The Amazon Queen
Part XX : Daughters of Ares
By L. M. Townsend
DISCLAIMERS: The characters of Xena, Gabrielle, CyrenL, Joxer, et al (meaning anyone else I didn't list and should have.) are the property of their creators and anyone else who has a legal claim (thanks for letting the girls come out to play!) Melys' and The Amazons belong to themselves (and I dare any man to say different!) This story is mine, though, and written just for fun, not profit.
Subtext: YES, though nothing explicit. Xena and Gabrielle, while still soul-mates and the very best of friends, are not a couple in the romantic sense of the word. They are joined to others as heart-mates.
Violence: Yes, but no more than youll see on the show.
Language: Pretty tame, so far.
Spoilers: (so far) The
Deliverer, Gabrielle's Hope, Maternal Instincts, Sacrifice I&II, A Family
Affair, Livia, Eve, The God You Know, Path of Vengeance
Other: If you havent read the previous instalments in this series, you may have difficulty following along with whos who.
Queen Melys' looked at the sword in her hand as if wondering how it came to be there. The priestess smiled, then chuckled, shaking her dark head. Her heart-mate, the warrior-queen, Xena, had handed it to her while she corrected a stance. Melys' was no warrior, but she knew the value of keeping up what little combat skills she had. Still, as she watched her young daughter, Neiromei, struggling to participate in her first training drill, Melys' felt only sympathy for the little girl. She herself had felt inept with a weapon in her hand, but as the daughter of Xena, the Warrior Queen of the Tribe, Melys' knew that Romy was under pressure to perform.
As the child whacked herself in the head with her little wooden practice sword for the fourth time, Melys' winced in sympathy, but was determined to show her support by remaining to watch and smile at her young daughter. Melys' looked to Xena and saw grim determination on the warriors face. She heard Xena mutter to herself, "Some things never change." She knew that their daughter would never be a warrior much to Melys's secret relief.
Bad enough to always have to worry about 'Ryn, thought the priestess. Unfortunately for Romy, her 'other mother is the warrior. Tough boots to fill. Still, I think shell be alright.
After drill, Melys' walked a dejected Romy home, while Xena remained to work out her frustrations doing sword drills on a practice dummy as she always did the first day with a new group of younglings.
Romy walked with her head down, her dark, unruly curls just like her mothers, bouncing with each step, kicking at the dirt on the path to the Queens Cottage. "Xena-meias not happy with me, huh Meia?" she said, quietly.
"What? Of course she is Romy," said Melys'.
Neiromei shook her head. "No," said the little girl, sadly. "I sucked."
"Neiromei!" said Melys', barely suppressing a laugh at the childish vulgarity.
Neiromei looked up at her mother, grinning. "Sorry," she said.
"My goodness, only one day as a warrior and already talking like them," said Melys', shaking her head.
"Im not going to be a warrior," said Romy, firmly. "Im just gonna learn how to fight a little like you, Meia in case I have to. But I really dont want to fight. Im not good at it."
"Sweetheart, youre only just learning," said Melys', though privately she agreed with the child.
"No," said the little girl, matter of factly. "Im not going to be a warrior. Xena-meia will be disappointed in me."
"Romy listen to me," said Melys', stopping and kneeling beside her daughter. "Xena and I love you very much no matter what you do. You dont have to be a warrior, Love. Just be who you are because thats who we love."
"I know," said Romy, blessing her mother with a smile.
Xena came home later and went straight to the bathing chamber behind the cottage. Melys' knew that meant she had had an extra strenuous workout. The priestess left Neiromei in charge of the two youngest, Dylanda and Leilae and sought out her warrior. She found Xena sitting in the wooden tub, steam rising from the heated water and knelt behind the warrior, kneading tight shoulders.
"Tough day?" said Melys'.
Xena groaned. "Dont ask," she said. "Little kids have no business having weapons in their hands. I hate that its still necessary."
"So do I," said Melys', sighing. "But I have to believe that a day is coming when our daughters will no longer have to know how to fight."
"Yeah, but when?" said Xena.
"I dont know," said Melys', frowning. "Unfortunately, it probably wont be until after you and I are long gone. Ive been thinking."
