The Way

BY L. Crystal Michallet-Romero

Copyright © April 26, 2002 L. Crystal Michallet-Romero
All Rights Reserved

For: Halen, of the Xena: Warrior Lesbian discussion board. If you hadn't posted that interesting thread, the idea for this story might never have crossed my mind. THANKS!
Big Thanks to my beta readers, Bill the Semi-Bard, and my life partner, Jessica Michallet.

Disclaimer: Xena Warrior Princess, its characters, and all related materials are the property of MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures.  The other characters are mine.  Like the show, I am playing around with the historical time lines.
Rated: NC17
Violence: None.
Sexual Violence: None.
Subtext: Yes.
Sexual Scenes: None.
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Chandanda Pallavas remained standing knee deep in the Ganges River. The coldness of the water was a contrast to the warm sand that surrounded her submerged feet. When she wiggled her toes, she felt the sand shifting, burying her feet even deeper under the clean, warm sand. As she thought over this strangeness, Chandanda watched the sun slowly moving towards the distant mountains. The cool breeze brushed past her while she tried to still the restlessness of her thoughts.

'It is all happening too fast,' she thought to herself as she glanced down at the rippling reflection in the slowly flowing waters of the Ganges. She noticed the way her long straight hair shone in the sun. When she tilted her head, she saw the thin, angular line of her nose and firm chin. Her almond shaped eyes were offset by their dark color.

Chandanda, Princess of the Pallavas clan, had always known that someday there would be a match made for her. As the only daughter of sixteen sons, Chandanda knew that someday she would be used as a tool to cement her family firmly in a position of power. Yet deep within, she had always hoped that the day would never come.

After nearly eighteen years of age, no match had been made and Chandanda had begun to believe that her father might have decided to let her choose for herself whom she was to wed. 'But perhaps after so many years of waiting, he has finally given up,' she mused as she walked a bit further into the running river, her fingers dangling in the quenching waters.

Chandanda remembered how her father's wives had warned that she should not be allowed to join in the manly pursuits of self-defense and education. They had warned that the only princess of their clan would not grow up properly if the King insisted on raising her as a son. Yet, her own birth-mother had come to her defense.

'What good is it for a child to be easy prey?' Her mother had protested. With wisdom like that of the great god Bhrama, her father had meditated and decided that the lessons of combat would continue as well as lessons, which would help the princess to become a proper wife. So like her brothers, and all of her male ancestors before her, Chandanda continued to learn the art of war and self-protection while also being schooled on the art of wifely conduct.

The tall princess reflected on her life as she stood quietly in the flowing river. She was only a child when she began to train with the fighting staff. As she became proficient in this weapon, the weapons master would include additional weapons. By the time Chandanda had grown into a woman, she could hold her own, and even outmatch some of her brothers in weapons and hand-to-hand contests.

In addition to her womanly studies, she delved into her general studies like she did her physical training; with enthusiasm and an unquenchable thirst. Regardless of the subject, the princess would turn her entire concentration into mastering the new field of study. Like the art of war, the concepts of the stars, natural science, mathematics and scribing intrigued her. When she moved into the realm of philosophy and religion, she felt as if the world existed for her alone.

When she glanced down at herself, Chandanda noticed the color of her red sari changed to a slight hue of maroon when reflected in the stream below. 'Red, the color of a bride,' she mused silently as she studied the rest of her clothing. Her short sleeved blouse was cut high enough to show off her sculptured abdomen, which showed the evidence of her physical training. With a shake of her head, the young princess glanced out at the holy river and sighed.

The future was a mystery to her. She had never met this prince of the Chalukyas yet she was expected to not only leave her home and family to be with him, but to marry and spend the rest of her life with his family. Whatever dreams of traveling the lands with her love, seeking adventures, and defending the weak would never be for her, and this both saddened, and frightened her.

She could turn away and run from this marriage, take her small entourage and find refuge in a hermitage. But even as this thought crossed her mind, she knew that it was an option, which held many ramifications. Yes, she could run away from the marriage. With the dowry already delivered, his family would have a handsome addition to their coffers, but would it be enough, she wondered. Schooled in history, she was well aware of the wars that had started over just such an incident. Whereas it was true that she could run away, the possibility that this would bring her people into a war with the Chalukyas clan was something she did not even wish to contemplate.

'No, I cannot have innocent blood on my hands,' she sighed and gazed at the flowing waves of the Ganges river.

