The characters of Xena and Gabrielle, so I've been told, belong to USA Studios et al.
I really believe they belong to the world.
Sex; yes there is sex between two people of the same sex. If this offends, you are under the age of 18 or it is illegal where you live, read something else.
Violence; there are some scenes of a violent nature, seeing as how battles and invasions are referred to here. I don't intend to portray the real gore and grisly things that take place in battles, though.
"Stories for Gabrielle" is an interim story covering the time between "Return to Eire" and
"The Journey Home." It would be good to read the other stories in the sequence to better
understand this one.
Any comments are appreciated at firstname.lastname@example.org. Visuals can be seen at
STORIES FOR GABRIELLE
By Betty E. Bradley
The honeyed call of summer reached into the glens, among the wooded depths and the rocky hills. Green was everywhere, in every conceivable shade, not only in the trees and grass but also in the air itself; a verdant light filled with magic. This was almost a everyday occurrence in Eire.
Memory has a way of making things out how you would wish them, but also brightening up what had been in the deep recesses as well.
A tireless wind picked up and swept across the plain, pushing the flock of clouds that were sure to dump their rain somewhere close. Ferns in their dark hollows burned with an emerald flame - almost as bright as her eyes - the curving flanks of the mountains glistened, polished - like her wit - and the air smelled of life and death and growing things.
"We'd better find some shelter, Gabrielle," Xena drawled, "or we're gonna get wet."
"Seems like we're ALWAYS wet, Love," she smiled with a wink as she answered.
"There's some cover up ahead. I'll be thinking it'll be a cottage or a shed. Look! It'll be within a ring fort. Hmm, hard to really tell, so overgrown, but yet, 'tis a ring fort."
Finneghan checked out the smallish grass covered mounds and walked fast up to the covered dwelling.
"There'll be nae one here, and has nae been for quite a while!" he shouted. "Be deserted."
"Come on, hurry Gabrielle."
The warrior reached out her hand to the smaller fair-haired woman and pulled her up and over the ridges as the first drops of rain splattered about them.
The three companions pushed open a long unused door and stumbled inside. They laid down their belongings, satchels, bundles and harp and dropped to the floor laughing from the exertion.
Finn looked at the two women on the opposite side of the shelter and his heart almost stopped. For he finally recognized what he had been putting out of his mind ever since he had first laid eyes on Gabrielle. He loved her! Desired her! But she was totally unattainable. For she loved Xena. She had told him so. And Xena loved Gabrielle. That too had been confirmed. So to continue the relationship they had built he placed himself far away from any close interaction and loved her from afar, hoping Xena didn't notice. They both were very fond of him, and their affection grew the longer they were in each other's presence.
"Tell me Xena and Gabrielle, do ye ever fight with each other? I'll be with ye two for quite a time now and ye nae ever seem to even argue."
"Oh we used to not see eye to eye at all," quipped in the blonde.
"Yeah but she finally came around to seeing things my way," Xena jabbed her elbow into the younger woman's ribs, sending off peals of laughter.
"Oh, riiight!" was pushed out amid the sounds of happy noises from Gabrielle.
"No really, we achieved a balance between ourselves so even if we disagree we honor the other's thoughts and beliefs "
"Yeah, until I can make her change her mind!"
Gabrielle was nearly hysterical in the fun. But then Xena became serious.
"There was a time when I was in a dark, dark place. I had no peace, or inner peace. All I wanted to do was kill . Kill 'em all! " She took a breath and continued, "but I knew I was unhappy, knew there was more to life than that. And so I began my travels to try and find it. And I did. Here in Eire!" she looked deeply into Gabrielle's eyes and gifted her with one of her most sincere smiles. "Here I found Gabrielle and yes, we did fight and argue a lot in the beginning. Only because she didn't do what I told her to do and she could have been hurt was hurt. And kidnapped. But we survived. She has an enthusiasm that bubbles up in her like a wellspring and she reached out to everyone, trying to touch, eager to share, and experience everything. Each new discovery of beauty or wonder delighted, still delights her almost beyond anything. Everyone thought she would grow accustomed to the world that surrounded her and her excitement would wane. But thank the gods it hasn't! Well, we do still squabble from time to time," Xena continued giving one of her patented loving looks with a raised eyebrow.
"And I still whine every now and then," Gabrielle interjected. She looked back into the past and came to a realization, "I'm so sorry Xena. I didn't realize what I was doing back then. I'm so sorry."
Xena knew immediately what she was referring to. They had been so close for so long, they could finish each other's sentences and almost read the other's minds and thoughts.
"It's alright, babe," flicking a tear from her azure eye. "You just didn't know. And your good heart didn't see the evil that surrounded us everywhere. I was trying to be a teacher, mother and father all at the same time. It did get pretty rough. I'm not totally blameless."
"But after all of our trials, and really difficult times we did make it, and are much better for it aren't we, Xena?"
"Hey, but we are human and make mistakes just like everyone else," the warrior said quickly.
Turning to the young man, "We don't fight anymore, Finn, or even bully each other like we used to into our own way of thinking. I listen to the wisdom of Xena, I know she has my best interests at heart. I think love had a lot to do with it. I guess we both mellowed." Gabrielle turned to look into Xena's blue eyes, "Altho' it IS fun to make up, after a fight."
Her eyebrows went up and down several times as a broad grin spread across her face.
"Yes, but the agonies we go through before we get to the making up!" Xena breathed in memory. She turned to Finn, "But Gabrielle has a wisdom I didn't always listen to. And I paid for that."
"I guess our only real arguments now, Finn have to do with the pranks."
"What do ye'll be meaning by pranks, Gabrielle?"
"Oh just jokes Xena and I play on each other at times," she grinned and looked deeply into the warrior's eyes.
"They're traditional for birthdays," Xena added playfully.
"Not always fun though for the one who gets them played upon," Gabrielle said knowingly.
"But they are from the heart, my love," the warrior spoke softly. "And only because I care about you so much."
The warrior received a grin turned into smile that melted her right there on the spot.
Outside the storm broke in all of its fury, with lightning and thunder and the ever-present wind making a show of its strength. Inside there was a hearth and pleasantly enough some wood that hadn't been burned and was dry. The day was not cool enough to warrant a fire, even though the storm raged outside. It would be gone soon enough. They were not so wet as to need a fire to dry off. But if they wanted something cooked to eat, well, there were the materials for one to be available. Now, the three only dug into their trail rations for a snack to satisfy them while they waited on the weather.
"We'll be very fortunate to have found this roof for our heads," Finn noted.
"Yes, fortunate, indeed. Seems like we're very lucky that way," Gabrielle noted with a grin. "Like someone, or something is watching out for us."
"Hmmm," Xena nodded in agreement between bites of her food.
"Tell us about these raised rings of ground - these ring forts Finn," Gabrielle asked suddenly of the young man.
"Who made them and why? Are they always on a hill? Well, I suspect they are for
defense, tell us what you know about them."
Finn settled back against the wall as the other two got comfortable as well. Gabrielle cuddled into Xena's arms and leaned against the warm body. The blonde snaked her hand into the warrior's interlacing them. Outside the storm raged on, with flashes of light illuminating the interior of the house that held them dry followed by thundering booms.
"There'll be much history here, in this ground and even in this house," Finn started as he clasped his hands around his upraised knees. "Long before me grandfather's grandfather's grandfather was ever a gleam in his mother's eye." He sighed, then continued.
Xena took this moment to lean down and kiss the fair head resting against her.
"The people of Nemed built this ring fort. They'll be nae a quarrelsome race but they'll be nae a movin' push for shove when someone tries to take over. They were a strong people and dinna hide behind these raised grounds. When the dark-skinned Formorians invaded this land and be a takin' it upon themselves to have it, the people of Nemed stood strong and built many of these ring-forts as a defense to help stay off the barbarians."
"Who was Nemed, Finn?" Gabrielle asked.
"It was Nemed, son of Agnoman, and his race from your land in the Middle Sea, hundreds upon hundreds of hundreds of seasons ago. He came in a great fleet of 34 ships and of the thirty and four, only nine escaped the storm that had settled on them at the edge of the sea of Eire, our sacred isle. There were 30 in each barque. The great storm arose and the fleet pitched and tossed as if blown by a giant's breath. The waves raised the boats to the sky and wind and caught them like leaves from the autumn season and dashed them against the streaming rocks on the coast. The wind strode down from the sky like a god carving a way through the banked storm clouds with forked spears of lightning and bolts of thunder. Those that survived and landed took pleasure in the land so hard fought for with the elements. Tuan watched and remembered. The Nemedians lived peacefully and multiplied through many seasons They had nae an easy time once they were here for like I'll be a sayin' the Formors invaded afterwards and harassed them continually. The Formors came by way out of the northern darkness led by their Wizard-King Balor and his Warlord Conann the Conqueror. Bravely they rose against their oppressors. The Nemedians fought four great battles defeating the invaders in three, but in the fourth they were defeated and their army cut to pieces."
"I can relate to that," murmured Xena. "I have witnessed and taken part in battles similar for as long as I can remember. What happened next?"
"Artor, son of Nemed was slain by Conann of the Formors and his death broke Nemed's heart and he died soon after. But it was the last great battle, the Battle of Conann's Tower, which was here in this place, that destroyed both races, for their fury was so great that they did nae cease their killing until few were left on either side. The small group of Fomor who survived sailed back to Africa from which they came originally with Balor of the Evil Eye. But he stayed with a few retainers on an island off to the west of Eire. And those left of the Nemedians scattered from this sacred isle of Eire to the four corners of the earth."
"Oh, I can feel the turmoil here," Gabrielle sighed, "and I can feel the blood churning in the ground, and even the air. Look, Xena! Can you see them?"
"Yes," she murmured, then silently nodded her head in answer. For she too could see the figures in the air encompassing them.
For the air surrounding them was like a whirlwind, of battles of many men, some injured, many dying. The music of the air rose with the fury of the action, and the three in the old dwelling could see the fighting and the expressions on the faces of those whose lives were in perilous danger. Heads and limbs were cut off and rolling with the clash of swords and spears. All of a sudden, with a clap of thunder, the visions dissolved.
"Sure and there was much of it in those days," Finn gently remarked. "And truth to be told all through our history in this isle."
"But why if this ring-fort belonged to the Nemedians, and the structure here was some sort of "tower", was it called Conann's Tower?"
"I imagine, Gabrielle, that after the defeat of the Nemedians, the Formorians took over this place and so it was called Conann's," replied Xena.
"Yea, and right that'll ye be," Finn included. "But they'll not be stayin' long to enjoy the fruits of their victory."
"Hmm" Gabrielle murmured, "I can close my eyes and see it all happening again. I guess most lands have violence in them, right Xena?"
"Yes, my love. Everywhere I've ever been. And unfortunately I've been a part of that violence."
"Every land except Tir-Nan-Og," Finn offered.
"And the Elysian Fields," Xena replied.
"Sounds like they're almost one in the same places," Gabrielle ventured. "Just different views of it. People are always young and it is ever peaceful."
"Tis true it is. Everyone'll be wanting to eventually go there."
"You know, I remember Strabo saying something about the races of Eire. He said the whole Keltoi races were war-mad and high spirited and quick for battle. And he had never been here! Maybe he had visions like these, hmmmm?" Gabrielle added.
"And who'll be this Strabo?" Finn asked.
"He's a famous historian and traveler of the world. He wrote about geography and believes that the world is round, like a ball."
"I've had that feeling," Xena noted.
"What feeling?" Gabrielle's eyebrows rose high on her forehead.
"That the world was round. Matter of fact I had a dream about it."
"Yes, and I told you about it at the time. That if we sailed the Great Sea to the west we would reach another land, and from the west of it another Great Sea and then another land, and on and on, it gets until we come full circle. So the world is round."
"Well, I'll nae be a knowin' if the earth is round, square or'll be flat. I'll nae ever be a thinkin' about it. But I'll be a thinkin' now."
"Tell us Finn, were the people of Nemed the first in Eire?"
"No, Xena. Tuan and his people were the first in this isle."
"Tell us about Tuan, Finn," Gabrielle asked. "You mentioned that he watched the Nemedians land."
"To do that, I'll must be having me harp, Amergin," he joyfully intoned.
He opened the leather case and carefully slid out the large lap harp. Taking the ever-present tuning key he proceeded to correct the incorrect strings. Outside the rain continued.
The two women settled back comfortably, dry and knowing that they were indeed in for a history lesson that was going to prove entertaining.
A chord was struck on the strings and then a simple melody of an early time.
"I am Tuan. I am Legend. I am Memory turned Myth."
Outside the thunder accompanied the words. It was a simple statement and one that returned over and over in the story.
"I Tuan have lived as man, as beast of land and sky and water. I have seen all that has taken place in this fair isle, but I can only watch and listen." Finn sang this in a different tone from his usual resonant voice. The sound of Tuan was deep, powerful but scratchy. It was like another being inhabited Finn's body.
"Tuan was the Chieftain of the tribe of Cessair, the first people here. Cessair and fifty other women and three men, Bith, Ladra and Tuan, set forth in a boat from the Heart of the Beginnings. This boat with its fifty and four passengers was the first to set foot on Eire. The trip took seven years to complete and when they landed each of the men divided up the land and the women. They were at peace here until a Great Wave that caused a flood came and wiped the island clean of everything but a solitary bird and beast for Tuan's companions. Before the wave two of the men had already died, Ladra of "too much women", Bith of old age. Tuan became Chieftain after their deaths but then he was the only survivor and he dwelt on, eventually becoming a White Ancient. He grew old alone, living in a cave above the sea when he could no longer roam the land. He witnessed all of the invasions but not necessarily as a man. For a deep sleep of three days overtook him when he grew so old and feeble, and when he awoke he was a young stag, or a young boar, or a young seahawk or a salmon. Each time he felt he should "deep sleep" he returned to his cave above the sea. When he awoke he remembered everything that had gone on before him, which he witnessed in another existence."
"Sounds like this Cessair was an Amazon, huh Xena? Or related to them," Gabrielle whispered softly in Xena's ear. She quickly quieted down as the story continued.
"I am Tuan. I am Legend. I am Memory turned Myth."
"Tuan kept the histories of this island. Through him we know all that has taken place before us."
"As a man, I, Tuan now chieftain without a tribe, dwelt in waste places and empty fortresses, seeking shelter from the wolves. Then one day ships with sails marked like my fathers' appeared on the edge of the sea. I was overjoyed that my people were returning.
They were the ships of Partholon, descendants of my father's people. They were strong men of sweet deeds."
The music rippled off the harpstrings with the sounds of the ocean.
"I was very excited, for I would no longer be alone on this isle. I watched from the headland above my cave. My father's descendants landed and I greeted them with much warmth. I understood, later from them, that Partholon was from Greece and stood to inherit his father's kingdom. When his father and mother both died by an unknown hand, he was kept from gaining the throne and all of his hopes were dashed. So he set forth with twenty-four couples and found their way to this island. The Eire he found was empty and uncultivated and had just three lakes, nine rivers and one plain. Partheon's host set about changing the face of the island and soon brought civilization to the four corners. They cleared the land, introduced livestock and the art of brewing, built houses and bred children. Four new plains were created but when Panthelon's son Rory died the ground burst forth and created a new lake that was named Lough Rory in his honor. Parthelon also brought proportions to this isle. For under his reign was the land divided into the five provinces, soon forgotten, but resurrected again in time. Connachta or Connacht in the west, Mumhain or Munster in the southwest, Laigin or Leinster in the east, Ulaid or Ulster in the north, and in the heart Mide or Meath - which means middle or center. They lived on for many generations and I dwelt among them happily. Then a great pestilence overtook these people and one by one they all died, until I alone was the only one left. I took to the dark places and hid from every living thing. I became old, and every beast confronted me until I was only a shadow of who I had once been. One day I looked out over the headland. There was another fleet of ships sailing towards shore. I was excited as I watched them head in over the waves. Then as the ships took to anchor I stopped to cool myself. I looked into the pool and beheld not a man, but a hairy and naked creature with curved claws from both my hands and feet. No sign of my manhood was left. I beheld myself as a brother to beasts not heroes. But as I watched the sea a storm arose and swept up the ships still held with anchor and smashed them upon the rocks below. The bowels of each ship; were split and they released their treasure of men to the depths, their cries to their gods falling on deaf ears. I watched in agony. My lonely cave gave me solace from the sight and a great sadness came over me and I slept. After three days I awoke with youth and spring to my step. I was no longer man, but a stag full of strength of young sinews and limbs. I was freed from the curse of age and sickness. I leapt with wild strides and the ground shook under my hooves. I bowed my head to the sun, giving thanks, and shook my great-antlered head at the white clouds dancing across the sky. The deer herd ran with me over Eire.
I am Tuan. I am Legend. I am Memory turned Myth."
Finn stopped and took a breath. The telling of the histories took a lot out of him.
"The second part of this story I'll be already tellin' you of Nemed and his people. They were the next to come. But there is more, much more."
Finn laid his harp down and leaned against the wall, falling asleep. Outside the storm had lost its fury, but continued as a steady soft rain.
Xena never tried to encourage Gabrielle to be thrifty with her bardic talents. Matter of fact she was quite proud of her. And the more she could learn from this man the more the warrior was appreciative of her partner.
The two women, already curled in each other's arms, fell asleep as well. A peaceful calm settled over the house as if there was no one else in the world.
When they awoke the rain had stopped. The three travelers went outside and there was a glorious rainbow arching across the sky, the dark clouds holding the rain were behind backlighting the spectrum.
"Oh Xena! Look! It's more beautiful each time we see it. This amazes me! It's like it grows in intensity just for us!"
"Maybe it does, Gabrielle. Have you noticed that here, the rainbows are larger and brighter than in Greece?"
"Mmmm yes. Why is that?"
"Doona know ladies. Maybe it'll be having to do with the air here. There'll be every color in the air we'll be breathing."
"If we ever get to the end of the rainbow, what'll we find?" Gabrielle asked. She turned to Finn, "You know Xena and I have chosen the rainbow as our personal symbol."
"They'll be saying Gabrielle, that there'll be a wealth of treasure at the bottom of the rainbow, one of the ends. That it'll be pointin' the way. It'll be said that it was a buried in the far distant past and ye have only to be a comin' at the right time to find it buried in a cauldron, it'll be said."
"That sounds so exciting! It's in the ground? How big is the treasure? What is it, exactly? Who left it? How do we know where to look? There are clues? Surely. When do we know to start looking? How do we find the end of the rainbow?"
"Ooo, and that'll be another story for ye," Finn gladly answered. "It'll come, it'll come."
"I think he's telling you to be patient my Heart of Many Questions," the warrior intoned.
"You know that's hard for me, Xena. How are we going to learn anything unless we ask questions?"
"Mmm, but you'll have to wait until the time is right. I imagine Finn will have a good one for you, . for us both."
"It'll be right ye are Xena!" Finn gaily exclaimed.
All bundles, satchels and harp were dutifully packed up and they carried everything outside to continue their journey over the isle. Any little thing that interested them, the trio stopped and examined whatever was there and then continued on their way. Most things they saw Finn had a few words to say it, some, more than a few.
One glorious day as they were walking they came to a lake where swans were swimming and flying in. Finn started telling the tale of Etain.
"Etain was a mortal who was associated with two gods, Oenghus, who was the god of love and Midhir who was in love with her. It seems that the love he had for her excited the jealousy of his wife Fuamnach who cast a spell on the girl. She was first changed into a pool of water and then into a purple fly. The transformed Etain possessed some supernatural power herself in that she lulled Midhir to sleep by her humming in his ear, and was able to warn him if an enemy was approaching. But Fuamnach's revenge was not complete, she conjured up a magical wind to blow the fly away. But Etain found refuge with Oenghus, who was able partially to lift Fuamnach's spell and return Etain to human form between nightfall and dawn. Oenghus sheltered her for some time but still the frauded wife pursued her and she was blown away again. Etain's first existence grew to a close when still in the form of the fly she fell into a bowl of wine and was swallowed by the wife of Edar, a war champion. The woman conceived and bore a child, who was a new Etain, reborn more than ten times one hundred years after the original life. Midhir of course was immortal who time was irrelevant and he had been searching over the long period of her enchantment, death and rebirth. He finally discovered her as the wife of Eochaidh, a king, but she remembered nothing of Midhir and her former life. Midhir contrived to win Etain by trickery, he challenged the king to a board game, which he won. The stake was a kiss from Etain. When the former lovers touched lips, her memory was returned and the passion rekindled. The pair fled from the court and he changed their forms into swans and they escaped Tara by flying away. When the king got too close in his pursuit, Midhir conjured up fifty girls, all identical to Etain. Eochaidh made his choice, but it was a horrific error. For he found out he had slept with his own daughter, committing the appalling act of incest."
"Wow! Did Midhir's wife find them the second time? What happened next?" Gabrielle asked.
"Nae, she found them not this time. I'll be supposin' they'll be livin' their lives as swans for safety's sake."
"Well, I'll be looking at swans to see if two of them are Midhir and Etain," Gabrielle offered. "Look at those two, do they look sorta like them?"
"Nae, we'll be a nae finding those two."
"But I'll help you Gabrielle," Xena whispered in her ear.
They circled down to the southernmost edge of the island. They paused on the shore near Inber Slaine and walked the beaches for a bit looking out over the water.
"This'll be where the Celts, Sons of Mil first landed," was all Finn said except, "many died."
"You mean on their landing?" Gabrielle asked.
"In a way. A great storm tossed their small boats about and the huge waves swamped many, drowning animals and people alike. They came to this shore in boats they had built with the help of the Sea People, and several small coracles. Everything they could bring with them was stuffed into these small crafts. They didn't know what they would find here and were coming prepared. Scene the Shapely, wife of Amhairghin, drowned before they touched land. Ir, son of Mil who was touched by madness, swam in the sea saving people and children until he succumbed to the waves eventually. Erannan, son of Lugaid son of Mil, fell from the mast and was killed. But ashore they came and after a time of composure and assemblage, the Milesians made their way to whatever lay inland. A few skirmished by the Firbolg but nothing serious. From one they had captured they learned that the ruling peoples were the Tuatha de Dannans and they were the ones who had conjured the deadly storm to frighten these people from landing on their island. The Milesians headed into a fray and took them unawares. One of their kings asked that they have time for a meeting with the whole of the race, and the druid Amhairghin agreed. They asked for nine days to parlay. And the druid agreed that the Sons of Mil would go beyond the ninth wave on the outer seas for them to do so. So they returned to Inber Slaine where their fleet of ships awaited and set out into the water.
The DeDannans conjured up many forces against the Mil's Sons. Storms in great fury beat unmercifully upon the small fleet. Several of the ships were swamped. Amhairghin the druid saw that this was a spell by the DeDannans and he quieted the sea and wind with his harp. The Milesians landed after the required time agreed upon and forged inland once again. They buried their dead at different places giving their names to this new, to them, land. Many battles were fought elsewhere."
"I'll be a tellin' of them when we reach those areas."
"Were the Tuatha deDannans magical people? I mean if they could cause the sea to create storms and all .."
"They had "special" knowledge as ye'll be seein'."
Gabrielle was entranced to think she stood on the spot where those adventurous people she had read about took their first steps on land after sailing from their homes in Iberia. That was a courageous thing that they did. She did not stop to think that what she and Xena did was in comparison very similar. But she was beginning to put two and two together and had come up with an answer. Xena had wondered if Caesar's name for the island "Hibernia" was derived from Iberia. She'd try to remember to ask Finn later.
"Finn, is your harp Amergin, named after the Milesian druid Amghairghin?"
"Aye, he'll be a fine one to be a namin' a harp for. He was a wonderful harper and Bard."
The trio's trip went on northerly. They traveled inland for a bit but soon returned to the cliffs overlooking the sea.
"These are the black cliffs we came to long ago after we left the Grove, Gabrielle."
"Do you think we can see Tir Nan Og?" the blonde asked of her companions as they stood on the very edge of the land staring hard out to sea.
"When the air'll be very clear it'll be said you can see the outline of the Land of Promise on the horizon."
"I'm afraid that's not today Gabrielle," the warrior offered as she strained to look out into the space over the water.
For a fog was definitely rolling in and they decided they needed to seek shelter quickly.
All too soon a thick cloud where they could barely make out their hands in front of their faces encompassed them. The tendrils circled about their feet and legs until they could not even see the ground they trod upon. They could step out into space and even fall into the sea. All sense of direction was lost as well and it was difficult to not keep circling about in the same area. This was not the soft fog that rolled in the early mornings to be dissipated by the sun in the late morning. This was a thick and heavy dark cloud of opaque fog that foretold no good. It even smelled of danger.
"Here, Gabrielle, hang on to me!" Xena shouted. "And have Finn grab ahold of your other hand. Maybe we can make it to that dark object I see ahead!"
Slowly the three trudged along until they had reached what Xena had perceived as a structure of some sort. Well it was a building, or had been at one time. It was now a tumble down mound of rocks. Xena sat her two companions down on a large stone and said, "Stay here." She then searched about the ruins for some sort of protection from the weather. For she knew when a heavy fog like the one that had just encircled them rolled in that quickly, that the weather would not be too pleasant that followed.
"Gabrielle, Finn! Over here!" she had to repeat herself until the two found where she was standing.
"What did you find, Xena?"
"A cave or some sort of opening."
"Is there anything in there an animal or something?" the blonde asked.
"No, just an abandoned below ground hollow."
"Ooo, this'll be an ancient burial Xena. But I'll nae be supposin' they'll be a carin' if we share it with them for a bit."
The three silently slipped through the small opening into the darker recesses underground. A small amount of gray light was afforded by the opening in the tumulus, but at least the stone-lined empty chamber was dry and not so damp. Soon after, they had settled themselves away from the opening, but not any further than they could see. They could hear a storm breaking outside.
"This is by far the WETEST place I have ever been," Gabrielle snorted.
"I told you we'd need extra clothes just to stay dry," Xena smirked. She received a hit on her arm from the blonde for her smug wiseacre.
"It'll be why Eire'll be so green and full of colors," Finn offered. "And please, Gabrielle AND Xena, please dinna go nae further back in the barrow than we'll be now."
"I think I'm growing that extra bit of skin between my fingers and toes you know like a goose's foot!" the blonde wailed.
Xena took her hands and looked over each finger and the recesses between them, front and back.
"Nope. Don't think so. But your toes are something else. Take off your boots and let me see."
Xena received another smack for her remark.
"Well how else can you explain how well you swim?" the warrior asked somewhat innocently.
