Soon her students began pestering her about the people who lived below.  The relationship the monastery had with the villagers on one side of the mountain was harmonious, but on the other, nothing short of open hostility from the foot of the mountain.  After spending candlemarks each evening with the students, they had come up with a plan that might be feasible—if they could get Niti to agree. 

The plan involved the six novitiates and Gabrielle taking a big step—a big, frightening step.  Niti was against it as predicted, but Gabrielle pushed and pushed.  Discussions were heated between the two women and Niti finally couldn’t hold back.

“Do you want to run this monastery?  Is that it?”  Niti asked in exasperation.  “ I have known these girls all of their lives.  Their parents have put their trust in me, trusted me with their prize possession.  I cannot and will not allow you, a stranger, a foreigner to come in here, usurp my position and put them in danger.  I absolutely will not have it.”  Niti fumed as she paced her large, private bedroom.  Gabrielle knelt on a pillow listening.  She had dealt with warlords and royalty who held similar beliefs—that they could control others’ minds and force their will on their people.  She expected this from heads of armies and kings and queens, but hearing someone as supposedly devout as Niti demanding submission infuriated the woman. 

“Niti, I am not saying that there isn’t an element of danger.  I, of all people, understand the risks when confronting hostile forces.  I do believe that the students have a plan of attack, for wont of a better word, for peace.  What good is it to pray for peace, yet refuse to work toward it where we can? 

“No.”  Niti said with finality.

The Greek woman wasn’t one to give up so easily, though.  “These students will leave here eventually, replaced by others.  When you send them out to complete their life’s journeys, what do you hope for them?”

“I have no expectations.”

“Not that they will perhaps teach others about prayer, meditation, the goddess within each of them; explain to children and adults the care they must take today in preparation for their karma and future selves?  You don’t have those expectations at all?”  Gabrielle’s voice was gentle, trying to find common ground with the leader.

“Well, yes.  I would hope that they continue on with their studies.  I would hope that they share what they’ve already learned with others.”  Niti plopped down into one of the four cushy chairs in the room.

“What if part of the experience they share is a success story about finding peace between parties when there had been none?  Wouldn’t that speak so much more to the power of their beliefs, your beliefs?”

“Gabrielle, I don’t know if you debate well or if you just wear me down, but I seem to give in to you at every turn.  I’m not much of a leader with you around.”

“I would say that a good leader is one who is a good listener.  I think you’ve done an admirable job here tonight.”  Gabrielle, always being the diplomat only complimented Niti on her willingness to sit with her and examine the issues this evening.  Overall, Niti chose not to listen and often turned a blind eye as well.

Niti waved her off, hearing the comment exactly as it was meant.  “Okay, go ahead.  Tell me all about this big plan to bring peace to the land below.”

“Great.”  Gabrielle grinned and quickly stood to pitch the idea with both excitement and wisdom.  “First, a messenger will be sent down with a letter of introduction of sorts...”

* * * * * 

As her personal aide, Ashakiran spent more time with Gabrielle than anyone.  The young student treasured those private sessions where Gabrielle would speak candidly and the younger woman felt she didn’t have to be cautious with her questions.  Gabrielle had liked the student from the very beginning.  They had a true bond and it seemed to grow stronger when Gabrielle learned the meaning of her name.  Even before Xena died, Gabrielle had wanted to believe that somehow, Hope with her god-like qualities had survived their encounter in Poteidaia.  Xena was convinced that the world was rid of Hope, but Gabrielle wasn’t so sure nor did she want to believe it.  Hope had survived infancy when she had been abandoned, then a poisoning by her mother, and a fall into a flaming pit, why wouldn’t she make it through a simple, mortal stabbing?  To cope with all that she had done to her daughter, she had to believe that Hope would persevere and live a normal human life—fall in love, settle down, have a mortal child who would carry a part of her grandmother within her.  Now, she couldn’t help but wonder if perhaps Ashakiran was the reincarnated embodiment of her daughter.  This young Indian novitiate had quickly become the daughter Gabrielle had always dreamed of.  All of the things she would have wanted to share with Hope, she now shared with the woman who was the “ray of Hope.”  Gabrielle believed that now she had the opportunity to be the parent she should have been long ago. 

The feeling of connection was mutual and Ashakiran often touched Gabrielle in an easy familiar way when they were alone.  Their relationship had grown to a point where Gabrielle used a shortened and friendlier name when addressing her--Kiran.

Ashakiran had made a habit of visiting Gabrielle just before everyone retired for the night.  She made sure that Gabrielle had enough water for the night, that the room was sufficiently warm, and any other chores she could conjure up as a potential problem were handled. Gabrielle saw these gestures for what they were and liked the idea that the woman thought of her as a mentor and looked to her for guidance.   This night was no exception.

“So things look very good for us to begin, Kiran.  Our spiritual leader was most helpful.”

Ashakiran grunted softly.

“Problem?”  Gabrielle looked up from the parchment she was working on.

“Umm, no. Pardon me, teacher.” Ashakiran said as she emptied clean water into the dry bowl on Gabrielle’s table.

“Kiran, I think I have been in your company long enough to sense when you have something on your mind.”

The student turned to look at her.  “It’s just...I know you had to push our leader to get this far.  It seems so futile sometimes with her.  She doesn’t want to be with the people, she doesn’t want to stand with them.  All she cares about is sheltering herself off from the world and losing herself in her thoughts.  Even in study, she gives so little of herself, while you give us everything. I don’t know...sometimes I feel that we are an imposition, some irritating grain of sand under her toe she must deal with.”

