The first time I remember entering Amazon land, I was twenty years old. My name was 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. My countries' people called me the Bitch of Rome. 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 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 practically 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 Empress of Rome would mean being Empress of the world.
As the territory for my empire grew, the name Livia infected 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 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 unconquerable body standing above them, smiling and wiping my blade. 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 soldiers in the Empire. I was a killing machine before I ever reached adulthood, and my physical vigor paired with my still naive head quickly made me an object of interest among older, 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 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 into Amazon territory.
The Amazon sisters were the first people I killed in absolute cold blood. In all my acts of oppression on my homeland, I had never murdered without some noteworthy threat from my victim, either physical danger or the risk of losing the 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, 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 warrior women, 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 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 walked 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 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. 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 profit.
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 pushing under my breastplate onto the skin of my breast. I elbowed him in the face before he could get his fingers to my nipple, but other men looked to me in similar sentiments.
I left the market in a rage, stopping only to punch a few slave-traders as they jokingly reached for my body, slurring things like “I’ll put an auction on you any day, 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 said, then ordered my soldiers to sail forward.
“Don’t blame me because you’re no good at making a sale,” he said.
“There was no way to convince them,” I said. “They wanted nothing to do with Amazons. They want women they can break and overpower. They’re sick and perverted. They’re-”
“Men?” Ares said, 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 snapped his fingers and was gone from 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. I was worse than a self-serving, power-hungry commander.
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. 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 dignity in taking the lives of women bound in chains. But for the first time, 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 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 forgive my inexcusable past has made my path toward goodness and peace possible. There only two people who have helped me more: Eli, my one God, and Xena, my mother. Like me, my mother choose a path of light and love only after overcoming darkness and crushing guilt. Her patience and love for me brought me into the light of God and away from the sins of my past. Though she is now gone, I know her memory will stay with me always.
Two years later, I was on my way back to Amazon land, traveling 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 Potidaea, wishing she could have stories of her own. After years with my mother, she did, and many at that. The scrolls Gabrielle wrote of their time together were so near and dear to my heart. Having spent the first 25 years of my life without my mother, reading stories of her adventures inspired me on my own path when I felt so lost.
Gabrielle was also inspiring to me. She was no longer just a young poet from Potidaea. She was a strong, brave, and wise warrior herself, taking all the lessons she learned from my mother and using them to help others. Even with her many experiences in 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. She forced a small smile and looked to 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, 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 to sleep. It was the last time she heard my mother.
By the time Gabrielle found me traveling 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 sunk low, her shoulders slouched, and as she came closer, I could see the area beneath her eyes had darkened like someone was 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 over in taverns, I heard 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. 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 greatness and bravery. When I realized Gabrielle’s own light had begun to dim, 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.
But underneath her hardened muscle, there was a woman breaking apart in mourning. The once spirited bard, hungry for enlightenment and eager to share a human connection with anyone, 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 journeyed 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, my presence among them was not in favor of much of the sisterhood. I could be pardoned for every crime I had ever committed, change my name from Livia to Eve, but I could never fully wash away the blood that stained my hands or heal the pain I’ve caused. Coming onto Amazon lands, expecting the women to look into my eyes and remember how I once nearly destroyed their proud nation, would just be waking trauma best left asleep.
As we walked further, I allowed my head to fall lower, looking only to the ground as we pushed toward camp. Keeping a low profile, I thought, would be the most respectful thing I could do. Bring Gabrielle into the camp, ensure that she’s well and safe, then leave before bringing attention to myself. Perhaps I would make a visit to one Amazon, the one who pardoned me from execution, to express my undying gratitude. No matter how far from Greece and Rome I travelled, she was on my mind always, both for the shame and guilt I felt, and the respect I held for her 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, in the Amazon village. 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 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 attack to some planned ritual. I knew that Gabrielle’s swift sprint toward the camp didn’t mean the Amazons were surely in danger, but 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's 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 cradled 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.
Gabrielle wiped the tears from below her eye, clenching her jaw to stop it from trembling. Her sisters sat still and stern around us, backs pin-straight as they waited for Gabrielle to calm her sniffling and look back to them in the circle.
Kanae, Cyane, and Varia I recognized from my previous trips on these lands. Three others, however, I had never seen before this day. The Amazon Nation, despite its many enemies, was still growing; and there I was, a piece of their harrowing past, sitting amongst them. Even the Amazons I didn’t recognize looked to me in disdain.
