Violence : Quite a bit in this story.
Subtext : Nope. Main text.
Feedback : Adamchiron@yahoo.com
The wind howls like a beast driven mad with blood lust and hunger. The cold saps strength and warmth from muscle and mind. The winter of this land has come and those unprepared for it are not long for this world. This is her first time to travel in this part of the world during the late fall or early winter. She hadn’t thought it could be this cold, this harsh, this unforgiving. Her past visit was during the last dregs of summer. The forest had been alive then. Now it is a virtual wasteland of trees the color of bone. Death, cries the land. Death to all who are foolhardy enough to come to this cold, dead waste.
The ground crunches beneath her feet where the leaf litter of the past autumn has frozen. The sky is the cold grey of stone. No clouds pass over head. At least it won’t snow, she thinks to herself. As another frigid blast of wind buffets her she closes her coat and over cloak tighter to her in an attempt to keep the cold out.
“Just try not to think about it,” her companion advises her.
“Easy for you to say!” she shouts over the wind. “Where you come from it’s like this all the time.”
“Not all the time,” is the reply. “Just most of the year.”
“You’re not helping!” she complains. She hears her companion’s laughter on the wind.
“I thought you said…” the voice begins.
She cuts her off. “It was in the spring and summer when I was here last. I keep telling you that!”
“What? You thought there was no winter here! Sometimes it’s hard to believe you traveled so much in your life.”
The last words are nearly lost in the wind. She steps closer to her fellow traveler and puts an arm around her waist. “It could be very easy to lose you in this storm , you know.” She nudges the other woman with an elbow to reassure her that was just a joke. Her action causes them to bump into a nearby tree and a number of icicles rain down on them. She is glad for the thick hide of their cold weather gear knowing those spears of ice may have done a bit of damage on bare skin.
“Odin’s Blood! “ Brunnhilda curses. “Gabrielle! How much further to this village you’re so keen to visit?”
“We can’t be much further away,” the blond warrior bard replies. “I recognize this stand of trees.”
“How can you possibly tell one group of dead trees from the next. Especially since it was a different season when you were here.”
“You don’t soon forget the place where you killed a deer then slaughtered and skinned it to make the garb of an Amazon shamaness.”
“I don’t think I want to know!”
“We’ve got to find shelter soon. Is there a cave or anything nearby?”
“We’ll have all the shelter we need once we reach the village. Trust me.”
“You make me nervous whenever you ask me to do that, you know?”
“Your faith in me is overwhelming Brunnhilda. “
“My faith in you is well founded Gabrielle. It’s this storm that has me worried. That and the fact that you said these Amazons were somewhat nomadic. What if they’ve up and moved? Have you thought about that?”
“You’re really pulling me down with the negative attitude.”
“Wait!” Brunnhilda cries out in thanks and relief. “I see a bonfire off in the distance! You were right. We’re nearly there!”
“You see,” Gabrielle shouts enthusiastically. “Always trust in your friendly Amazon queen.” She laughs aloud at her levity. She can hardly wait to see the others. The Siberian Amazons , though not the tribe she was Queen of by rite of caste, are still like family to her. She is overjoyed at the thought of seeing them again. The only part she isn’t looking forward to is telling them of Xena’s passing. The warrior princess had done so much for their tribe. She knows that they will take her death hard. Perhaps it isn’t her place to tell them out right. It might be best to tell Cyane, their queen, and let her break the terrible news to her tribe.
She hears Brunnhilda gasp. She turns and finds the former valkyrie pointing to the bonfire in the village that they approach. Only she realizes it isn’t a bonfire in the village burning. It is the village itself that is burning!
She forgets about the wind and the cold as she races forward into the center of the village. When she reaches it, she is nearly overwhelmed by the stench. The stench of burning wood, leather and flesh. And the sight that greets her is one of such carnage that she drops to her knees and vomits.
