Melys' felt a crackling in the air and looked up. Shimmering silvery things, like rain, floated before her eyes and she found herself standing before a great throne in a dimly lit cavern. Persephone sat on the throne, her face pale and sombre. She was dressed in a black silk robe. A deep crimson velvet cloak was fastened at her throat by an ornate gold brooch. Her long, auburn hair cascaded in loose curls over her shoulders and shone softly in the sputtering torch-light.
"Cousin, what ... ?" began the priestess. "You look ... different since last I saw you in Ephesus."
Persephone allowed herself a slight smile. "I know," she said with a sigh. "This is my time to reign here - soon, though, I will rejoin my mother. You asked a boon of me, cousin."
"Yes, Joxer - he delivered a message through my daughter," said Melys'. "Xena and Gabrielle need to question him further regarding this matter of the Destroyer."
"So you want me to allow one of the dead to return?" asked the goddess.
"For a time," said Melys'. "Just long enough to find out a few things."
"I am rather fond of this man, Joxer," said Persephone, frowning.
"So are Xena and Gabrielle," said Melys'. "I assure you ..."
"No," said Persephone, shaking her head. "You misunderstand. I am willing to allow him to return."
"But ... ? said Melys'.
"I would ask a boon of you in return, Cousin," said the goddess, her full lips curling into a smile which did not reach her dark eyes.
"Ask," said Melys'.
"This Destroyer poses a danger to all the gods," said Persephone. "If you and your Amazons were to put yourselves between him and the rest of us ..."
"What?" said Melys' suspiciously.
"Olympus would be eternally grateful," finished the goddess, shortly.
"I will not risk my Amazons needlessly," said Melys'. "That the Destroyer poses a danger to all is not in question. The Amazons are honourable, but we are not stupid. Naturally we will do whatever is in our power to stop this threat, but we will not sacrifice ourselves just to protect the gods. What's more, the Olympians are not the only ones at risk."
"Fair enough," said Persephone, nodding. "And that's true, what you say - the Olympians are not the only ones in danger - the entire world is at risk. I should have already known that the Amazons would do all in their power to quell this danger."
"Yes, you should have," said Melys', frowning. "Joxer is where?"
"Elysian Fields," said Persephone, waving one hand imperiously. Suddenly, Joxer stood beside Melys'.
"Oh! Uh, hi, your majesty," said the would-be warrior. "Um, make that 'majesties'." He bowed clumsily to Persephone and then to Melys'. The Amazon saw Persephone's smile at last reaching her eyes when she looked at Joxer.
"Joxer, my cousin has requested that you return with her - but it's up to you," said the goddess.
"Go back?" said Joxer with a goofy grin. "Really? Can I?"
"You aren't happy in the Elysian Fields?" asked Persephone.
"Oh, no, your majesty - I am, very happy, but ... well, while I'm there, I just ... it's funny, but I forget - until I hear someone thinking of me and then I get a little ... well I miss everyone," said Joxer.
"Very well," said Persephone. She turned to Melys'. "What will it be, Cousin? Shall I return him to life, then? Or should I just send him back as a ghost for a time?"
"Why do you ask me?" asked Melys'.
"You're the one asking for him," said Persephone. "And you will be ultimately responsible for any repercussions of this."
Melys' rolled her eyes and chuckled. "Why am I not surprised?" she said. "Joxer what do <you> want to do?"
"Wow - to go back to life? To actually be alive again? I can do that?" said Joxer. He thought for a moment. "Of course, being alive has it's disadvantages, too ... like, having to die all over again. Actually, that wasn't as bad as I thought it would be..."
"Joxer?" said Melys', softly.
"Oh, yeah - I want to live again," said the would-be warrior.
"Very well," said Melys'. She turned to Persephone. "You heard the man."
Persephone sighed."As you wish then," she said, waving a hand.
Melys' found herself back in her cottage with Joxer.
"Wow," said Joxer, looking around. He looked down at himself, garbed in his old armour and then looked at his hands. "Hey, I'm still young!"
"Yes," said Melys', smiling. "When you go to the Elysian Fields, you go back to the age you liked best when you were alive."
"Yeah - that's why there are so many kids there," said Joxer, grinning. "Hanging around with Xena and Gabrielle was the very best time of my life - that's why I went back to that time. Funny, I just kept waiting for them to show up, but they never did - then when Persephone would take me out of the Fields to hang out with her in the Judgement Hall, I would remember everything I forgot in the Fields - until I went back - I sure didn't expect to get to stay this way, though."
Just then, Romy came running in from playing outside.
"Hey!" cried the little girl, throwing herself into the man's arms and hugging him. "I didn't think I'd get to see you again! Did meia use her magic to bring you?"
"Magic?" said Joxer, gently disengaging himself from the child's arms. He looked at Melys'.
"Yes, my meia is - " started Romy.
"That's enough, Neiromei," said Melys'. "Where is Xena?"
"She's at the Lodge, talking with tanti Gabrielle," said Neiromei. "Real serious stuff, too - they made us all go out and play so they could talk."
"Okay - thank you, Romy," said Melys'. "Go on back and play, now. Joxer and I are going to go to the Lodge.
"Aw, meia," said Neiromei. "Can't Joxer come an' play with us?"
"Neiromei, you know very well men aren't allowed this far into the Village," said Melys'. "I have to use my magic to take Joxer to the Lodge."
"Okay," sighed the little girl. "I'll see you there, Joxer!" She skipped out the door, singing, "Joxer the Mighty, roams through the countryside ..."
"I taught her that," said the would-be warrior, proudly.
"Why am I not surprised?" said Melys', smiling in amusement, even as she shook her head. "Come on, Joxer. I should have asked Persephone to send us directly to the Lodge. If the Amazons see you here, they'll ... well, let's just say it will be a very short resurrection for you."
Joxer gulped. "You're going to use ... magic?" he said.
"It's painless, I promise you," chuckled Melys'. "Come on, Joxer - all the stories Gabrielle tells of you have led me to believe that you were fearless in the face of any danger - you can't be afraid of a little magic, can you?"
