The Emeth Stone
Disclaimer: Xena: Warrior Princess, Gabrielle, Eve and all other characters who have appeared in the syndicated series Xena: Warrior Princess, together with the names, titles and backstory are the sole copyright property of MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures. No copyright infringement was intended in the writing of this fan fiction. All other characters, the story idea and the story itself are the sole property of the author. This story cannot be sold or used for profit in any way. Copies of this story may be made for private use only and must include all disclaimers and copyright notices
Background: This story makes a minor reference to events that took place in my other stories (Silences and The Chamber. It is not necessary for you to read those stories prior to reading The Emeth Stone.
Comments: Always appreciated, the good and the not-so-good.
Subtext: This story portrays a loving relationship between two women. If you are under 18 or if it is illegal for you to read this text please do not continue.
She heard Andres cry, "Watch out!" and turned to her left as a sais streamed past her arm impaling one of Malignos men in the shoulder. Turning back again she saw the source, a figure dressed in white and the color of the sun. There was no telling the warriors identity as his face was covered. The fight continued, outnumbered three to one, the strangers help was welcomed. When the last of Malignos men retreated she sought sight of the stranger. Now with both sais in hand the stranger secured them to the tan boots that protected his flesh from the scorch of the desert sands. He began to walk away towards a waiting mare.
"Wait!" she called but to no avail. The stranger rode away without a word.
Andre stood behind her, "I wonder who she is?"
"She? Are you sure its a woman?"
"Yes Im sure. You my raven sister have a mysterious protector. She comes, fights for you then leaves in silence. I wonder what she wants."
"Do you think she knows?"
"If she did why wouldnt she tell you? Come, lets get back to camp. Father will be worried."
"Andre, I want to see Compreda."
"Do you now? Her talk of course is nonsense. She is more crazy than sage."
"I know but if I could just figure out what was true in the jumble of all her words."
"All right. But after we see Father. The old man worries."
Considering the handsome man before her, "Is it Father or Lasa that worries?"
"A married man like myself is in no hurry to return to his wife."
The raven hair one smiled. "In the brief time we have known each other the one thing I know above all else is that you love Lasa more than your own life."
"You are a romantic."
"There is no weakness in love, only strength."
"You speak from experience?"
She paused, troubled. "I dont know for sure but something tells me its true."
Andre offered a consoling arm around his sisters waist. "Someday you will remember."
She leaned her head against his shoulder. "Im tired Andre."
Concerned he embraced the beautiful woman that had quickly become a trusted companion. "Come, lets get you back before night falls."
Neither knew that they were under the watchful eye of the stranger.
Compreda spoke her words carefully, "I tell you "
Andre spoke quickly, "Old woman, we dont want to hear your superstitions."
The seer looked at the woman given the name Ravin. "Maybe you young man do not but I think your sister thinks differently. Child, the boy so..."
Andre protested, "Boy!"
"No offense meant. At my old age you are all babes. Why dont you go out and play with your sword."
Andre stepped towards the hag, "You are trying my patience."
Quietly, without recognizing any sense of threat. "More reason to leave."
His sister spoke a gentle plea, "Andre, its all right."
Andre turned, there was a palpable fear in his demeanor, "You have a life here. Dont let her words destroy "
Compreda interrupted, "Enough with you!"
Andre pushed the tent canvas aside and left. Compreda considered how the young warrior had soften since the raven one had arrived. The immediate claim of her as a sister exposed the painful depth of a tragic loss now made somewhat easier to bear. God had been merciful.
"He loved his sister. He is determined not to lose you as well."
"I know. I feel the same way."
"You had a brother?"
"I dont know. There is something about Andre that touches me deeply. I dont want to disappointment him."
"You may when you learn your name."
"Do you know it?"
"No child. I do not see so clearly."
"What do you see?"
The old woman came and sat across from the raven one. She took the young womans hand into her own. You are a warrior. This is no secret. But what is less known except for those closest to you, such as Andre, is that your heart is tender. What only I know is that your heart has been hurt, it has known darkness but it was saved by love. The love of your beloved."
"Yes, your beloved saved you once and your beloved will save you again."
"How do you know this?"
"How does one know anything? You are strong and wise Ravin but without your name, without knowing where you come from, who your people are, you are less. Without your beloved by your side there is an incompleteness. You must feel it?"
"I know that without my name I feel as if there is a life beyond my reach."
"In my dream you regain your name when, in secrecy, you give your heart to your beloved."
Ravin laughed, "In secrecy? What am I to do, stand by the threshold of my tent as I hide behind a veil begging for the privileged of a kiss from everyone that passes, never knowing if the next one may be my truth."
Joining the laughter, Compreda shook her head, "No child, you will know and it will not be as simple as a kiss."
Thoughtfully, Ravin asked, "How will I know? Do I fall in love all over again?"
Compreda spoke a minor riddle. "There are different kinds of love. Dont let yourself be restrained by a lack of imagination."
Smiling, Ravin embraced the old seer, "I think its you who needs to restrain her imagination."
Separating herself from the joyful pup Compreda altered her tone, "Someone did this to you. Someone who knew that separating you from your beloved would prevent you from realizing your destiny. Ravin. Heed my words. There is no greater power than love."
Compreda left with a gentle shuffle of her aged feet. Ravin considered her final words. They felt familiar. Nothing inside her would argue with the sage - that she had known loss; that her heart knew darkness and that loved saved her, a love, a beloved that went beyond the imagination. Her questions were many but none greater than why? Why would someone keep her from her destiny?
Andre passed before his father. "The woman is insane. Father, tell her. We all know it. We feed her, shelter her but none of us believe Compreda."
Their father looked from brother to sister. He felt both blessed and cursed. "Ravin, Andre is right to challenge Compredas counsel."
"I didnt say I believed her."
"But you do not discount the possibility." Decevis felt the limits of his power as tribal patriarch. He did not like the feeling that pressed upon him, reminding him that he was in fact one with humanity and not God.
"I dont know who I am. I want to believe there will be a day I will."
Andre could not conceal his fear, "Isnt it enough that you are part of us?"
"Andre, please." Ravin went to her brother and placed her hand on his chest. "You know how I feel. Ive grown to love you and Father and I am in no hurry to leave you." She turned to Decevis, "Father, you know how grateful I am."
Decevis responded gently, "Yes child I do. It is no betrayal to us to seek your identity. I promised you that I would help you in anyway I could. Tell me now. What is it you need?"
Grateful Ravin fell to Decevis feet. "I ask nothing but to continue to live here as your daughter. Compredas vision, her counsel is to allow an open heart. My heart will live here with you unless I grow tiresome and you cast me out."
"I doubt that child. You are the only one who has been able to keep Andre under control. His wife cant do it."
In protest Andre could not help but speak. "Are you done yet? Can we change the subject to something more immediate?"
"Of course boy. What is on your mind?"
To Andre, Decevis word "boy" carried only love. It carried a history between father and son, of teacher and student. And though Andre stood as a man and warrior before the patriarch, unlike Compredas reference he privately relished that within the family of three he would always be "the boy."
"The thieves continue to thin our flocks. We need to shepherd them with swords as well as with staffs."
Decevis was steadfast. "Do what you must. We will not be robbed of our livelihood." His words continued as he stroked Ravins hair. "This tribes legacy of strength will not end with your generation."
The raiders, those who still could, retreated into the wilderness. Ravin turned to her mysterious protector. A good twenty paces separated them. Only the green eyes pierced through the fabric. "Dont go."
The figure returned the sais held in hand to their boot holders, turned away from the skirmish and began to walk away.
"Im begging you dont leave me." Ravins voice betrayed her desperation. "Let me see your face or at least tell me your name." The stranger paused, head bent down. Ravin felt there might be a giving, finally a connection beyond the common fight. From the east rode three led by Andre. He called out Ravins name as he stopped his stallion at her feet. His dismount was crisp. "Are you all right?"
Ravin had trouble turning away from the stranger, afraid that as an apparition disappearance was eminent. With undisguised disgust, "Yes, Im fine. Maligno is making a habit of robbing us."
Andre turned to the stranger. All he saw was her back. "You there! Will you show yourself?"
The stranger decided it as time to reveal herself. She raised her hand to undo her turban. Her blond hair, light complexion and green eyes combined to present a gentle beauty. Andre was unexpectedly comforted by the image. Ravin, in turn was captivated. She felt a tug in her heart but did not trust its origin. Was it simply the revelation of the woman, as Andre had guessed, behind the concealment; the unveiling of a mystery or was there more? The young woman betrayed nothing.
Andre spoke first. His tone was commanding. "My name is Andre, son of Decevis. You trespass on our tribal land."
Ravin raised her hand to her brothers arm. "Andre, she has only helped us."
Andre sensed Ravins affinity to the stranger. "True, but for what reason?"
The stranger spoke only to the woman. "For the greater good."
Ravin held the stranger with her eyes. Andre softened as he continued to speak for the tribe of Decevis, as was his place. "That is a noble cause. Are you on a crusade?"
The stranger measured the handsome man. "No, I am living my destiny."
Andre was intrigued. "It is good that your destiny has brought you to us. Would you join us for a meal."
The strangers response was respectfully restrained. "No thank you."
This Andre did not expect. "Are you destined to be alone?"
Her pain gave her reason to be cautious with her words. She would not betray the truth. "At one time I didnt think so. Now I no longer know."
Andre affirmed, "We offer you our hospitality."
"And I am grateful, but I have to make sure my own camp is safe from the raiders."
Ravin could not help but speak. Her intention was to secure a very specific piece of information, "So you are alone?"
The strangers heart was breaking. She could not imagine a fate worst than being invisible to the one you love. "Be safe." Her words, spoken with compassion, mitigated the insult brother and sister felt when the stranger turned and walked away from them.
Andre turned to Ravin. "Its odd sister. I was certain she wanted something from us."
Ravins gaze remained fixed upon the stranger as she mounted her mare. "Whatever she is looking for it may not be ours to give."
"In our lands fresh water and a good meal under a cool tent is paradise. We offered her paradise and she would have none of it."
"Maybe she is a mystic and longs for solitude."
With his hand on Ravins shoulder Andre gently coaxed his sister to return to their camp. "She would be the first mystic Ive met who holds the skills of a warrior. We are a welcoming tribe. This is common knowledge."
Ravin walked beside her brother. "Yes, I can swear to it. You save the lost."
Andre turned to Ravin. He was intrigued. "You think she is lost?"
Ravin stopped and looked back to where the stranger once stood. "I think she is searching for something .or someone."
Andre smiled. "Do you want to save her?"
"Its what our family does well."
"Yes it is. It is a wise thing we do."
Ravins next words were a respectful request. "So you do not object if I bring her food and drink?"
Andre would not discourage his sister. "If you can find her."
Ravin did not veil her enthusiasm. "The tracking should be easy enough."
Andre laughed, "You have many skills, my sister."
The tracking was not too difficult. The stranger had found the trail through the hills. She climbed high where the trees would provide shelter from the wind and where she could view all those who would approach. Ravin guessed which plateau had become the strangers camp. She chose an alternative route to maintain her anonymity. She climbed higher in order to obtain a clear view down at the camp. It was small and efficient. A fire burned, the mare stood well groomed, the stranger sat upon a boulder overlooking the desolate valley of the east. This stranger was indeed beautiful to behold but there was no comfort in her mystery, only attentive intrigue.
Ravin approached cautiously. She had seen the young warrior fight. In her fighting there was an edge that was difficult to define, a combination of anger, sorrow and fearlessness. Whatever happened to the nameless woman it had left her willing to sacrifice her life for the greater good, a good she sought and found in those she did not know. Ravin did not understand what would have left the young warrior so driven. She wanted to understand.
The stranger looked up to her uninvited yet expected visitor. She remained silent.
Ravin felt uncomfortable in the silence. She tried to ease the tension with gentle humor. "You should be careful. I could be carrying a sword instead of a basket of food."
"I knew it was you." There was no arrogance in the strangers tender voice. "I wouldnt fear you even if there was a sword in your hand."
Ravin was puzzled by those words. How did the stranger sense her and why no fear? Was it hubris or trust evoked? "I may ask you to explain yourself at another time."
"Some things cant be explained."
"You didnt answer Andre. Have you a name?
The stranger held her tongue. She had difficulty speaking to the woman who stood before her.
Ravin chose to begin anew. "My name is Ravin."
The stranger was attentive. "Ravin. That is an interesting name."
"Father said the color of my hair and the sharpness of my eyes reminded him of a raven. Ravin is an ancient variation of the name. He could think of no other to call me."
"You must have been an impressive child."
A visible shadow crossed Ravins countenance. "No one knows what kind of child I was or what kind of life Ive lived before the previous six moons."
"What do you mean?"
"I lost my name and all memory of my life. Father found me and took me under his protection."
"You remember nothing?"
"Sometimes I get a sense of the familiar. Certain phrases and images."
"But you seem happy."
Ravin did not expect the strangers observation. Happiness was a rare consideration. "Yes, I am happy." Looking up musing more to herself than speaking to the stranger, "Then there is the night. I like looking up at the stars though when I do I feel incomplete. Compreda, our tribes seer tells me that I have a beloved. To not remember your beloved "
The stranger was taken aback. "I thought Andre "
Ravin smiled broadly. "Andre? No! Lasa his bride wouldnt appreciate it. Anyway Andres heart belongs to her above all others. He is a brother to me."
Ravin suddenly realized how much she had already shared with the stranger. She had given more than she intended. Why did she seek the young woman out? Why did the confessions come so easily? "Tell me your name." It was a humble petition.
The strangers response came without hesitation. "Gabrielle."
"And where are you from Gabrielle?"
"Greece, a small village named Poteidaia."
"That is a long way from here. What brings you to the borders of the desert?"
"As I said Im following my destiny."
"Yes, for the greater good. Isnt it a lonely life?"
"I know who I am. I know what I believe in. What is more important?"
"I could argue with you but before I do tell me, what do you believe in?"
"How about friendship? The friendship Andre and I offered you?"
"It wasnt the right time for me to accept your invitation."
"Is this a good time? I offer fruit, cheese, bread and sweet wine."
"I have nothing to offer you in return."
"Yes you do. A warm fire and conversation will do. That is if you can find it inside you to say more than just a few carefully chosen words."
Gabrielles was a bittersweet smile. "I was once known as a pretty good bard."
"Really. Tell me the story of your life Gabrielle."
The food was good, the companionship better. Gabrielle began to allow herself to relax, less fearful of betraying the truth. Ravin could tangibly see Gabrielles self appear as the evening progressed. Night fell around them. With it a gentle intimacy covered them both like a warm blanket. Gabrielle was careful not to ask too much.
Ravin began to speak of Andres sister. Gabrielle noted the uncertainty with which she did so. Ravin chose her words carefully as if a mistake would cost her dearly. "Her name was Lea. She was strong willed and beautiful. Her passion was the tribe. In her mothers absence she made sure the families were well, that all the children were tended to. She was wise for her years and a well-respected mediator. I remind both Father and Andre of her though neither one has said so. I could see it in their eyes from the beginning. As if I wasnt really there. As if there was a ghost standing beside or behind me. It took a few cycles of the moon for me to learn of her and understand. I didnt know who I was but I did know I wasnt Lea. You should have seen Fathers face when I first held a sword and showed I could use it or when I first rode Andres stallion. I felt trapped and needed to burn away the fever riding long and hard against the desert sand. To ride, to fight, to use my sword, to think myself out of a fight comes naturally to me. I still hold back. This is Fathers tribe and Andre is his only heir. Ive done my best to respect their authority without losing myself any further." Ravin paused and looked into the fire. Gabrielle was mesmerized by the vision. It was so familiar. What was foreign was her inability to comfort her beloved. The fire sparked and Ravin returned from her reverie. "I cant say these things to anyone in the tribe."
