By Lady Jane Gray (davis@math.utexas.edu)



After all these years:

for the original mixaspoog, Missy H.




She was dreaming then she woke: like ice water had woken her, she was trembling. She was also breathing too quickly, as though in dreams she'd been hurrying up mountains. Gabrielle narrows her attention, to her own space: no motion, no breath, no warmth no touch, had woken her.



She woke like she always woke, cold, alone and with a preternatural awareness of her surroundings. She slept alongside the other passengers on the ship, in a long, narrow cabin in the ship’s hold, her at the foot, near the only port, with a view to open sky. Six passengers: on her side, merchant and concubine, whisper of silk on silk, gold on the woman’s ankle jingling, in rhythm with her heavy, uncomfortable sleep. Across the cabin, a honeymoon couple, spooned together. The dark smell of sex suffused the confined space, old sex mixed with musk, sweat, and the dank cabin. She closed her eyes, burying herself in sound, until she could tell the height of the waves, the direction of the wind and until she stopped trembling. If she had been left with anything, this was it: a world of sense and sound, a world in which her whole self could be lost.


Six people, five breaths: one missing, Sofia. Moving, quickly and silently, she was up, out on deck, free from her confinement, under cold southern constellations. Starboard, a knot of sailors glanced over as she came on deck, then turned away. At the prow, Sofia, curled up, was meditating in predawn dark.


The boat, fearful of open sea, traveled slow, hugging itself close to land. Portside, the torches of a village; further out, lanterns on the pre-dawn water suggested a fishing fleet. Relaxing slightly, she leans over the side, closes her eyes, feeling the boat rock, hearing the slapslapslap of offshore waves. Something had woken her; it wasn't the dream: wandering in the north, in a Roman valley. It was snowing and in the snow there were pieces, bloodied pieces of herself; she was fitting them back on. Right next to the tree with black reaching fingers was a piece of her chest, but the snow was too deep and she couldn't get to it.


The dream was back, evoked by the constellations, drawing her east. It had been eighteen years: first in Egypt, then following the Nile, south until she came to a mountain of water that seemed to fall from the sky. Beyond that, she walked, traveled great dead plains until she came to the end of the earth itself.


It ended in water, a vast ocean and she stood a hundred feet above the waves, at the end of the world, watched the waves crashing into black rocks below, reaching up for her, futiley.  She shouted into the consuming crash, shouted her anger that her world ended, her journey had ended; screamed her defiance.


And here she was, returning to Nippon.




Sofia had come up, behind her.


“Yeah.” Talk wearied her. The crew were quick learners, needing only two sudden, short lessons. Now they replied promptly and politely when she addressed them; otherwise left her alone. But Sofia . . . brought back memories, of her long dead family, of Lila. She had no heart to hurt the girl; silence was simpler.


Sofia had boarded at Mombai, carrying a brocaded cloth bag, wearing a black cloak, black hood hiding short-cropped brown hair, blue-gray eyes. She’d woken one pre-dawn to find the girl meditating at the prow. Near dawn, she emerged, began an elaborate ritual of breathing, stretching and movement exercises. Gabrielle watched, reminded momentarily of her own yogic training, how it ended, what it meant.


She avoided the deck when Sofia practiced her arcana, but the small, confined boat offered no avoidance, and Sofia had observed her, working out with the sais; one morning even with the chakram. She was tossing low, calculating multiple reflections from the ships sides and mast, when instead of a chakram in her hand there was Sofia, standing in front of her: she’d caught the weapon.


She struck her; she hit the girl, reclaimed the chakram, left. In her hammock, she squeezed her eyes shut, to will herself into another world. But no path opened for her; she had no spiritual power, and she was still present when Sofia knelt beside her, the next day. All she could say was “Don’t ever touch it,” and Sofia said “It’s alright.” It wasn’t right, but there was nothing in the justice of gods or of men, nothing of life on the earth or on the dark sea, that could make it right.


Later that day, the girl sat on her hammock, watching her, silent.  She cleaned the surface of the chakram, then, as Sofia sat watching, absorbed in her, she found a small vial of blue Egyptian glass. It held a refined oil made from pressed groundnuts, and, turning the vial, she poured body-warm liquid onto her left palm, began working the oil onto the chakram.


It was a slow process, using fingertips to spread dark amber liquid over the surface. When the surface was ready, yielding, she applied pressure, working it deep, into the detailing, as though she were massaging the spirit of the weapon. Finally, wrapping it in a piece of her clothing, Gabrielle placed it next to her sword and was closing the travel bag when Sofia touched an arm, and she stopped.


The girl knelt beside her, removed the sword, unwrapping the layers of cloth that had kept it, protected it, eighteen years. She ran her fingers along the grip, her hand too small for the weapon. Then she looked into her eyes, nodded, and Gabrielle returned the sword to its shroud, the weapons to their long sleep.


And so it happened, they began their workouts together each morning, and after their individual disciplines were complete, Gabrielle showed the girl simple self-defense skills. Sofia was quick; she had a good eye and she knew her own body. At the beginning Sofia would slip, fall against her and when she reached to steady the girl, Sofia’s touch burned her. She should have ended it, right then, would have ended it, had she not struck the girl. There was no redemption from anger and violence; obligations remained as their trace.




“What, Sofia?”


“Did you hear me coming? Did I surprise you?”


Annoyed, she returned to the water. Sofia waited.


“Hit the side of the ship. Go on – there.” Sofia kicked the planking, near the deckline, making a dull thud. “Now in the middle.”  A louder thump.


“That’s what I do, isn’t it? When I try and sneak up behind, I’m louder.”


Still Sofia waited. “The heel on your left boot is new; your walk is uneven.”


The fishing boats, lanterns floating over the water like spirits, had drawn nearer; she could make out black nets, piled high.  And Sofia was next to her, leaning over the side, close, touching. She’d been sweating from her exercises; Gabrielle felt it as a light cool. Acid cool.


“I’ll be like that too.” The girl looked sideways at her, wanting reassurance. “I’ll hear what you hear.”


“In another thirty years.” Sofia nodded, as though pledging yes, of course: that’s exactly what they’d be doing in thirty years and Gabrielle realized the girl had misunderstood her again. She told her what was necessary, invited nothing, but nothing worked to push her away.


The fishing boats weren’t drawing away, into their wake. Raising possibilities . . . she stepped back from the railing, bent a knee to stretch her calves. No sense in pulling a muscle.


“Are we starting now? Is it time now?”


“Sofia: didn’t your parents or brothers or anyone teach you to tell time?”


“I don’t have any of those people.”


“Sofia.” Switching to her other leg, interrupted what she wanted to say. “I don’t have a family either. I mean,” adding quickly, realizing she’d slipped, left an opening “sometimes you’re just alone. Look. In the sky; can you find the water carrier?”


