Return of the Queen
Nearly three years after Xena’s death Gabrielle was still wandering. She and Argo made the trip to Amphipolis to place her friend’s ashes with Cyrene and Lyceus. She made a small hollow amulet and sealed some of Xena’s ash inside before placing the rest into the mausoleum. As promised, Xena’s ghost remained with her, she could see, hear and feel the other woman but no one else could. Gabrielle suspected that Argo had a slight affinity toward the shade, always seeming to know where Xena was, but nothing else. Gabrielle had spent all her emotion trying to let go and hold on at the same time, and Xena could see it was tearing her apart. Finally she could bear the younger woman’s torment no longer and knew she had to say something. It was evening and Gabrielle was sitting in front of the campfire sharpening the sword she got in Jappa. Xena settled beside her soul mate. The gentle pressure against her shoulder alerted Gabrielle seconds before she saw her friend materialize. She smiled at the person she loved more than any other. “Hey. Did you see anything out there while you were floating around?”
Xena smiled back sadly. “Nothing at all.”
Gabrielle was confused by the other woman’s look. “What’s wrong then?”
Taking a deep breath figuratively, since the real thing was unnecessary in her current state she went on. “Gabrielle, I think you should go home.”
Pain and anger instantly etched Gabrielle’s features. They had argued many times since Xena’s death, mostly about trying to get Gabrielle to move on. In a harsh whisper, tired of the same argument again and again, she answered “Xena, my home was lost to me three years ago.”
“No, I mean a physical home Gabrielle. You need a place to settle for a while and heal.” Xena’s ghost stood and paced in front of the other woman. “Gabrielle, it has been three years and you still cry yourself to sleep most nights.” She looked at her best friend tenderly. “You need friends, people to help you through this.”
Gabrielle angrily thrust the sword back into its sheath and shouted at the Warrior Princess. “Who Xena! Just who do I have to turn to, huh? After we were frozen for twenty-five years, everyone we know is gone to me…” Quietly she added in a whisper, “Everyone who knows me.” She took a shuddering breath and sank to her knees covering her face with her hands. Xena could only watch as the instantaneous anger rolled through the smaller woman, pain building it into a tidal wave. She stood by her friend, waiting for it to crash ashore. Gabrielle sobbed, “You left me!” She looked up at Xena and screamed “It’s just not fair! It wasn’t supposed to be this way; we were supposed to be together always!”
In guilt and agony at her decision to go to Jappa, Xena dropped to the ground and held her friend tightly. “You didn’t lose me Gabrielle, I’m right here. I’ll always be here.”
Calming down, Gabrielle turned tear-filled green eyes towards the woman who held and broke her heart. She whispered, “It’s just not the same.”
Xena could only watch as the blond took care of her weapons and settled into her bedroll for the night. Thinking of something at last she called, "Gabrielle…”
Gabrielle looked at her expectantly. “…I think you should go see Varia and the rest of the nation. Maybe your Amazon sisters can help you find the peace that I took away from you.”
The bard thought about it for a minute. “Does it mean that much to you?”
“You mean that much to me!”
Gabrielle nodded slowly. “Fine, we’ll head that way tomorrow.” She lay back down on her bedroll, staring into the fire and said quietly. “Goodnight Xena.”
Gabrielle rode Argo into a small town on the outskirts of Amazon land. Since it was getting late, she decided to stay the night at the inn and ride out to greet her sisters in the morning. After settling into her room she found a quiet corner in the common room downstairs. A candlemark later she had the remnants of her dinner pushed to the side and she was diligently writing in one of her scrolls. Xena was not around at the minute, probably out visiting with Argo as she sometimes liked to do. Gabrielle was aware that she was being watched but continued to ignore it until the cloaked woman walked up and stood next to her table. Gabrielle looked up at her expectantly while the other woman took in the scroll on the table and the sword propped against the wall. Not wanting to socialize, the bard’s famous smile was in absence. “Can I help you?”
With eyes returning to the scroll the stranger asked, “Are you a bard?”
Gabrielle answered with certainty. “I was once called a bard, but no longer.”
Settling into the chair across the table uninvited the woman said, “I have heard of you I think. Are you not the Battling Bard of Potidaea? Companion to Xena the Warrior Princess?”