Gabrielle offered, "I can understand why you wouldnt."
"I want to be a part of them, to feel as if I belong. I have a good life. It may not be as adventurous as yours "
Gabrielle interrupted with a sigh, "Adventure is over rated. I long for peace. For a quiet life."
"You can have it."
"Maybe some day. Now is not the time."
"How will you know when the time has come?"
"Im not sure. Something will happen to make it so."
"Well, on that hopeful note I think I better get back. I wouldnt be surprised if Andre has sent a search party out looking for me."
Ravin began to pack the basket. Gabrielle didnt have the heart to help. She didnt want the separation.
Standing up before Gabrielle, Ravin announced her satisfaction. "Thatll do."
Gabrielle looked up to the woman. "Thank you."
Ravin reached out her hand to Gabrielle. Gabrielle took it and allowed herself to be lifted up. "Youre welcome and thank you for the conversation. Youre a good listener. I still have the feeling that I have much more to learn about you. I hope you grant me the chance to speak with you again."
Gabrielle gave a restrained, affirmative bow. "I look forward to it."
"Be safe, Gabrielle."
"You too." Gabrielle stumbled upon her words. She could not say the womans name. She ached for more than the touch of her hand.
"Father, will you advise me?"
"My daughter, this woman Gabrielle is Greek. The Greeks are infidels. Their ways must be questioned." Decevis emphasized his next words. "Our suspicions are justified." It was obvious to Decevis that Ravin was not satisfied. "Child, what is it that troubles you? What has she said to you?"
"It isnt anything she has said. I just dont understand why she has helped me at the risk of her own life."
"Have you asked her?"
"She said its her way."
"That is admirable. But again, I caution you. The Greeks are not a moral people. They are not to be trusted. She may have a hidden motive that neither one of us can see."
"I will be careful."
"I know you will."
Ravin paused. The conversation had gone well. Would she dare raise her lingering question? "Father, would you tell me about Lea?"
Decevis mood visibly changed. Ravin knew it was not for the better. "Father, I know its painful."
"No Ravin, you do not know! You do not know and I pray you will never know the pain of losing a child!"
"Father, there is such mystery about her."
"Because my pain and the pain of our tribe is still too deep."
"But wouldnt it help to talk about Lea. Wouldnt it help you to grieve her?"
Decevis shouted in unchecked rage. "I need no help from you or another one else to grieve my daughter!"
Ravin was humbled in the midst of Decevis torment. "Forgive me Father." She bowed to him and left his tent.
Ravin had been silent for a significant portion of their journey. Gabrielle longed to know the thoughts that engaged her companion. "What are you thinking?"
Ravin answered without hesitation. "I was thinking of you. I still dont understand why youre here."
Gabrielle looked ahead. "Ive traveled and seen much of the world. Its taught me a great deal. Lessons I dont believe I would have learned if I had stayed home."
"Ravin, were not all that different. People have different gods, different kings and queens, different heroes but we are still just people trying to make a good life for ourselves."
"And you are determined to help others have that good life. Your greater good."
"Its not my greater good. Its all of ours. Someone taught me that long ago."
"So, youve had a teacher."
"More than one."
They continued to ride in a renewed silence. Ravin considered whether to allow herself the freedom to speak her unedited thoughts. She knew there would be a risk. And yet, with the short passing of time she chose to muse aloud. "There has been a special person in your life."
Gabrielle was mindful in her response. "Yes."
"Why didnt you marry him?"
Gabrielles pain rose and yet she spoke with a measured voice. "My husband was killed soon after we married."
Ravin did not expect such a explanation. "Im sorry. He was fortunate to have your love." Gabrielle did not respond. Ravin felt her own sorrow. "I dont mean to be unfeeling about your loss but I think you were blessed to have known your beloved." Again her words were met with silence. Ravin feared she had truly offended her companion. "Gabrielle?"
Gabrielle spoke more to her own heart than to Ravin. "I loved Perdicus. We had a young brief love and I will cherish it till the day I die but he wasnt There was someone else in my life my soulmate my beloved."
Ravin could sense that their direction would now change. Not only in their brief journey but in the conversation. Gabrielle had not named her beloved nor given any indication that her words were an invitation. The moment to share painful memories had passed. There was more Ravin wanted to know but this was not the time. After sufficient silence to gather her thoughts she chose to shift the focus of their conversation. "Ive tried to talk to Father about Lea but its hard for him. I cannot imagine how he feels to lose a child."
Gabrielle winced. The sword of ignorance was double edged. The woman before her knew nothing of their respective sorrows.
"I know what it means to lose my daughter."
Again Ravin was taken by surprise. She wondered how much grief the young woman had known and whether it was such grief that gave her wisdom beyond her years. "Im sorry. You must then understand."
"I can try. Hope was with me only for a short time. I failed her. Its a burden a parent can never let go of."
"You loved her."
"With all my heart. But love doesnt guarantee that you wont hurt or fail one another."
"Let me see." Ravins arm had been grazed by an outgrowth of brush.
"You " Gabrielle stopped herself from finishing the thought.
"I what?" Ravin asked playfully.
She received a scolding in response. "Youre bleeding. That is blood."
Ravin acquiesced. "Very well."
Gabrielle took a bandage from her pack.
Ravin observed the obvious. "Youre prepared."
Gabrielles humor had yet to be tapped. "Ive seen plenty of wounds in my life."
"You dont turn away from the sight of it." Ravin clarified. "Blood."
"I do what I must."
"The life of a warrior "
Gabrielles voice was solemn "There have been times that where ever Ive looked blood is all Ive seen. Even the sky turned red."
Ravin was truly puzzled. "Why do you go on?"
Gabrielle finished tying the bandage. "There has never been a fight Ive fought that didnt need to be. I didnt always agree with the methods but I knew we were doing the best we could."
"Ive fought beside others." Wishing to change the subject Gabrielle brightly declared, "All done!"
Gabrielle scanned the landscape. "Why did you bring me here?"
"Its just a place with a good view of the surrounding lands." Ravin took a breath for courage. At the same time she wondered why the words came with such difficulty. "To be honest, I wanted to spend some private time with you. To get to know you better"
"Must there be a reason?"
"I dont know. Ive met strangers and from the first words or look I knew I wanted nothing to do with them and then Ive met others who quickly felt like old friends."
"You have traveled many lands and met many different people."
"Ravin, I dont want to sound arrogant but when you live on the road it loses its mystique. Its what Ive done and what I will continue to do but I dont pretend that it is more than it is."
"But neither is it less. Forgive me but you dont sound as if youre anxious to leave."
"Right now I guess Im not."
"Why? For what?"
Ravin failed to censor herself. "For me. For a friendship."
Gabrielle remained silent.
"Im sorry if Im being presumptuous. I just thought you might not want to be completely alone in your life. And, I felt that you thought well of me. Stay for a time."
"Ive lost a great many friends."
Ravin was determined. "Ive lost my past but that wont keep me from making a life for myself."
"There are things you dont know about me. What has brought me here."
"And youre not ready to share them with me. I know."
"And when I do?"
Ravins was a sincere promise. "I will listen."
Gabrielle was not convinced. "Your father would rather see me leave."
"He is suspicious of all foreigners. He seems to have very set ideas about Greeks." Ravin smiled to ease the impact of her words. "He questions your motives and morals."
"Im not surprised."
Choosing to change their focus to a more enjoyable topic Ravin inquired of the young warrior. "Tell me, the Greeks play games of skill do they not?"
Gabrielle responded with guarded suspicion. "Yes."
"We have an approaching festival to celebrate our good fortune. There will be many contests of skill. You ride a horse well enough and you are masterful with your weapons. There must surly be a contest that you would want to take part in."
Gabrielle spoke with mock hesitancy. "Possibly."
Ravin responded with a wry grin. "There are one or two that require a partner."
Gabrielle was enjoying the moment. "I see."
Knowing her answer but not yet willing to give it she offered a tentative reply. "I will."
Andre stood by Gabrielles side. "She is taking this very seriously."
"Oh yes. She insisted that we practice."
"She is determined to beat me and Jóel."
"That is what happens when you taunt her."
"Im still learning. She is quite a woman, my sister."
"Yes, she is."
"So you do admire her?"
"Yes Andre, I do."
"She thinks highly of you as well. Ravin seems happier since you came. She needed a friend although sometimes Im jealous of the time you spend together." Gabrielle met Andres gaze. "Its all right. I have Lasa and my own friends." He paused and then smiled broadly. "Gabrielle, I dont know how Ill bear losing to two women."
Gabrielle matched his smile. "We will see if today you will learn a new lesson."
"You will show me no pity?"
"As much as Ravin."
"Then I have a great deal to be concerned about."
Ravin approached the two with a frown. "Gabrielle, we are about to race and youre being friendly with our competition?"
"Andre was soliciting my pity."
Andre protested. "I have done no such thing!"
"My brother, you will have the pity of all the spectators as you learn a new sense of humility."
The judges horn blew the ready.
Ravin did not hide her excitement. "Its time!"
Gabrielle looked to Andre. "Shes your sister."
Andre responded with gusto, "Yes, but by adoption!"
The race rules were simple enough. A relay, each pair carrying a staff with its teams flag, which needed to be transferred from one partner to the next. The race ran a linear line with a well-marked zone for the transfer at mid-distance. The smoother the transfer the better chance to keep the horses speed uninterrupted. Gabrielle and Ravin decided that Gabrielle should start. Given that Jóel was also a starter, Ravin and Andre would race against one another to the finish.
All racers, a total of nine teams, approached. The starting judge Teran signaled the riders into position. Gabrielle held her flag with one hand as she steadied her mare. The horn was blown and the race began. Ravin waited posed for the right moment to gallop alongside her partner. She felt the rush of adrenaline as she watched Gabrielle approach. "Come on, come on."
Andre called out. "Your friend is doing well."
Ravin called back. "Pay attention Andre. You might just learn something."
Gabrielle, Jóel, and two others were approaching. Their respective partners prepared themselves. As the steeds hit the transfer zone the four pair of racers rode side by side. Ravin kept her vision on Gabrielle. Gabrielle matched Ravins gaze and then called out, "Catch!"
To Ravins shock Gabrielle threw the flag staff to her. Instinctively Ravin caught it and road on leaving the others to struggle with a more conventional hand-to-hand transfer. Jóel and Andre successfully completed their transfer. Andre whipped his stallion. Though he rode the fastest horse in the land he could not recover the distance that separated him from his sister. Ravin crossed the finish line two lengths ahead of him. Ravin slowed down her horse and trotted back to the finish line to collect the awaiting prize of wine. Gabrielle gently road her mare to meet her.
"Sister! What do you call that transfer?"
Ravin looked back to an approaching Andre. "I would call it effective."
"I didnt teach you it."
"It just came to me."
Ravin turned her attention to Gabrielle who was now by her side. "Andre was admiring our new transfer technique. It was quite a surprise."
Gabrielle smiled. "You just never know what to expect."
"Well, I cant say I wasnt warned. Enjoy the wine but dont let it go to your heads."
"The wine or the win?" Ravin laughed.
"Both my sister."
Ravin turned to her partner. Her exhilaration could not be disguised. "Well done, Gabrielle. But next time I would appreciate a fair warning "
"But Ravin, you got all the warning you needed." Gabrielle relished the exchange of words. It reminded her of another time in her life.
"More wine?" Ravin offered.
Gabrielle declined graciously. "No thank you."
"Its been a good day. A good race, good wine, good company."
"I think youre good and drunk."
Ravin laughed joyfully. "I might be."
"What is so funny?"
"Ive been so well behaved since Father found me."
"Im not a child and I am certainly not his child but it still matters to me that Father be proud of me. I rein myself in a great deal. You dont know."
Gabrielle took Ravin in. She was amazingly beautiful by the light of the lamps. She wore an azure robe. Her long black hair flowed gently down and her smile was sweet and free of all cares. It was a warm night and they were enjoying the spoils of the race in the privacy of Ravins tent. Gabrielle could very well imagine now much of Xenas free spirit still churned inside of Ravin and how difficult her obedience to Decevis might at times be. Never had Gabrielle seen or heard Ravin demonstrate any disrespect for the tribes patriarch. There was little to argue about. Decevis led his tribe well though he tended to have an unexpected edge. He would not forgive the slightest infraction against the law of his god. He seemed to fear that doing so would be a sign of weakness. The punishments fell near the cruel. Harsh they were meant to imbue discipline and promote abidance. As Decevis adopted daughter Ravin took great care in her actions. She was watchful of Gabrielle as well. Gabrielle soon realized that Ravin was simply trying to avoid an unintended breech of protocol on the part of her new friend. Decevis did not excuse ignorance of the law in his sentencing as a number of foreigners painfully learned.
But they were now in Ravins tent and the rules lay on the other side of the canvas. "Gabrielle?"
"Yes Ravin." Gabrielle felt she was amusing a gentle child.
"Im not drunk with wine you know."
"No." Ravin moved closer to Gabrielle and took her hand into her own. The sensation was sudden, unexpectedly frightening yet engaging. Ravin was drawn into it. She focused on her hand holding Gabrielles. What was this feeling? From the beginning Gabrielle had kept her physical distance from Ravin. Touch was too difficult given the truth she harbored and the control she was required to maintain. Ravin grew still. She looked up to Gabrielle. Gabrielles emerald eyes and the sweep of blond hair near her brow compounded Ravins confusion. Ravin released her hold, "Im sorry."
Gabrielle had struggled to maintain her composure throughout the moment. "For what?"
"Im drunk." Ravin spoke more to herself than to her companion as she sought a fleeting reassurance, "I must be drunk." Ravins confusion was tangible. Gabrielle witnessed the strong, passionate woman withdraw into a shell. This was not Xena. Gabrielle longed to comfort Ravin but knew that physically reaching out to her would be a great risk. Touch had triggered the reaction.
"Im tired, Gabrielle."
"Then Ill leave you so you can get some sleep."
Ravin had sat up and moved her legs close to her. Her eyes watched Gabrielle as Gabrielle raised herself to her feet and readied her pack. Gabrielle turned her eyes toward Ravin hesitant of what she would see. She found Ravin, Xena, at her most vulnerable. How she wanted to show her love at that very moment but instead she tried to assure. "Get some rest."
Ravin nodded, "I will."
As Gabrielle swept open the tent entrance Ravin called out her name. Gabrielle turned back. Ravin seemed to tremble. This was too much for Gabrielle to bear. She dropped her pack and moved quickly to her beloved. "What is it?"
"When I touched you I felt "
Gabrielle reached up and stoked Ravins hair. "What did you feel?"
The touch. Gabrielles touch. Something broke inside Ravin. She knew she was about to lose control. The fever that raged within her at times and drove her to ride her mount to exhaustion was rising sharply. She didnt understand it. She knew viscerally that it was her past struggling to the surface. As much as she welcomed the knowledge she pressed it down because she knew its fierceness had the power to consume her. "Gabrielle, please leave me."
Gabrielle sat back on her heals, "Ravin?"
"Go!" The word came with the full force of a violent storm.
