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Xena and Gabrielle are the property of MCA/Universal. There is no intent to infringe on this copyright.
This piece is historically based, but it is not historically accurate. Hey, it's the Xenaverse. I figure, if Xena and Disney can create revisionist history, then so can I. All acknowledgments will be given upon the completion of the story, and, finally, this story takes place after "Forgiveness" and "The River." There are mild references made to the previous stories, but you don't need to read them before tackling this one.
|Part I||Part II||Part III||Part IV|
Xena, Gabrielle and Ten Bears swam around to the opposite side of the large boulder. Ten Bears stopped and looked over at his new companions.
"This is the place. Take a deep breath and head towards the bottom. No matter what, do not change direction," Ten Bears advised. "We continue in one direction. You must do as I say. If you do not, then you may become lost and there will be no one to find you. Stay close and follow me."
Xena just looked at Gabrielle with wry amusement. Gabrielle looked back at Xena, but didn't seem at all pleased. This evoked a small chuckle and smile from the warrior. She raised one eyebrow while motioning Gabrielle towards the right direction with a tilt of her head. "No time like the present," Xena said.
"Huh! Funny!" Gabrielle stated through a sarcastic and scant laugh. She was always amazed that Xena could make light of a situation which had such potential danger.
The three floated together momentarily. Ten Bears nodded. Xena nodded back. Then the three took a deep breath and dove downward. That first total submersion sent a cool shock through Gabrielle's body. She pushed herself harder and faster in an effort to fight off the coldness that was starting to build around her as they swam deeper and deeper. Xena, despite her sword and armor weighing her down, moved effortlessly and seemed hardly labored at all. Ten Bears, likewise, swam with an ease and gracefulness about him, even as he held his fur bag in his right hand.
As they approached the bottom, the water's coldness began to dissipate. Then, another surprise, as the darkness gave way to light. The light became brighter and brighter until fabulous colors were swimming all around them. It was disorienting, but Xena kept her eyes on Ten Bears and kept pace right behind him. She was able to see him with remarkable clarity. His form wasn't obscured at all, as it should have been, given the fact that they were underwater. Then Xena realized that it no longer felt like they were swimming through water, at all. Conversely, in fact, she felt as if she were floating on air.
Gabrielle noted the same sensation. On a hunch, she let all the air out of her lungs. There were no bubbles to indicate that they were underwater any more. It was a curious fascination that started to build within her. Hesitantly, she drew in a small breath to test her surroundings. "I can breathe," she thought. "By the Gods, I can breathe down here."
With the newfound thrill of their current experience taking a firm grasp of her, Gabrielle began to delight in the colors that surrounded them. She could still see Xena and Ten Bears in front of her, but she took her eyes off of them so that she could gather in her new rainbow. Bright crimson and orange, violets, blues and indigos surrounded her. This was a luxurious color bath and she intended to enjoy it. As she floated along, a warmth and security that transcended the senses engulfed her. There was a familiarity about those feelings. She couldn't quite place it, but she knew that she'd felt that way before. Right now, she was too enamored with the affection and ambiance of her surroundings to concentrate on the deja vu she was experiencing.
Soon, almost too suddenly, however, the colors began to turn dark. The crimson and orange were replaced with greys and browns. It was no longer a comfortable sensation for her. In fact, the atmosphere became tense and she didn't like the new milieu one bit. Drums started to beat in the distance. At least it sounded like it was from a distance. Small, barely perceptible strokes, at first. Soon, the drums became louder and louder. The crescendo of the instruments was relentless. The consistent cadence was fast and intense. Images started to float around her, blurred at first, but slowly becoming sharp and in focus. Images of men, who looked similar to Ten Bears, dying on a bloody battlefield. They were being felled by men in blue uniforms who were using frightening looking weapons the likes of which she'd never seen before.
Gabrielle was becoming increasingly alarmed. The drums grew louder and louder. The images sped up and seemed to be coming at her so fast that it almost made her dizzy. She looked ahead and was horrified to see Xena and Ten Bears were gone.
"Xena?" she said tentatively. "XENA! XENA, WHERE ARE YOU!" This yelled desperately. "XEEENNNAAAA!!!!"
Gabrielle looked around frantically, losing the battle with herself to control her fearful emotions. The drums, the images, the darkness; it was all starting to take her over and she felt like she was suffocating. She put her hands over her ears and closed her eyes to lock out two of her senses. In her head, she could hear Ten Bears speak, "We continue in one direction. You must do as I say. If you do not, then you may become lost and there will be no one to find you. Stay close and follow me."
She was alone. She hadn't paid attention and now she was stuck with no way out. "No! Xena wouldn't leave me," she thought, remembering Xena's promise. "XEENNAA!!" She yelled again. "XEEENNAA! --AAH!"
Gabrielle shrieked at the feeling of her shoulder being grasped. She turned quickly around and nearly fainted until she recognized the blue eyes in front of her. "By the Gods!" she muttered with a desperate heave. She took a deep breath and sighed with relief, "Xena, I..."
"Shhhhh, come on, quick," Xena pulled her forward, through the dark images surrounding them. Ten Bears quickly came into view and they finally caught up with him. The drums began to subside, becoming a distant echo again. The images became fuzzy and slowly faded away. Soon, there was nothing but the dark grey surroundings again. The drums had given way to silence. It was the most peaceful sound Gabrielle could imagine.
The temperature started to drop again. "Better get ready to take a good breath. I have a feeling were about to need it," Xena advised Gabrielle.
Gabrielle did as she was instructed, fully intending to follow every direction to the letter from now on. Sure enough, the airy feeling gave way to a cool, weighted sensation. It was a certainty now that they were swimming through water once again. They continued on, with Ten Bears in front and Xena swimming side by side with Gabrielle. Up ahead, they could make out what appeared to be the opaque form of the sun. Remarkably, without ever changing direction, they were heading upwards. Closer and closer. Once again, Gabrielle was feeling fatigued. She knew that her muscles desperately needed oxygen. She was working them so arduously, and the prior experience had taken her reserve of strength from her. "Just... a... little... further," she thought. Closer and closer. The sun was becoming brighter. Closer and closer. She could see the top of the water. Closer and closer, then finally... "huuuuuhhhh!!!" She inhaled deeply as she broke the surface.
