants." They were both silent, briefly.
"Why? In what way do you feel you were being ridiculed?" Colinthia asked, without censure.
"Well," the warrior admitted. "You and Stephanos and even Gabrielle were aware that Brynthis, ummm, was behind the screen, all the while letting me sit in total ignorance, blathering on about her not getting to hear Gabrielle's story."
Colinthia recognized that was a large admission on Xena's part.
"You were the only one who knew that you were scouring the place for her, trying to find her hiding spot." Colinthia asserted judiciously.
"Well, obviously I wasn't the only one, if you knew too!" Xena retorted.
"And she circumvented your challenge."
Xena shook her head, "I still can't figure out how she got there!"
"That's another story, that Brynthis should tell you herself. But, you know, Bryn doesn't even know you've issued a challenge--she's oblivious to your goal."
Xena only nodded, self-recrimation in her simple answer, "I know."
"You were angry because we knew where Brynthis was and you didn't?"
"Uh . . . , really more annoyed than angry, I guess."
"I'm sorry. That was never intended to show you disrespect in any way. Forgive us?" Colinthia stopped and looked earnestly into Xena's face.
A chunk of Xena's irritation melted.
"But I don't think that's the real reason for your frustration, is it?"
"What do you mean?" There was a time that Xena had killed people for less audacity than that. Ah! How times are a changing, she sighed.
Colinthia ushered them to a bench. Xena initially resisted. She had no desire to be settled right now. She needed to move, to pace, to . . . okay, sit. She realized how ridiculous it would be to carry on a private conversation from her height. Families were already beginning to drift out of the inn, laughing and chatting, disinclined to leave the fun, the community, the evening behind.
"That's not the source for your, ummm . . . , dissatisfaction, is it?" Colinthia waited for an answer, but when Xena remained silent, she continued softly, "May I speak candidly with you?"
You mean we weren't? Xena usually welcomed forthrightness, but wasn't sure she wanted to be the subject of Colinthia's observations. "Uh, sure."
"I think you've taken on, even if self-appointed, the responsibility for Brynthis' . . . scars and the mysteries that seem to have shaped who she is. And you seem to be thwarted on every side trying to discover their secrets. Foiled mostly, by Brynthis' reticence herself; and then, just now, by me and Gabrielle and Stephanos."
"Don't you want to know?!"
"Probably not as badly as you do! You have your mind focused: pinpoint problem, investigate, solve problem--one, two, three--neatly, efficiently, quickly." Colinthia counted the steps, three times over on her fingers.
"I've already seen amazing changes in Brynthis over the last few hours. Please be patient with her and I feel confident you will be rewarded with what you seek. And Xena, she does know what she couldn't remember before."
Colinthia nodded solemnly.
"Hmmm. But, you're right. It's not really Brynthis I am fighting. It's the darkness behind those scars. I don't know what, or why, but something is driving me, almost like a vague familiarity," Xena shook her head and looked up into the night sky. "I can't seem to put my finger on it, no matter how hard I try. I want to strike out--cut that malevolence down." The warrior said it almost viciously, and Colinthia was gratified and humbled to realize Xena had just entrusted her with a glimpse into the warrior's very private thoughts. It was a privilege not shared by many. The healer sat so deep in contemplation that Xena had to ask her question twice.
"I said, 'what changes'?"
"Oh . . . , well, the ones written in her eyes, mostly. There's a new understanding, as though her death answered her questions. She no longer masks the deep sadness behind a smile. There's also something else. It's like a profound awareness, and . . . ummm . . .as odd as it may sound, an intense joy."
Xena only nodded. Not having known Brynthis previously, she couldn't comment, but she could well imagine.
"There's also the fact that she touches and has allowed touch. She never had the confidence to actually, physically, touch someone before--it's as if she felt she didn't deserve to exist in the same plane," Colinthia shook her head, "she felt like an intruder among people. There was no place for her to belong. But . . . , she touched my face!" There was a wonder in Colinthia's eyes. "And she let me touch her in return. Except of course, when I pushed a little too far and reached for the place where the quarrel had lodged earlier today. Hmmm . . . , I never thought about it; I wonder if it's sore?"
Xena couldn't say as how she had thought about it before now, either.
