Most of the characters herein belong to Renaissance Pictures, MCA/Universal, Studios USA, Flat Earth Productions, and any other individuals or entities who have an ownership interest in the television program Xena: Warrior Princess. This story was written strictly for the pleasure of the writer and anyone who might honor the writer by reading it, and not for profit. No copyright infringements intended.
This story contains, among other things, recounts by various observers of and participants in the crucifixion scene from the XWP episode, "The Ides of March," so yeah, heavy on angst and violence.
PG-13, okay maybe R. Nothing too graphic here but come on yall, we just saw the two women die, and their last words to each other were "you were the best thing in my life," and "I love you." If you dont want to see them as lovers, move on to some other story.
Grammar, Spelling, Punctuation:
Thank the gods for spell check! Ive tried, so if its not perfect, bite me!
This is my first attempt at XWP fan fiction. Any questions, comments, or suggestions are most welcome. You can e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This story begins on March 16th, the day after the 4th season cliffhanger "The Ides of March." I can hardly wait to see how they resolve it, and it is definitely one of my favorites. So, Ive used my imagination a little and this is how Id like to see it go . . .
MARCH THE 16TH
Dont be afraid
Close your eyes
Lay it all down
Dont you cry
Cant you see Im going
Where I can see the sun rise
Ive been talking to my angel
And he said that its alright
- from "Talking to My Angel" by Melissa Etheridge, Copyright 1993, MLE Music Admin. By Almo Music Corp. (ASCAP). As performed on her CD, Yes I Am, 1993, Island Records, Inc.
The first faint rays of morning sunlight made their way through the window of the room of an inn near the foot of Mt. Ymarro. Amarice felt the warmth as the sunlight dappled her pale face and her thick flaming red hair. Her eyes still closed, the tall girl stretched out her long legs in the chair where she had been dozing, and yawned sleepily, twisting her spine from side to side to get the kinks out. With that movement, the sword which had been resting in her lap clattered loudly to the floor. Her eyes popped open and then she remembered where she was. How could she have fallen asleep? She leapt up from the chair and in two steps was at the bedside where two still forms lay, just as she had left them the night before.
She knelt down and kissed the forehead of the smaller woman on the bed. My queen, Im so sorry. Then she studied the face of the taller woman, gently rearranging an idle lock of long raven hair. Involuntarily, a tear made its way down Amarices cheek, and she brushed it aside. Her heart was heavy with the loss of these two women, whom the stubborn Amazon, too late, had begrudgingly realized were her friends. She had only traveled with Xena and Gabrielle for a few weeks, but felt more a part of them than the Amazon nation she had thought she left behind. There was so much she could have learned, from both of them. Too late. Or was it?
She walked over to the door of the small room, opened it, and looked out. Two alert Amazon sentries, dressed in full leather and armor, and bearing several kinds of weapons between the two of them, stood guard on either side of the door. Two more Amazons slept on pallets on the floor in the hallway, waiting their turn to relieve the current guards. Amarice knew that another half-dozen Amazons were down in the main room of the inn. They think Ive lost my mind, she mused to herself. Maybe I have. The two guards regarded her in silence, acknowledging her with brief nods.
With the murder of Caesar yesterday, the uncertainty of what would become of the Greek and Roman governments, and the nearness of the now-deserted Roman fortress nearby at the foot of the mountain, the innkeeper and most of the inhabitants of the town had scattered into the foothills to hide. In the chaos, some of the Amazons had set up a makeshift outpost at the inn, thinking it would be a good base from which to operate while they attempted to rescue the queen and Amarice. Amarice sighed. Could they have made a difference, even if they had arrived earlier? If Xena couldnt rescue herself and the queen, well, probably no one could have.
Surprisingly, with the massive desertion of the Roman army, no one had bothered the inn or even been through the town to loot. The few soldiers that had come through moved quickly, eyes darting back and forth, fear written all over their faces, every muscle tensed. They had simply begged for bread and water and then hurried on. Well, Amarice mused, I suppose the sight of nearly a dozen leather-clad and armed Amazons would deter anyone from harming the inn or its inhabitants. No one but a handful of Amazons knew that the inn housed the body of a warrior princess who had Caesars price of six million dinars on her head, dead or alive, for what that might be worth now.
"Any word of Eli or Joxer?" she asked the guards.
"Word has it from our far outposts that Eli was halfway to Athens before he was reached," Rebina, the taller of the two guards, answered, "he is believed to be on his way back here. No one has heard from Joxer. The regent is also on her way."
"Let me know as soon as there is any update," Amarice said impatiently, and ducked back into the room. Damn. He just has to make it here. Hes our only hope. I know the others think Im crazy, but what I saw . . . Indeed, what she had seen.
The three days in the makeshift Roman prison had been a nightmare. Not so much for the treatment they got, but for the endless hammering outside. The crosses. None of them believed they were for an incoming band of captured pirates. Anyone in their right mind knew those crosses were for them. Amarice had put up a brave front, but internally she had been terrified, barely able to think or breath.
She swallowed and closed her eyes, trying to will away all the images and the sounds that still echoed in her head, but couldnt.
Gabrielle had not stopped believing for one minute that Xena would show up and rescue them. Her faith in the warrior was absolute and unwavering. Amarice had not been so sure, and actually blamed Gabrielle, the Amazon "queen," for their predicament. If we hadnt been in the middle of a bunch of peace-loving unarmed fools, if our little queen had only been armed, we might have stood a chance against those Roman soldiers. Look what all that talk of love has gotten them. Thats what Amarice had thought at the time.
Even though Gabrielle had probably saved her life after she tried to take out some of the soldiers, Amarice still had had very little respect for the bard as a person, much less as the leader of the Amazon Nation. The annoying little blonde had actually had the nerve to lock her up in an Amazon jail cell, for Artemis sake, and for acting as a true Amazon warrior. Had the bard from Potadeia not been queen of the Amazons, Amarice would have merely eliminated her, and that would have been the end of it. She may be queen by rite of caste, but certainly not by birth or courage, and shes definitely no Amazon warrior, Amarice had believed. Little did she know that a few weeks later she and the queen would end up in a Roman prison cell together. What Ephiny and Solari had seen in the fair-haired peaceful woman, she couldnt understand.
A shadow fell over Amarices face. Ephiny and Solari. So many dead Amazons. It was hard to even think about all of it, it was just too sad and too overwhelming. So much had happened. Brutus had slain Ephiny, the former Amazon regent, and Amarice had tried to take him out, only to be stopped by Xena. And Gabrielle. For that Gabrielle had temporarily locked her up. If Amarice ever got her hands on Brutus neck, she would snap it with her bare hands, or better yet, slice his head off with one swipe of her sword and hang it from the walls of the Amazon village. Amarice may not have believed much in Gabrielle, but Ephiny she had practically worshiped. Ephiny had been brave, a great warrior and a great leader in Gabrielles absence. She had been tough as nails. The woman had birthed a damned centaur for gods sake!
A wistful smile played across Amarices lips. Xenan. Ephiny had named her son after the brave warrior princess, who now lay still on the bed across from her. Xena had delivered Xenan during the war at Thessaly that had claimed the life of the centaur Phantes, his father. And now Caesars war had claimed his mothers life as well. Xenan had barely been able to make it to the Amazon village to pay his respects at Ephinys funeral pyre before he was whisked away into the hills with the rest of the centaurs, trying to escape Caesars troops. Poor Xenan. He was an orphan now. What would it do to the young centaur to know he had also lost Gabrielle and Xena? He called them his aunts. Solan, Xenas now dead son, had once been Xenans playmate.
Amarice knelt once again at the bedside and touched the cold soft skin on Gabrielles arm, and let out a small trembling sob, remembering that day in the cell. Was it only yesterday?
Amarice had only snorted, and rolled her eyes as Eli and Gabrielle sat face to face in the clammy cell, talking of emptying themselves in order to become perfect vessels for love. For Artemis sake people, we are about to be crucified. Fools. Love is a farce. Only the strong will survive. You are a bunch of weak idiots.
Still, what she had seen Eli do . . . Or for that matter, what she had seen Gabrielle do . . .
Just as Amarice had thought she was doomed to die on a Roman cross, and not as a brave Amazon warrior, the door to the small prison had burst open and Xenas tall, dark presence had bounded into the room, knocking aside two soldiers and grabbing the keys to the cell that held them. Amarice had read the quiet belief on Gabrielles face, and had read something more on the face of the warrior. Relief mixed with love and fear. Xena had grabbed the queen and hugged her fiercely, and said, "that vision is not going to happen."
Oh Xena, I thought you had been crazy when you told me about the vision when we were walking to the docks to catch the boat to Athens. Im so practical. What a difference a day makes. Amarice sighed.
After the brief reunion with Gabrielle, Xena had swung her sword against the shackles that held Amarice and Eli, and gotten them all out of the cell. They were halfway across the courtyard to the gates when the soldiers descended upon them from all sides, and Xena was suddenly transformed into the dark warrior princess, and just did what she always did, with sword flying, flipping her body up and over her opponents, and kicking out in all directions, taking on ten men at once.
Amarice had joined in the battle as well, and out of the corner of her eye caught the annoying queen just standing there, watching. Her and her damned way of peace are going to get her killed someday. As that thought ran through Amarices mind, Gabrielle had seen an opening to get to the gate. "Get out, now!" she had yelled to Amarice and the others. With a final sword stroke, Amarice had followed Eli and his disciples out of the compound, and they had started running down the road.