"Uh, oh," said Xena, cracking open one eye.
"Oh, hush," said Melys', grinning at her. "Maybe 'Ryn should train Romy."
Xena laughed. "Why? Think Ill be too tough on her?"
"No, I think shell be too tough on you," said Melys'. "I saw her out there."
"Yeah, I know," said Xena, smiling proudly. "She was the best one of the bunch."
"She was?" said Melys', eyes widening.
Xena chuckled, and pulled herself out of the tub, taking the towel Melys' handed her.
"You didnt look at any of the other kids, did you?" said the warrior. Melys' shook her head. "I didn't think so. She's really good, 'Lys'."
"Maybe you should tell her that, Xena," said the priestess, helping Xena to dry her long hair. "She thinks you're disappointed."
"She thinks that?" said Xena, pulling her clothes on swiftly. "Aw, the poor little kid! Come on - I'll have a talk with her."
The two Amazon Queens entered the cottage to find Neiromei entertaining her two little sisters with a tale. They stopped, just out of the little girls' sight and listened.
"Once there was a little Amazon and her mother sent her with a basket of magic nutbread to her tanti who wasn't feeling well," said Romy. The "twins" gazed up at their older sister, enraptured by the tale. "The little Amazon was called ... um ... her name was 'Red' - 'cause she always wore a red cloak. Anyways, Red walked through the woods with the basket, wearing her red cloak, just like always. Then this big wolf jumped out and asked her where she was goin'. Red told him she was going to her tanti's house with some magic nutbread.
"'Magic nutbread'?' said the wolf. 'I would like some magic nutbread, too.'
"'You should ask your meia to make you some,' said Red. 'This is for my tanti ... um ... Gabrielle. My meia made it for her 'cause she's not feeling well.'
"The Wolf thought about it for a minute. He really wanted the nut bread, but he knew Red wouldn't give him any of her tanti Gabrielle's. He decided to trick Red.
"'Okay, I will!' He told her, then he ran off. Red kept walking, but the wolf - who was really tandos Ares in disguise - ran ahead of her to tanti Gabrielle's cottage and used his god powers to make Red's tanti sleep. He put her in the closet and shut the door, then climbed into her bed. Red got there and knocked. The Wolf called for her to come in and Red did. She set the basket down on the table, then went to the bedroom to check on her tanti. Red didn't think she looked too good, 'cause tandos Ares kept his Wolf disguise on.
"'My, tanti, what big eyes you have,' Red told the Wolf.
"'The better to see you with, Red,' said the Wolf.
"'And your ears look pretty big, too, tanti,' said Red.
"'So I can hear you better, Red,' said the wolf, getting impatient - where was that nutbread?
"Wow, tanti - you have great big teeth, too!' said Red.
"'The better to eat the nutbread - now where is it?' the wolf roared, waking up tanti Gabrielle who was still in the closet. Tanti Gabrielle heard the word nutbread and jumped out of the closet, taking her staff with her. She yelled at the wolf - who changed back into tandos Ares and he laughed, then disappeared. Then Red and tanti Gabrielle ate up all the magic nutbread and tanti Gabrielle felt all better, so she walked Red home to keep her safe from anymore hungry wolfs. The end." The "twins" clapped and Neiromei jumped up to end the story with a flourish, accidentally knocking over a small bottle of ink on her mother's desk.
Neiromei looked stricken at the mess as Xena dashed in quickly, grabbing the toddlers and moving them to safety, away from the spreading ink.
"It's alright, Romy," said Melys', gently, grabbing a cloth from the desk and mopping up the ink.
"I can't do anything right!" wailed the little girl as she dashed into the kitchen to get more rags to clean up the ink.
They were startled by a scream from the kitchen. Melys' started towards their daughter, but the child came running into her. Melys' caught the little girl and lifted her up.
"Romy, what is it?" asked the priestess.
"A man - in the kitchen!" gasped the child. Xena swiftly drew her sword and ran into the kitchen. The warrior looked around, puzzled, but saw nothing except the pile of rags Neiromei had evidently dropped before running out. Xena looked carefully, even bending to open the cupboards and the pantry, but saw no sign of any intruder. Shaking her head, she went back into the other room.
