This is a follow-up to my story "Scrrritch Scratch," which depicts Xena and Gabrielle in their "twilight" years. -- IQ
EVERYWHERE, ONE AND ETERNAL
Goodness! Much has happened since my last entry. There I was, sitting at my desk, my mind wandering back to the old days ñ Xenaís too, judging by that faraway look in her eyes while she scraped the metal off her perfectly sharp sword. Weíd just had an honest chat about what we missed from the past, when Daracles appeared with a mystery that needed solving. Something about fish and game disappearing. Next thing I know, Xenaís volunteered us to set off, alone, to find out whatís going on. Oh, I said sensible things about our being too rickety for such nonsense, but we both knew it was mainly because one of us ought to act our age for a change.
Xenaís over at her table, working on one of my staffs. She hasnít said much since we rummaged around through some of our old gear, but she doesnít have to. The woman is humming, literally. I can feel the energy coming off her, hear the gears in that brain of hers cranking past the rusty spots, sense her spine straightening to its ramrod purpose of yesteryear. Wouldnít be surprised if tomorrow she can fit with no problem into those snug breeches she tried on. Her willpower alone is getting that much exercise, not to mention the muscles I can see rippling with her visions of all the things she intends to do that she has no business even trying. But thatís Xena. Gods, I could jump her bones this minute.
Okay, Gabrielle. Focus. On the trip. Iíd be lying if I said I wasnít excited about that too. Sure, itís been great having these years to settle down, live like "normal" folk. Weíve done a lot of good for the Amazons, the Village, our family. We finally stuck around someplace long enough to share in the fruits of our labor ñ watch kids grow up, our community prosper, people walking around free and able to do for themselves. Seeing Xena enjoy the credit she deserves and being able to relax in its glow. I could weep whenever I find another strand of silver in her hair, knowing how close I came to losing her all those times. Sheís as magnificent today as when I first laid eyes on her some 30 years ago (not counting the 25 I couldnít appreciate her `cause we were frozen, or that one when I lay comatose in a ring of fire ñ ah, the "good olí days").
Iíve had it pretty good myself. I keep in shape, keep my mind active. And Xena. Wow. Her attentiveness reminds me of myself when we first started traveling together. I catch her studying me when I lead the Council or Iím just sitting here writing like I am now. If the blue of her eyes were truly as dangerous as an ocean, I wouldíve drowned long ago. Instead, itís as though Iím floating on so much love that all I have to do is lie back and let it carry me to the ends of the earth. Which it has. I know thatís how it will always be in her heart. I guess what I miss is actually doing it out in the world, like we used to.
I should turn in. Weíve got a lot to do before our trip. Itís been awhile since weíve gone exploring. Outside anyway. Weíve done quite a bit of that in our nice little home. I knew Xena could be focused, but when sheís not worrying about assailants or forest creatures or the weather or plans for the next day? Letís just say itís been unimaginably wonderful as the primary beneficiary of that legendary Ö focus. I wonít have that when weíre out on the road again. But Iíll have something just as good. Nobody knocking on our door in search of her advice. Nobody traipsing through the Village to maybe take one last gander at the Warrior Princess before she fades away. Nope, Iíll have her just the way I like her ñ all to myself.
Okay, so I am a little bit worried. Xenaís body sustained a lot of damage over the years. Mine didnít fare much better. She says weíll be all right. I believe her, as I always have. Iíll need to fight with her about taking it easy, as I always have. Iíll calm my beating heart when she does something ridiculous, which isnít anything new either. Whatís new is doing it when sensible folks our age would be sitting in rockers, picking their teeth. But thatís not how either of us pictured our twilight years. Whatever happens when we make this next journey, itíll be more like what drew us together in the first place. Well, except Xena probably wonít be prancing around in her shift like when we met. Not outside anyway. Heh.
