Convert this page to Pilot DOC FormatA Rose By Another Name
by Joe Murphy
Xena and Gabrielle belong to me when I sleep, when I'm awake, they belong to some rapper named Mr, M.C. A. This story is not for profit (damn!) and belongs to me whether I'm asleep or not. It depicts two women in love (Woo Hoo!). If this offends you (Doe!), then I really have to question your priorities and values. I mean, does it really make sense to let kids watch a former warlord and her trusty sidekick going around the country side killing bad guys with her trusty shamrock, and then get all bent out of shape at the idea that they may be able to love each other? I don't get it, but that's just me. Let's see, what else...mmm...oh, yeah, this story is also a little violent. Nothing on the level of my other story, Stolen Futures (plug, plug), but it does have some fight scenes, and deals with the aftermath of rape. Also, a "morning after pill" type of abortion thing is used. I think that's about it.
The young woman curled her shoulders into her body tightly, praying that she couldn't be seen behind the tree. The rough bark scratched her back where her small green top failed to protect her skin. Sweat poured into her eyes, but she couldn't risk moving her hand to wipe it away. Even through the pounding of her heart, and her gasping for air, she could hear them coming.
She could hear the footsteps growing louder. The woman readied herself. She lifted the tip of her staff off the ground slightly to make sure she didn't accidentally dig it into the ground when she struck. She could almost feel the desperation in the footsteps as they ran her way. Patience.
The little nymph still took her by surprise as she ran past. The woman tried not to distract herself from her task, but the image of the fleeing, wounded wood spirit turned her stomach. Closing her eyes, she blocked the image out of her mind and listened for her target. His hoofprints were almost on top of her.
With a grunt intended to add power to her blow, the woman lifted and swung the end of her staff up and out from her hiding place. She felt the jolt as the wood connected with flesh. She then watched the figure of a satyr collapse and roll off slightly to the side, his arms hugging his ribs.
Preparing herself for a fight, the woman stepped out from her hiding place and took her staff in both hands. She then hesitated, knowing there wasn't going to be any struggle. She had probably broken several of the satyr's ribs, she decided, and it was all he could do just to breathe.
"Leave her alone," she warned the dazed goat-man. Unable to respond, the fallen creature buried his forehead into the ground and concentrated on getting his air back. The woman turned as she heard the nymph approaching cautiously from behind.
"It's all right," she began to say as a huge fist caught her unawares.
As she opened her eyes, the pure black that surrounded her began to fade to reveal a blurry reality. Before her vision was fully restored, the young woman's pains told her that she was still alive. The first one she noticed was the shooting pain coming from her eye. But what seized her, what began to fill her with terror, was the burning she felt coming from between her legs, and from her bottom. Curling into a ball, she reached behind to cover her butt with her hand, rolled over onto her side, buried her face into the soft mat, and began to sob.
Scrambling to a sitting position, the woman wiped the tears from her good eye, and focused on sharpening the hazy images that surrounded her. A window. A door. A table and water basin. A big walking stick.
Looking down her body, she felt that the plain white shift she was wearing wasn't hers. She realized it was because the shift was a little too big. She was contemplating this as she heard the door to the bedroom creak open. Without thinking, she jumped back, bracing her back against the wall at the head of the bed, curling her knees to her chin.
A large nymph entered the room very slowly. Closing the door, and putting her back against it, she showed both of her empty hands in what she hoped would be a non-threatening gesture. The little woman didn't move, and didn't take her eyes off the woman at the door. She wasn't especially tall, or old. She had that kind of round, friendly face many heavy people have. She wore a similar white shift, but it had to be even bigger than the one she was wearing herself, the young woman thought.
"Where am I?"
The woman at the door relaxed noticeably, bringing her hands down in front of herself, where she clasped them together. She smiled.
"You are in a safe place."
"In a nymph village in the woods. No one will hurt you here."
"How did I get here? What happened to me?"
"We brought you here after you were attacked." The woman began to walk towards the little table that held the water basin, causing the newcomer to push herself even further against the wall.
"I'm only going to give you a drink."
As she reached the table, she dipped a cup into the basin, and pulled a small pouch out from between her breasts. Lifting the cord off her neck that held the pouch in place, she opened the pouch and poured a small quantity of powder from it into the water. Swishing the cup around to stir the contents, she looked at the cowering form on the bed.
"Can I give this to you?"
"What is it?" the woman asked.
"It will keep you from having those creatures' babies."
The young woman's face contorted. Her bottom lip began to tremble violently. "Creatures?"
"Yes, dear, satyrs. Two of them. Don't you remember?"
The young woman shook her head, her tears letting loose and tracking down her cheeks. Her host eased her way to the bed, cooing several times that "it was going to be all right," and "don't be afraid." Finally managing to sit next to the crying figure, she put the drink in her hand.
"This tastes terrible, but it won't hurt you. Once you start drinking, you best not stop till it's all gone." The young woman whimpered a little, the whole situation overwhelming her, and put the cup to her lips with trembling hands. Terrible didn't even begin to describe the taste. She began to pull it away, but she felt the cup force its way back into her mouth, and realized that the nymph was taking control of the cup, guiding it with pressure from her fingertips along the bottom rim.
