THE AMAZON QUEEN
Part IV: BATTLE CRY
by L. M. Townsend
DISCLAIMERS: The characters of Xena, Gabrielle, Eve, Argo, Virgil, Ephiny, Alti, Joxer, Eli, et al (meaning anyone else I didn't list and should have.)and the characterisations of Ares and Aphrodite, are the property of MCA, Universal, and Renaissance Pictures and anyone else who has a legal claim, and I thank them for their creation and for allowing me to live in their universe for a little bit. (MelysÎ and The Amazons belong to themselves and I dare any man to say different!) The stories are mine, though, and written just for fun, not profit.
Subtext? Subtext? Well, yeah. There is. Some of it obviously implied, some blatant, though nothing graphic, and some of it's in the eye of the reader; WHILE THERE ARE NO GRAPHIC SEXUAL SCENES OF ANY KIND, there is kindness, affection, loyalty, mutual respect, friendship, and yes, lots and lots of love, so, if you read anything into any of the words or situations these characters find themselves in, then you have only yourself to thank/blame (depending upon your point of view!) If you have a bug up your butt about people of any persuasion loving each other and sharing their lives, then I pity you. I won't apologise for them, though, so if you have a problem with any of these stories, it's up to you to go and read something else. Remember, no one's holding a sword ( or a chakram) to your throat!
Violence: Oh, yeah - this is a story with Xena in it. Remember, she likes to fight. Nothing too horrific, though (except maybe Xena and MelysÎ comparing their respective dark sides). There are some descriptions of what one may term 'domestic abuse' - although in this case, it was probably more the torture of a prisoner (Tell me, is there a difference?). Anyway, this story may bother the more sensitive reader. Consider yourself warned.
Language: Well, we are privy to some of Ares's thoughts in this installment. There is some "salty" language here, but nothing too tacky. I probably wouldn't talk this way in front of mother, though - I don't like the taste of soap.
*Spoiler Alert - several references to various episodes throughout the history of the show.
*Major Spoiler alerts for DREAMWORKER, ULYSSES, RETURN OF CALLISTO, ORPHAN OF
WAR, MATERNAL INSTINCTS, THE DEBT, THE QUEST, GABRIELLE'S HOPE, FINS, FEMMES,
AND GEMS, SACRIFICE, ADVENTURES IN THE SIN TRADE, PARADISE FOUND, THE WAY, SEEDS OF FAITH, GOD FEARING CHILD, LOOKING DEATH IN THE EYE, LIVIA, EVE, and
MOTHERHOOD (This list encompasses the entire story to date, including future installments. I realise that in some countries, the fifth season hasn't yet been aired.)
Feedback is very welcome. Please let me know if you like my stories. Anything mean or nasty will be ignored. You can e-mail me at QueenLaese@aol.com. Thank-you for reading.
The Priestess Queen of the Amazons, MelysÎ, paced nervously. Her eldest daughter, ArynÎ, already a trained warrior despite her youth, stood silently and watched her mother.
"Where are they?" the Queen said, finally stopping at the window and gazing out.
"Mother, I'm sure if they were delayed, Xena would have sent word," said ArynÎ, calmly. "They're not that late."
"I know, I know," said MelysÎ, sitting in her chair. "It's not really them I'm worried about."
"I know - the warlord Hylinos," said ArynÎ. "You let me worry about him."
"I wish I could," said MelysÎ. "But with Xena and Gabrielle gone, I have to lead the army and you know I just can't do that."
"No, but I can," said ArynÎ, gently. "Why else has Xena been training me, but to take over as Warrior Queen when she's not here?"
"I know, and you've done well," said MelysÎ, smiling at her eldest daughter. "I am truly proud of you - and I know Xena will be, too, when she hears of how you routed the last two warlords who thought the Amazons vulnerable whilst she was away. But you are still too young to take full command. You and I know how capable you are, 'Ryn, but the warriors won't follow someone so much younger
than they are - no matter who trained her. I know how hard that is for you, and it probably doesn't help much now, but in a few years things will change, and you will have a command of warriors in your own right - and by your own merit, not just as my daughter or Xena's."
The girl sighed. "I know you're right, Mother, but it's just so hard. I heard that eleven Tribes of the Amazon Nation have been annihilated - completely wiped out - in the last year," she said grimly. "It's as if someone is out to destroy the Amazon Nation. I want to do something to stop that, but I feel so helpless."
"I know," said MelysÎ. "I sense that someone is trying to destroy us too. But who - and why?"
ArynÎ shrugged. "I don't know," she said. "But when Xena and Gabrielle get back with SelenÎ and Ephiny, I intend to find out - and stop them."
"'Ryn, don't say that," said MelysÎ, frowning.
"Mother, I mean it," said ArynÎ. "If the Amazons are in danger, then as a warrior - and future queen - it's my responsibility to protect us."
"Sometimes you sound a little too much like Xena for my comfort," said her mother.
"It's true and you know it is," said ArynÎ. "If you would just stop thinking like my mother for a minute - you're a queen and you know I'm right."
"If you believe I can ever stop thinking like a mother - " began MelysÎ.
"Look, here they come," said ArynÎ, gazing out of the window.
MelysÎ jumped up out of her chair and ran out the door. Her youngest daughter, SelenÎ, and Gabrielle's eldest, Ephiny, were in training at the Temple in Ephesus, as many Amazon daughters did. But when Melyse had gone to visit them, she had noticed changes in the city and in the Temple - Roman changes, and the Queen had felt very uncomfortable leaving the girls there. At the girls' request, she had allowed them to complete their first year of studies, but as soon as that term had ended, Xena and Gabrielle had gone to escort them home. It had been months since MelysÎ had seen her youngest, and she eagerly held out her arms as SelenÎ jumped off the back of her horse and flew into her mother's embrace. MelysÎ held her as if she would never let go.
"Mother, give someone else a chance at her, will you?" said ArynÎ, grabbing her little sister, and hugging her as she picked her up and swung her around. "Goddess, I missed you!"
"I missed you, too," said the younger girl, beaming up at her older sister. "Look at you - a full warrior of the Tribe. I'm impressed."
"Yeah, well," said ArynÎ, grinning. "I'm pretty impressed with you, too - I heard you two were at the top of your age-mates. Even finished the term before anyone else."
"Just couldn't wait to get home," said Ephiny, dismounting and being enfolded in MelysÎ's arms.
"Gabrielle and I will take care of the horses," said Xena, taking the leads of the girls' mounts.
"No need, Xena," said MelysÎ, smiling. "HippothoÍ will take care of them - she put in a bushel of apples, too, anticipating Argo's return." Argo whinnied and turned to look at Xena. MelysÎ swore that if a horse could grin, Argo would be doing just that.
"Well, alright," said Xena, as she and Gabrielle dismounted, and handed the reins to the waiting HippothoÍ.
"Anyone hungry?" asked MelysÎ.
"Starved," said Gabrielle. "And very tired of eating my own cooking."
Xena looked at her, one eyebrow arched. "Hey, I told you from the beginning I didn't cook," she said.
"Yeah, but you woulda thought the priestesses would have taught them how -" began Gabrielle.
"Come on," said MelysÎ, smiling. "I made nutbread - fresh this morning."
"Oooh," said Gabrielle and Ephiny in unison. Ephiny merely looked at her mother and rolled her eyes before striding into the cottage behind ArynÎ and SelenÎ.
"What was that all about?" asked MelysÎ, pulling Gabrielle aside before they went in.
Gabrielle sighed. "Well, you know," said Gabrielle. "Mother vs. daughter stuff. You've got two of your own. You know how it is."
Actually, MelysÎ thought, frowning, I don't - thank the Goddess! But she wasn't about to tell Gabrielle that.
"Come on Gabrielle, it's more than that," said Xena. "Ephiny doesn't want to go back to Poteidaia with Gabrielle."
"Why not?" asked MelysÎ.
Gabrielle sighed again. "It's a long story," she said.
"Yeah but you're good at those," said MelysÎ, grinning. "Why don't you tell me later? Let the girls stay at the House of Maidens tonight, and the three of us will sit down and have nice long talk. The queens of this Tribe need to hold a council, anyway."
"Trouble?" asked Xena.
"Oh, yeah," said MelysÎ. "Big time."
After dinner, MelysÎ sent the girls to the House of Maidens, promising herself some quality time with SelenÎ the next day, and sat with Xena and Gabrielle at the table in her cottage. Strewn across the table were parchments and scrolls. Maps had been drawn on some and some were hastily scribed dispatches from other Tribes.
"So ArynÎ has repelled two armies in just the last month?" asked Xena, pride showing through her concern.
"Oh, yes," said MelysÎ, smiling. "If I didn't know better, I'd swear she was your daughter, not mine. But yes, two in a month and a third pushing our boundaries - here." The queen pointed to a place on one of the maps.
"And eleven Tribes ... gone," said Gabrielle, quietly.
"Yes," said MelysÎ, grimly, still pointing on the map. "Here. Here. And all around here."
"That's a pretty random scattering of Tribes. There are literally hundreds of Tribes in the Amazon Nation," said Xena. "What makes you think someone is after the complete annihilation of the Amazons?"
"Instinct," said MelysÎ. "Gut feelings. I pray I'm wrong, but ArynÎ feels it too."
"So do I," said Gabrielle.
"So what are we going to do about it?" asked Xena.
"ArynÎ says she's going to find out who's behind this and go after them," said MelysÎ.
"That sounds like a plan," said Xena, grinning.
"Yeah, the old, 'hunt them down and kill 'em all' technique," said Gabrielle, rolling her eyes, but smiling good-naturedly. "You're right - she is Xena's daughter."
"No, no," said Xena, still grinning. "Just 'hunt them down' - I haven't 'killed 'em all' for years."
"At any rate," said MelysÎ, "we do need to find out who's behind this before the Amazons become extinct."
"Ares?" said Gabrielle.
"Why?" asked MelysÎ. "Ares doesn't do anything without reason. Besides, my brother has a soft spot for his 'Daughters'. No, it's not Ares."
"Well, then who?" asked Gabrielle.
"I don't know," said MelysÎ, frowning. "We're being attacked by warlords from every nationality. Of course, the Amazon Nation stretches from the Northern Steppes to Anatolia to Britannia and south near the Land of the Pharaohs. I have aunts and cousins there and in the Black Sea Tribes, in Themiscyreia. There are even Tribes across the sea, I've heard. Small Tribes of Amazons scattered
across so vast an area are prime targets. Not like sacking a city or invading a huge country. We need a way to consolidate our strength and our people."
"And we need something to draw the enemy out," mused Xena. "Some kind of bait."
"That's what I've been thinking, too," said MelysÎ. "Rather than seek out the enemy, bring him to us."
"How?" asked Gabrielle.
"Well," said MelysÎ, slowly. "I was thinking of bringing the entire Nation together in one place - or, at least the leaders of the Nation."
"That could work," said Xena, thoughtfully. "If the annihilation of the Amazons is the goal, a target like that could be too great a temptation for the enemy to resist. Wipe out the whole Nation at once by killing off the leaders, rather than one Tribe at a time. That's what I would have done - actually, did - in my bad, old days, that is."
"Yes, but that's why I hesitate," said MelysÎ, grimly. "I would be risking all of my sisters' lives."
"But the point was, there's safety in numbers," said Xena. "How would you go about it?"
"I would call a Tribal Convocation - all the queens and leaders, or their appointed representatives - of all the Tribes together," said MelysÎ. "I don't know if there's ever been one of this magnitude before, though. Many of our sisters would have great distances to cover. But we need to come together to
discuss this danger posed to us by this unknown 'enemy', and find how best to fight him - or her. Then each queen could best decide how to protect her Tribe."
"Can we get the Tribes all together?" asked Gabrielle.
"We have to," said Xena. "Got any relatives who owe you favours, 'LysÎ?"
"Try all of them," said MelysÎ, grimly. "I'll talk to Ares first."
"'Ryn?" said SelenÎ. "You asleep?"
ArynÎ sighed - she hated being kept awake when she was tired, but this was her little sister whom she hadn't seen in a long time. "No," she said. "Not yet."
"Sorry," said SelenÎ, grinning. "I forgot. I won't keep you long. What is Mother talking to Xena and Gabrielle about?"
"The Tribe has been attacked by two warlords in the last month," said ArynÎ. "And a third is camped just outside our boundary. Mother and I think someone is behind the attacks. She's probably holding a 'war council' to figure out how to combat them." And I should be there, too, ArynÎ thought to herself.
"Oh," said SelenÎ.
"Why, what did you think?" asked ArynÎ.
"Well, Gabrielle said that Ephiny had to go back to Poteidaia with her," said SelenÎ. "We were hoping Mother would get Gabrielle to convince Virgil to let her stay with us."
"Convince Virgil?" said ArynÎ. "Since when does any man have a say where the daughter of an Amazon may or may not go?"
"'Ryn, Virgil is her father," said SelenÎ. "I know - I agree with you - and so does Ephiny. She loves her dad, but she wants to stay here, with the Amazons."
"So what's the problem?" asked ArynÎ.
"Gabrielle," said SelenÎ. "Don't get me wrong. I love our godsmother, but I don't think she thinks like an Amazon all the time - especially an Amazon Queen. Not when it comes to Virgil."
"Oh, for crying out loud," said ArynÎ. "They have four other children - why not let Ephiny stay with us? She's been Initiated as Daughter of the Tribe. By Amazon law, that makes her an Amazon - at least as far the Amazon Nation is concerned."
"I'm not sure it's really Virgil preventing her from staying," said SelenÎ. "I met him when he visited Ephiny at Ephesus. I like him. He's kind and gentle and very sweet. He dotes on Gabrielle and their children. I think Gabrielle just misses Ephiny too much to let her stay."
"Well," said ArynÎ, punching her pillow into a more comfortable shape - she never would like sleeping in a too-soft bed. "She wouldn't miss her if she'd visit more often."
"'Ryn, she's got four other children," said SelenÎ, giggling. "She can't just up and leave when it pleases her."
"She could if she lived here," said ArynÎ. "Every Amazon would be a mother to her children in her absence - that's what the House of Maidens is for."
"Two of them are boys," said SelenÎ. "Gabrielle wouldn't just leave them - and Virgil. She loves them too much."
"And that's why I'm glad I was born an Amazon," said ArynÎ. "If I ever have children, the boys are going to their fathers before I get attached."
"Mother says you get attached before they're even born," said SelenÎ. "Remember how she cried when our brother had to go live with his father?"
"Mother waited too long to send him," said ArynÎ. "Jox was three birth-seasons when he left. She should have sent him as soon as he was weaned."
"But he was so sweet," said SelenÎ, wistfully. "I went to see him while I was away. He's doing well in Amphipolis with Xena's brother, Toris. And Xena's mother adores him. He's getting terribly spoiled there."
"I know," groaned ArynÎ. "I get a full report every time Xena gets a letter from CyrenÍ. Can we go to sleep, now?"
"Yeah," said SelenÎ, planting a quick kiss goodnight on her sister's cheek. "I missed you, 'Ryn."
"Missed you, too," came the mumbled reply.
"No way," said the former god of war. "I am not getting involved in something that could come back and bite me in the ... well, never mind."
"Ares, please," pleaded the Amazon Queen, near tears in desperation. "All I want you to do is get them here faster than they could make it on their own. Ares, the Amazon Nation is in danger of oblivion. I need your help."
"Okay, say I even still have that power," said Ares. "I'm not admitting anything, mind you - the remaining gods are still pissed off at me for letting Xena kill Athena and the others. If I were to use that power, I would never see another crumb of ambrosia again. Sorry, Sis, but no way. I just don't see the percentage in it."
With that, he disappeared and with him, went a little of MelysÎ's hope.
"Alright," Xena yelled at the assembled Amazon warriors before her. "I've been away for a little while, but now I'm back." She grinned at the good-natured groans among the troops. "I see discipline hasn't suffered," she said. "Now, I heard about your victories in my absence - good job! We have another problem, though."
Xena outlined what had been discussed in the "queen's council". The warriors were enthusiastic about the coming Tribal Council proposed by their queens, despite the added work all the additional security would impose. Xena drilled them without mercy for most of the morning, then dismissed them for individual practice.
"Xena," Ephiny cried after her, and Xena turned.
