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The Bards Song
by Martin Tapparo
(occasionally known as Satachrist)
Foreword, Forewarning and Disclaimer (three in one):
Hello, dear reader. I just wanted you to know how much I appreciate your interest in my tale. However, there are some things that have to be said before you can enjoy the doubtful pleasure of reading this story of mine.
I think I should mention that this is my first attempt at fan fiction, so do not expect expertise. Im still a beginner and the story will reflect that. On the other hand this could be quite refreshing.
English is a foreign language for me and Im still faaaar from mastering it in any sense. Well, even this could prove to be quite refreshing though.
The story itself is rather untypical. Thats a fact and in its essence thats neither good nor bad. In fact it depends entirely on you.
However, theres violence and bloodshed. Consider yourself warned.
Maybe you should know that there is some sort of subtext contained here. No, nothing pornographic or anything, not much to worry about really. It just had to be said.
Oh yeah, and the usual. Of course, as everyone knows, I cannot, will not and dare not make any claims concerning Xena, Gabrielle, Argo, Callisto, Autolycus and the rest of the bunch. Renaissance Pictures and MCA Television would probably be very enthusiastic to tell you why.
Balor, Cian, Manannaun, Eleith, Lugh, the harp and the whole story of Cians quest belong to the mythology of the Celts, to be exact: the Irish. I didnt take that too seriously though, for I swapped it all around a bit to better fit the story.
Galen, Leonder, the appearance of the harp and most remaining characters are my own invention. Pooh, this should complete the list. If I forgot something Im sorry. Only human. Even if some of my friends told you otherwise.
Time index: indefinite. Maybe it never happened.
Last not least the music:
"The Bards Song" (was slightly altered to fit the theme)
If you liked, hated or what-ever-ed the story, please e-mail me: firstname.lastname@example.org
The Bards Song
|Chapter I to III||Chapter IV to VI|
Chapter IV: Howling at the Moon
The sun vanished. The last traces of that golden light went with her. A solitary star finally found the courage to rival the lost rays of the sun. And the moon displayed its scarred skin.
Still Gabrielle sat on the burned grass and gazed up to the sky. She didnt even know what to find there, just a glimpse of hope maybe.
No sleep had come to her this day. While Xena roamed the lands of the dreaming Gabrielles mind refused to find rest there. But she knew now that it wasnt necessary. Sitting here gave her all the tranquillity she needed.
She had thought about examining the stone circle but decided that it would have been inconsequential. Galen had given her all the information she needed. And she trusted him. She believed in him.
I see you in my dreams, she thought.
In her memory the last few days stretched to the length of a hundred years. So much had happened, so much had changed. Yet it all felt natural, it felt right. But how can you rely on your feelings when it comes to dealing with the ancient power called magic? Well, you have no choice. You can only rely on your feelings. On your heart...
The solitary star was beginning to attract followers. Courageous little stars. Shining but always alone. And the moon towering above them.
Gabrielle left the place where she had spent the last eight hours. It was time to look after her friend.
She was startled when a lonely shadow appeared in front of her. Her mind searched for a fitting verse and her fingers flexed above the vibrating strings of the harp.
"If I were you I wouldnt do that. Unless you desire to have a new enemy and I could bet that you already have enough of em, eh?" said the shadow.
Gabrielle relaxed. "Leonder. Its not nice to sneak like that."
"I dont sneak. You were so occupied with your dreams you wouldnt have heard me if I had the feet of an elephant."
The old woman stepped forward. The blinking of the stars was louder than her feet. She smiled motherly at Gabrielle. Then she gazed up at the moon.
"Youre treading a dangerous path, young bard," she said. "What do you expect from this direction? Power? Respect? Immortality?"
"I have to stop Balor. Someone has to do it."
"Is that all?"
"The music. The feeling of creating. I cant live without it anymore."
"Ah yes, the music, of course. She is the oldest and most creative form of the Art. But she is also chaotic and close to uncontrollable. I dont know if youre aware of all the facts..."
"I know what Im doing," said Gabrielle.
"Of course you dont! You have no idea what kind of deal you made!"
The words sounded like the roar of a dragon. A wave of presence hit Gabrielles senses and she was almost thrown back by the sensation. But the roar died down and was again replaced by the weak voice of the old woman in front of her.
Leonder lifted one of her skeleton fingers and pointed at the moon.
"What do you see?"
Gabrielles gaze followed the line to the brightest light at the sky.
"The moon," she said. "The radiant torch that refuses to let the night be swallowed by darkness."
"How poetic," murmured Leonder. "Look behind it. Behind the facade. What do you see?"
Gabrielle narrowed her eyes. Her perception shifted, leaving her slightly disorientated for a moment. But she knew now what the woman meant.
With fascination Gabrielle watched the moon watching her in return. A scarred, old but friendly face smiled back at her. Then it winked.
Desperately Gabrielle tried to shake the image out of her head...with no effect. The pale face still looked at her with vague interest.
"Do you understand?" asked Leonder silently. "Magic changes everything. Everything. The world you were living in up to now turns out to be no more than a lie. Or rather a preventive pair of blinders. Well, they are off now and you can never get them back."
The witch turned to the bard.
"Why dont you take a careful look at me now?" she asked.
Gabrielle focused her new sight.
What she saw now was beyond any visual perception. The small figure of the old woman was replaced by a symbol of burning energy, woven into a pattern of many entwined streams, like a complex net of strings. Everything was dominated by a strict force of order.
"I have never seen magic arranged into such structures," mediated Gabrielle.
"Of course you havent," said the old woman who again stood there where the statue was a moment ago. "You only know this freestyle magic. By far too insecure. I prefer the precise form of the Art. Not as creative and not as powerful, but by far more reliable."
Leonders voice lowered itself to a whisper.
"Gabrielle, youre wrong if you think that magic has become a part of you. The truth is that you have become a part of magic. You are a receptacle, a medium, maybe even a shaper. You can direct and even control magic but youre not her master. She wont allow that."
"Why are you telling me this?" the bard asked.
"Because I thought you should know the whole truth, the whole gravity of the choice you made."
"But someone had to do it. Someone has to stop him."
"Indeed. And you are capable of doing it, that is certain. Your talent is to create and the Art gives you the power to create anything you want. Not even I could do that, and I had more than enough time to practise."
"Huh. These are really more compliments than I could take in one row," said the bard.
"As I said I only tell you the truth."
Suddenly Leonder looked around as if she had seen this place for the first time since she got there.
"Blimey, what are we still doing here? Come. Your friend could awake any minute. And she will want to see you."
With these words the old woman returned to the village.
Gabrielle winked back at the moon and followed her.
The last discussions and planning took place in Leonders house. But all three found out that there was not much left to say. They all knew the prize and the consequences of failure. They had only one try. And if they wasted this one not even the gods could help them. Or anyone else.
Nevertheless, they mentioned every possible incident that could get in their way. But all of them knew that it was no more than an attempt to lift their mood and summon their courage, to create an frail aura of security. It was for naught, but they were thankful for the attempt.
At length Xena and Gabrielle found themselves again alone in their room. They both tried to delay the moment when they would lay down and close their eyes as long as possible. When they would awake the next evening...
Xena put out her grindstone and began to sharpen her sword. Gabrielle sat beside her and tuned the harp. Both were unnecessary actions for Xenas sword couldnt get sharper than it already was and Gabrielles harp was always in tune. Nevertheless the room was filled with the noises of grinding metal and singing strings. It continued like this for twenty minutes before Gabrielle found the strength to speak.
