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Disclaimer: the Xena: Warrior Princess oeuvre is owned by MCA/Renaissance as are the major characters in this story. No copyright infringement is intended, it's just that the characters are so vivid, writing about them becomes an obsession which usually begins "what if Xena and Gabrielle..." and then, well, you know how it goes.
This story contains scenes of love between two consenting same-sex adults. If this offends you, please do not torture yourself by reading any further. There are scenes with violence as well, so be forewarned.
The Eleusinian Mysteries were celebrated for over two thousand years until 395 A.D. Some of the references in this story accurately reflect what archeologists believed happened at the mysteries, however a great deal has been changed to suit the needs of this fiction. If you are interested in knowing more, I suggest you read a book about Eleusis. Two fine ones are by George Mylonas and C. Kerenyi. They'll probably be in your library.
Warning: it's long. If you're wanting a short read, don't tackle this one.
Thanks to Homer--as always--and also to Jeff Smith (aka the Frugal Gourmet) for an historical perspective on the foods of ancient Greece.
That night as the women sought the comfortable realm of each other's bodies, Gabrielle rested her head on Xena's chest. Neither spoke much, they both seemed content to watch the course of the moon outside their window. Eventually, though, Gabrielle asked about the next day. "So tomorrow night we go into the Telesterion?"
"That's what Kerykes said."
"What happens there?"
"I can't tell you that." Xena responded flatly.
"Is this the part you were talking about when you said it was a good thing and a bad thing?"
Xena fought the urge to explain in greater detail and simply answered, "Yes."
"Xena, if you're there with me, I know I can handle it."
Xena turned her head slightly so Gabrielle wouldn't see the tear that escaped her eye. She hoped against hope that just being there would be enough, but she wasn't convinced it would be.
Xena's gloomy mood intercepted any light thoughts Gabrielle might have had before they were able to surface. Xena agreed to join the bard in the fast, so two growling stomachs provided most of the communication between them that day.
Gabrielle couldn't predict what awaited her that night, but she let her imagination explore several possibilites. She kept trying to remind herself that Xena said it would not be a physical test. Still, sacrificing the pig hadn't been a physical test per se, but Gabrielle had been unable to carry out the action required of her. A mounting sense of foreboding ate at her throughout the long day.
"It's time," Xena said. Gabrielle gave her a nervous nod and followed her down the stairs, into the streets, and toward the sanctuary.
Entering the Great Propylaia, they walked among several other people, many of them initiates. They gathered near the inner gates, the last barrier before the Telesterion. As the last rays of the sun fell behind the walls, the gates cracked open slowly, opened from the inside. Gabrielle felt a chill go down her spine, but it was soon replaced by Xena's warm hand bolstering her confidence a little.
The gates fully opened, the Hierophant stepped into the opening and held his arms out to the gathering mystai. Material from his robes fell almost to the ground, long sleeves covered his hands and only his fingertips were visible behind the folds.
Without speaking to those asembled, the Hierophant communicated his first directive. He turned to his left and pointed to the well. Three priests stood there now, each with a dipper and a chalice. The initiates made their way to the well and drank from its cool holdings a refreshing and cleansing draught.
Kerykes, or the Dadouchos now, held a torch in each hand and led the initiates back to the gates. He climbed five stairs and entered the temple, inviting them in. Before Gabrielle strode up the stairs into the temple she again read the inscription on the arch above the gates: For the Earth and the Wandering Moon. She and Xena entered the Telesterion side by side. They came before a woman who spoke to each inititate individually so no others could hear. To Gabrielle she said, "I am the Priestess Panageis. I will assign your second, she who will be with you throughout this night." Then the priestess pressed Xena's hand into Gabrielle's, "Go together, my daughters. This night will reveal to you that which you did not know and that which you already knew, for they are one in the same."
Gabrielle steeled herself against more riddles, deciding it would be best to let them go for now and ponder their solutions at a later time. She saw that those already in the temple walked in pairs and drew closer to Xena, comforted by the permission to stay with her.
All of the initiates and seconds were given white robes to wear. They were long-sleeved but without the draping folds of fabric the priests wore, and stopped just below the knee. The robes were plain but for an embroidered waist band, the design based on wheat sheaves and myrtle branches. Again, each mystai was given two ribbons. Xena tied Gabrielle's around her right arm and left leg, in the same fashion as those worn in the procession the day before.
Gabrielle started to sense a connection between the public festival and the private mysteries. Demeter was a part of each of them. Demeter, the Goddess of the Corn, bestower of agriculture, tutor of Triptolemus, mother of Persephone; wheat sheaves and myrtle. Suddenly, she felt a strong presence around her, at once benevolent and terrible.
A clear, strong voice boomed out into the room, surprising Gabrielle. "I am the Mystagogos. I read to you the proclamations and order each of you follow the code of silence tonight." Gabrielle felt Xena jab her in the back in a 'this means you' kind of admonition. "To those entering the Telesterion of Eleusis, no one but the Hierophant himself may enter the Anaktoron." He motioned toward a door near an enormous throne. "In it is kept the Hiera, which will not be revealed until tomorrow night and then only to those worthy of the Epopteia."
Gabrielle felt the beginnings of a headache. She wished she could ask Xena what all the mumbo-jumbo really meant. 'Patience,' she reminded herself, 'Patience, Gabrielle.'
The Hierophant emerged from the Anaktoron and seated himself on the throne. The Dadouchos stood beside him, his torches placed in grooves along the wall behind throne.
The Hierophant gave another silent instruction, this one to a groups of priests. They left through a door opposite the Anaktoron and returned with a bull in tow and positioned the great animal over a trough in the floor. One of the priests drew a long sword and held it high above his head. He passed it on to the next priest, without lowering it. The sword journeyed around the entire group, always held above their heads, until it returned to the hands of the first man. He quickly ran the blade against the belly of the beast. Gabrielle buried her face in Xena's robe and did not watch the end of the sacrifice. By the time Xena's hand lifted her head, there was no evidence of the slaughter, even the blood had been cleaned up.
Priests carrying great trays walked among the people. To each second they presented a chalice. Xena took one, quickly passed it under her nose, then offered it to Gabrielle. Xena smiled as if to appease the young bard that the liquid within was perfectly safe to drink. Gabrielle reluctantly took the vessel from Xena and looked into it before drinking it. It was as clear as water and Gabrielle was much relieved to know she would not be asked to taste the blood of that poor dead animal. She took a tentative sip and was startled to discover it was merely mint-infused water. She finished the libation and Xena took the chalice from her hands.
The Mystagogos spoke again, "You have broken your fast as the Goddess Demeter did. The kykeon commemorates the Goddess." The Hierophant stood and stomped one foot. As if on signal, the Mystagogos continued, "Now begins the Dromena."
Everyone moved out toward the walls of the great hall, clearing a large space in the center. Two priestesses danced out into the floor, stopping when they reached the middle. Music began and the priestesses rejoined their dance. Gabrielle wasn't sure what they were dancing about, since no one was narrating the story, but she was impressed by how well they could impart awe, sorrow, despair, and joy. In fact, Gabrielle began to feel the emotions herself, waves of grief engulfed her only to be replaced by wonder and happiness. Then the cycle began again and she was overwhelmed by hopelessness.
As the feelings intensified, she became caught up in the dance. Other mystai joined her in slow, measured steps. Though she had never seen the dance before, she never faltered in her step. Her awareness grew more acute and she could almost see into the minds of her fellow mystai. Everything began to speed up, the movements more wild, less controlled. Gabrielle was sweating now, throwing herself into the frienzied dance, feeding on the palpable emotions of the others. She could almost make out apparitions above them, phantasms in their own dance high in the air.
