"Certainly don't need to get any more sleep."
I laughed nervously in assent to that. "I'm worried about Myridon." I called her
name again with no luck.
"She can take care of herself. We'll look for her at first light, okay?"
I nodded, relaxing against her.
"All right. So?" She paused.
"Don't get quiet on me now. We have five or six hours to go. Entertain me!"
It was very good practice for a bard. My voice got only a little hoarse overall
and when the sun rose Xena had heard just about every tale I'd ever known before
I met her. The mind can store an amazing amount of information. I surprised even
myself in remembering it all. But one story reminds you of another--and on and
on. It's a rich tapestry to unfold. And such a pleasure to have a receptive,
though captive, audience. And to think of all the equally fabulous tales I've
actually lived through with her--and those she's confided to me. In my span of
allotted time how can I ever hope to keep it all alive in my head? But I welcome
the challenge.
The sky was lightening, almost imperceptibly at first, becoming the slightest
bit translucent, pearl gray and finally a tinge of orange reflected on a few
dark clouds.
No matter how many sunrises you see there's always something thrilling about the
event--the renewal of life, another day, another chance.
By full sunrise we rose and stretched and it became possible to see the traces
of what had transpired around us in the night. The ground was marked all over
with strange prints. Small hooves, much too small to belong to either horse. And
something else. They were cleft like a large goat. Looking very like that deer
fawn's tiny tracks...fawn, indeed. A faun with a reed pipe, lascivious intent
and a near malevolent delight in terrifying the unwary traveller into a state of
the purest panic. The goat boy god Pan and his cohorts and minions.
"Look at this, Gabrielle." There was a much larger print as well. Something like
a bear's paw--or a wolf. Maybe it was a bear I saw--walking on its hind legs.
"That could explain what I thought I saw," I murmured aloud, still carrying on
an inner dialogue.
"What did you see?"
"I'd hoped it was a nightmare, or something half formed from the darkness and my
imagination. I'd rather think it was a big, harmless lumbering black bear
"What?" she prodded again.
"Something monstrous...an unreasoning evil..."
Xena followed the mare's tracks easily. I was thinking we'd find Myridon
momentarily when I saw the body, hard to tell exactly what it was from a
distance. Mangled and bloodied. So much blood.
"It's a stag," Xena said breaking the shocked silence, "its throat ripped out.
No bear did this." She thought it looked more the work of a cat--or a very large
wolf. We continued to follow the tracks. Frighteningly they paralleled those of
Myridon's horse as if it was being stalked by the creature.
"I hope we find your friend soon. I want us out of this place and on the river
heading home."
I nodded in agreement and stifled a shudder. The bracken was crushed to the
ground as if something had lain here for the night. I heard it coming and
crouched before Xena had to say a word. Someone had loosed an arrow in our
direction. It struck a tree just over our heads. It had been aimed to kill.
"Well, isn't this just great?" Xena clenched her jaw.
"We didn't need this, did we?"
"Never do." Another arrow struck Argo's pommel and she voiced her annoyance. I
saw Xena's eyes flash fire. They'd made her mad now. But she remained calm and
continued scanning the forest. Where could they be that they could see us and we
were not able to spot them? She lifted her head. I raised my eyes from ground
level. Up in the trees. Xena's hand was on her chakram. Whoever you are I pity
you. She sighted and threw from her crouched position. She'd hit something.
There was a yelp, a curse and a disturbance in a tree several yards away. Xena
caught the chakram on its return flight. There was a telltale crimson stain on
one razor sharp cutting edge. "Let's go. Fast. There might be more than one."
Reaching the river bank, finally, we continued to see hoofprints and now there
were unmistakably human tracks alongside. "She's all right. Looks as though they
swam across."
I hesitated, looking back.
"I'm sure, Gabrielle. Trust me?"
I met her eyes.
"They swam across and we should do the same."
We walked along the bank, wading through the water, moving a ways downstream and
around a concealing bend in the river before taking the full plunge and heading
for the opposite shore. The water was so cold it was like a physical blow. It
seized the muscles of my stomach, gripped and would not let go.