Xena was back, the Xena who would never allow her vulnerability to be seen. Gabrielle stood up and left without a word. Out in the night she took a deep breath. Soon. Soon it would be time to confess the truth.
The elder lifted her staff and pounded against the canvas as she called out, "Anyone in there? If you are show yourself."
Gabrielle had had a fitful sleep. She raised herself up and opened the tent entrance. As her eyes adjusted to the late morning sun an old woman came into focus. Before she could say a word the woman spoke. "You are the stranger?"
"I am Compreda. Ravin has spoken of me."
Gabrielle tried to get her wits about her. "Compreda. Yes."
"We must talk. Come for a walk with me."
"Do you know a better time?"
"Right now I dont think I know anything."
"Oh, you know the truth and that is why we must get acquainted."
Compreda had won Gabrielles complete attention.
They walked the isolated path. Compreda kept a steady pace using her staff for support. "Tell me why you came here. I want the truth, not what you told Ravin or Decevis."
"I was searching for someone."
"And you found her have you not?"
Gabrielle looked into the old womens well-worn face. She chose to trust her. "Yes, I have."
"But she doesnt know you."
"No, she doesnt."
"And what are you going to do about that?"
Gabrielle spoke confidently. "Im going to tell her the truth."
"When it feels right."
Compredas concerns were not appeased. "Ravin is troubled. She came to see me today. Tell me what happened between you two last night."
"Nothing really. She had a bit too much wine to drink. She came to me and took my hand. It was then that she changed. She seemed frighten and confused and then she sent me away."
"A simple touch. It can be very powerful. I had spoken briefly to Xena before she became Ravin." Gabrielle stopped her journey. Compreda turned back. "Oh yes, I know. A crazy woman such as myself doesnt forget how to see easily. Compreda took the needed steps to stand by Gabrielles side. She placed her hand on Gabrielles back to guide her forward. "As far as I know the rest of the tribe sees only Ravin. Xena has a soft place in her heart for the sages in the world."
"In my tribe there was a healer that took good care of us both."
"I am grateful to your healer for setting a fine example. As I said Xena and I talked briefly. I knew your name and I knew you shared a special bond. Is it as strong as Xena told me?"
"Very well. This may be a trying time. Are you strong enough to endure it?"
"Xena and I have gone through a great deal."
"This will be one more test of your faith in each other and in your self. I warn you Gabrielle. You are not in Greece. Love between two women is not accepted her. You are not only fighting Xenas loss of memory you are fighting the customs of her adopted tribe."
"Why have you come to me?"
"Because Xena saved my kinsmen and she shouldnt lose her life for it. You know the men, they play at being politicians and leaders but we women, we change the world one day at a time, one life at a time, by giving birth, teaching, healing, working in the fields, making a home for our families, caring for our temples. The men are too blind to see the truth of life that surrounds them each and every day. Im doing this because it is what I do. Its the only way I have. Do you understand?"
"Yes, I do. Xena has her way and I have mine."
"And the glory is that you can be true to yourselves and still be true to each other, yes?"
Gabrielle had now observed Xena as Ravin for some time. The question she posed to herself was whether Xena was the same woman having lost her memories. It was difficult to answer the question objectively. At first her answer was an unqualified yes. Ravin and Xena are one and the same. All she must do is revive Xenas memories. There would be a desire, an underlying need within her beloved to know herself for who she is. But in truth Gabrielle had doubts. She had doubts about whether Ravin was Xena. She looked to herself and knew that who she was came to be through the experiences of her lifetime. She was the youth of Poteidaia; the friend then beloved of Xena. She had traveled to distant lands and learned by living among or simply observing cultures that differed from her own. She had been the wife of Perdicas, the young Queen of the Amazons, the mother of Hope; she had seen her own evil daughter killed by her monstrous grandson; she had tried to follow the teachings of the prophet Eli, experienced death by crucifixion, seen the wonders of paradise and tasted the fruits of hell, she had fled from the wrath of the Olympian Gods as protector of Eve, and renewed her reign of the Amazon nation when it was under siege. Take anyone of the memories from her and she would not be the same woman. Take away her love, the love that has been her foundation for the past many years and who would she be?
Ravin has the physical strength of Xena though Gabrielle doubted that Ravin knew the full extent of her capabilities. Ravin also held an innate ability to critically assess individuals. She has demonstrated a respect for life. For those weaker or less skilled she offered care and assistance though she did not exercise her considerable knowledge as a healer. But there was something else. Gabrielle was left troubled by Ravins lack of confidence in herself. She had embraced the community of the tribe and allowed it to subsume her identify in a way Xena would never have done. Ravin did not want to stand completely alone. Xena would do so to maintain her integrity even at the cost of her life.
There was the difference. Xena knew she could never go home completely. The sins of her past always stood between her and that dream. It was a dream that could only have life in the state of amnesia she was now experiencing. Gabrielle wondered if Xena would have ever chosen the dream given the opportunity? She believed not. She remembered the fates had once given Xena that very choice and that she rejected it. So, what had now come to be couldnt have been a conscious decision. Or had Xena changed her mind after all the events that had taken place since the offer of the fates? Were that true it would have been a choice to forget their love and Eve. She would have forgotten all the good done throughout the years. No, Gabrielle would not accept that loss of memory and a new life was Xenas choice. Gabrielle remembered her own decision to keep her memories. She could have forgotten her betrayal of Xena at the cost of remembering her family, her friends, her loves. The price was simply too high to pay. Xena had hoped Gabrielle would decide so but never interfered in Gabrielles decision.
And so, Gabrielle knew that though she wished otherwise, Ravin without the memories of Xena would never be Xena. She also knew that Xena never chose to become Ravin. Gabrielle was clear of what she needed to do. Xena would expect no less from her.
Ravin was deeply shaken by an impossible, unacceptable awareness. Gabrielle was not alone. She raised herself up from where she was seated. She stood over Gabrielle. "What are you saying?"
Gabrielle looked up to Ravin, matching her gaze. "Only what you asked me."
"Why would your beloved come to the desert?"
"I dont know for sure. We were separated while helping a village fight against a warlord. I waited and then began my search. I learned that a caravan had traveled through and someone matching my beloveds description was known to have been with them. So I followed the trail and it led me here."
"Why didnt you tell me this before?"
"I had my reasons."
"There are many strangers who come through our lands. What does your beloved look like?"
Ravin took a step back as if slapped. "I dont know you." She turned to retrace her path, to return to where she had come from. What Gabrielle spoke of could not be. It was considered an abomination by the tribe, by the tribes God. This could not be true and if it was, it was Gods grace that granted her leave from her previous life.
Gabrielle watched and waited patiently. The tall warrior had halted her departure. Gabrielle could only imagine the battle that was stirring within her. After a few breaths, it was with disappointment that Gabrielle watched the woman named Ravin take her next steps away from the camp.
"Old woman." The warriors voice demanded recognition.
Compreda responded with interest "Ravin."
"What kind of spell have you brewed?"
Compreda took the accusation in stride. "What do you mean child?"
"The stranger, Gabrielle. She said she is my beloved."
"And what does your heart say."
Ravin did not expect the composed question. "It cant be her."
"You heart has spoken?"
The anger in Ravins voice had not subsided. "No. Im saying it cant be her."
"Because she " Ravins sense of loss began to make itself know and she hesitated. Ravin knew Compredas loyalties were not to be trusted. Compreda had never felt bound to the law.
Ravin retreated. "I must go to Father."
Compreda sat back on her chair. What she had been waiting for had now happened. She wished she could take satisfaction in Gabrielles challenge but she knew better. There were too many dangers still to overcome before justice could be done.
Decevis listened to his daughter intently. His fears were coming true but he wasnt ready to stay the fight just yet. "The Greek is speaking lies. I cautioned you not to befriend her. Heed my warning daughter. What this woman proposes is evil." Decevis reached out and took Ravins hand. "There is no evil in you. I will not allow her to lead you to believe that you were at anytime capable of such corruption."
Ravin felt a profound sorrow. "Father, how can love be so wrong?"
Decevis would not be engaged by Ravins question and thus he ignored it. "It is against nature."
Ravins greatest longing broke through all her considerable self-imposed constraints. "Who am I, Father?"
Decevis relied upon the weight of his unchallenged authority. "You are my daughter. That is all you need to know."
Ravin spoke from her heart. "I want more."
Decevis held firm. "If being the daughter of Decevis is not good enough
"Please understand." Ravin begged.
"It is you who must come to an understanding. You must chose who you will be. My daughter or Gabrielles whore."
Ravin was appalled by Deceviss portrayal. He offered her only the extremes of his morality. She knew who she was rested in the unknown.
"Excuse me Father. I didnt mean to upset you." Ravin left wishing she had never gone to Decevis for guidance. She motioned to leave but stopped upon hearing Decevis call her name. She turned again to the patriarch. He had regained his stately presence.
"Have you read the scrolls of Gabrielle?"
"I have copies. He pointed to a trunk near Ravins feet. "They are in that trunk. Take them and read them. Decide for yourself if you are the Greek woman Gabrielle wishes you to be."
Andre was insistent. "Your insinuations are unacceptable."
Gabrielle maintained her composure. "To whom, you or Ravin?"
"To nature. Men and women were created for one another."
"That is true but that isnt the only truth. Plato told the story of how humanity was once man and woman, man and man, and woman and woman. Split by the gods they divided, souls destined to seek and find their other halves. Xena and I are soulmates."
"Plato, a Greek no less. You call her by another name. The woman you knew no longer exists. You are determined to ruin Ravins life."
Gabrielle was determined. "She should know who she is."
Andre was equally passionate. "She does. It is her choice. By her own words she is content. Why must you disturb her peace?"
"The truth is not easy."
"Yes, you are right. It is you who do not accept the truth of your loss?"
"As long as Xena is alive."
"But that is where you are wrong. The fact that Ravin was found in the desert does not mean that she is your Xena."
"Andre." The strong controlled voice interrupted.
Both Andre and Gabrielle turned to see the woman in question. She posed her question to her brother, "What are you doing?"
Andre took a step towards his sister. "Father told me. Its time this insanity ended."
Ravins voice carried forth her displeasure. "So, you would save me from Gabrielle? I thought you trusted my judgment."
"I do." Andre turned his gaze towards Gabrielle. "But I do not trust the Greeks."
Ravin spoke her fear veiled in a challenge. "How do you know I am not a Greek?"
Andre would not waiver. "You are who you call yourself and unless you have decided otherwise you are a member of our tribe."
Ravin took solace in Andres declaration. "I agree. Please leave us brother. I will return to camp within a candlemark."
Andre turned to Gabrielle. His voice was low enough that only she could hear. "I wish our differences did not exist because I do respect you. But know this. I will fight with my last breath to prevent you from harming my sister."
Gabrielle nodded. She respected the young man as well. She could only admire his devotion.
Ravin waited until Andre had left the camp. She turned to Gabrielle resolute in what she must do. "Gabrielle, I am not the woman you call Xena and even if I was I dont have any reason to go back to being her. Father has shown me the scrolls. Xenas life is one of violence and death. If it wasnt for Malignos thieves I would have no reason to raise a sword. Why would you have me become such a monster?"
"Xena, you are not a monster."
"Tell me, what is your greatest wish for me?
Gabrielle knew the answer without forethought. "That you find peace."
"I am at peace."
"Are you?" Gabrielle could not hide her disbelief.
"I was before you came. Leave me in peace Gabrielle."
Gabrielle was disheartened. "How can I? What of our love?"
Ravin spoke decisively. "The love you speak of is wrong."
Gabrielle was stunned. Xena could have said no words more painful. Ravin continued. "What youre doing has nothing to do with me. Its all about you. What you want."
Gabrielle looked to her beloved and knew that what was said was, in part, true. Her life had become inseparable from Xenas. Her way was with Xena. She could accept Xenas death but she could not accept that Xena would have nothing to do with her. The woman who stood before her was speaking a truth that Gabrielle did not wish to accept. Ravin was adamant that her Xena was dead and would remain dead to her.
Ravin waited for a response. She witnessed a change in affect. The bright, earnest eyes of the young woman dulled. A shadow, like a cloud engulfing the sun over took her leaving a pale anguish.
Gabrielle did not know how to fight back. She did not know what she could say to regain her stature within the others life. How do you convince someone to love you when they say they dont and wont; that the very notion of your love is offensive to them; that the once constant murmur of love no longer beats in their heart. In her despair she surrendered. "Im sorry. I was wrong to try to change you. Change only comes if you want it in your heart."
Ravin felt a rising pity. She had finally won her argument but she felt no satisfaction. "Where will you go?"
Gabrielles loss and confusion was tangible. "I dont know."
"Will you go home?"
Gabrielle responded as she had always, "My home is with " Her voice faded. She could not complete the thought. It held true still in her heart but life had denied her. "Greece. My sister and niece live in Poteidaia and then there is Eve."
"Who is Eve?"
"I love her as if she were my own daughter. She is Xenas daughter."
Ravin needed to steady herself. But she would not be swayed. "Its good that you wont be alone."
"Xe Ravin. I have one request of you."
Ravin was cautious. "What is it?"
"May I," Gabrielle opened her arms, "say good-bye?"
Ravin stepped up and took the young woman into her embrace. Gabrielle had fought beside her. She had been a good friend during the time they shared. The embrace was little to ask.
Gabrielle held on tightly feeling the strength of her beloved. The pain was sharp and exacting. She took a breath and stepped back. "I will never forget you."
Ravin had braced herself. She was numb to all feeling. "Nor I you. Travel safely."
Gabrielle turned and walked away. Ravin stood silently and watched the young warriors silhouette descend beyond the dunes as the brilliant colors of the setting sun washed the sky.
Gabrielle traveled until nightfall. A set of caverns promised shelter. From one she spied a light. As she neared she realized the light emanated from a burning torch. Securing her mare she stood at the caverns threshold. An inscription in a language beyond her knowledge was chiseled on the wall. Gabrielle hoped it was an invitation and not a warning. She raised the torch from its perch and entered further into the cavern. The cavern opened into a large chamber. Torches at each of its six corners burned brightly. Gabrielle recognized the space as a temple. At its center stood an alter and upon the alter a stone, a perfect hexagon. The stone was three fingers length high with neat sharp engravings of the same alphabet she found at the threshold. She suspected their origin as one of an ancient cult. Gabrielle reached her hand to touch the stone.
Gabrielle pulled her hand back and turned to see a woman standing at one of the chambers corners. "I did not mean to startle you but the Emeth stone is unforgiving, that is unless it is more than curiosity that leads you to touch it and you seek out its power."
The woman, Gabrielle observed, was a handful of years older than her. She was tall and slender. She wore a green robe that fell gently in folds across her body. Her eyes were a deep almond, her voice soft and assuring. Gabrielle noted that she had neither heard nor sensed the womans approach. "No, I dont know what this place is."
"An ancient temple of a time many have forgotten or wish to forget."
"And this?" Gabrielle pointed to the Emeth stone.
The woman stepped forward. "Some consider it a gift from our god. Others consider it a curse. The Emeth stone has the power to grant a prayer but not always as one imagines the prayer."
Gabrielle was puzzled by the womans words. "I dont understand."
The woman continued with a sincere desire to illuminate the obscure. "One may pray never to go hungry again and meet death before they desire their next meal." She then posed a question to the young stranger before her, "The prayer was granted was it not?"
Gabrielle now understood, "I see."