She ran two steps when she realized Gabrielle was not with them. Why isnt she with us? She must be waiting for Xena to finish taking them all out. Damn. If I dont go back and get the queen, I will never hear the end of it from the Amazons. Grudgingly, Amarice had turned around.
She could still hear the sounds of battle inside, and had climbed up onto a rock-covered hill that backed up to one side of the compound to assess the situation. Crouching behind a boulder, she had looked down onto the bloody battle below and just watched, mesmerized by Xenas fighting skills. It looked like the warrior just about had things wrapped up, as several motionless bodies lay around the courtyard and she neatly kicked the living daylights out of yet another unfortunate soldier.
Then, to her horror, Xenas chakram had come flying seemingly from nowhere, and had hit Xena in the back so hard that it broke and fell to the snow-covered ground in two pieces. The warriors legs buckled, she dropped her sword, and her body hit the ground with an audible thud, but her eyes were still open, flickering in bewilderment and fear. A soldier ran toward Xenas still body, sword raised over his head to finish her, when suddenly Amarice heard a primal cry, half sob, half scream, and a lance flew across the courtyard and pierced the soldier through the chest, taking him down just as he reached the warrior. Amarice looked to see the source of the lance and there stood Gabrielle, with fists clenched, but only for a split second.
With visible rage on her face, the peace-loving queen had taken Xenas sword from the ground, and began to fight, and slash, and gut over a half-dozen soldiers, all the while screaming at Xena to get up. The warrior kept raising up on her arms, but for some reason she wasnt getting up. Xena kept crying, "no Gabrielle," while Gabrielle just kept up the carnage.
One soldier finally managed to disarm Gabrielle, at which point the Amazon queen had ducked her head and rammed the soldier full-force, body-slamming him to the ground. She straddled him and then butted her head against his face several times, and then grabbed a dagger that had been tucked in the soldiers belt, and blindly stabbed him over and over again. Then Gabrielle had raised the knife up, looked at it for a long moment, and then dropped the blood-stained weapon as if it were held by a hand other than her own. Soldiers came and took both Xena and Gabrielle back inside the prison where the cells were.
Amarice had sat back behind the boulder, completely out of sight, and tried to absorb what she had just seen. Had that been Gabrielle? It certainly wasnt the same peace-loving mealy-mouthed coward Amarice had believed her to be. Where had that come from? The Amazon queen suddenly had Amarices greatest respect. She had pondered the whole scene, sitting in the snow with her back against the cold stone, trying to figure it all out.
The tall stoic redhead did not understand her queen at all, but she had seen the look of love on Xenas face for Gabrielle. "What Gabrielle wants, Gabrielle gets," Xena had said at the docks a few days before. Could it be that Gabrielle loved Xena just as much? Why else would a peaceful introspective bard from Potadeia follow the warrior princess across Greece, Britannia, Chin, India, and back again? They were total opposites. Or were they? Why did she stay behind instead of saving herself while she had the chance? Amarice had heard stories of things the two women had been through. Dark terrible things, wonderful mysterious things, and yet they stayed together. Tales were told that both women had died and come back for each other more than once. It must be love, she had finally decided. Whatever love is.
Well, love or no love, she had to figure out what to do. And there was no one to help her. And way too many soldiers for her to try to take them on herself. Should she wait and watch, or should she run for help? Where would she go? The Amazon village was half a day away and she didnt know this part of the countryside at all. Perhaps Xena would once again come through and get herself and Gabrielle out of there.
Amarice decided to wait and see what happened. She half suspected that somehow, Brutus would come back and let the two prisoners go. As much as she hated him for killing Ephiny, she had to admit that he seemed to have a soft spot for Gabrielle. Hed certainly spared Amarice after Gabrielle reminded him that she herself had shown him mercy once. There was something there. He owed Gabrielle. And, he followed Caesar but he didnt seem to believe in Caesar. Amarice smelled fear.
Amarice had laid her head on her arms, which were crossed on the tops of her drawn-up knees, and tried to rest, realizing how weary she was, and kept one ear cocked listening for activity in the courtyard below.
Amarice momentarily returned to the present, as someone knocked at the door. "Eli?" she jumped up and flung the door open.
"No," Rebinas voice answered, "I brought you some lunch."
"Not hungry," Amarice muttered, sinking back down on the floor beside the bed, and laying her forehead against her arm, which had come to rest on the bed next to Gabrielle.
"When was the last time you ate?" Rebina gently asked.
Amarice considered a moment. When had she eaten last? Last night? No. Lunch yesterday? No. She suddenly realized that the last food she had eaten was some bread, cheese, and fruit that Eli had offered her and Gabrielle as they sat with him in the meadow before they were captured. And that didnt last long, she thought wryly, Eli, where are you? "Thanks, Rebina," she looked up and tried to smile. She took a piece of bread from the tray and nibbled on it, and tried to wash it down with some apple cider from a tall ceramic mug.
Rebina sat the tray on a low table next to the bed. "Amarice," she said tentatively, "even if Eli does get here, what can he do? Can he really do what you said? And even if he can, what can he do for two people who have been dead for almost twenty-four candle marks?"
"Stop it, just stop it right now," Amarice said harshly, "I have to believe that he can help. Cant you understand that?" She rose up and began stroking Gabrielles short blond hair. Oh, my queen, I didnt realize how much courage was inside that heart of yours. Could I have made a difference if I had gone for help instead of sitting like a coward behind that boulder?
A loud bang of a door had startled Amarice where she had dozed off. She peered back down from behind the boulder and involuntarily gasped. Two wooden crosses lay in the middle of the courtyard. Gabrielle was walking toward them, surrounded by soldiers, and two more soldiers were dragging Xena as her legs trailed along the ground behind her, lifeless. Gabrielle glanced briefly at Xena and then looked straight ahead, but the warrior never took her eyes from Gabrielle. Xena must have been paralyzed by the chakram blow. Thats why she didnt get up, Amarice had figured out. She watched as Gabrielle and Xena were tied down to the crosses, side by side, their bodies bruised and battered. Probably beaten, she thought angrily.
Amarice couldnt hear what they were saying to each other, she could only see that they looked at each other, lips moving, Xena with anguish and love on her face, while Gabrielle only showed steadfast love and courage. Amarices gut churned, as she watched one of the soldiers take a long spike and place it against Gabrielles imprisoned hand, the hand closest to Xena. As the soldier raised his mallet to land the first blow, Gabrielle had torn her gaze away from Xena, looking straight up. As the mallet made contact with the spike, Gabrielle had merely shuddered, her jaw clenching, not making a sound. It was Xena, looking on helplessly, who had jerked violently and cried out the most piteously anguished cry Amarice had ever heard, as the helpless warrior watched the soldiers violate Gabrielles hands and ankles with the spikes.
At that point, Amarice had broken out in a cold sweat and she looked away, as the soldier finished with Gabrielle and moved over to Xena. She heard the sound of wood striking metal, heard the warriors cries of agony, mixed with cries of "Gabrielle, Gabrielle." Amarice heard the thuds as the crosses were raised and then lowered into two holes in the ground. Then the soldiers had walked away and Amarice looked up again to see the two women, eyes closed and heads bowed, but chests still silently heaving for breath.
Amarice didnt know how many candle marks passed as she sat there, watching her two new friends suffer. She had heard crucifixion was a slow, painful death, and that victims actually died of suffocation, unable to keep up the strength to lift their chests and draw air. She had felt her jaw cleaving, saliva pooling beneath her tongue, and her gut twisted again as a wave of nausea hit her. She leaned back behind the boulder but only came up with dry heaves from her poor empty stomach.
As she watched her friends die, she tried to figure out how she could at least rescue their bodies. She owed them that much. Gabrielle deserved a proper Amazon funeral pyre. In the end, the queen had proven herself to be a brave warrior. As for Xena, Amarice figured she would take her to her family. Amphipolis was her home town, if she remembered correctly.
She scanned the courtyard, looking for any opening, any weakness, that might allow her to steal into the compound. Damn. The gate appeared to be the only way in or out. Well, of course it was. After all , it was an armed Roman fortress. Not like they were going to put a million doors and windows in the place. What to do?
The sound of fast-moving horses hooves drew her attention away from the courtyard. A Roman soldier galloped up on a black horse that was covered in lather, steam rising off the sleek animals coat in the snow-chilled air. The soldier hailed at the gate and two more soldiers opened the large doors from inside to let him in. The man leaped off his horse and hit his chest with his fist and then stretched his arm out straight in front of him, fist clenched, in the Roman armys salute. The other soldiers returned the salute.
"Caesars been assassinated!" the lone rider said, bending down and placing his hands on his knees, gasping for breath, "the government is in chaos and word is that Brutus will take command. Rumor has it that all soldiers loyal to Caesar may be subject to execution. Youd better get back to Athens where Brutus is stationed, and start kissing his butt, big time," the soldier had finished, and had clamored back up on the horse and galloped back out the gate and down the road toward Athens.
As Amarice had digested this information, the compound erupted in activity, as soldiers hastily packed their things and mounted horses, and also took off down the road toward Athens. Caesar dead? A day too late, she had thought bitterly, and she glanced back down at the two now still figures, who in the chaos, had simply been left hanging on the crosses. I guess the six million dinar bounty on Xenas body doesnt mean anything to them if the person who put out the bounty is dead, she had thought grimly.
