Everything That Is
DISCLAIMER: I do not own the copyright on Xena, Gabrielle and Argo. They are used without permission. They are the intellectual property of Renaissance Pictures, who kindly let us play with them. HOWEVER, all other characters in this story are mine, and are under my copyright. NOTE: This is the General version of this story, but there is still violence, about like, "The Dirty Half Dozen" level. __________________________________________________________________________________
Gabrielle was weary by now, and a little sick of her quest. The sun was pretty high in the sky, about where it would have been in the mid-afternoon in Macedonia, but this was not Macedonia. Gabrielle had wandered so far from home that she wasn't sure where she was-someplace north of Hindustan and the Kingdom of Chin. The mountains had receded to a memory, and the land was flat. Days were so long here that Gabrielle had lost track of time-except that it had been five days since Xena gave up on following her in this mad search. The warrior was holed up with a good-looking man in his ramshackle place. She told Gabrielle to come back when she was ready.
Gabrielle really didn't blame Xena. Her life was upside down since Hope came into her life, and it was up to her to right it. It was good of Xena to follow her so far. It was just that something drove her to keep searching for that something which was missing inside. It was something Gabrielle knew she would recognize when she found it.
The rutted road told of the recent passing of many carts. Gabrielle had marveled at the size of these covered carts able to hold entire families and their belongings. She expected to find people soon. The hot wind blasted her shift. Her Amazon clothing was gone-turned to rags somewhere in Hindustan.
She walked over the rise, and blinked as she saw the camp spread out in front of her. There were nearly a hundred cone-shaped tents, elegantly covered with hides. Corrals, made of cloth staked into the ground, surrounded some cattle, and hundreds of the largest deer Gabrielle had ever seen. They were majestic creatures with huge antlers. Dogs greeted her with noisy cacophony. People went about their business, ignoring her.
When she got to the center of the encampment, a man walked toward her. He was just a bit taller than she, with thinning hair braided into several strands and wrapped around his head. He had the high cheek-bones and red-yellow skin common to this land, and he was wearing an old, earth-colored, leather tunic which came to the tops of his boots. The boots had soft tops, wrapped in leather strips to hold them firmly in place, and hard soles. He also wore a red and yellow vest, heavily fringed, with bits of brass hanging from each fringe, and bells sewn into the vest. This was made of felt, and covered with curious markings that seemed to be mystical in nature. His eyes were brown, and seemed to see right through her. Gabrielle shivered.
"You're late.", said the man in Chinese.
"I beg your pardon?", asked Gabrielle, her ear not yet tuned to his tribal accent.
"My dream said you would be here yesterday. You're late. Come, let us go into my ghur to talk. I am Kumaris, also called Kumaris-Samin, but you may call me, "Uncle."
Against her better judgement, Gabrielle found herself following this strange man into his tent.
The inside was spacious and not dark, like the insides of most tents. The top of the cone was open to let in both light and air. Light also shown through the thin hides sewn and wrapped around the framework of poles. There was a rug on the floor and chairs which doubled as trunks, with cushions on top of them. Gabrielle found herself staring.
"It is nice, 'eh?", asked Kumaris.
"Very. By the way, my name is Gabrielle."
"Gahvriellah, I had wondered what your name might be. Please, sit and make yourself comfortable. We have much to discuss."
Gabrielle sat in one of the chairs and wondered how he knew she was coming. "He could be faking.", she thought.
"At first, I thought you were dead, then I remembered a story I heard about some ghost people, who have impossibly white skin, and strange colored eyes and hair like fire."
"Yes, I suppose you might think that I look like a ghost. Believe me, I have felt like one lately.", said Gabrielle.
"Yes, I know.", said Kumaris.
"I will ask you what I have asked so many others. What is your philosophy?"
"Everything that is, is. Everything that is, is alive."
Something that could be utterly simplistic-or deeply profound. Who was this man?
The door flap opened and a woman poked her head in. She was muscular, with long, black hair and brown eyes that scanned the room, seeing everything. She was very pretty, and moved with the grace of a coiled snake. She wore a short, silk tunic the color of fire, and trousers made of soft leather. Her boots were like Kumaris', but embroidered with silkthreads. She reminded Gabrielle of Xena before they had started her journeys.
"You have a visitor.", she said, pouting.
"Come on in. I would like you to meet Ghvriellah, she is from very far away.. Ghvriellah, this is Delicate Flower, my wife."
Delicate Flower glared at Kumaris.
"Why do you not use my real name?", she demanded.
"Our guest could not pronounce Viraagtorekena. I am putting her at ease. Please, be nice."