'Please, you once spoke to me, oh, mighty goddess of the Ganges. Please tell me what to do," she beseeched as she closed her eyes and willed her rampant fears to silence. As she felt the waves of the mighty Ganges sweeping by her, she stilled all thoughts as she reached out toward the powers of the water. The tales of the river's might and magic had been told to her when she was a child.

'Remember Chandanda, the mighty Ganges is like the hand of Bhrama resting on the top of the Himalayan mountains. The fingers of his hand reach out to bless all within the land,' her mother had told her time and again. 'But do not forget, my daughter that all fingers stretch toward the mighty waters of Bengal. Do not ever forget that all paths flow to the ocean,' the tall woman smiled as she recalled the many times that her mother had explained how the river Ganges was a goddess who held the same powers of a god.

Like Bhrama, the creator of the universe, the water goddess Ganges once existed in the celestial realm. Chandanda recalled the story of how Indra, the king of Gods, had kidnapped the magical horse from the ancestors of Rama. Made jealous by the feats of the horse, Indra hid the magical steed at the hermitage of the demi-god, Kapila Muni until a sacrifice was performed to him.

Chandanda's brows furrowed as she remembered how her mother had told her how the sixty thousand sons of Kapila searched for the horse, and in their haste, mistook Kapila Muni to be the abductor and attacked him. Enraged by their attack, Kapila Muni burnt all the sixty thousand princes to ashes.

As a child, Chandanda was horrified to think of the fate of all those princes. To think that a god could be so vengeful had frightened the young princess. To know that a god could take such revenge, only reinforced in her mind that even her royal line was not immune to the wrath of the gods and this notion brought terror to her young mind. It was her childish fear that kept her from understanding the full story. Only when she matured was she able to set aside her fears and really hear the words of her mother.

A grandchild of a King, as the story goes, had heard the plight of the sixty thousand sons and approached Kapila Muni, asking him for a solution to the problem. Partially repenting of his rage at the princes and knowing the power of the heavenly Ganges, Kapila Muni advised the young prince to take the ashes and throw them into the great river. Although the young prince was unsuccessful, his descendant, Bhagiratha, continued with his efforts to bring the great Ganges down to the earth in order to purify the ashes and bring the princes back to life. After many years, Ganges herself felt sympathy and rushed toward the ground. Fearing that the weight of the water of the Ganges was too mighty for the earth to withstand, the faithful grandson prayed to Shiva, who then held out his matted hair to catch the river and soften her descent to the earth. The Ganges thus became an attribute of Shiva and were forever after known as the manifestation of Shiva on earth.

Once the great goddess Ganges had descended upon the mountains of the Himalayas, Prince Bhagiratha patiently led the river down to the sea. Because the prince was unable to locate the exact spot where the ashes lay, he requested Ganges to follow her own course. In her effort to find the lost princes of Kapila Muni, the goddess Ganges divided herself into a hundred fingers throughout the Bengal region and formed the Ganges delta. One of her streams finally washed over the ashes of the sixty thousand and at last offered salvation to the lost souls of the departed princes.

'So strong is the goddess Ganges, that she not only offers a blessing to the dead, but also gives answers to the living,' Princess Chandanda remembered her mother repeating each and every time they went on their yearly pilgrimage to the noble river.

With a sigh, the young woman looked around her. She saw the pilgrims on the distant shore wading with reverence into the cool water. Their soft voices prayed for blessings, which only the great goddess could provide. Filled with sadness and confusion, Chandanda closed her eyes and assumed the posture of reverence. With palms pressed together, she called out to the spirit of the river.

Silently, Princess Chandanda of the Pallavas clan asked for reassurance that her future would always be blessed. She prayed for a sign that would show her that the stranger, the man she would marry, was a good and kind man. Most of all, she beseeched the Goddess Ganges and Lord Shiva for a sign that would reassure her that the path she now took was the one, which she was meant to walk down. As the rippling tides washed past her, she waited for a sign from the goddess who was always near her heart.
"Eli, I failed my first test," the bard's voice quivered as she fought back tears. The sadness filled her soul as her recent actions replayed in her mind. No matter how hard Gabrielle had tried, she found that she did not have the will power to remain on the path of peace, and this wounded her spirit in ways that she had not anticipated.

"It's hard, the way of love. It may not be right for you. But if you choose to follow it, you must do so with all your heart. You'll fail more than once. But don't give up hope. In the end -- you'll redeem the world," the prophet Eli stated with conviction.

