Bonasera Family Hotel, Piraeus Harbour near Athens: Tuesday night, January 30, 1940, 10:37 PM
"That sucker thought he'd steal my scrolls but I sure pulled a fast one on him!" Dr. Janice Covington crowed, "He's half-way to Detroit by now with a sack full of nothing. Serves him right for underestimating the daughter of Harry Covington."
"Not nothing exactly Janice dear, I thought we gave him that scroll about Xena's adventure with Ulysses," Melinda Pappas pointed out, "And the story of Marcus, I thought it was downright moving."
Dr. Janice Covington lit her cigar and surveyed the long, well-lit table in her hotel room. As far as she was concerned, she wasn't going to let these scrolls out of her sight. "Do you think I let him have anything? I got the goods right here." She surveyed the stacked up scrolls around her with satisfaction. "And we had to hightail it out of there because of those Nazis. At least, we left Ares back where he belonged in that tomb. Too bad, Macedonia was getting hot. I'm actually thinking of taking these scrolls to the Oriental Institute in Chicago now. You know, Melinda there's a war coming here."
Melinda flushed slightly. "Well, there does seem to be an awful lot of interest in these scrolls. Maybe, those Nazees want some of that Nectar of the Gods they mention so much in Gabrielle's scrolls. I don't want be one to look a gift horse in the mouth and Dr. Ballard's offer of a job in the fall is mighty temptin'. He says I can begin work on my doctorate too. But I've been working with the text in this particular scroll I was translating today, and I think we should think about turning around and heading for," she studied her carefully written script, "Ur-ar-tu."
"Which part? Urartu was located in Anatolia and Armenia. It was in ruins even before Xena and Gabrielle were born."
"I'm not following you."
"According to this scroll, Xena and Gabrielle went to the city of Mushki on the Upper Euphrates shortly after Gabrielle's husband Perdicus was killed by the evil warlord Callisto. It was a time of great emotional upheaval for the young bard because Callisto had returned from the underworld to inhabit Xena's body. See, it says here, 'And Callisto thought, because she had tricked the Lord of the Underworld Hades into an unfair bargain, that Xena would serve in her place in the underworld in torment forever and that she would live in Xena's body.' So to defeat Callisto, Xena had to live in the body of her greatest enemy."
"Wow, that's some wild story. What was wrong with Callisto's body anyway?"
Melinda Pappas was concentrating on the romantic story and was startled. She squinted up at her new friend in disbelief, "But Gabrielle and Xena traveled everywhere together. It was only through Gabrielle's love and friendship that Xena came to understand how to change into a good person. So, Xena was now in the body of the person that had killed Gabrielle's childhood sweetheart and husband. It must've been awful."
"It doesn't seem very likely!" Janice said, "But you know, that story makes me feel slightly creepy."
"So, what happened and why should we head back for trouble and the Nazis?"
Melinda cleared her throat, "My word, so have you stopped scoffing at me, Dr. Janice Covington and you wanna listen up or what?"
"Okay okay, but I'm going to make myself comfortable." Jan sighed and undid her holster leaving it close to her on the table. Her whip stayed within reach of her right hand. Lucky for her that she was ambidextrous. She took out two small glasses. "You want a little wine to lubricate that throat while you relate the story or what?"
"I could use a small glass." Mel said.
"A small glass, eh?" Janice gave her an evil grin and clenched her cigar between her teeth.
"And you can open up that window, if you're going to smoke that cigar in here."
"Yes ma'am." She opened up the casement, "Anything else?"
Melinda took a nervous sip of her wine, "Tastes kind of nice, remains me of spruce gum chews back home." She emptied the glass and held it out for more. Janice filled it again. "Thank you so very much. So, shall I begin?"
"By all means." Janice saluted and pulled her hat forward over her eyes and put her booted feet up on the table, ready to listen.
"Listen," Melinda cleared her voice and her melodic southern accent filled the room, "to my cries, Aphrodite oh Goddess of Love, to me. Help your beloved, Gabrielle of Potadeia, to raise her voice in song again. Comfort me in this time when my heart weeps tears of blood and I cannot look at the face of my most beloved friend without seeing the face of the enemy who is responsible for my pain. I cry in the night. I need your healing presence, oh Goddess, please hear me now."
The Southern Peloponnesos, 25 BC
Gabrielle woke up, her heart pounding. It had all been a bad dream, surely. Perdicus couldn't be dead, not when she had just realized how much he had meant to her. Xena's beloved face couldn't be gone, not after the years she had spent looking at it across from the fire. Her forehead felt damp and her hands were trembling. Her eyes glanced to the still burned fire.
The skins that formed the bedroll across from hers were empty. Xena was standing guard elsewhere or talking to Argo, as was her habit.
Gabrielle was alone. Touching her eyes, she found that she'd been crying in her sleep. Hastily, she wiped the signs of the bad dreams away and sat up. She reached out and tossed a piece of driftwood on the flames. It sparked quickly and turned the flames slightly blue and green.
"Hey!" a long-fingered pale hand fell on her shoulder. "Shouldn't you be sleeping? We're heading out further into the mountains and Van can get cold, even at this time of year."
She considered pushing the strange hand away but didn't; although Xena might be in Callisto's body, she was still her friend. "Delphi has big mountains, what makes these mountains different?"
Xena sat down beside her, boots stretched toward the fire. "They're older and bigger. Mount Van has snow at the top. In Armenia, there are ruins of a great and ancient kingdom that was once on the Upper Euphrates. Only the names of few ancient cities survive in the stories. Where we're headed, Mushki is near ruins of an ancient city of the same name. A king called Tiglath-Pileser fought a great battle there and defeated the ancestors of the Armenians over a thousand years ago."
"Who was he?"
"He was the leader of the Assyrians. They say that the people of Mushki had great secrets. They built the kingdom of Urartu hundreds of years later."