Joxer puffed out his chest. "Gabrielle said that? Well, of course, it's true. A great warrior like myself - " He didn't have time to finish before he and Melys' were standing in the front yard of the Lodge.
"Wow - hey that was pretty neat!" said Joxer, looking around. "This is Gabrielle's place?"
"Yes and Virgil's - if he ever comes back," said Melys' frowning in concentration. She had just a bit more magic to do before she brought Joxer inside.
"Virgil ...? Oh - he married Gabby, didn't he? Where is he? What do you mean if he ever comes back? Is he missing?" The barrage of questions did nothing to distract Melys' and finally she smiled.
"Virgil was working on an epic about Atlantis," said Melys', gently. "He went to Thera to do some research and was injured in an eruption - nothing serious, but I think the shock and trauma ... well, he's a wandering bard with no memory of his past. I have complete faith that his memory will return, though, and so will he."
"He better," said Joxer, frowning. "I taught him better than to abandon his family like that. What was he thinking? An epic?"
"Actually, Virgil is a very good writer," said Melys'.
"Good? Of course he's good," said Joxer, proudly. "It's just the way he gets when he writes - he's ... distracted."
"That's one way to put it," chuckled Melys', putting an arm around Joxer's shoulders. "Come on - you have some people to see."
Melys' led Joxer into the main room of the Lodge. Autolycus sat there with some shining gadgets in his lap. Joxer grinned widely and as quietly as his clanking armour would allow, snuck up behind the King of Thieves.
"You kids get outta here - this delicate work," Autolycus said, not looking up. Joxer ignored the warning and sprang on his friend with a clumsy embrace.
"Hey Auto - I'm back!" cried the would-be warrior. Autolycus jumped, spilling the bits all over Gabrielle's highly polished wooden floor.
"Aw fer the love a' - Joxer!" he cried. "Look what you did, ya moron!" Suddenly, realisation washed over the King of Thieves and he laughed out loud, hugging Joxer back.
Just then, Xena and Gabrielle came in and Autolycus quickly let go, though Joxer continued to grip Autolycus in a tight embrace.
"I'm glad to see you, too," he said, oblivious to the entrance of the Warrior and Bard.
"Leggo, Joxer," said Autolycus, his voice muffled.
"Joxer," said Gabrielle, her voice little more than a whisper, as tears sprang to her already reddened eyes for the second time that day. At last, Joxer let go of Autolycus, his face lighting up at the sight of the Bard. Gabrielle rushed to hug her friend, weeping.
"Well, the gang's all here," said Xena, looking to Melys', one eyebrow raised. She smiled. "Good to see you, Joxer."
"Not quite all," said Joxer, as Gabrielle released him. "Where's Meg?"
Gabrielle shot a worried glance to Melys', who merely smiled. The group heard a squeal from the kitchen and Meg came running into the room.
"Gab - Xena! Look at me!" she cried, happily. Meg no longer appeared to be a woman in her eighth decade; instead, she looked just like Xena. Suddenly, her happy grin faded. "Joxie! What're <you> doing here? Oh, gods! Am I dead?"
"No, Meg, not at all," said Melys', soothingly. "Joxer is back from the dead - we are all very much alive."
"What ...?" began Meg, frowning. "Aw, never mind - C'mere Joxer! I missed ya."
"Wait, Meg," said Xena. "I promise you two will have the time you want to ... um ... catch up on things. But first, Gabrielle and I need to talk with Joxer."
"Oh, yeah, sure," said Joxer, nodding. "Meg, I'm kinda hungry - coming back from the dead takes a lot outta a guy - you got anything in the kitchen?"
"Right!" said Meg, her eyes shining, her crooked smile brightening her lovely face. "I'll just go fix ya something while you talk with Xena and Gabrielle."
"That'd be great," said Joxer. "And later ...." He wagged his eyebrows suggestively. Meg grinned and left to the kitchen.
"Joxer, come on," said Xena, grabbing his ear and pulling him toward the back room where she had been talking with Gabrielle. "'Lys', come with us, please."
Melys' frowned and followed the group, sitting in a chair Xena pulled out for her. Gabrielle sat next to her and smiled. "Thank you - for Meg, too," she whispered to the priestess. Melys' smiled.
"I couldn't let her stay old - not with Joxer coming back this way," she said softly. "That would have been too painful for both of them - although I suspect it wouldn't have mattered to Joxer - he loves Meg very much. They deserve more time together."
"Yes, they do," said Gabrielle, her eyes shining. "I just wish Virgil were here, too - he would love to see his dad."
"He will," said Melys', patting Gabrielle's arm. "I just know he will. Have faith." Gabrielle nodded, then turned her attention to her best friend as the warrior spoke.
"Joxer, what's this about the Destroyer?" asked Xena.
"Oh," gulped Joxer. "Yeah, the Destroyer - almost forgot about that."
They were interrupted by a knock on the door. Xena made a face and rose to answer the door.
"Yeah?" said the warrior to the sentry who had knocked.
"Um, Warrior Queen, there are riders approaching the boundary," said the girl, intimidated by the Warrior Queen's scowl of annoyance at being interrupted. Xena sighed.
"How many and who?" asked Xena.
"Two women - something strange, though, your majesty," said the girl.
"What?" said Xena impatiently. <I am really gonna have to take over the sentry training myself.> thought the Warrior. <She should already have known to give me all the information without wasting my time like this.>
"Kala, how's your mother?" asked Gabrielle, rising with a smile for the young Amazon.
"Oh, she's very well, Queen Gabrielle," said the young woman, brightening, her nervousness dispelled by the bard's friendly question. "Thank you for asking."
"Of course - give her my greeting, will you, Kala?" said Gabrielle.
"Alright - social visit over?" said Xena through gritted teeth. "Now - Kala, is it? What was so strange about these riders?"
"I'm sorry, Warrior Queen," said Kala, straightening her shoulders. "There are two women about four miles from the eastern boundary of AemetzainL. One is pregnant - very close to her time, I'd guess. The strange thing is, the other is an Amazon - at least she looks like she is, but she isn't. The other one - the pregnant doesn't look it, but she has the ... I can't describe it. She is obviously an Amazon - or the daughter of one."
