By Charles Anderson
DISCLAIMERS: Xena belongs to RP and Universal. Everything else can be blamed on an over active imagination or the fact that I need a life. No copyright infringement is intended by this work. The story is copyrighted by C Anderson.
Violence: These people play with sharp edged swords. There is less violence than the typical show.
Sex and Alternative Lifestyle Warning: None that I wrote.
Thanks to Beta reader: Helva Peters for comments/suggestions and beta reading..
Author's Notes: The
image of Ja-far being trapped in a picture is from Rod Sterling's Twilight Zone.
Story line is from a Mad Max clone that I almost remember and "Sins of the Past."
Death scene at the end is from "Highlander" the first movie.
Xena losing her mind is from "Highlander: The series." Several episodes revolved around Immortals becoming mentally unstable due to their longevity.
Comments, kudos, and feedback can be sent to me.
It had been a good day although I have had better. My traveling companion and I had rescued nineteen people from some slavers. It would have been a better day if I had zigged instead of zagged. One of the slavers stuck a knife in my gut. I saw it coming and knew it was going to be bad, real bad.
Right now I am lying in the shade of some tree. I can see the slaver who killed me. He's being crucified. My traveling companion cut his vocal cords so his screams wouldn't bother me. The rest of the slavers are waiting their turn. I would stop her but its too much effort.
I can see her looking for a plant that she says will cure me. We both knew that is a lie. Later today or early tomorrow, she will make a broth from that plant. I'll drink it and then go to sleep before the pain drives me insane. The people we rescued are gathering firewood for my funeral pyre. I hope there are adventures on the other side.
I started to think about how we meet twenty-nine years ago. I remember those two days like it was yesterday. I was seventeen and she was the old one. Now I am the old one, my blond hair is streaked with gray. She looks the same as the day I meet her. We both knew it would happen. She and I both knew I would die and she would go on existing.
We had a unique journey together. It was a journey that I sometimes wished I had never embarked upon, but I did. I got to see an amazing number of places and people. I got to see Chin, and Britannia and a fantastic canyon that was a hundred leagues wide and almost as deep in a place she called the New World. I've written most of our travels down and buried them for someone to find. She promised me that some day, someone would find them. We made a dictionary so someone can translate my language into Greek or Chin. I have learned so much from her.
It all started so long ago.
"Hello." A six-year-old girl said as she looked up at the strange woman. She was the first woman I had ever seen wearing a sword. My mother told me never to look at that woman again. She had evil eyes. It was years before I really saw her again. My mother died of the fever when I was twelve.
Over the years, I heard about the woman that roamed the desert. On those rare occasions when she traveled through our village, she made no friends and rarely spoke. She did not fight as the men did. From the glimpses I had of her eyes, I could tell that she was lost in her mind. My father said that she had been touched by a god and driven mad. That I did not believe. That was too easy.
I lived on the delta at the mouth of the Numerel River in the largest village, Churel. Caught between the sea and the desert, Churel existed for the buying and selling of trade goods. Caravans came from beyond the desert with goods for the sailing ships. Ships stopped at our port for their trade goods and fresh supplies. Both groups brought news from distant lands, money and strange ideas. Occasionally there would be exotic foods if they were still good.
My family owned the best of the three inns in town. When a caravan or ship was in town, the place was packed. Occasionally, a sailor would wait for a berth on a new ship or a caravaner would wait for a different caravan. A ship's captain paid for a month's board with a picture of a strange village. If you looked at it right, you could almost see the people moving.
We were fortunate in that we could see tiny bits of the outside world without having to leave home. Still there were only three ways out of Churel, you left by sea, by land or died.
I wanted to see and experience the world. I wanted to get out. I had no money for passage on a ship or caravan. Neither would hire a girl. Well they would but I didn't want that job.
Sometimes I dreamed of following the river across the desert to the lush green forests beyond. People talked at the inn about what was there. The river ended in a sand dune sixty leagues outside the delta.
