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THE JOININGBy Kamouraskan
Part 5 of 10
It was a surreal scene. The crackling bonfire reflecting on the masked faces of the warriors gathered in the night, their intention; a fair trial of an outsider. The mix of civilization and the primitive had never been more apparent to Robin. A table had been set up, and the head of the council stood to begin the session. Gabrielle had pointedly left her seat at the table empty, sitting beside James. In fact, with the Regent, and the Queenís Champion also with him, the table was only half occupied, an occurrence that Danielle, the head elder of the council, acknowledged right away.
"As can be seen by the absences in the governing council, the emotions of the Nation are divided by this trial." she said. "No one here will deny that many of us wish we were not here to pass judgment on the act of this man. But our laws are our nation, and we are directed to follow them.
"James, the traveler, are you present to accept the judgment of Amazon Justice?"
There was a flurry of whistles in support as James stood. "I am."
"Daughterís of Artemis, it is claimed that this man killed a sister Amazon on tribal land in direct contravention of our most sacred laws. Does the prisoner deny this?"
"My Queen, you wish to speak for this man?"
For someone who had spent the last day in agonizing rehearsal for this moment, Gabrielle seemed remarkably assured. "I wish the opportunity to prove that the crime did not occur as described. I have several speakers, after which my defense will be made."
"Then begin," the head of the council rapped the table with her stave.
The Queen selected one of the peat stones and tossed it into the centre of the fire. Immediately, a green glow arose. Gabrielle directed her address to the fire-lit assembly, though her partner was as usual, beside her.
"Xena of Amphipolis, this tribe acknowledges your outdoor skills and abilities. You have been validated by acting as a trainer of many Amazons in the past. Have you had the opportunity to evaluate James the traveler in this respect?"
Whatever James had expected this was not it. "What the hell...?" James blurted out. "Maybe I could mention that it was the BOY Scouts..."
Robin leaned forward and hissed into his ear. "Shut up, unless you really want some surgery..."
Xena caught the stone tossed by Gabrielle and flicked into the fire. "Though he had certain basic abilities before coming to us, through my instruction and in the course of traveling with us, I would say that he is now as skilled in outdoor survival as any I have trained, and that would include tracking, and hunting."
Gabrielle nodded. Another stone was thrown. "Robin of Montreal, would you describe the actions of the accused in thwarting the recent rebellion, and evaluate his actions."
Robin stood, and in her nervousness bobbled her catch of the stone, but Xena batted it into the fire with a slight move of her boot.
Clearly coached, Robin told of their night ride, how James had remained behind, going behind the enemy lines to signal the opposing force. She concluded as instructed: "I consider this to be a clear act of valour on behalf of the Nation." and resumed her seat. Gabrielle reached over to give her shoulder a squeeze in congratulation. Robin just sighed her relief and became occupied with looking anywhere but in Jamesí direction.
"Eponin," Gabrielle continued. "Would you describe the events concerning the attempt on the life of a member of the tribe?"
Eponin almost casually told of Jamesí leap to take the arrow intended for Robin, concluding, "I consider this an act of sacrifice on behalf of the Amazon Nation."
Gabrielle now came to the hard question. "As Weaponís Master, have you had the opportunity to judge this individual, and how would you judge his abilities in the warrior Arts?"
Eponin looked to James and sighed. This was gonna hurt. "I wouldnít want a command filled with warriors of his... inclinations..."
Gabrielle had to restrain her foot from tapping. ĎCome on Pony...í "Yes...?"
The Weapons Master bit the bullet. "...But I have nothing but admiration for the decisions and actions taken by the accused during the recent...unpleasantness."
Gods, was she really going to be forced to say this? "And IacknowledgehisskillsintheWarriorArts." Eponin glared at James, daring him to comment, and squatted down on the ground.
James hardly noticed, he was furiously running through the laws and regulations in his head, and still had not a clue as to where this was leading.
"Solari, "Gabrielle called again, tossing another pebble, "describe the events in the public baths."
This time the crowd was entirely silent as Solari recalled the death of Andrea. Solari finished saying, "This was clearly a killing on behalf of the royal mask."
Gabrielle turned to the head table. "Danielle," she said addressing the head table. "Please describe the ceremony at which James the Traveler received his pendant of free passage."
Puzzled, the older Amazon stood. "He received it during the initiation of last years trainees, as was your wish."
"In fact," Gabrielle tossed in another of her stones, "Did he not also take the oath of fealty and loyalty to the royal mask with those trainees?"
