Here I sit with the few possessions I am allowed going to what will be my home for the next year. I have been stationed on a border outpost two days journey from my home. It seems kind of strange to think that one day I was quite happy teaching in a school and then the next I was getting a letter saying, "You have reached your 25th birthday, you must serve your country for the next year." I was hoping that day would never come but I guess you cannot deny the inevitable forever.
My father being the Statesman that he is used my service as a stepping-stone in his career. One good thing did come out of who my father is though, I am going to what is considered the safest post on the border. Now don't get me wrong... I know how to defend myself. In my culture you are taught from an early age the art of defense and strategy, but I had never thought I might one day have to use these against another person.
My parents, being traditionalists, swayed me towards the ancient arts and I learned sword, staff and sais. I was most proficient with the staff but I always loved working with the sais. There was always something about handling a weapon that could kill a man if used one way but could be used strictly for defensive purposes as well. I can still hear my instructor yelling at me for not going for the kill shot. Many times I would appease him but in my heart I knew I could never take the life of another.
I was sent to an 8-week training course in the city of Terrga and did quite well which pleased my father no end. To be honest, I did not really care if it pleased him or not. I learned a long time ago that it was all about an image with him and that my accomplishments should be for myself and not anyone else. I think my trainer was a little surprised I did so well. Most people just look at my short height and write me off as not much of a threat. I know most of it has to do with learning weapons that are very physical in nature.
After the finishing ceremony, which my father once again used to his advantage, I was given one month to tie up any loose ends that may be at home. I really didn't have anything to tie up because I only had acquaintances. I did go to the school to say goodbye to my favorite students and wish them the best. I knew the thing I would miss most were my students. While they start a new year, I will be starting mine as an outpost soldier.
Today is the last day of the journey to my new home. We have been traveling the border dropping off and picking up soldiers from posts for the last two days. Originally there were seven of us going to border posts and I found them all quite interesting. It seemed everyone's story was about the same as mine. They were requested to serve their country on their 25th birthday. They were men and women from various backgrounds and professions but we now had one thing in common... our service.
My country has been in a state of peace for over 100 years with its neighbors but the old wartime rule still held. Every person between the ages of 18 - 25 must serve one year in the army. If you do not volunteer at some point you will be requested to serve. I think that has some irony since it almost makes it sound like it is a party you can decide you do not want to go to because you do not like the host. Now the only problem with not going to the training center on your designated day is that the trainers will show up at your home and take you there. I had no problem with getting there on time since my father made sure everyone knew it was my time to serve. I took everything in stride and did my duty to him and my country.
I must admit my nerves on the second day were getting to me and I was the last person to be dropped off at a post. The driver and I chatted for the last few hours of my journey about anything and everything. He was a very nice fellow who had received his call at age 25 but instead of leaving after his year was up he decided this may be the life for him. This didn't happen very often since most people wanted to get back to their lives but for others it was a chance to make a fresh start. I just saw this as a chance to finally be free of family obligations for a year. I am sure my father would be pressuring me to find a spouse to settle down with in a respectable partnership the minute I returned home. Knowing my father he probably was thinking ahead to who could help him in his political gain by partnership to his daughter.
I am tired of being a pawn on his chessboard. Perhaps this opportunity will allow me the freedom I have yet to have.
My arms are aching with fatigue as I write; yet I must document my feelings. Today began my first day with my fellow servicemen and women. My original shyness soon faded when I discovered the close bond they all share, the apparent friendships formed despite the strict surroundings. It was both a blessing and a curse to be forced into a large group of people my father had not chosen for me to associate with, as I have little experience interacting with others as myself rather than the Statesman's daughter. I soon found it refreshing to be able to speak freely and interact with people my own age without worrying about how it will reflect on my father's position.
They do not know I am the daughter of such an important man, nor do I wish them too. I am content to be myself for the first time in my life.
Today marks the third week of my service and I have fallen easily into the comfortable routine of our post. My commanders have taken a liking to me, I feel; and consider my abilities for defense in high regard. Accordingly, I have been excused from some of the more menial tasks such as cleaning and hospitality chores and instead have received the higher duty of guarding the holding facilities used to detain enemies or other distrusted people. I had thought this would create tension between my fellow service men and myself, but have yet to be affected by it. Everyone here accepts their position and has little regard to advance in the ranks, perhaps because they will be leaving when their year of duty is finished.
