The blonde lay in a large bed, covered with furs. She moved
her head from side to side, groaning. Her eyes were closed. An old Amazon woman
sat at her left side, and Meldinas
on the right. Miranda stood at the foot of the bed. The old Amazon shook her
head in amazement.
"I can't get over the strength of this young woman. And to think she's coming around, after what she's been through."
The blonde stopped rolling her head from side to side, and slowly opened her eyes. Her face filled with bewilderment.
"W-Where am I…?" she said in a hoarse voice.
She looked to her left, to her right, then straight ahead, staring at each of the three Amazon women. Her face filled with shock.
"Who-Who are you people??"
"It's all right, dear." said the old Amazon gently, and with a smile. "You're among friends. I'm Hannah. I'm a healer."
The blonde's eyes widened in disbelief.
The healer nodded. The blonde looked to her right. Meldinas smiled.
"I'm Queen Meldinas, leader of the Amazon tribe here."
Miranda walked up to Meldinas's side.
"I'm Miranda, the Queen's sister. What's your name?"
The blonde shook her head in amazement.
"A-Am I in the Amazon afterlife?!"
Meldinas shook her head.
"No. You're very much alive."
Fear suddenly filled Gabrielle's face.
She tried to sit up, but a sharp stab of pain tore through her back. She grunted loudly and fell back onto the bed. The healer placed her hand firmly on Gabrielle's left shoulder, pinning the blonde down to the bed. Her face was stern.
"Don't do that again." she admonished. "You're still badly hurt, and you need a lot of time to heal."
"You don't understand!! I have to check if the goddess Velasca is dead!! She'll kill you all!!"
Hannah stared at her in total shock and bewilderment.
"What on earth are you talking about?! The goddess Velasca was killed by the Warrior Bard four hundred-"
The healer stopped instantly. Her eyes grew as large as saucers. Her jaw dropped wide open.
"No …" she gasped. "Impossible …"
She quickly looked at the other two women. They both stared back at her, thunderstruck. Gabrielle grabbed the healer's right arm, squeezing it hard. She quickly looked at the blonde. Gabrielle's face was filled with fright and fury.
"Four hundred what?!" she snapped.
Fear and uncertainty filled Hannah's face. Gabrielle bared her teeth in rage and exasperation.
"Four hundred WHAT?!"
The healer swallowed hard. She licked her lips.
"Four hundred years ago." she said quietly.
And now it was Gabrielle's turn to look thunderstruck. She released the healer's arm, her own dropping limply onto the bed. Agony swept across her face. Tears rapidly filled her eyes.
"N-n-no …n-no, not again …" she whimpered erratically. 'No …no …no, no, no, NO, NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"
Gabrielle arched her back and screamed out in rage and frustration. Both Hannah and Meldinas pushed Gabrielle back on the bed. The healer instantly looked up at Miranda.
"Help me hold her down!! I must sedate her!!"
Miranda rushed to the foot of the bed, reaching out and clutching Gabrielle's kicking legs. She pinned them to the bed.
"GET OFF OF ME!!" Gabrielle screamed at the top of her lungs. "GET OFF ME, GET OFF ME, GET OFF MEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!"
Two more Amazons rushed into the hut. Gabrielle was crying and screaming, struggling furiously to get out of the Amazons' grasp. Hannah quickly looked at the Amazons that had just entered.
"Althea, hold down her left arm!! Ruth, hold down her right leg!!"
The two Amazons rushed over and did as instructed. Miranda struggled with Gabrielle's left leg. She shook her head in amazement.
"I can't believe how strong she is-"
"GET OFF ME!! I'LL KILL YOU ALL!!!"
Gabrielle turned towards Althea, her emerald eyes boiling with rage.
"I'LL SMASH YOUR FACE IN, YOU BITCH!! LET ME GO!!!!"
Hannah quickly dipped a sharp quill in a nearby bowl and moved over to Gabrielle's left side. With her right hand, she pinned down Gabrielle's head and jabbed the quill into the base of her neck. Gabrielle cried out in pain. Hannah quickly moved back. Gabrielle glared at her with rage and bloodlust.
"YOU OLD BITCH!! WHAT DID YOU DO?! I'LL BREAK YOUR NECK!! I SWEAR BY THE GODS I'LL BREAK YOUR NECK!!!"
Gabrielle struggled hard against the Amazons pinning her down. Soon, however, the drug Hannah administered begun to take effect. The struggling soon ceased. Gabrielle lay there, crying weakly.
"Xena, why did you abandon me?!" she whimpered. "Why, why, why?!"
Hannah turned to the other Amazons.
"Thank you for your help. But I think you should all leave now. This poor woman has been through a great deal of hell. She needs to be left alone for awhile."
Meldinas and Miranda got to their feet, moving towards the entrance of the hut. They motioned the two younger Amazon women over. Meldinas spoke first.
"I want you both to stand watch out front. No one comes in without permission from the healer, me, or my sister."
Althea stared at the blonde in bewilderment.
"Who's this Xena she's talking about??"
Miranda stepped in front of Althea. Her brown eyes narrowed.
"Don't ask. And don't repeat what you've heard to anyone. Neither of you. Understand??"
The two Amazons looked at each other uneasily. They turned towards Miranda, nodding.
"We'll keep quiet." said the other Amazon.
"Good. Get going."
The two women left the hut. Miranda turned towards Gabrielle, who had turned into a corner of the bed and was crying softly. She spoke again.
"No one outside of the three of us should know who she really is. Not yet."
"Agreed." said Meldinas. "It will attract too much attention. This woman has been through a living hell. She needs time for herself."
The queen walked over to the foot of the bed, eyeing Gabrielle's trembling form. She listened to Gabrielle's soft cries of agony. Her face filled with overwhelming pity. She shook her head slowly.
"Poor thing." Meldinas said softly. "She's in a totally new world that's completely foreign to her…"
She walked around to the other side of the bed, kneeling before Gabrielle. The blonde had covered her hands with her face. She sobbed quietly.