"Yes?" She stopped at once, thanking the gods that she didnt have to make the start.
Gabrielle fell silent. She was not sure if it was right to say what she thought.
"Ehm Xena, I just wanted to tell you that I love you. More than anything or anyone else."
Xena took her hand.
"I couldnt have said it better."
"Of course not. I am the poet," said Gabrielle, trying to joke the tension away. Without success. Some moments cannot be overcome by humour.
"Look Xena. We have experienced so much together. And...ehm...we also went through a lot of dangerous situations. But I think this is special. Maybe none of us will return. And maybe only one of us will survive. But whatever should happen, I want you to continue when Im gone. Will you do that for me?"
Xena squeezed her hand.
"I swear it."
"I didnt say you have to swear."
"Its ok, Gabrielle. No use to try to lift the mood."
Gabrielle blushed. Not because of Xenas comment but because of what she wanted to say next.
"This may be our last night together."
"And after that we will perhaps never have the chance to be together again."
Gabrielle lowered her gaze.
"Do you think we should..."
"Gabrielle, look into my eyes."
The bard raised her head again, facing the warriors gaze. She could see a lot of things in those eyes. Friendship, worry, regret, love, certainty and sorrow. But no...
"What do you want to ask me?"
"You just wanted to ask me something. You said `do you think we should...` and then you stopped. Now, what should we do?"
Gabrielles thoughts fled from one corner into the next, doing everything in their power to avoid a conclusion. But in certain cases there is no way back. This was not one of those cases.
"What I wanted to say is should we...eh...sing one last duet? Hey, this is your last chance to say yes." It didnt sound too convincing.
Xena thought about this.
"Oh. All right. It was worth the try."
Gabrielle devoted her attention again to her harp and Xena continued to treat her sword. In the corner of the warriors mouth a smile became visible.
Maybe next time, she thought.
Leonder shielded her eyes from the setting sun. She wasnt used to this kind of light anymore. Too bright.
Her two companions stood at her sides. They performed this last unofficial ritual together. Saying good-bye to the sun. Watching the darkness claim the world. Waiting for the night.
"Well," she said to break down the atmosphere. She couldnt stand so much pathos for long. "Paint me black and call me a raven but it looks like its time for us to go, huh?"
Gabrielle threw a glance at Xena. The Warrior Princess stood there like a stone figure.
"Yes," she said.
Wordless they descended the hill and took their positions in front of the stone ring. The moon was not in a hurry to take its position. The seconds stretched into hours, lifting the pain of waiting to unbearable levels.
When it at last shone directly into the ring, Xena spoke.
The bard nodded. It was true. Something was happening. Her new senses shifted into a different perception. It appeared as thought the moons rays would stretch the space between the stones into eternity. Gabrielle thought she was looking into an endless tunnel with no light at the end. Yet she could not see where it began.
Her fingers became impatient and her mind was already repeating the verses Galen had taught her over and over. She was as ready as she could ever be. No way back. The time was now.
Gabrielle swallowed and hoped that her mouth would suddenly feel dry so that she had to have another drink before she could begin. But this was not the case. Damn, she thought. She had never been very good at lying to herself.
She tilted her head back. The moon looked down at her in anticipation. She winked at him, took a deep breath and closed her eyes. A light jolt went through her legs and all the way up her body like a lovers forcing caress. When it reached her heart she had no choice but to start.
The harps voice and her own eyed each other questioningly for a few moments before they embraced one another and commenced to spread. The two melodies could almost be seen (in fact Gabrielle could see them) as they formed symbols in the air and slowly surrounded the stones with their ethereal bodies.
Leonder gasped. To say that she was not impressed would have been a perfect lie. And as you should all know tales dont lie.
Although Xena could neither see nor feel any of this she still understood that there was a lot of raw power involved in this act. The stones seemed to step aside to make place for a greater realm yet they didnt move. Whenever Xena tried to compare the space inside the ring with the one outside, disorientation struck her, threatening to throw her off her feet. So she focused on the realm inside, observing with fascination how it grew in front of her eyes although it never changed. At the corner of her perception Xena also noticed that the sound of the words Gabrielle wove into the music sounded foreign yet familiar. She was positive she had heard it before. But where?
When the song was finished they all gaped in awe at the scene in front of them. Dead grass and black dirt covered the ground of the dark country. A dim river cut through the plain, blocking their way to the menacing castle beyond its shores. Smoke hugged its lance-like towers like a shadow crown. All of it was completely untouched by the light of the moon. Still, the sky was lit in a pale eye and soul-hurting way. It had no visible source, but it shone with the triste intensity of an illuminated shroud. A place built from nightmares that never grow old. We all carry this fear in us, no matter what age we are. Some things are truly eternal.
A whole world had surfaced on the field. Yet it did not expand beyond the borders of the ring. Merely thinking about it made Xena dizzy.
Everything around her had become silent. She spoke:
"Well, uh, what now?"
The bard stared at her work with a doubting look. She shook her head slowly.
"Somethings wrong. Theres still no borderline visible, no entrance. Where would you enter this thing?"
Xena examined the structure thoroughly. She could see no point where the two realms connected. For now they seemed to be altogether separated. Her reasoning screamed in agony followed by a cold shudder. She had to admit that this was simply not her domain.
A few words were uttered beside them. One could have been "buggrit!". But not necessarily.
Then Leonder stepped forward and gave the whole thing a hearty kick.
A shattering sound could be heard. Something broke before their eyes without being seen. At the border of the ring they beheld the beginning of a path. They both looked at Leonder.
"You know," said the witch. "Sometimes magic is like an ass. You have to hit it a bit before it works."
Then she stepped into the new realm and turned around.
"Are you two coming?" she asked before she went on.
Xena looked at her friend in disbelief. But Gabrielle merely shrugged her shoulders and smiled as innocently as possible.
Together they followed their companion.
Chapter V: Shadow Light
A muffled croak could be heard nearby. In fact it was very near. Too near.
Xena turned around to face Leonder.
"What was that?" she asked in a rather annoyed tone.
"Oh, it wasnt me," assured the witch. "It was just lil Smirky ere. He doesnt like this place. He knows it all too well."
The witchs hand vanished in her bag and reappeared holding a toad. Trained observers would have been struck by the incredible wide mouth which lend the amphibian a very peculiar expression. Those who didnt know better would have said that it... looked dull.
"Where did you find him?" asked Gabrielle.
"I didnt. He found me. Last night he came hopping into my room. I have a heart for small ugly animals. Maybe its one of these self-identification things you hear so often these days."
"But why? He tried to kill Filios!" exclaimed the bard shocked. The shock was partially induced by the way her voice lost itself in this bleak ether.
"Naah, that was when he was still a zombie. Now hes a toad. You know, you cant become a toad and still have the mind of a zombie. It doesnt work that way. If you become a toad you become one altogether. And toads are better thinkers than you can imagine. I like them somehow. An this bugger here could come in handy sooner or later. Dont forget that he knows his way around this fortress."
"We will not have to rely on a toad," said Xena.
"Well," said Leonder, "should you ever get as old as I am you will learn that you can never be really sure of anything."
The warrior felt the urge to massage her forehead.
"Dont mention it," said the witch. "I always have this effect on people."
Xena shook her head.
"If this toad doesnt want to be here we can at least assume that it is sensible."
"You bet. More sensible than any of us Id say."
