Disclaimer: Characters from the television show Xena: Warrior Princess are not owned by me, to my regret. This is written purely for enjoyment with no thought to monetary gain. There are women in love (eventually, as Gabrielle is a bit miffed) and if that is illegal for you or where you live, move on or simply move.
Post FIN, I guess, though I have kept specific references to a minimum.
Mail is always answered and appreciated at Kamouraskan@yahoo.com
My website is at http://dreamcatching.netfirms.com/kam/index.htm
Once more, a slave's body lay where it had tumbled, under brush on a lush green countryside, well hidden from the cloud-twisted moon and any human eye. She had collapsed there after a fall stumbling downhill. A few nocturnal insects began to stir in the foliage and a light breeze reached under the bracken to disturb her. The short blonde hair of the slave lifted slightly, and the current of air seemed to trace the encrusted blood trickling from the scrapes and swellings that were proof of her gruelling passage through the underbrush these past nights.
And then she moved.
She lifted her eyes to see a slight shimmering glow from the base of the horizon, indicating sunrise was not far off. Daylight was no longer her friend, so she pushed against the earth, struggled to stand, and wavered on her feet for a moment. Then she doggedly pressed on again through the bracken and tall grass.
She could smell water, not too far off now. Water for her wounds, water to drink. All she had eaten was kale she had stolen from a garden the night before. She could not afford to rest while it was still dark. In the morning there would be soldiers with dogs searching for her. Her exhausted mind told her she must get further away. As far as possible from that damned city. There was someone depending on her to survive.
The scent of water grew stronger and there were fewer trees ahead. She nearly tripped on something she could not see, but caught her balance and continued to push on. The ground had been flat for some time, how long she could not be sure. Whatever map she'd ever had in her mind had faded away long ago as she'd stumbled through the seven hills. Now it was only instinct that guided her forward. Behind her, she could sense the boding evil of Rome , as if the city itself were a spirit bent upon pursuing her.
Part of her mind was aware that her feet were wet from the ground and that there were now reeds surrounding her. They parted under her feet and suddenly, the landscape opened in front of her. She had found the water.
The Tiber .
From the hills of Rome it had never seemed so wide. So wide, so broad, so completely impassable, that her desperate scramble through the valleys of the great hills of Rome now seemed pointless. Had she any energy left she would have tried to remember an appropriate curse for this river barrier.
She fell to her knees thinking, ‘ By the Gods! Why are my hopes always raised only to be dashed again?'
So many steps in her life now seemed to be deceptions by a higher power. Some force laughing as it fooled her once more into thinking she had a chance. Chances that were always crushed.
Once again, she wanted to die, if only to finally end this cruel persecution.
She had been born a slave, but one that had been educated to read and write both Greek and Latin, under laws that, particularly under the present Emperor, which had augmented the rights of the enslaved. It was not entirely a humanitarian decision on the part of the Romans. After all, as slaves numbered in the hundreds of thousands, almost half the population of Rome , the ruling classes had no wish to reawaken the passions which had incited Spartacus. Her owners had encouraged her education for the purpose of teaching their children. But one year ago, she had rediscovered the greatest disadvantage of slavery; one could be sold like a piece of cheese or a loaf of bread. Sold with the rest of the estate, on the owner's death, to become a menial in the kitchens. Sold to a young master who did not need to follow any of the proscribed regulations.
For her new master had been Lucius Aurelius Commodus Antoninus, the son of the Emperor.
There had, as always, been a small benefit to fool her once again that her life was improving. Her new home was where she had met her husband, Urbanus. She had found love and a good man, though he had been a slave as well.
When Urbanus had proposed, she had been truly happy for once. She now knew that should have been her warning that it could not last. Their young master had not opposed the marriage, perhaps because he had not cared or because he been away so much. But things had changed, in the household and in the master when he returned from the wars and received his toga virilise, denoting his rise to manhood. And again, more recently, when it became clear that he would soon be named Consul. The youngest in the history of the Empire. And thanks to the influence of his thuggish friends, he began to revel in his power. He no longer saw himself bound by the laws of the Empire. A pretty slave, one with natural blonde hair and appealing looks, was an obvious target for his growing lusts. He combined his love of gladiatorial bouts and machinations by having her husband trained for the Coliseum, actually torn from her arms one night, and killed in an arranged mismatch of a bout.
Then while still grieving for this loss, nearly broken by this terrible reminder of her status, the master had made advances to her. Several advances. Each cruder than the previous, each spurned with greater and greater fear. Each followed by beatings which were illegal for any other than the son of the emperor. Her humiliation had only been magnified when her subsequent assaults were witnessed by his comrades, particularly the older senator Gratidius, who had suggested that he knew how to tame such brazen defiance.