Xena understood what Kala meant. For years she had been mistaken for an Amazon - except by the Amazons. When she had agreed to become the Warrior Queen of this Tribe, Melys' told her she would have to accept Initiation into the Amazon Nation. It had not been a decision that the warrior had made lightly, but something within her told her that it was right. Only after accepting Initiation did she know why the Amazons knew her to be not one of them when others did not.
The Amazon Initiation was a sacred rite which bestowed the Amazon identity to those who took it with a true commitment to the Amazon Nation, Amazon Honour, and that ineffable entity which Melys' called the "Amazon Spirit". Like a magic "cloud" it had settled upon the warrior as soon as the words of the oath left her lips. She could feel a bond with each individual Amazon in this Tribe as well as others. It wasn't exactly something she could explain with words, but it was feeling of oneness and unity with the rest of the Amazon Nation. It was that bond which allowed the Amazons to be so formidable in battle and it was that bond which allowed one Amazon to recognise another.
Sometimes the Initiation Rite did not bestow the identity. Very rarely did that happen, but Xena had seen it. Most often that happened to Amazon daughters who only took the oath to please her mother and the Tribe or because, as the daughter of Amazons, it was simply expected of her. Inevitably, these women left the Tribe and the Nation to pursue other ways of life.
"Alright, Kala," said Xena, more gently. "Thank you for the information - keep Aryn' posted - we will be in conference for some time and it's important that we not be disturbed again - alright?"
"Yes, Warrior Queen," said Kala, saluting as she left. Xena closed the door and Melys' laughed.
"Xena, you have got to stop intimidating them," said the priestess, shaking her head.
"I do not - Son of a Bacchae!" began the Warrior Queen. The other two turned to see that Joxer was gone and the other door, leading to the kitchen was ajar.
"It's okay, Xena," Melys' soothed her warrior. She arose and went to the door. "I'll go and get him. He must be very hungry, that's all."
Xena sat with a sigh.
"Xena, what about these riders?" asked Gabrielle.
"I don't know," said the warrior with a shrug. "Probably just visitors. You know we've had a lot of Village women take the Initiation - maybe one of their grown daughters coming to visit. Most likely, she's being escorted by an Amazon whose Initiation didn't take - it makes sense if you think about it. Those poor girls nearly always take escort duty."
"And any other duty which takes them away from that pain - to be a member of the tribe and not feel that bond - that must be tough," said Gabrielle, sadly shaking her head.
"Nah - once they leave and find their own place in the world, they're happy," said Xena.
"I suppose," said Gabrielle, doubtfully. "Hey, Xena - I almost forgot - did you get a strange message yesterday? Just a blank parchment and two feathers."
"One black one white?" said the warrior.
"Yeah," said Gabrielle.
"Yeah, I did - but as soon as 'Lys' touched them, she was ... 'gone'. When she came back, she had that message about the babies. That sort of took precedence and I really didn't think anymore about the feathers," said the warrior. "What does it mean, I wonder?"
"I don't know," said the Bard, troubled. "I didn't recognise the seal. This whole thing is just weird."
Just then, Melys' returned, looking grim. "Joxer and Meg are gone," she said.
"What?" said Xena through clenched teeth. "What do you mean, 'gone', 'Lys'?"
"They are not anywhere in the Lodge," said Melys'.
"Great!" said Xena with a growl. "Now what do we do?"
"Well, we need to find them, obviously," said Gabrielle. "I just hate to send anyone looking - I mean, how embarrassing for the one who finds them." The Bard chuckled.
Melys' smiled, slightly. "I don't think we have to worry about that - they took the kids with them," she said. "From what I heard from CyrenL, it was very cute - Meg packed a picnic and she and Joxer took the kids to the river. Romy was very excited, CyrenL said."
"Virgil told me once that Meg and Joxer always put him and his brothers and sisters first, before anything else," said Gabrielle, softly. "That sounds about right."
"That's all very sweet and nice, but we have <got> to talk with Joxer!" said Xena, impatiently.
"You're right, Xena," said Gabrielle with a sigh. "Come on - let's go to the river."
"Wait - what about the riders approaching the boundary?" asked Melys'.
"You and 'Ryn take the Honour Guard and meet them," said Xena, frowning. As Warrior Queen, it was tradition that she meet any visitors herself, but the need to speak with Joxer took precedence over tradition - and anyway, 'Ryn would be there with Melys' if these visitors posed any threat to the priestess or the Amazons. Xena's prot'g'e, Melys' eldest daughter, the Warrior Princess Aryn' was as able as Xena herself to defend the Priestess and the Tribe from any threat - Xena had made sure of that when she trained the girl.
Warrior and Bard rode out to the picnic at the river. They saw Joxer standing, his back to them, Meg and the children listening to him, enthralled - all but Neiromei, who sat frowning.
"Of course <I> put Athena in her place - " said the would-be warrior, his chest puffed, voice deeper than normal.
Romy leaned in towards Meg.
"That's not how I heard that story from <tanti> Gabrielle," she whispered.
"I know, Sweetie," said Meg, patting the little girl's arm. "But I just let him tell it his way. Makes him feel ... brave and heroic."
"But he already is brave and heroic," said the little girl, shaking her head. "He doesn't have to make up stuff to be that way." Suddenly, the little girl smiled and jumped to her feet.
"<Tandos> Joxer, tell us about the time Callisto had Xena and Gabrielle tied up an' she was just about to burn <tanti> Gabrielle at the stake - 'member? You came in and saved them? Or how about the time you saved Argo when Callisto had hurt her? Or the time you helped to stop Hope by letting yourself get captured with the Hind's Blood dagger? Or how you saved <tanti> Gabrielle from Livia, just before - " began Romy. Suddenly she stopped, remembering what happened right after that incident. Her jaw dropped as she realised that she had no recollection of ever hearing those stories, and yet she knew them as if she had been present when they all happened.
