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To Trust a Warrior

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, and occurs shortly after the episode "The Price."

Special thanks to J. Motley for showing me how to make an outline into a breathing story, to Melissa Good for reading the first draft and pointing out character inconsistencies and making good suggestions, and to Jayne Weisblatt for plotting discussions.

This is a rewritten and expanded version.

To Trust A Warrior

by MythMaker

Part I - Loss of Trust

"Gabrielle?" Xena attempted to call the bard back from her reverie.

The image of Xena hurling an ax into the back of a fleeing man, her face distorted with rage snapped off. The darkness turned to light as Gabrielle came back to the moment.

"Um. What Xena?" She asked absently, yet not listening again as she fell back into her present preoccupation. Since their encounter with the Horde Gabrielle had been wrestling with her feelings about Xena. Even though she had known of Xena's dark past, and of her struggle to live down the horrors she had wrought by working so hard to do good, that knowledge had not touched on reality until now. Xena's fear she would turn back to those evil ways had made the battle for her soul even harder. While Gabrielle hated the pain Xena put herself through, it was one of the things she most admired about the warrior. Now she had seen the horrible price Xena paid in her recent fight against the Horde -- the loss of her humanity. Gabrielle thought she had understood what Xena's struggle was all about. But she had not. Until she saw the ruthless Xena of old resurface and execute an enemy, force Gabrielle to choose who might live or die, until she saw the Xena who thought in terms of bodies at her disposal rather than individual human beings, she had not really understood the dark side of her beloved warrior. Now she knew. Now she had witnessed the bloodlust herself. And she hated it. She was glad her presence and her ideals had shown Xena there was another way. Yet, while her admiration for Xena's struggle had grown, so had her fear. Not for her own safety, but for Xena's soul. And she realized just what an enormous task they both faced.

"Why so quiet my Bard?" Xena asked of her friend. They had been making their way slowly away from the Athenian army post. Xena was concerned over the impression she had made on her innocent friend. She knew Gabrielle was still somewhat shocked by the horrors she had witnessed at Xena's hand. She was so afraid she might lose her one hope of redemption, her conscience, her Gabrielle. She looked down at the young woman who meant so much to her and prayed that her words would not bring forth rejection.

Gabrielle could hear the fear in Xena¹s voice. Was it possible to hear fear? Maybe it was the slight catch in her voice, or the so very soft way she spoke. Wrestling with her thoughts, Gabrielle cared too much for Xena to share those dark concerns. She worked to come up with an answer that would allow her the time and freedom to think about her complex friend, yet not let her know why she needed this time away from her powerful presence.

"Xena. I was thinking of home. In the midst of the siege with the Horde I thought I would never get to see my sister and family again. I thought how much I loved them and that I wish I had told them so. I think I need to go home for a while. I don't think I should pass up the opportunity I now have to tell them how much I care."

"We'll do that Gabrielle." Xena said, as a great fear clutched her chest. It really felt like a crushing blow, that physical sensation as the adrenaline rushed in. She felt it creep all the way up to her scalp. She thought she had responded calmly and softly to Gabrielle's request but Gabrielle could tell Xena was worried. She knew her warrior well. But somehow she could not reassure Xena as she did not know herself just what was going to happen. If Gabrielle could understand her feelings she would probably not have to be going home. The two women made a solemn pair as the week of their journey passed, each preoccupied with her thoughts.

The first night out of the forest filled with macabre memories Gabrielle started to feel a little better. 'Maybe I can figure this out without having to go home, without having to get away from Xena. Maybe we can talk this out. Maybe I can get Xena to discuss this with me. We both need to talk it out.' Gabrielle 's thoughts were hopeful as they settled down around the campfire after dinner. 'But how to get Xena to talk?'

"Gabrielle? Do you have to write about our latest adventure?" Zeus, was this Xena starting the discussion? But could Gabrielle gather her words sufficiently to make this work? Just have to wing it.

"Are you asking me not to?" She said looking up at the warrior, trying to gauge her emotions. Something there, despite the stoic warrior mask.

"No. I would never ask that of you. Maybe I mean, what are you going to write about it?" Now there were definitely some emotions struggling to remain hidden under that facade.

"Xena. Some stories come so quickly, are so easy to write I hardly require thinking to get them down on parchment. Like some of the adventures we had with Joxer. Maybe because they are simple, straightforward, even funny. Then some stories need a lot of thought to allow me to really do them justice. I need time to mull them over in my mind and come up with the right way to present them, or just to have the time to grasp the whole picture, organize it and present it in a way that will capture the audience with the right drama, the right visualizations, the right message."

"So you're saying this one wasn't funny?"

"You got that right!" 'Ooh, that wounded look I was trying to avoid.' "No Xena, what I mean is this was a complex adventure and I haven't got the whole thing reconciled in my mind yet. I need to work it through, decide where to start, decide what part to dramatize, work on my punchline."

"Punchline? Now you are joking. What do you mean by punchline? There weren't many punches, mostly hacking and stabbing." Gabrielle shuddered at this. 'Yes, Xena, and blood, lots of blood. More than I've ever seen you shed, and so easily.' Was she being deliberately obtuse?

"Xena, a punchline is the kicker at the end of the story, the last word which makes the whole story work. I guess it's called a punchline because if its a good story it sort of punches the audience in the gut and makes them really feel and think."

"Ah. I see. Yeah, I guess this one is hard to get a handle on. Maybe you should forget it. Let's go on and have a funny adventure. I'll see if I can locate Joxer." Xena said and turned her back on Gabrielle and swiftly began getting into her bedroll. "Good night Gabrielle. Sleep well."

'As if I could' they both thought. And neither did.

* * * * * * * * *

At last they came to the crossroads. Gabrielle hugged Xena good-bye with all her strength. The power of that hug both relieved and terrified Xena. Was this 'I really love you and I'll miss you', or was this 'good-bye, I can't stand to be with you anymore, you scare me'?

"Enjoy your visit Gabrielle. I will be in Amphipolis in a week, you can send me a message there when you are ready." Xena said, trying to sound cheerful and upbeat.

