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Xena: Warrior Princess, Gabrielle, Argo and all other characters who have appeared in the syndicated series Xena: Warrior Princess, together with the names, titles and backstory are the sole copyright property of MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures. No copyright infringement was intended in the writing of this fan fiction. All other characters, the story idea and the story itself are the sole property of the author. This story cannot be sold or used for profit in any way. Copies of this story may be made for private use only and must include all disclaimers and copyright notices.
NOTE: All works remain the © copyright of the original author. These may not be republished without the author's consent.
This story depicts scenes of violence and/or their aftermath. Readers who are disturbed by or sensitive to this type of depiction may wish to read something other than this story.
This story depicts a love/sexual relationship between two consenting adult women. If you are under 18 years of age or if this type of story is illegal in the state or country in which you live, please do not read it. If depictions of this nature disturb you, you may wish to read something other than this story.
This is an adventure story as well as a romance. It is set in a period when humanity’s consciousness was on the brink of a giant leap forward so don’t look for historically accurate warrior philosophy.
- Maude email@example.com
Redemption - Part One by Maude the Faire
by Maude the Faire
The humid night bore down oppressive and heavy on the sleeping warrior. Beads of sweat broke out on her forehead as she thrashed in her bedroll, battling the demons of her dreams. "No! No! Let go of me! Awhhh!!!"
"Xena. Xena, it’s just a dream." Gabrielle reached out cautiously to cuddle her friend, careful lest Xena’s sword-sharp reflexes should launch a powerful backhand to her nose. "Xena, it’s okay," she cooed as Xena blinked, then squinted open one blue eye. "It’s okay. Go back to sleep." Groggy and breathing heavily Xena allowed herself to be held and soothed. Ever proud, rarely afraid, the warrior princess, in a more wakeful state, would never let herself appear so vulnerable. Gabrielle took advantage of the opportunity to return the comforting her stalwart friend had given her through so many of her own nightmarish, anxiety- ridden nights after Perdicus was murdered. She pulled Xena’s head down upon her chest, sprinkling light kisses across the hero’s forehead and stroking her thick, ebony tresses. "It’s just a dream, my darling."
Xena snuggled up tight against Gabrielle’s comforting body, gave her left breast, the one on which her head rested, a soft peck , and slumbered there quietly for what little remained of the night.
The summer heat and the feel and scent of Xena in her arms kept Gabrielle awake and aroused till dawn. A bit of sweet love-making with her warrior would calm her and relieve the mild ache in her yoni, but she hadn’t the heart to wake Xena now, not even for loving. The nightmares were coming more frequently. Xena had begun to look uncharacteristically pale and worn in recent weeks. Gabrielle sensed that, if Xena did not get some sort of relief from the night terrors and insomnia soon she would sink into brooding despair. But Gabrielle sympathized: How could anyone go to sleep at night knowing they were going to dream about being attacked and suffocated by relentless, taloned demons? oooh!
The morning sun shone in its full glory when Gabrielle woke again. She stretched her arms above her head as far as they reached to welcome the new day. Xena had already caught a fish for breakfast and had it frying in a pan over the campfire.
"Cooking is suppose to be my job," said Gabrielle, washing her face and mouth with water from a goatskin.
"That’s right. It is," said Xena. "But I didn’t want to starve to death waiting for you to get out of bed and DO your job."
"Ooo, are we a bit grumpy this morning, my love?" Gabrielle shrugged off Xena’s sarcasm putting an understanding hand on her broad shoulder. "I’m sorry you had another rough night. Want to tell me about it?" "Maybe later." Xena set the pan down and rose to give Gabrielle a ‘good morning’ kiss, bent to enfold her friend in her arms and hugged her warmly. "Thanks for... you know... for last night."
Gabrielle listened to Xena’s painfully spoken words, pleased by the warrior’s attempt to relate the feelings in her heart.
"I know my nightmares cost you sleep too, and ... well, it really helps when you hold me."
"Xena, I’ll gladly hold you anytime you want, but you need to do something about these nightmares; you need to find out what the demons are trying to tell you."
Xena sat on a log and sighed.
"Maybe we should pay a visit to Amazon Territory. I think Ophidia could give you a little insight into the matter. She has skills beyond that of most healers I know. She’s absolutely amaz..."
Just as Gabrielle bent to cut into the fried trout with her knife an arrow whooshed by, and cut through the air where her head had been a moment earlier. Xena reached out and pulled the bard behind the log on which she sat. "Stay down!’’ she commanded, rising to a crouched stance, ready for action, as another arrow sliced the air. This one Xena caught only millimeters before it would have cleaved a path between her eyes and through her brain. "Ooo, I hate that!!"