"Maybe. What do I get if I am nice?"
"You may have my ermine tails, if you are well-behaved until our guest leaves.", said Kumaris with a sigh.
Delicate Flower gave Gabrielle what could only be described as a mercenary look.
"I will be so nice I'll be sickening.", she said as she went out the door.
"Wow. She's your wife? How did that happen?", asked Gabrielle.
"She seduced me. I was honored. Somehow I thought it made me special. Then I discovered that she seduces everyone.", he shrugged. "So I told her that she was free to do that, if she wished. I cannot force her to love only me. Besides, my thoughts are hardly ever with her...
""But how do you know if her children belong to you?", asked Gabrielle.
"What kind of man would I be if I loved only my children? The tribe is the children, and the children are the tribe."
"What do you mean by that?"
"All children are raised by all the tribe since they will be the tribe one day.", said Kumaris
Gabrielle felt as if she was holding up a cup to catch the ocean. Such strange thoughts...
"You have many losses, I think. You were a healer, but in a different way than I am- and you had prophetic dreams.", said Kumaris.
Gabrielle gave a little start, then raised an eyebrow at him.
"How would you know that?", she challenged.
"Your voice is heavy, and the words did not flow until you asked about Delicate Flower. Do you heal with words?"
Gabrielle sighed. He did know.
"I was a Bard. I traveled all over my lands, telling stories, and trying to heal people's hearts. But something happened. I don't know quite what."
"Yes, you do. When is the last time you felt like yourself?", asked Kumaris.
"I'm not ready to talk about it just yet.", said Gabrielle. "And how did you know about my dreams?"
"I have such dreams. I could see it in your face."
Gabrielle wondered what else he could read in her face. She was just about to ask when Delicate Flower ran into the tent.
"They're here!", she said, handing her husband a frame drum covered with drawings and long fringes with metal bits attached.
Kumaris took Gabrielle by the hand and half running, led her to another tent. This one was smaller, and held a woman with a round face, and cheek-bones so high, her eyes almost disappeared. She was dressed somewhat like Kumaris. In front of her was a drum, covered in different drawings and without the fringes. Next to her lounged the most laid-back man Gabrielle had ever seen. His clothing was like Kumaris', and his drum was unmarked.
"Who is she?", asked the woman in a friendly tone.
"Ghurtha, this is Ghavriellah. She is looking for her soul.", said Kumaris.
Ghurtha clicked her tongue in sympathy.
"That is a hard thing. I wish you luck."
"By the way", said the younger man, "I'm Tendris. They always ignore me."
"When you do something to earn our notice, we will notice you.", said Ghurtha. "Now please excuse us, Ghavriellah, we have to fight an invader."
Gabrielle went outside and looked at all the action
Delicate Flower rode by on a big roan mare, her braided hair was flying behind her. She had a long, curved sword in one hand and a big knife in her teeth. She was grinning. Men ran by with the longest spears Gabrielle had ever seen, and polished shields worthy of Perseus. Others, too many to count, hurried past with bows and quivers of arrows. They looked as if they really knew what they were doing. One thing seemed out of place. A man, obviously someone important, supervised as two others laid out a carpet in front of his tent. It was blood-stained, and seemed to be the site of their healing place. But no one approached. The important man mounted his black horse, and rode off to battle.
There was a sound like nothing Gabrielle had ever heard, and the ground shook. Then the dust seemed to give birth to hundreds and hundreds of horses. More than the Persians had. More than Gabrielle knew existed. How could this tiny tribe survive. Gabrielle sent up to prayer to...she didn't even know who could protect these people. Then, as the riders approached the spearmen, their horses stumbled and fell. Horses and riders tangled into a living knot as more and more piled on each other. Then the Tribe's riders came, swinging their terrible swords. Gabrielle turned away, then forced herself to look.
All of the riders but one were holding a trophy of long, black hair in their hands. There was no blood, all they had done was to cut their hair of their enemy. Then Gabrielle saw Delicate Flower. In her hand was the head of an enemy. Blood spewed from the severed neck, and she gloried in it.
The riders swirled into camp, and dropped their trophies on the carpet, then went off to create more havoc. Gabrielle let a wave of nausea pass over her, then turned behind her to see the drummers still working. Somehow, the battle outside and the drumming inside were connected, but Gabrielle couldn't figure out how.
The invaders were in chaos now, with their leaders seeming to be gone. They milled about, unable to make a coordinated advance, and unwilling to retreat. The drumbeat changed behind her, and the archers aimed as one man, and let fly with their arrows. Miraculously, every single arrow found it's mark. Horsed reared, men picked up their fallen comrades, and they retreated in a disorderly mob. There were only a few bodies left in the field. Gabrielle blinked her eyes. She wondered if it had all been a dream. The drumming stopped, and the three drummers relaxed into sleep.
