Disclaimer: The standard disclaimer. To those who own Xena we mean no copyright infringement. This is just a continuation of the fan fiction fun.
XWP Fanfic - Classic
Violence: Yes, but nothing more than that in the TV show. This is a Xena Warrior Princess story after all. Xena battles Hades army and a few thugs during the course of this adventure. Normal stuff. There is also an unwanted graphic seduction scene.
Subtext: Of course some graphic. This is XWP ALT Fanfic. Women loving women. If this offends your sensibilities, you might want to read something else and probably should.
Spoiler Alert: This story is set as the episode, Blind Faith ends. Warning - Stop reading if you dont want to find out. Ever onward. Xena has battled the evil empire, saved Gabrielle from the crematorium, flung her chakram with relative ease and retrieved it in mid-air - all while going blind. Alas, she does not get to the antidote Egyptian Senna - in time. In essence, she gave up her sight to once again save Gabrielle.
Summary: Our story begins with the results of Xenas sacrifice. She realizes she is now blind. They begin the next journey wondering how they will manage this new development in their lives and knowing everything will be forever changed. The journey takes them to the land of spirits to encounters with the gods - to the lands of the Amazons and finally into their own inner souls where they realize their love for one another.
Acknowledgements: To my friend and writing companion, Xanjaa, without whose encouragement and confidence in my abilities; I would not have put down one word. I can not find the words to say how truly grateful I am that we met You are a true friend; higher praise I do not give. Namaste.
To my friend and co-author, Patricia your words in this story inspired me to write better. Your constant light-hearted laughter eased all the hurdles of distance, time zone changes, and time constraints. Your friendship touched my soul and made me a better person. Namaste! My friend. Its been a wonderful journey with you! And many more stories to come.
To Our Betas:
Mags (Lor) you are incredible Your level of detail in editing was fantastic. You went all out for our first story for crying out loud, you even fixed punctuation in the love scenes, You Rock!
Amber your suggestions made this a better work. Hope we used enough contractions along the way. The dialogue did flow better. Thank you for the time you gave to us and this story and for the encouragement on the SPS scenes.
To LJ Maas:
From Xanjaa you taught us setting; you taught us dialogue; you even taught us some grammar. We hope this first attempt has made you proud of our efforts. If not, were ready students whenever you want to start writing class again. Thank you for all the inspiration and the lessons.
From Patricia Everything Xanjaa says and more. I took your class not knowing what to expect, but you went all out and gave us a wonderful intro to the world of writing, lots of challenging exercises and from that I came to realize that we learn by doing. Heres to you LJ for taking the time to teach us. And heres hoping you are not left holding your head lamenting, "These are Not my students!" LOL - Thank you LJ.
Constructive feedback always welcome: email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org
* * * XENAS SACRIFICE * * *
Gabrielle, coughing and sputtering from the heat and smoke of the crematorium clutched at Xenas arms and pulled herself up. In a few moments, she began to breathe a bit easier.
"Xena, thank the gods."
She looked up and noticed that Xena was looking just past her head. She seemed dazed and was not focused. Gabrielle looked closely at her rescuer and knew something was amiss.
"Whats wrong with your eyes?" Gabrielle asked her. She had a strange look on her face, not quite believing what she was sensing.
"Im blind, Gabrielle." The statement was said in an almost matter of fact way.
"What? Thats not possible. What happened, Xena? What can we do? There must be something we can do."
Gabrielle was anxious, hoping that something, anything, could be done.
"The cure is Egyptian Senna. You can get it in Athens. But by the time we get there it will be too late." Xena replied.
Gabrielle was stunned. She looked at Xena not believing what she was hearing or seeing.
"Noooo!" She wailed as she wrapped her arms around Xena and began to sob against her chest.
"This is not going to be easy. " She stroked Gabrielles hair.
"We need to go somewhere, Gabrielle. I cant see. I cant defend you. I cant even walk without a guide. I need to think. I need a plan. Then, we need to talk. This changes everything about us and what weve become!"
"Xena, Im here for you. No matter what, I will not leave you, not now not ever. The Bard paused. She wanted Xena to know that not everything had changed. "Now, where do you want to go?"
"First, we need to get Argo. I left her outside the city gates. Then I want you to take me to a cave its in a remote area but we can make it before nightfall. Well be safe there."
Gabrielle reached to take Xenas hand. But Xena, feeling the contact which she could not see, quickly pulled back. Then, realizing what she had done, lowered her hands to her sides in defeat. Gabrielle again reached for her hand, slowly this time, whispering.
"Im here, Xena. Im here!"
This time she was allowed to hold it.
Gabrielle led Xena down the worn pathway from the castle. She could feel the tension in the warrior but decided not to say anything. She thought of Xenas sacrifice and a tear fell down her cheek. She quickly reached to brush it away so Xena would not see it and then the truth of their predicament hit her with the force of a hammer. Her thoughts tumbled over each other, but one painful fact assailed her Xena has given her sight in order to save me from the fires of the crematorium. Her tears fell freely as she wondered how she could ever repay her warriors sacrifice.
"Gabrielle, youll have to be my eyes for a while."
Disconcerted, Gabrielle responded, "Xena, I will be your eyes for the rest of our lives. Why do you say a while?"
The warrior did not answer that question, but instead said, "I left Argo at the edge of the woods to the left of the gates. Can you see her?"
Gabrielle looked but did not see Argo and she grew concerned. She didnt know if she should voice that concern to Xena when she heard her question.
"You dont see her?"
"No, shes not there." She replied.
Xena cursed then another thought came to her. She stopped, took her hand out of Gabrielles and put both index fingers to her lips and whistled loudly. A neigh
sounded from the woods and suddenly, Argo was running towards them. Xena smiled as the horse galloped to a stop in front of her, the horse pushing her head against Xena.
"Thats my girl." She nuzzled Argo in return
Gabrielle, standing to the side, watched the display of affection between them and realized it was the first time Xena had smiled since shed held her in the crematorium.
"Well make better time if we both ride" Xena said.
"Xena, you ride. Ill walk. Just tell me where you want me to lead you."
That statement continued to reinforce Xenas sense of despair and futility. She did not want to be a burden to Gabrielle nor have to rely on Gabrielle or anyone else for that matter, to lead her. But for now, she had to allow it. She had no choice. She needed to get to that cave.
"We should go East, up the road. Just before you get to the top of the hill, there is a small pathway hidden in the trees and marshes. Keep alert, its easily missed. Lets go."
Gabrielle took Argos reins and began walking up the road. She had no idea where they were going or how long it would take. She decided she should talk to Xena on the journey about how they would manage their lives now. And as she began thinking a dominant thought came to her mind. We can go to the Amazons. Maybe it is time to go home.
She didnt know what Xena had in mind. She would wait to find out. But in the meantime, she was comforted by the thoughts of them going home. She knew she would have to play that carefully. Xena was in a difficult state and she knew this walk to the cave was the calm before the storm of realization that she would forever be dependent on Gabrielle. The bard only hoped that Xena would allow her to be her eyes and care for her. The warrior might have other plans, but she would face that when the time came.
"How far up the hill is this pathway, Xena?"
"As you get near the top, there is a set of three boulders marking the beginning of the path. Look for them," she replied.
"I see em."
"Walk behind them and look ahead of you towards the woods. Youll see a very slight pathway into the woods. Follow that pathway. But be careful, there are marshes and quicksand all around."