"Xena, Amphipolis is only a day away from here." Gabrielle was a little confused. And why wasn't Xena meeting her eye?

"Yes, well I have to do some things before I go home." The warrior said as she turned her back to get into the saddle.

"Well take care of yourself then. I love you Xena." Gabrielle said wistfully, slinging her bag over her shoulder and getting a strong grip on her staff.

Xena turned back around and grabbed Gabrielle's arms in her strong hands. "Gabrielle, never doubt that I love you too. I'm so sorry you had to see that other side of me. I would have given anything to avoid that. Anything . . . but your life." She said that last part softly then she hugged her again, using her strength to put emphasis into the embrace. This time it was Gabrielle who was confused, maybe even frightened by that hearty hug. Xena failed to realize how much her weakness was revealed by that strength.

"I know Xena." Gabrielle hugged her back, hoping she was giving reassurance to the vulnerable warrior.

Xena swung up on Argo and cantered off back the way they had come, tears beginning to stream down her averted face. Gabrielle's face was equally wet as she started off down the road to Potadeia, having watched her warrior till she could no longer see her for the dust in the road.

* * * * * * * * *

Gabrielle never did find out what Xena did during the week before she went home to Amphipolis. Xena did not remember herself, it may have involved too much alcohol for that to be possible. Needless to say it was a miserable warrior who put Argo in her mother's stable late one night a week later. Cyrene found her asleep in the hay when she went looking for eggs the next morning. She had never seen this side of her daughter. Xena was lying at Argo's feet. It almost looked as if she had fallen off the horse as she rode her into the stable. But somehow the warrior had been able to remove the horse's saddle and tack, provide food, and some token grooming before collapsing in the hay. She looked like she had lost a wicked battle. There was no blood, and the only bruising was under her eyes, from too much drink and not enough sleep. Her hair was dirty, her armour tarnished. After failing to wake her the conventional way, Cyrene resorted to a bucket of water. Xena sprang up drawing her sword to find herself threatening her mother.

"Mother!" the startled warrior exclaimed. Her astonished mother retreated so fast she fell over the bucket. Xena sheathed her sword and stepped forward to help her mother up. Cyrene cringed. Xena's face crumpled and she herself collapsed to the floor as she put her head in her hands. 'Now I even scare my mother,' she thought. 'I am truly a beast.'

"Xena, what's wrong? You only startled me." She knelt next to her daughter. Xena hugged her mother and spoke into her soft hair.

"I'm a monster. I have frightened Gabrielle off."

"Xena. You are not a monster. Not any more. Maybe you never were."

"Yes I was. And Now Gabrielle has seen the monster I was. Maybe always will be."

"Come inside the inn and tell me about it Xena."

On their last visit Cyrene had been given a picture of the kind of lives the two woman lead by Xena's friend the bard. She appreciated Gabrielle's ability to recount their adventures and was proud of the woman her daughter had become. She kept this in mind as she listened to Xena tell of their dealings with the Horde. She wept inside at her daughter's pain. In Gabrielle's absence Cyrene knew she was the one who must help Xena face her demons and see them for what they were.

"Xena. I think Gabrielle really did want to see her family and recover from the horrors you both faced. Otherwise she would have told you she did not want to ride with you any more. If she does not contact you by Friday I think you should go to Potadeia and see her."

"I'll wait. Meanwhile, there must be some work I can do for you around here."

* * * * * * *

Lila was overjoyed to see Gabrielle. The two sisters spoke long into the night of their first day back together. Not wishing to betray Xena, and also maybe because she was a little ashamed of her confusion about her, Gabrielle did not share all the details of the bloody siege. Even so, her fragile state was communicated to her loving sister. And Lila's dislike of Xena grew some more. Over the next week, it grew and grew so that when Xena rode up on Argo unexpectedly that Saturday morning to first see Lila picking vegetables in the garden, Lila attacked her.
Xena had dismounted from Argo and walked up to Lila with a smile. It quickly left her face.

"Get out of here your murdering bitch. We don't need you coming around to make Gabrielle any more miserable than you already have." Lila snarled at her.

"What are you saying?" The warrior princess was very taken aback. In fact she stepped back a pace as Lila moved into her personal space. Xena did not recognize this Lila. Gabrielle's little sister was usually a timid thing, carefully avoiding Xena. Now here she was confronting her. What gives? Lila kept coming until she was right in Xena's face. She did not look as if she was at all rational. Then Lila struck her hard across the mouth, splitting her lip.

"Is action all you understand?" She yelled in her face. The warrior resisted the urge to retaliate. Her mind cringed from what Gabrielle could have said to her sister to incite this protective anger. Lila continued to harangue the troubled woman as she just stood there not moving, not protecting herself. Tears were beginning to course down her cheeks and blood was running down her chin now, but she made no move to wipe her face. She was frozen by her terrified emotions. This was the scene that Gabrielle came on after hearing the yelling from the front garden.

"Xena! Lila, what's happening?" she asked as she came running up. The mighty warrior seemed to be cringing under the wrath of Lila. Gabrielle had never seen her sister like this, nor Xena. It was if they had suddenly changed places. Gabrielle came between the two women and tenderly touched Xena's face to access the damage. She look bewilderedly back and forth between her sister and her best friend. Xena's vulnerable look changed to stone at her touch. She brushed the back of one hand from one cheek through the blood at her mouth and up to the other cheek, smearing the blood and tears more than cleaning her face. She strode back to her horse and mounted up.

"I guess your not coming back then." She said softly to Gabrielle before she rode off, not giving Gabrielle a chance to speak.

Gabrielle turned on her sister. "What have your done?" She screamed, her eyes blazing.

Lila suddenly sat down in the dust. She was astonished to realize she had just taken her life in her hands when she attached the warrior woman. And lived!

* * * * *

It was still cool, and surprisingly early for someone who likes to sleep, but this morning Gabrielle was determinedly striding down the road to Amphipolis. The minute she saw Xena riding out of her life she knew she had resolved her confusion. She loved all of Xena. She knew then that Xena's good side was in the ascendancy. That lapse with the Horde was self defense, using the tools at hand, and being controlled by old fears. Gabrielle had said good-bye to her family and set off after Xena that same day.