"Eph', what's up?" said Xena, smiling.
"I need you to talk to Mother," said the girl.
"I know," said Xena, placing a gentle hand on the girl's shoulder. "You want to stay and Gabrielle wants you to go back with her."
"Yeah," said Ephiny. "Dad already gave me his blessing - he just wants to see me happy. But Mother - "
"Also wants what is best for you," finished Xena.
"You're on her side," accused Ephiny. "I should have known -' whatever Gabrielle wants, Gabrielle gets'."
"Hey," said Xena. "You may talk to your Mother that way, but not to me - and if I hear you talk her like that, you have me to answer to, clear?"
"Yeah, real clear," said Ephiny. "I thought you were my friend, too, Xena."
Xena sighed. MelysÎ's girls were never this difficult, but then Ephiny was a born Amazon, raised outside of the Tribe. It must be difficult for her, only being with other Amazons on Gabrielle's frequent, if sporadic visits, then dragged - literally, sometimes - back to Poteidaia.
"Ephiny, you know I'm going to talk to your mother for you," said Xena. "But it would help if you could see her point of view, too. She misses you. She wants you with her for a while."
"But mother couldn't stand that place, either - that's why she ran off and joined you," said Ephiny. "Smartest thing she ever did."
"Well, I can't argue with you, there," said Xena, smiling. "But if I hear of you running off, I will find you and drag you back - understood?"
"Yeah," said Ephiny, smiling. "I wouldn't be that hard to find, Xena. Just come here. It's the only place I've ever felt - "
"Like you belong," said Gabrielle, from behind the girl. Ephiny whirled around to see her mother. "I know what you mean. I won't make you go back to Poteidaia, Eph'. You're right - I hated it, too - once. But now, it's home again. Just like this is for you."
"Oh, Mother!" cried Ephiny, throwing herself into Gabrielle's arms. "Thank-you!"
Gabrielle met Xena's eyes and Xena saw the unshed tears. Clearing her throat, Gabrielle said, "Go find MelysÎ. She said you'll be staying in the House of Maidens with SelenÎ until after the Tribal Council. Then you can stay with her, if you like."
"Ok," said Ephiny, running off.
"If I didn't love her so much, I think I could choke her right now," said Xena, smiling.
"Xena!" said Gabrielle, laughing, wiping at her eyes.
"Well, you know I can't stand to see you hurt," said Xena, hugging her friend.
"Oh, I'm alright," said Gabrielle. "She's growing up."
"Amazon law," mused Xena. "Leaves a lot of leeway for mothers to assert parental authority over their young, un-Initiated daughters. You could have forced her to go."
"Why?" said Gabrielle. "If she's miserable and hating me, what's the point of having her with me? Besides, no matter what you said, she'd run away."
"Like mother like daughter?" said Xena, grinning.
"Exactly," laughed Gabrielle. "Anyway, she'll be with you and MelysÎ, so I know she'll be fine."
MelysÎ had sent dispatches to all the neighbouring Tribes inviting the queens and any other Amazons interested, to attend the Tribal Council, including a request to "pass it on" to their neighbouring Tribes. Gabrielle was planning for lodging and meals for the anticipated visitors and Xena was drilling the warriors, preparing them for the added security which would be required. MelysÎ was receiving daily replies from her fellow queens.
"They seem excited by the prospect of a get-together," she said to Xena. "I have to agree. It's long overdue. As a nation, we are remiss in not enjoying the community of our sisters. Of course, as a Nation, we are also rather spread out. I just wish...."
Xena gently took MelysÎ's hand. "Ares was no help, huh?" she said gently, knowing her friend was worried.
"No," said MelysÎ. "And I couldn't find Aphrodite anywhere. I don't know any of the others at all. We're just going to have to do the best we can without their help. How are the supplies coming?"
"Well," said Gabrielle, looking at the parchment in front of her. "A lot of our neighbouring Tribes are contributing food and materials. I need a detachment of warriors on hut-building detail."
"As soon as we route Hylinos, you can have as many as you want," said Xena.
"How long is that going to be, Xena? We have a lot of huts to construct, and - "
"Relax, Gabrielle," said MelysÎ, smiling. "A lot of our sisters have a long way to travel - it may be months before some of them arrive. Besides, the House of Maidens is only half full, the House of Mothers is all but empty and the House of Elders has plenty of room, too. And many of our sisters have offered their private homes for lodging. It'll be ok."
"Yeah, you're right," said Gabrielle, sighing.
"Mother, Xena," said ArynÎ, running into the cottage, panting. "Hylinos - he's marching on us. The scouts reported to me. We have to muster and meet them before - "
"Done," said Xena, leaping up and running to the drill field. MelysÎ got her daughter a drink of water, while Gabrielle rushed after Xena.
"Ok now?" said MelysÎ to ArynÎ as they heard the horn calling the warriors to battle. ArynÎ nodded. "Good, let's go!"
MelysÎ changed into battle-leathers and placed the leopard mask over her face before running out to mount her horse. While not the Warrior Queen, MelysÎ was a trained warrior, though she usually chose not to fight. She looked around to see that, under Xena's command, the Amazons were a disciplined group. Everyone knew their duty and did it without hesitation. All the children and elders, too young and too old to fight, were herded into the Temple which was the safest place to protect them. MelysÎ rode to the head of the army beside Xena and Argo, her fighting staff in hand, sword sheathed at her back. She looked to Xena for the signal.
Xena raised her sword, grinning and yelled, "Let's take 'em!"
MelysÎ shook her head, smiling - Xena always did love a good fight - and charged into the fray. She swung her staff, knocking men off of their horses, where the foot soldiers quickly dispatched them. All of a sudden, she was off of her horse, on the dusty ground. She looked down and saw a spear, all the way through her thigh. Rage overcame her at the sight of her own blood, and she barely felt the pain as she broke the spear and pulled most of it out of her leg. She began fighting the onslaught of men who thought a wounded Amazon was easy prey, and the spirit of the leopard came over her. Abandoning her staff, she fought with teeth and nails, savagely killing the men who were attacking her. Then Xena was at her side, lifting her back on the horse and leading her
off the battle field.
"It's alright, they're retreating," she said. "We've beaten them."
MelysÎ sighed and relaxed - then the pain roared into her and she leaned over, grabbing her bleeding leg. "Goddess!" she said, through clenched teeth.
"Here, let me look at that," said Xena, pulling up beside MelysÎ.
"No, it's ok," said MelysÎ, still bent over. "Just a little - " The queen lost consciousness from the pain, and Xena caught her before she fell off the horse. She got MelysÎ to her cottage and on the bed. ArynÎ came running in.
"Is Mother alright?" she asked.
"She will be," said Xena, tying a tourniquet above the wound. "Are all the healers busy?"
"Yeah - we had a lot of casualties this time," said ArynÎ, grimly. "Not too many dead, but more than half wounded. We were pretty well outnumbered. Xena, I - I'm glad you were here for this one."
Xena smiled at the girl. "You'd have done alright," she said, then her smile faded as she looked at MelysÎ. "I'll take care of her myself - there's not much time. Where's Gabrielle?"
"In the Temple, setting up for the wounded. I can help you," said ArynÎ.
"Ok, good," said Xena. "Get some water boiling. I need clean rags, a sharp knife, and put that poker in the fire."
"Got it," said ArynÎ, swallowing hard at the sight of her mother's pallor and all the blood.
"Are you sure you're up to this?" said Xena. "There's no shame in it if it's too much for you - she is your mother, after all."
"No, I'm ok," said ArynÎ.
"'Ryn," said SelenÎ, running into the bedroom. "Gabrielle needs you to supervise the warriors on clean up. I can help Xena. I've had some training for this in the Temple."
"Ok," said ArynÎ, visibly relieved, running out of the cottage to find Gabrielle.
"Xena, what do you need?" said SelenÎ, washing her hands.
"Gabrielle just happened to send for ArynÎ, huh?" said Xena, grinning.
SelenÎ, seemingly older than her years, looked knowingly at the warrior. "Did I say Gabrielle sent for her?" she said, grinning back. "Or did I say Gabrielle needed her? Either way, between you and me, ArynÎ can fight with the very best, but when it comes to this, she chokes."
"'Chokes'?" said Xena, eyebrow raised.
"Yeah - something like that," chuckled SelenÎ. "Anyway, I have Mother's gift for healing, so just tell me what you need, and I'll know what to do."
MelysÎ was recuperating from her wound. Xena and SelenÎ had had to remove the rest of the spear's wooden shaft and then cauterise the wound. Fortunately for MelysÎ, she remained unconscious throughout the procedure. Her leg was healing well, though Xena had said she had come close to losing it. She had lost a lot of blood, fighting on after the spear had pierced through the muscle, nicking the main artery, and there was a point at which Xena had fearfully thought she
wasn't going to make it. MelysÎ suffered a huge amount of pain, but she would be fine.
The queen continued to plan for the Tribal Council from her bed. ArynÎ, SelenÎ and Ephiny alternated staying by her side and Xena would not leave her at all, Gabrielle taking over the drilling of the troops every morning. They had lost very few Amazon lives in that battle, but so many were wounded that the Temple resembled a hospital ward.
"I don't like it," said MelysÎ, frowning. "We're too vulnerable now."
"We're fine," said Xena, soothingly, offering her a draught of poppy juice for her pain.
"No," said MelysÎ. "There's too much to do and that stuff just clouds my head."
"Ok," said Xena, smiling. Rapidly, she punched two fingers into Melyse's hip. MelysÎ gasped.
"Oh," she said. "Pain's - gone."
"Yes, but just for a few minutes," said Xena. "I need to clean the wound and re-dress it and I don't think you could stand it otherwise. It's gonna hurt worse after, though."
"Just do it, Xena," sighed MelysÎ. "I can take it."
"You know, that's what I like about the Amazons," said Xena, grinning as she worked. "Stoic bunch, the lot of you. Ok, done. Ready?"
MelysÎ gritted her teeth. "Go," she said, inhaling sharply as Xena released the pressure points. "Ok, ok, ok - I'm ok - give me the draught, Xena!"
Xena chuckled, and handed her the cup. "Yep - stoic," she said, as MelysÎ glared at her, then sighed. "It was a stupid wound - I got it from being stupid," she said. "I'm no warrior. I don't know why I even rode out that day."
"I was going to ask you about that - you could have stayed with Gabrielle and guarded the Temple like usual," said Xena, sitting beside her on the bed, taking the priestess's hand.
"I don't know why I did it," said MelysÎ. "I just felt it was - important."
"Well, the Amazons are impressed," said Xena.
"I wasn't trying to impress them - or anyone else," said MelysÎ, crossly. "I just felt so helpless - someone is out to get the Amazons. I had to do something to fight back."
"Well, you fought alright," said Xena, proudly. "You fought well and you were honourably wounded - now you can regally retire from battle once and for all."
"There is that," laughed MelysÎ. "No one has ever forced me to fight to begin with - except my cousin that one time, when she declared the Royal Challenge against me. The thing is, I really hate fighting."
"Well, no one could tell that - you took out a whole platoon all by yourself," said Xena.
"They shouldn't have attacked me when I was wounded," said MelysÎ, quietly.
"No, and their comrades will think twice about going up against the Amazons again after that," said Xena, gently squeezing her hand.
"Then their deaths served a purpose," said MelysÎ. "Will this be healed in time for the Tribal Council? I can't greet them from my bed."
"Should be healed enough for you to greet them from a chair," said Xena. "But don't rush it."
"Look who's talking," chuckled Gabrielle, coming in. "And the queens are already arriving. Nine coming in today - they heard about Hylinos and rushed to our aid as soon as they could. They also heard about your wound, so they're not expecting you to be up and about, though they have asked to meet with you here."
"Of course," said MelysÎ, laying her head back. "Just as soon as this damned poppy juice wears off enough for me talk coherently with them."
"They understand. They've asked to meet with you after the evening meal," said Gabrielle. "ArynÎ is seeing to their lodging and SelenÎ is quite the hostess - she's already cleared the bath house and is after the cooks to prepare refreshments after their bath."
MelysÎ smiled. "Remind me to do something extra nice for my girls," she said, closing her eyes.
"I think surviving the battle was nice enough," said Xena, dryly. "You scared the you-know-what out of them." And me, she thought. "It'll wear off."
"Hopefully it'll rub off," muttered Gabrielle. MelysÎ opened one and looked sharply at Gabrielle.
"Is Ephiny still giving you trouble?" she asked.
"Didn't your girls ever go through that rebellious stage?" asked Gabrielle.
"What stage? Their whole lives have been one great rebellion," said MelysÎ, closing both eyes again, drifting. "'Ryn demanding warrior training from Xena? SelenÎ refusing to go to Ephesus
until Ephiny could go? They're free souls, Gabrielle. All we can do is guide them along the way, but we have to let them be free or we kill their spirits."
Xena looked at Gabrielle as MelysÎ drifted off. "Well?" she asked.
"Actually, Ephiny has been very sweet since I told her she could stay here," admitted Gabrielle. "I guess I was hoping she'd change her mind. She's my first born and I really want her with me, but what is she supposed to do in Poteidaia? Wait around to get married? I can't expect that of her. She's an Amazon. Out of all my daughters, she's the most like me."
"And that is why you two don't get on so well," said Xena, smiling, and putting an arm around her friend's shoulders. "It'll change, though. Between you and me, and don't you dare tell them I told you, I overheard the girls talking. Ephiny said that your visits here when she was younger were the happiest memories she has because you were so different here than you were at home. She said she never felt closer to you than when you two were here and you were the most 'yourself'."
"She said that?" said Gabrielle, smiling.
"Yes," said Xena. "And of course, SelenÎ said that, with Ephiny living here, we would all get to see you more often - to which Ephiny replied, 'I hope so.'"
"Oh," said Gabrielle, smiling hugely. "Well, that's good. I was worried. I was beginning to think my own daughter didn't like me."
"Gabrielle, she loves you - it doesn't matter if she always likes you."
"True," said Gabrielle. "Ephiny and SelenÎ, huh? I had a feeling, a long time ago...malatyra. You know who those two remind me of?"
"Us," replied her best friend.
"Yeah," said Gabrielle. "I think I knew all along I wouldn't be able to bring myself to take Ephiny away from all this - and SelenÎ. I mean, I couldn't stay away, even after I married Virgil. It's who she is. An Amazon."
"Come on, let's let MelysÎ sleep for a while," said Xena leading Gabrielle to meet with the queens from the other Tribes.
MelysÎ slept lightly as a shimmering form took shape by her bedside. "Ares," she said, without opening her eyes.
"Did you pick up that trick from Xena?" said the god of war. "She could always sense me."
"No," said MelysÎ, opening her eyes. "It's the drug - leaves me open to all kinds of things. What are doing you here?"
"I came to make sure you're - heard you took a wound - I just came to see for myself if - ," said Ares.
"Yeah, I'm alright," said MelysÎ, wincing as she pulled her self up. "Stupid wound - I had no business out there."
"No, you did well," said Ares, grinning. "Took out a whole platoon of warriors - I should know, they were screaming prayers to me as you killed them."
"They were attacking me - I had no choice," said MelysÎ. "That's what they get for trying to hit me when I was down. Where is the honour in that?"
"Honour...Yeah," said Ares grinning. "I'm sorry I thought you were a wimp. You kept right on fighting, spear in the leg and all. I'm real proud, Little Sister."
"Thanks, Bro', but you don't usually pay family visits for no reason," said MelysÎ.
"I brought you something," said Ares. "Here, open your mouth - "
"For what?" said MelysÎ, suspiciously.
"It's to kill the pain," said Ares. "And you'll heal a lot faster. Just - trust me, ok?"
MelysÎ sighed. "Well, if you wanted me dead, I would be already, so, ok," said MelysÎ, complying. Ares slipped something under her tongue and MelysÎ swallowed. "Oh, gods," said MelysÎ, eyes opening all the way. "That's marvellous - what is it?"
"Food of the gods," said Ares, grinning.
"Are you crazy?" said MelysÎ, sitting fully up, ignoring the pain. "Ambrosia? Do you know what that does to mortals?"
"Relax, Little Sister," said Ares laughing. "You're safe. You carry the blood of Zeus. Besides, I've been feeding you little bits every day since you were wounded. Ambrosia probably saved your life - and your leg."