The second arrow revealed the hiding place of one of the archers, who crouched on the branch of a tree at 30 paces to the left and 8 arm lengths high. Xena calculated the location of the other at 20 paces to the right and 10 arm lengths overhead. Hurling her chakram with dead on accuracy , it cleanly severed the bowstring of the nearest archer, ricocheted off the tree and severed the bowstring of the other knocking them to the ground with simultaneous thumps.
Aiaiaiai!!!!! In one gravity-defying leap and a harpy’s screech Xena was on them, sword drawn, before either had the chance to recover from the fall. "All right, who’s disturbing my breakfast?!"
The two archers, still in shock, looked at each other, wide-eyed and dumb-stricken. "Don’t be shy," Xena said in a fierce whisper, pointing her sword tip at one, a brawny goon, bald and bearded, then the other, a wraithlike, rather anemic looking fellow. "Start talking! Who’s your leader, or warlord, or...whatever?"
"No one," stammered the gaunt one, "We were after you ourselves, ...that is... until you showed us the error of our ways." He scooted backward on his hind end to keep the sword tip from tickling his nose.
"Right," said the bald man inching his way to his feet. "In fact, it’s probably not even you we were looking for. Right, Mustafah?" "Right, Phocles," nodded his partner. "Must be some other warrior- princess we’re looking for." The two found their feet and were making for the road when the snap of a whip pierced the air.
Thwap! Xena lassoed the bigger man, the one in front, by the ankle, pulling him to the ground causing his partner to trip over him. She tweaked both of them at their necks pinching a vital nerve plexus. "The interrogation’s not over yet, boys. What you’re feeling is the blood draining from your brain. In a minute you’ll be dead... or you could cooperate." The two lay in a heap, disgruntled, but quivering and eager to talk. "Now, that warrior princess you’re looking for wouldn’t happen to be ‘Xena’, would it?"
"Yes, it would be Xena," answered Mustafah, as Xena moved the sword edge to the side of his neck, caressing his throat with it.
"Don’t you know? There’s a price on your head. A pretty big price."
"A price from who?" Gabrielle interjected as she crept out from behind her log shield. Having been hit by an arrow once, a poison one at that, they were her least favorite weapon to be attacked by.
"The Thyrians. They’ll pay 10,000 dinars for Xena’s head on a stake."
"On a stake?! You’ve really got the wrong warri..."
"Shutup, Gabrielle! What do the Thyrians want with me? I left them alone years ago."
"It’s their new king, Achmedor. He’s the son of a man you killed."
"Achmedor." The name was a grim reminder of the warrior-princess’s not-distant-enough past. "Son of Achmeneus?"
"Go! Don’t let me see your faces again. And consider yourselves very lucky you didn’t hit my friend with your arrows... ‘cause then I’d have to kill you! Go!"
The two scurried away like startled hares.
"Looks like my past has created another Callisto," the warrior said with a hint of weariness in her voice.
"Tell me what happened, Xena. You killed this king’s father years ago and now he wants revenge?"
"Achmedor was only a boy when I killed King Achmeneus and took his crown, his jewels, plundered his kingdom. My army left their palace in ruins. Now he’s grown up. He want’s my head on a stake. Can’t say that I blame him."
"Xena! Your head on a stake? That’s way past vengeance. Past blood-lust even. That’s crazy."
"I know. That’s what I did to his father."
Xena walked back to the campfire and quietly finished her trout. Gabrielle had lost all appetite for hers.
"Next stop: Amazon Territory. You’re right, Gabrielle. I need to see a healer about these nightmares. If nothing else, Ophidia can give me a sleep potion." "Great idea," Gabrielle said from across Argo’s rump where she was tying down the last of her gear.
Xena finished tying down her own gear to the patient horse’s back but retrieved a small cloth sack from the saddlebag handing it to Gabrielle. "We need to gather some Star of Isis as payment for her. She’s always in need of it, and it’s abundant around here this season."
"Okay, I’ll keep my eyes peeled for little white blooms."
"Keep ‘em peeled for bounty hunters too. Mustafah and Phocles have probably spread word of our whereabouts from here to Rome by now."
The two travelers stuck to the well-traveled roads where the bounty hunters were more plentiful but much easier to spot than on wooded paths. In Gabrielle’s estimation, talk was always good for passing away the dreary hours of a long journey, and gave her a chance to broach the subject of Xena’s dream dilemma. She probed as deeply as the reticent warrior would allow. "So, Xena, what do these demons that chase you in your dreams look like? Are they Gorgons, Harpies, gluttonous Cyclopes threatening to eat you...?"
"I don’t know. All I see is their claws reaching out and grabbing at me, trying to touch me. Turns my blood cold. Oooo, can we talk about something else?"