-- Gabrielle (on vacation until further notice)
Well, this is kind of weird. Gabrielle wanted me to write something in her journal. I suppose because weíre taking off for the unknown in a few days. Sure, there could be danger out there, but none that should keep us from coming back. Maybe itís more because we havenít done this in awhile. I can tell sheís excited. Sheís been buzzing about the room like a bee, talking to herself, grinning at nothing in particular that I can see. This is like some watershed event, I guess. Two old crones whose claim to fame is not knowing when to quit. So, being Gabrielle, we have to mark it down.
What can I say? Iíve been happy these past years. Happier than I thought I had a right to be. I say "thought" because I changed my mind about that. Not because of all those good deeds to make up for my past life, but because Gabrielle gave me a new one. I vowed to myself I wouldnít mess this one up, and Iíll be damned if I havenít given it my best shot. She is so many wonderful things. Nothing has given me more joy than watching her fulfill them, supporting her however I could. She did that for me, didnít she? Least I could return the favor. I donít feel as guilty about her doing that all those years though, having experienced it for myself. Not quite as one-sided as Iíd thought. The giver gets something out of it too. I once figured nothing could beat the exhilaration of a good fight. Boy, was I wrong.
Thatís about it. Except for one thing. Not sure who Gabrielle thinks will read this, but I want to go on record as saying Iím the luckiest person alive. Most people get only one chance. I got more than I can count. If something does go wrong on our trip, it wonít take away from what sheís done, from what Iíve done because of her. It wonít alter the fact that weíll be together. If one of us leaves first, weíll simply have the anticipation of meeting up all over again. With that to look forward to, what more could an old warrior ask?
-- Xena of Amphipolis, Champion and Lifemate of Gabrielle, Supreme Commander of the Village of Dreams Militia, formerly known as the Warrior Princess (ha!)
I make my first and possibly last entry into Gabrielleís journal without knowing whether she will ever write in it again. Nearly a year ago my mothers set out to solve what was happening to the local fish and game. Some two weeks after they left, natureís creatures once again filled our forests and streams. We donít know what the problem was. My mothers sent word through a trader, saying they were all right and would explain everything when they returned. We have heard nothing from them since.
I made a fuss when I first heard about their plans. Truth is, I thought that expected of me. I didnít experience the many lifetimes and rigors my mothers have, but I am still Gabrielleís age after all, as well as their "child." In my heart though, I was happy for them. I remember what it was like, roaming the countryside, testing myself against whomever or whatever came my way. Even after I took on Eliís mantle of peace, I sometimes envied my mothersí life. They seemed so free, following no oneís path but their own. The times I spent with them out on the road, Iíd see them glancing at each other across the campfire, speaking of a contentment that needed no words.
I know theyíve been happy at the Village. They spoil my daughtersí children terribly, Gabrielle especially, which pleases Mother to no end. Everyone has noticed the pride and satisfaction on her face when Gabrielle presides over the Council or receives visits from the many young people sheís helped. Thereís a softness in Motherís eyes that maybe was there when I was born, but Iím aware of only seeing when she looks at Gabrielle. It can be any time, often when theyíre sitting at home doing something simple or nothing at all. I never thought Mother could achieve such serenity. I believe having four walls was actually a comfort to her, once she accepted that she could live with that much love in one place.
Yet Iíd seen the signs of restlessness. In both my mothers. Theyíve done such a good job with the Village, itís really a matter of maintenance now. I suppose they would be considered "over the hill" in some quarters, expected to sit on their laurels watching life pass by. But they are not like everyone else. They are not like anyone I know. I thought maybe theyíd be content acting as though they were. Maybe they did too. I guess whatever they had when they were younger was still there, waiting for the right time to push them out into the mysteries of the world once more.
I speak of them in the present because I cannot believe that spirits so strong could ever die. They will always live in the work of their descendents, Gabrielleís stories and the hearts of generations to come. I also know how resilient they are. I donít care how many winters theyíve lived. They are eternally spring in their faith in themselves and each other. They could be resting in a cave at this very moment, confident that we will survive without them, joyous in another chance to risk exploring with each other again. If so, they have my blessing.