"Don't be afraid." Meldinas said softly. "You're among friends. We'll take care of you. I'm so sorry for what's happened to you-"
Gabrielle instantly turned away from Meldinas, moving over to the far corner of the bed. She continued to sob quietly. Meldinas lowered her head in profound sadness. Hannah placed a hand on the queen's shoulder.
"She needs time, Meldinas." said the healer softly. "Give her time."
Meldinas nodded slowly. She rose to her feet and turned to Miranda.
The two women walked over to the entrance of the hut. Meldinas looked back at Gabrielle.
"Time…" she said quietly.
Miranda looked at her sister quizzically.
"Hannah said she needs time. Will there ever be enough time for her to recover from what she's been through??"
Miranda placed a hand on her sister's shoulder, giving it a gentle rub.
"C'mon. It's been a long day. We should get some rest."
"Yeah…you're right. Let's go."
The two women left the hut.
Hannah sat at her small table, writing. Several large candles were on it. Hannah picked up a few herbs from the table and gazed at them intently. She took a sniff of them, wrinkled her nose, and began to write on the parchment again.
"A healer, huh?"
Hannah immediately looked up. Gabrielle lay there, gazing at her with a dull, emotionless stare. Hannah smiled.
Gabrielle raised an eyebrow.
"You're not bad. What you gave me could have knocked out a Cyclops."
Gabrielle then turned and looked towards the door. She could see some sunlight filtering through its sides.
"How long have I been out?"
"About a day."
Hannah stood up. She walked over to Gabrielle and sat down by her bed.
"How are you feeling?"
Gabrielle raised an eyebrow again.
"Well. I come back from overseas to go back to my hometown of Potedia, find out that the town has been destroyed, find out that nearly everyone in it has been killed, including my sister and niece. They were destroyed by a goddess from my youth, who was once an Amazon herself. I come to Crete, kill Velasca and get buried in a cave collapse. Then I wake up and find out that I've been unconscious for over four hundred years."
She looked at the healer, her face sullen.
"How do I feel? Peachy. Just peachy."
Gabrielle rolled her eyes and gazed at the ceiling of the hut. Hannah frowned. She lowered her head.
"I-I'm sorry, I-I didn't mean-"
"No, it's not your fault."
Gabrielle slowly began to sit up. She grimaced. Hannah quickly moved to her side and helped her upright. Gabrielle turned to her and gave her a tired smile.
Gabrielle lowered her head, giving it a slow shake.
"Four …hundred …years …"
Hannah sat near the blonde and gave her shoulder a gentle rub.
"I feel so bad for you."
Gabrielle turned towards Hanna. Her smile was a little warmer.
"Good beside manner. I like that in a healer."
"I'd like to be your friend."
"You're doing a good job, so far."
Gabrielle looked down at the bed again. Her face filled with anguish. She began to cry. Hannah wrapped an arm around Gabrielle and held her close.
"Cry Gabrielle." the healer said softly. "Let it out. Let it all out."
Hanna held Gabrielle for a few moments as she cried. Then Meldinas and Miranda entered the hut. They stopped at seeing the pair. Hanna looked up with a deep frown. Meldinas turned to her sister and sighed.
"We'll come back later." she said quietly.
They turned around again. Gabrielle gazed at them through bloodshot eyes.
"Please stay." she said again. "Sit down."
The two women sat at Gabrielle's right. The blonde lowered her head.
"I'm sorry for the way I acted before."
Meldinas placed a hand on Gabrielle's right hand.
"Nonsense. After everything you've been through, its understandable."
Gabrielle shook her head.
"I can't believe this happened to me again. And instead of being frozen twenty-five years, it's four hundred years."
"How did you survive all those years in the ice?!"
Gabrielle smirked. She raised an eyebrow.
"Must've been the immobilizer balls."
Gabrielle turned to face Meldinas.
"Well, Velasca came back from her lava prison. Xena had sent both the goddesses Callisto and Velasca into a river of lava. They were both swept underneath the earth. Callisto managed to escape. Velasca stayed there for thirty years. Apparently, something-a volcanic eruption, earthquake, whatever-released her. She came back and destroyed my home town of Potedia and killed everyone, including my sister, Lila, and my niece, Sarah."
A deep frown crossed Meldinas's lips.
"I'm terribly sorry for your losses. My deepest condolences."
Gabrielle forced a slight smile.
She sighed, and spoke again.
"Anyway, I went to get some weapons to fight the goddess. I went to Hephestos's cave, which is abandoned, of course. There were still some weapons about, and one of the weapons I picked up was a bag of what I call immobilizer balls. You throw them at someone or something, and they are paralyzed in place. I was going to try and use them on Velasca so I could get close enough to kill her. After I stabbed her, she fired an energy ball at me. I deflected it with my chakram-"
"Yes-a round metal weapon; it used to belong to Xena, but it's mine now."
"So that's what that round metal object was. I knew it was a weapon."
Gabrielle's eyes widened in alarm.
"You found it?! Where is it?!"
"Over here." said Hannah. "On the table, with the rest of your things."
Gabrielle quickly looked to her left. She saw the chakram laying there, with a belt. The Dagger of Helios was also there, tucked safely in its sheath. Gabrielle sighed in relief.
"Hand me the chakram please, Hannah? Be careful-it's very sharp."
Hannah carefully picked up the chakram and gave it to Gabrielle. The blond brought it to her lips and kissed it gently.
She turned towards Meldinas, smiling shyly.
"That's quite all right. Nothing to be sorry about."
"Anyway, the energy ball deflected off this, and hit the ceiling. The impact sent me over a cliff, and I fell into a chasm. I hit the ground and rolled along a bit before I hit a wall. I guess I must've shattered the immobilizer balls because my legs quickly became paralyzed, and this paralysis overcame my body. By this time, the cave was collapsing. Then I blacked out, and then you found me."
Gabrielle gazed at Meldinas with curiosity.
"Where did you find me?"
"Well, several of us were coming back from a hunt. We were passing a large cliff. There was a massive earthquake, and the side of the cliff split open. Lots of ice and rocks spilled out. You were encased in one of the ice blocks. My sister Miranda was the one who found you."
Gabrielle turned towards Miranda, smiling.
