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My Reward

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My Reward

 

Don’t move.” 

 It was a deep female voice.

 In the darkness I felt the cool damp earth at my back and a very cold, very sharp point on my neck.  I opened my eyes to the daylight and gasped.  Falling into them were two icy blue daggers that froze my voice and chilled me to the bone. 

 The knife was slowly removed from my throat.  Like a tractor-beam my gaze was pulled along as the woman stood up.  I began to take in the larger scene. 

 The sunshine and blue sky found openings through a forest canopy high overhead and outlined the towering figure above me.  It was, unmistakably,  Xena.  Raven-haired, long-legged, blue-eyed and dressed-to-kill!   The Warrior Princess had me at her mercy.   Mercy!   

 I had to be dreaming.   Now I know I’ve read way too much Xena Fan Fiction! 

 Having decided that this was a dream and, as such, I (rather than Xena) was in control of the situation, I began to relax and -

 “Who are you?”  Xena demanded, having grown impatient with my ‘dumbfoundedness’ (there’s a new word for us!)

 Thankfully, they spoke 20th century American English in Ancient Greece.  I’d really be in deep trouble if they didn’t!

 “Why are you dressed like that?”  In chimed a higher-pitched and much more pleasant voice. 

 Ah, Gabrielle so you’re here too?  I still hadn’t moved -- as Xena had ordered -- not even my head, so her companion wasn’t in view.

 “I’m, uh... I’m called Jeri,”  Then I added, “dressed like what?” 

 I didn’t even know what I was wearing.  I cautiously turned my gaze down to my body, noticing I was wearing an over-sized T-shirt that read “Club Mud, Glen Ivy Hot Springs” and a pair of Nike tennis shorts.  About two feet beyond my bare feet stood Gabrielle, trusty staff in hand.   The seemingly-harmless soft-spoken blond-redheaded blue-green-eyed Bard herself!  Ah, but I knew what a dynamo she could be!

 “Get up.”  What a commanding voice Xena has!  I should make her more polite.

 “Please.”  She added.   Cool!  I do have some power here.

 I pushed myself up off the ground,  stood and brushed the twigs and dirt from the palms of my hands.  With Xena on one side and Gabrielle on the other I couldn’t see them both at the same time.  It troubled me. 

 “Could you two please move closer together?”   They complied and stood a few feet apart from each other facing me. 

 “What are you?  A runaway clown from some nearby village?”  Gabrielle chirped.  Ooh.  A clown?  I was insulted.

 “Her feet aren’t even dirty,”  Xena observed, “she hasn’t been ‘running’ from anywhere.” 

 “Do you know who we are?” Gabrielle asked.

 “Yes, I do.  You’re Gabrielle, The Famous Bard,  and she’s”  I nodded in her direction, “Xena, The Warrior Princess.”   My use of ‘Famous’ made Gabrielle’s face light up.   Xena was nonplussed with her title.

 “What are you doing here?”  Xena demanded to know.  

 Very good question.  I phrased and re-phrased my response in my mind:  “Well I’ve been reading your fan fiction, fell asleep and you happen to be the creations of my dreaming mind.”  No, that one will spoil the fun.  What about “I don’t know”?  Nah,  that’s just too clueless.  Perhaps “I’ve been sent by Artemis!”  Aha!  That one has promise!

 “I’ve been sent by Artemis.”  I spoke with confidence.   In return, I got the expected confused looks from my company.

 “Artemis?” They both questioned in unison.

 “Yeah.”  Uh-oh.  I hadn’t figured out a follow-up.  I needed to buy some time so I offered nothing more in response.

 “Why?” Xena asked point blank.  I had cold feet -- figuratively and literally!  So I changed the subject. 

 “Is it winter here or what?  I’ve got goose-bumps.” 

 Gabrielle, who had been uncharacteristically quiet, picked-up a blanket from the ground, shook it off and draped it over my shoulders. 

 “Here” she said, closing the word with a small smile, “It’s autumn.”  Why couldn’t I have dreamt with shoes on!  At least I had some clothes on.  My toes felt like numb little icicles. 

