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Xena: Warrior Princess, Gabrielle, Argo and all other characters who have appeared in the syndicated series Xena: Warrior Princess, together with the names, titles and backstory are the sole copyright property of MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures. No copyright infringement was intended in the writing of this fan fiction. All other characters, the story idea and the story itself are the sole property of the author. This story cannot be sold or used for profit in any way. Copies of this story may be made for private use only and must include all disclaimers and copyright notices.
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By J. A. Bard
ROAD SHOW I
Watch What You Dream For
"So, what do you think Hercules wants, Xena?" Gabrielle asked for the third time since they started their journey. The first time she got a thoughtful headshake from her traveling companion. The second time she got a blank stare from pale blue eyes whose owner's thoughts were far away. This was the second day of their journey and by now Xena probably had some idea; it was just a matter of wheedling a guess from her. A guess from Xena was usually pretty much on the mark. Her passion and skill at puzzles gave her the uncanny ability to put little bits of information heard here and there together and see a complete picture that others could not.
"Help with slaying a Cyclops?" Gabrielle swung her staff low, sweeping her imaginary adversarys legs out from under him. "Ya!" She then whirled around with a smart rap to the head of a very short Cyclops, followed by a jab to the left of her. She aimed toward the chest area of an average sort of unlucky fellow and she finished with a few more rapid successions of twirls and jabs to whatever else might be foolish enough to be too close by. "Ya! Cha! Yep!"
"Or, rescue a god or demigod that had the misfortune of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. "Yep! Yaaaaa." She made another spin facing the impassive face of the Warrior Princess sitting safely on her war-horse. Gabrielle pulled her staff over her head horizontally to block an imagined blow and whirled around again in the offensive position hiding her smile. She had Xenas attention, as undivided as it could be out on the trail.
"Or!" She whipped back around to look with a glint in her green eyes, this time capturing the glittering blues of her dark haired companion. The tall warrior was content to keep a safe distance from adversaries she could not see.
Argo snorted in warning as Gabrielles staff came a little too close to her nose. Xenas left wrist was resting on the saddlebow with the reins dangling loosely from her hand, while her right hand was on her thigh near her sword sheath attached to the saddle. Her eyes were scanning the area around them at regular intervals with frequent glances at her entertaining and energetic friend. Her characteristically unreadable face watched the animated Bard whose eyes lit up with images only she could see. A faint smile touched Xena's lips as she returned her eyes to study the landscape around them. Life around Gabrielle certainly took on a whole new different color...no, correct that. Life took on a multitude of colors, shades, contrasts and brightness that she had never imagined since Gabrielle started to travel with her. This thought left Xena with a bemused look on her face.
Gabrielle let Argos stirrup come along side of her and continued, "Maybe its about an adventure unlike any other weve been on!" Dramatically she gestured as if pulling in an audience for the beginning of one of her stories.
"And its going to be fun!" Gabrielles eyes opened wide as she continued to see an adventure play out, one without any blood and gore or one that didnt call for being mugged by thugs whose smell alone could knock them out.
Gabrielle rested a hand lightly on Xenas boot, looking up at the warrior's dark tanned profile that stood out against the bright blue sky. The warm blue eyes that grazed her briefly stirred her soul and reminded her of another poem she wanted to add to her scrolls.
"Gabrielle, why dont you just wait and see what Hercules has to say before putting in requests." She remarked dryly, letting her lips curl into the smile her eyes twinkled.
"Hey, positive thinking has a lot of merit to it. I think we're due for something fun. Like the time he asked for our help to get that cute little pig out of the oven." She returned confidently as she let her hand rest on the boot in the stirrup a moment longer, feeling the warmth of the wearer though the leather.
Both women chuckled at the shared memory of their unexpected bumping into Hercules and Iolaus in a small village that had a collective outdoor oven where a frightened little pig had wedged itself into the opening of the oven. It was a young child's pet and too young for normal butchering so Iolaus and Hercules were trying to get the pig unstuck. The kids were not the only ones laughing at the larger than life hero and his friends predicament. Hercules was afraid by using brute strength he would hurt the pig and the little boys anguish was evident over the misfortune of his little pet. The more they tried to pull, prod or anything else the pig pushed itself harder into the small opening. Xena figured out how to get the pig to want to go the other way. It was an interesting reunion for the four, to say the least.
Gabrielle picked up her pace and put some space between the horse and her twirling staff. Occasionally she would attack imaginary bad guys disguised as hapless vegetation that lined the dry wagon rutted road. In one of her spinning attacks she miss stepped into one of the wagon ruts sending her toward the dusty ground. However, confident in her athleticism, she attempted to do a roll forgetting what to do with her staff.
Gabrielle found herself looking up at a clear blue cloudless sky and lighter shade of blue eyes that regarded her with amusement. Argo had come to a stop next to the sprawled figure extending her neck so her nose was close to Gabrielles bare midriff. She let out a whiff of air that tickled Gabrielle's bare skin and caused her to jump. The big soft brown eyes regarded her with mild interest.
"Yeeeoooww! Argo that tickles!" She cried indignantly.
"Did that flower hurt you? Do you want me to do my warrior thing and pull its petals out one by one or just cut it to bits? Xena asked in mock concern. She was leaning forward on Argo waiting for her entertainer to recover. The reins were still casually resting in one hand while the other was absentmindedly stroking Argo's neck.
"Hmph! It happened to be an evil war lord trying to escape the Great Warrior Princess and her partner."
"Well, it looks like her partner is falling down on the job." She returned in a droll tone though her eyes sparkled with merriment.
Gabrielle got back to her feet brushing off the back of her skirt, readjusting it and then her top eyeing Argo with suspicion as she swung her golden head in her direction again.
"Hmmph. How do you know that I was the partner? I could have been the great W.P.!"
Xenas eyebrow rose a notch or two but she said nothing as her eyes ran up and down the Bards athletically trim body as if seeing her for the first time. "Hmm." She finally responded.
"Ahh, I think you have taken something hostage right there." Xena pointed at the clump of grass and dirt that had lodged between her round breasts from what her staff had deposited on her fall. Xena straightened up and looked back up at the surrounding countryside aware of Gabrielle cleaning off the dirt, trying not to break out in a loud laugh.
"It was a clever move to make him think he had me." Gabrielle continued, pointedly ignoring Xena's remark. "You had to be there to appreciate the brilliant plan put forth to capture this devious man!" She returned tartly. Her fingertips had the way ward dirt clump, which she flicked up toward the side of Xenas head. A hand moved so quickly to deflect it Gabrielle thought it was only her imagination. However, there was no dirt clod anywhere. She raised her eyebrows at Xenas calm look that had returned to her upturned face.
"Hmm, and where does the Great Warrior Princess come in the picture?" She asked curiously looking into the serious green eyes that were looking up at her.
"She," Gabrielle leaned forward brushing against the booted stirrup and made a sweeping movement with her free hand, "comes thundering across the camp on her," she looked Argo in her soft brown eye that was still watching her, "golden war horse -- and knocks the warlord off his feet, and the..."
Xena suddenly rose in her stirrups, becoming tense as her attention moved to the trees on the slope above them. From habit Gabrielle stopped speaking, holding her staff at ready as she followed the direction of Xenas eyes, not expecting to see anything just yet.
"Sounds like trouble on the other side of the bend." Xena said softly still listening to what she could only hear. Abruptly she leaned down to offer Gabrielle a hand, presuming she did not want to be left behind. Without hesitation Gabrielle grabbed her arm and only had to swing her leg over Argo's back as the strong proffered arm easily lifted her up. Once astride Argo, Gabrielle held her staff out of the way as they set off at a quick gallop up the slope into the trees to get to the other side of the road that curved around the slope. As Argo threaded quickly around the trees with her two riders ducking low hanging branches the sounds of a small battle could be heard.
A group of small village merchants were surrounded by a group of raiders. The defense of the merchants group was whittled down to three standing guards who looked badly in need of help. The trios fast approach down the slope went unnoticed until Xena let out her war cry that pierced the air. For a moment everyone stopped to see what the cry was all about and froze to see the large golden war-horse with a figure glinting in armor and dark hair streaming behind leaning over her horses neck heading toward them at breakneck speed.
Xena pulled Argo to a sliding stop and Gabrielle, with practiced ease, slid off of Argo taking out the raider that had paused with his knife ready to slice a merchant's throat. A quick sweep knocked down the raider that had come to his fellow attackers assistance and she gave him a solid hit to the side of his head. The third one wasnt as easy and Gabrielle was put to task as he used two swords to keep her busy. He had blocked one of her sweeps and kicked her into the side of one of the carts. She used the support to with stand his barrage of sword strokes, which were intended to overwhelm his victim more than harm. If the man wasnt tired Gabrielle knew she would have had to be rescued by Xena. However, he wore himself out before Gabrielle succumbed to the strategy and she quickly took advantage of the situation. She shoved her staff into his chest after one of the strokes missed her, then swept his legs out from under him. She knocked him out when he attempted to get back up.
Xena worked on the men that were on horseback first. Argos war-horse training gave her the options to take out the enemys mount with kicks, bites, and or knocking down the unfortunate horse. In this case she ran into the first horse that didnt appear to have such training, sending the rider and horse to the ground. The horse scrambled to its feet riderless and quickly ran off to where there was no fearsome war-horse to contend with. Pausing, Argo whirled around, responding to her mistresses' leg signals, and her mistress knocked the next rider off his mount with a well placed sword hilt to his temple when his failed swing left him open. The other rider attempted to move into a better position to get at the new arrivals but one of the guards to the merchants group was able to rally and knocked the rider to the ground. A kick from Xena knocked another attacker on the ground into one of the wheels of the carts with such force the man slid to the ground stunned. Xena was about to go to Gabrielles assistance when the fighting Bard finished off her attacker, then wheeled around to go after another. Xena turned her attention to the rider who was knocked to the ground who had a mace that was swinging toward her leg. She pulled Argo into a position that gave her the angle to use her foot to kick the mace aside then booted the attacker. It was enough to knock him sideways where another of the merchants guards finished him with a sword through his heart.
The raiders on foot were quickly reduced from five to two who were now fighting to get out of the ring that three of the defenders had set up with Gabrielles support. Xena did a flip from Argos back into the center of the ring, with the intention of putting a quick end to the interruption of their hurried trip to Petoli. .
"You can put down your weapons, or," Xena twirled her sword in a slow hypnotic circle, her lips curled up into a feral grin with her eyes glinting ice. "get hurt." She dropped her voice in a low growl.
One of them readily threw down his sword while the other hesitated, then followed suit.
"Good choice." She said softly.