"Don't stop, dear. Drink it all."
The young woman coughed and gasped for air as the drained cup left her lips. She practically threw her head into the larger woman's shoulder and sobbed until her body ran out of tears. She took comfort in the hand that softly stroked her strawberry hair and the lips that whispered encouragement into her ear. When the hostess felt that her guest could once again speak, she asked for her name.
The woman paused, and drew back. "I'm not sure," she realized.
The woman's eyes grew large. "You don't remember your name?"
The young woman paused and shook her head.
"Can you tell me where you come from?"
"Do you have any idea who you are?"
The little woman looked off at nothing, considering the question. "I think my name might be Lilla. I'm not sure, though."
"Well, child. I suppose Lilla's as good a name as any, eh?" she said, managing a smile through her broken heart.
Lilla nodded her agreement. Then a puzzled look overtook her. "What's your name?" she asked.
"Everybody calls me Clytia."
Clytia was rather surprised at how quickly Lilla healed. She had stayed in bed all that day, but still managed to eat some. The next day she got up and moved about the room, saying that the best way to ease the pain was to work it out little by little. She also managed to put away quite a lot of food. Two days later, she was able to make her way about the village, albeit slowly. She never left Clytia's side once she left the safety of her room.
And, gods, could this girl talk! Clytia and her friends would smirk at communal breakfast as Lilla would pour out questions, left-handed comments, and story after story. The nymphs laughed, but they didn't mind. She told them quite well. It was almost as if she had met Theseus and Hercules herself, the way she would describe their adventures with such life. But try as she might, she couldn't manage to remember anything about herself.
Lilla, though, wasn't sure she would ever heal. Even with Clytia by her side, she was completely terrified most of the time. When she was alone at night, she would often lie perfectly still, knees clamped together, looking at the ceiling, afraid to even move on the bed. Occasionally, she would wake up from a nightmare to find Clytia by her side, telling her everything was alright, and Clytia would lie next to her until she fell asleep again. Lilla felt almost like a doll when snuggled up against her large friend, but she felt protected having someone bigger than her in the same room. Two weeks after her arrival, Lilla paused as she pulled a bucket out of a well. She was alone. Clytia was still asleep. And she wasn't afraid. Lilla smiled broadly and went to make Clytia a special breakfast to celebrate.
She had almost gotten the water boiling when Clytia nervously entered the kitchen.
"Clytia, what's wrong?"
"Um," she glanced toward the square, "there's a stranger. Maybe you should stay in here."
For some reason Lilla couldn't figure, the warning to stay put sounded familiar, and her reaction seemed almost habitual.
"I'm coming with you," she said as she walked out of the kitchen.
There was no need to ask where the stranger was. Her presence was almost magnetic. Lilla looked immediately at the well in the center of town. A tall woman was dismounting a HUGE palomino horse. There was a darkness to her, to the precision she displayed in tying the horse and giving it water. Lilla figured she was imagining it. After all, the woman had black hair, and dark leather armor and boots, so she definitely seemed "dark" compared to the lightly dressed nymphs she was now so used to seeing, and who were now beginning to congregate in small, quiet groups to watch the stranger. Without looking around her, the woman filled the small trough before turning away from her horse and taking in the village. Lilla figured she must be an Amazon.
Leyheria, who was as close to a leader as the village had, walked up to the stranger, hand extended. The warrior looked at the hand a second before taking it. Lilla could still see the warrior's face, since Leyheria was several inches shorter. Though she couldn't hear, Lilla watched as Leyheria pointed out several points in the village: the well, the road, the lunch house. Several moments passed as the stranger listened to Leyheria. She then, still listening the spokeswoman, began to remove her scabbard from her back. Lilla watched as she handed Leyheria the sword, then some metal ring, then a knife that she pulled from her breasts, then one from each boot. Lilla laughed as one weapon after another materialized and was handed over. The stranger looked towards the sound of the laughter, and met Lilla's gaze.
The Amazon now began talking animatedly, and Lilla could tell from the two woman's body language that she was the topic of conversation. Without thinking, Lilla edged her way a little behind Clytia, putting her protector between her and the stranger. Clytia noticed, but didn't let on, she just kept her eye on the newcomer. Her eyes narrowed, her body tensed slightly, as the stranger and Leyheria began to approach.
"Lilla," Leyheria spoke hesitantly, "does this woman look at all familiar to you?"
Lilla eyed the Amazon carefully, running her eyes from the top of her head to the tips of her boots, as if her stare would pull the woman's name from her features.
"No," she admitted, "but I'm not sure that means anything. I'm not sure anyone would look familiar to me. Do I know you?" she asked the stranger when she finally brought her eyes back to the warrior's.
The woman looked to Leyheria briefly before addressing the young woman. "To tell you the truth, I'm not sure."
