THE AMAZON QUEEN
Part VII: The Dragon's Curse
by L. M. Townsend
DISCLAIMERS: The characters of Xena, Gabrielle, Meg, Argo, Virgil, Ephiny, Joxer, Eve, Solan, Cyrenê, Toris, 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. (Melysë 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.
OTHER: I guess at this point in the story, I should tell you, if you haven't already read the first parts, you might be get a little lost in this one. There really isn't much of a timeline I'm following (hey, they don't follow one on the show, either!) I'm not too disciplined that way (or in any other way, for that
matter), but I've decided that it takes place after the end of the series. Just disregard anyone else who gets killed off between now and then as magically resurrected - they do that on the show all the time, too. I've let the story evolve as it will, so blame the Muses, not their tool. Please keep in mind that any inconsistencies you might find are the product of changing my mind to improve my "vision" of the story.
Aemetzainê is about 350 miles (a mere "hop" in the Xenaverse!) east of Amphipolis on the way to the Black Sea Tribes, approximately 60 miles east of the Bosphorus and about 30 - 40 miles south of the Black Sea. Well, it would be if it existed outside of these stories. I tried to figure out how long to allow for travel time from place to place in these stories - not mention on X:WP - then I decided to heck with it - this is fiction, for crying out loud! Don't analyse it - just enjoy and lose yourself in the story.
**Spoiler Alert - several references to various episodes throughout the history of the show, specifically, THE XENA SCROLLS, LOOKING DEATH IN THE EYE, LIVIA, EVE, MOTHERHOOD
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.
This story is very lovingly dedicated to my grandpa, who crossed over a year ago - and who loved me no matter what and was always proud of me. Grandpa, I know you can hear my thoughts, so your firstborn, your Poppy, misses you so very much. I love you. And I remember. Always.
Arynë stepped onto the dais. As Acting Regent in the absence of her Tribe's three queens, the messenger had come to her. The runner bowed and, impatiently Arynë gestured for her to rise.
"Your Majesty," said the runner.
"That's my mother," said 'Ryn, her calm voice masking her impatience. How does Mother stand all this dumb formality? Xena sure doesn't put up with it! "Will you please just relay the message?"
"Oh, right," said the messenger, awkwardly. "Queen Melysë has asked that you and your sister, Princess Selenë join her in Themiscyreia. She has requested that her oathsister Tai' stand as Regent in your absence."
Arynë frowned. "Mother wants us to go to Themiscyreia?" she said to Selenë, her younger sister. "I wonder why?"
The younger girl giggled. "She probably misses us - I know I miss her and Xena and tanti Gabrielle," she said. "Maybe whatever she's doing is taking longer than she expected it might."
"It usually does," sighed Arynë. "That's okay, I was getting pretty tired of playing Queen, anyway - time enough for that when it's for real." Suddenly 'Ryn's dark green eyes brightened as she spotted a dark figure striding through the ranks to the dais. "Xena!" she cried, jumping off the dais into her godsmother's arms. "Goddess, I missed you! Where's Mother and Neiromei? And what's this about us going to Themiscyreia?"
"Slow down, 'Ryn," chuckled Xena. "Yes, you and sister are going to Themiscyreia. Your mother's still there. Seems she's got to get your cousin Crowned High Queen, but as usual, there're complications."
"Why does she want us there?" the girl frowned.
"She misses you - she's afraid you're going to forget her face or something," said the Warrior Queen, grinning.
"Told ya," said Selenë, approaching and claiming her own embrace from her godsmother. "tanti, can Ephiny come too?"
"Oh, we're all going," said Xena, rolling her eyes. "Gabrielle's already here packing for the trip and seeing Virgil and the boys."
"Great, I'll go and get Tecmessa," said 'Ryn, running off to find her best friend.
"Xena, is Mother alright?" asked Selenë, her blue eyes showing concern.
"Yes, she's fine," said Xena. "There are just some things she needs to do to help your cousin, Laesë become queen. Things that only your mother can do."
"Let me guess - the Black Sea Amazons want Mother for High Queen, right?" saidthe little girl.
"Yeah, how'd you...never mind," said Xena. In all the years Xena'd been with Melysë, she'd learned not to allow anything she or her daughters did to surprise her.
"That's just Mother," said Selenë with a shrug. "I'm glad, though. 'Ryn's great and Tai's really nice, too, but I really want Mother."
Xena hugged the little girl tightly. "I know," said the Warrior Queen. "And she really wants you too. Come on, we have some things to do, too. I have to find a spot to build a new cottage."
"Why? What's wrong with the old one?" asked the girl.
"Oh, nothing," said Xena, grinning. "But there won't be nearly enough room in it for both my mother and me."
"Wow, your Mom's coming here?" said Selenë.
"Oh, yeah," sighed Xena.
"Goody!" said Selenë.
"Yeah, 'Goody!'" said Xena, smiling at the little girl's enthusiasm.
Arynë and Selenë were packed and ready very quickly. Gabrielle's daughter, Ephiny took a bit longer, arguing with her mother until Xena stepped in and settled it. Will those two ever get along? Xena thought. Goddess, even my mother and I get along better than those two! Then she grinned. Once her mother did get here, little Ephiny would get the "Cyrenê treatment". Xena chuckled to herself. I guess I'm not only one 'in for it' anymore!
Finally, all were assembled and packed. Xena looked them over. Arynë and Selenë had only a small pack apiece. Ephiny had a couple of large ones and had been trying to pack even more. Tecmessa, Arynë's best friend and malatyr had packed lightly as 'Ryn told her to. Gabrielle had her other two little girls carrying their own small packs.
"Alright, let's mount up. I want you older girls to take one of the little ones - they're too young to ride themselves," said Xena, swinging herself up on Argo. Suddenly, Selenë was there, patting her foot. "Yes, Sweetheart?"
"Xena, they're Amazons - they can ride," she whispered.
Xena smiled. "Yes, I know they can, Love, but we have to ride fast, and it's a very long journey. The little ones would tire too soon and maybe fall off," she said.
"Oh," said Selenë, nodding. "tanti, can I ride with you?"
"Come on," said Xena, secretly pleased, pulling the little girl up onto the saddle in front of her. She had thought that Selenë would want to ride with 'Ryn, whom she idolised, but Xena saw that 'Ryn already had Ephiny, Tecmessa had Lillia, and Gabrielle had her youngest, Terreis. "'Ryn took Ephiny, huh?"
"Yeah, Eph' didn't want to ride with tanti Gabrielle," sighed the little girl, as Argo started off. "And 'Ryn can make her be nice sometimes. I told Eph' to be nicer to Gabrielle and she was for a while. Why can't Eph' just like her meia? I know she loves her, and I know she feels bad after she's mean to her. I just don't understand. I mean, if I didn't already have you and Mother, I would sure pick Gabrielle for my meia. She's had so many adventures and she tells really great stories and she's a really good cuddler."
"I don't know either, Selenë," said Xena, smiling at the child's assessment of her soulmate's mothering skills. "Maybe Ephiny just thinks a mother should have different qualities." Good cuddler, huh? Wonder where I rate as a mother?
Selenë looked at her godsmother, in surprise. "You're a great mother, tanti," she said, as Xena started.
"Did I say that out loud?" said the warrior.
"Uh, no, sorry," said the little girl, sheepishly. "I try not to listen to people, but sometimes, I can't help it - especially if they're wondering about something important like that. But you are a great mother."
"You are your mother's daughter alright," Xena chuckled. She knew Melysë was the daughter of Zeus which meant her children also carried some god-blood, but she hadn't yet seen any powers manifesting in the girls. "And I'll bet your mother can teach you how to not listen better. Bet that can be uncomfortable sometimes, huh?"
"Sometimes," said the little girl with a sigh. "I really don't want to hear a person's private thoughts - especially if they're mean thoughts. That hurts my head, when I hear mean thoughts."
"Who has mean thoughts, Selenë?" said Xena, gently.
"Oh, everyone does sometimes, if they're, you know, mad or upset about something," said Selenë, laying her head against Xena, her blue eyes closing as she drifted into a nap.
Xena chuckled, holding on to the little girl, determined to think only good thoughts in the child's presence. But Melysë really is going to have to teach her to control this gift, she thought. Otherwise this kid's in for a lot of headaches once we reach Themiscyreia!
They rode through the rest of the day, setting up camp for the night. Ephiny was cranky with tiredness, but Selenë set up their bedrolls a little distance away from the others and got her settled in and asleep before any real confrontations could occur. Gabrielle had the littlest ones asleep near the fire, 'Ryn and Tecmessa on either side of them. Selenë, having napped, wasn't sleepy just yet
and begged Gabrielle for a story. Gabrielle, always delighted to put her bard skills to use, indulged her godsdaughter.
"In the Ancient Time, even before the Tribes walked the earth, the world was
flat. There were no mountains or rivers or oceans. Just flat land. In this time,
the world was new and all of her creatures were young. The sun and the moon did
not yet move in the heavens, but the Goddess of Day and the Goddess of Night
ruled over time and the seasons, each taking turns watching over the new world.
"In this time, even the great cats were as kittens and one day the lion and the
snow leopard began playing a game - as kittens do - taking turns chasing each
other, back and forth. At first the Goddesses looked on in amusement and they
laughed in delight at the kittens' antics, but soon their amusement turned to
dismay; for though Lion and Snow Leopard were as kittens, still they were great
cats and their game had marked the new world. Their claws had gouged the flat
land and their pounces had shaken valleys and they had dug up great mounds of
earth with their big paws, which became the mountains. Their running around and
around had set the earth to spin about and change form until it was a great
ball, suspended in the heavens.
"The goddesses called out to the kittens, scolding, demanding they stop their
game before the world was completely destroyed, but the kittens declared they
would never stop, for they were having too much fun. The Goddess of Night wept,
salty tears which filled the great pits made by Snow Leopard and these became
the seas. The Goddess of Day wept sweet tears and these filled the great gouges
made by Lion's claws, forming the rivers and lakes, but still the kittens
"Finally, the Goddesses of Night and Day called upon the Great Mother Who had
created them all. 'Just look!' they cried. 'Look at what those naughty kittens
have done to the brand new world!' The Great Mother looked down and smiled a
loving smile, but She too called for the kittens to stop. Those naughty kittens
refused even the Great Mother, so She put them where they could do more harm to
the World, up in the Heavens, where they continue to chase each other to this
Selenë had drifted off to sleep, but a smile remained on her lips as Xena laid her next to Ephiny, pulling both bedrolls closer to the fire. The girls snuggled together for warmth in their sleep, and Gabrielle and Xena smiled at them.
