Cara arrived at the appointed meeting place before the given time. They were deep in the forest behind the Society. She was in no hurry to start the meeting but she was anxious to get it over with.
‘Cara, why do you hate the Amazons so much? I would think that you would embrace them and their warrior ways.’ Gabrielle asked her hostess.
She rubbed her face with both of her hands and ran her fingers through her hair. ‘I don’t hate the Amazons Gabrielle. I actually respect them a great deal. But I don’t like fanatics. I don’t care what they’re fanatical about. Fanatics are dangerous.’
‘What are you saying that the Amazons are just another fanatical group?’ The very thought made Gabrielle angry.
‘Not at all Gabrielle, you just haven’t met my mother yet.’ Cara was actually feeling some anxiety over the inevitable meeting with her mother. ‘Is she why you are not very involved with the Amazons?’ Gabrielle didn’t quite understand the problem but the thought of her own parents and how they had been with Xena… it was giving her an inkling of what Cara was talking about.
Cara didn’t answer her directly she just grunted.
A few minutes later Xena walked up to them. She had changed into some blue jeans and a form fitting t-shirt. "Hey what’s up you look like you just ate a sour apple?" Her sword still clung to her back and her Chakram hung from her hip.
Cara had to smile. She liked Xena. "No, worse… I’m waiting for my mother to get here."
"That bad huh?"
The two or rather four women reclined against a fallen tree while they waited for someone to arrive. They didn’t wait long.
A beautiful middle aged woman stepped from the darkness between two trees. She was clearly related to Cara. They had the same golden hair and flashing hazel eyes. The woman was flanked on either side by four other women. One of those women was a taller version of the one in the center with dark hair.
Xena did not move to greet them despite the pleading from Margo. ‘No Margo, she may be your Queen but she’s not mine and she may never be. Relax, let Gabrielle and Cara deal with this woman. We’re not moving unless Gabrielle needs us.’
Cara stood up when her mother entered the clearing and moved to stand in front of her. She waited for her mother to speak first.
Queen Bridget looked her daughter up and down as if she were examining a side of beef that was half way to rotten then she turned the same unfavorable look upon Xena. Her eyes rested on the Chakram for several disapproving seconds before meeting Xena’s cold stare and turning away. Her look rested once again upon her daughter before she spoke. "Rumor has it that you are telling people that Gabrielle has chosen you as a host." Whatever she was going to say next was cut off by her elder daughter, Melanie.
"You lying bitch! There is no way that Queen Gabrielle would choose you! I’m the one! I’m the one that studied! I’m the one that trained! It’s my right to carry her soul!" The woman was hysterical.
"That lady is where you are wrong." Xena said calmly.
"Margo shut the hell up! Why are you even here?" Melanie yelled at her.
Xena stepped away from the tree and slowly advanced towards the group. When she came abreast of Gabrielle her beloved held out a hand and laid it gently upon Xena’s arm and spoke her name. Xena stopped at the sound of her name from Gabrielle’s mouth. But that didn’t stop her from saying what was on her mind. "Do I sound like Margo to you?" She snarled.
The actions of the two and the comment from Xena gave them all pause. Melanie’s face turned pale. "It can’t be. Stop clowning around you two. This isn’t funny!" She was shaking her head.
To her credit Bridget stayed quiet and watched. Gabrielle crossed her arms and tried to wait patiently. Xena just tried not to punch someone.
Finally Gabrielle just couldn’t help herself she just had to ask. "Seriously, you’re the Queen?"
Gabrielle was mentally shaking her head.
"It’s worse than that dear; they’re both your descendants." Xena said with a big grin. "I knew Cara was too good to be true." Gabrielle groaned. ‘Thanks Gabs.’ Cara chimed in.
"No shit, oh and by the way you little…" Xena had settled back and crossed her arms but now she was once again trying to advance. Gabrielle had to once again put a restraining hand on her arm and was saying her name as well.
"Xena…" It was a gentle but warning tone from Gabrielle.
"… snit, watch what you say to Margo. She’s a damn sight more honorable than you seem to be." Xena was leaning towards Melanie and stabbing an accusing finger at her. Margo was blushing and Xena had to work a little to keep it from showing on her face. That would be embarrassing.
