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... In a way, the understanding I reached with Cyrene was prophetic. While I made one or two more attempts to maintain some sort of bond with my birth-family, each time it seemed more tenuous and fragile. The summer I broke my leg was the final blow, both mentally and physically.
It took many years to realize it, but ultimately the rape wasn't the worst part of that fateful visit to Potiedaia. No, the wound that cut much deeper and took the longest to heal was the betrayal of my family. Erasmus violated my body, but the others, they violated my soul. For a time, I wondered if I'd ever be able to see any of them again. Nothing positive came from the rejection of my own flesh and blood. At least something positive came from the rape. Lyceus.
Xena and I felt such devotion to our children, I didn't see how any one could divorce themself emotionally from their own offspring. One day I said as much to Cyrene. The silence that met my ears brought tears to my eyes instantly.
"I'm so sorry, mother," I said, turning around.
"It's alright, Gabrielle," she finally reassured me. "But I'm here to tell you it can happen. While I don't think the actions of your family was warranted, I had my own reasons for letting Xena go."
I nodded, rushing over for a hug. "I wonder what I'll say should I ever see them again," I wondered aloud from the warmth of her embrace.
"That is for your heart to decide, little one," she whispered back.
That day came sooner than I might have expected. It was our first family trip to Thebes. It had been ages since Hercules or Iolas had seen the children, and we decided they were old enough for the trip. While we'd visited the Amazons from time to time since Lyceus' birth, this was different. For one, it was our last trip with Argo, and I'm glad the children had a chance to see what life on the road had been like for Xena and I.
Xe was seven, and like her grandmother in almost every way. She was fearless, precocious and stubborn. Handling responsibilities seemed second nature to her. As soon as she came to live with us, she'd adopted Argo as her own personal charge. I'd watch for hours as Xena taught her how to handle and care for the mare. Now, the only input Xena seemed to have was lifting things that were, for now, too heavy for the child.
Lyceus was a different story. Argo, or Ego, as he called her, made him nervous, and he'd only ride the mare in the company of someone else. I didn't blame him. He was only five, so what if Xe was riding alone by then? Lyceus was a talker, I don't think that surprised anyone, but he was also a listener, and to my occasional embarrassment, he remembered everything.
The children enjoyed our time on the road. Sleeping with us under the stars was a novelty, and they made a game of finding pictures in the bright patterns. Both pitched in with camp chores. Xena taught both to hunt, although I never really developed the stomach for that task. I taught both children to cook, and over time even my lover picked up a few things.
There is nothing quite like the sight of a big city through the eyes of a child. I don't think I ever forgot the squeals of delight that came from Xe and Ly as they sat together astride Argo as Xena and I approached Thebes. It was all so new to them. While Amphipolis is not a small town by any stretch of the imagination, it was one they were used to. They knew almost everyone and considered all of the Inn's regular patrons assorted uncles and aunts.
With Cyrene's Inn in mind, our first stop was to a purveyor of exotic beverages. There would be Hades to pay if we came home with out a cask or two of Cyrene's favorite port. Daxen's Obsession was the only tavern that carried it.
"Xena, if you can take care of this, I'll take the children over there," I suggested nodding in the direction of stalls selling a variety of fabrics. "They need some new clothes."
"I suppose they spend enough time in taverns at home," she agreed, helping Lyceus climb down from Argo.
"We could get some sweet meats," Xe offered helpfully.
"And candy," Ly supplied.
Xena grinned at the two faces gazing at her hopefully. "You'll have to work on mama for that one," she said giving each child a warm hug and a kiss. "I'll meet you over there as soon as I finish here."
"Hurry, Na," Xe suggested.
"Love you Nana," Ly added.
"Where did they learn this stuff?" Xena asked me with feigned embarrassment.
"Only from the best," I replied, puffing up with pride. "Don't take all day, Xena, I love you too."
She smiled wryly before giving me a quick kiss and disappearing into Daxen's tavern. My mission clear, I took Lyceus' hand in my left and grabbed my staff with my right. Xe held Ly's other hand and three of us were on our way.
"I'd like blue," Lyceus chatted as we crossed the square.
"I want black," Xe added.
