The Curse of Higuchi
By L. Crystal Michallet-Romero
Copyright © June 2003 L. Crystal Michallet-Romero
All Rights Reserved
Reworked for misspellings, typos and overused words on: Saturday, October 18, 2003.
A big thanks has to first be given to my guru of grammar, Bill the Semi Bard. Not only has he helped me to weed out the glaring grammar mistakes, but his contributions to the entire body of work are invaluable. The next thanks go to the rest of my beta reading team; Prof., and of course, my honey, Jessica. Also a big thanks to BS Raven. Her PHD in history not only helped to answer some questions regarding sailing vessels, but she also provided some valuable information regarding the politics of Egypt during this time, as well as a list of Egyptian words which Ive incorporated into this chapter. A big thanks also goes out to Queen Laese, who shared all of her painstaking research on various ancient cultures and dialects. Lastly, thanks Michelle! Your very graphic medical descriptions have again proven fantastic for a particular scene that I needed!!
Disclaimer: Xena Warrior Princess, its characters, and all related materials are the property of MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures. The other characters are mine. Like the show, I am playing around with the historical time lines.
Sexual Violence: Medium
Gross Meter: High in some parts, mild in some
Subtext: Yes (F/F)
All Feedback: CrystalMichallet@charani.org
Note to Readers
* Abu Abdullah Muhammad Ibn Battuta was not born until 1304, in Tangier, Morocco. He did not begin his travels through the Middle East and China until 1325. During his life he is known to have traveled at total of 75,000 miles, which out distanced the travels of Marco Polo.
* Isis Egyptian Goddess who was the wife of Osiris and mother of Horus. Isis was seen as the protective goddess and it was believed that with her magic spells, she could assist people in need. Because it was believed that the Pharaohs were the living embodiment of Horus on earth, Isis was considered an important Goddess by the Pharaohs.
* Isle of Philae Located south of the city of Aswan in the Nile river. It is estimated to have been constructed during the third century B.C.E. The temple was dedicated to the Egyptian Goddess Isis, and remains to this day a protected landmark which houses the original architecture and hieroglyphs of the ancient Egyptian religions.
* Persia The original Persian Empire once covered the territory of modern Iraq and Iran, to the tip of the Indus Valley. It is estimated that the Sumerians settled and established the first known civilization in Persia, and created the first functioning government. In addition to creating a stable government, the Persians are known to have invented the wheeled vehicle and the use of a written language.
* Ra The Egyptian sun god.
* Soul Possession In the religion of Voodun, soul possession is not only viewed as a positive experience, but it is encouraged for anyone wishing to get closer to the spirits. Many Voodun practitioners will not even consider an apprentice for study unless theyve experienced spirit possession. Within Christianity, there are some who believe that to be filled with the "Holy Spirit" brings enlightenment and the possessed individual closer to their God.
Ancient Egyptian Terminology
Amenta = Literally means, the underworld.
Amulet = Originally worn like jewelry, an amulet was a charm that was made of precious stones. Many amulets had hieroglyphs, gods, or sacred animals etched within the stones surface.
Anat = Believed to originate in Syria, Anat was the goddess of war and was depicted as a woman holding a shield and an axe.
Anubis = A Jackal headed god who guards Necropolis.
Asikari = Warrior
Hawara = Love (lover)
Hemet = Priestess
Ka = The spirit or soul. It was believed that a persons ka would live on after their body had died.
Necropolis = City of the dead and also a description that signifies important burial grounds.
The childs voice yanked Zara from the depths of her dark, melancholy thoughts. With a grimace, the tall Moroccans brow creased as her jaw clenched. "Leave me be, Nadrah!" the captain barked, causing the girl to flinch and the baby to stir in her arms.
"B-But .Captain .Fatimah needs you, she wants you to hold her," Nadrahs tenacity would not waiver and it looked like the captain would explode with a string of expletives. The tall womans frown grew deeper as her gaze seemed to bore a hole into Nadrah. But as quickly as this happened, a deep sigh escaped the seafarers control as a single tear was released.
"Thank you, Nadrah," Zara whispered as she leaned forward and took the baby from Nadrahs arms. With a slight smile, the Moroccan woman held the babe in her arms. Her gaze fell over the little girl as her silent tears fell unheeded down her cheeks.
From nearby, Nadrah saw Gabrielle moving back to her seat. Glancing over at her, the child smiled to reassure the storyteller. The blonde nodded wordlessly as she wiped her eyes, then turned her concentration back to the conversation she was having with Zaras brother.
Gabrielle noticed her lovers outburst and was ready to rebuke Zara. The healer knew the pain that she was going through, but also knew that this was no excuse for treating Nadrah badly or scaring the baby. Thankfully, her lovers anger turned to grief, and she spoke softly to the cabin girl. As the two were sitting near the window, the captain held Inaams baby in her arms. Like second nature, she cradled the baby as she spoke softly to the cabin girl. Occasionally, the Greek woman noticed the captain reaching up to wipe away the tears that fell.
"Healer Gabrielle, will my sister be all right?" Rashis voice was soft as he turned his gaze away from his sister. At his look of pain, the blonde only sighed.
"I dont know Rashi. Shes gone through a great deal, lost many who she loved dearly. Its a shock. All we can do is be there for her. I promise, Rashi, Ill do whatever is necessary to help your sister, Ill be there for her," she smiled softly as she reached out and touched his hand.
His eyes welled up with tears, before he regained control and momentarily looked away, "I am glad to hear that, Healer Gabrielle. My sister she is very dear to me."
"And to me as well, Ill not leave her side, no matter how long her healing takes, I promise."
Satisfied with her words, he nodded as he glanced back to his sister. "Good, I only wish " the young mans voice faltered as he looked at his wife in the corner of the room, the shawl discreetly covering her as she fed their baby. "I only wish that Fatimah did not have to be separated from Zara. I think having the babe is good for her, helps her to stay connected to the love she lost."
"I know, and I think youre right. But Zaras right, the trip down the Nile will be rather long, and from what I hear, it would be better for you and Rachael to take Fatimah with you," Gabrielle found her mind going over their trip. Although it would take time to reach the Isle of Philae, at least she was grateful that the hardest part of the voyage by sea was over. Now that they were in peaceful waters, they would be able to relax their vigil.
"Rashi, are you certain you will be safe where you go?" Gabrielle leaned forward, her voice low as her hand lightly rested on the young mans arm.
Rashi smiled broadly as he lightly patted her hand in reassurance. "Of course we will be safe. Most of Rachaels kin live in Aimeria, and the rest live in various cities throughout Hispania. I am certain that we can finally be at peace, Healer Gabrielle," his voice grew soft as his mind seemed to drift away. With a wistful smile, he looked deeply into the healers green eyes.
"I can only see a brighter future for my family in Hispania and hopefully, if you and Zara should wish to settle down, you might consider Aimeria? It would be wonderful if our children could grow up together," he released a soft sigh as the light beard on his face moved upward in a smile. "I know that you both will always be welcomed in my home."
With an equally pleased smile, she clasped his hand in hers. Gabrielle knew the significance of his words and felt honored that such an invitation would be offered. At his sincerity, the blonde felt her eyes grow misty.
"Thank you Rashi. Perhaps someday, if its meant to be, we could build a home near your family and finally rest from our many years of travel," Gabrielle replied, even as her mind began to dream of times of peace.
Although Gabrielle had never thought of it before, she began to realize that settling down on a parcel of land and raising children was an attractive notion, and this surprised her. When she first left her home to join Xena, she was leaving the plans of her parents. The idea that she would settle down to raise kids once brought distaste to her to the point where all she could do was run away in the middle of the night. But now, after all of her years of travel, and the many adventures that she experienced, she realized that the dream of one day settling down appealed to her. As she pondered this change, the Greek woman remained silent. Next to her, Rashi seemed deep in thought as he watched the land pass by the transport ship.
Zara did not know why she was quick to anger. Throughout her life, she prided herself on being in control. Although a multitude of emotions churned within her soul, to the outside world, she was a master of her emotions. But lately, she felt herself losing control of everything.
Get a hold of yourself, she heard the ghosts voice like a distant echo in her mind. And whatever you do, dont take it out on Nadrah! Xena warned through their shared link. Although she had not seen Xena since the death of Inaam, she always felt the ghost warriors presence. She could not have explained it to anyone, but at times it felt that the warrior was residing within her.
Remembering Xenas warning, the dusky woman only nodded. "Yes, of course," the captain stated out loud as she gazed down into the smiling eyes of Fatimah.
"Captain, can you hear her too?" Nadrah called her attention. Looking up from the babe in her arms, she glanced at the cabin girl, afraid that Nadrah was able to hear Xena.
"W-What?" the dark captain asked as she felt her heart racing.
"Fatimah, can you hear her too?" the little girl asked as she moved closer and smiled down at the baby. "Sometimes when I think really hard about it, I can almost hear her well, maybe not hear words, but more like feelings, do you know what I mean?"
At her explanation, Zara released the breath she was holding. The Moroccan was thankful that her secret conversations with Xena were still unknown. If such news were learned, she would have to clarify how the link was much more than either of them could explain. The captain would have to confess that at times, she saw images, memories of a life she had never lived and she would have to admit that there was a part of her that feared the loss of her own soul.
"Captain?" Nadrah continued to gaze at her, then smiled as she reached out and let the baby wrap its hand around her finger. "Shes strong captain, maybe shes going to grow up to be a ships captain, just like her mamma?"
"Perhaps so, Nadrah." The tall woman nodded and smiled as she looked down at the babe in her arms.
As she gazed at Fatimas dark blue eyes, the Moroccan woman marveled at how perfect this little human was. Her thick, dark hair was so much like Inaams that at times it broke Zaras heart to look at the infant. When she looked at the babys features, she had a hard time seeing her deceased consort, yet when she gazed into the babys eyes, she could not deny that one day this child would be as beautiful as her mother was. Inaam, you did not deserve to die, she thought as she felt the babys little legs kicking. With a smile, she took a tiny foot in her hand and felt the strength of the infants legs.
"So strong," she whispered as she ran her finger along Fatimahs soft flesh. At her touch, the baby seemed to smile, then blew bubbles from her mouth as her face screwed up into a frown. "Shes smiling?" Zara looked up at Nadrah, amazed that one so little could master such a feat.
"Ahuh, either that or " but the cabin girl did not finish her sentence before a foul stench filled the air. "Ewwww, Fatimah, and I just changed you too!" Nadrah sighed theatrically as she shook her head. "Here Captain, Ill change her and bring her back," the child held out her arms. With a nod, Zara passed the infant to the girl, grateful that the baby was going to be changed before the smell permeated the small cabin.
"Shes a good helper, isnt she?" Gabrielle asked as she moved to sit beside the captain.
"Yes," she agreed as she returned her attention to the scene outside of the cabin window. Idly, she watched as the land passed by, the sight of the farmers, or small villages hardly registered in her mind. Instead, all she thought about was the past events, and what still needed to be done. Perhaps if she helped to bring Xena back, then everything would be made right, there would not be anymore lives lost.
"Zara?" the Amazons voice drew her from her thoughts. Blinking in surprise, the captain turned her attention away from the window toward Gabrielle. At the blondes look of concern, she realized that her lover must have been speaking to her, and she had not heard her words. With a slight nod, the Moroccan sighed in hopes of relieving some of the stress that was held within.
"I-I am sorry, what were you saying, Gabrielle?" Zara leaned toward the storyteller, all of her attention on her lover.
"I was just saying how Nadrah will miss Fatimah while were away. Have you thought of allowing Nadrah to remain with Rashi?" she asked softly.
Zara had considered the same thing, yet something within her turned down the notion. She could not have stated why, she only knew that for this trip to the temple, Nadrah would accompany them. As she released a sigh, she leaned back and closed her eyes. Her thoughts were a chaotic jumble of images and ideas. When she felt the soft hand in hers, she opened her eyes to the smiling woman.
"Nadrah will join us. Im sure she can survive the days without Fatimah," she assured.
"All right." Gabrielle offered no arguments as her hand squeezed Zaras, "Sweetheart, were going to have to be up early tomorrow to change ships. Why dont you go lay down for a rest," the storyteller softly suggested.
Zara only nodded blankly as she allowed the Greek healer to lead her to an adjoining room. Once behind closed doors, she paid little attention to Gabrielle. Instead, she remained silently passive as her lover unclothed her and settled her into the bed. Filled with an endless fatigue, the Moroccan felt her eyes slowly closing. Not even the sight of the shapely Amazon undressing captivated her attention.
The sun filtered through the thin curtains of their cabin. As the ship swayed in the gentle waves of the Mediterranean sea, the blonde lay silently staring at the ceiling. She felt the weight of Zaras head pillowed on her shoulder and felt the Moroccans steady, even breaths. Although a part of Gabrielle was grateful that her lover was no longer frozen in grief, she could not help but be worried about her. She had never seen the strong ship captain in such depths of depression and feared for her friends health.
The healer found her thoughts constantly returning to everything that had happened. If Xena had been around, she would have aired her concerns to her soulmate. But ever since the death of Inaam, her ghost lover had disappeared and Gabrielle wondered if even Xena was paralyzed with grief, just as Zara seemed to be. And why wouldnt she be? Why wouldnt they be paralyzed? Ever since the warrior ghost first helped the Moroccan to heal, there was some sort of link established that allowed Xena to feel the captains emotions, both good and bad. So why wouldnt Xena be suffering from the same sadness that the dark haired woman was now in? So many people had died, so much pain and guilt, who would not find themselves paralyzed? The blonde thought as her hand absently stroked her lovers back. Her fingers left a slight trail along the scar lines that ran in a zigzag pattern over the dusky womans flesh.
After so many nights of touching the taller womans body, she felt she knew every nuance of the captains skin. Every scar, every burn mark was permanently etched in Gabrielles mind just like every curve and softness was in her memory. As if her touch alone could rid her tall lover of the painful memories, the blonde lovingly touched and stroked along the scars. When they made love, Gabrielle laid tender kisses over her lovers back in hopes that her lips alone could heal Zara of the painful memories of how she acquired such hideous marks. But deep down inside the healer knew that there was nothing she could do to rid her lover of this pain. There was nothing she could do to relieve the grief from the Moroccan.
Yet, was the grief Zara was experiencing unhealthy for her? After all, she had been kidnapped, tortured and lost her soulmate as a child, and now, just when it seemed like she was finding her own, the captains mother and lover were viciously murdered. Is it any wonder after so much death that the strong woman would suddenly crumble? Gabrielles mind queried. Yet through it all, the only thing that kept the woman going was the promise she made, the promise to help bring Xena back to life.
With an intake of air, the small blonde looked at the night table by the bed. Gabrielle felt a slight gasp escape her control as she gazed upon the urn that had been her constant companion since Higuchi. Within it were the ashes of her best friend, lover and soulmate. Her original intention was to fulfill Xenas last wish and bury her in the family crypt in Amphipolis. But once the Greek woman received the promise from Zara, hope returned to her. Just the thought of being able to bring Xena back kept her going. But when she thought about it, she found herself filled with conflicting emotions.
"How can I ask for such a thing?" Gabrielle whispered out loud.
In her sleep, Zara heard her question and slightly stirred, a soft mumble escaping her parted lips. Looking down at her lover, the Amazon gently brushed her fingers through the captains dark, thick locks. The arm that was wrapped around the Moroccan hugged the taller woman close. "Shush, sweetheart, its nothing," she cooed softly and waited as the dusky woman returned to her deep slumber.
Despite Gabrielles words, she knew that her thoughts held meaning. If after all of this time she was beginning to have doubts, then what was there left to do? Ever since Higuchi she could not help but feel that something was wrong. Even after her discussion with Arjun, she began to realize how foolish Xena had been how foolish they both had been. Fate, regardless of how it played out, was meant to be. As sad as it was to lose so many lives, perhaps the people of Higuchi were meant to perish? Isnt that what Arjun said, that if the villagers had at one time turned away an innocent, then Xena burning down the city was not an accident but fate, and the fact that she still lived showed that she was meant to live. If Gabrielle had realized this before, she would have poured Xenas ashes into the well and dealt with the warriors anger later. But she hadnt thought of this until Arjun brought it up, and now all she could do was hold on to the hope that the Priestess of Isis could bring her lovers ashes to life.
But was this the right thing to do? The thought kept raging in her mind. What right do I have to long for Xena when so many people have died? How is my need greater than that of the women who lost their husbands? Or the children, their fathers? Through all of this not once has Zara thought to ask for the favor for herself. She could have asked the Priestess, her former lover, to return her mother, or Inaam, and yet she had never mentioned it. So selfless was she that the Moroccan has never indicated that such a possibility could happen. Yet, Im going to ask for something so selfish as to have my soulmate back, Gabrielles mind churned over and over. The ideas, although not new, began to resonate louder in her mind.
Although Gabrielle found it hard to sort out her thoughts, one single thing remained clear. Asking for such a selfish thing was wrong. In the midst of all the deaths, all of the lost lives, bringing Xena back paled in comparison, and this notion alone caused the healers heart to ache. She loved Xena more than anything in world, but despite her love, she could not shake the feeling that asking for such a gift would not balance the karma, and this tore her to pieces.
"Xena, where are you when I need you?" she whispered ever so softly into the darkness of the cabin. When all that was heard was the gentle splashing of the waves, she released a deep sigh and closed her eyes. "Xena, I need you now more than ever. Please, if you have come to the same conclusion, please dont leave without saying goodbye. Please Xena, not yet," she quietly whispered as the darkness of the night filled the small cabin.
The docks of Tangier were filled with the hustle of travelers and cargo. Afraid of letting go, Zara held Fatimah protectively in her arms while Gabrielle supervised the removal of their traveling gear. When the baby smiled at her, the captain lightly brushed her fingertip over the girls chubby cheeks. Beside the tall captain, Nadrah stood holding the basket with her cat. Occasionally the lid bounced as Prasha was tried to make his escape. But knowing that her cat would try this, Nadrah fastened the lid of the basket securely.
"Zara, we must depart now," Rashi spoke close to her. Looking up, she noticed her brothers look of concern, his eyes falling from hers to the baby in her arms.
"Of course," she gulped as she felt the tears gathering in her eyes. A part of the captain was afraid to give up the child. Yet deep in her heart, she knew that it was for the best. Their next step in the journey would not guarantee a nurse maid, and right now this is what Fatimah needed. At least with Rachel, the girl would continue to feed and grow, and in time, when their travel was complete, the seafarer could go to her brother and retrieve her child.
"Zara, we will be waiting for all of you in Aimeria. As soon as Fatimah is weaned, shell be able to travel with you. Until then, I promise to cherish and protect her as my own," his gentle smile held compassion in his voice. With arms outstretched, he waited as his sister glanced once more at the babe.
"You will go with your uncle now, but soon, my daughter, I will come for you," she whispered close to the babys ear before softly kissing her temple. When she felt a tugging of her pant leg, she looked down and saw Nadrahs tear filled eyes. Kneeling down, she held the baby out, and the girl set her basket down before taking the baby in her arms.
"You be good, little mouse, and dont get too big before I can see you," the cabin girl whispered, then kissed the baby before giving her back to Zara.
"Very well my brother, I will meet you again in Aimeria," she nodded as a weak smile escaped her control.
"In Aimeria then, Zara, and may Allah bless your path," his voice was low before turning away to join his wife and the four guards that would accompany them on the last leg of their journey. As the soft sounds of Nadrahs tears registered, the tall Moroccan reached down and rested her hand on the girls shoulders. In silence, they watched as Rashi handed the baby to Gabrielle in order that she could say her goodbyes. Once she handed the baby back to the bearded man, the blonde hugged him and his wife before turning to join Zara on the dock.
"Theyll be safe now," Gabrielle stated confidently as she waved to the young family who was boarding the new ship.
"Yes, once they are in Hispania, they will be far enough away from my father," the captains monotone voice echoed. Only when the planks were lifted and the ropes removed, did she turn her attention away. "We must "
"I found it already, honey. Our ship is over there. Our packs are already stored in the cabin and theyre still loading passengers. We should go and check in if we dont want to lose our private room," the healer smiled tenderly as she took Zaras hand, then Nadrahs, and began to lead the way toward the vessel that would carry them along the coast for the next leg of the journey.
"Gabrielle, why cant I wear my own clothes!" Nadrah pouted. She didnt like being a brat, wasnt even accustomed to the role, but right now, with the new light blue clothes, she felt that she had no other choice.
"Because Sweetheart, from this time forward, we have to look like pilgrims," the storyteller explained as she put on her own light blue clothes. As if they were filled with bugs, Nadrah scratched at the itchy fabric against her skin. With a slight scowl, she crossed her arms and sat on the cabins bed, releasing a slight huff in the process. At this, Gabrielle glanced down at her with a look of surprise, and a smile caused the corners of her eyes to crinkle. The blonde kneeled down in front of her and lightly rested the palm of her hand over Nadrahs knee.
"Nadrah, remember when we spoke on the ship leaving Tangier? Remember how I explained that once we reached Al-Mahdiya and we switched ships, we were going to have to be very careful so that the Egyptians arent afraid of us? Do you remember that honey? We have to dress like pilgrims so that they dont think we are spies, or trying to harm their country," Gabrielles soft voice tried to coax the deep set frown from Nadrahs face. But the Greek womans explanation only spurred on the childs foul mood, and the girls frown grew deeper as her scowl intensified.
"Now Nadrah, we have to be careful from this point forward. Its only the three of us " Gabrielle was instantly stopped when the girl looked up at her surprised.
"FOUR!" Nadrahs voice was louder than she expected as she corrected the healer
Gabrielle closed her eyes as she inhaled deeply, then opened her eyes and smiled down at the girl. "Four, Im sorry Prasha. You are such the strong, silent type that I overlook you," the blonde spoke to the cat who was rubbing himself against the storytellers leg. With a slight smile, Gabrielle scratched behind his ear, before returning her attention to Nadrah.
"Now that there are only four of us, we have to be very careful. We dont want to draw attention to ourselves and the best way to do this is to look like pilgrims, which we are," Gabrielles voice was softly soothing.
Nadrah was about to soften her stance, but at the feel of the coarse clothing against her skin, her brows grew deep and her frown larger. "Im not having any fun on this trip!" She declared just as Zara entered the small cabin. The captain glanced at the blonde, then at Nadrah.
If the girl had been thinking clearly, she would have known that the ploy wouldnt work on the captain. But Nadrah was not thinking at all. The only thing that ran through her mind was how uncomfortable the new clothes felt. They werent soft, like her Moroccan clothes, and they werent even pretty, like her clothes from Indus. Both the breeches and shirt were pale blue and the cloth was scratchy. At this thought, the girl reached under her arm pit and began to scratch.
"I HATE THESE CLOTHES!!!" She screamed as she jumped off of her smaller bunk, yanking her shirt off, and tossing it against the wall.
"Nadrah!" Zaras deep voice caught her attention. Looking up at the captain, she saw the woman moving towards her, her towering frame looming above her. "Do I need to ask what is the cause of your disrespect toward Gabrielle?"
"I-I ." the girl suddenly lost her courage and lowered her head in shame.
"Shes not happy with the new clothes." The healer explained even as the girl absently scratched her tummy.
"I am not happy with them either, but I do not act rudely because of it," she heard Zara say.
At the captains words, Nadrah sat glumly on her bunk. Her lower lip trembled. She didnt know why she was acting this way. A part of her didnt want to be a brat, but she couldnt help it. After a moment of silence, the captain continued.
"Since you dont like wearing your clothing, when youre in the cabin, you dont have to wear them, but you will wear them outside! And to remind yourself of how to treat your elders, you can stay here tonight and think of a proper way to apologize to Gabrielle," at the captains words, Nadrahs eyes shot open as she looked up at Zara. Knowing that she would be missing dinner, her stomach growled.
"Is that understood?" Zara asked again in a no nonsense tone of voice.
"Ahuh," was all Nadrah could say as she stood up and took off her new breeches, then laid on the bed, her back to the captain as she curled into a ball.
It had been almost a week since leaving Tangier and already the trip was beginning to wear on them. Although Gabrielle had seen the normal moods of a child in Nadrah, she had never witness such outright brattiness from the girl and this took the woman by surprise. But once Zara entered the room, it seemed like the matter was out of her hands.
"I should have thought to bring along something for the child to do," Zara spoke softly.
"Ill see if I can find some parchment to purchase. Are you up to resuming her lessons?" Gabrielle asked as she nibbled on the morsels from her plate.
Thankfully they were able to purchase a cabin in one of the better ships that actually had a place where meals were served. Unlike the simple transport ship that they took from Addâru Lbaydâ, the vessel they found in Tangier was specifically designed to carry more affluent travelers. Although in the past she had traveled modestly with Xena, for once she was grateful for Zaras wealth. In between bites of food, she would take a few morsels and secret them away to the cloth that was on her lap.
"Lessons would be good for her now. Then maybe she wont be so ." Zara shook her head as she pushed the meat across her plate. Although her appetite returned, it was not as Gabrielle hoped it would be. Despite this, the healer kept a close eye on the Moroccan, making certain that she ate even when she was not hungry.
"Childish." Gabrielle stated before taking the cup of Egyptian beer and drinking of its strong brew. With a curious expression, the Moroccan looked across the table at her. "You were trying to figure out how to describe Nadrahs actions, I believe childish is the word youre looking for," she winked as she took a large plum from a basket and pretended to bite into it. When Zara turned away, the Amazon quickly put it under the table and in her cloth napkin.
"Yes, childish. If her mind is occupied with lessons, then perhaps she wont act so childish," Zara released a tired sigh as she set her bread aside. Glancing at the food on her plate, the dark haired woman seemed to be deep in contemplation before looking up at the storyteller. "Perhaps you would care to take this as well?"
At her comment, the Greek woman nervously gulped as she held the bread with food near her lips. Like a rabbit looking down the line of sight at an arrow that was meant for her, Gabrielle blinked as she tried to regain her composure. Clearing her throat, the smaller woman looked away from Zaras penetrating gaze.
"Take it? I dont understand?" the blonde feigned ignorance.
"The food that is on my plate, perhaps you might want to include it in the cloth on your lap? I am not hungry and I know that Nadrah enjoys lamb," the captain looked up at her once more. "With what you already have, this should be enough to fill the girl."
Gabrielle felt a smile pull at her lips as she popped the bread and meat into her mouth. "Im that obvious?" she asked in between chewing as she reached over and took some bread and meat from Zaras plate, then put it into the cloth on her lap.
"Maybe not to everyone, but I think I know you well enough to notice your subtle movements," Zaras lips curved into a delicate smile as she picked up the cup of tea, and drank it slowly, her eyes never wavering from the blondes. At the intensity of the Moroccans gaze, Gabrielle felt a heat cross her cheeks as a sudden realization struck home.
"Why Zara, if I didnt know better, I would think that you were flirting with me!" Gabrielles voice softly accused as she leaned toward the taller woman. In answer to her, the seafarers brow merely arched upward in a question, as she set the cup down.
"Perhaps when the child is asleep?" although she reached toward Gabrielles hand, Zara dared not touch the Amazon as they sat in the public dining hall. Instead, she laid her hands, palms down upon the table as she left the question to hang in the air.
"Ummm " the storyteller only smiled as she quickly closed the cloth around the goodies. "Maybe if we leave now, I can put her to bed early," Gabrielle found it hard to keep the lust from her voice.
Zara seemed confused. Her gaze remained on Gabrielle, as her features seemed to question her. At her expression, the blonde only smiled as she rose from her chair and leaned toward her. "Its been a while since weve made love, and Im in dire need right about now."
At the declaration, the Moroccans cheeks turned a crimson shade of red as the corner of her lips turned into a smile. "Of course," was all she said as she followed her smaller lover from the dinning area, as a look of confusion crossing her features.
Time was meaningless when Xena was at her swimming hole. Ever since the death of Inaam, when the floodgates of Zaras grief covered her like a thick blanket, the ghost warrior retreated to her swimming hole. She felt the utter pain and despair of loss. Everything seemed to magnify in intensity and all Xena could do was try to hold on to the fragile link of sanity. Over and over the images replayed in her mind. The death of her soulmate, her mother and Inaam felt too much to bear .No! These are not my memories! Her mind raged as she fought to find her way from the confusing images of her delusions.
The warrior princess called upon all her skills. Although she knew she was at her favorite swimming hole, a part of her subconscious mind did not pay attention. Instead, she sat in a meditation position, her mind and body relaxed as she called upon the lessons of Lao Ma. Stillness, must bring my mind to stillness, a part of her whispered the mantra over and over. After what felt like an eternity in time, she heard the absolute silence as her body floated in a darkness not of her own design. She found herself finally at peace. The guilt of her sins, the painful memories of her past, the murders, pillaging of villages, the rapes committed when she was a warlord flashed past her inner vision and then vanished. For the first time, she felt an absolute peace.