Melanie wasn’t sure what to say. This behavior from Margo was certainly on the top of the things that could never happen list. But here she was talking about herself in the third person and acting like she actually has a spine. There could be no other explanation except that she had finally gone insane. Melanie turned a confused look upon her mother and saw that Bridget was staring intently at Cara.
"I told you that I had a surprise for you mother." Cara was speaking smoothly and deliberately. It was not the demeanor that Bridget usually got from her youngest child.
Xena was laughing. "Surprise Mommy dearest!" She did a quick shuffle with her feet and does a complete spin in place before spreading her hands wide as if she is taking a bow. "We have arrived!"
Bridget was in shock. This woman was clearly not Margery, but she didn’t sound like any description of Xena that she had ever heard either. The woman that was her daughter was also different. But she couldn’t yet tell if there was another inside of her or not. "Who are you?"
"That hurts Bridget, it really does." Xena pouted and then put her arms around Gabrielle’s shoulders. "Let’s see if I can help clear up some confusion for you. I’m Xena and this is my soul mate Gabrielle." She landed a kiss on Gabrielle’s cheek which caused Gabrielle to smile even bigger than she had already been.
"She’s not lying if that’s what you’re thinking. Cara is graciously allowing me to take the wheel from time to time. She is a wonderful hostess." Gabrielle cooed and Cara smiled.
"How do I verify that you are who you say you are?" Bridget asked.
"That’s easy. Take us to your Shaman." Gabrielle was still smiling but she was not happy. She had a hand on Xena’s arm and her thumb was caressing Xena’s skin the motion helped to calm them both. For her part Xena had her chin resting on Gabrielle’s shoulder.
Bridget nodded her head. "Fine, follow me." So they do, hand in hand Xena and Gabrielle follow Bridget back into the forest to the hut of the Shaman. The Shaman met them just outside her door and escorted them alone into her home. She of all the Amazons had maintained a traditional home. It was quite a bit larger than it would have been when Xena and Gabrielle walked the earth the first time but other than that it was the same. They were both immediately at ease. It was almost as if they had gone home for a short time. The smell of the herbs and the cook fire made from mesquite scrub… the aromas blended together and lulled the heroes into a peace that they have not known for a long time.
The Shaman bid them to sit and they did. Gabrielle rested her head on Xena’s shoulder and Xena rested hers against Gabrielle’s head. For many minutes they rested like this with their eyes closed, just taking in the scent and remembering a time long ago. The Shaman began to chant. While she chanted she threw herbs on the fire. The tent began to fill with smoke. But it does not choke the occupants. It filled their lungs with memories. Slowly she danced and spun around the resting couple. She rattled some beads together; and shook a feather totem in the air and added more herbs to the fire.
The Shaman spun and turned twisted and chanted. She taped on a small drum and danced in circles and she added more herbs to the fire. Xena and Gabrielle could hear the Shaman from far away. They could smell the forest and hear the birds. They could see the Amazons in their village preparing a feast for a wedding.
The Shaman chanted and danced and added more herbs to the fire. Then she stopped in front of the sleeping pair and raised her hands and her voice to the sky. Her voice rose as her hands rose. The smoke swirled around the pair and slowly two figures rose from the bodies. They swayed and moved as the smoke pulled them. They were ephemeral images but they were clearly two women. Slowly the Shaman was able to pull Xena and Gabrielle away from their hosts long enough to ask them their names and to see that they were who they claimed to be. Then she began to lower her arms and as she did the two women receded into their hosts bodies. It took far less time to replace their spirits than it took to draw them forth.
The eyes of the women open. They are rested and fresh and they remember every single moment of their journey in time. They look into each other’s eyes and they realize that a new understanding has been reached. Cara and Margo are now changed forever. They have seen what few people have ever seen. They have seen and smelled and heard the past and they have known the lives of Xena and Gabrielle. Now the four are bound by a single purpose, a single direction.
