Xena & The Gorgon

by Dina

Disclaimer 1: You all know the drill. If you've seen them on the show, they belong to MCA/Universal and my borrowing of them is not intended to infringe upon any copyrights. On the contrary, I have the utmost respect for everyone involved in the production of the series and am grateful to them for bringing Xena into our lives.

Disclaimer 2: This story does involve romantic involvement between two adult women, but you don't have to read it if you don't want to - and aren't supposed to if you are under 18 (but Harlequin novels are okay!?!?!?!).

My name is Xena. You may have heard of me - they call me the Warrior Princess. You've probably heard of Medusa, the gorgon with snakes for hair and the look that turned men into stone, and Perseus who, with lots of help from the gods, killed her and cut off her head. Well, that part about Perseus isn't true. My friend, Gabriele, made that up and spread it through the bards to protect Medusa.

Since we met, Gabriele and I have traveled together most of the time. Some people assume we are lovers, and perhaps we would have been if we had met later. However, when we met she was really just a child, and part of me always sees her that way - although I can't argue with the fact that she has grown up in many ways. Anyhow, Gabriele sometimes went home to see her family or to a festival with bards to catch up on the news. Once, I took advantage of her absence to do the mountain hermit thing for a break., That's how I met Medusa - although I didn't know who she was at first.

Following an easy path through the foothills led me to the steeper and rockier mountainside. Before tackling it in search of an easily defended cave for the night, I stopped beside a pond for my midday meal. Reaching down with my cupped hands, I met my own reflection, reaching up I also saw her, or rather her reflection, peering up from under a rock ledge behind and to the right of mine. Her snake hair writhed wildly. It was disorienting to see the serpents ahead of me in the reflection, while hearing their hiss from their real location behind me. I felt vertigo, as though I was falling through the pond's surface. I pretended that I hadn't noticed the creature, but I had tensed at the initial shock. She must have noticed.

"Don't turn around!" She commanded.

"Whatever you say." I replied coolly.

"Have you come to kill me?" Her voice was challenging, but with an undertone of pleading. I sensed that she might see death as a relief, or release.

"Not unless you give me a reason to." I hoped to sound reassuring, but confident that I could defend myself if necessary. Not allowed to face her, I observed her
reflection. Although small due to distance, I thought I could see her pretty well. However, as the breeze rippled the water, a very different, and very beautiful, image presented itself. It was a fleeting impression which I attributed to the water's movement, and maybe to sensory overload from being exposed to so horrid a sight.

Then, suddenly, she disappeared.

Finding a cave nearby, I rationalized that having found a good water source for my sojourn in the mountains I would not be frightened away from it. Obviously, ego is healthy. Besides, I am as curious as the proverbial cat. The next day, returning to the pond, I sensed her presence for some time before her reflection appeared.

"Don't turn around." She commanded again, more a reminder than a mandate.

"Now, where have I heard that before?" My flippant reply.

"Are you not frightened and horrified?" She sounded confounded, and hopeful. When was the last time someone had spoken to her rather than screaming and fleeing?

"I've faced death many times, and nothing is more horrifying than war, of which I have seen plenty. No, I'm not spooked by a few snakes." Cocky bravado has always served me well as a defense mechanism. I was also distracted because that other beautiful image kept displacing the monstrous reflection more frequently, each instance still so brief that I assumed it to be a trick of the light.

"What of death without passage to the other side? Would that spook you?" Her inflection on my own term, spook, was sarcastic. She saw through the bravado. I simply shrugged. She watched me, nonchalantly ignoring her, for a few more moments. Then she disappeared as she had the day before.

On the third day, she appeared immediately after my arrival, obviously presuming I would return.

"Don't turn around." No command this time, merely a formality.

"I think we've established that rule."

"You don't know who I am, do you?" Her clear amazement made me feel like a fool. Apparently, any child would have recognized her, but I did not.

"Well, we have both been extremely rude and neglected to introduce ourselves and, not being a mind reader or oracle, I admit to ignorance. Do you care to
enlighten me?"

She cocked her head sideways, like a cat considering the chase, weighing the benefit of the catch with the effort of the capture. Deciding to take the chance, she instructed me, "Go to the meadow, up the rise and through the woods to the North." It sounded like an invitation, but one she half-hoped I would decline. She wanted both to share and to keep her secret.

"What's there?" I asked, but she had gone.

As I said, I'm dreadfully curious. Upon my arrival in the meadow,.I encountered dozens of men - all cold, hard stone. They were so lifelike, so masterfully carved. Then I noticed their expressions: fear, anger, panic, determination - no smiles, no relaxed poses - only attacks and attempted retreats.

Not being well versed in folklore, much to Gabrielle's chagrin, I was slow to realize that these statues were not carved, they were captured. Caught in Medusa's gaze. Now I understood the prohibition against turning around, and how brazen it was of me not to be scared. Wandering through the stone assembly, I felt her nearby - heard a branch move or a twig snap underfoot in the nearby forest. knowing she watched to see if I would run away, I resisted the temptation to look for, and therefore at, her.

After leaving the meadow, I spent the remainder of the day on the higher plateaus, away from Medusa's pond. But I returned late that afternoon, and so did

"Don't worry," I said as soon as she appeared, "I won't turn around."

"Good." She looked around her uncomfortably.