The breath was knocked out of me, but Xena reached over Argo's saddle and placed
my hand firmly on her pommel and kept her own over mine all the way across.
"Your lips are blue." And my teeth were chattering so badly I couldn't speak.
For once. Xena quickly gathered enough wood for a small fire, trying not to
produce too much smoke to give away our position. I would've told her not to
risk it if I could've gotten out the words. She wouldn't have listened anyway.
The woman must have been cold herself, but she sat me down and began rubbing my
arms and hands, legs and feet. We'd removed our boots and had managed to keep
them relatively dry in a saddlebag.
After a while the blood grew warm again with this wonderful friction and I
thought I'd probably live afterall.
"Better?" she asked.
Xena stood to retrieve our boots and checked on something else in the leather
satchel. I knew what it was. The book.
"Everything okay?" I asked. She nodded, smiled a serious smile then tossed me my
boots. I sighed, "Guess I've been pampered enough for one day."
Xena sat next to me, pulling on her high leather boots. Her voice was soft and
warm. "I like that...you know... looking after someone. I never had the--"
"I would've hoped you'd be heading up river by now."
"Myridon! We're glad to see you." I noted Xena had a puzzled, skeptical
expression playing round her eyes and mouth. "Aren't we?"
"And you were going the opposite way?" Xena asked.
"Why?" I asked.
"Thought it best--"
"If someone is after you, to draw them off? Noble of you," Xena said, but made
it sound less than that. "But we've already met. They left their greeting.
There's still a fragment of it embedded in Argo's saddle." Xena was studying the
woman very carefully for any weakness in her armor, any sign that her words had
gotten through and hit home. But she remained impassive. "Why didn't you just
keep going?"
"Had to say goodbye, didn't I?" She smiled fondly at me.
"Not if you don't want to. Maybe it's false pride that won't let you ask for our
help. If you need it."
Xena stood and faced her down. "My friend has a trusting heart. Far too trusting
sometimes. Why, she'd try to reform and hand-feed the Hydra." She made me blink
on that bit of hyperbole. "If she likes someone--and there's no accounting for
taste sometimes--she'll believe whatever you tell her and take it on faith
alone. For she is the personification of faithfulness and honesty." She was
going too far. I blushed. How honest was I really? If she only knew. And
faithful--at first I had followed her anywhere like a salivating pup, but how
could she glibly thrust aside my betrayal of her to the Green Dragon? I could
not. The memory tore at my heart. And always would. We may put our friends
through hades from time to time and if they forgive us we are truly blessed.
Loving friendship is what matters in this mortal world.
I spoke up. "You don't have to confide in us anything you'd rather not. But let
us help you. You don't have to be alone." Myridon's eyes misted, and she nodded
once and bowed her head in acceptance, I thought. Looking to Xena, I was a bit
disheartened by her expression--or lack of one. I didn't think Myridon had
"I'll get us something for breakfast, shall I?" She began to move away and then
stopped, turning to Xena, "Hydra, Xena? I don't think I'm as bad as all that."
Xena took me aside. "Volunteering me again?"
"It's the right thing to do. I know it and you know it too. Xena..if you still
have to be angry with me--"
"I'm not," she snapped.
"Just don't take it out on someone else."
"Alright! Don't bully me."
"I--!?" Our eyes sparkled with sudden merriment and we both guffawed. "Good one,
Xena," I gasped. "That will be the day."
"You do, you know. In your own sweet way. You can be relentless like that."
"And don't tell me it's for my own good."
"I...won't. Almost got you killed with that line of reasoning, didn't I?"
Throwing my arms around her, I hugged hard then broke away and went to put my
boots on. For some reason I was humming under my breath, feeling optimistic
again, but then as if I didn't quite have a right to feel that way, paused for
reflection. Was it because I could usually get my way with her? Was that
necessarily a good thing? And for Xena? But she didn't give in to me the last
She left without me. Wouldn't stay. No matter what I said or what emotional
blackmail I tried unsuccessfully to employ to keep her from the disastrous
return to the land of The Green Dragon. Which could've destroyed both of us. For
what would I have done--if she had died and I had been the agent of her death?