 “You still haven’t answered my question.”  Xena again.  She has such an evenly toned voice.

 Well, I didn’t want to answer her question.  I still hadn’t thought up what to say so,

 “And I’m not going to answer it…yet.”  I said boldly.  Now let’s see what they do.  

 I got worried when I remembered Xena’s skill with pressure points,  but I was no apparent threat to them and perhaps she’d let it go.  For a little while at any rate.

 “Hmmm…” Xena pondered.  I still hadn’t seen her trademark smile or raised eyebrow yet.  

 “Stay here.” She cautioned me, and then gestured to Gabrielle.  

 

The two of them stood about twenty paces away and proceeded to have a hushed tête-à-tête conversation, obviously about me.  They nodded agreement on something.  

 “I’m going to get Argo,”  Xena informed her.  Then she dictated “You break camp.” 

 “Okay, okay -- as if I don’t know the routine by now!” Gabrielle retorted in frustration.   “Every morning the same!” she muttered under her breath and then looked at me.

  “You’ve got funny clothes.  I’ve never seen any goddess’ messenger look like you before. “ 

 Gabrielle went about her business, picking things up, rolling things up, making comments, asking questions and glancing at me periodically.

  “When are you going to answer Xena’s question?  Why aren’t you wearing sandals or boots?” 

 I found a log to sit on and wrapped part of the blanket under and around my feet in an attempt to thaw them out before Gabrielle decided to reclaim the blanket.  She continued, not waiting for any response on my part.

 “You sure aren’t what I’d expect from Artemis.  What are you going to do now?”  Now she paused and stared, waiting for me.

 “I’ll tell you why I’m here when the time is right, okay?”  I skipped her footwear question and continued with  “And I’m supposed to hang out with you until then.” 

 “’Hang out’?  What does that mean?  Can you transform yourself into a bat?”  Perhaps I assumed too much in the language department.   Perhaps she just wanted me to be more explicit.

 “It means I’m to stay with you and Xena until the prescribed time.”  I figured ‘prescribed’ gave my presence a more officious tone. 

 “Well, unless your feet are somehow protected by Artemis against miles of dirt roads,  you’ll have nothing but blisters and cuts on them by the time we make camp again.” 

 Gabrielle started walking towards me.  I’m going to lose the blanket now!   In anticipation, I stood up, removed the blanket and held it out to her. 

 “You’re just slightly taller than I am” she said looking to the top of my head.  Then dropping her eyes to my feet, “maybe they’ll fit”. 

 She took the blanket and walked to their bags.  I decided I wasn’t going to be cold.

 “You’re in luck,” she smiled back at me, “it’s going to be a warm, lovely day!” 

 She pulled a pair of soft leather boots out a bag and brought them over to me.  “Try these on and I’ll be right back.”  

 The boots were just a wee bit tight.  They didn’t go with my outfit in the least but then I looked out of place anyway.  Gabrielle returned and handed me a water skin and a piece of hard cheese. 

 “Here, thought you might be thirsty or hungry”  she offered looking at me intently. 

 She continued “You have nice eyes.  Blue, but not quite as blue as Xena’s.” 

 I took the water skin and tried to drink from it as if I knew what I was doing.  I obviously didn’t and got water all over my face and on my T-shirt. 

 Gabrielle laughed, “Where ARE you from?”  The bard really has such a warm demeanor. 

 I laughed along with her “I wonder sometimes myself!  I do feel pretty helpless.  Or should that be *hapless*?”  

 We both sat on the log, laughing and feeling the start of what might be a friendship.  Suddenly, Xena was there before us.

 I had to say ‘suddenly’ because I had no idea how she arrived so quickly and quietly.  One moment Gabrielle and I were looking at each other and giggling, and then, Voila! -- There's Xena!  

 “How did you do that?”  I inquired.  A whole myriad of responses played in my mind including:  “Do what?” “What do you mean?” and “I have many skills”.   I settled for

 “I have many skills.”  As she spoke it, she grinned.   Nice teeth.  I felt much better. 

