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Disclaimer: Yep, they are both owned by MCA/Universal/Renaissance, but their souls, I believe, live here in the realm of fan fiction.
This is the first installment of a new series I'm calling "Tales From The Bard". The second one should be out soon. It will be titled, "Poseidon's Pride".
The rumbling seemed to go on and on, even after the earth had closed up around her. As the tunnel collapsed, the torches were extinguished and darkness, complete and terrifying, descended around Gabrielle.
Flinching, as another fist sized stone fell on her, the bard tried to make herself a smaller target, but the small body crying under her protective frame was more important to the bard than her own safety.
The groans from the earth finally eased and trailed off, leaving behind an eerie silence. Gabrielle could hear nothing but her own shallow breathing and the young girl for whom Xena and she had come down into the bowels of the earth.
The day had started out well for the two travelers. They had planned to make the border of the Amazon Nation before nightfall. Both were eager for a soft bed and a hot bath. Around mid-day though, they had arrived in a mining village named Pellitia, to find the people in an uproar.
A child was missing.
Gabrielle carefully reached back and brushed the rocks and debris off herself, glad that she hadn't been squashed by any boulders. She breathed a sigh of relief. Except for some tender areas, she had escaped unscathed. Blindly, she felt around her, searching for the wall or any other survivors. After cautious exploration, the bard determined that the child and she were trapped alone. She found both walls. However, on either side, where there had once been open passageways, there was now only a wall of fallen rock. The bard stretched out her arms, fingertips barely touching boulders and soft soil.
Such a small space, she thought silently, amazed that they hadn't been crushed.
Gabrielle knelt down and reached out a hand sightlessly toward the little girl. "It's all right, Tanna. You're not alone."
Gingerly, she ran her hands over the girl's body, searching for any broken bones or open wounds. Thankfully, there were none, although Gabrielle was certain there were quite a few bruises, however, judging by the whimpers that came from the young girl as she carefully examined her.
"I'mmm sccarrredd," Tanna cried, as she sat up and threw her arms around the only person she knew was with her.
Wrapping herself around the girl, Gabrielle gently rocked her back and forth, uttering small sounds to calm and reassure her. "I know," So I am, she thought to herself. "It will be all right. The other miners will find us. Shhh..." she crooned.
Gabrielle was almost glad for the darkness that enveloped them, for she didn't want Tanna to see the tears that were starting to fall from her eyes. The bard didn't know if anyone else in the search party was even alive, let alone able to help.
When Xena had been told that Tanna had wandered into the mines the day before, there was nothing to do but stable Argo and help out. Thankfully, the girl had mentioned to a playmate that she was going to go visit her father in the mines or else the surrounding area and the nearby forest would have had to be included in the search area also.
Xena had immediately taken charge, much to the villager's relief, dividing the men that were most familiar with the mines into two search groups. The warrior led one and the mine's overseer volunteered to guide the second.
Xena had taken Gabrielle aside and asked...not demanded, the warrior knew better than to do that anymore, the bard to stay behind. Of course, she'd adamantly refused and Xena had given in to her companion's wishes with only a small sigh.
For hours they had searched, traveling the cool, damp tunnels calling for the lost child. Spirits grew bleak and hopes for finding Tanna became dimmer as the candle marks passed. Xena had been about to turn her group around and head them up to the surface for a meal and a much-needed rest when Tanna had finally been found. Curled up and crying softly to herself at the edge of a rank puddle, the child hadn't realized at first that she was rescued.
Since her father was in the other search party, Gabrielle had taken the frightened cold child in hand, wrapping her up in several blankets and holding her in her arms. Tanna had clung to her blonde rescuer and refused to let go.
After Xena had carefully checked to make sure the girl had nothing more than just an empty belly and a few bruises, their group had begun their walk back up to the surface. Gabrielle and Tanna had been nearer to the end of their small column when the earth began to buckle and shift around them. As the dust began to cloud her sight and rocks became loose and started to fall down, Gabrielle's eyes had automatically turned to Xena. The warrior had been farther down the passageway than Gabrielle, but that hadn't stopped her from trying to get back to the bard.
The last thing that Gabrielle saw before the world came down upon her were terrified blue eyes.
Gabrielle shuddered as several pebbles fell down on her head along with a shower of displaced soil. The child in her arms stopped crying just long enough to whimper in terror.