"Also, she looked us in the eye. She just doesn't do that." And Colinthia searched Xena's eyes, as if in emphasis.
"And before, to get her to share her thoughts, well, it usually wound up as an interrogation. She had the knowledge, she just didn't know how to impart it; either that, or she felt that it wasn't worth hearing. And a lot of times I think I was too impatient to wait. I've missed so much." Now it was Colinthia's turn to castigate herself. "I've probably contributed by cutting her off when she did venture to tell me something." Then she grinned, "I can have strong opinions sometimes!"
Colinthia continued her cogitations, "Today though, she spoke with authority. She reasoned with me instead of backing down. Before--even if she knew she was right, if I argued she wasn't, she wouldn't pursue it--just let it lie. Then I'd feel like such a lout later when I found out she was right, and I had just trodden her feelings underfoot.
Finally, Colinthia observed, "She's just more . . . settled." Colinthia stared unseeingly at the raised herb beds across from the bench on which they lounged. "If she can change, perhaps there is hope for me?"
Perhaps, Xena acknowledged. I did.
Beyond the reach of the lamplight, the stars winked in satisfaction.
Gabrielle and Stephanos did not notice the woman standing beside the table for the longest time, supposing her to be a serving girl. But she was on the backside of the table, away from the hustle and bustle and . . . people. When they did look up from their conversation, Stephanos blushed furiously and stood so quickly he knocked his seat over. He just gawked.
"I'm so s-s-sorry t-to int-int-intrude, b-b-but I was l-looking for 'Thia." She said softly with her head almost bowed, examining her hands knotted in front of her.
Stephanos just pointed toward the door. Gabrielle completed for him, "She's outside. You just missed her by seconds."
"Th-th-thank you," and the woman turned to go, then paused, having conjured up enough courage, she twisted back to whisper, "You sang beautifully this evening!" She ducked to leave.
Now Gabrielle stood to join Stephanos, "Please, wait!" With dawning insight she realized Brynthis would never have sought them out to ask such a mundane question as to Colinthia's whereabouts for the sake of the acquired knowledge. Brynthis had purposely reached out to them in the asking. "Won't you join us?"
Without waiting for an answer Gabrielle began, "We haven't been properly introduced. I'm Gabrielle." She held out her hand in greeting.
Brynthis looked at the extended hand, then up to meet Gabrielle's eyes and quickly back down. Slowly she extended her own, and gingerly gave Gabrielle's hand a light squeeze. "I'm Brynthis," then she joked self-deprecatingly, "all m-m-my friends c-call m-me 'Bryn'."
Stephanos smiled, relieved. He pulled the empty chair that Xena had been seated in, between Gabrielle and himself, out for her, and waited with bated breath. To the surprise of both, instead of refusing or making an excuse, the runner slowly sat down, but she sat as though on pins and needles--stiff and upright, and gazed at the table surface more than she looked in their eyes.
"Thank you for supporting me so nicely this evening. I deeply appreciate it! What was the name of the piece you played just before the story?" Gabrielle asked after she and Stephanos had retaken their chairs.
Brynthis attempted to answer, but when no sound came, she cleared her throat and tried again. "Uhhh. 'F-f-free-freedom t-t-to F-f-fly.'" It was little more than a whisper.
"How apropos!" Gabrielle leaned with both elbows on the table, arms crossed. "And very expressively and passionately executed."
The runner looked startled and coughed as she almost, accidentally, swallowed her tongue.
"Hmmm. This frozen cream is delicious. May I dip you a bowl?" The bard offered smoothly.
Brynthis finally looked into Gabrielle's eyes, barely audible, "Ummm, n-n-o, thank y-you. B-b-but, y-yeah, it is g-g-good, isn't it? 'Thia is a gr-great c-c-cook!"
"Oh, she tells us that all she does is the base mixture, but the remainder requires your magic."
Brynthis looked perplexed and tipped her head. "All, ummm, sh-she d-d-doesn't have is th-th-the ice, s-salt and elb-elbow gr-grease. That d-d-do-doesn't take m-m-much."
"I'd love to see how you do it!"
Stephanos sat in stunned silence. His face, still a warm shade of red.
"Is it true what Stephanos says, you have your own ice house and produce your own ice?"
Even Stephanos' ears turned pink. "Miss Colinthia told me." But he was grateful to Gabrielle to have included him, he admitted.