Gabrielle smiled. "It’s not like you to be squeamish, Xena."
"I’m not squeamish when I’m fighting something real, but these creatures make me feel like I’m suffocating, like I’m being buried alive even though I’m running as fast as I can."
"You know, I once consulted a dream reader in Potidaea about a recurring nightmare I’d been having of being chased be a giant with a spear."
"Ehh, I had that one when I was thirteen. I was afraid of losing my virginity." Xena spoke wryly, play-grabbing at Gabrielle’s fanny.
"The dream reader told me: ‘Little One," Gabrielle adopted the course voice of an old crone, "this giant may have a very important message for you. When you’re being chased in your dreams, whether it be by man or monster, summon up all your courage, stop running, turn around and face the demon. If it doesn’t disappear right away, find your voice and ask it what it wants."
"Ask it what it wants?" "Well, I tried it, and it worked. Before I went to sleep I’d say to myself, ‘Gabrielle, if you feel someone chasing you in your sleep, don’t run. Be brave. Turn around and ask him what he wants.’ I did that every night until the dream came again. When it did I remembered what I was suppose to do. I stopped running, turned around, faced the giant and yelled at it." Gabrielle’s face contorted fiercely. "What do you want?!"
"So what important message did this giant have for you?"
"Turns out it wasn’t a giant at all. I was being chased by old Zerses, the baker, with a loaf of bread. He wanted me to give it to my mother."
The two travellers gazed at the sky briefly to ponder the import of Gabrielle’s dream quest.
"So what did you do when you had that kind of dream, Xena?"
"I got one of Mother’s tavern boys to take my virginity. The nightmares stopped." Chapter 4
The damp night ground under their thin blankets sweltered beneath Xena and Gabrielle where they lay sweat-soaked and breathless in each others arms. They had slowly tantalized each other’s body in that night’s love- making until neither of them could contain the sweet flood of sensation any longer. Waves of pleasure swept over them till they were drained of passion and all desire.
"That should help you sleep, my love," Gabrielle spoke weakly, caressing her lover’s wet belly. "But if you need me during the night reach out for me. I’ll be right beside you."
Xena kissed her fiercely. Two things scared the warrior princess: the dreamland demons she couldn’t see or touch, and the intensity of her love for the good-hearted bard/philosopher, who fulfilled so many roles in her once-lonely life; that of lover, of life-companion, and that of her conscience, the mirror of any goodness Xena could see in herself. Gabrielle once told her of a legend about the original humans who had been split in half by the gods, and went through eternity in search of their other half. Gabrielle had become so much a part of her Xena feared what a futile search her own existence would become if she ever lost the poet of her soul.
"I love you, Gabrielle."
"I love you, Xena. Goodnight."
Xena interlocked fingers with Gabrielle’s and, holding hands, the weary wanderers fell asleep.
Thick air filled her lungs like quicksand as she ran through darkness. A sinking sensation sucked at her like a whirlpool pulling her into the earth. Countless invisible talons clawed at her flesh; her panicked heart pounded like a battering-ram.
Hearing her own conscious command in her dream, she stopped running and abruptly woke, still grappling for something to hang on to. She thought to herself, ‘Hey, Miss Warlord-Turned-Hero, you’re supposed to stop and turn around. Face the enemy. Don’t wake up. Face the enemy.’
Twice more that night Xena would repeat the sequence. She would fall asleep, feel her pursuers’ breath on her neck, and each time would stop running and awaken to the still night. She was neither getting any insight into the message of the dream, nor was she getting any sleep. Sometime before dawn she got up and dressed. If she couldn’t get sleep she could at least get food. By the time Gabrielle got up Xena had two game hens cleaned and dressed and roasting over a campfire.
"It takes practice, Xena." Gabrielle continued her ruminations on lucid dreaming as Xena led Argo carefully across a rapid, stony brook, "You can become an active participant in your dreams. Last night was a good start, you were able to stop running."
Startled, Gabrielle nearly slipped on a wet rock, then realized Xena had just pulled another bounty hunter, the third they’d encountered that day, out of the rushes with her bull whip. As with the others, Xena relieved the man of his weapons and left him lying disheveled at the brook’s edge.
"Find other work to do, friend." advised the warrior princess, then to Gabrielle she said, "I guess Achmedor’s put the word out. I’m famished. Let’s stop at the next inn."
Gabrielle and Argo stepped gingerly around the bewildered huntsman and back onto dry land, where Gabrielle took up the thread of her conver- sation again.
"A trader passed through Potidaea once, who believed that the dream world was the real world and the real world was just a place to eat and drink, sort of like an inn. He said that some of the most important events of his life happened while he was dreaming."