"What kind of secrets?" Gabrielle moved slightly closer. She might not look like Xena but she sounded just like her.
"Oh, they say they could make light without fire."
Gabrielle sought the comfort of the other woman's shoulder, "Only the Gods can make light without fire, Xena. Prometheus brought us fire, the greatest gift of all." She stared into the flames, dreaming of a time when she didn't feel this heartsick.
Xena put her arm around her shoulder. "They believe in our Gods, although they call them by Roman names, but they still venerate their old ones. Kind of like the Egyptians."
"Do they speak Greek?"
"Greek is the universal language throughout much of Armenia although they also speak their own language."
"I guess we're lucky that the Gods gave us our language and sent the Muses with song, poetry and the gift of storytelling. Are their ancient Gods like the Hebrews with their one God? Or the Celts in Britannia, who believe the Gods are from nature and their priests can divine the truth with water?"
"No, they're more like ours - but less is known about them. Some Armenians believe that their Gods came from the island of Atlantis."
"Atlantis sank into the ocean, at least that's what Plato said." Gabrielle threw another piece of driftwood on the fire, and the flames reflected the brightness of the hair and the earthy brownness of the eyes that had once been Callisto's. Looking at her, Gabrielle saw something in those eyes that made her wonder what Callisto would've been like if Xena hadn't burned down Cirra so many years ago. Maybe, she would've been a good woman, an honourable warrior like Hercules.
"It's still a problem, isn't it?"
"I don't know what you're talking about?"
"Really?" Xena didn't say much but her meaning was always clear. Obviously, she hadn't fooled her. Gabrielle sighed. It semmed that Xena realized that since she'd been stuck in Callisto's body, she spent a lot of time looking at the ground instead of Xena. It was the face, Callisto's face, the face that had killed Perdicus and destroyed Gabrielle's chance at children and happiness. Gabrielle wanted to forget about it but Xena wanted to talk about it. How was that for irony? She shook her head.
"Why are you shaking your head?"
"Oh, I guess because I'm usually the talkative one. It's not really a problem...well, I guess it is. There's been so much change, Xena. I've been thinking how, if we really knew how we felt about people we'd made the same choices. I think I took Perdicus for granted. I should've gone home and married him before he got killed. Now I don't know whether I'll ever get married and have a family. And I did it all myself."
She felt the warm pressure of Xena's hand on hers.
"Give yourself time. Gabrielle, I know you're upset and having bad dreams. I know you're kicking yourself about this, but I know you made Perdicus the happiest man in the world for the day you were married. A lot of people would give a lot for that one perfect day. I've never - I cared about Marcus but I never had that. And you don't deserve this pain. I understand that traveling with me like this is hard and I can't promise I'm going to ever get my old body back. If you want to go home..."
Gabrielle cut her off quickly. "No, I don't want to go home. I believe in what we're doing. I never wanted to stay home like Lila, my sister, and I'm not going back there now, Xena. We'll get through this together, like always."
Gabrielle turned her thoughts to their destination. "So, why are we going to this Armenia anyway? And will there be snow?"
"I think it's too early, but I'm not sure. Yervant will have a warm house."
"A metal worker and an old friend. He fought with me once."
"We're going that far to see a blacksmith? There are plenty of blacksmiths in Athens or Amphipolis for that matter. Why are we going so far?"
"Maybe so, but this metal work is different - like my sword and my chakram."
"I didn't know you'd been there."
"In the land of the Northern Amazons, two days ride west of Mushki. It was a long time ago. Yervant rode with me."
Gabrielle raised her eyebrow. This was as much as Xena had ever told her about her time as the Warrior Princess, but she didn't press for more information. "Okay, so this metal work in your sword and chakram, why is it different?"
"The metal workers of Mushki learned their skills come from the..."
"Oh wait, let me guess. They come from the same ancient people who lived in Atlantis and sunk into the sea when our armies came."
Xena grinned, "Some people say they flew away into the sky."
"Oh right, a flying city of light and magic. Ye Gods, Xena what next? Maybe, if they were so incredible, maybe they could've stopped death and saved Peridicus."
Xena's compassionate glance made her catch her breath. "I think you should get some sleep, Gabrielle. In the morning, I know some fish with rainbow coloured skin I can catch in a brook very close to here. We can have some with the rest of our bread. I'm sure you could do something with that, couldn't you?"
"Can a bard tell stories? I'll fix that with that dried citrus, olive oil and spices. You'll love it."
Xena smiled, "I count on it. Try and rest, we've got a long day's ride ride ahead of us and a long voyage by sea. Maybe, they'll have some of those spice cakes you like so much near the docks. We can eat them on the trip across the straits."
They took two sea trips - first to Athens and then to Lycia. In Lycia the long hard ride Xena had promised begun. Well-constructed roads cut across the provinces of Lycia, Galatia and Cappadocia, a sign of the empire's growing shadow. The Roman roads were straight and true as the ocean on a clear day, their finest accomplishment, and their way to get the military to the heart of any hint of rebellion in their territories. Their engineering talents were renowned. However, Gabrielle reflected that they could only copy the great writers, poets and sculptors of her own homeland - and they were not as accomplished as the originals. Romans used Greek physicians because they were too superstitious to learn about the inner workings of the body. Although Gabrielle had never been to Rome, she had heard about the cruel amusements in their circuses and amphitheatres. No, Rome was nowhere she wanted to go.
If Gabrielle kept her own counsel on Rome, Xena was completely silent. It didn't puzzle Gabrielle that Xena avoided frequent travel on the Roman roads, and they slipped through these provinces via backroads and small towns. This was, she concluded, just common sense - these people were obviously trouble. She noticed as well that, unlike parts of Greece or Macedonia, there were few brigands and warlords to stop them. They were probably, she reflected, hanging on the crosses they saw at the hills on the outskirts of towns along with the local patriots and heroes. When she saw these crosses for the first time, Gabrielle spat and made the avert sign to stop the evil eye. Xena did nothing but stare at them with unblinking brown eyes. Then Gabrielle began to wonder about Xena's previous experience with these Roman conquerors.
