THE AMAZON QUEEN
Part XVIII: Source of Darkness
by L.M. Townsend (e-mail: QueenLaese@aol.com)
DISCLAIMERS: The characters of Xena, Gabrielle, Ephiny, Solari, Eponin, Melosa, Terreis, Amarice, Cyrenê, Meg, Joxer, et al (meaning anyone else I didn't list and should have.) are the property of MCA, Universal, and Renaissance Pictures and anyone else who has a legal claim (thanks for letting the girls come out to play!) Melysë and The Amazons belong to themselves (and I dare any man to say different!)This story is mine, though, and written just for fun, not profit.
Subtext: YES, though nothing explicit. Xena and Gabrielle, while still soul-mates and the very best of friends, are not a couple in the romantic sense of the word. They are joined to others as heart-mates.
Violence: Yes, but no more than youll see on the show.
Language: Pretty tame, so far.
Spoiler: Altared States, Endgame, Is There a Doctor in the House, Hooves and Harlots, Them Bones, Them Bones
This story is lovingly dedicated to my little "Crow", "my Xena", my Warrior-Poet - the other half of my soul, without whose encouragement and faith in me this story would not be. I love you now and forever.
Other: If you havent read the previous installments in this series, you may have difficulty following along with whos who. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
The priestess looked around. The landscape was barren, patches of snow lumped about, though
Melysë did not feel cold. In the distance was a line of mountains, rising starkly against the white sky in the dim half-light of this place. Suddenly, she was approached by an old Amazon - a shamenki by her dress.
"Old-Mother, where am I?" asked the priestess-queen.
"In the Land of the Dead," replied the Amazon, appraising her critically. "Though youre not dead. But youll do...yes, youll do nicely, I think. Not dead, but not quite mortal, either. Yes, its you."
"Do? Do for what, Old-mother?" asked Melysë, puzzled. "Stop what?"
"The Darkness," said the old woman, nodding her head. "You must stop it...and her...yes, youll do well."
"Stop whom? What is this Darkness?" asked Melysë, alarmed. "Are the Amazons in any danger?"
"Arent they always?" chuckled the old woman. "Ill come to you again and when I do - be prepared. Tis no easy thing being asked of you."
"What is it?" asked Melysë as the woman began fading from her sight.
"You will know all soon, Child....."
Melysë sat, poring over the crumbling parchments strewn about her desk, her dark head held in her hands. She was seeking answers which she already knew would not be found here, in these dusty archives, but she didnt know what else to do. So where are the answers? thought the priestess.
Slowly she arose and stretched aching muscles. Her head was the worst, though. She had been studying the faint and fading ink from centuries past for hours, now. The sun had sunk and the days light was fading much as the ink from those ancient quills had. Rubbing her sandy-feeling eyes, Melysë looked around the empty cottage. It was nearly dark, so she went about, lighting the lamps.
"I wonder where Xenas got to?" she thought aloud. "Goddess! Its nearly dinnertime, and I have nothing on the stove. Ive spent the entire day on those old scrolls - and for nothing. They dont say anything I dont already know."
The priestess began opening cupboards in the pantry of the Queens Cottage, pulling out some bread and cheese. Sorry, family, she thought. Looks like its going to be a cold dinner tonight.
Just then, the cottage door swung open and in walked a grinning Xena, a string of trout proudly displayed. Behind the warrior came Selenë carrying a pouting Neiromei. Selenë set her little sister down and the little girl came to her mother to be picked back up.
"Xena," said Melysë, smiling in delight, as she cuddled their daughter. "How wonderful - I hadnt exactly started dinner yet."
"Its alright - I didnt think youd have time," said the Warrior Queen, approaching for a welcoming kiss from her priestess. "Mothers keeping the babies for a while longer."
"Whats the matter, Little One?" said Melysë to Neiromei.
"I didnt catch any fish," sniffed the tired youngster. "Xena-meia just reached in with her hands and pulled em out, but I couldnt even catch one with my line."
"Its okay, Romy," said Selenë. "I didnt catch any either. Looks like tanti-meia pulled out all the fish in that ol stream, huh?"
Neiromei scowled at her warrior mother. "Yeah - thats why I didnt catch any," she said. Melysë smiled and shook her head. Xena took the child from her arms.
"Come on, Romy, youre getting too big for your mother to carry," said Xena. "How about you help me clean these fish, huh?"
The child wrinkled up her little nose. "Ewwww!" she said. "I dont think I like fishin, Xena-meia. First I have to put a poor little worm on a hook, then clean the fish. Thats kinda icky."
"Yeah, it is kinda," chuckled Xena. "Tell you what - tomorrow, Ill teach you how to catch them like I do - no more worms, okay?"
"Okay!" said the little girl, kissing her warrior mother on the cheek before scrambling down to go help with the "icky" job of cleaning the fish.
"Mother, did you find anything?" asked Selenë when they had left the room.
"No," said the priestess, with a sigh as she built up a fire in the stove to cook the fish.
"Why wont you let me help you?" asked Selenë, setting the table. "I could find what youre looking for in the Spirit Realm...."
"No, Selenë," said Melysë firmly, turning to her daughter. Goddess, the resemblance to Xena is uncanny! she thought. Shes taller than I am, now, too. "Its too dangerous. If I have to, Ill do that myself - but lets hope it doesnt come to that."
"It wouldnt be dangerous if tanti Tai had started training me," said Selenë, frowning.
"Selenë," said Melysë. "Im not..."
"Ready to send me, I know," said the girl, sighing. "When can I go, Mother?"
"I dont know, Selenë," said Melysë, pulling her daughter into a tight hug. "I just...Ill miss you - give me some time, okay? I promise, Ill send you soon - but Xena may have something to say about it, too."
"About what?" said the warrior, entering the kitchen with the scaled, gutted trout, Neiromei, pinching her nose, a look of distaste on her little face.
"About me going to Lycastia so tanti Tai can train me to take my place in Avalon," said Selenë.
Melysë noticed the nearly imperceptible stiffening in her warrior.
"Oh," said Xena, quietly. "Selenë, will you give Romy a bath, please? Your mother and I will make dinner."
Selenë sighed. "Yes," she said, taking her little sister by the hand and leading her out to the bathing chamber. "But you can discuss my future with me, you know. Im old enough to
participate in its planning."
"Shes right, Xena," said Melysë, as Xenas strong arms wrapped around her, pulling her close.
"I know," said the warrior, planting tiny kisses on her priestesss face. "Dont worry - if she goes to Tai, we know shell be fine.
"Ill contact Tai in the morning," Melysë said quietly. "She needs to go now. Tai can train her as I cannot. Its time - its too dangerous to make Selenë wait any longer. Already, she wants to go to the Spirit Realm to help me look for answers. Its only a matter of time before she tries it - and that could be very dangerous for her."
"Selenë? She wouldnt do that - shes always been obedient, Lysë," said Xena.
Melysë looked up at the warrior and smiled a little. "So was I, Xena, but I did it when I was her age," she said. "If it hadnt been for Tai chasing after me and pulling me back, I would have been lost there forever. It was ... a fever, a curse, really, on the Amazons. I lost so many sisters to that plague, I was desperate. Tai and I both fought it so hard, but nothing was working. I ... allowed it to take me, thinking I could find the cure within it, save my people. But it almost killed me."
"Oh," said Xena, quietly, considering. "Thats another one I owe Tai. You think Selenë would ...? What am I saying - shes very like you, Lysë. She would sacrifice her own life to save the Amazons."
"And in that, my Love, she is also like you," said Melysë. "She wouldnt hesitate. She is very strong in power, and young enough to think shes invincible. She may be strong enough to handle it, but shes not trained enough to know how. She needs to go to Tai now."
"Youre right," sighed the Warrior Queen. "What did you find today? Anything?"
"No, nothing," sighed the priestess, tucking her head into her warriors neck. "It would help if I knew what I was looking for."
"Hmm, yes it would," said the Warrior. "What did the old woman tell you?"
"She said I was to stop ...someone .. something - a Darkness - I dont know who or what," said Melysë, troubled. "Or why - or...anything, really."
"Dont worry - well figure it out," said the Warrior, softly. "Meantime, I suppose we should cook these - the girls are going to be hungry."
"Um, Xena? Ill cook, okay?" said Melysë, grinning up at her warrior, who raised an eyebrow.
"Hey - trout I can do!" said Xena, feigning insult.
"I know," said Melysë. "I was just teasing. I would love for you to help me with these.
The following day, Melysë again sat before the scrolls, poring through them. Still she found no new insight, despite her intuitions strong call that the answers were before her.
Xena once again took the girls with her to give her heart-mate some solitude in which to work. She and Selenë needed supplies for the weeklong trip to Lycastia. Xena would be escorting Selenë to Tai, as Melysë had contacted Tai that morning. Tai had wanted Melysë to send her right away, using god-powers, but Melysë decided that Xena needed this time with their daughter.
Although Melysë would miss Selenë terribly, she knew that Xena would always take these partings harder. Even Arynës moving to the outskirts of the village with her malatyr, Tecmessa after their Joining had been harder for the Warrior Queen than for Melysë, though Xena would never let on. Still, Melysë knew.
The priestess once again bent her head to the scroll before her, trying to make out the words, since many of the characters were faded to obscurity. Tantalising bits of the old legends caught the priestesss imagination. She knew the tales were written for entertainment and enjoyment, and were only very loosely based on the true events of history, often pulling people from one time into the time of the tale for the purpose of telling a good story, yet there were still lessons to be learned from them and the kernel of truth was there - if only she could discern it.....
"Achlys, the mother who existed before all other beings, the dark mother who gave birth to all creatures....and Chaos rose up out of the dark mists and took a daughter of Zeus to him as bride..."
Melysë shuddered. "Chaos," she whispered to herself. "Oh, Mother, I hope its not him again."
"...and there arose a sorceress, mighty in magic and power and much feared by the....."
Melysë was interrupted by Neiromei, flying into the cottage and leaping into her mothers lap, upsetting a cup of klafé in the process. The priestess looked at the sodden scrolls in dismay, then softened when she saw the contrite tears in her young daughters bright blue eyes.
"Oh, Romy, its alright," she said hugging the little girl. "Just help Mother clean it up, okay?"
Neiromei jumped down eager to comply and returned with a cloth.
"Did I ruin the old papers, meia?" asked the child, worried.
"No, no, Sweetheart," said Melysë, smiling her daughter as she gently dabbed the papers dry. "These are just copies - the really old ones are in the Temple....."
The priestesss voice trailed off as she noticed a formerly blank portion of the scroll she had been most recently reading filling with words where the klafé had spilled on it.
"When thou hast perceived the Source of the Darkness, the way to the Light will become more clear......"
"Romy! Thank-you!" cried the Priestess-Queen, seizing the child and hugging her, while spinning about, to Neiromeis squeals of delight.
"Whats this?" said Xena, entering the cottage, one eyebrow raised, a smile playing about the corner of her mouth.
"Romy spilled the klafé on the scroll - and words appeared - its part of the answer, Xena!" cried Melysë, gently setting the child down and running to embrace her heart-mate.
Xena walked to the table, one arm remaining around her priestesss slender waist and looked at the parchment.
"What is the Source of Darkness, Lysë ?" asked the warrior.
"Its what I have to find," said Melysë, still smiling. "But its more than I knew before. Oh, Xena - for the first time since all this started, I finally have the beginning of the answer!"
For the rest of the afternoon, Melysë and Neiromei lightly brushed klafé over the remaining scrolls - well, Melysë did; Neiromei found she enjoyed "painting" pictures on the blank parchments much more than the light, careful strokes her mother was applying on the old scrolls.
Glancing at her daughters parchment, Melysë gasped. Neiromei had raided the pantry and had mixed various things together, coming up with quite a palette of colours, but it was the picture which had caused the priestess to stop her own work and gaze at her daughters with awe. Although Melysë s painstaking treatment of the remaining scrolls had exposed no new "hidden" messages, Neiromeis painting was a revelation.
Roiling black clouds overhead and a thick mist rising from the ground surrounded a group of peculiarly humanistic standing stones. Melysë could see the wild, stormy sea in the background. She looked at her daughter, alarmed. These were not the random blobs and swirls of a young child. Neiromeis eyes were the dark blue of the raging sea in her painting and she stared far off into the distance. The little girl merely sat, her small hands folded in her lap, the painting finished.
"Romy, where are you?" asked Melysë , quietly.
"Shes in Britannia...near Gaul..." replied the child, her voice as distant as her gaze.
"Who is, Sweetheart?" asked Melysë .
"She who does not sleep...does not rest...she cannot....until you keep your promise," replied the child. "You must not be foresworn...you three swore an oath to her...Chaos walks again ... Achlys stood witness...the Darkness comes now and will be with us until your vow is fulfilled....."
"Romy!" cried Melysë , leaping up as her young daughter slumped forward. Cradling the child in her arms, Melysë could feel fever raging through the little body, heat rising through her clothes. Desperate, she bespoke her nykel, Tai, mind to mind, as was their way.
"Tai!" cried the Priestess-Queen.
"Lysë ." Melysë heard her sisters calm voice in her mind.
"Sister, Romys - " began Melysë .
"I know - Kaiyté , too," said Tai.
"Goddess," Melysë prayed. "Tai, whats happening?"
"You must come to me at once - all of you - and bring Neiromei and Selenë ," said Tai.
"But Tai, Romys sick! Shes burning up with fever," said Melysë .
"I know - so is Kaiyté ," said Tai, and then Melysë heard the well-controlled worry in her oath-sisters mind. "Lysë ...its happening again."
"No," said Melysë , her horror growing to near-panic. "No, it cant - its impossible."
"Its the same - high fever, intense pain all over, coma and then death," said Tai. "Weve already lost many - all Amazons. It is the same as before. You must come soon, Little Sister, you and Gabrielle and Xena. Bring Romy and Selenë ."
"But Tai - "
"Just please hurry, Lysë - we dont have much time," said Tai, then Melysë felt her leave.
Swiftly, the priestess carried her daughter to the bathing chamber and stripped off her tunic. She
stepped down into the wooden tub with Neiromei, holding her up and trickling the tepid water over the childs burning hot skin.
"Lysë ? You in here?"
Melysë looked up to see Xena standing there. Tears streamed from the Priestess-Queens dark green eyes. "Whats wrong?" asked Xena, jumping into the tub with them and taking their young daughter into her own arms. "Gods! Shes burning up!"
"I think I finally know what this Darkness is - Chaos, the ancient enemy, and... oh Blessed Goddess! If Im right, the Amazons are in very grave danger, Xena," said Melysë. "It...its the curse." Melysë felt somehow calmer in her warriors presence. "Xena, Im scared. Tai had to travel back in time to Atlantis to retrieve the cure - thats where she met Lukos."
Xena was quiet for a moment. "Tai has the cure?" she said at last.
