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Disclaimer: MCA owns XWP characters; no copyright infringements were intended.
"Fate’s Gift" © 1997 by Kenkeltic@aol.com (Morgaine) The characters not belonging to MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures are the sole property of the author and may not be used without the expressed written permission of the author. Copies maybe used for private use only and must include all copyright notices and this disclaimer.
Sex disclaimer: There are no scenes of graphic sex but the love between the two characters is evident.
Violence disclaimer: Be forewarned, this is an action adventure story and graphic violence is present.
This is the second of the "Gift" stories. The first story is "Journey’s Gift". Although not necessary for understanding, it is recommended that you read that story first to fully understand the relationships developed in this novella.
~~A special thanks to the sister of my blood and of my heart who supported me through this endeavor.~~
The hall quivered and vibrated with undetectable movement. The massive web of strings glistened with moisture from the mist that clung in the air and pulsed with life, and some strings glowed like bright embers while others burned dark. Some snapped and withered away into nothingness, disappearing forever. Others snaked through, wrapped around, and ricocheted off other cords. Their mad dashes carried them toward unknown destinies. Artemis, the goddess of the hunt and patron of the Amazons, barely noticed her surroundings as she made her way confidently through the threads of Fate towards her destination. The challenge before her was enormous, but then again she always enjoyed a challenge. Her lips turned up into a smile as she lived in her mind the challenge of the hunt.
Ah, yes, the hunt. How she loved the hunt! The pounding horse beneath her, its nostrils flaring and body quivering with nervous excitement as she and her hounds raced through wood and glen in pursuit of quick and agile prey. The fear - - she could feel the fear and smell it as she drove her prey onward to its inevitable end. The joy of the experience, the power, the caress of the wind, the warmth of the bright orb, Helios, all bombarding her senses simultaneously was the purest joy. In her mind Artemis sensed the familiar bow clutched in her hands, her knees clamped tightly to her horse’s sides. She stood in the stirrups and moved in perfect rhythm with the animal beneath her. She nocked the arrow, took aim and brought down the fleeing beast, ending forever its terror. Oh, she did love the challenge and she would not be put off.
Entering the chamber of the Fates, Artemis stopped and stood with her fists on her waist taking in the sight before her. Clotho, beautiful and youthful, sat at her spindle spinning the threads of life from the basket which lay at her feet; its contents, a gift from the gods, a mystical essence that glowed and trembled with pulsating energy. The mature Lachesis stood with a loop of destiny threads casually dangling in one hand. As she unwound the strings and stretched them out she measured them from her nose to the tip of the fingers on her outstretched hand. Artemis sighed to herself. How she detested life without passion. The methodical actions annoyed her. Turning to Atropos, she quickly stepped forward and stayed the old hag’s hand as she was about to snip a thick cord with large, black shears. All three women shifted their gaze to this impudent goddess who had invaded their domain.
Artemis spoke to all three but looked into the eyes of the old woman who sat before her wielding the power of death in her clutches, "I came to speak with you on behalf of a mortal." The eyes before her were expressionless.
Lachesis ceased her measuring and replied, "Why are you here, Artemis? The gods cannot interfere with Fate."
Artemis swung around to face her and replied, "No, but you can." She quickly looked at the other two, gauging their reaction to her statement. They looked on indifferently.
"Why, Artemis, would we be interested in interfering with the fates of mortals?" Clotho questioned. "We are not like you gods. We have no interest in outcomes. We seek no revenge. We have no remorse. We do not interfere; humans are not our play things."
Artemis rolled her eyes at Clotho’s lack of emotion and said, "If you care nothing of the outcomes in human terms, then you should not care if a Fate is changed."
The three women exchanged glances. Artemis smiled inside. She had them there.
"You were already granted permission in the past to bring a mortal into the Hall of Fates, thanks to Lord Hades’ entreaty, and here you are back again so soon. Your arrogance is compelling," the hag, Atropos spoke evenly if not sarcastically.
Artemis frowned at this turn but immediately addressed it, "Yes, and I appreciate your indulgence, but that was on the behalf of my uncle, Atropos. It was not my doing." Although not completely true, Artemis would do and say anything to win this argument.
"What is it that you seek, Artemis? For what purpose and to what end?" Lachesis asked.
The mercurial goddess directed her attention to Lachesis and then began a slow, circuitous journey around the room looking at items that cluttered the corners and bits of thread that lay on the ground. She wondered at the mothers who cried for those infants after carrying them for so long within the womb to only have them ripped from their breasts by death’s ugly hand. She was saddened by the sight. Being also the patron goddess of childbirth, she had a soft heart for women and children. She addressed the question, "Nemesis informed my uncle, Lord Hades, that he would soon be sitting in judgment of a certain mortal, and Nemesis...well, you know the rest. After all, Nemesis is your sister." The three women locked eyes. Artemis continued, "This mortal is of special interest to my uncle, and he is very upset. So much so, he is threatening to keep Persephone in the Underworld to help console him at the death of this mortal." Artemis noted that the women almost frowned.
Clotho interrupted her thoughts, "Why is your uncle, Lord Hades, interested in this mortal?" Artemis snorted to herself, ‘Indifferent are we?’ but she maintained an impassive face as she looked at Clotho. "It’s very personal, but you do know how the gods like to dally among human women." The Fates nodded.
"I fear my uncle has a soft spot in his heart for this child of a mortal woman. He can’t bear the thought of seeing one of his own suffering eternity in Tartarus, and just when the mortal had almost made amends for all those wrong doings."
Artemis shook her head sadly, looked down with arms crossed and muttered, "A shame." She then looked up at the three women, "You know how emotional he gets. If he keeps Persephone in the Underworld, imagine how that will disrupt the destiny of humans and the chaos it will cause here." She waved her hands indicating the chamber.
Atropos asked, "What have you to gain from this, Artemis?" Although she dreaded it, Artemis had expected this question, and she shifted her gaze to Atropos.
"The mortal I speak of protects my Amazon Queen. The world needs balance, Atropos. Without the Amazons, the Greek world will spin out of balance and Athens, hungry with power, will go unchecked. This young Queen is the hope of the future for my Amazons. She is the future. She is connected to that mortal, and if the mortal dies, so too shall the Queen’s heart and the future for my people."
"Xena." The name spoken by Lachesis hung in the air for several moments. Artemis could only nod.
"We offered her a change in her fate. She chose her original path. She has a strong will," Clotho stated, "The warrior woman does not care for the gods’ meddlesome ways."
Artemis nodded, "She would never ask anything of the Fates or of the gods for herself."
Atropos spoke, "There is also a child." Artemis frowned not understanding the comment. Atropos smiled slightly, and Artemis almost gasped. "There is a very powerful spirit, a daughter of Hades, who haunts these halls," Atropos continued, "She too has spoken to us on behalf of the warrior woman." Artemis found it difficult to hide her surprise.
"The child is important, Artemis," The flecks of gold in Artemis’ dark eyes danced as she locked stares with Lachesis. "The child, Xena’s child, is the bridge that connects the realms, and it is for her we will grant you your desire." Artemis had no idea what Lachesis was saying, but at least she had won, or at least she thought she had won.
"There will be a price," Clotho stated. Artemis frowned.
"For every action there is a reaction, Artemis. Are you willing to pay the price?" Artemis swung around and peered into Atropos’ eyes. She suddenly felt she was getting more than that for which she had bargained.
"Xena wasn’t willing to pay the price before, Artemis. Will she be willing to pay it now?"
Looking at Lachesis, Artemis spoke before they could tease her any more, "Xena must live at any cost!"
"Very well," the three women echoed together. Atropos took the thick thread in her hand that she was about to cut and handed it to Lachesis. Artemis observed as Lachesis stretched the thread another arm’s length and handed it back to Atropos who indifferently snipped it in two.
Artemis took her leave and retraced her steps through the Hall of Fates. As she neared the end of the hall, a dark shadow stepped out. Blue eyes looked down at her imploring, "Well?"
She nodded but frowned as she said, "It is done, our wish has been granted." The dark face hovering above her dazzled her with a smile. Hades was handsome and Xena did indeed resemble him. But the spirit, the other daughter of Hades, bothered Artemis and she wondered of her uncle’s other secrets. The child, what was her part in all of this. And what of the price? Artemis hated going into battle with only partial information and she was annoyed with Hades.
Wrapping his arm around her shoulder he said, "Why so melancholy, my favorite niece, my little negotiator? You must have a silver tongue."
She looked up at him irritated and said. "They granted us our wish, but as always with the Fates, there are unknown strings attached."
It was beginning again and Gabrielle could do nothing about it. Even in her sleep she knew the outcome. Regardless of what she did, it would play out to the inevitable end. Xena helped her onto Argo’s back and then lifted Zoe up to sit in front of her. Xena then looked up at her with those beautiful, ocean-blue eyes, and said, "Goodbye, Gabrielle," and walked into the waiting arms of Chloe. They both looked back at Gabrielle and Zoe sitting high atop Argo and then, arm-in-arm, turned and walked away. Gabrielle was left all alone with Zoe in the midst of endless, rolling plains. Tears poured down her cheeks, and as the two crested a distant hill, Gabrielle cried out, "Xena, don’t leave me!"
"Gab, wake up. I’m right here. Gabrielle, it’s all right." Xena wrapped her arms around Gabrielle and held her against her as Gabrielle sobbed uncontrollably in her embrace. Xena pulled away to look down into her tear-filled eyes, "Gab, you’ve got to tell me; what’s going on. You’ve been haunted by this dream every night since we’ve arrived in Amphipolis." She brushed the stray locks of blonde hair from Gabrielle’s face and gently kissed her eyelids and lips.
"Oh, Xena, I’m sorry I keep waking you."
"Gab, don’t apologize! You need to talk about this. You can’t go on. Please tell me about the dream. You’ll never quit having it unless you talk it out." Gabrielle snuggled in closer and clung to Xena. "Can you talk to me, please?" Xena pleaded.
Through her tears Gabrielle said, "Oh, Xena, it’s so silly. It’s nothing really."
Xena was used to her own nightmares, but the thought of her Gabrielle being haunted by bad dreams tore at her insides, "Come on, Gab, you wake up every night with your heart almost pounding out of your chest. You’re soaked in sweat, and you’re crying hysterically. Don’t tell me it’s nothing."
Trying to escape from Xena’s probes Gabrielle hedged, "It’s just a dream, a stupid dream."
"My little bard, I think it’s time for you to tell your warrior about this stupid dream. It’s about me isn’t it?" Gabrielle looked sheepishly up at Xena who rested on her elbow over her. "Gab, you cry out my name every night. I’m sure Cyrene can hear you in the next room." New tears began to cascade down Gabrielle’s cheeks, and she finally confessed with a nod. Xena leaned closer and whispered in her ear, "It’s all right, Gab, you can tell me."
Gabrielle wasn’t quite sure why it was so hard to tell Xena about this dream other than she feared if the words were spoken aloud they might become a reality. Her defenses were weakening, and the dream made her so fearful. She was losing precious sleep at night. Finally she relinquished, "It’s the same every night. We are on those cursed plains." Xena’s stomach clenched at the words. The memory was still like salt in a raw, open wound. "You help me up on Argo. Then you hand me Zoe, and you say goodbye." Gabrielle’s voice caught in her chest, and she wept openly.
"Ssshhh, Gab, ssshhh. It’s all right." Xena spoke softly and gently caressed Gabrielle’s face. "I’m so sorry. I should never have left you and Zoe all alone." Gabrielle shook her head through her tears, and Xena frowned.
Speaking between sobs, "It’s...not that... Xena. When you turn to...leave, you are...with Chloe. And...and you both wave...goodbye to...Zoe and me." Gabrielle broke down and cried as Xena pulled her into her and held her in her strong arms. "It’s so... so final." Xena’s mind raced. ‘Why would Chloe and I leave Zoe behind in Gab’s dream?’
"Gabrielle, it’s all right. I’m not going anywhere. Chloe is dead." The knot in her throat almost strangled her at saying those words aloud, but Gabrielle needed her reassurances right now. "I have everything I could ever want right here, two girls I love more than anything else in the world." Xena remembered a blue-eyed doll. "You do believe me, don’t you?" She felt Gabrielle nod against her breast and heard a quiet, "Yes." Caressing Gabrielle’s hair, she whispered, "Everything will be all right, I promise you."
When Xena awoke the next morning at sunrise, she smiled down at what she discovered in her bed. She was wrapped around Gabrielle. Zoe’s tiny body rested in Gabrielle’s arms protected in the curve of her body. Sometime early that morning, their little visitor had joined them. Xena wondered at her daughter’s ability to slip into her room undetected and could only shake her head. No one had ever been able to sneak up on her like that. She also marveled at how Zoe and Gabrielle had become completely attached to each other. Looking now at the sleeping child whose long, dark eyelashes rested softly on her freckle-dappled cheeks, Xena saw the perfect image of Chloe and smiled a wistful, crooked smile. Chloe’s gift to Cyrene had become a gift to everyone. Toris doted on her and carved her little toys in wood. Cyrene’s face lit with joy every time Zoe smiled up at her. Xena ached inside knowing that the joy she found in Zoe, she had never been allowed to experience with Solon. She silently thanked Chloe for this daughter who showed her the unconditional love she had been forced to forfeit so many years before in the Centaur camp. Somewhere in her mind she imagined she could hear Chloe’s familiar, soft laughter.
Xena rolled quietly out of bed and threw on her clothes. She did not want to wake Gabrielle. It had been a bad night for her bard, and she knew Gab should catch up on some much needed rest. Gabrielle had been having that same dream for a fortnight. She hoped the nightmares would end now that they had talked well into the early morning hours about them.
When Gabrielle opened her eyes, Zoe stared back solemnly. Gabrielle smiled at the child cradled in her arms and into Xena-blue eyes. She could not help but wonder at the miracle of the child she held. "Good morning, honey. When did you join me?" she asked.
Zoe’s solemn face lit up with the same dazzling smile Gabrielle had loved but had seen so seldom on Xena’s face. "This morning early," Zoe said. "It was still dark."
"Couldn’t you sleep, or were you frightened?"
Zoe’s little nose wrinkled, and she shook her head. "Gabrielle, are you all right?"
Gabrielle was puzzled, yet, at the same time understood the question. "I’m all right, Zoe. It was just a dream. Did I wake you?"
The little girl shook her head, reached out, and hugged Gabrielle’s neck, "Don’t let Xena go, Gabrielle." Gabrielle held on tightly to Zoe’s little body pressed into hers, as her mind grappled with the child’s comment. She eventually pulled the little girl away and searched her eyes for understanding.