When they finally got to Armenia, Gabrielle was relieved to be away from the Roman provinces and the crosses. The Armenian king, Artexius, was known for his admiration of the Greeks and his talent for keeping the Romans happy while entertaining many of their greatest enemies. Gabrielle was pleasantly surprised when, from deep somewhere in her saddlebag, Xena brought out a horde of Roman coins, the universal currency when traveling outside Macedonia and the Greek city states. Gold aureus, silver denarius and sesteri all went to the purchase of warm fur-lined clothing necessary to Armenia. It may only have been early December but already heavy snow was falling.
Mushki itself was similar in size and population to Delphi, a city that Gabrielle had visited frequently. Xena guided them through the market square to the doorway of an immense rectangular atelier where dozens of men and a few women were working on swords or armour. Steam and heat made the room look like the forge of Hephaestos, and although she couldn't be sure, Gabrielle thought she saw a Celtic knot on a nearby sword a metal worker was bent over. The floor of the atelier was made of some hard, unfamilar substance that felt like smooth rock under her feet.
"What is this?" She asked Xena, digging at the floor with her heel.
"It's a Roman invention - liquid rock made with sand and other ingredients - they call it concrete. They use it on their public buildings - it makes it possible to use less marble on their shrines."
"Their shrines to their Gods aren't made of real marble?" This sounded like sacrilege to Gabrielle.
"No, they aren't. Only the outside. Metal and marble are precious and often get reused, especially for war. When you fight, you use what you can - even the statues in Athens have been melted down for spears many times, Gabrielle."
Gabrielle said nothing. When it came to war, Xena knew how need forced you to use whatever was at hand to defend yourself. She herself had helped to do the same thing many times although she'd cried when they reforged the beautiful bronze statue of Aphrodite, in the main square of Potadeia, into spears to defend themselves against slavers. She shook herself. Liquid rock? How would the world defend itself against an empire that made liquid rock? Even if they killed Julius Caesar, Pompey and Brutus, the legions would keep coming and coming. Soon, they would have to join forces with the German tribesmen that even the Romans feared in order to keep the Empire off their backs.
Xena gestured to the far corner of the atelier. There, a bear-like man was working on his own project - a special dagger. It was strange, Gabrielle considered, that these weapons could end up being held by men on opposing sides of the same battle.
"By Khaldi!" the man looked up through his veil of black hair, revealing badly pocked skin on his face. He was clearly the survivor of a some terrible childhood ailment. "I would've never recogized ye, Xena. With your yellow hair, you look like a ghost of your former self." He was well over six feet. His hands were large as paws. Yet, those very hands had been handling a piece of the metal as though it was a delicate butterfly.
"I see you still call on your ancient Gods," Xena said.
"I call on those who listen, Warrior Princess."
"See this dagger, beautiful one," he caressed the killing blade. "Look, if I press the little boar on the bloodstone in the middle, a chamber with poison is revealed. On the other side," he flipped it over gently and clicked a catch near the shaft, "the poison coats the blade with a different substance."
"Two poisons on one knife, Yervant?"
"Two deaths, Princess mine. One," he drew his hand across his throat, "so quick you go to the old ones, you will see Khaldi and his bride before your eyes close on your enemy. The other," he laughed but Gabrielle noticed the humour didn't spread to his eyes, "so slow, that each moment will feel like an eternity in which you wish that Hades himself would bless you with release."
"And the blade is for?"
He grinned. "It goes far, to Britannia - the Iceni tribes. Prastagus is a puppet king there in Bouddica's stead. The Romans don't understand how a woman can be a ruler, but then, they can be fools. See, here it bears Bouddica's own symbol. But personally," his mouth turned down, "my hope is that this blade will strike the heart of Rome. I tell you this only because" he spat, "you hate them as I do. I'm glad to see you walk again, Warrior Princess. If you would ride, I would go with you to destroy the Roman invaders who destroy the will of our people. But, I hear you have become a messenger of peace. It is all the talk from Macedonia to Galicia. Personally, I would follow anyone who would kill that madman, Julius Caesar."
Xena sighed, "Caesar will do his will as I will do mine. And when he dies, a dozen legions will come in his place. I have enough blood on my hands."
His grin made him look marginally less threatening, "Aye, maybe you're right. Who am I to talk, I have come home to my forge and my Gods." His tone lightened slightly, "Now you, do you remember the time you fought that Northern Amazon, what was her name?"
"Aye, so it was." He poured a dipper of cold water over his sweaty face, "Near killed her, but left her standing in the end." His sloe-black eyes challenged her.
"I left her and her women for dead in the woods." Xena contradicted. "And you forged the weapons that Alti charmed, Yervant, and well you know it."
"Did I? Well, you may be right. I seem to recall that." He paused slightly, "Even so, Borias didn't mind much, did he?"
"You know as well as I do that Borias was furious. But I don't think we need to dwell on these things any more. She doesn't," Xena gestured at Gabrielle, "really know everything about my past. And some things, I'd rather not talk about." Her eyes glinted with meaning. "Speaking of that, how are your boys?"
"My three eldest are with my younger brother, Rui the merchant. They are learning his trade. My youngest, Araxenius is learning the metal trade." He pitched his voice low, "He has gone out to the ruins on a quest for me." He laid his broad finger on one side of his nose. "May the old ones help us in these times. His twin sister, Araxenia is pledged to the son of the head of another forge - Mercurius. He is quiet, but a good man and my girl is happy. I can expect no more from life."
Suddenly, Yervant focused on Gabrielle for the first time. His secretive pocketed eyes took her measure. "Pu'chik, you are a pretty little one! Xena is this your companion now? So little one, why aren't you home warming your husband's bed?"