She did as she was told, following the path as it wound its way into the woods. The deeper they moved into the woods, the darker it grew and she commented on that to Xena.
"Thats the plan" said the Warrior. "Keeps out all but the very interested."
The air inside the thickening woods became cooler.
"Xena, are you cold?"
"No!" came the sharp reply.
Instantly, her feelings were hurt by the shortness of the reply, but she knew this was just the start of what would become their most difficult journey together.
They continued through the woods and the trail seemed to be winding back and forth. She led them to what appeared to be a fork in the pathway, but she wasnt sure and hesitated.
"Xena?" she began.
Her question was answered before she could form the words. Xena had noticed the slight hesitation in Argos gait and knew instinctively they were at the fork in the pathway.
"Take the right fork, Gabrielle. It will take you up the side of the cliff. But be careful. The path becomes difficult."
The fact that Xena noticed the change in the terrain without being told, made Gabrielle somewhat hopeful. If she was able to recall so much after so long, then keeping her in familiar surroundings might be the best solution. And again, the Amazon lands came to mind. Perhaps with time, she would adjust to the blindness she thought.
The path did become more treacherous and at times Gabrielle slipped on the unsettled rocks and gullies which cut into the trail. They climbed higher and higher up the side of the cliff, turning around craggy peaks, jutting rocks and towering trees clinging to the rocks with their gnarled roots. The trail gradually disappeared and they seemed to be climbing by momentum and without direction. Xena had not directed them and had stopped talking completely after the fork in the road.
The sun had gone behind the gathering clouds and the threat of a storm loomed around them. Gabrielle quickened her pace and eventually she rounded a particularly large rock and stopped. They had come to a flat area on the cliff. The sound of water could be heard nearby. Ahead of her was what seemed to be an opening to a cave. All around, were towering trees forming a canopy overhead.
When she stopped, Xena knew they had arrived.
"Were here, Gabrielle." She slid off Argos back as Gabrielle rushed over to help her. Xena brushed aside her hand with her arm.
"Im fine! Let me be!" she said sharply.
Gabrielle pulled back from the sharp words but held her tongue.
She watched as Xena stopped and instinctively surveyed the area. She made her way to the entrance of the cave. She saw Xena raise her head to sense the winds and the air as she slowly meandered towards the entry. Xena reached out her hand and felt the rock wall. Even after all this time, and now, without sight, she knew where she was and that her blindness could be managed for a while at this place.
* * * SANCTUARY? * * *
Xena entered the cave ahead of Gabrielle. In the blackness of the cavern, blindness was not a handicap. The longer she remained in her darkened world the more her other senses compensated.
The words of Lao Ma came back to her now, "Fill yourself with desire and see only illusion, empty yourself of desire and understand the great mystery."
What would be my desire; to see again? She wondered. What would I be required to give to see again? I already gave my sight to save Gabrielle.
She began to realize that desiring the past would prevent her from embracing her life to the fullest now. Right then she decided she would stop all desire for sight. It was gone. She would learn to see with the rest of her senses and use her mind as Lao Ma had taught her.
Her reverie was broken when Gabrielle spoke.
"By the gods, Xena, what is this place? Its beautiful."
"Once when I was badly injured in a battle, I stayed here. Somehow, Argo found it saved my life. This cave is very special to me, Gabrielle. Ive never brought anyone else here."
Xena noted the spitting and sputtering sounds that Gabrielles torch made and she recalled her own awe when shed first laid eyes on this place. Even as a callous warlord, Xena had been stunned by the beauty of this place. She thought back to that time. She had stumbled on this cave by accident many, many seasons ago. She had been severely injured in a battle and Argo had simply carried her from the field. She was barely conscious, but did remember a few details along the way. The horse seemed to be guided by an intuitive understanding of the Warriors needs. She soon brought her to a small creek and stopped. Xena slid off Argos back and crawled slowly to the edge of the water. Her face fell forward and she drank greedily, feeling a bit refreshed.
After drinking her fill, she pushed herself up on her hands and side, and looked around and saw that she was on top of a cliff. The creek was only a small tributary of a larger body of water that coursed below the cliff. As she took in her surroundings, she saw what seemed to be an overhang of rock. She decided to head for the overhang thinking it would provide some shelter as evening came. As she approached the overhang, her eyes adjusted to the changing dimension. The overhang was actually the entrance of what seemed to be a cave.
She found her memories flooding back as she described what she remembered to Gabrielle.
"Look at the back wall, Gabrielle? Straight ahead where it looks like draperies of gold in a kings palace, and there off to the left of it hanging from the ceiling; doesnt it look like chandeliers? And underneath them are white and gold icicles growing out of the ground."
"Oh look, Xena, those rocks look like a throne." Then she hesitated and faltered, realizing what shed said. Her heart was so very heavy. Xena could never again have the pleasure of seeing something like this. "I Im sorry Xena I didnt mean this is so hard..." her voice tapered off miserably.
Xena turned toward Gabrielle; surprising herself that her memories of this young woman were so vivid she thought she was surely seeing Gabrielle.
"Well get through this, Gabrielle. We accept what is and go on. I will deal with this or else."
Because if I dont, my love, there is no future for us, she thought to herself. In an attempt to divert Gabrielles attention, Xena continued her description of the cave.
"These formations are caused by rain water seeping down through the rock over the years. Besides the beauty theres fresh water, just over there, to the left of the entrance, about ten feet in. See it?"
Xena could hear the soft sounds of the water as it dripped down the wall and into the pool. She didnt need to see it; she could hear it and know exactly where it was.
"It is perfect, Xena." Gabrielle held the torch high and allowed the light to play over the multicolored rocks, making shadows that danced like Pans mythical wood nymphs.
"And theres plenty of room for all our gear."
"I holed-up in here for over a month, Gabrielle. Argo took me from the battlefield and found her way here. I know she was led by some power or force because this place was too well hidden. But it was here I regained my strength and mended my body. Over the years, Ive used this place whenever I needed to get away or to think. Its why I asked you to bring me here."
"This place will give me .us time to make some adjustments." She continued.
Xena knew this was just another challenge in her life, a life already so filled with challenges. Again the words of Lao Ma came to her, "To conquer others is to have power; to conquer yourself is to know the way." Xenas mind was far away in Chin when she realized Gabrielle was talking to her.
" and a nice fire ring near the entrance. Thats a good idea to keep the smoke away from these gorgeous formations. Ill go and get some fire wood. Why dont you rest?" Gabrielle said as she dropped their bed rolls to the smooth packed earth.
Xenas arm snaked out and snagged Gabrielle as she made to move past her.
"Gab-ri-elle." She enunciated each syllable slowly in the way that meant this is your only warning.
"Xena, I only want to do my part. Youve been in a major fight, had your vision taken away and burned your hands, you need to take care of yourself. Please, give yourself a chance to heal."
"I am not an invalid. I dont need someone to take care of me!"
Gabrielle turned back to their packs, the hurt of those words like a slap in the face. Xena could not see the pained look on Gabrielles face. But the sound of her harsh words rang in her own ears and she wished she could take them back. Gabrielles stifled sigh, told her theyd hit their mark.
Xenas expression softened and she moved toward the sound and pulled Gabrielle into a close embrace. She rested her chin on her bards head.
"Gabrielle, I know you want to take care of me, but I must learn to do things for myself. I couldnt live if I was a burden to you. Now, gathering firewood seems a small task thats within my many skills. And with a storm so near, I need to do my part."
