Welcome to the realm of subtext
Come in, come in OPEN SESAME "wonderful things"
© 1997 bacchae2
Shakespeare's Sister, the bardess--Gabrielle's bard
Xena alt fan fic
Disclaimer: We all know this glorious show is the propertyof Universal, MCA,
USA, whoever it is these days...and I'm only having a bit of fun here at no
remuneration to myself.
I, Gabrielle, epic bard, have a most intriguing tale to relate of an adventure
shared with the great warrior princess, Xena. I know you've heard the name. And
not just thanks to me.
It was almost immediately after our hardest personal journey, one to the kingdom
of Ch'in, where my friend rediscovered many treasures...most intangible, one
that had been recorded in the Chinese fashion--on paper and bound into a volume
of great wisdom...and where she was nearly destroyed...by me.
I was still searching for forgiveness--my own--though I knew she'd already
forgiven my foolish transgression, not only with words, but in her heart as
well. She had become the person she and I...and someone long ago had wished her
to become. But I was struggling with my own doubts and inner conflicts that lent
themselves to a sometime hostile projection outside myself. I felt guilty--for
lying to her, entrapping her...betraying her. And so I felt I had something to
prove--to both of us.
"This isn't going to be easy."
"Nothing worthwhile ever is." Xena smiled, encouraging me.
We were taking our first tentative steps together, trying to fit back into the
old effortless patterns our friendship had taken.
"Gabrielle, guilt is a killing emotion. It will eat you up inside. I know.
"We can't just start over again, can we?"
She was being very patient with me. Her ocean blue eyes scanned the horizon.
"I didn't think so."
Her hand was warm on my shoulder. "We go on...together. One step at a time. We
survive. You know that."
"I know that. I'm just..." How does she put up with me sometimes? "...trying to
find the...rhythm again..and relax into it."
Xena sighed, actually a more forceful exhalation approaching exasperation. "Stop
obsessing. Nothing essential has changed, Gabrielle. We only get stronger. Don't
we?" Her usually self-assured voice quavered just a bit on that question. She'd
been through virtual hades at my instigation and now she was trying to reassure
me. Such a good friend. The Best.
And I started blubbering again. Like a kid.
Striding over to a half-ring of boulders, she sat facing the sea and away from
me. I couldn't pretend to know what she was really thinking--not unless she
would open up and tell me. Little chance. I could tell she wasn't in the mood.
I brought my staff down hard on my instep, cursed under my breath and limped
over to stand beside her. Sometimes... with two women...there's just so
much...emotion to swim through. Before you reach an island of conciliation.
Safer, higher ground.
"You thinking maybe we should go our separate ways--"
Her head snapped round, eyes as wide as they ever got. Not very. But a look of
"--for awhile," I finished lamely now.
Her breast rose in a deep breath. Let it out. "Found your way here by yourself,
didn't you?" she asked.
To my shame. I must have blushed. Cool blue eyes appraised me. My face, my
stance and then back to the vast eternity of ocean. My heart ached. What to do.
What to say. It didn't matter. She'd forgiven me. Or said she had. There was
nothing left unsaid between us. We understood the depth of our feelings for each
other. And the pain we'd caused each other. No one can hurt you like a friend.
Or be forgiven like one either.
"We can't pretend it didn't happen. Xena, I'd give anything--anything for it not
to have happened."
"We've been through a lot together, haven't we?" She searched my eyes. I just
nodded once, then dipped my head and kept my eyes on the ground. "I meant what I
"Me too," I whispered.
"Then what else do we need to know?"
"Actions speak louder... I'll just have to prove it to you...all over again."
I took the first step on the path down to the sea and knew she followed--behind
me for a change.
After we'd retrieved Argo from where I'd boarded her Xena and her horse were
both surprised when I sat up first in the saddle and extended a hand for her to
climb up after me. She smiled in bemusement and leaped up effortlessly--as
"All right, Gabrielle. Where to?"
We galloped over an unchanging landscape, greensward as far as the proverbial
eye could see till low-hugging mountains appeared on one far horizon.
"You can let her out a little more. She's enjoying it," Xena yelled over the
small thunder of quickened hoofbeats.
I was almost enjoying it myself. I guess she's used to me by now--and vice
versa. Still, I usually prefer to keep my feet firmly planted on terra firma--as
the Romans call it. I shivered, an involuntary response to a sudden image of
myself high off the ground, Caesar's soldier about to break my limbs, as had
been done to my friend long ago. I thanked her silently as I hugged Argo tightly
between my knees. I let her keep her own speed until she began to tire and lapse
into an easy gait.
