Disclaimers: No copyright infringement was intended in the writing of this fan fiction story. The characters and backstory herein are from the syndicated television show Xena: Warrior Princess. Copies of this story may be made for personal use as long as all disclaimers and credits are included.
No rheinmaidens were punched in the nose during the writing of this story.
Setting: This is a classic Xena story that takes place several years after Season Six’s finale of “When Fates Collide” (the travesty that was FIN never happened).
Bard Contest #24: This story is an entry in Category 1. The tradition it introduces is Yule Logs.
(by Annazon Fox)
They say timing is everything. Death, for instance, can come to someone who’s in the right place at the wrong time.
We had traveled north, just like we were supposed to. Xena, Eponin, Solari, and me. On track to spend Solstice with the Northern Amazons, we stomped on horseback for a week through wet, snowy bog after wet, snowy bog.
We should have seen the berserkers. Could have seen them. Certainly could’ve heard them. It had been a miserable trip, so maybe we could blame our mistake on the chill in our bones.Those speculations don’t matter now. What matters is that I’ve been speared through the shoulder, my life draining into the snow around me.
“Gabrielle,” Xena had cried out when it happened.
Shivering in the frigid dusk air, I closed my eyes. My last image of her was her standing over me fighting off the attackers. I still heard the sounds of fighting but the spear had pinned me to the ground, trapping me. If I didn’t bleed to death first, the cold would kill me.
Turning my head to the right, I saw a shape. Squinting, I recognized the long, dark, and braided hair and fur-lined leather armor of Eponin. Close, but too far to touch.
Nearby, a raven cawed.
“Eponin,” I tried to say, but my voice would not come. “Ep, get up,” I managed to whisper.
Still, she was motionless.
“Xena...” I tried to call. In the distance, I heard the sound of metal-on-metal as the fight raged on.
I felt something cold and wet on my face. It had begun to snow. As I watched the flakes fall to the ground, my eyes were drawn to a figure descending in front of the setting sun.
“Eponin” I whispered. “Get up.”
While the figure from the sky approached, I put one hand on the spear that was in my shoulder and tried to pull. To weak, I couldn’t get a strong grip. My hand slipped on the wood.
I looked toward the sun and the figure approaching us came into focus. It was, gods, beautiful women riding a gaggle of horses. Leading them was an armor-clad warrior in a chariot that was pulled by two large blue...cats?
Bizarre cat images aside, I knew the lot of them as the Valkyrie, the choosers of who lives and dies in battle. They weren’t wearing the silver armor of Odin, though. Shaking my head, I felt the thud of hoofs on the ground as they landed in the snow nearby. I tried pulling at the spear again. It moved slightly, this time hurting less. I relaxed my grip, noticing a warmth beginning to overtake my arms and legs.
The Valkyrie sat motionless on their horses about ten feet away, apprising the situation. Five of them, all wearing black capes that fluttered in the wind, waited. The first to dismount was the masked woman at the helm of the chariot.
I inhaled deeply, still feeling that warmth begin to invade my body.
The Valkyrie Queen, for that is what I understood her to be, slowly raised her hand, making her choice.
I steeled my jaw and exhaled. I noticed that I could no longer see my breath. To die in battle, there were worse fates.
The Queen pointed at Eponin.
Immediately, a Valkyrie floated on horseback to where my friend lay and jumped off her horse. Kneeling beside the wounded Amazon warrior, the Valkyrie whispered as if in prayer and then kissed Eponin’s eyelids. The Valykrie effortlessly lifted Eponin’s middle-aged, but still strong, body into her arms and mounted her horse.
“Ep,” I whispered, unsuccessfully trying to sit up again.
Hearing me, the Valkyrie who carried Eponin turned her head toward the sound of my voice. Like all of the Valkyrie, she was striking. She had long brown hair and bright green eyes. Her face was stoic.
“Please,” I whispered, shaking my head.
She gave me a courteous nod before kicking her heels into her horse. Without a word, she turned and flew away with my friend.
“No,” I whispered. Desperately, I looked for the Queen. We could talk this out. Negotiate queen-to-queen. Using my hand to shield my eyes, I saw her silhouette of green armor, helmet, and large black shield against the red-orange sun.
“Take me instead,” I begged. “I will go to Valhalla.”
The Queen cocked her head before giving a signal with her arm. At once, the rest of the waiting Valkyrie aligned into formation, took flight again, and headed north. The Queen stayed behind.
I tried to speak again, only to realize that I wasn’t sure if I had ever been speaking aloud. My body was becoming warmer, I wanted to let go of this reality. A force was pulling me somewhere else. I closed my eyes.
“Gabrielle,” the Queen said, slowly stepping toward me. “We’re not taking her to Valhalla.”
When I opened my eyes, the Queen was standing above me. I felt her warmth.
I heard that familiar voice again, that darkness pulling on me. Closing my eyes, or perhaps opening them, I looked into icy blue eyes.
She had come for me.
“Who are you?” I asked. I was forgetting someone.
The Queen knelt beside me in the snow, heat radiating off her body. Her dark outline contrasting against the setting sun, she slowly removed her helmet.