Gabrielle smiled against Xenas breast at that last remark and Xena, feeling the change in her younger companion, knew all was forgiven. There was a sound of thunder outside, announcing that the impending early summer storm was in fact closing in.
"Sounds like I better get to it before that storm gets here. Why dont you see what you can scare up for dinner while Im gone?"
Gabrielle knew when she was defeated and relented.
"Okay, but Xena, please be careful."
She was rewarded with a smile.
Gabrielle knelt on the ground and began rooting through their pack and pulling out their water skins as Xena moved off toward the entrance by feel. Years of living by her wits, under the constant threat of attack had honed all her senses to a razors edge. In fact this whole experience of rescuing Gabrielle from the castle without benefit of her vision had reminded her how important it was to keep all those skills honed.
As she stepped into the fading daylight, she paused to acclimate herself to her surroundings. She heard the wind rustle the leaves in the forest canopy overhead. She began to identify where each tree was. As she stood there, Xena again recalled her training with Lao Ma. She remembered that the same chi energy that Lao Ma would shoot out of her hands could be used in other ways. She opened herself and allowed the energy within her body to expand outward from her skin. As her energy field encountered each rock, tree and bush, she was able to map the terrain in her mind. She opened her mouth and took a breath and could taste the coming storm on the back of her tongue. It had an earthy moist taste, almost like mulch. The breeze on her skin, told her the storm was from the north and would bring cold rain and soon. She needed to hurry.
She walked without hesitation. Using the lessons of Lao Ma, she released her chi, letting it show her obstacles and exposed roots, while revealing the loose branches she sought.
Moving steadily away from the caves entrance, shed been hunting wood for their fire for about a quarter candlemark. With an arm full of good dry wood, she now heard the noise of rushing water, close yet not. She knew from her previous time here that there was a seventy five foot cliff overlooking the river below. She moved slowly toward the sound to better familiarize herself with the area.
Xena recalled the way the land at the top of the canyon, had been covered in shale and rubble, making the footing hazardous. Just as the toes of her boots made contact with the loose rocks that she had remembered, there was a brilliant flash of light followed almost immediately by an ear splitting clap of thunder. The sound was so deafening she couldnt hear the massive branch that had been ripped from the giant oak next to her. The huge limb struck Xenas head and shoulder with a solid thwack throwing her off balance. She was suddenly air born and hurtling over the cliff.
She tossed the firewood as far from her as she could so shed be able to grab on to something and prevent her inexorable tumble down to certain death on the rocks below. Her arms and legs thrashed madly grabbing at thin air trying for any kind of purchase. The first boulder she smashed into struck her in the middle of her back and drove all the air from her lungs. But it did nothing to slow her descent. She continued her downward slide. Using her fingernails to dig at the rocky soil in the futile hope of stopping her plunge, she didnt notice as her bones broke and fingers twisted. In desperation she grabbed at rocks and small tenacious trees fighting for her life. Then she dropped free through space and landed on a ledge 30 feet down, striking her head. She knew she was badly hurt and probably dying. Her last thought, as consciousness waned was of her life companion and soul mate and that she had never told her how she felt. She whispered one word, a prayer "Gabrielle" as the darkness closed in.
*** *** ***
Gabrielle looked around the cave again, assuring herself that everything was in order. Over the years shed become adept at setting up camp. The beauty of Xenas special place took her breath away. Her eyes were drawn repeatedly to the play of color and light as the torch reflected off the incredible rock formations.
With the melancholy of her worries about their future still uppermost in her mind, she sighed deeply. Ever the optimist, Gabrielle was confident she and Xena would find a way to make their life together work. It would just take some creativity. Yes, creativity and hard work, but were they up to it? Theyd never shied away from challenges in the past; this would be no different. Still Gabrielle hoped to convince the stoic warrior that recovering in the safety of the Amazon village might be the best course of action.
Okay, whats next? Xena wont be able to hunt. Well, she wasnt so sure anymore that that was true. If anyone could adapt to blindness, it would be Xena. For tonight at least, it would be up to Gabrielle to provide their dinner. She grabbed her staff from where it leaned against the wall near their sleeping furs. Xena had only been gone a short time. Gabrielle had time to explore outside a bit, and see what might cross her path to make a meal.
Stepping outside the cave entrance, Gabrielle stopped in almost exactly the same place as her warrior had stood a short time before. Closing her eyes as Xena had taught her she listened. Quieting her breath, she waited as the calm extended to her heart. Standing there patiently for almost 3 full minutes, she heard it, the gobbling call that meant wild turkeys were nesting nearby. Holding perfectly still until she felt sure shed identified the
location of the sounds. Yes, about 25 yards off to the east, she smiled. Opening her eyes Gabrielle strode confidently out in that direction.
The trees opened up near the stream theyd crossed earlier. Across a small dell, Gabrielle could see the thicket she was certain held her quarry. Bringing down a wild turkey with only a staff would be quite a trick since these birds tended to be smart and resourceful. At the edge of the trees, she stopped and listened. This time there was a flash of light near the canyon behind her and then a several moments later the clash of thunder. The storm was upon them. She needed to get their dinner and head back to the cave. Xena would return soon with the firewood.
Now Gabrielle employed another trick Xena had taught her. She allowed her eyes to become unfocussed and just gazed easily at the thicket knowing that without trying her eyes would see what was out of place. There, just at the far end of the brush, was the dun color she sought. That would be the female guarding the nest. At the same moment, the male in full plumage appeared on the opposite side of the clearing. His purpose was clear, to draw her attention. Gabrielle was not to be distracted.
Another flash of lightning and clap of thunder reminded her to get going. She moved forward and the female began to make a frantic racket. The male charged her with his feathers spread in a magnificent display of power. He was desperate in his attempt to drive her away from their nest. Waving her staff at him, she forced the big bird back. Still using her staff, Gabrielle parted the bushes, and saw the nest. It held 7 large eggs. With a look of remorse for the frantic parents, she removed three of the eggs and stepped back.
"Im sorry little mother. My partner is hurt and we need this food. Thank you for your sacrifice."
Gabrielle thanked Artemiss creatures in the Amazon way. Then she dropped the eggs into her waist pouch. Turning away from the thicket, Gabrielle made her way back to the cave.
She had just stepped inside the entry when a huge flash of lightening and loud thunder occurred almost simultaneously.
"By the gods, Zeus is angry. Please hurry Xena." She spoke her thoughts aloud. As though summoned by Gabrielles voice, Xena seemed to call her name.
Gabrielle stopped. She knew shed not heard that with her ears but with her heart. Xena had called to her; and knew she was in trouble. Gabrielle needed to get to her quickly.
Rushing outside Gabrielle called, "Xena!"
Putting her hands to her mouth she shouted again, louder and with more urgency, "Xenaaaa.".
With the noise of the storm all around, her words were thrown back into her face. With rising panic, she screamed Xenas name again, but to no avail. Her words were useless. Oh by the goddess, where is she? What has happened to her? Gabrielle was becoming frantic with worry, and her tears were hot against her face as they mixed with the cold rain falling.
Her mind screaming with unnamed fear, one question was paramount. "Xena where are you?"
She had no doubt that Xena needed her and needed her NOW. Standing helplessly Gabrielle looked around the woods having no idea in which direction Xena had gone. Then suddenly, a thought flashed through her mind and Gabrielle gasped in remembrance of her time in the temple with Artemis.
