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Disclaimer: Xena: Warrior Princess, Gabrielle, Argo and all other characters who have appeared in the syndicated series Xena: Warrior Princess, together with the names, titles and backstory are the sole copyright property of MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures. No copyright infringement was intended in the writing of this fan fiction. All other characters, the story idea and the story itself are the sole property of the author. This story cannot be sold or used for profit in any way. Copies of this story may be made for private use only and must include all disclaimers and copyright notices.

 This story contains some violence, no sex. It is a continuation of the story "To Trust A Warrior" which it is recommended one reads first. If you chose not to, you need to know Gabrielle and Xena had a difficult time which sorely tried their relationship. As this story opens, Xena is recovering from wounds suffered when she defended Gabrielle against an Amazon challenging Gabrielle's Right of Caste. Inherent in the story are the issues raised by the Second Season Episode "The Price."

Thanks to supportive friends, who know who they are.


By MythMaker

The young Amazon Delia nervously entered the Queen's hut to bring the morning meal. She was afraid to announce breakfast to the sleeping occupants of the room. She carefully and quietly placed the tray on the small round table by the window. She turned to the bed and wondered what to do next. What she saw took away the necessity of doing anything. She was entranced by the sight of their queen sitting next to the bed, slumped over the reclining form of the fierce Warrior Princess Xena. Delia had seen and admired their queen for the past two days, but this was the first time she had ever seen her warrior. She had certainly heard much about Xena, but somehow no one had ever mentioned how beautiful she was. Right then she did not look dangerous. She had a patrician beauty, like a gracefully crafted marble statue. Her skin, rendered so pale from her recent injuries, kindled the flame of this image. The jet black hair framing the face enhanced the handsome planes of her features. Queen Gabrielle's strawberry blond hair presented a lovely contrast. The queen's right hand loosely clutched that of the famed warrior. Delia's heart swelled with delight. It was an unexpected joy coming across this charming scene. It reminded her of the time she had been out on night patrol, new to the territory, and she had come around a bend and suddenly beheld a vista of the dawning morning's mauve and rose light reflected in a miniature waterfall cascading down the cliff to the river a hundred feet below. She had inhaled the fresh morning air and felt glad to be alive. This thought must have been reflected on her face now, for at that moment the warrior opened her eyes, saw Delia, and smiled. The incredible glory of that smile and those dazzling blue eyes outshone any previous concept of beauty Delia might have had. Zeus but the woman was gorgeous! Delia's mouth dropped open.

"Good morning," whispered the warrior, smiling warmly.

"Oh! ... I've brought your morning meal." She managed to gasp out, turning and gesturing towards the table. "Is there anything else I can get you?" She spoke softly as well. Maybe because the warrior had, or because she was in awe, or because being in the sight of Xena was almost more than she could handle, if her queen woke up and looked at her too, she thought she would surely faint. Gods, what kind of Amazon was she to be so undone by a smile?

"Not just yet thank you. Maybe some hot water in an hour."

Delia bowed and fled.

Gabrielle began to stir. Xena squeezed the bard's fingers and murmured, "Morning little one, your meal is here and your bath is soon to follow."

"Xena. Your voice is coming back!" She squeezed back and looked up in delight. She sat up and leaned over to kiss her warrior good morning.

"Gabrielle. That was not a major conversation. But yes, I am finally feeling better."

"Please, don't stop talking," she pleaded enthusiastically. She stood up and followed her nose to the breakfast tray. "Oh look, they've made some sort of pastry with fruit in it. I think the kitchen folks are trying to tempt you back to health."

"Gabrielle. I am sure it is your fabled stomach they are catering to."

"Oh Xena!"

* * * *

As much as she wanted to spend all her time with the recovering Xena, Ephiny took advantage of Gabrielle's presence and persuaded her to don her mantle as queen and become involved in the ruling of the Amazons. Xena's bout with Matari had done more damage than either Xena or Gabrielle liked to think about. Xena needed to build her strength back up, which involved help getting her walking. Although Xena hated to be so helpless, she realized the necessity of this help. But it did not make her easy to be around. Her anger at her own weakness tended to get loose.