"What do you mean Zoe?" Gabrielle asked.
Zoe touched Gabrielle’s face, and Gabrielle pulled the little hand to her lips and kissed the finger tips, "Zoe, can you tell me what you meant?"
"Momma told me to tell you not to let Xena go," Zoe said.
Gabrielle’s mind raced. She knew very well that Zoe had shared her mother’s gift of sight, "Chloe visited you, Zoe?" The little girl responded with a nod of her head.
"Zoe? Gabrielle persisted, "When did she visit you, Zoe?"
Gabrielle caressed a wisp of raven hair from Zoe’s face, "Zoe, can you tell me everything Chloe said to you?"
Zoe’s stoic little face smiled sweetly at the memory of her mother’s visit and she said, "She told me she loved me, and she was with me every day. She said she could hear my thoughts, and it was all right to miss her." Zoe then snuggled deeply under Gabrielle’s arm, and Gabrielle held her as she fought against her own tears. "She said that Cyrene and Toris and Xena loved me very much. She also said that you loved me too, and you would always take care of me." At those words Gabrielle tightened her hug on the child and thought in her heart how much she did indeed love this little girl, this child of Xena and of Chloe. Zoe fell silent for a while.
"Zoe, did she tell you anything else?"
Zoe nodded and wrapped her tiny fingers around Gabrielle’s hand and mindlessly fingered the gold crescent ring Xena had given Gabrielle, "She sang to me and kissed me. Then she told me to tell you not to let Xena go."
"Did she tell you where Xena was going?" Zoe shook her head. Gabrielle could not help but think of the recurring dream as the words ‘Goodbye Gabrielle’ floated through her mind.
"Look at her, Gab!" Standing next to Xena in the field of tall clover, Gabrielle intently watched Zoe riding Argo. The tiny child and the huge golden horse moved as one in large, lazy figure-eights. "Thracian blood pounds through her veins, Gab!" Xena could not hide the pride she felt when watching Zoe ride Argo. "She’s a natural horse woman."
"Just like her mothers," Gabrielle said softly. Xena dragged her eyes from Zoe to Gabrielle and studied her grinning eyes. Then she wrapped her arm around the smaller woman’s waist and hugged her closely. With a contented smile tugging at her lips, she focused her attention back on Zoe and Argo. "Xena, do you think it’s wise to let Zoe ride Argo?" Xena’s eyes were riveted on the child whose raven tresses waved in the wind.
Xena replied rather distractedly and lost in thought, "Sure, why not?"
"Well, Argo is so tall. If she fell off, she could get hurt. I worry about her, Xena. If something were to happen to her, what would we all do?"
Xena raised her eyebrow and looked down at Gabrielle teasingly, "Hey, you sound more like her mother than I do." Seeing the concern written in Gabrielle’s eyes, she became serious, "She’s not going to get hurt, Gab. Look at her. She rides like the wind."
Gabrielle was insistent, "Xena, she’s not you. She can’t even get on or off Argo by herself. Argo is just too big. I know Zoe seems much older, but she is only three summers old."
Xena stared off intently watching Zoe expertly neck rein Argo through the intricacies of the figure eight. Suddenly she grabbed Gabrielle’s hand and flopped to the ground pulling the smaller woman down on top of her. Looking up into Gabrielle curious eyes she said, "You’re such a worry wart." And with that she rolled Gabrielle over into the clover, and they laughed and giggled as they both tried to tickle each other. Xena finally came to rest on top of Gabrielle and, looking down, she acquiesced, "I suppose you are right. We should find her a smaller mare, one she can handle better. Maybe I’ll make a trek to Thessaly and find the perfect horse for her."
Gabrielle grinned wickedly, "Well, warrior, I’m glad you finally came to your senses, now kiss me." Xena looked deeply into Gabrielle’s eyes and saw the sky reflected there. She gently bent down and softly kissed her lips. Gabrielle never ceased being amazed at the tenderness her warrior could draw upon when they were together and they became lost in each other.
Sometime later Xena raised up to check on Zoe and Argo. They were gone.
Xena sprang immediately to her feet scanning the horizon for Argo and Zoe before Gabrielle even knew something was wrong. "Xena, what is it?" Xena pulled Gabrielle to her feet and began calling for Zoe. She could see Argo’s trail as it cut through the clover, headed north, and disappeared over a ridge. Gabrielle became frantic, "My, gods, Xena where did they go?" The warrior ignored Gabrielle’s question, and loped off towards the ridge. Gabrielle followed frantically.
Xena silently cursed herself for letting Zoe out of her sight, ‘Gods, how stupid, please let her be all right.’ When she crested the ridge, she could see nothing. Gabrielle joined her, out of breath from running up the hill and from the fear that clutched her heart. Tears flowed down her face.
"Xena, what are we going to do? It’s my fault. Great Zeus, Xena, I’ve let her slip through our fingers." Xena said nothing but whistled for Argo as she peered across the valley searching the horizon for her horse and her wayward child. Finally she turned to Gabrielle and seeing her tears, drew her into an embrace as the shorter woman broke down into convulsive sobs.
"Gab, it’s not your fault. I should have been watching her. We’ll find her, it’ll be all right." Her words were cut short as the distant pounding of hooves pulled their attention to the ridge across the small valley. It was Argo, riderless. Xena felt her stomach lurch at the sight. She let Gabrielle slip from her arms and melt to the ground as Gabrielle’s legs buckled beneath her.
As Argo came pounding up to them, Xena caught the big horse and tried to calm her. She then bent down and helped Gabrielle to her feet. "Are you coming with me?" she asked. Gabrielle nodded, and Xena helped her onto the excited animal. Xena swung up onto the horse behind Gabrielle and wrapped her arms around her as she urged the golden steed into a full gallop in the direction the animal had just come. As they crested the next hill, Xena pulled Argo up short, and the animal pranced from side-to-side anxious to continue the journey. Gabrielle held tightly to the saddle horn feeling an unnatural nervousness in Argo as the great beast quivered beneath her. Xena pointed to a spot on the horizon.
Gabrielle peered in the direction Xena indicated but could see nothing but dust. "What is it, Xena?"
"Soldiers. A large number of mounted soldiers. Maybe twenty."
"Do you think they have Zoe?" Gabrielle questioned.
"I don’t know. Maybe. I intend to find out," Xena said as she reined Argo to the west and rode her into some trees to await the approach of the troops. They dismounted. "Stay here, Gab, while I move in for a closer look."
"Xena, please be careful," Gabrielle called after her as she moved off through the trees. When the warrior came to an oak with sprawling limbs, she swiftly climbed the tree and maneuvered through the branches until she had a clear view of the approaching riders. One look and she had her answer. She moved hastily through the treetops until she neared the spot where she left Gabrielle, and then swung down to the ground.
"Come on, Gab. It’s all right." Without further explanation, she lifted Gabrielle onto Argo, swung up behind her, and reined the horse in the direction of the mounted warriors.
Gabrielle thought she would cry with joy when she spied Zoe sitting proudly in front of Petra on her giant, black mare. As the two approached the troop of Amazon warriors, Xena reined Argo to a stop, quickly leaped from the horse’s back, and helped Gabrielle to the ground. Ignoring her queenly status, Gabrielle raced to Petra and reaching up and took Zoe from the Amazon’s hands. She hugged the child to her breast and broke into tears. Xena wrapped her arms around them both and looked up at the warriors who now encircled them.
Zoe spoke, her voice muffled, "I’m sorry, Gabrielle, I didn’t mean to frighten you." Petra raised her eyebrow and shook her head at the sight.
Eponin and Solari dismounted and stepped from the crowd to stand in front of Xena. Eponin, rubbed her chin thoughtfully, "We were quite impressed with our welcoming, Xena. And, I might add, we didn’t know you were aware of our approach." Xena released Gabrielle and thrust out her arm in the traditional warrior welcome. Eponin grabbed her arm warmly.
Slapping Eponin on the shoulder in friendly camaraderie Xena said, "We weren’t aware of your visit," then glancing at Zoe in Gabrielle’s arms, and at the eyes that stared back, amended her statement, "or, rather, Gabrielle and I weren’t aware."
Petra dismounted to greet Xena. Realizing what had happened, she then moved to Gabrielle, laid her fist over her left breast, and bowed slightly. "My, Queen, I am sorry that this little one worried you so." Smiling at Zoe, Petra reached out and brushed her fingers across Zoe’s cheek.
Having regained her composure Gabrielle said, "Thank you, Petra, for your concern." Looking over at Xena briefly, she continued, "I think I need to get used to this sort of thing." Petra nodded knowingly as she looked from Xena to Zoe.
"Xena, we have much to discuss," Eponin interrupted.
"Of course. Cyrene’s inn is not far from here. You can rest your horses and join us in a meal." From the number of Amazons, Xena knew something was brewing.
Cyrene had never seen so many Amazons in one place and wondered what her daughter was up to. The Amazon nation had always been on the periphery. They had supported Amphipolis against Athenian aggression in the past. Cyrene was also extremely appreciative when Queen Ephiny, sent an Amazon courier to deliver the message that Xena and Gabrielle had arrived safely from their journey to Sinope. She had never expected, however, to have such close contact with so many Amazons in one place. Greek propaganda and particularly that of Athens had always attacked the Amazons as being uncivilized, but, from what Cyrene observed, she questioned this belief. Business was always slow because the inn was situated outside of Amphipolis and saw only a few travelers on any given day. Today the inn was crowded, and every table was filled with the tall warriors who had left a large collection of weapons stacked at the front door. Cyrene was mesmerized by the activity. The women all drank wine, ate hardy, and paid in Greek dinars. She never made this much money in a moon let alone in one day. They all talked to Zoe, played with her, and passed her from strong arm to strong arm. She saw her granddaughter laugh and giggle and hug a dozen different women, but she was amazed as the child was drawn to one tall, young warrior. Zoe was completely comfortable in this woman’s arms. Cyrene thought the silent warrior intimidating and was surprised to find her granddaughter unafraid, even affectionate with this young, dark woman.
As Cyrene served the women, she noticed how considerate they were of her, almost as if she was an icon to them. When she carried heavy platters of meats and cheeses from the kitchen, several leaped to their feet and insisted on carrying the trays for her. ‘If only all of my customers were this polite,’ she thought. Cyrene quietly observed Xena and Gabrielle sitting in the corner with two Amazons who apparently were of some rank. Cyrene curiously noted there was no conversation at the table until every Amazon had approached the table, grasped Xena’s arm, and then bowed to Gabrielle with their fist over their hearts. Some actually dropped to one knee, and Cyrene could hear them mumble words of deference. Gabrielle would smile and nod and speak sincerely with each of them as Xena solemnly looked on. It was all quite strange.
After everyone had shown their respects to Gabrielle and greeted Xena, Xena addressed Eponin and Solari. "What brings an entire troop of Amazons to Amphipolis?" Xena knew an escort party was only six warriors strong.
Solari and Eponin looked at each other, glanced at Gabrielle, then back at Xena. Eponin began, "Ephiny sent us to escort Queen Gabrielle to the safety of the Amazon nation."
Xena furrowed her brow. "Why? What’s going on, Eponin?" The mention of danger and Gabrielle in the same breath was enough to send the warrior into a heightened state of anxiety.
Eponin looked at Gabrielle with some trepidation and said, "My Queen, I apologize in advance for the details I must reveal in front of you." Gabrielle simply nodded and the warrior continued, "A score of Amazons and four Amazon children were brutally murdered in one of our outlying villages a few days ago. We know the vicious crime was that of Athenian soldiers escorting Athenian citizens to new settlements on our borders in Thrace."
The news shocked and sickened Gabrielle as images of her childhood haunted her briefly, "But why? Why are the Athenians attacking Amazons? I thought we had a truce with them," she asked. Xena grabbed her hand.
Solari spoke, "This is true, my Queen. We do, or rather did, have an uneasy truce with the Athenians."
Eponin added, "There has been bad blood for years now between the Amazon nation and the Athens city-state."
"They are still angry because we refused to send Amazonian troops to help them in their war with the Spartans," said Solari with a pained expression.
Looking directly at Gabrielle, Eponin explained, "Our truce has been one of non-aggression since Poteidaia." Then with barely controlled anger she said, "We could not align our nation with a city-state that would intentionally cause the death of innocent women and children." Gabrielle’s eyes shifted to the table top as she became lost in memories of herself as a child. She had seen ten summers when the Athenians laid siege. The vivid visions still stalked her dreams.
Solari continued, "Three summers ago when Athens set its sights on Amphipolis, Queen Melosa sent two hundred Amazons to support the supply lines to Amphipolis. There had been nothing we could do for Poteidaia because of its location, but we would not allow Amphipolis to suffer a similar fate. If the Athenian butchers took Amphipolis, they would be at our doorstep. Now, as we speak they are trying a new tactic to overwhelm us. They are parceling out land in Thrace to poor Athenian citizens. This land is on our borders and already we have had to defend against encroachers. A few nights ago Athenian guards raided one of our villages. A wounded soldiers left for dead confessed the plan."
Xena carefully followed the narrative. "So exactly why are you here now? And what does this have to do with Gabrielle?" she asked.
Eponin grasped Xena’s arm lying on the table, "My friend, this Athenian-Spartan war has been dragging on for more than ten cycles now. Neither city-state is willing to sign a truce and Athens will stop at nothing to gain the upper hand. If she can remove the threat of the Amazons from Thrace, she can throw all her energies into destroying Sparta. If Athens does that, there will be no stopping her. If the Athenians discovered our Queen unprotected in Amphipolis, how long do you think it would take for them to be here?"
Xena scowled, "Gabrielle isn’t unprotected."
Eponin sat back, "You cannot hold off an entire Athenian brigade, Xena. If they capture Queen Gabrielle, the Amazon nation will be forced into a truce and even then they would hold Gabrielle as a prisoner indefinitely to neutralize us."
"Ephiny wants Gabrielle to return with us," said Solari, "Not just for her own safety but also to help with negotiations if we can maneuver the Athenians back to the bargaining table. She wishes to avoid a war, but we are not willing to sit idly by and let Amazons be slaughtered."
Gabrielle looked at Solari and said, "Of course, if Ephiny needs me, I’ll leave whenever you’re ready."
Wrapping her arm around Gabrielle’s shoulder, Xena spoke, "We’ll leave early tomorrow. Your troops may as well stay here tonight and get a fresh start in the morning." Solari and Eponin nodded their agreement.