MelysÎ sighed. "I'm sorry, Ares," she said. "Thank-you. That was good, though."
"Yeah, nothing else like it," said Ares. "I owe you, Little Sister. Thanks to you, Hestia is allotting me a certain amount - enough to survive on, anyway. So I owe you big. I may be ... what I am, but I have my own brand of honour, too. And I always pay my debts."
"Ares, you aren't giving me your - "
"No, Hestia made this especially for you," said Ares, grinning. "Aphrodite got her to do it. And Hestia likes you - you're all sweet and ...honourable... and all that ...stuff. Just her type. And you saved that Temple of Hers from King What's-his name - "
"Phoebus - damn Romans have no respect," said MelysÎ, drifting back to sleep. "And I'm not all that sweet, you know. I have my moments, Goddess knows - but the Hestians are good people - they serve the poor and care for the widows and orphans. It was the right thing to do, that's all."
"Yeah, I guess," said Ares, shrugging. "The whole family - what's left of us, anyway - are all behind you - especially Aphrodite, Hekate, Hestia - and me. Sleep, now Little Sister."
"'Night," said MelysÎ, sleepily as Ares faded from sight.
The nine queens were led into the queen's bedchamber. The ambrosia had sufficiently perked her up so that she was sitting up in a chair. Xena raised an eyebrow, but said nothing about it, simply introducing the queens. Oh, but I'm gonna hear about it later, alright, thought MelysÎ.
"Anaea, Anaxilea, Prodia, Laitaku, Timarkta, Baiaemnek, Fehaeben, DyanÎ, and Mitylene, this is MelysÎ," Xena said.
"Sisters, please forgive me for not rising," said MelysÎ, smiling, and extending her hand to each queen in turn. "I'm so pleased you're here."
"I knew your mother," said DyanÎ. "LyssÎ - she was a formidable warrior. Her daughter is no less. She'd be proud of you. We've all been wounded - though not so severely as we had heard you were - and we understand that you mean us no dishonour. May the Goddess speed your healing."
"Blessed Be," murmured the other queens.
"Thank you, Sisters," said MelysÎ. "Are you all quite comfortable in your lodgings?"
"Oh, yes," said Prodia. "Your daughters are charming - and very efficient. Though one could expect no less from the Tribe which boasts the mighty Xena for a Warrior Queen."
"Yes, well, my daughter, ArynÎ will be her successor, I believe," said MelysÎ. "Please, be seated, Sisters. We have much to discuss. I - we believe the Amazon Nation is under attack."
"Yes," said Anaea, as the queens sat down around the table. "We in my Tribe had come to much the same conclusion, but we didn't quite know how to go about combating this unknown enemy. Tell me, have you any ideas?"
"Hmm, yes, several," said Gabrielle. "But not many feasible. We were hoping all the leaders of the Amazons together could think of a strategy to save the Nation."
"That's a good plan for a start," agreed Mitylene, as ArynÎ brought in refreshments. She dawdled, slowly pouring wine for the queens.
"'Ryn, will you stay?" asked MelysÎ, smiling knowingly at her daughter. "Ladies, I'm sure you have all met my eldest, ArynÎ? She is Xena's protÈgÈe and heir to the Warrior Queen crown of this Tribe. I think perhaps a younger point of view may assist us in these meetings. I would encourage you all with daughters to allow them to be present in these meetings, as well. After all, it is their future, too."
The other queens nodded assent, and ArynÎ, delighted, sat with her elders, and listened quietly. At the end of that first meeting, nothing was decided, but all the Tribes were not yet represented and the queens were hesitant to make any decisions without every Tribe's assent - or at least input.
"So, 'Ryn, what do you think?" asked MelysÎ, as Xena and Gabrielle assisted her back into bed. MelysÎ let out a little gasp of pain - it had been easier getting up. "Serves you right," muttered Xena, grinning at her as MelysÎ glared at her. "Never mind that," she said. "ArynÎ?"
"I don't know," said ArynÎ, slowly. "It's too soon to tell. Like the others, I think the other queen's need to be present before any decisions should be made."
"Hm," said MelysÎ. "But what do you think so far?"
"I think they will listen to you," said ArynÎ. "They are eager to protect the Nation. I hope the others are as open-minded and willing to work with us, too."
"Thank-you," said MelysÎ. "Go on to bed, now Love. You've had a long day."
"Ok, Mother," said ArynÎ, kissing her mother's cheek. "Thank-you for letting me stay."
"You're welcome. I meant what I said - we need your input, too. A fresh point of view may just get us thinking in directions our minds wouldn't normally go," said MelysÎ.
"Here," said Xena, handing MelysÎ a draught after ArynÎ and Gabrielle went to bed. "You probably need this more than ever. What were you thinking, getting up like that?"
"What are you trying to do, get me hooked on this stuff?" said MelysÎ, grinning. "Actually, I don't need it. I have a confession to make." MelysÎ told Xena about Ares' visits.
"So he's been feeding you ambrosia every day?" asked Xena.
"So he says," said MelysÎ. "But I don't remember it before today."
"Who specifically did he say was behind you?" said Xena.
"Aphrodite - but we knew that," said MelysÎ. "My sister and I have been close ever since she revealed Zeus was my father, and not Ares."
"Hestia, but remember we protected her Temple from Phoebus a couple of years ago," said MelysÎ frowning. "And Hekate. I don't remember doing anything for her though."
"Not directly," said Xena.
"Hekate is one of the names we use for our Goddess, but so is Artemis," said MelysÎ. "Actually, we used those names, among others, even before the Olympians 'borrowed' them. Our Artemis is not the same as Olympian Artemis. I don't know, Xena. Why would Hekate be interested in us?"
"Because we share a common enemy?" said Xena.
"I don't know," said Xena.
"Maybe I should ask her," said MelysÎ.
"Not tonight," said Xena, firmly.
"No," said MelysÎ. "The moon's not right tonight. But soon..."
"As soon as that leg is healed - I mean it," said Xena.
MelysÎ smiled, and closed her eyes. "Oh, Xena..." she said, falling into sleep.
MelysÎ dreamed dark dreams that night. A woman, laughing evilly. The trees used as weapons against her Amazons. Blood was drunk and demons, and trapped, tormented souls rode through the night skies to torment her and her people.
The queen awoke with a gasp. Xena was on the floor and sat up as soon as MelysÎ awoke.
"Are you alright?" she asked, anxiously.
"Yes - bad dreams," said MelysÎ. "That's all. Why don't you just come to bed, Xena? I'm fine, really."
"No, that's alright," said Xena, stretching back out on the floor, pulling her blanket up. " I don't want to jostle that leg and hurt you. I'll be here if you need me."
"You mean you'll be here if I decide to get up again - like I could breathe and have you not know it, let alone sneak out of bed," said MelysÎ, throwing one of her pillows to her friend. Xena grinned and tucked it under her head. "Thanks," she said.
MelysÎ was awake for the rest of the night. After the evil dreams, she had no desire to go back to sleep. Instead, she lay awake and thought, trying to decipher the messages of her dreams until daybreak.
"Hey, you been awake all night?" said Xena, arising.
"Yes," said MelysÎ, pulling herself up. "You know, this leg is much better. I want to get up today, Xena."
"'LysÎ, you've got to take it slow," warned, Xena.
"I will. If it hurts too much, I'll stop," she said, slowly swinging her legs over to the side of the bed.
"I don't like this," said Xena, placing her strong arms around the queen to steady her.
MelysÎ winced a little as she tried to stand. "Ok, neither do I," she said. "No weight, ok? Just help me to the chair."
"Alright," sighed Xena, as she helped MelysÎ to the chair by the hearth.
"Thank-you," said the queen. "I do feel better, really, and I just can't stand lying in that bed another minute."
"Were the nightmares that bad?" asked Xena, concerned.
"Yes, they really were terrifying," said MelysÎ, shuddering at the memory.
"You know, sometimes it helps to talk about the bad dreams - that way they lose some of their power to frighten us," said Xena, gently.
"It was mostly images, no continuity, really." said MelysÎ, quietly, and she told Xena as many of the details as she could remember as her warrior wrapped strong arms around her, comforting the priestess with her mere presence.
"MelysÎ, what do you know about...Alti?" asked Xena, quietly.
"Just what you've told me - why?" said MelysÎ.
"I think she's the enemy," said Xena.
"But you killed her - more than once," said MelysÎ.
"Alti told me she was a shamaness of the Amazons," said Xena, a far away look in her eyes. "She said the Amazons forced her to leave because she was too powerful. She may be powerful enough to come back - again."
"The Amazons would never cast out one of our own for being 'too powerful' - unless she used that power for ill or otherwise dishonoured the Amazon Nation - which, given what you've told me of Alti, is probably the case," said MelysÎ, frowning. "But if she was powerful enough to come back from the dead, she could possibly be seeking revenge against the Amazons. But where does Hekate come into it?"
"I'm not sure," said Xena. "But I think that's what you have to find out. How long before the moon is right for the ritual you need to contact Her?"
"A few days," said MelysÎ. "I need to start fasting today. I'll need some solitude. And your help, Xena."
"How can I help?"
"I need someone to keep everyone out," said MelysÎ. "Someone I can trust implicitly. Someone who doesn't talk much."
"Well, I guess that leaves out Gabrielle," chuckled Xena.
"'Fraid so," said MelysÎ, smiling. "She'll be busy anyway. I need her as Regent Queen to greet the Tribes as they arrive and to take my place discerning disputes and in Council meetings. She and my daughters will have their hands full."
"Hm, and more of the queens are due in today, no doubt expecting to meet with you, 'LysÎ. Looks like Ares pulled a 'god-thing' for you after all. What shall I tell them?" asked Xena.
"The truth - that I am attending to my duties as priestess and must - under no circumstances be disturbed," said MelysÎ.
"Ok, when do we start?" asked Xena.
MelysÎ had been fasting for three days and had not slept during that time. Instead she had entered a light trance while Xena stood guard at the door of the cottage, barring anyone from disturbing the priestess's meditation.
She had entered into another world and was walking through the forest when she came to a clearing. Here the path diverged into three and at the centre of the cross-roads was a throne, occupied by a beautiful woman. Seated about her were three hounds. Torches illumined the plateau and MelysÎ approached in silent reverence and knelt before the goddess.
"Rise, Little Sister," said the woman, smiling.
MelysÎ stood before her. "Hekate," said MelysÎ.
"Yes," said the goddess. "I'm glad you found your way to me at last. I need your help and the help of the Amazons."
"I cannot speak for others, but I am ever Yours to command, Lady," said MelysÎ.
"They will follow where you lead, My priestess," said Hekate. "But come and sit by Me. We have much to discuss and only a little time. If you do not return to your body soon, they will worry."
"'They'?" said MelysÎ, sitting.
"Xena, Gabrielle, the other Amazons," said Hekate. "They love you well and that is why they will follow you." One of the hounds rose and padded over to MelysÎ, sniffing her proffered hand, then licked it and lay himself down at her feet. MelysÎ looked over at Hekate in surprise. "You see," said Hekate, handing a goblet to MelysÎ. "Ares has fed you enough ambrosia to make you a goddess in
your own right, yet you resist. Drink it, dear - it's quite safe."
"Ares said you and the others were behind me," said MelysÎ, ignoring the drink in her hand. "What exactly did he mean by that?"
"Don't be so suspicious," said Hekate, grinning - and for a moment MelysÎ could have sworn she saw a skull - but no, the image was fleeting and gone before she could be sure.
"My dealings with this side of my family have taught me a little suspicion can be a healthy thing," said MelysÎ, at last sipping at the goblet.
"Nectar," said Hekate, indicating the goblet. "And I'm afraid you're right - some of the gods can be sneaky and underhanded - especially your brother. However, I think you've won his respect, at last."
"You sent me into battle," said MelysÎ, eyes narrowing with suspicion.
"No, my dear," said Hekate, soberly. "I don't work that way. I am the Queen of the cross-roads - of choices made by free will. It was your decision to fight that day."
"You are also the Goddess of Magic and of those who wield it, as I do," said MelysÎ.
"And I am also the Crone of Death," said Hekate. "And my role has expanded further with demise of the Olympians - as have all the remaining gods. We know our time is short - the Twilight is here. We accept it."
"But Lady, Night follows Twilight - and you are Queen of that, too," said MelysÎ, absently stroking the hound at her feet.
"The position for goddess of wisdom is open," said Hekate, smiling delightedly.
"No, thank-you," said MelysÎ. "I am your priestess and this contents me. Who is trying to destroy the Amazons?"
"Merely being My priestess may content you, but I have other plans for you, My child. But that discussion is for another time. As Xena suspected, Alti is afoot and seeking revenge - again," said Hekate, darkly.
"What do you have to do with this?" asked MelysÎ, ignoring the hint at her destiny.
"The Amazons are My daughters, not Ares' - you always have been," MelysÎ could only stare, amazed, as the Goddess's face shifted into the countenance of her own mother.
"You are not the Olympian Hekate - are you?" she whispered, falling to her knees
"No," said the goddess, gently raising her up. "I am only in this form so that your finite, mortal mind can safely handle this experience. I am here to help you, my daughter. I do not wish to see the Amazons destroyed. You must find Alti. But you must not fight her. Only Xena can defeat her - once and for all."
"Oh, Mother, thank-you," said MelysÎ, tears of joy oozing from her dark green eyes. "But how will I find Alti?"
"You have already begun - calling your sisters together was brilliant - you've gotten her attention - I am quite proud of you, my child. And Ares will grant them all 'godspeed'. But there is more you must know," said the goddess. "You have an enemy even more dangerous than Alti."
"An Amazon with enemies? Huh, there's news," said MelysÎ, wryly.
"Do not underestimate this one - it is Kraes," said Hekate, grimly, as MelysÎ paled in terror.
"No," whispered the Amazon, fearfully.
"I'm afraid so. And it is you who must defeat her," said Hekate.
"I - I can't," said MelysÎ. "I tried...before. I failed. She's...too evil for me to - "
"You must," said Hekate, firmly. "If you do not, the Amazons are lost. Have courage - and faith, my child. I will help you all I can, but it's up to you. No one else but you can destroy her evil."
"Have...faith..? I do have faith, Mother. Am I not your priestess?" said MelysÎ.
"Yes, you have faith in Me," said Hekate, smiling gently. "You must have faith in yourself, and in others too. I have faith in you. Did I not create you, and all that is? I know you are capable of this task. You must know it too."
"How?" asked MelysÎ. "What must I do to defeat her?"
"You must discover this for yourself," said Hekate. "I will help you all that I can. I will guide you, but you must make the choices that will lead your way to the Truth. You must choose the way to victory against this most dangerous enemy."
"Are Alti and Kraes working together?"
"Their goal is the same," replied Hekate. "You must go back now. You have much to do. Go now, My child. You are My Chosen, and you have My blessings and My favour. Remember I will be there with you always."
MelysÎ found herself shivering in spite of the roaring blaze in the hearth of her cottage. Someone - well, Xena, who had been the only person allowed near her these past few days - had placed a blanket around her shoulders, and MelysÎ clutched it tightly, her teeth chattering.
"Xena," she whispered, hoarsely, and the warrior leaped into the cottage. "What do you need?" she asked, anxiously peering at the queen's shaking form. "Hot...something hot...to drink," said MelysÎ, around chattering teeth. Xena bustled about the cottage and shortly handed MelysÎ the drink, then bundled her into her bed as the queen fell asleep.
Xena sat, keeping watch over the queen, wondering, until MelysÎ opened her eyes and sat up with a gasp. "Hey, it's alright; I'm here," said Xena, leaping to her side.
"Hekate," said MelysÎ.
"You saw Her?" said Xena.
"Yes, and spoke with Her," said MelysÎ, falling back against the pillows Xena had placed behind her. "Xena, She was - not the Olympian Hekate."
"You mean...She was - is - your goddess? The Goddess of the Amazons?" said Xena.
MelysÎ nodded weakly. "Oh, yes," said the Amazon, quietly.
"What did She say?"
MelysÎ looked at her friend. "Xena, you told me about your past," she said. "Now, I'm afraid, I shall have to tell you mine."
"What? You have a past?" said Xena, grinning. "Who'd have thought?"