Maybe it was her tear soaked face or the general respect she often commanded, but no one stopped Gabrielle from bringing me into this space of Amazon Royalty. A few stared directly at me, eyes narrowed and filled with hatred, not even bothering to pretend otherwise when I caught them glaring. They wanted me to know I was being watched carefully, even if I had been allowed inside. Only two were ignoring my presence: Amari, the stony new leader of the Amazon Nation, whose face hadn’t once flashed a sign of emotion; and Varia, who looked only to the floor, avoiding my gaze completely.
I had never seen Varia look so small in a room before. When I first arrived on Amazon lands with my mother and Gabrielle, she was a fearsome Amazon Princess, with a love for battle and a commitment to lead her tribe. When she became Queen, it was her that organized the unification of Amazon tribes and created the Amazon Nation as it now existed; and it was her that confronted me on my past and insisted I stand trial for my crimes. I couldn’t understand why she now appeared so meagar in this company.
“When did this happen?” Gabrielle said from inside her palms, the only Amazon in the hut slouching as she rested her elbows on her knees.
“The attack was three days ago,” Amari said. While I still didn’t understand why Varia was no longer leading this Nation, I could see clearly how Amari could take over. In all my years as a warrior, rarely had I seen a woman’s body so strong and firm, like the Gods crafted her as the model for human strength. Her arms looked as though they could punch through stone, her abs appeared impenetrable by blade, and her legs might’ve propelled her into Heaven with a strong enough leap. Even her cheekbones sat high and proud on her face, like they too could cut any man who dared get too close. If the Amazons needed someone intimidating and formidable to face their enemies, Amari was perfect; and Varia, who once trained with Ares and beat both my mother and Gabrielle in combat, sat next to her looking gentle in comparison.
“How many are dead?” Gabrielle said, her voice so quiet that it could barely be heard, even in the deafening silence of the room.
“Twenty-one of our sisters were killed during battle,” Amari said, keeping her chin parallel to the ground as she spoke, letting only her eyes peer down to Gabrielle, who was hunched over herself and wiping her nose with the back of her hand. “Five more died later of injury.”
Gabrielle straightened her back and took a deep breath, trying to muster the strong Queen within her; but the redness in her eyes and the dampness of her cheeks couldn’t be hidden or ignored even as she puffed out her chest.
“Do we know who the men were?” Gabrielle said, her voice still shaky but not yet cracking.
A brief moment of silence struck the hut. I looked from Gabrielle to the other Amazons and they all looked to one another. Some mouths opened slightly, small, unintelligible noises coming from them as they exchanged hesitant glances.
“The soldiers were Roman,” Amari said, not even glancing at her sisters.
“Roman?” The mournfulness of Gabrielle’s face was replaced with bewilderment and she looked to her sisters for confirmation.
I looked toward an Amazon sister as well; toward Varia, the Amazon who had acted as judge for my crimes against the Amazon nation. It was Varia who pardoned me. Her act of forgiveness I had since considered a gift from Eli himself; a true miracle. But it wasn’t just me Varia had shown mercy. On that trip toward Amazon land, I was yet again working for Rome, this time as a messenger for peace instead of a bringer of bloodshed. My pardon was a part of a new era, one in which a hugely powerful nation was reaching out in truce toward others, offering coexistence and kindness instead of violence and greed. And other nations were accepting this offer and showing mercy on those who were willing to change. Varia allowing me to go from her land free meant that Rome and the Amazons were no longer enemies, but allies. I hoped to see some explanation in her eyes; but I only saw the top of her head as she continued looking toward the floor.
“How could that be possible?” Gabrielle said.
I shared the same astonishment. Following the death of Caligula, the Roman empire had been led by Claudius, the first emperor in modern Roman history to truly value peace and tolerance, even at the cost of power. He was on a mission to make amends with both the Amazons and the followers of Eli. My head spun at the suggestion that he could have ordered an attack on Amazon land. Rome was a changed empire.
Still, I couldn’t allow myself to make a noise of objection in this room. Despite my closeness with an Amazon Queen, I was hardly welcome. I knew the only reason I had been allowed into this meeting of leaders was because Gabrielle had insisted I be near her as she attempted to cope with this tragedy, and her sisters respected her too much to protest.