After maybe a half a candle mark, Amarice sensed the compound was empty and realized that in their haste, the soldiers hadnt even bothered to close the gates behind them. She hopped down from her perch, walked around the corner of the wall, and simply walked right into the compound and up to the foot of the twin crosses. Just like that.
She didnt remember finding the axe and chopping the crosses down. Didnt remember gently removing the bodies from the crosses. Didnt remember finding the small cart and the donkey that had been left behind by the departed soldiers. Didnt remember loading the bodies into the cart, with no idea where she was going to take them for safe-keeping. She was in full logic mode, not allowing herself to feel anything.
Then she remembered Eli. Was he for real? She had seen him heal that man who couldnt walk. Was that genuine or staged in order to lure more disciples into following him? Could he help Xena and Gabrielle? With an imperceptible nod, she set a determined look on her face. She would take the bodies to the Amazons for safekeeping and find Eli. She tugged on the lead she had tied to the placid donkey and headed down the road toward Amazon country. She had gotten less than a hundred yards when she ran into that bumbling idiot, Joxer, of all people.
Joxer saw her and came running. "Amarice, is that you? The Amazons are on their way to rescue you and Gabrielle. How did you get out? Where is Gabrielle? Did Xena ever show up?" his words had tumbled out.
She had merely looked sadly down at the ground, and wordlessly lead him to the back of the cart, lifting the blood-stained burlap covering and gesturing at the two still forms underneath. Joxer had just gaped at the two bodies for a long moment and then had dropped to his knees in the dirty snow and wept silently. It was no secret that he had been hopelessly in love with Gabrielle, although she had not returned his affections with anything more than platonic friendship. As for Xena, Joxer had emulated the warrior.
"Joxer, do you remember Eli?" Amarice had asked gently.
"Well, I never met him," Joxer looked up with wet red eyes, "but I know who he is. Gabrielle spoke of him often." Joxer knew the bard was changed when she came back from India. Eli had given her a new meaning to her life, a new way of living. The way of love.
"Joxer, I need you to take the road to Athens and find him," she said, grasping both shoulders on the still-kneeling man, "Im going to go find the Amazons and see if they can help me guard the bodies until Eli can make it back here."
"The Amazons are setting up base in an inn over that next hill," Joxer pointed, "but why do you need Eli?"
"Joxer, its hard to explain, but I think he is everything Gabrielle said he is. I saw him do . . . things . . ." she trailed off with a faraway look in her eyes. "Joxer, he healed a man that couldnt walk. If anyone can perform a miracle, its him." she finished.
Joxer looked at her with puzzlement and then with dawning comprehension. "Do you really think . . ." he faltered.
"Yes!" she said, interrupting him, "now go, as fast as you can, and tell him to come to the inn. Joxer, youre my only hope, their only hope."
Joxer had finally seen a way to do something for the warrior and the bard. A real way to give something back to them. He bent down into the cart, kissed his fingers, pressed them to Gabrielles lips, and then turned around and took off at a run, for once not tripping over his own two feet.
It was already late when Amarice and Joxer parted ways, and the sun was starting to set, casting long shadows from the trees that lined the road as Amarice had made her way to the inn. She was cold and she shivered, wishing she had a cloak. The Amazons traditional clothing didnt exactly cover much. She hovered a little closer to the donkey, hoping to benefit from the sturdy animals body heat. She finally made it over the hill and down the last part of the road leading to the inn. She made the sign of peace to the Amazon lookout posted in a tree, raising both arms over her head and clasping her two fists together. Immediately, the call of a dove was cooed from tree to tree toward the inn, signaling her pending arrival. On sheer willpower alone, her physical resources completely depleted, she had climbed the steps to the inn, making the dove call herself, which was answered and the door to the inn was opened. She halfway stumbled in the doorway and pointed to the cart.
"Get them up to a room and post a guard outside the door. Help is on the way. And for gods sakes, wash them off and get them out of those bloody burlap wraps and into something else to wear. And someone stable this poor donkey and find him some hay to eat." She slumped down at a table inside the inn, and wordlessly took the water skin that Loisha, a young Amazon, offered to her.
"Its Xena and the Queen," wailed Loisha, who had gone to the cart, "theyre dead! Amarice, why are we putting them in a room here? What kind of help can be on the way?"
"Just shut up and do what I said," Amarice snapped wearily.
Loisha looked at her like she was on henbane, and got Rebina to assist her in carrying the two lifeless forms up the stairs to a room. Amarice had tried to explain Eli, but the practical Amazons just didnt understand. Fearing they would override her decision, she had sat in the chair next to the bed all night, refusing to abandon her friends as long as any hope remained for them.
Amarice moved from Gabrielles side of the bed over to the side where Xena lay. I wanted to be like you. I wanted to learn how to fight like you. I thought you were all about war and fighting and plotting and glory. Yet despite your vision, you came for us. For her. Damn you Xena, you werent supposed to die yet. I had just met you. Why couldnt you stop the vision from coming true? Why? Sobs wracked Amarices body, and she finally wailed, as all the unshed tears streamed down her face, her fist pounding the mattress. Why didnt I save you?
Another knock at the door sounded and Chilapa, the regent in charge of the Amazons during Gabrielles absence from their village, entered the room. After Ephinys death, Gabrielle had named Chilapa to run the day-to-day operation of the Amazon village while Gabrielle continued her travels with the warrior princess. "Amarice, I got here as fast as I could," the dark-skinned woman said. Amarice, who had fallen asleep for several candle marks, rose and embraced her wordlessly, more sobs wracking her body. After a moment she regained her composure and crossed over to the window and looked out, shivering at the sight of Mt. Ymarro in the distance.
The regent walked over to the bed and looked sadly down at Gabrielle and Xena. She then turned and regarded Amarices back for a long moment, taking in the determined posture the tall redhead carried. "I heard what happened," she said softly, "it must have been a horrible thing to watch."
"More horrible than youll ever know," Amarice replied, still looking out the window, her eyes not really seeing anything out there.
"Amarice, I dont suppose Gabrielle gave her rite of caste to you or anyone else, did she?" Chilapa asked gently.
"No, and thats not going to be necessary," Amarice said adamantly, "Eli is going to bring them back."
"Amarice," the voice was now more gentle, and Chilapa crossed the room and placed a tentative hand on her shoulder, "I know you are distraught and probably feel somehow that you are responsible, but youre not. Unfortunately, Gabrielle is gone, Amarice, dead. We need to start planning her funeral pyre and name a new queen to succeed her. We cant let the Amazon nation remain without a leader for long, especially with the craziness going on out there right now."
"No!" Amarice flung the hand from her shoulder and began pacing the room, "You havent seen what I saw." That faraway look was back in her eyes. "Please, Chilapa, dont give up until he gets here and we at least give him a chance. He can work miracles."
"Well," the regent chewed her bottom lip thoughtfully. What could another day hurt? It would take them that long to get packed up and headed back to the Amazon village. Besides, it was still somewhat unsafe out there. Might as well hole up here for a while anyway. "Okay, for now," she said simply.
"Thank you," Amarice whispered.
Chilapa reached up and pushed a tangled red lock of hair from Amarices eyes, and drew her once again into a hug. Both women silently wept for their lost queen and the brave warrior.
"They were my friends," Amarice finally managed to choke out.
"I know, I know, they were mine too," Chilapa said, gently rubbing the taller girls back.
Just then, Rebina poked her head inside the door and said excitedly, "Elis here!"
Joxer ran down the snow-covered road for about a mile before he realized that it was almost sunset. He had a decision to make. Make camp or continue traveling during the dark to find Eli. He felt so . . . alone. Truth be told, for all his boasting about being a warrior, he knew in his heart that the only times he had any real adventures were when he was with Xena and Gabrielle. Now they were gone and he wondered if he would ever have any adventures again. In fact, he wondered what would happen to him without Xena there to save him when he got himself into trouble, as he wryly admitted to himself, was often.
What would Xena do in this situation? He thought about all the times Xena had forgone sleep and food to rescue him or Gabrielle, or any other number of people who had needed her. He was afraid of the dark, but for once Xena needed him. Okay, Xena, for all you have done for me, I hope I can summon up even a small amount of your courage and strength to get me through this night. He decided to keep moving. If what Amarice said was true, perhaps the sooner Eli could be found, the better.
He decided to keep close to the side of the slushy road. It was almost impossible to hide his tracks in the snow, but maybe in the shadows near the trees his footprints would be less noticeable. He knew Roman soldiers were out on the road. Roman soldiers who had no leader and no directive and a lot of pent up energy. Prior to finding Amarice he had already had to take cover several times to hide from them while they passed. They might not bother him, but then he didnt really want to take any chances. If he kept his eyes and ears open, perhaps even in the dark he would still be able to hide from any soldiers before they saw him.
He pulled the straps on his pack tighter and drew the edges of his cloak closer, trying to block out the ever-increasing cold. At first he stayed on the side of the road, but as it got darker he moved just inside the tree line, dodging the low-lying winter-bare branches and trying to move silently as he had often observed Xena do. How did she do that? Xena moved as quietly as a panther, and could sneak up on just about anyone or anything. Joxer jumped at every shadow, every hoot of an owl, every slithering noise he heard. Half the time he realized in embarrassment that the noises he heard were his own inadequate feet snapping twigs and rustling dry leaves. What a coward I truly am, when all is said and done, he chastised himself. Xena would never have been afraid of the night music, as Gabrielle, in her bardic way, called it.
