Disclaimers: The characters of Xena, Gabrielle, Eve, Aphrodite and Ares belong to Studios USA, and eventually to Oxygen. The rest are either borrowed from history, or manufactured from historical events.
Sex and Violence: There are references to sex and violence, but no graphic depictions of either one. This story does encompass the premise that the two female main characters are eternally in love. If this is not your cup of tea, or is illegal in the state in which you leave, then pass on by.
Fin-ability: This is one version of how the Season Enders should have in my mind been resolved. I hope it meets with your approval.
THE GOLDEN DRAGON
A quiet rustle, such as one made by a passing deer or rabbit. It was the only sound that marked the passing of the mysterious stranger. Rather than shy away from the strangers shadow, the creatures of the forest seemed to be drawn to it. They recognized a kindred spirit someone who has lived long and hard off the land, and learned to exist within its harsh parameters. What they didnt know was that this slight almost ethereal being had faced the biggest tests of all living in the world as a human being and that underneath her insignificant appearances was an entity that brought fear to evil hearts .
Gabrielle wound her way through the thicket listening, hearing the sounds behind the sounds, the rustle of leaves, the tiny patter of a small animals step on the tree branches above her head. She was at once amazed, and amused at this sound. She knew they were following her, curious little eyes mapping her passage through their domain. Even in the kingdom of animals, she new too well that news of her presence had been passed along, much like the gossip of laundry maids gathered around a well. Gabrielle had a reputation of sorts amongst these creatures. It was a well-known fact that she carried food, and was not opposed to sharing on occasion. The most attractive thing of all to the denizens of the known worlds forests, deserts, and valleys was that this mere slip of a human carried the love and light of another human soul within her. This alone would not attract the creatures as much as the fact that she could see and speak to that other soul at her own will. Everyone knew that under normal circumstances, humans were not capable of recognizing the dead.
"Gabrielle ?" The soft voice sounded as though it came from inside her head.
"Yes Xena?" Gabrielle spoke aloud.
"Where are we going? Shouldnt we have started our search for Eve?" Xenas form became visible in Gabrielles path.
Stepping through her, Gabrielle smiled at the tingling sensations that ran through her body. "Xena, I have some other things to take care of. I know where Eve is, and after I locate this friend of the Egyptian priestess I met with after that last battle, I will take us there. First things first oh Warrior-lack-of-Patience. Besides where do you need to be in such a big hurry?"
Xena reformed behind Gabrielle. Her face betrayed her real feelings .that being dead and following the love of your life as a ghost is not all its cracked up to be. "I was just being concerned for you. I worry about you. You dont sleep, you dont eat. You press forward like a crazy person on a mission. I just want you to take care of yourself."
Gabrielle stopped suddenly whirling in place to face her ethereal mate. "DONT START WITH ME XENA! I have asked you before do not start the I need to protect you from all the bad things Gabrielle speech. You gave that up. You resigned from that position when you voluntarily died, and left me to carry on with our destiny. AND DONT GIVE ME THE 40,000 SOULS STATE OF GRACE LECTURE EITHER! I could recite it in my sleep."
Turning away, Gabrielle continued her trek through the darkening forest. She knew she shouldnt shout at Xena this way, but it was driving her crazy. After all, she was on this trek to find a way to bring her soulmate back and still be young enough to appreciate her return. Her mind wandered to the conversation she had with Beketaten, Priestess to the Goddess Sekhmet, at least two moons prior.
"Gabrielle, I have spoken to the Goddess, and she foresees the arrival of a great and powerful man. He will be pure of heart, and yet will be persecuted for his beliefs. Small-minded yet powerful men will cut his life short, fearful of his teachings. This is the man who will help you it is foretold."
Beketaten returned her attention to Gabrielle.
"How do I find him Beketaten? Where and when will I meet him?" Gabrielle could not hide her anxiety.
"It will be a difficult and long process, for this man has not been born yet. He will come to lead his people to their Promised Land. There will be many wars before, during and after his life, and many people will die for his beliefs. You know of one whose teachings are a precursor to this man. His father is often referred to as the One True God." Beketaten smiled, knowing Gabrielle would see the irony in the statement, and satisfied that she caught the veiled reference to Eli.
Gabrielle paced, her brow furrowed deep in thought. Turning to Beketaten, her shoulders sagged in defeat. "Beketaten, if this man has not yet been born, I may be too old, or worse yet dead before he could be of any help to me."
Placing her hand on Gabrielles shoulder, Beketaten lead her to a seat nearby. "Fear not, I have given this problem a great deal of thought, and I believe that I may be able to help you. But we must be quick, I sense the return of your lovers spirit very soon, and I have a deep feeling that you may not want to share this information with her just yet. You did say that she was very set in her beliefs concerning the forty thousand souls she believes she gave her own life to redeem."
Smiling at Beketatens insight, Gabrielle relaxed. "There is nothing more in the known world that I want than to return her to my side, in the flesh. I will do whatever it takes."
The two women sat in the temple their heads close, bodies bent in discussion while Beketaten laid out her instructions for Gabrielle. Xenas return was longer than anticipated, which gave them plenty of time to complete their conversation, and clear their minds with other matters. Xena could on occasion catch small threads of what Gabrielle had been involved in if the Bard were not careful about her musings. For the most part Gabrielle was able to use various meditation and yoga techniques to still her mind of random thoughts. Having a soulmate whose soul was housed with your own could be quite challenging. Xena tried not to be too intrusive, but her love and concern for Gabrielle frequently won out over discretion.
