El DÌa de los Muertos
by Stacia Seaman
Disclaimer: The characters of Xena, Gabrielle, and Argo belong to someone else, though
I'm not exactly sure who that is anymore. I promise I didn't hurt them anymore than TPTB
This story appeared in a slightly different form as a part of the Academy of Bards Halloween 2002 page. While this story can stand alone, it's intended as the beginning of a longer piece, so stay tuned for updates.
Special thanks to Steph for pushing me to write this and, as always, to Faithful (fictional characters are people too!)
Time passed slowly without Xena, and yet it passed quickly as well. Without her, there was nothing to keep the days from fading into each other. One week turned into the next as I made the voyage from Japa to Chin, from Chin to India. The rocking motion of the boat, such a torment in the past, now soothed me, enabled me to sleep despite the visions of Xena's headless, bloody body that invaded my dreams.
As I stood up on the deck of the ship, practicing the forms she'd taught me, I could sense her presence. I could feel her as I trained--a reminder to watch my opponent's eyes as I sparred, a subtle touch on my shoulder to correct my stance.
It wasn't until I reached the markets of India that everything changed. The colors were as vibrant as I remembered, the smells as sharp, the sounds as clamorous. I ran a hand along a green silk tunic and turned as if to ask Xena's opinion of it. It was only then that I understood that she was truly gone.
When I reached the stables where we had boarded the horses, I stood in front of the barn for long moments, not wanting to enter. We had left some of our possessions behind, and I could hardly bear to look at them. Those reminders of everyday life with Xena--our saddles, bedrolls, a battered frying pan--brought tears to my eyes as they brought back memories of times past and made me realize how very much I would miss her.
Tears streaming down my cheeks, I brushed down the horses. Their presence was comforting, somehow. In the end, I sold my horse. I cried as his new owner led him away, but I couldn't afford two horses, and I knew that I could never part with Argo. In a way, she was a living link to Xena.
I wandered through the marketplace, buying what I needed for the long journey to the land of the Pharaohs. From time to time I caught a glimpse of sable hair, the squeak of leather armor, and I had to remind myself that it was not Xena. Much as I wished it weren't true, Xena was gone.
The journey across the desert was a long one, and for the first time I had only myself for company. As I lay by the fire one chilly evening, I went through my scrolls, trying to find some comfort in the familiar stories. But I soon found that the actions that had always filled me with such love and admiration now only aroused anger.
Over and over I read the words she had said to me that day she fought the Persians: Even in death, Gabrielle, I will never leave you.
You lied, Xena, I shouted and stood up suddenly, heedless of the scrolls that rolled onto the sand. Im still here. Where the hell are you?
I turned to face the darkness and took several steps away from the fire. You said you wanted me to know what you know. Well, I dont. I dont understand, Xena. How could you leave me like this?
As if inside of my head, I heard her voice saying, If theres a reason for our travels together, its because I had to learn from youenough to know the final, the good, the right thing to do.
No! I covered my ears. I dont believe you. How could leaving me be right?
Ill always be with you Gabrielle. Always.
Stop it! My hands were balled into fists, and my voice was hoarse from shouting in the dry desert air. Just stop.
I staggered back toward the fire and fell onto my knees on my bedroll. Youre not with me anymore, Xena. You left me. You had a choice and you left me.
I lay on my side, my knees pulled up into my body, and cried until the sun came up.
The journey across the desert was a bleak one. My speed varied wildly; on some days I pushed Argo almost to her limits, while on others I barely had the energy to rise from my sleeping furs. I was unable to stand another second alone in the sand dunes that reminded me so much of the innocent nomad boy Id killed, yet I did not want to reach a destination so filled with memories of Xena.
My ability to sleep through almost anything, including a fight, had always been a favorite joke of Xenas, yet what I had always considered a blessing was now a curse. I lay awake at night, afraid to fall sleep knowing that she was not there to defend me. When I did drift off, I would awaken with my heart pounding, looking around wildly for any sign of danger.
The whirlwind of my emotions matched the unpredictable desert winds; sometimes they hardly stirred, then suddenly they swirled into tempests of anger and resentment. I alternately raged at Xena for stopping me from bringing her back and at myself for listening to her.
If only I had ignored her, had thrown her ashes into the fountain. I prayed to any god that would listen to send me back to that day so that I could have a second chance, so that I could make Xena understand that she had to come back.
So that I could make her understand that I needed her. That I couldnt live without her.
Desert gave way to fertile valleys, which in turn gave way to desert as I neared the land of the Pharaohs. The season had turned; the blazing heat of summer was over and the nights became colder. I built fires for warmth now instead of for comfort, and piled my blankets over Xena's to keep out the chill.
I passed through the major trading centers--Babylon, Damascus, Jerusalem. When I arrived in each I went to the inns where I had stayed with Xena. As painful as it was, the simple fact was that I knew these places, knew the owners, and knew that Argo and I would be safe there.