“Yes. We have spoons like that, in my city. They even carve the handles. I’ll show you, someday.” Sofia pointed at the dipper, then added, “We’re alike. No past.”


“When you’re in your forties and there’s nothing left in the world for you, then you’ll be like me. Hold your index finger up between the handle of the dipper and the horizon. No, not like that: stretch your arm out.”


Sofia complied, waited.


“It’ll be time when the handle touches the horizon. You’ve got about a finger left to wait.”


“I came early, so we could talk.”


“In about a quarter finger those boats are going to be here. They may board us, and if that happens, I want you out of my way.”


“You’re going to fight them. That’s why you’re stretching now.” Sofia bent her own leg, started a stretch but she grabbed the girl’s arm, turned her roughly, forced her to look in her eyes. “Don’t even think about it. When I tell you, get back to the prow. There’s a canvas there; pull it over yourself and stay there.”


The girl lowered her eyes, then looked back up, with expressionless defiance. Well. “You’ll do as I say. Or no more workouts.”


“You can’t say that to me. I’m not your child.”


Shame burned her, like Sofia’s touch across her face. She had never turned that face from reality; now, at the end of her life, she’d face the girl, do what was needed


“It’s light enough you can almost see the men in the boats. I bet, under what looks like the nets, there’s more. And if you can see them, they can see you. Me, my hair is white, my skin brown and wrinkled; nobody cares about me. But you’d bring hard gold, at any market along the coast. That’s why I don’t want them even knowing you’re here.” Sofia was nodding. “Please.” Which she hadn’t needed, and never meant, to say.


With the girl out of her way, she noticed the fishing boats were now close enough that a boarding couldn’t be avoided. Her own ship’s crew seemed unconcerned, which, if she’d thought about it at all, if Sofia hadn’t distracted her, she’d have realized made sense. This was why they sailed so close to shore, easy prey and the crew or their families would get their cut.


Not much point in waking the captain, but she wondered about the other passengers. She’d let so many lives slip through her fingers: what were four more? There didn’t even have to be a fight, as long as Sofia didn’t emerge.


But: Sofia.


Alright, then. She could take out the crew now, simplifying the structure of the fight. But they might not fight, and would be more in the way of the raiders than in hers. Make it nice for Sofia; no blood.  Passing near the prow, to the cabin belowdecks,


“Sofia! I said under the canvas. NOW!”  Which worked, this time anyway.


The passengers were still asleep, and she had no time for waking them. A brass lantern swung over the cabin; gonging it with her knife, she had the attention of all four.


“We’re going to be boarded. You can hide your valuables, but the raiders may want the women; don’t resist or they’ll hurt you. I intend to stop them; if you come on deck you’ll interfere.” Before leaving, she slammed the new husband back into his hammock; she was rough and his head hit wood. “You’re too young to die. Don’t get in my way.”


Watching casually from the stern, as the raiders climbed on deck, she admired their calm, orderly manner: they were like simple bureaucrats. But they didn’t have that well-fed secure bureaucratic look; she saw too many ragged clothes; too many ribs. Hired help, for someone who wouldn’t risk his own life. Sad.


Four parties, two on the port side, two at starboard. Pity the ship was rigged Greek-style, with only one mast and a large square sail; she could have used better rigging as base for moving side to side, taking them out one by one before they even guessed who was next.


Well, a good artist used the materials she had at hand. Letting loose an “ay yi-yi-yi-yi’ she flipped forward, striking the boom of the mainsail with such force that it swung round, hitting raiders on opposite sides in the face or back, tossing them like soggy driftwood, back into the ocean.


Two groups down; she walked forward, smiling cheerily and striking at the boarders randomly as she passed. The first got wrist braces, crushing his windpipe; turning from that, another a kick to the groin that sent him stumbling overboard. Hard to believe she got paid for this. Two were blocking her path to the prow; she feinted left, turned right and from their backside, knocked each unconscious with the sais before wheeling about and . . .


She saw Sofia. Exposed, wrist held. She watched the young woman as though possessed; she was fighting, resisting. Strong, but she didn’t have the skills. “No!”


She screamed and a shirtless raider turned to the sound, took her knife in his chest. Sofia nodded, ducked to hide  belowdecks, and Gabrielle, released, felt pain along her biceps: she’d taken a knifewound. Stunned, disoriented for a moment, she turned and gutted the assailant with her sais. 


Time slowed; she watched him stumble back, his wound spurting dark life. She watched the faces of the men, saw a simple raid, easy money, transformed into a battle for their lives; saw desperation. Now it was harder.


Before they had time to react, she flipped into the midst of the forward group, took out two with neck wounds she hoped weren’t fatal. They were starting to react, and with luck would mob her. She could help: the stern was clear and she stepped slowly back, leading them; she’d make her stand at the mast.


Six raiders with knives, ringing her in a slow semi-circle: five, as she knocked a weapon from the air. The knifeless assailant walked forward a little slower, a little afraid. It was her opening, to flank them. Some misdirection now . . .


She heard a thunk, saw him collapse with a chakram buried in his back.


Bloody Ares! She rolled forward, low, grabbing the chakram, pulling with all her might as she rolled. It wasn’t fast enough. A knife, glancing off her ankle, stopped her and, now she was down,  the raiders had charged.  Bloody, bloody . . . she loosed the chakram with a heavy spin; it angled against the deck,  lifted itself then split, the pieces flying off at right angles, reflecting against the ship. Catching the early sun like a spirit released, glittering, the chakram fragments cut hamstrings along a line then re-united, bounced off the mast and returned to her.


All down. The crew watched, impassive. Sofia was at her side, helping her stand, taking half her weight. “You don’t listen very good, do you?”






Post-fight, she was drained, her energy flowing out with the blood. And, in the time it took to eliminate the pirates, Sofia had grown a decade. The girl had cleared the decks of the dead, ordered the captain to let them off at the next port along,  then turned full attention to her.  She came to her, in the late afternoon; stripping off her punjabi, she lay the green silk along the deck,  making a small mattress.


“Take off your clothes and lie down.”


“I don’t need your help.”


Sofia knelt next to where she sat, placed her palm against her cheek. She flinched but Sofia pressed harder, silent, until she had to look in her eyes. Eyes cold blue-gray, with no past.


“Gabrielle: you’re starting to make me mad. You don’t want that, do you?”


She flinched again, but Sofia’s eyes narrowed, and she nodded: no.


It hurt, trying to pull the shirt over her head, the pants down; Sofia had to do it. She said nothing about the tattoo, said nothing as she began massaging oil into her skin. She was jumpy under Sofia’s touch, relaxed when she felt the full equatorial sun beat on her back. Then Sofia turned her, began massaging her legs, thighs.


“What are you doing?”


“I want you to understand I’m not a child.”