Brunnhilda stops and kneels beside the bard. She looks and sees the horror that grips Gabrielle so.. In the center of the village are five posts fifteen feet high. Dangling from each post are at least three mangled and charred corpses that she knows are all female. Her eyes take in the village around them. Every structure in burning. Some are nothing but ash. More bodies litter the ground. Some are burned beyond recognition. Others are bloody and mangled, their bodies wrenched into unnatural shapes and positions. Still more are torn to pieces. She wraps her arms around Gabrielle and can feel her trembling and sobbing. Brunnhilda cannot find any words to express what she feels.
Neither can Gabrielle. Instead she split’s the frozen realm about her with a wailing of lose and sorrow so profound it moves her companion to tears .
Brunnhilda, carrying the body of a teenage girl, bites back the urge to insist to Gabrielle yet again that they leave before whatever massacred the Amazons returns. By the time she has carried the third body to the center of the village she had noticed a disturbing pattern to the violence. Many of the dismembered body parts were not severed with any kind of blade. But had instead been torn off. The entity that had killed the women of the village had strength meeting or exceeding that of Grendel. She has no wish to meet such a thing. But the last hour has been futile in getting Gabrielle to leave.
As if sensing her thoughts the bard states loudly , “I’ll not leave them to rot like garbage. I’m going to give them as proper a funeral as I can.”
Brunhilda doesn’t respond. She decides it’s better to just let it go.
The gruesome task takes the better part of the day. As if in mourning with Gabrielle, the storm that she was sure had not yet reached its peak dissipates completely. It takes the rest of the day and well into the night to construct a crude funeral pyre. Gabrielle lights a torch and stands before the macabre construct. Without looking at Brunnhilda behind her she says in a voice both commanding and apologetic , “I’d like to be alone.”
Brunnhilda nods and walks to the edge of the village. She draws her sword and scans the forest around them for any sign of movement. Though she knows that she would be no match for whatever had killed this entire tribe of Amazons.
Gabrielle stares with tear filled eyes at the mound of humanity before her. She tries not to focus on any particular corpse in the pile. But her eyes always return to the severed head she had found in one of the huts. She had done her best not to show to Brunnhilda that that particular body had affected her more than any other. It has only been a few years since she’d last seen that face. The face of an Amazon queen who had proudly taken the title of the greatest queen of the Amazons. An Amazon queen who had fought bravely at Helicon along side Gabrielle’s tribe. Now merely a piece of flesh upon a mound of flesh.
“Cyane,” Gabrielle says softly. The tears stream down her cheeks. She closes her eyes and throws the torch into the pyre. She keeps her eyes closed until the heat coming from the pyre makes her skin ache with.
Then she starts a low chanting and begins dancing the way that Eponin, Lyanna, and her other Amazon sisters had taught her all those many years ago when she had been little more than a child. She dances around the pyre in the slow , agonizing fashion that always reminded her of someone in the throes of a slow but violent death. The Amazon funeral dance was one see has only seen twice. Once at Terrias’s funeral when she had became Melosa’s rightful heir by rite of caste. The second time had been at Ephiny’s funeral. The twisting, writhing movement of the dance had always disturbed her. But she had memorized every nuance of it. Now she throws her arms to the sky and wails to all the Amazons warriors who have gone before her into the Hinterlands. Once these mournful prayers had gone up to Artemis. But the Goddess of the Hunt is no more, a victim of the Twilight the Olympians brought upon themselves. So Gabrielle calls out to the ancestors to accept her fallen sisters. Somewhere in the distance a wolf howls in chorus with her cries.
Her dance has worn a narrow trench around the pyre by the time she grows so exhausted that she collapses to the ground. The heat from the pyre is intense and she crawls away from it lest it burn her flesh.
Her Amazonian grief used up she breaks down sobbing like the innocent girl she was before Xena found her. She had been hardly more than a girl when she had thrown herself onto the Amazon princess’s prone form to shield her from falling arrows. It had been a selfless act that Terrias had rewarded with the greatest honor she could bestow and that Gabrielle had ever received. I want you to have my rite of caste, she had said. Gabrielle had no idea what she was talking about but she was not going to deny the young warrior her dying wish.
Her body racked with sobbing she cries out , “Why? What did they ever do to deserve this?”