During this time she had discovered another mixed blessing; that her husband had left her with child. The child was a great comfort in that she would have something of her beloved Urbanus. But that comfort was completely undermined with the knowledge that any child born to this house would belong to Commodius. Would grow up in a Rome ruled by Commodius and his friends.
She had no choice, despite knowing what the penalty might be; she had planned and attempted an escape. Another brief flirtation with hope before she was caught, and returned to a laughing Commodius.
For the sake of her secret, her unborn child, she had agreed to Commodius' demands, but had apparently disappointed him in her lack of response to his immature fumbling. Regarding her passive despondency, that high born noble Roman had decided she was of no further use, and laughingly told her that if she missed her husband so much, she could join him in death in the Coliseum.
Where thousands had cheered her imminent murder.
Once again, the Fates had cruelly shown Annia possible aspirations. Two amazing women had appeared, freed her once more and given her hope that there was good in the world, that there were heroes. That there might be greatness in mankind and that perhaps her life and that of her child could be saved. And she had begun this last run for freedom.
Of course, within one day's cycle, this had led to the horror of the previous day. As she'd crashed through underbrush, cringing at the sound of dogs barking in the distance, the stress had become so great that she had begun to shiver uncontrollably. There were convulsions in her belly, and she began to bleed from her vagina.
She had known that she was losing the baby. Known it in her heart and soul. As she lay there, completely helpless, under the height of the noonday sun, she had wept for Urbanus, her child and for herself.
But the gods would not allow such an easy respite. They had sent another enticement; a miracle. In her pain-wracked nearly unconscious state, she had seen a light, a sparkling gleaming presence which seemed to pass into her and the pain had… stopped. She could almost feel the child within her calming and could it be possible? Growing stronger. It was only that miracle that had pushed her to continue. Pushed her through the last day of hunger and fear and pain. Once again believing that there was a reason, a higher purpose to her survival.
Now daylight was soon to rise and the river had killed her last hope. As she crumpled to her knees, broken and defeated, covered in cuts and swellings from nettles, half starved, she felt despair rising. Once again, she wondered if death was not preferable to this continuing torture of hope.
She turned her head to look back where she knew Rome was. Knew that it was laughing at her as she lay broken at its feet. She had always been so careful not to offend. Always had done what was expected, not like those women in the Coliseum. They had been bold and taken their Fate in their own fists. They hadn't knelt and folded their hands and counted out the lashes, she was sure. They had never gone to a man's bed because of fear.
And the spark of anger at herself began to turn. The spark of defiance that had been buried so deep she hadn't even smelt it smouldering, burst into flames of hatred.
Gods, she hated Rome . She hated the Romans in it. She hated the Romans with the Roman dogs that pursued her. She hated the Romans who had cheered in the Coliseum. She hated the cowardly Roman fool who would soon rule it. And as her hatred grew, she felt the passivity she had worn like a cloak about her for so long, tear at its seams. Rend apart, as her anger and resentment fuelled this hatred. And as she pulled herself up, raised herself once again to her feet, she vowed that she would live. The anger grew and she found strength in it. She would do whatever it took to make sure that her child would survive. And she would survive as well, if only to teach him to hate, to despise Rome . And to kill as many Romans as his lifespan would allow.
At that moment, if an answer to her vow, she heard voices. Voices carrying clearly over the sunrise lit waters.
It was a boat of some kind, gliding along in peace and tranquility, the antithesis of all that she was feeling now. She crouched down, one hand reaching for the sword from the amphitheatre, her other hand twitching. The voices were speaking Greek. Accented, but not the familiar accents she knew from the many slaves from Epirus . The voices were women, but the boat, from what she could see through the bracken, was definitely Roman. That was all that was important. She pushed her exhausted limbs to climb the ancient olive tree that sprung from the shore and hung over the river. She listened to the voices carrying clearly over the water. Or one voice, apparently reading a story.
‘ Can you, can you take them? And do what you can?'
But the Farseeing One looked to her palm and said, ‘So, you managed to save a part of their threads. But you have only two halves of each of their destinies, perhaps enough for only one mortal. Which one will you choose?'
The Goddess smiled. ‘Why should I choose? There is a solution far more apt…'
The story teller stopped as though considering the next line. Annia held her breath; they were still a stadium away, and the boat was moving all too slowly for her.
A deeper, querulous voice asked, “And…?”