Before the sensations could take hold, Xena felt herself swimming through an ocean of memories. While some, she remembered clearly, some she knew were not her own. Like a dream, she felt herself slipping in and out of images. At one point, she was sitting across from her bard, a cup of tea in her hands. When she looked at the blonde, the warrior felt a wave of desire sweep over her. Although she felt herself talking, the words came out muffled. The only thing that the ghost warrior knew was that her body ached to touch Gabrielle, to feel her body writhing against her as she released herself upon the warrior. At this thought, her lips curved into a delicate smile as she drank the tea slowly. Her hooded eyes never wavered from her soulmates green gaze as the image of their love played through her mind. Sensing Xenas desires, a crimson shade covered Gabrielles cheeks.
"Why if I didnt know better, I would think that you were flirting with me!" Xena did not hear her bards words clearly. Instead, she arched a questioning brow. The familiar move not lost on her lover as the ghost warrior set the cup down.
"Perhaps when the child is asleep?" Xena leaned forward, placing her hands on the table palms down. When she saw her own hands, the ghost warrior felt her breath catch in her throat. At the sight of the clothes, so different from her own, the warrior realized that this was not her. It was not her body. Somehow, she had jumped into Zaras body and didnt even notice it. The realization of it sent the ghost spirit spiraling from the images and back into the darkness. Over and over, her mind tried to understand how she could have so easily taken possession of the captain without either one of them aware of it.
When she opened her eyes and found herself back by the swimming hole, she released a sigh. In the back of her mind, she felt Zaras confusion. Xena closed her eyes and concentrated. Just as it had happened in the past, she was able to sense the Moroccans emotions. The ghost realized that the captain was unaware of what had happened, and instead was looking at Gabrielle in confusion. "Youd better answer her," Xena spoke out loud to the Moroccan.
In answer to her, the tall woman merely nodded as a heat seemed to bring a blush to her cheeks, and a smile crossed her lips, "Of course," Xena heard Zara say as she followed Gabrielle from the dinning area in confusion.
"Damn you, Zara, youve got to tell our bard. This isnt normal!" Xena said, knowing that Zara would hear her. From somewhere in the back of her mind, she felt the Moroccan nod, then dismiss Xenas notion.
Stubborn the ghost warrior began to release a string of expletives as she felt herself moving away from her swimming hole. When she opened her eyes, she found herself in a small cabin, a single candle lamp hung on the wall. In the dark shadows of the room, she heard a soft noise.
"Nadrah?" she heard the girl crying in the dark and moved to her. "Honey, whats wrong?"
The little girl wore only her underwear as she lay on her stomach. Her face buried in the pillow as her soft sobs came out muffled. Prasha lay next to her near the wall. The large cat glanced up at Xena, his ears fell back as he tried to decide if she was friend or foe. Once assured that the ghost would not hurt his mistress, Prasha rose from his spot, turned in a circle, then sat back down and nuzzled deeper into the bed.
"Xena?" Nadrah turned away from her pillow. "Xena, youre back now?"
"Yes sweetheart, Im sorry I was gone," Xena sat on the edge of the bed and smiled down at the girl. "Whats wrong? Why are you sitting all alone and why are you crying?"
"Because " Nadrah sniffled as she buried her head in the pillow again.
"Oh honey, nothing is this bad. What happened?" The warrior lightly touched the girls shoulders.
"Im supposed to think of a way to apologize to Gabrielle. Oh Xena, I didnt mean to be surly with her, honest!" The girl wept into her pillow.
"Oh honey, Im sure Gabrielle understands. Sometimes things happen and we get surly from time to time. My bard knows about that, dont you worry," she tried to sooth the girls fears.
"I dont like my clothes, Xena. Theyre ugly and they itch," the child rolled over and faced the warrior, her little hands scratching over her body. The flame of the candle shinned on her small body. At the sight of the small, red welts, the warriors eyes were drawn to the bumps.
"Honey, move over a bit please, let me see something," she coaxed the girl to roll over in her bed until the light was on her body. "Oh " her mind began to run over the multitude of possibilities that might have caused the girls bumps. "Nadrah, honey, dont scratch," Xena kept her order soft as her ghostly hand stopped the girls instinctive movements.
"I cant help it, Xena. I itch!" Nadrahs features scrunched into a frown.
"I know that honey, but dont scratch. As soon as Gabrielle gets here, she can make a poultice that will stop the itching," Xenas ghostly hands fell on the childs torso. At her touch, Nadrah gasped, then grew still before a sigh escaped her control. "Does this help the itching stop?" Xena kept her icy touch on the girl.
"Ahuh, doesnt itch there so much," Nadrah closed her eyes, the tear stains still fresh on her cheeks.
"All right then honey, just relax and Ill try to keep them from itching. Gabrielle and Zara are on their way back now. In no time, youll be feeling better," the ghost warrior instructed as she continued to run her palms over the exposed welts on the girls body.
The disorientating feelings that seemed to be a part of her life ever since landing in Morocco remained with Zara. As they made their way back to the cabin, she found herself deep in thought. Although she felt the desires of her body, and heard what sounded like her voice, she was keenly aware of the fact that it was not her, but Xena talking. The fact that the ghost warrior could so easily enter her and take possession disturbed her. Despite this, she could not help but admit that even through her grief over the loss of those she loved dearly, her body yearned no, needed to feel Gabrielle.
"Im sure once she eats, shell be ready for a story and bed," Gabrielles words interrupted her train of thoughts.
As she opened the cabin door, her eyes adjusted to the slight glow of the single candle that hung in the corner. Before Zara could even close the door behind her, she noticed the instant look of surprise on the healers face, then a smile break out. Turning in the room, she caught the slight haze sitting on Nadrahs bed.
"Xena! Youre here!" the blondes radiant smile soon faded. "Whats wrong?"
"Im not sure Gabrielle, but you need to help her," Zara heard the carefully controlled panic in the warriors voice. To anyone who might not have known her, they would not have noticed a change in her speech. But the captain had grown to know the warrior princess as no other could. They shared their memories, their past, all of their fears and long denied desires, and because of this, the Moroccan detected the near panic in the ghosts voice.
"What is wrong?" Zara quickly moved toward Nadrah.
"Please, light some candles and bring me the medical satchel," Gabrielle instantly shifted into healer mode as she knelt by the girls bed.
"Ive been trying to help, but Im afraid this is all I can do," Xena exclaimed even as the captain handed Gabrielle the bag, then began to light more candles in the small cabin. Once the room was lighted up, the Moroccan moved to stand near the Greek woman. When she glanced down, her eyes grew wide as her breath caught in her throat at the sight of Nadrahs flesh. The glow of the ghost moved over the childs body that was covered with small, red welts.
"Pox!" Zara felt her heart beating faster as she tried to think through the problem.
"I dont know," Gabrielle answered as she ran her palm over the girls forehead, before leaning down and peering at the marks.
"Gabrielle, I itch!" the childs silent tears fell heedless down her cheek as she rolled over, trying to avoid the Greek womans touch.
"I know honey, let me see of there is something I can do for it. Xena, how long has she been this way?" the storyteller quickly rummaged through her bag, pulling out jars of various herbs.
"I just arrived and found her like this. The poor thing was scratching herself raw," Zara heard the voice explain and saw the slight haze step away from the bed to give the healer room.
"I-Is it the pox?" Zara asked again, hoping beyond hope that it was not.
Gabrielle remained silent as she examined the child, her hand lightly touching the red marks. Zara knelt down by the bed and took the girls small hand in hers. At the feel of her touch, Nadrah looked up at her, her face a mask of pain as the tears streamed down her cheeks.
"Im sorry, Captain, dont be mad," Nadrah wept.
"Shush child. I am not angry. Gabrielle will help you, just rest," her eyes shifted from Nadrahs dark eyes to the healers green. "Gabrielle?"
Gabrielle lifted the waistband of the childs underpants to examine her bottom. At the puzzled expression, she looked back at Zara, then nodded toward the girls skin. When the Moroccan looked at the clean, smooth flesh of the childs bottom, her confusion grew.
"I dont understand?" The captain leaned forward, trying to find the same marks on the girls bottom that was on the rest of her flesh.
"Her clothes!" the storyteller suddenly jumped up and moved to the discarded items on the floor. Taking one in hand, she held it up to a lantern, then turned to Zara. "Theyre all over her clothes!"
"What?" Zara stood up and moved toward her lover, then glanced over the smaller womans shoulder. At the sight of the small black dots moving in and out of the woven fabric of the clothes, the Moroccan felt a rage boiling up inside of her. Her jaw grew firm and her eyes narrowed as the memory of the merchants words replayed in her mind.
"He assured me that the clothes were never worn before!" the Moroccan fumed as she grabbed the garments from Gabrielle and began to pace the length of cabin. "By Allah, had I known that he was so unscrupulous as to lie to me, I would never have bought the childs clothes from him!" Zaras voice grew in volume as a string of expletives came from her.
She could not have explained why her temper surfaced. All she knew was that there was a rage within her that boiled over. After a moment, she felt Gabrielle next to her, the smaller womans hands on her arms as the sound of Nadrahs crying echoed in the room.
"Zara! Listen to me. LISTEN!" the Greek healer screamed and she slightly shook the taller woman. "We need to take care of Nadrah, do you hear? Go and get a bath in here for her, and make sure that the clothes are soaked ." although she heard Gabrielle, her anger lay smoldering below the surface. When the blondes instructions were complete, she only nodded as she left the cabin.
Never in her life had she experienced such anger and rage. True, there were times when she felt that she was losing all control, but always in the end, Zara managed to keep a firm hold over her emotions. But now, it was all she could do to avoid barking at the ships crew. Sensing her anger, they jumped at her commands. While one took the childs clothes away, others quickly took a bathing tub down to her cabin, while a few were hauling the buckets into their room. Only when the tub was filled, and the crew was gone did the Moroccan allow herself a moment of quiet reflection.
"Zara, get a hold of yourself," she heard the ghost warrior close by. With head bent, she stood in the shadows of the room. Her arms crossed defiantly in front of her. "Listen, this is getting harder for me too, but unless you want to start explaining yourself "
"Fine. It will be fine now," Zara cut off Xenas comment. Irritated by the reminder of what she already knew, she brushed away the ghost warriors words.
"Are you going to tell Gabrielle?" Xenas voice was low as a chill was felt by her side.
Zara absently rubbed her chin as her brow creased in thought. She should have told Gabrielle that something was wrong. A part of her knew that the longer she waited, the harder it was becoming. Xenas memories were running through her mind at such a dizzying rate that at times she felt her world was spinning out of control. When she glanced to the Amazon, she watched as the blonde was on the floor, her voice soft as she bathed the naked child. The strong aroma of herbs wafted through the room. As the bath was calmed the childs insect bites, Nadrah sat attentively listening to the storytellers words, her tears now dried.
"Perhaps .later," the Moroccan answered the ghost softly.
She felt Xena near her. The Greeks touch lightly resting on her shoulder as her eyes also fell on Gabrielle. Although she could not see Xenas face clearly, she felt the never ending love that the warrior held toward her soulmate. Just seeing the blonde like this, so tender and gentle with the child, broke her heart, and the Greek warrior seemed to ache inside.
"I wish " Xenas words trailed off into silence.
"You never raised a child together?" Zara finished her unspoken thoughts.
She felt more than saw the ghost shake her head. "Never enough time. There was always a war, or trouble that we had to tend to. Always someone needed our help, and then there was " pain etched the Greeks words, "There was the time when we slept for many years, and by the time we awoke, our daughter was full grown."
The Moroccan remained silently contemplative as she thought over Xenas words. With an intake of air, she leaned against the cabins wall and folded her arms in front of her. She silently dwelled on the memory of Fatimah and Inaam. She idly wondered what it would have been like to raise the child with her consort. Before the sadness of losing her lover could take hold, she turned to the ghostly image that shimmered beside her.
"Perhaps, if our request is granted, it is not too late," Zara suggested.
Xena remained silent. The slight haze of her body leaned against the wall by Zara. Mirroring her stance, the ghost folded her arms as an audible sigh was released.
"I-I .just want to get through this day. I dont want to think that far ahead," Xena whispered softly.
Zara glanced at the image to her left. She noticed how the warriors form seemed to shimmer in and out of existence. Each time Xenas spirit twinkled out of sight, the Moroccan felt a coldness enter her. Like a cold touch caressing her soul, the spirit ghost entered her of her own accord. Although the captain realized this was occurring, and a part of her knew that she should be concerned, she only sighed knowing that there was little she could do to hold the ghost warriors spirit at bay. With this thought, she glanced back at Gabrielle and watched her every movement with hooded eyes as the thoughts and sensations of the warrior ghost merged with her.
As the child cried in her arms, Gabrielle held her close. She had bathed Nadrah in a warm herb that would take some of the discomfort away. Once out of the bath, she covered the girls body with a liquid mixture that would ease the irritation and then carried her to bed. Before she could even tuck the girl in, Nadrah burst out into tears as she reached for the healer.
"I-Im sorry Gabrielle!" the girl cried as the blonde held in her arms.
"Oh honey, its all right. Youll be fine now. I poured your bed with a powder when you were soaking, and you have new covers. Those pesky vermin wont be around to bite at you, I promise," she cooed softly as she rocked the girl in her lap.
"I d-didnt mean to be surly with you, honest!" Nadrahs tears fell unabated.
"I know honey, I know. You just werent feeling good, thats all," she lightly kissed the top of the girls damp hair. "Youll be fine now, I promise. Tomorrow youll feel much better."
Even though she knew the child was not listening to her, she held her close and spoke softly through the girls tears. Glancing over Nadrahs head, Gabrielle noticed Zara standing in the corner alone, her head bowed deep in thought. Sensing the storytellers scrutiny, the tall captain glanced at her, then dipped her head in acknowledgement before moving to lay on their shared bed. Laying half in the shadows, and half in the light, Gabrielle was able to examine her Moroccan lover closely. The shadows of the room played over the taller womans clothing. The tunic, although similar in design to the Moroccan shirt, was of a simple light blue coloring. Although the Amazon understood about the tensions that existed between the Egyptians and Arabs, she had never realized the extent of mistrust between the two. Only after Zara explained this did she fully understand the necessity for the elaborate disguise.
When the girl grew still in her lap, Gabrielle glanced down. Nadrahs eyes were closed and her breathing even as her head was pillowed on the Greek womans bosom. At her peaceful expression, the blonde smiled as she rose from her place and carried the small child to her bed. Once safely tucked away, Gabrielle released a sigh before joining Zara on the bed.
"Shell be asleep all night," the healer whispered softly as she sat on the bed besides Zara. In silence, the Moroccan glanced at her, her brow raised in a silent question. Gabrielle was reminded of all the numerous times that Xena had questioned her in this way. After their years together, words were not necessary. The warrior princess simply glanced at her, or arched a brow, and the smaller woman knew what her warrior lover was asking. Smiling at the memory, she leaned against the captain, her finger tips lightly playing over her lovers open collar.
"I gave her a sleeping draught so that she could sleep through the night without scratching herself raw. The poor thing," Gabrielle shook her head as the guilt of the situation replayed in her mind. "I should have known that there was a good reason for her to be acting so childish."
Zara released a tired sigh as she took the smaller womans hand in hers, "I should have thought of it as well."
They looked at each other in silence. She felt the warm touch of Zaras hand holding hers. In that moment, she thought she saw a familiarity within the captains blue eyes. But as quickly as it appeared, it seemed to vanish.
"Well, we were both remiss. But I think we caught it in time. The insect bites should dry up by tomorrow. In the meantime, I want to make sure that the crew is cleaning her clothes properly," she began to rise from the bed, but was stopped when Zara would not release her hand. Looking down at the woman, Gabrielle searched her lovers face. When she saw the slight curve of the Moroccans lips, and the way that the taller womans eyes gazed at her with lust, a slight heat crossed her cheeks.
Without preamble, Zara reached for her, and pulled her down into a kiss. At the feel of the womans soft lips, the silky wet tongue that darted in and danced so artfully with the storytellers, a surge washed over the Greek woman. As her lovers hands roamed freely over the blondes form, Gabrielle allowed herself to be swept away. Only when she pulled away did a thought cross her mind.
"Wheres Xena?" she whispered.
"Does it matter?" Zara replied as she grabbed Gabrielle and pulled her onto the bed, successfully pinning her below the Moroccans larger frame.
The Greek womans mind reeled at her lovers nonchalant response. Spurred on by an overwhelming need to copulate, Zara held her pinned to the bed. Her lips left a trail of kisses over Gabrielles features as her hands groped at her through the thin layer of clothes. When she felt Zaras leg straddling her own, and the way the taller womans pelvis rubbed against her, she realized how strong the Moroccans desires were. At the overwhelming needs, Gabrielle pulled away before recognition suddenly dawned.
"Xena?" Gabrielle noticed a flicker behind Zaras gaze. With only a slight smile, the captain returned to touching every part of the blondes body. Her skillful fingers quickly unfastened the healers garments in order to lay her bare.
"Shush, Gabrielle .were both here," she heard the twin voices of her lovers coming from Zaras lips. "I-I need you .we need you "
At the urgency of their words, Gabrielle closed her eyes. She allowed herself to be swept away in the passion of her lovers. Their touch, coming from a single pair of hands, held an urgency not felt before. As if mating were the only thing that kept them alive, Zara and Xena left little options open for her. But it was not like she would have stopped them. The moment she felt the Moroccans hands free her breasts from the confining bra, she moaned at her touch. When the soft, wet lips encircled an erect nipple, all Gabrielle could do was groan in pleasure as her fingers ran through Zaras thick hair.
Gabrielle felt the two women before. She thought she knew what type of lovers they were, but as the night of love progressed, she felt the heat of their passions changing. Like a woman filled with a fiery need, Zara touched her in ways that only Xena had touched her. For an instant, the blond mentally flashed to a time when the Warrior Princess was deep in the heat of her battle lust.
They had managed to keep Helen safe and foiled the trick horse that the Greeks tried to use to capture the city. It didnt seem that they could send Helen off safely with Perdicus fast enough. Before the lone travelers were beyond the horizon, Xena had scooped Gabrielle off her feet and carried her into the nearby forest. Deep in her battle lust, the warrior was unconcerned about their surroundings. All she cared about was sating her needs, and this she did with abandon.
Even though Gabrielle had lost her virginity to the warrior a few moons before their journey to Troy, the blonde was taken back by her lovers urgency. Xena was no longer gentle. Hands that once caressed her so tenderly moved over her with a feverish touch. What started out as passionate kisses quickly turned to nips, then bites, and although a part of her mind was frightened, another part was highly aroused by the change. She knew the lust that drove her warrior on, and she knew the awesome power that Xena held. The tall warrior was capable of killing, and had in fact killed thousands of men and it was this very power that was at the blondes command.
Just as she had done those many years ago, Gabrielle found herself spurred on by the lust of her two lovers. Her body, always aching for their touch, was now crying out in pleasure. The mouth that sought to control her was soon being controlled by her and not even the rough entry of long slender fingers caused the blonde to think twice. Instead, she rode Zaras fingers, grasping them deeply within her body and time after time, she cried out with exquisite release.
For how long it lasted, she did not know. All she knew was that Xena/Zara needed her. They needed to fill her up completely, to control and dominate her as no other could. A part of them needed to release an animalist rage that was buried deep inside. Even though Gabrielle rarely felt that same rage herself, the Amazon understood the overwhelming needs of her lovers and she willing gave to them everything that they desired until she could not go on anymore.
Tired, sated, and drained of energy, Gabrielle felt her heart rate returning to normal as the sway of the ship continued below them. The Moroccan lay next to her, her breathing slow and even as she fell into a deep slumber. With each beat of her lovers pulse, the blonde felt herself drifting into Morpheus realm.
Zara felt her entire body exhausted beyond compare. Despite this, her burning needs continued to churn deep within her soul. The combination of her desires and fatigue led her into a realm of disturbing dreams filled with images that she could not fathom. When she opened her eyes to the dark cabin, she wasnt aware of time, except that it had hardly passed. With her needs still in control, she began to caress the body below her fingers.
Oh, my bard .she heard Xena whisper in the back of her mind. So beautiful, so powerful all mine, the ghost warriors spirit whispered as a rage consumed Xena.
"Mine," Zara repeated out loud as her lips covered the smaller womans nipple.
At the instant contact, the blonde groaned in her sleep, her chest heaved toward her, seemingly begging her to take more into her mouth. Without thought, the Moroccan touched and fondled the smaller body below her. Just as she had done earlier, no spot, no area was left unnoticed. Although Gabrielle remained impassive her body responded, even though their earlier bout of love had drained her completely. The only indication of a peripheral awareness was the low moans of pleasure that escaped past parted lips.
Throughout the trip down the Nile, their nights were spent like this. Once the child was asleep, they made love until they fell into a deep sleep. Sometime during the night, the Moroccan would awake with the fire burning within and she would turn to Gabrielle, hands seeking out the cool waters that would extinguish the burning flames inside of her.
Despite her own aversion, Zara found that she could not stop herself. The Moroccan had never done this before. She had never taken a woman who was unaware. Because of this, a part of her felt revulsion for what she was doing. But just as the revulsion settled in, the overwhelming needs spurred her on and she found she could not stop herself even if she had wanted to. Each night, as Gabrielle remained in an exhausted slumber, Zaras hands, fingers and mouth explored the storyteller fully. She moved the smaller woman into the positions she desired as she made love to her body and when her own needs grew too much to bear, she rubbed herself over the womans soft flesh, her body riding Gabrielles smooth skin until her own waters spilled onto her sleeping lover. Occasionally, the exhausted healer would reach out a hand to fight her way toward consciousness, but the battle for sleep would not end and Gabrielle would return quickly to her slumber.
As the days went by, dark circles formed under Gabrielles eyes from lack of solid, undisturbed sleep. She increasingly caught herself dozing off while performing routine tasks such as eating and bathing. Eventually, Gabrielles normal patience grew thin, and she would push the captain away. Although she always gave of herself willing in the past, in desperation, she began turning against the Moroccans insatiable needs. Through her fatigue and exhaustion, Gabrielle lashed out, her voice a low hiss, "Zara, WILL YOU KNOCK IT OFF! What in the names of all the gods has gotten INTO you?" her words brought shame to the seafarer, yet failed to dampen her needs. On the occasions when this happened, the dark haired woman turned her attentions to herself, yet even this did not seem to extinguish the smoldering flame within. A few times when the Moroccan was "getting to know herself," as the blonde called it, Gabrielle would awaken long enough to scowl at Zara, her eyes conveying her message before she would whisper, "If you dont stop shaking the bed, Im gonna tie your hands behind your back! Ive spent calmer nights on a stormy sea!" Shed exclaim before rolling over, grumbling, and falling back to sleep.
None of this mattered to the Moroccan. Over and over she heard Xenas whisper like a litany. My bard, so powerful, so strong, mine to control mine to own the whispered thoughts were shared between the two. The urge to have and possess the small blonde was so great, that not even Gabrielles past chastisement kept Zara from finding release through the storyteller. On those occasions when the smaller woman did not wake from the Moroccans touch, the dusky woman fulfilled their needs. With the mantra running through her thoughts, the tall captain easily took Gabrielle and flipped her onto her stomach. The constant touching, exploring, penetrating never wavered as she tried to extinguish the fires within her own heart, and over and over again, she heard the slight sounds that the Greek healer made. The noises of pleasure and discomfort soon mingled as one until Zara could not tell them apart.
When she could find no other way to dampen the fire of her rage, the taller woman laid over the blondes back. Even as Gabrielle slept, she held on to the smaller woman and pressed herself against the strong, firm bottom. Although she felt the animal passions of her needs mingling with Xenas, her only thoughts, her only concerns were to sate her body. Yet through it all, a deep shame filled her senses knowing that what she did, she did with a woman who was unable to consent to her actions. With each pleasure filled cry of release that escaped Zaras control, her tears of shame fell heedlessly down her cheeks.
Zara didnt know what was happening to her anymore than Xena. All she knew was that she was losing a part of herself. She did not know why, nor could have stated when it all began. All she was aware of was that a part of her soul felt like it was slipping away and was being replaced with this pure, animal drive that spurred her on.
If the fear of losing all control had not governed her actions, she would have realized that these feelings began shortly after the first merging with the warrior princess. But as she continued to find release by riding the sleeping bards back, no other notions entered her mind but to sate her own primal needs. Nothing stopped her in this quest. Not the warm, unmoving body below her, or the quiet fear of what was happening to her. She didnt even wonder how she was going to manage the rest of the trip with nothing to occupy her thoughts but these insistent, pent up urges.
Chione, the High Priestess of the order of Isis on Philae, stood on the highest balcony overlooking the promenade. She watched as the throng of people made their way through the grand arches that led into the main compound. Off in the distance, she noticed the sparkling shimmers as Ras gaze fell upon the water. The sails of various ships dotted the horizon as the white waves crashed against the vessels. With a tired sigh, she closed her eyes to the sight of the multitude of souls that came to beseech the Goddess favor.
"My hawara, soon the doors will have to be closed," Sharifas voice broke through her melancholy thoughts. Looking over her shoulder, the high priestess glanced at the lithe woman who moved to stand behind her.
Such intimacy would never have been heard outside of this room. But as they were alone, and were lovers, it was not uncommon for the woman to use the term of endearment. With a slight smile, the ruling priestess reached up and lightly brushed the palm of her hand over her lovers soft cheek. At her touch, Sharifa closed her eyes and inhaled deeply before taking Chiones hand and kissing her palm. Of all the priestesses within the temple, Chione would not have trusted her safety to anyone but Sharifa.
With tightly curled, shoulder length black hair, dark brown eyes, and skin the shade of the night sand, Sharifa stood slightly taller than Chione. Her legs, arms, and body held the signs of vigorous exercise and years of training. Despite her muscular build, Sharifas womanly curves could be seen below her clothes. The short, beige chiffon tunic she wore clung seductively to her body like a second skin. The light shade of her clothing enhanced her ebony features. Across her bosoms hung the golden belts that held the iron swords on her back. The crisscross patterns of the belts were held together by the amulet of Anat, the warrior goddess. Throughout the entire temple, only those who wore this amulet were allowed to carry weapons for they were the ones who were given the sacred duty to protect the temple and the priestess within.
"Yes, we must decide who will receive the gift of the Goddess. Soon Al-Bahr will begin to rise and it will be too late. Tell me, Sharifa, are there many more seeking entrance?" Chione asked as she moved to stand near the edge of the balcony, her gaze falling once more upon the people who entered the temple, all hoping to receive the blessing.
"There are always many more, my hawara. There never seems to be an end to the needs of man," Sharifa half whispered as she moved to stand behind the High Priestess and looked down at the crowd.
While some were carrying the weak and fragile bodies of their sick kin, others were holding the urns, or pushing carts that carried the wrapped bodies of their loved ones. Glancing down at the crowd, they watched as the sick and lame made their way to the novice priestesses who were registering, and housing the new guests. At the sight of so many in need, Chiones heart grew heavy.
"So many," she whispered and shook her head. "So many who will be turned away," her heart grew heavy with sadness. At the strong grip of Sharifas hand, she smiled as she turned to her consort.
"My Hemet " the warrior womans voice grew gentle, "you go through so much pain every year, so much sorrow. Must it be this way?"
At the gentleness of her lovers voice, Chione smiled as she leaned back, the warriors strong arms encircled her protectively as her lovers lips grazed alongside the High Priestesss cheek. With a tired sigh, the leader of the Isis order closed her eyes even as her lovers hand slowly trailed around her waist, her fingers gently kneading her abdomen through the cloth gown.
"Chi my Hemet my hawara, if only I could we would be far away from here. No worries. No duties, just you and I alone to make love for the rest of our lives," Sharifas husky whisper tickled Chiones ear and brought a smile to her lips.
"Ummm .my Asikari, do we not do that already?" the High Priestess gently teased as she turned in her lovers arms. "Do we not already spend our nights exploring each other fully until we are so sated that we cannot go on?"
"Of course, my hawara, but still, when we wake, there are always . duties that pull us away," the tall, dark woman looked down, ashamed of her words.
"Someday, Sharifa, we will be able to retire. Someday the successor will be found, and she will begin to train," the High Priestess promised her lover. At the dusky womans frown, Chione ran her fingers through her lovers hair. A finger remained embedded in a tight curl as she lightly twirled her finger around it, causing it to become even tighter.