Lilla's surprise registered plainly on her face. The warrior went on. "You look very much like a friend of mine. We were separated awhile back, when the moon was full. I've been looking for her."
Lilla tried to keep the hope out of her voice. "What was her name?"
The woman stole another nervous glance at Leyheria, then Clytia, then Lilla. "I don't remember."
"What?" she heard Clytia and Lilla exclaim in unison. Becoming defensive, the warrior stared hotly at the two of them.
"I said, 'I don't remember.'" Agitation became very evident in her features. "I can picture her face in my head. I can hear her voice in my sleep, but I can't remember her name. I can't remember where she's from. All of her stuff is gone. I can't remember anything about her, but she's real. I know it. She kinda looks like you!"
Lilla stepped a little further behind Clytia as the woman's voice grew louder in her frustration. Seeing this, Leyheria intervened.
"Why don't we discuss this over breakfast, calmly?"
Lilla's eyes grew wide and she fled into the house. "The water!"
"So, you're not an Amazon?" Lilla managed through a mouthful of food. The warrior glanced at Clytia, and both women smiled a little.
"No, but I know several of them," the warrior replied. Her eyes shot over to Leyheria nervously as the nymph helped herself to more eggs.
"Are you paranoid, or something?" Lilla asked jokingly. She looked over at Clytia, who ate right beside her, and giggled. Clytia looked to the warrior, smiling slightly, and arched her brow, waiting for a response.
"Sorry, habit," the warrior said as she took another sip of her tea.
Clytia chuckled slightly at the apology. "So...Xena?...Yes, so Xena, about the same time Lilla comes to our village, suffering from amnesia, your best friend turns up missing, and you get amnesia, too. But you know that your friend looks a lot like Lilla."
"That about sums it up," the warrior said as she watched Lilla try to sneak a piece of bacon off of Clytia's plate. Without looking, the portly woman playfully clocked the thief along the back of the head.
"Well, Lilla," Clytia said as she turned to face her pouting friend, "even if you turn out not to be this woman's friend, it will sure make for a good story, eh?"
The sound of the warrior choking startled the three other women. Not waiting to get the tea out of her lungs, the warrior gasped, "you're....a.....b...bar," COUGH! "you're a bard?" the woman managed.
Lilla waited for the coughing fit to end before responding. "Are you alright?"
"You're a bard!?!" Xena repeated.
"Well, I don't know about being a bard, but I've told some stories after dinner, and the few times I've tried to seduce Clytia." Apparently, she and Clytia thought that was much funnier than Xena and Leyheria did, for they just stared at each other until the women's giggling fit was over.
"I think my friend was a bard," Xena slid in among the laughter.
"Really?" Lilla asked.
"Well, I'm pretty sure she was."
Clytia and Lilla looked at each other, and for a split second, contained their laughter before letting out horrible raspberry sounds, which inspired another fit of giggling.
"Is she gone?" Lilla asked as she saw Clytia watch her from the doorway of her bedroom.
"Yes, she's staying at Leyheria's house tonight. I'm heading off to bed, ok?"
Lilla began to whine, "noooooo, not yet. I'm too excited to sleep. Stay in here and keep me company."
"But I'm tired."
"Please?" Lilla begged as she bounded to the door, taking both of Clytia's hands in her own and tugging hard, causing the larger woman to take a reluctant step into the room.
"Pretty please?" she asked as she pecked her cheek playfully.
"Pretty please with ambrosia on top?" The young woman stood up on her tiptoes and pecked Clytia on the lips. Lilla laughed at the shocked expression her actions brought. She brought her lips back to Clytia's, and this time placed several soft kisses across her lips. Lowering herself back down, Lilla looked into her savior's eyes and began to gently rub small circles on the backs of her hands with the balls of her thumbs.
"Are you going to make me beg?" she asked as she pulled a more willing Clytia into the room and closed the door.
The women woke to pounding on the front door. Before she even had the door open, she felt Leyheria practically push her way in.
"Have either of you seen Xena?"
Lilla took a second. "The Ama...no, wait, the...um...no." The light pouring into the door practically blinded the woman as she tried to wake up and answer the questions being thrown around at the same time.
"Wait a minute!" Lilla shouted as she grabbed Leyheria's shoulder, stopping her mid sentence. "What did you just say?"
"I said 'she's gone'!" She eyed Lilla curiously. "Why are you so groggy?"
"I didn't sleep much last night," she replied without missing a beat. "Did she say where she was going?"
"No, she said something about hearing her friend's voice in her head and that she had to find her."
Lilla cringed, "Oh, gods, do you think she might be crazy?"
Leyheria and Clytia looked at each other. Both seemed at a loss.
"I have a hard time believing that what happened to the two of you could be coincidence," Clytia said thoughtfully. "But that woman does make me nervous."
As if on cue, the women heard a loud "Hya!" The sound of hooves pounding the dirt grew louder as the three woman stepped out of the house and watched Xena riding back into the village, hard. She jumped off her horse before it even stopped completely, throwing the bridle straps over the hitching post. As she turned toward Clytia's house, she saw dozens of nymphs looking out at her. Realizing the spectacle she just made of herself, she regained her composure before walking over to the three women.