Perhaps thatís why I make this entry to Gabrielleís journal not with sadness, but anticipation. Anticipation at continuing to carry out their legacy. Anticipation at hearing one day that they are alive and well and doing what makes them happy. Anticipation of their ascendance together to another beginning that promises to be as full of love as when they first met. You see, itís not so important whether they are with me in the flesh, whether they are still with each other in the flesh. Yes, I will miss feeling their arms around me, hearing their words and laughter, but their souls will touch me forever.
Battle on, my mothers, wherever you are. I know you have too much life in you to rest in one place too long.
-- Eve, daughter of Xena and Gabrielle
If youíre reading this, it means Gabrielleís charms worked once again, that she persuaded a hunter we met to do whatever was necessary to get this delivered to you.
As youíve probably guessed, we ran into a little trouble during our expedition to discover what was making the fish and game disappear. I wonít bore you with the details. Letís just say it was a combination of human and natural causes ñ the former taking advantage of the latter. We spent a good two weeks resolving the problem, and another three weeksí ride tracking it to its source. I sustained a few nicks, but I have to say, your old momís still got it in the fighting department. My gray hairs threw the idiots off just enough for me to show `em why you shouldnít judge a scroll by its surface.
Gabrielle acquitted herself equally well. Unfortunately, she got knocked into some icy water. Weíve spent quite a bit of time hibernating in a cave while she recuperates from a rather bad sickness. Fortunately we brought along lots of blankets and warm clothes. The onset of spring has enabled me to keep us fed with little difficulty. The hunter, Kyleus, also brings us supplies when we need them.
Hereís the thing. Now that weíre out here, weíre thinking this is how weíd like to spend our twilight years. We havenít decided yet exactly what that means. As hardheaded as I am, even I have to admit these old bones donít recover from chills, knocks or roughing it like they used to. I fear Gabrielleís lungs canít take much more illness. Either weíd have to hole up someplace when itís cold, or hang around someplace warm. Gabrielleís voting for Egypt. Weíll see. In any event, I doubt weíll be returning to the Village as planned.
Iíll miss you and the kids a lot. Iíll miss working with the folks in the Village. Iíll even miss the little house I never dreamed I could settle down in. Iím so proud of you, of all of it. I feel confident that youíll survive and prosper without us. I canít promise that weíll be able to get any more messages to you soon. In case we donít, I want you to know how much we love you. I doubt it surprises you that your mothers still have the wanderer in their souls. If you ever get sad about our being gone, just picture two old birds perched on horseback or ships with the wind ruffling their feathers ñ grinning like fools and always looking forward. That should give you a good laugh, if nothing else.
Stay strong, my daughter. Tell everyone we wish them well. Kiss the kids for me. Warn them theyíd better be good, `cause weíll know if theyíre not, and they donít want to make me mad. Weíd like you to do what you think best with our stuff. It would please us greatly if some young couple made our house their home. I have all the home I need with Gabrielle, and you will always have a home in my heart, wherever I am. I am so blessed. Remember that. I will ñ with a joy I never expected to feel at knowing my blood flows in the generations you have given me. Thank you, my daughter.
Gabrielle sends her love.
-- Always, your mother
When we discussed trying to get a message to you, Xena suddenly decided sheíd become the writer in the family. "Iíll take care of it," she declared, like I didnít need to add to the worries in my pretty little head. She keeps claiming she hasnít finished, but Iím betting sheíll conveniently whip that sucker out the moment our friend Kyleus agrees to deliver it. Well, Iím ready for her shenanigans. I wrote my own note, which she hasnít seen either. All these years, she still thinks sheís the slick one. Ha!
I assume she told you about the run-in we had with the men responsible for the disappearance mystery. She probably mentioned that I managed to take a swim in a nice cold lake and got sick for my trouble. No doubt sheís confessed to our staying on the road, possibly heading for Egypt "because Gabrielle wants to." I suspect she neglected to include the part where she was hurt pretty badly in our fight with the poachers and got chilled when she pulled me from the water. Like her, I donít want you to worry too much, but I think you deserve to know the truth.
