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I only know how others feel about my stories from feedback. Let me know what you think. I'm at: ljmaas@yahoo.com

The Conqueror Series

Tale Two: The Petal of the Rose

By LJ Maas

Chapter 12: For Many a Fellow is so Hard of Heart

Gabrielle led the way, followed by myself, and Yu Pan, into Solan's rooms. He was seated in his favorite chair by the portico that led to the open-air balcony. We were having a warm spell, and he was taking advantage of the early morning, southern breeze. So like his mother in this respect. I loved the out of doors so much that I only tolerated the moments when a roof was over my head. Many were the days when Gabrielle would find me seated before the window in our rooms. I would sit there, watching a sunrise, or a sunset. Looking down upon the rose garden that I loved so well, or simply watching the smoke rise from the chimneys of the homes in the village.

Solan and I hadn't experienced any animosity, arguments, or even unpleasantness in quite some time. Gabrielle seemed to think that we were all getting along fairly well, actually. Now, she prefers to think of the world as half good instead of half bad, as I view it. When it came to Solan, I always seemed to be waiting for him to explode. I don't know why I felt this way, especially considering he was making great strides at civility. Perhaps because he was so much like me.

The beast inside of me was part of the reason for my unsettled tension. The darkness could lie dormant within me for months, then a word, even a look, could entice it from its lair. I hated the monster inside, but I also acknowledged that it was as much a part of me as my very blood. If Solan inherited some of his mannerisms and his looks from his mother, could not I have passed on more to the young man than met the eye? It was my own paranoia, to be sure, but it was a bothersome fear that resided in the back of my mind at all times. It was hard to try to remember that I wasn't born with this misfortune. Ares had offered, and I had accepted.

I told Gabrielle about the agreeable evening I spent with Solan, just last night. I explained that we spoke of many things, including some of my past. I admit; that surprised her. There were few episodes in my life, which I felt willing to speak of to others. She appeared proud of the attempt that I made to converse with my son. We really spoke to one another last night, instead of simply parrying back and forth, as we usually did.

"Solan," Gabrielle paused waiting for his attention. "This is the healer that I spoke to you about. His name is Yu Pan. This is Solan," She turned her head to Yu Pan. "Solan is visiting us as an Emissary from the Centaur Nation."

"Hello," Solan responded. He had agreed not to be quarrelsome to the old man, and I almost think I agreed to come along today to make certain that didn't happen.

"Good morning, young friend." Yu Pan bowed slightly.

I noticed something odd just then. An expression stole across Yu Pan's features, one of almost surprise. He looked suspiciously as if he recognized Solan's face. I shook the feeling away when I saw that Solan gave no similar expression of recognition to the healer.

Yu Pan sat in the chair beside Solan, ignoring Gabrielle and I, as if we were no longer standing there. Being so dismissed, we moved away. We sat down at the table in the next room, but still within earshot of the two men.

"Yours is the wagon with the big monster painted on it." Solan inquired.

"That is my wagon, correct. The monster is actually a lŪng, or what you would call a dragon."

Gabrielle looked at me and smiled. That expression told me that she knew something was afoot. She whispered that Yu Pan was going into storyteller mode. I took her words to mean that the old man was already treating Solan in the way of a story. We both looked somewhat relieved that Solan was being civil, and not using the belligerent attitude with which he seemed to enjoy shocking people.

"I thought dragons were supposed to be fearsome beasts. I find it odd that a healer would have such a creature as his moniker," Solan responded.

"If you will allow me to undress your splints, I will tell you the true story of the Chin lŪng," Yu Pan asked.

"Sure," Solan answered gruffly. "I mean, I guess that's why we're here, huh?"

Neither Gabrielle nor I said a word during this exchange. Truth be told, we were both eavesdropping on their conversation. Wrong I suppose, but Solan hadn't yet earned our complete trust. I intended to stay to ensure Yu Pan's safety, but when I saw the old man move about, something told me that he just might be able to take care of himself. I watched as he moved and I realized that looks could be quite deceptive where this healer was concerned. Frankly, he looked as old as the stones we walked upon, but he held himself in great physical control. The way he walked, spoke, even inclined his head, spoke of a highly trained warrior. I made a note to myself to make the opportunity to learn more about this old friend of Gabrielle's. I suddenly felt the desire to speak with the healer alone, just the two of us.

I could just see from the corner of my eye as Yu Pan moved a low-lying stool, and sat down in front of Solan. The healer removed the splint, first from one hand, and then the other. I could see the silent pain etched on the young man's face as Yu Pan manipulated the fingers on each hand. It was easily understood why Solan's grimace grew fierce when Yu Pan examined the crushed hand.