Just then, Delicate Flower rode up on her mare. She was covered with blood, and breathing hard, but somehow she looked beautiful.
"Meet me in my ghur.", she said, then rode away.
She sat on one of the chairs, waiting. Delicate Flower walked into the tent not long after. She was all cleaned up and one would never have known that she had been covered with gore just minutes ago. Her short tunic was yellow, with blue flowers embroidered on it in smaller stitches than Gabrielle could have imagined. Her trousers were silk too, only a blue to match the embroidery. She wore a sash tied around her hips, and soft boots made of leather, felt and silk. A predatory smile played around her lips, and Gabrielle felt herself responding.
"I want to touch your hair."
"Alright.", said Gabrielle.
Delicate Flower reached out and ran her fingers through Gabrielle's hair.
"It's soft.", she said. "Not like mine. I thought your hair might be warm to my touch."
Be cause of its color?", asked Gabrielle.
Yes." Then Delicate Flower rubbed Gabrielle's cheek with her fingers, and looked at them.
No, the color doesn't rub off.", said Gabrielle with a smile.
Delicate Flower gave a laugh that floated, it was so light.
"I have never seen such a person as you. I am one who explores, asks questions. So, what are you doing here, in my village?" and Delicate Flower seated herself, rather regally.
"I don't know. I am trying to find out about the One God. And to find out who I am now. I used to know, and now I don't."
Did you get hit on the head, or something? How can you not know who you are?", asked Delicate Flower.
"I lost my way, I guess. I grew up in a village not much larger than this one. And I was expected to marry. My parents had him all picked out. But I didn't want to do that, so I ran away to join Xena, a friend who is a lot like you. We were very close-like we shared the same soul. But things happened, and ..."
"You speak of yourself in relation to your parents, or the man they wanted you to marry, and your friend. But, who are you?"
"Who owns your body?", asked Delicate Flower.
"Who owns your body?"
Gabrielle thought about it.
"Well, I guess my parents sorta did when I was a child, Then my husband, then after he died, I was Bard to Xena-but things fell apart there."
"No. That's not true. Do they have slaves where you come from?"
"Yes. I hate slavery. I was almost a slave when I was captured by Draco's men, and Xena rescued me."
"Then you are not a slave. So, if you are not a slave, no one owns your body. You are free, so who decides what you will do with your body?", asked Delicate Flower.
"I guess I do."
"And is your mind a part of your body?
"And your soul?"
"Then you must know who you are when no one else is around.", said Delicate Flower. "That is what I discussed with Kumaris."
Gabrielle was beginning to believe that these people were all oracles. Delicate Flower made tea for them to drink, it was different than the way they served it in Chin, salty, and nearly half milk. Gabrielle found that she liked it.
It was still light when they went to sleep, Gabrielle in one corner of the tent, and Kumaris and his wife on the bed. Gabrielle smiled as she discovered that Kumaris snored a little.
Gabrielle awoke with a massive, gnawing hunger. Kumaris and Delicate Flower were sleeping soundly, and Gabrielle crept out of bed, dressing quickly. She made her way just outside camp to the bushes, and after relieving herself, found a small creek to wash in. The water was shockingly cold. Now fully awake, Gabrielle followed her nose to the cooking fire of Ghurtha. Lounging beside her was Tendris. The older woman smiled, which made her eyes squint closed. Tendris was eating from a wooden bowl trimmed with ornate wood carvings. He used chopsticks to shovel the riceballs into his mouth. Both were seated on strange looking saddles set on the ground. The saddles were set high, so that they wouldn't fit properly on a horse's broad back. They were so covered with felt applique and embroidery that Gabrielle felt sure they were just something to use around the cooking fire. There was also a stack of cushions nearby. Did these people embroider everything?
"Hello. Are you hungry?", asked Ghurtha.
"As a matter of fact, I could eat a whole cow.", she joked.
"Don't tell Kumaris, he'll use that as a reason to slaughter one, just to get rid of it.", said Tendris.
Ghurtha laughed, and handed Gabrielle a bowl of rice balls, along with some chopsticks, and pointed to the cushions. Gabrielle took one and sat. By now, she was used to eating with chopsticks, so she fell to eating with a will. The riceballs had the earthy taste of mushrooms, and a delicate, smoky taste she couldn't identify. There were lovely chucks of vegetables inside too
. "It is well known to all the tribes around here that Kumaris hates cattle. He says they interfere with our traditional way of life, making us stay in the south, rather than being free to travel as far north as we please. The north is a harsh place, and so our enemies hesitate to go there."