"There's no one there now," she said.
"Romy did this man say anything to you?" asked Melys'.
"Yeah, he sort of knelt down and said 'Hi, Romy.' Then he smiled," said the child.
"What did he look like?" asked Xena.
"He was a warrior - I think," said the little girl, frowning a little in thought. "At least he was wearing some kind of armour."
"Have you ever seen him before?" asked Melys', setting her down.
"No," said Neiromei, shaking her head. "He had a nice face, though. He looked sort of sad, but nice. It just scared me to see a man in the kitchen - no men are supposed to be this far in Amazon lands, are they, Meia?"
"No, Sweetheart," Melys' sighed. "Not even nice ones. Xena - "
"I'll post the sentries back outside the cottage full time until we find out more," said the warrior-queen. "Romy, can you tell us anything more about him?"
"I don't know, Xena-meia," said the little girl. "I just got scared and ran before he could say anything else."
"Come on, Romy," said Xena, taking the child by the hand and leading her back into the kitchen. "Where was he?"
"He's right there, Xena-meia," said Neiromei, pointing. With her warrior mother there, Romy wasn't afraid of the man who smiled and winked at her. Xena looked but still saw nothing.
"Neiromei, there isn't anyone here," said the Warrior.
"Right here," said Neiromei, walking up to the man, who again knelt in front of her, smiling.
"Melys'," Xena called. The priestess came into the kitchen. "Romy says he's right there."
The warrior nodded her head toward Neiromei, who was giggling and looking back toward her mothers. The priestess thought for a moment she could see a shadowy outline, but then it was gone.
"Neiromei," said Melys'. Romy turned to her mother, then glanced back toward the corner of the kitchen.
"Yes," said the little girl, nodding. "That's her. He says you're very beautiful, meia."
"Thank you," said Melys', frowning in puzzlement. "Romy, who is he?"
"He's a friend of Xena-meia and tanti Gabrielle," said the little girl. "He was a great warrior, but now he's crossed over."
"Romy - what is his name?" asked Xena.
"He's the great warrior, Joxer the Mighty," said Neiromei, now solemn. "He says he has a very important message for Xena and Gabrielle from the other side."
Neiromei turned back to the man. "How come they can't see you?" she asked him.
"Well, see, Romy," said Joxer. "You and I have a special connection - I'm sort of your 'guardian angel'." Joxer's chest puffed out and his voice grew slightly deeper as he made this pronouncement.
"Really?" said Neiromei, her voice quiet with awe.
"You know, I really like you, Kid," said Joxer. "Yeah, so you can see me, but no one else can. I need for you to get this message to Xena and Gabrielle, okay? It's very important. Then I have to get back to the Elysian Fields. That's where heroes go when they cross over, you know."
"Amazon heroes go to the Land of the Dead," Neiromei informed him.
"Well, yeah, sure - Amazon heroes, but they don't let guys go there, do they?" said Joxer.
"Oh, I guess not," said Neiromei, nodding her head in agreement. "What's the message?"
"Tell them ... 'The Destroyer isn't dead.' Can you remember that?" asked Joxer, worriedly. "Gosh, I wish I could tell them myself - I miss 'em."
"I'm sorry," said Romy. "I know that they miss you, too. And I'll bet Terreis and Lilia would like to meet you - they're tanti Gabrielle's kids."
"Yeah, I know," said Joxer, wistfully. He looked at Xena and smiled. "Xena and Gabrielle were the best friends I ever had."
"Maybe, if I ask her to my meia would use some of her magic to let you talk to them," said Romy, earnestly.
"Maybe - but I don't think Persephone will let me hang around here long enough for that - she's in charge now that Hades ... well, anyway - make sure you tell Xena that the destroyer isn't dead, okay?"
"The Destroyer isn't dead," Neiromei repeated. She turned at the sound of a gasp behind her and saw Xena looking at her wide-eyed. Romy turned back, but Joxer was gone.
"Aw, jeez! He's gone!" Romy said, disappointed. "I like him."