The woman smiled because she observed that the stranger did indeed understand. "My name is Cala. I am the keeper of this temple. You are welcomed to stay if you seek shelter."
Gabrielle appreciated the invitation. "Yes, thank you. Just for the night."
Cala chose not to restrain her own curiosity. "May I ask where you are traveling?"
Gabrielle paused. The present had been pushed away while she searched for shelter. She hesitated, "I dont know." She then spoke a rote answer, "Back home to Greece."
"Back? You have been in our lands?"
"Yes. I had a camp near the tribe of Decevis."
"Decevis." Cala allowed the name to rest between them for a moment. "Did you come to know any of his people?"
Gabrielle found the conversation difficult but answered in spite of her pain and confusion. "I met his son and daughter."
Cala clarified. "The new daughter, Ravin?"
"Yes." Gabrielle had a rising hope that she could learn more about Ravin.
"She is impressive."
"You know her?"
"Only by reputation." Cala looked intently upon the stranger. She had an unspoken suspicion. "May I ask your name?"
Gabrielle felt her own lack of courtesy. "Im sorry, my name is Gabrielle."
"It is getting late, Gabrielle. You may stable your horse in an adjacent cave. No harm will come to her."
Gabrielle watched silently as Cala turned and left her alone within the temple. She stood her eyes fixed upon the space that had held Calas form. Gabrielle was not certain of how much time had passed before she broke free from her empty gaze. It was her fatigued that demanded her attention. She was tired and longed for rest. Soon, Gabrielle extinguished all but one of the torches and laid herself to rest. Sleep came to her slowly. The memory of the day played endlessly in her mind. Xena, Ravin, sending her off, refusing her love; declaring her love wrong. Sleep did not arrest her thoughts. The days events delved deeper and deeper into her mind and heart. Her soul began to tear. What once was a part of her was demanding release, brutally striking a knife at her essence, damning her love.
"No!" Gabrielle cried out repeatedly, "No!" The tear overwhelmed her as she suffered the pain of a cut across her heart. "It hurts." She closed her arms over her heart as she struggled to breathe. The shock of Xenas refusal had worn off and in its absence rose the exposed raw anguish of being sent away by her beloved. She heard Xenas voice, with its resonating beauty strip away her hope. Gabrielle raised herself to her feet. She wanted to run; to run away from the image and sounds that converged upon her. Their sharp, burning edges cut wound within wound. She wanted no more of it. She rose and as she staggered without direction she moved to the center of the chamber. Her sorrow continued to break out of its confinement. Blinded by her own tears she had no recognition of where she was though light still burned from the one lit torch. She lifted her hand to steady herself and when she placed it down it rested upon the Emeth stone.
End of Part One
"Where is she?"
"Ive placed her in an adjoining chamber for her own safety."
"Would you have done so before."
"Old woman, do not lecture me. I had warned her of the power of the stone." Cala could not disguise her pity. "I cannot believe this was intentional."
They entered the small chamber. Gabrielle rested on a pallet. There was a chair, the only other furniture in the space, at her side. Compreda went and sat upon the chair. She was deeply sadden. She placed her hand upon Gabrielles cheek. Gabrielle raised her own hand and covered Compredas. Gabrielle felt the soft worn skin and took comfort from it.
Compreda spoke the disturbing question. "Why would God to this to her?"
Cala was nonplused. "What was her prayer?"
"By her own admission the youth has little regard for the gods. There was no prayer."
"There is always a prayer. Even in the hearts of those who dont believe there is a desire for a beginning or an ending and during rare occasions for a continuance of what is."
Compredas anger rose. "She did not deserve this."
"You and I know better than most that words such as fair are irreverent. This is living."
"Cala, you may be right but I dont care."
"Old woman that is why I sent for you. You are the only one I know who will challenge an act of God."
"You have a wry sense of humor Cala."
"What must be done?"
"First I will see Ravin."
The seers temper allowed for no further indulgence. "You are not Xena. She was not a coward. She would have given her life for Gabrielle without a second thought."
Ravin struggled to maintain her composure amidst Compredas verbal assault. "How do you know this?"
"Are legends "
Interrupting Compreda pressed further, "The legends come from Gabrielles own words. They preceded you and her by a generation. It is not as if Gabrielle created them for her own benefit. She sang the song of Xena because of her love for you."
"For Xena. You said yourself I am not Xena."
The seer challenged. "Have you no compassion?"
Tormented by the relentless argument Ravin demanded, "Why did you come to me? Gabrielle is gone. She is on her way to Greece."
Compreda paused. Her silence was unnerving. When she finally did speak it was with a vengeance. "Her way? She will never return to Greece!"
Ravin was stunned. She stood accused of a crime she had no knowledge of. "What do you mean?"
"I will take you to her."
Ravin soon realized that Compreda was taking her to the temple caverns. She knew of them but had been directed by Decevis never to set foot within them. The patriarchs command had always puzzled her because the temple was a place of devotion for his god. Ravin had thought on more than one occasion that visiting the temple would have been to her benefit. She struggled so with Decevis faith, with the very notion of an all-knowing, all-powerful god. She accepted the laws of the god more than the god itself. The laws were a notion of government and morality that she had little difficulty understanding. Her concerns always rested upon the application of the laws. Given that it was for Decevis to judge infractions and to sentence punishment she struggled with the disparity she witnessed between the declared mercy of god in worship and the severity of gods wisdom demonstrated in practice through Decevis.
The two walked beyond the main temple cavern to where Gabrielle was housed. A torch lit the room. Gabrielle sat up on the pallet. A blanket lay over her shoulders. She hugged her knees close to her body. She remained still. Her emerald eyes were blank slates.
Ravin was enraged. "Who did this to her?"
Unlike her recent out burst Compreda eluded a cold calmness. "No one. She touched the Emeth stone."
"The word comes from the Hebrew tribe. It means truth, faithful. The stone has the power to reflect ones heart upon the corporal body."
Ravin took a step towards Gabrielle. "I dont understand."
"We speak of an old proverb, Let not mercy and truth forsake you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart. When Gabrielle laid her hand upon the stone the truth in her heart was raised to the surface. I believe that her desire was to separate herself from all that caused her pain. Mercy was granted and she was separated from the senses of life. There is nothing she can see or hear that will hurt her again."
Ravin stood in disbelief. "Youre saying she asked for this."
"To be deaf and blind, no. To never hear or see her torment, yes. God acts in ways beyond what we mere mortals can understand. There is never knowing what placing ones hand on the Emeth stone will do only that thy will be done under Gods wisdom.
Reaching out her hand, Ravin paused and turned to the seer. "Can she feel touch."
Compreda harbored a rising hope. "Yes, why do you ask?"
Ravin went to Gabrielle and knelt before her. She gently touched Gabrielles hand. Gabrielle raised her head attentively. This was not the cool touch of an elder. It was warmth, a younger life but different from the one that had first found her. Ravin squeezed Gabrielles hand to assure.
Ravin swore an oath. "I will care for her but I cannot help her." She turned her gaze back to the seer. "By your own words Compreda, the woman who could petition God no longer lives."
Exasperated Compreda spit, "I leave you to Gabrielle and to your petty conscious."
Gabrielle held to the sensation of the new touch and waited uncertain of what would come from it. She had awoken in darkness and silence. She had struggled to remember where she was. The temple. The unrelenting grief. It all ceased. She had lost consciousness. What had happened to her and why she did not know. A gentle touch came to her. She had first recoiled in fear but it raised her up and guided her to where she now lay. It was a pallet placed against the stone walls. She had a small space that was her world. She remembered a time when she had been thrown into a chamber by the warlord Draxis. Where darkness had been one of his means to try to break her. She remembered a previous wound where she lost her ability to hear and to speak, where she struggled to communicate. It was as if both losses had been combined into one. She still had her voice, she could sense touch and she smelled the musty odor of the cavern blend with the scent of burning incense.
She had no control. She was at the mercy of others. She felt the immediate loss with an unexpected resignation. What else could be taken from her? She had lost Xena. She had loss all independence. Her connection to the world was severed.
The touch turned her hand palm up. She felt a finger gently mark it in strokes. She felt a repetition. She hadnt grasped the meaning of it until the third repetition. Gabrielle requested, "Again. Write it again."
<Do you need anything?>
Yes she did but nothing that could be easily given. She replied, "No, thank you."
<You will be cared for.>
Gabrielle cocked her head to the side in acknowledgment then leaned back. The Greek letters were her connection. She felt relief that Greek was a language known by a number of those in Decevis tribe. She wanted to know her benefactor. "Who are you?"
Gabrielle was confused. She believed it was Cala that had found her and this was a different presence. "Who found me?"
Gabrielle enveloped her benefactors hand with her own. By her touch she assessed that it was a hand larger, stronger than her own with the calluses of one who held a sword. She knew this hand intimately. Ravin was intent on maintaining her anonymity. Gabrielle would not challenge it.
Decevis was furious. "What are you doing with that woman!"
Ravin stood firm. "I am helping her. I am giving her the same hospitality you gave me."
"Nothing good will come of it."
"Father, I did not expect such words from you."
"This has gone far enough. I forbid you to see her again. I will send another to help her."
"That doesnt make sense. Why cant I help Gabrielle?"
Slamming his fist upon the table before him. "I will not lose a second daughter."
A fact had become self-evident to Ravin. "There is something you are not telling me."
Decevis ignored Ravin. "I will send the woman away."
"If you do I will go with her." Ravin paused desperately trying to rein in her emotions. "Father, you fear losing me. I assure you, you will if you try to keep me here with lies or threats."
"You were an obedient daughter before Gabrielle came to us."
"I mean no disrespect. Is it wrong to ask for the truth? Father, I beg you what is the truth?"
"My truth is all you need."
Ravin would not be deterred. "I dont want your truth or Gabrielles truth. I want my own truth. How did I become your daughter?"
Decevis refused her. "If you do not love me then leave me."
Decevis pain was searing. "Go! Go with the devils that haunt this earth."
Ravin turned and left the patriarchs tent. Her sorrow and anger pressed upon her chest. She went back to her tent. Her eyes searched each corner of it. She did not know what she was looking for. Would but one of her possessions tell her what she must do. She went to a medium size chest and kneeled before it. Opening the cover her eyes rested on a small satchel. She knew that within it were two stones, a blue stone and a green stone of no real value. They were of no value except to the woman she once was. She was told that the satchel had been tied to her belt. Opening it she poured the stones onto her palm. So light and yet they carried the weight of her past. Looking in a mirror she held the blue stone to her eye. Was that the connection? And the green stone. Was it a symbol of her beloveds eyes, green captivating eyes much like Gabrielles?
Gabrielle learned that her caretakers were three, Cala, Compreda and finally Ravin incognito. There was little that could be done for her. She was fed. Compreda washed her. Cala offered words of comfort patiently upon her palm. Ravin inquired for her needs but no more.
By a shift of the cavern air Gabrielle felt the presence enter the chamber. She also felt the discomfort of being observed. She waited patiently for a more pronounced sign that she was not alone. None came. So she spoke. "Whos there?"
Ravin stood before Gabrielle. Her rage had not subsided. Decevis' harshness was intolerable. He refused to visit Gabrielle to see what his god had done to her. Ravin paced back and forth angry at the world that held the injury and sorrow that had touched Gabrielle.
Gabrielle reached out. "Please, Who are you?"
Ravin turned away. Cala stood by the threshold.
Ravin demanded more than requested, "Tell her youre here."
Cala spoke softly as she went to Gabrielle. "Where is your heart Ravin?" Placing her hand over Gabrielles she begged the question, "Why does Gabrielle frighten you so?"
"How can you look at her, a woman that was so alive, without "
Cala interrupted Ravin as she wrote her name upon Gabrielles palm. "Do you give only to those who are whole and recoil from anything that reminds you of the losses of life?"
"That is not my way. I have helped all in the tribe who have been in need."
"Then only Gabrielle twists your soul?" Cala swept Gabrielles hair to the side. "She will rest now." Cala rose and stood parallel to Ravin. "I have tasks to complete. You will be near or must I call someone to be with her?"
Ravin was defiant. No one could presume to understand her. "Ill stay."
Calas response was equally firm. "Good."
The dream of Xena had soothed her. A blending of shared intimate moments, of small gestures that bound them. The tapestry of images began to unravel, to tear and burn from both within and from its sides. The fabric was tattered, disintegrating and she could not stop it.
"No!" Gabrielle cried out from her sleep. Jared to wakefulness she was still in the darkness. She raised her fist to fight herself out of the darkness. Her fist was met by a hand that captured her momentum. She raised her other arm in protest but she felt another hand pin her arm to her body. "No!" It was a weary cry. More a surrender. Her head bent down, met her counterparts chest. She allowed her tears and her fear was transformed. In that moment she embodied her absolute vulnerability and dependence. Ravin held Gabrielle close. There was no more fight. Gabrielle felt the strong arms surround her. She buried herself in the embrace. She could smell the other. It was Xenas scent. Her words came as a plea. "Help me. Please help me."
Ravin heard the plea and held Gabrielle all the closer. This woman believed Ravin to be her beloved. This woman had searched the desert looking for her. This woman renown for her gift as a storyteller, who immortalized Xenas quest for redemption, this woman pleaded for her life as if it was Ravins to give, as if Ravin was the Warrior Princess herself. Gabrielles tears continued. Ravin held Gabrielle tenderly yet firmly. There was no letting go.
Compreda found Gabrielle asleep in Ravin arms. Ravin hadnt slept. She turned her head up to the approaching seer and waited. Compreda did not disappoint, "It is good that you can bring her comfort. One would mistakenly think you cared."
"I owe you no explanation."
"Will you continue to pretend you do not love her?"
Ravin proceeded to carefully disengage herself from Gabrielle. She rose and stood over the young woman. There was no reason to continue fighting her heart. Without shifting her gaze Ravin spoke the words demanded of her. It was a prayer, as soon voiced, hushed in awe. "I do love her."
The warrior and the seer stood in silence both held by the sleeping youth. Compreda broke their contemplation. "There is a way for you and for her."
Ravin was startled by the proffered hope. "Go on."
"The Emeth stone. Her heart must want to change. If you hold any uncertainty of what Gabrielle feels you risk an outcome that will not be as you would have it. It could further destroy her."
Ravin stepped to the threshold of the cave placing her hand on the cool rock wall, the touch of flesh to stone. She was drawn to her hand, the sensation so different from Gabrielles touch. A promise of nothingness faced her. It frightened her to think that the warmth she felt from Gabrielle would always be received in anonymity. Why could she not walk away? Why the sense of responsibility? Could she believe in Gabrielles love as proof of her own identity? If true, if she was Xena would she willingly sacrifice all that she now held dear? Was the unknown so much richer? What could be richer than the peace her present home gave her? By Gabrielles own words, Xenas struggle for redemption was constant. Could the love of one woman outweigh the promised return to a state of unceasing regret?
"You ask me to give up everything I know for her."
"I do not. Placing Gabrielles hand on the Emeth stone will give her a second chance to fulfill her destiny."
"What good will it do if she doesnt have Xena? She will die in her grief."
"You know better. She has you. I have watched you with her."
Drifting in thought Ravin looked to Compreda for assurance. "Will the Emeth stones power change her even when her belief is a lie?"
"The lie is yours not Gabrielles. When her hand rests on the stone her heart will believe you are hers to have."
Ravin checked her impatience. Compredas insistence that she was the Warrior Princess remained constant and there was nothing to be done of it. "As Xena. There is a lie there."
