Xena: Warrior Princess, Gabrielle, Argo and all other characters who have appeared in the syndicated series Xena: Warrior Princess, together with the names, titles and backstory are the sole copyright property of MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures. No copyright infringement was intended in the writing of this fan fiction. All other characters, the story idea and the story itself are the sole property of the author. This story cannot be sold or used for profit in any way. Copies of this story may be made for private use only and must include all disclaimers and copyright notices.
This story depicts scenes of violence and/or their aftermath and mentions rape. Readers who are disturbed by or sensitive to this type of depiction may wish to read something other than this story.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: This Story attempts to explain some things that have not been explained thus far in the Xenaverse, especially in the episodes Sacrifice 2 and Family Affair. There are some spoilers for other Seasons of Xena as well, but nothing big.
This story is Book One of Hope Full, but it can be read as a stand-alone story as well.
Please feel free to send comments, burnt or otherwise to Belobris@aol.com
By WLMcCord (Bill the Semi Bard)(c)3-21-1999 (Revised 8-22-2000)
Book One: SACRIFICE SURVIVED
Gabrielle, the bard of Poteidaia moved through the trees with her Amazon staff at the ready. Carefully she looked around, her gaze stoney. She had slipped away from Xena following a feeling, like a whisper of evil in her mind. The feeling that her daughter Hope, (hers and the demon Dahaks) was somewhere nearby.
She was grim and worried. It seemed the very fate of the world might hang on what happened in the next few hours. Her daughter (her DEAD daughter) had somehow been reborn in a hideous cocoon and was now loose doing her demonic-fathers bidding to capture innocent victims for blood sacrifices to open a window for his passage into the world.
Gabrielle shook her head. Everything had seemed to turn upside down in the past few weeks. Hope had reappeared, looking exactly like her mother and was aided by the goddess Callisto and a horde of mesmerized priests. Ares of all the gods, had sided with Dahak, Hope and Callisto against the world, and was supposed to father a series of monsters with Gabrielles daughter. Further, Ares had made a deal with the three Fates that if Xena managed to kill Hope, her own life would be cut short.
Then unexpectedly, after Xena had secured the Hinds Blood dagger that could kill a god, Callisto had switched sides. The insane goddess had joined Xena and Gabrielle, vowing to help them against Ares and Hope if only the Warrior Princess would promise to afterwards slay Callisto with the dagger and end her crushing boredom.
Gabrielle groaned. Her head practically spun with the combinations and permutations of the hideous situation. How could one little trip to Britannia have brought on all this pain? But she knew how. It had been Xenas lust for revenge against Caesar that had set in motion this entire deadly drama, and now they were all stuck in the middle of it until the murderous conclusion played itself out.
"Hello, mother " hissed the evil voice she knew so well.
Gabrielle spun around and found her daughter standing there. Hope was dressed in a blood-red hooded robe trimmed with black. Except for the clothing and her reptile-like expression, she looked identical to her mother, even to the sea-green eyes. Swallowing fear, the bard raised her staff in defense, but her daughter made no move towards her.
"Hope," she ground out through parched lips. What do you want?"
"Im not going to hurt you," rasped the daughter of Dahak. "Im here to give you one last chance "
Hopes face softened. "Come be my mother," she pleaded. "Father will accept you if I say so. Please mother?" The wistfulness and longing in her daughters voice was so compelling that Gabrielle almost gave in almost. But she steeled herself against the feelings of love raging through her. She had made up her mind long ago, that her daughter must die. Indeed Hope should have been dead months ago from the poison that Gabrielle herself had given her, but somehow Dahaks daughter had survived.
"Hope " Impulsively, the petite blond cupped her daughters cheek. It was soft and smooth to the touch and despite her convictions the bard was torn. How could something that felt so pure be so evil? "When I gave you that poison Im so sorry "
Hope closed her eyes in ecstasy and stroked her mothers hand causing the hairs on the back of Gabrielles neck to stand up. "I forgive you " her daughter whispered joyfully and made a sound like the purr of a contented cat.
" so sorry " Gabrielle completed the sentence with a catch in her voice, "that it didnt FINISH you "
At her words, Hopes eyes flew open and her expression went in an instant from joy to a cold blank stare like a snake ready to strike. She seemed to heat with an inner fire and her eyes burned as she stared at her mother for a moment that seemed to stretch into an eternity of silence. Then still without a word, she turned and glided away into the trees and was lost from view.
After her daughter had disappeared, Gabrielles lips moved forming words without sound, without even breath, but a close observer could have read them. "My baby my Hope ... please, forgive me " then she blinked rapidly and a tear ran down each cheek. Dashing them angrily away, the bard of Poteidaia turned and left that place.
Chapter One: The Will of the Bard
Gabrielle spun around and delivered a smash with her Amazon staff to the midsection of the dark robed priest. The man folded over with a loud grunt. On the backswing she chopped the back of his head and he hit the temple floor with a satisfying crunch; did not move again. Chest heaving, the bard looked about for more enemies. There were none. Slowly she lowered her staff; she almost couldn't believe it. She and Xena had beaten all of the dark robed priests of her daughter Hope.
The petite young woman quickly glanced around at the grim temple of Dahak and grimaced. The temple was seated over a volcanic lava tube as befitted one such as he and fire roared and hissed within. The sacrificial slaves had fled and the priests were all down, including Sarafin, once Gabrielles friend, and now Hopes mesmerized priestess of the Blood. Here and there sparks flew from odd corners and crevasses as Dahak tried without success to regain entry into his temple. Moments before, the flying chakram of the Warrior Princess had closed his door into this world and the dark one was not happy.
Now the only people still standing in the evil temple were Gabrielle, Callisto, Xena and Hope. Joxer was down on one knee holding his head where a priest had hit him, but seemed all right otherwise. The Wargod Ares lay against the wall, helpless and still flickering with tiny flames from the fire burst Callisto had hit him with.
Breathing hard from her exertions, Gabrielle watched with dread as Xena moved towards Hope, the deadly Hind's Blood dagger raised high. She felt all but numb. In mere moments both her only daughter Hope, and Xena, her best friend would be dead. Her daughter would die from the Hind's Blood on the dagger that could kill a god. Not only that but Gabrielles best friend would also die because the Three Fates would sever her Life's Thread when she slue Hope.
In agony, the blond bard watched the deadly play unfolding before her. Xena swayed closer and closer to Hope, willing her way forward as the daughter of Dahak used all of her mental powers to try and hold her back. The warrior was winning the fight. Soon Hope would tire and Xena would strike. Gabrielle's daughter would die and Xena right after.
"Do it! Gut her," screamed the mad voice of Callisto. "Then it's MY turn!"
Gabrielle winced. Why did Callisto, an immortal god, so want to die and why do I care, when soon my best friend will be dead? But Xena's last words to her rang crystal clear in her mind. "Gabrielle, listen to me. Hope has to be stopped. When I'm gone, I don't want you to feel any guilt. You are the best thing that ever happened to me ... you gave my life meaning and joy, and you will be a part of me forever."
"Dammit, Xena," she thought with despair, "if any words ever spoken by anyone were less likely to relieve guilt, I've never heard any. I'll be blaming myself for the rest of my days for letting you go through with this."
Then Ares spoke from where he lay on the floor nearby. Since Callisto had blasted him with the gout of flames, the God of War was powerless to do anything but speak. But oh, the power of his words; they tore at her very soul.
"You know the stakes, Gabrielle! Xena's fate is in your hands!"
Gabrielle moaned, shaking her head as the words spun madly in her mind. "Xena's fate is in my hands ... Xena's fate is in my hands ... Xena's fate is in ... my hands." There was an answer there somewhere; a way out of this deadly circle of death between Xena and Hope. There had to be.
On the stage, Xena was in position. Hope could back up no further; her feet were on the edge of the fiery volcanic pit. The warrior set herself for the final strike; being fought every inch of the way by Hope's mental resistance working against her muscles, her body, her mind. She brought the dagger up for the killing strike, forcing her muscles to work by sheer willpower. A groaning scream was torn from her at the effort, but still Xena kept on. She would not quit, not be stopped, not even by an arrow shaft through the heart. She would kill Hope and that was that. Then she would die too.
"Xena's fate ... Xena's fate ... is ... IN-MY-HANDS! My hands! MINE!" The words spun madly in her head, then, Gabrielle found herself running forward with her staff.
"NOOOO," she shouted. She used the staff to vault the steps to the stage, dropping it after she landed. She plunged forward at a dead run towards the drama ahead.
"HOPE!" The bard didn't even know she screamed her child's name as she rushed past Xena. The big warrior woman was beginning to bring the deadly knife down as the bard flew towards her daughter. Hope's eyes caught her mother's in the split second before Gabrielle collided with her.
"Mother, what are you doing..." shown from them. Then, Gabrielle plowed into her daughter, wrapping her muscular and supple arms around her as the two of them spun on the very edge of the abyss. The impact turned them half way around and Gabrielle found herself facing Xena past Hope's right shoulder. She felt her footing go and she began to fall clutching her daughter to her and Hope reflexively grabbed her in a bearhug to steady herself. In slow motion she saw the killing snarl on the warrior's face replaced with a look of disbelief turning to sheer horror as Xena realized that Gabrielle and Hope were locked together. That the warrior's best friend in all the world was falling into the fiery pit and there was absolutely nothing she could do to prevent it.
In that split-moment Gabrielle tried to send her friend a message with her eyes. "This is for you, I'm sorry, don't hate me, but I couldn't let you do this, I couldn't let you die, I love you, Xena. I LOVE you!"
Then came the sickening lurch as her body realized she was falling and her stomach tried to climb out of her throat. Her view of the stunned Warrior Princess was cut off as she and Hope spun past the rock face and towards the flames far below.
"Wha-Gabrielllle!" The bard heard the choking cry from her agonized friend. Then Hope shoved her away and they separated as they fell downwards towards the belching volcanic flames and Gabrielle's mind dithered in terror at what she had done.
"XEEEEEEENNNNNNNNNAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!" Her last thought was torn from her throat in a long drawn out primal scream as she fell down down down ... into fiery oblivion.
Chapter Two: The Girl Who Smiled
Smiley stirred and came up from a sound sleep wondering what had awakened her. Birds sang outside her window and early morning light came in. Somewhere outside, a deep bell tolled softly, once, twice, then once more.
"Oh, Zeus," she wailed. "Bell three already? I'm gonna miss breakfast." She bolted out of bed shedding her night shift as she went. Then she darted naked as a frog to the washbasin, poured some water and splashed it on her face, arms and body. Standing there, she performed a quick all over wash, shivering in the cool morning air as she did so. She dried herself with a towel and peered into the small mirror.
A pair of large eyes, green as the sea, looked back at her. She raised an eyebrow and let her gaze travel downward. Doing so she noticed that her nipples were standing up from the cold wash and she stuck her tongue out at them. Then she quickly brushed her red-gold hair into a semblance of order, scrubbed her teeth with a finger and rinsed out her mouth from the jug. She spit in the wash water, then stood eyeing her nakedness in the mirror for a moment tilting it this way and that to get the view she wanted.
Not too tall, but with full hips and a narrow waist; delineated muscles on her abdomen. Broad shoulders and plump, no, make that muscular, arms tapered to slim strong hands with short nails. She pivoted slightly to eye her muscled back and taut buttocks. Her breasts were not too large, but round and firm and her flat stomach ran smoothly down to her womanly mound. Below that, muscular thighs and calves went to small but adequate feet, which looked as if they were made to dance. She was certainly not a knockout by any means, but cute perhaps, she thought. She noticed a faint blush creeping across her body as she perused it. Then she grinned at her flushed image, which seemed to light up her face; her green eyes sparkling with humor.
"Don't kid yourself Smiley, you're a babe," she chuckled happily. "And yer hungry, so quit ogling that firm young body and lets go!" She darted to her wardrobe and fumbled inside. From it she pulled undergarments, a short tan robe that came to her knees and leather sandals. She threw everything on, and pulled a narrow green sash around her trim waist.
The deep bell outside tolled once, then twice and was silent. "Still time for a stop to the outhouse," she thought. "If I can get to the cafeteria by single bell, I'll be all right. They'll still feed me. They'd better! Darn, I'm so hungry I could eat a horse." For some reason that thought stopped her with a vision of a tall golden horse galloping towards her, then coming to a stop with flying clods of dirt. The horse spun around to rear kick a man in black armor and send him flying.
She shook her head and her coppery hair swirled. "What's that all about? I don't know any horses. Food, Smiley, food! Let's go!"
She yanked open her door and ran out into the bright morning. After a quick trip to the outbuilding, she jogged through the garden and up the hill to the cafeteria. As she was coming up to it, Brother Theobaldius was sounding the large bell on the post. He rang it once only, then came her way. He was an older man with a trim gray beard and a fringe of iron gray hair around his ears. He limped slightly as he walked and leaned on a staff for support.
"Good morning dear Faunlyn," he called.