"Mountains by close to sundown, you think?"
I nodded. Xena didn't have to ask my opinion on such topics.
We found a narrow stream, leaping with trout and set up our camp nearby. It
was...comfortable again; together. We were both tired, ate, said little and lay
down, nestled side by side, to sleep.
Dreams came and went, flitted briefly, changed form, a jumble of recent events
and emotions--the cult of evil...the pains of labor, Xena's tears, caused by me,
my hand burning after striking her...The Green Dragon..I saw a huge snake,
endlessly coiling around and about the two of us, Xena slashing valiantly,
vaulting free, trying to save me...couldn't breathe, gulping at the thickened
My eyelids sprang open, I placed myself, calmed my heart. The fire was guttering
slightly, some aromatic smoke drifting just above my head. Xena was sitting
close to the flames with the book in her hands. She held it reverentially and
was poring over it reading, engrossed and oblivious. Lao Ma's book, her
accumulated wisdom, all Xena had left of the woman who had saved her. Who had
meant so much to her--I had to admit to the mixed emotions. The feelings I'd
been wrestling with all along. Since she told me the story of her former life.
Had I acted on pure and altruistic motives...?
She looked up just then, right into my eyes. I didn't blink.
"Read it to me."
For what remained of the night I listened intently to the wise aphorisms, the
keen observations of a lifetime--cut too short. I could see why she had loved
this woman. That pang again. Needless...now.
"You have a lot in common with her," Xena said as she closed the book and hugged
it to her breast.
I was speechless--for once. And flattered. "I only... hope (the word sent a
little knife through my heart) I'll come to ever write anything as lasting and
meaningful as that."
"You will," she stated without doubt.
"I do have a good subject," I flashed an affectionate grin.
Carefully placing the treasured item back in waterproof hide, then into Argo's
saddle bag for safe keeping, Xena lay down by me again, morning twilight fading
out the dimmer stars, Aphrodite's Planet flaming in ascendence overAres' blood
We bathed in the stream. The bracing water rilling in icy cascades, tumbling
from the central peak where winter snow melted in the blazing sun. Morning
ablution ended, Argo whinnied to be off and on the trail again. At least
that'swhat I thought she was saying. Xena understood every sound she made.
"What is it, girl?" She pawed at the ground and tried to back away.
"Something...some thing that belongs here...saying we don't?"
"Dryads? Oreads...satyrs..." They were lascivious imps. Hoped not.
"Some related creature probably." The leaves stirred, the hair stood on my arms.
My thoughts teemed in panic--this felt so much like our first run-in with the
Banshees in Briton. I couldn't face that again. But not here. They wouldn't be
here. Then who...or what? Sudden hoofbeats, not Argo, galloping in our
direction, louder, closer with every breath.
"You," someone yelled, a woman's voice, "both of you...out of there, get out of
We saw the rider through the trees, a lithe auburn haired woman on a midnight
black mare with a white blaze. Right behind her a whirling maelstrom, dark
malevolent gray, full of clods of earth, cinders, leaves, some still attached to
small trees. The whirlwind headed right for us.
Xena sprang onto her mount and reached for my hand, but the woman on the dark
horse was coming past me on the other side and grabbed my arm, pulling me up and
over her saddle.The wind whipped my hair around my head, over my eyes and the
only sensations were the shrill howling and my stomach threatening to exit via
my throat every time the horse jumped to avoid a boulder or fallen tree. At
least that was my best guess as to why she kept jumping.
Interminable minutes later we pulled up. I heard two horses snorting, was
relieved Xena was with us.
"Myridon," the woman spoke by way of introduction, "I'll return your friend to
"Thank you," Xena sounded a trifle wary. I slid to the ground, steadied myself
against Xena's leg. Glancing up to the woman who'd carried me away, I was
admittedly dazzled. She seemed little older than me at first, but there were
fine lines around her eyes--which almost rivaled Xena's sky blue.
We checked the way we'd come. The patch of sparsely forested land we'd camped
upon was stripped clean; water overran the little brook turning the surround
into a quagmire. No trace of the whirlwind itself remained but for a few angry
clouds in a gray-red sky.