Brunnhilda stares out from behind a nearby hut. She has never witnessed anything so hauntingly beautiful or as mournfully heart breaking as Gabrielle paying her respects to these fallen women. Then she watches in horror as Gabrielle crawls closer to the fire and extends a hand towards it as if she too wishes to burn along with her fellow Amazons. She rushes from her hiding place but barely gets a few feet when her friend jerks her hand back as if it had been burned. She stares into the fire even more intently than before. Then she begins speaking. Brunnhilda cannot hear the words but assumes her friend is praying for the souls of the departed. She continues to alternately speak then fall silent. After a while a look of shock and horror crosses her face and she leaps to her feet. She speaks once more then runs from the pyre to where their gear lay and yells , “Brunnhilda!”
Brunnhilda waits a few seconds before running to her friend. She doesn’t want her to know that she has been watching. “What is it?” she asks.
“ We have to go,” is the reply. Gabrielle throws on her overcoat , adjusts her baldric and katana at her waist then starts walking out of the village without looking back.
Brunnhilda gathers up her own gear and races after her. “ Where are we going?”
“Greece. To the Amazon village”
“ What? But I thought …” she trails off as she catches up to Gabrielle. “We just left Greece. I know these people meant a lot to you but I don’t understand what’s going on here.”
“My people are in danger. I have to go back. Varia will need my help.”
“ The queen of my tribe.”
“ I thought you said you wanted to leave the past behind you.”
“ I did…I do. But my past keeps coming back to haunt me in one form or another. I can’t seem to escape it. So maybe it is time I stopped trying.”
“ Gabrielle. You’re not making any sense. Please tell me what’s wrong.”
“ We have to hurry.”
Brunnhilda seizes Gabrielle by the arm and turns her around to face her. The bard’s face is an amalgam of fear, grief, determination and rage. “ Damn it Gabrielle! You have to tell me what is going on! Please!”
Some of the emotion drains from Gabrielle’s face when she hears the word “please.” Her next action stuns the Norse woman into total silence. Gabrielle raises one hand and gently places it against her cheek. The sensation that passes through her is like lightning. Gabrielle’s green eyes , wet with tears , bore into hers and she feels numb. “Bru,” she says in a trembling voice. “ I promise I’ll tell you everything. Just give me time. But for now we have to hurry.” She pauses. As she says the next word she brushes the other woman’s lip with her thumb. “ Please.”
Brunnhilda , her body rigid and her mind unfocused from Gabrielle’s touch, can only nod for a reply.
Calida moves swiftly through the tree tops with her sisters following close behind. She lands on a wide branch many feet above the ground and holds out a hand to indicate to her fellow Amazons that they should halt as well. She doesn’t hear a sound around her as the other three draw to a stop in nearby branches. The silence makes her proud. They are new warriors after all but they are learning quickly. She has taught them well and she knows she would put them up against any group of ten warriors from anywhere else in the world. Teach them well Calida. For a strong Amazon nation. Those were Varia’s words to her. And she has made them strong. She turns to look for them and is happy to see that she cannot find them.
She hears the rustle of leaves below and smiles. They have been tracking the stag since sun up. The animal has proved elusive and has provided them with a challenge. But they are growing short on time. The Harvest festival begins with the next sunrise and they need the stag for the feast. As much as they admire the creature’s skills and resourcefulness, Calida and her fellow hunters are growing tired of the chase.
Perched atop a thick branch, Nista strings her bow. She sees the stag move from a cluster of trees and begin to move back onto a game trail. The horned one obviously thinks it has lost its pursuers. She draws an arrow from her quiver without making a sound. The stag takes several steps then halts. With its ears perked and its head turned , Nista wonders what has distracted the beast. Makes for an easier shot, she thinks. She draws the bow string back to her cheek and sights along the length of the shaft. She inhales slowly and concentrates on the target. She is about to exhale and release the arrow when she hears the rustle of branches behind her. She turns just in time to meet oblivion.