They all looked at the landscape before them. The grass was brown and rotten beneath their feet. The air around and inside them stood still. The river moaned in the distance.
"Do you think he knows that were here? Did he feel us coming?" asked Gabrielle lowly.
"I doubt it," responded Leonder in the same tone. "His mind is not fully awake yet. Thats why we have a chance at all. But eventually well meet one or more of his spawns."
"Let us go," said Xena and began to walk towards their destination.
They met their first difficulties some minutes later.
"It really didnt look that broad from up there." Gabrielle bit her finger and looked rather distressed. "I should have thought of that. But I didnt. Any ideas?"
"We could swim," suggested Xena.
Leonder looked at her in horror.
"Swim...you mean in the water?" she managed to ask.
"Thats no good, Xena. They call this the Dark Waters. Who knows whats in there," said Gabrielle.
"Who calls it the Dark Waters?"
"Well, Galens people. What do you mean?"
"Were still in Greece, Gabrielle. There are no Dark Waters here."
"What is this then?" the bard pointed at the dim river.
"It is something that is supposed to look like the Dark Waters."
Xena knelt down and dipped her hand into the water. Nothing happened.
"It is cold but not deadly."
Leonders knees started to shake and produced some funny noises.
"If there were only some trees around here," said Xena thoughtfully. "We could at least build a substitute for a boat. Anything that swims..."
The item in her hand made Gabrielle look down. The whisper was wordless but she understood very well.
"I could...try to conjure something," she said.
"Good idea!" roared Leonder. "I say let her try it! Yes, yes!"
Xena was a bit taken aback by this proposal. The thought of Gabrielle producing anything but worthless poetry was new to her. Finally she shrugged her shoulders.
"Nothing against it."
With slow steps the bard approached the water. No reflection greeted her. As her eyes closed, her mind began to build thoughts that would...well, swim. Hopefully.
Where is the difference between creating music and creating a boat? The answer should be obvious. But if you think about it on a higher level it is quite the same procedure. There is a certain incoherence though. Gabrielle was just experiencing it first hand. Music does not have to be touchable or stable at all. In fact it is supposed to be immaterial (this is by no means a necessity, people just prefer music that cannot bang their heads). Now, while an illusional boat can be an artefact of true beauty it is surely nothing you would put your feet on, let alone cross Dark Waters with.
So, it was not easy. Nevertheless Gabrielle did it.
Opening her eyes again she saw the boat drifting before her feet. Hm. All right, it looked rather like a raft than a boat. An old raft. A bit small, too. With holes. And without an oar.
"It is better than nothing," she said after an endless period of communal silence. She had to admit that it didnt look incredibly impressing.
"It will suffice," said Xena and jumped onto the raft.
Leonder gave it a wary glance as if she expected it to bite her as soon as she came too close.
"It has holes."
"It will float," said Xena firmly.
"Maybe it will. But I wont."
"I said it is safe. Believe me. It is by far strong enough to carry the three of us."
"I am a bit overweight. I know I didnt tell you..."
"Look, Leonder," Gabrielle had stepped between them. Motivating people was her job. "Its really not that bad. I hate water, too. Well, in such amounts anyway but we have to do it. And if Xena says its safe then that is what it is. Trust me."
"Ah, this believe me, trust me thing again." She couldnt take her wide eyes from the water.
Then her face turned into an angry grimace.
"Buggrit!" she cursed, and made her way onto the raft. Gabrielle smiled and followed her.
"Do you have your broom with you?" Xena asked.
"Core. Never leave the house without it." Leonders eyes suddenly grew suspicious. "What do you want with my broom?"
"I need something in order to row this thing."
"Oh. Of course. Eh. Here."
Xena took the broom and began to row. And it did move. And it did float.
Galen leaned against the oak tree. He was exhausted. Out of practice.
"No rest now. I had more than a hundred years time for that."
He straightened up and calmed his breath. Finally he smiled.
"Lucky she didnt want to create a whole bridge."
Nothing. Not one move. Not one single move. They didnt even blink.
Xenas eyes narrowed in horrified fascination. She had been watching the seven guards for more than an hour now. Waiting for any signs of weakness, tire or lack of motivation. Nothing. They stood there and stared into different directions, eyes always open, not letting down the alertness for one moment. The perfect guards. In contrast to the other creatures they met, these were well armed, equipped with the finest swords and protected by strongest armour. Their bodies were so fresh that they almost looked human, except for their black, blistered skin and the white, burning eyes. All of them were exceptionally tall and perfectly trained. Judging from the way they simply stood there Xena could only assume that they were warriors of the highest rank. She recognised excellence when she saw it. No doubt, Balor had chosen only the best to guard the gate.
Without a sound Xena crawled back to the others. She hated to bring bad news.
"How does it look?" whispered Gabrielle. They were more than three hundred meters away from the gate but she didnt want to take any chances.
"Not good," said Xena. "These...things are the best. One could think that theyd be statues of great warriors but theyre still too alive for that. Well...maybe alive is not the correct word but they are capable of causing severe damage."
"Can you take them out?" asked Gabrielle.
"Possible. But not as silently as I planned. The fighting noises will be heard from here to Athens."
"Fascinating," murmured Leonder. "Know whats weird? How could this bugger know that someones going to find him? I mean that we are here is an almost unimaginable coincidence."
"Maybe not a coincidence," said Gabrielle. "Maybe destiny. He was once betrayed by destiny, he wont make the same mistake twice. He has become very careful now."
They all looked down at their feet. Obviously no one had an incredible idea or a grandiose plan. But they had to do something.
"We will attack them from three directions. Surprise will be on our side. If we bring them down before reinforcements arrive we might have a chance," said the warrior securely.
"I can try to make them stumble again," remarked the bard.
"Thats the point. You can try. Are you sure it will work?" asked Xena.
Gabrielle lowered her gaze.
"Well, then I will need you with your staff. Leonder?"
"Got my broom ready, mate. Both of us are prepared to do some serious butt-kicking."
"I could try something else." Gabrielles eyes began to glisten. Her mouth was half open. Xena knew her well enough to identify signs of upcoming enthusiasm.
"Why should we get aggressive at all?" the bard questioned.
Xena had to admit that she didnt understand. "Well, because we want to beat them. We want to bring them down. What did you think?"
"There are other ways. We could let them sleep."
"They dont sleep, they dont tire at all."
Her fingers closed around the harp. Xena breathed in sharply.
"I did conjure the boat, didnt I?"
"The raft, yes. But we had more than enough time then to deal with eventual unforeseeable consequences. This time we only have one chance, and not even a very good one. If it doesnt work and we attract attention..."
"Yeah, what then?"
Leonders head turned wordless from one woman to the other.
"Well," Xena began. "We would have to start a fight."
"Wouldnt we have to do that anyway then?"
The warrior thought about this.
"All right. You have one attempt and one attempt only, so you better make it your best performance. Ill be right next to you, sword in hand. If anything goes wrong, steel will be the only voice youll hear."
Gabrielle swallowed and crawled forward. This will not be easy, she thought.
Seeing the seven subjects of her work, she suddenly realised how hard it would really be. Her friend was right. These creatures looked like statues. But they gave you the distinct feeling that they could move very fast if they only wanted. If they had reason to. However, they did not look like creatures who could be sung to sleep.
She inspected the environment. The others were observing her expectantly.
Yeah, right, just make me nervous.
A faint memory from her childhood teased her inner eye. Or ear. A song she had thought forgotten. A melody her mother sang to her when sleep refused to take her little heart into the dreams. She remembered now.