"Y-yes, thank you," I said a bit shakily. I introduced myself and Xena and the
other woman's eyes widened in familiarity at the name--and maybe something else.
"Glad you happened by," Xena said in a rather non-committal tone. I studied her
features. She didn't give anything away. She never did. Unless she wanted to.
"Heading over that?" Myridon nodded toward the hills.
"May be," Xena drawled.
I nodded to Myridon, then frowned up at Xena. She turned Argo and continued
ahead. "Well...you'll have to forgive her. Manners aren't her strong suit.
You're welcome to travel with us."
Catching up to Xena I withdrew my staff from its holster on the saddle and
increased my stride, digging in as the foothills began to slope. "Weren't very
"You trust any pretty face...what was his name...that kilted celtish boy?"
Didn't expect her to bring that up...so soon. "Trust is going to be our big
issue from here on out isn't it?"
Sighing, she asked, "You want to ride?"
"No, I and my stomach have had enough of bouncng around in the saddle for one
Myridon stayed behind us a respectful distance. I found it thoughtful of her.
As we ascended it turned cooler and long cloaks came out of packs and were
"Gabrielle, why don't you go back there and find out something about your friend
before we have to lie down next to her tonight."
"Sure. If you like."
"I don't like, but I have to live with it. For the time being."
She had a right to be cynical just now. To say the least. But I was determined
to be on my best behavior. "Xena," I waited till she caught and held my eyes,
"whatever you say. Okay?" She neither nodded nor murmured assent, just went back
to looking straight ahead, past the mountain passes to something far, far away
on the other side. I stopped in my tracks and awaited Myridon's mare.
"She's very cautious," the woman observed.
"She has a right to be. We've been through a lot recently. We're just finding
our way out of it now."
"And I've intruded. Sorry. But I am going your way. I can make a separate camp."
"Oh, no need. Maybe it's good for us to have a neutral...observer nearby. Less
chance we'll damage our relationship any further. We've been pretty constantly
in each other's company. We could use some emotional distance."
"I know how that is," her eyes saddened momentarily, then brightened. "She's
gone through some heavy changes...past few years."
"Word gets around, doesn't it? I'll see to that. I," I was shy suddenly to say
it, "I am her personal bard."
"In that case you can regale me with a story while we travel."
Staying on more neutral territory I began a lighter hearted tale of pure
adventure minus any darker notes. The sky graduated from a painfully bright
azure to shades of violet by the time I ended the tale. It was quite intricate
and involved. I assured my audience I hadn't made up a word of it. The
neverending day we'd spent trying to avert the natural (or unnatural) course of
events. Xena had had to fill me in on most of it since her memory alone held all
the outrageous details.
"To die before one's death is a rare opportunity to keep getting it right,"
Myridon noted, "the life, that is. A good death is always difficult to come by."
I thought of all the times I might've died, or came so close I could hear the
rising waters of Lethe behind the wall between the worlds. And the time I did
begin the cross over to be grasped back by a stubborn frantic Xena who refused
to let me slip away. I owed her my life and knew she would say the same to me.
In the Eastern philosophy we were responsible for each other forever. Bound. And
"She'll come around in time, you'll see," I was telling myself as well. Up
ahead, Xena was dismounting, under shelter of a big fir tree.
"Guess we stay here tonight."
While making dinner, pot luck soup, a hearty broth, thanks to the lentils, I
muttered under my breath to Xena who'd already settled down with her back to us,
"Make an effort."
She grumbled something and rolled over to prop her head on a log scrubbed smooth
as skin by wind and water. She smiled. The woman could dazzle when she felt like
Myridon took the opportunity, no matter how grudgingly granted to strike up the
conversation. "So, Xena. I hear Caesar has reason to be looking for your head."
"You wouldn't be out to collect on that, would you?"
"Wouldn't tell you if I was. But I wouldn't bring it up either, would I?"
They traded questions like sparring partners.
"Gabrielle told me a most amusing tale. She'll do you proud some day."
"She already does--every day."
"Almost every day," I interjected. Xena lightly kicked my foot. I shot her a
glance, but she seemed to be relaxing; firelight played over her fine features,
eyes dancing with twin flames, she was breathtaking. I feel so insignificant
next to her sometimes. What does she see in me? Ares asked her. But she didn't
reply. And I wasn't quite arrogant enough to suggest a reason. Not quite. Though
I smiled secretly to myself. Not even the gods have to know everything.