Weíve spent about four months in a cave. Xena has managed to nurse me back to a decent state of health. Stubborn old thing has hobbled outside to scare up food, limped nearly a mile to lug water back. We still have the horses, but for what we need, itís actually easier to go on foot. She isnít recovering from her wounds and own illness like she should. She also aggravated prior injuries she brought with her like relatives you tolerate but relegate to the outer recesses of your mind. But whatís her biggest worry? Getting me to a warmer clime.
Despite all that, we are happy and at peace. We have laughed and sometimes cried reliving our old adventures. Being with each other out here is like having our youth again. Challenging ourselves against the elements, making plans about where weíll go next, feeling our blood quicken at the unexpected, cherishing each moment we somehow make it through. Believe it or not, we are also confident. You know your mother. Nothing is too much for her. And if love truly heals, then we have a good chance of beating the odds as we usually do. Kyleus, a hunter, also looks in on us and brings us supplies when he can.
Funny thing is, this is the first Iíve written since weíve been gone. I brought some blank scrolls, but realized what I really wanted to say is to Xena. Everything the world cares to know is in my journals and old stories. This next venture is for the two of us. In our hearts and minds, we are little different from the young women who set out to find their destiny and discovered it in each other. I guess we decided this was how we could prolong exploring the treasures we stumbled upon along the way.
I will miss the life we made in the Village and watching the children grow up. But I know we have left everything, everyone in good hands. You have given Xena so much. You have washed away a great deal of the sadness and regret that once burdened her. By carrying on her lineage, our legacy and dreams, you are the one tie to our old life that frees us to move on. We love you, Eve. Whatever happens, wherever we go next, all of you will be in our hearts.
Finish my journal for me. Conclude it with these words: "They are somewhere out there on another adventure. Listen for them in the fall of autumn leaves, winter snow gently blanketing the earth, the songs of nature promising spring, summerís warm breeze. In love they are everywhere, one and eternal."
-- Love, Gabrielle
You do not know me. I am Anais of Pylous, about a monthís journey from your village. I became part of a mission to ensure that you received these messages. It would seem that the messages, like your mothers, have had quite an adventure.
I understand that one of your mothers is a bard. I also fancy myself a bard. I may be famous only to my kin, but I do know the power and preciousness of words. I have a story to tell of interest to you. It was recounted to me by a hunter called Kyleus. He hoped to bring these words to you himself, but felt compelled to take care of some personal matters instead. His mother and I are old friends. She sent Kyleus to see me. I told him my sons would deliver the scrolls to you in his place. I hope it did not take them too long.
I assume you read your mothersí messages first. If you have not, please do so before continuing on. I rolled another note, addressed to Kyleus, in this scroll, because I want you to read it last. What follows is Kyleusí story as I recorded it. -- Anais
I havenít always been deaf. It happened a few years ago after a bad illness. I was hampered a little at first, as a hunter. Soon everything Iíd learned to do by smell or sight or feel kicked in. A flock of birds warned me something was up on the day I met the two women. I went in the direction the birds were flying away from. I stuck to the trees, in case there was danger I couldnít handle. I finally came to a clearing near the base of Mt. Cranus, beside the waters that pool below. There I saw the most amazing sight.
The women battled a couple dozen armed men. Many of the men already lay dead or dying. The taller woman fought like no one Iíve ever seen. Despite her heavy cloak, she moved with such speed and ferocity. If a man snuck up behind her, she seemed to know what he planned before he did. Sheíd thrust her sword with deadly accuracy. Yet she didnít move far. She let them come to her. When a few tried to run away, she cut them down with a round weapon that could fly, break apart, come together again, and return to her hand.
I was so caught up in watching her that at first I didnít really notice the smaller blonde. Quick, like the other woman. She used a staff. It seemed she meant merely to disable her opponents, until some got to their feet and prepared to gang up on her friend. She lit into them like a demon, and I didnít need to hear the crack she delivered to the base of their skulls to know they would not get up again. At last, none of the men were standing.
