The Die is Caste (Part 5)
David J. Duncan
For notes & such, please see Part 1
The Amazon queens sat nervously around the meeting circle. It had only been two days since their request to Gabrielle about finalizing the succession. Now, she had called them back together. Obviously, something had happened.
"Let's hope Eve has returned," Memosia stated.
"Or another heir has been named," Cyanne noted. "Eve was only an infant at the time aftar all."
"But Gabrielle gave her caste to Eve," Varia protested. "Besides, with her recent transformation, she is no longer the Livia of old."
The other leaders nodded. As Xena had completed such a transition, they had faith that Eve had done so as well.
At that moment, Gabrielle entered the tent followed closely by the warrior, Eve, Cybelle, and two other priestesses. After the queens had stood to salute her, the bard smiled and sat down in her spot. Then, she announced, "I have news! Eve has decided to return to us!"
"That's right. If you don't mind, I'd like to assume my place here," Eve added.
"But why now?" another queen asked.
"Eli has instructed me to do so," the former Messenger explained. "Paulus will be my successor."
"Then you are ready to declare your intentions before the tribe?" the poetess asked.
"Yes I am," Eve asserted.
"Then, unless there are any objections, welcome," Gabrielle mentioned. "Please stand and recognize Eve as a princess."
One by one, the assembled leaders rose to their feet in support of the new heir to the Amazon throne. With this act, Eve was now officially Gabrielle's heir.
"Welcome, Sister," Varia smiled and embraced Eve. "May you do us proud."
"I'll certainly try," Eve stated.
"Congratulations, Eve," the bard-queen beamed.
The new princess looked at her mother and smiled contentedly.
Xena, although bursting with pride on the inside, stood silently at her best friend's side, allowing Eve to have her shining moment. Still, her eyes glistened in the din light. After all, what mother wouldn't have been proud at that point? Despite everything, Eve was achieving her destiny. "And best of all, I'll be here with her," she mused.
"Thank you, Everyone," Eve accepted. "My Queen, what is our next item of business."
Gabrielle nodded at the cue and continued, "While we're on the subject of successions, Cybelle, you're next."
"Thank you," Cybelle acknowledged. "Everyone, I wish to introduce my kinswoman, Deirdre. She will be my heir and third in line to the high priestessship of Althanor. As such, she will be representing our land at Eve's ceremony. Deirdre?"
The young priestess stood and acknowledged the introduction with a nervous smile, stating, "Thank you, Aunt."
"Thank you, Cybelle," Gabrielle commented. "Now, how about the visions in Althanor? Do you have anything on that?"
"Indeed," the priestess nodded. "According to our high priestess, there will be a series of battles. One has already happened. Another will take place shortly in the future. Then, a great battle will occur here between great armies."
Nai-Jin concurred, "As it was in my visions. Tell me, did she see anything about the armies?"
"They will be made up of many disparate forces in which new alliances will be forged yet old friends will fight alongside each other," Cybelle recounted.
Deirdre stood once again and asked, "May I say something else about the visions?" After Cybelle agreed, she continued, "The next battle will come after father and son meet once more."
"Father and...?" Gabrielle quizzed.
"Oh great," Xena winced.
"Mother, do you know?" Eve probed.
"I have a pretty good guess," the warrior grumbled, hoping she was wrong.
"Dave," Cybelle realized. "It's him and our father."
"That's what I'm thinking," the Warrior Princess agreed. "And that's all we'll need."
"My grandfather?" Deirdre puzzled.
"You've never met him," the elder priestess stated.
"With good reason," Xena frowned. "After the way he treated Angela, I hoped this wouldn't come up again."
"He was upset about the wedding!" Cybelle snapped.
"A few words would have been in order. On the other hand, he really browbeat her. Remember, Cybelle, I have her memories as well. Ask Lydia Coltrane. She was there as well," the Thracian warrior retorted.
"She was," Cybelle stated. "Still I think Dave's been doing this long enough! There's no real reason to keep up this cold war!"
Xena jumped to her feet and took a step forward.