* * * ANOTHER TIME, A NEW QUEEN * * *
The giant beeswax candles reflected off the many shields, one of them a simple piece of painted raw hide stretch tightly over its frame. Others were of carved wood or hammered metal with bone and feathers hanging down each side. These were the shields of ancient Amazon queens gone to the land of the dead many years before. Their shields held places of honor in Artemiss Temple. Sconces were recessed into the walls giving off an incandescent golden light adding to the mysticism of the place. Terracotta pots held flowers in a riot of color. The floor was covered with the furs of animals that had been hunted for the food and supplies the Amazons needed for daily life. The most beautiful of the furs were given as tribute to the goddess who protected her chosen people.
The next Amazon queen stood before the plain granite altar of Artemis. The purple and blue queens mask, trimmed in gold feathers sat in its center. Gabrielle would don it when she was called for the ceremony. Shed spent the night in fasting and meditating in the hopes Artemis would appear and bless her new chosen queen. Gabrielle was feeling more than a little inadequate for the task at hand. Velesca had challenged and killed Melosa. It appeared that would be Gabrielles fate too, if she couldnt make Velesca see reason.
The young woman, dressed in ritual coronation garb, had been sitting on a stone bench in front of the altar for eight hours, keeping vigil. She didnt feel very much like royalty at the moment. She glanced down at her body, covered now in a russet colored leather halter and short fighting skirt, trimmed in silver and gold swirls. They reminded her of Xena. The pattern was so similar, that she had to stifle a sob. She was as close to bereft as she could remember being. Xenas body was in the queens hut lying in state until her funeral pyre would be lit this evening.
A single tear slipped down Gabrielles cheek and all the emotion shed held poured forth. It was as if a dam had finally burst and she wept. She cried for Xena, who died without ever achieving her redemption, for the times theyd had and the times that were still ahead of them. She thought shed never stop crying, never know peace again, when she felt a warm comforting presence and looked up through tear fogged eyes into the radiant face of the goddess Artemis. Her breath caught in her throat.
"Why do you cry, Little One?"
Gabrielle sniffed and cleared her throat. "For my friend, Xena. I cant imagine my life without her. Im sorry. I know I am supposed to be preparing myself to serve as the new queen, but I feel so inadequate." She paused expecting the goddess to agree.
When nothing was forth coming, she looked up into soft kind golden eyes. "Guess you wish Terreis had given her right of caste to someone more fit to be your queen."
"No, Terreis chose wisely, Gabrielle. It was no accident that you were on the road that day when the ambush occurred."
Gabrielle was shocked. This was news to her.
"You mean you want me to be queen? How can I lead? My beliefs wont allow me to kill. I am not of royal blood. I only know one weapon and have few other skills."
The goddess laughed, a clear round sound like a bell.
"My child, do you think I leave my queen, my chosen unprotected? You have a low opinion of me." She chuckled to lessen the implication that she might be insulted.
"No, you shall be my queen and you shall rule wisely. I always give my queens special powers to use when in need and I give them to you as well. I give you the power of the eagle which allows you to see far vistas and find what you seek. As the wolf calls to her pack mates, I give you this same gift, to call your Amazon sisters when in need. And I give you one final gift, the "gift of the chosen", which is not to be used lightly." She looked hard into Gabrielles green eyes.
"I promise to answer your call when you have need. The power to call a god Gabrielle! Do not take this gift lightly." And with that she had disappeared in a flash of silver light.
* * * GABRIELLE USES HER GIFTS * * *
"The power to find what you seek " replayed in her mind. Not quite sure how to call upon the power, she started out hesitantly.
"Artemis, I need your help to find Xena." She whispered.
Nothing, only silence answered.
Realizing that something more was needed, she decided that a queen might be a bit more forceful and she began again.
Clearing her throat, she called in a strong voice.
"I invoke your promise to me, Artemis. I claim the power of the eagle!"
Within a moment, Gabrielle felt her spirit rising slowly into the sky. She felt as if she was floating on clouds or wind. She circled up and up higher until she could see her own body below her in front of the cave, and Argo grazing near by. Her vision moved towards a cliff, the edge covered in shale. There was an enormous tree split in half from the storm. Leaves and branches were strewn about Moving slowly on the air currents she found herself looking over the edge. There, midway down the ravine, she saw something. Her heart stilled and she had to force herself to breathe. Xenas body lay broken and bloody and was balanced precariously on a ledge. She was unconscious. A huge tree limb lay across her chest and shoulders.
"My love, my heart" she gasped, her heart racing.
Instantly Gabrielle was jolted back into her body. She took off at a run towards the cliff and then stopped, thinking, Ill need rope to get down to her.
At that moment the sky fully opened up and rain poured down, drenching her to the skin. Gabrielle hurried back inside the cave and snatched up their rope. She turned and ran as though shot like an arrow straight for the cliff and Xena.
The rocks were loose under her boots, the rain making it even more treacherous. She tied off one end of the rope to the trunk of the oak tree. It was the very one whos branch had struck the fateful blow to Xenas head. She thought; you knocked her off the cliff, now youre going to help me bring her back up. She dropped the free end over the edge. It fell past where Xena lay unmoving. Gabrielle grabbed the rope in her left hand then threaded it around her back and grasped it with her right hand. In this position she had more control and she slowly lowered herself down to Xena. Even as careful as she was, small landslides of mud and gravel rushed down the mountain side ahead of her spraying Xenas broken body.
Finally, her boots touched the ledge where Xena lay. Disentangling herself from the rope she rushed to Xenas side. She grabbed the massive piece of oak and heaved it off of Xena and over the side into the ravine below. It was clear that Xena had many injuries. Her head was bleeding profusely from a gash above the left eye and a dark, angry, purple bruise had already formed on Xenas left shoulder and it looked as if it was dislocated.
It occurred to Gabrielle that this was the shoulder that always gave Xena problems. There was a trickle of blood coming from the side of Xenas mouth, suggesting there may be internal injuries as well. Gabrielle put her face near Xenas nose and stilled her own breath. After what seemed an eternity, there was a shallow expulsion of air. She was alive, but for how long? The thought propelled her actions.
Gently, Gabrielle wiped some of the grime away from Xenas face and did a quick assessment of the rest of the wounds. The head may not have been as bad as it appeared. Head wounds always tended to bleed freely. Running her hands over the warriors muddy wet body, Gabrielle found a broken left forearm and gashes and abrasions too numerous to count. Several fingers were broken or dislocated. They could be set by Gabrielle. The incessant rain pouring down was making this difficult. She had to get Xena off the side of this mountain before exposure killed her. It would be easier to check for internal injuries once she had her partner out of this gods-be-damned weather.
Looking up she assessed the situation. There was no way she could get Xena off the ledge without help. Internal injuries were the biggest risk, but she had no choice. To leave Xena here and go for help would mean certain death. A thought came to her; Argo. Rising to her feet, Gabrielle, put her index fingers to her lips and blew two sharp whistles. She waited a few moments, and then whistled again. The noise of the winds and torrential rains swallowed her whistle. She had no choice but to go back up the mountain for Argo. She took off her leather skirt and covered Xenas face with it, knowing it was scant protection.
Gabrielle grabbed hold of the rope again and with a strength and determination born of desperation, she climbed quickly to the top, cursing as she disturbed rocks and mud which continued to cascade onto Xena. She remembered where Argo had been and ran screaming her name. A familiar whinny answered her call. Shed never really established a good rapport with Xenas horse, but now all the past animosities had to be forgotten for Xenas sake. She took hold of Argos halter and pulled the big golden head toward her. Looking straight into those dark liquid brown eyes she saw intelligence reflected back at her. This was her only hope. She had to have this horses cooperation.
