The Die is Caste
David J. Duncan
For notes & such, please see Part 1
Chapter 8 [Roman Countryside]
At the same time that Deirdre was "coming of age," Eve and Paulus traversed the roads between central Italia and the North. Since the time Eli had appeared to them, they had attended many prayer circle sessions and enjoyed the fellowship of other Elisians.
Although she had continued to preach the message at most of their stops, Eve consciously held back, allowing her companion an opportunity to hone his skill in this important matter. With each passing opportunity, she stepped back out of the spotlight just a little more. After all, she figured she was brushing up on her diplomatic skills.
For his part, Paulus gained confidence with each time. At first, he tried to defer back to Eve. When the words started coming, they were slow and halting. However, just as with a child learning how to walk, he became better at preaching. By the end of the season, he was leading the sessions practically by himself, inspiring the people around him to bigger and better things.
Watching him grow made Eve feel great. Yes, he would be a wonderful missionary. Hopefully, by walking this path together, they would be able to strengthen the ties between the Amazons and the Elisians for all time.
One morning, Eve stirred from a particularly restless night's sleep. Seeing that her friend was still curled up on the other side of the campfire's cold ashes, she decided to rise and walk for a little while. "Maybe it'll do me good," she mused and headed off to the east.
For a half-hour, she continued on her trek. The breeze, still cool from the evening's embrace, caressed her face. The dew on the tall grass refreshed her. Yet, despite all of these pleasures, her situation weighed down her mind and heart. With Paulus' growing success as a missionary, it wouldn't be too much longer before she had to start back for the Amazon village and her new role. "I know I shouldn't complain about this change," she noted to the sky. "But, Eli, you have given me so much! I've enjoyed being your Messenger and want to continue in your service! Please don't send me away!" Her eyes burned with salty tears. "I know I should have faith, but it's so hard...." Falling her knees, she began to sob.
Then a voice advised, "Rise to your feet, Eve. Please don't cry."
She scrunched her brow and wondered, "Who?" Looking up, she saw a familiar woman dressed in white, smiling at her warmly. The newcomer's brown hair hung to her shoulders, and her eyes twinkled. Having looked at this woman, Eve recognized her immediately, "Grandmother? Is it?"
Cyrene nodded happily, "Yes, Eve, it's me. Now, listen. You haven't been abandoned. In fact, there is a bigger task ahead of you. A new world order is coming."
"Eli mentioned this to us before. What is going to happen?" Eve inquired anxiously, wiping her eyes.
"I can tell you that there will be a conflict and then, a resolution," the former tavern keeper revealed. "Eve, you will have a prominent role to play in both of these things. Your mother and Gabrielle are trying to forge the Amazons into a strong nation once again. In addition, your friend, Cybelle, will soon become the high priestess of Althanor. The two leaders will seal the peace in the coming days. However, it will be the next generation which will be crucial. You are destined to be the next Amazon high queen. While Cybelle's successor is yet unknown to us, she will be someone you already know from the Dubois line. You two will determine the future and one who has known both the ways of war and peace should be in a position at that point."
"Paulus is doing really well. Is it time?" the Messenger asked.
"It is indeed. You should start out today. By the time you and he reach the borders of Amazon lands, his training will be complete. You have done well, Eve. Continue to serve the Light, and your faith will continue to be rewarded. Many trials still await you and another side of yourself will come out. However, your determination will allow you to persevere," Cyrene continued. Then, she embraced her granddaughter and concluded, "You don't know how proud I am of you! Please take my love to your mother and Gabrielle. Farewell!" With that, she faded away into the lightening morning backdrop.
Eve took a deep breath and composed herself. "Thank you, Grandmother and Eli. I will do my best to preserve the peace and follow the Way."
At that moment, a dove flew out of the pink sky and alighted on her shoulder.
The missionary smiled and returned to the campsite. She definitely had a role to play in the future. With a happy heart, she hustled through the meadow with her new friend flying closely behind.