"I watched the battle. I don't understand how, but your drumming seemed to have something to do with the success of the fighting.", said Gabrielle.
Ghurtha's face grew serious. She looked into Gabrielle's face, as if searching for something. "You know a little bit about something, don't you?" Gabrielle nodded.
"We provide the energy and move it from the earth through ourselves to our fighters. The men with shields focus this energy and help stop the hearts of the invader's lead horses. The archers are trained to use the energy to aim so that they wound, and slow down the invader's army. A dead man disables one soldier. A wounded man disables three."
"It must exhaust you. You all went to sleep right after.", said Gabrielle.
"We weren't sleeping, we were journeying.", said Tendris.
Ghurtha glared at him. He put his head down. "A step at a time, Tendris. Do try to remember."
Just then Kumaris arrived. He was smiling, so Gabrielle decided he had slept well. Ghurtha handed him a bowl of food, and he sat on two cushions. Gabrielle was beginning to think they had some sort of ranking system going on, and that Tendris was at the bottom. She also suspected that if Tendris had ever had an ambition, he wasn't well acquainted with it.
"Is Tendris being himself again?" asked Kumaris.
"Yes, I'm afraid I am. But I am still better than that callow youth you had to take fishing with you.", said Tendris.
This was greeted by howls of laugher. Gabrielle smiled. Tendris was still, by anyone's measure, a callow youth. She tried to picture Tendris baiting a fishhook. She failed.
Just then a semi-wicked gleam appeared in Kumaris' eye. He turned and looked straight at Gabrielle.
"That is a good idea, Tendris. Would you like to go fishing with me, Ghavriellah?"
What she hadn't known was that he wanted to go right after they ate. What she was shocked to discover, was that he planned for them to ride-not horses, which she could have managed, he was walking toward her with two of the giant deer, saddled with the odd looking saddles she had seen Ghurtha and Tendris sitting on, and leading them with reigns. Gabrielle swallowed. So, this was his idea of a joke. Well, she could survive a bit of embarrassment.
Kumaris showed her how to mount the animal, then helped her to clamber aboard the beast. He mounted the other, and Gabrielle discovered that the gait was totally unlike the horse. She tried to adjust to it, and the sound of the animal's knees as it walked. The sound was like the wet rope in a ship's rigging rubbing against each other. They started slowly, and she managed to stay on, barely.
After some time, she could feel herself finding the rhythm. That was when Kumaris nudged his animal into a trot. Her animal kept pace, and it was all she could do to hang on. Then she found herself on the ground with a grinning Kumaris over her. Suddenly he reminded her of Xena. She got to her feet, checked for injuries, and scrambled aboard the deer again. It now refused to budge. It stood, gazing at the scenery, then wandered over and ate some grass. Gabrielle was growing frustrated. She kneed the animal. It moved forward a few steps, and ate a small plant.
"You remind me of a horse I know.", said Gabrielle.
Kumaris just waited to see what she would do
. "Is there another way to get this big deer moving?", she asked.
"It's a reindeer. Just ask it."
Gabrielle's grasp of Chinese was eluding her. Then it dawned on her that he mean that the animal was a reindeer, and that to get it to move, she should ask it
. "Reindeer, can we go now?" The animal looked at her, appeared to think it over-or maybe it had trouble with her Greek accent, then took off down the path.
When they got to the stream, it was moving so fast that Gabrielle knew Xena's method of standing in the water and grabbing fish would not work. The stream was surrounded by larch trees and willows., with a flat area nearby. They made camp, and while Kumaris gathered firewood, Gabrielle laid out their bedrolls. She watched as Kumaris took a small coin, tied a bit of thread around it, and fastened it to a tree.
"Why did you do that?", she asked.
"I'm paying the spirits of this place for our use of the wood, water and fish."
"So, you don't worship the One God." Gabrielle couldn't keep the disappointment out of her voice.
"We don't worship. We are a part of the One God, as are the spirits."
"I don't understand."
"Those who worship, set aside places and buildings and words and beings to honor and venerate. They have lost the idea that Edric, the One God, is all through all we see and all we don't see. You once knew..."
He touched her shoulder and Gabrielle remembered her encounter with Ares as she trudged through the rivers of memory. She recalled telling him that he was a part of her mind. Kumaris let go of her shoulder and she took a deep breath.
"Gods are concepts."
"So, our Gods are how we see our world, with each part interacting, sometimes at war, with the other parts."