"Argo, Xenas been hurt. Shes down there and I cant get her up alone. I need your help girl. Please, Argo, help me help Xena."
The big palomino war horse seemed to understand. Gabrielle entertained the thought that this was wishful thinking, but something told her Argo did understand and for once would obey Gabrielles commands.
She grabbed Argos reins and rushed back to the edge of the cliff. The horse could feel her panic and knew something was wrong. Sensing her mistress was in trouble, she stood calmly, waiting.
Stepping first to the edge of the cliff, Gabrielle looked down at her injured companion and then glanced back to the oak tree, where the rope was still tied. Resolutely, she strode over to the tree. As she worked the rope loose from the tree and began tying it to the horses saddle horn, the bard explained her plan as if the great warhorse understood every word.
The rain was coming down harder now, drenching them in sheets of water. Great! Just what we need, thought Gabrielle, as the water ran into her eyes almost blinding her. She kept up an endless stream of chatter to the horse and it seemed to calm both of them.
Finally, she was ready. "Okay, Argo, Im going back down and we are going to get Xena." The horse was facing the cliff and Gabrielle knew that backing up to pull them up would be the best course of action.
"Alright, hold steady girl."
Then Gabrielle disappeared over the edge. Again she used the rope to slow her descent yet knowing each motion rained down rocks and dirt on Xena. As soon as her feet touched the ledge she reached for Xenas body. Putting her cheek against Xenas she felt the coolness of the injured womans skin and knew time was of the essence.
"Xena, I have to tie us together so we can get out of here."
She looped the rope under Xenas back and then pulled her upright against her own chest. Xena groaned. It was a pathetic weak sound that almost broke Gabrielles heart.
"Im so sorry, Love." Gabrielles whispered words were spoken with infinite tenderness.
She worked faster threading the cord around her own back and tied a tight knot as Xena had shown her. Then she tried to stand using the cliff to push against. It seemed to take forever. As she struggled to get the warrior into position, Gabrielle thought, Gods, but Xena is heavy, especially as dead weight. That word, "dead", seemed to galvanize Gabrielle, and using all her strength she pulled them both upright. With Xenas body draped over her, she pulled on the rope. Argo seemed to understand and began backing up.
Slowly, the rope tightened around them and they began to be lifted up. The rope bit into their bodies painfully. Gabrielle used her legs and arms as much as possible to keep Xena from hitting any more of the rocky mountain side. She could feel stone and brush tear at her own skin, but it was of no consequence. Shed give every bit of skin from her back to save Xena from any more pain. She kept calling out encouragement to Argo as they rose with what seemed an interminable slowness to the top. She knew the horse could not hear her but it did not matter. Suddenly, the shear rock was replaced by a gentler slope and she was able to gain some footing. They were at the top.
"Thats it girl, okay you can stop." Argo trotted over to her master and nuzzled Xenas face as Gabrielle gently laid her companion down on the soggy ground. Damn, I need to get her to the cave. To Gabrielles eye the few hundred yards to their destination looked like miles. But Argo seemed to understand Xenas need. The great warhorse stretched out first one foreleg then the other as if bowing and then lowered her hind quarters.
"Good girl, Argo. I promise you, Ill never say one bad thing to you ever again."
Taking Xena under her arms, Gabrielle draped her body over Argos saddle and the horse rose in one smooth motion. As the rain continued to pound down on the three partners, Argo followed Gabrielle into the mouth of the cave. As soon as they were inside the safety of the cavern, in a reverse process, Argo lowered her precious cargo back down to dry ground. As soon as Gabrielle had Xena lying on their sleeping furs, the seriousness of her injuries now became even more apparent.
Xenas moan was barely audible as Gabrielle tried to move a piece of her blood encrusted hair from her face. Her body was a mass of bruises and gashes and she had many broken bones. Tears fell from her face onto Xenas body as she tended to her. She knew they needed help immediate help or the warrior would die. She thought, If I can just get her to the Amazon healer, but knew she couldnt move her or leave her and there was no time. Her tears became heartbreaking sobs.
"Please dont die, Xena" she wailed, her hair falling across the broken womans body.
"I need you Xena, please dont die. We have so much to do. I love you, Xena. Dont die, please dont die." Her words hung in the air even as her tears continued to fall. Xenas shallow breathing indicated the end was close. Gabrielles anguish was palpable. And it was heard, but not by the warrior. In desperation, she uttered this short prayer to the Moon Goddess.
"Artemis, please help me."
Without conscious realization, Gabrielle had invoked the "gift of the Chosen". And Artemis answered the call appearing in the cave in a shimmering rain of silver stars. Gabrielle looked up, barely able to see through her tears.
"Its Xena. Shes dying."
Artemis studied the two women and nodded. "I know," she said simply.
Gabrielle begged, "Cant you do something, cant you save her?"
The goddess shook her head and the bard let out a mournful wail. The impact of her lament struck Artemis solidly in her heart. She sighed and laid a gentle hand on Gabrielles shoulder.
"Gabrielle you are my chosen queen. You owe me your allegiance and your loyalty. Why do you persist in trailing after this warrior who slaughtered so many of your sisters?"
Gabrielle was horrified at this news. She knew there was much in Xenas past that might be unpalatable to her, but to hear this, that Xena had murdered her Amazon sisters, was a blow. She reeled, her head spinning. Still, she loved Xena and no matter what demons leapt up from the mists of time, the Xena she knew had changed and Gabrielle would defend her.
"Shes not that person anymore. Shes defended the Amazons since then and prevented a war with the Centaurs, a war where many would have died."
"Yes, she has done some good deeds since then, but that in no way redeems her for decimating the northern Amazon nation. Her actions against the warlord were what stayed my hand from striking her down."
"Please, Artemis, please save her."
As a goddess, Artemis could project her essence onto persons or places or objects thereby transforming them. This magical ability to enchant, this force, could be used to make mortals see that which was not there, or be blinded to that which was right before their eyes. This power could also enhance the physical sensations of any activity. And the goddess knew how to use this well.
Ignoring the plea, Artemis slowly reached out and seductively caressed Gabrielles cheek. At the unmistakable contact, a pleasurable and involuntary shiver went through the young womans body.
"I will not save Xena," The goddess said, clearly emphasizing the word "not".
"But I will ease your pain my sweet Gabrielle. Surrender to me as all Amazon queens have from the beginning." She moved against the younger woman, her warm breath teasing the side of Gabrielles face.
Artemiss intention was made very clear to Gabrielle as wave after wave of the goddesss seductive power permeated her body. Artemiss glamour surrounded Gabrielle in a pulsating shimmering light as she continued to suggestively touch the Queen. Gabrielle leaned in to the sensual caress almost giving in to the seduction of the Goddess. Then realizing the enormity of what she was doing, she shook herself free.
"No!" Her face shiny with tears, she sadly shook her head, "No, please I cant. Im sorry. I love Xena."
Artemis withdrew her hand and stepped back, a troubled look on her face.
"Very well, I will never force your surrender. When the time is right, youll know. Ill return to Olympus to allow you to contemplate the truth of what is. Use what skills you do possess to help your friend and maintain vigil at her bedside until the end. I will return to you then."
With those words, she dissolved into a sparkle of silver dust and stars.
Gabrielle was left alone with Xena.