“We don’t know for sure that they were Roman,” Cyane, the queen of the Northern tribe of Amazons, said. I was relieved to hear her. Since my own trial on these lands, I had known Cyane as a fair and respectable leader. Without her, I may have been beheaded long ago at the hands of vengeful Amazons demanding my immediate execution.
“They were dressed in Roman uniform,” Amari said. “Who else could have attacked us?”
“Why would Rome attack us?” Samira said, a new face of Amazon leadership. “We have been under peace treaty since before the battle at Helicon and we have only dwindled in numbers and supplies since. There is nothing to gain for them.”
“Having nothing to gain did not stop Rome from infiltrating our lands before,” Kanae said.
I looked to the ground but I could feel eyes drifting toward me, some of them trying to cut directly into my skull.
“Amari is right,” Kanae continued. “There is no other explanation.”
“Rome has not been in conflict with other nations since the death of Caligula,” Cyane said. “Why would they go back on their treaties now?”
“We cannot trust the treaties of this empire,” Amari said. “They have not earned such good faith.”
“I have spoken with the new emperor” Gabrielle said. “He personally pardoned me, Xena, and Eve for our crimes against Rome when Caligula died. He went on and on about pursuing peace and tolerance. I don’t understand why he would do this.”
I looked toVaria again. She hadn’t spoken once in the time since we entered the hut, nor had she even looked at me. She saved my life once, but I couldn’t expect her loyalty. I killed people she loved, enslaved and murdered her sisters, and almost brought her people into extinction. She owed nothing to me, yet I still yearned for her support, and hoped she would say something to defend the nation I represented. It was a selfish and arrogant thought, but I couldn’t help but feel some sense of disappointment and betrayal from her silence.
“Now that you have returned, you are the rightful leader of this Nation, Gabrielle,” Amari said. “Whatever decision you make following this attack will be supported by myself and my tribe, but I urge you to not let your feelings get in the way of what must be done. Romans cannot be trusted. This empire must be taken down, even if you have sentimentality toward some of its citizens.”
My eyes didn’t wander from Varia, but I knew where Amari was looking. I could feel her dark eyes penetrating straight into me, like a burning beam of light illuminating my unwanted presence. Had I thought I could keep a low-profile in this company?
“Gabrielle’s right,” I said, nearly flinching at the sound of my own shaky voice. I searched for the right thing to say and looked around to each sister, hoping they could see the sincerity in my eyes. “Claudius is personally sponsoring my travels in the East as I spread the message of Eli. He believes in preserving the love of humankind. This isn’t the Roman Empire you’ve known.”
“You mean not the Roman Empire you used to slaughter our people for?” Kanae said, her voice booming in the hut, stronger and harder than my own.
“Yes,” I said, hearing a small crack in my voice and looking to the floor again.
“Eve is a changed person,” Gabrielle said. “And she’s helped change Rome.”
“Eve had nothing to do with the attack,” Varia said, looking up finally. Just as tension against me was rising among the sisters, this was the defense I had wanted. For a moment I was relieved, but the sound of Varia’s voice did nothing to quiet the sound of my heart. As she looked toward me, it was as if lightning had struck my veins, sending shocks throughout my body. I was in her debt yet again, but I had done nothing to deserve her compassion and trust. Even if she could not defend my home country, she had some remaining faith in me and I didn’t know why. She looked to Gabrielle and continued, “We know that. But I know Romans when I see them, and that’s who came to slaughter us.”
“Eve is Roman,” Kanae said. “Whether or not she knew of this attack or contributed to it does not matter.” She looked directly at me before finishing, “If you do not abandon your nation and take allegiance with us, you are our enemy as well.”
“Hold on,” Gabrielle said. “I am the leader of this Nation. I will decide who our enemies are.”
“There is no denying that Rome played a part in this attack, Gabrielle,” Amari said. “You get final decision but I would advise you not let foolishness get in the way of protecting our nation, especially when it is so vulnerable. Whatever treaty we had with Rome is dead now.”
“The soldiers had Roman-looking uniforms,” Cyane said. “That’s all we know. Another nation could have similar armor.”
“They fought like Romans,” Varia said. “I’m positive they were trained in the Empire. The way they moved, I’m just positive.”