 She added “Like your boots.”  I thought she would, considering they belonged to her sweetheart.   Gabrielle turned to Xena and silently acknowledged the compliment. 

  “I guess this means you’re coming with us.”  Xena stated rather than questioned.

 “I guess.” I stood up again in my borrowed boots and tried to wiggle my toes.

  “Where are we going?” I ventured.

 “I thought perhaps you’d tell us.”  Xena replied as she arranged the saddle, bedrolls and bags on Argo’s back.  

 Being my dream and all, I guess I did need to decide in what direction it would go.

 “South.” I acted like I knew what I was doing.

 “South?”  Gabrielle was puzzled.   She turned to me and swung out her staff in that direction.  “You mean off the road and to the coast?  There’s nothing but water due south of here!” 

 “East.”  I quickly said, “Southeast!  Yes!  Southeast.”  Surely there had to be something there.

 “Southeast it is then.”  Xena confirmed.  “That puts us in the direction of Sacropolis.   There’s a temple to Artemis just before the city.”   

 She looked me dead in the eyes.   “Is that where you’re to take us?”

 I looked up above her head.  “Must be.”   

 

Where the heck did “Sacropolis” come from?  I hadn’t heard of that place before.  I thanked Artemis.  A temple no less!  How convenient for me, ‘her messenger’.   Now I had a mission – well, at least ... a destination. 

 Bringing my eye-line back to Xena’s, I added, “Actually, you and Gabrielle are to take ME there.”  Now they had a mission -- of sorts.   I avoided having to know the way.

 “We’d best be going then.”  The Warrior took a final look around the campsite and led Argo into the woods, Gabrielle falling into step a few feet behind and I hurried to move in beside her.

 “How long will it be until we get to the temple?” I asked the bard. 

 She looked at me in amazement.  “YOU don’t know?!  You said she sent you!”   She viewed my apparel again, shook her head and then said “Artemis, is this a joke of some sort?” 

 I straightened up and made clear my indignation.  “No joke, Gabrielle!”     

 “You are a strange person.”  The bard looked ahead and walked easily in the invisible path that Xena was making through the trees.   I didn’t know how to respond to that one so I decided to look where I was planting my feet instead.  Gabrielle and Xena remained quiet until they stepped out of the forest onto a well-traveled road. 

 “How are you doing back there?” Xena called to me as I had fallen several yards behind Gabrielle.  They are accustomed to maintaining a certain pace.  Not me.  I was doing my best not to be left behind.  Why couldn’t I have dreamt myself up to be more athletic?  Guess it really wouldn’t have been me then.

 “I’m fine” I lied, thankful that the pair had stopped beside the road allowing me to catch up. 

 Gabrielle moved closer to Xena, placed her hand on the warrior’s shoulder and whispered something into her ear.  I found it disturbing that they’d be secretive in my own fantasy.  Smiling broadly, Xena turned to Gabrielle and then looked back to me. 

 “You’re not used to walking, “ Xena had easily observed.  With a sly little smile she offered “Would you like to ride?”  Gabrielle chuckled as if she also knew I was somewhat frightened of horses.  Especially tall horses.  And Argo was indeed a tall horse.

 “Not right now, thanks” I managed as I finally reached both of them.   Xena gave the bard a light pat on the back, nodded a grin at her and continued up the road with Argo in tow.

 “How do you usually travel?”  Gabrielle inquired, smiling, her curiosity starting to come through again. 

 “You wouldn’t believe it, Gabrielle.” I returned her smile. 

 “Try me,” she came back, “I have seen the most unusual of things.”   

 “Yes, I know.” I blurted out.  I didn’t mean to reveal too much too soon.

 “You know?”  Gabrielle was obviously surprised by my statement.  “How?”

 “I’ve heard some of  your stories.”  I couldn’t tell her I’d seen the TV show.  So I tried to explain in terms she could relate to.  .