Magic comes in many forms. Sometimes obvious, sometimes in disguise. Did you never ask yourself why some things worked out if you just concentrated hard enough on the fact that they simply had to? Did you never experience a wish coming true at the right moment? The full moon above two lovers heads? A melody that exactly fits the theme? Yes. Magic can be so subtle.
The words were not important. Her heart was pounding against her breast, excited about the upcoming performance. Let me sing...
The lullaby was barely audible. An ordinary man might have only detected a trace of harmonious silence in the air. Like a mist made of satin it covered the space between its creator and its destination. It slowly grew louder. More powerful. Yet never aggressive and never obvious. Subtle like a lost memory. And with each note it became more beautiful, more enchanting. Sirens in midnight rain. Waves so delicate they can only be seen with your skin. Cradle of...
Xena did not realise she was dreaming before she was woken up again.
She blinked and tried to shake off the sleepy sensation that had conquered her. She controlled the gate. The guards were still standing.
The bard looked at them with interest. She rubbed her chin and took a few steps out of their cover before Xena could hold her back.
Gabrielle walked closer to one of the guards and waved a hand before his eyes.
Without turning around she gestured for her friends to come closer. When they stood behind her she opened her mouth as if to say something. But she only shook her head.
"Ill examine the gate," whispered Xena.
The doors were more than ten feet high and made of reinforced steel. However, the real problem was that no lock could be seen on the outside.
"Wheres Autolycus when you need him?" asked Xena.
"We can try to pry it open," Gabrielle suggested sarcastically.
"I dont think that will be necessary," said Leonder, shoving warrior and bard aside. She pulled up her sleeves and made some disgusting smacking sounds. Then she rubbed her hands together and laid them on the door wings. Her fingers joined into a complicated rhythmic drumming that lasted for more than a minute.
The witch took a step back. Then she put one index finger against the door and gave it a kind push.
Without a sound the door swung open.
"Good trick," said Xena while passing her.
"I knew it would come in handy one day," Leonder said with unconcealed pride.
Balor dreamed. Until a hundred years ago he didnt know that gods could dream at all. But they could. And some did. The realm of dreams was not reserved for humans. Some gods entered it willingly and rejoiced in the infinite beauty of its structure and complete lack of it. Many of them never returned. Not the Dark God of Light. Not Balor.
He could feel himself drifting towards awakening. His mind sped through the tunnels of his subconscious, stirring towards the surface. At least he believed it was his subconscious. Anyway, he was very close now. All time eventually passes. And he was very patient.
Nothing would sway him from his aim. Not even this foul course could stop him. It had been a futile attempt at weakening him. But soon he would arise, more powerful than before. Powerful enough to crush every opponent that dared to stand in his way. Yes, he would burn them all! See their flesh burst into scarlet tears, ascending to the skies in a cloud of stench.
Soon. Very soon...
Something grabbed Xenas arm.
"Hes here," said Gabrielle in a voice that mixed terror and courage into determination. "I can feel him. Hes awakening."
The warrior pressed her lips together. She was not too proud to admit that she was afraid. Well, at least not too proud to admit it to herself.
"Then hell be wide awake before we reach him," stated Xena.
"Nahh, bloke, you think in the wrong dimensions," explained Leonder. "This guy is a god, right? With gods everything is bigger, weirder, more extreme. He has been sleeping for over hundred years, see? It will take him several days to attain complete consciousness."
The other two exhaled, relieved.
"But we should hurry up anyway," continued the witch. "Im gettin hungry."
On their way they had passed a number of tunnels, stone corridors and small rooms. This castle was bigger than it looked from the outside. And it seemed to change shape while they walked through it. A living labyrinth. Their method was not terribly inventive either. They just tried to get to the centre, relying on Xenas senses and Gabrielles intuition. They made progress. But they were also hopelessly lost.
"Maybe we should have drawn a map. Not that it would have been much use..." remarked Gabrielle.
Xena shook her head. This place acted like a human mind. Logic was not a fundamental part of its structure. Attempting to force logic into it only made her dizzy.
"You know, Ive experienced this before," remarked Gabrielle. "In the dreaming nothing makes sense. At least not if you think about it. When youre there all seems perfectly normal. Perhaps if we..."
"Stand here for another bloody hour and lament over our miserable situation? No way, fella!" interrupted Leonder. She was sick of talking. Somebody had to do something. "Been through worse things in my life. Am not going to ridicule myself by failing because of this little problem. I think its time for our mate Smirky to take over the lead. Hey Smirky!" She took the toad out of her bag. "Come on, pal! You know the way, doncha?"
The toads face displayed keen disinterest and an extremely low IQ. Experts would have also detected a tendency towards sleep coupled with some displaced arrogance.
Leonders wrinkles shifted.
"All reet, let me put it this way: you either help us or Ill turn you back into a human!"
The toads eyes widened. Its IQ seemed to have increased all of sudden by at least...well, not much really. But it was obviously enough to make its owner understand the gravity of the situation.
The toad did a short croak and jumped off Leonders hand. It hopped down to the nearby stairway, stopped after five steps and waited patiently for the rest of the group.
Her companions were baffled.
"What kind of threat was that supposed to be?" asked Gabrielle a bit bewildered.
"Dont ask me," replied the witch. "But it worked when I used it the first time. Looks like you get a whole new view of life when you are a toad." She shrugged her shoulders.
Xena decided that it was best for her to take the position of the rearguard for now.
A rumbling went through his entire body when he sent his howl to the pale face above him. And he enjoyed it. Every time.
His whole being cried out to the white luminance in the sky. With all the passion of a musician in ecstasy he repeated the call. And it was answered. The fur at the back of his neck prickled. Pairs of yellow lights glimmered in the darkness around him. The night cared for her children.
The rest of the pack awaited him with impatience. His head twisted insignificantly which was the equivalent of a nod. The others displayed their mutual agreement. They had all come. Even the young ones, some of them still puppies, had joined the gathering to take part in the fever of the hunt. For them it was most difficult for they hadnt yet cultivated a feeling for what it meant to be a wolf. They still lacked primal instinct. He was one of the best.
Hunting became increasingly more difficult these days. The planes of their home country were deserted. Game was rare. In the end it didnt matter. They had the whole night. Nothing could escape their senses.
One of the young sniffed at his leg. Filios licked his ear. They had so much to learn.
The stones of the seven caught his attention. He looked at them and blinked. He scraped at the ground with his right foot. The others understood. They all missed her. They all hoped she would return in good health.
But for now they were relieved to not hear her constant growling.
Leonder smiled wickedly.
"And some people call me egocentric."
The great hall the three stood in was lit by a thousand candles. In the corners of their eyes shadows crept to and fro, leaving the walls prone to flickers of darkness. The heat was immense. Vaporising wax laid itself on skin and lungs, marking the places with its seal. In burning shades of red slept the flame of this light that spread its tiny glimmers like wings feathers.
But all attention rested on the walls.
Gigantic pictures and majestic carpets covered every single inch of stone. A tale was told in these powerful images. The tale of a god. Ink and blood created sceneries of a long forgotten song, a legend of a time when the stars were still worshipping the sun, twinkled on his command. It was cruel and devastating. A tale so evil and dark that humans decided to rid their memories of its dreadful presence.
It was also very powerful.
"Good gods," exclaimed Gabrielle breathlessly.
"Are you sure?" questioned Xena. Even she was admittedly impressed.