The sudden chill in my blood rose gooseflesh on my forearms even though I sat
near the fire. What happened to my good mood? And then I smelled something
heavenly. Couldn't be. A definite scent of vanilla and...Myridon stood behind me
and lowered the dish in front of my face.
"The apricots are fresh, I'm afraid. But I hope will do."
"Where? How? Aren't they out of season. Smells divine."
"I have my ways. Go ahead. Let me know if it's to your satisfaction."
I had wolfed down two bowls of the stuff before I thought to call Xena.
"Is there any left?"
I ignored that. "You have to taste this. It is to die for."
"Hope not. Your cheeks are glowing anyway." She tasted. "It is good."
"Far beyond good," I mused.
"She'll never eat my cooking again. I guess you have a job--while you're with
us. Though I have no idea how you could've managed this. I mean, considering
whatever happened last night and your taking off like that--where did you find
the time?" Her eyes narrowed.
I cleared my throat. "Xena, I consider this a gift. I don't care how she did it.
It's not polite to ask. You're a resourceful woman. Different women...have other
Her expression remained very skeptical.
"Okay, think of it like this--"
"Never mind. Let's eat and head for home."
"How did you do that?" I whispered.
Myridon smiled indulgently, "Magic," and she passed a hand over mine and
appeared to conjure a wild yellow rose out of the air.
I shut my mouth, then opened it again to say, "I'm beginning to believe it."
We followed the river upstream, finally heading home.
It was going to be a warm day. It felt good on my back and in my bones. The cold
water river was a distant and receding memory with every foot forward. I was
aware of everything around me, my senses filled with the sun, scent of
wildflowers, sound of the rushing water.
"You're quiet today," Myridon broke the companionable silence we'd been
travelling under, "No tales to tell?"
Xena made a half-amused noise. "You missed the marathon."
"Yeah, I, uh, never thought I'd say it, but I'm kind of talked out."
"Myridon, you're witness to a first."
"All right. But you know you'd miss it."
Xena smiled.
"I'm sorry I missed it," Myridon said. Xena glanced at her. "The marathon."
"You should have been there. Where were you by the way?"
"My turn to tell a story?"
"Only if it's true. Someone back there tried to kill us. I wouldn't appreciate a
fable at this point."
"Honestly...I can't tell you." Xena began to object. "No...I mean, I really
simply cannot tell you. I don't remember a thing. Last night's a complete
blackout." Xena studied her and she met the acute appraisal unflinchingly.
"I could try to fill you in," I offered, "but I'm not at all sure of what was
real...and what was an illusion--or a bad dream."
"And what do you think caused it?"
"Well...it had all the classic trademarks of a run-in with--" I looked warily
into the woods on our right and whispered, "The goat boy."
"Pan?" she said quite loudly enough to be heard by any lurking god or man. "He
can be an awful nuisance, can't he?"
"Then you've made his acquaintance before?" Xena asked matter-of-factly.
"Not exactly. Let's say I've felt his presence."
"A drawback of spending too much time in the woods," Xena noted with a sardonic
upturn of the corner of her mouth.
"I've never been one to take to cities or even villages. Too much
domestication." She shook her head, raised her hands, embracing everything.
"Fresh air and moonlight... all the wild...things. The human race is losing its
natural origins...the connection to the...infinite." Myridon's voice was dreamy,
full of eternal longing.
Xena was looking at her strangely now. "You're a philosopher."
"No, not really. Just..something I was born to...I suppose."
"You feel it very deeply," I said, "I admire that. Everyone should have a
passion they follow so... passionately."
"The true philosopher would say, 'Follow your bliss,'"
I gave that a serious nod. Added it to my list of personal mottos. It was
nothing to which I needed to aspire, however. I was right where I wanted to be.