Suddenly the music stopped. Gabrielle swayed, feeling most peculiar. Candlelight swam in her eyes and she felt faint. Familiar hands were there to assist her, but she was unable to respond. Her head lolled, her legs failed.
This was the moment Xena had dreaded most. The mystai, under the influence of the kykeon, would all pass through the underworld, visit the tortured darkness of dead souls, wander the halls of Tartarus. They would endure this alone, the extrasensory connections of the dance broken. Eventually, they would pass from Tartarus and experience the wonders of the Elysian Fields, the extremes of life, the beauty and power of death. Xena's own vision, ten years ago, had been cruel, filled with the faces of those she had killed. But it was those she loved, those who had left her and died that had pained her the most, that fueled the darkness she bore. Xena knew the same could be true for Gabrielle, when she saw those that she loved and lost. The experience broke some of the initiates. Unable to cope, they returned from the journey but remained forever detached from the reality they once knew.
Remembering vividly her own journey, Xena imagined herself once again at the River Styx, before the gates of the underworld, and yet this time it was different, there was a new presence there with her: Gabrielle. She sensed her hand being taken, someone else bearing some of the guilt and grief she carried. Still, memories of long-dead souls haunted her. She cowered from them, tried to close her eyes against the illusion, but Gabrielle was there, leading her passed her nightmares.
Unlike her own initiation, the time in Tartarus was short, passing by in a blur. Two people endured the ritual so much more easily than one, alone. With two joined souls, the dreadful power of the underworld seemed bearable. Xena was astonished. She knew she should not be experiencing this as a second, she drank none of the kykeon. It could only mean that it was Gabrielle's vision she shared. Xena heard a friendly voice calling her name. "Xena?"
"I'm here, Xena. I'm with you."
"But how can this be?" Xena asked.
"I gave up trying to figure out these riddles earlier. I suggest you do the same. It was giving me a royal headache." Gabrielle's bright voice rang through Xena's head.
"Gabrielle, this is your initiation, you must lead the way."
"Hey, but you've done this before. How am I supposed to know where to go?" Gabrielle asked.
Xena imagined caressing the bard's cheek, and felt tingling on the back of her hand. "You'll know where to go, Gabrielle. Trust yourself."
They were in the Elysian Fields. She heard Gabrielle gasp and call out a name, "Perdicus," and a small piece of Xena died. She overheard their reunion, Perdicus telling Gabrielle how much he loved her, Gabrielle telling him she felt the same. Xena pulled herself free from the vision and found herself lying next to Gabrielle on the floor of the temple.
Xena sat up and saw that most of the initiates were lying down, their seconds keeping watch over them. Looking down at Gabrielle she saw the face of someone she feared, someone who loved another. Xena spent the rest of the ritual convincing herself that Gabrielle and Perdicus were meant for each other, that he was, as the gods would say, the love of her life. Xena believed she could never be for Gabrielle what Gabrielle needed most. The delusion of their relationship was laid bare before her.
There were stirrings around the temple. The mystai were beginning to come out of their visions. She heard some proclaim, "I have seen the Kore!" They were the lucky ones.
Then there was more shouting from the other side of the temple, however it was a second calling for assistance, not a mystes coming out of a vision. Priests congregated around them, there came another cry for help and more uproar. Xena grew concerned. She crossed the temple floor to find out what was going on. An initiate lay white as the robe he wore, still and lifeless. Xena ran to where the other second had cried out and found another mystes dead. More pleas were heard, more initiates had died.
A sense of dread invaded her and Xena hurried back to where Gabrielle lay. She was pale, her breathing very shallow. Panic building in her, she spotted the Dadouchos running toward her. He shouted, "Xena, come quickly. Someone has poisoned the kykeon, they must still be in the Adyton."
Xena made a split-second decision. If she could catch the one who did this, perhaps they could be made to supply an antidote. It was with great trepidation that she gazed one last time into Gabrielle's sweet face and rose to follow the Dadouchos.
"What makes you think they're in the Adyton?" Xena snapped as she ran with him.
"The Hierophant and I were there earlier. There is a ceremony to consecrate the kykeon just before the initiation beings. The ritual calls for the kykeon to be passed from the Adyton through a tunnel lined in marble. Those who have access to the kykeon are few in number." The Dadouchos led them through a door and into a narrow stone hallway. Spiral stairs twirled down to the substructure of the temple. Xena took them so swiftly she made her head spin.
When they reached the basement, their feet landed in soft, fine dirt. It diminshed the sound of their footsteps and had the musty odor of ancient undisturbed soil. The Dadouchos continued his explanation as he led the warrior to the far end of the sub-level. She was happy for the guidance, as it was a labyrinth of walls and small chambers. "Only three priests are allowed to bring kykeon to the seconds in the temple. We found all three dead."
"But how do you know someone is still in the Adyton?"
"The only way in or out is through the marble tunnel. There is a locked grate covering it and it is kept locked throughout the ceremony."
"Xena, please don't question our practices. Trust me, he must still be there."
"You know who it is?" Xena asked accusingly.
"His name is Sopatros. He was an initiate five years ago, but did not come back from the vision...whole." The Dadouchos pulled a set of keys from his robes as they turned one last corner and found the locked grate. He finished his explanation as he unlocked it and pushed it open. "He has been under our supervision, under our care since then."
"I'll go get him." Xena tugged off her robe and pulled out her breast dagger.
The Dadouchos growled at her, "Xena, you know better than to bring weapons here."
Xena flashed him a conciliatory grin and squeezed her long body thought the tunnel. The tunnel was horizontal until a just before it ended, where it dropped suddenly. The chamber was surprisingly large and lit by only a few low-burning candles. It was difficult to make out detail in the dim light. She cocked an ear, listening for another person, a breath, a heartbeat. It was completely silent.
Xena located a torch and lit it with the one of the candles. She held it high, casting shadows on wooden vats containing the kykeon. Searching as quickly as she could, she surveyed most of the room in seconds. She found Sopatros' body crumpled in a pool of blood behind one of the vats. He had fallen on his own sword. She pulled out the blade, her attention drawn to the hilt. It was engraved with the outline of a peacock. This was the man Gabrielle described, the one who tried to kill Kimonian.
Fighting despair, she searched his body for any more of the poison. Thinking that if she could see its color or consitency, it might give her some clue about it. All she knew so far was that the poison was slow-acting and had no odor. She remembered smelling the kykeon before Gabrielle drank it, believing it was safe, and handing the instrument of death to her love.
She found no vial or container on Sopatros, no residue to help her. She begrudgingly came to the conclusion that he must have dropped the poison and its the container into one of the vats before pouring the single portions of the kykeon into the chalices. If she checked each vat, it would be a long and no doubt fruitless search, and she feared time had already run out.
Slowly, she pulled herself back through the tunnel, the marble cold on her bare arms and legs. "He's dead," she told the Dodouchos, "Killed himself."
"And the poison?" The Dadouchos knew exactly what he was asking Xena.
"Come, I will take you back to her."
When they re-entered the main room of the temple, they found it in utter chaos. The Dadouchos was called to the throne and Xena stood with him long enough to hear news. Apparently very few of the initiates survived, and generally they were big men, the dosage of poison not being great enough to kill them. Gabrielle was so small...
Xena returned to where she'd left Gabrielle, already sure of what she would find. One of the priests had covered her body. When Xena approached, the priest expressed his condolences then left them alone. Xena knelt by Gabrielle's body, and discovered she felt nothing. Her mind was blank, no emotions touched her at all.
