THE QUEEN & THE GODDESS : PART SIX
Though what is before her is nothing but a skull, Gabrielle can see the leering face of the shamaness as if she was right there. The uttering of Alti’s name causes a mixed reaction from the Amazons present. Some step back in fear of this monster they have heard tales of. Others grow infuriated at the very idea of this thing being in their midst.
“ Alti?” Brunnhilda says. “ But you said she’s been long dead. That Xena killed her…twice over.”
Hideous laughter reverberates through the queen’s hut. All can hear it. And all can hear when Alti speaks. < a true statement , queen’s consort.> all eyes go to Brunnhilda in something akin to shock and even envy. <xena killed my body. Then she sent my spirit to the land of the dead. I was sealed away.>
Tara takes a step closer towards the skull but is hit with the pain of the arrow that mangled her shoulder days ago as if were happening all over again. She drops to her knees in pain as blood starts to flow from the wound anew.
<gabrielle and I need to discuss some things. no one else interfere or you’ll know the touch of my power.>
Gabrielle reaches for the chakrum. Her body shudders.
~~~The Gaul seizes her sword hand then punches her as hard as possible in her gut. She doubles over just as he brings his knee up to smash it into her face. He pulls the sword from her hand and swings at her neck. She steps back barely out of the way as the tip of her gladius cuts a gash in her neck a breath from her jugular vein. ~~~
Gabrielle doubles over as if she has been hit. Then she rears back up with blood flowing from her nose. Then her head goes to one side and blood starts to flow from the scar on her neck.
“ Gabrielle!” Brunnhilda screams surging forward.
~~~Grendel’s monstrous arm sweeps out and collides with her chest . Her upper body explodes in pain as she is hurled to the cave wall.~~~
Brunnhilda suddenly flies back to land on the floor next to Gabrielle. Several Amazons move towards the skull but Gabrielle waves them back. “ No! Don’t go any nearer.” The warriors all halt.
<you’re still quite sensible Gabrielle. and you’ve certainly come into your own. I would never have thought you capable of getting rid of my friend.>
“ Your…friend?” Gabrielle becomes sickened as she knows the truth. “ You released Velasca. You did all this.”
<correct , your highness.>
“ But…how? This isn’t possible. You were dead. We were rid of you.” At least in this lifetime, Gabrielle thinks.
<oh you were. but then something unusual happened about two years ago. you see . I was dead. writhing as a spirit awaiting my chance to escape to another lifetime. when suddenly … I was alive again. it was a strange world. one in which I felt I belonged but yet a world which wasn’t quite right. caesar was emperor and Xena was his empress. I was high priestess of Rome and Caesar’s lover.>
“No,” Gabrielle says . She knows of what Alti speaks. “ No. it can’t be.”
<you were there too. a playwright who came to entertain Caesar and his empress with your annoying dribble about love and sacrifice. I noticed something about you and Xena. a connection of spirit that neither of you seemed aware of. I didn’t quite understand it all until I laid my hands on Xena and you. that place was unreal because it shouldn’t have existed. someone had tampered with the Fates. but it was to my advantage. by using you and Xena as conduits I regained more of my power and began to know the truth. and so I wanted more. I murdered Caesar while in his bed and watched with joy as Xena was crucified. only you escaped. but I would have you eventually. then as suddenly as it began, it ended.>
Gabrielle remembers it vividly. Caesar had captured the Fates and altered both his and Xena’s destinies. They ruled Rome together. Or they did until she had come to Rome from Athens with her play ‘Fallen Angel.’ They had known each other somehow even though never having met in that alternate timeline. Xena had sacrificed herself to keep Gabrielle off the cross and safe from harm. She remembers going to the temple of the Fates and finding them still chained. Their skein a mangle of distorted and ruined lives. But she hadn’t cared about any of that. Only that Xena and she had been denied their rightful place together. She’d thrown a torch into the skein with all the intent of obliterating the universe. What did anything else matter if she and Xena couldn’t be together? In the blink of an eye , the universe had ceased to exist. Then, miraculously, the universe realigned itself. All was as it should be and she had met Xena on the road. She has never given the incident a second though. Until now.
