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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.
NOTE: All works remain the © copyright of the original author. These may not be republished without the author's consent.
This story depicts a love/sexual relationship between two consenting adult women. If you are under 18 years of age or if this type of story is illegal in the state or country in which you live, please do not read it. If depictions of this nature disturb you, you may wish to read something other than this story.
This story depicts scenes of violence and/or their aftermath. Readers who are disturbed by or sensitive to this type of depiction may wish to read something other than this story.
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By J. A. Bard
ROAD SHOW III
Another Turn of Events
Berik silently watched as the one rider on the sled again fought off his attacker. He had killed two in the first skirmish, parting company from his partner. The three women were torn between which group to follow but Beirk had silently decided, noting that the unlocked trunk was the one that had the Yon in it. For some reason Kynthia wanted to follow the other but Gari put a restraining hand on her arm and held her still as they waited to follow the sled that angled off in another direction.
Berik had enough of waiting and dropped on the unsuspecting attacker with Gari and Kynthia dropping in front of the tired horse.
"Wait!" Kynthia shouted at the tired driver that turned to take a swipe at Gari who had a hold on the horse's bridle.
"You have our trunk." Kynthia informed him. For a moment the tired soldier regarded Kynthia then Gari. Berik neatly finished off the mercenary taking his warm cloak and weapons.
"Where are you headed with our stuff?" Berik asked putting the blade to the soldiers chest.
"Berik, put the sword away." Kynthia admonished her.
Berik lowered it but only at the groin level of her victim. "To Lady Clornida." He eyed the sword point wryly. "Theres an old abandoned farm that were to meet up with her. You be the Troupe from Sapphos Island, ay?"
"Just like it says on the trunk." Berik replied, still not trusting the driver.
"Well then. The rest of your group should be there."
"Lady Clornida made arrangements for your troupe to escape from Ladbucus' little plot." He smiled at this piece of news. "She isnt fond of Menigines and his friend Labducus, nor of the twin sisters."
"Lets go then." Gari told Berik. "We have what we came for." She added in a softer tone.
"What about the other trunk?"
The man on the sled smiled. "These horses are a pair. Theyll find each other."
"Hopefully with our other trunk." Kynthia murmured. She still felt a pull to follow the other horse.
The four were tired and cold when their driver found a small sheltered place to spend the night. The winter days were not long. All they had to share was their guides small supply of foodstuff and one cup that was filled with melted snow and passed around. But hot water was better than cold snow.
"Hades!" Gari whispered from her look out post. The others quickly moved out of their warm cloaks, some taken from their trunk of costumes, to her side.
"By Hades rocks of desolation." The driver, Malruk, exclaimed. "Thats about where the old barn to the farm is.
"Looks like we need a new destination." Berik observed softly.
The driver continued cursing under his breath while the three women looked into the night, not knowing where to go next.
"Well sleep on it." Kynthia told the others seriously. "Dreams have been guiding us on this journey and...we will keep faith that the goddess will continue guiding us in that way."
Berik worried about what she knew was in the chest and where the driver was going to go with it. Technically the belongings were theirs and they did outnumber the driver. But Alekas warning also worried her. It was just one part of the whole. To be in its presence meant their lives were in danger.
Kynthia looked at Gari who nodded in agreement. Then stared at Beriks back as she continued to look out into the darkness where the sky was lit up with a flickering light. It was a big fire.
Gari woke to find Berik pacing the outer parameter of their camp looking wound up. She traded places with her hoping the woman could find peacefulness under the warm fur she had left.
The driver joined her just before dawn to get a report from Gari. He took care of his toilet and then attended to the huge shadow whose warm breath was creating big vapor clouds in the early morning light. After the blaze from the previous night they werent going to risk lighting one of their own. None of them wanted to attract any unwanted attention to their group. Malruk had no argument to that decision. He seemed content with their leadership, for now.
Gari was curious what he was going to say about their morning discussion on where they should be going now. Gari was thinking that Berik and Kynthia would want to locate the other part of the Yon. She wondered how much Malruk knew of what he was transporting and if he knew how much danger he was in by not carrying its other part. Or was the other part in the trunk and...No. If it were Kynthia wouldnt be so figety. When did she start...? Gari tried to remember when she noticed Kynthias uncharacteristic jumpy reactions. Actually, it was Berik who was acting real nervous until...Lady Clorindas arrival. She was keeping her bedmates away with her tossing and turning. Thats what had brought up the subject of the Jewel between her and Kynthia, who was...acting like...well...not acting like herself. Hmm. Kynthia didnt start acting jumpy until...Athenas undergarments! When the horses separated! But why was Berik jumpy if her part was in the trunk?
Gari looked back at Berik whose profile she could see surrounded by vapor from her breath. Berik was looking out into space with no translatable expression on her face. Gari took a deep breath of the cold air and decided to ask a question.
"Hey!" she called softly. Beriks shoulders lifted as she took a deep breath and held the cold air in her lungs. She lifted her cold hands to her mouth and blew the air in her cupped palms.
"Hmm." She responded not looking her way. Berik instead looked around them as if expecting to see something.
"Do you think the other half of the Jewel is in the other trunk?"
Berik looked at her startled. "Why do you ask?" She finally got out.
"Welllll...I just thought that if it was, you wouldnt be so...I dont know...distant."
"Oh." Berik laughed softly and looked down for a moment at her cold feet. "Ive been thinking." She watched her toes move in her boots as she tried to move them to keep them warm.
Gari came closer so she wouldnt have to talk above a whisper. "What about?"
"Us...our quest." She sighed.
Gari watched through her own white puffs of air at the vapor from Beriks long drawn out breath disappear then reappear like small puffs of smoke as her normal breathing resumed. She waited patiently for Berik to collect her thoughts.
"I...I wasnt really into this thing." She glanced at Gari embarrassed. "Not in the beginning. Then, it was only because I was bored and wanted to do something."
Gari nodded. She knew why Berik had willingly joined and it wasnt just from boredom, but she kept her silence.
"The dreams and all, they were...interesting, but I...I really didnt find it believable. Sometimes the gods play games with us because of their own boredom and I thought maybe thats what some of this was all about." She looked back out into the gray dawning of the day.
"What made you change your mind?" Gari finally asked.
Berik sighed. "The Named." She poked her foot at a piece of wood partially covered in snow. She lifted her eyes toward Gari. "I dreamt of her that night in the cavern after she was Named by the goddess." Berik turned her face away hurriedly, but not fast enough for Gari to have missed the sudden watering of her eyes.
After a moment she continued. "She told me in my dream that I had to finish my original quest because peoples lives depended on it." Berik peered at Gari from under her dark lashes. "Me...a rescuer of people." She whispered unbelieving. "I was a drunk." She laughed a little. "I may still be a drunk." She wrapped her arms around herself and continued. "My village was just about ready to throw me out so I left and just wandered. It was scary out there in the big world to face sober so I pretty much stayed drunk. Good excuse. Id work for drinking money." She shrugged her shoulders. "I dont remember much." She took another breath, more like a cleansing breath of air into a once toxic body. "Somehow, I ended up working as a guard to a group of priestesses heading for Lesbos for a festival." Berik looked back out as the day was lighting up the new white blanket of snow that covered most of the surrounding area.
Gari shifted her weight. Berik turned her head to regard her for a moment. "I didnt really feel a responsibility until Clorinda brought the Jewel into the castle." Beriks look became intense. "It was like a fire burning my body without hurting. I remembered everything!" She whispered hoarsely. "Everything that I said and did while the Jewel was in my possession." Berik shook her head and rolled it around to loosen the tightness. "I may have to separate from you and Kynthia. I need to follow the one that is here. Kynthia will have to leave soon to follow the one she had been entrusted to follow." Berik looked at Gari closely. "You must help her find it. I know shes going crazy because it was here and now its not." Berik shook her head. "I dont know how to explain it but its like an itch in my stomach that wont quit."
"Do you think it was in the other trunk?"
"Yea. Too bad we didnt have time to search it."
Gari nodded. She looked at back at the campfire where Kynthia was talking with Malruk. She looked up to catch Garis worried look. Kynthia smiled and gestured for her.
Gari touched Beriks arm and walked over to the warm fire Malruk had made. No smoke but great heat for a small flame. Gari put her cold hands over the flames.