"Out of all these years, no successor has been found. I begin to wonder if we will be very old before a child will come to us but, my Hemet, if the Goddess wills it, then so be it. I would wait an eternity to spend the rest of my life alone with you," the warriors voice grew deep as she took Chiones hand in hers and lightly kissed the palm of her hand.
At her lovers words, Chione closed her eyes and leaned toward the woman. As she rested her head on the warriors strong shoulder, she closed her eyes to the burdens of her life. While the sounds of the pilgrims rose in the air, she thought over Sharifas words and knew that time was slipping by. Day after day she sought out the one, yet each day her search was in vain. Although she did not want to echo her lovers fears, she too was beginning to wonder what the Goddess had in store for them.
"My Hemet, it is time," Sharifas voice broke through the Priestesss thoughts. When she saw her lovers slight frown, the priestess pulled away as she turned to face the crowd once more. Sharifa moved close to her as she waited patiently. When Chione solemnly nodded, the captain of the guards rose an arm to the warrior sister who stood off in the distance by the large double doors. At her single order, the doors began to close even as people were scampering to enter into the compound.
As the grinding sound of stone upon stone was heard in the courtyard, the High Priestess glanced once more at the milling people. At a familiar sensation, she leaned forward, peering at the people below. She felt a slight hush fall over her. Her eyes partly closed as the power of the Goddess surge through her. The prickly sensations at the base of her skull caused her flesh to tingle unexpectedly. With the sudden sensations, she glanced over the crowd in search of the source. When her eyes fell on a familiar figure, a surprised expression crossed her features.
The tall ships captain stood amongst the crowd and on her shoulders she carried a small girl. Beside the familiar form stood a short blonde woman and next to the blonde was a warrior woman no, not a woman anymore, the priestess corrected herself. A ghost. The third soul with them was a warrior ghost dressed in a short, leather armor who by her clothing, once hailed from Greece. As her mind thought over this, Chione smiled when she saw the child resting on the Moroccans shoulders. The girls brown eyes were filled with wonder as she looked everywhere at once. When the warrior looked up and spoke to the girl, Chiones eyes narrowed in thought.
Is it you? Chiones mind whispered softly, as she watched the exchange between the ghost and child. Beside her, Sharifa stirred as she tried to follow the high priestess gaze.
"Is that ?" but the guard was unable to finish her sentence before Chione spoke up.
"Zara!" the High Priestess smiled as she felt her lover move near her.
"So your dream was correct, my hawara. The captain did journey to us," Sharifa said as a slight smile crossed her lips. "But, my Hemet, she is not alone, and she comes as a pilgrim," the woman looked at her expectedly. At the sight of the familiar blue clothing that the captain wore, Chione frowned slightly.
"Perhaps the stubborn captain is finally listening to you?" her consort added as her brow arched up in a question.
"She is not here for herself, but for the Greek," her voice took on a fair away quality as her mind instantly ran over a multitude of possibilities. "They wish to bring the Ka of a warrior ghost back from the dead."
"A warrior! She is with them now?" Sharifa grew instantly alert.
"No need to worry, I sense no aggression from the spirit," the High Priestess absently brushed her fingers over her lovers arm, the black womans bicep rippled, then grew relaxed.
"Very well do you wish to ." the warrior womans voice remained neutral, despite the hesitation of her words.
"No, my Asikara, Zara is here as a pilgrim. I cannot meet with her before the judgment day," she stated as she turned away from the balcony and moved back into the room.
"As you wish. If it pleases you, I will see to their rooms myself." The ebony womans voice remained neutral as she reverted to her role as chief warrior of the temple.
"Thank you, Sharifa, my hawara." The priestess turned away from the balcony and moved near the scrolls on her desk as the sound of Sharifas light steps left the room. Thinking over her lovers words, Chione picked up a scroll and stared at it, yet the words held no meaning. As she read the words, her mind was far away.
Although she wished that Zara was here to ask for healing, the presence of the ghost warrior could only mean one thing. True to form, the Moroccan was going to ask for the gift of the Goddess for the blonde Greek and not herself. As her mind wandered over the whole situation, the slight footfalls reached her senses.
"In order to study the scrolls, one must first read them," the chiding of the aged voice brought a smile to the High Priestesses lips. Turning away from the table, she glanced at the older matriarch.
The aged woman wore the garb of one of the highest Priestesses in the temple. At one time, when she was younger, she held the same responsibilities that were Chiones. But now with age, she was part of the council that advised the High Priestess. With a short walking stick in hand, she moved with practice ease. Her withered, haggard frame stood straight as her unseeing eyes stared directly at Chione.
"Mother, sometimes in order to think clearly, it helps to simply be still," she set the scroll aside and held out her two hands.
The wizen face broke out into a smile as she took the priestess hand in hers. This matriarch was not Chiones biological mother, yet they could not have been any closer if they had been kin. It was the elder who first saw potential in Chione and raised the child as her own. When Chione came into her own, her education and skills far exceeded the sisters expectations and although she had been a High Priestess for many years, she was still grateful to have the advice and unconditional love, of her spirit mother. Sensing her mood, the older woman lightly patted her hand as she began to lead Chione away from the desk.
"Thinking is not something that requires an action. Thinking comes as natural as the waves of the Nile," the voice grew deep with conviction as they began to walk away from her desk. Walking arm in arm, the two women made their way down the massive corridors. "Tell me, child, what disturbs you?"
"The pilgrims," Chione spoke as her eyes remained lowered in thought.
"We have had pilgrims for many years, why the turmoil this time?" the old womans head was held high. When they stopped in the foyer, Chione looked down at the smaller woman. She noticed the grey film that covered the once brown eyes. Despite the blindness of the matriarch, this woman could see more clearly than any of the sister priestesses. Understanding this, the High Priestess continued to guide the woman down the halls. All around them, their fellow priestesses and servants continued to move about their business. Ignoring everything around them, Chione spoke softly to the woman.
"Mother, Zara is one of the pilgrims," she stated.
"And she is not here to ask for healing?"
"You knew?" the younger woman looked at her amazed, then nodded. "But of course you would know this, mother."
"I would not be a very good Oracle if I did not see this," there seemed to be a glimmer in the aged womans eyes as her lips curled into a smile. "And you fear that your decision may not be a wise one. Humm? How is this old woman doing so far?" the matriarchs voice held a tinge of humor as she began to lead Chione down the corridor toward the private temple.
"Very good, mother," she felt her brow knit upward in concern. "The one I choose must be deserving of the Goddesses gift. They must hold virtue and be of pure heart, but, most importantly " she allowed her voice to trail off, afraid to speak out loud the final quality that must be met.
"They must hold true to the gift that is given them," the older woman spoke softly as she nodded confirmation.
"Yes, what good is the gift to one who does not honor it," she remarked.
Sensing that silence was called for, the two women walked through the busy corridors. When they came to the steps at the farthest room, they entered into the silence. The room was much smaller than the main temple, and housed a few lamps. Through the dim lighting of the room, the two women moved instinctively to light the incense and remaining lanterns, then moved to kneel before the statues of Isis.
"Sometimes, child, the answers you seek will come from the least likely places," the aged priestesss whispered words echoed in the small room.
With only a nod, Chione turned her attention to the goddess. She beseeched of the mighty Isis to hear her plea and grant her wisdom. Instinctively, she would have given Zara anything that her heart desired. Yet she knew this could not be. The gift of the goddess was not to be issued lightly, nor could it be given to one who would discard it so easily in the future, she thought as she found herself entering into the meditative state necessary to commune with the divine.
Not even the weight of the child upon her shoulders seemed as great a burden as the weight that was within her heart. Zara knew that something was terribly wrong, yet she did not know what it was, or how to cure it. All she knew was that as the days passed, she felt like she existed within a dream. The only thing that seemed to spur her on was her need for physical release, and this, the healer gave willingly. Despite her horrendous conduct with the blonde, taking her as she slept, Gabrielle hardly made mention of it, nor did she seem overly critical of the Moroccans insatiable appetite as of late. Instead, she gave of herself, and when she was too exhausted to continue, Zara gave in to her needs and simply took the woman as she slept. On the occasions when Gabrielle grew weary of the captains conduct, the Moroccan found herself sating her own needs, or as the blonde teased, "Getting to know oneself." Remembering the thinly veiled anger under the smaller womans jesting, the seafarer felt nothing but shame over her conduct.
Animal, I am nothing more than a rutting beast, the captain grimaced at the thought. Before it could fester, she felt the soothing coolness of the warrior ghost within her. At times, she would hear Xena nearby speaking to Nadrah, while also hearing the ghosts thoughts. Zara was not certain how this was accomplished, but she was beginning to wonder if it was the reason for her disorientation.
Zara, dont be so hard on us on yourself, she heard the warriors words even as the ghost was speaking to Nadrah. Ignoring the conversation of the child and her traveling companions, she continued to walk through the crowd. Soon Zara, very soon youll have to tell my bard, do ya hear me?
"Yes, very soon," she repeated.
"I dont think so, honey. Look at this crowd. We may be in line for some time," Gabrielle spoke up as she stood on her tippy toes, trying to see over the heads of the multitude of people.
"Of course, youre right Gabrielle," Zara hastily acknowledged as she strived to concentrate on the movements around her.
As she felt herself being swept through the crowd, the tall woman reflected on everything that had happened to her. The loss of her mother, and then her consort left a deep and unending wound in the Moroccans heart and there didnt seem to be anything that she could do to mend it. All she could do was go through the motions. She held on to the promise that she had made, that she would bring the Greek woman to meet with the High Priestess in hopes that Xena would be returned. Not even the prospect of losing Gabrielle could sink her any lower than she already was. So, like a person half dead, she found herself moving instinctively through her waking dream.
In order that the girl could get a better view, Zara placed Nadrah on her shoulders. As she made her way through the throng of bodies, the tall woman kept a close eye on her lover, and their bags. Although she did not expect anyone to steal from them, if their clothes and weapons bag became misplaced in this crowd, they would be left to wearing whatever the sisters had available, and purchasing new weapons once they left. This was a prospect Zara did not want to consider. So as she held the little girl on her shoulders, and carried two of their bags, she kept a light touch on the blonde who was carrying both a bag slung over her shoulders, and one fastened to her back in addition to carrying a squirming basket that was filled with a very angry cat.
As the crowd seemed to press against them, the voices of the people shouted out, begging for entrance as the gates behind them began to close. At the near panic that ensued, the tall Moroccan took a hold of Gabrielle and quickly pushed their way toward the middle of the crowd. The shouts and screams of those left outside rang in the air.
Sharifa, the captain of the guard, made her way toward the steps over looking the courtyard.
As she moved into the open, she saw the well trained guards standing with staffs in hand to keep the crowd back from the temple doors. Nearby were lines leading up to the tables where the younger novices were scribing down names, and issuing quarters for the pilgrims.
The tall, dark woman stood silent for only a moment as she scanned the crowd. When she saw the object of her search, she turned to the warriors nearby and gave a wordless order. Without preamble, a line of the temple warrior women made their way down the crowd, separating the throng until a clear pathway was formed. Ignoring all around her, she walked briskly up to the Moroccan woman.
"Zara, you made it just in time," she waved the woman and her group toward her. "Come, I will see to your rooms myself."
"Sharifa, I had expected " the tall Moroccan woman looked around in search of a treasure.
"My friend, you come as a pilgrim on this visit. Chione cannot see you until the appointed time, or are we mistaken to assume you are a here to beseech the blessing?" the warrior turned when they entered a nearby door. Her old friend seemed confused, but then nodded as she reached up and removed the child from her shoulders.
"You are not mistaken. I have brought my friend to ask for the favor," Zara stated as she turned to the small blonde who trailed behind her. "Sharifa, this is Gabrielle, a healer and bard who hails from Greece."
"Im glad to see that my friend still travels with beauty," the ebony woman released her most dazzling smile as she nodded her head in greeting to the woman. The smile and slight blush on the smaller woman was enough to assure the warrior that her flirtatious skills were still in form. At the movement by the Moroccans legs, Sharifa looked down at the child who was peeking out from behind the taller womans form.
"And you are?" the captain of the guard knelt down and looked deeply into the childs eyes.
"Nadrah," the little girl replied as she poked her head out from behind Zara.
Under normal circumstances, children would be too frightened to respond. At the bravery of the little girl, Sharifa nodded in satisfaction before rising to her full height. A tilt of her head was the only greeting she gave to the girl.
"Welcome, Nadrah. If you will all follow me, I will show you to your room," the ebony woman spoke casually as she led the guests through the corridors.
Although many questions soared through her thoughts, Sharifa kept them to herself. She could not see the ghost warrior that her lover mentioned, but just as certain as she was of her beloveds gifts, she knew that there was indeed a ghost who trailed behind them. If it was not for the slight sensations that the spirits Ka exuded to those nearby, then she would have known it by the coldness in the air, she thought as she spoke casually while leading the pilgrims to their room.
No one told Nadrah that she should have been afraid, so she wasnt. When she first met the tall, dark woman, she gave no thought to the ladys bearing. In fact, looking over her form, seeing the gold symbol on her chest, the metal bracers on her forearm and the shields over the front of her legs intrigued the little girl. Despite her obvious interest, she kept her silence and followed behind the grown ups.
As their conversations flowed through the air, she carried the large basket that held Prasha. His meowing, wailing form challenged her strength as she scurried to keep up. At one point, she was listening to their every word, then at another, she found herself mesmerized by the pictures on the wall. Like a gently flowing story, the images depicted scenes of creatures, half human, half animal engaged in various activities. When she came across one the shape of a cat, her eyes grew large as she began to follow it down the hall. Before she realized it, she was surrounded in silence.
When she realized this, Nadrah looked around in confusion and found herself at the end of a long passageway. Although she could not hear voices anymore, she heard something that sounded like a leaf on the wind. The little girl tilted her head slightly as she concentrated on the sound. Before she even realized a change, the slight rustling noise turned into the soft sounds of whispers. Filled with curiosity, she moved toward the end of the corridor and glanced down both ways. To the left, she saw a dark room off toward the back and began to move slowly toward it. The closer she got, the louder the whispers became until she could hear the words clearly. When she stood at the threshold of the darkened room, her eyes focused in the dim lighting of the room. Over and over the sounds of the whispers rose around her.
Ieb naos tiet Isis menat the whispers surrounded her as her vision grew clear. In a room the size of their cabin on the ship, two women knelt in front of a burning flame. The one closest to the door appeared bent with age, while the second one Nadrah could not see clearly. With wide eyed wonderment, Nadrah stood frozen at the threshold watching with mouth agape.
You are lost, child, a gentle whisper broke away from the chanting, yet the women remained frozen in place, their heads bowed as their bodies remained immobile. When she realized that the whisper was directed at her, she inhaled deeply as her heart skipped a beat.
It is customary to speak when your elder addresses you! A second whisper came from the older woman. Before Nadrah could respond, the gray haired womans head turned away from her praying and looked directly at the girl. At the sight of her white, fire glowing eyes and wrinkled face Nadrah released a scream as she turned and ran as far away from the room as possible. With the big, cumbersome basket in hand, she scurried down the halls trying to find her way back to the captain as Prasha screeched out his protesting screams. Before she could lose all hope, she ran head long into the large, immovable object of the captains body.
"Nadrah, did I not ask you to keep up!" the captain was angrier than Nadrah expected.
"Y-Yes " she stammered as the taller woman put her hand behind the girls shoulder and began to guide her down the hallway. Half afraid of what would be following, Nadrah looked cautiously over her shoulder, then nudged closer to the captain for protection.
"Child, its important that you remember that you cannot explore these halls. This is a closed place and not a playground for a child. Do you understand me?" Zaras deep voice asked as they caught up with Gabrielle, Xena and Zaras friend.
"Ahuh," was all the girl could say as she felt her cheeks grow crimson from the adults scrutiny.
Normally such an order would have caused the girl to whine. But after the experience she had just had, she decided that in this place, she would find things to occupy her time and stay close to Xena, Gabrielle, and the captain. Even though she knew that whatever had spoken to her was not a monster, she decided that shed rather not know what, or who it was that has eyes filled with flames, the little girl thought in silence.
Once again, Gabrielle was grateful to be with Zara because simply being in her company had led to them being issued a better room. Leaning on the balcony, the storyteller inhaled the fresh floral scents as she watched the sun set on the Nile. They had been here for two days and nights, yet the blonde did not feel anxious. Instead, she found a sense of peace falling over her.
The Greek woman was still torn inside. The same questions that once plagued her still crossed her thoughts but she did not worry. She was not certain what favor would be asked when they were to meet with the High Priestess in the morning. While the selfish part of her heart wanted to remain firm, and ask for the return of her soulmate, the other part thought of all the people who had died. And if the truth was to be known, she thought a great deal about Zara.
Something was going on with her Moroccan lover. Although the stoic woman would not admit to it, Gabrielle knew that something was amiss. Her moods and depression were taking a turn that the healer had not expected. Each night they put Nadrah to bed, it was all the blonde could do but get undressed quickly because it seemed that her tall lover needed to sate her needs and Gabrielle was more than willing to comply. At times she made love to Zara alone, but other times, she heard the voice of Xena coming from her lovers lips. Either way, the urgency within both women seemed insatiable and Gabrielle was hard-pressed to keep up with them. Sometimes the blonde wasnt able to, and in her fog induced sleep, she felt her lovers hands on her, touching and pleasing her even while she slept. If any of this had bothered her, she did not mention it. Instead, she continued to do whatever she could to help her lovers, all the while keeping a close eye on Zaras ever changing moods.
"NO, NO, NO! How many times must I tell you!" Zaras loud voice caught her attention.
Turning away from the scene of the Nile, the smaller woman entered their room and noticed how Nadrahs features were scrunched up into a frown, the tears held at bay. Near the table where the little girl sat with parchment and plume in hand, Zara paced back and forth, her arms waving as she spoke in Moroccan faster than Gabrielle could mentally translate. Xena paced in front of the captain, her voice low as she appeared to be talking to the captain. Stepping closer to the table, Gabrielle crossed her arms as she glared at the tall Moroccan.
"Over and over I show her how to "
"Zara," Gabrielle spoke, but was ignored by the woman. "ZARA!" Both ghost and Moroccan stopped in their tracks as she turned to her. "Whatever is going on with you, DONT take it out on Nadrah, do you hear me?"
"I tried telling her that, but did she " the blonde healer waved away Xenas words.
"Stop it, before you both start again. I do not want a repeat of last night, do you hear me?" she wagged a finger at them both. At the reminder of their conduct, both women looked down in shame.
In addition to their voracious sexual appetite, they were beginning to start arguing with each other on a more frequent basis. The only time when a truce seemed to exist between them was when they were making love. But no sooner did Gabrielle become comfortable with the peace and tranquility, and they would begin again.
Like a petulant child, Zara scowled before turning and entering her room. At her lovers conduct, Gabrielle shook her head as she closed her eyes and took a few deep breaths. When a calm fell over her, she knelt by Nadrahs side.
"Honey, its not your fault," she explained.
The little girl sat in silence, her head bent as her lower lip trembled. The tears that she held back brimmed in her eyes. No longer able to control them, Nadrah turned and wrapped her arms around Gabrielles shoulders. In an easy move, she scooped the girl up and hugged her close, then carried her to her room.
"I try and try but I dont understand it!" she cried into the healers shoulder as she hugged her close.
"Its not your fault honey, shush, its all right. Nadrah, youre studying things that older children are barely learning. Youre way ahead of your age group. If you come across something that you dont understand, its ok. If you keep working at it, I promise that someday youll understand it," she tried to soothe the girls tears as she carried her to bed.
"Zara is mad at me s-shes disappointed because I dont understand " she wept as Gabrielle sat on the bed and held the girl on her lap.
"No honey, Zara isnt mad and shes certainly not disappointed. Shes just going through a lot of things right now," Gabrielle kept her voice low as she wiped away Nadrahs tears with her thumb. "Im sure that when this is all over, and she realizes it, shes going to feel very bad about it all."
"A-Are you sure?" the girl hiccupped as her tears subsided.
"Yes, Im sure. Why, I think coming here was the best thing that could happen."
"Because Xena gets to come back?" Nadrah wiped at her eyes as a sleepy yawn escaped her control.
"No, because I think the Priestesses might know how to help heal Zara. Do you remember how Healer Abu Al-Nasr al-Farabi knows everything there is to know about healing the body?" her voice grew soft as her eyes narrowed on the girl. Taken by her question, Nadrah only nodded.
"Well, I have a strong suspicion that the Priestesses know how to heal the heart and mind."
"Really?" Nadrahs eyes grew wide.
"Really!" Gabrielle explained as she reached for the hem of the girls shirt, then easily pulled it over her head. With arms raised high, the child helped the blonde to remove her shirt, then hopped from her lap.
"And I bet that if we asked, they would know exactly how to help Zara heal from all of her pain," Gabrielle assured as she lowered the childs britches, then leaned over and pulled off her sandals one by one before standing up, and pulling the covers back on the bed. As soon as the child crawled under the covers, her large cat jumped up and snuggled close to her. Smiling at the girl, the Amazon reached over and petted the cat who began to purr loudly as he nuzzled against Nadrahs side.
"Honey, the thing to remember is that Zara isnt herself right now. We need to be patient and understanding so that we can help her to heal. Can you do that for me?" She smiled down into the girls brown eyes. Despite fatigue, her alert eyes gazed back at her as a yawn escaped her control.
"Ahuh, and Ill be the best helper for the captain, I promise!" the child vowed before her eyes began to droop, and her body fell into a peaceful slumber.
"Good girl, I know you will," Gabrielle whispered softly as she ran her fingers through the childs brown hair. As she watched the girls eyes move under closed lids, she smiled, knowing that the child was entering into dreams. Leaning down, she lightly brushed her lips against Nadrahs temples before rising from the bed.
"Sweet dreams, little mouse," she whispered before tucking the covers into the bed.
When Gabrielle returned to the shared bed she had with Zara, she was fully intent on talking to her lover. She mentally rehearsed what words she would use to chastise the Moroccan for taking her mood out on Nadrah. But the minute she entered the room and saw the captain naked and on display on top of the bed, her hooded gaze following the storytellers every move while her hand moved between her legs, all thoughts of scolding Zara left Gabrielles mind. She rolled her eyes, speaking with exasperated sarcasm, "You know, if you keep that up, its liable to fall off, and THEN what are you gonna do?" Knowing that all chance of a meaningful discussion with Zara anytime soon was long gone, she sighed and began undressing.
Something was wrong, but Gabrielle didnt know what. All she knew was that her two lovers were in trouble. The combination of Zaras temper by day, and the insatiable needs at night was enough to cause concern. When it first began, the healer was happy to see that her Moroccan lovers depression was waning. But when it seemed like neither Xena nor Zara could get enough, the small blonde knew that they were in trouble. If it hadnt been for her suspicion, she might have brought the women to task. But not knowing what ailed them, the storyteller could only offer whatever she could. During those times when she had vivid dreams of what was happening to her while she slept, or when she awoke in the morning with the scent of Zara over her flesh, she remained silent and contemplative. No, the blonde did not know what was happening to her two lovers, but she hoped that whatever ailed them, a cure would be found here at the temple, for all their sakes.
With this thought, the blonde glanced over her shoulder. While removing her top, she watched as Zaras eyes remained glued to her while her hand moved rapidly over her clitoris. With lips slightly parted, the taller woman groaned as the pleasure she gave herself was too great. Filled with an endless thirst the Moroccan stopped pleasuring herself, to reach out and pull Gabrielle onto the bed. The dusky womans hungry lips covered her with kisses even while her hands unfastened the rest of Gabrielles clothes.
"Gabrielle we need you " she heard the familiar sound of Xena and Zaras voice sounding as one.
Tomorrow, the storyteller vowed as she felt her body responding to her lovers touch. Tomorrow she will talk to Zara and ask for answers. Right now, neither Zara nor Xena would be able to think clearly. Perhaps tomorrow, when their emotions were under control, Gabrielle might be able to coax answers from her lovers. But tonight, she would close her mind to her own fears and simply bask in the touch of her lovers, just as she had done every night since they left the shores Al-Mahdiya.
Xena stood nearby watching her bard and Zara prepare for the morning meeting. Like preparing for a test, the two women ate their breakfast in silence. Although the Moroccan had eaten some of the food that was brought to the room, she didnt eat nearly as much as she usually would. As the warrior princess examined the woman from afar, she noticed the gauntness in her face. The darkness that usually circled the Moroccans eyes was pronounced and her features were pale. Without her outer tunic on, the normally slender figure seemed almost fragile.
Reading her mind, the Greek healers concerned gaze moved from Zara to Xena. With all of their years together, words were not necessary. The soulmates were able to convey every nuance of their thoughts with just a single glance. At Gabrielles concern, the ghost warrior released a tension filled sigh as she averted her gaze. The Moroccan was not looking good. It no longer mattered if the captain told the blonde the truth because the healer already knew that something was terribly wrong, and Xena did not know how to help. In fact, she herself was becoming increasingly disoriented and this disturbed the ghost, but not as badly as seeing the dusky captain slowly deteriorate before her eyes.
At least with me, Im already gone, she thought glumly as she turned away from the two women and moved to stand by the balcony.
The warrior princess looked out at the beautiful scenery of the Nile. Subconsciously she took in the beauty even while her mind was pondering the situation. Something had gone terribly wrong. She couldnt say when it began, or even why. All she knew was that each time she took control of Zaras body, she ended up losing a bit of herself, and taking on the Moroccans memories. If it had happened once or twice, she might have forgotten about it. But lately it was increasing with greater frequency.
With a tired sigh, Xena closed her eyes and leaned forward, her spirit arms supporting her ghostly weight against the balcony. If it only affected her, she could live with it. But it wasnt just affecting her. Whatever was happening between her and Zara was hurting the Moroccan. The disorientation, the constant jumble of memories left the captain with insomnia and .Xena shook her head at their shared memories. Their shared primal needs, the bloodlust that remained safely buried all these years was returning with a vengeance and all Xena could do was to answer its call, even at the expense of her bard.
"Xena," the soft voice pulled her from her thoughts. Turning, she smiled softly as Gabrielle joined her. "Xena, Zara isnt looking good, I-I Im worried about her," the shorter woman looked away as she moved to the balcony, her gaze lowered in thought.
"I know, Ive noticed," the warrior frowned as she moved toward the door and watched the Moroccan dressing. Like a woman sleepwalking, Zaras body moved stiffly, her movements one of calculation rather than instinct. If she had been walking into a battle, it would have made sense, but the fact that she was only dressing caused alarm.
"Xena, something has happened between you two, hasnt it?"
There it was. The question that Xena was waiting for, but didnt want to answer loomed in the air. After all of her years with Gabrielle, she learned the importance of sharing information, and knew the dangers that could happen when she did not. Wasnt she living proof of it? Or rather, not living proof. If she had only talked with her soulmate before making the foolish decision to fight Yodoshi on her own in the spirit world, then maybe she wouldnt be in this mess today. Although she learned the lessons of talking with Gabrielle, for one reason or another Zara had not. So trying to maintain Zaras confidence, the warrior princess kept her silence. But she could no longer keep the truth from the storyteller.
"Gabrielle I-I dont know i-its all very confusing and hard to explain," the ghost warrior turned to her soulmate. The blonde kept an even gaze, her arms crossed in front of her as she stood at her full height. Even though shorter than Xena, her bearing was imposing even for the ghost. Before Xena could continue, Gabrielles brow furrowed in thought as she looked away.
"The merging that you two share is out of your control," came the Amazons even statement.
"N-No I mean, yes or rather I-I can control " Xena tried to defend herself, but when she looked into Gabrielles eyes, she knew that her lovers words were correct. "Oh Gabrielle, I swear I dont know what happened," she moved toward the smaller woman, her hand reaching out to her soulmate, but seeing what she was about to do, she withdrew her hand as if she had just touched a fiery flame.
"Sometimes I feel like Im losing myself. Yet, I cant stop it I cant keep myself from possessing her body a-and by the gods, I want it!" the tall woman turned away in shame. The admission of her weakness sent a crimson shade over her ghostly features. "So help me, Gabrielle, if I had known that this would happen, I never would have started it. I never would take possession of her even if even if it meant that Id never get to touch you again," her voice came out like a whisper.
"Xena, we need to talk " Gabrielle stepped close to her as her hand reaching out to touch the leather clad shoulder, but pulled away. The weak smile crossed the blondes features. "I was wondering if it might not be a good idea to ."