"Did you find your friend?" Clytia asked skeptically.
Xena sighed. "No. Ironically, she was the only thing I haven't seen today."
"What do you mean?" Lilla asked.
"This morning, just before I woke, I heard my friend calling to me in my dreams. I left this morning to see if I could find her. Not too far from here, I found two dead satyrs. They had been shot through the chest with Amazon arrows. Do either of you know why that would happen?"
"Does it matter?" Lilla asked hotly. Her reaction surprised Xena, who looked at Lilla long and hard.
"What?" Lilla asked.
"Perhaps you're not my friend after all." Xena replied.
"You'll have to forgive Lilla, Xena," Leyheria interrupted. "It was an attack on her by satyrs that brought her to our village, and possibly robbed her of her memory. To answer your question, no, we wouldn't know why Amazons would attack the satyrs. We're not even close to Amazon country."
"It looks like you have had an interesting day," Clytia said to the warrior.
"That's only half of it," Xena replied as she was brought back on topic. "As I was looking over the bodies of the satyrs, Thanatos appeared."
"Thanatos, you mean, Death?" Lilla gasped.
"The one and only," Xena said with obvious contempt in her voice. "He had come for the satyrs, and he told me where I can find my friend."
"Where?" The three women asked in unison.
"He said I could find her along the bank of the river Styx, and that she wasn't supposed to be there. And would you believe it, he refused to tell me her name!"
Within an hour Xena, Lilla, and Clytia had left the village. Lilla nearly suffocated Clytia as she hung on to the nymph for dear life. The idea of two whole days on a horse very nearly made her decide not to go, but Xena's determination, along with her own desire to find out who she was, finally won out. She was thankful that Clytia picked a small horse for the two of them.
Clytia sighed. She didn't mind the slow ride, and definitely wanted to give her lover her memory back, but she didn't really enjoy the fact that for the next two days all she had to look at were the warrior's back and her yellow horse's butt. She was noting the hypnotic way Argo's tail swayed side to side as she walked, when a stabbing pain shot through the side of her body. With a shriek of terror, Clytia fell from her mount, scaring both Lilla and Xena.
"Clytia!" Lilla jumped from the horse without giving it a second thought, and took the fallen woman's head in her hands. Tears streaked the nymph's face as she squirmed helplessly on the ground.
Clytia felt another pair of hands begin to probe her ribs. "Clytia, it's Xena, what's wrong?"
"My tree. Somebody's cutting down my tree!"
"Oh, gods, no!" Lilla started crying.
Xena grabbed Lilla by the arm and shook her to get her attention. "I don't understand."
The fear on the young woman's face was plain. "Every dryad is bonded to a tree. The tree sustains her, and she protects the tree. When the tree dies, she dies."
"Clytia, how far away is the tree?" Xena asked.
"A quarter of an hour, that way," she pointed feebly in a direction perpendicular to the trail they were on.
"How long will it take them to cut it down?"
"Twice that, maybe less."
Without another word, Xena was on Argo and racing off in the direction Clytia indicated. Lilla tried to comfort the nymph, but couldn't keep her own tears in check. Clytia flinched a little now and then, as another chip of wood left her tree.
"Is there anything I can do?" Lilla asked.
Thinking for a moment, the dryad smiled. "Yeah, tell me that story you've been working on."
"You want to hear a story?"
"Um, you mean The Hydra and the Carpenter'?"
Clytia laughed, and cringed at the pain it brought on. "No, silly, the one you've been keeping a secret."
"Are you going to make me beg?"
Lilla chuckled a little through the sobbing, sniffed hard, and sat down, softly pulling her lover's head into her lap. She began quietly. "I sing a song of Clytia, the nymph who delivered me from the land of the dead..."
Lilla stopped mid-sentence and turned as she heard Xena's approach. "What happened? It's only been half an hour."
"There was no one there."
"I saw a woman cutting the tree, plain as day. I yelled as I rode up. She dropped her axe, and then, well, she was gone." Xena swung a leg over her tired mount and came to Clytia's side.
"How is she?"
"She's been about the same for a while. I guess once the woman left, she stopped getting worse." Lilla paused. "A woman was cutting down the tree? That's weird."
"I guess," Xena mumbled as she checked over Clytia again. "Clytia, do you think you could still ride?"
Astonished, both Lilla and Clytia turned their heads to the warrior, who smiled apologetically. "Sorry. Let's take her back."
Riding much more slowly than before, they reached the village about an hour and a half later. Leyheria immediately sent two nymphs off to help Clytia's tree.
"As the tree heals," Leyheria told Xena, "Clytia will heal. All she needs now is rest. In a few days, she should be back on her feet."
Xena nodded and excused herself. Making her way to the kitchen, she found Lilla busy making a late lunch. Xena noticed her hands shaking as she took up the knife she used to cut the vegetables.
"Why don't you let me do that?"