Gabrielle stared at the younger woman.  “She loves you as do I?  She has a different way of going about things, Kiran, but that doesn’t make it wrong or flawed.  Her nature is perhaps more cautious than yours or mine, but it is filled with caring and devotion.”

“I’m sorry.  I was out of line.”

“You were only out of line if you believed you were speaking an untruth.  If this is how you feel, that is not wrong, but I would say possibly her actions are misinterpreted by you.”

Ashakiran tested the water.  “It’s hot now, but don’t wait long to bathe.”  She turned around and looked down at her teacher.  “Teacher, may I ask you a question?” 

“Of course, Kiran.”

The young Indian woman stared at the hard-packed clay floor, too embarrassed to make eye contact with her teacher.  “Long ago, when I was first returning to the monastery and you heard that the other novitiates and I had been kidnapped below, what did you do?”

“You know what I did.  I came down to rescue you.”  Gabrielle stared in the direction of her student, but her eyes rested only on the top of the woman’s lowered head.

“Where was our spiritual leader?”  Ashakiran whispered, knowing the answer and not really wanting to hear it.

Gabrielle took a deep breath and expelled it slowly.  Her mouth twisted and she bit the inside of her lower lip before answering.  “Our leader stayed here at the monastery to serve and protect those inside.”  She stood and walked to her student.  Sneaking a peak under the long hair that covered her face, Gabrielle smiled.  “Kiran?”  She spoke softly.  “Kiran?”  Kiran’s teacher placed a hand on her student’s chin and raised her head to see those dark brown eyes.  As she waited for Kiran’s reply, disjointed images of Hope and Xena snuck into her mind.  She saw the warrior fight off Hope to protect her.  Blinking, Gabrielle returned to her present reality and watched Ashakiran intently.

Ashakiran wanted to drop the subject, but these were thoughts in her mind and they troubled her.  She had tried to dismiss them through meditation or rationalize as she thought her teacher did, but she couldn’t.  She said, “I do not mean to be rude, teacher, nor contradict you, but could it be that you are misinterpreting her actions?”

Gabrielle chose not to answer.

Finally, Ashakiran looked into her teacher’s warm green eyes and for a moment forgot what they were discussing.  It was obvious that Gabrielle was engaged in a private challenge, wanting to discuss this openly, but realizing her place in the teacher-student relationship.  “I’m sorry again.  I don’t mean to make you ill at ease.  I seem to do that.  It’s just that I so desperately want to walk with the people in the valley, and throughout the provinces.  I want to be a part of life, not run from it.  I can’t imagine doing otherwise.  I left the cave seasons ago with such plans and it has taken this long to even begin.  We could have been so much further along, if the masters and leaders weren’t such cowards...

Ashakiran gasped when she heard the words that had come out of her mouth.  “By the gods, that was uncalled for.  Shall I find our leader and apologize?  Perhaps I need to spend some time in prayer.  Please…” she muttered, “forgive me.”  Ashakiran moved to the door in two long strides.  “Goodnight, teacher.”

The novitiate was gone before Gabrielle could acknowledge that she knew what it was to be eager.  Gabrielle couldn’t fault her there, but Ashakiran would have to learn patience, to temper her words and rein in the negative thoughts.  Niti was merely and extension of her as all things and people were.  It was a lesson that was taking Gabrielle a lifetime to process.

* * * * *

The celebrations had lasted for days.  The six students had been accepted in the village as young women willing and able to give of their time and energies to help the small town.  Throwing themselves into the work, the novitiates spent several moons tending fields, making shoes and sandals for those who couldn’t afford to cover their feet, cooking meals for the infirmed, and even singing beautifully harmonic songs of piety and happiness in their faith. 

Now, several seasons later, the townspeople could no longer remember the feud and those who did, failed to recall the reason for it.  With the help of the six women, several men returned to the mountaintop to rebuild the dam.  Things had worked out wonderfully and there was peace in the land. 

Niti, the reluctant leader would have a legacy—a concrete example of what was taught at her monastery.

* * * * *

One night, Ashakiran knocked at Gabrielle’s door and waited for admittance. 

“I’ve brought you a clean sari, teacher,” she said, gesturing with her head at the long length of fabric hanging over her arm.

“Thank you, Kiran.  Come in.”

As the younger woman walked into the room, Gabrielle lifted the cloth from her arm and raised it to her nose.  “Ooh, it smells so good and feels really soft.”

“I washed it in spices to give it a sweet fragrance and herbs to make it feel like silk.”

“That was a lot of trouble and certainly not necessary.”

“How could I not, teacher?  I wanted the cloth that covers your heart to be treated as a treasure.”

Gabrielle blushed and placed the sari over her chair.

“Do you require any more assistance this evening, teacher?”  Ashakiran surreptitiously glanced at the latched toilet door.

“No, all’s well.”

“Then, may I ask a question?”

“You never have to ask,” Gabrielle said as she sat on her pallet.

“In class, when you spoke of using a sword, I wondered what caused you to carry weapons?  Had you no parents to protect you?”

“I wasn’t a child when I picked up weapons, Kiran.  It was a decision I made after seeing that the world could be cruel and sometimes people needed help.”

 “But why you?  Others must have seen that those people needed help.  How did you know you had to be the one?”

“I can’t answer that except to say that I believed it without reservation.” 

“Then why didn’t you work for peace like we did below?  Why did you choose to fight for justice.”