"Anything but green," they both chimed in unison. I don't know what it was, but both children hated the color green. Xena found it terribly amusing, but it only served to puzzle me. It was a shame though. Lyceus had hair that was more blond than mine, but still had copper highlights. He would have looked quite handsome in green. Xe's choice was no surprise. She tried to emulate Xena whenever she could. More than once I'd seen her cutting off the flow of blood to a doll's brain when it needed the surgery of restuffing.
As I'd hoped, the dry goods dealer had a wonderful selection of cloth. I was able to find several colors for the children, as well as pick out something for Xena. I didn't often get the chance to surprise my love, and I indulged myself whenever the opportunity presented itself.
At Ly and Xe's constant prodding we headed over to the area where racks of meat strips were smoking over a low fire. "We'll have a clear view of the tavern from our new location," Xe pointed out helpfully. I was counting out my dinars to get a treat for the children when Ly tugged at Xe's hand. They'd developed the habit of only turning to Xena or myself when they couldn't handle a problem on their own. I well knew I'd eventually have to deal with obscolescence, but with children ages seven and five, it was a little earlier than I expected.
"Why is that lady staring at mama?" Lyceus asked his sister.
"I don't know," she replied.
Picking up Lyceus, I asked him directly. "Who is staring at mama?"
With all the discretion of a five year old, he stuck his arm straight out and pointed to a pregnant woman nearby. "She is."
I had to do a double take. Then I realized that the pregnant woman was Lila. She looked ready to flee when I called to her. Realizing she'd been spotted she froze. Sweet meats purchased, the three of us walked over.
"Gabrielle," she said quietly.
"Lila," I replied, noting the advanced stage of her pregnancy. "When are you due?"
"Three weeks," she said taking a seat on an available bench.
"Who are you?" Lyceus asked curious.
Lila smiled at him, so I decided I might as well do introductions. "This is my sister Lila."
"Who's children are you watching?" Lila asked, plainly enough.
I bristled at that, but quickly reminded myself it had been my choice not to inform my parents or sister of my pregnancy.
"They're mine," I explained, watching her eyes widen in surprise. "This is Lyceus, and this is Xena." The children nodded and smiled, looking at her extended belly curiously.
"I'm sorry, Gabrielle," she said in a rush. "I didn't know you married." I was trying to think up a suitable retort when Lila's mouth dropped open in wonder.
"Everything okay?" Xena asked softly from behind me.
The children turned around in surprise, not having heard her walk up either. "Na!" Lyceus shouted and leapt into her waiting arms.
"But how?" Lila wondered aloud, staring at little Xena and Lyceus in amazement.
"I have many skills," my lover replied flatly, turning to go.
A seven years later we received word that Perdicus' father had died. As the widow of his oldest son I was, naturally, expected to attend the services. Since Argo was no longer with us, we packed our belongings onto Idgie, Argo's successor, and as a family made the trip.
We attended the ritual fire apart from the other mourners. I'd always liked Hector, he was a very kind man. Xena quietly sang a hymn for the ears of her family alone. I saw mother and father standing with Lila and Erasmus and their child. Lila, I noted, was pregnant again. I made a point to keep Xena as far away from Erasmus as possible. Understandably, the anger was still there. I felt it too. We'd already explained to Lyceus who his father was and what the circumstances of his conception had been. I had hoped to wait until he was older, but he came in with all sorts of questions one day about why Xena and he didn't look more alike. We decided that if he was old enough to ask the questions, he was old enough to hear the answers. Little Xena knew about her parentage, it had never been a mystery. Still, it was hard for her to hear that she and Lyceus didn't share blood since they were so close.
After the funeral fires burned low, we decided to get a bit to eat before heading out of town. To my surprise, father sought us out. We were eating our meal in silence, well aware of the curious and hostile stares that were cast in our direction. This was not new to the children. On occasion they'd been taunted or teased and knew that after some persuading from Xena, they'd be apologized to and left alone. This time one farmer in particular was a little drunker and louder than the others.
"How do you think she did that?" he muttered to his friend.
Both Xenas leveled their steely blue gaze in his direction.
"I mean the girl is a spitting image, and the boy looks just like the bard," he continued with a laugh.
Xena was about to stand, only to find fourteen year old Xe already on her feet and walking toward the group of inebriated farmers. We all tensed, watching our child calmly walk into trouble.
