Solan reflects on his lineage, beginning with ORPHAN OF WAR, through MATERNAL INSTINCTS and at the end of BITTER SUITE. In memory of B. on her birthday and the first anniversary of her transition. -- IQ
MY MOTHER'S EYES
"You have her eyes."
Uncle Kaliepus could always sense when I felt a little down. We’d sit in front of the fire. Well, he’d stand, seeing as he was a Centaur. He’d help me with my carving or that leather vest I couldn’t seem to finish. We’d work without talking, while he waited for my questions.
"Tell me again about my parents?"
Uncle would ruffle my hair. "You are the son of the great Borias, a brave and noble warrior." He’d repeat the story of how my father and the Centaurs fought a terrible woman warlord, who killed him, how the Centaurs rescued me as a baby from her army. "You are our spiritual connection to Borias. As long as we live, you will have him and the family he would have wanted for you. You will be safe and loved."
"And my mother?"
Uncle would sigh and stare into the fire, like he hadn’t heard this before. When he turned to me, I couldn’t tell if he was happy or sad. "You have your father’s soul and her eyes." He’d smile when I screwed my face up. "Not exactly what a boy wants to hear, eh?" he’d tease. "How do you imagine her?"
I’d look into the fire and picture someone like Aunt Bernaise, who helped take care of me. "She’d have light hair, like mine. Play games with me. Be kind and gentle and … and …. "
"Yeah, wonderful. A smile like ... "
"A soft summer breeze."
"Uh huh. A voice …."
"As beautiful as Orpheus."
"And she’d sing me to sleep – when I was a baby, of course. Before the sickness took her."
My uncle would nod. "You have captured her well. Remember her always as any mother should be." He never said her name, but I didn’t really notice. He was everything to me, the only father I’d ever known. When he said "your mother" like that’s all that was important, I guess it was good enough for me.
"Xena." Now, that’s a name I heard a lot. My uncle’s friends would talk about the "old days" and the "monster" who murdered Borias. I heard it that morning the scouts reported a dark-haired woman warrior at our borders. "It couldn’t be," my uncle said. "Even Xena wouldn’t have the stomach."
I snuck out and ran ahead. Hid in the branches of a tree, so I could see for myself. If it was her, I wanted to be the one to avenge Borias. I had his sword. My uncle gave it to me so I could start learning the skills of a warrior. I was only a boy, but I figured it would be all right if my first kill was Xena.
She had a smaller, light-haired woman with her. I watched them fight men who’d been spying on us. Soon my uncle and the others arrived to drive the men away. Sure enough, Uncle called her "Xena." She threw her weapons down. I couldn’t believe she fooled him with this trick, that he stood there doing nothing. I decided it was up to me. I jumped down on her. She must’ve sensed me. She managed to move away, unharmed.
Uncle wouldn’t let me hurt her. He sent me away, but not before I warned her she’d just met her greatest enemy. I figured that’s why she kept watching me after she came with us to the village. She should have. Borias wouldn’t have let someone like that go free. I had his blood. His sword. At least now she knew that someday she would have to come through me!
She talked a lot with my uncle. I didn’t understand why he treated her almost like a friend. He was a leader and said others should listen to her. I guessed everyone agreed she was better fighting with us than against. I kept my father’s sword at my side, just in case. I could’ve used it on her when she visited my parents’ graves. She sensed me lying in wait again and called me to her. Said she wanted to pay her respects, that she was sorry they were dead. She spoke well of my father and denied killing him.
She asked me about my mother. I boasted about how wonderful she was, about her beautiful voice that I never got to hear. I tried to be mean, to make her feel bad for leaving my mother all alone, to let her know they were nothing alike. "She never thought bad about anyone – even you!" She acted like she knew my mother anyway, said Mother wouldn’t have wanted me to be a warrior. Claimed she’d been close to Borias too, that they used to sing together. Did she have no shame? I ran, angry at her lies and at myself for letting them confuse me.
I liked her friend Gabrielle, though. She was somewhat as I’d pictured my mother, but closer to my age – like a big sister instead. She warned me that a sword wasn’t the answer to everything, though she sure used that staff of hers like one when those men ambushed us. She yelled at me to run, but I tried to help anyway. They knocked her out, took me and my sword. Put me in a cage. They laughed about how Xena would do anything to get me back. I thought they must be crazy. I prepared to die like they told me I would. I couldn’t believe it when she threw a pebble to let me know she’d come after all.
She was amazing! I’d never seen anyone fight like her – leaping high, kicking, punching gangs of men at the same time. She’d thrown me the key so I could free myself, but the rope she’d used to lift the cage came loose. I grabbed my sword from where the men had stuck it in the ground, before the cage crashed through the earth. "Xena!" I called out for her without thinking. Somehow she got there to grab me. We held on to each other as we fell down the hole into a cavern.