I closed my eyes, starting to let myself slip away.
“I am the one who taught Odin his magic,” she said.
I felt like I was on fire. They said that’s how it felt, in the end, to freeze to death. My hands grasped for snow around me. I wanted to pour it on my brow. My hands grasped lukewarm water, which was pooled where the Queen knelt.
“The paths are many, Gabrielle,” the Queen said. “And ultimately they all lead to the same meadow.”
The pull on me was increasing. I was slipping away.
“You haven’t reached the end of your path, though,” the Queen continued. “Open your eyes, my queen. It’s not your time.” When she kissed my cheek and pulled away, I opened my eyes and saw her face.
“My gods,” I whispered.
Her kind brown eyes looked down at me. Blond hair cascaded down her shoulders, two braids on each side of her head.
She smiled sadly and then rose.
She held up a hand, taking away my voice. Then, everything began fading white. I began shaking, the warmth leaving my body.
“Gabrielle,” that familiar voice said. “Stay with me, come on.”
Opening my eyes, I saw those blue eyes and remembered. “Xena...” I tried to speak.
“Shhh...” she said. “You’ve lost a lot of blood.”
I tried to sit up but Xena stopped me, placing a hand on my chest. Looking down, I saw that I was lying on a cot and wrapped in furs. My shoulder was heavily bandaged. As my vision came back into focus, I saw a small crowd of concerned Amazon faces around me. Solari stood by the door.
“Solari,” I started, tears filling my eyes. “Eponin is-...I’m sorry.”
“Shhh,” Xena said, caressing my forehead. “Not now. We almost lost you. Just rest.”
“You left me,” I said.
“I never left your side, Gabrielle.”
A medicine woman, dressed in the white furs of the Northern Amazons, carried over a mug of steaming broth. She handed it to Xena and bowed in my direction before backing away.
Solari placed a hand on my covered leg and squeezed, before she and the others left Xena and me alone in the tent.
“Where...?” I started. I tried to sit up to look around, but Xena placed a hand on my chest again, stopping me.
“You were badly injured,” Xena said. “Knocked out. Don’t move your arm.”
I wiggled it. “Ow.”
“I told you,” Xena said, tilting the mug of liquid toward me. “Drink this.”
I tilted my head forward and drank the hot, bitter medicine. Leaning back, I noticed that my head sunk into a pleasantly soft pillow. My body was warm and dry piled under layers of fur blankets.
“We were outnumbered six to one. When I saw you go down, Eponin, Solari, and I formed a circle around you and fought them off. After that, we made our way to the Amazon settlement as fast as we could,” Xena said.
“Ep....” I said.
Xena looked away, and then met my eyes. “She didn’t make it,” she said, taking my hand.
“I know,” I said. I wanted to say more, to tell Xena that I had seen them take her away. More than that, I wanted to sleep.
“Shhh. Rest now,” Xena said, kissing me softly on the forehead.
I sunk back into the pillow, letting my heavy eyelids close. My last thoughts before falling asleep were of the vision I had just had.
For the first time in three years, I had seen my soul mate. Not Xena. The other one. Brunhilda.
To those in this world, I had appeared to be in a deep sleep surrounded by a deadly flame. Yet, while Brunhilda’s flame protected my physical form, I lived on in another world. My memory of this world wiped away, I was offered another possibility.
Brunhilda had been no mere Valkyrie. Her Great Hall had overlooked a beautiful green meadow containing row upon row of the warriors’ wooden long houses. In the twilight, from the balcony, I saw the people down below dancing, sparring, and telling stories of past battles. In the distance, a large ship silently cut through the icy blue waters and pulled up to the shore.
“Another arrival,” I said. “Where will we put them?”
“There is always room for more warriors here,” Brunhilda said, handing me a goblet of mead. “The great kingdom will be restored.”
I drank from the cup. Warm, sweet liquid ran down my throat. Wherever I came from, I was certain they did not have mead like this.
“I had that dream again last night,” I said, looking out into the meadow. “I was a warrior. I traveled the world. Faced great peril.”
“Are you saying you would like to be my champion?” Brunhilda said, moving close. “Because I find you well-suited for your current position.”
I laughed and then, feeling the chill in the air, closed my soft robe tightly around my chest. My hand grazed my golden necklace.
“Are you cold, my queen?” Brunhilda asked, putting an arm around my waist and pulling me to her.
“Not anymore,” I said, immediately feeling her warmth. I rested my head against her shoulder.
“There are ways to create more heat,” she whispered, kissing my cheek.
I turned my head and met her lips.
Brunhilda turned my body toward her, eager hands finding their way inside my robe as our kiss deepened.
Below us, the people began beating drums, preparing for the nightly ceremony. Soon, bonfires would be lit and Brunhilda would make her appearance, welcoming the newcomers to her meadow.
“Is there time?” I asked, pulling away.
“Always,” she said, pulling me back to her.
Recovering in the Northern Amazon tent, I awoke to Solari carefully changing my bandages. Over the years, she had earned a strong reputation in the healing arts. I winced in pain as she pulled the bandage from the wound in my shoulder.