"And what is required of these trainees before they may be full members of this tribe?"
"There are so many requirements..."
Gabrielle interrupted. "I believe this is the complete list. The trainee must have complete skills of the outdoors, including tracking, hunting and survival. They must be judged proficient by the tribeís Weaponís Master. They must commit an act of valour on behalf of the tribe, an act of sacrifice on behalf of the nation, and assist or kill on behalf of the royal mask. They must of course, swear their loyalty to the Nation in a public assembly. Is that a complete list?"
"Yes, but, this is foolish. He is not a woman, and as merit-worthy as his actions are, he cannot be a member of this tribe."
The Queen waited for a beat. "Well actually, the laws do not require that the trainee be a woman, only that they not be a man."
Xena leaned over and whispered to James. "Donít worry, Iíve been sharpening my blade all night," indicating it with her thumb and a smile and giving him a not very reassuring pat on the arm.
Gabrielle continued. "The laws have allowed that there are many whose physical appearance and gender are not easily classified. There is no mention of what sorts of sexual organs are necessary to be an Amazon."
Xena whispered, "oh, well," in a dispirited tone. James tried not to let out the breath he had been holding too loudly.
"What the laws do, is describe the attributes of a man. They are quite long and detailed. I quote. ĎTheyí referring to men, Ďare deceitful, can never be trusted. Will never fully keep to Amazon Law, be a true friend or feel the pain of childbirth. Their sensitivity is of dust compared to that of a sisterí" She paused, and tossed another stone. "It goes on in this vein ..."
The Queen then transformed into the bard, her tone and manner drawing her audience under her spell as she described the birth of her child. Then, once she was satisfied the audience was hers, she moved onto the first meeting with James, the only interruption being the periodic toss of the peat stones into the crackling bonfire.
The campfire had been silent. As had all the campfires since Britannia. Though Illusia had made them both recommit to the friendship, there were too many apologies for inconsequential acts, too many long pauses that were no longer comfortable. Gabrielle looked over at Xena, alone sharpening her sword in the moonlight, and felt such a sense of loss, that she thought her heart would break open.
At that moment, there was a popping sound and Xena collapsed with the weight of a body dropping on her from the skies.
There was an instant that Gabrielle had never seen before, where Xena actually froze, but then quickly the intruder was lying on his back with Xenaís sword at his throat.
"Iím unarmed and alone," the intruder gasped out.
"Then who or what are you?" the Warrior growled drawing a line of blood along his throat.
"Xena?" Gabrielle gasped at her actions. Xena didnít even glance her way but answered "Just need to see if he bleeds and how fast it heals."
The man on the ground said "Iím not immortal. Keep that up and Iíll die like a regular person. I promise!"
"How did you get here and who are you?" she demanded, still holding him at the point of the blade.
"My name is James, Iím a traveler. Somewhat like you, I journey to help those in need. As to how I travel, thatís something Iíve never been able to work out. But Iím no magician, I have no spells or magic potions. And I am not dangerous to either of you."
"So, why are you here?" Gabrielle had stood up, and was examining their guest. Not yet middle-aged, older than Xena but not by much. Short hair, colour similar to hers, mustache, average build, and brown eyes that seemed to be looking to her for help. "Do you think we need your services?"
"Yes, youíre both in pain...you need help. Thatís sort of what I do."
Xena laughed and pulled her sword back an inch. "What do you know about our pain?"
The man swallowed, seeming to consult something, and began to recite. "Xena, Warrior Princess. The Lion of Amphipolis, Destroyer of Nations." Seeing this had no impact, he swallowed again, "Mother of Solon..." The sword was suddenly back and touching his throat, "He gasped out, "Lifebond of Gabrielle..." and his eyes rolled back to catch the bardís.
Gabrielle reached out to hold Xenaís sword hand. "And me?"
"Gabrielle, the great Bard of Potadiea, Holder of the Queenís rite of caste, Princess of the Amazon Nation... Victim of Dahok... Mother of Hope," at this his voice had died to a whisper, and Gabrielleís hand shook for a moment. Gabrielle looked directly into his eyes, held them for a long moment, and then said to her partner, "Let him up, he canít hurt us."
"What do you mean? We know noth..."
"I mean, he literally canít hurt us. It would be like hurting himself. He felt the pain I felt at the mention of Hope, and Dahok. Heís some sort of empath."