<I see that you know of what I speak Gabrielle. my power transcends time and life. I’ve lived before. I will live again. this strange incident was an anomaly. but because I had lived again, I was thus able to move about once more. my body was again dust and bone. but my spirit was now free to roam. without a physical form, however, my power was limited. I needed my body back which thanks to you and Xena my body was in hundreds of pieces.
“ If only we’d burned the bones too,” Gabrielle states. “ But how…”
<How did I get it all back together so to speak. I cast around with my spirit to find anyone who hated you and Xena as much as I did. I discovered Xena’s death. but you were still alive. so I found two who hated you more than anything.>
Gabrielle looks to Najara. “ You made a pact with Alti? Why? She’s fear, evil, hate incarnate. Did you learn nothing from Eli?”
“ I was asleep for thirty years!” Najara screams. “ I awoke in that hospice with my body atrophied and my youth turned to aged decrepitude. You and Xena ruined my life. Then to see you not only alive but still the same as when I last saw you. Yes Gabrielle I saw you triumphantly return to Rome after your campaign in Brittania. Flush with the health of youth and basking in the glory of war.”
<she was easy to sway. then there was Velasca. trapped and suffering. I lacked the power to release her. I needed some kind of physical form.>
“ It must’ve taken you weeks to find all the pieces of her skull,” Gabrielle says to Najara.
“ Months! But I would’ve taken years if it meant my revenge,” Najara shouts.
<once I was bound to a corporeal form I had enough power to bring Velasca forth from the lava. It was beautiful to see the hatred burning in her for you. It was like basking in the sun once again.>
“ So then you turned her loose on the Siberian Amazons,” Brunnhilda remarks.
<intelligent and beautiful. you may want to keep her Gabrielle.>
“ You…murdered them…all…” Gabrielle growls. She reaches for her chakrum again.
~~~She leans over Eve with the sai knowing that she has to kill the bitch of Rome. Hope has told her so. She raises the sai and drives it in Livia’s back. The whistling of Xena’s chakrum cuts the air and she has no time to even think as the weapon hammers her in the back of the head.~~~
Gabrielle groans then drops to the floor hard. Brunnhilda kneels by her and sees blood seeping from the back of her head to stain her blond hair scarlet. She turns her eyes to the skull. “ You bitch! What did you do to her?”
<I merely warned her that her attempts to attack me are pointless. none of you can touch me. my power is invincible.>
“ If that is so then how have you been defeated twice by Xena and Gabrielle?” Tara asks getting to her feet. She stands over Gabrielle and Brunnhilda with defiance in her words, eyes and stance.
<I am nothing if not patient Amazon.>
“ Just kill them Alti!” Najara screams.
“ She can’t!” Gabrielle states loudly allowing Brunnhilda to aid her to her feet.
<oh but I can. I have the souls of all those Velasca killed to use and control.>
“ You use them but you don’t have control over them. Otherwise Cyane wouldn’t have been able to warn me,” Gabrielle informs the shamaness’s skull. “And were you powerful enough to kill anyone you wouldn’t have needed Velasca to do your dirty work,”
Gabrielle touches Brunnhilda on the arm and meets Tara's gaze. With her touch and her eyes she indicates for the two to follow her lead. As she continues to talk , she moves around towards the other side of the chamber slowly. With any luck they may be able to get all the others out of the hut. The staff on which Alti’s skull rests turns to follow them. Gabrielle curses her luck that Alti should have that kind of control over her physical form. She won’t be able to get anyone out with the shamaness using her power on all of them.
“ I called Velasca and Najara both cowards but they’re just tools. You‘re the real coward here Alti.”
<don’t think to sway me with insults Gabrielle. I’ve been using people since before you were born.>
“ You’re a fraud Alti. A fraud and a coward who is afraid to die.”
Laughter pierces the air. <you must be suicidal Gabrielle. do you want me to turn my power loose on you again?>
“ I’ve felt your power before,” Gabrielle says. She holds up the hand which Najara has pierced. So like the wound Alti gave her in India when the shamaness’s next incarnation showed her a vision of her death on the cross. “ It holds no fear for me.”
<really? you think not? then allow me to demonstrate it to you yet again!>
Gabrielle tenses for the pain of some relived agony and injury. But instead she receives a strange vision.