Xena spun on her heel. She drew her sword and presented it to him, slapping him hard in the chest as she did so. It took the breath out of him temporarily. "I take it you can fix it."
A smaller man, a man less than the span of a wall might have coughed and fallen over, but Yervant clasped it to his bosom like a flower whose essence he'd forgotten. "All right, all right, I get it. No discussing a husband for the girl but my wife, Selardi, will work on her if I don't ask. What is your name, little one?"
He put away the fatal plaything for Bouddica and put Xena's sword on his bench. "Nice name. So, why aren't you married?"
"Oh - for the love of - do you think of anything but marriage? My husband just died. He was my childhood sweetheart."
He coughed discretely, "I'm sorry. But of course, not all is lost in such sorrowful times. My brother Rui has no wife and in my family, traveling with the Warrior Princess is as good a recommendation as a big dowry."
"Let's talk about my sword, Yervant." Xena said.
He grinned widely, "She," he gestured at Xena, "used to talk more but she doesn't want me to mention that. Personally, me, I like talking. Now, in my family we like a girl with a dowry, that's good, but a woman who can fight is a real prize, real spirit. Rui will like that! And a Greek girl too, still better - Greece has culture, the sea and of course..."
"Food," Gabrielle suggested, liking him in spite of herself.
He tossed his head, "Listen, you taste my Selardi's food and you judge. Greece has scenery but Armenians have food."
Gabrielle felt a sense of good will toward him. "I'm sorry. Not really interested, Yervant. Only Aphrodite can bring love between two people."
He shrugged, "Think it over, I make a fair offer."
"Maybe your brother won't see it your way."
"Oh I think Rui will see what I see. But I'm forgetting my obligations. Have you been to the main house, seen Selardi? Have a steam - I have a proper Roman bath and oil."
"I wanted to see you first, you understand." Xena shot him a look.
"Of course. But show me first what's wrong with your chakram before we go up to the villa." He pointed to a high wooden pole on the far side of the room. Xena tossed the chakram true but it went slightly off centre before hitting its mark. Needless to say, although the real Callisto could catch the chakram, she couldn't have thrown it and Gabrielle had no doubt that Yervant knew this very well, but he still watched the trajectory of its flight with care.
He nodded gravely, "I see what you mean, it's the inner core. I'll need to work on that. A month at least. Doubtless, it's the same problem with the sword. I worked that metal for over a month, just to get it smooth. I found it in the ruins as you know. It comes from the old ones; it takes an extremely hot fire to work it and it cools quickly. I'll have to use my big furnace, none of the others will do. You are welcome to stay with me, be my guest, as long as it takes. Gabrielle, my brother Rui will be home soon and doubtless have many tales from far away that you will want to record. My home is at your disposal. What you mean to me, Xena," he gave her an intense look, "I'd salute but the Amazons north of here, may come and visit by night. Better that they not know who is my guest. Or should I say what is left of the Northern Amazons..." A trickle of cold sweat dripped down Gabrielle's neck and she thought she wouldn't ask Xena what had happened to Cyane; she wondered if Ephiny knew. It was likely, given the way she had reacted to Xena at their first meeting that Ephiny did know the story and Gabrielle wondered if she would share it with her. Or, perhaps, she didn't want to know.
His chattering, especially on the subject of his brother, continued unabated until they reached his house - an enormous Roman villa on the outskirts of town with hot water pipes, two interior courtyards with fountains and frescos.
"The bath is outside. There will be time before dinner for all of us." Yervant indicated a barrel-shaped building at the back of the house. His stewart, Hagop, showed them to their suite of rooms at the left of the back courtyard near a rose garden. He indicated that they had been given a servant, a young girl named Hasmig to look after their needs. She sat quietly on the couch in their room awaiting their arrival.
"I am to look after your needs." She bowed her dark head deferentially.
"Thank you," Xena smiled, "Very nice."
"I have left new clothes on the bed for you both." She looked up and gave them a faintly disapproving glance, "You cannot go into the city like this," she clucked her tongue, "and the master's brother may return any day. No Armenian lady can go through the city without a veil, what will people think?"
"What, indeed?" Xena remarked amused.
The girl drew her up to her full five feet and looked down her nose at Xena, no mean feat. "The honour of the house of Artunian rests in your appearance and my own as well. The first bath is hot and ready. Strip off your dirty travel clothes. I will take care of your every need from tunica to stolla, nothing shall go amiss."
"Listen, short stuff..." Gabrielle began.
Xena smiled gently at her as one who was used to servants, "Hasmig, you can attend us after the baths. My friend here is shy and unused to your ways. Can you come back and get us ready for the party after the baths?"
Hasmig look flustered and bit her lip, "The master will not be pleased if I neglect my duties."
"The master knows me well. He will not fault you for this."
"You speak truly," Hasmig commented, "although honestly I had thought that Xena, the Warrior Princess herself would be bigger and darker. My master is a just man. Unlike some, he never sends children into fix the pipes in the hypocaust when it is broken, although some now use small slaves for this work. He brings in a proper Roman technician, and does not stint. I will explain that I will attend you later."
"You have no slaves?" Gabrielle asked.
"It is not our ancient custom although many of the richer merchants have brought slaves from far away, as far away as Britannia. My family have been servants for generations beyond measure to the Artunian family. They were advisors to the old ones, those that have gone before. It has been so since the Kingdom of Urartu and the golden time before. You will promise to stay here, when you return from the baths. I must do my job."
"We will stay here." Xena said solemnly.
"Very well. You will soil your first tunica. The one you are wearing," she clicked her tongue again.
"You think my tunica is beyond hope?" Xena asked solemnly.
"I will burn it," Hasmig replied just as solemnly. "I will clean the rest of your - um - traveling clothes carefully." She cast a dubious eye on Xena's leathers and seemed faintly scandalized by Gabrielle's brief outfit.