Poor kid. Lost for over a day and now she's trapped in a cave-in. No wonder she's terrified. The bard sighed and curled her body defensively over Tanna, taking the brunt of the debris on her own head and shoulders just in case something larger came down. After the settling had stopped, Gabrielle had waited for several heart pounding moments to make sure nothing else was fall on them. When she deemed it safe, only then had she lifted herself off Tanna, but kept the girl in her sheltering arms.
Gabrielle believed that any attempt to get them out of this predicament would have to come from any other survivors. The space that she had to work with was far too small and without some sort of light there was no way to tell which rocks she could safely move. All it would take was one misplaced stone and they would be completely buried. So she would have to trust that Xena and some of the miners had escaped and were working back through the debris to try and find them.
But right now they both needed something to keep their minds off their predicament and there was only one thing that Gabrielle could think of that might help.
"Would you like to hear a story?" Gabrielle asked softly. "It will help pass the time until the villagers and Xena get us out." If they aren't buried themselves, that is, the bard thought to herself. Her heart constricted at the thought of Xena dead, her body crushed under the mountain of rock. Stop that! Faith. I have to have faith.
Gabrielle knew that the space they were trapped in was too small. Their air was severely limited. With every breath they took, the closer they were to suffocating. In fact, she realized that she shouldn't even be talking, but Tanna was terrified and she couldn't think of anything else to help the child calm down.
"Oookkayy," Tanna stuttered.
"Hmm...how about if I tell you how all these pretty gems that your father helps dig up were created? Would you like that?" Gabrielle asked, as she moved back and sat against a timber that had once helped shore up the ceiling to the tunnel. She pulled Tanna back into her embrace and smiled to herself in the dark as the child eagerly crept closer and laid her head down on the bard's shoulder.
"Weren't they always in the ground? That's what the miners say," the girl whispered back.
Gabrielle closed her eyes, wanting the darkness to be her own doing. She felt helpless, staring out into nothing. She coughed slightly, trying to clear her throat of the stone dust.
"A long, long time ago, when Zeus was still new as King of the Gods, Hephaestus was deep inside his mountain creating a crown for his father." The bard's voice became clearer as she let the words flow, feeling the tension fall away from her.
"He took gold and silver from deep within the earth, heated it and shaped it with his hands and will. With fine tools he hovered over his creation, carving a scene into the soft metals. In his eyes and through his fingers, Zeus took shape. Lightning bolts leapt from the god's hands, destroying giants and driving back the Titans.
When Hephaestus was finally done, he picked up his masterpiece and held it before him, looking it with a skeptical eye. To anyone else it would seem perfect, but to the Smith God, it cried out to him for something more. The problem, he figured out, was that all he had to work with was gold, silver and some other lesser metals. What he wanted was to add more colors to the crown. But there was nothing on earth or within it that suited his purposes." Gabrielle ran her hand through Tanna's hair absently, taking just as much comfort from the gesture as the child did.
So Hephaestus went to his father, Zeus. He asked if he would be allowed to create stones of different colors, for the only color that existed now was gray. He explained that he couldn't complete Zeus' crown, that it needed something special, something unique, something not of the old gods...but of the new.
Zeus thought for a moment, then agreed with his son, pleased with the idea that he would create something that his own father had not considered. The idea of creation grew within him and he called some of the other gods to him. Each, he said, would make a unique stone.
Zeus, since he was the King of the Gods, would go first and show the others what he had in mind. Standing before the others, the mighty god stretched out his hands and called down the power of lightning to his hands until he fairly glowed, blinding the others. A huge ball of energy hovered before him. Then giving the others a prideful smile, Zeus reached inside the sphere of lightning until he touched its white-hot heart. Pulling out the tiny glowing ball, Zeus waved his other hand at the larger sphere and made it disappear it with a thought.
The heart of the lightning cooled rapidly in Zeus' hand, leaving behind a clear stone that shone and glistened in the light." Gabrielle squeezed Tanna lightly and asked, "What do you think he made?"
The child was quiet for several heartbeats of time before she answered, "A diamond? Father says those are worth a lot."
"Your father's right and so are you. It was a diamond," the bard chuckled softly, then continued on with her story. "The King of the Gods handed the glittering jewel to Hephaestus, then waited for the others, daring them with a glance to outdo his creation.