"Xena," said MelysÎ, glaring.
"Sorry," said her friend. "You're just so..."
"So what? Innocent? Pure? What? NaÔve?" said MelysÎ, bitterly.
"No," said Xena, quietly. "Good."
"Oh," said MelysÎ. "I ... try to be, anyway."
"But...?" said Xena. "Come on, your past can't be as bad as mine."
"Depends on your point of view," said MelysÎ. "To me, mine's worse."
"But you overcame it," said Xena, wrapping her arms around her priestess, offering her strength and support.
"As you did," said MelysÎ, nodding, as her eyes grew far away, looking into a past she had tried unsuccessfully to forget. "I was young," she began. "I was at Ephesus, enjoying a freedom I had never had before. Always among the Amazons, I had an honour guard to protect me. But there, in the Temple, I was left to myself. I had never seen a man before then, either. I hadn't really even thought much about men, but when I discovered they found me attractive, I started thinking about them - a lot. I wondered what they found in me that attracted them. Only later did I realise it was just the fact I was an Amazon and exotic to them."
"It was more than that, my friend," Xena chuckled, raising MelysÎ's hand to her lips.
"Thanks," said MelysÎ, smiling at the compliment. "But I think most of them just thought an Amazon would make an impressive conquest. At any rate, I played their game for a while, but I wasn't about to...I never ... gave in to their...well, you know."
"Yeah, I know," said Xena, handing MelysÎ a cup of ale.
"Thanks," said the Amazon, sipping the drink. "I met Coran. He seemed different than the others. Kinder, gentler - I don't know. I just...I - "
"Fell in love?" said Xena, gently.
"Yes," said MelysÎ, quietly, wiping away a tear. "I guess I did. I'm sorry - this still hurts a little."
"It's okay," said Xena, smiling, gently stroking MelysÎ's long dark hair.
"I loved him," continued MelysÎ. "I believed he loved me. So, I ran away with him. I didn't think there was any other way I could be with him. I knew my mother and Hypolite would never give their blessing, so I didn't even bother to ask it. I didn't care. Coran and I were together and that's all that mattered to me. I betrayed my mothers, the Amazons, and the Oath - for a man."
"What happened to Coran?" asked Xena, gently.
"We ran away to his brother's house," said MelysÎ. "His brother, Gar, was a kind and decent man. He had a wife, Gruda. She was pregnant. I was taking herbs to keep that from happening to me. Coran was adamant - no children. I thought at first that he would change his mind, but as time passed, I was glad. Coran had started drinking heavily. He...changed and I think the only thing
that kept him from striking me sometimes was the fact that I was an Amazon and could probably take him in a fight. He was gone most of the time, surly and...cruel when he wasn't. I just wanted to go home, but I didn't know how. I was afraid the Amazons wouldn't have me anymore after...after I had betrayed my oath."
"But you didn't betray the oath," said Xena, softly.
MelysÎ looked at her and smiled. "I know that now," she said. "But in my heart, running away to be with a man who obviously - now, anyway - did not respect or care for me in any way except maybe as a trophy, that was betraying myself, my integrity - my pride. I stayed with him because I didn't know where else to go. Gar was sympathetic and kind and Gruda was, well, stupid. She was - I don't really know how to describe her kindly. I discovered that she and Gar weren't really married, the baby wasn't Gar's - she had latched on to him, and because of his kindness, he took care of her. Then, much to Coran's chagrin, I made friends. They helped me to get back to myself a little." MelysÎ was quiet for a moment, sipping the ale and staring back into the past.
"Did these friends help you come home?" asked Xena, gently.
"In a way," said the Amazon. "Gruda had her baby, a boy. Then Coran told me he was the father and he was leaving me to be with them, Gruda and the baby."
"That son of a Bacchae," Xena snarled at her friend's obvious pain, tightening her embrace around the priestess.
MelysÎ let the tears flow freely. "I was...not myself...for a while. My friends...took me in. Gave me time to...heal, a little. Then they sent word to my mother and Hypolite. I was terrified of their anger, but in a way I was more angry with myself."
"Not with Coran - and Gruda? She could have told you the truth, let you choose whether or not to stay with him, knowing that," said Xena, angrily.
"No, that came much later," said MelysÎ, smiling and wiping her face. "My mother came for me. Goddess, was I afraid of her. LyssÎ was...a little intimidating. I loved her, but I always felt more comfortable with Hypolite. Anyway, Mother came for me. I was surprised - she wasn't angry with me. Coran, she wanted to kill, but me...she held me, let me cry, and took me back to Ephesus, to finish my studies."
"She didn't bring you home?" asked Xena.
"No," said MelysÎ, smiling. "She said Hypolite would 'coddle' me too much and the best thing I could do was to get back to work and get myself back on my feet. She was right. I finished my studies earlier than the rest of my class - I permitted myself no more 'distractions', you see - and then I went on to the College of Sappho. It was there I met Kraes." MelysÎ shuddered and Xena poured her more ale. "You trying to get me drunk, Warrior Princess - I mean, Warrior Queen?" said MelysÎ, grinning.
"Would it help?" said Xena, returning her grin.
"To talk about this? Probably," said MelysÎ, her smile, fading, as she sipped at the ale. "Then again, maybe not - maybe nothing will."
"I still haven't heard anything really terrible that you did," said Xena. "Except maybe trust a little too much."
"Maybe it's what I didn't do and should have," said MelysÎ, with a sigh. "Maybe it's just my lack of integrity and strength - and courage - that I regret - am ashamed of. Kraes - a chapter of my life I thought I had closed. Now I 'm being confronted with all that - well, I'm getting ahead of myself. I was studying at the College of Sappho. I was doing well and looking forward to graduation. I really wanted to come home. I was ready to take my place with my mother and Hypolite. Kraes was another student, but she wasn't doing so well. She was - not very bright, I guess, at least not intellectually. Sneaky, underhanded, brutal - those things she had down well, but I didn't see it at
first." MelysÎ was quiet, sipping at her ale for a moment. "No, that's not true," she said finally. "I did see it. Not exactly those things, but my instincts told me she was bad news. I ignored that feeling and befriended her. I felt sorry for her. She was... huge... and not very attractive...I took pity on her. She didn't have many friends - she didn't have friends at all, come to think of it, except me. Others tried to warn me, but I didn't listen. I stuck with her. Soon, though, I was stuck with her. I had no friends - she wouldn't let me. Everyone who tried to befriend me was driven away. I was trapped.
She...was very violent. She threatened me if I left, she'd kill me and anyone I cared about and anyone who tried to help me. She could have done it, too, and I wouldn't be able to stop her. You see, Xena, Kraes was...she..." MelysÎ stopped and looked down, unable to continue.
"What happened?" said Xena, gently, although inwardly, she seethed.
"I... can't..." MelysÎ said, as a sob wracked her. Xena held her as she cried.
"Sh, it's alright," said the warrior, gently. "I've got you. Kraes isn't here and if she has the bad judgement to show up, I'll -"
"But you can't," said MelysÎ, weakly. "Hekate said I was the only one who could defeat her. But Xena, I'm afraid of her. She is truly evil. She...took my power once. I got it back, but she could do that again. Then she will destroy everyone I care about, and I will be helpless to stop her."
"How did she take your power?" asked Xena.
"She's toxic," said MelysÎ, not hearing Xena. "She's a parasite, too. Part of me is enraged by what she did - and is doing - and wants to stop her, once and for all. Part of me is terrified to confront her again..."
"MelysÎ," said Xena. "How did she take your power?"
"That's just it, Xena," said the Amazon. "I don't know how it happened. It was...insidious. I certainly didn't see it coming. One day, I was me and the next, I was this snivelling, weak-willed...thing."
"'Snivelling'? I don't see that, somehow," said Xena, smiling.
"Well, maybe not snivelling," said MelysÎ, smiling back. "I don't know how to fight her, though."
"We'll figure it out together," said Xena. "How did you get away from her?"
"Mother - again," said MelysÎ. "I wonder why she didn't just give up on me."
"Mothers don't do that," said Xena.
"No, I suppose not. Anyway, she tricked Kraes into leaving for a while. I was surprised she didn't try to make me come with her. She rarely let me out of her sight, by then. While she was gone, I escaped and came home. The Amazons protected me from her when she came after me. It was then I realised that most of her threats were empty. As soon as I was away from her influence, my powers returned. She hasn't come after me since."
MelysÎ looked at her friend. "Now she - and Alti - are after the Amazons," she said, gravely.
"Alti - " hissed Xena. "I knew it! Her and Kraes - they both have reason to resent the Amazons. I suppose I'm to fight Alti while you battle Kraes."
"That's what Hekate said," sighed MelysÎ.
"Well," said Xena, grinning darkly. "I think both Alti and Kraes are in trouble."
"Xena, Hekate said not to underestimate Kraes," said MelysÎ, worried.
"And she's right," said Xena. "But I think Kraes had better not underestimate you. You're a different woman than the girl she terrorised - and brutalised - so long ago. You are stronger than ever - and you have me by your side. I may not be the one to fight her, but with me and the entire Amazon Nation lending you our strength and support, you will be more powerful than she could ever
imagine. I almost feel sorry for her."
"What about Alti?" said MelysÎ.
"You let me worry about Alti," said Xena, darkly. "She and I go way back - and I don't think she's gonna be glad to see me."
The queens had been arriving daily for weeks. MelysÎ was now nervous that they wouldn't all arrive before the confrontation she expected. The huts had all been built and many of the other Tribes had brought supply wagons with them. Inside, MelysÎ was pleased and very proud. The Amazons were working together. Many of them were from very far away. That they were willing to travel so far -
even with the speed of a god - impressed her. She heard the tales of horror on the road as the Amazons had been beset and attacked, but had successfully fought off their attackers.
At last the day arrived when MelysÎ knew that all those who were coming had arrived. She called them all together in the Temple, the only place large enough to hold everyone, and the only place guarded enough to protect them from eavesdroppers. Xena and Gabrielle had expertly interviewed each Tribal representative to weed out any of Alti's - or Kraes's - spies without letting the individual know what they were doing.
MelysÎ called the Council meeting to order. She let her eyes sweep the assembled leaders of the Nation and felt tears of pure joy. Thousands of Amazons had come at her call for help. Truly, the words of the Amazon Oath spoke to her: "...From this day hence, every Amazon shall be to me a mother, sister, or daughter. I pledge my arms in defence of my sisters and the Amazon Nation... Any Amazon may come to me in need and find succour, and I know that I may turn in need to my sisters and find refuge..." MelysÎ had never felt more proud of being an Amazon than in those moments.
"My sisters," began MelysÎ. "We all know why we are here. The Amazon Nation is in danger. We now know who our enemies are. We just don't know how to fight them. I - we were hoping that by getting together, all the leaders of our nation might come to a common solution to save our people."
"MelysÎ, you said you know who the enemy is?" said an Amazon MelysÎ recognised from Britannia.
"Yes," said Xena, stepping forward. "There are two - Alti - "
The name brought a gasp from the group. "But Xena - you killed her!" cried another of the queens.
"More than once," agreed Xena, nodding. "But Alti's hatred of the Amazons is so great, it has allowed her to return yet again and seek her revenge."
"Who is the other?"
"Kraes," said MelysÎ.
"What?! Again? Thought we got rid of that bitch!" came a series of cries from MelysÎ's Tribe.
"We have heard of Alti," said an Amazon, rising. "And we have heard, too, of this Kraes. An evil thing, she is. Black Mage. She is after us, as well?"
MelysÎ was visibly startled.
"B-black Mage?" she said. "Since when?"
"Since always," came the reply. "She seeks out innocents and corrupts them, taking their power and leaving them...well, empty. She is a powerful adversary. She uses a warrior's goodness against them and becomes more powerful in the process."
"Like Aiden," MelysÎ heard Gabrielle whisper behind her.
"Later," Xena told MelysÎ when the Amazon looked over at her.
"How are we going to defeat her?" asked the standing Amazon.
"I..." began MelysÎ, as murmurs circulated among the collected Amazons. "Wait, Sisters. I am going against Kraes. I have...experience...battling with her. And I have the Goddess's blessing - and favour."
"No offence, Sister," said an older Amazon. "But Kraes will chew you up and spit you out."
"Been there, done that," said MelysÎ, grimly. "Not this time. I have been given the task by the Goddess Herself, just as Xena has been to fight Alti."
"Again, no offence, but if you had gone up against Kraes, you wouldn't be here now," said the Amazon
"Well, I did and I am," said MelysÎ. "And I'm going to do it again - one last time."
"Then what do you need us for?" asked another older Amazon.
"We need your experience, your knowledge, your strength and your wisdom," said Gabrielle, stepping forward. "And we need your warriors. Alti and Kraes will have armies - we need your numbers to help us defeat them while Xena and MelysÎ battle their leaders."
"Besides, think of the Victory celebration after we win," said Xena grinning wryly. The assembled Amazons shouted and laughed, essentially ending the meeting.
"Xena, what were you thinking?" said MelysÎ, smiling fondly at her friend.
"I was thinking of morale - and how the Amazons will find any excuse to party - incentive, my priestess, to win," said Xena, still grinning.
"You are incorrigible," said Gabrielle, poking her best friend, playfully, in the side.
"Yep," said Xena. "Come on, now we have to plan - and you, my Bard, need to tell MelysÎ about Aiden."
"So, this Aiden just...sucked goodness out of people and left them...?" said MelysÎ, confused.
"Statues," replied Gabrielle.
"And Xena had to release all of her goodness to fight him?" said MelysÎ.
"Otherwise Aiden would have absorbed it, becoming even more powerful," said Gabrielle.
MelysÎ looked over at Xena. "But you didn't," said MelysÎ, her eyes focused far away.
"What?" said Xena, startled.
"You didn't release it - you just hid it, deep inside," said MelysÎ, still far away. "You hid it and let your dark side fully out in front of it so Aiden couldn't reach it. He couldn't pass the barrier of your darkness to grab the light inside of you. But when you needed your light, Gabrielle called to it and
you let it out. And then you put the darkness back where it usually is - waiting until you need it again."
"Yeah, something like that," muttered Xena.
"Thank the Goddess for your darkness," said MelysÎ, coming back to herself.
"What?" said Xena, surprised.
"It's...useful to you," said MelysÎ, smiling. "Now I have to find my darkness." Xena made a rude noise. "What? You don't think I can?" said MelysÎ.
"I don't think you have any darkness in you," said Xena.
"You'd be surprised," said MelysÎ, grimly.
"Oh, come on," said Xena. "You and Gabrielle both - you have a light that shines so brightly, no darkness could exist."
"Xena," said MelysÎ. "Where there is light, there are shadows. And a shadow is all the darkness I need." The Queen rose and left them.
"What did she mean by that?" asked Gabrielle.
"I'm not sure," said Xena, worried.
"How did she know all that stuff?" asked Gabrielle. "About you hiding your darkness, I mean? I didn't even know that, but it makes sense, now that she said it."
"I don't know," said Xena. "Ever since her encounter with Hekate she's been even more intuitive and...I don't know, not quite here."
"Hm, either that or..." began Gabrielle.
"Or what?" said Xena.
"Well, you said this has dredged up a lot of bad stuff for her," said Gabrielle. "Maybe she's... hurting."
"Ah, gods, why didn't I see that?" said Xena, rising to go after her.
"Wait, Xena," said Gabrielle. "Do you want me to...?"
"No, I think this is one sensitive chat I need to do," said Xena, going after the queen.
MelysÎ wandered into the forest, lost in memories, weeping silently. She stopped in a familiar clearing, which branched off three ways and raised her eyes to the stars. "Oh, Mother," she said. "How? What am I going to do? I'm so afraid. I'm so alone - Goddess where are You? Always before I have felt Your Presence - now I don't. You promised You would be with me - where are you?" MelysÎ sunk down to the ground, weeping for a long time before Xena found her.
The slim crescent moon had risen, casting little light. Xena moved silently through the trees and came upon the still form of the queen. Alarmed, she ran up to her. "MelysÎ!" she cried. "Are you alright?"
"Oh!" MelysÎ sat up swiftly, wiping her face. "Yes, I'm fine - just needed some air."