She looked up at Sofia, her skin a light brown, not old burnt brown like her own, but with the evenness, the smooth curve of youth.


“You’re not a child. But I am an old woman and I don’t want my body touched.”


“You’re not who you say, Gabrielle.”


“No pasts, remember?”


 “Your body; it isn’t what you said. Your muscle-tone is almost perfect; your skin is tight.” She leaned over, to whisper in her ear: “Pirate treasure.”


What she felt wasn’t the sun. . . .  it was anger. She knew she wasn’t saying what needed to be said: that Sofia had killed a man, and was now flirting with her, as though the blood excited her. There was too much about Sofia she didn’t know.


Honesty; she promised honesty, for Sofia’s sake. She herself had bloodied the ship, and she did it because she wanted to protect Sofia.


Because she needed to protect her innocence.


Because she couldn’t admit what she was really doing.


Playing ‘warrior and bard’ with Sofia’s life. 


“What’s in that massage oil?”


“I’m sorry: I borrowed it from Sumita because I didn’t have my own. But you pulled some muscles and you need the heat. Tomorrow ashore I’ll get herbs and we’ll do this right.”


“Tomorrow, I won’t need this.”


 “Yes, Gabrielle.”


“Who’s Sumita?”


“You don’t know?” Sofia sounded surprised. “No, of course you don’t. Gabrielle has seen and felt everything; wants to know nothing more.”


Sofia avoided massaging her chest, was changing the bandage along her arm. The oil must have been analgesic, too, because the arm felt numb.


“This is infected already.” Sofia’s voice made her look up; concern was lining her face. The young woman spat into her hands, rubbed the knife wound.  “Tomorrow, you’ll need this again. We’re getting a room ashore, and you’re going to rest.”


“I feel tired. Is it the oil?”


“No. You feel tired because you don’t sleep. You feel tired because you just drained your energy and you have no reserves. You also fail to eat, you think and scheme all the time and you never relax.” Now Sofia was chewing something, shredding it. She seemed to measure the taste, stopped chewing.  “And you will sleep now, because you will swallow this.” She leaned down, pressed lips against hers, and Gabrielle took from her, what she’d prepared. She chewed it, tasted, swallowed.


Relaxing, letting her muscles relax, she watched Sofia’s face, looking back at hers. She knew the major herbal traditions, she thought. This was different and confusing: she tasted vanilla and cardamon, cinnamon, along with the bitter medicine. She watched Sofia for a long time; as the sun fell, she let a wisp of hair be brushed from her face. Gabrielle smiled up at her.


“You have a sweet kiss.”


Dreamlike, Sofia was smiling at her. “Well, that’s a new Gabrielle. Now I know the drugs are working.”


“You were a herbalist, right?”


“So talkative, my Gabrielle.” She brushed a palm along her cheek.


 “Testing me, for fever?”


“Of course. And you were what, an Amazon warrior?”




In the distance, Sofia seemed shocked.


“No more drugs. Spices good.”



It was a drug dream, because she searched the snow-bound valley with two crosses, but the tree was gone. She searched, climbing to the top of the mountain, desperate with fear, and Xena was there. With her last strength, she threw herself at Xena’s knees.


“Where were you? You said you’d be with me.”


“I had to go back. Leave things undone and they make you go back.”


“What? What didn’t you do?”


“This.” Xena knelt beside her, held her head and kissed her. The shock knocked the breath out of her and she gasped. But she clung to Xena and to the kiss, growing warmer. Xena pushed her back, laid her down and tore off their clothes; she felt warm flesh against hers, looked up: Xena was young again, like when they first met. Her skin was glowing with life and joy and  . . . she felt it, she was going to come. It was too soon, Xena always wanted it to last. But the anxiety only made her come deeper and she woke, hand on her crotch, shuddering.


The sky was clouded over; she was on deck and Sofia was holding her from the back. “Good. Let go of it all, Gabrielle.”




She woke again, warm, feeling Sofia’s breath against her neck. Breasts pressed against her back. Her arm was a sharp hurt when she moved it.


Sofia’s morning breath was sweet. Herbalist: she’d been drugged, wound up flirting with a woman a third her age. The truly shameful part was, she remembered the feel of her kiss. On a scale of one to Xena, this was a kiss to say, “love is innocent as a flower.”


Their breaths rose, fell  together; they shared body heat.


And, Xena. There was more to the dream; she didn’t remember it all. But Xena was back; it was why she’d returned to the East.


Sofia stirred, dragged a hand down along her side, over her hip. Curse of Hades, she was still half-dressed. She stood quickly, then half fell, to her knees.  Sofia watched as she dressed.


“Watch that ankle, Gabrielle. It’s going to need two or three days. And don’t worry about the men;  I told them you were feeling out of practice with the sais. If they got too close . . . whammo.” She smiled.


She didn’t want to be feeling this; she didn’t want to say it: Sofia was nice to wake up to. Her smile, red lips and white teeth, was young and perfect. Young, and joyous.




Sofia left her, and she washed quickly, cleaned her teeth. She was sitting up when the woman returned, with a pot and cups.


“I smell tea.”


“Hope you like it.”


“Are you kidding? Tea is the best part of the mystic East.” She didn’t say, Xena had taught her to drink tea. Returning from Ch’in; it was something to share, in the silences, a way they found, amongst the losses, to be together.


She smelled Sofia’s brew, sipped it. The fragrance then taste of fruit filled her mouth then faded, to a light tartness that left her mouth yearning. “A fruit. Berries.”




“Then a sour fruit, just a little.”


“Gabrielle! You’re supposed to contemplate, enjoy it. Not analyze it. Remember we talked yesterday about relaxing?”


She looked at Sofia; the woman was teasing her again. Although it was clear there were things they were not going to discuss, there could be things . . . they could try.


“You’re just mad I guessed. You are a herbalist, aren’t you?”


“ And you are Gabrielle of Poteidaia, aren’t you?”


Now it began. “I’m Gabrielle of nowhere.”


“You’re a myth. I mean, they told us stories so we thought you were a myth.”


“They? Us? Stories?”


“They tell all the young girls, if they aren’t good and don’t listen to their parents, or if they don’t want to marry who their parents say. Then everyone tells you, ‘You’re going to grow up like Gabrielle of Poteidaia.’ I never wanted to marry so I got the stories about how you died horribly. They said you threw yourself off a mountain because you could never marry. Or you loved a woman and the Romans condemned you both to death for perversion. They crucified you together; it was so romantic. Everyone wanted to be like you.”


“No, they don’t.”


“I do. Queen Gabrielle . . . my Queen . . . I’ve searched for you. I knew you were really alive; I knew you wouldn’t kill yourself.”


But, of course, Sofia wasn’t a cruel woman.  It was just herself, remembering what had been.