“Sorry, Queen Gabrielle,” she said. “We have to keep the wound clean.” She reached into her pouch and retrieved a jar of strong-smelling ointment.
“Where’s Xena?” I asked.
“Exhale,” Solari said. “This medicine will help with the pain.” She began dabbing it on my wound as I exhaled sharply.
“Thanks,” I said, as the pain eased up.
“Xena is conferring with Queen Cyane,” Solari said, she swallowed and then held her chin high. “About the funeral arrangements.”
“Solari...I’m sorry,” I said, taking hold of her hand, which was at my shoulder. “I should be taking care of that.”
“What you need to be doing is recuperating,” she said.
“I know this can’t be easy for you.”
Solari remained silent, not looking me in the eye.
“She died a hero,” I said. “She, all of you, saved my life.”
“When is it going to be?” I said. “The funeral.”
Solari began wrapping my shoulder wound with a fresh bandage. “You heal well,” she said. “The stitches can come out a week after Solstice.”
“Please,” I said. “The funeral?”
“Gabrielle,” she said, looking down, tears forming in her eyes. “There is a problem...”
“What kind of problem?”
“There is no body.”
“No body?” I said, my heart skipping a beat.
“We found her Eponin’s breastplate and a pool of blood,” Solari said.
“So she might be out there-” I said, starting to rise.
“No,” Solari said. “Gabrielle, I saw what happened to her. She couldn’t come back from that...”
I shook my head. “I’m sorry,” I whispered. “Without a body, we cannot properly send her back to the earth.”
“I should tell you why the Northern Amazons called for you and Xena,” she said. “Xena and Cyane have been meeting...”
“When Xena killed Artemis,” she said. “The Amazon Nation was left without a god. All of the gods know that and are trying to win converts us. Our sisters believe Ares is responsible for sending the berserkers in order to provoke the Amazons into a full-scale war with the Vikings.”
“And Ares thinks that’s the way to win over the Amazons?” I said. “Okay, don’t answer that.”
“The Northern Amazons have held out so far, but without Artemis’ leadership and protection, the attacks have escalated and are draining the resources of the Northern tribes.”
I rubbed my temples. The Northern tribes wanted Xena and me to fix what Xena had broken.
“Their situation is extremely dire. Cyane might be too proud to say it, but many of our sisters are saying that the end of the Northern Amazons is near.”
“Gods,” I whispered. “Xena can talk to Ares...”
“It’s not him they want Xena to speak with, Gabrielle. It’s Odin.”
“With the Solstice fast approaching, they can perform the ceremony to make him their official god. Gain his protection. Xena knows how to get to Valhalla, how to negotiate with him.”
“We all do what we must,” she said, packing up her vials.
“So, what then? Amazons pride ourselves on being beholden to no male god, and the great Northern Amazon want to become Odin’s handmaidens?”
“The Valkyrie are noble escorts.”
I sighed and looked away.
“Cyane is going to ask for your help,” Solari said, shutting her medicine bag tightly and preparing to leave. “Think about it. The days of the gods are ending. Other than Odin, they don’t have much choice here.”
She turned abruptly and started walking toward the door.
She stopped, but didn’t turn around.
“That might not be exactly true,” I said.
She turned and raised her brows, silently waiting for me to continue.
“Is it common,” I asked. “For people to have... visions, when they are near death?”
“Near death, Gabrielle, the boundaries between worlds becomes thin. I have sat with many who have passed over to the afterlife. Our sisters used to speak of Artemis guiding them to her forest....”
“You saw something?” she asked.
“I think so,” I said.
“I’ll get Xena and Cyane.”
“You’re saying she’s what, a god now?” Xena said, pacing in the small tent.
“I don’t know,” I said, from my bed. “I think so. Maybe. In my vision, I could tell that she was more than a Valkyrie. She was their leader and she wasn’t working for Odin.”
“I thought she was an eternal bonfire,” Xena said.
“Flame, Xena-” I said, silently adding, “She was an eternal flame.”
“Her self-sacrifice has become a legend,” Cyane said, standing near my bed. “Indicative of true Amazon spirit.”
“Maybe she’s behind the berserkers,” Xena said. “That cross anyone’s mind?”
“We don’t even know if Gabrielle’s vision is real,” Cyane said.
“We don’t know that it isn’t,” Xena said.
I looked at Xena, who continued to pace. Everyone looked at me, waiting for me to explain.
“I’m not sure,” I said. “It’s possible. She approached me, but she said it wasn’t my time and then she just...left.” I left out the part where they took Eponin.
“Xena?” Cyane asked. “I need your blessing. If you have a bad feeling about this...”
With her back turned to us, Xena stopped pacing.
“I have a bad feeling about this,” she said, turning around to face us. “But an even worse feeling about an Amazon marriage to Odin.”
“Gabrielle,” Cyane said. “Any ideas on how to reach Brunhilda?”
“I think so,” I said. “We have to go back to the East Bog.”
After waiting a day to make preparations and let my body heal some more, we departed for the East Bog. I rode with Xena on horseback, flanked by Cyane, Solari, and a small contingent of Northern Amazon bodyguards.
