The old one about who would I save if Xena and my daughter were drowning and I
could only reach one of them? NO, I won't be forced to that. Not again. I'd
already made one choice. Even though she needed me more than Xena ever will.
So...what am I doing here? Why didn't I pretend to drown myself then? Solve
everyone's problem. Can't believe she believed me. At least gave me the benefit
of the doubt. I shuddered to think what will happen if she ever found out. She
can read me better than that. She knows, but won't admit it. But...then again
she never in a million moons would have thought I could turn her in like a
common criminal. I'm not angry with her--it's myself I'm angry with.
I started kicking and biting. Got hold of his ear and wouldn't let go though I
tasted blood. I remembered the taste of Xena's blood, the odd, thrilling
sensation as it cascaded, hot and sweet, down my throat when she allowed herself
to be taken by me as a Bacchae. Now I tasted sea salt and rusted iron.
"Otus!" he screamed, "get her off me!" He lost his grip and I splashed into the
fast running stream. This was my nightmare, hands bound and floundering and Xena
probably nowhere near enough to help me. Took a deep breath and ducked under the
dark surface trying to pull myself along by feel, clutching at rocks and tree
limbs on the bottom. My head was yanked back and it took a few frantic seconds
before I realized my hair was caught on something. Had to breathe soon. I knew
what it was like to drown. I'd been rather wary of water ever since. Didn't want
to spend as much time as I had in the river. My legs couldn't afford to be numb
when I hit the ground running. Hopefully.
Was sure I left more than a few strands of hair attached to whatever spectral
fingers had grabbed and sought to drown me. I stood, tried not to make too much
noise gasping for air and ran into the trees without looking back. It was
probably too dark to see if they were attempting to pursue. I doubted they could
see in this near Stygian blackness any better than me. Feeling my way again I
moved carefully then paused, stilled my breathing and listened. Nightjars, a bat
diving for prey somewhere overhead. My heart beating. No other sound. A breeze
ruffling the leaves and chilling me to the bone. I had to start moving again.
Would be ironic if after all my near escapes I should die from a head cold. But
first I tried to reach the knot binding my hands with my teeth. It was to the
front and underneath and I realized pretty quickly I wouldn't be able to untie
it that way. My arms and shoulders were aching and my hands felt like pin
cushions. What would Xena do? I sighed. And chided myself not to get trapped
into that circle of thought. It wouldn't do me any good. And it could be a
dangerous mistake. And it didn't apply. I was alone and had to think and plan
for myself. Wet and miserable and shivering. I couldn't help thinking I was
being punished--and deservedly so. All right, I thought, I'll accept that. Let's
get on with it.
I moved carefully and therefore quietly, feeling for the next tree and keeping
my orientation with respect to the brighter constellations. The Hunter was
ascendent and striding across the sky, sword at the ready. Lead me home to my
warrior...please. And then the weirdest thing...I heard it before I felt
anything. By the sounds I knew it wasn't the twins. Glad of that, I was,
however, reminded of the nameless terror experienced the night before. Snuffling
and breathing rapidly it was coming closer and I was rigid and praying to become
a dryad, part of the forest. Hard as wood. Inedible. And now it was on me, hot
breath as it sniffed at my hands and then the most unexpected sensation as a wet
tongue licked my palm. And the unmistakable head and muzzle of a hound thrust
under my hand, demanding to be acknowledged.
"Well...hello boy...or girl," I whispered in relief. My fingers moved over his
back and discovered there was a leather harness and he started to tug me the
moment I'd gripped it. "Now wait a minute." The dog wouldn't stop and I thought
I might as well hold on. I wasn't getting any better offers. "Okay. Slow down a
little bit." Amazingly, it obeyed me. Judging by the shape of the muzzle and the
length and build of the animal which my legs bumped from time to time I got the
impression he or she was a lean but sturdy hunting hound. The kind of graceful
companion known mostly to royalty. I was more used to seeing them represented on
an attic vase than in the flesh.
"We are going somewhere...as opposed to nowhere in particular--aren't we?"
It seemed to know the way it wanted to go with some determination and since it
didn't seem to be deviating from the planned path I continued to allow it to
lead me deftly past trees and over fallen logs. Thought I heard someone whistle,
then was sure I had. "I hope you don't belong to the guys I'm trying to get away
from." The dog moved slowly then stopped and stood panting, waiting for some
signal I supposed.
"Delos, heel. You can let go now, Gabrielle."
It was Myridon. I did as she said and the hound surged forward swallowed by the
night. "Good job."
I could hear her petting and cooing to the dog. And then out of nowhere she
produced a torch and lit a fire. The dog was nowhere to be seen. And I needed to
sit down. I was bone tired, my only question: "Where's Xena?"