"Neiromei, what just happened here?" asked Melys'.
"Meia, a man was here - Joxer the Mighty - he's my guardian angel - sorta," said Neiromei, proudly.
"Neiromei, what did he say about the Destroyer?" asked Xena, quietly.
"He said that it was very important to tell you and tanti Gabrielle that the Destroyer isn't dead," said Neiromei solemnly.
"Xena, what ... ?" began Melys' as her warrior rushed out of the cottage.
"Did I do something wrong, Meia?" asked the little girl.
"No, of course not, Romy," said Melys', going to her. "Joxer is - was your tandos Virgil's father. He died a great hero - and he was very dear to Xena and Gabrielle. I think maybe Xena just got a little sad because he isn't here any more."
"He's sad, too, meia," said Romy. "He misses them very much - he told me so. Could you use your magic so he could talk to them again?"
"You know, Romy, I think that's an excellent idea," said Melys', thoughtfully. Xena and Gabrielle need to know more about this Destroyer, the priestess thought. I haven't seen Xena look so scared since ... well, since never. There's something she's not telling me ...
Xena left the cottage and raced to the Lodge. Not dead? she thought. How can that be? I saw the bodies burned ... Then again, that's not the first time Hope's dead body was burned. If the Destroyer survived, maybe Hope did, too. Gods - how do I tell Gabrielle this?
The warrior stopped for a moment, shaking her head. This isn't like me, she thought. Running off in a panic. I need to think. Need to talk with Romy again before I spring this on Gabrielle.
The warrior began to walk back to the Queen's cottage but was intercepted by a sentry.
"Warrior Queen - I mean, Xena," said the girl, handing a rolled parchment to the warrior. "This just came for you - and one for Queen Gabrielle, too. The messenger left them at the post.
"Okay," said Xena, nodding. "Thank- you."
The sentry nodded and ran to carry the other parchment to the Lodge. Xena looked at the seal and shook her head, not recognising it. She tucked it away for later, then headed back to the cottage and walked in.
"Xena, what's going on?" asked Melys'. "What's this about the Destroyer? Wasn't that ....?" Her voice trailed off.
"Yeah," said Xena, with a sigh.
"Okay - refresh my memory a bit here," said Melys', sitting in one of the chairs before the hearth. Xena took the other chair and a moment to collect her thoughts.
"There were supposed to be six Destroyers," said the warrior, her deep blue eyes growing darker and far away in memory. "According to Ares, these Destroyers were to be '-- insidious creatures with no souls, who eat of the living and the righteous, and lay waste to all gods.' They were to pave the way for Dahak to enter this world and do his 'grunt work' after he arrived."
"But Dahak is no more," said Melys', frowning in thought. "And Hope is dead."
"It wouldn't be the first time Hope managed to come back from the dead," said Xena, darkly.
"But why? With Dahak gone, what could they possibly hope to accomplish?" asked the priestess, thoughtfully.
"Are you kidding?" asked Xena. "Hope would reign in her father's place." Xena shuddered.
"Hope was reborn as our little Ephiny," mused Melys'. "Well, not so little anymore."
"That's right," said Xena, brightening. "So ... what does that mean?"
"Well, I was just wondering," said Melys'. "Why Dahak didn't ... well, when he had Gabrielle, why he didn't just make a Destroyer - instead of Hope."
"And?" asked Xena.
"Maybe he tried, but Hope was born with a soul," said Melys'.
"So Hope was ... a sort of 'practice run'?" said Xena.
"Unless ..." said Melys', deep in thought.
"Unless what, 'Lys'?" asked Xena, impatiently.
"Sorry," said the priestess, smiling. "Ares said that the Destroyers would be without souls - but who said they had to be born soulless?"
"Oh," said Xena.
Anaxilea had been restless for some time. It had been an inspired moment when she went to the queen of her Tribe and asked to go on a quest. In truth, the Amazon thought she saw relief in the older woman's eyes at her request.