Joxer stopped for a moment and grinned at the child just as Xena and Gabrielle approached and dismounted.
"Yeah, how about all those times, Joxer?" said Gabrielle, smiling gently. "If it weren't for you, we'd have been lost all those times - and more."
"Yeah, well ..." stammered Joxer, hesitating for a moment before regaining his composure. "All in a day's work for a hero such as myself."
"Yeah, well, 'Hero', we have more work for you," said Xena. "Sorry gang, but the picnic is postponed - I have a mission for Joxer and it's very important." She grabbed Joxer by the back of his collar and pulled him away from the group.
"I want to hear everything you know about the Destroyer - now, Joxer," said the warrior, shortly.
"Okay," said Joxer with a sigh. "The Destroyer that killed Hope - it wasn't the <real> Destroyer."
"What do you mean? Come on Joxer - I don't have time for this - just ... spit it out," said Xena, impatiently.
"That's all I know - honest, Xena," said Joxer. "When I was in the Elysian Fields, there was this guy - apparently he was one of the priests who served Hope - remember when Gabrielle jumped into that lava pit?"
"Yeah?" said Xena, listening intently.
"Okay, well, Persephone had me there in her Throne Room with her - she liked having me around her - said I amused her or something - so she let me out of the Fields a lot," said Joxer, smiling with pride.
"Get on with it, Joxer!" said Xena.
"Okay, okay - anyway, I happened to be there when his time came and he was being sentenced to Tartarus," said Joxer. "He said he wouldn't be there long because when the first of the Destroyers came into her powers - "
"Wait, wait - <her> powers?" said Xena.
"Yeah," said Joxer, nodding vigorously. "That's what he said, Xena - Warrior's oath."
"Okay - I believe you - go on," said the warrior absorbing this information.
"Well, he said he wouldn't be there all that long because when the first of the Destroyers came into her powers, she would open the gates of the Underworld and release all the prisoners held within to serve her grandfather, Dahak," said Joxer. "He also said that the Amazons would the first to be slaughtered - that the hope of the Amazon Nation would be lost and the nation would fall soon after. Well, I knew that I had to get that information to you and Gabrielle right away, so I asked Persephone if I could give you the message, only you and Gabrielle couldn't see or hear me - I had to go through Neiromei - she's a cute little kid, Xena."
"Yeah, she is," said the warrior, her face softening into a slight smile for a brief moment. "Okay, Joxer - how reliable do you think this guy was?"
"Xena, they can't lie in that room," said Joxer. "If he said the Destroyer was out there, then she is."
"Thanks, Joxer - why don't you go back to that picnic, now?" said Xena, kindly.
"If it's all the same to you, Xena, I think I'd rather help you and Gabrielle when you go up against the Destroyer," said Joxer, solemnly.
Xena smiled and grabbed him in a tight hug.
"Believe it or not, Joxer, I've missed you," she said, shaking her head.
"Why wouldn't I believe it?" asked the would-be warrior.
"Never mind," said Xena. "Come on - we have some work to do."
The group headed back to the Lodge where Autolycus informed that Aryn' had come and taken Melys' with the Honour Guard to meet with the visitors. Xena sighed.
"I suppose we're too late to go and join them," said Gabrielle.
"Probably," said Xena. "We'll just have to wait for 'Lys' and 'Ryn to come and tell us what it's all about."
It wasn't a long wait. Melys' entered looking grim. Accompanying the priestess was her eldest daughter, Aryn' and two other young women who looked to be around 'Ryn's age. One of them was veiled and very pregnant. The other was dressed as an Amazon.
"Gabrielle, Xena, I would like to introduce our guests," said Melys'. "This is Anaxilea, warrior of Thraso's Tribe."
The golden-haired Amazon saluted the three queens, solemnly.
"And this," said Melys', nodding toward the veiled pregnant woman," is Lucina, daughter of Eve of the Elisians."
Xena and Gabrielle gasped as Lucina dropped her veils. The young woman was a mirror image of Xena - and now Meg, as well.
"Oh, my!" said Lucina, her eyes widening at the sight of her grandmother.
"By the gods," whispered Gabrielle, looking from one to other of the women.
"H - how is this possible?" asked Lucina.
"Eve is my daughter," said Xena, quietly. "As for Meg - I'm not sure how <that> happened."
"Eve is your ... you are my <sabaema> - my grandmother, then," said Lucina, pondering.
Gabrielle clapped her hands over her mouth, suppressing a giggle at the look on the warrior's face.
"Uh, no, Lucina, I mean she is, but ... why don't you just call her 'Xena'?" said the Bard.
"Yeah," said the warrior. "That'll work."
"Anaxilea was kind enough to escort Lucina to us after she left the Elisians," said Melys'.
"Alright," said Xena, glancing around at the children all watching the scene. "Lucina, Anaxilea - we'll meet with you at the Queens' Cottage after you're settled in."
"<Carami> - with respect, Your majesty, Warrior Queen," said Anaxilea. "But I would like to move on - I am on a quest of great importance, and - "
"What quest?" asked Melys', sensing deception from the golden-haired warrior.
"I ... um," began Anaxilea.
"There is no quest, is there?" asked the priestess, gently.
"Yes, of course there is," said Anaxilea, defensively.
"It's alright - we'll discuss all of this later," said Melys'. "I am requesting that you remain with us to rest from your journey. You may move on in the morning if you wish."
"<Carami, Amida> - with respect, Lady - as you wish," said Anaxilea, saluting the priestess. Xena sensed anger - no, worse, <rage> emanating from the young warrior. Instinctively her hand moved toward her chakram. The warrior dropped her salute and inclined her head, waiting for Melys' to dismiss her, then turned at the gesture and walked stiffly out of the Lodge towards the barracks. Xena watched, her deep blue eyes narrowed; this visitor would bear watching.
Melys' shook her head sadly, then smiled and turned to Lucina. "You must be very tired after your journey," she said.
"A bit," admitted Lucina.