Xena sheathed her sword behind her knowing that if either of the prisoners made a threatening move her reflexes would be fast enough to stop any further movement from them. She glanced at Gabrielle to make sure she had not taken any injuries. Xena nodded to the others that were watching her and the prisoners with the same wary eye. Weapons, prisoners and the fallen were quickly attended to. Xena noted with approval that the merchants seemed to be well organized for everyone moved with purpose without duplicating another's efforts to access damages and to put things back in order for the resumption of their journey.
A merchant approached the most unlikely looking couple, the grim tall dark leather clad warrior and the shorter reddish blond haired woman, with an open and engaging smile. In fact the younger woman was the most unlikely looking woman to be dressed as an Amazon and carrying a staff that she proved was not for show.
"My name's Callirhoe. We're from Lacus about a days walk from the south. We want to thank you..." She let her nod fill in the unspoken request for their names, though by her look she already knew.
Callirhoe was an older woman whose carriage spoke of authority. She wore trews beneath the tunic that fell below her knees with slits for easy movement on the sides. The coloring of her clothing could easily blend in with the woods about them. Her boots, though covered with dirt from the road looked well made and comfortable, with her pants tucked neatly into them. She wore a sheath at either side of her waist for her sword and dagger.
"I'm Gabrielle from Potideia and this is Xena from..."
"The Warrior Princess. I thought I recognized you two." She laughed. "Weve heard plenty of stories about your kindness in helping out those who need it." Callirihoes warm brown eyes changed quickly as she half turned to the sound behind her. One of the guards was pushing a wheel that was loose back into place. Her eyes narrowed, "Claudius! Don't force it at that angle! It will weaken the packing in the hub. Pylus, help him."
Callirihoe turned back to the pair standing before her. "Well, I am very honored to meet you both. I am sorry it is not in a place where I can buy you both a meal and a drink and listen to some entertaining stories, but I am not going to complain, for I would rather you here now than later."
"Right." Xena nodded. Her eyes briskly scanned the group, distracted with trying to figure out how to get them safely to their destination and at the same time make it to meet with Hercules by the next new moon, which was two nights away.
Gabrielle was pleased that Xenas reputation was honorable in this womans eyes and a little embarrassed that her glance included both of them when she mentioned helping people out. She enjoyed helping people but was more comfortable receiving praise for her stories. The warrior princess and her had an amicable agreement, hero stuff was Xenas job, and writing about it was hers. She didn't mind the arrangement, most of the times. It meant she got to go along on jobs Xena thought were too dangerous if for no other reason than to write about it. Gabrielle was realistic that fighting in the middle of a bloody battle was not within her metal. She would get too sick with the carnage happening around her. But if it meant protecting Xena's back while taking mental notes on the less violent aspects of the battle, she insisted on participating.
"What are we gonna do with them?" One of the other merchants asked as she held her bloody arm across her ample bosom. "We can't take them with us. We're down too many guards to watch them, plus we still have to care for our injured and watch for more of their dam kind."
Xena regarded the captives for a moment. "Why dont we first get the injured cared for." Xena pulled some leather strips that were dangling from one of the carts and tossed them toward one of the guards that looked the healthiest. He caught them and handed some to a young merchant's apprentice, who then busied themselves tying up the still unconscious attackers.
Xena turned to Argo whose reins Gabrielle had gathered. They both exchanged glances and in a well practiced routine Xena pulled her healers bag out from their packs behind Argo's saddle and begin making her rounds to the injured. Four of the merchants guards were injured and one had perished, she noted. Three of the robbers were dead and two seriously injured, leaving four alive, though unconscious. Three had ridden away with the loose horses.
"Are you going to Taltos?" Xena asked Callirhoe, who was following her and Gabrielle along and doing her own inventorying. Callirhoe had her own medicine bag with her but didnt offer the warrior any advice understanding that her skill and speed in assessing and taking care of the injured exceeded her own abilities.
Gabrielle held the ends of the skin together while Xena made small and neat stitches on the unconscious guards leg. Callirhoe watched the pair as Xena finished her part Gabrielle had a powder and some cloth ready to dab and bind the wound up. Callirhoe was thinking how this was giving her a better appreciation of the stories the wandering bards told. In her town both the ugly and the new stories of the Warrior Princess were told with equal relish. This experience was going to change her preference, she thought smiling to herself.
"Yea. The celebrations and festival to Fauna starts in four days. We were hoping to beat the bad weather by starting out early"
Xena nodded for she had noticed the dark clouds that were about a day away, wrapped around the misty mountains. They were going to swing west themselves, thereby missing some of it.
"Thats a two days journey with all this stuff and the injured." Xena estimated out loud. "You also have one lame horse that wont be able to pull that cart." She wished she had the chance to grab the stray horses before the bandit survivors ran off with them.
Xena carefully cleaned another cut above one of the merchants hip and decided it wasnt deep enough to warrant stitching. She took the clean cloth Callirhoe handed her and dabbed a root powder on it that would coagulate the slight blood flow, exchanging glances with Gabrielle. Xena could see that Gabrielle was waiting for her to make a decision.
"Doesnt the prince send out patrols during festival times to protect the roads?" Xena asked as she got up and moved to the next injured member of the caravan.
"Yea. But we won't be in the area of his protection until we're a day outside of Taltos." Callirhoe reported, wondering if their luck would hold and they would get her fabled protection till they reached Taltos.
"Ive got too much invested to go back." Xenas injured patient muttered to Callirhoe, gritting his teeth when she pushed against the seeping cut.
"We'll accompany you to the prince's roads then see how safe it is. My horse can pull the cart in place of the injured mare." Xena offered curtly. She rose and looked around for her next patient.
Gabrielle could see in Xenas eyes the torn look of conflicting responsibilities. Xena wouldnt let the merchants travel in their present condition without some sort of protection, and yet, Hercules message stressed urgency.
Gabrielle moved to Xenas side. She resisted putting a comforting hand on her arm, which would only distract them both. Instead she touched her elbow to Xenas arm to get her attention. "Hey." She said softly. "Im sure Argo and I can get by," She hesitated a moment then closed her mind to all the things that seem to happen when she didnt have Xena close by, "without you for a few days. Why dont you go ahead and meet with Hercules? Well catch up with you in Petoli." Gabrielle offered.
Xena looked at Gabrielle. It was an option that crossed her mind, but she didn't want to take it. It meant both Argo and Gabrielle would be traveling in another direction. And what were the chances of the group being attacked again? She wasnt going to put Gabrielle in any danger that could be avoided. Xena knew Gabrielle would offer herself up rather than delay something she felt was important, even if she was going to be miserable.
"Xena, I can handle myself fine." She insisted reading in the impassive face what others could not. "I mean, when word gets out that the great Warrior Princess and her partner are traveling on the road to the festival, whos going to be crazy enough to set up a raid? Besides, by tomorrow there should be crowds on this road, so the odds of another group of raiders meeting up with us are pretty low."
Gabrielle suddenly grinned. "And Argo and I can use this opportunity to do more of this bonding thing you keep saying we need."
Xena raised an eyebrow for a moment. She didn't want to point out to the Bard that when she fitted into those odds it would more than likely go towards another attack. Xena shut her doubts down. Gabrielle believed in positive thinking. Okay, she told herself, she needed to have more faith in Gabrielles instincts. Right.
"Bonding? This is not what I had in mind, Gabrielle." She drawled.
Gabrielle lightly grabbed her friend's leathered wrist and put pressure on it. "Hey. Didn't you tell me the other day that you thought I could take care of myself well enough that you wouldn't have to worry about me? Huh?"
Xena was stuck. She had said something to that effect when Gabrielle had passed another test to see how aware she was of what was going on around her. Xena had meant it at the time, but she wasn't expecting to field test her so soon and without her being nearby to make sure no one got hurt. Xena watched the merchants and guards going about their business to get ready to resume their journey.
"The sooner you get going the sooner you can see what Hercules wants." Gabrielle encouraged her, patting her confidently on her arm.
"I didn't say I wouldn't worry about you." Xena quietly clarified. "I said you would be able to stay out of serious trouble, at least until I returned." Xenas eyes returned to Gabrielles smiling face.
This had been a sore point for both women for a while. Xena had found that leaving Gabrielle safely ensconced in an inn while she took care of problems that she felt were too dangerous to take her into, was more nerve racking than taking her along. It seemed, no matter how safe she left Gabrielle, trouble found her. Then there was having to face Gabrielles hurt feelings of being left behind. The compromise was that Xena taught her survival skills that would at least give her an edge over the more serious drunks, criminals with more than petty crimes on their minds, and attempts at kidnapping her for one reason or another.
Xena studied her hands that had blood on them. She let a soft sigh out. Gabrielle would be reasonably safe and Argo would be with her, she tried to reassure herself. Both were very close to her heart, though it wasnt Argo she was worried about. Argo wasnt a magnet for trouble and her hurt feelings at being left behind only once created a slight problem. It also only took a few apples for Argo to forgive her and that didnt work as well with Gabrielle.
"Right." Xena took the cloth to wipe her hands from Gabrielle. She then turned around and walked over to Argo, probably to break the bad news to her, was Gabrielles guess. However, Xena was telling her to keep Gabrielle out of trouble for a nice reward of a few extra green apples, her favorite.
It took two candle marks to get the merchants ready to move again. There were carts to repack and fix. The injured were set atop the repacked carts, the prisoners that could walk had been tied securely behind some of the carts. Argo was relieved of her tack only to be replaced with the cart harness. Xena talked consolingly to Argo as she harnessed her to the cart. Argos tack and what Xena was not going to carry was stored on the cart she was volunteered to pull.
"Theres an inn called the Pelicans Cry." Xena spoke to Gabrielle in a low voice as she patted Argos neck. "I will leave word with the innkeeper if Im not there when you get there. He has a scar on his chin right here." Xena traced a line from her left ear to her chin with her thumb nail. "Goes by the name of Tobias the Red." Xena watched Gabrielles eyes as she was struggling to look cheerful. Xena touched her arm briefly as she picked up her water bag. She adjusted her scabbard in its familiar place on her back after she added the water bag to her shoulder. Gabrielle handed her a small pouch of food she could carry around her waist. "I'll come back for you two if it's something quick. I'll come along the merchant's road, so don't get any ideas of taking short cuts." Xena warned, knowing all too well what dangers would await a woman wandering alone in the woods. "Try to travel with a group, if you can."
"Another one of your old war buddies?" Gabrielle asked, referring to the man in the inn. She cocked her head to one side hoping Xena didnt see her unhappiness. Volunteering to be left behind made this parting only a little less difficult than if Xena had asked her to remain. She was finding their partings more difficult and though she generally could feel when something was wrong with Xena, she still would rather be there next to her when things happened.