Before the gentle woman could say anything, a commotion from the room caught their attention. Turning, they watched as a novice of the temple arrived to take charge of Nadrah. It had already been decided that while they were attending to business, the girl would be taken care of by a woman. With a novice as her guide, the child would get to see more of the temple grounds, and hopefully, learn some valuable lessons that she would take with her.
In addition to the novice, a woman dressed in the formal garb of a Priestess attendant arrived to announce that the committee requested their presence. With an almost irritated expression, Zara turned to Gabrielle and motioned for the door. The tall woman shook her head as she left the room dressed in her pilgrims garb.
"I guess this is it," Xena whispered as she looked down at her lover.
"I know I just wish " Gabrielle shook her head, then sighed as she ran her fingers through her short, blonde hair. "Ok Xena, lets go. Maybe " the healer did not finish her words as they quickly followed the tall Moroccan from the room.
If Xena had thought about it, she would have noticed Gabrielles hesitation at attending this meeting. Before the merging with Zara, the warrior spirit would have been in tune with her soulmates thoughts. But with all that was happening, her thoughts were a jumble of images and emotions. All she could do was follow the tall Moroccan toward the priestess who would judge her fate.
Chione sat upon the throne at the head of the temple hall. She felt the golden band of Isis around her forehead. In the center of the band was the golden circle of Ra, and surrounding the circle were two cow horns. From a distance, the only thing that was seen was the shinning circle and golden band that signified her status of the temple. Ever since the day she accepted the responsibilities of this duty, Chione was well aware of the power within her command. Communing with the divine, beseeching the blessings of the great mother, is something that only she could do, and something which she did not take lightly.
As she sat upon the throne, she felt the cool breeze from the open window brush past the hem of her white gown. The sleeves of her robe billowed slightly and in the short reprieve, she relished the coolness of the wind. As the previous pilgrims who had just pleaded for the life of their sickly child were ushered from the hall, the high priestess took advantage and readjusted herself in the chair. She inhaled deeply, feeling the golden band of her belt firmly in place. With a glance over her shoulder, she noticed her sisters doing the same. All eight women, the most respected of the temple, remained silent as they readied themselves for the next pilgrims while the novices removed a chair, and placed the remaining three exactly as Chione requested. When everything was in place, she turned to the novices at the door and nodded.
When the large doors were opened, her features remained neutral as she watched Zara enter the room, followed by the Greek woman and warrior ghost. Chione could not help but notice her former lovers appearance. The clothes she wore hung loose on her gaunt frame. Her face had thinned considerably, and her eyes held the telltale signs of insomnia. Pushing these concerns aside, the High Priestess waited and watched as the tall Moroccan moved forward, then bowed her head in respect for the title which Chione now held.
"High Priestess," Zaras words, ever formal, broke through the silence of the room as she began to kneel before her.
"Please, we have much history Zara, do not embarrass me so. Rise, my beloved," she smiled as the tall woman stood up. The slight movement caused the dusky woman to waver, before she regained her footing. In addition to her physical deterioration, Chione detected a slight disturbance in her friends psyche. Although it was only a slight nuance, the high priestess felt a canopy of darkness looming near the woman. Before she could focus on the sensation, it vanished and was replaced by the Moroccans formality.
"Thank you, my Hemet. I am grateful that you agreed to meet us, Hemet Chione, may I present the healer bard of Greece, Gabrielle," the dusky woman introduce the blonde. Taking a few steps forward, the Greek smiled and bowed just as Zara had done. Pleased by her show of respect, the High Priestess motioned toward the chair.
"Please be seated," at her words, both Zara and Gabrielle sat side by side in two chairs, leaving the single chair that was nearest to the Priestess open. Glancing at the ghost who stood behind the women, Chione smiled and nodded toward the warrior.
"As this meeting concerns you, Xena, perhaps it is best that you take the remaining seat," she waived to the chair with her hand. With a look of surprise, both Gabrielle and the ghost looked at one another, then the ghost smiled and moved forward.
"You can see me! You know my name?"
"Of course, you are as clear to me as the waters of the Nile. And I would not be very good at my duties if I did not familiarize myself with you," the High Priestess fought down her smile as she indicated once more to the chair. "Tell me now, of your plight, and your desires."
Chione and her sisters patiently listened to the ghost warriors words. She heard of the tale of Higuchi, and the battle that ensued. Mentally, she noted the emphasis of the specter, and absently glanced at the blondes responses. Although Xena revealed more of herself than the warrior was accustomed to, there was much that she held back. The High Priestess could not have explained her instincts, she only knew that there was something amiss. With this thought, she remained silent as the Greek spirit finished her tale. When it was complete, Chione closed her eyes. The slight sensations of weightlessness filled her senses as she felt the power of the great mother enter her soul. Like a kaleidoscope of images, she saw the Warrior Princesss life unfold. Although the sights and sounds flashed before her eyes, one thing remained etched in her memory. With these visions clearly in her mind, the High Priestess opened her eyes and looked directly at the spirit.
"The gift you are requesting is not one to take lightly," her voice grew deep from the power of the Goddess.
"I know, believe me, I understand what it is that Im asking," Xenas voice was filled with pain.
"Why then do you wish to change fate in order to bring yourself back?"
"B-Because I now see I made a terrible mistake " the ghost warrior shook her head as she averted her eyes. "Ive hurt the most important person in the world, a-and I know its just please, just one more chance, thats all I ask. I want to come back to my soulmate!"
Chione felt the compassion fill her as she cast sorrowful eyes upon the ghostly woman. "And how many chances have you been granted, and of those, how many have you forfeited?" Chione asked softly, the caring and compassion flowed from her toward the ghost.
"Xena, before such a gift can be bestowed " the High Priestess was not allowed to finish her words. From behind her, she heard the sharp intake of air that her mother took. Glancing over her shoulder, she watched as the blind woman stood on shaking legs. Her unseeing gaze fell directly on Zara as she raised a bony finger. As the beads of sweat began to form on the matriarchs forehead, a deep, resonating sound came from deep in her throat.
"AMENTA!" at her mothers words, the counsel of priestesses stirred in their seats. A few began to rise and move toward the old woman. When she watched her mother take a tentative step away from her seat, Chione was on her feet and moving down to the level of the visitors.
"Amenta!" the aged matriarch hissed, "she has communed with the unnatural when she was not well, it is too late, too late," the old womans words turned from a protest to a lament. Like a woman who lost her child, the blind woman threw her head back as a deep, sorrowful cry escaped her voice. The tears flowed down her cheeks. Before she could fall to the ground, the women nearest her moved to catch the old womans frail body.
"I dont understand, whats happening?" the blonde was out of her seat and moved next to the Moroccan.
Chione was confused. As her sisters were helping her weeping mother from the room, the High Priestess tried to understand what had happened. When answers failed her, she closed her eyes and beseeched the Goddesss wisdom. Just as before, images began to play in her mind. Her inner vision saw the rest of the tale that the warrior was withholding. When she understood the full ramifications of what she saw, she felt herself shaking her head as she opened her eyes and looked at Zaras confused expression. Now standing, the Moroccan seemed ready to move toward Chione, but was held back by Sharifa and her warriors.
"Zara," a moan like cry escaped her control as she moved toward her former lover. When she grew close, Sharifa and the warriors backed away, allowing the High Priestess to move before her. "Zara what have you done?"
"I-I ." the tall Moroccan looked confused, then lowered her gaze in shame.
"You knew you were not well you knew that there was much healing needed for your Ka, yet you allowed yourself to be inhabited by one who was meant for Amenta," Chione shook her head in sadness. Under normal circumstances, they would not have viewed the Moroccan with such sadness because they knew that communing with the divine could be beneficial to those who were mentally strong. The Moroccan, with her battered and bruised psyche would not have benefited, and only began the process that would harm her for all eternity.
"Zara, why? You were not well for such a sharing. Why did you allow this to continue for so long?"
"Hey, I didnt " Chione raised a commanding hand toward the ghost who suddenly fell silent.
"Zara, why would you do this to yourself?" she asked again, her resolve firm.
For what felt like an endless time, the tall woman remained silent. The High Priestess watched as the seafarer nervously gulped. Her face turned to a frown as the internal battle that she waged showed in her features.
"B-Because " the captains voice was barely a whisper in the room, "Because i-it was the only way that I could feel alive," she moaned as a silent tear fell down her cheek.
"Oh Zara " Chione closed her eyes briefly as she shook her head. The pain and sorrow of the news felt overwhelming. "It is done." Was all she could say as she turned away and made her way quickly from the room.
"What is done, I dont understand, Zara?" she heard the blonde behind her.
"Is that it, is that their answer?" Xena asked.
"Nothing can be done to help your friend, my child. You both have gone too far for us to be of use," Chione heard one of her priestess sisters explain even as she swept from the door. Only when she was in the safety of the counsel sanctuary did she lean heavily against the wall. Her eyes brimmed with tears as her heart beat out of control.
No, there was nothing more that they could do. Even if they were able to grant the gift to the warrior ghost, the bonding was too great to risk the life of a living being. Filled with sorrow, Chione turned to her soulmate and buried her face in Sharifas chest. From somewhere in the back of her mind, she felt her lovers strong arms encircle and hold her close even as she wept for the loss of her former lovers spirit.
"I dont understand. Is that it?" Gabrielle was looking to her for answers that she could not provide. Even as the Amazon fumed, Nadrah bounded into the room, the smile crossing her features.
"Gabrielle, I got to see the gardens!" the little girl beamed as Zara paced the length of their room. "It was the public gardens, not the private one. Ruia, the novice who was with me, said that there is an ever greater garden, but its forbidden for anyone except the Highest Priestesses to enter into it, so I guess Ill never get to see it," the little girl frowned, oblivious to the tension in the room.
"Thats nice, sweetheart. Honey, why dont you go see how Prasha is doing, ok?" Gabrielle said as she knelt in front of the girl, the smile betraying her earlier anger. Once the girl left, the blonde stood up and turned on the dusky woman.
"What just happened in there and why in Hades did they end it so soon?" her voice grew in volume.
"Gabrielle, please, its all right," Zara heard Xena as her shimmering image moved toward the storyteller.
"No, it is not alright. Nothing is alright, damn it! I want to know what is going on?" Gabrielle turned once more on Zara.
"As I said, Gabrielle, Im not certain of what is going on. All I know is that the request was denied," Zara turned away from the woman as she felt her memories flashing before her. She knew who she was, was aware of her history and life, and then it disappeared and the memories of the warrior princess flashed by her vision.
"Well Im going to go and find out what is going on. We have a right to ask for a favor, and Im going to ask! This is the most ridiculous thing Ive ever heard of. First they grill Xena for her life history, and then they throw some wild accusation your way and dont even explain why they cut us off like that!" the small blonde fumed, but was stopped when Nadrah came back into the room.
"Hes ok Gabrielle. Hes just sleeping in the sun," Nadrah smiled.
Without rational thought, Zara turned on the child. Her bearing and mannerism felt out of her control as all of her pent up fury was aimed at the little girl.
"NADRAH, WILL YOU BE SILENT!" the Moroccan heard herself scream, and felt an instant regret that was quickly stifled by the rage of her soul.
"Zara, dont you dare take anything out on Nadrah, do you " Gabrielle moved in front of her, her finger wagged as she began to scold the Moroccan.
Through Gabrielles tirade, Zara felt her pulse quickening and her thoughts and vision blurred. From somewhere in the back of her mind, she heard Xenas words, warning to get control. At the multitude of images and thoughts flying through her head, the Moroccan closed her eyes tightly and pressed her palms against her ears in an attempt to regain control. When this failed, she opened her eyes and growled as she reached for the blonde, grabbing her shoulders and shaking violently. At her touch, the storytellers eyes grew wide with surprise.
"SHUT UP! SHUT UP WOMAN!" Zara screamed at the top of her lungs even as she felt herself release the healer. Before she could even think of why she was losing control, the dusky Moroccan grabbed the smaller womans shoulder with her left hand as her right bunched into a fist.
"BE SILENT!" she growled one last time before she landed her fist across Gabrielles face.
From somewhere deep in her soul, she felt a silent cry of shame for what she had done. As the Amazon staggered back, she felt Nadrah running to her, wrapping her arms around her. The child wept and spoke too quickly for Zaras mind to comprehend. When Gabrielle turned to her, the captain saw the side of her lovers face slowly bruising, her lip bleeding as her look of betrayal held the taller woman captive.
In that instant, the Moroccan saw the Greek womans emotions cross her features. She thought that Gabrielle would strike back. Zara, more than anyone, knew that this smaller woman was quite capable of defending herself. But the moment the anger crossed the blondes features a look of indecision entered her eyes before her attention was taken away by Nadrahs pleas. With a determined expression, Gabrielles jaw grew firm, her brow furrowed into a frown before moving toward the child. Never once taking her eyes from the Moroccan, she reached for Nadrah even as the girl was weeping.
"Please Captain! Ill be quiet, I promise, dont hit Gabrielle, please, oh please, dont hurt her anymore, I promise to be good, I promise!" the childs tears reached Zara heart as she felt the little body holding on to her as if this small obstacle was enough to keep the captain at bay. When the Moroccan looked from Nadrah to the storyteller, she saw the silent message in Gabrielles eyes. Sending the taller woman a silent warning, the blondes green eyes remained locked on the seafarer, her expression was enough to warn Zara that she would not tolerate another outburst, especially against the child. Realizing that the Greek woman feared for the girl, Zara felt a never ending sense of guilt and shame within her soul. At the look of panic and utter fear and sorrow in the girl, the tall woman gulped as she looked away, closing her eyes, trying to make sense of what had just happened.
"Nadrah, honey, come with me, come on sweetheart," Gabrielles voice was soft as she reached down and pried the child from around Zaras legs. "Come on honey, come with me, Im alright, calm down now " she heard the gentle womans voice speak softly to the child as she lead her into the next room.
"NO ONE HITS MY BARD! DO YOU HEAR ME!" Xena yelled in the room. Zara noticed the shimmer of the ghost moving around her. A few times, it moved through her, the cold sending a slight chill through the Moroccan. As the Greek warrior continued to yell, the Moroccan only stared dumbfounded at her hand.
"Why if I still had my body, Id teach you not to hit Gabrielle!!" Xena fumed.
"It offends me," the captain half whispered as she watched her hand bunch into a fist.
"What?" Xenas anger grew quiet at Zaras words. "What did you say? I didnt hear you."
"It offends me," the Moroccan repeated almost to herself as she turned away from the ghost.
"YOU! It offends you? How about me? That is my soulmate that you hit! How about Gabrielle, dont you think ." but the dusky woman didnt wait for the ghost to finish her words. Instead, she turned from the room and ran as fast as she could.
She did not know where she was going, nor did she care. The only thing that Zara remained focused on was what she had done, and the thought that for the first time in her life, she was offended, repulsed by what she had done. The anger, confusion, and desperation lead her through the labyrinth of corridors. In the periphery of her vision, she saw the novices and priestess scurrying out of her path. Once or twice, one tried to stop her, but she did not heed their words. Instead, she went barreling in to the only place where she hoped to find a cure for that which offended her. Despite the sounds of protest, she ran to the front altar in the worship room. When she spotted the object of her search, she took the dagger from the altar and began to slice at the offending appendage.
As the shouts and screams of those nearby rose in the room, Zara looked at her wrist in fascination. A part of her knew that there should be pain, or some form of discomfort. But there was none. Like the coldness that covered her senses, it froze away any sensations she might have had. As she continued over and over, she watched the altar blade slice away the layers of skin. The blood oozed out in a thick, sticky mass that congealed on the tile below her feet. Before she could even marvel at its color, a hard, heavy blow knocked her to her knees as the weight of bodies covered her until all she could do was to remain still while hands held her captive.
Zara was unaware of space or time. As her memories dragged her down a life not her own, her body was being hauled through the temple corridors. Someone was holding a binding to her wrist as voices shouted out for the healers to come quickly. In that split second in time, her vision cleared and she saw the smiling face of the beautiful, dark woman.
"Sharifa ." she whispered as she fought to focus her eyes on the woman.
"Calm yourself, youll be taken care of, my friend. Do not worry, the healers will tend to you," the woman spoke softly to her.
"N-No you dont understand . Sharifa, they m-must not it offends " she tried to explain even as the healers had taken the warrior priestesses place and were tending to Zaras wrist.
"Shush, calm yourself, rest, my friend. Let them help you," the woman said as a healer placed something over her face while the Moroccan tried to struggle against their hold. Before she realized a change, a blanket of darkness fell over her senses. As the black fog surrounded her, all she could do was to succumb to the feelings of weightlessness.
When Chione saw the blood covering her spirit twins hands and tunic, a panic set in. Once assured of her lovers well being, she ran as quickly as she could to the healers rooms. With amulet in hand, she made her way past the line of beds until she came to where Zara lay.
After her attempt to kill herself, the healers took care of the captains immediate needs. When her wound was mended and wrapped, they turned their attention to healing her spirit. As was customary for these types of cases, Zara had been stripped, and gently held in the soothing, warm springs of the Nile. Once she was removed and dried, they applied a thin film of medicinal herbs and earth from the Nile over the sleeping Moroccans naked body, then wrapped her tightly, her arms bound by her side. With her head exposed, the patient lay almost motionless. The only thing moving was her lips that mumbled incoherent words. As the priestess moved toward her, she noticed a flicker of recognition in her former lovers eyes.
"Chione " the dusky woman whispered ever so softly.
"Zara, rest. All will be well," she said, even though she knew the path that lay before her former lover.
"T-They dont understand " the sick woman moaned as she tried to break free of the body wrapping. "It offends must remove cant keep it, dont you understand. Mustnt keep it if it offends oh Gabrielle how I have offended," Zara soulfully moaned as the tears fell unheeded down her cheeks.
"What offends, my friend? How have you offended Gabrielle?" Chione smiled softly as she felt herself crying for her friend. The back of her hand brushed against her former lovers soft cheek and Zara grew quiet. Her eyes took on a far away look as she tried to understand the High Priestess words.
"M-Mother Im sorry forgive me I dont know why I had to save Amphipolis, dont you understand?" The captain grew still as her eyes pleaded with the priestess. At her incoherent ramblings, Chione wiped at the tears that fell from her eyes, before reaching down and wiping away the Moroccans tears.
"Do not fear, Zara," she whispered as she cradled the womans head, then slipped the necklace that held the amulet over her former lovers head. "This will help my friend. It will prevent your memories from merging. Calm yourself now, rest and know that what you see, are yours alone. This amulet will help to keep the warrior ghosts soul from entering yours. Do you understand?" Zara released a soft sigh as she smiled up at Chione.
Just seeing the captain so vulnerable tore at the womans heart. Like a mother tending to her babe, the High Priestess moved onto the bed and cradled the Moroccans head in her lap. As she smiled down at the dark haired woman in reassurance, she began to softly hum as she ran her fingers through Zaras long hair. At her touch, the patient seemed to take comfort and only smiled, her eyes remained on Chiones as her body and mind grew still.
"Hey! You cant keep me out of there! I was told my lover was here and I want to go and see her!" the sound of the blondes voice echoed in the room. Chione paid no attention. Instead, she hummed softly as she kept her former lovers gaze. Even as the guards were restraining the small Greek, the High Priestess was offering as much comfort as she could to her former love.
Chione had always known that someday Zara might return. The last time they were with each other was filled with such bliss, and then it ended as quickly as it began. Afraid of the healing that the sisters could provide, the Moroccan was packed and on the first ship from the island and that was the last time that Chione had seen her. Now she returned too far gone to even understand what was happening to her, and all the High Priestess could do was offer her comfort.
As she glanced at the amulet around the captains neck, she wiped at her own tears that fell. Yes, the amulet would prevent the ghost from entering into Zaras body. Perhaps when clarity returned, the Moroccan could decide what her next step would be. Until that time, the only thing that Chione could do was hold her dear friend all the while knowing that someday, when her former lovers spirit had moved on and all that was left was the shell of her body, she would remove the amulet and release her friend completely.
Gabrielles first instinct was to strike back at Zara the moment she was hit. But just as she had acted toward Xena the few times that the warrior lashed out at her, the storyteller did nothing. Instead she turned her attention to Nadrah. Fearful that the irate woman would lash out at the girl, Gabrielle quickly hustled the crying girl from the room, as she cast Zara a withering look; warning her that she would not hesitate to defend Nadrah even against the Moroccan captain. After assuring the child that she was not hurt, she managed get Nadrah to lay down for a long needed nap. Lying snuggled against the girl, she brushed her fingers tenderly through Nadrahs hair until she felt the girl sleeping. The childs tears still fresh on her pillow. Carefully rising from the bed, Gabrielle covered the child with a thin blanket, then left the room, fully intent to have it out with Zara. Once she entered the main room, she found only Xena. The warrior princess stood pacing the length of the room, her words were a rambling string of incoherent words, half in Greek and half in Moroccan that the healer did not understand.
"Offends how dare you hit my bard! must remove it, yes, remove it .if I was still here, Id yes, its offensive " were the only words Gabrielle understood.
"Xena! Where is Zara? What happened?" she asked her soulmate as she searched their room. It had only been a short time since the captains outburst, and Gabrielle was surprised that the Moroccan has disappeared so fast.
"It has to be this way, Gabrielle, dont you see," Xena looked at her, then winked out of sight, but came back like nothing had happened, "its offensive," the ghost whispered then looked at the blondes face. At the sight of the bruise, Xenas began to weep as she reached out to touch the swollen, bluish flesh, "Oh .Gabrielle I-I did this ." Xena wept as she reached out to touch the bruise on the side of Gabrielles face, but stopped short of touching her. "It offends no choice " the ghost turned away in shame and wept. Before the Amazon could question her soulmate, the door opened and a young woman ran into the room.
"Healer Gabrielle, come quickly! Your lover is hurt!" the panic in the girls voice sent a fear through the Greek woman.
"Oh gods " was all Gabrielle could say as she ran behind the younger woman.
Gabrielle didnt know where she was going, or what had happened to Zara. She only knew that a fear filled her as she followed behind the young novice. Xena ran behind her, the sounds of her ghostly sobs echoing in the halls as her incoherent words rambled on. Somewhere between their room, and the hospice, Xena stopped weeping. Her emotions were suddenly under control as she followed behind the blonde. When they reached the door of a room, she saw Zaras head peeking out from some form of a wrap. The high priestess from the morning was sitting next to her, cradling her head as she spoke softly to the Moroccan. Before the Greek healer could enter the room, two big, burly female warriors blocked her path.
"Hey! You cant keep me out of there! I was told my lover was here and I want to go and see her!" she pushed against the bodies, but was held back, their gazes firm. "You cant do this!" She hissed at the warrior women.
"Gabrielle wait, sweetheart please," Xena interrupted her as she glanced around confused.
"Xena, stay out of this!" she glared at her warrior, then turned back to the two priestess warriors who shared a curious glance before turning their gaze down on the Amazon. "My lover is in there hurt, and I dont intend to let you keep me from her!"
"Gabrielle, I think theyre helping her. Please, wait a minute," Xena turned on her soulmate and watched as the warrior took a few deep breaths, then opened her eyes and looked into the room. "Its not happening anymore. Gabrielle, I dont know what their doing, but theyve stopped it from happening. It isnt happening!"
"Were not mixing anymore. I feel like myself my memories theyre my own now!" the warrior princess smiled.
"And so they shall remain as long as Zara wears the amulet," a familiar voice broke in.
The high priestess left Zaras side and joined the Greek women in the corridor. Gabrielle wanted to lash out at the woman. She longed to be able to verbally assault her for not allowing her into the room. But when she saw the tears within the womans eyes, she realized that they both loved Zara dearly.
"Please, tell me what is going on," Gabrielle begged as she stepped toward the woman. At her sudden move, the warriors protecting the High Priestess moved forward, ready to protect their leader. With a wave of the Priestess hand, they stepped back, their body mannerisms grew relaxed as they watched Gabrielle closely. Examining her, the High Priestess who stood taller than her glanced at her face, then lightly touched the bruise on her cheek.
"Zara did this," she said as she shook her head, the sad frown crossed her features. Remembering the mark, Gabrielle lowered her eyes in shame as she covered the bruise with her hand.
"I-I ." She tried to decide how much to say, then grew quiet when she looked into the womans eyes. The moment she saw the priestess compassionate expression, Gabrielle knew that no words were necessary.
"Come and let us all talk," the womans gentle voice spoke as she took Gabrielles arm and began to lead her away. After a few steps, the High Priestess stopped, glanced back at Xena, and smiled. "Will you join us as well?" Xena looked stunned, but then followed quietly behind them.
"Do either of you know what is happening to Zara?" the Priestess asked as they walked past numerous doors filled with patients.
"I-I " Gabrielle felt a blush cross her cheeks because she realized for the first time that she did not know how to address a woman of this status. Although she had met high ranking officials, Kings, Queens, Princess and even Gods, she usually knew before hand how to address them. But this woman of Egypt, a High Priestess of one of the largest religious orders, the healer was tongue tied in her presence.
With a casual smile, the priestess lightly tapped Gabrielles arm, before taking her by the hand. "Please, call me Chione."
"Chione," Gabrielle released a sigh as she was lead out to a small garden. Once alone, Chione motioned for them to be seated as she sat on a bench across from them. "I have to confess, I dont know what is going on with Zara. Ive never known her to have this type of temper."
"Perhaps your ghost warrior knows?" the high priestess turned her gaze to Xena, who squirmed uncomfortably under her scrutiny.
"Its all my fault, isnt it?" Xena lowered her gaze in shame.
"No, Xena. No one is to blame in this matter. Circumstances happened, that is all," Chiones voice grew deep with conviction.
"What happened? I dont understand?" the small blonde looked between her soulmate, and the High Priestess. Chione looked intently at the ghost warrior, waiting for her to speak. After a deep breath, Xena turned to Gabrielle.
"Gabrielle, its the merging. I didnt think about it at the beginning because I thought it was good that Zara was able to hear me, and as the days went by, and she offered. Oh honey, I just missed you so much! I just wanted to hold you again. If I had known that it would hurt Zara like this, I never would have ." Her words drifted into silence as she lowered her head, sadness etched her features.
"Possessed," the High Priestess finished Xenas words. Unable to speak, the warrior only nodded.
"But then its my fault too!" Gabrielle turned to Chione. "I could have stopped it, but I wanted to feel Xena oh, no! I wanted to feel Xena just as much I wanted them both!" the Greek woman jumped up and began to pace. Her head lowered and brow furrowed.
"Then it would seem there is enough blame for all involved," the High Priestess sighed as she motioned for Gabrielle to be seated. As the storyteller returned to sit on the bench, Chione looked down and frowned.
"But I dont understand, nothing happened to Autolycus," Gabrielle remembered the time when her soulmate spoke to her through their friends body.
"Gabrielle, possessing Autolycus is completely different. And that only happened once," Xenas pain filled voice reminded.
"And, I would venture to say that she was stable?" the Egyptian woman added.
"Autolycus?" both Xena and Gabrielle spoke at the same time. With a smirk and a chuckle, Gabrielle shook her head as she waved away the priestesses words.
"I wouldnt bet on him being all that stable!" the Amazon half snorted.
"But Gabrielle, Chione is right. In many ways, Autolycus is more stable than Zara. He had a rough past, but nothing nearly as scaring as what Zara lived through has lived through I mean, is living through," Xena corrected as she turned to priestess. "Is that why this is happening to Zara?"
"Yes, it is," the dark haired priestess nodded as she looked away. "The last time I saw Zara I begged her to stay with us, to let us help her heal from her pain. But she left. She was not ready for what we had to offer. I have been holding out hope that she would return to us so that we could help her to mend from the pain of her past," Chione stood up abruptly, as if sitting still was too difficult. "You see, Gabrielle, with merging each soul possession, when a mind is not firmly established, it causes the two souls to become confused. On the outside, Zara is a very strong woman, but Im sure you understand that within her spirit, she is still very fragile, very weak. The trauma, the treatment by her kin caused such severe damage that it was only natural for the stronger spirit that possessed her to take control." She looked at Xena, her eyes holding only compassion.
"What will happen to Zara? How can I .I mean, we, help her?" Gabrielle was on her feet and beside the High Priestess, her palms on the womans arm begging for answers. Chione looked at her. A look of indecision passed over her gaze, and then she nodded.
"Come, and I will show you," she began to lead the way from the garden. "We often times welcome soul possession amongst our sisters, but only after years of training and only for those whom we feel can benefit from such a union. Unfortunately, this merging is far too common amongst the people and this, Im afraid, leads to many patients in our hospice."