Suddenly the smaller one glanced over to the lakeís edge, behind her friend. I followed her gaze. An archer who mustíve been hidden was aiming an arrow at the taller womanís back. The blonde screamed something as she ran toward the man, then flung herself at him, sending them both tumbling into the water. The man dragged her under with him, as the current carried them farther away.
I left my cover to run across and help the drowning woman. The taller one also tried to move, but faltered. She searched around her frantically, until she found what must have been her walking stick. A terrifying expression came upon her face. She planted the stick in the ground. I donít know how she did it, but she used the stick to launch herself into the water where her friend disappeared. I got to the bank just as she too vanished.
It seemed like hours before a body floated to the surface, face down. Soon after, I saw bubbles. The tall one partially emerged. She treaded water holding the other oneís head up. I shouted, "Friend!" and stuck a sturdy branch out toward the woman. I thought Iíd have to coax her, but her eyes were calm. She immediately swam over to grab hold and let me assist her and the woman she cradled to dry land. The blonde coughed up water, so I figured sheíd be all right. They lay there, too tired to do anything but hold onto each other shivering.
I quickly built a fire near them before I ran to get my gear. I helped them struggle out of their sodden cloaks, stunned by numerous bloody cuts I spied on the taller oneís body before I covered the women with my blankets. But what surprised me most was all the silver I finally noticed in the tall oneís dark hair. The lines on both their faces spoke of many years beyond what I had seen them do. I am almost 30 winters old. They couldíve been my mothers.
I stacked the menís bodies as best I could. They would keep in the cool air until I had time to dispose of them properly. I checked on the women. They seemed to be warming up some. The taller one stirred and opened her eyes. I crouched beside her. Her lips moved, probably thanking me. I pointed to my ears, told her I couldnít hear. She nodded and smiled. I think she knew her eyes spoke well enough of her gratitude. I smiled back.
I patted her arm. I told her about a cave not too far away, that Iíd help them there when they felt strong enough.
The dark-haired woman nodded solemnly. She glanced down at her friend, whose head lay on her chest. We could both tell from the smaller oneís pallor and breathing that we should move soon. She pointed toward the other side of the clearing and wiggled her first two fingers like legs. "Horses?" I asked. She nodded and held up three fingers. "Iíll find them," I said. "Youíll be all right?" She nodded with assurance and gently pulled her friend even closer.
It took awhile, but I found the horses ñ two saddled, a third laden with their belongings. I rode back to find the women sitting up, though shakily. The blonde was frowning, weakly gesturing at the older woman. The older one shook her head and mustíve said something convincing, as the other one sighed and nodded. I brought the horses over and dismounted. I helped the women to their feet. The tall woman lifted her friend to one horseís back, over the other womanís obvious objections. Then she let me help her mount. I steadied her as discreetly as I could. I could see she had her pride, especially in front of her friend. I took the reins of the packhorse and led the way to the cave.
I had to carry the blonde inside. The other one leaned heavily on me when I went back for her. After I got them settled and a good fire going, I felt eyes on me. The dark-haired woman lay propped up on her elbows. She put a finger to her lips and tilted her head toward her sleeping friend. I asked her softly if she wanted me to bind some of her wounds. She said no. She gestured toward her sword and armor, I guessed to indicate that sheíd been a warrior (which Iíd already figured out), used to taking care of herself. Real stubborn, that one. I bet the blonde fussed at her a lot.
She did signal to me where she kept her herbs. I found them, as well as two cups and a pot that I filled with water and set close to the flames. She thanked me, said theyíd be okay. I said, "Fine. Iíll be back to check on you for my own peace of mind. I am Kyleus, a hunter." She told me their names. I repeated them. She seemed perplexed, so I used some charcoal to write the names on a piece of stone, to be sure. She grinned up at me with twinkling eyes. I smiled back, satisfied that I must have gotten it right. She pointed to one name and put her hand to her chest. She pointed to the other name and gestured toward her friend. I said, "Pleased to meet you, Ceena, and your friend Gabrel."