“First: you aren’t an Amazon. And.” She had to hold up a warning hand “if I have anything to say about it, you won’t be one. That makes me not your queen. Call me Gabrielle.


“Second: I want to tell you a real story: no myth. I want you to listen very carefully, because you need to understand something.”


Sofia sat up straight, attentive; tucked her legs in, lotus position. “Yes. They said you were a bard.”


“I’m no bard; there’s just a story that needs to be told. It’s about a young woman, and you’re right; she didn’t respect her parents, and she didn’t want to marry her village fiance. Mind you” she paused, to look at Sofia, “there was nothing wrong with him.


“But destiny plays tricks with a woman; one day a warrior rode into town.”


“A warrior? I knew it!” Sofia thought it was exciting. She had just taken two giant steps backwards, as though hearing the story had made her a child again. Sofia was . . . of two worlds. She’d have to remember.


“Oh, much better: it was a Warrior Princess. She was tall, with long black hair and eyes blue as the sky and she was as beautiful as the setting sun; she rode a white horse just like in every good story. And then our young village girl, who knew nothing of the world, was given a choice. She could follow her princess, see the world, learn everything there was to know. She could become a great warrior herself; she would fight for justice and her name would be told in legends.”


Sofia laughed. “Almost like you.” But then her brows closed in; Sofia was a perfect audience. Why had she ever stopped doing this?  “But . . . you said there was a choice. Was there another half?”


“Ah, very good question. Our heroine was too innocent to ask that.  In fact, she never wondered about it, not until . . . well, for twenty years. You see” and she leaned over, looked into Sofia’s eyes, “she could have all that. Or, she could have love.”


Sofia was puzzled, quiet: she hadn’t understood. “What choice did the heroine make?”


“The wrong one. Come on.” Gabrielle tried to rise, stopped. The pain was worse than she remembered. “We’ll be in port soon. Help me pack.”




The captain let them off at the mouth of the Chaophraya River. She carried her bags, wore chakram and sais, as she politely requested fare refunds for the both of them. By the time they’d found a small home, on a khlong off the river, her wound had re-opened, staining her shirt. She sat back, on the veranda, in a real chair, with thick cushions, let Sofia call a servant. Two fares made them locally wealthy, but it was an illusion: she’d need fare again.


The servant brought hot water, and Sofia cleansed both her wounds. Stepping easily into her profession, she was an adult again, and, deceived, Gabrielle let herself fall into her hands. It was like dawn for her body; she felt things she’d forgotten, her muscles relaxed as though a cramp had let loose its hold. She lay naked in the shade; the ocean breeze flowing like a lover, over her back.


“I’m rested; let’s go get some food.”


“Shopping. I want to get those herbs for you, then I want to go to the market.”


“Shopping isn’t really my thing, Sofia. I’ll watch. I mean, I’ll watch, after we eat.”


She tried to stand, quickly sat down. Hmmm . . .


“Sofia, would you get my bag? Thanks.” She rummaged, found one of her old, old outfits. Back from when she still showed her abdomen. “I want you to put this on. Also . . . here.” The old silver wrist braces.


Sofia looked . . . she looked surprised, then amused, then appreciative, at the clothing. “You must have been quite an item,” an offhand remark, she threw back as she went inside, to change.


After several comments, some sarcastic, others along the lines of “You got anything a little smaller?” Sofia returned. Silver against her dark skin, jewelry on her long muscles made a striking effect. She was as beautiful as . . . she didn’t know. She’d forgotten how, the words to say, how beautiful a woman was. It had been hard enough to stand; this was going to be harder. She handed Sofia the chakram.


“Gabrielle. I . . . I know I acted like a child yesterday. I’m sorry for what I did. And I’m sorry I touched this.”


“Chakram. You didn’t do anything wrong, it was my fault. And, I don’t want to talk about it. But: today, I want you to look like a warrior. You wear it on your waist . . . with this clip, like so.”


The memory hit her, and she almost sat again. “It’s going to swing when you walk; everyone has her own rhythm. But if you try to match the chakram’s rhythm, you’ll naturally move strong and confident.”


She handed the weapon to Sofia, who took it, two handed, then paused. She frowned, like she’d just felt a cramp. Then she breathed deep, bowed, and touched the surface of the chakram to her forehead. 


Instantly, she cried out, dropped the chakram, looked at her hands, like looking for burns, then, desolate, looked at her. She pointed, with horror on her face, pointed and whisper-shouted: “Who . . . owns . . . that . . . weapon.”


“OK. Right. Might not be you. Hmmm . . . “ as she linked the chakram to her own belt. She wasn’t healed, and it was risky, but she took Xena’s sword too, strapped it along her back. So she was the warrior after all.





They wandered along canals, watching boats with flowers, fruits, scented woods, float past. The city made her think “garden” and “paradise” but then, Xena had been with her last time, just before Nippon. She’d been so thoughtful, gentle, it made her suspicious at first. But she’d relaxed into it; she told Xena it was their second honeymoon and Xena even didn’t make a face. In the mornings, at night, Xena’s sex was fierce.


Sofia seemed disoriented; she just led her. She wanted it to be special, a memory like a gift, something Sofia could keep. Funny . . . she didn’t even know where Sofia was heading. Come to think, Sofia didn’t really know where she was traveling, either. Well, not like Sofia needed to know her every plan.


They found the food market, several canals over from their house;  found a longtail skiff with prepared noodles, rice, pressed bean curd and vegetables. Pointing to what she wanted, overpaying in silver, she built a meal just for Sofia. She hadn’t cooked for anyone in eighteen years, and this was all proxy, like someone was between them, but she’d make a meal to remember for after she left.




They sat together, at the edge of a temple, outside a garden. White and lavender flowers hung above them, perfuming the ginger-hot stew. Sofia had finally relaxed; she plucked a light-purple blossom, placed it in her cleavage. Her smile was shyly happy, Gabrielle realized she’d never had a lover, someone to give her a flower, to tell her she was beautiful.


She smiled thinking about it, and Sofia smiled at her, and she did the wrong thing.


“The flower is beautiful against your skin. You should wear flowers always.”  Xena said once, she was the only woman she’d ever known who could get in trouble just eating lunch. Hades, but the Warrior Princess could call ‘em.


Sofia set her rice down, moved close, touched hips. “I want to do something to thank you for today.”  And when she didn’t reply, “I think you need a present, Gabrielle. I think I know what, too.”


“Hey, look! Lychees!” And there was, too; a man shaking the ants from a broken branch of fruit. Stiff, she walked over, got a handful in exchange for just a smile.


“Ever had these?”


“No. What is it with me, Gabrielle? Am I saying the wrong things?” She shook her body, throwing off the romantic mood. “Why?”