"How long do you think before we get back?" asked Gabrielle, sitting by the fire
"It's a lot slower with the girls along," said Xena, pulling out her sword and sharpening stone. "But Melysë promised to meet us in Amphipolis with Mother. I know we're back-tracking, but she wanted the girls to spend some time with their brother, Jox. She'll probably do some 'god-thing' to get us back to Themiscyreia faster."
"Your Mother's really taken to her," said Gabrielle, chuckling. "But then again, everyone does."
"True," said Xena, grinning. "Just my luck, too. Mother's even moving to Aemetzainê with us. And I had to argue with Melysë to let Mother have her own place. Can you imagine my mother and me under the same roof?"
"Heh, yeah, that would be like Meg moving into the Lodge with Virgil and me," chuckled Gabrielle. "Goddess knows, I love my mother in law, but it's still pretty weird thinking of her as Virgil's mother."
"Yeah, I can imagine," Xena smiled. "She's mellowed over the years, though. Joxer was good for her."
"Joxer was good, period," said Gabrielle, her eyes filling. "I wish..."
"I know," said her friend, gently, placing an arm around the bard's shoulders. "But he hears your thoughts. I'll bet he's overjoyed to see you with Virgil, too."
"Yeah, he would be," said Gabrielle. "I wish the kids could know him, though. He'd have been a terrific grandfather."
"Well, looking at Virgil, I know he was a terrific father," said Xena. "Come on, you need to sleep now. Actually we both should, but you go first. We have a long day tomorrow."
The next day, Xena had them all on the road early. The little ones dozed in the saddle until Xena called a halt to rest the horses. Arynë helped Gabrielle hand out journey bread and dried meat. It only took one look from Xena to quell Ephiny's grumbling about the fare.
"We'll be in Amphipolis tomorrow," she said. "And we'll stay over at the Tavern for a night, so we'll eat well then."
"And see my brother," said Selenë, her blue eyes shining in anticipation. Xena smiled at the girl. "Yes, and see your brother, Little One," she said. Gods, I wish Jox could be with us, too. Oh, well, Amphipolis isn't that far, I supose - at least not with Melysë's powers, and with Virgil and Gabrielle's boys in the Lodge, he'll have a place to come and visit. Otherwise, Mother might have
had second thoughts. She adores that little boy. Toris has really done well with him.
They arrived at the Tavern on schedule and were greeted by Melysë and Cyrenê, with hugs and cuddles to even Selenë's heart's content. Iksander - or "Jox", as he was called, greeted his sisters shyly, but Selenë took his hand and led him over to a table, talking with him in earnest. The little boy brightened at his sister's attention, and spoke animatedly with her while the rest of them
gathered and had their first hot meal in days.
"Well, here we are, all together again," said Xena, wrapping an arm around Melysë's waist, pulling her closer. "Goddess, I missed you."
Melysë smiled and hugged back, laying her head back against her warrior's shoulder. "I missed you, too," she said. "But I didn't trust anyone but you and Gabrielle to bring the girls safely. Thank-you, by the way."
"Oh, anytime," said Xena, grinning. "Where's Neiromei?"
"Asleep upstairs," said Melysë, sipping wine from Xena's offered cup. "Your mother's with her. She...offered to keep her tonight."
"Well, then," said Xena, her smile softening. "I'll just go up and kiss her good-night and then we can find our room."
"I'll get the girls tucked in while you do that," said Melysë, her eyes shining, and her fair skin glowing in the lamplight.
"Don't take too long," said Xena, rising and going to see her daughter.
Melysë chuckled. "Don't worry," she whispered, rising and seeing to the children.
The next morning, the group was up early. Xena whistled happily as she loaded up the horses and Selenë was playing with Jox in the Tavern yard under the warrior's watchful eye. They were apparently acting out Gabrielle's story. Suddenly, Xena saw the little girl freeze, then collapse. Panicked, she ran over to the children, gathering Selenë in her arms.
"Jox, run and get your mother," she said, as calmly as she could manage.
"Okay," said the little boy, obeying.
Melysë came out of the tavern and took Selenë into her own arms, rocking and crooning to her.
"What happened?" she asked softly, looking the child over.
"They were just playing and all of a sudden..."
"She's in a trance," said Melysë, calmly. "It's okay, she'll be fine. I remember when they first hit me. I was a little younger than Selenë, but I know what to do. Let's get her inside."
Melysë carried the child inside and up the stairs, laying her on a bed. She took a damp cloth and wiped her daughter's face, tenderly stroking and kissing the child. "It's alright, Little One, meia's here," she said softly as Xena looked on, as always touched by her companion's rapport with their daughters. "And Xena's here. Can you come back to us, Love?" The child was still and pale, but
Xena, watching Melysë with her felt less worried.
"You used to go through this when you were younger than her?" whispered the Warrior.
"Yes, but my poor mothers hadn't a clue what to do about it," chuckled Melysë. "Hypolite was a priestess, too, but she'd never seen a trance this deep. They thought I was having 'fits' or something. The old shamenki explained it to them and she was my first teacher. Selenë's power is manifesting. She's going to need training."
"What about - I thought when she went back to Ephesus...?"
"No, Ephesus isn't for her," said Melysë, sighing. "The last time I went there to see Selenë before we brought her and Ephiny home, I was shocked. Things have changed there. It's no longer the Sacred Place the Amazons founded. The city of the Goddess ... has changed since the Ancient Amazons built the first shrine there. There are Romans everywhere." Melysë shuddered. She had an aversion to all things of Rome, much as Xena had, but for different reasons. "The Temple is
splendid - beautiful, even - but it was not really what I would think of as a Temple dedicated to our Goddess. Even though it was founded by our people many years ago, it seemed more dedicated to the glory of ... Rome, I guess. Statues of Romans now decorate the building, except for a few token Amazon statues, and the statue they called the Goddess was obscene. The pilgrims oohed and aahed, but I have seen the face of the Goddess and She was not in that building."
"You didn't find it in the faces of the faithful who made pilgrimages to the Temple?"
"Not in many of them, no," said Melysë. "Certainly not in the wealthy Romans who stood and paid for 'priesthoods'...like they could buy the Goddess's favour with gold ... paying for sacrifices to be made for them and the so-called priestesses who readily took their coins and slaughtered the creatures, also children of the Great Mother, made me sick. There is one old priestess there, Mhari, who remembers so much from the old days. She is very wise and she was kind to me. I did learn quite a bit from her during my time there. Even still, I don't want Selenë in that place. I think she may have to stay in Themiscyreia for a while."
"Away from us?" said Xena, her heart tightening.
"I don't like it either," said Melysë, squeezing her companion's hand.
"Can't you just teach her?" asked Xena, sitting beside Melysë.
"Yeah, for a while," said Melysë, smiling up at her Warrior Queen. "But eventually she'll have to have training that I can't give her. Oh, Xena, it looks like I'll have to go under and bring her back."
"Okay," said the Warrior, wrapping strong arms around the priestess. "I'll be right here."
Melysë smiled at her. "Thank-you," she said. "I'll try to hurry." The Priestess Queen's eyes glazed as she dropped into a trance. She was still aware of Xena's strength, anchoring her as she searched through the mist for her daughter. She found the crossroads and saw her child, sitting with Hekate, on the Goddess' lap, cuddling.
"Mother," said Melysë, smiling at the sight. "I see Selenë has found you."
Hekate smiled gently. "Your daughters are always welcome," she said, kindly. "But, as I told this Little One, her visits must be brief or she'll worry you. At least until her power has fully manifested. But don't worry, I'll always send her back to you and Xena when she comes to me. And Melysë..."
"Yes, Mother?" said Melysë as she gathered her daughter into her arms.
"Give her over to the shamenki of your Tribe for training," said the Goddess. "You needn't send her away."
"Thank-you, Mother," said Melysë, relieved. "I'd have hated that."
"Hm, so would she," said the Goddess, nodding. "Go to, now Daughters. Xena's getting worried again."
Melysë returned and Selenë opened her eyes at the same time. "Meia, what happened?" said the child.
Xena looked at Selenë. "You were playing with Jox and you fell down," she said, glancing at Melysë, who nodded. "You okay now?"
"Yeah, but I'll bet 'Sander is scared," said the little girl, struggling to sit up. Melysë pushed her back down.
"'Sander is fine, I'll send him up here to see you, but you stay here," she said firmly.
"Okay, meia," said the child. "Can you stay with me, Xena?"
"Yeah, I'll be right here," said the Warrior gently.
Melysë looked at them, smiling, and went to get her son. They left the children alone, after making sure Selenë was alright and went down to finish packing up the horses together.
It was decided Selenë would remain behind with Jox. Cyrenê would stay with the children and Toris. Hm, gonna miss her...especially taking care of Neiromei at night, thought Xena, grinning wryly. Ah, well. Melysë will have a lot to do in Themiscyreia anyway. Knowing her, though, with a palace full of willing baby-sitters...Tartarus, Gabrielle will be there...if 'Lysë doesn't trust anyone
else... Gods, am I getting bad - or what? Melysë looked up at her, smiling, sweetly. Nah, nothing bad about that - or her, either.
"What are you thinking about?" Melysë asked her. Xena grinned over at her. Melysë employed the raised eyebrow she had learned from Xena over the years. "Oh."
Xena was charmed by Melysë's slight blush and an even sweeter smile. Gods, even after all these years, thought Xena. I still make her blush...
Xena chuckled, remembering the first time she'd seen that blush - and that sparkle in those dark green eyes, and the smile that was only for her. Right after they'd told Gabrielle that Xena was staying as the Aemetzainê Warrior Queen...
"I've asked - and Xena has agreed to be the Warrior Queen of this Tribe. We've been without one since my mother died. I am no warrior - I can't lead the army in battle - and daily, warlords and kings are encroaching on Amazon territory - Rome gets ever closer - and I can do nothing to stop them - alone. The Amazons will not just fade from this world without a fight, giving way to whatever
armies despise us for who we are - and what we stand for. This is not the legacy I would leave my daughters."
"Xena," said Gabrielle. "You decided this without talking to me?"