It wasn't that Queen Thraso wanted her gone from the Tribe - not exactly. It was just that Anaxilea had been so restless that she was distracting to her foster mother, the Queen. Since finding her as a tiny newborn, left exposed on a hillside near the Amazon village, Thraso had loved and raised the girl as her own. It was hard to not love the golden-haired, bright blue-eyed Anaxilea. She had a sharp mind and learned quickly. There was something strange about her, though. Not just the odd-shaped birthmark on the inside of her elbow - that was eerie enough to the Amazons, but her whole demeanor was one of polite detachment.
Anaxilea trained as a warrior and won her sisters' pride and respect on the battle-field - none could match her in fighting prowess and it was Anaxilea who brought home the most "trophies" from war. This disturbed Thraso; it had always been the practice of her Tribe to bring home the skulls of the enemy warriors they had slain. The general practice was for the Amazon braves to only a bring a token few, not the whole of their "kill", but Anaxilea regularly brought ten or more skulls back from every battle. That she had killed each of these men - in fair combat, no less - was never in question; the Amazons had seen her fight and her skill and ruthlessness was well-known and a little feared by her Tribe. Nor was her honour in question, it was just that detached air with which she threw down the string of skulls and bowed before Thraso when she presented them. As if they were stones and not the remains of once-living human beings.
Now she rode on a quest she had manufactured for herself. Anaxilea had no intention of returning to her Tribe. She knew they had tried their best, but they would never understand her. The dreams which had haunted her almost every night of her life told her this. Strange images of blood and death and fire, which only the mindless fury of battle could take from her - for a time. The more men she killed, the longer the dreams stopped, giving her a brief peace. She didn't know how she was going to keep the dreams at bay without battles to fight, but she was tired of the killing. Her soul felt heavy with the weight of the lives she had taken, even if those men would have killed her without a thought.
The most disturbing thing, however, was that recently, Anaxilea had noticed that the killing also brought her abilities - magical abilities - she had never had before - it frightened her badly. She didn't understand it, and didn't want to - she just wanted it to stop. She also knew that she was a danger now, especially to her sisters. Even though the Amazons had never understood her, they had accepted her as one of their own, given her a place among them despite her being different from them and Anaxilea loved them for that, even though she couldn't stay among them. By leaving, she was protecting the Tribe from herself, for Anaxilea felt the changes coming over her were not good. Not at all.
Suddenly, Anaxilea heard a disturbance just ahead. She reined in her horse and slowed to a walk, listening to determine the danger. She heard a group of men and one woman arguing. Quickly, Anaxilea rode to the scene.
The Amazon saw a young woman about her own age with dark eyes and black hair. She was pregnant and was fighting against the group of men, trying to pull her away into the woods.
"Leave me alone!" she screamed, struggling.
"Hey!" yelled Anaxilea, jumping from her horse and running into the centre of the conflict. She drew and her sword and put herself between the men and the young woman. To her surprise, the men dropped to their knees before her. Warily, the Amazon glanced back at the young woman and saw her rolling her eyes in disgust. "What's going on here?"
"Eli protect us!" cried one of the men.
"Eli?" said Anaxilea, looking cautiously around. "Where is this Eli? If he would help you, let him show himself!"
"He won't," said the girl. "He's dead."
"Lucina! That's blasphemy!" cried another of the men. "How dare you - ?"
"I dare because it's true," Lucina retorted. "Ares killed him years ago - you're asking for help from a dead man."
"Lucina, our holy scriptures teach - " began the first man.
"I know what they say - my mother wrote them," said Lucina.
"Wait a minute - you know these guys?" asked Anaxilea.
"Yes - they're trying to make me go back with them," said Lucina.
"You don't want to?" asked the Amazon.
"No - I hate it there," said Lucina, shaking her head.
"Okay," said Anaxilea, addressing the kneeling men. "Lucina here is going to go - and none of you are going to stop her, got it?"
"You cannot interfere with the will of Eli," said the first man.
"What does the 'will of Eli' have to do with me?" asked Lucina, disgusted. "The will of my mother is more like it."
"If you were to stay, your mother could explain all to you, Lucina," said the first man, solemnly.
"Oh, yes, my mother is so forthcoming," said Lucina.
"Alright, enough," said Anaxilea. "You men - get up and go before I run you all through."
