Xena and Gabrielle were walking uphill over a rocky road. Xena led Argo up the steep incline.
"Xena," said Gabrielle, "do you ever wonder why the trails we follow are always rocky and why they always go uphill?"
"Gabrielle, that's not for me to say," Xena replied gravely.
"Somehow I knew you would say that. Well, just who does make those decisions?"
"Someone beyond our knowing." Xena thought for a moment before going on. "It's as if someone somewhere writes a script we follow."
"Huh," Gabrielle breathed a characteristic sigh. "And just where is it we're going?"
"I already explained all that before we started out," Xena explained.
"I know, but it's time for the plot exposition where you tell me what's going on so everyone will know," Gabrielle reminded her.
Xena looked around and back at Gabrielle. "We're the only ones here."
"Nevertheless. . . .," Gabrielle persisted.
Xena decided it was easier to just explain. "We're going to Macedon, where my friend Phil has invited me to the virilis ceremony for his kid."
"Gee, Xena," Gabrielle said, as if this were all news to her, "I've never heard of a woman being invited to a virilis ceremony."
"It IS a great honor," Xena agreed.
"Does this mean that now you're an honorary man?" Gabrielle kidded.
Xena's expression hardened, and, for a few minutes, the only sounds were the striking of Argo's iron-shod hooves on rocks and the faint creak of Xena's armor.
As usual, Gabrielle broke the silence. "Xena, I've been thinking about a lot of the things we've seen lately and about what we've learned. Do you ever think about things like that?"
"Maybe, instead of 'think,' I should have said 'brood.' " At Xena's glare, Gabrielle hurried on. "Anyway, I've been thinking, and I've figured something out."
"Do you want to hear it?" Gabrielle prodded.
". . . . . . . .Of course."
"Good! This should be a clear night. And it's Solstice, the longest night of the year, so it will be perfect. I'll tell you tonight, but you have to promise me one thing."
Sensing that her young companion was now serious, Xena raised her left eyebrow and said, "You only have to ask, my friend."
"Make only a small fire."
With that cryptic request, Gabrielle picked up her pace and pulled ahead of Xena and Argo all the way to the crest of that rocky hill.
That night WAS a clear, beautiful Solstice night, and, true to her word, Xena built a very small fire indeed. It was barely large enough to cook the two partridges Gabrielle ate and the one for Xena. After they had eaten, Xena and Gabrielle sat companionably by the fire, which they allowed to burn to embers. Gabrielle began her tale:
IN OUR TRAVELS, we have met many people who believe a great many things. They wear different costumes. . . .I mean, clothing. They speak with varied accents. As we've traveled, we have come to countries that differ so greatly you would think we had entered a totally different age, centuries from where our journey began.
We have met petty men and evil men and hard-working people just trying to get along. And everywhere we've gone, we've found brave, noble people just looking for a leader to help them right a wrong.
We've also met some gods, down from Olympus in human guise. I've found them not too different from the mortals: petty or brave, evil or noble.
And, as wonderful as this world is and, from the glimpse I had of it, the next. . . .I got to wondering if this is all there is. Where does that noble spark come from? That spark that makes so many men and women brave and pure? What fires those bright souls that shine through eyes like yours? Seeing how most people struggle, where do they find the hope to live--and even love?
I've often thought I almost had the answer, only to have it slip from my grasp. Then last night, on Solstice Eve, I woke up after our fire had died. I lay on the ground looking at the vast blackness above, punctuated only by the lonely stars. And then I knew.
Xena, look up, and really see the stars. Some astronomers in Athens saythe stars are just more balls of clay like this earth we lie on. Set fire, like our own sun, Apollo's chariot, they move slowly across an endless nothingness.
Now, Xena, look up and see, not the stars, but the blackness between the stars. Far above the heads of us mortals, far above even the peak of Mt. Olympus, where dwell our gods, there hangs a black curtain. This curtain surrounds and protects the earth. Beyond that curtain shines a brilliance that would pale the sun that lights our earthly days. Each star is a rent or rip in that curtain, and the light that shines through each is but a hint of the radiance that lies beyond.
All the goodness we find on earth comes from the light beyond the curtain: all the bravery, nobility, purity, and all the love within our souls.
And the brilliance beyond the curtain is what some people we have met call God.
Gabrielle stopped speaking, and she and Xena stared up at the starry sky as somewhere credits rolled, and a story line was postponed to another day.