"Don't know exactly." She busied herself untying my hands. "We split up quite
awhile ago. I'm sure she'll catch up after the sun rises." Why was I worried?
Those simpletons couldn't get the best of her. Or rather they could, her best
high kick to an arrogant set of the chin. "I'm so tired. Forgive me if I don't
feel like chatting." I chafed some blood back into my fingers.
"Of course. Rest. Maybe I can tell you a story. It has been a long day. And your
friend is very...very..."
"She never let me forget this was my fault."
"No, no. She's right. She is right. Where to begin? It is ironic--these things
usually are. I know the terrible loyalty one can feel toward a brother,
especially a twin. We had a disagreement with our family--or he did. I sided
with him as I've always done. A follower, not a leader I suppose; you know how
"I guess I do."
"Anyway, I was sort of turned out and left to deal with things on my own and
then I got saddled with these cretins on my heels. Just another penance to bear.
I'm not used to being without a...support system. It's been a learning
experience. Oh, yes it has. Hope it makes daddy happy. My meeting up with you
two was actually no accident. I needed help. And there you were. Right on cue.
Sometimes the magic works and sometimes it doesn't, you know?"
"I'...m not sure I do." At that moment Xena stepped into the light behind
Myridon. So relieved, I stood and would've embraced her wholeheartedly if not
for Myridon standing now between us. She wasn't smiling. Nieither of them was.
"Step away, Gabrielle."
"What's wrong?" Xena both sounded and looked very angry, stolidly so, immovable.
I knew that stance. "Xena, I think you should sit down--"
"Shut up, Gabrielle. Now, come over here."
Must've been gaping, my mouth was already open as I asked, "Is that an order?"
"Think of it that way. Now. Move."
I did. Too slow for her. She reached around Myridon and grabbed me, pulling me
to her and as she did something flew out of the dark and landed over Myridon. A
net. Xena held on to me, knew my first instinct would be to come to her aid. The
twins ran in from just outside the perimeter of firelight and began to secure
the trap. Struggling against her I twisted round to face Xena.
"What are you doing?! Help her." Pleading, there were tears in my eyes. It's
happening again. She wouldn't listen.
"All right, boys. You got what you came for."
"You can't do this. I can't believe you're doing this."
"You can't believe I would betray a friend, your friend?"
I thought of biting her to be let loose and to display the depth of my revulsion
at what she'd done, but all the fight went out of me and I sagged to the ground
and cried. "How could you?" I asked bitterly. "Did you say that because you're
proud of yourself, or because you were horrified by what you'd done?"
They were lashing Myridon over her saddle and leading the horse away without a
word. This time I knelt before Xena. The flickering orange firelight added to
her vengeful countenance. "Don't do this," I pleaded, "Please don't do this."
She shouted after them, "See you honor your part of the agreement. And don't
bother us anymore if our paths should cross."
"Xena, I don't know what happened between the two of you today to cause you to
do something like this. I didn't know you could be so cruel."
She reached down and grasped me tightly by the shoulders. "Didn't you? When it
comes to you I'd sell out my own mother to keep you safe--if there's no other
way. Take my word for it. This was necessary. Now stop whining and get up off
your knees." She practically tossed me onto Argo and began heading west. "How
much thoughtful soul-searching did it take before you decided you had to betray
me, Gabrielle? Could anyone have talked you out of it?"
Sniffling, my heart throbbed and ached in my throat creating a lump I couldn't
speak around. All right, I'm supposed to learn from this experience, but does it
have to hurt so damn much? Later, when we were at what I supposed to be a safe
distance, Xena stopped and let me down. Sitting silently, calming myself I was
finally able to speak, my voice raspy with emotion. "I know I had it coming, but
I'll never forgive you for this." Building a fire, she ignored me. Neither of us
spoke again until she settled.
"Get some sleep."
"Is that an order too?"
"Take it any way you want."
"How can I sleep?"
"Suit yourself." She lay down, back towards me. "Don't even think about slipping
away. You can't track in full daylight and you know I'd come after you. And,
Gabrielle, don't talk to me about forgiveness. Or the lack of it. I know all I
need to know about that. All right?"
I sniveled and wept all the rest of the night long, sometimes quietly to myself
and sometimes not. Didn't care if I woke her or not. I must've looked a pretty
sight when morning finally decided to end this too long night. Eyes, red-rimmed,
nose shiny as an apple. "I wish I could be as stone-hearted and cold blooded as
"You have your moments," she noted brusquely as she went about saddling Argo.
Standing abruptly, I angrily tried to retrieve my staff from the horse. Her hand
landed first. "Be prepared to use it."
"You really don't think... I promised I'd never strike you in anger...again."
"You've promised other things too."
"You saying I don't keep my word? Well, look who's talking."
"Takes one to know one?"