They abruptly quieted when they realized the subject of their comments was in their midst. "Is there something you'd like to know about my family?" she asked sensibly.
The drunk man didn't back down. "Yeah, how did the Warrior Princess sire you?"
Xe flashed a grin. "Because she's more of a man than you'll ever be and twice the woman you'll ever have. She has many skills." The farmer slammed his drink down on the counter and was about to stand when Xe grabbed his ear, keeping him in his seat. "I'd think very carefully if I were you," she said conversationally, looking at the whole group. "Is Xena of Amphipolis someone you really want to anger?" They all looked nervously over to my lover who sat with her arms crossed, beaming with pride at our daughter. They slowly shook their heads. "Good," she continued with a nod to her grandmother. "But I wasn't talking about her."
"She's a smart lady." A new voice I recognized as my father's came from the tavern doorway. "Any affront to Gabrielle, or her family can be taken up with me." He sternly looked at the men as he walked over to Xe. "May I join you at your table?" he asked softly.
Xe looked at us for an accepting nod, then led father to our table. He'd aged a lot in the past dozen years, it hurt me see him so old.
He didn't take a seat, only stood there looking at me. It took a while, but I noticed tears in his eyes. "Gabrielle, can you forgive a foolish old man? I was wrong. I thought you weren't the daughter I'd tried to raise, but seeing you at the funeral and now, with your children..." he stammered, looking for the right words. Taking a breath he began again. "I know you didn't learn it from me, but somewhere you learned the important things, and you've raised fine children. I wasn't there for you... when it happened. I'll carry that regret with me to my own fire. I just want you to know I'm proud of what you've become. Of who you are."
I couldn't keep my own tears back as I cried in my father's arms. He was the last person in the world I would have expected to try to reconcile with me, and he surprised me beyond words. We spent three or four hours with him in that tavern. He got to know Xe and Ly, and I know that meant a lot to him. Xena was happy for me, and I was beyond happiness. I had something back I thought I'd lost forever. My father had returned.
Chapter 8: Hereditary Heroes
Mel carefully climbed down the rock face, forcing herself not to look at the crashing surf below. At one point she slipped, and would have fallen into the pounding waters were it not for the vise like grip she had on the rope, her lifeline. After what seemed like an eternity, she saw the outer rim of the cave opening. Moving like a spider along the slick stone, she finally positioned herself to drop down to into the cave mouth. She landed lightly on her feet, not making a sound. She clung to the shadows and was surprised to see another man besides Byron in the cave. Before she could move, he spoke. The familiarity of his voice kept her riveted in place.
"Byron, old boy," Tildus offered cheerfully. "You're cheating."
"What are you doing here?" the Egyptologist screamed, his voice taking on a hysterical feminine edge.
"I'm watching, as required by the ancient texts," Tildus replied. His eyes traveled upward as he scanned the ceiling of the cave. "You know the insect thing isn't allowed," he said with mild reproach.
"And just what to you plan to do about it?" Byron asked, cocky.
Tildus grinned, and lightly blew a puff of air toward the ceiling. Byron watched, amused, until he noticed the bats that covered the cave ceiling waking up. One by one, then in groups, they descended from their sleeping perches as they began to swoop down and consume the insect feast that carpeted the floor of their cave. The flapping of leathery wings could be heard in the far tunnels of the cave as more bats continued to wake.
"If you're going to beat Janice," Tildus scolded the seething man. "You're going to have to do it on your own."
"You'll pay for this, Hephaestus!" Byron growled menacingly.
"We shall see," the elderly man allowed with a smile.
Without another word, Byron turned and picked the six shooter up off the cave floor. Gun in hand he headed back toward the tunnel, towards Janice Covington.
"No!" Mel shouted as she ran from the concealing shadows.
Calmly, Byron turned, aimed the gun at her head and fired.
Mel blinked, expecting to feel the sting of lead as life fled from her body. After a moment, realizing that she was still very much alive, she opened her eyes. There, floating mere inches from her forehead, was a stationary bullet.
"Come, come, Valaska," Tildus chided as he walked over to Mel and plucked the bullet from where it levitated. "You made an agreement with Callisto, remember? You leave Xena and her descendants alone, and in turn she leaves Gabrielle and her progeny to you. Don't renege, it's bad form."