"Gabrielle, I made a promise, a long time ago to Ephiny, our friend and your sister Amazon, that I would not allow the Amazons to die out without a fight," said Xena. "This is a perfect way to keep that promise."
"So, you already knew that I was going to marry Virgil?"
"Pretty much," said Xena, smiling.
"I was just - I didn't want to leave you alone again, Xena," said Gabrielle, looking up at her soulmate and her friend and fellow queen, gazing at each other. Melysë dropped her eyes, blushing. Gabrielle grinned. "Guess I don't need to worry anymore, huh?" Xena looked up, startled, then smiled, embracing her malatyr.
"Gabrielle, don't you know?" said Xena, smiling gently and hugging her. "I am never alone - you are the best part of my soul. And you are always with me."
"Always," agreed Gabrielle, smiling.
But it was still a long time before 'Lysë and I ...
Xena's grin softened into a sweet smile of her own at the memory of that first time with the gentle priestess.
"Don't cry," said Xena, placing a hand on the Queen's shoulder. "I hate it when you cry."
"But Xena, I can't help it," said the priestess. "I'm sorry - I get like this when I'm pregnant."
"I know, but..." began the warrior, suddenly startled as the priestes threw herself into her arms for comfort. "Gods, Melysë you're not that pregnant - you're hardly even showing yet."
"What would you have me do?" cried Melysë, tears flowing.
Xena pulled away a little, looking directly into the queen's dark, green eyes.
"What would you say if I told you that I would have you - any and every way you would allow me to?" she asked, quietly.
Melysë looked up at her, underestanding dawning, then turned away, trembling.
"I'm going to have a bath," said the queen, gathering her things.
Xena's heart sank. The thought of my touch makes her want a bath? thought the warrior, sadly.
Then the priestess turned, smiling that smile. "Well? Aren't you going to join me?" she said.
Xena smiled - it was one of her favorite memories. She had known that Melysë had attended Sappho's college on Lesvos, known too, of the reputation of that Island, but Melysë had surprised her with her lack of experience. But what the priestess lacked in that area, she more than made up for with a gentleness and an absolutely unselfish desire to please, borne of love and devotion to the
warrior that Xena hadn't realised was there. The priestess's own gentleness had tempered the warrior's raw passion and Xena found herself responding in kind.
"Well, not to worry," said Melysë, looking down, then back up at Xena, her green eyes sparkling. "I've...made arrangements in Themiscyreia. We're to have our own guest cottage - you and I. Gabrielle offered to take the girls in with her. We'll have plenty of time together. I know after Romy was born, it was tough on you - Goddess, on me too - but I'll make all that up to you, I promise."
"You already have," Xena whispered to her, enjoying the goosebumps which she saw
rising in anticipation on Melysë's fair skin.
They rode on to Themiscyreia, Melysë leading them through the secret way into the city after Argo led the horses to the stable. Melysë looked at the wonder and awe on the children's faces as they emerged from the hidden gate and stepped out into the street of Themiscyreia. Putting her arm around Arynë, she hugged her eldest and asked her, "So, what do you think?"
Arynë looked around, her eyes wide, then smiled at her mother. "I wish Selenë was here to see all this," she said. "This is...it's...wow."
"That it is," said Melysë, smiling and squeezing tighter. "And Selenë will see this soon enough. Your Aunt 'Dite will bring her and Cyrenê in a few days. Selenë just needed some time to..."
"I know, Mother," said Arynë, nodding. "She's like you. With this many people around, Selenë will have a hard time, won't she?"
"No, not now," said Melysë. "I've set a spell of protection around her, but it'll take a few days to take effect. That's why she stayed behind."
"Oh," said Arynë, looking around as Amazons stopped and saluted her mother. 'Ryn was used to her mother being a queen in their own land, but in even Aemetzainê, things were less formal than here. "Blessed Goddess, Mother this is worse than Aemetzainê! Are we gonna have to stop and return salutes every two steps?"
"Nope," said Xena, stepping up and sweeping her cloak around Melysë and 'Ryn, and walking them quickly through the streets to the palace. By the time they reached the gates, 'Ryn was bewildered by her godsmother's behaviour and Melysë was laughing so hard, she doubled over. Finally she regained her composure, but Xena's grin almost made her lose it again.
"Wh- why...Xena why'd you do that?" asked the girl, even as Gabrielle and her girls with Tecmessa caught up to them.
"Your mother is regent to the new High Queen," Gabrielle explained, grinning at her soulmate's antics. "Xena just wanted to get you through the crowd quickly. Otherwise..."
"We'd have been all day just to walk a few steps," said Xena, rolling her eyes.Melysë looked at the Warrior Queen, smiling gently and shaking her head. "Come on," she finally said. "I'll take you girls to meet your great-aunt, Amnaëlë and your cousin, Laesë. Then you can go on to your rooms and I'll have some chaeko sent up. You guys are gonna love that."
Melysë left the girls after settling them in their rooms and met her cousin, Laesë in the council chamber, along with half a dozen emissaries from various Tribes. Scylla, queen of a Thracian Tribe was there, as well as several from the Northern Steppes.
"Shall we begin?" said Melysë, sitting at the head of the council table. Laesë took her place at Melysë's left, Gabrielle at her right. Xena stood protectively behind her, watching the remaining members of the meeting sit down. The Warrior Queen looked as menacing as she dared at each of the foreign queens. This better not take long, she thought. Melysë has had a long day already. I can tell, she tires more easily here. Must be the effort of shielding herself against so many more minds. There are a lot more people than in Aemetzainê - and in Aemetzainê, Melysë doesn't have to watch her back, like here. Besides, we both have a date with a hot bath and a private cottage.
"It's really simple, Your majesty," said Scylla, smiling nastily. "We all remember your brilliance during the Kraes/Alti crisis and we want you for our High Queen. Since you have declined in favour of your cousin, we, as is our right as members of the Nation, demand that you participate in a challenge. Whichever of you finds the lost Amazon Zona of Sovereignty, shall be our queen."
Melysë rubbed her head. Xena could tell a raging headache was on its way. She frowned at Scylla. Oh, no you don't, she thought, promising Melysë silently a good neck rub when this stupid meeting was over.
"But, no one even knows if the Zona ever existed," said Gabrielle, frowning herself, noting Melysë's obvious discomfort.
"Of course it existed!" snapped Scylla. "What kind of a Bard are you, anyway?"
That is IT! Xena, growled, menacingly at the Thracian. "Enough!" said the Warrior Queen. "Gabrielle is the greatest Bard the Amazon Nation has ever had. If she says the Zona might not exist, then I think we'd all do better to find out for sure, rather than just blindly assume it, sending Melysë and Laesë off on wild goose hunts. In the meantime, I strongly suggest you all just back off."
"And how, Xena, are we supposed to find out for sure?" said one of the Northern queens.
"I'll ask Hercules," said Xena. "After all, he's the one being accused of taking it, right? I guess he'd know if it existed."
"Like he'd tell you the truth about it," said Scylla, rolling her eyes and laughing.
Melysë was on her feet and in the Thracian's face before Xena could stop her. "Like Xena said, Back Off," said the priestess, menacingly. "I've had just about enough of this stupid challenge thing, anyway. I'm willing to go along with it, because I know that this is the only way Laesë's claim won't be disputed at a future date, but DON'T PUSH ME ANY FURTHER. You won't like the outcome."
Scylla's brown eyes widened at the usually soft-spoken priestess's outburst, but she nodded, meekly. Xena chuckled. Gods, she's beautiful! she thought. "I'll send a message bird to Hercules - I think he's still in Thebes," she said. "I'll let you know the answer in a couple of days."
"Good," said Melysë, sitting once again, her eyes closing. Xena could see the pulse throbbing at her temple. Uh, oh, it's a bad one, she thought, moving to her priestess queen. She looked up at Gabrielle, pleading. "Meeting's adjourned until Xena gets a reply," said the Bard. The council
dispersed and Melysë sighed. "Thank-you," she whispered.
"Come on, let's get you taken care of," said Gabrielle, helping her to her feet. "It's a bad one, huh?"
"I'll be alright," said Melysë, opening her eyes slightly and smiling.
"Let's get her to the cottage," said Xena, lifting the protesting queen in her strong arms.
"You and your one track mind," chuckled Melysë, finally putting her arms around the warrior's neck and allowing herself to be carried to the cottage. Xena laid her down on the bed and got a hot bath ready. There was already a fire going and Xena set some water to heat, already mixing the herbs which she knew would kick this headache.
"Here, drink," said the warrior, sitting next to Melysë and handing her the cup. Melysë wrinkled her nose at the brew, but meekly complied, knowing how fast the herbs would work. Xena got her into the hot bath, massaging her neck, strong yet gentle hands working out every tight knot gathered there until Melysë smiled and leaned back against her.
"Thank the Goddess for your one track mind," she said, smiling sweetly up at the Warrior.
"All better?" said Xena, softly, still stroking the priestess's neck and shoulders.
"Mm, hm, almost," said Melysë.
"Only 'almost'?" said warrior, returning her soft smile.
"Well, I've really, really missed you," said Melysë, looking down, almost shyly.
Xena gently raised her face to look into those green eyes. "You sure you're okay?" she said. Melysë nodded, her eyes shining. "Well, I really missed you too." Xena lifted her out of the tub and carried her to the bed to show her just how much.
Hours later, Xena emerged from the cottage. She had left Melysë sleeping soundly. Xena smiled. She was on her way to get their daughter, Neiromei, whom 'Ryn was watching. The baby would probably be hungry - she was always hungry, it seemed. Can't say as I blame her...ah, ah, ah, Warrior, don't go there, or you'll be waking her up and...never mind. Got to get the baby.
Xena hummed happily as she walked to the palace, but stopped suddenly, hearing voices. Quickly, she crouched low in the brush, making herself invisible.
"I'm telling you it'll be fine," Xena recognised the voice as Scylla's. "Once we get Melysë and Laesë out of the way, it's only a matter of time before the old queen crosses over. We can take over here and by the time they get back from that stupid quest, we'll be well established."
"But what about Xena and Gabrielle," said the other voice. "She's under their protection. And once Xena hears back from Hercules and learns there is no zona, the plan's dead - and so are we."
"We just intercept the message bird that Xena sends out and replace one of our own with a fake message from Hercules," said Scylla.
"But I heard that Hekate Herself has Melysë under Her wing, and that the Goddess Herself had said She wanted Laesë for High Queen," said the other voice, doubtfully.