"And Edric encompasses all concepts. He is Everything That Is."
"It sounds too simple. What about the spirits you are paying?"
"They are a part of Edric, but they have power, just as you and I have power. They also have their own thoughts, and rights. It is wrong to steal from them. It is also wrong for the spirits to steal from you."
Gabrielle carefully pushed every bit of emotion off her face, but his eyes bored into hers and she knew he knew far more about her than he was saying. She backed up a step.
So, let's cut some poles. I'm ready to fish.", said Gabrielle.
Kumaris wouldn't hear of Gabrielle lifting a finger. He cut a fishing pole, using a big knife with a brass blade, and then proceeded to do all the fishing. Gabrielle sat, not wishing to offend, but annoyed at being inactive. When she was inactive, her thoughts stalked her, and she didn't like it.
She flashed back to the words of Hope, "Won't you be my mother?", and fought back the bitter taste in her mouth. It was like looking into a cracked and battered mirror, looking at Hope.
How could two people look so alike, and be so different? And the voice in her head asked once again,
"Are you so different?"
Gabrielle picked up a pebble and threw it at a tree. Kumaris was jumping around, fighting a big fish onto the shore. She almost got up to help, but remembered that she was his guest, and she shouldn't offend him. She felt the spray of water as Kumaris landed his fish, a big, brown spotted one. She watched as he took it off the hook, then rebaited it, and sent the hook back into the water. Gabrielle remembered fishing with Xena and pulling a dying man up onto the shore. She shivered. Why was it always the bad things she remembered lately? If she could just figure it all out-find the One God, and get the answers to life's questions. Then she could do everything right.
Kumaris pulled another fish onto the shore. The two should be enough for supper. Gabrielle expected to do the cooking, because he had done the fishing, and it was only fair. But Kumaris set about preparing the fish and grilling them on a rack made of green sticks. Gabrielle caught herself pacing. And he was suddenly so quiet, you would think he was Xena or Hercules.
"Kumaris, those are great fish, what are they called? "
"File fish. They are a favorite of mine."
"Well, thanks for catching them. I like it here. It's really lovely."
"A good place to think.", said Kumaris.
Gabrielle wrinkled her brow. "Yes, it is. Nice, very, very nice."
"Then why are you so nervous?"
"Nervous, me? No, I'm good. I'm...lying. I can't do this. Kumaris, I'm in trouble. Some really bad things happened to me, and I can't figure out what went wrong. I, I need help."
"I had a child."
"Children are generally a good thing. Did the child die? Is that why you are so sad?"
"She died, but she won't stay dead. Her father was a demon, an evil God.", said Gabrielle.
"I am listening.", said Kumaris.
So Gabrielle poured out the whole story of Dahok and Hope, her estrangement from Xena and her search for the One God. When she finished, he was very quiet. Then he began to chant softly. Still chanting, he walked around her, touching her head, then her throat, her abdomen, and finally her hands.
"He is the spirit who stole from you. There is a hole inside you where a part of your soul used to live. Ghurtha saw it when you were first introduced, but we did not know the cause. This child is keeping this part of you inside her. You were tricked. He used your innocence, and your shadow self to do this."
"What is my Shadow Self?", asked Gabrielle.
"It is that part of you that you deny exists. The part that is angry, judgmental, self-righteous, selfish and arrogant.", said Kumaris.
"Hey wait. I am not like that.", and Gabrielle jumped to her feet, her hands curled into fists.
"If you are not, why then do you sometimes think that it is up to you to save the whole world, and to force it to your will?"
"Force it to my will? No, I'm against war. If I ruled the world, there would be no war.", said Gabrielle.
"And what if someone wanted to fight?"
"I would stop it."
"If I had to tie them up, I would.", and Gabrielle folded her arms across her chest.
"That is force. Why are you afraid of your Shadow Self?"
"My friend. Xena, was a warlord. She is responsible for thousands of deaths. Somewhere inside me is something that might surpass her, if I let it. Did you hear what I just said? I guess I really feel like that, huh?
So, what do I do about it?" "One step at a time, Ghavriellah. Let's eat, and I will let you sleep. It has been a long day for you."
Gabrielle looked at the sun, which hovered near the horizon.
"But it isn't even sunset yet.", she said.
"This far north, in summer, the sun sets for only a short time at night. Not enough time to sleep well"
"Oh. Okay. I was wondering why I was so tired all the time." And Gabrielle sat and despite her personal embarrassment, Kumaris insisted on feeding her. The fish tasted good, but it was hard for Gabrielle to be treated like a child. Then they retired to their bedrolls and slept.