It took us a full day of travel to reach our destination. Riding through the cool mist, we searched for the location where Brunhilda’s eternal flame, her proof of her love for me, had burned for a year.
During the year that I had forgotten that I was Gabrielle from Potidaea, I had experienced the full strength of that love. It had been apparent to others as well, when we strolled through her meadow arm in arm. Whenever we would pass the warriors’ camps, the people stopped their festivities to courteously bow their heads in our direction.
“I don’t know who I used to be,” I said, blushing. “But I’m sure I’m not used to people bowing to me.”
“Get used to it, my queen,” Brunhilda said quietly. “The people respond to the beauty of your soul.”
“I just want to serve them as best I can,” I said.
“That’s why you’re here, Gabrielle. I saw that light in you the first moment I saw you.”
I blushed as Brunhilda led us to a new crowd of warriors. I wore a white gown and a crown of braided flowers. My hair had grown much longer than it had been when I first came to the meadow. Brunhilda wore her green ceremonial armor, her black cape flowing behind us.
“My lord,” a young man beckoned, bowing deeply to Brunhilda. “I wrote a song in honor of your union. If it please the queen?”
He pulled a lute from the pack and looked at us expectantly.
Brunhilda nodded and looked at me, waiting for me to answer.
“Yes, I would like that.”
As the man strummed the instrument and sang, I leaned into Brunhilda, who put her arm around me. I smiled, listening to the man’s song. I didn’t know where I came from and, even though large swaths of my memory were missing, I felt happy and safe here.
“What do you think?” the man asked, taking another deep bow after finishing his song.
“Thank you,” I said, smiling. “It was beautiful.”
“You are welcome, and I do accept kisses,” he said, raising a hopeful eyebrow.
I laughed nervously and looked at Brunhilda, who raised an eyebrow at him in challenge.
“Right, right,” he said, scurrying away. When he tripped over a tree stump, I had a brief recollection of an annoying man, perhaps one I used to know, who wore a warrior’s helmet askew on his head professing his love to me in a grating voice. I quickly shook the image out of my head, thankful to be rid of it.
“You’re terrible,” I said to Brunhilda in a low voice, smiling. “You know the people are frightened of you.”
“I know,” she said, looping her arm in mine. “It is you they adore. But when have I ever punished them?”
It was true. Despite the rowdiness of her people, Brunhilda’s land was free from crime and violence. The citizens accepted her authority without question. All of them were warriors without war.
We continued walking, this time approaching the new arrivals.
“Welcome to my meadow,” Brunhilda said. “I hope you enjoyed the ceremony.”
The men and women, most of them clad in armor, bowed deeply to her and murmured in appreciation. We continued walking so they could relax and enjoy their mead and festivities. Hearing commotion behind us, I turned my head and saw a man stumbling toward us with a cup in his hand.
“It’s you,” he said.
I turned, looking behind me, but saw no one. The man seemed to be addressing me.
“Come, Gabrielle,” Brunhilda said. “Just another warrior who has enjoyed too much mead.”
“I can see that,” I said, holding her arm.
”The sleeping beauty,” he said, laughing, as a a crowd of men dragged him back to the festivities.
Brunhilda and I turned and continued walking.
“Here it is,” I said, hiking through the East Bog with Xena and the Amazons. “My resting place for a year.” I stopped at a large flat rock.
I thought it would be difficult to find, perhaps overgrown with weeds and brush, but it wasn’t. The grass that had burned for so long in circular formation around the rock had not grown back. And, there was something else.
“Looks like someone has admirers,” Xena said, nudging me.
Around the circle, but not within it, were wreaths and bouquets of beautiful flowers placed on the ground and in nearby trees.
“If I knew I had fans here, I would have combed my hair,” I said to Xena, who smiled.
We sat on horseback near the edge of the circle, none of us daring to enter it.
“Gabrielle,” Solari said. “I don’t think so. Look again.”
I looked at the flowers. They were white. It wasn’t a shrine. “You’re right,” I said. “It’s a memorial.”
“For Brunhilda,” Solari said.
“Left by whom?” Xena asked. “Her.... followers?”
“Xena, help me down,” I whispered.
She dismounted the horse and then guided me down.
“Come with me,” I said, taking her hand.
Xena put her arm around me, supporting my recovering body with her much stronger one. We reached the edge of the burnt grass and stopped.
“Three years ago, many men, and more than a few Amazons, burned to death trying to get past that point,” Cyane said, dismounting her horse.
“Careful,” Solari added. “Even without the fire, I’m sensing a powerful force within that circle.”
“It’s okay,” I said, squeezing Xena’s hand. “This circle was made for us.”
“Ready?” Xena asked.
I nodded and took a step forward, crossing the threshold. Immediately, I felt enveloped in warmth. “Do you feel it?” I asked Xena.
“Yeah,” she said, falling into place at my side. “I don’t like it.”
“Let’s just get on with it.” As we neared the rock, Xena pulled the chakram from her hip.
“Here,” I said, motioning to the rock, which was covered with vines and branches from nearby trees. “Her essence is in everything within this circle. It’s strongest here.”