Xena looked at her swollen eyes and feeble attempt to smile and knelt beside her. "C'mere," she said, holding her close, tenderly wiping away the tears. "I'm so sorry - I didn't see how much pain you were in. I should have."
"Why?" said MelysÎ. "Don't you think after all these years I'm really, really good at hiding it? Especially from myself. No, Xena, I didn't want anyone to see it. I didn't want to see it. I just hoped it would go away. It won't, though. Not until I finally beat Kraes. Once I do that, I think it will be
"So now it's 'when', huh?" said Xena, smiling.
"Oh, yeah," said MelysÎ, smiling. "Thank-you."
"For what?" asked Xena.
"For showing me the face of the Goddess again," said MelysÎ laying her head against her warrior's shoulder. "I lost touch with Her for a bit there, but when you came after me, I saw the love and the concern in your face and I found Her again - right where She always is."
"Where is that?" asked Xena.
"Inside of all of us," said MelysÎ.
"Even a broken down old ex-warlord, huh?" said Xena, grinning.
"Especially one of those," said MelysÎ. "And most especially one who avoids 'sensitive chats', but came after me, anyway. So...thank-you."
"Any time," said Xena, pulling MelysÎ up and walking back to the cottage.
"Everything okay?" asked Gabrielle, worriedly looking at MelysÎ's swollen, red eyes and tear-stained face.
"No, but it will be," said MelysÎ. "I just have to think about how I'm going to defeat Kraes. She's obviously become more powerful over the years."
"But so have you," said Xena.
"Too true," said MelysÎ, smiling. "I think I know her weaknesses - and how to exploit them to our best advantage."
"Like what?" asked Xena.
"Like me," said MelysÎ. "I am 'the one who got away' - and I intend to stay that way, but what if she thought she could get to me again? My escape has probably eaten away at her all these years. I know her. She's perverse enough to feel that she has to get to me again. And she'll try to do that by attacking all those I care for - starting with the children."
"Can she?" asked Gabrielle.
"Not a chance," said MelysÎ. "As Xena reminded me, I'm older and wiser, now. I'm not that same unsuspecting girl she brutalised before. For one thing, I think I could I beat her up now."
"She beat you?" said Xena, quietly, her tone belying the rage which swept over her at the thought.
"Among other things, yes," said MelysÎ. "She did a lot of things - like waking me up in the middle of the night to wash her dishes - which had huge bugs crawling on them. I - I don't do bugs very well, I'm afraid. She knew that. She made me watch her...torture...animals. She...held me captive...locked me in a dark room or wouldn't let me out of her sight until I was sufficiently beaten down and afraid enough of her that I wouldn't leave, knowing she would hunt me down and hurt anyone who helped me."
"Gods," whispered Gabrielle, horrified.
"That's not even the worst," said MelysÎ, quietly. "But I can't...I don't want to remember all that."
"She's lucky," said Xena, darkly. "If I had been here when she came after you, she would be dead. And it wouldn't have been quick."
"Maybe not so lucky," said MelysÎ, her eyes taking that far away look again. "Now she has me to contend with. And a lot to answer for. And it maybe it won't be quick."
MelysÎ stood outside, gazing at the stars. Xena had gone to bed hours ago, but MelysÎ wasn't sleepy. "Ares," she said, without turning around.
"Are you sure Xena didn't teach you that?" chuckled the god of war.
"Sure," said MelysÎ, facing her brother. "I'm more in tune with...things, I guess. Thank-you again - for the ambrosia, I mean."
"Yeah, well, like I said - I owe you," said Ares.
"Debt paid," said MelysÎ, with a shrug.
"Not - quite," said Ares, coming closer.
"What?" said MelysÎ.
"I owe you for much more than ambrosia," said Ares, a little embarrassed. "You've offered me love and kindness and you ask for so little in return. No one has ever tried to understand me like you do. It's like you can look past what I am. And you just see me. I'm just sorry that it took a spear to make me realise that I .... I owe you."
"You don't owe me anything, Ares. Love...family...it's not an exchange of favours. And I do love you for who you are, but Ares, I still don't trust you," said MelysÎ, with a gentle smile.
"No reason why you should," sighed Ares. "I am...well, what I am. But I'm here to offer you my help anyway."
"For a price?" said MelysÎ.
"Nah," said Ares. "This one's on the house. Kraes is coming."
"Ares I knew that already," said MelysÎ. "And Alti, too. They're the ones who are trying to destroy the Amazons."
"Yeah, but what you don't know is, they hate each other," said Ares. "This whole thing - it's a competition between them. Which one will be the first to destroy the Amazon Nation."
"A competition?" cried MelysÎ, outraged. "Why that's...that's despicable! The Amazons are not some...some...tokens on a gameboard or...!"
"Easy, Little Sister," said Ares, grinning. "Just thought you could use the information. And another little tidbit - neither Kraes nor Alti know Xena is still alive - or here."
"Thank-you, Ares," said MelysÎ. "Anything else I should know?"
"Yeah - I'd really love to see you do that leopard-thing on Kraes," said the war-god, grinning.
"You may get your wish, Brother," said MelysÎ, chuckling.
"Cool!" said Ares, fading.
"Hey, who were you talking to?" said Xena, buckling her armour, as she came out of the cottage. "You didn't come to bed and then I heard voices and I got worried."
"Ares," said MelysÎ. "He came to warn me - Kraes and Alti are coming."
"Like we didn't know?" said Xena, rolling her eyes.
"Mm," said MelysÎ. "But we didn't know that they hate each other and that destroying the Amazons is a competition for them. First one who annihilates us wins."
"Wins what?" said Xena, wrapping her arms around the priestess as Melyse leaned back against her.
MelysÎ shrugged. "Who cares? It's moot - neither of them are going to succeed," she said. "And neither of them know you are still alive and well and living with the Amazons, either."
"Now that information could be useful," mused Xena.
"Mm hm," said MelysÎ, smiling.
"Anything else?" said Xena, raising an eyebrow.
"Just that he'd love to see me do that 'leopard-thing' to Kraes," said the Amazon.
"Huh, so would I," said Xena. "So how much of this do you believe?"
"Oh, all of it - especially that leopard thing," said MelysÎ. "Ares respects me now - or so Hekate said. And...I trust him, Xena. I can't explain it. I know about the things he's done - things he's still capable of doing, but I truly believe he's trying. He didn't have to give me ambrosia and he didn't have to speed the Amazons to us. I want to give him another chance, Xena, but I can understand if you don't."
"'LysÎ, after all Ares and I have been through," said Xena, after a silent moment of thought. "It will be hard, but he is your brother. That alone would be enough for me to try. Many people gave me many chances to change, but it took a long time. If they had just given up on me, where would I be now? Mostly, though, he kept me from losing you. And for that, I will give him another chance."
"Oh, Xena, thank-you," said MelysÎ, turning and hugging the warrior. "Ares has been so different to me since that battle. I think I've finally earned his respect."
"And all it took was a wound," said Xena, wryly.
"Hey it was a pretty bad wound," said MelysÎ, playfully.
"Yes it was," said Xena, seriously. "I almost lost you - I don't ever want that to happen again."
"Xena, we have to accept the fact that it might," said MelysÎ. "And then go on and do what we have to do anyway. You know that. I'm fighting Kraes, the focus of most of my nightmares - you think I don't know what she can do to me?"
"No, I know you know exactly what she can do," said Xena, quietly, stroking the priestess's dark hair.
"What about Alti?" said MelysÎ, looking at her friend.
"What about Alti?" said Xena.
"Are you...afraid?" asked MelysÎ.
"I'd be stupid not to be," said Xena. "Just because I've defeated her before doesn't mean I will again."
"But I believe you will," said MelysÎ. "I...have faith...in us. Somehow, I know, really know we're going to win this."
"You know, my friend," said Xena, pulling MelysÎ closer. "I believe you're right."
The next morning, MelysÎ was up early, seated at her desk, poring over scrolls. ArynÎ came in and kissed her mother on the cheek. "Well, thank-you," said the surprised queen. "What was that about?"
"Just glad you're okay," said the warrior, grabbing some bread. "What are you doing?"
"Hm, just studying some of these older scrolls, trying to come up with a battle plan," replied the queen.
"Well, can I help?" asked her daughter. "I'm a pretty good strategist - I had a great teacher."
"The best," said Xena, striding into the room.
"Absolutely the best," agreed MelysÎ, smiling up at her.
"Mother," said ArynÎ, looking at the scroll. "This isn't a battle plan."
"Yes, it is," said MelysÎ, quietly. "It's not going to be the kind of battle you think. At least not all of it."
"Mother," said ArynÎ, putting a hand on her mother's arm. "I may not understand all this priestess-stuff, but I believe in you. You have my sword in your service and the service of the Goddess."
"Thank-you, Sweetheart," said MelysÎ, warmly. "But I don't want you anywhere near Kraes."
"Mother, I am a warrior..." began ArynÎ.
"Yes, and a good one," agreed MelysÎ. "But Hekate has said that I am the only one who can defeat her."
"Very well, Mother," said ArynÎ. "If the Goddess has said it, then I guess it is so. I wish I could take a whack at her though. I know she hurt you. I won't ever let that happen again."
"Then stay away from her," said MelysÎ. "She is a Black Mage and her powers might be enough to even overcome you, my child. That would hurt me more than anything else she could do to me."
"Alright, Mother," said ArynÎ, leaving.
"You have a lot of loyal warriors saying that very thing in the barracks - and not just from our Tribe, either," said Xena.
"Xena, I don't want my people dying for no good reason," said MelysÎ. "And any Amazon going up against Kraes to protect me is going to do just that."
"Relax," said Xena. "They understand that only you can defeat her - they just don't like it. I don't like it. I wish I could fight her for you."
"So do I," said MelysÎ, smiling. "But you have Alti to worry about."
"Hm, true," said Xena, eyes darkening.
"Unless..." said MelysÎ, smiling.
"You have a plan?" said Xena.
"Maybe, but I'm not sure..." began MelysÎ, getting dreamy again.
"What is it?" asked Xena, impatiently.
"Sorry - guess I've been doing that a lot, huh?" said MelysÎ.
"Some, yeah - where do you go when you do that, anyway?" asked Xena.
"When I was training at Ephesus - after Coran - the priestesses taught me to create a place, deep inside of myself," said MelysÎ. "It's a place no one else can go unless I let them in - a refuge and a place for healing. It's the place where the Goddess lives inside of me. Pretty basic stuff, really, for a
priestess, but with a little effort, I can really be there. It's quite a nice place. I always seem to end up there when ... things ... start to get to me."
"Bet you spent a lot of time there when Kraes had you," said Xena, smiling.
"No," said MelysÎ, quietly. "I couldn't...I tried, but I kept getting lost on my way there. I...well, after a while, I just...gave up. Then I forgot it was there at all. Until I came home and found my power again."
"What's your plan?" asked Xena.
"Something I read in one of Gabrielle's scrolls," said MelysÎ, hunting through the parchments on her desk. "Oh, yes, this one. Remember this?"
Xena looked at it and grinned. "Think it could work?" she said.
"That depends," said MelysÎ, smiling.
"Ares," replied MelysÎ. "This is where the trust comes in. I'm counting on his part in my plan to make it work."
The village returned to a semblance of normal, but a certain tension remained, despite the sort of festival-feeling the visiting Amazons brought with them. MelysÎ and Xena and most of the Amazons grew restless, awaiting the confrontation they all knew was coming. But there was nothing to do but wait. Xena drilled the troops without mercy. They were ready and more than ready, sharply honed swords in the Amazons' arsenal.
"How much longer do you think?" SelenÎ asked her mother.
"I don't know, Sweeting," replied the queen, putting her arm around her daughter's shoulders. "But I want you and Ephiny and ArynÎ with Gabrielle protecting the Temple this time."
"Okay by me, but 'Ryn's gonna be pissed," said SelenÎ.
"SelenÎ!" said MelysÎ.
"Sorry, but she is," said the girl, grinning.
"Not when I tell her that the Temple will probably be Kraes's main target," said MelysÎ, absently stroking her daughter's hair.
"Will it?" asked SelenÎ, laying her head on her mother's chest.
"Possibly," said MelysÎ. "All of the children will be in there. Remember, she needs innocence and goodness to feed her power. Those are her targets."
"After you, you mean," said SelenÎ.
"Yes," sighed the queen. "But that means she'll have to get through me first. That's not going to happen."
"How can you be so sure, Mother?" asked SelenÎ, frowning and looking up at her mother.
MelysÎ smiled fondly at her daughter. "You look just like Xena when you do that," she said.
"Mother," groaned the girl. "You're trying to change the subject. Maybe I can help."
"You can help by staying as far away from Kraes as possible," said MelysÎ, gravely. "If she gets to you or your sister, she'll have the ultimate weapon to use against me."
"Oh," said SelenÎ in a small voice, laying her head back against her mother. "Mother?"
"Yeah, I know," sighed the queen. "Me too."
"She hurt you pretty bad, didn't she, Mother?" said SelenÎ, quietly.
"Yes," said MelysÎ.
"You know, that makes me pissed," said SelenÎ.
MelysÎ chuckled. "We're going to have to talk about this new vocabulary of yours," she said.
"Well, it does," insisted SelenÎ. "I wish I could - "
"Don't even think about it," said MelysÎ. "I will deal with Kraes. She's going to wish she never even heard my name when I'm done with her."
"You're gonna become the snow leopard?" asked the girl eagerly.
MelysÎ laughed. "What is it about that? Your uncle and Xena said the same thing," she said.
"I don't know," said MelysÎ. "If that's what it takes."
"Mother!" ArynÎ cried, riding up to them. "Armies - big - huge armies - three days from here - the scouts reported. It's time!"
"Finally," said MelysÎ, quietly, releasing her younger daughter. "You two - get everyone into the Temple - and stay there."
"Mother!" cried ArynÎ, indignantly.
"Don't argue - I need our very best warriors there, protecting the children - that's their main target," said MelysÎ, running to her cottage.
"Oh," said ArynÎ, going to obey her queen as the battle horn sounded.
MelysÎ changed into her battle leathers and snow-leopard mask. She took up her staff and left, mounting her horse. Now it was time to start the Amazons' part of her plan. She found Xena and Gabrielle, arguing with Ephiny.
"I don't need to hide in the Temple," said the girl, angrily. "I am an Amazon and..."
"Ephiny!" said MelysÎ, sharply. "Amazons do not question their queens' authority - or orders. You have been ordered by two queens to report to the Temple - will it take a third?"
Ephiny's eyes widened. "No ma'am," she said.
"Good - now move your little ass!" said MelysÎ. Ephiny ran to the Temple. "Sorry, Gab'," said MelysÎ. "I didn't mean to - "
"Hey, no problem," chuckled Gabrielle. "Can you teach me to do that?"
"Later," said Xena, mounting Argo. "Whose army...?"
"Armies," corrected MelysÎ. "Probably both."
"Damn!" said Xena.
"Yeah, but we have three days - give or take," said Gabrielle. "Will that be enough time?"
"It's gonna have to be," said Xena, riding off to see to the preparations.
The Amazons waited, anxiously. Sentries kept close watch and scouts moved closer to the advancing armies, reporting back. More Amazons from neighbouring Tribes moved into place, and the Amazons' allies, the Centaurs and the Hittites stood ready in case they were needed. Several skirmishes were fought and won by the Amazons at the furthest outposts, slowing the armies' advance slightly, buying the Amazons a little more time, but so far no one reported seeing the leaders of the opposing armies. MelysÎ left Alti and Kraes to Ares, for now, though.
Instead, she concentrated on the main body of the two armies. Amazons, disguised as the enemy warriors, infiltrated their ranks. MelysÎ was using her powers to shield them from magical detection. It was the only protection she could give them once they were in enemy ranks. The instigators were good at their job, though, and fomented dissent between the two armies, causing much internal squabbling and irreparable division among the enemy, while remaining above suspicion and undetected, so far.
Next, Xena sent out small groups of warriors to harry the large, marching army, distracting them while other groups of Amazons sabotaged supply wagons. They dumped weevils in the flour and maggots in the meat, placed rotten fruit in with the fresh, and rendered the water undrinkable by means even Xena didn't want to know about. The wine, ale, and other spirits were dumped out and the empty skins refilled with spoiled milk. Tents were sliced into strips and bedrolls dragged through fire-ant nests.