Hera, annoyed that her husband thought he knew what beauty was, came forward, looking down at her lame son with distaste. Arrogantly, she gathered some of the sky in her hands and bent her will on it. The sky solidified in her grasp and became a beautifully colored stone, but Hera was not pleased, for the stone wasn't clear, like her husband's gem. Angrily, she threw down the jade stone and stormed away, saying that the rest of them were fools to play this game. But Hephaestus looked at the green stone and picked it up, seeing beauty in it.
Always the one to challenge his father, Ares stepped forward and held his hand above Hephaestus'. Then drawing his sword, Ares slashed the palm of his hand and squeezed out droplets of blood. As they fell, the drops of blood changed into rubies, landing in Hephaestus' waiting hand. The War God turned and walked away, not interested in the other gods' creations, but not before giving Zeus a little smirk.
Poseidon, Zeus' brother, and ruler of all the oceans as his brother was ruler of all the land and air, stepped forward. With a wave of his mighty trident created a drab ordinary seashell, the kind that you can open up and eat the insides."
"Ewwww..." Gabrielle felt Tanna's head move and turn up towards her and the bard could almost hear the little girl stick out her tongue.
"What? Oysters are good for you. Tasty too," Gabrielle replied, smiling even though Tanna couldn't see.
"Yuck. I had oysters once, but I didn't like 'em. They were slimy," the child replied as she lowered her head back onto the bard's shoulder, making herself comfortable again.
A loud rumble erupted from the bard's stomach. I just had to think about oysters, didn't I? Gabrielle bemoaned silently then resolutely turned her mind away from her hunger and back to her story.
"Anyway, Poseidon turned to Hestia, the Goddess of Hearth and Home and asked her to place something inside the shell. With a shy smile, the virginal goddess agreed and reached out her hand, placing a single drop of cow's milk within the shell. A bright light flashed as the drop and the seashell met and the milk changed into a tiny, round pearl, nestled inside the oyster. Handing the now closed shell to Hephaestus, Poseidon gave Hestia a wink and disappeared, going back to his watery realm.
Hades stepped out of the shadows. He was the other brother to Poseidon and Zeus, but his kingdom was the underworld." The bard shivered, trying not to think about that dark place, but it was almost impossible not to, considering where she was right now and the circumstances. "Hades took a small pouch from his belt and poured out the contents into his gloved hand. It was black sand from the shores of the River Styx and as Hades closed his hand, he transformed it into onyx. With a small nod to his nephew, Hades placed the shiny black gem in the Smith's hand and stepped back, making room for another.
It was then that the smell of fresh rain and wildflowers filled Zeus' throne room and Gaia stepped out of the sunlight. She was one of the old gods, but even Zeus stepped back in respect as she came forward and stood before Hephaestus. Gaia wished to show these new gods that the elder gods still existed and refused to be forgotten. Holding her aged and wrinkled, empty hand out, the goddess blew on her palm. Once again the room filled with the scent of spring, A sparkling light shone briefly over her hand, then disappeared, leaving behind a jewel of the deepest green hue. Gently placing the emerald in Hephaestus' waiting hand, Gaia then left Mt. Olympus without speaking a word to the other gods.
Several moments of silence passed before the younger gods reacted to Gaia's visit. Finally, when the silence had become almost unbearable, Artemis stepped up, standing tall and proud. The Goddess of the Hunt considered deeply what kind of stone she wished to create. Green had already been contributed, by Gaia. She had thought to make a red stone, but Ares had shed his own blood and created rubies. Then she snapped her fingers and gave Hephaestus a sly grin. An ancient tree suddenly sprouted in the middle of the room, making everyone step back out of the way. When the tree was finally still, its top just barely brushing the stone ceiling, Artemis walked up to it and touched its rough bark. Then...the tree cried. Reaching out a slim finger, Artemis let one of the golden-brown drops fall on her fingertip. As the droplet touched her skin, it hardened and became a beautiful gem. Hephaestus smiled at his sister, pleased with her ingenuity, and carefully picked up the amber stone."