Gabrielle. He smiled as he remembered that one day when due to the errant stolen arrows of the naughty Bliss, son of Cupid, Gabrielle had fallen in love with him. Him. She had laughed when the spell of the arrows had been reversed, never realizing how much it hurt, although he saw in Xenas eyes that the warrior understood his pain. Still, from that day forward he knew he was in love with Gabrielle. Knew just as strongly that his love would never be returned.
He had consoled himself by traveling with the bard and the warrior, determined to learn as much as he could, and to get whatever adventures he could from it. Besides, he really had nothing better to do. And, he admitted, he followed them to continue to be close to Gabrielle, contented merely to be in her presence and to watch the graceful beauty of her movements whenever she wasnt looking. Before Gabrielle had given up fighting, her skill with her Amazon staff had been pure poetry in motion. Joxer had practiced sword-play and quarterstaff skills when he was alone, but just couldnt get down the moves that Xena and Gabrielle had honed from hours of practice.
Joxer lavished as much attention on the bard as he could get away with, but often it seemed that she ignored or didnt even notice his affections. It was odd, Joxer mused, but Gabrielle didnt really seem to ever notice any of the men they encountered during their travels, at least not in a romantic way. He knew about Perdicus, Gabrielles dead husband, and wondered if after the heartbreak of losing Perdicus, Gabrielle had refused to ever risk that kind of hurt again. He once asked Xena if Gabrielle had ever loved any men besides Perdicus, and the warrior had given him a mysterious amused look. Then she had told him a few stories about some of the men Gabrielle had fallen for during their early travels together. Ironically, most of those men were now dead.
Joxer knew Xena hadnt had much, if any, romance in her life either since he had know her. He reflected that as time went on, it seemed that Gabrielle and Xena had actually become the primary focus of each others lives, especially after they came back from India. From then on, Xena and Gabrielle had seemed pretty wrapped up in each other. The silent glances, the little touches, the inside jokes, had not been lost to Joxers eyes. There was no denying that the relationship between the two women went beyond mere friendship. Just how far beyond was hard to tell. He wasnt even sure if they were aware of the chemistry between them that was so obvious to him. At times he felt very lonely in their presence, almost as if he was invading something personal and private.
Several candle marks passed, and Joxer was growing quite tired and hungry. His eyes felt strained from constantly peering into the darkness ahead of him, trying to avoid obstacles and keep alert for every danger. He heard a crackling noise and stopped, a slight fearful sweat breaking out across his brow. The sound was coming from the woods to his right. Now he could also detect the smell of wood burning. Ah, a fire. He also smelled the delicate scent of roasting meat and his stomach turned over, growling audibly. He debated between silent flight and the growing weariness he felt. His bodys need for rest and food won, and he decided to creep up and see who it was. Perhaps it would be someone friendly. Maybe they would share.
As quietly as possible, he slunk towards the noise until he was behind a large boulder below an outcropping of rock which jutted out from the side of a small hill. He crouched down and peered around the boulder. Several people were sitting around the fire, not talking, just staring at it. A few appeared to be eating the remains of a meal. Others were sleeping on various blankets and furs, all of them near the warmth of the inviting fire.
A man with long dark hair was sitting away from the rest of the group on a log, his back to the boulder. To Joxers surprise, the man said, "come on out from behind the boulder. We will not harm you."
Joxer made no sound, but continued to hide in the shadows and scanned the group more closely and realized that not one of them appeared to be carrying a weapon. What kind of people camp at night without weapons, especially considering everything that happened today? He remembered Gabrielle talking about Elis teachings of non-violence. He looked more closely at the man sitting on the log and could see that he had a beard. Gabrielle had told him Eli had long dark hair and a beard.
Joxer cautiously stepped forward from behind the boulder, his hand poised on his sword hilt. "Eli?" he asked tentatively, ready to run if necessary.
"Yes, that is me," the man said, and turned to face Joxer. His eyes shone in the faint glow of the fire, and even in the semi-darkness his face radiated peace.
Joxer took his hand off the sword hilt and relaxed, walking over to where Eli sat. "Im Joxer, a friend of Xena and Gabrielle," he said. Or was a friend of Xena and Gabrielle, he thought silently.
Eli rose quickly from the log and strode forward, extending his arm, which Joxer grasped. "Any friend of Gabrielle is a friend of mine," Eli replied, "please, sit, join us. Have you eaten? You are welcome to share what we have." Eli gestured to the log for Joxer to sit down.
Joxer dropped his pack and wearily sank down with a sigh. One of the men got up from the other side of the fire and dished up some stew onto a platter and walked over to give it to Joxer. He mutely took the offered plate and began to eat, not really tasting the food, only knowing that he was hungry and needed the strength the food would provide.
"Did Xena send you?" Eli asked.
Joxer looked down at his plate and said quietly, "No, Amarice did."
"Amarice?" Eli had wondered what had happened to the tall redheaded Amazon. She had disappeared right after they escaped the Roman fortress. She hadnt understood his and Gabrielles way at all. Why would she seek him out unless . . . "Where are Xena and Gabrielle?" Eli asked with evident concern in his voice.
Joxer turned to face him, and tears welled up in his eyes.
Eli gazed at him for a moment, trying to read through the silence. Something is terribly wrong. He had felt it all day. After they had fled from the Roman prison and Amarice had disappeared, Xena and Gabrielle never showed up at all. He kept waiting for them to join him, especially after all they had been through. He and Gabrielle had had very little time to catch up, and the bard was so full of questions and anecdotes. He had to admit that he loved listening to her as much as he loved teaching her. She was such a joy to be around.
When they didnt show up, he had hoped that they had merely determined there were other places they needed to be, especially as on the road he had heard the rumors of Caesars murder. He had kept hoping nothing bad had happened to them, but hadnt been able to push aside the ill feeling in his gut. "Joxer, tell me, where are Xena and Gabrielle? Did . . ."
"Xena and Gabrielle are dead," Joxer choked out.
Elis eyes closed for a moment and he didnt speak at all. Gabrielle. You were just starting to come into your own. Im sorry your journey into self-discovery was cut so short. Was Xenas way, the way of the warrior, your ultimate downfall, child? I hope you are now safe in Abbas loving arms, my friend, I hope you have finally found the ultimate way of peace and love.
Eli unconsciously moved a bit closer to Joxer and looked up at him with shining eyes. He raised a comforting hand to Joxers shoulder and swallowed a few times, his tongue searching for just the right words. "Joxer, you cared about them a great deal, didnt you?" The avatar searched Joxers face for confirmation and found it in the haunted sad expression that met him.
"I . . . I wanted to be like Xena," Joxer faltered. "I tried so hard to learn everything about how to fight, how to be noble, how to have courage."
"You have shown great nobility and courage by coming to me," Eli offered, choosing not to comment on fighting, at least for now. He could tell the heartbroken man had more to say.
"Gabrielle," Joxer started, and then stopped, and his face fell. "I was in love with her," he finished with a whisper.
Ahhh, the beautiful bard had won another heart, Eli realized. She has mine too, he thought ruefully, albeit on a different level. And the warrior, she had given her heart to Gabrielle as well. A heart so complicated and mysterious and yes, broken, it is a wonder she would give it to anyone at all. Xena was a very private person, and Eli knew that he had only touched the surface in getting to know her. He had been impressed with her protectiveness of Gabrielle, and finally realized that it was because in many ways, the warrior needed the bard a lot more than Gabrielle needed Xena. Gabrielle would make friends and win hearts wherever she went. Xena was not so lucky, and having won the bards love and trust, Eli realized, it was not likely the warrior would give that up without a fight. In fact, the warrior had ridden Tartarus-bent-for-leather across Greece to try to rescue Gabrielle and the rest of them from that prison earlier today, even knowing she was headed right for the setting of the vision she had so dreaded. So, the vision must have come true.
"Joxer, please tell me what happened," the avatar asked furtively.
Joxer managed to tell Eli the whole story, at least as much as he knew, and finally said, "Amarice sent me to find you. She said that you might could . . .um . . . well . . . she said she had seen you . . . ," he trailed off. Do I sound like a total fool, or what? he finished silently to himself.
"Heal a man who couldnt walk?" Eli finished the sentence for him.
"Yes," Joxer said with relief, "she seemed to think that you might could . . . help in this situation as well." Elis gaze bored right through Joxer, and despite the warmth of the fire Joxer shivered. Those eyes. That total serenity. He had seen that look on Gabrielles face. Wistfully he asked, "Can you? Help, I mean."
Eli squeezed Joxers shoulder slightly. Elis own eyes now brimmed with unshed tears. "Joxer, I dont know. Abba has graciously allowed me the honor of being his vessel to help many in need, both physically and spiritually. However, this is beyond my realm of experience. Come, please, let us get you settled down for the night. I will spend the rest of the night fasting and meditating. Tomorrow I will go to the inn and see what Abba has in store."
One of Elis disciples found a spare blanket for Joxer, and several others rearranged their own bedrolls to make room for him by the fire. Joxer was grateful to be able to sleep sheltered from the wind by the large boulder and finally felt the chill begin to leave his body in the warm blaze before him. "Thank you," he nodded briefly at the man who had brought him the blanket. He laid his sword beside him as Xena had taught, and closed his weary eyes, willing sleep to overtake him. The images of the two dead bodies of his friends kept surfacing, making sleep impossible for a long while.