The medical supply wagon was hit next. The bandages were dragged through mud and offal. Pain-killing herbs were substituted with purgatives. And the woolen blankets were soaked with mare's urine.
The saboteurs, their task complete, returned and reported to Xena, who grinned and nodded, deciding to keep the details to herself - MelysÎ would feel too sorry for their enemy and want to make amends - and Xena just wasn't feeling that magnanimous. By the time Alti and Kraes' armies arrived in AemetzainÍ, they would be hungry, cold, smelly, itchy, sober, and bloated. In short,
completely demoralised and completely unprepared for battle. As the armies neared, the scouts reported to MelysÎ only that their adversaries seemed beset by a run of bad luck.
Hm, a run of 'bad luck' probably answering to the name 'Xena', thought the queen, amused. She decided to recall the instigators and get them out of Alti and Kraes's camps with conditions there being what they were. Amazons don't tolerate that sort of thing at all, she thought. No Warrior Queen or general who provided such poor care for her warriors would lead for long. I wonder how long Kraes' warriors will tolerate it? She sighed. Knowing Kraes, her warriors were all slaves or conscripts with no choice in the matter. Or worse, her victims, no longer able to care where or how they slept or if their meat was rotten, so long as they were spared the next torture from the hands of their "leader". She decided she didn't really want to know. The Amazon Nation couldn't afford her
soft heart, right now, and it was the Nation which was at stake and to whom she owed her oath-bound loyalty. Resolutely, MelysÎ steeled her will and set herself to the task at hand - saving her people. But she did make a promise to herself that if any of Kraes' victims were there and survived, after the battle she would make a place for them to find healing for their souls, even as she had
found it among her sisters.
It was a dark, almost moonless night - Ares' favourite kind. He was invisible now, anyway, but the dark was soothing to him. And he needed that soothing while he watched the enemy leader, Kraes, in her tent, alternately raving and muttering to herself. The subject of her solitary tirades was none other than Ares' "little" sister, the Amazon Queen.
Ares smirked to himself. Well, Sis', looks like you tweaked this nut-case but good, he thought to himself. He watched and listened for a while, growing more and more uncomfortable with this woman's madness - which for Ares, was quite something. Is it me? he thought. Am I really changing so much? Or is this bitch just so over the top, even I can't stand it? Or is it because it's
directed towards MelysÎ? I never thought I could feel this protective over a mortal - or, rather, half-mortal - except for Xena. But even that was different. Yeah, I love 'em both, but MelysÎ loves me back - and I don't know if anyone else, mortal or otherwise could do that. It makes me feel like doing things I never thought of - like when I sacrificed my immortality to heal Eve and Gabrielle. That was the first step, but with MelysÎ around, I could get to like doing good deeds. And I like the way that feels. Yeah, got to keep MelysÎ safe from this loony - she's real bad news...
MelysÎ entered the Temple to check on things there. "Tanti, I'm sorry about the other day," said Ephiny, sheepishly. "I didn't understand..."
"Don't apologise," said MelysÎ, shortly. "Just improve. You don't need to understand orders, just obey them."
"Okay, okay," said Ephiny, with a sigh. "I know you're right. I...I'll apologise to Mother. I'll do better, I promise."
"Speaking of your mother," said the queen, sternly. "Gabrielle is an Amazon Queen in her own right. And she wasn't just born into a Tribe, she earned her place there. She deserves your respect and obedience. You have no idea what a sacrifice it is to her to leave here without you. She loves you, Ephiny, more than you can ever know. I'm telling you right now, if I don't see a change in
your attitude and in the way you treat your mother I will pack your little butt back to Poteidaia myself and you will not be permitted to return until you have learned to appreciate what a truly great woman and Amazon your mother really is. Do you understand me, Child?"
Ephiny looked like she wanted to cry, as she lowered her head and nodded slightly. SelenÎ looked at her mother, then to her malatyr, torn. She had wanted to protect Ephiny from the scolding, but she knew her mother was right. She herself had told Ephiny that she was doing wrong, treating her mother that way.
"Easy for you to say," Ephiny had told her. "MelysÎ is your mother. My mother was just a tag-along Xena wannabe for about a hundred years, till she married my dad. And she wants me to be the same way. Uh-uh - no way am I going back to that place. I hate it there. If she makes me go back with her, I swear I'll run away - no matter what Xena says."
Now Ephiny didn't look quite so brave. Her godsmother had just scolded her, but good, and it was apparent even to Ephiny, that she had been all wrong about her mother. And she had hurt the Bard Queen, deeply, Ephiny now knew. She swore to herself that she would make up for it, somehow.
"Okay," said MelysÎ, smiling. "Now that's settled, we need say no more about it. You are a good girl, Ephiny, and I know it's been hard for you, being raised outside of Amazon Lands, but I will not make allowances for you on account of that - not where Gabrielle's feelings are concerned. I love you as one of my own and if you're going to live here, I will discipline and teach you as one of my own - or else back to Poteidaia with you. Your choice."
"I-I'd like to stay, please," said the girl in a very small voice, looking cautiously up. MelysÎ saw how very young the girl was and her heart melted, but she stood firm.
"Sure? You understand the rules and you'll abide by them?" Ephiny nodded, hopefully, and MelysÎ gathered the girl into her arms. "I'm glad you decided to come and live with us, Ephiny. Because, you see, I do love you, though it may not have seemed so a few moments ago. Just take it easy on your mother. I'll tolerate a lot things from a youngling, but disrespect to her mother or any other Amazon - especially Gabrielle - is not one of those things. 'Ryn? How's everyone here doing?"
"Good, Mother," said ArynÎ. "The wounded are already in the secret room. Saves time trying to move them later. The children will be too restless to go in there any sooner than necessary."
"Good," said MelysÎ. "Supplies holding up alright?"
"Yeah, great," said ArynÎ. "SelenÎ's been playing with the younglings, telling them stories."
"You used to do that, remember?" said MelysÎ, fondly hugging her daughter.
"She still does," said SelenÎ, approaching and smiling at her older sister. "Tough old warrior, just like Xena - telling stories and singing lullabies."
"Huh," said ArynÎ, frowning at her sister.
"Never mind," said MelysÎ. "Now, you girls know you have the most responsibility here? If Kraes and Alti get past Xena and me, they'll be coming here. You know what to do?"
"Yes," said ArynÎ, sighing. "Wish I could see you do the snow-leopard on her, though."
"Why does everyone think I'm going to...? Never mind," said MelysÎ, shaking her head.
"Because that's what you do when you get pissed," said ArynÎ.
"Is that where SelenÎ's learning that language?" said MelysÎ, looking sternly at her older daughter, who grinned up at her.
"Sorry," said the girl.
"Hm, we'll discuss it later," said the queen. "Come on, girls. Hugs and then I have to go." The queen held the girls close to her for a long time, then released them. "I love you, my girls," she said, eyes shining with unshed tears. "And I want you to know that I am very, very proud of you - all of you. You, too, Ephiny."
"We're proud of you, too, Mother," said SelenÎ.
"Yeah, and we love you - a lot," said ArynÎ, getting in one more hug.
"Okay, let's go," said Xena, striding into the Temple. "Hey, what's this? Having a love-fest and leaving us out of it? I'm surprised at all of you."
"Mother!" said Ephiny, throwing herself into Gabrielle's arms. The surprised bard, smiled, then hugged her daughter very close. Xena raised an eyebrow at MelysÎ, who shrugged and smiled at the mother and daughter.
"Xena," said ArynÎ, hugging her godsmother. "Take care of Mother - ok?" The last was whispered.
"As well as you would," Xena promised her.
"Better, I hope," said the girl, grinning.
"Alright, this is feeling too much like good-bye," said MelysÎ, sighing. "I refuse to let that happen. We've got to go."
"Mother, please be careful," said ArynÎ, concerned.
"I will," the queen promised.
"It's not really good-bye, Meia," SelenÎ whispered to her, getting in one more hug. "It's...sorta...'just in case'...okay? I love you, Meia."
"Okay," said MelysÎ, smiling. "I love you, too."
Ares wandered invisible through Alti's camp after deciding Kraes' manic phase would last a bit longer. He needed the women asleep before he could work on them. If it didn't happen pretty soon, well, Ares knew he wasn't yet above doing a little 'god-thing' to make it happen. He entered Alti's command tent and stopped short. Aw, hells of Tartarus! Another crazy bitch, he thought in
disgust. This one, Ares noticed, was dancing around a brazier in her tent, gesturing wildly. He noticed a pile of bodies - none too fresh, either - in the corner. What the furk has MelysÎ gotten herself and the Amazons into, now? he wondered. Alti whirled around the flames, brandishing a stained dagger in one hand and a cup of what appeared to be blood in the other, chanting gibberish.
What in Tartarus does she think she's doing? Ares stepped cautiously closer. It was obviously some sort of blood-ritual designed to gain victory over the Amazons, but Ares had never seen anything like this. Not even with Hope in Dahak's Temple. Oh, sure there had been blood sacrifices, but then Ares could feel the power mounting as innocent victims had fallen to Dahak's daughter.
Here, he felt only a desperate madness and desire for revenge for dimly imagined insults from a very long time ago emanating only from the woman's twisted mind. Oh, sure the nut had some power, but Ares perceived that it was only dim shadow of what had once been. She was certainly no match for MelysÎ. Ares watched a while longer, feeling his patience growing shorter as the ritual stretched in length.
Damn, don't either of these crazy bitches ever sleep? he thought, then decided that tonight, they would. He raised one hand and shot a bolt at Alti, who dropped on impact. Grinning, Ares approached and began whispering things into her deepest mind.
He left a while later and strolled over to Kraes' tent. Finally, the fat pig sleeps! he thought, as the loud snores assaulted his ears. Pig, indeed! he thought, as he looked around the tent. Dirty, food encrusted dishes were piled everywhere. Garbage littered the floor of the tent, as did dirty laundry.
Kraes slept nude and Ares had to turn his eyes to quell the nausea that the vision of her corpulent carcass created. And the smells! Kraes' unwashed body, dirty laundry, garbage, offal, and a chamber pot which had not been emptied for a while. Rancid grease was used in the lamps and a strong incense had been burned to try and cover up the odours, but only succeeded in adding to the
stench. Ares looked around, careful not rest his eyes on the sleeping warlord. Instead, he noticed a young girl, chained to a post set firmly into the ground. Her eyes stared into the distance, and she rocked back and forth, her lips moving soundlessly. The girl had light brown hair and grey eyes. She was a pretty little thing, obviously some luckless village girl, picked up in a raid, for she still wore the skirt and blouse of a peasant, now torn and dirty. Her eyes were empty, though, and Ares shuddered. That could have been MelysÎ, he thought. It still could - or 'Ryn, or SelenÎ - I've got to get busy - morning isn't that far away. But Ares hesitated, still looking at the girl, he did his 'god-thing'. knocking Kraes deeper into unconsciousness, then made himself visible to the girl.
"Hey," he said to her, snapping his fingers at her. She remained lost, not even looking up.
"Aw, Hells in Tartarus, Apollo'll just have to get over it!" he growled, stopping the earth's revolution for the time being in order to gain the time he needed for his task, he gently took hold of the girl, causing her chains to fall off, and vanished from the tent with her. Moments later, he appeared before MelysÎ, seated at the table in her cottage, poring over scrolls and maps.
"Ares, what..." said the startled queen. "Oh, Goddess! Kraes had her, didn't she?"
"Yeah," said Ares, eyes flaming. "How'd you know?"
MelysÎ closed her eyes and suddenly Ares knew everything.
"She did this to you?" he growled, his rage rising rapidly, dangerously close to making him lose control.
"She would have...eventually," said MelysÎ, quietly. "I got away."
"So that's what has that crazy nutcase bitch so tweaked at you," said Ares, calming down a bit, as his respect for the Amazon Queen rose even higher. "Gods be-damned control freak, and she lost control - of you. What about the other twisted sister - what's her story?"
"She claims the Amazons banished her - for being 'too powerful', according to her," said MelysÎ, rising and taking the girl's hand, leading her to sit in a chair. "Which is absolute dragon crap. Xena's tangled with her a few times, but she just won't stay decently dead."
"Wanna bet?" growled Ares.
"Ares, you can't - Hekate told me," said MelysÎ, turning her attention from the shattered girl to her brother. "Only Xena can defeat Alti."
"And I suppose I don't get a shot at that other weirdo, either?" he said, calming down once again as he watched his sister's tender ministrations to the sick girl.
"I wish," said MelysÎ, trying a half-hearted joke. "But I'm afraid not. It has to be me. Were there any more...like her?"
"I didn't have time to look - still don't," said Ares, glancing out the window at the still-dark sky. "Apollo's gonna crap bricks as it is if I don't get the earth moving again pretty soon. I was running out of time but I couldn't just...leave her. Can you do anything for her, Sis?"
"I don't know," said MelysÎ, her brow furrowed in concern. "I'll try, but I've never seen this before. I can get the shamenki - spirit healer - to look at her tomorrow. Ares, thank-you. I knew I could trust you, Brother."
"Aw, quit it," said Ares, scowling to cover his triumph. Another step in the right direction, he thought to himself. I keep taking these steps, I might actually end up somewhere. "Gotta go - I've still got work to do." He vanished, leaving MelysÎ with Kraes' victim.
"Hey, who's that?" said Xena, emerging from the bedroom, her long hair still sleep-tousled, though she wore full battle gear. "Was Ares just here? How'd it go?"
MelysÎ looked at her warrior queen and smiled in spite of the horrific reminder sitting before her.
"Yes, Ares was here," she said, her smile fading as she looked again at the girl, staring vacantly before her, lips moving silently. "This...this is one of Kraes' victims. Ares found her and brought her to me for help. Goddess, Xena, this could have been me."
Xena hurried over to comfort the priestess, who trembled in her arms with the force of unshed tears. "But it isn't you, 'LysÎ," she said, gently. "And it won't ever be you. We'll stop them, Love, and this will never happen again."
MelysÎ, sighed, calm again and turned to the girl once more. "I promised myself just today that if we found any of her victims alive, I would a make a place of healing for them. But Xena, I didn't know it would be this bad. I don't know how to help her. I don't even know if she can be helped. What if there are others, just as bad off? What can I do for them?"
"Sh, we'll figure it out together when the time comes," said Xena, gently. "But first we have Kraes and Alti to deal with before we can do anything for anyone. What did Ares say?"
"He wasn't finished yet," said MelysÎ, smiling again. "Apparently, he held sunrise off to give himself more time."
"So he could rescue the girl?" said Xena, incredulous. "Forgive me for being a cynic, but I never would have expected this of him. Even when he sacrificed his immortality to save my family, I still had doubts - like he was still just playing some angle for his own benefit, somehow. Maybe I have misjudged him...."
"Xena, I know a bit of the history between the two of you," said MelysÎ, gently. "I doubt even Ares could expect you to think otherwise about his motives. Even I had trouble believing in him at first, especially after he kidnapped SelenÎ to try and get to ArynÎ."
"Yet you trusted him," said Xena.
"The trust had to start somewhere," said MelysÎ. "Once Ares was allowed to make the choice of honouring that trust, he stepped onto the path of the Greater Good. I intend to help him stay on that path by continuing to trust him."
"Like Gabrielle did for me," said Xena, nodding her approval. "You know, with you around, there's hope for the God of War, after all. Come on, let's get her to the Temple. Last scouting report had the armies arriving at our border by sunrise."
The Queens left the Temple and joined their army to watch the approach of the enemy. Xena felt MelysÎ start. "What is it?" she asked.
"Kraes - she's here," whispered MelysÎ, going pale.
"No fear," said Xena, firmly. "Alti's here, too - she'll lap up your fear like a cat laps cream and use it against us."
MelysÎ let out a long, shuddering breath. "Right," she said, calmly, lowering her mask. Xena lowered a mask over her face, too, but for disguise rather than anything else. All of the Amazons followed their queens' lead. Xena and MelysÎ rode to the front of the army. They were both wearing snow-leopard masks and Amazon fighting leathers and their troops were hard pressed to discern which was which, except that Xena rode Argo. It didn't matter. They had their orders and all would follow either queen to the Underworld and back if she commanded it, in perfect love and perfect trust, just like the Oath commanded.