"Uhh . . . , well, y-yes and n-no. We d-don't, ahh, 'p-produce' it, we j-j-just 'harvest' it d-d-during freezing w-weath-weather and s-store it p-packed in saw-sawdust in an undergr-undergr-ground cellar. It l-l-lasts all s-s-summer long, if w-we g-get en-enough. If we d-d-don't, we have t-t-to go up n-north into the m-mountains to sup-supplement."
Gabrielle noticed the repeated use of the term 'we,' instead of 'I,' throughout Brynthis' conversation.
Xena's gonna kick herself for not being here!
"Oh? Where do you harvest it from--the lake beyond the cliffs?"
Brynthis gazed at Gabrielle to discern the sincerity of her question. She was instantly wary of the chattiness. She wore a bemused expression. Gabrielle reciprocated with an open friendly smile.
"N-no," she responded slowly, "we've b-built our own-own ice m-molds, and we set th-them at-atop the n-n-northern most c-c-corner of the c-cl-cliffs w-when th-the t-t-temp-temper-temperatures are b-below fr-freezing."
Stephanos finally found his tongue, "Besides, there's no path up the cliffs to bring up chunks of ice from the lake. And the river is too warm to float them down without them melting somewhat."
"Oh," Gabrielle said innocently, "there's the steps like Xena and Brynthis," she stopped and looked at Brynthis, then corrected herself shyly, "that Xena and 'Bryn' came back up, except you'd get wet and that'd be awfully uncomfortable and cold in the winter."
"Steps?" Stephanos asked. "Came back up?! Is that how you got down?"
Brynthis looked straight into Gabrielle's eyes, begging her with her glance not to reveal anything.
"Oh, they jumped over the cliff," the bard answered sweetly.
Stephanos was instantly alert, "You did what?! You jump . . . you dove off the cliffs? Both of you?!"
"Yeah, isn't X-Xena mag-mag-magnificent?" Brynthis changed the subject swiftly. Then she turned to the bard, "'D-d-dragonflies', you m-make her res-resonate with-with ad-ad-advent-adventure! Now what p-part d-did you pl-play in th-those s-s-stories? Some-somehow you were con-conspicuously ab-absent!"
'Two can play this game,' Brynthis smiled disarmingly. 'And besides, I really do want to know, and this is as opportune a time as any!'
Gabrielle was enjoying this woman, but, 'Awww! I was going to enjoy seeing Stephanos and Brynthis spar over that cliff diving. And as astute as Bryn is, I'm sure she would have seen down to Stephanos' motive for being upset, and discovered he was in love with her! Awww, 'boars snores''!
But the question had served its purpose and grabbed Stephanos' attention, and although he still scowled, he was successfully distracted.
"Y-y-you w-w-were in th-that village th-that Aven attacked. You w-were one-one of th-the y-you-young women he was g-go-going to t-take as a s-s-slave, weren't y-you?" It was really more of a statement than a question.
"How did you know that?"
"It-it w-was in your v-voice as you t-t-told that p-por-por-portion of th-the st-story."
"Umm, okay. Yes, I was. And Xena rescued me!" Then Gabrielle started at the beginning of the story she had just told earlier, this time, the adult version with all it's gory and unseemly nuances. But as she was warming to the feral descriptions of Xena's warlord days, she looked down to find a hand on her forearm.
The shock at discovering that Brynthis had actually touched her was registered on the bard's face. Brynthis saw the reaction and quickly, but quietly, withdrew her hand. "O-oh, I-I-I-I'm s-s-s-so sor-sor-sor-sorry, I-I-I didn't m-m-mean t-t-to of-of-offend . . . !" The runner's head sank, along with her voice, and her arms slumped against the table.
Now, when there was blame to be laid, Brynthis used the 'I' term. Curiouser and curiouser.
Stephanos reached and gently captured Brynthis' right forearm with one of his large hands, and let his hand rest there, lightly stroking her arm with his thumb, all the while gazing at Gabrielle as though intent on her story. Brynthis did not fight his touch.