The next morning Kumaris did all the fishing and cooking, but let Gabrielle feed herself. She was relieved so see their philosophical discussion seemed to have been postponed. He was leading her out into a path the seemed to lead into a higher area, with boulders in the ground, and a few birch trees nearby. They sat on the ground, facing each other.
"I am going to help you reach out with your feelings today. Close your eyes, and breathe deeply. Now, think of yourself as a tree, reaching down into the ground with your roots. Go down beneath the soil, beneath the rocks, down to where the rocks are like hot, red, rivers-do you feel it?"
Gabrielle nodded. A strangely energetic feeling filled her. She concentrated on how it felt. She could almost see the flowing lava.
Now, the top of a tree has branches and leaves. They take in the air and water, and sunlight. Think about that going into the top of your head. Do you feel it?", asked Kumaris.
When Gabrielle nodded, he went on
. "This is the energy of Sedna, Earth Mother. All who live on her share this. It is the source. When you are cut off from this, you are trying to live in a way that ignores that which keeps us all fed and watered, and breathing."
Gabrielle thought about this. Yes, the earth was where they grew their food. The concept was like their idea about Demeter, after all. But it also seemed to honor Gaia. She guessed that this tribe combined them.
Now, imagine that you can reach out like a spider from the center of its web, to all the surface of the earth. Reach out and feel not only all the people here, but the plants, and animals, rocks, spirits...everything."
Gabrielle reached out and something, something exciting filled her mind and heart. She was breathing harder, and her heart was pumping faster. There was something so immense that she couldn't really contain it, just touch it. How had she missed it in all her travels?
"Don't open your eyes yet, you are scattered, and now you must find your way back. Gather yourself back from the surface of the earth. Now from the air, water and sunlight, and now from the ground, shrink your roots until you are yourself again."
Gabrielle's eyes opened and she could see the beauty all around her. She leapt to her feet, filled with energy.
"That was incredible. Was that Edric, the One God? Oh my...what an experience."
"Calm down, little one. You have taken in too much energy. Now you must send it to someone who needs it. Stand here. Yes, like this, and throw your arms into the air, wider...yes. Now, imagine that you are sending a gift to all those who are sick--some of this extra energy you have inside you now."
Gabrielle closed her eyes and sent a crackling bolt of energy to anyone who might need it. Immediately she was calm again.
"That was amazing. Let's do it again!"
Kumaris chuckled. "That is exactly what Tendris said."
"Oh, that bad, 'eh?"
"Ah, but there are reasons we keep Tendris around. He has a skill or two.", said Kumaris.
Gabrielle mentally sat on her ego. She bit her tongue to keep from talking about her skills. Kumaris was right, she had a Shadow Self, and it was screaming to show off her skills with a staff, cooking, or storytelling, but she would die before she let him see it. He gave her a funny little smile.
"You seem to need to get rid of bit more energy. Would you like to practice defending yourself?"
Gabrielle nodded, afraid to open her mouth, and what self-congratulation might come flying out. Kumaris smiled again and to her great relief, handed her a staff. It was very smoothly polished, and made from birch. She hefted it, and admired its balance. Kumaris took out a staff with ornate carvings on either end, but the middle was smooth, and unblemished by knots or other weak places. He faced her in combat stance, then nodded that they should begin sparring.
Gabrielle was tentative at first, not knowing his skill level. Suddenly she was aware he was doing the same thing. She looked for an opening and slipped the end in under his guard. He jumped back, and looked at her with new respect. Now he laid on with relish. The clashing of wood on wood shook the clearing. Gabrielle's armed ached with the effort, and every blow was bounced off by Kumaris, who also couldn't get past her guard.
Back and forth they went, sweat beginning to pour down their faces. Finally, Gabrielle made a desperate push, backing Kumaris up. As she was about the land the final blow, she thought she saw a huge bear in front of her. She was so startled that she dropped her guard and landed on her back with a big bruise on her arm.
"What was that?", she asked as he helped her to her feet.
"I tricked your mind a little.", he said.
"No kidding. Can you teach me that trick?"
"That trick is many, many steps away, little one."
It didn't take long for Gabrielle to catch on to the pattern Kumaris was using. With each meal, she had more responsibility, taking on the cooking, then the fishing. He also took the bulk of each day to teach her a little lesson. So far she knew that she co-existed with numerous living beings, including those she had never considered alive before, and that all of them put together equaled the One God. She was fine with that, and the idea that each being was equal, and all had rights and responsibilities towards one another, but something was nibbling at the back of her mind. As she prepared their noon meal on the third day, she pondered what it was that was bothering her.