With a fuming scowl, Byron turned and continued back to the tunnel once again. Mel was about to race after him when a gentle hand on her shoulder stopped her where she stood. "No, child," Tildus said softly. "The battle with Ares was yours, this one is hers. Let her fulfill her destiny."
"But she'll die," Mel sobbed. Imploringly, she gazed into the face of the kindly old man. "Don't let her die."
Sadly, Tildus shook his head. "I'm sorry, Melinda, but that isn't for me to decide. Janice will live or die based on her own actions. Still, she doesn't strike me as the sort finished with life, now does she?" Mel nodded in reluctant agreement.
Mel Pappas was not the only one in the cave who had difficulty with Tildus' instructions. Argo crept from the cover of the bolder where she'd been hiding to slink toward the back of the cave. "Not so fast," Tildus continued with mild reproach. "You've done your part too, Argo, this last isn't for you." With a guilty expression, the dog returned to the cave mouth and sat at Mel's side.
"She'll be okay," Mel assured the dog, hoping with every fiber of her being she was right.
Janice heard the unusual sounds just as she felt a light weight settle on her thigh. She opened her unswollen eye and, after a moment focused on a tiny bat picking a centipede off of her leg. An instant later, it took flight with its meal. Staring in amazement, she looked around as bats everywhere went after the tide of insects. More landed on her, gently touching down, grabbing a bug, then taking flight. With a renewed sense of hope she shook the sleep from her mind and with determination borne out of that hope leaned forward for the torch. Before pain claimed her anew, she had to get this done.
"Got any last words?" Byron's voice taunted from down the tunnel. He was getting close Janice realized. It was now or never. She cried out as the pain of movement surged up through her body. Bending her broken leg, she reached the torch, lighting the dynamite fuse just as the sputtering flame went out and Byron's form appeared down the tunnel.
His eyes went wide at the sight of the sputtering fuse, then wider still as the stone sarcophagus started to tip. Put off balance by Janice's lunge for the flame, it rocked slightly, then tipped off its ledge, sliding down the track like a bobsled. "Oh shit!" Janice gasped as she realized what she'd done. She originally moved the coffin onto the track so she could haul it to the cave mouth before blowing up the contents. Riding it down was hardly her plan.
Byron looked equally surprised as Janice sped towards him. There wasn't anywhere to go in the narrow tunnel. Before being able to fire a single shot, he was knocked into the coffin on top of Janice.
Neither passenger had time to get their bearings. The tunnel twisted and turned, the ride bumpy in places where the tracks had disappeared completely. Still, it was steep enough, and the sarcophagus smooth enough, that nothing short of hitting a wall would stop its progress. Hitting the last descending slope, they picked up speed and sped into the mouth of the main cave.
In an instant the sarcophagus appeared at one end of the cave, each passenger struggling for balance, the next moment they were shooting out the cave mouth, flying through sky over the brilliant blue ocean below.
"Ohmigawd!" Mel screamed and took off out of the cave mouth, climbing down as fast as she could.
Argo tried to follow, but was stopped by Tildus' hand around her bandanna. "This is not for you to see," he said gently, picking up the ninety-five pound dog in one arm and climbing up the cliff to the top.
Janice regained her wits as the cold air hit her in the face like a slap. She grabbed the gun from Byron's hand and threw it away from the airborne coffin. He struggled, clearly disoriented. Grabbing for another stick of dynamite, she lit another fuse from the now almost expired one. "Hold this," she screamed at Byron. Then, with a shove she rolled her body out of the falling tomb.
"Wha..." he stammered, confused. He looked at his hands to see what Janice had given him.
As soon as his eyes registered the lit stick of dynamite, it exploded. He didn't have time to scream. Janice felt the impact of the explosion as she plummeted to the ocean floor one hundred feet below. She doubted she'd live, but at least she took Xena, Gabrielle and Valaska with her. As the blue of the Aegean Sea rushed up to greet her, she instinctively stretched her body out into a dive position. Seconds later she hit the water with tremendous force.
Mel watched as the sarcophagus soared over the ocean. Pausing for an instant in its arc, it angled downward and fell. Janice's form could be clearly seen launching away from the stone coffin seconds before the whole thing blew up. The rapid sound of explosions, one after the other rang in her ears as dust and rock rained down into the sea.