As he worked over Solan and examined his, now healed, ribs, he spoke to the young man. His voice took on the same tone as Gabrielle's did when she began to tell a tale. I smiled with the thought of it, as I realized where she learned the technique. Gabrielle arched a questioning eyebrow in my direction.

"I'll tell you later," I whispered.

"The men I met from Gaul said the dragon is a fearsome animal, a beast that breathes fire, lays waste to the countryside, devours the populace, and kidnaps fair maidens." Solan explained to the old man.

"The Chin dragon, unlike the creature that you know from the men of Gaul, is considered a benevolent creature, the custodian of rain, river and lakes, and a harbinger of good fortune. In Chin mythology, the dragon is described as having the body of a snake, the face of a horse, antlers of the deer, and claws of the eagle. The dragon also has the beard of a goat and the scales of a fish, but between you and I," Yu Pan confided with a smile, "I have never seen such a beast, although records of dragons in Chin culture go back to the beginning of time.

One explanation of how the dragon came to be lies with the warring tribes who were my ancestors. Early societies had as their tribal mascot an animal; for example a horse or a camel or a fish. This is in fact something we observe even today here in the western portion of the Greek Empire. The Conqueror uses the symbol of the Lion, the Romans, before they were vanquished, used the Eagle. These symbols were used both for religious as well as military purposes, and rather as the Conqueror would march with the Lion as her standard, these emblems were used as military insignia.

The theory goes that as a tribe went to battle and conquered another, it would incorporate some form of the conquered tribe's insignia. In this way, it is believed the Xia clan, who had a snake as its emblem annexed states such as the Shang; an eagle. Thus, to the snake's body was added the claws of the eagle. Soon the scales of fish, antlers of the deer, face of the horse and the beard of the goat all came to be incorporated, and thereby the Chin dragon came into being.

So powerful has the emblem of the dragon become that every Chin governor, who rules under the auspices of the Conqueror, has adopted it as the Imperial emblem. Dragon King Temple's were built where the people could pray for blessings and a good harvest; all in the hands of the dragons, as they controlled the rain."

Yu Pan sat back down on the stool once his tale was finished.

"So?" Solan asked. "Can you fix it?"

"What did you think of my story?" Yu Pan asked, ignoring Solan's initial question.

"Oh, yeah. It was interesting. Kind of gave me a different look at the beast."

Yu Pan smiled. "To my fellow Chin, the dragon is an auspicious animal that regulates rainfall and thus controls the yield of the land. Indeed, the dragon is divine, the manifestation of heaven's will and symbol of the Emperor, the Son of Heaven." He finally added. "So you see, simply because a being looks and acts a certain way, it does not mean that they have to give in to people's perceptions of them. The dragon looks evil, yet he offer succor to people in need. A man is much the same. Too often men feel that they must either be hero or coward, and that nothing in between exists. Wouldn't you agree, Solan?"

My curiosity got the better of me, and I glanced quickly at the two men. Solan had just pulled his hand from within the healer's grasp. I will not soon forget the expression upon the young man's face. Solan appeared fearful, as if Yu Pan had touched a nerve that was now exposed in a way Solan didn't wish for.

"Well, my hand?" Solan began again impatiently. "Do you believe you can help?"

"The question is, my young friend, do you believe I can help?"

"Well, I wouldn't have let you poke and prod me if I didn't," Solan countered.

Yu Pan chuckled slightly. "I admit; there is truth to that. Tell me, how did you come to be injured?"

I didn't look up, but I could hear the uncomfortable strain in Solan's voice.

"The Conqueror and I had a disagreement, of sorts," he answered.

"Ahh, on the field of battle. Well, I feel it's a good thing that the two of you show no animosity after your battle. So, which was it . . . power, or a woman?"


"I have found that most altercations take place over one of two things; a fight for dominance or a woman."

"Oh. I guess it was power," Solan answered.

"You don't sound completely convinced." Yu Pan continued his prodding.

"Maybe . . . maybe a little of both." Solan responded, but his voice lowered so that we barely heard him.

"Elaborate, please, my young friend." Yu Pan continued, ignoring Solan's apparent discomfort at the turn the conversation was taking.

"Look it's over and done with, is this really necessary?" Solan snapped.

"You feel shame over your actions?" Yu Pan countered.

"No." There was a short pause before Solan answered again. "Yes," he whispered.

"Do you feel that your actions were dishonorable?" Yu Pan asked.

I was looking into the other room when Solan raised his head, and his eyes met mine. I couldn't tear my gaze away from the young man.