"Xena," Gabrielle tried to sooth.
"No, Gabrielle," the warrior hissed. "I want to know where she has the nerve to make that statement! That bastard has done enough damage to him."
"Yeah right," the priestess smiled coldly. "Keep believing that."
Gabrielle stood up and slammed her staff to the ground. "Xena! Cybelle! Enough! While I value your counsel, I will not have this debate going on in my council chamber!"
"Sorry, Gabrielle," Xena apologized.
"As am I. But this discussion isn't over," the priestess concurred.
"Let it go, Cybelle," the queen pressed. "We have enough to worry about without egging your brother on at this point."
Cybelle shot a frigid glare at Xena. The discussion wasn't finished...not by a long shot.
"I think this meeting is adjourned," Gabrielle asserted and left the area.
Paulus stepped forward and asked Eve, "What was that about?"
"From what I can gather, there's a difference of opinion between my mother and Cybelle. Trust me, Paulus, you never want to be in the path of one of David Dubois's rages," the new princess advised him. "If you'll excuse me."
Paulus was left wondering about these events and hoped that a few prayers to Eli would help matters.
Across the room, Genaria sighed nervously. While she knew that Cybelle's temper was formidable, she had never expected her to explode in this setting in that fashion. Worse still, Deirdre's feelings were still fragile as it would take them time to catch up to her physical development. "Thankfully, Gabrielle interceded before things got too out of hand," she told herself. Walking over to her young friend, she asked, "Deirdre, are you okay?"
"Genaria, I have never seen anything like that!" Deirdre exclaimed.
"Ah, your family's temper. Your father can be much worse than that. Trust me," the elder priestess reported.
"I guess. But the vision had me at the middle of the conflict. Genaria, what can I do?" Deirdre wondered.
"Trust in the goddess. She will know what to do," Genaria assured her.
"Thank you. If you don't mind, I'm going to talk with Xena and Gabrielle. Care to join me? I'd like it if you were there," the younger woman said.
"Sure," Genaria agreed, following her friend out of the meeting place and toward the royal hut.
Once they had reached their goal, Deirdre rapped on the door and asked, "Queen Gabrielle, it's Deirdre and Genaria. May we come in?"
"Certainly," the bard agreed.
"Thanks," the younger woman expressed as she and her companion entered the lodging. Inside, Xena and Eve talked amongst themselves off to the side.
"I'm sorry you two had to witness that argument," Gabrielle apologized.
"Yeah, so am I," Xena added. "Deirdre, this is really tough to explain, but your father and I are really good friends."
"Just like you and Mama, right? I think I understand. Still, I love my father and won't let anything to happen to him," the girl affirmed.
"I know," the warrior soothed. "But neither he nor your mother would want you to get upset over this situation. The foreseeable future is gonna be tough enough on all of us without anybody going balistic. You handled the situation in the council chamber very well by the way."
"I'm glad you think so," Deirdre sighed. "I'm still getting used to this 'grown up' stuff. It seems so easy when I watch everyone else doing it."
"Don't think that anyone of us are used to being grown up," Xena chuckled. "Just take your time and rush anything. You'll do fine if you remember that."
"Thanks, Xena. When you say it, I believe it," the younger woman agreed.
"Good. Now then, let's go and join Gabrielle and Eve for dinner. I'm getting hungry. I think there's a non-meat dish for you," the warrior indicated.
"Sounds great," the priestess agreed as they walked toward the table to eat. For the priestesses, it was only the start of a long relationship between Althanor and the Amazons.
Early the next morning, the village buzzed with excitement as the Amazons prepared for the affirmation ceremony. In the center of the village, they erected a oak platform topped by the queen's throne in the fashion of the times before Melosa. Others decorated the village center. Finally, the ritual dancers perfected their steps for the celebration. Everything had to be just right for Eve's day.
Just a few huts down the path, Eve fussed with her outfit nervously. While she knew that she looked fine, her nerves wouldn't let her settle down. She couldn't understand it because the role as Messenger had involved speaking to big groups and she had done fine with that. Why then was she so keyed up now? "Eli, please help me with my composure," she wished.