~~~The beach is red with blood. Bodies litter the space before the walls. The tide washing in is stained with the life blood of those who have died. The city cannot withstand them any longer. It’s mightiest warriors are dead. The walls are being breached. Surrender will come soon
But he doesn’t care. Scores of men still throw themselves against the advance so he is happy. A soldier thrusts a spear at him but he simply grabs the weapon then steps forward and opens the man’s throat with his blade. Two more try and blindside him but he is ready. He swings the spear in his hand and hits them both. They fall and he impales one with the spear point then snaps the weapon in half and crashes the wooden pole onto the throat of the other. Another soldier hurls himself at his left. He lashes out with the shield strapped to his left arm and the soldier collapses into a heap on the sand. He stabs the man running towards him in the chest.
He tries to pull his blade free but finds it wedged in the soldiers breast bone. He pulls the soldier’s own sword form his dying hand and swings to his right nearly decapitating the man closing in on him. He spins around to hammer another approaching from behind with his shield. Using the top of his shield as a guide he lines his sword up and slices the throat of the man before he can recover. Then rotating his arm around like a catapult he throws the sword like it was nothing but a dart into an oncoming soldier.
Movement to his right catches his attention and he whirls to slam his fist into the soldier. As that man falls he loses his grip on his spear. He grabs the weapon as it falls from the soldier’s hands. He twists it around himself to spear another soldier trying to get in behind him. Raising his shield arm he deflects still another assault and responds by driving his shield into the groin of his attacker. The soldier collapses to his knees. His throws all his weight into a kick that hits the soldier under the jaw and causes a resounding crack. He pulls the spear loose of the man he is impaling and looks about . Seeing no more soldiers on the beach , he turns towards the city walls. Screaming, he hurls the spear towards the top of the wall. The weapon hits a soldier stationed there with such force it drives him back to fall off the outer wall.
Enemies and allies alike stare aghast at this engine of death in their midst. He screams like an animal . Then demands , “ Is there no one here worthy of my time! Are you all children! “ He gazes about the battlefield in contempt for all he sees.~~~
Gabrielle can hardly stand as the vision ends. “ No,” she moans. “ That wasn’t me.”
“ Gabrielle,” Brunnhilda says seeing the queen on the verge of weeping. “ What’s wrong?”
<I’ve just shown her a new aspect of my power. not only can I make her relive moments from her past. I can make her relive moments from her past lives.>
“ What did you do to her?” Brunnhilda demands.
<I simply showed her the truth. how does it feel Gabrielle? that was your last incarnation before you became the bard of Poteidia. you were a warrior. and quite a bloodthirsty one at that. you were a warrior in your last life. you are a warrior in this life. you will be a warrior in your next life. your entire karmic existence will be nothing but a cycle of blood and death. why do you think Ares took notice of you? why do you think Dahak chose you as the mother of his child? blood and death are all you have ever known. blood and death are all you will ever know. So? does my power impress you yet?>
On her knees Gabrielle cannot form words. A warrior? Is that all I’ll ever be? Xena will be a saint in her next life while I’ll be a warrior. She shakes her head trying to deny it. Now the fear of lifetimes seems to weigh on her. She doesn’t want to just be a warrior for eternity. What did she ever do to deserve only blood and death as her destiny?
Brunnhilda puts a hand on Gabrielle’s shoulder and wills her companion to stand. “Get up Gabrielle. You’re strong. She can’t beat you. It doesn’t matter what she can show you. You are Gabrielle, Queen of the Amazons. And you are not afraid.”
Gabrielle feels the willpower of Brunnhilda’s words flowing into her. She can feel the fear of endless lifetimes of battle diminishing.
Tara lays her hand on Gabrielle’s other shoulder. “My queen. My friend. Never for one second fear that anything you have done is wrong. You are brave and strong and compassionate. This witch holds no sway over you. Rise Gabrielle.”
Gabrielle feels Tara’s strength of will flooding into her as well. She can feel their love and friendship and it drives away the doubt, the fear, the self loathing.
‘Alti feeds on fear.’ She recalls Xena’s words to her once after India about the shamaness who seemed to haunt her like a plague. ‘Fear. Doubt. Hate. Self loathing. She can use all these to fuel her magic. She feeds on those emotions like a parasite. It’s the exact opposite of what gave Lao Ma her powers and what allowed me to do what I did in Chin. Love . Compassion. Self sacrifice.