Later that evening Cyrene was finally able to wrestled Zoe away from her Amazon friends and get her ready for bed. After her bath, Cyrene tucked Zoe into her bed and started to sing her a lullaby when Zoe began talking, "Cyrene?"
Smiling down at her grandchild Cyrene said, "Yes, Zoe."
"Tomorrow Gabrielle and Xena will be leaving."
Surprised at this revelation Cyrene asked, "How do you know? Did Xena tell you?"
"No, I just know."
Cyrene lifted her left eyebrow in question and Zoe smiled up at her. "What are you smiling at, Zoe?" She couldn’t help but smile back at this delightful child.
Zoe giggled, "You looked like Xena when you did that."
"When I did what, honey?"
"When you raised your eyebrow. Xena always does that too." Cyrene laughed. That was the first time she could recall anyone mentioning that Xena looked anything like her, and it pleased her deep inside. "Cyrene, Xena and Gabrielle are going to need me," Zoe said solemnly interrupting Cyrene’s momentary happiness.
Trying to hide her concern Cyrene asked, "What do you mean, Zoe?"
The little girl reached over, picked up her doll, and clutched it to her chest. "I need to go with Xena and Gabrielle tomorrow, Cyrene."
Cyrene finally understood what Zoe was saying, "Zoe, I think you should stay here with me. Your mother wanted you to live with me, and Gabrielle and Xena have to travel often, but they will be back." Cyrene thought that Zoe was just suffering from fear of separation.
Zoe looked deeply into her grandmother’s eyes, "Cyrene, I know Momma wants me to live with you, but last night she told me to go with Gabrielle and Xena."
"What are you saying, Zoe?" Cyrene said as she fought the anxiety in her voice.
"Momma told me it was very important. I need to go with Gabrielle and Xena tomorrow." Cyrene stared at her granddaughter in disbelief and started to shake her head when Zoe continued. "Momma told me to remind you of Theron."
Cyrene gasped at the name. Theron was the son of the blacksmith in Amphipolis and a friend of Chloe and Xena’s. Late one autumn the young man did not return home from a hunt. The search for him was given up after two days. That night Chloe awakened from a dream and went to Cyrene’s room and quietly informed Cyrene that she knew where he was. The young man was found in a ravine exactly where Chloe said he would be. His leg was broken, and he was delirious, but he survived.
"It will be all right, Cyrene," Zoe said seriously, "I’ll come back home to you." At that Cyrene gathered the child up in her arms and rocked her gently as tears streamed down her face.
"You might have to make Xena take me." Cyrene laughed at the thought. If she had not known Chloe so well and that this child was Chloe’s daughter, she would almost believe that she was being manipulated by Xena when she was twelve. The only difference being when Cyrene didn’t give in to Xena wishes, Xena would fly into a rage and run off on her horse for the rest of the day and half the night. Cyrene could only shake her head at the memory of her raven-haired child and her adopted daughter, Chloe. So different, but they both always got their way. The child was more than a perfect blend of them both.
The Amazons filled the four empty rooms in the inn, bunked in the stables, and took turns standing guard for the night to protect their queen from a surprise attack. After everyone was bedded down, Xena and Gabrielle climbed the stairs to their room. Xena told Gabrielle she was going to talk to Cyrene about their departure tomorrow. Gabrielle nodded somberly and Xena watched her slowly make her way to their room. The bard’s unusual pensiveness concerned Xena. She would to talk with her later.
Xena knocked softly on her mother’s door hoping she would not wake Zoe. She was surprised when her mother quickly opened the door and stepped out into the hall fully dressed. "Xena, I’ve been expecting you. Let’s go down stairs where we can talk without disturbing Zoe."
Puzzled, Xena followed her mother to the stairs, "Mother, why did you say you were expecting me?"
Cyrene smiled and walked quickly down the stairs, "Oh a little voice told me." Xena paused, frowned, then hurried to catch up with her mother. Once in the kitchen, Cyrene fetched the kettle still hot from the glowing embers of the evening fire and fixed them some herbal tea, and Xena sat down at the table.
"Mother," she began, "I’m sorry I couldn’t speak with you sooner today about all the activity..." but Cyrene cut her off.
"It’s all right, Xena. We can talk now. What’s going on?" Her mother’s bluntness made Xena raise a silent eyebrow in question. Cyrene smirked at her daughter’s action and shook her head.
"What, Mother? What is it?" Xena frowned.
Cyrene just smiled, "Nothing, dear. Now what did you want to talk to me about?"
Looking at her mother, Xena shook off another question and began, "Gabrielle and I will be leaving in the morning."
"With the Amazons?"
Xena nodded, "Yes."
Xena realized how little her mother really knew of the relationship she and Gabrielle shared with the Amazon nation. "It’s rather a long story, Mother."
"Well, we have all night, Xena." Xena twisted her head and looked at her mother amazed. "Why don’t you start by telling me about Gabrielle’s part in this. Why were all those women bowing before her?"
Xena let out a large sigh, "Mother, Gabrielle is their Queen."
Cyrene raised her eyebrow. "I thought Gabrielle was born of farmers near Poteidaia."
"Yes, she was, but she also risked her life to save the Amazon Princess Terreis, Queen Melosa’s daughter, and before she died, Terreis gave Gabrielle her right of caste. When Melosa was killed, Gabrielle became their queen. She temporarily appointed Ephiny to act in her absence until she is ready to take the throne."
"And why have the Amazons come here?"
"Apparently the Amazon nation and Athens have had a falling out, and Ephiny feared Athens might try and take Gabrielle hostage. She wants Gabrielle to return to the center of the nation so that she can be better protected from Athenian hostility."
Cyrene frowned at the mention of Athens. She remembered well Queen Melosa’s intervention when Athens threatened Amphipolis. "I did not know the Amazons were ever aligned with Athens."
"They have had a non-aggression pact with Athens for the last several years. Believe me there is no love lost between the two. Now the Athenians have been attacking unprotected Amazon villages and slaughtering innocent people." Xena looked up into her mother’s face. "Gabrielle doesn’t want to bring the Athenians down on Amphipolis. She has decided we should leave tomorrow."
Cyrene, lost temporarily in thought, only nodded, then she looked at her daughter sitting across from her and said quietly, "Xena, I want you to take Zoe with you tomorrow when you leave."
The request shocked Xena, "No, Mother, I can’t do that. It’s too dangerous."
Cyrene understood Xena’s concerns, but also she believed that somehow Chloe was communicating with Zoe. She had learned a long time ago never to doubt Chloe’s gift. She would have to convince her daughter to take Zoe with her. "Xena, I am fearful of the Athenians. I know that Zoe would be much safer under the protection of the Amazons."
"Mother, the Athenians are threatening the Amazon borders right now. We have to cross those borders before we can reach safety. It will be extremely dangerous. Zoe needs to stay here."
"Xena, listen to me. Gabrielle and Zoe are as close as mother and child. If the Athenians discover this relationship, Zoe will be in danger. They will stoop to anything to win this war with Sparta. A child’s life means nothing to them. Remember Poteidaia."
Xena listened but still shook her head, "There is no way they will find out about Zoe, Mother."
Dealing with her stubborn daughter required more drastic measures. "Xena, Zoe is your child. She is your responsibility." Xena frowned, hurt by the conversation’s turn. Cyrene shifted her approach. "Xena, please, I love you and I love Zoe." She paused and thought a moment, "Do you ever have dreams any more, Xena? Do you ever hear the voices?"
Xena raised shocked eyes. She had never confided in her mother about that secret she had shared with only Chloe, Lyceus, and Gabrielle. Cyrene read her expression, "Chloe told me, Xena, a long time ago. She tried to relieve my fears once when you had taken off and were gone so long. I was so worried, and Chloe was so kind-hearted. You remember how she was? When she could no longer stand to witness my pain, she told me and made me promise that I would never tell you or Lyceus."
Xena felt weak in the stomach as all those memories bombarded her again. Her mother continued, "Xena, call it a dream, a message, a premonition -- I don’t know. I just know that you must take Zoe with you, please." Xena could only nod in silent agreement.
Xena returned to her room slightly dazed by the talk with Cyrene. She, however, had no time to recover. Gabrielle lay in their bed crying. Xena immediately went to her and took her into her arms. "Gabrielle, what is it? What’s wrong?" Gabrielle could hardly talk so Xena held her and tried to comfort her with soft words. "Gab, everything’s going to be all right."
Eventually Gabrielle quieted down and was able to speak, but it was as though a dark, evil cloud had enveloped her. The lack of emotion, so unlike Gabrielle, frightened Xena.
In a quiet voice filled with loathing, Gabrielle began, "You know, Xena, I wanted to believe that the world was basically a good place. But I’ve been a fool. It’s not a good place. It is evil. I always wanted to believe that everyone, no matter who they are or what they do, was capable of changing and was capable of doing good." Gabrielle looked up into Xena’s face with cold, hate-filled eyes. "I was naive and stupid to believe that. People are basically bad. Everyone is capable of evil." This was too much to tolerate from the sweet bard.
"Gabrielle, what is wrong? Why are you talking like this? I can’t believe these are your words."
"Well they are my words, Xena. This is the new me, so get used to it."
Xena looked helplessly around the room expecting Ares to appear and laugh at her, but he was not there.
"Tell me Xena, what kind of world is this where innocent children are murdered? What kind of people can kill others for no reason except that they don’t live in Athens? What kind of people can murder old and rape the young, starve innocent children to death because they were unfortunate enough to be born in the wrong city-state?" Xena dropped to her knees on the floor next to Gabrielle. "What kind o ople can eat the flesh of others just to remain alive only so that they can walk this evil, repulsive world?" Finished the young woman with a rush. Xena grabbed Gabrielle’s hand in hers. She had heard the stories, but she had never known what was truth and what was myth.
In a stern voice she commanded, "Gabrielle, stop it now! This is not Poteidaia. That was ten years ago. It’s in the past. Let it go, Gabrielle."
Gabrielle’s gaze was fixed on the opposite wall. "Gabrielle, listen to me!" Gabrielle stared straight ahead as if not hearing. Xena quickly rose to her feet and sat on the bed in front of her. She grabbed her by her upper arms and shook her hard. "Gabrielle! Gabrielle! Stop it! Gabrielle! Listen to me!" Suddenly as if being awakened from a deep sleep Gabrielle’s eyes focused on Xena and her face dissolved into abject anguish and tears that clawed at Xena’s heart.
Gabrielle spoke. For the first time she gave voice to the horrors of her childhood, and Xena held her brave little bard as she spoke.
"They laid siege...they burned our fields...slaughtered the livestock...we were trapped...for moons and moons...we were so very hungry...first we ate all the food in storage...we chewed on leather...and sucked on pebbles...we were starving...and we ate the horses...and my baby brother died and then we ate the dogs...and the cats." She paused gulping air and sobbing. "There...there was nothing to eat...but rats...and my little sister died...and they made us...eat human flesh, Xena."
Xena closed her eyes at the stabbing pain she felt in her heart when Gabrielle cried her name. Gabrielle, exhausted, repeated herself. "We were so hungry...and my baby brother was so weak...mother had no milk...he died... from starvation, Xena, and they made us eat human flesh... and my little sister grew weaker and weaker, and one morning she just didn’t wake up and finally Poteidaia surrendered, but too late, Xena...too late."
Gabrielle lay in Xena’s arms. Tears trickled down her cheeks as she stared at nothing, reliving the horrors in her mind. "Why, Xena? Why did they do that to us? Why did they make us eat..." the voice trailed off in a sob.
Xena caressed Gabrielle’s hair and rocked her like a baby. "Ssshhh, Gab. It’s over now. It’s over. Ssshhh, you can let it go now. You’re all right now." Xena was emotionally exhausted too and felt completely at a loss. She never knew that Gabrielle had two other siblings or Gabrielle carried such deep hidden pain. Many things now seemed crystal clear. No wonder Gabrielle had to leave Poteidaia. She had to escape the memories. And her appetite; she seemed to always have an insatiable hunger. Xena made a mental note never to tease her about food again. The wonderful stories! Had Gabrielle become a bard to escape through her stories? Xena’s mind drifted to her own past and what she had become. How weak she had been! She then looked down into Gabrielle’s face surrounded in the golden halo of hair. Xena realized then how much she loved this young, beautiful woman. She also recognized just how strong her bard was.
Xena held Gabrielle in her arms all night long and when the first light of morning came through the window, realized they both were lying there awake. "Gab, you really didn’t mean those things you said last night did you?" she asked softly.
Gabrielle rolled over in Xena’s arms and tucked her head under the taller woman’s chin and replied quietly into her throat. "No, not really." Gabrielle swallowed hard at the memories of the night before, somewhat embarrassed by her raving revelations. Sadly she admitted, "I wish I could believe all those things; it would make it so much easier, but I can’t."
"Good because I used to believe all those things. Then you entered my life and changed all that." Gabrielle looked up into Xena’s face and smiled sadly at her warrior. "Thanks to you, Gab, I was able to find the good in me I believed was long gone. I was also able to see the good in others. You saved me, Gab, from myself. I couldn’t stand life without your goodness."
Gabrielle pulled in closer to Xena and whispered, "And you are my strength and my anchor in the dark night. Please, Xena, touch me, hold me, make love to me." Together tenderly and passionately they celebrated the life they shared. Each drew from the other and filled their separate voids with the love that sealed their union. Together they chased away their private demons.
By late morning the Amazons were packed and waiting for Xena and Gabrielle to say their good-byes to Cyrene and Toris. Gabrielle was pleasantly surprised at the news that Zoe was joining them on the trip and wondered how that had come to pass. Toris had arrived the evening before from a supply trip into Amphipolis. An armed Amazon escorted him to Xena. Luckily they all knew him from his two trips into the Amazon nation earlier in the year, and he was treated with the respect due Xena’s brother. Toris had been so happy to see his sister and Gabrielle return a fortnight ago and had already lost his heart to his little niece. He wasn’t happy to discover, however, that Xena intended to take Zoe with her and was about to make a scene when Cyrene intervened and gave him the look he had come to know so well.
As the three were about to saddle up, Zoe turned to Xena, "I would like to ride with Petra today, Xena." Petra smiled proudly and Cyrene furrowed her brow and wondered about her grandchild’s intentions. She was so much like Chloe, and Chloe had seldom done anything without reason.
"Well, I suppose you can if Petra will have you." Xena smiled and swung the child up into her arms and took her over to Petra. Looking up at her warrior friend she asked, "Would like a companion for a while?" Petra grinned and nodded.
