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The Messenger

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The first time I remember entering Amazon land, I was twenty years old. My name had been slowly spreading outside the provinces of Rome, gaining notoriety as I conquered territory after territory for my empire. At the time, I was Livia, the future wife of Augustus Caesar and fierce commander for the country of Italia. Many came to refer to me, however, as the Empress Bitch. The Amazons were soon to find out why.

As the commander of the Roman army, I was tasked with not only protecting Rome and her people, but preserving Roman values. This meant destroying any citizen in the empire who dared oppose Roman principles, and imposing those same principles onto any and every neighboring nation. As the adopted daughter and future wife of the emperor, Roman principles meant appeasing me personally. Any religious group that didn’t believe in or respect the power of my gods, I found ways to persecute their practices, making their entire belief systems all but forbidden. Any political movement that grew to oppose my power, I threatened or assassinated their leaders, until all that was left was a nation of citizens too fearful of me and my emperor to dissent our rule. When I wasn’t oppressing my own people, my army was capturing land and overthrowing non-Roman governments. Soon, I thought, being the Empress of Rome would mean being the Empress of the world.

As the terrority for my empire grew, the name Livia began infecting all those who heard it with the fear of my young and reckless cruelty. I didn’t always kill for capital gain, or even for my empire. I killed to protect my ego and secure my legacy. If someone posed a threat to me, disrespected or challenged me somehow, I would slash their throat like Zeus throwing a bolt of lightning onto a cockroach. I lived for that look in someone’s eye as they realized the last thing they were going to see in their entire life was my smiling face and muscular body beaming above them, unconquerable by any of my detractors. As other leaders of the Empire drank wine and partied in the name of Bacchus, I got drunk off the fear of others and devoted myself to Ares, the God of War, in every way I could.

The military training I received as the child of a Roman leader gave me an edge over other young aspiring soldiers in the Empire. That and my natural desire to learn and acquire new skills by any means necessary made me a killing machine before I ever reached adulthood. I rose to top ranks in the Roman army fast. My physical vigor along with my still young and naive attitude quickly made me an object of interest among older and more powerful men, including even the man who raised me and the God of War, himself. I considered it a sort of fun chore to entertain both men, enjoying the power and influence my associations with them offered. As my relationship with Ares grew, however, his power and influence over me grew beyond what I could have ever imagined. I worshipped him, his wisdom, his power, and more than anything, his seeming care for me. Ares was my lover, mentor, and protector. When he suggested enslaving a powerful tribe of Amazons, any moral concerns I had over killing without cause was pushed aside to follow my God whichever way he led me. Enslaving the Amazons, Ares told me, would let me “watch the name Livia spread all over the world.” The thought was intoxicating. Even more intoxicating was knowing that the Great God of War was helping me spread my name, aiding in my quest to become one of the most feared women in history. So I gathered my troops and marched armed into Amazon territory.

The Amazon sisters were the first people I killed in absolute cold blood. Even in all my acts of oppression on my homeland, I had never murdered without some noteworthy threat from my victim, either in the form of physical danger or the risk of losing my place as a leader or respect of my empire. The Amazons posed no peril to Rome nor to myself, and there was nothing to be gained by occupying their land. Before becoming a commander, in fact, I had always respected the Amazon Nation. Between my time with Roman politicians and the Roman military, I would be lying if I said I never spent a night wishing I had been born with Amazonian blood and raised in a sisterhood of strong warriors, instead of an empire of male dominance.

The Amazons were far from the last of the innocent lives I took, but my crimes against them haunt me more with each passing day. There are only a few moments in one’s life in which they make explicit decisions that determine who they grow into being. My entrance onto Amazon land that day thrusted me onto a path of utter wickedness, one I only recently separated myself from.

After a brutal attack on the Amazons’ home land, I captured almost half the sisters of that tribe and brought them onto my ship. The esteemed warlord, Gurkhan, was known for taking women as wives against their will, especially women and girls deemed to be “exotic” and rare. I sailed to North Africa hoping that he would be my highest bidder. The amazons turned out not to be the type of “exotic” Gurkhan or any of his slave-holding cohorts desired, however. They were too fierce, too strong-willed. They weren’t suitably domestic for the taste of rich and powerful men. When I went to auction them off, the sisters spat in the faces of their bidders. They cursed at any man who looked lower than their necks and swore the wrath of Artemis onto any who dared touch them. Every bid was withdrawn; I couldn’t make a single proft.

The men began laughing at me, told me I knew nothing about what a man looks for in a wife. “I can show you what makes a good bride,” one old, drunk voice whispered over my shoulder. I’ll never forget the feeling of his dry, cracked hand as he pushed it under my breastplate onto the skin of my chest. I elbowed him in the face before he could get his fingers all the way to my nipple, but other men in the room began looking to me in seemingly similar sentiments.