Though, hopefully I wouldn't have to dive back into that particular river. It
was beautiful now--afternoon--the sun's rays slanting across the water, creating
patterns that scintillated like a Persian silk scarf set with bits of mica and
gold-leaf. Exquisite. I felt that connection Myridon spoke about. It was natural
to me as breathing. I'd always felt it, even though I may not have been raised
to it. It was something you just had inside you, a thing you knew and accepted
about yourself like those you loved, a second nature that ruled your
emotions...your bliss. Or the things--and people you'd fight and die for.
Without question. My heart, not completely my own anymore, had the answer
Xena rode ahead a little ways while Myridon walked beside me.
"You weren't harmed were you?" Myridon asked me. "Last night, I mean."
"Relatively unscathed. I think. Though I got the impression it could've been
much worse."
"There was something else there, something more...ravenous than a silly faun. A
primitive sort of...emotion...in animal form. Pure raw emotion twisted into
something... unnatural."
"My...you do have a bent for the dramatic. Perhaps you should try writing a
tragedy for the theater."
"I prefer the comedies. But...I've known great loss and I have lived through
some other near tragedies recently." I took a deep breath. "First Xena went mad,
then I had a child, and Xena left me to assassinate an evil ruler...but I--I
followed her and almost got her killed--"
"Slow down. I'm listening. You don't have to tell me everything at once."
I took another breath. "Each time I was more frightened than the last. Things
were so...out of my control."
"But you're all right now. You came through."
"We survived. Barely. No thanks to me. So much of it-- my fault."
"Xena must not think so."
"She's...an exceptional person. She gets closer to perfection. Escapes her past.
And I develop the tragic flaws. I was still a child, really, when I met her."
"Well, you're a resourceful young woman now."
"I try. I want to be more like her. Self-assured...with- out becoming too...hard
"She hasn't lost that edge, then?"
"Mellowed. She has great reserves of...tenderness as well as strength. I'm only
flattered that she thinks she has anything to learn from me."
"Apparently she does. Life, with its attendant emotions, is mysterious. No one
really understands it. Not even the gods. Never let them fool you into believing
that they do."
"Sound advice. What can I offer in return?"
"Your objectivity...as a bard. How did she deal with the...madness?"
"There were moments of lucidity interspersed with complete insanity. It was
heartbeaking to see her like that."
"'Whom the gods would destroy, they must first make mad.' An ancient challenge.
Jealousy and a terrible caring for the human race in equal measure. Janus has
two faces for a reason."
"For some reason known only to himself Ares wanted Xena to murder her mother. He
convinced The Furies, some very flaky types if you ask me, to, without any
warning, make her crazy. Timing couldn't have been worse. Luckily, I figured out
pretty quickly what must be happening--"
"There, see, you were an indispensable help to her."
"Admitted. A help, anyway. She figured it all out pretty much for herself. But
she scared me a couple times--I knew she could never knowingly...hurt me...but
she came close to hurting herself...to put an end to any possibility that she
would take vengeance for her father's death."
"Her father? Why?"
"He was killed by his wife, Xena's mother. To stop him from killing her as a
"How...intriguing. Again--why?"
"It's complicated. But he was led to believe he was not the real father."
"I'm not sure I have answers for all your questions. It's a dangerous
assumption. But Ares may--or may not--have been the culprit in that as well."
"Of course. It would explain so much," Myridon said with sudden insight. "He's a
perverse bastard. It's something he would do. Just for the sport."
"Sounds as if you know him personally."
"How did she best him?"
"Fought him, tricked him, convinced The Furies they had no quarrel with her."
"And she had no quarrel with her mother. Her mother saved her life."
"Gave life to her not once, but twice. Yes."
"Mothers and daughters. It's a special bond."
I swallowed. "It is."
"You mentioned a child."
"A daughter."
"Gone. I don't know." I quickly wiped a tear away with the back of my hand.
"Don't breathe a word to her. Please."
"I won't."
"Xena has a son she never sees. He thinks his mother is dead...and his
father...killed by Xena...my child... probably dead as well. She tried
to...wanted to kill...my baby."