Paulus stirred from his rest and stretched enthusiastically. For some reason, the heaviness and nerves he had felt about his new role had disappeared. Something had definitely happened during the previous night. He was sure of it. Looking about the area, he noticed that Eve wasn't there. "Eve? Where are you?" he called.
"I'm right here!" she replied contentedly. "Sorry if I worried you, Paulus. I had some things to work out and didn't want to wake you."
The young man studied her closely. Yes, she was free from the heavy doubts which had plagued her throughout their travels. Somehow, Eli must have found a way to help her accept her new position. "Glory be," he thought happily and rubbed his companion's shoulder. "I'm fine. I'm glad that you were able to straighten things out. So, where do we go next?"
"We need to head North. It is time for me to join the Amazons. But, I need you to know, Paulus, this doesn't change the way I feel about our faith. We will need to work together to preserve the peace," she stated.
"I wouldn't have it any other way. You've been the best friend and teacher I could want, Eve. I can't think of anyone better suited to preserving the peace than you...in addition to Xena and Gabrielle," he assured her. "Let's finish that bread from last night and get started. It's too wonderful a day to waste."
"Indeed," she smiled. "But first, I think we need to say thanks." She kneeled on the ground and looked at him.
He nodded and copied her action. Then he bowed his head and started, "Eli, we wish to give thanks to you for carrying us on your shoulders and bolstering our resolve so that we might best our doubts even in the gravest of situations. May we make you proud with our efforts. Amen."
"Amen," she chorused. "Thank you, Paulus. That was a fine prayer."
"As I said before, I had a good teacher. Now, let's get that breakfast. I can't wait to get started," he grinned.
She analyzed his sudden upbeat attitude. While his resolve remained as fixed as ever, the mixture of happiness and seriousness would convince many people to follow him down the true path. A big smile crossed her face as she realized that everything was indeed going to be fine.
For the next few weeks, the two missionaries treked northward. After several days, they had left the plains of Italia behind for the dense forests of Germania. Slowly, the Roman road deteriorated under their feet from a solidly paved way, to a few stones, and finally north of the Danube, it was no larger than an ordinary forest path.
Eve smiled warmly. She knew that it wouldn't be long now. By the end of the following day, they would be with her mother and Gabrielle in the village. "How are you holding up?" she asked.
Paulus kept looking about nervously. Ever since he was a little boy, he had heard stories about the wild animals and savages which lurked in place such as this one. "C'mon! They are creatures of the Light even as you are, Paulus. Maybe you don't understand their purpose, but they do have one. If you're going to be a good Messenger, you will need to remember that," he chided himself silently.
"Paulus?" she repeated.
"Huh?" he jumped. "Oh, Eve. Sorry, I was just remembering that all of the forest's inhabitants are of the Light as we are."
"That's true," she agreed. "And how are you faring?"
"Oh, I'm fine. Thank you. How much farther?" he asked.
"We should be there by tomorrow afternoon," she replied. Gazing upward, she saw the dove gliding on the breeze just above her head. Oftentimes, her new friend would ride on her shoulder, but now, it soared on the breeze, surveying the forest underneath it.
"As much as I'm enjoying our trip, I'll be glad to arrive there. Your mother has quite a reputation among our number. It will be an honor to meet her and Gabrielle both," he commented, stopping for a second to catch his breath.
"I know how you feel. My legs are a bit weary too," she agreed. "Maybe a break will do us good." Then, she glanced around. "Do you feel something?"
"Yes, a sudden breeze," he concurred and noted, "Eve, where did that fog come from?"
The Messenger looked in that direction and saw the billowing mist form into a pillar. "Cybelle, is that you?"
"Indeed," the priestess assured them, stepping out of the portal. "Sorry to scare you both. I saw that you were both getting tired and figured that I could save you a day's travel at least. What do you say?"
"That would be splendid. I can't wait to see Mother again!" Eve exclaimed.