Yesterday's travel had been uneventful, and she hoped for the same today in order to make good time. It was a beautiful morning with the sun lighting up the dew on the grass with a splendid sparkle. Or maybe it was all so splendid because Gabrielle was happy she had made her decision. Suddenly there was thunder. She looked up at the sky, then back at the road behind her. Yes, it was coming down the road. Someone galloping furiously towards her. Her fear swiftly became euphoria as she saw it was Xena.



Xena soon reached her and slowed only enough to grab Gabrielle onto the back of Argo. She continued galloping up the road. Gabrielle clung on tightly, her fear rising again. It took all her energy to hold on, nothing left for talking. It seemed as if they charged along forever but twenty minutes later Xena directed Argo into the forest. Only twice did she look back over her shoulder, once to check the road behind them, and once to look at Gabrielle to see how she was doing. Xena looked worried, but Gabrielle could not tell much else from that look. As they entered a sheltered glade Xena slowed Argo to a walk. They stopped and Xena helped Gabrielle dismount, pulling her into her arms for a crushing hug.

"Gosh, Xena, I missed you too, I can't believe you rode off without me on Saturday." Gabrielle said when she could breathe again. She looked at Xena to see what was up. Her warrior friend had tears in her eyes.

"Oh Gabrielle. I missed you very much, but this is something else." As she paused to gather her thoughts the now frightened Gabrielle broke in.

"What's the matter Xena, why were you riding so fast. And I expected you would have been coming from the other direction."

"Gabrielle, come here," she said taking Gabrielle back into her arms, though loosely so they could look into each other's faces. "Gabrielle I was riding so fast because I needed to tell you myself, and I came from that direction because I rode from Potadeia."

"Lila! Has something happened to Lila?"

"Yes Gabrielle. You need to be strong. They think she is dead." Gabrielle sagged in her arms. The two friends held on tightly to each other, giving and seeking solace.

Just then three men rode into the clearing.

"There she is." The lead man jumped down off his horse and strode over to Xena with his club raised above his head.

"Xena!" Yelled Gabrielle in alarm as she swung up her staff.

"No Gabrielle." She said. "I'll come with you." She said to the man as she handed him her sword in its scabbard. She removed her belt and chakram and gave it to Gabrielle. No one asked for it so she left her concealed breast dagger in place. They tied her hands behind her and helped her onto Argo's back, the leader taking her horse's reins.

"But what's going on? Why are you doing this to her." She said as she looked into their faces. As she did she realized she knew these men. They were her family's neighbors. "Tomus?"

"Gabrielle, this woman murdered your sister Lila and burned the farmhouse."

"Noooo !" She cried and looked at Xena in horror. Xena recoiled from that look and sadly shook her head. 'How could Gabrielle think I would hurt her sister. Okay, she's in shock. She's just looking to see my reaction. I've got to look trustworthy. Not guilty. Well, Hades, I'm not guilty. She can't think that I am!' Xena's gut began to knot up. It felt like spiders were crawling in her rib cage.

Much later, riding behind Tomus, a shocked and numb Gabrielle returned to Potadeia with the group. As they entered the village, people came out of their houses and watched. Some picked up rocks and followed them to the jail. Xena rode proudly on Argo, ignoring the taunts, that beautiful face as still as a marble statue, the warrior mask back in place. Soon rocks began to fly. Xena tried not to flinch. Still not sure how she felt or believed about what had happened, Gabrielle responded as she would have for anyone so persecuted.

"Stop! What do you think you are doing." She said as she stepped in front of her friend. They did not stop until a rock hit Gabrielle. At Gabrielle's exclamation of pain Xena jumped down from Argo, still with her hands behind her back, and shielded Gabrielle with her body. A lucky stone struck Xena on the temple and she collapsed to the ground. The stoning still did not stop. Gabrielle looked to Tomus for help. He and the other two picked up Xena's body and carried her into the jail, throwing her onto the floor of a cell where they locked her in. Gabrielle started to follow but her neighbor Judessa shepherded her away to her house.

"She needs a healer." Gabrielle said, turning back as they lead her away.

"She's a murderess. She deserves what she got."

"No. She deserves a fair trial and our help."

"You are too kindhearted Gabrielle. But we will send Lena to her." With that Gabrielle let them lead her away to her parent's farm.

* * *

Xena came to in the dark. Her head throbbed miserably and her left hand was very painful where she had burned it earlier. Xena tried to stand to go over to the cot but dizziness drew her back down to the floor. She slowly made her way over on her knees and lay down gingerly. To take her mind off her pain she went over the events of the previous day.

It had started in her mother's inn at Amphipolis. She was having breakfast after her dawn workout when a young man came in asking for her. He had a message from Gabrielle. Xena was overjoyed. After her encounter with Lila she was sure it was all over with Gabrielle. She had swiftly made her farewells, threw her gear together and rode out on Argo five minutes later. Potadeia was a long day's ride from her home village. Xena managed it in eight hours with two brief stops for Argo's sake. As she neared the farmhouse she had come across Gabrielle's father in the field. He had said that Gabrielle was on her way to Amphipolis. He had sent Xena to talk to Lila. It had made no sense. And why had she not seen Gabrielle on her way there? The house had been burning when she arrived. She had rushed into the burning building, trying to get Lila out of the house to save her. All she had been able to find inside was Lila's solstice present from Gabrielle, that bracelet, lying on the floor of the kitchen. Finally giving up, she had stumbled out a back window and that's when Judessa had seen her and raised the cry of 'murderess'.

Just then Xena's reverie was interrupted by the arrival of the healer. She brought a lamp with her. She was clearly nervous of being alone with the warrior.

"I won't hurt you." Xena said softly. Lena eyed her carefully then motioned Tomus to put the basin of water on the floor near the cot. The warrior was lying on her side, obviously uncomfortable with her hands behind her back and blood marring her lovely features.