There was a spark of something in her eyes, I might've mistaken for humor in the
"That doesn't work twice. I'm not that easy."
She cocked her eyebrows. Removing my staff, she handed it to me with exaggerated
gentility. "Oh, and don't I know it."
I was such a nice, uncomplicated little girl when she met me. Gone for good. Now
I feel so angry much of the time. I can never take anything for granted. Ever
again. Especially her. No more tears. I'm going to be tough, resolved. I won't
let anyone get to me, rule my emotions. Stone cold. Just like Xena.
"Your face is dirty. Here." She moistened her fingers lightly on her tongue and
started wiping my cheek and I couldn't help thinking of the only thing she'd
asked of me in her dank and drear dungeon--to have her nose scratched-- and I
lost it again.
"It's all right," she cooed in my ear, stroking my hair.
"It's not," I gasped between sobs, "it's not."
"I couldn't believe you would've had enough water left in there to slake the
thirst of a butterfly."
Tears had finally subsided leaving my eyes even more swollen. I managed a ghost
of a smile. "What did happen yesterday? I'll listen objectively."
Xena frowned. "If I tell you she nearly had me killed will you leave it at
"The woman is well-connected, let's put it that way."
I started to say something, but felt she wouldn't answer me anyway.
"Convenient, huh? I would've been neatly out of the way and she would've 'been
there' for you. All too willing acolyte that you are." She looked down from Argo
to meet my eyes as I walked along beside her, surprised I hadn't responded to
"I'm listening," I reminded her.
"So you are. Giving me the benefit of the doubt? Gabrielle...maybe I do know
what I'm doing. But stay angry if it will help get you through. And don't wander
"How? How did she try to kill you--or 'have you' killed?"
"A sacrificial lamb."
"You've never been described as a lamb by anyone-- including your own mother."
"All right. A goat then. Better? Scapegoat. A replacement victim."
"For? Is Ares involved in this? He's given us a lot of grief--"
"For once, no. A related cause, let's say. We don't need to name names and call
up some more misfortune, do we?" I closed my mouth. "No, we don't. And let's
keep it that way."
We stopped by a small two-man bark at the river's edge. "We'll let Argo swim
"Uh...how?" I asked pointing to the boat.
"Part of the deal."
I hesitated, stubborn and unwilling to accept any part of that bargain.
"It's this or swim back across."
I got in the boat.
We crossed at a calm and narrow river bend. And appeared to be heading back in
the direction of the cypress grove. "You're not thinking of going back to
"Enchanted forest? Not thinking, no."
"Well, good, 'cause--"
"Doing, not thinking."
"Well...yes! Aren't you?"
"Not particularly. That half-pint half centaur has never impressed me. He's just
a dirty faced little boy sneaking up and shouting boo for a cheap thrill. If you
don't give in to it there's nothing to fear...and then it's only yourself you
need worry about."
Wicked images swept round the edges of my mind. "Uh...huh, but why should we
press our luck--again?"
"Maybe that's why. It's not luck until you make it work for you."
As we drew closer a chill rose up my spine and raised the hair on the back of my
neck. Every involuntary physical response was screaming at me not to go in
there. "Xena... I..."
"I know. Like I said, stay angry. Think about what I did to your friend...think
about your baby...and I'll think about...what I need to think about, okay?"
One strong emotion will banish another. Love overcomes hatred. Vengeful anger
will get in the way of almost any reasonable feeling. I felt certain she was
remembering her initial reaction to having found me laying a trap for her in the
Green Dragon's bed. Here we go again, dredging up these ugly and unexpected
challenges to our friendship. As if some ulterior force was set upon tearing us
apart. And perhaps so. Ares would like nothing better, I'm sure. A very jealous
god. And a true bully. Think of him, Gabrielle, I told myself--you'll stay
plenty angry. I moved in front of Xena, daring anyone or anything to get in my
"All right, you little twerp, show yourself. Come out, come out, wherever you
are." My staff was ready in my hands.
"Take it down a notch or two, Gabrielle. Don't get too cocky."
The atmosphere, the very light itself was becoming dense again as if we walked
underwater. There was movement, a rustling in the hedgerow, something shaking
and quaking, mewling like a child. "Go away," it shouted and growled, "I grant
you safe passage."
Xena laughed contemptuously. "Goat boy, I'm not in the mood to play. We have
some business to discuss."
A wild creature, gangly arms and legs shot out of the concealing hedge in a bolt
for freedom but, without even having to think about it, my muscles reacted and
knocked him back against a tree, the end of my staff pinning him there, all big
eyes and budding horns with the wispy white beard of a goat. And then a
revelation. We're not the cowardly ones, he is. A good offense is the best
defense, protective coloration, make yourself seem bigger and badder than you
really are. But, somehow, he seemed to disappear into the fabric of the tree's
body, it enwrapped him, enfolded him into itself leaving only a small knothole
near its base.