"Well, let's get you settled in - as family, you are welcome to stay in the Queens' Cottage with Xena and me, or perhaps you would like a guest cottage?"
"Or she can stay here with me," offered Gabrielle with a bright smile.
"Maybe Lucina would be more comfortable in the House of Mothers," said Xena.
"Or with <your> mother, Xena," said CyrenL, entering the room with a smile and an embrace for the young woman. "Meg just told me - welcome, Little One. I am your great-grandmother."
"I - I ..." began Lucina, before bursting into tears, clinging to CyrenL.
"What's wrong?" asked the older woman, wiping the tears from Lucina's face.
"I'm just so overwhelmed," said Lucina, calming under the older woman's touch. "My mother ... never told me we had family other than the Elisians ... I have just never been so ... so ... Everyone here is so kind, offering me a place in their homes and ... and ..."
"Lucina, of course we want you," said Melys'. "You are family - and an Amazon, as well. You have a place here for as long as you wish it."
"Me ... an Amazon?" asked the girl, confused.
"Well, of course," said Gabrielle. "Don't you know? I felt it as soon as I saw you. You haven't been Initiated?"
Lucina laughed. "Oh, no! Of course not - the way my mother feels about Amazons, how could I?"
"And just how is that?" asked Melys', one eyebrow raised.
"Never mind," said Xena, quickly. "Well, what will it be, Lucina? Where would you like to stay?"
"I think tonight, I will stay with Anaxilea," said Lucina, thoughtfully. "She has been kind to me and I don't when - if ever - I will see her again."
"Very well," said Melys'. "I will have a guest house prepared for you two. In the meantime, I think a visit to the <shamenki> is in order for you, young lady. You look very near your time."
Yes," said Lucina, one hand over her swollen middle. "I am nearly. It's funny, I didn't expect to be surrounded by people who actually care for me when the time came."
"Really?" asked Melys'. "What about your mother?"
"It would have been just me and a midwife," said Lucina, shrugging. "Mother is ... busy. She has a lot of responsibility, leading the group."
"And the father?" asked Gabrielle. Lucina rolled her eyes.
"Let's just say he didn't marry me for love," she said.
"What do you mean?" asked Gabrielle.
"I am my mother's daughter," said Lucina simply.
"I don't understand," said Melys', frowning, looking to Xena and Gabrielle. "I thought that love was what the Elisians were all about?"
"We are," said Lucina. "Or we were."
"What do you mean, 'were'?" asked Xena.
"Mother ... well, Mother has her own ideas about what the Elisians are about," said Lucina, hesitantly.
"What ideas?" asked Gabrielle, alarmed.
"I can't ... really, I'm not sure I should mention anything," said Lucina, her eyes growing wide like a rabbit in a trap. "I'm sure Mother has the best interests of the group in mind - everything she does is for Eli and his followers."
"To the exclusion of her own daughter?" asked Melys', sadly.
"No, please - you misunderstand," said Lucina, desperately, tears springing to her eyes. "The important thing is to spread Eli's message - right?"
"What message is that, Lucina?" asked Gabrielle.
"That ... that Love is the Way, the only Way and that Love is the only weapon anyone ever needs to fight evil," said Lucina, reverently. "Isn't that right?"
"Yes, it is," said Gabrielle, relieved.
"And as long as that message is spread, then it doesn't matter how," said Lucina.
"What?" said Xena.
"I mean, sometimes we have to ... um ... do whatever is necessary to get that message to as many people as possible, right?" asked the young woman.
"Like what?" asked Gabrielle.
"I don't know - just ... sometimes I think Mother may ... 'embellish' Eli's message - to make it more powerful or more attractive to others," said Lucina.
"Alright," said Melys', putting one arm around the young woman's shoulders and leading her to the door. She glanced back, worriedly at Xena and Gabrielle, then looked at Lucina and smiled. "We'll talk of this later, Lucina. In the meantime, I really want you to see Hypsyple - she's our <shamenki> - our healer and midwife. Then you need a bit of rest. We'll have dinner in my cottage and you can tell us all about this then, okay?"
Lucina looked relieved and nodded as Melys' led her out of the room.
"Xena, what - ?" began Gabrielle.
"Sounds like Evie's following a new Way," said Xena, grimly. "Or maybe not so new."
"What way is that, Xena?" asked CyrenL, worriedly.
"The Way of Power," said Xena, shaking her head. "Eli's Way ... it's hard - and even Eli said that it's not for everyone. But it sounds like Eve is interested in getting as many followers as possible, regardless of whether it's right for them or not. That's not Eli's message."
"What is his message, Xena?" asked CyrenL, curiously. "This Way of Love - it does sound attractive in its own right - Love, peace, non-violence - I don't understand why it's a problem to gather followers for this Way."
"It's not that, Mom," said Xena. "Do you think <I> could follow it?"
"I don't see why not, Xena," said CyrenL.
"Thanks, Mom - but the bottom line is that my Way is the Way of the Warrior," said Xena. "That's the path that's right for me. I respect Eli's message and the faith of the Elisians, but it's not for me to try and follow - if I did, I would not be true to myself."
"Ah, I think I see - so if Eve is recruiting people who are not suited to this Way of Love, then the message is distorted - and over time ..." said CyrenL.
"Eli's true message will be lost," said Gabrielle. "We can't allow that to happen, Xena."
"I don't intend to, Gabrielle," said Xena, grimly.
"Lucina, does the sun burn you?" asked Melys', as she walked the young woman to the <shamenki's> hut.
"No, not at all - I love the sun - why?" asked Lucina.
"I was just wondering about the veils," said the priestess
"Oh," said Lucina, quietly. "A few years ago, Mother ... started wearing them and then she said that Eli told her that every woman in the group was to wear them, too."
"I wonder why?" mused Melys'. Lucina shrugged.
"I don't know - I guess I don't need them anymore - or maybe I do - I don't know - if Eli really did tell her that, then I should keep wearing them, just in case." Lucina sighed, then pulled the veil from her head to rest on her shoulders like a shawl. Melys' noticed a small mark on her arm. She frowned. Lucina had said she was not Initiated as an Amazon, but it appeared to be a tattoo like an Amazon priestess would receive at the completion of her training. She looked again, not recognising the symbol, although it looked somehow familiar, then dismissed it as a birthmark.