"No. One of Hercules' friends." Xena returned with a small smile. Xena caught the small droop in the shoulders and the less than usual energetic nod of Gabrielle's head. She rested a comforting hand on Gabrielle's shoulder. Gabrielle could feel the warmth from the hand and the gentle pressure from the fingertips that curled momentarily on her shoulder. Gabrielle looked up into thoughtful blue eyes and grinned.
Gabrielle believed good byes in public were very difficult for the stoic faced Warrior because her life often depended on her intimidating façade and she was determined to not undermine it especially when it was really her own cheerful façade she was trying to maintain. Xena pulled Gabrielle into her for a hug that lasted more than a few heartbeats. That ruined Gabrielle's mask, as her cheek rested against the armor swirls on the top of Xenas leathers.
"I dont have to tell you to stay out of trouble." Xena whispered in Gabrielles ear.
"Please be careful." Gabrielle managed to whisper as she held back her fears. When Hercules called for help it was usually something verrry dangerous. She couldnt help thinking about how she was not going to be there to make sure Xenas back was protected, though she had faith in Hercules and his feelings for Xenas safety.
It was just before noon when Xena left the group. She had been careful not to be over protective of Gabrielle and at the same time give her pointers on what to keep her eyes out for, which Gabrielle appreciated. Gabrielle watched her dark clad figure disappear into the woods knowing she would cover more ground before dark than what they would have had, had she been along. Though Xena preached against her taking short cuts Gabrielle knew she would be taking all the ones she could.
Gabrielle took her place at the end of the line of heavily laden carts, next to the cart Argo was pulling. It's previous beast walked behind with a slight limp. The owner was nursing one of the guards that was seriously injured and sat atop of his goods with a good view of the surrounding landscape. Gabrielle was relieved that everyone that was conscious had the sense to be alert. She patted Argo on her neck and offered some consoling remarks about her plight, while scanning the surrounding area with a picture of Xena in her minds eye. She smiled at the thought of Xena probably loving the opportunity to run like the wind. In her mind she pictured Xena's progress over the ground and, she bit back a giggle, through the trees, more comfortable with the travel than an Amazon. The dreamy vision of Xena's progress to Petoli made Gabrielle's day easier. The dark clouds that promised rain they left behind.
They made camp after dusk. The merchants knew the area well and from the look of the site picked, so did others. It was annoying to come back over the same road Xena and she had taken earlier and knowing it was taking her further away from what had been their destination. Gabrielle helped set up camp then went around with Callirhoe and checked injuries trying to keep her mind on the present.
Since Gabrielle was one of the few uninjured she took first shift at guard duty, which was good because she found she couldnt sleep thinking about Xenas probable continuation of travel without sleep. Gabrielle knew that when she wasnt around to get Xena to relax she pushed herself without mercy.
Gabrielle found a tree far enough away from the camp to be able to listen to the nights sounds without the sounds from the camp overlapping. She was grateful for Xenas lessons in sitting watch for they did come in handy when Gabrielle felt herself ready to doze. Right. Stay focused on the night sounds was one of her suggestions. The problem here was that the night crickets were singing her to sleep.
Gabrielle was working out stories in her mind when she heard someone approaching her position. She recognized the dark figure of the guard that had a twisted arm, whom was to be her relief.
"Pryamus." Gabrielle softly called. He changed his direction and moved toward her voice.
"All is well around the camp, Gabrielle." He whispered to her.
"Its quiet around here." She returned. He nodded and took her place in the protective niche she had found. It afforded a good view of the area behind the campsite and protection from being spotted by anyone. "Hows the arm?" She asked before she left.
She didnt see him smile but there was a smile in his whispered reply, "Ive had worse. Those herbs you gave me really helped, though. Thanks again."
Gabrielle had laid out her bedroll before she started her watch so she would not have to worry about finding somewhere to sleep in the early mornings darkness, and probably tripping over sleeping bodies in her search. Gabrielle yawned widely before she fell into a deep sleep. To think all she needed to do was horse sit on this assignment. She chucked sleepily at the thought of Argo needing a chaperone.
The next morning Gabrielle was shaken awake by an unfamiliar hand and rougher than what she was use to. She had rolled to her side and nearly bashed the poor unfortunate merchant on the head with her staff that had quickly found its way to her hands before remembering where she was.
"Are you always this tough to wake up?" He asked grumpily.
"Im not normally shaken out of my wits before the sun has a chance to show." Gabrielle returned just as testy. She was angry with herself to have let a stranger get so close to her. If Xena found out about that she would be taking measures to get Gabrielle to hone those skills. She wasn't happy with herself.
Callirhoe raised her eyebrows in mock horror. "Two late risers." She reached into her supply bag and tossed a small roll of bread to her. "Food certainly can help." She bent over the small fire and ladled out some soup into a small cup handing it to an appreciative Gabrielle.
Gabrielle caught the bread and got a good mouthful before accepting the cup of soup. Hmm. Leftovers from last night. That was good soup. I think I can wake up for this. This is way better than trail rations, she thought, trying to feel better about the new day. She sat on the log near the fire trying to get some warmth in the cold morning.
Callirhoe turned back to her group that was moving around slowly from the previous day's activities. Following her quick meal, Gabrielle offered her assistance and was readily used where Callirhoe needed help. Those that were injured were reassessed and those that were more able to walk did just that, to give the horses an easier task of pulling their goods. Preparations to move back on the road were efficiently made in a short ordered time. Callirhoe wanted to reach the kings protection as soon as possible. By the time the sun was showing above the treetops they were about a candle mark underway. Her efficiency reminded Gabrielle of Xena.
The prisoners were given water and little food, but enough to keep their strength up.
Gabrielle took her place next to Argos side as she was again hitched up to the cart. The look she gave Gabrielle had Gabrielle sympathizing with her. She was a proud war-horse having to do time pulling a heavy merchant's cart.
"I wont tell anyone about this." She whispered in Argos twitching ear as the golden head shook as if in disgust. To keep both their minds off of where they would rather be Gabrielle made up some stories for Argo letting the mares ears signal to her whether she liked them or not.
It was nearing dusk when Callirhoe passed word down they were close to the next camp site, which was a quarter candle mark around the next bend. Gabrielle remembered the area where they had taken a quick break a day earlier. It had a nice spring nearby and a ready-made fire ring. Suddenly Gabrielle could feel the ground vibrate under her and Argo's snort near her elbow told her she also felt it. Gabrielle called out in alarm to the others. Many horses were approaching.
Dread filled her, as she knew that they were going to be outnumbered if it wasnt the kings guard. Oh Xena, she thought dismayed, this could be trouble.
Xena made good time cutting across the forest where Argo would not have been able to pass through. She had to take to the trees many times to get past dense brush that would have taken a lot of time to cut through or go around. She smiled to herself remembering a few Amazons she knew who would find this method of travel as familiar as walking on a path. She quietly passed a few groups of men in dark clothing that normally she would have stayed behind to find out what mischief they were into.
At her first rest stop she had breathed in deep the smell of the damp earth, the wild herbs that grew abundant around her, and the small blossoms that dared to grow in filtered light and so close to winter. She listened to the sounds of the creatures that made the area their home. A breeze lifted her hair off her shoulders cooling her and bringing the smell of a distant ocean. She shook her head. The Aegean was too far away for her to smell it yet.
She took a second sip from her waterskin. She was comfortably leaning against the base of an old tree. Tentatively she stretched her legs and noted that they were a little tight but by the next break they would be fine. Slinging the water skin over her shoulders she repositioned her sword and again took off in a lopping run gradually increasing her speed. It felt good to run and even better when she did a few sprints to run all out, taking satisfaction in feeling the pull on her muscles as the incline became steeper and her lungs starting to labor.
Xena made Petoli in record time, early the next morning. The air was damp with the morning mist and salty smell from the Aegean Sea as she lopped into the still sleeping town. She found the Pelican Inn shrouded in the still heavy blanket of the night fog from the ocean. She moved toward the back door where she knew the inns cook would be getting the fire going. It was candle marks before light would come. Her dark form caused a slight disturbance in the damp cloud as it swirled around her form causing her to disappear within its folds.
Hercules and Iolaus were still asleep as a dark figure slipped into their room. They were rudely awakened by a menacing voice demanding their purses or their family jewels.
"This urgent message is about escorting some priestesses into Paeonia?" Xena asked irritated. Xena didn't know which was more aggravating, the message that implied it was urgent or having to leave Gabrielle and Argo behind for something that so far didnt sound life threatening. "They must be gilded in gold." She growled.
"It's complicated." Hercules smiled with a pained look in his eyes. "They need to get safely to their Temple in Mecsa."
"The seat of the Phytia." Xena sighed. Oracles from any temple put her on edge, but this one was to Gaia, the original Mother of all the Greek gods. That would make her Hercules great grandmother, she thought with wry humor. This certainly put an amusing twist on things.
"Look, Hercules." She shook her head to refocus. She was tired. "Isnt this a bit dangerous to get mixed up with rival powers on Mt. Olympus?" This was more up Gabrielles diplomatic skills area, Xena groaned mentally.
Apollo had slain Gaias python at Delphi and took over her temple out of jealousy and believing he could do it without his fathers interference. The Delphi Temple was the center of the world, as Zeus had decreed. However, Apollo was piqued when only female oracles could go into trance states without harm and then the Phytia, when in trance, became directly connected to Gaia, and to no other. The name may have changed on the outside of the Temple but the underground site where the delphys, the womb was, was still that of Gaias. And that was where the power of the Temple radiated from. It was where the amphalos, the navel shaped stone the oracle sat to speak was. The Phytia, the oracle priestesses, brought many faithful to the Temple that was in his name so he conveniently said and did nothing more against his great grandmother, Gaia. In fact, few of the gods would interfere with Gaia, as her power on earth was greater than theirs, which she used only to protect those that still paid direct homage to her.
"It's rather complicated." Hercules' face took on the characteristic look of discomfort whenever he spoke of his family in the clouds of Mt. Olympus.
"It sounds like a job that two healthy able bodied men can take care of easily." Xena returned suddenly amused. Hes leaving something out, she thought.
"If we escorted them it wouldnt look right and we would be attracting all sorts of the wrong types of --well, you know." He finished lamely.
"What? The news of Hercules escorting young nubile girls across Greece would cause rumors or trouble? Nawww." Xena smirked.
