The Die is Caste (Part 2)
David J. Duncan
Chapter 4 [The Roman countryside]
Eve had wandered throughout the provincial countryside for several days. Ever since she had left her horse with two travelers who appeared to need him more than she did, the missionary had followed the old Roman road through various villages and hamlets. In each place, she stopped and led a prayer vigil for her fellow followers of Eli before resuming her journey.
One day, she walked through a meadow of long waving rows of grain billowing in the breeze. Stopping to rest under a tree, she opened her pack and produced a bit of bread and cheese which a kindly villager had given her. She looked up at the sky above and noticed how the clouds passed slowly overhead as well as the delicate blue shading above her. The cool air caressed her face. The grass providing a soft place to rest. "Thank you, Eli," she smiled and took a bite of her meal.
She did enjoy her work--spreading the word of the light. However, she felt a longing to be with her mother and Gabrielle. For the past several days, the Messenger had experienced these conflicting feelings. She had her mission and that was very important. However, if what Gabrielle and the Amazons said was true, then she was also a princess with very real responsibilities to that group. "How will I be able to do my work and meet those duties too?" she sighed. Seeking guidance, she bowed her head and prayed fervently.
At that moment, a whistling sound floated to her ear from the road.
Eve looked up fron her meditation to see a young man dressed in very rustic clothes approaching her. He stood about five and a half feet tall and wore his brown hair very short. Leaning on his staff, he shuffled through the grasses, heading toward the tree.
"Greetings! Are you the one they call Eve?" he asked.
"Yes. And you are?" she inquired.
"My name is Paulus. The people in the village up the road said you were coming this way. I had hoped to talk with you if that's all right," he noted. "Might I share this spot?"
"Please do. Would you like to share my meal?" she offered.
"Thank you. I would like to do so if you would accept some water from a goatskin for it," he accepted, holding up the filled container. "Please feel free."
"You don't have to," she declined. "I appreciate it, but I'm fine." She broke her meal into two portions, handing him a piece.
"But I insist," he urged. "Please."
"Very well," the Messenger accented, taking a sip of the cool liquid. "This is Spring water! I haven't had this in so long. Thank you."
"It came from the springs outside of Vesulia. Wonderful place. We should be glad that the god of Eli provides us with such wonderful places to enjoy," he smiled.
"Indeed," the missionary concurred. "And they are reminders of why we should have faith."
The other traveler gave her a slight nod and bowing his head, prayed, "Eli, thank you for this meal that we're about to enjoy and for allowing me to share it with your Messenger. Amen."
She bowed her head next and continued, "Eli, thank you for guiding this one to me for fellowship and a wonderful meal. Amen."
For the next few hours, they sat under the tree, conversing about their experiences. Unlike Eve, Paulus had only been a simple farmer for most of his life. One day, while tending his fields, a light had appeared to him in the sky temporarily blinding him. Then, a voice beckoned him to leave his work, his neighbors, and his possessions behind to find others who shared similar experiences. Listening to the voice, he disappeared into the countryside. From time to time, he had wandered from town to town. In each place, he had worked odd jobs to earn his room and board and participated in prayer groups. But at some point, he always moved on.
"You seem like a good man, Paulus," Eve stated. "I haven't known you that long, but my instincts tell me that you mean what you say. I wonder why you haven't settled anywhere?"
"Perhaps, I haven't found the right place yet. Or maybe I was meant to help spread communication between the prayer circles. I wish I knew. That's why I was hoping to speak with you. I was hoping for your insight, Eve," he sighed.
She shrugged, "Just continue having faith in our god, and it will all work out. You'll see. Now, come. I wish to make the next town by nightfall."
"I would love to, but I don't want to be any trouble to you," he declined.
"It would be no trouble. Please accompany me," she insisted.
"Very well," he agreed and followed her back to the road.
That evening was a good one for both travelers. They had arrived in the next village just before dusk. After a look around the town, they happened upon a prayer circle in progress. Once the service was complete, the worshippers shared a meal at a local man's humble residence. In exchange for her participation in their circle that afternoon and the next morning, they offered her and Paulus a place to sleep in their barn.
"I'm sorry if it is not comfortable," the host apologized. "It is all that I have."
"I wish there was something else I could do for you," she wondered.