Lilla jumped, and the knife flew from her hand to the floor. She suddenly stopped, trying to gain composure, but Xena could tell she wasn't going to.
"It's alright, Lilla." Xena walked over and took the woman in her arms, letting her break down and cry. As much as she tried to keep her attention on the young woman, Xena was suddenly taken aback. It is her! But how did she know? She lowered her face to the woman's hair and inhaled. The smell, she knew the smell. This was her friend. She was sure of it now, and her eyes began to mist.
"It's been quite a morning, hasn't it?"
Lilla laughed, her body shaking a little against the warrior's body. Pulling herself away, she looked into Xena's face. "Is your life always like this?"
Xena grinned. "More or less... Are you going to come with me to the river?"
"I don't know. Let me talk it over with Clytia," Lilla replied as she went back to preparing lunch.
As Clytia and Lilla ate lunch, Clytia was once again reminded about how unfair life was. During the course of the meal, Lilla ate twice as much as she did, and drank three times as much water. How could she have a body like that, the way she eats? Clytia thought to herself as she looked over her less than perfect body. Her thoughts were pleasantly interrupted as Lilla's hand stroked the inside of her thigh.
"So, what do you want me to do?"
Clytia sighed as she looked into her lover's green eyes. Make love to me, she said in her heart. Wrap me in your arms, and let us live the rest of our lives in this bed.
"I want you to go with her," she lied, "if you'll promise me one thing."
"That you'll come back to me."
"Is that all?" Lilla laughed. "I thought it was something I was going to have to think about," she said as she leaned over and kissed Clytia softly on the lips. As she lifted her head, she saw the walking stick leaning against the wall, unmoved from her first night in the village.
"Is that mine?"
Clytia followed her gaze. "Yes, actually, it is. Why?"
"Because if that Xena woman thinks I'm getting on that yellow monster of hers, she has another thing coming."
"You're going to walk!?!"
Xena was astonished. She had already saddled the small brown horse that Lilla and Clytia had used earlier that day. "That will add a day to our trip."
"You'll get over it." Lilla assured her as she began to head down the trail for the second time that day. She turned to look at a still stunned warrior. "Are you coming?"
"Are you coming?" the warrior mimicked as the pulled herself onto Argo. Lilla could hear Xena's mumbling as the horse caught up to her, "just wait till you remember...I bet you'll beg for a horse then...see if I get you one..."
As the day passed, Xena found herself amazed at how this little woman talked. As they rode on, Lilla asked questions, told stories, and made small talk until Xena thought her ears would bleed. Her confidence that this was the friend she was seeking began to wane. Lilla was so unlike her in every way, how could they possibly get along? Xena sighed when Lilla said something that reminded herself of yet another story. At least on a horse, Xena thought to herself, she was quiet.
Xena also noticed that none of the stories were about them. None of the adventures were things Xena had any personal experience with. For some reason, that made her nervous. Then she stopped abruptly.
"Lilla? Do you know how to use that staff?"
The woman stopped short. "Staff? I thought this was for walking."
Xena pulled her sword up and out of its scabbard. "Get ready."
Before Lilla could ask just what she should get ready for, she heard yelling coming up from behind her. Without thinking, she thrust the head of her "stick" into the stomach of one man, and swinging the butt end around, caught another at the cheek. The staff seemed to move of its own accord in her hands as she parried a stab from a dagger, brought a woman's feet out from under her, and swung the end of the staff up into another man's groin. Before she knew it, the robbers had run back into the woods, and Lilla and Xena were alone, catching their breath.
Xena smiled. "Not bad."
"How did I do that?" The thought that Lilla was a fighter seemed at odds with everything else she was relearning about herself. It scared her.
"I think you might be an Amazon," Xena replied.
Lilla laughed at the thought. "I don't think so, Xena."
"Well, I'm not sure, but your staff definitely is." Xena raised herself to her full height and took in one final deep breath.
Lilla looked at the staff. "Really?"
"Mm hmm," Xena said certainly as she remounted Argo. "Are you alright, can we go?"
It wasn't until then that Lilla realized that, in fact, she didn't have one scratch on her. "Yeah, I guess so."
Xena's eyes opened instinctively as she heard the twig snap. She didn't move, didn't flinch. There wasn't much light from the half-moon that made it past the treetops, so she couldn't see too far out in front of her. Another audible footfall. He's coming from the front, almost directly over my head. He's quiet. He knows what he's doing, Xena thought to herself.
Just before the intruder struck, and, consequently, just before Xena did, Lilla screamed at the stranger, who jumped back in surprise. Xena, however, took full advantage of the surprise. Rolling onto her back, she kicked both feet into the air, pulling her body into a stance, swung to face the stranger and landed a jab squarely at the intruder's jaw before he ever turned his eyes back to his target.
Lilla watched the intruder land on his back, and with a cry, kick her feet into the air, pulling his body off the ground and back onto his feet, mimicking Xena. It was then that Lilla realized it was a woman, and that she had a knife.
Xena could hardly believe her eyes. "Ephiny!?!"
