by Nene Adams ©1998 - All rights reserved.
The old woman limped into town, a cracked and splintered staff her sole means of support as she staggered into the town square.
The people of the mighty metropolis of Amphipolus had seen poor beggars before; the city teemed with them, especially in the poorer quarters. They took no notice of the old woman, therefore, as she hunkered down against the base of the golden statue that was the city's pride, and drew her rags more closely about her.
A teacher led a group of respectfully silent children into the square. He eyed the beggar woman distastefully, but as she closed her eyes and seemed to settle down, he decided to ignore her.
''Now, children,'' he said. ''Gather 'round, gather 'round. Do you all see this statue?'' He pointed to the golden figure on its pedestal. ''As you've all learned in our history class, Amphipolus was once nothing more than a tiny village. However, thanks to the efforts of First Citizen Xena, the city grew and grew until it was a mighty metropolis - a center of learning and culture famed throughout the world.''
He smiled expansively. ''Following First Citizen Xena's death, the grateful inhabitants of Amphipolus erected this golden statue to commemorate the woman to whom we all owe so much. An unparalleled social reformer, a philanthropist and appreciator of artistic efforts, a historian and cultural facilitator, and truly, the Mother of Amphipolus. We called her the 'Happy Princess,' for her heart was always light and gay.''
The beggar woman stirred. ''That's the biggest load I've ever heard.''
The children giggled. The teacher swelled with indignation. ''I beg your pardon?,'' he asked, eyebrows raised.
''It's not me you should be begging pardon of. It's her.'' The old woman jerked a thumb up at the statue. ''Xena was a warlord, a vicious, bloodthirsty murderer. Later, she reformed and spent a good deal of her life fighting her dark instincts. She became a coward; she gave up everything, including love, because she feared her past. This woman you're talking about must be some other Xena.''
The teacher harrumphed, looked down his nose at the woman, and swiftly led his charges away, lest they be corrupted by ignorance.
The old woman sighed... and closing her eyes, tilted her face up to the warm sunshine and fell asleep.
A drop of water splashed down and skittered along her lined, leathery cheek. The old woman woke up with a startled, ''Hey!'' Thrusting out her hand, she grumbled, ''Furkin' rain...''
A voice said suddenly, NOT RAIN. MY TEARS.
The old woman started, then shook her head. ''I'm going senile, that's what. Losing my mind...''
NO. IT'S REALLY ME.
She looked up. ''My gods...'' she breathed. ''Xena?''
The statue seemed to smile. As the old woman watched, a tear slid from a sapphire eye and down the perfect golden cheek. YES, MY BARD. IT'S ME.
''But how?'' The old woman shook her head, and wisps of silver threaded red- gold hair tumbled down her neck.
YOU MIGHT SAY I MADE A DEAL. AFTER I DIED, I WAS CONDEMNED TO TARTARUS BY HADES TO PAY FOR MY PAST CRIMES. BUT THE GOD OF DEATH IS SCRUPULOUSLY FAIR, GABRIELLE. HE TOLD ME THAT IF I COULD FIND SOMEONE TO DO A FINAL DEED IN MY NAME, I COULD BE REDEEMED FROM MY ETERNAL TORMENT.
''Really? Haven't had any luck, huh?'' Gabrielle shook her head again. The elderly bard seemed bitter somehow, as if life had turned sour in her mouth.
GABRIELLE... The moon shone down on the statute; it was night, and Amphipolus quiet and still. DO YOU HATE ME SO MUCH, THEN?
Gabrielle sighed, then settled down where she could lean comfortably on the ground and still look at the statue of her former lover. ''No. I could never hate you, Xena. Not even after you left me.''
I'M SO SORRY, GABRIELLE. I NEVER MEANT TO HURT YOU. There was silence between the spirit and the bard, then Xena spoke again. WHAT ARE YOUR PLANS?
''I'm on my way to Egypt. The priests in Athens predicted a harsh winter this year; since I pretty much wander around these days, I figured on getting my old bones into the warm sunshine before the cold season starts.'' Gabrielle shivered as a breath of chill wind brushed her neck, and drew her rags closer. ''I'm moving on in the morning.''
COULD YOU... WOULD YOU HELP ME? Xena's voice pleaded. NO ONE ELSE CAN HEAR ME, GABRIELLE. I'VE BEEN TRYING FOR YEARS.
The bard was silent.
WILL YOU HELP ME? PLEASE? Xena's voice cracked.
Gabrielle sighed. ''Look... you abandoned me all those years ago. Just shoved me off to live on my own. Not a word, not a message, nothing. As if all the time we were together, all the promises we made to each other, meant nothing. And now you expect me to help you? With winter coming on? No, Xena. You always had to be right; you always had to be so self sacrificing, such a martyr to your past - you're on your own.''
NOT EVEN FOR THE SAKE OF THE LOVE WE ONCE SHARED?
The bard squeezed her eyes closed; her hands balled into fists as she strove to swallow sudden tears. Regaining control, her shoulders slumped and she said softly, ''All right. I'll help you. Tell me what you want me to do.''