"She thought...her evil. Such a sweet-faced child. Yes, she was sired by a
malevolent force--but isn't she a part of me, really? It was a miraculous birth,
to say the least, accelerated to a startling degree. I grew great with child in
a matter of hours and the baby grew and grew...I wonder... Anyway, there was a
young man involved--I liked him, he seemed so gentle, sensitive-- reminded me
of...someone I had known. I was willingly seduced into believing what he claimed
as his philosophy was so much like my own, I wanted so to believe... And I ended
up committing the ultimate act myself--I killed in anger--murdered another
woman--with my own hands--to save him...and he was a fake and that was what he
wanted--what more could happen, I thought we'd certainly been through the worst
of it."
"Was it Ares who wanted her killed as a child? But he was so proud of her once,
his ruthless warrior."
"I should've listened. Her instincts are better than mine, she's experienced
everything in her life."
"The Fates are cruel. They, too, will kill for sport. I'm sure you are incapable
of anything like that."
"I killed just the same. I'll regret it all my days. I never would've made it
through if not for her." I gazed at the straight, strong back, sitting her horse
with such a casual grace. "And then I turn around and--betray her. If I had it
to do over again..."
"What happened?"
"Later. I've dredged up far too much as it is."
"No, it's good to talk. We haven't really been able to do that. Yet. It's too
soon. Later. Please."
I was afraid I sounded too needy. I do that sometimes. Don't know how Xena has
the patience to put up with it.
The day had become exceedingly warm and Xena called for a break as much for us
as for the horses. They drank copiously while I changed my mind and found the
river looking more inviting. Xena caught my expression.
"Rapids, Gabrielle. And it's still cold." She reached down and playfully
splashed me. I laughed and flicked a small shower right back at her.
Myridon stood on a half-submerged boulder. "I don't know...but the territory
looks familiar. If I'm not mistaken...I think I can...yes, over that way. Come
with me, Gabrielle. Uh, Xena?"
"You two go ahead. I'll stay with the horses."
The woman led me with little difficulty to a natural hot spring bubbling up
through a fissure in native stone. The dark rock was worn smooth all around.
"Not too hot this time of year. Should be just right. You want to test it out?
"Just what I needed. Thank you. You do have the magic touch."
It was just big enough for two. I stretched out and leaned my head back, resting
my neck on the rounded rock ledge that rimmed the pool. In seconds I was so
relaxed. It seemed natural, even imperative, to continue my story.
"This is the most difficult part."
"Take your time."
"Why did I do it? Really? That's what I want to know. I tried to convince myself
I was saving her from her own angry self-destruction, that she'd never get out
alive if I didn't do something to stop her." I felt as if I were confessing my
trangressions to a high priestess or an oracle.
"Xena had made a vow to someone in her past--another woman who had saved her
"Would it have made any difference if it had been a man?"
"You go right to the heart of the matter, don't you?"
"That's for you to decide. Humans can behave irrationally especially when strong
emotions are involved. We don't always know ourselves as well as we think we do.
And when friends don't behave as we wish--or as we think they should... Whether
it's in their best interests or not--or our own interest--we're all afraid of
rejection and abandonment. Even--" she stopped short with a sigh of regret. "Go
on, Gabrielle."
I closed my eyes, the warm water felt like the chinese silk I'd worn in the lair
of the Green Dragon; allowing myself to be seduced again, to trust. "I suppose,
I have to admit to myself, that I was still angry with her over Hope, my baby--I
hadn't voiced it, I hadn't grieved. I kept it to myself. I couldn't talk to her
about it. She made that impossible. I resented that. Being put in that position.
I could always count on her before, thought she relied on my instincts, about
certain things anyway. But she was so unreasonable. I couldn't make her listen."
My fists were clenched.
"So her promise to this other woman took precedence over you."
"Over Me."
"The both of you. Together. A threat to the relationship. But you were 'allowed'
to leave her to marry. She let you go. With no resentment. But you don't really
want her to make the decision to ever leave you, do you? Lack of committment to
what really matters. A reticence, an inborn inability to give yourself
completely. She's the one who should feel that way, it seems. And not you. Or at
least your heart tells you."
