Convert this page to Pilot DOC FormatTime:
It was all I could think of to say. I had never met her before, but something in her otherwise lively green eyes spoke more than all the volumes in Alexandria. She was telling me the truth.
"I'm sorry. I tried to save them." The girl was an Amazon, wiry and corded with muscle. Her tanned body still bore the scars from her battles with the Romans.
I hung my head, and strangely no tears fell from my eyes. Nothing could kill Xena. Nothing. I had told myself that too many times, and now, like all my other lies, I believed it.
"Joxer," she said, using my name for the first time-had Gabrielle told her about me?- "you'll be able to go on. Xena told me herself that she believed in you. She said that you were ready."
'No!" I repeated, more forcefully this time, sending my helmet sprawling with a powerful blow. "Look into my eyes and tell me they're still alive."
For all her prowess in battle, I could tell my half-crazed tone scared her. She blinked once and tried to look into my deep brown eyes.
"Amarice?" I whispered, trying to get anything out of her.
The young fighter swallowed the building lump in her throat and shook her head ever so slightly. She was telling me the truth. The impossible truth.
The only sound that escaped my lips was a low, almost animal whine of grief.
"I'm sorry. I know how you feel. She...they...were my friends too." One hand, surprisingly gentle, touched mine. Amarice was on the verge of tears herself.
No, you don't, my mind practically screamed at her. You didn't love her the way I did. Gabrielle. Images of her appeared, as bright as the northern lights. Her sweet smile, her tender touch, her sparkling eyes. I would have killed for the tiniest morsel of affection, and now she's gone. And Xena. The only person who ever believed in me. How could it have happened?
"What happened?" I finally managed. It came out as a hoarse, desperate plea.
The Amazon squatted next to my hunched form. "Caesar. He killed her. She died so that others could live, myself included." Now her voice took on another edge. It was gratitude.
Gabrielle and Xena...both dead. My life was dedicated to helping them, and now they're gone. I had always wondered what I would do if the worst happened, and now that it has, I don't know what I'll do. Some hero you are, Joxer.
"Are you staying here? You're more than welcome with my Amazons. Gabrielle even told me you once tried to save her," offered the young queen.
She told you that. I wonder if she told you that I worshipped the very air she breathed. Or that she was blind to all the love I had for her.
A sudden thought came to me, a glimmer in the blackness that had descended. Yes, it was crazy, but no moreso than any of my other fantasies. This had to be done.
"No, Amarice. I'm going to Rome."
"Rome?" She spoke as if she had never heard of the city before. "It's dangerous, Joxer. After Caesar was assassinated..."
"I have to. To honor my friends. They would have done the same for me." My voice sounded somehow different than I was used to hearing it. No longer was it high-pitched and nervous. I actually sounded serious for a change. If only Gabrielle could have heard me.
The Amazon's eyes flitted between me and the tavern's door, as if she were making a quick decision. "I'll come with you. You'll need a protector."
I fixated her with a gaze that would have made Xena envious. "Thank you. But I have to go alone. Your tribe needs you now, just like my friends need me. If you'll just tell me where to get supplies, that will be all right." I was starting to lose my feigned edge now, and all my bottled sorrow began to leak out. The reality of the situation was finally beginning to crack my wall of denial.
"I'll take you there myself." She shouldered her short sword and pack.
I beckoned her on. "Go ahead. I need to finish this ale." One single tear landed in the pewter mug.
I had already turned my back on her so she couldn't see the flood of tears down my face.
Gabrielle...gods help me, I'm coming back to remember you.
"Lot'ta stuff you got there. You got the dinars for all that?" asked the dealer, contempt oozing from his ratchety voice. Clearly he didn't take me seriously...nobody really did, anyway.
"Yes," I answered, putting the last of my purchases atop his counter. A sturdy leather saddlebag, complete with two weeks' worth of dried food, a new sword, heavy-duty boots, and little things to at least try and keep my mind off my lost friends. A few scraps of parchment, chunks of wood, even more picks for my lute. "How much for it all?"