“It seemed the best decision for me at the time.”

“Then what changed?  Why not stay on that path?  Why are you here and before at your other temple?”

“Something was missing.  There was an emptiness and I believed that insight into my spiritual being might be a clue to that void.” Speaking with Ashakiran was like thinking.  It took absolutely no effort and she could be honest about her doubts.

Ashakiran took a seat on the floor between Gabrielle’s legs and placed Gabrielle’s foot in her lap.  She applied pressure points and gentle massage while continuing the discussion.  “Has the void been filled?”

Sighing both in pure pleasure at the wonderful massage and in consideration of the question, Gabrielle spent a moment organizing her feelings.  “Sometimes, yes.  Sometimes, I feel that I’ve found peace, but other times, that void seems positively gigantic.”

“What can you do?” Ashakiran used her thumb to press on each toe.

“Nothing.”  Gabrielle looked down at her novitiate.  “That feels so good, Kiran.”  Stretching her neck, Gabrielle tilted her head left and right before going on.  “There is nothing to do.  If I have learned nothing else from my own studies, I have learned that you can’t force change.  I must tend to my nature and be alert while on this journey.”

Ashakiran shook her head nervously.

“What is it?”

“Uh, it’s nothing.  I just had this odd feeling that we had spoken about this before.”

“We’ve talked about similar things many times.”

“No, it was more.  Like I was in this position and you were speaking to me about your journey.   It was strange, teacher.  Please, though, go on.”  She said as she started on the other foot.

Why Gabrielle didn’t tell Ashakiran that at that same moment she had experienced the same sense of having had this conversation was a simple enough answer.  The young woman had enough to study, as did she—why add to that burden when an explanation for it was not forthcoming?  It was funny, she only experienced these hazy moments with Ashakiran and they were always transitory and convoluted. 

“Uh…should a teacher really speak to her student of these doubts, Kiran?”

“Yes, it’s helpful.  You are so wise and have studied so many cultures and their faiths, yet you still question.  That helps me to feel less fearful of my uncertainties and to see that there is no answer that is always correct.”

“I had a wonderful teacher here in India.  She’s not far from here as the crow flies, but about a moon’s ride on horse.  She told me once that the only thing we can be sure of is change; that there are no right or wrong answers because every question has multiple parts, thus requiring multiple answers.  She is very wise and saw me as a challenge, I’m sure.”

“She was not just your teacher, but your lover, too.” Ashakiran stated.

Gabrielle blushed at the recollection and the warm hand that now hugged her foot gently.  “Yes, she was.”

“I was in the library and read some of your scrolls.”  Ashakiran rushed, “All of us have read them.  Is that okay?”

Ashakiran continued with the foot rub, long after that foot had been thoroughly massaged, but both women were reluctant to break contact.  The blonde woman reached down and ran her fingers through Kiran’s hair, stroking it delicately, enjoying the way the soft, baby-like tendrils fell between her fingers.  “Of course it is, my daughter.  The scrolls are meant to be read and shared.”

“They’re so personal, so intimate, though.”  Kiran’s head lolled back, leaning against Gabrielle’s leg.  Her body warmed at her teacher’s touch and her heart thudded in her chest.

“Exactly. I feel no embarrassment.  It is like the teaching of any subject.  You want to share what you know and what you’ve learned with others.  What greater act to share than the most physically intimate one we experience.”

Ashakiran felt herself getting lost in Gabrielle’s touch and sat up, moved from where she sat at Gabrielle’s feet by pushing herself a few feet away and leaning against the cold stone wall.  “So they’re true.  You’ve experienced that kind of love.”

“Yes, I have been blessed.”

“With your teacher.”

“Yes, and before her with another.”

“And you loved both women?”

“Kiran, you cannot experience a spiritual moment of that magnitude without giving of yourself fully and loving that person completely.  It simply can’t happen.  That’s why love must be part of the act for spiritual enlightenment.  We can perform the act as we see with the couplings of tigers or elephants, but it is a means to an end—to procreate, to satisfy a hunger, to release stress.  That is sex in the simplest of forms.  What I have experienced and written of is sex in the purest form.  The depth of emotion is not even touched upon in text, it is difficult to put it in to words.” 

Gabrielle would be attempting to teach and explain this form of lovemaking and passion in the next set of classes Ashakiran would be attending.  The six novitiates were older and it was time spiritual lovemaking was included in their vast wealth of knowledge.  

Ashakiran nodded.  “I understand.  I hope some day to experience it.”

“Your faith will lead you there, I’m certain.  It may take a while to find the person best suited to you.”

“Teacher, I’m seventeen summers.  I don’t know how long I can wait.”  Ashakiran said dramatically.

Not wanting to laugh, Gabrielle lightly covered her mouth with her hand to hide her smile.  It was the first time she had seen Ashakiran behave like the teen she was, instead of the reasoned and mature soul she projected.

“I remember what it’s like to feel so…well, that way.”

Gabrielle glanced at her unobtrusively.  She was tall and strong, but with womanly curves.  Her lips were full and darker than her skin, her cheekbones high and defined.  She could easily be described as beautiful and Gabrielle guessed that one or two of Kiran’s peers had already noticed. 

Gabrielle also felt a warmth blanket her room.  She was aroused, but not by Kiran’s presence or the foot massage, but it was the remembrances of her lovers that coursed through her veins.  “It’s getting late, my daughter.”  Gabrielle stood and showed her to the door.