“Where I found you...” Xena said. With her chakram, Xena began cutting away the branches, letting them fall to the ground. Soon, a small pile formed at our feet.
“You think this’ll work?”
“I do,” I said. “Light it.”
Xena struck her chakram on the rock, causing a spark to fall into the pile. We quickly began fanning it and the flames grew larger, eventually lapping at our feet. Xena and I instinctively stepped away from the fire as tendrils of blue-green smoke began to rise.
As we backed up out of the circle and joined our companions, the fire grew larger and the smoke began to take the shape of a person. I looked at the branches fueling the fire and, incredibly, saw that they did not seem to be consumed by it.
Then, slowly, a shape began to become more detailed and the smoke began to swirl around us. My companions and I began coughing. My throat burned and my eyes began to tear up. I could no longer see the others, but I heard the sound of their coughs nearby,
“Tell me again why this was a good idea,” Xena said, coughing into the crook of her arm.
“Stay low,” Cyane yelled. “There’s more air.”
I heard the sound of bodies drop to the ground, struggling for breath. I began to doubt my plan as I lay on the ground struggling to breathe. Then, I felt a warm breeze on my face. The air began to clear. Looking up, I saw a figure moving toward us within the dissipating smoke. I rose to my feet and took a step forward and saw her green armor first. I heard my friends begin to stand, brushing leaves from their bodies.
“Gods,” Cyane said. “It’s true.”
Her face came into view and I couldn’t help but smile. “Gabrielle,” Brunhilda said, walking toward me. “Are you okay?”
“Brunhilda,” I said, hugging her.
“Yeah,” Xena said. “The rest of us are peachy too, thanks.”
“You’re saying you want my help with Ares?” Brunhilda asked.
“We aren’t ready to make that request,” Cyane said, gesturing. “Without knowing more. More about you. More about this place.”
We were in Brunhilda’s Great Hall, where she had taken us so we could have a conversation in a safe location. The golden lights overhead were dimmed, and we sat around a circular mahogany table. Xena on my left, Brunhilda on my right, and the Amazon guards filling in the surrounding seats.
“What else do you want to know?” Brunhilda asked.
“Are you as strong as Ares?” Cyane asked. “For one.”
“Oh, I can take on Ares,” Brunhilda said. “What I doubt is that the fiery god of war has much interest in gaining control of people and lands this far north.”
“You’re forgetting something,” Cyane said, sharply. “His obsession with the Amazons. And, with the champion of a certain Amazon queen in particular.”
All eyes turned to me and I felt my face turn red.
“He wants to hurt Gabrielle?” Brunhilda asked, steeling her jaw.
“No,” I said, putting my hand on her arm. “This has to do with Xena. His ultimate fantasy is to have all of the Amazons on their knees or waging war. Preferably both and preferably with Xena at his side.”
Brunhilda relaxed and gave a brief nod toward Cyane, signalling for her to continue.
“The Northern Amazons are a proud tribe. But the time has come for us to seek assistance from a god. We are considering approaching Odin. If our fallen warriors are ending up in Valhalla now, it would be a logical choice.”
Brunhilda rose out of her seat. In front of the window overlooking the green meadow, she began pacing.
I looked at Xena and the Amazons, who looked at me as if expecting me to say or do something.
“Brunhilda...?” I said.
She turned and faced the table.
“For three years,” she said. “Ever since my sacrifice, I have dedicated my being to rebuilding my meadow. This Hall,” she gestured. “And everything in it, isn’t for me. It is not for those who fight out of lust for blood and power, either. Unlike Valhalla.”
“What are you saying?” Cyane said. “This Hall is an afterlife?”
“Valhalla is a very different place than it was three years ago when Xena and Gabrielle were last here. Odin banished Grinhilda, choosing instead to continue on his path of vengeance and bloodlust. My meadow is for those who die for love,” Brunhilda said. “And defending those they love-”
“It was you,” Solari yelled, jumping out of her chair. She unsheathed her sword and approached Brunhilda. “You son of a bacchae-”
Xena rose as Solari passed by us and placed a hand on her chest. “Sol-”
Although well into middle-age and at least a full head shorter than Xena, Solari backhanded Xena’s hand off her chest and pushed her way through my sturdy warrior.
“You took her,” Solari yelled, raising her sword.
“Solari,” I ordered, rising from my seat. “Stand down.”
Brunhilda stood calmly by the window, watching the angry Amazon approach her. When Solari swung the sword at her head, Brunhilda caught the weapon by the blade and pulled it from Solari’s hand.
“I didn’t kill her, Amazon,” Brunhilda said.
Stunned, Solari looked at the sword in Brunhilda’s hand and then began swinging her fists at the larger woman.
On Cyane’s command, the Amazon bodyguards approached the two women and pulled Solari away from Brunhilda, who was unhurt. Cyane, Xena, and I approached Brunhilda, as Solari struggled to break free.
“I’m sorry,” Cyane said. “We lost a beloved member of the Nation two days ago-”
“Your friend wanted to avenge someone she loves,” Brunhilda said. “Besides. She’s right. Your fallen warriors are not in Valhalla. They are in my meadow now.”