 “Which ones?”  Her eyebrows were raised, eyes wide in anticipation.

 “Lots!” I got a little anxious and looked away.  

 “Which one did you like best?”  Her voice showed her delight in my answer and excitement for what I’d say next.    I felt like I was being backed into a corner.

 “Um... I, ah, I don’t know if I’ve got one particular favorite, you know... There are so many I like ... I can’t decide!” 

 She was momentarily disappointed but brightened right back up “I’m glad you like them!”

 After a minute, Gabrielle remembered her earlier question, “So, how DO you usually travel?”

 “By car.” I mumbled.

 “By cart?  Oh.  What’s so unbelievable about that?”  Gabrielle had changed my response to fit her frame of reference.  I thought it best to let it go and didn’t correct her misunderstanding .

 “What is *Club Mud* and where is *Glen Ivy*?”  She’d read my shirt.

 I tried to think fast here and came back with “It’s a special place Artemis sends servants, like me, as a reward for a job well done.”  I hoped that would suffice.

 “What’s it like?”

 “Delightful.”  I simply said.

 

Gabrielle had slowed her pace to match mine and now Xena and Argo were way ahead of us.

They stopped and Xena turned her head back.

 “Come on you two!”  She prompted  “Let’s keep going!”

 Xena was impatient but not angry.  I think she was actually glad that Gabrielle had a traveling companion who was more into conversation. 

 I figured that the warrior was thinking about Artemis and why she would send someone like me.  I didn’t even carry a bow and arrow.  It didn’t appear I knew how to ride horses either.  My strangeness together with my claim as a goddess’ messenger apparently kept her from pressuring me into giving up more information.  Besides,  Xena’s hearing is extraordinary.  She heard the entire conversation between Gabrielle and I.   She clearly heard me say the word “car”.

 “How long will it take to get to the temple?”  I decided to try this on Gabrielle again.

 “If all goes well, we should reach it before sunset tomorrow.” 

 “If all goes well?” I wanted details.

 “Yes.  Traveling with Xena is unpredictable.  Look at what happened today.  You miraculously appear at our campsite out of nowhere -- not even Xena heard you approach – “  (Xena rolled her eyes at that comment)  “--  and now  we’re off to Sacropolis!   Sometimes we never end up where we plan to go - or at least not when...” 

 Her voice faded, as if she were recalling some sad event, and then picked up strong again.  “You know, we always meet people either along the road or in the villages and cities and next thing you know we’re off doing this or that -- fighting, counseling, rescuing, healing, searching.  Never a dull moment!”

 “Do you ever become tired of it?”  How different a life from mine I thought.

 “Yes ... sometimes.   I tire easier than Xena.   She has incredible energy!   We do manage to rest now and then.  But you know, my life with her is so exciting,  and it fits so perfectly with my own passion -- my stories, that I wouldn’t trade it for all the gold on Mt. Olympus!”

 My conversation with Gabrielle continued for another hour at least and didn’t halt until Xena stopped, turned and said “Let’s eat!”.

 Food!  The bard and I are kindred spirits in more than one way.  What do they have besides cheese and water?

 

Xena led Argo off the road onto another invisible path leading into the woods.  After a short distance it opened out into a lovely meadow complete with nearby stream.  “Just like in the stories,” I laughed to myself,  “and now she’ll probably catch some fish!”

 Xena caught three trout, cleaned them (I was glad she didn’t ask me to help) and gave the fillets to Gabrielle.  The resourceful bard had started a fire and heated up some water and a skillet while Xena was fishing. 

 The timing was perfect.   How could it be anything else?  These two women moved like ebb and flow, each independent of the other but partners in the dance of life they shared together.   I quietly enjoyed it.

 “Ready!”  Gabrielle called out.   Xena and I approached the sizzling skillet.  I stopped so Xena could go first.  I didn’t know how to take a hot fish out of a hotter frying pan -- with my fingers?   She squinted at me, and then... raised one eyebrow!  Finally!  But I couldn’t tell if that eyebrow was challenging me or questioning me.  Or both. 