She turned the small figure around in front of her and looked her up and down closely, from her feet to the top of her head, lightly gliding her hand over one side of the blonde's body.
"But I think you're growing moss on your north side." She chuckled gleefully. "You're green and fuzzy on this side," as she rubbed her hand up and down Gabrielle's left side.
The warrior received another hit to her midsection from a petulant blonde.
"Hey! You're bruising the merchandise," the warrior chuckled.
Gabrielle knew her partner was teasing her, so she smiled and then giggled.
Their laughter was music to Finn's ears and he sat back and languished in the happy sounds. He loved to hear them banter with one another. It showed their love and affection each had for the other and he reveled in being able to witness it and that they allowed him to do so.
Gabrielle looked around to see what she could by the light that was afforded them by the small opening. She spied a carving across from the opening at the top of the chamber and went over to examine it. It was a crude depiction of a naked woman exhibiting her sex.
"Look Xena. What do you think this is or means?"
Before the warrior could answer Finn said, "That'll be lookin' to be a Shelah-na-Gig Gabrielle. It'll be a protection sign."
"But, no offense Xena, a woman set up as a protector? What is it a protection for - here?"
"It'll be to ward off the terrors and protect against enchantments. In our tongue it means Julian the Giddy."
"I seem to remember a story about Demeter, the goddess of Harvest from Greece. Help me out here Xena can you remember this similar incident?"
"You're the storyteller Gabrielle."
"Umm...ah yes umm ah well, ah Demeter was wandering over the earth searching for her daughter Persephone, and overcome with grief for her loss, arrived at the hut of an Athenian peasant woman named Baubo, who received her hospitably, and offered her to drink the refreshing mixture called cyceon. The goddess rejected the offered kindness, and refused all consolation. Baubo, in her distress, bethought her of another expedient to allay the grief of her guest. She relieved her sexual organs of that outward sign which is the evidence of puberty, and then presented them to the view to Ceres, who, at the sight, laughed, forgot her sorrows and drank the cyceon. This was thought to have beneficial influence of this sight for the goddess and was so marked as a sign of protection for her thanks."
"I'll be supposin' there'll be a connection between ye Baubo and the Shelah-na-Gig of Eire, dunna ye think?"
"Sounds like it Finn," Xena imposed.
"Why can't we go and explore the recesses of this place?" Gabrielle finally asked.
"Nae, nae. It'll be bad luck to disturb the dead." He looked over to Xena pleadingly.
She understood and gave him a quick wink. Then she asked, for her love's benefit,
"Explain the difference between rath, barrow, crannog and byre please, Finn. I'd like to know," although she already did, "and I'm sure Gabrielle doesn't know either."
"Well, ." he slowly intoned, trying to get comfortable on the cold dirt floor, " A rath or dun'll be a steading, an enclosed or fenced area with several houses, not quite a town or village as there are nae enough people livin' there. A barrow'll be a covered tumulus where the dead'll be housed. It'll be a stone lined tunnel with many chambers off of the main passageway. They'll all be stone lined too. Then it'll be covered with the earth. I'll be sure the entrance Xena'll be a findin' for us was the opening for the spirits to pass out on the east end. A crannog'll be living' places mainly in a cave or underground, but sometimes they'll be callin' a single house a crannog. Most times a crannog'll be just for temporary livin'. And a byre'll be a meadow where the animals are takin' to pasture."
"Well I guess that all makes sense to me now," Gabrielle ventured.
"You mean by the things you heard the people saying?" Xena asked.
"Yes, I didn't understand totally when they talked about these four things. I guess I kinda got them mixed up."
She twiddled her fingers together and looked at Xena with large soulful eyes. At times like these she still seemed like a young child and not one who had experienced so much of the world. It would seem to Xena that this fit into one of Gabrielle's anxieties and insecurities. She was doing better. It had taken a long time though. No real problems had arisen for a long, long time. Gabrielle could hold her own pretty much now. The blonde was still vulnerable about certain things, her heart was so big and full of emotion, and Xena's vulnerabilities concerned Gabrielle.
"Now ye'll be a knowin' whenever someone speaks about them now." Finn grinned broadly.
They spent the night in this dark hole in the ground containing its mysteries, but didn't look, even out of curiosity, the next day for answers to their unspoken questions. Xena and Gabrielle took Finn's word to heart. The next morning was glorious so they rustled up some food from their supplies and headed out again.
Walking through a most glorious lush valley Xena asked Finn, "Several times I've heard myself compared to a warrior called Ku-hoo-lin, or something like that. Who was he? Tell us something about him Finn, please."
"Certainly Xena. You are very much like the great hero CuChulain. He was born with the name Setana, the son of the sister of the king - Conor of Ulster. His mother died to this world, but not of the flesh, not long after he was born and he was brought up by a family of servants. His uncle, the king, always saw that they were well provided for. His father, he never knew, supposedly being killed in battle not long after the lad came into this world. As Setana grew he heard the stories of the warriors at his uncle's court and he longed to join them. He taught himself how to fight with a wooden sword and spear and he could hurl a rock further than anyone could in his household with the sling. He also could impose greater strength on himself than any of the adults living there could compete with. Finally one day he decided to go to his uncle's court and demand to be given training in the weapons his status as nephew of the king allowed. The king and his court were dining at the home of the blacksmith Cullen. The smith had closed his gates and let out his ferocious hound to protect his lands and property for the night. This was an enormous fierce animal that only the smith Cullen could handle. He was about the size of a small horse. He was chained with three large chains during the day and let loose at twilight each night to roam and guard the flocks and herds outside the dun. The child of five seasons travelled alone to find his uncle through the night. He encountered the dog outside of the dun and the hound tried to tear him limb from limb. But the strength the boy had exhibited earlier caused him to overpower the animal and kill him. The warriors inside the dun hearing a frightful noise of battle rushed out to see what was going on and witnessed the boy giving the killing stroke. The smith was inconsolable at the loss of his protector. The boy sensed that he had created quite a problem and told the smith, "I will be your hound Cullen until another is trained." Hence ever afterward he was known as CuChulain or Cullen's Hound."
The three were wading through waist-high grasses the heads heavy with grain. They were so engrossed in the story of the great hero that they had not noticed that they had come up on a river, that they must cross. They turned to the west looking for a shallow fording. Xena found a narrower channel and a tree that was almost laid across it. She jumped up and walked carefully over the angled trunk and pushed it until it dropped to the other side.
"See, there's nothing to it."
"Nothing for you, that is!" Gabrielle called. "You're really a cat that can climb up any tree or jump straight up into one!"
"Whereas, we'll be the land-lovin' types." He winked at Gabrielle.
"No, no, come on. I'll help you." And she scurried back the way she had come, holding out her hand to her companions.
They followed her back up and across without much difficulty and landed on the other side with a 'thump'.
"Okay, now that that hurdle has been crossed, how about picking up where you left off on CuChulain?" Xena was really curious to hear all she could about this long-dead warrior.
"CuChulain grew and was replaced by a dog he himself had trained for Cullen. So he took his leave and went to his uncle's court where he demanded training. This he received for several years besting any his own age and even older boys, some near manhood. It was decided to send him and Laeg his chariot-driver to train with Skya, or Scathach, a famous warrior-woman, on an island off the far northeast shore. Before he left he returned once more to see his mother. She was so far in despair that she did not even know her son. She killed herself just before he left. She had not told him who his father was. Some said she had the 'sun-madness'.
Setana/CuChulain discovered that there had been a geis set upon him the day he was born. If anyone awoke him when he was asleep, great danger would befall at his hand.
The two comrades went through many trials before Skya would even meet with them, but it soon became apparent that he was her favored and she gifted him with many types of training, which she had decided were too far out of reach of her other students. She also gifted him with the famous 'Gae Bulga'; the invincible spear of the deDannans, the barbed spear that always kills. He lifted it so he could see it clearly - a curious form of spear with a haft of polished ash. The head was bronze inlaid with silver but had a red-gold sheen, and it ended in three large prongs with hinged barbs on each. The weapon glowed with craftsmanship and gleamed with cruelty. When it was cast it hummed until it struck its destination.
Skya taught him the 'salmon leap', how to dance on the metal rim of a shield in battle, and how to use every weapon at her disposal to the best of his ability, which none other could come close to in comparison. She also discovered his 'Battle Rage' and taught him how to control it. After he had suffered the 'Rage' he slept soundly for three days and nights. He could not be awakened because of his geis and had to come out of his sleep naturally.
His best friend Ferdiad was also at the school, and Skya's gift to him was scale armor made of horn that nothing could penetrate. He was almost CuChulain's equal in all of the fighting elements. Ferdiad retained a sense of balance of the mind, that CuChulain was never to master, the weakness - his only one - possibly given to him by his mother.
After hard study and trials of battle with other schools of weaponry, CuChulain, Laeg and Ferdiad left to return to Ulster and the court of Conor MacNessa. During the time of their study many things had occurred in the court. First the lady promised to the king had been stolen away, he had eventually found the three brothers holding the lady and executed them, after promising them safe conduct. The lady refused him and so he gave her to his most obnoxious chieftain, but she jumped from the chariot while on route to his dun and thusly killed herself against the rocks. Finally his champion, Fergus MacRoich deserted him for his behavior concerning the safe conduct and fled to the court to the Queen of Connacht- Maeve. She in turn had had a bet with her husband on who owned the most and best of Connacht. After everything was counted and checked it turned out her husband had one better bull than she. Maeve discovered the best bull in Eire was in Ulster, the great red bull of Cuailnge - The Donn. Such a ferocious beast he was that it took ten or more men to hold and lead him. She then proceeded to raid and to collect this animal so she would have the better tally. The Ulstermen had held her off until the Pangs set in upon them and they left the kingdom defenseless. CuChulain returned home in the midst of all of this. In the journey of returning he had met his love, wooed and married her, after much problems with her father. Conor, king of Ulster, even though incapacitated, spoke thusly while rebuked for his tardiness in coming to the aid of the kingdom's hero; "A little too loud is that cry, for the sky is above us, the earth beneath us and the sea all around us, but unless the sky with its showers of stars fall upon the ground burst open in an earthquake, or unless the fish-abounding, blue-bordered sea come over the surface of the earth, I shall bring back every cow to its byre and enclosure, every woman to her own abode and dwelling, after victory in battle and combat and contest." Since CuChulain was the only one who did not suffer of the Pangs, it was left to him to be the one to keep Maeve at bay until the rest could recover. And this he did with much heroism. He used his warrior skills as well as his mind to defeat the men sent to combat him. He stood at a ford in a stream challenging them to cross. They had laughed saying a boy with no hair on his face was not enough to stop the army of Queen Maeve and they would not fight him. CuChulain was one who could never grow hair on his face even though he was an age to do so, so he took grasses and mud and attached them to his chin, so his arbitrator could attest to his being a man. Many fine warriors of Connaght fell afterwards that day at his hand. CuChulain had the strength of fifty men even when the 'Rage' was not on him. He was also clever and could out-maneuver even the most battle-tried chieftains. He laid ambushes in which no less than twenty men at a time died in his traps.
All this time Maeve was trying to figure out how to go around him and get the brown bull of Donn. She figured that while CuChulain had stopped their travel in the most direct path to her quarry, she could circumvent with another route, although it was twice as far around. She had also figured out that the army of King Conor was experiencing the 'Pangs' and that was why none of them had been seen. So she split her troops and left half to deal with the Ulster hero.
He had fought one-on-one with all of the heroes of Connacht, save two, and defeated them all. The two were Fergus MacRoich who had fled his home kingdom because of differences with his king and his best friend Ferdiad who had also taken refuge in Maeve's court. Fergus was an old friend and teacher to CuChulain and therefore refused to fight him, so he served as messenger between Maeve and the Ulsterman. Ferdiad found reasons not to fight his friend and refused to do so. But there came a time when he could no longer refuse and so he took himself to his friend's camp. There they ate a meal together and slept at the same fire. They next morning they fought a ferocious battle, neither gaining much ground against the other. That evening they dressed each other's wounds and ate and slept. Again the following morning they continued their combat. This same formula continued into the third day when Ferdiad gained a grievous injury at the hand of his friend. The horn scales had been broken and he sustained a death wound. CuChulain grieved as his friend died in his arms and cursed Queen Maeve for what she had done, all for the sake of outdoing her husband in a bet. He was determined to kill her for her misdeeds. But he too had sustained many injuries that had not healed properly and after sending Gae Bulga to find its adversary he tied himself to a rock in the center of the pass and stood with his weapons and shield. The armies of Maeve were afraid to come close to the hero and so stood far off. Several days they stayed this way and it was not until a raven - the Morrigan - landed on the warrior's shoulder that they realized he was dead. Gae Bulga had indeed found its enemy but it was not Maeve, but her daughter.
Conor and his army had recovered from the 'Pangs' and were on they way to intercept Maeve, but they were too late to relieve CuChulain. The hero had held off the entire army of Connacht by himself, but in the end, Maeve stole the bull and escaped. The armies of Ulster and Connacht fought one great battle, recapturing the bull. But in his fury the Donn fought and killed Maeve's husband's white bull. The Donn then escaped and ran in a maddened state until his heart burst.
CuChulain discovered his father the day before he fought Ferdiad. He offered to help his son, but CuChulain refused. His father was Lugh of the Long Hand."
"What are the 'Pangs' Finn?" Gabrielle was always inquisitive
"That'll be the curse set upon the Kingdom of Ulster by the goddess Macha."
"She had married a mortal farmer, Crunnchru, and led a simple self-fulfilling life. He was quite a braggart and at a chariot race in the plain of Ulster. The king overheard this man bragging about how fast his wife could run, "She is the fastest in all Eire. She can outrun the wind." So he demanded that the man make good on his boast. It was made clear to the king that the woman in question was with child and could not run at this time, but the king was relentless and demanded that she race against his team who had been proven the fastest in the kingdom. She was brought foreword and it was plain that she was not far from her time, but the king was not forgiving. So the race began and Macha easily won, but fell down and delivered twins immediately after. She cursed the king and his kingdom stating that for nine days and nights every man would suffer the 'Pangs' of childbirth and is debilitated when conflict arose. It was to last for nine generations. Conor MacNessa was the last of the nine."
"Why didn't CuChulain suffer the same agonies?" Xena queried.
"Because he'll be only half mortal. His father was Lugh, remember? He'll be the deDannan sun god."
"Whew." Was all that the warrior could murmur.
"What a wonderful, but sad, story about the hero, doncha think Xena? He does sound like YOU! I mean the fighting. And I think it served the king right for the curse of Macha only it lasted a little long I mean through nine generations!" Gabrielle was chronicling all of this in her mind. "Umm nine days of pain in childbirth ? Ewww. Ow."
"Well one thing CuChulain and I have for sure in common I can't grow hair on my face either!"
Xena just took the blonde's hand in hers and squeezed it. She gave her a shy smile, which was returned by a radiant one.
Walking in this emerald isle brought other interesting incidents into play. Of course Finn could charm his way with any of the native locals, but Gabrielle was proving to be a contemporary legend as well. Word of mouth spread about the beautiful blonde "Girl of the Flowers" Seanachie for her fame had broadcast before her and everyone wanted her to stop and entertain and enlighten them with her stories from faraway places. The mysterious Dark Warrior was also a sensation, not only for her looks but also in the stories that traveled before their arrival and the ones that Gabrielle told of her. Add in a well-known Bard and Harpist and there was a great night to be remembered when they showed up.
Xena sat at the back listening, as usual, as Gabrielle told of the Grecian gods, how they were always fighting with themselves or some mortal or other - mainly Xena. She told the stories of Hercules and Iolus, of Cleopatra and of course Xena's hated enemy Julius Caesar. The fall of Troy and the reason the war started - the stealing of Helen the beautiful wife of the king Menelaus. Giant's and flying parchments were always a pleaser with children, as was setting the North Star in the sky. She told of the Norse gods and their experiences with them. She spun the tales of Chin and India until everyone was totally enchanted with this bard, whom they really claimed as their own. The people knew she had been born one of them and had surely "kissed the speaking stone." But they also knew she told all of her stories from her heart and understood slowly that amazingly, she had actually experienced them and had traveled over the known world to do so. The people couldn't imagine how she could have accomplished all of this in her short life. They were so mesmerized by her personality and beauty that they chose to forget that she was indeed a legend of long ago Eire. All the while Gabrielle was storing up on stories of Eire, some from the local sources but basically from Finn. And while Gabrielle was charming the folk, Xena was amusing herself by learning different techniques from the myriad skilled craftspeople, especially metalsmiths and sword-makers, who were only too happy to share their knowledge with such a beautiful and intelligent warrior. She also offered them a bit of her own knowledge in the arts. Teaching swordsmanship was always a luxury, not only for the teacher but also for those individuals who benefited from her knowledge. They just couldn't grasp how she did her flips though.
The people in the different villages were so grateful for the pleasure the blonde bard bestowed that they produced many beautiful items in largesse for her. Gabrielle had been gifted with many brooches, both pennanular and kite; rings; arm rings; necklaces of gold, enamel, amber and jet; enameled cups and earrings. But her favorite was a bronze cauldron. It was not so big that they could not take it with them, but it had beautiful zoomorphics completely around it. It was made of many bronze plates riveted together with conical rivets and two cast bronze handles attached to the rim so it could hang. The odd shaped rivets were to help make the cauldron heat faster. She loved to cook, so the cauldron, no matter what the ordeal, was a keeper. A folding tripod on which to hang the cauldron was also in the largesse. It was of iron and extremely strong. The smith who had fashioned it caused the terminals of each rod to be made into a fantastical beast, with the twisting metal. It was truly a work of art as well as a useful object. One of the other favorite things was a bronze mirror. It was hand width wide and decorated on the back with engraved spirals and had an intricate interwoven handle. Sometimes she looped that on her belt and wore it at her side in a leather cover over a hip. Quite a few knives were offered and Xena took charge of them. (Somehow a coin was always found to be in the possession of the giver of the sharp wealth afterwards. Finn saw to that.) Woven goods were always useful as well as animal skins. Also included in the cache were a few whetstones and pumice-stones from an ice-laden land to the northeast. They were stones that were affiliated with the volcanoes that populated that area. Xena's eyes lit up when she saw those and she quickly took possession, as soon as it was polite to do so, saying she knew what to do with them. Gabrielle wore as much of her wealth as she was able, even making Xena and Finn decorate themselves with her loot. But she put her foot down when some chieftain tried to give her a bull - their only bull of that area. He was so enamoured by Gabrielle that since this was their most prized possession, he decided that she must have him for her own. The chieftain finally saw the better of it, with much persuasion from his wife, Finn and his people, and he gave her six gold balls about the size of small hen eggs for the ends of her hair braids instead.
Her satchel was getting heavy with the jewelry and other unexpected trinkets she received. Xena thought they might have to buy a horse or donkey to carry all of the wealth Gabrielle was amassing. She happily toted more than her share for her beloved but a pack animal was a constant thought, since they didn't have Argo here.
Gabrielle tried to refuse the gifts, but Finn explained that that would be an insult, so she accepted the bounty. Some she passed on to others in great need in other areas, some she kept to take home, maybe to distribute there, but the larger portion, those "special" gifts she kept to remember in her heart of this trip with Xena.
Finally the warrior got her way and a pony was bartered for in the Chonnemara area where they now were. She was a small hairy beast, almost golden, like Argo, in a washed-out way. The mare was sturdy and carried most of their belonging, except for the harp. And that freed up their arms and hands. Gabrielle named her Dite, after another blonde she was fond of. They moved quicker now, with the burdens freed from their shoulders and backs.
Up into the heart of Connacht they pushed forward. Their circulatory route was not straight, but zigged and zagged. The company stopped in the foothills of red mountains, the Conmaichne Reine bordering the northwestern edge of the island. As they stopped for the night in a small carved out cave in the side of the rocky cliff overlooking the sea, Finn said, "I'll be giving you the next part of the histories tonight Gabrielle. It'll be good ye are keeping them down on parchment as I'll be getting them out of order from time to time," he grinned sheepishly. "It's just when we'll be movin' about so much, each place has a story connected to it in the histories. I'm a hopin' ye can keep 'em straight."
"I'll do my best. Is this a "special" area of the Histories, my friend?"
"Aye, a very important place this'll be."
" For it was just a few steps from here that Tuan, who was now an old black boar grizzled with white lay down to sleep for the three days of transformation."
"You mean this was his cave?" the blonde excitedly implored.
"Aye, that it is Gabrielle."
Xena had caught a couple of small conies, Finn had gathered the wood, spaded up a few bits of turf with his sword and made the fire and Gabrielle cooked a delicious stew from the critters. Gabrielle was so grateful for the cauldron and tripod, for she used it constantly in her cooking. The blonde had also been collecting herbs and edible roots on their travels. This was the way the three contended with most nights they were out in the open. Each had their duties and went about them without a word to the others, until their jobs were completed and they sat relaxed with the meal ready to eat. It was colder here near the sea and the northwestern bit of rocky land, so they were ever so happy to have extra cloaks and fur skins for sleeping and keeping warm and dry. It was so chilly that Xena and Gabrielle didn't strip to sleep as usual, but still took and shared their warmth with each other. A cold constant wind blew in from off the water.
Finn started on the histories once again, but did not pull out his harp as the damp would solely "mess" with the tuning and it was hard enough to keep that instrument tuned correctly. It stayed closed away in its leather case.
"This place Tuan watched again as a people came to land here. But he grew tired and sleep came upon him. In three days time he awoke as a hawk of the sky. While he was asleep the people put foot on the island. They were the Fir Bolg, with Eochaidh mac Eirc as their leader. Under him were the tribes of Fir Domhann, Galeoin and Cu Roi. They were the children of Nemed's descendants returning to the land of their fathers from the four corner of the earth they had scattered to. They came ashore just below where we now are and eventually spread throughout the entire island and multiplied and prospered. Eochaidh was a good and fortunate man and held the title of High King or Ard Ri longer than any before him. He had moved his family and holdings to the east to a hill that he fortified and called Druim Decsuin or Conspicuous Hill. There he resided and ruled the land. The people became warriors and farmers alike and all was good for many years in Eire.
But one day the sky darkened over the fair countryside.
Eochaidh had a dream that bothered him greatly and returned nightly. The dream he had was of a great flock of black birds rising from the depths of the sea. They covered the land and tore the soft flesh of the men with their beaks and fought with the people. But one among the tribe rose up and cut off a wing from the noblest of them. Chasms choked with bodies of the slain, and the rivers ran red with the blood. The black birds settled on mountains of skulls and bones and feasted on the carrion of the flesh that remained. Eochaidh told his dream to the wise man Cesair and asked him to unlock the secrets of the dream. The old man did as he was asked and by means of ritual and magic divined the vision of the King, making plain what had been concealed by veils of sleep.
"Evil days will come to you, Eochaidh, signs to lead you astray, for a warrior race of
Nemed will come from across the sea skilled in all the arts of magic. It was our bones the black
birds fought over, for we will be first slain and the pickings represent our tributes. They
will come in great fleets, as did the birds, from the sea with thousands of heroes in
speckled-sailed ships and raven-winged war witches foretelling death."
Needless to say great anguish filled the King's heart, and sorrowfully he said, "It is people of our blood who come to Eire as our enemies. I seem to have foretold our destruction of all our kin."
So the king called forth all of the tribes to meet at Feis or the Great Gathering and discuss what was to happen.
I, Tuan, soared above and watched as the events unfolded as Eochaidh had seen in his dream."
"I am Tuan. I am Legend. I am Memory turned Myth."
Finn stopped for a minute and reached for the water bag. His throat was growing parched with the wind that whistled into the cave where the three and the pony were cloistered. The wind seemed to whistle the music in accompaniment that he lacked since he had not utilized his harp. The fire burned brightly fueled by the wind under the branches. Dried peat was sitting nearby to put on the blaze to keep the fire going throughout the night.
"The tribes came from the four corner of the beautiful isle to parlay at the Great Gathering Place on the hill at Liath Druim. Though at this time the hill-fort was not known as Tara, for that naming comes later. They met and discussed what it was they should do to combat the forces coming down upon them. The Fir Bolg saw nothing of the landing of the Tuatha de Dannans as a great fog completely covered all of their actions. The King Eochaid told the men gathered there that "we do not know who these men are or their strength nor their intent. Therefore I will send Streng, our champion, to spy on these hosts and challenge them. Then report to me. Streng was a giant of a man, strong and beautiful to behold. He bade farewell to his loved ones and started out for Conmaichne Reine in Connacht, on the opposite side of the island. For many days he journeyed through vast forests and oak woods. He slipped through lakes, brooks, and mountain ridges until he reached his destination. There on the coast he beheld the large fleet of ships bearing down on the shore."
"Ye see, Tara'll be havin' many a name through the histories.
First it was Druim Decsuin, next was Liath Druim of the Firbolgs, then Druim Cain - which means Beautiful Hill, followed by Cathair Crofinn and finally Teamair or Tara, the name the Sons of Mil gave to it after the wife of Eremon, who is buried there. Tara is a great and beautiful hill and is dotted with seven duns, and in every dun are many buildings. The greatest structure was the Mi-Cuarta, the great feasting hall, which was on the Ard-Righ's own dun. Another of the buildings was the House of Heroes. Each of the provincial kings had their own house, set aside for just them when they came for the Great Gathering. There was a Grianan or sun house for the provincial queens and their attendants. The Stronghold of Hostages was basically for guests but sometimes held hostages and the Star of the Bards - a meetinghouse for the poets and historians, judges and doctors, were other structures there. The Mi-Cuarta was an enormous building being ******************* in size and held one thousand warriors for the feasting. They all sat according to their status under their shields that hung above them on the walls."
Finn leaned over towards the other two human inhabitants of the cave. "I'll be nae a knowing' about ye, but I'll be a fearin' I must rest tonight. Tomorrow I'll be a continuing." With that he curled up in his cloak and fell instantly asleep. The histories took something out of the young man, his strength always returned during his sleep for the next day, but his nights were spent in dreamless slumber. Xena banked the fire with the turf that lay beside it, so it would burn throughout the night for warmth, then she took the blanket and wrapped it and herself around Gabrielle. All within the cave slept as the wind whistled outside. It did not venture into the cave again that night.
The next morning shone brightly though still cold. The wind had died down significantly.