Because of the young Amazon's height, and because she was one of the healer's assistants, Delia was assigned to be Xena's human crutch in those early days. At first Delia was terrified when Solari gave her the order. Yet as she walked to the Queen's hut to begin her tour of duty, she remembered that warm smile, and that Xena's ruthless reputation may be only that, not reality. She tried to keep this thought in the forefront as she walked in on the Warrior Princess who was swaying and swearing, with the fiercest of looks on her face. As she was about to fall over, Delia rushed to her side, correctly the right side as Xena's left arm was till in a sling, but it was too late. They overbalanced and both fell to the floor, Delia on the bottom.

"Idiot! Idiot!" Xena angrily hissed. She propped herself up on her good arm to allow Delia to crawl out from under her. It took Delia a moment to collect herself. She felt briefly overwhelmed by the nearness of the mighty warrior.

"Oh, princess, I'm so sorry. I was too slow and clumsy." Delia sputtered, blushing redly as she stood up and tried to help Xena back to the bed.

"Not you, you idiot, me! I should have waited until you got here. And don't call me 'princess'. I am not royalty, I'm just a dumb warrior. Call me Xena or nothing." She still sounded very angry.

"Yes Mam" she said then amended it as Xena raised that famous, sometimes intimidating, eyebrow, "I mean, yes Xena."

"That's better. Now let's start again. What's your name?" She actually smiled at the poor Amazon.

"Delia, mam . . . uh, Xena." That got her a warmer smile. Delia was amazed at the incredible difference that smile made, from an angry warrior to a friendly woman, all in one moment.

"Okay Delia. I'm sorry about the way things started. I seem to be letting my weakness rule my temper. I apologize right now for what your are likely going to have to put up with. I am not used to being anything less than strong and in control, and it makes me angry. Just remember who I am angry with, and we'll be fine. I can't keep apologizing or we'll both hate each other before the day is out. So take it as a given. Okay?"

"Yes m . . . Xena."

"Good. Now the problem is I've injured my left shoulder, not my legs, but for some reason they don't seem to be doing their job. I think it's just some infernal weakness I have to work through. So if you could help me get to the hot spring I could soak the muscles and work some life back into that shoulder. Maybe later we can do some simple sparring or something. I don't want to stay in bed, so if you could help me get around, I would really appreciate it."

"Ama gave me some instructions on what you need. She said you are weak because you lost a lot of blood. For that we need to feed you and be sure you rest. For your shoulder and arm we are supposed to do as you say, soak you in the hot springs and let me massage the shoulder and related muscles." Delia's voice grew stronger as she began functioning in an area in which she felt knowledgeable. Xena rewarded this evidence of confidence with another smile and held out her right arm for Delia's aid. Though Xena was taller, Delia stood a scant few inches below the warrior's six feet, and was of a good size and strength to help the statuesque woman rise and make her way to the hot springs. Xena was soon enjoying the hot water. The air was cool and provided a refreshing contrast to the heat radiating through her body. She felt herself slipping softly into sleep. She started to resist but then decided, what the Hades, they want me to rest anyway. She trusted Delia to watch over her. And Delia did. But how long should she let her sleep? The heat was good for the muscles, but it was also somewhat debilitating. Gods, she might have to carry Xena back! Finally deciding half a candlemark would do, Delia sat back and admired the woman till it was time to massage those muscles.

Ah but Xena's rest was not peaceful. She had felt warm and happy when she drifted off, but then as the dream sequences began, the warm light became dark and the images cruel. She was walking up to a platform. Her armor was dull and dripping with rotten fruit, her hands tied behind her back. She looked down in confusion at her begrimed armor, then an overripe fig exploded on her forehead in explanation. She looked up to view a sea of jeering faces. The soft splats of garbage gave way to painful thuds as rocks began flying her way. She looked up at the gallows tree. But there was no rope. 'Xena, look over here' taunted a voice she thought she knew. She looked to see Gabrielle, drawing her arm back for a powerful throw. Then the chakram whistled toward her in deadly flight. But she had thrown it too low. It wasn't going to hit the rope that wasn't there, it was going to hit her throat! "No Gabrielle, stop!" she cried in her sleep.

Delia jumped into the water as she saw Xena thrashing around and grabbing at her neck. The young Amazon pulled Xena to the shallow edge and tried to wake her as she went. Xena reacted as if from a threat and slammed her right elbow into Delia's stomach. Delia doubled over and dropped Xena who was now very awake, but not very clear-headed. She grabbed Delia by the throat and lifted her up to look into her eyes.