"Malruk said Churpie," she nodded her head toward the large beast who was rubbing his forehead against a nearby tree trunk. "has been acting like Torsie, the other horse, is close by." The look Kynthia gave the two, a quiet knowing look, told them she was at peace with distance of the Bud, the missing other half of the Jewel.
"Close by, huh?"
"Jess give em is head and ell find er." Malruk nodded.
"Lets just hope its not going to be in unfriendly company." Gari remarked as she busied herself with preparing to break camp.
The others took the hint and started to clean up and get ready to move out.
The big mare stopped in her tracks and turned her head to glance behind her. Argo snorted and stopped also.
"Dianas curse! Whats going on here?" Erica snorted disgustedly. It seemed the horses were running the show now and Erica wasnt a Camila or Alala who could understand other creatures.
"Whatever it is, its not going to hurt us." Eleanor told her soothingly.
They all focused on the road behind them waiting to see what the two horses were announcing.
"Goddess!" Erica yelped when a large gray shape came slowly ambling into sight. "Hey!" She kicked her horse into a trot when she spotted a familiar figure walking behind the large horse.
"I told ya. Ya got ta have faith in..." Maluk started in the low rumble his voice gave off.
"Right, right." Berik and the other two women didnt wait to hear him finish but ran up to their missing companions.
Kynthias heart felt a genuine relief and for some reason felt a blanket of calm settle over her. Is the other part of the Jewel here? Her eyes noted that the large mate to their guide was not pulling her sled anymore. She turned her eyes to looking over the saddlebags on the horses wondering if one of the women had found it. She was going to have to pull Eleanor aside and find out. She didnt think talking about it openly around Maluk was wise.
The women passed around relieved hugs while Maluk talked tenderly to the missing mare and pulled out a bag that was on the sled with the trunk.
Eleanor laughed at the mare's eager snorts at being fed. "As if she hasnt eaten already." The other horses were also pushing forward to get a share of the unscheduled treat.
Maluk obligingly held a hand full of the oats for each horse while he listened to the women decide where they were going to go next.
"Maluk says we were going to join up with Clorinda and her guards."
He nodded as he stroked one of the bristled muzzles that was looking for more food on his person.
"We need to find the rest of our group. The last we saw were soldiers from the castle surrounding Lily and the others. Aleka hadnt returned yet."
"We cant go back to the castle it full of mercenaries." Berik nodded.
"Lady Clorinda had said she would have others with her. Maybe thats the rest of your people." Maluk offered.
"Where would she be now?" Berik asked, more to locate the other piece of the Jewel. She glanced at Kynthia and noted she kept glancing at the packs on the horses. Well, at least some of them had rides. Her eyes flickered to the large mare and didnt even want to think about riding on the big horses broad back.
"If she survived the fire..." he thought a moment. "shell probably head to a small safe camp we have about a few candle marks from here. Its where we usually stop on our travels so it will have stores of supplies."
"She travels?" Iaia asked surprised.
"Oh, yes. Since her late husband no longer has control over her. He didnt believe women should leave their homes except to do the shopping or work in the fields or shops. He had a thing about women knowing more than him." Maluk looked amused. "He became quite befuddled when in the presence of a beautiful woman. His way of handling it was to have women hide themselves from view and not talk or be near him."
"You mean any pretty face and he would lose his train of thought?" Eleanor laughed.
"Oh, more than that. He would want to wed them. Being the King he had the power to take any woman he wanted. Only..." Maluk continued in a stage whisper, "he physically could not keep up with his desires."
"Wait, wait. What youre saying is that this guy had no self discipline?"
Maluks eyebrows rose. "He was the King. He did not need any...his virility was important to the land and to the harvests."
The women looked at each other. "Thats taking Demeters Harvest and Spring Festival to the extreme." Gari muttered.
"So, because he feared the power women had over him, he chose to...banish them from his view and forbid them to be educated?" Iaia asked unbelievingly.
"Right. Since the King decreed it in his castle, it was also to be in his realm. Women had to keep themselves covered from anyones view and were to only learn what he decreed was a womens place.
"Where have I heard that before?" Erica muttered disgustedly.
"So how did Clorinda become so...influential? Iaia asked curious.
"It was her influence on him that caused all these laws to be passed." Maluk informed them as they continued their walk toward the safe camp.
"I dont get it. She influenced him to pass these laws against her..."
"No, no. His fear of her...womanly charms...and because in spite of his rules she still was his chief advisor. Clorinda is very smart and knew how to get him to do things. But he got back at her by passing these laws against her sex. The King was clever in that he knew how to surround himself with capable advisors, but one happened to be a woman whom he felt had too much power over him. He couldnt get rid of her because he needed her, so he controlled her as best as he could."
"Why did he keep collecting wives?"
"Lady Clorinda was not able to bear children." Maluk told them quietly. "That was the excuse at first. After that it was because he caught sight of a pretty face or he heard about a pretty girl. He collected wives like some people collect buttons or stones."
"How could he afford them all?"
"He made sure they all were productive. They all had to provide toward the castle economy. Lady Clorinda is a very good cook, its also a great place to gather castle gossip and make allies." Maluk grinned.
"Why did you stay with her after the Kind died?" Iaia asked before any of the others thought to.
"She gave me a job in the kitchens when my family was starving. She remembers her family."
Kynthia looked at him closely. "You dont look like her." She observed.
"Im a cousin by marriage."
Argo pulled the reins from Iaias hands and started to dance sideways. "What the...Agro settle down." Iaia tried to regrab the reins but her hands were cold and they didnt open enough to get a grip on the cold leather or the reins. The hairs on the back of Iaia's neck stood up. The ground under her began to tremble and the other horses started to nervously pick up their feet.
"We got to get off this road." The women spoke together.
The troop of soldiers dressed in warm coats that didnt identify whose allegiance they were to, descended on them quickly. The soldiers already had their weapons out, as if expecting them and surrounded them in a tight circle on the slushy road.
A struggle broke out with the Amazons taking a defensive position around the horses and the other women who were trying to keep the horses under control. In the maneuverings for advantage Berik was cut off from the others and driven back by two of the soldiers. Divide and conquer, was what Aleka kept telling them in practice. However, her concern was to stay close to the trunk so she kept an eye on it while battling with her attackers who seemed to be more intent in taking the women as prisoners.
Berik returned the compliment by not killing the two but rendering them unconscious and hoping that bit of kindness would not come back to haunt her. The trunk had been knocked off the sled and was sitting on its side opened. Glancing quickly around she noted the others were scattered about losing the battle to not get captured. Berik ran to the trunk and found what she was looking for. Tucking it in her coat she ran into the countryside, away from the fight. She angled her run to the tracks she could see made from horses just recently. She was hoping it was from Iaia and the two priestesses.
Berik found herself surrounded by three wet horses and three relieved riders as she stumbled into the forest cover.
"Hades! You nearly scared the life out of me!" She exclaimed.
"What happened to the others?" Kynthia asked tiredly.
"I think they were captured. It looks like they want to take us alive."
"Not very comforting considering they are probably from Labdu, the slave traders city." Eleanor remarked.
"Lets keep moving." Eleanor urged them. She removed a foot from her stirrup for Berik to join her.
Agros snort alerted the women to the movement that was around them. Out of the shadows of the forest moved a group of soldiers that had nets with them incase the women tried to run.
Dealing with the Enemy
The march to the City of Labdu was silent among the women with the chains they had been fitted with rattling and the footfalls of the horses on the wet road breaking the silence. The soldiers offered no conversation and had little to say between themselves. Two candle marks after their capture Iaia and her group met up with the others who were being transported in a cage. The four women were ordered to join the others. It was crowded but after marching in the cold mud it was welcomed. Their chains were removed. The large horses and their very unhappy handler were amongst the captured. The trunk, Berik noticed, was back on the sled. She tried not to pat her pocket that held the Jewel. She was going to have to find another hiding place.
The castle of Labdu was different from Menigines winter castle in that it had only one entrance and it was busy. Caravans were passing each other as some were leaving and others arriving. Winter didnt seem to slow business here. Iaia was dismayed to see covered cages on wheels moving in and out of the castle. A sinking feeling hit her stomach as they rolled under the arched gate.
"Well get out of here." Erica whispered to no one in particular. "They only got some of us."
They all studied the walls and the soldiers walking the battlements, then those that were moving around gate area as if waiting to assemble for their shift. Erica mentally made a note of the time.