Lying in the cool darkness on a night of starfall like blazing rain, we watched
the fantastic display together for awhile as I drifted to sleep to Xena's steady
comforting breathing by my side. My dreams invited me, beckoning. Everything was
fine--for awhile. But they'd been deceptive before. I walked along without her,
searching for something in a great ruined hall. Searching for my innocence.
Perhaps. Lost forever now. I couldn't lay claim to what my heart desired. It was
all beyond my grasp. And so I felt a ravening hunger growing within me. An urge
to sink my teeth into...no. It isn't true. Laughter echoed, bloodless. They
knew. Once Bacchante, always so. Sister to sister, soul to soul.
I must've been uttering out loud. I felt hands upon me trying to wake me, to
reassure; I fought the dream, stray tendrils of it clung round me as I tried to
swim up through deep water, dark and cold.
"Open your eyes, Gabrielle."
It was not Xena's voice I heard. Myridon was gently shaking me. I was standing,
leaning against a tree, several feet away from where Xena lay. When I looked to
her for the same reassurance, she was stirring slightly, as if she'd rolled over
on her side, pretending to be still asleep--I knew how unlikely that was. Xena
was the lightest sleeper I've ever met. She could catch a nap standing up, aware
all the time of every slghtest sound, able to distinguish the difference between
a breeze rustled leaf and a distant footfall.
"All right, now?"
"Yes, thank you."
The woman made me a deliciously aromatic herbal tea. It seemed to smell, and
taste, of every spice I'd ever heard of and many I couldn't begin to identify.
"It will help you get back to sleep."
It's delicious too. Youre not a healer?"
"Jack of all trades..."
"Jill...master of none?"
"Mistress," she smiled.
I returned the smile, felt a connection. Checked over my shoulder, and
whispered, "I don't know why she's pretending to be asleep."
"You've been together a long time?"
"Oh, a few years...forever...no time at all. It goes by so quickly."
"You're still so young. You look barely out of childhood, in this light."
"I thought that of you when I first got a look at you."
"Appearances can be deceiving. Remember that, Gabrielle." It sounded a friendly
warning at the time.
I began to feel drowsy warm, cozy and comfortable. She walked me over to my camp
bed as I leaned on her and eased me down to the ground and Morpheus embraced me
this time without dreams.
"Are you sure?"
Xena jumped down effortlessly from a high branch in the pine she had scrabbled
into, equally without effort, to get a better view of the narrow valley ahead
through which we had hoped to pass.
"Impassable," she rubbed pine needles frm her palms. An apparent landslide.
Unstable and treacherous. I shuddered to think what would've happened if we'd
been passing through at the time.
"If you would permit me..." Myridon offered. "I know a way around this valley.
Off the proven path. A longer way, but--"
"We have little choice," Xena acknowledged. "Show me." It sounded more like a
challenge than an invitation.
She led. We followed.
"So?" Xena asked me.
"Oh..." I must've succeeded in looking blank.
"You trust her?"
"I--I think so." That disgruntled look. "Not good enough?"
"I need to be sure I can rely on you--I mean, on your judgement."
I sighed, nodded. "You'll always second-guess me anyway. What does it matter?"
"It matters. If...I'm not around--"
"To look after me? Do I still need you to do that?" She said nothing. "I get no
"Trouble is you want answers to everything."
"A born seeker," I tried to make light.
"I'm scouting up ahead. See if you can find me then."
She took off at a tangent. I saw a blur through the trees for a few moments
then...she was gone.
"Be that way."
Must've been muttering to myself when I caught up with Myridon.
"Nothing. We are going to head west again eventually?" I squinted at the sun
high overhead. She said nothing. "I guess I don't get answered today."
"Sorry, Gabrielle, I thought it was rhetorical. I'm concentrating on trail
"Don't let me interrupt you. I have a tendency to talk a bit. Maybe you've
noticed." She smiled with great restraint, then caught my eye as we both broke
into unrestrained laughter. Hoping Xena would hear I kept one eye on the trees.
Not a single wisp of long dark hair presented itself.
Myridon was good at riddles too. We kept ourselves entertained.
"I give up."
"So did Xena."
"Hah, that woman would never give up on anything."
"She is tenacious." I was scanning ahead. "And...surprising. Sometimes."
"And up there."
"I see her."
"Thought she was still bringing up the rear."
"No. She took off on her own awhile back."
"Before the first riddle?"
"Yup. Told you she hated them."