Xena stood back and Gabrielle reached her hand out to him to help him up.
James stood and stared at the Bard. "In the midst of your own grief, you could feel what I was feeling?"
Gabrielle gave a weak smile. "Strange, isnít it? I felt a sort of echo of...what I was feeling, and I realized you were hurting because of me."
Xena stomped around feeding the fire. "We donít need help, we only need time."
"I agree," said James,, turning to her. "Just like you needed time after your death. But then there was Valasca, wasnít there? And Callisto, and so on and so on? Your life together doesnít seem to allow you to have the time you need to heal alone, so some kindly force in the cosmos sent me."
"Would this kindly force answer to the name of Ares?" Xenaís smile did not reach her eyes.
"I travel all over the world, and to different times. Iím not sure where my abilities come from, but I know where they donít. This is my first visit to this Greece, all I know of Ares is a few lines in a book Iíve hardly read."
So, How Do You Know Of My Son?" Xenaís demand was clearly emphasized.
"Part of my job. I get what I call a case file on the people Iím supposed to help."
Xena merely snorted in disbelief. She noticed Gabrielle evaluating the stranger. "You canít be seriously considering listening to this?"
Gabrielle ignored her. "What does this Ďhelpí entail?"
"We sit. We talk. I go away and you two talk some more. Then we start over." James looked to the stew on the fire. "Ah...is there enough for three? Because I got pulled away from my breakfast to come here."
Xenaís eyes grew wider at this, and she threw up her hands when Gabrielle moved to get a bowl.
"This is really good," James said after the first mouthful. "I mean, I understood that you were a good cook, but I figured that it meant considering the conditions. But this is really good."
Xena had just about enough of this. But Gabrielle sat down and waited for him to finish.
"So we just talk, right?"
"Absolutely, and I donít come with guarantees. But, if ever I saw two people who needed some misunderstandings cleared up, itís you guys."
"Like what?" The warrior demanded.
James grinned. "OK. I see two people, standing at the base of the largest mountain on earth. At the base of this mountain there are cracks and garbage and graffiti. And for the moment, thatís all these two people can see. On both sides pretty much the same garbage." His voice took on a casual sing song. "Both of you worried about whether Gabrielle can be trusted ever again. Xena worries that she might crack again and kill you, or be responsible for your death. Right? Or how much of Gabrielle`s innocence has been lost. Oh, and you both are scared about if the other could go on if one of you died, regardless of the circumstances."
James took his last piece of bread and wiped the bowl clean, popping it in his mouth." Really good." Both women stared at him stupefied.
"You should know, Gabrielle, that if Xena died, youíd survive. You have too strong a sense of responsibility. You have the Amazons and your family to keep you here. Of course, youíd be a shell of yourself, but youíd survive a while. Xena, on the other hand, would be dead in a week." He held out his bowl, "Is there any more?"
"What in Tartarus are you?" Xena growled, "Are you just amusing yourself? Or is there a point to this?"
"Of course thereís a point. You have all these incredible reasons to be apart, every force on earth seeming to drive you away, and here you are together. In pain, but still together.
"Thatís the mountain. Thatís your love for each other. You two need to spend some time looking at that mountain instead of the damned superfluous junk lying around it."
He looked at the women, both frozen on either side of the flickering fire, and stood up.
"Now, this is where I go for a short walk over to that rise, maybe catch a nap, and you two talk about mountains. And only the mountain."
And he left. And after some silence, as the shock wore off, they did. For many hours. At first Xena kept a watchful eye on the sleeping figure on the hill, but she soon almost forgot his presence. There were no angry words, or silences. Each time a guilt would surface, one of them would say, "only the mountain." And they slept beside each other for the first time in a moon.
To her own amazement, Gabrielle was up before Xena the next day. She looked over at the warrior beside her, and lovingly brushed the bangs away from her face. Xena had talked nearly all night! Her silent warrior had blurted out her feelings, and Gabrielle wanted to shout them out to the world. She looked up to the rise and saw James lying on his back, but awake, his face towards her. She slid out of her bedroll, and giving a contented kiss to her warrior, grabbed her staff, and went up to meet him.
Gabrielle sat down cross-legged beside him, and with a grin replied "Great day!" wondering all the time why it was that she instinctively trusted this stranger. It was the same as with Lila almost...
"So, you still claiming no magical powers?" she asked.
He answered her grin. "Nope. This was easy, it was all you guys .I figure youíve been agonizing and apologizing everything to death, I just come along and give a little prod, and take credit when the good stuff pours out."