They rose to their feet and exited the tent. The Shaman followed them out. She spoke a few quiet words to Bridget and returned to her hut. Bridget turned to Xena and Gabrielle who were once again simply holding hands and watching the Queen and her entourage.
"Welcome to our home Queen Gabrielle and Xena. I apologize for any offence we may have given. One always hears the stories and dreams… but very few ever expect it to happen in their lifetimes. I was one of those." She sounded sincere but Xena really didn't believe her, for that matter neither did Gabrielle. Of course her opinion was not swayed by Bridget’s daughter telling Gabrielle to not believe a word out of Bridget’s mouth. It gave new meaning to having the inside scoop.
"Of course Queen Bridget, I understand completely." Gabrielle didn’t lie, she did understand completely. She just didn’t tell exactly what she understood. "As a Queen of the Amazons I would ask permission to address your tribe."
"But they are not my tribe Gabrielle. They are yours. You saved them and you called for their return to the Society. They have gathered here for you. They will follow you… wherever you lead them they will go." After speaking these words the entire group fell to their knees except for Queen Bridget. She pulled the headdress from her head and placed it onto Gabrielle’s head. When that was seated correctly she handed Gabrielle the staff of office and then went to her knees.
Cara was shocked. It was a strange sight for her to see both her domineering mother and her obnoxious sister kneeling at her feet. ‘I can’t thank you enough for this Gabrielle.’ Cara was beside herself with joy. ‘Don’t get giddy yet my friend. You kept me in the dark about a whole lot concerning the Amazons… now you get to make up for it.’ Gabrielle chastised.
‘Whatever I can do for you just say the word.’ Cara sounded like she was blushing from shame.
‘You need to keep me informed from here on out. Give me blow by blow reports if you have too but do it before I stick my foot in it.’ This could be tricky but Gabrielle was confident that together with Xena and Margo at their side they all could pull it off.
‘Yes Ma’am… and Gabrielle… I really am sorry that I didn’t tell you… well a lot of stuff.’ Cara was chastised. ‘If one of my troops had done to me what I did to you… well let’s just say that I wouldn’t be so patient or forgiving about it.’
‘That’s something for you to work on Cara.’ Gabrielle liked her granddaughter but she was a proud woman, a little too proud it seemed.
"In that case…" Gabrielle returned her attention to the kneeling Amazons. "... what do you say we get on over to the meeting?" Cara pointed her in the right direction and she started out without another word.
Xena caught up to her and got close so that they could talk without being over heard. "So what’s the plan?"
Gabrielle put her hand on Xena’s elbow and allowed herself to be escorted. "It hasn’t changed. Just follow my lead. This will probably turn into a long night."
Xena’s eyebrow shot up and she got a sly look on her face. "Not that kind of long night, dear." Gabrielle had noticed the look.
"That’s too bad." Xena countered as her look of expectation fell.
"I can’t argue with that." Gabrielle smiled one of her melt your heart smiles and raised her own eyebrow.
Xena growled and leaned down to quickly nuzzle Gabrielle’s neck just below her ear. It was not an easy maneuver with Gabrielle’s new headdress. But she managed it and she managed to make it look like she was simply sharing a secret. She knew all too well how Gabrielle felt about public displays of affection. Holding hands and a kiss here and there was fine but not much else.
Despite her staunch beliefs Gabrielle purred in pleasure and said, "I love you Xena."
"Now there are two things that I will never tire of hearing." She kissed Gabrielle’s ear lightly and said, "I love you too Gabrielle." She pulled back and stepped away from Gabrielle just as they broke the cover of the trees and entered the meeting area.
Gabrielle paused for just a heartbeat when she came to the edge of the crowd that was assembled. The platform that she needed was on the other side them. She glanced at the expectant faces before her and put a smile on her face and began wading through them. Xena walked a half step behind her on one side and Bridget walked a half step behind on the other side and the remainder of the entourage trailed behind. The Amazons parted before her like the Red Sea had parted before Moses and within a few short minutes she was ascending the stage and turning to face her people.
"I hear that you’ve been waiting for me?" She said almost shyly. "I’ve been gone a while… a long while. I hope no-one waited up." Her light joke brought equally light laughter from the crowd. They were weary.