Gabrielle stopped for a moment and listened to Tanna's quiet but labored breathing. Their air was running out and so was their time. Besides the two of them, there was nothing to hear but the silence. No boulders being shifted, no sounds of picks hitting stones as the miners tried to find survivors. The bard knew then that the two of them were lost, doomed to lie forever in this place that would be their tomb.
She continued her story, even though they might have another few moments of life if she stopped. But for some reason she wanted to finish the tale. It would be the last one she ever told, she knew, and besides, Tanna seemed to like it.
"Giving her sister a wry look, Athena came forward. She had to admit that Artemis' creation was indeed unique. She knew if she wanted to she might come up with an idea as unique, but she was the Goddess of Wisdom and knew that creating didn't need to be flashy. So with a simple gesture, Athena waved her hand and a deep purple gem fell at Hephaestus' feet. The Smith God chuckled appreciatively at the goddess' gift and gave her a slight bow as he picked up the amethyst.
Apollo also decided to create a new stone for Hephaestus, but unlike Zeus, who had used lightning, he decided to use the sun's light, but not its heart, for the world still needed the sun. So gathering a sunbeam to him, he compressed it in his hands, changing its very nature. After only a moment, he was done and Apollo handed Hephaestus a clear, golden stone. Hephaestus was pleased and called it a topaz."
Gabrielle was starting to struggle for breath now, but stubbornly she kept sharing her tale with Tanna.
"Finally, it was Aphrodite's turn. With a dazzling smile she walked up to Hephaestus and opened his hands, displaying all the gems. Diamond, Jade, Ruby, Pearl, Onyx, Emerald, Amber, Amethyst, and Topaz. They were all beautiful and glittered, each very pleasing to the eye. To her mind there was nothing left to create, nothing left to give Hephaestus. Looking up from the jewels to Hephaestus, the Goddess of Love grew sad. Hephaestus wanted something special, but she had nothing to give him. Tears rose to her eyes and threatened to spill over. Hephaestus' eyes grew wide in concern. With a trembling hand he reverently touched the tear. As his finger brushed it, the tear fell and changed, becoming a deep blue sapphire. More tears fell, to land on the ground between the two gods. Seeing what had..." The bard's words were coming in short spurts, as her lungs tried to breathe in the thick and stale air, "happened, Aphrodite bent down and picked...up the gems and placed them...in Hephaestus' hands."
"Aphrodite...had given...her gift...and...the...other...gods...would...agree...Love...was...the... most...beautiful...of...all...colors."
Gabrielle's eyes fluttered slightly as the last words of her story trailed off and she lost consciousness. Despite the darkness that surrounded her, she could see a dazzling waterfall, made up of numerous, glittering, colorful jewels, in her mind's eyes.
"Gabrielle! Wake up! Come on! Please!"
The bard tried swimming up out of the black warmth where she was trapped and strove to open her eyes at the insistent voice. She should know that deep rumbling voice, but for some reason the person's identity played with her, keeping itself just out of her mind's reach.
"Wake up, Gabrielle!"
Gabrielle struggled with the shadows that threatened to drag her back under, but something kept her from drifting away. Protective arms wrapped around her and held her safely. Slowly, ever so slowly, she became more and more aware of her surroundings and finally she opened her eyes.
There before her was a face she knew. A face that brought out such feelings of love that her heart ached. Blinking, she could see other concerned faces surrounding her also. A little girl, whose name was Tanna the bard realized, and several dirty, scruffy men in mining gear. To Gabrielle, however, there was only one face that mattered. The name came to her along with a flood of sweet memories tied to it.
Long, flowing, black hair that framed a strong but beautiful, bronzed face. Full lips that could give the fiercest of snarls or the most tender of smiles. And eyes...eyes of sapphire blue.
Well, here we are again.
This story was inspired by a documentary about precious gems and a Xenathon that lasted sixteen hours straight. *G* I thought, "Hmm...why not combine them?" So I did. But, as I was writing this one, I came up with another idea. A series of stories that I'm calling, "Tales From The Bard". I hope you all like them.
Anyway, I hope you've enjoyed this first one and stick with me for the others.
Have Katiepult. Will stop throwing tomatoes at Gabrielle for a sapphire or two.
"Bard? Where? I haven't seen one lately, but do you know what an em dash is, perchance?"
(That was a rhetorical question, btw. It was sort of an elbow aimed at one of my editors.*G*)
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