Xena had set up camp as the sun set, still behind us, and to my great amazement,
had prepared a meal.
"You've been busy," I shouted and ran to greet her.
She'd managed to find my favorite berries and pine nuts. Argo was grazing
quietly nearby, a light lather on her coat. "I'll see to her," I offered.
"Where have you two been?" I murmured in her ear. She snorted in answer and
pawed the ground as I brushed her. When I was finished grooming she
appreciatively nudged my shoulder with her warm muzzle, like velvet. "Wish you
Her ears swiveled as Xena whispered in my ear, "Thank you, Gabrielle."
"Is that all she'd say?"
"She keeps my confidences."
She wasn't accusing, but I said it anyway, "Meaning I don't?"
Her pupils dilated, "Didn't say that. Don't be so defensive."
Gritting my teeth, I hissed an apology. "Are you being civil to her?"
"Not just my friend."
"She saved your life."
I shrugged. "It's been done before." I took her hand and led her back to the
Sitting beside Xena, I took gratefully a bowl of soup ladled and handed me by
our guest and began to eat my dinner. "This is good." I sounded so surprised I
made Xena chuckle.
"Been watching you."
"You have hidden talents as well as the more obvious ones," Myridon noted
"Many skills..." I muttered under my breath.
"Just have to set your mind to it...you can..." she pointed to the range
leveling out, spreading around us, "you can move mountains."
"See anything on the other side?"
"You're right. There's a not too inconvenient way down and then a few tangled
miles to the river."
"Glad to meet with your approval, warrior."
"We're not out of the woods yet."
"To coin a phrase," I mumbled in her ar. I yawned and was beginning to nod off
on her shoulder.
Nudging slightly, she said, "Put yourself to bed, Gabrielle."
When I'm ready for sleep, nothing can stop me. I staggered to bed and was out
like a candle.
The dreaming was wonderful. I consciously embraced it. The moon had never been
so full. I swam up to her, but she seemed to recede, shyly, every time I got
close. I looked for the hare the Chinese claim to see in her face, but I only
saw the feminine smile. She was warm as gold. A harvest moon.
When I woke I went to my pack and scribbled down the verse still wending through
my mind. "Come again to fill the night, come and then, reveal delight, quiet,
silent as your breathing, through the river Lethe wreathing..." Is it finished?
I don't know yet. Maybe tomorrow. I'll dream the rest. Haven't had a good
old-fashioned full-force knock-me-down vision in a good while. I think I must be
out of favor with whatever goddess graced me.
Glancing up, I saw Xena smiling at me. "A dream?" she asked.
"Yes. Gave me an ode. Or the beginnings of one." I looked around the clearing.
"Don't know. Gone when I woke up." Her horse was still here.
"Well," I began to ask Xena, "what would you like for--"
"Breakfast?" Myridon strode past me brandishing a brace of fresh trout and a
nest of quail eggs. At least she certainly perceived the way to remain in my
"You know what I really love?" I enthused. We'd been talking, or I guess I had,
about one of my favorite subjects. Food. Perhaps you'd noticed.
Our guest grinned across the fire at Xena. "Tell me." Even Xena smiled.
"You take luscious ripe sun-dried apricots glazed in honey and boil them in a
little water until they're just so tender and swimming in their own juices and
then drizzle itover a tepid--"
"Tepid?" Xena's eyebrows disappeared behind her bangs.
"Warm, lukewarm milk custard made with vanilla bean... oh...yes." My mouth
watered just thinking about it. Since we had no dessert I thought it politic to
end that discussion.
"Sounds better than ambrosia. I'll see what I can do," Myridon promised.
The morning was still young and fresh when we set out once more. I had
absolutely no sense of foreboding though I cannot rightly say my intuition
Maybe I was just being optimistic. I usually am. Have always been that way.
Things only get better, they work themselves out for the best, fate is kind and
people are perfectible. I know, I know, I'm a terrible romantic. But Xena keeps
me grounded. And I... I was going to say I give her hope. But that unfortunate
turn of phrase is going to set me to wandering--or wondering--down a path I'd
rather not travel just now. Suffice it to say that particular human emotion--all
that was left after Pandora opened her infamous chest--is all we sometimes have
to buoy our spirits.
It had been such a lovely breakfast I was really in no mood to lose it. But
looking down the only slightly graduated steepness of the path we now were
forced to travel I wasn't convinced I could hold on to it.