The two queens looked at each other, then simultaneously gave the signal to charge. Battle-cries pierced the air and the noise of battle was deafening. The Amazons were good and no enemy was standing against them for very long.
Suddenly, the leaders of the opposing armies rode in. One was gigantic, requiring a huge battle steed to hold her black-clad bulk. The other was smaller, but grinning madly, dark, painted eyes darting back and forth, gravely voice shouting obscenities at the other leader.
"I told you, Stupid Bitch!" Alti shrieked. "They'd dress another Amazon to look like their cowardly queen!"
The large one swore a gutter obscenity that MelysÎ would have punished one of her warriors for using. "Which one is she?" she yelled. "Where's my dog, MelysÎ?"
"'Dog'?" a voice purred behind her all of a sudden. Kraes whirled around as fast as her bulk allowed to face an Amazon wearing the mask of a fierce, great cat. Kraes grinned. "Yeah, dog - as in Bitch," she yelled.
"Wrong species, Stupid," MelysÎ, muttered, grinning under her mask. Kraes, pulled her two-handed sword and swung, clumsily. The Amazon parried easily, and knocked Kraes off her horse, slapping the creature's backside, causing it to run off, then leapt gracefully down from the golden mare. Kraes swore again, advancing on the Amazon. "Well your vocabulary hasn't expanded over the years, has it, Dummy?" said the Amazon. Kraes swung on her again. The Amazon ducked.
"Still clumsy - and fatter than ever - too."
Kraes roared in fury as the Amazon goaded her further, and threw lightning which bounced off of the Amazon and hit the unwary mage, knocking her backwards. "Oh, haven't you heard?" giggled MelysÎ. "I've discovered who my father is since last we met. Zeus's daughter is immune to the lightning - but I can call it." Kraes found herself hit with another lightning bolt and knocked on her ample backside.
Alti cackled and rode closer. "I told you she wouldn't be so easy to defeat - especially for a weak-powered nothing like you! And when I have her power - and I will have it ..." The two warlords glared at each other for a moment, then Kraes turned and swung at MelysÎ - who ducked gracefully, causing Kraes to knock herself in the head with the flat of her own sword. Alti cackled again as the
Amazon advanced and began to fight the fat warlord in earnest, driving her back.
MelysÎ raised her mask and grinned ferally at Kraes. "So," she purred. "Shall we dance?" Kraes roared and threw flame at MelysÎ, who laughed and deflected the assault back on her attacker as easily as she had the lightning.
"Nope," said MelysÎ. "Keep trying, though. But you won't win this little competition. Alti's much better than you could ever hope to be. She's got centuries of evil under her belt. Got to admire her for her tenacity, too. All you've got is brute strength - just like every other bully. You know what,
Kraes? I'm free of you now. You can't ever hurt me again. In fact, you can't even touch me!" MelysÎ danced away, her staff keeping Kraes' distance safe. She used Kraes' perverse nature against her, knowing the warlord wanted nothing more than to touch her just because MelysÎ had said she couldn't.
"I'll show you evil," Kraes suddenly growled at her, advancing, gesturing wildly in the air with the hand that didn't hold a weapon. Suddenly MelysÎ was finding it difficult to breathe as an oppressive darkness settled upon her chest. Despair filled her as Kraes's net of subjugation fell over her. She felt utterly worthless as memories of Kraes's cruel torture came washing over her. Her mind frantically sought the escape of oblivion, but something held it fast. Suddenly, Hekate's voice came to her, "Remember, I am always with you...Did I not create you? You are My Chosen... I love you, My child..."
MelysÎ felt the oppression lift and she raised her head and grinned, darkly. Kraes saw a skull in that grin and backed away a bit, suddenly unsure. "Been there, done that," laughed MelysÎ, the sudden feeling of lightness making her a little giddy. "I've seen your worst - I'm not impressed. I can take you, now. You have no power over me, Kraes. I want that to be your last thought in this
world - you were powerless before me, MelysÎ, whom you despised." MelysÎ started on her with her staff. Kraes had, as MelysÎ had thought, only brute strength - but it was enough to back the smaller queen closer to Alti, who cackled madly, once again, and began to advance on the Amazon, going in for the kill. A hand on her horse's reins stopped her short.
"I don't know what you're laughing at," Xena purred. "You're next."
"Ah, but I have real powers," said Alti, shaking the hand off her reins. "There's only person who could ever defeat me - and she's dead!"
"Not any more," laughed Xena, raising her mask.
"Xena!" hissed Alti. "Where did you come from?"
"Amphipolis," replied Xena, dryly, unsheathing her sword, twirling it above her head.
"Now what?" growled Kraes, grinning as she saw that MelysÎ was now caught between the two warlords, with no escape in sight.
"Now?" MelysÎ purred, smiling. "Now you get to see my worst!"
She hissed as the fierce snow leopard took her over, completely. She relinquished control and single-handedly decimated over half of Kraes's army, who had begun attacking her while she fought their leader. Then she began advancing on Kraes. "Your turn to be afraid," growled MelysÎ. "Alti was right about one thing - you're nothing."
"Alti....!" yelled Kraes, backing away from the menacing snow leopard. "You didn't tell me she could...could...do this! You said she'd be scared of me - said you could take her fear and use it! Now what?"
"Your spies never reported that Xena was here!" countered Alti, angrily. "What, were you going to use her to get rid of me so you could win?"
"How was I supposed to know about Xena?" yelled Kraes. "You said they'd be easy!"
"Same old Kraes," said MelysÎ, still advancing. "Too damn lazy - always taking the easy way, always getting someone else to do your work for you, always picking on someone weaker... but there was always someone just a little tougher than you, waiting to take you down."
"Stop laughing at me!" Kraes screamed at MelysÎ, frantically throwing her sword at the Great Cat.
"Hey, Alti," said Xena, also smiling. "Think Kraes has anything you can use to defeat me? She seems pretty scared, don't you think?"
"Shut up, Xena," snarled Alti. "I'll deal with you when I'm done with her!" Alti rode up to Kraes and the two battled each other.
"Which one do you think we'll end up having to kill ourselves?" MelysÎ whispered to Xena.
"With any luck, neither," said her friend.
As the two leaders battled each other, their respective armies pulled back from the Amazons and began to fight each other, as well. Xena signalled the Amazons to retreat while the enemy fought itself out.
Finally Kraes arose from the struggle with Alti and glared at MelysÎ. "This is all your fault!" she screamed, and ran toward her. "Everything...everything I did was your fault. You left me! How did you get away from me? I own you, you Bitch! And I'm coming to collect, right now!"
"Guess that answers that question," sighed MelysÎ, lowering her mask.
"Yep," said Xena, going to Alti's prone body and putting her sword through the evil one's heart, ensuring her demise - once and for all, as the Goddess had said.
Once again, without bothering about words or speech of any kind - Kraes wasn't worth the effort, MelysÎ decided - she let the leopard take her and leaped upon Kraes. Her great paws pinned Kraes' shoulders to the dirt with claws as long as MelysÎ's fingers were as a human, and sharp as razors, piercing the flesh. The terrified warlord felt the snow leopard's hot breath on her throat and face.
She looked up into the green eyes of her former victim and a saw a soul more ancient and wise than the Olympians themselves. She heard MelysÎ's voice, quiet, menacing.
"You are the one who is powerless and terrified, now," said the Great Cat. "How does it feel?" The leopard lowered her head, brushing sharp fangs across Kraes' throat. "I could kill you so easily, now, do you know that? I would enjoy killing you. But death is too merciful a punishment for what you have done. Instead, I will do to you what you have done to so many others; what you tried
to do - and failed - to me." The snow leopard lowered her powerful jaws over the now helpless warlord and pierced her throat. The leopard sucked hard at the wound, spitting often.
Soon it was over and Kraes lay there, stripped of all her mage powers. MelysÎ stood over her, a priestess and queen once more. She gestured and two big warriors came over to her.
"Confine her," said MelysÎ. "She's harmless now, but lock her up anyway. I don't want her escaping until I've decided what to do with her. She will be punished for her crimes, but not until we've held a trial."
Kraes stared up at MelysÎ, incredulous. MelysÎ looked back at her, unflinching. "Take her away," said the queen, disgusted.
"You didn't kill her?" said Xena, placing a warm hand on her friend's shoulder.
"No," said MelysÎ. "Not yet. Not like that. I respect my totem spirit too much for that. I will not make that noble creature into an instrument for murder. Kraes will be executed - after a trial. Amazon Law demands it. So does my honour."
"I knew I was gonna miss you do that leopard thing," sighed ArynÎ.
"'Ryn, please," said MelysÎ, wearily, as she allowed Xena to stitch a few cuts Kraes had gotten past her.
"So you really killed her, huh?" said Gabrielle to Xena. "Once and for all?"
"Yep," said Xena, smiling. "Thanks to you."
"Me?" said Gabrielle. "How? I was in the Temple the whole time."
"Your scroll was the key," said MelysÎ, wincing.
"Sorry," Xena grinned up at her.
"What scroll?" said Ephiny, curling up against her mother.
"Yeah, what scroll?" said Gabrielle, holding her daughter closer and smiling contentedly.
"Remember, shortly after you joined Xena, you asked her to teach you how to use a sword?" asked MelysÎ.
"Huh, which time?" chuckled Gabrielle.
"Right before that mess with Morpheus," said Xena, biting off the thread.
"You mean...?" said Gabrielle.
"Yep," said Xena. "MelysÎ learned the rules of survival quicker than you did."
"What are the rules of survival?" asked SelenÎ.
"Well, Little One," said MelysÎ, cuddling her youngest daughter. "I think they go like this: 'If you can run, run.'"
"Which was not an option," said ArynÎ.
"No, not this time," said Xena.
"No," agreed MelysÎ. "Two: 'If you can't run, surrender and then run."
"Bad idea," said SelenÎ.
"Mm," said MelysÎ. "Number three seemed the best option. 'If you're outnumbered, get them to fight each other while you run.' We just adapted it and left the running part out."
"So you got Alti and Kraes to fight each other?" said Gabrielle.
"Wasn't difficult," said MelysÎ, smiling. "Ares told me they hated each other. He's been working on them, as a favour to me, building that hatred between them. And I knew which buttons to push with Kraes. Once they started fighting, their armies took each other on and the Amazons were well out of it. We had very few casualties and no deaths this time."
"And tomorrow, Kraes will stand trial," said ArynÎ, grimly. "I can't wait to see her executed."
"'Ryn, no," said MelysÎ, quietly. ArynÎ looked at her mother and saw horror in her green eyes.
"She hurt you Mother," said ArynÎ, coldly. "I want to see her pay."
"ArynÎ," said Xena, firmly. "No. It's not going to be pleasant. Your mother and I don't want that image stamped in your mind forever. Kraes harmed a lot of young girls. They will all be vindicated. None of the Amazons from the House of Maidens is to attend the trial or the execution. And you will be responsible for seeing that order carried out - Lieutenant."
"Lieutenant? Really, Xena?" said ArynÎ, her eyes shining, as she hugged her foster-mother tightly.
"You've earned it, leading the group who repelled two enemy armies from our borders in the absence of the Warrior Queen," said Xena, smiling proudly. "I'd have given it to you before, but too much was happening. There will be a ceremony, after things settle, of course."
"And a party," said Gabrielle, grinning. "Of course."
The Amazon sentries stood outside of the wooden door to the cell, rolling their eyes and trying to contain their annoyance.
Kraes had spent the first several hours screaming, threats and oaths of vengeance against their queen. MelysÎ's orders had been clear, though - ignore her. Then she had starting crying out that she was ill, noisily retching and moaning.
"Hope you choke on it," muttered one of the sentries, as the other grinned.
Now she was screaming. Apparently, the mighty mage was a bit claustrophobic. The cell was the smallest one in the prison and as dark as a cave. MelysÎ had ordered that no light was to be brought to the prisoner, and no one was to speak with her or in any other way acknowledge her presence. Otherwise, the queen feared, her loyal warriors might just be tempted to exact a vengeance of their own. MelysÎ herself, however wasn't above a little petty revenge; she had known
Kraes couldn't abide small, dark places, and had deliberately ordered this cell for her.
"Don't worry, you won't be here long," she had said coldly, as the door swung shut and was locked, but Kraes had gotten her meaning.
She had begged and pleaded, but MelysÎ had turned and walked away, giving orders for a change of guards every two hours, instead the usual six. That would be too cruel - to my sentries, she thought, hearing the echoes of Kraes' screeching threats.
And Xena doesn't think I have a dark side, she thought, grimly. "How do you like it, being locked in the dark?" she said quietly, to no one, but Xena was standing in the shadows, watching, pain for her companion's suffering squeezing her heart. As soon as the queen had passed, Xena slipped through the shadows and strode through the prison's corridors, saluted by the sentries as she passed each cell.
The Amazon prison, located on an island in the middle of the river, was clean. There was no vermin - save what lived in some of the cells which lined the corridor - it was dry and relatively weatherproof. The Amazons treated the prisoners with detachment, rather than cruelty or contempt. Only the worst criminals were imprisoned, MelysÎ preferring to assign community service to most offenders.
In fact, no Amazon inhabited any of the cells. Most of the prisoners were criminals who posed some threat to the Tribe or the Nation. They were kept in the prison for the Amazons' safety. The alternative was execution, but MelysÎ, Amazon Queen of the soft heart, always hoped for a day when they might change and be allowed their freedom, the safety of the Amazons no longer threatened by them.
Her cousin Pitana had been confined in a special cell after she had tried to take over the Amazon Nation by declaring the Royal Challenge on three-day-old ArynÎ. She declared a fight to the death, after having eaten ambrosia, and believing herself immortal. This act of dishonour had caused MelysÎ to strip her of her Amazon birthright, and her continued threat to the Tribe and the Nation
had caused MelysÎ to imprison her. Xena knew that Pitana would never be released. She had lost her sanity, as most mortals who tampered with ambrosia did.
Xena arrived at Kraes' cell and grinned at the expressions on the sentries' faces. "Now you know why it's only a two-hour shift," she chuckled. The sentries grinned, rolling their eyes good-naturedly to their Warrior Queen.
"Goddess, you'd think she'd have a sore throat by now," one said to Xena.
"I wish," said the other. "She never shuts up - look at her."
Xena glanced at the door to the cell. Kraes had the side of her face pushed up against the small, barred window in the door and was staring wide-eyed at her captors, screaming wordlessly. Eyes narrowing, Xena strode up to the door, drawing her sword. Kraes felt the tip pressed against her cheek, and was instantly silent.
"That's more like it," said Xena, smiling coldly - it was a look which had chilled braver men than Kraes. "Shut up."
"Who's gonna make me?" said Kraes.
"You're not exactly in a position to play stupid games," said Xena, pressing the sword a little further, not yet breaking the skin. She didn't want to leave marks that she would have to explain to MelysÎ.
"That stupid bitch is gonna kill me anyway - what have I got to lose?" growled the former mage.
"Well, I'll tell you," said Xena, re-sheathing her sword, and grinning, wickedly. "You can die relatively ...comfortably, by MelysÎ's hand, or," her grin widened, "you can die by mine. And if you call the queen that one more time, I won't care if you're marked. Got me?"
"Yeah," a slow, taunting smile spread Kraes's thick lips over crud-covered teeth. "You're whipped. The 'Mighty Warrior Princess' whipped by a weak, snivelling - "
The sword was back in Kraes' face before Kraes had even detected any movement.
"MelysÎ does not snivel," she snarled.
"Xena!" MelysÎ called sharply. Xena looked guiltily over to where MelysÎ stood, her arms folded tensely. She sheathed her sword, shot a Look at Kraes, then went to the queen.
"Whipped," taunted the prisoner, again
"I left orders that no one was to talk to her for a reason," said MelysÎ, softly, placing a gentle hand on the warrior's arm to show that she wasn't angry. "She's perverse - she twists everything you say and she's an instigator. She'll be deliberately obtuse, playing stupid word games, like she doesn't get what you mean just to make you angry. Then, of course, what ever happens is your fault."
"Like what?" said Xena.