"Oh, Papa, good morning," she called happily and ran up to him. She hugged him and kissed his cheek. He gave her a peck back, then held her at arms length and looked at her fondly taking in her rippling hair, sparkling eyes, glowing skin and smiling face.
"By the gods, daughter," he said tenderly, "That smile of yours; it's no wonder no one ever calls you by your right name. You are a sight to take a man's breath this early in the day. I trust you slept well?"
"Oh, yes, Papa. I slept ever so soundly."
"You did not ... dream?" His voice was soft and he looked at her intently.
"No," she smiled, "I haven't had the dream for quite some time now. I think it's really gone for good."
"I hope so, my child," the old man patted her cheek. "Perhaps the healing has finally taken place. I pray that it has."
"Dear Papa, you worry about me too much, but thank you for caring," she said sincerely, taking his arm. "Come, will you join me for breakfast?"
"Oh, my dear Smiley," he said rolling his eyes to the sky. "As is usual with you, you have been slugabed, while I on the other hand have been up since before dawn. I ate hours ago; you don't mean to say you are just going to eat now? It is nearly lunch time," he teased with a wave at the morning sun just rising over the wall.
Involuntarily her stomach rumbled and his eyes widened; she blushed and grinned. "Hmmm. I see that you have not. Best you go now before Mellia throws it to the pigs. I shall see you later on your rounds, yes?"
"Yes, Papa," she assured him. She hugged him and whispered, "I love you, father," her green eyes full of affection.
"I love you too, my child," he smiled, his eyes wet. "Now go and eat. I know that appetite of yours." She laughed and kissed his cheek again, then spun off into a run to the cafeteria leaving the old man smiling fondly after her.
Chapter Three: Old-Biddy-Lydi and the Bread
Smiley entered the cafeteria, being greeted by many people; ambulatory patients, healers and nurses alike. She called them all by name, smiling and speaking to each like old friends. She had the knack so it seemed, of instant intimacy with friends or strangers alike and everyone she passed was warmed by her dazzling smile and kind words.
Instead of going to where the food was laid out, she went straight to the kitchen. As she went in, noises of bubbling food pots, whistling kettles and the cheerful crackle of the cook fires brought wonderful food smells to her nose. The kitchen was a large room, crammed full of counters, hanging utensils, a large oven, a hearth with cooking irons, stacked foodstuffs and hanging bunches of vegetables. "Good morning, Mellia," Smiley caroled as she entered. The cook, a burly barefoot woman turned quickly, dusting her hands on her apron.
"Smiley," she grinned. "There ya are." She swept the petite young woman into a bearhug greeting, then set her down causing her to stagger. "Siddown over there, I'll gitcha sumpin' ta eat."
"Thanks Mellia," Smiley said, climbing on the stool as she was told.
The big barefooted cook bustled about heaping a tray high with grapes, ripe cherries, cheese, eggplant moussaka, toasted flatbread, a bowl of mush with goats milk, a cup of hot tea, a plate of scrambled eggs and a rasher of bacon. "Here ya go, Smiley," she said grinning, "yer usual diet breakfast."
"Thanks, Mellia, you're a dear." Smiley took the tray, smelled of the heaped contents appreciatively. "Gotta keep my strength up, ya know." She popped a cherry into her mouth, chewed and crinkled her eyes. "Oh, these are good. So sweet." The cook came over near her and began coring some apples as the young woman began eating with gusto.
"Sweets to the sweet, Smiley," said the cook as her meaty hands nimbly peeled the fruit, "though how ya keep that waist so tight on the amounts you eat, I'll never know. Yer legs must both be hollow."
"Papa says its 'cause I burn up energy talking with my hands," she grinned, waving her spoonful of mush in lazy figure-eights. "Do you think I talk with my hands, Mel?"
A dollop of mush hit the table and the cook deftly wiped it up with the end of her apron. "Well, lets put it this way, missy. If you'da had a knife in each hand when you was tellin' me that story the other night, all I'da had to do was lay next meals vegetables out there and they'da been chopped up an ready fer the pot before I could say 'Zeus rules Olympus'."
She ducked a flying disk of toasted flatbread and joined a giggling Smiley in a hearty laugh.
"Good morning, Mellia," came a severe voice from behind them. "I trust that because you throw it on the floor, this bread is so old and stale it cannot be safely eaten by humans? Food is not to waste, you know."
The beefy cook turned around quickly and Smiley gulped. There behind them in the kitchen doorway stood Lydia, the head nurse of the hospice. She had a stern look on her face and held the piece of flatbread in two fingers. Mellia spoke deferentially. "Um, no, nurse Lydia. I, uh, din't notice I dropped it. Sorry bout that." She reached forward and took the offending piece of bread and dusted it off on her ample front. She grinned and took a large bite of it. "Yup, still good. Never fear, I won't let it go ta waste; 'cept mebbe MY waist."
"Ahem." Nurse Lydia covered her mouth and coughed slightly as if something were caught in her throat. Smiley giggled in spite of herself, then paled as the old head nurse rounded on her.
"And you, nurse?" Lydia said coolly. "When you have quite finished at the trough, you have rounds to make. Last breakfast bell was quite some time ago, as I'm sure you well know."
"Y-Yes, head nurse Lydia," Smiley stammered.
"Hmmm. Finish your meal then, don't dawdle. You have work to do. Mellia, I'm sure you do as well?" The old nurse raised an eyebrow, then turned without waiting for an answer and stalked out of the kitchen.
"Old biddy," muttered the cook under her breath. "Just cause she's been here since before Zeus was a gleam in his daddies eye..." She chuckled shortly.
"Oh, Mellia," Smiley said uncomfortably. "I'm sorry I got you in trouble. You didn't have to cover for me."
"Huh," snorted the cook, slapping a large bare foot on the floor. "Think I'm worried 'bout Old-Biddy-Lydi? She's got her duties all right, but I ain't one of 'em. This here's MY kitchen, not hers."
"Oh, but she was right about one thing." Smiley said softly. "I shouldn't have thrown the bread. No one should ever waste food. When you're hungry, anything at all seems like a feast; I know..."
Suddenly a quick mental image flashed through her mind. Her stomach was growling and a strong looking hand with a leather arm protector tossed her a half of an apple. The smell of the ripe fruit in her hands was almost more than she could bear. She hungrily bit into the morsel and her mouth flooding with the sour-sweet juices of apple and saliva was heavenly. She blinked. Where had that image come from?
"Smiley?" Mellia spoke in a curious tone. "Where did ya go?"
The young woman started. "Oh, sorry," she smiled contritely at the cook. "I don't know what happened, I just sort of doped-off I guess." She sighed. "Mellia, why does head nurse Lydia hate me?"
"What? That old rusty sword?" The cook snorted again. "She don't hate ya, Smiley. She ain't got enuff juice in her veins ta hate anybody. Dried up ol' maid like she is; all's she's got is her job. She don't know or care 'bout nuthin' else."
The young woman looked sad and pushed back her hair. "But she's always on me about something or other. Nothing I do seems to please her."
"Ahhh. Don't let her bother ya, why, yer father runs this here hospice, not her."
"Oh, I know Papa runs it, but she's in charge of the nursing staff and I work under her. She is a really good nurse too; I've watched her work. I even try to do things like I've seen her do sometimes. I just hate not getting along with her."
The hefty cook patted her shoulder kindly. "Smiley, ya got a good lovin' heart in yer chest, but ya can't get along with ever single person in the world. Jist remember, alla the rest o' us here love ya; yer father most of all. Fergit about Old-Biddy-Lydi."
"Oh, thanks, Mellia. I love you." Smiley hugged the big cook affectionately and was squeezed till her breath whooshed out of her lungs for her trouble.
The big cook left her gasping and bustled to the kitchen counter, bare feet slapping on the floor. She came back with a small plate. "Now you eat th' rest o' that there, so's ya kin get on to yer rounds. Here, have a fresh piece o' honey baklava right warm from the oven. I jist made it fer tonight."
Smelling the fresh warm pastry, Smiley grinned and licked her lips. "I'd better hurry then," she said, eyes sparkling. "I wouldn't want it to get cold."
A few minutes later she was just finishing the baklava with glass of fresh goat's milk, when a voice spoke from behind her. "He-Hello Smiley, h-how are you this m-morning?"
Smiley rolled her eyes at Mellia and the cook winked. "Hello, Linaus," she sighed. She looked around from her plate and smiled. "I'm fine. How are you today?"
The tousle headed young man standing there with a mop and bucket stammered, "I'm g-good." He grinned and pulled at an ear; stood blinking uncertainly, shifting back and forth from foot to foot. The silence stretched out. Smiley glanced at Mellia, but the cook was pointedly looking elsewhere. She looked back at Linaus and found his eyes firmly fixed on her bosom, his mouth slightly open.
She colored faintly and cleared her throat. The young man turned beet red as he realized where he was looking and that she had noticed. He began stammering something about finishing his work and grabbed at his bucket. It tipped over sending dirty water in a flood over the floor and Mellia's feet. Still sitting, Smiley lifted her sandals from the torrent but the cook yelped and grabbed the boy by the collar and shook him.
"Keep it in the bucket, googoo-eyes, not on my feet! Now get that mop ta work!" Still stammering and blushing, Linaus began hurriedly mopping.
Smiley stood up from her stool. "Gods, where has the time gone. I'd better get to my rounds." She patted her trim midriff and grinned. "Mellia, thank you for the great feed. I think it may last me at least until lunch."
The cook laughed. "Come on back when yer hungry, love. There's plenty more where that come from." She winked at the young woman and turned to Linaus. "Come on you," she barked. "Get this mess cleaned up so's I kin use my kitchen, I got lunch meal ta prepare."
Smiley winked back and left the big cook harassing the boy.
Chapter Four: Life at the Hostel
From the cafeteria, Smiley went into the Wound Ward. She stopped at the nurses' station and took up a tray with bandages, dressings, salves and ointments. She spoke to Karina the duty nurse to see if there was anything special she needed to do for the patients she would see. Finding there was nothing out of the ordinary, Smiley bid Karina good day and went into the ward to begin her work. She waved at the other young nurses already at work and started on a section that had not yet been covered.
Going from bed to bed in her section of the ward, she spoke kindly and softly to all her charges, wishing them good morning, making conversation or inquiring how they felt. At the same time she was cleaning and dressing wounds, changing bandages, or putting on ointments or salves where needed.
Halfway through her morning work, Linaus came in with his bucket to mop the floor. Smiling, she nodded to the young man and kept working. He grinned back and began swishing the mop industriously. She sighed to herself at seeing the puppy-eyes he made at her.
Finally she came to the bed of a husky farmer named Desilus who had been gored in the arm by a cow who had tossed her head unexpectedly. He had waited too long to clean it and the wound had become infected. The man had been in danger of losing the arm, but had been brought in time to the hospice by his worried wife. It had been touch and go for several days, but finally the poultices had beaten the infection and he was on the mend. She changed the old poultice and decided that just some salve and a fresh bandage would do for now.
Meanwhile, Linaus watched her adoringly from where he was mopping the floor. Her slim hands were so adept, so quick as she tied the bandage. He watched her smile at the man as she finished and the expression lit up her face. His heart beat like a hammer at the sight and he had to swallow to keep from sighing aloud. He moved closer with the mop so he could watch her better.
"You're gonna be all right, Desilus," she said to her patient. "Just remember not to get too close to the horned end of that beast from now on."
"Aye, lass, I'll do that," the farmer said. "Thankee fer yer care."
The young woman gathered up her bandages and salves on the tray and turned to go. Linaus was right behind her and it was only by a fast dance step that she managed to miss walking right into the young man. As it was he tripped over the bucket as he tried to dodge and fell flat on his face.
Smiley sighed and set down the tray on a nearby bed. She knelt to help the boy up, but he was scrambling to his feet. His head cracked into her jaw and they both went down this time, much to the amusement of the old farmer.
"Holy Zeus," she swore, holding her aching jaw.
Linaus staggered to his feet first and helped her up, rubbing his crown. "I'm s-sorry, Smiley."
"No, no. It's all right," she assured him with a lopsided smile as she made it to her feet. "Thank you. How's your head?"
"It-it's okay," he blushed.
"Good," she said. "Okay, gotta go. Rounds to make in the infirmary. See you later, huh?"
"Uh, okay, S-Smiley. Bye." He watched her hurry off and sighed heavily, then went back to his mopping.
"Whew," Smiley thought as she went into the infirmary. "What am I gonna do with him? He's a nice guy, but I'm just not interested in him. Can't he see that I never really talk to him or encourage him? Men! Why can't he take a hint?"
Chapter Five: The Incident of the Baby
She continued going from bed to bed in the hospice infirmary, doing her healing work. To each sufferer she spoke cheerfully and with kindness, listening to his or her complaints and rendering assistance where she could.
Finally she came to the bed of an elderly woman with her left arm in a sling. The woman sat there fully dressed on the made bed, reading a scroll.
"Hello, Elenina," Smiley said chuckling. "How are you this morning?"
