DISCLAIMER: The characters of Xena, Gabrielle, Ephiny, Eponin, Solari, etc. are owned
by Universal Studios and Renaissance Pictures. The other dozen or so
Amazons were created by me - because you can never have too many Amazons. No infringement is intended
and no profit is being made.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
By Del Robertson
Soft, leather boots traveled quickly through the trees, agilely scurrying from branch to branch with the sure-footedness that comes from years of intensive training. Not a sound was made, not a leaf was rustled out of place as a rapid pace was hastily set and maintained. The route was followed for candlemarks, carefully altered with sharp turns and a circuitous route designed to lose even the most dogged of pursuers.
Pausing at the edge of the forest, tan leathers blending in with the late autumn colors of the trees, she waited. And watched.
The forest gave way to a valley overrun with wild, untamed salt grass. And, beyond that, a cave entrance, predominately hidden to all but the sharpest of eyes by the naturally wild growth of the countryside. Patiently, she watched, spending over a candlemark hidden in the safety of the trees. Eyes scanned the valley, ears listened for any sound out of the ordinary.
Tentatively, she raised both hands, cupping her fingers to her mouth. She gave the bird call, long and sharp, twice. Then, dropping her hands, she rested the weight of her forearms upon powerful, tanned thighs. Ears perked, she waited for the answering call. It came almost immediately.
She waited several long candledrips more. Then, at last, she made her move. Hands braced upon the branch she'd been crouched upon, she turned over, finding herself hanging upside down. Releasing her feet, she hung suspended by just her hands for a split heartbeat before letting loose. Noiselessly, she dropped to the forest floor, boots barely leaving an impression in the soft earth.
Keeping to a low crouch, she darted for the cover of the salt grass. Staying low, she hurried as quickly as she could, sprinting the entire distance to the cave. Pausing at the entrance, she drew the dagger from her boot, raising the hilt to knock three times against the shoal. A wolf's howl echoed ominously from the cave almost instantly. With one final look around, she ducked inside the darkened cave.
Torches lined the back wall of the cave, giving illumination to the remotest recesses. Stepping confidently from the darkness, she gave an abrupt, closed fist salute, the gesture reverberating off her leathers, sounding much louder in the stillness of the dank cave. The sound echoed with the sound of twenty more salutes returned in kind.
"Were you followed?"
The question was raised in a whisper, but the voice was firm in its resolve. The mass of bodies turned as one to look to the strong voice that echoed off the walls. Hardened by years of subterfuge, stealth and living on the edge, this was not a woman to be trifled with. Strengthened by the will and the courage to fight, she would no longer be denied. As one, the Amazons bowed to their Queen.
"No, I'm sure of it."
The Queen gave a sharp nod, then signaled to one of the amazons waiting by her side. "Go. It's imperative that no one knows of this meeting."
Wordlessly, the amazon gave a curt nod before moving off to the entrance of the cave. The others watched as she ducked outside the entrance then became lost in the cover of the tall salt grass. Each raised a fervent prayer to Artemis to watch over their sister and keep her safe while on her mission. She was to be their first line of defense. She would keep anyone from invading their clandestine meeting - or die in the attempt.
"Very well," spoke the Queen of the Amazons, "It's time to call this meeting to order."
As one, the assembled amazons gathered about, sitting cross-legged on the sandy floor of the cave. A ceremonial pipe was lit and passed about, each imbibing of the sacred herbs before passing it to the sister sitting beside her. As the pipe was passed, the Queen addressed her warriors.
"For too long, we have suffered. The Nation has been dealt blow after blow." The Queen's voice raised in indignant anger as she addressed some of the crimes against her tribe. "The Northern Amazons - all but wiped out by the Destroyer of Nations, only children masquerading as warriors to carry on their proud legacy. Queen Melosa - her sister mortally wounded by an arrow, forcing her to give her right of caste to a naive village girl; then challenged and killed by her own adopted daughter. Her own successor willingly giving up the throne to continue her travels with the Warrior Princess."