“I trust Varia’s instinct,” said Jessamine, a petite girl whose eyes I often caught switching between Varia and myself. She had watched me closely when I entered the hut, following so near I could feel her breath against my neck as we walked.
“Who was it that first showed you how Roman soldiers move, Varia?” Kanae said.
“Livia did,” she said. “But that is not who I see sitting with us today.”
“A change of name does not mean she has a right to sit amongst us,” Kanae said. “Not when her heart belongs to another nation.”
“My heart belongs to Eli,” I said, knowing that this would not convince Kanae. I could sense something in her. It was dark, birthed out of neither hatred nor cruelty, but desperation. In this struggling nation, I was not a welcomed guest. To Kanae and other Amazons, I was simply a reminder of the evil being inflicted upon this once strong sisterhood. Kanae was not being cruel to me, she was being protective of her people, and my head fell in surrender as I sensed the anguish radiating off her.
“Eve has a right to be here just like anyone else in this room,” Gabrielle said.
“Eve is here because you have requested her,” Amari said. “And you are our rightful leader. That doesn’t make her seat here truly acceptable. She is not Amazon royalty. She is not even an Amazon.”
“Eve has my rite of caste,” Gabrielle said. “Upon my death, she is my rightful successor. That makes her above all of you in succession. Eve stays.”
“You’re giving Eve your rite of caste?” Samira said.
“She’s had it,” Gabrielle said. “It was my gift to her as a baby.”
I looked up, astonished. Never in my life had I heard my name associated with Gabrielle’s rite of caste. If what she said was true, I was an Amazon Princess.
I looked to Gabrielle. Maybe she was lying, I thought. Maybe she only said that to keep me by here with her. Or maybe it was true and I had tried to sell my own sisters into slavery.
As I studied her face, I realized it was no fabrication. Her eyes, though still red, showed no signs of dishonesty. In fact, she sat taller than before, facing her sisters like a leader for the first time since entering the village. A new light radiated from beneath her skin, like declaring me her rightful successor and taking back control of the Amazon Nation was giving her purpose again.
The other Amazons looked around the circle. Even Amari struck a look of confusion as she checked her sisters’ faces for confirmation and wondered, like I had, if Gabrielle could possibly be lying. There was only one not thrown by Gabrielle’s claim.
“She’s telling the truth,” Cyane said. “My tribe has scrolls telling of Eve’s initiation. She’s an Amazon Princess.”
I looked up to see Varia’s furrowed brows and slightly parted lips. I felt like she wanted some kind of explanation from me, but I looked back to Gabrielle.
“I’m sorry I didn’t tell you before,” Gabrielle said. “Your mother and I didn’t think it was your path anymore.”
My path, I thought. I had spent most of my life walking down the path laid by my empire. My whole existence was once dominated by Roman emperors, Roman commanders, Roman politicians. In the past two years, I had thought a lot about how my life there was never planned to be. How narrowly I missed out on a childhood raised by two strong, loving women. I often thought about how differently things could have been, how I could have never met the monster that’s inside me, if I was given the chance to grow up beside mother. Hearing now that I was to hold the title of Amazon Princess felt like I was seeing a glimpse of the path I was stolen from.
“Are we expected to allow a woman who once slaughtered our people,” Kanae’s voice boomed through the stunned silence. She leaned forward now, almost popping out of her seat as veins popped out of her neck. “Take a place amongst us as leaders?”
“Eve is no longer an enemy of the Amazon Nation,” Gabrielle said, her voice louder than I’d heard it since my mother’s death.
“But she was once,” Kanae said.
“She’s been pardoned,” Gabrielle looked toward Varia. “By Varia, whom I pardoned myself when she tried to kill me.
Yet again, I was bewildered. Varia had been down dark paths before, once corrupted by my own ex-mentor, Ares; but killing Gabrielle didn’t seem like something she was capable of. She was too protective of her sisters. Could this be why she was no longer in control of the Amazon Nation? I watched her head sink in shame and knew it must be true.
“She is still an Amazon Queen,” Gabrielle said. “Despite her crimes against her people. Surely, we believe in redemption.”
“Varia’s made mistakes as a leader,” Amari said. “And for this she is no longer trusted to lead our tribes. But her dishonor does not compare to the atrocities that Eve has committed. We will decide as a nation if we are going to respect your rite of caste.”