“May your mind encircle the universe and join with it as you sleep, teacher.”

“You, too.  Goodnight.”

Gabrielle closed the door and rested against it.  Her thoughts turned to Xena and those early days when she felt much like Kiran.  She had been spending all of her time with Xena, just as her student did now.  Her hero worship had turned into a desire that she could barely suppress.  As soon as Xena would leave the campsite, she would hug the warrior’s bedroll to her body, trying to capture all of Xena’s essence, hoping her fragrance would reach into her every pore and fill her.  While Xena had cleaned and sharpened her chakram, Gabrielle had stared, mesmerized at Xena’s long, tapered fingers and imagined them touching her face, her thigh, sliding inside of her.  There were times when the young girl from Poteidaia could scarcely tolerate sitting across from her at meals.  Every time she had caught a glimpse of Xena’s pink tongue, her stomach would flip and eyes close with longing.   On their travels, while Xena sat on Argo, Gabrielle would walk behind them, watching the warrior’s every gesture, each flip of her hair as she tossed it over her shoulder.  If Xena chose to walk beside her, Gabrielle would find a reason to touch her—a game of tag, a kick on the butt, or a pinch, anything at all for a physical connection.  It was virtually impossible for her to think of anything besides being ‘with’ Xena.  She had yearned for her, prayed to Aphrodite to give Xena to her, confidentially talked with her Amazon sisters about how to love a woman just in the hopes that one day she’d get her chance with the warrior.  She felt so out of control and so completely in love. 

The teacher made her way to her pallet and unwrapped her evening sari and climbed under the blankets.  Her mind flashed back to how her every need had been fulfilled by Xena in those early days, but she had yet to learn how deep her emotions ran with her.  As they became used to each other, they had experimented sexually, trying various positions, using phalluses and other toys for pleasure.  The two women had played games and took on roles as the mood hit them.  They had been a fun-loving couple.  But after their trip to India lovemaking became so much more.  They could still have fun, but each encounter was layered and complex.  It was like the bottle of wine they had once shared in Athens—it started off as just a drink of the grape, but with each sip, they tasted how full-bodied it was, how rich.  They tasted the grape, but they could also detect the type of soil the grape had grown in, and the barrels the drink had aged in.  That was their lovemaking. 

The women would join repeatedly throughout the night, holding off for candlemarks until their climaxes pounded through them, leaving them clutching each other’s shoulders, panting into the other’s neck, crying out in loving release. Xena had told her bard that she had experienced strange dreams after their dealings with Alti in the future.  In these dreams, Arminestra, Xena’s future self would come to the warrior and talk to her about divine love.  Xena could scarcely understand it, but Arminestra had been patient.  She explained to the warrior the importance of the act of making love to a person you fully loved.  Xena would go to Gabrielle and try to show her what she had learned of spiritual love as it was expressed in a deeply physical way, explaining the visions she was having of Arminestra, and these odd dreamlike lessons.  Gabrielle had become Xena’s willing student and eventually, her equally enthralled and interested partner in the pursuit of ultimate expression.

The blonde would never have guessed that she’d find another partner so compatible.  Ratha was like the temple where she lived—open, available, physically sturdy and strong, spiritual, emotional, a retreat to lose oneself, a haven.  Her lovemaking was playful, romantic, and far-reaching.  Ratha could delay for long candlemarks, never giving in, encouraging Gabrielle to follow her on that path.  The two women made love with tenderness and devotion.  Gabrielle felt spiritually enlightened when she rested her head on Ratha’s thigh, watching the darker woman’s flower twitch and pulsate in release.  Gabrielle would stare at the hardened bud of Ratha’s womanhood and wait for her lover’s request.  “Gabrielle, could you love me with your mouth again?  Will you give your tongue to me once more?”  The blonde always obliged, offering all of herself while accepting all of Ratha.

Gabrielle turned on her pallet and looked out of the window at the stars in the sky.  I love you, Ratha.  I surrender to you as I surrender to the universe, she said to herself as she drifted off to sleep, not noticing the universe surrender to her as well.

* * * * *

Gabrielle still saw Ashakiran in the evenings and looked forward to their long and stimulating conversations.  There were times when a lull in their talks would cause Gabrielle to look up to see the young woman staring with soulful, loving eyes.   The moment their eyes met, Ashakiran would turn away embarrassed.  Throughout the day, however, Ashakiran had made herself scarce.  Since completing her course work with Gabrielle she stayed busy with what she believed was her calling.  The young Indian woman had been spending more and more time in the village below with people she had met during her work down there.  Gabrielle’s former student had so much hope for the future and was determined to keep the peace and cultivate its growth.  Soon, she would leave the monastery and discover other worlds.  Gabrielle wondered if she would be like her, going from country to country, learning new languages, meeting new people, as she spread the Way of Peace.  She prayed that Ashakiran wouldn’t lose her way, that the idealism the younger woman presently had would remain strong and the doubts that plagued her teacher would not be misgivings her student would inherit. 


Gabrielle was emptying her pot in the bushes nearby when she looked up and saw Ashakiran in the window.  The candlelight was enough to illuminate the room where the young woman stood and Gabrielle found herself staring into the opened window.  Pariket entered Gabrielle’s field of vision and it looked like he was advancing on the young woman.  The blonde watched in dismay as Ashakiran put her arms around him and slowly lowered him onto the floor.  Gabrielle’s eyes narrowed in disbelief.  She was certain that she heard Pariket moan in what sounded like pleasure.  Gabrielle was aware of her feelings, but she was uncertain what they were--outrage, anger, betrayal, fear, a bit of everything.  She could barely understand her feelings, processing them was next to impossible.