Xena held the amulet I'd glimpsed around Myridon's neck, a silver crescent inset
with a milky crystal.
"It came off in my hand when Poseidon tried to drown me. I'll tell you all about
it later." She held it swinging as if she would entice him with the bait.
Dangling it at the time-carved hollow. She threatened to burn it down, assuming
it must be a dryad he loved who loved him in return, in order to ferret him out.
He was trembling. Didn't want to meet our eyes. Xena grabbed him by the hairy
scruff of his neck and held him, kicking his hooved feet, off the ground.
"You tell your daddy to take a message to The Family." She whispered in his ear,
then dropped Myridon's amulet in his hand. He jumped as if it burned his palm.
"Or we'll come back for your hide. Count on it. Understand?"
Slow in responding, she shook him. He nodded, stupefied at her sheer audacity, I
think. She flung him away and he tumbled, landed on his feet like a cat, gave
her one dagger-filled, though fearful, parting glance then galloped off into the
dark forest so fast I almost expected to see a dust trail raised and probably
would have on drier ground.
"There that wasn't so bad, was it?"
"For who? I should never underestimate you, should I?"
"Never underestimate yourself. I probably wouldn't have reacted quickly enough
to get him--on the first try." She placed a hand on her chakram. "Didn't want to
damage the little demon."
"I don't think he'll ever bother us again."
"I don't think he'll bother anyone for awhile."
"Now, what about your old friend. Poseidon?"
"All right. Let's not go down to the river and discuss it. We should be safer
here at the moment. Sit down, I'll tell you." She smiled as she noted me
attentive, cross-legged at her feet. "Role reversal. I like that. You see, there
was a woman named Helen, famed for her beauty. She was rumored to be Zeus'
daughter by Leda."
"Uh...I think I know this story."
"So you do. But perhaps not all the pertinent details. On the Greek side we
count Mrs. Z."
"Hera. Yes. And a jealous wife as well. Zeus favored the Trojans. Xena, we were
"Athena, Poseidon, right? And for the Trojans, Aphrodite, our old nemesis Ares,
and, yeah, Zeus himself, but quietly to avoid domestic squabbles, and the
brother and sister, also his offspring--"
"Apollo and Artemis."
"The sun and the moon, the golden apple, the silver pear..."
"You sound like a bard."
"Thank you. Quite a compliment coming from you. But can you figure out where I'm
going with this?"
"Poseidon...but why should he take Myridon's part against you?"
"Didn't say he had. He'd like to drown me for his own sweet reasons, nothing
necessarily to do with that hideous little war."
"Complications, Gabrielle. Ever hear of a pair of brothers, twins, who actually
managed to take Ares captive as foolish, though conniving, younsters."
"Oh...ohmigoddess...Ephialtes and...Otus! Yes, yes, yes. I should've
"They claim parentage via that vicious old sea god. And I'd believe it. They're
a combative, arrogant duo. They carry a superior attitude like a chip on their
shoulders because of that lineage, but it's given them the gall to challenge the
rest of the dysfunctional family and assert their...manhood, I suppose. If gods
can use men, then men can return the backhanded compliment--"
"I didn't think they were all bad..."
"Maybe not, but they have contempt for us too."
"Yes," I agreed. "So, Poseidon is protecting his boys?"
"Or talking some minor river deity into lending a watery hand. When we were
searching for you Myridon managed to gather enough fireflies and glowworms to
provide a faint bit of illumination. Resourceful. I'll give her that. Placed
into the crystal of her amulet, the light it gave seemed magnified. We were
tracking you in the dark, don't know how she managed so well--"
"I think I do."
"Came to the stream and waded in. She slipped, or pretended to, and pulled me
down with her and some kind of strong undertow caught me and wouldn't let go.
She staggered out and found the boys' huge tracks on the other shore and
suddenly lighter imprints. No burden, sorry, no weight on one's shoulders, no
sign of you. She was telling me this much. Myridon became frantic and furious.
Muttered, 'Not like Arethusa. I won't allow it.' She took off and left me there
with her talisman clasped tightly in my hand. I think it even may've helped me
escape. It felt warm in my hand and, against instinct, I relaxed in the current
and floated gently to the embankment...and tracked you to where I found you."
"After you found them first and..."
"It was a fair bargain, Gabrielle. Perhaps Myridon would've ageed. They're off
"And doing who knows what to her."
"She will be all right."
"How do you know that?"
"They gave me their word--"
"What?! You must be kidding--"
"They intend to take her home for a proper...epithalamium."
"Oh, well, then," I rejoined sarcastically.