"Right, exactly, and thats where you and Gabrielle come in." Hercules continued hurriedly. "Iolaus and I have already heard rumors that someone tipped off the slave traders and some warlords that there is easy money in selling them." He sighed and added, "You have far more knowledge on their tactics than I." His smile took whatever sting away that Xenas guilt may have elicited within her about how she acquired that knowledge. "With these womens training they would bring more money on the slave block than Helios chargers."
Iolaus snorted. "And anyone with good sense wouldnt even attempt to mess with those horses. They bite." He nodded as if he knew that from personal experience.
"Xena, at least hear the priestess out." He added when he saw her face move into the familiar resolve.
"Right." She muttered. A sudden smirk appeared on her face. Special training? She remembered that the priestess of Gaia practiced a form of erotic healing, which may well be the reason why Hercules felt uncomfortable with escorting them and why they would get a high price on the slave market.
"Desmonia will meet with us in the market at a more civil time in the morning." Hercules continued with a grin.
"And who is Desmonia?"
"Shes with Artemis' royal temple guard on Sappho's island."
"Royal temple guard." She stated matter of factly. A bad feeling started in the pit of her stomach. It was sounding like a lot of bored gods thinking up things for mere mortals to do to keep them entertained. Her suspicion on who might have spread the rumor caused a tight smile to form on her face. Its the typical mischief Ares would create to annoy his sibling and irritate Xena.
"Why cant they just escort the group?" Xena asked again not really wanting to take this two or three week trip which may take longer if they moved slowly with too much baggage. What did priestesses carry for luggage anyway? Then there was Gabrielle. A sudden smile appeared on her face as she thought of Gabrielle and the priestesses. Shes seen a lot since their rescuing the Hespian vestal virgin priestess but still...it would be entertaining for her to watch Gabrielle try to learn about the priestesses while figuring out how to make a story out of it. How much would she ask the priestesses about their training or what exactly they did to prepare for the rituals and ceremonies involved in the healing for their temple visitors? She certainly would like to be around for that. Gabrielle not only liked to hear the details, unless it was gory, but she sometimes...Xena shook herself to get back to the business at hand.
Hercules misread the look in her eyes and wondered if he was explaining it right.
"Hey. How about we continue this conversation when there's more light. Im beat. You think you had to rush here. When we got word we were..."
"Iolaus, later." Hercules silenced him with a grin. "There's a room across from ours that I reserved for you and Gabrielle. Where is she, anyway?"
"Getting breakfast?" Iolaus quipped.
Xena's face darkened for a moment and was going to say something testy when Hercules put a hand up apologetically. "Hes just joking. Xena youre tired."
"I left her and Argo with a group of merchants that were hit by some raiders. She should be here in about four or five days." Xena grumbled. "I could use a few candle marks of rest." She admitted. "As soon as we talk to this Desmonia, Im going after Gabrielle and Argo."
Hercules didnt look at Iolaus but instead just nodded. He would let Desmonia tell her. He sighed as he pounded what was serving as a pillow into an acceptable shape. Sometimes things were just too strange even for him, he thought wearily as he moved into Morpheuss domain.
Xena was up a few candle marks later feeling the edge taken off her weariness. However, her dreams were even stranger than they had been the last two weeks. They weren't nightmares, just strange. From visiting with people she didnt recognize in deep caverns below mountains to taking winding paths up mountains that were veiled in thick mists. For the last two weeks she had been waking up disorientated and feeling that Gabrielle was looking at her different. On top of that Gabrielle was waking up before the sun began its ascent and when she went back to sleep she found Gabrielle gripping her as if she was afraid Xena was going to go somewhere. Were they having the same dreams? She silently kicked herself for not bringing up the dreams just to compare but she couldn't remember the contents once she was awake so had refrained from speaking of them.
Theres no point in talking about what you cant remember, Xena reminded herself again. Xena decided she needed some fresh ocean air to clear her mind and a run along the beach would give her that. Running in the soft sand was exactly what she needed.
Both Hercules and Iolaus were still sleeping, as her sharp hearing picked up their sleep deepened breathing from the other side of the door. On a secluded part of the beach she stretched and did some exercises to loosen up and refocus her thoughts. The morning mist was nearly gone and the crisp cold winter air stimulated her to move quickly. She moved smoothly into a more serious training routine hoping to close out all thoughts. But, thoughts of Gabrielle and wondering what she was doing kept drifting through her mind as she finally gave up on closing her mind off from anything but her routines. She finished her work out with a run on the beach in the soft sand letting her mind worry about what she was not able to keep it from doing. She knew if anything were wrong with Gabrielle she would know, for their ability to sense each others intense emotions from a distance was an accepted fact of their bond. She laughed to herself as she remembered just how intense their bond could be. As the beach became busier with morning life Xena headed back to the inn feeling a good work out in her legs if not anywhere else.
Hercules and Iolaus found her sipping tea and leaning with her back against the wall watching the early morning customers. There werent many. They all broke morning fast with a light meal eating quietly. Not even the usually talkative Iolaus attempted to break the silence. Xena wasnt use to the silence and found herself trying to end the meal as soon as she could. Paying for their meal they headed to the market place.
"There she is." Iolaus spoke in a low voice to his companions without indicating to anyone watching that they were interested in anything besides the merchant's wares. Xenas sharp hearing caught Iolaus whispered message and while inspecting a carved box on the merchants table, she observed the person Iolaus spotted. She handed the merchant some money and slid the small box in her pouch.
The woman Iolaus was referring to was dressed nondescript and would have easily been mistaken for an early shopper as they, had not Xenas trained eye noted her movements and attitude were unlike the locals. She didnt have the tired slump of a villager or the haughty attitude of the local aristocrats but carried herself with a grace and self-assurance not found in the native population.
Within a short time they were all in a room that was safe from prying eyes and ears.
Following introductions, Desmonia looked Xena over with a grin on her face. "So, the ex war lord Xena has been chosen as the guardian of the sacred vessels across unfriendly lands on this long journey."
Xena leaned back in her chair and regarded the woman with an impassive face. "I frankly think Hercules and Iolaus make a better team of chaperones. They do have impeccable reputations and high moral standards." Xena attempted not to smirk.
Desmonia leaned across the table her brown doe eyes looking deep into Xenas. "It will take a lot more than that, Xena, Warrior Princess and friend of Gabrielle, the Amazon Queen and Bard."
Xena studied the eyes that had more depth than what she was use to and suddenly realized the woman was a seer as well as priestess. She sat for a few moments saying nothing, waiting for her to go on. Inside she was groaning. Member of the temple guard she was not. She was curious if Hercules had purposely misrepresented her. She had a feeling this was going to be one of those complicated convoluted Gabrielle-type of adventures and she wasnt even here. Mentally she sent out a heartfelt thought Gabrielle's way, knowing she would have enjoyed being here for the adventure she had wished for only a day ago. Something unusual, wasnt that part of the wish? She had a very strong feeling this was going to be one of those.
"I would like you to accompany me to the Temples sanctuary to visit with someone." Desmonia continued, still leaning forward.
The hairs on the back of Xenas neck were standing up but she didnt feel any personal danger. Usually they accompanied each other. Instead, she felt the butterflies of anticipation that she had been feeling the last week, like a premonition of something to come but not knowing what.
"Just what temple is this?" Xena asked keeping her demeanor at an impassive curiosity. The only two temples she knew in this area were to Demeter and Poseidon, and the usual small grottos or altars in the surrounding open spaces of personal preferences. Why would a priestess and seer from Artemis' Temple involve herself in another goddesseses business? By Artemis' bow, Xena thought suddenly, this is getting complicated already! Another wistful thought for Gabrielle's presence brought a smile to her usually unreadable face. Maybe being from Sappho's island had something to do with it.
"A small one about two candle marks outside of this town by foot, less by horse. Not many people know about it." Desmonia regarded the powerful woman that appeared to be relaxed and mildly interested in the discussion, yet she could feel something else below the surface. "There is a preparation you will need to undergo," Desmonia added slowly, waiting to see what change in her energy that would create, "before you can make the visit.
Xenas eyebrow rose but otherwise she remained impassive. She could feel tenseness in Hercules and see Iolaus fidgeting but she waited for the priestess seer to go on.
Desmonia leaned back in her chair and nodded to the two men. "Would you mind giving us some time alone? You probably have some preparations of your own to take care of." She hinted with a smile.
Both men seemed relieved and got up. Hercules patted Xena on the shoulder as he was leaving. He started to say something then just squeezed her shoulder. Xena allowed his closeness and touch, letting the feelings they had for each other briefly pass across a usually well-fortified wall of stone. Her demeanor hadnt changed but the hold she had on her inner self was back in place by the time Hercules hand left her shoulder.
"Its in an ancient chamber of the Mother Goddess, Gaia." Desmonia explained after they had left.
There's that feeling again, Xena thought. Anticipation, but for what? What kind of preparation does one have to go through to guide nubile girls across Greece? Something Hercules and Iolaus didnt want to undergo? Hmm. Something that would take away their manhood, Xena thought amused? Another part of her knew that if that was the case it had to be something big to shake Hercules sense of self.
"Gaia. Just what does this preparation involve?" Xena asked interested.
Desmonia smiled. "Im sure nothing you havent done before, but without any blood sacrifice. Shall we?" She indicated the exit. "We shall go to the site and prepare."
Xena frowned as she rose to follow the woman. Why would she be making arrangements for Gaias priestesses? She wondered again. Does Artemis have a special interest in her grandmothers business?
Xena had been in the small heated shelter sweating and sipping the herbal water that was offered for what she thought was at least a day. She sat huddled in the enclosure that had no corners, acting as a passive receptacle to visions she had no understanding of. They left her dizzy and disorientated.
When the visions had started Xena found herself standing in dark shadows created by tall trees that surrounded her. She felt eyes staring at her and her keen senses picked up the smell of a wolf. Carefully turning around she found the yellow eyes peering out at her from the cover of a fern.
She didnt attempt to draw a weapon, which if she had she would have noticed she had none. Both wolf and human studied each other for a long moment, each feeling no threat from the other.
Xena felt a chuckle from the owner of the yellow eyes. What is so amusing, you four legged fur bearing curr, she thought.
The wolf lifted its nose into the air and yapped as if laughing. You certainly are one to talk, two legged.
You can hear my thoughts?
Of course! Do you think we cannot understand any other language but our own?
This is hardly a language.
Exactly. All forms of life on this earth experience thoughts, images, and feelings. Your species spends time learning other languages but with the intention to dominate and take without giving proper reverence to the realm they are taking from.
Animal, plant, land, life of others of your species. Each is a realm or kingdom that has a guardian that over sees it. Your gods are also a realm, which is overseen by one who is greater than they.
Xena started to laugh.