Lilla looked at Xena and then at the woman. They know each other? She watched the blonde woman and Xena circle each other, neither one really desiring to make the first move. Ephiny jabbed forward with her blade, giving Xena the only opening she needed. Taking her attacker's wrist in her left hand, Xena pulled Ephiny's body into her own, thrusting her right elbow into the Amazon's midsection, then her face.
The blonde warrior went to the ground, her wrist still caught in the larger woman's grasp. Xena delicately pulled the knife from Ephiny's hand and threw it deep into the trunk of a tree. Lilla screamed when she saw the tip of the knife embed itself into the wood and ran to pull the blade loose.
This time it was Ephiny who took advantage of the distraction. Using her free hand, she swept Xena's feet out from under her. Ephiny managed to pry her wrist free from the falling warrior, and swung her body on top of Xena's, taking the woman's throat in both hands.
Lilla pulled the knife from the tree bark and turned to watch Xena jab the Amazon twice in the neck with the tips of her fingers. The look of terror in the woman's face sent a chill down Lilla's back. Xena flung the Amazon off her body and pulled her to her knees by the hair.
"You know the drill, Ephiny. You've got a little under thirty seconds, and so help me, this had better be good!"
Ephiny looked at Xena defiantly, not saying a word.
"Why did you attack us!" Xena yelled.
"Not her, just you." Ephiny managed. Lilla could see her beginning to shake.
"Why do you want to kill me, Ephiny?"
"Orders." A small trickle of blood began to run from her nose.
Lilla's stomach began to churn. "Xena, what's happening to her?"
Xena silenced her with a wave and turned back to her prisoner. "You're the acting queen, Ephiny. Who could order you to kill me?"
Ephiny could taste the blood run from her nose into her mouth. Xena watched her grin, and knew she wouldn't answer.
Tears began to run down Lilla's face as the Amazon's eyes began to roll back in her head. "Xena!"
Xena's hands shot out, jabbing Ephiny twice. The blonde warrior collapsed, and Lilla could hear the breath come back into her in a loud gasp. Xena fell to her butt, curled her knees to her chest, and pulled them in tight with her arms. She looked over to Lilla.
"Do you always have to scream so much?"
Lilla felt her blood turn hot. She held up the dagger and pointed to the tree. Calmly, maliciously, she asked, "are you so stupid that you can't remember a lesson learned just this morning, or do you simply enjoy inflicting pain on others?"
The two women's attention went to the fallen Amazon as she began to stir. Dropping the knife, Lilla walked over and took her staff, standing ready in case of another fight.
Xena smirked, "now you decide to fight."
Lilla watched Xena's features grow cold. The warrior purposely made herself relax, letting the anger wash past her, not letting it affect her judgment. She let her gaze return to Ephiny, who finally managed to pull herself to a sitting position.
"Why did you attack me?" Xena asked tiredly.
"I told you, I was ordered to."
"By who, the real queen?" For the life of her, Xena couldn't remember who the actual queen was, but she knew that it wasn't Ephiny.
"Go to Tartarus."
"What were your orders, Ephiny?"
Xena followed Ephiny's gaze to the fallen knife. Picking up a nearby stone, Xena threw it, hitting the blade and sending it out of the range of the firelight. Lilla couldn't help but be impressed.
"What were your orders, Ephiny?" Xena repeated.
"I was supposed to kill you and bring Ga...Lilla back to the Amazon village."
"And who gave the order?"
Ephiny looked the warrior in the eye and smiled slightly. Lilla could barely make out a small shaking of her head. She expected Xena to get angry again, but saw something else in her eyes, confusion, perhaps.
"What is going on?" she asked rhetorically. "What do the Amazons want with Lilla? And why would they want me dead?"
"I don't know. I just did what I was told."
"Oh, please," Xena said as she rolled her eyes. She rose to her feet and walked over to her scabbard. Lilla felt the anxiety grow again as she watched Xena unsheathe her sword.
"Don't worry Lilla. I just don't want her following us," and with that, she swiped the hilt of her sword across the Amazon's head, knocking her out cold.
"Get ready to go," Xena ordered.
"We're going to travel at night?"
"We don't have a choice. We have to put some space between us and her if we're ever going to make it. And to do that, you're going to ride with me the rest of the way. No discussion."
"If we ride tonight and ride hard tomorrow, we will make it to the river before nightfall."
Xena turned on the young woman, anger pouring from her frame. She was fed up with the whole situation and just wanted it to end. "Please don't make me knock you out as well!"
Lilla didn't know which was worse, the riding at night, or the fact than when light came and the path was clear, Xena made Argo run as fast as she possibly could. Lilla was amazed that she never threw up. She also hated being so close to Xena. Secretly, she hoped they weren't friends, but she decided she had to know for sure. She had to know who she was. But if it did turn out that she was Xena's friend, and she did get her memory back, Xena was just going to have to lose a friend, she decided.
Xena slowed Argo down to a slow trot, then to a stop.