My days are spent standing watch outside the small building, used now at peacetime mostly to detain foreigners not permitted to live in our country until they are to be returned to their homeland. It is not difficult work, and I rather do it than mop floors or work in the mess hall.
I socialize with the others at night, yet prefer my solitude to practice my drills and write. I must honestly say I will perhaps miss my life here when I leave.
The most incredible thing happened today; so fascinating I could barely wait for my shift to be over so I could write it down.
A prisoner was brought into the post today. Not just any prisoner, but one with a likeness I have only read about in books; a tall, dark-haired woman with the most peculiar pale eyes and skin the color of the finest porcelain from the East.
I assumed the stranger was a foreigner being detained like the others I have seen. But she was led in, cuffed and chained like a fugitive. It appears she has been beaten; rough cuts and bruises marring her beautiful face. Her clothes were dirty and torn, and it was obvious she had not received a bath nor medical care in some time.
The Foreign Affairs Commander roughly pushed her into the cell and instructed me no one was to see or speak to her. I averted the stranger's light blue eyes; her penetrating gaze caused my stomach to flutter nervously.
She was kept chained in her cell and given no food, not even bread. I do not know what crime she has committed against our country, but it must be of the most severe to warrant such treatment. The stranger did not speak to me, but I could feel the intensity of her gaze as she sat quietly on the grimy concrete floor of the cell.
My heart felt sorry for her, though I do not know the extent of her misdeeds. I did my best to concentrate on carrying out my commander's orders rather than empathize with a prisoner. Still, I despise such ungodly treatment, regardless of what the stranger has done.
Weeks have passed, and no change in my duty to guard the silent prisoner. I half fear she has been rendered deaf and mute from her beating, even during drills she makes no indication she hears the loud yelling or sounds of the fight. It's as if she is a statue, staring blankly at the stained wall of her cell, never moving or acting alive.
They have taken to giving her food, for which I am glad, but the prisoner rarely eats. She is weak and frail, and I cannot wonder what such a woman has done to render her a captive. I have heard nothing more from my commander on the prisoner's future, and cannot help but be curious as to what will become of her.
I feel myself becoming more and more drawn to her, and have to constantly turn my attention to my duty rather than the colors that worship her body. Never in my life have I seen someone with hair like hers, dark like those of the Far East, yet colored with firelight like some of my own countrymen. We are all fair here, and the prisoner is clearly not one of us.
Her eyes do not scare me as they did, and their likeness is like the finest gems from my father's mines. He fashioned me a ring for my last birthday, of a bright blue stone cut to reflect the sunlight. Its brilliance cannot compete with the rich color of the prisoner's eyes.
She is tall, taller than most of the men here at the post. Yet she is not gangly and seems to be perfectly balanced in her long frame.
It is strange that I am most fascinated by her skin. She is light, like we are, yet seems to have an inner glow, the likes of which I have never seen. Clearly, the stranger is beautiful, even dirty and injured like she is. Her wounds, left untreated, have not healed well and I fear she will be covered in ugly scars for the rest of her life.
They still could not hide her beauty.
We received word the leader of my country's army would be visiting our post today. Everyone became hurried to make the camp spotless, and I was given the chore to bathe and dress the prisoner as well as tidy up the cells themselves.
She is currently the only one in the cells, and I knew I had my work cut out for me. After cleaning the entire prison to a respectable degree, I set up the task of tending to the prisoner. I tucked my sais into my boots as I dragged the heavy large basin of soapy water into her cell, prepared if she were to try to disarm me and escape. The woman made no move, however, even when I commanded her to stand and disrobe.
Turning her iridescent eyes to meet mine, I had to forcibly resist looking away. I expected to find hatred or anger in her gaze, but instead saw the most profound of hurts and betrayal. I cannot explain why it made me feel so much, I have practiced indifference to others my entire life. But something about the devastated look in the prisoner's eyes made me feel intensely sad.
Knowing it was a mistake; I reached out to her and clasped her cold hand. Her eyes widened in surprise as I entwined my fingers in hers. Not knowing if she even speaks our language, I greeted her in a gentle tone.
"My name is Gabrielle, and I will not hurt you." At the sound of my voice, the prisoner's eyes filled to the brim with tears and she smiled slightly.
"My name is Xena, and I believe you." She responded in a low voice, raspy and choked with dryness.