Deirdre walked over to her friend's side and rubbed her shoulder. "It's going to be okay. Just think of this as one transition. You've done this before," she noted.
Eve chuckled at the priestess' words. Hadn't it been just a week earlier that she had reassured the other about sleeping without her nightlight? "It's funny how life works. But yes, I have done this before." She took a deep breath and continued, "I wish that the butterflies would go away though."
"If you didn't have them, you wouldn't be human," Paulus replied matter of factly. "I agree with Deirdre. You have to relax, Eve and trust Eli's judgment."
"I know," the former Messenger shrugged. "I just need time is all. This is still sinking in."
"Give it time, Eve," the priestess told her. "Give it time."
At sunrise, Xena rode out of the village and back into the forest. Although she didn't want to admit it to Gabrielle, she was every bit as nervous as Eve. She couldn't believe that the day had finally come when her daughter would finally assume her place as an Amazon princess. It seemed like only yesterday that the infant Eve had received Gabrielle's rite of caste. Looking around, she could see that the flowers bloomed, the trees swayed gently in the breeze, the air was cool, and the sky sunny and a subtle shade of robin-egg blue with puffs of white thrown in.
"It's gonna be a great day for ya, Eve," she surmised. "There were times I didn't think we'd get to this point. But, we're almost there." Suddenly, a familiar coldness crept up her spine and she snarled, "You don't when to quit, do you?"
"No, I don't," Ares replied, appearing from nowhere. "I'm surprised that you aren't stopping her."
"And why would I do that?" Xena grinned, drawing her sword. "You know that she is part of a bigger future for all of us. Hopefully, a peaceful one as well without your plans to screw it up."
The war god chuckled and shrugged, "No matter what happens today, I'll still be here. You and Eve should still be at my side. You still can be. Keep that in mind as you're preparing for the festivities. Forget about this Amazon stuff and share a few kicks with me. Trust me. It's better than rotting here."
"No way, Ares. That time is in the past for both of us. Go on. Get lost," the warrior noted.
"Just remember I offered," he sighed, disappearing in a burst of light.
"Yeah, I'll remember all right. I remember how you nearly wrecked everything in the past, Ares, for all of us. After today, we'll officially be on a new path," she concluded. Spurring Argo II onward, she rode back toward the village, hoping that Gabrielle was done with her last minute meeting.
Gabrielle walked out of the hut with a smile and a easy gait up the path. The Amazon council had been understanding of her motion. "At least they understood," she sighed. "Now, if Xena will agree to it. Meantime, I hope Eve's doing all right." Walking up to the door of her friend's lodgings, she knocked.
"Yes?" Eve asked from within.
"Eve, it's Gabrielle. May I come in?" the queen replied.
The door opened and Paulus indicated, "Come in please."
"Thank you," Gabrielle accepted and entered the lodging. Once inside, she surveyed her heir and complemented, "Very nice, Eve."
The former Messenger looked at how she was dressed and sighed, "I wish the skirt was a bit longer, Gabrielle. Sorry, I feel uncomfortable like this."
"That is a traditional Amazon costume, Eve," Gabrielle pointed out. "Still, we might be able to do something. Paulus, can you run back to my hut? There's a bundle on the floor. Would you mind getting it?"
He nodded, "Of course. I shall be right back." With that, he hurried over to her dwelling.
"What are you going to do?" Eve wondered. "I don't wish to offend any of our sister Amazons."
"I know and so do they. However, I have made the council understand that you are still bound by Eli's concepts of modesty even here. They understand and approve. We want you to be comfortable here," the bard explained.
At that moment, a knock came from the door and Paulus's voice called, "Your Highness, it's me. I have the bundle and Varia's here to see Eve as well."
The poetess scratched her head and queried, "Varia? Why is she here?"
"Was it something I did yesterday?" Eve wondered.
"No," the queen guessed. "She seemed fine at this morning's council meeting." Turning to the door, she called, "Paulus, can you give the bundle to Varia and wait outside? Sorry but...."