Xena braved the outside to find what she could for their morning meal. When she returned the fire was burning brightly and the other two occupants of the cave were up and cheerily conversing. Gabrielle actually found some oatcakes in their supplies and she was warming them by the fire, ready to spread a little honey on each. She had cored a few apples and filled them with a mixture of berries, nuts and honey and these concoctions were snuggled down in the warm coals. Xena's contribution of some cleaned fish were gladly accepted and Gabrielle squewered them on stakes over the fire.
"Where did you find the fish Xena? I don't remember seeing a lake or stream nearby."
"Went down to the sea."
"How ? Oh nevermind, skills again, huh?"
"Yep. But I'll show you if you want "
"That's all right, Xena. Maybe if it warms up a little."
"It's really warmer down on the beach, then high up here. You see, I found this older couple with a cottage on the shore. He's a fisherman and she gathers the seaweed. Why? I don't know. But the old man was showing me how to catch fish with his small basket-catcher thingys. He said he would take me out in the sea in his hide covered wicker boat "
"Curraugh," Finn added. "Or if it'll be a small one, a coracle."
"Yeah that, it's big. If we come back down this morning, he'll show me how to use his baskets to catch lobsters and crabs and who knows what else. I think he was impressed at how I caught those big fish in my hands. His wife also told me how to gather seabird eggs on the cliffs. I'll do that too. Gabrielle, do you want to come and meet this couple? They're a little different than the other folks we've met here. Of course Finn, you're welcome too maybe you'd like to go fishing?"
"Sure Xena, I'd love to meet this older couple. Might give me some different kind of "material" for my stories. Finn of course you will come too?"
"Oh and Gabrielle, think how good a stew would be of all the things from the sea, fish, crab, lobsters - whatever they are - and maybe some muscles and other things in shells.
You'll have a lot of fun making dinner out of all of these new types of food. Yum!"
"Aye, ye two, of course I'll be a coming with you to meet your new friends, Xena. It'll be another new adventure. And I'll be lovin' to fish!"
Xena was out of breath with her enthusiasm and excitement. She loved learning new things especially concerning fishing. She stopped herself and took a deep breath and calmed down. The warrior immediately set to filleting the fish, she had learned were sea salmon. They were large fillets. One fish would have actually fed the three of them well. But the second would not go to waste, as Gabrielle had a way of preparing fish for use in a second meal.
They would have a sumptuous breakfast. Xena dried off and warmed herself by the fire while everything was cooking. The apples were one of the favorite things Gabrielle cooked for her. Maybe tomorrow they'd even have some eggs.
After all had eaten every last crumb of the food Gabrielle asked, "Finn would you continue the story of Streng and what he saw now? It's too cold to move again outside and so much warmer in this cave. We could stay here until it warms a little, all right Xena?"
"Yes, but I think Dite should go out for a little bit. She can find something to graze on, and I'll hobble her so she doesn't go far. I don't imagine she'll want to be out all day in this wind."
She led the pony out and tied the hobbles in a figure 8 on her forelegs, then turned the pony loose on the protected flat side of the rock. The warrior watched her for a moment, convinced herself she would be all right, then turned to look out at the sea.
"Hmmm," she spoke to herself trying to visualize the ships coming in to land here. There was a small beach below, but these tall cliffs could be intimidating. She had found the path down to the shore with ease, 'because that's what I do'. But someone new to this place, they must have been really brave and full of a fierce spirit. "Ha!" she thought, "all of the peoples that have come here have fit into that category."
When she returned to the cave Finn had begun explaining the training of a Bard and Druid in Eire.
"It'll be taking so many years, Gabrielle. You have to learn all of the Histories, the Heroes and different tales of this one or that, and if ye play the harp, the melodies have certain traditions to be followed."
"Is there a school to learn all of these things? At home there is the Athens School of Performing Bards and other countries have their own schools or renown people that teach."
"In Eire, as it has always been, and from the land of our forebears, the pupil must be a goin' to the teacher, wherever they decided to go, so must the pupil. Didn't ye be a goin' to a teacher Xena?"
"Yes I did, you know that Finn. And the teacher was Felidmid MacDaill."
"But just how long does it take here to gain your status or class?"
"Gabrielle, after the elementary teaching, by the second year, the first degree in the bardic school is "fochluc," because his art is slender as his youth, like a sprig of fochlacan, brooklime. By the third year the student has risen to mac fuirmil, so called because he "is set to learn an art." By the fourth year the student was dos - from his similarity to a dos - a young tree. In the fifth year he had reached the degree of cana and in the sixth year became a cli (cleith is a pillar of a house). After seven to nine years of study, the student could qualify as anruth - noble stream. At the end of the twelfth year of study, provided the candidate had passed all the tests he could achieve the highest degree or ollamh or professor. You worked your way up in the degree system by knowledge and craftsmanship, and yes sometimes politics."
Gabrielle was amazed.
"Oh my," was all she could get out. "and that makes you .?"
"Ollave Bard of Eire," he quickly looked down embarrassed slightly.
"Well. I for one am greatly impressed," Xena proudly stated.
"Me too," was heard to fall from the blonde's open mouth. "I'm glad I didn't have to do all of that, I'd still be taking tests. All I did was perform and write scrolls. I guess I'm lucky that some of them are in libraries in different towns."
"Which towns will be a havin' yer scrolls, Gabrielle?"
"Oh I think there are some in Athens, Alexandria and Colchis. I'm not sure where else."
"Yeah you do, love, there's some in Troy, Cornith, Carthage and even Rome," Xena said proudly.
"Our stories, histories, tales, the law, and other things nae be written down but kept in the minds of those who train for the profession. It'll be totally oral, from head to mouth. T'would be nae good to remember falsely, for the generations that are a bein' to come will not know the truth. That'll be why we train for the twelve years and sometimes more."
"Finn " Gabrielle began slowly and softy, "do you ever make up new stories and songs, new music for the harp?"
"Sometimes, but nae a lot. On the harp it'll be more fun to do so, but the stories and songs, that'll be hard for new ones to come. Aye but I'll be a thinkin' I'll must try to do more .."
"I must ask you another question. Why is it that when you speak the Histories or teach, your "voice" sounds like us, but to just talk with us you have a thick brogue?" Sometimes Gabrielle was rather shy to ask such questions, but her curiosity, especially about anything bardish, caused her at time to be rather brash in her inquiries.
"I'll be a thinkin' it'll be the trainin'. We have to speak in a certain way to convey the
word to everyone, but naturally, for me, all the other times is how I'll be speakin'."
Xena understood that completely.
He smiled sweetly to Gabrielle. And looked down at his hands. They were red with cold so he held them over the fire to warm them. Gabrielle warmed hers against her love's toasty body. Xena looked down at her and smiled a peculiar sly smile.
"How did ye learn of the last race, the Celts, to be a comin' to this beautiful isle, Gabrielle?
"I researched it in all the different libraries where we happened to travel. Want to hear what I learned the early histories of the migration?"
"Aye, I dunna nae know much about the early history of the Celts, except they came from Iberia to the south."
"What I found written down about the early days was these early peoples came from the Heart of the Beginnings in the Basin of Civilization. They spread out like ants travelling in many directions, but mostly they went north and west. Through broad plains of high grasses and to mountains that ringed the prairies. Over these ever moving. Many generations of the tribes flourished in certain places before they moved on always searching. They merged and emerged with the local people but always retained their own characteristics and talents. In the highest point of the mountains there they stopped and lived many generations mining the life sustenance, salt. They traded this valuable substance and the art of their metalsmiths with many other races of peoples, gaining much otherwise unknown knowledge, like horsemanship and pottery. Finally some of these peoples moved again to the west and a land bordered by the Great Sea. It was a different land and they learned the ways of farmers and herders. These Keltoi never lost contact with other peoples wherever they went they maintained trading with different tribes. But the lack of land finally crowded in on some and after the chief of their tribe died his sons and their families took themselves by ships to an island in the north and northwest. This green isle Eire. These were the Sons of Mil Espaine and his wife Scotia the daughter of Pharaoh of Egypt."
"I'll be a knowin' it took the Milesians a while to reach this green isle, but I dunna nae know where all they traveled afore."
"That was just my shortened version of the peoples that became the Celts, Finn. There were many, many scrolls that I read from many places. I just compiled their story from the ones I read. And the Milesians were but a tribe of the Keltoi. The blood of this race is in many in the world, I have found."
"I'll be a thankin' you, Gabrielle. I 'll be a tellin' their descendants now what ye'll be a tellin' me. It's pleased I am to know this."
"If she told you the complete story Finn we'd be here for a fortnight," Xena chuckled and received a hit to her midsection.
"Are you saying I'm long-winded?"
"No my Heart," trying to stop the laughter that was welling up inside her, "just that it is a long story. I know, you read it all to me, remember?"
"I thought you enjoyed history Xena?"
"I do my Heart, especially when YOU tell it." She hoped that that had soothed the rumpled feathers. The warrior leaned over and kissed the pink ear and whispered into it, "I love you." She winked at Finn over the blonde head, hoping she hadn't offended him.
When he grinned and winked back, she knew she had not.
The warrior showed the others down the precarious path she had found and together they had made it to the bottom. She had noticed when she was descending several iron bars sticking out of the rock at different intervals. She'd check on that later, maybe even ask the old man she had met. All three found it somewhat invigorating running around in the soft sand of the beach, and they began a childhood game of keepaway.
Finally out of breath, Gabrielle was able to get out, "Xena, you were right! It is much warmer down here!"
"I suppose, it has to do with the wind on the sea currents, not like the hard wind on topside."
They saw the old couple, Rus and Ide, working at their tasks, he pulling in a net of small fish and she raking the seaweed on the shore into piles. A funny-looking large long-legged gray dog ran from one to the other and finally spotted the three walking along the beach and came bounding up to the strangers. He had wiry longish hair and was an extremely large animal.
"Aye Muredach! That'll be enough! Come on back lad!"
The dog stopped immediately, and turned back to his master, he looked over his shoulder sadly at the three new playmates, but continued obediently back to his owner.
"Aye Xena! Glad you'll be a coming back with ye friends!" the old man sung out.
"Come on into the house, ye three," Ide called.
The three dutifully followed the old woman and the old man and dog brought up the rear.
Their house was situated where the tides and high water would not touch it and it was afforded quite a bit of shelter by a rocky wall. The house looked like an overturned boat made of rocks, the roof was even stone, flat shingles of slate. But it had a warm comforting look. Stacked outside were many creels and baskets. Seaweed was draped over rock walls to dry. A ways apart was what looked like a long stone oven on the ground. It was there that Ide burned the seaweed or whack. There was a neat stack of driftwood for fire and a stack of peat as well against the sheltered side of the house. Out on the other side a goat and a sheep were tied, but they were happily munching on the seaweed.
Xena and Finn stopped to talk with Rus. Mainly about fishing. Finn was as interested in what Rus could show or teach them as Xena was.
"Aye, ye'll be the little thing Xena'll be a callin' Gabrielle?" Ide asked.
"Yes I am. And you are Ide?" The woman nodded. "Your husband is called Rus?" Ide nodded again. Gabrielle giggled, "And your dog is . Muredach?" Ide returned the smile and again nodded.
"When me Rus'll be a bringin' him home he was such a wee thing, barely fit in the palm of me hand he was. But he growed, and growed and look at him now! . But he's a fine dog, he is. He'll be more than earnin' his keep. He'll be likin' to go with Rus in his curraugh and to scrape up the mussels."
Gabrielle walked inquiringly inside examining everything either with her hands or eyes.
Ide could see she was just full of questions.
"Come child, let me be a showin' ye some things. And how'll ye like a spot of the warm drink to be a takin' the chill off? And ye'll be a havin' a bit o'my cheese?"
"That would be lovely," Gabrielle answered, her eyes as large as saucers. "Why do you gather up the seaweed, and what do you do with it?"
"Aye little one, that'll be me livin'. See Rus, he'll be always a goin' to sea, but me? But I'll like to be a keepin' my feet on the earth! Collectin' the wrack'll be me way."
She reached for a small wooden bowl and went to the fireside and poured up something that had been warming on the hearthstones. She handed the bowl to Gabrielle and said "Drink." Ide turned around and placed a black lump on the table. She took a knife and sliced through the hard shell. Inside was a creamy white cheese. She cut a piece off, scraped off the hard shell and handed it to Gabrielle.
The blonde did as she was bid as the other three and Muredach came into the house. The dog went immediately close to the hearth and lay down. Xena had to bend almost double to get through the short door and when she stood up inside her head wasn't far from the roof.
"Aye me tall one's back," Ide smiled and poked the warrior with her elbow. "And who'll be ye?" asking of Finn.
"I'll be Finn O'Connor," he said giving a slight nod of his head and reaching out his hand to take Ide's.
"Finn O'Connor is it? 'Tis happy I'll be to have you in me house Finn O'Connor."
Rus joined in on the handclasps. And they all turned to watch Gabrielle.
The blonde took a sniff of the drink and wrinkled her nose. Xena put her fingers under the bowl tipping it to Gabrielle's mouth.
"Trust me, it's good. You'll like it. Just don't use your nose."
A big swallow and "It is good!" She quickly finished the remainder of the bowl's contents. "What is this?" licking her lips.
"Poteen!" all four shouted at once.
She slipped the sliver of cheese in her mouth and her smile widened across her face getting bigger with each chew.
"Oh that is wonderful cheese. Is it from your goat?"
"Aye, me Essey and Telle be givin' the milk for me cheeses."
"What is the black on the outside?" curiosity had gotten ahold of Gabrielle once again and superseded her courtesy.
"That'll be the whack. After I roll the cheeses in the bowl to shape 'em, they'll be wrapped in the fresh whack and then rolled again in the whack that'll be burned." Ide did not mind the inquiries of the beautiful small woman. Matter of fact she welcomed the questions.
"To be a curin' it and letting the cheeses age so they'll keep. The whack makes a hard coverin' to keep it."
"Was that oven outside for the burning of the whack or seaweed?"
"Aye. The 'black whack'll be most wonderful on the growin' crops. There'll be much in it to make things grow. And some'll be a makin' a good medicine to cure what ails ye."
Xena and Finn started asking Rus about the different creels and "basket catcher thingys" as Xena put it. They really were interested in getting into the water and made no bones about it, so Rus stood up and motioned them outside so they could.
"I'll be a thinkin' the little one has no interest in the fish?" Rus asked.
"Only in the eating and cooking of it," Xena smiled thinking ahead. "And she can really cook a mean fish!"
"Mean?" both of the men asked as one.
"Yep," Xena laughed as the three of them hauled the curraugh into the water. Rus threw several creels of different shapes into the bottom of the boat and the water picked them all up and carried them out deeper. Rus manned the oars to a special spot.
"What are each of the different shaped baskets to catch?" Xena was getting animated about what was to come.
"That round 'un o're there, she'll be to catch the crabs let me put some of this inside. Thow it over! And that taller one'll be for the lobsters I gotta add some of the interest to it for them to be a comin' to me creel. All right, make sure and the skin'll be nae caught in it and now! Throw it over!"
Each creel had an inflated sealskin marking where the pots had been weighted down. They rowed to a different spot. Now they let out a line of horsehair with many quills to catch whatever fish were in the area today. Xena was totally in her element and helped Rus in whatever needed doing, from chopping up the lug worms for bait to tying the sinker stones tighter with the horsehair twine. Finn held an eel spear at the ready.
"Ye'll nae be needing that now, me boyo. The eels we'll be a getting' in the mud flats when the tide goes out."
"Ye can't be a spearin' them in the water?" Finn asked hopefully.
"Nae. It'll be easier in the mud. Ye'll see."
"Do we want to cast out another of these lines?" Xena asked.
"Aye, me beauty. See that one o're there? Ye'll be a makin' sure and it is tied good to that
"What were those rakes we left on the beach?"
"Those'll be for the mussels and oysters when we'll be a getting back. That's how I'll be a meetin' me Ide. She was with a lot of other fine lookin' girls goin' into the sea to harvest the scallops and oysters. Nae clothes on most of 'em were. I saw Ide right off and knew she was for me.'
"Did she'll be a harvesting much bounty from the sea Rus?" Finn asked.
"Aye. She'll be having the most. That'll be why I married her. I'll be knowin' we could be a livin' here together forever by the sea."
"Aw, Gabrielle would love this story," Xena mused. 'I'll have to tell her,' she thought to herself.
After a few hours on the water Rus headed them back to where their long lines had been set and pulled them up. They had had much luck. Nearly every hook had a fairly large fish on it and several were huge. The fish were thrown in the bottom of the curraugh and they rowed on to where the skins marked the creels. Pulling them up, Xena was delighted to discover that each had two or more creatures captured inside. She was fascinated with the crabs and lobsters and studied them intensely, trying to touch them and turn them over.
"Aye lass! Dunna nae be a stickin' ye fingers inside me creels. They'll be a cuttin' 'em off!"
"Really?" as she looked at Rus and her attention was diverted, one of the crabs grabbed at a finger.
"Yow! You're right! Gotta pay closer attention."
Inward they rowed until the boat scuffed the sand and the three jumped out and pulled it up on the beach further than the tide line. During the inward journey Rus had been sorting out the fish and setting them on a stringer line and had opened up the creels and extracted the crabs and lobsters. He threw each species in a sack and tied it up. They left their bounty of sea treasures in bottom of the curraugh.
"Those sure are ugly things," Xena remarked.
"Aye, but they'll be tastin' so good and sweet," Finn answered.
"You eat them often Finn? Are they popular inland as well?"
"Aye, everyone'll be cravin' the ferocious beasts. Now'll be the spear?" Finn asked as he turned to Rus.
"Aye me lad. I'll be a grabbin' one for Xena here and we'll be a goin' over then." He pointed to the opposite side of the small bay where it was quite visible that the tide had indeed gone out.
In no time at all they had speared a few sandeels and threw them in sacks as well. Finn had to try several times before he got the hang of pushing their heads into the sand with the spear without amputating the head or other parts. But their sack was full with the wiggling creatures.
"Aye, we'll be havin' a good day, we will. Best helpers I'll be ever havin'."
"What about the oysters and mussels?" Xena was so ambitious and excited with their good fortune.
"Aye lass. Where'll ye be getting' all ye strength and energy?"
"Dunno. I guess it's one of my ..many skills." Finn joined in on the last two words.
They all laughed because even though it was hard work and exerting, the three really felt good. 'Hope Gabrielle's having as much fun as I have been,' Xena thought to herself and looked at Finn and winked. He could almost sometimes read her mind, especially when it came to Gabrielle.
Rus showed them how to use the rakes and Finn and Xena plowed up the beach uncovering many mussels. The dog Muredach had rushed up to them when they had reached shore and when the raking began he started digging also. He uncovered quite a few of the mussels in his endeavors.
"Aye, that's me good Muredach, me good boyo," Rus called to the dog. He petted him on the head and rubbed him down the back. "He'll be helpin' me a lot, he does. Uncovers as many mussels as I canna be a doin'."
Then Xena and Finn doffed their boots and waded into the sea and started gathering oysters. Since the tide was out, it was quite a simple task. Each had an armload while Rus sacked up the mussels that had been uncovered. All of the bivalve shellfish had been added to the same sack. It took all of them to carry the heavy sacks of their catch back to the house, Rus saying he would return to get the implements of his trade. Xena knew he would have help in this job too, and she was only too happy to help. She joyfully slung the stringer of fish over her shoulder to empty her hands for a sack or two.
Rus started singing on the trip back, Finn joining in as he was familiar with the tune, and Xena learning it quickly and singing at the top of her lungs. This was her favorite pastime, next to loving Gabrielle, and she couldn't hold her joy inside. When they neared the house, the door flew open and Gabrielle flew out. Ide stood in the door with her hands on her hips, she knew from the singing that it had been a good day. It was a secret signal between the couple.
"Xena! Did you have a good day?" Gabrielle knew she did, especially because of her love's singing. "Well that was silly of me, I can see you did!" She reached up and kissed her tall lover on the cheek. "Ewww, Xena, you smell like fish!"
"Well duh!" As she reached down and laid sloppy kisses all over the blonde's face and waggled the stringer line at her love.
"Aye, me husband, looks to me like ye'll be havin' Mannahan McLyr on ye side today."
"We'll be fortunate indeed, me love. He'll be givin' of his treasures."
"Who's Mannahan McLyr?" Gabrielle asked. "Was he with y'all too?"
"I'll nae be tellin' ye about him yet, Gabrielle. He'll be the god of the sea."
" Oh like Poseidon. Maybe they're kin? When do I get to hear about him, Finn?" she asked mischievously.
"Soon, Gabrielle, soon. He'll be connected with the deDannans."
She acquiesced, hoping that "soon" would be later tonight. Maybe Finn would tell this story around dinner. She had a tendency to get swept up in the histories, after all wasn't this about her land too? She's try to be patient. He told such good stories. She was his perfect audience.
"Let'll be seein' what'll ye got today." Ide smiled up at the old man, her eyes twinkling.
She followed the three fisherfolk into the house where they laid down their bundles.
Ide poked one and said, "That'll be the shellfish, they'll wait." She poked another and the sack wiggled, "Aye big mess o' the eels."
"Eels?" Gabrielle giggled.
Xena opened the sack with the lobsters and carefully extracted one, She rushed at her lover with it, holding it close, but not too close, to Gabrielle's face. The blonde's eyes grew large as the pinchers were snapping away, nearly nipping the tip of her pert nose.
"What are they?" the blonde squealed.
"It's gonna getcha getcha GETCHA!" And Xena chased the shorter woman around the table a few times waggling the monster after the blonde to the laughter of the others.
"Stop Xena. What IS that ugly thing? It looks like a giant bug!"
"It'll be a lobster Gabrielle. They'll be very good for eating," Finn interposed.
"Like that?" she wailed.
"No silly, you gotta cook 'em." Xena offered as she put the monster back in the sack. Then she pulled out one of the crabs and repeated the game.
Ide had taken the fish off their stringer line and sorted them into a flat line basket of unpeeled willow. She took them outside to a table when she started gutting and preparing the flesh, by removing the bones and slicing off the skin. Some she just slit up the belly and laid out to be salted and dried later. Xena came out and offered to help with the gutting. She seemed to enjoy this bit of barbarous activity, since it usually was her job to do so. Rus and Finn returned to the curraugh to bring the rest of the tools home. Gabrielle had started a stew on the hearth with vegetables she had cut up. She also started rinsing and cleaning the mussels and oysters in a bucket for the addition to the pot at the end of the cooking. There would definitely be a feast tonight.
"Gabrielle, what did you and Ide do while we were fishing?" Xena asked curiously.
"Oh, she showed me so many things. And look Xena, she gave me these boots. They're made of sealskin and touch them! They're wonderful. So soft, yet strong. She said I must have them because they match my hair. They're my size and they repel water and so warm, they have sheepwool inside. And we did so many things she showed me how to make horsehair twine, by rolling it on my bare leg. It is so strong. She said they use it for fishing line. Maybe we could try it sometime? She said the white from the tail is the best, but gray is good too. Just don't use the dark as the fish can see it. She also made nets of it to catch birds, and she pointed out where the nests of the seabirds are and how to get the eggs. I dunno if I can do that though Xena, you might have to be the one who goes down on the rope to gather the eggs. They make rope out of straw, marram grass, hay and rush, and use it for so many things. Not just to tie things up with. She showed me how to make it by twisting on a thraw-hook and what each type is used for. They make mats for walls and even chairs out of it and tie it on beds to put the sleeping pad on. I never thought about that. They use the oyster shells to put oil in for lamps, and rush lamps. She said ' They may be feeble but they made darkness visible.' Haha. She showed me how to make butter and cheese and roll it in the seaweed to preserve it. I also had her explain to me why they use seaweed for everything. And do you know they BURN it? There is this big oven out the back where she stretches it out and burns it. Ide says it's good for everything, on the plants, the animals AND people eat it and she even sells the extra she gets. Some kinds are even good for medicine. She showed me how she gathers the seaweed too .."
"Breathe, Gabrielle, breathe. Take a breath and then continue. You know I'm interested in everything you do and learn. How'd you do all of that in one day?"
"Oh Xena! I'm so glad we came down here. These people are so interesting. I'm learning so many new things. And I told Ide some of the stories about Hercules."
"I learned some new things today too, my Heart."
"You must tell me show me! I want to learn everything."
Xena was always amazed at Gabrielle's exuberance and desire to learn all she could.
The stew with all manners of seafood and vegetables was wonderful. A veritable feast of the sea and the earth. Muredach had had his portion as well. After everyone was stuffed "to the gills" they sat back to relax and Finn started a tale, just as Gabrielle had hoped.
"In the ancient days a young man-god appeared in whose face the light shone, and in his stride power reigned. His name was Lugh of the Long Arm. He had been raised by magic hosts and had lately come to live among the Tuatha deDannans, the people of the Goddess Dana. He was a most glorious young man and in whom the sun radiated. Even the king of the evil Formorians, who were still around- though in hiding, whose cruel reign Lugh set himself to destroy, wondered why the sun rose one morning in the west, instead of the customary east. And the king's wise men told him that the sun did not enter the question: this golden light came from the face of Lugh.
And Lugh's possessions belonged to the heavens and the earth and all that gleamed in between. He wore the Milky Way as his silver chain; he carried the rainbow as his seven-colored sling; his sword, the Answerer, could sever any armor or weapon; his boat, the Wave-Sweeper, could read a mariner's thoughts and navigate without instructions; his horse, borrowed from Mannahan MacLyr, the god of the sea, bore the rider equally over land and foam.
There was, at this time, a permanent and deadly rivalry between the father and uncles of Lugh and three other bothers, Brian, Luchar and Lucharba, the Sons of Turenn. The coldness of their feud could only be answered in blood. Lugh's family was called to muster forces from the four corners of Eire and they went off to do so. Lugh father, Cian, was crossing the plain of Muirhevna, and who should he see but the Sons of Turenn. He
And saw the cairn of stones. The sanguined rocks told him of who lay beneath them and resorted to magic and turned himself into the shape of a pig and concealed himself in a herd of swine. One of the brothers had spotted him however before he had disappeared, and they trio looked into the herd for Cian. Not finding him, Brian turned his two brothers into hounds that ferreted out Lugh's father. Brian threw a spear that hit the pig in the chest, but Cian turned himself back into the guise of a man and told them that the eric for killing a man would be greater than a pig. He had asked for mercy, but was denied it. The three brothers stoned him, then dug a grave and buried him, covering the grave with the bloodied stones.
Lugh had been fighting the Formorians in another area of the isle, and after winning a great victory a great trouble descended upon him. He went to the plain of Muirhevna who had committed the treachery. Lugh and his uncles dug up Cian and reburied him with much honor. Lugh keened over the grave. He then traveled to the court of the king at Tara where he received the place of honor and ate the Champion's Portion. Lugh was granted permission to speak.