"Yes, they were dishonorable." Solan answered in a soft voice.

His eyes continued to look into mine, and I realized that this was as close to an apology as he'd come so far. I nodded my head in acceptance, and turned my face away to give the two men the illusion of their privacy. Gabrielle reached over the table and took both my hands in her own. She didn't look up, but I felt her action spoke of her acknowledgement of Solan's words as an apology also.

"Shall we begin then?" Yu Pan asked. He once more took his seat before Solan, never even waiting for the young man's answer to his question.

I heard Solan cry out a few times. When I looked into the other room, I could see Yu Pan slowly manipulating the fingers in Solan's hand, the one that wasn't injured nearly as bad as the crushed hand. The healer had two long needles that he occasionally inserted into Solan's skin. Most of the time the healer sat with his eyes closed, his head kept at a slight tilt, and his fingers appearing to massage the skin under his fingers. I remembered the intense feelings from when my own crippled leg was healed in this fashion, a sort of paradoxical collection of impressions. I remember feeling an incredible pain, acute pleasure, along with a sensation of absolutely nothing at all.

Another sharp cry of pain and I watched as Yu Pan pulled away from Solan and sat back down in the chair. "It cannot be." He muttered in an exasperated tone.

Gabrielle seemed to take that as some sort of cue and rose to her feet. I quickly followed her, and watched as Yu Pan rose and stretched his body. His fingers slowly massaged his temples. He looked at the both of us, and then addressed Gabrielle.

"He can't let go." Yu pan said in a puzzling sentence that somehow Gabrielle alone seemed to understand. "Unless he can let go of it here," he pointed to his head, "and here," he placed his hand over his heart, "it will not work. I need to relax, now. In this case, my nǚČr, your wisdom may help the most."

Yu Pan ended the cryptic statement by leaving the room without even glancing at Solan or me. Gabrielle turned to gaze at me briefly before moving to the window. She faced away from the two of us, and I wasn't quite sure what to make of this whole scenario. I was fairly certain, however, that Yu Pan's words to Gabrielle meant something quite profound. Even now, I could tell by the way she positioned her body that she was at war within herself. Solan's impatient words brought me out of my reverie.

"Is someone going to tell me what's going on?" Solan said to no one in particular.

"Gabrielle?" I called to her gently, unsure myself of what had just happened.

"She said if I believed he could do it, he'd do it. Well, I believed--"

"It's your Qi." Gabrielle stated simply, still looking out the window.

"My Ch'i? That mind-body thing, I remember. What's wrong with it?" Solan asked.

His question surprised me. I hadn't realized that he and Gabrielle had discussed the healing methods using inner energy. Gabrielle finally turned and she crossed the room, pulling me away from Solan so that her words could not be overheard.

"Xena, I need . . . I need to explain to Solan, but I fear the story I ought to use will anger you. It was from a time when someone hurt me. I thought . . . well, maybe you wouldn't want to stay." Gabrielle said, lowering her eyes from mine.

"Little one," I answered, lifting her chin with my hand. "If you are brave enough to face the demons of your past for my son, should I be less courageous?"

She smiled nervously, then squeezed my hand. She turned back to Solan and I tucked myself away in the corner, trying to make myself as little of a hindrance as possible. I also knew that if Gabrielle warned me, then this tale would not be a pretty one. I could already feel the hairs on the back of my neck prickling at the mere thought of anyone harming this woman.

"Solan, Yu Pan is trying to say that you do believe in the power. In your head, you believe. I told you before that this healing with our inner energy takes more than the physical, but the spiritual, too; mind as well as body. You're holding on to some powerful emotions, and they're keeping you from listening to your heart, to your inner self."

"I don't know what you mean." Solan answered sullenly, but a tiny awareness dawned within his expression and I think he did indeed understand at least a little about what Gabrielle was accusing him of.

"Solan, it was said by a learned man that, He who knows much about others may be learned, but he who understands himself is the more intelligent."

Gabrielle moved to sit down on the stool in front of Solan.

"I'm not saying that you're lying. I'm simply saying that perhaps you're not even aware of these emotions. Sometimes feelings like these lie deep within us, and our conscious minds are unaware that they exist."

"So, how can I fix something if I don't even know about it?" Solan asked.

Gabrielle smiled at the intelligent question. "By using a form of meditation called one-with-nature. It will enable you to calm your mind and relax your body at the same time. It will bring your thoughts and ch'i in alignment with nature's thought, and nature's ch'i. It's a process of looking inward at ourselves.