"Tomus. Why don't you stay with us. I might need help."

"Sure, I'll stay. Also we need to take her armor."

Xena sat up with Lena's help. They untied her hands and removed her armor. Tomus threw it out of the cell. As the breast plate came off, her dagger was revealed. Tomus grabbed it roughly and cuffed the warrior on the jaw with its hilt. Xena did not react other than her head falling back with the impact, though Lena could see she was restraining her natural inclination to defend herself. Sitting up made her dizzy again. Lena judged that Xena was really in no condition to hurt her, and if she wasn't going to hit Tomus, she was safe. She told Tomus he could leave.

"If you are sure, I'll be just outside." He left.

"You really are a mess. How did such a big bad warrior princess get beaten up by us common folk?" She asked as she cleaned up the results of the stoning.

"It is not my way to hurt unarmed people."

"Only defenseless little girls."

"I did not hurt Lila. The house was burning when I entered it. I went in to try to rescue her. There was no one in the house. Did they search the rubble to be sure?"

"In truth warrior, I don't know. I think it was still too hot."

"How is Gabrielle taking it?"

"She is grief stricken, and very confused about you."

"Please tell her I did not do this. She has to believe me." She said grabbing the healer's shoulders and pulling herself up to look her in the face, tears beginning to trickle down her cheeks. The healer looked at the desperate women and almost believed her. She made her lie down again.

"I wish I could tell her that." She said as she started to work on Xena's burned hand. Then she had Xena turn over to tend to the abrasions on her back from the stones, and finally her head wounds. By now the warrior was crying softly, but the healer knew it was not from the pain. Lena was starting to think they had all been too hasty. It was obvious how much the warrior cared about Gabrielle. Why would she risk losing her by killing her sister? As she cleaned the blood off her face, Lena discovered the warrior was really a very handsome woman. She finished by wiping the tears away. As many healers do, Lena had a gentle touch. In a good healer the touch was the first step to healing, showing the patient that someone cared and wanted their suffering to be stopped. Xena responded by opening her incredible blue eyes and giving the healer a questioning look. Lena gave her a reassuring nod and finished up by winding a bandage around the warrior's head. She then put a thin blanket over the miserable woman and left her to rest. She thought Xena had dropped off, but as she left the cell Lena heard the warrior's soft words.

"Please tell her I'm here for her." Confused by her meaning, Lena nevertheless promised she would.

* * *

"She said that? 'I'm here for her?' Zeus. As if I would come to her for comfort after what she did. Ares! The arrogance of that woman!" Gabrielle stomped around the porch as she spoke.

"She sounded sincere. She was crying when she said it, and she was in a lot of pain." Lena followed her and tried to calm her down.

"Xena was crying? Xena! That stone faced unemotional warrior princess?" she stopped and grabbed the healer's arm.

"Are you sure about this? Try to calm down and think about it." Responded Lena, trying to put an arm around the young woman.

"Calm down! I need this anger to keep me going. If I calm down and think I'm lost. I've seen Xena in a killing rage. She could do this. She's always remorseful afterwards too. No. I am not going to calm down. And I am certainly NOT going to go see her. And you can tell her that too." She said as she ran back into the neighbor's house where she and her family were staying until their house could be repaired. Yet, once inside she asked her father to tell her again what had happened.

"As I said before. Lila and I had been working in the fields when Lila decided to go get us some cool cider. Your mother was next door with Judessa sorting fruit for preserving. About 15 minutes later Xena rode up on her war horse and asked me where you were. I told her you had left yesterday, but Lila was up at the house if she wanted to see her. Shortly after she left, the house burst into flames. By the time I made it home Xena was running away and Judessa was standing by the back window yelling 'murderess' and holding your sister's silver bracelet. She told me that Xena had dropped it. Then we all tried to put out the fire. Xena came back with help from the village and we soon had the blaze under control. But there was no sign of Lila. People started grumbling and we were all looking at Xena and remembering her altercation with Lila on Saturday, when she suddenly yelled your name, jumped on her horse and rode out as if all the wicked souls of Tartarus were after her. I was so worried she was coming to kill you too that I persuaded Tomus and his two friends to ride out after her. You know what happened after that."

"I know, but I just don't understand it." Her hand was idly fingering the chakram at her belt. She had strapped it on when Xena handed it to her the day before, and put in on again this morning. She was not sure why, but it gave her a small measure of comfort, almost as if she still had that strong presence of its owner at her side. She thought again about their trip back to Potadeia. The five of them had ridden in silence for several miles. Gabrielle had not known what Xena was thinking, but her own mind was stunned and grasping at straws, trying to make sense of what she had been told. Xena had not denied that she had killed her sister, but then Xena was never one to share much verbally anyway. Gabrielle thought about her sister slapping Xena, but if Xena was going to retaliate she would have done in then, not carried this grudge for vengeance. It was not Xena's way. Gabrielle looked at the warrior princess to find her watching her. It always amazed her how expressive Xena's face could be considering she mostly presented such impassivity. Now Gabrielle could read concern, grief, and clearly love in that dear face. The look was more than she could stand. Gabrielle looked away as tears filled her eyes.

The journey back was longer than darkness and tired horses would allow to be completed that day. They camped for the night. The simple actions of making camp brought a normalcy to Gabrielle that allowed her briefly to cope with her grief. But when they settled down to sleep, it all came crushing back. Tomus and the three men slept to the left of where Gabrielle had put her bedroll, giving her a little privacy. Xena had been secured to a stout tree, on the other side of the clearing, away from the campfire. Finally Gabrielle could contain her pain no longer and her body shuddered repeatedly with her sobs. The men slept on, but Xena did not. She had been watching. It took her no time at all to slip free of her bonds. She crept softly to Gabrielle's side and hesitated only briefly before taking her into her arms. Gabrielle responded naturally to the strong arms, seeking the solace she so desperately needed. She knew it was Xena, but with bittersweet reality, she knew she needed this, innocence or guilt was not the issue now. Only her grief and loss, and the love and comfort her friend could offer. She knew she should talk to Xena about this, ask her what had happened, but she just couldn't talk. She could only feel. The bard was silenced by her shock and grief. The paramount thing was that Lila was gone, not who was responsible.