As for Eli, he walked around to the other side of the boulder and sat down in the soft soil, resting his back against the cold stone. He looked up at the full moon and the twinkling stars. He knew Gabrielle and Xena loved to look at the stars. Maybe they were among the stars now, casting down their own brand of magical light. Perhaps even now they were gazing down at him. He closed his eyes and emptied himself. Abba, can I do anything in this situation? What is your will? He felt a sense of peace wash over him. He wasnt sure exactly what Abba would eventually reveal, only that he should go to the inn and await further direction.
Back beside the fire, Joxer fell into a fitful sleep, despite himself. It had been a very long, sad day. Gabrielle . . . gone. Joxers dreams were haunted by the beautiful green eyes and pretty short blonde hair he was afraid he would never see again. The smiling tanned face of the bard kept morphing into the pale bruised features Joxer had seen in the back of the cart on the road. Over by the boulder, a pair of bright eyes continued to gaze thoughtfully up at the stars. There would be no sleep at all for Eli this night.
Joxer slowly awoke and found himself completely covered by the blanket. His tortured dreams of Gabrielle had turned into nightmares of vague violent images. Every muscle in his body ached from sleeping on the cold hard ground. The blanket offered little cushion, and he was used to the thicker furs he slept on during his travels with Xena and Gabrielle. As he came fully awake and peered out from under the blanket, he realized that not everything had been a nightmare. He really was camped out by the fire with Elis disciples. Joxer sighed. That meant Xena and Gabrielle really were dead. That, at least, was harsh reality, and not part of the horrible dreams, as he had hoped.
Dawn broke and Eli roused the rest of the group. He decided they should quickly break camp and eat on the road, dispensing with re-stoking the fire and trying to cook anything. Eli wanted to get to the inn as quickly as possible. Trail rations were passed around and the small forlorn group started back down the road toward Mt. Ymarro. There was a chill in the air, but with sunrise, the snow from the day before had started to melt, making the road a little muddy in places. The group was silent, nibbling on the trail rations and trying to protect their faces from the wind that was blowing. Joxer and Eli walked behind the rest of the group.
"So what happens next?" Joxer tentatively asked Eli, ducking his face against the cold as he turned to speak to the bearded man.
Eli looked straight ahead, his hands clasped behind his back. "I dont know," he finally answered honestly after a long silence. "Abba has not made it clear to me yet. I only know that I am to go to the inn. We will have to await any further direction until we get there."
They walked on in silence, both men deep in thought, oblivious to the fact that the birds had quit singing and an ominous silence had settled over the surrounding forest. Joxer heard a crunching of dry leaves followed by a slight hiss and metallic noise from the woods behind him, the sound of a sword being drawn from a scabbard, and turned as a lone Roman soldier leapt out from the brush, wielding a large single-edged saber. Joxer drew his own sword and yelled to his un-armed companions, "Run! Take to the woods!"
Eli quickly herded the others toward the trees as Joxer began one to one sword fighting with the soldier. The loud clanking of metal on metal rang out behind him. He looked up and saw a cave in the ridge of rocky hills that were just beyond the trees. "Go hide out in that cave until I come for you," he whispered loudly. The group headed for the cave and Eli stopped and hid behind a tree to wait for Joxer.
As he crouched down, he heard the sound of metal hitting the ground, and suddenly the sounds of sword-play stopped. He peered from behind the tree and saw Joxer on his back, his sword laying on the ground several feet away, and the soldier standing over him with his saber drawn above his head. With a sickening thud, the soldier plunged the weapon into Joxers chest and Joxer cried out once and then was still. Eli could see the blood running down his side, pooling in the muddy slush on the road. The soldier bent down and rolled Joxers body over, tugging at leather straps and relieving him of his pack. He then walked over and picked up the errant sword, held it up thoughtfully for a moment, and then tucked it in a strap on his armor. The soldier looked quickly around in all directions and took off going in the opposite direction from Eli.
Eli waited a few minutes and then cautiously crept back towards Joxers body. Gabrielle and the warrior had a good, good friend in you, and so did I, he silently said to Joxer. He knelt down and covered Joxer with the cloak he had been wearing. Eli realized that Joxers diversion was probably the bravest thing he had ever done, giving Eli and the others a chance to escape harm. He knew from talks with Gabrielle that Joxer had no real family other than his evil twin brother, Jett, their father being in prison. Eli dragged Joxers body off the road and behind a tree.
The avatar made his way back to the cave where his disciples were waiting. He told them where Joxer was and instructed them to bury his body, fearful that smoke from a funeral pyre would attract unwanted attention. Then he made a quick decision. His followers would be a lot better off hiding in safety, and he would make better time to the inn if he didnt have to keep track of all of them. He addressed them, "Stay here and hide for a while. If you dont hear from me in two days, go on back to Athens to wait for me. Be careful. Abba be with you. " With that, Eli continued on alone towards the inn with a renewed sense of urgency.
And so, in death, Joxer finally fulfilled his greatest dream of becoming a true warrior.
Amarice broke away from Chilapa, dashed out of the room, and bounded down the stairs two at a time. Breathlessly, she ran out the door and down the steps of the inn. Down the road she could just make out the form of Eli coming over the hill, the sun framing his long dark hair in silhouette. She broke into a run and when she reached him she finally fell to her knees in the dirt before him, and grabbed one of his hands in both of hers. As more tears began to stream down her face, she looked up at him and begged, "please, help them."
Eli drew her to her feet and held her at arms length, looking deep into her eyes. "Amarice, I dont know," the tall bearded man said sadly, "Ive healed people yes, but those were living people. Im not sure what I can do for the dead. Tell me everything about how they died. I need to know where their hearts were at the time of their death."
Amarice shuddered, remembering Gabrielles last desperate stand against the soldiers in her vain attempt to save Xena. What would Eli think of that? Tentatively, Amarice took Elis hand again and they walked toward the inn. When they reached the doorway she lead him up the stairs to the room where the bodies of the two women lay, ignoring the averted glances from the Amazons who cleared a path for them through the inn.
As Eli entered the room he made his way over to the bed and stood at the foot. Despite their battered bodies, the women looked . . . peaceful. He closed his eyes for a long moment, putting his hands together in front of his chest, his lips moving in some silent meditation. After a long moment he opened his eyes again.
"I think they are together," he said. And at least for Gabrielle, I dont believe it was her time to go yet, he added silently. He moved over to the side of the bed where Xena lay and touched the top of her dark head lightly with his fingertips.
Gabrielle, he could always read so well. She was open, honest, and motivated by love, often ignoring her better judgment and recklessly following her heart. The warrior princess was much harder to read, all quick reflexes, shadows, and dour expressions. He didnt understand her way, "the warriors way," she called it. Xena didnt hesitate to kill, something Eli could not understand. Yet, he had to acknowledge, she had saved him and his disciples from certain death in that prison yesterday.
"Now," he said, walking over to the fireplace and seating himself on the hearth and motioning for Amarice to join him, "tell me everything."
"I think I need a glass of ale for this," Amarice replied, and she looked at Rebina, who had been standing guard and hadnt been able to resist ducking inside the door to listen. With Amarices steady gaze, Rebina immediately disappeared from the room, returning a few minutes later with a mug of ale for Amarice and a mug of cider for Eli. Amarice nodded her thanks and lifted the mug to her lips, her hand shaking as she took a long drought. She swallowed and looked over the rim of her mug into Elis waiting eyes.
Something suddenly occurred to Amarice. "Eli, wheres Joxer?" she asked. She had almost forgotten about Xena and Gabrielles misfit companion.
"Joxer died fighting a Roman soldier," Eli said sadly. More violence on my behalf, the avatar acknowledge silently to himself.
"Oh, Im sorry to hear that," Amarice said idly. She hadnt really know Joxer very well, and her impression had been that of an uncoordinated coward, a Xena-wannabe. Well, the world of warrioring is just full of surprises these past few days, Amarice thought wryly, as she glanced over at Gabrielles body, remembering her brave stand on Xenas behalf. She noted the wounds from the crucifixion and was jolted back to the task at hand.
"Eli," she said slowly, "before I tell you what happened can I ask you a question?"
"Why of course," the gentle man responded.
"Eli, I know that you teach a way of absolute peace, right?" she asked.
"Yes, I believe that the only way to break the cycle of violence and hatred in the world is through love and forgiveness," he replied, wondering where this was leading to.
Amarice continued, "Remember in the meadow when I asked you if your mother were threatened, would you fight to save her? You didnt get a chance to answer me. I need an answer now," she finished.
"Why?" he searched her face.
"Just please, answer me first," she pleaded.
Eli got up and paced across the room. "Amarice, no, for me I could never use violence against another person, especially to kill them, even if that meant sacrificing someone I love," he finally answered.
"But Eli, what if someone who has followed your way of light does use violence in order to save someone they love? Can violence ever be justified for someone who has chosen to follow your path?" she asked.
"I dont know," he said looking out the window, "Abba sees our hearts and knows our motivations. I cant judge others. That is up to Abba to determine." He could sense where the questions were coming from, and slowly walked over to Gabrielles still form. He picked up her cold hand and looked through her, unseeing. He knew of Gabrielles great devotion to the warrior princess, knew that Naima had told them they were eternal soulmates, that they had traveled the same road in prior lives, that they were destined to travel together in this life, that they would be together in future lives. So much darkness intermingled with so much light, twin branches of the same river leading to the same sea.