Let me tell you a tale that I learned from a philosophy teacher in Chin. A young student went with his learned master to visit the Temple of the Three Monkeys. The master asked, Who are the three monkeys?

The student looked at the statues before him and replied, See No Evil, Hear No Evil, and Speak No Evil.

The master said, Close your eyes and look again.

The student was puzzled at first, but it didn't take long for him to respond, Yes, I see another monkey.

The master asked, Who is that monkey?

A thought suddenly came into the student's mind. He answered, Think No Evil.

The student showed us the process of being one-with-nature. First, he asked himself a question, and second, he saw the solution inside of his mind. With his eyes closed, he couldn't rely on anything but his own heart for the answer," Gabrielle finished.

For the next two candlemarks, I watched as Gabrielle taught Solan some meditative techniques that were not unlike the ones I had learned from my many seasons spent in Chin. Gabrielle showed infinite patience with the young man, but at one point Solan gave up.

"Look, I don't understand what you want from me here! I can't see any hidden feelings that would keep me from having this healed!" He held up his mangled hand in front of Gabrielle.

Gabrielle took a deep breath and I could see that she was tired. I could also see that she now realized that she would tell the story that she had held back until now.

"Solan, we all have positive and negative energy within us. In its simplest terms, positive energy is love and acceptance. Negative energy is hate and anger, and all of the emotions surrounding those feelings. It is the negative Qi that I can see holds you back, even though you can't see it within yourself."

"Oh, yea? And what makes you such an Oracle?"

"Because I felt it, too. I felt hate, anger, loathing, and disgust. I was hurt once, so badly that even Yu Pan wasn't sure I would live."

"I don't need to hear about this," Solan said quickly.

"No, I would like to share it with you," Gabrielle responded. "I was raped, you see. Not an altogether uncommon occurrence for a female slave, but it was the vicious manner in which my attackers used me, as if for sport. I wasn't simply violated, sexually, but I was beaten, my bones were broken, and I was tossed aside and left for dead. Somehow, I ended up back with Yu Pan, and he attempted to heal my body, but it wasn't until he taught me how to heal my own soul that I was able to truly benefit from his miraculous physical healing."

Gabrielle had captured both of us in the magical spell she wove as a storyteller, and I wondered if she did this to calm the fury that would have raced though me otherwise. Even Solan appeared to have lost his earlier expression of discomfort.

"I was still holding on to those powerful emotions, that negative energy that prevented me from feeling the benefits of Yu Pan's healing. My own hate held me back. It was hate for the animals that committed the crimes. I spent long hours wishing them dead, plotting, in my mind, the many ways I would take my revenge. I envisioned how much better I would feel if they were made to pay, if they had to suffer for the things they did to me. My emotions may have been righteous, but they were, negative. It took all the power within me just to keep them fed. Until one day, Yu Pan finally convinced me of the harm of such emotions. He showed me how to release them."

"You forgave the monsters that did that?" Solan asked incredulously.

"There is a difference between forgiving someone to help yourself, and doing it to offer them some sort of absolution. Just as there is a difference between apologizing, and admitting wrongdoing in a matter. Just because one says they're sorry, doesn't mean they are weak or are admitting wrongdoing."

"So, you seem to have all the answers, tonight. Who do I have all this negative energy directed against?"

He asked the question in a highly sarcastic tone, but I could tell that he wanted to hear the answer. Either he wanted confirmation of what he truly felt, or he was merely testing Gabrielle.

"I believe what holds you back from the healing is a certain unresolved anger at your mother."

Just like that she said it. Hades, didn't I know that already? Didn't we all know it? The truth of her answer lay in Solan's unwavering reply.

"I have other issues," he answered. "You would never understand."

"I understand that your hate is over things past, things that you could not possibly undo with all the talants in the Greek Empire. It's time to let go of that anger, Solan, and embrace the future, for your own sake, if for no one else's. The only person you hurt with your hate is yourself.

Xena will go on being Xena until the end of her days. She will be the Conqueror, and she will continue to make judgment calls such as the one she made at your birth. She will continue to make these decisions, for good or ill. She will forever make choices in her life; some that may possibly even affect you. She will do so, continuing to make the best decisions she can, given the information she has at the time.

One thing will always remain constant, however. That is the fact that she will make these decisions without your opinion or assistance, and somehow, some way, you will have to find a way to live with them. You are holding a grudge, Solan, and although you think to hurt your mother with your ways, you hurt yourself far more."

Solan didn't even try to deny any of it. He just sat there, he and Gabrielle staring at one another.

"I've been holding on to it for an awfully long time," he half choked. "It's hard to change who I am."