When the forest was completely dark, and Gabrielles followers both alive and not so alive had finally worn her down, she decided to stop and make camp. Whistling quietly, she waited patiently while her horse joined her. She had made peace with this wonderful mare shortly after she left the ship from Japa and landed in the desert port of Alexandria. It had added many more miles to her trip, but she was grateful that the captain was concerned with her welfare, and had business in Alexandria. If they had landed at a more remote port, she would have been forced to travel through more of the isolated desert areas, and with no knowledge of the possibilities of war, or the political situation in Egypt, it would not have been safe to travel alone. While she secured lodgings for the night, and sought out a better outfit than the one from Japa, she was drawn to the little mare who would soon become her friend and lifesaver.
Walking carefully through the market, and avoiding the stares of wonder and fear, she made her way past a stable on her way to a clothier. Suddenly a loud scream sounded from the darkness within the stable. Grabbing the chakram from the holder at her waist Gabrielle flattened herself against the wall outside, and listened for any signs of struggle and to confirm how many were inside. Taking a deep breath, she listened as she was taught, and heard only the sounds of one human who seemed to be in pain. The rest of the noises came from the four or five horses stabled there. Stepping cautiously through the doorway, she spied the legs of the man sticking out from one of the stalls. As she approached, she could feel Xenas presence very close by. Coming to the door of the stall, she nearly laughed at the sight before her. Laying on his back with the hoof of the most beautiful chestnut mare she had ever seen planted in his chest, was a man dressed in roman peasants garb, but to her practiced eye he looked anything but a roman peasant.
"Come on girl, let him go." Gabrielle chuckled at the horse.
"Be careful Gabrielle. Something tells me this guys intentions arent exactly honorable " Xena spoke softly behind her.
"You on the floor, stand up slowly, and no one gets hurt. Try anything and Ill cut you down before you take a step." Gabrielle gave him her best warriors glare.
"As you wish Mem." He replied.
"What happened here? Why was she holding you down?" Gabrielle asked as he brushed himself off.
"It seems that I wished to take her with me today Mem, but she does not wish to travel on such a glorious day as this." He answered in a vague tone of voice.
"I see, and I take it that she does not belong to you either " Gabrielle looked at him pointedly.
"Ah, yes, that is true. While she does not currently belong directly to me, she would be most happy I believe if she would join me on my journey south. After all, there are so many horses here already, I think she would be happy for all the attention." He began to slowly walk backwards, making for the door.
"I wouldnt do that if I were you I dont think hes going to make it very easy for you to get through the door." Gabrielle folded her arms across her chest, the picture of innocence.
Turning to see what it was she was referring too, he visibly blanched before kneeling on the floor of the stable and bowing to the rather large man blocking his exit. Nearly seven feet tall, his skin was dark as the night, and his arms easily as big as those of a Cyclops or ogre. He was lean though, and handsome in a mysterious sort of way. Grabbing the thief by the front of his tunic, he easily lifted him to a height at which he could look directly into the mans eyes.
"Ah ha, Aktep, I see you are up to your old tricks again." He boomed.
"Wait, Sahib, no harm was meant. I was just visiting the little lady. I wasnt going to try and take her honestly I wasnt." He cast a hopeful eye at the big man.
"Nonsense Aktep. You had every intention of stealing my little girl, but alas for you, she will not be taken. You know she is meant for someone special. That would be the Golden Dragon. When she arrives, this folly will cease." He chuckled, setting the man down on the floor again. "Begone Aktep. The Priestess says that the Dragon will arrive soon. I shall be waiting for her, and I will present the little mare to her. Only then will she be ready to travel."
Gabrielle was startled by the big mans references to The Golden Dragon. She began to look for another way out, when the mare pressed her cold damp nose against the dragon tattoo on Gabrielles bare back.
"Yipe, what the heck are you doing?" She exclaimed as she jumped almost into the big mans huge arms.
Xena tried to materialize in a more substantial manner, but to no avail. Frustrated, all she could do was stand back and wait for this man to crush her soulmate to death. Moving closer, Xena began trying to invoke the presence of any God or Goddess that might be listening.
"Ah ha Aktep, I see you are not alone. And who are you little lovely and what brings you to my stable today?" He tightened his grip lest she attempt to escape.
Gabrielle struggled a moment, finally resorting to biting his arm. She slipped free when he let go, a look of surprise on his face. Swinging back towards the horses stall, she pulled the chakram free and whirled around prepared to throw it if necessary. To her surprise, Aktep was gone, and the big man was bowing on the floor, much in the same manner that the thief bowed to him.
"Gabrielle," Xena startled her, "Youre the Golden Dragon. Hes been waiting for you."
Replacing the chakram on its holder, she turned and cast a glance at Xena as her ghostly lover stepped closer to the bowing giant. "Excuse me? Im what? Xena I am not the Golden Dragon. No way, no how. Where did you get that silly idea?"
"Here, take this broken shield, and lean it against the wall of the stall. Now, stand in front of it and look at your back." Xena smiled smugly.