"There will be a proper conclusion. Count on it. It's been put into motion."
"Okay, but what's it got to do with the Trojan War?"
"Factionalism. It happens in the best of families."
"Ares? Zeus himself perhaps--for secretly siding with the Trojans--Poseidon will
always favor sailors over landlubbers in a walled enclave. Also he had to plead
with his big brother for his twin boys' lives after the Ares incident and
promised he'd keep them in line--or else. Push has come to shove."
"Thanks to you."
"I know. How did we get in the middle of a turf war? Ares is no friend of
ours--even if you might be...uh...related as it turns out."
"But we befriended Myridon--after she, creating a diversion?--sought us out."
"And you think she's under someone's divine protection--to some extent anyway."
"Seems that way."
"We wait for an answer?"
"We follow the river down to the sea--to see--what we can see."
The delta was wide, the estuary beautiful, moving, glinting in the afternoon
sun, alive with thousands of wading birds. Xena reconnoitered the beach looking
for tracks, I supposed. I didn't see any. She smiled, satisfied and returned to
"A few sea turtles and shore birds."
She nodded. "Up there."
The onset of sundown came softly in increasingly subtle shades of lavender and
crimson. We silently watched a masted vessel sail over the horizon, each lost in
her own thoughts.
"Someday..." Xena began.
"I want you to tell me how you managed to get to the Green Dragon before I
did--but not today."
"I'd like you to stay away from the water today."
"Expecting a certain cranky sea god to put in an appearance?"
"Yeah. Seems that way."
"I mean...we've both been...well, pretty much, uh, dead and gone and came back
to the world again."
"Death is nothing I fear."
"It's being alone again--without you."
"You know I would've traded my life for yours--I tried bartering...other
things...no, don't worry. It's...not important."
"I wouldn't say that. Anyway, I was prepared."
"I know...I knew. It disconcerted me. Made me frantic and desperate with fear.
That's why I struck you."
"I know--I knew."
"But it hurt just the same, didn't it?"
"Yeah, that's what I meant."
She took my hand and squeezed it with affection. "Don't go near the water," she
reminded me emphatically, then quickly leaped down from the rocks where we'd
been sitting. There was a tiny island not too far from shore, covered with
trees. I didn't see anything else of interest in the immediate neighborhood.
I watched the line of trees and saw Xena melt into the woods. Now, I wait. But
for what? The sun was still well above the horizon, but sinking more rapidly all
the time, it seemed, in relation to the few clouds. It was still bright enough
to blind me when it re-emerged. Blinking my eyes I missed the moment the two
figures moved out of the trees and on to the beach leading the horse and its
The boys waited expectantly, for something to happen. And to oblige them the
water began roiling and bubbling, a strip several yards wide appeared to gel,
became a totally different shade of blue. The boys raised their arms and hooted,
clapped each other on the back. Where was Xena? I was tempted to go down there
I heard it whipping through the air. The chakram neatly cut the several cords of
the net where it was secured to the mare's saddle and Myridon rolled out on to
the sand. Leaping at once to her feet she dashed surprisingly into the
ocean--and did not sink. Myridon ran across the bluer swath of ocean, heading
for the little isle. And now the boys, momentarily dazzled by the sun in their
eyes, Apollo's golden chariot, chased after her. Even the horse reared and
followed, also running aross the still tableau of frozen water while waves
continued, crazily, to crash to either side of it.
I had quite a view. And then Xena came out of the trees running as hard as I'd
ever seen her. "I knew you couldn't leave things as they were. I knew it."
I was so caught up in my heartswell of emotion and the sheer beauty of Xena in
action that at first I failed to notice the angry stirring of the waters that
bordered the strange road. A tidal surge swept over the pathway and knocked Xena
She hung on, didn't wash into the sea, but fought to her feet and continued. And
then a mightly and ominous roar, one we'd both heard before, and Poseidon rose
from the deep, bellowing and towering over her. Instinctively she drew her
sword, crouched stance, ready for a fight, but then with a calm I could never
hope to master, straightened and re-sheathed the useless blade and stared him
"Not exactly eye to eye are we?"
He huffed and reached a watery tendril out to enwrap her and take her up into
the air before his great pompous waterfall of a countenance. I could swear he
was going to swallow her into his raging tempest of a maw. Forgetting her
admonition, I raced down to the water's edge shouting, trying to draw his wrath.
"Put her down you big soggy windbag."
I can project with the force of a demon if I have to. I screamed his name at the
top of my lungs. Xena's legs were dangling high off the...'ground.'
"Go back, Gabrielle."
"What do you want, little girl?" he rumbled.
"Put her down. If you want blood today. Take mine instead."
"It's all right." I met her sea-blue eyes. "I'm prepared."