“I still say,” Xena said, as we soaked in the large tub. “She could be behind the berserker attacks.”
We were in the bedchambers outside of the Great Hall. After the incident with Solari, Brunhilda had treated us to a divine dinner and invited us to be overnight guests within her castle. We would continue conversations in the morning, when everyone was more rested.
I was currently working up the courage to have a separate conversation with Xena. Before we got too involved with Brunhilda, this talk had to happen tonight, while Xena and I were alone.
“I don’t think so, Xena. She’s not trying to tear down the Amazon Nation, she’s trying to rebuild.”
“And it just so happens she needs dead warriors to do that,” Xena said, closing her eyes. “Can you believe this place?”
I could. I remembered it well. Not that I had known what it was then.
“You’re being quiet tonight,” Xena said. “Didn’t have much to say at the meeting either...”
I closed my eyes, my heart racing, and sunk lower into the steaming water. I felt the water stir around me as Xena floated closer to me.
“That’s okay,” she said. “We don’t have to talk.”
I opened my eyes just as she was leaning close, in front of me.
“It’s been a long time since we had a room like this to ourselves,” she said, beginning to nip at my neck, careful not to put weight against my injured shoulder.
My lips parted as she moved between my legs, putting her hands at my waist. She began kissing my neck. Her strong hands at my waist gripped more tightly, and I fought to stay focused. The conversation, it had to happen.
“Xena,” I whispered. I put my arms around her neck and pulled her to me. I kissed her, even though I knew I had to stop her. After a few seconds, I pulled away. “Wait-”
“We can move to the bed,” Xena said. One of her hands slid to the back my thigh, wrapping my leg around her waist.
“We were married,” I blurted.
“Wha-?” Xena said, still pulling my leg around her.
“Brunhilda and I,” I said. “We were married.”
“What in Hades are you talking about?” Xena said, stopping all movement.
“You heard me,” I whispered.
“I miss some key part of your life, Gabrielle?”
“Yes Xena. A year, actually.”
“A year,” she repeated, still in front of me. “That year?”
“Yes, Welthea, Queen of Denmark,” I said. “That year.”
“You’ve gotta be kidding me,” she said, standing up in the water. She pulled herself out of the tub and grabbed a towel.
“Xena, wait,” I said. I rose, too, and got out of the tub. “I know I once told you love means being able to keep secrets,” I said, wrapping myself in a robe.
“Yeah,” she said, wrapping the towel around her body. “I remember.”
I held out my hand to reach for her arm, but she evaded me and walked toward the window.
“I was wrong,” I said, coming up behind her. “Some secrets are too big to keep. Especially from those we love.”
“At least when they’re threatened to be revealed, huh?”
“Xena,” I said. “Please, I’m sorry.” I dropped my head. “You’re right,” I said. I reached out to put my hand on her back.
“Don’t,” she said, sharply.
I stopped my hand in mid-air. “Xena...?”
“I can’t be near you right now,” she said. She silently walked to her gear, which was hung neatly in the closet. She threw her towel to the floor and began getting dressed as I stood by the window. After she put her leathers on, she began strapping on her armor.
“Wait a minute. What are you doing?”
She didn’t answer me. When she was finished getting dressed, she brushed by me and walked to the door. “Just going to chat with an old flame of yours,” she said, and slammed the door behind her.
By the time I reached Brunhilda’s chambers, with Cyane and Solari running behind me, the clashes of metal on metal were already going strong. When I swung the door open, I heard a whoosh and saw a blur of two figures moving about the room.
“Duck,” I said, pulling Cyane and Solari to the ground.
From the floor, I saw the movement of Xena’s chakram circling through the air and then saw Brunhilda raise a hand and swat it away from her. As it clattered against the wall, Xena moved in and jabbed Brunhilda in the face. I saw that Xena already had a bloody nose and Brunhilda had a cut above one of her eyes.
“Xena,” I yelled. “Stop it.”
Brunhilda kicked Xena off of her and then drew her sword.
Xena was knocked backwards, but landed on her feet. “Come and get it,” she said, beckoning Brunhilda to her. “You’re killing the Amazons and you’re trying to get Gabrielle back. Well not on my watch.”
“Yes,” Brunhilda said, approaching Xena. “I love Gabrielle. I will always love her. But she chose you.”
“Save it,” Xena said, drawing her sword.
“Xena,” I yelled. “Listen to her.” I rose to my feet.
“Whoa there, Gabrielle,” Cyane said, holding me back. “You are not getting in the middle of that.”
Xena snarled and aimed a jumping front kick at Brunhilda’s midsection, knocking the blond woman backwards.
Brunhilda did a back roll, missing a slice of Xena’s sword, and landed on her feet. When Xena approached her again with her sword in both hands, Brunhilda aimed a high roundhouse kick at Xena’s hands, knocking the weapon into a painting on the wall. As it crashed to the floor, Brunhilda grabbed Xena by the throat and slammed her against the wall.
