This must be a first for you, receiving a letter from your prodigal daughter. I guess Gabrielle has rubbed off on me. There is so much to tell you, so much for you to understand, I'm not sure where to begin. Gabrielle would say the beginning and that's the logical place. But where is my beginning Mom? Is it my birth? When Cortese attacked and took away the most precious thing in my life? When M'Lila died and I truly became chosen of Ares and feared throughout the world? Or maybe when I stumbled upon raiders trying to kidnap a group of women and one brave but foolhardy girl stood out? That's it Mom, when my life really began.
I'm not sure when I first realised I loved her, but at the temple I realised I couldn't be without her. She died, she left me and I was absolutely terrified. I begged and pleaded with her not to leave me. She came back to me, and I swore then I would do everything in my power to keep her safe. We grew closer, physically and spiritually, and yet we were both too scared to make a move; too scared of rejection, of losing the most important thing in our lives. And we did for a while. Gabrielle was married and widowed and I died. I came back for her; because I couldn't bear to hear her pain and anguish. I realised that I couldn't be without her for a moment let alone eternity. So I returned. And at first nothing changed, but somehow we both realised what we wanted, and that giant step we were both terrified of making became an insignificant stride. It felt the most natural thing in the world to love her; she was my home, I was safe and secure in her arms and I made sure she was in mine.
You noticed the change in me immediately Mom, when we came visiting. You told me love suited me and it did. You told me I had had never looked happier. That I looked content, and for the first time in my life I wondered if my past wrongs were meant to be, as it had led to her. But it meant I had a future, something to look forward to. As long as it was with her…
I should have known I would have been betrayed. All my life I had been betrayed, a father that left me, a brother that ran, Borias, Caesar and Dagnine. And yet the greatest betrayal, the most painful one came from the person I loved the most.
I remember the last day I was happy, truly happy. We had brokered a peace deal between two villages and had decided to move on. I knew a little lake nearby and we set up camp there. I fished; Gabrielle wrote in her scrolls and cooked my catch. We went for a swim and afterwards we made love and stargazed, arguing as usual over the shapes. It sounded simple but we were together and that was enough for us.
The next morning I was up at dawn as usual and unusually so was she. She said she had stomach cramps, must be her phase of the moon or the fish I caught! And I didn't even cook, I huffed, so don't blame me. She felt fine to continue and we did. The cramps didn't shift after a couple of days with the various herbs I had tried. I noticed she was looking tired, so we stopped in a little cave. Just for a day or two, I said; let you catch your breath, we'd been very busy. It was just weariness I said.
But she didn't improve; the cramps turned to pain and she started to look pale and gaunt. Then I became worried. The Amazons were only a couple of days away so we headed there. They had fine healers and it would give us an opportunity to rest properly without being on guard all the time. They were delighted to see us, more her than me and threw a party in our honour. Those Amazons would throw a party every day the sun rose if they could. She begged me to let her go, to talk to the healers in the morning; to say nothing about the true reason we were there for that night. I could never refuse her anything. As usual she was centre stage, regaling them with stories of our travels, talking with everyone to make them feel at ease. We even had a dance, but then she said she felt tired; the travelling had caught up on her. We went back to the hut and fell asleep in each others arms.
I awoke to sounds of her sobbing with the pain. She looked so pale and small lying on the bed. I suddenly felt very frightened. The healers and I discussed treatments while she slept. Nothing I had tried was helping; I was willing to try anything to cure her.
Within two weeks the vivacious beautiful young women that only a few months ago was walking miles across Greek countryside, fighting against men twice her side was unrecognisable. She was in continuous pain, which the strongest herbs couldn't touch. She could only drink water, she vomited anything else. She was painfully thin; there were dark marks under her eyes, her hair laid lank and lifeless. Even her beautiful eyes lost some of their sparkle. Writing wearied her so she stopped. She only saw close friends as she was embarrassed by falling asleep mid conversation, being sick or being in so much pain in front of people. I was frantic, nothing was working. I never left her side. Ephiny called in the centaur healers to help, they tried different herbs. The healer from a local village tried; Hippocrates suggested something in a scroll. Nothing worked.
I realised then I was losing her. The pain was incredible. I wanted to hold and protect her. I wanted time to stand still, so I never would have to face those dark moments without her. I wanted her out of pain and well again. But I knew that wasn't going to happen. So instead I tried to block out the pain. I drank wineskin after wineskin. And then I yelled. I yelled and screamed, at the gods, at myself, at the amazons and her. I blamed her for making me love her, making me care, for not being strong enough.
When I woke, my first thought was shame. How could I have said those things, drunk or not? My head was in her lap and she was stroking it, apologising to me. She was the strong one, she guided me as always.
Promise me you won't rush to join me she said.
I shook my head, I can't.
Please, she said, I know you have so much more to give.
I nodded dumbly, unable to speak.
I know you won't become a monster, you promised me that, I trust you.
I nodded again, tears coursing down my face. She trusted me, the only one who truly did. I wouldn't let her down I thought.
I love you, Xena. I'll be waiting.
How am I supposed to go on without you? I started sobbing, and she gently lifted my head and gazed into my eyes. You'll never be without me. I'll always be in here. She gently touched my chest. I wrapped my arms around her and we both cried.
Two days later, and the pains had gone, but she was vomiting everything that passed her lips. Then it was blood. She said her goodbyes to her friends gave her rite of caste to Ephiny and asked if I could hold her and sing to her. I took her in my arms, she was so thin and slight, and it was like hugging a bag of bones. I sang the old lullaby you sang for the three of us, Mom. I knew she was gone when I had finished. I have no idea how long I sat there, rocking her, stroking her hair, talking to her, but eventually Ephiny, Solari and Epinon came in. I didn't want to let her go, but they persuaded me to let them help prepare her. We did, the four of us with only sobs breaking the silence. When she was ready I sat with her while the tribe filed past to pay their respects. In a nation of battle hardened warriors there was not one dry eye. Ephiny knew I wanted to bring her home to Lyceus so a guard was organised.
You knew the minute you saw me, I'm sure. I can't remember anything about that visit as I could only feel the pain. I did appreciate what you and Toris did for me then. I just couldn't face anything or anyone.
After Amphibolis I went to see Gabrielle's family. They took the news badly, blamed me of course. After that I wandered. I met up with friends, Hercules, Joxer and Iolaus; I visited you and the Amazons regularly. I protected villages, rebuilt houses, fought warlords, solved problems. I was hailed a hero, offered anything I desired. When I turned from my destructive path this was what I dreamt of. But I was so lonely, nothing brought me joy, I didn't live. How could I? I'd lost my heart and soul.
It's been five years, Mom. I miss her so much I ache. I'm so very tired. I'm tired of hurting, tired of being without her. I'm sorry Mom; I know I've hurt you in the past. I wasn't the greatest daughter in the world, but I do love you. And I'm so pleased I had a chance to get to know Toris. I can't be alone anymore. I love her, and I kept my promises the best I could. I'm going home.
Cyrene put down the yellowing parchment. She thought back to that day when she found the letter on the counter of her inn. She opened the door and saw Argo outside. She knew where Xena was. She hurried to the family crypt. Sure enough in the space between Gabrielle and Lyceus was Xena. Cyrene heard Toris's footsteps and his anguished yell when he saw his sister. She quietened him with a raise of her hand and gazed hard at her daughter. Her face was serene and relaxed. Cyrene hadn't seen that expression for five years. She smiled through her tears and thanked the gods her daughter was happy at last. She was home.