"She did," said Melysë, troubled. "I just spoke with her - she said the fever is there, too - and there have been deaths. So I dont think the cure is working."
"I was coming to tell you that we have to postpone the trip," said Xena, her voice quiet with concern. "Theres a storm coming - a bad one by the look of it."
Melysë closed her eyes. "Tai said we have to get there to her as soon as possible," she said. "All of us - you, me, Gabrielle...Selenë and Romy, too. Kaiyté is sick with this, as well."
"Youre going to do a ..." said Xena, uneasily.
Melysë smiled weakly. "A god-thing?"
"Yeah," said Xena.
" I have to, dont I?" said the priestess, looking down on her sick child.
"Meia, Xena," Selenë came running into the bathing chamber, then stopped, seeing her mothers in the tub with her little sister. "Oh, Goddess! Not Romy, too!"
"What do you mean, too?" said Xena, eyes narrowing.
"Fever in the Village," said Selenë , quietly, kneeling beside them. Melysë handed Neiromei up to her older sister. Xena helped her priestess out of the tub, climbing up after her and retrieving towels for them.
"How many?" asked Melysë, her voice grim, her jaw set.
"Ten," said Selenë , quietly, stroking her little sisters face gently. "But Romys the only child so far. Just as well we postponed the trip - Hypsyple will need me here."
"Were going, Selenë ," said Melysë firmly.
"But...but Mother...." said Selenë , frowning. "How can we? Were needed here."
"No, were needed where we can stop this Darkness at its source," said Melysë .
"Oh, said Selenë, nodding. "Okay. Tanti Tai will know what to do?"
"I dont know, Sweetheart," said Melysë, looking down at Neiromeis pale face. "But Im hoping we can figure it out together."
Selenë nodded. "We should take Ephiny, too," she said.
Melysë looked up at her daughter, startled. "Why?"
"I dont know - it just seems like the right thing to do," said Selenë, frowning, her head slightly cocked as if listening to something only she could hear.
Melysë sighed. "Very well," she said.
"Ill get Gabrielle," said Xena, leaving them.
"Ill go and tell Eph - and Hypsyple," said Selenë. "Unless you need me, Mother?"
"No, go on," said Melysë, taking Neiromei back from Selenë. "Ill get Romy ready for the trip."
Melysë carried the child back into the cottage, gently setting the whimpering child down in her bed.
"Meia!" she cried out.
Melysë gently soothed her young daughter.
"Meias here, Love," said the priestess, her dark eyes filled with tears of worry.
"Meia," said Neiromei, sleepily. "Take the picture to...tanti Tai." An exhausted, dreamless slumber claimed the little girl then.
Melysë rolled the parchment carefully and placed it onto the pack she would carry.
"Lysë," said Gabrielle, entering the cottage, quietly. "Need any help? Xena said were leaving soon."
"No," said Melysë, then suddenly burst into tears, standing in the middle of the room. Quickly Gabrielle went to her, offering a comforting hug. Melysë wept for a moment longer, the Bard Queen whispering comforting words.
"Romy will be alright - youll see," said Gabrielle.
"No, its ... I just felt ... theyre gone," said Melysë, regaining control. "Our sisters .. the fever took them. Theyre gone."
"Oh," said Gabrielle, tears springing to her own emerald green eyes. "Ill ... go and .. make the arrangements, alright?"
Melysë nodded. "Yes, please," she said. "I just ... please, Gabrielle. I just ... cant ..."
"Its okay, Lysë," said Gabrielle, offering a watery smile as she left. "Well beat this - youll see."
"Thank you," said Melysë, as the Bard left the cottage. The priestess finished the packing and used her powers to send their things ahead to Tais cottage in Lycastia. Then she went and picked up Neiromei, sitting with her, giving her young daughter her magic healing touch until Xena came in and saw the tears streaming from Melysës dark, golden-green eyes.
"Hey," said the Warrior Queen going and sitting with her heart-mate and their daughter, wrapping
her strong arms around then both. Melysë leaned back against her warrior, revelling in her strength, taking comfort in the close contact. "Meg and Mother will stay at the Lodge and take care of the babies as well as Lilia and Terreis."
"Okay," said the priestess. "Well leave....after the pyres have been lit."
"How many?" asked Xena gently.
"All ten - and a score more has fallen ill," said Melysë, quietly. "Oh, Xena! Will there be any Tribe left when we return?"
"Of course there will be, Lysë ," said Xena, pulling them closer.
Selenë entered the room. "Mother, tanti-meia, its time," she said. Melysë and Xena arose and followed Selenë to the river where the pyres had been built upon wooden biers. The sun was sinking and with the approaching storm, the twilight seemed darker than usual. Melysë sadly noticed that three more pyres had been prepared. Gently she handed Neiromei to Selenë, who took her little sister over to where Ephiny, Arynë, and Tecmessa stood. Melysë took her place with Xena and Gabrielle, the three queens standing before the Tribe. Melysë took the torch and began lighting the funeral pyres, speaking the ritual words,
"Blessed be, dear sister. Dream well as you sleep in the loving arms of the Great Mother. Embrace Her eternal peace, or if you will, return to those of us who love you. Your soul is free to soar, now. Blessed be."
Tears flowed freely from Amazon eyes as Xena and Gabrielle pushed each burning pyre from its bier into the fast-flowing river. As the last pyre made its way down the river, the drums began and the Amazon dancers danced their sisters souls to the Land of the Dead.
Melysë stood, weeping openly as Xena stepped up behind her, wrapping her arms around the priestess-queen. Gabrielle came up beside Melysë and the priestess pulled her closer. The three queens stood together so, watching their fallen sisters float out of sight.
Xena remembered every Amazon funeral she had ever witnessed to this day. With a sharp flash of pain, she remembered how Gabrielle had clung to her, weeping for Ephiny, their dearest friend....how she and Gabrielle had needed that close contact, even as they all needed it now.
The warriors deep blue eyes narrowed. "Im tired of standing over the fires of my friends," she said. "Lets go and stop this."
Melysë nodded. "Lets go," she said, turning to retrieve Neiromei.
Arynë was holding the little girl while Selenë and Ephiny stood on either side of them. A bluish light surrounded Neiromei. Melysë noticed Ephiny as deep in concentration as Selenë .
The queens approached their daughters and Melysë reached out for Neiromei.
"Its okay, Mother," said Arynë, smiling. "Shes really too heavy for you to carry around all the time now. Ive got her."
"Ephiny," said Gabrielle, smiling proudly. "You have an incredible gift." Ephiny merely smiled.
"Were going to stop this curse at the source before any more Amazons die," Melysë said. "I
need you to help Hypsyple as much as you can."
"And hold the Tribe for us," said Gabrielle.
"Of course we will," said Tecmessa.
Suddenly, Melysë felt a surge of power, a loving warmth filling her completely, threatening to spill over. Instinctively, the priestess leaned in and lightly kissed Selenë, Ephiny, Arynë, and Tecmessa on their foreheads, feeling the power pass on to the girls as she did.
"Now you have Hekates blessing, my Daughters," said the priestess, still entranced. "You four are the Guardians of the Nations future...once again...."
"'Lysë?" said Xena, concerned. She knew Melysë still sometimes feared these deep trances which occasionally took her.
"Its okay, my Love," said the priestess, smiling, though her eyes remained unfocussed. "Hekate says these four Guardians will be immune to the Curse - "
Melysë was interrupted by a sudden sharp crack of thunder, like an angry shout, which continued to reverberate in the earth under their feet. Lighting snaked down from the black clouds and then the rain, heavy and insistent, beat down upon the Amazons, drenching them. The women of the Tribe ran for the Village and the shelter of their homes only after Gabrielle made a hasty gesture of dismissal to them, leaving the queens and their daughters standing by the now-raging river.
"Ryn, Tecmessa," said Melysë, now awakened from her trance and shouting to be heard over the storm. "Hold the Tribe - and help Hypsyple to keep them alive."
Arynë nodded and handed her little sister over to Xena. She and Tecmessa stepped back and watched the others leave in a flash of blinding white light before turning and running for the Healers hut to offer what assistance they could.
The queens and their daughters appeared before Tais well-appointed cottage, still drenched from the downpour they had recently left and shivering in the chill wind that announced yet another storm advancing upon Lycastia. The cottage door flew open and Melysë saw Lukos, his eyes filled with worry as he gestured the Amazons inside.
Melysë sighed with relief at the heat from the fire. Neiromei was limp and still, but still breathing evenly in Xenas arms. Selenë stepped forward and took her little sister as Lukos, smiling sympathetically, handed them a towels and hot klafé. Gratefully Melysë sipped at the cup.
"Thank-you, Lukos," she said, sinking gratefully into the chair he offered the exhausted priestess.
"Tandos - Uncle - where is tanti Tai?" asked Selenë.
"In Kaiyté s room," said the physician, his voice betraying his fear for his young daughter.
"Where is Telaros?" asked Melysë, referring to Kaiyté s twin brother.
"He - uh, Mikala has him," replied Lukos.
Melysë smiled knowingly. "Hes not sick then," she said, relieved.
"No - none of the males are sick with this - only Amazons," said Lukos. "makes it damn hard to treat this, too. Not many Amazons will accept a male physician."
"Thats stupid," said Ephiny. "Who cares whether a healer is man or woman so long as they have the skill and knowledge?"
Melysë merely shook her head. Although she knew and trusted Lukos to be a gifted and skilled physician and she trusted him implicitly, she, too, would never allow any other male healer to treat her. Intellectually, she agreed with Ephiny, but life-long conditioning was hard to overcome, she knew.
"Mother, why dont Eph and I spell you and tanti Tai with the little ones - you should try to sleep," said Selenë.
Melysë merely nodded wearily, and rose as Lukos offered to take them to Tai. Xena remained, staring into the flames. Lukos returned moments later, pouring two mugs of ale and handing one to Xena. The two stood before the hearth in silence for a while, listening to the thunder of the approaching storm . At last Xena spoke.
"'Lysë said she and Tai have fought this before," said the warrior. Lukos took a large swallow of ale before replying.
"Many years ago," he said. "The fever descended upon the Amazons and both Tai and 'Lysë fought very hard to save them. They succeeded."
"How?" asked Xena.
"Melysë was stricken with it - according to Tai, she was working too hard to save her Amazons to take care of herself," said Lukos.
"Some things never change," said Xena, softly. Lukos chuckled.
"Tai was led back in time to me on the island of Atlantis," he continued. "She, too fell ill, but we had the cure there. She brought it back to Melysë, in spite of the fact....well, never mind that. Suffice to say, she saved Melysë. And the rest of the Amazons."
"What is this cure? Where is it? Do you know how to make it?" asked Xena.
"Its not working this time," said Lukos, slamming his empty mug down in frustration.
"Okay," said Xena. "But something will. It has to."
"Tai?" said Melysë, quietly entering the room, followed by Gabrielle and the girls. Tai looked up and smiled a little. Melysë felt tears spring into her eyes as she looked at little Kaiyté, her blonde
curls clinging damply to her pale face, her eyes open and glassy with fever.
"Hi, tanti," she whispered to Melysë . "Is Romy here?"
"Yes, aliki - Sweetheart," said the priestess. "Shes right here." Selenë brought Neiromei to her nykel. Kaiyté frowned and weakly swatted at her friend.
"Romy, wake up," she said.
Neiromei opened her eyes slowly, saw Kaiyté and smiled. "You sick, too?" she asked.
"Yeah," sighed Kaiyté . "Guess we cant play today."
"Nope - dont feel like it," said Neiromei, closing her blue eyes again.
"Selenë, bring her here, please," said Kaiyté , struggling to sit up.
"Hey, little one," said her mother. "Take it easy."
"Its okay, meia," said the child. "If Romys here, well be okay."
Selenë started to set Neiromei down on the bed beside her nykel, but the little girl whimpered, clinging to her big sister.
"No," she said. "Itll hurt if you let go. Meia! Dont let her let go!"
"Its okay, Romy," said Kaiyté . "Member your arm? Come here - if were here together, well be okay. I promise."
Still apprehensive, but trusting her best friend, Neiromei allowed herself to be set down beside Kaiyté . She sighed when the expected pain did not come. "Howd you know that, Kaiyté ?" she asked. Kaiyté shrugged.
"Just did," she replied. "Meia, tanti, were okay now."
"You sure?" said Tai, warily.
"Yes," said Neiromei, snuggling with her best friend, her eyes closing sleepily. Kaiyté, too, laid back down and yawned. Both girls fell into a deep, healing sleep.
Melysë sighed in relief. Selenë and Ephiny looked at each other and grinned. Selenë hugged her mother.
"Shes okay, meia," said the girl.
"For now," said Melysë, still worried. "And there are others, still very ill...."
"Tanti 'Lysë, you should lay down," said Ephiny, frowning. "You, too, tanti Tai."
"Im alright," said Melysë, smiling at the girls.
"Why dont you two go to the kitchen and see if theres some klafé made?" said Tai.
"There is," said Selenë . "Tandos brought some to meia. Would like us to bring some to you, tanti?"
"Please, Selenë ," said Tai. "That would be very nice - and some for your mother - I see she can use it."
The girls went out and Tai looked critically at Melysë . "You are exhausted, Little Sister," she said.
"No, not - " began Melysë . Then seeing her sisters look, she amended. "Maybe a little. Im more scared than anything. Tai, are you sure its the same fever?"
"Arent you?" asked Tai. "Come on, 'Lysë - weve both seen this before. Chaos is doing it again."
Melysë nodded. "I was hoping...." she said, then sighed.
"I know," said Tai. "The question is, what do we do?"
"I dont know," said Melysë , tears welling in her dark green eyes. "We ... lit thirteen pyres just before we left ... and thats only the beginning."
"Oh, Little Sister," said Tai, hugging the priestess. "Im sorry - I know how hard that is for you to do."
"Its just so ... senseless," said Melysë . "Why?"
"Who knows?" said Tai. "The nature of Chaos is perverse. His reasons dont make sense to us, theyre not rational - thats the nature of Chaos."
"But, Tai, last time, we had a cure - why not this time?" asked Melysë.
"I dont know - its the same illness - but Lukoss cure isnt working," said Tai, frowning.
"You know, Tai, when Romy spilled klafé on one of the scrolls, words appeared," said Melysë , thoughtfully. " When thou hast perceived the Source of the Darkness, the way to the Light will become more clear..... "
"Im not familiar with that one," said Tai, frowning. "Which scroll was that?"
"I dont exactly remember," said Melysë . "Let me get my pack - I brought it with us."
Melysë went back into the main room of the cottage, smiling in amusement at Xena and Lukos
quietly discussing the properties of various healing herbs and techniques. My warrior of many skills, indeed, she thought. She can kill and cure with but a touch.
Melysë returned to Tai with her pack of scrolls. She pulled one out curiously, unrolling it.
"Oh," she said quietly, staring at the parchment.