"Aya...let's see here," he grunted, obviously trying to make an extra twenty on the entire deal. "A hundred dinars, no less."
"I'll give you eighty," I bluffed, knowing I had only two hundred and fifty in my entire possession, a hundred plus the rest from my pawned armor and supplies.
"Ninety." It was the best I could do, and reluctantly I plunked it down. I had to save enough for passage on a ship and most likely a horse.
Walking out into the brightness, I scanned the marketplace. Being near the docks, this was not the nicest district, and I tried to blend in with the motley crowd of assorted thugs, pirates, and harlots. Even my brother Jett might have backed down from some of these guys. The gaudily painted girls thrust out their chests at me as I walked by, and sadly I shook my head in disinterest. One of them, a blonde with ridiculously pumped-up cleavage and more than a few missing teeth, clung to my arm like a leech. Politely I tried to brush her off.
"C'mon, then, you look like the type who's like a little fun, eh?" she wheedled through the gap in her front teeth. Bitterly I remembered one of Meg's girls who looked much like this one. I repeated my gesture, a little more firmly this time, and at last the repulsive creature backed off, tittering like a bird.
"Come back when you've got either some money or some lust, huh?" she chattered. Her companions laughed uproariously, and I tried to hide my blush deep within the folds of my new clothes. Tired of the clanking and creaking of my armor, I'd exchanged it for the simple, functional garb of a traveler: a short tunic and vest atop leather pants and boots, along with a long hooded black cloak. Black to match my changed persona. And now that Gabrielle and Xena were really gone, I really had changed. Joxer the Mighty was as dead as they. I'd even given the hawker my treasured scabbard with its ridiculous sword. It was as worthless as dirt without Gabrielle. I wondered whatever became of that beautiful turquoise necklace.
I'd remembered seeing a horse trader at the far end of the harbor, near the livery stables. Absently I remembered poor Argo, not knowing her mistress to be dead. Even if I knew where Xena had left her, the mare was far too spirited for my liking. I needed something more reliable, sturdy...and old. Something like Ariel, my childhood mount, the one Jett had stolen. Horses and myself had never gone well together, but necessity was necessity.
Buried deep in my melancholy, I almost walked past the little line of tethered horses and ponies. There wasn't much of a selection, I saw: a listless chestnut mare, a matched pair of bays that had obviously seen better years, and a light grey pony stallion who regarded me with baleful brown eyes and a deep nicker. Their keeper, a potbellied, middle-aged man who looked to be Egyptian, looked up from his pastime, an odd sort of board with multicolored pegs. He smiled, knowing I was here to buy.
"Welcome, my friend. I take it you're looking for a horse?" He stroked the mare, hoping to wake her up. She continued to doze.
"That's right," I murmured, looking the sorry lot up and down. Maybe one of those bays would suit me. They were certainly old enough. "How much do you want for one of those? I have a long journey ahead of me, and I need the horse to make it."
"Ah, those two. They're a matched pair, those, and I'm selling them for a chariot team." The horse peddler indicated the corresponding vehicle, an equally run-down trap. "I do have Cassopeia here, and Artax, if you want speed."
I tried to decide between the two, then shook my head. "Haven't you got anything else? I mean, I'm not really an experienced rider, and, well, these don't look friendly."
The man's deep eyes twinkled. I knew they always kept a few extras inside, and he for one knew I had at least a little savvy. He raised a scarred hand and beckoned me to follow.
"Wouldn't normally show anyone this one, but you look like an honest enough sort of fellow. This one was my mount until a few years ago."
A few horses stuck their heads over the stall doors, and their master paused at the stall on the far end. He whistled softly and the occupant emerged from the darkness. She was so dark I could barely distinguish her from the shadows. Obviously some sort of draft mix, she was a deep bay color and very tall and sturdy.
"Her name is Nyx. Very nice, very nice. But she's going to set you back. The mare nuzzled him amiably, then turned to me. This was the one.