"But who are you, really, Solan?" Gabrielle asked quickly. "I had another teacher called, Chang Chou Tze. He told a story.

Once Chang Chou dreamt he was a butterfly, a butterfly flitting and fluttering around, happy with himself and doing as he pleased. He didn't know he was Chang Chou in the dream. Suddenly he woke up and there he was, solid and unmistakably, Chang Chou. But he didn't know if he was Chang Chou who had dreamt he was a butterfly, or a butterfly dreaming he was Chang Chou."

Gabrielle stilled, letting the insightful words, and their underlying teachings wash over the young man. "Solan," she reached out and touched his hand. "A man is what he thinks, it's just that simple."

"Nothing is that simple," he hissed. He jerked his hand away from Gabrielle's and we both looked at him in surprise.

"You don't get it. I can't be healed . . . I can never be healed! There's too much--" he choked, and Gabrielle and I looked at one another. Neither one of us were aware of what had spurred the boy on to such hysterics.

"Solan, it's easier than you think to soften your heart. Forgiveness can be so easy--"

"Don't you hear me?" He shouted back at her. "How can I be healed? Forgiveness? How can I forgive anyone when I can't even forgive myself?"

He seemed quite hysterical now, and Gabrielle moved from where she sat to stand beside me. Tears streamed down his face, and his body shook with the force of his cries.

"Calm down, boy, what's got into you?" was all I could ask in my own confusion. "Solan, take it easy. I know you and I have things to deal with but I'm sure we can--"

"It was my fault." Solan said suddenly.

The sound of his voice stopped all thought of conversation in the room. His crying had stopped, and his voice held such intent. It was a deadly calm tone.

"On that ship . . . that night. Gabrielle, I let them do that to you." Solan finally said.

I could feel Gabrielle's whole body tense beside me.

"You were there that night." Gabrielle said in confirmation.

Her voice sounded small and frightened, quite a bit as it did when she first came to live with me. I was somewhat lost myself. I could only look between the two of them, Solan, shaking and crying, Gabrielle, listening, but uncomprehending.

It only took a few more heartbeats for me to gather the pictures in my mind, of what Gabrielle must have looked like after they'd beaten and abused her, the helplessness she felt, and surely feeling her life was at an end. I could feel my own hands begin to shake as I saw the face of my son along with the others on board the ship that night. I didn't even hear it, but I felt the reverberation of the growl within my chest as I took a step toward Solan.

"I didn't do anything!" He shouted, as he held one hand up to protect himself. He must have remembered this look on my face, the expression that told him his days as a living being were over. I stopped abruptly, watching as the young man tortured himself more than I could have.

"Don't you see?" he shouted as he slammed his injured hand against the arm of the chair. He cried out at the pain. "That's the point!" His tear-filled voice lowered to a whisper. "I didn't do anything. I never helped them, but I didn't stop them either. I just let it happen."

Solan slipped from the chair, sobbing. I felt Gabrielle's hand pull away from mine and watched as she disappeared from the room. I wanted, needed to run after her, to assure myself that she was all right. After all the compassion and friendship, she'd shown Solan, to be dealt this blow must be too much for her. I looked toward the door she'd just exited, then down to the heap on the floor that was my son. For the first time in my life, I did what Gabrielle would have done.

"Solan," my strained voice said as I knelt beside him on the floor.

He was sobbing like a five-year-old child, and so I did what one is supposed to do in such cases. I put my arm around him and held him, completely unsure of what to say. What does one say to someone who confesses his guilt, especially when that person is well and truly guilty? I was warring with my own conflicting emotions at the moment. Should I be comforting the man who just admitted to this crime?

It felt awkward, at first, me holding on to my grown son as he cried tears for more than this one past incident. I don't know how I knew, but somehow I felt as if Solan was releasing a lot of the past, not merely this one occurrence. He was a grown man, yet his body felt so small and frail against mine.

Here we were, a mother who was more warrior than anything else, comforting her child who was no longer a child. It may have seemed odd, but then again, wasn't this what every child thought of their mother. When a youngster fell and skinned his knees, didn't he run to his mother? Didn't he run to her for more than comfort, but for protection also? Deep inside, didn't all children believe their mothers were warriors?

I sat there and stroked his hair, thinking of nothing to say that could make any of us feel better. I could do no more than hold him against me and offer consolation as he purged himself of his past hurts and memories. I was simply amazed that he turned to me for this reassurance. Me, the Conqueror who was more warrior than mother, and Solan, the son who was more boy than man.

To be continued in...Chapter 13: I Dare No More Acknowledge My Own Name

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