"Chipper as a cricket and twice as lively," chirped the elderly woman, hopping out of bed to prove it. She stamped the floor with one sandaled foot. "And I'm ready for my morning walk. Shall we go to the garden, or just dance right here for exercise?" She did a couple of fast Tsamikos steps with a complicated tapping pattern.
Smiley laughed with glee to see the elderly woman move in such a sprightly manner. "No, no. I don't think I can follow that step," she grinned. "Let's just take that walk, shall we?"
"Bawk-bawk-bawwwk! Smiley's a chicken," said the woman. She tossed the scroll on her bed and took the young woman by the arm. "Come on then, my little golden feathered banty-hen; lets go get some sun." Together the two woman, one old and one young went to the garden.
The garden was a beautiful place in the center of a ring of hospice buildings. There bloomed many types of flowers and bushes and various trees provided shade from the midday sun. Pathways led throughout the area and stone benches for recuperating patients to rest upon were everywhere. Birds filled the air with song and small animals moved through the flowering bushes and shrubs. In the center of the garden was a small rock pool about twenty feet in diameter with large gold fish and other types swimming about. It was fed by a bubbling underground source and so stayed flowing and fresh the whole year around.
The building that housed the hospice staff was nearby as were two of the patient wards. Smiley's room was there; it faced the garden to the East and she was wakened nearly every morning by the sunrise. She and Elenina walked slowly throughout the area savoring the sunshine and beauty of the place. They talked of many things, for the older woman was a priestess of Gaia and had traveled to many temples and shrines throughout Greece and knew much of different areas of the country.
Smiley listened in fascination to Elenina's tales, but more than once had surprised both the old priestess and herself with her own odd bits of knowledge of far corners of the world. At last they sat down for a rest near the pool and drank in the warm sunshine.
While they sat, Smiley helped the old priestess ease her splinted arm out of the sling so that she could move it about. Smiley then helped her twist and stretch it for exercise of the joints, gently supporting the arm just enough.
The old priestess finally had enough and had her help put the arm back. She sighed with relief. "Thank you, my dear. You are an accomplished young woman and on your way to becoming a very fine healer. You have all the requirements; the touch, the caring attitude and the want to help people."
"Thank you," Smiley said with embarrassment. "I love the idea of being a healer and Papa says I seem to have a natural gift for helping."
"That is very unlike too many young people nowadays," said the priestess. "So many of them seem intent only upon themselves and their own wants and needs and I am sad. But then I see a kind and caring young person like you and on that day everything changes, everything. Then I think that I have hope again. Hope that the world is not going to Tartarus after all ... why, what's wrong, my dear?" She looked in surprise at Smiley.
For Smiley was suddenly choked by a lump in her throat and a blurring of her eyes. She felt depressed and full of sorrow. She hugged herself as she began to shake and tears ran down her cheeks. "What in Zeus' Name is wrong with me," she thought. "Why am I crying?"
"Smiley?" The priestess softly touched her arm. "What is it my dear?"
"I-I don't know, I suddenly felt so ... so sad," she said, wiping at her wet face. Already she felt better and the feelings were lifting. "I feel better now. I don't know what happened."
"When did the sadness start?"
Smiley thought about it. "I think when you were talking about everything changing ... and how I gave you hope and I-I saw a-a baby, I think; only for a moment. Then it was like something, just ... hit me. I felt this huge sorrow building inside me and then I was shaking." Her green eyes were bewildered. "I wonder why?"
"You have no idea what caused it?"
"No. It just ... happened and now the feeling is gone, thank the gods." She shook her head. "But I wonder WHY it happened and why just then?"
The old priestess looked pensive. "A good question my dear. Sometimes our minds react to things we see or hear and then bring up images long buried in our pasts and we react to them." Smiling, she patted the young woman's knee. "Although I would not have thought one as young as you would have a buried past. This vision of a baby meant nothing to you?"
"N-No, I don't remember being around any babies ... well, except here at the hospice," she amended. "I've helped with several births, but I don't see what that would have to do with what I saw."
They discussed what had happened for several more minutes, but came to no useful conclusion. Finally Smiley noticed that there was tiredness showing in the older woman's expression. "Would you like to go back now," she asked.
The old priestess sighed gratefully. "I do feel a bit weary, all this fresh air no doubt. Perhaps I should go back to my bed for a while before lunch." Smiley nodded and helped her to her feet. Together the patient and the nurse made their way back to the infirmary.
Afterwards, Smiley went off to her other chores and the incident was forgotten.
Chapter Six: On the Wings of Dreams
She awoke abruptly from the nightmare with a faint cry, not knowing who or where she was. Sleep receded into a pattern of yellow light; it moved before her, seeming to shimmer. There was a sweet sound from somewhere ... music? In a daze she stared at the moving light and tried to make sense of it. Then her vision came into focus; her bedside stand with the time candle burned low, the small table, her wardrobe, her chair. It was her room; the beautiful light was the sun's reflection on the wall from the pool in the garden outside her window. It was morning and a playful breeze was causing the water in the pool to move, which made the light reflections dance on her wall. The beautiful music was the sound of the morning doves outside her window.
"Thank the gods," Smiley murmured. She stretched and then rearranged the covers into a comfortable nest and curled into it. She closed her eyes trying to will herself to sleep again, but found that when she did, pictures from her dream began crowding in on her.
"Dammit," she sighed, eyes still closed. "There's probably still an hour before breakfast bell. I could sleep in. Ahhh, phooey. Who am I kiddin'?" Smiley knew from long experience that when awakened like this, she would lay and mull over the dream images searching for meanings. She would get no more sleep this morning. Opening her eyes, she plumped up her pillow and lay back, yawning and scratching her night tousled head.
The dream; it was so vivid and familiar that she could picture it without difficulty. Closing her eyes, Smiley began playing the dream in her mind. How did it start? Oh, yes, where it always did; with the cool blue eyes.
The eyes were the deepest sky blue she had ever seen and she felt as if she could fall into them. They were wide with some emotion. Fear? Anger? Horror? Love? A combination of all of them? She was not sure. Then she felt arms clutching her in a bearhug grip and the blue eyes suddenly tilted upwards and away and she realized by the feeling in her guts that she was falling.
Now came the feeling of terror; sheer and utter terror. She was terribly afraid of something or someone; death? The clutching arms? The falling? Smiley shuddered at what she knew not. She was not sure she wanted to know.
Then there were the other feelings mixed in as well. What were they? The terror was followed closely by futility, despair, and somehow, pride. Her mouth turned down at the corners. Why pride of all things? How did that go with the others? She sighed; no clue. All right, move that one to the cold side of the frying pan for now; it would keep. Now, on to the next part.
It made no more sense than the others, but at least she could recognize things about it. For instance there were the hands; the strong hands. They grasped her firmly dangling her in ... midair? They did not belong to the bearhug arms, she was somehow certain of that. The hands grasped under her armpits from behind her, the fingers closed around her chest above and beside her breasts. They held her as secure as a vise, but without the grip being painful; just firm.
Then there was the air; it was hot! There was great discomfort all around her. There was a roar like a house-fire everywhere. She was much too warm for comfort and had the feeling that she was breathing in fire and smoke. She felt the heat blazing up from below her like a furnace opening straight to Tartarus.
In the dream, her vision was affected. Her eyes seemed blurry with tears or maybe the heat; like from getting too close to a fire, a ... a campfire? Why did she picture a campfire with a frying pan and some kind of meat sizzling? It was all very confusing.
Smiley put that vision aside too and moved on to the wings. Gods, the wings! She was held from behind by the strong hands, looking up with her blurred dream vision. There they were above her, flapping slowly like some giant bird. They were massive and were pulling her ... up?
Then the words ... what were they? She heard herself speak in a choked voice as she fell up. "I'm ... I'm, dead? Is this ... am I going to Tartarus?"
A deep masculine laugh came from behind her where the hands held her so firmly, so ... safely. Then the voice came, calm and rich. "Dead? Not yet little girl. It's not your day to die despite your wishes."
"But I gotta be dead," she gasped half-blind through the heat around her. "No one could survive this ... no one."
"Others have," chuckled the rich voice. "You can too. I'd bet dinars on it."
"But ... why should I survive," she sobbed. "I'm nothing special; just a ... a useless little tagalong from ... from the village, following a great hero who deserves better than me. I've made so many mistakes ... hurt her so much ... better I should die than her."
"Little girl, little girl," said the deep voice above the fire-roar. "In the end, you'll take that hero from the warmonger's evil once and for all ... and for nothing more than love. That's just who you are. Don't you know that by now?"
Then began the part of the dream she hated and feared most. From below came an earth-shaking roar. Flames and gas belched and the very air seemed to shudder and dance around her.
"Whoa, fire-dude wants to play," grunted the voice. "We'd better get outa here." She heard the wings flap and felt the upward pull grow stronger when what seemed to be a solid wall of heated air struck them from below. She screamed as she found herself and her savior flipped through the air upside down and sideways. A sheer rock wall seemed to come flying from nowhere to smash her in the face.
That was all; it was at this point in the dream that she always woke up. The dream ended this way, no matter how many times she had it, with no variations. Smiley snorted with disgust and opened her eyes.
"And no matter how many god's damned times I've analyzed it," she thought, yawning again, "I never can get a clue as to what it's about. Why do I keep having it, if it tells me nothing?"
Chapter Seven: Revelations from Behind a Tree
Slowly Smiley arose and performed her morning toilette. Afterwards she opened the wardrobe and reached for her clothing. As she pulled it out, her eye caught sight of a green fabric behind the other robes and clothes. Slowly she pulled the other clothing aside. In the back of the closet hung a piece of green material; it was perhaps a small bodice and it was stained with what looked like soot. Beside it hung a brown skirt, similarly stained.
Smiley reached forward hesitantly as if to touch the items and felt a prickle on the back of her neck as if the short hairs there were standing up. She stopped and stood for a moment, then realized that her hand was trembling and withdrew it quickly. Her eyes swam suddenly and she realized that they were full of tears. Shaking her head, she pulled the other clothing back in front of the items and closed the wardrobe and then leaned back against it.
"What is it," she thought as she slowly dressed, "about those old rags that ... bothers me? Every time I see them they make me ... uncomfortable."
She faced the closed wardrobe with hands on her hips. "I oughta throw 'em out. They're so stained and old looking and I can't even remember the last time I wore them..." She straightened her back. "Yes, that's it. I'll throw 'em away ... and those dirty old boots while I'm at it too." She stepped towards the wardrobe but was stopped by the ringing of the breakfast bell outside.
She stood indecisively for a moment, then her stomach rumbled. "Okay," she said. "Later ... later I can throw 'em out; there's no rush." She ran to the door and on out to jog up the hill to the cafeteria.
As she went through the trees she caught a glimpse of her father talking to head nurse Lydia near the breakfast bell. Stopping behind a tree, Smiley watched unobserved for a moment.
"I suppose the old hen is complaining to Papa how I'm always late to breakfast," she thought disgustedly. The two seemed to be talking about something to do with the hospice, but Smiley couldn't hear all the words. After several moments, the conversation concluded. Her father smiled and nodded at nurse Lydia and then started off for the cafeteria leaning on his staff, leaving her behind.
As Smiley watched from behind the tree, she saw the old nurse watching her father go. To the young woman's surprise, there was a look of sadness perhaps even longing on the normally stern visage of the head nurse. Her lips moved silently, but she was close enough so that the shocked Smiley could read the single word.
"Theo." It was her father's name.
Then the old nurse dabbed at her eyes with a handkerchief and blew her nose. She sighed, then straightened her shoulders. As if donning a mask, her normal stern expression reinstated itself and she began walking rapidly toward the infirmary.
"By the gods," thought Smiley in a daze as she went slowly to the cafeteria. "I think that Old-Biddy-Lydi is ... in love ... with my father!"
Chapter Eight: Lunch at the Pool
Brother Theobaldius' hospice was the only one in the area and was usually swamped with patients most of the time. Everyone seemed to know of the place of help and healing and came for miles seeking aid. The young and old, injured or sick came in numbers and the staff were always kept busy. The parade of broken limbs, wrenched muscles, burns, stomach disorders, headaches, sleeping problems, animal bites, pregnant woman with needs, and wounds from combat or drunken brawls was endless. The hospice was open to all and all manner of injuries and disease and disorders of the body were treated without exception or question. Many times this meant for no pay, but no one who needed help was ever turned away.
One sunny day at noon Theobaldius and Smiley were sitting by the pool in the garden after the morning rounds. Mellia had prepared a small picnic lunch for them and Smiley was in her element, sampling all the different foods the thoughtful cook had provided. A warm breeze was playing through the trees and the birds were filling the air with song. As she ate, Smiley had her sandals off and was soaking her feet in the cool water.
"Ohhhh, this is so nice," she sighed around a mouthfull of spinach-cheese pie and sausage. As she chewed she wiggled her toes to see if she could attract the small goldfish to nibble at them.
Theobaldius chuckled. "Relax while you can, my dear," he said. "Soon enough we'll have to go back for the afternoon rounds."
"Oh, I'm ready," she assured him. Her eyes sparkled as she spoke. "I love being able to help people, Papa; it just feels so good."
