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by Christa Baran
Disclaimer: Theyre not mine. I think you could have figured that one out without my help. Ive been told that some people see subtext in my text. The same thing is true of the show as produced and shown on television. As for whether it is intentionally there ...do you see it? Yes? No? Great. Thats exactly what I had planned. Feel free to tell me if you liked it. Or not.
"Well, this is it." Xena heard her own words echo back from the rough, stone cave walls. She walked slowly down the passageway. She didnt want to, but there was no other way to go. Turning back, she saw the bank of the river, dark and cold. Mists rose from its surface, swirling around the hunched form of the ferryman. He sank his pole deep into the mud to push the boat back to the other side. He didnt look back at her. There were more people to bring across.
Xenas head dropped forward a bit. Come on, she told herself. Ive never backed down from a challenge before. This is hardly the time to start. With a little shake, she continued down the dark walkway. There was a light down at the end, and thats where she was going to have to go. Alone.
She entered the light, and as she had expected, arrived in a throne room. It was empty, except for a man dressed in black, lounging on the throne. He had his elbow on the armrest, and his forehead against his fist. "Where is she, Hades?" The warriors voice sounded too loud to her ears.
The man looked up. "Right this very minute? Having a little discussion with her husband, I believe." Xenas face went still, and her heart froze. She had been hoping against all logic that Gabrielle would be waiting for her here. "She wanted to stay until you got here," Hades continued, "but I couldnt let her. Too much work to be done. I sent her on as soon as her hearing was over."
Xena nodded. "So shes in the Fields now." It was a statement, not a question. Sure Gabrielle wasnt perfect, made mistakes, but there never was any real doubt as to where she would end up. "Did it take long?"
"No. One of the shortest ever, for someone who wasnt a child." Hades leaned back in his chair. "And now for you. Are you ready for the Judgment?"
Xena laughed, a short humorless bark. "I could have used another fifty, sixty years. But since Im here now, we might as well get it over with." Hades gestured to another, smaller chair, and Xena sat down. Across the room sat a giant set of balance scales.
"To start with," Hades began, "we allow those who are still alive to cast a vote. Any coherent thought on what your fate should be can be counted. I do give more weight to those who actually interacted with you." Above the scales appeared a grey mass that solidified into stones. Each stone had a name engraved on it. After a moments hesitation, the color of the stones changed. Some became bright white, others black. The white stones fell into one bowl of the scales, while the black fell into the other. The white far outnumbered the black. "That was the easy part. Now, the dead get to cast their votes. Each person will come in, and present their case, either for or against you. You dont get to argue. They have their right."
A curtain behind the scales fell back to reveal a familiar form. "Sisyphus." Xenas voice was a barely audible rumble in her chest. His smirk and cold eyes let Xena know exactly how much he was enjoying his vote.
"As Speaker for the Tortured, it gives me great pleasure to do this. Hope to have you join us soon." He held out his own grey stone, and tossed it in the black side of the scales. As it flew through the air, it turned black and splintered into a rain of stones. Sisyphus was savoring his moment when a large guard grabbed his arm.
"Back to your pit, Slime."
Xena looked bewildered. "What was that?" she asked.
Hades sighed. "Those in Tartarus who have a specific punishment given still have the opportunity to vote on any new arrival. However, if they were to be allowed to present their votes individually, most would try to vote on everyone who came along in order to get a break from their task. So, we have a lottery. If there are enough votes to be cast, one of the Tortured, as they like to call themselves, is allowed to bring all of the votes to the hearing. Unless I change my mind. Crushing their hope for a rest is just another of those little torments. Cant give them too much promise down there. After all, theyre there for a reason. Next!"
The curtain parted again, this time to a boy from Amphipolis. "You said that we were going to protect our home. I believed you. I followed you. How was attacking other towns protecting ours? I was killed by a woman in one of those towns. She was only trying to protect her own home. I died because of you. You lied to me." Another stone turned dark and clanged in the bowl.
The very woman who had killed the boy was next. "You slaughtered me for protecting myself. What did I ever do to you? Besides accidentally braining that boy? If you hadnt attacked us, he wouldnt have died. It was you. All you." Clang.
The stones fell like rain. Dark looks accompanied dark stones and dark words.
"... my son ..."
"... my house ... "
"... did nothing to you ..."
"... hurt ... "
"... death ... "
"... pain ... "
After an oppressive number of people, there came a change of tone in some.
"Thank you ... "
"... saved ... "
"... love ... "
"... chance to try ..."
"You did your best ..."
The scale tipped back and forth. Xenas heart felt heavier and heavier with each dark stone, and the light ones did little to lessen the pain. The faces of the people, some that she remembered but most strangers, blurred with tears she refused to let fall. A blond girl stepped up to the scales. "You dont know me," she said. "You never saw me. I was inside the house when your army came through. I have reason to hate you, though. I am Adriane of Cirra. Youve met my sister, Callisto." Xena had to bite the inside of her cheek to keep her strangled cry inside. "I never did find out exactly what happened outside. I just know that Mother and I were hiding in the bedroom when the roof caught fire. The thatch crumbled onto the floor in front of us, blocking the door before we could get out. The smoke was everywhere. We screamed for help, but it got too hard to breathe. We died before the flames collapsed the house on top of us.