She was unaware that the Testerion was being cleared. The Hierophant was anxious to remove the bodies from the temple, fearing the wrath of the goddesses. As the last of the bodies were carted outside, the remaining priests left, most happy to escape the oppressive atmosphere of the massacre. Still Xena knelt by Gabrielle, unaware of her surroundings or even her own thoughts.
The Dadouchos approached her quietly and stood behind her for a time. He had never known Xena to be so oblivious to someone at her back. He reached toward her and put his hand on her shoulder. She jumped. "Sorry to startle you, Xena. It is best for you, for all of us to leave now."
The Dadouchos closed his eyes, took a deep breath, then reopened them. "Xena, I have a room you can take her to."
"The room is next to the Anaktoron, just a few steps from here." He waited for a response, but got none. He dropped a key by her, "It's yours to use, Xena. No one will disturb you there."
Xena didn't remember carrying Gabrielle's body to the Dadouchos' chamber. She didn't remember spreading the robe out on the cold floor nor gently putting Gabrielle's body on it. The sound of a throat being cleared wrenched her from her fog. "Who's there?" She spun around.
"Xena, it is the Kore." A maiden, lovely as the spring, appeared before her. She wore a the dress of a chameleon, in one moment it was as black as night, the next is was the color of soft, new, spring leaves.
"Persephone." Xena did not sound happy to greet the goddess. She eyed her accusingly, "Why did this happen?"
"It is an affair of mortals, Xena. I have no answers for you." Persephone came around Gabrielle's body and knelt before it.
Though Xena readied herself to defend the body, she made no move to do so. Instead she asked, "Can you do anything for her?"
Another riddle, "No, but you can." Persephone ran her fingers through Gabrielle's long hair.
"I tried, Persphone. I tried, but I failed. I failed Gabrielle."
The goddess rose to her full height, her dress shimmering between black and midnight blue. "Xena of Amphipolis, you surprise me," she roared.
Xena met the challenge and stood face-to-face with the Queen of the Underworld. "And just what's that supposed to mean?"
"Stop that, you two!" Both warrior and goddess whirled on their heels toward the third voice. It belonged to the woman who sacrificed Gabrielle's pig, the one who heard Gabrielle's story at the tavern five days earlier. "My daughter, can you not remember that a mortal's grief blinds them? Show some respect for her sorrow. And you, Xena, you should know better than to talk to my daughter in that manner." The woman of the tavern transformed into Demeter herself.
Persephone greeted her mother kindly with a kiss on her cheek. "Mother, forgive me. In these last days before winter I often grow quarrelsome."
"I understand, but you must not let it interfere. Not in this matter."
Xena's patience wore thin, "Excuse me, but would one of you please tell me what's going on!"
Demeter glowered at Xena. "Tsk, tsk. Such a hot one, you are. It is sometimes difficult to understand what Gabrielle sees in you."
More demurely Xena replied, "Yeah, I've been wondering that myself lately."
Demeter took Xena's hand, "Xena, listen carefully. You, and particularly Gabrielle, are favored ones. My daughter has...made a deal, but it is up to you, to both of you, to carry it out."
"A deal?" asked Xena.
Persephone stood, hands on her hips. "It wasn't my idea, but Mother can be most persuasive."
"Gabrielle will be given a choice. If she chooses to return to the living, she may," Demeter told her.
Xena's head fell, deep emotions creeping to the fore for the first time that night, "I don't think she will. She has good reason to stay where she is."
"She does, indeed," Demeter concurred. "You must give her a better reason to return."
Persephone added quietly, "The dead can hear your thoughts, Xena. You must not fight what you feel."
"I can't hurt her. If she knew what her death means to me..."
"Then you will know what it means as well, and she will return."
"What you ask is very difficult." Xena shuddered.
"But you have said before that you would give your life to save Gabrielle." Demeter added, "We are not asking that you do that, only that you visit your own soul. You need not be afraid of yourself."
Xena wasn't so sure she agreed, but acceded, "I'll try."
Persephone put her arm around the warrior. "Xena, you must find the ineffable within you. What you cannot describe nor utter, you can at least know. It is that which will light your way."
Demeter placed a kiss on Xena's cheek. "More than this, we cannot help. Good luck to you, Xena. Have faith in what you find."
Xena knew she was once again alone. Completely alone. The emptiness she had kept in check flooded in with a vengeance, sending her reeling to her knees. Her chest ached and burned, all she could see was a picture as clear as her own heartbeat, the face of her Gabrielle.
Gabrielle walked hand-in-hand with Perdicus. It was so wonderful to be with him, to touch him, to talk with him again. They were meandering down a path, framed by a trellis of delicate roses. It was peaceful and comfortable.
"Oh, Perdicus, this is a most amazing place."
"Yes it is, my love. Here all seems palatable, one can endure anything, even for an eternity." He laughed at his own joke.
Gabrielle looked about behind them, "Hey, I wonder where Xena took off to. I guess she figured we'd want to be alone."
Perdicus stopped her, "Gabrielle, Xena's gone back."
"What do you mean? We're doing this vision thing together."
"Gabrielle, you don't understand. It isn't a vision, not anymore."
"And just what's that supposed to mean?" Gabrielle eyed him suspiciously.
"Don't get mad at me, I didn't do anything. Now let me see if I can get this straight. Somebody poisoned something, that mint stuff you drank, and well, you're dead, Gabrielle. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news." Perdicus tried to look apologetic.
"I'm dead? No, this can't be. Every time this sort of thing's happened me or Xena, it's always been a mistake. Come on, let's go find Hades or somebody and see if we can't straighten it out." Gabrielle turned around to head back, and smacked right into a woman. "Oops, sorry."
Perdicus bowed deeply, "Persephone."
Gabrielle, in awe, sputtered out a feeble greeting. "You're...you're Persephone?"
"Hello Gabrielle, Perdicus. Come, walk with me." They fell in step with the goddess. "Gabrielle, what can you tell me of recent events in your day?"
"Let me see, I was in the temple, then I was here. Well, in Tartarus first, then here." She added needlessly, "It's much better here."
"Do you know why you came to the underworld?" Persephone inquired.
"It had to do with the initiation, but it's like having a strange dream."
"Why would you be asked to have such a dream, Gabrielle?"
"I don't know...to experience stuff. To know what it would be like to be dead. I can tell you this, there is a huge difference between Tartarus and the Elysian Fields. But I guess, without knowledge of the suffering, you can't fully comprehend how good it can be."
Gabrielle saw Perdicus jab an elbow into Persephone's ribs as he whispered, "See, I told you so."
Persephone ignored him, "Very good, Gabrielle. What else can you tell me about your dream, as you call it."
"Well, everything was just sort of going along, I found Perdicus but I seem to have misplaced Xena. She was with me until just now." Gabrielle once again glanced about her, as if she thought Xena would show up at any moment. "Where'd she go, do you know?"
"As Perdicus told you, she returned to the other side."
"Hmmm, it's not like her to just leave me. I guess she's getting even for when I ditched her yesterday during the procession. Now look, Perdicus told me I was dead, is it true?"
"Yes," Persephone said simply.
"Fine, so what do we do about it?" asked Gabrielle, as if there was no doubt in her mind that her death could be reversed.
"That's up to you and Xena," answered Persephone, a little surprised by the bard's audacity.
"Okay, but what do we do?"