"Right now Im pretty much sure of nothing," returned Gabrielle. "This is incredible. The history of a god."
"Tale," corrected Leonder. "The tale of a god. History has nothing to do with this."
"How old do you think it is?" The bard wandered through the hall, never letting her gaze slip from the walls in fear of missing a detail. It was useless. There was no end in sight.
"Who can tell? It begins with the dawn of time. Somewhere along the line a god was born. Or created." Leonder spat without meaning any disrespect.
"Look! This must be his birth. I...I dont understand the picture."
From the twilight the gods emerged. One of them was burning with light. Wrath. Darkness. Who can tell.
"These...are these...hands?" Gabrielles hand rested on the shadows of one carpet. "To hades with these goddamn candles! If we could only have more light..."
"These things are not meant to be seen clearly," stated Leonder. "Some of the details should remain obscure. No one could decipher them."
"But why? I mean he couldnt have known that wed get this far, into this room. And his minions dont read."
"Maybe he cant identify them himself. Maybe the truth is hidden to him as it is to us. Or maybe the truth itself isnt specific. He knows as much as we do. All that is written down in legends. It defines his whole life, his existence. He is nothing without it. But even he himself is only allowed to see it by the flickering light of candles. One or a thousand, it does not matter. He can never see the whole story. Maybe because it is not decided."
"Why does he keep it?" the bard wondered. "He knows who he is."
Leonders voice became damp. "Think so? If others define your existence how can you ever be sure what you are, who you are or why you are?"
"What?" Gabrielle asked absent-mindedly.
"Nuffin. Not important."
Gabrielle wandered on. Her eyes examined the area as if she was looking for something.
"Here. This is where Cian found his daughter and Lugh, the god of the sun, was born. What...? He is weeping. This picture shows him weeping. Tears..."
"So even the gods weep," said Xena. She had never thought about it before.
"He looks almost human."
"Now youre exaggerating."
Gabrielle suddenly stopped. Her gaze rested on the carpet that adorned the end of the hall. It was crowned by the painting of a warrior clad in golden armour, wielding a sword of light.
"This is the last one," she said. "His death. It portrays his death at the hands of his own grandson."
She turned into Xenas direction. "He knows. He knew it all along. His death is already written down."
The warrior stared at the picture. Leonder closed her eyes.
"He knows how hes going to die. And when. He knows that he has no chance. His battle is already lost."
"Let us go," said Xena. What they had just learned was not meant for mortal eyes. She took Gabrielles arm and led her to the door.
"He knows," Gabrielle whispered absent-mindedly.
When they were gone Leonder still stood there. At last she opened her eyes. A sad smile played on her lips.
"You have my sympathies," she said and left to keep up with her companions.
Gabrielle stumbled a few meters behind her friend, still caught in a thought that was essentially senseless yet elemental.
"One dinar for your thoughts," said Leonder.
The bard looked at her. She wished she had a chance to draw back the offer. The young womans thoughts were quite obvious.
"Dont think about it," said the old woman. "It wont get you anywhere."
"But its...so..." She looked resigned.
"Yes," said the witch. "Exactly."
Gabrielle eventually managed to shake off the idea. She had to think about something else.
"We shouldnt have left your people all alone out there," she said.
"Oh, dont worry about them. They can take care of themselves."
"You know that there are not enough guards in here. This can only mean that theyre somewhere else. Out there. And Melana-"
"They are good kids, dont worry. You saw only one side of them. They are stronger than you think." Leonders voice sank to an amused whisper. "Regular beasts at times."
At a certain point in a story we ask ourselves where the storyteller will take us. We wonder where (and sometimes when) the final confrontation will take place. How will this story end? We wonder whether it will be a happy ending with everyone getting rich and married and where the evildoers finally get theirs, or whether it will be a sad ending, tragedy, where the hero (or the heroine, these are modern times) proves unable to overcome her own weakness or destiny. I want to remind you that this is my story and I will tell it as I see fit. And if our heroes have to die to make it a good story then so be it.
But there are more than two types of endings. Some are so entirely strange that we dont really know if they were endings at all. And then some are so traditional that we spontaneously experience a fleeting moment of nostalgia.
Then we wait for the moral of the story. Every good story has one, right? Well, some do and some dont. And sometimes the moral cannot be recognised as such (partially because it is everything else but moral).
Sometimes it leaves us with rapture, sometimes with disappointment. Sometimes with a feeling of insecurity. But all stories end.
Even this one.
Xenas eyes narrowed.
Gabrielle licked her lips.
They all shared the same thought. But Xena was the first one who spoke it out aloud.
"I dont like it one bit."
The two-winged door that towered before them was made of black wood and largely resembled the entrance to the fortress. But its ornaments were as delicate as those of the outside door were massive. No human being could have crafted this one. The symbols glimmered in shades of gold yet they would refuse to shine. A single huge eye adorned the centre of the left wing, a smaller, more human one gazed out from the right wing. Still, after everything the companions went through they probably would have dismissed it with a shrug. Had it not been for one detail. The doors were open.
Xena shook her head and repeated the words she said before, pronouncing each of it with the weight of a hundred.
"I Dont Like It One Bit."
"Such an incredible lack of all security measures makes me excruciatingly suspicious, gentlemen," murmured Leonder, who had temporarily lost her accent again.
Gabrielle blinked. Like the two arms of death itself these doors were waiting for her. Inviting her to a cold embrace. The golden symbols twinkled like blinking eyes. It took Gabrielle a while to notice that they were the same as on her harp. (No. Galens harp. It was Galens harp.) Runes. Letters that seemed to be alive. Beyond the door was only darkness.
At the edge of her awareness Gabrielle could hear her friends talk ("You think what I think?" - "Yep. Im still neither dumb nor old enough to walk into a brightly marked trap. Theres gotta be another way..."). She didnt understand what they were saying and it was not important. Not now. Maybe not ever. She knew what she had to do.
With boring routine Xena turned around to tell her friend that they would split up to search for another entrance.
"Gabrielle, we...Gabrielle, NO!"
Her body started forward before her mouth could finish the sentence. But it was too late. Xena watched the time stretch in anxiety as the doors closed behind Gabrielles back, feeding her to the darkness within. The clanging of the wings as they fell into one anothers hands was theatrically loud. And it left the rest of the world to the silence of an ended performance. Curtains...
Xenas lungs caught fire as they tried to battle against the almighty silence. Her hands hurt as they repeatedly slammed against the wood. She had left her alone. She had left her alone...
Leonder chose her tone carefully yet it had to be loud enough to pierce the warriors screams.
"Xena. I think we are not alone..."
Eyes made the air near Xenas neck swing. More than two. They were not alone. No...
She turned around to face a group of freshly unburied corpses with white eyes.
"You just arrived in time," she said. "I feel the urge to blow off a lot of steam."
Instead of slowly fading to the remembrance of a candle, the darkness gained on substance. This was not the mere absence of light. It was a force of its own. The room that surrounded Gabrielle didnt feel empty. It felt crowded. Crowded with darkness that had taken form.
Balor looked down at her. His monstrous shape rested on a throne made of black human bones. The bard in her recognised an extreme symbol for infertility. Absence of life. Absence of any potential for life. Barren...
A gesture with the claw let a sourceless pale mist of glamour appear. Twilight flooded the hall. Yet the darkness would not leave. It waited. Patiently.