Gabrielle squinted and blinked the water out of her eyes. She blew air over the top of the water as she exhaled. Her breathing was a little labored, but overall, she'd come through everything ok. She looked around and noticed something very peculiar. As she turned to look at Xena, she could see that the warrior had noticed the same thing, given the look of puzzlement on her face.
"Xena, we're in the same lake. Everythings the same, the boulder here in the middle, the boulder on the other side. It's the same...only..."
"Only it's not the same," Xena finished. "Now I know what Ten Bears meant when he said that he'd gotten that water from the lake."
They looked around, perusing the entire perimeter of the lake, and took in the breathtaking scene before them with all the marvel of a child seeing falling snow for the first time.
The prairie surrounding the lake extended beyond the horizon. Long grasses, gently caressed by the wind. A combination of greens and browns, where the sun had blessed the surface just a little too much. The rolling hills all around provided a peaceful serenity to the area. Xena and Gabrielle had never seen geography of this nature before.
"Xena, I have a feeling we're not in Sparta anymore," Gabrielle said while looking at the vast prairie.
Xena and Gabrielle both stopped at the familiarity of that statement then stared at each other in puzzlement. They eyed each other suspiciously for a moment, then shook their heads in a simultaneous negational motion. "Naahhh!"
"Come on, let's get outta here," Xena instructed.
Ten Bears was already on shore. They swam until they were able to touch bottom, then the pair slowly waded out of the lake. Their wet boots squished against the muddy shoreline as they continued walking towards Ten Bears.
Ten Bears was a small distance ahead of them. He stopped, raised his arm and bag, then hollered with a whooping yell. Xena and Gabrielle exchanged amused glances at one another, then continued walking.
Xena was the first to notice that their boots were no longer making squishing sounds with every step and that the sponge-like feeling of each step had disappeared. She stopped and looked down, only to discover that she was completely dry. Her clothes, her boots, her hair, all dry as if theyd never been in the lake to begin with. The same was true for Gabrielle.
"Xena, what's going on here?" Gabrielle asked in perplexed tones.
Xena didn't say a word. She was contemplating the situation herself. Right now, she had no answers. Not even a guess. After a moments hesitation, she finally spoke, while staring at the horizon, "Ten Bears said that all would be explained in time. I'm sure that we'll get our answers if we're patient. Besides, I still have my sword and my chakram. Thats all I care about right now."
Gabrielle accepted the elucidation for now. "Xena's usually right," she thought to herself. She'd learned a long time ago that it was usually in her best interests to do as Xena says. "Although there have been times..."
As they made their way towards a still whooping Ten Bears, Xena's sensitive ears picked up the sound of horses' hooves. She stopped suddenly and held her hand up to Gabrielle in a halt motion. Within moments, the hoofbeats were audible to Gabrielle and Ten Bears. Gabrielle put her hand on Xena's back, again--that unconscious motion of using Xena as a protective shield whenever she started to become concerned for her safety.
Ten Bears seemed relatively unconcerned. In fact, he started smiling the moment the source of the hoofbeats appeared. Two riders, similar in appearance to Ten Bears, with slight variations in their clothing and headdress and décor, came riding over the hill that concealed their whereabouts until now. Behind them, they each had a horse in tow; two Appaloosas with sharp red-on-white contrasts in their hide that splashed a pleasing color onto the endless sea of grass that surrounded them.
Gabrielle visibly relaxed and walked the rest of the way to Ten Bears, but Xena was still on emotional guard. As the horses slowed from a canter to a trot, Xena trained her eyes on the two riders, narrowing her focus onto their features and finally capturing their eyes. They spied her, and Gabrielle as well, then glanced at each other with confused and somewhat annoyed expressions; but they continued forward.
Xena casually proceeded towards Ten Bears and Gabrielle. Ten Bears looked back and smiled at Xena, but this did nothing to ease the tension she felt in the pit of her stomach. In her usual style, she stoically waited for the source of the tension to reveal itself.
The riders slowed their steeds as they came upon Xena, Gabrielle, and Ten Bears. One rider dismounted and approached Ten Bears.
"Hau Mitakola!" Ten Bears greeted. His salutation was returned. "Xena and Gabrielle, I want you to meet our escorts: Black Elk and Two Moons."
Gabrielle smiled broadly and offered her hand. "Hello, its nice to meet you."
Her hand wasnt accepted. Instead, she was met with a laconic nod from each. Xena just stared, not sure what to think, but not pleased with what she perceived was some very rude treatment of her friend. Gabrielle just took it in stride. "Okaaay! Maybe they dont understand how we greet people," she stated, half to Xena and half to herself.
Black Elk, who was already on the ground, pushed past Gabrielle and headed straight for Ten Bears.
"Black Elk, your behavior is less than desirable. Is this how you treat our new friends?"
"New friends?" Black Elk said in disbelief. "Ten Bears, I think you must be mad. First you tell us that the Great Spirits have spoken to you and that you must find this person who will lead us through this growing conflict. To our last great summer. No one will question your visions, but then... you show up with the very ones we are trying to be rid of."
"They will help us," Ten Bears said.
"They are Wasichu. They are the ones we are fighting. Do you think that they will betray their own kind?" Black Elk snarled. "Not only that, but they are women. What business do women have in a battle?"
"Black Elk, I understand your concern, but you have to trust me on this. These women are Wakan. Their medicine is like none we have ever seen before. If this were not true, then how could they be here? You saw the lake, you saw me go into it alone. Now I come out of it and here they are. Where is the lake now?"
Black Elk looked to where the lake used to sit.
Gabrielle followed his line of vision then grabbed Xena at the elbow. "Xena?! The lake is gone."
Xena turned to take a look. Her eyes registered the shock of the now vacant strip of land that the lake used to rest upon. "Take it easy, Gabrielle," Xena said while maintaining her composure. "Im sure theres a reason for all of this."