Perdicus laughed. "Gabrielle, you are amazing. You're dead, and yet you treat it as matter-of-factly as dealing with a bee sting."
"Well don't expect me to get all huffy about it. Been there, done that, I know it can work."
"Don't be so sure, this time." Persephone's words broke the light-hearted banter.
Perdicus intervened, "But Persephone, you said everything would be okay."
"You're the one who told me about them, Perdicus. I'm basing my predictions only on what you've revealed to me."
"Wait a minute, wait a minute. Let's get this all out in the open. Perdicus?" Gabrielle demanded, hands on her hips.
"Gabrielle," Perdicus began softly. "You know the dead can hear the thoughts of the living." Gabrielle nodded. "I've been listening." Gabrielle blushed. "Don't worry, I'm happy for you, really. Once someone arrives in the Elysian Fields, it is easy to find solace in all kinds of love. I do know that you love me, Gabrielle. You've shared that thought with me countless times since I died. And I know what you feel for Xena."
"Believe me, you need offer no explanation. I'm happy for you, really. I greedily spend most of my time listening for you, Gabrielle, I know how Xena makes you feel, how close you are." Gabrielle blushed again thinking about how 'close' they had been lately. "Of course I wish I had been given the chance to be that person for you, Gabrielle, but since that was not to be, I can only find comfort in what you have found." He took her hand. "I wouldn't want it any other way."
Persephone interrupted, "When Perdicus told me of your relationship with Xena, I was intrigued. Few mortals achieve such an inseparability. That was made evident to me when Xena shared your vision, was with you in your dream. Such a sharing has happened only once before."
"So why can't I hear Xena's thoughts now? Is it because I'm not really dead?"
"No, Gabrielle, you're quite dead."
"Huh, so this is what it's like..." Gabrielle's voice faltered. Then, with some anger she asked again, "So why can't I hear Xena's thoughts?"
"She has none to share, Gabrielle." Persephone did not want to tell her too much.
"I know that's not true. Does she know I'm dead?"
"Yes, she stands vigil beside your body."
"Then this is too hard for her. She has no thoughts because she'd doing her best to fight them, to keep them from surfacing. She's probably winning, too."
"And would you choose to share that struggle with her?" asked Persephone.
"Of course I would--ah, no offense, Perdicus--what a ridiculous question."
Persephone inquired further, "Even if it meant leaving here and returning to the troubles of the Earth."
"Persephone, if I may be so bold, I do think I will return here, eventually. It's not like I'm giving up on my eternity or anything."
"Then you may return..."
"I knew it!" cried Gabrielle.
"...but not until tomorrow night," finished Persephone.
"Tomorrow? That's not fair! You can't make Xena suffer through this until tomorrow night! Why do you want to do that?"
Persephone smiled. "The ineffable." Then she was gone.
"Boy, that was weird." Gabrielle scowled at Perdicus, "All right, out with everything. Right now!"
"Gabrielle, I'm sorry. This really isn't what I intended. It all started when I told Persephone that your bond with Xena reminded me of her bond with Demeter."
"What, now do I have to spend every winter here like Persephone?"
"No, Gabrielle," pleaded Perdicus, "be serious. Listen to me, please. I talked to Persephone, she talked to Demeter, and they became intrigued with you. Demeter has watched you closely over the last several days, since you and Xena arrived in Eleusis."
"Spied on by a goddess..."
"She was most impressed. She said you really had a grasp of the meaning behind the mysteries."
"Perdicus, I don't get them at all. Everything is spoken in puzzles and riddles."
"It is ineffable."
Gabrielle threw up her hands. "Geez, you speak in puzzles, too. What does 'ineffable' even mean?"
Perdicus took both of her hands in his and held her eyes kindly. "Ineffable means something precious, something so amazing it is indescribable, indefinable. It is like language, which even with all its ornate structures, its limitless possibilities, and intricate relationships, cannot muster the sentiments to describe something in its true and honest beauty." Perdicus tilted his head slightly and kissed her cheek. "Ineffable is you, Gabrielle."
Gabrielle blinked back her tears. "Thank you, Perdicus."
"Gabrielle, I must tell you something. The goddesses did not anticipate your death. Demeter and Persephone wanted you to go through the initiation to test you." He held up his hand to quiet her. "It's not a bad kind of test, they just needed to make sure."
"Sure of what?"
"I can't tell you that. I know, another vague answer, just go with it, okay? Anyway, when you died, it sort of caused some problems. Demeter and Persephone were pretty mad about it, so they made a deal with Hades."
Gabrielle groaned, "He is the champion deal maker. Everyone on Olympus must owe him favors."
"No doubt. Now, aren't you going to ask me?" He had a secret to divulge and he was milking it for all he could.
"Sure, I'll bite. What was the deal?"
"You could go back, if you wanted to, in exchange for Persephone returning to Hades early this year."
Gabrielle couldn't believe it. "She would never do that! Demeter would never let her."
"It was Demeter's idea."
Gabrielle sat down on a fragrant patch of grass under a flowering tree, hardly noticing it. "Persephone gave up days, weeks of freedom, so I could go back? Why would she do that? I thought she and Demeter were inseparable, joined at the soul, that their bond was stronger than any other..."
All Perdicus had to say was, "Sound familiar?"
He took a few steps up the path, intent on leaving Gabrielle to think for awhile. Before he left he turned back and gave her one last piece of the puzzle, "By the way, Gabrielle, the only other time a vision was shared was during the very first vision. It was between Demeter and Persephone."
Xena collapsed on the floor beside Gabrielle. Demeter and Persephone had left her ripped open, head underwater, unable to breathe. The tears began slowly, tickling her skin as they fell. Her thoughts jutted out in all directions and she was unable to focus on anything, so she forced herself to speak aloud hoping it would rein in the terror she felt knowing she was about to face her grief.
"Gabrielle." She choked on her name. "Gabrielle, how am I going to be able to handle this? The only way I could imagine it is if you were here helping me. Damn you, the time I need you the most, you're not here." Xena let her hand trail over the still body. "That's hardly fair, is it? Sorry, I know better than that.
"How can I begin to tell you what you mean to me? I feel like someone split me apart and stole all the best of me. I'm not whole anymore. Whatever it was that made me get through these last couple of years...no, I haven't just gotten through them, I have enjoyed them. I have risen in the morning eager to know what my day will bring and drifted off to sleep content that I'll feel the same the next day." The back of her hand wiped away tears as they fell more liberally.
"What I really should say is that I have risen in the morning by your side and drifted off to sleep in your arms. Please don't take that away from me. It is too precious to me. Your love is what makes my heart beat and what reminds me to breathe. It is what gives me the courage to try to mend my past...
"When people tell me I am bold and fearless, I know I am an intrepid warrior only because of you. You follow me into battle undaunted by its dangers, though it weighs heavily on me to know that what I have chosen to do puts you at risk...put you at risk." She reminded herself to use the past tense.
She stopped and slammed her fist down on the floor. "This is ridiculous. How can I ask you to come back to me? I know you're happy with Perdicus. He's a good man and you deserve to be with him.
"I'm difficult, mercurial, stoic. In the eyes of my enemies, you are often reduced to a target when you're with me. Can I ask you to come back to that?
"I do love you, Gabrielle. More than you'll ever know...maybe more than I'll ever know. I want you back, but I can't ask you to come back to me, my life, our life. I just can't do that to you. You're better off where you are now."
"I'm sorry if I startled you, Gabrielle. May I sit with you?"
Gabrielle scooted over allowing room for the goddess to lean back against the tree alongside her. "Does it bother you to know you make me a little nervous?" Gabrielle asked.