"Who is this woman? And how?" he wondered aghast.
"I'm Cybelle, Priestess of Althanor and a friend of both Xena and Gabrielle. And you are?" Cybelle inquired.
"Paulus, a mere priest, and I am honored to meet you as well," he replied pleasantly. "What did you mean when you said that you could save us a day's travel?"
"We're still a good ten miles or so from the Amazon village," Cybelle explained. "Given that it's now mid-afternoon, I'd say you'd have about another hour before you'll have to make camp for tonight. Tomorrow, you'd have a good half day's walk ahead of you at least. On the other hand, if you follow me, we can be there in the blink of an eye."
"Trust her. She can do it," Eve told him.
He nodded, "Very well. If Eve trusts you, then I will go with you. Please lead the way."
The priestess smiled. From the peering mists, she already knew that this man would be Eve's successor as the Messenger of Eli. He would make a fine one indeed given his attitude toward other manifestations of the Light. "Then, step through the mists and enter the Amazon village," she instructed, pointing to the cloud pillar.
Eve smiled and whistled skyward. Then, she walked into the mists without hesitation.
The dove swooped through quickly, eager to follow its colleague.
Paulus sighed, "Here goes." With that, he stepped through the portal.
Cybelle surveyed the landscape. Yes, nature was beautiful and so was the order of the Light. Now, that most of the pieces were in place, they would be able to preserve it. With that, heavy thought on her mind, she entered her portal and sealed it behind her, leaving no trace of where the foursome had stood only seconds before.
Chapter 9 [The Amazon Village]
Gabrielle anxiously paced about her hut. While the Amazon council had granted her a great deal of leeway thus far on most matters, the question of Eve's status hung heavily in the air. The bard-queen's own longtime absence had raised similar issues which the nation wished to avoid having to consider anew. Granted, having Melosa and Ephiny take command insured a stable power base during most times. But these were not normal times. Given the prophecies of doom and gloom ahead of them, the other queens pressed their leader to establish her lineage. In short, Eve needed to be there.
"I can't see what their problem is!" Xena fumed, throwing her hands up in disgust at the Amazons' demands.
"You can't blame them," Gabrielle replied. "They want stability."
"Well, they heard Nai-Jin just as we did. The process is in motion. They should take it out on Alti not you! She started this mess," the warrior continued, shaking her head in frustration.
"Alti's dead, Xena," her companion disagreed. "You should know better than anyone that strong leadership is needed at times like this."
"I know," she admitted. "I hate all of this political infighting and bickering. Better to face the Horde single-handedly with a broken sword than to have to put up with the discussion in that chamber."
"Patience, Xena. This is a different type of fighting," the poetess advised.
"Yeah, I can see that. Still, I wouldn't have thought that the Amazons would stoop to acting like a bunch of Roman senators with nothing better to do than fight amongst themselves. These situations with Eve are definitely proving to be eye opening."
Gabrielle smiled. Despite the difficulty involved in this transition, the Warrior Princess handled herself with her usual grit and determination. She really appreciated these qualities in her friend. If the visions were even partially correct, she would need the warrior's resolve to navigate through the days to come. "It was easier when I let you lead, wasn't it?"
"You did your share of leading too," Xena pointed out frankly. "I was thinking of how much you liked to talk in the beginning."
The queen shook her head at the memories flooding through her consciousness. The bubbly and naive girl from Potadeia seemed like such a different person. At the beginning, her innocence and optimism blinded her to the world's realities. In one such burst of youthful exuberance, the young bard had told her warrior chum, "Hey, you fight, I talk." Now, it seemed that she spoke less and fought more than ever. "Must be because I'm getting old," she mused.
The warrior rubbed her shoulder and assessed, "No, it means that you're getting wiser. That's why you're such a great queen. You're smart, you learn quickly, and listen well."
"We've both come a long way, haven't we?" the poetess inquired, allowing her eyes to lock with her companion's.