A heated murmur rose from the group as they openly discussed the brief and inconsistent rule of Queen Gabrielle. First a princess, then a queen. Then, on a whim, she gave her regent the power to rule in her place, only to later declare her the true queen. And, once again, when that ruler had perished and she would have to step up to take the crown, she again passed her rule on to another amazon sister. That did not sit well with many of her sisters. They saw her actions as nothing short of rebellious and irresponsible. The Mask of the Queen was not something to be put on and taken off like a dress-up toy.
The Queen raised her voice, silencing the continued murmurs of dissension. "Queen Marta hunted like a common animal. Livia, the Bitch of Rome, capturing and enslaving our strongest and best, only to shove them off an ocean-going vessel, still shackled together by the chains she put on them. Varia, kidnapped by a common warlord, our sisters led into a slaughter to rescue her, many dying upon the beaches of a foreign land."
Another murmur went through the crowd. Many remembered the tales of Varia. She had the makings of a great leader, until something inside of her snapped that day on the beach. Broken and humiliated, she had never been the same since. Again, the queen calmed her sisters, raised her voice to address the crowd.
"Solari and Ephiny." She paused here, nearly choking as she remembered the women with love. She had been just a child when she'd seen first seen the two statuesque amazons - and had pledged to be just like them when she grew up. "And, let us not forget the proud Weapons Master to the Amazons, Eponin." Here, her voice did crack. Eponin had disappeared from the village from one day to the next, leaving only her legend to be passed down from mouth to mouth, her name reverently whispered upon parted lips around the campfires late at night. "Although they may have found a way to keep her from us, rumors of Eponin sightings continue to run rampant."
"My Queen," protested one amazon, "Those are nothing more than rumors. Our scouts have questioned every scroll-rag from Athens to Britannia and back. We've investigated every claim - including those that have her leading a remote tribe of Amazons in faraway Chin and those that have her singing and dancing in a brothel house in Corinth. They've found nothing to corroborate that she was every really at any of those locations."
"But, there a plenty of eye-witness accounts," objected another amazon. "They can't all be false. There must be some truth in what they saw."
"I agree," interrupted the Queen. "I will not believe Eponin is truly gone until I see the body for myself." She halted, letting her words linger upon the air. "Eponin's disappearance and rumors of death are just another in a long list of atrocities suffered by our people." As she spoke, her words continued to rise in volume. "We can not allow this to continue to happen!" Slapping her open palm with a fist, she proclaimed, "It is time to put a stop to the Amazon abuse!!!"
Her gaze swept over the group, taking in their features one by one. Rapt and attentive, she knew she had them now. "There is an insidious plot to cripple and then destroy the Amazon Nation!" she declared. "We must find this source and eliminate it!"
Murmurs rose from the crowd as the amazons began to voice themselves one by one.
"No, Xena scattered most of those."
"The Romans? Callisto?"
"No." A firm shake of the head. "Again, see Xena."
"The one true God of Eli?" questioned another.
"Not his style," The Queen shook her head, bit her bottom lip. "No, this entity is more powerful than any God or monster we've faced before. More ruthless, conniving and dangerous than the legendary Warrior Princess herself."
Another round of speculative murmurs went up through the crowd. Many demanded the blood of this person or entity that was intent on destroying them. They took oaths, vowing they would not rest until this power was destroyed. The Queen nodded her acceptance at their enthusiasm, signaled for one of her guards to begin issuing out weapons. They would leave at dusk, traveling under the cloak of darkness to shield them as they began upon their quest.
"My Amazons," she raised both hands, playing to the crowd, "Be brave and strong and we will be victorious over our enemy!" A round of encouraging shouts went up. "To a strong Amazon Nation! We shall prevail!" Her words whipped her tribe into a blood-thirsty frenzy as she delivered the close of her rousing speech, "Death to Rob Tapert and The Powers That Be!"
"Death!" the shout was raised throughout the cave. "Stop The Amazon Abuse!"
Somewhere, in a dark corner seated behind a desk, a writer felt an ominous wind blow in, sending a shiver racing along his spine. Pausing from his work, he glanced out his window, feeling a sense of foreboding doom as eyes looked in at him from the shadows of the night.
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