"I have a hundred and sixty dinars left. That's it," I offered, knowing it wouldn't be enough.
The swarthy dealer cocked his head, mulling my offer. "I can't accept less that two hundred. Believe me, she's worth it."
I had traded one heirloom today; now I had to make it two. I unshouldered my lute, the one frivolous thing I carried. His eyes immediately widened.
"I'll give you the hundred and fifty plus this. Is that enough?" Even before his fingers stroked the fine woodwork and strings, I knew I had myself a horse.
"Deal. My, my, you must really need this horse to be giving up such a fine instrument. I'll give you her saddle and bridle at no cost." Ten minutes later I was leading Nyx, laden with my provisions, out into the agora. In my joy at finding her, I had forgotten that passage to Rome could not be had for ten dinars. My thin lips turned downward in a frown, and in spite of myself, I felt a tear slide down one cheek. I wanted to slap myself for my stupidity. My sword, scabbard, armor and lute were gone. Aside from the horse and supplies, I had nothing.
"Joxer, you're such an idiot," I mumbled to myself, almost tripping over a rock in my frustration. Nyx, patient as she was, followed closely behind and whinnied as if in sympathy.
I plunked myself down near the fruit vendor's stall and wept, no longer trying to keep up any sort of facade. Like Xena had once told me, I couldn't even kill time. How bitter her words seemed now.
Time passed in its blur of light and color. I might have been there for minutes, maybe hours. At one point I thought of removing my dagger and snuffing out my miserable existence, but then the visions came again.
She was smiling, but despite her radiance, it merely veiled her deep sorrow. I could almost hear her sweet voice calling out to me. I sheathed my weapon, and as soon as the images had come, they disappeared like dandelion fluff in the wind.
"Need someone to hold your horse?"
I came within an inch of smacking myself in surprise. The speaker was a fairly short, compact man with a bald head and arms covered in exotic tattoos. One glimpse at him and I knew he was trouble. I gulped and tried to look tough.
"Back off. She's mine." One hand strayed to the hilt of my newly purchased sword, and I noticed it shook with fear.
The little tough roared with laughter. "'Ey, boys, look at the little warrior here. Says this mare is his. Why don't we relieve him of all these heavy sacks?" Three more big ruffians, all armed with short spiked cudgels, emerged from the alley behind me. I had to give them my mare or fight, and my fight was all but gone. I dropped my sword tearfully along with Nyx's reins.
"Oh, come on, then, aren't you going to at least fight us for her?" taunted the short man, prodding me in the ribs with hib club. "You lookin' for trouble, goin' around dressed like that?"
"I'm on my way to honor my friends." It was the first honest thing I'd heard in a while.
"By the time we're done with ya, they're gonna be the ones honoring you!" He snatched my collar and drew back a knotted fist. It paused inches from my exposed jaw, and then she spoke.
"That will be all. Give him to me." For one crazy moment it was Xena, impossibly come back from Hades, and then, through my tears, I saw her. It was not the Warrior Princess, but rather a woman of medium height clad in robes of a cut completely foreign to me. Not Egyptian, not even Persian, but exotic nonetheless despite their drab light color. Her swarthy face was shadowed somewhat within her cowl, but even from afar I saw the deep, passionate fire in those black eyes of hers. Something inside me said that here was a warrior in every way equal to Xena, yet gentle as a doe with her fawn. One hand was raised in greeting; the other was hidden within those billowy robes.
"I said, let him go. Do you not understand?" Her voice was low, melodic, and carried a strange accent equally unfamiliar.
The street thugs' only answer was a sudden attack on my would-be rescuer.
I could barely follow what happened next. All three closed on her like dogs on a hind, but she was much quicker. The woman must have known what Xena had about pressure points, since her narrow arms darted out and left the men gasping on the ground in a matter of seconds. The murderous look in her eyes told me she wasn't about to release them, either.