Doing as she was bid, Gabrielle glanced over her shoulder, keeping half an eye on the man bowing at her feet. It didnt take much to realize what Xena was referring to, and why the giant was groveling on the floor. The dragon tattoo was glowing again, with the light of a brilliant sun. She had been stunned the first time this had happened when she had lost Xena. She was shocked into silence. Looking back at Xena, a small tear of recognition slipped down her cheek. It became apparent to her that the tattoo carried more power than even she was aware of, and that it wasnt a one use talisman, that she would more than likely be carrying its power for the rest of her life.
Turning back to the man, she quickly crouched next to him, and touched his arm. "Please, stand up. I dont feel comfortable with you bowing to me, and well honestly, Im not sure what this is all about anyway."
"Oh no miss, I mustnt. Not in the presence of the Golden Dragon." He kept his head down, his voice muffled.
"Xena!" Gabrielle whispered out of the corner of her mouth, "What do I do? He thinks Im somebody called the Golden Dragon. Is he crazy?"
"No, he isnt." Xena reappeared in front of Gabrielle.
"WHAT!" Gabrielle shouted scaring the man on the floor.
"Gabrielle, ixnay on the outingshay. Youre gonna scare the guy to death. I just did a quick spin through the port, and it seems that your reputation, and the story of the battles in Japa have made it this far already. Someone is watching out for you. They are even talking about your ability to speak to spirits." Xena grinned, her hands planted on her waist.
"I dont understand. Why me, why the Golden Dragon? Xena, I dont want to be known by anyone. I just want to do my job, and move on. What reputation?" Gabrielle had begun to pace.
"Gab, lets find out who this guy knows, and get you into an inn or something. We know people here in Alexandria. Someone at the temple should be able to help you." Xena stepped into her to stop her pacing, but barely even slowed her down.
"Gods! I am so sick of not being able to touch you." Xena threw her hands up in disgust.
"WHAT! What did you just say? If you were still alive, I think I would have to kill you. Gods you make me so angry sometimes." Gabrielle stopped short, realizing that the big man had followed her every word, and he undoubtedly noticed that she was speaking to someone who wasnt present.
"Oh, hey. So, what do you do? Is there a temple near by? Say do you know anyone who sells garments?" Gabrielle stopped pacing, and nervously picked at the hem of her tunic.
"Your highness, I am at your command. A great warrior such as yourself must have anything she wishes. And oh yes, the Priestess of the Temple of Sekhmet awaits you." He rose to his feet, and then quickly lowered his eyes.
"Heh, oh, please dont call me your highness. As soon as we get to the temple, well straighten this out. Heh, highness indeed." Gabrielle shook her head, a worried look crossing her tired face.
Xena remained for a moment more, and then disappeared to wherever she disappeared to. She tried to explain it to Gabrielle on the trip from Japa. She seemed to be sort of in between the land of the living and the land of the dead. There were others in the realm with her, each providing companionship to a loved one, or someone who needed their guidance. None of them would ever return to life, but neither would they move on. They eventually stop moving into the land of the living, as their loved one or whomever they were guiding moved on to their own death, or no longer needed their help. Xena never wanted to reach that point.
Guiding Gabrielle out into the courtyard of the stable, the big man bade her wait while he went back for two of the horses. The chestnut mare he prepared for Gabrielle to ride, and he came back with possibly the largest horse Gabrielle had ever seen. He was gray in color, and absolutely magnificent. When he returned to the courtyard, he spoke briefly into each of the two animals ears before helping Gabrielle onto the mares back.
"What did you say to them?" She inquired.
"I told them that the roads ahead of us would not be easy, and if they wished to back out, they should do so now. As you can see, neither of them has left us. That means then that they are to stay with us until the end." He smiled a beatific grin at Gabrielle.
"Stay? With us until the end? What does that mean?" Gabrielle fixed her gaze on him.
He smiled and shrugged his shoulders, kneeing his horse into a light trot as he headed off in the direction of the temple. Gabrielle turned the mare and followed him, vowing to find out what all of this means. Her only goals were to assist the Queen in the coming war, and to find a way to return Xena to her life their life.
Gabrielle looked fondly at the big man coming through the woods on his huge gray stallion. They had both served her well during the previous skirmishes in the Egyptian sands. The Egyptians had been able to hold back their enemies, and protect their lands. But Gabrielle did not have faith that the unsteady peace that resulted from the current problem would remain for very long. She had done everything she could both physically in battle, and at the negotiating table. Hemenotep lead both horses to a small stream nearby, and began to unload their burdens. He had long ago adapted to the presence of the Golden Dragons ghostly companion, and had sworn that at times he could see and hear the tall, dark warrior.
Gabrielle laid down her bedroll, weariness finally overcoming her. She had the first of four components necessary to slow down the aging process until she met the man that could possibly help her bring Xena back to life. Beketaten had called it the resurrection. She had said that this man, this son of the one true God would be capable of many miracles, and may be willing to bring life to the ashes that Gabrielle so carefully carried in her pack. Each night before she slept she would check the container to make sure that nothing had been damaged during the days travels. She would place a small kiss on the lid of the jar, and place it back in the pack. At one time during one of the major battles she had been separated from her mare, and her packs. For two days and nights she had wept for the loss, certain that the horse and her soulmates ashes were forever lost. One the morning of the third day, a tired and hungry mare walked slowly into the camp, still bearing the packs with their precious cargo. Gabrielle kept a tight on her ever since, never straying to far from her side. She had trained her to come to various signals, and to protect and fight for her safety, and the safety of the burial urn.