I was trapped by geography as well as family obligations. My two sisters and I ran the inn. Father worked when he wasn't drinking or drunk. When momma died, a big part of him died too. Cindy and Tina cleaned the rooms and waited on customers in our restaurant. I did the cooking. Being the oldest, I took care of the chickens and cows.
I went out to collect some eggs and when I came back in, Cindy was waiting. "Papa's drinking." That was all she needed to say. I could hear him bothering the customers.
"Papa, we have to move a bed and I need your help." I said as I guided him to our part of the inn on the first floor. I asked him to sit down on his bed for a minute. The next second, he passed out.
I apologized profusely for his behavior after I returned to the main room. The regulars didn't care, but the caravaners did.
"Your father insulted my name in front of my men. I demand satisfaction." A big caravaner said.
"A round of drinks for all of you." I said. That usually solved the problem.
"Maybe." He said as he stroked his beard and thought about it. "No, I'll take your services as payment for the insult to my name."
He grabbed my hands and started to pull me closer to him. I kicked him where it hurts the most, but that didn't work. He just slapped me so hard that I almost passed out. He grabbed me again and headed for the stairwell.
I don't remember what I said but I wrapped my legs around the base post of the stairs. His companions were cheering him on. I bet this has happened more that once.
The door opened and the friends stopped cheering. What had happened? The silence was deafening. The brute that had me backed up. It was her, the strange woman. My savior had come, I hoped. I tried my best 'help me' look.
My skin crawled when I looked into her cobalt blue eyes. They were alive with joy. If eyes could kill, these were dead men. I just hoped that I was not going from the frying pan into the fire.
"Charo, let the girl go. She's not worth dying for."
"Says who." Charo sneered. He then shoved me in the direction of his companions for safekeeping.
I could tell he was a dead man. He just didn't know it. I hoped. They both pulled their swords. For seconds it was a standoff. Then Charo made the first move. It was over almost before it started. Charo's head was severed from his body and his sword arm was cut off. What a mess! I wished they had gone outside. There was a lot of scrubbing to do.
Finally it dawned on me. Her speed, agility and strength of her movements astonished me. Compared to the drunken barroom brawls at the inn, this was poetry. This was art.
As Charo died before their eyes, the caravaners threw me to the floor. Their code required that the death of their friend be avenged even if they knew they would lose. I crawled under the stairs to safety. I didn't want to be in the middle of five swing swords. I counted the number of water buckets it would take to clean the floor.
"Let it go boys and I'll buy you a drink." The woman warned and pleaded with the men at the same time.
The caravaners drew their swords. My protector held up her hand and said. "Outside." Then she turned her back on them and walked outside. That was insane or the height of arrogance. The caravaners followed her like obedient puppies. The sound of metal on metal was loud. Then it was over. I stayed in my spot until I recognized her boot steps.
"You can come out now. I need a glass of ale." I heard her say.
After rushing to the main room, I tried to stay calm as I poured her a drink. My hand shook so much that I spilled more on the counter than I put in her cup. I finally set the pitched on the counter. "Take as much as you want. You saved my butt." I pushed the tankard closer to her, but not too close. She pulled it closer and filled it.
I looked into her eyes. The cold scary eyes were returning. It was as if something was lost. I think I can call her friend but I'm not real sure. She drank the tankard in one gulp. Only old man Nimo can do that. She filled the tankard again.
"He wasn't going to do anything to your butt. He wanted something else." She said with a tinge of humor.
"True but I don't want to think of that. Please have a seat. Would you like something to eat? I'm the cook." My voice was shot. I could not keep it under control.
I brought out the stew and some of the best bread and sat it down in front of her. She was sniffing the ale.
"The ale smells rather good. I hope your cooking is the same." Then she used the bread to try some of the stew. I could see her analyzing if as if it were Durban liquor.
"My name is Serina. I don't think I ever got your name." When she looked at me with those cobalt blue eyes, I knew I was leaving this town.