In a husky voice filled with pain Gabrielle answered. “There is no more Warrior Princess, and there is no more Bard. There are no songs left to sing.”
Leaning forward the stranger reverently touched the scroll on the table. “You would waste your talent, a gift from the gods?”
Gabrielle felt the familiar anger fill her. Fighting for control she said in a flat tone, “The gods are dead.”
The woman nodded sagely with a hint of a smile on her face. “Yes true, most of them, but you are not.” With another glance at the scroll on the table she added, “And I think you have a story to tell, no?”
Gabrielle looked down with tears in her eyes and traced her fingers across the parchment lying on the table. “Yes, maybe one last tale.” She looked up again as the stranger stood and opened her cloak. Revealed was the garb and bearing of an Amazon sister.
She woman smiled and held out her hand to clasp in the way of the sisterhood. “My name is Mashti.” She then stepped back and bowed. “And when you are finished here, we will be waiting for you Queen Gabrielle.” With no other words, Mashti took her exit of the inn.
At that moment, the proprietress of the inn came around. After clearing the dishes she asked “Is there anything else you need dear?”
With a final glance at her scroll she nodded. “Yes there is. Would you be interested in the services of a bard tonight?”
The innkeeper looked thoughtful. “How much would you charge?”
Gabrielle smiled for the first time in what felt like weeks. “Nothing at all. I just ask for some food for tomorrow when I leave. Just a day’s rations and my needs will be met.”
The innkeeper grinned and held out her hand, already planning on the increase in sales for the night. “Done!”
That evening Xena looked on while Gabrielle made her way to the front of the common room. The crowd quieted as she introduced herself. While some young ones had never heard of her, most knew her as a legend. “My name is Gabrielle. Though I hale from Potidaea, I’ve traveled to many foreign lands and spun many a yarn. I have only one tale to tell now; it is about love, loss, and the greater good.” Finding the tall, dark woman in the back of the room, she took a calming breath and began for the last time. “I sing of the Warrior Princess…”
Candlemarks later, with a hoarse voice and emotionally drained she finished her tale. “… And so, I am a Queen without a nation, a bard without a song, and a heart who has lost my love.” Looking across the crowd, there were many sad eyes and a few who shone with pride at hearing of another great deed done by the Warrior Princess. There was only one pair of eyes that held Gabrielle’s attention. They were beautiful blue, and shed the tears of a lifetime lost. Xena had no words that could possibly describe the pride and heartbreak she felt for her beautiful bard.
One of the warriors, which had been seated toward the back, came up to talk to her after. Gabrielle looked at the handsome woman, smiling at the thought that she would have been just a child when Gabrielle went into her sleep decades ago. She was maybe 40 seasons, strong, with long blonde hair pulled back into a braided leather thong. She wore her sword at her hip, and her armor looked well cared for. The woman smiled, and her face was transformed from handsome to a study of beautiful androgyny. “Good evening Queen Gabrielle, my name is Laodoke. Would you care to have a tankard of ale with me?”
Gabrielle looked at the other woman, curiosity pulling her up from sadness. “Do I know you?”
The warrior, slightly chagrined admitted “No, you don’t know me. But I know you… well, I mean, I’ve seen you before.” She blew out a frustrated breath, that the small blonde had made her so flustered. “Let me try again…”
Gabrielle interrupted her, placing a hand on her arm. “Wait, this sounds like a tale. Perhaps we should find that ale and you can tell me about it?”
Laodoke gave her another brilliant smile. “Yes, thank you!”
Once they were seated at a scarred wooden table, Gabrielle prompted “So, you were saying?”
The warrior across from her looked confused. “What?”
Gabrielle smirked at the woman’s distraction. “You were about to tell me your story, about how you know me.”
“Oh! Yes, sorry.” She gave a slightly embarrassed smile and an explanation. “I first saw you and the Warrior Princess when I was just a child. You see, I grew up in the town of Melitia.” She paused, to see if Gabrielle remembered the name.
The little queen cocked her head to the side. “Melitia… Melitia… was that… That was the little town that banned dancing!”