Suddenly she was back in the temple of Dahok, floating in the air and attacked by fire. Xena was trying to save her, and couldn't. She was screaming in fear, and writhing in pain.
Kumaris was looking at her. He gently brushed her damp hair out of her eyes.
"What is it?", he asked.
"Dahok. If he and I are equal, how could he have forced me to have his child?"
Kumaris sat down on the ground. He wrapped his arms around his knees. Gabrielle could tell it was going to be a long answer.
"You are asking about how those who should have power with us, and enjoy all Sedna has to give, would seek power over their equals. I think everyone asks this from time to time. Tell me, Ghavriellah, have you ever watched a herd of deer or flock of animals interact?"
"Yes. When I was a girl, we had chickens, and some sheep too."
"Was there one chicken all the others pecked?"
"Yes, and one no one dared peck. I guess that's how chickens keep order."
"Yes. And there are those who have grown only a little past the chicken's power of reasoning. Chicken behavior is for chickens. Human behavior is for humans. We teach our young ones how to act properly. If any one of them misbehaves, whichever adult is near corrects him."
Maybe in your village. In mine, only the parents corrected their children. Some parents were good parents. Some should never have had children. It was from these homes the bullies and the ones who were pecked came from."
"Some spirits get caught up in pecking. They use fear and intimidation to force their way upon others. Dahok sounds like one of these."
"I never felt fear like that. Not even around Ares, and he is our God of War.."
"Dahok tricked you into sacrificing something important to you, then turned it into fear. That is how he stole a piece of your soul."
"How do it get it back?"
Kumaris grinned, showing his even, white teeth. "I will go and steal it back."
"But Kumaris, Dahok is the most powerful and evil force I have ever encountered."
"I have gotten back the souls of many people. Don't worry. I will bring it back in a ceremony. We will have such fun, you and I."
"Fun, he says,", murmured Gabrielle.
That was the meal that Gabrielle fed to Kumaris. Then they cleaned up their camp and rode back to the village. Now that she knew how to work with her reindeer, the ride was much less precarious and frustrating. It wasn't long before they were back in the village
Gabrielle felt left out as the two Shamans and their assistant scurried about preparing for the ceremony. They gathered a huge stack of wood, platter after platter of fish, and reindeer meat, mysterious looking vegetables, and tiny red berries, called, "Lingonberries" along with something called, "Cloudberries." Delicate Flower let her taste some of the Lingonberries. They were so tart, she felt as if each tastebud stood at attention. In addition to the piles of food, and firewood, there was a carpet with the three drums, several rattles, some coats covered with mystical symbols, and long, woven strips, called, "Dragon Tails", according to Delicate Flower. On top of the coats were very unusual hats. One had a broad brim, and feathers sticking out looking for all the world like something Hermes would wear. Another sported bits of metal formed into moons, stars, birch leaves and reindeer. The third was resplendent with a stylized human face, rows of feathers sewn into the hat band, and yard upon yard of red ribbons hanging behind, like a red waterfall. All of this was placed inside a huge tent, with carpets all around the outer circle, obviously a place for people to sit and watch. Gabrielle was a bit horrified that the entire village would watch her undergo a healing ceremony of some sort. There was a center pole in the tent, again decorated with hanging reindeer, birch leaves, stars, moons, and suns. There were also fish as decorations.
Gabrielle felt better as Delicate Flower came and sat with her.
"You look nervous.", she said.
"I am. What will happen during the ceremony?", asked Gabrielle.
"I'm not sure. Kumaris will steal back the part of your soul the bad spirit took.. And the other two will keep the onlookers entertained so that you may be treated without their interference, but with their energy."
"I see drums. I gather this isn't a quiet, dignified healing."
"Ah, but there is wonderful dancing!", said Delicate Flower.
Gabrielle changed the subject. "Delicate Flower, when you fought the invaders, why did you cut off their hair like that?", she asked.
"Because they believe the topknot is required for them to get into their heaven. There are those who believe all we have to do is shame them, and they will go away. I take a somewhat more practical approach."
"Why do they attack your people?"
"They want us to pay their ruler tribute. We don't pay tribute.", said Delicate Flower. .
It was night. There were only a few hours of darkness now, and the ceremony was started. Tendris, wearing coat and hat, lit the bonfire so that it burned to the height of his head. He took some braided birch tendrils, with leaves still clinging. The pungent, sweet odor filled the tent. Now Ghurtha, in her ceremonial coat and hat, took her rattle and shook it toward the East, South, West and North. A shiver of recognition ran down Gabrielle's spine. She knew this, but from where?