"I would willingly sacrifice my life to save Lucina," said one of the men.
"If I kill you all, how are you going to save her from anything?" said Anaxilea, brandishing her sword.
The men reluctantly rose and left. One turned his head and spoke, "Lucina, I will pray for you."
The men were out of sight when Anaxilea leapt astride her horse.
"Hey!" cried Lucina.
"What?" asked the Amazon.
"Um, do you think that maybe I could go with you?"
"No," said Anaxilea, wheeling the horse around and making ready to ride away.
"Wait!" cried Lucina, grasping the Amazon's ankle. Anaxilea had to restrain her horse from rearing up and harming the young woman.
"What?" she said, impatiently.
"Why not?" asked Lucina.
"Hey, you ran away - didn't you have a plan? Like where you were running to?" asked Anaxilea.
"No," Lucina admitted. "I didn't think that far ahead - I just wanted away from them." Anaxilea rolled her eyes and reached down to pull Lucina up into the saddle behind her.
"Are you okay to ride fast?" asked the Amazon.
"As fast as possible from here, please," said Lucina with a shudder.
"Okay," said Anaxilea, shrugging. I'll drop her off at the nearest Amazon settlement I can find, thought the warrior. They'll either take care of her until the baby's born or send her home. Either way, it won't be my problem.
While Melys' got the evening meal prepared and the girls fed, Xena remembered the parchment she had received earlier. She pulled it from her zona and re-examined the seal. It was not one she recognised, but she broke it anyway and unrolled the parchment. It was completely blank, but two feathers fell from it - a white one and a black one.
"What the - ?" said the warrior to herself.
"What's wrong?" asked Melys', entering the room.
"This is really strange," said the warrior, holding out the parchment and the feathers to the priestess.
"What ...?" Melys''s eyes glazed over as soon as she touched the things. She found herself walking toward the centre of the crossroads where her goddess, Hekate awaited her.
"Mother? Did you call me here?" she asked.
"Yes, my Daughter," said Hekate. The Goddess sighed, knowing that Her Chosen would not like Her message. "The Three Queens of AemetzainL must send your youngest daughters from the Amazons."
"What?" said Melys', not quite understanding.
"Dylanda, Leilae, and Melosa must leave the Amazons - as soon as possible," said Hekate.
Melys' just stared blankly at the goddess for a moment. "Melys', my child, they are in very great danger."
"Does this have anything to do with the Destroyer?" asked the priestess.
"Yes and no," said Hekate. "I cannot explain it to you fully without altering the decision you must make for yourself, but if the children remain among the Amazons, they will never fulfill their destiny."
"Their destiny is as the 'Hope of the Amazon Nation' - you said so yourself, Mother," said Melys'.
"How can they fulfill that destiny away from the Amazons? That just doesn't make sense to me."
Suddenly, the priestess was given a vision of a twisted ladder and she heard the goddess's voice in her mind.
"I have written the Amazon Spirit into their blood and their bones - it is as much a part of them as the colour of their hair or the shape of their noses," Hekate told her. The vision faded and Melys' saw the goddess seated before her once again. "They must leave the Amazons."
"Where am I to send them?" asked Melys'. "And for how long?"
"For good, Melys', said Hekate, firmly. "And I have already made place for them to go."
"Mother, no!" cried Melys'. "Please, Mother - what must I do to keep them?"
"Melys', you have done well with them - they are a credit to you and to Xena and to Gabrielle, but now you must give them to me," said Hekate, patiently.
"I have no choice?" said Melys', stricken.
"You always have a choice, Melys'," said Hekate, gently. "You know that already. But if you do not do this, the Amazons will be lost for all time."
"That isn't much of a choice," said Melys', suppressing a sob.
"No, it isn't, my daughter, and I wish I could offer you a better one," admitted Hekate.
"It isn't entirely up to me, Mother," said Melys'. "Xena and Gabrielle have a stake in this, too. I cannot speak for them."
"I know," said Hekate, sensing her Chosen was wavering.
"Mother, if you take them, I know they will be alright, but ...." said the priestess, biting her lip.
