Disclaimer: Xena Warrior Princess (nor any characters ever featured in the shows Xena or Hercules) is not owned by me. I claim no copyrights to the show or characters, and this fan fiction is merely a fan effort of support and love.
Summary: Augustus Caesar has retaken power in Rome, and he wants Eve to return, either as his wife, or as his warrior. To make sure she will give in to his demands, he orders Ledricles, a promising warrior who wants everything Eve walked away from in Rome (especially Caesar), to kidnap Virgil. Now Eve must return to fight in the Arena, or agree to be Augustus’s wife. If she does not choose, Virgil will pay the price with with his life, and so will every Elijan in the known world.
Author’s Note: Back in 2001, I began writing a virtual tv series called The Messenger. It was a spin-off of Xena Warrior Princess, which had ended its six year run that year. I was digging through some old files and came across them, and I decided to start writing the stories over, taking them from the original screenplay format to this novel form. Each story has already been written, now I'll convert them to novella's. This is story number 2 in the original series, but I've decided to make it story number 1 in the new novella series. I hope you enjoy.
by Caina Fuller
Eve knew she was no longer sleeping, but experiencing a vision, for her part in everything had changed. She was no longer a participant of things that happened around her, but a spectator. She saw herself in a place of utter blackness, except for a rough stone wall that stretched before her, and upon this wall images moved. It was like watching a play, only instead of actors there were shadows of people dancing upon the pitted surface of the wall.
The first images were blurry, but slowly sharpened and became vibrantly colored, so that she could barely see the wall beneath the shadow people that moved upon them. She saw herself with Augustus Caesar. She was dressed in a toga of deep blue, trimmed with gold. Her hair was piled high above her head, woven with some kind of gold thread that glimmered in the candlelight. Augustus has her in his arms—a place she loathes to be—a place she had never wanted to be, even when she’d promised to be his wife and his champion. He kisses her. She endures it, and then the images begin to blur.
Fuzzy shadows began to solidify and sharpen. This time there are two men locked in battle. One is a stranger, but the other man is Virgil. He shows signs of having been beaten, split lip and blackened eyes. Blood pours from his mouth. He is clearly outmatched by the man he is fighting.
That image soon blurs, and when they sharpen they reveal two more figures face to face. This time it is her, wearing a replica of her old Roman uniform. She looks deeply conflicted and sad.
Again, the image blurs, and when it sharpens, she sees herself running a sword into the stomach of a Roman warrior that she knows she’s seen before. This time, her face is full of determination and acceptance. She sees her lips move, but no words come out.
Finally released from the grip of the visions, Eve sits up, wide awake. Covered in sweat from having lain under blankets too long as the morning sun crawls along toward its zenith, making the day hotter with each passing second. Morning meal would have been long past, and Eve wondered why no one had come to wake her. She had an idea that the Elijans who worked and lived at this temple may have been afraid to approach her. They had an aggravating tendency to treat her as though she were some kind of god.
Fresh water was available in the women’s bath. Eve quickly washed and put on fresh clothes before going out to the yard where the sounds of construction were loudest. The cocophony of sawing wood, hammering, and congenial laughter were comforting and normal after the unsettling visions that had taken her in her sleep that morning. Eve wished that whatever power had granted her the visions would also take them away. It wasn’t the first time she’d made that wish, but each time she did she hoped it would be the last.
An old woman approached Eve, walking quickly and easily with youthful energy belonging to a much younger person. She greeted Eve with a kiss on the cheek and took her hand.
"Adara," said Eve. "Why didn’t you wake me?"
"I tried, but you resolutely refused to stir. Since you were breathing well and your heartbeat was strong and steady, I decided to let you rest. Though I was about to come an insist you awake and help out around her, Messenger of Eli or not."
Eve laughed a genuine laugh. That’s what she loved most about Adara. She didn’t care who Eve was supposed to be; she treated Eve the same as everyone else.