Lilla looked around the warrior. "I don't see a river."
"It's underground. We have to go in there," Xena said as she pointed to a crack in the ground.
"Are you kidding?"
"Don't worry. It's perfectly safe. There's nothing down there but disembodied spirits."
"Oh, I see," Lilla replied as she let herself fall off Argo, "that must be some definition of the word safe' I wasn't privy to."
Xena couldn't help but smile as she dismounted. Rummaging through her saddlebags, she pulled out a ragged cloth, a bottle of oil, and some stones. Finding several discarded torches lying around the caves mouth, she had one blazing in short order.
"What about the horse?"
"She'll be alright. Argo knows how to stay out of trouble."
"Oh, good," Lilla replied, not knowing why she took the comment personally.
As Lilla followed Xena into the crevice, she was surprised to find the opening widen out. She was also surprised to find ready-made steps to ease their descent.
"Hades used to use this as one of the paths for the dead to enter the underworld," Xena explained in a whisper, "before Thanatos decided to bring them down by chariot."
"You mean these stairs were made for dead people?"
Xena rolled her eyes.
Lilla nearly stumbled as she reached the bottom step, and thought there were more. Reaching out instinctively, she grabbed Xena's breastplate and pulled herself up.
"I beg your pardon!" Xena said as she felt the fingertips invade her privacy.
Lilla turned beet red when she realized what part of Xena's anatomy she used to pull herself up.
"Sorry," she said as she looked around. The river lay along their left. The smell of the stagnant water was almost overwhelming. Putting her sleeve to her nose, she looked along the bank. It was so dark that she saw nothing past the light of the torch, not even the water.
"What do we do now?"
"We find my friend." Xena answered as she began to walk down the bank with Lilla in tow.
As they crept their way along the bank, Lilla never took her hand off the warrior's back. Though the place seemed absolutely empty, she could feel the spirits in this place. She couldn't imagine what Xena's friend must be going through, to be doomed to wait along the river for a hundred years before being able to enter the underworld.
Xena was frustrated. She had no idea how to find her friend. She didn't even know what name to call out. She was about to yell out anyway, when she heard it.
Lilla heard it, too. "Xena, what was that?"
"I think..." she grew quiet. This time she heard her name being called from somewhere in the darkness, clear as day.
"Is that your friend?" Lilla asked.
She could feel the warrior's shoulders rock under her palm as she nodded slowly. "That's her, come on!" Lilla could hear the smile in the woman's voice.
Following Xena's quickening pace, Lilla took a few steps before being knocked to her feet. Her hands shielded her eyes from the blazing light that appeared in front of them. She closed her eyes, terrified, hoping the ghost would just leave. She could feel the very sudden urge to go to the bathroom.
The light faded to a bearable level. Lilla sat up and slowly let her eyes get used to seeing again. She saw Xena already standing, sword drawn, staring into the light. Lilla followed her gaze until she saw its source.
"Artemis!" Lilla cried. Xena watched incredulously as the woman jumped up, ran to the goddess, and flung her arms around her. Lilla felt the powerful arms of the goddess reach up and wrap around her.
The truth finally hit Xena in its full glory. "You're behind all of this, aren't you?"
"What did you say, mortal?" the moon goddess asked distractedly. She never took her eyes off Lilla, and dedicated most of her attention to stroking her soft red hair.
"You did all of this! You took our memories away. You killed the satyrs. You tried to chop down the tree. You had me attacked! Didn't you!"
Lilla pulled away from the goddess and looked hopefully in her face, not wanting to believe it. "Artemis?"
"Don't worry, child. I would never have killed Clytia. I think the two of you should spend a long and happy life together. In fact, I was hoping you would have stayed in the village with her, and left this matter alone." Then, turning to Xena, she answered, "yes, it was I who did these things."
Xena instinctively, foolishly, stepped closer. "This is all your fault!"
"My fault!?!" The goddess' voice boomed like thunder through the underground cavern. "Was it I who stole this child from her home? Have I put her in harm's way time and time again? Did I leave her alone to be raped by the satyrs? I saved her, from you!"
"From me? I would rather die than hurt her!"
"Really? If you had left well enough alone, she wouldn't have seen blood. She would have been married to Perdicus, and he would still be alive. He would have seen her talent and taken her to Athens so she could join the academy. She would have had children and respect."
Lilla could feel the anger flow through the goddess' body. "She was a naive girl who wanted adventure. You knew better, and yet you let her follow you into a life of pain for your own selfish reasons."
Xena's eyes began to mist at the truth of the goddess' words.
"Poor Xena," the goddess goaded. "You're trying so hard to clear your past, and what has it gotten you? You destroyed your friend's life, killed her husband, thrown the Amazon nation in turmoil by turning an unwilling bard into a princess, and turned a psychopath into a god. Do you really think that you are scoring any points in your favor for judgement day?"
"And to repair the damage you kill my friend?" Xena threw back.
"Kill her? I saved her! I took away the past you gave her. I put her in a new place, with a new love. She's the same person, just without the pain you gave her."