Arrette’s sensitive ears pick out the sound of a gasp that is cut short. It is followed by the TWANG of a bowstring. She leans back just in time to avoid the arrow that impacts with the tree in which she is perched. She recognizes the green and gold fletching on the arrow. “ Nista,” she gasps. Her eyes follow the arrow’s trajectory . Her extraordinary vision sorts through the leaves, branches and other obstructions between her and what her eyes seek. Her eyes widen and her jaw drops open when she sees Nista lying across a wide branch. Her body is literally folded in half at the waist across the branch in such a hideous fashion there is no doubt in Arrette’s mind that she is dead. She opens her mouth to cry out to her companions when a hand seizes her jaw and literally crushes it into bone shards. The pain is so mind numbing she hardly feels her head being wrenched around one hundred and eighty degrees.
Trisla wonders how much longer this bloody hunt will last. Can it take so long to kill a deer? She is sure Calida is doing this to impress Varia. What the queen sees in her Trisla cannot understand. But whatever the reason Calida is the queen’s favorite. She snorts in disgust. Perhaps it would be an idea to challenge her. She is certain she can defeat Calida. Then she would be the queen’s champion. She smiles at the thought. She’ll do it at the Harvest feast. She is so caught up in her own petty jealousy that she in unaware of the other presence right next to her until she is grabbed by her tunic and hurled to the ground. She collides with the ground and can for an agonizing instant that seems to last forever feel her neck and spine shatter . She lays there unable to move. She can see a pool of red liquid spreading into her line of sight. She doesn’t realize it is her blood. Something lands on her back. As her insides are reduced to liquid by the impact she thinks of Varia’s beautiful face once more before she slips away.
Calida senses that something is not right. All thoughts of the stag are forgotten. She draws her sword and scans the ground. She waits for some sign of her sisters’ movements. There is none. She sounds a quick , high pitched whistle to signal the others that it is time to call off the hunt. There is no response. Then her eyes fall on what she had thought a rotted log a few moments ago. But rotted logs do not bleed! She is on the ground in an instant and hurtling towards the fallen form. Blood flows from Trisla’s mouth in sickening amounts. Calida is unaware there is so much blood in one nineteen year old woman’s body. She isn’t sure how she is certain but she knows that Arrette and Nista are dead as well. “ By the Gods!” she says in shock.
“There is only one god here Amazon!” a voice like mountains grinding together announces from behind her.
Calida whirls and lashes out with her sword. The blade is stopped not by another weapon but by a pair of hands that grab the blade as if the woman was clapping. A hand seizes her throat. Her sword is pulled from her grasp as if she were a child. Then she is hurled backwards and seems to keep going on forever before her back slams into a tree. Two hands clamp on to either side of her head and she gets her first real look at her attacker. She has dark hair and is dressed in the garb of an Amazon warrior. Her lips are curled back in a grin of malice and hate. But it is her eyes that draw Calida’s attention most. There are no irises or pupils. Just white orbs like marble set into her eye sockets. Despite the fact that she is trembling with fear , she holds the gaze of her attacker. She pictures Varia in her mind and uses that to summon her courage to say defiantly, “ Go ahead. Kill me.”
The white eyed woman chuckles. The laugh sends a tremor up Calida’s spine and she wonders at her body’s ability to not lose control of its functions.
“I’m not going to kill you,” the woman replies. “I want you to deliver a message to your queen. Tell her that no Amazon is safe. That all of you will die at my hand. And that she will be the last knowing that with her the Amazons will be extinct.”
“Varia fears no one,” Calida retorts with ire. “ She will kill you before you can get near another of our sisters.”
“Varia?” the woman says raising an eyebrow as if she can’t quite understand the word. “ No. You ignorant child. You will tell Gabrielle that she will die as the last Amazon on earth.”
“Gabrielle?” Calida says stymied. She remembers vividly two years ago following Gabrielle and Xena to Helicon to rescue Varia from Bellaraphon. She remembers the broken and bloody bodies of her fellow Amazons on that cursed beach. She hates this woman now even more for dredging up that terrible memory.
“There is a second part to this message,” she informs Calida.
“What?” Calida practically spits the word out.
With deliberate slowness the woman places her thumbs against Calida’s eyes and begins to push.
