past perfect/future perfect

By Ann Dancer

DISCLAIMER: Legally, the characters of Xena & Gabrielle belong to MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures. I have borrowed them out of pure love, not for profit.

There is the memory of a kiss shared between Gabrielle and Xena, and quasi-spoilers for Ides of March and FIN.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS: The list would be too long to name everyone, but at its very pinnacle is Medora MacD, who has been unfailing in her help and encouragement.

FEEDBACK: I can be reached at

A vineyard, by the sea. At its edge, just before the cliffs leap down to the surf, a small house sits, its white walls washed with apricot by the just-past-sunset light that fills the sky. To one side of the house, two trees arch over a spring that wells up, clear and bright, into a marble bowl. At the other side stands a small pergola, covered with vines, their hanging flowers bringing a faint, sweet perfume to the still air.

In the pergola, the old woman sits with her eyes closed, listening to the sunset birdsong, the snap and crackle of the small fire in the brazier at her feet; listening to the rush and pull of the sea, knowing by a subtle change in its music that the tide has turned to ebb. There is a small table at her side, covered with a litter of scrolls and a plate holding the remnants of a small supper: a few olives, some crumbs of cheese, a heel of bread. Her gnarled hands, resting in her lap, hold a glazed cup half full of wine.

Her face is lined and wrinkled, marked by a long life lived richly, full of joy and pain, grief and triumph and hard-won peace.

A young woman steps out of the house behind her; hearing the faint rasp of sandals on stone, the old woman opens her eyes to smile at the girl. Her eyes are clear and green as the sea in the shallows beyond the surf, before they drop down to the purpleblue of the depths.

“Is there aught else I can bring you, my queen?” the young Amazon asks, shaking out the light wrap she carries and draping it over the old woman’s shoulders. “Shall I fill your cup?”

“Yes, thank you,” she answers, holding out the cup. “And if you would bring a bit more wood -- I think I will sit here a while yet, and the evenings are chill, for all that we’re nearly to midsummer.”

“Of course, my queen.” The young woman fetches a small amphora from the cool water of the spring and pours the cup full; replaces it, then disappears around the side of the house. A moment later she reappears with an armful of wood which she stacks by the brazier, taking care to keep it in easy reach of the old woman.

“Shall I bring a lamp?” she asks, straightening from the wood and brushing off her hands.

“No, I think not. Don’t need a lamp to watch the stars, after all.”

The girl smiles, nods. “If there’s nothing else, then, and with your permission, my queen, I will return to the village for a time.”

“Of course, go. And Cleis,” she adds, “There’s no need to return until the morning ... should you wish to stay.”

Seeing the impish smile on the old woman’s face, and the wicked glint in her green eyes, the young Amazon flushes. “Thank you, my queen,” she says faintly. She bows slightly, then turns and walks quickly past the house, disappearing between the rows of grapevines.

I wish she’d call me Gabrielle now and then, the old woman thinks. She’s so formal you’d think I truly was a ruling queen. Seems like each one that comes down from the Nation is more formal than the one before. Of course -- she chuckles drily -- gods only know what kind of legendary creature I’ve gotten to be up there by now. I lost track of my years, long and long ago, but it must be more than 70, now. At least that. And all the places I’ve seen, things I’ve done ... the things I’ve been ... well, I suppose they’re entitled to a bit of awe, at that. I suppose. It has been a remarkable life, after all.

A scatter of memory flashes through her mind, bright as summer flowers, dark and cold as winter:

Stop that! Gabrielle shakes her head sharply, coming back to the quiet of the evening, the fire, the cup of wine in her hands. She is slightly annoyed to find tears on her face, but not surprised. Dear gods, it’s been 40 years and more, but sometimes, sometimes it feels like it was no more than a few days past. She puts the winecup on the table, wipes her face with the edge of the shawl Cleis had lain over her shoulders.

Sometimes, sometimes I still have no idea how it was that I managed, somehow, to go on with my life. I did, but sometimes I don’t know how. Or, sometimes, why I did. Oh, I know, ‘greater good’ and all that. Well, ‘greater good’ may give you a satisfied mind, but it doesn’t do much to warm your bedroll. She laughs softly, picks up the wine and sips, laughs again. Not that that fire burns so hot any more. For which I’m strangely grateful. Now ... well, the heart still feels her absence, still longs for her presence. And yes, at times, the body longs as well.