"Yeah, but I wouldn't have missed a second of it for anything," the warrior asserted, returning the gaze. "And we still have a great deal to accomplish."
"You know it," the Potadeian bard agreed. "And we'll do it together."
Xena beamed at these words. At least, she could count on Gabrielle to be there no matter what the situation. At that moment, a white wisp crept under the door. "What?" she wondered and rushed outside to see the misty column forming. "Cybelle?"
"Mother?" Eve's voice asked.
"Eve! Is that you?" the warrior probed.
"Hang on," the Messenger requested while stepping out of the mists. Seeing her mother made her face light up with face light up with glee. "It's great to see you!" she exclaimed.
"C'mere!" the warrior bade and embraced her daughter.
"I imagine you're as happy as I am," Eve indicated. "But we have a lot to talk about."
Xena looked over Eve's shoulder to see Paulus and Cybelle standing there. "Thank you, Cybelle, for bringing Eve," she expressed.
"My pleasure. I figured that you two shouldn't be kept apart any longer than necessary," the priestess acknowledged.
"You have my thanks as well," Gabrielle added.
"Time is of the essence in this case given what I've seen," Cybelle noted.
"Indeed," the Amazon queen agreed. "So, please stay for the council meeting and inform us of Althanor's view."
"Thank you," Cybelle accepted. "I will have to check with the High Priestess. These are two sister priestesses who I would like to accompany me."
"Then, they're welcome as well," the bard accented. "And how long will it take for you to know her will?"
"Give me a few hours. As soon as I know, I'll be back," the priestess agreed just before vanishing back into the mists.
Gabrielle closed the door to the dwelling after the mists had dissipated. Then, she asked, "Eve, what is it that you wanted to tell me?"
"Is everything all right?" Xena cut in.
"Yes, Mother. Everything is fine at least for now. I have received a revelation from Eli about my calling," Eve revealed. "I am needed elsewhere. Paulus will be the next Messenger. I've been training him. He will start as soon as he departs from here."
"Even though I am unworthy of the burden, I shall attempt to discharge it with honor," Paulus indicated humbly, his cheeks flushing with embarassment.
"And what will you do, Eve?" Gabrielle wondered. "What is this purpose of yours? Is there a way we can convince you to stay here?"
"I think so. Eli has requested that I return here as an Amazon princess to take on my responsibilities associated with the rite of caste," Eve continued, glancing at her mother. "That is if you and Gabrielle think it's all right."
The bard-queen chuckled, "I think there won't be a problem with that."
"And then, there's the matter of us getting caught up on things," Xena added, giving her a shoulder rub.
At that moment, Cybelle stepped back into the room with two younger priestesses following closely behind.
Genaria looked about the area and smiled at the sight of her friends.
The other woman scanned the vicinity nervously, not sure what to make of it all.
"Genaria," Gabrielle greeted. "It's good to see you again. How are you?"
"I'm fine, thank you. Actually, I'm here to assist my newest sister," Genaria indicated.
Xena and Eve studied the new priestess in front of them. There was something strangely familiar about her. The sparkle in her eyes reminded them of another girl from somewhere.
Cybelle and Genaria looked at each other resignedly. Everyone would need time to get used to Deirdre's condition.
For her part, the newly grown woman shook her head sadly.
"What's wrong?" Xena probed.
"Sorry. It's just that well nobody seems to know me. The empress said that it would be difficult, but I never thought it would be like this!" the other woman wailed.
"Know you? But," the warrior asked. Then, she stared into the other woman's face. Somehow, she did know her. "Deirdre? But how?"
"Deirdre?" Gabrielle and Eve chroused.
"Yeah, somehow it's her," Xena confirmed.
"But how?" the bard protested. "You were six years old only a week ago! It can't be!"
"She was taken to the Land Beyond the Mists and trained by the Faerie Empress herself," Genaria explained. "As I was before we met. I was seven when I underwent my training."