"You gotta be kidding."
"Well think of it, Xena. If wars could be fought in our dreams there would be no blood sh..."
Xena easily disarmed three greedy marauders with her chakram, and ran one of them through with her sword as he rushed her bare-handed. "Sorry, Gabrielle." Xena said in her most sardonic tone as she pulled her sword blade out of the man’s stilled heart with a squish. "Just didn’t have time to wait until we all fell asleep."
"Is that supposed to be funny, Xena?" harped Gabrielle, irked by her friend’s casual attitude about killing. "I mean if you’re going to kill a man at least don’t make jokes about it. I mean I know you think all this dream talk is just..."
Xena walked ahead silently, momentarily shutting out Gabrielle’s chatter while she anticipated a cool grog at the village just ahead.
"Hey... hey, Xena, look at this." Gabrielle recaptured her attention by ripping a parchment from a plank that stood beside a shrine to Zeus grown seedy. "Wanted:’’ Gabrielle read from the bulletin. "Xena, the Warrior Princess. 10,000 dinars for her head on a stake." Xena took the parchment and read it for herself. "That cool grog will have to wait a bit, Gabrielle. I think it’s time to switch to plan beta."
Deep in the woods Xena donned a cowl and cloak to hide her face and warrior attire. She used a thick laurel limb walking stick and adopted the hobbling gait of an old crone. "Now, Gabrielle, close your eyes and think: HAG."
With closed eyes Gabrielle put her hands to her temples and concentrated on the image of the old witch woman who had lived on the outskirts of Potidaea, and when she opened her eyes again it was as if old Lenya stood before her instead of her svelte, young friend. "How do you do that, Xena?"
"Just a trick I learned from our friend, the God of War," Xena said with a smirk thinking of the irony in her attachment to Ares. He disgusted her but she could not bring herself to hate him either, or to deny that he had taught her useful skills. By late afternoon the travellers reached the village via the main road without further interruptions. Gabrielle walked beside her lending her arm for support and referring to Xena as ‘Grandmama’. They walked through the village seemingly unnoticed and entered a tavern. Gabrielle ordered a stout grog for them both along with a plate of freshwater clams fried in sheep lard. Xena kept her ears open for gossip that might concern her head and its current relationship to the rest of her body when in walked an sentry heavily armed. A couple of merchants huddling over their tankards watched the soldier swagger up to the bar and whispered to each other in tones inaudible to an old crone, but not to Xena’s acute senses.
"There’s another of Achmedor’s men. Still looking for that warrior woman." "Wonder what she did to bring the wrath of that petty tyrant down on her head. I’d hate to be in her boots." The sentry turned from the bar making a general announcement to the tavern patrons. "Whoever brings Xena, the Warrior Princess, dead or alive, to King Achmedor: 10,000 dinars will be his! She may be traveling with a young blonde girl," he said, turning toward Gabrielle. "Somewhat like you, Miss."
His evil tone and suspicious stare gave Gabrielle chills."Oh, I’m traveling alone." The nosy bartender caught the lie. "No you aren’t! You came in with the old crone over there!"
The sentry rushed to Xena’s hunched form and tore the cape away from her face. The gleam of a bronze blade was the last thing he saw as Xena ran it across his throat; he fell to the floor spewing frothy blood from his windpipe.
Gabrielle was out the front door and whipping Argo into a gallop as Xena backed toward the rear door waving her sword in front of her. "Anyone else want to try for 10,000 dinars? It’s a lot of money!" The room was silent and blind to all but the sentry, who’s life spasmed out of him where he lay in the middle of the room. With a flourish of her cape Xena exited the tavern and propelled herself onto Argo’s back as Gabrielle brought him around, and they galloped away leaving a party of sentries, minus one, waiting at the front door. Chapter 7 The travellers reached Amazon Territory as the sunlight was retreating from the thick forest. Tribeswomen, who guarded their forest-lined borders recognized their returning Queen and her companion, and escorted them by torchlight to the Amazon’s village and the entrance to the Queen’s hut. "Welcome home, Amazons. Poa-hippa, please see to the care of their horse." Ephiny, the Queen-in-absentia, and a few tribeswomen, who hadn’t been out hunting and gathering gave Gabrielle a royal welcome, Amazon style, where homage was a ritual of mutual respect. No one bowed and scraped, rather, they gathered around Queen Gabrielle and ululated loudly until she signaled them to stop. "Hello, Amazons. It’s good to be home. Please carry on with ... whatever you were doing." ‘I’ll have to get use to this Queen thing again,’ she thought.