"Amarice," he looked up at her with pained eyes, "did Gabrielle leave the way of light in that compound? Did she take up the staff again?"
If only it was the staff, Amarice thought grimly. "No Eli, she took up the sword," she said flatly.
"And did she kill?" he asked quietly.
"Yes," Amarice replied pointedly.
"How many?" he barely whispered.
"Seven or eight," she said, poking the fire in the fireplace with a stick.
"I see," he said absently, turning back toward Gabrielle and looking at the gentle, peaceful face he saw there. His heart hurt, but he couldnt imagine the fair woman killing without dire reasons, although the picture of Gabrielle taking up the sword was almost inconceivable to him. "What happened?" he turned to Amarice, his voice trembling.
"There were so many soldiers . . . Xena was hurt . . . she couldnt get up . . . this soldier was going to kill her . . . Gabrielle threw a lance and hit him . . . more soldiers were coming after them and Xena just lay there helpless . . . next thing I knew, Gabrielle just went berserk . . .," the words came tumbling out and Amarice crossed the room and knelt down and grasped the hem of Elis tunic. "Eli, it was horrible. I think . . . no, I know, that Gabrielle would only have taken up the sword to save Xena. She would never have taken it up merely to save herself," Amarice finished.
She never needed to, Eli said silently to himself, Xena was always there to save Gabrielle. Apparently except for this last time. Gabrielle, Gabrielle, what have you done? I thought you had become so strong in the way of love. I should have worked with you longer. I should have known if it ever came down to Xena you would kill to save the warrior. I dont understand, but maybe Abba does.
Xena was perhaps the one force that could tear Gabrielle from the way of love. She was, Eli had to admit, the bards one weakness. It was so odd. On the other hand, Gabrielle was also the warriors greatest weakness. The two women together seemed complete, a strange balance of power and passion, of strength and love, of thoughts and feelings. Somehow, the combination just worked. Eli had seen the love in Xenas eyes when she gazed at the bard. Love that was willing to allow Gabrielle to grow in any direction she wanted to, just as long as that growth included Xena in the bards life. Eli suddenly realized that Xena had made some pretty big sacrifices in order to stay with Gabrielle after the bard chose to follow the path of peace and love.
"What else? What happened after that?" Eli asked, looking down at Amarices distraught face.
Amarice rose and lead him back to the hearth, telling him everything she saw, shuddering as she recounted the crucifixion, feeling the nausea all over again. Even Eli could feel the pain that Xena surely must have felt as she watched Gabrielle being nailed to that cross. Amarice finished and took another long drink from the mug of ale, trembling all over.
"Eli," she said plaintively, "please try to help them. The world needs Xena. The Amazons need Gabrielle. I need them both," she added softly, setting the mug down and clasping her hands between her knees. "Please," and she stood up, taking both his hands, and drawing him into a hug, sobbing yet again.
Eli stroked the wavy red hair and looked out over her shoulder, out the window, at the last rays of the setting sun. Abba, what should I do? The warrior who had killed so many. Can I bring back someone who is destined to kill others? And what about Gabrielle, who on her last afternoon of life had taken up a sword and sent several men to their deaths? Yet, I sensed they are together. And that they are somewhere that is peaceful. And that it may not have been Gabrielles time. What if I bring her back and not Xena? What would that mean in terms of the two women being soulmates? Would Xena wait in that peaceful place until Gabrielle dies again someday?
"I need to be alone with them for a while," he said to Amarice. "I need to meditate and determine what Abbas will might be. Ill call you back once I have received guidance."
Amarice squeezed his hands in her own and silently walked out of the room with two last glances, one at the two bodies on the bed, and a last pleading look cast at Eli over her shoulder. She stood outside the door and leaned against the wall, her knees suddenly like jelly, her stomach doing flip-flops. Loisha was standing guard along with Kallerine, the youngest Amazon staying at the inn with them.
"Are you all right?" Loisha glanced up at her timidly.
"No," was her sharp answer, "Im going downstairs. Call me when he comes out." And she was gone.
Downstairs several of the Amazons were standing around the fire pit, roasting some kind of meat, probably caught by the hunting party that had gone out that morning. Luckily the innkeeper had departed in a hurry and had left most of his stores behind. For some reason the smell of the meat turned her stomach, and she sought out a platter of bread and cheese, and Rebina and the regents company. Rebina started to open her mouth and Amarice held up a hand to silence her. "I dont want to talk about it," she spewed out.
"O . .. kay," the chestnut haired woman drew out the word. She then buttered a piece of bread and handed it to Amarice, giving her wrist a quick sympathetic squeeze.
"Okay, maybe I do want to talk about it," Amarice said quietly, with a plaintive look at Rebina and then at the regent. " I should have stayed with them. Maybe I could have made a difference. I ran away like a coward. Then when I turned back, I hid behind a rock and did nothing. I just sat there and watched them be crucified. Its all my fault!" She looked down, the bread and cheese suddenly very unappetizing.
"No, Amarice," the regent said, tucking her hand under Amarices chin and forcing her to look her in the eye. "For Artemis sake, if you had stayed you would have been crucified too. At least you are trying to do something now. If this Eli can really do magic like you say he can, you may end up being the one who ultimately saves them. You cant beat yourself up over this. Now eat, youve barely eaten two bites of bread since last night. You need to keep up your strength. We may need it. They may need it."
Amarice tried to force down some of the cheese, which seemed to stick in her throat. Rebina reached out with a sympathetic gesture and gently rubbed her back, trying to comfort her distraught friend.
Up in the room, Eli sat cross-legged on the rug in front of the hearth. He closed his eyes. Abba, I am going to empty myself that I might know your will, your truth, your love. He relaxed his breathing and gradually his mind went blank. He felt his mind and heart drawn toward Gabrielle. He sensed a life unfinished, a path not fully trod. Ah, yes, it wasnt her time. She is to come back.
As for Xena, Abba was silent. As always, all Eli could see around Xena was shadows and mystery. Abba, what of Xena? But there was no clear answer.
He opened his eyes and pulled some very fragrant incense from the bag he brought, lighting some and placing it on the hearth. He lighted some small candles around the room as well. He then moved Gabrielles body from the bed to the rug in front of the fire. This at least, he was almost sure of. As for Xena, he would have to wait and see. Finally he walked over to the door, opened it, and looked out. "Tell Amarice and Chilapa it is time."
Kallerine carefully went down the stairs and saw Amarice, Rebina, and the regent in deep conversation. She straightened her shoulders and walked over and whispered in Amarices ear. Amarice swallowed, grabbed the regents hand, and quietly lead her upstairs. Chilapa could feel Amarices hand, cold to touch, and could see the tension and anticipation in the redheads face.
"I dont know, Amarice," the regent hesitated.
"Trust him," was the answer she got, "its all we have." And they silently mounted the stairs, which seemed to take an eternity.
As the women entered the room, the strong spicy smell of the incense hit them full in the face. "Please sit in the chairs by the window and be very quiet," Eli directed. The women walked silently over to the chairs and sat down, pensive looks on their faces. Amarice reached out and took the regents hand, squeezing it so hard she cut off the circulation. Finally, she relaxed a little and gazed at Eli.
Eli knelt down next to Gabrielle and pulled her legs out straight, stretching her body to its full length. He waved a wand of burning incense up and down the length of the fragile, battered body. He put the incense back on the hearth and then closed his eyes. He once again emptied himself, and felt the most overwhelming sense of love come over him. He then held both hands over Gabrielle, a few inches above her face and slowly moved down, pausing at the wounds made in her hands and ankles by the metal spikes. Amarice let a small cry escape, and Chilapa held her hand tightly.
"Ah, Gabrielle did kill, but her motives were pure and unselfish. She killed to try to save Xena. She killed out of love. Gabrielles path is not the same as mine. Hers is destined to be a way of peace mingled with the the way of the warrior. She will only take up weapons to help those who cant help themselves, just as she did when she took up the sword to save Xena yesterday," Eli said in a very hypnotical tone. "Abba, bring back her life force, heal her body of these horrible wounds, and let her walk once again upon this earth to love and do good."
So. Abba can condone the violence in some cases. That was a surprise. Eli suddenly realized that he needed to rethink his "one" path and consider that maybe there were as many paths as there were people. Still. Xenas extreme violence. The warrior almost seemed to revel in it, to enjoy it. Eli had seen the glint in Xenas eyes when she was anticipating a fight. The warrior seemed to almost toy with her adversaries. He could not think that would ever be justified. Then he focused again on Gabrielle.
"Come back to us Gabrielle," he said slowly, almost reverently. Elis hands hovered and then he slowly moved them back up Gabrielles body and began to feel the faint warmth of her aura. As he reached her face he felt the slightest breath tickle the palm of his hand. He gasped, and her eyelids fluttered. And then she opened her eyes.
"What . . . where . . . ," her voice was very faint as she tried to focus. Green eyes looked up at him. "Eli, what are you doing here? What happened? Xena! Wheres Xena?" She looked at him with alarm. Amarice and the regent sat on the edge of their seats, afraid to speak or move, not believing what they were seeing.
"Shhh, Gabrielle, take it easy. Youve been through a lot," Eli smiled at her, his own voice faltering. Abba, what a wonder this is.