The days grew colder, and the nights colder still.
The denizens of the poorest quarter of the city began finding magnificent gifts that mysteriously appeared within their hovels.
A ruby (wrenched from the hilt of a golden sword...)
A pair of sapphires (which were once a princess' eyes...)
Scatterings of diamonds (painstakingly picked from a jeweled shield...)
Emeralds, amber and turquoise (removed one by one from the statue in the square by the bard and delivered to the most wretched citizens, following Xena's directions...)
At last, there were no more jewels; the statue was bare of twinkling gems. The bard shivered; the temperature had dropped dramatically, and there was talk of snow. ''Well? I've done what you asked. I hope there's still time for me to get to Egypt.''
WAIT A LITTLE LONGER, GABRIELLE. THERE ARE STILL POOR PEOPLE IN DESPERATE NEED IN THE CITY. PEEL OFF THIS GOLD FOIL THAT COVERS MY STATUE; TAKE IT TO THEM, LEAF BY LEAF, AND AS THEIR SUFFERING IS ALLEVIATED, SO IS MINE.
Gabrielle sighed... and settling her rags around her body, began to pick at the statue's golden leg.
The people hurried about their tasks now; it was growing colder and colder, and the priests had warned the citizens to stay inside and keep warm. Even the beggars found cozy niches, huddled together with their fellows... all but one.
Gabrielle coughed; a harsh, rasping sound. She'd been coughing more and more frequently, sometimes until dazzling sparks danced in her vision. She wearily sat down with her back against the pedestal and wiped her nose with the back of her hand.
Her emerald eyes, once bright despite the wrinkled flesh that surrounded them, were filmy and glazed. It was clear she was not well.
LOOK AT ME.
Gabrielle rolled her head back. The statue gleamed dully beneath the moonlight; without its covering of bright gold leaf, the figure of Xena was revealed as common lead.
The bard coughed again. Her chest hurt so much, and she was so tired...
''What's finished, Xena?''
YOUR WORK. OUR WORK. I'M FREE, GABRIELLE. FREE OF TARTARUS AT LAST. THANK YOU, MY BARD. WITH ALL MY HEART.
Gabrielle didn't reply; she began coughing again, great tearing spasms that left her dizzy, flecks of blood on her lips.
GABRIELLE? YOU'RE FREE, TOO. GO TO EGYPT; GO WARM YOUR BONES BY THE NILE AND THINK OF ME WHEN THE SUN SHINES BRIGHTLY ON THE WATER.
''I... I'm not going to Egypt, Xena.'' Gabrielle lay down, head pillowed on the cold ground. The stars began to whirl gently in the velvety night sky.
THERE'S STILL TIME. PLEASE, GABRIELLE. GO TO EGYPT.
''Xena... I'm dying.'' A dark veil was drawn across the moon.
DYING? NO, GABRIELLE. PLEASE... LEAVE AMPHIPOLUS.
YES, GABRIELLE. Xena's voice was calm, soothing, like a warm balm.
''I never stopped loving you. Not even for a minute. All those years...''
AND I NEVER STOPPED LOVING YOU, MY BARD. Xena's voice caught, as if held by great emotion, then she continued, SLEEP NOW, GABRIELLE. SLEEP AND DREAM OF GREEN FIELDS AND LAUGHING CHILDREN AND SUNSHINE...
''Cold... so cold...'' The darkness descended...
IT'S WARM HERE, GABRIELLE. ALWAYS WARM IN MY ARMS...
And with a final sigh... the bard died.
That night, it snowed. Vast piles and drifts of the stuff were heaped on every street, on the roofs, in the gardens. Even the fountains were turned into icy showcases of frozen glitter. No one had ever seen anything like it.
When the snow finally stopped, the citizens came out of their houses to marvel and shake their heads in wonder. The heaviest snowfall was in the vicinity of the town square, and it took many men many hours to finally clear it all away. When they were finished, everyone in Amphipolus gathered around to stare.
The statue of the Happy Princess had changed. No longer did it glow with golden brilliance beneath the sun; instead, it shone dully - stripped of its jewels and with its golden skin gone, the lead beneath was revealed.. But the greatest wonder was this: that the statue had changed.
For rather than sword and shield, the Princess clasped within her arms a marble statue of a woman - young, strong and beautiful, with sparkling emerald eyes and a happy smile so full of joy that those who saw it could not help but smile in return.
They found a battered staff lying at the base of the pedestal, and while a few remembered an old beggar woman who'd slept there and were concerned, most of the citizens were too caught up in the miraculous happenings to care.
It was decided to leave the statue the way that it was, this being clearly some sort of sign from the gods - although the priests and augers gave differing answers as to what it all meant.
And on some nights, when the wind blows, and the
stars sparkle in the blue- black vault of the heavens, some say that two
women's voices can be heard, issuing from the statue... laughing, sighing
and loving murmurs, until Apollo's chariot blazes over the mountains, and
the voices of the Lovers Reunited fades back to the Elysian Fields until
another night is born.
Please comment to Nene Adams at firstname.lastname@example.org