Adara had sharp eyes. They had a way of seeing more than the world around her, but into the people around her. They often looked beneath the surface of the eye to see into the soul. Adara’s penetrating gaze now lingered upon Eve, and she gave Eve’s hands a squeeze.
"Come. You need something to eat."
"I’d rather wait until mid-day break to eat," said Eve. "But I would like some water."
The path to the well was clear, but on either side were heaps of rubble, broken statues, and splintered beams of partially charred wood that gave off a powerful odor of ash. Eve thought it would always be there, as a reminder to the people who chose to worship at this temple, of all they had endured, and would still endure, for their faith.
"I don’t mean to pry, Eve," Adara said, as Eve drank her second cup of water, "but something troubles you. Do you want to talk about it? Is it…your mother?"
"No," said Eve. She sat down her cup and started toward a group of women who’d hauled baskets of freshly washed laundry into the yard for drying. "I had a vision, just before I woke."
The women with the laundry looked at her nervously. Everyone at the temple walked on eggshells around Eve, and it annoyed her. They behaved almost identical to the way people behaved at the height of her power as a Roman general, only now the fear and loathing had been replaced with respect and adoration. Well…perhaps a little fear remained, but not because they believed she would go mad and hack them into pieces. Instead they feared her because to them she was nearly as Holy as Eli himself, and she hated it. No matter how many times she tried to explain that she was only Eli’s Messenger, that her job was only to help spread his teachings, the same as them, they idolized her. It set her apart from them, and that led to loneliness, for none of them wanted to have a casual conversation with a Holy woman. As Eve began to hang the laundry, hoping they would realize that she was only a person, just like them, she told Adara every image she’d seen in her vision.
"You, killing a man?" Adara said. She had an expression of deep disbelief on her face. For some reason it struck Eve as absurd, that someone would find it impossible to believe that she would commit murder, considering she’d literally killed thousands of innocent (and not so innocent) people in her time.
"That’s what happened."
"You say you were dressed as a Roman warrior?"
"Those days are behind you, Eve." Adara said. She looked resolute. "What you had was a nightmare, not a vision."
Eve nodded. She wanted to escape the vision, not dwell on it with Adara. Even though she knew she hadn’t had a nightmare, regardless of how nightmarish the images were, she decided it was best if she allowed Adara to believe she’d convinced Eve that everything was okay.
Satisfied that the matter was settled, Adara left to prepare a stew for evening meal. Eve worked hard, not just at hanging laundry, but at washing.
The washroom was not only hot from the fires to boil the water, but humid from the steam that rose from the cauldrons in which the linens and clothes were washed. She stopped only long enough to take a salt tablet (to keep from dehydrating in the humid room), drink some water, and eat a bit of bread and cheese during the mid-day break, when the heat was at its worst. Her goal was accomplished, for while she worked, she was able to forget about the disturbing visions of things to come, and she was able to stop worrying herself about how they would come to pass.
Evening meal approached. The last of the washing fires were extinguished and Eve went with the other women to the women’s bath to clean up before meal. Every muscle in her body ached, and she was so tired she knew she would sleep so deeply that night that no visions, or dreams, would come to her. She’d attacked her work, and for the most part her war with the laundry had helped her to win the battle with her unconscious mind to assure her a good night of rest.
"This stew smells wonderful," Eve said. She just wished there was meat in it. Denying oneself meat, because it took the life of an innocent, living animal, was the one rule Eve had had the most difficulty adjusting to. She had to eat like a pig to get full, and she was never really satisfied, unless they were allowed to eat fish on the fifth day of the week, their Holy day of rest.
Taking a bowl of it, along with bread and water, Eve moved off with Adara to the graves where it was shady and peaceful. The talk from the other Elijans was at a minimum here, and she didn’t want to impose on the others and make them so uncomfortable that they ate in tense silence. She ate and studied the names on the headstones, not recognizing any of them. Most of them were new, and held the bodies of the innocent who’d been killed in recent Roman raid on Caesar’s orders, hence the reason she’d come to help them rebuild, and to encourage them. She nearly choked, however, when she turned to look at the headstone she’d rested her water on. Joxer.
