THE QUEEN & THE GODDESS : PART 3
“Seven dead my queen,” Lunara informs her.
Gabrielle sits on a stool in the corner of the healer’s hut watching roles reversed as now Calida sits by Varia’s bedside and holds the other woman’s hand. Gabrielle can hear Calida sobbing. She feels sorry for her. The damage done to her eyes will never allow her the solace of crying again. Meanwhile , tears stream down Gabrielle’s face as she thinks of what more she has lost today. She remembers how she felt when she learned of Ephiny’s death. But Ephiny at least had the honor of dying in combat. How any Amazon would choose to meet her end? Not broken like a toy at the whim of an insane goddess.
Gabrielle’s gaze travels around the hut. She sees a dark haired woman with an extremely nasty gut wound. A young protégé of Lunara bustles over her. She meets Lunara’s eyes and the healer shakes her head. Leaning against the wall near the door , Tara allows another young Amazon to wrap her shoulder and place her arm in a sling. “ I can’t even lift it,” Tara growls under her breath.
Lunara stands next to Gabrielle and talks softly to her queen. “ Her back is broken,” she says with as much detachment as she can. “ Most of the bones in her lower back are shattered. In Antiope’s name, I think some have been pulverized. It goes without saying that she’ll never walk again.”
“ I’m in the room you know,” Varia mutters.
“Varia!” Calida and Gabrielle say in unison. Gabrielle kneels by the opposite side of the bed and takes Varia’s other hand in hers.
They both feel Varia make an attempt to squeeze their hands. The pressure is minimal but they are overjoyed to see her already gaining back some strength after mere hours. She even smiles. “ Two such beautiful women fawning over me. I should be so lucky.”
“ Don’t talk,” Calida says. “ Save your strength.”
“ I’m sorry Calida, Gabrielle. I let my anger get the better of me. I should’ve known I was no match for her. I’ve paid the price for my arrogance again today. I don’t think I’ll have to be taught that lesson again.”
“ You were…are an Amazon warrior,” Gabrielle says tripping over her own words. “ Hippolyta herself would be flush with pride to have seen you today.”
“Always the bard,” Varia says with a laugh. Her body is suddenly racked with pain and she starts trembling . Her friends try to hold her but soon she is in a full blown seizure. Lunara and Tara come close to try and lend a hand. Varia’s body convulses for what seems like hours. When it stops she seems to be hardly conscious or coherent. “I’m sorry I never believed in you Gabrielle,” she mumbles through trembling lips. Her eyes flutter as if on the edge of unconsciousness. “ Never believed in the outsider queen.” Her eyes snap shut and she slips into unconsciousness.
Calida, clearly more worried about her lover’s health that apologies and strange phrases , places her head on Varia’s chest and begins to sob loudly.
Gabrielle turns her attention to Tara and Lunara. Tara looks puzzled but the shocked look on Lunara’s face tells Gabrielle that the elder knows what Varia was talking about. She stands and heads for the door.
“Lunara,” she says as she leaves the hut. The tone in the queen’s voice leaves no doubt that she is not asking but demanding the healer join her outside.
Brunnhilda is waiting on the porch. She is watching grimly as the bodies of the dead are being prepared for cremation. “Why?” she asks no one in particular. “ Why would she do this? What possible reason can there be for this…this…” She kicks the rail with such force that it gives way and tumbles to the lawn. She feels Gabrielle’s hand on her shoulder and her anger abates. In all her time serving Odin she had never felt as at home, as at peace as when she is near Gabrielle.
“Velasca is punishing me for an imagined slight.” Gabrielle stands next to her. “ She murdered a good woman to wear the mask of queen. When I returned to take what was mine by rite , her arrogant nature would not allow it. So now she wants revenge for it. “ Lunara comes out behind her and Gabrielle eyes her coolly. “ Wait for me by the queen’s hut. I have to talk to my friend about something.” Lunara nods then walks away. “Bru. I need you to go and …”
“No!” Brunnhilda interjects before Gabrielle can tell her she must leave for her own safety. “ Gabrielle I refuse to leave you. I don’t care how much danger I’ll be in by staying here with you. I don’t care about that bitch’s threats of slicing me open for her amusement. I will not leave you. I love you too much to just walk away!”