"She thinks I'm a 'good' person. Maybe I'm not really. What I've told you still
isn't the worst. I not only warned the man she would've killed--the son of the
woman she'd so...admired that she was coming..."
"A theme emerges as convoluted as any Tragedy since time immemorial."
"I sprung the trap myself. She was so...shocked and hurt."
"And did it feel good to have that control over her?"
"I...don't...no. It was horrible. I thought I'd be able to justify myself to
her--but realized I never could. I could no longer justify it to myself. And he
wouldn't let me see her, talk to her. I needed to--"
"You set up a situation in which you both, she certainly, faced death, could've
died together--"
"It's happened before."
"But had you ever been in the position to be her sole salvation?"
"I tried to prove myself--at her expense?"
"Did you?"
"Try or succeed? Failed miserably at either. Hated myself. Was furious with her.
For what I'd done to her. What she had allowed to happen. In trusting me. And
the very worst thing--I struck her--I raised my fist--when she was down...and
she took it. She forgave me. I wanted to die. I would've done to myself what
she, in her madness, had almost done."
"Together forever. But not in life. This--Gabrielle-- this, no matter what
anyone tells you--is a better world than any to come. This was, sometimes is,
and could always be paradise. Why else are the gods so fascinated by it? It's a
better creation than any realm they inhabit."
"Still. I ask. Why did I do it?"
"Out of love."
"Isn't that too simple?"
"It's never simple. Layers and labyrinths of complication. It is the motivation
behind so much human endeavor and pain."
"Love..." The word sounded foreign and hollow on my tongue. "But for all the
wrong reasons. I lied to her. And to myself. I've lied to her twice--big lies.
What does that say about our relationship?"
"You'll weather it. Though I have found it is best to avoid such lies--they will
come back inevitably to haunt you."
"What I'm afraid of. I thought I would never intentionally hurt her. I'd die for
her. I will. Before I ever hurt her again. I swear it."
"Be careful with vows. They have a way of fulfilling themselves like
"I hope so. I need to prove it to her."
"If I had the power to absolve you from the guilt you feel I would. I'd wave my
hand and take it away."
"Thank you."
"Don't move."
"What is it?" I spoke softly, but with some alarm.
"Dinner, I think. I'll be right back."
A few minutes later I thought I heard a returning footfall. Myridon said nothing
and I was about to tell Xena I'd heard her creep up on me, but something told
me...I opened my eyes and saw the tallest man I've ever seen, with the exception
of a giant, of course. He smiled at me. Not in a threatening way. I returned the
smile nervously. And then I noticed a bloody bandage on his neck. He'd been very
lucky. If Xena hadn't been throwing blind--
He hadn't moved toward me. That was a good sign at least. I thought. I didn't
have my staff. Standing very slowly without taking my eyes off of his, I felt
for my clothes and boots, gathered them up and backed away slowly holding them
in front of me. If I yelled now, I didn't know what he'd do and Xena probably
wouldn't hear me over the thunder of the river. I started dressing, backing
towards a large oak, everything but my boots. He was still standing in the same
spot, weird grin on his face.
"All right, big guy, you just stay right there and keep smiling, hope you
enjoyed the show." I reached behind me for the bole of the tree and sidestepped
back of it as quickly as I could, hurriedly drew on my boots, then started to
run at my top speed. The unexpected nature of the surprise awaiting me is
probably what stunned me and threw me off my stride. Somehow he was in front of
me now,calmly stepping from behind a tree as I stumbled and was easily grabbed
by him. How?! had he done that?
He was strong and pinned my arms. Tried kicking his shins. He just smiled that
same infernal smile. I heard someone behind me and prayed it was Xena or
Myridon, but his expression didn't change and rough hands bound my mouth and
held my arms while he tied them in front of me. When I looked up, trying to be
as ingratiating as only my eyes would now allow, I noticed he bore no neck
He turned me round and I faced his twin. It had to be. Damn. He (the first one)
hefted me easily over his shoulder. The other one took off in the opposite
direction, deliberately breaking branches, laying down a false trail.