* * * The Amazon Village * * *
Ephiny left her dwelling and walked across the village compound in a thoughtful manner in the direction of Yakuts hut. For a few days now, she had been having unsettled feelings about her Queen. She knew Gabrielle would always be safe with Xena. The warrior had made it clear how she felt about the Queen and that she would do whatever necessary to protect her. Yet, Ephiny was worried. These feelings were different and they had not subsided. In fact, each day, the feelings had grown stronger. Something was amiss, she was sure of it, but she couldnt isolate what it was.
Ephiny had a strong connection with Gabrielle. At one time, she felt she had been in love with the younger woman. She noted ruefully, that most of the Amazon women fancied they were in love with their Queen. But Ephiny knew her feelings for Gabrielle were much deeper. Given the chance she felt it could have been reciprocated. But now Gabrielle has Xena, she thought.
Yet, the feelings had become more pronounced and she knew shed even heard her name called. She distinctly heard Gabrielle call to her and wanted to discuss it with the healer.
At that moment a young Amazon rushed up to her and saluted, striking her breast with her fist.
"Regent, youre wanted at the healers hut." Ephiny turned to the young woman with a question in her eyes.
"I dont know" said the Amazon, "but Yakut said to come quickly."
Ephiny nodded and began striding towards the healers dwelling. Her sense of foreboding quickened and intensified. At the door to the hut she paused to announce herself. She raised her hand to the draw skins when they flew open. Yakut stood at the entrance, fear in her eyes.
"Yakut?" she said. The question hung in the air.
Yakut motioned Ephiny into the hut.
"The Queen, something is wrong with the Queen." She said the words clearly and without hesitation.
The fear that had begun to fester inside Ephiny erupted. "What is it, Yakut? What have you seen?"
"Its not clear. Shes with Xena. But I know something is terribly wrong. We must go to her quickly."
"Yakut, I know it too. Gabrielle called to me."
The healer nodded in understanding.
"We dont even know where they are, how are we going to know where to go or where to find them?" The anguish was clear in Ephinys words. She felt helpless.
"Ephiny, we must move swiftly." Yakut moved about the hut. She gathered packets of dried herbs as she spoke, putting them into a basket. Gathering several feathers into a bundle, she tied it with a leather strip adding that to the basket as well.
"We must go to the sacred lodge and prepare ourselves. I believe we must call on our Protector."
"What do you mean?" Ephiny watched as the basket grew heavier with the offerings.
"You know that each of us has been given a gift from Artemis. We promised the Goddess upon our naming ceremony into the tribe that the gift would only be used in extreme circumstances. I feel this is one of those times. You, as Regent, may have the most important gift of all to reach Gabrielle. Come, we must hurry."
They left the healers hut at a sprint for the Sacred Lodge. The rest of the tribe had begun to gather as word quickly spread that Yakut had summoned the Regent to her hut. There was an audible hum in the air as the Amazons, seeing their Regent and their healer moving with determination and speed towards the Sacred Lodge, realized that something was indeed, amiss.
The Sacred Lodge was only used for naming ceremonies and for the special feasts and holidays celebrating the seasonal cycles of the moon and the sun. To be used now meant something was very wrong.
The tribe followed the two leaders towards the Lodge, a phalanx of warriors already taking up positions outside the doorway.
As they reached the entry, Yakut, leading Ephiny, stopped. She balanced the basket against her chest.
"Regent, you must tell them. And you must call for the council members to join us in the Lodge. This, only the Regent can do. In the Lodge, I will guide them." She looked into Ephinys eyes, the meaning of their respective roles clear.
Ephiny nodded and turned to the gathered women. She weighed her words carefully; not wanting to alarm, yet knowing that to enter the Sacred Lodge as they were, was already an alarming development. She looked out over the crowd and a sudden quiet reigned.
"Amazons, we have reason to believe our Queen is in trouble. Yakut has seen images in the smoke. And Ive had strange premonitions for several days."
Her words brought murmurs and gasps from the Amazons gathered. She held up her right arm to silence them.
"The Queen is with Xena, but we dont know where they might be. You know that each of you was given a gift from Artemis at your naming ceremony. Some of these gifts are stronger and more difficult to bear than others. Some come with a great price to pay. Not all of the gifts are the same. Your council members have been given the more difficult gifts. The Goddess has asked us to use the gifts wisely and carefully and only in dire circumstances. Yakuts vision means we must use these gifts now. Were going into the Sacred Lodge to beg Artemis to help us and to help Queen Gabrielle. I ask the Amazons here to settle your minds and your hearts to go within yourselves and focus on our Queen. Were needed. Gabrielle needs us."
There was a roar from the gathered women that sounded like one. Feet stamped; arms were raised; weapons were pounded on the bare earth.
Ephiny raised her arms to the sky and the roar quieted. "Amazons, focus! We have much work to do today."
She turned and entered the lodge with Yakut. The council members emerged from the gathered tribe, one by one, and joined the healer and the regent in the lodge. The skins over the door closed and all views of the women inside were shut away.
* * * SERIOUS MEDICINE * * *
Gabrielle shook herself out of her stupor. It was clear; she was the only one who could help Xena. She needed to focus. This was not the time to fall apart.
She rose and went to their supplies, dragging the saddle pack near Xena. First she would need a fire to keep Xena warm and to prepare the herbs she knew might help.
She went back outside the cave entrance and quickly began gathering small twigs and branches lying about. It struck her as ironic that Xena could have gathered all the wood they had needed without ever getting near that cliff. Of course, even blind, Xena would have wanted to explore. A small smile broke over Gabrielles lips as she thought of her stubborn warriors need to control every situation by constantly scanning the area wherever they were. And then as quickly as the happy memory came to her it was replaced with the reality of the present dire situation. She grabbed up as much wood and kindling as she could carry and rushed back inside.
She laid out the smaller twigs first, followed by the bigger pieces as Xena had taught her so many years ago. She then reached into their pack for the flint and dagger. Usually it took her several tries to get a spark, but this time a single flash ignited the twigs and a small blaze was soon dancing in the fire pit.
"Thank you, Artemis," she silently prayed and then another thought struck her, "Thank you Aphrodite."
Speed was of the essence, as Xenas breathing grew even shallower and labored than before. She knelt near her friend. She brushed her lips over Xenas cheek. "Xena, I dont know if you can hear me, but you need to hold on. I am going to prepare some herbs that will make you feel better. Hang on for me sweet heart, just hang on."
She pulled out their cooking pot and went across the cave to the pool of clear water. She dipped into the clean spring water and then returned to her place next to Xena and the fire. She crushed each herb as she tossed it into the pot. While it was steeping she set to work on cleaning the wounds and sewing up the worst gashes. Xenas left shoulder was clearly dislocated and Gabrielle knew how to reset it. Shed done it many times for her. She pulled the arm straight and with a single powerful jerk, the joint popped back into place. Xena moaned as the pain of the maneuver reached into her unconsciousness. "Im so sorry, love."
When the tea was ready, she managed to lift Xenas head and dribble a tiny bit of the healing concoction into her mouth. The cayenne and garlic would reduce swelling and fight off infection, while the comfrey, calendula and valerian root would knit bones, soothe torn ligaments and give Xena some measure of pain relief. Steadily, she coaxed Xena to take small sips, mindful that the automatic reflex of swallowing could not be rushed or she would choke.