Adara patted her on the back. "Chew your food carefully, dear."
"Joxer. I didn’t know he was buried here."
Adara nodded. "His family had him moved here a few weeks before the attack, when they brought their mother to be buried."
"I didn’t know she’d died," said Eve, looking at the headstone beside it that read Meg. "I killed him, you know."
"Livia killed him, not—"
"Please, don’t," said Eve. She felt a surge of annoyance.
"Don’t differentiate between me and Livia. Two different names don’t make for two different people in my case. I’m the one who ran that sword into Joxer’s gut. I’m the one who made his wife a widow, and took him from his children. His blood is on my hands, not some…counterpart."
"But you are two different people. You feel the guilt, you always will, but you have to know you’re not the same woman now that you were then."
Eve felt the stirrings of a lump in her throat. "What would you know of guilt?"
Adara’s face suddenly filled with bitterness that was shocking to Eve. It contorted Adara’s beautiful, mellow face into a hard and ugly mask of self-loathing. "Oh, I know guilt."
Eve waited, knowing she wasn’t the only one with a heavy heart. She was more than ready to hear someone else’s problems for a change.
Adara looked for a moment as though she would brush the moment off and sweep things under the rug, but the pleading look in Eve’s eyes convinced her to talk.
"When I was young, I had a best friend. Her name was Althaia, and we were inseparable. Anyone who didn’t know our families would assume we were sisters, because you never saw one of us without the other. When we came of age, our fathers chose husbands for us. I hated having to marry a man I didn’t know, much less love, but Althaia had fallen in love with Titus, a boy from a respectable family with a fishing business. Her father made the arrangements for them to marry."
Adara’s voice trailed away. Eve wondered where the story would go.
"I became consumed with jealousy, when I should have been happy for her. I’d see them holding hands at market, or stealing away at the docks for a kiss, and happily making plans for starting a family. I began to feel things for Titus. I later realized that I wasn’t really in love with him, that what I felt was born out of spite and jealousy, but at the time I really believed I loved him. It took awhile, but I finally managed to seduce him."
"Oh, Adara," said Eve. She took the old woman’s shaking hand and waited for her to finish the story.
"One day, when she’d gone off to the market, I snuck into their home to be with Titus, but for some reason she returned early. She…she caught us betraying her."
"What did she do?"
"She ran, but not before I saw the shock and hurt in her eyes, the disbelief, the pain…. I tried to chase her and I remember she struck me. I wanted her to keep striking me. I begged her to beat me, to do anything, as long as she’d forgive me. I would have died at her hand if it meant she’d say she forgave me. She left the village, and I never saw her again. Word reached us a few years later that she’d been living in a neighboring village, but had died when a fire swept through the town. My husband left me, Titus and I broke things off, and I never remarried. Every time I’d try to find happiness, I was overcome with guilt. I’ve been alone every since. What do you think of sweet old Adara now?"
"I think you’re a good woman who made a mistake," said Eve. "If you were put on trial for what you did, there isn’t a judge or a god who could punish you harder than you’ve punished yourself. You deserve to forgive yourself."
"That’s easy to say, hard to do," Adara said. "Don’t you think the same of yourself?"
"My sins are greater. I don’t deserve forgiveness for the murders I’ve committed."
Adara opened her mouth to argue, but several piercing screams from the temple cut her off. Eve and Adara stood, both of them knocking their leftovers into the dirt. Roman soldiers rode through the temple gate arch, firing arrows. One woman fell, an arrow sticking out of her right shoulder.
Eve ran toward the fray. "That’s the man from my vision. You! Stop!"
Eve and Adara reached the temple grounds as the soldiers lined up, blocking the grounds exit.