Black Elk turned back to face Ten Bears. " I dont understand why the Great Spirits would send you to find a white woman to fight our battles. Maybe it wasnt the Great Spirits. Maybe instead, the vision you saw came to you from Can Otidan, the bad spirits."
Ten Bears rolled his eyes and started towards the horses, but was grabbed on the right shoulder by Black Elk.
"Yes! Can Otidan! You know the stories. They take the forms of young, beautiful women. They lure the hunters away with their charms, and then, when they are away from the rest of us, they do horrible things to them. The hunters are never seen again. These women will be our undoing."
"Black Elk," Ten Bears started with a sigh. "How can I convince you? Can you not see? All around them is the essence of the Great Spirits. You must trust me, my friend."
Black Elk stared suspiciously at Ten Bears. "We will see. We will see how great their medicine is. We will see if they are Wakan as you say."
With that, Black Elk turned back towards the horses. He pushed past Xena and Gabrielle without acknowledging them and jumped onto the back of his horse.
"What do you think just went on between those two?" Gabrielle asked.
"He doesnt trust us," Xena replied. "Were very different from them, Gabrielle. One of the hardest things in life is to have faith in something that youre unfamiliar with. Something that you dont understand."
"You mean, like the time I was in the dreamscape and I had to put my faith in your directions to get me out of that situation," Gabrielle stated.
"Yeah, something like that," Xena said flatly.
"Dont sell faith short, Xena," Gabrielle said.
Xena looked at Gabrielle with a mild curiosity as Gabrielle continued. "I didnt know you when you came to Poteidaia that day and saved our village from Dracos men, but I knew I could trust you. Even after I found out who you were." Gabrielle put her hand on Xenas arm and whispered, "Xena, I knew. I had faith in you from the start and I still do. I always will."
As Xena looked down at the young woman before her, she wondered what it was that she had done that deserved to be rewarded with Gabrielles continued presence. This woman, who stood by her through good times and bad when all other reason dictated that she leave, was her cornerstone of life and she knew it. Without Gabrielle, her foundation would crumble.
Xena just stared into Gabrielles eyes for a moment longer. Finally, she raised her hand and cupped Gabrielles cheek in her palm. "I want you to know that I feel the same about you, Gabrielle. Youve grown into a very capable young woman. Thank you for believing in me. It means a lot to me that youve always been there for me. More than you realize."
Gabrielle leaned slightly into Xenas palm and briefly closed her eyes. Then she took in a short breath and smiled, "You told me that youll always be there for me. Well, Im telling you that Ill always be there for you, too. Where you go, I go."
"Where you go, I go," Xena repeated. She smiled, then put both her hands on Gabrielles shoulders, giving them a reassuring squeeze, before turning back to Ten Bears.
"Well, whaddya say we get this show on the road?" Xena said.
Ten Bears looked at her with confusion. "What show? What road?"
Gabrielle laughed and put her hand on Ten Bears shoulder. "Its just an expression. She means lets go."
"Well, why didnt she say so?" Ten Bears countered. He walked the two over to the horses where Black Elk and Two Moons waited impatiently.
"Xena, you and Gabrielle will ride this horse. Shes strong and obedient," Ten Bears said as he ushered the reins into Xenas hand.
Xena took the reins, placed her hands over the horses back and pushed herself up. There was no saddle on the horse; no stirrups for Gabrielle to help hoist herself up with. Xena extended her arm towards Gabrielle, grabbed hold, and with one quick tug, pulled Gabrielle up onto the horse behind her.
The horses bare back was a strange and unfamiliar feeling to Gabrielle. She placed her arms around Xenas waist and clasped her hands in front, in an effort to help steady herself.
"Dont let go!" Xena said through a half smile.
"Oh, dont you worry about that. The last thing I need is to embarrass myself in front of our two new admirers by falling off this horse," Gabrielle said.
Xena let out a scant laugh and kicked the horse into motion.
They rode for quite a while. The sun was no longer directly overhead, but steadily making its path towards the west. From the position of the sun, Xena determined that they were moving directionally northwest. As they continued to ride, the landscape started to become monotonous. The seemingly endless sea of grass and the continued presence of the rolling hills had lost its fascination. Even Gabrielle had finally yielded to the boredom and was fast asleep, her head resting on Xenas back and her arms still wrapped around the warriors waist.
During the ride, Xena lingered behind as Ten Bears, Black Elk, and Two Moons spoke in a sometimes-animated conversation. Although her hearing allowed her to listen in on the conversation, she wanted to give them time to work things out amongst themselves. It was a difficult endeavor and sometimes she found it nearly impossible to remain silent. But her frustrations were quelled each time, by a very articulate Ten Bears. Even if Black Elk wasnt completely convinced, Ten Bears made an impact. Two Moons had remained silent for the most part, only speaking to ask questions and gather facts. Xena liked him. He seemed to be a sensible man who let his head rule his heart. She determined that he was probably a man of good repute amongst his people. Perhaps sent to propitiate the situation between Black Elk and Ten Bears.
For his part, Black Elk seemed to be a determined and capable warrior. He was bold, direct, and hardheaded, all at the same time. As Xena watched him interact with Ten Bears, she concluded that he was probably a formidable opponent in battle. His presence was required to help provide safe escort back to the village for Ten Bears. It was an interesting evaluation for Xena. During her warlord days, she had made a practice of getting to know her enemies. It had served her well since then. Although she didnt consider Black Elk an enemy, she did make a mental note to keep her eye on him.
As Xena listened, she gathered some information that she felt would be useful to her and Gabrielle.
"Gabrielle, wake up!" Xena shifted her position to try to ease the bard awake. "Gabrielle!"
"Hmmph!" Gabrielle unconsciously responded while nuzzling a little more comfortably into Xenas back.
"Gabrielle!!" Xena whispered again. This time she patted Gabrielles hands. "Come on, sleepy head, wake up."
Gabrielle blinked her eyes open. She was a little stiff from her non-recumbent position.