Returning to her room, Gabrielle was unable to get the image of Ashakiran and Pariket out of her mind.  She tossed and turned on her pallet.  She lit a candle and attempted to write, but she was blocked.  She was sure that Pariket had used his influence as a monk to force himself on Kiran.  But the young woman hadn’t looked unwilling, either.  What would possess Kiran to stoop to such a level?  She wondered.

Gabrielle tried sitting quite still on the floor and meditating, but her mind bounced from thought to thought until she finally gave up.  She would have to go to Pariket’s room.  If Ashakiran was in trouble or about to make a huge mistake, Gabrielle needed to be there to offer guidance.  Just before dashing out, she grabbed a parchment.  She could use the excuse of discussing an academic matter with one of the monks if she were seen entering the men’s dormitory.  She left her quarters and made her way down the hall, the winding staircase, and into the men’s dorm.  Each step she took seemed to make her angrier.  She was furious with Ashakiran for putting herself in this situation after Gabrielle had made a point of getting her away from the perverted monk.  At his room, she leaned in so that her ear pressed against the wooden door, listening for any hint to what was happening inside.  She heard muffled voices and what she thought were sighs and moans coming from Pariket.  Standing fully erect and red-faced, Gabrielle was just about to bang on the door when it opened.  She stared slack-jawed at Ashakiran as Pariket finished his comment to the young woman.  

 “Ashakiran, I can’t tell you how much better I feel.  You really know how to take care of me.”

Gabrielle was stunned into silence when she heard Pariket’s voice.

Ashakiran looked at Gabrielle, raising an eyebrow in question while answering the monk. “It was an honor to take care of you, master.  I hope that it will be enough.  It is important that you be able to function.  I believe that this issue has been something you’ve had to struggle with for some time.  If I was able to alleviate some of that stress, then I feel you have paid me a great honor.”  Gabrielle could sense the warm smile on Kiran’s face as her former student talked to Pariket.

“I think now I can concentrate on my work in the library without distraction.  Thank you again,” he said as he stepped past Gabrielle.  “Did you need to see me, my friend?”  He spoke to the blonde teacher with real sincerity and not a trace of predator in his voice.  His speech was slow and low, almost lethargic, and he possessed none of the edginess he had in the recent past. 

“No.  I was actually looking for our student, here.”  Gabrielle breathed heavily through her nose, trying to appear composed.  She couldn’t even look at the man.

Gabrielle’s stomach was turning.  She could almost taste the bile churning in her gut as she listened to Pariket.  He certainly sounded like a man who was recently satisfied--content and calm.  It sickened her to think that Ashakiran would allow herself to be objectified and abused by this man. 

“Teacher?”  Ashakiran acknowledged Gabrielle’s presence, giving her all of her attention.

“Good evening.  I was....I was just…”  She looked down at the scroll.  “…working on something and…”  Gabrielle was nervous and dropped the scroll onto the floor.  Ashakiran bent to pick it up, just as Gabrielle reached to retrieve it.  The women locked eyes--one looking for an explanation for the nervousness, one in search of a sign of abuse, mistreatment, or confusion.  Neither got answers from emerald eyes or dark brown ones, but once again, when their hands touched, Ashakiran’s head popped back as if she had been punched and Gabrielle’s eyes closed as memories of her past came flooding back.  It only lasted a moment or two and then the two carried on as before.

“I was on my way to see you, teacher.  May I still?”

“Uh...yeah, yes.  Of course.”

* * * * *

Gabrielle didn’t speak one word on the way back.  Ashakiran sensed something was wrong, but she didn’t know what, so she remained quiet, too.  When they arrived at Gabrielle’s room, Ashakiran was surprised to find her quarters in such disarray.  Gabrielle didn’t seem to notice or care.

As soon as the door closed, she cornered the student as if she were a naughty child who had stayed out past her curfew.  “What were you doing with him?”  Gabrielle demanded.

“Who, teacher?”

“Pariket, of course.”

“I had just assisted him with something.”  Ashakiran was pinned against the wall, staring down into Gabrielle’s red face.  She could see tiny beads of perspiration above Gabrielle’s upper lip.

The teacher stared up into her student’s eyes.  She knew that her feelings were visceral and perhaps exaggerated, but she was unable to control the burst of rage.  “What was he talking about?  Why was he thanking you and why did you say it was an honor to take care of him?  What did you do for him?”

Gabrielle’s words were biting and angry.  Ashakiran couldn’t understand the cause for this reaction and stood open-mouthed for a few long moments trying to comprehend what was happening.  The fact that she wasn’t answering seemed to enrage Gabrielle all the more. 

“Are you going to just stand there?  Don’t you have an answer or are you that ashamed of what you did?”

“Ashamed?  Teacher, I have nothing to be ashamed of.  One of my teachers needed help and I did what I could to help him.  I told you that he was sick.”

“Yes, you told me.  And we all know what he’s been sick with.  Just how did you help him and don’t lie to me, Kiran because I saw you through the window?”

Defeatedly, Ashakiran’s eyes lowered and she moved forward slightly.  When she did, Gabrielle moved away from her and watched as the student dropped to Gabrielle’s pallet and sat, her head in her hands.   “I would never lie to you, teacher.  Never.”  She looked up and whispered.  “I would never do that.”