Gabrielle’s mouth already open since she was speaking drops open further at Brunnhilda’s retort. “ I…” Gabrielle stutters over her words trying to find some reply. After they had first met Gabrielle had been astounded by the warrior’s sudden devotion to her. Until she had transformed herself into a flame to protect her from harm Gabrielle had just thought her delusional. Now here she is making the same stand knowing it may cost her r life. Unable to find words , she reaches out to touch Brunnhilda’s cheek. Her hand is trembling. She has wondered if she could ever feel like this for another person after Xena’s death. She is stunned to find that the answer is yes.
“Bru…” she begins but falters again. “ I know how you feel about me. Don’t think that I don’t. I want you to know that I feel the same.”
Brunnhilda’s eyes widen at the admission. They haven’t been together that long and she had thought it impossible Gabrielle might feel about her the way she feels about the Amazon queen. But now she has heard it from the woman’s very lips. “ Gabrielle . I … I…” this time it is Brunnhilda’s turn to trip over her words.
“ Now if you will let me finish. I need you to go and find something for me. I hadn’t thought about it until we were talking in the temple. But I think it may be what we need to stop Velasca. But I need you to go now.”
Brunnhilda stares into the green eyes and realizes now matter what it is Gabrielle may ask of her that she will do anything for her. “ What do you need of me, your majesty?”
Lunara is waiting outside the queen’s hut as Gabrielle approaches. The queen does not look pleased in the least. “Outsider queen?” are her only words. She crosses her arms ands waits for an answer.
“Come inside,” Lunara says making her way into the queen’s hut.
Gabrielle follows her inside. She removes her mask and lays it on the small, unadorned throne. Lunara walks to the throne then lays her hands on it. She pushes on it and the throne begins to slide with great effort across the wooden floor slats. Dust and wood slivers are peeled up as the throne slides away to reveal a small alcove in the floor. Laying within is a bronze box. “ In the time of Melosa’s great-grandmother a girl was born on the winter solstice. She had hair as white as snow and eyes to match. She was named Una, which means ‘white’ in the old Amazon tongue. By the time she was one she could speak effortlessly. By the time she was five she had learned all that could be taught to her. Though blind since birth she had an uncanny sense of everything going on around her. By the time she was ten she could read and write in fourteen different languages. When she turned twelve Una walked into the queen’s audience chamber and announced that the queen would die with the rising of the next full moon. The night that the first full moon of the season rose Queen Kilvare was murdered in her sleep by her sister Onianne. “
“Lunara!” Gabrielle exclaims her patience fast reaching its limits. “ I want to know about this outsider queen that Varia spoke of.”
Seeming to ignore her queen , Lunara continues the narrative. “ The members of the village thought to pass it off as coincidence. Queen’s had been assassinated for the throne previously. Surely the girl’s prediction was a fluke. When she turned fourteen Una walked up to Onianne and told her she would die before she could bear an heir. Onianne was already nearly full term with child. She ordered Una arrested but the next night Onianne became ill from an infected animal bite. She died four days later and her baby, a girl who would’ve been her heir , died as well having never left her mothers body. “
“Lunara!” Gabrielle screams. “ Your story is an amusing tale but I am in no mood…” She stops her statement when Lunara slaps her.
“ This is not some tale from a bard , your majesty!” Lunara shouts. “This is part of the Amazon history and you will hear it!”
Never has Gabrielle thought that a royal title could sound like an insult. She can find no words to say so she simply nods.
“ Una was released from her imprisonment. As she left the cell she touched the arm of a fifteen year old apprentice warrior who had opened the cell for her. Una turned her blind eyes to the girl and then bowed. ‘ your majesty,’ she said then rose and left the prison. One week later that apprentice watched as a force of Macedonian invaders poured into the village intent on adding this land to the expanding empire of their young king. Leaderless since Onianne’s death , the warriors were unsure of what to do. Until the girl, Saira by name, ran forward sword in hand and slew the first man she saw in that small army. Others rallied behind her and soon the Macedonians retreated back to tell their king that Amazonia was too wild to be tamed. Saira was given the queen’s mask that night. She was Melosa’s great-grandmother. Saira made Una her personal advisor. Some even say they were bonded but it is not known for a fact. Either way there was very little time for them. One year later Una presented Saira with this.” Lunara lifts the box and hands it to Gabrielle. Gabrielle opens it to find an old roll of parchment.
Lunara does not continue her narrative so Gabrielle, overcome with curiosity, unravels the scroll and reads it. She is equally stupefied and horrified by what is written. Her eyes go to Lunara.
