Disclaimer: Xena, Gabrielle and any other characters featured in the actual TV series are copyrighted to MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures while the rest of the story and other characters are my own.
Authors Note: This story builds upon the X:WP episode: "Between the Lines." A viewing of it is recommend prior to reading!Mother Of Peace by Bel-wah
It takes me no small amount of effort, but I do it.
I lift the heavy lids of my eyes and I force myself to keep them open.
I blink them a time or two so I can adjust to the mellowed late-afternoon sunlight that seems to infuse my room with a glow from within. The shadows are deepening, drawing in upon me like a relentless evening tide.
I turn my head slightly so I can look out a window that faces to the west. There is an acacia tree that stands just outside my little cottage; I planted it myself, long ago. I feel my face crease in a smile, as I admire how burnished fingers of golden light flicker and play among its gently swaying branches. For it is the simplest things in life that I have come to treasure, to value the most.
"Dont worry - he will be here soon, Mother."
I turn and gaze upon the dark, worried eyes of my friend, Atlhan. Lightly, his palm strokes my arm, in a soothing, comforting gesture.
"I know," I say, hearing the faint whisper of a voice that I barely recognize as my own.
With a sigh, I give in to the weighty burden pressing down upon me, and I close my eyes once more. I will rest them for a time, until he comes. It will not be long now, I have no doubt of it.
My gnarled fingers idly tug at the fringes of a favorite woolen blanket that rests on top of me; Atlhans mother made it those many years ago when she insisted upon serving as my attendant. It seemed natural, the way Atlhan doggedly followed in her footsteps at my side, and I have seen the son of Atlhan grow to manhood, too.
Even now, I can hear the hushed voices of Atlhans wife and family, of friends and followers whove chosen to join with me in my mission of peace. Such a crowd that fills my humble home, and though I should find it bothersome - for I was never one who enjoyed being the center of attention - I do not. What strength I can draw from their presence, from their belief in me - I feel it now, as I always have. And somehow, I sense they do the same.
This day wears on as so many have before it, but this is the last one I will see through these tired eyes. For I am an old woman; ancient, some might say, and I know well enough when the time has come for me to take my leave. Atlhan does not want to believe it. I can see it in the pleading of his eyes, hear it in the way his voice falters when he speaks to me.
And so things have carried on as they always have, as if nothing were about to change. These people, my people, they come and go, bearing gifts and offering prayers to the gods.
The rattling of the ox carts passing by rouses me intermittently from my slumbering haze, and I hear the tinkling laughter of the children just outside my door, trying to behave as best they can under the watchful eyes of their parents. I have no real sense of time now, and it is strange how when our lives dwindle down to a precious few remaining moments: there is no sense of future, there is only that place where one exists in the now, and time has no meaning there.
The aroma of the evening meal begins to drift through the house, and I can detect once more the spiced milk tea and chicken soup that Bihar, Atlhans wife, has been trying to get into me for the past three days.
But I wont eat it. Again, I smile to myself, for although I have had a healthy appetite in my day, food holds no allure for me now. Yes, me, Arminestra, the mother of peace, has finally come to a peace within herself. It is time for me to move on from this place.
Footsteps - but I know it is not him. Not yet. I can tell by the rustle of material, the delicate clicking of the bangle-bracelets, and the scent of ginger, that it is the loyal Bihar.
"Something to eat, good mother?"
My useless stomach trips, slightly, and I wave off the steaming soup. I open my eyes to see her worried gaze as she turns from me to Atlhan, as if somehow he can implore me to eat. But he knows my wishes, and he simply shakes his head no. Bihar sadly retreats, like a scolded child.
Mother, is what they all call me, and though I have no children of my own, I could not love them more than if they were all mine. I could never have predicted that it would end up this way, honored and praised by countless people who see me as a symbol, as a guiding force in their lives. If only they knew how I was compelled to do all the wonderful deeds they attribute to me! How I was directed by a force deep within me, one I could no more understand than that which gives rise to the sun at each break of dawn.
All the hatred that withered and died, the wars that were never fought, the heartache that was never allowed to bloom - they say it was thanks to me, but I wonder.
Even now I can recall how narrowly we escaped enslavement and death at the hands of the evil Khindin, when she threatened our valley. Strangely, just when it seemed she was at her mightiest, she was vanquished from our lands by Shakti and his men. I think even he was surprised at how quickly our fortunes turned.
How long ago all of that seems, now!
Yes, he will be here soon, and I have promised myself that I will wait for him, this last time.
I turn again towards the window, briefly capturing in my minds eye the blue of the sky through the trees, and again my eyes slip shut.
I think of a young seedling in the forests that spring from the low mountains near this place. How young and eager the new life is, stretching, reaching towards the face of the sun.
Its innocent naiveté bars any thought of fear, of failure, and somehow it finds within itself the strength to survive the choking of the vine, the scorching droughts, the raging floods.
It sees many of its sister and brother trees languish and fall away, yet for some reason unknown to it, it survives; growing stronger, and reaching - always reaching - towards the sun.
Only much later does it become aware of its influence within the forest: of the great shadow it casts, the shelter and shade it provides; a home to the birds of the air, the creatures of the woodland.