 Xena whipped out a knife (probably the one she had at my throat earlier), stuck it into one of the fish and placed it on a small metal plate.  She then easily removed the skeleton and handed the plate to me. 

 “Thank you.” I said with relief.

 “You’re welcome.” Came the smiling reply.

 The three of us moved over to some low nearby rocks and sat to eat.  Apparently it’s easier for Xena to talk while Gabrielle’s “feeding”.   I have to admit that the bard likes to keep her mouth in motion!

 “Is it time yet?”  Xena asked me.

 “Time for what?”  I replied.  It sounded to me like an authentic Xena-type response.

 “You know what I mean.”  She sneered, obviously aware of my attempt to tease her.

 I was going to say “What?” but thought better of it.  I really didn’t want to spread her patience too thin.  

 Xena continued, “Time to tell us why Artemis sent you.”  Was that a question? 

 “It’s not time yet...”  I replied.   Better decide when -- and quickly. 

“When we get to the temple.”

 “When we get to the temple, then what?”  The Warrior Princess didn’t like to be kept in the dark.  Nope, not at all.  

 “Then your questions will be answered.”  I tried to make it sound definitive, end of discussion. 

 I could see a whole lot of confusion on both Xena’s and Gabrielle’s faces.   The expressions changed.  The warrior appeared a little ticked and the bard began to wonder just what those questions might be.  I looked away from them both as nonchalantly as I could. 

 

After we finished eating, Gabrielle left to clean the dishes and Xena stayed with me.  She looked me in the eyes (she really likes to look you straight in the eyes) put her hand on my shoulder and said “Now you and I need to talk.  Alone.”  I think her hand must have sensed my anxiety because she added, “Don’t be afraid.”  

 We walked several yards further away from Gabrielle, Xena’s hand still on my shoulder.

 “What’s a ‘car’? “

 “You heard?”  I was more surprised that she’d remembered.

 “Yes, what is it?”  She inquired softly, gently.

 I took a deep breath and started, “It’s like a cart, in that it has wheels, but instead of using an animal or person to pull it, it has something called a ‘motor’.”

 “Motor.”  She repeated.  “What’s a – “

 “Motor?” I finished her question.

 “Yes.  What’s a ‘motor’?”

 “Xena, “ I sighed, “ I can’t tell you everything.  You won’t --you can’t -- understand.”

 “I’m not asking for everything.  Just some things.  I’ll understand.”  I was surprised to get three sentences in a row.   Even if they were short ones.

 I took another deep breath and proceeded, “Xena.  YOU are a dream.  You and Gabrielle and all you see and do and feel are a part of a dream.”   She reflected on this for a moment.

 “I understand.”  Xena replied with an open sincerity that enticed me in.  “I’ve heard the gods explain it that way.”   This conversation had taken an unexpected turn for me.

 Plan B.  Now where have I heard that before?  “Xena,”  I started again, “I’m from another world, so to speak, and DEFINITELY from another time.”  I paused to see how that attempt registered.  

 She smiled back at me and spoke as to bridge my confession with her reality.

 “The gods are from another world, yet they visit this one -now and then, just like you’re doing.   As gods, they live forever.   It could be that they live in ‘another time’ like you say you do.”   

 I didn’t seem to be making any progress here.   Xena was making me sound god-like.  She had more understanding and I was becoming more confused. 

 By now, Gabrielle had finished cleaning up and was more than just a little bit interested in the private conversation that Xena and I were having.  Maybe even a tad jealous, maybe? 

 Carrying a water skin, she approached us and frankly asked “What’s going on here?”

 Xena answered for the both of us, “Jeri’s teaching me something new.” 

 Gabrielle quipped, “Something to add to your ‘many skills’ I suppose?”

 “Yup.” Xena was quick.  “She’s not like anyone we’ve encountered before.”

 “So I noticed.” Gabrielle added.