Gabrielle worked steadily for a good candle mark and made some progress in repairing the worst of the visible damage. She brushed her hand gently through Xenas thick black hair. Shed done her best to clean off the worst of the blood and mud. Even filthy, it still had a silky feel. Looking at Xena now, her heart nearly broke with the love she felt for this woman. She knew the worst injuries were inside and they would claim Xenas life if she could not get help and get it soon.
Gabrielle sat back on her heels. Think! The whole time shed been tending Xenas wounds, her mind had been turning over ways of getting a message to the Amazons. Now, she remembered that earlier when she wanted to find Xena, when she knew without a doubt that Xena was hurt and needed her, she was able to "see", to somehow lift off the ground on the very air currents and "see". Then she recalled again the other powers that Artemis had given her at her coronation. Suddenly, the truth dawned on her. Of course, I had used one of the powers given at my coronation, the eagles gift. But how did I do it?
Instinctively Gabrielle knew it wasnt enough to simply ask for help. And then she realized shed invoked the power when shed claimed it for her own. Only then had she felt as if she had been born up on the wind currents and been able to see for miles. Now, she wondered. After rebuffing the goddess, will she answer me? Still a promise is a promise and Artemis hadnt said anything about forfeiting my gifts. What do I have to lose?
Gabrielle raised her face to the ceiling of the cave. Her clear voice rang off the sides of the beautiful interior.
"Artemis, please, I claim the power of the wolf to call my sister Amazons to me."
There was no response and no change in her immediate surroundings or situation. Then she added "as you promised me, your queen and chosen."
Subtly, Gabrielles reality began to change, the interior of the cave seemed to dissolve and she "saw" a full moon overhead. Her body began to feel different. She felt lighter and her senses became more acute. She smelled earth, trees and animals. She heard the sounds of small rodents scurrying around. She noted a light breeze ruffling her fur. Fur? Im not wearing fur. As she gazed down at herself she saw the image of a grey wolf insubstantial and shimmering. By the goddess, this must be it, the power of the wolf.
Acting on instinct, she sent out a single thought.
Ephiny, I need you. Come to me! Somehow she knew it was enough and she felt her spirit return to her body and the cave to wait.
* * * YAKUT AND THE COUNCIL * * *
The Amazon Council took their prescribed place in the circle. In the middle of the circle a fire burned. Yakut stood up and brought her basket to the center. She pulled a packet of herbs and murmuring incantations tossed it into the flames which sputtered sparks. She began to intone a blessing. It grew louder and louder as she walked around the fire. Then, as though in a trance, she stopped and raised her arms parallel to the ground. The council joined hands, feeling a pulsing energy between their entwined palms. They watched Yakut who seemed transfixed.
"Daughters of the Goddess", she began, her voice sounding far away. "You have been summoned to offer your ritual gifts. Do you freely give these gifts?"
"We do!" They responded as one voice.
The air in the lodge felt electrified.
"Then offer your gift and speak it clearly." Yakut called out.
Noalani spoke first. "I offer the gift of speed."
Cynosura, bowing towards the healer, says, "I offer the gift of stealth."
One by one, each member of the council offered their gift and it was noted with a nod by Yakut. As each gift was recited, she threw a packet of herbs into the blaze. The room became hazy. Later, they could not decide among themselves if the haze was due to the smoke or the trance that seemed to have invaded their senses.
Yakut raised her hands, holding a feathered rattle in each. She sang over the flames and the sound of the shaken rattles divided each of her words. She spoke slowly, her words seeming to come from outside of herself.
"I see our Queen. She is bruised but her anguish is not for herself. She weeps for her love. Xena is near death."
Ephiny went to Yakut and knelt on the floor before her.
"Where are they Yakut? Find them!" It was a simple plea.
"My gift is twofold; I can guide others in spirit and I can walk the Land of the Dead, but until Xena crosses over I cannot reach her."
Ephiny became greatly agitated, and pulled urgently at Yakuts arm. "We have to reach her before she crosses over. Where are they, Yakut?"
"You, as Regent, have the gift of wolf, the same as our queen. You can reach the Queen and locate her. Take these herbs and use your gift, Regent."
Ephiny stared at her without comprehension. Yakut stepped towards her and waved the feathers in front of Ephinys face. She pointed to the fire, beckoning the woman to approach it. As the Regent slowly moved to the fire, Yakut tossed a white packet of herbs into it. A shower of sparks filled the air and then a deep heavily scented smoke engulfed the Regent.
"Lie down next to the blaze, Ephiny! Well tend your body as your spirit soars to find the Queen. Do not be afraid! Youll be protected by the sacred powers in each of us."
Yakut knelt beside her, placed her hand softly on the Regents forehead, and began intoning spells as ancient as the fire itself.
"Amma ditamakam, amma" the chant was repeated over and over.
"Go quickly now. You are safe." She uttered the words as she sensed Ephiny leaving her body.
The sensation the Regent experienced was light headedness. She felt slightly dizzy and her body was a heavy boulder that she no longer controlled. She saw herself or a form of herself, rise up out of the prone body on the ground and realized she was in spirit form. She could see the other Amazons in the room, but they could no longer see her. They stood near her body, answering Yakuts chant, and blowing the smoke towards her still body with large feathers. She concentrated on this lighter self, and felt as though she were floating free in the air. She heard Yakuts incantations take on urgency and the words propelled her spirit forward even as her body breathed the smoke.
She was racing through time and space formless and yet aware of all form. The colors were intense and she could feel the vibration of the swirling energies around her. She felt a magnetic pull in the direction of the Queen as she moved forward with purpose and direction. As her body continued to breathe the smoke, Ephinys spirit understood what the gift of the wolf meant it was the primal call of the wild wolf and her friend was calling her. She saw Gabrielle through the smoke; the Queens face was framed by the fur of the wolf. She knew she had reached Gabrielle but she did not know where they were or how she got there. She only felt the strong magnetic pull.
In spirit form she approached as she heard the young woman say her name.
She heard her Queen calling to her plaintively. She did not hear words with her ears. She heard words in her mind and in her heart. The Queens anguish tore at her and she rushed forward to her. She saw the younger woman tending Xena and knew the warrior was dying.
"My Queen, Im so sorry." She approached the younger woman.
The Queen turned as she felt Ephinys presence. She was dimly aware that the Regent looked different, but she didnt care how she looked. Help had arrived.
"Ephiny, please, this is no time for formalities. Where are my sisters? Where are the Amazons? Wheres Yakut?" She spoke in a rush of words, each punctuated by gasping sobs.
"Oh Gods, Ephiny, Xena needs help. Ive asked Artemis for help but she has refused me. Help me, Ephiny. Bring the Amazon healers!" She continued her anguish breaking her friends heart.
The Amazon placed the back of her hand softly on the young womans cheek, a gesture that was more comforting to her as the Queen could not feel it. She knew it was hopeless, but she had to go back and get Yakut. When Xena passes over, perhaps Yakut could reach her and bring her back. Yakut had been right, she thought, time was slipping away. She looked at her surroundings and knew, with the wolf link to her friend, she could quickly lead the healer to this ridge.
She turned to Gabrielle and said, "Gabrielle, be strong; Im going for Yakut. Well return quickly. Alright?"
Gabrielle began to sob quietly, her tears falling on the still form of the warrior. There was no reply.
With a gentle slip, Ephiny felt her consciousness pull away from the ridge and slide into the same energy field shed been in earlier. She was moving backwards in time and space at a dizzying speed. Her spirit entered her body. Coughing and sputtering from the dense smoke, she was suddenly back in the Sacred Lodge.