"After a trip to your Shaman, Queen Bridget was nice enough to return my headdress and staff." She needed to put them at ease. She hoped that this would be enough. "I know that you recognize my hostess, Cara Rayne or Colonel Rayne depending upon whether or not you work for her. Just so you know; she really makes me proud of my descendants." Gabrielle began to wander around the small stage.
"Yup, this is Cara’s body and this is her life but make no mistake about it I am Gabrielle the Battling Bard of Poteidia and The Queen of the Amazons!" As she spoke her voice became louder and surer and the crowd responded to her authority with a round of cheering when she was done speaking.
"And I have come as I have so many times in the past…" As she spoke she could see faces in the crowd that were not corporeal. She knew that they were ghosts and there were probably hundreds of them mixed in with the thousands of Amazons in the crowd. "I have come to lead you in battle against a great evil." She finished her declaration. A few of the faces she recognized. They were the ghosts of Amazons that had lived in Greece and the Northern Steppes and in the New World where she had taken them. They had followed the tribe into the stars and now they are here welcoming her back into their fold. It brought a tear of joy to her eyes.
"I look out at your faces and I see a people that are healthy of body and mind and spirit. I see a nation that has grown from a few score to a mighty force. And I have to tell you that I am so very proud of you and all that you have accomplished." The crowd erupted in cheers once again. She allowed them to cheer for they were cheering for themselves.
The specters were smiling and nodding their approval. But she had to wonder why so many had not crossed over. She smiled for them anyway and the roar of the crowd was renewed. She allowed this to go on for a little while longer before she held her hands up to quiet them. "There is much to do before we meet the enemy." She looked down at her black tank and black BDU’s and boots and said, "Not the least of which is to find me some decent clothes." This time there was much laughter. "Seriously, we really do need to make some preparations. But first I need to clear up a small matter that has plagued me for… well for a really long time." She took a deep breath and consulted with Cara for a second.
"I’m sure that you are all familiar with this woman standing to my right, this is Margo Blake. She is a wonderful woman, and she is presently playing host to the bearer of my soul and the keeper of my heart, my soul mate Xena." Xena took a small step forward to stand beside Gabrielle. Some in the crowd gasp in surprise. "Now I know that Xena was banned from the tribes. But that happened a very long time ago and the people that she wronged have forgiven her. So since the laws are changed all the time and traditions are often thrown to the wind in favor of the one or ones in power… I am going to take a little advantage of my position and do something that I think will be of benefit to the entire Nation.
This woman has done so much for the Amazon nation I cannot even begin to tell you how much… read my scrolls if you want clarification." She held out her right hand and Xena took it. "So I decree that Xena of Amphipolis the Warrior Princess is forgiven of any and all trespasses perceived or actually committed against any member of the Amazon tribe and of any and all trespasses perceived or actually committed against the Amazon tribe itself. She is not innocent of her trespasses but she is forgiven them. This is my decree as Gabrielle the Queen of the Amazons. On this matter I have given my word and my honor and as Queen my words and my honor are incontestable except in lawful duel." Her icy stare lanced everyone that it fell upon but no-one spoke up against her decision.
"Xena is my chosen Champion. She is my friend and I as Gabrielle can sponsor her into the tribe. She is my Champion and I as Queen can accept her petition. I will now hear any arguments against Xena’s petition." All she heard was the shuffling of feet and crickets. ‘Did they actually import crickets onto Mars?’ She silently asked Cara.
‘Those aren’t crickets.’ Cara’s response had a tone of danger.
‘Oh’ she replied with an inward grimace.
Gabrielle let the silence linger for several more minutes as she looked around at the faces in the tribe, both living and dead. She turned to look at Bridget and her entourage. Bridget’s face was stone. It saddened Gabrielle to see. Finally she returned her attention to the rest of the tribe. "Going once, going twice… fine, this matter is no longer up for debate or contestation. Xena’s petition for entry into the tribe is hereby accepted and her membership is pending upon her initiation. I expect her initiation to be completed by sunrise. The matter is closed." Gabrielle’s voice and demeanor are regal and yet not overbearing.