The tribeswomen dispersed. Ephiny, Gabrielle and Xena ducked into the Queen’s hut. Ephiny gave warm hugs to both of them, asking, "What brings you home... and in such unusual attire? I hope you’ll stay awhile."
"As long as it takes. I need Ophidia’s help." explained Xena. Throwing off her crone’s cape, she added, "We had a little trouble on the way."
"What is it that our priestess can help you with, Xena?"
The left side of Xena’s mouth slowly upturned showing that even a warrior princess can feel silly. "Bad dreams."
Ephiny said, with characteristic sobriety, "I think you’ll find Ophidia in her hut, and willing to see you if she doesn’t have other business."
Xena ducked back out of the hut. Ophidia’s hut was set back in the woods, but Xena knew the way well. Shortly before her friendship with Gabrielle had evolved physically, Xena had a brief romance with the healer/priestess, mostly to help her forget her pain while Gabrielle cavorted in Ephiny’s bed, but Xena remembered their time together fondly and thought of it now as she passed by the healer’s window and looked in. Ophidia sat at a half-moon shaped table doing calculations over a star chart, too intent to notice Xena watching her. Her fire red hair, whitening around the temples, hung down to her waist in a thick braid. Xena recalled how it smelled of hyacinth and how lovely it looked when Ophidia untwined it at bedtime just for her pleasure.
"Xena!" Ophidia cried, rising to greet her friend who had just ducked into her hut. "Welcome home, my dear." They hugged long, with the entire length of their bodies melting into each other. Ophidia did not mind the armor that came between her and the warrior’s breast; It was so much a part of her Xena-ness. "I’ve missed you so!"
"It’s good to see you too, Ophidia." Xena had not as yet come to think of Amazon Territory as ‘home’, even though Gabrielle seemed to, but she appreciated the welcome anyway. She looked around the cozy little hut, remembering its warm, cluttered comfort, the broad bed piled with furs, and the hours of loving they had spent there. Ophidia’s work table had scrolls and astrological charts spread across it as usual. The shelves where packed with blue, green and sand-colored clay pots and jars containing herbs and preparations of herbs, some of which Ophidia alone knew the secrets.
"Gabrielle’s wonderful. I’m afraid this isn’t a social call this time Ophidia. I’m here on business. And I brought payment." "Okay,’ said Ophidia disengaging, a little reluctantly, from Xena’s body. "I’ll be glad to help in anyway I can."
Xena reached into her bodice and produced the cloth sack, handing it to Ophidia. "Star of Isis. Gathered at peak season."
Ophidia took the sack with much gratitude and inspected the herbal contents. "I see. It’s blossoms are exceptionally fragrant. Thank you, Xena. This should go a long way as a tincture." Ophidia removed the stalks from the sack carefully and placed them in a jar with a tight- fitting lid to retain the herb’s freshness. "Now, what can I do for you?"
Xena related the history of her nightmares and insomnia to Ophidia, including her experiment with Gabrielle’s method of facing the demon that chased her in order to learn his message. "I’ve known that technique to work too, Xena. I’m not a true dream reader. My gifts lie in herbal healing and reading the night sky, but my intuitive sense tells me this is a demon you don’t want to face."
Xena’s face dropped. As usual, Ophidia’s skill at reading people surprised her into seeing what had been right in front of her all along. "I see now," said the warrior, putting her face in her hands as if gazing into a reflective pool. "What I’ve been struggling with,... lashing out at... has been my own resistance. Ophidia, this demon is something I’m really afraid to look at."
Ophidia took one of Xena’s hands and then the other away from her face and held them both as she looked into her eyes. "It’s probably something about yourself you don’t want to face, my love. That’s the message of the dream."
"What can I do, Ophidia? This nightmare is consuming me. I thought I had sounded all the dark corners of my heart."
"That, my dear, is a lifetime process. However..." Ophidia dropped Xena’s hands and turned to one of her shelves. "I do have something that might help you." Ophidia removed a single black jar from the shelf and checked its contents, then held it under Xena’s nose. "Smell."
"Ooph," Xena jerked back like her nose had been stung. "What is it?"
"It’s called Medusa’s Venom"
"Ooo, I already don’t like it."
"It takes you to your dreamscape while you’re awake and able to investigate what you see. It is a powerful substance and there is some danger in it. You have to approach it with an attitude of humility, a difficult task for you, my princess."
Xena smiled at Ophidia’s gentle gibe and said, "What’s the danger?"
"You will be awake and able to talk, fight and kill, so you must go to a secluded place lest you harm an innocent, and you must go unarmed. Also, it’s a poison. A little too much could kill you, or .. drive you insane. Although I’ve tempered it a bit with milder dream-producing herbs."
Xena breathed deeply, considering her alternatives.