The light shone from him brighter than ever; his broad chest seemed like a gleaming shield, fire and sadness played in his eyes and his voice trembled.
'My king, fine champions, Bards and Druids. Let me ask you each in honor; if your noble father dies at the hand of a vile murderer, do you seek vengeance?'
All murmured yeas, including the Sons of Turenn, who too were in attendance at Tara. Then the king, noticing Cian's absence asked if he had indeed been murdered. When Lugh said that he had, the King said that by no single blow, on no single day should such a revenge be exacted, but rather, blow by blow, limb by limb, organ by organ - and day by day, a long, slow and violent revenge. All murmured their yeas again, including the Sons of Turenn.
Lugh then said that the murdered sat among them and therefore could not slay them, but would impose a great eric, a fine upon them. At this, the Sons of Turenn stood up, fast and firm, and asked their fine. Lugh demanded that they should pay him, three apples, a pigskin, a spear, a pair of horses yoked to a chariot, swine to the magical number of seven, a young dog, a spit to cook upon and to give three shouts atop a hill. Well the three brothers had no choice but to accept and thought that they were getting off quite well as the fine was not large at all. But Brian feared some trickery. Indeed his instinct paid him well, for then Lugh filled in some details.
The apples, he said, hung in the Garden of Light in the East, each the size of a small child's head, each gleaming in gold, each a cure for all wound and ill. The pigskin sat in the house of the King of a far southern land and when laid upon the hurt cured all wounds and ill. The spear stood in another land of the South and East- it fought the greatest battles with such eagerness and force that it must remain always preserved in blocks of ice lest all around be melted in the heat from its point. The horses and their chariot, all of unequalled power and exquisiteness, race in a faraway King's court, and all travel easily over land or water. The seven swine of the King of the Golden Pillars possess the magical property of regeneration- though killed and eaten one day they reappear the following morning. The young dog from the King of the East frightens all beasts in the universe, the cooking spit belongs to the underwater women of an island deep in the green sea between Eire and Britannia and the three shouts must echo on a hill in the North. A King, Michan, and his three sons in whose dear companionship Lugh's father had trained as a warrior owned this hill. And that court pledged never to permit a shout from their hill, double therefore the danger to the Sons of Turenn, protection of the hill and revenge for their dear friend Cian."
The four other beings in the house were captivated by the story and were basically holding their breath.
Finn had stopped and took a deep breath and a drink from his mether, then he continued.
"The three brothers possessed great power and magic and cleverness. To gain the golden apples they changed themselves into hawks and flew like arrows out of the sun, grabbing an apple each in their deep talons. The daughters of this King changed themselves into bigger hawks and gave chase to sea and tried fiercely to regain the apples, but they were not able to do so. The first task was accomplished.
They then presented themselves as poets at the court of the king who owned the pigskin. The king was known to have words and music respected in his land. After reciting a wonderful praise-poem they asked for their reward the magic pigskin. The king refused but offered them their fill of it with gold. The brothers drew their swords and fought the guard and eventually killed the king. They then made off with the prized pigskin filled with gold. They laid the pigskin upon their wounds to heal their bodies from the fight.
In the third year of their quest, they came to the court of king who possessed the world-hot-spear. They again appeared as poets and sang praise-poems, asking for the spear as their prize. The king's rage wore and of course he refused, but in the end the brothers won out again in the fighting, this time the king was killed by one of the golden apples flung at his head, splitting it. The Son's of Turenn sped out to the icehouse where the spear stood, tore it from the blocks which cooled it and used it to fight their way to safety.
To gain the horses and chariot, the brothers disguised as mercenary soldiers and offered themselves to the court of this king. For many fortnights they worked for this ruler but never glimpsed the objects of their quest. They went to this king and asked him about the fabled and famous horses. The king was extremely flattered that such renowned soldiers would have knowledge about his possessions. He took them immediately to the circus where they watched the team perform. Brian leaped into the chariot and killed the charioteer and he then picked up his two brothers and they moved over earth and water as if they were the Beltane wind. The brothers were laughing as they completed their fourth test.
By now the Sons of Turenn had earned a reputation, be it not so good, across the known world of their deeds and deceptions. When they arrived in the Kingdom of the Golden Pillars to capture the seven magic swine, the king on the advice of his court gave them up. He said he would help them capture the fearful golden dog, as his daughter had married the king of that land and he felt that he could persuade them to relinquish the animal without the bitter fighting. This did not happen as the king guarded his dog too jealously - and paid the price. Even though the brothers won quite handily, they did make peace with that king and he parted with his dog.
Six of the tasks had been completed, five by fighting, one by talking and many by the use of sorcery. Lugh knew all of this, of course, but needed some of the treasures that had been captured to fight on against the Formorians. He threw a spell over the Sons of Turenn so they forgot the nature of the remaining tasks and returned to Eire in confusion.
Home again, Lugh took from the brothers the apples, pigskin, spear and all the others. The Sons of Turenn boasted how they had fulfilled all of the tasks of the eric for the blood of Cian. Lugh asked them where they had placed the cooking-spit from the sea's depths and that he had not yet heard their three shouts. They became disconsolate when they realized they had these two tasks yet to do.
They found the cooking-spit down among the lamps and flowers of the green sea, and the thrice fifty water-maidens who guarded it gave it to Brian with a smile. But the three shouts on Michan's hill proved their undoing.
On this last take, they walked up the hill. Michan greeted them and demanded to know their business, and under his own pledge forbade them to shout. The fighting commenced, fierce and bloody. The skies rang to the sound of swords and the hill flowed red with warrior's blood. Although Michan perished on Brian's swords his sons overtook the Sons of Turenn, but in the end all of Michan's kin were killed. The brothers had suffered terrible wounds and though their eric was paid, their bond freed they still managed to raise their feeble shout on the Hill of Michan.
Their father Turenn brought this news to Lugh and asked for the loan of the pigskin to heal his three sons - they were dying of their injuries. Lugh considered the request and denied it. He made the excuse that so great had been their valor, better now that they die and have the poets remember them in great glory, than to live and be diminished in their vitality. Better a short glorious life than venerable old age, all deeds wilt in the face of daily existence. But in this answer Lugh merely concealed his own refusal to forgive, and the Sons of Turenn, killer and heroes, murderers and valiant fulfillers of a quest died side by side, with their father's sorrowful blessing."
"Wow!" Gabrielle exclaimed. "That was something. Too bad he couldn't forgive."
"Yeah," Xena was reliving bits of her past, hoping somewhere that she had received forgiveness for some of her past deeds. She hoped she was beginning to make up for some of her evil deeds. "Was this Lugh the same as CuChulain's father?"
"Aye, the same."
Rus and Ide were still speechless. Finally Ide said, "We'll be a thankin' ye for this, Bard Finn O'Connor. I dinna know ye were that Finn O'Connor. Ye'll be soooo young!" She gave him a big smile as Rus slapped his back.
"Well done, me lad. But ye'll be a lookin' mighty tired. 'Tis time we should rest for tonight, me thinks. We'll be a doin' a lot of hard work out there today."
The old couple gave Finn some skins and a blanket and he curled up near the hearth with his mether filled to the brim. Xena and Gabrielle had already decided where they would spend the night. After a bit, they stole out of the house and strolled down the beach to the gently lapping of the waves. They looked up into the sky of the summer's constant twilight evenings.
"Doesn't it ever get really dark here, Xena?" she asked as she entwined their fingers together.
"Yes, in the Samain season when the moon is big and orange and full the sky is so black you can pick out every star in the sky."
"It certainly hasn't been that dark since we've been here."
"That's because this is the growing season, Summer, and unless there is a storm, it's not really dark this time of year."
"You know Xena, Ide said the strangest thing to me today."
"What was it?" The warrior lifted one of her eyebrows as mydrid things ran through her head of what could have been said to her partner.
"We were standing at the table working on the fine ropes and she leaned over and put her hand on my stomach and smiled."
"Was the monster growling, as usual?"
"No Xena. But she said 'a wonderful thing was to happen' and when I questioned her about what she was talking about she just said, 'in time, in time."
Oh. Well I wouldn't worry about it Gabrielle. These are wonderful people, Rus and Ide, but different. She's probably some sort of a seer."
"Well, what could she be seeing?"
"Maybe she saw how you were born "
"No Xena. She said 'was to happen'."
"It was probably nothing. Or that maybe she saw us on a ship looking for Atlantis ?"
They wandered around outside for a bit and headed back to the house. Once they had entered, Rus and Ide both came to the couple and said they should definitely stay the night, as it was too dangerous to try and climb the cliffs to go back to the cave in the semidarkness. And Finn had already curled up and was asleep anyway. Because the house was not too large Xena asked for some blankets or furs. She and Gabrielle would sleep outside tonight on the beach, it was not cold and the weather was fair. Rus and Ide made their way to the bed they shared against one of the walls in the house. The two women carried the bedrolls outside as Rus and Ide elbowed each other and winked and grinned. The warrior found the curraugh turned partially on its side and lay the blankets down and motioned Gabrielle inside as she scuttered after.
They were definitely well above the high tide mark so no problems were foreseen. Gabrielle immediately shed her clothes as Xena did the same and they curled into each other, wiggling down to make indentions in the soft sand for their hips and shoulders.
This was one of the few times they were alone and they wanted to make the most of their time without interruption.
As Xena's hands mapped the beautiful body in her arms, she detected a slight swelling in the belly area.
"Too much good food, my Heart?" continuing to rub the enlarged area. "Did you eat too much?"
"No, I feel all right. A little stuffed. I am full Are you insinuating I'm getting fat?"
"Oh no my love. Any addition just means there's more for me to love," thinking quickly.
She kissed the fair head before her, and gently rolled the small body onto her back and began a kissing extravaganza, starting first at the blonde's luscious lips and then covering every bit of her face. She continued down her neck to her shoulders, back to the torso and her breasts, down the line of her abs, paying special attention to the small mole below the right breast. She then kissed each rib she could discern and made several passes around the bellybutton before heading southward. Xena became immersed in the soft curls at the apex of Gabrielle's legs she had opened to welcome her lover. The warrior fit herself inside the welcoming embrace of the bard's muscular legs and delved into Gabrielle's center, kissing and sucking on the sensitive flesh that awaited her.
"Oh Xena," the bard implored, "more more .more, Xena ahhh more. Please."
The warrior was all too happy to fulfill her love's requests. She was starting to feel a little bit desirous herself, craving the love only her Heart could give. But first Gabrielle's needs should be answered. She plunged her tongue into the warm opening and stroked in and out several times, then lapped up the sweet nectar that flowed from within. She continued to stroke the engorged clit with her fingers, but then moved her hand to the opening and entered with three fingers and returned to suck and pull on the clit. All of a sudden the bard's back arched and she let out a whispered cry.
"Xeeena I love you."
"And I love you, my Heart, with all of mine." She whispered, "I can't say it enough."
Gabrielle fell back in a state of euphoria, and the warrior kissed the warm center one last time and crawled out from under the legs that had held her, to hold the body she so adored.
Any sounds that were emitted that night were held within the curved shape of the curraugh and not spread out into the night.
The next morning Xena woke to a glorious sunrise. She eased her way from under Gabrielle and dressed. She had brought a bag and a basket with them last night and she was going to see about gathering some of the eggs that Ide told her were in the seabird's nest. Rus had explained the iron bars on the tops of the cliff were for tying off ropes to lower down to where the nests were. Xena was up to the challenge. She felt wonderful! She was happy and glad to be alive. She got to the top and found where Rus had said the ropes were kept. Tying one of them off she lowered herself over the edge with the bag and basket secured to her person. She reached a ledge where luckily were quite a few nests. Shooing the birds into the sky, she reached in and loaded up her basket and bag. Then she ascended back to the top. The warrior retrieved the ropes and placed them where she had found them and returned to the path she had taken to reach this summit. She caught a couple of conies topside among the hummocks. She skinned and dressed them, rolling the furred skins and tucking them into a corner of the basket. Going down with the eggs and keeping them unbroken proved rather tricky, but she managed, cracking only one. Passing the curraugh on the way to the house, she looked in and saw that Gabrielle was still in the realm of Morpheus, so she let her sleep a little longer and returned to the house with the morning's treasures.
Ide squealed like a child when she saw the conies and was delighted when she saw how many eggs Xena had brought and immediately started cooking them in a pan.
"It'll be a long time we nae be havin' the taste of this meat," she grinned at the warrior. "Rus canna catch them li'le fast buggers nae more. But sometimes Muredach, he'll be a bringin' us'n a present. He'll be a good dog, he is tho' a mite big. Sometimes we'll be trappin' a stoat, they'll be loverly li'le ladies not much meat on 'em. They'll be more the fun to watch, all along the coast now. They'll be a clever lot."
"We seem to have rabbit a lot to eat. These here in Eire taste a little different than those at home though. They're also a little bigger. More meat on 'em."
"It'll must be the green, green grass that'll be growin' in the isle, Xena," Finn offered, "and the sweet clover everywhere. We may be a havin' different roots for them to chew on too."
"Where'll be home Xena?" Rus asked timidly.
"Gabrielle and I live in Greece. It's a country far, far away on the Middle Sea in a place that can be very hot and dry at times, though we do have our share of rain. Gabrielle originally came from here - Eire. That's why we came back, for a visit of this beautiful isle of her homeland."
"Where'll be the little one?" Ide asked of the dark warrior.
"Ha! She'll be a sleeping the whole day, I figure," Finn laughed as they all did.
The door opened and a disheveled sleepy-headed Gabrielle stumbled into the room rubbing her green half-open eyes, bringing the blankets with her.
"Weren't you going to wake me up Xena?"
The warrior took two of her longs strides to the side of her love and wrapped her long arms around her. Leaning down and kissing the flaxen head she said, "Sure, but I thought I'd let you sleep in this morning."
"I was sleeping so soundly and then some small little animal crawled in with me, and when I opened my eyes it was staring in my face."
"Must've been a stoat," was all Ide said on the subject.
"Curious li'le buggers," Rus put in.
"What's a stoat, Xena? It scared me to death."
"You remember the animal we call a weasel or in the cold climes is white and called an ermine?" Xena ventured.
"Well, that is Eire's version of that animal except I don't think these turn white."
"Oh it just startled me seeing this little face in mine."
"I think it was just curious about you."
Ye know, the stoat'll be a rather popular animal here in Eire. Nae only do they'll be livin' on the coasts, but all along rivers and streams and further inland as well," Finn offered, "but artists'll be turnin' them into fantastic shapes in their artwork, them and the otters, it'll be easy because their bodies are long and can twist into small places."
"It was cute, now that I think about it "
Ide started serving up the eggs and the roasted meat into bowls with a hunk of seaoat bread along with the delicious cheese she had made.
"Ooo, this is breakfast fit for the gods," Gabrielle cooed.
After the morning meal, the three travelers decided they should really depart, as they had to pack up the rest of their things at the cave. Ide packed a lot of food - cheese and dried and salted fish, plus a small amount of whack and some of the eggs that Xena had gathered she had hard-cooked in their shells for easier transport. They said their good-byes and took off on the trail up the side of the cliff to the Cave of Tuan. The day had escaped them in their farewells, no one wanting to really leave so soon.
"Seems like we're always saying goodbye. Rus and Ide were wonderful people. I certainly learned a lot from her."
"Me too," Xena was thinking how she could utilize the techniques and tools that she would make when they returned home from the ones she had used here.
When they returned to the cave later in that twilighted evening, they settled into their old familiar habits.
Gabrielle asked, "Do you feel like continuing the histories Finn? You left off where Streng of the Firbolgs was about to meet with the Tuatha deDannans."
"Aye this is a most pleasurable thing I'll be a doin', tellin' ye these stories. Ye seem to remember everythin'."
"It's a gift."
Finn took a breath and picked up where he left off two nights before.
"Streng the Champion watched as the boats landed. He carried his bronze rimmed and blazoned longshield, his two thick-shafted javelins, his bone-handled death-dealing sword, his four cornered bull-horned warhelmet, his finely honed battleaxe, his iron war club and his battleshirt of chain-link mail. He had painted his body with woad, white chalk and red berry juice. He had limed his long blond hair and twisted it into braids that stood out like taut ropes from the nape of his neck and from under his helmet like wild horse's mane. He then strode out from the cover of the woods and met the strangers, a strange painted giant striking terror in the hearts of all that saw him. Messengers ran to their king, Nuada to tell of the warrior champion who challenged their being there."
Finn paused, to let his listeners get a visual that he had just described. Then noting that they had indeed grasped the vision, he continued.
"Nuada decided to send their champion Breas to meet with the stranger. The king said, "Since he comes alone, he comes only to learn of our origins, whence and why we are here." Breas was also a sight to behold. He stepped forward carrying with him his two great spears with their deadly thin points, his two-handed sword and his bronze-bossed shield. He wore his dragon-emblazoned helmet and his swirling ash-blond hair shone beneath the noonday sun.
Cautiously the two heroes approached each other, Streng resplendent in the panoply of way, Breas magnificent in the radiance of his beauty. They spoke and when they did, both were surprised that they could understand each other, for they spoke the same language. They learned they were descendants from the same race, the Nemedians, so there would be no battle of the champions today. They spoke of many things together, of common things and their noble blood and exchanged weapons for each to take back to their chiefs. Each was drawn into a hope of friendship but it was not to be. For Breas gave his conditions from Nuada. If the Firbolgs would relinquish half of the isle to them, there would be no battle. Streng left to return to Tara and deliver this message to Eochai. When he finally reached the stronghold he spoke to the assembled chiefs and his king.
"Theirs is a miraculous host; hostile and havoc-wrecking their heroes; sturdy and strong their shields; sharp and shaft-hard are their spears; broad and bloody their blades. They will be terrible and fierce to fight. It would be wiser to make a fair division of the island and to give them half as they wish, for they are our own blood and the land is as Sacred and hallowed to them as it is to us."
But the assembly did not go along with Streng's offered advice and counsel. The king said "Indeed I will not grant that demand, for if we do the land will be theirs for the taking."
Breas returned to his force and related what had happened to Nuada. Once again the king did not heed the words of the messenger and they made ready for a battle. They fortified their camp with earthworks, and made plans for the war that was to come.
In the party of the Tuatha deDannans were three War Goddesses. Babdh, Morrighan and Macha. All were daughters of Errimas. They combined prophecy, destruction and sexuality. These goddesses did not physically join in combat, their methods were psychological. Their appearance was enough to unman the bravest warrior, and their howls of menace could freeze the blood and cause the warriors to throw away their weapons and run. Their presence could encourage those whom they supported and they were harbingers of death for those they did not. The problem was that it was impossible to be sure to whom they would give the victory. They could shape-change at a flick of an eyelash. The three would appear as the ravens circling the battle, looking for carrion, or a young beautiful woman, a mature woman or an old hag. Any method to achieve their objective was utilized.
Also with the many heroes, goddesses, poets and bards was the Daghdha, also know as the All-Father and Mighty One of Great Knowledge, and on several occasions he was a god of druidism. He owned a great club and a magical cauldron where anyone might always take their fill. It was also know as the Cauldron of Rebirth. For anyone who had died in battle could be revived to life from sustenance from this pot. His club was marvelous in that one end killed the living and the other revived the dead. And when he dragged it behind him, it left a track as deep as the boundary ditch between two provinces. These possessions identified him as lord of the otherworld and its eternal abundance. Also in their retinue was the mysterious god of the sea Mannahan McLyr.
He it was who conjured up the rolling tides and the winds over the water and even the storms that held all things from land. He also had control over all water, lakes and rivers and small streams as well.
Other mysterious weapons the deDannans brought with them were Cliamh Solis or the Sword of Light, which could cut through any weapon; Slea Bua, the Spear of Victory, (tho' some called it Gae Bulga), which would never miss the vital area of an enemy. These weapons were known as Eartheaters and were fearful in action. They also brought with them from their home city far to the south the Lia Fail or Stone of Destiny that roared when the true king touched or stood on it, and some thought killed the imposters."
Xena's eyes were large with the thoughts of the ferocious weapons. She wanted to see if they were what they were cracked up to be. Gabrielle was wondering about the goddesses, they sounded much like the Furies to her.
Finn had stopped to take a swallow from the waterskin, but he picked up the story again in earnest.
"It was as the deDannans were fortifying themselves that the horrible trio of war goddesses went to the hill of Tara where the Firbolg were massing. There, they set the skies to close and darken over the Hill of Hostings. The birds of the air and the beasts of the field sought out their hiding places and were still and silent. Then, most terrible of all, the great standing stones set around the plain began to sing. And their song grew louder until at last it conjured up the anguished scream of the Banshee that called the lost souls of the damned to come and magnify the evil sorcery of the war witches. Huge misshapen spectres stalked the sky that day and shadows of winged warriors, drenched in blood, fought the thunder-rent skies. Rank after rank of spearmen marched in endless procession towards certain death, and sinewy creatures gnawed at the flesh of corpses. Over all this unnatural feasting the Horned God Cernunnos presided in the guise of a terrible scaly-skinned dragon, his red eyes glowing within the shadow of his body's huge serpentine folds. Red rain fell from the skies staining the flaxen hair and branding the fairness of the skin of the Firbolg. They beat their breasts in anguish and called in their despair on ancient gods, long since denied, to aid them against such powerful magic.
A great shaft of lightning split the firmament as Cesar, druid of Eochai stepped before the great stone of Tara. He called to Crom-Cruach, the elder god of his race, but his cry went unheard, drowned by the shrieking of the Banshee. For three days Cesar labored to protect his people against this unnatural event, and went unheeded. On the night of the third day he called again to the forbidden elder god, Crom-Cruach. In a circle of limed grass he stood surrounded by hieroglyphs, runes and oghams burned out of the turf of the Hill and colored by while chalks, blue woad and goat's blood. No spectres dared enter this circle, no wind blew there, no blood-rain fell there. This was a magic circled inscribed by sorcery and the blasphemous skills of Cesar. He knew his gods had failed him. Now only his secret powers stood against overwhelming strength of the dreaded war goddesses. He raised his open hands to the demon-shadowed skies and closed h is ears to the shrieking of the stones. Again he cried for the old one and nine times chanted a spell for the appearance of the Crom-Cruach to show himself. After each chant he lighted one of nine wax tapers set around the circle. The flames dimmed, until only black traces of their smoke inscribed sinuous arabesques across the demon-haunted skies.
A great hush spread across the plain. The blood rain ceased to fall and the screaming stones turned to the wail of a lost wind moaning among storm-bowed trees. A green light rose above the buildings on Tara. It burned with an eerie intensity, lending strange life and form to the wavering columns of taper-smoke. Once again Cesar called out to the old one in a long-dead tongue of his forefathers and at the same time inscribed a magic symbol out of the black smoke with a thin silver dagger. High above the hill the green fire grew so bright that it dazzled the assembled tribes and no man could ever say for certain what he saw that day. The stones of Tara began to moan and then howl against the devil-ridden enchantment that had deformed the elements of nature. Then the spectres conjured by the war witches quit the area with a great rush of spirit-wind. The terrors and enchantments were broken by Cesar after three days.
Though it was a dark and fearful time for the Firbolg they took courage from their druid and gathered their armies for an attack on the enemy camp.
I, Tuan, witnessed all of the events from above, as I had been motionless on curved wings. I knew that there was a heavy price to pay by the Firbolgs for the intervention of their ancient god, but I slept peacefully that night in my mountain eyrie."
"I'll be a knowin' 'tis is not a good a place to be a stoppin', but on the morrow we'll be a comin' to Magh Tuiredh or Moytirra, the place of the Battles. On this plain I'll be a continuin' the histories."
Gabrielle decided to change the subject and now was as good a time as any. "You have to tell us how to find the cauldron at the base of the rainbow Finn. How do we know where to look. If you walk towards the spectrum it moves away."
"I'll be thinkin' it might be some sort of formula that'll take a while to chart."
"Oh Xena, you're good at that! How do we start?"
"Gabrielle, whatta you mean I'm good at that?"
"You're good with figures, besides having one! Ha! I mean if it's a problem with numbers, you're good with numbers right?"
"Yesssss. But what has that to do with it?" They both turned to look at Finn with questions on their faces, one of Xena's talented eyebrows already high up on her forehead.
"I'll be told, from someone, that a chartin' of the rainbows must be done from the Circles, linin' em' up from the Heelstone at the same time every day and maybe a map'll be made with the ends marked on it. And at Midsummer's day, the end of the arc in the center of the charted ones will show where the cauldron is."
"Do you know which Circle? And how to go about making the map?" Gabrielle was bubbling over again.
"Sure and I 'll be thinkin' I do ? We'll try all right?"
"Oh! I'm so excited!"
"Now don't go putting all of your eggs in one basket Gabrielle. It might not work out."
"I know Xena, I know. But I'm still worked up. My heart's beating so fast and hard!"
"Take a deep breath, Gabrielle. Breathe slowly."
"We'll be a startin' on th' morrow morning Gabrielle, it'll be too late to start lookin' today."
"All right Finn, I'll try to be patient and calm down."
Xena leaned over and kissed the floral-scented head and gave her a squeeze around her waist. "Tomorrow my Heart. I promise tomorrow," she murmured in the shell-like ear as she stroked the soft skin on the lovely face.
Gabrielle turned in the warrior's embrace, "You know, Xena and Finn, I'm not interested in the "wealth or treasure" we should find. Only in the locating of it. The excitement is really in the hunt and game of chasing the rainbows. And I do wonder what the treasure is " She smiled and reached up and kissed Xena on the cheek. "This will be fun."
Xena chuckled and thought, 'Only my Heart would think this way.'
Later in the evening, Xena and Gabrielle were cuddled closely under the sleeping robes, the warrior wrapped her love in her arms and inched up Gabrielle's tunic until she had placed her hand on the bard's bare body. Xena loved the feel of the bard's soft, silky skin and could not keep from caressing her. Her hand finally found it's way between the blonde's breasts to the warm nest that awaited it.
Gabrielle let out a squeal, "Eeee Xena! Your hand is cold!"
"Warm it up, my Heart," was the soft reply.
Gabrielle slipped one arm out of her sleeping tunic until it too was against her skin, but she covered Xena's arm and hand with her own, interlacing their fingers. They spooned together as closely entwined as they could, happy in each others embrace, and promptly fell asleep in each other's warmth. The dreams that each had mirrored the other's, with scenes of the past reliving events that had happened thousands of years before. Only Gabrielle's was of Eire and Xena's was of Greece.