"I know what you mean, daughter. When it works, it's the greatest feeling in the world. When it doesn't..." his voice trailed off and he looked sad.
She looked at him intently. "What do you mean, 'when it doesn't', Papa?"
"Sometimes," he said, "there is nothing we can do to help an injured or sickly person except pray to the gods to grant them an easy death." He set down his wine cup and gazed into space. "Then we have to deal with the consequenses of what has happened; sometimes that is not easy."
"But, when you've done all you can for someone..." Smiley began.
"Doesn't matter," Theo said flatly. "When they're dead, you still feel guilt over it and when that happens, you have to deal with it. If you don't, soon you won't be able to do the work anymore. You won't be able to take another life into your hands for fear of losing it too. When that happens, you are finished as a healer; I've seen it happen to others."
Smiley looked at him gravely. "How do you deal with it Papa?"
"With conceit, my dear. With sheer, utter and single-minded conceit." He smiled at her bewildered expression and went on. "You have to know and I mean to really KNOW with stubborn pride and faith in your own infallibility, that you did whatever you could and that it was enough. That no one else in your position could have done it better. That you and only you were the best person for the job." He looked at her seriously with no hint of humor. "That's how you survive the work, Smiley, but it's a hard lesson to learn."
A sudden vision of intense blue eyes came to her then and a strong voice was speaking seriously. "You have to choose those who have a chance to live from those who don't and work with those you can save..."
She looked up at him and straightened her shoulders. "I'll remember it, Papa."
"I know, my dear. Now lets talk about something more pleasant; I don't want to ruin this beautiful afternoon." One corner of his mouth quirked up slyly. "So when are you and Linaus getting married?"
Theo's answer was a wrathful squeal and a sputtering face full of water as she kicked her submerged feet at him and the liquid sprayed everywhere. Laughing, he fled the battlefield a soggier but wiser man.
Chapter Nine: The Tale of the Wagon
Later that week, frantic parents brought a young boy in on a litter. His skin was sallow and he was obviously in great pain, but he did not even whimper. The right side of his chest was bloody and he had difficulty breathing, but his eyes moved with intelligence. Theobaldius and Smiley went to the boy while nurse Lydia held the distraught parents in the next room.
When he saw that the boy was lucid, Brother Theobaldius smiled kindly. "Well, hello there, young man and what's your name?" As he spoke he examined the boy quickly.
"I-I'm, Iolchus..." the boy said gravely. "Who are ... you?"
"My name is Brother Theo," he said as he felt gently around the boy's chest. Brother Theo's face went blank for a moment as his probing fingers encountered a soft pushed in area on the boy's rib cage where one should not be. He quickly recovered a neutral expression. "And this is my daughter, Smiley."
"Hi," said the boy weakly. He looked at Theo. "Am ... am I gonna ... be all right?"
"Well, you certainly won't be climbing trees for a few days, but we'll see. Now, Iolchus, does this hurt," he asked as he felt around the boy's chest. "And how about this?" Theo's face became blanker with every moment. Forcing a smile at the boy he said, "Smiley, just fetch me that draught of crushed aspirin leaves from my study, will you? You know the one. Oh, and some wine too."
"Yes, Papa." The petite young woman ran quickly and returned in minutes with the requested items. Theo swirled the draught around to mix it, then held it to Iolchus' lips. "This is going to taste really bitter, Iolchus," he smiled, "but that means it's good and strong. Try to drink it all."
The boy did as he was told, although he made a face as he swallowed and gagged a bit. Afterward, Theo let him drink some wine to wash away the aspirin taste. "Now, just rest, son," he said kindly, "let the medicine have a chance. It should ease your pain." Iolchus closed his eyes.
Brother Theo took Smiley aside and said grimly. "The right side of his chest is crushed and he has internal damage and bleeding." He shook his head in sorrow and anger. "Such a waste that one so young should die, but there is nothing we can do except make him comfortable till the end. Will you stay with him while I talk to his parents?"
"Yes, father," she said quietly. "I'll be glad to."
Theobaldius left and Smiley went over to the boy. She knelt by the litter, took his hand and smiled reassuringly at him. The boy opened his eyes and smiled back faintly; his face was gray and his breathing shallow.
She stoked his dirty, sweat-stained hair. "So you're Iolchus. That's a good name. How old are you?"
"Nine s-summers," he said wincing. "You're nice, but what kinda name is 'Smiley'?"
"Well, it's really Faunlyn," she said, "but everyone calls me 'Smiley' cause I always do." She smiled again to prove it. "Do you have a nickname, Iolchus?"
"Mother calls me 'Trouble,'" he grinned weakly; "guess she's right, too; look at me now. Most everyone else just calls me 'Iolchus.'" He winced, and then relaxed again. "I think that ... stuff is helping. I don't hurt so much."
"What happened to you, Iolchus?"
"The wagon fell on me..." he said matter-of-factly. He looked sad. "Father told me not to go under it w-while it was propped up, but I did." His eyes closed in pain for a moment, then opened again. "I was ... bad."
Smiley swallowed. "Sometimes we all do things we know we shouldn't, but we go ahead anyway. That doesn't always make us bad, Iolchus, just ... just, careless."
The boy moved his eyes around the area, and then looked at Smiley. "Come here," he whispered. She put her head closer.
"What is it?" she whispered back.
The boy looked cautiously at her. "I-I think I can t-trust you, Smiley. Promise you won't tell?"
"Of course not," she smiled and came closer. "What is it?"
"I wasn't really ... bad. I just s-said that so my d-dad wouldn't know."
"Wouldn't know what, Iolchus?"
He looked at her seriously. "You promise? Y-You won't tell?"
She nodded. "Cross my heart," she said, doing so. "Tell me."
"I had to go under the wagon b-because the black and white kitten ran under there..." he said haltingly and then went on in a rush. "I-I couldn't let the wagon fall on it; it was so small and weak. It w-was the runt of the litter you know. I had to save it, d'you see?"
"Oh," she said breathlessly. She felt her eyes filling with tears. "Oh, Iolchus..."
"Remember, now. You promised," he said accusingly. "If my dad knew why I was there h-he'd be so mad ... he ... he might hurt the kitten..."
"I did promise," she choked. "I won't say anything to anyone. S-So you saved the kitten?"
He looked chagrined. "No, I didn't have a chance to. I-I kicked the prop holding the wagon by accident as I went under. The silly little cat flew out of there just before the wagon fell on me." The boy closed his eyes briefly and a tear leaked out. "I w-was p-pretty stupid, huh?"
"N-No," Smiley gulped. "Not stupid at all. You did what you thought was right, Iolchus. That's never stupid. Heroes do it all the time."
"Thanks," he said, and then screwed up his eyes in pain and a sweat broke out on his forehead. He shivered. "S-Smiley?"
"Yes, I'm here," she forced herself to speak calmly.
"I-I'm afraid to die," his eyes were worried. "Wh-what's it like?"
She spoke quickly. "Oh, you're not going to..."
"Yes," he said weakly, "yes I am. I-I can ... s-see it in your eyes and the other man's. Don't lie to me Smiley, p-please..."
She bowed her head and tears ran down her cheeks as a sob threatened to overwhelm her. "Oh, Iolchus..." she sighed.
He looked bleakly at her, his eyes old in his young face. "So w-what's it like to die?"
She drew a deep breath. Focus, Smiley. If this boy can face it, so can you. You must, and for his sake, you can. She cleared her throat.
Chapter Ten: A Tale of the Eylisian Fields
Smiley smiled at the boy, and stroked his hair. "What is it like to die? Hmm. Thats a good question. Let me answer you by first asking YOU one."
The boy watched her. "All right what is it?"
"Well, when you were younger, did you ever ... fall asleep anywhere besides in your bed?"
"Uh, huh. Sometimes I would ... fall asleep on the rug by the hearth." A tremor shook him. When it was over, he was paler than ever.
"And did you wake up there on the floor in the morning?" Smiley asked as if nothing had happened.
The boy considered. "No ... I-I always woke up in my bed in the other room." He smiled faintly. "When I was little I always thought it was m-magic, but when I grew up I realized my father had carried me in and put me to bed. Silly, huh?"
"Not at all," she smiled back. "Dying is sort of like that. You go to sleep in one place and end up in another. A wonderful place called the Elysian Fields where everyone is happy." She took his hand and gently stroked it. "Have ... have you ever known anyone who died, Iolchus?"
He thought about it. "My baba Djurja. She was my dad's mother. She died last year..." he looked sad. "I always loved baba so much; she'd tell me stories and ... and give me sweets before dinner." He grinned weakly. "Made mom mad. She told us we were both 'Trouble.'"
"Well, then," Smiley said cheerfully, "there you go. Your baba Djurja will be waiting to meet you in the Elysian Fields, I'm sure of it. She can take care of you until your mom and dad join you."
"But what is it ... like there," he demanded, then shivered.
"Well, let me tell you a story and see what you think," she said, taking his hand. It was cold and clammy in hers, but she held it firmly.
"It's about a young girl named..." she hesitated, she seemed to have a name on the tip of her tongue, but it wouldn't surface. "She was named, uh, Smiley..."
"Same name as you?" He smiled faintly. "That's ... funny, huh?"
She grinned. "Yep, same name as me; quite a coincidence, hm? But see, this Smiley was caught in a big battle between the uh, Thessalians and the um, Mitoans. She got in the way, and was wounded so badly that she was dying and nothing could save her. When she died, it was like one minute she was lying there suffering terribly, and the next minute she was in this green peaceful pasture with the most beautiful flowers and trees."
Her voice took on a tone of wonder and her eyes were far away as she spoke. "And there Smiley met her dear baba who had died and her dead uncle Merros who used to tell her the best stories. And she met a friend of hers named um, Tallus. He had died early too. But all of them there were good as new ... healthy and happy, as if they had never been hurt, or had ever died at all.
"They met lots of other people who had died and were now alive and happy again. All the people there were friendly and loving; running and swimming, and climbing trees and playing games or even working if they wanted to. And Smiley and all her friends and family walked beneath the trees and through fields of sweet flowers and they talked and laughed and ... and they lived happily there. And no one ever went hungry, or got sick, or tired, or hurt ... f-forever."
Her voice trailed off, and she blinked to find the boy staring at her intently. He sighed. "That sounds great Smiley. I-I could see the Elysian Fields as you spoke. I could almost believe you were really there ... that it was all true..."
Smiley looked bewildered. "I-It was almost as if ... as if I were just describing something I had seen," she said in wonder.
"It was a great story, Smiley, but ... but what if I don't go to the Elysian Fields?" Iolchus gulped, looking scared. "I mean I've been REALLY bad; father told me so lots'a times w-when I disobeyed him. And boy, when I spilt the butter churn that time, he s-said I was on my w-way to burn in Tartarus for sure..."
"Don't worry about that," she said with a reassuring smile, "I'm sure he was exaggerating. Tartarus is reserved for VERY bad people, not nice people and heroes like you." She smiled tenderly. "You tried to save the black and white kitten, remember? That was a heroic deed and heroes always go to the Elysian Fields."
He smiled back at her, then a tremor shook him and he coughed weakly. Smiley held his hand and felt him clutch at her. When it was over, his face was white and his eyes unfocussed. There was blood on his lips. "S-Smi-ley..." he whispered.
"I'm here, Iolchus, I'm here," she said more calmly than she felt. "Don't try to talk." She stroked his hair, looking hurriedly around for her father. He was outside the room in conversation with the boys parents; who were looking grim and distraught. She saw nurse Lydia standing just inside the door looking at her with no expression and wondered with irritation how long Old-Biddy-Lydi had been there.
The boy ignored her and spoke between ragged breaths. "Th-Thanks for ... the s-story ... I'll tell it to baba ... when I get to ... the Elysian F-Fields ... and ... I'll remember ... you..." His eyelids fluttered and his breath slowed almost to a stop.
Smiley shouted, "Iolchus! Don't you dare die! Papa! Papa, come quick!"
The old healer and the nurse rushed over, followed by the boy's frantic parents. Theo felt the boy's pulse, peeled back an eyelid, then shook his head.
"No, oh, nooooo!" moaned his mother, putting her face against the boy's pale cheek. The father, a rough farmer, clutched his hat in both hands and twisted it round and round as tears ran down his cheeks.
The boy said very faintly, "Mama, daddy ... make it ... s-stop."
His mother tearfully kissed him, once on each eye and then on his mouth. "Sleep now my baby, my ... my sweet Iolchus. Mama and daddy love you. No more p-pain."
"The ... Ely-sian Fields..." he smiled with his eyes closed. "I ... see them, Smiley ... Th-Thank ... y..." his breath stopped and his body seemed to flatten out on the litter. His mother collapsed sobbing on him. The boy's father put one hand on her shoulder and covered his face with the other while heavy sobs shook him.
Smiley found herself staggering out of the hospice. She numbly entered her room and collapsed full length on the bed. After a moment tears came, at first slow, then in a torrent as sobs threatened to choke her. She beat at her pillow and cursed into it. "No, no, no," she said over and over. She was crying so hard that she did not hear the knock on her door.