"I’ll have to make a preparation which won’t be ready till tomorrow... if you want to take this journey."
"I’ll give it a try," said Xena.
"There is no trying with Medusa’s Venom, Xena. There is only success or failure." Ophidia looked pointedly at Xena. "Consider carefully."
"Is there no other way?"
"Yes, there are other ways. This is my way, the only one I know." Taking up Xena’s hand again, Ophidia continued, "How important is self- knowledge to you, Xena? Take the night to decide. Come to me tomorrow. I’ll have the preparation for you. I’ll take you to a special place deep in the woods if you still want to go. For tonight, here’s a vial of skullcap mixed with a few other things to give you dreamless sleep." Ophidia handed a slender vial to Xena which she secreted in her armored bodice.
"Thank you, Ophidia," Xena said, hesitating in the doorway before she left, sensing a little longing in herself for Ophidia and her experienced ways.
Ophidia patted Xena’s shoulder and gave her a little shove as she said, "Go.’’
When Xena returned to the village hub she found Queen Gabrielle holding court with Ephiny and Solari, her private council, at her side. Xena wanted nothing to do with politics and sneaked off to the Queen’s bedchambers to nap.
Lark’s warbled. Tribeswomen laughed and worked outside the Queen’s hut where Xena was waking up. Gabrielle pranced in and sat beside her on the bed, and bent to kiss her. "Good morning, my love. You slept like the dead."
"Ophidia gave me skullcap to sleep. Must’ve been a potent batch." Xena pulled the soft sheepskin around her and tried to go back to sleep, but Gabrielle’s merry yakking prevented any such idea from working.
"I accomplished quite a few political reforms yesterday. I’ve formalized same sex marriage, abolished capital punishment, and there will definitely be no more fighting to the death around here." Gabrielle threw herself on the bed, jostling Xena and pulling covers off her. "Oh, it’s good to be back on the throne."
"I’m so proud of you, darling. Now let me go back to sleep." Xena pulled up sheepskin again and closed her eyes.
"But Xena, I thought you’d want to come swimming with me. The pool below Hippolita’s Falls is just brimming and icy cold."
Remembering what she had to do that day, Xena gave up the temptation to sleep until sundown, thinking a brisk swim was sure to get her juices flowing. She threw the sheepskin over Gabrielle’s head and leaped out of bed in single flourish. "Race you to the pool."
Xena ran through the woods to the stream, naked but for a nightshirt, which she tore off and threw in Gabrielle’s face as the bard closed in on her, stripping as she ran. They hit the water in one great sploosh. "Ha... ha...haa!" Gabrielle gasped when she came up for air. "Takes my breath away."
The exhilaration got Xena’s sleep-sluggish blood flowing and eased her bones, sore from so many hours in bed. Diving to the bottom of the deep pool cleared her head and eyes. She swam in swift underwater circles like a porpoise at play coming up gasping and sputtering, feeling so alive. "Ahh, this was a great idea, Love."
As Gabrielle washed her hair under the falls, Xena watched her massage her golden tresses, her bare breasts rising full and hard-nippled each time she raised her arms. Xena fell in love all over again.
"I need to talk to you about something."
Gabrielle swam over to Xena and wrapped her arms and legs around her torso. "Does it have anything to do with your visit to Ophidia yesterday?"
"Yep." Xena related to Gabrielle the healer’s method of exploring the dream world, resisting the temptation to minimize the danger and spare Gabrielle the worry.
"There’s something here I need to face, Gabrielle."
"Do what you need to do, Xena."
"I love you, Gabrielle."
"I love you, Xena."
They dressed and returned to the Queen’s chambers only to pull their clothes off again and tumble onto the bed. Xena pulled the bard on top of herself and rubbed her hands briskly along the smooth, water-cooled skin of Gabrielle’s back, buttocks and thighs, thinking how lovely and how so ‘enough’ this moment was. No words were needed; no words could express what they saw in one another’s gaze.