“Here.” She popped the fruit out of the rough covering, into Sofia’s hand. “Not bad, huh?  You’re just like this fruit, you know. There’s an outside skin, the herbalist and the yogini and the woman who can take charge of a whole ship’s crew. Inside that, is something subtle, and wonderful. You know . . . queens paid gold, their dowry, to have this fruit brought fresh to them? True story.”


“But the fruit is only hiding a seed, isn’t it? Hope you didn’t bite in; usually it’s too hard anyway.”


Sofia bit a lip. She wasn’t getting it and it was embarrassing her.


The park made an incongruous background. Women in silks, wild eastern colors: ringing purples, bright pinks; children playing games she didn’t know, food she couldn’t even prepare for herself. Temples to strange gods she could never worship. And she’d chosen this alien, forbidding paradise, to examine a woman’s soul.


“You killed a man, yesterday, on the ship. I’ve seen people, the first time they kill; some don’t even know what they did. They forget where they are, they bump into things. In shock ”


“But not you. You got stronger, not weaker. Like you took the energy from the fight, from the blood. You worry me, Sofia: who or what is it inside you, that you can be like that?”


“That’s all it is? That’s the only thing worrying you?” Sofia nodded to herself. Gabrielle was beginning to realize, she had a whole language of nods. Like someone who talked to herself, a lot.


“I was fourteen when I killed someone. He raped me.”


“You killed him, because he was trying to rape you?”


“No. He raped me and my relatives said I had to marry him. Then he raped me again and I killed him. I crushed his neck, if you want to know. He made lots of strange sounds. It was just death-talk.”


“How . . . ?”


“I took the money my family saved and I left. I went to Egypt looking for you. It took four years. And no, I’m not sorry, about the man, or about the money.”  Sofia looked at her, defiant. “Also I’m not sorry about anyone yesterday, so don’t even think about asking.”


“How can you be like that? Not care?”


“It’s what you do, Gabrielle. I told you: we’re just the same.”


Alright, scratch ‘innocent.’ 


“I’m not your judge Sofia, and I wasn’t trying to be one. I wanted to know . . . who you really are. I wanted to get to know you.”


“So the ‘no past’ thing is over? It doesn’t matter. I wouldn’t have told anyone besides you. And I still need to go to the market. Can you get up?”


She could, with an arm around her waist. Great warrior, she was. Sofia led her, past the food displays.” “Isn’t it pretty? Those dried shrimp are so orange. But they’re a different orange than that pile of mangoes. Or that basket of saffron. I love markets.” Suddenly a different woman.


“Like I said, not my thing. I’m gonna lean against this wall, stand guard. OK?”


“Yeah.” Sofia turned, walked away, then looked back and smiled. Gabrielle thought she’d be teaching her self-defence, but here she was, working flirt-lessons. Making up for an adolescence destroyed, but what trick of fate made it, choose her?


She hated being a role-model.


Shopping taxed her slightly less than usual; Sofia was transparently happy. Simple pleasures of youth. And maybe just simple pleasures, because she liked watching Sofia happy. It gave her an idea; while Sofia was trying on jewelry that didn’t really compliment her skin, she snuck out, bought perfume, before she was even missed. She was getting careless: the time she should have spent planning fights, fatal blows and fast escapes, she was thinking what Sofia would say, do; how she would smell.


This was serious: if she couldn’t act like a warrior, she was no good to anyone. Straightening, she looked for something to lean against, found a thick teak beam, supporting the awning over a line of market stalls. The deep brown wood was weathered, had begun to split in places; in others had been worn shiny. She felt she was like the old beam, although Sofia said her body was beautiful. The woman was undermining everything she knew about herself. No wonder she was getting distracted.


Focus: she ran through her inventory, outside in. Blisters on her feet; she’d been favouring the wounded leg, and it affected her walk. Her shoulders hurt; also thrown out of balance. Reflexes good . . . well, reflexes slowed in her wounded arm. She was alert, the drugs had no side effect other than the flirtatiousness and sexual release. She’d warn Sofia about it again. Energy: she wasn’t tired; the first good night’s sleep she’d had in . . . she’d had. That made her stomach queasy and her breath tight; the emotion it meant was . . . anxiety.  Thinking: because she couldn’t wait for night, to sleep and to resume dreaming.


Her stomach was just fine. She’d enjoyed the meal and though she wasn’t hungry, was looking forward to another. The emotion was contentment and in fact her overall feeling was happiness. She didn’t need to think; she’d seen Xena, would see her again tonight, soon be with her forever.


“Gabrielle? Are you alright?”


“Yeah. Good. Just watching the market; I didn’t see you come up.”


Sofia dropped her basket. “I did! I did! Admit it, I snuck up on you!” She was bouncing up and down; Gabrielle picked up her basket with her good arm, put the bad one at her waist.


“Fine: you got me. Hmm, you deserve a reward. There’s a little snack they serve here . . . “


“Fried bananas?”


“Yeah; how’d you know that? You’ve never been here, right?”


“Just came to me. I thought, ‘if I were a yummy snack that Gabrielle wanted, what would I be? I’d be . . . a squishy greasy fried banana.’  Was I right?”


She stopped at a stand, held up three fingers, paid.


“Did he call these ‘gooey’? He sure got that right. Mnnnn” Sofia bit in. “I left out the part, ‘I’m covered in sticky honey.’ ”


They sat at the edge of a turtle pond, while Sofia finished all three of the deserts. She put on a big greedy smile, reminding her so much of Xena, and Gabrielle shook her head. “Uh-uh. It’s your sticky face; you clean it. Here.” Offering her the bag, which had leaves she could use. “You notice the turtles? I like that big old one.”


They were sunning themselves, the largest half-submerged, with a pile of younger ones on its back. The babies weren’t much bigger than a coin, striped in reds and yellows. “You know, Gabrielle? This illustrates a theory I have. See, you’re like that turtle on the bottom. It helps the other ones, the young ones, get to the sun. They see things they’d never experience, without her. That’s why women need heroes and role models. What? You’re giving me that face. What did I say?”


“You called me old.”


“I did not. Don’t be ridiculous.”


“Implied it.”


“Hmmph. And they call me vain.”


“Nobody calls you vain.”


“They will if I keep dressing like this.” She looked down at her semi-naked body, jeweled in silver.


“I’m not giving you more compliments, Sofia. You called me old.”






She took the long way back home, told herself  it was the pleasure of walking, after weeks of sailing. She quick-plaited a second basket from fibrous leaves growing along the canal banks, to Sofia’s delight. It allowed her to help carry packages, gave her a sense of having something to do, but by the time they were home, she was tired.


“I’ll put away. Rest for a little bit. Then I want you to strip. When was the last time you were examined by a healer?”


“Don’t know.”


“Or won’t say. Be there in a little.”