Chapter Eleven: The Heart of Old-Biddy-Lydi
As she sobbed, Smiley suddenly felt a hand on her shoulder and looked up to see Old-Biddy-Lydi sitting there on the bed beside her. Her eyes felt scratchy and her nose was running.
"I-I'm s-sorry, head nurse," she stammered and tried to sit up. "I-I'll get back t-to work..."
The old head nurse looked at her, and then roughly pulled the younger woman into her ample lap. Smiley collapsed against her and hugged her around the waist with her head against the old nurses stomach. The tears came back with a vengeance and she sobbed and wailed as if her heart would break. Nurse Lydia said nothing, but stroked her hair tenderly.
At last the frantic sobs slowed and she sat up unsteadily. The old nurse silently offered her a handkerchief. Smiley blew her nose and pulled back her hair. She stared at the floor. "T-Thank you nurse Lydia. I-I k-know I should be t-tougher ... but that poor little kid..."
"Dear gods, child," nurse Lydia sighed. "Tougher? I overheard some of what you were telling him. You were tough enough to hide your own pain and make his last moments comfortable with that story and let him die smiling, with no fear of what was coming ... That's more than most of us get out of life. You should be proud."
"Oh, oh my," Smiley gulped as tears threatened to overwhelm her again; somehow she shrugged them back. "T-Thank you head nurse Lydia..."
"Just 'Lydia' will do when we're off duty," snapped the old nurse. "This isn't a Roman legion."
"Oh, s-sorry. Thank you nurse Lydi ... I mean, L-Lydia." Smiley cleared her throat and asked, "Lydia, why do I feel like ... like I failed Iolchus?"
The head nurse put a hand on Smiley's shoulder. "Because, dear girl, you are a very human, human-being. You have a good, kind heart and you care about everything and everybody. You did all that was humanly possible for that boy. No one could have done more and I'm very proud of you. Now, if you need to cry more, go ahead and get it out. I'm here for you."
Smiley looked surprised. "B-But I thought you hated me..." she blurted out, then sat aghast at what she had said.
Nurse Lydia looked at her and her eyes were troubled. "I don't hate you child, I never have. I'm sorry if I gave that impression. I just ... I had trouble accepting you. Please; forgive me."
Smiley sat wiping her eyes and wet cheeks. Her eyes were still scratchy, but she felt more peaceful than she had before. "Thanks, head nur ... I mean, Lydia," she whispered sincerely. "I think I'll be all right now; I just felt so lost for a while." She looked down at her hands. There was still some of the boy's blood on them.
The old nurse smiled tiredly. "Happens to us all, dear. Don't think that your ... father or I feel any different about this than you do. This work is so rewarding, but when something like this happens ... well, it makes you wonder if anything you do matters a damn..." she sighed. "But remember this. For every one that we lose, four or five more recover to live healthy happy lives again. With those odds, it IS worth it."
Smiley swallowed and spoke softly. "Father said that we ... we had to KNOW that if we did everything we could for a person and they still ... d-died, that we had to accept that what we had done was enough and to let them go..." She looked up wanly at the old nurse. "I didn't have an idea in the world what he was really talking about, until now."
The old nurse nodded. "Theo, your ... your f-father, is a wise man; as long as I've known him, he has always known wrong from right and followed it to the letter no matter the cost to himself or to others." She closed her eyes and Smiley was surprised to see a look of pain pass over her face. Then Lydia opened them briskly and pursed her lips. "I don't always agree with him, but in this case he was right. You have to believe in yourself to do this work."
She got up from the bed. "You all right now?"
"No," said Smiley, standing up too. "But I do feel better. Thanks Lydia. Thanks for caring enough to come in and talk about it."
"Of course," said the nurse, with a nod. "By the way dear, do try to visit the bathhouse. You'll feel better once you wash some of this experience away. Besides," she said primly, "you look a gods awful mess from all that crying and sweating you've done and you smell like a hog." Her eyes twinkled as she spoke and Smiley surprised herself with a faint chuckle.
"Well, thank you," she said wryly, "I'll do that first thing." Impulsively, she hugged the older woman. "Really, Lydia. Thanks," she said sincerely.
"No charge, dear," smiled the old nurse, hugging her back.
The old head nurse had been so sweet and caring, that Smiley felt uncomfortable with the unkind thoughts she had harbored against her all this time. She wished she could do something nice for her. A thought struck her and she spoke without considering more. "Lydia," she spoke as she stood back, "can I ask you something?"
"Certainly. What is it, child?"
"Have ... have you ever thought of marrying Papa? It's obvious that you care for him."
The old nurse stared at the young woman. Two faint spots of color appeared on her cheeks. "He ... he has never asked," she whispered as if in a trance.
Smiley hesitated then rushed on. "I-I could speak to him for you if you'd like ... I'm sure he would listen to me..."
The old nurse looked at her with something resembling horror. "Don't you DARE say anything to him about it," she gulped. "If that man can't ask on his own after all these years..." Lydia turned pale as she suddenly realized what she was saying and fled out of the room leaving the young woman staring after her.
"Dammit." Smiley groaned. "Me and my big mouth. This has certainly been a day for the scrolls. I suppose next I'll get naked into the bath and find Linaus underwater cleaning the bottom of the tub."
She got a fresh robe, a towel and soap out of her wardrobe. Then she closed her eyes and stood quietly for a moment. "Iolchus," she thought, "I'm glad I knew you and I'll never forget you, little hero. I hope you and your baba Djurja are enjoying the Elysian Fields. No more pain, Iolchus. No more pain ever again."
Somehow she was sure that the boy could hear her and was glad. Smiley opened her eyes and blinked away a tear; then she smiled softly and headed to the bathhouse.
Chapter Twelve: Smiley and the Staff
Time passed and the hospice was a full time, never-ending job that went on day in and day out, seven days a week. Through the strenuous hours, Smiley and her father grew closer than ever. Now too, the stern head nurse Lydia became the young woman's close friend. Mellia the cook strode like a barefoot goddess through her kitchen domain and cheerfully served up delicious foods by the pot-full. The boy Linaus cleaned and polished the hospice floors and never seemed to notice that Smiley did not return his love. The other healers and nurses worked tirelessly at their meaningful tasks of helping the sick and injured to recover. The patients came and went and some of them died, but more of them lived. All these went away praising the dedication and kindness of the staff of the hospice of Theobaldius the healer. And so the meaningful work went on and time passed until it was now late summer.
Running the hospice consumed many supplies of foodstuffs, medicines and herbs and once a week without fail these things had to be purchased. So it was on a sunny market day that Smiley and Theobaldius arose early and went to the village some eight miles distant. They had shopped all morning replenishing their stock of supplies and now they were walking back down the long empty road from the village and were about halfway to the hospice.
On her back the petite young woman carried a pack with the medicinal herbs and medicines they had bought at the village apothecary. Brother Theo led the hospice donkey, Apollo, who was loaded with market supplies for Mellia the cook. They set a slow but steady pace and took their time for the day was warm. As they went along, father and daughter talked and laughed as the birds sang in the trees and insects hummed about their business.
Smiley was excited about their purchases and had especially enjoyed bargaining for them down to the last dinar. She was good at it too; since she had been doing the bargaining for the hospice, she had gotten many things for a fraction of the cost Theo usually paid and, always saved them much money.
As they went she danced a few steps that priestess Elenina had showed her. Theo walked along, enjoying the sight of her joyful dancing. Soon she ran back. "So Papa, what do you think about this idea of having healing herbs or salves mixed into a bandage ahead of time and dried so they can be put right onto a wound with no preparation time?"
Theo was skeptical. "I don't know, my dear. I bought a few of them to try, especially the Wound Wort bandage, but my feeling is the herbs would lose their efficacy more quickly over time than if you keep them in a tight lidded crock."
"But Papa, we could store the prepared bandages in crocks too, until we wanted them, couldn't we?"
"Perhaps, " Theo mused. "You may have a good idea there, we'll see..." He looked at Smiley. The young woman had stopped and was standing in an attitude of listening; she narrowed her eyes.
"What's wrong my dear?" he asked quietly.
Smiley looked grim. "I think there's someone hiding in the bushes ahead..." she whispered sharply. "I think we'd better..."
Just then two burly looking men in ragged clothes stepped out onto the road ten feet ahead. They wore leather jerkins and carried swords. Unlike the clothing, the weapons and armor looked anything but unkempt. One man had a patch over one eye and an ugly scar leaked down his cheek from under it. He spoke in a smug voice.
"Hello, folks. Nice day for a walk, huh? Wanna stop and chat?" The other ruffian felt the edge of his sword and chuckled.
Smiley felt herself tensing up and narrowed her eyes. She stepped forward and poised herself. "You have nothing to say that we need to hear," she said flatly. "Let us pass."
"Now, gentlemen," said Brother Theo quickly. He stepped in front of her with a hand palm up to the men. "I am Theobaldius the healer and this is my daughter. We mean you no harm. Do you need healing per chance?"
The two thugs looked at each other with ugly grins. "Well, I'll tell you," said the scarred leader. "We don't need you for any healing, but you'll need some unless you give us that donkey, that pack, your money and oh, yes ... your daughter."
"What?" Brother Theo's face turned red and he brandished his staff. "By the gods I'll thrash you for that, you..." He was stopped by Smiley's hand on his arm.
"Now, Papa," she said softly, trying to pull him back.
"'Now, Papa,' is right," grinned the scarred one. "Tell Papa it ain't no big deal, sweeting. You look like you got a gentle touch and you can do a little healing on a certain sore spot I just noticed." The other man guffawed at this as the ruffian continued, "...and Papa, we'll even give her back unharmed if she ... cooperates with us."
"Run away, Smiley," Theobaldius said firmly raising the staff again, "I'll hold them back..."
"She won't run far," said a nasty voice from behind them. Smiley looked quickly back and saw a third man standing there behind the donkey and hefting an ax.
"Give me that, Papa," she said gently, pulling on the staff. "I-I can use it better than you..." Why did I say that, she thought wildly. I don't know anything about fighting; do I?
"No," he said grimly, trembling. "I can't let this happen, not again..."
"Please, Papa. Give me the staff, I don't want you hurt," she said tensely. She pulled on it, but he held on. "They won't hurt us if I do what they want, isn't that right," she said to the men. If only she could get the staff, she had no intention of doing anything but breaking their heads. She felt an anger building inside and had no idea where this confidence was coming from, but she felt ready and able to kick their behinds.
"That's right, Papa," said the leader jovially. He patted his belt. "This snake don't bite. It's just a little assault with a friendly weapon. Chances are she'll even enjoy it."
The other two laughed again. "Snake. Friendly weapon," the one behind them chortled. "That's a good'un."
"NOOO! I said, not again," cried Theobaldius. He yanked the staff from Smiley's hand and started forward swinging it. The move caught the men in mid-laugh and the staff hit the second man's sword hand. He howled and dropped the weapon. However, before the valiant old man could do more, the one-eyed leader stepped in and kicked him in the stomach. Theobaldius folded over to the ground in agony, his staff flying back towards Smiley.
"Nice try, old man," the scarred ruffian growled raising his sword for a killing blow, "but you lose."
At that moment Smiley, using the staff as a pole vault, came flying through the air. Both of her sandaled feet connected with the leader's chest, sending him flying backwards. The young woman hit the ground on her back and rolled to her feet with the staff in both hands.
The second man had drawn a long knife with his good hand. He stabbed at the petite redhead, only to be met with a flurry of blows from the staff on his arms and chest. She then swept his feet from under him and he hit the ground with a grunt.
Smiley did not stop there, but continued to spin around. The swinging staff caught the third man in mid-charge and hurled him sideways into the donkey. He staggered to the ground and screamed as Apollo plunged in panic and stepped on him several times.
Theobaldius was on his knees, as the one-eyed man ran silently forward on tiptoes at Smiley's back.
"Look out," the old healer cried. He managed to trip the man, making him stumble. This gave the young woman long enough to spin about in a roundhouse blow with the staff. It caught the staggering man in the side of the face, breaking his jaw and knocking him unconscious to the dirt.
At the same moment however, the second man plunged his knife into Theobaldius' side. The old healer collapsed with a groan. Smiley screamed wordlessly and ran at the man with the staff. She hammered the knife out of his hand and then slammed him with several blows to the head which sent him unconscious and out of the fight.
She then turned to face the third man who was just beginning to move forward again after his encounter with Apollo. One look at her furious face was enough for him. He dropped his ax and fled limping away.
Smiley threw down the staff and flung herself to the old man. "Papa, oh Papa," she cried in a panic.
Theobaldius was kneeling with one hand on the ground and one clenched to his bloody side. "Easy, my dear," he gasped, "I'll ... live, but it ... hurts like ... Tartarus..." he wavered for a moment then collapsed to the ground.
"Papa, please," Smiley gently pulled at his hand trying to see the wound, but it remained pressed tightly to his side. "Papa, don't you dare die on me."
"Not ... yet," he said breathlessly.
"P-Papa," she quavered.