‘But you don’t need magic to beat her. I don’t think I could do it but when I was with the Amazons all those years ago I saw Cyane defeat Alti in a battle of wills. Cyane wasn’t a sorceress or a witch or a shamaness. She was a queen with an indomitable will power. And I watched her lay Alti to the ground with that willpower.’
Gabrielle opens her eyes to stare at the skull. She reaches to her shoulders and touches the hands there. She stands to her feet. “ Do you think that frightens me?” she asks. “That cold day in Roman territory when I saw Xena fall I accepted what I had to do. I am a warrior. That is my Way. It is the path I will walk.”
<you’re a child Gabrielle. you don’t understand what it means to be a warrior.>
Her friends’ hands are still on her shoulders. Now she can feel more. Harrika puts her hand on Brunnhilda’s shoulder. “Be brave my queen. You shall prevail.”
Lunara places her hand on Tara’s shoulder. “You are Gabrielle. Queen of the Amazons. Warrior born. And you are not afraid.”
More of her sisters join. She can feel the strength and resolve flowing into her from them all. Soon all the Amazons in the queen’s hut are joined to their leader to lend their might.
“ I understand perfectly Alti. The Way of the warrior is fraught with death and blood. I am not afraid of it. I have walked in light and darkness and blood and fire and come through stronger. I have fought for causes good and evil in my lifetime. Just as I have before and will do so again. So don’t show me what I already know. It has no power over me.”
<you think to beat me Gabrielle. you are too weak. you are not the great queen Cyane. and all these fools are as weak and as pathetic as you are. my spirit is invincible. your flesh is weak. you can not prevail.>
A rush of air and an ungodly stench announce the arrival of Alti’s spirit. Her apparition hangs in the air before her skull wearing her horned cowl and cloak. All eyes are on the ghost as she hovers before them.
<so. would you all like a taste of my power?>
Everyone in the queen’s hut is assaulted by past pain and anguish. Blood flows from phantasmal wounds and screams cut the atmosphere. Gabrielle can hardly stand as she relives the spike piercing her feet at the hands of the Romans. “ Ephiny,” Gabrielle says through clenched teeth remembering it was her sister‘s voice that gave her the strength to finally defeat Velasca. “ Please. Help me.”
<what? who are you?> Alti screams as a woman with wavy blond hair appears beside Gabrielle.
“I am Ephiny and I will not allow you to hurt my sister anymore!” the spirit of Ephiny announces.
Gabrielle smiles when she sees and hears her friend’s spirit. All around her she hears her sisters calling to friends and family who have passed over. With each prayer she can hear Alti screaming in rage.
<this is not possible. you can’t win against me!> Alti shouts throwing her power at them all.
But the spirits of their loved intercede and her power is balked. The ghost of Alti shimmers in rage.
“ No Alti,” Gabrielle says . “ You can’t win against us. We are Amazons! Warrior born! And we are not afraid!”
“We are Amazons! Warrior born! And we are not afraid!” Gabrielle’s words are repeated by all save Brunnhilda. She sees movement nearby and decides she must act now. She squeezes Gabrielle’s shoulder then reaches back to take Harrika’s hand. She lays the Amazons warrior’s hand on Gabrielle’s so as not to break the chain then steps away.
Najara doesn’t care about ghosts and past lives. She is only interested in revenge. She picks up the dagger where Gabrielle has foolishly dropped it. She smiles as her hand coils around the handle. She readies what little strength her old body can summon and starts to stand. With them all distracted now she’ll only need an instant and then Gabrielle will be dead.
Brunnhilda steps down hard onto the old woman’s wrist as she starts to get up. She hears Najara hiss in pain. The old woman tries to pull her hand free but Brunnhilda is too strong. With ease the warrior removes the dagger from the madwoman’s grasp. “ I don’t think so Najara.”
Alti tries again to attack but this time the spirits joined to their loved ones cry out in unison with the living : “ We are Amazons! Warrior born! And we are not afraid!”
The spirit of Alti cries out in anguish as the willpower of generations is wielded against her. Gabrielle sees the spirit weaken and even sees the staff on which her skull sits wobble. She summons are her love and compassion and calls out at the top of her lungs, “Cyane!”