Gabrielle doesn’t know whether to be happy or mournful at the sight of the circle of wood, hide and feathers that marks the boundary of Amazon land in Greece. It does feel good to come home to the land of her tribe. But she despises her reason for being her. With vivid clarity she recalls what happened at the funeral pyre:
Something moves in the fire. Like some addle brained child Gabrielle reaches out a hand to touch it heedless of the fire. Then someone steps from the fire. Her mind consumed with grief , she doesn’t quickly come to terms with the fact that no one should be walking from a funeral pyre. Especially this person who was nothing but a severed head. Unsure of what else to do she simply says the apparition’s name : “Cyane.”
“Hello Gabrielle,” Cyane replies with a smile at seeing her friend. Some part of Gabrielle is surprised at the Amazon queen being able to appear her. She was no shamaness. But then neither was Ephiny and her sister had appeared to her before. Cyane kneels next to her friend. Gabrielle opens her mouth to speak but Cyane holds up a hand to forestall any pointless apologies. “I don’t have much time Gabrielle. Her appearance in our village was heralded by lightning and thunder. She was among us before we realized what had happened. Swords did not hurt her. Arrows were a nuisance only. She threw fire and lightning like a child would throw stones. We died like cattle.” Cyane’s ethereal form shimmers and she winces as if it is an effort to remain visible and audible to Gabrielle. A look of undeniable determination comes over her and she wills herself to stay in the land of the living for just a while longer. “Her eyes were white. Hate radiated from her with such intensity it made me ill to even be in her presence. I was afraid but stood my ground. She laughed as she tore my head from my body. Gabrielle…she wore the war garb of a Greek Amazon. And she never spoke except to cry out your name like a curse.” Her incorporeal form wavers then starts to fade. “I’m sorry Gabrielle.” Then she is gone.
Gabrielle is horror struck at the realization. She says good bye to her friend aloud but she does not dare speak the name of the one she knows responsible. Because deep inside her is the young girl who fear to think of the Amazon turned goddess who once hunted her.
The sound of movement in the trees brings her from her memories. She nudges Brunnhilda and mutters, “Drop your weapons.”
To her credit she doesn’t ask why she simply drops her gear.
“Now do this,” Gabrielle instructs clasping her hands together over her head. Brunnhilda follows her example. A moment later four leather clad women drop from the trees and surround them. All have swords drawn and seem unafraid to use them.
Gabrielle lowers her arms but Brunnhilda is hesitant. Gabrielle nudges her once more and she lowers her hands.
“You know our customs,” a blond haired women states.
An auburn haired woman laughs.,” She should.” She turns to Gabrielle, falls to one knee, places her fist over her heart and says aloud for all present to hear and comprehend, “It is an honor to see you again my Queen.” The other three gasp loudly then kneel and salute as well.
“Queen?” Brunnhilda says in shock. “You had a daughter who was some kind of Goddess and now you’re telling me you’re an Amazon queen? Anything else you forgot to mention?”
Gabrielle shrugs off her friend’s comment and walks to the auburn haired Amazon. “It’s good to see you again Tara.” She places a hand on the woman’s shoulder indicating she should rise . “Does Varia have you on patrol duty now?”
Tara smiles as she stands. “Many of us are out hunting stag for the ceremonial feast.”
“The Harvest festival,” Gabrielle says remembering the time of year in Greece.
“Is that not why you are here?” Tara asks in confusion.
“I wish that it were,” Gabrielle replies. She sees the Amazons peering suspiciously at Brunnhilda. “This is my friend Brunnhilda. She’s from the north.”
“Any friend of Queen Gabrielle is a friend of the Amazons,” Tara informs her with a polite nod to the Norse woman.
“I must speak with Varia. It’s urgent.” Gabrielle fights back the urge to look around for Velasca. She hopes her fear is not visible on her face or audible in her voice.
“Of course,” Tara says . “Follow us.”
The Amazons begin tracking back towards their village. Gabrielle wishes she could take in the beauty and majesty of the forest around them. But she is too caught up in looking for some sign of Velasca. It doesn’t take long for them to arrive.
Tara indicates a guest hut near the Queen’s hut. “I’ll inform Varia that you are here.”