The god of the sea grinned. "Your decision." He laughed, a gurgling maniacal
sound, that chilled the blood in your veins to ice water.
"Don't you see, this is what he wanted all along."
"A sacrifice, a willing sacrifice...it will hurt you far greater than the fear
of your own demise. I get even with you, even with...her--" he looked toward the
island "--the best of all possible vengeance. It is mine!"
He dropped Xena and she shouted as she was falling, "Run, Gabrielle!"
I was close to the island and already facing in that direction. I ran. Ran hard.
But I had to...had to turn to see what was happening to her, saw her tumbling
through the air, landing further on in the water as if a strong kick against a
wave had the impetus to propel her so far forward. She swam a few strokes and
climbed back onto the path, now strangely springy, and I was there, helping her
We both froze for a moment fascinated as the swath of hardened sea foam began,
from the shore, to dissolve. And flow back into its natural form. The reversion
came toward us at breathtaking speed as Poseidon continued his hearty laughter.
Xena pulled me with her as she ran again towards the island. We were almost
there, just a few paces from a rocky beach when I felt the spongy solid give way
beneath my feet. I took one final step in the air and then plummeted straight
down, the water in an instant over the top of my head.
I hadn't even had time to take a breath. But suddenly I was spluttering, held up
by Xena who had reached down to grasp me with one hand, striking swifter than an
I stood on dry land. We heard Poseidon bellow in rage and our ears were assailed
by a blast of sound that made the eardrums pop. And he sent a huge unruly wave
crashing our way, but we climbed quickly to the tree line and out of the waters'
"Good timing," I gasped.
"No complaints this time?"
"Getting dunked? Not such a bad thing. Considering the alternative."
"We still have to get off this island."
"And we're surrounded by his domain."
"Solve that problem when we need to."
The surf continued to boil and rumble angrily for quite awhile, but finally
subsided with the onset of full darkness. In the fading twilight we'd managed to
find a few signs of where someone had passed recently, imprinted in the soft
moss at the perimeter of the forest which seemed to entirely cover this
relatively small islet. The moon would be a mite fuller tonight, but would also
be a good while rising. We crept as silently as possible into the dark forest.
We didn't speak, gestured while we could see, touched when we could no longer. A
silver river cascaded across the sky, the backbone of the night, splashing the
heavens with light. My eyes slowly adjusted, drank the darkness in until shadow
shapes were barely discernible against a somewhat lighter shade of dark sky or
What was I looking at? Was it moving? I tapped the back of Xena's hand. We were
staying very close by each other, almost breathing in sync. I thought, at first,
it must be the mare, standing very still, ears twitching slightly, but as it
turned a monstrous rack of horns became apparent, branching out and up, sharp
spines and deadly points.
A stag, a magnificent animal, huge head held high and proud. A mist began to
creep about our feet. Fog was swelling up from the ocean, boiling, frothy,
rising to our knees. Damp and cold and heavy with an ominous threat from below.
As if things weren't troublesome enough. This looked to be with us till well
after daylight. Insidiously it continued to rise until we were covered over,
eyes and ears smothered with thick, rich whiteness like Egyptian cotton. It was
luminous, seemed almost alive, glimmered malevolently, an obscuring gift from
Papa Poseidon. How much of a bequest, though, really? If we couldn't see our
hands in front of our faces neither could they.
Xena took my hand and placed it around the low hanging branch of a tree. She
began to climb and I followed. Might as well be off the damp ground and in the
damp air. Maybe we'd see something advantageous when the fog began to lift. If
it ever would.
Climbing higher we found a perfect notch in which we each could sit comfortably,
Xena facing one direction while I kept watch in the other.
Dense fog has a marked tendency to muffle sound so we chanced speaking in low
tones. Branches creaked over our heads in a gentle breeze.
"You don't think we could be sharing our tree?" I asked.
I could see Xena now as a spectral figure, the silhouette of a warrior. She
shrugged. "Probably just a large tree-dwelling cat of some kind."
I couldn't see her face, but I knew from the laconic delivery that she was
attempting to hide that sly half-smile--or would have been if the darkness and
fog hadn't made it completely unnecessary.
"Have I ever told you that you possess a lethal sense of humor?"
"Thanks. I try."
I knew she was smiling broadly now.
"And thanks for saving my life today."
"Well...I think I owed you one."
"Even though I warned you not to go near the water."
"I couldn't very well sit there and watch you swallowed alive. Had to do
"I know how that is. But, Gabrielle, please don't deliberately place yourself in
jeopardy just to prove something--whether to me or to yourself. I appreciate the
gesture--but you'll outlive me...and I want it that way. You have so much to
offer the world. I believe in that. I fight...the good fight for that. My life
would become meaningless without it. You have nohing more to prove. Ever. I know
how much you're willing to give. I know. Believe it."