In the morning Tomus woke to see Xena leaning against the tree, Gabrielle asleep with her head in her lap. Xena was softly stroking Gabrielle's hair to comfort her. The early morning sun dappled the women with drops of gold light, bringing out the blue black raven quality to Xena's hair and the highlights in Gabrielle's. It was a beautiful sight, but not to a man who had loved Gabrielle since childhood, and had been a staunch supporter of Lila's disdain for Xena. With a yell he charged the warrior. The sound woke Gabrielle who sat up suddenly, just clearing the way for Tomus to land a kick in Xena's face. Or he would have if the warrior had not grabbed his boot and twisted it strongly, throwing him off balance to land heavily on his back beside Gabrielle. Xena stood up and grabbed Gabrielle's hand, putting her safely behind the tree. Tomus was up and advancing again. The other two joined him.

"Calm down. I don't want to hurt you. We should get going, Gabrielle's parents are probably worried." She turned her back on the advancing villagers and put her hands behind her, offering them the opportunity to retie them. Her actions so surprised the men they stood there dumbfounded.

"Come on, let's go!" she said again. Tomus shook his head and tied her hands. They were soon on the road again, Gabrielle more confused than before.

* * *

Rethinking this all again, Gabrielle still did not know what to make of the situation. Her father, whom she loved and trusted was convinced Xena was guilty. Judessa claimed she had witnessed it. And yes, Xena was a dangerous and violent warrior. But for as long as Gabrielle had known her Xena had always been fair, and she had never been known to hurt a woman. It was against her code. Except for Callisto of course. But the Horde. The Horde had brought out that old Xena. The Xena she had seen slit the throat of the savage enemy, and smile. Besides, if Xena had not killed Lila, who had? Lila . . . the thought of her sister being dead made it almost impossible for Gabrielle to think clearly. She had been confused before about Xena. Now she knew only that her heart anguished for them all.

* * *

Xena woke to a pounding head. Actually her head felt a little better. The pounding was outside her head. She sat up and found she was no longer dizzy. She made her way over to the window and looked out. Tomus and some of the villagers were gleefully building a scaffold. A sound at her back turned Xena around to see the healer and breakfast arriving.

"The verdict isn't even in and already they are building a scaffold," she said to the healer. she pulled off the bandage circling her head as she walked toward the healer.

"I'm sorry Xena, but the verdict is in. You have been declared guilty of murder." Lena avoided looking the woman in the eye as she focused on the head wound, then tipped her head into the light to examine the new bruise on her jaw.

"What? I haven't even had a trial. I haven't had the opportunity to present my side." Xena jerked her face out of the healer's hands. She stalked back and forth around the cell. Lena was reminded of Gabrielle from the night before. Only this time the woman stood a head taller.

"You had a trial last night. The elders and the witnesses decided your fate." She tried to distance herself from this pronouncement. The elders, not her decided Xena's fate. She did not agree, but she was not part of the council.

"What witnesses? I did not see Lila killed, nor see her body. Has that been found? was Gabrielle at the trial?" Lena felt as if she herself was on trial. Xena fired off the questions at her as she paced.

"I only know the verdict." 'I will not be intimidated by this woman. I am only the messenger.' She stood her ground.

"If I had known this was the kind of justice to be found in Potadeia I would have taken Gabrielle and left! Does she know I am to be executed?" At this she stopped dead in front of Lena and now it was the healer's chin taken in hand and turned toward the light. This answer was very important to the agitated warrior.

"Ah warrior. Her family is protecting her. We all have to die." Lena put her hand on the warrior's arm and gently released herself from Xena's grip. She guided Xena over to the bed and pushed her to sit down.

"Yes. I am prepared to die, but not for something I have not done. I never attacked this village when I was wicked warlord. Why would I start now?" Xena continued, but the fire had gone out of her. Her fierce pacing and demand for answers over.

"I do not know. Eat some breakfast and let me look at your wounds." She sat down beside her and tried once again to examine the forehead and other wounds.

"You are wasting your time healer. I am about to die, what does it matter if I am healing or not? Instead will you do me a favor and deliver two messages to Gabrielle?" Once again Xena fended off her examination, taking the healer's hands in her own.

"I will try Xena." The sad healer answered. She gripped the hands back, trying to offer some comfort.

"Before they execute me, will you please tell Gabrielle that I love her and I trust her to believe that I did not kill Lila." . . . 'If she does not believe in me, it makes it easier for me to die. I will no longer want to live then,' she thought to herself.

"I can I can give her that message." Lena tried not to think of the effect these words would have on the young woman, she certainly felt their effects on herself.

"Thank you healer. After I am dead, will you ask her to notify my mother in Amphipolis if she plans not to keep her promise to me regarding my body."

* * *

"Gabrielle I have just been to see Xena and she asked me to give you a message." Lena had found the bard wandering around the town square. Maybe she had been working up the courage to see her warrior friend.

"How is she Lena?" Gabrielle's eager question gave the healer hope for the warrior's future.

"She would not let me tend her wounds. She said I was wasting my time since she is about to die." Lena decided to be brutal.

"Die! What do you mean?" Gabrielle screamed, grabbing Lena's arm.

"I'm sorry Gabrielle. Your family did not want you to worry about this but I felt I had to give you Xena's message before they execute her. The Elders held a trial for her last night and pronounced her guilty. They are hanging her at noon." She declared forcefully.

"No!." she said and began to run off. Lena held her back.

"Wait Gabrielle, the message . . . she said to tell you that she loves you, and she trusts you to believe she did not kill Lila."

Gabrielle ran to the meeting hall, frantically trying to find the head of the elders council. Finally she found him in the tavern. She pleaded with him. She explained Xena would never do this. She told him that Xena had said she was not guilty. He practically laughed in her face. While he did not quite, the rest of the villagers in the tavern did. Xena was not a hero in Potadeia.