Tara leaves. Brunnhilda turns to Gabrielle. “Now will you tell me what is going on.”
Gabrielle takes a breath then proceeds to give her friend a summary of all the pertinent information. Of her accepting of the rite of caste. Of Xena’s seeming death and of her ascension to Queen over the accusations of Melosa’s adopted daughter Velasca. Of Velasca’a transformation into a goddess and her wrath. Of how she and Xena had to enlist the aid of Callisto. Of Callisto and Velasca’s entombment within a river of lava.
“Hope released Callisto to do her bidding. My daughter was counting on Callisto’s hatred of Xena to work to her advantage. But I can’t think of anyone insane enough to release Velasca.”
The fear she feels obviously shows because Brunnhilda states the fact : “You’re afraid of her.”
“When I have nightmares I see many things. I see myself in the thrall of Dahak’s fire. I see myself being dragged by Xena behind her horse. I see so many horrific things from my past. But one of the few things I hear is her screaming my name. I never imagined someone could hate me so much. Before Velasca the hatred had always been directed at Xena.”
“What will you do?”
“I don’t know yet. But I refuse to just let her destroy my people. I’ll fight if I have to. No matter how afraid I may be.”
Brunnhilda stares out at the village and voices something she has noticed. “There are so few here. And might I ask why they are no men in this village?”
Gabrielle is both grieved and amused by her friend’s observations. “ Some thirty years ago Rome’s eyes fell on this place. Caesar wanted this land for agriculture. My people wouldn’t give it to him. It started a war of attrition that nearly decimated the Greek amazons. That war was one of the factors that led to my crucifixion and Xena’s.” Brunnhilda stares open mouthed at Gabrielle but does not ask her about this event that she is sure weighs heavily on her friend. “ Just when we thought that time was over and we could be at peace Bellaraphon attacked us. Over half my tribe and many more from other tribes died in the assault on his fortress of Helicon.”
Horrified that her words have led Gabrielle to revisit these past traumas Brunnhilda lays her hand on her friend’s arm. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have asked.”
Gabrielle fights back tears and pushes the pain she knows will cause her to break down sobbing into a dark place within her where she stores away all her rage and grief in times when self control and calm are called for. “ There are no men here because this is an Amazon village. There are no men in the Amazon culture. Men only come here or Amazons only travel to meet with men for one reason. To mate and produce more Amazon warriors.”
“It must be hard then to live in a culture where there in no love. No romance.”
“ I said there were no men here.” Gabrielle turns a surprisingly mischievous smile to her friend. “ I never said there wasn’t love and romance.”
Brunnhilda looks at her friend incomprehensively. Then she grasps the concept of which Gabrielle is referring to and looks at her in stunned amazement.
“Close your mouth Bru,” Gabrielle says. “ You’ll catch flies.”
Brunnhilda wonders at the ability of this woman to instantly suppress her feelings and emotions to bring those around her into whatever mood she wishes. She can’t help but smile.
Varia steps from the queen’s hut. For a moment the dark haired warrior looks at the two blondes before the hut. Gabrielle sees the hesitation in Varia so she steps forward. She holds her arm out before her and nods. Varia smiles then slams her forearm into Gabrielle’s in a way that makes Brunnhilda cringe but that is obviously some sort of Amazon greeting. “ Queen Gabrielle. It is most agreeable to see you again.”
“Queen Varia,” Gabrielle replies. “It is an honor to return home.”
The two women embrace and Brunnhilda can’t help but think of what Gabrielle had hinted at moments ago. The thought makes her blush. Tara , standing nearby , notices a commotion at the edge of the village and goes to investigate leaving the three women to converse.
“And who might this be?” Varia inquires taking in the Norse warrior and her strange garb that combines leather and plated armor.
“Varia this is Brunnhilda, a warrior from the far north,” Gabrielle introduces them. “ Brunnhilda this is Varia, queen of the Amazons.”
“Regent more like,” Varia corrects Gabrielle.
Gabrielle sighs. But is secretly happy with the words. There was a time when Varia thought so little of Gabrielle that she would never have deferred to her in any fashion.