"Look," Xena suggested after noting the stark...hesitancy in my features, "why
don't you ride Argo down. She can handle it."
"You want me to get even higher off unlevel ground. On a moving object with a
mind of its own."
"Not going to happen?"
My reply was a strangled laugh, completely mirthless. Took a deep breath. "Okay.
I'll start down first, so if I happen to fall I won't take anyone with me."
"Oh, no, that's why you won't go first. What do you think, Myridon, either one
of us can catch her?"
"She is...rather small."
"And the two of us together...why we could toss her all the way back to the top
if she should suddenly start to roll--"
"Okay, okay. I'll be fine. One foot at a time. With my staff. But, I'm giving
you fair warning, remember Sisyphus. That's all I have to say. Ladies?" I
gestured, like a well-schooled child, for them to precede, muttering, "Age
before beauty," under my breath.
It had been a breath-taking view from the top of the 'incline'--more of a
bonafide mountain slope as far as I was concerned--a weave of velvet green with
a silver thread of river to hem its far border.
It was as good a time as any to work on my poem...it was rather presumptuous and
premature of me to refer to it as an ode. Time would tell. Time. The next line
has something to do with time. I concentrated on my shoes. Making sure each foot
was solidly placed before I'd dare to lift the other.
Night...delight...breathing...wreathing... uh...time must have its-- I heard
then saw some loose scree tumbling to the side of us, thought I'd probably
dislodged it with my staff and was about to shout an apology when the ominous
sound of rolling thunder, something as large as a major boulder, made me freeze
in my tracks. It was behind me. Above our heads and coming down hard and fast.
Time...not much left--my impressions were kaleidoscopic, so rapid, in only a
split second images cascaded, a surprisingly rich tapestry, I thought--for so
short a life. And Xena--most of the strongest memories and emotions included her
of course. Funny how when things get out of hand time behaves in a very strange
fashion. You know it's only a matter of seconds, but your breathing slows,
almost stops and then you hear this roaring like the sea in your ears and
realize it as your own heart beating, but so slowly--and I couldn't tear my eyes
away from Xena's face, her expression which I will never forget...and yet
somehow I had the time to notice her eyes were bluer than the sky.
She had whipped round instantly, her chakram already in her hand and in this
little eternity between heartbeats in which everything that had to have happened
took place she flung the weapon. Her long dark hair was still tossed in the
breeze created by her initial spin. And I heard the ring of metal whiz past my
head, too fast to follow with the eye, though I thought I saw a silverish blur.
I hadn't taken my eyes off her. She stood her ground though, much quicker than
myself, she could've vaulted or tumbled out of the way and saved herself. A huge
piece of the mountain rumbled by me, missing by inches. I swallowed and then
took a deep breath, drinking the beautiful, fresh air, my lungs and heart
functioning normally again if somewhat faster. She must've thrown the hardest
toss of her life to have deflected that massive rock just enough to... My knees
were a little weak and I had to sit down. The horses had remained remarkably
calm. Considering. Myridon was scanning the rise above us and Xena was
scrabbling back up to me.
"Don't ask," I gasped. And just nodded to say, yes, I'm alright.
She helped me up, but my knees were almost too wobbly to stand. I'd seen a
newborn fawn once, all knobby knees and skinny legs attempting to rise for the
first time. "Sorry," I breathed.
"Come on, Gabrielle. We have to get down now as quickly as possible. We're still
"You think someone...up there--" I craned my neck to look back, but felt a
queasy vertigo wash over me. Xena picked me up and carried me over her shoulder
the rest of the way down. I prayed to every mountain deity I'd ever heard of.
Proud of myself for holding onto my stomach, Xena would never have let me live
it down, I somehow managed to wait till she deposited me on more or less level
ground at the base of the scarp then I rushed unsteadily behind the nearest
Feeling as pale and ghostlike as I must've looked I stumbled back in time to
hear Xena ask Myridon, "Did you see anyone?"
"Not sure. Might've been. Yeah, it's a possibility."
Xena studied her closely. "Anyone you know?"
"I'm sure you have a few enemies yourself, Xena."
Xena considered. She had to admit to that.
"If you'd rather we split up--"
"No," I interjected, "you'll stay with us." I was sure that Xena could hear my
determination and would not argue the point.
"Gabrielle," she gestured toward Argo.
"If you insist."