There were times when it trembled in the darkness of the night, but later its confidence grew, knowing without fail that the dawn would surely follow even the blackest of midnights.
It did not know it at first, that the sun was its source, but eventually it grasped a knowingness of the power it could draw from it, welcoming the life that it nourished; embracing even the torrid fire that coursed through its limbs on the most sweltering of days. For to feel it, to experience it, was to truly be.
Time waits for no living thing, and it happened to this tree, as it does to all the stands of oak and pine, of teak and acacia, that dwell in the lower mountains. The evening winds blew more coldly, the nights lasted longer and longer, and the circle of light seemed to slip farther and farther from the grasp of its branches.
Its limbs became dry and frail, no longer able take up the nourishment of the sun and rain. A biting chill that it could not shake, wound its way along its roots, causing it to bend and weep... like the old woman that I am.
I creak my eyes open, feeling the grit of a life-long journey in the corners of them, and I spy in the corner - a staff? - no, it is my knotted walking stick, of course. I no longer have any use for it.
The galloping of a horse pulling up to my door makes my heart leap, and the tedious task that has become each drawing in and out of the breath in me, eases.
"Shes here!" I can barely choke out the words.
"What--?" A quizzical look passes over Atlhans face, and then he recovers himself. It is apparent that he thinks at last Ive lost hold of all the good sense I was born with. "Shakti comes, Mother!"
I dont bother to respond to the poor man, Ive so little energy left, but doesnt he know thats what Ive just said? His grief has apparently affected his hearing.
There is a stomp of footsteps in the outer room, and my curtained doorway is pushed aside. And there he is, as I knew he would be. Shakti. I watched him grow from a young boy into a fine leader of his people, a great warrior who wields his sword only in defense of peace and justice. How proud I am of him, as he stands before me now!
He swiftly moves next to my pallet, and Atlhan bows and steps back, giving him room.
"Mother," my champion cries, dropping to my side, "do not leave us!" The deep, brown pools of his eyes are wet with tears, and I realize that I must be crying too, I think, because my vision blurs, and for a brief moment, here in the dying sunlight, I can see bejeweled flecks of green in those eyes.
"I am not leaving," I say, reaching a twisted, weathered hand up to him, ignoring the light-headedness I feel. He takes my hand greedily in both of his own, as if willing me to stay, and a sob escapes his throat.
"It is only the time for my soul to move on! Remember what I taught you," I continue quickly, for I know my time is short.
We are a part of that never-ending cycle of life, I have always believed this. It pushes us onward, sweeping us up towards the sun, seeking the light, and then returns us to that place of our birth. Gently we fall, back to our mother, the earth. We renew her and nourish her, and eventually, inevitably, she gives rise to a new life, a new hope, reaching skyward for that essence which is our very being.
The light, the love, the goodness: I can see it now, in the eyes of Shakti, and I see a soul within them that I know very well, though I cannot put a name to it. Familiar, yet not. An old friend, or one Ive yet to meet? In the circle of light where we dwell, it is the way of things.
"Please, Arminestra, stay!" and he turns to Atlhan. "Isnt there something - anything - you can do?"
"No," he shakes his head. "Mother has made her choice."
"Motherrrrr...!" I feel the weight of Shaktis head on my breast, and I find the strength within myself to embrace him, one last time. I feel how his body quakes with his sobs, and I let my fingers rest on the soft locks of his hair, in a gesture that seems so familiar, so natural to me.
"Ssssh..." I say, and I lift his face to me. "Be happy for me. I need you to be strong. For our people." There is no-one else in the room now, not that I can tell, anyway. For all I can see is Shakti. "Do it for me. Promise...."
"I promise, Mother."
I think I will close my eyes soon, and go to sleep. There is no sadness, no regret, and even this old woman is surprised at that. I had thought there might have been a surge of... of something... to fight off this chill I feel, but quickly the notion fades away.
I feel a calmness envelop me once more. My life will end here. I will die peacefully in this bed. And a part of me finds some humor in that, though I know not why.
With all my being, I know that my soul, my karma will go on from this place, and I welcome it. Take comfort in it. To know that the future is a living, breathing thing, shaped by the consequence of our actions in this life. And as good as people claim that I am, I wonder. For in my own mind, Ive fallen far short of the standards Ive set for myself... there was so much more I could have done, if only Id made more of an effort, taken more time! But Shakti - the likes of him are rare indeed, and I am honored to have known him.
My eyes close.
"I am lost without you, mother!" I hear him say it softly... feel the warmth of his breath as his lips press against my wrinkled brow.
And with that kiss, I feel it, the flashing heat of the light, the knowing, the revelation of all. The power of it sweeps me up and into it; it is so beautiful! The colors of it - more than I have ever seen in this life - take my breath away! And I cannot help it that the briefest of laments courses through me, with the understanding of how this convergence of life, of love, of self, will be all too fleeting. Enlightenment. I am given this gift, at this moment of my transcendence, to see it all. And I weep at the joy of it.
"No," I selfishly cling to one last breath, so that I may tell him of this wonder! "I will find you!"
I cannot know if he heard me or not, but as I at last release the grip my soul has upon this poor, tired body... as I reach for the light, I realize this: it does not matter.
Comments welcomed at: Belwah82@aol.com
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