"Gabrielle. My child, you are too upset to think clearly. I know you have had a hard time these last few days, what with coming back from a war, losing your sister, and then having your friend turn on you this way. You need to go home and grieve. Not blindly support this monster. She killed your sister! It has been proven. No matter what you think your heart is telling you, you are wrong. She is guilty!"

"I don't have time to be anything but too emotional. Don't hang Xena! She deserves a proper trial. She deserves to be heard."

"Enough Gabrielle. It is done."

* * * * *

The whole village gathered to see the female warrior hung. They had allowed her to put on her armor for the final walk. Her family tried to keep Gabrielle from coming, but she was there in the front row. She watched as the beautiful woman with the raven black hair and the blazing blue eyes calmly walked up the steps and stopped in front of the noose. Gabrielle's heart was crumbling as she inspected her warrior princess. The patrician features were marred with a purple bruise on the right jaw, and a red gash on her left temple, partially hidden by the soft dark hair feathering her forehead. Gabrielle cataloged more bruises on her arms and shoulders. Xena looked out at the crowd, seeking the eyes she loved. And found them. They were full of tears, but they read Xena's lips as she silently said 'I forgive you.'

"No! Please. Stop!" Pleaded Gabrielle as the hangman stepped forward. Her mother and father held her back.

"For the murder of a citizen of Potadeia you shall pay with your life." The hangman said, hiding behind his black cowl as he put the rope around her neck and prepared to release the trap door.

His words were almost drowned out by exclamations from the crowd. Someone was pushing to the front.

"Stop! Stop!" Lila screamed as she ran into the square.

Gabrielle looked up at the voice of her sister. Her appalled eyes saw the trap door open and Xena drop through.

"Athena guide my hand." She said as she drew the chakram from her belt and threw it unerringly at the rope. It sliced it cleanly and released the choking warrior to the ground. The sisters met by the body of the fallen warrior. They were joined by Lena the healer. Frantically they pulled the noose from her neck as Xena struggled to breathe. Her face was almost purple, her neck was ringed a vicious red. Gabrielle supported her shoulders. The warrior princess opened her eyes and looked sadly into Gabrielle's. Those amazing blue eyes focused briefly, rolled up and closed once more.

"Xena! Don't die." She screamed. Her anguish was evident to everyone but the unconscious warrior princess.

"She'll live Gabrielle. Come let's take her to a bed and get some cold compresses on that throat." Lena said and the three women carried the warrior away.

* * *

Gabrielle would not leave Xena's bedside so the family gathered there to hear Lila's story. Xena had regained consciousness, but was yet to speak. She listened as Lila began, not really caring what she had to say. Gabrielle sat by the bed holding her warrior's hand. Xena let her hand lie in Gabrielle's but did not form a grip back.

"It was Ares and Athena. A bet for Zeus sake! When I entered the farmhouse to get father and me some cider they were waiting for me. Before they could say much to me Xena came riding up. 'Right on schedule', said Ares, then he raised his hand and in a flash the kitchen burst into flames and the three of us were suddenly standing in the Elysian fields. 'You stay here while your sister and Xena win my bet for me,' Ares said. Then he and Athena explained that Xena would be blamed for my death, and that Ares bet she would execute plenty of villagers before she let them hang her, while Athena bet that Gabrielle would believe in Xena and not let the villagers execute her."

"They both lost didn't they," said the healer sadly looking at Xena. She had trusted the warrior, though she barely knew her. She had always been a good judge of character. She could not see why such a powerful woman had let herself be captured by the puny villagers if she was guilty. She had obviously trusted that her innocence would be revealed. More importantly she had trusted in Gabrielle. Gabrielle who was now sobbing on the warrior's chest in remorse. Xena absently stroked the girl's head, but never opened her eyes, nor spoke.

"How did you get way Lila? The bet was not to be over till Xena died or was released." Asked their father, worriedly watching his daughter and her friend.

"It was Marcus. Xena's friend in the Elysian fields. He did not want the two women to be put to this test. He also did not trust Ares to save Xena in time." Lila answered, also noticing the sad scene at the bedside.

"Marcus!" said Gabrielle sitting up. "Did you hear that Xena? Marcus saved Lila. And you." Xena did not respond. Only a single tear crept down her cheek from her closed eyes.

"You saved Xena Gabrielle. It was your throw of the chakram that did it." Said Lila triumphantly.

* * *

A week had passed. Xena's neck had almost healed, but she had still not spoken. She quietly worked with the villagers to help rebuild the farmhouse. But she stayed with the healer. Gabrielle tried often to speak with her and try to explain how she felt and what had happened, but Xena avoided her and her family. One morning Gabrielle came over to the healer's house and found Xena gone.

"She left early this morning Gabrielle. I think she found it too painful to stay here." Lena told the distraught girl.
"Oh Lena, how am I going to get her back? How can I get her to forgive me?"

"Gabrielle, she forgave you on the scaffold. I saw that."

"What is it then? Why won't she talk to me? Can she talk?" Her face was so sad, the healer wished she knew how to heal more than broken bones and wounds.

"Gabrielle, I think this goes right down to her belief in herself. I could see in the jail the morning of her execution that she felt if you did not believe in her innocence, then it would make it easier for her to die. She did not want to live if you thought she was capable of murdering your sister. Since the two of you met you have been the one to believe in her ability for goodness, even when she could not believe in herself. It is not you she needs to forgive, it is herself. She can't believe in herself anymore."

"Oh gods. What can I do to give her back her life? To get her back into mine?"

* * *

Part II - Redemption

Ephiny entered the Amphipolis Inn early in the morning, two weeks after the incident in Potadeia. She saw a woman scrubbing the floor of the tavern and went to ask her where she might find the warrior princess, Xena. The woman looked up at the Amazon. Her long dark hair was untidy and partially obscured the woman's face but unusually blue eyes looked at Ephiny.