"S-Still here," he rolled onto his unwounded side and pulled his knees up against the pain.
Smiley took charge. "All right Papa, don't move anymore until I can examine the wound. Now please, relax your hand so I can see."
Theobaldius obeyed so she could look over the area. He grunted a bit as she sopped at the blood with a cloth to get a better look.
"Thank the gods," Smiley breathed finally. "It's not too bad ... you were lucky, Papa."
"I think I twisted as he struck so he just ... got the meaty part of my side..." the old healer gasped. "As long as it doesn't get infected ... I'll live. Look's like we'll get a chance to try that ... new Wound Wort poultice ... first thing," he grinned weakly.
"Oh, Papa." The young woman smiled wiping at her wet cheeks and getting his blood on her face. "I was so scared, now I'm so happy, but I don't understand it. We were so lucky. I can't believe I did all that with the staff; I'm no fighter."
Theobaldius lost his grin. "Not ... 'Papa,'" he said, sadly. "Although I wish with all my heart ... that you were my darling daughter."
"What?" Smiley was confused. "What are you saying, Papa? Are you ... all right? You must be feverish." She felt his forehead worriedly.
"I'm anything but," he said softly. "I feel as if I'm just waking up."
"You don't feel feverish," she looked at him in confusion. "What did you mean, Papa?"
"First things first," Brother Theo sighed. "Lets get this wound ... patched so we can back to the hospice ... then the truth. I owe you that much and it's long overdue."
Although Smiley protested and pressed him for explanations, Theo refused to speak more on the subject. Between the two of them, they got the blood from his side stopped and one of the new Wound Wort bandages fastened in place. Smiley then tied up the two reviving bandits and tended their wounds. Unloading Apollo the donkey, she left the foodstuffs by the roadside. Mounting the weakened Theobaldius on Apollo, she then frog-marched the two bandits ahead of them, prodding with the staff.
The procession reached the hospice at dark. Head nurse Lydia immediately took over care of Theobaldius and hustled him to his quarters. Smiley had Mellia lock the two thugs in the smokehouse and sent a messenger to town to get the magistrate. She also sent Linaus and two of the male hospice staff to retrieve the supplies from the roadside.
Now the three of them, nurse Lydia, Brother Theo and Smiley sat by the fire in his quarters. The old man was bundled up in a blanket on his padded couch with a mug of hot tea. Nurse Lydia sat next to him, saying nothing. Smiley sat on a chair. She was tense; her green eyes were dark with apprehension. When the silence stretched out, she spoke nervously.
"Papa? What did you mean ... when you s-said that I'm not your d-daughter?"
Theobaldius cleared his throat. "My dear Smiley..." he started, then swallowed painfully. He tried again. "My dear girl. P-Please believe me when I say that I meant no harm. I-I only wanted to help you ... and perhaps, myself."
"Oh, Papa, please." Tears ran down the young woman's cheeks. She darted to Theo's side and knelt taking his hand. "Please call me Smiley, Papa." She put her head into his lap with a sob.
Brother Theo sighed and stroked her fiery hair. "I'm sorry, but I cannot, my dear, for it is not your name and much as I might wish it ... you are not my daughter."
The young woman raised her head; tears stood out in her eyes. She looked at Brother Theo and then at Lydia for confirmation. The old nurse swallowed and then nodded.
Slowly the petite redhead sat back on her knees. She wiped at her wet cheeks and stared at the ceiling for a moment with pain in her expression. Then she looked back at the old healer and the nurse.
"Well, then, who am I?" Her voice was harsh.
Brother Theobaldius sighed. "Will you bear with me and save your questions till I finish?"
She nodded reluctantly, not trusting herself to speak.
"Very well." He sighed again. "To begin at the beginning, I must start with a storytelling cliche." He smiled faintly. "As I recall, it was a dark and stormy night..."
Chapter Thirteen: The Woman Who Was Burned
Wind, rain and lightning lashed the earth on this dark night as the gods fought overhead. There was a hard knock on the door of Brother Theobaldius' dwelling just as he was ready to take to his bed. He limped to the door, worried as to who it could be, but unwilling to let anyone man or beast stay out in the wild night. Still he hesitated before drawing the bolt and shouted through the door.
"Who is it? What do you want at such a time?"
A deep male voice came through the door. "This is the hospice of Theobaldius the healer? Open; there is one here who has need of your skills."
There was nothing threatening or false about the voice and without hesitation, the old healer found himself opening the door. As he did a lightning flash silhouetted a tall rain-soaked figure wrapped in a dark hooded robe, carrying a body covered in a wet blanket. He stood back as the man(?) strode dripping into the room. A pair of brown boots protruded from the blanket and clunked on the floor as the man laid the body in front of the hearth fire.
The hooded figure turned and regarded Brother Theo for a moment. He could see nothing of the shadowed face but a pair of eyes that glistened deep in the hood.
"Your patient." The man gestured at the covered body on the floor.
Brother Theo looked at the man for a moment, then carefully knelt favoring his bad knee and uncovered the face. He gasped. At first he thought he was looking at a burned corpse, covered with blood. That and long dirty hair were the first thing he noticed. Then he realized the "burns" were mainly soot and ash. The face and hair of the women was covered with it and her breathing was ragged.
Pale, he glanced up at the hooded visage, but the man said nothing. Feeling for the pulse at the side of her neck, the healer found that it was steady and strong. Wiping her face gently with the edge of the blanket, the healer quickly determined that the blood was coming from a single shallow gash on her forehead. To Theobaldius' certain knowledge the fact that there was only one wound was good. Facial wounds always bled a lot, but a gash such as this was normally not too serious if treated quickly. The bruises forming around the area now, that was another matter. That could mean concussion or worse.
He carefully unwrapped the blanket from the rest of her, revealing a short skirt, and a shorter bodice top. The clothing and her skin were all covered with dirt and soot as if she had been inside a fire, but there seemed to be no burns. "How did these things happen to her," he asked, feeling gently over the rest of her body for broken bones and wounds.
"Does it matter?" The hooded man spoke flatly.
Brother Theobaldius quickly looked up. The dark hood showed him nothing. "I suppose not," he said slowly looking back at the woman. He placed the inside of his wrist on her temple, checking for signs of heat from fever. Her temperature felt a bit lower than normal, but not bad. "Who is she?"
"Someone who needs your skills; isn't that enough?"
Brother Theo got to his feet with an effort; he remembered a time when he could do so without even a grunt or an indrawn breath. He missed that time, but not so that brash younger man. With age came knowledge and serenity if you let it; some losses came also, whether you willed or nilled. It was a trade off. He faced the stranger calmly.
"Yes, it is enough," he said softly. He hobbled over to the bell-pull on the wall that would sound in the nurses quarters and let them know he needed someone. He pulled the rope, then turned to face the stranger again.
The hooded figure regarded him, then a strong looking hand came from beneath the robe and handed him a small bag. By the clink and heft it was heavy with silver dinars. "This will help pay for her care."
"I would care for her if she had nothing," Brother Theo said, brindling slightly.
He got the definite feeling that the stranger was smiling. "Consider it a donation to the Hospice then," he said, turning to go back out into the storm.
"Wait," Theo called and the figure halted, still facing away from him. "What happens when she is well? Where will she go? Who should we notify in-in case she..."
"If she recovers SHE will know what to do," said the stranger without turning, "if she does not, I'm sure YOU will know what to do." He started walking away again and Brother Theo began to protest, but then he was struck by something about the man's back. The shoulders were very broad and his back under the robe was ... lumpy. As Theo stared, the material covering the man's back seemed almost to writhe. The movement was unnatural and the healer felt his hair stand on end. The man was out of the door and vanished into the wind and rain before Theobaldius could say anything more.
When the healer recovered his wits and rushed to the door, nothing was to be seen of the man. It was as if the wind, rain and black night had swallowed him up. At that moment stern head nurse Lydia and one of the younger nurses hurried in babbling questions. Theo wasn't sure what to say about the strange man in the robe, so he put them off with the urgency of the situation and they set about moving the young woman to the infirmary.
Once there, Brother Theo stitched up the gash in her forehead and treated the bruising with compresses to bring down the swelling. He then left while the nurses stripped her of the dirty clothing and boots and washed her body and hair. Afterward they clothed the still unconscious woman in a white night shift and placed her in a well-covered bed. Head nurse Lydia sent the younger nurse to inform Brother Theo while she stayed to watch the patient.
Since she had an early shift, Brother Theo thanked the young nurse and sent her off to bed. He then went to take a last look at the patient. The old man gasped when he saw her cleaned face and hair. He looked with shock at head nurse Lydia; she nodded.
"She looks so much like your poor Faunlyn," she said softly. "I thought so from the first moment. It's uncanny. She would even be about the same age Faunlyn would be now ... if she had lived."
Brother Theo's eyes filled with unshed tears. "Yes, she has been gone now twelve years. She died so ... so young and in such a terrible way." His face hardened. "The scum who raped and murdered her were hung, but that did not bring my poor S-Smiley back." He choked as he spoke his daughter's nickname.
"By the gods. I've wished every day of my life since then that I could have been there when she was abducted ... perhaps I could have saved her from that awful fate." Tears ran down his cheeks unnoticed as his mind went back first to his dead daughter and then to his dead wife and first true love; Silanna.
Chapter Fourteen: The Healer and his Lady
The meeting of Silanna and Theo was fateful, but it might never have happened without Lydia's forgetful uncle Faunlys. Lydia and Theo were childhood friends and everyone expected them to be married someday. They had even talked of marriage and made many plans. It seemed a forgone conclusion that they would someday be joined.
One day in spring, the couple went to the betrothal party of Lydia's cousin, Dianne. Lydia was maid of honor for Dianne and was kept busy all during the proceedings by her duties while Theo sat bored. At length he wandered into another room full of people he did not know. There was one exception; Lydia's uncle Faunlys, himself a retired healer. He was talking to a quiet young woman in a corner and seeing Theo, called him over and introduced him to Silanna, a friend of Lydia's from another village. Faunlys then promptly left to get some more food.
The two talked politely for a few minutes as strangers will, but their polite conversation quickly became animated as the two found that they were each dedicated healers with visions of opening a hospice where the injured, or sick and suffering could come for healing. They immediately found many other subjects they agreed upon and Theo found himself smitten. Silanna felt the same and the two talked long into the afternoon while the party went on around them.
As soon as Theo realized how he felt, he went to Lydia and confessed his love for Silanna and his determination to marry her. Lydia was hurt, but loved both her friends and hid her unhappiness for their sakes. Theo and Silanna were married that spring and opened their hospice shortly after.
Soon to the joy of both, Silanna was pregnant. Sadly, the delivery proved to be very difficult for Silanna and she almost died. At length however, she birthed a fine baby girl. They decided the baby would be called Faunlyn after Lydia's uncle Faunlys, in honor of his introducing them. Strangely, the absentminded uncle claimed he could not recall doing so, but then the older man was well known for being forgetful.
The daughter was healthy, but Silanna had been drained by the experience and was left weakened for days after. After much soul searching, Theo had decreed there would be no more children for the safety of his wife. Despite this, the little family was happy; the child Faunlyn grew quickly and was always smiling and laughing. Soon everyone including her parents called her Smiley and most people had to think hard to remember her birthname. Happiness was not to last however. Silanna had never been strong after her daughters birth, and in the tenth year of their marriage, she came down with the Wasting Sickness and died soon after. During this hard time, Lydia had nursed her old friend, comforted Theo and was like a mother to young Smiley.
The next eight years passed in what seemed to be a long flash. Smiley grew to be a beautiful young woman of eighteen summers and Theobaldius was devoted to two things only; his daughter and the hospice he and his wife had created. But then tragedy struck again when Smiley was abducted and later killed by bandits.
Brother Theo and nurse Lydia grieved and she had again comforted the broken hearted healer. He eventually recovered; a sadder but stronger man and the two of them had run the hospice to the present. All this time nurse Lydia had remained working at his side in the hospice and they were good friends, but nothing more. Theo had loved Silanna and though she was gone now twenty years he honored her memory. Brother Theo was jarred out of his reverie when Lydia touched his shoulder.
"Thinking of the past?" Her voice was soft.
"Yes," he sighed and smiled faintly. "Thank you, Lydia. You've always been there for me during the worst times. You are a true friend."
She smiled tenderly at him. "Dear Theo," she said softly.
He grew uncomfortable and quickly looked away. "So, I guess there is nothing more to be done for her tonight," he said. "We will see what the morning brings, eh?"
"Yes," she said quietly.
He looked quickly at her, but her stern nurse's mask was back firmly in place. He cleared his throat. "I'll rouse one of the young nurses to sit with her," he said uncomfortably.
"No," she said. "Don't bother them. I'll sit with her. You go on to bed."
"I-If you're sure..." he mumbled. She nodded and he made his escape.
Chapter Fifteen: The Lie of Love
When he looked in the next morning, Theobaldius found that the young woman was still unconscious.
"Good morning, Lydia. Was there no change in condition at all?" The old healer was worried.