 Xena suggested we all sit down, and, after we’d done so, Gabrielle handed me the water skin.  My throat was extremely dry and somewhat tight.   The water tasted delicious.  Since my first attempt at drinking from the bag I’d observed them drink and I now did it well.  

 It was apparent that I was going to be the center of conversation so I took my time before passing the water to Xena.

 Xena had decided to trust me with Gabrielle, especially when she knew how much the bard was going to love my tales.  “Tell us about the other world and time” the warrior instructed.

 I was tempted to shoot right over their heads, and I did when I told them:

 “Xena, you are an amazingly popular action-adventure hero on a television show called “Xena: Warrior Princess” which stars, naturally,  yourself and Gabrielle.  The show depicts many of  your adventures and is so well received by the public that you have fans of all ages, genders, races and sexual orientation.  People even write stories about you and publish them on the Internet!”

 “STOP!”  Xena demanded.  I complied - fast.  “You are using too many words I don’t know”.  

 Gabrielle was in a state of shock and then started asking

 “A show?  Plays based on my stories?  Others will write stories about us?”

 Xena, on the other hand, asked “Television?  Sexual orientation?  Internet?”

 I could tell that she had now acquired a contemporary vocabulary.   “Things will never be the same after this”  I whispered to myself...  Nonetheless, Xena heard me.

 She rose and informed Gabrielle and me that we’d better get back on the road or we won’t make it to the temple before tomorrow night.   Conversation was over.  For now.

 

Xena got Argo and we headed back to the road to resume our trek.   Gabrielle walked beside me for quite some time without speaking and then broke the silence. 

 “A show?”

 “Yes,” I said, “ a whole series of shows.   Each performed weekly all over the world -- a world much larger than the one you know.”

 “Plays based on my stories?”  Her voice had gone a notch higher and I detected a glaze forming over her eyes.

 “They will be called ‘screenplays’ Gabrielle,” I supplied, “and they are all about the adventures you have with Xena.” 

 “Others will write stories about us?”  Her amazement was evident.

 “Yes indeed.  Your stories will inspire other stories.  Perhaps a hundred people, maybe more will write about you and the tales will be read by more people than you --or even I, can imagine.”

 Gabrielle’s mind was at capacity for now.  The questions disappeared.   As expected, Xena it heard all.

 The sun was low on the horizon.  It had indeed been a warm, lovely day. 

 We came to a halt and Xena said “Time to make camp for tonight”.  

 She led us off the path in her uncanny way.  She knew just where to stop.  Just where to find the perfect place to set up the camp.  There was fresh water, fallen logs and rocks to sit upon, plenty of firewood,  delicious grass for Argo to munch on,  she even managed a waterfall and, to my special delight, hot springs.  

 What a great dream!  I pictured Xena, Gabrielle and I relaxing in the soothing warm water,  talking and laughing.  We knew we did not have long together.  We would reach Artemis’ temple the next day. 

 The night unrolled just as I imagined.  Gabrielle and Xena decided not to press me further with questions and, instead, I delighted in listening to the bard spin her tales. 

 Rapt in her enthusiasm, marveling at her unabashed adoration of her Warrior Princess, I reveled in the love these two women have for each other.  Xena seemed to drink in her bard’s entire being.  The adoration was clearly mutual.  Shown so much more in their behavior than in words.  Even in my day and age,  with so many words at our ready we can’t really describe things so intangible and so exquisite as -- as what I was witnessing.

 No matter which way one looks at their relationship, they undeniably loved each other.  A sweet, heartfelt, soulful love.  The envy of many I’m sure.   Surprisingly, I felt my own heart move inside, as if it wanted to taste some of that sweetness.

 We lay down on the bedrolls alongside each other.  Gabrielle lay between Xena and me, close but not touching.  Gazing up we admired the vast canopy full of stars high above us.

 I said it’s a tradition where I come from to make a wish when you see a shooting star,  so we filled the night with wishes.

 Gabrielle turned onto her side and Xena spooned her, holding her close. 

 “Goodnight Jeri.”  The bard offered before closing her eyes. 

