Part Three

Varia lowers herself to the ground, her eyes darting back and forth. Gabrielle watches the woman move, noticing the tension in her walk and the fists at her side. Like someone who is being hunted.
But the grip upon the bard's wrist is strong, it is sure and welcoming.
"It has been a long time." And Varia lets her lips curve upward, pulling Gabrielle into an embrace.
It is unexpected. But so needed...
"I saw you in a vision -" Varia's hand covers Gabrielle's lips, stilling the words waiting there.
"Not here. It is not safe."
The bard is tugged along until they both stand among what is left of the Amazons, a mere band of women, huddled together under a tent of animal skins.
They look at her with sad eyes, with angry faces, with the unmistakable feeling of despair.
Gabrielle feels Varia's stare and finds what that gaze rests on. The bard slides her hand over the chakram, fighting the urge to grip it to her and shout 'it's mine' to all of them.

"Who is doing this?"
Varia crosses her arms and shifts her eyes to the rest of the Amazons.
"We do not know. Three months ago, two men came here and began to attack. They were easy enough to defeat, so I kept one alive to question him."
The Gabrielle of old would have paled at this mention of Amazon justice, but the warrior in her keeps silent.
"He shoves this poster at me, telling me that a friend of his got a thousand dinars for bringing the head of a Amazon from the north to someone in Greece. No one knows who this person is, what their grudge might be or where to find this person."
One of the Amazon warriors from another land speaks up at this.
"We should go further away. Our camp here is too well known."
"And run away? What would our fore-mothers think of that kind of disgrace?" Another Amazon grumbles this loudly.
It is Helicon all over again. My sisters split apart, running and scared...dying...
Gabrielle looks to Varia, who is watching her. The Amazon, once so hot-headed, now seems so calm. The warrior then turns to the Amazons, who are caught up in their debate over a course of action.
"Enough!" Varia shouts. "I must speak to Queen Gabrielle. Alone."
With backward glances, they file out.

I know you have questions, Varia. And I know about who...I see how every look you give me ends up at this weapon at my side. Surely, you know. Surely, news has spread, no matter how - in my grief - I told no one. Except Eve, she knows everything...

"Are you okay?" Varia's voice breaks through and Gabrielle blinks.
"Yes. Sorry."
They stand there for minutes, not talking. Varia shifts on her feet several times, before sitting down. 
"You said you had a vision of me." Not a question, a statement.
Gabrielle sits opposite and folds her arms across her chest.
"Yes. We were at Helicon and you had on the mask of the Queen. You asked for my help."
Varia smiles a little at that. "Anything else?"
"No. It seemed rather...intense, so I made my way back."
"From where?"
"Far away."
Varia cocks her head to the side and studies the bard. Gabrielle does not flinch under this scrutiny. Some part of her is removed, is cold now... This is my home and yet my joy at being here is dampened. They say you can never go home again...
"You've changed." Again, a statement from the Amazon.
"I know." And just saying it makes Gabrielle's body sag with weariness.

They discuss the attacks. They discuss possible enemies. They go over strategy and weaknesses and plans. Again, Varia comments on how much Gabrielle has changed. More like a warrior, eh? More like you? Like a woman we both know?
"Varia, who do you think is doing this? Honestly."
A sigh escapes Varia's mouth. "Honestly? I am fearful for my life, because I truly do not know. Every shadow is a threat now."
"No one has seen them, talked to them, heard of them... It is like this person does not exist." Gabrielle murmurs softly.
Lost in her pondering, the bard does not notice Varia stand up and begin to blow out the candles lighting up the tent.

"Queen Gabrielle?"
Startled again, the bard feels her heart jump and, yet, her body stays still. Yes, I am a warrior now. No going back.
"What happened?"
Such a loaded inquiry...with many answers...but I know the one you want...
"Xena died."
And with that, Gabrielle stands up and walks out, leaving Varia to extinguish the last light. The bard walks quickly, finding her emotions tangled up with her need to be hard, creating hot tears that flood her cheeks.

Xena died. And everything changed.


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