Yes. I can see your humor. Eventually their time shall pass and others will take their place but there will always be guardians of the different realms of life forms. It is to these that homage and thank fullness needs to be given when one is sacrificed for your need.
Like the prayer of thanks for the first bread that is baked after the harvest! Xena thought with a certain amount of smugness that she knew what the wolf was implying.
Yes. But it should not stop there. For taking the life of the stag, the boar or for the herbs that you use for your survival, you must remember to thank spirit of what sacrificed its life for you.
And you do this when you take a sheep or stag?
Yes. Do you think our howling at the moon is just for the sake of listening to ourselves sing?
Xena could feel the wolf smile.
So, why are you here in my vision?
Ahh. You want to get down to business. I am your guide.
Xena felt the sting of the branch as again it was flicked across her bare body invoking a fresh release of visions. Scenes from the lives of many people, whom she didnt know, kept replaying as if a point was trying to be made but she couldnt see it. She kept looking for a pattern or a place to fit a piece so a larger picture could emerge. The wolf sat beside her studying the same scenes but offering no thoughts on them.
The branch again was flicked across her back but this brought an interesting sensation of time. She became fascinated with the concept of time her imagination conjured up. A pool of water appeared at her feet with no break in its surface. The wolf jumped down from the chair she had been sitting on next to Xena and poked her nose in the watery vision she had of time. It created a ripple effect across the surface then it disappered. Another vision appeared in its place. A huge web stretched out before them. The web of life, the wolf informed her. The spiders web became weighed with glittering diamonds but on closer examination it was merely wet with dew from the early morning and sparkling as if the new sun was turning the dew drops into tiny jewels. She sighed at its beauty.
The intensity of the visions begin to lessen and with it the feeling of her guides presence. She asked Xena to review what she had seen. Xena sighed. Mother Earth offered immortality to her followers, but she wasn't really just Mother of the Earth, she was a teacher and initiator into the secrets of the multitude of life forms in her domain. She was the mentor to the ancient Shamans. It was through the wheel of reincarnation she granted this immortality and from what Xena could follow she had in another life been a follower of this Mother of the Earth, Gaia. So, why did I spend time in Tartarus, she challenged the wolf?
What appeared to be a grin appeared on her guides face. No explanation was given but another vision appeared. Before her were spinning tiny lights of various colors. She saw people moving through these bits of lights and knew that they were traveling from one temple to another. She watched as supplies and animals moved through these portals. The wolf stepped through one asking Xena to follow. For a while they visited places that were foreign even to Xena whose wanderings were far and wide. As the last vision left she became aware of a hand resting on her shoulder.
"You are ready." A disembodied voice above her announced.
The vision of the wolf left with a quiet thought to her that she would be available should Xena need her again.
Xena was helped to her feet and led out of the hot shelter. The air outside was cooling bringing her into the more solid world. She straightened up and drew away from those that had assisted her. Xena stood naked and silent before a figure dressed in ceremonial robes trying to see past the colors that were emanating from the person. The women who had sat with her in the hot enclosure also had become surrounded in a cloud of colors hiding their physical bodies. Taking a deep breath and releasing it, solid faces appeared out of the soft cloud of colors.
Desmonia was wearing the traditional long ceremonial robe of a seer. She pointed to the pool of water for Xena to immerse herself in. This was the sacred pool. The pools water was from the run-off of the snowcapped mountain that the underground cavern nestled in. The cold brought clarity to Xenas mind as she plunged down to the bottom of the caverns pool, picking up a small stone that captured her eye. Something for Gabrielle, she thought. It would fit nicely in the small box she had bought her.
As Xena walked out of the pool the two young women that accompanied her from the sweat shelter assisted her in drying off and robing. They had also rinsed off in the pool and were dressed in similar robe they dressed her in. In the muted light that the torches gave off, her dark hair and tanned skin contrasted sharply with the white robe. Her bright blue eyes caught sharply in the torch light sending off glints of their own.
The sound of cymbals and drums started the moment the robe touched her skin. Xena watched and listened with senses that were muted on one level, yet heightened on another. She could see the glow of colors around everyone. Holding her own hands out she could see colors of light shooting out from her fingertips and out from her palms. In her left hand nestled the small stone giving off different colors than her right hand that held nothing. It felt as if the stone were alive. She became captivated by the sensations the stone gave her and wanted to sit somewhere and understand what she was sensing, but Desmonia pulled her attention back to her surroundings.
Xena took her place behind the two women admiring the whiteness of their robes and the contrasting beautiful colors that surrounded them. Desmonia led them to the dark opening of a tunnel.
The tunnel was shrouded in utter darkness. She could hear the muted sounds of the footsteps of those before her. The sounds of the music were errie and seemed to vibrate against her skin as if it were a silky touch. She was still aware of the stone that she held safely in her palm, which seemed to pick up on the drums and throbbed to their beat. The women in front of her walked with firm footsteps, confidant of their foot placement in the dark. Xena was amused that she didnt feel the usual trepidation of closed spaces nor have any hesitation in following blindly. She had been in darkness before and knew how to walk in it.
The smell of incense was starting to get stronger and before her was a tiny light where she was able to see the dark outline of the figures of the three women ahead of her through the glow of colors that almost shrouded them.
The feeling of anticipation quickened her heartbeat. The visions from a few moments ago in the sweat shelter came back to her with emotional feelings. She didnt try to put them into anything understandable. She knew visions were not for the realm of thought but rather for the realm of feeling. Where did I hear that? The chants were getting louder. The underground chamber vibrated from the energy of the chants bringing back a familiarity that Xena struggled to place. Where had she been where this was as familiar to her as breathing?
The chanting stopped when the four women entered another underground chamber. Clusters of crystals in varying colors hung from the ceiling and were covering the walls. Some were wider than her arm. Xena couldnt figure out where the light source was but the crystals magnified the one small light, and their reflections sent out rainbows in all directions. She could hear the soft sound of water trickling and the rhythmic movement of the water as if on a shore. Did the ocean feed into this underground chamber? She could actually sense their surroundings as if it were alive. She gave her head a brief shake to stay focused on what she could see with her eyes, an uncharacteristic choice on her part. What are you frightened of? Stay awake! Xenas eyes opened wide from the thought that she knew came from herself.
Desmonia faced Xena with twelve other women surrounding her dressed in the same white robe of an initiate.
"You are the Named, the one who came before and left with an unfinished quest." Desmonia intoned to Xena. "You and these others had asked for the opportunity to complete the journey, to complete the task of the covenant you had at one time taken in behalf of the Mother Gaia."
Though Xena didnt recall any such request a part of her knew this to be true. The butterflies in her stomach ceased and she could feel the tension in her shoulders ease.
A light brighter than any she had seen, including Ares dramatic displays started as a small ball of light then grew to the size of a large person. There was no pain to the brightness, in fact it was quite warm and inviting, -- and familiar. The figure of a woman appeared to take shape in the light. It wasnt something that surprised Xena; it was as if she, at some level, was familiar with this person and method of appearing.
When the face was clear she automatically kneeled with a heavy heart. I failed you. I am so sorry! Please, give me the chance again to guide these pilgrims on their quest. I am better prepared. Xenas conscious mind was struggling with these thoughts that were coming from a very deep part of her. She was kneeling willingly in front of the great Mother Gaia. This person was so much a part of her she felt enflamed and sad at the same time.
"Arise child of her own destiny. In this life you have no obligation to me." The voice was caressing against Xenas heavy heart. It seemed all the hardness from self-guilt that had a grip around her heart was gone. She felt very different. Lighter. Her energy level rose but not the nervous type that had her vibrating like a nervous stallion needing physical action to release the energy. It was expansive and made her even more aware of her environment on the various levels of her senses.
"You have all asked for another chance to fulfill your covenant of long ago. As members of the original circle, you are all here as is the necessity for this request to be granted. There are others who had also been a part of the original journey and who had the similar desire. I will honor your collective wish to fulfill what you perceive as a covenant with me."
Her soft dark eyes searched deeply into the eyes of each woman before moving to the next. Finally she came to Xena.
"You were the leader of that group. You, willingly took the burden of guilt for the groups inability to complete the journey. For that, you are again to be the leader, but you must shed your image of who you are now. You must take on the name of the Named and her mantle." She paused, studying the impassive face. "You shall not be recognized as Xena for as long as you stay with the journey. If you answer to any other name than that of the Named the recompense shall be voided in this life for all. Do you understand this?"
Xena took a deep breath and let it out slowly. A part of her that was not conscious understood this perfectly. It felt right. But her conscious mind didnt understand what this was all about, and that was driving her to distraction. Who and what was the Named?
"I take up the mantle of the Named willingly and abide by the rules set down to complete the journey of the faithful to the sacred site in the mountain lands." Xena couldnt believe what was coming out of her mouth. Gods, what is happening?
The dark warm eyes gazed at her for a moment longer then looked at the others. "You have heard the oath of the Named, do the rest of you also honor this acceptance, and for her to once again lead you?"
"Yes, Mother Gaia." They all answered in unison.
Xena felt as if there were two of her, one moving into the forefront while what she knew as Xena moved to the side. Oh, oh, she thought.
The warm dark eyes looked back at Xena. "You are the Named and the journey shall resume. You must all think of what this decision means to you and what your responsibilities are. My blessings go with you." The form was suddenly gone and the warmth and calming energy with it.
The women all looked around at each as if wakened from a deep sleep. They broke off without a word and wandered to various parts of the cavern as if to be alone with their thoughts. Xena stood alone unsure of what was going on and feeling as if she were two people at odds. She was seeing what was around her as if with two sets of eyes and with the observations of two different people, but she was familiar with them both!
Desmonia touched her on her elbow. Xena was alarmed for she didnt have the old edge where she was aware of the presence of another when they entered her personal space, and as a warrior, she had a larger personal space then most people. The other part of her was very calm at the touch and welcomed the older woman with warmth.
"Come and let us talk." She said gently.
Xena followed her back through the dark tunnel and again she felt no trepidation at the closeness of the walls. The Other knew exactly where the unseen walls were and the top and bottom of the space they walked in.
Desmonia led her to a comfortable corner in the cavern that had tables and chairs. It looked like a meeting place in someones home. She gestured to one of the ornate chairs with a fur tossed over it.
Xena settled heavily in the chair offered. She was silent for a long moment. Puzzles were her specialty as well as a great source of enjoyment and this was a real puzzler. However, she wasnt feeling any enjoyment at what pieces were being presented at this time. Maybe it was because she didnt feel herself. The Other stared around her delighting in the environment and stroking the fur with obvious enjoyment.