Uncle said I was smart and brave for my age. I tried to live up to that. In that cavern, though, I felt like a little kid. I’d broken my arm in the fall. I hid it as long as I could, but it hurt so bad. I didn’t mind when Xena acted like my mother, tending my arm, saying things to make me feel big again. Maybe that’s what made me ask about my father. She admitted he’d hurt people, but that he’d stopped her from doing worse – like killing all the Centaurs. I saw in her eyes many things I hadn’t believed possible. Honesty, kindness, admiration for my father. Sadness for what she’d done.
She’d used her fingers to stop the pain in my arm while she made my scabbard into a brace. After, she had to let the pain come back. She put her arms around me, soothed me, told me everything would be all right. Even in danger, I felt safe. I remember wondering if this was what having a mother must be like. We ran when we heard the enemy coming. We found the place where the Ixion Stone was supposed to be. The bad men wanted it because of its evil powers. It wasn’t there. Xena said Borias must’ve found and hidden it. I touched the handprint he’d left in the dust, feeling closer to my father now too.
Xena seemed a little afraid she couldn’t defeat the men rushing to trap us. I tried to buck her up. I realized I did believe in her. She found a hollow root to blow into and made a joke about music lessons. She had a funny side! Another surprise! The noise she made with the root brought my uncle and the others to our aid. They tossed down a rope. We held onto each other again as they pulled us up. Only thing is, my father’s sword fell to the cavern floor. The Ixion Stone popped out of a secret part in the hilt. Now we had to prepare for the evil the bad men would do with it.
Xena gave orders for how to defend against the bad men. Gabrielle wrapped my arm with a proper splint. She teased me about how I’d be doing backflips soon, even though I’d never done them before. She asked me what I thought of Xena now. I said I didn’t hate her anymore, that she was different than I thought. Gabrielle said that’s the only Xena she’d known – honorable and dedicated to making up for her past. Maybe that’s why Gabrielle didn’t understand what it was like having your worst enemy turn out to be someone who reminded you of your mother.
When the men finally attacked, the Ixion Stone had somehow turned their leader into a huge monster of a Centaur. Xena fought him. He was killed by the bolt from a big crossbow she loosed. But first he held up my sword and bragged about using it to kill my father. Xena really hadn’t done it! Or even known who did! Uncle had taught me to be fair. All the anger I had held toward the "old" Xena, I knew in my heart I would have to let go, to make room for the "new."
She found me by the lake, where I’d gone to think. I could tell she was afraid. I didn’t want her to be, so I let her know we weren’t enemies anymore. She sat next to me. We talked about mistakes she’d made, about how lucky I was to have the life she’d wish for her own son. She said it was time to let go of the past. Funny, I’d thought meeting her would prove I needed to be a warrior. Instead, when my anger at her went away, I discovered it wasn’t in me to hurt anyone.
I was sorry she and Gabrielle had to go. I thought we could have fun together. When Xena stood to leave, I threw my sword into the lake. She said my mother would be very proud. I said I thought my mother would’ve liked her. She hugged me and promised we would always be friends. Secretly, she was becoming more and more like the picture I had of my mother.
I was a year older when she visited again. I dropped down from a tree like before, but she sensed me as usual. Except this time she caught me and we gave each other big hugs. She and Gabrielle had come to celebrate a treaty my uncle had worked for very hard. Aunt Ephiny said it was so children like her son and I would be safe. Xenon is a Centaur. I was like his big brother. But I’d learned that bad could come with the good. At least, it seemed so with Xena and me. An enemy from her past was threatening the village. An immortal warrior named Callisto.
Uncle thought me in more danger than the other children. He wanted me to hide like a baby. Xena stepped in to calm me. We had a private talk. She said my uncle was worried and scared, because nothing frightened a parent more than when their child is in danger. I agreed to stay in the hut, but later thought she was wrong about who was really in danger. Callisto’s hatred for Xena led to my Uncle’s death instead. I thought it was my fault, the way I kept losing everyone. Xena said no, that I had many people who loved me and still lived.
Uncle told me if anything happened to him, Xena would be there for me. Even if he hadn’t, the only one I felt safe with, that I trusted most, was her. I begged her to take me with her. I didn’t care that she lived hard, on the road. When she told me to get ready, I was so happy. I’d miss my Centaur family terribly, but it felt right being with Xena, that she would be home enough. I didn’t know why until that strange girl appeared at the door and killed me before I’d even had time to pack. Xena came rushing in. She stroked my body and rocked it in her arms.
"Your mom is here now, just like you always wanted."