"No, Gabrielle. But know that it is not my goal with you."
Gabrielle relaxed just a bit. "Persephone, Perdicus told me about your...deal."
"I thought he might. He is honest, sometimes too honest for his own good and it gets him in trouble."
With a note of alarm, Gabrielle asked, "Is he in trouble now, for telling me?"
"No, Gabrielle, Perdicus will not incur our wrath. Now tell me, have you been able to hear Xena's thoughts?"
Gabrielle buried her head in her hands. "Yes, finally I've heard her. I'm not certain she wants me to go back."
"And yet you still wish to return?"
"Yes, of course. I need to be there with her, for her. I want to... Oh, this is really hard to explain."
"As well it should be," said Persephone.
"I get that part now, about the ineffable. As soon as you put something into words, you lose some of its brilliance, some of its splendor. I thought I already knew how much I wanted to be with Xena, but this forced separation makes it so much more clear, so much stronger." Gabrielle closed her eyes. "I feel like I can touch it, it's so real." Silent for a moment, the bard then questioned the goddess, "Was it really necessary to go to such lengths to separate me and Xena? This is not a two-sided conversation she and I are having. She can't hear my thoughts and I want to tell all of this to her."
Persephone put her hand on the bard's shoulder. "My mother was right, you are a wise one, Gabrielle, but you still haven't figured out all of it."
Gabrielle let her head bang back against the tree and muttered, "I thought you weren't supposed to get tired in the Elysian Fields."
Persephone laughed, "Mortals. They get the kookiest ideas sometimes."
The bard, however, was not distracted from the challenge for long. "I guess I should have taken some courses in rhetoric. Okay, so is this about defining the ineffable?"
"The ineffable cannot be defined. If it is, it is no longer ineffable."
"Great, just great. Isn't that circular logic?"
"Try again, Gabrielle."
"All right, let me go from another angle. You and Demeter are involved because of me and Xena, right."
"So this has to do with me and Xena, right?"
"So something about us is ineffable?"
"*Something* about us is ineffable... something *about* us is ineffable... something about *us* is ineffable...us...it's us! The ineffable is us, the two of us together."
"Like you and Demeter."
Gabrielle perked up and a smile grew on her face. Just as quickly, it disappeared. "Has Xena figured it out?"
"No, Gabrielle. You can hear her thoughts, you know what she knows."
"So the reason I can go back is to explain this to Xena?"
"Remember, Gabrielle, such a thing cannot be explained, even to Xena. It is ineffable."
"The ineffability of the ineffable. You cannot define the un-definable. This is the answer to the mysteries?" Gabrielle asked.
"A short answer, but a worthy one."
"My relationship with Xena is what the Dadouchos called 'a precious gift which no one may describe or utter.' I understand. It is too, too...this is hard!" Gabrielle grunted. "My relationship with Xena is too ineffable to define, and it is that which makes it so special." She nodded to herself, satisfied with her answer. "How many people actually figure it out?
"Very few, and it usually takes them years instead of days."
Persephone's compliment was not lost on her, "Thank you, but I've had a lot of help in this. It's not often a goddess sits down and helps you work through something, or your deceased husband, for that matter."
"Gabrielle, you and Xena represent something, something important, something worth nurturing. You are the feminine attributes of the earth, the inconstancy of the wandering moon..."
"The inscription on arches at the Telesterion! For the Earth and the Wandering Moon." Gabrielle scratched her head, "That's us?"
Persephone rose, "My work here is done. Gabrielle, it is both a blessing and a curse to begin understand your fate. It can be a burden, but once shared, a burden always lessens. You will be called back to the other side soon. For now, wait in peace."
"How can I ever thank you, Persephone?" Gabrielle never got her answer.
It was late the next day before the priests began returning to the temple. They had endured little and fitful sleep, and were not anxious to come back to the Telesterion, particularly since a frigid wind blew from the north, chilling everyone's already bitter tempers. As they mulled about the great hall, speaking in hushed tones, they shared their misgivings about continuing with the final days of the mysteries. Some thought the remaining two days should be postponed or even canceled, others believed it best to forge ahead and finish them, bringing them to a conclusion so they could move on, leaving the horrid memory behind.
The Dadouchos had no answers for them. "Only the Hierophant can make that decision," he told them. The Dadouchos had other things and other people on his mind. He knew Xena had not returned to the inn, though he had expected that when he stopped there on his way to the sanctuary. That meant she was still in his room at the Telesterion. He needed to see to her.
He stood before his own private chambers and knocked. There was no response. The Dadouchos did not want to barge in, but he could not leave things unsaid. He put his lips to the door and spoke softly, knowing only Xena would hear him. "It is the Dadouchos, Xena. I'm coming in." He waited just a moment then slipped inside.
Xena stood across the room from him, Gabrielle's body lay between them. Xena's back was to him, her head resting against her crossed arms, pressed to the wall. She made no move to acknowledge his presence.
"I'm sorry to disturb you," he began softly. "I need to ask you a few things." Still she gave him no indication she heard him or knew he was there. He crossed the floor and brushed his hand on her arm.
She flipped around, eyes red and wild, and scowled. "Don't touch me."
The Dadouchos inched back. "Sorry," he squeaked. Slowly she turned away from him again, head against the wall. He steeled his courage and inquired, "Did Demeter come to see you?" No answer. "Please, Xena, I need to know. Did Demeter speak with you?"
A small voice, "Yes."
Again her bark, again her eyes glaring at him. "And what?"
"Prince Triptolemus told me she would."
"And what did Triptolemus tell you she would say?"
"He didn't know that. He knew only that she would come to you. And..." he hesitated, continuing slowly "that you should join us tonight for the revelation of the Hiera."
"No thank you, I don't wish to join you anymore," came the sour-tinged reproach.
The Dadouchos pushed a little closer to her, "Xena, I know what you're going through."
She cut him off, "No, you don't. Don't even say you do. You have no idea what it's like to try to..." she stopped herself suddenly.
"To try to what, Xena?" She shook her head at him, unable to speak, even if but to tell him to leave, for fear she would say something she regretted. "Xena, please. Is it something Demeter told you to do?"
Xena pounded her fist into the wall. She did it again and again, until she couldn't control herself anymore. The Dadouchos tried to hold her hand back before she bloodied it, straining against the fierce strength of the warrior. As her knees gave way, he slipped his arms around her, pulling her into a chair before she collapsed, weeping.
Patiently, the Dadouchos waited. He stood before her, carefully placing himself between her and Gabrielle so Xena couldn't see the body. When her sobbing slowed, he offered her some water, which she sipped. Then, breathlessly, she whispered, "Sorry."
"You needn't apologize." He pulled up another chair and sat before her, again blocking her view of Gabrielle's body. "Now, please, tell me what Demeter said. It is important that I know."
"Okay. Just give me a minute." She dropped her head into her hands, elbows resting on her thighs. "They told me I had to visit my soul."
"They?" The Dadouchos was stunned. "Was the Kore here as well?"
"Yes. Persephone came first, then Demeter joined her."
"Xena, that is extraordinary. I have never known them to appear together." He looked at Xena in a new light. "Xena, why did they ask you to visit your soul?"
"To give Gabrielle a reason to return."
The Dadouchos was utterly confused. He wanted desperately to ask what she meant, but thought better of it, knowing it would need a long explanation and that Xena was in no position or spirit to offer it. He merely asked, "Did you?"
At last, she pulled her head from her hands. Her face wore the haggard, miserable expression of a woman who has been too long without sleep or solace.