"Xena!" exclaimed Ephiny, hardly believing what she saw. Xena was dressed like any village woman, in a worn dress with an open neck, revealing her fading bruises from the aborted hanging. The long skirt was kilted up and her feet were bare. The abused warrior woman raised one eyebrow in inquiry, yet said nothing. Ephiny dropped to her knees and took a grip on each of Xena's arms.

"Xena, get up off the floor and talk to me. What is going on? I came to get you because we need your help." At the sound of Ephiny's voice, Cyrene, Xena's mother came in to the tavern. She did not know what to make of the Amazon warrior kneeling next to her daughter on the floor. She could see, however, that Xena did not want this woman to bother her. Her daughter pulled her arms out of the woman's grasp.

"Excuse me young woman. Can I help you?" she said as she approached. "I am Cyrene, the innkeeper." Ephiny looked at Xena and her mother in wonder.

"I'm here to talk to Xena. Her friends need her help." She answered the protective mother.

"Xena does not talk to anyone any more. Please come with me." She drew the Amazon out of the tavern. Ephiny looked back and saw Xena begin scrubbing the floor again.

"But Cyrene, I don't understand. What has happened to Xena? Can she not speak for herself?"

"What is your name Amazon? Do you know Xena well?"

"Yes I do. And I know Gabrielle, whom I am also seeking. My name is Ephiny."

"Ephiny, you will find Gabrielle in Potadeia. Why don't you go see her. Maybe she can help you."

"But Cyrene, why can't I talk to Xena?"

"She hasn't spoken since she was almost hung in Potadeia. I don't know whether she chooses not to speak or she can't. All I know is she seems to have lost any interest in life. She works around the inn like a dumb animal. At the end of the evening, I have to stop her from doing more and guide her to her bed where she collapses till the morning. She no longer does her warrior exercises, nor maintains her weapons, and only rides Argo on Sundays. Although riding Argo seems to bring her the only, I can't even say joy really, but something. Argo is the only thing she communicates with. If you could get her to help you maybe she might begin to snap out of it. Ephiny, she has lost heart. She has no faith in herself."

"Hung! Artemis! What happened?"

"As I said, go see Gabrielle."

"Can I try to talk to Xena. Are you protecting her?"

"Ephiny, you may try," sighed Cyrene.

The Amazon went back into the tavern. In the short time they had been talking, Xena had cleaned the whole floor of the tavern. Ephiny found her emptying the bucket. She took her arm and pulled Xena outside to sit under a tree. Xena shrugged off Ephiny's hand. Finally they sat face to face.

"Xena, you know who I am, right?" Xena nodded yes in reply. Her eyes had a dull, careless attitude about them. She never looked Ephiny in the face. She mostly looked down or out at the fields.

"Can you talk with me?" Xena did not answer. She just waited. Ephiny waited too, But not very long. She went on. "Okay. You don't have to talk. Will you listen then?" Yes. Xena looked at Ephiny briefly then.

"I came looking for you first because Gabrielle is being sought by an Amazon who wants to kill her for her Right of Caste. You need to be Gabrielle's champion. It is more likely that you need to be her bodyguard, because I think Matari plans to assassinate Gabrielle rather than challenge her." As she spoke Ephiny could see she was reaching Xena. The listless look left her eyes and fear and anger danced there instead. She reached out her hand toward the Amazon. As she touched her arm, she opened her mouth to speak. She opened and close her lips three times before a faint hoarse whisper left her mouth. She coughed weakly then got up and went to the well. After drinking a ladle full of water she tried again.

"Gah . . . . go to Potadeia and warn Gabrielle." She paused to cough again and drink a little more. "Don't tell her you've seen me. " She closed her eyes in pain, either physical or emotional, Ephiny was not sure which. "I will follow you both to the Amazon Village. You won't see me but I will be there. I will watch over Gabrielle and be her champion if she needs me." Xena paused again and massaged her throat thoughtfully. Her voice had been no more than a harsh whisper throughout. "Ephiny. Gabrielle does not trust me any more. She may not call for me to be her champion. If she asks for your advice to choose a champion, then tell her you will take care of it. You may choose whom you wish. I hope that you will trust me to defend her. I need to regain her faith. I will fight for her masked. Please . . ." She broke off coughing again. Ephiny had never seen Xena as a supplicant before. She had never seen the warrior princess as anything but a woman in control, a powerful presence to be reckoned with. She did not know this Xena, but her heart went out to her.

"Xena. I believe in you, and I'm sure whatever happened in Potadeia will be straightened out. You will be her champion, by her choice or mine."

* * *

It was late the next afternoon when Ephiny knocked on the newly rebuilt farmhouse door. A young woman she did not know opened the door.

"I am looking for Gabrielle." Ephiny said.

"Is it about Xena?" The dark haired girl asked.

"No, I am looking for my Amazon Queen, Gabrielle. Does she not live here?"

"Queen Gabrielle!" Lila had not heard this one before.

"Lila, who is it?" Gabrielle asked as she came to the door. "Ephiny!" When she saw her Amazon friend she hugged Ephiny enthusiastically.

"Ephiny, is it Xena? Do you have news of Xena?"

"Gabrielle, why would I have news of Xena? I am looking for you. We have trouble in the Amazon Village. I need you to come back with me. Your Right of Caste is being threatened by an Amazon you do not know named Matari. Can you come with me now?" Ephiny decided to talk about Xena later on the road.

"Yes, Ephiny, just let me get my things. Come in. Lila, give Ephiny something to drink while I get ready. Maybe you can pack us some food for the journey, please?" She said as she began rushing around nervously. At last some action she could take. Waiting for word of her warrior had been deadly. She ran upstairs to get her things together.

Ephiny drank some cool cider while she waited for Gabrielle. The wait was short. Gabrielle hurried in to the kitchen. The Amazon was quick to notice Gabrielle wore Xena's chakram at her belt. Another part of the puzzle to get out of Gabrielle later.

"Lila, I don't have time to say good-bye to mother and father, please tell them I had to go. If Xena does come back, tell her we went to the Amazon Village. Oh . . . thanks for the food, " she finished as Lila handed her a package.