The elderly farmer smiled, "To have the Messenger of Eli under my roof for even a single evening and to share fellowship with her is a great honor. Your story is well-known and I am honored to assist you."
"Then, we accept," she concurred and looked at the allotted space. The floor was lined with fresh hay and blankets had been placed on top of it. Certainly, they would get a good night's sleep.
"If it's all right, I'll stay over here," Paulus indicated, setting his blankets down on the floor about ten feet away from his new friend.
She smiled. Being that they hadn't known each other that long, Eve had to admit that she was a little concerned about their sleeping arrangements. After seeing his action, she was glad that her initial impressions about her new friend were correct. Lying down on the soft bedding, she wished him a good night and fell asleep.
For a few hours, both travelers dozed peacefully. The air was cool and the breeze seemed gentle. Then, a light appeared in the middle of the room, awakening them both.
"What?" he wondered.
The Messenger grogily shielded her eyes and saw the form of a man with long black hair and a beard appear. "Who?"
"You know me well, Eve. I came to you in Ostia, remember? Since then, you have preached in my name. As for you, Paulus, I have watched you carefully. Both of you have done well," the visitor revealed.
"Ostia? Eli! What can we do for you?" she inquired, bowing quickly.
Eli smiled. How the woman in front of him had worked wonders. Now, she had a greater role to play. "I have separate missions for you both actually. For a while, you will travel together. Then, you will go your own ways. Eve, you will return to the Amazon nation and become the next princess. Paulus, you will take up Eve's mantle as my Messenger," he explained.
She bit her lip. Despite her conflicting feelings over the past month, she enjoyed her work. Still to be with her mother again would be great. "I understand," she accepted.
Paulus stammered, "But...I am not qualified to carry your word. I...I barely know the procedure."
The spiritual figure chuckled warmly, "This afternoon, you mentioned that you drifted from place to place. Why do you think I allowed you to do so? I wanted you to know the diversity of your fellow worshippers' lives so that you might understand them better. You have the ability. Now, I am asking you to use it for me."
"If you think I can, then I accept," he agreed nervously.
"Then, you have my thanks," the angellic figure beamed and vanished in a flash of light.
Eve sat by herself for a second, collecting her thoughts. Then, she turned to her companion and asked, "Are you all right?"
"I'm feeling a bit overwhelmed," he replied with uncertainty. "I'm hoping that you will be able to help me with these doubts. I want to give my best effort."
"I know," she assured him. "And trust me, I'll be with you until the appointed time. Of course, Eli will always be with you." Walking over to him, she embraced him.
"Thank you, Eve. I appreciate the vote of confidence and your trust. I'll...try not to let you down," he told her.
Standing back up, she walked over to her bed and got back into it. Looking back over her shoulder, she smiled and told him, "I think you're going to do just fine. Just have faith, Paulus. Just have faith." With that, she drifted back to sleep.
He nodded and stared at the ceiling for several hours. Taking on her role was a big task and he was glad that she was there to help him. But would he be worthy? Time would tell.
Chapter 5 [The Amazon Village]
Several weeks later, Xena took her usual patrol of the forests surrounding the Amazon village. While the Amazons had a great lookout system in place, the Warrior Princess felt restless. She and Gabrielle had stayed there for the past three months and would remain for the foreseeable future. While her companion had a real level of responsibility which consumed her, Xena had only a few items to do.
"Is this what happens to all good warriors?" she wondered to the empty forest. "Do they all fade away?"
For a long minute, she watched the scenes of nature play themselves out. The birds sang to each other. A deer loped by. Maybe this is what her destiny was. Maybe it was time for her to retire. Then, she tensed, leapt off of Argo II, and drew her sword. "Come out! I know you're here...Ares," she challenged.
In a flash of light, the god of war materialized. He looked concerned about something. "What's up, Xena? Are you enjoying your vacation? I'd say no, but hey, what do I know?" he baited.
"Get a grip, Ares," she snarled. "I'm needed here. The Amazons are starting a new chapter in their existence. I'm helping to build the peace, but you wouldn't understand that."
"Oh, that's cute, Xena. Real cute," he snickered. "I do understand peace actually, but I have to be in charge of it. By the way, to answer your question, no. Most warriors don't live long enough to fade away because they die on the battlefield. Is Gabrielle going to reserve a rocking chair for you that is if you survive to use it?"