Desmonia watched the rumored inscrutable warriors face and before her meeting of Gaia she believed it. Now a myriad of emotional expressions crossed the tall warrior's tanned face and they were all unlike the stoic swordswoman she had first seen practicing on the beach that morning. She sighed inwardly at the memory. It was what in her earlier days she would have called a vision. A magnificent display of sword practice that was given a mystical appearance as the mist swirled around her, sometimes wrapping around her as the small morning gusts of wind blew the last of the mist back out to sea. The skills she displayed in her drills were better than any she had ever seen and she had visited many courts in her long years as a priestess and seer.
Desmonia pursed her lips as she studied the figure as it kept moving around as if finding her new set of cloths ill fitting. She couldnt explain to her or guide her to finding her part in this quest as much as she wanted to. She was amused at her own curiosity about the enigma that surrounded this powerful woman whom stories both good and bad were well told on Sapphos island. Desmonia was a powerful woman in her own right yet; this woman on their first meeting captivated her. The air of authority and natural grace she possessed were that of a woman born to royalty and for that she could well agree with the title of princess that had been bestowed on her. She had met the young Amazon Queen that the warrior now gave her loyalty to and many say, her heart too. She realized the importance of the young Bards fierce heart and humor that offset the heaviness of heart that the dark haired warrior carried in her. Except now. Following the dark warriors meeting with Mother Gaia she had taken on another aura or feeling. It wasn't the forbidding and ominous energy that she had exuded at their first meeting with Hercules and Iolaus.
Desmonia shook herself mentally for she knew her part in this reunion was ending. She also knew this woman would not thank her for the help she offered from this point on. As a Priestess on Sapphos island, many women sought her out for advice. She knew how to read those that would welcome advice and those that would rather find the answer themselves. This dark haired brooding woman valued her own struggles for the answers and would not be pleased with someone else taking away the treasures she could gleam from her own searches and struggles.
"You must always remember " She paused to emphasize her next comment, "that you are the Named. Without you, there is no journey." It was all that she could say that would be accepted.
The blue eyes across from her went from light blue to a piercing deeper shade that could well turn her blood cold if she didnt read it as her pulling her own resolve together and not displeasure in the person who was reminding her of her oath.
Xena sighed and waved a hand in front of her, then put the hand to her head, a gesture she wasnt in the habit of doing. "I dont feel like Im all here." She complained frustrated. That didnt sound like something she would normally admit to. She was getting confused. The Other was frustrated that this iron willed person she shared consciousness with kept restraining her.
Desmonia laughed gently. "You will get use to it. The others are ready. Let me introduce you to Hildreth, or Lily as she goes by."
"Lily?" Desmonia called to the women who had entered the cavern. They had removed their white robes, which they carried over their arms, and some were now wearing Amazon clothing. A tall athletically built brown haired women looked up from her conversation with one of the women that was with her earlier in the sweat shelter. Agnes Xena recalled.
Lily walked over toward them. She reminded Xena of a tall and older Eponin.
Desmonia turned to Xena. "This is Lily, Amazon Ambassador to Lesbos. I suggest you start soon." She nodded to both women. "You must reach the sacred site by the thirteenth new moon." Desmonia turned and left leaving Lily and Xena to study each other. They were eye-to-eye and close in build, though Xena was leaner as well as younger.
Lily nodded toward Xena. "What do you know about this journey?" She asked with an unreadable face. A warrior to warrior face off wasnt unfamiliar to Xena. The Other was quiet. Xena thought that maybe she was studying Lily from her own perspective. Great.
"Nothing that makes sense."
Lily hesitated. She regarded the woman before her. She had first met her seven winters ago when Xena was in her warlord years and deadly dangerous. The feared Warlord and a group of her lieutenants were visiting a bar between raids. Lily had been visiting the owners of the bar who were family friends and was helping out in the kitchen. She didnt think the warlord had even noticed her for she was gaming with her soldiers and was beating them with an aggressive intensity that had frightened some of the regular patrons away. It wasnt difficult to bring that memory into focus. It had been enough to give her nightmares then. It was like looking at raw power without restraints. It was humiliating at the time to know she was an Amazon and yet she was frightened by the violent power the beautiful dark haired warrior projected, to say nothing of the sexual energy she radiated with intention.
When she had first heard Xena was traveling as the champion to the new Queen of the Amazons she had not believed it. For one, what would the Queen of the Amazons be doing traveling with an enemy of their Nation? And two, why would the most feared warrior become champion to the Amazon Queen? She remembered receiving Ephinys, the Queen Regents, documentation on what had passed in the Amazon Nation since her last report. There was the passage of two Queens in a short time, one becoming a Goddess. Losing Melosa as her Queen and childhood friend was difficult to hear. Velasca was a different story. They never got along.
She recalled Gabrielle. An unpretentious young girl full of laughter and yea, she could describe it as light. She had not been introduced as Queen when she had visited the island so Lily was either leaving for business or had been away on business for the two visits Gabrielle and Xena had visited the island. If she knew Xena was one of the visitors she wondered if she would have delayed her departure, for she knew she would have if Gabrielle announced herself as the Amazon Queen. It would have been her duty to remain.
Lily returned her attention to the tall woman who remained silent before her. The woman before her didnt exude the same aura as when she was a warlord. The cold glint was still there but not the one that could turn ones blood cold, as it had done to her on the one chance meeting.
There is a change, she observed. They had all agreed to accept this persons leadership. But what did this ex-warlord know of quests or pilgrimages? They had all heard she had changed and was attempting to undo what she had done in her past, but would that be enough on this journey? She knew that though they had agreed, many of them were shocked that Xena was the Named. Only a few of the women were excited, but they had never met her when she was the feared warlord.
Lily finally gave her one of her ambassador smiles. "Most of what we know is through our dreams. What we remember of the past journey and what we think we need to do to complete this one successfully weve been discussing amongst ourselves for thirteen moons. So, let me tell you as much as we have put together and maybe you can add something youve been dreaming."
When Lily finished Xena stared at her. Her vivid blue eyes showed no emotion as she studied the Amazon in front of her. The amazing thing about Lilys story was its familiarity. It would explain why she felt like she was two different people at the moment. The Other was laughing in relief.
Her attention went back to the Amazon ambassador. She remembered her from a visit her and her men had made to a bar about seven summers ago. She needed to reassert her dominance over the men but not in sword play since they usually got hurt and she could not afford wounded lieutenants. She challenged them instead to games they usually played in the inns. She had appeared to be drunk but she was cold sober. Her competitiveness was high and she made sure there was no doubt about her power. No one died that night. No locals did anything stupid that would warrant her having to mead out punishment with a heavy hand to keep respect in place. Yet, she could feel the uneasiness in this woman. Was it something to do with Gabrielle? She felt the answer was at the tip of her tongue, yet she couldnt bring it out.
"Aleka." Xena suddenly whispered. In her minds eye the image of a tall lanky dark brown haired young woman leaning on a staff laughing at the antics of a red haired girl. Thats me, Aleka. Im the tall one, Lia is the short one. She joined us at the crossroads. Right. She was entertaining them while they sat around an early morning campfire. Us. The image had been from a reoccurring dream she had started having weeks ago. She remembered now. She had thought the red haired girl was Gabrielle until she got a better look at her. No, you havent met her in this life yet. The voice of Aleka continued self confidently. Aleka was the Other.
In Xenas minds eye, she saw the early morning campfire gathering as if it were happening now, which suddenly ended when they were attacked first with a barrage of arrows then the attack of men branishing curved swords. They were the men that had shared a fire with them the night before. They came running into their camp and hacked everyone to pieces. They had been unprepared! They should have had guards posted! She remembered the intensity of the feeling of failure in her role as their leader as she sagged against the log she had been standing near. She was dying from an arrow that pierced her lung and throat. She grimaced as she realized Aleka was the Named.
"Im glad you remembered. We would not have been able to proceed with the journey until you remembered your name. So, shall we get on with the planning?" Lilys pleasant voice asked.
Xena nodded mutely.
Lily turned to the group of women and nodded toward them. "Agnes, we will begin." Lily indicated Xena to follow the others. They headed to the back of the cavern which had a fire pit ringed with dark black stones that had a shine to them though they looked like they had been in place for a long time. Mats were scattered about to give the women something to sit on instead of the dirt floor. A log was more to Xenas preference but there wasnt one about. Aleka felt comfortable sitting on the ground with her knees crossed and wrists dangling over her bent knees.
"Our destination is in Etruria located in Paeonia, to a temple in Mecsa that is still consecrated to Gaia. It still has the power of the Pythia there and is guarded by perhaps the last python." Agnes traced her finger on the map that was laid out for everyone to gather around.
"Somewhere along our journey, we will find an object that we are to take to the temple. We have not been able to agree amongst ourselves as to whether this was what we had originally been given to deliver or if we picked it up on our pilgrimage, or what we would have eventually picked up." Agnes explained to Xena.
Xena raised an eyebrow. She couldnt remember anything about a sacred object, which didnt mean anything at this time. Aleka felt puzzled by this bit of information.
"What she means is," Lily explained, "Only two of us remember such an object and the rest of us dont. And the two that remember the object cant remember if it was in our possession at the time of the attack or if it were to be picked up later."
"What we have agreed on," Agnes laughed, "after a full turn of seasons, is that all of us have different views of the pilgrimage. We have agreed that it was seen as a pilgrimage to the circle of friends. We also agreed that we traveled for only two days before we perished in an attack."
"What some of us figured was that much like today, if a person is headed for a particular destination rather than travel alone she finds a few others that are going the same way. That being the case, it makes sense that each of us had different purposes for making the journey." Lily took a deep breath. "We had all visited a smaller temple site, where we met, and since we were all going to the Pythia we decided to travel together. We all were young and inexperienced." Lily remarked dryly.
"And probably shouldnt have been traveling the distance alone." Agnes finished.
"Why relive or do this over?" Xena asked puzzled. She felt Aleka stir and a series of fast moving images crossed her mind. Stop! She mentally growled to the Other.
There was silence for a moment. "We were all on a pilgrimage to Gaias most sacred temple in the mountain. We were all young and probably quite zealous. As we were all dying we all had the same feeling of failure to complete our quest or pilgrimage and asked for another chance to complete it." Lily nodded at the others as she explained.
Xena was thinking of how complicated life would be if all the people who were remiss at death in not completing a task they set out to in life were able to come back to complete it. Hades would certainly need to hire more assistants to keep track of who belonged where. The thought of a lot of unfriendly warlords who felt the same crossed her mind too. Who is Hades? Look it up. Xena shot back mentally. If Xena could see into the Others memories than this other self of hers could very well look into hers. You can do your own research. She muttered mentally to herself.