“You don’t need to debate this” I said. “I don’t want the rite of caste.”
Gabrielle was right. This wasn’t my path anymore. I had revoked my violent ways and chosen to follow the nonviolent path of Eli. Even if I was tempted by the life I once could have lead, becoming an Amazon would be a detour from where I was headed now.
“This isn’t something you need to decide now,” Gabrielle said. “You can think about this before you accept.”
“She has made her position clear,” Kanae said, backing down as she realized her and I may actually be on the same side. “She is not one of us.”
“She is my daughter,” Gabrielle said.
Despite the growing hostility in this crowded space, my heart fluttered at the sound of being Gabrielle’s daughter, and I ducked my head to hide my smile. Even though she was Xena’s partner, my familial relationship with Gabrielle was long strained. With every terrible thing I had done to my mother, I was still her flesh and blood. I grew for months in her womb and was fed by her body. We shared a spiritual connection that even my bloody past couldn’t destroy. Gabrielle was different. We didn’t share the same blood, and it was harder for her to see herself in me. Even with her by my side as I fell into the arms of Eli, I was still the bitch that tied her up and murdered her best friend. And yet she was ready to consider me family anyway.
“Eve,” she said. “Think of the good you can do as a messenger for Rome, Eli, and the Amazons.”
“We cannot possibly let a citizen of Rome become an Amazon Princess,” Kanae said.
“Kanae’s right,” said Samira. “Even if we don’t know that Rome launched this attack, I don’t think it’s wise to allow a Roman into our camp.”
“What if Eve disavows any allegiance to Rome?” Varia said.
“How do we know we can trust her?” Jessamine said, looking me up and down as if something on my body was going to tell her any secrets I might be keeping.
“We can,” Varia said. Jessamine’s eyes dropped from me and flew back onto Varia, who looked to her like a parent assuring her child.
“What if I prove that Rome had nothing to do with this?” I said, hoping desperately that they would listen to my appeal. I didn’t know exactly where I was going with it, I couldn’t let the Amazons go to war with Rome. If these Nations could achieve peace, we had hope for Eli’s message, and I would do anything to protect that.
“How would you do that?” Amari said.
“By travelling there,” I said, hoping I could come up with some convincing plan quick enough to convince this room of skeptics. “I’ll meet with Claudius and have him swear he would do nothing to harm his truce with the Amazon Nation. I’ll bring back a new signed peace treaty.”
“That is foolish,” Kanae said. “Why would we trust you to meet with the leader of Rome on our behalf? You could forge it yourself. Or come back with your own Roman army and attack us once more.”
“I’ll bring an Amazon with me,” I said and looked to the one I knew I could trust most.“Varia.”
Varia looked up, puzzled but not upset.
“You want me to travel with you to Rome?” She said.
“Yes,” I said, still trying to come up with a convincing enough reason as to why this would be a good idea. “And see for yourself that Rome is a changed empire. You’ll observe my meeting with Claudius, and we’ll bring a peace treaty back together.”
“Varia has committed crimes against our nation,” Samira said. “But I trust her to be honest with us in her return. If Rome is innocent, Varia will be the one to tell us.”
“And what if they’re not innocent?” Amari said, looking toward me. “What will happen if you arrive onto Roman land with an Amazon Queen? She could be taken hostage in an instant.”
“They don’t have to know she’s an Amazon,” I said. “I know my way around Rome. I can find a disguise for her.”
“What about before you reach Rome?” Jessamine said. “Varia trusts you, but how do we know you won’t betray her on the way?”
“I can kick Eve’s ass if it comes down to it,” Varia said, giving me a sly smile like we shared some inside joke. I remembered that smile from the first time we met. Before realizing who I was, we bonded over our shared love for battle, showing off scars and bragging about how we got them. I often wished I could have stayed in that moment, letting Varia look at me like that forever, never discovering how our paths had crossed before. There was a sort of dare in the look she gave me then, like she wanted to coax out the dangerous bitch she saw inside me, and I saw it in her eyes now. I bit my lip and tried not to smile back. For a moment, I forgot about the tension in the room. That look erased the months of strain between us. I felt like I was back in that tent with her, about to show her a different scar and hoping she would be impressed by it. I broke out of my fantasy as she looked to me and spoke again.
“Alright,” she said. “I’ll follow you to Rome.”