"No apologies needed. For Eve's sake, I shall do so," he accepted.
The door opened and the former queen stepped into the room. She seemed determined to say something.
"Good morning, Varia. Did I do something to offend you?" the princess asked.
The visitor shook her head, "No, at least not in the recent past. That's why I've come."
Eve bowed her head sadly. At that moment, she felt the weight of Livia's crimes and even the emotions from her darker side boil up inside of herself. "Will I never find repentance?" she questioned herself.
The bard shot Varia a cold stare. This encounter was shaping up to be an unwelcome surprise.
Varia grinned and embraced the princess tightly. Then she absolved, "I can't forget what happened to my sister and the other Amazons. But, in light of your work on behalf of Eli and us all, I stand beside you and reaffirm what I said after your trial. You have my support and my forgiveness, Princess. And, you should know, I speak for our sisters as well. May you lead us to a bright future."
Gabrielle breathed a sigh of relief.
Eve's eyes brimmed with tears of joy and she stated, "Thank you, Varia. You don't know how much that means."
The Amazon looked at her high leader and assured, "Oh, I do, Eve. I do. Now, here is the bundle which your friend brought."
"Go ahead," the poetess bade.
The princess opened it and found a knee length skirt. "Thank you, Gabrielle!" She quickly changed and turned to face the two women. "What do you think?"
"As long as you don't try to fight or compete in that, you'll be fine," Varia approved, a slight smile pulling at the sides of her mouth.
"You look great," Deirdre complemented.
"I agree with Deirdre. Eve, you'll do fine as an Amazon princess. Now, come. The ceremony's about to begin," Gabrielle concurred, leading the others toward the village square.
Twenty minutes later, the Amazons had taken their places around the dais. Gabrielle sat on her throne, nervously looking around. On either side of her, Xena and Varia stood waiting for her command to start the festivities. In the crowd, she saw Cybelle watching her. "Thank Eli she came back," she sighed. At the bottom of the platform, Eve sat with Paulus, Deirdre and Genaria.
"Are you ready?" the Warrior Princess whispered in her ear. "It's as good a time as any."
"Right," the queen agreed and slipped her mask into place. Rising from her throne, she raised her hands and addressed the throng, "Sisters, good morning and thank you for coming out for this event. For many years, the Amazon nation has remained uncertain of its continued leadership. While we have had capable leaders such as Ephiny, Melosa, and Varia, the traditional caste descent has not been maintained. Due to my absence, I have been largely at fault for that fact. When I came back to assume my place, I sought to address this matter directly. With your help, I have done that. Now, an heir must be named or confirmed as the case might be. 27 years ago, I passed my rite of caste onto Xena's daughter, Eve. It is now time for her to accept this role."
A slight uneasiness echoed throughout the crowd. Apparently, some Amazons still held a grudge against Eve for Livia's incursions years earlier.
Eve trembled nervously. Looking up at her mother, she received a determined expression from the Counselor. Such was the road she would tread. Redemption would take a lifetime for her.
Gabrielle gave the situation a minute to calm itself. Then, she continued, "Eve, it is time for you to confirm your role to the Amazon nation. What is your answer?"
Eve stood up slowly and deliberately. "Eli, be with me," she wished and looked at Paulus.
He smiled and grasped her hand in a show of support. "He is with us all," he replied.
On her other side, Deirdre gripped her other hand and advised, "As are we all. Now, go ahead. Your Mom and the Queen are waiting for you. I'll be there in just a second."
Eve nodded and looked up. Almost in response, the dove glanced back at her. Receiving this prompt, she addressed the dais, "I do confirm my alliegance and support to the Amazon nation. I am ready to accept my responsibilities, Queen Gabrielle."
The bard-queen beamed with pride and gave a brief look to her right. Seeing Xena's proud grin, she requested, "Please come forth, Eve."
The former Messenger made her way up the wooden stairs to Gabrielle. Once there, she bowed her head and smiled at her friend.