"Nobody touches me without my permission!" She snarled before throwing Delia out of the pool. Delia fell hard and scraped her face on the rough surface of the rock ledge by the spring. That depleted what little energy Xena had. She was soon on her hands and knees, just barely holding her face out of the water. The air cooled her naked skin and brought back some semblance of sanity. She slowly looked up into Delia's eyes, who looked back in terror. Delia saw those eyes go from feral intensity to confusion, to clarity, and then to painful sorrow.

"Gods, Delia, even Gabrielle knows never to wake me from a nightmare! Are you all right? I'm so sorry," she said huskily as she struggled to go the Amazon. Delia began to retreat, but then saw the deep pain in Xena's eyes, which drew her forward, forgetting her fear in her desire to offer comfort. They were soon knee to knee, Delia holding up Xena who was pulling back to put her hands gently on Delia's face to examine the bloody scrapes from her fall. Gabrielle and Ephiny entered the area of the steamy springs to see the naked warrior and the soaking Amazon seemingly embracing.

"Delia! What's going on here?" Ephiny demanded. Gabrielle fled. The two by the water turned in horror.

"Gabrielle . . . come back. You don't understand!" Xena pleaded. By now Ephiny was close enough to see that Delia was supporting the very weak Xena, and Delia's face was bleeding.

"Okay. I see now that something other than what Gabrielle thought was going on. What happened?" Delia told her as the two Amazons helped the now shivering warrior into her robe and back to the Queen's hut. As they helped Xena to the bed where she collapsed and immediately passed out, Gabrielle, who had been crying there, sprang up and headed for the door. Ephiny grabbed her arm.

"Gabrielle, we jumped to conclusions there. Just turn around and look at them." The Amazon Queen spun around in anger and stared hard into the face of Delia, who cringed like a whipped puppy. Gabrielle's fierce demeanor softened as she saw the bloodied face. She put her hand up to Delia who backed off.

"What has Xena done to you?"

"No. It was my fault. She fell asleep in the hot springs but then she started having a nightmare and screaming and thrashing around, grabbing her throat, and I jumped in to help her or wake her, and she thought I was attacking her, and she . . . defended herself. She wasn't truly awake. And she was very sorry, and she had warned me she was going to be difficult and I . . . I forgot, but I didn't know what to do. I was afraid she was drowning or choking or something. . . I . . . I'm sorry, my Queen." She said in a rush, hardly taking a breath, then sank to the floor, bowing to Gabrielle. Gabrielle looked up at Ephiny, horrified at what she and Xena had done to this poor young woman. She leaned down and took Delia's hand and asked her to get up and go get her face looked at by the healer.

"Oh Ephiny . . . " Gabrielle turned to her friend after Delia left the hut.

"She'll be all right Gabrielle. I think she has already forgiven Xena. She now has a better understanding of her task."

"But did you hear what she said. She said Xena was grabbing her neck and screaming. She was dreaming about her hanging. She . . . ."

"Gab . . . take it easy. You both still need to come to grips with this thing. She's not blaming you, she's working through it. You know she's forgiven you." Ephiny came up to Gabrielle and put her arms around her. Gabrielle put her head on Ephiny's shoulder. Ephiny rubbed her back and Gabrielle sobbed softly. She mumbled into her shoulder. "Ephiny, she's so weak. Look at her, she's so white."

"Remember, Gabrielle, she was out of shape before she fought Matari. She was scrubbing floors in Amphipolis when I found her, not exercising with her weapons. She had given up. She had lost her energy through depression. So of course she was depleted by the fight and the loss of blood. But she'll be fine. She always is. She has strong recuperative powers remember. Give her time."