Miranda returned the smile.
Gabrielle looked at the chakram, turning it in her hands. She continued.
"I guess the energy balls' power wore off when the ice was exposed to the sun …I don't know. It must've kept me in some deep sleep or something. I've been dead before, and I know there's an afterlife, but this time I didn't experience anything. The balls' power must've kept my soul imprisoned in my body …"
Gabrielle looked up, staring ahead of her.
"What must Xena have thought…? We should have been together by now…"
She turned towards Meldinas.
"How has the outside world changed?"
Meldinas shook her head slowly, and let out a great sigh.
"A lot. A lot since your time. When I was younger, before I became queen, I did extensive traveling throughout much of the world. I felt it was important to understand the world I was living in."
"It's good to want to educate yourself. There's lots to be said about traveling. You do learn quite a bit."
"We will definitely talk at length about these things. But first, you need to get better Gabrielle."
"How large is your tribe, Meldinas?"
"There's about two hundred women."
"Gabrielle, you need to eat." said Hannah. "Are you up to it?"
The blonde nodded slowly.
"I could use some food. I'm famished."
She looked at the three Amazons and smiled.
"Thank you so much for all your help."
Meldinas placed a hand on her arm. She returned a warm smile.
"Consider us your new family. We'll help you in any way we can."
Gabrielle turned her arm in Meldinas's grasp and gave the queen's wrist a gentle squeeze.
Gabrielle stood near a tree, gazing at the valley below. She slowly shook her head in amazement. It was her sixth day in the Amazon camp. Yesterday, she had spent a long period of time talking with Meldinas. She had indeed traveled extensively, and the things she had told Gabrielle about this new world had left her speechless. Gabrielle looked up into the clear blue sky.
By the gods…how things have changed in four hundred years …
Greece was now part of the Roman Empire. And the Roman Empire itself was in a state of utter chaos.
The Roman Empire was divided into two sectors-East and West. An uneasy relationship existed between both sides. The ruler of the East was a man by the name of Theodosius the Second. He had ruled over Greece, as well as areas along the eastern edge of the Mediterranean Sea that included Anatolia, Syria, and Egypt. The West was inhabited by Romans and a people known as the Visigoths. The Visigoths resided in Gaul, Britain and Spain. The ruler of the western empire was a man named Valentinian the Third. The western empire was far more tumultuous. It had suffered much from barbarian invasions and dissent among its own people. The Western government barely had a hold on the Visigothic part of its empire. A religion by the name of Christianity had arisen, and it was monotheistic.
As strange as this all was, there was one thing Meldinas had told Gabrielle that had sent an icy shiver into the deepest bowels of her soul…
…and it was about a people from the far north, known as the Huns.
The Huns were a vicious group of warriors, led by a warlord named Attila. He and his Huns had invaded Ilyria and Greece, devastating both areas and killing scores of people. According to Meldinas, she had learned that Attila had eyes on conquering both the eastern and western Roman empires. Meldinas had expressed her concern about how long it would take before the Huns arrived in Crete.
Gabrielle thought about her homeland, and the fact that it had been savaged by a warlord. Fury began to fill her.
"Bastards…" she growled. "Those bastards …"
She turned around. It was Jania. The young woman looked at Gabrielle with concern.
"Are you all right?"
Gabrielle sighed, and shook her head, frowning.
"No…No I'm not. I'm thinking about the Huns, and what they did to my country."
She rolled her eyes and gritted her teeth
"Gods…some things never, ever change."
Jania gazed at her with sympathy.
"I'm sorry Gabrielle. I'm sorry that you had to return to a world like this."
Gabrielle walked over to Jania, rubbing the girl's shoulder. A pained smile formed on her face. She sighed again.
"Unfortunately, fate plays nasty games with people's lives, Jania. It's hard to deal with."
Her smile disappeared. She looked up into the sky again.
"I wish there was some way I could cheer you up."
Gabrielle looked at Jania and smiled again. It was warmer this time.
"You're trying to be a friend. You're a sweet person, Jania. Right now, I could use all the friends I can get."
Jania returned the smile. Her eyebrows shot up as she remembered something.
"Oh! I came here to invite you to breakfast with the queen."
"I'd be delighted."
The two women headed back to camp. As they walked through it, the Amazons stopped whatever they were doing and turned to gaze at the pair. All of the women stared at Gabrielle in awe and disbelief. A few of them murmured excitedly among each other. The blonde grew very uncomfortable, quickening her pace and catching up with Jania. Gabrielle followed her to a large hut. They entered it. There was a medium-sized table there. Meldinas, Miranda and Hannah sat at it. There were settings for five people. There were wooden plates there and on each was a piece of venison. Wooden goblets filled with water stood by each plate. Gabrielle and Jania walked over to the table. The two women sat across from Meldinas and Miranda. Hannah sat nearby, at the head of the table. The old woman turned to Gabrielle. She smiled.
"You're looking better!"
Gabrielle smiled in return.
"Thanks to you. You're a very good healer. In fact, I'd say you're among the best I've ever encountered."
Gabrielle picked up the piece of venison sitting before her, and took a bite. Setting the meat down again, she then picked up the goblet and washed the food down. She frowned, gazing at the meat on her plate.
"Something wrong, Gabrielle?"
She looked up. Meldinas gazed at her with concern. Gabrielle sighed.
"I'm just thinking about the Huns, and what they've done to Greece."
"I know. And I worry. I worry about them coming to Crete. What will happen to us?"
Gabrielle shook her head, picking up the venison once more. She took another bite, chewed a while, and swallowed. Then Gabrielle looked at Meldinas again and spoke. Her eyes filled with fire.
"I just can't wrap my brain around what they did." she said coldly.
Gabrielle picked up her goblet and began to drink. Miranda sighed.
"There are legends that say Attila acquired the sword of Mars."
Gabrielle stopped instantly. She put her goblet down and stared at Miranda in shock.
"What did you say?!"
"The sword of Mars. There's a legend going around that Attila got his hands on the sword of Mars. They say that men who faced Attila trembled in fear at seeing him."