She assisted the women to put on fresh white tunicas for the bath and swaddled them in warm cotton robes. His Roman bath was all that Yervant had promised. Xena demonstrated the use of the stigil, the blade used to scrape the olive oil from the skin before the bath, to Gabrielle, who had never used one before. She had to concede that it did feel wonderful, having all the dirt scraped from the surface of your skin, before the hot bath to clease you completely, the warm bath to rinse you and the cold bath to revive you. When they returned to their rooms, their tunicas were stripped off by Hasmig who had brought a helper, Asa, with her.
Over the knee-length tunica, a long garment called a stola with sleeves was worn. Xena's stola was cochineal scarlet with gold clasps at the shoulders and complemented by a grey wool palla or shawl. The two girls fussed over the veil and the makeup while they dressed Gabrielle in white.
"I've never thought of white as my colour," Gabrielle commented.
"The master says you are a widow and white is our custom. It indicates our respect for your loss." Asa nodded. "He says you are a great bard. Perhaps, you will ride out to the old ruins of the old city of where King Rui was defeated by Tiglath-Pileser? The master knows the ruins better than any still alive. It is said that the soldiers of King Rui were never lost at all, but that King Rui hid most of them away from the enemy, waiting for another day when they would come to the aid of the world. They went to Atlantis and lived there in peace until the Greeks came."
"Then they sank below the ocean." Gabrielle said, "But how could they live in the ocean?"
Hasmig looked at the results of her efforts with Gabrielle's toilette with satisfaction, "They were like Gods to us."
"The Gods we have are enough trouble," Gabrielle commented caustically.
"They were not like that," Hasmig said without doubt, "they only wanted good things for us. Peace, wisdom, beauty - the things the Greeks themselves value. Go out to the ruins, see for yourself, the miracles of the ancient ones will unveil themselves to you."
"And what have you seen?" Gabrielle asked studying her reflection in the polished metal mirror.
Hasmig reached into her pocket and fished out a piece of glass, "A mirror glass, lady. Look, it is perfect."
The small piece of silvery glass fit into the palm of Hasmig's hand and she passed it over to Gabrielle, "See, lady."
Gabrielle looked in the glass and saw her own green eyes reflected perfectly. Shocked, she almost dropped it. Then she showed it to Xena, "Have you seen this? It looks like something from Olympus itself, a mirror of the Gods."
Xena took it out of Gabrielle's shaking hand and gave it back to Hasmig, "Thank you Hasmig. It's lovely."
Hasmig turned to leave the room, "Maybe the lady will find her husband in a glass in the ruins somewhere, maybe he could come back through the glass - perfect as the reflection."
Gabrielle sat down in shock, "Do you think that's true, Xena?"
"No," Xena shook her head gently, "I've seen old shards of mirror glass before, it's just a trick. There is no world on the other side, Gabrielle."
"But Perdicus could be alive!"
"Perdicus is in the Elysian Fields now, Gabrielle, with Marcus, with so many others we have known. He will know you when he sees you. I'm sorry."
"But there is a chance that..."
"No, no chance."
Gabrielle gave Xena a glance, hoping that her glance told her friend just how desparate she was that this wild tale might be true. "How do you know?"
"I've seen a lot of things, Gabrielle."
"You came back from the dead."
"I had ambrosia. Perdicus was burned on the funeral pyre. We watched it, both of us. His spirit has crossed over. He would not be in torment, Gabrielle, you have no fear of that. He was a good man."
"Gabrielle," Gabrielle looked up to see the strange face of Perdicus's murderer looking at her, she wanted to scream but this was Xena, her best beloved friend. "Gabrielle," said Callisto's lips and Xena's heart, "I brought you here so you could forget, away from family, your mother and father grieving over your husband and begging you to stay with them. I brought you here because I thought, when you were here, you could see how very old it is and how people remember the past. Just like your scrolls will record and remember the story of Perdicus."
"But those ruins might have something I could use."
"You think they're dangerous?"
"I know they're dangerous, ask Yervant about being trapped in the ruins for days. That was when he found the metal for my sword. That's what I asked him to do, to find a metal that was so old, it couldn't be destroyed. And I nearly killed him. I was so different then. He's a good man, he never held it against me. I made sure he made so much money in my campaigns, I would make up for it twenty times over."
Gabrielle reflected, "Could you have a built a house like this with Borias?"
"If I had loved Borias or he had loved me, it would've been different. He was married Gabrielle, another woman's husband. And I took him to my bed. I'm not proud of it. And he died. And no, I never loved him. There was one man once I almost - but I won't go into that now."
"No, Gabrielle. I cared very much about Marcus but, for me, blind ambition and power lust were stronger than love. I only met that quality in one other man, a very evil man I hope never to meet again. Only through your goodness and Hercules's help, have I managed to purge that evil man from my thoughts. And they are not happy thoughts. Please just stay away from the ruins. They're unstable and dangerous."
On the first night, Yervant and his wife Selardi put out a meal for at least five times their number. There were six of them including the two children, but Selardi, a tall red-haired woman with a mild face, assured them that the servants would eat all the leftovers. Notwithstanding, this still left a burden on Xena and Gabrielle to eat heartily to please their hosts. Gabrielle thought she'd never eaten so much. The wine, in the Roman fashion, was laced with cumin, cinamon and other pungent spices. Sometimes, Gabrielle thought this was to cover up the copious amounts of bad wines that were served up often in so many places - particularly to Roman soldiers who nobody liked as guests. Perhaps, because they had a habit of drinking a lot and not paying their share of the bills.