* * * *

The healer, Ama, decided that rest and food was more important than exercise, so Xena was confined to bed. And being Xena, confinement did not suit her. In fact the captivity might have been a better idea than the healer realized, because it had Xena up and pacing around the hut in no time at all. Far quicker than a deliberate effort at getting her walking would have done. Gabrielle began to worry less about her warrior and allowed herself more time dealing with the Amazons. This left Xena alone with her minder, Delia, a great deal. As her body began to heal, her inactivity forced her mind to become very turbulent. She began rethinking all that had brought her to this pass. The horrors that had released Xena's hidden darkness into the light of Gabrielle's gaze. And what it did to Gabrielle's vision of her mighty warrior. Xena recalled their conversation about what kind of story might emerge from their experience with the horrendous Horde. At the time she had been trying to get Gabrielle to talk to her about what she was thinking, to give voice to her concerns. But in the ensuing discussion, Xena began to appreciate the thought and skill Gabrielle employed in crafting her wonderful tales. Yes, she had talent, but much work was involved, and the bard cared very much that the right message be delivered with her entertainment.

Twice a day Delia massaged Xena's healing muscles, with special attention to that shoulder. The usually taciturn warrior found herself relaxing under Delia's touch, and talking about the bard and her stories. At first Delia did not listen to what Xena was saying. She felt the woman was just talking these things out for herself. And she did not want to hear about the wonderful bard who was also her queen. As she worked the muscles on the warrior's back she began thinking about the woman under her hands, and how the warm skin felt to her touch. Her thoughts drifted to her own life, which was lonely. Delia had only been in this Amazon village for a moon. Her home village seemed so far away and new friends so few. She wanted this woman to be her friend.

Xena found it easy to talk to Delia, who never interrupted. She had no connection to Delia. She did not have to worry what the Amazon warrior thought about her dark side. She had no fear of scaring or alienating Delia. Gabrielle was the one who needed to be protected and persuaded to trust her warrior again. If Gabrielle could have come in and heard her friend talking on and on, she would have wondered if she had come into the wrong hut. Unaccustomed as she was to speaking so much, Xena asked Delia what she thought, to give herself time to rest the rarely used muscles of her jaw and tongue.

"Um . . .what do I think?" said Delia. 'Oh Zeus, what had she been talking about?' Delia ventured a guess, "Um. . .yeah . . . I've heard that Queen Gabrielle is a great bard."

"She is. Have you not heard her tell a tale?"

"Oh . . . I'm new to this village."

"Well you must get her to tell a story tonight after dinner."

"Okay. Turn over." Xena rotated to her back and Delia covered her front with the linen. She then began working on the shoulder in earnest. After the muscles had been thoroughly warmed up and relaxed they tried testing the strength of the arm. The Warrior Princess proved she was well on the road to recovery as she pulled her massager right off her feet and on top of her. As if on cue Gabrielle entered the hut to find the two tussling on the bed, laughing. Xena looked up in delight as she saw her little bard.

"Look Gabrielle. I am all healed," she said enthusiastically. Delia looked up in embarrassment at her queen's arrival. As her thoughts had been a little less than pure, her face turned very red as she struggled off the bed. She bowed to Gabrielle and left the hut after a muttered "my Queen."

"So I see," said Gabrielle dryly. She tried to raise one eyebrow in disdain at Xena. She was not physically capable of doing it. Her version involved lowering one and almost closing the accompanying eye. Both eyebrows would go up in tandem, and she could just almost imperceptibly manage one going down. Her brows went through such a quivering dance, she had them both laughing. So much for disciplining her warrior, whose eyebrows must be either disconnected or double-jointed. Ah well, laughter was much better than anger. Besides, she had yet to make a claim on this woman.

* * *

Xena was eager to get up the next morning, don her practice gear, and go to the sparring field at last. The bard, the warrior, and the young Amazon had a quiet breakfast in the dining hall before beginning their days. Gabrielle was off to another council meeting, wistfully watching as the other two went to work out. She promised herself a day away from all this ruling business to get some time with her warrior. Xena and Delia began with some simple warm up stretching before they got down to sparring with swords. Usually they would work up to that higher skill level with staffs, but Xena needed to work that arm, and for that swords would be better. She might not have the stamina to do both. Delia, not knowing Xena's strengths, held back at the beginning, but soon learned she needed all her prowess to protect herself. The Warrior Princess was a little stiff at first, but she worked hard and quickly felt more herself. They exercised their skills for almost two full candlemarks. Then Xena broadened the spectrum of their swordplay. Perhaps assuming an experience Delia did not possess, and thinking she could handle the maneuvers thrust upon her, the older woman was surprised to realize she was cowing the young Amazon. She lowered her sword and stepped back.

"Are you afraid of me Delia?" She asked her.