The one who had been reading replied, “I thought I was reading aloud so you can hold the tiller and not read over my shoulder.”
The deeper voice snorted, “Apollo and Aphrodite don't talk like that.”
“I'm writing about the Roman Gods now. People have certain expectations.”
‘ Roman Gods ,' Annia thought. ‘ Thank you . Thank you for giving me proof that these two, women or not, were worthy targets .' She silently raised herself higher in the tree, further out over the river, her sword clutched in the hand that held the underside of the branch. She kept her breath shallow and continued to listen as the boat drew closer.
“Hmpph. Since when did you start doing public relations for them?”
“I'd say…Since they gave me what I most wanted in the world.”
“Sellout,” the deeper voice grumped. But there was still amusement in its tone
“Yup,” said the story teller agreed contentedly.
‘ Rich and contented.' Annia thought. She could take them both and then take the boat. Sell it and use the money for a new start. For her. For her child. Never think about what she did to get the money.
The story teller spoke. “Okay, what are you smiling at?”
“I caught that look. You're worried because everything is alright. Aren't you? And I'm supposed to be the pessimist!”
She could see them now, just the outlines of their bodies against the sunrise. Their robes were of a high caste Romans. Had Annia had any remaining doubts, they disappeared.
“Not worried,” the storyteller was saying. “Just checking to see if the chalice is half full. I'll still depend on you to tell me when it's half empty.”
“Right now, I am very much a full chalice gal. Because right now, I am busy… anticipating...”
The storyteller was turning slightly to look back at her companion in the stern by the tiller. “Anticipating what, exactly?”
The larger woman seemed to be attempting an innocent tone. “A very full chalice. What else? Meanwhile,” the larger woman tapped what appeared to be the edge of the scroll the story teller was holding. “How're you gonna explain in there about this whole one destiny, two people thing?”
“I thought you had this worked out,” she stated patiently. “There was only half a thread for each of us after Aphrodite spread the rest out into the world. You've always been the other half of my soul. Now we also have one destiny between the two of us.”
Annia had no idea what this nonsense was about. Too often she had heard philosophical discussions between her masters. All purposeless wastes of time when there were people dying or starving. She blocked her mind to it and focussed on silently easing into a position to strike.
The navigator was still blathering away about Fate. “I got that. Basically, we share the same destiny. Got NO problem with that. But does that mean we die at the same moment? In the same battle? Or at the same time but apart?”
“Guess we'll find out. I'd prefer in bed, after a long, long life.”
“Or in bed very soon, if last night is anything to go by. That chalice overflowed.”
They were so close, Annia could now see the cheeky grin on the storyteller's face. “Wimp.”
“Not. I told you, I am anticipating many more full chalices. I'm just not all that happy about having a set destiny.”
They continued to babble on while Annia disregarded their conversation. For as the boat and her moment of decision drew nearer, she had found some last doubts calling out to her. How could she do this? How could she kill? The voice within her cried out that this was not who she was, but she ruthlessly thrust it down.
This was for her child.
And she purposely let her anger rise again. And looked at the sword she had been given in the Coliseum.
The woman, Xena, had shown her. ‘You hold the sword like this. Like an extension of your arm. Don't wave it separately, it moves with you…'
They were almost underneath her at this point, but caught by the shallower waters, the boat slowed even more. Annia almost bit her tongue in frustration.
“I think we still can shape the where and when, just that it's both of us, and I couldn't be happier. If we're destined to die together there's no more, get behind me, Gabrielle , You stay here, Gabrielle . I am looking forward to a life without any overprotective, self-sacrificing warrior princesses.”
“Oh right. Miss Take-Me-And-Let-The-Rest-Go, huh?”
“Hmpph. You're not happy with how that worked out?”
She could see the storyteller's face now. That she was young and clear of eye would not change her mind. The darker woman's voice seemed to come from the water to her side. But that didn't matter. The boat was headed right for her.
“I don't get is how two halves of two different people's threads could be joined into one destiny?”
Even in the sparse light from the sunrise, the storyteller's smile became particularly bright as she responded, “Maybe, just maybe, because they were always meant to be one and the same.”
The repetition of that one word broke through Annia's musings. That word finally penetrated.
They were talking about their shared Destiny. She gripped the sword more tightly as the prow of the boat began to pass underneath her. The blonde woman, her bleached-white hair now catching the first rays of the sun, would soon be directly beneath. Unarmed and defenceless.
Annia laughed silently as she thought, ‘Welcome to your Destiny' .
To Be Concluded in Part 2
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