When they turned a bend in a corridor, the sounds of voices assaulted their senses. This area of the hospice was a place hardly visited by outsiders, but it was kept clean and orderly. Throughout the hallways, novice healers moved from room to room, while warrior guards stood at strategic areas in the corridors. As they passed by the first room, the high priestess invited the storyteller to look into the room. Glancing into the clean, well lit area, she noticed a naked man huddled in a corner. His mumbled words were low as he kept his back to them, the muscles over of his bony back rippled as his elbow moved slightly. Only when a slight sigh escaped, did the healer realize what he was doing. Now sated, the patient turned around, leaned against the wall and closed his eyes, then began to touch himself again.
"This poor soul came to us a few moons ago," Chione touched the Greek womans shoulder and began to led her away.
"I dont understand. Why is he doing that?" in all of her years, Gabrielle had never witnessed an illness of the mind that resulted in such behavior.
"Animal instinct," Xena whispered behind her. The warriors gaze remained on the tile as she followed behind them.
"Yes. As he began to lose himself because of the possession, his mind fought to remain bound to his body. Only by giving in to the basic animal needs is he able to keep a hold on that fragile link." She explained before standing in front of another door. Looking in, Gabrielle felt her heart catch as her tears welled up. Inside of this room was a naked woman sitting silently against the wall. Her hair disheveled, body still as she sat alone. Every once in a while, her head would bob up like she was trying to surface to the top of a lake, but then it lowered again as she grew still.
"She came to us three moons before our last poor soul," Chione tsked before leading to another room.
As Gabrielle stood at the threshold, she closed her eyes as she fought for control. The room was filled with rows of beds where the motionless bodies laid. Each patient was covered by a thin sheet as they lay quietly under the dim light of the lanterns. Their bodies were bone thin, and their skin had a familiar resemblance of what Zaras mother looked like before she died. The only indication that these patients were even alive were the priestess healers who moved between them, their tender touch, and gentle words soothing anything that might be remaining within these bodies.
"No," Gabrielle shook her head as she turned to the priestess. "Dont tell me that this is what will happen to Zara. Please, this cannot happen to her!"
"Chione, please tell us, what can we do? Theres got to be something we can do!" Xena added.
"Come," the Egyptian woman whispered softly as she led them away from the rooms.
Over and over Gabrielle tried to think through this problem. She tried to find a way to keep Zara healthy, to help her to fight this illness that was overtaking her. When they entered a room, the blonde hadnt noticed the desk covered with parchments. All she concerned herself with was helping her lover however she could. After she sat in a chair, she glanced at her soulmate. Xenas expression was filled with sadness and guilt as she also tried to find a solution to help their friend.
"Gabrielle, Xena, we are familiar with this illness. The sister healers are best equipped to tend to Zara now," Chione explained as she sat in a chair near them.
The Amazon tried to think of ways to refute the woman. But at the sincerity in her eyes, Gabrielle shook her head as the tears began to fall. This is so unfair, she thought as she bit her lower lip. "Theres got to be something that can be done! Chione, please, we came here as pilgrims, cant I ask you for the favor of healing Zara? Isnt that possible?"
"Yes, please, I dont care about coming back anymore! Just help Zara," the ghost spoke up.
"No, I am sorry, the decision regarding your fate is set," the High Priestess explained with a sad expression. "There is nothing we can offer but to care for Zara for as long as is needed."
"No," the Greek healer shook her head. "If this happens to Zara, then Im going to take care of her. I dont care. Im not going to leave her like that!"
"It is honorable that you say this, but remember, all of the patients you have seen also had loved ones who swore the same thing, and each of them found the task too difficult," the High Priestesses voice was soft and soothing as she spoke to the healer. "There is no shame to admit that this is a task that is too great to bear."
"No, its not and I swear, Ill take care of Zara. I dont care, I cant leave her like this," Gabrielle felt a mixture of anger and hopelessness as she stood up abruptly. Angered by the fate that always seemed to be in her path, she began to pace the length of the room.
"This is so unfair! First the Gods try to kills us, take away our child, and then we end up in Higuchi where ." But she couldnt finish her sentence. Instead, she turned and looked at her spirit lover. Sensing her resolve, Xena only looked away as she wiped at the tears that fell down her cheeks. With a defiant look, the Greek healer gazed down at Chione.
"I dont care how long she has, Im not leaving her! Im going to take care of her and no one can stop me!" she swore through gritted teeth.
Taken back by Gabrielles tenacity, the high priestess nodded as she leaned back in her chair. With features deep in concentration, the woman remained silent until finally, she looked up. At the blondes determination, the Egyptian woman began to speak.
"There are some choices at your disposal," she began to say, then inhaled deeply before continuing. "The first option is the one you mentioned, Healer Gabrielle. Xena, you can be helped to move on, to find your way to the other world to await the time of your rebirth, but because of the merging, your mind your soul is forever tied with Zaras. When you go, so too will Zara," she stated firmly, then glanced at the blonde with a look of compassion, "What will be left of Zara will only be the shell of her body, which you have asked to tend to for the last days she has," the priestess stood up and turned away from them as she paced a few steps, head bent in thought. Then she stopped and looked back to them, her gaze falling from one to the other.
"No," Gabrielle whispered. "Youre telling me that Im going to lose them both? That if Xena moves on, Zara will too?"
"Truly, I am sorry Gabrielle. They are forever bound to one anothers spirit. Xena will only remain with you for as long as there is a spark of Zaras soul in her body. Once Zaras soul leaves " the High Priestess let her prediction fall off as she looked compassionately at both the warrior and bard.
"The other option is one which will have to be Zaras decision as well."
"Im listening," Xena stood up and moved to stand between the two women.
"Go ahead," Gabrielle added.
"As you want your soulmate back," she spoke directly to Gabrielle, "And Xena, your Ka, your soul is in need of a vessel Xena, you could merge with Zara for one last time and truly become one with her."
"I would be in her body indefinitely?" Xenas eyes narrowed suspiciously as she watched the priestess carefully.
"But what about Zara?" Gabrielle swallowed, afraid to hear what the priestess had to say.
"The stronger spirit would dominate until the secondary spirit " Chione turned away, her gaze lowered as her voice came as a soft whisper, "Zaras Ka would cease to be."
"No!" Gabrielle gasped in horror.
"Gods no! I could never do that!" Xenas voice growled as she turned away, her back stiffened at the mere suggestion that she should do this to the Moroccan.
"Please, there has to be another option!" Gabrielle moved close the woman, her plea resonating in the room. Chione turned away, her gaze averted as she moved toward her desk.
"There is, perhaps another option, but it does not come without risks," Chione said as she began to look through the scrolls on her desk. At the sound of her voice, Gabrielle turned an expectant gaze to her soulmate as a glimmer of hope surge through her.
"Please, anything!" the blonde spoke up as she stood near the priestess desk.
"It is written that there is a place at the threshold of Amenta which holds a magic far greater than any that we Priestesses could hold. It is said that in this place, the old are made young, the ones with fragile minds are made whole, the weak strong, and " the High Priestess looked directly at Xena, "The dead are brought back to life," Chiones voice whispered before searching once more through the scrolls on her desk. When she found the scroll she was searching for, she smiled at them as she pulled it out.
"Alright, thats the answer. Well go there and Zara can be healed and maybe " Gabrielle looked at her spirit lover, "Maybe Xenas ashes can be restored?"
"But theres a catch, isnt there?" Xena stepped to the desk, her gaze steady on the priestess.
"Yes, it is also written that only those with a pure heart will receive the gifts of health, and life. Any who enter who do not have this quality will perish," Chione spoke softly.
"What else?" Xenas suspicion was raised.
"To the best of our knowledge, those who have gone to search for it have not returned. Even if you find it, you would have to make your way through a passage where you will be tested. If you pass the test, and the powers of Amenta deem all of you pure of heart, then you may be granted your wishes," she explained as she opened the map, her finger settled on the area of the map.
Gabrielle glanced at the map and mentally calculated the distance. She wondered how long a ride across the desert would take, and just as she heard Xena release a whistle, the blonde nodded as she looked up at the High Priestess. Chiones gaze remained locked on hers.
"Ok, the first option is not possible, and neither is the second option, so that means, we travel," the Amazon cavalierly said as she nodded and looked back down at the map. "After all, weve gone up against demons, gods, and the worst of humanity how difficult could this be?" Gabrielle asked no one in particular.
Zara found herself in and out of consciousness. Exactly how long she had been in the hospice, she did not know. All she knew was that the wound on her wrist had turned a shade of pink, the skin puckered at where the stitches once were. Although they had told her what she did, she could not remember it. Nor did she remember hitting Gabrielle, but she knew that Chione would not lie. If she had hit the blonde, then perhaps removing her hand was in order because Zara did not want to imagine that she would ever hurt her small lover.
Imagining herself capable of this violence, the Moroccan grimaced as she glanced down. The scar on her wrist itched. As she scratched the soft, pink flesh that was healing, she remembered what they told her. Both Chione and the healers had explained it all. She was sick and as the days progressed, she was losing herself until one day, she would be no more. The merging she shared with Xena was something so powerful that she could not control or fight it. Only the amulet around her neck kept the confusing images from entering her mind.
As for healing the options were made clear to her. Yet despite the obvious solution, neither Gabrielle nor Xena would consent to it, and this made no sense to the captain. Within her mind, she had nothing left to live for, so if Xena wanted her body, why not let her take it? But when she voiced this out loud, they all said it was just a form of her madness speaking. Yet to Zara, she had never felt her thoughts so clearly. So rather than do the obvious, Gabrielle chose to embark on a journey a journey that the Moroccan felt would be her last. Rather than air her concerns, the seafarer maintained her silence knowing that she stood little hope in swaying the healer.
"Here honey, drink your tea," Gabrielle lightly touched Zaras hand, stopping her from scratching the new scar as she spoke softly to the Moroccan.
Confused, the captain looked up at her from a chair on the balcony. With a hazy expression, she looked down at the small cup, the pungent odor wafted past her nose. "I know it smells nasty, but remember, Chione said it helps. Please, Zara, just drink it for me?" the blonde woman smiled up at her. The dusky womans gaze remained neutral as she blinked. With a misty gaze, Gabrielle reached up and brushed her fingers through the captains long, dark hair, then looked down at the cup in the Moroccans hands before guiding it to her lips.
Without protest, Zara drank it in one deep swig. As the heat of the tea warmed her throat, she grimaced at the taste as she felt the herb take control of her senses. The urge, the need that always seemed present before her accident was like a dull ache. With the medicine, she knew that she could make it through the day without an outburst, and without needing to make love with Gabrielle, or to sate her needs in a more embarrassing way. Although her lover was generous at night, by day she was busy preparing for the journey that they would take.
"Thats good. Are you ready for a walk?" Gabrielles voice seemed far away, then grew clear.
"Walk?" she parroted the storyteller.
"Remember, Chione wanted to talk with you? Ruia is here to walk you there now," the smaller woman explained as she helped Zara to her feet. Numbly, she allowed Gabrielle to lead her into the main room. When the young novice smiled at her, she took the shorter womans outstretched arm and allowed herself to be guided from the room.
As they walked down the corridors, Ruia spoke non-stop. Although Zara was aware of the sounds of her melodic voice rising and lowering with each word, she did not pay attention to what was being said. Not expecting an answer, the young woman continued to talk until she entered Chiones private garden.
"Zara, Im glad you are feeling better!" the High Priestess smiled and waved her in, then beckoned her to sit beside her even as Ruia was dismissed from the area. "Im sure you must know why I wish to speak with you, especially as you will be leaving in the morning."
"Leaving, yes. In the morning," she repeated as the numbness covered her.
"Zara, I know you can hear me, and that you understand me. I need to discuss an important matter with you, something that needs your decision. Can you listen to me and give me your thoughts perhaps even your permission?" Chiones voice was soft as she reached over to take the captains hand in hers.
The Moroccan listened to her former lovers words. Intellectually she heard everything that the woman said, yet her brain rebelled. But each time her thoughts rebelled, Chione seemed to detect it and easily dispelled any argument she might have. In the end, it was all Zara could do but to concede that her former lover was indeed wise.
Despite this conviction, Zara kept the conversation of the meeting to herself. Only when the child was asleep did the healer get the conversation from her. Just as she had aired her reservations, Gabrielle protested as well. But as easily as the High Priestess had dispelled her fears, the Moroccan used the same arguments that Chione had used until the Greek woman could only concede.
By morning the room was busy with the Greek womans packing. Over and over, Nadrah chattered as she helped Gabrielle. Zara remained silent, trying to find a way to discuss the matter openly. When this failed, she withdrew into silence, her mind and thoughts only focused on the present concern. As they carried their packs down the corridor, she felt the blonde healer cautiously glancing her way while the child spoke incessantly. Almost afraid of what would come next, Gabrielle kept her hand lightly resting on Nadrahs shoulder, her fingers occasionally brushing through the childs hair.
With a deep breath, Zara looked up and recognized the familiar entryway. Closing her eyes to the sadness in her heart, she looked away from the child as she fought for control.
"You know its the right thing to do," she heard Xena close to her. "Dont scare her, tell her the truth. Well be back for her."
"No Xena, we will not. I-Its never been done before," Zara corrected the ghost who was always by her side. At her solemn words, the warrior ghost inhaled deeply, but maintained her silence. Turning to Gabrielle, the Moroccan watched as the healers eyes grew misty with tears. Knowing what was about to happen, the blonde turned and knelt in front of the girl.
"Honey, I want you to remember something. Can you do that?" the storyteller spoke softly to the child.
Nadrah looked up at her, her questioning eyes searching the Moroccan before looking back at Gabrielle.
"Ahuh," was all she said as she set Prashas basket down.
"Good, because I want you to always remember that I love you that we all love you," Gabrielle gave up trying to hold back her tears as she looked at the girl with a smile.
"Thats right Nadrah, Gabrielle and I love you dearly and if you ever need us, all you need to do is call, do you understand?" Zara watched as Xenas image shimmered close to the child.
"And I love you both too," Nadrahs pained expression looked at the healer, and then Xena. "But " the childs words were cut off as Gabrielle wrapped her arms around the girl and hugged her close.
Zara stood nearby and waited until the Amazon and ghost were finished. When Gabrielle kissed the side of the girls head, and whispered something to her, the Moroccan wondered if she could have handled this better. Perhaps if she had discussed it with the child before now, it would be easier. But as she watched Nadrahs eyes brimming with tears, she realized that there wasnt any easy way to say goodbye.
Unashamed of her tears, the gentle healer gave the girl a tight hug before she stood up and moved away. Glancing at her, Gabrielle nodded as she smiled down at Nadrah. Taking her lead, the tall captain moved to the girl and knelt in front of her.
"Nadrah, for a few years now you have served me faithfully, and for that I thank you," she kept her voice neutral as she lowered her eyes from the childs tear-filled eyes. "But now, it is time for us to part."
"But why, Captain? Did I do something wrong? I promise to be good, honest!" the girl cried out as she reached for Zaras shoulder. Taking her arms in her hands, the Moroccan shook her head.
"No, Nadrah, you did nothing wrong. You are the best cabin girl I have ever had in my service. I couldnt ask for anything more, its just Nadrah, the sisters have asked me for permission to let you stay with them the High Priestess herself has asked ." But she knew she lost the childs attention. With tears falling down her cheeks, Nadrah tried to cling to Zaras neck. She tried to pull her close.
"N-No C-Captain .Zara, please dont leave me, please! Ill be good, I promise, please dont leave me!" Nadrahs cries grew louder as she clung to the Moroccan. Pulling at her arms, the tall woman stood up and pulled away from the girl.
"Nadrah, where we go is dangerous. The risk is too great, I could not live with myself if something ever happened to you," she tried to reason with the weeping child as she stepped away.
"I dont care! Ill take care of you, I promise, Ill be good! Dont leave me, please!" her cries seemed to echo through the Moroccan and her heart felt like it was splitting in two.
From nearby, the captain saw the outline of Chione enter the hallway. With a sad smile, the High Priestess nodded at the group, her wordless thanks passed to the gathered women in the hallway, then turned to Zara. As a way of offering help, she moved to the child and lightly placed her hand on the girls shoulder. Despite this, Nadrah jerked away as she ran toward Zara.
"PLEASE! TAKE ME WITH YOU!" the child begged as she wrapped her arms around Zaras legs.
Unable to hold in her emotions, the captain shook her head as her tears fell down her cheeks. She longed to be able to explain it better to the girl. Zara wanted to tell Nadrah how dearly she loved her, and how much she wished that she could see the girl grow up. But words were lost to her in her grief. So instead, she pulled away, thankful that Chione and Sharifa were on hand to hold the girl at bay.
As the childs weeping filled the air, Zara quickly grabbed her bags and moved toward the door that the novice priestess held open. With her own tears streaming down her cheeks, Gabrielle followed close by her side. When the door closed behind them, she hoped that the sounds of the girl could not be heard, but as they walked away, they heard Nadrahs pleas rising from the private gardens on the other side of the tall temple walls.
"DONT LEAVE ME! ZARA, I PROMISE TO BE GOOD!" was the last thing the captain heard from Nadrah as she, Gabrielle, and the ghost made their way toward the waiting boat that would carry them from the island of Philae to the nearby shore.
The pain of abandonment filled Nadrahs heart. She didnt know what she did wrong, but she kept promising to never do it again. When the captain, Gabrielle and Xena left she tried to scurry after them, but was held back by unseen bodies. Her tears were the only thing that blinded her to her surroundings. When she felt herself being lifted and carried away, she kicked and fought for freedom, and as soon as she was put on the floor, she tore off running toward the open door. Running through it, she cried out, screamed for the captain to come back, to not leave her all alone but the captain did not return, and she could not follow because a tall wall blocked her from leaving the temple.
"Nadrah, youre going to be all right," Ruias voice broke through her tears, but did not lessen her pain. "Think of it, out of all the little girls who have entered these walls, our Hemet has chosen you!" the young novice spoke softly to the girl as the hiccups took control. Still crying, Nadrah buried her head in the young girls shoulder, her tears seemed endless even as her hiccups began.
At a noise from behind her, the girl looked up. The bright sun shone down into the gardens, causing Nadrah to blink. When she looked up, she saw the hazy outline of a woman holding her arms open. The sun reflected off of the woman and surrounded her in a brilliant white glow and for the first time, Nadrah was reminded of a dream from long ago. It was a dream in which she saw a woman surrounded in the whitest of clouds. Still crying, and hiccupping out of control, the girl allowed Ruia to walk her toward the figure that was bathed in the suns rays and as she stood before her, Nadrah thought she felt the warmth of the woman cover and surround her like a blanket. As the sounds of the garden registered in her mind, Nadrah looked up at the woman, searching through the brightness as the familiar question sat on the tip of her tongue.
"Are you my mother?" Nadrah whispered softly as a hiccup raked through her body. She felt, more than saw, the woman smile. Gently, the woman lifted her into her arms and carried her back into the room, then placed Nadrah on her lap. As the woman hugged her close, Nadrah waited and listened for the stranger to answer her tear filled question.
"Yes little one, I am your mother, and you, my beloved child." The womans words were just like the dream, her voice was as soft as a birds song, her touch gentle and kind.
Looking up, Nadrah could only see the reflective glow of the sun around the womans face. When the lady leaned over and took something from a table, the girl was able to see her face clearly. She was the most beautiful woman Nadrah had ever seen in her life. Like the angels from Gabrielles stories, the ladys features were delicate and her skin held a healthy, tan glow. Around her forehead the woman wore a golden band unlike any other that the priestesses wore. Sensing her curiosity, the lady smiled at her as she began to run a brush through Nadrahs long hair.
"You are my little girl, you are the one Nadrah," the lady said as she smiled, then whispered without speaking, I will teach you all that I know, for you are the chosen. Would you like that?
As Nadrahs tears subsided, she nodded in answer to the womans unspoken question. When a calmness fell over the girl, she watched the woman closely.
"Would you like to see our garden?" her new mother asked.
"Ahuh," was all Nadrah could say as the woman set her on the floor, then held her hand out for her to take. She smiled up at the lady as she reached out and clasped her smaller hand into the womans soft palm. As she spoke to her, she led Nadrah from the room and into the garden. No longer in tears, the girl was able to look around and was surprised to see the most enormous garden she had ever seen.
"This is the Goddess very own garden. Only a chosen few can venture in here. Do you like it?" the lady asked.
"Ahuh," Nadrah glanced around at all the plants and trees that filled the garden.
"She is pleased, my hawara," the woman spoke to someone nearby.
Looking up at the other lady, Nadrah smiled when she saw the familiar form of the captain of the warriors.
"Yes, she is," the tall, dark woman moved close, then, sensing Nadrahs curiosity, she knelt in front of the girl.
"Who are you?" the little girl asked. With a slight chuckle, the warrior looked up at the woman in white.
"She is your other mother, little one," the beautiful lady wearing a golden head band knelt in front of her.
"My other mother?"
"Yes, the Goddess Isis has rewarded us with you. Nadrah, you are truly a gift to us, and we will always love, and protect you to the end of our days," her new mother said. Looking at the warrior with a curious arch of a brow, the girl tried to understand how someone could have two mothers.
"This I swear before my Hemet and our Goddess Isis, I will protect you always for you are my daughter," the warrior Sharifa smiled before rising to her full height.
With a smile, Nadrah looked up at the woman in white, and then the warrior. In between the two women, she held their hands as they led her further into the gardens. Although she heard them telling her the names of the plants and trees, she did not listen. The only thing that filled her mind was that her dream had indeed come true in ways that she had never expected. Finally, she not only had a mother, but she had two mothers! Nadrah knew that from this point forward, her mothers would love and protect her because that is what mothers do. With their guidance, they would show her things, and teach her their ways, she silently thought as she walked between her two mothers through the secret gardens of the Goddess Isis.
Remember everything, Gabrielle kept telling herself. With the copies of the maps safely tucked inside of her tunic, she kept a close eye on Zara as they rode away from the city of Beit el wali toward an unknown destination. Glancing over her shoulder, she noticed the captains camel trailing a short distance behind hers, and Abus bringing up the rear. Xena was sitting behind the Moroccan woman, holding her steady on the camel. As long as the captain wore the amulet, the merging that her ghost lover and Zara experienced would not occur, and for the first time, Gabrielle was pleased by this. Yes, it was true that she had wanted to feel her long dead lover again, but if she had know that it would cause the seafarers insanity, she never would have consented. At least now, she could try to correct the mistake that was made.
With a sad frown, she looked at Abu and noticed that he held a serene expression. His lips moved slowly and she knew that even though his concentration was on the journey, he was repeating the prayers of his faith. Although she had not admitted it before, Gabrielle was grateful that the burly first mate decided to join them on this trip. She knew that nothing would have kept her from trying to help Zara, but by herself, it would have been hard to not only acquire the supplies they would need for the journey, and also keep an eye on her Moroccan lover.
As soon as they left the small boat, and entered the town, she tried to find a friendly place to settle Zara while she went in search of what they would need for a desert crossing. True to form, as soon as she spoke in the crowded tavern, a friendly familiar voice called out. With a woman on either arm, Abu waved to her, then excused himself as he greeted the storyteller. Gabrielle had not informed him of how bad his captain was doing. All he had to do was take one look at her pale, gaunt features. Just looking into her eyes that at times seemed not to see, he knew that something was terrible wrong. When she explained the journey they would take, he eagerly agreed to go along. And even when she explained the dangers and that they might not be returning, he would not be swayed from his decision to join them. So with his help and expertise, all of their supplies were acquired while the healer remained to watch over her lover.
Now that they were on their way, she went over the instructions in her head. Make your way to the ancient temple of Anubis then head south to the foot of Mount Syene. There you will see the Bennu, the image of the phoenix god who guards the eternal flames of man. From there, she would see the path that would lead them to the light of Amenta, Chione had said. Once in the Dwelling of the Gods, the High Priestess emphasized, there would only be a short time in which to receive the gift of healing and life.
"Remember, Gabrielle, only a few moments would be given, after that, the gift is gone," Chiones eyes held the Greek womans as she clasped her hands tightly.
Only a few moments to have Zara healed, and Xena returned to life, otherwise Gabrielle did not want to think about losing both of her loves, nor did she want to contemplate how she would find her way out if they failed. Absently, she felt for the wine skin under the folds of her clothes.
Remember the potion, Zara must be given the potion twice a day or else she will become uncontrollable, but remember, the potion cannot be administered for longer than two moons time before it becomes poison to her body. Ok bard, so we have two moons time to find this secret place, and figure out a way to heal Zara, and hopefully bring Xena back. Gabrielle released an audible sigh as all of these thoughts rolled through her mind.
"Right, just two moons," she said out loud as she glanced once more over her shoulder.
With her keen hearing, Xena looked up at her then gave a slight nod of encouragement before returning her attention to the Moroccans silent, sullen form.
"We can do it," Gabrielle turned to face the desert in front of her. "We have no choice."
Dreams were not something that Zara enjoyed. She never longed to close her eyes and enter the dream world because she did not like reliving the nightmares of her past. But this time, the dreams were different. Once the sounds of Nadrahs pleas were gone, and the childs crying could not be heard, the dream became a mixture of different images. At one point, she saw Abu, his lips moved, but she heard nothing so rather than speak, she kept her silence as she watched Gabrielle talk to him. In another dream she was dressed like the people of the desert, her face covered by the scarf as the heat of the sun beat down on her. She could feel the icy cold touch of the ghost behind her, holding her steady as the camel rocked her to and fro.
Sometimes in the dream when they were gathered around a camp fire, she felt her needs raging through her body and in the dream, she clung to the smaller woman, tugging and pulling at her until Gabrielles gentle hands held her at bay, and the container of foul tasting liquid was held to her lips, then the burning urge that beckoned to be sated grew numb, and she could sit again in silence. Although the majority of her dreams were filled with the image of the blonde holding the liquid to her lips, sometimes, when the camp was quiet and all that was heard was the desert night owl, Zara would instinctively reach for the woman. Her body moved mechanically, striving to be sated and just as she remembered her to be, the ever gentle healer would help her. Her touch, her lips would give in to the Moroccans desires and with her tender ministrations, the dusky woman was sated, at least for a while.
For Zara, the dream she was now caught in was all new and different to her. While a part of her wondered if she should be concerned, another part did not care. She simply allowed the dream to unfold before her. When they reached an abandoned graveyard where the statue of Anubis sat, she heard Abus clear voice reciting the words of the Quran as he nervously glanced around. Sensing his unease, Gabrielle quickly led them away and toward the distant mountains.
There were times in this dream when Zara had clarity. It was like she was living in a fog of confusion and was only now beginning to waken into the light. During these times of lucidity, she spoke openly to whoever was nearest her.
"Abu," her voice was dry from disuse.
As she sat near the fire, she gazed at the flames that licked upward toward the sky. Gabrielle glanced up at her for a brief moment, then returned her attention to gutting and cleaning the rabbits that she had hunted in the desert. Sensing that this was a momentous occasion, Abu turned to the Moroccan, his face was grim as he waited for her to speak. When she did not, he cleared his voice, then spoke softly to her.
"Abu, if there was anything that you could do in your life, anything at all, what would it be?" she asked as she drew her knees up and rested her chin on a knee as she wrapped her arms around her legs. She watched in fascination as the orange, yellow and red colors mixed together within the flames, then shot upward as the desert wood crackled from the heat. When the canopy of stars hung overhead, and the scent of the roasting rabbits reached her senses, she felt the big man finally answer.
"I guess, Captain, if I could do anything in the world, I would travel," the big man nodded.
"Travel?" Zara replied dully.
"Yes Captain, travel," Abu stated again as he released a sigh and adjusted his seating in the sand. "I would travel to all of the holy places, visit the mosques of as many brethren as I could. See what the Turks are like, perhaps Anatolia and Persia, yes Captain, that is what I would do, I would travel," his voice became wistful.
"That sounds like a wonderful plan. Why havent you?" Gabrielle asked from nearby.
"Oh I dont know, little bard. Life, I guess, took over," his bearded features smiled at her.
"Maybe when this is over, thats what you should do. Travel to all the places youve always wanted to go, and maybe even write down your journeys?" Gabrielle smiled as she leaned over the fire and turned the sticks around that held the roasting meat.
"Oh, I am not a bard. I could never write," the burly man chuckled softly.
"Why not? Writing isnt all about telling make believe tales. It can also include your observations, what you see around you, what the scenery and people are like. Dont you see Abu, what you write would be as beneficial to mankind as what Healer Abu Al-Nasr al-Farabi writes of his medical observations," the Greek story tellers contagious enthusiasm seemed to spread.