It was Gabrielle's heart that sank. "No, please. I'm the one who is sorry. I was just surprised to see your hand there . . . ," great going, Gabrielle! Might as well take off her hand and slap her with it! "No, what I mean is that you don't seem . . . , uhhh . . ., well, what I--uhhh . . . , I was just amazed, and . . . gratified, uhh . . . , honored to find it there," the bard sputtered, aching at what she had just done. Then she reached out and took Brynthis' left hand in her own.
And, although Brynthis did not draw back, she did not reach again. The runner raised her head to search Gabrielle's face. Seeing the pain written there, Brynthis' tender heart spoke to alleviate that hurt, and haltingly began again, "Ummm, n-n-no, I w-w-was j-just go-going t-t-to ask th-that you sk-skip the w-w-war-war-lord p-p-part of X-Xena's l-life. I d-d-don't w-want to kn-know wh-what sh-sh-she was. I've known en-en-enough of th-that in m-my life-life-lifetime" she almost whispered the last sentence, then paused before continuing, "I w-w-w-want to kn-kn-know wh-where sh-she is g-going."
Xena is going to 'hurl a pearl' for not being here.
Then Gabrielle dared, "Funny, Xena wants to know where you've been."
Brynthis made a choking noise, almost like a squawk. "Wh-wh-wh-why?!" She was ashen.
Gabrielle only tilted her head at the runner. Nope. Xena would have to answer that question, for herself. "She has an insatiable curiosity, much like yours, I'm told."
Brynthis' face went from pale, to red, in a matter of moments.
There was an awkward silence. Stephanos finally broke it by reminding Gabrielle, "We still want to hear your part of this story. Just leave out Xena's warlord days." He continued to hold Brynthis' arm comfortingly.
Gabrielle started, almost shyly, but not before cataloging the 'I've known enough of that in my lifetime' statement, to share with Xena later. "But my part is so insignificant!"
"Oh, I-I d-d-do-don't know. I get the f-f-feeling y-you are the hea-heart and s-soul of th-this t-team. Xe-Xena may ac-accomplish the phys-physicality of the f-f-feats, b-but y-you are her im-impetus." Brynthis voiced her honest assessment, then was immediately abashed by her own forthrightness.
"That's one of the nicest things anyone has ever said to me!" Gabrielle's beaming face thanked the runner.
Brynthis bowed her head in genuine embarrassment.
And, although Gabrielle held her own contributions to hers and Xena's escapades as inconsequential to the stories, especially compared to Xena's; she knew, in all fairness, that she couldn't ask Brynthis to confide events about her life, if the bard was unwilling to reciprocate. So she began her tale again, skipping over Xena's glory days as a warlord, and encompassing the bard's accomplishments in the history of their lives.
The bard was stupefied to find a sea of eyes and ears attending her newer rendition just as fervently as her first. Only the servers were left in the great-room, but every one of them was gathered around Gabrielle's table as the bard retold the story.
Again, her audience showed their appreciation with applause when she was done. When they had finished and returned to their work, she turned to get Brynthis' and Stephanos' reactions, but only Stephanos was still there.
"Where did Bryn go?"
Stephanos lowered his voice, "There were just too many people, and she had to get away. She offers her regrets and wishes for a private audience at a later date." Then he added with a twinkle in his hazel eyes, "The second tale was even better than the first!"
Xena stopped to listen to the small applause coming through the open great-room doors. "I wonder what that was all about? I didn't think that many people were left inside."
"Hmmm. Not sure!" Colinthia tilted her head to one side to listen. All sounded normal after the clapping had ended.
"Xena, I assure you, Gabrielle didn't know Brynthis was behind the screen until my sister told her, herself. And what Stephanos said was true. Brynthis watches people like an owl. She had sensed earlier that Gabrielle was a little nervous and she requested that I allow her to play this evening, instead of one of my students, so she could lend moral support to Gabrielle. Stephanos only knew because he was the one who had to retrieve the backdrop from the attic above the hospice area." Then, as if inspiration had struck, "See, that's another definite change in Bryn."
"She's never played for anyone--besides Mother, Alexandros and myself--before. Let alone, volunteered to do so."
"You know, she does play well."
"Yes, she does. Thank you!"
"I would have thought her fear would have kept her from being, well, so 'noticeable'."
Colinthia laughed. "Noticeable? The screen was prerequisite, and since the townspeople have never heard her play before, they didn't know who it was, besides--they still think she's the village idiot."