I left the market in a rage, stopping only to punch a few other slave-traders on my way out as they jokingly reached for my body, slurring things like “I’ll put an auction on you anyday, sweetheart.” Ares laughed as I brought the Amazons back onto my ship.

“No takers, huh?”

I didn’t look at him as I yanked the Amazons back on board by their shackles.

“Oh you’re not mad at me, are you?” He chuckled.

“This was your idea,” I growled, then ordered my soldiers to sail the boat forward.

“Don’t blame me because you’re no good at making a sale,” he said.

“There was no way for me to convince them,” I said. “They wanted nothing to do with Amazons. They want women they can break, who will submit to them. They’re sick and perverted. They’re-”

“Men?” Ares interrupted, laughing again. “What did you expect? You want to rule this entire world and you can’t even handle a room full of rich drunks thinking with their dicks? Get a hold of yourself, Livia.”

He zapped himself off the ship, disappearing before I could defend myself or accuse him of misleading me. As we travelled out of the region, I made the coldest decision of my life up until that point, one that changed me from a self-serving and power-hungry commander to a hate-filled monster with an abandoned sense of compassion. I threw the Amazons overboard my ship, their shackles still clasped over their hands and feet.

The screams lasted only a few moments before being muffled by the deep waters of the Mediterranean Sea. For the first time since I was a child, I felt no pride or contentment in conquering a fierce opponent. The Amazons had been no threat to me, and there was no honor in taking the lives of women bound in chains. Strangely, I also felt no guilt or sadness in the murder of defenseless victims. I made the decision to turn away fully from whatever compassion and mercy that still lived inside me. From that day forward, I left any remnants of a moral conscience behind as I turned my attention to the search for absolute power. This is what turned me into a monster.

Almost nine years have passed since that unforgivable incident, and I’ve spent the last two trying to atone for all of my wicked misdeeds. The Amazons have shown me mercy in the two trips I’ve made onto their land since. Theirs and many others’ ability to extend forgiveness and treat me with an undeserved understanding has become an immeasurable help for me on my path toward goodness and hope. There only two people who have helped me more. Eli, my one God and spiritual guide, and Xena, my mother. Like me, my mother choose a path of light and love only after overcoming tremendous darkness and overwhelming guilt. Her patience and love for me brought me into the light of God and away from my sinful past. Though she is now gone, I know her memory will stay with me always, showing me the way away from the shadows of my past.

Two years later, I was on my way back to Amazon land, travelling with Gabrielle, my mother’s faithful partner. Looking at her, I was reminded of all the good my mother had done for this world. Before meeting Xena, Gabrielle was a young, naive village girl, writing fictitious tales of adventure in her hometown of Potidea, wishing she could have stories of her own. After years with my mother, she now did, and many at that. The scrolls Gabrielle wrote on their time together were so near and dear to my heart. Having spent the first 25 years of my life without knowing my mother, reading the stories of her adventures written by someone who so obviously loved and admired her, inspired me to move forward on my path when I felt so lost.

Gabrielle as a person was also incredibly inspiring to me. She was no longer the girl she was when she met my mother. She was a strong, brave, and wise warrior herself, taking all the lessons she learned from her time with Xena and using them to help others and change lives for the better. Even with her many experiences with violence and war, she was a beacon of light and hope, always believing in the good of man and the power of peace. It was no wonder she was one of the first disciples of my God. Without Gabrielle as well, I’m sure my path into the light of Eli would not have been possible.

“She would be so proud of you, you know,” I said to her. I watched her force a small smile as she looked at me with unconvinced eyes.

“Thanks, Eve,” she said. “Just wish she could be the one to tell me that.”

For a while after her death, the ghost of my mother stayed beside Gabrielle, coaching her through battles and keeping her company at night while she dealt with her newfound loneliness. Gabrielle said it was the only thing that put her at ease with Xena’s passing. As time went on, though, she was visited by Xena’s spirit less and less, hearing her only when she desperately needed encouragement. One night, she heard a soft voice whisper, “Thank you,” as she drifted into sleep. It was the last time she heard my mother.

By the time Gabrielle found me travelling in the East, her spirit was hollow. I saw her from across a village in Samje, but I knew even from far away that she was barely hanging on. Her head slunk low, her shoulders slouched, and as she came closer, I could see the area beneath her eyes had darkened like someone was actually draining the light from her.

I had known weeks before of my mother’s passing. My eastern journey as the Messenger of Eli started in Chin, a land not far from Jappa, where my mother was killed. Along with the news that Xena had been beheaded in battle, something that pompous warlords loved to laugh loudly over in taverns, I was relieved to hear legends of a new warrior, The Battling Bard of Potidaea, who had inherited the chakram of the Warrior Princess and continued her fight for the greater good throughout the middle and far east. Gabrielle was being heralded as a hero, one that brought hope to those in need of a brighter and more just future. Though I missed my mother greatly, I knew her memory would live on as long as people like Gabrielle were around to inspire others with her goodness and bravery. When I realized Gabrielle’s own light had begun to dim, however, I knew she couldn’t continue on her journey as she had been, so I joined her on a trip back to Greece where she could rejoin the Amazon nation and settle in as their Queen.