"What is it 'Lysë ?" asked Tai
"Romy did this - just before she got sick," said the priestess, handing the picture to her nykel.
"Goddess," Tai whispered, staring at the picture. "I know this place - its on the furthest reaches of Alba - or Caledonia, in Britannia."
"What does it mean, Tai?" asked the Priestess.
"I dont know," said Tai, thinking. "Let me work on this for a bit and see what we come up with, alright, Little Sister. In the meantime, I think you need to get some rest."
Selenë arose before the sun. She glanced over at her malatyr, still fast asleep and smiled. She had heard tandos Lukos and Xena meia discussing Ephiny the night before. Tandos Lukos wanted Eph to stay and apprentice to him, to learn to be a physician, as he was. Selenë thought was a splendid idea - Ephiny had always complained about having been raised for so many years outside of Amazon territory, but that upbringing had afforded an ease with men that even Selenë herself did not have. Ephiny could learn from tandos Lukos and care for the people of Britannia when it was time for Selenë to take her place there.
Slipping silently outside of the cottage, Selenë glanced up at the sky. Dark clouds still hung in the distance and the low rumble of thunder still echoed through the mountains surrounding Lycastia. Swiftly she made her way to the sea behind the cottage and said a prayer her mother had taught her long ago.
"Holy Queen of Sacred Night
As Thy child, it is my right
O Blessed Goddess of the Moon
To ask of you this special boon:
That as I go upon my way,
Let me touch some hearts today
The wounded souls, do let me tend
The broken hearts Your love to mend
To serve Your other children, too,
In this I know that I serve You
For in this life that I would live
O Mother to You this off'ring I give:
My heart, my soul, my being my love
For You have blessed me from above
And by my giving and blessing, too
This is my way of thanking You."
In awe, Selenë heard Tais lovely voice singing the sun up and watched the sun respond, rising over the sparkling sea. After the song, Selenë looked up at the sky, half dark and stormy and half clear and blue and made her way to sit quietly beside Tai. Dolphins leapt over the waves and Tai sat, watching them, a slight smile on her face.
"What are they saying?" said Selenë quietly.
"They are thanking me for the song," said Tai, looking over to her niece. "Youre up early."
"I always like to watch the sun come up," said Selenë . "This morning, your song made it even lovelier."
"Thank-you," said Tai, smiling. "Your mother doesnt know what shes missing, sleeping through this."
Selenë smiled. "Xenas always up first, but Mothers always up the longest," said Selenë . "Mother watches the moon rise. She says it has a beauty all its own."
"Shes right," said Tai, thoughtfully. "Both are beautiful."
"Tanti," said Selenë , frowning thoughtfully. "What happened with Romy and Kaiyté? They were both so sick, and now...theyre better. Still not well, but a lot better."
"They are nykelae - as your mother and I are," said Tai. "Theres a mystery surrounding nykelae - even I dont understand it all. But it is possible that their bond is healing them."
"They are better," said Selenë, her blue eyes far away. "Due to interference. But the Amazons will die out until the promise is kept....."
"Where are you, Selenë?" asked Tai, calmly. She had seen Melysë like this many times over the years.
"In the Shadow Land..." replied the girl. "Amazon must fight Amazon - the prophecy....we must walk through the Darkness, find its source, before we can reach the light...."
"What is the Source, Selenë?" asked Tai.
Selenë shook her head. "There is a ... restless spirit...she cannot sleep....shes bound to the Land of the Dead, unable to move on...."
"Why, Selenë?" asked Tai, gently. Selenë frowned.
"Treachery ... betrayal ... she is bound until the three keep their promise...." said the girl. "And as long as she is bound, the Amazons will suffer the Curse of Darkness ..."
While Tai and Selenë greeted the sun, inside the cottage, the children slept fitfully. Their fevers had risen again in the night. Melysë slept, curled around Neiromei, Xena dozing in a chair beside the bed. The priestess stirred uneasily in her sleep and Xenas eyes flew open as both sensed a disturbance in the air. Xena sat up as Melysë s eyes opened to see a woman standing in the room.
"What are you doing here?" asked the warrior, quietly, so as not to wake the children. The
woman merely smiled and placed a finger to her lips, gesturing for quiet. Melysë smiled at the visitor, and rose from the bed. The woman approached the sleeping children, gently shaking them awake.
"Mikala," said Kaiyté, weakly.
"Shh, Little One," said the woman. "Here, Ive brought you a treat - share with Romy."
The woman handed the child a bit of something which neither Xena nor Melysë could see. Kaiyté smiled and placed half in her mouth, then gently shook her best friend awake, giving her the rest. Smiling, the woman faded from sight. The girls laid back down, their fevers gone and went back to sleep.
"What was that all about?" asked Xena.
"Romys godsmother is giving them probably the only medicine which will work right now," said Melysë , sighing as she straightened the covers back over the sleeping girls. "Ambrosia."
"What!" said Xena alarmed.
"Shh," said Melysë , going to her warrior. "Its okay - Neiromei is Zeuss grand-daughter - and Kaiyté is the daughter of two immortals. I doubt shes giving them very much. Mikala - or rather Hera - is merely keeping her word as Romys gods-mother. They are both under her protection. Lets let them sleep. Come on - Im sure Tai has klafé, and I could sure use some - we have work to do today. The girls will be fine for now."
Melysë and Xena left the girls sleeping and joined Tai and Selenë in the kitchen.
"Mother, youre up," said Selenë , smiling in delight.
"Yes, the girls had an early visitor," said the priestess.
"Really? Who?" asked Tai, frowning, puzzled.
"Mikala - or should I say - " began Xena.
"No - you shouldnt," said Tai, glancing at Selenë . "At least, not yet."
Selenë looked first at Tai, then to her mother, Melysë and smiled. Melysë shook her head. "Its no good, Tai," said Melysë . "Selenë has a way of just knowing things. "
Tai raised an eyebrow at Xenas proud grin. "Hm," said Tai, thoughtfully. "Well, when the current crisis is over, we have much to discuss, then, Selenë."
"Yes, tanti, we do," said Selenë, looking serious. "Its time for them to know. Wheres tanti Gabrielle?"
"Asleep," said Xena, frowning as she absently poured another mug of klafé for Melysë.
"She needs to be here, too," said Selenë. "Ill go and get her." The girl rose from the table and left.
"Tai?" said Melysë, looking to her oath-sister. Tai sighed, then related Selenës message.
Melysës jaw was set, her dark green eyes flashing. "He dares - "
"Yes, 'Lysë," said Tai, calmly. "Chaos is attacking the Amazons to get what he wants from you three."
The priestess lowered her face into her hands.
"Tell me about Chaos," said Xena, grimly.
"He is our most ancient enemy. He has cursed and plagued the Amazons since our beginning. It is he who sent the last fever to our people. He has tormented us at every opportunity, and now..."
"He has always wanted the Amazons for himself," said Tai. "We belong to ourselves - and to Hekate, but Chaos is as an unruly child. We are like a toy to him, and since he cant have us, he tries to destroy us."
"What are we going to do about it?" asked Xena.
"Come on," said Tai, rising. "Lets get Gabrielle - I have something to show you."
They made their way to Gabrielles sleeping chamber. Suddenly a wide-eyed Selenë met them in the hallway .
"Mother .. " said the girl, breathless, taking the priestesss hand and pulling her into the sleeping chamber. Melysë gasped. Gabrielle was lying there, obviously ill, restlessly moving and whimpering. Xena rushed to the side of the bed, placing a hand on Gabrielles face.
"Shes burning up," said the Warrior, fighting the tears which threatened.
Melysë approached, taking her warriors other hand, then kneeling beside the Bard Queen. She reached for Gabrielles hand and held it to her lips for a moment.
"Xena, we need...." she began, looking at the stricken warrior. She looked to her oath-sister. "Tai, is there ice available? We need to pack her in it. And I need a good quantity of willow bark and feverbane."
"'Lysë ..." said Tai, hesitantly. She saw the look in Melysë s eyes and looked at Xena, then nodded and took Selenë by the hand, leaving them to get what Melysë had requested.
"Xena, shell be alright - see? Already the pain has eased," said Melysë , trying to smile for her heart-mate.
"Only because youre using your magic," said Xena, quietly. "Like with Romy."
"Xena," said Melysë . "She will be alright."
Gabrielle wandered the desolate landscape. It was dim and stark - and cold. At least the pain is gone, thought the Bard Queen.
Looking around, she noticed the mountains in the distance and began walking towards them Suddenly she saw a familiar face.
"Ephiny!" cried Gabrielle, delighted, running to greet her friend.
"Gabrielle," said the Amazon, smiling. "What are you doing here? Youre not supposed to be here yet."
"I d..dont know," said the Bard, frowning. "This is the Land of the Dead? Oh, of course...youre here."
"Yeah, but Im not the only one," said Ephiny, smiling broader as a group of Amazons emerged from the rocks.
"Queen Melosa! And Solari! Eponin - Terreis! and Amarice!" cried Gabrielle, running to them, not sure whom to hug first. An auburn-haired Amazon made the decision for her.
"Gabrielle," said Amarice, grabbing her in a tight embrace. "I wouldnt be here if it werent for you - by giving me that necklace, you made me an Amazon."
"No," said Gabrielle, smiling. "You earned that all on your own. I just...gave you the title. You had the will. And the honour. And you, Terreis."
Gabrielle went to the Amazon Princess and held her tight. "Thank-you," said the Bard. "I never got a chance to tell you that. You have given me...so much."
"Gabrielle ... no thanks are needed," said Terreis. "In that moment, just before I crossed over, I saw your face - I saw the honour of an Amazon in you. And I was given a vision of your destiny - and Xenas - with the Amazons. Before you, it was to be Ephiny who received my Rite of Caste, but in that moment, I saw you and the tasks set before you as a queen of the Amazons - and I saw Ephinys place there, too. It was an easy choice to make, Sister. And you have done well with it. I am not disappointed."
"Why are you all still here?" asked Gabrielle. "Shouldnt you have moved on by now?"
"We were each given that choice," said Ephiny. "But our Tribe was given the honour of being the Watchers here. We were told of a threat to the Amazon Nation and offered a third choice - to watch and wait here. We all chose to stand and protect the Nation."
"We were given the signs to watch for. And now it is time," said Eponin.
"But theres still more for you to do, Gabrielle," said Melosa, stepping forward. "Youre not supposed to be here. Not just yet. Something must have gone wrong."
"What do you mean?" asked Gabrielle.
"Youre one of the Triad," said Ephiny. "The Aemetzainê are the first in many centuries to have a Triumvirate. You are crucial to the fight against the coming darkness. I dont understand why you are here."
"Wh...I dont understand," said Gabrielle, frowning. "I thought...like Melysë ...I just came here. You mean Im...?"
"Dead," said Melosa. "Or very close to it unless Xena and Melysë do something quickly."
Melysë frowned. The Bard Queen had been packed in ice and Melysë had been dosing her with the herbs. Gabrielle was no longer in pain - the fever had progressed rapidly to coma - too rapidly. Melysë remembered her own bout with this same fever only vaguely. Tai had told her that she, too, had succumbed to the coma, but Melysë had come back. The priestess still held on to the hope that Gabrielle would do the same, but as the hours passed, she began to lose that hope. Xena alternated between pacing and sitting motionless, staring at Gabrielle, silently willing the Bard to return.
Melysë looked to her warrior who was currently sitting, gazing sadly at the silent, still form of Gabrielle. She arose and went to Xena, placing a gentle hand on the warriors shoulder.
"Xena," she said, softly. "We need to go and bring her back to us."
Xena looked up, hopefully. "Yeah," she said. "Yeah - you know where we need to go?"
"Shes in the Land of the Dead - isnt she?" said Melysë, frowning. Xena sighed. "Shes an Amazon - and a Queen - where else would she be?"
"I dont know," sighed Xena. "Elysian Fields, Heaven, Hell - no, she wouldnt be there - I dont know, 'Lysë ."
"I dont ... understand - when you two were...crucified - where did you go?" asked Melysë.
"Its complicated," said Xena. "We were supposed to be in Heaven - well, we were supposed to be prepared for our next incarnations, but I suspect Heaven interceded because they were going through a war against Hell and wanted us to fight it with them. Only Gabrielle ended up getting intercepted by Callisto on the trip and...well, she was in Hell for a while. I dont remember
anything else until we woke up. Even that time right after Eli brought us back is blurry."
Melysë looked thoughtful. "Well, if the powers in this ... heaven stepped in, that would explain why Gabrielle did not go to the Land of the Dead," she said.
"There was one other time," said Xena, in a voice so soft it was almost a whisper, as she thought back to that hot, crowded Temple in Thessaly so long ago.....
Hippocrates was lucky to remain standing, let alone breathing when he uttered those words, "Shes dead."
Glaring furiously at the apprentice who hadnt the experience of a common foot soldier in binding wounds, Xena spoke quietly, fighting the rising panic - and guilt, "Shes not dead - I wouldnt let her." Turning back to Gabrielle, she spoke more gently, "Come on, Gabrielle, wake up. Come on, wake up. Come on, wake up. Youre scaring me. Wake up. Wake up." The warrior went from talking to shaking. She had tried breathing for her friend, this girl who had grown so dear. Vacillating between panic and determination, she had yelled at all of them - they didnt know what they were talking about! Gabrielle would never leave her - would she?
"Come on, Gabrielle. Come on. Come on. Dont leave me. Dont you leave me! Dont leave me! Dont leave me! Wake up! Wake up! Wake up!" she cried, pounding on the girls chest to punctuate each request.
Suddenly Gabrielle gasped - she was back! Xena grabbed her, holding her close, vowing never to let her go again ... not without Xena herself, close behind.....
While she told the tale to Melysë, tears flowed from the warriors blue eyes as they had that day. Melysë gently squeezed the warriors shoulder, offering comfort.
"But 'Lysë, when she came out of it, she told me about this dream she had - she had gone to the Elysian Fields, not the Amazon Land of the Dead," said Xena.
"This is after her Amazon Initiation?" said Melysë, puzzled. "That is very strange. I dont understand it. Unless ..."
"What?" said Xena, as the priestess trailed off, lost in thought.
"You two are soul-bonded," said Melysë, thoughtfully. "And at that time, you denied being an Amazon. Gabrielle would go to where she could expect to meet you when it was time for you to cross over."
"And now?" said Xena, raising an eyebrow.
"And now you are an Amazon Queen in your own right," said Melysë, smiling slightly. "When the time comes...."
Xena nodded. "Yes - so we go to the Amazon Land of the Dead," she said rising. "Do you...zap us there?"
Melysë shook her head, sadly. "My god-powers will only allow me to travel this world. To go to the Land of the Dead we must use the shamenkis way."
"Melysë, theres no time for that!" said Xena, frustrated. "To obtain the blood for the - "
"Blood!?" said Melysë, alarmed. "No, no, Xena - I need to see if Tai has any red-cap mushrooms."