“I thought we could have at least one day together before you left again,” Gabrielle said as we entered her hut.
“We’re not leaving until the morning,” I said. “And I’ll be back once we’ve gotten the treaty.”
“But you’ll leave again,” Gabrielle said. “It’s ok. You’re like your mother. Always need to be moving.”
“You’re quite the traveller yourself,” I said.
“Maybe not anymore,” she said. “I always kind of hoped your mother and I would settle down eventually. That’s why I never gave up my rite of caste. I assumed maybe we would end our lives here, after everything. Now that she’s gone, it’s my time to stop moving. I don’t know what I’m doing out there without her.”
I couldn’t imagine what Gabrielle was feeling. All my life I had been a lonesome wanderer. As a small child, I would sneak away from Roman guards, travelling as far from my home as I could before getting caught and dragged back to Augustus. My strict military training was at first just a way for him to keep me under control. Putting me into military camps kept me within my empire’s borders; at least until I proved my worth as a fighter. Once I became commander for Rome, I was off again, this time with an army behind me. But even with my men following, they were only ever tools for my liking. I was the leader. I decided where to go, what to do, and eventually who to kill. Finding my mother and Gabrielle again, and deciding to travel alongside them, was the most unfamiliar experience of my life. For the first time, I was travelling with women I considered not even my equals, but my mentors. I was following and learning from people I respected and it was more fulfilling than a younger, more stubborn, version of myself could have ever imagined. Even so, I knew it wasn’t my natural way, and I left to travel alone once more, taking the lessons I had learned with me.
Gabrielle was different. She had grown up in Potidaea, a small town inside Greece, with her family and her scrolls. For most of her young life, travelling was only a dream, something she could read and write about, but never truly experience; until she met my mother. With Xena, Gabrielle journeyed across the globe, soaking in my mother’s greatness and learning everything she now knows about being a warrior. Unlike me, Gabrielle never yearned to travel alone. Her dream to see the world always included a partner, and the universe handed her one she could never replace. I travelled with my mother for less than a year before returning to my life of solitude. Gabrielle had spent her entire adult life as part of a pair. Now her partner was gone and I could tell she was yearning for some sort of substitute for her missing family.
“Why did you tell your sisters I’m an Amazon Princess?” I said. “Why now?”
“I don’t know,” she said, but turned away in shame. “That’s not true, I do know. Kanae wanted to kick you out and I panicked. I didn’t want you to leave and I knew that if I brought up your rite of caste I would have a reason to let you stay. I shouldn’t have done it. You’ve had a complicated enough life without this.”
I could sense Gabrielle’s disappointment in herself. Like she said, being an Amazon Princess wasn’t a part of my path anymore. As a messenger for Eli, life with the Amazons meant constant temptation to fight again. I couldn’t pick up another sword and Gabrielle knew it.
“When I gave you my rite of caste,” she continued. “It was all I had as a parent. Xena got to carry you for nine months; you were her flesh and blood. Making you an Amazon Princess made me feel like you were mine too. I wanted you to be a part of my family. But your mother and I didn’t get to raise you, anyway. And even after you left Rome, I knew my gift wasn’t going to fit you. Not after you found Eli.”
“I’m sorry,” I said. It was all I could think to say.
“I was okay with it because I was so proud of you,” she said. “I followed Eli once, but I wasn’t cut out for it. Watching you succeed and spread his message made me wish I was your real mother. I didn’t need to share some sisterhood with you, I was blown away by the woman you became without me. But since Xena died, I keep thinking about how nice it would be if you stayed here. She’s gone but we could still be a family, Eve.”
“We are a family,” I said. “And you are my real mother. You and Xena both. Just because I don’t share your blood doesn’t mean you’re not in my heart.”
Gabrielle turned around, looking me in the eye for the first time since leaving the meeting. I opened my arms and embraced her. Her body felt stronger from the last time I hugged her goodbye, but the woman inside was more fragile than ever.
“Hey,” I heard, and looked up to see Varia.
“Hey,” I said as Gabrielle and I ended our embrace.
Gabrielle wiped a single tear from her cheek before turning to face Varia. They exchanged awkward smiles and I remembered the other revelation made in the meeting. Was I really about to travel with a woman who nearly murdered Gabrielle?