Xena shook her head. "She's not the same person, Artemis. I couldn't even recognize her when we first met. By taking away her past, you made her disappear."
"Well," a voice called out from behind Artemis, "not totally disappear."
All eyes went to the source of the voice, and Xena's tears finally began to fall. A young redhead walked up from behind Artemis and stopped at her side, giving her a peck on the cheek. She turned her gaze to Lilla.
Lilla couldn't believe what she was seeing. "Who are you?" she asked. She looked the woman up and down, and realized she could see through her somewhat. She was wearing a green top and a red skirt, and the most beautiful smile she had ever seen.
The woman chuckled, "well, I guess I'm you." Then she looked at Xena. "Hello, love."
Tears were freely flowing from Xena's face as she stared at the spirit. She didn't know what to say. She just herself get lost in the face that haunted her dreams for the last three weeks.
The spirit turned to Artemis. "I'm ready to go back."
"Child," the goddess pleaded, "you don't know what you ask. You were conscious for most of the attack, you'll remember everything."
"I know," the spirit replied, "but I'll be alright. My place is with Xena."
Lilla jumped back. "With Xena? No! I love Clytia! You can't make me go with her." The young woman could feel the desperation suffocating her. "Artemis, please," the woman begged, taking her hand, "don't take me away from Clytia."
Xena shouted in disbelief, seeing the desire of her heart slipping away for the second time, "What are you talking about? You won't even remember Clytia when you get your real memories back!" Pointing at the spirit, she continued, "that is the real you, don't you get it?"
Lilla could feel the hatred for the warrior burn in her blood. "I would rather fling myself into that river and let myself drown than spend another hour with that."
"Enough, I have made my decision." Artemis intervened.
Xena started angrily, "You've made..."
"SILENCE!" Artemis ordered with a voice that nearly deafened the two mortals. She then turned to Lilla.
"Child, you will never leave Clytia again. I will give the two of you the gift of eternal life, so that you may spend the rest of time together."
"But..." the spirit started.
"And to the two of you," the goddess continued, "I give each other. Does this sound fair to everybody?"
Lilla hugged the goddess, sobbing thanking her for not making her die. Xena's eyes met the goddess' briefly, and she nodded her agreement. The spirit smiled, impatient to be with her lover again. Artemis looked at the spirit and cocked her head towards Xena and then Lilla. "Go ahead, child, tell them."
Lilla could feel Xena's eyes on them as the spirit looked at her, smiling. Artemis stepped back, and the twins embraced. In a voice loud enough for both of them to hear, the spirit told Lilla, "you're name is Gabrielle."
Xena's memories poured back into her mind like a rush of water. She fell to the ground, letting the knowledge fill her again. Then she heard Gabrielle scream.
Looking up, she watched the bard fall to the cavern floor, squirming.
Xena looked to the goddess. "What's happening!"
A single tear fell down the moon goddess' cheek as she addressed the Warrior Princess. "She's remembering."
Xena watched in horror as Gabrielle tried to fight off her nonexistent attackers. Rolling on the ground frantically, she banged her head hard against the wall of the cavern, and started rolling towards the river. Xena scrambled over to her, put Gabrielle's head in her lap, and grabbed her wrists, trying to keep her from hurting herself.
"I'm here, Gabrielle."
"Make them stop."
"Just hang on."
Xena wrestled with the bard's arms as she struggled and muttered "no" several times. Then she shrieked a horrible, anguished cry. The invisible spirits that were watching ran in fright when they heard the sound.
Pulling one wrist free, Gabrielle reached behind her and covered her bottom. "Please, stop!"
"Oh, gods, " Xena whispered, "what have I done?"
Artemis answered her. "You've given her her life back. I hope you're happy," she said and left them alone in the darkness, unable to watch anymore.
Artemis waited by Argo, spending her time brushing the warhorse down. She finally heard one set of footprints coming her way. She turned to find Xena carrying a sleeping Lilla. Xena stopped in her tracks as she spotted the goddess.
"I returned her belongings to you," Artemis said. She looked at the sleeping bard. "Is she alright?"
"She will be. She's very strong. A lot stronger than I am."
The goddess sniffed the air and cringed. "What...?"
"Urine," Xena answered.
Xena looked at the goddess. If she didn't know better, she would have thought her tired. "Did you really give Lilla and Clytia eternal life?"
Artemis looked at the warrior as if snapped out of deep thought. "Yes, of course I did. They're right over there."
Xena's eyes followed the goddess' finger to a bush. Still carrying her load, the warrior walked over to unusual plant. When she got close enough to the see, she made out small purple flowers littered in the branches and leaves.
"What is it? I've never seen a flower like that before."
"It is called 'lilac.' Lilla lives in the flowers, and Clytia in the branches."
"You turned them into a bush?"
"Yes, I did," the goddess answered proudly. "Their spirits will live forever in this bush and it's offspring. And no one will come along and try to separate them again." And with that, she left Xena and her Amazon Queen.
This story © 7-22-97 by Joe Murphy
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