As we walked toward camp, I looked to Gabrielle. Physically, she was stronger than I had ever seen her. The months after Xena’s death had propelled her into a life of even harder fighting. Without my mother around to take out tougher enemies, Gabrielle was left to handle every nasty warlord and criminal on her own. This forced her to get tougher, faster, and more determined than ever before. I imagine, as well, that Xena’s death pushed her into fighting more frequently. I know a thing or two about using battle as a distraction from your own thoughts and pain, and I could see so much pain in her.

Underneath her hardened muscle, though, I could see a woman breaking apart in her mourning. The once spirited bard, hungry for spiritual enlightenment and eager to share a human connection with anyone and everyone, now walked through life half alive, barely making it from battle to battle. In our entire journey from Samje back to Greece, I seldom heard Gabrielle speak about anything more than how far we were from our destination and where our next stop should be.

“She’s with you, Gabrielle,” I said as we walked onto the border of Amazon lands. “I know it.”

I didn’t know it, but I knew Gabrielle needed something to hold onto as she made her way into her new life without her best friend. I also knew that I couldn’t stay long to settle her once we reached the Amazon camp. While my crimes against the Amazons had been forgiven, and I was no longer banished from their lands, I still knew my presence among them was not in favor of much of the sisterhood. I could be pardoned for every crime I had ever committed, and excuse all of my despicable deeds as being made by Livia instead of Eve, but I could never fully wash away the blood that stained my hands or heal all the pain and suffering I’ve caused. Coming onto Amazon lands, expecting the women to look into my eyes again and remember how I once nearly destroyed their mighty and proud nation, would just be reviving trauma best left asleep.

As we walked further into Amazon territory, I allowed my head to fall lower and lower, looking only to the ground as we crept slowly toward the camp. Keeping a low profile, I thought, would be the most respectful thing I could do in this situation. Bring Gabrielle into the camp, ensure that she’s well and safe, then leave before bringing any attention to myself. Perhaps I would make one visit to one Amazon, the one who last pardoned me from execution, to express the gratitude I felt toward her and her compassion. No matter how far from Greece and Rome I travelled, she was on my mind always, both for the shame and guilt I felt in my sins against her, and for the respect I held for her empathy and willingness to forgive.

“Eve, look,” Gabrielle said after a few moments. I brought my head up, thinking we were close enough to see some of the huts of the village or maybe a few Amazons hunting. What I saw was smoke reaching high into the sky, above the trees and coming from directly ahead of us, where the Amazon village presumably resided. A second later I began to smell it.

“C’mon,” she said.

Gabrielle began sprinting ahead and I followed. I couldn’t imagine what was going through her head now. The Amazons were a family to both Gabrielle and my mother, but they were constantly under attack from warlords, empires, or sometimes bratty wannabe-empresses seeking power and fame. A fire could have erupted at the Amazon village for any number of reasons, ranging from a brutal and catastrophic attack to some regularly occurring, and nonlethal, ritual. I knew that Gabrielle’s swift sprint toward the camp didn’t mean the Amazons were surely under attack, but it meant Gabrielle couldn’t risk it. She had lost Xena, she wouldn’t lose her sisters, too.

As we ran up to camp, it was obvious no devastating attack had taken place throughout the village. The buildings and homes of the Amazons stood sturdy and undamaged, though no Amazons could be seen in or around them.

Gabrielle stopped running and looked around.

“It doesn’t look like there was an attack,” I said.

“No,” Gabrielle said, turning her head from left to right, hoping to see some sign of life among the huts. “But where is everyone?”

“It’s probably some Amazon ritual,” I said. “Those can involve fire sometimes, right? Why don’t we go check the village center.”

Gabrielle nodded. I hoped she would realize her fears were irrational, and that there was no reason to become overwhelmed with worries; but she grabbed her sias from her boots and clutched them tightly before walking further through the village.

On our way through the deserted-looking camp, the smell of smoke became stronger. I knew the smell well, though it was always hard to describe. It was like a mixture of feces, rotting meat, and a sweet perfume. Since I was nineteen, I had never been able to get this smell completely out of my nose. It was always hiding there, tightly clinging to the hairs of my nostrils, just in case I ever forgot.

I looked to Gabrielle as we entered the center of the village. Her eyes welled up with tears as she dropped her sais and cradle her head. Ahead of us, the Amazons stood circled around a burning pile of their sisters, watching as the smoke blackened the sky above them.