I was gone a few weeks delivering pelts. When I went to see them again, Iím sure I stared with open mouth. Theyíd built a large platform, layered with all sorts of soft vegetation, to put their bedrolls on. A small fireplace with a funnel of stones channeled heat under the platform. Small game roasted over another fire pit they used for cooking. Hollow wooden vases and troughs held wildflowers in every part of the cave. Theyíd made it like a home.
Gabrelís health had improved considerably. She hugged me, most likely because she hadnít been able to thank me herself before. She invited me to share a meal with them, asked me to tell them about myself. "About myself?" I am a simple hunter, solitary most of my days. No one had asked me that, even when I could still hear. I didnít wish to be impolite, as my mother was a stickler for manners. So I began there ñ with my upbringing. Then I talked about the forest creatures that are my quarry and companions, about how the sky and earth spoke to me of their intentions. Somehow I even let slip that I have my eye on a girl my mother probably wouldnít approve. I often see her in my dreams, sharing a little house with me when I finally settle down.
Gabrelís eyes lit up the cave. She laughed a lot. It tickled and caressed my skin. But she would look at Ceena every now and then with some worry. The older woman put up a good front. She attempted to sit with us, before going off to lean against the wall, supposedly darning a hole in something. I could tell she tired easily and hid some pain. She had a cough too. I asked if I could bring some supplies. Gabrel nodded definitely, before Ceena could say otherwise. She pointed to what they were running short on. She indicated that I should take their packhorse and keep it for my own use. I accepted their generosity, as it seemed a sensible decision as well.
When I returned, Ceena appeared better than before. They asked me to take a walk with them in the warming weather. Ceena moved quite well with her stick. We had gone a ways into the forest when we came upon an ancient tree, stark in its bareness against the green around it. Ceena ran her fingers along the bark. She said something to Gabrel with a wistful smile. Gabrielle did not respond. Instead, she circled the tree, searching for what I wasnít sure. Her face brightened and she summoned Ceena. I too followed her finger to a bud sitting atop one of the lower branches. The older woman shook her head, grinning in what seemed graceful defeat ñ not unusual since Iíd learned the smaller of the two could be quite persuasive.
Suddenly I got a whiff of an animal. Sure enough, a large buck stood partially hidden near the opening ahead. He didnít seem afraid of us. He pawed the ground and shook his antlers. Ceena got the strangest grin on her face. She raised her walking stick like a sword, twirled and swung it in a blur of motions and started inching toward the buck. Gabrel and I tried to stop her, but she paid us no mind. When she got a few feet from the animal, she stopped. The two stared at each other. Finally she threw back her head and gave a cry so shrill it pierced even my ears! The buck jumped and bolted off in the other direction.
Gabrel and I stood frozen, our hearts in our throats. Ceena turned to us with this haughty smirk. She broke out laughing like some child whoíd snuck her first drink of ale. I started laughing too. Gabrel did not. Her face turned soooo red. She strode up to that tall woman and gave her a piece of her mind. The more she fussed, the harder Ceena laughed. Gabrel folded her arms and turned her back on Ceena. Ceena started getting this guilty look. She couldnít see that Gabrel was actually trying not to grin. Ceena put her hand on Gabrelís shoulder, probably apologizing. Gabrel rolled her eyes and turned around. Ceena looked so relieved when she saw Gabrel had gone from really mad to merely pretending.
They put their arms around each other. There were a few nods and words, but mostly they gazed into each otherís eyes. Ceena leaned down and met Gabrelís lips. Their kiss was so gentle and sweet, I was surprised by the passion that radiated as well. I feared theyíd forgotten me. I started to leave, to give them privacy, but they turned to me with welcoming eyes that confirmed they meant me to share their happiness. As tough as I thought myself, I had to hold back tears that they would honor me so.
No sooner had I recovered from that, when Gabrel shocked me again. She swatted her big bad warrior on the butt! Hard! I held my breath, wondering if the romance would end in murder. But Ceena just grinned. I believe she liked it! All I know is, Iíve seen that tall woman scared, angry, threatening. I wouldnít recommend anybody else laying a hand on her that way, unless they were either suicidal or Gabrel.