They packed up their belongings in the cave, loaded Dite and headed out after a quick breakfast the next morning.
As the trio headed down out of the mountains and into the lower elevations the air became thicker and warmer. In the mornings it was a veritable light shade of green and full of moisture. All plant smells were increased three and four-fold. Xena, of course, picked other smells as well - civilization and animal scents. But the other two were happy to be experiencing the heavy odors of the trees and flowers.
As they walked Finn decided to tell one of the humorous tales.
"It seems that the deDannan's Daghdha was at times uncouth and dressed the part as well. When the deDannans were about to do battle with the Formorians, those dark peoples, he was sent by Lugh to spy out the enemy position and delay the engagement. The Formorians granted him a truce and prepared him a prodigious porridge - 'for this was done to mock him, for he had a great weakness for porridge'. They filled the king's cauldron with eighty measures of milk and the same of meat and fat, and to this they added goats and swine. When the contents were boiled, they were poured into a hole in the ground - an effective caricature of the Cauldron of Abundance - and the Daghdha was ordered to eat the whole lot or be slain. So he took up his ladle, 'which was so big that a man and woman could have lain together in it', and began to eat. When he was finished he scraped the gravelly bottom of the hole with his finger and then dozed off to sleep."
"I would have loved to have seen that!" Gabrielle delightfully intoned.
"Bet he was about to bust!" Xena laughed.
They all laughed together as they continued their walk to the Moytirra Plain.
"Have there been many female bards in Eire Finn?" Gabrielle asked as they picked their way among the bracken.
"Among the children of the Daghdha of the de Dannans was Brighid, she was a poetress, a female seer, a woman of wisdom. Poets venerated her for being very great and her protective care. She was called 'Goddess of Poetry'. Her sisters were Brighid, the female physician and Brighid the female smith. 'Tis strange, the name Brighid means 'fiery arrow' in our ancient language could be that her speech was like that."
"Ah, women can do anything!" Xena was heard to say. "At least here in Eire they don't frown on women being warriors, smiths, physicians or bards."
"Thought ye might be enjoyin' that bit of information Xena, but Gabrielle needs to be a knowin' she'll be nae so different here in Eire."
"How come I haven't heard anything about this Brighid before?"
"Maybe the subject never came up, my Heart."
"But it did Xena. In one of those duns someone said, 'the blessings of Brighid are on ye lass.' But I never stopped to inquire what they meant."
"Now ye'll be a knowin' Gabrielle. 'Tis a compliment and a gift they'll be a bestowin'."
They walked down onto a flat plain out of the lesser mountains and Finn said, "This'll be Magh Tuiredh or ye'll be a callin' Moytirra. This'll be the place where two battle'll be fought and one hurlin' game that should have been a battle."
The three stood and turned slowly taking in the images that were starting to form in their minds. The plain was dotted with stone piles and standing pillars. The Bard had a way of making the past come alive by not only by his voice but also the visions he conjured.
"What are all these rocks here? It doesn't look like natural formations. Whatta you think Xena?" the blond inquired.
"Dunno, looks kinda like burial grounds. The tall stones could commemorate something maybe."
"Right ye'll be me warrior. Ye have the eye. They'll be the cairns, and that big one is the Champion's Cairn. The standing stones are where the heroes fell. If we'll be a lookin' close at them, maybe the ogham will be a tellin' who fell and died at each stone."
"Oh! When they first were fighting the stones were not here .." Gabrielle murmured.
"Yes Gabrielle, otherwise it would have been like fighting in a forest," Xena smiled down at her partner. "Tho' no leafy roof over them. Hmm, although you could hide behind the stones and jump out in surprise ." She jumped out from behind one of the stones to show the others how good it would work. "Hah!" she cried, throwing up her arms and hands in a defensive move.
Gabrielle laughed. And Finn said," Ye got me!"
"Now the ogham is writing right?" ever the curious, the blonde asked, "Can you teach me how to read and write it? The ogham I mean?"
"Of course Gabrielle. I'll be a markin' it out for ye."
"Remember my Heart that it'll be written in the language of the Gaels, not Greek, like you write in It may be a little difficult for you to translate."
"Why Xena, when we speak their language now."
The last few comments had been spoken in Greek, which they reverted to from time to time. It was not to keep things secret, just easier for them to converse their thoughts sometimes. It never occurred that the third person in their presence could not understand what they were saying. Finn made his proximity known by a cough.
"Oh we're sorry Finn. Sometimes we just lapse back into what is comfortable and easy for us. Xena knows so many languages and she has taught me, but it is rude for us to do that."
"Well, ye'll be a doin' it a bit, and I'll be a pickin' up a few words here and there, but I dinna nae know what ye'll be a writin' on ye scrolls was Greek. It'll be lookin' so pretty with designs I'll be a askin' for lessons from ye as well Gabrielle. Teach me ye language as well."
Xena was taking this all in with not much patience, so she asked, "The story Finn Moytirra the fighting the battle Tuatha deDannans Firbolg what happened?"
They walked a bit further onto the plain, close by a standing pillar, and Gabrielle leaned up against it. Her hand found the rough scrapings on one edge and her face brightened.
"This will be the ogham, here, carved into the stone here on the edge oh and on the other side as well. Right Finn?" She had reached out and ran her hands on either side of the tall rock almost caressing it.
"Aye Gabrielle, this one says that Aidleo of the deDannans was the first to die. He'll be slain by Nert Chu of the Firbolgs."
"Ohhh," the blonde sighed and sunk down on the ground and leaned against the stone.
"I, Tuan, watched all unfold as I hovered over the field. I flew from each camp and was aware of the plans each made.
Coirbre, Ai and Edan, all poets or druids were selected to be the envoys to the Firbolgs
and request again the division of the isle for all the children of Nemed. The king again replied that the Tuatha deDannans could wait until Doomsday before he would relinquish a bit of soil. When the Firbolgs refused the demand to give up half of Eire, conflict was inevitable. When the druids returned to convey the message, and that they had delayed the inevitable to frustrate the enemy, but that the news that the Firbolg would not share the land with them and had refused friendship and favour caused them great distress. For three moons the battle was put off for the Firbolgs to reproduce the weapons they had seen the deDannans have and the same for the deDannans to make the heavier weapons of the Firbolgs.
The young warriors were impatient waiting for the weapons to be made and so they devised a hurling match to keep them occupied. Rua the Bloody and the twenty-seven sons of the tribe of Miled, allies of the Firbolg challenged the deDannans at the edge of the plain. The youth of the deDannans were eager to meet at the hurling, which was a strong and skillful game. But they were no match for Rua and his tough mountain men. They had scored only one cul when the wrath of the Firbolg descended on them like a tidal wave. The skill and speed of the deDannans could not match the brute strength and resolute savagery of the Firbolgs. Many bones were broken and youthful flesh bruised and gashed. The deDannans soon lost the game and Rua and his team left behind them the flower of the young hurlers of the deDannans lying dead or grievously injured on the field. It was a match that left much bitterness in the hearts of the deDannans against the Firbolgs and their allies and they resolved their revenge for the battlefield.
On midsummer's day the fighting began. It lasted solidly for three days and many were slain, but neither gained the upper hand. As night grew around the warriors, physicians tended to the wounded, bathing them in herbs that restored them in time for the morrow's fighting.
I, Tuan, watched circling on the currants of air that rose above the fighting field. But the great cloud of dust that filled my eyes caused me not to see but to only hear the noise and tumult, the din and thunder, the loud striking of swords and the clangor of breastplates. I heard the screams of the dying mixed with the vaunts of the victors. Then, sinking lower through the battle cloud, I saw the pride and beauty of courage and youth made hideous by the slaughter of war. The earth ran with the blood as the heads of men were hewn from their shoulders and bodies broken like splintered wood that kindles the fire of the hearth.
When the sun started to set the fighting stopped and the physicians hurried forth to find the living and remedy aid to them. The dead and the body parts that littered the field were placed under stones the well brought forward and placed over them. The standing pillars were erected in the evening, the holes being dug and the rock fitted into it. Others carved the words on the stones to commemorate the fallen. The next morning started as the day before with fierce fighting on both sides, sometimes the victory leaning in one direction, sometimes the other. In the evening the process of the evening before was repeated by both sides. Many heroes fell and died these days from the deDannans and the Firbolgs.
The morning of the third day Eochaidh, High King of the Firbolgs went to the well alone to bathe and cleanse himself from the battle of the day before. His reflection was blotted out in the water by three strangers who were there to kill the king. He asked if they were there to kill an unarmed man, and asked for time to fetch his weapons. It was stated to him that he could not as there could be no delay. With grim looks they summoned him to combat. But out of the morning sun a fourth warrior appeared and his shield shone with such bright light that the other three were momentarily taken aback. He told those three that they would fight him, not the king. And so he did. The four fought until one was slain. The Firbolgs hearing the clash of weapons came running to the well to see what was occurring, but the four were already laid out in the brotherhood of death. Eochaidh bent over his unknown champion and his warm tears fell like rain on the cold face. He asked if anyone knew who the handsome warrior was who had laid down his life for the king. No one could answer his question. Only I, Tuan, knew the answer to the question. Yet still the Firbolg marveled over the solitary stranger and to honor his bravery they each brought a white stone to the well and covered his body with a great cairn - the Champion's Cairn.
On the fourth day the deDannans pushed back the Firbolgs. At this crucial point the Firbolg king became so thirsty that he left the field to find water. A deDannan force set off after him and killed him. Nuada the deDannan king offered peace and the Firbolgs accepted. But for Nuada it was no victory as his arm and hand had been cut off in battle by Streng and his people could not accept anyone less than physically perfect as their king. For it was believed that the prosperity of the land and the people was linked with its ruler; if the king was less than perfect, physically or morally flawed, the country and its people would decline. Nuada stepped aside in favor of Bres, who was of half Formorian blood. The deDannans came to the isle with these competences; their leaders had at their disposal druidic magic from the Dadhdha, warrior prowess from Oghma, the important techniques of medicine and smith work from Dian Cecht and Goibhnie, and eventually the totality of arts and crafts from Lugh. But they had no knowledge of a most necessary form - agriculture. This they were to learn from the Formorians, but this was to be in agreement that the half-son Bres was to rule. He was a man of great physical beauty, for it was said that the 'sun shone out of him'. But he was a man who favored his Formorian side and ruled with this partisanship. So it was that Eire grew desolate and barren. Remedy came in the form of Coirbre a poet who lambasted the king in satirical verse. These verses acted like a magic spell and Bres was covered in boils spoiling his physical beauty, so he was obliged to abdicate, to the people's relief. Bres went to Tory isle to confer with the Formorian, Balor of the Evil Eye against the deDannans. In the middle of his forehead Balor had one massive eye that destroyed everything it saw. So to prevent complete destruction he kept his eye shut, but in an emergency his men could prop it open, his eyelid so heavy he could not lift it himself. It had been foretold that he would be killed by his grandson, so he kept his only child, Eithne a daughter, under lock and key constantly. But a clever deDannan lord by the name of Cian, with the help of a druid, made her pregnant with triplets. Balor gave orders that the triplets were to be drowned, but one boy washed up on shore and was raised by was raised by a deDannan smith. The boy's name was Lugh Samildanach.
Meanwhile Nuada had been fitted with an arm specially made for him out of silver and had taken over the rulership of his people, who prospered again."
Xena had 'seen' the battles that surrounded them, the deaths and the ones who were 'restored' in the night to be able to fight again and again. She had been 'caught up' in the excitement of the fighting, breathlessly wishing she could join in. Finn had looked at her in her enthusiasm and understood what she was thinking. He cocked his head and shook it slightly. She saw and understood, so controlled her desire. Gabrielle had sat down and was wide-eyed in wonder at the melodrama enfolding in front of her. She reached up her hand searching for her love's, who was still standing. Finding it, she held on and gently pulled Xena down to join her in the grass. Finn continued his story.
The second battle fought here at Moytirra was between the deDannans and the Formorians, who had been glad to hang back and let the Firbolgs fight the new adversary. Balor of the Evil Eye had come forth with Bres at his side to gain control over the usurpers. The Firbolg and Tuatha deDannans, being of the same blood and ancestors had a small knowledge of the other, but the Formorians, that dark race, were forever at the throats of whoever ruled in the land. That Bres had defected when he was removed as leader of the deDannans hurt the warriors who were left of the race of the Tuatha de. But Balor had this huge red single eye and the lid that covered it was so heavy he himself could not lift it. So it was that when his eye was open death was wrecked on all of his enemies by way of a red light of fire. And this he did to many of the host of the deDannans, including Nauda the king. His wife threw a spear and grievously wounded the Daghdha. Amid the carnage Lugh challenged Balor. He called for his eye to be opened, but as the lid was lifted Lugh hurled a stone from a slingshot with such force that the eye burst out the back of Balor's head, turning its lethal gaze on his own troops. The remaining Formorians were driven into the sea, never to return. Lugh became king and prosperity returned to the land. I, Tuan, watched from the sky as this second battle of the Plain of Pillars had taken place."
They walked out and away from Moytirra. Gabrielle turned around and pulled Xena with her to gaze out over the plain from the heights they had attained on the surrounding hills.
"Mmm. Such carnage and waste of lives happened down there," Gabrielle said.
"That's what happens in war and invasions, Gabrielle," Xena quietly answered.
"Aye, that's what our histories are made up of, mainly." Finn was quite reflective. He turned around to carry on with their journey. He had gotten quite a bit ahead of the other two when they turned around as well and followed him over the swells of land. The trio traveled the crest of the hills until they spotted a tributary below. Downwards they went and relished in the first stream of fresh water they had seen in a while. There they replenished the water bags and splashed around merrily.
"I really would like to wash my hair and bathe and I know YOU would too Xena."
"Maybe there will be a bigger stream or even a lake up ahead my Heart."
"Aye, this'll be the beginnin's of Lough Erne. There'll be twa loughs ahead of us."
They followed the River Arney to a small loch, where the decided to stay the night. It was really a beautiful spot they chose. The lake was surrounded by a moss so green that it hurt the eyes and trees seem to greet them with like color and blossoms. Gabrielle got to have her bath, with Xena, and the two capered like children in the water. Finn had decided to try his hand at swimming again and carefully walked into the cool aqua. Finally all were exhausted from their antics and waded to shore. Toweled off and drying by a hastily made fire, Finn was trying to explain the virtues of a sweathouse.
"But I don't see the great advantage of the sweathouse Finn," Gabrielle intoned.
"It is good for ye internal system and ye skin, Gabrielle."
"How could that be better than fresh water and soap?"
"I think, my Heart, that BOTH are good for you. I have tried it and although you feel drained when you walk out, the impurities and dirt in your skin are sweated out of your system.
Now in the northern climes, unlike here, when you leave a sweat lodge, you dive into freezing water. It is really a shock to your system."
"I'll be a thinkin' that it wakes ye up as well, ye'll be getting a little drained and tired in a sweatlodge. But in the mornin' ye'll feel great. But we'll be a havin' the water to wash over yeselves. We do the same here."
"I feel great the moment I come out of water squeaky clean," Gabrielle offered.
"Well next time we're in a steading where there is a sweathouse, you'll get to try it. At least you can't complain if you haven't tried it."
"It sounds like you're in a steam oven being cooked!"
"No, Gabrielle, take my word for it, it is good for you. Do you trust me?"
"Of course I trust you Xena. With my life forever I just don't always agree with you." The blonde grinned and cast a sideways glance at her love, then giggled.
Two more days passed before they came to a steading where they had a sweathouse. A very large sweathouse. Gabrielle got to try out her theory of soap and water versus sweat and steam, and had to agree with Xena that both had their benefits.
The small circular dry-stone corbelled building was large for a sweathouse. It was large enough to hold seven or eight persons sitting and three or four if they lay down. There were long wooden benches they could do both on. It had only one low opening, that had a wooden door that could be closed, but usually turf was piled up at the gap in the rock. Inside in the center was a round hearth for fire or the hot stones. They in turn were heated in a fire outside and brought inside. A bucket of water was closeby, to drop the liquid on the hot rock for moisture and steam. Above in the ceiling there was a tiny hole to let the smoke escape. The walls had been limed, but not smooth. Every stone's presence was visible. A small oil lamp hung from the ceiling, so it would not be entirely dark when the door was sealed.
Xena and Finn convinced Gabrielle to try it out, with the generosity and hospitality of the clan head. She was unsure of being steamed or cooked, as she put it, but her two companions talked her into it.
"Gabrielle, didn't the Amazons have a hut similar to this?"
"Well maybe Xena. But it wasn't closed up so tightly and you could at least see light through the walls. I'll feel like I'm being buried alive."
"Come on, you'll enjoy this. I'll do it with you. You'll feel better afterwards, I promise. All the aches and soreness will be lessened a lot by this method."
"I'd rather have YOU work out the aches and soreness "
"I can still do that," the warrior whispered in her ear.
So the two women shed their clothes and had themselves closed up inside the sweathouse. Finn graciously declined, knowing that his two friends would enjoy this better alone. Gabrielle was losing most of the modesty she had, which Xena had always been oblivious of, because of the manner the people of Eire viewed nudity, which was nonexistent, or, it didn't really matter if you were dressed or not.
"You know, I seem to remember that in the Amazon hut, even though there was a bronze tripod with coals making the heat and steam, that the body was 'beaten' with palm fronds by someone else I guess to stimulate the blood. What is there that frightens you so much? You're always wanting to try new things, explore different kinds of endeavors."
"I know, I know. But I'm afraid of being shut in forever. But since you're here, I'm really not afraid again. I could be shut in forever with you."
"Don't be afraid Gabrielle. Finn is outside and won't let that happen to us."
Quietly she whispered, "I know. I'm being silly."
"No you're not. You're facing your fears. And I have no doubt that even if I were not here you would do this."
"All right, so what do we do?"
"See how the stones are softly glowing red? I'll put a little water on them thusly," Xena ladled a measure of water out and slowly spilled it onto the scorching rocks. She then took Gabrielle's hand and led her to a low bench where they reclined separately. They could barely make out each other's faces in the gloom.
"Don't you want to hold me or cuddle?" Gabrielle whined. "We're alone "
"Oh, I want to do that ALL of the time, but for this, it is better if we're not really touching, you'll see." But she still held on to the small hand.
About a quarter of a quarter-day passed and the two were dozing happily, their muscles relaxed and stresses melted away. Their minds were peacefully at rest. A knock came on the door. It was Finn asking if they were ready to come out.
"Yes, I think so Finn," Xena intoned.
The door was opened and light flooded into the dark chamber. Xena rose from off of the bench pulling the blonde up with her and outside. Just outside the door was a large tub of liquid. The warrior picked up her love and dumped her into the cool water.
"Eeeek! Xena! Are you trying to drown me? This is so cold!"
"This is good for you." And she jumped into the tub with her love and immersed herself.
Finn held large drying cloths for them and they went inside the steading house to dress. Xena took one of the cloths and vigorously rubbed Gabrielle dry. Then the blonde returned the favor. The two came out rosy complexioned and looking very rested.
"Dinna I'll be tellin' ye that ye would enjoy this Gabrielle?"
"Yes you did and I did." I'm sorry I gave you such a tough time about it."
Xena just stood behind her love and grinned ear to ear.
Later that evening the clan head held a feast for his guests. And of course both Finn and Gabrielle performed. Finn, some of the ancient tales and music of the land, that the blonde had not yet heard, and Gabrielle telling about the Centaurs and their wars with the Amazons. The people present found it hard to believe the tale of a half-man-half horse. They asked many questions when she had finished about them and just who were the Amazons? Gabrielle left out the bit about her being first an Amazon Princess and then Queen. Xena leaned against the wall behind everyone and smiled quietly to herself, thinking, 'if only these people knew the whole truth, my little bard.'
Finn asked of the blonde later, "Ye'll be speakin' many time about these Amazons, Gabrielle. What'll be ye connection with them? Ye seem to know so much about them."
"I really don't like to talk about it Finn. I just know them many of them."
"She doesn't like to brag, Finn. In actuality Gabrielle is a Queen of the Amazons, she was given the title of Princess by 'right of caste'."
"What'll that be a meanin'?"
"Gabrielle protected an Amazon Princess during one of their wars with the centaurs. But Terreis died and before she did she gave her 'right of caste' or birthright to Gabrielle for her trying to save her life. When Queen Melosa, Terreis's sister, died, Gabrielle became Queen."
"Ooo, and ye'll be surpisin' me all the time."
"Promise me you won't say anything to anyone, Finn, please?" Gabrielle implored.
"Aye, ye'll have me word," but he thought to himself until she leaves this sacred isle.
The next morning, after thanking everyone profusely for their hospitality they went on their way. Gabrielle made a mental note to write something down about this experience.
They soon had encircled Lough Neath, a very large lake in the north of Eire. Again they took their pleasure in the fresh water. It was amazing to Xena that no matter how cold the water ever was, she did not lose her ardor for Gabrielle. And, it seems, neither had the blonde for her. At Ard Sailech, an old ring fort and a distance south of the loch, they stopped for the evening and Finn decided that this was the time to try to show Gabrielle the ogham.
"Ye see the ogham will be formed like this " he drew into the dirt and Gabrielle copied it down on the parchment. "There'll be a line with marks on both the sides on the stones the line'll be one edge of the rock."
"Oh, I understand but the characters of the alphabet are shown as different marks?"
"Yeah, you know alpha, beta, the first two characters so we call it alphabet."
Xena was enjoying the two bards teaching each other. She loved witnessing this banter between the two, and the knowledge they both were imparting to the other. Gabrielle was like an empty vessel, always requiring information to be filled. That she gave back of the wealth of information she had stored was a gift of her giving heart. Fortunately, she, Xena, was also the recipient of the information as well.
"Aye, it'll be said that Oghma or Ogmios, invented this form of writing. He was known as 'trenfher' - champion and strong man. He'll be also known as 'grianainech' or sun-like countanance, I'll be a thinkin' he had sun colored hair and fair skin, like ye. So ye may be called Gabrielle Grianainech."
"I think I'm starting to get a handle on ancient names and what they meant here," Gabrielle chirped contemplatively. " And I think my hair color came from the yellow blossoms " she added softly.
"And your smell " Xena whispered into the night.
"Aye, most names'll be a description of the person. That way when we'll be a speakin' of someone from the past we'll be a visualizing them, because their names'll be tellin' they'll be a havin' red hair or dark, tall or short, large or small and that sort of thing. Of course, some names'll tell us nothing about the person." He watched as the blonde had copied every mark he had drawn down perfectly. " Now ye'll be havin' the whole of the ogham Gabrielle. Can ye write something for me and I'll be a readin' to see if ye got it down right."
She dutifully wrote slowly, checking to be sure she had the right marks, that she and Xena Warrior Princess had come to Eire from Greece. He read the marks and slashes and declared she had done everything perfectly. He laughed at the title Gabrielle gave Xena, and asked why she had not imparted a like one on herself.
"Well, I've been called the 'Battling Bard' lately, but I don't think that fits. Maybe I'll use the name you gave me - Granainech."
"That's only descriptive in the Gaelic tongue Gabrielle. There are soooo many names we or I can give you " Xena offered.
"Yeah, I bet but you better not!"
"How about using what has alredy been given to you Gabrielle of the Flowers, or Gabrielle the Good La "
"What? No Xena, don't go there." 'At least not out loud when we're not alone,' she thought to herself.
"I'm just trying to be helpful, my Heart " With a grin, and a loving look in her eyes she turned the azure orbs on her companion.
"Look at her!" The blonde turned to Finn, "How can I ever stay upset with her when she does that?" The blonde received a light slap to her butt that was followed with a gentle caress. Gabrielle smiled over her shoulder at her partner. She then continued in another vein, "You are a wonderful teacher, Finn. Thank you for your patience and help."
"Ye'll be a clever and intelligent student Gabrielle." he returned the compliment. "And I'll have learned a great deal from ye about the world!"
Xena had been watching over their shoulders their writing on parchment and in dirt and her quick mind had taken everything in and retained it. "You know, my Heart, if we need to send secret messages at some time, this would be a perfect way and no one would be able to read this." The warrior was quite serious about this being a ways of secret communication. " At home, I mean," she mumbled quietly.
Gabrielle laughed. "Oh Xena, you're always thinking about something involving war and espionage." To herself she thought, 'Thank goodness not ALL of the time though.'
"Well it seems, my heart, that somehow we always get involved in that sort of engagement. It always seems to find us."
"You, my love, YOU. It always finds you. You are definitely a magnet. For fighting."
"I haven't done any fighting here, Gabrielle."
"No, but we witnessed it, and if you could have, you would have loved to have joined in right?"
"You know me too well."
Soon they had almost entirely encircled the isle and had learned about all of the nooks and crannies of Eire from Finn and some of the people they had encountered. They were on the eastern side of Ulster, not too far from the sea, when they decided that this was as good a time as any to find shelter for the evening. It was drier in this part of the land and they decided to sleep outdoors under whatever stars would show their faces. A small secluded glen that was surrounded on three sides by trees was he perfect spot in this area they decided.
Finn had left to conduct some druidic business in a Grove closeby with those in the area and Xena and Gabrielle were afforded time alone together, which they took full advantage of. A soft bed of meadowgrass had been constructed by the warrior in their small alcove at the end of a glen by still water. The trees were thick with their summer-scent and hid their sleeping place quite effectively. They had no need for fire for no animals here were of the kind to keep at bay, and they did not want to advertise their whereabouts to the two-legged inhabitants. And they had eaten from their supplies for an evening meal.
They took their pleasure when and where they could find it. No matter how long they had been together, each time was a new experience for the both of them. Xena had chosen the area wisely. They would not be bothered for the evening.
Xena thought to herself, (and said aloud?) "I love running my hands over Gabrielle's compact muscular legs. Feeling the strength there under my fingers as I caress her rock hard muscles and tendons and the heat that emits from them at my touch excites me almost beyond what I can endure. Her skin that covers them and the rest of her body is so soft and silky that my heart cries at the contrast. And no matter how long we have been together, I feel the same as that first day I saw her, my breath catches and my heart stops when I first see her."