The queen’s hut trembles as if it is being shaken by the hand of a titan. Light explodes inside the chamber so brightly that Gabrielle and the others close their eyes against it.
<no!> Alti’s spirit screams when she sees the result.
When Gabrielle opens her eyes she sees that her audience chamber is filled now with the spirits of Cyane, the young queen who took the name of her great predecessor, and the Siberian Amazons Velasca had slaughtered. She is right. Alti’s spirit is too weak from her battle with them to be able to hold back the spirits of the others. Now the shamaness faces the collected willpower of an entire generation of Amazons.
<you can’t defeat me Gabrielle. I will always be here. my power is eternal. no matter how many times you and Xena think you’ve won , I will always return>.
“ You just don’t get it , do you Alti?” Gabrielle says . With the spirit of Ephiny to her left and the spirit of Cyane to her right she feels stronger than she has since her departure from Rome. “ Xena and I aren’t your enemies.”
The spirit of Alti laughs. <please. don’t try and bore me with your bardic riddles Gabrielle. and don’t try to convince me that I’m confused or some such nonsense.>
“ You’re evil Alti,” Gabrielle replies. “ But it isn’t just Xena and I who are your enemies. We are just champions against the power you stand for. It’s a lesson I learned in India with the mendhi.” She pauses for a moment. “ You are the enemy of life, Alti! And the universe will never allow you to win!”
As one the Amazons, living and dead, reach out with their courage and their strength of willpower to attack the shamaness’s evil spirit. The shadowy ghost wavers as it is buffeted by the force projected by the Amazons. It tries to fight back but now without the souls of its enemies to feed its power the spirit of Alti is weak.
Gabrielle seizes her chakrum once more then sends it hurtling towards the skull of Alti with all the strength she can summon. Alti’s spirit cries out in impotent rage as the weapon passes through her ghostly form to strike her skull which explodes back into the fragments Najara had carefully pieced back together over the course of many months. The otherworldly screaming dies off as the bone fragments rain onto the floor and the staff upon which it sat clatters down. The chakrum embeds itself in the throne and vibrates after impact creating a low humming noise that seems to echo Alti’s ghostly wail. Then all is silent.
“Thank you Gabrielle,” the spirit of Cyane says. “We knew you would save us. And that you would win.”
“ I wish I had been so confident,” Gabrielle replies. Her eyes go to where Brunnhilda is standing over
Najara. She meets Tara’s eyes then nods towards the old woman. “ Have her taken from the village and put on the road to Athens.”
“ What? “ Tara says shocked at her queens’s command. “ But after all she has done she…”
“ She will suffer far worse out in the world than any punishment we can bestow,” Gabrielle says staring at the woman she had once thought the epitome of virtue. “ I could condemn her to death. Instead I will condemn her to life. Enjoy what’s left Najara. And don’t ever let me see you again or I may change my mind.”
Tara nods her understanding then signals two warriors to escort the woman out of Amazonia. But all eyes are still on the spirits around them.
“You are a true leader and queen Gabrielle,” Cyane tells her. “We thank you for what you have done. Be safe.” The spirit of Cyane holds up an ethereal hand. Gabrielle touches it with hers and feels the love and gratitude of the Siberian Amazons flow into her . Then like a breath of wind they are gone.
Ephiny’s spirit looks into Gabrielle’s eyes. “You are stronger than I remember.”
“ Thanks to you,” Gabrielle replies. “ I had almost lost hope. But you gave me the strength to keep fighting. And to win.”
“We are sisters after all. How can I not be there for you? Like Xena I will always love you. And remember that whenever you speak to me that though I may not always be able to answer, I am always listening.” Ephiny’s gaze turns from Gabrielle as Brunnhilda approaches . “I can see that you love her very much,” she addresses the Norse woman. Brunnhilda nods in response. “She is my sister. So please watch over her for me.”
“I will,” Brunnhilda says without hesitation. “ I promise.”
Gabrielle steps forward and opens her arms. Ephiny’s spirit steps into her embrace and she can feel the joy and love from her friend as if she were there in the flesh. “ I miss you,” Gabrielle says in a soft tone.