On the morning of the third day Zoe tagged after Petra and as she tightened the cinch on her horse’s saddle, the child wrapped her little arms around Petra’s right thigh and looked up at her. Petra glanced down and saw the beginnings of a question. She knelt down and smiled encouragingly into the little freckled face.
Zoe spoke very seriously, "Petra, I’m going to ride with Xena and Gabrielle today."
Petra laid her huge, hardened hand on the little girl’s shoulder, "All right, my little friend." Zoe furrowed her eyebrows and for the briefest moment Petra thought the child was going to cry. "What is it, little warrior? Why so melancholy?" Zoe threw herself into Petra’s arms and squeezed her tightly around the neck for several moments. Xena watched the interchange and arched her left eyebrow curiously.
Petra stood with Zoe in her arms and walked over to Xena who had just helped Gabrielle into the saddle. "Well, Xena, my little companion wishes to ride with her parents today." And with that she handed the child to Xena and strode off to mount her own horse. Xena was mystified by Zoe’s behavior. She could feel the child was torn. Xena shrugged and handed Zoe up to Gabrielle who was pleased to have the little girl in her arms once more. Then she stepped into the stirrup and swung up behind Gabrielle, and wrapped her powerful arms around her charges. For the remainder of the morning, Xena noted that Zoe kept a watchful eye on Petra.
As the Amazon party traveled deeper into the wilds of Thrace towards their homeland, the forest thickened and the terrain became more rugged. The Amazons were on high alert for Athenian ambushes. Eponin dropped back next to Xena as Petra moved forward on the other side. Xena realized the flanking of the two women was planned to protect their queen.
With her eyes scanning the trees, Eponin spoke, "We are nearing the village where the first attack occurred. The remaining Amazons who escaped have been relocated to more protected areas." Xena nodded, but like Eponin, her eyes searched the trees for trouble.
Too quiet, she thought. "Eponin, something is not right here," she said, "Pull back your warriors." But before the order could be given Xena grabbed her chakram and spurred Argo quickly forward, zigzagging through mounted Amazons. She had seen the glint of an arrow tip in the tree branches. The Amazons scattered at the Warrior Princess’ sudden charge, Petra frantically urged her horse in pursuit. Xena released the chakram in a backhanded toss over Gabrielle’s head, but not before the hidden archer let go a deadly arrow. As he tumbled from the tree with the chakram lodged in his chest, his body bounced from limb to limb, and an Amazon slammed to the ground with an arrow through her chest.
Zoe cried out, "Petra!" and struggled to see behind Gabrielle.
The remaining Amazons swarmed through the trees like angry hornets, with arrows nocked and swords drawn. Beating a hasty, yet ill-fated retreat through the underbrush six Athenian soldiers soon lay dead.
Xena saw Petra lying on the ground, her fisted hands wrapped around the arrow buried deep in her chest. Xena swung down from Argo and ran to her yelling over her shoulder at Gabrielle, "Get Zoe out of here; I don’t want her to see this."
Zoe pounded on Gabrielle’s hands and cried, "No, Gabrielle, no, take me to her!" Before Gabrielle could spur Argo, Zoe wiggled through her arms like a slippery eel and slid down the saddle, hanging on to the horn she pushed off, and landed on her feet.
Gabrielle screamed desperately, "Zoe, no! Xena!"
Xena looked up to see her child jump from the saddle and land running, headed in her direction. Xena was torn between grabbing up Zoe and attending Petra. Zoe must have read Xena’s thoughts because she stopped dead in her tracks. When Xena made to go for her, she darted away. Xena didn’t have time for this cat and mouse game and vowed to punish the child later when she got her hands on her. Xena turned her attention back to Petra as Gabrielle scurried after Zoe who dodged and evaded her at every move.
Xena gently removed Petra’s hands from the shaft and with her dagger cut her leather shirt away from the arrow. It was buried deep in her chest high and just to the left of the breast bone. "Xena," Petra spoke through her teeth clenched against the pain.
"Ssshh, don’t talk. Save your strength, my friend," Xena said.
Petra shook her head, "Tell Electra, I love her, and she was in my final thoughts in this mortal life." Petra gasped, "Please help her get home if she wants to return to her family." She grabbed Xena’s hand, "Promise me, Xena." For the briefest of moments Xena saw Chloe lying before her and heard her voice, ‘Promise me Xe.’ She was frozen, locked in time.
Xena was jarred from her haze as Zoe slammed down next to her. Gabrielle came running and panting up to her and grabbed the child to pull her away from the bloody scene. Zoe screamed and kicked to escape Gabrielle’s grasp, "Noooo! Let me go, Gabrielle! Let me go!" The intensity with which her usually gentle, little girl fought against her, shocked Gabrielle.
Petra’s pained eyes looked into Xena’s, "Let me see her, Xena, please."
Xena nodded and turning to Gabrielle who was wrestling with the child said, "Let her go, Gabrielle."
Zoe bounded from Gabrielle’s arms. Gabrielle flopped back in the dust as the child pushed off and ran to Petra. Zoe dropped and kneeled by the big warrior’s head. She bent down and kissed Petra on the lips and then, looking straight into Xena’s eyes said, "Push it through, Xena, and burn it!"
It took only a moment for the words to register. Turning to Gabrielle and the Amazons Xena yelled, "Build a fire, quickly!" Xena was already analyzing possible outcomes. There was little blood. It had missed the major arteries but had probably clipped the lung. Pulling the arrow out was dangerous. The flange would probably snag the large artery in the chest and there would be nothing anyone could do. From the looks of the shaft length, the tip of the arrow was not far from exiting anyway.
The fire was now blazing and Solari and Eponin kneeled next to and across from Xena. "Gabrielle, bring a torch from the fire," Xena commanded, "Solari, you and Eponin help sit Petra up." Turning to Petra she said, "I’m sorry, my friend, but this is going to hurt like Hades, but I would much prefer you talk to Electra yourself. I think I frighten her." Petra grinned through her pain and then fastened her gaze on Zoe.
As Solari and Eponin sat Petra up, she flinched. Using the knife, Xena cut Petra’s shirt away from her back as Eponin positioned herself behind the wounded warrior to help hold her. Gabrielle kneeled next to Xena with the flaming log from the fire. Xena spoke quietly to Zoe, "Pull Petra’s hair out of the way, Zoe."
Zoe whispered something in Petra’s ear. Then she deftly gathered the warrior’s long braids, pulled them over her shoulder and held them with her hand. Solari grabbed Petra’s wrists in a bone crushing hold as Xena gripped the shaft in her left hand and rammed it through Petra’s back. The warrior only gasped as the arrow tip exited and blood poured down her back. Xena quickly snapped the point from the shaft and tossed it aside. She wiped the shaft clean with the fluid from the tiny flask at her waist. Drenching the protruding shaft with the same fluid and taking the burning log from Gabrielle’s hand, Xena set the shaft afire and swiftly withdrew it from Petra’s chest searing the wound shut.
The warrior felt nothing after that. She slipped into oblivious unconsciousness. Gabrielle ran to their supplies for bandages, blankets, and Xena’s medicine kit. Zoe could not be persuaded to leave the big warrior’s side, as Xena and Solari dressed and tended the wound. Gabrielle heated water to bathe the blood from Petra’s body. Solari finally spoke, "What are her chances, Xena?" Gabrielle looked at Xena expectantly.
Xena shrugged and before she could speak, Zoe interjected, "She’s going the be all right." Xena looked up from Petra’s bandages and into her daughter’s eyes. Her heart lifted. Xena really like Petra. She was a good friend and Xena would have missed her very much. Chloe’s blood flowed through the Zoe’s veins, and Xena was coming to learn that she should never doubt the child just as she had never doubted Chloe.
"Come here, Zoe." The little girl looked at Xena and stood. Glancing down at Petra, she walked around her friend and into Xena’s outstretched arms. Xena buried her face in the child’s hair, held her tightly, and whispered, "I love you, Zoe, with all my heart and soul."
The child pulled away and gave Xena the gift of her beautiful smile before she grew serious again. "Xena, I’m sorry I disobeyed you. I know you were really mad at me."
Gabrielle came over, sat down next to Xena, looked into Zoe’s beautiful face and ran her fingers through Zoe’s dark hair. Zoe looked somberly at Gabrielle. "I’m sorry I ran from you Gabrielle, and I’m sorry I kicked and tried to get away from you." She turned back to Xena, "You can punish me if you want." and then looking back to Gabrielle added. "I’ll understand."
Gabrielle and Xena exchanged a parental look and Xena said, "I think Gabrielle and I need to talk first, but for now there will be no punishment. I would like for you to stay here with Solari and watch over Petra while Gabrielle and I go talk about this." Zoe nodded solemnly and walked back over to Petra. She sat down cross-legged beside her and tugged Petra’s hand into her lap. Solari and Eponin nodded to Xena as she rose to her feet and pulled Gabrielle after her.
Xena and Gabrielle made their way to a stream near the settlement. They washed the blood and dirt from their hands and arms and then sat on the bank and watched the water flow by them. Gabrielle finally spoke, "I’m sorry, Xena, Zoe escaped from me when I had her on Argo."
Xena began to laugh, and Gabrielle looked at her strangely. "I’m sorry, Gab, but you should have seen yourself trying to catch her. Great Zeus! If it hadn’t been so damn serious, it would have been the funniest thing I ever saw!"
Gabrielle said, "Yeah, well you may think it’s funny now, but you weren’t laughing then." At that Xena laughed harder and laid back on the bank.
Catching sight of Gabrielle’s serious face she teased, "Well, my bard, you’re mighty fast with words, but on your feet, a child of three summers made you look pretty bad." Gabrielle punched her on the arm, and she joined in the laugher.
Holding her sides and wiping the tears from her eyes she said, "I noticed you gave up before she even started to run!"
Xena, trying to stop her own laughter responded, "Hey, I know when I’ve been licked!"
Gabrielle stretched out next to Xena and sobering a little said, "Your poor mother! I’ll bet you were just like that when you were little."
"Yeah, well it looks like Mother is going to have her revenge," Xena observed ruefully. Gabrielle nodded and Xena continued thoughtfully, "You know, Gab, I think she knew Petra was going to catch an arrow in the chest."
Remembering the words Zoe had shared with her a few days ago, a feeling of dread engulfed Gabrielle. She rolled onto her side, and looked over at Xena, "What makes you say that?"
Xena faced her. Resting her head on the heel of her hand, she looked over at Gabrielle and explained, "She followed Petra everywhere this morning, and at one point, I saw Petra speaking to her, and Zoe looked like she was going to cry. And all day she kept an eye on Petra. I think she chose to ride with us this morning because she knew it was going to happen and she didn’t want to be in the way. She’s only cried twice that I’m aware of once after her mother died. And then when she was staying with Petra and Electra. You were sick, and somehow she knew it, remember?"
Gabrielle nodded, looking off and thinking back to those horrible events.
"Xena, I think she cried out Petra’s name before the arrow even left the bow," she said and then remembered what they were supposed to be doing. "What are we going to do? You told her we were going to discuss her punishment."
Xena snorted, "We are not going to do anything." Gabrielle smiled, with relief and rolled onto her back. "She saved Petra’s life," Xena said. "I was only moments from ripping that arrow out of her chest. All that commotion between the two of you distracted me long enough so that I could resist the desire to get the arrow out as soon as possible. Did you hear her tell me how to handle it?" Gabrielle nodded. "I mean inside I knew that’s what needed to be done, but I froze. All I could see was Chloe lying there with an arrow through her chest and then Electra’s face. When Zoe spoke to me, I snapped out of it, and I knew exactly what to do."
"How does she do it, Xena?" Gabrielle asked.
Xena shrugged and shook her head, "She is her mother’s child; she has the gift. I guess we had better pay closer attention to her."
Gabrielle grinned mischievously at Xena, "You can tell she’s yours too. When she can’t get her way through reasonable means, she does whatever it takes."
"Are you saying I’m unscrupulous?" Xena asked with mock indignation.
"Yes," Grinned Gabrielle as Xena leaned over and looked down into her eyes.
"Well, just remember, bard," she growled, "a child kicked your butt, think what I could do if I had a mind to!" With that she bent to Gabrielle’s lips and kissed her long and deeply.
The Amazons fashioned a litter and moved the unconscious Petra to one of the recently abandoned huts, and Gabrielle carried their things into the same hut. Zoe would not leave Petra’s side, so they decided they might as well all stay together. That evening Xena sat by Petra’s bed and monitored her friend’s progress. Zoe perched on Xena’s lap and silently watched Petra’s chest rise and fall well into the night. Finally Gabrielle climbed out of bed, approached the stoic pair, and kneeled beside them. Xena smiled at her caressing her hair and face. Gabrielle took Zoe’s little hand into hers.
"Zoe, I’m lonely, won’t you come to bed with me? Xena will stay up with Petra, and you and I can take care of her tomorrow while Xena sleeps." Zoe was groggy, but determined to continue her vigil. She simply shook her head.
Xena leaned down to her and said, "Zoe, go on to bed with Gabrielle. If Petra awakens or if anything happens, I promise I will wake you immediately. I’m going to need you to take care of her for me tomorrow because I’m going to be very tired."
Zoe stared up into Xena’s eyes intently looking for the truth and Xena stared straight back. "All right, Xena," she said finally. She gave Xena a hug and kissed her good night. She stood up, gently touched Petra’s cheek, and slipped her hand into Gabrielle’s. Gabrielle bent down and kissed Xena before taking the child to their bed.
Xena watched as they cuddled together under the covers and turned her attention back to Petra. She felt the woman’s cheek for fever and checked her pulse. Petra’s heart beat strongly, and she was cool to the touch. Xena pulled back the blanket to checked the wound in her chest and rolled her patient gently onto her side to look at the exit wound. There was only minimal bleeding. Satisfied that everything looked good so far, Xena covered the warrior, leaned back in her chair, and prepared herself mentally for the long night that lay ahead.
When the morning birds began to chatter announcing the new day, Petra stirred. Xena touched the warrior’s brow, relieved to find it still cool. Xena stood and stretched and walked quietly over to the bed where Gabrielle and Zoe slept. She stood for several moments drinking in the peacefully sleeping pair, almost crying at the sight she thought, ‘Great goddess, how I love them.’ Uncovering Zoe she lifted her carefully from Gabrielle’s arms. Xena draped the cover back over Gabrielle and cradling Zoe in her arms returned to her chair by Petra. When Petra opened her eyes a while later, Xena gently wakened Zoe with a little kiss and a whisper in her ear. "Zoe, wake up, someone needs to see you."