Xena looked at Colinthia shocked.
Colinthia was amused at Xena's reaction. "Anyway, it is usually one, or several, of my students who use such opportunities to give mini-recitals. Also, assures me a larger dinner crowd," She grinned slyly. "Parents, aunts and uncles all want to hear their prodigies perform."
"Hmmm. Still, you should have told me she was there." Xena said it softly, with regret.
"As Brynthis would say, and 'this would have accomplished, what?' She is not the stag to be hunted as your prey. You won't win Brynthis' trust by playing games. It doesn't work like that with her. . . ."
"I . . . ," Xena let the words die on her lips, for that was exactly what she had been doing.
"Speaking of ridicule or disrespect, although Brynthis seems to take no notice of, nor acknowledge slights, I can only imagine what she may have felt when she carried a certain warrior princess on her back, knowing she was being deceived, knowing she was being ensnared, pushing herself beyond reasonable physical limits to climb willingly into the trap, the dove before the hawk, based solely on her trust in me.
"Now, imagine how I felt betraying her confidence to do it--and to what end?! She would have returned of her own accord had she not been chased."
"Yes, but we didn't know that at the time. Nor did we even know who she was," Xena defended her decision. "Had I known then, what we know now; please believe me, I would never have given chase. But once committed, and not knowing, I had no choice, but to follow through."
"Yes," Colinthia sighed sadly. "I do not lay the responsibility at your feet, for it was more mine, than it was yours. I do know and realize those seemed to be the only options open to us at that time--else I would never have participated. But I'm not sure Brynthis perceives it in such the same way. She was self-aware from the beginning. How can she see it other than me betraying her?"
"I think she's perceptive enough to know why."
"She may be, but I am not! Why did I do that to her? I know how frightened she is of strangers, of people. I know how tenderhearted she is. I knew how she would respond. I knew better!" Colinthia said brokenly. "Xena, didn't Gabrielle mention in her story that you had a younger brother?"
"If someone had tricked your younger brother, even in his best interests, like I did Brynthis, what would you have done?"
Xena grinned wickedly. "I'd have taken their heads off!"
"But was there any real harm done?"
"The question we were addressing was not the 'ends', but the 'means'. And yes, the harm is in the contribution to the detriment of the personhood of the individual involved."
"No matter how much you may want to deny it--you are a wise woman. I couldn't have said it better myself, in fact, not even near that well." Colinthia nodded.
"I owe Brynthis an apology."
"As do I."
"Do you think she'd see me to allow me to apologize to her?" Xena asked.
Colinthia tilted her head to listen on the wind, then smiled sadly. Xena faintly heard the haunting breath of a wood flute. It was coming through an open balcony door three floors up.
"What's up there?" Xena craned her neck to see.
"It's the garret, uhhh, Brynthis' room."
"She lives in the attic?!"
"It's an attic in position only. I've been up there once . . . ," Xena looked at Colinthia questioningly. "Don't ask! But it is very liveable." Then Colinthia laughed, "Livable, 'mouse-ear hawkweed', it's actually nicer than any other room in the inn. And it's soundproof--except when she opens her balcony doors as she's obviously done this evening. It is not only directly above your and Gabrielle's room, but it covers the entire west inn area."
"But just wait, Brynthis will be down to eat supper as soon as everyone clears."
"She hasn't eaten yet?"
"Goodness, no. She never gets the chance to do it unobtrusively until everyone else is gone to bed. Although tonight, there will probably be little left. We had an overcapacity crowd with voracious appetites."
"You know, I never finished my frozen cream. I may have to make a trip down to the kitchen to filch a bowl." Xena said, while staring at the open balcony door above the bench on which they sat. The faint wisps of music could still be heard.
"The best approach with Brynthis is the direct approach. But it is also wise to let her come to you in her own time, with your invitation. You can camp out in the kitchen until she comes down. But remember, she'll probably see you before you see her. You can gauge how to speak to her by her reaction to your presence, if she approaches you at all. And remember, she has a very protective older sister! I'd hate for the redheaded gorgon to be released, should her older sister detect any mistreatment of her younger sibling!" Colinthia grinned, but Xena could see she meant every word of her warning.
Actually Colinthia's hair was auburn. Brynthis' was a sandy brown.
Continued in Part 3