As she laid her head on her extra pack, she smiled at the clucking hen sounds Hemenotep was making about her not eating before she went to sleep. He swore that if she did not eat something the evil spirits in the forest would haunt her dreams, and steal both the souls she carried. Gabrielle assured him that she would eat in the morning, but right at that moment, she needed to get some rest.
"You should listen to him, Gabrielle. You need to eat more. Its important to keep up your strength. Im sure that wherever it is were going, it will keep. You should really slow down your pace." Xena wrapped her long transparent form like a blanket around her love.
"Xena," Gabrielle murmured, her voice betraying her tiredness, "I will be fine."
Closing her eyes, she drifted into a deep dreamless sleep. A few hours passed, and the dreams began again. Some of them were good, and brought a lazy smile to Gabrielles face. Others were not so good, and brought a frown, and frequently tears and screams in the darkness. When those dreams came along, Hemenotep would move closer, one large hand placed lightly on her hip. Just enough to assure her that he would be their to help her fight the demons that followed her in the dark. Xena would venture away, too distraught to stay, knowing she had made the choice, and that now she was unable to comfort Gabrielle. That task would belong to others. Not for the first time, did Xena wonder if Gabrielle would eventually take another lover, and move on with her life. She knew that it was possible, but refused to bring it up. She really didnt want to know the answer.
As the first light of day began to seep through the cover of leaves on the trees, Gabrielle began to stir. Where she used to be a heavy sleeper, the slight sounds of the world were enough now to return her to complete awareness. She rose quietly, and worked her way to the stream. Scrubbing the sleep from her face and eyes, she began to roll her sleeves back to wash a bit more of her arms, when she jumped spotting a young woman with gnarled bare feet sleeping at the base of a large oak tree on the other side of the stream.
Gabrielle backed away, not wanting to startle the younger woman. Or so she appeared. She new from what Beketaten had told her, that the three priestesses of the Oracle of Dodona were aged, and yet ageless. Their names were Promeneia, the oldest; Timarete; and the youngest Nicandra. It was said that they spoke to the Oracle through a spiritual connection they shared with the oak trees in the surrounding forest. Gabrielle also knew that if this priestess was so close, that the temple must be nearby, and that they knew she was coming.
"What do you see Gabrielle?" Xena spoke softly in Gabrielles thoughts.
"We are very near our destination Xena. That woman there lying under the oak tree. She is a priestess of the Oracle of Dodona. She has two sisters, who share the ability to speak to the Oracle via the trees. One of them is going to help me." Gabrielle continued to back away quietly.
Xena fixed her with a suspicious stare. "Why didnt you tell me we were going to the Temple of Dodona. I wouldnt have pegged you as a follower Gabrielle."
Unsure whether she was hearing suspicion or a tinge of jealousy, Gabrielle correctly surmised that somehow, someway Xena had a prior encounter with the Oracle, or one of her priestesses. Not sure whether or not she wanted to pursue the subject, she turned quickly and followed her own trail back to the campsite. Hemenotep had already built a fire, and had a great smelling meal bubbling over the flames.
"We have to hurry Hemenotep. The women I am seeking are nearby. I have to go to them." Gabrielle started to gather her things and replace them in the packs.
"Whoa, they have already been here, and will be waiting patiently for you. You will eat first before we go." Hemenotep stood as tall as he could trying to impress his diminutive companion.
"Why didnt you tell me they were here? You knew thats why we came all this way. Its been nearly six moon since we left Alexandria. This has been my only goal." Gabrielle sat down on her bedroll, frustrated at the anticlimax of her long journey.
"Oh great dragon warrior, still your restless heart. All things shall be revealed in their given time." Hemenotep bowed, and then handed her a wooden bowl with a wonderful smelling and tasting stew.
Grudgingly accepting the bowl, she tried not to look too eager. She had noticed when she was washing at the stream that she was beginning to look haggard and thin. She had lost too much weight, and ran the risk of making herself ill. She vowed to take better care of herself, and not be so hard on Xena and Hemenotep. She just wanted this to be over, and then she would settle down, and stop fighting all of these battles, both internal and external.
Finishing her stew, she patted the big mans knee, and then washing her bowl, finished her preparations to visit at the Temple of Dodona. When everything was packed, and the fire doused the small traveling party moved off using the directions that the priestesses had given Hemenotep. Xena had not appeared since their encounter by the stream. Gabrielle realized that she was not too far from having to talk seriously with Xena about her intentions. She just wasnt ready yet.
Entering a small clear area surrounded with oaks, the party moved to the opposite side as they were bidden. Nearby the woman who had been sleeping across the stream joined them, standing at the far side of the clearing and beckoning them to come and follow her. Xena chose this moment to reappear.
"What are you doing Gabrielle? You can make me believe that you are just going to follow her into their temple, as if they would be able to do anything for you anyway. What are we here for? Why would you want the advice of this particular Oracle." Xena began to pace, casually passing through the members of the group, spooking the horses and people alike.
"Xena!" Gabrielle gestured for her to stop. "You are scaring everyone. If this works out, Ill tell you everything. Now what happened to all that trust you had in me. You trusted me enough to die and leave me to take care of myself. Suddenly change your mind?"