Mel had made her way part way down the cliff face. Standing on an outcrop perhaps fifty feet above the water, it took a moment for her to spot Janice's body. There wasn't much in the way of debris, but the lingering smoke made vision difficult. Without stopping to consider the safety of her actions, Mel leapt from the cliff. The water was a cold shock as it rushed up around her, making her clothes heavy and cumbersome.
"Janice!" Mel shouted looking around frantically for her lover. From her vantage point it was impossible to see the archeologist. Mel listened intently for any response, but was rewarded with only the sounds of water lapping against her body. Not deterred, quickly discarded her heavy boots then swam with powerful strokes in the direction she'd last seen her love.
Janice hit the water hard, its stinging chill alerting her mind even as the impact made her leg scream in agony. She felt the pressure on her ears increase painfully as her body continued downward, propelled by its' hundred foot fall. Angling her body slightly, she used what momentum she could to carry her back to the surface.
With lungs burning from exertion, she finally broke the water's surface, expelling spent air and taking in fresh oxygen greedily. The clear air made her head swim. She felt dizzy, exhausted, spent and giddy all at once. "So what if I die right now?" she thought. "I kept my word to my ancestors." She readied herself to slip below the surface one last time, absently regretting the need to leave Mel and Argo.
"Oh, no you don't," a stern voice said as a strong arm reached around her chest.
"Mel?" Janice asked grogily as she tried to open her eyes. Was she dreaming?
"Damn right it's me. With all the trouble I went to get y'all housebroken, I'm not about to let you drown," Mel replied as she carefully kept Janice's head above water. Inwardly she cringed. Janice was a mess. Her eye was still swollen and she had several bug bites. Her hand hung limp at her side, severely burned. Peering into the clear water, Mel could also see the bloodied disfigurement of her left shin. She was bleeding profusely and the Southerner wondered how long before the blood attracted any variety of ocean predators.
"I'm tired, Mel," Janice whispered. "Really tired."
"Well, you can't give up yet," Mel urged. "I love you, Janice. Me and Argo need you, you're not leaving us without a fight."
"Kiss me," Janice breathed, barely audible.
"Now is funny time to get friendly," Mel said gently before tenderly claiming soft lips with her own. At the contact she could feel Janice's body relax in her grip as she slowly slipped away.
"Love you, Melinda," she whispered softly before closing her eyes once more.
Mel fought against the urge to panic when she noted the shallow movement of her lover's continued breathing. She was alive for now, but wouldn't be much longer if she didn't get out of the cold salt water. Treading water for both of them, she held Janice tightly, determined to keep her lover alive, by sheer force of will if necessary.
She didn't know how long she'd been treading water, continuing to kick her strong legs in spite of the exhaustion and cramping of her muscles. She heard an odd noise that didn't match the sounds of the sea. Distracted, she looked around, breaking out a huge grin as she saw the familiar hull of The Charmer approaching.
...The final trip I made to Poteidaia was for the funeral of my father. Once again the four of us made the trip. Lyceus was sixteen, the only thing that surpassed his good looks was the gentleness of his heart. Xe was eighteen and resembled Xena more every day. In a way Cyrene got her wish and was able to envision a Xena and Lyceus without Cortese's raid on Amphipolis. Lila had a total of four children, two boys and two girls. Erasmus was no longer in the picture. I didn't know all the details, but understood that he'd been a troubled soul since they married. Like Melegar, he took to drink to wash away what ever pain he suffered, only serving to create more. Lila told me she was pregnant for the third time when he took off for good.
We were at mother's house. I was surprised she'd invited us over after the lighting of the funeral pyre, but accepted nonetheless. Lyceus and Xe were immediately adopted by Lila's two eldest, Daphne and Ulysses, and taken outside to play. I swear she named her son that just to annoy me. As for the other two, they were twins, a boy and a girl. Lila tried to balance them on her lap as I helped mother prepare dinner. I felt so bad for my sister. It was bad enough what she'd had to endure with Erasmus, what we'd all had to endure. But to be left, two months before giving birth to twins, then facing the monumental task of raising four children alone -- life was not going to be easy for my sister.
Xena came in from tending to Idgie, and noting Lila's distress, offered to take one of the babies. Shyly Lila handed the girl over, since the boy was finishing up his latest meal.
"What's her name?" Xena asked as she shifted the child in her arms. I smiled to myself. Xena was an expert with children and it showed.