 “Sleep well.”  Xena added.  I couldn’t tell if her eyes were closed or not, although I suspect she can see through her eyelids anyway.

 “Thank you and I will.” I replied and sighed. 

 It was a peaceful dreamless night for all three of us.

 

Up!  Wake up!” Xena coaxed as she gently knocked my feet with her boots. 

 She was long up, fully dressed --armor, weapons and all --, and telling me I was just as much of a sleepyhead as Gabrielle. 

 I’m glad I had the bard for company.  But she was already sitting up.   Looking down at me she laughed “You’re worse than I am!”

 We were back on the road to Sacropolis.  The name of the city meant nothing to me, I just hoped there would be a very comfortable inn and good food waiting for my companions when they arrived.  I knew I wouldn’t make it that far, my destination was the temple. 

 Gabrielle and I talked all morning.  We talked mostly about the adventures of Xena and Gabrielle.  When she would press me to share my experiences I would query her on some aspect of the tale she’d just told.  It was effectively keeping her at bay.   By noon, she was all talked-out. 

 After we’d eaten and were back on the road, Xena asked Gabrielle to take Argo’s reins and lead for awhile.  She said “I’ve a few questions for the ‘messenger’ myself”. 

 Without hesitation Gabrielle took the reins.  With intense curiosity she turned her ear to listen to Xena and me.

 “What is ‘television’?”  Xena asked.

 I couldn’t even explain how a telephone worked.  Television was beyond me.  I defined it in my own terms.  I think she could picture it.

 “A television is like a box that on one side has like a.. window… that allows you to see and hear people doing and saying things in a place far away.”

 “Like the pools the gods have where they can observe the mortals?” Xena offered as clarification.

 “Yes, like that, sort of... But these windows to other places belong to many people, er, mortals.  I mean they don't just belong to the gods.  In these windows millions of people see your heroic quests, your journeys with, and your love for, Gabrielle.”

 “What if we don’t want them to see us?  What is millions?”

 I told Xena that it’s too late -- this is their ‘destiny’ -- and I simply compared millions to the number of stars that dazzled our eyes the night before.   To my astonishment she appeared to understand.

 A few minutes passed quietly by.

 “What is ‘sexual orientation’?”  This Ex-Warlord and Champion to the Queen of the Amazons innocently asked.  If only she knew what an issue this is in my time. 

 “I guess in this ‘known world’ of yours the term is unnecessary.  People here just seem to love whoever they love and that’s that.  However, in my world it is a term used to describe an individual’s natural bonding -- emotionally, physically and even spiritually -- to another person.  Sometimes a person bonds in these ways with  someone who is the same sex as he or she is.  Usually a person bonds with someone of the opposite sex.”  

 Xena was attentive.  “So ‘sexual orientation’ means ‘love’?   Why not just say ‘love’?”

 A valid point.  I continued, replacing ‘sexual orientation’ with ‘love’.

 “What is truly amazing is that people in my world see the bond between you and Gabrielle and it touches everyone regardless of his or her ‘love’.”  

 “What’s so amazing about that?” she countered.

 “It shouldn’t be.  I found it amazing anyway.”  I conceded.   I was tired after trying to explain this to Xena although she was being a very patient, attentive listener and I’m sure she was willing to go on.   She sensed my hesitation.   I had felt inadequate in my explanation but at least I tried.

 Thoughtfully Xena walked up to Argo and untied one of the water skins.  She touched Gabrielle on the shoulder and asked “Did you hear all of that?”  Gabrielle looked her in the eyes, smiled, holding the gaze, and nodded “Yes”. 

 Xena handed the water bag to me, “Thought you might be thirsty”.   Was I ever.

 After about fifteen minutes, Xena ventured with another question.

 “What is ‘Internet’?” 

 I moaned inwardly.  This might be harder than ‘sexual orientation’.

 Where to start.... “Where I come from, many people have what are called ‘computers’...”

 Xena gave me a quizzical look.  At least with ‘television’ she understood the underlying roots of ‘tele-‘, from the Greek for ‘far’  and ‘vision’.  The word computer obviously did not compute.