Xena visibly faded at the sting of the harsh words. She faded completely, effectively ending the conversation. Gabrielle felt badly again, but couldnt bring herself to figure out what to do about it. She turned and continued to follow the priestess to the temple. Leaving the horses behind, Gabrielle slung her pack over her shoulders and followed her inside, her large companion following close behind her.
As her eyes adjusted to the gloom and shadows cast by the flickering flames of a number of candles, Gabrielle was surprised to not only see the Priestesses, but the Oracle of Dodona as well. Or so she presumed. There were two others present, one of which was unmistakably Xena very obviously trying to start an argument with the Oracle. Gabrielle stilled herself and listened to their conversation.
"I told you Dorian, do not start anything with Gabrielle. If you so much as go near her ." Xenas fists clenched.
"Dont waste your breath Xena. Oh, I forgot, you dont have any breath." Dorian smiled smugly at her uninvited guest.
"Um excuse me Dorian. Im Gabrielle, and Ive come here on the advice of a friend of yours. Her name is Beketaten, Priestess of the Temple of Sekhmet in Egypt. She said that you might be able to help me on my quest." Gabrielle bowed slightly in deference to the powerful woman.
"Why Xena you didnt tell me she was so beautiful. Please Gabrielle join us. We have much to discuss." The Oracle extended a long slender hand to Gabrielle.
Taking her hand, Gabrielle allowed herself to be lead into a comfortable seating area by the taller, beautiful woman. She was embarrassed by the compliment from the Oracle, and only a bit confused about Xena, and what seemed to be troubling her. As she took a seat across from the Oracle, she caught her first glimpse of the other visitor. Much to her delight and surprise, she was sitting next to her favorite Goddess Aphrodite.
"Aphrodite, what are you doing here?" Gabrielle rose for a hug with the giggling woman in the pink chiffon.
"Hey there Dragon babe. I heard through the grapevine you were coming out this way, so I decided to crash the party. Ive missed you so much. And besides, I knew someone would have to protect you from these two pig heads. Geez babe, youre looking mighty tired " Aphrodite frowned, assessing her friends leaner, stronger frame.
"Yeah, I am tired. I havent stopped moving since Xena committed suicide." Gabrielle reluctantly released her friend.
The room became noticeably quieter following Gabrielles statement. It was the first time that she had expressed this sentiment, and it came as quite a shock to Xena. So much so that she immediately left, not even taking the time to meet Gabrielle's pointed gaze. Aphrodite smiled sadly at her friend, and then turned her attention to Dorian.
"Dori baby, Xenas right. This little lady doesnt need any of your lecherous stuff right now, she needs your help. You can get your ya yas some other time. Right now, she needs to get going on her quest. The colder the weather gets, the closer it will come to the time for the child to be born. His parents are already moving towards the village where his mother will give birth." Aphrodite stuck her lip out in a pout.
"Aphrodite, are you saying you know why Im here, and you know about the man?" Gabrielles gaze intensified.
"Oh, sure, babe. He will be born in a small town called Bethlehem, in about another moon or so. But its not his birth you need to be concerned about dragon girl its his death. He wont live much past his early thirties. Betrayal and all that kinda stuff. You have to suspend your aging thingy, and then get moving. It would be better for you to settle somewhere near where he lives. The bummer is that you are destined to be involved in several more battles, one which will come close to ending your life." Aphrodite shifted closer to her blond friend.
"Shes telling the truth Gabrielle. Now more than ever you will need to protect yourself. The land that you will be traveling through for the next several years will be stricken with political differences, and deadly suspicions. Many people will die, whole religions will die and be reborn. People will be persecuted for their beliefs. It is foretold. You will be especially vulnerable. There will be those that will perceive your powers as a threat, and attempt to end your life. You will be visited by much hardship before you reach your goal." Dorian seamlessly moved into her role as Oracle.
Gabrielle fixed each of the others in the room with her tired steely gaze. "I will not be stopped from reaching my goal. And if I should die in my attempt, then so much the better. At least well be together."
Aphrodite took her hand, squeezing it to show that she supported Gabrielles efforts. Dorian realized that she was in the presence of a truly powerful woman, and regardless of her past with Xena, she had no right to try to charm or otherwise breach this persons barriers. She signaled to the priestesses to begin preparation for ritual she was to perform for this person they called the Golden Dragon.
Gabrielle slowly opened her eyes, her vision clouded by a dull headache, and a pile of pink chiffon. "Aphrodite, move over, your fluff is in my eyes."
"Ooh, Warrior Bard Dragon girl. Dont let tall dark and deadly hear you say that. That sounded almost nasty." Aphrodite moved over, happy to see her friend awake.
Blushing, Gabrielle shook her head trying to clear it. "Speaking of Xena, have you seen her?"
"Im right here Gabrielle. I dont know what they did to you, but Im glad to see youre okay. You need to eat something though." The warriors ghostly visage was sprawled on her side, next to Gabrielles reclining body.
"You know, I am pretty hungry. Whats to eat around here Aphrodite?" Gabrielle stifled a yawn.
"Oh you know, lots of stuff. First though, I want to know what youre going to do with yourself. Youve got lots of time on your hands now. Why dont you come and visit with me for awhile?" Aphrodite put on her most persuasive face.
"Gabrielle," Xena interrupted, "Tell me something why does Aphrodite know so much of your business, and I dont?"
"Xena, are you jealous?" Aphrodite started to giggle.