“I miss you too.” Ephiny steps back. The other Amazons as well are saying farewell to the spirits of their loved ones. “We have to go.” She sees the tears in Gabrielle’s eyes. “We will meet again someday Gabrielle. I know it.”
Gabrielle nods them remembers something. “ When you see Terrias tell her I fulfilled the prophecy. The outsider queen will lead our people into a new dawn.”
Ephiny seem perplexed by Gabrielle’s words but smiles nonetheless. “I will . Good bye Gabrielle.”
A moment later and only the living stand in the queen’s hut.
Gabrielle paces around the audience chamber and stares at everything around her. Hephaestus’s hammer leans against the throne in which the chakrum is still imbedded. Najara’s blood stained dagger lies where Brunnhilda dropped it after Tara had the old woman led away. The crooked staff on which she leaned lies amidst a scattering of amber dotted bone shards. She looks down at her bandaged hand. Her neck, head and feet only ache now. By some strange paradox wounds inflicted by Alti’s power seem to heal abnormally fast.
Tara , Brunnhilda and Lunara enter the hut. She turns to face them. They all seem to be awaiting her command. “The battle is won, my queen,” Tara speaks first to break the silence. “What are your orders?” She lets her gaze linger about the room.
Gabrielle picks up the hammer and hands it to Lunara. “ Do you recall where the chamber was that held the ambrosia I used to revive Xena?”
“ Yes,” the healer replies.
“ Have this hidden there. I don’t want it falling into the wrong hands. Tell no one where it is. Let it fade away into legend,” she says. She turns to Tara. “ Najara is gone?”
“ On her way to Athens cursing your name all the way I would imagine,” Tara informs her. “ It may have been a mistake.”
“She was never really a threat,” Gabrielle says as she pulls the chakrum from the throne and sits down.
“ She can curse my name and want revenge but in the end she is nothing but a bitter old woman. What happened to her was her fault. Not mine or Xena’s. She’ll harm no one else and no one will mourn her when she is gone. It’s a shame. She could have been something special.”
Brunnhilda nudges a piece of jaw bone with her foot and asks, “And Alti?”
“ I want every piece of that sealed in bronze. Melt down shields and swords if you have to. Then have each piece taken to the far corners of Greece. I don’t want to have to see or deal with Alti until my next lifetime.” She sees Lunara about to leave the hut and calls out to her. “ Lunara. Wait.”
Lunara halts. “What is it?” she asks.
“ Before you hide it I want you to show it to everyone in the village. Tell them it belonged to a god who was better than most. And that he helped us defeat Velasca. That though he may be dead we must remember him.” She turns to Tara. “ I want the day we defeated Velasca to be remembered in his name. And in the name of his wife. Each year we will celebrate the lives and mourn the passing of Hephaestus and Aphrodite. And I want to begin repairs on the temple.”
“ Artemis’s temple? But why?” Lunara asks.
“ It will no longer be a temple to Artemis. But to our ancestors. To Hippolyta, Antiope , Saira , Ephiny and all the others who have preceded us.” Gabrielle smiles. “ If I am to lead us into this new dawn then let that be my first decree.”
“ It will be as you say , my queen,” Tara says. She follows Lunara outside.
“ You said the goddess of love was your friend,” Brunnhilda says standing next to the throne.
“ It’s amazing, “Gabrielle says . She stands and walks to the door leading to her private chambers. “I seem to have outlived most of my friends. Even the immortal ones.”
“But now you have new ones,” Brunnhilda tells her as she steps closer. “ And a new purpose it seems. The outsider queen?”
“The outsider queen,” Gabrielle says. “I have to stay you know.”
“ And so I’ll have to stay with you.”
“ Thank you.”
“ I can’t break my promise to Ephiny.”
Gabrielle takes Brunnhilda’s hand in hers. “ It’s good to not be alone anymore.”
“ By the way,” Brunnhilda asks surreptitiously opening the door to Gabrielle’s room and leading them inside. “What exactly was that Alti said about me? Queen’s consort?”
Gabrielle pulls Brunnhilda the rest of the way into her chambers. She reaches up with one hand to hook it around Brunnhilda’s neck. Pulling her face closer Gabrielle whispers, “Here. I’ll show you.” And closes the door with her other hand.