If I had clamoured at Thy Gate
For gift of Life on Earth,
And, thrusting through the souls that wait,
Flung headlong into birth––
Even then, even then, for gin and snare
About my pathway spread,
Gods, I had mocked Thy thoughtful care
Before I joined the Dead!
But now?... I was beneath Thy Hand
Ere yet the Planets came.
And now––though Planets pass, I stand
The witness to Thy shame!
"The Rebel", Rudyard Kipling
It is in a small clearing in the late late night, the moon at a half-sliver, in which a young woman paces. This is their last night here, from which they will catch a ship at the next port and forever be rid of this cursed Brittainia. What a wretched place! What wretched things have happened here. And it's all her fault. Yes, thinks the young woman. It is because of her bloodlust, her insatiable hatred for Caesar that all this has happened. And why shouldn't I be mad? Why must I pay and pay for all her hatred? Would it that she never picked up a sword in the first place! Where would it have had to have stopped? Corinth? Solan? No, much earlier than that. With Lao Ma? The young woman's mind tangles through the webs of her friend's history and arrives at the beginning: With Cortese and Amphipolis. Yes, if only she could travel back to that time and that town and warn the young warrior what would happen if she continued to burn like she did– how much she would destroy– how much she would come to despise herself for her destruction. How much better would it be if only I could offer her my love then? when it would have been simple to give, easy, uncomplicated by everything that has happened.
The young woman looks up to the dim stars and silently casts her plea to the gods. She should know better, what with all her dealings with those on Olympus, that any prayer in vain sparks the interest of those bored immortals. But the young woman had already abandoned the thought, breathed deeply the night air and gathered all her pain in her arms and let it wrap her up and consume her.
"Gabrielle?" That deep, silvery voice through the trees, thickened by sleep. The young woman shakes herself and walks back through the trees to their campsite. The fire is merely embers, emitting faint wisps of smoke, too much heat. Their bedrolls are laid out next to each other, as they usually are. But Gabrielle couldn't feel farther away from her companion. She feels worlds away, stars shooting past, planets, all the heavens in between them. "Come back to bed," says Xena. She sleepily holds a corner of the fur open for her. And so, with a sigh, Gabrielle slips into the bedroll beside her, and feels her pain and her love for this woman knotting through her chest. The tension only uncoils when she feels the warrior's arm creep mindfully over her hip and settle on her stomach. Gabrielle drifts back into sleep.
There is something unusually bright shining into her closed eyes. There is something much too warm on her face. There is something much too wet at her back. With a groan, Gabrielle opens her eyes to find herself, not in her bedroll, not next to Xena, not in a forest in Brittainia, but in a field. In a Grecian field, it seems by the flowers in bloom. She must have been here all morning, from the dew that had soaked through her thin shift from the reeds; the suns sits so high in the sky. What happened? How did she get here? Perhaps I'm dreaming, thinks Gabrielle. She closes her eyes once more and listens to the sounds of life around her: the wind which whips the tips of the sawgrass against her legs, how it roars like a sea through the treetops; she hears the sound of running water as it trips down stones and pebbles and felled trees. At the thought of water, Gabrielle realises she is very thirsty. She sees upon standing, that she had lain in a meadow just below a hill which slopes faintly upward, than steeply down into the farming steppes. Gabrielle knows this field. She and Xena had been here many times before. She is standing only a few lengths away from the Eastern road that leads into Amphipolis. She also knows that if she travels beyond that western copse, there rushes the river.
At the water's edge, Gabrielle takes a moment to collect herself. What had happened? Perhaps she was ill, lost her memory? Maybe this was Xena's idea of a joke. But, she dismissed that idea as ridiculous the moment it passed. Perhaps this is a vision? Yes, perhaps she is to be shown something in this vision of great importance. She will need to be more vigilant now. Gabrielle kneels on the red clay bank and gathers her blonde hair into a knot and moves it off her neck. She then lowers her head into the gently flowing river. The water is cold, jolting, so real-feeling that she can't quite dismiss it as a dream. She resurfaces and barely has time to wipe the water from her eyes when she hears a branch snap. Gabrielle jerks her head around at the noise, half-blind.
"Who's there?" she says, taking the chance to clear her eyes. When she can see clearly, she looks around and slowly begins to stand. She knew she heard something. It was probably an animal or something. Just then, there is a rustling sound and splash! the water explodes over her, soaking further her shift and her hair. Sputtering, Gabrielle knows she is not dreaming now. Again, she wipes the water from her face and looks at figure standing in the middle of the stream. It is a girl, young but at the threshold of womanhood; she has long long black hair, knotted in free swaying dreads. She wears a black woven leather vest, tarnished buckles, leather pants that disappear at the thigh into the river water rushing around her. In her hand is a knife, and for a moment the blade shines blue in the clarity of her eyes. It only takes a moment for Gabrielle to recognise the girl. It takes one more moment for her to get over her shock.