Gabrielle was still livid, but she felt herself soften at her student’s despair.  “What happened?”  Gabrielle responded in kind.

“I met a healer and alchemist in the village below.  I told him about master’s problem and he gave me some herbs.  I have been ministering to him for nearly a quarter of a moon and each day I’ve watched him get better.  He is a different man as long as he drinks the tea I’ve concocted and uses a poultice of herbs and oil on his head, right at the temple, nightly.  I have been there to help him.  I knew he was in pain and I couldn’t stand here and do nothing.  I believed I had found an answer, so I did what I thought was right.”  Ashakiran sniffed and for the first time, Gabrielle watched the strong, young woman cry.

The blonde went to her, sitting beside her.  She put her arm around her shoulder, then lowered it to her back and rubbed her back slowly, in tender circles.  “I am so sorry.  I was very worried.  I didn’t want anything to happen to you and I overreacted when I saw the two of you together.  I am so sorry.  Please don’t cry, Kiran.”

“I’m sorry.”

“No, I hurt you.”  Gabrielle spoke very softly as if she were comforting a young child.  “I love you and worry.  I should never have approached you in such a way.  It’s not my proudest moment.”

Instead of being a comfort to Ashakiran, her words seemed to cause an adverse reaction.  Ashakiran sobbed. 

“What is it, sweetheart?  What’s wrong?”  Gabrielle asked tenderly.

“I thought I was doing the right thing.”  Ashakiran sniffed.

“You did.  You absolutely did.”

“But I made you so mad.  I didn’t want to do that.”

“You didn’t make me angry, I made me angry.  You have nothing to do with that.”

“I love you, teacher.”

“I love you, too, my daughter.”

Ashakiran turned and embraced her with all the weight of the world.  Again, images raced between them, neither of them understanding.  Instead of pulling away, Ashakiran’s grasp grew stronger.  Gabrielle was just able to breathe, but the next words, simply took her breath away. 

“I want you to teach me everything you know.  I want to be just like you.  I love you and want to be with you. ”  Ashakiran muttered into Gabrielle’s hair as they hugged.

How those words sounded so familiar.  She had said practically those words to Xena when they first met and she meant them.  But Ashakiran added more and she knew that the young woman felt strongly about all of her statements.

Pulling away, Gabrielle looked at the woman.  “Kiran, you will have experiences and will undoubtedly surpass me in every way.  Already, you are so far beyond where I was at your age.  You’re strong, brave, intelligent, open-minded, and open-hearted.”

“I love you.  I want to be with you.”  Ashakiran’s eyes were desperate with both longing and love.

“That’s impossible.  You are a child of seventeen.  I’m your teacher.”

“ were with your teacher.  You were lovers with your teacher.”

“Kiran, my heart belongs to someone else.  I will always love you.  You are my daughter and my friend.  I hope that we can always learn from each other and will always be a part of the other’s life.”  Gabrielle smiled at her as she took her hand and waited patiently as the ever-present images from seasons past subsided.  Finally, she said, “I can’t imagine going through my life without our conversations and debates.”  Gabrielle, still holding Kiran’s hand pressed it to her chest.  “You are such a part of me.”

“I see us together in the way you’ve written about love in your scrolls.  I see that in my mind.  Don’t you?”  Ashakiran was no longer sobbing, but tears ran freely down her cheeks, lingering on her chin until they dropped onto her clothing.

“You will find someone to love you that way, dear.  I promise.  I know that to be true.  With a heart like yours, you will find her.”

The two women sat and held hands well into the night.  Both seemed to find comfort in this small expression of intimacy.

* * * * *

Gabrielle remembered what she had told Niti on their journey to the monastery many springs ago.  She had explained that she needed a physical connection.  It was a part of her nature that could not be denied.  Gabrielle realized that she had put part of her life on hold when she had come here to teach.  She left Ratha, but there hadn’t been any closure, just a loving goodbye until they’d meet again.  Gabrielle didn’t want to wait for her next life, she wanted to be with Ratha now.   Talking to her via the stars in the sky was no longer enough.  She wanted to pray with her, stand beside her when they made naan, sit under a tree and watch Ratha charm the active bees into making a little extra honey.  She craved the feel of her long black hair as she ran her fingers through it while washing it in the stream.  Gabrielle’s mouth longed to explore Ratha’s, reclaim the home nestled between her legs, feel Ratha’s fingers inside of her, pushing her to the top and leaving her there for candlemarks until her fingers sent her over to a place called bliss.  She wanted to hear the soft purr of Ratha’s excitement, the long groans of happiness and the pleasurable moans of joy whispered in her ears.  Gabrielle could think of no better tribute than for Ratha to hear Gabrielle say her name again and again as the blonde yielded to her touch.  She needed to go home to her.

* * * * *

“Gabrielle?  Please come quick.  I need your assistance.”

Gabrielle had been giving the youngest of the students a tour of the monastery garden, pointing out various plants and explaining their medicinal uses.  She was quite surprised to see Niti in the gardens and even more shocked to see her running frantically toward her.

“What is it?  What’s happened?”  Gabrielle responded with the same concern on Niti’s face.

“It is Ashakiran.  She’s been hurt.  Badly.”