Gabrielle stared up at the ceiling for a few moments, deep in thought. Meldinas gazed at her in bewilderment.
At that moment, horror slowly filled Gabrielle's features.
"Ares…" she whispered. "Oh no…"
She quickly looked back at Meldinas, her face filled with fear.
"Mars is Ares!! I've got to leave for Greece!!"
The four women stared at Gabrielle in disbelief. Meldinas leaned towards her.
Gabrielle leaned towards the queen, her face deadly serious.
"Meldinas, listen to me. Long ago, Xena fought Ares and encased him in a tomb in Macedonia. Xena knocked his sword into a deep pit during the fight. Now, you mention the legend of Attila having the sword. If that's true, Attila is the most dangerous man on the face of this earth. Ares could have him under his control. And with Ares behind him, Attila is unstoppable."
Miranda and Meldinas grew pale. Hannah grasped Gabrielle's right wrist firmly. The blonde turned towards her.
"You can't be serious!" the healer exclaimed sharply.
Gabrielle raised both eyebrows, a grim expression on her face.
"Oh yes I am. You don't know Ares like I do. He is incredibly cunning and very, very dangerous. I wouldn't put anything beyond him."
Gabrielle looked down at the table and slowly shook her head.
"Good thing I have the Dagger of Helios. If I have to kill Ares, I will."
Gabrielle looked up. She spoke again.
"That settles it. I have to go to Macedonia, to Ares' cave. I have to find out what's going on, and find the sword of Ares. It'll take me some time to locate the sword, but I will. If it's there, I'm destroying it."
"And if it's not??" asked Jania in fear.
Gabrielle turned towards her, raising an eyebrow.
"If it's not there, and Attila has it, then I'm going after Attila. I'll kill him."
"B-But you're talking about the Huns!!" exclaimed Hannah in disbelief. "Do you have any idea of what you're facing??"
Gabrielle turned towards Hannah, her face expressionless.
"Yes. Been there, done that. Xena and I have encountered all sorts of warlords-the worst you can think of. Attila is just one more warlord."
"B-But by yourself??" said Jania. "You'll die!!"
"No one lives forever Jania. And killing Attila will mean saving millions of lives."
Meldinas shook her head in disbelief, staring at Gabrielle in bewilderment.
"You're putting your life at risk for a legend??"
"Many legends have their basis in fact, Meldinas. And I keep thinking about the fact that the Huns have devastated Greece, which is exactly where Ares is entombed."
Gabrielle leaned towards Meldinas, her face filled with anxiety.
"I've got to be sure. I've absolutely got to be sure that the sword is still there. I'm sorry, but I find the coincidences just too frightening. This legend…the fact that the Huns took over Greece…noooooo, I don't like it."
Gabrielle straightened up. Her eyes fell upon each of the women.
"Ares is probably looking for some way back into this world. Even though he's still in his sarcophagus, he must be trying to find some warlord to manipulate."
Gabrielle glared at the ceiling, growling with frustration.
"Dammit, Xena and I should have found that sword and destroyed it when we had the chance. How could I have been so shortsighted?! I'm an idiot!!"
"B-But how do you know Ares is still in his sarcophagus??" asked Hannah nervously.
Gabrielle turned towards Hannah.
"Ares wouldn't let anyone handle his sword if he weren't still inside it."
Gabrielle lowered her head, nodding.
"Yep. I've got to get myself ready for this journey."
There was a moment of uncomfortable silence. Meldinas stared at her plate for a moment. Then she looked up.
"You're not going alone, Gabrielle."
The blonde turned towards her.
"I have to." Gabrielle said firmly. "This sounds like it's going to be incredibly dangerous. I can't risk any innocent lives."
Meldinas's eyes narrowed.
"This isn't the same world you knew, Gabrielle. How do you expect to get around, not knowing the local customs? You could get into deep trouble long before you start this mission of yours. Four hundred years is a long, long time."
Meldinas turned to Miranda.
"Miranda, you'll have to take my place while I'm gone."
Gabrielle's eyes widened in horror.
"You?! You're coming with me?!"
Meldinas looked at Gabrielle steadily.
"Who better to show you around than me?"
Gabrielle instantly stood up.
"Out of the question!" she said heatedly. "Your people need you!!"
Meldinas stood up, glaring at the blonde.
"Don't be stupid, Gabrielle! If you're right, the whole world is at stake! My tribe. Crete. The whole world. And if Attila indeed has the sword of Ares, then you must be protected until you get close enough to deal with him!! Yes-my people need me. And I'm going to help them survive by helping you. My sister is more than capable of taking my place. You can't do this alone."
Meldinas turned to her sister.
"I'm going to need our best warriors to come with us."
"That shouldn't be difficult."
Gabrielle sighed harshly and shook her head.
The queen faced Gabrielle
"Don't argue with me!!" she snapped.
"Meldinas, none of us may come back!!"
"Our lives in exchange for millions? Seems like a fair trade to me. Like you said-no one lives forever."
Gabrielle's face filled with sadness. She sat back down heavily, lowering her head and closing her eyes. Meldinas turned towards Miranda.
"After we finish here, we have to gather all the Amazons together. I must talk with them."
Miranda nodded. She sighed, grasping her sister's hand.
"It's going to be hard not having you around."
Meldinas's face darkened. She squeezed back.
"I'll miss you too, Miranda."
The queen looked towards Gabrielle. The blonde's face was solemn, full of resignation. She spoke.
"Meldinas, I know you're right-but that's exactly what bothers me. I just don't like the idea of putting you and your Amazons in danger, no matter what the reason."
Meldinas smiled sadly.
"I understand Gabrielle. Unfortunately, we have no other choice. We need to protect you until you get to Macedonia, and if necessary, accompany you to face off against Attila himself."
Gabrielle glared at her plate, growling in frustration.
"Damn you Ares!!" she hissed. "If you're responsible for this…"
The blonde paused a moment. She frowned.
"I've suddenly lost my appetite."
Gabrielle rose to her feet. She turned to Meldinas.
"I'm sorry. I'll head back for my hut. When you're ready to talk with the Amazons, let me know."
Meldinas sighed, nodding in understanding.