"Xena, did you give Gabrielle a reason?"
He rubbed his eyes against a budding headache. "Are you sure?"
"She has reason to stay where she is. Can we just leave it at that?" Xena implored.
"Yes, on one condition. That you join us tonight." Xena, at least, did not say no, and he took that as some form of agreement. "I'll be back for you."
When the Dadouchos returned, well into the evening, he found Xena sitting in the chair just as he had left her. He was astonished to see her even more weary, more gaunt. Everything about her posture screamed defeat. Whatever it was that Demeter and the Kore had asked of her, giving Gabrielle a reason to return, it was clear Xena felt she couldn't, or wouldn't do it. He was bewildered, but determined to bring her with him to the ceremonies. The prince had impressed on him the importance of Xena's presence, and he knew better than to question Demeter's appointed one.
He was greatly relieved when Xena did not put up a fight. She rose and quietly followed him from the room. Crossing the threshold into the great hall of the temple gave her pause, though. She elected to place herself on the other side of the room, away from where she had last seen Gabrielle alive the previous night. The tall warrior stayed at the wall, hidden in a nook, not needing the closeness to the throne nor the calming presence of the Hierophant that the priests craved.
Something nudging at her in the back of her mind brought her out of her stupor. She studied the room for a moment before it dawned on her. There were no initiates there. None of the mystai who had survived the poisoning of the night before had returned to finish the initiation. She wondered why the priests continued with the ceremony, why the Dadouchos had been so demanding that she be present.
Those thoughts triggered a dull ache behind her eyes. Rather than expending the energy to fight it, she shoved the unanswered questions from her mind and returned to the comfort of not thinking at all.
The next time she remembered being aware of her surroundings, the ceremonies were well underway. Candles had been lit and placed along the floor, outlining a path between the Anaktoron and the throne. The Hierophant was beginning his walk toward the Anaktoron where the Hiera was kept.
Xena recalled once again her previous experiences with the mysteries. The Hiera had been little more than a joke to her. Some initiates around her had spouted off about seeing the Kore, but Xena had seen nothing. There was no vision, no apparition. Those sights came only to mystai who were so caught up in the ritual that they willed themselves to see something.
The Hierophant reached the door to the Anaktoron. He placed two hands against it, palms flat, and chanted. It was a long chant, uninteresting to Xena, so she chose to focus on the candles, forcing herself to see the passage of time so acutely that she could follow the course of a burning wick.
The ceremony moved forward again. The Hierophant pulled open the door to the Anaktoron, light flooding from it spilled down the candle-lined path. Xena watched, but with little attention. The Hierophant stepped into the Anaktoron and out of her view. At last he emerged again, holding a vessel aloft: the Hiera, the most sacred object of the mysteries. Murmurings from those gathered convinced Xena that she was once again surrounded by people seeing things she could not, or chose not to.
She realized she had been numbed once again. She hadn't noticed at all that the ceremony was over, that the priests had left, as well as the Hierophant and the Dadouchos. She was alone in the great hall. Uncertain of where to go or what to do, she could only make herself move back to the Dadouchos' room, back to where Gabrielle's body lay cold and dead.
If only there had been a reason for her Gabrielle to return. Her soul screamed out in agony, she wanted her back so much. But she put the bard's thoughts and safety above her own selfish desires. No, if Gabrielle was with Perdicus in the Elysian Fields then it was for the best. For one of the rare moments in Xena's life, she pondered her own fate: Tartarus or Elysian Fields? There would be no answer until she stood before those who would judge her.
Quietly, she stole into the Dadouchos' room, as if the sound of her footfalls would somehow disturb Gabrielle. She closed the door without a sound, slumping against it when it latched, and decided she would leave the next day to take Gabrielle's body home. It would be a long journey as they were far to the south of Potadeia, and it would be an excruciating journey to bring her dead love back to her family.
Xena turned to gaze once more into the face of her lover and was shocked out of her boots. Gabrielle's body was gone. Someone had taken it without asking her. With anger unchecked by any rational mind, she stormed out of the room and into the hall. She looked in all the nooks and made her way to the entrance area. No one was there. She forced herself to calm her own breathing, slow her own pounding heart to listen. If someone was still in the building, she would surely hear them, hunt them down, and most likely kill them if they had touched Gabrielle.
It was a long moment before own skills took over. Yes, someone was definitely there. With the large empty room, though, the soft sound was difficult to localize. It echoed off the walls and obscured the trail back to its source. She cocked her head and found its path.
Creeping quietly so as not to disturb her concentration nor let her opponent know she was advancing, she made her way back across the hall. Wishing she had more than her dagger, she remained in a defensive position all the while taking the offensive route of seeking out the one whose breathing she could hear.
The closer she got, the more acutely her hearing honed in it. It was coming not from the hall itself, but from a room or nook off of it. She passed the throne, checking and re-checking her direction. She neared the Dadouchos' room, getting closer. The Anaktoron. It came from the Anaktoron. Xena was at a loss momentarily, for she knew that no one but the Hierophant could enter the Anaktoron. But resolve quickly returned, tradition be damned, she was going in there.
The door was ajar, so she curled her long fingers around it and drew it toward her until she could search the room with her eyes. It was cluttered. She wouldn't be able to see everything from her current vantage point, so she was forced to open the door enough to squeeze inside.
The walls were covered in cloths, many embroidered to depict aspects of the mysteries. Two frescos, no doubt representing Demeter and Persephone, had been painted on the walls in an unusual combination of pigments. They were both beautiful and terrifying.
A large raised hearth occupied the center of the room. On it lay more cloths of rich hues and unusual fabrics. They served as the bed for the Hiera, now returned to its resting place until called upon in the next mysteries. Xena had no urge to investigate it further, not out of a fear for any consequences, but because she had been in its presence twice already and had not been inspired by it.
The breathing drew her attention once again. It was quiet, soft, and regular, as if from someone well-practiced in meditation. Xena readied herself to meet her foe. She moved past the table to the far side of the room and almost passed out from the shock.
She fell to her knees, put a hand out in out terror-filled optimism. She was breathing! She was alive! "Gabrielle?" Xena shook her. "Gabrielle?" She took her into her arms, tears streaming down her face.
Two bleary eyes opened. "Xena?"
"Oh, Gabrielle, you came back, you came back." Xena hugged her tightly, a lingering fear propelling her to be certain Gabrielle was really there.
Gabrielle luxuriated in the comfort of Xena's arms. Waiting to return had been so difficult, and she knew all that Xena had endured over the last day having listened intently to Xena's thoughts. Gabrielle eventually snaked an arm out from the powerful hug and wrapped it around Xena's waist, pressing her body into her warrior as hard as she could.
Xena couldn't get enough of Gabrielle. She ran her hands through the bard's hair, she planted soft kisses on her face, let her fingers trace the outline of her lips. Gabrielle didn't say anything, she knew that trying to express what she felt would never do it justice. She just stole one of the warrior's hands and decided to keep it for good, interlacing her fingers with Xena's.
The fervor ebbing, Xena held Gabrielle more gently, and the bard drifted in and out of sleep. Xena's own weariness grew, having not slept for two nights, so she leaned back against the wall and fell into a calm slumber knowing Gabrielle's head rested on her lap.
Gabrielle's sleepy voice jogged the warrior awake. "Persephone?"
"Gabrielle, Xena. I am happy to see the two of you."
Xena smiled at the Kore. "I'm happy, too. Thank you."
Demeter appeared beside her daughter. "Gabrielle, we finally meet."