Myridon was already sitting her horse as I mounted Argo while Xena took the
reins and led the way. Her attention to our surroundings and the forest floor as
we moved into the trees led me to believe she feared a trap. Maybe she was being
overcautious, but I relaxed, confident she could more than handle whatever might
occur. How could I ever have entertained the notion that I could lead and she be
This forest was dense with cypress, but even so it was surprisingly impenetrable
to sunlight, and was far creepier than I would've expected. The view from above
had been so serene and picturesque. There seemed something electric about the
very air, the way it sometimes feels just before a lightning storm. But the sky
had been cloudless. Almost as deeply blue as Xena's eyes I remembered with a
faint smile. But there was something...and then I realized I couldn't hear a
single sound. Not a bird or small animal, not even the buzz of an insect. How
odd. Just the careful hoofsteps of the horses as they picked their way over the
typical detritus of the forest floor. Xena ticked her head to one side as if
listening intently and I knew I needn't bring the obvious absence to her
Myridon rode a bit behind and to one side and I could see her from the corner of
my eye. Sitting very erect and still she, too, listened for something...and then
leaned forward ever so slightly. I saw her lips move and thought I heard
whispered words that sounded like "not now." And then--all hades broke loose. It
was as if every animal no matter how large or small suddenly found their voices
and their legs or wings. And underneath it all, layered beneath and flowing into
the cacophony I could swear I heard someone piping.
Argo shied; she was never a nervous animal, but she jerked away from Xena and
took off at a gallop. I couldn't reach the rein anyway. And didn't want to let
go and break my neck in the attempt so I clung to her mane and tensed my already
tense muscles around her. I had no fear she would throw me, but I wasn't so sure
about the branches I kept ducking while trying to talk some horse sense into her
ear. I heard Xena whistle sharply several times, but she barely slowed.
Something had set such panic into her battle- hardened heart or mind...yes,
panic was the word. Just so. There was definitely something preternatural going
on here. I didn't like to name names without more evidence; the gods are an
awfully fickle and unstable bunch. At times they seem only to magnify all the
petty traits of the mortals they claim to rule.
Once again, Myridon came to my rescue. Her horse appeared to have a calming
effect on Argo. She began to slow. But she made sure I was pulled to safety
behind her and holding on tightly before she tried to make a grab for the reins.
Argo came to a stop finally, snorting through the froth on her nose and mouth,
neighing, I knew, for Xena's calming hands. My arms were clenched around
Myridon's waist and she was gently prying me loose as Xena, breathing hard,
caught up with us. She took one look at me, then turned away to see to Argo.
"I'm fine, thank you," I said to no one in particular. "Down," I croaked and
Myridon helped me to the ground, "No more horses."
Taking my staff once more I rested my weight against it, closing my eyes despite
whatever might be lurking here to have provoked a feeling of dread which gave
way to such panicked flight.
It was silent once more. As if everything alive, except us, of course, had fled
from the place leaving it utterly devoid. A slight warm breeze stirred the
leaves. I looked up from where I'd been resting my head on my hands which were
crossed over the pommel of my staff. Even the trees appeared to tremble. Every
one seemed to house a tortured dryad twisted into painfully contorted posture
and captured that way forever by some Medusan curse or basilisk. And the
pipes...once again...a high plaintive reed flute. The music came from
everywhere. Seductive. Ethereal. Gooseflesh raised every golden hair on my arms
and the nape of my neck tingled. I shook involuntarily but didn't know whether I
shuddered or shivered. I watched, unable to speak, as Xena put her hands over
her ears, but it didn't seem to do any good. That playing was too
persistent...and insidious. It wreathed around your head and each high
notestruck like a coiled serpent. I saw Xena sink to the ground on her knees.
She sat and pressed her back against the comforting solidity of a tree. I
realized I was kneeling now too. Myridon had been behind me, but I couldn't turn
my head to see if she was unaffected. My eyes locked on Xena's and she was the
last thing I saw as all color bled from the landscape and faded to black. The
air itself seemed as heavy and thick as honey. And all the time that damned pan
flute played on sounding like triumphant, demented laughter.
I was sure my eyes were tightly closed but I began to see glimmerings of shivery
light in the darkness, the sort of thing one hears about in traveller's tales
from north. And the trees, which had indeed ensouled the spirits of dryads
became slowly discernible and began to dance. It was more than a little eerie
when the trees swayed and creaked as they, bit by bit, limb by limb, took on a
more human form, spectral women in white responding lasciviously to the music.