"Gabrielle," Lila answered softly. My eyes shot over to my sister in wonder.
Xena only smiled. Without taking her eyes from the infant's face she smiled. "Well, hello then Gabrielle," she said.
"This is Xenos," Lila announced as she handed me the other infant. Now it was my turn to grin as Xena looked over, amazed.
"Lila, you didn't have to do that," I said, my voice thick with emotion.
"It was your father's idea," mother said as she brought a steaming roast to the table. "Lila has a chance raising her children to undo a lot of mistakes we've both made," mother explained.
"I don't want to lose sight of that," Lila finished.
"It was your father's final wish," mother finished.
The only thing that prevented me from crying my eyes out was Xe and Ly bursting through the door, each with a small child clinging to their back. I don't know how, but both children inherited my appetite.
"Dinner ready?" Lyceus asked.
"We're starved," Xe added with a chorus of laughter from Daphne and Ulysses.
Shortly after returning to Amphipolis we were paid a visit by Xenan Gabris Phantes, my Centaur nephew. Ares was on the move to the north. He spoke hurriedly about the battle for the first age.
"Slow down," I finally asked. "What battle?"
"The Oracle," he replied, rushed. "Mother said to mention the Oracle's predictions. The old myths." He looked at Xena imploringly. "I came because I can run faster than any of the Amazons. Mother said that you would understand."
"I do," Xena assured them.
"Well, I don't," I interjected.
"Gabrielle," Xena said gently turning to look at me. "I told you before about the oracle that made the predictions about mother." I nodded. I'd heard those stories several times, and had even written them down. "The oracle also told her of a battle that would be fought in three different ages. I have to go fight Ares..."
"Then what?" I interrupted. "Our children will have to fight him? Xena, we need you here."
"Shhhh," she said placing gentle fingers on my mouth. "It'll be okay. I know I'm needed here, which is why I have every intention of coming back. I have to do this. Trust me, my heart."
There wasn't much I could do. Xena's mind was made up and that was final. Did I mention she can be stubborn? I managed to persuade her to take a satchel of my scrolls for luck. It was going to be a long trip and it would give her some distraction all those nights until the inetivable. The month that we waited for her return was the longest I'd ever endured. She did come back though. Exhausted, bruised and bleeding, but came back she did. The children were asleep, as was Cyrene. I was up writing, waiting as I had been each night. The door opened silently, but I felt the breeze and the presence that made my pulse race. "Xena," I whispered as I ran to her.
"I'm home, Gabrielle," she said, wrapping me in those wonderful strong arms. "For good." It took a moment to realize what she'd just said. Then I noticed that her sword and chakram were missing. "They're gone, Gabrielle," she explained. "As are your scrolls I'm sorry."
"It's alright, Xena," I assured her. "I can always write more. You're back and that's all that matters. Is there anything you can't do?" I wondered aloud.
"Making you happy, Gabrielle, is the only goal I've got left," she replied with a kiss.
Xena did make me happy. And I her, for many, many years. Eventually we lost Cyrene, which was hard, but our family continued to thrive in spite of our loss. Lyceus was the first of our children to marry. He met a poet who'd studied under the great Sappho and was smitten from the moment she'd entered the Inn. He was seventeen at the time and it took him three years to convince her to have him. Xe was another matter. For a time it seemed unlikely that she would marry or commit to anyone for longer than a season or two. For several years it seemed as if her interest didn't extend beyond women. There wasn't an attractive woman who came through Amphipolis that our entire family didn't appreciate. After breaking the hearts of both sexes for so long, I think even Xe began to wonder if she'd ever meet her match. Naturally, as Fate would have it, she did. She was won over by a young philosopher. They'd argue for hours about philosophy and ethics. Finally, she agreed to marry him. As she said, put up with him on a permanent basis. Xena and I breathed a sigh of relief.
Lyceus and his wife had two children, Lila and Cyrene. Xe and her husband had a son, Marcus. We enjoyed our grandchildren immensely even though technically Marcus was Xena's great-grandson. We were sorry that Cyrene never had the opportunity to enjoy them, but sadly, that is how life works sometimes. To my surprise, Lyceus kept in contact with my birth-family. While I'd essentially come to an understanding with mother and Lila, the closeness that had existed before was irretrievable. On his own, Ly forged a new bond with his aunt and grandmother, occasionally taking his family to Poteidaia for visits.