Laodoke smiled at the other woman’s memory. “Yes, it was. You and Xena came in and turned everything upside down. That was also where I had my first training from you and Xena. Of course, the training was also teaching me to dance. You were very sneaky with your plans, but none of us kids were going to complain.” She laughed at the thought. She continued her story. “Well, your visit changed more than just my ability to dance. It made me realize that I wasn’t stuck in that small town; that I could go out and make a living for myself and not have to marry the shepherd’s son. As soon as I was old enough, I left Militia and joined with the nearest city’s guards. Once I was finished with my training, and putting my compensation time in, I was free to travel and see the world.” She placed her hand on top of Gabrielle’s, and gave her another toe curling smile. “And I owe it all to you.”
Gabrielle raised her eyebrows in surprise. “Wow! That is quite a story, and I’m really glad we were able to help.” Recognizing the warrior’s subtle signals of interest, Gabrielle welcomed the distraction. She smirked at the attractive woman across from her. “I see you’re all grown up now, and you seem to have done quite well for yourself.”
Laodoke blushed, hoping the beautiful woman sharing a table with her was interested in more than her story. “Well, I have a comfortable life now. I’m actually one of the guards that are escorting a group of traders from the city of Kalpaki. We are headed to the Amazon city. Have you seen it since the unification?” When Gabrielle shook her head no, she continued. “Me either, but I heard it’s amazing. Not that any of us will be allowed to really see much.” She laughed.
Gabrielle smiled at Laodoke’s open and friendly attitude. “Yes, we Amazons do take our privacy very seriously. I’m actually heading there tomorrow; perhaps I’ll see you there.”
“Well, we do have to stop at a few more villages on the way, but hopefully.” She looked at Gabrielle curiously. “So it’s true then, you really are an Amazon? I’ve heard so many stories over the years. Stuff like you and Xena were Crucified by the Romans, you were an Amazon Queen, you single handedly fought and killed fifty roman soldiers, you defeated a Cyclops, you fought the legendary samurai, your defense of Eli, travels to the land of Pharaohs… there are so many stories! It’s hard to know what is real and what is exaggerated... “
Gabrielle laughed and put a finger to the other woman’s lips, momentarily startling her into silence. When she removed her finger, Laodoke was blushing furiously, and biting her bottom lip. “Oh gods, stop already! Geez, if half the stuff that is going around about Xena and I were true, you’d think I was a demi-god like Hercules!” She shook her head and chuckled. “Wow, well some of the stuff is true, some is exaggerated, and some I’m sure never happened at all.” She smiled. “For starters though, I am an Amazon Queen, and have been for a few different tribes. I’ve killed plenty of Roman soldiers and Samurai. I’ve visited the land of Pharaohs, Chin, and India. And yes, Xena and I were both crucified by the Romans. We died.”
Laodoke looked shocked at her last admission. “I had heard, but thought surely… but how? Is that when you both disappeared for so long?”
Gabrielle shrugged her shoulders. “As for the how, well we don’t really know. It was the work of our friend Eli, and perhaps some divine interference. And we disappeared for twenty-five years when we poisoned ourselves to hide from the Gods. We were put in an ice cave for safe keeping, by no other than Ares, the God of War.”
The warrior looked at Gabrielle in shock. “That is amazing! You have lived so many lives, and yet…” She trailed off, unsure if she would be welcome to finish the sentence.
Gabrielle prompted. “And yet?”
The warrior took a chance. “And yet, still so beautiful. Gabrielle, are you here with anyone?”
Gabrielle mentally snorted. ‘Warriors, always thinking with their swords, one way or another.’ She debated her options. On one hand, she was alone, no matter how much she wished otherwise. It also wasn’t that rare for her to occasionally spend the night with a companion. She gazed into the hazel eyes of the warrior across from her. ‘No, she’s definitely not looking for more than a night. And is there really any harm?’ After seconds of long analysis of her own emotional state, and the possible repercussions, she gave a friendly smile and answered. “No, I’m here alone. Why do you ask?”
Laodoke grinned broadly. “Well, would you care to come up to my room and exchange more stories with me?”
The smaller blonde flirted back. “Well, I’m a little out of practice with storytelling… I hope my tongue doesn’t get tired.”
Laodoke rose from the table and reached out her hand. “My shield mates have often said my mouth never stops moving, so I’m sure that together we will have no problems filing the time. Shall we?”
Gabrielle smirked. “Oh, I’m not worried. I once spent a few moons with a tribe that only spoke with their hands. I got very good at the language…”
The warrior stumbled. “W.. what?”