"Don't tell me you believe that priestess mumbo jumbo," said Scylla derisively. "What else is she gonna say to get her cousin in the High Seat while she goes off to play with that warrior of hers? Trust me, we are in, Sister."
The voices faded as the two conspirators walked off. Xena grinned coldly, a look that had frozen the hearts of many brave men right before they died, formulating her own plan.
The following day, Xena re-convened the council. "Well, I've heard back from Hercules," she announced, thoroughly enjoying the look of discomfort on the conspirators' faces.
"So soon?" said Scylla, quickly regaining her composure.
"Yes," said Melysë smiling, knowing Xena's plan. "A bird wasn't necessary. My sister, Aphrodite is always more than happy to carry a message to our brother. It seems the Zona did exist, but it was destroyed in the battle."
"But that's - " began one of the queens.
"What about the challenge?" said Scylla, narrowing her eyes.
"The challenge has changed," said Laesë, grinning. "Queen Gabrielle, wanna do your 'bard thing'?"
"Gladly," said Gabrielle, smiling at the foreign queens. "I've been doing some research. As you so kindly pointed out, it wouldn't do to have an Amazon Bard not know some important bit of lore, after all. Anyway, it is said that our foremother and founder, Lysippe the Lawgiver once owned a mirror. Now this wasn't just any mirror, but a gift from the Great Goddess, Herself. They say the
mirror was imbued with the power to reflect the true nature of the person who looked into it. Not only that, the mirror was also said to show the true High Queen of the Amazons. If there was a dispute, one only had to look into the mirror and she would see the face of the one chosen by Hekate to lead the Amazons. Saved a lot of messy challenges to the death. Anyway, it is said that the mirror was lost on the journey when Lysippe led the Amazons here to Themiscyreia. It rests somewhere between here and Lake Maeotis near the Tanaïs river, in the Ancient land of our ancestors."
"Great!" said Scylla, beaming. "Then whichever one of them finds this mirror and is reflected in it, will be High Queen."
"Actually," said Gabrielle, smiling wider. "It's the one who disputes the claim of the High Queen who has to find and look into the mirror - that means you, Scylla. Unless of course, you want to drop the whole thing?"
Scylla's smile froze on her face. "I - I -"
Melysë rose. "I think we can take that as a yes," she said. "Meeting's adjourned."
The queens dispersed and Melysë smiled at her compatriots. "Good story, Gabrielle," she said.
"It's true," chuckled the bard. "I found it in the library. Lysippe did have a mirror from the Goddess, but it wasn't lost. It's hidden on the sacred island. And it had...other...properties besides just naming the High Queen. That's why it was buried. They say it could show all of a person's past and future lives. Amazons were going nuts, knowing too much of their own futures."
"There's a reason why the Goddess keeps so much secret, only revealing as much as we can handle at one time," Melysë sighed. "I wonder what that lot will come up with next, though."
Xena wrapped her arms around the priestess. "So you don't think this is finished, either?"
"No," said Melysë, reveling in the embrace. "But for today, I just don't want to think about them anymore. Let's take the girls on a picnic on the beach. We haven't spent nearly enough time with them. Hopefully Selenë and your mother will be here soon, too. I miss them"
"That sounds like a plan," said Xena, smiling.
"I'll go pack up some food from the kitchen and get the girls," said Gabrielle, grinning at her two friends. "Meet us at the gate in a couple of hours."
"It's going to take you that long?" said Xena raising an eyebrow.
"No but it might take you two that long," said Gabrielle. Xena chuckled and Melysë blushed. "Actually, I meant getting Melysë through the streets of Themiscyreia, but...whatever." Gabrielle smiled and left them to get things ready.
They spent the afternoon with the children, playing and eating, until the sun started to dip and it became too cold. Melysë and Xena packed up the picnic while Gabrielle gathered the girls and Melysë led them back through the labyrinthine path to the gates. It took exactly one hour to make their way back to the palace, returning salutes and answering impromptu petitions, but at last
they arrived. Melysë groaned. Scylla and three others of the foreign queens were waiting for them.
"What the Tartarus do they want?" muttered Gabrielle.
"Goddess knows," said Melysë, placing a smile she didn't mean on her face and approaching the women. "Were you looking for us?"
"Actually, Your majesty, we were," said Scylla, nervously. "Th-there's a problem."
"And...?" said Melysë.
"It's...a dragon," said one of the others, shuddering.
"That's enough!" said Xena, striding up to the women, handing Neiromei to Melysë. "I've heard enough of your false 'challenges', your damn plots to take the Crown yourselves! I will not have you risking my...my... Melysë's life with any more of this ridiculous - "
Melysë looked over and saw her cousin, Laesë standing behind the women, her face stricken.
"Okay," said Melysë to the women. "We'll re-convene the council in the morning and we can decide what to do about this threat. Has anyone seen this dragon?"
"None of us, but some of the farms in the outlying territories reported it flying over," said Scylla.
"Just flying?" said Melysë, frowning. "Where's the harm in that?"
"Melysë, it's a dragon - you know, flaming breath, huge fangs, claws..." said Laesë, wide-eyed.
"I know what a dragon consists of," said Melysë, wryly. "At any rate, it's too late to do anything about it now. Tomorrow we'll meet and discuss it. Just as a precaution, though, tell everyone to stay indoors tonight - preferably in stone dwellings as opposed to wooden."
"Yes, Your Majesty," said the women, grateful to take some kind of action.
"Come on, Family," said Melysë, leading them into the palace. "Gabrielle, I have a feeling we'll have more need of your 'bard-thing' before this evening is over. Let's get the girls settled, first though."
Melysë and Xena gave the youngest girls their baths and settled them into bed while Gabrielle perused the scrolls in the palace library. By the time the children were all settled, the Amazon Bard had quite a few parchment leaves of notes she'd made.
"Well, without a description of this dragon, we can't figure out which one it is," she said with a sigh.
"Does that matter?" asked Xena.
"Hm, every dragon is unique," said Melysë, nodding to some drawings of dragons. "There were only ever a certain number of them and each has a name. This one," Melysë pointed to a drawing of a winged, green creature with jewel-like blue eyes, "was called Morbrys. He's dead now, though. Each dragon was given a hoard of mage treasure to guard - you see the dragons were created by the Great Goddess, like everyone else, but the Mages enspelled them to gather and guard a hoard of treasure. The dragons, more clever than their 'masters', guarded it alright - from the Mages as well as anyone else. So that's when the Mages decided to declare war on the dragons, to try and take their treasures. They hired 'Dragonslayers' at first, then they resorted to sacrificing maidens to the cursed dragons in the hopes that some idiot coming to rescue the maiden would kill the dragon. Some succeeded and that's why there are so few of these beautiful creatures left."
"Beautiful and dangerous," said Gabrielle, preoccupied with her notes.
"Sounds like someone I know," Melysë whispered to her favorite warrior. Xena grinned.
"When you two are finished," said Gabrielle, smiling indulgently at them. "We really need to figure out which dragon this is."
"Well, we can narrow it down by listing those who've already been killed," said Melysë, picking up a sheaf of drawings. "Then tomorrow we can talk to the eyewitnesses and get a description."
"Why not just kill the dragon?" said Xena, spinning her chakram, absently.
"Xena, the dragon may pose no danger to the Amazons," said Melysë, placing a gentle hand on Xena's to stop the chakram. "If there's no danger, I'd really like to preserve these magnificent creatures. They're intelligent, sensitive, and wise, and I - "
"You sound like you've met one of these creatures," said Gabrielle, looking up at her.
Melysë looked down. "I have," she said quietly. "Remember, dragons are the captives of...Mages...just as I once was."
"Kraes," said Xena, quietly.
"Yes, she had one," said Melysë. "Sometimes I think Tiamat was the only thing that kept me from losing it. She was...a friend. We had long talks and Kraes never knew because Tiamat could speak directly to my mind, and I to hers. She would discuss so many things with me, I think that's what kept my mind alive during that terrible time. Once Kraes was killed, Tiamat was freed. I heard her joyful laughter in my mind, but nothing since. Look, here she is." Melysë pointed to a drawing of a sleek, almost catlike, black-scaled dragon with eyes the colour of amethysts. Her wings were outspread and Xena whistled at the span.
"Why didn't you two just fly out of there?" she asked.
"A mage holds a dragon under a geas - that's a sort of curse where the one who's cursed is bound to do or not do a specific thing," explained Melysë. "The repercussions are horrendous if a dragon tries to break the geas. Tiamat wasn't allowed to help me escape. In fact, I shouldn't have been allowed to leave at all."
"How did you?" asked Gabrielle.
Melysë smiled. "My mother came for me, remember, after she tricked Kraes into leaving," she said. "I simply told Tiamat I was going to visit my mother - I even introduced them. Tiamat winked at me and said as long as I was only going for a visit - no matter how long that visit might last - it was okay."
"You're friends with a dragon," said Xena, staring at her companion, shaking her head. "'Lysë, you never cease to amaze me. Think you can make friends with this one?"
"That depends," said Melysë. "Probably, if it's not attached to a mage. Otherwise...."
"Otherwise, we go after - " began Xena.
"The Mage," said Melysë, firmly.
"Aw, come on, 'Lysë," said Xena. "The dragon would be easier!"
Melysë looked at her and Xena knew the argument was already lost. No way is she gonna let me kill any dragon, no matter what, thought Xena. Ah, well, I didn't really need to add Dragonslayer" to my list of accomplishments anyway.
"So, we go through the list and mark off which ones we know are dead," said Gabrielle. "Then what?"
"We need the eyewitnesses to describe the dragon," said Melysë "Then we find out which of the surviving ones are still attached to a Mage. And then..."
"Yes?" said Xena eyeing the priestess warily. Melysë smiled up at her sweetly.
"We...go from there," she said.
"Uh, huh," said Xena, still eyeing her. "Why do I get the feeling there's more going on in that brilliant, magical brain of yours?" Melysë merely smiled and Xena rolled her eyes, groaning. "Oh, gods, why do I have a feeling I'm really not going to like the answer?"
"Xena," said Melysë, softly. "We're going to free the dragons."
Xena decided not argue with the priestess - there was no point. Once Melysë made up her mind, that was it - she'd do it with or without anyone's help. Besides, the challenge of it ... Xena hadn't felt truly challenged in a long time. The idea of fomenting a Dragon Revolution was really getting her juices flowing - so to speak. By the end of the walk back to their cottage, Xena was actually
excited at the prospect.