Still, I didn’t do so badly for myself. Didn’t do so badly, in the end. Surprises me, sometimes, how rich a life it got to be after all. How surprising it was to find that I could go on; that there could be life without her; that there could even be joy without her. It did take a while, though ....

She slips into memory again, in the way the old have, ‘then’ and ‘now’ blending into a present moment of remembering.

And coming, finally, here, to this vineyard by the sea, this place of rest and peace. Not -- she smiles wryly -- that it was all that peaceful or restful in the beginning, what with people coming up from the Academy and over from Lesvos all the time, and wandering bards who ‘just happened’ to be in the area, and my dear sweet Amazons so maddeningly solicitous of my welfare popping up every time I turned around, it seemed ....

Though I’m grateful for them now, gods know. That last bad fall convinced me, finally, that I really did need some help, hard as it was to give in to it. Getting old is ... it’s not that I mind being old so much, it’s just that it’s so damn inconvenient. She sighs. Well, I don’t know that I think there’s really much more of that left, in any case. The threads of this life have been well woven; time for them to be tied off and the next set put on the loom for the next life’s weaving.

She drains the last of the wine and puts the cup on the table. She brushes her fingers over a scroll, then gets stiffly to her feet and steps slowly to the edge of the pergola. It is full dark now, and she looks up, catching her breath at the splendor of the starry night. I still reach for her, when I see the stars. Still ....

She cocks her head, listening to the sound of the surf, farther out now on the ebbing tide.

And so goes life, my life, any life -- like the tide, like the moon. Wax and wane, ebb and flow, depart and return.

She stands for a moment longer, then turns back to her chair.

Ahh, pffftt. Careful, old woman, you’re on the verge of being dreadfully maudlin.
She builds up the small fire in the brazier; pulling the wrap more snugly around her shoulders, she sits down again. Should have asked Cleis to bring out a blanket. I’m cold. But I’m not ready to end the evening, not just yet.

She watches the fire flicker, a lifetime of fires flickering through her mind.

I can watch the past, in my mind, as if I was reading a scroll, but the future ... the future stays hidden. I do wonder, though, what the next weavings will be; what colors, what shapes.

I don’t believe in the Fields any more; don’t believe that I’ll meet Xena on the other side of Charon’s ferry ride to walk away into some pastel forever-after. But there was that promise, that we would be together for always, and I do still believe that. I just wonder what that means. We could be together and not know it ... but I wonder if we will still recognize each other somehow. Mostly ... mostly I wonder if we will ever find our souls in each other, again.

Watching the flames at her feet, she feels herself slipping into a trance, finds herself in some kind of altered state which blends this moment -- the crackle of the fire, a faint breeze on her cheek, the taste of wine lingering on her tongue -- with visions, bright and clear as new coins, of places and people she knows are not a part of the life she has lived.

The fire snaps; Gabrielle rouses enough to put the final piece of wood on the coals, and falls again into her waking dream, almost as if searching still for something more; hoping for a glimpse of that lifetime that might be the fulfillment of a long-ago promise. Might be. Could be.
Gabrielle’s eyes open, take in the cold ashes in the brazier, the faint graying of the sky to the east; she blinks, disoriented for a second, then shakes her head.

No, no, I’m here, not wherever -- whenever -- that was. Here. But dear gods, where was that? That was impossibly vivid. More than dream, more than vision. More. Will that be what waits, some time far ahead and far away? I think it is ....

She smiles, feeling the smile of that faraway self as she smiled at the woman with the blue-crystal eyes. And then slow tears come, fall slowly down her face.

Well. Well well. I believe I’ve just been given a most precious gift, I do believe I have. Which I gratefully accept. Thank you, blessed ones who sent this, whoever you are.
She brings her hands together under her shawl against her heart and bows, as she learned to do in India.

“Thank you. Thank you,” she whispers aloud, then wipes her face with the shawl.

I should get up and go in the house, but I’m too stiff to move. So I will just stay here and doze until the sun gets
up enough to warm my old bones. Or 'til Cleis comes back from the village. She’ll have a fit at finding me still out here, dear fussbudget that she is. Well, she can have her fit. I’ll not care.

I wonder -- could I find my way back into that last lifetime I was just shown? Find out what happens next?

As her eyes drift shut, she hears, as if from a great distance, the sound of the surf, and knows that the tide has turned from ebb, and is coming in again.


Return to the Academy