"Tell me. What greater cruelty is there than to lose ones love doubly? Take care. You will be her destruction if you cause her to lose you again." Compreda peered into the thick silence between them. There were two conversations being spoken. The seer wondered if they were being heard. "Ravin, if it is true you are not Xena, why can you not allow Gabrielle to love you?"
"That would be another lie. Even if she wanted me for who I am, we cannot be. It is against tribal laws."
"You have made no promise to her. If her heart longs to know you it will be true to who you are and to who you will be with her as the cycles of the moon continue to turn. Do you not want her to know that she can love another?
"She doesnt love another. Its still me. And to her I am Xena."
"Its true it is still you." Compreda decided to forgo her train of argument and to follow a different tactic. With a sigh, "Very well. Ravin, I grant you your truth. The Emeth stone will reveal gods wisdom. How it does I am certain is beyond our imagination. Trust god to work through his power. Your own words echo Gabrielles confused truth. By resting her hand upon the Emeth stone Gabrielle will step out from her darkness. That will be Gabrielles new truth."
Gabrielle stirred. She felt a hand upon her brow. "Whos there?"
The hand took her own and wrote on the palm. <Ravin.> Finally, Ravin named herself.
"Hello." was Gabrielles gentle response.
Ravin continued to write. <Your hand on the Emeth stone again.>
Gabrielle was silent. The stone had done this to her. Ravin perceived Gabrielles distrust.
<Pray to see and hear the world as you once did.>
Gabrielles silence continued.
<I will be with you.>
Ravin enfolded Gabrielles hand with both her own, willing the woman to consent.
Was it, has it always been so easy? Just go back and pray for a reversal? Gabrielle wondered why they had made her wait? "There must be a risk."
Ravin had been studying Gabrielles expression intently. She was certain she could read Gabrielles thoughts. Ravin returned to Gabrielles palm. <We can never know.> was her answer.
Gabrielle had felt she had lost everything before she errantly placed her hand on the stone. But she hadnt. There was more to lose. Now she had Ravin by her side urging her to trust what had taken so much from her. To dare to hope that she could live again. How would she live given a second chance? Nothing had changed since her hand touched the stone. Xena still believed herself to be Ravin. But there had been one change. Ravin had come to her, held and comforted her in her darkness. Ravin had changed. To what extent Gabrielle did not know. "Take me to the stone."
Ravin bent her head and sighed aloud. "Thank you." She guided Gabrielle to her feet and then to the Emeth stone chamber. They stood before the stone. Ravin felt her fear rise. There was no place to escape nor way to secure comfort. She must have faith. She heard the approach of others. It was Cala and Compreda. They exchanged glances. Ravin spoke, "As you are our witness, may God have mercy on our souls." She wrote on Gabrielles palm. <Ready?>
Ravin placed Gabrielles hand over the stone and tapped it to signal to her that it was in position. Gabrielle turned her sightless eyes to Ravin. "Ravin, no matter what happens thank you for trying to help me."
Ravin had her own desire well up inside her. She could not lose Gabrielle to a woman long dead but reflected within her. Ravin focused her gaze upon Gabrielle as she slowly lower her hand. In the very moment that Gabrielles hand touched the stone Ravin in sudden desperation placed her own hand on the stone.
End of Part 2
Ravin raised her hand. What had she done? Cala and Compreda held their tongues. Gabrielles eyes were closed. She wrapped her arms around herself. Her body rocked as a well of emotion rose within her. She opened her eyes to Ravins awaiting, compassionate gaze. Gabrielles own gaze was fixed upon the woman before her. Ravin reached out for her. Gabrielle stepped back.
Gabrielle was in great distress. "Im so sorry."
Ravin tried to console. "For what? Youve done nothing wrong."
"I believed with all my heart that you were Xena. What Ive put you through is unforgivable."
Ravin could not believe the change in Gabrielle. Compreda filled the silence. "It is not important. What matters is that you have come back to this world whole."
Silent tears flowed freely as Gabrielle felt the sudden rush of her loss. No one commented as they witnessed the end of the womans hope for Xena. The Emeth stone had made a quick cut in Gabrielles heart and it bled anew. "Im feeling weak."
"That is to be expected. Cala, take Gabrielle back to her chamber. Gabrielle, we will speak further after you have rested. " Gabrielle made no protest to the seer and allowed herself to be escorted.
Ravin remained engulfed in her own confusion. She broke the stillness of the room with a bold slash of her hand against a pillar of stone. "What has happened?"
Compreda was callous in her assessment. "Is it not obvious? She sees and hears."
Ravin countered. "But she no longer sees Xena in me."
"Is that not what you wanted? Gabrielle no longer recognizes you as the one she loved. She sees the woman named Ravin, the woman you have become since joining the tribe of Decevis. Now Gabrielle will mourn Xena. You have only begun to see what the loss of Xena will mean to her."
Ravins internal chaos heightened. "This is insane."
Compreda pursued the truth. "Ravin, you have no reason to mourn the loss of Xena. Gabrielles remembrance of your time "
"I am not Xena!"
"Gabrielles remembrance of your time, the time spent since her arrival to our lands will stand alone. Her remembrance of her time with Xena is and will remain foreign to you. Only Xena has the ability to understand Gabrielles grief for it would be a grief of equal depth to what she would have felt were she to have lost Gabrielle.
"If that were true my heart wouldnt be breaking for her as it is doing now."
"Your heart breaks in compassion for a stranger, not a beloved. You are a child in knowing the pain of the living. And you will continue to be a child of life as long as you refuse to accept the truth."
"What are you saying?"
"I am saying that your hand touched the Emeth stone and it was your wish not to change with Gabrielles wish to know her caretaker that has brought this day to be. Were you truthful in your heart, I am certain that God would have granted Gabrielle Xena. But there was no Xena to bring forth since you are determined not to claim your birthright."
Compreda demanded to be acknowledged. "You asked me a question and you will hear my answer. You continue to turn your back to your very name."
"I will not argue with you!" Ravin and Compreda stood in opposition. In the shared silence their demeanors could not have differed more. Ravin felt her rapid heart beat. Would its power break her heart free from her flesh. In turn, Compreda took the moment to rein her emotions. She had regained a perfect composure.
Ravin felt her defeat. She spoke to the seer unable to conceal her remorse. "And so what happens next."
Compreda knew it was not for her to be the one to forgive Ravin. Ravin must bear the consequences of her actions. "Life will go on. No one can say what it shall bring."
Cala helped Gabrielle return to her bed. "I am truly sorry for your loss."
"Why did Ravin deceive me?"
"I dont understand."
"After I put my hand on the Emeth stone, she came to me pretending to be you."
"Yes she did. Only she knows what was in her heart."
"I thought "
"I thought it proved she loved me. That she was Xena and she knew it in spite of the loss of her memory."
"Ravin has a gentle heart. Her deception should not taint her generosity to you."
"I loved her for taking the time to be with me "
"Did you? Was it love or simply gratitude for her caring?"
"I dont know anything right now."
"Soon your strength will return and you will be free to decide what it is that you feel for Ravin."
Gabrielles body shuttered. "Xena is lost to me."
"I am certain Compreda will counsel you to continue mourning."
"Mourn? How do I live?"
"Ravin may not be Xena. She may never be your soulmate but she does feel strongly for you and could be a friend to you. You need not be alone Gabrielle. You are far too young to be alone."
"You say this to me? Cala, you have chosen to be alone."
"My story is not yours. Nor are my choices."
Gabrielle looked beyond Cala to where they had left Compreda and Ravin. Cala took note. "Its best that you sleep. You have time. Place trust in life Gabrielle."
Gabrielle turned her gaze to the young sage. "Trust in life. The greater good. Why do those simple words carry so much meaning?"
"Because living is a very simple thing to do. We need only to look at the world around us to see that we are born, we live and then we die. What makes us human is that we also love and long to be loved. And that those who do not know love, hate and hurt others. If we keep to the simple truths our journey will be clear to us. If we allow the world to confuse us then we fall into the center of a dark labyrinth that has no way to the light of day."
"Simple truths "
"That is indeed what comes from the Emeth stone, the simple truths. But that is enough for now. You must sleep."
Gabrielle laid her head against the soft, cool pillow that had been a comfort to her in the darkness and closed her eyes. In her minds eye she held the image of Xena standing before her. There was equal comfort as there was sorrow in the sight of her.
Gabrielles emotional exhaustion took her into a deep sleep. Her connection to Xena was severed. It had been her lifeline and now there was nothing. She had her ability to see and hear. She was grateful for it. She could now choose a life for herself but it would be a life without Xena. She had experienced what she believed was Xena's death early in their friendship. Since their union she had died with Xena. The grief of death had never been so relentless. She could not fathom her belief that Ravin had been Xena. Had she wanted her beloved with her to such a degree that she lived an illusion? The illusion was shattered. Though Xena may indeed be dead she would always have a life in Gabrielles memory. Xena would always be in her heart and Gabrielle would always know that she had found and held her soulmate. No one could ever take that away from her.
Ravin sat quietly and kept vigil upon Gabrielle. From time to time Gabrielle could be heard to speak Xena's name. Each utterance stabbed at Ravin. So too Compredas words that she had no means to phantom the depth of Gabrielles loss. Could she comfort when there is no knowledge?
Cala touched Ravin on the shoulders. "You need rest. I will be with her."
"No, Ill stay."
Cala said nothing nor did she move from her place."
Ravin confessed. "I dont know why I did it."
Cala looked down at the troubled woman. She would counsel but she would not be an accomplice in perpetuating a lie. "Yes you do."
"I didnt want to lose her."
"Gabrielle lost Xena. What you have lost is greater. I pity you both."
Ravin looked up at Cala. Calas expression was remarkably kind. In her words there had been no malice intended.
"I will be near by if you need me."
Gabrielle woke quietly from her sleep. She turned to her side to see Ravins smile. Gabrielle whispered. "Hello."
"Is it? Ive lost all sense of time."
"Its mid-morning. Are you hungry?"
Gabrielle had to pause and self-assess. There was no sense of hunger just a lingering fatigue. "Maybe later."
"It might do you good to go outside and take some sun."
Gabrielle sat up and hugged her legs to herself. "Why?"
Ravins fear rose. "Why what Gabrielle?"
"There are so many things that I dont understand, that just dont make sense to me. Like why are you here? We didnt part in the best of circumstances."
"I am your friend. What else could I do?"
"I was so wrong about you."
"I was flattered that I reminded you of Xena."
"You didnt have a good opinion of her."
"Only because you would have me be her and I am not Xena. If you see me as Ravin I dont feel a need to " Ravin paused. What she wanted to say was so simple yet so difficult. "I owe you an apology. I was very harsh with you."
"Its almost been a year since Ive seen her. Why am I now so sure she died?"
Ravin held silent. Compreda entered the chamber. "Good, you are awake. How are you child?"
"Im not sure."
"Then it may be best if you stay with us. This is not the time to make any important decisions."
Gabrielle looked at Ravin. "Would that be wise?"
Ravin spoke softly. "Please stay."
Gabrielle countered, "Decevis?"
"I will take care of Father and Andre. You are welcomed here. Gabrielle, I would like you to stay."
Ravins repetitive invitation lessened Gabrielles hesitation. Gabrielle nodded. "All right. For now."
The following morning Ravin entered the temple caverns. She journeyed a further distance to into the heart of the mountain. She found Gabrielle couched in a corner with a candle for light. Ravins torch overwhelmed the candles meager light. Ravin stood before the woman she thought of as her ward. Gabrielle looked up. Her voice was hoarse. "Ravin."
"Cala told me where to find you."
Gabrielle turned her gaze away.
"Will you go on searching for her?"
"Xena is dead."
"How can you be so sure?"
Gabrielle held Ravins eyes with her own. "We always had a connection. I could feel her presence no matter how far apart we were from each other. I felt I thought I felt it with you. Its gone now. I just feel empty inside."
"You cant stay here and waste away." Ravin paused searching for a means of reaching Gabrielle. "You cant tell me that would be what Xena would have wanted for you. Not if she loved you the way you said she did. She would only wish for your happiness. You are still young and life has much to offer you."
Gabrielles anger rose. Her jaw tightened as she fought back tears. "Dont! Dont tell me not to grieve her. Dont tell me I should be grateful to be alive. Dont tell me what Xena would have wanted. You dont know. You have no right."
Ravin stood silent and accepted Gabrielles rage. She was wrong to speak. She had wanted to help, to take Gabrielles pain from her but it was clear to her now that she could not. "Im sorry."
Gabrielles fatigue overcame her. Her spirit collapsed into herself. Her body was held up by the cold stone walls of the chamber. Her tears continued to fall silently as she looked away from Ravin to nothing, seeing nothing. Her mind was a void complete in darkness until she felt the warmth of Ravins hand upon her own. It was a welcomed sensation. It chipped away a small fragment of her aloneness.
Ravin provided Gabrielle with a sizable tent and all the furnishings for a comfortable home. It was a luxury compared to what she was accustomed to. Gabrielle chose a location a brief walk from the tribe. There were times in her deepest grief when her tears seemed endless. Having the privacy to shed her tears was important to her. There were other times of repose. When a gentle calmness touched her. Among her provisions were blank scrolls and ink. She kept them upon a table, always visible and within reach. Compreda and Cala were confidants and they listened patiently knowing there was nothing to say or do but to be present for her, to witness her grief. Her time with Ravin was different. Ravin gently coaxed her back into the world. In the beginning they would take walks. Then Gabrielle would spend time assisting Ravin in various tasks from shepherding the flocks to leather work to grooming the horses. On this day with a festive occasion to be celebrated Gabrielle chose to help the other tribeswomen in the communal effort of cooking. Ravin leaned into the make shift terrace where a lamb was being roasted and bread baked.
"Smells mighty good in here."
Gabrielle kept at her work of cutting vegetables and placing them into a simmering pot of broth. "Im told youre not to be invited into the kitchen. Tell me, the damage youve done, was it intentional so you wouldnt be welcomed back into the kitchen or are you truly inept."
Ravin confessed. "I could have tried harder."
Maraka, the master cook called out. "A good cook must have patience. Ravi believed more fire made a faster roast. I do not like my meant burnt on the outside and raw on the inside." The other women laughed. Gabrielle shared a smile with Ravin.
There had not been a day that had passed since Gabrielle touched the Emeth stone that she had not seen Ravin if only but for a few moments. She had grown to look forward to seeing her. Ravin had become part of her life.
The hills of the north were so unlike the desert of the south. The soil of the hills bore fine fruits and vegetables, herbs and spices. They provided pasture for sheep, goats, camels and horses. The waters ran high and low depending on the season. The summers were hot. Life slowed during this time as it did in Greece. It was not an easy life. Living in tribes provided the means to a good life sharing tasks, hard as they were, providing companionship during both the abundant and scarce times.
They sheared the sheep. The virgin wool was the raw material for clothing and carpets. Weaving was a constant task. Vegetable dyes were used for the brilliant colors they wore. Gabrielle had mastered the needle for leather work, for making her clothing, and for mending wounds. She enjoyed watching the artistry of the common task.
"Do you want to learn to weave and embroider?"
Gabrielle looked over to Ravin who stood a few paces away. "I know some. Maybe Ill learn more."
"Each carpet tells the story of the woman who has woven it. The symbols you see each have a meaning."
"Yes, I know. Ive met Burbers and they taught me what some of their symbols meant. The evil eye, the protection of the wall, the tears that become a barrier to sorrow. The symbols that match their tribal and family tattoos."