"Why would Eli want all the women in the group to wear veils, I wonder?" Melys' said.
"I don't know - the will of Eli is not to be questioned - he does know what's best for us," said Lucina. "I guess. Sometimes, I just get so confused. I know Eli's message and I believe it with all my heart, but sometimes ... well, I think the group puts too much emphasis on <Eli> and not what he had to say. He's dead - why should he care how we dress or what we eat, or ... or who shares a bed with whom? Sometimes, I just feel so out of place with them, and yet we all share the same faith - sort of. We are all untied in Eli's message and a commitment to follow the Way of Love - I don't know why, if I believe that, why I can't just go along without questioning so much all of the time."
"Lucina, I think your confusion lies in the way Eli's message is being presented - surely you can discern for yourself what is right and wrong, can't you? Why would wearing veils be part of Eli's message of Love? That just doesn't make sense," said the priestess.
"You said you were a priestess - does your goddess speak to you?" asked Lucina, thoughtfully.
"Yes, She does," Melys' replied.
"Does everything she says make sense to you?" asked Lucina.
"Eventually," said Melys', thinking of Hekate's most recent message.
"Really?" asked Lucina, troubled.
"Yes, really - Hekate doesn't expect Her followers to follow blindly, trusting everyone who claims to be Her mouthpiece - She Herself has encouraged us to question everything until we have discerned the truth for ourselves," said Melys'. "As the Goddess of Free Will - among other things - She always offers choices - and She wants us to make those choices with all the knowledge we need to make the wisest one for us."
"But ... " began Lucina, biting her lip.
"What?" said Melys', gently.
"Doesn't that make life a lot more complicated?" asked the young woman.
"Yes, it does," said Melys', smiling. "But it also makes our lives our own - and it's worth the complications when that happens."
"I don't know," said Lucina, doubtfully as they reached the door of Hypsyple's hut. Melys' laughed, placing a gentle hand on Lucina's shoulder.
"Oh yes you do - that's why you're <here>," said the priestess.
Xena sat in the main room of the Queens' Cottage, staring silently into the fire in the hearth. Gabrielle sat beside her, equally silent, both deep in thought about Lucina's revelations. Melys' found them there when she returned from escorting the young woman to the guest cottage she would share with Anaxilea.
"Hey," said the priestess breaking the silence. Xena looked up and smiled slightly.
Hey," said the warrior, quietly.
"Where are the girls?" asked Melys'.
"Meg and Joxer took them for a while," said Gabrielle, rising. "'Lys', what do you think about all this?"
Melys' sat next to Xena before answering.
"Lucina is a remarkable young woman," said Melys'. "She's torn between what she knows to be true and wanting to fit in with the group. I think she's very troubled by her mother's actions. According to Lucina, Eve has written a book about Eli and in this book, she records 'messages' from Eli - including laws about how the Elisians are to dress and what they may eat, along with certain laws about how the Elisians are treat one another - which is silly, since if they follow this Way of love, they would not need those rules. There are even laws about who one can marry and bear children with." Melys' shook her head. "Add all that to the fact that her emotions are not really her own right now and it's no wonder Lucina is upset."
"So am I," said Xena. "Eve was born to be Eli's Messenger. If she's really distorting his message, I want to know why."
"I think that the temptation to power for a person in Eve's position is difficult to resist," said the priestess.
"Especially for someone like Eve," said Xena, quietly.
"Perhaps," said Melys'. "But I think it would be difficult for anyone."
"No, 'Lys', Eve is cursed with my blood, my darkness ... my ... 'legacy'," said Xena.
"If that is so, then so are Selen' and Neiromei," said Melys', gently. "And they will both face the same challenges when they come to their places of power."
"There's a difference, Melys'," said Xena. "Eve has my darkness and Callisto's spirit in her. Selen' and Neiromei have your ... light, your conviction -"
"And your strength, Xena," said Melys'. "As Eve has. Perhaps she has only lost her way for a time."
"She could be right, Xena," said Gabrielle. "Maybe if we go and talk with Eve - "
"No," said Xena, shortly.
"Why not, Xena?" asked Melys'.
"Because - it won't do any good," said the warrior with a sigh. "She won't listen to us."
"Why ever not?" asked Melys'.
"She just won't," said Xena, rising and going into the other room.
"Gabrielle, what happened between Xena and Eve the last time you two saw her?" asked the priestess.
Gabrielle sighed and sat in the chair recently vacated by the Warrior Queen.
"It didn't go well," said the bard. "Eve gave Xena a very hard time for being a warrior. And when she found out that Xena had accepted the Amazon Initiation ..."
"What?" asked Melys'. "What is it that Eve has against the Amazons?"
"Other than the fact that we put her on trial for her life?" said Gabrielle.
"Well, but ... what did she expect?" asked Melys', frowning. "After what she did ... and we did release her in the end, after all."
"Yeah, but Eve holds a grudge," said Gabrielle.
"Well, her own daughter has the Amazon Spirit within her - even without Initiation," said Melys'.
"Eve had my Right of Caste," said Gabrielle, quietly. "Naturally, she forfeited that when she was Livia and committed all those crimes against the Amazons. I think Lucina inherited it by default."
"Eve never knew that she was an Amazon Princess, did she?" asked Melys'.
"No - no one did when she stood trial except Xena and me - good thing, too," said Gabrielle, shuddering.
"Yes," said Melys', grimly. "We are harsher with our own - still, I think Eve's case could be considered special circumstances. I doubt very much she would have done those things if she had known."
Gabrielle looked at Melys' solemnly for a moment. "'Lys', how could she not have <felt> it?" asked the bard quietly, pain evident in her eyes.
"Gabrielle, Xena's mother was an Amazon and she didn't feel it - look at what she did to the Amazons," said Melys' gently.
"And yet, the Amazons forgave her," said Gabrielle.