Gabrielle enjoyed the feel of Xena's muscular back. Running her hands over the broad expanse gives her the power of strength that is her love. Her favorites though, are Xena's breasts. Large globular mounds of sexual 'titillation'. She has a special affinity for the small red scar on the inside of Xena's right breast. Of course Xena's body is covered with scars, but none looked like this one, and even though she doted loving attention on all of the other body marks, this one was very special. But she loves caressing her love's breasts with her hands and tongue, mouthing and sucking at her nipples and aureoles until they are hard and pebbled and respond to her ministration and lovemaking. The feeling is mutual, because Xena is enthralled with Gabrielle's breasts as well. Though not as large, each fit into Xena's hand like it was made for it. The taste reminds Xena of jasmine or honeysuckle. Sweet, very sweet, and a delicate shade of light rose. (Maybe from the petals of the flowers?) 'But Gabrielle's breasts are enlarging with time, perhaps with all of the attention that have been paid them', she thought to herself.
Gabrielle had written a poem of her feelings for her love and she showed it to her.
"I can tell you're really influenced by Sappho."
"I haven't really spent any time with her Xena."
"Yes, but you have read her work, have you not?"
"Yesssss, but ." Gabrielle sputtered.
"No buts, this is wonderful. I didn't really know you felt this way," as she smiled sweetly to her beloved. To herself she thought,' I am truly fortunate to have a companion so loving and trusting of me. What did I ever do to deserve her?'
I have witnessed the very Essence
Of Their Being.
Just knowing they are there
And fills me with the Joy of Loving.
To be able to Touch
Those Spheres of Life
And raise those Noble Heads
From their delicate Coronas
Into strong protuberances of Sensitivity
Is my fondest Desire.
But the Sense of Taste
Overcomes all other Senses:
For the kiss of Honey-dewed Lips
Coupled with the inner Promise
Of throbbing and probing
Is almost as Erotic
As the oral exploration
Of the Moons of Paradise.
And drawing on the inner Warmth
That hopefully will flow
To await this soul, who
Would give up all
For the realization of this Dream.
Xena was alone with Finn and she was anxious to ask him a few questions. Gabrielle had gone off searching for some edible roots and berries. They were sitting two fallen logs.
"Finn there's something that has been nagging at the back of my mind, and I need to ask you about it."
"Fine Xena, if I can I'll be a answerin' for ye."
"It has to do with Gabrielle and how she was "born".
"Aye, we all know how that was."
"Yes, but my question for you would be, if I had been a man would Gabrielle have been a different being? Would she not have been so kind and loving? So believing in the good of other people?"
"Xena, Gabrielle'll be who she is BECAUSE of ye. The inner ye are what made her."
"But I'm not, was not good like her."
"Somewhere inside aye ye are. And that's what the gods saw when they sent the flowers to form her. For ye needs, Gabrielle'll be right for ye. So have nae doubts and do nae worry, for the two of ye'll be a perfect fit."
"She is a wonder, isn't she? Everytime I look at her my heart skips a beat and I can't believe how lucky I am. Ummm ..because of her "birth" is she immortal?"
"Why do you ask that of me?"
"What is ye age Xena? How long have ye walked this earth?"
"Oh, I see what you mean As you know, Gabrielle and I have been together longer than you have been on this earth, well, more like several times your age I guess we live in dog's years " She chuckled softly at the last thought.
"Mmm, aye and "
"Every day is a new experience with her. She keeps me young. When I first see her my voice fails, my body burns and it is all I can do to keep from being giddy and bewildered."
"Ye love her."
"Yes and I believe she loves me, or so she tells me. I can't imagine a day without her. Neither of us seem to age when we're together."
"Then what'll be ye problem?"
"I just wondered if I had formed her to my way of what I wanted, needed. There's been no one that I could speak of this to, ever. I can't even imagine leaving her, but if that happened, what would she do?"
"Carry on, even though she'll be devastated. She'll be stronger than ye think"
"I'll try not to do that then Thank you, Finn, for your advice."
They embraced briefly and Xena flicked a few drops of water away that were forming in
her azure eyes. They sat back in their respective place each picking up the task they had
laid down earlier during their little talk.
Xena looked up and beheld a vision. Gabrielle was returning with a basket of newly harvested treats. The sun was behind her giving her a luminous golden radiance. Her rolling walk made Xena's mouth water and her heart swelled with pride. Finn was feeling close to the same thing, but he tried not to let his emotions show, that would defeat his purpose.
"Hi y'all! Whatcha doin'?" Gabrielle was bubbling with life. She simply glowed. She had a wreath of flowers on her head and Xena thought back to the day when her love had come to life out of flowers similar to the ones she now wore.
Luckily Xena had her sword across her knees and her whetstone in her hand.
"Just sharpening my sword, Gabrielle. Uh whatta you find?" The warrior ran the stone down the length of the sword for display. But her eyes never left Gabrielle.
She set her loaded basket down. "Lots of lovely things! Look at these wild strawberries, and I found apples and plums. Here are a few watercress and mushrooms and onions! I found all sorts of cooking herbs, some healing herbs you've been looking for too. And don't forget the things you always say are good for us these roots and greens can be good cooked in a stew help to thicken it too. It was a veritable market out there and free for the picking!" She reached into the basket and pulled out a large leaf that was folded over. "And look here! I found a bee's nest and talked them into sharing their honey!"
"You talked them into ?"
"Yeaaah. You know I can speak with bees. We have an understanding. And they are so giving of their hard earned wealth."
Her enthusiasm was contagious. All three were excited at her finds. Gabrielle set about sorting the edibles, handing Xena the healing herbs plus an apple to whet her appetite. She also tossed one to Finn. Then she packed some of the foods away for later and prepared the others for the noonday meal. She whistled a strange tune as she continued at her tasks.
"My you sound happy."
"Any particular reason?"
"It's a beautiful day, we're in a beautiful land and all seems so right."
"Those flowers'll be mighty pretty on ye head Gabrielle."
"Smell good too," Xena added quickly.
"I just couldn't resist, they were there just begging for me to pick them," the blonde giggled. "It seems like they could speak to me."
"You're a vision, my Heart," the dark warrior murmured thinking back to another time long ago.
That evening Finn started what was to be the last of the Histories he would impart on Gabrielle. The battle of the Tuatha deDannans and the Milesians.
"The Sons of Mil, fresh from the tumult of the sea and circling the island three times, had a rowing contest to see who could be the first to land. One brother, seeking an advantage over another gaining headway, took his sword and cut off his left hand. Just when that elder brother was about to win, the younger threw that bloodied hand and it landed in the sand before the elder could step from the water. "I win! I win!" shouted
Un mac Uicce. Eremon was disgruntled and told his wife, "He wins nothing, but a loss of his hand." Nevertheless, Eremon was pressured by his other brothers that when the time to divide the isle up between them came, Un would have first choice. "He gave up much brother. You cannot deny that. We shall hold you to your word as it was you who gave the challenge." Their mother, Scotia soothed her eldest's feathers while Un was tended to for his severed members. The emblem of that red hand would be a rallying point forever in Eire."
Finn knew his time was growing short with these two women and he still had much to impart. So he hurried on with the telling of his narrative
"The three kings of the deDannans, for it has been many generations since the time of Nuada, were MacCuill, MacCecht and MacGreine. They were all the sons of Ogma, the God of Eloquence. Each king had a beautiful wife, Banba, Fodla and Eriu. There had been peace among the deDannans, except for an occasional skirmish with the Firbolgs, and they had concentrated on their sciences and were extremely adept with all they practiced. They had lived an extremely serene existence, creating beautiful things of metal and wood. They had no need for weapons and had in fact buried the fearful Eartheaters.
Amgharghin, the druid of the Milesians, came to parlay with the deDannans. The wives of the kings each approached him separately. Banba asked of him "Bard, a word with ye. Will ye remember to name this land after me?" To which the Bard answers, "Your name shall be used for this isle." Fodla then came to the Bard and asked, "Will my name be the one for this land?" And once again he answers, "Your name shall be used for this isle." But when Eriu came unto Amgharghin for the same reason, he states that her name shall be used forever. And so it has.
Finn paused, as he was wont to do, and drank deeply from the water bag. He gathered his thoughts about the next part of the Histories, the final battle of the deDannans.
"Ye know, Gabrielle, that ye'll be carryin' on a grand tradition of bards."
"What do you mean Finn?"
"That by reason of ye 'birth', ye'll be as the rest of us, tho' ye'll not be livin' here, ye'll have ingrained into ye heart and soul from the soil the very essence of the races of Eire. And ye must keep it and share it."
"Oh, that's a heavy burden you've opened up to me Finn. I didn't realize that. But I can understand why the pull on me is so strong for the stories of Eire, and everything else here."
Xena had slipped her long arm around Gabrielle's shoulders and held her close. She bent over and kissed the top of the fair head.
"Aye a burden it may be, but with ye love at ye side, it shudda nae be so grand to make ye afraid of it."
She looked up at the warrior and smiled. "I'm not afraid, just I wonder if I can fulfill what's expected of me."
"Gabrielle, my Heart, you'll do whatever is asked. You always have, and have never thought twice about it."
"All right, Xena." She curled even more tightly into the warm embrace that was encompassing her and settled down to hear the remainder of the story.
"A truce of three days had been set by the kings of the deDannan and Amghairghin the Bard of the Mil. The kings knew the inevitable was going to happen, their overthrow, but they hoped to retain as much as they could without too much loss of life. The sons of Ogma called on their poet and magician Coibre to conjure up enchantments to delay the battle. He called on the three goddesses of their race to help deter the invaders and they created winds of horrible magnitudes to wipe them off the face of the earth. But all survived and Amghairghin, the Bard of the Mil, saw through what Coibre was trying to do and pulled out his harp and played to sooth the waters and the winds. The second day Coibre again asked the evil goddesses for help and they created stones of ice to fall from the sky, a rain of blood followed the ice. Again Amghairghin understood the spell and asked for his brothers and his people to not be afraid, that this too would pass. And it did.
The third day the evil sisters caused the rocks to cry out and the sky turn black with ravens. It was frightening to witness this phenomenon, but again the Milesians withstood the onslaught. On the morrow they would meet face to face with the deDannans and there would be no escape on the part of the adversary.
The morning of the fourth day the two races met to do battle. But to the astonishment of the Mil, both men, women and children met them on the field. Amghairghin led the forces of the Mil with his harp in hand. Not only was he Bard and druid, he was also a judge. He was very far out in front of his warriors, but he was met and passed by the opposing foe. The deDannans were dressed, not for battle, but in light colored diaphanous clothing with flowers on their head and around their necks. Some even carried garlands of flowers instead of weapons. They came dancing and singing to meet the Mil. They flowed and shimmered as a whole across the flower-starred meadow with colored banners rippling in the light wind. They skipped and pirouetted towards the Mil as joyous as a crowd on festival day. Unfamiliar music filled the air. Amaghairghin saw they were not as they seemed. For under their clothing they had hidden their weapons. The two groups engaged and the invaders did not know what to do, for they were encircled by the celebrating people and pulled into dancing with them. Too late for many of the Mil did they discover the deception. Amghairghin tried to warn his brothers of the ruse, but his voice was not heard above the deDannans as he was on the other side of their line. He ran to help where he could. For four times the deDannans had tried to trick him. This time they would not. He would fight with his race, and disregard the role of a bard as arbitrator. He ran to where the fracas was the fiercest and picked up a sword that lay in the grass. It was not one of his race's weapons, but a bronze sword of the deDannans. His brother Eremon was about to be attacked from behind, so the bard ran his sword through the man. Only when the dead man hit the ground did he realize he had killed one of the kings, MacGreine. The Mil were larger, stronger and had better weapons, for some reason the deDannans had not resurrected their Earthkillers. They fought as best they could with what they had, but in the end were defeated. Amghairghin had asked the three kings for a division of the isle, which would require no fighting, but they had refused. Now they had lost it all, but in the end Amghairghin parceled out the isle. Half would go to the deDannans, and half to the Sons of Mil and their followers. The half for the Mil would be above ground, the half for the Tuatha deDannan below ground.
After the battle was over and the Milesians were searching for their dead and wounded, they were amazed that not one deDannan was on the field. They knew they had killed many and even some they imagined were still alive, but where were they? There was not a trace of the deDannans anywhere.
Eremon and his brothers took to their chariots and drove to Tara where Eremon immediately took over the compound. Since the oldest brother was a Bard and druid he could not rule. The second oldest had died in the sea. Eremon was the next in line. But the family of brothers was not a peaceful race. They fought continuously between themselves and each went off in a different direction to live on the isle. Eber Fin and his tribe prospered greatly in children, animals and crops. He lived peacefully except for when his older brother Eremon coveted what he had. Then he defended his possessions. And won. And Eremon left to go back to a lonely existence in Tara. Amghairghin disappeared, but once in a while he returned to Tara only to disappear again. It was said he joined with a deDannan girl and they lived secluded away from any of his family."
"Is there other stories about the bard Amghairghin, and what happened to him after the battle?" Gabrielle asked.
"There's not much, for sure, only bits and pieces it has been said that even though the deDannans disappeared to underground, they became known as the Sidhe or fairy folk. Legends have been around for ages about the sidhe. Whether they just lived underground in the 'mounds' or fairy mounds, as some say, who's to know? May be that most of them died of their wounds and were buried underground by the remaining few. May be that a lot more lived than died and joined with the Milesians or even the Formorians."
"I don't suppose we'll ever know," Xena put in.
Finn had made the map he had promised Gabrielle. Of course Xena was the one to study it and place it in her memory. The three were excited as the small shower dissipated and a rainbow formed. They laid out the map and plotted the end of the arc from the heelstone of the megalith circle, then marked it with an X on the map. It wasn't long before a second spectrum appeared in a different direction.
"Umm, what about that one, Finn?" Gabrielle was concerned because the arc was nowhere near the heelstone, or they would have to have crossed over outside the circle to plot it.
"I umm dunna nae know. It'll seem to me that that one we dunna nae plot because it is in the opposite direction."
"Well, just to be safe I'll plot it anyway." Xena was determined in her manner that nothing would escape their endeavor. She walked to the other side of the stones and lined up the arc and placed another X on the map. She didn't know what 'numbers' had to do with the laying out this map and its marks, it seemed to her very simple way of doing things.
"How many more days until midsummer?" Gabrielle asked.
"I'll be thinkin' it'll be nine, Gabrielle."
There were four more Xs placed on the map that day, three in the direction they were looking earnestly for and the other in the opposite direction. After four more days, the map was getting covered by the Xs. Several were almost in a line, if you squinted at it. Several days there was not another mark added to the map. But by the time midsummer rolled around there was definitely a pattern to the markings on the map. None had been really close to the megaliths, but the closest had been around a half a quarter day's distance. The morning of midsummer the most glorious and strongest of colors shone down and as Xena marked the place she let out a cry. The other two joined her as she laid the map on the altar stone in the circle and turned it for them to see.
"Look! Whatta ya think?"
"Oh Xena, do you think we may have found the place?"
All were grinning, laughing and jumping around when Xena grabbed Gabrielle by the waist and lifted her up and started swinging her around in a circle. It was then that Finn looked up.
"Wait! Wait! There'll be another one! And another! And twa!" as he turned and looked around them. They were surrounded by the ethereal light arcs.
"Oh my!" was all the blonde could let out. For there were three rainbows outside the circle, and two were a double, being one right above the other. They supposed that the 'double' had extra special meaning, although they didn't know what. They only hoped it was good for them.
"Oh!" Xena murmured and grabbed for the map and the marking utensil.
After they were marked, they studied the map again. And this time there could be no mistake. For the Xs encircled a place where no rainbow had touched down.
"Here'll be where we'll be a goin' first!" As he pointed to the empty area surrounded by the marks. "Doonna we'll be havin' something to dig with?"
Gabrielle was already running to fetch Dite as she called out "I think so!"
Four of Earth's creatures began the trek to the spot they had decided was the most likely the place to look first. It took almost half of the day to reach the place they were looking for. Finn was studying the terrain looking for something that would stand out to him. Finally he saw it. It was a tumulus, but not spectacular like Newgrange. Matter of fact it would go unnoticed by most usual folks but his eyes were trained to see these things from the past. They circled the mound some called 'fairy', for the grass did not grow in a circle up around the slight hillock. Finn tapped a stick he had been carrying every few inches around the base and then further up the sides, completely around the mound. Finally he found what he had been looking for, a slight indention in the ground that had no solid sound underneath, and it was on the east side. He jammed it as hard as he could and it sunk into a cavity.
"Ah! Here'll be the easternmost opening!" he cried out to his companions.
Xena ran up to the young man with a shovel and a pick. "Here! I'll help!" And she handed off one of the implements to him. Gabrielle was trying to pull away all of the loosened dirt from the slowly emerging hole into the tumulus.
"Oooh, I think we're through!" the blonde cried.
Finn stood up and straightened his back and glanced around the area. "Look! Behind us!"
For a rainbow in all of its intensity had formed directly behind them between the circle and the tumulus on which they now stood. Xena straightened up as well and put her hands on her hips.
"Is that a sign or what?" the warrior exclaimed.
"'Tis an 'AYE' I'll be a thinkin'."
They continued at their work after the break, speaking small talk and laughing occasionally. Finally the area was big enough to see it was the escape hole in the eastern side and not easily enlarged more. So Finn pointed to the other side and they went directly to the calculated opposite side of their excavations and started again. Down about two and a half metres Xena's shovel hit something and she hollered "Rock!"
"Aye, that'll be it. The entrance closed by the stone."
They cleared away all of the dirt from the very large stone and Gabrielle was the first to notice carving on it. She ran her hand over the design and asked Finn what it was.
"I'll be dunna nae sure, but it'll be seemin' like a bird - a raven."
"What does it mean?" Gabrielle inquired.
"It'll be lookin' like unto what I'll be told was the mark of the Royal House of Tuatha deDannan. That'll be the design on the sail of Nuada's own ship."
"If this is the door to the opening we'll gonna have to have something to pry it out. A lever of some sort. I don't think a stick will be strong enough as this stone is big." Xena went to the pony and started looking through their belongings. Finally she settled on the tripod, because even though it was not of great weight, it was made of iron and strong.
When Gabrielle saw what she was going to use she admonished her, reminding of a frying pan she had rendered totally useless because she had used it for a weapon.
"Relax Gabrielle.If this doesn't work, I'll find something else."
"Yeah, after it's bent all to Tartarus."
"It'll work, you'll see, and if I mess it up I'll get you another."
It did make an excellent lever and was strong enough that it did not bend or break. The stone with much difficulty was moved a small bit, and then it fell over and a loud whoosh was heard as the air that been held inside for centuries escaped. They peered inside and could see a stone-lined barrow that led downwards. It looked like a type of tunnel with maybe a few chambers off the right and left of the central corridor.
"We're gonna need a light a torch or something."
Gabrielle was ready for that one request. She had found several burl knots, growths on the ends of limbs - which had already fallen to the ground - and brought them forward. Xena wrapped a bit of cloth around the knotted ends and soaked them in a bit of oil they had been carrying with them. She took her flint and striker and set a spark to the newly made torch and after several tries it began to smolder and then flames leapt up. She took one and started towards the opening. Finn grabbed her arm holding her back.
"Nae Xena. Let me be the one to go in first." He whispered for her ears only, "For safety's sake. It'll be a barrow remember?"
After a moment she acquiesced and handed him the torch and he disappeared into the hole. Gabrielle was beside herself with the excitement and the wondering why Xena had let him go in first.
"There's nothing dangerous in there Xena. Why did he get to go in before us?"
"It's all right Gabrielle. Remember he is a druid."
Finn called out to them to come on in and Xena took the torch in one hand and her partner in the other and they slipped through the hole into antiquity. The stone ceiling was rather low for her to stand fully upright, but she managed without complaint. They followed Finn's voice and saw the light of his torch. The two passed several chambers and gave a quick look inside each. There were many skeletons, or what was left of them in each chamber. Arriving to the side of Finn he pointed to an amazing site. For sitting in a chair side by side were two figures, in reality mummies, in all their finery and wealth. They could perceive the red gold of the hair on both of the heads under crowns of red gold. There were designs in many colors, they could see, in the firelight, painted on the wall behind them and at their feet was a large bronze cauldron filled with every manner of wealth, jewelry of every style, gold and bronze coins and bars, precious stones, crystals set in drinking cups and plates and knifes.
"Here'll be ye wealth at the 'end of the rainbow' Gabrielle." Finn intoned.
"Who are they Finn?" the blonde asked reverently.
"From what I'll be a seein' on the back wall I'll be thinkin' it's King Greine and Queen Eriu of the deDannans. I'll be thinkin' that the other twa kings and queens are here as well, for this'll be their Royal Burial Barrow."
"How do you know? I don't perceive any writing on those walls." Gabrielle was intensely curious.
"I'll be a knowin' from the ogham designs and the feelin' I'll be havin' inside me. If all'll be quiet I'll be sure and they will speak to me."
Xena and Gabrielle stood quietly for several moments, each taking in the sight before them. Finn rocked a little back and forth and hummed quietly. Then he raised his arms and opened his hands. He took a step backward to steady himself and turned around smiling.
The three then backed out of the chamber in respect and looked directly across from it and into another chamber which held a similar couple. And at the end of the corridor a third held the third of the triumvirate. All had cauldrons of intrinsic designs full of their wealth and personal property. Finn identified each set, Cuill and Banba, Cecht and Fodla. All three were the kings and queens of the deDannans when they fought their final battle with the Milesians.
"Now we'll be a knowin' what happened to them after the battle, when they'll be just a vanishin'. They'll be a comin' here! Or were brought here." He looked around as the tears started to fill up his eyes. He blinked them back willing them not to fall. "Gabrielle, what'll we be a doin' with all of the 'Rainbow Treasure'?"
"Nothing Finn. Leave it with them. They've had it for so many seasons, let them keep it for eternity. Besides what do we need treasure for?"
"Gabrielle, my Heart, why did we spend so much time and energy on this if you do not want what we found?"
"For the adventure Xena and the game of trying to find the elusive 'End of the Rainbow'."
"I'll be a thinkin' that they wuddna nae mind if we each took something small from each cauldron."
"Finn, wouldn't that be a travesty to take something from these noble ancestors?"
"I'll be a speakin' for them, as a druid, when I'll be a sayin' they wuddna nae mind. They would be a welcomin' ye to take something to remember them by."
Gabrielle was very much overwhelmed and took her time in choosing one object from each cauldron. The other two reached down and chose something from the treasure in front of them, and they backtracked to each chamber and repeated the process. Finn and Gabrielle chose artistically beautiful small brooches and rings, Xena took as her choice a dagger, a smaller knife and a scryving instrument used in skinning game. All were as sharp as the day they had been put in the cauldron, and all were decorated with elaborate swirls and geometrics. And the end of the dagger's pommel was set with a large red-purple stone. They then in turn walked back to the opening and found when they emerged that it was dark, as dark as it would ever be on midsummer night. Time had escaped them while they were under the hill. They weren't even sure if it was the same day as when they had descended into the barrow. The moon had risen and was near to setting when they came out.
Dite was close by, as Xena had had the forethought to hobble her, so they grabbed their sleeping blankets from her back and rolled up on the ground in soft grass. Xena had unburdened the small horse of the packs she so dutiful carried, she needed a rest as well, and she rolled over several times in the grass, scratching her back. After the pony had completed several rolls, stood up and shook herself, Xena replaced the hobbles. The next morning they would fill in the holes they had dug and try to cover any trace that they had been there. Snuggling into the furs, Xena wrapped her love in her arms and kissed her forehead.
"Happy my Heart?" she whispered in a pink ear.
"You cannot imagine Xena. This had made everything Finn has been telling us so real. The people he spoke about did live and this has made the history come alive. But I just thought we'd find an old cauldron filled with stuff. Well, we did, but this was not what I expected." She kissed the only part of her love that was close to her mouth, Xena's neck, near her pulse point.
"See, it proves to have faith in following a dream. Finding the elusive treasure. But Gabrielle, you tell stories about people that lived, gods and heroes. You sound as though you didn't really believe Finn's stories or histories."
"I know Xena, but most of those stories I tell are ones I have experienced or even met the people involved. This was different, like a hazy past, that now is reality."
"Sleep love, we'll discuss this more tomorrow." And they both fell into the realms of Morpheus with physical and spiritual exhaustion.
Later that morning, when they awoke, they set about their tasks of covering up what they had uncovered the day before. The stone was set back in place and the dirt packed around it and then the turf that had been removed placed back to cover their intrusion. Gabrielle stamped on the ground to make it look like it had originally when they had come upon the tumulus. Xena then went to the eastern side and started covering up the small escape hole they had excavated first. Standing a ways back they surveyed their work and deemed it well-done. For when the nearly daily rains came again to the area, all traces would indeed be covered.
They packed up all of their belongings again on the patient pony and made their way to continue their circuit of the island.
"What do you want to do with the map Gabrielle?" Xena inquired.
"I want us to burn it and leave no trace of what we found, doncha think Finn?"
"Aye, that'll be the best Gabrielle. I'll nae forget what we found, but I'll forget where it'll be. Me thoughts on what exactly happened after the battle will be forever changed, though me story will nae be."
"I'll write a story about what and who we found. I'll not say where it was except at the 'end of the rainbow'."
"Wonder why no one ever has found this before?" Xena asked.
"I'll be a thinkin' that the people were afraid to look - of what they'll be a findin' - and mostly they'll just be forgettin' about it through the seasons. The Milesians didn't care to look and those that followed for many a generation didn't either. So legends started up about how the deDannans vanished underground and possibly became faeries of the otherworld. I'll be a thinkin' that some lived after the battle and mingled and married with the Mil. Although too many seasons have been past for someone nae to be a lookin' for them. I'll be a thinkin' that most believe there is a curse on openin' a barrow, let alone robbin' the sacred place."
"Will we be cursed?" Gabrielle almost sounded desperate, on the verge of being frightened.
"Nae, nae. They'll be a tellin' me that everything is all right. Especially for ye twa."
The three said no more about their find and continued their travels.
They were nearing the end of their circulatory trip of the green island, having been to nearly every foot of area on the isle. Each step brought adventure, beauty and fun and interesting things, a lot that Xena hadn't remembered in detail when she had been here before. Because of her "haze" she had not been so aware. This time she saw things through her love's inquisitive and innocent eyes. Maybe Gabrielle was not so innocent any more, but the vistas and the spectacles of her birthland made it seem so, and Xena got swept up in the spirit of everything, especially when she had said over and over, "Whatever Gabrielle wants, Gabrielle gets." And she meant that with all her heart. She would see to it.
One silvery twilight evening while they were alone, for Finn had gone to spend some time with his mother and visit with a young girl, or so they thought, Xena and Gabrielle were settling down for the night. They were fairly close to the dun where Finn's mother lived.