* * *

The two women were soon entering the forest, the quickest way to the village. Gabrielle was not her usual talkative self. They walked together for a few candlemarks until Ephiny could not hold her tongue any longer.

"Gabrielle. What happened? Why were you all asking about Xena? Why do you have her chakram?"

"Ephiny. I am ashamed to talk about it." The face Gabrielle turned toward her friend was filled with pain. The young woman suddenly looked old. "I have lost Xena's trust, her friendship, her love."

"Gabrielle, that is not possible. You two are much too close for that. What could have happened to make you think that?" Ephiny urged her to talk it out.

"Oh Ephiny. While I was away from Potadeia our farmhouse was burned down and Xena was accused of murdering Lila. There were witnesses who swore she had done it. I was so confused and hurt. I did not prevent her from being hounded and then hung for that crime. The villagers stoned her and the elders held a trial which neither Xena nor I was allowed to attend. They declared her guilty. Just as the hangman released the trap door, my sister ran into the square. I miraculously was able to cut the rope with Xena's chakram. She had given it to me when she had surrendered to the villagers."
"Oh Gabrielle. . . "

"She was completely innocent! Why did I ever doubt her? I am so ashamed." By now they had stopped walking. Gabrielle was so distraught she was shaking. Ephiny put a reassuring arm around her.

"But Gabrielle, how could they try to hang her when your sister was alive?"

"We did not know that. Ares and Athena were gambling over Xena and my relationship. They kidnapped Lila and set the whole thing up. The gods were so sure they knew us. But they were both wrong, Xena was too good and true, and I was not!" By now Gabrielle was crying in Ephiny's arms. Having glimpsed both sides of this coin Ephiny could see the two women had to be brought together again.

"Gabrielle, You said Xena was too good and true. She still is. I know she must still love you. I am sure she will forgive you."

"That's the saddest part Ephiny. She has forgiven me. But she thinks I don't believe in her goodness. She was destroyed by my lack of faith. I am ashamed to say I did not visit her in jail. I was too grief stricken over Lila, I could not think straight until it was too late. She does not know I tried to prevent the hanging. I as good as killed her." The shaking started again. Ephiny was growing alarmed at the state of her friend. She got her to sit down on a nearby log.

"Gabrielle. I refuse to believe your relationship is over. In fact I'll prove it to you. You will need a champion to defend you against this challenger. I am sure Xena will act on your behalf."

"No! I could never ask her now. I will defend myself." She stood up and began striding around the clearing.

"Gabrielle you must not answer this challenge yourself." The Amazon warrior trailed after her queen. "Matari is a very fierce and dangerous warrior. Xena may be the only one who can defeat her. Also, I think this may be a way to give back Xena's faith in herself. You must let her be your champion."

"I don't know, Ephiny. I don't think I have the right to ask her. I also don't know where she is. She left me. She does not want to be around me. How could you think she would want to defend me now?"

"I can find her Gabrielle. I think she left because she thought it would be better for you. Please let me do this for you both."

* * *

On the last day before reaching the Amazon Village, Gabrielle and Ephiny continued their argument over Gabrielle's champion.

"Gabrielle, this may all be academic anyway. Matari may not challenge you, she may not be that honorable. She may have you quietly killed one night in your sleep."

"Or not so quietly Ephiny!" said Matari as she dropped screaming out of the trees. Her voice was harsh and deep. She was a very tall woman predominantly dressed in red. Gabrielle judged her to be at least two inches taller than her Xena. Her fiery red hair was separated into four long braids carefully interwoven with dark feathers. She wore an Amazon mask, disguising her as a bird of prey.

Gabrielle whipped her staff into position and faced her challenger. Matari drew two swords and windmilled her way across the clearing to Gabrielle. In very short order the Amazon Princess found herself empty-handed. She cast about in her mind for a way to defend herself. Ephiny drew her bow to join the fray, but before she could pull an arrow from her quiver the red one reversed her left sword in her hand and conked Ephiny with the hilt. Matari may challenge the true queen, but she was not foolish enough to kill the ruling queen as well. She once again reversed her sword and swung back to menace Gabrielle. Silently and swiftly another masked warrior dressed all in black descended from the trees, her back to Gabrielle, and took on the brutal assault. Matari screamed and swung her two swords with deadly precision. The black defender parried with skill and ferocity, using a black sword and a long wavy dagger. The two warriors did a deadly dance around the Amazon queen. The black warrior seeking to isolate the queen way from the red bird of prey. The challenger would dance back and Gabrielle would be in the center again. Gabrielle's mysterious black defender suddenly performed a series of somersaults which drove the bird of prey further from the queen and the battle was joined.

The two seemed equally adept, yet each sliced the other repeatedly until both were weaving from loss of blood from dozens of dripping red lines about their arms, legs and torsos. More dramatic measures needed to be taken to end this duel. Matari sought to intimidate her opponent with her constant screams and battle cries, the defender seemed somehow more deadly making no sound at all.

Finally in her frustration, Matari threw one of her swords at the black warrior. By stepping aside, which could easily have been done, the black warrior would elude the sword but clear its path to impale Gabrielle. Sensing the Amazon Princess's presence there, the warrior stood in place to receive the sword in the left shoulder. Seconds before it landed, the black one threw the dagger at Matari. The aim was true, Matari died swiftly as the dagger entered her throat, pinning her to the tree from whence she so recently descended. Gabrielle was safe from this challenger. She ran to her defender whose knees began to buckle. Ephiny helped Gabrielle as they drew the sword from the black warrior's shoulder. Blood quickly soaked the black blouse the defender wore. Gabrielle's outfit was too skimpy to provide much in the way of bandages. Without thinking twice, Gabrielle ripped the sleeves from the wounded one's shirt to staunch the flow of blood. By so doing she revealed a pair of arm bracers she knew intimately.

"Xena!" she cried as she lifted the mask from her bleeding champion. Brilliant blue eyes winked at her and a tremulous lopsided grin greeted her.

"Gabrielle" a hoarse voice whispered warmly.

That's it for now. Coming soon: The Reconciliation . . .

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