"Xena. The name is Xena. And no you're not coming with me."
"I haven't asked." At least not yet. "If you're going to be in town tonight, we have an empty room. There is a tub out back. I need to repay you for your help." I wanted her to stay, at least for a little longer. She knew the desert and maybe beyond. Maybe she was my ticket out of here.
She stared at me for long seconds. I could almost hear the wheels turning. "Thanks."
I started the fire for the hot water for the tub. While we waited, I hired some kids to clean up the garbage. I kept the five swords, the best desert robe, a fine six-inch knife one of the men had and what little money they had to pay expenses.
"Excellent food." She said after I came back.
"I need to check on the water." I ran to our quarters and picked up a bottle of lilac oil and some soft soap. The lilac oil provided a nice smell and kept the bugs way. The soft soap was fresh. I had made it yesterday from some lard and lye. I rushed to the bathhouse and filled the tub half full with hot water. I refilled the hot water pot.
"Your bath is ready." I proudly said. I had never seen anyone so relaxed.
"Thank you." She answered.
In the bathhouse, she adjusted the water to suit her tastes. I gave her the bottle of Lilac oil and the soft soap. She smiled at the jest. I helped her off with her desert robes. That's when I saw what she had on underneath - leather and armor. No wonder the men did not stand a chance. This was a warrior. She wore a bronze or light copper, whirling breastplate with intricate serpentine strips of metal entwined the two circles and joined them to a back plate and her impressive shoulder guards. A few strips twined down her stomach, drawing the eye to what lay beneath the tasses of her skirt. Her knee high boots went over her knees
I asked if she needed help with her armor. She said no.
I watched her remove her knee high boots, breastplate, greaves and finally her leather tunic. There was an impressive pile of weapons that she removed. If I counted right, there were seventeen knives and a number of thin ropes on the table. Finally there was nothing left but a dirty cotton chiton that had once been gray.
"Do you have any thing that you want me to wash?" I asked knowing the answer already.
"No, you've done enough."
"I'll get you a basket for your clothes and a robe to wear to your room." I wanted to stay but was embarrassed when she started to remove her chiton.
I went to find a basket and the robe and to tell my sisters what had happened. The blood on the main room floor was gone. They had already cleaned it up. It took five minutes to tell them what had happened. Then I went to get the basket and the robe.
Passage. How much would a Guide charge for passage across the desert? Other than a few trinkets, I had nothing of value. The swords - I could sell the swords and use the money as passage. That would have to do.
I knocked on the door. There was no answer. Had she left? No, the door was locked from the inside. After opening the door, I could see that she was sleeping. I lightly hummed a tune as I added more water to the hot water pot. I tided up her things as best I could. I left the bathhouse. I had other duties to perform. It was a long time before she told me that she was watching me through half open eyes. She almost killed me. A sleeping warrior can be a nasty warrior when rudely wakened.
Two candle marks later, she came in wearing her leather and armor. The robe was in the basket. I took the basket and guided her to her room. I told her to come down later in the evening for supper.
She came down for the evening meal. She looked around and moved to the back corner. There were three huge men setting at the table. She said "move." They looked at her as if ready to fight. Then they moved to another table. One of the men apologized for the inconvenience.
After the patrons had left for the night and my sisters had gone to bed, we talked. That night I learned what a friend was for and the value of simple friendship. Was it selfless friendship? No. She was truly lonely, never staying with one group long enough to forge a friendship.
She was an outcast living among outcasts. Xena made her living as a Guide. She was one of those who saw the desert in her mind. She could sense its dangers before they happened. She could see the path that would lead a caravan to its next port. She could feel where the water was without thinking. In short, she was tolerated and valued for her skills, but never liked and almost always feared. Many said that 'Guides were touched by the gods.' I don't know. Until then, I had never met a god.