Zoe’s eyes fluttered into focus. She smiled up at Xena and then looked over at Petra. With a raspy, dry voice Petra said, "Hello, my little warrior friend."
Zoe’s smiled radiantly, "Hello, Petra. I knew you would be all right, but I was still worried about you." Petra smiled back weakly, as Zoe turned to Xena and hugged her. "Thanks, Xena. Can I wake Gabrielle?" Xena nodded and Zoe slipped down from her lap and scampered off to jump in bed with Gabrielle.
Xena turned to Petra, "How do you feel, warrior?" Xena reached for a water skin, lifted Petra’s head, and supported her so that she could take a sip to relieve her parched throat.
As Xena eased her back Petra replied, "I’ve been better. I want to thank you for what you did."
Xena shook her head and nodded towards Zoe, "That’s the one you should thank. You need to rest. We can talk later." As Petra closed her eyes Xena headed over to rescue Gabrielle who was being tortured awake by Zoe.
Zoe had treated Gabrielle to a rude awakening, sitting on the bard’s chest, clasping Gabrielle’s face firmly between her little hands as she squeezed her cheeks together. Gabrielle slightly confused, still drifted in the fog of sleep when she heard Zoe say, "Gabrielle, you look funny when I do this."
A laughing Xena arrived just as Gabrielle captured Zoe’s hands and said patiently, "Zoe, I think you need to find a different way to waken me ." Then enveloping the little girl into her embrace, she looked up at Xena. "And what’s so funny, warrior?"
"Oh, nothing except you looked like a fish laying there." Xena imitated what Zoe had been doing to Gabrielle and laughed and shook her head.
"Very funny," Gabrielle grumbled, "Just wait, I’ll get you both."
"Gabrielle," Her attention was drawn back to Zoe, "Petra is awake." She let go of Zoe and struggled to sit up as Xena nodded with a smile.
Gabrielle stumbled out of bed and crossed the room to see for herself. She grabbed Petra’s right hand as the woman smiled at her weakly, "My Queen."
Gabrielle dropped to the floor next to Petra’s bed, "Oh Petra, I’m so glad you are all right. You really had us worried. I don’t know what I would have done if anything had happened to you because you were trying to protect me."
"It would have been an honorable death to die in your service, my Queen."
Gabrielle winced, "Petra, will you please do me a favor?"
"Anything, my Queen."
"Would you please call me Gabrielle?"
The Amazons remained in the village that day and made preparations to transport their wounded comrade back to their home village. They outfitted a wagon with a sun canopy and filled the bed with new, clean straw over which they laid a feather mattress. Xena rested as Zoe sat by Petra’s bed in a silent watch. The Amazon slept most of the day. Gabrielle was under constant guard by either Solari or Eponin every time she left the hut to run an errand. The entire camp was on high alert for possible attack. Eponin was anxious to get moving and would have gone that afternoon if Gabrielle had not put her foot down.
The next morning they loaded Petra into the wagon. The warrior was feeling the full effects of her injuries and could no longer escape through oblivious sleep. Xena discovered a cracked rib in addition the arrow wound. Petra was extremely sore and found breathing difficult. Xena knew her pain was intense, but the injuries would not be fatal. Moving the woman was not the best thing, but they had little choice. They were all very vulnerable to attack this close to the border.
Their progress was painfully slow through rugged terrain ill-suited for wagon travel. Petra felt every jolt and squeezed her eyes shut and bit her lips against the severe pain. Xena would have liked to give her willow tea, but was afraid the tea, which thinned the blood, would cause internal bleeding in the area she had seared. Zoe sat in the wagon with Petra while Xena and Gabrielle rode alongside on Argo. Xena kept a watchful eye on her patient. Finally, two candlemarks after sundown the exhausted party arrived in the capital of the Amazon nation where Ephiny and the other Amazons greeted them.
Xena swung down from Argo, helped Gabrielle down, and immediately jumped into the wagon, picked up Zoe, and handed her over to Gabrielle. Zoe protested, "I want to stay with Petra."
Xena was stern, "Zoe, Petra is in pain; we need to move her to the healer’s hut. You can see her later, I promise."
With Zoe in her arms, Gabrielle turned and called for Ephiny who immediately pushed through her Amazons, "What is it, Gabrielle?"
The bard desperately searched the crowd for Electra. "Ephiny, where is Electra? Petra’s been injured."
"We know, Gabrielle, couriers arrived every candlemark with news of your progress." Ephiny scanned the crowd as well. "I’m not sure where she is, Gabrielle." Turning to Gabrielle she searched her face. "How bad is it?"
"I think she’ll survive, but she’s in terrible pain from the trip."
"Gabrielle, there she is." Zoe pointed to a small woman standing back with her hands over her mouth.
Handing Zoe to Ephiny, Gabrielle headed for Electra ignoring the crowd that parted before her and whispered solemn greetings. Before she even reached Electra, Gabrielle could see the woman was in tears. Gabrielle opened her arms to the young Amazon and enveloped her in her embrace. "She’s going to be all right, Electra." The tiny woman collapsed in Gabrielle’s arms. "Come on, they’re taking her to the healer."
As Gabrielle helped Electra walk towards the hut, she tried to reassure the weeping woman. Through her tears Electra asked, "What happened?"
"We were ambushed. An archer hidden in a tree got an arrow off before Xena killed him with her chakram." Gabrielle cringed at the effect her words would have on Electra.
"Where did it hit her?"
"He hit her in the chest, but Xena removed the arrow and stopped the bleeding immediately. She cracked a rib when she fell from her horse, but she is going to be fine." The woman beside her was almost inconsolable. Gabrielle did not want to deliver an hysterical woman to the healer’s hut, but she also knew that Petra needed to see Electra.
Gabrielle slipped into her queen act, "Electra, I am your Queen, and I’m telling you Petra will be fine, do you believe me?" Electra nodded.
"Good, now listen to me. Petra has ridden in that horrible wagon for more than fifteen leagues feeling every bump and rock in Thrace. She is in a great deal of pain right now. The broken rib makes it painful for her to breath. The arrow through the chest just barely missed her heart. She is extremely lucky to be alive, but she will make a complete recovery. The last thing she needs to see is you in tears. She wants to see you, but you cannot upset her, all right?"
At Gabrielle’s changed tone, Electra quickly regained her composure. "Yes, my Queen. I am sorry for my behavior."
Gabrielle put the queen act away and hugged the young woman tightly, "Don’t be sorry, Electra. If it were Xena, I would be in worse shape. I just don’t want you to upset Petra. She really loves you, and she is going to be fine."
That night after they had all dropped into bed exhausted from the stress-filled trip, Xena awoke with a start and quickly checked on Gabrielle next to her. The bard was sleeping soundly, but Zoe was gone. Xena rose from their bed, pulled a linen shift over her head, and jerked it down her body. She knew where she would probably find Zoe. She silently slipped out of their quarters into the night.
Moments later Xena entered the healer’s hut and headed for the room in which they had delivered Petra earlier. When she entered the room, she found Electra sitting in a chair by Petra’s bed. She was slumped forward with her head resting in her crossed arms next to Petra’s left side. In the crook of Petra’s right arm, Zoe slept peacefully. Xena stood staring at the sight she beheld when Thyra, the Amazon healer, stepped out of the shadows and stood behind her. Sensing her presence, Xena quietly inquired, "How is she, Thyra?"
Replying in a hushed tone Thyra said, "The wagon ride took a great deal out of her, but she’s young and strong. It will take a while, but she will be fine, considering she should be dead."
Xena frowned and turned to the older woman, "Why do you say that?"
Thyra motioned with her head for Xena to follow her into the other room and waved for her to sit down. "That Amazon escort party was traveling without a healer. That arrow nicked several arteries and veins in her chest, not to mention the fact that it went through the upper lobe of her lung. The shaft was probably sealing the wound closed. Had that arrow been removed in the usual manner, Petra would have died." Thyra stared at Xena intently. "What healer would have even thought to seal a chest wound with fire? Xena, you should have been a healer not a warrior."
Xena leaned back in her chair and sighed, "Well, Thyra, I guess it was just not my destiny."
"It’s not too late, Xena. The Amazon nation could use good healers, especially now that we are facing a war with the Athenians."
"The Amazon nation could also use some good warriors right now, Thyra. Besides, that fire thing was not my idea." Thyra looked at Xena with a question on her face. "It was Zoe’s suggestion." Xena thought to herself, ‘Or rather, Zoe’s command.’
Thyra exclaimed, "Zoe!" But before she could question Xena further, they were interrupted by the sudden presence of Electra. Xena stood at once and walked over to the tiny, haggard woman, and putting her arm around Electra’s shoulder escorted her to the chair she had just vacated. Thyra stood and announced, "I’m going to go check on Petra; Electra, you need to go home and get some sleep. I’ll come and get you if Petra needs you."
Xena dropped to her knee in front of the petite woman, "Let me take you home, Electra. Petra is in good hands here with Thyra," and then added with a smile, "and Zoe."
Electra couldn’t help but smile in return, nodded, and stood, "All right, I am very tired." The two headed for the door as Electra said, "I want to thank you, Xena, for what you did for Petra. She told me she would be dead if not for you."
Xena just shrugged off the thanks and helped the woman out the door. When they arrived at Electra and Petra’s hut, Xena opened the door and lit an oil lamp. She was familiar with her surroundings because she had spent a considerable amount of time here with Petra the last time she and Gabrielle were visiting. Unfortunately, that visit was not very pleasant either. Finally Electra spoke, "I am so tired, but I’m afraid I won’t be able to sleep."
"Let me fix you some tea. That should relax you so you can get some rest. Why don’t you sit down?" Electra nodded and moved to a chair near the fireplace as Xena set about starting a fire.
Electra watched the tall warrior in front of her expertly kindle a warm blaze and prepare the kettle for tea. She remembered not so long ago the expertise Xena drew upon in taking her Petra down in a vicious sword fight and how she had left her mark on Petra’s throat. She still sported a small scar from that disagreement with their Queen’s consort. Electra wondered at this woman who now stood and smiled down at her so kindly. She had seen how gentle Xena was with the Queen and with the little girl who looked so much like her, but she had also seen how ruthless and how cold the warrior could be. Electra had never trusted this dark figure with deceivingly light and enchanting eyes, but her Petra did; even when she was so angry at Xena over Queen Gabrielle, Petra still respected her and admired her. And now Electra owed this woman a debt of gratitude. She had given her back Petra. Her musings were interrupted by a gentle hand on her shoulder.
"Electra, are you all right?" Electra, startled from her thoughts, jumped at Xena’s voice, and Xena quickly withdrew her hand. "I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to frighten you. I guess I should go."
Electra looked up suddenly, "No!" Realizing she sounded desperate, she cast her eyes to the ground, "I’m sorry, Xena." She then looked into the confused face of the Warrior Princess. "Please, will you sit with me for a while?"
Xena moved a chair next to Electra, sat down on the edge of the seat, and looked questioningly at the tiny bronze-colored woman in front of her. She felt uncomfortable around Electra because she felt no matter what she did, Electra either did not like her or was afraid of her. She was so very different than Petra. Xena wondered if people considered her and Gabrielle such a mismatch.
Electra looked at Xena shyly. "I need to talk to you Xena." The warrior raised her eyebrow curiously as Electra continued. "I’m not very good with talking to people. I’ve always been kind of shy." Xena nodded and sat forward in her chair. "Xena, you are the reason Petra chose to stay here in the Western Nation." Xena raised her eyebrow at the revelation. "Petra has no family other than me. Her mother died when she was young, and her sister perished during a plague." Electra paused and looked away. "Petra considers you more than just a friend and a fellow warrior...she feels you are more than even a sister to her. When you asked her to take care of Zoe for you, that sealed your friendship in her heart forever. She considers you, the Queen and Zoe her family." Electra smiled shyly. "I tease her about picking the Amazon royal family to adopt." Xena smiled and shook her head. She had never considered herself a member of the royal family.
"I consider Petra more than just a friend too, Electra. I’d like you and me to become friends also. You must be a very special person because you have completely captured that big warrior’s heart."
Electra blushed and looked down at the floor grinning. "Petra told me how you advised her on winning my heart. I’ve wanted to thank you for a long time" she shrugged, "but I didn’t know how." Suddenly she grinned again, "Petra’s so dumb sometimes; she didn’t know she already had won my heart long ago."
Xena laughed, "I guess that’s a warrior trait. You and Gabrielle could share stories, I’m sure."
Electra looked down, "Oh, I could never talk to Queen Gabrielle like this."
"Nonsense, why not?" Xena asked surprised at the comment.
Electra looked up perplexed and said, "She’s the Queen. I can’t believe I’m having this conversation with you, her consort." Xena couldn’t believe she was having this conversation either. She wasn’t used to being the one to start conversations, especially this personal and this long. But she had gone this far, she might as well continue. Perhaps a little of the bard had rubbed off on her.
"Electra, Gabrielle is the kindest most unpretentious person I know. She also is the easiest person in the world to talk to. If you can talk to me, believe me, you can talk to her."
Electra sighed and looked down, "Xena, when I first met you, I didn’t like you. You frightened me, and when you got in that sword fight with Petra, I hated you." Electra looked into Xena’s eyes. "I didn’t know until later she had goaded you into that fight. I really thought you were going to kill her. I was so mad at her for picking that fight. She just kept telling me you would never hurt her. I didn’t understand how she could have so much trust in you. She hardly knew you. I am sorry I didn’t see you the way Petra did; I was wrong." She dropped her eyes and a tear fell to the floor.
Xena moved to the floor, squatted in front of Electra, took her hands in hers, and looked up into her crying face with a raised eyebrow. Electra laughed through her tears and pulled a hand free to wipe her eyes. "Xena," she smiled, "You look like Zoe kneeling there. How many times have I seen her do that!"
Xena smiled, "Really?" and Electra nodded. Xena smiled inside at the thought. She liked the idea that Zoe looked like her. Drawing her attention back to Electra she asked, "Did Petra ever tell you about the first time we met?" Electra frowned and nodded. "Well, let me tell you, Gabrielle didn’t like her very much either. If your warrior hadn’t been such a poet when she apologized, the Queen might have had her head on a platter." They both laughed.
Xena stood up, "I think that tea is ready." She poured two cups, handed one to Electra, and sat in the chair as they both sipped quietly for a few moments before Electra spoke again.