"Perhaps you are right," Abu nodded as he seemed to be thinking over her words.
"Promise me," Zaras voice seemed to pull them from their conversations.
"I beg pardon, Captain?" Abu turned to her as Gabrielle observed her closely.
"Abu, promise me that no matter what happens, you will begin your travels and write them down for all of mankind to learn from," Zara said as she stretched out her long legs.
"I promise, Captain," his voice sounded solemn as he turned away, wiping at his eyes. After a moment of silence, Abu lightly touched the Moroccan womans shoulder.
"Captain, what about you? What would you do, if there was anything in life that you could do?" he asked. Zara remained contemplative, then nodded to herself when the answer came to her.
"Peace Abu. I want to still the turmoil of my heart and finally find peace," was all she said as the dream began to take over and she felt her mind slowly slipping away.
Gabrielle could not wipe away Zaras words from her mind. The healer kept hearing the forlorn statement that all the Moroccan wanted was to have peace in her heart. Her whole life, since childhood to womanhood, was filled with pain and strife and Gabrielle had to face the facts that she was partly responsible for the pain. If she hadnt wanted to feel her soulmate again, then this whole mess wouldnt have happened. The captain would not be sick and on the verge of losing her soul forever, the healer silently chided herself as she glanced down at the map.
It had been a long time since Xenas death, and Gabrielle had to admit that this was out of her realm. Although she knew the ghost was with them traveling every step of the way, the blonde chose to keep her thoughts private for fear of causing even more pain to her soulmate. But at times, Gabrielle wished that she could have spoken to someone about her fears.
What will she do if this fails? What if she loses both Xena and Zara? What if they all fail and perish? She already battled with the notion that perhaps bringing Xena back was not a good idea, but now the thought of helping both women became a burden on her heart.
No, helping Zara was the right thing to do. For some reason, the two women were now bound together. If she lost one, then the odds were good that the other would follow. So for Gabrielle, she had little choice in the matter. A part of her wondered if she was being selfish in trying to help the captain. She wondered if she was doing the right thing. But as she contemplated it, she realized that the Moroccan was in this position because of what she and Xena did. Because of their desires to be with each other, the possession that Zara experienced with Xena caused her to be in this predicament. So it only seemed right that they do whatever they could to help their friend, even if it meant bringing Xena back. Perhaps once the warrior princess was back, the tie that bound the two spirits would not be so close, and the fear of losing them both would not exist.
But what of the souls at Higuchi? Gabrielle would have been lying if she didnt admit that they had crossed her mind. Akemi said that the souls were forever trapped unless Xena paid for her crime. Despite this thought, the blonde woman could not wipe out the sound of Arjuns voice. His gentle words and wise comments always remained in her thoughts. What if Fate meant for Xena to live rather than die at Higuchi? Did not the Karmic wheel mete out what was meant to be? And if so, then perhaps by the mere fact that she had lived, Xena was never meant to die as she did. Yes, bringing her back could very well mean that those souls would once again be trapped. But what of this soul here and now? Zara was alive, she was breathing, and she was very, very sick. Only by separating them, bringing Xena back to life, did the captain even stand a chance of living.
Gabrielle suspected that if she had asked Xenas her opinion, her soulmate would have suggested that the needs of many souls outweighed the few, or the one. With a slight grimace, the Greek woman frowned. She had no intentions of asking for Xenas advice. Perhaps in the past, she would have turned to her lover but not now, not anymore, not after Higuchi. Gabrielle knew what she had to do, and if bringing her soulmate back to life in order to save Zaras life brought damage upon Gabrielles karma, she did not care because her heart knew that sometimes helping one person was more important than helping many souls. To her, it didnt matter that she would only be helping the Moroccan as opposed to an entire village. Ever since she began to travel with her soulmate, she knew the importance of acting for the greater good. But there was one thing that she learned which Xena did not teach and that was that sometimes, the single soul of a friend was worth more than a multitude of lost souls. Sometimes one person was more important than many, and right now, Gabrielle was willing to risk all of their lives if they could just heal Zara.
"Damn it!" she growled as she turned the map around in her hands. She glanced at the images and tried to figure out where she was. Ever since leaving the statute of Anubis, she made her way to the foot of Mount Syene, yet there was no sign of the phoenix god Bennu. Even after following along the mountain, she had not seen anything and she was beginning to wonder if maybe the place didnt exist.
"Let me see it again," Xena asked as the Amazon turned and held the scroll open for her. "No, it looks like were in the right place. We just have to find the sign. Did Chione give you a riddle to solve? Maybe were missing something?" the ghost warrior added as she gazed up at the sun, then back down to the map.
"Xena, we searched everywhere, yet its not here," Gabrielles frustration filled her voice.
"Nothing up here," Abu shouted down as he waved at them. He had decided to climb up the mountain in hopes of finding something hidden. Near him, Zara move like a sleepwalker. Her momentary times of talking went away and they hadnt heard her speak for a few days.
Concerned about her Moroccan lover, Gabrielle watched as the tall woman made her way over the rocky terrain. "Zara, be careful!" she shouted as she turned away from Xena. In a trance, the captain stood staring at an outcropping of rocks, then moved to them and began to climb their massive size. "Zara!" the blonde screamed again as she tore off at a run. Before she could get to the rock, her ghost lover called from the foot of the mountain.
"Gabrielle, look!" the warrior princess shouted.
Looking down at her soulmate, she noticed the way that Xena smiled as she pointed up at Zara. Turning, Gabrielle shielded her eyes as she watched the captain move to the top of the rocks. Like a child at play, the dusky woman held her arms out to her side as she ducked low, then stood up to her full height, her arms flapping like a bird. In that instant, this was all that the storyteller saw until she looked at the rocks that her lover stood on. Sitting right in front of them was the shape of a beak.
"Well Ill be ." the healer whispered as she walked around the mountain to get a better look. At the new angle, she saw how the hard, flat outcropping of rocks resembled wings, the top where Zara stood looked like the top of a birds head, and behind the rocks stood jagged pieces of stone that in the sun looked like .
"Flames," Xena smiled next to her.
"The phoenix is natural, its not a man made statue like Anubis was," the storytellers voice was filled with awe. "Thats it! Abu, thats it!" she screamed even as the bigger man was retrieving his captain from the rock, her body growing slack as he easily hoisted her over his shoulder and carried her down the mountain.
"So thats it. All we need to do is find the passage that will lead us to the light of Amenta," Xena added.
"Beg pardon, little bard, my captain seems to want to try to fly this morning," he huffed as he deposited his burden next to Gabrielle, then turned and looked up at the rocks. "By Allah!"
"Yes, thats what we were looking for and it seems Zara lead us right to it, didnt you honey," the blonde smiled up into the unseeing eyes. When she reached up to brush a loose strand of the womans hair from her eyes, the Moroccan looked down at her duly. Before the Amazon realized it, the seafarer moved to her, her lips searched out Gabrielle as her hands were groping her through the layers of clothing.
"Woah, hold on, Zara, stop it!" Gabrielle grabbed the wandering hands of her sick lover, then forced the taller woman to sit down. "Here, its about time for some medicine, isnt it?" the blonde fished the wine skin from under her clothing, then held it to the Moroccans lips. The sickly woman made a face before swallowing the drink, then grew still as the medicine calmed her down.
"Thats better. I love you, honey, but I dont think Abu wants to see us being like bunny rabbits out here on the rocks," she whispered close to Zaras ear before brushing her palm over her lovers soft cheek.
Embarrassed by his captains actions, Abu had excused himself and began to walk around the area. From a short distance away, he called to them, then waved. Looking back at the Moroccan, she helped the dazed woman to her feet, then took Zaras hand and began to walk toward the man, not at all certain of what they would find.
"So thats it," Zara heard the storytellers words like a gently flowing song of a bird. Blinking, she gazed up at small blonde. Looking around herself, she noticed their gear nearby, the camels arranged together, as Gabrielle and Abu were examining and pulling at the outcropping of rocks. At the sight of the cave, the Greek woman found a nearby stick, then wrapped some torn cloth around the tip before lighting it with her flint.
"This has got to be it," Gabrielle said again.
"Maybe if we dig, it will be big enough for us to get through." Abu began to pull away at the stones, setting them aside until the Greek woman touched his sleeve.
"Abu, weve got to move fast I mean, Ive got to move. There isnt very much time for " the healers words stopped as she looked back at Zara, her concern evident. "Zara and I can both fit through the opening, and you can pass us what we need once were in."
"But, it might be dangerous! Youll need "
"Ill need you here so that if we dont make it, you can tell Chione and Sharifa," Gabrielle said as she looked directly into the mans eyes. "Abu, please, I cant lose them both!"
After a moment of thought, the big man looked toward Zara, then lowered his head as he released a sad sigh. With only a single nod, he stepped aside, then turned to the supplies and began to rummage through them. "You will possibly need a rope and more torches, and your weapons, never know what youll find in the underworld," he explained as he was gathering all the items together. "Take all the food we have I can hunt every day."
"Alright, and, thank you Abu, thank you for everything," Gabrielle smiled as she turned her attention to bundling their items into small carrying packs.
Zara remained silent throughout the whole exchange. The captain watched and waited as Gabrielle and Abu quickly moved to gather the items. She felt the ghost warrior moving next to her, the freezing touch of the warriors hand on her shoulder, then lightly brushed across her cheek.
"Dont worry Zara, were going to make it, youll see. Pretty soon, youll be good as new " the warrior spoke softly to her.
"Xena " the Moroccan spoke softly as she tuned to the shimmering image next to her.
"Xena i-if this doesnt work, please, promise me that you will enter me again," her whispered plea barely audible.
"No Zara, I cant I couldnt do that to you. I wont push away your soul, believe me, I would never do that!"
"You dont understand, Xena. I-I dont want to live like this, I cant!" she leaned toward Xenas ghost. "If we fail, and I am able, I will remove the amulet, but you must promise me that you will enter me, take over my body a-and .spend the rest of your days with Gabrielle," she gasped as she tried to fight down her own fears of mortality.
The Greek ghost was quiet, and then she brushed the cold tendrils of her fingers through the Moroccans hair. "I promise Zara, only if we fail, I promise," Xena whispered, then added with a deeper voice, "But we are not going to fail, do you hear, we arent!"
Zara released a satisfied sigh as a smile escaped her control. Regardless of what would happen, she was assured that her soul would not have to be like this, she would not have to be living forever in the dream world of her own mind. When the blonde moved in front of her, she stood up and waited for the Greek womans instructions. Numbly, she followed behind the woman and waited as the Amazon climbed through the crevice in the rock. Once Gabrielle was in the cave, Abu began to push the supplies through the opening. Only when he turned to look at her, did the captain smile at the big man.
"Captain, may Allah bless your path," his eyes grew misty as he nodded at her.
Zara wondered what she would do at a time like this. Ordinarily she would have nodded and mirrored his words. But at this thought, she felt that words alone were not enough. With a smile she looked at her friend.
"I am mad, Abu," she said softly.
"Yes captain, you are not well, but soon, you will be fine." He nodded grimly.
"Then, if I am mad, you will forgive me for this," she said, then reached out and grabbed him into a tight hug, her arms holding him close as she left a single kiss on his bearded cheek.
"Thank you, my friend. You have been more kin to me than anyone Ive known," she whispered before pulling away. With a slight smile, he nodded as the tears fell freely down his cheeks. "See to Nadrah when you can make sure she is well," she gave her final orders then turned to enter the darkness of the opening.
"I will captain, well all see her again when this is over," she heard him say even as her body was engulfed by the dark coldness of the rocky mountain.
Once inside, she landed on the heap of gear, and fought to right herself. "Come on Zara, this is no time to be taking a nap," the warrior princess chuckled as the cold chill surrounded her. Once the Moroccan was on her feet, she looked back out at the opening where she had entered. She saw Abu looking in, searching for her. When she smiled, and waved, he gave a nod, but remained silent.
"Zara, I found a way, over here," Gabrielles voice echoed as she walked around a corner carrying a torch. In the diffused light, the captain felt the disorientation of her dreams surround her, then, as she had in the past, she simply allowed herself to be led through the motions of life. A part of her feared what would be found at the end, yet a part of her soul welcomed it. It didnt matter if it was death, or life, all she knew was that it had to be something better than what she had now.
Not for the first time, Gabrielle wondered if this was a task that was out of her league. Even though she had Xena there to talk with, and Zara was controllable with the potion, she had an unspoken fear that she was leading them to their death. Well, think of it this way, bard, at least the problem will be resolved, she sardonically thought as she continued to lead the way down the dark, cold cavern.
Without the sun to gauge, she didnt know how long they were in the cave. When they grew tired, theyd rest, eat, drink and relieve themselves. At first she would give the potion to the Moroccan, but when it finally ran out, she was left to dealing with Zaras needs as best she could. Despite the lack of the potion, the Moroccan was not as insistent as she could have been, and for this, Gabrielle was grateful. It seemed that all she really needed was a physical release during their momentary rest breaks, and then her lover was able to move on.
Somewhere along the line, Gabrielle began to notice the markings that were made by others who had traveled the same path. Even as the hair stood up on the back of her neck, she found herself thinking about the fate of these people. Without being told, she began to follow suit and leave a trail. With a rock, she made marks so that on their journey back, they could find their way out. Assuming they even survived this, she thought. Come on, Gabrielle, youve been in worse situations before! Youve been to hell and back, how hard can this be? She chided herself as she concentrated on the path that lead them further down.
When they came to a fork in the path, the storyteller remained still as she looked at the clear trail to her right, and the one to her left. She held the lighted torch up high and tried to see down each path. At the sensations of coldness, she turned around and saw Xena looking both ways.
"Gabrielle, which way?" Xena asked.
"That way," she pointed to the left. At her indication, Xena raised a questioning brow.
"Why that way?"
"Because whoever came here before, went that way," the blonde pointed toward the right, then looked up at Xena, "And since Chione said that no one has come out, Im going to assume that they went down the wrong way."
"Oh, very good thinking, Gabrielle!" Xena smiled.
As if standing still was too painful, Zara moved close behind her. The taller womans body pressed up against her as her hands reached around and began to fondle Gabrielles breasts as her pelvis rubbed against the healers backside.
"G-Gabrielle .n-need you " Zara whispered even as the blonde pulled away.
"Zara honey, no, listen, not now," Gabrielle took a hold of the captain and made her sit, then knelt in front of her as she slapped the Moroccans hands away. "Zara work with me here, ok. Not now! Maybe on our next break, ok."
Like a petulant child, the tall Moroccan frowned as she crossed her arms in front of her, her head bent as her shoulders sagged in defeat. At her reaction, the Amazon released an audible sigh and shook her head. From behind her, she heard Xena laughing.
"Dont you start, Xena. You were the same way before Chione put the amulet on Zara," Gabrielle stood up then readjusted the packs on her back as Xena stopped chuckling. When she looked down, she saw Zara beginning to rub herself between her legs, the tell tale signs that the Moroccan was just beginning to pleasure herself.
"Oh, no you dont! Not now!" Gabrielles voice echoed in the cave as she reached down and pulled the woman to her feet.
"Come on, start working off that energy by walking," the smaller woman commanded even as the giggles from her ghost warrior echoed off the cavernous walls. "Yeah, yeah, very funny!" Gabrielle shook her head as they began to walk into the narrow passage.
When they came to the end of the passage, she held up the torch and looked around the cave. The first thing she noticed was the opening of another passage way at the opposite end of the cavern. The second thing she noticed was the size of the cave. It was large enough to hold at least a handful of people, and for a minute, she remembered the cave where she waited with Ikus while Xena tried to sort out the mess with his father. In embarrassed silence, Gabrielle turned away from her ghost lovers face as the memory of her henbane high returned.
"I think its pretty safe, Gabrielle," the warrior princess spoke softly, as she turned and glanced down at her, "At least there arent any rocks for you to lead as a choir!"
"Xena!" the storytellers eyes flew open, then she smiled as a soft chuckle crossed her lips. "You would have to remember that!" she said as she turned and took the Moroccans hand and began to walk through the cave toward the opening.
The moment they entered the open area, a mist of fog surrounded them. Behind her, she heard Zara moan as the woman tried to pull away. When Gabrielle turned to her Moroccan lover, she noticed the captains eyes grow large with fear as her face contorted into a mask of pain. While the tall woman looked around the darkness, a humid sensation brushed against the storytellers face and exposed flesh.
"Ummm .Gabrielle, maybe " Xena looked around the area searching the fog, but before she could finish her sentence, a high pitched scream rang from Zara before she broke free and ran from the cave.
"Zara ZARA!" Gabrielle shouted as she chased after her lover. When she saw the taller womans disorientation at the fork in the road, she inwardly groaned as the seafarer turned around and began to run down the path that others had followed. Before she could get too far, the shorter woman leapt into the air and landed on the Moroccans back, sending her falling to the hard rock surface.
"No, let me go, demons!" Zara screamed as she tried to break free from the Amazon. In her struggles, Gabrielle glanced to where the torch had fallen and inhaled deeply when she saw the skeletal remains strewn throughout the area.
"Come on honey, dont fight me now," Gabrielle grappled with the bigger woman. When her struggles failed, she bunched up a fist and landed it squarely against the Moroccans jaw. In that instant the woman grew still as she passed out from the blow.
"Sorry honey, that hurt me more than it did you," the healer sighed as she flexed her fingers, then shook out her hand as she got to her knees, catching her breath.
"If it helps, you could consider it pay back," Xena nonchalantly stated.
At the memory of the blow that Zara had given her, Gabrielle winced as she lightly touched the side of her face that was once bruised. Never had she been hit like that before well, it was true that Xena had hit her in the same way, but each of those times the warrior was deep within her bloodlust and couldnt see what was in front of her. Technically, Xena could not be held responsible for her actions, the blonde woman thought as she examined the Moroccans face.
"And technically, neither can you," Gabrielle whispered.
"What Gabrielle?" Xena stood above them.
"Nothing Xena, just wishing this could be over soon, thats all," Gabrielle shook her head as she took Zara by the shoulders and rolled her over, then removed the rope from the pack that the Moroccan wore. "I really hate to do this, but Im thinking its the only way," she said as she began to bind the womans arms against her side.
"Umm, honey, I think youre going to have to blindfold her as well," her soulmate suggested.
"Whys that?" Gabrielle asked as she looked up at Xena. When she saw her soulmates expression, she shook her head and checked the bindings around Zaras torso. "Let me guess, there was something in that cave that only the dead, or insane, can see? Do I even want to know what it is?"
"I dont think it will help, honey."
"Ok, so let that be a little secret between you two. You both can tell me all about it if we I mean, when we get out of here," she amended her wording when she realized that she was thinking of their fate, and it wasnt very promising.
"Alright bard, as soon as were out of here, well let you know what was in that cave," Xena agreed as Zara came to, then was quickly blindfolded before being brought up to her feet.
"Come on, lets try this again," Gabrielle sighed as she picked up the nearby torch, then took a hold of the rope leash that she had attached to Zara and began to lead the way back to the cave entrance.
In the dreams of her madness, Zara was able to overlook many things. But what she saw deep in the cave was too great for her to handle. All of the tales told as a child, of demons and fiends, were all true and existed in that cave deep below the earth. As she trailed behind Gabrielle, she saw the thick fog surrounding them and noticed the hideous faces peering from the gray haze. Sunken and shallow, with gray pale skin held taut against their bones, the creatures were the worst things that the Moroccan had ever seen in her life. Not even the memory of the Hungry Ghosts could compare to these fiends.
When the creatures began to reach out and touch her, she looked at Gabrielle and saw the woman walking confidently through the throng of creatures. Not even the feel of their sticky fingers against her flesh caused the Amazon to balk, but for Zara, her fear grew until she could not hold out any longer. It wasnt until a creature that looked very much like her father stood face to face with her that she felt true fear. She stood frozen by the sight of the gray mass of blood that spilled from his nostril; his mouth was agape, beckoning her near. When she saw his skeletal frame, and felt his bony fingers brush against her cheek, her heart skipped a beat before she released a scream of fear and turned to run as far away from the demon as she could go. In her madness, she tried to tell Gabrielle what was in the cave, but the woman wouldnt listen, instead, she knocked the captain out, and then bound her with the ropes.
"Gabrielle, please, untie me," Zara begged as she felt the storyteller pulling on the rope. The coolness of the room was keenly felt against her flesh and she knew exactly what it was that was brushing across her skin. Despite her pleas, Gabrielle would not bend.
"Not on your life, honey. Were not in the clear yet," she heard the Greek healers voice echoing in the cave.
As the Moroccan followed behind, she lowered her head as she stepped on an unknown path. Once or twice, she almost tripped, but was quickly held up by the smaller womans strong hands.
"Better watch out for that, Sweetheart. We wouldnt want Zara breaking her neck from tripping over a rock, now would we," Xena chuckled nearby.
"If I did not have the blind fold on, this wouldnt be a problem," the captain reminded in a lucid voice, and heard the warrior ghost ready to reply.
"Hey, both of you! Dont you start!" The seafarer could hear the menace in Gabrielles voice. "I swear Zara, I dont know what I like more, when you can talk, or when your brain is in a fog," the gentle blonde hissed under her breath.
"I kind of like her when shes in a fog," Xena spoke up.
"All right, all right, Im just teasing. Nah, I like it when shes here with us," the Moroccan felt the ghosts ice cold touch against her hair, then a gentle brush against her cheek. "Just hang in there long enough for us to ."
Zara heard the warrior gasp even as they left the echo of the cave into a different cavern. From somewhere in front of her, she heard Gabrielle come to standstill, her booted feet no longer moving over the rocks below their feet. The sensations of the demons touch stopped.
"Damn!" Gabrielles anger echoed in the cavern.
"What?" The dusky woman tilted her head, trying to hear what was happening. Seeing her for the first time, Gabrielle moved to her.
"Oh Zara, Im sorry. Here, were safe now," Gabrielle said as she removed the cloth from around the captains eyes.
Looking around the area, the first thing that Zara saw by the single flame of the torch was a wall of fallen rocks and boulders against the farthest end of the large cave. When she looked up, she noticed the ceiling that was as high as the masts on her ship. But nowhere did she see the famed opening that held the infamous magical powers to restore Xenas life.
"DAMN IT!" Gabrielle shouted as she shook her head and stepped near the center of the large round cave, turning in a full circle as she held the torch high above her head. "Its not here!" she hissed through gritted teeth.
"Yes it is, Gabrielle," Xenas arms were in front of her as she moved to the farthest wall. "Its here! Right here! Its behind these rocks, I can feel it!"
At her exclamation, the blonde moved to the warriors side. Gabrielle glanced at the rocks that were stacked against a wall, then reached up and removed the bags that were on her back, and outer clothing until all she wore was the thin undershirt. With a look of determination, the Amazon bent at the knees as she grabbed a hold of a boulder and tried to heave it from the rubble.
With a sigh, Zara sat heavily on the rock floor and leaned forward, the rope around her body still secure. She wiggled her fingers in an attempt to get the blood to circulate. As she watched Gabrielle kneeling in front of the stone, she watched in fascination as the smaller womans back leaned forward, her knees quivered from exertion as she struggled to move the boulder by herself.
"Son of a griffon!" the small woman finally gave up with a shout as she fell onto the large rocks. "Its not budging!"
"Gabrielle, perhaps if you untied me, I could help?" Zara offered. Gabrielle glanced at her. Her eyes scrutinized the Moroccan in an attempt to assess the risk. "I-I promise, I will not run."
Gabrielle looked at her Moroccan lover, her thoughts torn between untying the woman, and keeping her bound in order to keep her safe. Although there were moments of lucidity for her lover, the moments of insanity were a challenge for the blonde. Despite this, she hated to see Zara sitting there, her head hanging as the ropes were tightly wrapped around her torso.
"I guess it couldnt hurt," the storyteller said as she moved to Zara and began to untie the ropes around her torso. Grateful, the captain remained still, then sighed when the last of the rope was removed. Flexing her arms, the tall woman rubbed out her wrists, then looked up at the wall of fallen rocks.
"The stones are too heavy, even with the two of us, a-and " Gabrielle could not voice her greatest fear.
"And time is running out for me," Zara whispered as she held the healers gaze.
"I dont know honey. I dont know how much time, but it cant be good," Gabrielle shook her head as she fought to control her anger and fears.
"G-Gabrielle," the sorrow in the Moroccans voice held the Greek womans attention. "Please, Gabrielle. Its not too late Xena could if I remove the amulet s-she could enter me again, take over completely."
"NO! That is not going to happen, do you hear me?" the blonde shook her head as the anger surged through her. How could Zara even suggest that knowing what will happen to her?
"Gabrielle, please. I know what will happen. I know that if she enters me again, my essence m-my soul will no longer exist. Please, Gabrielle, I dont want to die like this! If Xena can continue in my body, then it is my wish that she lives. Please, let me give you this last gift," Zara pleaded even as her hand was reaching to remove the amulet. "Please!"
"Gabrielle, over here!" Xenas excited voice broke the spell. Turning, she saw Xena floating up in the air, her smile looking down at her. "Right here, Gabrielle. If you can dislodge these stones, it will push the rest down. The whole wall can be brought down by simply pushing these aside!"
Gabrielle saw where Xena pointed, the excitement returned to her as she thought over her warriors plans.
"It could work!" she whispered, then turned sharply on Zara. "Dont you dare take that amulet off! All of us are going to get out of this, do you hear me?" she shouted at the stunned Moroccan, then ran to the opposite wall and looked up to where Xena hovered.
Gabrielle needed only a moment to calculate the distance and trajectory. When she unlatched her chakram and took aim, she smiled as she flung the weapon against the opposite wall. The flying circle careened through the air and hit the farthest wall before it was slammed back to the opposite wall and hurled straight for the loose rocks. Throughout its flight, she heard Xenas war cry echoing in the cave. Once it hit its target, the chakram flew back to Gabrielles waiting palm. She was ready to jump out of the way of falling rocks, but when nothing happened, the blonde stood up and looked at the top of the wall where Xena hovered.
"Try it again, honey," the ghost warrior called before Gabrielle released the weapon.
Over and over the blonde warrior threw her weapon through the air. Each time it landed on its mark, the weapon flew back to her outstretched hand. After several failed attempts, the small Amazon shook her head. From where she sat, Zara saw the womans frustrations. She could sense the futility of the situation yet did not know how to help. When she glanced up at the wall, she tried to figure out a way to dislodge the stones that would show them the opening of the magical powers.
On the farthest wall, the Moroccan noticed the jagged wall. Looking above the stones in the ceiling, she saw a thick branch growing in a loop. At this discovery, she rose silently and moved to the wall opposite of where Gabrielle sat. Glancing over her shoulder, she smiled, then began to scale the wall as easily as she scaled the masts of her ship. Only when she was out of reach did she hear Xenas protest that drew Gabrielles attention.
"Zara! What in Hades are you doing?" the ghost shouted, then moved close to her shoulder as she continued to climb toward the ceiling of the cave.
"Zara! Get down here now!" Gabrielle shouted.
The Moroccan ignored the womens words. Instead she continued to climb. Muscles that had not been used for some time were suddenly strained beyond endurance. Her fingers sought out the crevices, hoping each time that they would hold her up, even as her boots found the outcropping of rock to support her weight.
"This is the stupidest thing youve ever done!" Xena hissed close to her ear. "Youve been so sick, there is no way that youre going to make it."
"Would you prefer that I remove the amulet so that you could do this for me," Zara huffed as she made her way toward the single destination. At her offer, the warrior suddenly grew silent after releasing some words under her breath.
For Zara, it felt like she had been there for an eternity. Her arms shook from fatigue even as her legs quivered under her weight. The sweat began to wet her back, while her throat grew dry with each exhausted breath that she took. Only when she was at the top did she look over her shoulder and see the thick vine that grew from the rock.
"Blessed Allah Ive never held much faith in you before, but if you do exist, I beseech you, give me strength!" she whispered softly with eyes closed, then inhaled deeply before she pushed with her legs and reached with both hands.
Her right hand slipped off of the vine, but her left held fast. Once she reached up and found her grip with her right hand, she remained still, hanging in mid air.
"Gabrielle youll only have a short time as soon as its open, put Xenas ashes into the flame," she called down.
"You stupid Moroccan, what are you doing?" she heard Gabrielle call up.
The captain felt her mind slipping into the dream phase. Her thoughts grew muddy even as her lovers words caused a chuckle to escape her control.
"Damn it, Zara! PULL YOURSELF TOGETHER!" Xena screamed next to her ear.
