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These Exiled Years

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Akhmet watches her emerge from the mist just as the Romans break the battlements, a puzzling vision of stillness amidst the crushing chaos. She comes, hard like the tide and swift like the wind, her sword blinding under the glint of the afternoon sun. A blow to his side catches him unawares and he stumbles, but he never has a chance to fall because she is there, saving him like one of those angels Eli’s followers love so much.

Before his senses can take stock of her presence, she is past him, her blade sliding into the space between his arms to skewer another attacker. For a second, in the haze of his wounded delirium, he sees wings, black wings, then the vision is gone. The light glints off her short gold locks, and she spares him a moment to nod before twisting impossibly to impale a second solider coming at her from behind. There is an economy of motion in her movements—short, staccato spurts of irrepressible fury laying waste to all who dare oppose her.

It is beautiful, fearsome and utterly magnificent.

Hours pass and still the Roman hoard surges forward, an unbreakable machine, sending men to the slaughter like so much sheep. But these boys who pretend to be warriors, they are nothing, nothing compared to the whirlwind of destruction that they face. He has lost count of how many have fallen before her blade.

***

She walks in sorrow and broken dreams.

Gabrielle has been a mystery since the moment she arrived in Alexandria. No one knows a thing about her except that they’d never seen another warrior welcomed with such warmth by the Pharaohs. There are rumors though, rumors that she saved Egypt from Cesar—that she killed gods—that she is a Pharaoh in her own right. All he knows is that she has the oldest eyes he’s ever seen. There’s a story there, behind the wisdom and the grief. A story so achingly powerful, that he had wept when she’d related it.

Her voice had been soft, lilting and distant, as though to tell the tale any other way would shatter her. She told him of great gods, and petty spirits, of small beginnings and heroic endings. And even more softly, of quiet moments sitting by a stream, joking and philosophizing with one of the greatest warriors to ever walk the earth.

“You have lived and learned so much in your life,” said Ahkmet, cocking his head to the side and scrutinizing her countenance, “Yet sorrow follows you like a shade. Why?”

She’d given a tired chuckle then, and turned her gaze toward the setting sun. “Because I am waiting to go home Ahkmet. I don’t belong here and…I—I just want to go home.”

A merchant’s cry announcing his wares broke the moment, and they’d never spoken of it again.

***

He wipes the blood away from his eyes and grimaces down at his battered sword before tossing it aside. Bodies litter the battlefield—most of them Roman—and he can hear the moan of the injured as they are carried away to the healers. He should be dead. He knows this with a bone deep clarity that he had only before now attributed to the oracles. He should be dead. He is alive only because Gabrielle saved him, like she saved this town, like she saved the world. He turns to her, raising his right arm in a solemn hail.

“I owe you my life. Thank you. ”

Another one of those rueful smiles he’s gotten used to in the past few moons. “You don’t owe me anything Ahkmet. I didn—“ She pauses, a look of surprise on her face as she notices the sudden blossom of arrows at her breast. Dark blood gathers sluggishly at her lips and her entire countenance whitens. He catches her before she can crumple to the floor and throws his head back to scream for a healer. Her hand on his lips stop him.

“No,” she whispers, gasping a little at the pain. “Don’t. It’s time.” Her gaze focuses on something past his shoulder, and he wonders what she sees. “I knew you’d come,” she says, her voice smooth despite her quickly waning strength. “Take me home?”

The answer must have been good, because the smile that graces her face outshines even Ra’s glory. It is full of such joy and wonder, burning away the haunted look in those luminous green eyes. For a heartbeat, Ahkmet sees a glimpse of the Gabrielle that was. A Gabrielle who was capable of happiness. A Gabrielle from before the burdens of the world became hers alone to bear. It is the look of someone whose penance has been paid and absolution finally finally granted.

A breath later, and she is gone, though the smile on her face remains.

I hope you’ve found peace Gabrielle. I hope you’ve found home.