"But thats not what I came here to say. Ive watched you. Ive seen what youve done. I saw you try to help Callisto come back from that dark corner of her mind where shes hidden. No, Im not here to condemn you. You have tried to make up for your sins, and I forgive you." A white stone left her fingers. Xena sat, stunned, for several minutes, not moving. Finally, Hades cleared his throat, and nodded to the door. At long last, there arrived that face that she longed to see.
Her voice trembled slightly as she whispered, "Gabrielle." Her best friend, her love, was going to pass judgment on her life.
"Xena, my greatest friend. You certainly did take your time getting here. If some people werent so stubborn, we would have arrived together. But no. You had to fight it every step of the way, didnt you. I understand. Really, I do. Its just that a day without you is an eternity.
You know, I loved to wake up in the morning and see your face. I could get up and face whatever the world threw at us. It made me happy to look over my shoulder while I was shopping and see you there. You gave me courage and confidence just by your presence whenever I was doing a performance. Nothing made me feel safer than to have your arm around me at night. Having you near me made my life complete. But I have to say, this is one place where I never wanted to see you. I ... I dont know what to say, where to begin."
Hades leaned forward. "Just say what you feel. Consider the things that happened in your life with Xena, the good and the bad, and cast your stone. Youre doing just fine."
Gabrielle took a deep breath, and blew it up through her bangs. "Our life together certainly wasnt easy. Nor was it always happy. We had some tough times, didnt we? You did lots of things that I didnt like. You would fight instead of talking, kill instead of reasoning. Sometimes, you wouldnt even admit that there was another way, another possibility. You made me so frustrated when you did that. It made me do things that I didnt like. I went along with you, did things that hurt me now to think about. But I followed because I loved you.
"You hurt me, you know. I tried not to let you know how much, but I know you had some idea. You wanted to kill my baby before I had a chance to realize what she was. You didnt trust me to make that decision. You even tried to kill me! And yet ... I forgave you. I stayed with you. Again, I did it because I loved you. I love you now. I always will. So, despite your dark side, your anger and blind spots, I cast my vote." One last, glittering white stone was added to the pile. As the weight settled, all three of them looked to the fulcrum. The needle pointed to the exact middle.
"What is this?" Xena said in frustration. "A tie? How can you have a tie?"
"Wait," Hades replied, holding up his hand. "There is one more stone to be cast."
"Of course. Yours."
"No, Xena. Not mine. Yours." Hades handed her a grey stone with her own name carved in it. "This is the most important vote of all. Youve been presented the facts, the opinions, the events. I now take away all false humility, vanity, excuses and lies from your mind." He waved his hand over her head. "Look at yourself honestly. You cant lie to yourself now. Where do you belong?"
"What do you expect me to say? That I want to go to the Elysian Fields so that I can be with Gabrielle, Solan, Mother, Marcus, and so many others that I love? It cant be that easy."
Hades shook his head. "It isnt. You have to forgive yourself. You have to accept that you made mistakes and tried to do better. If you cant say to yourself that you changed, then you wont let yourself go and be happy in the Fields. You would be condemned to Tartarus, even in a beautiful surrounding. Its up to you, Xena. Where is your heart?"
"So ... wheres Perdicus?" Xena hoped her voice didnt betray her feelings.
Gabrielle rolled her eyes. "He got impatient. He never did have any endurance, you know. He said that he heard enough of my thoughts to know that although I love him, my heart lies elsewhere. He gave up, and found someone new."
Xena felt her heart leap. "Are ... are you OK?"
"Yeah, sure. Shes nice enough, and theyre happy. He would never have been happy with me always wanting to wander around with you, seeing what there is to see here."
Xena smiled lightly. "Wandering with me, huh? What if I hadnt made it? I almost didnt, you realize."
"You had me scared there for a minute. I was afraid you wouldnt be able to let go of your guilt." Gabrielle grabbed Xenas hand as they walked up a grassy hill. "Hades told me that he had made up his mind a long time ago. Back when you got Marcus into the Fields." Xena looked up in question. "Your unselfishness impressed him. You wanted Marcus to be at peace, even though you believed that you would never get to see him again. If youd gone to Tartarus, you probably wouldnt have. Can you imagine going there to visit someone? Not likely to happen, I can tell you." Gabrielle squeezed Xenas hand. "I would have done it for you, though. Only for you."
They reached the top of the hill, and looked out over a beautiful valley. Gabrielles enthusiasm burst out in a torrent of words. "You are going to love it here. I cant wait to show you everything. They have the best market! You dont even need money. People are just giving away the things they make, because it makes them happy. I have made some copies of my favorite stories on scrolls, and ..."
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