"Desperate times call for desperate measures," Cybelle added. "And there are evil omens. Now that I have the High Priestess's blessing, I would speak of them to the Council."
"And you shall do so," the bard-queen agreed. "We shall meet within the hour."
"I would like to observe, Aunt. That is if I may do so," Deirdre requested.
The elder priestess concurred, "Yes, you and Genaria may silently observe the proceedings. Tomorrow, you will represent our realm in the recognition ceremony."
"To receive Althanor's blessing would be a honor," Eve stated.
"You have earned it with your acts on Eli's behalf,"Cybelle noted.
Xena had kept her eye on Deirdre for the last few minutes. Finally, she asked, "Now that's cleared up, Deirdre, can we talk in private for a minute?"
"Okay," the young priestess concurred, following the Warrior Princess outside. Once they were alone, she inquired, "What is it, Xena?"
The warrior glanced up into the sky. How many years of Solan's and Eve's childhood experiences had been taken from her by circumstance? "Now, David and Angela will have to go through this as well," she muttered, her eyes tearing up. "What did you unleash, Alti? Why did you set these forces in motion once again? Whatever happens after David's battle with Dijon is your fault! Bad enough you robbed me of my son's companionship, now Deirdre will never know what it means to grow up as a normal child! Why?" she screamed.
Deirdre's eyes bulged and she stammered, "Xena, what did I do? I didn't mean...to...to do anything."
Xena turned back to her young friend, her face now filled with compassion rather than rage. "No, you're fine. I was just thinking of your parents," she indicated.
"Oh geez!" the younger woman realized. "Aunt Cybelle said that they'll be okay about it. But, I'm worried about Papa."
"Yeah, his initial reaction oughtta be a real treat," the warrior winced. "Your mother and I will work on him. Meantime, I'll have to talk with her."
"I would appreciate it. I know it's going to be a shock to them. It is for me," Deidre surmised.
Xena shrugged and advised, "Well, when you go from six to twenty years of age overnight, it's going to be a shock for everyone concerned. We are all going to need sometime to adjust."
"I think I'm the one who's going to need that time. My mind feels like it's stuck somewhere in between," the priestess elaborated. "Is this what it feels like when you and Gabrielle are with us?"
The Thracian warrior nodded, "At first it was like that. I have to admit that dealing with your mother's thoughts was disorienting at first. Then, there was the matter of adjusting to the future."
"There's a lot to give up," the priestess concurred. "I miss my sisters, my parents, and my teddy bear." A slight smile creased her features. "Not the type of thing you'd expect to hear from an Althanorian priestess, huh?"
"Give it time, Deirdre. Right now, you need to think this whole situation through. Meantime, listen to Cybelle and Genaria, okay?" Xena directed, rubbing the younger woman's shoulder.
"And we're all here for you," Eve chimed in. "Believe me, I know what's it like not having a normal childhood. While my foster parents tried to give me a good home, my mother wasn't there. I didn't appreciate that until much later. Trust me, she's one of a kind." The new princess smiled and gazed at her mother warmly before continuing, "She is too overprotective at times, but I wouldn't have her any other way."
Xena grinned and hugged her daughter before stating wryly, "You try and go through what Gabrielle and I had to endure to bring you into the world and then to bring you to this point. I think you'd be overprotective too. But you're your own person, Eve, and even if I wasn't there all of the time, I'm so proud of you."
"I know that. Thank you," Eve acknowledged warmly. "See what I mean, Deirdre?"
"I do. Thanks," the new priestess indicated. "Well, I guess it would be rude of me to keep the caste initiate from her first official council meeting, wouldn't it? I mean it was just last week that you were reading me bedtime stories. The least I can do is stand by your side."
"That would be wonderful, Deirdre. Thank you," the former Messenger accepted.
"Now that we have that settled, let's go. The meeting's about to begin," the warrior informed them.
The other women nodded and followed her down to the meeting place and the fireworks which were about to take place down there.
Onto the next part