Shocked by the voice, the Moroccan nodded as she inhaled deeply. The fog of dreams began to be pushed from her mind. When she realized how close she was to the loose rocks, she began to swing her body as she held fast to the branch. Her arms ached, her back was in pain and her legs felt as heavy as the stones that kept them from their quest, but still Zara swung her body, each time the heels of her boots clicked against the loose stones. With one mighty shove of her feet, she cried out as she felt her feet making contact with the stones. The bones in her legs felt like they were being pushed from her skin even as she felt the stones shaking below her boots.
At the instant contact, a low rumble sounded from the rock wall. The room seemed to shake under the force of the landslide. As the rocks began to shift and fall below her, dust and dirt shot upward in the air. At the feel of the dust filling her lungs, Zara held her breath and closed her eyes, waiting for the rubble to settle. Before she could even open her eyes, she felt a warmth suddenly surrounding her.
"By the gods!" Xena exclaimed next to her, "Oh by the gods!" the warriors whisper caused Zara to open her eyes.
Still hanging from the vine, she glanced down and saw the opening of the cave. A bright, brilliant glow of iridescent blue light sent a glow through the cave.
"By Allah!" Zara whispered as her breath caught in her throat. The light was the most beautiful thing she had ever seen. As she looked into the deepest shades of blue, green, orange and white colors, she felt her heart beating out of control as the tears came to her eyes. "By Allah " was all she could say as she was held mesmerized in its power.
"Gabrielle, can you feel it? Its so strong, so beautiful!" Xenas words broke through Zaras spell.
As the Moroccan held on to the vine, she glanced down and watched as the shimmering image floated closer to the opening that shinned with blue light. Gulping down her own fears, Zara called upon all of her strength as she began to turn herself around on the vine. From the height where she hung, she looked down at Gabrielle. When she saw how far below the woman stood, she had the feeling that she was at the highest point of the mast on her ship. Fearful of the height, Gabrielle stared up her, then glanced around trying to find a way to bring her down safely.
"Gabrielle, its here! Its real!" Xenas voice was filled with awe and tears as her spirit seemed to move closer to the light.
"Gabrielle, do it," Zara called down. When she saw the storyteller move to the packs, then remove the jar that held Xenas ashes, she smiled, hoping that the blonde would complete the task that they had set out to do. When she seemed to hesitate, the captain watched as she struggled to hold on.
"You big, stupid Moroccan! What are you doing?" Gabrielle yelled back as she held the jar close to her body.
"Gabrielle, theres not much time. DO IT!" Zara shouted down at her small lover.
"Why Zara?" the tears began to sound in the Greek healers voice.
Why? Zara searched for a response, then smiled down at Gabrielle.
"Gabrielle, she is your soulmate. She is the one meant for you, not me, a-and .Im ready to go. Im ready to join my Alaya .it is time, Gabrielle. Dont waste it! Dont let it be in vain. Please, send Xenas ashes in now!" she screamed as she struggled to hold on to the branch, her arms shaking with fatigue as her fingers were slowly slipping. When she could hold on no more, she closed her eyes, readied herself for the impact, then released her grip and marveled at the sensations of soaring downward toward the hard rock floor.
Even if Gabrielle could have stopped her, there was no way to reach the captain in time to pull her down. As her mind tried to figure a way out, she watched, frozen in place as the tall woman climbed up the side of the wall. When the Moroccan jumped, the blonde held her breath, afraid that she was going to see her lover fall to her death. And when she kicked at the stones that were loose, a part of Gabrielle prayed that it would work, that what Zara was doing would not be in vain.
Gabrielle thought she saw the whole thing happen in slow motion. Zara was swinging high above her, her feet reaching out and kicking at the stones. Then, before she realized it, the Moroccans feet made contact and time suddenly sped up as the healer fled to the nearest wall and buried her head for protection. When the sounds and the shaking ended, Gabrielle began to cough from the inhaled dust as she looked around.
"By the gods!" the strange sound of Xenas voice surprised her. Glancing past the floating dust and debris, Gabrielle watched as Xena seemed to float directly toward the bright light that fell from the opening in the wall, "Oh by the gods!" the warriors whisper seemed to echo through the cave.
When the blonde looked up and saw Zara still hanging from the vine, her heart felt like it was sinking to her feet.
"Gabrielle, can you feel it? Its so strong, so beautiful!" Xenas words caught her attention for only a moment, before she looked back up at Zaras hanging form. She wasnt sure how long the woman could hang on. When the seafarer began to turn where she hung, Gabrielle held her breath as she took a tentative step forward. Only when Zara looked down at her, did the Amazon regain enough of her senses to try to find a way to bring the Moroccan down safely.
"Gabrielle, its here! Its real!" Xenas voice was filled with awe and tears as her spirit seemed to move closer to the light.
"Gabrielle, do it," Zara called down.
Instinctively, she ran to her bags and quickly removed the jar of Xenas ashes that she had carried with her for so long. As she stood there, she thought of everything they had been through, the journey, the heart ache of losing Xena. She relived the inner turmoil of before, wondering if it was the right thing to do, if tampering with nature was the right choice to make. Xena was dead. She died for a reason. Who am I to bring her back? Why is her life worth more than all the others who have died? Why is her life worth more than Zaras? Anger filled her when she realized what her Moroccan lover was doing. With a deep set frown and growl, she stood tall as she stared up at where the woman hung.
"You big, stupid Moroccan! What are you doing?" Gabrielle yelled up at her with a raised fist.
"Gabrielle, theres not much time. DO IT!" Zara shouted down at her small lover.
"Why Zara?" the tears began to fall heedless down Gabrielles cheeks..
"Gabrielle, she is your soulmate. She is the one meant for you, not me, a-and .Im ready to go. Im ready to join my Alaya it is time, Gabrielle. Dont waste it! Dont let it be in vain. Please, send Xenas ashes in now!" she screamed even as Xenas spirit willingly walked into the flickering blue lights from the inner cave.
In that single moment, Gabrielle heard the truth in Zaras words. Blinded by tears, she glanced down at the jar in her hands, then released a deep growl as she heaved it as hard as she could into the lights where Xena disappeared into. From somewhere in the lights, she heard the thundering crash of the jar exploding as she fell to her knees, her silent tears falling as she watched Zara fall and land on the rocks below. The moment she heard the sounds of breaking bones, she was on her feet and running to the Moroccan.
"Oh gods no " Gabrielle heard her own voice, yet found it hard to control as she looked down at Zara. Her legs had bent backward, completely broken in half. Her body lay unmoving on the stones as her breathing came out ragged. As if moving took all of her energy, Zara remained still as her eyes watched the blonde closely. The only indication that she was aware was in her eyes that sought out the storytellers.
"Dont move " the Greek healer whispered softly as she brushed her fingers through the tall womans dark hair. "Sweetheart, youll be fine. Well get you out of here, I promise." Gabrielle said, even though she knew that Zaras internal injuries were too severe.
Zaras gaze held her captive, her blue eyes shone with life even as the trickle of blood began to ooze from her nose and mouth. Taking the hem of her shirt sleeve, Gabrielle wiped away the blood as she smiled at the woman. When the Moroccans breathing became labored, the smaller woman shook her head in disbelief.
"No, Zara, please, hold on, dont leave, please, dont leave," she begged even as the injured womans gaze softened on her, then her breath grew shallow as a look of peace and serenity fell over the captains features, before her eyes grew vacant, and her breathing stopped.
"Oh no, no, no, no " Gabrielle moaned as she fell over Zaras body, her tears fell unheeded as she lay over her newest lovers body, the pain of her grief filling her completely.
Xena did not know why she was floating toward the light. She only knew that the overwhelming urge to dive into the depths of the fiery blue light beckoned her. With eyes closed, the warrior princess entered into the warm glow of the inner cave.
The ghost had felt the power of gods before. She knew what it was like to journey to the Elysian Fields and Heaven, just as she knew what Tartarus and Hell were like. Yet everything that she had experienced in the past paled in comparison to the awesome power the surged through, and around her. With eyes closed, she held out her arms and threw her head back as the glowing light bathed her in power.
From somewhere in the back of her mind, Xena felt a jolt, a sudden explosion that felt like an insect bite. Opening her eyes, she watched as the ashes of her body swirled around her. She marveled at the whirlpool surrounding her and realized that the magic was transforming her, metamorphosing her ashes before her eyes. At a sudden jolt, the warrior princess gasped, then closed her eyes as she felt a sudden shake. When she opened her eyes, she looked down and saw her arms, no longer transparent.
No, Xena had never felt such awesome power before. When she took a tentative step forward, she smiled when her feet carried her from the inner cave. As she moved toward Gabrielle, she felt the sharp rocks below her feet and glanced down. Her naked body glistened in the glow of the magic. Only when she got close enough to her soulmate did she notice Zaras still form. Gabrielle sat up, looking at her as the tears fell silently down her cheeks. With sadness, the small blonde turned away from her, looking down at Zara before reaching over and closing the tall womans eye lids.
"Oh, Gabrielle," Xena whispered when she felt her soulmates pain.
Looking at Zara, she frowned as she knelt by the womans prone form. Holding her hands in front of her, the warrior princess felt the surge of power and saw the blue light surrounding her newly generated flesh. Without thought, Xena reached down and laid her hands upon the Moroccans body. Instantly, the blue glow in her hands reached out and encircled the captains form. Closing her eyes, Xena gasped at the feel of power surging through her. She felt the corpse suddenly come to life, the broken leg bones, ruptured organs and broken spine were surrounded by the blue light until the mending was complete. In her minds eye, Xena watched the internal healing of the tall woman. The ribs that had pierced through lungs were mended just as the lungs sealed, the blood evacuated from the lungs. The heart that stopped beating began a steady pace. Only when the spirit of the Moroccan returned into the body, did a deep gasp escape from Zaras parted lips. When it was over, the warrior princess felt drained of all energy and could only fall in a heap where she knelt.
Zara remembered feeling a bliss fall over her as she stood in the center of a bright light. When her eyes became adjusted to the brightness, she looked around and saw her mother and Inaam standing close. They smiled at her, yet remained silent.
"Mother," she smiled as she stepped close, her hand reaching out. Before she could move any closer, her mother raised a hand to stop her.
"Its not your time," the aged woman, who appeared healthy once more, smiled.
"Not your time, you must go back," Inaam echoed and smiled.
"B-But I want to go " Zara felt her tears catch in her throat as she took a step closer.
"Not your time not your time " her mother shook her head before turning away and walking toward the source of the bright light.
Before Zara could feel the sadness of their loss, a jolt surged through her. Her body shook as the taste of blood registered in her mind. As her breathing came out heavy, she gasped as she opened her eyes to the diffused light of the cave. Gulping down the strange and new sensations, she looked around.
Gabrielle held the Moroccans hand to her cheek, the tears of happiness fell freely down the blondes cheeks as she kissed Zaras hand. Feeling a heaviness on her chest, the captain looked down, surprised to see a naked woman, her hair the color of a raven, sprawled over her chest. At the uncomfortable feeling in her legs, the Moroccan moved slightly as she tried to readjust herself. With this motion, the head suddenly popped up, the stranger gasped as she looked down at Zara. At the sight of the womans naked body, the Moroccan felt a smile tug at her lips as her eyes fell over the stranger.
"How are you? Are you feeling alright?" the familiar voice of Xena came from the voluptuous stranger.
"X-Xena?" Zaras voice was filled with surprise as she gazed at the beautiful woman next to her. Before she could understand what had happened, she felt Gabrielle straightening her legs, then moved to help her to stand on wobbly legs. Once assured that the Moroccan could stand on her own, the storyteller turned to help the naked woman to her feet.
"Xena helped you. There was enough for both of you," Gabrielle laughed as she stood between the two women, her arms reaching around both as she pulled them into a tight hug. When she pulled way, the blonde reached out to touch the Greek warriors arm, before turning to brush her palm over Zaras cheeks.
"Youre both alright, youre both ok!" tears of joy trickled from her green eyes.
Despite the unusual circumstances, the Moroccan inhaled deeply as the feelings of life surged through her. Then she glanced at Xena, marveling at the womans exquisite beauty for the first time. With an almost lusty glance, the captain smiled as she openly appreciated the warriors naked body.
"So it would seem," she smiled seductively as she tilted her head to Xena.
"Hey!" the Greek warrior turned a crimson shade of red as she pointed a finger at Zara, "Keep your eyes to yerself!"
The tone in Xenas voice caused Zara to raise her hands in surrender, as she stepped away from the naked beauty. As the warrior passed by her, the captain cast an appraising gaze over the warriors firm buttocks, then smiled when Xena looked back at her. With a slight chuckle, and a shake of her head, Xena winked at her, before turning her attention to finding some clothes.
"Ive got you both now, it worked," Gabrielles sighed, then looked at her, "Zara, how do you feel. Is everything ok up here," the Amazon tapped her on the forehead.
Closing her eyes, the Moroccan tried to detect the chaotic sensations that once ruled her mind and body. When frenzied images could not be found, and her thoughts were now her own, Zara smiled, relieved to be herself again. Glancing down a Gabrielle, she sighed deeply as she smiled at the blonde. She saw the storytellers look of relief, before it turned into a scowl.
"Good, Im glad, because now I can finally talk with you!" her voice was filled with venom as she slapped Zaras shoulder lightly. Like swatting an insect, Gabrielle continued to swat at the tall Moroccans shoulder, causing her to back away as she gazed at the blonde in surprise.
"How dare you hit me!" Gabrielle suddenly stopped swatting the Moroccans shoulder and only wagged her finger, her eyes blazed with anger as she stared up at the taller woman. "I swear to you, Zara, if you ever lay another hand on me, Im going to drop you so fast you wont know what hit you! And about your antics when I was asleep .dont even think that Ive forgotten about that! By the gods, Zara, at least have the decency to WAKE ME UP! And if you cant wake me up, take it as a hint! Have I ever, EVER refused you before?" but the shorter woman did not wait for a response, "NO, NEVER! So what in Tartarus were you thinking, using my body when I was asleep! Do you know how how DIRTY it made me feel?"
Before the captain could answer, a soft chuckling sound came from the corner. Glancing to their bags, they saw Xena watching them, a bundle of clothes in her arms as she laughed at Zaras predicament. Like an arrow honing in on a new target, Gabrielle turned and moved to Xena, her shorter frame seemingly towering over the warrior princess.
"And dont think youre out of hot water, Warrior Princess! Oh, no, I havent forgotten about you!" Gabrielle had her hands firmly on her hips.
"Me? What did I do?" Xenas hurt expression covered her features.
"Oh dont play innocent with me! You were involved in using me when I slept too, or have you forgotten?" At the storytellers words, Xena ducked her head, a flush of embarrassment could be seen in the dimly lit cave.
"And what is this My bard? What in Hades is that all about? Xena, Im your lover, your soulmate and partner, but you dont own me!" Gabrielle was back to shaking her fist at the tall Greek warrior. "If you think Im going to let you think that you own me like some some property, YOURE SADLY MISTAKEN! Heres a bit of information for you Xena, YOU DONT OWN ME, do you hear me?"
"Y-Yes " Xena meekly replied as she clutched the bundle of clothes to her like a shield protecting her from an attack.
"Things are going to change Xena. Im not that little girl from Potidaea. Im your soulmate and I expect a little more respect from you; things are not going back to the way they were! I expect you to have enough respect for me to talk to me about your plans. No more running off and doing whatever fool thing that pops into your head, do you understand me?" the small woman waited a moment, then when she heard Xenas soft reply, she continued, "Good, because I refuse to let an incident like at Higuchi to happen again! Never again, Xena. Never again will you treat me like a sidekick; I refuse to let you do that to me again!"
"Gabrielle, I know. Please honey, cant I at least get dressed before you start yelling at me?" Xena stood up, the clothes held in front of her breasts as she looked down at the blonde.
"Oh, now youre suddenly shy? You certainly werent shy when you and Zara used my body for your own desires! And you werent shy around Akemi! But now youre suddenly shy when Im bringing up something that pissed me off?" Gabrielle fumed.
"Please, honey, forgive me. Im sorry, youre right. By the gods, Gabrielle, I know how foolish Ive been. I know what I did was wrong. What do you think Ive been thinking about this whole time? I was a fool, and I never should have done anything without asking for your opinion first. I see that, I know it, Ive had all these moons to think about it and I swear, Gabrielle, Im so sorry. I swear to you, it will never happen again. Ill never treat you like anything other than my full and equal partner, in all things." The warrior princess swore, then stood at attention and inhaled deeply, before continuing. "Gabrielle, I know you are a full and capable woman in your own right. Youre a warrior, a healer a-and youre the woman who has my heart. I swear, Ill never do anything again to jeopardize what we have," a tear sounded in Xenas voice.
The shorter blonde grew quiet. Her eyes turned to slits as she examined the taller woman, then she nodded. "Good, Im glad you apologized," her voice grew softer. "Xena, I just dont want to be treated like a sidekick anymore. I hope in the time youve had, you realize that Im a capable woman now. Im not that little girl you first took under your wing," Gabrielles words were soft and tender as she reached out and touched the naked warriors arm.
"I know, Sweetheart, honest, I know you are so much more," Xena smiled, then glanced down at herself. "Ummm, honey can I could I get dressed now?"
"Of course," Gabrielle voice was soft and tender.
As the two Greek women spoke softly, the captain frowned as she looked away. The vivid memories of her conduct flooded through her. Like an animal, Zara had not only disrespected Gabrielle, not only by using her for her own rutting needs, but also hitting her and these memories alone brought shame. When the tall Moroccan remembered everything that she did, she gulped down the bile that rose in her throat. She moved to her packs and sat down heavily, her head bent as an embarrassed shame engulfed her completely. Sensing this, the blonde turned away from her warrior, then moved to kneel in front of Zara. Tenderly, she touched the captains cheek.
"Zara?" Gabrielles voice softly pulled at the Moroccans attention.
"Animal .I-I was .nothing but an animal," she whispered as she gazed the pink scar on her wrist. The pain of what she had done, using Gabrielles body for her own needs, and then striking her, raced through her memories. "I-I .forgiveness is not even warranted," she whispered to herself.
"Oh, Zara, please," Gabrielle pulled her chin until she was looking into the smaller womans compassionate eyes.
"No, Gabrielle, what happened .what I did ." the dusky woman shook her head. "I am no different from my father!" she hissed.
"No, thats not true, Zara. You are nothing like your father, do you hear me?" the storyteller asked as she cupped the taller womans face with the palms of her hands. With a tender smile, she brushed her thumbs over the Moroccans cheeks, wiping away the silent tears. "Honey, its ok. You were sick," Gabrielle stated firmly.
"I am sorry, Gabrielle. I knew what I was doing b-but I couldnt I tried, I swear by Allah, I tried to stop myself!" the Moroccan tried to explain as she tried to avert her gaze. But Gabrielle would not let her turn away. Instead, she held her face in her palms. A smile crossed her features.
"Zara, listen to me, you were sick. You couldnt help what you did and I dont care how you feel, I do forgive you. Do you understand? I forgive you. Hopefully, youll be able to forgive yourself too," she smiled. At the small blondes sincerity, the captain sighed as she lowered her head. "Now then, are you sure youre all right? Is it all gone now, are you back to normal?"
Zara closed her eyes once more, concentrating on the sensations of madness. When nothing was felt, she smiled through her own tears and shrugged as she looked at Gabrielle. "I am just very ashamed."
"Honey, dont be. Your better now, it worked and thats all that matters!" Gabrielle smiled as she hugged the Moroccan close. When she pulled away, the shorter Greek stood up, her gaze fell from Xenas half dressed form, to where Zara sat. "I never doubted it for a moment!"
At this declaration, Xena turned her attention away from dressing long enough to cast the blonde a look. No words were necessary between them as the two women seemed to communicate with only a glance. When Gabrielle began to openly laugh, the warrior shook her head as a smile broke through her stoic expression. At the renewal of life, Zara closed her eyes in thought, her mind racing over everything that had happened.
"Captain, what will happen now?" Abus voice was a hushed whisper.
For some reason, it felt like it took less time for them to climb from the depths of the earth, than it took them to journey down to the cave. When they finally reached the opening, they emerged into the bright redness of the setting sun. Despite the fact that he was in the middle of his prayers, Abu jumped up and ran to the captain, his arms encircled her and pulled her into a tight embrace as the tears fell freely down his face.
After so many days, he began to fear the worst, he cried as he embraced her tightly, then pulled Gabrielle into the hug as he called out words of thanksgiving to Allah. So happy was he that he did not notice he had grabbed Xena, hugging her close and kissing her face, as he did Zara, before he realized that he did not know who she was. After only a moment of confusion, the burly man shrugged his shoulder and continued to hug and kiss them as his excited voice called out his thanks.
Once the introductions to the warrior princess were made, they began to settle in for the night. Although nothing was agreed upon, Zara withdrew from Gabrielle and Xena. She helped them to set up their tent, then moved to join Abu by the camp fire. As she watched the red orange flames licking upward, she contemplated his question.
"Captain?" he looked at her cautiously, afraid that she was still ill.
"We go and see how Nadrah is doing. See if she is happy with the sisters," Zara said, ignoring his obvious question.
Abu examined her closely as the slight sounds of lovemaking from Gabrielles tent reached their hearing. Ignoring his gaze, Zara drank the soothing tea that he had made. If she could have, the captain would have answered her friends question. But in truth, she did not know exactly where the relationship with the blonde was going.
Gabrielle had never been in a situation like this before, so she wasnt sure how to proceed. She was elated to have her soulmate back. This was the single dream that she held on to throughout their journey. Although she may have had doubts before, now that her warrior was with her, she knew that she would never again let her go.
Despite this, she knew that her love for Zara was also real. True, it was not the same as what she shared with Xena, but it was still as intense, and satisfying. Which is why she felt betrayed by the captains actions. As if her words of love were nothing by a lie, the Moroccan kept her distance like nothing had happened between them. After a few nights of traveling like this, Gabrielle could not stand it anymore.
"Zara, was it real? Did you care at all for me?" she asked as they stood away from camp, the setting sun cast a soft red glow over the desert sand.
The Moroccan seemed ill at ease as she fidgeted. With a shake of her head, Zara released a sigh as she looked up at the remnants of the sun. At the sight of the single tear that fell down the Moroccans cheek, Gabrielle stepped forward and touched the wetness with the tip of her finger.
"Honey, tell me whats going on," she whispered as she took the woman by the hand, and led her to a distant sand dune. After they sat down, the healer remained silent as she held her lovers hand.
"After I died, when I was in the after life and ready to move on to Paradise, I-I saw my mother and Inaam," Zara whispered as she gazed at the smaller hand in hers.
"I know, you mentioned that. Doesnt it feel good to know that theyre in Paradise now?" Gabrielle asked softly.
"You dont understand," Zara shook her head as she looked away. "What happened may be common for you and Xena, b-but it is not for me. I-Its disorienting disturbing."
"What is disturbing about it? I mean, aside for the whole dying and coming back to life thing," Gabrielle softly chuckled as she swept her hands through the air, as if to brush aside something this phenomenal away. At her comment, the captain smiled before releasing a soft chuckle.
"Yes, that in and of itself is quite amazing," Zara nodded as she wiped away her tears, then grew solemn. The Amazons eyes remained glued to the taller womans features in order to read her better.
"These past days Ive been trying to understand why this whole experience was so disturbing. Now that you have your spirit twin back, I watch you and Xena together. I see how you two need no words to communicate, how you anticipate each others thoughts and desires without voicing it, a-and ." the Moroccan shook her head as she released a tired sigh, "its just I see how you two are together, and I remember what I saw before entering Paradise," her voice grew quiet as she looked down at the sand, her focus growing distant. "I saw my mother and Inaam."
"Yes, and they told you that it wasnt your time," Gabrielle tried to understand her lovers words.
"No, you dont understand," Zaras voice was a hushed whisper, "I saw mother and Inaam. I did not see " the tall womans brows creased into a frown as she shook her head.
As dawning entered the blonde, her mouth opened in a tiny O as it became clear. She now understood why the Moroccan was holding herself apart, why she was only cordial and whatever warmth they once shared, was now being withheld. Understanding her lovers pain, Gabrielle closed her eyes and shook her head.
"Where was Alaya?" she voiced the Moroccans unspoken fears.
"I-I have lost her. After all these years of waiting for me, she is gone!" The dark haired woman released a strangled cry as she bowed her head. "Ill never know never know what it is that you have," she wept softly.
At the open vulnerability, Gabrielle pulled the dusky woman into her arms. The healer held her close and cradled her, cooing soft words of comfort. Her fingers ran through the thick strands of Zaras hair as she felt the Moroccans body shaking with tears.
"Shush, youre not alone Zara, youre not. You have us, and you have me. Ill always be here for you, always," she promised as she kissed the Moroccans temple.
No, Gabrielle was not certain how this situation would work out. She had never loved two women at the same time, so she wasnt certain how to proceed. As she held Zara close, she prayed to whatever deity that might be listening for a little advice. When all she received was silence, the storyteller simply comforted her lover as best as she could.
The Moroccan allowed herself to be led to Gabrielle and Xenas tent. As the loud snores of Abu rose from beneath his bed roll, the Moroccan followed the Greek woman into the dark tent. In the darkness, she heard the slight, even breaths as Xena slept nearby. Not once releasing her hold, the blonde pulled Zara in, then down onto the bedroll.
Zara felt apprehensive, not quite knowing how to proceed. When she felt Gabrielles hands moving over her clothes, the smaller womans soft lips laying tender kisses along her exposed flesh, the Moroccan only sighed as she gave in to the sensations. With slow, precise moves, they disrobed each other and laid down under the covers, their lips and hands exploring each others soft flesh. At the movement nearby, Zara froze as Xena sat up in the bedroll, then looked down at them through the darkness. At first she thought the Greek warrior was going to challenge her. But when Gabrielle reached up and pulled her soulmate down, their lips meeting in a deep kiss, the Moroccan visibly relaxed.
At this point, nothing would have deterred her from Gabrielle. As if her body had been possessed from the earlier madness, she moved to the healer. Her hands ran down the womans muscular torso even as her lips explored the flesh over her rib cage. While Xena continued to kiss the smaller warrior and shrugged out of her own night shift, Zaras lips roamed freely over Gabrielle. The Moroccan heard the smaller womans gasp of pleasure when she took a hard, erect nipple and suckled ever so gently.
On occasion, her hand brushed over Xenas as they strove to bring Gabrielle pleasure. When her kisses moved up the Amazons chest, to her neck and cheek, she felt the warrior princess moving downward until their heads bumped one another. At this move, they each stopped as their faces were close enough to the other that they felt each others breath. Then, without thought, their lips met and the kiss deepened.
Zara felt the sensuous pleasure of the warriors kiss. For the first time, she realized what the storyteller felt each time she was being kissed by her soulmate. As their tongues darted against each other, their breathing softly rose as they feverishly sought each other out. The Moroccans hand stroked the warriors long hair even as the Greek womans touch ran over the captains arm. Below them, Gabrielle ran the palm of her hands over their backs as her body surged upward toward them.
The Moroccan didnt know what was happening. One moment, she was being swept away by Xenas touch and the next she had a distinct image of Rashi in her mind. His smiling face flashed before her and in that instant, she thought her lips were kissing him. The taste of his mouth, the mere idea of his lips against hers in this way sent revulsion through her.
Zara jumped from the bed roll gasping for air. She coughed, then opened the tent flap and jumped out, turning to the sand to spit out the saliva in hope of ridding her of the memory. Beside her, Xena was coughing and shaking her head to dislodge the image of kissing Lyceus from her minds eye. Wiping her mouth, she bent over and spit the vile taste before righting herself and glancing at the captain. The moment their eyes meet, a look of distaste crossed their features as they each shivered, reliving the kiss. Once control returned, they looked at each other cautiously.
"I dont think that is going to work," Xena shivered again as she shook her head.
"Lets not relive it, please!" Zara agreed as she tried to push the unpleasant memory away.
Gabrielles voice rose from the tent in a questioning, almost pleading tone. The warrior princess glanced at the tent, and then to Zara as she unconsciously gulped. The Moroccan woman inhaled deeply as she tried to find a way out of their situation.
"By the sound of her voice, theres one needy bard in there," Xena muttered softly, then turned to Zara with a questioning look. "We dont have much time, what excuse are we going to give her? Cant be something that she cook, that would only get us into more hot water."
"She did not make the dates, and neither did she or Abu eat them. Perhaps the dates were bad?" The captain thought outloud.