Gabrielle merely winked at her as she made her way up the stairs.
The next afternoon was clear and sunny as Gabrielle and Argo made their way into Amazon lands. Xena appeared nearby and said needlessly. “They're coming.”
Gabrielle looked at the ghost that was her love and traveling companion and laughed out loud in wonder of her own skills. “I already knew, but thank you.” She halted Argo with her knees and clasped her hands in the air over her head just as a dozen women dropped down from the trees. “Good day Amazons, I give greeting to my sisters.”
The leader of the patrol stepped forward and knelt on one knee toward Gabrielle. “Greetings to you Queen Gabrielle, I am Shalla. We’ve been expecting you.”
Gabrielle dismounted and walked along side her sisters toward the camp. She looked on curiously as the women around her took up guard positions. She glanced toward Xena and the warrior shrugged. “Beats me, they appear to be your honor guard.” She walked off to the side to avoid having the other women pass through her while she was talking to Gabrielle. Both women found it sort of disconcerting. Gabrielle gave a small smile and addressed Shalla. “How are Queen Varia and the rest of the council? It has been quite a while since I last saw them, and not since the city was built.”
Shalla smiled. “She and the council are doing well.” She frowned and placed a hand on Gabrielle’s arm, slowing the shorter woman. “I just wanted to say that we are sorry for the loss of Xena. She was a great friend to the nation and will be missed.” As one, the patrol did a closed fist salute over their hearts.
Touched, Gabrielle returned the salute and shot a quick glance at Xena. “Thank you, I’m sure she can hear your thoughts and is aware of your feelings.” Xena smiled sadly and nodded at her bard.
Less than half a candlemark later the group made their way into something completely different than the last Amazon village she had visited. Gabrielle looked around in amazement at the size of the community she once knew.
Up ahead she could see Varia striding toward her, followed close behind by Cyane. The bard’s smile was genuine at seeing the familiar faces. A small part of the ache in her heart eased in the presence of these women that she had fought beside. Perhaps Xena was right, I did need to be around people I know and love.
Varia stopped in front of her and clasped her forearm before pulling her into a heartfelt hug. No words were spoken at first. There had been much healing between the two women after the battle of Helicon. With Gabrielle’s petition and the agreement of the council, Varia had been reinstated as the head queen. The one condition was that Cyane would be her chief advisor and second in command. Varia pulled back and gave her a gentle smile. “Gabrielle, it’s so good to see you.” She was released and the gesture was repeated by Cyane. The sad look in their eyes said much and Gabrielle’s returning gaze promised more words to come.
Varia gave a trilling whistle. Two women came forward, one took Gabrielle’s saddlebags and the other led Argo toward the stables. Varia addressed the first one. “You can put her things in the guest hut next to mine.” After that was taken care of, they started walking again toward Varia’s hut while the royal guard walked all around them. Varia Glanced at the traveling queen. “Much has changed with you Gabrielle and I don’t just mean the loss of Xena.”
Pain-filled green eyes looked at the high-Queen of the Amazon nation. “Yes, much has changed, and I fear there is not much of me left to be changed.”
They neared Varia’s door and she turned to the rest of the group. I need to speak with Gabrielle alone for a while. She looked at Cyane and understanding passed between them. “Will you take care of arranging a feast in honor of our traveling Queen’s return?”
Cyane nodded and gave Gabrielle a quick smile. “Yes Varia, I’ll see to everything.”
“Good, thank you.”
They entered the hut and Varia motioned toward two comfortable chairs near the window. “Please, sit.”
Gabrielle walked to the chair then paused and carefully removed the sword from her back and leaned it against the wall. After pouring them both a cup of cool, sweet wine Varia sighed. “I’m so sorry Gabrielle. Xena was… well she was more than just an ally to the Amazons and my teacher, she was my friend. Even after our history, I knew she wanted what was best for the Amazons, and I respected her.”
The bard swallowed then rubbed her fingers across the smooth wood of the cup. Not sure how to begin, she started at the end. “She’s still with me Varia.”
The high Queen gave her an understanding look. “She will always be in your heart Gabrielle.”
Gabrielle shook her head. “No, you don’t understand. She walks with me as a ghost. I can see, hear and feel her but no one else can.”
Varia was curious. “But how?”