"Xena, if you knew everything I was planning, you wouldnt approve. Aphrodite knows my business, because shes a Goddess, and shes my friend. In all relationships, some things go unspoken for the greater good. For instance, I hear nothing of your personal history in regards to Akemi, and yet she seems to have played a huge part in our destiny. So huge, that I lost you to her and her problems. Now, you wanted me to know everything you know, so that I could continue our good work, and be able to protect myself. What I do with those abilities, is largely my discretion. I love you Xena, and I want you to trust me to do the right thing." Gabrielle rose from her resting spot and began preparing to leave the temple.
"I understand Gabrielle, and I do trust you. But your quest seems one-sided. Is what youre doing for the greater good, or is it for your good?" Xena seemed to float above the floor for a moment.
"Hopefully both, Xena, hopefully both." Gabrielle whispered as Xena faded away.
"Well, that was a bummer. Listen, so what have you decided? Want to come along and party in the halls of Mount Olympus? I mean I realize that you and soulwarrior knocked off a large part of my family and all, but there are still some good times to be had up there." Aphrodite spun around in circles, her chiffon outfit spreading in clouds around her.
"Aphrodite, why do I have a feeling that youve been making some idle bets with your brother Ares?" Gabrielle raised an eyebrow in her friends direction.
"Oh, well, I wouldnt do that would I? Of course not. Although he has been asking about you. Just out of curiosity you know. He was wondering how you were faring after losing Xena. I guess he was just as surprised as everyone else that Xena gave up her life, and her place by your side. He thought you might be happier if you came to visit me for a while. I mean, I wouldnt mind your company, and well, I am the Goddess of Love and all you know." Aphrodite moved closer, suggestively placing her hand on Gabrielles shoulder.
"Oh sure, and while you keep me busy, he goes across the known world spreading war and death. Aphrodite, you are very special to me, and I appreciate all the help youve been, but right now all I want or need is to know what Dorian did to me, and how much time I have before I must try to meet the son of the one true God." Gabrielle finished packing, all thoughts of food banished from her mind.
"Oh all right. But I hope this doesnt mean I cant visit every once in a while. Dorian used a very powerful magic to suspend the aging process. You have thirty-five years, and then your internal clock starts again. I guess you were lucky that you decided to do this now. Dorian said much longer, and the magic would have been gone, or too weak to have done you much good." Aphrodite prepared to blip back to her familys home.
"I see, so the child has been born then?" Gabrielle inquired.
"Yes, he has. Cute little bugger too. You should fit right in with him and his family. He was conceived pretty much like Evie was, through what they call Immaculate Conception. Something to do with those pesky angels."" Aphrodite wrapped her arms around Gabrielle, and kissed her lightly on the cheek.
"I do want to see you, whenever you have the time. And Aphrodite tell Ares to leave me alone. I dont need or want him hanging around for the next thirty-five years. Thank Dorian for me as well. Im sorry I didnt get to thank her myself." Gabrielle picked up her pack, and after assuring herself that the urn of ashes was still intact, she headed out of the temple in search of Hemenotep and the horses.
Aphrodite smiled sadly, sure that her friend had a very hard road ahead of her. Her only hope was the belief of the common people in the myth of the Golden Dragon. A cloud of shimmering light was the only thing that marked her passing.
Thirty-five Years Later
Gabrielle walked slowly along the banks of the Nile, weary of the daily drudgery of life. True to the Oracle of Dodonas promise she had not physically aged, but the emotional toll was very vast. It had been many weeks since she had been visited by Xenas ghostly presence. Gabrielle had fought in a particularly fierce battle, as usual over control of land, and ultimately power. It seemed that more and more rulers in the various kingdoms surrounding the Mediterranean Sea were trying to overthrow the known world. Xena had tried to convince her that she no longer needed to be involved in these petty rivalries. She felt that Gabrielle had lost enough, and it was time to return to Greece and settle down.
As far as Xena was concerned Gabrielle was just another hired mercenary. They had an especially fierce argument, and Gabrielle hadnt seen her since. She was left to mourn the loss of her friend and protector the giant Hemenotep.
Hemenotep had been brutally tortured and killed trying to protect his friend. Gabrielle had been captured, and severely beaten. Hemenotep had followed her orders by getting the pack with the urn, and the horses to safety. When he returned, he lost control and began to systematically destroy the enemy camp, until he had killed nearly half of the men. Covered in blood, some his own, some the blood of his targets, he found the tent where Gabrielle was being held captive. Killing the guards outside, he burst through the flap, and searched frantically for his friend. Too late, the warlord and his men had trapped him and brought him to the ground like a wounded elephant. As they beat him and burned him with hot pokers, they failed to notice the glow that had begun to develop at the back of the tent. With a roar and a burst of energy, Gabrielle broke through her bonds and with the power of the dragon behind her, wiped out the entire camp, and effectively ended the war.
Her physical and emotional wounds were deep. Even though her age had been suspended in time, she was not immortal. Several days following the battle, and the death of her friend, her horse carried her to one of the many temples dedicated to the Goddess Sekhmet. Her friend Beketaten had long since been murdered, but her reputation had preceded her through reams of scrolls left by each priestess of the temple. The new priestess, took her in and nursed her back to health. It was when she began to recover that she had her argument with Xena. The priestess came to her shortly after, and bade her take her belongings and leave. The land was in a state of unrest, and no one was safe. New religions had begun to spring up, and belief in the Greek and Egyptian Gods had begun to slip away. In some regions belief in anyone but the Greek, Roman or Egyptian religions was punishable by death. Gabrielle gathered her things and prepared to return to Greece again.