“ Una thanked Saira for her companionship and apologized that she would be leaving soon. She told Saira that her father would be coming for her soon. That night Saira and her sister Amazons watched awestruck as a golden chariot drawn by winged horses descended into the village at sunset. The soul occupant left the chariot and walked into Una’s hut. He returned leading the young girl to his chariot. They lifted into the sky and Una was never seen again. She has become so much of a legend that most believe she never existed. But a few of us have seen that.” She points to the scroll in Gabrielle’s hands. “And know the truth. Generations ago a prophetess and daughter of Apollo lived in Amazonia for fifteen years. That is Una’s final prophecy. The prophecy of the Outsider Queen.”
Gabrielle fixes her gaze on the scroll and reads it again.
In four generations time
The Amazons will linger on the brink of death,
Two will come , strangers to our land, outsiders.
One a dark warrior in search of the light,
The other an innocent in search of a purpose.
With the flight of an arrow shall a princess fall,
Unto the innocent shall she pass all that she is.
Princess this innocent shall be named.
Queen will this innocent become.
On the point of a blade will her innocence be lost.
She will walk through trials of fire and blood,
To become strong in body and spirit.
Abdicate , she will, the mask twice to her sisters.
Seasons will pass and she will return,
Lost and once more seeking her purpose.
A great evil will move upon the land.
From Queen to Queen will the mask be passed.
And in defeating this great evil she may become
A new light for the Amazons in their darkness,
And lead her people into a new dawn.
An Amazon Queen born of no Amazon.
The Outsider Queen.
“ Who…who knew about this?” Gabrielle says aghast.
“Every queen from Saira's time was entrusted with the prophecy,” Lunara replies. “ They told their heirs when they became of age. Some close to the queen, like myself, were told of it as well.”
“ Yes. But she did not believe in it.”
A revelation strikes Gabrielle like a thunder bolt from heaven. The implication of it changes her entire outlook on her life since that day many years ago when she threw herself on top of the wounded Amazon princess. “ But Terrias did.”
“ Yes. When you and Xena entered our land she must’ve thought it possible you were the outsider of the prophecy.”
“ And when the arrow struck her…” Gabrielle lets the words trail off.
“ She knew she was the princess of the prophecy. Did it never occur to you why she passed her rite of caste onto you , an outsider, when other Amazons were around?”
“ I always thought it was just dumb luck.”
“ No. She was fulfilling her part of Una’s prophecy.”
“ Does Velasca know?”
“ She killed Melosa. She never knew of it. Neither did Ephiny or Chilapa. I did not see the sense in telling them. ”
“ How did Varia discover it?”
“ Varia was a precocious child who took every opportunity to cause trouble for us. One day while seeking a place to hide from her mother and aunt she thought it might be fun to crawl under the queen’s hut. While she was under there she saw an enclosure from underneath. The next free chance she had she indulged her curiosity and searched under the throne. She strained herself putting the throne back in place. Her mother brought her to me and she excitedly informed me of what she had found.”
“ No wonder she was antagonistic towards Xena and I.”
“ When she grew older and became our leader she said that the whole thing was nonsense. Then you and Xena came back. After Helicon she realized she had been wrong. She didn’t want to believe that a village-born peasant would lead us. But she saw your strength and her own weaknesses. I think she has been awaiting your return since then to give you back the mask.”
Gabrielle picks up the queen’s mask then slumps onto the throne. She stares at the mask and the scroll.
“ I always believed I had a destiny somewhere. I never knew it had been written down for me. When I took the rite of caste from Terrias I just thought I was granting a dying wish. Not fulfilling a prophecy and throwing myself headlong into my fate. I came back here to warn you all. And to help if I could. I never intended to become queen again. And this time I can’t just hand it back to someone like I’ve done …what…twice before.” She laughs not from amusement but from an irony that what she has wanted to avoid has been preordained since before she was born. “ I’m the outsider queen. I’m going to lead the Amazons into a new age.”
“ No my queen,” Lunara says bowing to one knee. “ You will lead your people into a new age.”