Gabrielle started to pump him about what he knew about his abilities, and James answered as best he could, both of them knowing that Xena was listening while pretending to be asleep. After a while, though, James lowered his voice, and speaking directly to the bard said "I meant what I said about the easy part. Today, Iíve got a harder story to tell. And itís going to hurt. I need to apologize to you now, because, itís not something I want to do..."
"But it will help us?"
"I think it will."
"I trust you." And with that, she simply smiled and left to make breakfast. He stared at her for a moment, shook his head, and went towards the stream to wash up.
It was after breakfast that the mood changed. Both James and Gabrielle watched Xena expectantly, until she stopped ignoring their stares and sat down across from them.
"All right, what do we talk about now?" she said in half-meant disgust.
James took a deep breath and looked directly at the warrior.
"I want you to know, Iíd rather crawl into a hungry tigerís cage and slap it around, than start this conversation with you, but...here goes."
Xenaís face was impassive, Gabrielle reached across and held her partnerís hand, but there was no change in her expression.
"Xena," James began, "there have been times when you have seen injuries or wounds that by the nature of how they were inflicted, filled you with rage or guilt; but you knew that as a healer, you had to focus on the job, and not let your emotions keep you from dealing with the injuries." He took another breath.
"Now, thereís been a wound that you have not treated properly, and when you realize that, you will feel even more guilt and anger. But you cannot. We need the healer, we need the cool assessment that confirms the symptoms, and evaluates the different treatments. You have to be able to do this."
There was still no movement from the warrior.
Glancing quickly at Gabrielle, who gave him a nod of encouragement, he began.
"Xena, I want you to think about Gabrielle. What sheís been like, not what sheís been through, but what sheís been like, since Britannia. Now I want you to strip away all the horrors, forget about Hope, forget about who or what was responsible for her being there, forget about her blood innocence," Gabrielle was becoming more tense with each word.
"Again, think about Gabrielle, how she has acted, her reactions to you, to others, and then strip away all those horrors and realize, really realize, that Gabrielle was raped."
The word seemed so loud, James could have sworn that the woods fell completely silent. He saw in Xenaís eyes shock, and then a thousand differing suffering emotions, each combating the next. He saw his own death there for a moment, but he spoke again.
"We need the healer now, Xena, no one but the healer."
She turned to look at Gabrielle, who was staring at the ground in pain, or shame, or a dozen emotions she could not, would not, have her feel, and she tenderly reached over and lifted her bards chin, and looked into the tear-filled eyes.
She heard James say, "This isnít about you. Gabrielle doesnít need to hear youíre sorry." and then he silently slipped away.
They broke camp the next day. As they packed up, James was just in the way of the efficient rituals that the two had created. Each job long ago delegated and swiftly achieved, and he stood aside and watched in admiration. When all traces of their camp had been erased, Xena faced him and asked "Can you hunt?"
"No, some basic snares...."
"Can you fight?"
He looked to Gabrielle, but the bard stood silent. "No" he answered.
The warrior made no visible judgment. James added indicating the dark skies "I can build a fire in damp woods...and though Iím a slow learner, but I do learn. And I can follow orders."
Xena grunted, "That may keep you alive", and mounted Argo.
Gabrielle smiled and with a flick of her head indicated he walk with her, and they set out.
It rained most of the next two days as the three made their way back to the Amazons.
During the day, Xena treated James as she would a slightly dim child, but he listened and managed to keep his tongue silent until the, evenings. Then they would talk, Xena still resentful, James patient, Gabrielle eager. James slept away from their camp, but still under the warriorís suspicious eyes. But as each day passed, the mood lightened, and James was assigned the fire and some cooking tasks. One day Xena took him to hunt, and when they were returning with a buck, both sensed danger to Gabrielle. Xena charged out of the woods chakrum first, and there were three dead before James even arrived. He watched the two perform their deadly ballet, styles so different that they could not be compared, yet somehow complementary.
Gabrielle had forgotten where James was, she was too occupied by two of the raiders when she realized that she was out of position and a third was behind her. She began to force her two forward in hopes of giving Xena room to help her, when she heard a loud clunking sort of noise, and senses told her that the danger was gone. But when the last of the brigands had run off, she turned to see James still holding her frying pad, now badly dented, she nearly exploded and advanced towards him. Only to be stopped by the sound of her loveís laughter, and she stopped as Xena, helpless now, pointed to her outraged face and the frypan. She wanted to keep her anger intact, but the warriorís laughter was something she had missed, more than even her touch. Xena continued to laugh and moved to stand protectively between her and James. "Iím sorry Gabrielle, but we never explained to James that if it came to a choice between your life and the frypan..."