Gabrielle had been dressed in clean clothing after a ritual bath. She was sitting by the side of the inner circle of the tent, waiting for her part in this drama. Now Kumaris entered, transformed from friend to healer. His coat had applique on it resembling the human skeleton. Bells, and tinkling metal could be heard with his every step. The dragon tails seemed to move on their own. Even the feathers vibrated in his hat. His braids were down His eyes were almost glowing with energy. He went to Gabrielle, and lead her by the hand to a clean reindeer hide in the middle of a clear space not far from the fire. He helped her to lie down. Ghurtha handed him his drum. He began to pound it softly, chanting. Then he waited for Ghurtha and Tendris to join him in the beat before speeding it up. Kumaris sat on the rim of his drum, as he placed it on the ground. The drumhead faced his right hand, which he proceeded to wallop as he rode the drum like a horse-or a reindeer.
Gabrielle glimpsed Tendris taking off his coat. He stood, bare chested, with his muscles flexing. The he leapt into the air, twisting and turning like Xena in a major fight. His cries were as wild. Gabrielle rubbed her eyes. She would never have believed him capable of this much movement. Eventually he stopped, and Ghurtha took over, not dancing, but doing magic tricks to delight and astonish the crowd. She made small objects appear and disappear, then juggled some eggs without a miss.
Now Gabrielle could see that Tendris had changed the drumbeat. It was slow, and tenuous. Kumaris looked like a hunter searching for prey. Suddenly Gabrielle could see herself inside a bottle in the hand of the giant Dahok. Kumaris ran up to the giant, daring him to hit him. Dahok kept his thumb over the bottle. Was that her soul inside? Kumaris kicked Dahok in the knee. Dahok swatted at him with one hand, and kept his thumb over the bottle. Kumaris did his bear trick, but Dahok blew him off his feet, while keeping his thumb over the bottle. Kumaris became a little bird, fluttering close, trying to distract the stubborn Dahok. The thumb stayed. Gabrielle's tongue was stuck to the roof of her mouth, she was so afraid of Dahok-the destroyer. She swallowed hard, trying to remember that they were equals. She thought about how much this spirit had stolen from her. Just them Kumaris turned into a hornet. He stung Dahok in the middle of his forehead. He dropped the bottle, which shattered with a jolt that made Gabrielle cry out with the pain. Kumaris was back in his own form. He gathered her in his arms and ran with her to his reindeer. They mounted it together and dashed back at breakneck speed.
Gabrielle opened her eyes to see Kumaris standing over her, with two crystals in his hands. He put one in her right hand and the other in her left. Then her blew into her chest, and dropped something invisible, but very familiar, inside her. She could hear beautiful music coming from the drums. It was not possible that they could produce such sounds. Then she looked at the fire, entranced by the colors. Her heart beat fast at the beauty there. Kumaris sat her up and blew into the crown of her head. Then helped her to her feet, encouraging her to dance. Gabrielle was soon leaping like a salmon. She felt whole again.
Gabrielle ate until she felt bloated, but everything tasted wonderful. She sat with the shamans and Tendris, tacking swigs of potent liquor in their mouths, and spitting into the fire, to watch the pretty colors formed by the alcohol burning with the wood.
"I can't begin to thank you guys enough. I don't own anything much, so how can I ever repay you?"
"Help someone who needs healing.", said Ghurtha.
"That's all?" "Yes, just past it on. It will come back to us sometime, some way." "And you, "
Gabrielle said to Tendris, "I have never seen dancing like that. And to think I used to believe you were lazy."
"He is lazy. You try to teach him sometime.", said Kumaris.
Tendris just laughed. "Kumaris just thinks I have puny skills."
At that, Kumaris and Ghurtha rolled on the ground with laughter. Gabrielle joined in their laughter until her sides hurt. She knew it would be time to leave tomorrow, and she hated to say goodbye to these healers and teachers. Then she thought of someone who needed healing. Someone who would be a challenge to their skills.
The next day Gabrielle set off on foot, with a new staff from Kumaris, many days of food, thanks to Ghurtha, a beautiful carved bowl from Tendris, and a fistful of ermine tails from Delicate Flower. She walked purposefully, knowing exactly were she was going.
Five days later Gabrielle arrived in the village. The shack was the same. She went in without knocking, and found Xena asleep in the bed alone.
One blue eye opened, then the other. "It's about time you showed up. I was getting bored."
"Come with me.", said Gabrielle.
Xena got up, cleaned up, and got dressed. She got Argo and followed Gabrielle.
"So, where we going?", asked Xena.
"We're going fishing.", said Gabrielle.
Special thanks to Cerberus for the use of his sig line.
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