Clasping the wood amulet between thumb and forefinger she said, “She came with me from Jappa, an island nation east of Chin. I carried her ashes with me the entire way, and before I laid them to rest in Amphipolis I place a pinch in this amulet.”
Varia looked at this strong queen in a completely new light and was both sad and a dismayed. “Oh Gabrielle, why haven’t you let her go?”
A lone tear fell from the bard’s eye and she whispered. “Because we were promised forever.”
In an instant, Varia was at her side embracing her as only a friend could. “Shh… it’s alright Gabrielle. You’re with your family now, lean on us for strength.”
At those words, Gabrielle finally let herself break down. Sobbing she said, “It’s so hard, why does it have to be so hard?” When she calmed down a bit Varia returned to her chair. “The gods and fates have thrown so much at us and we made it through. Now I’ve finally lost her and I don’t know where to go. I don’t know who I am anymore.” A brief memory flashed through Gabrielle’s mind. Am I who I am, or what you made me? Wiping tears away she smiled at Varia. “She’s the one who suggested we come here. She knew I was barely holding together and thought the comfort of my Amazon sisters would help me.”
Holding tightly to Gabrielle’s hands Varia said. “We will.”
Sitting back Varia glanced at the sword against the wall. “I see you carry a sword now, that’s new.” Trying to lighten the mood a bit she joked, “You look more like a warrior than a bard now.”
Giving the Amazon leader a piercing look she stated, “I am no longer a bard.”
Sorrow threaded through Varia’s heart when she realized that Gabrielle had lost so much more than her soul-mate, she really had lost herself. She gave Gabrielle’s hands one last squeeze then let go, changing the subject. “We have much to discuss. Are you planning to stay awhile?”
Gabrielle glanced at Xena, who was standing across the room looking at the weapons hanging on the wall. “Yes, I think I am.”
“Excellent! Tonight we feast, and then tomorrow you can meet with me and the rest of the council. Does that sound alright with you?”
Gabrielle stood and slung her sword across her back once more. “Sure, that sounds fine. I’m going to go rest for a while; can you send someone for me when the dinner starts?”
“I’ll send your honor guard to escort you.”
Gabrielle stopped at the other woman’s comments. “Varia, I don’t need a guard, please don’t assign people to protect some useless queen they don’t even know.”
“Gabrielle, you are far from being a useless queen.”
“But I am a queen without a people, and it is unfair to pull from someone else’s tribe just to satisfy some outdated custom.”
Varia strode towards her and grabbed her arm firmly to make the shorter woman understand. “As long as the Amazon nation still exists, you will always have a people. As far as the rest of them, they were all volunteers from various tribes. Whether you like it or not, you’re a legend Gabrielle.” Varia gave her an intense look. “I don’t think you realize that between your rights of caste and won challenges, you were the queen of multiple tribes long before any talk of unification. You paved the way for all we have accomplished here, and for me to be the queen that I am. Whether you acknowledge that or not, women of the nation respect your title and they respect you. Don’t begrudge them their honor.”
Gabrielle stood stunned for a minute before nodding tersely. “Fine, they can stay.” Heading out the door she added, “I’ll be in my hut.”
Minutes after Gabrielle left, Cyane knocked and entered. “How did it go?”
Varia looked into the other queen’s deep brown eyes. Her pain was evident in the timbre of her voice. “She is hurting. But we knew she would be.”
Cyane nodded. “I know she is; I could see it when she came into the village. What can we do?”
Varia drained the last of the wine from her cup. “I don’t know. We’ll have to take things one day at a time. I do know that she’s agreed to a meeting with the council tomorrow. She says she plans on staying, but I’m not sure for how long.” She looked intently at Cyane. “While she is here, I want her to serve on the council with the other queens.”
The other woman nodded. “I don’t think you’ll find a single objection after what she did for us at Helicon.”
Remembering her own betrayal on that fateful beach, and subsequent forgiveness by the bard, Varia added quietly, “No, I don’t think I will.”
That evening the feast went well. Many women who had only heard of the quiet queen got their first chance to meet the beautiful woman. Gabrielle was polite and friendly but Xena could see that she was holding herself back from everyone, keeping her distance. Maybe it was because everyone was still treating her like spun glass, fragile and untouchable. All she could do was hope that time would heal the bard’s wounds of the soul.