Sadly, as the Fates command, life can not endure forever. My world came crashing in around me on a bright summer morning. After more than six decades Xena could still leave me breathless and sated. To the very end we were fiercely in love with each other. Living with a passion that could not be curbed, we indulged ourselves and each other as often as our aging bodies would allow. Xena told me she wanted to go for a ride. "Gabrielle, you ignite me," she said. "I've got to do something with this pent up energy or I'll wear you out."
"I'd like to see you try," I replied with a grin.
Still the day was warm, and she was feeling her oats, so I kissed her good-bye and wished her a nice ride.
"You know I love you more each day, don't you?" she asked, as she mounted the roan stallion.
"As I do you, my heart," I replied. "Be careful."
Around noon, Lyceus and Xe went to look for their Na. She'd not come back yet and I was a little worried. Xe's expression when she returned was all I needed to see. With an anguished cry I ran outside as Lyceus was lowering Xena's body from his horse. Both children were sobbing, but I scarcely noticed as I cradled my love in my arms one last time.
Later, when the grieving had begun, something that would take until my own death to finish, Lyceus explained what had happened.
"The roan threw a shoe and stumbled," he said his voice raw from sobbing. "They were on a steep incline, and the horse fell. Na broke her neck when she was thrown, she didn't feel a thing." I nodded absently. At least I had that.
Xena was put to rest in a sarcophagus between Lyceus and Cyrene. I contacted the Amazons and explained why I would not be committing her body to the fire they'd wanted so many years ago.
"Gabrielle," Ephiny said gently. "We don't want you to. Now that the battle of the first age has happened, it changes things." Although I was hurting beyond belief at my loss, I listened attentively as Ephiny relayed the last of the Amazon legends I would need to know.
I lived eight years after Xena left. They weren't bad years, but too much of me was missing to fully enjoy them. I continued to live at the Inn. Lyceus had taken over running it. While I loved Xe dearly, it was harder to see her than my son. She was so like her grandmother. She looked then as Xena did in her prime. Her voice, the smile... I had to remind myself that it wasn't Xena.
I continued to write, some. When I'd decided I'd penned my last tale, I had the scrolls carefully wrapped and sent to Solari. I knew she'd take good care of them. My own children already knew my stories, they wouldn't need them on parchment. When my last day arrived, I knew it was so. I didn't feel particularly bad, I just felt ready. In a way I was looking forward to crossing over, to being reunited with my love. Since my health had been slipping, the children came by each day to visit. As the Amazons had asked, I sent for them as well when I knew my time was near. They kept a respectful distance, providing what support they could for my family. I kissed each grandchild goodbye before saying my final farewells to Xe and Lyceus. "I'm proud of you both," I told them, "and love you with all my heart. You've learned, and passed on the important things. A greater gift you could not have given Xena and me." The blue of Xe's eyes was the last thing I saw on this earth, until I saw the blue eyes beyond.
Chapter 9: New Beginnings
"Is she alright?" a gentle Southern voice asked, the worried edge unmistakable.
"Yes, Mel," another voice replied patiently. "Same as yesterday. She's been through a lot. She'll wake up when she's ready."
"Mel?" Janice gasped weakly, her throat dry and tight.
"Janice, you're awake," the Southerner replied, relieved.
"Maybe," Janice whispered as she thought about opening her eyes. Then, feeling a vaguely familiar, softness against the skin of her breast, she opened her eyes and looked down. She was back on board the Lovely Lunacy, nestled in a bed and wrapped in black satin sheets.
"I thought those might wake you up," Mel teased with a knowing gleam in her eye.
"How did I get here?" Janice asked, taking in the faces of the concerned Amazons gathered around the bed. "Where's Ar..." Before she could get the dog's name past her lips the Golden Retriever/Alsatian jumped up on the bed. Janice flinched, expecting the jolt of the bed to hurt her broken leg. Looking down, she could clearly see a cast outlined by the satin. She checked her hand, noting that it was bandaged as well. "What happened?"
"You pulled it off, that's what happened," Emily said, beaming from the foot of the bed. "Xena and Gabrielle are ashes as they should be,and Valaska, or rather Byron, is no more. We found chunks of him floating all over the place.