"You awake?" Xena asked.
"Yeah,.. yeah! Whats wrong?" Gabrielle asked as she stretched her back and rolled her neck.
"Gabrielle, Ive been listening to Ten Bears speaking with Two Moons and Black Elk and therere some things you need to know."
"Im listening," Gabrielle replied.
"The bottom line is, they still dont trust us. From what Ive been gathering, this Black Elk's position is the typical mindset of the whole village. Were gonna have to be on our guard."
"What are you thinking?"
"Im thinking that theyre going to test us somehow. Were going to have to prove that we deserve their trust and respect. I dont know what theyre going to do, but I want you to be aware."
"Got it! Dont worry, Xena. If they do try something, theyre going to find out real quick what its like to go up against Xena and the warrior bard."
"Warrior bard?" Xena said. She looked slightly behind her and gave Gabrielle an entertained look.
"It has a nice ring to it, dont you think? Besides, Ive earned it," Gabrielle stated smugly.
"Is that right?"
"Thats right. Dont forget who saved us from that band of thieves back at our campsite."
"Uh huh!" Xena just raised an amused eyebrow at the thought.
Gabrielle tilted her head up and smiled at her newfound glory. "Gabrielle, warrior bard. I sing the song of Gabrielle...."
"Gabrielllle," Xena drawled.
"gentle bard turned warrior..."
"GABRIELLE!" A little more forcefully, this time.
"All right, Xena. If youre good, Ill be sure and say some nice things about you, too."
Xena just shook her head. She noticed that Two Moons and Black Elk had pulled ahead of Ten Bears and were in conversation with one another. She prodded her horse forward until she and Ten Bears were riding side by side. "Whats the story, Ten Bears? Whats the problem with Black Elk?"
"Black Elk is very proud. Hes a good man, but hes used to tradition. Following the lead of a woman is not traditional."
"You say hes a good man. Tell me about him," Xena said.
"Black Elk was not born a Lakota Sioux. He was born to the Cheyenne, another tribe not far from us. It is not unusual for certain youths to spend time with different clans or even different tribes. Black Elk came to us and was an instant presence to contend with. He was well respected amongst the Cheyenne. A great warrior and hunter. He liked living with the Sioux. He adopted the Sioux customs as his own. One day, it was decided that he would become hunkapi. This is an adopted person. In order to become hunkapi, one must take part in hunkakaga."
"Hunkakaga?" Gabrielle asked.
"Hunkakaga is one of seven sacred rites that make an unrelated person family," Ten Bears answered.
"Sounds fascinating," Gabrielle stated.
"What are these...seven rites?" Xena asked.
Ten Bears smiled. "It is said that a long time ago, a Sacred White Buffalo Calf Maiden visited the Lakota People, bringing with her a Sacred Pipe and a small round stone. These were gifts that were to be used in the first rite, The Keeping of the Soul, which we call Nagi Gluhapi. You see, when Lakotas die, their souls must be purified before they can be judged worthy by the old woman, Maya Owichapaha."
"Worthy for what?" Gabrielle asked. She was always interested in a good story.
"Worthy to join Wakan Tanka, the Great Spirit," Ten Bears said.
"Go on!" Xena prompted.
"Next is Inipi, the rite of purification. This takes place in the sweat lodge. Prayers that are offered there have immense power. The powers of the Earth, water, fire and air are all drawn there. There is a ritual performed in the sweat lodge. Once the ritual is complete and the participant emerges from the sweat lodge, he leaves all that is impure behind him."
Xena and Gabrielle rode silently as Ten Bears continued.
"Hanbleceya is the next step. It is the vision quest. Anyone can undertake a vision quest, but only the worthy will receive one."
"What happens when you seek a vision?" Gabrielle asked.
"First, the inipi is conducted. One needs to be purified before seeking a vision. A vision must be sought in the proper way as well. This is done by having a holy man, such as I am, advise the person seeking the vision. The seeker takes his pipe and goes up to the mountain where he stays, sometimes for days, and prays for a vision. It may come in the form of an animal, a person, or a dream. Dreams are quite powerful. After the vision quest, a person is taken down the mountain by helpers. This is because the seeker is too weak from staying on the mountain so long without food and water. When the seeker is brought down, he is taken to the sweat lodge where he tells the holy man of his visions. It is the responsibility of the holy man to interpret those visions."
"Visions, rituals, holy men... your culture fascinates me. Its so different from the Gods that were used to," Gabrielle said.
Xena remained stoic, offering only tacit responses where necessary. She wasnt really buying into the concept of the visions and the rituals, but she knew that Ten Bears was as firm in his beliefs as she was in hers. She wasnt about to degrade or devaluate those beliefs just because hers were different.
"Please, tell us more," Gabrielle requested.
"Yes, where was I?... Ah, Wiwanke Wachipi! The Sun Dance. We have a prayer that says O, Wakan Tanka, be merciful to me that my people may live. It is for this that I am sacrificing myself. Every year, in the month of June, we have the Sun Dance. The first Sun Dance was revealed to a Lakota named Kablaya in a vision."
"Believing that his people had become lazy in their prayers, the Wakan Tanka sent them a new way of praying. This was the Sun Dance. Each dancer was to sacrifice their flesh by either tearing or piercing."
Gabrielle visibly flinched.
"The dancers would have their flesh pierced," Ten Bears continued, "and thongs of rawhide were threaded through it. Once it was threaded through, the rawhide thongs were tied to a tree placed in the center of the dance circle. The dancers would then dance until the thongs broke free of the flesh. Sometimes this would take days. The flesh was then offered to Wakan Tanka."
"Thats some offering," Xena stated matter-of-factly.
"Yes, but it is a sacrifice that we are willing to make in the hopes that our people may live through a battle," Ten Bears countered.
"Still, it seems so extreme," Gabrielle noted. "Cant you just put out some food, or offer some material items?"
"No, Gabrielle. We take our visions very seriously. Wakan Tanka has let it be known that this is the way into his favor. In our eyes, this is a very small sacrifice. Besides, who are we to question our Gods?"