"Red-caps? Arent they dangerous?" asked Xena.
"Yes, if were not careful," said Melysë, troubled. "I have used them before - but Xena, Ive never attempted to enter the Land of the Dead on my own. Before, I was pulled there. I dont know if I can do this - or if I can get us back."
Xena looked over to Gabrielle, lying in the bed, silent and so very still - too still, as if she were already irretrievable.
"Im going," she said, firmly.
Melysë nodded. "So am I," said the priestess.
Tai reluctantly relinquished the red caps to her little sister, but insisted she be present while Melysë and Xena journeyed to the land of the Dead.
"Tai, its the only way," said Melysë.
"But 'Lysë as we speak, Lukos is in the still room working on a cure," protested Tai.
"Theres no time," said the priestess, sadly. "Gabrielle may even now be too far gone. I cant let that happen - we cant lose her, Tai."
"I know," said Tai. "But just in case Im standing by with the toad-root."
Melysë wrinkled her nose at the mention of the antidote. "I think Id rather wander the Land of the Dead forever than take toad-root," she said, smiling.
"Nope," said Tai, laughing. "Ill be here to pull the two of you back if necessary."
"You have always been here when I needed you, Sister," said Melysë. "Thank you for that."
"Oh, 'Lysë, just be careful," said Tai, hugging the priestess. "Youre up against Chaos and he doesnt fight fair."
"No, he never has," agreed Melysë, as Tai released her. "Thats why Hekate stepped in last time...."
"She did?" said Tai, looking at sharply at the priestess as Melysës dark green eyes glazed over in trance. Melysë had never related to Tai anything from that time so long ago when this fever had first struck the Amazons. Melysë said she didnt remember. But Tai did.
Tai was exhausted. So many sick and nothing was working. 'Lysë was spending all of her time
in the Temple healing chambers, working to save as many of their sisters as she could.
Ive got to get her out of there - she doesnt have that many reserves, despite her gift, Tai thought. Already shes drained herself to exhaustion, but she wont stop. Its a losing battle.
Tai fought against giving into the despair which threatened, but it was hard. She was a healer and she could do no more to save the Amazons from this mysterious fever. So many of her sisters in such excruciating pain - and they were the lucky ones. Those who had succumbed to
the coma didnt last much longer afterward.
"Oh, Great Mother," she prayed. "Where are the answers? How can I help my Sisters? Where do I find the answer to this?"
Suddenly, a Temple Novice came running up to her, terror-stricken.
"Your Highness...Lady... the princess...she - " gasped the girl.
Tai looked at the messenger and felt her heart drop. She knew. Running to the Temple, Tai found her little sister, another victim of this fever, pale and restless, whimpering from the intense pain the fever brought.
"Oh, Melee, no!" cried Tai, going to her bedside. "I should have made you slow down, I should have - "
Tai stopped - no one made Melysë do anything she didnt want to do. Looking up toward the heavens, Tai wept. The despair she had begun to feel earlier left her and was replaced by a new determination. I will find the cure to this. Just show me, Mother - show me where to look?"
"Tai" said Hypolite, Melysë s priestess-mother - Lyssë , her warrior mother was out of the Village, unaware of the current crisis. "You cant do anything for her here, Child. Go on and take a walk - quiet your mind and perhaps the Goddess will give you what you need for her."
Tai reluctantly left her sister in the hands of the priestesses, knowing she could do nothing for her little sister by remaining there, mourning. She wandered in the Temple, trying to clear her mind so the message from the Goddess would come to her. She knew the Mother would answer her...eventually.
She found herself in front of the door to the Temple Library. Strange symbols adorned the heavy wooden door, but Tai was drawn to one in particular. She didnt remember ever seeing it before. Almost of their own volition, her fingers reached out and caressed the raised design of wood. Suddenly, Tai found herself in a strange room. She heard the sound of the sea and of gulls, screaming and knew that she was no longer in Aemetzainê - Melysë s Tribe was too far inland for these sounds, unlike Tais homeland of Lycastia.
Tai looked around the room - it was not the Temple library, to be sure, but it was a library - and a good one. Scrolls lined the shelves, parchment and quills with bottles of various colours of ink were neatly lined up on the wooden desk. The room was bright and open, a breeze carrying the salty scent of the ocean reached Tai. She wandered about in the room, occasionally taking down a scroll and carefully unrolling it to read. As she read, Tai became more excited.
"A medical library!" she whispered. "maybe the cure is here." Suddenly Tai heard a low rumble and felt the ground rolling under her feet. Losing her balance, Tai fell. It was only then she realised how dizzy and hot she felt. As the pain in her head increased, her thoughts grew
frantic.....Oh, no! I cant get sick, too - who will help Melee? Then all grew dark as the pain took
Tai awoke to a pair of the brightest blue eyes she had ever seen. Startled, she sat up.
"Wh - who are you?" she asked the man standing over her. He chuckled.
"I might ask you the same thing," he said. "It isnt every day I find an attractive woman lying unconscious in my house."
Tai looked around and remembered the library.
"I am Taiytelata, daughter of Astraea, Queen of Lycastia," she said. "But I am called Tai ."
"Well, Tai, I am Lukos," said the man, helping her to raise. "That was some fever you had. We havent seen that one here in Atlantis for many decades."
"Atlantis!" said Tai, her grey-green eyes widening. "But .. thats impossible."
"Why impossible?" asked Lukos.
Tai thought for a moment. "You said that fever hadnt been seen here in decades - you have a cure?" she said, avoiding his question.
"Yes, of course," said Lukos. "Thats why youre up and around and not in the Elysian Fields. But you still have to take it easy for a few days. You are welcome to stay here in my house."
"No," said Tai, shaking her head. "I have to get back - my sister is very sick with this. I need to get the cure to her right away."
"Tai, I am a physician," said Lukos, gently. "Rest and regain your strength and while you are doing that, I will teach you how to make the cure."
Tai had complied and had learned much from Lukos in those few days. She had fallen in love with him, and he with her. As soon as she had learned how to make the cure, she found a way to return to Aemetzainê , planning to save her little sister and then return to Lukos. But she had never again been able to go back to Atlantis in that time before its destruction. Thinking Lukos had been killed so many years before her birth, Tai went through a very dark time until the birth of her twins - Lukos children. Through Hekates intervention, Lukos had come to her in her own time and now Tai was complete. But this fever had returned and now 'Lysë was saying that Hekate had been the one who stopped it last time.
"Melee," said Tai, gently, using her childhood name. "What did you mean? Hekate stepped in then? Why not now?"
"Because then, Chaos merely wanted the Amazons for his own and Hekate said no - we belong to her," said Melyse. "So Chaos threw a tantrum and attacked us with the fever. But this time - this is something different. I just dont know what."
Gabrielle was startled by howl as the other Amazons drew their weapons and formed a protective circle around her.
"Shes coming!" Melosa cried. "Get Gabrielle to safety!"
The Bard Queen drew her sais. "Never mind that - I can fight with you!" she said.
"No, Gabrielle - youre still mortal - and we need you alive," said Eponin. "Run!"
A huge shadow flew over the group and they scattered, Ephiny grabbed Gabrielles hand and started running with her. The ground rolled underneath them and Ephiny lost her balance.
Gabrielle stopped and turned to help her friend.
"No - keep running Gabrielle!" cried Ephiny. "She cant hurt me - just...keep running!" Gabrielle hesitated a moment more then nodded and kept running toward a cave in the mountains.
"No!" Ephiny yelled. "Not there, Gabrielle!" But the Bard didnt seem to hear and ran into the entrance of the cave.
Gabrielle found herself face to face with a shamenki. "Old-Mother," she panted. "Please...let me pass."
The shamenki chuckled. "Cant do that, Youngling," she said.
"Please!" pleaded the Bard, glancing back over her shoulder.
"Nah, nah," said the old woman, shaking her head. "Dont you worry about that one. She wont harm you. But I cant let you pass - this is the entrance to the Gate of Eternity - once you pass through there, theres no going back."
"Oh," said Gabrielle. "Are you sure...that...thing out there wont hurt me?"
"Oh, yes - she needs you alive and well, Little One," said the old woman. "You just wait here for a bit - shes a bit restless now, but shell calm down - shes a bit angry with us at the moment - you know how children are."
Gabrielle plunked down on the floor of the cave. "Tell me about it, " she said. "I have daughters! I could tell you some stories...."
Melysë and Xena were in a small room in Tais cottage. Melysë went to the window and looked out at the sea. The storm still brewed in the opposite direction, but the sea still looked calm and peaceful. Dolphins jumped and played and Melysë smiled at them. She knew this was the pod with which Tai had swum when they were little. Tai had always had a rapport with the sea and its creatures, especially the dolphins. Melysë had watched her from the shelter of an awning, put up by her mothers since the sun had always burned her fair skin within minutes of being in it.
Turning from the window, Melysë looked to her warrior. "Xena," she said softly. The pensive warrior looked up at her, offering a slight smile. "It will be alright - were going soon as soon as its dusk. Thats when the veil between us and the Land of the Dead will be the thinnest."
"I know," said Xena, sighing. "Lukos has tried his new cure on her. It seems to be helping somewhat. And Romy and Kaiyté seem to be doing well, too. Theyre sitting up in bed playing and telling each other stories."
"I wonder how Ryn and Tecmessa are doing," said Melysë, sitting with Xena. The warrior placed a warm arm around her waist.
"Im sure theyre fine - if not wed have heard by now. Aemetzainê isnt that far away from Lycastia," said Xena.
"Thats true," said the priestess frowning in concern. Xena leaned in kissed the furrows from her brow. "Stop worrying so much," she said, smiling gently. Since having a plan of action to save Gabrielle, Xena had relaxed somewhat. It was the not knowing, the sense of helplessness that had thrown her off before. Now, she had a plan. And no matter what, Xena would bring the Bard back to them.
Laying her head on Xenas shoulder, Melysë sighed. "Ill try," she said. "You do realise that I have never done this before?"
"So you told me," said Xena, gently stroking her priestesss long dark hair. "But I have. It was a different method, but it can be done. Ill be there - and Ill make sure we all get back."
Melysë dozed against her warriors shoulder, Xena still gently stroking the priestesss long dark hair. It would be difficult to wake her, Xena knew, but Melysë was worn to the point of exhaustion. The somewhat inexplicable summonings to the Land of the Dead, worry for Neiromei - and the physical exertion of carrying the child around, expending healing powers - as well as her worry for the Amazons, and now Gabrielle ... Xena looked at the priestesss pallor and the deep purple shadows under her now-closed eyes and pulled her closer, gently kissing her temple and let her sleep.
Melysë dreamed ... back, back in time ... back to that time when she was so ill...she remembered the pain, the fear... the welcoming darkness of oblivion which beckoned and offered respite from the agony in her head and limbs, tempting and pulling her closer. Hearing the voices of her mother and her Chosen Sister, the moanings and whimperings of her other sisters, similarly afflicted ... "No!" she had cried out. "No, my people still need me." She had resisted and returned to them.
Breaking free of the darkness, Melysë moved back still further, to another time and place where she wore a different face, bore a different name...Xena was there, but she was the same then as now...well, she looked the same; the priestess could feel the rage and anger within her warrior, boiling near the surface. With gentle words and touches, she had sought to calm the Destroyer of Nations, to heal her spirit and her soul ... and she had made progress, but the rage was too strong for her then. She could only begin the healing of Xenas shattered soul. The warrior would have to heal herself, but others would come and help her, one especially ... Gabrielle. Melysë smiled and moved still further back in time.
Now the three of them stood shoulder to shoulder, all wearing different faces and different names. The priestess looked about her and gasped. This was the place in Neiromeis painting.
Melysë felt magic and power surging through all three of them as they faced the traitors ... the renegade Tribe, who had betrayed and killed the High Queen. They were Amazons, and yet not. Melysë could see herself fighting and wept as she struck down those she would have protected and fought beside if not for their treachery. The Guardian Tribe fought the traitors as well ... Amazon against Amazon - Selenës vision, only Melysë could not stop this from happening. It had already come to pass ... and would again, but the next battle was necessary.
"Curse you, Aife!" Melysë heard herself cry out and cringed - never in this current lifetime had she called upon the dark powers of a curse - though she knew how. The repercussions were too dire to be borne, yet this curse in this time had been the will of Hekate, Melysë knew. She felt the presence of the Goddess beside her.
"I have always served You, havent I Mother?" the priestess said, quietly, without looking up.
"Yes, My child," the Goddess gently replied. "You have always been My Chosen, since the first time you pledged yourself to Me, so very long ago. And you have chosen to renew that pledge every time."
Melysë frowned thoughtfully. "Many times?" she said.
"Every time you were needed, you returned," said the Goddess. "And now, My daughter, you
made a vow long ago - the time has come for you to keep it."
Melysë nodded. "I want to - I just dont remember," she said. "What did we promise, Mother?"
"Tai will help you to remember," said Hekate. "For now, you and Xena are not only to retrieve Gabrielle - you must bring back the Tribe of Guardians as well and take them to the place of the Standing Stones - Tai will take you there and there others will meet you to join your battle - the final battle of this war begun so long ago."
Melysë turned at last to look at the Great Goddess of the Amazons and gasped. Before the priestess stood the old shamenki who had first greeted her in the Land of the Dead. Hekate smiled.
"Achlys?" said Melyse, softly.
"So some call Me," said the Goddess, returning to the form and face Melysë most recognised - that of the priestesss own mother, Hypolite. "Remember, My child, I am the Mother of All living - including Chaos."
The priestesss dark green eyes widened as the god appeared before her and smiled.
He was stunningly beautiful to look upon, with wavy jet black hair to his shoulders. His skin was as smooth as marble and as golden as the sun. His eyes were green as Melysës own, though lighter, and when he bowed gracefully to the priestess-queen she saw the play of well-defined muscles rippling under his white silk tunic.
"What did you expect? A monster?" said the amused god, his voice as melodious as a sirens.
Melysës dark eyes narrowed in anger.
"You may wear a beautiful face, but your deeds are monstrous," she said, coldly.
"Hear him out, My Daughter," said Hekate, gently, brushing a lock of hair from Melysës face. The priestess felt calmer then and sighed.
"As you wish, Mother," she said.
"The Amazon Scrolls," began Chaos, almost apologetically.
"What about them?" asked Melysë, determined to be patient.
"I mean no offence," said the god. "But they are not ... accurate." Melysë smiled.
"No, they are not," conceded the priestess. "The scrolls - except for Gabrielles - were not written for the purpose of recording our history and legends. We have ... another way of passing those
"Go on, Child," said Hekate as Chaos looked on, puzzled.