"So, do you already have a plan to free them, or are you just going to try and play it as it goes?" she said, removing Melyse's cloak for her and hanging it on a hook by the door.
"No, there's only one way to lift the Curse of the Dragon," said Melysë, stirring the fire and adding kindling to build it back up.
"Kill the Mage?" asked Xena, eyebrow raised.
"Okay, make that two ways," said Melysë, grinning.
"Well, what is it?" asked Xena, taking her queen by the hand and pulling her close.
"It involves Lysippe's Mirror," said Melysë.
"Uh, huh," Xena replied, distracted by the priestess's lips. "Is it dangerous?"
"I don't know," said Melysë, softly, snuggling closer. "Probably. But when has that ever stopped us?"
"Oh, never, I hope..."
Morning came early for the Aemetzainê Warrior Queen and for the Crowned High Queen, as they mounted up and rode out to the farms which had seen the dragon. By the end of the day, Xena's excellent mood of that morning had soured.
"Thirteen people saw fifteen different dragons!" she growled, when they met in Gabrielle's chambers later.
"How - ?" asked Melysë.
"One of them changed her mind - twice!" said the frustrated warrior.
"Could they at least tell which direction..." Melysë stopped the question at Xena's look. "Okay, never mind that. We'll have to find it ourselves."
"How are we going to do that?" asked Laesë, bewildered.
"Dragons like certain types of lairs," said Gabrielle. "Places that are high, caves, protected places. We can explore all likely lairs in the area. The danger will be if the dragon is attached to a Mage. Then we can't be sure of its behaviour because it will have to act under the Mage's curse."
"Melysë, you said you could mind-speak with one of them," said Laesë. "Could you do it with others, do you think?"
"I don't know," said Melysë. "But I don't dare try it with this one until we know for sure who it is and that it's not attached to a mage - otherwise, the Mage will have me - and I'm never going through that again."
"Damn straight you're not," Xena growled.
"But we know Tiamat is free," said Melysë, musing. "If she's close enough, I could try it with her."
The priestess closed her eyes and let her mind wander. She knew she was dangerously open here, but she proceeded with caution, her mind flicking over those in the room, then moving beyond through the palace, touching on each of the sleeping children. She moved beyond the palace, soaring into the heavens, seeking...
Princess! I am free!
I know, replied Melysë, feeling the familiar touch of her friend's mind. I am, too. At long last.
You killed her?
Yes, said Melysë, her thoughts darkening for a moment at the memory of thrusting Xena's sword through the Black Mage's heart. One of your kind was seen here. The Amazons are frightened. Do you know who it was?
Lilith. Her captor was killed. She, too, is now free, but she seeks to liberate
the rest of our kind, still cursed.
And, you, my friend? Are you involved in this endeavor? Melysë said, her heart leaping.
All of Dragonkind is involved. But we are at a loss. We need the Mirror. Lilith has laired on your Sacred Island, and she refuses to leave or let any human past her, even though she herself cannot get the Mirror.
Why not? asked Melysë, mentally frowning.
She needs the blood of a god to break the spell which protects it. The blood of a god and the blood of a mortal queen, the tears of one not born of man, and the blood of a dragon are needed to open the seal of the chamber in which the Mirror rests. Anyone who tries to break the seal without these things dies...horribly.
But Tiamat, gods don't bleed! said Melysë, frantically.
Aye, Princess, that is the problem. One of them.
That would be enough, I should think, said Melysë. What else?
The Mages. They are bringing armies against those of us who are free, for they know we are trying to free the rest of our kin. Dragons are fighting dragons. This is abhorrent to us. The dragons who are victorious die soon after from their shame and heartbreak.
Ah, Tiamat! Melysë said, wanting to weep. I - we would aid you and your kin. The Amazons and the dragons, together. Will your people accept mine as allies in this, my friend?
The Amazons are mortal - will they follow you, Princess, to their probable doom?
Only doom if we fail, Noble One, said a determined Melysë. And I am no longer a princess, but Queen of my Tribe.
One Tribe? I would have thought you would be the Queen of your Nation?
Melysë thought she felt a wry chuckle in that thought and smiled.
So they would have me, if I consented, but Hekate has bade me otherwise, she said. They will follow where I lead - or so my Goddess has told me.
And, you, my friend, I know thy gentle soul too well, you would lead thine Amazons to their deaths? Could you?
I will lead my Amazons to victory - and my friends to freedom - if your people will allow.
Aye, gladly, Queen Melysë, friend to the Dragon Folk my kin will welcome what aid your people can give.
You know this already without asking them?
Another chuckle reverberated through Melysë's mind.
You are not the only Queen, my friend. I am the rightful ruler of Dragonkind. You did our people - and me - a great service when you freed me. We will speak again. For now, go and prepare thine Amazons. The Mages will have an army of mortals, but they will also use magical weapons against thee. Ye must be ready.
Will Lilith bespeak me? asked Melysë.
I know not; she is maddened with grief. It is only this mission which keeps her alive. Her mate turned on her when she was freed and she was forced to...anyway, she may. I will talk with her. Go to, now Queen Melysë. May your Goddess and ours walk with you.
She does, said Melysë, smiling. And with you, my friend.
Melysë felt herself floating gently back into the chamber with her family.
"Well?" said Xena.
Melysë told them what Tiamat had said.
"So this Lilith is guarding the Mirror - and the Island," said Xena. "How are we supposed to get past a grief-maddened dragon - even if we can get all the ingredients to this spell?"
"I'll just go and talk with her," said Melysë, calmly.
"Like Hades!" said Xena. "No way are we going to risk you. I won't allow it." Xena took one look at the priestess's face and immediately knew her mistake.
Melysë's jaw had set stubbornly and her eyes flashed green flames, but her voice was quiet. "Allow?" she said.
Xena closed her eyes, struggling against her concern for the priestess, then she chuckled. "Wrong choice of words?" she said sheepishly. She was rewarded by Melysë's gentle, forgiving smile.
"Yeah," said the priestess, softly. "But the sentiment behind them is appreciated.
"Hey," said Gabrielle, looking up from a scroll. "Is this Tiamat?" She pointed to another, more detailed drawing of Melysë's friend.
"Yes, that's her," said Melysë, smiling at the likeness. "Beautiful, isn't she?"
"For the Queen of the Dragons, yeah," said Gabrielle.
"Queen," said Laesë, shaking her head.
"I'm not surprised," said Xena and putting an arm around Melysë, then whispering in her ear. "My 'Lysë doesn't do anything half-way."
"So what's the plan?" said Gabrielle.
"Tomorrow, we reconvene the council," said Melysë. "Laesë, you're leading it. And you're leading the Amazons in battle against the Mages when the time comes - that should ensure your succession against future disputes when we win. Tell the others what we've learned. I'm going to the Island of the Black Stone to speak with Lilith. Tiamat should already have had time to talk to her by then. Gabrielle, do you mind more time in the library? We need to try and find a way to get those spell ingredients."
"No problem," chuckled the Bard. "I'm already writing this scroll in my head and there's a lot of material there."
"I'm going with you," said Xena. "No argue - I mean, please don't argue with me."
"If you'll quit tiptoeing around me," said Melysë with a grin. "Just don't try forbidding me anything. That's all I ask."
"Oh, don't worry," said Xena, grinning. "I won't. Come on, we all have a long day tomorrow. Time we got some sleep."
Ah, by Selenë's definition, 'Lysë is a great mother, thought Xena, the next morning. Really good cuddler, but by her Goddess, that makes it tough to get up in the morning!
Careful not to wake the sleeping Amazon Priestess, Xena gently extricated herself and rose, stirring the embers in the hearth in their cottage so the fire would be nice and warm for Melysë when she arose later.
"Don't you think it's time you stopped thinking of Me as just her Goddess, Xena?"
Xena whirled around, reaching for her chakram, then remembering her bare state, instead grabbed for a blanket to cover the thin sleeping shift she wore against the chill of pre-dawn. Her eyes narrowed as she looked upon a woman who wore her face.
"Hekate," she said, eyes narrowing. "You know I've never had much use for gods - no offence."
"Yes and none taken - that is your nature, and I love you regardless," said the Goddess, smiling in amusement at Xena's quick glance to her sleeping companion and even quicker flip of the sleeping fur to cover a bare hip and thigh. "Don't worry, I only just got here - I'm not in the habit of peeking in bedchambers, regardless of what some of My followers might say. I'm glad My Chosen has found happiness. And you, too, My Child."
"Again, no offence, Lady, but what do you want?" whispered Xena.
"Don't worry, she won't wake up that easily - as you should know," said the Goddess, still looking amused. "This new endeavour - to free the Dragons - it pleases Me. I would not have asked it of her, but she has chosen a good people to aid. Anyone else might have just killed poor Lilith out of fear."
"Not Melysë," said Xena, smiling fondly, in spite of herself.
"No, not her," said Hekate. "And she has My blessings."
"I don't want to sound presumptuous, Lady, but do You think You could be a little more forthcoming with some more, oh, I don't know, say more practical assistance?" said Xena, eyebrow arched.
"That is why I'm here, Xena," said Hekate, still smiling. "Your children are the key."
"Which children?" asked Xena, frowning.
"Arynë and Selenë," said the Goddess. "You already know that Neiromei is yours as well as Melysë's."
"Yes, and thank-you again," said Xena, softening at the thought of her infant daughter.
"No need, My Daughter," said the Goddess. "I can read your heart and I know what that means to you - both of you. Selenë is yours as well. And your son, Iksander. Arynë is the daughter of your heart and your soul, if not of your body."
Xena stared, nonplused at the Goddess. "Selenë...and Jox, too?" she whispered.
"Melysë has loved you long, My Child; even when her own mind feared to let her know it, her heart was already yours," said the Goddess.
"Does...does she know?" asked Xena, grinning broadly.
"On some level, yes, but even without this knowledge, they have always been yours anyway, haven't they?" said Hekate.
"Yeah," said Xena, smiling and looking at the sleeping Amazon Queen. She turned back to Hekate. "Tell me though, how are 'Ryn and Selenë the 'key'? Does this put them in any danger?"
"Always the protector, Xena," said Hekate, shaking Her head. "Don't you know that they are Mine, even more than they are yours? Even as you and Melysë and the rest of the Amazons are Mine, My daughters? Whether or not you accept Me, Xena, I love you. I always have, I always will. I do not meddle, as your Olympians always have. The choice is always yours. But I will guide, and I doprotect My own. There is more danger for them if the Dragons are left enslaved."