"Wed be remiss if we DIDNT question our Gods," Xena stated.
"Yes, our Gods are quite different arent they?" Ten Bears asked rhetorically.
"OK, ok! Whats next?" Gabrielle waited eagerly for the next rite.
"This next rite is the Hunkakaga, the making of relatives. It is fairly simple. It is a ceremony that takes place over several days. Near the end of the ceremony, the faces of the participants are painted. Once a face has been painted, it symbolizes rebirth in that person. Rebirth, new responsibilities and a new relationship for that person. The person then becomes part of the tiyospaye, the village. A person can become part of the tiyospaye by birth, marriage or hunkakaga."
"So this is how Black Elk was adopted by your people?" Gabrielle asked.
"Yes! This is the rite that was performed with Black Elk. He is a Cheyenne, but he is also now a Lakota Sioux."
"Xena, could you imagine? Wouldnt that be great to become a part of the Sioux nation?" Gabrielle stated cheerfully.
"Youre dreaming, Gabrielle. Were going to have our hands full just getting these people to trust us, let alone adopt us."
"Theres nothing wrong with dreaming, Xena."
"Hmmnn! I suppose youre right," Xena noted.
"Whats that? The warrior princess is giving me a little credit for being right?"
"Only when its warranted," Xena joked. "Dont get too used to it."
The two women chuckled for a moment. As they did so, Ten Bears silently admired their closeness and affection for one another. It was obvious that there was a deep bond between these two. It was intangible, but always present. One small part of their ever growing allure as far as he was concerned.
"Ten Bears, you said there were seven rites. What are the other two?" Gabrielle asked, interrupting Ten Bears train of thought.
"Ah, the next rite is Isnati Awicalowanpi. It is a girls coming of age. Do I need to explain that to you?"
"Uhhhh no! Thats alright. I think I know what that is. Next!"
Xena looked back at Gabrielle with a mocking smile. Gabrielle responded by digging her clasped hands into the warriors stomach.
"Hey now! Take it easy," Xena remarked.
Gabrielle pursed her lips, raised her eyebrows, then turned back towards Ten Bears. "Now then, you were saying?"
"The last rite is the throwing of the ball, Tapa Wankaye Yapi! The ball is painted in a ceremony before the throwing, making it sacred. It is painted red with a blue dot in each of the four quarters. Then, two blue circles are painted around the ball. This symbolizes the coming together of heaven and earth. After the ball is painted and the pipe is smoked to offer prayer to Wakan Tanka and the four directions, a girl is chosen to throw the ball. She will stand in the center of the circle and throw the ball in each direction. Each time it is thrown, it is brought back to her. Finally, she will throw the ball in the air. The person who catches it will give it to her again. The girl is a symbol of innocence and purity. Throwing the ball in each direction shows that Wakan Tanka is everywhere. As the ball comes down on the people, his power also comes down, but it is only caught by very few. This is what the ceremony symbolizes. Those are the seven rites."
"Ten Bears, that was fascinating. Thank you for indulging us," Gabrielle praised.
"Thank YOU, for expressing an interest. It was my pleasure. I just hope I told you the story well enough. I am not one of the great storytellers."
"You have storytellers?" Gabrielle asked eagerly.
"Yes! Every night, someone will tell a story about the spirits, our ancestors, someones brave deeds that day..."
"Sounds like youre right in your element," Xena quipped.
"Im really looking forward to this," Gabrielle said through a wide grin.
Just the thought made Xena smile. Gabrielle was the best shed ever heard at weaving a tale, and although she feigned indifference at times, she was tacitly impressed with Gabrielles endless talents, and her ability to communicate through her stories.
As the four rode on, the landscape started to subtly change. The slight sloping mounds gave way to low, rugged hills. A calm, flowing river was up ahead, marked by a tree-lined border of cottonwoods. It was an unassuming landscape, yet it possessed a certain majesty that was more spiritual than physical. Xena sensed it right away.
Black Elk and Two Moons had ridden back with the crowd. "Look, up ahead. The river. We are not far," Black Elk commented.
"These are the northern plains in the Powder River Country," Ten Bears offered. "Our camp is not far. East of here are the Black Hills."
"The Black Hills?" Gabrielle questioned.
"Years ago, our warriors clashed with the soldiers in those hills. They signed a treaty, but they did not honor it. That is why we are here now," Black Elk said. His words were biting and had a bitter tint to them.
"Why dont you explain that to me?" Xena impelled
Ten Bears looked out to the horizon. The sun highlighted his face, accenting the lines around his mouth and eyes, as somberness washed over his features. He closed his eyes momentarily, in remembrance, then took a deep breath and started with his recital. "Our people originated in the Black Hills. Our ancestors have been on these lands for many generations. Our heart is there. The wasichu tore out our heart because it did not beat in time with theirs. Sometimes, I wonder if they even have hearts."
As Ten Bears told his story, his minds eye replayed the events that had led to this day.
The soldiers were camped near Inyan Kara, an extinct volcano just inside the Wyoming border. They entered the hills from the northwest and followed one of the trails that had been heavily used by the Indians.
"General, you cannot go in there. You have too many soldiers here. Also, to invade Pa Sapa, these sacred hills, would be to invite Sioux retaliation," one of the Indian scouts protested.
"We are moving forward. It would please me to have you guide us through," the General stated firmly.
The scouts refused. "No, we will not. From now on, you must gather your own information. You want to invade the hills, you find your own way."
"Very well. I dont imagine that the Rees and the Santees had even been in these hills much. Your information would have probably been useless to me, anyway," the General stated. "Bloody Knife, you lead the expedition."
Bloody Knife, another Indian scout, pushed to the fore and led the soldiers into the hills.
The soldiers had been in the hills for three weeks. Traveling with the soldiers were newspapermen and miners. Finally, while camping in the valley near the French Creek, a miner ran into the camp with a look of pure elation on his face.
"GOLD!! WE FOUND GOLD!!!" he shouted.