A thousand horrible situations crossed Gabrielle’s mind in the few seconds it took her to breathe and ask where the young woman could be found.  Ashakiran was broken-hearted at Gabrielle’s rejection and that was evident every time the two made eye contact.  The situation seemed to encourage Kiran’s spiritual growth, however.  She focused on her meditation and suddenly started writing scroll after scroll about the levels of love—spiritual love, community love, romantic love, and the love of self.  Gabrielle had discovered the scrolls in the library and Ashakiran was unaware that she had read them.  The younger woman was wise well beyond her years and although she had yet to experience romantic love, she understood the joy in it.

“She’s at the very top of the mountain, on a ledge.  We don’t know how we’re going to get to her.”

“What?  What’s she doing up there?”

“Meditating.  It is an old, but common practice.  To prove oneself worthy of the goddess’ love and to show your commitment to your faith, a group of followers will spend the night in the elements, naked.  No one ever does this alone.  It’s ill-advised.”

“Naked?  By the gods, we’re all bundled and in boots every season and we’re barely beyond midpoint.  It must be freezing up there.”

“It is, but if your commitment is true, then you won’t have a problem.”

“I don’t believe that.  That is no way to show your commitment to your faith.  The whole thing is ill-advised!”

Gabrielle’s students, sensing that they had lost their teacher had moved on to something else in the garden. 

“The novitiates in her class tell me that she has also been fasting for five days.  She’s weak and isn’t responding when they call to her.”

“I need some rope, some spikes for the ice, a couple of blankets.  I’m going to change, then I’ll go get her.”

“Do you want helpers?  Some of her friends could come with you.”

Gabrielle looked at Niti.  Once again, the spiritual leader offered others up to do a job she should.  All of the students were her responsibility, but she had failed them time after time.  She had failed Ashakiran especially.   She shook her head, then Gabrielle ran back to her room and changed into something suitable for her long climb.

* * * * *

It wouldn’t be long now.  She could just make out a lone woman sitting cross-legged on the ledge about a hundred paces west of the precipice she had just climbed.  It would take another quarter of a candlemark to make her way out there.  What was Kiran thinking, Gabrielle wondered.  She also wondered in what condition the student would be in once she rescued her.   Gabrielle doubted they could safely make it back to the monastery.

“Kiran!”  Gabrielle shouted above the wind.  “Kiran!  Can you hear me?”

There was no response as Gabrielle slowly made her way across.  “Kiran!  Kiran!  Say something.”

As she reached her, she saw that Ashakiran’s eyes were opened, but they were lifeless.  By the gods, I hope I’m not too late.  Gabrielle thought.  Quickly, she removed the bedroll that had been fastened to her back.  It contained two blankets.  Unfurling them, she draped them over the naked student.  “Kiran!  Kiran!  Wake up!  Kiran!”  Gabrielle moved in front of her, careful to stay away from the very edge of the flat surface. 

Rubbing her hands over Kiran’s upper arms, she tried to warm her body.  Gabrielle was reminded of the time she and Xena had been crucified by Caesar and Brutus.  It was a day as cold as this one.  Somehow the bard and warrior had escaped an inescapable death.  Gabrielle prayed that the case would be the same here, but there was no Eli to bring the young woman back.  Ashakiran looked thin, her fast probably being much longer than five days and her skin was a deathly gray.    She took Ashakiran’s hands and blew onto them, trying to warm them with her breath.  “Kiran, come on.  I know you’re still there.  You’re still with me.  C’mon.  Do this for me?”

Gabrielle moved around her, rubbing Kiran’s naked body through the blanket.  It took some effort, but Gabrielle was finally able to uncross Kiran’s legs.  Once she had, she continued the task of warming her up.  She rubbed up and down her legs, continuing to plead with her to come back.  Gabrielle worked her way down to her feet and rubbed the toes of one foot, trying to bring back some life.  She blew again on the foot, but Kiran’s haunting eyes remain fixed, looking out onto nothingness.  Gabrielle moved to the other foot and began the same task.  Her breath caught in her throat, when she looked down and saw a birthmark—a circle and under that circle a cross.  This way, no matter where we are, you’ll know me.  Xena had said as she made the marking on her foot after their first joint encounter with Alti.  In Gabrielle’s mind, the circle had represented Xena’s chakram and the cross, the vision (that would become a reality) of their death under Caesar’s orders. 

All movement stopped as Gabrielle stared at the birthmark.  It was more than similar to what Xena had done; it was exactly what she had placed on her foot.  She couldn’t recall a time when she had noticed Kiran’s foot.  She knew that she would have remembered this marking.  Gabrielle flashed back to the day Xena had placed it there.  Gabrielle had just received an unwanted haircut and the short style was one that she kept over these many seasons.  They had met their future selves that day—Arminestra and Shakti, the mother of Peace and her protector.  Xena had made a mark so that in the future the bard would always be able to find her. 

Gabrielle looked at the freezing cold seventeen winters old student sitting there naked, starving, saddened, and close to death.  She plopped down beside her and pulled the blanket around her shoulders, too.

“I don’t know how to help you, Kiran.  Tell me what do I need to do?”

Ashakiran was frozen in her spot, in a trance, but alive. 

“We’ve got to get off this mountain.  You need help.  You have so much life ahead of you.  Why do you doubt your commitment?  Why did you have to do this to prove that you’re worthy?  Everyone knows you are.  Please, Kiran.  The world needs you.”

Gabrielle stared at the naked foot peeking beyond the blanket.  She looked at her friend, and said softly, “Arminestra?  Arminestra?  Please.”

The blonde was more relieved than shocked when the young woman sitting next to her took a deep, choking breath.  Immediately, she started to cough and Gabrielle pulled her to her and patted her gently on the back.  “It’s okay.  I’m here.  It’s okay, Arminestra.”

