In the silence of the night the guards on shift patrolled the tree top bridges surrounding the town of Edessa in one of the densest forests of Thrace. The number of guards had been doubled within the last moon cycle which meant a punishing daily routine for the warriors of the town. The warriors were all women; strong, fast, agile and trained to be the ultimate efficient killing machines. Despite this training they were a peaceful race, only armed to protect their lifestyle, families and the powerful relic they protected. The relic’s presence had been a secret from the outside world for nearly thirty years but now its location was suspected and by none other than a warlord from the other side of the forest and mountain range.
This warlord was called Tarbus and since discovering the possible location of the precious and powerful relic he had continuously sent small raiding parties to ascertain if the rumour was true. These raiding parties could occur at any time, day or night, and had the town on high alert. However it was clear it would only be so long before he made a move to completely conquer the town to find answers. Warlords never feared needless death unless it was their own.
Every rustle of leaves or the simple snapping of a twig made their hairs stand on end. The area closest to the warriors was lit by a series of torches dug in to the ground. However it was hard to make out in the distant darkness whether the sounds were coming from approaching soldiers or forest animals. It was when the sounds kept creeping closer…that’s when it was time to worry.
The thick forest canopy blocked out most of the pale light from the moon and stars despite the fact it was a clear night. Occasionally where there was a slight break in the cover where slivers of silver would shine through but barely enough to cast any illumination. It meant it was impossible to see where she was going as she ran. So instead of relying on her eyes she relied on her other senses and her memory. This part of the forest was very familiar to her and as a warrior she was always taking in the details of her surroundings. Although her memory gave her a good guide to where the trees were positioned it was impossible to remember every uneven bit of ground, rock or tree route. It meant that Antonia was consistently stumbling or falling to her knees. It was hampering her escape from the group of soldiers following her who seemed to be having no such problem navigating the forest landscape.
She could just about make out the separate footfall of six men only twenty steps or so behind her. In the pitch black she would struggle to fight them off but if she could get to the small clearing just less than a minute away (presuming she was running on the correct route) then at least she would be able to see what attacks she would have to parry. Six to one where not great odds but she’d faced worst. The odds were never going to be great when dealing with a power mad warlord.
She pressed on and managed to reach the clearing just before the soldier’s caught her up. Swinging around, she faced them head on. There had indeed been six of them perusing her and as soon as they reached the clearing they fanned out, clearly planning to all attack her at once. She reached over her shoulders and pulled her two swords from their sheaths, readying herself for what was likely to be her last fight.
As the men started to step forward though there was a loud cry and suddenly a flash of silver streaked across the clearing and struck three of the men in the head, taking them down. Antonia had no time to see who or what had come to her aid as the other three men began to move quickly towards her. Two reached her first and she parried both their swords with her own, pushing through the gap she had made between them and spinning one sword low behind one man’s knees. He fell as she parried the other man but she was very aware that she had lost sight of the third man Suddenly a flash of his sword came towards her head but before she could block it the mystery fourth person blocked the sword with a long decorative metal object. Antonia turned her focus back to the second man and brought her second sword around to cut him down at the waist.
The fourth person had knocked the last soldier out cold with the mysterious object. She pushed the strands of red hair that had fallen out of her braids from in front of her eyes. Now the danger was over Antonia could see that it was a tall and muscular woman with long dark brown hair. She wore leather armour with a patterned breastplate. The strange object in her hand was a Caduceus, the emblem of Hermes, messenger of the old gods. Atop it, between the wings, sat a large gleaming emerald. As Antonia silently observed her the warrior turned and began to walk away across the clearing.
“Wait!” Antonia called out after her, “who are you?”
She sped after the warrior and when she reached out for her shoulder the brunette turned and grabbed the hand that was coming towards her. The grasp was firm but not uncomfortable. As soon as their hands connected Antonia saw flashes of what she presumed was the warriors life through the woman’s eyes.
A younger woman with long strawberry blonde hair, clearly very ill, is lying on a bed. She was beautiful despite how ill she appeared, Antonia could see that but she could also feel how beautiful the warrior found the woman.
“You’re my source Gabrielle. When I reach down inside of myself and do things I am not capable of it’s because of you.”