"She had a peaceful night, with no changes until about dawn," the head nurse said. "Then she had a nightmare of some kind. From what I could understand when she mumbled, she seemed to be afraid of falling into a fire and being burned up. I held her and stroked her hair and at last she calmed down and fell deeper asleep. However, even during the worst of the nightmare, she never did truly wake up."
"A fire..." said Theobaldius thoughtfully.
"Yes," said Lydia. "Considering her condition when she came here, that could be significant. She's dreaming about what happened already."
Brother Theo nodded in agreement. "All we can do is wait," he said. "She must awaken soon, or she may never awaken at all," he sighed. "Well, that's in the hands of the gods. Thank you for staying with her. You should get some rest now, I'll watch her until..." just then there was a small noise from the bed. They turned to see the young woman watching them from a pair of beautiful green eyes.
Brother Theo sighed with relief and spoke to her. "Good morning little one. You had us worried for a bit. How do you feel?"
"Good ... morning," she said, seeming to taste the words, "I think I ... hurt."
Her voice caught at his heart; it was so like his daughters. "I'm sure you do," he smiled with an effort. "Where does it hurt?"
"Lotsa places," she said grimacing. "But mostly my head, under my arms and my um, chest feels like ... like I bumped into something hard." She blushed slightly as she said this.
"Probably just strains and sprains of various kinds," Theo assured her. "You have no bruises other than on your face. You may have a black eye tomorrow, but no worse, I believe. You had a rough time, it seems. Can you tell us what happened to you?"
The young woman brushed back coppery golden bangs and considered. "I ... I don't seem to know. Is that normal?"
"Sometimes," Brother Theo said calmly. He took her wrist and felt for the pulse. "You may recall what happened tomorrow or the next day. It will come back I'm sure."
"That's a relief," said the girl, "I'd sure hate to go around doin' things like this to myself and not remember what to avoid the next time." She smiled widely, causing her nose to crinkle and her eyes to dance. When she did this, her entire face lit up making her beautiful indeed.
"By all the gods," thought Brother Theo. "That smile; she could be my dear daughter reborn." Her smile was infectious and Theo and the nurse found themselves grinning back at her.
"I'm Brother Theobaldius and this is nurse Lydia. You are in my hospice. What's your name my dear?"
The young woman opened her mouth to answer, then a look of puzzlement came over her face. It was followed quickly by panic and her voice cracked. "I-I don't know. By the gods! I don't know my own name. Oh, what's happened to me? I can't remember how I came here, or ... or where I'm from, or even who I am." Her green eyes were haunted with fear.
"Dear Gaia, what's to become of me," she whispered, "if I dont even know my own name?"
Brother Theo's heart went out to the young woman and he spoke almost without thinking. "Your name is ... is Faunlyn, but everyone calls you 'Smiley,' for your beautiful smile. You ... you are my d-daughter."
As he said this, head nurse Lydia looked quickly at him, but he seemed not to notice. She bit her lip but kept her peace.
"My name is S-Smiley?" The young woman was hesitant. "You are my father? Why did you ask me my name then? What has happened to me?"
"You have uh, just returned home after a long time of being away. This morning you were ... picking fruit in the orchard and fell out of the tree; you hit your head and were unconscious. I was afraid you might have some m-memory loss and I, uh, wanted to ascertain how much you remembered." Dear gods. The lies come so easily, he thought. But I want nothing more than to ease her pain ... to see that smile again. Is that so wrong?
"I-I seem to be confused," she whispered. "And ... and what was your name again, f-father?"
Brother Theo closed his eyes and breathed deep through his nose. He exhaled, then opened his eyes again. He spoke firmly through the joyful lump in his throat. "I am your father, Theobaldius, but you call me ... 'Papa.'"
Brother Theo fell silent. He reached for his mug of tea, swallowed some and grimaced. It was cold.
The young woman, who had been known as Smiley, stirred from her position on the floor. She got to her feet with a fluid motion, retrieved the kettle from the fire and poured more tea for all of them. Lydia and Theo nodded thanks gravely, watching her. She put the kettle back, sipped some tea herself, then pulled her chair closer and sat down. She looked at the old healer calmly.
"I don't understand one thing," she said slowly. "How is it that no one here knew that I wasn't your daughter?"
Theo looked shamefaced. "Faunlyn, my daughter ... died, killed brutally, long before any of them came here. Only Lydia knew any different and I begged her not to say anything." He looked contritely at the old nurse; she gazed back calmly. He went on. "Lydia said I should tell you the truth, but I had already convinced myself that what I had done was right. The rest of the staff believed what I told them, just as you did."
He warmed his hands on the mug and his voice was miserable. "Can you forgive me for deceiving you, child?"
The young woman spoke softly. "You meant no harm, Papa..." she stopped and smiled faintly before continuing. "I mean, Brother Theo. I can see you meant well. You took me in and helped me when I was lost and I'll never forget that. You are a good man and this is a good place and I was proud to be your daughter. Thank you for taking care of me and making me welcome."
Theo nodded, blinking rapidly and nurse Lydia took his hand. He squeezed it gratefully and she smiled.
'Smiley' straightened up in the chair. "Now please, tell me; who am I really?"
Brother Theo looked troubled. "My child. I have told you all that I know. The man who brought you here, if man he was, did not tell me. Did not tell me even what had happened to you. That only made it easier for me to do what I did." He sighed. "However, I suspect what happened to you has something to do with your dream of the falling and the fire."
The young woman looked desolate, her green eyes solemn. "Then, what am I to do with my life? Where am I to go? How will I live?"
"You can stay here," Brother Theo said promptly. "Even though you are not my true daughter, I love you as if you were my own flesh. You are welcome in this place. You are a good healer and a wonderful young person. Please feel free to stay with us as long as you wish."
The petite young woman's face lit up in a smile and she rushed over and hugged the old man and the nurse. "Thank you so much, dear Brother Theo, dear Lydia." She stood back quickly and wiped at her eyes. "Now you should rest for your wound. I'll go back to my room; perhaps we can think of something else in the morning. Good night."
"Good night my dear," said the old healer. As she went out the door, he whispered, "...and sweet dreams."
Chapter Sixteen: I Dream of Xena
Her vision was blurred with tears from the hot air and volcanic gases forced into them from her fall. She could not see well, but tried to look around her. She glimpsed an impossible vision of what seemed to be massive white wings flapping above her felt the strong hands holding her from behind. Dimly she realized that she was no longer falling down but falling ... up.
Smiley realized with dismay that she was in the dream again. Dammit, I must be asleep; I don't need this crap. Come on, Smiley; wake up. You don't need this nightmare. You're Smiley and Papa Theo loves you. And nurse Lydia loves you and so do Mellia and even Linaus... and so does everybody. Everybody loves Smiley; you can be happy.
Then suddenly a sense of blackness seemed to descend upon her. No, wait, she thought bitterly, that's not right. You are not who you thought you are, you're not Smiley and Papa Theo is just a nice old man. All your friends don't love you because you are not you. You're not ... anybody. You are this nameless person with no identity of her own who has fooled them all, but now they all know you lied and pretended to be someone they loved and now it's over because they know.
The woman who was Not Smiley felt sadness threaten to overwhelm her. "Gods, I feel so ... alone. Is this what it's like to feel dead?"
In the dream she cried, "I'm ... dead?" She choked on the sulfurous fumes rising from the lava river. "Is this the end ... am I going t-to Tartarus?"
There came the deep masculine laugh from above. "Dead? Not yet, Smiley. It's not your day to die."
"But I gotta be dead," she gasped through the heat, "no one could survive this fall and the fire. No one."
"Others have," said the rich voice, "you can too, Smiley, I'd bet dinars on it."
"Smiley, Smiley, Smiley," she screamed in frustration. "Don't call me that, damn you! I'm not Smiley; I know that now! Who am I? WHO AM I?"
"Is that important, little girl," laughed the voice. "Why should you care who you are? Why should anyone care?"
The woman who was Not Smiley saw the stark blue eyes again. They were wide with shock, fear, and love. Now she saw for the first time the face they lived on. It had high cheekbones, full lips, a strong nose; raven hair with bangs swirled around as if in rising heat. She saw the look of sheer horror on that face and the lips moved, but no sound came out. She felt a wrench in her guts as if she were falling and gasped with sudden knowledge.
"SHE cares! SHE DOES!"
"She," said the voice blandly. "Who is she? Why does she care?"
"I-I don't know..." she whispered in agony. "I'm nobody; nothing special. I'm just a ... a little useless tagalong from P-Potei ... Poteidaia..."
"Poteidaia? What's a Poteidaia," asked the voice in a bored tone.
"It's a ... a village. The village of Poteidaia," she said triumphantly.
"A village," said the voice mockingly, "the village of Poteidaia. Big deal. Why is that worth anything?"
"Because it ... it's MY village!" She felt joy flow through her. "By the gods! Poteidaia; it's where I grew up! It's where I came from. I-I can see it! Poteidaia!"
"Where you grew up," said the voice in considering tones. "So then, who are you?"
Her joy faded. "I ... I don't know."
"You don't know." The voice grew taunting. "Yes, you do. You're nobody! Nobody and nothing special! Just as I thought. You're a useless little tagalong with no name, an irritating little blond with no identity of her own and nobody cares whether youve lived or died ... you might just as well be dead!"
"No!" She sobbed. She saw the blue eyes again. Saw the beautiful face with the look of horror. Saw the lips moving with no sound.
"She cares, she DOES!"
The voice snapped, "then SHE must have a name! Who is she? WHO IS SHE?"
She felt a name burst from her; from the depths of her soul it seemed and her heart seemed to flood with feeling. "XENA," she cried. "It's ... Xena."
The voice spoke softly, caressingly. "And then, who are you?"
She saw Xena's blue eyes; Xena's face, Xena's lips moving but she could hear nothing. "I-I don't..."
"Be quiet," whispered the voice, "focus ... and ... listen."
She concentrated with all her being on the lips in the beautiful face. Xena's mouth moved. Was that a whisper? She willed herself to total silence. Focus. Focus. The lips moved again; formed a word.
"Xena?" She whispered with disbelief. "Xena!"
Xena's face changed. It was drawn and tired, her blue eyes looked haunted. She wore an animal skin headpiece, decorated with strange symbols and a pair of deer antlers. A cold wind blew at her and swirled her headpiece. She stared at nothing and spoke and tears ran down her face.
"I hear you. I can't do this, Gabrielle, I can't. You know nothing would make me happier than seeing you again; you are my light!" Then her face lit with joy and she went on. "B-But I just realized what it was that you gave me ... a light of my own. Before I find you, there's something I gotta do first ... something you'd want me to do." She blinked and smiled through her tears and whispered, "I love you." Then there was a crack like thunder and Xena's face swirled away into mist and darkness.
"XENA!" Gabrielle screamed and came bolt upright in bed. She looked frantically around but could see nothing; was she blind? A flash of lightning dazzled her and lit up her room in bright relief. Then it went pitch dark again except for the afterimages of the flash and she felt wind through the window and heard the patter of hard falling rain outside.
She felt around on her nightstand. The time candle had blown out. Shaking, she lit it and sat listening to the rain outside for a moment. Then she got out of bed and closed the window; went over to the mirror at the washstand. The green eyes looking back at her were bright with new knowledge.
"Gabrielle?" Her voice was hushed. A thought stuck her and she padded over to the wardrobe; pawed through the garments hanging there till she found the smoke stained green bodice, brown wrap-around skirt and brown lace-up boots. She smelled the garments and shivered as the smoky smell took her back to the temple, the fight, the fall. The image of a burst of flames covering her falling daughter and that horrible scream dinned in her mind.
"Oh, Hope..." she sighed. "If only it hadn't had to be that way, but you gave me no choice. You were always my problem, not Xena's or anyone elses. You had to be stopped for the safety of the world and Xena would have died." She blinked back tears and a lump grew in her throat. "It was better it was me..."
Shaking her head, she took off her night shift and dressed in the garments. Feeling how the bodice hugged her breasts and the skirt clung to her was so familiar that she smiled despite her sadness. She could feel the moist night air on her bare midriff, arms and legs and that felt right too. The bard stood for a moment looking in the mirror as the now gentle rain fell outside.
"Gabrielle," she said softly. "By the gods, you should be dead and I don't know how you did it, but here you are again. Out of Dahak's pit and ... alive."
The sharp smoky smell arising from her clothing made her grimace and she looked towards the window. Yes! Moments later, she was standing naked, head up and eyes closed in the warm rain. Rivulets poured down her bare body, from her long silky hair, over her back, breasts and belly, down her muscular legs to her bare feet. She laughed and grinned as she lathered a bar of sweet smelling pumice soap first over her smelly clothing and then over her body and hair.
As she washed she felt herself coming back as if taking the tarnish off of an old pot or the mud off of comfortable boots. The memories both good and bad of four years with Xena returned one by one as Gabrielle the re-born bard of Poteidaia joyfully danced laughing and smiling in the warm and gentle night rain.