"You have met Burbers! Gabrielle, you have lived an extraordinary life for one so young. It is hard to imagine that a woman like you exist let alone to meet her."
Gabrielle mused, "Sometimes I find my life hard to believe. But I know it has all been very real."
"Would you change any of it?" Ravin regretted the question as soon as she had spoken it.
"I have my regrets. Not to have lost Xena? I dont know. I think its dangerous to tamper with your destiny. Things happen for a reason. I have to believe that. What do you believe Ravin?"
Ravin was taken aback by the question. She responded by echoing the question, "What do I believe? I believe in the moment I am living."
"What of the future?"
"No one knows what the future will bring. I cant believe in what has yet to be."
"There is a promise in the future."
"Yes, and that promise is a mystery to all but God."
Gabrielle noted the rare occasion of Ravins acknowledgment of a presiding god. "Your tribe has a strong religion."
"Yes, it does. And I abide by its laws. Gabrielle, though I would never ask you to believe in our god, you must, like I, abide by his laws as long as you are with us."
"So, you believe in the God of Decevis."
"I wonder about that. In my life before coming here I may have had a different god."
"Or no god at all."
"I believe in love."
"The Greeks Aphrodite."
"I consider her a friend but I do not worship her."
Ravin smiled. "Gabrielle, you leave me speechless."
Gabrielle wasnt satisfied. "Your tribe would not have approved of the love Xena and I shared."
"They believe love is for the purpose of having children."
"That is a narrow view of love. What if a couple doesnt have children?"
"The man can take another wife. The first marriage would be considered a mistake."
"And what of love?"
"Gabrielle, most marriages are arranged. The two grow to love one another."
"That isnt what happened between Andre and Lasa."
"They knew each other as children. They grew so close no one would have thought of separating them."
"And if they have no children would Andre take another wife?"
"To have a son, an heir? He would be in his right. It would be expected given his position. I believe Lasas love for Andre is so strong that she would want him to have a son."
"I think its sad to be bound to another without love."
"You married for love?"
"And you desired children."
Gabrielle spoke quietly. Her pain never left her. "Yes."
"Would you have married without the promise of having children."
Her response was equally strong. "Yes! And later, my love for Xena had no need to be bound by children but when Eve was born it only proved that a parent is more than who conceived a child."
"Eve. You said she was like a daughter to you. Whose child was she."
"I thought I told you she is Xenas daughter."
"I meant Xena went beyond your love to have a daughter."
"No, Eve was a gift to Xena from the God of Eli."
"I have never read that scroll."
"I never wrote it for others to read. Eves birth brought the twilight of the Olympian gods. Ravin, dont make the mistake of believing you know me or Xena or what we shared because youve read the scrolls. They are not all that I have written and I have not written all that I lived."
Ravin felt chastised and she was not certain she deserved it. She had come to Gabrielle with no specific intent. The conversation grew far too serious too quickly for her pleasure. "I will keep your caution in mind. Now I have work to get back to."
Gabrielle watched Ravin move on to the corral. She didnt like anyone making assumptions of who she was nor of Xena. She also struggled with Ravins acceptance of the tribes ways without any notable questioning. She didnt know why but she expected more from Ravin.
Ravin groomed Andres stallion. The effort provided mutual comfort. She knew she was an accomplished horsewoman in her previous life. Her skill to tame the wildest steed was formidable. Working with horses was a means of touching her own mystery. She tried not to dwell too much on her lost past. In the beginning there was nothing but her past. She soon learned she could not will her memories to the surface. What she could do was try to do many different things and see where the skills laid dormant waiting to be awaken. The horses, the sword, working with leather all came easily to her and thus she reasoned they were part of her. She smiled at the remembrance of her try in the kitchen. Not a success. When she felt lost she came back to herself by doing not by thinking.
Ravin looked up to find Gabrielle at the corral entrance. "For what?"
"I was hard on you just now."
"Its all right."
"No its not."
"Maybe if you tell me why?"
Gabrielle hesitated. "If I do tell you Im afraid youll just get angry at me."
Ravin stopped grooming the stallion. She gave Gabrielle her complete attention. "Im listening."
Gabrielle took a heavy breath. Maybe once spoken the words would lighten the weight of the air she breathed. "I wish you would question your tribes ways more often."
It was a simple enough statement. And yet, for Ravin being one with the tribe was a constant struggle. Ravins daily effort to etch and maintain within her uncertain heart whatever identity of her own she had was presented before her. Her internal reflections spanned many cycles of the moon. It was a never-ending process. Ravins response conveyed those conclusions she felt most certain of. "Gabrielle, dont believe you know who I am by judging my actions. Like your scrolls they dont tell the whole story. I wish this was my tribe but it isnt. Most of the time I feel as if Im just one of the foreigners Father suspects so. I live among the tribe but I feel I am never really one of them. Not because Im not welcomed but because of who I am. And yes, there are things that trouble me but who am I to tell these people to do things differently. Who am I to challenge traditions handed down from generation to generation? Youve traveled foreign lands. Did you try to change the ways of the people?"
Gabrielle began to understand the woman before her. "Only if a great harm was being done."
"And do you see a great harm here?"
"Neither do I."
Gabrielle longed for a bolder statement from Ravin. "But if you feel you dont belong why stay?"
For Ravin the question of leaving was never one she seriously contemplated. "Because it is the only family I have."
Here Gabrielles frustrations rose unchecked. "You dont know that."
With each exchange Ravin witnessed Gabrielles passion rise. Ravin felt her friend wanted something from her but for the life of her she did not understand what. "So you would have me wander the world looking for what I am offered here?"
Gabrielle was relentless. "What do you have here?"
Ravin was grateful for what her new life had given her. "Those who need me. Andre. And Father, who gives in his own way. That is more than some people can imagine ever having."
"You could have more."
"It is not my way to expect more than I am given."
"Thats because you dont know what you are missing. If you did you would seek it out."
Ravin looked down to the brush she was holding. "I dont want to argue with you."
Gabrielle felt a profound sorrow. What had she just tried to do? She knew deep in her heart and she regretted her pursuit of a woman that did not exist but that had died and would never return in the guise of another. She wanted Ravin to be more like Xena and yet she knew there was only one Xena and that Xena waited for her somewhere on the other side. "Im sorry."
Ravin offered a gentle smile. "Again."
"I guess I just wish you wanted the same things I do."
"Why is that so important?"
"Maybe then I wouldnt feel so alone."
"Youre not alone, Gabrielle. Despite our differences I am your friend."
Wanted the same things I do. Gabrielles words had never left Ravin. To want the same things is the beginning of sharing a life. Ravin had worked hard to strip away the wants in her life. She wanted her identity, a love, freedom from the tribes most restraining laws. There was no happiness to be found in the constant yearnings. Now Gabrielle had raised Ravins yearnings back to the surface. They intensified because they would no longer just serve Ravin, they could serve Gabrielle as well.
Ravin turned to her companion. Gabrielle continued. "More so than usual."
"Ive been thinking."
Gabrielle remained silent as they continued their walk towards Decevis tent.
"I was trying to figure out what a woman who has lived the life youve lived would now want."
Three moons had passed. Ravin had spent as much time with Gabrielle as Gabrielle would allow. Ravin knew she loved the woman but knew as well that Gabrielles mourning of Xena was far from complete. Still, the young warrior seemed more at ease and would smile gently at lifes blessings be it a childs laugh or a contest of words witnessed between Ravin and Andre. Evenings were always difficult. Each night Gabrielle would rise from her place and bid her company a good night before walking to her separate camp. Ravin felt her own aloneness compounded by Gabrielles. She wished it would be different between them but hesitated. She valued her own privacy which made her all the more respectful of the needs of others.
This evening was a bittersweet commemoration. It had been a year to the day that Decevis found Ravin. Though Ravin cherished her adopted father and brother she could not help wonder what life she left behind. And then there was the secret only she, Cala and Compreda knew. The tension between Decevis and her had eased. There was no more talk of Xena. Such talk would only wound Gabrielle. Ravin had dreams, some fine and joyful; others terrifying in their violence and startling emotion, and she was left to wonder whether she was indeed Xena. The dreams seemed to increase the closer she felt to Gabrielle. Gabrielle rarely mentioned her beloved. Ravin was torn. She wished she could confirm the dreams to be simply the work of her imagination. Only Gabrielle knew whether they were or not.
Gabrielle enjoyed the dinner and conversation. Decevis had invited five of his trusted advisors and their wives and Andre and Lasa to the celebration. With time Decevis had if not accepted Gabrielles presence, had come resigned to the fact that his daughters friend must be given a place of respect.
The evening passed quickly with good food, wine and storytelling. A storytelling contest had erupted between Andre and Ravin. Each weaving tales of the miss steps made by the other. They were all in good humor. Gabrielle observed how in the process Ravin and Andre had documented the richness of their relationship. It was Andres turn and he told the story of the stranger, a master of the sais, who came to Ravins rescue. Ravin corrected by interjecting the word "assistance." Andre knew all along it was a woman, but no, Ravin thought it was a man, although one of rather short stature. This description was stated by Andre with a respectful nod to Gabrielle and a mischievous grin to Ravin. Andre continued his story. He told of how Ravin imagined that the stranger would sweep her off her feet. At the absurdity all laughed but for Ravin and Gabrielle who shared a private smile.
Gabrielle decided it was a good time to take her leave. She thanked Decevis for his hospitality and took to her feet. Ravin wasnt willing to say good night just yet and offered to walk Gabrielle to her camp, an offer Gabrielle accepted.
The night was warm and both companions walked silently attending to their own thoughts. Their path was lit by a crescent moon. They arrived at Gabrielles camp too soon for Ravin. She did not feel at the ready but knew that she would still speak her heart on this night.
Gabrielles farewell came first. "Its been a good night. Please tell Decevis again for me that I was very pleased to be included."
Ravin smiled. Her voice was tender. "Father knows you have become very important to me."
Gabrielle felt an assurance in Ravin that was stronger than she had ever witnessed before. "Then I should thank you too."
Ravin shook her head. "Dont. Having you was selfish on my part. Gabrielle, I do not know when or if there will ever be a right time to say to you what I feel. I hope you will listen to me now and stop me if I am causing you any pain."
Life had taught Gabrielle not to delay even with the promise of a tomorrow for the day may never come. "Whatever it is, say it now."
With permission to speak freely Ravin felt equal relief and unease. To gather her thoughts she took two paces back creating a space for her words to enter, a space Gabrielle would have for herself. "Tonight reminded me that Ive created a good life for myself. Father, Andre, Lasa are my family and the tribe is my community. I have a sense of belonging and usefulness. I have so much. I also have my truth, which I cant deny. In my past I had another life and I dont know what I left behind in that life. I am a prisoner to a mystery. Gabrielle, I look at you. You have had in a short period of time a very rich life. It brought you to our lands. You have loved completely and lost that love. I know there will always be a part of you that no one can own because you gave it to Xena. I honor and admire your love for her. We then have our incompleteness to give in common. But even as we are we have so much we can give each other. Gabrielle, I love you. I dont care what Decevis or the tribe thinks. I only know that I want to be with you. A year ago my new life began. That beginning was out of my control. Today, I want to at least carve out a part of my life that is mine, that speaks to who I am. I love you and I pray that someday you might grow to love me."
Ravin had no more words. She was spent. Gabrielle had listened intently. When Ravin spoke of Xena Gabrielles aloneness rose but then came the admission of love. Ravin loved her. In a way this did not surprise Gabrielle because she knew she had grown to love Ravin. It wasnt the love she felt for Xena. Ravin was right, Gabrielle never expected such a love would come again. Ravin loved her and she loved Ravin. It had been over a year since Xena and she were separated. It had been three moons since the sense of a living connection had been broken. When does a new life begin? How does a new life begin? Hadnt it already begun? Didnt she make the choice for a new life when she chose to accept Ravins hospitality and live among her tribe as an equal? Had not that been the moment, the moment when she knew that returning to Greece and all its associated memories was impossible? Ravin stood before her. A woman she had gently grown to love as a friend, as more than a friend.
Gabrielle stepped forward into the space Ravin had given her, taking Ravins hand into her own. She leaned up and kissed Ravin tentatively. Ravin responded with equal caution. Gabrielle whispered, "And I love you, Ravin."
Ravin did not hide her surprise. "You do?"
Gabrielle smiled as she leaned back in order to be able to see Ravin more clearly. "Yes, I do."
Ravin took Gabrielle completely into her arms, "I am a happy woman." With no desire to squelch her joy Ravin lifted Gabrielle off her feet and whirled her in a circle. Gabrielle laughed as she floated in the delight of the moment. Ravin set Gabrielle down. Her hand went to Gabrielles cheek as her joy transformed to a restrained passion. Ravin took a deep breath. She was completely focused on her companion. "Gabrielle, I will love you as you wish to be loved, when you are ready to accept by love."
Gabrielle knew exactly what Ravin meant and she shared the intensity of the desire. In the moment she wanted nothing more than to reach out and take hold of Ravin. She too was happy and she didnt want to lose the happiness by doubting the force of her emotions. Gabrielle took Ravins hands into her own and kissed each. "Then tonight will be our first night together." Gabrielle release a hand, turned and led Ravin by the other into her tent. Looking toward the oil lamp she spoke to Ravin, "Help me." Ravin reached in her pocket to remove a flint. Gabrielle raised the glass and Ravin struck the flint igniting the wick. With a turn of a lever Gabrielle raised the lamps flame to a moderate glimmer. She then led Ravin down to her bed with pillows at their head and blankets at their feet. Ravin followed thinking of nothing, wanting nothing in her life other than Gabrielle. Without a word Gabrielle took Ravins lips by her own. Ravin began to explore Gabrielle patiently releasing clasps, sweeping aside Gabrielles clothes. And Gabrielle did the same to Ravin. They were in a magnificent harmony. Though no words were spoken the sounds of their pleasures came freely, one telling the other to go on further, deeper into the other. Gabrielle rolled her body so she straddled Ravin. Gabrielle took a long, complete look at the woman she was with and felt a familiarity, a knowing that being together was right and good. She placed her hand over Ravins heart feeling the beat, confirming that this moment in her life was not a dream. Ravin raised her hands to Gabrielles shoulders and then tenderly guided them down to her breasts. "You are beautiful." Ravins throaty words echoed within the tent. Gabrielle felt beautiful. She wanted, needed to feel a part of a life outside of her self. She laid her body completely over Ravins. Their lovemaking continued. Ravin felt Gabrielles body tense with each stroke. Gabrielle held Ravin tightly, her head rested in the crook of Ravins neck. Her moans quickened and then she cried out in release. Ravin felt the spasms. She felt an extraordinary satisfaction in being able to reach Gabrielle so completely. Her satisfaction grew to concern when she realized that Gabrielle had begun to cry. Ravin held her gently and waited.
The release was complete and it opened her to a profound vulnerability. Gabrielle could not nor did she want to stop the tears. She felt safe in Ravins arms. Again, the sense of the familiar. The familiar was Xena. She once believed Ravin to be Xena. She accepted that it was not true. Was the familiar love, simply love? Gabrielle felt Ravins arms gently embrace her. She was safe in this love, safe to feel the sorrow for the loss of a different love. She could not think beyond her next breath. She fell asleep in a darkness deeper and more mysterious than the night. Ravin felt Gabrielles breath slow and her body still. Soon Gabrielle was asleep. There would be time for them to speak. This was not the time. Ravin felt hopeful.