"Our history, legends, traditions - these are all passed on through our dances and chants," said Melysë. "Each step, each drumbeat, every note of the chants - all have meaning. Thats why Amazons love a good party - where there is dancing and chanting and drums, there are stories. Every new Joining, every new childs Dedication - for every celebration, a new dance is created to honour the people for whom the celebration is given. The scrolls are but tales for fun. Our
Bard Queen, Gabrielle, has begun transcribing the tales told in our dances to her scrolls for our future generations, though."
"Yes," said Chaos, gravely. "I am not the demon portrayed in those stories."
Again, Melysës eyes narrowed in disbelief. "You have caused harm to my Amazons," she said. "I have experienced your wickedness firsthand. And you say you are not evil?"
Chaos nodded gravely. "I am what I am," he said, and Melysë was reminded of her brother, Ares. "You must understand, this is my nature. I cannot change what I am. And what I do is as necessary to maintaining the balance of the Universe as anything else."
Melysë frowned, then looked to Hekate who smiled gently and nodded Her confirmation of the truth of the gods words. "I see," she said. "I understand - I dont like it - but I understand."
Chaos nodded. "I knew you would," he said. "That is why I am here - I need your help."
"You ask for my help?" said Melysë, raising one eyebrow. The priestess laughed softly and shook her dark head.
"Hear him out, my Daughter," said Hekate, gently.
"My Queen - " began Chaos.
"I am not your Queen," said Melysë sharply.
"Not ... yet," said the god very quietly. "No, you will never be mine - I know that now."
"Daughter of Zeus ... your bride ... " said Melysë, understanding dawning.
Chaos looked up, smiling sheepishly. "Yes, I chose you for my bride .. once, long ago," he said. "But then, as now, you would not have me. You have pledged your soul to the Goddess - and your heart to another. Even as my heart is now pledged to another ... "
"Wait, what are you saying? You want my help to get you a wife? said Melysë, incredulous. "Youd do better to talk with my sister, Aphrodite."
"I would but ... never mind. Thats a long story - and you must get back to your warrior now - you have to go and retrieve Gabrielle from the Shadow Land," said Chaos. "But there is one more very important thing you must first know."
"Well?" said Melysë, raising an eyebrow.
"This curse is not of my making," said Chaos. Melysë frowned.
"What do you mean?" she said. "You didnt ...? Then who ... ? Mother, I dont understand!" The priestess looked to the Goddess.
"Child," said Hekate, gently. "Tis your own curse rebounding upon your Amazons. Until you fulfil your vow, this Darkness will continue to plague your people."
Tears sprang to Melysës eyes.
"Th ... then I am the ... Source of Darkness," she said. Hekate placed a comforting hand on Her Chosens shoulder.
"Yes, Daughter," said the Goddess, gently wiping away Melysës tears. "The three of you pronounced this curse - and set the promise which would lift it. It is now time to do so, since the curse is now returning to you and yours."
Melysë looked up. "The Curse - that is the Source of Darkness. Then, the way to the Light," she said. "That would be keeping our promise? That would lift the curse and take away the plague?"
"Yes," said Hekate, smiling proudly at Melysë.
"Very well - then I must get back and remember what we promised so that we can fulfil our word and save the Amazon Nation," said the priestess, determined.
Melysë awoke to gentle kisses on her face. She opened her eyes and gasped, clinging tightly to her warrior.
Xena gently stroked Melysës dark hair, whispering softly, soothingly. "Shh....just a dream, Lysë. Ive got you."
"No, not a dream, Xena," said the priestess, tears welling in her dark eyes.
"Hey," said Xena, pulling Melysë closer still. "What happened?"
As Melysë told her warrior of the sleep vision, Xena saw images unfolding before her. The warrior felt the righteous anger welling up within her once again, and then triumph as the priestess pronounced the curse.
"Its all my fault," said Melysë quietly.
"No, Lysë," said Xena, gently taking her priestesss face in her strong hands and looking deeply into those dark green eyes. "No, theres no blame here. What was done then was necessary - and now, we will go and make it right."
Melysë nodded as Tai entered the room, announcing it was time to get started.
Melysë slipped the slice of red-cap mushroom under her tongue and lay down next to Gabrielle. Xena did the same, stretching out on the other side of the Bard. Amazon drummers beat the rhythm of travelling to the Land of the Dead and Melysë felt a tingling in her limbs begin. Her heart began to beat in rhythm to the drumbeats. She could feel herself becoming lighter until she finally began to fly, slipping free of her body, rising up, meeting Xena and clasping her hand. Together, the two queens sped through a dark tunnel, emerging into the barren shadow-land.
"Okay - now where are they?" said Xena, looking around.
"Not sure," said the priestess, closing her eyes.
"Xena!" The warrior looked around and saw Ephiny running toward them. "Gabrielle ... she went to the cave!"
"Oh, no!" said Xena, grabbing Melysës hand and pulling her toward the mountains.
"Xena - " began Melysë.
"Lysë, that cave is the Gate to Eternity - if Gabrielle crosses it ...."
Melysë picked her own speed, understanding. The queens arrived at the cave and peeked in. There sat Gabrielle, spinning a tale to the old shamenki. Melysë smiled.
"Mother," she said, approaching. "Thank you. I should have known you wouldnt let anything happen to her."
The shamenki changed into the more familiar face of Hekate and the Goddess smiled at Her Chosen.
"You," said Xena, her blue eyes narrowing suspiciously. "You pulled Lysë here?"
"No, Xena," said Hekate, patiently. "Morrigu pulled her here - I only tried to guide her while she was in this place."
"Morrigu?" said Melysë, frowning. "Thats ... almost familiar."
"It should be," said Gabrielle, standing and brushing off the back of her leathers. "Tai was singing that song to the girls last night. I heard her and asked her if I could write it down - too bad I dont have my scroll case here, I could read it for you."
"Do you remember any of it?" asked Xena.
"Im a Bard," said Gabrielle. "Of course I remember it - I just learned it, though - I might not have it exactly as Tai sang it yet."
"Just do the best you can," said Melysë, noting that Hekate had left them.
"Okay - here goes," said the Bard, closing her eyes for a moment.
"I sing of the Sorceress Morrigu
Mighty in magic and power
Her legend is a tale of a warrior, too
And she fought to her very last hour
Betrayed by one she loved so well
Not merely her trust betrayed
Her crossing rites to the traitor fell
only three would defend her shade
together they three stood hand in hand
a promise was then declared
her bindings released from beneath this land
a fight to the death they shared
Bodies scattered over the land
Lives wasted to no good end
Blood spilled by a sisters hand
Wounds to souls that never mend
In passing each lifetime her spirit would rise
with hoping she'd be set free
through lips a curse from which she lies
set forth from the circle three
the triad must now honour their word
or suffer their sisters' souls
for the spell set forth turned three times back
enduring now Amazon tolls..."
Xena and Melysë listened, enthralled as Gabrielle spun the tale, the memories and images of those lives so long passed returning in a flood. At last, the three queens remembered their promise.
The three queens of Aemetzainê stood shoulder to shoulder before the gathering of women warriors in the clearing as magical creatures took their places in or before the trees forming the sacred circle. One of the women, the leader by her manner, stepped forward, addressing each of the Aemetzainê Queens in turn.
"Macha, Badb, Brighid," she said sternly, nodding to each in turn. "You three are the only remaining obstacles to my reign. As long as you stand behind Morrigu Morrigan, there is always a threat to me. You are all powerful - others may choose to follow your lead."
"The Morrigu is the rightful leader," said Gabrielle. "She was Chosen by Achlys, the All-Mother. What right do you have to usurp her place?"
"The right I have to rule this Tribe is that I beat her in combat - the stronger of us prevailed," said Aife, smirking.
"Combat?" said Gabrielle, eyes narrowing. "It was no true battle! You set a trap and tricked Morrigan into fighting you - and then, after she had you down and showed you mercy, you stabbed her in the back!"
"Enough!" cried Aife, furious. "You three have been summoned to either give fealty to me or pay the price of your continued loyalty to Morrigu Morrigan. We have already dealt with your leader."
"You - traitor...traitor to the Nation," said Melysë her green eyes snapping in anger. "Never will I swear allegiance to you. And you will pay your own price for your betrayal when she returns."
"Dont be a fool, Aife," said Xena. "Your own sister opposes you."
"You are the fool, Badb," said Aife, angrily. "Your leader will never return - she has been bound
to the Realm of the Dead. Her burial place will be a secret for all time, her soul bound by earth, by geas, and by the element of water."
"You didnt," whispered Gabrielle in horror. "You couldnt....there will be repercussions. You will be the ones who will bear the price of your deed."
Smiling smugly, Aife drew a sword. "Not so long as she is bound," she said. "And I intend to see that she remains so. Since you three are the only ones who can break the spell - and since you refuse to swear fealty to me, I have no choice. You have chosen your own fate."
"Curse you, Aife! Until the soul of the Morrigu is released, I curse you to the same fate with which you have condemned her," Melysë said, gravely. "The betrayer Aife and all who stand by her shall be bound to this place, soul and spirit, until the Morrigu is unbound."
"Let all the gods stand witness to this curse," said Xena. "Aife, the Betrayer and all who follow her shall be cursed until the Morrigu is released. Choose now whom you shall serve, for Aife is cursed and all who stand behind her shall share in her fate."
"Before the Gods," said Gabrielle. "The curse shall stand until we return and free the soul of Morrigu Morrigan. Before the gods, we will return and release her."
"Before the witness of the gods," said Melysë . "We will return and right this wrong."
"Before the gods," said Xena. "This is our vow. We stand together and take oath. We will return and make right this wrong you have committed. We will release Morrigu Morrigan from the bonds you have placed upon her soul..."
At the end of the story, Melysë spoke. "We have to release her. We promised her."
"Yes, but first we have to find her," said Xena. "Well, her body."
"Shes near Gaul," said Melysë, thinking. "Romy ... just before she got sick ... she said ..."
"Okay, Lysë," said Gabrielle, placing a hand on the priestesss shoulder. "Can we get out of this place now?"
"Yes," said Melysë, smiling at her friend. "But we have to do something first. Call your Tribe, Gabrielle - theyre coming with us."
Gabrielle smiled and whistled. Suddenly the mouth of the cave was filled with Amazons. Melysë raised her arms, invoking, then began to chant. A white light surrounded her and glowed brighter as one by one the Guardian Tribe faded from sight. The bright white light faded to a glow as Melysë lowered her arms and smiled.
"Okay, lets go," she said.
The three Queens awoke, Melysë started to sit up, then fell back as nausea and clenched muscles weakened her. Instantly, Tai was at her side.
"No," said the priestess, weakly." No toad-root - let it pass, Tai."
"No, little sister," said Tai, soothingly. "Just a little water - here - spit out the red-cap. Drink a little, then rest."
Gabrielle slowly sat up, holding her head and blinking. Xena looked at her and smiled, squeezing her hand. Gabrielle smiled and hugged the warrior. "Thanks," she whispered.
"Hey, I wasnt about to lose you Gabrielle," said the Warrior Queen, then she looked over to Tai and Melysë. The priestess looked sick.
Xena was up and at her side. "She okay?" said the warrior, her eyebrow raised.
"Shes fine," said Tai, smiling up at the warrior. "Never has had a head for this stuff. Come on, Lysë." Tai placed both hands on Melysës head and closed her eyes. The priestess felt the nausea and muscle cramps ease and then leave her altogether. She felt rather dizzy, but as long as the rest of the residual effects of the red-caps were gone, she could handle it. The priestess smiled and sat up slowly.
"Thank you, Sister," she said, then turned and grabbed Gabrielle, hugging her as tears of relief oozed from the priestesss dark eyes. "Dont you ever do that again!"
"Ill try not to," said Gabrielle, chuckling and returning the embrace. "Hey, wheres the rest of the Tribe?"
"Theyll be there when we need them," said Melysë, rising from the bed with Xenas help to steady her. "Tai, its time for us to go."
"Yes, little sister," said Tai. "The pod will take us."
"Isnt it too cold for them?" asked Melysë, frowning.
"No - they wont stay in the water there too long," said Tai. "Just long enough to drop us off."
"Wait - were going by water?" said Gabrielle, looking sick again.
"Its the fastest way, Gabrielle," said Tai.
"Its okay - the dolphin pod wont let anything happen to us, Gabrielle," said Melysë, kindly.
"Its not that," said the Bard. "I just dont like boats."
"Oh, well, then were fine - were going on dolphin-back - no boats," said Tai, grinning.
"Shes kidding ... right?" said Gabrielle, looking anxiously at Xena. The warrior shrugged, then grinned. "I dont think so - but think of the story this will make," teased the Warrior Queen.
Gabrielle groaned and rolled her eyes as the four women made their way to the sea. The Bard could see the dolphin pod leaping and playing in the distance. Tai smiled and called to them.
"Lysë, why dont you just .. you know ..." asked the worried Bard.
"Because despite Hekates blessing, I will need to conserve all of my power for this battle," said the priestess solemnly.
En masse, the pod swam as close to the shore as they could, chirping and chattering as they went. Smiling with delight, Melysë and Tai swam out to meet them. Xena looked at Gabrielles wistful smile as she watched Tai cavorting with the dolphins. Melysë was being gently prodded in the side by the nose of one dolphin. The priestess was smiling and nodding as if she understood the creatures chirps and clicks. She probably does, thought Xena, smiling at the scene.
Gabrielle watched for a few moments, looking apprehensively up at the sky, noting that the still-approaching storm was closer and coming faster. She looked back at the two friends, now ringed by the dolphins of the pod. Melysë smiled and waved to Xena and Gabrielle to join them in the water.
"Come on Gabrielle - lets get wet!" yelled Xena as she ran into the water, swimming for the pod.
"Gods, Xena! Why do you say that every time we go swimming? You know what people will say!" grumbled Gabrielle as she followed Xena into the water. The two swam out to the pod where Tai was showing Melysë how and where to hold a dolphins dorsal fin without harming the creature.
"Wait, Lysë - youve never done this before either?" said Gabrielle, surprised.
"No," said the priestess, her eyes shining like a little girls. "Ive watched Tai do it practically all my life, though."
Gabrielle grinned as one of the dolphins rose up on its tail and started chattering to the Bard.
"Isia has volunteered to take you, Gabrielle," said Tai.
"Isia, pleased to make your ac - ack!" cried the Bard as Isia submerged and came up directly underneath her, Gabrielle frantically clutching at the dorsal fin as the dolphins chirped at her, seeming to laugh. Even Melysë let out a very un-queenly giggle.
"Are we ready?" asked Xena, catching the sparkle in her priestesss eyes and the grin on her best friends face. The warrior looked to Tai who was frowning in thought, whispering to herself, though Xena caught the words "... linear time, so if we .. yeah," said Tai, glancing up at the encroaching black clouds. "We should just make it. Lets go!"
Swimming with the pod was indescribable. Gabrielle had to resist the urge to laugh out loud from the exhilaration to avoid swallowing mouthfuls of sea-water.