"Xena went back and made it right again," said Melys'.
"Yes, she did," said Gabrielle. "And Eve ... Eve holds a grudge against us, as if <we> wronged <her>. She hates the Amazons and everything we stand for."
"So much for the teachings of Eli," said Melys', shaking her head. "Gabrielle, I still think we should go and talk to her - at the very least, she should know that her daughter is safe and well - as a mother, I'd be frantic if one of my girls was missing."
"That's true," said Gabrielle, smiling. "And that may just be our 'foot in the door' to discuss other things with her, too."
"Very well," said Melys', rising. "Let me just go and tell Xena - "
"Tell me what?" asked the warrior emerging from the other room.
"We're going to see Eve," said the priestess. "Just to let her know that Lucina is safe."
"You could send a message," said the warrior, one eyebrow raised. She looked at the determination on both Gabrielle's and Melys''s faces and realised this wasn't just about letting Eve know that her daughter was safe. Xena sighed. "Alright," said the warrior. "I'll go with you."
"That's not necessary, Love," said Melys', gently.
"Oh yes - it is," said Xena, coldly. "Depending upon just how far Eve has fallen, you may need me."
"Xena you don't think - " began Gabrielle.
"I don't know what to think," said the warrior. "But I'm going anyway."
"Alright, but we have to make this quick," said Melys', frowning. "You know we really shouldn't all three be gone at once."
"Never mind that - just ... do the thing, 'Lys'," said Xena, grimly.
Melys' sighed and used her magic to transport the three queens just outside the boundary of the Elisian Commune.
"Who's there?" called a man from the high stone wall surrounding the property.
"We come in peace to see the Messenger," called Xena.
"Who's there, I said?" came the voice again.
"I am Queen Melys' of the AemetzainL Tribe of the Amazon Nation," said the priestess. "And these are my fellow queens - Xena and Gabrielle. We come ... bearing a message from Lucina."
Swiftly, the great wooden gates swung open to allow the Amazons to enter. Melys' hesitated, then a great burly man jumped out from behind the wooden gate, grinning.
"Ah, don't ya worry - we won't bite ya!" he said. Melys' found his grin infectious and offered her own small smile. "Good ta see yer agin, Xena - we been missin' ye here, that's fer sure."
"Josiah - good to see you too," said Xena, even as the bear of a man called Josiah caught Gabrielle up in a great hug, swinging her around.
"Ah, Gabby! We missed yer stories come ev'en time - you be stayin' long enough ter tell a few by the fire tonight?" he asked.
Gabrielle smiled. "I'm sorry, Josiah, we can't stay that long," said the Bard.
"Aw sorry ta hear that - you got news of little Lucina?" said Josiah, a worried frown puckering his great bushy brow.
"Yes," said Xena. "She's fine - she's with our Tribe. She and another Amazon warrior came to us just today."
"Ah, that's good," said Josiah, smiling happily and nodding. "She's a sweet thing, little Lucina. Her mother just about tore up the whole place when she ran off."
"I can imagine," said Xena, wryly. "Where is Eve?"
"She's in the Common Building. Come on - I'll take you to her."
Melys' followed a little behind the other two, picking up almost imperceptible whispers from the Elisians who were all about, doing their work. She felt their unease at the sight of the Warrior and the bard and curiosity concerning herself. Melys' smiled at one small boy, who grinned back, displaying a prominent gap where he had lost a tooth, reminding her of Neiromei. His mother glared at the priestess and grabbed him up, taking into the house. Melys' frowned at this and then shook her head sadly, not understanding.
The Amazons were led to a large building in the center of the commune. It was cool and dark inside. Josiah strode through the corridors and up to a wooden door. He knocked three times.
"Enter!" came a man's voice from behind the door. The door swung open and Josiah led the three women inside. Melys' saw a woman with silver-streaked auburn hair peeking out from beneath a heavy woollen veil seated behind a desk piled with parchments. Her face was lined and her blue eyes looked weary until she saw Xena. Then they sparked with anger and she rose.
"Leave us," she waved her hand imperiously and Josiah escorted the other man, protesting, out of the room, closing the door behind them.
"What are you doing here, Mother?" said the woman, frowning angrily.
Xena started to speak.
"Eve, Lucina is with the Amazons," said Gabrielle, eyeing the warrior's angry frown.
"That ungrateful little bitch!" cried Eve, slamming her fist heavily upon the wooden desk. "How dare she go running to my enemies! I suppose she told you all sorts of little tales about me?"
"No, Eve, of course " began Gabrielle.
"As a matter of fact," Xena interrupted her. "She has mentioned a few disturbing things, yes."
"I thought so - and of course, you believe her," fumed Eve. "So 'Mummy' and 'Auntie' Gabrielle came to scold me, huh? Well, don't bother - everything is fine here."
"Eve, why didn't you tell me you had a daughter?" asked Xena, softly.
"I <told> you the last time we met that I wanted nothing more to do with you and your violent ways," said Eve, coldly. "I can't believe you came here - though at least this time you had the decency to leave your weapons behind."
Xena glanced down, then looked at Melys', who shrugged slightly; they had left the cottage so swiftly, there had been no time for Xena to grab her sword and chakram.
"Eve, we really just wanted to let you know that your daughter is alright," said Melys', gently. "I know how I would feel as a mother if - "
"Who are you?" Eve interrupted.
Blessed Goddess, Xena - is your daughter suicidal or just terminally rude? thought the priestess, barely reining in her anger - and her words. She knew that Xena was in pain, seeing her daughter this way and that only served to make the priestess even more angry with Eve. Xena's jaw set and she glared at Eve, then sighed sadly, shaking her head. The warrior turned and left the room, leaving the door ajar. Just outside the door, the warrior saw the man who had been in with Eve just before their arrival. He stood there, glaring at the warrior.
"Do I know you?" asked Xena.
"No - I'm Darius, Lucina's husband," said the man, momentarily laying aside his suspicion and smiling, holding out a hand to Xena. Xena ignored it.