I feared that since I had not run away, she would. I remained perfectly still as I would around a frightened animal. "My name is Xena. I'm not here to kill you, and I won't run away from you."

"I'm glad." Simple and quiet, but it resounded in my psyche like a full suit of armor slipping of her body and crashing on a stone floor. The shimmering reflection held the beautiful alter image just a moment longer than usual - long enough to discount any denials of its reality.

"Who are they? Why did they come after you?" Curiosity and compassion prompted me to ask.

"Most of them I don't know, not even their names. They come to prove their manhood, to impress a lover, or to avenge a brother who came before. Some are adventurers looking for a challenge and the glory that will go to the one who succeeds in ending my reign of terror." Again, sarcasm registered in her voice.

My heart ached over the irony of the final phrase as I could see it was she who lived in terror - the terror of being hunted and of being forever hated, feared and alone.

She continued, "Perseus, the most recent, almost succeeded. He sneaked up wearing a helmet of invisibility and used a reflective shield. However, his ego got the better of him. He wanted me to know my conqueror and removed the helmet. The instinct to look at what you are striking at overcame him and he turned from the reflection in the shield. Our eyes met for the single second necessary for his fate to be sealed, in stone." She sounded sad, not triumphant. She told me how she tried to avoid them. She confessed she sometimes wished someone would succeed. She explained that she put the statues together in the meadow as the closest thing to a proper burial in a cemetery that she could offer them. She revealed her true self when she expressed profound concern that their souls might be imprisoned in the stone as well. She feared that Athena, having little regard for human life, wouldn't care about them and would know that Medusa's compassion would add a feeling of constant guilt for preventing their passage to the other side to her already miserable existence.

Under the same circumstances, would I have been concerned about my tormentor's souls?

Over the next few days we continued to meet. I spent much of the day climbing the cliffs, practicing swordplay, throwing my shakra and hunting for food. Each evening I returned to the pond and talked with Medusa. I told her of my past, my life as a "warlord", my childhood, and my dreams. I talked about friends,
lovers and enemies, and how hard it can be to tell them apart.

She told me of her life before Athena turned her into a gorgon and of the human hopes and fears that she still held. She explained that she and Poseidon had never actually been lovers, only close friends. However, Athena's inability to imagine a male-female friendship made her compulsively jealous. I recalled some wives and girlfriends jealous of my bond as comrade-in-arms with their men - fortunately, none had the powers of Athena.

Each day we grew closer. Her reflection became more consistently beautiful, the monstrous image flashing only periodically. While I did not turn around, she moved closer. Finally, we could hear each other whisper and I could feel her warm body behind me.

One evening, as she spoke of the destructive power of loneliness, I reached back and took her hand to reassure her that she was no longer alone. I responded with tales of the power of love, of the people and lives I had seen changed by it. Suddenly, I felt inspired and daring. "I believe Love is so powerful..." I knew the risk as I
slowly turned around, still holding her hand, "that it can even triumph over the curses of the gods."

Our eyes met, mine and those of the beautiful woman in the reflecting pond. For an instant I saw her fear, reflecting my own. She quickly turned away, but that instant should have turned me to stone. But I remained flesh and blood. The flesh of my hand still held hers and the blood in my veins carried the message of my craving for her throughout my body. With my other hand, I turned her face back to me. Our eyes met again, mirroring each other's relief and desire.

I stepped closer, putting my arms around her waist, and kissed her - the first of many kisses and touches we shared over the next few months.

If this were a child's tale, we would have lived happily ever after, but life seldom follows the rules of storyland. Athena learned of Medusa's happiness and would
not tolerate it. One day, returning from my morning wanderings, I found Medusa in her stone garden, turned to stone herself. Athena, being truly petty and spiteful, froze her forever in her monstrous gorgon form.

I screamed in rage, I cursed the gods, and I knew myself to be powerless. Our love had miraculously overcome the first curse, we could not be so fortunate
again. I stayed in the mountains mourning her until it became too painful to be there without her. Kissing her statue good-bye, I retraced the steps which had brought me to her.

Needing a friend, I went in search of Gabriele. She wasn't hard to find. People were talked for leagues about the girl bard. They sent any child who showed potential, boy or girl, to her for training in poetry and storytelling. Some parents paid for her tutelage, others provided food and shelter for her and her students. As much as I tease her about talking too much, I admire her incredible gift for communication.

When I told her of Medusa she cried and she held me while I cried. I did not need words to be reassured of her love and compassion. Finally our tears were spent. Turning to face Gabriele I saw a familiar look in her eyes - she was either remembering a story or scheming. For a moment I was deeply disappointed that she had been so quickly distracted from my grief.

"Listen." Her eyes shone mischievously. "I have a plan to protect what remains of Medusa from those who would taunt and defile her now harmless and
helpless image to bolster their own pathetic egos."

Relieved, and ashamed that I had doubted her, I encouraged her to share the plan with me.

Gabriele made up the story of Perseus' success. Soon all the bards told it and everyone accepted it as fact. Sometimes, someone claims to know someone who
knows someone who has seen Medusa's statue garden, with her in it. However, since everyone knows she was destroyed by the great hero Perseus, they are dismissed as drunkards looking for attention. Gabriele believes the story will continue to protect Medusa even after we have gone to the other side.

Will I find her soul there, or is it also locked in stone?

The End

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