The day she was ready to depart a messenger had come bringing news of Xenas daughter Eve. Their paths had crossed many times over the years, and Eve was well aware of Gabrielles personal mission. Eve had married Virgil, but they seldom spent time together. Eve traveled across the seas spreading the teachings of Eli, a precursor to the teachings of the son of the one true God. Stories abounded about the young man and his new views about the Empire, and the brotherhood of mankind. Stories also circulated about plots to end his life. He had gathered a steady following, and his message traveled far, but not all were believers. There had been even more stories about the strange happenings around him. It was said that he could perform miracles. Gabrielle was more determined than ever to meet with Eve. She was still weak, but felt able to travel. She had long before given up her horse for lodging, food and supplies, and so booked passage with a merchant train bound for what the travelers were calling the Holy Land.
Weeks into her travels she had begun to have vivid dreams about the man they called Jesus. She had long since given up any form of religion, including the Gods and Goddesses of Greece. Aphrodite had suddenly stopped coming. It was thought that as belief in them waned, their ability to leave Mount Olympus changed as well. Gabrielle missed her, but was content to move through her shadow of life alone. The largest heartbreak of all was Xenas absence. If she had simply died all those years ago in Japa, it would be different. The fact that Gabrielle knew she was existing in the in between, made her feel worse. It would be the end of her mentally if she attained her goal, only to have Xena spurn her love.
As the merchant train reached the outskirts of Jerusalem, Gabrielle separated herself from the group with fond farewells and promises of visits in the future. The fair-haired woman with the pale skin, and the stories she would tell when she felt inclined to seek their company had charmed the merchants and their families. The occasions were rare, but well received. Most times she spent walking on her own, her look far away, her gaze set on an invisible goal somewhere far from any of their perceptions. At night she slept away from the wagons, so that she could perform her rituals without prying eyes. The traders were respectful, and slightly fearful of her, and gave her a wide berth when she demanded it.
Walking through the streets of Jerusalem, she headed towards the nearest market area. She figured she would be able to find someone that would lead her to the inn that Eve was staying at. As night approached, more and more Roman soldiers were becoming evident in the crowds. She approached a large man selling melons and asked if he could direct her to the inn. He grasped her arm, and quickly pulled her back into the shadows of his tent.
"Miss, please, not so loud. Any of these soldiers hear you, and they will arrest you. They are hunting for the man they call Jesus. It is said that they are going to arrest and crucify him if they find him."
Gabrielle paled visibly when he imparted this information. "NO! I need to find him. I need to find him now."
"Here, here. Calm down. There is a woman, her name is Mary Magdalene. She knows him well, has been rumored to be his consort, his mistress. Go two more blocks down the lane, and knock on the door with the small letter W painted on it. That is where you will find her." He shoved her towards the street, glad to be rid of her.
Gabrielle ran the two blocks, searching frantically for the door the merchant had said would be there. She passed it, when Xena suddenly appeared in front of her. So startled, she slid to a halt almost falling to her knees on the stones that lined the street.
"Gabrielle, you missed the doorway. Its back there, the one with the small lantern above it." Xena pointed in the direction of the door.
Gabrielle began to cry. "Thank you Xena. I thought you had left me thank you."
Gabrielle returned to the doorway and knocked several times until someone finally came and answered it. The woman seemed to have been expecting her, and stepped back ushering her into the room. Gabrielle was surprised to see Eve amongst the women sitting in the shadows.
Rising and putting her arms around Gabrielle, Eve looked at her closely, amazed at how young she still looked. Her eyes told a different story. Gabrielle cried freely, at once fearful that she had come too late, and relieved to see Eve and the other women gathered in the small quarters. One woman who seemed to be in charge of the gathering stepped forward into the light.
"Gabrielle, welcome. We have been expecting you. Eve has told us many stories about you and her mother. She has also told us about your quest. If we dont go to Jesus now, it may be too late. They will be coming for him soon." The woman wrapped a cloak around her shoulders as she spoke.
"My name is Mary Magdalene, and I am very close to Jesus. I love him. We all do. One closest to him has betrayed him. Quickly, we must go to him before they find him." Mary grabbed her hand and pulled her out the door into the street.
Pulling their cloaks around their faces so as not to be recognized as women, they ran up a nearby street towards an olive garden at the edge of town. Hurrying through the gate in the stone wall, both women stopped short when they saw Jesus kneeling in prayer.
"Why doesnt he run or hide?" Gabrielle asked her guide.
"Because Gabrielle this is his destiny. He was born to lead the people, to begin the cycle, to address a new way of thinking. His death is the only way that his place in history is assured. Now go, you only have a short time before they find him. If you are visible when they come, then all will be lost. They will arrest you too." Mary pushed her towards the kneeling man.
Gabrielle approached him, almost unwilling to disturb his prayer. Kneeling beside him, she reached out with one shaky hand, and touched his shoulder. He looked back at her with a gaze of pure love. Taking her hands in his, he leaned forward and kissed her forehead. A single tear slipped silently down his face.
"Youve come Gabrielle. I was afraid I might miss you. You are every bit as beautiful as Eve said you were. Please, you havent come all this way to kneel here in the dirt with me. Please, you have something to ask of me." Jesus rose and led her to a bench nearby.