I do not understand why the sound of her had such an affect on me, but at that moment I wanted to embrace her and weep. I was able to control myself instead, and remembering my duties I picked up the bathing sponge.
"I am ordered to wash you and tend to your wounds." I told the woman, Xena, who nodded and stripped out of her soiled rags.
Never have I seen such beauty of form. In all my years I could not imagine seeing the woman's glorious body would have such an effect on me. It was difficult to tear my attention away from her round breasts and glistening mound when what I wanted to do was touch her and help ease her pain.
Clearing my throat, I averted my eyes and helped the prisoner into the tub. Once she sat I washed every inch of her glowing skin, knowing there could never be a greater temptation that what I was facing at that time. Xena's smooth skin begged to be touched by my lingering hands, and the soft signs of enjoyment she made as I gently bathed her made the situation worse.
"I shall wash your hair." I told her and she tipped her long neck back, her multi-colored hair falling into the water. I massaged her scalp and caressed the silky locks like I would to my very own lover. I would have been content to bathe her all day, but duty called and I had other chores to complete. Reluctantly, I rinsed her tall form and asked her to stand.
"You have gentle hands, Gabrielle. Thank you for your kindness." Xena stated softly as I dried her glistening body.
"You are welcome." I answered her as I prepared to treat her most serious wounds. She made no movement as I cleaned and bandaged the most painful cuts, and I admired her courage. She is braver than many of the men in this army, and did not even take a sharp intake of breath when I used my sai to lance an infected wound on her leg. "I hope this will make you feel better." I told her, rubbing the healing cream over her injuries.
"It already has." She responded, the same small smile on her full lips. I nodded at her, handing her the clean clothes provided for her to wear.
"I must go, but I will bring you some food if you so desire." I told the tall woman.
"I would very much, thank you." She said again as I brought her the tray set out for my very own meal. I knew the prisoner needed it more than I, and it would be a nice change from the disgusting items she was being fed. Her eyes lit up when she spied my bread bowl of thick stew and fresh fruit. I handed her my flask of water and told her to hurry.
I did not want to be caught giving my food and drink to the prisoner. I would surely be sent away from my position of guarding her and that was the last thing I wanted.
I have yet to see a woman devour food like she did, and it made my heart feel better about her predicament. I cannot allow her to escape, but I perhaps make her imprisonment here improved.
Xena and I have formed sort of a friendship, if it can be called that. When we are alone, we talk. I tell her of my father's important position and my studies and she speaks of her homeland, a place very far away I have never even heard of. She calls it Greece.
I have not asked her why she is here, and she has not offered to tell me. Xena doesn't tell me much; all I have learned is where she is from and stories about her horse, a mare called Argo. It sounds like she misses her very much.
We share my meals when it is safe. I take extra portions from the mess hall to bring to her during my shift. Her condition is improving dramatically, she has filled out from her gauntness, and her wounds are beginning to heal cleanly. She will not be riddled with scares as I had feared, and the majority of her cuts will not even be noticeable.
It is strange, even when my shift is up, I find myself missing the prisoner's company. I notice myself worrying if her other guards treat her fairly and have begun to walk past the prison at odd times just to make sure she is all right. I always see what is expected, the guard assigned to her standing stiffly upright, completing their task.
Xena has begun to notice when I do this, and more often than not I see her standing upright in her cell, that small smile on her face as I walk by. I pretend not to see her and nod at the guard, acting as if I'm just out for a leisurely stroll.
I am not quite sure why Xena has affected me as much as she has. It's almost as if she's a sorceress who has put a spell on me, for I cannot get her out of my mind.
I have been told a great many things today, and I am not sure what to believe. When I arrived to my shift, I found Xena in a somber mood. The pieces of sweet bread and cheese I saved from my breakfast did not cheer her up but she ate, nonetheless.
"I fear I should never leave here, Gabrielle." She said suddenly, surprising me.
"Why do you say that? What have you heard?" I asked, suddenly fearful plans were being made for her execution.
Xena just shook her head. "I have heard nothing, but it is a feeling I have."
I smiled at her kindly. "I do not believe in feelings."
The prisoner just regarded me, her intelligent and fascinating eyes studying my entire being. "I wish you would. It would make what I have to tell you that much easier."
Curious as to what she would say, I glanced around and after seeing we were safe, I encouraged her to speak.
I cannot remember all she said, for it was too overwhelming. But I will try my best to write it down accordingly.