"No Xena. You are just a much better swordswoman than I."

"But do you trust me not to kill you?" The worried warrior asked.

"Of course Xena," she answered with no hesitation.

"But why do you trust me?" she persisted. She drew her sparring partner to the viewing bench.

"Because I know you are an honorable warrior," Delia answered as she handed Xena a towel.

"No you don't know that. Delia, you don't know me at all. Haven't you heard any of the stories about my dark past? Weren't you listening when I told you what happened with the Horde? I am a very dangerous woman. You are crazy to trust me." Xena was adamant.

"Xena, I don't understand. I have been around you for the last quarter moon or so, spending a fair amount of time each day with you. I know you. I can tell what kind of person you are. You have very high ideals, especially for yourself. I would trust you with my life. Why do you doubt that?" By now she was holding Xena's hands to focus the warrior on what she was saying. Xena pulled her hands free and turned away.

"Would you trust me with your queen's life?" She spoke over her shoulder.

"Unquestionabley." Delia replied.

"How about the life of her sister?" Xena said as she turned back to glare at the confused Amazon.

* * *

Ephiny was watching Gabrielle as the council meeting ground on. Gabrielle was not watching the speakers. Rather she was looking out the window in the direction of the sparring fields. Ephiny knew the litle bard could not see Xena at practice, but knew her thoughts were there.

"I think that's all for today," Ephiny said surprising the current speaker. The council members looked at Ephiny who in turn was still watching Gabrielle. They realized they had lost their audience and slowly filed out of the hall. Gabrielle looked up at last at the commotion.

"Um. . . . Sorry. Did I miss something?"

"Gabrielle, I don't think it's a what so much as a who. Why don't you take the rest of the day and spend it with Xena."

Like a schoolgirl Gabrielle raced out of the hall as if for recess. She stopped at the hut to pick up her staff and ran for the sparring fields. She arrived, panting, to find Xena and Delia in heated discussion about dire deeds. Xena looked up at her approach with a very angry expression marring the lovely planes of her face. When she saw it was Gabrielle, the anger softened to delight, and a warm smile light up her face. She dropped her sword and grabbed the bard, swinging her around the field. At last she put her down.

"So Gabrielle, they finally let you out to play. It's about time. I was afraid I'd have to go in there and slay the mighty mouthers of Amazonian wisdom to free my bard. And I know you don't like me slaying." Though making a joke, Xena always was testing Gabrielle's take on her warrior friend.

"Yeah. I was afraid of that. So I left first to save them. First rule of ruling, save the ruling body first." Ignoring the test to enter into the game. "So. Can I play too?"

Delia spoke up first. "I'll be glad to spar with you, my Queen. Xena must be tired, she has been fighting too long today already." She stepped forward.

"My nanny, Delia," Xena said pointing over her shoulder with her thumb at Delia. Delia colored at the term. The Warrior Princess took Gabrielle's hand and drew her into the sparring circle.

"Delia, you take the rest. I've been working you very hard lately. I appreciate your help but I think I can still defeat your Queen. This old lady still has some energy left for the task." With that they began.

"You are so arrogant, Xena. I don't think I'll let you off easily this time." Gabrielle taunted. Xena had planned on going easy on her as Gabrielle was out of practice, but now her honor was at stake, especially with the young Amazon warrior watching. So the two fought hard. Xena's exhaustion tempered her thrusts which gave Gabrielle some slight edge. Even so, to Delia the battle looked likely to turn ugly. She kept a careful watch on her queen. Suddenly Xena pulled a surprise move which left the bard on her back. Immediately Delia was there standing over Gabrielle to protect her from the heaving Warrior Princess. Xena became incensed by Delia's intervention. She backhanded her and walked off the field, throwing these words over her shoulder."You lied to me, Delia. You don't trust me after all."

Gabrielle and Delia helped each other up. Gabrielle wiped the blood from Delia's lip and asked her what that was all about. Delia did not know how much to say to her queen.

"My Queen . . . I am unsure of what to say. Xena has been confiding in me about what troubles her and I don't wish to betray her trust."

"Did she say you were not to talk to me about her problems?"

"Well no. But they were concerning you."

"Delia, if you care about Xena, you should tell me so I can work to straighten out the mess we seem to have gotten into. Please, Delia, I need you to do this. I command you to tell me." In her desperation Gabrielle remembered her position and used it.