This created a furor of excitement amongst the soldiers and newspapermen. The miners had found gold in the Black Hills!
"Charley Reynolds!" the General shouted.
"You are to ride south, to Fort Laramie. Telegraph the news of our discovery to the rest of the country."
"But sir, thats a dangerous ride. Its straight through hostile territory."
"Then ride at night, soldier."
"Yes sir!" Charley saluted the general, then went to gather his belongings.
"The news of gold being in the hills started a heavy invasion into our hills from the white people," Black Elk remarked.
"Why couldnt they go into the hills?" Xena asked.
"A treaty was signed. The white people promised us the land. In return, we would end the wars and raids on their people when they invaded our territory," Ten Bears said.
"These are our hills," Black Elk stated solemnly. "They were ours before the white man came, before the treaty with Red Cloud. They said it was ours as long as the grass should grow, and the water flow. That was only eight years before, and they are chasing us now. Because we remembered, and they forget."
Xena and Gabrielle rode silently, contemplating what Ten Bears had just told them and assessing the situation in their minds.
"They tried to buy the Black Hills. We did not sell them. So, they now come to attack us. Some think that we should sell the hills. They dont want anymore war with the white man. Others are against it. They say that if we give this to the white man, that it will not stop there. Soon, he will find something else that he wants. Then, we will start this all over again." Ten Bears considered, "Its strange to me that a people could be so black-hearted. They try to back out of the treaty, saying that we violated it by raiding the Crow tribe in Montana. Now, they say that they have to protect the Crows and that is why they are taking over the hills and putting my people on reservations. It is a lie." Ten Bears sighed and looked over at Xena.
"Xena, we need your help. Our people dont know how to present a united front. Weve always run scattered battles. No real leader, no real order. We need someone to lead us through this. Even now, the soldiers are making plans to attack us."
"Ten Bears, if we do help you, and you win, what is to stop them from coming back and trying again?" Xena asked. "We cant stay here forever, you know."
"This is the battle that we must win." Ten Bears rubbed his forehead then ran his hands over his eyes. "This is our last chance, our last great summer in the old way of life. The Great Spirits of once are becoming no more. The day is approaching that we will no longer be able to lead our lives in the old ways, but if we win... if we win, there will always be hope. Its the hope that we are fighting for. Without hope, our people will perish."
"Ten Bears, we are almost at camp. I will ride ahead and prepare our warriors for the arrival of these two. Its best that they not be surprised," Black Elk stated.
"Yes, you are right. Go, then, and be safe," Ten Bears replied.
Black Elk nodded, then turned his horse and whipped it into motion. It wasnt long before he disappeared over the horizon.
"We will be there soon, Xena," Ten Bears said.
Again Xena said nothing. Gabrielle tightened her grip around the warriors waist and rested her head on Xenas back. She was slightly disconsolate about Ten Bears recent account.
In Xenas mind, she knew that their first impression on these people was important. She didnt know what to expect, but she was going to be ready for whatever was thrown at her. Face-to-face with the Sioux nation. This was the encounter she was apprehensively anticipating. It wouldnt be long, now.
Xena had let her mind wander, trying to create a picture of the events that Ten Bears had described. With her mind occupied, time had passed rather quickly and it seemed like mere moments until she felt Gabrielle grip her sides tightly.
"By the Gods, Xena," Gabrielle whispered. "Look at all of them."
Xena scanned the plains slowly, her eyes widened by the awesome sight before them. Over a thousand lodges were nestled before them. It looked as if there were several thousand inhabitants in the camp. As they neared the village, Xena could make out the many activities of the inhabitants; the cultivating of vegetation by the women, children playing in the river, groups congregated together in conversation, and a general laziness that accompanied several of the warriors. She let a half smile creep up on her lips before it was abruptly stolen by cries from the women nearest to them.
"WASICHUS, WASICHUS!" was the cry.
Women gathered their children up and ran for the cover of the camp. The commotion caused a large gathering to congregate, as the curious and the wary watched their approach.
Ten Bears cursed under his breath. "Where is Black Elk?"
Gabrielle straightened up and cast her eyes about the village. As they reached the camp, she gazed upon the faces of the inhabitants. Several eyes gazed back at her. Most showed a complete distrust, some showed fear. The looks upon the warriors' faces, however, were almost that of hatred. As she continued to look around, she could feel the muscles in Xenas back become increasingly tense.
Xena was on full alert. The hairs on the nape of her neck started standing up. "Remember what I said, Gabrielle, and be ready."
"Uh huh," was the assenting response Gabrielle gave back.
They pushed their way to the center of a large, gathering crowd and finally stopped. Ten Bears dismounted, motioning for Xena and Gabrielle to do the same. As Xena slid off the horse, her eyes scanned the surroundings. She helped Gabrielle off of the horse, then turned to Ten Bears.
"Ten Bears," she whispered. Gabrielle leaned in to listen. "What are those sticks that the men are holding?"
"Theyre coup sticks," he whispered back. "Our warriors feel that it is braver to hit an enemy with the coup stick than to strike him down with an arrow from afar. Its almost a game, to see how close you can come to your enemy and still survive."
Xena raised an eyebrow and gave Gabrielle a look of warning. Looking around them, she saw a meat-drying rack with several poles all tilted inward and tied with leather to keep it upright. The tipis surrounded them on every side, and just off to the left and back were several untethered horses creating a carpet of brown on the green, grassy pasture.
The crowd was gathering around them, coming closer and closer. Guarded whispers and glaring stares filled the air. Gabrielle shifted in her uneasiness. She looked around at the villagers, then back at Xena. Xena looked back and gave her a reassuring nod.
"Here, Xena, lets take the horses over and have Little Feather take them to the others," Ten Bears said, indicating a young boy just off to the left.
Xena put her hand on Gabrielles shoulder. "Stay here."
Gabrielle just smiled and nodded.
Xena grabbed the reins of the horse and started to escort it over to the boy. At that moment, a piercing cry filled the air.
"Aiiiiyayayayayaaaaahhhhh!!!!" A warrior was riding fast on his horse, his coup stick in the air, headed straight for Gabrielle.