"Where are you going?" Gabrielle asked softly as she gazed at the tall man.

"Home, I need to take the message to my own people. I believe they'll be the most ... receptive." He smiled. "Thank you, Gabrielle. You were the first one to understand me. I won't forget you." His voice was gentle as he lightly touched her cheek.

Despite his words, the bard could not help the foreboding feelings. A part of her understood his gifts and wanted to always protect him. Yet a part of her knew that he had a will of his own. If returning to his people with the word is what he felt he was meant to do, Gabrielle knew that she could not stop him.

The bard felt the warmth of his hand against her cheek even as he was walking away. Contemplating his words, Gabrielle wondered if she would be able to follow the path of peace. She wondered if the faith that Eli had in her was not misplaced. But just as this thought crossed her mind, she knew what path she was meant to take.

As she glanced at her staff, she remembered all of the times that she had used it to harm others in the name of peace. The vivid memory of Ephiny's first lesson replayed in her mind, even as she recoiled. Even then, Gabrielle could never bring herself to use it to harm or kill a centaur. With this in mind, she walked slowly toward the river. At the feel of the wooden staff in her hands, she glanced at it lovingly for one last time. 'Once, it may have fit into my life, but now, it no longer serves a purpose,' she thought silently as she threw it toward the river like a spear.

Gabrielle watched as the waves of the river gently carried a part of her away. Silently, she contemplated Eli's words as she watched the crystal ripples in the water. Like a silken blanket the river carried her staff away from the shore. With a slight smile, she closed her eyes and allowed his words to settle within her soul. Filled with an inner peace, she opened her eyes and watched her staff's slow journey across the river. Knowing that she could never return to the warrior's path, she smiled with satisfaction as she heard the soft footfalls of her lover approach.

"So, it's the way of love for you, huh?" Xena asked with a slight frown.

"Yeah," the bard said as she felt the taller woman's sadness. "Yours is the way of the warrior. I think I've always known that," the bard smiled softly as she removed the scarf from her head, the cool breeze gently brushing through her short hair.

"And I've always known that it was wrong for you." The warrior swallowed and when she continued, remorse cut through her words. "I'm sorry I took you so far from your truth."

"Don't be sorry," Gabrielle held back her sadness, knowing how hard this was for Xena. In an attempt to ease the taller woman's guilt, she took the large hand in hers. "Xena-- do you think I could have understood the power of selfless love-- if it weren't for our friendship?"

"Still, I think maybe you should travel with Eli for a while," Gabrielle could tell that the warrior was trying to mask her true feelings in hopes that the bard would do what was best for her and leave.

Not taking the bait, the bard smiled at Xena's words and her voice was peaceful. "No. You and I stay together."

"Gabrielle, we're headed in opposite directions in life." The warrior tried again to convince her, but failed.

"All rivers run to the sea. We'll end up in the same place; I'm sure of it," the blond said softly as she watched her staff floating away on the gentle waves. When she felt her soul mate's hand on her arm, she smiled, knowing how hard it was for her lover to bite her tongue and her voice caught. "Thank you."

"For what?" The telltale tears laced Xena's words.

"For not mentioning dams," Gabrielle turned away and smiled at her lover's sentimentality.

"You're welcome," Xena's voice was so soft and soothing, her touch warming the bard's soul. At such a simple demonstration of the warrior's love, Gabrielle reached up and covered the callused hand with her own. In silence, they watched the staff disappear around the bend in the river.
Princess Chandanda remained in a still, peaceful state as the waves brushed gently past her. When she felt a slight bump against her leg, she opened one eye and peered down cautiously. At the sight of the weapon, she felt her heart skip a beat.

She glanced around quickly as she pulled the floating staff from the water. Although it was wet, it had not been in the water long enough for the wood to become soaked. At this thought, she glanced around again in search of the staff's owner. The pilgrims across the river continued in their worship and devotion of the river goddess. When she glanced over her shoulder, the only people she saw on the shore were her own entourage. With a curious arch of a brow, she looked up the river and glanced in the direction from which the staff might have come, but saw nothing.

Chandanda felt her heart soaring with hope as she held the staff across her body in a fighting stance and it felt right and good. Smiling broadly, she closed her eyes and gave thanks to the goddess Ganges for her blessing. At the feel of the solid wood in her hands, she closed her eyes again and gave a silent thanks to Shiva for his part in this blessing.