"Xena did Petra tell you that I am an archer?" Electra asked.
Xena was shocked, "No, she didn’t."
Electra nodded. "I am an instructor in the mounted archery division of the Eastern Nation." Xena was incredulous and wondered how this petite woman could even draw the bow string let alone use a bow on a galloping horse. Her thoughts were interrupted by Electra’s next words. "I saw Petra’s wound. It was a clear kill." Xena looked at her puzzled and Electra explained, "In mounted archery we have kill sights. On the torso there are three, overlapping kill sights that fall within three circles. The circle stretches from the tip of the little finger to the tip of the thumb." She demonstrated by placing her splayed hand on her chest. With a finger from her other hand she showed Xena exactly where Petra was struck. "As you can see, Petra was struck almost dead center in the first and most favored kill sight. She should be dead. You and Zoe performed a miracle, Xena. I will always be grateful."
Ephiny stood, arms crossed, shaking her head vehemently. Eponin slammed her fists on the table and turned angrily away from her. To Ephiny’s left sat Gabrielle. Xena leaned against a far wall. Solari occupied a chair at the end of the table, and several other Amazons were seated on the periphery including Alethea and Electra.
"I tell you, Ephiny, it’s the only thing the Athenians will understand," Eponin said as she paced the counsel hall animatedly. She trapped Ephiny with her glare as she made her circuit, "How many Amazons are you going to let them murder before you let us take action?"
Solari jumped to her feet and shouted, "Eponin, shut up!" Eponin stopped her pacing and scowled at Solari. Ignoring Eponin’s glare, Solari continued, "You can’t blame this on Ephiny. Just because you want a bloody war with Athens, it doesn’t mean you speak for the rest of us."
Eponin angrily retorted, "I don’t want a bloody war with Athens, Solari, but by the gods, they started this. I’m not too cowardly to give them back a taste of their own tactics."
Solari responded sarcastically, "Apparently we all know how you feel, but I think murdering innocent people is an act of cowardice regardless of who you are, Athenian or Amazon."
Enraged Eponin demanded, "Are calling me a coward?"
"What you are proposing is an act of cowardice, Eponin," Solari shot back.
Eponin began to move slowly towards Solari in a quiet rage. Xena leaned back and watched the drama unfold waiting for the Amazon war counsel to come up with some reasonable and workable strategy to handle the recent Athenian threats. She began to play possible scenarios in her mind, ignoring the conflict developing between the two warriors she knew so well. They could be at each other’s throats one minute and getting drunk together the next. Xena was unconcerned and lost in thought until Solari landed flat on her back at her feet, and Gabrielle yelled in a not-so-queenly voice for her Amazons to calm down.
Eponin stomped towards Solari who was sprawled in the dust when Xena stepped over Solari and between them, grabbed a handful of Eponin’s leather top, and shoved her roughly back. In a fluid motion Xena caught Solari by her shirt, jerked her to her feet, and shoved her in the opposite direction. Ignoring the indignation of both, Xena approached Ephiny, "Ephiny, you said the Eastern nation is sending Amazons to pressure Athenian settlements and troops in eastern Thrace?" When Ephiny nodded, Xena asked, "How long will it be before they arrive?"
Sitting back down in her chair, Ephiny replied, "They should be in position to strike within the next five or six days."
"Do we know how many Athenian troops threaten our borders to the south and the west?" Ephiny shook her head. By this time Eponin and Solari had stopped glaring at each other and had turned their attention to the conversation between Xena and Ephiny.
Xena raised her hands, "Well, there you have it. Until you know their exact numbers and where their bases of operations are, any action will be wasted." She turned to Eponin and Solari, "You two are both right. We do need to terrorize them and let them know we will exact an enormous price for every Amazon life forfeited. But we do not have to kill Athenian civilians. We need to know where the army is and make precise strikes on their military forces. We need to move in fast, hit hard, and get out just as fast." The women sitting around the counsel room all began to murmur and nod. Gabrielle smiled at the brilliance of her warrior.
Eponin moved closer with her fists on her hips, "And how do you plan to do this?"
Turning to Eponin, but addressing the rest of the counsel too Xena explained, "We have at least five days before the Eastern Amazons take action against Athenian aggression in eastern Thrace. In those five days, we need to gather as much information as possible. When the Eastern Amazons begin their attacks, so should we."
Electra shook her head and smiled at her new friend. She could not wait to tell Petra of Xena’s strategy. Electra was only in attendance because Petra could not be and had asked Electra and report everything back to her. Electra smiled inside at the sight she imagined to be taking place in their hut. Her big warrior would be propped up in bed, Zoe would be entertaining her, and waiting on her every need.
Xena continued to lay out her strategy, "First I want to use those famous Amazon communication links. We locate the enemy. Then we send some scouting parties to analyze their strengths. While they’re doing that, we’ll put together a strike force that can move as a well-trained chariot team, one that can get in quickly and get the job done. You’ve forgotten these forces have very long supply lines. Therein lies their weakness. We take out their supply lines, cut them off from Athens, hit them hard, hit them fast and hit them continually, and they will run home with their tails between their legs." Xena turned and look at Gabrielle and said with a wave of her hand, "Then our diplomats can take over when they beg our Queen to meet them at the bargaining table." Xena lightly tapped her chest with her fist and bowed slightly towards Gabrielle who beamed at her as she moved back to stand against the wall.
Gabrielle stood and addressed the counsel, "Does anyone else have anything to ask or to add?" No one did. The counsel accepted the proposal, and couriers were immediately dispatched to the Amazon patrols. The wheels were in motion, and there would be no turning back.
Within the next three days, the Athenian supply lines had been severely damaged by small Amazon strike forces that moved like lightning and disappeared like morning mist. The Amazon communication lines located three large Athenian military units and quickly sent word back to Ephiny. Eponin, Xena, and Solari lead separate scouting parties to reconnoiter each of the Athenian military units. Xena reminded Eponin not to attack the units. Xena knew Eponin was aching for revenge. When they returned the next day, they had all the information they needed. Each unit contained about a hundred well-armed soldiers. The attacks would occur simultaneously in two days. The preparations were being completed as the final plans were wrapped up.
While Xena was gone with her scouting party, Zoe spent the day tagging after Gabrielle. At first Gabrielle did not notice but finally realized Zoe was actually underfoot. Normally the child was making her rounds playing with the other children, visiting Thyra, talking to the stable master, and spending most of the time with Petra and Electra. But for some reason, she seemed unusually clingy and Gabrielle suddenly remembered Xena’s words, ‘I guess we had better pay closer attention to her.’ Her dream! ‘Goodbye, Gabrielle.’ Gabrielle’s heart began to pound in her chest, and a sick feeling overwhelmed her; she had to sit down. She thought she would weep when she realized something was wrong, and she cried out, "Xena!" Zoe looked at her, climbed into her lap, and wrapped her arms around Gabrielle’s neck as the bard broke down and began to cry.
"Gabrielle, you’re the Queen. You can stop her." Gabrielle held Zoe tightly for a while and struggled to regain her composure.
Shifting Zoe in her lap, Gabrielle looked down at her. "What are you saying, Zoe?"
Zoe replied quietly, "You can stop Xena from going."
"Zoe, do you know what’s going to happen?" Zoe was quiet. "Zoe, did you know Petra was going to get hurt?" Zoe nodded. "How did you know?"
Zoe’s face became void of emotion, "I saw it happen."
"You saw it happen before it actually did happen?" Zoe nodded. "Did you know exactly when it was going to happen?"
Zoe looked seriously into Gabrielle’s eyes, "No."
Gabrielle frowned and thought a moment, she then asked hopefully, "Zoe, have you ever seen things that did not happen?"
Zoe did not immediately answer, but looked down, fixing her gaze on the ring on Gabrielle’s hand, "No."
With fear ripping at her gut, Gabrielle asked in a shaky voice, "Zoe, do you know if something is going to happen to Xena?"
Zoe’s little brow furrowed, "I’m not sure, Gabrielle."
"Have you seen it happen?"
Zoe replied impassively, "No."
Gabrielle felt confusion gnawing at her and she asked, "Then what makes you think something is going to happen to Xena?"
"Momma told me." And she looked up at Gabrielle, "Remember, Gabrielle? She told me to tell you not to let Xena go." Then desperately the child pleaded, "Gabrielle, you have to do something. Don’t let Xena go, please Gabrielle." Zoe then did something Gabrielle had never witnessed before; she cried. She held on to Gabrielle and she cried as if her little heart would break. She cried until she fell asleep in Gabrielle’s arms. Gabrielle continued to hold her well after the tiny child had given in to exhausted sleep, and as she cradled Zoe in her arms, she let her mind wander.
‘Zoe, how am I going to stop Xena when I couldn’t even stop you from running to Petra?’ And then she thought of Zoe’s comment, ‘Momma said you loved me too, Gabrielle, and you would always be there to take care of me.’ She didn’t say Xena would always be there. She then thought of her life with Xena. How happy she was. How much she loved her warrior. Her warrior...her Xena. How safe she felt with her...the warmth she felt. And she saw in her mind’s eye Xena’s ocean-blue eyes smiling down at her...she saw the heart-stopping smile that could turn her insides to mush...and that crooked little grin...and the way her eyebrow shot up when she was perplexed...and the way she said her name....
Gabrielle...she loved the way she said it...and then she thought, ‘What would my life be without her?’ And she too wept as if her heart would break, and she stood up, and she carried Zoe to their bed. She laid down with the child, and cried herself to sleep.
Xena was incredulous, "Gabrielle, I can’t do that! We’ve planned this together; I can’t just tell them, well, there it is, but it’s too dangerous so I’m going to stay here while you Amazons go and risk your lives."
"But, Xena," Gabrielle pleaded, "you were the one who said we should listen more to Zoe."
Xena moved closer to Gabrielle, "I know I said that, but I can’t let them down, Gabrielle."
Gabrielle looked up at her angrily, "Oh! Well that’s just great. You can’t let them down. Well what about Zoe and me, Xena? What’s going to happen to us if something happens to you? What if you are killed?" she asked abruptly turning away.
Xena reached out and touched Gabrielle’s arm, "Gab, nothing is going to happen to me."
Gabrielle jerked away from Xena’s touch and whirled to face her, "Xena, you weren’t here to see your child sobbing for more than a candlemark. She knows something is going to happen to you, and you know she knows." Xena did not reply. "Xena, she has already lost Chloe, but she has you." Gabrielle begged, "Think about Zoe. What will happen to her if you die?" Xena had no answer. She knew anything she would say would simply be insignificant or would give Gabrielle more to use against her. "Xena, you lost two people in your life you loved and look what it turned you into. What will this do to Zoe?" Xena looked down unable to meet Gabrielle’s eyes, but Gabrielle refused to let it go. "Say something!"
Xena met Gabrielle’s eyes, "Look, Gab, if anything happens to me, Zoe will still have you and Cyrene. She will have Toris. Petra and Electra will always be here for her."
"And who will I have, Xena?" the bard asked in a low tone.
"Gab, please, I love you, but don’t ask this of me. You know I have to go with them."
Gabrielle turned away from Xena again and spoke quietly, "I could have you arrested and thrown in prison."
"You would do that?" Xena asked.
"Zoe thinks I should."
Xena came up behind Gabrielle and gently wrapped her arms around her and pulled her into her, and Gabrielle turned in her embrace and laid her head on Xena’s chest, her cheeks wet with tears. Xena kissed Gabrielle on top of the head as Gabrielle listened intently to the strong heart beating in her warrior’s chest, and she silently prayed to Artemis, ‘Please let this heart keep beating strongly, and bring her home to me.’
That night Zoe stayed with Petra and Electra, but in the early morning hours before the break of dawn, Zoe left the hut and made her way to the queen’s quarters, and there, she climbed into bed with Xena and Gabrielle. She made sure Xena heard her. Xena spoke quietly so as not to awaken Gabrielle, "Zoe are you all right?"
"Yes, Xena, but I need to talk to you," Zoe whispered.
"What do you need to talk to me about?"
"You are going to go, aren’t you?"
"Zoe, I have to do this."
"I knew you would say that. Gabrielle said you would say that and so did Mommy." Xena frowned at the mention of Chloe. Zoe continued, "Xena, you have to be very careful."
"Don’t worry, Zoe, I will be careful," Xena said trying to assure the child.
Zoe warned, "Xena, watch out for foot soldiers with long spears."
"Tell me what you know, Zoe."
Zoe furrowed her little brow and said, "It was a foot soldier. He has a helmet with a broken nose protector. He will spear you though the heart, and you will die. I will miss you, Xena." With that the little child began to cry quietly, Xena wrapped her in her arms, rolled her away from Gabrielle, and tried to quiet her with promises she knew she probably would be unable to keep. Behind her Gabrielle sobbed silently into her pillow.
Ephiny and Alethea picked Gabrielle’s unconscious body up out of the dust as the last of the warriors disappeared from the village center. She had fainted as soon as Xena turned Argo and trotted off with her troops. Ephiny could not understand Gabrielle’s reaction. This was not the first time Xena had gone off on a raid, and she immediately sent an attendant for Thyra. She feared her young friend, their Queen, was ill. She was mystified by Zoe’s stoic reaction as the child simply stood looking down at Gabrielle’s crumpled body, but then again everything about Zoe mystified the acting Queen. Petra, who had dragged herself out of bed against Electra’s wishes, leaned helplessly and heavily on Electra but insisted she follow Gabrielle back to her quarters . The big warrior was so frustrated; she wished only to be riding into battle at Xena’s side.
When Thyra arrived, she silently took in the sight before her. Gabrielle lay unconscious in the middle of her large bed. Zoe lay next to her with her arms wrapped protectively across the Queen’s chest. Zoe’s eyes reflected anguish and tiny tears clung like little diamonds to her eyelashes. Petra sat forward in a chair pulled close to the Queen’s bed; she clasped her chest as if to hold its content in place. In her other hand, she gently cradled Gabrielle’s still hand. Electra was draped across her warrior’s shoulders helping to hold up her weakened companion. Ephiny stood on the other side of the bed, arms crossed, face painted with concern mixed with fear as her eyes searched Gabrielle’s face for any movement. They were all surprised when Thyra crossed the room, sat on Zoe’s side of the bed and proceeded to question the child rather than examine the Queen.
She spoke gently as she probed for answers, "Zoe, my dear, do you know what is wrong with Queen Gabrielle?"
Zoe did not look at Thyra but simply nodded.