I was carried, surprisingly, toward the river, back to where Xena should still
be patiently, more or less, waiting. And what did they have in mind? For me. And
my friends--and what was behind this in the first place?
The ground sloped upwards and we came out to a point above the river. He seemed
not the least bit tired from carrying me, but set me down. I could see through
the sparse brush on this rocky ledge. The horses and then Xena pacing. She kept
checking the woods and then the river. We waited. In a little while Myridon
appeared carrying something, a bird perhaps, I couldn't make out what it was.
They were semi turned towards the rockface so we could hear their voices playing
off the stone, almost like an echo.
"Well?" Xena asked.
"Dinner," Myridon said.
"Very nice. But not what I meant. Where's Gabrielle?"
"She's not with you? I thought she must've come back here. She's not at the
"You left her--for that?"
"She's probably foraging. No reason to get upset."
"Yet, you mean."
"She can take care of herself."
"Usually. But she has no weapon."
"You really should stop mothering her--or whatever it is you do. She's not a
little girl. She's an amazon warrior. Why does she need your constant
protection? She's far too dependent on you as it is."
"You'd do a much better job of letting her be herself, I'm sure." Xena said
sarcastically, but Myridon took her up on that.
"I'm sure too. At least she wouldn't be exposed to all the negative combative
traits and poisonous emotions she's picked up from you. Is she becoming an even
better person or merely a reflection?"
Xena stopped cold, her shoulders sagged.
"Admit it. She's more like you now. Capable even of killing, of betraying her
best friend in the world."
"She told you that?"
"She was aching to talk to someone. Since you wouldn't listen to her before why
should she think anything had changed?"
"She knows she can tell me anything."
"Apparently not."
"What do you mean by that?"
"Lasting friendships are not built on or sustained by lies."
I closed my eyes and hoped she wouldn't say anything more. Surprisingly it was
Xena who said nothing in response. Had she lied to me? About what I wondered. I
did have a feeling she hadn't told me the complete truth about the woman who had
saved her. It was implicit but I didn't ask. Didn't really want to know
everything. Xena moved toward her, menacing, voice cold as ice.
"She had better be all right. I entrusted her to your care. Where did you leave
her? Show me."
Trying to squirm forward I thought I might get their attention if I could reach
the edge. I wouldn't be responsible for hurting Xena again and was desperate and
determined enough to throw myself over the edge and risk a broken neck. It
would've served me right, but he grasped my hair and held me down, waiting for
them to move out.
He picked me up again, tossing me over his shoulder once more. I got bounced
around going downhill. And he hid behind some scrub waiting for them to appear.
He paralleled their movements, only moved when they did. I tried making some
noise, but he thwacked my head so hard I was afraid the next blow would knock me
out entirely. Fireflies danced in my vision. When my ear stopped throbbing, I
could hear Xena say, "This way. Look at the tracks; not Gabrielle."
"No," Myridon agreed.
"And from the breaks above ground looks as though he was carrying someone."
"Gabrielle," Myridon sounded genuinely concerned. "Those bastards."
"Don't you think it's time you tell me just what you've gotten us mixed up in?"
"Not completely sure myself."
"Won't work twice. And I thought we were building a relationship--no lies
remember?" I knew Xena was losing her temper. "I'll ask nicely once again. And
then I'll knock it out of you if I have to."
"They're...brothers. Two of them. Twins. They've been following me--for a long
"If they...so much as--"
"They won't. They want me."
"And so they want us to follow--this way. It's probably a trap. You can go
My abductor whistled like a thrush and received his answer. I tried the
appealing look again, big pleading eyes, helpless waif-like expression. They
must've thought I was pretty harmless afterall. Once again I looked back and
forth between them, wouldn't have known them apart if not for the wound one of
them had suffered.
"Let your frinds follow us for awhile," the wounded one said. He removed the
cloth tie from my mouth.
I smiled, sweetly, I hoped. It was difficult. "Sorry about that," I pointed to
his neck. "But you were trying to kill us at the time."