It was getting colder, but both women incredibly began to warm.  It took a while, but soon they were able to speak.

“Why did you do this?  Come out here by yourself?”  Gabrielle couldn’t understand any of this.  It was foolish beyond measure, yet she knew Kiran must have an explanation.

“I wanted to be closer to the goddess.”  Ashakiran stared ahead, but then turned to her teacher.  “You are a goddess to me.  I kept thinking you could love me as I love you, then as I meditated, I realized that I was missing the point entirely.  My thoughts were blocking my view.  I see that you love someone else and I don’t hold a place in your heart.”

“That’s not true.  I mean, yes, I love Ratha and I love the woman I shared a life with prior to Ratha, but you already hold a place in my heart, daughter.  I loved you the moment our eyes met in the square, when you didn’t flee, but stopped to make sure I was all right.  When I looked into your dark eyes and saw your brave and pure nature, I loved you.  I know you feel that bond, too.”

“But I feel more.  I feel like you’re the other half of my soul.  And I feel an emptiness I’ve never experienced because you don’t sense the same.”  Kiran’s voice was soft and small causing Gabrielle to strain to hear her above the roar of the wind.

“What makes you say that?  I feel the power of our relationship.”

“Do you think I’m the other half of your soul?”

Gabrielle wanted to be truthful, but how could she explain the things she knew about the young woman who sat beside her?  Gabrielle could hardly fathom the truth of this moment—that she was sitting next to Xena again or at least Xena’s reincarnated self.  All of these many, many winters and springs she had longed for just this, to have the warrior beside her again, to reach out and touch her soulmate’s hand.  Now, all of those odd, muddled visions she experienced whenever she made physical contact with Ashakiran were clear; those peculiar images of having done or been with Ashakiran in a situation before were tiny revelations about their past together.    “Yes.”

“Then we can be together... as lovers?”  Ashakiran asked hopefully.

“No.  No, we can’t.  Just like you, I will be leaving the monastery soon.  I have another life and someone I am destined to be with.  That doesn’t mean that I won’t always want to know what is going on in your life; that I won’t always keep you in my prayers.  Please know that wherever you are, whenever you need me, I will be there for you to protect you and care for you and love you.  You can always find refuge with me.  Always.  We are bonded.”

“You’ve taught me so much.  Whatever I’ve learned, I’ve learned from you.   You’ve brought out the best in me, teacher. 

“It’s high time you called me Gabrielle.”

“Gabrielle.”  She tried the name out, letting it roll off her tongue a few times, savoring the name of the woman she loved.  “Gabrielle.  That is a beautiful name.”

“Thank you.”

They sat quietly, neither shivering nor taking note of the whirling wind and frigid temperatures.  “Are you cold, Gabrielle?”

“No, not at all.”  Gabrielle felt unexpectedly warm and comforted.  She tossed the blanket from around her shoulders and began untying her boots.  “Quite warm, in fact.”

The two women sat naked side by side on the overhang of the mountain, feeling the love they would share for numerous eternities. 

Ashakiran turned to face her soulmate.  “How did you know my given name?”

“I don’t know.  It was something I knew.”  Gabrielle answered, choosing to withhold what knowledge she possessed, while wondering if she would ever speak this truth.

“I have not been Arminestra since I arrived at the monastery when I was four winters old.  Our leader named us on our first day and I have been Ashakiran for as long as I can remember.  It was strange hearing you say my name, but it also felt very right.”

“Yes, it did.”  Gabrielle stared at her foot and Arminestra unconsciously tucked it under her leg.  “Kiran, I never noticed that birthmark on your foot before.  You’re barefoot during yoga and meditation.”  Gabrielle wondered curiously.

“I...I know it is vain, teach...Gabrielle.  It is just such a large and odd looking mark and I don’t want to call attention to myself.”  She lowered her eyes in shame.  “I made a powder to match my skin that I brush over it everyday to hide it.”

Gabrielle nodded, but added, “Never hide who you are.  It is a gift to all when we see the real you.”

Ashakiran smiled and returned her foot to the original position.

Slowly the sun began its descent and Gabrielle was reminded of the last sunset she and Xena had shared.  When she turned from the sun, Xena was gone and would forever live only in her thoughts.  Today, she turned and looked at Arminestra and knew of the great things in store for the novitiate.  Arminestra would become the “Mother of Peace,” revered by many, hated passionately by a few.  Her life would be in danger as she spread her message and she would eventually meet and welcome her protector, Shakti.  Shakti, Gabrielle’s future self would honor and love Arminestra as his guiding force and mission.  He would fight for her.

“The sun is setting.  We should begin our climb down.  I want you to wrap up because I guarantee you’re going to feel the cold on the way back.”

“All right, Gabrielle.  But can we watch the sun a bit longer?”

“Of course.” 

As they watched, Gabrielle chuckled softly.

“What is it?”

“I was just thinking about this most perfect moment and I believe that void I have always felt, that emptiness is gone.  I feel at peace.  My lover and teacher told me that I would have to seek my golden time of day and I believe I have encountered it.”

“Golden time of day?”

“This time--as the sun is setting and it takes on this lovely form.” She jutted her chin forward pointing at the setting sun. “But more than that, it’s the time in your life when you find who you are and when you feel at your very core all the love you’ve been looking for.  As you said earlier, it feels very right.” 

* * * * *



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