"Look, I didn't meant to scare ya that bad," says the girl. She leaps with dexterity onto the bank beside a still-soaking Gabrielle. She still cannot believe her eyes.
"Xena?" she says, her eyes wide. The girl stops, the knife still in her hand. She eyes this strange blonde woman in a sleeping shift.
"How do you know my name?" she demands. Her eyebrows knit together in that familiar foreboding way.
"I um... I can explain," says Gabrielle.
"My name is Gabrielle." The young Xena registers this news, almost looking like she recognises the name. "And I'm from a village not far from here. A village called Potidaea."
"I've heard of it yes. Famous for that battle in the Peloponnesian wars."
"Yes, so you have."
"That still doesn't answer my question. How do you know my name?" This Xena is much more impatient and easily agitated, Gabrielle discovers. She considers her next words a moment, then decides that if Xena could love her many years from now, she could love her again in this world, in this time as well.
"I have the gift of prophecy," says Gabrielle. The girl is intrigued, alleviated from a small portion of her distrust. She, however, does not take her eyes off the strange blonde woman as she walks the few steps to the crab apple tree; she throws the knife casually, spinning it to cut the stem of a plump green apple so that it falls neatly into her hand; she leaves the knife sticking out of the trunk of the tree. Gabrielle nearly snickers and ruins her aura of mystique; Xena has always been a show-off.
"So tell me, Gabrielle," Xena drawls, her voice slightly higher than matured tone, "what prophecy told you my name?".
"I had a dream," she lied, "I had a dream that led me to this river and I met a woman named Xena. She was much older than you are now, by ten summers at least. She turned out to be the most loyal friend I had ever known." Xena walks closer to Gabrielle, until she is only a few footlengths away. Gabrielle has the chance to get a more detailed appreciation for the difference between the woman she knows and this younger version of her friend.
By the gods, Xena was a beauty even in her teenage years. Her beauty is much more wild now though, much more mischievous; her beauty is less controlled, less like the sharp stoicism of her beauty in later years. There is a ruddy flush to her cheek. She looks less haunted, no deep rings of sleeplessness under her eyes. Although, there is a small cut above her brow and there are a few scratches on the sides of her arms. It looks like she had recently been in a scuffle. Xena smirks, her eyes bright, steps even closer to the strange blonde woman.
"Ever had a crab apple? The cows eat 'em, but I like the sour taste," she offers the small fruit to Gabrielle. Gabrielle takes the apple from Xena's hand, their fingers brushing lightly. Over the fruit at her lips, the green of her eyes briefly meets the tide of Xena's stare. They share their eyes a moment, and then Gabrielle takes a crisp bite, not flinching at its bitterness. Xena smiles for real now, and it transforms her face, making her look so so much younger. "What am I like, ten summers older?"
It is Gabrielle's turn to smile now. Then, suddenly, it turns to a frown. Brittainia. Dahak. Caesar. Xena registers this range of emotions on the young woman's face and frowns in response.
"That bad, huh?" she jokes, crossing her arms over her chest.
"No, not at all," Gabrielle places her hand on Xena's forearm, "You will be the finest of women, the finest of warriors, the finest of those who seek the greater good. You will be a fiercely loyal friend, the profoundest friend of my life." These words nearly conjure tears, they shock Gabrielle with how true they are. Suddenly, the reality of the situation hits her. The gods have granted her her wish. Here she is, an impressionable young warrior princess, and here I am, a few years her elder able to impart influence and guidance. She wonders if Xena had already fought Cortese; for some reason, Gabrielle didn't think so.
"You really think all that?" answers Xena.
"I really do," she answers, moving her hand back to Xena's arm.
"You really are a strange nut aren't you lady?" she smiles that lopsided smile, more carefree than Gabrielle has ever seen it.
"Sure am," she says.
"So, where are your clothes?"
Gabrielle looks briefly around her and shrugs, "I don't have any."
"Don't have any? What, did you pawn them? Are you on the run?" Xena is ribbing her now, beginning to circle her playfully. It strikes her friend, how full of energy this young woman is, it nearly snaps together like lightning behind her eyes.
"Nothing like that. Someone must have stolen them." Well, it wasn't a total lie.
"Come on, then. We'll make like the Samaritans and get ya clothed and fed. My mother owns an inn down there in town." Xena begins to walk in that direction, expecting Gabrielle to fall at her heels as she does in her later years too. She stops at the crap apple tree and withdraws the knife from its bark.
"I have no dinars!" Gabrielle calls.
Xena answers over her shoulder, "No clothes. I figured no dinars. Still, though. I suppose I could share a few of my things, seeing as we're future best friends and all."
With a brief grin to herself, Gabrielle starts off after her young friend.