"Yes, your majesty. Xena was asking me if I trusted her with your life, and I had said yes. Then she asked me if I would trust her with your sister's life, and I said yes again. But I did not understand. Now I think I am beginning to. Can I ask you why she thinks you don't trust her?" By now they were sitting on the benches. At Delia's words Gabrielle face took on a stricken look, and tears started from her eyes.

"Oh, my Queen, please, I never meant to intrude. Please forgive me." Delia went down on her knees and took Gabrielle's hands in hers, looking up at her queen.

"No Delia. You must forgive us for putting you in the middle of this mess. It is very painful for me to talk about this. Xena is right to doubt me, but she is wrong to doubt my trust. I would trust her with the life of anyone I love. I gave her a reason to doubt me, but I don't know what to do to convince her I now know I was wrong and would never doubt her again. I don't think I ever really doubted her, but I was in shock for a while and did not tell her I trusted her when she needed to hear it. She is the most wonderful woman, and so very strong. Except about herself. She does not believe in her own goodness. You've heard of her reputation as the destroyer of nations, the evil warlord, and all that horrible nonsense, well actually it was true. But not now. She has been offering her life over and over to save others to expiate her sins. She sees me as her conscience. I believe in her goodness, and she uses me as a mirror to gauge her success in redemption. It is very hard on both of us." Gabrielle got Delia to sit beside her on the bench, and they talked quietly for a little while about the former warlord they both cared for so much.

Later when Gabrielle was looking for Xena Ephiny joined her and told her the Warrior Princess had gone for a ride on Argo. Ephiny thought it was a good idea. Gabrielle was not so sure. She told Ephiny what had happened at the practice field. Ephiny reassured her it was just a little misunderstanding, Xena would get over it. "Maybe it looks that way to us, but to Xena it is further proof that no one trusts her anymore, Ephiny."

* * *

Once again Xena avoided Gabrielle, throwing herself into training. It soon became known that Xena would fight anyone. All the arrogant young warriors wanted a turn proving themselves against the might of the famed warrior. Xena began taking on as many as six challenges a day, and winning them all. At night she would throw herself down on the bed and be asleep in moments, too tired for nightmares. Not so Gabrielle. Her nightmares became a herd. As noxious as they were, they did allow her the opportunity to work through her experiences. Mornings found her writing again. In the afternoon, unobtrusively, she would watch Xena do battle. The warrior fought more than her current opponent, she fought her inner demons as well. She was never vicious, merely skilful. In fact Gabrielle felt the warrior was holding back. Finally she was challenged by an older warrior, and the weapon chosen was the labrys, the Amazonian double-edged ax. Gabrielle had never seen Xena use a labrys. She hoped her Warrior Princess knew what she was doing.

Xena was up for anything. She had been enjoying the battles with the younger warrior Amazons. Her blood pumped and her juices flowed. It also helped her work off her anxieties and energy. She was of two minds in what she was doing though. Yes, she was earning back her skills and helping the warrior women with theirs, but she was also constantly testing herself, her control. She was examining her feelings as she fought. Now she was about to face a true warrior. How would she fare?

Phaedra was a stocky, dark haired warrior with many summers of experience under her belt. She provided the axes for the challenge, allowing Xena to choose her weapon first. Xena picked up an ax and weighed it in her grip. She tried a few swings to get a feel for it's flow. Phaedra knew immediately that the Warrior Princess had never fought with the labrys before. She was secretly pleased. Her honor, however, demanded she show her opponent the correct way to hold the ax and demonstrated a few maneuvers before they started. Xena thanked her, they clasped forearms, and the battle began.

These particular axes were the large variety. The handle was about two feet long, the double-headed blade spanned almost as much. The weight of the weapon required strength as well as skill to wield. The danger lay in overbalancing and loss of control. Each woman wove their weapons in intricate patterns before the other. Xena testing and trying the weapon, Phaedra in practice and, she hoped, intimidation. Phaedra made the first move. At the beginning Xena merely defended, getting a measure of her opponent and her weapon. Then Xena tried a few moves of her own. If unorthodox, they were effective. Phaedra reassessed her danger. The Warrior Princess quickly became comfortable with this new weapon. They fought well together. Each gained a respect for the other. The battle's edge traded back and forth between the two warrior women. For a while Xena seemed hard pressed to defend herself. Then she became the aggressor, and fear flickered briefly on her opponent's face. Phaedra was not expecting the battle to last so long. She wanted desperately to win. The battle became less a demonstration of skill and more a true test of valor. For Xena the battle was still a measure of her control. She could see Phaedra needed to win this battle. She began to plan ways to let this happen and still save face for herself. Gabrielle unwittingly provided the answer.