When the princess had first arrived at the river she was not certain she would receive a sign. A part of her had wanted to turn and run away from this marriage, if a sign had not been given to her. Even though she knew that this could put her family into a bitter war, she had thought she had no other choices. But now, with the stout staff in hand, she no longer had to worry about her country being pulled into a bloody war because she knew, beyond a doubt, that her marriage to Prince Chalukyas was right and would take place. With the blessing of the river Ganges in hand, she now knew where her path lay. Her life would take the same route that her mother had taken so many years ago.

As she stepped from the water, her guards moved closer to her. Waiving away their concerns, she smiled as she ran up the riverbank with the staff in hand. Seeing her excitement, Rajani rose from her resting place on a blanket and moved toward her.

"Chandanda is all well?" her lover asked, the concern clearly seen in her dark eyes. Rajani was lithe, with dark brown skin the color of the honey-barked tree and waist length black hair. The small woman had been Chandanda's constant companion since they were children and her lover when they had become adults.

In the beginning, they had been like many young girls, taking pleasure in simply being young. At the time, neither one was aware of their differing caste. It did not matter to Rajani that Chandanda's family was of the Kshatriya class, the class of warriors, princes and kings. Nor did it matter to Chandanda that her friend was from the Sudra class, the group of manual laborers and service workers. All that mattered was that while Rajani's parents were busy working in the palace, the two girls were able to be together to study and play together. Only later, when they blossomed into women and a physical love formed, were they aware of the harsh rigidity of their social standings.

Once, many years ago, Chandanda almost lost her love forever. Because of her darker complexion and lack of a dowry, Rajani's family knew that they would never find a suitable match for their daughter. Their only option for saving face was to sell their child to an older man who had lost his wife. He was not particular and only asked that the bride be good with children so that she could tend to his.

At the prospect of losing her friend and lover, Chandanda had thrown herself at her father's feet. When this failed, her mother spoke reason to her father. Had it not been for her mother's intervention, Rajani's family would have sold her to a man many miles away and Chandanda would have lost her best friend and lover forever. Once her father paid the price that the family asked, Rajani was assured of always being by the princess' side.

"Chandanda?" Rajani's concern showed in her expression as she lightly touched the princess arm. At her touch, Chandanda smiled as she reached out and lightly cupped her lover's cheek with her palm.

"It is the best of blessings," she smiled as she held up the staff and her voice became excited. "Rajani, I prayed to the goddess Ganges, and this is the blessing she gave to me."

Glancing at the staff, the smaller woman smiled broadly well knowing what it meant to her friend. Taking a step back, the tall princess began to swing the staff in the combat movements she had learned from long ago. With a wide smile, Rajani watched in silence, and then began to giggle and clap in pleasure as Chandanda spun the staff through the combat forms faster and faster. After completing the exercise, the princess smiled and turned to her smaller lover.

"Blessed Shiva! All will be well!" The woman said as she ran into Chandanda's arms. With staff in hand, the princess held her lover close.

"Yes, all will be well," the taller woman whispered close to her cherished love.

Although she had been uncertain of her path before, she now knew that no matter what her future held, her life would be blessed. She would join the Chalukyas clan and marry their son. If Krishna blessed her, then she would be given children from this union and she and Rajani would raise their children surrounded by love. As she glanced at the staff, the princess smiled as the mighty goddess Ganges promised that she would always be able to continue in the warrior way.
The tall Greek warrior and her lover walked down the road in silence, each seeming deep in thought. Although neither knew where their future would lead them, the one consistency within their lives was the assurance that they would always be together, bonded by love.

"Xena, I never noticed before how beautiful you are when you're blue," the bard smiled slightly as she glanced slyly up at her lover. "And you have to admit, all of those arms might come in handy," the bard smiled as she got that look she always had whenever she was feeling a need for Xena's touch.

At the reference to the goddess Kali, Xena arched a brow as she glanced down at her lover and shook her head. The bard's deep and philosophical musings seemed to have been pushed away for this new line of thought. Never one to overlook a joke, the warrior smiled as she glanced down at the blonde.

"You know bard, you may have sworn your life to peace, but I didn't," the warrior teased as she reached down and lightly pinched below the orange skirt, which brought a slight yelp from the bard as she jumped away.

"Hey, back off Warrior Princess!" Gabrielle tried to deepen her voice as she ran in front of Xena. The blonde turned to face the taller woman as she walked backwards, then she danced slightly around her taller lover.