Yakut touched her softly on the back of her head with a questioning look.
The Regent, nodded. "I found her. Xena is far gone. And Gabrielle is inconsolable. We have to hurry. Im not sure exactly where they are, but I reached her once before. I think I can get you there. Yakut, it may be too late."
The simple plea propelled the healer into action.
Yakut threw a different bundle of herbs on the fire and blessed the plants. As the last bundle seemed to extinguish the flames, she blessed the fire and put yellow colored sand on the four corners of the pit. The fire was put out.
She stood and the women in the circle joined her.
"What should we do now?"
"Howll we get to them?"
"Who will go?"
The questions came from all directions.
Ephiny raised her hand. "Yakut and I will go. All the rest of you must remain here. We need only two to attend to Xena and the Queen. Those of you remaining in the Council will start a new fire and Otere will tend it as the healer has already done."
Yakut interrupted her. "This is the most important time, my sisters. You must use all your powers to send us swiftly to the ridge. But you must also tend our bodies while our spirits fly to the aid of the Queen. Otere will lead you in the incantation of the spells. So, tend our bodies well until we return."
Otere smiled at Yakut and bowed to her Regent. Yakut took her aside, guiding her towards the center of the lodge.
"Otere, you must watch our bodies. If they begin to cool you must "
"I know what needs to be done." Otere interrupted her partner.
"And burn the special sweet smelling stick from the lands in the east. Youll know its time for us to return when it burns down. Let that stick guide you too." Her instructions continued as though she could impart all her knowledge in the space of a few short sentences to the other woman.
"Hurry, Yakut" she said. "Your bodies will be safe." she gently touched her friend on the arm, a gesture that said everything in her heart. "Go! Quickly! Ill take care of things here. Youve trained me well. I know what to do."
Yakut nodded. There was nothing more to do but trust her knowledge.
"Sisters, lets begin. Its time. " Otere began the ceremony.
The women had already begun preparations. A new fire was started and new herbs were ready for the ritual.
Yakut returned her partners touch and squeezed her arm. "Be careful Otere."
"I will. I wont let harm come to either of you."
Then she followed Ephiny and Yakut to the newly lit fire. The two women lay down on either side of the fire ring. The council tended the sacred fire as Otere intoned the powerful chants, walking around them in a circle.
This time, the fire burned with a dense smoke, smelling of white sage. Otere lit the special stick from the east, and its scent rose above the other smells. She knew this stick had to be watched as carefully as she monitored the temperature of their bodies.
Within moments of hearing the chants, Yakut and Ephiny moved into spirit. Time and space seemed to slowly merge into one fluid sensation. They were almost moving as one. The soft form of the ridge appeared ahead of them and as they got closer the two forms on the hard packed dirt started to take on a more solid form. As both of them focused on the pair, the images solidified and they saw the Queen touching the warriors face.
"Dont leave me Xena. Dont go." They heard her begging the warrior to stay with her.
Suddenly, the Amazons seemed to have dropped out of the sky. Gabrielle turned and saw them, her eyes red and swollen. Ephiny went straight towards Gabrielle as Yakut knelt to examine the warriors wounds.
Gabrielle pleaded with the healer. "Please do something. Please help her, Yakut. You have to save her." Her anguish was heart rending.
Yakut continued to examine Xena thinking, how will I tell her? Its hopeless. I cannot help her. She is beyond my ken. Shes gone to the Land of the Dead. But she continued her ministrations. Gabrielle sensed something was wrong and screamed.
"Yakut, were losing her. I can feel it. Please, bring her back."
Ephiny tried to hold Gabrielles form, but it was futile. She was in spirit and Gabrielle in body. The younger woman seemed to break free of Ephinys arms and threw herself on Xena.
"Yakut, bring her back. Bring her back." She continued her lament pounding on the warriors body.
Yakut lowered her head, her face ridden with sorrow, as the Queen broke down with a mournful keening wail.
Ephiny came forward. "Yakut, you can walk in the Land of the Dead. Take the Queen. Bring them both back. You said you couldnt do anything until Xena crossed over. Do it. Thats your gift from our Goddess. Use it." Her words rang like a command.
Gabrielle sensed a glimmer of hope and looked up at the healer. Yakut met the Queens eyes and knew she must try whatever she could.
Looking directly into the eyes of the Regent, Yakut issued her instructions.
"Were already in spirit, Ephiny. But you must tend Gabrielles body while we walk together. I want you to say a chant over her form in one continuous sound from head to foot and then again foot to head. This will protect her while we make the journey."
"I understand, Yakut. But what about her body temperature?" She asked.
"We wont be gone too long." was the curt reply.
The healer turned to the young queen.
"Gabrielle? Its time. Ill take you to Xena. Quickly now, lay down next to Xena." Without a moments hesitation, Gabrielle obeyed.
The young womans relief was evident even as she heard the sound of the strange words Ephiny spoke over her.
"Dika ta-um malan; Dika ta-um malan."
"This is a very powerful chant, my Queen, but you must slip into spirit with me. Together well look for Xena. But you must go with me." Yakut spoke softly but with authority.
The Queen nodded her understanding even as she felt a slight dizziness and a shifting of her perceptions. The ridge disappeared as healer and queen walked in Spirit. The healer was aware of her surroundings in this dimension but the queen was still adjusting to it. Yakut reached for Gabrielles hand and it seemed to anchor the younger woman.
"Xena was in Spirit before us. Well follow and try to find her." Yakut said.
"I must find her, Yakut." The plea was simple and yet heartbreaking.
The Healer knew that to walk in the Land of the Dead required preparation, which they had not been able to do. And even with preparation, the spirit walk was dangerous. She was concerned for the queen and more so if they didnt find Xena. She feared that Gabrielle might not want to return with her. She resolved to tread carefully and keep a firm anchor on the Queen. She knew that it was through her that Gabrielle walked the spirit world and she had to bring her back.
They followed several paths, all swirling in mists and fog. They did not see Xena nor did they find the way she came. Gabrielle rushed towards each clearing and called her partners name. It was futile. Xena did not respond and with each passing moment the queen became more and more agitated. Yakut knew they were at a crossroad and she needed to return with the Queen now or it would be too late.
Taking Gabrielles hand she turned her. "My Queen, we must return."
"No!" Gabrielle screamed
"Listen to me. We havent prepared ourselves properly. We must go back. Then we can return better prepared."
"No, Yakut please stay. I have to find her. I cant live without her."
"Gabrielle, well return. We havent found her yet and the mists are growing heavier. We wont find her now. If we prepare ourselves, the mists will be clearer and the way surer."
Gabrielle wanted to stay, but heard the wisdom in the words of the woman who walked the spirit world often. Her eyes pleaded one more time as the Healer refused her with a shake of her head, "no."
She resigned herself to returning to the world of the living without Xena. Right then, she didnt know how she could go on without the warrior. Shed never expressed her feelings to this woman. Shed never told her that she loved her and wanted to live out her life with her. And now it was too late. The emotional turmoil threatened to engulf the younger woman. She allowed the healer to hold her together mentally and emotionally before she too was completely lost.
Yakut took the queens hand and murmured softly as she guided her back the way they had come. She sensed the queens precarious emotional balance and knew she had to hurry. The incantations grew louder as they walked through a heavy fog. As they emerged from the fog, they suddenly were on the ridge again and Xenas lifeless form lay before them.
<Continued in Part 2>
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