"Good now that we have that settled…" Gabrielle did not see the look of disapproval from the people behind her. She wouldn’t care much if she did but it could be trouble later. "… We have a lot of preparation to complete. First I need thirty-two Warriors and four pilots that can fly a shuttle. I don’t care if you are in the Military or not, I simply want the very best fighters and pilots that are available to go on a mission with Xena. I want to see them first. In the mean time while I get that mission started I want the rest of you to sort yourselves according to Initiative Twelve." The declaration caused a stir both on the platform with her and with the crowd.
Gabrielle held up her hands to calm everyone. "I didn’t know that this would cause a problem." She looked around at everyone and made a point of staring at Bridget and Melanie who withered slightly under her recriminating gaze. "We are Warriors are we not?" The crowd quieted. "This planet is our home, is it not? Is this not our land?" She waited for an answer and got a belated yell from the crowd. "Then we will defend it!" The crowd responded immediately this time. She let them yell for a few extra moments while she watched the faces of the ghostly Amazons. "Good, right now I want to meet with… the other Amazons." She could see some confusion in the faces of some of the women that were up front. "They know who I’m talking about." The ghosts nodded almost as one. "Good, those people that want to go on this mission I want you to gather here in front of the stage, everyone else sort yourselves in the other side of clearing. Those that I want to talk to right now meet me in the back." Gabrielle and Xena were getting ready to step down when Bridget grabbed Gabrielle’s arm.
"Are you not going to tell me what it is that you are planning… my Queen?" The honorific was deliberately late.
"Don’t tell me that you don’t know what Initiative Twelve is?" She was not in the mood for this particular grandchild.
Bridget didn’t even have the decency to look embarrassed by the question. "Of course I know what it is! But who are we fighting?" She demanded.
Gabrielle felt as if she was being both watched and tested. Many Amazons had already begun to gather at the base of the stage and had heard Bridget’s comment and the challenge imbedded in it. Gabrielle looked down at her arm where Bridget’s hand still rested. Then she brought her eyes up to the woman. Bridget released her arm reluctantly but did not lower her eyes or retract her harsh words.
"You will watch your tone with me granddaughter!" Gabrielle was a mass of barely controlled rage. "This is Cara Rayne’s body." Gabrielle snarled loudly. "But make no mistake about it woman, I am NOT your child! You are mine! And I do not have time for your doubts or your ridiculous questions or your petty plays for power! I am your Grandmother and I am your Queen and if I do not have your respect… I will have your obedience! If you have a problem with that then you know how to resolve it. But make a choice now because I have a Nation to rule and a planet to save from annihilation and you are wasting my time!" Gabrielle was physically shorter than Bridget but at that moment she appeared to be ten feet tall. Bridget cowed before her and for the first time she actually went to her knees and meant it.
"Forgive me, my Queen. I acted foolishly." Her head was lowered and she was swallowing convulsively. She meant it out of fear, not respect. "I forgive you… this time and only because I need you. I need your knowledge; the tribe needs your leadership. If you wish to be of service then choose for me the best team that can be assembled to follow Xena on her mission. Will you do that for me, for the tribe?" Gabrielle watched her descendant closely. This was important and she was concerned that perhaps she was trusting the wrong person with the life of her mate. Cara was silent; it was almost as if she were holding her breath.
Bridget raised her head and Gabrielle could see unshed tears in the corners of her eyes. Were they Crocodile tears or were they real? Only time would tell. Cara had no idea either. "I would be proud to serve you my Queen."
"Rise then and serve… but Bridget, it would be better if you would learn to be proud to serve our people and not a person." Gabrielle waited until Bridget regained her feet. "A good Queen is not served by her people. She serves her people. It is a selfless job not a selfish one." With that Gabrielle descended the steps. Xena caught up to her and leaned in close before she had gone more than just a few steps.
"Giving lessons on how to be a Queen now?" Xena was amused.
"Someone has too. The woman is unbearable." Gabrielle was speaking very low. It wouldn’t do for someone to overhear that piece of conversation. The tribe was acting twitchy as it was.