In her search for clarity Gabrielle entered the temple. She felt her confusion strengthen with each passing hour. Her intimacy with Ravin was too near her experience with Xena. It had taken Xena and her time to enjoy their physicality with one another. She had turned to Xena fearful of her inability to pleasure the warrior. Xena was a patient teacher who never made Gabrielle feel the novice. Each union brought a new discovery of how pleasure could be given and received. With the passing years they learned each others bodies as if they were their own. The body remembers. They made love to one another often without thought. They just knew. The body remembers. Gabrielle felt a wave of remembrance with Ravin and she trusted the remembering more than what she knew in her mind. And thus the confusion. What she knew and what she felt were no longer one. The split was maddening. The temple had been the place where twice her life was altered, once by accident, the other with Ravins guidance. The Emeth stone brought forth a truth defined by a god she did not know other than by its means to an end that she held suspect. Gabrielle found herself standing before the Emeth stone wondering what was the end her hand upon the stone brought forth. The first time she wanted no longer to see or hear that that would cause her pain and as a result her blindness and deafness followed. The second time she wanted her life to go on, she wanted to know her caretaker for who she was. Her faculties were restored to her and Ravin, not Xena stood before her. But did the god give her the means to the end that she only now discovered? Did the body remember? Has her body given her the truth? Are there forces fighting this reality, her own telling her Xena was in her arms tonight and anothers, someone she knows not, who is intent on demanding that it was Ravin? Gabrielle reached toward the Emeth stone with no desire to touch it but wishing she could coax the truth from it. She found it a confounding nemesis. "What is the truth?" She returned her hand to her side. She knew there had to be a way to cut through her doubts. Someone had the answer, someone that refused to speak.
The voice came from a far corner. "Im relieved you returned your hand to its place." It was Cala.
"Your god is not to be trusted."
"There is wisdom beyond our comprehension. One must have faith."
"What brings you here, Gabrielle?"
A silence fell between them as Gabrielle considered her next words. "Cala, I trust you. I know you care for my well being."
Cala responded with a short bow. Gabrielle continued. "Tonight Ravin told me she loved me."
"Yes she did. And I told Ravin I loved her, and I do." Gabrielle spoke the next words with growing confidence. "I love Ravin. She has all the qualities I value. She is honorable, gentle, passionate, caring. She has a great capacity for love. She needs to give love just as much as she needs to receive it. When I think about it I realize that Ravin has many of the same qualities Xena had. Even her abilities as a warrior."
Cala was cautious in her response. "Yes, I can understand how Ravin has captured your heart."
"Xena taught me that there are times when you have to look very hard for the truth, that the truth lies deeper than the surface like a lake underneath a sheath of ice. After everything is said and done you must trust yourself. Ravin is Xena. No one can convince me otherwise. If I am not stronger than your god then your gods truth and my truth are the same."
"And what of Ravins truth? Her hand touched the Emeth stone along with your own."
Gabrielle was surprised. "I didnt know."
Cala spoke as a teacher. "You must accept that Ravin has her truth. When two hands touch the stone together our god makes a choice."
Gabrielle was both disturbed and heartened by Calas explanation. "The choice may end in a lie. How else can it be when you have two opposing desires?"
"I disagree. If you have the ability to know Ravin as Xena, then Ravin must also have the ability to know herself as Xena."
Gabrielle realized there was a chance to retrieve Xenas life. "There is something else going on. Something beyond Xena and me. Whatever made Xena lose herself in the first place. You know what happened."
"I was not here at the time."
"It did happen here! It was the Emeth stone."
Cala hesitated. "I can only suspect."
"Gabrielle, I have my reasons for not speaking. Im sorry." Cala began to turn away.
Gabrielle pleaded. "Dont go."
"This is not the time." Cala left Gabrielle alone in the temple chamber. Gabrielle knew Cala well enough to know further argument would be vain. Still, she did have a suspicion of her own and knew where to seek further information.
Ravin awoke with empty arms. She turned in search of Gabrielle and found nothing. She called Gabrielles name but silence was her only reward. Ravins trust was shaken. She dressed and searched the area. Carrying the sensation of failure she returned to her own tent uncertain of what the day would bring.
Gabrielle left the temple and walked in the light of dawn. This new day was full of promise. She needed to proceed carefully. Decevis had an interest in Xena that she did not wish to disturb just yet. The suns amber, blood red rays placed the awe of life before her. She had forgotten the beauty of it. With each step she felt a roaring faith in herself and in Ravin, who will, she swore, once again be Xena.
Gabrielle waited for Compredas response.
"You are an intelligent young woman."
"And you are the wise sage that Ravin trusts."
"And this is why you come to me?"
"You see what others dont. Some call you crazy. I think you are a seer. I think you have the gift."
"Some would say the curse."
"Like the Emeth stone? Compreda, my life was easier when I lived in Poteidaia. Ive paid a price for what Ive learned. There is always a price for knowledge."
"You speak of more than knowledge. You speak of wisdom. Gabrielle, what you ask of me is great."
"Im not asking you to tell me anything I dont already know. Just tell me Im right. Ravin is Xena. Decevis did something to cause the change."
"Yes and no."
Gabrielle felt the relief that comes with the confirmation of ones suspicions. "Explain."
"Xena came to our lands guiding a caravan that had been ambushed by Malignos men. Two were seriously hurt and needed her constant attention as a healer."
Gabrielle smiled with pride. Compreda continued, "Decevis was grateful and offered Xena his hospitality. She said she would stay no more than two days. She needed to return to search for her companion." Compreda nodded at Gabrielle, "You. She loves you very much."
"Yes, she does."
"Decevis told Xena the story of Leas disappearance. He convinced her that there was an evil force in the temple of the Emeth stone and begged her help to conquer it."
"But there is only Cala."
"Cala came to us only after Leas disappearance."
"Decevis didnt suspect Cala?"
"Why would he? He is wary of her but no more. Decevis must have convinced Xena to place her hand on the Emeth stone only after having her desire the return of Lea. Whatever was in Xenas heart, in the moment she believed she was to touch evi,l took away her memory."
Gabrielle knew that within Xena there was always a deep longing for redemption. To erase the harm she caused, to replace evil with love had been all she knew to do. But that was not enough to explain the change. "Decevis knew the Emeth stone wasnt evil."
Compreda spoke with bitterness, "In truth he not only lied to Xena, he blasphemed our god."
"Why would your god give him Xena as a substitute for the daughter he lost?"
"Each day he faces the torment of seeing in Ravin neither the daughter he was given nor the daughter he desired. With each breath he carries the fear that he will lose a daughter again."
"Your god toys with peoples lives. Why did Xena have to pay the price? Why did I have to lose her?"
"Remember, Xenas desire was a part of this just as your desire was a part of your loss."
"Two truths make another lie. I spoke to Cala. Two hands on the Emeth stone. Two honest desires and the results is a lie."
"You must have faith that there is a reason beyond our understanding."
"No! I cant accept that. You and Cala may believe in your god but Ive learned that gods are as flawed as those who believe in them."
"Greek gods had a purpose to fulfill, to reflect humanity at its essential self. Ours is to keep us together as a nation rising above our limitations."
"Very well. Then Xena and I will rise above the deceit that has been created."
Compreda took Gabrielles hand. "Ravin must be convinced and you are not the one to do it. On this you must trust me. Ravin must go to you if there is any possibility of having the Xena that existed before she touched the Emeth stone returned to you."
Gabrielle stood outside Ravins tent. From Andre she learned that Ravin had gone out to shepherd the north flock of sheep. She was not expected to return until nightfall. Andre was forthcoming and amicable. Gabrielle felt assured that Ravin had shared nothing of the events of the night before with him.
"Ravin, may I enter. Its Gabrielle." There was no response. Gabrielle took a deep breath before sweeping the canvas entrance to the side. She stepped into the muted light. Ravin stood with her back to her. Gabrielle noted how Ravins hand firmly held a side support pillar. She waited for some sign of welcome or recognition but Ravin remained motionless. Gabrielle took a step forward. "I owe you an apology and an explanation."
"You owe me nothing." Ravins voice was dull.
"I believe I do. Last night, with you, I felt things I havent felt in a very long time. I was confused and needed time to think and feel. I needed to know those feelings were for you and only you. My love for you is deeper than even I knew."
Ravin turned toward Gabrielle. Throughout the day she had maintained a steady argument with herself. Had she hurt Gabrielle? Had she disappointed her? Was the love spoken not true enough for the intimacy shared? Should they have waited? Ravin had kept a dim flicker of hope but it cut little light in the darkness. Loss engulfed her. She had debated going and searching for Gabrielle but decided that since the young warrior left her it would be for Gabrielle to return by her own volition. It was not pride that had kept Ravin in her tent. It was fear of rejection.
Gabrielle waited in Ravins silence until she could bear it no longer. Taking another step toward her beloved she gently pleaded, "Ravin, please say something. Be angry to see me but please dont be silent."
Ravin had not noted the length of her own silence. Looking within herself time had no measure. "Im sorry." Ravins voice was a whisper as she struggled to return to Gabrielle. "I didnt know what to expect from you."
"Everything. Expect everything."
"Are you sure?"
"Yes. You decide how much you want from me, when and where and I will be there. You have my word."
Ravin went to Gabrielle and placed her hand on her lovers cheek. Gabrielle took the hand. This was Xenas gesture. It was all so familiar. It was real. The sensation cut through the deceit and Xena appeared in her majesty."
Gabrielle laughed. It was Xenas word. It was Xenas promise to her. Gabrielle embraced Ravin and spoke a throaty, passionate whisper, "Always."
Ravin raised Gabrielle up in her arms. "We will have a grand life together."
Gabrielle laughed on. She knew the truth. They had already shared a grand life. "Yes, we will."
Ravin gently placed Gabrielle on her bed. "If Decevis disapproves we may need to leave the tribe."
Gabrielle took Ravins hand. "Are you sure youre ready to give up your home for me."
"You will be my home."
"And you mine."
Yes, the body remembers. Gabrielle made love to Ravin. She pleasured her beloved in ways that surprised her partner. Gabrielle knew Ravins body more intimately than Ravin herself. Yes, the body remembers. With each positive response Gabrielle went further. Neither one release nor two was enough.
"Gabrielle, are there no limits?"
Gilding her hand over Ravins breast, Gabrielle simply stated the truth. "Doesnt seem as if we found them yet."
Propping herself on her elbow, Gabrielle asked, "Why?"
"Because I want to make love to you."
"Not just yet."
"Because I want to look at you as you are right now."
"You find this pleasing?"
Ravin sighed. "I never dreamed this day would end like this."
"Ravin, we will have many more, I promise."
"In the morning I will tell Decevis."
Gabrielle looked into Ravins sapphire eyes. Compreda may be right. It may be for Ravin, for Xena, to come to her.
Ravins interview with Decevis had not gone well. He accused Gabrielle of seduction and of corrupting Ravin with her Greek ways. When Ravin asked the question of whether Decevis would banish her Decevis fell silent. Ravin waited for an answer.
"No, I will not lose a second daughter."
"Thank you Father."
Decevis held his staff with both his hands trying to garner strength from it. "I ask one thing of you."
"If it can be done."
"Do not shame me. I ask for your discretion."
Ravin respectfully bowed. "I will speak to Gabrielle."
Decevis anger rose. "No daughter, this is my request to you."
Ravins response was firm. "I will speak to Gabrielle, Father."
Ravin left Decevis tent with zeal. For the first time in their relationship she had not allowed him to dictate her life. Her life was indeed independent from him and the tribe. She felt an unexpected exhilaration. There had been so many expectations she had tried to live up to. Some spoken, some not. Some imposed by law external to her, some imposed internally by her own fear and uncertainty. It was easier to defend the flocks from thieves than to protect herself from this different kind of larceny. Her autonomy had been shackled and she was a willing accomplice. For the sake of love, a love she deeply believed was a gift to her, a gift that would be criminal to deny, she found strength to demand her freedom to choose a goodness that was true to her.
Having listened to Decevis terms Gabrielle could find nothing to object to. She actually preferred keeping her camp separate. Her coming and going were less apt to be observed. "Its fine Ravin."
Ravin had expected otherwise. "You dont object?"
"No, Decevis is being generous."
Ravin was not as grateful. "He refuses to recognize us as he does Andre and Lasa."
Gabrielle knew what was important to her. Having Decevis approval was not a consideration. "I dont care. I only care about being with you."
"Without Decevis approval the tribe wont accept us."
"Decevis is only one man. From what Im told, before her disappearance Lea influenced the tribe. We cant influence if we are not here. Anything is possible with time and patience."
Ravin heard these words with a cutting edge uncertain if Gabrielle intended them to be so. "Its settled then."
Gabrielle took the task of shepherd as her contribution to the welfare of the tribe. Often she would care for the flocks alone, Ravin having duties elsewhere. Gabrielle welcomed the solitude. She had often wondered how and when she and Xena would find a peaceful life. In many ways the fact that the price was the memories of the Xena she knew made sense. Given a choice there was no doubt that she wanted Xena above Ravin. She missed the shared history. The words that neednt be spoken. The words spoken that in their simplicity carried a meaning of a time and place that touched them profoundly and would never let them go. She missed shared remembrances of Cyrene, Lila, their families and friends, most now gone to the other side.
The pastoral life where her concern is for the sheep she shepherds and not the brutality of a warlord made her weigh the greater good and its place in her life. She and Xena contributed in broad strokes and decisive confrontations. Together the course of history had been changed from Chin to Egypt to Rome. This time of rest was good. The question, as it had been in past respites, was how long would it last?
The sun was setting and with it the air had cooled. She could see each breath as she exhaled. She would stay throughout the night near the flock. The fire she fed provided an external warmth that could not compete with the warmth she felt within. She thought she shouldnt feel this good about lifes turn, but having accepted the conditions, the limitations of her life with Ravin she could not help but feel grateful.
The sheep hadnt stirred but Gabrielle felt a presence. She got to her feet holding her staff ready. Her keen senses continued to warn her of an approach. And then came the familiar voice. "Gabrielle?"
From the shadow of the moonlight Ravin appeared. She carried a pack. As she neared she used her staff to brace her steps. Gabrielle mused that it was rare to see Xena use a staff in such a docile manner.
"I was hoping you would like company tonight."
Gabrielle smiled. "Im sure to be warmer."
"Is that all that I am to you? A blanket would do as well."
Gabrielle entered Ravins embrace. "You give me a different kind of warmth."
Ravin held Gabrielle close. "Then I was right to come."
They settled near the fire. Gabrielle, attentive to her own thoughts silently leaned against Ravin. Ravin had hoped for conversation. They didnt seem to speak as they did when they first met. She missed Gabrielles words, the stories she would weave. To have one considered a great bard so silent made her feel cheated.
"You are quiet tonight."
Gabrielle spoke softly, "Im content."
"And what makes you content, Gabrielle?"
Gabrielle eased herself closer to Ravin, taking one of her hands into her own. "The still of the night, the safety of the flock, the fires warmth." She looked up to her beloved. "You."
"Have you known such contentment before?"
Gabrielle turned back to the fire. There were countless evenings such as this one when it was only she and Xena, when there were no battles waiting to be fought, and they simply enjoyed being together. She answered Ravin with a distant voice. "Yes."
"You do not speak much of the past anymore."
"Because I am living in the present with you."
"If there is something I wish to know "
"You can ask me anything."