The women were all herded into a holding area that normally was used for displaying slaves to their potential buyers. Iaia wasnt sure if it was the energy in the area or the stench that was making her sick to her stomach. The cesspit in one corner looked liked it should have been covered long ago. She could hear the sounds of sobs coming from over the wall as she wrapped her arms around herself and tried to think of what she could do. Their chains were removed and exchanged for leather neck colars that held a metal ring on the back. Kynthia sat next to her shivering without a coat, so she opened hers and shared it. Iaia looked around and noted some of the women had lost their warm coats.
The gate swung back and an armored guard peered inside their compound.
"You!" The burly guard pointed at Iaia but made no attempt to enter the compound. "Get over here!" He ordered. Apparently he expected to be obeyed.
Iaia stood up and looked back at the cold Kynthia. She removed her coat and put it around Kynthias shoulders. "You may be needing this more than I." She told her softly.
Iaia glanced around at the others as she made her way out of the waiting area.
Two guards were waiting for her, impatiently. They werent dressed for the outside weather. One gestured to the door she was to move toward, neither leading the way. "Labducus wants to see you." The other guard offered when Iaia hesitated.
The archway into the dark confines of the castle didnt look inviting. She could also smell the odors coming from the castle which got stronger as they neared the forebuilding.
Wanting to get the meeting over with, Iaia picked up her pace following the gestures of the guards as to what passageway to take in the maze that they passed. The smell in the castle was heavy with opium and hash as if to cover the other smells of too many unwashed bodies. Obviously these people didn't air out their living quarters much. It was also cold in the dim walkway.
They finally turned down what appeared to be a main corridor. More lit torches lined this corridor revealing elaborately woven wall hangings from foreign lands and a haze that hung in the air. She could feel her own senses starting to float from inhaling the thick air. Iaia and her guards cut a path through the haze.
They approached a curved archway into a room that had a heavy ornate table with chairs surrounding it. The two guards outside the room didnt seem to even give them a glance as Iaia was ushered into the room.
Iaia took a quick glance around noting it was a long room with slots for rolled up scrolls lining the walls on the side she entered and the other side was opened up to a large hall. An ornately carved long table had quills and scrolls partially unrolled and some opened up scattered about its top. Two people were in the room standing near a candle for closer inspection of a scroll held by an elder, by the looks of his robes. She blinked her eyes to refocus. Everything looked bigger than what it probably was. She had to remember that she was drugged.
The younger of the two, a tall red headed man sporting a beard whose long ends were braided and beaded looked up at the three as they entered.
"Ahh. The playwright. Thank you Ratius." The red head nodded to the older man and remained in the corner until everyone but Iaia left.
"Iaia, you call yourself. Am I right?"
The hairs on the back of Iaias neck rose. She didnt need to see the colors whirling around his head and shoulders to know this was a very dangerous man. Iaia nodded remembering somewhere that it was good tactically to let the other person talk first. At this point she didn't trust what was going to come out of her mouth anyway.
"I am so sorry your stay with Lord Menigines was...stressful."
"I understand you wrote a play for my friend?" His eyebrows rose.
"Yes." She replied.
"Hmm. We have this wager..." Labducus left the sentence unfinished looking at Iaia as if she were to finish the sentence.
"You have this wager..." Iaia encouraged in exaggerated patience.
"I'm sure you have heard about it. If not then I will have to punish the person I had paid to get that piece of information to you."
"Is that the one where you wagered your soul and Bacchus took you up on the wager?" She smiled brightly.
Labducus was still for a moment with no bit of emotion crossing his face. He sat casually on the lip of the table still watching Iaia's face closely.
Score one for me, Iaia thought. It pays to listen to the kitchen help! She could see the colors swirling around his head showing what his face was not showing.
He finally rose from his slumped seat on the edge of the table and walked to the edge of the railing that separated the scroll room from the larger hall it opened into.
"If you write me a drama, on my choice of subject, for my library..." he turned to face her. "I will let your friends go."
"Dead or alive? Healthy or ill? Free or slaves?" Iaia asked not believing. If he had lost his soul to Bacchus, then there would be no bargaining except in words that were empty of fulfillment. He also had failed to mention letting her go.
Labducus let a small smile curl the corner of his lips. However the smile never reached his eyes which were almost black. He let his eyes wander over the many scrolls that filled the small slots lining one wall before answering. "That depends on you." He told her softly.
"I dont think so. I can sit here and bargain that they be treated like guests and leave with their freedom and health intact and with supplies and warm clothing to finish their journey into Macsa but you and I know it would only be words." While Iaia was saying this she was trying to rack her mind for what would bind Bacchus to a bargain.
Labducus was silent as he kept his eyes on the wall filled with scrolls.
"You have a lot of scrolls. What are they about?" Iaia asked curiously.
"Everything and nothing." Labducus spoke softly.
Iaia studied him for a moment watching the colors around his head noticeably change in color and intensity as his emotions that didn't reach his facial expression told her of what was going on inside him.
"I've learned in my travels..." Iaia started, "that usually the journey is of more interest then my destination. And...that after reaching each destination...there are uncountable more destinations to chose from."
Labducus nodded thoughtfully letting his eyes flicker over the wall lined with scrolls. "I once believed that...now...Im weary of travel." he took a deep breath. "What is your decision?" He changed the subject.
"What is your guaranty that the bargain we make is honored by all involved in our capture?" Iaia asked. Then she leaned forward and softly whispered, "I think the Muses, Athena, Artemis and Sapphos friends would not let our abduction and mistreatment go unchallenged."
"I think you over estimate your value amongst the goddesses, though Sapphos friends..." he waved his hand as if it were nothing. "many of them are my customers."
"Maybe not for long." Iaia returned.
"Money has a way of changing alliances. Offer them a good deal on something they want..." He left the rest unsaid.
"You have a day to decide. Meanwhile, my guards will take you on a tour of my castle. It may inspire you to a quicker decision." He walked to the door and gestured to an unseen figure.
A formidable figure dressed in military leathers but without the armor stepped forward. Iaia cocked her head and for a moment the image of her dark haired warrior's bowed head in front of a campfire in the early evening hours, working on the repair and cleaning of her leathers came to her. Here before her, she recognized another soldier that took care of his equipment and therefore, was dangerous. She looked into the dark brown eyes of the tall soldier and found herself being appraised and no doubt being set to memory. The energy about him was dark red almost brown with some oranges and dark greens showing. She was going to be as uncomfortable standing next to him as she was with Labducus. Both men had a decidedly unpleasant feel to them.
The cell couldnt be called a cell in the real sense. It was a small room equipped with a desk, writing material, a lamp and next to it a lumpy looking pallet. A bucket for waste was in one corner. The only other potential light source, aside from the small oil lamp on the desk came through the loophole above the desk. Her guard was kind enough to light the lamp before he left and allowed a young boy to deliver a bucket of water with a cup. When they left only the flickering of the small lamp was Iaias company.
The stifling smells from the enclosure was enough that Iaia decided to weather the cold for some fresh air, and struggled to open the shutter over the loophole. The lamp was low enough not to be effected by the breeze that managed to find its way in.
"Aeolus winds would be a good thing for right now." She mumbled as she rested her head against the wall where the outside air chilled her face.
She closed her eyes and thought about the tour of the various slave holding areas, the dungeon which was half full with no one she recognized, and the entertainment area, that Labducus ordered her to visit no doubt to get her sick, for thats exactly what it did. If there was anything normal she didnt see it. The people that were being sold as slaves were trained for the various services that Labducus thought they would look good doing. The dungeon was occupied with those that didnt learn fast enough or refused to be slaves. Apparently Labducus didnt waste bodies and had other uses for those that were in the dungeon. Her tour included the room that was dedicated for Bacchus celebrations and rituals.
The moment Iaia approached the hall set-aside for entertainment, she felt her insides shake with revulsion. If she had anything in her stomach she was sure it would have further dirtied the stone floor that was littered with bodies, pillows, clothing, and cups filled and half filled as some of the revelers were fulfilling their desires with partners that were in various stages of consciousness. There were children, young men and women and a few old women being used by Labducus guests. Her presence wasnt noticed by anyone. Everyone seemed to be in his or her own haze.