From her tears and awful screams, I knew it to be true. Too late maybe for her, but not for me.
The elders say there’s nothing worse than losing a child. It’s not the "natural order" of things. Maybe that’s what froze Mother’s heart. She couldn’t let my body go, not talking to anyone, like one of those "walking dead" they tell about. Only when she saw Xenon and realized other children were in danger did she go out to defeat Callisto. She blamed Gabrielle for my death, wouldn’t listen when Gabrielle said she loved her. But I believe Mother hated herself more. I saw it in her grieving eyes. Like my father, a great warrior sworn to protect, helpless to save her own son.
Watching Mother walk away from her friend, I think maybe I felt what she did leaving me with the Centaurs. I wished her a good life, not headed for a future of dark days. To know love, be loved as I had. She’d turned her back on Gabrielle, who could do for her what I couldn’t, now that I was gone. If she became like her enemies, I’d lose the mother I dreamed about, just when I’d found her. How could you say I wasn’t as scared and hurting as any parent?
I prayed, like my mother must have, that I wouldn’t be sorry for doing what I thought was right. I don’t know if the gods took pity on us, or exactly which ones might’ve helped, though I’d bet it wasn’t Ares. Suddenly I felt in my soul the power to give Mother another chance. There were rules of course. For someone that strong, it would have to be if she was so far gone that she couldn’t get back to herself without help. I figured the day she attacked the Amazons, Aunt Ephiny, Joxer, and Gabrielle must’ve been proof enough. If not that, then when she and Gabrielle took each other over a cliff like madwomen to drown in the waters far below.
I caused a sort of dreamscape from what was inside them. It gave them a brief escape from death, but to survive, they would have to find the way out on their own, together. I had faith in them, but was still scared. They had so much fear and pain and anger. They accused each other of things I’d never known to be between them. Things they seem to have hidden from each other out of love. When it all burst free, so were they. My mother finally sang to me. She fell to her knees begging forgiveness from Gabrielle, from me for not being the mother I deserved. She begged us to cleanse our hearts as well.
"I know it’s not too late."
When she said that, I didn’t worry anymore that I’d made a mistake. Gabrielle pulled her through the waterfall that washed them of past wrongs. Then she came to me.
It was almost like being reborn -- my first word giving birth to her, hers giving birth to me. I felt so good holding her, having her hold me, as who we really were. When I watched her return to her world, holding Gabrielle, I felt like a true warrior, worthy of my parents. Before I met Xena, I was afraid I’d be too soft for the son of Borias, to be his avenger. She taught me that his strength and courage came from his beliefs, his love for us, more than from the sword I carried in his memory. I’d seen the same in her.
If I’m to really come clean, I have to say it was hard not kicking myself at first. All those "coincidences" and clues. Like when Gabrielle joked about me doing backflips, trying to say I inherited Xena’s physical gifts. I did admire them. The men who kidnapped me said I was Xena’s "Achilles heel." Uncle explained that meant "weakness," because of her soft spot for children. I was too dumb to notice what a special child I was to her enemies. Or to her. Looking back, it’s true she didn’t seem so tough then – when she looked at me.
That day by the lake? I did wonder how things might’ve changed if I’d caught on. Like Gabrielle, I’d only seen Xena’s good side, not the bad one I’d grown up with. I’m not sure I would’ve understood why she abandoned my father and me, why Uncle Kaliepus lied. Or maybe I would’ve wanted to go with her and have grand adventures. Either way, it might’ve meant running away from the life my mother wanted for me. Maybe that Ixion Stone was to show me that sometimes good things can come with the bad.
Anyway, I’m okay with that now. Nothing can ever change that I’m Xena’s "soft spot." Maybe that’s what made her human and not the monster Uncle Kaliepus believed. He seemed to think so himself, after that first time she came. When we talked about my mother, he didn’t sigh and gaze into the fire like before. He’d look at me a moment and smile as he said, "You have her eyes." I smile now too since I know what that means. It’s like having both my parents, together again inside me. Not sure she knows, but that’s another one of those "debts" Mother paid in "Illusia."
When we had that chat back in Uncle Kaliepus’ hut and I let her convince me to hide? I said, "You owe me," in return. She promised, "Big time." Kids don’t forget things like that. I made sure she could make good on our deal. And she did, without anybody hiding. When she claimed me, she let me claim a lot more.
"I love you, Mother."
"I love you, Solan. I’ll always love you."
See, I got the mother she believes I deserved. Kind and gentle and wonderful. Fun. Forgiving. A smile like a soft summer breeze. A song just for me in a voice as good as Orpheus. It’s not just her eyes I have anymore, with Borias’ soul. I know I have Xena’s soul too.
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