Ravin considered. She didnt want to ask. She felt as if she were prying into a past that was not hers to know. Were it, Gabrielle would simply share it. She struggled in determining what was the heavier burden, the silence or the need to go to Gabrielle with a question. "Do you think of Xena often?"
Gabrielle took the question in. How could she answer without hurting Ravin? She knew she needed to be honest at all costs. "Sometimes."
"During times such as this?"
"Who are you with right now? Me or her?"
Gabrielle could not say "both." She knew Ravin was the one with her in the moment and so she answered, "You."
"Would you be silent with her?"
Gabrielle smiled. "Yes, I would. She was never one for many words. With time I spoke less because there was just no need to fill the silence. I became comfortable with her silence. But at the same time if there were things that needed to be said we would say them no matter how difficult it might be for us. Xena learned, we both learned to share our likes and dislikes, our hopes and fears. It made being together possible."
"You would want the same from me?"
Ravin considered. She made her decision. "I miss your stories. In the beginning of our friendship you told me many stories of your life."
Gabrielle would not, could not relive her life with Ravin. "I told you the stories because I believed you were Xena and I wanted you to remember. Ive accepted my mistake. That part of my life belongs only to Xena." Gabrielle held Ravins eyes with her own. "You said we each had our incompleteness to give and that it would be enough. Dont ask more of me Ravin. I cant give you my past. I can give you tonight and my tomorrows. It has to be enough."
Ravin looked down. How could she explain that there was more to her request. She had felt a growing doubt and hoped hearing of Xena would help her. She once believed that there could never be goodness in Xena to balance the scales of her evil. Justice always weighed against the life of Xena. But there was discord in that assessment. She loved the source of it. How could one such as Gabrielle have been so devoted to Xena for so many years if there were not redeeming qualities in the Warrior Princess? And there was another source of her confusion. At that very moment in how she held Gabrielle, in their silence, she felt a completeness that went beyond words. Xena was Gabrielles soulmate. Together there was a oneness. Ravin believed what she felt was that same oneness. How could that be if she were not Xena? How could it be unless Gabrielle felt the same? If it were just a fleeting moment in the midst of their lovemaking or even in the warmth of this campfire it would be easier to accept. But it wasnt. It was constant and grew stronger with each day. Every word, every gesture, ever touch, even every moment of silence reinforced the bond. Ravins memory went back to the moment she laid her hand on the Emeth stone. She did not know what Gabrielles prayer was. She never asked. What had her own prayer been? What had been in her own heart? She wanted Gabrielle to know her as Ravin. She wanted no taint from the illusion of Xena. What if the prayer had been different? What if she had prayed to know herself for who she was accepting the consequences of the truth? How different would her life have been if she hadnt denied Compredas argument that she was Xena? Who would be in Gabrielles arms at this moment if the prayer had been different?
Gabrielle leaned over and kissed Ravins cheek. "I love you. Please know that I do love you."
Ravin raised her eyes to Gabrielle. But who am I were the words caught in her throat. Words that would not be spoken. Instead a single tear fell from Ravins eye as she held Gabrielles gaze. She smiled because she knew that in spite of everything that was not right between them that it was true, Gabrielle did love her. "And thats the miracle in my life." Ravin kissed Gabrielle relishing the sweetness between them. Gabrielle fell asleep in Ravins arms. For both of them it was good and right yet incomplete.
Ravin entered Decevis tent. Decevis sat in the patriarchs intricately carved cedar chair. Andre was by his side. Both had received a request from Ravin to meet on an issue of the utmost importance. Ravin scanned the tent that had been a source of home to her. She already missed the loss. She walked up to the two men knowing that what she was about to do would be painful yet was unavoidable. She smiled at Andre holding the belief that he was ignorant of his fathers action. What he would hear would be a surprise to him. She wished she could soften the blow. She turned to Decevis. Her disposition changed. She found it difficult to be as forgiving. "Decevis. Andre."
"Sister, why so formal?"
Decevis stirred in his seat.
"My name is Xena from Amphilpolis."
Her words stunned the two men. Andre spoke with a hesitant ire, "Ravin, this is a bad joke."
Ravin kept a calm exposure. Her voice was firm and directing. "Decevis will explain."
Decevis felt Andres eyes as well as heard his petition, "Father?"
Decevis was defensive. His tone was not one of a loving father to his daughter. "I dont know what you are talking about."
Ravin had no patience for the man she had called Father. She chose to raise the stakes. "First Lea, then me. Explain to your son."
Andres felt a rising confusion. He shifted his full frame to his father. "Lea?"
Decevis took the offensive. "Its Gabrielle. She has poisoned your sisters mind."
"Gabrielle doesnt know Im here. Im ashamed to confess that I used the Emeth stone with the same deceit you did."
Andre had waited long enough. "One of you two explain to me what is going on here." Decevis remained silent.
Ravin spoke directly to the patriarch. "I am giving you one more chance to speak. I may not do you justice since I can only guess why you did the things you did."
Decevis took hold of his staff and raised himself to his feet. "I knew this day would come. May God forgive me."
"Right now I think your god is the least of your worries. You have a daughter, a son, and a tribe to answer to."
Decevis was confused by Xenas mention of Lea. "A daughter?"
"How did you convince Lea to place her hand on the Emeth stone?"
Decevis took a few steps away from the others. He stood too close to their judgment. "I struck a bargain with her. We were always arguing and I wanted an end to it. It wasnt right that the tribe looked to her for guidance."
Ravin accused the patriarch. "You envied her."
"Yes, I envied my own daughters love for her people and their love for her. I told her to place her hand on the stone with her hearts desire clearly voiced, and she did."
"But you did more."
"Yes, I placed my hand on the stone over hers. My prayer was simple. I wanted Leas ties to the tribe to be cut."
"And so you lost her."
"Yes. I was struck down. When I awoke there was no finding her."
"And you had to live with the fact that she disappeared because of you."
Decevis was an old, defeated man. "I couldnt. No father who loves his child could live with that truth."
Ravin continue to guide the confession. "You used me."
"I convinced you that you needed to place your hand on the stone in order to call the evil spirit that took Lea from us."
"But you had to make sure my heart and soul were ready if you were going to get what you wanted."
"We had spoken a great deal. You were a legend we had heard of. One that I knew was true because of your prior travels though our lands. Gabrielles scrolls had reached us so I knew that you were once a warlord that had caused great destruction. I urge you for your own protection to speak of your regret. You confessed that if you could undo the harm done you would; that you now devoted your life to the greater good. I counseled you to keep those thoughts in your mind when you touched the stone. When your hand went on the stone I placed mine over it."
Andre spoke softly, "What was your prayer?"
"I wanted a daughter."
Ravin completed the story. "I must have wanted the burden of my past to be lifted. And so I lost all memory of who I was and so did all in your tribe, and you had a woman who you could choose to adopt as your daughter."
Decevis spoke a final confirmation. "Yes."
Ravin turned to Andre. "All would have remained undisturbed if Gabrielle had not found me. Im sorry Andre but you needed to hear the truth from your father, not me."
Andre was visibly shaken, "Of course."
"I will leave you two to talk. There is something else I must do."
Andre betrayed a fear. "I will see you again?"
"Yes. I wont leave without saying good-bye."
Ravin felt her heart break. She loved this man as a brother. She hoped she would not lose the remembrance of the love they have shared. She walked out of the tent into the growing darkness of dusk. Only then did she begin to tremble. She had convinced Decevis she knew what was only a suspicion. She had the answer to her relentless question. She was Xena. Ravin also knew she was not Xena. She would continue to be Ravin unless she revisited the Emeth stone. But taking back her life was not assured. Gabrielle did not know her for who she was. Even with her identity as Xena renewed, she knew her life and love would remain incomplete if she could not share its totality with Gabrielle.
Gabrielle loved her as Ravin though not as she loved Xena. Ravin knew she was both Ravin and Xena. She knew that in an ironic sense Gabrielle had fallen in love with her twice. Ravin still held the core of Xena but without knowing how that core came to be. She wondered if it was necessary to know what made her the woman she was? She thought herself a sculpture chiseled by life. Many stokes were received painfully. Gabrielle found Xena to be noble and good. What Gabrielle valued in her came with the knowledge of what she had to overcome. Knowing also that at times she still struggled with her darker side. Gabrielles love was all the more priceless because she loved Xena completely. There was in fact more love to mine because it came not in the absence of the difficult but embraced it as a part of Xenas humanity. Would then regaining her memories, even the most tortured be welcomed? It seemed that Xena had reconciled herself to life without dulling her regret. She seemed to find a place for her wrongs to fuel the right she was determined to live. Ravin granted that her commitment to the greater good may indeed be weakened without the memories. Or may be her commitment would simply manifest itself differently. Ravin didnt have the answers to all her questions. She knew she never would. She could only reach for the truth and that meant she must invite all of who she was back into her life. There was a promise of Gabrielles love but she knew she needed to become complete even without the promise. She may become Xena and always be known as Ravin by Gabrielle. It would be painful but she would accept Gabrielles love in whatever form she was able to give it. In the past year Gabrielle had experiences that had changed her as well. There can be no love if it demands a static world, an unchanging partner. The wind cut across the tents waking Ravin from her reverie. Yes, there was something she had to do.
Gabrielle found herself standing in the Emeth stone chamber. "Why did you bring me here?"
Ravin searched for the right words. "I need to ask you a question and I need you to tell me the truth no matter now difficult it may be for you to say or for me to hear."
Ravin continued. "If you could make the choice would you choose to be with Xena instead of me?"
Gabrielle refused, "You cant ask me "
Ravin was insistent. "Yes, I can."
"Because I must know the truth."
Gabrielle stated the obvious. "Xena and I were soulmates."
Ravin urged her on. "Say it then."
"Damn you! Yes, I would go back to Xena."
Ravin took a deep breath. "Do you trust me, Gabrielle?"
"Then put you hand on the Emeth stone."
"What?" Gabrielle expected the request but knew she needed to continue to argue her case. Ravin could not suspect that she knew the truth.
"One last time. Do it knowing that Xena will always be the love of your life. Hold that one thought."
"Why do it? Ive accepted her loss. Why must you "
"Gabrielle, I learned the truth about myself. Decevis used the Emeth stone for his own purposes. I can get my name, my life back by placing my hand on the stone. What we share is important to me. It just might be the only thing I believe in. When I raise my hand from the stone I want yours to be holding it. And if I will always be your love but not your beloved Ill be happy to know it."
"I still dont understand why I need to place my hand on the stone."
"Because you were cheated of the truth."
"I cant explain any further. Dont do it for me. Do it for yourself."
Gabrielle turned away. They were near their moment of triumph. She knew it but she also knew there was a risk. Placing her hand on the stone gave Ravin a chance to regain her memory as Xena. In spite of the power of the stone, Gabrielle believed Ravin to be Xena. But even with her belief she experienced a constant struggle to shed the veil of Ravins persona. By placing her hand on the stone Gabrielle knew she might become whole again. Ravin would be but a memory. Gabrielle wanted her life back as well. To be convincing she hesitated before responding. "All right. Ill do it."
"Good." Ravin reached out her hand. Gabrielle placed her own palm over it. "Ready?"
Gabrielle echoed. "Ready."
They lowered their hands onto the stone. Ravin wished for her truth. So too did Gabrielle. The prayers were that simple. A sensation of warmth cut through them. Gabrielle stepped back.
Xena was fearful. "Gabrielle?"
The veil had been lifted. To Gabrielle her beloved stood before her. "Who are you?"
Xena could feel Gabrielles uncertainity. Ravin had anticipated a simple way to prove the truth. The warrior reached for her small leather satchel and removed two stones, blue and green. "A long time ago you and I were swimming in a secluded lake in Greece. I stayed in a warm hot spring while you dove in the larger pool. You came to me and gave me these stones. They reminded you of the color of our eyes. At the time you wished you had a sapphire in place of the blue stone. I told you a had had sapphires and they meant nothing to me. These stones were mine to keep and Ive never been without them since."
Gabrielle had never told the story to another. She stepped up to Xena and placed her hand on her beloveds cheek. Xena covered it with her own and whispered, "Im sorry it took so long for me to come home to you."
Gabrielle embraced the warrior as she spoke her name.
Cala entered the chamber. "So, it is done."
Xena stepped toward the youthful sage. "Decevis has confessed the truth to Andre."
Cala was sadden. Xena continued. "Dont you think its time you go back to Andre. He has missed you terribly."
Lea was surprised. "You know?"
Gabrielle looked to Xena and then to Lea. "I realized you were Lea when Compreda told be the story of how Decevis deceived Xena."
Xena was now the one to be surprised. "You knew what Decevis had done?"
Gabrielle smiled. "Yes, only after you and I joined. I came to see Lea and Compreda with my suspicions. I had already tried to convince you once that you were Xena. I wasnt going to try again."
"We have a great deal to talk about."
"Yes we do."
Xena returned her attention to Lea. "I figured it out after Decevis told me his story. He doesnt know who you are, does he?"
Lea confirmed, "No, but each time he sees me it is very painful for him. That is why he avoids the temple."
Gabrielle interjected. "Havent you both suffered enough?
Lea responded. "May be we have. I should have been more understanding of my fathers concerns. I do not excuse what he did to me or to Xena. During the time I have spent in the temple I have watched how the truth takes many forms and how our failures to see the truth from its many sides keeps us apart."
They walked side by side. Their journey home to Greece would be long. Xena welcomed the time alone with Gabrielle. They had indeed a great deal to talk about. She would miss the life she had created for herself with the tribe. Most of all she would miss Andre. After regaining her memory she realized how alike she found Andre and her own brother Lyceus to be. It was good that Andre enjoyed the return of Lea as he felt the loss of Ravin. Xena assured him he would never truly lose Ravin because she and all her memories lived inside her. The bond would always remain.
Xena took Gabrielles hand. "You fell in love with Ravin."
"And Ravin fell in love with me."
"You were always you."
"And Ravin was always you."
"You didnt know that. You said that there would always be a part of you that only Xena could have."
Gabrielle held her place holding Xenas hand firmly, stopping her as well. "Have I done something I must be forgiven for?"
Xena felt Gabrielles fervor. This was no playful banter but a fear clearly raised to the surface demanding her attention. Xena felt a profound regret for having made the joke. She spoke gently, "No."
Gabrielles voice trembled, "Are you sure?"
Xena stepped to Gabrielle. "You love me. Ive always been humbled by your love. I sometimes still feel so awed by it that I dont know what to do or say to you to tell you what having your love means to me. Im sorry if I made light of it."
"And you grew to love the peasant girl from Poteidaia. How do you think that makes me feel?"
Xena corrected with a smile. "Battling Bard of Poteidaia.
"Weve both grown and changed."
"And youve been with me at every turn."
Gabrielle quipped. "You couldnt get rid of me."
"I never wanted to."
Gabrielle relished their banter but she did not want to ignore the difficult. "Xena, you still have regrets."
Xena echoed the thought. "Dont you?"
Gabrielle met her beloveds eyes. The pain was shared. "Yes."
"Gabrielle, our regrets are part of what makes us who we are."
Gabrielle added. "Our pain too. But we cant run away from it, can we?"
"No, we cant. We lose too much of ourselves if we do. Anyway, its what makes the good so sweet. Its what makes being with you right here, right now, the best thing life has to give."
Gabrielle squeezed Xenas hand as they continued their journey knowing the truth of who they were and what they shared.
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