From that point on, James might have still been a third wheel, but one that took some weight, and the warrior was more relaxed, less resentful of the prying he was forced to do at night. Then there was a finally a clear day, with no clouds in the sky, when Xena was attacked underwater by a laughing bard who had somehow gotten right beside her without her being aware of it. And one night, a half days ride outside of the village, the two soulmates made love. And when they awoke the next morning, James had gone.
Gabrielle stood before the assembled nation. "This is my friend," she said standing behind him and gripping his shoulders. "On each of his subsequent visits he has placed his honour and his life in our hands, and committed himself to the survival of us as individuals, and as a nation.
"Are these the acts of one of the males described in our scrolls? He sits here, waiting for our judgment of an act most of us applaud; a judgment that most believe means his death! Is this someone who would never keep to Amazon Law? Is this the male described as having no sensitivity, and incapable of being a friend? Will you call for the execution of this person, when our law clearly states that no male is capable of making such sacrifices?" The transformation from storyteller to Queen of the Nation was complete. She threw her last stone into the fire with intentional emphasis.
"My Amazons, "and the pronoun was as deliberate, " do you find that this person, my friend and our comrade, is a male as described by these laws?"
This was not a rational request for judgment. This was an emotional demand from their rightful ruler, and the Amazonís responded to it.
Shouting above the calls and cheers, Gabrielle turned to the council table and hurriedly pronounced, "Then as Queen, I accept the decision of this assembly that no crime has been committed according to the definition of our laws, and I close this session of judgment."
For a moment, Gabrielle thought she might have overestimated her authority, as she saw Daniellle struggle to get the attention of the delirious crowd. Failing that, she called to Gabrielle directly.
"Is it your intention to submit this...person... to be accepted as a member of this tribe?"
Gabrielle was gracious in victory. "This person has already been submitted, but like any other petitioner, it will be up to the council to decide...his...acceptability."
Robin had reached from behind and placed her arm around Jamesí neck, and above all the hoorahs whispered in his ear "Sounds like you better get measured for the leather."
James turned to face her and said whispered back, "I have many fantasies, Robin, but none of them include wearing a leather bra."
There, at the very centre of the chaos that had begun the moment Gabrielle had demanded the vote, Robin realized that she was looking into the eyes of her bond mate...but saw fear, and James quickly broke away to congratulate the Queen.
In fact, as the evening wore on, the pattern became clear, as James seemed to thrust people between them and evade any attempt by her to be alone with him. During one escape, he nearly collided with Solari, and as the two watched him slip away, the Amazon raised her eyebrows to Robin. "Whatís with that? I thought you too were...?"
"Maybe I should have the Queen arrest him again?"
"Of course, being declared not a man, isnít the best way to start a relationship," the scout offered.
Robin frowned. "You think so? "
"Nah. You going after him?"
"Eventually. Maybe. First things...." And she hoisted her glass.
High above all this, a warrior and her Bard were stealing some private time in the crook of a branch directly over Robinís head. Sharp but concerned blue eyes watched her, and then closed in feral pleasure.
"Yes. Xeí" A sultry but grinning Queen answered.
"If you donít stop playing with fire, Iíll make you look down."
Gabrielle smirked and didnít remove her wandering hand.
Feather light caresses continued along the Warriors inner thighs. She began to tremble slightly with repressed desire. "Remember, you, we...have an obligation...and we promised Ephiny...?" There was no response except that a cinch at the warriorís waist was loosened.
Somewhat desperate now "Gabrielle! You bet every dinar we have...that we would make it until after the ceremony..."
The Bard slowed her movements slightly.
"Three to One ODDS... ĎRií!!!"
The Bard pouted and turned to sit in her warriorís lap. Xena tried to relax but found herself catching the scent of their arousal mixed with the perfume of Gabrielleís hair.
Gabrielle eyes settled on James and Robin, separated by half the clearing. "Weíre going to have to talk to them..."
The Bard heard a strange strangled muttering above her head. it seemed to run along the lines of "itíll be great, Xena, weíll invite everyone and itíll be just a big party, nothing complicated..."
Continued in Part 6
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