With a snap of her fingers, Xena nodded as a smile crossed her features. "Good idea! I knew there was a reason I like you! The dates it is, then." the Greek warrior agreed as she straighten her posture. Both warrior and captain unconsciously squared their shoulders before they returned to join Gabrielle in the darkness of the ten.
Every day that she woke up, Xena inhaled deeply. She thrived on the sensations of life, the touch of her skin, the way that her lungs expanded and contracted with each breath she took. When she felt Gabrielles touch, a part of her heart seemed to soar higher than the carrion birds in the sky. At night, when she would snuggle close to the warmth of her love, the warrior princess realized for the first time that this is what her life meant; this is what her existence was about.
Now that she was back in her own body, Xena realized that Gabrielle meant more to her than life itself. After all of this time, the warrior admitted that her actions in Higuchi were wrong. In fact, every time she reflected on her past, she realized that there were so many things that she had done wrong. She never should have taken life so lightly. It didnt matter what else happened in the world around her. All that mattered was that she was with her soulmate. And yes, after listening to Gabrielle, she did have to admit that the storyteller had a point. Who was she to say that what happened in Higuchi after Akemis death wasnt meant to be? Certainly fate was never etched in stone.
As she stood near the edge of the dock waiting for the next boat to arrive, she leaned against the rail, looking at the temple of Philae. Next to her, Zara leaned against the rail, her worried glance remained on the distant walls that surrounded the temple. When the Moroccan sighed and shifted her weight, Xena didnt notice that she did the same thing. Only when she glanced at the woman did she notice their mirrored stance. Inhaling deeply, the warrior princess ran her fingers through her hair as she turned her back to lean on the rail, while watching Abu and Gabrielle sell the camels and whatever supplies they could to the dealers.
"Youre worried that Nadrah will hate you," Xena stated.
Zara seemed to contemplate Xena before she nodded. Still attuned to each others thoughts and emotions, the Greek warrior knew the Moroccans fears. It was not because she openly shared them, but it was more of an intuitive sense that the two women shared.
Xena knew that Zara was in pain after her ordeal. She knew the loss that the Moroccan felt over her soulmate. The warrior princess also knew that every time she showed affection to Gabrielle, that it was like a dagger in the captains heart. But the Greek woman didnt know how to ease the pain. All she could do was try to listen to her friend, to speak to her from the heart because she knew that the woman deserved no less.
Zara had been there for both her and Gabrielle. She gave more of herself than anyone else she knew and because of this, Xena owed her so much. Yet at times it didnt seem enough.
After their botched attempt to share Gabrielle, when their actions resulted in their kiss, Xena found herself stepping back from the situation. Yes, when they first started to explore with a kiss, she did feel a certain pleasure. But as the situation began to unfold, she could not help the incestuous feelings that she had, let alone the image of her little brother springing to mind. The captain was like a sister to her, no, Zara was much more than a sister. For many moons, they shared the same body. Whatever fears, shame or desires the Moroccan had, Xena witnessed, just like the seafarer saw into the deepest darkness of Xenas heart. This alone had formed a bond that could not be ignored.
"I left her abruptly, without explaining things," Zara spoke softly as she turned away and leaned against the rail. With arms crossed in front of her, the tall captain lowered her head in thought. "What if she hated her stay here? Perhaps the regiment was not to her liking and there she is, thinking that she had no choice. Xena, her tears as we left were "
"Heart wrenching," Xena nodded, remembering the little girls pleas as they left. "But if she isnt happy, then she knows that shes got a choice now. She can come back to us, if she likes."
The Moroccan released a snort as she shook her head. "What is there for her to come back to? I have nothing, no ship, no home, my funds are nearly all gone now. How can I take care of a child when I have nothing to offer?"
"Zara, stop it!" the Greek placed her hand on the womans shoulder and shook her gently. "Do you really think that Nadrah was with you for those reasons? By the gods Zara, shes a child. The only reason she was with you was because she cares about you, thats all. It doesnt matter if you have nothing, if Nadrah isnt happy where shes at, then shell want to be with you besides," Xena released her hold and leaned back against the fence. "Its not like you dont have anything after all, you have us."
"Do you mean that? I mean h-how could you now that you have your soulmate again," Zara seemed surprised.
"Look, weve been through a lot, the three of us. Gabrielle loves you, and I do too," at the look of surprise, Xena shook her head as she waved away the womans concerns, "Oh, not that way! But you know like a sister, you know, a sisterly love."
"So as a sister, you would allow me to stay with both of you?" the dusky woman eyed Xena carefully.
"Well, yeah. So far our arrangement has worked out. We take turns every other night. Gabrielle doesnt seem to mind, and weve been able to handle it, so yeah, why not?" the Greek nodded to herself. "But the point is, Zara, it doesnt matter if you lost everything. Nadrah will go with you if you were impoverished. And us, well, Gabrielle and I have survived lean times. Im sure the three of us could find a way to make it and take care of Nadrah, if she wants to join us. Well get through this somehow, dont worry." Xena said, realizing that she meant every word.
The warrior princess didnt know what the future held in store for her. She could not imagine where their future lay, all she knew was that after this experience, she would not take life too lightly. The remaining time she had left, regardless if it was fifty years or only ten days, she would live it to the fullest with her family. And right now, Gabrielle, Zara, Nadrah, and even Abu were the closest things she had to family.
Chione sat at her desk staring at the same parchment over and over again. As of late, her mind was not on her duties. Instead, she felt herself filled with troubling thoughts. While a part of her was elated, another part grieved.
At the sound of a childs laugh, the High Priestess rose from her desk and moved to the window overlooking the garden. Sharifa and Nadrah stood in the open meadow facing each other. From their stance, and the mock swords in hand, Chione knew that her lover was teaching their daughter armed combat. With a slight smile, she watched the lesson unfold. She marveled at how quickly the child picked up the lesson, parrying the adult womans blows like she was born with a sword in her hands.
In a way, Chione knew that Nadrah had been born for this role. Although the High Priestess had not voiced it, a part of her realized that one day Nadrah would be more powerful than herself. Already she was rising above the other students her age, and this could only be attributed to Zaras training. Her flawless knowledge of Arabic, mathematics and science made it possible for the girl to study with students older than her age. The fact that Gabrielle had already started to teach the girl Greek would make it easy for the sisters to complete the lessons. Soon, the childs rudimentary teachings would be complete, and she would begin to learn to harness the magic from within.
Yes, Chione had not voiced it, but a part of her knew that her daughter would some day be greater in power than other priestesses in the land, and this pleased the High Priestess. From the first day that she laid eyes on the child, she felt the power of the girl. When she sensed the slight hush, the stillness of everything around her, she searched out the source of the power. Even while the prickly sensations at the base of her skull tingled unexpectedly, Chione searched out the source of this power. Only when her eyes fell on a familiar figure Zara, did her mind begin to sort through numerous thoughts as her eyes rested on the child.
The high priestess instantly knew that the girl had gifts, but she wondered if this child was the one, if she was to be the chosen of the Goddess. In her thoughts Chione asked the same question which would cross her mind from time to time. Is it you? She did not have this question answered until later that day when she was in prayer asking for the Goddess to give her wisdom, and to send to them the next generation that would continue in the Great Goddess plan. If any normal child had stumbled upon them, she would not have given them a second thought. But the child that was coming near them was thinking so loud, her thoughts projecting outward that Chione smiled at the little girls musings. When Nadrah heard their whispers, no one needed to answer the High Priestess question, because it had been answered. Yes, it was Nadrah who was to be the heir to the temple.
Chione never understood why the Goddess worked in certain ways. She never questioned the motive of the Great Mother, so when Nadrah came to them, and Zara left, Chione did not question. But now, after so much time had passed, she found her heart heavy with grief. Nadrah had come to them at the price of Zaras life and although she was pleased to finally have a daughter, she mourned for the loss of her former lover, and friend.
"Are they studying or are they playing?" the gruff voice of her mother entered the room, then moved behind her. With a smile, Chione looked back at the aged woman, then shook her head. Despite the elders words, Chione knew that the old woman loved Nadrah dearly. Every night as they sat together, the matriarch would speak softly, telling the girl the stories of their people, the priestesses of the temple. Although she appeared cross and stiff in public, the High Priestess knew that her mother had a warm heart.
"Even children need play time," Chione began the familiar banter. The old woman harrumphed, then glanced unseeing eyes down on the scene of the warrior and child wrestling and tickling each other.
"In my day, we werent allowed to play why, in my day "
"You probably were forbidden from laughing!" Chione turned on her mother, the smile clearly etched on the younger womans face.
"Why, thats true, we were!" the wizen face was firmly set into a frown, then the lips curved upward into a smile, "But I was always the first to break this rule! My poor mother was always beside herself, never able to keep a handle on one so unruly! But if you repeat this " the woman raised her cane in a threatening manner.
"Dont worry mother, your secret is safe with me," Chione wrapped her arm over the womans bony shoulders and hugged her close.
"Yes, well, all good and said, all good and said!" the elder priestess nodded, then glanced at her, suddenly remembering something. "But, my child, this is not why I am here. I wanted to tell you, I have good news!"
"Good news?" Chione looked down at the older woman, "About Zara?" she asked, and smiled when the old woman nodded. "Mother, have you seen her? Are they well?"
"Oh yes, all are well, and the ghost is no more," the wrinkled face smiled. "It seems the gods favor that one, I only hope she doesnt waste this life that is given to her," she snorted as she gave a look of disgust.
"But tell me, mother, when did you see them? Why didnt you tell me you had a vision?" Chione inhaled deeply, trying not to grow impatient at her mothers need for theatrics.
"When did I see them? A vision?" the old woman looked at her surprised, "Oh, no vision, my child, no vision at all! Why, I ran into them in the entrance," the matriarch turned as she knocked her cane against the floor, the thumping brought the sounds of footfalls in the corridor. Looking up, a smile broke across her face as Zaras tall form walked in, followed by Gabrielle and Xena.
"Zara!" Chione felt her heart racing as she ran to the Moroccan. Without thought, she wrapped her arms around the taller womans shoulders and hugged her close. Zaras arm wrapped around her, lifting her off of her feet and twirling her in the air before settling her back down on the ground. "By the Goddess, you are alive! And " Chione reached up and touched the womans temples, closing her eyes as she searched for any disturbance. What she found instead was the familiar sadness, the emptiness that was always harbored within the womans heart and mind.
"Oh Zara " she whispered when she pulled away. Reading her thoughts, the Moroccan took her hands and held them as she looked down.
"I am well now, Chione. I owe you so much, must thank you so much for all that you gave, and all that you offered," Zara smiled before kissing her hands.
At this small gesture, Chione smiled as she nodded understanding. Her friend was back. The insanity at the merging was banished from her soul. Even though she still harbored the loneliness at the loss of her soulmate, the Moroccan was alive, and this, more than anything, is what was important, the High Priestess smiled as this thought crossed her mind.
Nadrah squealed with laughter as she was being held down against her will, Sharifas strong hands tickled her sides. They had just spent the better part of the morning on lessons of hand to hand combat that ended in the normal bout of tickling. With tears of merriment trickling down her face, she warded off her warrior mothers hands as best as possible, then gave up and turned her own assault on the dark woman. Feigning weakness, Sharifa fell over, allowing Nadrah to get on top as the little girl tickled the bigger woman.
With each spasm of laughter, the tightly woven braids of the warrior captain flew through the air. The red, yellow and white beads that decorated the rows of hair clicked against the stone tile as she tried to hold off Nadrahs hands. After a moment of this playful wrestling, Nadrah stopped as she sat on top of her mothers stomach, the laughter occasionally escaping her control.
"Let us go and show Mother Chione how strong you are, yes?" the woman was up in a single bound, her arms carrying Nadrah like a sack of rye.
In the moons that had passed by, Nadrah had to admit that she had never been happier. Although she was happy with Zara, it was not the same. When she was with the captain, she always knew that her presence was about duty. Like the other sailors on the ship, Nadrah had her own function and duties. There were things that were expected of her, things that she gladly did. But now it was different.
Since joining her mothers in the temple, her days were filled with studies. When she wasnt studying the language of the Pharaohs, she was studying the basics of the mystical arts, or hand to hand combat. The only duty she had was to study as hard as she could, and this she did with pleasure. She found that what she learned from Zara helped in her studies. The fact that she was able to understand a few languages put her in good standing with her teachers and brought pride to her mothers. This, more than anything is what she enjoyed about the temple.
Although Nadrah knew that Zara loved her and was always proud of her, for the first time, she had a family. She had two women who woke her in the morning and shared their meals with her. They spoke to her like she was a cherished member of their family, and in the evening, they included her in their gathering until it was time for them to put her to bed. The fact that they treated Prasha like a Pharaoh brought great pleasure to her dear cat.
The only thing that Nadrah had difficulty with at first was the clothes that they had her wear. She had to give up her britches and shirt and instead wear the dresses of the temple. When they tried to make her wear the full length garments, she balked, refusing to wear such things. It wasnt until Sharifa suggested she wear the garb of the warriors that Nadrah gave in because to her, Sharifas explanation made sense. Wearing the shorter skirts made it easier to fight. It gave more mobility to kick or fend off an assault. So like Xena, Nadrah wore the shorter warrior clothes and although she was not as dark as her warrior mother, Mother Chione said they looked very much alike, and this pleased Nadrah.
As her mother ran through the corridors carrying Nadrah on her side, the bigger warrior whooped, then lifted Nadrah high in the air, causing the girls hair to fly up. Instinctively, the girl clasped her legs around her mothers shoulders as she held on for dear life.
"Mother, take a look at what our little girl can do!" Sharifa smiled as she reached up and pulled Nadrah from her shoulders and set her on the ground. Chione smiled as she stood in the middle of her office and waited.
"Watch," Nadrah nodded as she looked up and Sharifa stretched out her arm over Nadrahs head. Reaching up, the girl took hold of her warrior mothers strong arm and hung on tightly as she felt Sharifa rise to her full height, lifting Nadrah from the ground.
"Now watch," the captain warrior smiled at Nadrah and nodded.
Just as she did before, the little girl pulled herself up. She felt the muscles in her arms straining as she brought her body up and rested her chin on the warriors forearm, before lowering herself to do it once more. As she did a few of these, she smiled right before seeing a movement from the corner of her eye. Glancing over to the corner, her eyes grew big as she dropped from Sharifas arm.
"ZARA!" the little girl screamed as she ran and jumped into the captains open arms. "Ive missed you so much!" she hugged the woman close as she was being twirled in the air.
"And Ive missed you too," she heard Zara say. "You have grown so big and strong, and look at you!" the captain set her on the ground and Nadrah looked up at Abu, the tears in his eyes.
"Little mouse, how youve grown," he sniffed as he removed a cloth from his pocket and wiped at his eyes.
"Abu! Xena! Gabrielle!" she exclaimed as she moved to each of them, hugging them like it had been years since they last saw each other. "Youre all alright, and Xena, youre back now!" the child touched the cloth that Xena wore, feeling the solidness of her body below. "Youre all back now, youre all ok!"
"Yes, were fine, we are all ok, and look at you!" the voices all spoke at once as they surrounded her, their voices blurred into one until all she could do was hug each one again.
Later that day, as she walked through the private garden, she told Zara of all that she was learning. The captain remained silent, her head bent in thought. When they came to a bench, they sat and the girl smiled at the woman when she no longer had anything to say. After a moment of silence, the Moroccan woman looked at her, her eyes holding a tenderness she had never seen before and she reached out and gently brushed her fingers through the girls hair.
"Nadrah, tell me the truth. If you do not wish to stay, you may come with us now. But if you wish to stay, then it is what I wish as well," the captains voice was solemn.
Nadrah thought of all that had happened to her. The days of living on the streets, and her time aboard the ship, and now the time in temple seemed to fill her thoughts. When she remembered the first time that the sun disappeared and she was able to see the face of her mother clearly, she knew what had to be done.
"C-Captain i-if you need me as a cabin girl, Ill go with you, b-but " she found it hard to speak.
"But you have found your mother your mothers," Zara smiled as she leaned toward her. "Nadrah, I once told you that someday someone would ask to adopt you. I knew that this day would happen. I only want to make sure that it is what you want. Im afraid that before I did not give you very much of an option, and for that, I apologize," the captain turned away, a slight blush crossed her cheeks.
"Its ok Captain, it wasnt your fault and I understand why you had to leave so fast, truly I do!" she leaned toward the woman, then scampered over her to sit in her lap, just like she used to do.
"Captain, you were right. I was given a mother, two mothers! And they love me dearly, and I love them, and and well, to be honest, I think Prasha has gotten very spoiled here," her features were solemn. "They feed him far too much, and they treat him like a Pharaoh so much so that he refuses to catch the vermin in the garden now!" she frowned, then shook her head. "Im not all together certain if he would be any good to you, Captain," she nodded her head sagely.
The Moroccan looked at her surprised. After a few moments, a smile that Nadrah had never seen before crossed Zaras features right before a deep, belly shaking laugh escaped her control. At her contagious laughter, Nadrah began to laugh too as she hugged the woman close.
"Then, by all means, Nadrah, far be it for me to deprive the newest Pharaoh in Egypt his courtly privileges!" the captain laughed as she wiped away her tears, then gave Nadrah a big hug.
Sometimes Gabrielle couldnt even remember what her life used to be like before she left the little town of Potidaea. That innocent, chubby farm girl seemed a million miles away from where she was today, and perhaps, the girl was gone all together. Yet what that farm girl was replaced with, the blonde was not certain. Was she bard, warrior, or healer? When it came to her personal life, was she her own woman, or just a sidekick who tagged along?
No. She was Gabrielle of Potidaea. She was part innocent farm girl, part warrior, sometimes healer, and hopefully, if the people continued to enjoy her retelling of her journeys, she was a bard. And no, she was not a tag-along sidekick, but the soulmate and lover of a beautiful warrior princess who had captured her heart as no other could.
With a slight smile, Gabrielle gazed down at the Egyptian city of Alexandria. The sounds of the street merchants rose in the air as the aroma of freshly cooked meat and breads passed her senses. Tilting her head back, she basked in the rays of the sun. The Mediterranean Sea winds brushed through her shoulder length blonde hair like gentle fingers from the ocean. Her hair fanned behind her chiseled features that no longer resembled that little girl from Potidaea.
Their return journey up the Nile took longer than she expected. But she didnt mind because she had the people she loved the most near her. True, she was sad to say goodbye to Nadrah, but even she had to admit that the girl was meant to stay in the temple. Just seeing the way that Chione and Sharifa doted over the girl was enough to let her know that Nadrah had found the family that she deserved. She was receiving an education that most girls did not get, and most importantly, she had become the daughter of a High Priestess of Isis. Everything seemed to be working out for the best for Nadrah.
As she looked down at the people milling around, she thought of Zara and Xena. Part of her regretted that night when she brought the Moroccan into the tent with her and Xena. She wasnt all together certain what happened between the two strong women. All she knew was that she wanted to show the Moroccan that she was loved, that she would not have to be alone and as their kiss deepened; she wanted to share much more with her dusky lover. When Xena awoke and began to join in, a part of Gabrielle was elated. Perhaps it was that innocent farm girl who toyed with the idea of having two strong warrior women love her, she thought with a sly smile.
"Yeah, but even that didnt work out," Gabrielle snorted out loud as a she shook her head.
No, it didnt work out. Gabrielle didnt know exactly what had happened. At one point, she felt them loving her, touching and kissing her. When they turned their attention to each other, she found herself incredibly turned on and was surprised when they each broke apart and ran out of the tent, leaving her very needy and confused. Ever since that night, both women decided to "take turns," with spending the night with her. When it was Xenas turn, she would spend most of the night making such passionate love with her soulmate. The past year of absence only made their love grow stronger and more intense. Only when they were sated did Zara join them for sleep, and this was how the storyteller wanted it. She never wanted the captain to sleep an entire night alone because a part of her was trying to convince the Moroccan that she did not have to spend her life alone.
On the nights when it was the captains turn to spend the night with her, it seemed the tall woman only wanted to be held. Sometimes they kissed and caressed, but for one reason or another, the Moroccan never let it go further. Instead, shed simply cuddle close, and fell asleep in the healers arms. At first Gabrielles ego plagued her. Insecurities and thoughts of inadequacy filled her mind. But as she thought over the situation, she understood Zaras reluctance.
Ever since Xena returned, everything changed. There was still love between her and Zara, but the love metamorphosed to include Xena and the Moroccan was reluctant to go against the warrior princess. It was not that she was afraid of Xena, but rather, it was that Zara held a profound respect for her, and because of this, she did not venture into an area that was no longer hers. So rather than give in to her needs, the dusky woman only asked for the Amazons comforting embrace and Gabrielle was more than willing to offer her friend this small form of comfort.
"All of the bags are packed now," Xenas voice broke through Gabrielles thoughts. Turning, she smiled as she glanced at her lover.
Wearing the new Egyptian clothes that Zara purchased, Xenas beauty shone through the layers of fabric. Once they arrived in Alexandria a week ago, it was the Moroccans intent to purchase the best accommodations that the city had to offer, as well as buy them all new clothes. Using the excuse that she longed for poverty, she used all of her remaining funds, and even gave some to the street urchins.
"Abu said that the transport ship he purchased passage on has docked," Xenas glance was filled with concern as she leaned against the balcony. "Im not sure whats going on, but he wants us all to go and settle into our cabins before it leaves at first sunrise. Hes very mysterious about the transportation that he arranged."
"Im sure it will be fine," Gabrielle smiled as her gaze looked out over the multitude of roof tops.
"As long as it takes us to Athens, itll be fine," the warrior princess added.
"Yes, Athens," the storyteller spoke softly. After a moment of thought, she glanced at Xena. "Zara wont be staying with us after Athens."
"She told you?" the dark warrior seemed surprised.
"No, she didnt have to," the healer crossed her arms in front of her. She remembered the recent days and how her Moroccan lover was slowly pulling away from her.
Xena grew quiet as she leaned forward. After a moment of silence, the tall women inhaled deeply, then spoke softly. "W-Will you be... g-going with her?"
Gabrielle ducked her head. The sound of Xenas voice sent a pain through her heart. Even after all that they had been through, the warrior princess was filled with a multitude of insecurities. As she thought of this, she wondered if she should tell Xena exactly what she and Zara did when it was their night to share. She wondered if her soulmate would believe her when she said that nothing, aside for cuddling and kissing, ever happened since her return? Would her soulmate believe it possible that Gabrielles love spurred her to hold and comfort the woman, to assure her that no matter what happened in life, she would never be alone? But as she thought it over, she decided that there were some things that were better left between two people. Just as she would never reveal to Zara the intimacies she shared with Xena, she could not go against the Moroccans trust simply to dissuade Xenas fears. Whatever fears and insecurities that Zara held, would be their secret, just like Xenas insecurities remained safely hidden in the trust of their bond together.
Smiling at her soulmate, Gabrielle released a soft sigh. "No Xena. My place is with you always, with you," she reached out and touched the side of her lovers face as Xena released the breath she had been holding.
Xena shook her head as tears welled up in her blue eyes. Taking the storytellers hand in hers, she kissed Gabrielles palm, then held it to her heart. "Oh Gabrielle I-Im sorry t-that youll be missing her, but Im so very glad that youre going to stay with me!"
"It couldnt be any other way, Xena. After all, youre my soulmate," she whispered and leaned into the warriors kiss. At the sound of someone near, they broke apart in time to see Zaras flushed face, her gaze averted as she cleared her throat.
"Abu would like us to join him now," the Moroccan said, before turning away and entering the room.
"Lets go see what type of transport Abu found," Xena smiled.
Ever since their arrival in Alexandria, the big man acted suspiciously. He left them for hours on end in order to send messages back and forth. Whenever Zara questioned him, he only smiled and repeated some proverb regarding patience. After a few days, the Moroccan stopped asking questions while the blonde felt her curiosity peeked.
"Abu, if you secured a flea trap of a room, like back on that boat out of Luxor, I swear, Im going to fire you and drop you on the nearest deserted island!" Zara threatened as they sat in the carriage that carried them and their bags to the port.
"Oh, but Captain, you have to have a ship before you can fire me," the burly man smiled as he pointed out Zaras lack of status. At his words, the dark haired woman glared at him, her eyes narrowing as her jaw clenched in anger. Then she only growled as she crossed her arms and scowled as she stared out of the coach window.
"Its alright honey, it will all work out," Gabrielle smiled as she rubbed the Moroccans leg. At her touch, Zaras mood seemed to soften, then she released a sigh.
"Im not certain if Im going to be able to return to a life of poverty," Zara groaned.
"Oh, its not so bad. After a while you get used to it," Xena winked as she gently kicked the Moroccan womans knee with the tip of her boot.
"Perhaps I could find a diamond mine Abu, what do you know of diamond mines? Are they easy to dig?" she asked as the coach rounded a bend.
"Oh Captain, Id venture to say that a diamond mine is not at all to our liking. Why, it would probably be easier to bring the dead back to life than it is to find any diamonds!" he gaffed as he waved away her ideas. At his gentle teasing, Gabrielle and Greek warrior found themselves joining in his merriment, while Zara mumbled softly.
When the coach finally stopped, Abu was the first to jump out, then turned to help them remove their bags. "Here it is, I think youll find it to your liking, Captain," he called into the coach to coax her from the darkness. All the while grumbling, the tall Moroccan stepped from the confines of the carriage.
"Oh my," Xenas soft voice pulled Gabrielles attention away from comforting Zara. Turning away from the Moroccan, the blonde glanced at the ship, and a smile broke out on her face.
"Captain?" Abu nodded at her, then nodded to the ship.
Confused, the tall woman followed his gaze, then her eyes grew large as a smile crossed her lips. "Abu?" she took a step toward the ship.
From the deck of the ship, her crew smiled down at her. The lanky cook waved a bony hand. Pleased, Zara bounded across the plank that separated her ship from the dock. As she stepped onto the deck, she greeted her men with back pounding embraces as they all seemed to talk at once.
"This is why he was so mysterious," Gabrielle whispered to Xena as she watched the Moroccan glancing over her ship, not certain if this was a dream.
"That Abu is so crafty," Xena shook her head with a smile even as men from the crew bounded down the planks to gather up their bags. When they moved onto the ship, they watched as Abu began to chase the crew away, allowing Zara to have room.
"Abu b-but how?" The tall captain turned to her friend.
"I made your brother, Azeem, an offer he couldnt refuse," Abu stated cryptically. "The hard part was getting everyone back from shore leave, but we managed it Captain. Were all here, minus two crewmembers," the burly mate stated. "The message from Isa states that he awaits our arrival in Hadhramaut."
"And who else is missing?" the crews voices began to speak, and then they grew solemn when they noticed that the littlest crewmember was not with their captain.
"Nadrah, please Captain, say it isnt so, please!" the men spoke at once. Seeing their agitation, the Moroccan raised her hands as she moved to stand on the steps to her cabin.
"Nadrah is fine, she is well. She is now living with her mothers on the Isle of Philae," Zara smiled even as the sadness crossed her features. "We should wish her well in our prayers, for she has been adopted by a very loving family and, she is destined to one day be the High Priestess of Isis on Philae."
"High Priestess!" a mans voice spoke up, and was quickly drowned out by his comrades.
"I knew she had it in her, she was always special," another said.
"Yes, the way she sang the prayers, surely she was destined to be close to the divine," a sagely voice spoke up.
Moving closer to the group, the Greek storyteller and warrior remained quiet as they watched the men on the deck. Nearby, Ayyub glanced at them. He smiled broadly at Gabrielle and waved before slicking back his hair and winking. With a smile and wave, she acknowledged the skinny cooks greeting.
Seeing Xena for the first time, the small man glanced up at her, his neck craning to look into her face. As a cold chill ran down his spine, he could not help but feel like the hand of death was wrapped around his neck. Then he remembered that cold sensation that used to hover around the ship shortly after leaving the shores of Higuchi. As a thought crossed his mind, he lifted a questioning finger, his mouth opened on the verge of speaking. Before he could utter the unspoken thought, the warrior princess raised a threatening brow as she glared down at him. He balked, a slight yelp escaped his control. The skinny man mumbled something as he scurried away, occasionally glancing over his shoulder at the tall Greek woman as he made the sign to ward off evil. Before he dipped his head into the galley, he glanced back and noticed the woman warriors stare, then she cast him a wink and a smile. Confused by her appearance, he shook his head and turned away.
Although he had no proof, Ayyub had an uncanny sensation that he had met this tall woman before. But at her stony glare, and stiff back, he decided it best not to question. So rather than mention this feeling to his friends, he chose to retire down into the bowels of his kitchen in hopes of escaping the warrior womans penetrating gaze.
To be continued
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