"What? You swore to never fight again, you gonna change your mind now, bard?" Xena smiled as she feigned a move right, then quickly darted left and reached under Gabrielle's skirt, the palm of her hand brushed over soft, yet firm flesh right before she gave the blonde's buttocks a slight squeeze. "What would Eli think?"

Gabrielle's yip was half-hearted as she ran in front of the warrior. Walking backwards, the bard molded her face into a slight frown and sneered up at Xena.

"You wanna a piece of this, come on! Get it if you can!" the blonde tried her most fearsome expression as she beckoned the warrior with her fingers, daring Xena to tackle her.

"Keep it up, bard, and you'll find out exactly what piece of you I want!" the warrior's enticing smile revealed her true desires.

"Oh, yeah?" Gabrielle's wide smirk caused her eyes to scrunch up as she leaned forward enough for her breasts to be seen by the warrior. At the open seduction, Xena's brows arched upward as she stared down her lover's top. Her eyes took in the white softness that had become so wonderfully familiar to her.

"Oh yeah? We'll I'm gonna have to take some pieces of those too, my beautiful bard!" Xena allowed the lust to resonate in her voice as a vivid image of her mouth over the bard's pink, erect nipple crossed her mind.

Before they could continue, a metal horn sounded from behind them. Turning their attention away from each other, they looked back down the dirt road in time to see the royal entourage moving slowly toward them. Xena protectively touched her lover's elbow and pulled her to the side of the road. Using their hands as shade, they watched the armed guards marching in a protective circle around a group of elegantly decorated elephants.

The mahout drivers wore clothing, which signified them as royal servants. Although the first Howdah saddle was simple in appearance, the second one was more elegantly designed. It was on the second elephant that the warrior and bard saw two beautiful Indian women sitting side by side. While one wore a sari that was the wedding colors of red, the second wore simpler colors of brown. With wide smiles, the two women spoke softly to each other as they held each other's hand. When the group passed by, the woman in red turned in her seat and looked down at Xena and Gabrielle. For a moment, Xena thought that the royal woman would halt the convoy, but instead, she merely smiled, and then tipped her head in salutation before returning her attention back to the road in front of her.

Although the two women from Greece did not know the story of these women, that simple glance seemed to convey a multitude of messages. Once the entourage had passed, the warrior smiled down at her lover as she lightly placed her arm on the smaller woman's shoulder. Gabrielle eased into her embrace and wrapped her arm around Xena's waist.

"I bet they've got an interesting story to tell," the blonde absently stated.

"And I bet you're just the one to write about it, my bard." Xena hugged her lover close as they continued to walk down the road, following in the trail of the disappearing caravan.
As the gently swaying movements of their pachyderm carried them to their future life, Chandanda Pallavas was at ease with her decision. If she had any shadow of doubts about her future marriage, the gift from the Ganges reassured her of a future filled with happiness. She smiled at Rijani and they cuddled close together as they swayed to and fro in the Howdah, talking happily. After they had traveled a bit, she happened to glance down from her seat and saw two female strangers. The princess instantly recognized them as outsiders, foreigners, who were either traveling through the land or were in search of a place to call home. Although the young woman could not tell if they were Greek, Kushans, or Scythians, she knew that at this point they fell within the lowest caste known as the Malechas. Upon closer inspection, she saw the taller woman's attire and weapons and recognized her as a warrior. When she gazed at the shorter woman with hair the color of the sun, her heart skipped a beat when she noticed the holy symbols painted on the woman's cloud white skin.

'Such a thing could only be a good omen,' she reasoned, when she realized that although they were outsiders, if they chose to stay in Indus, the smaller one would be absorbed by the Brahmins' caste. As the Brahmin were the spiritual and temporal guides, this outsider would become part of the highest castes in the land, and the warrior who was obviously her protector, would be an equal to Chandanda. Realizing this, the princess gazed at the foreign women and gave a silent blessing to Krishna, for sending her the omen of these two women.

When she saw the taller woman glancing up at her, Chandanda smiled, and then nodded a greeting to these two visitors from so far away. Like the travelers, the princess held no fear of her future, because she knew that no matter what lay in store for her, she was traveling down the road, which was meant for her. Assured with this knowledge, she smiled as she turned in her seat and gazed back to the approaching road ahead. As one hand clasped her lover's, the other loosely held the fighting staff of the Ganges River.

The End

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