When Gabrielle joined the audience swelling the stands of the practice field, it took her a moment to gain her perspective on the action. As it came in focus for her, Xena's face was distorted with the effort of using this weapon, and Phaedra was launching an attack to her head. In that instant Xena and Gabrielle made eye contact. Gabrielle was suddenly back at the besieged army post reliving Xena's battle with the Horde. The horror in Gabrielle's eyes distracted the Warrior Princess. Was this fear on Xena's behalf or more likely abhorrence for her evil ways? Xena's hesitation was almost her undoing. In Phaedra's desire to win, and due to the strength of her opponent, she found herself wielding the ax as if in true battle. A death blow was aimed for Xena's skull. At the last instant, Xena refocused on the battle and was able to counter the move only enough to turn her opponent's blade from a downthrust to split her skull to a glancing blow which nevertheless sliced her brow and rendered her unconscious. Phaedra stepped back in horror at what her loss of control so nearly accomplished. Gabrielle thrust her aside as knelt at her friend's side, cradling her bleeding head in her lap. Delia was immediately there too, handing her bandages. Together the women staunched the scalp wound and carried the Warrior Princess to the queen's hut. The healer joined them there.

As she took the bandage from the wound, the blood flowed freely again. Stitches would be required. The skull was visible beneath the lips of the wound. Using stitches as neat as those Xena herself could make, the healer closed the wound. She hoped her efforts would leave the beautiful face unscarred. Concussion and other consequences of the blow would be revealed when, and if, the warrior regained consciousness. Gabrielle and Delia sat on both sides of the bed in vigil. Ephiny came in then. She almost smiled at the sight of the two anxious woman ministering to the wounded warrior. Each held a hand of Xena's and wore mirrored expressions of concern on her face. As she watched, Xena began to come around. Ephiny knew this might be an important moment for Gabrielle, so she shepherded a reluctant Delia from the room.

"Xena. You're going to be okay." She reassured her best friend.

"I know Gabrielle. You are here." she said, smiling.

* * *

Xena's hard head had resisted damage other than the scalp wound. Phaedra was relieved and apologetic. Xena was forgiving and appreciative of Phaedra's skill. She even asked for some training with the labrys if Phaedra would. The older warrior was delighted. Gabrielle and Delia danced in attendance around Xena. Xena indulged them for a little while, enjoying the attention and the obvious pleasure it gave them to do so. But she soon became restless and was once again on her feet and ready for more. Argo was brought out of retirement and made happy again to be a steady companion to the Warrior Princess. And Gabrielle made an effort to spend every afternoon with her friend. Although much ground was covered to rebuild their relationship, it wasn't until the evening of the harvest moon that the friends broke through the barrier of trust.

* * *

"I call this 'The Horde." Gabrielle began. After a feast to celebrate the season, Gabrielle had been persuaded to entertain the Amazons with her skill. As she wove her tale and drew her audience into the dark depths of the horrible Horde, Xena listened with her heart in Gabrielle's mouth. Now she would hear how the bard had seen the encounter. She hoped she was strong enough to withstand the punchline. Far too soon they were there. Gabrielle had led the Amazons with her up the river and to the fort. The demoralized Athenian army had been re-energized, the dead had stood vigil with their desperate comrades at the wall of defense. And Xena had challenged the leader of this barbaric band in a last ditch effort to save the day against impossible odds.