"All right. I'll send someone for you."
Gabrielle turned and left the hut. As she walked across the field to her hut, two young Amazon women rushed towards her-a blonde and a redhead.
"Excuse me! Gabrielle?" the redhead called out excitedly.
Inwardly, Gabrielle groaned. She remembered how Xena felt when admirers fawned over her, and how uncomfortable it made her feel. Gabrielle understood Xena's feelings. And given Gabrielle's current mood, she was even less inclined to listen to Amazons fawning over her. She took a deep breath and turned towards the two women, who stood before her with eager smiles. A group of Amazons stood nearby, watching. Gabrielle raised her eyebrows, gazing at the two women patiently.
"I-I'm sorry to bother you." began the redhead nervously. "I-I just wanted to tell you that we've followed the exploits of you and Xena for a long, long time. You're both legends. We admire you both very much. We look up to both of you."
Gabrielle shook her head slowly.
"We're not legends." she replied. "We were just two people trying to make a difference in this world. We're just regular people."
"Your adventures must have been very exciting." said the blonde Amazon, who could barely contain her glee. "It would have really been interesting to tag along on those adventures."
Gabrielle's eyes narrowed. She approached the two women, her face growing stern. The two Amazons stopped smiling instantly. They took a step back.
"Interesting??" Gabrielle said coldly. "Interesting?? Let me clarify something for you. Xena and I led a rough life!! It wasn't all fun and games!! We saw a lot of ugliness in the world! We saw people suffer needlessly, at the hands of gods and other people! Want me to tell you the truth?? Xena and I could have done without a lot of those interesting adventures! I can't tell you how many times Xena and I wanted to just pack it in! We kept at it because we wanted to make a difference. Neither of us were out for glory or recognition!"
Gabrielle drew closer. Both Amazons swallowed hard, seeing the fire in the blonde's emerald eyes.
"We are not gods!!" she snapped. "We are just regular people!! We both made some really stupid mistakes in our lives!! We're not perfect!! And I really wish that people wouldn't idolize us!!"
The two women lowered their heads in shame. Gabrielle looked around. The other Amazons stared at Gabrielle, their faces filled with guilt and bewilderment. Gabrielle turned towards the queen's hut, and saw Meldinas standing there. The queen looked at Gabrielle with sadness and understanding. Gabrielle turned to the two young Amazons.
"What are your names?" she asked in a calmer tone.
The two women looked up.
"I-I'm Gertrude." said the blonde.
"Maria." responded the redhead quietly.
"Okay. Now Gertrude and Maria, I want you both to listen to me carefully. There are better role models than me and Xena out there. You have your queen, her sister, and Hannah. You have your fellow Amazons. Look up to them. Okay?"
The two women nodded meekly. Gabrielle spoke once more.
"I'm sure both of you have the strength within yourselves to make a difference in this world. You don't need to battle gods and armies to do it. You can do it right here, with your fellow Amazons."
"Okay you two, that's enough."
The two Amazons turned towards Meldinas. She neared them, eyeing them reproachfully.
"Gabrielle is tired, and has a lot on her mind right now."
She turned to face the other women.
"Amazons!! I want all of you to gather here within an hour. I have a very important announcement to make, and everyone must be present! Everyone!! Find those who aren't present here and inform them that they must be here within the hour! No excuses!! This is extremely important!! And another thing-Gabrielle is not to be disturbed! She will address you all within the hour! That is all."
The group of Amazon women quietly murmured amongst themselves and walked off in different directions. Meldinas faced Gertrude and Maria, raising an eyebrow.
"Don't you two have something to do??"
The two young women blushed furiously.
"Yes, my queen!" they said simultaneously.
The two women ran off. Gabrielle turned towards Meldinas.
"You're welcome Gabrielle."
The blonde sighed.
"Ah…to be young and idealistic. They both have a lot to learn."
"Yes they do."
A moment of silence. The queen spoke again.
"Would you like your food brought to your tent?"
"No, not now. I wasn't kidding when I said that I lost my appetite. The thought of Attila possibly having Ares' sword just has me unnerved."
"Well, maybe that isn't the case, Gabrielle. Attila might not have the sword. Maybe it's just a legend."
"That's just it. Maybe. I don't like maybe's."
Gabrielle gazed at the sky and let out a painful sigh.
"If Attila were just an ordinary man, I wouldn't be as worried. But with Ares' sword, there's not a man on this earth that could stop him."
"You really think it may come down to killing Ares?"
Gabrielle gazed at Meldinas grimly.
"It might. Ares is incredibly dangerous. That's why Xena finally had to encase him in the sarcophagus. Sometimes, I wish we could have killed him. He should be dead along with his other family members."
Meldinas raised an eyebrow.
"I don't blame you for disliking deities, especially after what happened with Velasca."
Gabrielle's lip twisted into a snarl.
"I don't trust any god." she uttered icily. "All we've gotten from them was trouble."
"B-But I thought you at least gotten along with Aphrodite-"
"I don't trust her either. She's as changeable as the weather. Sometimes I played along with her and acted as her friend-but I don't trust her."
Gabrielle nodded slowly.
"I seriously think the world would be better off without gods."
The blonde said this with such finality that it unsettled Meldinas. She swallowed hard. A few moments passed before she spoke again.
"Um…anyway, I-I'll leave you alone for now. I'll see you within the hour."
The two women parted ways. Gabrielle walked back to her hut. She opened the door and closed it behind her, locking it. Gabrielle then walked over to the tiny fireplace, where a gentle flame crackled within. She sat down before the fire.
Damn you Ares…if this is your doing…
Gabrielle ground her teeth. She clenched her fists tightly.
I hate gods…I hate all of them. Every single stinking one of them!!
Her mind wandered back to Eve. She remembered how Xena was forced to give up Eve because the gods were hunting her down. How Eve became a Roman commander, and how she slaughtered people…
…and how she killed Joxer…
Her mind went right back to the last time Xena and Gabrielle saw Virgil…
"I can't wait to find an inn, Xena. It will be a welcome change from the hard ground."
The tall warrior turned towards Gabrielle and chuckled.