“Sigh all you like Gabrielle but until you die you will always be the true ruler of the Amazons of Greece. The rite of caste isn’t something that can be forgotten or forfeited.” She extends a hand to Brunnhilda. “An honor to meet you.”
“And it is…” Brunnhilda trails off with her arm extended in greeting but cannot complete her words or actions. Her eyes are locked on a grotesque visage that she knows will not soon leave her nightmares.
Varia and Gabrielle both turn their heads to follow Brunnhilda’s gaze. Gabrielle can only stare wide eyed and mumble prayers to whatever gods still listen that what she sees before her is a phantasm, a product of her lurid imagination.
“Calida!” Varia screams with such anguish one would think she is dying.
Tara and another Amazon lead the red haired women towards Varia. She appears unharmed except for one horrific detail. Both her eyes have been put out and blood runs from ruined eye sockets down her cheeks . “Calida! What happened?” Varia wraps her arms around Calida and pulls her from the supporting arms of her fellow Amazons. But Calida is nearly unconscious and they both slump to the ground. Varia cradles Calida’s head in her arm and squeezes her hand. She tries not to look at the mutilated eyes but her gaze is continually drawn to them. She begins to cry like a child. “Calida. Speak to me. Please say something.”
Gabrielle cannot help but see the anguish and love Varia displays in her actions. She had once thought the warrior incapable of such emotions. Apparently she had been wrong. She wills herself to look into the face of Calida. She had been there with Gabrielle and Xena at Helicon. She had run up that thrice damned beach as her sisters were annihilated around her. She had been one of the bravest of them that day. It pains Gabrielle to see her sister maimed in this fashion. She knows who and why.
“Gabrielle,” Calida mutters. Her voice is rough as though she has been talking for hours and is losing her voice. Or screaming for hours, Gabrielle thinks. The pain in that voice is enough to make anyone weep but she pushes it into that dark part of her once more.
Varia looks to Gabrielle then back to Calida. How could she know Gabrielle was here?
Gabrielle kneels by the two women and places a hand over Calida’s. “I’m here Calida. You mustn’t talk. We need to get you to the healer.”
“She said to tell you that you will live only to watch us die,” Calida delivers her ghastly message. “She said that this…” she points to her bloody eye sockets, “…is the least of what she will do to us. She will destroy us all and make you watch. She says that you will be helpless to stop her. She said to tell you she can taste your fear. And that she will savor every second of it.” Calida breathes out the last words then passes out.
“Calida!” Varia shrieks as her lover goes limp in her arms. “No. Please don’t die!”
Gabrielle places a finger to the Amazon’s neck and feels a pulse. “Tara get the healer now!” The Amazon warrior races to the healer’s hut. “ Varia take her into the queen’s hut!” With a strength born of fear and grief Varia lifts the woman into her arms and carries her into the hut. “Bru. There is a stream nearby. Take her …” she indicates the other Amazon who arrived with Calida , “…and get as several buckets of water. Then boil them. The healer will need as much water for sterilizing as she can get.”
Both women run off without a word. Gabrielle looks around the village as if expecting to see the insane Amazon turned goddess stepping from the tree line. She sees nothing.
Hidden in the trees some distance from the queen’s hut an old woman holds onto a crooked staff for balance. As she watches Gabrielle scan the trees then run into the hut she cannot help but remember the first time she met the young bard. She had been quite innocent then. Full of a hope that the Warrior Princess could never fulfill. She had thought that Gabrielle would turn to her for solace and inspiration. But twice the brat had rebuked her.
<and now she will pay the price for it>, the disembodied voice she has followed these past two years informs her.
This is not the same as the voices she heard so long ago that had driven her passion and her quest. Those voices had deserted her when she finally awoke. But her new teacher has taught her much more. She glances up to the talisman atop the staff she holds. “Yes,” she says with a smirk. “I’ll get what I want. For Gabrielle to suffer as I have suffered. And you’ll get what you want. The Amazon nation dead to a woman.”
<and once they are all dead including Gabrielle their power will be mine!>
They both laugh.
TO BE CONTINUED
IN PART 2
Return to the Academy