For a moment I thought she had deliberately ignored my attacker, then I was again proven wrong. One hand slipped into the cloak and withdrew a tiny silver dagger. When it embedded itself in the bald man's throat, I instead saw it to be an odd four-pointed star. As he dropped to his knees in agony, the woman removed it with nary a drop of blood. She shook her head and began to wipe the keen blade in disgust. I tried to stay in place, wondering if the amazingly skilled woman were even sane. She answered my question before I could even ask it.
"I'm sorry you had to see that. I don't like to kill, even scum like that. And I know you don't either, Joxer." Now that I saw her up close, she was nothing like Xena. The bearing, the tone, the attitude: all so different. She pushed back her cloak and now her features were more prominent. To me she looked to be from the East, beyond Egypt or Troy. Her otherwise softly beautiful face was marred with an irregular long scar, possibly from a pike or spear. A peddler's worth of silver dangled from her ears, neck, and wrists. A few strands of curly raven hair escaped the odd long veil she wore to cover the rest of it. She replaced the silver star in its hiding place and offered a hand to me.
"My name is Falyrin, and I have been sent on a mission."
I was dumbfounded. I felt an odd mixture of fear, respect, and wonder at her. "How did you know my name?" I asked, managing to draw the words together.
She smiled, and the scar seemed to fade when she did so. She offered a hand to help me up from the ground. "It's a gift I have. I'll explain later. But what you must know is, Joxer, I have been sent on my mission...to help you."
So did I meet the woman who changed my life forever.
The two of us strolled down the merchants' road slowly, each with a black horse in tow. Falyrin's horse was a smaller, more delicate mare with a white star called Xirafa, which she explained to mean "swift runner" in her language. She still hadn't told me where she was from, or how she just happened to be in Greece. Like Xena, she spoke infrequently, but somehow her tone was warmer, more inviting, when she did.
"I suppose you have many questions about me, Joxer. I have much to tell you, indeed." Her cowl was down again, and she fixated me with those deep eyes. When she talked to me, they glimmered with a strange light, like the shimmers deep within a pond. She deliberately spoke just above a whisper, as if she were afraid someone beside me might hear her. Xirafa was equally secretive, following her mistress closely and moving her small ears back and forth in anticipation of trouble.
I nodded dumbly, trying to think of something suitable to say to this incredible stranger. If I hadn't had the images of Xena and Gabrielle hanging from Roman crosses on my mind, I would have thought of her as attractive, in her own way. But as I was to soon discover, Falyrin would not be my lover, my guardian, or even a mother figure. She was much more than that.
"Thanks for saving my life," I stammered, trying to avoid her intense but friendly gaze.
She laughed for the first time, softly and deep within her throat. "As I said, it's all part of your destiny. I know much about you, though we've never met. Are you familiar with the concept of karma?"
I nodded. Gabby had talked way too much about it after she got back from India. Sometimes I think even Xena believed it, but I wasn't sure.
"I've traveled to many places in my lifetime...Egypt, India, Chin, Germania, Iberia. You were wondering where I come from, I take it. I do believe you call it Arabia. Every place I've been has taught me something different and added bits and pieces to my gifts of perception. Karma is a common thread among many of these cultures, Joxer." I liked how she said my name. It comforted me somehow. "When we meet someone with whom we share a special bond, somehow we know. You had that bond with your friends, I know." Without asking, I knew she meant Xena and Gabrielle. I quickly swallowed the lump in my throat and tried to listen.
Falyrin continued to speak. "Our souls are connected as well. I had a mental picture of you long before we met, and I knew that when I found you, you would be experiencing great sorrow. I also knew that your love for your friends would lead you on a great journey, one for which you would need a guide. I am that guide." Considering all she already knew about me, I didn't object.
"Um...Falyrin...I'm kind of hungry. I mean, um, I haven't eaten anything since a few days ago. I spent my money on another present for Gabrielle instead of food," I interjected, hoping not to upset her.
To my surprise, I got a warm smile and nod from my newfound mentor. "But of course. You must let me know these things." In another situation I would have been offended, but I just followed her and her horse with my own mare.