Brunnhilda screams at the horse to go faster. What she wouldn’t give for a horse that could take to the skies. The horse bellows in protest but continues its hard gallop. She must hurry. There is no time. She has to find what Gabrielle needs. She only prays that she can get there in time. Overhead she hears a cry. She gazes skyward to see a gull wheeling through the air. The sea is close. She kicks her heels into her steed’s flanks and pushes the animal to
She sits alone in the queen’s hut , her bed feeling no more comfortable than the throne in the next room. The prophecy lies on a nearby table. She has considered burning it. By doing so perhaps she could expunge what is says will come to pass as easily as the old parchment would turn to ash. But she has it memorized already and she knows nothing will halt Una’s prophecy.
And in defeating this great evil she may become…
She shudders at the thought of that one word. May. Therein lies the heart of her current despair. In that one word is held an uncertain future both for her and the Amazon nation. Can she truly defeat Velasca? Can she face her when she is sorely afraid of the Amazon turned goddess? Twice she had frozen. Once when she had heard her name bellowed and the second when she had seen Velasca locked in combat with Varia. Fear had gripped her like a physical force. She had been unable to do anything to save her friend. Her people are being butchered and decimated. And she is too scared to do anything about it. For so long she’s been able to hide all her grief, her pain, her fear. But with Velasca it is different. It is a fear from at time when she was young. A primal fear. The fear of an innocent . The fear of a child.
“I’m not innocent!” Gabrielle screams as she rises to her feet. She seizes the table next to the bed and hurls it to the wall with such force it shatters. “And I’m not a child!” She grabs the bed and flips it over causing any furniture nearby to clatter about the floor. “ Not anymore!” She kicks down the door leading into the throne room. It slams to the floor with a heavy thud. She walks into the center of the throne room. “ I refuse to be afraid anymore! Do you hear me? I renounce fear! I am not who I once was! I am not afraid! I will not let my people die! Do you hear me! I will not!” She collapses to her knees. Tears stream down her face. She closes her eyes and in the darkness behind her eyelids she sees Ephiny, Melosa, Terrias and all the others who have gone before her. “ I promise I will not let my people die,” she says to their memories. She sees Xena as well. “ I won’t fail, Xena. I will lead them to the new dawn.”
She stands and walks into her chambers again. A chest sits in one corner. She kneels reverently by it and lifts the lid. She draws out what was left her so long ago. She grabs the scabbard and draws out the blade slowly. She holds the sword of Terrias over her head and proclaims her rite with an Amazon battle cry.
Tara is standing on the porch of the healer’s hut when she hears first crashing then screaming coming from the queen’s hut. She vaults the railing and runs at top speed to the hut. She stops just narrowly in time to keep from barreling into Gabrielle as she emerges from the hut. She has to tilt her down a little to meet the eyes of her queen. What she sees surprises her. They are not the eyes of the uncertain woman who recently walked into their village. Instead she sees the eyes of the one who led them to Helicon. She sees the eyes of a warrior-born. She sees the eyes of an Amazon queen. The queen’s mask is upturned on her head. The chakrum of Xena is on one hip while an unfamiliar sword is one the other.
She meets Tara's gaze and the warrior steps aside for the queen. Gabrielle walks out into the village square. Several Amazons are staring in her direction having heard her outburst from inside the queen’s hut. Most mill around uncertain what to do. A god promises them death. They have seen what she can do. How can they fight against that? Enraged by the fear she sees that so closely mirrors how she felt, she unhooks the chakrum and with an outraged cry she sends it soaring into the square.
Tara watches in disbelief as the weapon rebounds its way through the square narrowly missing Amazons and bouncing off walls, trees, totems and rocks. The weapon sings its song as it slices the air and reverberates off objects. For what seems minutes it ricochets off anything and everything gathering the attention of every Amazon in the village before it returns to Gabrielle’s hand. The queen’s eyes burn with determination and passion, Tara notices that while the queen’s hand bleeds where she has caught the weapon that she pays no heed.
“ Who are we?!” Gabrielle roars. All the eyes focused on her stare with confusion. “Who are we?!”
The silence that follows is oppressive as Gabrielle breaths as heavily as if she’d run from here to Corinth and back.
“ I am Gabrielle! Queen of the Amazons! Warrior born!” she cries out. She hooks the chakrum back onto her waist. “ And I am not afraid! Do you hear me? I am not afraid!” She holds out the hand she caught the chakrum with. Blood oozes from her palm. “ Am I the only one!”
Tara draws her dagger. She cuts open the flesh of her wounded arm. She drops her dagger then lays her hand against the wound. She stands next to Gabrielle and holds out her bloodied hand. “ I am Tara of the Amazon nation! Warrior born! And I am not afraid!”