“I am not killing the Amazons,” Brunhilda said. “Now stop this. You can’t win this battle.”
“To hell I can’t,” Xena whispered, prying Brunhilda’s hand from her throat and spitting blood off to the side.
I broke free of Cyane’s grip and ran to the fighting women, squeezing my body between them. “Both of you,” I said, putting a hand on each of their chests. “Stop it.”
“She started it-” Brunhilda said, her body straining against mine to get one last jab in at Xena.
“Hush,” I said, pushing her away. “And let go of her. And Xena, back off.”
I took turns eyeing both of them with the most serious look of death I had in me. They let go of each other and began straightening themselves up, refusing to make eye contact with me.
“Now,” I said. “This is my fault. And I am not going to watch you two kill each other because of me.”
“She can’t kill me, Gabri-”
I shot Brunhilda a look, daring her to finish that sentence.
“Anyone want to tell us what’s going on,” Cyane asked, as she and Solari approached.
“I didn’t tell Xena something I should have long ago,” I said. “But I’m telling her now. I’m telling all of you.”
And so I told them. I told them that I had been Brunhilda’s queen for a year and that I had been very happy. I was beloved by her and by her people. I, in return, loved them. During my time with her, I had forgotten that I was Gabrielle, a simple woman, a bard, and a woman on a spiritual quest.
The soul, though, it doesn’t forget. So it was that some mornings, in those moments right before we’re fully awake and not remembering who we are, I had felt someone coming for me. I had felt pulled from this wonderful meadow.
Brunhilda, knowing my heart, had felt it too.
“Gabrielle,” she said, rising out of bed. “Come with me to the Great Hall.”
“So early?” I said, stretching under the covers, the sheets soft and warm against my skin.
Brunhilda walked to her wardrobe and began getting dressed. It was rare for her to be cold, so distant.
“There is something you should know,” she said. “It’s time.”
When we reached the Great Hall, where all of the most important meetings were held, she unrolled a map onto the circular table. It depicted the Northern Territories. She began whispering over the map, uttering words I could not understand. When she finished, she spoke to me.
“I want you to look at the map, Gabrielle, and tell me what you see.”
“Brunhilda,” I said. “What is this about?”
When she didn’t answer, I looked at the map on the table. Incredibly, I began to see images, as though I were seeing people who lived in various areas of the world, represented by the map. “What is this? Are you a conjurer?”
“In Denmark,” she said. “What do you see.”
Looking on the left side of the map, I looked at the land called Denmark. In the map, I began to see images of people celebrating, perhaps at a party. I saw warriors drinking and women dancing. I saw a man wearing a crown standing at an altar. “It seems to be a wedding,” I said, smiling, as he began to put a ring on a woman’s hand. Not just any woman, I saw, as she came into view.
Her. Dark hair, blue eyes, stunning. “Xena,” I said. I looked at Brunhilda, who only looked at me sadly.
As the man slid the ring onto Xena’s finger, a whole other world came back to me. I fell back, closing my eyes and holding my temple, as images from my past flooded my head. I remembered Xena pulling me onto her horse that first time, back in Potidaea. I remembered Hope and Eve, Chin and the Land of the Dead.
I opened my eyes and looked at Brunhilda. “It’s Xena...”
“Yes,” she said. “It is.”
I took Brunhilda’s hand. Brunhilda was what was, what could be. Xena was what had been. “What is she doing?”
“She doesn’t remember you, Gabrielle. She doesn’t remember who she is,” Brunhilda said, rolling up the map.
“How?” I said, wanting her to unroll the map so I could keep looking at it.
“The ring,” Brunhilda said. “Made of the rheingold. When she put it on, she became very powerful, but that caused her to lose what she valued most.” Brunhilda put the map in a drawer of the table and turned a key. “You.”
I walked to the window of the Great Hall and looked at the meadow down below.
“And then you lost her,” Brunhilda said, coming up behind me. “And all memory of her.”
“When she lost me, she married that King,” I said, turning to her. “And when I lost her, I married...you.”
She turned from me and asked, “Are you angry?”
I put my hands on my temples, and looked out the window. It was nightfall and the people were dancing around their fires. I turned back to Brunhilda and took her hand in mine, “You saved my life. I remember.”
“And afterwards, I ended up here. Back in this meadow. I had forgotten, when I was Odin’s Valkyrie, that I had come from this Great Hall, and not his,” Brunhilda said. “When you showed up here too, I thought the Fates had spoken. I’m sorry, Gabrielle, I should have told you.”
In the meadow below, the beating of the drums began. “The people want their lord,” I said, gesturing out the window with my head. “They are waiting for you to appear.”
“The people want their queen, as well,” Brunhilda said, searching my eyes.
My eyes filled with tears. “I can’t be their queen anymore,” I said, turning my back to the window. “I think you know that.”
Brunhilda looked at me.
In her eyes, I could only see pain, but I did not look away.
“It is your choice,” she said, setting her jaw and nodding.
I had shown her that, not knowing Xena, I was capable of choosing her. There was small satisfaction in that. In the end, I do not believe she was surprised when I chose Xena after this revelation. Timing, as they say, is everything.