Much of the Armenian food was similar to Greek fare. Although, even more stuffed vegetable dishes were served. Aubergines stuffed with spiced rice and raisins. Courgettes stuffed with ground lamb and bread crumbs. Vines leaves rolled the traditional Greek way with rice and currents and steamed. Chickens cooked with dried plums in a pungent sauce. Chicken with apricots. Rice with apricots. Different bean dishes - round white beans, red beans, beans with a dark spot and black beans in a pungent sauce. A fish sauce, which Gabrielle could not identify and Xena told her was made of rotten fish, put on top of lentils. This was the only dish Gabrielle had difficulty eating. Several unfamiliar varieties of grains baked with cinamon and olive oil. Lamb and goat spitted and baked in a charcoal pit over a number of days - that was very like a dish from Potadeia - and Gabrielle enjoyed this one. It was finished off with spiced, sweet coffee, pastries and dishes of a fruit compote with sour cherries that Gabrielle adored.
Just when she thought she couldn't eat any more, the special pastries - the ones that reminded her of Cyrene's cooking - came out. These were filled with nuts but instead of walnuts she got something completely different.
"What are these?" She asked between bites, "I mean the nuts."
"They're a green nut from the desert, we only get them at this time of year." Arxenia said enjoying her surprise. "What do you think of the baklava?"
"They're different. There's no honey on them, they seem very light."
"We don't use honey, we use something called sugar. It's new - it comes from India. It's made from a plant."
"I'll show you," volunteered Selardi. She had a small round dish of white crystals brought to Gabrielle.
"What is it?" Gabrielle asked cautiously.
"It's sugar. My brother Rui traded it for our metal work. Taste it."
"Yes and I added flower water, the water of the orange blossom flower to be exact. And another, can you guess?" Selardi asked.
Gabrielle smelled the pastry, "Roses, it's the smell of damask roses."
"Yes," Selardi was delighted, "The damask rose from the Himalyas is the most pungent. In a country to the north of India, the mountains there are higher than any others and the roses there are the most fragrant. They use them to make the rose water. We use it in cooking."
"It's good," Gabrielle said cautiously, "But I miss the honey too!"
"But the honey makes the pastry too moist. You can't get the crispness, that faint crackle when you bite into it. That's missing." Yevevan explained. "You won't miss the honey if you eat these a few times."
And he was right, she didn't. She spoke to him about the old ruins. Like Xena, he warned her against going into the ruins, about their dangers.
"Besides," Selardi told her, "People have gone missing in the ruins. We don't know what became of them."
"They're just old ruins."
"It's the place of ancestors. If Yervant almost died there, you shouldn't go there. The spirits might hold you captive."
As the days passed, Gabrielle became more and more convinced that the ruins held the key to finding her dead husband. She said nothing of this to Xena, not wanting to reveal her plans. The ruins were only five miles away. One day when Xena was busy with Yervant, she would go out there and check for that mirror glass. She would find out whether these ancestors - the ones who had supposedly flown through the sky with their lost city - whether they could find a way for her to find Perdicus. If it wasn't for her, Perdicus might still be alive. They might be starting a family right now.
She wasn't even sure whether she wanted to do that, start a family with Perdicus and leave Xena to wander, but she didn't like the way that she felt about his death. Guilty and more than a little lost, lost particularly because she had lost the face of the other friend that made everything so familiar to her and had to look at Perdicus's murderer's face every day.
Yervant had made a gelding, Charon, available for her to ride. He was easier to handle than Argo, who was a mare and somewhat stubborn. She rode out closer and closer to the ruins when Xena was busy helping rework her sword. Finally, one day she rode up to the crumbling grey wall alive with decorations of unknown animals and crumbling pillars. Picking her way around the buildings, she saw a wide avenue of buildings. She tied up Charon to keep him out of harm's way, and took off her veil. It seemed very impractical for crawling around ruins.
From her saddlebag, she brought out her old traveling clothes, a warm fur-lined coat and boots. There was no one there to watch her when she finally made her way into the ruins. After crawling over a pile of rubble, she could see that the square pillars that lined the avenue into the interior were mostly unstable. Some had already collapsed. As she moved in deeper, Gabrielle could only hear the beating of her heart and the whisper of her booted feet on the broken pavement. It seemed, at first, like any other ruin - grey stone, marble statues, fantastic carvings of animals and rotting woods.
It was, however, bigger than anything she had previously imagined. She must have walked for over an hour, seen statues of gods that looked like many fantastic animals - she was just considering going back when she saw what looked like a mound and a passageway. Well, she thought, if it seemed unstable she'd go back from where she came. She moved to the mouth of the passageway. Here, there were spiderwebs and the remains of animal nests, but there was no substantial damage. This was curious.
Moving carefully through the underground passage, she came out into a large room. It was unlike anything she'd seen before. The surfaces under her feet seemed to be hard, gray metal and in a far corner she saw green lights. This made her heart beat faster, but she couldn't smell smoke or hear any sound of noise - so she moved forward to see the source of the light. As she drew nearer, she saw a curtain and a raised bench-like space - it, too, was made of some kind of metal. Then she jumped, she thought she saw somebody or something move. She looked again. The object mirrored her action. It was some kind of reflection.
Feeling foolish, she saw what had made the reflection - it was a large sheet of mirror glass just like the one that Hasmig had shown her. It was surrounded by a wide silver rim. On the bottom were round buttons that were attached to the rim. When she reached out and touched a white button, it turned. Mist seemed to be rising from the mirror and surrounding her and she stepped forward to look at the mirror again.
Her heart skipped a beat. Xena was wrong, there, in the middle of the mirrorm was Perdicus smiling at her. He was extending his hand toward her. All she had to do was reach out and take it. This surely was a direct path to the Elysian Fields. She heard booted feet behind her across the room. It was Xena.
"Gabrielle," Xena called out in alarm. "Yervant told me about the mirror. It isn't what you think."
"Xena, Perdicus is here - just like I thought. He'll be safe now - I can send him home to Potadeia before he gets really hurt."
"I think that I can stop all of this now."