Sighing, I leaned back against the rough bark and gazed up through the dark
lattice. I could see a few patches of starry sky, but not enough to place them
in the celestial sphere. I knew she would always do what she felt she must and,
following in her footsteps, I would feel compelled to do the same-- with a bit
more caution on my part in future; I hoped I had learned that much.
Reparation. Had I done enough? Said enough? Still I felt the same anxiety deep
within me, gnawing at my heart, my conscience. Would I ever be whole again? Or
was this journey making me a complete person for the first time?
"As you appear to know so well--the difference between a promise and a vow seems
to be that one is understood to be open to some breakage while the other is
"Did you just grow to sage old age on me over there in the dark?" she asked.
"You read me the book."
"So you saying you vow to keep the promises you're not forced to break?"
"You're doing fine, you--"
"No. I mean my skirt. Hand me your dagger." I cut a long thread and hoped the
damage would stop there. Chuckling with sudden inspiration I tied it in a loop.
"What's so funny?"
"Here. Do you remember any little girl games--or is that way too far in the
distant past?" She didn't say anything. "Are you still smiling?" I leaned
forward at my own risk and found her hands. Placed them in front of her
equidistant from each other. "Hold still." Wrapping the string around both hands
in the starting position I pulled and twisted the strange little puzzle into its
next configuration on my fingers. Now I was stuck. How to show her what to do
next? "Okay. Now take the outside strings and bring it around. This way.
No--yes, that's it. See, you do remember."
Something must've kicked in, some dim automatic bodily memory of having done
this before. She managed three or four more before grunting in frustration and
trying to untangle her hands by frantically waving them in the air. I giggled
and tried to help but she slapped mine away. "Had enough, huh? Okay. Fun while
We watched and waited quietly as the sky opened and the mist dissipated until it
was about ten or so feet off the groound. What remained was hardly less dense
than it had been. It would take the heat of the fully risen afternoon sun to
consign it to a misty memory.
We strained our eyes looking from some sign of movement. Then something odd.
Branches shaking in a stiff breeze. But no wind stirred. Branches of a tree, I'd
been sure, but they started to move across the landscape. I gasped as the huge
stag leaped on to a high rocky prominence. It was white, solid, from nose to
tail. As if the dense whiteness of the night fog had coalesced to a blanket of
frosted snow and rime. At first I was too startled to even draw Xena's
attention. When I did she turned her head just in time to also see the twins
swing down from a tree a few hundred yards from us, startling the animal. It
disappeared once again.
"Promise me--no make a vow--you'll stay put this time. Please. It's going to be
confusing down there."
"I'd swear on the precious manuscript Argo's carrying if that would be good
enough for you."
"Good enough." She grasped my hand tightly to seal the deal and for luck, I
thought. "See you later. Just...uh...hang around up here till I get back."
I didn't need to be convinced of the wisdom of staying put this time. I was too
short to see above the fog, but one gentle leap into the air would vault Xena
above the mist.
Hearing a clash of metal a brief time later I figured she must have found and
engaged them. Xena leaped into a tree at one point, waved casually in my
direction, then disappeared again as she jumped back to the ground.
The sun was at war with the sea as the stubborn sea-mist refused to abate and
kept rolling in, roiling furiously in steamy groundswells. It appeared as though
sky and sea had reversed the order of nature and taken the place of each other.
The ground clouds billowed and churned while the merciless pure azure beat down
on my head with a furious heat. I could see patches of ground now here and
there. A movement caught my eye, an arm--someone drawing a bow, taking careful
aim. I was about to shout a warning to Xena when I followed his line of sight
and saw the white stag again, head and shoulders emerging as it craned its neck
to a bough hung low with apples. I couldn't believe it. In the midst of all this
he decides to go trophy hunting.
My fingers were at my lips but the shaft was loosed before I could whistle to
frighten the poor beast away. Expecting to see a scarlet stain on the pristine
hide I was astounded to instead witness the substantial creature wisp to
nothingness, to become part of the swirling mist itself. Someone shouted an oath
which seemed to come from the opposite side of the glade and when I looked back
to where I'd seen the hunter's bow, one of the twins staggered from behind a
tree an arrow protruding from his chest. As he fell to the ground a raging wail
of wind and thunder arose from all around us, the sea itself, and a gusty gale
of sea spray cleared the last vestige of mist from the land.
I found Xena standing over the other one. He too was shot through the chest with
an arrow fired by his brother. They'd both been maneuvered around to be in the
perfect position for this punishment that some laughing god might consider
ironic and just. Meeting her eyes, I asked, "Did you...?"
"I tried to stop it."