Xena clasped her hands around the bars of her cell and looked into my eyes intently. "I beg you will listen to what I have to say and try to understand."
Nodding numbly, I swallowed the lump of fear and uncertainty in my throat.
"I have told you I come from the land of Greece, yet you have no knowledge of such a land. I do not know where we are right now and how far away from my homeland we are. What I do know is I was struck here by some higher power, one moment I fell asleep with my friend in a grassy meadow, the next thing I knew I appeared in a town not far from here in a bright burst of light." Xena began, and my mouth dropped open in surprise at her story.
"Fearing I was a witch, or sorceress, the townspeople surrounded me and began throwing things at me. In my land of Greece, I am a skilled fighter, one of the most feared. Yet here, I am defenseless. The townspeople almost took my life until passing members of the army stopped them. They brought me here, to you."
I was unable to say anything, so she continued.
"The strangest thing, Gabrielle, is I know you. Not in this world, but in mine. You and I are the closest of friends, soul mates even. This has happened to us before, yet this time it is different. I knew you from the moment I was led into this camp. But you have no idea who I am." Xena stated as her eyes flooded with tears.
"That is true." I tell her. "I do not know what to make of what you are telling me."
"I know." She responded softly. "But please try and believe me. I have no reason to lie to you, if you look deep inside your soul you will find the truth."
Thinking about what she has said, a nagging thought entered my mind. "If you know me, as you've said, why did you not mention anything the first few weeks you were here."
Xena nods, as if she expected my question. "I was afraid." She says simply. "I have always been able to fight and defend myself except here in this land. I feared if I told you before I had your trust, you would not believe me and I would be killed." Her knuckles turn white from the pressure she is exerting on the cell bars. "My life means nothing without you in it, Gabrielle. I love you with everything that I am."
I clear my throat nervously, seeing the guard for the next shift approach. "We shall speak tomorrow." I tell Xena before turning my attention over to the guard.
"If it's not too late." She replied softly, but I was still able to hear.
So what am I to do? As I read over what I have written, it becomes clear to me that Xena must be insane. I do not believe in soul mates, or other worlds, it makes no sense and has little interest of me.
But I cannot discredit her so quickly. She did speak the truth, at least when she responded she was afraid to tell me when she first arrived in fear I would turn her in. I probably would have and not thought twice about it. Yet was that her way of convincing me? Perhaps she is a sorceress, like I originally thought. Or she is just lonely and perceives her death is near and will try anything to have someone help her escape.
Yet, try as I like, I cannot ignore the sliver of thought that clouds my mind asking if Xena could be telling the truth.
It is nonsense and trickery, as my father would say. Luckily for Xena, I am not my father.
Almost a week has passed since Xena has told me her incredible news, and yet I still do not know what should be done.
The look of heartache in her eyes as I stand stiffly in front of her cell and ignore her desperate attempts at conversation is almost too much to bear.
However, I cannot conceive of destroying everything I have worked for in my life away to help a prisoner who may possibly be insane.
Even as I write this, I am disgusted with myself. I have not worked for anything in my life; it has always been my father's influence that has led me to where I am now. Nothing I have ever done has been of my own will, and while I am tired of being a pawn he uses in order to advance his own career, I must admit I have fear in my own abilities.
I need distance away from the mysterious prisoner who calls herself Xena. Distance is hard to attain when I am forced to guard her for half of the daylight hours. Yet I would have it no other way, because I am strangely protective of her.
Xena has told me stories this week while I stood silent at her side, amazing stories of her adventures with her Gabrielle. She is by no means a bard, her words coming rushed and straightforward, but the emotion she carries behind her tales is undeniable.
She loves her friend, which I can see plainly. And if I did believe in soul mates, I might even be jealous of the adoration she carries for her friend.
Xena will be left to rot in the prison. My commanding officer told me today they have nowhere else to send her, so her food rations will be cut and she will eventually starve or be used in some sick training game.
I know I must act quickly, yet the action I should take is a mystery to me.
I fear if I allow her to escape and am caught, my father would be mortified with dishonor and lose his position in the government. He would never forgive me, and I would be outcast from my entire family.
Xena begs me to escape with her, promising me she will find a way to return us to Greece and the life that we shared. I do not know if I can believe her, and even if she speaks the truth, I have little faith in the weakened woman's ability to transport us to another land.