Finally we grew tired and went to our rooms. I could not sleep. Instead, I went to the main room to wait for the morning. The next thing I remember was waking up with the sun in my eyes. She had been looking at the picture. On the floor were her desert robes and other baggage.
"Interesting picture. I wonder where the city is?" I asked. Maybe she knew.
"In here." She said.
"The ruler of Ja-far draw the ire of a god with his arrogance. The god punished the ruler by putting him and his city into this picture or so I've been told."
In my sleep induced stupor, I was half listening. This woke me up, but I did not say anything. I yawned and stretched my hands over my head. "Would you like something to eat? There's some left over stew."
"Okay, but I'll pay for it."
The fire was burning low. The stew was heated up in almost no time. I put two plates on the table and sat across from her. It was now or never. She ate her food. I picked at mine. Soon she would be done and would leave. Courage. "Will you take me with you? I have money for passage across the desert."
She looked at me with those hard, unreadable eyes.
"No." She said in a loud voice.
"Please." I pleaded. "I would be your slave if that is what it takes."
"Serina, the desert is a dangerous place and I am far more dangerous than the desert. I attract death. You'll be dead in a week."
"With you to guide and help me I'll make it."
She looked at me. Then she felt my arms, pulled up my skirt and felt my legs.
"Only the strong survive. The rest die a cruel death."
I was helpless. I had taken a shot and failed miserably. A city girl first, last and always. I had one last shot.
"I would rather die than stay here for the rest of my life." I replied with all the strength I could muster."
"Why do you want to leave the safety of this inn for the unknown."
I sat there. I had no answer.
She got up, put on her robes, picked up her bags and walked out the door. I could have died then and there. Why, I didn't even know why I wanted to leave. I couldn't run after her and fail again.
Still, I sensed a bond between us. There was one last glance from her as she stepped through the door. She was framed by the sunlight streaming through the door.
My sisters streamed into the room and asked about the strange woman. They had been listening for a long time. They did not want me to go. They would miss me. This was embarrassing. Rejected by one and pounced on by my sisters.
"I have to go clean the room I let Xena use last night. I don't want father to see that it was used." I said.
Standing in front of Xena's room, I debated having one of my sisters clean the room. I had let her use it. I had to do it. The door opened and the smell of lilac oil drifted out. I went into the room and started to straighten up. The bed was left to last. I pick up the pillow and held it close. Tears started to stream down my face as I realized that I was stuck here. Long minutes later, I decided that I must go on. It was not the life I wanted, but it was life. As I started to put the pillow down, I saw a rolled up sheet of paper that was tied together by several strands of hair. Black hair by the looks of it.
I removed and saved the hair. The paper unrolled on its on. It was a map of Churel. There is our inn, streets, warehouses and docks. There are two Xs on the map with times. There was a message at the bottom.
Thank you for your kindness. I will not be coming back this way. If you want to come with me, you will have to find me. I can not promise you a grand and glorious adventure or even a good life. I can promise that you will die and that I will go existing. I may go mad and kill you myself. I've done it before.
Now, I have to make a decision. She has warned me. I knew what could happen.
"Serina." Tina called. "Where are you?"
"I'm in two." I called out as I put the map in my skirt.
"We have customers waiting for breakfast."
Do I go or stay. It was so much easier when I could dream of leaving. Now I have to decide. Now it's my decision and only my decision. Now I have to make breakfast.
The caravan master was surprised when Chakata, the strange one, showed up for the trip to the docks. Usually she got drunk for the two days that the caravan was in town. What got the caravan master worried was that she looked happy. Chakata was only happy when she was killing people.
The animals were packed when Xena arrived. By pure rote, she went down the rows checking the animals' straps. She showed her disapproval when required. Her mind was on the blonde haired, green-eyed girl at the inn. She looked so much like Gabrielle that it hurt. She wouldn't be the first or the last to follow her. Many woman and some men had followed her. They came in different sizes, shapes and colors. They all shared a common bond - wanderlust for travel. Some stayed for weeks, others for years. Most died by her side. Sometimes, they even died together.