"Who?..." Gabrielle gazed into the goddess' eyes and an old, nagging question was answered. "The inn, the sacrifice, you did...the pig."
"Rise, my child." Demeter extended her hand to help up Gabrielle, Xena was right behind her supporting her with hands on the small waist. "I wanted to see for myself the erudite one, the bard who mastered the mysteries."
Gabrielle shook her head, "I wouldn't go that far."
"Nonsense," declared Demeter. "Such profound revelations may seem fleeting, but the depth of perception will recur when you clear your mind and will it to return. You hold the key."
Persephone corrected her mother, "They hold the key together."
Xena didn't dare ask what was going on, but she felt an enormous sense of pride in whatever Gabrielle had done or figured out. A part of her felt a little guilty as well, for giving up on the two of them and not believing it best for Gabrielle to return.
"It is time for me to go," said Persephone.
"No, wait." Gabrielle took the goddesses hand. "I want to thank you...oh, that sounds so inadequate. I...Perdicus told me what you gave up for me," she looked to Xena, "for us."
Demeter spoke softly, "A small price to pay for such a precious gift. Now, I must escort my daughter on her journey. Be well, our reflection." And they were gone.
Gabrielle leaned back heavily into Xena who enveloped her again. Neither spoke until Xena turned Gabrielle toward her. She needed to look into her eyes, needed some clue about what had just happened.
The bard smiled at her, "Wondering which question to ask first?"
"Make it an easy one, okay? I'm not up to the complicated stuff yet."
"How about, is it time to get out of here?"
They left the Anaktoron hand-in-hand, crossed the great hall in silence and emerged into the light of early morning. It was a cold morning, and ominous clouds loomed on the horizon. As they descended the stairs out of the Telesterion and passed through the inner gates, Gabrielle slowed. She turned and read once again the words etched into the arch above her, Xena's eyes following hers across the words. 'For the Earth and the Wandering Moon.'
Xena leaned down and whispered, "That's Demeter and Persephone, you know."
Gabrielle squeezed her hand, "No, it's not."
She lead Xena across the Great Dancing Ground and out of the sanctuary knowing she would have a lot of explaining to do.
They walked into the tavern and right into a very stunned Kimonian. He was still weak from the stabbing three days earlier, but was determined to get back to work. "Gabrielle? I heard...Kerykes told me that you had...what happened?"
"It's a long story, and I'll tell you when I can."
Xena, worried about how tired the bard looked and sounded, chimed in, "Kimonian, it is good to see you feeling better. Could you have someone bring us some food, then I think we both need to sleep."
"Of course, Xena. I'll have something sent up and make certain you are not disturbed. Please let me know if you need anything else. And it is good to see you two," he winked.
Xena steered the bard up the steps and into their room. Neither had been there for two nights and both craved a long, uninterrupted rest. Still, there was much to say, and many unanswered questions.
Gabrielle stumbled to the bed and sat down, utterly exhausted. While Xena built a fire to take the chill off the air, Gabrielle remained on the edge of the bed without saying anything. The tinder lit, logs in place, Xena lowered her own weary body down next to Gabrielle. "Are you okay?"
"Yes. I'm fine. Just tired, I guess. How are you?"
"About the same." The big warrior pressed her warm lips against Gabrielle's. "I missed you."
"I know, Xena. I know."
A knock at the door demanded their attention. Soon the table was laid with a loaf of bread, saucers of wine and olive oil for dipping, olives, and cheese. Neither woman was very hungry, but they managed to eat half of the bread and most of the cheese.
"I can't decide whether I want a bath or a nap more," said Gabrielle, pushing her plate away from her. "I'm too tired to make up my mind."
"Then you should sleep." Xena walked Gabrielle to the bed and undressed her. When she fumbled through their belongings and pulled out her shift, Gabrielle shook her head.
"No, I need to feel you next to me, Xena." Xena got herself out of her leathers for the first time in three days and snuggled next to Gabrielle. The bard lifted her head and struggled against her fatigue. "I love you, Xena."
"Shhh, I know. Now sleep." Unlike her bard, Xena did not succumb to Morpheus immediately. She lay awake next to Gabrielle, still unable to take in all that had happened. The only distinct thought that rolled around in her mind was that there was one amazing woman next to her.
It was late in the day before Gabrielle stirred. She felt a long arm over her breasts and a thigh weighing heavily on her legs. Gods it felt good. Carefully, she shifted to look at her lover's face. It was so rare to see Xena asleep, to see her features in the warm light of late afternoon. It wasn't long before the blue eyes opened under the intense gaze from the green. Gabrielle reached out to caress those lips, replacing her fingers with her own trembling lips. She felt Xena's whole body shudder at the touch, as if holding back a tidal wave of passion.
Gabrielle's hands roamed over Xena's entire body, reacquainting herself with that which she already knew so well. Xena's hands were also in motion, though they moved slower and more deeply, settling on the bard's soft breasts; then letting lust coax them lower, they parted the bard's center. Gabrielle gasped at the contact and threw her arms around the warrior's neck, pulling her mouth toward her. Xena was surprised by the intensity of Gabrielle's kiss, but in an instant she caught up with her, letting her fingers dip into the bard while a probing thumb rubbed against her. Their tongues fell into rhythm with Xena's strokes, the lovers becoming more and more desparate in their attempts to both express their love for each other and satiate their own desires. When at last they reached release together, they lay in a tangled heap, sweat intermingled, both gasping for air.
Neither was able to tear their eyes from the other's, though the profound intensity between was almost too much to bear. At last a lop-sided grin grew at the corners of Gabrielle's mouth, soon matched by one on the warrior's lips. Xena questioned her bard, "What is it?"
A little laugh. "The ineffable." Then Gabrielle put her fingers to Xena's lips staying her next question. She answered it anyway, "I don't know if I can explain it, but I will try."
Gabrielle sat up and slid over so her back was against the wall. Xena joined her, pulling a blanket over them. "I don't know where to start," began the bard.
"Well, let me tell you what I know because, believe me, it won't take long, okay? Then you can fill me in from there." Xena tried to piece together just what it was she knew, then started, "Demeter and Persephone came to me right after you...died. They told me they'd made a deal and that if I gave you a reason to return, you could come back."
"Do you know what the deal was?" asked Gabrielle. Xena shook her head. "It was that Persephone would return to Hades early this year in exchange for letting me come back. It'll be an early winter. No wonder it has gotten so cold."
"And that's where Persephone was going when she left us this morning, back to the underworld? As unbelieveable as it is, I think it makes sense." Xena grew quiet and her fingers drummed on the bed.
"Go ahead, ask me Xena." Gabrielle was not going to offer information faster than Xena was willing to take it.
"Why did you come back? I thought you were happy with Perdicus. I never expected to see you...I didn't give you a reason to come back."
"Xena, you gave me a reason."
Xena hid her eyes, wet from the tears of guilt. "No, I didn't."
"Yes, you did. You loved me enough not to think selfishly. You thought only about what I wanted. You loved me enough to give me the choice."
"I wish that was true, but I was scared for you and for me. Gabrielle, I don't know what will happen to you tomorrow or the next day. It's dangerous for you to be with me." Xena spoke as truthfully as she could.
"But Xena, think about why you feel that way."
"Because I love you."
"That's enough for me."
"But you also love Perdicus," countered Xena.
Gabrielle considered another approach. "Xena, when there's a decision to be made, how often do you let someone else make it for you?"
"Come now, you know me better than that, I don't even let you decide where we'll camp...at least not very often."