Gabrielle closed her eyes and swallowed painfully. "So thirsty," she said sleepily. Eli got up and grabbed a water skin and knelt back down and held it to her lips and she took a sip. "Everythings fuzzy. I was in the Elysian Fields with Xena. I saw Ephiny and Solari and Perdicus. Xena saw Marcus and Solan and Lyceus. We were . . . so happy. Was it a dream?"
Suddenly her eyes popped open and she tried to sit up. "The crucifixion! Wheres Xena?" She looked at her hands, and inspected them, turning them over. The horrid wounds from the spikes were gone. Her strength was coming back. And her memory. She sat up and saw Xenas lifeless form on the bed and a choking sob rose out of her throat and became a low moan, followed by a desperate wail. "Nooooooo!"
She got up and made her way to the side of the bed, now walking on feet and ankles that were clean and untouched by violence. She bent over and stroked Xenas hair and then bent further and kissed both cheeks, finally laying her head against the warriors unmoving chest. "No, Xena, you have to come back with me, please. I need you."
She gently lifted Xenas hand and barely touched the ugly gaping hole left by the Roman spike. Then she crawled up onto the bed and cradled Xenas body in her arms, wetting the warriors face with now free-flowing tears, and rocking her gently, stroking the dark hair and whispering little inaudible words in Xenas ear. "Eli, you have to bring her back. Isnt that what you just did with me? The Elysian Fields, that wasnt a dream, was it?" She looked at Eli with such sadness it broke his heart.
The desperation on the Bards face as she held Xena made it difficult to remember that while she felt love for the warrior, Eli only saw darkness. "Gabrielle, this is very hard. You, Im sure of, had a sure directive from Abba to bring you back. What was to become of Xena was not so clear. I can try, but I cant make any promises." He looked at her forlornly and made his way to her side.
She grasped his tunic and cried silently into his collar, the sobs so overwhelming she thought she would break in half. "Eli, you have to try, please," she finally gasped, "Why would Abba send me back to live without her? I thought we were soulmates. She promised to try to come back with me," she said in a whisper. It was all coming back to her now.
She remembered . . . everything. The chakram . . . and Callisto . . . and Xena falling to the ground. Her taking up the sword, and knowing without question, that it was the right thing to do, indeed the only thing to do. Gods. How did she do that? She had no training in the sword other than the little training she had gotten from Xena after Callisto killed Perdicus.
She remembered the soldiers dragging them back into the prison cell, and them beating her almost senseless as Xena looked on. When Xena had tried to get to her, they had beaten her as well. Finally after they left, she had crawled over and just held Xena in her arms, stroking her hair and cheek, and crying, and kissing her on the forehead, knowing that Xenas vision was becoming all too true.
Xena broke the silence as she looked weakly up at Gabrielle. "Gabrielle, are you crying? Dont cry," Xena had said, as she saw the silent tears spill down her cheeks.
"I wont," Gabrielle said softly, "Just rest, Xena."
And Xena had closed her eyes, only to open them again moments later. "I made you leave the way of the light," she said sadly.
"No Xena, I had a choice," Gabrielle replied, "I had a choice to do nothing or save my friend. I chose the way of friendship."
"Im sorry for all the times I didnt treat you right," Xena had said hoarsely.
"No, Xena, before I met you, I felt invisible. You saw all that I could be. You saved me," Gabrielle said, soothing Xena, unable to help the tears that continued to slowly spill from her eyes.
Xena looked at her again. "Im sorry I never read your scrolls."
"You would have liked them," Gabrielle smiled.
"I know," Xena said weakly.
Those scrolls are all about you, love. Gabrielle added silently. Hopefully I have left a legacy for you. Hopefully someone will find them and the world will know about the good deeds done by the warrior princess.
And nothing more was said, as Gabrielle continued to hold Xena and stroke her hair, and Xena just looked up at her with such love and sadness. They knew their fate was sealed. They would die together and somehow that made it less frightening. Finally the guards came. Gabrielle cried out as they tried to make Xena walk, and failing, just dragged the warrior along the ground, her undignified legs not working at all. Gabrielle glanced over at Xena as she walked toward the crosses, and saw such guilt and sadness in the warriors blue eyes, that she had to look away.
As they laid her on the cross and she waited for the pain that would come, she felt the rough ropes being tied tightly around her arms and legs, and heard a quiet, hoarse voice. "Gabrielle." She looked over at Xena with all the love and courage she could muster.
"Gabrielle, you were the best thing in my life," Xena whispered, with the saddest little smile on her face.
"I love you Xena," Gabrielle had choked out, and they had just laid there looking at each other, trying to be brave, with no more time and nothing more to say. The mutual love in their eyes said it all.
She saw the soldier place the spike against her own hand and tore her gaze away from Xena. She desperately wanted to look at Xena for the last bit of comfort she would find on earth, but she would not, would not, make Xena watch her face to face for this. Determined not to cry out, she felt Xenas eyes on her. As the mallet fell on the first stake, she clenched her jaw at the searing pain and shuddered, but made no sound. Her gut wrenched as she heard Xenas anguished wail, and Gabrielle knew Xena was watching her, feeling her pain, even now at the end, wanting to protect her as always and unable to do anything.
Things got fuzzy after that and all she knew was the pain. She was dimly aware of the soldier moving away from her, and then she heard the spikes being nailed into Xena. She heard Xena call out to her again, and her soul cried out in agony for the brave fallen warrior, her best friend and soulmate. And then she sank down into a soft quiet blackness and the pain . . . just vanished.
She floated in dark silent comfort for a while and then felt a bright warmth, and heard her name. "Gabrielle." She opened her eyes and there was Xena, cupping her cheeks in her hands and smiling at her. Xena was . . . beautiful . . . and glowing with complete love, and a peace that had never been present during life.
Gabrielle took Xenas hands in her own and looked up, and they moved into the light together. On the other side of the light had been the Elysian Fields, and they had been completely happy, soulmates in death as in life, never leaving each others side, seeing all the people they had loved that had gone before. They had wandered through the Fields together, reveling in the beauty all around them, happy just to be together in this ultimate place of peace and happiness. They had never been so contented. It was a great rest, free of pain, free of fear, free of violence or any care. A place where at last the love held in check for so long could be expressed between them, unrestrained by lifes insecurities. Until Gabrielle had heard the voice calling to her to come back.
"Xena, I think I have to go back. Come with me."
Xena looked at her, "Ill be right behind you love, if I can, I promise. If not, Ill be waiting right here for you. Go, Gabrielle." The warrior bit her lip and managed a regretful smile, "You had so much life left ahead of you."
"But I want you to go back with me." It was hard to be sad in that place, but she felt a little pang. "Xena, promise me you will try to follow me back."
"Ill do my best Gabrielle."
They had hugged and Xena smiled at her. Gabrielle had pulled Xenas face to hers and gave her a long kiss on soft lips. "You have to go now, love," Xena said wistfully, "they need you."
Gabrielle reluctantly let go and turned back toward the tunnel of light. She looked back over her shoulder and called out, "I love you, Xena." And then had turned and the force of the light had drawn her back through, as the warriors last words trailed behind her, "Love you too, Gabrielle. Always."
That kiss and those words had spoken volumes. And now here she was and Xena was still there. Maybe she hadnt been able to come back. "Eli, whatever you did to me, please, do it to her," Gabrielle pleaded.
Eli sighed and with great effort, lifted Xenas body and carried it over and gently laid her on the rug in front of the fire. Gabrielle knelt beside him. He waived the incense over Xena and once again sat back and emptied his mind. And felt . . . nothing. He couldnt feel the love. He did not feel evil either, but perhaps because in her days as the Destroyer of Nations, the warrior had killed hundreds, and not out of love but out of anger and greed, perhaps she wouldnt be allowed to come back. Still . . . she had gone to the Elysian Fields, or Nirvana, as his followers called it. He did not doubt what Gabrielle said had happened.
"Gabrielle, I cant do it but maybe you can."
"Eli, please, try, I dont know what to do. I cant"
"Gabrielle, to bring you back, I had to feel the ultimate power of love. For some reason Im not feeling that now, but I know you have felt that kind of love for her before. You seem to see an absolute good in her that no one else can. You may be the only one who can bring her back."
"Then tell me what to do," Gabrielle demanded, her face determined.
"Gabrielle, empty your mind, just like you did in that prison cell, and let all the love you have for Xena in. After that you will know what to do."
Gabrielle moved up and sat cross-legged, cradling Xenas head in her lap. Amarice and the regent looked on, fascinated, still not having said a word. Gabrielle closed her eyes and just let go. Suddenly, the brightest, most beautiful light, more beautiful than the one that had guided her and Xena to the Fields, entered her very heart and soul, and the love she felt blocked out everything else.
"Xena, come back to me." Gabrielle knew that Xena had done horrible, unspeakable things before they had met. They never knew when one of Xenas enemies were going to show up, trying to exact revenge. Others would show up trying to collect one of a dozen prices that were on the warriors head at any given time. She knew that their crucifixion was in some way linked to Callisto, one of Xenas most immortal enemies, as well as to the six million dinar price Caesar had placed on Xenas head. The bard knew just as well that her friend, her best friend, had vowed to spend the rest of her life trying to atone for all the evil she had done. Xena now walked the path of the warrior, the true warrior, the good warrior, and only lifted her sword to help other people.
On an even deeper level, Gabrielle somehow knew that love, the love between them, was also a part of Xenas salvation. Gabrielle knew it. Knew the absolute truth of it, just as surely as she had known it four years ago when she had stood between Xena and an angry mob at the inn in Amphipolis. She knew with all her heart and soul that Xena was a good person, a loving person, and that they were linked by their belief in each other. "Xena, please, we are soulmates, you promised. Please, come back to me," the bard pleaded in an almost inaudible whisper.