"Is she ill?" Zoe shook her head.
"Can you please tell us what is wrong, Zoe, so that we might be able to help her?"
Zoe looked up at Thyra and then over into Petra’s eyes. Petra thought her warrior’s hard heart would break at the look on the child’s face. Still holding Petra’s gaze, Zoe responded, "Gabrielle knows that Xena will not return alive."
There was a collective gasp in the room. Petra dropped her hand from her chest and reached for Electra as Electra’s hand instinctively searched for hers. Ephiny sat down on the edge of the bed next to Gabrielle’s head, the wind momentary knocked from her chest, and then lovingly caressed her friend’s brow.
Finally finding her voice, Thyra continued, "How does she know this, Zoe?"
Zoe still stared deeply into Petra’s eyes as she continued to answer Thyra’s questions, "I told her."
"Zoe, how do you know?" Thyra asked, "Did you have a vision?"
Zoe shook her head, "Mommy came to me and told me to warn Gabrielle."
Petra looking deeply into Zoe’s eyes, realized the truth, and tearing her gaze away said frantically, "Queen Ephiny, send some fast riders. Bring Xena back."
Before Ephiny could respond or even think about the suggestion, Zoe interrupted, "It won’t do any good, Gabrielle already tried. Xena refused."
Petra jumped to her feet and grabbed her chest in pain as Electra reached for her. Ignoring the stab in her chest she said, "We can’t sit idly by and let her ride to her death." Noting the confusion in Ephiny’s face, Petra turned and began to stomp out of the room.
"Stop, warrior!" Ephiny’s voice commanded. "You will not leave this village. That is an order, and I am your Queen. If you choose to disobey me, you will be arrested."
Petra swung around and looked Ephiny in the eye. The pain written on Petra’s face struck a chord deep in Ephiny’s heart, but she was not about to let Petra kill herself in a futile attempt to stop Xena. Ephiny knew full well when Xena came to a decision, even the gods on Olympus could not dissuade her.
Electra had never seen her warrior cry and was amazed at the emotion she saw playing across Petra’s features as tears threatened. Electra went to her and wrapped her arms around her. Petra, still staring into Ephiny’s eyes, rasped out through a tear-choked voice, "She’s my friend."
The Amazons hid in the tree tops, while their mounted warriors waited deep in the thick woods; the attack would commence just before dawn. Guards were posted and relief sentries assigned. Every minute detail was worked out, and the troops tried to catch what sleep they could. Solari and Eponin chattered incessantly, and Xena casually noted the two must have put aside their differences again. They tried to pull her into their conversations but finally gave up when she continually failed to respond to comments and questions. Xena was deep in thought. She couldn’t get Gabrielle and Zoe out of her mind, and she knew that was very dangerous. She needed to be totally focused if she were to survive tomorrow’s battle. Zoe’s words haunted her. Not that she was afraid to die; at one time she even welcomed death and went out of her way to put herself in danger. But now -- she had so much to live for. Zoe had touched her heart, and she owed it to Chloe to raise their child as best she could. She couldn’t help but smile at the thoughts of Zoe, and she laughed to herself when she thought of the little girl evading Gabrielle so easily. Gabrielle -- when Xena thought of Gabrielle, her heart ached. Memories of Sinope and how she’d hurt Gabrielle saddened her. And now this. It would have been better for them not to know. Xena cursed the gift of sight. She’d turned her back on the gift when she’d glimpsed the future while lying in the throes of a raging fever so many years before. It horrified her. She vowed she would rather be without the gift than to be cursed with such knowledge. She didn’t trust the sight anyway. It was more inconstant than the moon. The moon. Artemis, her patron goddess. She had finally come to a reconciliation with the goddess of the hunt. She had seen the errors of her judgment, admitted her mistakes, and reluctantly, taken Artemis back into her heart. ‘Artemis, if you are listening, please give Gabrielle and Zoe strength.’ Xena lay down in her bedroll and drifted off into an uneasy sleep, as a dark image stared down at her with piercing blue eyes, and then...
"Remember the foot soldier with the broken nose piece."
"I’ll remember, Zoe. Zoe?"
"I’ll always love you. Would you please take care of Gabrielle for me?"
"I love you too, Xena, and I’ll take care of Gabrielle for you. If you see Mommy, tell her I miss her."
"I’ll do that Zoe."
"I’ll miss you."
Starting awake, Xena was not sure if that was indeed a dream, but she did not have time to contemplate the question. It was time for the attack.
When Gabrielle awoke, she found she was not alone, and it frightened her to see the Amazons who sat in silent vigil around her. She was fearful her nightmare had become a reality from their somber expressions. She looked down to see Zoe cradled in her left arm, and she spoke but one word to her, "Xena?"
Zoe replied quietly, "It hasn’t begun yet, Gabrielle."
Gabrielle made no effort to move and neither did the others who sat around her. Petra and Electra had returned to their chairs next to Gabrielle. Although she hurt, Petra refused to leave the Queen’s side, and she dozed occasionally where she sat. Ephiny remained seated next to Gabrielle on the bed. Gabrielle had slept all day and most of the night, and it was just before daybreak when she awoke. Electra had been awake the entire time, carefully watching Petra and listening to Zoe murmur in her sleep.
The battle had begun. The strategy was simple, hit hard and fast doing as much damage in as little time as possible and then retreat. The enemy camp was just beginning to stir when the attack came. First it was silent death as a hail of arrows rained down on the Athenian soldiers. Then came abject terror as screaming, mounted warriors in avian masks fell upon the camp. Tents and men in tents were crushed beneath thundering hooves. Those who managed to escape were slashed to ribbons by flashing swords and a singing chakram.
The Athenian guard never even saw the Amazons as they slipped past them in the early morning mist. When cries rang out from behind them, the guards turned to defend their encampment and ran straight into retreating Amazon swords.
Zoe’s voice screamed in Xena’s mind as she lead the retreat. The attack had been a brilliant success, and Xena calculated eighty percent casualties for the Athenians. She also knew the threat was not over. They still had to escape through the sentries posted to guard the camp. The Amazons in the trees had made a clean escape. The returning guards were oblivious of the danger above them, and when their stragglers perished silently with arrows in their backs, those in the front were unaware of their comrades’ fates.
Somehow during the retreat, Solari and Eponin joined Xena as they galloped their horses through the ancient forest. Xena was the first to see the helmeted soldier step from a tree. He shoved his long, cavalry spear toward Eponin’s chest, but Xena’s chakram interfered with his deadly plan first splitting the spear in two and then slicing into the man’s throat. Xena leaned to Argo’s left when she let fly the chakram and only had enough time to jerk upright on her horse when in the beat of a heart another soldier dropped to his knee and dug his spear into the ground aiming for her, Zoe’s voice sang in her head, ‘Lean to the right, Xena’. Xena saw the missing nose piece on the helmet of her murderer too late. The spear slashed through her leather shoulder strap, tore away her armor, and pierced the muscle in her upper chest. It snapped the collar bone, driving and grinding into the shoulder joint wreaking destruction along its path. The impact of the weapon slammed the warrior up and snapped the spear as it slashed its way out of her shoulder. Xena’s left foot flew out of the stirrup as she spun to the right. In a moment of lucidity, she realized she would soon hit the ground, and she prepared for the impact. On her descent her other foot slipped through its stirrup, and when she hit the ground, she was jerked savagely forward bouncing and crashing limply through the underbrush and under Argo’s hooves. Another soldier cut Eponin’s horse from beneath her, and she somersaulted through the air, but an Amazon arrow ended his threat. Solari, who had helplessly witnessed the entire episode, raced after the frantic Argo who dragged Xena’s limp body across the rocky terrain. After what seemed ages to Solari, she brought her horse up as close as she dared, and leaning out with her sword, desperately slashed the leather strap securing the stirrup to its saddle. The momentum continued to slam Xena’s body in a spinning motion away from Solari’s horse, and she finally came to rest in a tattered mass, unconscious and bloodied. Solari feared to even hope that the warrior who lay before her could have survived that pounding. She looked back over her shoulder at Eponin’s calls.
"Over here, Eponin." Solari jumped from her horse and dropped the reins as she approached the broken warrior.
A candlemark after dawn Zoe looked up at Gabrielle and spoke, "It’s over, Gabrielle." Every one held their breath expectantly. "He missed her heart. It still beats; I can hear it."
Gabrielle sat up and looked at Ephiny, "I want to ride out and meet them, Ephiny."
Ephiny nodded and stood, "I will give the orders. We will take a wagon for the wounded, and we will take Thyra. Be ready in a candlemark." Gabrielle nodded.
When Ephiny left, Petra rose to her feet but swayed unsteadily as Electra tried to hold her. Gabrielle was immediately by Petra’s side, "Let me help you. Petra, you should have been resting. I should have made you go home to bed."
"My, Queen...I mean, Gabrielle, I am glad you did not give that order. Will you be all right?" Gabrielle and Electra although dwarfed by the warrior bore most of her weight and guided her towards their hut
"Yes, thank you, Petra, for being there for me and Zoe. Xena considers you her best friend."
"I am honored to be called friend by Xena," Petra said seriously.
When Gabrielle and Ephiny’s party met up with the returning Amazons almost five candlemarks later, it was a somber sight. Although the Amazons had soundly destroyed the Athenian military unit and had suffered no fatalities in doing so, there was none of the usual raucous celebration that usually accompanied such victories. Returning to face their young Queen weighed heavily on everyone’s heart. News of Xena’s serious injuries quickly spread among the troops, and it left them disheartened, and they all prayed fervently to Artemis that the Warrior Princess would somehow survive her injuries.
Ephiny and Gabrielle soon discovered the reason for the somber atmosphere that dampened the Amazons’ spirits. About half way through the ranks, Eponin and Solari rode with their horses literally touching as they both struggled to keep the unconscious warrior atop Argo. Eponin rode behind Xena, and held her in the saddle with her arms wrapped around the wounded warrior and one hand firmly gripping the high saddle horn. Solari rode next to them with her arm stretched out. Her hand clenched Xena’s right arm, helping Eponin to keep the warrior balanced. Gabrielle gasped at the sight. Xena’s left arm was bandaged and strapped to her body and her whole torso was soaked in blood. Her head, resting on her chest, lolled from side to side. Her hair was a mass of blood, dirt and leaves; the leather shift ripped, torn and scraped was covered in dark, sticky blood.
Thyra quickly jumped from the wagon and ran to the two warriors who held Xena in the saddle. Yelling orders, she had Xena removed from the horse and laid in the wagon. She then turned to Solari, "What exactly happened?" Gabrielle tried to run to Xena, but Ephiny held her back insisting that Thyra needed room to work.
Solari spoke as she and Eponin dismounted and moved to the wagon, "She took a spear to the shoulder. It’s bad, Thyra." The healer already knew that from the blood that drenched the two who stood before her. Solari continued, "But worse than that, her foot got hung up in the stirrup, and she was dragged...blessed goddess, it seemed forever." Gabrielle couldn’t help but overhear the conversation.
"Did you notice any other injuries?" Thyra asked as she climbed into the wagon with Xena.
"Thyra, she was trampled under Argo’s hooves. I don’t know; we couldn’t stop the bleeding in her shoulder. We just bound it and headed back as fast as we could. Thank the gods you came out to meet us." Thyra nodded as she took her knife and sliced away the soaked binding from the warrior’s arm and shoulder. The sight of the wicked wound shocked even Thyra, but she stopped only for a moment before she began to clean the blood from the area.
Gabrielle could stay away no longer. She pulled out of Ephiny’s arms, approached the wagon, and climbed in. The sight of Xena’s mangled shoulder sickened her, but she managed to maintain her composure and steadfastly asked, "Thyra, will she be able to use her arm?"
"It looks very bad, My Queen. We would be better to simply cauterized the wound and remove the arm."
"No!" Thyra looked up at the Queen. Gabrielle realized her outburst was a gut reaction. Now she needed to calm down and speak with reason. Drawing on strength she did not know she had, "You are to repair the damage as best you can. You are not to take her arm. That is an order."
"But, my Queen, the wound is corrupted with filth. All of the tendons are sliced. Her collar bone is broken and there are bone chips in the shoulder joint. If I don’t remove her arm she might die from infection."
Gabrielle mustered her resolve from some unknown source and spoke with the authority of a true monarch, "Xena is very strong, and she has incredible healing powers. Align the collar bone, remove the bone chips and stitch the tendons together. Can you do that?"
Thyra looked down at the horrible wound and then up into the determined face of her young queen, "I will try, but if infection sets in..." Gabrielle cut her off.
"We will worry about that when the time comes. For now, what do you need, and how can I help you?" Thyra took a deep breath and went to work.
Late that night the returning party arrived home. Gabrielle instructed her Amazons to take Xena to the queen’s quarters. Thyra would have much preferred Xena in her hut, but she was not about to argue with the Queen.
After Xena was laid in Gabrielle’s bed, Ephiny and Electra helped Gabrielle remove the remainder of her tattered clothing and bathe the blood and grime from her bruised and battered body, while Petra sat in a corner holding Zoe. Thyra had done exactly as Gabrielle had instructed. She had bound Xena’s arm and shoulder tightly to her chest in hopes that the collar bone would knit properly and the tendons would some how grow back together. Xena had also suffered a head injury and some broken ribs not to mention a tremendous loss of blood. No one said anything as Gabrielle struggled to maintain her self-control as she beheld the body she knew so well.
Her friends could not know that Gabrielle was dealing with more than just this new threat to Xena’s life. Gabrielle remembered the horrors perpetrated against Xena on the Sea Mist and the agony they both faced in Cius. At least then they went through everything together. Gabrielle felt alone at this moment even among her caring friends. Xena lay unconscious, unable to talk to her and reassure her or even give her that crooked little smile. Gabrielle knew in her heart Xena could be slipping away from her this very moment. ‘Goodbye, Gabrielle,’ Xena’s voice echoed in her mind. And as her dream came crashing down on her, threatening to sweep her away like waves crashing on a beach. She looked over at Zoe sitting in Petra’s lap. The child stared back solemnly, and Gabrielle wished only to be alone with her family.
Artemis, her face a mass of emotion, stared dismally into the pool that revealed the actions of humans. She wondered at the price that would be exacted, and swung angrily around. What would be the price for a hand’s breadth? The Fates moved the devastating wound a mere hand’s breadth away from the warrior’s heart. What could they demand in return? She shuddered at the possibilities.