Xena felt the water growing colder as the sky grew darker and kept one eye on the storm which
was rapidly following them. The dolphins swam below the Amazons, buoying them up and
carrying them along with the pod.
At last they came to an island and the dolphins chirped their farewells and swam off to warmer waters. The Amazons, dressed only in their wet shifts, shivered in the frigid wind until Tai led them to a cottage where a change of clothes for each Amazon had been left.
After changing to dry clothes, Gabrielle started a fire in the hearth while Xena made use of some traps she found in the cottage to hunt for dinner. Tai, Melysë, and Gabrielle sat at the table in the main room of the cottage.
"Tai, where are we?" asked Melysë, her teeth still chattering form the chill. Always, Tai remembered, Lysë felt the cold so much more than others did. Smiling, she rose and heated some mead for her shivering "little" sister before answering her.
"In Alba - or Caledonia, as the Romans call it," she said, setting the cup before the priestess and one for Gabrielle, who smiled her thanks before carefully sipping. "Its the northernmost region of Britannia. This is my fathers cottage."
"Myrlion lives here?" said Melysë, sipping gratefully at her cup.
"Sometimes," said Tai, smiling. "He brought me here once when I was small and took me to the place of the Standing Stones. Thats where he taught me the song."
"The one about Morrigu," said Gabrielle.
"Yes," said Tai. "When I saw Neiromeis picture, I recognised it at once."
"She painted that in trance, you know," said Melysë, quietly.
"Does Xena know?" asked Gabrielle, gently.
"Im sure she does, though we havent had much time to talk," said Melysë. She laughed softly. "You know Xena - anything Romy does is spectacular."
"Romy will be very powerful," said Tai. "And because you and Xena - and all of us, really - have made her feel how very special she is, she will be able to wield that power wisely."
"She already is very powerful - she just doesnt realise it yet - and Id like to keep it that way," said Melysë, thoughtfully. "Let her be a little girl for as long as she can - she will have a heavy responsibility for a very long time."
Suddenly, in a flash, the priestess saw Neiromei in the High Seat in Themiscyreia, Kaiyté on one side of her and another young woman Melysë somehow knew, but didnt recognise on the other.
"Shell bring the Triune Queenhood to Themiscyreia again," said the priestess, her voice distant
as the trance slipped over her.
" Lysë?" said Gabrielle, concerned.
"Its okay," said Melysë. "She and Kaiyté and one other who I dont know yet - all three will sit in the High Seat in Themiscyreia and rule the Amazon Nation..."
"Kaiyté?" said Tai, softly. Melysë nodded.
"Yes, Sister," she replied gently.
Tai sighed. "I suppose I should be happy," she said, smiling a little.
"Yes, you should," said Melysë. "The three High Queens of Themiscyreia will bring about a time of prosperity and peace such as the Amazon Nation has never known before. This is a good thing, Tai."
"I know," said Tai. "Just because a crown is something I have never wanted doesnt mean it isnt for Kaiyté."
"Hey," said Xena, coming into the cottage, grinning. "Anybody miss me?"
Melyse smiled and rose, going to her warrior and enfolding her in a tight hug.
"Very much," replied the priestess.
Setting down the field-dressed rabbits shed caught, Xena returned the hug, then pulled back and looked at the priestess, concerned. Then she looked up at Gabrielle and Tai. "She had another one?" asked the warrior.
"You can ask me," said the priestess, frowning. Xena smiled and pulled her close again.
"Im sorry, Love - you still had that look and I wasnt sure if you were completely back yet," said the warrior.
Melysë smiled. "Okay," she said. "Hey - you caught dinner - Im starved!"
Xena raised an eyebrow at her priestess. "Starving?" said the Warrior, looking at her sharply.
"Well, it was a long swim, and the water was very cold," said Melysë, taking up the rabbits and starting to prepare dinner.
"Uh, huh," said Xena, sitting at the table, sipping from Melysës cup of mead. The warrior chuckled.
"Whats so funny?" asked Gabrielle, smiling at her best friend.
"Oh, nothing," said Xena, stretching her legs out as she watched Melysë spit the rabbits over the fire.
Gabrielle arose and tended to the rabbits then as Melysë went to the pantry and began to make some bread. Xena and Tai remained at the table in companionable silence for a few minutes.
"So what happens now?" asked the Warrior Queen.
"I think after dinner, we all need a good nights sleep," said Tai. "Melysë was right - that was some swim - and tomorrow will be ... strenuous."
"What happens tomorrow?" asked Xena.
"You three keep your promise," said Tai.
"Did you know?" asked Xena. "What the promise was, I mean."
"No, not really," said Tai, thoughtfully. "Not consciously - but when I saw the picture Romy painted - "
"Picture?" said Xena.
"Romy painted a picture of the Standing Stones in trance," explained Tai.
Xena smiled, shaking her head. "Shes very like Lysë," said the Warrior Queen. "Im not surprised, but I was hoping shed be spared the burden of that power for a while longer."
"I wouldnt worry about that, Xena," said Tai. "Melysë shares your concern - I think well all do our best to let her be little for as long as she can."
"Thank-you," said Xena, gratefully, as Melysë emerged from the pantry with pans of covered dough. She set them on the hearth to rise, sniffing the roasting rabbits appreciatively.
"Hmm, well, the bread will be ready for tomorrow morning at least," she said, sitting beside Xena. The warrior wrapped an arm around Melysës shoulders. "I have a feeling well have to move quickly."
As if on cue, the wind outside the cottage wailed and the storm hit, rain drumming down on the wooden roof. Thunder shook the earth and lightning flashed through the windows of the cottage. The fire in the hearth began to sputter as wind and rain came down the flue.
"Oh no you dont," said Melysë, turning toward the hearth with a gesture of her hand. The fire resumed its normal flickering crackle and Melysë smiled, turning back to the table. "Now about tomorrow, where is it that were going, Tai?"
"To the Place of the Standing Stones," Tai said. "The legend is that a great battle of magics took place there many years ago. The stones are said to be Gwiddonot Warriors who came up against a fierce witch and were turned to stone."
"Thats not what happened," Melysë said quietly.
"No," said Tai, gently. "Those warriors were dishonoured by their betrayal."
"And tomorrow, we set things right again," said Melysë, snuggling closer to her warrior.
While the others slept, Melysë lay restless, listening to the winds wailing screams. Almost she could hear voices in the wind. With a sigh, she realised that she could not extricate herself from Xenas warm arms without waking her warrior, and so snuggled closer and resolved to shut out the sound of the voices in the wind.
Suddenly, there was a shimmer in the far corner of the room. Melysë sat up, Xena was already on her feet, sword in hand. A figure stepped out of the shimmer and Melysë gasped.
"Who are you?" challenged Xena.
"Chaos," Melysë whispered. The god bowed politely, then grinned.
"Chaos!" said Xena, her sword at the ready. "What are you doing here? Stay away from Melysë, or Ill - "
"Easy, Warrior, I have just come from Aemetzainê," he said. "Arynë and Tecmessa will arrive tomorrow - they are to accompany you to the Standing Stones - as well as Ephiny and ...." The
god smiled. "Your daughter, Selenë."
"What about Selenë?" said Melysë, her dark green eyes narrowing suspiciously.
"Only that ... she may wear your warriors face, my Queen, but her soul - it is a mirror of your own," said the god.
"You stay away from Selenë," said Melysë, rising swiftly and approaching Chaos. Xena caught her and pulled her back beside her, shielding her priestess with her own body. "I may understand your place in keeping the Balance, but if you think - "
"Wait, wait," said Xena, sheathing her sword. "What do you mean by that? Selenës soul is none of your business - nor is Melysës. "
"Chaos always has a devious motive for what he does - its his nature. What, you thought to catch us half awake and off-guard and find a way to get past us to our daughter?" said Melysë, angrily.
Chaos grinned sheepishly. "I confess, my Queen - "
"Stop calling me that!" Melysë demanded impatiently. "I will never allow you near Selenë to -"
"Isnt that her decision to make?" the god asked hopefully.
"Selenë is not yet of age," said Melysë. "And until she is, you stay away from her - understood?"
The god mumbled. "What?" said Xena.
"I love her."
Melysë sat quickly down, shocked.
"Okay, okay," said Xena, going to her. "Get out of here now - well talk later, you and I."
"How fortunate for me that you no longer have the ability to kill gods," chuckled Chaos.
"There are other ways to kill gods," said Melysë, her tone quietly menacing. "Lots of them - and I will learn each and every one of them if you dont stay away from Selenë."
"I have underestimated you yet again, Melysë," said Chaos, bowing again. "Be sure I will not make that mistake again - I will earn your trust and respect if that is the only way."
"Impossible," said Melysë. "After all you have done to the Amazons, do you really believe I will ever trust you? Give it up - and stay far from my child."
Chaos sighed and faded from sight back into the shimmer.
"Its alright, Lysë," said Xena, wrapping strong, comforting arms around the shaking priestess.
"Chaos - he has tormented the Amazons for centuries, and now hes after Selenë" said Melysë, gradually calming under her warriors touch. "Can he really think I will allow him to - ?"
"Lysë, he does love her," said Xena, softly.
"How can you know that?"
"The look in his eyes when he speaks of her," said Xena. "Ive seen it before."
"Where?" asked Melysë, turning to face her, then she knew as Xena smiled her little crooked half-smile.
"In the mirror, every time I think of you," said the warrior, softly, pulling Melysë closer still.
"Still, I will not allow it, Xena - our daughter in the hands of that monster," the priestess shuddered and buried her face in Xenas shoulder. "It must never happen."
"Well keep her safe, not to worry," said Xena, gently stroking the priestesss dark hair until she felt Melysë go limp with sleep in her arms. Gently the warrior lay her down, covering her against the chill in the air. Xena silently left the cottage and stepped out into the wind.
"Ares! Ares!" she called, her clear voice piercing the howling wind.
There was familiar feeling of displacement in the air and the god appeared. Grinning, he snapped his fingers and the two stood in a pocket of stillness, where no wind blew.
"Xena - whats up?" he asked.
"I need some information," said Xena, grinning back, almost against her will - she hated to admit it, but she was glad to see Ares.
"Shoot," said the god, casually.
"Chaos," said Xena.
"Whoa - hes one of he older gods - I guess it was only a matter of time before you ran into him, though - hes always wanted the Amazons - Melysë in particular," said the god.
"Yeah," said Xena, her quiet voice hiding the flash of anger at his words. "Well, now he wants Selenë."
Ares threw his head back and laughed. "Oh, boy!" he said, then saw Xenas eyes narrowed - always a sign of danger. "Okay, sorry, Xena - I couldnt help it. Hes really in for it, though - no way do I see that ever happening, not with you and Lysë around."
"Ares, I think he really loves her," said Xena, frowning.
"Yeah, yeah - like he really loved Aphrodite and Artemis and Athena and Melysë ..." said Ares, rolling his eyes.
"What?" said Xena.
"Hes been ever after every one of my sisters," said Ares.
"Daughters of Zeus," Xena mused.
"Yeah?" said Ares.
"Chaos and a daughter of Zeus - its in one of the Amazon scrolls," said Xena, thinking.
"Well, Selenë is a grand-daughter of Zeus," said Ares. "Does that count?"
"To Chaos, probably," said Xena, with a sigh. "We just need to protect her from him as best we can."
Ares laughed again. "Better protect Chaos - from Melysë," he said. "She has quite the temper where you and those kids are concerned."
"Yeah," said Xena, grinning back. "She does - I guess well just get through tomorrow and worry about Chaos later. Thanks, Ares."
"Anytime," said the god, fading with a wink. The wind returned then and Xena went back into the cottage.
The next morning before the sun was up, Xena and Tai sat at the table, sipping klafé while Gabrielle and Melysë slept. The wind had quieted in the night, but the rain continued to fall.
"Tai, Chaos ... " began Xena.
"What about him?" asked Tai, frowning at the sound of the name.
"Hes bad news, huh?" said the warrior.
"The worst," replied Tai, bitterly. "He has been the bane of the Amazons since our beginning. Why do you ask, Xena?"
"He, um, he says he loves Selenë," said Xena, meeting Tais grey green eyes with her dark blue ones, looking for a reaction.
Tai arose and began pacing, angrily.
"The bastard! Hell try anything to get his hands on the Amazons," she said. "Hes wanted us for his own for centuries - and he almost killed Melee with that last plague. Damn him!"
"Tai!" said Xena, surprised. She had never seen her loves oath-sister so upset.
"He wont get Selenë," said Tai, firmly, sitting again.
Suddenly, Melysë emerged from her room, and raced past them out to the privy. Tai arose and started to go after her, but Xena caught her arm, with a smile.
"Ill go," said the warrior, rising.
"Are you sure, Xena?" said Tai.
"Yep - Ive had plenty of practice here," said Xena, going out into the rain.
Melysë was kneeling, wiping her pale face. Xena knelt behind her, holding her.
"Are you alright, Lysë?" asked the warrior, gently stroking the priestesss long dark hair.
"Yes," said Melysë, leaning back into her warriors strong arms. Xena lifted her, protesting, and carried her back into the cottage, laying her back down in the bed. "Xena, Im fine."
"Are you sure?" asked the warrior. "Youre okay now?"
"Yes, Im fine," said Melysë, irritably. Xena grinned at her. "What?"
"Well, last night you were hungry, this morning youre sick - and a little cranky - "
"Xena, I am not cranky," said Melysë, more gently. "What are you trying to say?"
"Just that, Ive seen this before, and - "
"No, Xena," said Melysë, smiling.
"No? Are you sure?" said the warrior.
"Yes, Im sure," said Melysë. "Why, did you want - ?"
"No, no, I just thought ..." said Xena.
Melysë wrapped her arms around the warrior, pulling her close, tucking her head into Xenas shoulder. "Im sorry, Xena - youre disappointed, arent you?"
"No," said the warrior, hugging Melysë tighter. "No, Im really not - are you sure youre alright?"
"Yes - probably just nerves," said Melysë. "We have a big day ahead."
"Okay," said Xena, smiling at her again. "You want breakfast?"
Melysë made a face. "No, thank you," she said.
"Okay," said the Warrior, smiling again. "Get some rest, okay?" She left Melysë lying down. A few moments later, Tai came in, a cup of steaming klafé on one hand.
"Tai, why didnt you tell me?" said the priestess without opening her eyes.
Tai set the cup down on a small table beside the bed and sat beside her sister, bursting into tears. Melysë sat up immediately, gathering her sister in her arms, speaking soothingly.
"Hey, its alright," she said. "This is a good thing, my sister. You want to hear something funny? Xena thought it was me!"
"Why is that so funny?" asked Tai, tearfully.
"Well, because we already have six between us! And the last ones are still in nappies! I havent done the ritual since Neiromei - Dylanda and Leilae were directly from Hekate. Goddess, Tai, can you imagine?" said Melysë.