Thoughts intruded Gabrielles mind. Not aggressive but determined. She was clever enough not to resist. Then she knew. He had already seen his own demise yet he would not go without a fight. He would never grant destiny a warless victory. He would fight and when the occasion presented itself he would destroy Gabrielle and the harp. He knew he couldnt win but he refused to accept it this way. He was a god after all. It would not all end here but something would end. A part of the tale would be concluded in these halls. Gabrielle couldnt help wondering if that part was also written down already.
Balor still looked at her. He waited for an answer.
Gabrielle swallowed. Her throat felt like sand. She could really need a drink now.
"We dont have to fight," she managed to say...well, whisper. "I mean, it would be silly, dont you think? It would not be necessary."
Would she let him go then?
"No. No, I cant do that. Look, why dont you just surrender and we will find a peaceful way of..."
A slit of lightning flashed in Balors eye.
A few inches beside Gabrielle the ground exploded. She threw her body to the other side and ducked for cover. She knew it was useless but it comforted her somehow.
She drew the harp close to her. The time of talking was over. The moment of battle was here.
Her friends would break through any minute.
Gabrielle recognised the thought as not being one of her own. He didnt care. He wanted this fight. He wanted it to end. Tired of waiting.
A familiar tension surged through Gabrielles body. Its palms caressed her heart, led her fingers over the strings. Her voice cried for freedom.
And the beginning of the end commenced...
It broke under her fingers. Slowly. She could feel it. Just a few more knocks...
"How long do you still need?" screamed Xena as she fended off another well aimed blow at her chest. These five guards that occupied her were excellent warriors. Strong and agile, and gifted with an incredible talent for creative moves. They could have probably replaced a whole army. Really good. Xena almost started to sweat.
A wave of crimson blood swept against the door.
"Cant ya be a bit more careful, laddie? Im tryin ta concentrate ere, ok?"
Leonder wiped the blood from her face and continued to knock against the wood in selected rhythmic patterns.
"Almost through, almost..."
A separated hand hit her in the back. Leonder ignored it. She had to finish this first. The blood burned in her eye and tickled as it ran down her back.
She did the last knock.
The remains of a beheaded body slammed against the door. With a cracking noise it broke open.
"Eh..." said Leonder, "Im through! Im through, dammit! Come on, Xena. We have a score to settle."
"Go first, Ill follow you right away," said the warrior. She still had to cope with three guards.
Broom in hand Leonder entered the hall. And what she saw was enough to make her forget walking.
"I be damned..."
The forest around him stood in flames. The power was waning and the dreaming displayed this progress in every detail. The fire consumed Galens realm. The trees first. Then the sky. The moon already began to sweat fearful pearls of starlight.
Yes. This was the final battle. The battle never fought.
The oak tree was wearing the colours of autumn.
Music versus Lightning. Creation versus Destruction. Human versus God.
Locked in each others incorporeal grasps Gabrielle and Balor stared at one another, cast their arts at each others minds and souls. Their personas were not important anymore. This had become a war of elements, of principles. And even if they wanted to, they couldnt surrender now. It was too late to stop.
Gabrielle grew tired.
Leonder tried to remain professional with this one. It was all nothing more than a manifestation of the Art. A kind of magic so to speak.
Still, being completely aware of this fact would neither make her eyes stop staring nor her mouth close. Even for a some hundred year old witch with lots of experience there were limits. This was definitely beyond said limits.
Describing the war of forces in all its fatally fascinating details would be a serious challenge for the best of storytellers. Maybe Homer would have found a way. However, I dont. Therefore I will tell you what Leonders eyes (and her slightly sarcastic mind) saw at that moment.
The Arts chose forms of their own sometimes. Not usually. Most confrontations were by far too minor to attract the attention of the great forces. Used in small bits magic could be no more than a tool, submitting to the will of its wielder. However, when the primary forces of magic were called, they took a body of their own choice. They were beyond any control then. They had their own will and their own minds. The wielder was no more than a messenger. In the end he could only watch and wait. His corpus was the gate. Some people wondered why magic needed a mortal or immortal connection at all. There was no answer to this riddle. You simply had to accept that these were the rules. There were always rules.
What Leonder saw, or what reality (even the extended version of reality a practitioner of the Art possesses) let her see was the dance of two feral beings locked in each others bites. A distant, yet all too present growling could be heard. Everywhere. The immense wolfish manifestations felt no compulsion to remain in one shape only. Although the huge dark wolf with the broad shoulders and the white eyes was rather true to his own form, the reddish (or whitish...no wait, blonde...) creature shifted gracefully from one slender form into the next. But the first signs of tire became ever more distinct.
The space these two wolves occupied was in its very essence non-existent. The dimensions of it were impossible. But magic didnt care about such petty things as reality back then. If it needed room to fight then there would be room somewhere, even if it meant that a farmer in Sparta suddenly discovered that his field had shrunk in the course of a second. The battlefield showed itself as a burning dune of ice. But then it was an icy dune of flame. On the other hand...
Leonder shook her head. She preferred magic to be subtle. This was...vulgar. But she had to admit that it was also impressive.
The dying echo of a gargling scream assured her that Xena had just taken care of the last guard. She didnt turn around when she heard the feet of the Warrior Princess hurrying into the hall. They stopped beside her. Leonder did not have to look at her to know that she had assumed the same staring expression.
"By the gods, what is this?" Xena asked.
"Magic," Leonder responded.
Something beside her croaked approvingly.
Galen broke in on himself.
Saliva was dripping out of his mouth and his eyes were fiery red from the smoke that surrounded him. He was beyond exhaustion.
He stood up.
"Gabrielle," he thought and said at the same time. He had no choice. Not anymore.
"Gabrielle, listen to me..."
She couldnt continue. She simply couldnt. The veins in her body felt like fire had coursed through them. Burned out. Drained. Empty.
Stars kept blinking behind her eyes, making her wish that her mind was blank, just for a few seconds. In this moment she would have been so grateful for this blessed silence. For darkness. For peace.
Then she heard the voice. The gentle familiar humming of a friend talking to her.
She listened. And she knew what to do.
It was still time for one last song.
The last one for today, Gabrielle thought. Then Ill have a drink.
As soon as Xena saw the first hints of Gabrielles collapse she drew her chakram and threw it in one fluid motion.
For a moment it shone like a star. Then the reflection of Balors lighting died in it. The chakram did not return.
Xena gave a long high pitched yell as she threw herself towards the throne.
Something exploded inside her body. She wanted to scream but she heard nothing. Maybe she did scream. Her mind broke. And with it her consciousness.
Leonder could only watch the warrior break before the throne. And Balors casual look into her direction. For the first time in her life Leonder was terrified.
No, not for the first time really, she thought. But maybe for the last time.
She took position in front of the throne, holding her broom like a staff (which it was; it was everything she wanted it to be). She knew she was powerful. Other practitioners of the Art had told her so many times. But she also knew that she had no chance against this entity that sat in front of her. Not the tiniest. But she would rather die here now than ever admit it.
"Buggrit!" she said.
The dark god gave her the attention a biology student might give an insect before he ripped out one leg after the other. The witch felt herself shrink a few inches. The skin became unusually tight around her neck.
"Come on, get it over with," she croaked in the depth of her throat. She knew he understood.
The god lowered his head. Light filled the room as his bad eye began to open itself. Leonder was blinded from the first moment.
In the spot light at last, she thought.
Then the light was gone suddenly. Balor had turned his head. His whole attention rested on something else, something more threatening. Leonder cocked her head to the right. Yes. She could hear it, too.