"As Xena faced the leader of the Horde in a one on one winner take all battle, she was waging a bigger battle within herself. Tales of this invincible warrior never talk about the inner battles. You don't hear about a warrior's fears. And was this warrior's greatest fear pain and death? . . . No. . . . Damnation and disappointment. Disappointment? . . . That's not a word for a heroic tale. Shall I say disenchantment or disillusionment? But whose? Did Xena have any illusions left? Maybe not. But she cared very much about the illusions . . . say better . . . visions . . . of her young companion. The Warrior Princess had been working very hard to live up to the heroic image her companion held of her. This encounter with the Horde had severely dimmed that bright vision. In Xena's desperate battle to raise the morale and save the lives of this Athenian contingent, and most importantly, her friend, she had allowed the dark warlord of her past to come forth to confront the savage fury of the Horde. Now she stood in front of their champion. On her face a calm and somewhat amused look. Her countenance belied her inner turmoil. She needed the strength, skill, and courage of the dark warrior, but she hoped to temper that with the steel of trust. She was going to trust her life to the faith her friend held in humanity.

"Xena fought bravely with her brutal opponent. Her one sword against two wickedly sharp and curved battle axes, swung with savage skill. In a surprise move, the hideous Hordesman grabbed Xena's sword with his bare hand. As the blood ran down her blade the warrior woman clamped down on her fear that what she fought was not human. He ripped her weapon out of her grip -- even as she usurped his weapon. The dire dance continued as each warrior circled the other, seeking an opening to death's door for their opponent. Then she had him! She was behind the beast, his ax handle crushing against his throat, his hands trapped there as well. The feathers of his headdress swept the sweat from her brow. Her nose wrinkled from the foul smell of his fear and the war paint. The heaving monster was in her arms. He used all his strength to break loose. But Xena's strength was greater because she had the full force of the Athenian army and my life force pulling with her. She was not fighting for just her own life. She was fighting to save us all. As she felt the Hordesman falter, she knew she had won. She took a very large leap of faith and released the choking warrior. She did not kill him. She was clearly the victor. Would the savage Horde need to see his death to acknowledge that? She released their leader and pushed him away from her in disdain. Then calmly turned her back, picked up her sword, and walked to where we were waiting.

"She locked her powerful blue eyes on mine and made the long walk home, taming the terror that tickled her back in anticipation of a mortal blow from a contemptible foe. Even when I cried out in warning as the Hordesman rose from the ground like a vicious flame from Tartarus, still she came on. Even as that monster and four of his warriors stepped out of the forest, raising their wicked weapons to throw, she came on. She could see the alarm on all our faces, the lieutenant was holding me back from going to her. She could feel the waves of hate rolling her way from the enemy behind, but her steps never faltered. She had put her trust in my faith. I realized then what a huge burden trust is. I suddenly understood how hard it was for her to live up to such a trust. I prayed to Artemis for fortitude in our faith. I prayed that her faith now in my belief in the humanity of man would be realized. Then the Horde released their weapons . . . "

Gabrielle paused to take a breath. The Amazon's continued to hold theirs in anticipation. Gabrielle rarely brought herself into these stories, but she was so much a part of this, she had to speak of her own feelings and fears to heighten the impact.

". . . into the back of their disgraced leader. Then they disappeared into the forest," she finished.

An audible sigh was released by the bard's audience. Gabrielle's eyes had sought Xena's as she neared the end of this tale. The stoic warrior was visibly shaken by her friend's words. She broke away from Gabrielle's gaze as she shut her eyes and raised a shaking hand to her brow. From across the room the bard could see her warrior take and release a very deep breath. She longed to go to her, but the tale was not yet done.

"That she was safe was reflected in our faces. She tossed it off with a grin, but as I embraced her in relief, I could feel that she was trembling. Her arm was slick with blood where the enemy's ax had slipped on her shoulder armor. As always, there was blood on her hands. But this time . . . this time . . . it was not lifeblood. This time she had stayed her hand . . . in faith." As Gabrielle sat down, signaling the end of the tale, the hall roared with approval and clapping. Then the cry of "Xena" began reverberating around the room.

"Xeen-nah! Xeen-nah! Xeen-nah!"

Xena did not know what to make of it. It reminded her of the chanting of the Athenian army back with the Horde. It had felt good then, it felt good now. But this was different. This was not approval for strength in the face of an enemy. This was praise for a harder battle. Praise for staying her hand, for trusting. This was also approval for Gabrielle's words. The bard was giving her blessing to the Warrior Princess. Giving back her trust. Gabrielle came through the cheering crowd and took Xena's hand. Together they went out into the evening's cool air to admire the stars and spend a quiet moment together. To renew their friendship and trust in each other. And their love.

The End

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