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"Mother? . . . Are you crying?"
She had been crying but Xena didnít turn around to face Eve who was whispering from her bedroll. "Iím okay. Just get some sleep. Weíve got a big climb tomorrow. Youíll need your strength."
Within moments Xena felt her daughterís hand upon her shoulder as the young woman took a seat next to her on the boulder looking out over the valley they traveled through earlier that day. The Tree of Fietus, which only bared the special fruit once every ten years, would be in bloom this season. Many people tried to attain it and met their demise in the process. If the mountain didnít kill them the wild animals of the area did. The odds were against them but what else was new.
"Itís a beautiful view from up here," Eve commented. "But I donít think itís the majestic scenery that has you so teary eyed."
Xena smiled. "No, I canít say Iíve been one whoís moved by nature."
"Then what does move you?"
There was no pause between question and answer. Xena knew it immediately, instinctively. Xena loved her daughter dearly but nothing, absolutely nothing compared to Gabrielle. Itís true I CAN live without Gabrielle but itís not a life worth living at this point.
"Sheís got a wonderful way of looking at life," Xena offered. "She sees beauty and meaning in everything - even a broken down ex-warlord. I always loved your mom but lately, with her gone, I realize just how much. I can see that I took her for granted in many ways. And I pray that Eli finds someway from the heavens to bring her back to me. Even if I never have her as my partner again, I just wish I have the chance to tell her how much she means and how much she changed my life for the better."
"After we get Ares out of the way, weíll search," Eve responded. "Weíll find her again, Iím sure."
"Iím not sure if she wants to be found Evie. Thatís the problem. I did so many terrible things to her over the years. I let my anger do things I swore Iíd never do. I blamed her for Solanís death. I asked her to choose me over Hope. I shut her out at times when she needed reassurance and all because I was scared. I even hit her with my chakram while her back was turned. Some brave warrior that makes me huh? I donít blame her one bit for leaving. In fact Iím surprised she stayed as long as she did."
"Mother," Eve began, "You said yourself that Gabrielle doesnít blame you for those things and sheís found forgiveness."
"Sheís forgiven me yes . . . but I havenít forgiven myself. Iím not sure Iíll ever find that. Eve . . . I told you that I was a terrible person for many years but the worst things Iíve ever done have been to Gabrielle . . . I know now that I will never . . . ever . . . harm her again. But I donít even know how to convince her. Hell, I donít even know if sheís okay. Iím on top of a mountain, helping a man I canít stand to be around when I should be at her side."
"You will be at her side again mother," Eve answered. "I have no doubt in that. Just be brave when you see her. Tell her all the things you never told her while she was here. Thatís the first step . . . well, after ditching Ares that is," she whispered conspiratorially. "You canít really expect to work on things with Gabrielle as long as Aresís in the background. Youíre doing things the right way. Get Ares out on his own so you can focus on Gabrielle . . . I have faith that things will work out."
"Always the optimist," Xena grinned. "Your momís that way too with many things."
Xena looked over to Eve and she watched as the young woman sat cross-legged, her elbow on her knee and her chin on her fist, deep in thought, looking at the valley below them. I havenít realized it but Gabrielle does the same thing when sheís pondering something.
"What is it?" Eve asked facing her mother after feeling she was being scrutinized.
And those eyes! My god those green eyes! I have blue. Callisto had brown. The green of those eyes. Could it be? Is it really possible? But how?
"Mother tell me whatís wrong?!"
Xena held a finger up for Eve to hold on for a moment. She darted over to Ares bedroll and tore the blanket away. He woke with a start as Xena grabbed him by his leather vest.
"Hey! What the-."
"I want answers and I want them now," Xena began, giving him a shake for good measure.
"Well good morning to you too sweetheart," Ares retorted.
At this time Herc woke up with all the commotion. "Everything okay?"
"Yeah as soon as Ares answers a few questions. Such as whose Eveís mother?" Xena said pushing him back to the ground.
"You are," Ares answered. "Is this is a trick question?"
"Who else?" she pressed.
"Callisto. At least that what Iíve heard," he replied.
"Okay . . . Now who else? Come on Ares. Iíve been watching Eve for weeks now and the more and more I see, the more thereís someone else thatís not being figured in here. Tell it to me straight. Whatís the real story here? Why were you trying to talk Gabrielle out of leaving Eve and me? You of all people would love to see her go . . . so why the change of heart? Hmm?"
Ares looked to Xena and then Eve standing behind her.
"Youíre not supposed to know," Ares muttered.
"Wrong answer," Xena replied, pulling Ares to his feet. He oofed and ouched until they stood toe to toe. "I want the truth or youíll be dead before you ever see that tree," Xena pressed as she poked him in the chest with a pointed finger.
Ares looked to Eve and then Xena and then back to Eve again.
"Eve is Gabrielleís daughter too - flesh and blood."
I knew it! That son of bitch knew the whole time and never said a word. But how . . .
"Who gave the helping hand Ares? You? Your sister Dite?"
"I did," Ares answered. "But it wasnít help. Call it serendipity. I didnít know Calli gave you the little twerp when I did the meld."
Serendipity? Meld? . . . Mavican!
"When you put Gabrielle and I in one body then-."
"Part of Gabrielle became part of Eve," Ares finished. "Her love of scrolls, her blue-green eyes, her bad temper," he chuckled. "Boy does that bard of yours have a temper when pushed Xena. Worse than you or Callisto. Sometimes worse than the two of you put together . . . Eveís that way too whether she admits it or not," he smirked.
"Wow," Herc mutter in amazement from his bedroll.
"You said it," Eve reiterated. "So I actually have three mothers?" she asked Ares who answered with a nod. "This is incredible . . . So Gabrielle IS my mom . . .Weíve got to find her mother! Weíve got to let her know," Eve said to Xena taking a step closer.
"Well first things first. Tomorrow we get that damn fruit and you my dear ex-god of war will kindly get the hell outta our lives. You got that?" Xena said continuing to poke him in the chest with the end of every sentence.
"Yeah I got it," Ares answered without argument. "Now that the family tree is all in order do you mind if we get some rest?"
He didnít wait for a reply. He crawled back under his bedroll and covered up. Herc followed suit.
"Come on," Xena said tugging her daughter to their bedrolls. "Letís at least TRY to get some sleep."
Eve agreed and they snuggled into the bedroll, getting situated for some shuteye. Eve cleared her throat a bit and asked, "Do I really have momís eyes?"
"Yes," she heard three voices answer. "Now go to sleep," Ares mumbled gruffly.
Xena and Eve gave a chuckle. "Heís awful grumpy since heís lost his godhood isnít he?" Eve teased.
"I heard that," Ares said.
"Ares," Hercules piped in. "Shut up and go to sleep."
"I think everyone should shut up at this point . . . Starting now," Xena ordered.
Eve lay next to her mother and watched her. Xenaís eyes were closed and she was beginning to breathe deep. My mother . . . the hero. And if you donít find her . . . I know I will.
"I love you mother," Eve whispered.
"I love you too Evie."
CONTINUED IN PART IX: KNOWLEDGE