"You're Lucina's husband, huh?" said Xena, raising one eyebrow, appraising the man. He was tall and painfully thin. His face looked as though he eaten something which tasted bad and the stupid grin he offered the warrior only served to make it worse.
"Yes, I am," said Darius, defensively.
"Why'd she pick you?" asked the warrior.
"What?! Well ... I mean, I ... what do you mean by that?" asked Darius. Xena waved him away and walked back into the room, hoping the poor kid Lucina carried would take after her side of the family. One look at her daughter, however, made Xena think twice about that wish.
"I asked you a question, Amazon," said Eve, her eyes narrowed. "This is <my> place and I require an answer from you - I don't care who - or what - you may be to the Amazons; you are among the Elisians now and I am the leader here."
"I am Melys', Priestess Queen of the Amazon Nation," the priestess replied. Eve laughed bitterly.
"A priestess?" said Eve with a sneer. "Oh, please - Mother, what are you doing here? Trying to convert me? Or better yet, don't tell me - the priestess is going to convert to Eli's Way, right?"
"Certainly not," said Melys' frowning. "Although I respect Eli's message, following his Way is not for me. Just as our ways are quite obviously not for you."
"Oh, Priestess of a false goddess," said Eve, sarcastically. "Come to teach <me> about Eli's Way - obviously you have been misinformed - Eli's Way of Love is the <only> way to salvation."
"Salvation from what?" asked Melys', curiously.
"There is only one god - the god of Love - the god of Eli - all those who don't follow him are damned to eternity," said Eve.
"Eve, what are you saying?" asked Gabrielle, tears springing to her bright green eyes. "Even Eli himself said that not everyone can follow his way."
"He said nothing of the sort!" said Eve, furiously.
"But he did - " began Gabrielle.
"No!" cried Eve. "You will not speak your blasphemies in my presence! I am the Messenger of Eli - don't you think I know his will? Don't you think he would have told me this himself if it were true?"
"When was the last time Eli spoke with you?" asked Melys', quietly.
"Are you deaf or just very stupid? I just <said> that I am Eli's Messenger - he speaks with me all the time!" said Eve, exasperated.
"When was the last time you <listened> to him?" asked Melys', her dark green eyes flashing flames of anger - especially at the pain in her warrior's eyes.
"Eve, I was Eli's first disciple and even though I couldn't follow him totally, I know his truth - the truth he shared with me," said Gabrielle. "That Love is the only way to end the cycle of violence - and that Eli's true message was to teach mankind to revere life - <all> life, including your own - and sometimes, Eve, that means some people must be warriors - at least until everyone hears and chooses to stop fighting."
"If you know so much, <'Auntie'>, why didn't Eli pick <you> to be his Messenger? Huh? He didn't, he picked me and I am trying to spread his message as is my destiny, so you need to just butt out and let me do what I was born to do," said Eve. "And as for you, Mother - I told you once I wanted nothing more to do with you and your violent ways - now heed me. Take your Amazon harlot and get out of here - and as for Lucina, you can tell her she can just stay with Amazons - I never want to see her here again, either." Eve spoke coldly, but Melys' saw a flicker of fear in her eyes when she looked at Gabrielle again.
"Very well, Eve," said Melys', steel in her usually gentle voice. "But let me just leave you with one thought - Eli's god is <not> the only god - and if you are wrong about that, what else are you wrong about?"
With a deliberately bright flash, Melys' transported the Amazons back to her cottage. Well, the cottage had been her intended destination, but the three landed just outside the boundary of Amazon lands.
"'Lys', what - " began Xena as another bright flash blinded the Amazons and there before them stood a beautiful winged creature. Snarling, Xena reached for her sword before realising that she didn't have it with her.
"Michael," said the warrior with a growl.
"Xena, do you know why Eve is corrupting Eli's message?" asked the archangel with a sneer of contempt.
"No, but I'm sure you're gonna tell me," said the warrior.
"Do you remember when Caligula wanted to kill her and you stopped him?" asked the archangel.
"Yeah?" said Xena, one eyebrow raised suspiciously.
"You should have let him," said Michael, grinning. "Eve is Eli's messenger - her message was in her martyrdom and now ..."
Angrily, Melys' stepped forward. "For a god of 'Love' and 'Peace', there certainly have been a lot of people who had to die in his name," she said.
"That's true," said Michael, sadly shaking his head. "And many more will follow if Eve is not stopped."
"So what are you saying, Michael?" said Gabrielle. "We have to kill Eve to preserve Eli's message of non-violence and peace? That just doesn't make sense. None of this does."
"No, I think it's too late to kill her now," said Michael, grinning at Xena. "She listens to another now. It may be too late to do anything. But if the Warrior Princess has learned yet what is meant by making someone 'small', you may accomplish what needs to be done." He looked sharply at Melys' and then offered her a gentler smile. "You, Little Sister, must be more cautious than any - if the entity Eve now listens to succeeds, you and all the other followers of the old ways are doomed. Have a nice day."
With that, the archangel threw back his head and laughed, then disappeared, leaving the three queens standing near the banks of the river.
"Blessed Goddess - he's supposed to be one of the good> guys?" said the priestess, shaking her head, as she wrapped comforting arms around her warrior.
"Never mind that now," said Xena, grimly. "We have more urgent worries."
"Xena ..." began Melys', biting her lip.
"What, 'Lys'?" asked Xena.
"Do you think Michael was right? About Eve?" asked the priestess quietly.
"No," said Xena. "There was no way I was going to allow Eve to be killed - Michael knew that - everyone did. He used me to keep Eve alive - and to get rid of Caligula. If he had been allowed to live, then all of Eli's followers would have been killed and the message of Eli lost. No, he's playing me - I just can't quite see what his motive is - yet."
"Let's hope we can figure it out - and soon," said Gabrielle. "In the meantime, we have the Destroyer to deal with."
"And the children," said Melys', her voice breaking a bit.
Xena sighed. "Okay," said the warrior. "One thing at a time."
"Where do we start?" asked Melys'.
"With whatever hits us first," said Gabrielle, with a sigh.
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