"I suppose so. Besides, we could get some supplies while we're here in Thrace."
Xena sighed and licked her lips.
"I could sure use a drink."
She looked off to her right, and spotted a small bar.
"Let's stop in there and get a drink."
Gabrielle followed her gaze and nodded.
"Fine with me."
Xena and Gabrielle led their horses over to it, tying them up to a nearby post. They walked inside. There were a few people about. The two women walked up to the bar. The bartender, an old man, turned to face them.
"What will it be?"
"Two mugs of port." said Xena. "How much?"
"I've got it Xena."
Gabrielle reached into her purse and placed the money on the bar. The bartender took the money and turned around, picking up two wooden mugs from a nearby shelf. He then moved in front of a large keg and placed one mug under the spigot. He opened it up and filled the mug with port. Then he did the same for the other mug. The old man turned around and placed the mugs of port before the two women.
Xena took a sip from her mug. Her eyebrows arched up.
"Hmmmm. Not bad."
Gabrielle turned and looked around the bar. Suddenly, she saw a young man sitting nearby. Her eyes widened in recognition. She quickly turned back to Xena.
"Xena, there's Virgil!"
The Warrior Princess's eyes widened in shock.
Gabrielle turned and pointed. Xena followed her finger, and spotted the young man. Xena's eyes filled with deep sadness.
"It's hard to believe Meg's been dead for over a year." she said somberly.
Gabrielle gazed at Xena, seeing her face filling with profound pain. She remembered all too well Xena's last encounter with Meg. Eve had just killed Joxer. And Meg blamed Xena for not stopping her daughter in time. The fury she had towards both Xena and Gabrielle was all encompassing…
"Get out. I don't ever want to see you two again. GET OUT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"
Even now, Meg's harsh words echoed through her head. A decades-old relationship had ended right there. Both Xena and Gabrielle were devastated-but Xena took it much harder. She was Meg's cousin, after all. Gabrielle remembered waking up a few nights later, finding Xena's bedroll empty. Eve was nearby, still asleep. Gabrielle found the Warrior Princess in some bushes nearby, sobbing quietly. Gabrielle took Xena into her arms. She continued to cry for quite some time. Joxer's murder devastated her, and Meg's rejection of her cut Xena to the bone. She wasn't able to deal with it.
And now here they were, two years later.
"Let's go see Virgil." Xena said quietly.
The two women slowly walked towards Virgil's table. He was sitting there, reading a scroll. There was a mug of port nearby. Gabrielle spoke first.
The young man looked up. Gabrielle had expected friendly recognition, and a smile. She was only half right.
There was recognition. But there wasn't a trace of friendliness. At best, cool indifference. Virgil raised an eyebrow.
"Well. Xena and Gabrielle. It's been a long time."
Gabrielle didn't like the tone in his voice. Gabrielle glanced at Xena. She could see that Xena had noticed the same thing. She looked back at Virgil. The young man slowly rolled up his scroll and nodded towards the chairs in front of him.
"Have a seat."
The two women glanced at each other. They sat down at the table before Virgil, setting their mugs on it. Xena spoke next.
"Virgil, I…I-I can't tell you how sorry I am about Meg."
Xena's face darkened. She looked down at the table.
"I wish we could have made up before she died." she said quietly, her voice heavy with shame and grief.
Gabrielle gazed at Xena for a moment. She saw her look up. Xena's face then filled with apprehension. Gabrielle turned towards Virgil. She saw why.
Virgil's expression had grown more distant. Colder. Gabrielle instantly knew something was very wrong. She suddenly wondered if coming over to see him was such a good idea after all. He picked up his mug, and took a sip of the port. Then he put it down again, and spoke.
"I've been doing a lot of thinking the last couple of years. A lot of thinking. About you and Gabrielle."
Virgil gazed at them intently. Xena met his gaze.
"Thinking about what?" she responded quietly.
"I'm thinking about what my father saw in you two."
Gabrielle and Xena exchanged a glance. Xena looked back at Virgil. She raised an eyebrow.
"And what do you mean by that?"
"Let's talk about Gurkan, shall we? The man who murdered Gabrielle's parents. Isn't it interesting that Gabrielle got to avenge her parents and punish Gurkan while Eve got away with killing my father."
Xena instantly stood up. A torrent of emotions roiled across her features. Gabrielle leaned towards Virgil, her face twisted with grief and anger.
"Eve regretted what she did!!" the blonde exclaimed. "She regretted all the atrocities she's done!! It's not the same thing!! You know this!!"
Virgil cocked his head to the side, raising both eyebrows.
"Oh really?? So, being sorry solves everything, doesn't it?? I thought people who committed crimes paid for them!!"
He stood up, facing Xena.
"What's the matter Xena?? Did I hit a nerve??"
Xena didn't respond. Her face became a mask of stony indifference. But she couldn't hide the pain in her eyes. Virgil walked over to Xena's side. She continued to stare straight ahead. He leaned towards her.
"Do you always have double standards when it comes to your daughter, Xena??"
"Virgil, stop it!!" cried Gabrielle.
Xena quickly turned on her heel and walked off. Virgil followed her closely.
"What's wrong, huh?? The mighty Warrior Princess has become a chickenshit all of a sudden?? Huh?? Huh??"
Xena exited the bar and walked briskly over to her horse. Virgil followed closely
"The almighty Xena is showing her true colors!!" he shouted angrily.
Gabrielle ran over and grabbed Virgil's arm.
"Leave Xena alone!!" she shouted.
Virgil spun towards Gabrielle. Letting out a harsh cry, he slapped her hard across the face. Gabrielle stumbled backwards, falling onto the ground. Virgil heard a furious cry. He spun around. Xena grabbed him by the throat and slammed him into a pole. She drew her fist back.
"Do it!!" shouted Virgil. "DO IT!!!"
Xena paused. The fury in her face lessened somewhat.
"Gabrielle has nothing to do with this." she growled. "It's me you want to deal with!!"
"Gabrielle has PLENTY to do with it!!" shouted Virgil. "She's HELPED you keep your murderous daughter from where she belongs!! IN PRISON!!"