For a moment nothing happens. Then Lunara is beside them holding out her bloodied hand. “ I am Lunara of the Amazon nation! Warrior born! And I am not afraid!”
“Who are we?!” Gabrielle shouts once more. She can see it in their eyes. The shame. The lack of purpose. But as she watches she can see the courage and the pride returning to them as it returned to her.
This time there is no hesitation. Weapons are drawn from sheathes to be drawn across flesh. Every hand in the village is raised in a bloody salute.
“ We are Amazons! Warrior born! And we are not afraid!”
Velasca feels the strange pull and is drawn back to the temple of the goddess who had forsaken the Amazons for so long. She materializes before the old crone leaning on her stick. “ What do you want now, old woman?” she asks the threat heavy in her voice and tone. The old woman glares at her for a moment then her eyes merely twitch in the direction of the cloth covered top of her staff.
~~~She hangs from the vine enraged knowing the ambrosia was within her grasp. But Gabrielle has to robbed her of what is rightfully hers once more. The attack that comes is unexpected and not what she would think the young blonde capable of . Nonetheless the vine that she hangs from is cut and she falls. The huge spike protruding from the floor tears into her back and erupts from her chest.~~~
Velasca doubles over in pain she didn’t think a god could feel. The searing pain of impalement courses through her like a river and she screams.
<you seem to have forgotten who it is that released you from your prison,> a voice dripping malevolence whispers. It was that voice that called to her and brought her forth from the lava.
“ It would be advisable not to speak to us like that again,” the old woman informs her.
For a moment Velasca is confused. Us? the goddess ponders. The old woman has spoken in the plural before. And that voice was not issuing from her cracked and shriveled lips.
“ You are taking far too long Velasca” There is ire in the old woman’s voice. “ I don’t have forever to wait for my vengeance.”
Insidious laughter. <I do.> The voice trails off into laughter again.
The old woman looks as though she is trying hard not to listen to the voice. Gods how she wishes sometimes she’d never heard it. But then she wouldn’t have her revenge on the bard. “ I am not immortal,” she states. “ I want to see Gabrielle lying in bloody pieces before my body fails me.”
Velasca sneers. “ I am having my vengeance my way. You say you want her to suffer. How better than to see all she loves destroyed? To know that all she has fought for is laid waste? My only regret is that I can’t rip Xena’s head from her shoulders then lay it at Gabrielle’s feet.”
The old woman becomes enraged at the mention of the warrior princess. She begins shaking and cursing under her breath. She grips her staff tighter and stamps it into the ground. Then she feels her chest starting to ache. She becomes lightheaded.
<calm yourself you fool! you are no good to any of us dead. take heart in the knowledge that her death was brutal and painful.>
The old woman ceases her anger and nods. “ You are right. It is just that Xena took so much from me. Not the least of which was Gabrielle. She should’ve been mine.”
Velasca seems bored. “ I’m waiting !” she cries in exasperation.
<your attitude grows tiresome godling. do you require more pain to remind you who is in command here?>
Velasca winces for an instant as if expecting to feel more pain just as the voice tells her. Nothing comes. “ What do you want me to do?” she capitulates.
“ Anticipation of death is worse than death itself,” the old woman states. “ Let Gabrielle and her nation of little girls stew in their grief . I will speak with her myself. And tell her that you will soon destroy them all. Fear will run rampant through the Amazons like a plague. It will fester in them like an infection. Then the following day …annihilate them!”
Velasca stares into the old woman’s shrunken eyes. “ You hate her more than me, don’t you?”
“ Yes,” the old woman hisses.
“ Very well,” Velasca agrees. Then vanishes from sight.
“ You can affect her now,” she says after watching the goddess transport to wherever gods go to when they leave. “ She felt the pain your power can bestow. Interesting.”
<the deaths of the Siberian Amazons and of those here have given me access to their souls. I’m able to bend that energy to my purposes now. we are very close. once she has killed all the others and Gabrielle, my power will be great enough that my spirit will be able to possess her. I will obliterate her soul and become a god!>
“ And then you will return what Gabrielle and Xena stole from me?”
<yes. I will restore your youth. you’ll have a whole new life to live again.>
The old woman’s laughter mixes with the disembodied tittering. Soon they will have their revenge. “ I’ll have Gabrielle’s body as a trophy!”
<and her soul will belong to me!>