"We'll grow old together," she asserted. "And what do you mean 'survive to use it'? "
The war god shook his head at her. "Then, you haven't heard the prophecy yet? About your friend?" he asked. "He's gonna shake everything up and cause a war of cataclysmic proportions!"
"I've heard something like that," she admitted, pacing around a nearby birch tree. "Alti opened a can of worms when she brought Dijon in on this matter."
"Actually, she was a pawn in this issue as well," Ares corrected. "Dijon and Dubois were going to settle the score sooner or later. You know, Dubois is quite the fighter in his own right."
"He stood up to you wounded," Xena recalled, a smug grin forming on her face. "I'd say so."
He frowned, shaking his head, "Yeah, I know. But, did you know about the last time he fought in a war? It was great!" A smile grew across his face, and his dark eyes sparkled as he continued, "He made the rivers run red with those demons. Oh yeah! I'm going to enjoy the rematch!"
She scratched her head with concern. Now, she had to get Gabrielle to write down David's adventures in Nurrengaard so that they might have more information on what was to come. Once again, the question of Michael's role popped into her mind. What was he going to do to force this event to happen?
"Think about it, Xena. You'll be leading an army again. Won't it feel good? Better than rotting away here," he tempted her.
"Rotting here is better than being around a rotten deity," she retorted with a saccahrin sweet smile. "Besides, this will truly shape my destiny. A leader. The co-creator, not destroyer, of nations."
Ares shook his head and complained, "I think Gabrielle's getting to you with her delusions of grandeur. If you'll excuse me, I think I'm going to lose my lunch if I hear any more of this stuff." With that, he vanished into thin air.
"Good riddance," she thought. Still, the fact that Ares knew about the prophecy as well didn't bode well for them. "I'd better let Gabrielle know about this," she decided and rode Argo II back toward the village. Ten minutes later, she walked back into the queen's hut where her friend scribbled on a scroll in the corner of the room.
"Hi, Xena. Did you have a good ride?" Gabrielle asked.
"Sort of. It started out really nice. Then Ares dropped in uninvited," the warrior revealed.
The queen dropped her scroll and stared at her friend. "What did he want? The last thing I want is for him to start something!"
"Simmer down," the Thracian warrior assured. "He wasn't looking for that. It was about the prophecy we heard at the last council meeting."
"Nai-Jin's visions? What about them?" the bard probed.
"He basically confirmed them. Listen, Gabrielle, I know being the queen is a big job and all. But, can we find out from David about the last big war he fought in? " Xena asked. "There is a scroll someplace which tells the story. If we can't find it, he might be able to tell us what really happened so we'll be prepared."
"I don't know any twentieth-century bards, Xena. I'll have to ask David to tell us the story if we get a chance. Does Ares think there's a connection?"
"Yeah. He's confirmed it," the warrior affirmed. "And, like the twilight, it's gonna happen whether we like it or not."
Gabrielle gulped nervously. The Twilight of the Gods was a disasterous situation which in the end cost them both a great deal. To have something like that happen again was not something she wanted.
After gauging her friend's reaction, Xena shook her head and sighed, "Some advisor I am. I'm bringing you problems we can't solve."
The queen assessed the warrior. For the past several days, the latter had been acting restless. The wanderlust was hitting her big time. "Are you sorry you joined me here, Xena?" she asked.
"Whatever are you talking about? I'm glad to be here with you!" the warrior protested in surprise.
"I'm sure, but we've never gone this long without a battle or being on the road. Well, except when we took our 25 year nap together. But, I want you to be happy, Xena," the poetess noted.
"I just need to adjust to this lifestyle. After a lifetime of being on the move, it's going to take time. Still, I kinda like what we're doing and I told Ares just that," Xena stated.
For a minute, Gabrielle sat silently and reflected on her friend's comment. Then she continued, "Well, you are doing a great job as a counselor, Xena. The other Amazons respect you and the council members think highly of you as well. There's nothing wrong with bringing a problem to me, okay? You're letting me know some news and that's a part of the job too. So, take as much time as you need to adjust, Xena. We'll wait for you."
The warrior hugged her friend, "Thanks, Gabrielle. Don't ever change."
"As long as we stay the course," Gabrielle assured. "I won't and neither will you. Now, let's get ready for that next meeting...."
Onto the next part