Iaia finally sat on the pallet and put her head in her hands. She didnt know for how long she let the tears fall. Wiping her wet face she leaned back on the pallet and pulled the covers over her. The room was surprisingly warm though the window remained open. Iaia put her hand tentatively on the wall near the pallet. It was warm. Probably someones fireplace. Lucky me, she sniffed. She closed her eyes and fell into an exhausted sleep.
"Youre not listening to me." A patient and familiar voice told her.
"Im sorry. What did you say?" A distracted Gabrielle raised her head to look into the familiar sky blue eyes of the raven-haired warrior. Her heart and breath caught as the familiar feelings for this person swept over her. The warmth and love that filled her brought tears to her eyes and constricted her throat as she waited for the feelings to pass.
"All right. Let me start again. Now listen closely, Gabrielle." The voice gentled as a strong hand was placed on Gabrielles shoulder and squeezed reassuringly.
The blue eyes didnt shift from Gabrielles face as the strong hands once more moved through an intricate pattern of moving shells around that hid a small stone.
"Now, which one?" She asked again when she stilled her hands.
Gabrielle hadnt been watching the shells as they were moved around. She found she couldnt take her eyes off of the blue ones that were open to her gaze.
"Which one would you choose?" She asked the tall warrior softly.
"None." Was her answer.
"Then why play the game?" Gabrielle blinked suddenly forcing her attention back to the shell game.
"I dont unless I have to. You are the one who asked me about the game. I am merely demonstrating it."
"Well, when you have to play it then?"
"Then...I supply my own shells, stone...and..." The women leaned close to Gabrielle and whispered in her ear. "distractions.
A giggle worked its way up and Gabrielle put a hand over her mouth to stifle it. The breath of the tall women tickled her ear as she thought that was so typical. Gabrielle closed her eyes and savored the shared moment.
When she opened her eyes she was back in the castle with her back against the warm wall. It was dark with only blackness around her. She knew it was the castle by the smell. Tiredly Iaia got up and wrapping the covers around her felt her way to the open window. There was a strong breeze but it wasnt blowing into her window. The wind was coming from another direction. She could hear flags snapping in the wind. She sniffed the air and thought she there was the hint of rain in the air. She sighed. Itll make the roads muddier but at least the snow will melt.
Iaia sat on the edge of the pallet and rolled back onto it pressing her back up against the warm wall. She closed her eyes again and went to sleep thinking about her friends and hoping she could come up with a solution to their dilemma. She doubted Labducus would release her companions. They were witnesses to his disrespect to the Muses and Athena, whose protection they were traveling under...not to mention Gaias. Gaia. A smile appeared on her lips as she slipped deeper into sleep.
Iaia was running up a green slope that was dotted with flowers. She had a bouquet of some flowers she had picked in one hand and in the other she had her fathers hand . He had taken her out to the spring meadow to watch the sun light up the mountain tops that were to the west of her village.
Iaia turned to look at her beloved guardian and in his place was a silver wolf with golden eyes that turned luminescent as the suns rays glittered in them. Iaia blinked at the change, aware of her small childs hands clutching the coarse coat.
The figure changed again to an old woman leaning on her staff. The figure gestured to Iaia to sit on the grass next to her. For the rest of the dream Iaia listened to stories the old woman had to tell, fascinated by the stories and the colors whirling around her head and shoulders as the drama in the stories unfolded.
Iaia nearly jumped out of her skin on hearing a metal bar being pulled across metal, waking her from a deep sleep.
The door was opened and a child came in with a trencher of food. Behind him was a guard with a steaming cup of something. Iaia didnt recognize the aroma.
"Morning." Iaia mumbled through dry lips.
Neither said anything and the child didnt lift her or his eyes toward Iaia at all. The guard cuffed the child out of the room once the trencher was set on the table.
The door was closed with a bang and the metal bar once more scraped back into place.
"Great. Im going to have to talk to myself for company." She sighed resignedly. She moved to the bucket and did her morning ritual.
Iaia looked over the food wondering if there was anything that would harm her. As if that was her chief worry. Unfortunately her growling stomach won over her caution and she ate everything, bread, warm cereal and the cut fruit on the side. She returned to the edge of her pallet sipping the warm beverage and reviewing her options.
So, what do I know? Labducus approached me with a deal. Why? Were at his mercy, in his castle, with probably no one knowing where we are...and he still offers me a choice. Why? Why? What advantage do we have that I cant see?
Iaia rubbed her forehead. A depression threatened to move over her as she realized she was back to having someone dictate to her what she was to use her skills for. The despair that the young artist had experienced after having been informed that she was not only being married off to the older suitor she detested but was to paint what he saw fit for sale, moved over her like a suffocating blanket. Her beloved father had not asked her but assumed what he was doing was best for her.
Iaia closed her eyes and wrapped her arms around her as she felt the deadness creep into her heart. Everything was black around her and there was no where to go. A tear squeezed out from one of the tightly shut lids and wet the dirty stone floor.
What is this! Iaia straightened and let the new sensation take over her. It felt like her heart was touched by a tender loving hand, which massaged it like one would a tight shoulder. She wondered as a smile curved her lips and she imaged a pair of blue concerned eyes smiling at her. The warmth from her heart moved out to other parts of her body and she squeezed her arms around herself as a bubbly feeling threatened to burst out of her in the form of laughter.
"Yea, Ill write your drama Labducus, but its going to be one Hades of a lesson for your audience." She whispered gleefully.
She rose from the pallet and checked out the writing supplies. Nodding to herself she sat down and wrote out what her conditions for the writing of the drama would be. Oh, yea. He will have his storyteller, but he didnt say for how long...now did he?" She was humming to herself as she rolled the short scroll up to hand to the guard on his next visit. Meanwhile, she wanted to start her writing. The sooner it was finished, the sooner they would all be outa here. She had no doubt he would accept the conditions. She figured the one most crucial point neither men had mentioned in the deal was that it had to be voluntary...Bacchus wanted to hurt the goddesses by showing them that their followers willingly went over to him. Wait until he sees what this drama will be giving to his followers!
From what Agnes had told her, when the players become involved in the telling of the drama, they were channels of the sacred energy from the Muses that moved into their audience. The audience would forget who they were during the telling of the drama and relive the life of the characters and be blessed with wisdom from the message that was being imparted. Iaia looked up from her scratching of the pen across the parchment and thought for a moment. She looked back down at the parchment and the story she was writing.
I am a storyteller! The excitement she felt sent shivers up and down her. Iaia pondered this. Im more excited about being a storyteller than a painter. She thought about it for a moment. Hmm. One paints with mixtures taken from various plants and types of dirt and the other uses words to paint from various types of...I guess dirt from peoples lives as well as...Iaia shook her head. Her thoughts were going everywhere. She needed to concentrate on her story.
It was the story of Medusa disguised under another name, to protect the innocent and guilty. That thought brought a smile to her lips as she continued to scratch the pen head across the scroll.
A guard had entered and distractedly Iaia had given him the scroll containing her contract with Labducus returned to her writing. She wasnt conscious of the trencher and warm soup that was placed on her pallet nor of the fresh cold air that breezed through the window she kept open. Every now and then she sniffed the air to think but was back quickly to putting her thoughts down on parchment.
Tiredly Iaia paused and rolled her tired head around on her shoulders to loosen the muscles up. Putting her quill down she turned to look at the small room that she had forgotten she was in. Her stomach grumbled and she smiled at the reminder.
She heard the bolt being drawn back and she looked up from the bread she was thoughtfully chewing on.
"Labducus wants to know how the writing is going?"
"Fine. I will need material for the masks and my players. They need to make the masks they will be using."
The guard nodded. "I will tell him."
Iaia smiled. Labducus didnt know what he was getting himself into. Challenge the Muses will he? Insult Athena, whom everyone knows is our protector on this journey, heh? You just dont know what you and your buddy Bacchus have gotten into. Laughing to herself she finished her small meal, by her standards, and went back to the desk to continue her writing.
"By winged harpies!" Erica exhaled as Eleanor quietly read the directions the guard had handed her. They had been imprisoned in a small area that was neither uncomfortable nor comfortable. By their guess it was one of the rooms Labducus had groups of slaves stay until they were sold or readied to be sent to a city to be sold.
"She wants us to play this?" Berik asked furious. "If we play a Bacchie drama, we become one of his!"
Eleanor read the parchment again. She knew there had to be something more here. A slow smile appeared on her face as she picked out phrases that brought to mind one of their earlier dramas.
"Hold it." She said softly to her angry friends.