Myridon joined us. She wore the amulet once again. "It's fitting. They cared for
nothing outside themselves and their own appetites." She wasn't gloating, but
coldly stating the case. I must've been staring, wide-eyed. "I had a right to
put an end to it." I didn't speak. "Gabrielle? You know what they were like."
"They were...just boys."
"I didn't do this. They brought it on themselves."
"I saw what happened. The white stag."
"Seemed real enough at the time."
Xena added, "And isn't it time to come clean, explain yourself, drop the veil?"
"Does it matter?"
"To her, it might," Xena nodded toward me.
"Gabrielle," she began, "I'm sorry I wasn't there for you--the difficult birth,
the violation that preceded it--" she glanced at Xena "...and what happened
"Should you have been?"
"All...amazons are very dear to my heart. I try to look after my daughters--as
much as possible. Especially in times of greatest need. Once again, I'm sorry."
"I've told you my name...one of many. Isis, Rhiannon... A small cult in
Carpathia call me by the one you know. There are so many others. ...There was a
huntress, a young amazon, pure of heart like you, pledged to me...and my ways. A
joy to behold, filled with love for every free and wild thing. Protectress, my
beloved friend and close companion."
"Arethusa," Xena supplied.
"As beautiful as her name. She tried to divert these relentless hunters from my
path and--willingly--paid with her life. Dragged under, drowned--and I could do
nothing to help her. I was being punished-- ostracized by half of the warring
family for daring to take sides with my brother."
"My dream," I murmured, "oh, goddess, yes. I got my vision afterall. And there
you were. In the golden chariot sadly watching the fall of Troy."
"Stepmother and the others thought living more like a mortal, using only my
forest wits would teach me a lesson. Brought down to earth, as it were. Even
forced to pervert the gift of shapeshifting into any noble beast by becoming
a...monstrous thing during dark of the moon. I am restored now, thanks to Xena.
You have earned my patronage."
"No thanks. Don't need it."
"Ares is my half brother. All halflings, all of us," she said gazing with
pointed meaning at Xena.
"Does that mean we're stuck with the gods whether we want you or not?"
The woman laughed. "Something like that, I'm afraid."
"I've never feared and I've never prayed to you."
"Never, Xena? I seem to remember a time when you actually went down on your
knees and asked the moon to spare Gabrielle's soul from your sort of
I caught Xena's eye and she glanced away quickly.
"And where were you then?" she asked.
"She found the strength within herself."
"I still think the world would be better off if you all just went away and left
us to fend for ourselves. We don't need you."
"Gabrielle does, don't you, daughter? Something greater than yourself."
"That connection to the infinite? But why must we always be the willing
sacrifice? Why doesn't the god ever make a sacifice for us? You don't love us,
we're your playthings."
"We do what we can."
"Too little, too late. You know, the one willing to give everything for me is
right here by my side--and I for her. Xena, let's bury these foolish boys."
"Poseidon instead of helping them only succeeded in helping to get them killed,"
Myridon mused looking out to sea.
"I don't know what to call you anymore. Artemis... Diana--which do you prefer?"
"You think I should've sacrificed myself--for them? Allowed myself to be
"Of course not."
"Then what? They couldn't be reasoned with. They had no reason. I knew they
could never turn down a good hunt or a special quarry."
"So? Revenge? Or self-defense? Make up your mind."
"Justifiable punishment. Surely, you know by now that sometimes there is simply
no other option. Tell her, Xena. You understand that. You've placed it into
action--and only recently. If I have a goal--it is that all women must be able
to defend themselves. The pair of you certainly believe in that."
"There's a story you demanded a maiden's death in retaliation for the hunting
and slaying of protected animals."
"Slander. The opposite is true. But truth depends on your point of view and
whether you have the ear of the audience in its telling. Remember that, Bard. I
rescued her from sacrifice and made her the high priestess of my temple. She
lives still. And how will you tell this tale?"
"Don't know yet. I'll have to give it some thought."
"Regrettable, but if men were not violent, if they did not use it against us to
gain what they insist upon as a superior position--we would not have to become
more like them in order to defend ourselves and those we love, eh, Xena?"
"Man's violence? Fratricide, matricide, patricide-- the gods' legacy to us,"
"Can I learn something from you as well, Gabrielle? As Xena evidently has. I'm
sure I could."
"Are you inviting her along for the ride? She's free to go wherever she wants.
Quite an opportunity, Gabrielle. Travelling companion to the Huntress herself,
moon goddess. A bard really shouldn't turn down an offer like that."
"How is that any different from what I already have? I would be a ship set
adrift without you. Homeless. You are my home. You'll never get rid of me even
if you want to."
"Now, goddess, I'm assuming you can...what? Just clap your hands? And leave any
time you want now?"
"Something like that. But I wouldn't leave you here. Though it would be
interesting to observe your resourcefulness put to the test in getting off the