"So what do we do?" asked Xena.
"Arynë will know, when the time comes," said Hekate. "Selenë already knows. She comes to Me now in trance. She has...a very wise soul and a very loving heart and a very strong spirit. When you and Melysë go to My Island to speak with Lilith, take them with you. And Xena - "
"Yes?" said the warrior, raising an eyebrow.
"I will protect them," said Hekate, smiling at the warrior's expression.
"So will I," said Xena. Hekate chuckled and shook Her head.
"Someday, My daughter, I will win your trust," She said. "But until that day, you must do what you will."
The Goddess left then and Xena gazed back at Melysë, curled up under the sleeping fur, her long dark hair curling and creamy fair skin glowing with an almost ethereal light in the predawn hour. Xena thought about what the Goddess had told her and felt a tenderness and warmth fill her being at the thought of the children this woman had brought into her life.
Just when I thought it was hopeless, when my baby Eve was taken from me, even though I still had my daughter, still I missed out on raising her. Just as I missed out on raising my son, Solan. Gods, what a gift!
Just then, the object of her attention stirred. "Xena?" came the sleepy voice.
"I'm here," said Xena, sitting beside her.
"Is it time to get up already?"
"Not for you," said the warrior, softly. "Romy had you up to feed her twice last night."
Melysë smiled sleepily up at her. "Yeah, but you changed her."
"Ah, what's a little poo between friends," chuckled the warrior, glancing over into the cradle where their daughter slept peacefully. "I'm just going out for some sword drills for a while. I'll be back, and when I am, you are getting breakfast in bed."
Melysë frowned. "Why?" she said, suspiciously.
Xena just smiled at her, snugging the sleeping fur more securely around her. "We have a long day ahead and I want it to start as pleasantly as possible for you," said the warrior.
Melysë smiled and stretched, like a cat, reminding Xena of the priestess's totem spirit, the Snow Leopard. "If that's the case, my love, you'd skip the sword drills," she purred.
"Hm, tempting as that is, I don't dare let my skills go even a day without practice - not with a dragon battle in our near future," said Xena, firmly. "Besides, our littlest one will be awake soon - and probably hungry."
Melysë grinned. "She always is," she said, curling back up to sleep. Xena dressed quickly and took her weapons out to an empty field to drill. Her movements were precise and graceful, like a beautiful - if deadly - dance. She moved, faster and faster, her sword and her body spinning and whirling, then finished with a triple flip, landing on both feet, sword at the ready. She turned at the sound of clapping and saw Arynë, smiling in delight, standing a safe distance away, watching her godsmother work.
"Hey, you lazy thing, get out here and join me," said Xena, grinning, good-naturedly.
'Ryn trotted over to her warrior-mother and hugged her. "That was great, Xena," said the girl, her green eyes shining in adoration at her hero. "Can you teach me to do that?"
"I already have, 'Ryn," said Xena, hugging the girl back. "You just have to practice."
"It's not the same by myself," said Arynë, shrugging. "And Tecmessa...well, I'm afraid I'll hurt her if I spar with her. She's not really a warrior, tanti-meia."
Xena smiled. 'Ryn and Selenë had started using the term of endearment upon learning that Neiromei was Xena's true-daughter. That had warmed Xena's heart, but never more than now, since Hekate's last revelation. Daughter of my heart and soul, indeed - yes she's just as much mine as Selenë or Neiromei or Jox. "What else can she do, 'Ryn? I can arrange for apprenticeship for her, you know," said Xena looking fondly at the girl.
"Well, she's a great cook - Goddess knows, she's saved me from my own cooking often enough out on the trails," said 'Ryn, frowning in thought. "She sings beautifully, too. Don't get me wrong, she can fight okay, but I worry about her getting hurt in a fight and that's..."
"Distracting," said Xena, smiling, knowingly. "Yeah, I know. Anything else?"
"Well, there's a lot she does well," said Arynë, shrugging. "Just - fighting's not her thing."
"Why don't you find out what she'd like to do and we'll go from there?" said Xena, kindly. "You two are still young enough - there's plenty of time to worry about all this later."
"Okay, Xena," said the girl. "So, you want to spar for a bit?"
"A little bit - I promised your mother breakfast in bed," said Xena. "And then we're all going to the Island of the Black Stone."
Arynë swallowed visibly, but otherwise showed no sign of apprehension. "Where the dragon is," she said, looking her godsmother squarely in the eyes.
"Yep," said Xena, twirling her sword, grinning.
"You're going, too?" said Arynë, unsheathing her own blade.
"Yep," said Xena, again. Arynë grinned back, visibly relaxing.
"Okay," she said. "Then I guess we'd better practice."
Melysë awoke to a tray of steaming klafé, fruit, and warm nutbread right out of the oven.
"Ooh, Xena, when you say breakfast in bed, you aren't teasing," she said, sitting up and accepting a grape from her warrior's hand.
Xena grinned and sat down to join her. "Hekate was here this morning," she said. Melysë's eyes widened and she looked around, as Xena chuckled. "Don't worry about it, you were asleep," she said. "She told me we're to take our girls with us to the Island today. Said they were the 'key'. Have any idea what She meant by that?"
Suddenly, Melysë flashed back several years to a time before her brother, Ares' conversion to the greater good, when he was after her eldest as Xena's successor in his dark schemes.
"Look," said Aphrodite. "Promise you won't get all mad or anything, but I have to tell you something."
"'Dite, I'm already mad," said Melysë. "But not at you. Tell me."
"Well, you might, like get mad at me when you hear it," said the goddess, trying to charm the Amazon out of any potential anger by smiling. It wasn't working, for once. "Alright, alright, the reason I gave Arynë ambrosia is...well, ok, you know how, like, I told you that , what with so many gods gone, I was getting a little over worked? I mean, gee, I haven't even had my shell out to shoot the curling air currents around Mt. Olympus in about a gazillion years, I never get to have any fun anymore, and there's no one to like, talk to, ya know?"
"'Dite, for the record, you can always come and talk to me - about anything. I mean that," said Melysë, her heart softening - a little. "But what were you going to tell me? About Arynë?"
"Oh, okay," said Aphrodite, stunned by her sister's genuine offer of friendship. "Well, see, when you were having Arynë, I got kinda scared for you. I mean, when Cupid was born, it hurt a lot, yeah, but, like, I thought you were gonna, you know, die, or something. Even Xena was worried, and I have never seen that before. I figured if Xena was worried, it was, like real important I get some
help. So I went and saw my grandma. Only we gods call her 'Mother'."
"The 'Mother of the Gods,"" whispered Melysë, reverently. "The Goddess of the Amazons - you went to Her...for me?"
"Well, yeah, I mean, She's really way cool, you know? And She, like, knows a lotta stuff," said Aphrodite. "Anyway, I went and told Her what was happening with you, but She said She already knew and that you were gonna be okay. She really likes you, Little Sister - you're Her Chosen, you know."
"No, I didn't know," said Melysë, softly.
"Yeah, well, She said you were already in the Place of Souls getting your daughter," said Aphrodite. "But then she told me who was being re-born in your daughter. And that's why I gave 'Ryn the ambrosia."
"Aphrodite, who was reborn in Arynë?" asked Melysë, patiently - well, outwardly so, anyway.
"Oh, yeah," grinned Aphrodite. "I almost forgot the most important thing, didn't I? Well, like I said before, I've been kinda over-worked and sorta lonely for another goddess, you know? So when I found out Artemis had been reborn..."
"Artemis?!" cried Melysë. "Are you telling me the soul of the goddess Artemis has been reborn through my daughter?"
"'The blood of a god'," Melysë whispered.
"What?" said Xena, looking at her. "What do you mean?"
"'Ryn - remember who she is - was," said Melysë.
"Oh, gods," said Xena. "I forgot about that. How much blood are we talking about here?"
"Usually three drops," said Melysë, frowning, breakfast forgotten as she leapt out of the bed and began to pull her clothes on. "It's not her blood I'm worried about. Goddess, Xena, we're going to have to tell her. What is this going to do her?"
"'Lysë, relax," said Xena. "Finish your breakfast."
"And what about Selenë?" said Melysë, sitting, running her fingers through her dark hair nervously.
Xena frowned. "Hekate said she has a 'very wise soul, loving heart and strong spirit'," she said, then she felt the warmth tug at her heart again and took Melysë in her arms, soothing the Amazon. "She also said that Selenë is also my daughter."
Melysë leaned back against the warrior and chuckled. "I had...guessed that, but then again, all the kids are yours in one way or another. She is a child 'not born of man'."
"Jox, too," whispered Xena, tightening the embrace. "Thank-you, by the way."
"No, thank you," said Melysë. "I'm not the only one in this, you know."
"Yeah, I do now," said Xena, gently.
Neiromei took that moment to make her presence known. Melysë, smiling, leaned over and lifted the infant into her arms. Xena reached around and took her, carrying her to the dressing table.
"Allow me, Your Highness," said the Warrior, smiling down at the tiny princess, even as she changed the wet nappy and brought the baby back to Melysë for her breakfast. Melysë opened her shift and leaned back against Xena, feeling her strong arms around them both as the baby ate, reveling in the Warrior Queen's strength as she pondered the day ahead.
"First thing after Romy's done, we need to go and see Gabrielle," said Melysë. "I need to know if she's found anything new. And I have to call Aphrodite and have her bring Cyrenê and Selenë. And then - "
"Would you relax?" said Xena, pulling them closer. "Everything will get done in time. You're gonna give Romy colic - or something."
"Nah, not her," said Melysë, smiling at the sweet infant in her arms. "She's not a complainer. But you're right. I'm just worried. Maybe I've bitten off more than we can all chew."
"Don't be silly," said Xena. "We'll manage it. We always do."
"True," said Melysë with a sigh, watching her daughter doze off, sated, blowing milk-bubbles in her sleep. Handing the little one off to her other mother, Melysë finished dressing and they left to the palace to consult with Gabrielle.
Knocking on the door, they found the Bard just out of the tub. "What's up?" said Gabrielle, toweling off her short, blonde hair. Xena grinned and held up baby Neiromei. The baby, startled out of a nap, immediately screwed up her little face and...yawned, then looked around blinking. She saw her tanti Gabrielle and smiled, kicking her little feet and waving her tiny arms.