Stop dwelling in the past and worry about the present. There are tasks to do, she thought.
That is when Xena realized that this would be her last trip for a while. The weight of time was starting to close in. The dark times with its madness were coming. Did Serina see the map and understand it for the invitation it was. She had spent an hour drawing the map. Love or friendship would push the dark times to the future. Her loneliness would disappear or death and destruction would follow her madness.
Yes, it was coming, but she was sure she had enough time for another crossing. If it was going to happen, she would rather that it was on the other side of the desert. The dark times would wait. Such was the curse and hope of immortality. Her life was filled with times of clarity, blurred memory, madness and more blurred memory. Such was the cycle.
Night had fallen and the last customer had left. The new moon lit the sky. I sat in the main room with the map. In spite of what she said, this was an invitation. I slipped into our room and pick up my pack. This is all I have to my name. Another change of clothes, a blanket, a knife and the desert robe. I had bought some writing paper today with the money from the swords. Tina woke up then Cindy.
"Serina, what are you doing." Tina asked.
"I'm leaving with Xena tonight. She invited me to come with her." I responded.
"Rumor has it that she's old, really old. A god, you know has touched her. They say that she has been killed before, wakes up and eats the liver of the one who killed her. Serina, I don't want you to go. I'm sure Tina doesn't. We'll miss you and never see you again." Cindy said.
"Serina, if you go, we will remember you as I know you will remember us. May you life be filled with wonder and adventure. We'll look after papa." Tina said as tears streamed down her cheeks.
"I have to go. I need to see the world. I love both of you. I knew you will take care of Papa. Tell him to be strong. I'll be back when I can." I left after a round of hugs and kisses. I almost stayed, almost."
I stopped by the kitchen and picked up some food to carry with me. Some apples, dates and yams, not much more. It was time to leave. I prayed to the gods for safety as I left my home for the last time. I would try to come back, but I knew I never would.
In the moonlight, I made my way to where Xena should be. As I topped the hill, there it was -- the caravan. There was a figure standing eighty feet from the caravan. It had to be her. I started to run as fast as I could. It just had to be her.
We sat and talked for a time. Then she told me not only who she was but what she was. She told me that she had walked the earth for longer than I could imagine. She told me that she was the "Destroyer of Nations" from legends. She said that she was immortal and could not die. I wanted to believe her but could not.
She asked me to hold my knife with the point towards her. How she knew I had it, I do not know. She removed her armor and then her chiton. Do not be afraid she said. I will return. Then she grabbed my hand and pulled the knife into her heart. She gasped and I could she the life drain from her body. Then it fell.
I was stunned. Why would anyone do that? Before I had time to think anymore, the body jerked and she gasped for air. In minutes, it was as if nothing had happened. She wiped the blood from her breast and dressed.
"This is who I am." She said. "I run with the caravans to stay sane. Occasionally, I lose my mind. I can feel it coming as we speak. If I ever tell you to leave, you must run for your life. The last one that stayed and tried to prevent my madness took three weeks to die."
"If you want to go home, I will take you there. You are welcome to travel with me if you like." She ended.
"I want to travel with you."
"Thank you. We need to get some rest. It will be a long day tomorrow. I have to get a camel for you. Otherwise, you will not survive the desert."
"I can walk." I said.
"Not for twenty-six days on these two sticks you call legs." She said.
And with that our travels begin.
That was twenty-nine years ago. I still remember those two days like it was yesterday. I was seventeen and she was the old one. Now I am the old one, my blond hair is streaked with gray. She looks the same as the day I meet her. We both knew it would happen. She and I both knew I would die.
It was a journey that I sometimes wished I had never embarked upon, but I did. We had an unique journey together. I got to see an amazing number of places and people. Now it's time to start a journey of my own. But that will be tomorrow. We have to talk tonight and try and break her cycle of clarity and madness. There is a difference between existing and living.
I know she will remember me.