"So didn't you give me this decision to make? Didn't you let me decide my own fate...our fate?"
"Only by default."
"Give yourself some credit, Xena."
Xena relented, if but a little, "I trusted you because I couldn't trust myself."
"There's a third party involved here and the trust lies there as well." Xena arched her brow, confused, Gabrielle tried to explain. "Us. The trust lies in with us, in our relationship, in our bond. That is the ineffable." Again, Gabrielle held her tongue, giving Xena time to ponder her words.
"Demeter and Persephone?" Asked Xena, though she didn't really know what the question meant.
"The earth and the wandering moon. One is grounded, the other roams, but their relationship is as steady as the stars above. Their bond is the most vital force of nature: it is the answer to the mysteries, Xena."
"Demeter said we were their reflection..." Xena shifted uncomfortably. "So, you must be the earth and I'm the wandering one, huh?"
"You think so? I had it pegged the other way. You're the strong one, so well grounded. I'm the one following you."
"Gabrielle, I still feel like I let you down. I just couldn't bring myself to do what was necessary to get you back."
Gabrielle sidestepped the unasked question. "I don't think we should worry so much about making ourselves whole as about sharing who we are with someone else. Without the love of another, it is impossible to be complete."
"I guess you're right."
"Of course I'm right!"
Xena tousled the strawberry hair, "How is it that you fell for me of all people?" She was answered with a kiss. And more.
Xena went downstairs to ask Kimonian for dinner and hot water for a bath. The water arrived first with mugs of hot cider and port. The pair soaked for a long while, lingering until the water turned tepid, then dried off and dressed as dinner was delivered. They were both delighted to see heaping portions of the stuffed lamb dish they had enjoyed when they first arrived in Eleusis. Gabrielle and Xena overindulged until there wasn't a speck of food to be found on the table. Gabrielle gathered the dishes and put them back on the tray to place it just outside their door. As she reached to put her hand on the latch, someone knocked, startling her. Xena took the tray from Gabrielle, putting it back on the table, then opened the door herself, positioning her body between the bard and whoever was on the other side, an old reflex. "Kerykes!"
"Xena, Kimonian sent word you two were up, I just needed to see...ah, there you are," he said stepping into the room. He gathered Gabrielle into his big arms and gave her a bear hug.
"Hi, yourself." Gabrielle stepped back and looked at Kerykes with a new appreciation, though she knew she could never discuss his role as the Dadouchos with him.
Kerykes plopped down in a chair, looking very much the man and not the mystic priest. "So, you two managed to create a stir with your escapades."
Xena turned serious, remembering her mission and its ultimate failure. "Kerykes, look I'm really sorry I couldn't help. I feel like I single-handedly ruined the mysteries."
"Xena, many aspects of the mysteries were tragic. There were horror-filled days for all of us and it will take time to heal. Many people died, but the fault lies with us, not with you, Xena. Sopatros was a suspect all along, and yet we hid behind our traditions and rituals and did not tell you of him. We should apologize to you, not you to us."
"No, Kerykes," intervened Gabrielle, "There is no need to apologize. We only wish we could have kept the mysteries from being ruined."
Surprsing both Xena and Gabrielle, Kerykes laughed at them. "You have no idea, do you?"
Xena looked at Gabrielle. Gabrielle looked at Xena and shrugged, then asked Kerykes, "Idea about what?"
"What you did for us." Kerykes eyes sparkled with delight. "For as long as our history has been recorded, never have Demeter and the Kore presented themselves together at the mysteries. And yet they came to you twice!"
Xena shrewdly observed, "How do you know about the second time? I only told you of the first."
"Please don't take this wrong, Xena, but the Hierophant was in the Anaktoron when you and Gabrielle were there last night."
Gabrielle was stunned, "How could he have been there without us, or I mean Xena knowing he was there?"
Kerykes bowed his head to Xena, conceding her vast powers of detection, "I believe he had a little help in that arena. He did not wish to invade your privacy, but as caretaker of the mysteries it was his right to know what passed between you and the goddesses. If he had not been there, you would not have been allowed to enter the Anaktoron." Neither woman could comment on that, feeling both proud and embarrassed.
"Now, ladies, I should take my leave. The prince has requested you join him tomorrow night for the final celebration of the festival. He has something special to show you."
Xena closed and latched the door and threw up her hands. "Why is it I keep feeling like I've missed something important?"
"I'm with you on this one, Xena. I don't get it either. These mysteries, they are well named, aren't they?"
"You can say that again."
Much to Xena's surprise and relief, the celebration was an intimate, though extravagantly magnificent dinner for four. Prince Triptolemus and Kerykes doted on the women, keeping the conversation light and lively. They spoke primarily of the festival, its pageantry and pomp that people from all over Greece came to enjoy.
The prince told them about one particularly ribald drama in which the two lead actors ended the play with only the barest minimum of clothing still clinging to their bodies. Though there were loud and boisterous protests, the audience grew in number, setting a record for the largest number of people attending a single performance. When it became clear that the prince himself had been in the audience, and that he had attended because he had advance warning about the antics that would take place, Xena and Gabrielle ribbed him mercilessly.
A pleasant lull in the conversation changed the mood. Keykes gestured to the prince indicating he agreed it was time. "Ladies, will you do me the honor of joining us in the gardens." The prince led Xena while Gabrielle took Kerykes arm.
It was a crisp but brilliant night. The full moon, in its resplendent glory, had arced about a third of the way up the sky, illuminating the verdant foliage around them in a silvery glow. Gabrielle had thought the gardens extraordinary in the daylight, but they became much more special and wondrous under the light of the moon.
Meandering down a wooded path, the prince explained, "Although there is still some work to be done, Kerykes and I have added something new we want you to see before you leave." They met a sharp turn in the path and after rounding it, Xena and Gabrielle came to an abrupt halt. Where there was once a well-trodden dirt track splitting two straight rows of tall trees, there was now a long shallow pool. At the exact center of the far end, the moon shone between the trees casting a long reflection down the entire length of the water.
"It is positioned so that in festival month, the full moon will cast its luminescence along the pool." Kerykes told them with a tinge of awe in his voice. "And it will catch the first rays of dawn in the same manner."
"Its beautiful," said Gabrielle, unable to muster a more expressive phrase. Xena put an arm around her bard, completely at a loss for words.
"Consider it yours, my friends. Kerykes and I will be its stewards, but it resides here in your honor."
"Thank you," Xena muttered. "But, I don't understand."
Triptolemus offered his explanation, "Xena, you and Gabrielle have reaffirmed the ineffability of the mysteries. The inexplicability of goddesses has been manifested in you. You are their mortal reflection. This is but a small token of our appreciation, our respect for what you represent."
Much later, when Xena and Gabrielle readied themselves for bed, they were both still in a daze. They had spoken little on their trek back to the inn, and had said nothing since returning to their room. Xena planted herself at the window, staring off into the vast nothingness of the night. Gabrielle came up behind her, resting her head on the tall woman's shoulder.
"Xena, do you get the feeling that something very weird happened?"
"Should we really believe all they say about us?"
"Not if we know what's good for us."
"I loved the pool, though."
"So did I."
"So you think you're the moon, huh?" prodded the bard.
"I'm just asking, just asking. If you're not interesting in choosing up sides, I'm not going to be the one to make you." Gabrielle allowed herself to get in too deep, "Of course, sometimes your hot temper reminds me more of the sun."
The little bard found herself flat on her back on the bed, buried under six feet of warrior, subjected to boundless tickling. She thought to herself, 'I'm getting pretty good at this.'
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