Chapter Seventeen: The Bard Restored
Brother Theobaldius and nurse Lydia stood watching as Gabrielle, dressed in her now clean green bodice, brown skirt and boots and a small traveling pack bid good-bye to her friends among the staff and patients of the hospice. She spoke to Linais and hugged him and the young man seemed about to fall apart. She spoke for long minutes to Elenina, the old priestess of Gaia whose arm was now healed. Last she turned to Mellia the cook.
"So yer really going, Smiley, I mean, Gabrielle," said the barefoot cook heartily.
Gabrielle smiled. "I have to, Mellia. My friend Xena ... she needs me."
"She sounds purty special."
"She is," Gabrielle looked worried. "I sent messages by several merchants who might meet her, but she wanders around a lot. I'll go to my family in Poteidaia and wait. I said I'd be there in the notes I sent and even if she doesn't get the messages, she knows I'd go home if I could and that's where she'd look for me."
"Well, I hope it works out fer ya. If it don't, come back here and be a healer. There's worse lives an yer good at it. Anyway, it ain't everday someone enjoys my cookin' like you do." She grinned and Gabrielle laughed.
"By the way, here's a little sumpthin' to snack on fer the road." Mellia handed her a small bag.
"What's in it?" The bards green eyes sparkled.
"Oh, nothin' much. Just a loaf of nutbread and some sausages and a couple cheeses and some flat bread and a few stuffed grape leaves and a couple of spinach pies. Oh, and some cherries." The cook winked hugely.
"Thank you, Mellia." The bard hugged the large grinning woman. "You certainly do know the way to a girl's heart."
"Yeah. Fer you, it's through yer stomach an that's fer sure. Take care, Smiley. You come back an visit us soon."
"I will. Bye, Mellia." The cook dabbed at her eyes as Gabrielle turned away to Brother Theobaldius and nurse Lydia.
Well, my dear Smi... Gabrielle," said Theobaldius as the young woman came up to them. "I guess this is good-bye."
The bard found a lump in her throat and her eyes brimming with tears. "Papa, oh, Papa," she choked, hugging the old man to her and burying her face in his chest.
He patted her shoulder clumsily and fought to contain his own emotions. "There, there ... there, there," he said.
Gabrielle turned her wet face up to him and her lip trembled. "I promised myself I wasn't gonna c-cry and I wanted to smile for you and now look at me," she whispered as more tears ran down her cheeks.
"My child, as I told you once before, the sight of you is enough to take an old man's breath away and that is still true whether you are smiling or not." Theobaldius kissed her forehead and hugged her to him.
"I know I have my own father," she said looking up at him with shining eyes. "But if you don't mind I'll go on calling you Papa. I can never think of you as anything but that from now on."
Theobaldius swallowed hard, but dredged up a smile from somewhere. "Dear child, you are like my own daughter. Don't you dare call me anything else."
"Oh, I won't, Papa, I can't." The bard smiled up at him through her tears and kissed his cheek; he smiled back. She composed herself somehow and turned to hug nurse Lydia.
"And dear Lydia, thank you for all the love and care you showed me," she said and the old nurse nodded. Gabrielle then glanced at Brother Theobaldius and whispered in Lydia's ear. "You know, I think if you tried just a little harder you and Papa could be ... you know, a couple."
Lydia cleared her throat and looked stern, but her eyes twinkled as she whispered back, "As I told you before, dear, that's his, um, department. The gods know I gave him enough chances over the years."
Gabrielle grinned at her. "Good luck, anyway," she whispered, then turned without another word and strode off for the road. As she got about fifty feet away, everyone shouted.
"Good-bye, good-bye Gabrielle," and the cook's voice rang out over the rest. "G'bye, Smiley!"
The young woman turned a joyful face over her shoulder and waved, then vanished into the trees as the road turned through the woods.
Chapter Eighteen: Who Did What to Whom
Theobaldius set aside the healing scroll he had been reading and rubbed his eyes. By his time candle it was about eight o'clock. The sun was going down; soon it would be time for bed. He sighed. Gabrielle had left just that morning and it seemed that the young woman had been gone for months already. He felt age sneaking in on him like an old enemy. She had been a fresh breath of air in the hospice; she was always on the go and doing something. Her smiling face had turned up at all hours to cheer him and everyone else with her presence. Now it was as if some joy was gone from his life. He had not even known it was missing before she came, but now he did and the loss hurt almost more than he could bear. He sighed again.
"So," said a deep male voice from behind him. "You did manage to heal her after all. Good job."
Theo spun around in shock and grunted as his side twinged. His eyes darted this way and that. He had been alone in his room since dinner and the door was before him. No one could have come in without him seeing. In the shadows from the failing sun, he could see the chair in the corner of his room. A shadowy figure sat there, only the eyes glistening in a deep hood.
"Who's there..." Theo quavered. "Show yourself."
The figure got to its feet and glided forward into the light. "Is this better," the rich voice inquired.
"You..." said the old healer. "You're the one who brought Smi ... Gabrielle here that night."
"True. I was also the one who saved her from certain death in the pit of flame-dude Dahak, but then who's counting?"
"Who are you," asked Theobaldius breathlessly.
The figure shrugged. "Call me an interested bystander. This Dahak Hodad is too much, dig; one tough goomba. But not all us Olympian's are willing to sit blindly by and wait for him and Ares to trash the world while mere mortals like Xena and little Gabrielle try to kick his butt. I mean, that is so not right. So I figure, I'll do my bit to help the cause."
"But, who are you," asked the baffled healer.
"Oh, well. If ya gotta know." The figure shrugged off the robe and stood before him. The stranger was golden haired and tanned, with a well built body. He was handsome in a saturnine like way. Across his bare chest shoulder to waist were crossed golden belts holding up a short golden kilt. But that was not all. From his back arose a pair of massive white-feathered wings that opened out to a ten-foot span. They moved gently causing the candle flame to flicker wildly. A small black crossbow trimmed with gold hung at his side.
"Dig me now?" He smiled.
"Cupid; god of Love," choked the healer.
"Right on, old healer-dude. The very same." Cupid grinned and stretched his wings. "Ah, that feels good. I hate keepin' 'em furled down like that; they start to cramp up on me. I was gettin' tired of that Olympus god incognito jive I hadda talk too. Now I can be my groovy self."
Theo swallowed. "So it was you who saved Gabrielle from the fire? But why?"
The god of Love looked at him for a moment, then shrugged and the air from his moving wings caused dust rabbits to hop from beneath various furniture.
"It's all 'cause the bard babe an me go back awhile," he said. "I first noticed Gabrielle when she helped me get one of my love matches back on track when Aphrodite was doing her best to ruin it. Ya see mom, Aphrodite ya know, wanted to bust up these two lovers cause of her temples, so she took this guy called Joxer and made him..." Cupid saw that Theo was looking bewildered and stopped. "Ah, fergit it. It takes too long to explain."
The god of Love pondered for a moment. "Try this instead, old Hodad. You see, our Gabrielle is a champion of love at all costs. Sorta like my arrows, only they enforce love at all costs. She mostly loves everybody and most people just love her back. She's like my love warrior, ya know? If Dahak takes over there ain't no people any more so there ain't no love any more, so I'm outa a job, dig? So I figured I better save Gabrielle from the head honcho fire-dude, so I did; end of story."
Cupid smiled and went on. "Further, here's this Xena and she's messed up from uncle Ares. She always wants to do the right thing but she might go off the deep end any time an start ruinin' the world. Very uncool."
The winged god sat down on Theo's desk and pulled his legs up; he wrapped his arms around them and rested his chin on his kneecaps as he continued.
"Now our Gabrielle helps keep Xena on track and that's cool cause if the Warrior Princess babe keeps tryin', one day she'll get the old Ares-monkey off her back once and for all and the world'll be safe again. But warrior-babe'll never do it without our little bard along, so there ya got it. I saved her, you saved her and she'll save Xena and Xena'll save the world. Dig?"
Theobaldius looked helplessly at the god of Love, wondering if he was now the one having dreams.
"But why didn't you tell me who she was," he demanded half in anger. "If you had, I wouldn't have deceived her and perhaps she would have recovered her memory more quickly!"
"Chill out, old dude." Cupid frowned. "I didn't know she had lost her memory. I figured she could tell you anything you needed to know, dig?"
Theo sighed and his face cleared. "I'm not really angry; truth be known, I'm grateful. I should thank you for saving her and thank you even more for bringing her here. It was wonderful having a daughter again if only for a little while."
Cupid smiled. "Koolage, man. Glad you liked it. But look here old Hodad; I'm not here for Gabrielle any more. She's back in the game now and I got other fish to fry. You, fer'instance."
"M-me," stuttered the healer.
"Yeah," said the god of Love. He looked at Theobaldius seriously. "You loved your wife, Silanna, I can dig that. I mean, I helped arrange the gig if you know what I mean."
"You arranged it," gulped the healer. "You mean you shot us with your..."
"Oh, no. That wasn't necessary for you two. It rarely is." The god patted the bow at his hip and grinned. "That's my argument of last resort, see? I only use that when someone is too blind or stupid to see what's in front of 'em. You two lovebirds weren't. I just had to arrange it so that you and Silanna got together for a little while; that was easy."
"W-What do you mean," stammered Theo.
Cupid grinned and suddenly Theo saw Lydia's uncle Faunlys sitting on the desk with his knees up. He gulped and then Cupid was sitting there again.
"It's a god thing," grinned the winged deity, "what can I say? You recall that Lydia's uncle Faunlys always said he couldn't remember introducing you and Silanna? Well, he was right. He really DIDN'T remember cause I filled in for him when he was in the outhouse that day." He chuckled as Theo gawked at him. "Anyhow, once I introed you two, I split and you guys did the rest. I must say you did me proud, too."
Theobaldius blushed furiously and Cupid snickered. "That's a nice shade of red on yer head, old dude." Then he looked serious. "But see, that was thirty years ago you met, now twenty years since she died. No time at all fer me, but fer human-dudes it can be a lifetime. Silanna is in the Elysian Fields and all this time you been pussyfooting around Lydia. So what's up with that, huh?"
The old healer groaned. "I couldn't expect Lydia to want me, I gave her up when I married Silanna. She must hate me for that."
Cupid shook his golden head. "It won't fly, Theo-dude. She loved you once and you were above board with her about Silanna. Now what about it?"
"Look at me, Cupid," he said hopelessly. "I'm not that man any more ... I'm, I'm OLD!" He burst out. "How could I ask Lydia to take me back now, after all these years?"
The god of Love looked at him with compassion. "Look, fella. I won't coerce you ... its yer decision and I'll respect it, but let me lay one thought on you before I leave...
"If you snooze, you lose."
Theobaldius looked puzzled and Cupid threw up his hands in exasperation. "In other words old Hodad, neither of you are gettin' any younger and if you don't ask her, why then you'll never know, will ya? Just think about it."
He leaped off the desk into mid air and hovered, the flapping of his wings raising dust and causing the hearth-fire to crackle and throw sparks.
"I'm outa here! Ciao, old-dude!" He flapped once mightily and the force shot the god of Love out the door with his wings folded and on up into the sunset evening sky with a yell of joyous pleasure.
Chapter Nineteen: Second Chances All Around
Theobaldius screwed up his courage and knocked on the door. After a few moments, during which his stomach threatened to return the remains of his dinner, the door opened and Lydia stood looking at him in surprise. She had a hairbrush in her hand. She was dressed in a simple house shift, had open sandals on her feet and her hair was hanging loose down her back.
"Hello, Lydia " he said hoarsely. Gods, she looked beautiful.
"Theo?" She looked slightly puzzled. "Is there a problem? Something in the hospice we've forgotten to attend to?"
"N-No," he stuttered. "Nothing ... in t-the ... h-hospice."
"Hm," she looked at him speculatively. "What is it then?"
Impulsively he took her hand. She raised an eyebrow then tilted her head and gazed at him without speaking.
"Lydia, I, uh ... L-Lydia," he quavered. "It-It's a beautiful evening ... I believe the ... the jasmine in the garden is blooming. There should be lovely smells there. W-Would you like to take a-a walk with me?"
In his mind he cursed himself. Lovely SMELLS? You old fool!
The old nurse stared at him for a moment and he felt himself wither under her gaze. Then her eyes twinkled as she took him by the arm.
"Why, yes, Theobaldius, I think that I should love to, um, smell the lovely smells with you."
Gabrielle tossed another stick on the campfire. Her camp was well away from the road in a sheltered coverlet, just as Xena had taught her. She spread a blanket next to the fire and plopped down upon it. Sighing with pleasure, she consumed the last of Mellia's nutbread and looked up into the night sky where a few stars shone down through the overhanging trees.
"I'm back, Xena," she said out loud as she lay down and pulled the blanket over her for sleep. "I don't how or why I'm back and I don't know where you are, but I'll find you. After this, no one, not man, not woman, not god or demon is going to keep us apart until we go to the Elysian Fields together. For you are my light too, Xena, and I love you."
The re-born bard of Poteidaia closed her eyes and smiled in the dark. I'm coming, beloved friend. Good night.
Continued in Hope Full, Book Two, The Bound Bard
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