The last remains of light began to fade away slowly to be replaced by a haunting melody. Ever repeating it buried itself into every stone and sated the air with a dreadful anthem of peace. It reminded Leonder of a burial chant. Meditative and irresistible. Seductive like a veil of black satin. The words were hiding somewhere beneath. They melted with the stratum. In Gabrielles mouth they sounded almost intimidating.
|The nameless one is calling you|
The nameless one is calling you
The nameless one is calling you
Go to the entrails of the world
Go to the beginning
Go to the entrails of the world
Go to the deepest of her
The nameless one is calling you home...
He slipped back. The familiar blackness of oblivion returned to him.
Not like this...
With semi-professional interest, Leonder watched how another form, another person blended into Gabrielles body. The image wasnt really shifting. It was rather as if the clearness of the perspective shifted. At times she could see both personas well enough to identify the other one. He was a man. Tall. With green eyes. The eyes of a dreamer...
They were both here now. She could hear two voices instead of one. Two voices that repeated the words over and over in their powerful chorus. Attacking the enemy from two worlds. Still, in this moment the bards were one. One was the shade of the other. And together their music ripped reality apart. A perfect duet.
Of course this effect was temporally. But right now it was very concrete.
The god was carefully reduced to the essence of a pale silhouette.
Sleep had taken him, and Balor was too weak already to express his shame and his fury in a devastating scream. He had lost. As the legend said he would. In the end he would fail. And he felt like a puppet.
Not much time. But enough for one last wish. He would take one of his enemies with him. He would not go alone to the Dark Waters. A forgotten fragment of him asked silently whether this part had already been planned, too.
The emergence of the lightning bolt was surprising. Leonder didnt even have the time to think about reacting. From her point of view it had been over. Well, it wasnt. As the bolt drifted into Gabrielles direction she thought why?. A shattering blast declared the impact.
When it hit, the light returned to the room for a painful instant.
Then all was dark.
She listened to the silence for a while. A comforting silence for ear and eye.
With a snap of her mind Leonder summoned a flame to her hand. The shadows retreated in fear as they did once, before the master had gifted them with the substance of the dead. They were now again reduced to their original state of being. Not being.
With slow steps Leonder approached Gabrielles body. Kneeling beside her she saw that the brave bard was unharmed, merely sleeping. The witch nodded.
She then turned to Xena. The warrior was badly hurt. Any other human being would have been dead by now. Xena was on the verge of crossing the border between life and death. The light was dying in her eyes.
"I cant let you go," said Leonder. "Your time hasnt come yet. Destiny has its own plans for you."
She lay a hand on Xenas chest where Balors fire had hit her and a black hole displayed the charcoal remains of burned tissue. Without a sound the wound began to close. The colour returned to her skin. The breath dropped into a soft healthy rhythm. She was sleeping.
Then it is all over, thought Leonder as she stood up.
The throne where the dark god of light had sat a second ago was empty. She didnt doubt that he had returned to the place where he belonged.
But there was more than one person missing. One of the companions would never return.
Leonder closed her eyes and said a short prayer.
The fortress moaned under its own weight as there was no master to keep it strong.
Leonder looked up and breathed deeply.
"Well, looks like it is time to go home now. What dya say, Smirky?"
Chapter VI: Absent friends
Gabrielle held the harp in her hands and cried.
She had been crying for more than an hour now. And although she had expressively said that she wanted to be left alone, Xena couldnt resist the temptation to sit down beside her on the fallen tree (a very strange looking tree, Xena thought). The burning source of warmth in front of them wouldnt make her tears dry.
She looked so miserable.
"I cant play," the bard managed to say. "Hes gone and I cant even play away the pain."
Her shaking hand touched the strings but no sound escaped the instrument.
"She is dead. They are both dead."
Another wave of despair shook her. Xena didnt dare to take her into her arms. She couldnt amend pain. She was not the right person for this task. Probably she would only make things worse.
"Come, why dont you try to sleep for a few hours? I think you should-"
"I cant sleep!" shouted Gabrielle. "I cant sleep." Her voice faded to a whisper. "I cant dream."
Xenas hand reached out...and withdrew. She simply couldnt.
"Gabrielle, it is good to mourn his death. It is appropriate. But you shouldnt let yourself drop into despair. Galen wouldnt have wanted it. He was dead before he met you. And still, he was enough of a friend to save your life. He knew the danger. He knew that hed never make it to your dreams."
"What do you know..."
Gabrielle fell silent. Xena suddenly realised that she had just made a terrible mistake.
"He told you," Gabrielle said without looking up. "He told you about his plan, about the last song and that he probably wouldnt survive it. It was all planned. Am I not right?"
She looked at Xena. The warrior saw anger in her expression. Disappointment. And the dawn of a very foul emotion only too well known to her.
Gabrielle stood up and looked down at the warrior, her friend.
"You knew it all along. He told you."
Xena evaded her eyes.
Gabrielle nodded slowly. Xena felt like she should say something.
"He didnt want you to-"
"Shut up," Gabrielle said calmly. There it was. Xena knew this tone. Cold anger. The first step towards hate.
Without another word the young woman left the fireplace. Xena didnt follow. She could do nothing now. Except to mourn her own loss.
She awoke with a scream locked in her throat.
Her fingers had dug themselves into the cold wet earth that was her sleeping place. The air was chilly and tried to freeze her from inside. No use. It couldnt get much colder in there.
The remembrance of the dream returned to her memory. Emptiness. A complete lack of everything. No friendship. No love. No music...
Hesitantly she picked up the harp. Her hands started to shake again. She let them turn into fists making the muscles of her arms beg for mercy. Then she tried again.
A disharmonic howl escaped into the night before she let the instrument drop into the mud, using her hands to cover her ears.
It was all useless. Galen was gone. And with him the music. The harp, her lover. And the magic...
She really didnt intend to start crying again but she did it nevertheless. They say that tears heal. But these tears couldnt heal. Not a wound that cut so deep. She had to find rescue somewhere else. Peace.
Leonders words kept on treading through Xenas mind. Take good care of her. And she had failed. Miserably.
Xena never learned how she could have survived the fight. How they all could have got out of the damned fortress. Leonder had been very selective with the information she had given to her two companions. Xena knew that she was withholding certain details but she couldnt force the old woman. No one could force Leonder to anything. Shes a good girl.
That was enough.
Xena gathered her things and began to search for her best friend. She had already left her alone once. She wouldnt do it twice.
It took her only half an hour to follow the young bards food prints to her sleeping place.
Gabrielle was gone.
It was a dark place. Cold. Desolate. Nothing and no one would find her here. Gabrielle had intruded deep enough into the cave to never be disturbed by the moonlight again. The ceiling was high enough for her to stand and the passage led to the entrails of the world.
A tear broke through to her eye but Gabrielle refused to give in to crying again. Instead she sat down to think.
She could die here now. The icy wind and the cold stone would kill her after a few days. She could sleep, open herself to the blackness of a dreamless world. It would kill her anyway, sooner or later. It didnt matter. She could live like this. She was quite sure she could. But she was just as sure that she didnt want to. No dreams, no music, no love.
She thought of Xena...
Her cold body and her tortured mind bid her sleep. Her instincts shouted in defiance but they were too weak. She was too weak...
She was startled. She knew this voice. When her eyes opened to the darkness she saw that Galen was standing in front of her. She jumped up.