"GABRIELLE!" Xena shouted. She ran over to the meat rack, knocked it over and loosened one of the poles. "CATCH!"
Xena launched the pole in Gabrielles direction with unerring accuracy. As it landed in her hands, Gabrielle pivoted to her left, swung her makeshift staff around and clubbed the onrushing warrior in the stomach. The blow sent him flying from the horse. He landed with a thud, body parts intact, but with his pride smarting.
This unexpected development momentarily stunned the crowd, but they quickly recovered. Xena and Gabrielle found themselves being rushed by several warriors, all with coup sticks in hand.
Xena ran to Gabrielle and took her battle position at her side. The first warrior came at Xena with his stick raised high above his head and yelling to the wind. His motions were frantic as he waved the stick all around him. He closed in upon Xena, his emotions on fire, yelling and screaming, twirling his coup stick. Xena reached back with her right hand balled up in a fist. The warrior, still yelling, still swinging the stick, came right up to Xena. She swiftly propelled her fist forward until it connected with his jaw, immediately silencing him and dropping him onto the ground, unconscious.
"GABRIELLE LOOK OUT!" Xena yelled.
Gabrielle turned and saw the men approaching her from the right. She swung the pole at the first man, knocking the stick out of his hand. Then she thrust the pole into his stomach, doubling him over. The second man came at her from just behind the fallen warrior. She swept the pole in an arc from right to left, but he successfully dodged her attack and swung back at her with an overhead strike. Gabrielle recovered from the miss and raised the pole horizontally above her head to block his strike. His stick struck the pole and reverberated through his arm. He tried again, first from the left, then from the right. Each time he tried to get a hit in, Gabrielle effectively blocked him. Finally, she swept the pole upwards, striking him on the wrist and dislodging the coup stick from his hand. Gabrielle then turned on her heels and spun around on her knees while bringing the pole around and behind his knees. He hardly had time to think before he was being swept off his feet, hitting the ground next to his fallen comrade.
Xena, in the meantime, was taking on a group of warriors. They had cut her off from Gabrielle and formed a circle around her. Suddenly, they all rushed her at once. Xena gave a yell and somersaulted into the air and behind the circle of attacking warriors. They were clubbing thin air until they realized that she was not there. Dumbstruck, they looked up at each other.
"Oh, boys!" Xena taunted.
The warriors turned and looked at Xena. She was waving and smiling at them. This was infuriating and insulting to such proud people. Enraged, they rushed her again. Xenas smile turned into a wicked grin as the warriors approached. She ran up the front of the first man to reach her. Using his body as a springboard for her backflip, she flipped in the air and, on the way down, kicked him in the jaw, sending him backwards into his companions. The next warrior came at her with his arm raised, ready to strike. She grabbed his arm with both hands and jammed her left thumb into his wrist, causing him to drop the weapon. With the stick successfully dislodged, she gripped his arm even harder and started twirling around in place. The warrior went flying into the air, knocking down all the others that came close to them. When the last man was knocked down, Xena let go of the warriors arm and sent him flying towards the crowd which had now backed up in awe and slight panic.
Xena looked back at Gabrielle to see how she was doing, when she heard the distinct twang of taut strings.
"Aiiiiyiyiyiyiyi!" she yelled, as she somersaulted back towards Gabrielle. A portion of the crowd stepped aside, revealing five more warriors with their bows and arrows in a ready position. Simultaneously, they let go of the bowstrings, sending the arrows straight for Gabrielle.
Gabrielle barely had a second to look before Xena pushed her out of the way. With a swift downward arc of the right hand, Xena pulled four arrows out of the air. At almost that same instant, she reached up with her left hand and grabbed the fifth arrow.
With that sight in front of them, all the turmoil came to a halt. The Indians just stopped and looked around at one another. Xena glared back at the inhabitants of the tribe and threw the arrows onto the ground in disgust. Gabrielle was sitting on the ground where Xena had pushed her out of harm's way. Xena turned around and immediately went to help her partner.
"Are you all right?" Xena asked with concern. She knelt onto the ground and was giving Gabrielle the once-over.
"Yeah, Im fine. Thanks to a certain warrior princess," Gabrielle uttered with a smile. "Hey, nice touch, grabbing that meat-rack pole."
"Well, I knew someone who could use it to her advantage," Xena said, smiling back. "Come on, lets get you up."
With that, Xena reached her arms out and helped Gabrielle up off of the ground. As Gabrielle dusted herself off, Xena spotted Ten Bears angrily approaching Black Elk.
"What was this all about? You said you were going to let everyone know that we were coming!" Ten Bears sternly rebuked him.
"I did. Im sorry. We had to be sure that they were as you said they were. If they didnt have the medicine, they would not have lasted. I can see now that they are indeed Wakan," Black Elk stated. He then turned towards the crowd of onlookers and raised his coup stick in the air. "WAKAN WAKANTU!!!" he yelled. "WAKAN WAKANTU!"
This elicited a deafening roar of approving cheers from the crowd. They slowly started to gather around Xena and Gabrielle. The women were reaching out and touching Gabrielles hair. They put their hands on her arms, examining the muscular strength in them. Gabrielle was a little surprised, but willing to accommodate their curiosity. Xena on the other hand...
As curious hands reached out towards Xena, she stepped back and drew her sword from its sheath. The startled group backed away, instantly.
"Xena, they just want to touch you. Theyve never seen anyone like you before, you know," Gabrielle said in an amused tone.
Xena just raised her eyebrow and pursed her lips. "Yeah, whatever." She resheathed her sword and stepped next to Gabrielle. The crowd around Gabrielle dispersed with Xenas approach.
"Well, I guess we survived their test. You were right. How did you know?" Gabrielle asked with respectful admiration.
"It was just a feeling I got while listening in on Black Elk and Ten Bears. Ten winters of blood and battle give you a feel for these things."
"Xena!" Black Elk called to her as he walked up to face her. "Please accept my apologies. We had to be sure that you were the one."