Xena met Ophidia at the healer’s hut in the early evening. Ophidia was ready with her potion of Medusa’s Venom wrapped in a sycamore leaf. Grabbing a torch, Ophidia led the way through the winding forest path to the site where Xena would take her journey. The way led down the dark, mossy bank of a ravine cut by a stream’s overflow, where Ophidia had to stake the torch in wet earth in order climb down it. Xena took up the torch as she followed Ophidia down the slippery bank. They walked far along the narrowing fissure into denser forest until the torch lit their way only a few steps ahead. Finally the forest broke onto a small clearing walled around by stones that seemed to have been set there intentionally by some intelligence human or divine. The erect stones formed an ellipse around the entrance to a small cave. An altar to Artemis, littered with the petals of wildflowers, stood toward one end of the clearing facing the cave’s mouth. Xena planted the torch near Artemis’ gray-marble image. Ophidia unwrapped the leaf containing the herbal preparation and instructed Xena. "Chew this, then drink water. There’s a small spring coming out of the altar. Drink plenty of it. Expect to get sick to your stomach after you’ve absorbed some of this." Ophidia took her hand, "Remember Xena. Whatever you see was created by your own mind. You have the power to destroy it... and to understand it." Ophidia pulled a tight little bundle of herbs from a pouch inside her robe, lit the stalk ends with the torch and stuck the bundle upright in a small slot carved into the statue’s shoulder. Smoke spiraled up into the twilight and Xena smelled the fragrance of summer grasses in it. Ophidia kissed the warrior heavily on the mouth, picked up the torch and silently headed out.
Xena was left in total darkness momentarily until she looked above her and saw the twilit sky with a trace of red running through wisps of gray-blue clouds above her where stone walled her in. She groped around in darkness for the spring’s fount and found a cool wetness trickling into a stone basin at the base of the altar. The altar itself was built of smoothed stone cubes stacked waist high and fitted together like puzzle pieces. A flat capstone served as a surface for offerings, and was littered with small crystals and bundles of herbs and flowers - some of Ophidia’s ritual work and probably that of other Amazons initiated in the mysteries of the goddess of the hunt. She stuck a clump of Medusa’s Venom in her mouth and chewed. It tasted essentially like dirt, better actually than what she had expected, but there was an ancient taste about it also, like dirt that had been lying in at the bottom of a tomb for centuries. She chewed it well, then cupped her hand beneath the spring’s flow and drank. She repeated the process until she had finished the herb and drank enough water to feel pressure from her full bladder.
She walked a little distance from the spring, squatted in the grass and, pulling her leathers aside, began to pee. Oddly, the tingling relief in her crotch turned into warm excitement throughout her body. She swayed slightly in her crouched position as if the earth had undulated softly beneath her. She tried to stand, lost her balance, and fell backward on her rump. ‘Whoa, this stuff is messing with my head already.’ At that moment from the mouth of the cave there came a satyr zipping by, piping a whimsical tune on his reed pipes, his cloven goat feet thumping across the ground and disappearing into the darkness. ‘Pan, the bringer of bad dreams,’ she thought. ‘I can guess what that portends.’ Xena shook her head to clear it and the world swelled and crashed before her like a wave. On her second attempt she succeeded in pulling her rump out of the damp grass and stood, then staggered back to the altar and its fresh spring water. Hanging on to the stone fount she bent and drank. ‘Mmm, this water is sweet. And I feel good all over. Ophidia didn’t say anything about that.’
No sooner had she noticed a euphoric feeling throughout her body than her stomach tightened into a fist and made her wretch. Xena doubled over and sank to her knees, gagged once, then vomited violently into the peppermint that grew at Artemis’ feet. ‘So much for propitiating the gods. Is this humble enough, Ophidia?’ Twice more nausea seized her before she was able to pull herself to her feet. She stood and the world spun. She turned her back to the altar and, leaning against it for support, noticed an unearthly glimmer emanating from the mouth of the cave. Managing to steady herself despite the vertigo, she walked to the mouth of the cave from out of which a tall, luminous figure approached her. Darphus! Xena gasped and nearly lost her balance again, attempting to unsheathe her sword - a sword that wasn’t there. Ophidia had taken all sharp instruments away from her before their trek through the woods.
"What do you want?" At last able to find the words, she stood fast as the scar-faced figure of her former second-in-command, her betrayer, slowly glided toward her, one arm outstretched, its palm upturned, beseeching, pleading. It remained silent. Seized with fear Xena turned to run but was plunged into darkness, whirling and groping for something to hold on to. ‘Stop running.’ Bathed in sweat she stopped and crouched close to the ground. From the depths of sheer panic a clear space opened in her mind, and from there came a wordless knowing, an awareness that she was in a dream and knew what to do next.