"Dont." He lifted a hand to stop her. "You cant touch me. Im too far away."
"Are you a dream?" she asked in vain hope.
"I am somewhere between the realm of death and the realm of dreams. Where you are. It was not easy to come here and I cant stay long. I just wanted to say goodbye. And thank you."
This time she couldnt fight the tears.
"You lied to me!" Gabrielle cried. "You said you would stay with me!"
"I really wanted to. It was a dream I had." His face was sad when he looked at her. "What motivation is there to fight a war, no matter what the cause when you are already dead? When everything you can look forward to is a place in the underworld? But I had you. I could live on the thought that we would be together afterwards. That I would forever be a part of your dreams. It gave me the strength I needed. I am sorry."
"You hurt me," Gabrielle said accusingly. "You gave me so much just to take it away again. I feel empty."
Galen stepped closer.
"Use the music. Put the pain in your heart into the melody and send it away..."
"I cant!" Gabrielle cried out. "It was never me! You gave the music all the magic it produced. You were the source of all its power!"
"Not me alone," said Galen. "It is true. I channelled my energies into your songs to make them more powerful. But they were still your songs. Your music. You created them. You and the harp."
He looked down at the instrument before her feet.
"Take her back," said Gabrielle. "I dont want her."
"She is yours, Gabrielle. My days with her lie in the past. You are the bard. And she is your instrument."
"She doesnt talk to me anymore," sobbed the woman.
"Because you forgot how to listen. Take her. And listen to her."
Gabrielle looked down at the harp. She could hear something. A sound that might be interpreted as a plea. A barely audible singing tone. Like a vibrating string.
She knelt down and took the harp. She was soft and warm in her hands. Pulsating with a life of her own. The familiar rhythm of her heart stroke Gabielles palm. The bards hand slid over the strings and created a delicate vibration in the air. I love you, Gabrielle...
The tear that followed was not made of despair anymore but of happiness and relief.
"Galen, I can hear her! I can understand her..."
But the old bard was already gone.
Gabrielle smiled sadly at the place where her mentor had stood a moment ago. A light breeze touched her cheek like a sweet caress. Take care, my love and do not forget me...
Gabrielle stroked her cheek. She could still feel the memory of Galens hand. Then she made herself up to leave the dark cave.
She felt awake when she stepped into the waning night. Crimson was the horizon before her, alive with the breath of the coming morning. And as she stood there she felt like singing. Using her heart as a guide she gathered her army of feelings into one song. An ode to the plight and the sadness but also a hymn to life and love. The harp didnt accompany her. This was too personal. Her lover would do it alone.
The bard directed her voice towards the rising sun. She was not sure whether she wanted the world to hear it. But she was sure the sun would appreciate it.
|Hopelessness enters my life|
Forces slowly turn the knife
My wound wide open
Is there a way for me to heal
Cruel shadows haunt my mind
Is the abyss the rescue I find?
Somebody cure me
Silently I surrender
The lack of hope is dragging me under
I walk away
To seek comfort in the dark
At this point Gabrielle lowered her gaze in shame. But as the words continued to flow out of her, her heart raised her voice again.
|In my dark shelter I lay|
I feel my spirit is flying away
This is the last chance
For my soul to heal
Then awake me the voices in my head
"Your wound is healed, weve heard what you said
We will guide you
You shall no longer fear..."
Gone. The last remnants of the melody fled into the light of the sun, together with the pain and the emptiness. Just like he had said...
She felt better. The sun kissed her face in appreciation. Maybe there was no better audience in the world.
Gabrielle smiled without turning around. She waited until her friend was standing right behind her before she gave Xena an extensive kiss on her lips. The Warrior Princess was by far too surprised to react in any way worth mentioning. When their lips parted she still wasnt able to say anything. Gabrielle seized the moment of confusion to take her friend by the arm and lead her back to the path they initially intended to follow.
"So," said Xena at last. "I dont know why and I dont know how, but it looks like everything is back to normal again, huh?"
"No," said Gabrielle seriously. "Nothing will ever be as it once was. But I have understood certain things. And I think I have found my way."
"What about Galen?"
"His place is beyond the Dark Waters. But I will never forget him."
"And the harp?"
"She...it belongs to me now. I still have a lot to learn but it will be easier when I have her...the harp to guide me."
"Your staff." Xena gave her the weapon she had left at the camp.
"Oh yes. I almost forgot."
Gabrielle shouldered the harp and placed her staff into the right hand. It felt good there.
"About the duet...," Xena began.
"Im sorry, Xena. Not now," the bard responded, her mind obviously occupied with something else.
"Oh. All right." I can wait.
But there was still a question that requested an answer.
"What was that song Galen taught you? How could it bring Balor down like this?"
"It wasnt Galens song," Gabrielle said calmly. "It was mine."
Xena looked perplexed.
"How? How did you...?"
Gabrielle smiled at her.
The two figures on the hill watched their former companions vanish in the shadow of the red sun. Both of them looked rather mysterious and somewhat content.
"What do you think?" the witch asked the dead man.
"I think the world has received a new bard. A new manifestation of the Art," responded the dead man.
The witch smiled in his direction although she knew that he was too far away to be smiled at.
"Do you think she will make it? I mean become a great bard, fulfil her destiny, arise from the dead and all that?"
The dead man did not answer at first. But when he did at last he sounded very secure.
"Yes. I am sure she will master her fate. She is very special."
"I know. I like her," said the witch.
The dead man looked sad.
"And I love her," he said
A distant howling called for their attention. The witch shrugged.
"Im very sorry but Im afraid I have to go now," she said. "My children are calling me home. They probably wonder how all the game they hunted down last night could suddenly turn into ashes and bones. However, well met, young man."
She offered him her hand. He looked at it.
"Oh sorry," she said, withdrawing. "I think I simply forgot about that. Age..."
The dead man nodded.
"Well...uh...have a nice day," the witch added and walked away.
The dead man stood there for a while. Until he too was called.
"Lo, bard. Youre far away from home. Come with me and I will take you back to the green lands of your ancestors."
"There are no colours for me anymore. The underworld shall be my home from now on," the dead man said.
"Ah, but well," stated the voice behind him. "This might be so. But surely not everything is black beyond the Dark Waters. Some kind of colour always exists."
"Yes," said the man with the dreamy eyes. "In my dreams."
"Then this is where we shall go," said Manannaun and laughed.
Then both of them vanished. And they were never seen again in these lands.
Last words (for those who read that kind of stuff):
So, thats it. Yes, I know. But let me explain...
At a certain point in a story the writer realises whether what he just created is a success or a failure. My feelings towards this story are quite precise.
It is definitely not a success.
I didnt succeed in writing an appropriate piece of fan fiction for our two heroines and neither did I succeed in writing a story that could survive on its own. I think this became very clear to me in the course of the second chapter.
Why the hell did I continue then in the first place?
Because the story was there whether Id type it or not. So, it didnt matter. But the true reason is that I wanted to know how it would end. Apart from that I must also admit that I like it somehow. You can never be really angry with your children for long.
A very positive thing was that I learned a lot while writing. And I think this was worth the whole effort.
Therefore let us all hope that the next story (yes, there will be another one) will be better. And shorter.
And I hope that you nevertheless enjoyed The Bards Song at least a tiny little bit.
Anyway, thank you.
And take care.
Oh, one final thing.
Very special thanks to my fellow bard and friend Sharona who made it possible to read this story without anyone suffering from the effects of severe anti-orthographic trauma.
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