Xena walked up to Black Elk and stared straight into his eyes. "I dont care what you try to put me through. I can handle anything you want to dish out," she said in a venomous, low tone. "But you are damn lucky that nothing happened to her. That I cant forgive and THAT, I wont forget. So youd better make sure that the rest of our stay here is a very pleasant experience for her. You got that?!"
Black Elk swallowed hard. His mouth had gone dry and he was having a hard time speaking. Finally, clearing his throat, he nodded to Xena in understanding, "Ive got it."
Just then, the Indian villagers started emerging with robes, beads, baskets of food and other miscellaneous gifts. They presented them to the two women by placing the gifts at their feet and humbly backing off.
Ten Bears walked up to Xena and motioned a young boy over. "Take these over to that lodge," he directed, pointing out a tipi at the base of the river. "That will be your lodge for the remainder of your stay with us," he looked at Xena and gave her a smile. "Youve done well. No one doubts you, now."
"I can think of better ways to prove myself than this. I dont suppose your people couldve just taken your word for it?" Xena asked with an exasperated tone.
"Xena, Im beat," Gabrielle related. "I know its a bit early, but do you think we could call it an evening?"
Xena looked at Gabrielle, then over to the tipi. "Yeah, I could use a little bit of horizontal time. Ten Bears, if you dont mind..."
"Not at all. Go rest up. Tomorrow we meet with the circle of elders," Ten Bears said, then he turned and left.
Xena and Gabrielle walked the short distance to the tipi and went inside. It was pleasant enough. The food, robes and other gifts had been neatly placed inside by the young boy who had been entrusted with the task. On the floor there were two bedrolls placed on either side of a firepit that was lying dormant in the middle of the tipi. There was a small opening in the top of the tipi to let in fresh air and allow the smoke its release if a fire was built.
"This looks pretty cozy," Gabrielle noted.
Xena sighed and chose a bedroll to relax on. "Yeah, its all right." She unhooked her sword and chakram, placing them against the wall of the tipi, then slowly eased down onto the bedroll. Xena tucked her right arm under her head and closed her eyes, taking in a deep breath and letting it out with another sigh. It had been a long day already and she felt that she could really use the rest. Silently, she thanked Gabrielle for the suggestion.
Mere moments had gone by when Xena felt a strange sense of being watched. She opened her eyes and turned towards Gabrielle. "Whats wrong?" Xena asked, noticing that Gabrielle had been staring at her with a morose look on her face.
"I was just thinking," Gabrielle said. Her gaze shifted downward.
Xena propped herself up on one elbow. "Yeah?"
"Xena, everythings been so complicated since weve been here. This land is strange; these people are strange. Im just getting a little scared, thats all."
Xena looked down thoughtfully for a moment, then got up off of the ground. She picked up her bedroll, walked over to the other side of the pit and placed it next to Gabrielles. This got a noticeably pleased smile out of Gabrielle.
"You want to talk about it?" Xena asked.
"Yeah, I do. Xena, you didnt say anything, so Im not sure if you saw the same things I saw, but when we were swimming through the lake and I lost track of you..."
Xena put her hand up, motioning Gabrielle to stop. "I did see it, Gabrielle. Id be lying to you if I said that I wasnt concerned by what I saw. Those soldiers in the blue coats. Those weapons that they had. Ive never seen anything like it before, and Im not sure how were going to battle something with a power that awesome. I didnt say anything because I didnt want to frighten you. But dont worry. Well find a way. I promise."
"Its not just that, Xena." Gabrielle raised her gaze to meet her friends. She saw nothing but warmth and concern in Xenas eyes. "These weapons are like nothing weve ever experienced before. I cant think of anything in all of our battles thats even remotely prepared us for this."
Xena reached out and grabbed Gabrielles hand, giving it a gentle squeeze. "We'll be fine."
"What if were not, Xena? Remember back in Laurel, when you were putting together that flying parchment to bring the power of Zeus to Earth?"
"Yeah, and?" Xena asked hesitantly.
"I said, then, that, one of these days, the law of averages was going to catch up with you and you werent going to be right. Xena, what if this is that time?"
"Gabrielle, if you recall, I got that flying parchment to work. Ill work this out, somehow, too."
"No buts, Gabrielle." Xena looked at Gabrielle who was staring at the ground again. She took her free hand and gently lifted Gabrielles chin, revealing a pair of emerald eyes filling with silent tears. "We cant live our lives wondering if these are the end times. If we do that, then we cage ourselves. We become so paralyzed by our fear of the what if's that we cant go on living, and, in a sense, thats when the end times begin. Its not our physical death, its our mental and emotional deaths. To me, its all the same."
"I just dont know what I would do if something were to happen to you. I know you. Youre going to go in there, no matter what the odds are. What if you dont make it out this time? Can you guarantee me that youll come through this alive?" Gabrielle and Xena stared at each other. "Can you?" Gabrielle pleaded.
"No, I cant," Xena replied honestly. "You know that. You know that every time we go into a battle. This is no different."
"This is different, Xena. We dont know what were up against." Gabrielle looked pleadingly into Xenas eyes. "I dont want to lose you, again. I couldnt take that. Especially here."
"Gabrielle, if you want to go back..."
"NO!" Gabrielle shot back. "No. Im not going back without you. Where you go, I go. Remember?"
Xena smiled at the woman in front of her, "I remember." She patted Gabrielles hand and let go of it. "Come on, lets get some rest."
As they both reclined, Gabrielle positioned herself at Xenas side with her head on Xenas shoulder and her arm around Xenas waist. Xena, in turn, wrapped her arm around Gabrielles shoulder and pulled her in for a tight embrace.
"Were gonna get through this, Gabrielle. Were gonna get through this," Xena whispered.
The two fell asleep inside the tipi, under the early evening sky. Just outside, a pair of eyes took in the location of the tipi. All that had transpired before was witnessed by those eyes, and now, their owner quietly excused himself from the camp and headed out over the hills. This was something that the General should know.
|Part I||Part II||Part III||Part IV|
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