"Did you read what the story is about?"
"Yea, some priestess that succumbs to Bacchus on a temple..."
"What is she up to?" Whispered Kynthia worried. Kynthia clutched the flower bud of the Yoni that she had discovered in the pocket of the cloak that Iaia had given her. She could feel an energy pulsing from the bud as if it were alive. She had intended on telling the others of her discovery but was waiting for the opportunity. She didnt trust the walls and there always seemed to be a guard near making sure they did not talk for long between each other. Maybe their jailer feared they would plot an escape.
Kynthia and Eleanor were experienced in the making of masks and performing in the sacred dramas, after all, that was why they were on Lesbos for the Festival of the Muses in the first place. Eleanor looked over the characters that Iaia had created and nodded to herself as she thought of who would be what player.
"Okay." She nodded to Erica and Berik. "You know that each player must create their own mask, right?"
The two Amazons nodded.
"Well...this is how we go about preparing for the creation of the mask." She started. "I will give you each a character, she has it so that there are two main characters, one goddess and one member of the chorus." She paused. "Kynthia, you are the goddess, Berik you are the chorus and ..."
"Wait a minute!" Erica objected. "You expect me to...you expect me to be this Tages fellow?"
Eleanor beamed at her. "Very good!" She leaned toward her lover. "I was afraid you may have thought I wanted you to be Metheia."
"Im not going to roll around in mindless passion wantonly ravaging you in front of an audience that is probably going to be more involved with their own rutting in the benches!"
"There you go. Theyll be too busy with their own business to see what..."
"Thats not the point!" Erica paced the small area agitated. Since they received word that Iaia had given them directions on the drama, their spy had left and left them to their discussions in privacy. Or, so it seemed. "My passion for you, which you have pointed out at Meniginess castle, is from Aphrodite not some physical release with no commitment or honoring of the sacredness of our..."
"Hey, hey. Come here." Eleanor pulled her upset lover toward her. "Listen to me." She took the shaking hands into hers and pulled them into her lap. "Thats the difference between Bacchie drama and that born from the spirit of the Muses. This drama that Iaia has written will carry the spirit of the Muses, if we keep that in our minds while we are creating the masks and while we act the parts. The Bacchie will not enter us unless we become mindless in our taking of another. We cannot be bitten because we are under the protection of too many goddesses. Only through our choice of action can it happen and...it will not happen."
She looked up at Berik. "The role of the chorus is the group conscious. You are the spirit of love opposed to lust without the sacred passion of love. Before you set to create your mask, you must think, dream and become this spirit." She turned to Kynthia. "I gave to you the goddess. She punishes not because of the desecration of her temple but how it was done. Her punishment is not eternal for it only needs the one who betrayed her to understand what she had in effect done."
She turned to Berik. "You have been given a difficult role for you are...what betrays love...and I am the betrayer of...loyalty." She watched Berik for a moment before looking down at her hands. "It seems the Bard has been given a difficult writing task...and a difficult task to assign the roles to." Eleanor turned to the others.
"I believe and trust that the spirit of the Muses is directing her. And because I do, I believe that we shall not be dragged down into the desecration of our oath to Gaia and our oaths to those we serve in this life."
"You...I have seen how the spirit of the character moves you..." Erica told her in a trembling voice. "How can you be so sure...?"
"Because I have faith in what you and I have. That it is not based on just a physical need or wanting." Eleanor waited. "Dont you believe that?"
Erica took a deep breath. "I...dont know. After being in Menigines' castle and feeling the..." Erica shook her head. "I just dont know where my feelings for you are coming from at this time."
"So...you are frightened."
Eleanor looked at the other two. Their faces said the same about their roles. To be one with the spirit of the Muses meant that they had to take on the power that was not theirs and to channel it to their audience. Could they, in their fear of the Bacchie type energy in this castle, overcome the fear enough to put the right energy into their mask, the symbol of their transformation?
"It is time for us to prepare ourselves." Eleanor told them.
To Howl at the Moon
Xena/Aleka sat in the hot hut letting the visions and feelings that came with them sink into their being then was pushed out as unwanted toxins in sweat that coated the body. An unclear form of an old woman, naked as they, threw water upon the hot stones, letting some of the water hit their sweltering forms as a fresh blanket of heat followed.
Xena looked at the shadowed form of Aleka in the shelter and found memories of her life coming readily to her. Aleka had the same experience, where every time she looked at the powerfully built woman across from her she experienced episodes out of her life that were as powerful as the figure. It was incredible who she became in another life, she thought bemused; a warrior in both lives but living with different philosophies.
"It is time." The old quavering voice of their guide told them.
They began their crawl out of the small shelter with Xena reaching the small opening first. Alekas form melted into hers as she exited. Xena felt Alekas amusement at the familiarity of the merging of selves as she experienced the same. When they had separated during the purifying ceremony they had both experienced a sense of loss as both had become accustomed to each other's presence and mental thoughts.
Small piles of colored dirt were just outside the hut and a circle was already drawn in a red chalk with one side of the circle open. Aleka/Xena knew what it was for and calmly stepped into the center and sat down with her legs bent and her wrists dangling over her knees. The old women started a design around the seated figure humming a tune and occasionally howling and yapping as if to make a statement.
Aleka closed her eyes and focused on a wolf's image. The She wolf. She felt the heart beat...the scent of the land around her...the texture of the winter earth under her paws...the outside breeze ruffled her thick winter coat. She lifted her muzzle to the air and growled low in her throat as the smell of another predator species came to her.
The breeze that was stiff, chilly to some, was alive with smells and carried many messages the She wolf easily interpreted. She was sniffing for familiar scents. The muddy road the two legged's used was vacant at the moment. It had been recently filled with a small group of trader's pulling their wagons laden with their treasures. They came from the two leggeds city that was filled with too many of it's own to be comfortable.
The silver wolf felt the change in the breeze as her sensitive whiskers quivered from the change in direction. With the change came the smell of Amazons and...priestesses and...others. The She wolf moved from behind the tree she was behind to another to get a better view of the group that was not moving along the road.
What could have been mistaken for a snarl was a grin, as the silver wolf recognized who was in the party. They were looking for a place to set up a cold camp. The She wolf knew exactly where a safe place was. Should she show them? Why not?
"Dianas bow! Will ya look at that thing!" Lily exclaimed when she spotted the gray wolf sitting just out of shooting range in the forest.
"Wait! Dont do anything!" Agnes prodded her mount closer to the edge of the trees to get a better look. She remembered Iaia's description of the She wolf that had helped her in her visit to the dream world.
"It's the great She wolf." Camila whispered reverently. "She really lives!"
"Hmmm?" Agnes asked trying to make out the size in the shaded area it sat. Yes, it was sitting. Is She laughing at us?
"The great She wolf from Gaia's times. It was the initiator of the shaman into another realm of teaching." Alala explained in a low voice.
"Can you talk to her?" Lily asked in a voice that didn't hide her impatience. She was cold, tired, in pain, and wished the journey would take a break from stress for a day or two.
Alala had pulled her mount alongside of Lily and Agnes. "Right." She shook her head in disbelief at Lily. "The She wolf decides who she will talk to and when."
The wolf seemed to have reached her limit in patience for she rose to her feet and sauntered further into the cover of the forest.
"I think she wants us to follow her." Agnes guessed and before anyone could argue she kicked her horse into a fast pace into the forest after the silver wolf.
"An omen, do you think?" Clorinda asked as the others followed.
Her guards became attentive to their surroundings as they nervously looked about and overhead as the trees closed over their heads.
Lily cursed softly under her breath as she followed closely behind Agnes.
"I always wondered if the tales of the She wolf were true." Camila smiled across to Alala who was riding next to her. Alala absently stroked the feathers of the disturbed owl that was resting on her perch from Alala's saddle.
As they entered the forest cover she looked up into the gray sky looking for her falcon. It was making lazy spirals high above them, almost out of sight. It had not seen the shape of the wolf.
Occasionally the large gray wolf would look back to make sure Agnes and the others were following.
The silver wolf waited by the entrance to the cave patiently while the rest of the group caught up. There were seven of Clorindas guards, eight from the circle of friends and the silver wolf. They would be able to fit in the cave and still not disturb the figure in the center of the sacred circle.
The two leggeds lit torchs before they entered the cave. Agnes and Lily entered first, following the She wolf.