Pain flashed in MelysÎ's green eyes for a moment, then she spoke. "Like when I would tell her to just leave me alone, she would say something like, 'Oh, so you want me to kill everyone you care about so you'll be all alone? Is that what you want?' And I believed she would do it. Then she would make me...do things... so she would leave my family alone. I was her slave - hostage to my Amazons' lives. I did whatever she told me to - no matter how...humiliating," said MelysÎ, shaking at the memories. Xena listened, horrified at what her gentle, kind-hearted companion had endured. "And when I would...try to ...to... fight back...or to get away somehow, she would come after me and beat me, and she would...she had convinced me that it was my fault, all my fault."
"You lying bitch! I never laid a hand on you!" yelled Kraes from her cell.
In an instant, Xena was at the cell door, her fury barely contained. She grabbed a handful of greasy, colourless hair and yanked the back of Kraes' head forcefully against the iron bars.
"I told you to shut up," she said, her voice low and dangerous. "And I also told you not to call her that."
"Ow, ow!" yelled Kraes, in real pain this time. "You can't do this to me!"
"But I am doing it," said Xena, still low. "And there's nothing you can do about it. So if you want me to stop, I suggest you just shut up. Is that clear enough for you? Or do I need to explain it further? Sure you don't want to pretend to be even dumber than you are? 'Cause the longer I have to stand here touching your filthy head, the more hair you lose - and I really don't care if you die tomorrow with the imprint of these bars still in your head. So are you absolutely sure you understand what I am telling you? Good. There had better not be another sound from this cell tonight. If I so much as hear you breathe, I might just have to silence it - got me?"
Kraes was silent and Xena took that as assent, and released her. She stumbled across the cell, sitting on the straw pallet in the dark, rubbing the back of her head. Xena looked at her hand in disgust, and wiped it on a rag offered by one of the grateful sentries.
Xena returned to MelysÎ, putting a comforting arm around the trembling queen and led her out of the prison. They returned to the cottage in silence. Xena sat MelysÎ down in her chair by the hearth and built a fire for her, then set about mulling some wine. She debated putting a draught of sedative in it, then decided MelysÎ didn't need to feel fuzzy when she sentenced Kraes the next morning.
"Here you go," said the Warrior Queen handing the cup to MelysÎ, who accepted, smiling gratefully. Xena sat in a chair beside MelysÎ, offering the comfort of her silent presence.
"Xena, I have never told anyone about...that...time, that nightmare that just wouldn't let me wake up," said MelysÎ, her voice very quiet, but steady. "Not even my mothers knew. And I don't want anyone else to know my shame, either. But I ... you deserved to know everything. If you want to leave, I'll understand."
"That's the last thing I want to do, 'LysÎ," said Xena, her throat tight. MelysÎ let out a breath she didn't know she'd been holding, waiting for Xena to speak. "Right now, all I want to do is stop the pain for you. I'm so sorry you went through that. But it ends tomorrow. Kraes will be executed, she'll be dead, and she will never be able to hurt you or anyone else ever again. All I ask, is that you let me kill her."
"No," whispered MelysÎ. "It has to be me. The Goddess said...only I could defeat her. I will carry out her sentence tomorrow. And then it will be over."
MelysÎ stood before the Tribe in the centre of the village. Kraes was brought before the Queens and the elders of the Tribe. MelysÎ's eyes scanned the assembled Amazons. Satisfied that her daughters were not present, she motioned to Gabrielle to step forward. Clearing her throat, Gabrielle read the charges from the scroll in her hands. Kraes looked smug.
Goddess, it's like she doesn't believe I'll go through with it, thought MelysÎ.
"You have heard the charges against you, Kraes," she said, her voice clear and controlled. "Do you wish to offer a defence?"
"What for? You'll just kill me anyway," she sneered. "Just to hide what you did, you slut! Huh, bet your precious Amazons don't know what their 'little queenie' is really like, do they?"
The guards moved to silence their prisoner, but MelysÎ held up a hand.
"Do you wish to offer a defence for your actions?" she asked, again, her voice still calm.
"You're just gonna kill me in cold blood, no matter what I say," said Kraes, enjoying the attention. MelysÎ looked at her, her face betraying no emotion. "You never told your Amazons about how you would do anything for me, how you loved it when I...."
At that Xena leapt down from the dais where she had been standing protectively behind MelysÎ, drawing her sword. "One more word," she growled. "And I'll - "
"Let the prisoner speak - these will be the last words her lying tongue ever utters. If she wishes to be remembered as a 'snivelling'," MelysÎ allowed herself a slight smile, "dirty-mouthed worm, without honour, then so be it."
Kraes snarled and was silent. MelysÎ had effectively ensured that the Amazons would not listen to or believe anything she said about their queen.
"I ask you again, do you wish to offer a defence for your actions?"
"I don't have to justify myself to you," said Kraes, glaring defiantly at MelysÎ.
"So be it," said Gabrielle. "Let it be recorded that the prisoner was, in the presence of these witnesses, three times offered a chance to defend herself against the charges brought before this justice council and before these same witnesses, three times refused. Let the guilty one be sentenced."
"Kraes, former Black Mage, you have been found guilty of the most heinous of crimes, perpetrated against Amazons and in Amazon territory," said Xena, coldly. "And further, you have caused harm to the Priestess Queen of this Tribe - that alone demands your execution. Therefore, Kraes, your sentence is death - by the hand of your victim."
Xena stepped aside as MelysÎ descended from the dais. Xena handed her the sword. MelysÎ looked Kraes in the eye and spoke, quietly so that only she and Xena heard her. "The last thing you will know in this lifetime and the last thought you will carry with you to whichever of the hells you have made for yourself in the Underworld will be this: That you stood powerless before me. And I am free of you - forever."
Kraes' death was quicker than she deserved.
MelysÎ had spent the rest of that day alone in the cottage. Xena took the girls fishing to give their mother some space and some time.
SelenÎ returned before the others. She had crawled silently into her mother's lap, knowing that MelysÎ needed a cuddle very much just then. MelysÎ held her, rocking like when SelenÎ was a baby. They sat like that for a long time, watching the sun set through the cottage's window, soaking up each other's warmth and love in mutual and comfortable silence, each content to spend time
just loving one another.
After a while, SelenÎ had to ask her mother about the thought which had worried her since after the battle.
"Mother, " she started.
"What, Sweetheart?" said MelysÎ looking lovingly down upon her daughter's upturned frown, so like Xena, thought the Queen, fondly.
"You said Hekate said you were the only one who could defeat Kraes," said SelenÎ. "If she and Alti fought each other..."
"I killed her, SelenÎ," said MelysÎ, quietly. "And I killed her taunting voice, her derisive laughter, her striking hand, her cruelty..."
"Okay, Little One," said Xena, striding into the cottage, Gabrielle right behind her. "Off to the House of Maidens. It's late and your sister and Ephiny are already in bed."
The girl kissed her mothers goodnight, and left the three Amazon queens to talk.
"That girl Ares rescued from Kraes," said MelysÎ. "The shamenki brought her back - a little. Now she just whimpers and cringes when anyone comes near her. But even that's an improvement. I think she's going to come out of this. But she'll never be the same."
Xena noted sadly that MelysÎ 's voice was too quiet, too controlled.
"Are you okay?" asked Gabrielle, gently.
"I don't know," sighed MelysÎ. "Kraes had to be stopped. And I know her - to stop her, she had to be killed."
"Which you did," said Xena. "Mission accomplished. Done." MelysÎ mumbled. "What?" said Xena. "What's wrong?"
"I liked it," said MelysÎ, head down. She looked up, eyes full of tears. "It felt damn good. I wanted to kill her - But I wanted to kill her as the snow leopard so it could be as brutal and as bloody as possible. I would have dishonoured myself and my totem spirit, just to be able to rip her into pieces and see the terror in her eyes. I wanted to hurt her. I wanted revenge, pure and simple. How do I learn to live with that?"
Xena looked at Gabrielle. "I think you need to talk to Xena," said the bard gently, rising from her chair. "I'll be at the House of Mothers tonight. If you need me, 'LysÎ, just send for me, ok?"
"Thank-you," said MelysÎ. "For everything."
"Anytime, 'LysÎ," Gabrielle said, smiling encouragement to Xena as she left, closing the door behind her.
"Stuck with another 'sensitive chat', huh?" said MelysÎ, smiling weakly. "Sorry - don't worry about it, Love. I'll...deal with it on my own."
"You can't," said Xena, looking directly at her.
"What?" said MelysÎ. "Of course I can."
"No, believe me - I've been there. You can't do this by yourself," said Xena, gently. "And you don't have to. You don't have carry it around anymore. You're not going to be alone with this, 'LysÎ - not ever again. Let me help you, please."
MelysÎ closed her eyes against the pain in her heart. She whispered, "Please...."
"First, you have to forgive yourself," said Xena. "That's what you taught me, and that's the hardest. Accept what happened and move on. It isn't the act of killing Kraes causing your guilt, it's how you felt while you were doing it, right?"
"Right," said MelysÎ, quietly, looking down.
Xena gently lifted her chin and looked into those dark green eyes, shimmering with tears of guilt and remorse. "Killing that monster felt good, didn't it?" said Xena grinning.
"Oh, yeah - too good," said MelysÎ. "It...it still does. It shouldn't. I killed an unarmed person, just...took her life - such as it was."
"Would it have felt as good to kill anyone else?"
"Well...no," said MelysÎ, frowning. "I don't like killing people, as a rule."
"After everything that monster put you through, don't you think you deserve to feel good about killing her?" asked Xena.
"Deserve? No," said MelysÎ. "I deserved the right to kill her, but..."
"You deserved the right to do more than kill her," said Xena, darkly. "If I had been the one to deal with her, she'd have had much worse. I'd have crucified her and left her for the crows and the ants. I'd have sliced her open a dozen times, shot a few arrows into her limbs, arrows tipped with a poison that would cause every muscle in her body to seize up and spasm without respite - and left her alive, hanging on that cross for days, slowly bleeding to death and right before death came to claim her, I'd have torn her beating heart out of her living body and made her watch..."
"Enough!" cried MelysÎ. "Goddess, Xena, that's a bit...vivid."
"Well," said Xena, grinning. "You wanted a dark side? Now you've got one. Enjoy."
MelysÎ laughed. "Okay, I see what you're doing," she said. "Let's not compare dark sides, though, alright? Yours has a little more...imagination than mine."
"Oh, yeah? Tell me, aside from this, what other 'deep, dark, secrets' do you hold, my Queen?"
MelysÎ smiled, slightly. "Come on, 'LysÎ, tell. Bet it's gory, huh?"
"Goddess, Xena, what do you think of me?" laughed MelysÎ.
"I think you got back at Coran and Gruda - but good, huh?" said Xena grinning, mischievously at MelysÎ's surprise.
"How did you...never mind - one of your many skills, right?" said MelysÎ, shaking her head, and smiling.
"Okay," said Xena, smiling back. "You gonna be alright now?"
"Sure," said MelysÎ, smile fading.
"A day at a time," said Xena, understanding.
"Right," agreed MelysÎ.
MelysÎ found herself in the forest, walking to a familiar cross-roads. There was Hekate, waiting for her.
"Mother," said MelysÎ, kneeling before the goddess.
"Rise, My child," said Hekate.
"Mother, my heart is troubled," said MelysÎ, approaching.
"I told you that you would have choices to make," said Hekate.
"And I chose wrong," said MelysÎ, bowing her head.
"Why do you think so?" asked the Goddess, smiling gently.
"I...took revenge," said MelysÎ. "I killed an unarmed person."
"As was your right," said Hekate.
"I...enjoyed...killing her," said MelysÎ, voice breaking.
"Good," said Hekate, nodding.
"Good? Doesn't that make me...?"
"Human? Of course," said Hekate, smiling. "She deserved worse. I rather liked Xena's ideas, in fact."
"Everything, My child," said Hekate. "I told you, I am always with you. Did you not feel My Presence when you executed Kraes?"
"Yes," said MelysÎ, looking up at Her. "Were those feelings mine? Or yours?"
"A little of both, I think," said the goddess. "Those feelings which are bringing you such shame and remorse are part of your healing, My child. And that healing has been a long time in coming. Too long. Remember, I love you - I love all of My children, despite their cruelty to one another. I can seem cruel, as well. A harsh winter, the death of a loved one - these are Mine, too, but everything serves a purpose. Kraes's cruelty had no purpose to it, save to feed her own evil whims. I did not create evil and I have no love for it. And she was evil. You must believe this, else nothing makes sense. Yet her evil will not last beyond her lifetime, unlike Alti... but that is a battle for another
time. Her victims will come to you. I give you the power to start their healing."
"Start the healing?" asked MelysÎ.
"You will help them to heal themselves," said Hekate. "That's important. Part of their healing is to reclaim their own power and control, just as you did. They can't do that if you are in control of healing them."
"Oh, of course," said MelysÎ. "But Goddess, I don't understand how I could feel so...so...glad to have killed another human - even if she was my worst nightmare."
Hekate sighed. "I want you to picture one of your daughters, or even little Ephiny, in the clutches of that monster, as you were. Picture their faces instead of the face of that girl Ares rescued," said the goddess, nodding as MelysÎ's eyes narrowed and her jaw clenched. "Yes, but that is not even a
fraction of what I felt when it was you, My child. That you, the one victim who escaped her, was the one to deal her what she deserved - this she carries with her for her eternity in the Underworld, in that place she has made for herself. And this, I know will be her eternal torment: her last thought was that she was powerless before you, even as you said.
"Another thing: your brother Ares has been set upon his true path at last - and it was your willingness to trust and offer him your unconditional love that led him there. I have given him back his immortality. Let's see what use he makes of it. You are - and always have been - My Chosen. And you always will be. I have great plans for your destiny, My Child, but for now, I will give you a gift - I will let you...forget...as you tried so hard to do before. I couldn't allow it then, knowing this battle had to happen and you would need those memories to muster the strength to kill Kraes, but now, My dear, you have earned Nepenthe...go back now, and forget all the pain and fear and sorrow and guilt and shame...holding onto only the wisdom gained from experience..."
MelysÎ, sat up with a gasp. She knew she had dreamed, but...
"MelysÎ, are you alright?" Xena said, waking up.
"Fine, just a dream," said MelysÎ, laying back.
"I know," said Xena, sitting up beside her, holding her close. "The nightmares can be pretty
"No, not a nightmare - I don't think," said MelysÎ. "I don't really remember. Damn, now I'm wide awake. I'll never get back to sleep before dawn."
Xena chuckled and got up, returning from the hearth with a cup of sleeping herbs, steeping in hot water. She handed MelysÎ the cup. MelysÎ smiled her thanks, sipping gratefully.
"I thought you might need it after the day you've had," said Xena, smiling fondly at her friend.
"Yeah," said MelysÎ, looking down, frowning. "Executions are never easy. Especially when I have to decide if it was justified, or if I just wanted my revenge."
"Hey, speaking of revenge, you never did tell me," said Xena, grinning "What happened to Coran and Gruda?"
MelysÎ chuckled. "Well, a little while after they were married, Coran sent for me," she said. "Apparently he was in Ephesus on business."
"Did you go?" asked Xena.
"No," replied MelysÎ. "He came to the Temple and asked if we could meet later - in his room at the inn. He and Gruda were having problems and he needed someone to 'talk' to."
"Huh, I'll just bet," said Xena.
"Yeah, that's what I thought, too," said MelysÎ, grinning in the dark. "Apparently, they had both been locked up several times by the town magistrate for drunkenness and fighting. Turns out, they really hated each other's guts. Gar was raising their son. Still is, last I heard."
"So they didn't get a happily ever after - good," said Xena, smugly.
"Well, I don't know about the 'happily' part," said MelysÎ, smiling wickedly now. "But if ever a marriage needed the blessing of a priestess, I felt that one did."
"You didn't?!" said Xena.
"Oh, sure," said MelysÎ, laughing aloud, now. "Being the ever generous and...ah...forgiving person that I am, the first blessing I performed as a priestess was the blessing of longevity upon that marriage."
"Those two are going to be stuck with each other forever," said MelysÎ.
"Whew, you do have a dark side, don't you?" laughed Xena.
"Yep," said MelysÎ, as the two friends laughed in the dark.
To be continued (in Part V: THE UNVEILED TRUTH)