Gabrielle opened her eyes and stroked the precious head in her lap, and bent over and kissed the warrior on the lips, as the tears streamed down her face. And then . . . she felt the lips beneath hers twitch. Yes, Xena, come back to me. The barest grin played at Gabrielles lips as she kissed each of Xenas closed eyelids and felt the faint fluttering there. Good girl. Come on. Please, Xena. Impulsively, Gabrielle reached down and squeezed Xenas hand and felt the faintest squeeze in return.
"Hey," a deep voice said, the eyes still closed.
"Hey yourself," Gabrielle choked, her whole body trembling, "you came back to me."
"What Gabrielle wants, Gabrielle gets," the warrior said, a tiny smile forming on her lips.
Now the blue eyes were open, looking up at her. "Eli was right, Gabrielle, you were the only one who could bring me back. Ive been hovering right over you, waiting and watching, willing you to have enough faith to do it."
"Always enough faith in you love," Gabrielle said softly.
"Soulmates," Xena muttered, closing her eyes again, with a full smile on her face. The warrior squeezed the now shaking hand that still held hers and brought it to her lips and kissed it gently. "Always anything for you, too, my love. So tired. Sorry, Gabrielle, so tired. Can move my toes," Xena mumbled, her lips twitching. Gabrielle looked down and saw Xenas toes move, in fact, saw her legs moving slightly.
"Gabrielle, youre shaking. Dont be afraid," the warrior said with a hoarse whisper.
Gabrielle realized how exhausted she was. The reality of what just happened set in and she brought a fist to her lips, chewing on her knuckles. "Oh, gods," she gasped, and suddenly felt as if she were going to fall over. Eli put an arm around her shoulders to steady her, and Gabrielle began to silently cry.
Xenas eyes remained closed but she never let go of the small hand she held onto. "Im here Gabrielle, its okay," the warrior mumbled, "Im not going anywhere."
"Holy Mother of Artemis," the regent finally said, and looked over as Amarice passed out.
"Well," Eli said, not really knowing what to say. He looked at Gabrielle, "You two need to get some rest and I think Amarice needs some fresh air."
"Eli, help me get her into bed," Gabrielle asked. Between the two of them they supported the warrior, who really was able to walk weakly over and crawl into bed.
"Gabrielle, please, sleep up here with me," Xena asked, her voice catching.
"Wouldnt be sleeping anywhere else," the bard replied. With much too great an effort, Gabrielle climbed up onto the soft mattress. "This coming back from the dead stuff is a lot of hard work," she muttered.
"You got that right," Xena responded wearily.
Xena rolled on her side and faced Gabrielle, who was laying flat on her back. She reached out and pulled the bard up against her, until the two women were spooning. The warrior wrapped a protective arm around Gabrielles waist and planted several little kisses down the bards neck and upper back before she finally laid back, her chin resting on top of Gabrielles head, and let out a contented sigh.
Which was echoed by a little sigh from Gabrielle, who rested her hand on top of the one wrapped around her waist. This is how it was going to be, she just knew. How could it not be?
"Best thing in my life," Xena mumbled sleepily.
"Love you," Gabrielle replied.
And both women fell into a deep dreamless sleep.
Chilapa softly patted Amarice on the cheek and she came to and almost swooned again before the regent caught her.
"They are going to be fine," Eli pronounced, and herded the two dumbfounded Amazons out of the room. He suffered a final look back, his face radiant with wonder, and he quietly closed the door. Something has changed with them, he mused. And . . . I think I have learned something here. I need to learn about the many paths in this life.
Eli, the regent, and Amarice went mutely downstairs, overwhelmed by what had just happened. They had been up in Xena and Gabrielles room for a few candle marks and it was now almost midnight. Most of the Amazons had finally given up on finding out what was happening in the small room, and out of sheer exhaustion from the events of the past days, had made their way to the various rooms they had each staked out to sleep in. A few pairs of eyes, however, met Elis as he reached the bottom step and entered the main room of the inn.
"Well?" Rebina asked as she leaped up and hurried across the room to Amarice, "what happened? Why were you up there so long? " Then she stopped and regarded Amarice for a long moment. "Amarice, youre as white as a banshee. What . . ."
"I need to sit down," Amarice mumbled, and collapsed onto the nearest bench. Rebina stared at her and then looked questioningly at Chilapa, who also sunk down onto the bench next to Amarice. Eli, however, walked across the room and just stared out the window into the inky darkness.
Kallerine, who had been sitting in a corner just watching it all, smiled faintly with wonder and got up to go in the kitchen. They need . . . and she found three large steins and filled them with the frothy amber ale from the large wooden barrel the innkeeper had left behind. Could it be? A few more days like this one and we are going to drain this keg dry, she smiled wryly to herself. She thought for a minute and got a fourth mug. Im not really allowed to drink this stuff yet, she mused, but what the Hades. Besides, I dont think theyll even notice, she smiled. She filled the last mug and balanced the four mugs on a tin tray and made her way back over to Rebina, Amarice and the regent. "Now," she said, setting the ale down and laying a gentle hand on Amarices shoulder, "tell us what happened."
Amarice picked up the mug in front of her and drained it dry. "Th . .. theyre . . .," she stammered and fell silent, growing pale again.
"Shhh," the regent placed a hand against Amarices forehead. She looked first at Rebina and then at Kallerine. "Theyre alive," she stated flatly, "I dont understand it, I halfway still dont believe it, even though I saw it with my own eyes, but somehow . . . Eli brought our queen back and then the queen . . . ," she trailed off. She paused for a moment and took a deep shaky breath, and then took a few sips from her own mug. She gazed across the room and her eyes fell on Elis back, who was still looking out the window. "Eli, what did happen in there with Gabrielle and Xena?"
Eli absently stroked his dark beard and slowly walked over to the Amazons and sat down across the table from them. His eyes were glowing. "Im not totally sure myself," he confessed, "All I am sure of is that whatever it took to bring Xena back, Gabrielle had." He took the regents hand in one of his, and Amarices in the other, and looked around at all four Amazons.
"There are a whole lot of things I dont know and I dont understand. I think that we will have to wait until morning to talk to them. It may take some time for them to even be able to talk about it. This is beyond anything I have ever seen or done, uncharted territory, if you will. I think for now, we all need to rest. Are there any empty rooms upstairs that I might sleep in tonight?" he asked.
Kallerine pointed toward the stairs, "up the stairs, turn right, last room on the left for sure is open," she told him.
He rose, bid them all goodnight, and made his way up the stairs without looking back. The others soon followed suit, except for Kallerine, who, deep in thought, slowly sipped from her forbidden mug. It had been a long, long night, and it wasnt over yet.
She swallowed the last drops of ale and made her way to the fire pit in the center of the room and banked the coals. The queen is alive. She smiled a full smile. She had always admired the queen. She was so different from most of the other Amazons. More peaceful. More level-headed. Soft, yet strong. Kallerine trusted her, somehow. What you saw was what you got, and the queen didnt act like she had anything to prove. Not like all the other leather-clad, weapon-toting, feather-headed women she lived with day in and day out in the Amazon village. Queen Gabrielle was the real deal.
As for Xena, a little shiver ran up Kallerines spine. I guess if I spent all my time with someone like her, I wouldnt feel like I had anything to prove either. I wonder what its like to have that kind of protection backing you up? Still . . . from what Kallerine had heard, in the end it was the queen who had tried desperately to save Xena. The mighty warrior had fallen and yet now she was back.
Kallerine pondered several things, knowing she would not sleep a wink that night. Well, might as well help stand guard, she mused, Im sure wide awake now. She retrieved her sword from the corner where she had left it, peered at the fire one last time, and pattered up the stairs to check the guard immediately outside the door to Xena and Queen Gabrielles room. Two alert Amazon heads nodded briefly at her. She nodded in return and made her way back down the stairs, donned her cloak, and stepped out the front door of the inn, depositing herself on the cool stone step.
She leaned back up against the wooden door frame, stretched out her legs, crossed her ankles, and laid her sword across her lap, idly playing with the polished wooden hilt which she had carved herself, to fit her own hand perfectly. She had spent candle marks getting it just right, another several more sanding it so smooth that she knew she would never get a splinter from it.
Kallerine was young, only sixteen, but she took pride in her abilities, more so than the other young Amazons. She took her responsibilities seriously, and had proven on more than one occasion that she could be counted on in a crisis. That was one of the reasons the regent had chosen her to join the party that had initially come to Mt. Ymarro to try to rescue Queen Gabrielle.
No one had asked her to guard the front door of the inn. Indeed, the regent was so exhausted she had forgotten this small but important detail. Kallerine sighed. She just knew that the door needed guarding. Too much was going on out there, and there were those who would want Xenas body, hoping for some sort of reward. Xenas body. Well, wouldnt anyone who tried to come steal the "body" be surprised?
An owl hooted in a tree across the inns courtyard. Kallerine squinted until she spotted it up on a branch, its golden eyes blinking in the moonlight. "Guess its just you and me, Mr. Owl," she said softly, and settled back a bit more, tucking her cloak around her. She looked up at the stars in the clear cloudless sky, determined to greet the dawn still awake, keeping watch for her queen.
Continued in Part 2
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