She whirled around and stood to face the ghostly Darphus, but there was only empty darkness and the faint aura of the cave’s mouth beckoning her back to it. She closed her eyes and breathed deeply, got a grip on her fear, and calmed her hammering heart. She tasted sweat on her lips and felt it trickle from her temples. She centered herself, focusing on each heaving breath, the mental preparation for battle, and walked back into the cave. All at once the interior of the cave dissolved, the stone embankment dissolved, and the ground she stood on gave way beneath her, leaving her nothing to stand on, nothing to hang on to. In the dissolution of her world visions flew at her like the black-winged Bacchae as she tore at the air for something solid. Scenes from her life played before her like shadow puppets on a wall: black smoke rising from a battlefield, the stench of burned flesh, the taste of blood on her lips; the cry of her newborn son echoing in her ears as she left him; Hercules’ crushing embrace as she made love with him; the sight of Gabrielle pushing Hope into the volcano’s gape and disappearing into the fire herself, sacrificing all to save her; Ophidia’s voice, sincere but ominous, "How important is self-knowledge to you, Xena?" The unspoken part of Ophidia’s question, - Xena’s question- came to her through dark space in the clear voice of Gabrielle: Are you willing to die in order to ‘know thyself’? Xena closed her eyes and gave herself to the hungry, sucking earth, throwing her arms up in a gesture of surrender, and instantly the sinking feeling was transmuted. She opened her eyes and found herself standing on a hilltop looking down on a river of small flames like distant torches in the night. Coming towards her, no longer fiendish, were her dream demons, an army of walking corpses. The torchlight was merely the glint of the moon in their vacuous eyes; their talons were their bloody hands, imploring and voracious, reaching for her. She stood her ground and allowed them to envelope her, to paw at her though their ghostly hands went through her flesh invisibly. "What do you want?" she called to them, sickened by the vision. The silent army kept coming, at her and through her, anonymous and empty of vitality their wounded bodies spoke richly of grief, and of terror, of men’s lives cut down in battle, and women and children wasted from hunger; of fields salted and villages razed. Xena looked into a young woman’s eyes and bellowed helplessly, "What do you want of me!!!"
"Thousands of them, Gabrielle. I’m standing on a hill in the dark, and I can see them coming for miles, like a river of corpses, and they just keep coming at me.
The bard held Xena tightly, as if she could stop her trembling. "Xena, even though you’ve turned your life around, your past is bound to haunt you for a long time. Maybe forever."
"But why now? Why has the guilt suddenly gotten worse? How many Callistos and Achmedors are out there that have been created by me?"
"Maybe the guilt you felt was so overwhelming you blocked it out. Maybe it took time to heal enough so that you can face it." She turned Xena’s face to look at hers. "You’ve done a lot of good things since I’ve known you, Xena. You’ve saved villages, kingdoms,... you even recovered the North Star and restored the underworld to its natural order. Now you can look yourself in the eye and know that you’ve done good and bad, that you’re just like most exceptionally talented, highly skilled human beings; that you have a choice, and you’ve chosen to do good from now on."
"Facing what I’ve done isn’t enough, Gabrielle. I tried to just walk away from the damage I’d caused, do a few good deeds, and call it even. I know now it doesn’t work that way. I know what I have to do."
Gabrielle saw the stone-solid resolve in Xena’s eyes. "You’re going to try to make amends with Achmedor, aren’t you? He’ll probably kill you. You know that." "It isn’t just a matter of being able to live with myself anymore." Xena put her arm around Gabrielle’s shoulder and pulled her closer, lightly kissing her forehead. She pressed her cheek against Gabrielle’s soft gold hair so she could be close, but avoid eye contact, and spoke softly. "Gabrielle, for some mysterious reason the Fates smiled on me and brought you into my life. The gods know I didn’t deserve that, but now I want to be worthy of your love."
"You are worthy, Xena."
"But I need to prove it myself. Starting with Achmedor’s kingdom."
At dawn the warrior, armed and armored, packed a scant few provisions in her saddlebags, filled a goatskin with water, and tied them down on her horse. Gabrielle stood by, looking, to Xena, for all the world like a young queen, and she illustrated the thought by going down on one knee at Gabrielle’s bare royal feet, feeling for all the world like her queen’s champion. Gabrielle embraced her neck. "Xena, promise you’ll come back to me."
"I promise that if I live, I’ll come back to you. If I die...
"If you die?" Tears welled up to choke Gabrielle’s words. "How will I even know?" Xena thought carefully about their situation. Gabrielle was right. She could be gone months,... years. How would Gabrielle know if she were dead or alive. The question that cut Xena like a blade was: how long would... could Gabrielle wait to find out. "I’ll hire a messenger. I’ll keep you informed of my whereabouts." Xena looked up into Gabrielle’s teary, sea-green eyes. "Trust me."
Gabrielle lifted Xena’s chin with a gentle finger and bent to kiss her raised face. When their lips met, the tears poured from both pairs of eyes, their tongues caressed and licked saltwater from each other’s cheeks before slipping into one another’s mouth again. "Just make sure you find a messenger you can trust, Xena."
Xena turned and mounted Argo. She could no longer bear to look at Gabrielle’s grief-filled face. "I’ll be back, Gabrielle. I love you." Without looking back, Xena galloped away from Amazon Territory and Gabrielle.
End of Part I
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