Gabrielle was at a loss for words. She vaguely noticed Xena materializing at his side. Xenas face showed a mixture of horror and concern. Her fears were about to be realized. She was certain that Gabrielle was about to ask him to resurrect her to the land of the living, and by doing so condemning the 40,000 souls from Higuchi to eternal damnation. Gabrielle ignored her silent pleas, and gathered the courage to ask this man, whom she had waited it seemed like forever to meet to give her this one last miracle, just hours before his own death.
"Please, I feel so selfish for asking you do help me with this. I have to know one thing first. If you are able to resurrect Xena, what will happen to the 40,000 souls she gave her life for?" Gabrielle voice was pleading for the answer she wanted to hear.
Jesus smiled again, this time fixing his gaze on Xena. "Be assured, the only souls that will not receive salvation, will be your own and Xenas. At the end of time, at the final days of life on earth, there will come a judgement. Those souls that are considered fit will be allowed to gain entrance into Heaven for the rest of eternity. Those souls that are not will be returned to earth to start civilization all over again. There will be those that believe that any souls not positively judged will be sent to the fires of Hell, but that is untrue. Only those truly evil souls will go to Hell. The two of you however, will be returned to earth, to reincarnate for the rest of eternity as we know it. The cycle will be repeated again and again. Just remember, I love you, and always will. As much as you love each other."
Gabrielle risked a look at Xena. If ghosts could cry, Gabrielle was certain that was what she was seeing in Xenas eyes. Xena nodded, effectively giving her to go ahead for her plan. With a sigh of relief, Gabrielle reached into her pack and removed the urn, handing her precious cargo to Jesus care. Gathering her hands in his, he fixed his gaze on the heavens above them. His lips moved in silent prayer, in a language that Gabrielle was unfamiliar with. Moments later, what seemed like hundreds of soldiers began to file into the olive grove. Gabrielle began to reach for the chakram at her waist, but Jesus stopped her, with a shake of his head.
Out of the shadows, two cloaked figures grabbed Gabrielle by the shoulders, and quickly guided her out of the grove, and back to the room down the road. When they were safely inside with the other women, Gabrielle suffered a complete emotional breakdown. She was certain that she had been too late, that the Romans would crucify Jesus, making him a martyr, and everything would be lost. Crying uncontrollably, she collapsed onto the floor, rapidly losing consciousness.
Three days later, Gabrielle became aware again. It started slowly, a vague awareness seeping into her consciousness. It wasnt until she tried to lay on her back that she realized there was another person on the pallet with her. Her heart began to pound rapidly as she slowly turned towards the body next to her. Her eyes almost refused to open, so fearful was she of what she might find. Opening first one eye, and then the other she winced as they tried to adjust to the brightness of the sun streaming through the open windows. Slowly she was able to make out the all too familiar features of her once dead lover.
Tentatively she reached out and touched Xenas arm, half expecting her hand to pass through her and touch the pallet underneath. Much to her relief, her hand touched solid flesh. Throwing back the covers, she began to touch Xena all over, testing this arm, poking that leg. When she finally reached her face, she smiled when she saw the steady blue gaze of her soulmate watching her with amusement.
"Find anything to your liking?" Xena chuckled.
"Everything .everything" Gabrielle began to cry, this time with a smile on her face.
Xena wrapped her in her arms, kissing every inch of her face. "I dont know why I ever doubted you Gabrielle. I should have had faith in your stubbornness."
"Yes you should have. I just couldnt imagine any more of a life without you, especially when you stopped coming around a few moons ago. I began to wonder if it was all for nothing." Gabrielle shifted to lay with her head on Xenas shoulder, one arm across her stomach, for the first time realizing that neither of them were wearing clothes.
"So, where do we go from here? I hear theres a whole new religious group in need of a girl with a chakram." Xena smiled warily.
"Nope, were done. Were going back to Greece, and going to build ourselves a small home near the sea, and raise chickens or something." Gabrielle sighed deeply.
"Oh now wait a minute, do we have to raise chickens, I mean the really stink you know." Xena raised her eyebrow at Gabrielle in a pleading gesture.
"We can raise grasshoppers if you want honey. Im just saying that were are done for the duration. I want to grow old and die naturally, with you at my side. Not at the end of some idiots sword." Gabrielle began to place small kisses along Xenas collarbone.
"Okay, you win. Were done, a house by the sea, and grasshoppers." Xena settled back, enjoying the feeling of her lovers touch.
Outside in the street, the people of Jerusalem were at once fearful and rejoicing. As the prophecies had told, the son of the One True God had risen from the dead, and ascended into Heaven. Eve walked along the cobbled street with her arm looped around that of Mary Magdalenes. Her heart was at peace, and yet she knew her job would never be done. The only difference is that she would be teaching in the name of Jesus Christ, and not that of his predecessor Eli.
"So, do you think theyll be happy?" Mary asked her friend.
"Oh yeah, no doubt in my mind what so ever. That my friend is the purest love this world will ever know. It was forged in the heat of battle, and has survived even death many times over. There is no doubt they will be happy for the rest of eternity." Eve smiled with the surety of her knowledge.
"I believe youre right Evie, I believe youre right " Mary led her friend towards the burial cave of Jesus, knowing that this was the beginning of the rest of life as they knew it.
Finito .The End for now
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