"It isn't often that we are alone together anymore."
"Aren't we fortunate that our friend has found a friend?"
"Yesssss. Mmmmm, I love the scent of you. I want to kiss you all over."
"So what's stopping you Xena?"
"Nothing," the warrior said as she began at the top of Gabrielle's head and started down her beautiful face, mapping every plane with her kisses. She hummed a tune for awhile and sung words with it for a couple of refrains, repeating her desire to "I want to kiss you all over."
Gabrielle, for her part, ran her fingers through the inky hair of her beloved and massaged her scalp even scratching lightly the back of her head and neck. That seemed to motivate her further.
Xena worked her way over the chin and down the luscious neck to her bard's pulse point at the front of the neck and sucked for a moment or two. Then across the collarbone to the shoulders, repeating for each side, and down the arm, both inside and out. She tarried on the blonde's underarm and licked the area. Gabrielle giggled and jumped.
"Oh, that tickles," as she squirmed.
Xena continued to the wrist and the pulse on the inside. She covered the palm of each hand and over the back and down each finger, giving a special kiss to the tips and knuckles of each. Then she took back up where she had left off near the throat. Down to each breast and encircling the outer edge and spiraling inward until she had claimed the prize. Gabrielle arched her small body into the larger one. Xena's hands had been caressing the soft skin during the entire trip and were now moving around the back of the beautiful young woman. She lifted her onto herself, pressing the small body close. The kisses rained down in loving triumph of the person she so adored. Moving ever southward, she covered the hard muscled abdomen and dunked her tongue into the asymmetrical navel, then to the hipbones and circled them. Not stopping or tarrying long she dove into the soft curls at the apex of Gabrielle's legs. Only kissing momentarily, she continued her journey down the muscular legs. Circling each from side to side she kissed each knee to the excited giggles again. The warrior knew her love's ticklish spots and did not miss a one. Tickling can be a form of cruelty, but this was lovingly given. Down each shin to the feet. She kissed the upper part of the foot and held it by her heel. Lifting it up she continued the lavishment to the arch underneath. Once again, Gabrielle jumped and jerked, but Xena held on and continued her job until every toe had been sucked, tongued and graced with a kiss. She then turned the bard over gently on her stomach and continued the trip up her backside, kneading first her partner's feet and then calves after they had been bussed. When she reached the hard-muscled backside she stopped as if paying homage at a temple. At the small V where the buttocks reach the back she lavished the area with her tongue, then continued her loving and caressing following up the spine to the shoulders again. Gabrielle was completely wiped out from the emotions that had coursed through her body, but she wanted to show Xena how much she cared for her.
"Let me, Xena, do something for you."
"No, love just relax. I just want to hold you tonight as we sleep."
"But you do that every night Xena."
"Yes, but tonight's special."
"Why is that?" as she turned to face the love of her life.
"For tonight is the "anniversary" of the first time we were together. By that lake on a bed of moss."
"Oh, my love, I had not forgotten, I just really didn't keep up with the date. How do you remember all of these things?"
"I have ," they said in unison " many skills." Then laughed together.
"You know Xena, you taught me how to swim that day. I was so excited. It was so much fun! And and that's not ALL you taught me that day You you taught me how to hmmfph "
Xena had closed her mouth over Gabrielle' almost taking her breath away.
They kissed deeply. Each tasting the inner cave of the other and sucked on the tongues darting in and around the mouths.
"I love you so much Xena."
"As I love you, my Heart."
Then the realms of Morpheus overtook them until the morning sun awoke the lovers with a warm hello.
It wasn't the sun that said hello, it was a male voice! Finn had returned. But he wasn't shocked to find the two women wrapped up in each other, as he had lived and traveled with them for a while, but the girl whose hand he had ahold of, was rather wide-eyed.
"Xena, Gabrielle, I want ye to be a meetin' Meadhbh*." He squatted down next to the entwined couple.
"Uh, hello," Xena volunteered. She blinked her eyes as they focused on the girl at Finn's side. For she was the spitting image of the one in her arms. "Honey, wake up, we have company."
She squeezed the blonde slightly. Gabrielle slowly pried one eye open and looked first to Xena and then Meadhbh. Her mouth flew open and she sat bolt upright. "Unnn, Xena ."
Xena covered the bard with the sleeping robe that had slipped off when she sat up.
"I'll be a knowing, 'tis strange is it not?" He pulled the silent girl forward to the couple still on the ground. He was grinning from ear to ear.
"'Tis happy I am to be a meeting you. I'll be a hearin' about you two all me life," Meabhbh ventured, then gasped. For she then had gotten a good look at Gabrielle.
Gabrielle still hadn't gained her voice. Xena poked her with her elbow, "We're glad to meet a friend of Finn's."
Gabrielle finally squeaked out "Any friend of Finn's is a friend of ours."
Aside to Xena she whispered, "Xena did you notice how much she looks like me?"
Meadhbh whispered into Finn's ear a like question, "Aye, and she looks like me, or I'll be a lookin' like her ooo?"
For it was true. They were mirror images, except Meadhbh looked exactly how Gabrielle did when Xena brought her forth from the flowers. Meadhbh's hair was a little more red gold, but the green of the eyes, slight dimple when she smiled and her shape was the same.
"Tell us Meadhbh," the bard finally got out, "are you kin to any flowers?"
"What Gabrielle's trying to say is is I dunno, what ARE you trying to say?" Xena somewhat stammered.
"I just wondered if we were related."
"Oh," the warrior murmured. "It's been said that in the world everyone has a twin Gabrielle. Maybe she's yours? Look how many I have, Diana, Leah and Meg. And who knows who else will pop up."
"Uh huh," Gabrielle responded looking skeptical.
"Strange, isn't it?" Finn finally voiced. "Meadhbh'll be from me mother's steading. We all will be a goin' there, for I'll be a wantin' ye to meet me mum, Ayver. It's just a small walk aways."
Finn took Meadhbh by the hand and they walked a short distance away, talking between themselves, but affording privacy to Xena and Gabrielle to arise properly and dress. The young couple returned when they saw things were being packed back on Dite and the camp was being broken.
"They look very much in love, don't they my Heart?"
"Mmm. Yes they do Xena. How is it, you suppose, that Finn, in all of Eire found someone that looks just like me?"
"Why don't you ask him? I'll bet that is a story in itself!"
Everything back in its traveling place, the four started out to the east for the home of Ayver MacConnor. They walked and chatted among each other until Gabrielle finally asked,
"How did you meet Meadhbh Finn?"
"Well, I'll be remembering a small child near me mum's home, but I'll nae be getting' back to see her so often. The small child of me memory has grown into this lovely lass."
He looked into Meadhbh's green eyes with a look of a lovesick puppy and smiled. The girl smiled shyly back at him and they swung their entwined hands as they walked.
"I think this is the first time Finn's ever been in love, Xena," Gabrielle whispered into the warrior's shoulder.
"Oh, I don't think so, Gabrielle. Maybe just the first time his love has been returned. He was so smitten with you, don't you remember?"
"No he wasn't."
"Yes he was."
"All right, I'll concede maybe infatuated with me. But he's gone "over the edge" now."
Both women giggled slightly as they walked leading the pony, behind the young couple.
The company crested a small rise and looked down into a beautiful sparkling glen. There were several houses, pens for animals and gardens surrounding the well kept dun. All walked with a light step into the inhabited area. Finn's step seemed lighter than usual, he was nearly floating, the girl being his anchor to keep him close to the ground.
A door opened and a woman that beauty had not deserted her for all her years stood in the passageway with her hands on hips.
"Well. Finneghan Sian Dunnesline O'Connor! It's about time you brought these acclaimed people in for breakfast!"
"Oooo, breakfast!" Gabrielle cooed. She was hungry and they hadn't even taken time for her to swallow a few berries. Xena removed her arm from around the bard's shoulders and gave her a pop on the butt. The blonde hopped a step, but continued her rolling walk as if nothing happened.
"Always thinking of your stomach Gabrielle?"
A sly grin was cast the warrior's way, "Noooo, not always."
"So these'll be the two of the legends ye'll be a travelin' with, me son?"
"Yes mum. This'll be Xena," he tugged her forward and she grasped Ayver's outstretched hand. "And this'll be Gabrielle," he did the same with the smaller woman.
Gabrielle smiled and put both of her arms on the arms of Finn's mother and squeezed them warmly at the contact. Ayver looked first at Gabrielle then at Meadhbh, then back to Gabrielle. She squinted her eyes and repeated the optic movement.
"I'm so happy to finally meet the woman who brought Finn into this world," Gabrielle beamed sincerely.
"And it's pleased that I am to finally be able to show welcomes to the two people that have the whole of Eire buzzin' liken to the bees."
"What do you mean, the whole of Eire?" Xena asked skeptically.
"The tales of ye two have become legends and the thought that they'll be truly to life and travelin' all across Eire is spoken of in great reverence and excitement. Nae be it often that legends of the distant past come to life." Ayver continued, "I canna believe that ye'll be actually here in the flesh, in me house."
They were shown to the table where the usual bowls of the oatmeal porridge were. Gabrielle had really grown to like the stuff and she added the honey, butter and milk to hers. Xena did likewise. There was also fruit and a small amount of soft white cheese, to which the blonde's eyes opened widely. She added these ingredients too.
Ayver noticed the similarity between Gabrielle and Meadhbh and just looked from one to the other, a few times comparing. The girl even ate like Gabrielle. Adding the same things to her bowl in enormous portions. How the both of them stayed so slim was a phenomenon.
"Dinna ye know the "
"Yes!" four other voices answered to the older woman's abbreviated statement.
"It's remarkable, isn't it?" Gabrielle said. "I mean that the two of us look identical."
Meadhbh was rather embarrassed and after turning a bright shade of pink, she kept her head down.
Xena reached over and lifted up her face with a finger to her chin and said, "Don't be bashful Meadhbh. I think it's wonderful that there are two such beautiful women in Eire like you and Gabrielle."
"I'll be nae ashamed," the girl answered back, "it's just that I'll be a lookin' like someone so famous and beautiful. I dinna mean to and I'll be so honored to be a lookin' like Gabrielle. I nae knew what she'll be a lookin' like."
The bard got up and hugged the girl who turned into a mass of smiles. It was almost like looking into a mirror Gabrielle thought.
"Well Finn, me son, what are ye plans for this girl Meadhbh?" his mother asked.
"If she'll be a having me I hope to join with her," he answered brightly.
"Finneghan O'Connor! Of course I'll be a havin' ye! I've waited many years for ye to be a returnin' home and lookin' for me."
Ayver and Gabrielle both clapped their hands beaming with joy. Xena crossed her arms over her chest and smiled a knowing smile. Finn wrapped his arms around the young woman and swung her gaily in the air in a circle, both of them laughing.
"Looks like we're gonna have us a joining!" Xena sung out.
Of course the warrior and the bard's joining took place many years ago in the lands of the Amazons, after many years of each wondering whether to do so or not. Finally no other obstacles stood in their way, they both relented and have been glad about doing "the deed" ever since. They both had the idea at the same time "should we renew our joining vows?" This different culture would prove interesting to the both of them in their rituals and ceremonies. Both Xena and Gabrielle always had a thirst for knowledge. Xena just didn't always let it show.
Finn and Meadhbh separately approached Xena and Gabrielle.
Finn asked nervously, "Umm Xena, would ye'll be a standing with me? Ye'll be the one I'll be a wantin' to assist me on this day." He grinned slyly and looked up at her through his eyebrows.
"Assist, hmmm? But what about your brother?"
"Oh me mum said he won't be able to a bein' there, as he'll be on the road with his cattle in the far north, and nae returned home in time."
"Do you want to wait for him, Finn?"
"Nae, it's ye I'll be a wantin' by me side. I feel like we'll be very close now so I can be a askin' this of ye."
"Of course I will be there for you, my friend."
Every time Xena saw Meadhbh, or glanced her out of the corner of her eye, her heart skipped a beat. Unconsciously she of course thought it was Gabrielle, and her heart always beat uncontrollably when she spotted her love. But a slight movement of the girl's hands or turn of the head confirmed that this was not her partner and Xena took charge of her palpitating heart. It was hard to get used to seeing double. No wonder Gabrielle had such trouble when Diana, Leah and Meg were around. She tried to remain stoic as usual around others, but sometimes it was hard. Xena had to finally admit, if just to herself, that she had human weaknesses just like everyone else.
Meadhbh took Gabrielle by the hand and led her aside.
"Will ye'll be a standing with me in this ceremony Gabrielle? Also I know nae when it comes to what's expected of me. Ye'll tell and help me?" She blushed a very beet red.
"Meadhbh, I'm honored that you ask me. Have you no friends you want to have stand with you on your special day? Friends that you've had for your lifetime? You've only known me for a short couple of days."
"I'll be a knowin' ye all me life Gabrielle. I grew up knowing ye. Please be a standin' with me."
"Yes, I'm happy to stand with you and do whatever is expected."
They hugged each other and Meadhbh started crying because she was so happy.
"Hey there, I didn't mean to make you cry," the bard said.
"Ye'll be nae making me weep Gabrielle. I'm just happy, that's all. But ye must be a tellin' me or explain and show me what to expect from Finn and me first night together. Ye being so experienced and worldly."
"Oh, um, ah, uhhh all right. Riiight Um, don't you want your mother to tell you these things?"
"No, me mum will be a tryin' to scare me. She loves me and all and wants to protect me but I know ye'll be truthful with me. I'll be hearing so many things I'll nae be knowin' what'll be true. But YE'LL be with me. I'll be a trustin' ye."
"Oh my!" Gabrielle murmured.
Gabrielle took the girl by the hand and they went by themselves to a secluded place by a small pond. There they sat side by side on a flat rock overlooking the edge of the water and Gabrielle tossed pebbles into the pond for awhile.
"You know Xena told me that when I throw a rock into the water, that even though the ripples and waves change the surface for a while, the rings growing larger and larger until they reach the edge, the rocks change the face of the bottom of the lake forever, the surface returns to the way it always looked, the bottom never does."
"How do ye do that?"
"Say all of that in one breath?"
"Oh I dunno, it's a gift!" Gabrielle smiled at her spitting image.
Then she wrapped her arm around Meadhbh's shoulders holding her close. Gabrielle really liked this girl and really had opened her heart to her. The younger woman leaned her head against the elder accepting the warmth and insight that was afforded her. Gabrielle took her hand in hers and squeezed it in affection.
"Always remember Meadhbh, you have to have patience with the ones and things that annoy you."
"Did Xena teach you that?" the girl softly asked.
"Yes. She's a wonderful insightful, generous and loving person."
"She is? And ye'll be a lovin' her very much." Meadhbh seem to finally understand the connection between the dark warrior and her friend sitting beside her. " All right Gabrielle, please be a tellin' me the things I'll be a needin' to know."
Xena wondered at the two lookalikes here in Eire. But her excellent hearing confirmed what she thought was happening, was.
The ceremony was set for a fortnight away. There was much to be done, by all parties. New clothes would be made and Xena and Gabrielle had to learn their parts. A druid instructed them on what they would do and Finn filled in the rest. The two were exploring the neighboring countryside walking hand in hand through the deep grass and clover. They were inspecting some unusual formation in the ground when it became so still that the only movement was a soft breeze was breathing on the tops of the tallest trees. Something was about to happen. The irascible weather was changing once again.
"Uh oh," was all Xena could get out. She suddenly yanked on Gabrielle's hand and they ran for cover. They didn't make it.
Lightning cracked and hit the earth in four bolts in a compete circle around them. They fell to their knees. Xena held and sheltered her love.
"Are you all right?"
"Yes, is Zeus mad at us for something?" Gabrielle cried.
"Um, I don't think Zeus is up here love. This is some other god's fury," Xena replied.
She stood up pulling the smaller figure with her.
"Let's get out of here!"
Since Finn was in reality one of the Primary Bards of Eire his status granted him a few benefits. His joining was to be presided over by the Chief Druid and in the stones of Tara.
Much pomp and ceremony went into this joining, when really all Finn wanted to do was run off with his bride into some forest. But his status demanded more and so the parties of the families and well wishers traveled to Tara for the ritual. It was not too far from Ayver's home and she made sure that the Joining Feast was packed ready for transport.
When the parties arrived flowers had been strew about covering the area. There also were flower garlands strung about the standing stones. The music of harps and pipes permeated the air. The friends and families were already standing within the perimeter of the circle, along with the Chief Druid, Xena and Gabrielle.
The soon-to-be-joined couple walked up the hill and circled the outer perimeter of the circle of stones once. Both were dressed in new clothes. Meadhbh's were of a light saffron color long, loose and flowing in a Grecian style, pinned at the shoulders and down the arms with six golden semi-circular shaped fasteners, the terminals shaped like flowers and enameled red. The bottom of the dress had an embroidered border of fanciful flowers in many colors. Gabrielle had loaned her a pair of golden earrings that were made in the style known as flange-twisting. They were delicate thin ribbons of gold twisted in a circle to an angle bar that passed through the ear. On her upper arms were golden wrought bands of an antique style that had been passed down in her family for generations. The designs were hard to decipher what they were except they had a geometric look to them. She wore a circlet of multicolored summer flowers on her head and a thin woven girdle of gold knotted at her waist, each end had a small tinkling bell of gold woven into the fringe. Her hair Gabrielle had done in six braids and used the gold balls catching the hair at the end of plait. Three rather large and thick braids at the top of her head were pulled into a fanciful interwoven topknot and held in place with gold and enamel pins. Meadhbh was simply golden in color and dress. Her green eyes shone out of all the radiant golden color sparkling their own version of verde.
Finn was also dressed in a deeper shade of saffron, with a loose flowing tunic embroidered up the sleeves and around the neck with zoomorphics and tight breeches that stopped below the knee. As he had the right to wear at least seven colors due to his rank as Bard, they were of a woven multi colored fabric of stripes, checks and triangles. His waist was encircled with a simple belt of hammered gold with designs engraved into its surface. The buckle at the front was bronze with spirals inlaid with enamel done in an intricate figure 8 locking system. On his left shoulder was his family's heirloom pennanular brooch pinning a brat of blue, green and gold checks. It encircled his back folding up to catch the end in his belt on the right side. His auburn locks had been cut shorter and his mustache had finally agreed that now was the time to make an appearance. Finn had trained the meager amount to lie long to the sides of his mouth. The rest of his face was clean-shaven. He also had a flower wreath on his head. Around his neck he had a necklace of amber and enameled and granulated gold beads. On his arms and hands he wore the gold rings that he had been gifted with for his talent. His forefinger of his right hand had three gold rings, two between the first and second knuckle. One was from the barrow. The couple was both barefooted, to be able to soak into their being the spirit of the Circle and Mother Earth.
When the guests saw how beautiful Meadhbh was, they kept glancing over to where Gabrielle was standing doing double takes. For they could not believe how two people not related could look so much alike. Their eyes kept going from one to the other, back and forth. Xena stood quietly and smiled to herself.
The full moon had risen to its zenith when they walked into the circle to music of the harp and pipes. A bell was sounded three times. The couple entered the enclosure from the eastern end and stopped in front of the Druid. Xena and Gabrielle stepped to either side of the happy couple. They each wore the beautiful embroidered clothes they had bought when they first arrived on the island. Both carried a red silk cord. Finn and Meadhbh were asked what they wanted to say to each other and the witnesses. The moon spilled its light down on the ceremony, making it nearly light as day.
Finn began with "I have come of my own free will with perfect love and perfect trust to join with ye Meadhbh. I commit myself to be with Meadhbh Fedelm nic Donough in joy and adversity, in wholeness and brokenness, in peace and turmoil, living with her faithfully all my days. May the Gods and Goddesses give me strength to keep these vows. So be it."
Finn took one of the rings from his forefinger and placed it on Meadhbh's forefinger of her right hand. Then he took a second, the deDannan antiquity, and placed it on the ring finger of her left hand.
Xena stepped to his side holding an object in a soft leather skin. She handed it to Finn and stepped back. He slowly opened up the leather covering and inside was a beautiful gold torc. It was of an antique design from the ancient Celti-Iberni. The ring was a large flat twisted piece to resemble the waves of the sea, but the terminals were exquisite. They were shaped like delicate flowers and acantus leaves surrounding carved jewels of coral. The whole of the terminals seemed to be the elaborate hairdos of feminine faces placed at the base connecting the ring with the fanciful ends creating an open fronted C. He gently opened it wide enough and placed it around her small neck and stood back admiringly.
"This'll be nae an old piece, for I had it made for ye in the old style with designs of me own. It'll be nae to show to everyone that I'll be a ownin' ye, but that I'll be a lovin' ye."
Meadhbh countered with " I too have come of me own free will with perfect love and perfect trust to join with ye Finn. In joy, adversity, health and sickness, peace and turmoil, living faithfully with ye for all me days. This I'll be committing to ye, Finneghan Sian Dunnesline O'Connor. The Goddess does grant me the will of me vow, so shall she help me keep it. So be it."
The girl took a leather cord from her belt. Strung on it was a single piece of jet, carved in a remarkable form of an entwined zoomorphic holding a harp, and placed it around the young man's neck. Finn removed the ring that was left on his right hand forefinger and transferred it to his other hand.
"This'll nae be so grand as the torc ye gifted to me, but be a knowin' I too had this made for ye to remember who gave it to ye when ye are not around and who loves ye, and has for many seasons."
The Druid handed them a chalice filled with honey mead. The cup was an interesting shape and design, being silver with enameled discs in a geometric pattern on four sides. On two of the sides were small silver ring handles. The chalice was engraved around the sides and on the foot in a language known only to the druids. Around the lip and on the neck connecting the foot were filigree gold bands. Finn held it for Meadhbh to drink from and then she held it for him. They then held it for their "assistants" who each took a sip. It was then handed back to the Druid who also took a sip, then set it down on a small stone altar, after spilling some of the contents on the ground.
Xena and Gabrielle stepped up beside them and took the red cords they held and wrapped them in a figure 8 around the four clasped hands of the couple. Xena tied a special knot around the center of the crossed cords. The two assistants smiled at the joined couple and bent down and kissed their cheeks. The Druid laid his hands on the knot at the center of the bound cord and it easily fell off the hands of the couple towards the ground. Meadhbh caught the cord and slipped it through her belt. For it was considered unlucky for it to hit the ground. Each then took a silver knife from their assistants and cut a lock of hair from the other. The hair was placed in a metal box and given to the Druid. He then placed it in a hole dug into the center of the circle and covered it up with dirt.
He said, "May the peace in our hearts mirror the peace of the Old Ones. Blessed be."
A bell is heard to ring three more times. The couple kissed to the shouting of encouragement from the onlookers.
Xena and Gabrielle went to opposite sides of the stone circle and took the garland down from the stones. Every person within then came to one side or the other and held on to the floral festoons as the Warrior and the Bard led them down to the Joining Feast. Much music was heard as the happy newly joined couple walked hand in hand to the heavily laden tables. The dawn was starting to break as the firmament opened up in the east to the magnificent hues in celebration that can only be produced in the skies of Eire. The sun rose over the end stone in the circle making it and the whole place look as if it were afire. In the pastel blue gray western skies the golden full face of the moon smiled down on the celebrators. This was a very good omen.
When everyone was seated at the tables, Finn asked for his old harp, Amergin.
"I'll be a wantin' to sing for me love."
Everyone there was pleased to hear the famous bard sing as they all knew well of his talents. He tuned the harp automatically and began a lilting melody that invoked the feelings of his heart for his love. Only once did his eyes stray to Gabrielle, who sweetly smiled at him and entwined her fingers with Xena's. Finn then began the song he wrote for his wife and sung on this day of the Joining Feast. His eyes then never left Meadhbh's.
"On this greenest bit of land,
My heart's become thine's.
We are as one and will live in the blessings of the land.
We will have the music of the flowers blooming
And the laughter of the Sun in the valleys,
We will dance on the wind.
The birch, the oak, the adder all bow down
To the golden child of the earth.
I am so fortunate to have her choose
My heart for hers is perfect.
All my arts for Meadhbh's asking,
The reward for her to reckon
I'll only love her as Earth for Sky
With my last breath I'll cry out for her.
Through seasons my love for her will grow
And know no bounds, like today
It burst the seams of my being.
The greenest of boughs is like her eyes and
Deep pools of water, still but strong
Her smile is like the sun shining down on me.
The warm arms that hold me and the curve of her thighs
Entice me to the joys I envision in her embrace
For she is my love
My world, my life."
His playing of the harp continued for a few measures and glissandos rippled the still air and then stopped. The harp still rung with its song, singularly.
Meadhbh looked at him shyly with her large green eyes spilling its bounty down her cheeks. Everyone was moved at the beautiful sensitive declaration from the Bard. Many eyes overflowed from the sheer emotion it evoked.
After a void of silence, the musicians started up again and all parties took to the enormous amounts of food piled high on the tables. The feasting continued for most of the day, with gifts being brought to the young couple during the eating. In fact the newly joined couple hardly ate anything at all. They laughed and talked with different people as they came forward to gift them. There were pots, pans, buckets and bowls of beautiful wood inlaid with bronze, and other housekeeping objects, such as blankets and fur skins, baskets of every size, some stools and even some chickens. Nearly every item was handcrafted by some gifted artist, such as the intricately wrought firedogs and tripod and cauldrons. Much was made over each gift by Xena, sometimes loudly joking to the audience about what each gift would be used for. The people were laughing heartily at her antics. Gabrielle dutifully kept a written account of everything and who had given it.
Meadhbh's mother and father, Donough and Evlyn, rose to speak with their daughter and her husband. Evlyn had assisted in most of the preperation of the food and the flowers. She had also made the clothes for both Meadhbh and Finn that they wore today. The embroidery was her special talent and she excelled in it. She and Ayver, Finn's mother, were the best of friends and this was a long held dream of the both of them that their children would someday unite. Today she and her husband were so happy. Donough clasped the arm of Finn and slapped his back.
"Son", he said, "I have longed for the day when I could be a callin' ye that. Even when ye were a wee child playin' in the dirt."
Evlyn held her only daughter tightly to her and kissed her cheek. This was a much-loved child, in a family that showed its affection.
"Its so happy I am for ye daughter."
"Ye mother and I have something for ye both," Donough started. "I'll have made the furniture, bed, tables, chairs and whatnot for your new abidin' and ye mother'll have made four new sets of clothes for the each of ye. And warm new cloaks."