Xena flinched visibly at hearing this. Virgil's lips curled into a contemptuous sneer.
"So-are ya gonna knock my teeth out, or what Xena?? Gonna give my mom more pride to know that she's your cousin??"
Xena instantly released him. Letting out a loud cry, Virgil viciously shoved Xena away from him. She stumbled backwards, but held her balance. Xena's arms were at her sides. Her fists were clenched so tightly that they were turning white. The stony mask of stolidity returned to her face. Gabrielle stood up. She spat out blood, and wiped her mouth. Gabrielle gazed at the blood on her hand in disbelief. She looked up at Virgil, slowly shaking her head. Tears filled her eyes.
"Why, Virgil??" she said in a shaky voice. "Why are you doing this?? I-I thought you understood!!"
Virgil tossed his head back and laughed harshly. He looked at the two women in contempt.
"Ohhhhhhh, I understand plenty. Want to know what I understand??"
He slowly approached Xena and Gabrielle.
"Here's what I understand. I understand that my father was an incredibly naive man. I understand that I was an absolute idiot for believing everything he told me about you two. He thought the world of both of you. And I fell for it, hook, line, and sinker."
Virgil then looked at Xena.
"And I understand that justice is for other people. Not Xena's little daughter Eve. Ohhhhhh, but Gabrielle here can avenge the death of her parents. Me?? I just have to stand there like a complete sap, accept Eve's hysterical rants to me about how sorry she was for killing Dad, how the God of Love opened her eyes, how she would give anything to bring Dad back. Even her life."
Virgil came close to Xena. The Warrior Princess stood her ground.
"The whole time I was helping you and Gabrielle go after Gurkan, all these feelings welled up in me. And I was so confused at the time. I remember all too well how angry Gabrielle was. Yeah! You know, been there, done that! And here I am, helping Gabrielle avenge her parents' death-while hanging out with you, Gabrielle, and Eve."
Virgil drew closer to Xena. A solitary tear trickled down Xena's cheek. Virgil cocked his head to one side.
"You know…Eve? The person who killed my father, Joxer. The husband of my mother, your cousin, Meg. Joxer, your good friend."
Virgil's face twisted horribly in pain.
"If my mother had ever found out that I was helping you two catch Gurkan, she would have disowned me. Back then I was too damn stupid. Too damn blind!!"
Virgil's eyes narrowed into slits.
"What did my father see in you two?! Gods, my mother was right!! That day she kicked you two out of the house, she was absolutely right."
A pause. Then Virgil spoke again.
"So Xena…what do you have to say??"
"Virgil-" began Gabrielle.
"Shut up!!" shouted Virgil angrily. "What the hell are you?? Her mouthpiece or something?! What-Xena doesn't have a brain in her head to operate that mouth of hers?!"
Gabrielle looked around nervously. The crowd of onlookers was slowly growing. Virgil crossed his arms, raising an eyebrow.
"Well Xena? I'm waiting."
Xena was silent for a moment.
"What do you want me to say??" she finally said in a low, wounded voice.
"I want your opinion Xena. I want your opinion about what I've said!"
"This isn't the place, or the time."
"Well, I say it is. I'm not letting you leave here until I hear your opinions."
Xena closed her eyes and gritted her teeth. She opened them again.
"I…didn't… want Eve to grow up the way she did. If I had been there, Eve wouldn't have become a warlord. Gabrielle and I were being chased by the gods. I had no choice but to leave her with Octavius!"
Xena bared her teeth. Pain and fury filled her face. She moved closer to Virgil.
"If the gods had left us alone, Eve would have NEVER become a warlord. NEVER!! And your father would still be alive."
"Xena, Eve was a grown woman. She was responsible for her actions. She wasn't a little girl."
Virgil moved to Xena until they were almost face-to-face.
"Eve knew damn well what she was doing. And if the so-called God of Love hadn't opened her eyes, she'd still be killing people to this day. It took a god to open Eve's eyes."
Xena's lips curled into a snarl.
"So what would you have me do, Virgil?!" she growled. "I was denied the right to be a mother!! I come back and find that my own daughter was turned into a warlord by the goddamn Roman establishment!! Do you think I'm proud of that?!"
"Before the God of Love came, you were going to try and kill Eve-and you couldn't."
"She's my daughter. She was never meant to be in this position."
"But she WAS!"
Fire flashed in Xena's eyes.
"What would you have done Virgil?! If you were in the same position, what would you have done?! If it were a loved one of yours who was in the same position that Eve was in, what would you have done?!"
Virgil's eyes grew as frigid as ice.
"I would have killed the person. Even if it meant destroying myself inside."
A cold smile crossed Xena's features.
"Oh you would have, huh? Very easy to say. You sure you have the backbone for it??"
Virgil's eyes widened in fury. Letting out a deafening cry, he punched Xena with all his might in the face. Her head whipped off to the side, a long stream of blood and a tooth flowing out of her mouth. She stumbled backwards, falling hard onto the ground in a cloud of dust. Gabrielle's eyes widened in terror.
She rushed over to her side. Gabrielle helped Xena to her feet. The Warrior Princess spat out large globs of blood. She slowly turned towards Virgil. Gabrielle gasped at the look on her face. Black emotions raged underneath its surface, threatening to burst out at any instant. Xena's eyes were two orbs of ice-blue fire, roaring out of control. Her lips were curled into a quivering snarl, globs of blood continuing to drip from her mouth onto her boots and the dusty earth. The veins in her neck bulged, throbbing with each heartbeat. Whatever Xena was containing within herself, she was dangerously close to releasing it. Gabrielle quickly turned towards Virgil. He stood his ground, his eyes narrowed into icy slits. A frightening silence hung in the air. Gabrielle stared at him in anger and fear. She began to speak.
"Virgil, you shouldn't have-"
"Shut up!!" he yelled. "Shut up!! Not…a…word. Not one word from you. You're just an accessory to a murderer. A murderer of innocent people."
Slowly, a frigid smile crossed his lips.
"But then again, you've been doing that for years, huh?? Hanging around a mass murderer."
Virgil cocked his head to one side, eyeing Xena.