She decided to simply strip, lay naked on the bedroom mat, eyes closed, waiting. All afternoon she’d though of nothing but Xena. In Egypt she’d seen a dry riverbed hit with a sudden rain; seen a wall of water rip through it, tearing down tents, animals and foolishly placed mud huts. Xena was flooding her mind; everything evoked her lover. 


“Alright; we’re ready. Turn over.” Sofia had brought a brown cloth . . .  a brown silk robe, and placed it, covering her body. She was immediately less uneasy, as the healer folded down the top half.


“Hey! What are you doing? You leave those alone! Sofia!!”


“I’m checking your breasts for lumps. Hush, Gabrielle.”


“That’s what they all say. Ouch! That was too hard.”


“Sore? Is this normal?”


“Yes. Since I came east.”


“Mmmm. You’ve had children?”


“Yes. One.”


“I’d recommend cutting back on the tea; it’s probably causing those lumps. Your breasts won’t feel as sore. By the way, if you started sleeping full nights, you wouldn’t need the tea. When was your last cycle?”  Sofia flipped the robe up, then flipped the bottom part.


“I don’t remember. What are you doing?”


“Examining you. Are you regular?”


“I used to be twenty nine days. I switched to twenty one about seventeen, eighteen years ago. The last few years it’s been pretty uneven.”


“Mmmmm. A battle trauma could do that.”




“How old are you?”


“Forty six.”


“Any hot flashes? Mood swings?”


“Yes. Yes.”


“I’m going to get you some herbs;  they should help you regulate. You’ll feel better, too. Now raise your legs.”


“What!? Even my, my husband didn’t see all this.”


“Relax, Gabrielle. Tell me about your husband. Is he with your child?”


“They’re both dead. He wasn’t the father.”


“Mmmm. OK, you can lower your legs. I’m sorry about your family. Turn over.”


“Now what.”




“I don’t need a massage.”




“I told you, I don’t like being touched.”


“That’s fine; if you don’t want me to touch you, I won’t. But if you are any kind of warrior, you know already know why you need this. In fact, I think you can even tell me where to massage.”


“Sorry. You win.”


“Thank you. Now, Gabrielle: as your healer, I think you need a massage. Would you please turn over?”


She yielded, as Sofia shifted the robe to cover her lower back and began slow work on her shoulders. She knew that her body, her muscles would be compliant and knew Sofia’s hands would know. 


“Sofia . . . am I right? If I went to a healer, I could never afford you?”


“You have the oddest way of trying to be nice. Yes. I learned from the court physician to my father, the king. I lied a little this afternoon. When I fled Byzantium I only took my dowry. A little. I couldn’t even carry it all.”




“Ummm-hmm. When I was seven, I had the world’s biggest crush on the healer. I followed her around everywhere. She taught me to read: books, and bodies.”


“You learned fast. Ow.”


“Pulled that yesterday, when you rolled and reached for the chakram; I saw it happening. You know, apprentices start young. But Ruya – she was my teacher – she said it was like I was born with the soul of a healer. Ruya was always saying things like that.”


“And she was the great love of your life?”


“She met you once, you know. She told the other stories about you, the ones parents never told. About how you saved her village. But she told it different every time, and I thought she made you up.”


Sofia was running fingertips down her spine.


“What now?”


“ Some women, as they age, develop spine deformities. You’re fine.” 


“You called me old again.” She felt a sharp sting along her left buttock.


“That’s for being vain. By the way, you’re still very firm. I think you were the great love of Ruya’s life.”


“I don’t even remember . . . “


“You know what it’s like, to love so hard? Have you ever wanted to be someone else, just for her, your love? Can you even understand why Ruya felt what she did, for you?”


“Maybe I do know. I think, all the best things we do, we do for love. But sometimes it’s for love we can’t have.”


“Sure; right Gabrielle. Don’t go anywhere; I’ll be back.”


She returned, to rub a cream along the knife wounds. Outside, it was cooling; in the wound, it stung badly.


‘That should hurt.”  Nothing. “I thought so. Gabrielle, even warriors can feel pain. Pain is a body’s way to communicate. It can be telling you that you’re healing; it can be telling you that you need to change. Even a warrior can’t afford to ignore it.”  She wiped her hands, turned away.


“I’m through now; you can change. You’re basically in good physical shape. Normally I’d ask if you have unusual joint pains, but in your line of work, that would be ‘all the time.’ I’d tell a woman your age to stay active; again not a concern. I am concerned about your diet; part of the problem with your cycle might be malnutrition. We’ll work on that.”


Sofia turned back, just as she was pulling up a pair of harem pants. She was a healer, so much a healer for her, that she stopped, looked up to her.


“Go ahead. Now, aside from the medicines, Gabrielle, you need to have more sex.”


“I don’t think you can shock me. More than you already did.” She sat in the cushioned chair.


“I’m serious. Your muscles are much more relaxed than yesterday; I think it was the orgasm last night. Either you get all the good dreams and the rest of us the stinky ones, or you haven’t had sex in a while.”


“So? My business.”


“Sex is good for your whole body. And for your psyche. You’re still very attractive, Gabrielle; I think you could have most women you set your mind to. You should think about getting a regular partner.”


“Orgasms just happen. It isn’t something that interests me.”


“Did she hurt you that much?”


“Who? Nobody hurt me.”


“Your Warrior Princess. It doesn’t take a healer to see what happened to you.”


“I’m really tired; I want to meditate now, please.”  Sofia acquiesced, but as she was leaving, tried to caress her cheek. Didn’t pay to mess with a warrior: she had the hand in an instant, squeezing it hard. She held it just too long, released Sofia.



By the time she’d finished pranayama, she smelled incense; heard the breeze brushing against trees, trees; she was released into the mantra.  She waited at the bottom of a deep lake; everything, the world of human pain, was all surface and distant from her. Her passions quieted, became the rustle of the trees.


Then Xena swam next to her. It ended as fast as that.


Well, so, she might not make Nirvana, this time ‘round. Funny, she was still attached to something. Now, what could that be?


She heard Sofia, and the servant, in the kitchen. She’d been wrong: Sofia wasn’t several different people; she was just one. Like a crystal, shattered into shards, by violence, and terror.


On board ship, she’d met a young girl, who needed a role model, an adult to talk with.  Part of her had grown up, split off; she needed to be held; like anyone you’d meet, she needed love and touch and someone caring about her.  But before she could find any of that, she fractured again.


The piece that grew up became a brilliant healer, from one of the oldest traditions ever. It stung her, how good Sofia was.  But then that was the same piece who knew everything about a woman’s body, except the pain.


And there was a warrior. Even warriors needed to feel, she said; more true of her than anyone, because that part was still trapped, by the horror shattering it.




She’d sat so long, she’d missed the sunset. She reached out with her senses, smelling fresh rice, hearing dissonant and exotic music from across the water. She wished she could have met Sofia whole.