"Oh, you precious!" said Gabrielle, delighted, dropping the towel and taking the baby in her arms.
"Gabrielle, Where are the rest of the girls?" asked Melysë.
"Cyrenê and Selenë came in today," said Gabrielle, tickling the baby, much to Neiromei's delight. "Cyrenê took them all down to register in the Academy since she said we don't how long we'll be here now. I'm afraid you guys are in for a scolding for not doing it sooner. I know - I already got mine."
"Great," said Xena, frowning.
"Well, actually, that's one less thing for me to do," said Melysë, smiling gently.
"Oh, yeah, I found something," said Gabrielle, handing the protesting baby back to Xena who cuddled her back into complacency. "It's the chant which goes with the Mirror Spell. It's written in Ancient Amazon, though. I know the modern dialect, but this was beyond my translating skills."
Melysë took the scroll and smiled, then began chanting,
"bakàh judë vouté takamèb;
bakàh judë vouté amèb ondèm;
bakàh judë vouté amamèb;
trùla shala judë vouté tak-porùlei amamèb....
"That's beautiful, 'Lysë," said Xena. "What does it mean?"
"The Mirror has several properties and each task has a chant," said Melysë. "This one will free the dragons.
See what thou hast been
Behold what thou art now
See what ye shall be
But become what thou wert meant...
"The Goddess's own words - She never meant for Dragons - or Amazons - or anyone to be anything but free," said Melysë. "Here the word 'become' can also mean 'transform to'. When the words are spoken with the Mirror, the Dragons will become the free souls they were meant to be."
"And the armies of the Mages will attack," said Xena, grimly.
"Yes, but we'll have the dragons fighting on our side," said Gabrielle. "And I think they might be a little annoyed with those Mages. Glad we're on the Dragons' side."
"Hm, me too," said Xena.
"First though, we're going to have to get our hands on some god blood," said Gabrielle, frowning. "And while I know Aphrodite or even Ares might be willing, gods just don't bleed."
"How about a re-born god?" said Xena, looking at Melysë.
"What do you mean?" asked Gabrielle. "Like that stuff we learned about in India? One of the Olympians?"
"Exactly," said Xena.
"Do we know any of those? And one who's not going to be mad at you, Xena, when they remember...?"
Xena's face fell. She hadn't thought of that. What if her beloved Arynë grew to hate her for killing her in the last life?
"Artemis was reborn in Arynë," said Melysë, laying a gentle hand on Xena's shoulder, intuitively knowing her warrior's concern.
"Oh," said Gabrielle, eyes widening. "You know, that makes sense...in an ironic sort of karmic way. Well, that's good. No way 'Ryn's gonna have hard feelings for Xena."
"What makes you so sure?" said the Warrior Queen, her voice tight.
"Because she is Arynë," said Melysë, gently. "No matter who she may have been before, she is your heart's own daughter and 'Ryn loves you, Xena."
"I hope you're right," said Xena.
"You know I am, Xena," said Melysë, gently. "Come on, we have to get the girls and get to the Island. I'll bespeak Tiamat on the boat ride there. Make sure Lilith is ... co-operative."
They were met in the corridor by Cyrenê - who did indeed scold them for not having the girls in school, but was happy all the same to be back, and not at all surprised at the new developments.
"Where Xena goes, excitement follows," she sighed.
Amnaëlë found them there and announced that she, too was going to the Island. "I'm dying - you don't get much more mortal than that," she said. "And I am still a Queen of the Amazons. You need my blood, too."
So by noon, the group going to the Island was in the boat, sailing smoothly to the Island of the Black Stone. Laesë had led the Council - successfully - and had mustered the Amazon Warriors to prepare for an attack from the mage army. Melysë had cast spells to protect them from the Mages' magical weapons and Ares stood by; now God of the Greater Good, this was within his realm of expertise. Any Mage-weapons which got past his sister's protection, he would deal with. Aphrodite had taken Cyrenê, Neiromei, Tecmessa, and Gabrielle's girls to Olympus for safety and awaited the outcome with them there.
Arynë was silent throughout the boat trip and Xena steering from the helm, was saddened by her heart-daughter's mood. She and Melysë had told the girl of her role in this and she had merely nodded and walked away, head down, lost in silent reflection. Xena kept to her place at the boat's wheel, trying to allow Arynë the space she felt the girl needed. Suddenly, she felt a small hand on her arm and looked down to see Aryne's tear-stained face.
"Tanti-meia," she said, her voice trembling. "Will you - will you forgive me please?"
Quickly, Xena tied off the wheel and knelt down to embrace the girl.
"Forgive..you, 'Ryn?" she said, her own voice unsteady. "Whatever for?"
"Artemis - would have hurt you...hurt Eve," said the girl in a small voice. "And I am so, so sorry."
"Oh, Goddess, 'Ryn, I was so afraid you'd hate me," said Xena, hugging tighter. "You have no need to ask my forgiveness. You are Arynë, not Artemis. No matter who you may have been before, I love you, who you are now. Nothing else matters to me."
"Tanti-meia, I remember...a little," said Arynë. "I know that Artemis was scared of you - and Eve. I remember, she felt sorry about what she'd tried to do, taking your daughter from you. And she was so sorry about you losing Eve for all those years you and tanti Gabrielle spent frozen. That's why I was born - to give you back part of what you lost with Eve. I love you, Xena."
"I love you, too, 'Ryn," said Xena, feeling the tears ooze from her blue eyes. "And you have been a wonderful daughter to me, and you always will be. You are a blessing in every way. I am so proud of you, Arynë."
"Thank-you, Xena," said the girl, smiling up at her through her tears. "I don't think I want to remember about Artemis anymore, though."
"'Ryn, Artemis and I were never really enemies until...," said Xena. "She had many wonderful gifts and qualities - which you also have. And you use them the way they should be used, even as she did - until the end. Be proud of that."
"I will, Xena," said the girl, her green eyes shining up at her hero.
"Anytime," said Xena, going back to the wheel, her heart lighter. The rest of the journey was uneventful. They stepped out of the boat and onto the Amazons' Sacred island.
"What - what's that smell?" asked Selenë. "It's like... apples... and sweet-spice."
"The apples grow here on the Island. The sweet-spice - and vanilla - that's dragon," said Melysë, smiling, she closed her eyes. "Ah, Tiamat's here, too...and one who is called...Tanit. Come, they've spoken with Lilith. They're waiting."
The priestess led them up a winding path to the top of the hill upon which rested a small wooden temple, built around the Sacred Black Stone. There sat the dragons. Tiamat shone blue-black, her violet eyes showing amusement. Two others, one quite a bit smaller than Tiamat, shining silver, like moonlight in colour with eyes like new leaves in the spring and the other - whom Melysë presumed to be Lilith - who was a sick-looking dark grey, her eyes dull and black.
"Goddess, she's dying," Melysë whispered to herself.
The Amazons stopped before the dragons. Melysë bowed low to her fellow queen and Tiamat snorted and said something in dragon. Melysë arose, grinning and replied in the same language, much to the dragons' amusement. Tiamat approached Arynë and Selenë, sniffing. The girls stood still, looking curiously at the huge head and gigantic fangs, but showed no fear. After all, if their mother wasn't afraid...
"They are indeed your offspring, Melysë," chuckled the great black dragon. "But also that of this warrior - one in body, but both in heart and spirit. This is my daughter, Tanit."
The silver dragonet, gamboled over to Melysë's girls, and started to play, as gently as a young dragon could. The girls giggled and joined in the game. "Much has happened since last we met, Your Majesty," said Tiamat. "Much good for both of us. I am glad I allowed you to, ah, 'visit your mother'. I knew that would allow you the chance to finally free us both as you could never do as that
"I felt your joy, my friend and knew you to be as free as I was," said Melysë. "It has been a long time since we've spoken - I've missed you."
"And I you, Princess - ah, Queen, now, of a whole Tribe," said the dragon, laughing. "Had I but known you were Hekate's own Chosen at that time, I would have suffered the consequences of my curse and released you immediately."
"I couldn't have let you go through that, my friend," said Melysë. "Whatever Kraes did to me would have been nothing compared to the effects of that curse on you. And you did save me. My mind is still intact, thanks to you."
"And your daughters - would but there was more time to let them play with mine," sighed the Dragon Queen.
"There will be later," said Melysë. "After we free your people."
"Which reminds me," said Tiamat, raising her head and crying out. Immediately, the skies were filled with free dragons, landing all about the Island. They gathered in a circle. Arynë and Selenë came running up to stand beside their mothers and Queen Amnaëlë. "Hear me, my people," called the dragon. "From this day forth Dragonkind and Amazons are kin. Unto eternity, bound by the blood we shed here and the love in my heart for Queen Melysë and the unconditional friendship between us, evermore shall Dragon and Amazon be bound, allies and kinfolk forever. Stand witness,
Dragons, I vow this before thee and before the Great Goddess Who is Mother to both of our peoples. Whether this day ends in victory or defeat for our peoples, we shall evermore be one. So mote it be."
"Blessed be!" cried the Dragons and Melysë and the Amazons standing with her, cried it with them.
"The assembly looked to Lilith who had uttered the cry. "You would claim kin these humans? Humans enslaved us," she said bitterly. "Humans have caused dragon to fight - and to kill - dragon. How can you accept this?"
Selenë looked up at the dying, broken-hearted dragon and ran up to her. Melysë and Xena's hearts froze with fear as the child wrapped her arms around the dragon's leg, the only part she could reach. Almost too weak to move, Lilith tried to nudge the human child off of her with her great head, as Xena reached for her chakram. Only Melysë's hand on hers stopped the deadly rings from flying at the dying dragon as their daughter wept, hugging the leg.
"Please," cried the child. "Please, no more mean thoughts. I'm sorry you're hurting so, but mean thoughts hurt more. Please, Lilith. I love you, and so does my meia - that's why we came to help you. The Goddess loves you - She's calling you to Her even now. Please think of the love and not the hurt."
Suddenly, the other leg, not clung to, reached around and a gentle dragon "hand" patted Selenë. "You are wise, Little Human," said the Dragon, sighing. "For one so young, you have dragon-wisdom. Don't cry for me anymore - your tears are needed to save my people. It is even as you said. The Goddess calls me. Thank-you for giving me your love - and your tears." With a last sigh, Lilith died. Melysë retrieved her weeping daughter.