"No, wait." But she heard no more. What did she think? Perdicus was smiling at her, handsomer and more welcoming than he'd ever seemed in real life. His death was her fault, in no small part. She had been right to marry him - although for some reason she had waited so long to do so. Still, even if she didn't want to go back to Potadeia with him she could fix the situation she'd created. This stranger with Xena's face wasn't going to stop her - and now everything would be all right.
"It'll be all right." She called out to Xena but it wasn't all right.
"Perdicus," she reached out with one hand.
His hand beckoned to her. The mist around the mirror got heavier, and she reached out just to stabilize herself. There was a sudden flash and the world went dark around her.
When she woke up, birds were chirping overhead. It was a perfect day. She could see the endless blue of the sky, the fields that were burdened with heavy crops, the wagons sitting waiting to take in the harvest - and the sense that the whole world was waiting for her. It was Potadeia, just as she had dreamed it.
She got up in amazement and wandered into village. Surely, her sister Lila would be at her parents' home, but when she got home she found the barns deserted and her parents missing. Lila wasn't in her bedroom. The streets were deserted, the door on the smithy swung open and Stephanos the blacksmith was clearly missing. The baker, the owner of the town ovens, the farrier and the women who attended the local shrine to Aphrodite were also missing. No one was in the small village.
Gabrielle returned to her house. In the common area, there was a mirror near the door that went outside into the lambing pens. She drew near the mirror expecting to see her own reflection, but instead she saw Perdicus far away in the distance tending his crops for the coming harvest. Eagerly, she ran through the door expecting to find herself in a field. Instead, she found herself in a long hall of mirrors, the same kind of mirrors she'd seen in Urartu. Each one showed her a different scene, a different place. Across from her was the field with Perdicus tending his crops.
She entered that portal. Perdicus was so absorbed in his task he didn't notice her approaching him from behind.
Putting her hands on his eyes she giggled, "Guess who?"
"Gabrielle, I have to get this harvest in - you know what will happen if it's left out in the open and a storm comes."
"I could help you."
He eyed her suspicion, "Don't you think you should get back to the house, tend to the twins, make dinner? You didn't leave the babies alone again, did you? This isn't like when you used to go around the country with Xena, you have responsibilities now. Please go home. Take care of the babies and I'll take care of the men's work."
"I could do this," she gestured at the field, "You can go home."
He shook his head, "Damn it, Gabrielle. Your father was right about you when he talked to me at the wedding, no sense of responsibility. You act like you have an empty head most of the time. We don't have time for that kind of life. You go home and I'll see you later." He noticed her hurt expression and kissed her gently, "Go on, get going. I'm not going to leave you and go to war for a while yet. "
"Remember we talked about it last night. Caesar is drafting men for his army in Britannia. Pays well too. You go and look after the babies." He turned back to mounting up the hay and she noticed her parents' old house over the ridge. Maybe there she'd find out what was going on.
As she approached the house, she noticed three more markers in the family plot at the left of the house. She entered the house which was tidy, but filled with the smell of baby diapers, the sound of crying and the feel of desperation. She saw herself sitting in a chair, nursing two small babies on her knee.
"It's a big harvest, but Caesar's men will take the lion's share, little one, so you're going to have to get big on my milk for now." The baby wailed and turned away from the proferred nipple. "Come on little Xena, if you don't eat your brother will get all the milk - or worse still, my milk will dry up - if hasn't started drying up all ready."
She looked at herself, "Wow, twins!"
The other Gabrielle smiled at her, "Yeah, it would be great if we didn't come home and find that Caesar's army had taken everything that Draco hadn't already stolen. Your sister is with him now and your parents are gone."
"Perdicus told me he was leaving."
She noticed that the other Gabrielle's hair was thinning slightly, and she had a disillusioned look on her face. "Look, he has to leave. Caesar will pay him for fighting for Rome, then we can become citizens and leave this dump. I'm sorry I'm calling it that, but the babies barely get enough food."
"Why doesn't he fight with Xena?"
"Fight with Xena, what kind of pay will that bring? Next you're going to suggest I should begin writing my scrolls again."
"Look, I haven't put a quill to parchment since I got home and saw what a wreck the village had become. Then I got pregnant, then the winter came, and then, you know how it goes. Occasionally, I get some work writing out a letter for a local - and I get paid if I'm lucky. If you remember, you were the only one in this village who could write."
"What is Lila doing with Draco?"
"What do you think?" Gabrielle spit. "She's his woman, not that he'll marry her. Sometimes, I think you're better off a slave than an unpaid whore. He'll leave her when it pleases him. If we're Romans citizens, we can take care of her."
"Then you'll live in a slum in Rome."
Her older, more cynical self shrugged, "Better there than a worse place. The wood worms and potato spuds make poor food in winter."
"Do you love Perdicus? Do you want me to stay here and help you? In my world, he's dead."
The harder green eyes met her softer ones, "Maybe better there, than a worse place. Maybe you should leave here."
She turned away. This was no place for her, no place for the Perdicus she'd known. Maybe, this had been on the road just ahead of them if Callisto hadn't killed him. The life of a Roman mercenary in Britannia would kill his soul, if the life of a soldier didn't kill his body. Why she thought he'd stick it out in Potadeia when it had turned out that he'd wanted to leave as much as she had, she didn't know.
As she turned away, she saw the mirror glass in the room behind her older self. The other Gabrielle nodded to it, "That's the way out."
"What's over there?"
"No way to tell, unless you go through."
She stepped up to the mirror glass on the other side, she saw Xena. Not the Xena she'd been traveling with, but the dark-haired Xena on a tall throne. Her blue eyes were distant, cold and shuttered. She stepped through the glass and found herself back in the hall of mirrors.
In the mirror opposite, Xena was seated on a throne with Ares whispering in her ear. A woman who looked like her was standing in front of that Xena. Gabrielle stepped through the mirror.
"Take her away and cruxify her - and oh, break her legs first." Ares disappeared as the cold blue eyes met hers. "Who the hell are you? I thought I told them to cruxify you."