Gabrielle. The blonde’s name was Gabrielle. Antonia had no time to reflect on the name before the scene in front of her shifted to a happier scene of this Gabrielle, now healthy again and with shorter hair, bathing in a lake in the woods. The scene shifted again to blonde holding a baby…the warrior’s baby if Antonia was reading the emotion she was feeling correctly. Then suddenly all she felt was pain and sorrow. She was on a beach, nailed to a cross, and Gabrielle was on the cross across from her.
“Gabrielle, you were the best thing in my life…”
“I love you Xena.”
To Antonia’s relief the scene changed again but the pain of the crucifixion didn’t fade away it only shifted. Instead she was left with a great sadness and emotional pain that she couldn’t quite understand and she could barely breathe. It was like someone had put a great pressure on her neck and the blood to her brain had been cut off. She was knelt in front of this Gabrielle, looking deeply into the confused and saddened blonde’s eyes.
“Gabrielle, if I only had 30 seconds to live, this is how I’d want to live them…looking in to your eyes.”
The warrior was so sad but it became clear to Antonia why when it shifted to the next memory. The woman had known she was going to die…had even planned to die. Apparently the brunette wasn’t shy in sharing her pain because Antonia was now subjected to the agony of multiple arrows piercing her skin as she fought off soldiers with a remarkably sharp but lightweight sword. Her vision began to blur as a soldier stepped forward and swung his sword toward her head. There was a flash of unimaginable pain before everything went black.
Antonia had presumed this would be the end of the visions but one more invaded her mind. The warrior and her blonde companion…soul mate…Antonia somehow knew she was her soul mate….were sat on a snowy mountaintop overlooking the setting sun. The blonde seemed desperate to save the warrior but Antonia could feel the brunette’s sadness. She wanted to be saved for this Gabrielle’s sake but knew she had to die to save to souls of others.
“I’ll always be with you Gabrielle.”
The memory faded away and Antonia was back again in the dark clearing, clasping the brunette’s hand.
Once the visions had stopped Antonia could finally focus and understand what she had witnessed. Xena and Gabrielle…even in Thrace these were familiar names…Xena the Warrior Princess and her battling bard from the Greek mainland’s. They had been thought dead and then reappeared twenty five years later without having aged only to have Xena die again…or so the stories that reached their town had claimed. She was dreaming about a dead woman. Hermes Caduceus was meant to be able to carry messages from the spiritual world.
Suddenly the clearing seemed to morph from night to day and in the middle of the clearing there was a large cherry tree. Antonia had seen one once whilst on a trading trip in Greece. A rich tradesman had imported one from Japa and wanted everyone to admire its beauty as the centrepiece of his gardens. This cherry tree was much larger than the one she had seen and its pink blossom filled branches stretched out across the clearing and over their heads. Xena released her hand and looked up at the branches. The blossom began to fall from the tree and rain down upon them but instead of flower petals the blossom was made up of elegant pink feathers. Antonia was no romantic but she had to admit that the falling feathers had a strange sort of beauty to them. It was the first time in a long time that she had felt hopeful.
The same hope seemed to be mirrored on the Warrior Princesses face. Antonia knew that all she was witnessing must mean something but wasn’t really sure what. Xena was dead…what use could a dead person be to her.
“I’m not good at spiritual things…I’m more of a fighter” she stated.
“Me neither” the warrior responded with a slight smile.
There was a faint noise in the forest behind them. It was familiar but Antonia couldn’t quite place it yet. Its presence seemed to worry the previously relaxed brunette.
“Find Gabrielle" the warrior insisted as the light faded to night again around them. The feathers were still falling but Antonia could barely see them in the dark.
“What? Why? How?” she blurted in response. She had so many questions but it was obvious she was running out of time. The blaring noise became louder and louder.
“Amphipolis” Xena called out above the sound. Antonia hadn’t heard of the name before but it sounded like a Greek place name.
Finally the noise became loud enough for Antonia to fully process it. It was a warning horn…
Antonia awoke with a start to the sound of the Edessian war horn. Her dream was still clear in her mind but there was no time to reflect on it when the town was under attack. She didn’t even bother putting her armor on. Instead she grasped her swords and charged out of her hut into the night, wearing nothing but her night shift.