"It's time," she said to Tiamat. Arynë and Amnaëlë stepped forward and Xena pricked their hands, capturing three drops of blood from each in a small vial. Tiamat looked at the knife and chuckled, piercing her own flesh with a sharp claw, and contributing her blood. Melysë caught Selenë's tears in the same vial, chanting the words of power,
"akàh au bèkohr nap aea meirae tak-amèb zeiga
akàh au bèkohr nap aea timeia
akàh au bèkohr napa namri tibèhk
téra au narah nap aea meilë
tak-toratù akah leilë porë nap-fé meias,
Shalàh au dohñëmah
judë am-nebaya ap au
paekal porë nap-mévouté àël:
au meialys yaseil porë ratàh..."
The vial of magical fluids shone with a pale, lavender light, then flashed and in Melysë's hand was a great silver key.
"Where is this chamber with the Mirror?" asked Xena, taking Melysë's arm.
"That way," said the priestess, pointing to a cave visible in the side of the great hill. Even as they spoke, they heard the armies clashing at the opposite shore, as the Amazons, led by Laesë fought off the army of the Mages. "Quickly," said Tiamat. "On my back - both of you. There's no time to climb that. My people will guard your daughters and your Queen."
Melysë looked up at the back of the dragon, knowing this was no meager thing she offered. Suddenly, Xena grabbed her and somersaulted them both onto the dragon's back. Tiamat turned her head, and Melysë felt her chuckling underneath them. "You hold onto me with those 'thighs of doom', warrior - and to her. Melysë, you hold onto the key," said the dragon, rising into the air. Melysë felt Xena's grip tighten around her waist and she leaned back against the warrior as the
dragon took flight.
"Oh, Goddess," said Melysë, reveling in the sensations. "Tiamat, this so...now I truly know what it is your people fight for...this freedom."
"Yet even the enslaved fly still - look out!" A red dragon flew towards them. "Forgive me, My Queen - know this is not by my own will!" he cried, breathing flame upon them. Tiamat reared back, knowing her body was fire-proof and would shield her riders. Melysë slipped and started to slide off the dragon's back before Xena grabbed her, but the key was plummeting to earth. The red dragon
dove for it, but Xena's chakram was faster. It split in mid-flight, one part hitting the dragon, knocking him out of his beeline dive for the key, the other hitting the key, sending it flying back up, where Melysë reached out and caught it while Xena caught the re-united chakram, and Tiamat landed on a ledge outside the cave.
"Hurry!" said the dragon. "Get the Mirror and come back to me. The cursed dragons are coming this way!" Melysë looked up and saw the skies filled with dragons, writhing in agony even as they flew inexorably towards their queen. She and Xena ran into the cave.
"Aw Hells in Tartarus!" said Xena. "Why didn't I think to bring a torch?"
"Oh, for crying out loud!" said Tiamat, turning and blowing phosphorescent smoke into the cave. It formed into a ball of light which floated before them. "Will you two please hurry! I don't know how long I can hold them off!"
Melysë and Xena ran, following the ball to a great silver door. Melysë fitted the magic key in the lock and turned it. The huge door swung open and in they ran. The mirror was suspended in the air, glowing with a Light of its own and Melysë grabbed it and ran, not thinking to look at any of the other treasures in the chamber before the door clanged shut behind them. They ran back to Tiamat,
but the cursed dragons were close - too close. The women scrambled onto the Dragon Queen's back and she took off in flight, the cursed dragons following. "What are you waiting for, Melysë?" hissed the dragon, "Do it!"
Melysë rose to her feet, standing on the back of the flying dragon, held by Xena, and raised the mirror over her head, chanting,
"bakàh judë vouté takamèb;
bakàh judë vouté amèb ondèm;
bakàh judë vouté amamèb;
trùla shala judë vouté tak-porùlei amamèb....
The surface of the Magic Mirror changed, expanding to encompass the entire wing of cursed dragons. Suddenly, they heard the triumphant cries of dragons as all were released from their curse, free at long last, and turned on their former masters. Heard, too the triumphant cries of their Amazon sisters in victory against the Mage army.
Tiamat glided to a landing amidst the cheering of the Dragons on the Island. Xena slid off of the Dragon's back, pulling Melysë behind her. Melysë stood frozen, staring at the mirror - which had two sides, Xena now noticed. Melysë gazed at her reflection, seemingly entranced, unmoving. She saw the images flowing swiftly across the surface of the mirror. Saw all of her past lives, re-lived the present and moved on into the future.
She watched over Her children, seated on a golden throne, crowned, Queen of the Gods, and wept bitterly, hearing the words of the Great Goddess:
"There will be a time - a long time from now, but it will come - when the Amazon Nation will be no more - at least not as a Nation," said the Goddess.
"Oh, no Mother! Why?" cried Melysë.
"Because that is the way of things," said the Goddess. "Nations rise and fall. They always have and they always will. This is not such a sad thing, My daughter, and it is a very long time in coming. The Amazon Nation will be no more, but the Amazon Spirit which created the Nation will thrive among women - and men - among all the Nations. The tasks I have set before you will ensure
that this will happen."
"So the Amazons themselves are to be forgotten, Mother? Or only remembered as those damned Athenians - or worse, Romans - tell their story? I don't think I can bear that. We don't deserve that," said Melysë near tears.
"I'm sorry, My daughter, but it will be so - for a time, anyway," said Hekate. "A very dark time will come over the world and even I will be forgotten - for a time. But a wondrous change shall begin to take place, and we will all be remembered again. The Amazons shall only... sleep, for a time. But then we will all awaken when Truth will prevail and the Amazons descendants will find it. That's why Amazons must survive, to remember, to tell the tales, and to produce the descendants which will bring these truths to the world then, when they are ready for it."
"Mother, I'm saddened by this - why must it happen?"
"Because people have free will, and their choices are not always wise," said Goddess, darkly. "In the centuries to come, My people will be persecuted and will suffer terrible tortures at the hands of those who claim to follow a 'One True God' - although none of them will be able to even agree on the identity of this deity. In his name, they will commit more horrible crimes against their brothers and sisters and will fight more wars than any other time. They will destroy all the knowledge of the Ancient Time - except what your descendants and the descendants of the Amazons carry within their souls. And you will all be reborn many times through the ages, even as I will, this knowledge carried deep within the memories of your ancient souls. And I promise you, My daughter, when
the time comes, you will remember and you will find what was hidden to make the truth manifest in those who would otherwise doubt you. The Amazons will never be completely lost to the hearts and souls of those who will follow. Nor will I. My time will return, as well."
Melysë saw Xena and Gabrielle, dressed in strange clothing and calling each other by strange names, speaking a language even she didn't know, wandering a tomb...something like Xena's chakram, leading them... Gabrielle's scrolls, re-discovered, shared with the world by way of a box holding moving pictures, replaying their adventures and their deep and eternal love for one another, the bond of the malatyra, for all the world to know...
She saw her descendants, digging, and finding Amazon bones and Amazon weapons and Amazon treasures...
She saw a multitude, seated before another kind of lighted box, tapping, some slow, some more rapidly and in those taps she heard the drumbeats of Ancient Amazon Tribes, once again brought to life, calling their Amazon Souls to dance for the Goddess, bringing their Ancient Souls' memories out into the light for others to share and to know the truth...
"Mother, this knowledge lies heavy in my heart, but as always, I am Yours to command," said Melysë, with a sigh. "What would You have me do?"
"Hold hope in your heart, My daughter, and not sadness...remember, the dark time will come - that is inevitable. But remember, also that I have told you that the Amazon Spirit will thrive and one day, great joy will come of this for all of your descendants. This is My promise to you. And I always keep My promises..."
"'Lysë?" Melysë became aware of Xena shaking her. "Hey, come back. You okay?"
Melysë shook her head, to clear it. "What happened?" she asked.
"You dropped the Mirror," said Xena. "I'm afraid it's broken. Strange material it's made of - you know, I think it's like that stuff they make out of heated sand - glass. What a strange thing to make a mirror out of."
"Yeah, strange," said Melysë, wondering what she'd just been thinking about. Then she heard the drums on the opposite beach and grinned. "Hey, we won! You know what that means..."
"Yeah," chuckled Xena. "The Amazons are partying. Just like always."
"Always," said Melysë, smiling.
The two returned - on dragonback, no less - along with the others who had come to the island and joined the party on the beach. Melysë was sitting with Xena and Gabrielle, enjoying a cup of wine when the runner approached, handing her a small rolled parchment.
Queen Melysë looked at the parchment and frowned, then dismissed the runner. The Amazon Priestess turned the parchment and gasped at the insignia stamped into the seal.
"What is it, 'Lysë?" asked Xena, glancing over to see what had caused the reaction. "Isn't that seal from the Temple at Ephesus?"
"Yes," said Melysë, her fair brow furrowed with worry, as she hastily broke the seal and unrolled the parchment.
Xena watched, her concern mounting as tears filled Melysë's dark, green eyes, moving rapidly down the message. "What's wrong?" asked the Warrior Queen, gently.
Melysë wiped the tears away, her voice steady and quiet. "The old priestess, Mhari," she said. "She's dying. And she's asking me to come to her."
(To be continued in Part VIII: AMULET OF PERSEPHONE)
Okay, so I was feeling a little wistful, missing my Grandpa (a lot), and I just found out for sure, this is the last season of my favorite show. Didn't mean to end it on such a downer. But at least there's a party (with Amazons, isn't there always?)
There are more quests to go on, more magical artifacts to find - and get into trouble with - more "mythical" creatures to encounter, and since some years pass between chapters, there are fill-in adventures to fill the gaps. Not to mention, the adventures of Arynë and Tecmessa, and Selenë and Ephiny, Iksander, and little Neiromei. I just haven't remembered them yet. Stay tuned for more, when it will all come to back to me (probably little by little). Meantime, my favorite holiday is nearly upon us and I really have to celebrate (there's that Ancient party-gene, becoming dominant again!). Since Halloween (or Samhain) is the time to remember and honour our ancestors and loved ones who have crossed over, and the time when the ancients believed the veil between worlds was
thinnest, allowing denizens to travel back and forth between them, keep your eyes and ears open to the voices of our Amazon ancestors...and the memories in your Ancient souls...
Blessed Be! (or in Ancient Amazon, "taktaiyté amèb")
(To be continued in Part VIII: AMULET OF PERSEPHONE)