There are certain things mortals were never meant to see. Truly ancient
ceremonies and rites from the dream time before the current everyday world was
even dreamed into existence. Satyrs and nymphs. The primal urge of creation
itself. The motive force. I'm blathering, I know; was attempting to distance
myself so I wouldn't be captured by the mad dance, a maenad as dangerous to her
surroundings as those at any bacchanale.
"Xena!" I shouted her name, thought I heard some reply but wasn't sure. "Don't
move." Hoped she would stay where shewas. "Don't try to fight it." I had an
irrational fear of drowning in the sodden air as if we would drag each other
down if we should dare to move. The music had continued throughout unabated,
exotic, seductive. Were the images I saw only in my mind or somehow tangible and
taking place before me? I didn't really want to know either way.
My face was hot, my pulse racing and I could hardly swallow over the lump these
uncontrollable emotions had produced in my throat. I heard someone moan, Xena I
thought, and wanted almost desperately to go to her.
It was the sort of feeling that prompted mariners to lash themselves to the mast
so they wouldn't be more than tempted to jump overboard to drown in siren song.
Oh, what washappening to me? I felt my staff still in my hands and held on for
dear life, squeezing so tightly it seemed I could have left the impressions of
my fingers in the hard wood. I couldn't help but think of what had happened to
me in Brittany. The violation. We were completely powerless against the
onslaught of this primitive force. I dared to open my eyes. A haze like fine
mist hung in the air smothering our senses. Then someone stumbled into my narrow
line of vision. Someone who seemed composed of a greater reality than these pale
shades of moondust and shadow. Shaped familiarly, not unlike a feminine form,
but somewhat bestial and frightening. I was glad I could not see more clearly.
It threw its head back and howled. A blood chilling sound that sliced through me
like a scimitar through silk and made me tremble. It seemed to move toward Xena.
I heard a small pathetic whimperingsound then and realized it was issuing from
me. The thing swung round and started for me. What I could see of the face was
hideous, saliva dripping from strong animal jaws and fangs, eyes feral and
seeming to shine with their own inner demonic fire. I thought I could smell the
fetid breath it exhaled as it drew nearer. On my knees already the only thing I
could resort to was a whispered prayer, "Goddess of this grove, protect me and
my friends, o hear me--make it go away--please."
And, miraculously, the thing turned and was gone from my sight. It had been a
nightmare vision, an image of something atavistic, only half-human, covered in
matted hair and walking on two legs. Had it been some terrible hybrid creature
created by a not unheard of mating between god and human--or a twisted
punishment carried out on a poor accursed individual who'd fallen into some
petulant god's disfavor?
Gradually I came to realize I was lying on my side, soft earthy scented velvet
moss cushioning my cheek and the distant sound of birds--not that infernal
piping--I couldn't quite place them. There was a low hooting that might've been
a mourning dove and a songbird...no, we can't have been lying here all
day--could we? Definitely a nightingale. And the other--an owl. My eyes began to
focus, a blur of subdued shades, mostly gray. I felt something warm sniffing and
snuffling near my ear and hoped it was Argo or Myridon's mare. Groaning, I
rolled onto my back and through the branches that canopied overhead I saw an
unmistakable sliver of moon, a very young crescent, holding the darkened shade
of the old moon in her arms. "Xena," I barely breathed her name.
"I'm here, Gabrielle." She sounded drugged. "Trying to--trying to wake up."
"I know. Me too."
"Your guess...as good as mine."
"I doubt that. You've been schooled in this sort of thing."
"Sure, but you've experienced more than I ever will--"
"Wait another few years before you say that."
I remembered Myridon and called her name, but received no reply. "Do you see
"Not yet. Is it dark...or are my eyes--"
"Your eyes are fine," I said quickly to reassure her remembering well how the
woman had saved my life even when she was blinded. Mine teared. "We must've been
lying here all day. See the moon." I could hear her shift herself around.
"Midnight. Or near to it."
I began to crawl toward the sound of her voice and felt such relief when my hand
closed on familiar flesh. "Uh...hello there. Okay?"
She placed an arm around me for her comfort, I thought, as well as mine. And I
thought I could detect a small liquid silver glint on what I reasoned to be her
teeth and in her eyes, reflecting the tiny sliver of moon.
"It's too dark to rummage around for a light. You mind waiting?" she asked.
"Till morning? Can't come soon enough."