"I know," said the goddess, gently. "This will not be the first time you have been forced to give up a child."
"Or Xena either," said Melys', softly. "But Gabrielle ..."
"Gabrielle has also suffered this heartbreak, my Daughter - and worse," said Hekate, darkly.
"Oh," said Melys', remembering. "That doesn't make this easier, you know."
"Yes, I do know," said Hekate.
"How long do we have?" asked the priestess, fighting the tears already welling up in her dark green eyes.
"A little while, only, my Daughter," said Hekate, sadly. "When the time comes, you will know."
"It seems that I must trust you with this, Mother - despite what you say, I really have no choice, have I?" Melys' said, bitterly.
"Melys', there is always a choice," said Hekate. "It's just that sometimes, the right choice is not always appealing for a queen."
"Especially for a queen," Melys' said quietly.
Melys''s eyes cleared and she threw herself into Xena's arms, weeping.
"'Lys', what is it?" asked the warrior, alarmed.
"Dylanda ... Leilae ... Melosa ... they have to leave us," Melys'.
"What are you saying?" asked Xena. Melys' relayed Hekate's message and Xena grew very quiet.
"The Destroyer - he must be coming for them," said the warrior.
"No, Xena - if it were just that, it wouldn't have to be for good," said Melys', miserably.
"Maybe it would - obviously, if the Destroyer is still alive, he's not easily killed - maybe it's impossible to kill him once and for all - he would keep coming for them ... " Xena's voice trailed off and tears welled up in her dark blue eyes. She pulled the priestess closer. "We have to tell Gabrielle - and I really need to talk with Joxer. I need to figure this out."
Melys' sent a message to her cousin Persephone, goddess of the underworld, as a courtesy, asking for Joxer to be released briefly so that Xena and Gabrielle could ask him some questions. If she didn't hear back soon, she didn't know how she was going to keep Xena from jumping into the Alcyonian Lake and paying an impromptu visit herself. In the meantime, the warrior went to the Lodge to speak with Gabrielle. She went alone, telling Melys' that it would be better if she conveyed the message to the Bard.
"Either way, it won't be easy for her," Melys' said to herself, watching Xena's usually proud shoulders drooping as she walked towards the Lodge. "For any of us."
Anaxilea suffered her unwanted companion in silence. At least Lucina could cook - and she had a soothing way about her. The first night of their travelling together, Anaxilea awoke screaming from the nightmares. Lucina was there beside her in an instant, crooning some old lullaby that Anaxilea recognised as Amazon in origin.
"Where did you hear that?" gasped the warrior, calming from the evil dreams. Lucina shrugged.
"I don't remember," said Lucina. "I think maybe my mother must have sung it to me before ...."
"Before what?" asked Anaxilea, sitting up.
"Never mind," said Lucina, shortly. She arose and began to build up the fire from the night before. "We might as well get an early start - I doubt either of us will sleep anymore."
"Sorry about that," said Anaxilea, quietly.
"Don't worry about it," said Lucina, offering a smile to her companion. "Everyone has nightmares sometimes."
"Yeah, well, you should probably know - I have them most every night," said Anaxilea.
"Really? How can you stand that?" asked Lucina, concerned.
"Just do," said the warrior with a shrug. "Hey, how much longer are you going to be able ride - you know - in your ...um ... 'condition'?"
Lucina laughed. "As long as I have to," she said. "Why? Do you have a destination in mind?"
"Yeah - there's an Amazon Tribe not far from here - AemetzainL," said Anaxilea. "I think they may be able to give you refuge - at least until the baby's born." Lucina nodded.
"I know of them," she said. "My mother dislikes the Amazons - especially the AemetzainL."
"Why?" asked Anaxilea, frowning.
"I'm not sure," said Lucina as the two packed up the campsite and made ready to ride. "Once, this travelling Bard named Virgil came through our village. Mother welcomed him at first because he, too, was Elisian. But then he began to tell stories about this hero called 'Joxer the Mighty' and his sidekicks, Xena the Warrior Princess and the Amazon Bard of Poteidaia, Gabrielle. Mother asked him to leave, saying that stories about those 'harlots, the Amazons, were sinful and unclean and not for the likes of Elisian ears, and that those AemetzainL Amazons were the worst."