“I didn’t mean to interrupt,” Varia said.
“It’s alright,” Gabrielle said.
“Eve and I should go over a few details before tomorrow,” Varia said. “I’d like to leave at sun rise.”
“I can do that,” I said.
“I’ll let you two talk alone,” Gabrielle said.
“You can stay,” Varia said, but Gabrielle was already grabbing her sais off the table.
“I wanna go for a walk anyway,” Gabrielle said, walking out into the pitch black night. “Clear my mind.”
Varie turned to me as the sound of Gabrielle’s footsteps faded into the distance.
“She’d rather walk around in the dark than be in the same room as me,” she said.
“I think she just has a lot on her mind,” I said. It was true, Gabrielle did have a lot on her mind, much of it threatening to crush her soul; but why she chose to walk into the black night instead of staying with Varia and myself, I didn’t know. I once watched Varia beat Gabrielle unconscious, then nearly murder my own mother, all so she could sentence me to death. But she realized her how her hatred controlled her, and stopped her crusade to extend forgiveness and atone for her sins. When I left the Amazon nation, Gabrielle and my mother planned to stay; with Gabrielle to take part in a ritual confirming Varia as Queen. What could have happened between then and now that finally broke Gabrielle’s trust in Varia? If not even she could be in the same room as her, could I bring her all the way to Rome with me?
I looked Varia from head to toe. Nothing on her body had changed; her muscles were still just as strong, her clothes and hair hadn’t been altered, and her sword still sat behind her back, ready for an attack. She was the same Varia I always expected to see at the front line of a battle, but something was different. Her shoulders weren’t as far back, her eyes didn’t look to me with the same confident stare.
After being baptized into the way of love, Eli gifted me with the ability to see what was in people's hearts. It must have been His way of inspiring compassion because I could always sense what people were feeling. Looking at Varia then, I could feel she was sorry. Whatever happened between her and Gabrielle left her a little broken inside, like she had lost a part of herself . Any hesitation I had over travelling with her disappeared immediately. I wanted to be around her even more, and help her find her way back to herself.
“I’ve done some terrible things,” she said.
“You’re in good company,” I said.
“God when I think of the things Ares made us do,” she said, lips curling into a snarl as her hands became tight fists.
“Ares?” I interrupted.“What do you mean?”
“Well you know,” she said, her voice rising. “He tricked us. He made us do all those horrible things so he could-”
“Ares didn’t make us do anything,” I said.
“Well no not technically, but-”
“Look I’ve been through this,” I said. “I did awful things to innocent people. Ares played a part in it, yes, but it was me.”
Varia’s eyes fell and her chest, recently puffing out with rage, went with them. I didn’t need any gift from Eli to know what she was feeling now. We had both been trained under Ares. Under his guidance, we made shameful decisions that would weigh forever on our consciences. But it wasn’t ever completely honest to blame him for our sins.
“Ares manipulates people,” I continued. “He takes something that’s inside them and he uses it to his advantage. But he didn’t plant those things. He just sees them.”
I stepped closer to Varia as she looked to the floor, then gently put my hand onto her arm.
“But what Ares saw in you wasn’t evil,” I said.
“I was going to murder you. What if Xena hadn’t stopped me? What if I became just like-” she looked up at me. She didn’t want to say it out loud, but I knew her fears. Since I first stepped foot on her lands, I had been the enemy. Now she was realizing just how similar we unfortunately were. Still, I knew that she could never become the monster I once was.
“When Ares became my mentor,” I said. “It was because I was young, powerful, and angry. He knew he could use that anger, just like he knew he could use yours. The difference is, I was angry because of my hatred for others and the way that they treated me. You were angry because people like me were threatening people you loved, people that you protected. Ares was exploiting your loyalty. You did horrible things, Varia, but that doesn’t mean you’re a horrible person.”
Before I could move, Varia wrapped her arms around my waist and held me tightly. Never before had I received such physical affection from her. Only once had I even attempted to embrace her, on the day she realized Ares was nurturing her hatred. She allowed me to hold her as she cried on the ground, and I later left peacefully from her lands. I thought for a long time that that would be the closest we ever became; two women with a painful history who learned to grow and let each other coexist. Feeling her hug now made me realize that we could be not just former enemies, but friends. She needed comfort from someone like me, someone who understood her pain and saw her for who she truly was.