Gabrel indicated we should head back. I thought that wise, as the hands on Ceenaís walking stick had turned white from the pressure of her heavy leaning. But first Ceena returned to the tree weíd examined. She used her knife to carve something on its trunk. Gabrel smiled at Ceenaís work, a little misty-eyed. She put her arm around Ceenaís waist, and the two began a slow pace toward the cave. Naturally I had to see what Ceena carved. It was two overlapping circles, each with a little cross as its base. I took out my own knife. I didnít think theyíd mind if I outlined their sign with a heart.
I visited them a week later. A customer not far from there had paid me with pastries and other baked goods I seldom got to enjoy in the woods. Something told me Gabrel would enjoy them even more. That was when they entrusted me with their scrolls. Ceena wrote down the name "Eve" and where the message was to go. She asked if my travels might take me there. I said probably in a month or so, that if not, Iíd make sure someone else delivered it.
I would have done anything for them, especially Gabrel. Such a pure soul. I must admit though, she scared me a little too. She pulled me outside and handed me a second scroll. She pointed back toward Ceena, making wild gestures around her head like maybe Ceena was a sorceress or something. Then she pointed to herself. She straightened her posture, lifted her chin regally like a queen, turned her thumbs up and down the way they say Roman nobility do at gladiator games. She took the scrolls from me and shook them in my face importantly before handing them back. Iím not sure what all that meant, but I said, "I understand." I got the definite feeling something very bad would happen to anyone who kept those messages from getting to "Eve."
Needless to say, I carried those scrolls close to me. My hunting went better than I expected, so I did not set out for the womenís village until a few weeks later. When I did, I decided to take some provisions to my mother, as our family home is on the way. I happened to mention my encounter with the women. Mother wanted to know every detail. As I recalled the round weapon Ceena had used, Mother clasped her hands to her chest and nearly swooned. She ordered me not to leave until she had a chance to write something for me. She knows I have trouble reading lips, so probably thought that would be faster. The next day, she handed me a note.
[[ Here, Kyleus gave me his motherís note. It covered a lot of family history, so I copied only the parts I thought pertinent. ñ Anais ]]
My son, you may have stumbled upon something wonderful. My Aunt Filana belonged to a tribe of Amazons ruled at one time by Queen Gabrielle of Poteidaia, whose companion was Xena of Amphipolis, known as the Warrior Princess. You probably donít remember the stories about them, based on accounts written and told by Gabrielle. They mostly chronicle how Xena grew from a girl defending her village into one of the greatest scourges and heroes the world has ever known.
The tall, dark-haired Xena had just given up her warlord ways when she saved a light-haired girl from slavers. That girl, Gabrielle, began traveling with Xena. She was Xenaís champion in walking the difficult path as a warrior trying to turn good. Gabrielle also became a warrior for good. Xena was reputed to use a round weapon called a chakram and to possess almost magical abilities as a fighter, leader and strategist. Gabrielle was equally admired for her compassion, wisdom and ideals. Their courage and integrity became their most powerful weapons. Together they fought human, divine and supernatural evil without asking for one dinar in reward.
In the half-century or more since their legendary partnership began, Gabrielle and Xena have been rumored dead on several occasions. They once disappeared for some 25 years, only to be reported alive later, without aging beyond what they were before. Their legacy is particularly strong in a village near Amazonia, between Poteidaia and Amphipolis. Word has it that they retired to that village. It is the same one you are to deliver the scrolls to. From what Aunt Filana and you have said, I believe your Gabrel and Ceena are none other than the Gabrielle and Xena we thought lost to us in the flesh again.
[[ I now return to Kyleusí story. ñ Anais ]]
Mother insisted that I take her to see Ceena and Gabrel. (She also tried to correct my pronunciation of their names, even though thatís not who they are to me. I mean no disrespect, but Mother has a way of poking her nose in my life story whenever she can.) I didnít mind making the trip. I wanted to apologize for the delay in delivering their scrolls. At least Mother is a hardy sort and no stranger to camping in the woods, so I agreed to take her along.