"Small chunks," Quest added for clarification.
Mel frowned at the grisly tone the conversation had taken. "The Charmer came and picked us up. Quest and the others managed to fend off Leesto's thugs."
"Picked us up?" Janice asked confused.
"You should have seen it," Tory continued, picking up the story. "After you hit the water, Mel jumps off this fifty foot cliff after you. I saw it with the binoculars. Once we got rid of Leesto's thugs we came right over."
"Yeah," Stacey added. "Debby fixed your leg and wrapped up your hand. You've been unconscious for two days."
"How did Argo get here?" the archeologist asked, finally beginning to wake up.
"That's the strange part," Emily replied. "Someone had delivered her to the crew of the Lunacy. She had our coordinates tucked into her bandanna. They arrived only a couple of hours after we picked you and Mel out of the water."
Mel looked over at Emily, her surprise evident. "You didn't tell me that. Did y'all get a description of whoever it was who dropped her off?"
The blond woman nodded. "The Captain said it was an old guy with glasses."
Mel smiled, sending a silent thank you to Tildus. "What about Leesto?" Janice asked.
"She was picked up at the top of the cliff. She's in custody, in connection with the Athens museum theft," Kit supplied, passing Janice a glass of water.
"I doubt it'll stick, but I'm glad she's out of the way for now," the archeologist replied thoughtfully. "What about the marbles?"
"From the temple frieze?" Mel asked to clarify. "Why, they're only the most recent amazing discovery of one, Dr. Janice Covington. The authorities have secured the sight and I'm sure teams will be assembled in no time to retrieve them."
"That might not be so good, Mel," Janice warned.
"Why ever not?"
"Because the sarcophagus lid is still in the cave. When word gets out I destroyed the remains..."
"I wouldn't worry about that," Emily assured her. "After all, none of us saw you blow up the coffin. Did we, Tory?" she asked, looking at the younger Amazon.
"See it? Why, no, of course not. It isn't your fault, Dr. Covington, if you discovered the cave but the remains were already gone."
For the first time in a long while, Janice smiled, a relaxed grin that threatened to stay on her face for days.
Later, when Janice had convinced everyone that she was indeed on the mend, she and Mel were left alone in their cabin. Propped up against Mel's side, her head resting against a soft breast with Argo curled up at her feet, Janice Covington was the picture of contentment.
"They'd like us to stay in the vicinity for a day or two, to make sure you're okay," Mel explained, stroking Janice's hair softly.
"Fine by me," Janice agreed with a sigh. "Now that the crisis is over, it'd be nice to spend some time with the family. Maybe I'll even find the time to get seasick."
"I can hardly wait," Mel replied snuggling closer and resting her chin on top of Janice's head. "But I'm glad you think seeing family is a good idea. I was thinking..."
"Yes?" Janice asked rolling over. Her left leg was clumsy but after a couple of tries she got it out of the way. With Mel stretched out beneath her, she rested her head on the Southerner's chest, sighing with contentment at the sound of the familiar heartbeat.
"I was thinking that for summer break," Mel continued, lightly touching her lover's back, "we might meet some more relatives, head to Scotland, perhaps?"
"The MacGabbers?" Janice asked, her left hand roaming over familiar skin.
"Exactly," Mel agreed.
"Good, because I've been thinking, too," Janice continued. "I don't think the scrolls we found are all of them. Who knows, maybe we'll find something new in Scotland." Janice continued her ministrations, nipping at soft flesh beneath Mel's satin slip.
"Ah, Janice, what do you think you're doing?" she asked concerned.
"You mean you can't tell?" Janice replied, stunned.
"What about your leg?' her lover inquired gently.
"I've got news for you, Mel, I don't use my leg for that. Having my right hand bandaged is going to be a problem, but I'm willing to improvise."
"You're incorrigible, Janice Covington," Mel breathed, her voice throaty and warm. "And I hope to God you stay that way for a long, long time."
"With you, Melinda Pappas, I don't doubt it," Janice replied claiming hungry lips. Passion ebbed and flowed as two hearts beat in tandem. Souls bound together beyond the confines of time and space pulsated with the devotion of their union. With a love to rival that of their ancestors before them, Janice Covington and Melinda Pappas were connected, as they would remain forever.