"Everyone inside," said Eve. "Shutter the windows."
"Stay where you are, or I’ll have your heads!" said a soldier from the center of the group. Eve got her first good look at him, and her stomach ran cold. He was the man she’d killed in her vision.
The people looked confused, unsure of who to obey. Should they do as Eve said, or the soldier who’d shot one of their own?
"Do as he says. Please," she said, looking up at the man leading the soldiers. "Please, don’t hurt anyone else."
"I’ll kill them if I so desire," he said, dismounting. He sauntered over to her, disdain curling his lips into a slight frown. "So…you’re Livia."
"My name is Eve."
"What do you want, Ledricles?"
Ledricles looked away from Eve and over to Adara. "I thought I ordered you to be crucified," he said, as though he were annoyed that she’d failed to die a miserable death on his whim.
"I survived," said Adara, thrusting her chin into the air with a defiant confidence that would make any decent Elijan priest cringe with disapproval and shame, but which made Eve proud. "He’s the one who almost destroyed this temple."
Adara’s slight inflection on the word ‘almost’ was a barb at Ledricles’ failure to destroy the temple completely, and he was fully aware of it. A glint of anger flashed in his eyes; he took a step toward Adara, but Eve stepped between them.
"What do you want?" Eve asked again.
Ledricles pulled a sword that Eve recognized as Virgil’s at once, and thrust it into to hard-baked ground at her feet. Her heart stepped up a few beats.
"The man who carries this sword…is he dead?"
"Not yet," said Ledricles.
"I’ll ask a third time. What do you want?"
"Ledricles put on a false air of thoughtfulness. "What do I want? How about the death of every Elijan on the face of the earth, your title as Champion of Rome…Caesar....I’ll settle for now with taking you back to Rome."
"If I refuse?"
"I kill all of these people, return to Rome, and kill Virgil. Do you really want their blood on your hands?"
"Eli has written," said the woman with the arrow in her shoulder, "that guilt cannot fall upon one who refuses to shed blood, or go to—"
"—go to war in the name of peace," Ledricles finished for her. "I know all of Eli’s teachings, and they’re all nothing more than rhetorical bullshit."
He gave a quick motion with his hand, and one of the men on horseback reached for a crossbow. Without hesitation, Eve crouched and flipped. She was still mid-air when the soldier fired an arrow at the already wounded woman. She caught it while in mid-flip, landed, and threw the arrow to the side. Ledricles had a sour look on his face, as though he’d taken a hard suck from something bitter.
Realizing she’d left Adara within arm’s reach of Ledricles, she started toward them. "I’ll go with you if you’ll give your word of honor to leave these people in peace."
"Agreed," Ledricles said, a little too quickly for Eve’s liking. "They will be safe if you agree to return without further incident."
"I’m all yours. Just give me a moment with this woman."
Ledricles returned to his horse, and Eve whispered to Adara, so that only she could hear.
"Have everyone gather a change of clothes and go underground to the tunnels."
"He may have a few men waiting for us to leave. If so, they’ll come back and kill all of you. Follow the tunnels to the river. Once everyone is safe, seal the exit and wait for a few days by the water before sending scouts back to the temple to make sure everything is clear. Remember, don’t light any fires. The smoke can be seen from miles away, and if he has men waiting to kill you, they’ll be able to come right to you."
"What are you doing over there?"
"I’ll be right with you," said Eve. She hugged Adara.
"Will you be all right, Eve?"
"I think I will," said Eve. "This is the man that I kill in my vision."
Looking down at Adara, she gave her most convincing smile. "See you as soon as I can."
Eve approached Ledricles. He offered her a hand and pulled her onto the horse behind him. As they passed through the gate, Eve knew in her heart that the events of her vision had been set irrevocably in motion, and she had no choice but to see everything through to the end.
Even if it meant she would have to kill again.
To Be Continued - Part 2
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