"Well, Xena is the Warrior Queen of the AemetzainL - and from what I know of her, she was no one's sidekick," said Anaxilea. "I've never heard of this 'Joxer the Mighty'. Your mother must really have some sort of grudge against Xena."
"I don't know what," Lucina frowned.
"Well, do you have anything against the Amazons?" asked Anaxilea, one eyebrow raised.
"No - after all, didn't an Amazon 'rescue' me?" said Lucina with a chuckle.
"Rescue you from what?" asked the Amazon rolling her eyes. "Those guys weren't exactly a threat."
"Because Elisians don't fight," said Lucina.
"Don't fight?" said Anaxilea, pulling Lucina up behind her on the horse. "How can they survive if they won't fight?"
"Well, my mother would say it's because Eli protects us," said Lucina. "I think we're just not enough of a threat to anyone - people just don't bother with us."
"Who is this guy - this 'Eli'?" asked Anaxilea.
"Eli is ... well, he's ... sort of hard to explain," said Lucina, frowning. "He was this wandering teacher and he preached that Love was the only weapon anyone needed to defeat evil. His 'Way of Love' got to a lot of people and they started following him around."
"It's a nice thought," said Anaxilea, quietly. "But it isn't very realistic."
"Well, actually, it is," said Lucina, thoughtfully. "If everyone followed it."
"Again - not realistic," said Anaxilea, feeling suddenly annoyed.
"You have a point," Lucina said with a sigh. "My mother is his messenger - only ..."
"What?" said Anaxilea.
"Mother embellishes his message," said Lucina, quietly.
"Huh," the Amazon chuckled. "I've found most priestesses - or priests - do."
"Mother isn't a priestess - not exactly," said Lucina, troubled. "She's Eli's Messenger - and she's wrong to do that. She given a sacred trust and she has betrayed that - for whatever reasons she may have, it is still wrong."
"You sound like an Amazon, talking of honour," said Anaxilea, quietly. "Is that why you left?"
"Partly," said Lucina. "I am escaping my arranged marriage."
"I see," said Anaxilea. "I assume that since you Elisians are non-violent, it's not because he beats you?"
"Hardly," said Lucina, rolling her eyes. "Hes one of my mothers chief 'advisors. I cant stand him. He wasnt always so bad, but he thinks, just because hes married to my mothers daughter, that he should have all this power. Thats not what Eli was about. Mother listens to him too much and Eli not enough."
"Someone should do something about that," said Anaxilea. <Someone who gives a rat's tail,> the warrior thought to herself.
"Yes, but who?" asked Lucina. "The only ones who care enough are already mixed up - no one knows what message comes from Eli and what my mother has made up and just <said> Eli told her. Who can help us sort it all out?"
Anaxilea shrugged. "I dunno," she said, shortly, effectively ending the conversation.
Gabrielle took the news with surprising calm.
"The Destroyer is alive - and Hekate wants my youngest daughter," the Bard repeated.
"Yes," said Xena quietly.
"Okay .... " said Gabrielle with a sigh. "Hekate said the children are in great danger. I am assuming that the danger is from the Destroyer?"
"We don't know," said Xena. "That would be the assumption, but ... I just don't know Gabrielle. If the Destroyer is alive, then we are <all> in danger."
Gabrielle sat with her eyes closed, rubbing her forehead with one hand. Suddenly, she leaped to her feet and ran out to the privy with a hastily mumbled "'Scuse me." Xena heard her out there, retching violently.
"Son of a Bacchae," said the warrior with a snarl. She waited until Gabrielle returned to the Lodge and sat back down, pale and shaking.
"Xena, I don't know what to do," said the Bard. "I don't want to give up Melosa, but if Hekate says that the children are in danger ... I just don't know what else to do."
"Neither does Melys'," said Xena, grimly. "I don't know, Gabrielle. I gave up one child - I'm not ready to just give up another."
"What can we do?" asked Gabrielle, miserably.
"I'll think of something," said Xena, frowning. "I have to."
To Be Continued