"Being a nomad by nature, I eat and drink little, but I know your way is different. Besides, you must have food and water to think clearly," offered Falyrin, her accent making the words hard to understand at times. "This will do, don't you think?" She indicated a seller of bread, dried meat, and cheese. I licked my lips in anticipation and my stomach rumbled loudly.
"I've only got ten dinars. What about you?" I asked her. She didn't answer; she merely put up her cowl and fixated the seller, a portly man with reddened skin, with that intense gaze of hers. She immediately snapped out of her trance and looked at me.
"We don't need the money. Come, let me show you something."
"But that's stealing! I haven't stolen since..." I protested, trying not to shout.
"It's not stealing. Watch me closely."
The hooded woman approached the heavily laden cart, eyeing its contents like a lion surveys a herd of antelope. The seller rose from his wooden stool and nodded in greeting.
"What can I get for you, young lady?" he boomed.
"My friend here," -she indicated me, shaking nervously- "needs some supplies. He is embarking on a long journey. Let's have two weeks' supply of dried beef, two loaves of bread, and some of that cheese in wax." The big fellow unhooked the food from its various spots and handed it to Falyrin.
"That's twenty dinars for the lot," he said. I hiccuped in surprise. If she didn't have the money, we were in big trouble. The bearded man looked to be an ex-bouncer or a hired assassin of some sort.
To my surprise, Falyrin lifted one slender hand and spoke in almost a monotone voice. "The money is of no consequence. This man needs the supplies. Let him take them and go."
"Take them and go," the trader repeated, lifting his hand in return as if to shoo me off. Falyrin and I retreated into the agora with the supplies, leaving him almost dumbstruck with surprise. I didn't look back to see if he'd snap out of it, but he never came chasing us.
My jaw almost hit the street in surprise. "What did you do to him?"
She didn't look at me. "You'd be amazed at how easily persuaded simple-minded people are. In time I'll teach you to do the same thing."
"Was it magic or something? I mean, when Xena wanted something like that, she'd use her nerve pinch on a guy," I babbled. Obviously Falyrin knew a similar sort of trick.
"It's not magic. It's mastery of the subtleties of human nature, and it's no trick. As I said, it's a gift of mine, and I have had many tutors. I hope you won't take offense if I adopt you as my first student?" she asked bemusedly.
"Uh, no," I quickly replied, amazed at her offer. Either she was truly insane, sort of like Najara, or else she really liked me. I hoped it was the latter.
Falyrin nodded. "Excellent, then. We will begin your training on the passage at sea."
I stopped in my tracks. I had no more money for the fare to Rome; not even close. And I doubted my guide's powers were enough to convince most of these sea captain types.
"What's the matter?" No matter what her skills may have been, she sure couldn't read minds. "Joxer?"
"I only have ten dinars left. I mean, after I bought Nyx this morning, and...oh, gods," I muttered, burying my head in my hands. "It's going to cost extra to bring the horses along, and I can't sell her again."
The mysterious woman narrowed her dark eyes as if in thought. Then she put a gentle arm on my shoulder, no longer clad in armor.
"If I'm correct, Joxer, one of my countrymen owns a ship in this very harbor. He owes me a great favor from long ago. His name is Abdim; you'd like him. All I need to do is find him."
"Wait a minute. This guy will give us free passage to Rome, plus the horses, all for something you did for him? Are you sure you didn't do that mind thing with him?" Immediately after I'd said the words, I regretted my sarcastic tone. The last thing I wanted to do was get Falyrin mad at me.
She wasn't offended at all. "I saved his life. I'd say passage for two and their mounts qualifies as a life debt. Come now, I think I know the right pier." Without another word we melted into the crowd, two more faceless bodies in a place that valued anonymity.
When I looked at her retreating form, all I could think of was Xena and Gabrielle. I only hoped they were in a better place now.
|Listings of works by Filippa Morgan Flasheart|
|Return to the Fan Fiction area|