The sudden realization that the reason why she was here was that she was part of that group that requested to have another try at something she didnt even remember didnt sit too well on her practical shoulders. She had enough on her plate with her self-imposed recompense for her warlord days and didnt need to add more guilt at a failed leadership role she couldnt even remember clearly. But, I remember it. And we do have to help them finish their quests! Im here, arent I? Just keep quiet until I ask your advice. Xena snapped back. This was going to drive her crazy. It was as bad as listening to Gabrielle talk in her sleep asking her questions and the next morning she would ask her them again.
She frowned for a moment at the thought that she had been a leader to a group that only survived two days on the road. She should have posted guards. None of us were soldiers! Great, she was thinking, you dont have to be a soldier to know that when out on the road you need to have someone keep an eye out for night visitors.. It wasnt my decision on whether to post guards or not, Aleka pointed out patiently. Though, with hindsight the best advice, I see that I should have insisted on it.
Hey, that me! Xena was pulled out of her thoughts as she realized that Agnes was talking to her.
"Im sorry, what were you saying?"
Lily smiled as she repeated, "Our trip has been jeopardized by someone who has put the word out that young women trained as priestesses in many marketable skills, to a nonGreek god, will be passing though Thessaly. As you all know that opens the door to all those looking for a quick road to riches in selling you to the slavers." She looked at the seven young women who were not dressed in Amazon garb. "To say nothing of capturing a handful of Amazons to toss into the purse." Lily glanced toward her sister Amazons.
Xena didnt mention the first name that popped into her head as the someone. Her suspicion was Ares, as he liked to stir up things between his relatives and not feel the slightest bit of guilt. Youre kidding? He would do that to his grandmama? Yea, and a lot of other terrible things too. Xena was going to picture a few of the nastier stuff Ares did when Gabrielles face flashed in her mind. Alekas innocence at violence reminded her of Gabrielle when they had first started traveling together.
Agnes nodded. "But you have trained us well enough to not be too much of a burden for you." Her green eyes flashed a warm look to Lily. Looking at Aleka shly she added, "And perhaps you can also show us what we can improve on along our journey."
Goddess! Youre not going to teach them that stuff! No, Im not! Will you shut up!
"And we Amazons delight at the opportunity of sharpening our skills." Lily added with a lopsided smile.
Xena only nodded. To stop her mental arguments she studied Agnes, the young woman who appeared to be Gabrielles age. Like with Gabrielle, first appearances could be misleading. Under the pleasant youthful appearance she could feel the assurance of a composed older woman. What had Hercules told her about her training? Hercules. She closed her thoughts on the distraction.
"Aleka, let me introduce you to the circle of friends. This is Agnes, healer from the temple of Demeter in Chalcis, and spokes person of the priestesses. This is Catherine; she studies the dramas in Demeters Temple from Messene from the Peloponnesus. Kynthia, is also from Demeters Temple, from Tegea and she is a student of the muses. Candra studies the passions, from Aphrodites temple in Dodona. Camila is friend of the creatures from Athenas temple in Athens. Grace, is a healer from Artemiss Temple on Lesbos, and Eleanor another healer is from Cassandra from Demeters Temple. All of them have had training in the dramas, healing, self-defense, arts of love, and most importantly, cooking. Handy to have on this long trip." She laughed in a teasing way toward the young women, who didn't seem to mind.
While Lily introduced them as they were now, Aleka was identifying them as she knew them. Danae, now Agnes. She was sixteen summers. She was going to the Temple of Gaias to dedicate her life as one of her priestesses. Her family could not support her and the one she was betrothed to had died in an accident. Danae had no love for the older man, who had gone through two wives already. No one else was available to marry her off to so she had no where else to go. However, I suspected she really wanted to be a temple priestess.
Lis is now Catherine. Lis was fourteen at the time. She was another village girl that had no where to go. She was orphaned and chose to become a priestess of Gaias as a better alternative than selling herself to the highest bidder. Her mothers sister had fostered her, but she was no longer able to take care of her as she had another child of her own on the way.
Mia, now Kynthia, was going to the Temple also but to look for a job in the town that was near by. She was a skilled weaver, but their small village could not support her as there were enough weavers. She was a widow with no children. That was considered a curse, which also meant no one would buy her work. And even if there was an available suitor no one would want her for fear she would cause her new husband to no be able to produce children.
Candra was Pasiphae another young girl leaving because what was in the small village was not enough for her. She like the others sat on the petioners chair and felt the beck and call to travel to the Temple in the Mountains.
Sharotte, who is now Camila, wanted to work with animals but her family were farmers and believed she should settle down and marry another farmer who was too old to live long enough to see any of their children reach walking age. His children had moved out. She took her own counsel and joined the group to travel to another future of her own choosing.
Grace was then Delanira. She was Claras sister. She came because she and her sister were orphans and Clara wanted to see the world. Clara hired on as one of the guards of their troupe. Delanira, just a skinny young one, spoke to no one and no one knew if she could talk at all.
Eleanor was Lenore. She was beautiful and chosen to be a priestess at one of the Temples of Gaias. However, she had purposely made herself unattractive for the trip to avoid unwanted attention along the journey.
"My Amazon sisters are Gari, Erica, Berik, Brona and Im also known as Hildreth, who has been chosen by my sisters to be their representative on this journey." Lily started to laugh at herself when Xena raised an eyebrow at her.
Gari was Messi. She was one of the guards Calae brought along. She impressed us with her knife games she played with Clara. Scary. Erica, hmm. She sure has changed. She was short and angry most of the time. She was another guard by the name of Sonja. She was looking for something outside of our village. No life for her there. Her best friend was married off to someone in another village and she just seemed to lose interest in everything.
Berik! I loved her humor! She was Jess. I couldnt pronounce her real name. She was an orphan. She had come wandering into the village at what we guessed was four summers. The temple took care of her until she reached womanhood. She chose to act as another guard. She never said why or what she was going to do once we reached the Mountain.
Brona. She was Clara, little Delaniras big sister. Clara was big and mean when it came to her sister. We never dared to tease her or make it seem like we were looking at either of them.
Calae is your Lily now. Calae was the oldest. I know she was angry when I was made the leader. I left the guard work to her since it gave her a sense of being in charge of something. I was always afraid to ask her anything that dealt with her responsibilities. Xena felt the stress and fear from her inner informant. You did what you could do. Its over with. Well go from here. Xena told herself firmly.
"I shall tell you the story behind Lily if she does not." Erica winked at Xena.
This I gotta hear.
"There will be plenty of time for storytelling on this journey." Lily emphasized.
Right, Xena agreed hoping the Other would not blurt out something that would embarrass her.
"How did you all manage to get together?" Xena asked curious. Aleka was also curious.
"It was by the Fates we all met on the island of Lesbos for a festival dedicated to the Muses a full summer season ago." Agnes explained. "In this life we all have pledged our loyalty to one of the goddesses, Artemis, Athena, Aphrodite, or Demeter. The temples like to compete in such things but to avoid any bad feelings between our goddesses we have the competition on the island of Lesbos, which by agreement of all the goddesses is neutral territory. Of course it doesnt always lessen our own competitive natures." She added smiling.
"We Amazons were on Lesbos for one reason or another." Lily continued with a nod from Agnes for her to pick up the story. "From what Desmonia understood, because we all were at the same place at the same time, our memories from the past seeped into our dreams. As the Fates would have it, we all had visited Desmonia, since she is the seer on Lesbos in Artemiss Temple. She united us. It was a relief to find a reason for the dreams!" Lily looked around at the others who nodded in agreement.
"You were the one missing link that was needed to complete the original circle of friends and the most important link." Agnes explained. "Now that you have joined the circle everything else will fall into place."
"Were you having dreams that were familiar yet you could not quite place or explain?" Agnes asked turning to Aleka.
Xena took a deep breath. "Yeah, something like that." She reluctantly admitted.
"Like something was going to happen?" Agnes grinned.
Xena was beginning to feel another weight of responsibility settle on her heart. For a brief moment she knew what it was like to have a heart that was light.
"Well, I could handle the dreams, it was waking up with this feeling of being two different people that was driving me crazy. It took me about a week to get use to waking up seeing new things or old things with two sets of eyes." Candra shook her head.
The others nodded.
Xena nodded letting her breath out realizing the tightness in her chest was from the anxiety of feeling so strange.
"Who do you think Lia is?" Catherine asked suddenly.
"Lia?" Xena felt her heart clinch painfully and a quick image flashed in her mind. Lia was the one telling a funny story before the raiders attacked us. Remember? She had died with an arrow shot through her chest.
"Shes part of the journey." Kynthia offered. "Desmonia said that the others who were not part of the original circle of friends would start coming into the re-creation as the journey starts."
The others nodded their heads. "Well, I think its to see if we make the same decisions again." Brona volunteered.
"It was too short for us to have made any decisions." Gari argued.
It seemed to be an on going disagreement for Lily held up her hand as if it was a well-rehearsed habit. They settled back into quiet.
"Its the journey and not the destination." Xena murmured.
Lily nodded. "I agree. Agnes and I were discussing that this morning. One of the beliefs of the followers of Gaia in the early times, was that reaching the goal was not as important as to the journey."
One of the priestesses nodded. "In Demeters tradition, that is also the case. The end does not justify the means. The means proves the worth of the person."
"Intent of the heart is judged, not the outcome." Another nodded. "That is Athenas wisdom."
Xena struggled not to roll her eyes at the playful competition she could feel between the young women.
"Youll be getting clearer dreams when youre around us. Weve also found the combination of the two people we are diminishes our present personalities." Lily informed her, changing the subject with a grin.
"Diminish?" Xena asked worried. What if she was recognized on the road and couldnt defend herself? Gaia had said she would not be recognized as long as she was the Named, but what happens when her warrior skills were needed? Then there was Gabrielle. She needed to get word to her. Have her wait for her with the Amazons. Would Hercules and Iolaus take her there? Gabrielle? Xena felt a moment of anxiousness coming from the Other.
Lily caught the look in Xenas eyes. "In this life we all have some problems that would interfere with the completion of a quest of this sort." Lily explained slowly. With the exception of their leader, they had all about eleven moons to come to grips with their differences and dislikes. In the beginning they were the most unlikely group to travel a long distance together. But they had worked on it because of an intense desire to complete something. It was only when they were in the cavern and Gaia appeared that the final resistance to fully participate disappeared. How could Lily explain it to this woman who had conquered their world as a ruthless warlord and was now to be their leader in a journey that was not grounded in anything a warlord championed?
