A fan fiction story by Melpomene based on the characters and backstory of "Xena" and composed without permission. No copyright infringement is intended and no monies have been earned.
“Panacea… she is called… Panacea,” the priest’s voice quavered and stuttered as he turned dubious eyes on the pair who had dared to bring weapons into the temple of Asclepius. They had arisen from the morning mists that were characteristic of the area as if they were mythical creatures and he had stilled himself until they had neared enough that he could ascertain their more human characteristics. Still he remained wary, the gods were notorious for dallying in the affairs of humans, often lending their assistance to less than worthy mortals.
“We’d like to see her.” Xena merely stared at the man when she made her appeal. Out of deference to him she kept her hands away from her weapons but she had refused to leave them in a pile at the threshold as he had timidly suggested. If what they had heard of this mysterious woman’s treatment was true, she might just have to run the old priest through out of irritation and disgust.
“She never receives visitors. Most people do their best to avoid even looking at her,” sputtering in his surprise at the simple request, the priest backed up until he bumped into the central alter nearly toppling the morning’s offerings to the cold stone floor.
Gabrielle stepped forward. “Yes, but we do want to see her.”
His feathers obviously ruffled, the priest turned toward the dark corridor that led from the building’s antechamber. “I’ll see if she will come.” He hurried into the inky darkness of the passageway with only the whisper of his robes left hanging in the heavy perfumed air.
Gabrielle turned to face her friend. “Are you sure this is such a good idea? What if she turns out to just be some poor ostracized girl whose mother abandoned her to the priests when she was still an infant? That happens often enough, they’ve even set up that special door in the temples in Athens so you can safely leave behind a baby without even having to face the priests and priestesses.” Shaking her head in vexation she added, “talk about your growing social problems.”
Choosing to ignore the slight commentary on Greece’s social welfare, Xean countered, “And what if she isn’t just some girl, Gabrielle? Don’t you want answers? Maybe she’s got some to give. If not, then we can at least make sure she’s being treated well. The stories that we heard didn’t exactly sing the praises of Asclepius’ priest here.” Xena reached out to place a reassuring hand on Gabrielle’s arm. The trip to Messene had been an easy one in terms of the terrain, but the battle of emotions that had been going on in both their heads had only worsened the closer they came to the tiny farming village.
Messene proved to be roughly the same in advent and design as Poteidea and Amphipolis. Greek farming villages didn’t change much as you went from one to another. Each one had its own flavor, but on the whole they were all the same: a central well, a market place, craftsmen and public services within the city center, farms and fields along the outer edge. The fact that Messene had its own temple served to give it some distinctiveness even if the building was set in the midst of a thickly wooded grove a good distance from the heart of the city.
“The worst that can happen is that she’ll deny the rumors and we can leave.”
A shadow passed across Gabrielle’s eyes and she turned to gaze at the passageway the priest had used. “And what is the best that can happen?” The question was rhetorical and Xena made no attempt to form a response.
A rustling sound from the depths of the temple focused both women’s attention on the darkened hallway. Unsure what to expect, Gabrielle held her breath and was stunned when a small, slender woman emerged into the light. Of all the images she had prepared in her mind, this was far from even the kindest. Wondering what her companion’s reaction was, she turned slightly and saw a fleeting but similarly astonished expression pass over her features.
“Good morning.” The woman’s voice was whisper-soft and as gentle as the wing of one of the sacrificial doves. The woman couldn’t have been but a few years younger than her visitors. She was no taller than Gabrielle although she seemed to be much thinner, painfully so, and her skin was frighteningly pale. Her dark eyes flashed in the dim light and she nervously raised a hand to smooth her long dark hair. Her nervousness was clearly apparent, as was her courage, as she stood quietly before them, her gaze moving between the two strange women who had broached the calm silence of her morning routine. Besides her dancing gaze, the only telling movement she made was to clutch her small hands into trembling fists, her white knuckles fairly gleaming against her pasty flesh as she fought to control her fear.
“Don’t be scared,” Gabrielle murmured, “we’re not here to hurt you.” She had dropped her voice to a gentle, soothing tone in fear that anything less might send the girl running back to the dark confines of the temple. She had been prepared to hate this mystifying woman on sight but found that once she laid eyes on her, she couldn’t. Panacea had perceptibly been sorely used and Gabrielle found herself wanting nothing more than to protect her from further harm.
Xena, for her part, stood quietly by allowing Gabrielle to win Panacea’s trust. At first sight of the girl she had begun to visualize the various punishments the priests of Asclepius deserved. Content to temporarily lose herself to her musings, she allowed Gabrielle to continue her ministrations unabated.
“Gabrielle,” Panacea finished her sentence for her, surprising the bard by her knowledge.
“Yes, it is. But how did you know that?”
Panacea shrugged her emaciated shoulders, and turned her eyes to the floor before she responded, “I don’t know, I just know things. I’ve always known.”
Gabrielle pursed her lips and nodded slowly. “We came to ask you some questions.”
“Yes,” she whispered. Carefully looking around her, Panacea slowly approached Gabrielle and Xena. “Could we, I mean, would you mind if we… went out to the grove to speak?” Her head jerked around to face the passageway as if she had heard something hidden from the senses of either of her visitors.
Xena, noting her rising distress, smiled and walked across the temple’s floor to swing the doors open. When she glanced back to make sure the pair was following her, she carefully suppressed the waxing anger she felt rising in her chest, Panacea’s observable physical condition worsened by multiples as she stepped out into the gentle morning light. Whoever had dared to treat her in such a way would learn the error of their ways as soon as she could get Panacea to give her their names. She failed to understand how a starving woman could pose a threat to anyone, regardless of her parentage.
Panacea led them through the grove and to a fallen tree, perching on the decaying timber and drawing her tattered clothes closer to her in the cool, damp air. Hesitantly she looked up at her quiet audience. She knew what they wanted to know and she knew that she had the answers, what she didn’t know was what they would do once she gave them those answers.
“You were expecting us?” Xena, taking Gabrielle’s lead, kept her tone soft.
“I knew you were coming even before you began your journey.” Finally settling her roving eyes on Gabrielle she continued, “you need to know why I didn’t become a monster, how I was able to fight against the darkness.” She shook her head sadly. “Only a very few know of the concurrent siring of Dahak’s offspring. The concept is so fantastic that’s it’s difficult to believe he could have possibly fathered two children so far distant from one another at the same time. Even I don’t know how it occurred, I just know it did. His safeguard to assure his ascension as the most powerful god was to have a pair of successors, one just as strong as the other. While the villagers were gathering at Ares’ temple to make their great sacrifice to Dahak, there was also a gathering at the temple of Mars in ”
Panacea drew a deep, steadying breath. “But I was a monster. I was a monster for the first of life and my mother, already undone by the travesty Dahak had visited on her, locked me in a cage and feed me leftover scraps from the meals of the patrons in her inn. By the time we were no more than an day old, Dahak realized his folly in choosing my weak-willed, tremulous mother as the bearer of his co-successor and he focused his attention more strongly on Hope under the assumption that he would destroy me once she had claimed the world as his. I was the unwanted one, of no use even to a demonic god.”