The fire in the center of the cave floor had gone out, but the heat under the ashes promised a hot coal that would easily catch if more wood was added.
"Its the Named!" Agnes was so happy she wanted to cry and by the sounds from around her the others of the circle of friends were also.
Agnes looked at Clorinda, "We need to not disturb her or the circle she is in."
Clorinda nodded. "We are familiar with rituals and..." she nodded toward the wolf, "their spirit forms." She nodded to her guards who gave a nod of agreement with their mistress.
"What are we going to do now?" Alala asked.
"We wait." Agnes told them all. "Our dreams are our source of information. If the Named does not come out of her circle tonight or tomorrow, then the message we get in our dreams should point us in the direction we need to take."
"All right. Let's get some food and then rest." Lily nodded to the women. Brona and I will go out with some of your men to see if we can scare up some fresh meat." She told Clorinda.
Clorinda nodded and let her captain pick the men.
"We have enough dried foods to make a nice soup." Catherine added. Just the thought of a nice warm meal made her stomach growl and from the sounds echoing hers, it was a unanimous thought.
The silver wolf had lain down to sleep while the others ate what the four hunters had killed. The hot soup filled their stomachs. Something they hadnt had for the last two days as they followed the trail of the missing members of the circle and Clorinda's Sacred Yoni or the Flower, as her guards called it.
That night the women from the circle and Clorinda dreamed. And the silver wolf lay at one end of the cave watching over the women for a while. Content she got up and left the cave through another exit not wanting to alert the guards.
It was time she visited those that the two leggeds had taken into their crowded city behind the dead cold stone walls.
Iaia/Gabrielle looked out the window in the small cell studying the pattern of stars and remembering the fun she had with another, identifying shapes in the patterns.
Ive failed you, she whispered to the dark haired warrior whose name still eluded her. "Ive been drawn to anothers arms and I...I cant say that I care for her more than you or you more than her. She stared at the top of the battlement to the castle wall that she could see if she stood up, which she had unconsciously.
What am I going to do? This play is as real to me as..." she couldnt go on with the thought. "Who am I going to betray?
What in Artemiss moon is that?" she leaned forward to get a better view of a form that appeared on the top of the battlement. When she blinked her eyes it was gone.
Gabrielle sat back at the desk. She had enough parchment and ink to continue writing though she had finished with the drama Labducus had ordered. She pushed aside the parchment he had sent back to her signed with his seal that he had accepted her conditions to the writing of the play.
Gabrielle had the feeling she was being watched and looked up and out the loophole. Her breath caught as a pair of blue...no...she blinked and looked again...golden brown eyes stared back at her.
Gabrielle started to giggle as she thought the curling up of the lips of the large silver wolf was a smile. For that moment she felt a wonderful warmth wrap around her heart.
"And to whom do I owe this visit to?" She asked amused. She tried to remember which god the wolf acted as a messenger to when she noted the wolf shook its head and moved closer. Iaia stepped back suddenly frightened as the large figure squeezed effortlessly though the loophole and jumped to the floor. It was now between her and her pallet.
"Ahh. Nice wolf. Nice wolf. Now you wouldn't want to eat a little Bard like me. After all, there are plenty of larger bodies..." Gabrielle stopped and slapped her forehead. "What am I saying...I don't want to see you eat anyone!" She shuddered at remembering what it was like watching a hunting pack pull down a buck and having Xena explain the importance of the balance in the wilds. The buck she told Gabrielle was old and wouldn't have made it through the winter season anyway...Xena! That was the name of...
Gabrielle turned to face the wolf. "Xena is Aleka, the Named. Isn't she?" She asked the wolf expecting, strangely enough, an answer.
Gabrielle got a smile from the silver muzzle. Gabrielle moved past the silver wolf and sat on her pallet. "You are Xena." She told the wolf.
The noise from the wolf made Gabrielle smile. "I think I get it now." Gabrielle patted the space next to her and the wolf obligingly hopped up and circled a few times before settling down next to her, then placed her head in Gabrielle's lap. Gabrielle rested her hand on the furry head and stroked it gently.
For the rest of the night, Gabrielle told the She wolf her plan to get the five women free and herself. Sometime before daybreak Gabrielle had laid to sleep with the wolf next to her.
"Gabrielle, I knew you could figure a way out of this. The rest of us will help from the outside of the castle. We'll be waiting for you in the forest twenty stadiums past the tree that has your mark on it."
In her dreaming mind, Gabrielle was looking up into the cerulean blue eyes of the woman she trusted with not just her life but her soul. She reached up and touched her cheek tenderly. "Thank you." She whispered back.
Gabrielle sighed. Conscious, once again came to her, that she was in a cell in Labducus' castle. Opening her eyes frightened that the She wolf would be caught, she found no one but herself. Sitting up she looked toward the loophole where a cold draft was coming in. What a dream! Nothing larger than a cat can fit through there. Looking closer she saw something flutter, caught in the rough stone.
Gabrielle got up to walk over to the loophole for a closer look. Reaching out she pulled from the stone some gray hairs intermixed with some black. Clutching it to remind herself that her dream was real she felt an immense sense of gladness pour over her. Now she was certain that they would all escape from Labducus and his master's trap.
Three days after their capture and following Gabrielle's completion of the drama the players were ready. They had withdrawn from each other as well as from any contact from others and created their masks.
Gabrielle could feel an energy in the castle that was subtle and very powerful. It wasn't the same as when she entered. Her stomach felt settled and she was at peace with herself. She had taken those few days she had alone to remember her life as Iaia and with Gabrielle's wisdom and compassion she came to terms with Iaia's guilt and her own in dealing with her mixed emotions and loyalty for Aleka and Xena.
Labducus and his guards came for her on the day scheduled for the performance. She was sitting on the floor with her legs bent, feet over her thighs, hands loosely held across her lap and eyes rolled up into her upper lid. She felt a movement from down the hall before they had arrived in front of her door. There was a change in the guard's demeanor, very slight. Was the change in the energy from the player's preparations? Something told her there was more going on.
"Hey!" The guard summoned her in a deep voice.
Iaia took a slow breath in and while releasing it she opened her eyes. She straightened her legs out and slowly got to her feet. She could feel something surrounding her that was like a buffer from whatever Labducus and his guards attitude was trying to elicit from her...she felt nothing from them. Absentmindedly she pulled the heavy coat one of the guards had given her to ward off the chill in her room, over her shoulders. Iaia didn't think but rather felt herself in the place she usually was in as she painted. It was a soft golden place...a safe place...a place she was able to feel alive in for inspiration. It was a place Gabrielle was familiar with as she wrote and now she knew it was her special place from another life too.
The first time Iaia was shown the hall they entered, her stomach had become constricted in knots and those that were lying about had dark colors about them causing her to feel compassion for those who were mislead into this type of life. Now there were benches lined up in neat rows and filled with an unsuspecting audience. They had the same dark clouds over them, in varying colors. Iaia sat between two large guards of Labducus while Labducus surrounded himself with his personal slaves and friends. Smiling to herself Iaia watched the play unfold.
Her grateful family dedicated a female child to a virgin goddess, the chorus started. She was a beautiful golden child and was loved by the goddess. However her preoccupation with her importance grew as her golden beauty faded into womanhood. She willingly fell under the seduction of a young man sent by one of the gods on a dare that the young priestess, favored and loved by her chosen goddess, would abandon her duties for the sake of an earthly infatuation. The goddess did not believe her beloved young priestess would so easily be swayed to betray all that she had held sacred for the love of a mere mortal and for something so shallow as lust. However, the young man was good and as the seduction neared an end, the god that had made the wager, took the place of the young man and daringly ravished the young priestess on the altar of her goddess.
The fury of the goddess at both the desecration by a fellow god and the betrayal of her priestess brought a heavy punishment on the priestess. She was a virgin goddess and expected the same of her priestesses. To knowingly defile her altar with their lust was an unforgivable transgression!
The young priestess whose childhood golden beauty had faded to a woman who was fair to look upon had become a face that when looked upon by any man would turn them into stone. The young man was heard of no more and the god who defiled the temple of a fellow god spent a long month as a mortal as none of the others on Mount Olympus wanted the habit of defiling each others temples to catch on.