I do not know what the future will hold for us.
They have stopped giving Xena food as of yesterday. She no longer tries to speak with me, and instead sits quietly in her cell, holding her head in her elegant hands.
I do my best to ignore her, but her words of "look deep inside your soul and you will know the truth" keep echoing through my head.
I should have told her that I have no soul.
It is becoming more and more difficult to do my job. Xena has gone four days without food, ignoring the small morsels I offer her. She will only drink the water I offer her, and I can already see the affect it is having on her graceful body.
She will not talk to me or meet my gaze. I miss the intensity I found in her sky-colored eyes, almost miss the curve of her lips as she speaks.
It is unlike me to feel this way.
It is getting more and more difficult to write, especially looking back on what I've written before. When did I become so much like my father, only caring about appearances and actions, not feelings?
That is something I've always detested about my father. Never has he shown me affection or kindness, only a firm hand that has guided me in the direction he would like me to take. It is of no surprise that I feel little affection for anyone or anything.
Except the prisoner. I cannot be dishonest and say she hasn't made me feel something. I just don't know what it is.
I want to save her, to allow her to return to Greece and her Gabrielle. Even if it results in my death or disownment from my family, I will do what is right for the only person who has ever seemed to care about me.
I do not have anything to live for anyway.
I do not have time to write much now - it is not safe.
The commander came for Xena today, it is the first day of training for the new soldiers and the prisoner was to be used as a lure in a tracking game.
I knew this meant Xena's death. She is too weak to be made to run through the woods, chased by overzealous and young soldiers. They would be upon her and kill her in an instant.
My superior ordered me to dress the prisoner and lead her deep into the woods that surround our post. Knowing how weak the prisoner was, the commander provided me with two horses to transport us to our destination and then I was to leave Xena on foot and return with both horses. I did not miss the look of sudden fear shining in her blue eyes as I saluted my commander and agreed to his order.
"I am sorry it had to be like this, Gabrielle." Xena's rough voice, tinged with sickness greeted me as I entered her cell.
"Hush." I ordered her. "We are leaving together, keep quiet and act afraid."
The sudden emotion in her eyes was evident as she weakly curled her lips into a smile.
"I love you, Gabrielle." She whispered as I helped her onto her horse. Slumping over the mare's neck, I looped a rope around Xena's bound hands and connected it to my own mount.
"Yah!" I yelled, kicking my horse into a gallop while pulling the reins of Xena's mount. We raced through the main section of the camp, receiving yells and shouts of excitement from the soldiers as they caught a glimpse of their soon-to-be-prey.
We quickly reached the edge of camp and when I was sure not to be seen, I veered left off the past. Our horses' legs crashed through the underbrush and Xena used all of her strength to stay on her mount as we covered the difficult terrain.
Using my sai, I cut the binding of her hands, freeing her.
"Can you ride? We do not have much time!" I called to her, receiving a grim nod in reply. We urged our horses on to their utmost speed, the ground leveling out as we came onto a smoother path.
We rode until our horses were weak with fatigue. I led us off the path and found shelter in a nearby cave where I left Xena and the horses. Then, I caught and killed a rabbit before returning to our makeshift camp.
I smeared the blood of my kill over my light-colored horse, the bright red immediately evident on his gray coat. I then let him go, knowing he will instinctively return to the post, and hopefully the amount of blood on him will make the commander believe I am dead and the prisoner escaped.
The gray trotted back down the way we came, and I tended to the other horse before tying him outside of our cave.
I do not know where we will go; there are strict laws in all of the surrounding countries regarding foreigners. Wanderers and immigrants are not accepted, but Xena feels confident she can return us to Greece.
I am not sure how I feel about that, what if Xena returns to her Gabrielle and we are truly not one and the same? I seem to be little like the gentle poet and bard Xena speaks to freely about. Xena assures me I am her soul mate and we will be returned to where we belong.
The honesty and emotion in her eyes leaves me to believe it is uncertain whether I still do not believe in soul mates.
Xena told me weakly before falling asleep, her belly filled with roasted rabbit, that she loved me.
I told her I loved her in return, and I think that I do. Love is a foreign emotion to me, but I feel so strongly for her that I was willing to risk my life and my family's honor.
If that is not love, I do not know what it could be.
The darkness is growing now, and we must leave. I do not know when I will be able to write again, and gods be willing, the next time I pick up my quill we will be safe.