"Like mother, like daughter."
Xena's eyes narrowed. Gabrielle stared at her companion's clenched fists. They were trembling. Gabrielle knew that Xena had reached the end of her rope. She quickly turned towards Virgil, her face filled with terror. She spoke again.
"I don't ever want to see you two again." he hissed. "And I hope Eve rots in hell."
He spun on his heel and walked off. Virgil pushed his way past some people, disappearing into the crowd. Gabrielle turned back to Xena. The Warrior Princess trembled with an all-consuming fury, her teeth bared like that of a wild animal. Her right eye began to twitch. An inhuman growl emerged from deep within her. Gabrielle stared at her.
Xena rushed over to her horse. She quickly untied it and climbed onto it. Letting out a hideous scream, she rode off in the opposite direction. Gabrielle rushed over to her horse, untied it, climbed on and rode off after her.
The two women left the city, and soon were in the countryside, heading deep into a large forest. Gabrielle kicked her horse in its sides, snapping the reins, urging it to go faster.
"XENA!!" she screamed. "XENA, STOOOOOOP!!!"
The two riders continued on at incredible speed. Finally, Xena turned right. Gabrielle followed. Within moments, they were along the edge of a large lake. Xena brought her horse to a stop. She somersaulted off her horse, landing on her feet. Xena instantly drew her sword. She turned towards a large tree. Her eyes grew wild with rage.
Gabrielle brought her horse to a stop, jumping off of it. She saw Xena rush up to the tree and begin hacking away at it with all her might. Her hideous screams filled the surrounding forest and valley. Gabrielle rushed towards her, stopping a few feet away. Xena hacked at the tree trunk again and again with punishing, violent strokes, the razor-sharp blade tearing off huge chunks of wood. Xena screamed until she became hoarse. Finally, she took one savage swing at the trunk, and the blade burrowed itself deep into the tree. Xena yanked hard on the blade, but it would not come out of the trunk. Her sweaty palms could not maintain a firm grip, and they slipped off the handle. Xena stumbled backwards, falling hard onto the ground and rolling over her head onto her stomach. Gabrielle ran in front of her.
The Warrior Princess instantly looked up. Agony and rage twisted her features. She got up and rushed for the tree. Gabrielle jumped forward and grabbed her. Xena let out a savage scream and struggled with Gabrielle. The blonde hurled all of her weight into Xena. The pair stumbled back into a nearby tree, hitting it hard. Gabrielle quickly looked up into her friend's face. Xena's features were hideously twisted by pain and fury.
Gabrielle's scream got Xena's attention. She instantly looked down at her friend, her eyes wide with shock, terror and pain. Her lower lip trembled. Blood dripped down from it.
Xena squinted her eyes shut. She bared her teeth. Sobs welled up from deep within her. They grew louder and louder. Finally, Xena let out a loud, mournful scream. She collapsed on Gabrielle's shoulders, crying hysterically. The pair sank to the ground under the tree. Gabrielle held Xena close. She wept heavily. Gabrielle rocked Xena in her arms as she cried. Tears flowed from her own eyes.
"Oh-Oh Xena…" she whimpered.
"Why…why…why…why…why…why…why…why…WHY, WHY, WHY WHYYYYYYYYYYYY!!!??!?!? WHY COULDN'T THE GODS LEAVE US ALONE?!? WHHHHYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?"
Xena bawled like a baby into Gabrielle's shoulder. The blonde held her tight, rocking her in her arms. The crying went on for what seemed like an eternity. Slowly, it came to a stop. Gabrielle lifted Xena's chin. She gasped. Xena's face was full of extreme exhaustion and pain. She suddenly looked years… decades older.
"T-T-They took away my chance." Xena said in a weak, phlegm-filled voice. "M-my-c-chance-my chance to be a mother again. Eve…E-Eve…Eve didn't have her mommy to look after her…I never wanted her to end up like me…"
Xena stared off into space, her blue eyes glazed and bloodshot.
"I-I…I didn't want Joxer to die…" she whimpered. "I-I-I didn't…I-I couldn't stop Eve in time…"
Gabrielle shook her head slowly.
"It's not your fault, Xena."
Xena quickly looked at her. A murderous wave of agony, grief and guilt twisted her features. She bared her teeth.
"Virgil and Meg think so!!" she bawled in a strangled squeal. "They blame me for not stopping her!!"
A loud sob burst from her throat. Gabrielle placed her forehead on Xena's.
"Meg hates me!! Virgil hates me!! Meg took her hatred of me to the GRAVE!!"
Another loud sob. Xena squinted her eyes shut once more. She slowly began to shake her head.
"I-I-If I had been there…" she whimpered. "I-If I had been there…I-I-if I had been there, she would never have become a warlord. Never. All those innocent people would be alive. Joxer would be alive…Joxer would be aaalllllliiiiiiiivvvvvve…"
Xena broke down into sobs again. They grew louder and louder, until they became nearly hysterical. Gabrielle held Xena close to her body, rocking it gently. She tenderly stroked the dark head resting under her chin. Gabrielle glared into the heavens. Fury filled her face.
I hate gods…I hate all of them. Every single stinking one of them!!
Gabrielle stared at the fire before her. Tears flowed down her cheeks. She couldn't help it. It was one of the many scabs in her mind that she kept picking at-or that kept picking at her; she wasn't sure which sometimes. It was one in an endless series of reminders of why gods couldn't be trusted. Why it was better off to look into one's self for guidance.
Even though her look-a-likes were cousins. Xena viewed them all as sisters. She cared for each one of them. But Xena had a special place in her heart for Meg. Xena had always felt a tremendous sense of pity for her, due to Meg's suffering. Meg's rejection of her at the end tore deep into Xena's soul. Then to have Virgil lash out the way he did cut even deeper. Xena withdrew into herself for a long period of time, and it took a considerable effort on Gabrielle's part to coax her out of that mindset. Afterwards, they never talked about Joxer, Meg, or Virgil ever again.
Gabrielle wiped her eyes, then rubbed her forehead. She got up and walked over to her bed. Laying down, she soon fell into a deep sleep.