The players moved slowly and as the chorus explained why and admonished the young for their inability to take responsibility for their choices whenever they would secretly meet, the audience would groan as if they knew what was to happen to the two unwise youth. The drama continued to unfold. In the final scene, when the goddess appeared, her mask was a shinning white on one side and a dull black on the other. She showed her white side to the audience when she first appeared on the stage but when she gave her judgement to the priestess who was defiant to the end, she showed her black side.
The audience was quiet for a long moment as the lone voice of the chorus finished the tale of what became of the young man who misused the gifts of Aphrodite. The voice behind the fearsome mask whispered what would become of those that misused the Dionysian Mysteries for Bacchus type behavior...the passion of love for lust for the sake of lust.
The players assembled at the front of the stage, as was their custom. Iaia rose to join them. They propped up their masks on the stage floor so the audience could see the characters and contemplate as they sat in silence. Quietly the players and Iaia descended down the stairs of the stage and walked out, no one moving to accompany them or stop them. They left their audience in a state of consciousness that was neither awake nor asleep. It was where the illumination of thoughts wavered between confrontation of one's soul and one's deeds.
The women kept walking down the forebuilding and out into the ward where they had first been brought to. The stables were their first stop where their horses and driver of the sled was. Upon seeing them, he asked no questions but quickly help ready their mounts. They trotted out of the gates that were open for the usual business of the day along side of a trade caravan that was also leaving.
Iaia's hands on the reins were sweating and a snort from Argo reminded her to relax her hold around her belly. The women who had their warm players cloaks about them didn't want to take time to return to their cells for their warmer cloths. That would be carrying their luck, too far.
As they finally were out of sight of the castle the women parted company with the traders at a cross road and they all tried to keep from kicking their mounts to a faster pace.
"Oh goddess!" Erica breathed. "I can't believe it was that easy."
The old man riding the back of the sleigh only let out a short laugh and mumbled something about the Flower's protection.
"There's a mark up the road that the others left. We are to get off the road and head for the forest at that point." Iaia had tears falling from her face with relief.
The women picked up a faster pace afraid that Labducus would chase after them.
"Look! Up there in the snow!" Eleanor pointed to a scattering of dark shapes in the snow.
"They're masks!" Gari shouted unbelieving.
"That's how she did it!" Iaia murmured in amazement.
"Who did it?" Kynthia asked clutching under her cloak the Sacred Yoni that she still had. She looked toward Berik who had told her that she also had her part.
"The Named. She appeared to me in a dream and told me that she and the others would help from the outside." She didn't want to share with them the more intimate truth that the Named had kept her company for the night. That was to be something told in a story with a lot of thought and time spent before telling it.
"Of course." Eleanor nodded understanding. "In some of the older villages in Macedonia, the people surround their village with masks drawing the spirit of the mask to protect the village."
Argo and Iaia must have spotted the gray wolf in the shadows above them, for Argo halted the moment Iaia spotted the silver sheen in the fading light. There she waited, standing expectantly. The great bushy tail wavered a bit when Iaia's eyes caught hers.
"We go that way." She told the others and Argo promptly started up the side of the road through the snow.
"Hey!" Erica was going to grab Iaias arm but Eleanor behind her merely pushed her horse forward.
"I have a feeling..." she joked to Erica, "that, thats who we should be following." She patted Ericas thigh as she passed her. "I knew you would make a good repentant sinner."
Erica took her eyes for a moment off Iaias hurrying figure. "Repentant sinner?" She smirked. "Who said I was a sinner and repentant?" She leaned to take a nip at Eleanors cheek. Their Bacchus type behavior on the floor as the priestess and the god was so real that both women had thought in their own minds that they would not be able to stop. But they did! Somehow the intensity of the lust ceased as they heard their cue to move on to the next scene.
"I sure hope theres going to be a change of dry cloths, warm food and good company." Gari mumbled as followed behind Kynthia. She took a look back to make sure the large horse and it's passenger and baggage were not in difficulty. But the large horses made it seem easy as they followed the others effortlessly up the slope.
"Over here." Iaia called out. "Theres no snow up here."
The others joined her.
"Did you happen to notice that there are no footprints of that..." Erica nervously nodded her head to the wolf that had looked back at the group she was leading.
"She is the Named." Iaia told them confidently, daring them to refute her. Would Xena get upset if she revealed that much, she wondered.
"Holy Gaia!" Eleanor slapped her head. "The great SHE wolf. She was one of Gaias messengers."
Kynthia was clutching the Sacred Bud under her cloak, afraid she would lose it. "I think we need to find shelter soon." She told the others. She glanced at Berik.
The Sacred Yoni was changing temperature in her hand and from the look Berik was giving her, her part was too. When they had shared that they both had their parts, there was a temptation to put them together, but Aleka's warning had more weight.
Now, Kynthia was concerned for the heat from the Bud was increasing to making it uncomfortable to hold. Berik caught her glance and held back to walk her mount beside her. Iaia was focused on following the wolf as it moved quietly and quickly through the forest. The women had to duck some of the low hanging branches but it seemed the She wolf, the Named, was not up to mischief and led them where branches were not so low.
"Is yours getting hot?" Kynthia whispered in a frightened voice to Berik when she was alongside her.
"Yes. What does that mean?" Berik asked.
"I dont know."
"Hey." Iaia called out softly to the gray figure she was following. "I think we need to take a break. Argo is getting a bit tired."
The golden horse snorted as if it were an insult. But Iaia was thinking the riders were probably weary and needed a break. They had been traveling for a candle mark and the winter night was fast approaching.
The wolf stopped and looked behind her. The two leggeds looked tired. But her energy was running out and she needed to return to her physical form. She turned her head back toward where she needed to get them and lifted her muzzle to the air. She let out a howl and then listened for an answer. One of the Amazons was on this side of the cave on patrol. They were looking for dinner. The thought of fresh meat made the silver wolfs stomach growl in anticipation.
A tentative wolf cry was returned. She again lifted her face to the sky and called. The reply was closer. The wolf turned to Iaia and the others and waited.
"Someones over there." Iaia whispered and pointed toward the direction the two legged Amazon was approaching. She wasnt using the trees.
Iaia turned to look at the gray wolf and ...it was gone.
Erica pointed to the various places she wanted the others to hide.
It seemed like a candle mark had gone by and no one appeared or moved in the dark forest.
"Who goes there?" Iaia finally asked. She knew there was someone nearby for she could smell the campfire on them and the thought of food made her stomach growl.
"A very big grouchy and hungry Amazon." Lilys voice came back to them laughing.
Clorindas guards formed a protective watch over them as the circle of friends and Clorinda readied themselves for the symbolic preparation of the masks their dreams had shown them collectively on what to do.
They were all silent as they went into the forest to gather their material. Agnes and Grace prepared mixtures of colors that everyone would use to bind, bless, and color their trance inspired masks.
It took a half a day to complete the masks and the rest of the daylight was spent spreading the mask around the city of Labdu without being seen by the carts of traders going in and out of the city.
Tired from their work they had all returned to the cave. They sat around the Named who was still in her trance state. Agnes started a chant, using a hollowed log for a drum and the others followed. For the entire night the women chanted, some breaking off at different times to give their voices a rest or to drink the herb tea one of Clorindas guards prepared.
Clorindas eyes suddenly opened. She felt the familiar burning in her heart, not painful but a yearning. It was the same thing she felt when she found the Sacred Yoni, the Flower. It was calling her again. She knew patience and how to wait for it to return to her. She knew the Spirit of the Sacred Yoni would show her what needed to be done next.
Agnes eyes had also opened and she knew they had done what had to be done. She raised her hands and clapped them together. First softly so as not to startle anyone then as eyes opened she gave a sharp clap to break the collective trance.
"We have completed what we need to do."
They all glanced at the still figure of the Named as they all slowly rose.
"How long is she going to be there?" Lily asked as she stretched her sore limbs.
"Until the rest are here." Agnes told her. She patted Lilys sore side gently. "How are your injuries?"
"Hardly feel them at all." She caught the worried look in her eyes. "Agnes, Ive been in a lot of places that were not pretty. I have to admit, only a few were as bad as..."
"That was when you were younger and full of ..."
"Hey," She jabbed Agnes in the arm, "Im not that old." Lily looked at the group in the cave. "I dont know about the rest of you, but Im hungry and not for any of that weak soup stuff. Id like something that has more substance."
The guards nodded in approval. It was early in the morning and everyone was tired, but hungrier.