We arrived at the cave in about a week. Something didnít feel right. I saw no recent signs of their horses, which roamed freely, but tended to hang close by. I didnít detect the scent of smoke or food cooking from within. The area in front of the cave had not been disturbed for several days. I walked to the entrance and called out to them. My mother came up beside me and called out herself, no doubt using the names she preferred. Neither of the women appeared. Fearing the worst, I told my mother to stay outside until I checked first. Of course she followed me in anyway.
I stood in the center, turning in circles, searching for clues. The bed remained, though without blankets, as did the planks that served as a table and bench. The fire pits had been swept clean and the wooden troughs emptied of their plants. The womenís heavier clothing and sleeping furs lay neatly stacked against a wall. A large sack of grain Iíd brought them lay beside. Some plates, bowls and cups Ceena had carved sat on the shelves of a small cabinet sheíd made.
A touch on my arm startled me. Iíd forgotten my mother, so lost was I in questions about what had happened to my friends. "Come," she instructed. She led me to a pile of dried flowers and leaves nearly hidden in a crevice beneath a stone ledge that jutted out waist high. My breath caught. Had one of them gone to the other side? Did her companion leave this memorial, then walk into the lake in despair? In a haze, I watched my mother stoop to lightly brush the flowers aside, revealing a folded piece of parchment on a stone. She slowly rose and handed me the stone. My eyes blurred. It bore the crudely shaped letters of their names written in charcoal by my own hand.
Mother grasped my arm and gently steered me toward the bench. We sat side by side. She held up the parchment. "Kyleus" was written on the front. Her eyes asked if I wished her to read it first. For once I was glad to be her child. I nodded. She patted my shoulder and opened the note. While she read, I focused on the table at my back. My hand lightly stroked the woodís grain. It reminded me of the lines etched on the womenís faces ñ smooth traces of maturity you could easily miss except for the strength inside.
Soon I felt fingers on my chin. Mother turned me toward her. She smiled, despite the tears in her eyes. "Itís okay," she mouthed. She placed the parchment in my lap. I smiled back gratefully. I unfolded the note.
[[ Kyleus made a copy of the note for himself. He wanted you to have the original. I feel such joy that he has enabled your mothersí lives to touch mine in this way. We hope these last words we have from them bring you peace. ñ Anais.]]
If all went well, you probably met Eve and others from our Village. No doubt you wouldíve gotten an earful, if not for your fortuitous excuse of being deaf. We hope that also limited the grilling you received as to what happened to us. We regret not being here to welcome you back and answer any questions you might have. Be assured thereís nothing of importance that you donít already know.
We did want to say again how much we appreciate your being the guardian of our notes. (Yes, Gabrel admitted she wrote one too. Big surprise.) (Ceena is such a brat, isnít she?) We could not have made it without you. We are both stubborn and very independent, but not so much that we could fail to acknowledge what a blessing youíve been.
We also knew youíd wonder what got into these crazy hermits. Well, it is warm but not too hot ñ perfect traveling weather. The wanderlust in our souls called out for us to take advantage. Do not worry. We are very durable for our age. Please take whatever you like from what remains, little as it is. The fondest keepsake we could share with you is that day we came upon the buck in the forest. Carry this memory with you always. Gasp, laugh, love, and let it remind you of how life feels at its purest and most exhilarating. Cherish your ability to hear with your heart. It is a great and rare gift we thank you for bringing us.
Weíre not sure yet where weíre headed or will end up. A long time ago, we heard that the Land of the Pharaohs could use a girl with a chakram. Well, weíre girls in spirit and happen to have a chakram. True, Egyptís a long way off. Not an easy trip in the best of times. But weíve done it before. And you know what we discovered? Getting there isnít so important as the journey and someone adventurous enough to tag along.
Be well, our friend. We take you with us as a son in our hearts, confident youíll feel we never left. Keep listening. In love, we are everywhere, one and eternal.
-- Ceena and Gabrel (known also as Xena and Gabrielle)