"Actually, I can," chuckled Tai, wiping her eyes.
"What?" said Melysë.
"Lysë, you havent needed that ritual since Selenë," said Tai.
"What are you saying, Tai?" asked Melysë, frowning.
"Im saying that if youre not careful, you might just end up ... like me," Tai sniffed and wiped her eyes again.
"Oh, no," said Melysë, her dark green eyes wide. "Tai, I had no idea - you mean, all this time ... Oh, Blessed Goddess!" Melysë started laughing. "Waitll I tell Xena!"
"Yeah," said Tai, smiling slightly. "But for now, Little Sister, lets keep this one," she patted her still-flat abdomen, " just between us, okay?"
"Of course," said the priestess. "But Tai, youre going to have shield a little better - you know how much stronger an empath I am in your presence."
"Im sorry," said Tai.
"No, its alright," said Melyse, getting up from bed. "Come on Sister - I need some klafé - we have a big day ahead of us."
The sisters arrived at the table to see Gabrielle was up and sitting, talking with Xena. Melysë smiled.
"Are we ready?" asked the priestess.
"As you soon as you get your klafé," said Xena, pouring a mug for the priestess. "Of course, if its a battle were facing, it might be to our benefit to make you go without."
Melysë made a face, then smiled at her warrior.
"Funny," she said, sipping carefully at the steaming mug.
The wind still howled outside of the cottage. The four women sat at the table, sipping at their klafë, trying to postpone the inevitable confrontation for as long as possible. All of a sudden, their was silence. The wind and rain had stopped. Melysë arose, her dark, golden-green eyes glazed as the trance took her over. Tai watched, fascinated, as the priestess threw her head back and hissed, her nails growing into claws, silvery fur covering her body - only Melysës eyes were the same as she transformed into the Snow Leopard. Tai looked up at a strange noise - a huge glossy black Crow sat on the back of Xenas chair and where Gabrielle had been, there perched a Hawk. The Hawk hopped and suddenly the door to the cottage flew open and she flew out. The Crow fluttered up into the air for a moment. settling on the Snow Leopards shoulder and the great cat turned to Tai, Melysës voice issuing from the creatures throat.
"Sister, its time - come," she said, before leaping out of the door and running across the land towards the shore where the Standing Stones had waited for over a century.
Tai raced after them, finding herself suddenly surrounded by an "escort". There was a great Grey Wolf, a Snowy Owl, horses, birds, deer - even a unicorn! A shadow overcame her and Tai looked up to see a dragon flying overhead, even as a great lion loped past her. Out of breath, Tai arrived at the Standing Stones. Overhead, black clouds moved swiftly to cover the sun and block what little light there was.
There sat the Snow Leopard, the Crow still perched upon her shoulder, the Hawk overlooking the scene from the branch of a tree. The Snow Leopard stretched and Melysë stood there in the centre of the Standing Stones, Xena stood beside her. The Hawk swooped down and there stood Gabrielle. Melysë raised her arms and cried out a single word. Tai didnt recognise the language of the word, but she knew what it meant. Melysë watched as one by one Aifes warriors, emerged from their stone. The women looked around. One approached, triumphant.
"You," said Xena, drawing her sword. Gabrielle gently stayed her hand.
"Yes," said the woman, smugly. "Its me - Aife. I see you three have finally returned."
"As promised," said Melysë. "And, as promised, we are here to fulfil our vow."
Gabrielle looked around and saw Arynë, Tecmessa, Selenë, and Ephiny standing in a protective circle around Neiromei and Kaiyté.
"Well just see about that," said Aife, drawing her sword.
Suddenly, Melysë began chanting.
Spirits of my Ancient Mothers, the Amazons, I call to thee
Awaken oh, Mothers and come to me
Stand by me, Amazons of old
Lend to me thy strength and courage bold
Your wisdom and power I beg of thee
Bestow upon me; with honour and integrity
To be as you were is what I wish
The old ways of the Amazons to re-establish
The Amazon Spirit lives ever on
The beauty of your ancient souls I would don
Let me find within my own soul
A flame of your might sparked by your still-glowing coals
Live on through me, Ancient Mothers of old
The Amazon Spirit will never grow cold
As long as I carry you within my own heart
Ancient memories to me, pray do impart
Your stories of feats so brave and so bold
They must continue, they must be told
And never, ever will I forget
Your legacy of honour forever is set
All at once, the sacred totems began to transform and an army of Amazons stood ready to battle the Gwiddonot of Aife.
"Very well," said Aife, smiling nastily. "Lets just see, shall we?"
The battle began, Melysë found a staff in her hand and she fought with a prowess she had never before possessed. Gabrielle found herself fighting with sword and shield, as did Xena. The warriors of the guardian tribe were losing and Melysë threw down her staff and yelled again, another strange word. Quickly she grabbed Xenas and Gabrielles hands and the three began to glow.
"Lysë, what are you doing? They need us back there!" yelled Xena over the howling wind.
"No," Gabrielle yelled back. "Melysë was right - we need to do this first - we need her."
The three queens stood in the centre of a crossroads. "Shes over there," said the priestess, pointing north. Xena and Gabrielle followed the entranced priestess to a slight mound and watched as Melysë used her magic to create an opening. It was a shallow grave indeed, but Xena stopped, suddenly overcome by a despair she had never before known. She looked at the other two and gasped - two skeletons lay up against the mound - it looked as though they had been dead for as long the mound had been there.
"Noooo .....!" cried the warrior in anguish.
"Xena, listen to me," said Melysë, grabbing her arm. But Xena saw only the skeleton clinging to her. Frantically, the Warrior Queen tried to shake her off, but Melysë clung tighter, her voice soothing, to no avail. With a sigh, Melysë called the Snow Leopard to herself and transformed - that broke the spell. Melysë resumed her own form. "Xena - no more for you - the geas Aife mentioned - it prevents you from reaching Morrigu. Just wait here, okay?"
Shaken, the warrior nodded and sat, quickly recovering her composure as she watched the other two. Melysë used her magic to excavate the grave. Both the Bard and the Priestess jumped into the grave. Suddenly, Xena heard retching and a pale, sweating Gabrielle pulled herself out of the grave. She came over to sit with Xena.
"Gabrielle, are you alright?" asked Xena, noting the greenish cast to her best friends face.
"Yeah," said Gabrielle, stabbing her wrist with her finger. Xena took her hand and applied one effective jab. The Bard flinched, but smiled up at the warrior.
"Thanks," she said. "I swear, Xena, it was the strangest thing - I felt like I was back on Ulysses ship - or Cecrops!"
" Bound by earth, by geas, and by the element of water ... " mused Xena.
"Oh, of course," said Gabrielle, nodding - "She would used our weaknesses against us - your fear of losing those you love, my seasickness - but what about Melysë?"
Xena jumped up and ran toward the opening in the earth, but stopped short - it was as if she hit an "invisible wall" of air and could go no further. The warrior could not even get close enough to peer into the grave.
"Lysë?" she called. "Melysë?"
"Im okay, Xena," the priestess said, weakly. "Shes ... bound ... by ... iron, too ..."
"Earth," said Xena. "Iron is of the element of earth. Water - Gabrielles sea-sickness. And Air - this barrier is solid air ... Lysë, can you make fire?"
"No ... " came the whispered reply. "Iron ... c-cold iron ..."
"Okay, okay," said Xena, thinking. Gabrielle arose.
"Whats wrong?" asked the Bard.
"I cant get past this wall and Lysë cant get out of that grave," said Xena.
"What wall, Xena?" asked Gabrielle, stepping past the "barrier". Immediately, she turned pale and clutched her at her stomach until she stepped back over. "Oh, that wall." She swallowed hard.
"Yeah, that wall," said Xena. "Fire is the only element Aife couldnt use to bind that tomb. If she had, Morrigus soul would be freed."
"We need fire," said Gabrielle, going to build one. Xena brought out her flint and steel and soon the two of them had a nice warm blaze crackling. They made torches from the branches of the trees around them and lit them from the fire. Holding the flaming torches before them, they easily passed through the barrier.
Standing at the edge of the grave, Xena looked down to see Melysë leaning against the earthen "wall", looking paler than usual. The warrior jumped down, holding the torch aloft.
"Xena," Melysës voice was the merest whisper.
"Its okay, Ive got you now," said the warrior, lifting her up and out of the grave. Xena climbed out herself, then carried Melysë near the fire.
"It felt like .. chains ... iron chains ... binding me - I couldnt move," said the priestess, shivering despite the warm fire.
"Since we were the only ones who could free her, Aife bound Morrigu by what we fear the most," said Gabrielle, quietly.
"Yes," said Melysë. "And shes using Elementals - Spirits of the elements. She has bound an air Elemental by feathers, an earth spirit by the iron, and the water spirit by sea-coral. The Morrigu herself is in within her war chariot and the chariot is adorned with feathers, iron trappings and bits of the coral."
"So anyone who didnt know better would think that she was buried with honour in her fancy chariot," said Gabrielle, sadly.
"We have to get her out of there," said Xena.
"Yes," said Melysë, but first I have to release the elemental; spirits - it is their captive powers which empower the wards set against us."
"She must be a very powerful sorceress to have managed that," said a worried Gabrielle.
"Not really," said Melysë. "It doesnt take that much power to do it, only to undo it."
"Can you?" asked Xena.
"Yes," said Melysë, "But it will take some time - time we dont have. Even as we speak, the battle goes on ..."
"Damn!" said Xena, rising and pacing. "Im the Warrior Queen - I should be back there, fighting."
"No, Xena - it will take all three of us to free Morrigan," said Gabrielle.
With a sigh, Xena ceased her pacing and sat back down between the other two.
"Tai said something earlier about time," said Xena, frowning in thought.
"What did she say, Xena?" asked Melysë, eagerly.
"Im trying to remember," said Xena. "Something about linear time, I think."
"Okay," said Melysë, closing her eyes. She smiled and nodded. "Tai explained it - time is either fluid or linear - we are outside of linear time now, in this place. The battle goes against us, but here we have time to do what we must and get back there to change the outcome. When we bring back the Morrigu, we have a chance to win the battle at the Standing Stones."
"Only a chance?" said Xena.
"Yes, but its a chance we dont have now," said Melysë. "I just need to, um, stack the deck a little, in our favour."
"What do you mean, Lysë?" asked Gabrielle. Melysë smiled and stood up.
"Ares! Ares, I need you, Brother," she called. The god appeared in a bright flash.
"I was a little busy, Sis," he said shortly. "In case you dont know it, theres a battle going on - and your Amazons are taking quite the beating."
"Is it really bad, Ares?" asked Gabrielle. The god glanced at Melysë, then turned back to the Bard.
"Nah - theyre already all dead, so they just get back up and keep fighting," he looked at Xena and frowned, shaking his head slightly. "They need a champion to go up against Aife - at least until you get her back there."
"Think you can find Scathach?" said Melysë, frowning.
"Oh, yeah!" said Ares, breaking into a grin. "Now that would be something to see."
"Ares," said Melysë, wearily. "I dont like pitting sisters against each other."
"Youre not - they already hate each other, and they always have," said the god, still grinning. "Scathach would like nothing better than to take Aife down - and I get to watch!"
The god disappeared in another flash and Melysë sighed.
"Okay," she said. "Lets get to work."
The three took torches to the opening in the earth and stood at the edge. Melysë allowed the trance to take her. She went deep, entering the prison of feathers. There she saw the air elemental, a beautiful winged creature of light, both wrists and ankles wrapped with something resembling black smoke. Melysë smiled and leaned forward, blowing away the smoke.
"Blessed be thou, Creature of Air - the Goddess blesses Her children," said the Priestess.
"Blessed be," replied the elemental, briefly kissing Melysës forehead before flying away.
The priestess returned.
"Xena," she said, weakly, drained from the task. She placed her hands on Xenas shoulders for support and suddenly Xena found herself within the coral, looking at a creature whose top half was a man and bottom was a fish. The merman lay there, gasping for breath, but a black smoke enveloped him, choking off each breath. The warrior reached out and found a waterskin in her hand. She poured it out over the elemental, washing away the smoke, and where the water landed, there formed an "ocean". Xena heard Melysës voice.
"Blessed be thou, Creature of Water. The Goddess blesses Her children."
"Blessed be," replied the merman, clasping Xenas forearm, then swimming away.
Xena found herself again standing with other two as Melysë smiled at Gabrielle and gently placed her hand on the bards face.
Gabrielle stood within the iron. There she saw the Earth elemental -a dryad, black smoke rings binding her to the trunk of her tree like a "rope". The Bard pulled one of her sais from her boot and "cut" through the smoke rope, freeing the dryad as she heard Melysës voice, "Blessed be thou, creature of Earth. The Goddess blesses Her children."
"Blessed be," replied the dryad, gently kissing the bards lips before scampering up the branches of her tree.
Gabrielle stood again with the other two. Xena jumped into the grave and the others followed her, all three tenderly lifting the Morrigus mortal remains from the chariot and laid her beside the wooden vessel. Melysë waved the flaming torch over her body, speaking the ritual words.
"Blessed be, dear sister. Dream well as you sleep in the loving arms of the Great Mother. Embrace Her eternal peace, or if you will, return to those of us who have loved you. Your soul is free to soar, now. Blessed be."
Suddenly, Morrigan was standing there beside her body. She looked down at it, then back up at the three.
"Took you guys long enough," she said, flashing a brilliant smile.
Xena raised one eyebrow at her. "Well," she said.
"Never mind," laughed the flame-haired warrior-sorceress. "Lets get out of here. Just cover the grave with the soil - my bones will feed the earth."
Morrigan and Melysë joined hands and hummed until the earth shook, filling in the opening. The Morrigu looked admiringly at the priestess.
"Your powers are very strong in the life, little sister," she said. "No wonder Achlys bade me be patient. I kept waiting - and when Gabrielle got sick, I thought for sure you werent going to make this time either. But now I understand - we had to wait until one of you was a - "
"No - dont say it," said Melysë, pain evident in her dark eyes. "I will not become ... that."
"Dont be a fool, Brighid," said Morrigan. "Im sorry, I mean Melysë. Dont you know what that means? How can you deny this opportunity?"
"Please," Melysë said quietly. "Not yet - maybe not ever, but certainly not now."
"Alright," sighed Morrigan. "Thats between you and Her anyway. And we still have a traitor to deal with - and a curse to lift."
"Lets go," said Xena, her voice tight, thinking of the implication of what the ancient warrior had implied. Melysë nodded and the four joined hands, suddenly appearing on the battle field. Aife was fighting one on one with her sister Scathach while Ephiny and the rest of the Guardian Tribe fought Aide's warriors.
"Aife! Beloved - Im back - did you miss me?" called Morrigan with a sarcastic smile. Aife dropped her sword in shock. Scathach stepped back, honour forbidding her to battle an unarmed opponent. She sneered at Aife.