They grinned at each other. "You ducked."
"Not sporting."
"Game never does that."
"We usually hit what we aim for."
"So does my friend. You were very lucky."
He shrugged. They were rather good looking in a country bred bumpkin sort of
way, freckled and bright-eyed, but with an arrogant twist to their mouths that
spoke contempt.
They made me walk between them and kept moving until dark. They didn't make a
fire, but there was a bit more moonlight this night. Understandably I was jumpy,
considering my company and remembering last night's high strangeness and then
they kept staring at me.
"You first, brother. I'll watch."
I swallowed hard. He came near and sat close to me. "I watched you in the spring
with our quarry." He touched my arm and I began to shiver.
"Go ahead," he urged.
"Talk. I'm listening. Do you know Midas? Always liked that one."
"You want...a story?!"
"Yes. Please. Long night without it. We never had any real schooling. Hunting
and tracking's all we really know. But we do appreciate a good story."
"Well..." Reluctant as I was to launch into another full night of bardspeak, I
was more than a little relieved to find that's what they wanted. They had heard
of Xena, who has not?; and so I told them several tales, little embellished, in
the hope they would be cowed by her prowess and would believe they could not win
against her. They lapped them up like pups and only wanted more. Maybe I
wouldn't be a bard afterall, but become a contemplative hermit and never speak
"So Autolycus and Joxer were banished forever and everyone lived happily ever
after. I'm tired guys, do you think I could get a little rest--maybe I'll keep
talking in my sleep."
I dreamed Xena found me curled up in the moonlight and carried me like a child
to bed, but the boys were moving again, didn't they ever sleep? And I dozed off
once more as I was borne aloft. This wasn't such a bad way to travel. I could
get used to it. They were probably used to carrying a fresh kill on their broad
shoulders for hours at a time. It was still dark, moon hadn't set as yet, but
there wasn't enough light to cast a shadow. Something told me Xena and Myidon
hadn't stopped for the night either, but were probably slowed by the horses;
leading them through the dark. They couldn't risk a lame animal.
"I could walk if you'd let me."
"And try to slip away in the dark?"
I sighed and closed my eyes. I was beginning to feel like a sack of
turnips...sack of...Troy... Yawning, I drifted away again. Myridon was there
with a devastatingly handsome man--same height and build, similar
characteristics, her brother, her twin I was sure...and on the side of the
Trojans...he carried a shield, shaped and burnished like the sun, with a human
face embossed in gold; it appeared to flame with its own reflected light and
razor sharp flares arrayed around its circumference. They stood in a chariot
together and watched the battle below, sadness in their eyes, especially hers,
but she gazed at him with a deeper sadness, a special fondness.
Floating away now, rocking on the waves, not at all sea-sick for once. And the
ship was warm, maternal, rocking me gently. And it didn't matter where I was
going. Going whichever way the moon tugged us with her tides. The water shone
like quicksilver and a small basket moved in the current. Carrying a golden
haired child downriver. Where I could never reach her. Myridon was beside me.
"Yes. Your child. Alive and thriving. You can see her, be with her again if you
come with me. You know only too well what Xena will do--if she finds out. What
will you do to prevent her from harming your child? There's only one way to stop
her. And you would die before stopping her that way. Isn't it better this
way--the only way? You'll have to take different roads someday, won't you? I
give you a clear choice. It could always be worse than even our worst fears
would have us believe." The ship shaped itself around me. The polished wood of
the railing was warm to my touch. The figurehead at the prow, Xena with her
sword raised, poised to strike. The ship was melting away like early morning
mist, just a dream...my hands still bound, I could not swim, but Xena's arms
were keeping me afloat, the sword flung away, sinking to the bottom of the sea.
I'm dragging her under, but she won't let go...
Hit rock bottom and woke with a muscular spasm as if I were falling and had to
grasp on to anything. Still dark, I was being carried across a cold stream my
hands hanging down so that my fingers trailed through the icy water. It's the
blood rushing to my head, I reasoned. I'm not going to fall back to sleep. What