"What has finally taken place in this cavern, is that we have been granted a respite from prejudices or hostility that we may have in our present life." Lily looked into the piercing sky blue eyes that the flickering torches seemed to transform into glittering jewels that a thief would be hard pressed to not seek possession of. She didnt realize her breath caught as she watched a veil drop making the eyes unreadable.
Xena watched the tall Amazon as she hesitated to explain what she meant. Xena noted the quickened pulse of the women as their eyes met. The dark centers of the womens eyes expanded, as she seemed to hold her breath at the eye contact. Xena was use to people being startled at making eye contact with her. However, Xenas eyes narrowed as she fought the feelings of a personality she wasnt familiar with. Aleka was blood innocent and for that matter naïve in the harshness of life as Xena had experienced. The recognition of the other womans response to her was something Aleka was not familiar with. What good is this Aleka person if we're going to traipse over part of Greece and for what? What's going to happen if I have to defend this group or myself and Aleka's personality gets in the way? She couldnt even remember why she felt Aleka had to make the journey. This journey is not for you or I. It is for them! It was for them then also. You dont have to fear me for I am you! And...by the looks of it, a sight better in some dealing! Dont try to be my conscious. Ive already got one. Stick to what you know! You dont know me!
"Just what kind of hostility are you referring to." Xena finally asked putting the warring feelings aside for a moment.
Agnes glanced at Lily and smiled. "Well, we do have allegiances to different goddesses, for one."
"Competition." Lily nodded. "To say nothing of the fact that some of us have experiences that would make it hard to ---" Lily paused a moment, as if looking for a word.
The dark brooding side of Xenas conscious kicked in and she suspected her armies or something she had done personally was what Lily was referring to. Her need for Gabrielles presence made her heart ache. The two burdens, one from Xena life and one from Alekas made her weary. Her failed quest. It felt like a tight band around her chest. It was amazing how she could help others sort out their messes yet her own had to be handled by another. Gabrielle? It was also amazing that this other was someone like Aleka, a person whose heart harbored little ill will towards others. Xenas critical self pointed out that that was what got Aleka in trouble. Maybe. I would like to meet this Gabrielle.
Xena became aware of a hand touching her elbow. She looked down into the green eyes of a young priestess. The soft reddish brown hair was tied back with a green ribbon whose ends lay on her shoulders. Xena for a moment saw another face that was angry and asking for something from her. She blinked and the vision was gone. Lenore. She had warned me that Calae was being careless about our protection.
"Some things are more important than our insecurities in this life. We have all made an effort for the last thirteen moons to put them aside and try to find a reason why we all were brought together. We understand that you have not had as much time as we, but I think as the leader and as who you are in this life, you have the strength to bring a focus to our cause, so that we do not fail this time."
Xena felt Aleka sigh at this. Xena felt Eleanors fingers squeeze her arm for emphasis as she finished.
Agnes nodded letting a smile work its way into laughter. "If all the Bards stories are true, youve actually had a few years head start on us."
Brona bit back a bitter laugh that sounded like a cry. Erica laid a hand on her fellow Amazons arm. She looked at the Named without letting her eyes get captured in the infamous blues and explained. "Bronas mother was from one of the Amazon villages your army had razed."
Xenas eyes darkened. It was as she had suspected. The odds of not running into someone whom my past warlord activities did not touch are slim. What am I supposed to lead these women to? We will do this together. After all, we are one. Xena felt the humor tickle her breastbone as if it were a deep hum.
"Our present and past can be useful, or we would not be able to remember both." Agnes pointed out.
"Its just a matter of settling. I was a bit impatient at the view Calae, my past personality, had of me as an Amazon warrior and ambassador to Lesbos. Calae was arrogant because she was the only one that had journeyed outside of her village on a regular basis. However, she had no experience with the likes of who I am now!" She chuckled. "I dont think with our awareness of whom we are today, that we can let our past life run this one. Im sure that there will be some changes, like Brona had never liked fish and now shes suddenly she cant get enough of the smelling stuff!"
Everyone broke out in laughter at that. "We have to keep her away from the fish market." Lily joked.
"So you all are using your present names?" Aleka asked.
"Yeeessss. But you are the Named, the hearken stone." Agnes sighed, guessing at what the tall dark warrior was trying to understand. The twelve of them had a long time to talk about it and put together pieces of shared dreams for eleven moons, when they finally agreed to gather. When it was agreed upon what they needed to do to quench the desire to finish a quest they remembered in dreams, they all realized what type of skills all of them had to have to travel for such a long distance as women. And they had realized they would need to put their differences aside. Desmonia, the seer and their friend, was invaluable during those months. She listened patiently to each of them as they struggled with their strange dreams and impulse to gather together. While they worked on their differences Desmonia took on the search for the Named. Without the Named, there could be no recreation of the journey, and they were all feeling the strong compulsion to finish it. They had faith that the Named would be found for why else would they have come this far?
"From what we can understand, there must be a vessel or a symbol which the energy of the past can be contained within. In this container the original intention comes back to life so the issue that had caused the failure of the original journey can be given closure." Agnes finished abruptly, with her lips in a tight line. They all had different ideas on why it was necessary for them to re-experience the journey, for it had been so short. The journey they would be going on now, hopefully, would take a full moons cycle.
"What we had found, Aleka, "she stated carefully, "is in the beginning the more we were together the more intense our dreams of the past overlapped our waking life. We have moved passed the feelings of being two people. Our past and present. You still have to process and integrate them. As you become use to the differences you will find you have the abilities of both personalities at your fingertips. Dont push aside Alekas knowledge when we run into trouble on our journey. You need to find out for yourself who she was to understand what your quest is now. I do remember she was an apprentice to a shaman of Gaias, so if you get visions, don't think you are going crazy." She joked.
Aleka let a small breath out. She could feel the compelling need to complete this journey but her Xena side was worried about Gabrielle. What was annoying was when she thought of Gabrielle, Alekas thoughts brought up another face, and each time Aleka felt a heavy dismay. She wouldnt share with Xena what it was about. Was Alekas responsibility starting to overshadow Xenas to Gabrielle? And who was this other face? Her heart was divided by a battle.
"Its getting late." Lily yawned.
Xena turned to her. "Can you get a message out to Sappho asking her to give us letters of introduction to various temples of the goddesses from here to Crometh?"
Lily looked at her with a smile. "You already have a plan?"
"What we need is a believable disguise to pass through some of the places that are looking for the priestesses."
They all nodded. NonGreek priestesses had no protection in Greek lands, which did leave them vulnerable. But then, even the Greek gods interfered with each others followers now and again. Xena and Gabrielle were proof of that. Everyone who listened to bard tales knew that.
"In Crometh, not too far from Mecsa, they have full moon festivals with competitions in the arts. We could be a drama troupe headed out that way." Xena continued, remembering to whom that information was for. She turned to the others. "Since most of you are trained in the dramas, it would work."
Agnes nodded. "Yes." Agnes cocked her head to one side looking at Lily, "Amazons partook in some of Sapphos little comedies also." She teased. "So if any of the original players are unable to attend or we need a chorus, we have a good reserve to pull from."
"What I had in mind was the priestesses can pose as a drama troupe from Lesbos going to Crometh accompanied by Amazon body guards."
Lily chuckled. The dark haired warrior's reputation for having a quick mind wasn't exaggerated. "Sappho had an invitation to attend. She doesnt travel much from her island but we can go in her stead. It would make sense for one of her acting troupes to go. Im sure arrangements can be made. Ill see about her sending a carrier pigeon to the temples."
"Remember that the journey is for us, as a group," Agnes looked around at the women, "but there is something that will be illuminating for the individual. That was what the original journey was about. A vision quest. We are in this together." She reminded them again. She turned to face Aleka, "Now that the Named is here, our dreams will be taking on a different meaning."
The others nodded, Desmonia had told the same to them. Xena remained silent. She needed to think about what she got herself into and how to get word to Gabrielle without using her name, even in writing. Xena noted her thoughts were as if she had accepted this journey. Of course we accept it! I had no doubt that you would. That was a little too smug for Xena, even if the voice was another part of her.
Aleka was on her feet staring about her wondering where she was and for a moment, who she was. Something didnt feel right as she looked around. Her weapons! Where were her weapons? Lily was sleeping near by and was up instantly looking about her also wondering what brought the dark haired warrior to her feet.
Whats going on?" She asked in a low voice so as not to wake the others.
Aleka took a deep breath. She knew who she was, where she was and who the women were that were scattered around the now glowing embers in the fire pit. It wasnt a dream she knew that with such clarity it was painful. Changes she wasnt familiar with were prickling her consciousness and her dreams.
"Aleka, youre going to be waking up feeling like someone else and in another place for only a short while. For some of us it was for only a few days." Agnes who was sleeping near by had also awakened and spoke to her soothingly.
Lily and Agnes had prepared themselves for the nights when the Named had not yet accustomed herself to both her personalities and would wake disorientated. They worried about someone getting hurt until or unless their Named accepted her role willingly. It was a gamble to wake up next to the warrior and not feel threatened by the reputation of a woman who had the ability to wake up instantly into a killer mode.
They were also worried about Gabrielles role for she played an important part in Xenas life. They didn't need a seer to point that out. What was her role in Alekas life and their journey as a whole? They all felt she had a role for their bond was too strong in this life to not have been in a previous. If Desmonia knew she would not tell them.
So the women worried what message she had sent with Desmonia for Gabrielle and what would Gabrielle do about it? The depth of the Amazon Queens loyalty to the Warrior Princess was told in all Amazon stories and the ones told on Lesbos would probably make the two women blush. The Amazons in their group had mixed feelings due to their loyalty to their Queen. Lily could feel the weight of the responsibility as she and Agnes tried to have faith that this larger than life legend, the dark warrior princess, would be loyal to the circle of friends as the Named, over her loyalty to Xena's preoccupations. It had only been four summers that the warrior princess had turned away from her dark side, but it was done with Gabrielle at her side.
As the women settled back down to get in a few more candle marks of sleep, Lily was again thinking of what could cause Aleka to abandon their cause Gabrielle. That was without a doubt. If her life were in danger she knew that, that would take priority. As she thought about it, she knew that she and the other Amazons would also drop everything and go to her aid. She was their Queen, though in absentia. Lily sighed. She needed to talk to Agnes again about this. They had to prepare for eventualities and by the stories she had heard about their Queen, even if she was safely in the Amazon Village, trouble would find its way to her. No wonder the tall warrior worried about her. Maybe she should be traveling with Hercules and Iolaus, she thought seriously.
By the time Lily let Morpheus take her, her thoughts were on possible solutions to their dilemma. She wasnt the Ambassador for nothing. She would talk to Desmonia tomorrow, if she hadnt left to return to Sapphos court.
Continued in Chapter 3