I debated following the coast to Alexandria, but decided instead to travel up the Nile. Although our last stay there had been tumultuous and I had questioned her motives at the time, my memories of Xena at the pyramids were happy ones, filled with pride and admiration how far she had come from what she once was.
Setting a leisurely pace, I rode slowly along the river, keeping my distance from the other travelers. Xena was not there with me, but she was always in my thoughts, and I wanted to keep this time for myself and not share it with anybody.
At last I saw the tips of the pyramids on the edge of the horizon. Argo sensed my excitement, I think, because she tossed her head and whinnied before breaking into a canter. Two days later we arrived and after finding a stable for Argo, I set up my camp slightly to the east, in the desert, so that I could watch the sun set over the monuments.
Later that evening I sat by the fire, thinking of Cleopatra, whom I'd never seen in her native land. It was a land of contradiction--endless sand dunes and the fertile river valley, the slums of Cairo and the majesty of the pyramids. Somehow, from what I knew of her, it seemed to fit.
Xena's words echoed in my mind. "Cleopatra always put the well-being of her kingdom ahead of her own. Respect this. She died in the hope that the Egyptian people might, for the first time, choose their next great leader. She was Egypt."
"I wish I could have known you better," I whispered, then wondered to whom I spoke.
After I arose the following morning I went to the marketplace and bought a large cloth that I could use as a canopy against the sun. I planned to stay in the area for the next several days, but I did not want to take a room at an inn. It seemed wrong to me, somehow, to sleep indoors when I could set up a camp in the shadow of the pyramids.
I built a makeshift shelter, sort of a half-tent, so that I could sit in the shade yet still have a magnificent view of the valley. For the first time in weeks, I unpacked all of my belongings and arranged them around the campsite, then built a fire. The only thing missing was Xena.
Pushing that thought aside, I settled down in the late afternoon sunshine and picked up a scroll. I had not yet recorded the events that had taken place in Japa; the one time I had tried, while still on the boat, the memories had been too fresh, my emotions too raw, and I simply could not write.
Now, however, the words flowed, and for the first time since that fateful day on Mount Fuji, I felt that I could finally do justice to Xenas deeds, to explain the ultimate sacrifice that she had made.
As the sun set, bathing the pyramids in pastel desert hues, I read aloud the lines I had just penned:
As they stood on the ship, Gabrielle spoke. A life of journeying has brought you to the farthest landsto the very edges of the earth.
And to the place where Ill always remain: your heart. So, where to now?
I think we should go south, to the land of the Pharaohs. I hear they need a girl with a chakram, I said, echoing Xenas words.
Where you go, Im at your side.
I closed my eyes tightly, not allowing myself to believe what I thought I had heard.
It sounded like Xena, but her voice was tentative, holding none of the strength and confidence I remembered, and thats what finally made me look.
There she stood, my proud warrior, with the dying rays of the sun playing through her hair.
Xena. I stood. Buthow...?
Its the Day of the Dead, Gabrielle, she said softly. On this day only, the barriers between the worlds dont exist, and I can be with you.
You mean... With a sob, I stretched out one hand, then pulled it back. I wanted so much to believe that this was real.
Yes. She walked over to me, then put a hand on my shoulder. It means I can touch you.
I had so many words that I couldnt say a single one. Instead, I traced the lines of her face, the tips of my fingers lingering on the silky smoothness of her cheek, the warmth of her lips.
She put her hand over mine, then placed a gentle kiss on the inside of my wrist. Im so sorry, Gabrielle.
She pulled me back toward the bedroll, and we sat down beside each other. I know how hard this has been for you.
My eyes blurred, and still unable to speak, I nodded.
Its been hard for me, too, watching you and not being able to... A lone tear traced a path down her face as she stared into the fire.
Xena, I whispered, and turned her face toward mine. The barriers broke, and we held each other as we cried.
Im sorry about your horse, she said after several minutes had passed.
In spite of my tears, I burst out laughing. The comment was so very Xena that I couldnt imagine her not having said it. I had to keep Argo, I said, sitting back so that I could see her face.
I know. She put an arm across my shoulders and pulled me close. Thank you.
So, Xena, I began hesitantly. You said this is the Day of the Dead? Does that mean that we have...?
A whole day, she said softly. Until sundown tomorrow.
A shudder ran through my body at the memory of a similar deadline.
I know youre angry, Xena began. I understand
No, Xena, I said. I understand. You had to make that choice.
I hated putting you through all of this, Gabrielle, watching your pain and knowing I was the cause. She stopped for a moment and looked directly into my eyes. But if I had to do it again, even knowing what it would do to you, Id do the same thing.
I know, I said, my voice breaking. I know.
We sat in silence, side by side, watching the moon rise over the pyramids. As stars began to appear in the night sky, Xena lay back onto the sleeping furs, pulling me down beside her.
So, I found a few new animals up there, she said.
Really? I tilted my head so that I could see her. Going to share?
Pointing with one hand, she clasped mine with the other. Always.
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