"Your mask, Eve. The mark of an Amazon princess," the bard noted, handing her the bird-like facial covering.
Eve accepted the token and turned to the crowd of Amazons. "Everyone, this is a great day. Thank you all." Holding up the mask in affirmation of her earlier words, she continued, "If you will have me, I am proud to have you as my sisters...as my family."
As one, the crowd cheered their support.
Eve sighed in relief and put her mask on. Then, she walked over to Gabrielle's side.
Seeing this, the queen looked at her colleagues on the Amazon council sitting just to her right in the crowd. Was this a good time?
Memosa and Cyanne both nodded. This was indeed the moment to spring their surprise.
Gabrielle concurred and addressed the crowd again, "Sisters, I must ask your patience, but we are going to deviate from normal practice today. Given the circumstances both in the past and in our immediate future, we have two other events to celebrate today. Cyanne, do you have the other masks?"
"I do," the queen of the northern Amazons agreed and approached the throne with two more masks. "Here they are."
"Thank you, Cyanne," Gabrielle accepted. "Sisters, we have two more places to confirm today. Varia, please step forward."
The former queen gasped in surprise, but did so. "My Queen, begging your pardon, but what is going on? I already have my mask," she noted, pointing to her facial covering.
"True, but you shamed your former role at Helicon. However, Varia, you have made peace with the past and have been contrite. You have served well on the council. I am now making your place in the village, on the council, and among us official once again. Will you give me your mask now?"
"All right," Varia agreed and removed the token before handing it to Gabrielle.
The high queen held the old mask up and announced, "Let this mask be retired and with it, all memories of Helicon." After a minute's pause, Cyanne handed her a new one, and the high queen continued, "Sisters, please join me in officially welcoming Varia back."
The crowd cheered their support again. Apparently, everyone was ready to let bygones be bygones.
"Thank you, my Queen," Varia accepted and held her new mask up before putting it on.
Gabrielle allowed Varia a moment to treasure this moment. Then, she moved ahead, "The second person has been known to the Amazon nation for over 35 years. While our common history hasn't always been the greatest, I have watched her grow and develop as a person...as a force for good. Since our return, she has been a fine counsellor for me. I felt that it is long past time that she be welcomed officially into our ranks. She is our sister in spirit. Now, she will be in fact. Xena, step forward." Turning to the newly confirmed princess, she asked, "Eve, will you?"
"It will be my pleasure," she agreed and took the mask from Cyanne. Walking up to her mother, she asked, "Mother, can you?"
Xena stared at her daughter, the mask she was holding, the other queens, and finally, to her best friend in shock. She couldn't believe what she was hearing. "But, I have done my share of damage. I can't accept this honor."
Gabrielle explained, "The Council voted unanimously this morning to grant you sisterhood. We know what your past deeds are. I know better than anyone. But, you have left Alti's and Ares' dark influence far behind. You are ready to forgive yourself and assume your place here."
The warrior pondered this for a minute. Remembering Lao Ma's words back in Japan, she stepped forward and accepted the mask. "Thank you," she told Gabrielle.
"You're welcome," the queen replied, a tear of happiness starting to dribble on her cheek. "Now, confirm your place, Xena."
"Right," the warrior agreed, suddenly feeling unsteady. Holding her mask up, she heard the crowd's support. Staring in front of her, she saw the spectral images of Lao Ma and Yakut smiling. Beside them, Eli and Ephiny nodded as well.
In the crowd, Ares shrugged wistfully. A slight frown on his face revealed that he was still dwelling on "might-have-beens".
Xena gave him a cold smile and placed the mask over her face. The past was indeed past. It was now time to work on the future. After that day, she would have a role on the council as accorded an honorary Amazon leader not just a guest.
"Welcome to the Amazon sisterhood," Gabrielle stated and hugged her dearest friend. "May you be as valued a leader for us as you have been for me."
A single tear creased the warrior's cheek and she replied, "You were always the strong one, Gabrielle. If it weren't for you, I wouldn't be here right now. Thank you."
(to be continued)