No, she didn’t: she met Xena, who was enough for her life, and every lifetime after. The Sofia she wished to meet was just a fantasy; Xena was real.


Sound of bare feet, graceful step on straw matting on wood; smell of sandalwood clinging to a body; brush of silk like a flower along her arm: Sofia knelt behind her, whispered: “Gabrielle.”


“I’m out!”  Recovering, her eyes still closed, “Nice way to come out of meditation, though.”


“Then we’ll do it every night. Do you want to change for dinner? It’s almost ready.”


“Oh. Thanks; you know I don’t have anything as nice as your clothing.”


“Whatever you wish, Gabrielle.”



Add one to the list: now she could get in trouble, just meditating. She thought about Sofia again, while she changed. The woman was a puzzle, intrigued her; she needed to explain her. The young woman acted like she was exploring all the different ways she could act, to win another woman’s heart. Well . . . linen slacks; loose, with a tie-belt, and a linen blouse cut to show cleavage, but which almost covered her navel. It’d be lightweight, and when they ate they’d be sitting on the floor so it might be safe enough. The perfume in one pocket, she left the bedroom, found Sofia on the veranda, watching the moon.


She came up behind Sofia, silent. Jasmine scent on the wind; it couldn’t have been more romantic. She stopped short of touching her, cleared her throat. When Sofia turned, she steepled her hands, bowed her head over them: “Sawadee ka.”


“Thank you; I like that. What does it mean?


“Well, it sounds better than it is; it only means ‘hello.’ “


“I think I’ll just pretend it means something deep and spiritual. Like you are.”


Like walking a labyrinth: you got lost immediately but it didn’t matter, because the monster was gonna get you in the end, anyway. She lowered her voice, “I bought you a present.” Her voice came out rough.


Sofia looked like she’d slapped her. “No!”


“”What’s wrong? Did I do something wrong? I didn’t mean it.”


“I bought you a present. I wanted to surprise you. But you got there first.” She really looked like she’d cry.


“That’s alright; I was just nervous. Mine can wait, until after dinner.”


“Good, because mine can’t. Close your eyes.”  Sofia pressed something round into her hands. “Open. Do you like it?”


A gold necklace. Three gold beads, strung on a leather necklace.


“Sofia . . . this must have cost a”


“I think it’ll look better on your skin than the silver.”


“What silver?”


“The silver one.”

”I don’t have a silver necklace.” She thought. “You know I did, but I had to trade it. I was at the source of the Nile and”


“You lead such a romantic life. I think I just meant, gold is better, on your skin-type, than silver.”


“Sofia, I can’t take this. It must have cost. . . a fortune.”


“True story. A young princess, from an exotic kingdom, went in search of the rarest and most subtle fruit in all of Asia. After years of searching, she found it. The dowry her father had left her was almost gone. But she traded all that she had, for one taste of that fruit.”


“This is all the money you have, isn’t it?”


“We don’t need it. We have the house. We could live here and I could be a healer. We’d have lots to live on and you wouldn’t have to fight anymore.”


The sound of exotic and dissonant music came from across the water. She held out the ends of the leather cord, bowed her head as Sofia bound the cord to her.


“Sofia, this . . . it really is a gift from a princess. I will wear it as long as I live.”



Sofia was subdued at dinner; she herself in a state of suppressed excitement, waiting for the evening to end, waiting to dream. They sat down to a platter made of green leaves, arranged as the petals of a flower, with small bits of spices and herbs on each leaf. In the center was a sauce. She wasn’t sure how to eat it, but Sofia, self-assured, took a small amount from each pile, wrapped it in a lettuce leaf, then rolled it all into a package which she dipped in the sauce. “Digestive aid. It’ll be good for you.” Sofia offered it, but made her eat it from her hand.


The package was fiery with spices, hitting her level after level. She tasted cilantro, raw ginger and onions, garlic, nuts and a sweet sauce, the sourness of a lime, but there were many spices in the complex mix that she just didn’t recognize. 


“That was incredible; thank you. I wish I could be here long enough to learn everything in that.”


“Here: let me have your bowl.” Sofia ladled a stew over the rice, returned the bowl.


“It has fish in it. I don’t eat fish.”


“I’m sorry. There’s nothing else for you.”


“Could you make me another . . . digestive aid? Please?”


“When are you leaving?”


“When the wounds are healed.”


“I want to come with you. Where is it?”


“You can’t go where I’m going. I have . . . an assignation. It’s on the top of a mountain, in Nippon.”


“You’re going to meet her. I know it; don’t even answer. Here’s your food.”


“I’m not going to meet her, I’m going to join her. In death, Sofia. Like your myth; I’m living peoples’ myths.”


Sofia, graceful and proud princess, stood quietly, left the room.





She helped the servant clean up, mimed that she should take the dinner for her own family, then went to the bedroom. She was curled on her mat, in a corner, face away from her, sobbing quietly. There was nothing she could do to help, she knew. Perhaps just leave, quietly, in the morning, before Sofia woke.


She lay back on her own mat, closed her eyes, listening to the fall of Sofia’s tears. Sleep took her, twisting sensations; she moved in and out of dreams. She woke briefly when Sofia stopped crying.



The snow had started to melt. She spotted the black, lightning-blasted tree immediately; headed directly to it, through wet ground, muck. All that remained of the deep snowdrifts was a mound of dirty slush at its base, and she could see flesh. It was a foot, which didn’t make sense; it was supposed to be her heart; Xena was supposed to give back her heart.  She pulled and gradually the body of a young girl emerged. She was naked, badly bruised, cold as ice. A final pull and she saw the head had been half-cut away; the stump black with caked blood and as she freed it from the ice the head flopped to one side. It was her own face, and she screamed and screamed and nothing happened, but dead frozen eyes staring at her.




She woke and knew she’d been screaming; Sofia was holding her and she started to cry. She was being rocked, Sofia was chanting, “bad dream; a bad dream.”


It seemed forever, but she stopped crying, and Sofia stood up.


“Don’t leave me.”


“Wait.”  She did return, with leaves and a jar; Gabrielle watched as she sprinkled white powder on a leaf, rolled it up. The leaf and drug were bitter and she gagged; she started coughing and then vomited up dinner.


Sofia quietly cleaned it up; offered her water to cleanse her mouth. The leaf and powder were mixed with mangoes this time; Sofia made her eat two, before taking her, pulling her against her body, holding her tightly until she lost consciousness.




Xena held her, while she cried.





“Xena, I can’t live any more. I have to be with you.”


“I’m not here, Gabrielle.”


She lay against her, their cheeks touching, Xena stroking her hair, as she had always done. It was like coming home, to her home where her family had all died.


“What’s re-incarnation like?


“It’s like dreaming, when you talk and no-one can hear you. Like you’re underneath ice, and you wander the world lost, hoping someone will recognize who you are and let you out.”


“Tell me about it.”