"New ghillies and boots are for ye both," Evlyn proudly proclaimed, showing them to the assembled guests. They were beautiful with insets of different colors of leather in fanciful designs on the upper halves of the boots. They were lined with sheep's wool for comfort and warmth. The ghillies, two pair each, one set were low cut, the second to the ankle, were of beautifully colored leather with hard soles to uphold the rigors of walking the land.
Donough kissed his daughter and stepped away grinning holding the hand of his wife. He was a highly acclaimed craftsman, and the furniture that he made was sought out by many chieftains and ri for its beauty.
Ayver then rose to make an announcement.
"Many years ago when me Brendan and I were joined. His father Conor MacFith gave us a house in the woods. A nice cozy cottage it was too. We were very happy in this warm house. We lived there until our first child was born. The ri had gifted Brendan with another larger house on the outskirts of his great dun. It is there I'll be livin' today. And today I'll be a givin' unto me son and his bride, me daughter, the house where first his father's father grew up. It's been a waitin' for some time now, as Brendan said to me afore he passed over, "Give it to Finneghan and his bride on their Joinin' Day." It'll be a Bard's house once again. And wee ones will be fillin' it with laughter agin."
Ayver walked over to the couple and kissed them both on the head, her son and new daughter.
Loud cheers were heard from every quarter and toasts from the drinking to the happy couple. Again the musicians started up a rousing array of tunes. The pipes and drums called to everyone. The blood was boiling with passion. Someone jumped up and yelled "Dance!" Many people immediately rose and began a time old Celtic dance of festivity, the male spirit of Fire penetrating the female spirit of Earth. The pipes sang and the drums thudded as happy feet danced to the old rhythms. The pattern of the dance held everyone and they danced, danced, danced. Other dances and tunes followed with as much enthusiasm expelled from the participants.
The music and the rhythms were getting to Gabrielle. She moved in time with them.
"Come dance with me Xena," the blonde implored reaching out her hand to her partner.
Xena took her hand and they integrated with the mass of other jubilant dancers. Throwing back her head, Xena twirled her partner in with the others and generally lost herself in the green gaze that was placed on her. They came closer and Gabrielle leaned into the tall woman and seductively moved one way and then the other until she had the complete attention of her warrior. She brought her own brand of dance to add to the celebration, and she whispered, in Greek, into the sensual ear of her love, "I want to dance for you." In their own little corner of the terrace Gabrielle began her combination of the Grecian and Mediterranean dances she knew by heart and the newly learned Celtic ones. She circled the warrior never breaking eye contact with Xena, who had stopped her motion to better take in the movements of her Heart. One of her hands was always in contact with her love, from the soft cheek to the sensual shoulder, down an arm and up again, to the waist and across the back to a shoulder, up the neck and back to the cheek as the talented dancer continued her gift. The music had slowed to a sultry slowness, as did Gabrielle. One by one the exhausted revelers dropped away and watched the scene unfolding. For they knew who these two people were and held them in high esteem. They marveled at the movements that Gabrielle put her body through to the high cry of the single pipe. Undulating her body in front of and around Xena she captured, not only her love but also the whole of the guests at the Joining Feast. Xena's eyes never left her partner. Both of them became one with the music and moved together slowly, provocatively. Their eyes were heavy lidded and almost black as they came to halt in an embrace. They paused for a moment, coming back to this world, and looked around at the crowd watching. Then everyone began clapping and laughing. As did they.
"YOU have many skills, my Heart," Xena breathlessly said.
A few other traditional dances began and then one with Finn and Meadhbh leading opposite lines. The leaders each held a white kerchief that they twirled in the air. They circled in and under each other until they were wound up into a knot and couldn't move. Then the two at the opposite ends took the kerchiefs and unraveled the knots dancing in the opposite direction to untangle the lines. Xena and Gabrielle sat this one out and just relaxed in each other's arms watching everyone else celebrate. Much laughter and singing continued until Xena and Gabrielle rose and went to Finn and Meadhbh who had returned to their seats.
"We didn't know what to get for you two," Gabrielle started.
"So we thought maybe, you could use Dite," Xena intoned.
"She's a very good Chonnemara-bred horse," Gabrielle quickly put in, "and very sweet. She won't give you any trouble and will do anything you ask of her."
Xena leaned down and put something into both Finn's and Meadhbh's hands. It was something she had made. A smaller matching blade like Kincaid for Finn and a small dagger that equaled the beauty of the larger knife for Meadhbh.
"You'll never know when you'll have a need for these, and yes I made them."
She leaned down so only the young couple could hear, "I ah have many skills."
Finn chuckled. He had heard that spoken so many times. Now he understood. He reached over and took two things from the top of the table and handed them to Xena. She opened her hand and looked rather strangely at the objects in her hand.
"They'll be for luck. For when someone gives ye a cutting instrument ye should give a coin for it and there'll be no bad luck or feelings between the two."
"Oh," Xena countered with her eyes large and eyebrows raised as usual when surprised, amused or startled, in her hairline. Then she smiled at Finn, nodded her head knowingly and said, "That's a good custom."
Gabrielle leaned over to them after Xena had stepped back and handed them a rolled parchment.
"This is a story I have written for you two. It has nothing to do with our travels here, Finn, just a story I made up for you to read to each other and maybe the little ones when they come and to remember us by." Gabrielle then leaned over and kissed both Finn and Meadhbh, holding the girl tightly to her and looking over her to Xena with large sorrowful eyes, asking silently for strength. She received it with a wink and smile from her love.
"Ooo and how will we be ever forgettin' ye two?" Finn asked.
Both the young people were so overcome with emotion that they each had tears running down their faces. Finn because he knew that his time with this legendary couple was near its end and Meadhbh because although she didn't know them as well as Finn, she had instantly loved them with all her heart. She also sensed that their time here was short and she would miss them as well. She had wanted to get to know them better. But she would remember them always. Not just because she looked just like Gabrielle, but because they were a part of her past and present, if not her future.
The flower bedecked newly joined couple then rose as their "assistants" had encircled them with a single garland and since each held an end, Xena and Gabrielle pulled for them to follow the renowned duo. The warrior and the bard led them off into the woods to their newly acquired home. Many others of the party followed singing along with the harp, drums and pipes and carrying the mydrid assortment of gifts that had been acquired. At the cottage, Xena opened the door and led them in. She hugged Meadhbh and Finn and Gabrielle kissed them both. They left the way they came in, closing the door tightly behind them. The sun was starting to sink in the horizon as everyone left the young couple for their first night together alone.
"Well, that was some shindig!" Xena exclaimed.
"Yes it was rather wonderful, wasn't it?" Gabrielle was quite euphoric.
"Come on Gabrielle, we need to find a place to bunk in for the night. It's been a long couple of days and I'm kinda tired."
"Xena it's too far to go back to the inn. Can't we find a place out here to stay, just for tonight? We could even watch the stars."
"Gabrielle, do you remember when we were on Tara, there was a place up there we can sleep and I think it will afford us some protection if the weather gets unstable which is highly likely."
"Sure Xena, I'm game. We didn't really get to explore Tara very well either."
So off they went, back up the hill and through the opening in the rings to a building, run down as it was, on the uppermost hill at the back of the ring-fort.
"I think this was some sort of special building," the warrior said as she looked around. "Maybe this is the place called the Hall of Heroes."
For she had uncovered spearheads and broken bits of swords. And high up in the thatched ceilings she could see something outlined that looked like round shields. It was hard to tell, because darkness had come upon them quickly. The warrior made a pallet of long grass she had gathered and the blanket they had retrieved against one wall at the back of the hall across from the door and soon they were coiled into one another on the ground in the sweet smelling grasses that were their mattress.
"It was a lovely day. Finn and Meadhbh were just so cute. I hope she is enjoying tonight."
"I know I will" Xena murmured into a pink shell-like ear. Then she kissed it and dove her tongue inside. Gabrielle squirmed and giggled again.
"Oooo, stop it. No, don't stop!"
It turned into a kissing marathon and who could get the upper hand, or lip. Xena with her size and weight usually won out, Gabrielle was small but very inventive, but tonight it was a draw. They both were exhausted and happy to come to an enjoyable tie. They quickly assumed their regular sleeping positions. But soon after she fell asleep, Gabrielle turned on her side and Xena spooned in behind her.
Xena splayed her large hand across an expanse of the bard's belly. She felt that she could encompass more of her love with a wide-open hand. Each finger tingled with the touch of her love. And the touch of each finger on the bard's skin sent small electric surges to her inner core, until it became mundane and soothing. Gabrielle cooed in her sleep and snuggled even closer. There was not even a hair's breath between their bodies. Xena was at peace as never before and she slept deeply and comfortably.
It began with a clap of thunder. But there was no rain. Again the thunder rolled. No lightning or flash of light. Xena jumped in her sleep. She disentangled herself from her partner and sat up, with eyes still closed.
"NO!" she screamed," NOOOOOOOOOOO!" (In actuality she hadn't said a word aloud.)
For into the Hall of Heroes marched warriors armed to the teeth. Another group more heavily armed than the first was chasing them. They began combat, hacking at each other creating much chaos. Bodies and limbs were flying every direction. Xena was paralyzed, she couldn't move at all as this conflict surrounded her. It was growing in intensity even though many were being defeated. As soon as one man fell, three more took his place. She turned her head left and right trying to see a way out for herself and Gabrielle, who was still sleeping and hadn't been affected at all by the commotion.
Xena shook her lover and screamed "Wake up Gabrielle, you must get out!"
Gabrielle only mumbled, "mmmmmffhhhh."
Xena tried to rise and defend the two of them, but still she couldn't move. She became more and more agitated at her predicament. When one side looked like it was definitely gaining the upper hand, the other quickly gained the momentum.
"Why can't she hear this, or feel this?" Xena asked.
Someone was almost upon them and lifted a sword to slice off Gabrielle's head. Xena finally was able to move to cover her love. And when she did, the figures that had creating such bedlam dissipated into an amorphous fog. Suddenly Xena's eyes shot open and all she could see was the dark interior of the Heroes Hall. Nothing, no warriors, no fighting, no flames. Nothing. Nada. Zilch.
But the smell of blood was on the wind.
Xena warily looked around for anything, a movement, a sound, something out of place.
She rose quietly and stealthily and covered the vast hall completely. She looked outside. All was quiet. Not even a blade of grass moved. The sky was nearly cloudless and the full moon shone down brightly illuminating the hill and stone circle. One standing stone, that was in reality not too tall stood closeby. It was only about the height of her love, Gabrielle. The light from the moon picked out the different designs carved into it. Xena was irresistibly drawn to it. She moved across the deserted lawn until she stood directly in front of the stone. There was a smooth surfaced area of fitted rock surrounding it like an apron. She stepped onto this perimeter and walked up to get a good look at the artwork on this single upraised stone. Only about a head taller than she was, the sides were covered in a series of spirals interlacing and interlocking around the whole of the rock. No pattern seemed to be repeated on the entire area of the stone. The background was cut away leaving the main design standing in low relief. A key design was cut into the lowed quarter of the upright. She recognized that pattern from some similar Greek ones. She laid her hands on it to feel the depth of the carvings and a sound emitted from the stone. It started as a hum and built in volume until it virtually sang. Xena continued her exploration, as a blind person would do on the sides, after initially startled by the sounds. But she did not remove her hands.
"This is the Lia Fail or Stone of Destiny," a voice from behind intoned.
She was startled, but only turned her head to look and see who it was. The stone continued with its song. Xena recognized the voice of the human as belonging to the Druid who had participated in the joining ceremony earlier.
"Most are afraid when the stone cries out," he offered.
"Why should I be afraid of a stone? Only when they come flying at me am I sometimes frightened. At home a lot of mountains, stones and even buildings made of them cry out in the night."
"Why do they cry out?"
"I suppose that the heat of the day expands the rock, and the coolness of the night retracts it causing the rock to cry as it grates upon itself."
"Well, don't tell that to any of the people here in Eire. They believe that when the Lia Fail cries out when someone touches or mounts it that that person is the rightful-born leader. You haven't come to be that person have you?"
"Oh no, not me. I've been there, done that. Besides I was just trying to get the feel for the beautiful designs carved into this stone."
"Be that as it may, back away from the stone and we'll say no more about it."
"Riiiight." She thought to herself, 'curiosity sometimes always got the better part of me.'
"Tell me, o learned one, what battle was fought in that building? And who was it?"
Xena was trying to be gracious to the Druid, as she had no quarrel with him or any of his class. Matter of fact she owed them a great debt.
"Xena, did you see vicious fighting between two races in the Hall?"
"Ummm, yes I did. And when I thought one was going to kill Gabrielle, and I tried to protect her, they all dissipated."
"Several battles have been waged within those walls. Not only between two races of peoples fighting for control of Eire. But there have been fights between brothers resulting in loss of many lives and hatred that carried on for generations."
"These were dressed in heavy metal armor, well some were. Others wore nothing at all, and some had their long hair flowing covering most of their bodies. Some of the warrior's hair was many colored and stiff like spikes, and white at the ends. The swords and shields some carried had the gleam of copper and others the look of bronze. I know this must be from a long time ago because we have had weapons of steel for some time. Many of the weapons broke at contact with each other."
"You are very observant, my child."
"It's what I do. It's what I know. I mean fighting. Although I haven't been doing too much lately. At least while we've been in Eire. Not that there weren't chances, mind you. I just chose to let Gabrielle and Finn try to straighten out the differences. Nearly all of the time that worked. When it didn't I just tried to intimidate, not actually fight. But I would've."
"I know, Xena."
"So who were those guys?"
"Bloodlust runs deep in this land. The warriors you saw were the Tuatha de Dannans and the sons of Mil.'
"Oh I've heard some about them."
"The invading Milesions were trying to wipe out the race of the Dananns. They think they did, but they did not. This was just one of their vicious battles for supremacy. As a snake sneaks into catch its prey so did the Sons of Mil try treachery against the defending Dannans. It worked in the Heroes Hall and many were slaughtered, but in the end the Dannans became a legendary race we all look and pray to from time to time. They did not want to fight, but live a peaceful existence with everyone."
"They didn't seem anything like peaceful to me inside there."
"No, when they were pushed, and there was no other way, then they could become powerful and barbarous. Their teachings and sciences held that there were peaceful ways to live. The Sons of Mil just chose to not understand and the outcome was disastrous for the Dannans. I ah saw it umm ah."
He shook his head and straightened himself and looked Xena seriously in the eye.
"You must take care of yourself and Gabrielle for the future. A wondrous thing is to happen. Get back to her now."
Xena left the area of the singing rock and was quite glad that she and the Druid were the only ones to witness it. Almost immediately as soon as her feet left the rocky apron the stone stopped its noise.
"Hmm, funny that," she thought aloud. "Almost like weight on the outer stone edge triggered the noise."
She crept back into the warm nest she had created with Gabrielle and cuddled up behind her.
"Ummmm, cold," was the murmured cry from the blonde as she sidled away from the cool body that tried to encompass her.
"Here love, warm me up," as Xena pulled the warm body back to her chilled one.
"Where've you been Xena?" Gabrielle groaned sleepily.
"Had to get up for a bit," was her only reply.
Soon both were back in a deep slumber.
Some time later, still in the predawn hours Gabrielle was awakened to the smell of smoke.
"Fire! Xena, the building's on fire!"
She tossed and turned in her lover's arms and started fighting the hold on her. Xena merely relinquished her hold on the blonde and turned over on her other side. Gabrielle became quite agitated and shoved her in the back.
"Xena! Get up! It's fire!"
"Hmmmphffff," was her only reply.
The blonde sat up and looked around, even though her eyes were closed at the time. She lifted her head and smelled the air. Smoke! It definitely was smoke! She got up cautiously to investigate. She went to all corners and crevices of the hall following her nose, sniffing. She opened the door and looked out. She could see a line of torches coming up the hill towards them! Soon they were right outside the hall screaming for the occupants to send out someone. She couldn't understand them. She dropped the bar in place securing the door and ran back to their pallet.
"Xena, wake up! So many men are outside trying to get in! They're trying to burn us out!"
She shook her several times and looked back over her shoulder at the door that was being hammered into. The door was nearly splintered in two. It was coming loose from its hinges. Gabrielle was panicked. She saw flames outside the high openings that were unshuttered. They caught! Flames were dancing across the roof. The hope of a safe exit and escape was quickly going by the wayside. She shook Xena violently again.
"Xena! Xena! Please wake up! They're nearly here!"
She turned and saw dozens of hate-filled men charging in towards them brandishing swords and torches. Gabrielle was crying hysterically. She was so frightened. The men surrounded the duo menacingly and flames were rising up all around, as the building became immersed in the inferno. The men were hollering something at her in a language she couldn't understand. Gabrielle leaned over her love and wrapped her arms around her neck covering her long body as best she could. She buried her head in the angle of Xena's neck and tightly shut her eyes. There was a whoosh noise and Gabrielle looked up expecting the building to be falling in burning embers around them. There was no one. Just a faint fog was all that remained.
But a hint of the smoke was on the wind.
Gabrielle slowly disengaged herself from her sleeping lover and went to the door. She slowly removed the bar she had put in place and opened the aperture. There was no damage - no splintering, the hinges were still intact, there were no burn or scorch marks.
The bard quietly exited the great hall and walked out into the moonlight. The moon had slid over towards the west but it was still hours before it would set. The lawn was almost as light as day. She could see in all directions from the hill for, she felt like, the whole of the island. She could almost see and smell the sea to the east.
Gabrielle spied a lone standing stone off at an angle about 20 paces from the end of the building. She was drawn to it for some unknown reason. It stood the height of three tall men and would have taken the circumference of three large men holding on to each other to encircle it. The stone was decorated with carvings near the very top, which was rounded, and a band of carving from about her eye level to the ground. It was obvious that the embellishment continued below the surface of the earth. She reached out her hand to touch the carvings.
"Careful little one," a voice from behind her uttered.
Gabrielle jumped and whirled around and came face to face with the Druid from Finn and Meadhbh's joining. He stepped out of the shadows and held out his hand to her.
"You startled me," was all she could utter, for her heart was still racing from the danger she had just endured inside the hall. She slowly got control of her erratically beating heart and asked, "What are you doing here?"
"I'm here to explain to you of the past."
"What do you mean?"
"The stone you were about to touch is called the Oenghus stone. It was used for rituals concerning virgins. It is set in honor of the God of Love, Oenghus."
"Oh, my," she said slowly looking up to the top. "Do you mean deflowering them?"
"In a manner of speaking. The shadow of the stone, sometimes called the root, was instrumental in preparing and eventually seducing virgin girls."
"Well ..you don't have to worry about me in that respect." She sighed with relief. That was a very big stone, shadow or not.
"No, I know my precious bard, You and the lovely woman Xena have a unique relationship. You should be proud for the two of you have undergone some terrible misfortune together and always you come through it together."
"Yes that's true, but why did you stop me from touching the stone?"
"It would not be healthful for you, little one. Just take my word on it. You have a special event to look forward to and you should not be deterred for any reason, be it an accident or planned."
"What special event? Oh and who were those men that were trying to burn us down?"
"The event you will know in time. Just please be careful. And the men were the guards of an ancient king, trying to apprehend the lady promised to the king."
"That they would burn her to death? What kind of king would do that?"
"A ruthless and selfish one. She died and he never got to know her love. It was foretold that the union of both of their lines would produce the greatest king Eire had ever known. Sadly that never came to pass."
"What was her name?"
"Derdriu of the Sorrows," he simply said. "Her mother was ravaged by this same king - Conor Mac Nessa. He never knew that she was his daughter. He only knew that when he saw her, he wanted her. Even though their lines were already crossed, they were destined for an unhappy path. For the child Derdriu had with Naisha, Conor's nephew, would have fulfilled that prophecy. Unfortunately for them and Eire, that child was sacrificed in the court of Leinster to appease the gods at the death of their king."
"I've heard of this king. He was the uncle of the great warrior CuChulain, right?"
The teaching of druidism came out in the man and Gabrielle was glad for it. He had touched her head lightly and she had seen the entire story of Derdriu and Naisha quickly unfold before her eyes.
"Oh, that was terrible. To lose a child like that. I don't know what I would do in that situation."
"So come away from the Aoengus stone, my precious flower. Come and be safe in the arms and heart of the one who holds you so dear."
Gabrielle smiled her special smile, "Thank you so much for telling me this bit of history of Eire. I'm keeping a written record of everything I've heard and been taught about Eire. What is your name, o learned one?"
The Druid turned just before he dissolved into the shadows where there were no shadows,
"Cathbad" he said simply and was gone.
"Why does that name ring a bell? Guess I'll have to ask Xena when she wakes up."
The bard reentered the Heroes Hall and quietly padded back to the sleeping pallet, which concealed the person she loved more than anyone else in the world, and crawled back under the covers. Snuggling down next to the warm body, she slid her arm around Xena and found her usual place on Xena's chest and under her chin.
The warrior smiled in her semi-sleep and whispered, "Glad you're back."
Outside a storm flew in from the sea and raged about the raised hill-fort dropping rainwater to make everything even greener. But the lightning and thunder were softer to the couple asleep in the hall, they heard it not.
Morning came but the couple still hadn't risen. The soft rain continued until just before the middle of the day. When they finally awoke and crawled out of their nest to meet the rest of the day, a regular thing met them. Well, regular in Eire. A rainbow of high intensity stretched it seems from one edge of the island to the other. Being on the highest hill afforded them the perspective of trying to see where exactly did the spectrum land on the earth.
"Xena, everytime I look at our special symbol, you know what I'll be thinking."
"I know, my Heart, me too."
"I'm so glad we took time to follow the rainbow and look at what it was pointing to."
"How are you going to tell the story about our search and discovery?"
"I dunno yet. Probably something about not giving up and hope for those brave enough to look for their special treasure at the end of the rainbow."
The warrior reached over and kissed her love lightly on the top of her flaxen head as her answer.
"You know Xena, I had the strangest dream last night."
"Some men were trying to burn down the building we were in. Then they disappeared. I got up to look for them and ran into the Druid from Finn's ceremony out on the lawn. Do you know who he was?"
"Didn't catch his name."
"He told me his name was Cathbad."
Xena turned to Gabrielle, her eyes large. She grabbed her upper arms. "Do you know who Cathbad is, or rather was, love?"
"No .. didn't Finn say he was the Chief Druid?"
"He is or was or I don't know. HE, Cathbad, was the Chief Druid when I found you!"
"I thought you said he had died and gone to the Tir Nan Og, or wherever druids go."
"I just supposed that he was gone. I didn't even bother to ask the three in the Grove, because I thought if he were still alive, he would be there. I thought he looked vaguely familiar but it's been so long "
"Well why don't we ask Finn. Surely he would know. And won't we be seeing them again in about a fortnight?"
"Yes ..hmmmmm," as Xena mentally put this into the recesses of her memory to ask the young bard when they again met.
"About those dreams we had do you suppose it was something we ate or drank?"
"No my Heart. They were the Histories we've been hearing about, come to life . or nearly. Remember in the place of Conann's Tower, they were there too."
"And just about scaring the bejeebers out of us!"
"I don't remember any warriors or battles coming back to life in Greece like here, and seeming so real. When I look at or go to places at home, I have memories, but they do not "come alive" for anyone else, like here. We all experienced these different happenings like we were there, right my Heart?"
"Yes Xena. I saw everything too," confirming what the warrior had said and comforting her with words of assurance.
They decided the best thing to do was to go back to the inn where all their possessions were stored. They had a few more things to accomplish before they left this area of Eire to complete the circle of their travels over the isle. There was not much further to go to return to Dubhvlin and inquire about a ship home to Greece. It would be hard to leave when the time came.
While they were at the inn Gabrielle decided that the time under a roof, with hopefully not much in the way of distractions would afford her the opportunity to catch up on her writing. She had something that had been bouncing around in her brain for quite a while, and she was determined to put it down before any of the phrases or ideas could escape. She toyed with a few words for a while but then wrote these words:
I love a good place with music and song
With dear friends and sweet wine is where I belong.
But there's something about me, on which I'll shed light,
There's a strange misconception that I must set right.
For you all think a bard's life is easy and free.
But I've learned the hard way that's not how it'll be.
My life's not my own, nor the work of my quill
Instead I'm controlled by a spirit's sad will.
In the midst of the night, a thought will arise.
My mind starts to race and I open my eyes.
While everyone slumbers, I cannot be still.
I must stumble and look for my parchment and quill.
There's no eating or sleeping; even my love must wait.
I must write the thoughts down quickly before it's too late.
Because she is fickle, to insure her return,
I write when she wills it, it's a lesson I've learned.
I've tried it without her with results only fair,
It's the Muse that makes special the poems that I share.
She's the sweet breath of life, she's a spark kindling fire.
If she'd just change her timing that's all I desire.
If sometime you see a strange gleam in my eye,
Or I quickly depart without saying goodbye,
To huddle and mumble and scribble with pen
You'll know I'm just under her spell once again.
For it takes but a word or a phrase that I hear,
To set my mind racing, for she always bides near.
So pity this bard, I'm not really daft,
And help me pay homage to the Goddess of my craft the Muse Calliope.
Xena read the poem Gabrielle had written and chuckled.
"My Heart, this is quite funny, even though every bit of it is true."
"You know I'm not that serious all of the time. I'm wondering how I can turn these terribly serious and weighty stories of Eire into something not so dark and foreboding. It seems like all they did was fight, battle and war."
"And at home, what were the stories mostly of?"
"Oh but Xena we have some beautiful stories of . of .."
"Oh I don't know, there ARE beautiful stories."
"Yes, my love, of you."
"Um Xena, I think I'm going to have many, many stories to take home from Eire. Not only what Finn has told me, and others, but what you my love have let me know about too."
"That means you'll have a non-ending repertoire."
"Um I guess so it's just that "
"What if I forget? How can I deal with that?"
"You'll never forget my Heart. And besides, haven't you written all of this down?"
"There you have it. The Memory, that's You, turned Myth, that's Me, is Legend, that's Us."
They both laughed and fell into a comfortable embrace. They walked outside hand in hand to a meadow and awaited the twilight and the first stars showing their faces for the evening for them to ponder and speculate about. Gabrielle's head was swimming with all of the new stories she couldn't wait to tell and Xena? Well, she was so proud of her bard. She would go anywhere for her. Do anything, be her protector, although Gabrielle could pretty much defend herself nowadays. But for the future? That was to wait and see. She wanted them to enjoy the short time they had left here, and she'd store all of this away in her heart.
Next: The Journey Home
*Meadhbh - pronounced Maeve
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