“In honor of the cycle of birth and death, light and dark, and the constant of change,” Cyane said, back at the Northern Amazon settlement. “I call the Winter Solstice ceremony to order.’”
The Amazons cheered in agreement.
Dressed in the ceremonial furs of the Northern Amazons, we stood around a large pit. On the outer edges of the circle, drummers prepared their instruments. Layered inside the circle were warriors, priestesses, musicians, and dancers. Upon a platform with a throne, I stood with Cyane.
Xena, my champion, stood nearby, as always.
“My sisters,” Cyane began. “Several years ago, the twilight of the gods was upon us. It was foretold that humanity might finally be left to its own devices. As we know, that did not come to pass. After the loss of Artemis and her protection, other, less benevolent, gods have endured. Because of Odin’s desire to turn the Amazon Nation into Valkyrie servants, we have lived through some of the darkest days we have ever known.”
With her map, Brunhilda had revealed to Cyane, Xena, Solari, and I that it had been Odin who ordered the berserkers to attack Amazon settlements. Brunhilda and her warriors had been saving them from ending up in Valhalla, by bringing them to her meadow instead.
“As we welcome the sun back to our lands on this Solstice,” Cyane said. “Let us remember that following every period of darkness, the light returns.”
The Amazons cheered and Cyane nodded at me. Xena handed me a shield, which I held in front of me. It was black, with green markings on it. In the center, an orange flame.
“My sisters,” I said. “The period of Amazon decline has ended. We are here to observe the Rite of Shield. To an Amazon renewal.” I held the shield above my head, while the Amazons cheered. I then placed the shield above the throne, replacing Artemis’ bow and arrow.
“May the legends be written in our scrolls,” I said. “And told to our daughters. First, we had chosen Artemis. After her death, we chose the one who taught Odin his magic. She was a trusting, kind god, incapable of believing that Odin would use the magic to trick her, turn her to a mortal. A Valkyrie. His servant. A woman who forgot what she had been.”
I picked up a half-charred log, remnants of the flame in the East Bog. “But he made a mistake. Those who are selfish, and greedy for power, often think that others are just like them,” I said, carrying the log to the large pit within the circle. The crowd of Amazons parted for me, and looked on. “They think that if they are powerful, others must be weak. What they forget is that love transforms. They don’t understand that sacrificing one thing can mean getting something even greater in return. And so our god was re-born.”
The Amazons began to fill the pit with branches and logs, while drummers began a slow beat. I nodded to Xena. She lit the log that I held in my hand, and I gently put it in the center of the fire pit where it quickly began to spread. Each year, remnants of the wood that had not been completely burned would be saved and used to start the following year’s Solstice flame in honor of our god.
“All sisters have spoken. By the power vested in me,” Cyane said. “I pledge the loyalty of the Northern Amazons to the one who taught Odin magic.”
The following Solstice, the rest of the Amazon tribes would do the same.
The Amazons began chanting and dancing around the fire, as the drum beats became steady and loud. The priestesses lit incense and began swinging it through the crowd. Jugs of wine were passed around the crowd.
“The Amazon paths are many,” I said, catching Solari’s eye in the crowd. “But we’ll all end up in the same meadow. Godspeed, Amazons.”
Solari gave me a brief nod before picking up the beat and disappearing into the crowd of Amazons. I watched as Cyane jumped off the platform and joined her sisters, who were eager to dance with their Queen.
My official duties in the Rite completed, I sat on the platform and looped my arm into the crook of Xena’s arm. She was standing on the ground, watching the Amazons dance in the firelight.
“Xena,” I said. “Are we okay?”
“We will be,” she said, softly. “Once I get used to the fact that I’m no longer the only one of us with complicated ties to a powerful god.”
“I’m relieved Ares wasn’t involved,” I said. “He’s been doing better...about us.”
A couple of young Amazons danced their way over to us and handed Xena a flask of ceremonial wine. One of them, already wobbly, bowed deeply to me.
Xena stifled a smile and looked away.
“Yes?” I said.
The two women snickered. “Queen Gabrielle, do ya think this means we get some of those flying horses?”
“That can probably be worked out,” I said, smiling.
After the two women left, Xena silently drank the wine. She took a deep breath, as if she was going to say something, but she didn’t.
“I can’t shake the feeling that I pulled you away from somewhere really good into, well, back here. Compared to her Great Hall, this world,” Xena gestured around us. “Is Hades-”
“No,” I said, sliding off the platform, and standing to face Xena. “As soon as she showed me your image, I knew I was supposed to be by your side. Wherever you were. My path is with you, Xena. I learned that a long time ago.”
Looking down, she looked at me out of the corner of her eye. “Really?” she said.
I nodded and put my arms around her waist. “Yes, and that’s true no matter how many times you try to leave me behind.”
“Hey,” Xena said. “I haven’t done that in a long time.”
“True,” I said, lightly kissing her lips. “Ready to go back to our tent?”
Xena nodded and pulled me in for a deeper kiss. Then, arm-in-arm we moved through the dancing bodies of our sisters and friends, the fire lighting our way.
xxx The End xxx