 “Let me start again then...  The television allows us to see and hear other people in far away places and at different times but it doesn’t allow us to communicate directly with them...  The Internet allows us to do that and many other wonderful things as well.”   My explanation was falling far short of satisfactory.  I wanted to just say “It’s magic!” and have it over and done with.   Ultimately that’s what I said.

 “It’s magic, Xena!”  I cocked my head to the side and said the words through a grin.   “Pure magic!  The people in my world have all kinds of reason, logic and explanation for how it works but to me it’s magic.  I happened to see you and Gabrielle on a television one night and I wanted to know more about you.  I used the magic of the Internet to do that.”

 “You can’t explain it, can you.”   Xena made it a statement rather than a question.

 “No, I can’t explain it in terms I think you’ll understand.   But I can tell you that because of the Internet I know that there are many people in the world who love you and Gabrielle.  They long to spend some time in your world, traveling with you, fighting alongside you and maybe wishing, or maybe, dreaming of a simpler reality -- before we knew the earth was round.”  I stopped talking,  my mouth dry again.

 “The earth is round?!”  Xena asked -- exclaimed!  

 I thought  “Oh No!”  To think I imagined Gabrielle’s questions would be endless.

 “Aren’t we near that temple yet?!”  I tossed the question at Xena.  “I need rest!”    

 “Very near” She replied.  Then she added “Thank you.”  The tension started to leave my shoulders. 

 It was almost sunset and behind the small temple were the beginnings of a sky ablaze with color.

 While I was saddened that this dream-journey of mine would end soon, I was thankful for many things.   Xena allowed us to walk at my slower pace (I never did get on Argo).  We hadn’t been ambushed by marauders.  I didn’t get to witness Xena’s fighting skills or Gabrielle’s staff mastery first hand - but I was spared seeing, ouch!, broken bones, or, yuck!, blood.   And we weren’t  diverted from our ‘mission’ by some unfortunate soul in need of our Warrior’s help.      

 

Before I left I wanted to know why these two women seemed to accept me and my ‘mission’ for them so easily.

 “What makes you so certain I’m servant of the goddess?” I asked Xena.

 Gabrielle answered “Your breeches.”  I’m sure she meant “your shorts”.

 “My shorts?!  What is that supposed to mean?”  My turn for a question.

 She gave me an astonished look.  “How can you not know?  You wear the name of the Goddess of Victory, Nike, on your very clothes!  We took it as a sign.”  

 Gods!  To think I thought it JUST another clothing label name!

 We stood together outside the entrance in silent appreciation of the heavenly display.

 After the last speck of sun passed from view I said “Come with me”. 

 Xena hesitated and asked “What about our offerings to Artemis?” 

 “It’s me.” I whispered,  “For all three of us.”  

 We went into the temple and stopped at the shrine. 

 I knelt.  Gabrielle knelt.  Xena knelt. 

 “Artemis.”  I spoke softly.  “I thought I had just pulled your name out of the air to use you as a way to spend some time in my dreaming journey with these two.  Now I cannot help but think that it was REALLY you who called me to be a part of their lives for a little while.” 

 I took a short reflective pause before proceeding.

 “I thank you for allowing me to experience the world from a different perspective than I’m accustomed to and I hope I’ve been able to give Gabrielle and Xena an insight into how very important they are to my world.” 

 I raised myself up and turned to face my two friends.  A noise came from a distance.  No, not a noise.  It was music.

  Xena and Gabrielle stood up together, held hands and smiled at me.

 “Any more questions?”  I asked.

 Xena said “No more questions.  We have the answers.  Thanks.” 

 Gabrielle nodded her agreement and sweetly said “Thank you – and farewell!”

 

I turned back to face the shrine and vanished into it.

“Artemis, you owe me a day at the hot springs for this!”

 Where is that darn clock!  I reached over and banged the “Snooze” button.

 “Just a little longer, please!”  I begged to whatever gods would listen.

 

 

 THE END