"Pick it up, Coward!" she said, but Aife merely stood there, staring wide-eyed at Morrigan.
Morrigan strode out towards her. She flashed a brilliant smile to Scathach. "You know, you really are the prettier sister," she said. "You were right - I should have picked you. Its my one regret."
Scathach threw back her head and laughed, her long blonde hair flowing from under her helm. "Morrigan, you incorrigible flirt!" she said. "I have missed you. But I knew youd be back."
"This is impossible!" cried Aife. "How did you ...? I made sure they couldnt get to you!"
"Obviously, you didnt," said Morrigan, shaking her bright coppery curls. Her eyes were sparkling blue and a sprinkling of freckles danced across her milky white skin. She raised her hand and Aife's sword flew from ground where she had dropped it and into the Morrigus hand. "What do you say to a re-match, Aife?"
"I have already defeated you in fair combat," said Aife, defiantly.
"Fair combat?" Morrigan said, her eyes narrowed, her voice cold. "That was hardly fair. You claimed to love me, then you betrayed me to try and take my crown. You fought me and when I had you down, I offered you mercy. You killed me after we called truce. You have no honour, Aife."
"You would have destroyed the Nation if you had been allowed to continue your rule," said Aife, patiently, as if explaining to a child.
"And how would you have done it differently?" asked Morrigan.
"We need more discipline - more battle readiness - instead, you concentrated on growing crops, breeding animals other than war-horses," said Aife. "You encouraged our daughters to read other than our own scrolls - even to those written by men."
"Yes, I did - and I would again," said Morrigan. "I was working toward a day when we need no longer fight. To grow our own food and make our own clothing rather than taking what we needed by force from those weaker than we are. I wanted to teach our daughters to know the minds of others - even men - who may one day no longer be our enemies, but hopefully our allies - and if not, at least not our foes."
"And in the meantime, they attack us and we are not prepared to beat them!" said Aife. "You give consideration to all but your own people. We lose too many of our warriors every time we fight."
"But dont you see? If we know our enemies, we may one day make them our friends," said Morrigan.
"NO!" screamed Aife. "That is not the way - we must defeat them before they can destroy us! The Nation must be protected at all cost."
"We have had this discussion too many times, Aife," said Morrigan, shaking her head. "Over the years I have been in exile, I have learned from those who came through the Land of the Dead. I concede that I did not put enough into training our troops for the present, so focused was I on the future, but you had no thoughts to the future at all. I know now that there must be a balance. If I had seen that before, perhaps we could have come to a compromise, but now, you have betrayed your honour."
"No, no compromise," said Aife. "I am the Queen - and you are dead."
"Very well," said Morrigan. "I declare the challenge against you, Aife."
"You cant do that," said Aife.
"Actually," said Gabrielle. "She can."
"Stay out of this," said Aife, angrily.
"Morrigu Morrigan has declared the Royal Challenge against you Aife," said Xena, smiling. "How do you answer?"
"She cant .. its ... its never been done before ..." stammered Aife scanning faces as the warriors around, including her own began to murmur.
"Exactly," said Gabrielle. "Because there is no precedent, it has never been forbidden."
"Choose your weapon," said Scathach. "Because by our Ancient Law, unless you can find a champion to fight for you, you must either fight or stand down as queen."
"Very well," said Aife, grimly. "Give me my sword. I beat you once. I can do it again."
Morrigan tossed the sword to Aife and the two took their stances, circling each other warily.
"Wait!" said Morrigan, suddenly stopping and grinning. "We forgot to set the stakes."
"The stakes are," said Aife wearily, "that if I win, I rule the Nation."
"No, you see, we have been dead for ... well .. centuries. Our time has passed," said Morrigan. "You have been here, encased in stone and I have been wandering the Land of the Dead for a very long time. Our people are gone - you see before you their spirits."
"Cen...centuries?" said Aife, stunned. "And our people ...."
"Not many even remember us," said Morrigan, sadly.
"Very well - what do you propose?" asked Aife. Morrigan smiled coldly and Melysë began to question the wisdom of waking her after all.
"If I win, you go back to being cold stone - even as your heart was stone," she said, quietly. "I loved you - you used me and betrayed my love. You deserve to spend eternity in that stone."
"And if I win, you wander in the Land of the Dead - for eternity," said Aife.
Suddenly, Melysë saw in a flash, Aife down on the ground, Morrigan, laughing and offering her hand to help her up. Aife took it, but plunged her sword through Morrigans heart.
"Wh ...why?" gasped the Morrigu as she fell back, her eyes clouding over in pain.
Aifes eyes filled with tears. "I ... I must think of the Nation," she said, her voice breaking as Morrigan crossed over. Suddenly, Aife fell back to her knees, wailing in grief, clutching the fallen Morrigan to her, heedless of the blood which soaked her leathers. "Im sorry ... so sorry, my Love. Please forgive me - I have to save our people from ... you."
"Agreed," said Morrigan.
"So be it." Melysë looked and saw Hekate, once again appearing as the old shamenki.
"Achlys, the Mother of all living has witnessed the oath," said Melysë. "Let the curse be lifted - this will be settled between these two - all others are free."
The gravity of the moment left the assembly speechless for a brief time. Then Morrigan saluted the Goddess and turned to Aife, a cold smile still on her face.
"Lets go," she said, taking her stance. The warriors again began circling each other.
Melysë glanced back at her daughters and saw Chaos, standing off from them a bit, gazing longingly at Selenë. With a growl, Melysës dark green eyes narrowed and she felt her nails swiftly growing. Xena took one look at the priestess, then looked to their daughters. She started to go toward him, but Melysë caught her arm. Xena shivered, both from the feeling of her sharp nails, the transformation to Snow Leopard halted, but the priestesss recovery not quite complete, and from Melysës voice.
"Well deal with him later," she said and Xena could almost feel sorry for the god.
Then she returned her attention to the warriors who were still warily circling, each waiting for the other to make the first move.
"Come on, Sweetheart," said the Morrigu. "You certainly didnt hesitate last time."
"Youd like that, wouldnt you?" said Aife, through clenched teeth. "Why dont you?"
"Alright, I will!" said Morrigan, lunging. Aife stepped aside, barely evading the blow.
Melysë felt Hekates presence beside her.
"Mother, what will happen now?" she asked, her eyes never leaving the combatants.
"That is for you to decide, Daughter," said the goddess. Melysë looked at the Goddess and saw that She wore Her familiar face of Melysës own mother.
"Me? What do you mean?" she asked.
"Child, you are My Chosen," said Hekate, gently. "I have chosen you to be Queen of the Gods - "
"No, Mother, please," said Melysë. "I dont want it."
"As always, my Child, it is for you to choose," said Hekate. "But you must make the choice knowing that this is your last incarnation. You will not be reborn again - you have learned all that this life can teach - and you have served Me well. When the time comes, you will cross over into Eternity."
"And ... Xena? And the children?" said Melyse, tears welling in her dark eyes.
"They will live many more lives - they still have work to do for me here - before they join you there," said Hekate, gently. You have many, many years left to this life in which to decide. But know this, too - if you do not take the place I have made for you, Chaos will."
"So, I become immortal - and I watch those I love grow old and die - over and over again. And if I do not, if I choose to cross over into Eternity to wait for them there, I do so with the knowledge that he will reign - and have dominion and control over those I love. What kind of choice is that, Mother?"
"The only one I can give you, My child," said Goddess, gently. "You need not take that place - or even choose what you will do until the time comes and you stand before Me in the Crossroads - I give you your life with those you love - for as long as you have left on the earth."
"Thank you, Mother," said Melysë, troubled. "In the meantime - I must choose between those two."
"Which would you have rule the Nation?" asked the Goddess.
"I dont know," said Melysë. "Morrigan believes much as I do - and she has found a balance. She has learned from her exile. But Aife thinks first of the Nation, sacrificing all for the well-being of our people - no matter that it was wrong. She didnt know that at the time. Both would be formidable Amazon Queens - and together ..."
"Indeed they would," said Hekate, nodding. "But you must choose. Both are already dead - this battle could last for eternity, until you decide and make them stop."
Melyse looked thoughtfully at the warriors. "A lot would depend on the mothers to whom they were born, too," said Melysë.
"Yes - whatever they have learned up to now they will carry with them - but they will be new souls," said Hekate.
"Very well," said Melysë, smiling. She waved her hand and both warriors stopped fighting. They looked over to Melysë.
"What?" said Morrigan, impatiently.
"In case you dont remember - this cannot be a fight to the death," said the priestess.
Morrigan looked over to Aife, then leaned on her sword and grinned. "Shes got a point," she said.
"Yeah," said Aife, frowning. "What do we do about that?"
"Aife," said Melysë, gently. "Do you really want to kill her again?"
Aife looked down and Morrigan looked over at her surprised. "You dont?" said the warrior.
"I never did," said Aife, quietly. "I loved you, too."
Morrigan looked stricken for a moment. "You did? But then why ...?"
"It was the only way - I knew you would bring about the destruction of the Nation if I allowed you to continue the way you were going," said Aife. "I had to think of our people first."
Morrigan nodded. "You were wrong," she said.
"I know," said Aife. "I thought only of the present and not the future - we should have found a way to work together."
"You still can," said Gabrielle, looking hopefully to Melysë. "Cant they?"
"If they choose to," said Melysë.
Morrigan looked to Aife and grinned. "What do you say?" she said. Aife smiled slightly. "You can take that as a yes."
"Aife?" said Melysë.
"Yes," said the warrior.
"Very well," said Melysë, smiling as she waved her hands before the two. A shimmer appeared around them and they faded from sight. The assembled warriors followed, disappearing, smiles and cheers accompanying their departure. At last, only the three queens, Tai, and their children remained there with the Goddess in the Place of the Standing Stones.
"Well done, Daughter," said Hekate, as She, too faded. The girls ran over to their mothers.
"Meia where did they go?" asked Neiromei.
"They are at the Crossroads of Hekate," said Melysë, bending and lifting her daughter, holding her close. "There they will tell Her their choice - either to cross over into Eternity or to be reborn into a new life."
"Oh," said Neiromei, frowning thoughtfully. "Can we go home now, Meia?"
"In a moment," said Melysë, gently setting the child down. The priestess strode over to Chaos. "You - I told you to stay away from Selenë."
"And I have done so," said the grinning god.
"I am in no mood to be trifled with, Chaos," said the priestess. "And I will not warn you again."
"Melysë, have you learned nothing of this - of compromise?" asked Chaos, seriously. Melysë thought for a moment.
"Very well, Chaos - I will compromise this far - and no further, understood?"
"Yes?" said the god, hopefully.
"You stay away from Selenë - and that means away - no peeking at her from a distance or anything like that - until she has finished her training and is of age. Then you may meet her - under our supervision - and she may make her own decision then," said Melysë.
"You are fair, indeed, my Qu - Melysë," said Chaos, bowing and smiling happily. "I can ask for no more than that."
"No, you cant," said Melysë, firmly. "I will not have you interfering with her training or influencing her decision before she is old enough to make it. And in all fairness, I will not let my own feelings for you and for what you have done to my people influence her, either. She must know you as you are."
"Melysë, truly, you will be a great Queen of the gods," said Chaos, bowing again then fading from sight. With a sigh, Melysë returned to her family.
"Mother, who was that?" asked Selenë.
"Ask me again in a few years, okay?" said her mother, smiling and gathering the girl close to her. The priestess looked at Xena and the warrior saw tears welling in those dark, golden-green eyes. Melysë shook her head slightly when Xena would have spoken. The warrior nodded her understanding. "Come on everyone - lets go home!"
Melysë, Gabrielle, Xena, and Neiromei found themselves in the Queens Cottage in Aemetzainê. With a sigh, Melysë sat in her chair and Neiromei, now completely recovered, crawled into her lap and cuddled, soon falling asleep.
"Where are Tai and the others?" asked Gabrielle.
"In Lycastia," said Melysë. "Selenë is to begin her training with Tai - and you said Ephiny could stay and study under Lukos."
"Yes, I did," said the Bard, biting her lip. "I just didnt realise it would be so ... sudden."
"Do you want me to - ?" began Melysë.
"No, no, its alright," said Gabrielle, smiling. "Eph would really never forgive me if I did that. I can always go and see her - Lycastia isnt that far - not as far as Aemetzainê was from Poteidaia, at least."
"Thats true," said Xena, grinning and wrapping her arm around her best friends shoulders. "Come with me, Gabrielle - Im going to go and get the babies."
"Okay, I need to get home to the Lodge anyway," said the Bard, swiftly leaning in and kissing both Melysë and Neiromei on the cheek. "Ill see you later, Lysë."
"Alright, Gabrielle," said Melysë, rising slowly so as not to wake her young daughter. "Ill just put her to bed, Xena."
"Okay," said the warrior, smiling. "Ill be right back - well, as soon as I can - you know Mother."
Melysë chuckled. "Try not to be too long," she said, her eyes sparkling.
"I wont," said Xena, leaving after flashing a last brilliant smile to her priestess.
Melysë laid Neiromei in her bed, then went out to the kitchen to make some klafé when Xena came bursting into the cottage.
"What?" cried the priestess, alarmed.
"Hurry - to the Lodge!" said the Warrior, running back. Melysë ran and woke up Neiromei and the two rushed to the Lodge.
Melysë entered to find the place in an uproar - toys and sweets were flying through the air, puppies and kittens - and even a pony were running through the Lodge, weaving through the people who were gathered in a circle. Still holding Romys hand, Melysë made her way to the centre of the throng and gasped. There sat the babies, Dylanda, Melosa, and Leilae, giggling and clapping their little hands at the sight.
"What happened?" asked Melysë, dreading the answer. "What in Tartarus is going on?"
Cyrenê made her way over to the priestess, her eyes still twinkling despite the situation. "Do you recognise this?" she asked, holding up a familiar-looking pink pouch.
"Oh, Great Mother Goddess!" Melysë groaned. Xena looked at her, a pained expression on her face, then suddenly began to laugh. Melysë looked at her aghast for a moment, then joined her, giggling, then laughing outright. Neiromei looked puzzled, then tugged her mothers sleeve.
"Yes, Sweetheart?" said Melysë.
"Meia am I still sleepin?" she asked.
"No, Precious, Im afraid not," said Melysë.
"Oh," said Neiromei, satisfied she was not dreaming it all. "Then can I play with the babies?"
"Sure," said Melysë, smiling. Gabrielle looked on, her face betraying nothing of her thoughts. "Gabrielle, dont worry, Ill put the place back, when the ambrosia wears off in a few hours - there wasnt very much in there and as long as they dont get into any more, theyll be fine."
"Let them play for now - actually, it does look like fun," said Gabrielle, grinning with relief. "Never a dull moment, huh?"
"Nope," said Xena, shaking her head, still smiling.
(To be continued)