"Four of us can go hunting while the rest of you can get more wood. Looks like were running out." Lily noted. "Weve been preoccupied with other things." She spoke more to herself than the others. But the captain of Clorindas guards nodded approvingly. He pointed to two of his men who had a bet going that they could out hunt the Amazons. Lily, who was getting her strength back was not happy that Brona took the challenge half seriously. Now she was ready to show them. Lily loved bets that challenged her Amazon skills.
"Ill go too." She looked at Brona. "You want to go?"
"Sure. I saw some tracks earlier up toward the creek. Ill go off that way. Patroclus, you want to go huntin with me again?"
The older man laughed. He removed his sword and armor so they could move quieter and quicker. He picked up his bow and quivers and looked to his partner who was also dressed the same. "Well be out until the sun sets." Brona told the others before they all split up.
Brona liked Patroclus for he was a man of few words, knew his tracking and didnt mind hunting with an Amazon. Their hunting habits were similar.
Lily was paired with Dante. He loved to brag which made for bad first impressions. It was his intention to mislead as the others soon found out. He was serious and Clorindas second. His knowledge of the area they were hunting in had an advantage.
It was they who had made the killing and signaled to the others so that no more than what they needed was slain. It was just before sunset. The others probably slept while they were huntin, Lily thought. That meant she didn't have to worry about taking guard duty. It meant she got to spend the night full of good food and sleep in warmth, next to Agnes.
Dante hoisted the gutted animal onto his back and nodded to Lily.
"Are you going to be alright back to the cave?" Lily asked.
"Why?" Dante grunted under the weight of their dinner.
"I want to take a quick look along the road."
Lily took that as he was fine and she changed her course. She was still pretty far from the road when she heard a wolf's howl. Her heart started to beat fast. No wolf howls in the day. It had to be She wolf.
She stopped and faced to where she thought the call came from. She returned a call and started toward the call as fast as she could quietly travel. Another one came. She again returned the call. Cautiously she approached a small clearing in the forest. She waited for what seemed like a candle mark behind a tree for some movement. She knew someone was out there.
Iaias unmistakable clear voice brought a great deal of relief to her as she felt a heavy burden fall from her shoulders. Lily stepped out from behind her hiding place.
Aleka opened her eyes and took a slow breath to regain her senses as...who the Hades am I anyway? She grumbled to herself. It seemed like it had been a long time...no, that was something else. Another time. Aleka put a hand to her head to focus on who and where she was. She could hear sounds of movement around her. I thought I was alone.
"Aleka?" A soft familiar voice called her.
It was disappointing. Why was she disappointed in hearing that voice?
Aleka took another breath and focused on the face that was crouched across from her.
"Agnes." She whispered hoarsely.
"You need to open the circle." She instructed.
Once opened Grace and Agnes helped the weakened Aleka from her sacred circle to a sleeping fur draped over a saddle.
"How are you doing?" Agnes asked as she busied herself with preparing a tea to replenish the fire energy in the Named.
"Tired." She croaked. A grin appeared on her face as she thought that instead of speech she had almost answered her with a growl. Not really different from Xena's surly replies, she thought amused.
Agnes steadied the cup to her lips as she weakly sipped the warm mixture. After arranging the fur coverings around the Named, Agnes went back to the fire to check on the wood they piled around it to dry.
Clorinda looked up from the fire she and Grace were working around.
She felt the energy of the Sacred Yoni as if it sent out a strong beat. The others had also stopped what they were doing. They all felt something.
The Named sat up. "Its here." She whispered hoarsely.
"Whats here?" Agnes asked from the fire?
"The Sacred Flower, theYoni." Clorinda informed them.
At that moment Dante appeared at the cave entrance with his catch and the others moved to help with the preparation.
"Where is Lily?" Clorinda asked Dante as he stretched his cramped muscles.
"She went to check the road. Do you want me to..."
"No. We will wait. Can you feel it Dante?" She asked in a low voice?
Dante stood for a moment stilling his mind. "Yes." He said surprised.
The meat was cooking and everyones stomach was growling from the aroma of the food while they were anxious from the feelings of the energy they could now feel and not know when the source of it was going to reveal itself.
It was more than a candle mark later when a guard at the entrance to their cave stuck his head in. "The Sacred Flower is here, Lady Clorinda." He told her excitedly.
Lily was the first to duck her head inside and while the others held their breath, the first figure was dressed in a thick warm coat and the figures that followed were draped in ceremonial costumes. Iaias face was recognized as she straightened from the entrance and pushed her hair out of her face.
The noise was deafening as everyone was shouting and hugging and trying to exchange information.
Iaia made her rounds of hugging and laughing all the while keeping her eyes on the figure that was leaning tiredly against a saddle with a sleeping fur wrapped around her. Finally she made her way to the blue eyes that were shinning in the dark interior of the cave.
She knelt slowly at the edge of the fur. "Thank you..." She whispered. "Aleka."
Aleka smiled. "Im glad it worked out." She told her softly.
Iaia took a deep breath. "How long more of this journey?" Her face matched what Xena was feeling.
Aleka chuckled. "Lets see what Lady Clorinda has to say."
"Its about the Sacred Yoni."
"Kynthia and Berik found both parts." She told Aleka in a low voice.
Aleka nodded. "It now has to return to Lady Clorinda so she can finish her task."
Iaia nodded. "I understand now. It was meant for her city but first, we had to help change Labducus because he was a worse threat and Lady Clorinda wouldn't have been able to do it herself.
"Not him but what he was trying to bring into the city." Aleka smiled. "Are you hungry?"
"So am I."
"Well, I am stuffed!" Lily laughed and patted her stomach, "not to mention very tired."
"Isnt this the time for a story?" Eleanor poked Iaia.
"Yes. We all need to catch up on whats been happening." Iaia turned to Aleka who looked a little more refreshed after eating, though not by much. "You were the first to disappear. So you need to start."
Aleka looked up from the cup she was idly playing with. "Theres not much to tell..." Aleka began in an all too familiar way to Iaia who shook her head with a smile on her face.
Following Alekas tale, which was short and lacking in details, typical of the dark haired warriors style, Iaia thought; Iaia told of her groups escape and then turned to the others for their input. She left out how she had over heard Berik and Kynthias conversations, due to her still sharp hearing. Best to leave their story for them to tell.
The story telling went into the early morning hours. As tired as Lily was, she managed to doze only when her group told their part. When everyone finally made it to their sleeping furs it was with relief that, that adventure was over.
Aleka woke after a few candle marks of sleep. She was sleeping on her side and cupped around a familiar figure. She smiled as she felt Gabrielle stir but only to sink deeper into slumber, pushing up against her to reassure herself that Aleka was still there. She looked toward the entrance of the cave and could see it was just before dawn. Berik and Erica were moving outside to relieve the night guards. Glancing around the dark cave Aleka could make out sleeping forms scattered about the fire that was giving off a soft glow and enough heat from the embers to keep warmth in the cave. Nodding to herself she let sleep overtake her again.
The movement of Gabrielle in her arms woke her.
Gabrielle patted her arm as she rose from under the warm covers and not quite awake, stumbled outside to take care of her morning needs.
Aleka rose to start the morning fire.
"Well, what are your plans?" Clorinda asked Aleka after they had all had their morning tea and some of the previous night's warmovers. Aleka could feel everyones eyes on her as she carefully poured herself another cup of tea.
"We need to resume our journey...and you need to resume yours." She turned to Kynthia.
Kynthias face turned red for a moment.
"You still have not told us your tale." Aleka told her moving her gaze to include Berik who was staying close to Kynthia.
Kynthia looked directly at Lady Clorinda. "We have no tale that can be spoken of lightly...but I can say, Clorinda will continue her journey with the Sacred Flower."
Clorinda nodded. "It is time for the passing of the Flower." She rose to give the standing Kynthia a hug. They both held each other for a long moment.
"Thank you again. I know you say you are from Lesbos, but I think you are all more than just players for the Muses. My people thank you though some have not shown the welcome you really deserve. Next time you pass Lapurities, we will do you better honor."
Iaia was touched and gave her a hug followed by the rest of the troupe. Aleka stood back and nodded to Clorinda instead.
Aleka could feel the influence of Xena asserting itself more. A good indicator of this was the increase of her personal space. Aleka didn't have need for such a wide space about her. The other was Aleka was feeling less of a connection. It was disorientating for both characters.
Continues in Chapter 8