"Who are you?" Gabrielle echoed.
The blue eyes narrowed, "Listen, little girl, I don't like tricks. If that was a twin sister of yours, you're probably behind the rebellion against me just like she is."
"I hardly know you."
This Xena laughed, a long cold laugh, "Not know your Empress, Xena, Conqueror of the Known World. Bow down before me, little girl."
"Have you met Hercules?"
The conqueror Xena froze for a second, "I killed him. Well, I did have help from my lover, Ares, but it was relatively easy."
"You and Ares are lovers?"
Xena smiled, "So, are you going to bow? I killed Caesar, Brutus, some prophet called Eli and Bouddica as well. What of it? They were in my way. So, you..."
"You'll let her go." A voice rang out.
Xena turned her head slightly to just behind Gabrielle's right, "Well, well, Callisto. Hmm, I thought I'd killed you as well." The blue eyes looked crazed.
"You did, but not the way you're thinking. You see, I'm you - at least in my time, right now. Callisto is in Tartarus, which is where you're going to be someday."
"I don't think so. Daddy's a god so I get a get out Tartarus free card. And since Daddy is my main man, I guess I can do what I want. And I'd love to zap you one right now."
Gabrielle's mouth dropped open as her Xena, the one who now looked like Callisto moved forward and spoke again. "Oh, I see." The Callisto-Xena rolled her eyes, "You found out that Ares was your father. But that didn't put you off taking him as your lover, how am I doing so far? I just don't understand why."
The crazed Xena looked bored on her throne, "Look, I'm having more fun now than I've had all day. But I'll kill you two just the same as all the others. If you want to know, I needed Ares to help me dispose of Hercules and he just stayed around and helped me so much. And there are," she gave them a smug smile, "so many other special reasons, he made me his, I just couldn't begin to explain. But look where I am, and look where you are! It all makes such perfect sense."
"I guess." Callisto-Xena shrugged her shoulders, "How do you feel about all this?"
Crazed Xena leaned forward, "Look, to be honest, I don't feel anything any more. And I like it that way. I guess you two know how to find the door. I don't really want to be taken out by fighting myself and you have the heart to fight that I've lost, so I'm not taking any chances."
Her Xena grabbed her hand and turned, "Have fun."
"Always do," crazed Xena yelled, "Listen could somebody step up those cruxifictions for me? I need to see some bodies here."
Walking backwards, they found the mirror on the back of a barn behind them. They emerged together into the hall of mirrors.
"I wasn't happy with Perdicus in the future here."
"I know." Xena squeezed her hand.
"What is this place? Was it made by the ancient gods?" Gabrielle asked.
"I think the people who made this place, were offering everyone a piece of their possible future. Before I found you with the conqueror, I found a world where I never burned Cirrra. Callisto and I were friends but she wasn't you, Gabrielle. For what it's worth, I think you could spend a lifetime exploring these worlds. That is their danger! I'm sure that the army of Urartu is behind one of these mirrors. Each mirror is another future for the person looking in. You could get lost in here forever exploring things that never happened."
"Like a maze."
"I think this place has a purpose and a wisdom that we don't understand. This was made by people, people not that different from us - however advanced and god-like they seem to us. I think they were the ancient ones. The metal in my sword was made by them. But we aren't ready for this place."
"No, I don't think we are." Gabrielle looked up at her, "I guess. One version is enough. I'm sorry Perdicus is dead - especially because I feel it was partly my fault. But I never really wanted to marry him. I wanted to travel with you, be with you, and I still want to be with you no matter who you look like."
"Perdicus chose his own, Gabrielle."
"In the future, he left me at home to go fight for Caesar, for money. I'd almost rather bow to the conqueror than live that kind of desparate life."
"Well, he was a fool." Xena said gruffly.
"A sad man with children and no food."
She held Xena's hand, "Do you know the way out of here?"
Xena guided her way out and back to the house. If that night at dinner, she looked at the tall blond woman a little longer and was a little quieter - it was a good feeling. Perdicus was safe in the past. She'd seen the future, and now she wanted to live just for today.
Bonasera Family Hotel, Pireaus Harbour near Athens, Early Wednesday Morning, January 31, 1940, 1:45 AM
"So what happened then, why did Gabrielle continue to travel with Xena?" Dr. Janice Covington had pulled out her bottle of scotch during the long story.
"I don't know, it doesn't say, but this mirror sounds like a powerful device. Maybe we should go back and make sure none of those Nazees get their hands on it." Mel squinted at the dusty scroll.
"Well, we've got plenty of time. If they get caught in that mirror they'll think they're in Third Reich vacation land. By the time they realize what's happened and they decide to leave, the war will be over." Jan reflected, "Maybe Roosevelt would want get his hands on that thing. Sounds like a great weapon."
"Or a really dangerous one."
"One too dangerous for us to handle."
The two women exchanged glances, "Maybe we should get these scrolls back to Chicago. After all, I do have a job waiting for me. I thought I could live at your house."
"My house? It's a bit of a - well, a mess."
"No time better than the present to clean it." Melinda Pappas commented coolly.
"So I guess you're going to help me with that too!"
"My word, Janice Covington that's what friends are for, aren't they?"
"I guess that's true. Say, Mel?"
"Do you think someday, someone will be able to use that alien maze device, you know?"
"Janice, I think someday some student of yours may be just the person to take on that job, and dig through half of Armenia. Maybe when this war is over. Maybe, even us."
Janice tipped her hat foreward, "Well, it sure as heck ain't gonna' be me. I like my life."
"No Janice dear, I don't think it will be you."
"You want a shot of this whiskey?"
"You all offering?"
"Best whiskey in Athens," Janice Covington boasted.
"Dr. Covington," Mel Pappas cooed, "this is probably the only whiskey in Athens. You do know there's a war on."