“I’m sorry, Gabrielle.”


“No. I won’t forgive you for what you did. Never.”


“So you’re going to take your revenge on Sofia. Is that it? You’re going to hurt her, to get back at me? Gabrielle, Gabrielle. My love.”




“I know I wasted so much time. But every mistake I made, you want to repeat with her.”


“It isn’t fair, Xena.”


“Not to any of us. Will you try? For me?”


“What do you want?”


“The sword is too big for her hand. Also, I think that’s the wrong chakram; you need to start her out on something simpler. I got mine when I was in India.”


“Xena! I’m training Sofia. Butt out.”


“Oh, and you think you can do a better job than I can?”


“Yeah. I do.”


“Fine. So what’s the plan?”


You don’t need to know the plan. You’ll find out when it happens.”


She stood, with Xena looking up at her. “It’s almost dawn, Gabrielle. Tomorrow night?”


“Yeah. Come here.” Xena came, and she stood against Xena’s body, allowed herself to be immersed in the sensation of being held.



She woke with the first touch of dawn, Sofia lying asleep next to her, their room half between light and dark. She got her bags out onto the veranda without waking her but didn’t have the strength to leave. Yoga and meditation came to no use, for she had lost her focus. Folded into the lotus, she sat against the wall, eyes on Sofia. The haze over the river turned blush-pink as the sun rose on it.


Sofia slept with her hand in a fist; she was clutching a black leather cord. While she dreamed of Xena, Sofia had taken the necklace. She must have held it and cried: she could still see the tear-tracks.


She studied Sofia’s face: oval, the delicate perfect face of a princess, her face almost everything Xena’s wasn’t. She didn’t know how it could be, that everything about Xena, her smell, the timbre of her voice laughing, her touch, had vanished into shadows, but she was still in love with her, so that when she thought of it tears rose to heat her face.


And now she was to be with Sofia, this alien face, her stranger’s body? Xena had told her to try, but what did that even mean?


She abandoned her futile meditation, went to the veranda, to greet the dawn. The linen was stained from her sickness, needed cleaning up. Looking through her bags for a change of clothing, she settled on an old yellow-and orange skirt and halter top she’d worn in India, but when she stretched it, the silk tore, rotted with the years.


 The whole bag was a collection of junk; she’d been carting around pieces of her past for eighteen years now: her old clothes, Xena’s; jewelry, Xena’s sword that even Sofia couldn’t use. A lie of a funerary urn, of no human use to her and never had been; a dead past.


 She found a fountain by the side of the house; green mossy gray stone elephants offering clear water from their trunks She stripped, rinsed out the blouse, then splashed the cold water over her face and body. 


Now her bandages needed changing. Of course, Sofia would do it. It was as senseless as love for a woman eighteen years dead, but her body had woken with the anticipation of Sofia’s massage.


Peeking inside, sneaking one of Sofia’s blouses: she was still asleep, as beautiful as the sunrise. She stood by the open door, watched as the sun illumined the young woman’s body.




The servant was in the kitchen, already making rice. It had been eighteen years, and she’d never spoken the pan-Asian pidgen as well as Xena, but . . .


Bowing to the woman, she placed a hand on her chest. “Wau Gabrielle.”


She bowed in return, “Sukothai.”  Oh right: the ‘wau’ was Chinese. But the woman was pointing to the lightening sky. Dawn, yes.


She heated oil in a skillet, sautéed the leftover ginger and garlic; when it was fragrant, she added slices of tomato, to add the red of fire. Sukothai brought a bowl of  peeled shrimp . . . oh, why not. She cooked them until the flesh pinked up, then added five beaten eggs, stirring the mixture until the eggs set creamy. Sukothai provided a serving tray, and she arranged bowls of rice and eggs.  Oh. Fruit, too: she was hungry; she chopped a banana, a mango and chunks of coconut. There: even Sofia would approve.


Not quite. She’d seen a blue orchid, outside the front window. Opening the front door woke Sofia, but she plucked the flower, set it on the tray.  Exotic orchids on Sofia’s skin would feel at home.


Sofia eyes were puffy from the tears.


“Wake up, sleepyhead.”


Sofia looked at her, blank. “What are you doing here?”


“Getting us breakfast.”


“You talk in your sleep. I repeat: why are you still here?”


She almost laughed. She couldn’t keep secrets from Xena, either.


“It’s not funny, Gabrielle. I thought I’d never see you again.”


“Change in plan. Look, Sofia. I made us breakfast. Can we just eat?” She sat, across from her, watched her taste the eggs. Tasting like she was afraid.


“A real breakfast. Fresh prawns, fruit and all. This isn’t you; you’re up to something and I want to know what.”


She should have answered, but couldn’t; what she could do was look at her, at her face. She knew she was meeting Sofia for the first time: healer, and warrior, and young woman.




“Sorry. I was just thinking. Eat up; we have a lot to do.”




“Yeah. We’re going to India.”


“You said Nippon.” Sofia looked at her. Puzzled, for some reason.


“Change of plans. We’re going to Northern India.”


“We are, are we? I like it here. And if there are plans, I expect to hear them.”


“You don’t . . . you.”  It had never occurred to her. “Yes. Of course. I’m sorry, Sofia. Sometimes you have to remind me.”


“Don’t worry. That won’t be a problem.” She spooned up more egg. “And the mountain?”


She knelt, in front of Sofia. “No more mountains. We can stay here awhile, if you want. Return, too. I want my necklace back first.”


“You think you deserve it?”


“I can try. I did make a promise.”


 “I expect more than just trying.”


“I’ll make us breakfasts.”


“Ha! You are a good cook, I’ll give you that. But: I am a princess. You think I come cheap?”


“I bought you a present. I forgot to give it to you last night. How’s that?” 


“I don’t know. It had better be good.”


“Look!” Producing a small blue-glass vial, “Perfume.”


“OK. Good try. Not too bad.” She wiped her mouth, then put a spot of perfume on her wrist, waited a moment, sniffed.


“Musk. And amber and . . . a different kind of musk. Also, uh . . . vanilla? There’s something else too, isn’t there?”


“I need my secrets. Do you like it?”  Because, her face was serious and she was moving her lips, about to say something, then, changing her mind, something else. Hades, she was starting to cry.


“You better keep it, Gabrielle. This is the type . . . you give this, you’d give this to a lover.”


“I know. I bought it for you.”


Sofia was blinking, fast, then she lifted her head, shocked.


“My turn now: I’m a queen, remember.”




“When we’re together, like this? In the mornings? I want a kiss.”


“Is that your line? What you told her? Your Warrior Princess?”


“No, I never told her. But,”


She leaned forward,


“There’s no time, like now.”


Head tilted, eyes closed, she waited for Sofia’s kiss. To flood her senses, to tear though her body and uproot her life.





The End