The shadow image stared down at her through piercing blue eyes. It was dark and gloomy and the warrior was lost and confused. She couldn’t remember how she came to be in this place and she had no idea where she was. One moment she was fighting in the in the blood red fields and the next she was standing in this dark, gray, mist-enshrouded forest.
‘It must be the gods playing with me again,’ she laughed, ‘they can be so exasperating, but they do make things interesting.’ Her thoughts turned to Lyceus, and she suddenly became concerned. We were in the middle of a very important battle. The tide was turning in our favor. She remembered that was her last thought before she arrived here, where ever here was. They were going to be successful; they were going to rescue Amphipolis from Cortese.
"Enough of this, return me to the field of battle." She shouted out at the unseen forces that played with her.
The battle swelled around her and for the briefest moment she was puzzled, but shaking her head, she threw herself into the struggle, clanging her sword into that of an enemy warrior. It felt good, the sword in her hand. She effortlessly parried with her inept foe. Xena could have easily finished him sooner, but she enjoyed the feeling of power that rushed through her body and her mind. It was exhilarating knowing this sword fight was won even before her opponent lay dead at her feet. She glanced over at Lyceus; he had a smile on his face. She smirked at her foe. In three quick moves she was withdrawing her sword from his chest searching for the next soldier who would die on her blade. A grin played across her features as another soldier charged her. She danced away and followed him with the hilt of her sword to the back of his head. As he stumbled and fell, she thrust her sword through his back. She laughed aloud and glanced at Lyceus.
He disappeared before her eyes and she stood in the forest again. The gray fog clung to the ground and when she looked down, she could not see her boots. The mist seemed deeper and thicker, and she wondered where she was. How did she get there? What was she doing? She could not remember and she looked at the sword, and it all returned. There was blood on the sword. She was fighting a battle, a great battle, and the tide was turning. They were going to save their homeland from a vicious warlord. The gods had always teased her. She laughed and spoke out loud to them, "All right this is fun, but I need to be getting back to my battle."
Her soldiers cheered as they forged ahead. Her confused frown turned to a smile as she searched for Lyceus. Seeing him swing his sword in great arcs caused her heart to sing and the power pumped through her veins as she challenged another with her blade, metal on metal. The singing of the blades as they slashed and crashed together invigorated her. She wanted the moment to last forever as she looked at Lyceus, but something was wrong. He dropped to his knees, and a dark warrior savagely kicked her brother’s dying body from his sword. Then the warrior was gone. She threw herself into the fight and quickly finished the soldier before her. She raised her sword and urged her troops forward. They fought savagely to defend their homeland. The battle surged and swelled like an angry ocean. The tide turned, the enemy ebbed, but she wouldn’t let their troops recede. She pressed her forces forward slashing and killing so that none would live to ever fight again. It was over. She and her forces were victorious, and her brother was dead.
It was very late when Gabrielle finally tucked Zoe into bed with her. Ephiny had ordered another bed brought into the Queen’s chambers and placed next to the one in which Xena lay. Gabrielle cradled Zoe in her arms and stretched on her left side so she could watch Xena. She looked down into Zoe’s sad eyes and wanted so much to probe the child’s mind for information, but she could not bring herself to do so, fearful of the answers she might find. Zoe reached out towards Xena, but she could not grasp Xena’s hand from where she lay in Gabrielle’s arms. Gabrielle, noticing Zoe’s desire to touch Xena, raised up and reached over her pulling Xena’s hand to them. Bard and child desperately clung to the warrior’s hand as though it was a lifeline linking them to salvation from dark, murky waters.
Chloe reached to grasp the young warrior woman’s hand in hers. Xena smiled her dazzling smile and helped Chloe to swing into the saddle behind her. Chloe wrapped her arms around Xena’s waist and laid her head on Xena’s shoulder, "I love you, Xe, I’m so proud of you." All around them the crowds cheered for the young Xena who had delivered their city from destruction. Xena shared her radiant smile with the crowds and for the briefest of moments her eyes fell on a small raven-haired, blue-eye girl who looked up at her sadly. When her horse stumbled, Xena averted her gaze but for a moment. When she looked back, the child was gone. Xena frowned, but her attention was drawn back to the woman behind her who squeezed her tightly.
"Chloe," the warrior spoke over her shoulder, "have you spoken to Cyrene? Does she know of Lyceus’ death?"
"Yes, Xena, Toris brought Lyceus’ body home from the field."
Concerned Xena asked, "How is she handling it?"
Chloe hugged tightly to Xena’s back and squeezed her eyes shut. Xena could feel the tenseness in Chloe’s body and knew the answer. "Not well. I’m afraid Cyrene is not long for this world, Xe."
"Goodbye, Gabrielle," and Xena turned and walked into Chloe’s waiting arms. The two walked away arm-in-arm, turned, smiled and waved back at Gabrielle and Zoe sitting atop Argo. They disappeared in the mist. The rain poured from the dark heavens and drenched the three lonely figures -- a horse, a young woman, and a tiny girl-child, desolate and alone on the endless, rolling steppes. Gabrielle did not cry out Xena’s name. She merely wept in her sleep until the rain stopped and blackness engulfed her.
When morning came, Gabrielle awoke to find Thyra standing over Xena. The young Queen quickly rose and stumbled around the bed.
"How is she this morning, Thyra?" Gabrielle looked down at Xena’s bruised face and noticed that she had not moved since they put her in the bed the night before.
Thyra looked into the face of her Queen; dark circles under her eyes marred the young woman’s beauty. Thyra spoke carefully, "My Queen, it’s too early to tell." However true, the comment was an evasion. Thyra feared Gabrielle would push for the truth.
Gabrielle sighed. She didn’t know if she had the strength to challenge the healer as she had done the day before, but when she glanced over at the little blue eyes that stared at her she knew she must push forward. "Thyra, I need to know what you know so that I may prepare myself and Zoe for what is to come."
Thyra looked down at the battered warrior who only a few days before had patiently explained her destiny to the healer. She glanced over at Zoe and wondered if the child didn’t actually know more than she at this moment. Finally she spoke, marveling at the strength of this young Queen only twenty summers old. "My Queen, it is too soon to tell, but I am not optimistic. I will be honest with you. Xena responds to deep pain, therefore, there is no serious spinal injuries. Her fingertips in her left hand are warm which means there is blood flow. That is a good sign. There is no fever yet, and that too is a good sign. The injury to her shoulder is crippling but not life threatening if she does not develop a fever. I would have expected a fever by now if she was going to have one...she does indeed have strong healing abilities."
Gabrielle nodded, remembering other times. "But?"
Thyra took a deep breath and continued, "My Queen, it is the head injury that most concerns me. Her head was pounded on the ground and she has bruising on her temple where her horse probably kicked her. She has a bad laceration on the back of her skull. I fear the bone is fractured there. That causes internal bleeding. Now she sleeps the deepest sleep of Morpheus. The dark orbs in her eyes are not responding to light." Thyra paused and inhaled, "Her heart beats, but she may already be gone."
Gabrielle fought back tears. Her stomach twisted at Thyra’s words. She looked at Zoe for any reaction; there was none. She asked, "Is there anything we can do?"
Thyra shook her head, "Not much, My Queen. We need to get water into her and perhaps some broth later. We must keep moving her so fluids do not build up in her lungs, but we must be very careful of the shoulder. I don’t want those stitches tearing or the collar bone to become misaligned." Gabrielle nodded and Thyra excused herself.
Gabrielle sat on the bed next to Xena’s injured shoulder and looked down at the warrior who had become her life. She bent down, gently placed a kiss on Xena’s lips, and whispered softly in her ear, "Xena, I love you."
Chloe bent over and kissed the woman sleeping next to her and whispered in her ear, "Xena, I love you." Xena grinned as the spell of Morpheus drifted from her, and Chloe’s gentle kiss and soft whisper awakened her. She stretched and then rolled out of bed and grabbed her clothing.
As she pulled her shift and clothes on, Xena asked, "What do you have planned for me today, my dear?"
Chloe smiled, "You have such a short memory, Xe!" She planted her hands on her hips in mock displeasure. "You need to go to the market and buy some produce and meat for the inn. We discussed this last night, remember?"
Xena laughed and pretended ignorance. "We did? I don’t recall that discussion."
Chloe laughed and threw a pillow at her and headed for the door, "I’ll see you downstairs, Xena. I’m going to gather some eggs for our meal. Don’t be late; it will be ready shortly." She grinned back at Xena as she exited the room.
Xena smiled after her and shook her head. She was so happy, and she thought to herself, ‘Chloe makes my life worth living. I only wish Cyrene and Lyceus were here and then everything would be perfect.’
After Thyra left, Gabrielle dressed, helped Zoe pull on her clothes, and took her to the dining hall to eat. She left her with Ephiny with the assurance that she would return within a candlemark to retrieve the child. Ephiny, unsure how to act around this little mystery, had had little to do with the child. Xena’s explanation of the child’s origins left Ephiny as confused as the day she first saw this little image of Xena looking stoically down at her from Petra’s embrace. She had silently observed the child with Electra and Petra and had even moved the child and Electra into her own quarters when Zoe had become ill before Xena and Gabrielle had arrived from their overland trip from Sinope. She knew that Xena and Gabrielle were both smitten by the child and the little one went everywhere with them. Ephiny quietly noted that almost everyone who came in contact with the tiny girl seemed to be enchanted by her. Even Eponin and Solari laughed hysterically recounting Zoe and Gabrielle’s mad chase the day Petra was wounded. Petra, that tall warrior who had been a welcome addition to her war counsel, went to mush around the little girl. The recent events only added to Ephiny’s confusion. Even now as the child ate silently next to her, Ephiny felt uneasy as she watched Zoe out of the corner of her eyes.
Zoe looked up at her with those mesmerizing blue eyes and Ephiny had the sudden urge to cry. Her throat constricted and she struggled to maintain her composure. She had no idea where those feeling were coming from, but the tiny girl seemed to know, "Ephiny, it wasn’t you fault. You couldn’t have stopped Xena from going."
Ephiny closed her eyes and lifted her head as her stomach lurched and suddenly as though a lamp was lit in the dark she could see. She’d had this uneasy feeling for the last three days. She now realized she had been blaming herself for not going after Xena and bringing her back. And now Gabrielle, the sister of her heart, was devastated as Xena probably lay dying. Turning to Zoe, Ephiny looked at her seriously, "Thank you, Zoe." The little girl smiled a crooked smile at her and then looked at the food in front of her. Ephiny could not get the image of Xena out of her mind, and she wondered at Zoe’s uncanny resemblance to the warrior. "Zoe," she asked, "are you doing all right?"
Zoe shrugged, another Xena trait. Ephiny reached her hand out to caressed the child’s head. "You want to talk about it?" Zoe looked up at Ephiny as tears welled up in her eyes and spilled down her freckled face. Ephiny idly wondered where those freckles came from as her heart went out to the little girl sitting by her.
Zoe quietly whispered through her tears, "Chloe had freckles." Ephiny furrowed her brow. She wasn’t very comfortable with the way the child could simply walk through her thoughts at will. "I can’t always do that," Zoe explained. "It just happens sometimes."
Ephiny snorted quietly and shook her head. "Zoe, are you worried about Xena?" Zoe nodded.
"Do you know what’s going to happen?" Zoe shook her head. "Zoe, listen to me. Xena is very strong. The gods smile on her. Don’t give up on her yet."
"She’s in there with Chloe, Ephiny. I’m afraid she won’t want to come back," the little girl replied disregarding Ephiny’s feeble attempts at comforting her.
Gabrielle had gone to Electra and Petra’s hut to ask Electra if she would help her move Xena. It had been eight days since Petra’s injury, and she was much stronger, but Thyra ordered her to do no physical activity for a moon and threatened her with Ephiny’s wrath if she disobeyed. And although Petra accompanied the two back to Gabrielle’s quarters, she could only stand by helplessly and watch the two smaller women work on Xena.
Standing by Xena’s bed and looking down at her injured friend, Petra asked, "Has there been any change, Gabrielle? What does Thyra say about Xena?"
Gabrielle replied softly, "There’s been no change, and Thyra says it’s too early to tell." She intentionally left out most of the healer’s comments mainly because she couldn’t stand voicing that horrible possibility and because she didn’t want to upset Petra either.
Electra and Gabrielle carefully rolled Xena onto her side, and both held their breath when a moan escaped the warrior’s lips. The three exchanged a hopeful look.
When Chloe left the room, Xena turned to make the bed. As she bent over straightening the covers, she was suddenly struck by a searing pain in her head. She moaned as it brought her to her knees, and she grabbed the bed to keep from falling to the floor. The world spun around her. Blinded by the pain she saw nothing but blackness for several moments. Finally the agony subsided and she pushed herself onto the bed, sprawling across it she tried to regain her senses. As she lay there, nausea gripped her and she rolled onto her side holding her stomach. For a moment she thought of a cave in eastern Thrace-- the fever, the pounding headache, and the icy water, but that was more than two cycles ago. ‘What was going on?’
When Gabrielle entered the dining hall, Zoe spoke quickly to Ephiny, "Don’t tell Gabrielle, Ephiny. I don’t want to hurt her." Although Ephiny was unsure of the exact nature of the relationship between Xena and Chloe, she had surmised it was special.
The maturity she saw in this little miracle sitting next to her amazed her. "Don’t worry, Zoe. I won’t tell her." Ephiny smiled at Gabrielle as she approached. "Gabrielle, sit down and eat something."
Gabrielle stood at the table waiting for Zoe to follow her and said, "I’m not hungry, Ephiny."
Ephiny placed her hand on Zoe’s shoulder silently communicating that she should remain seated. She stood and walked around to Gabrielle and putting her arm around the Queen’s shoulders she walked her to the bench opposite Zoe. "I know you’re not hungry, Gabrielle, but you must eat something. You need to keep up your strength. Xena and Zoe both need you to be strong for them."
Gabrielle sighed. She knew Ephiny was right, but she was so tired of being strong. Her heart ached for Xena. She just wanted to lay in those strong arms and feel safe where the world could never hurt her. She missed Xena so much, she thought her heart would break in two.
Almost a fortnight passed and Gabrielle grew disheartened. Xena had made no discernible progress. Other than the feeble moan on the second day there had been no movement or sound from her. Thyra only shook her head and gave Gabrielle little hope. "I’m sorry, my Queen, there is no change. The longer Xena remains in this state, the less likely she will ever regain consciousness."
Gabrielle looked away and spoke quietly, "Can we remove the bandages so that I might bathe her better?"
In her profession, Thyra had often had the unpleasant job of delivering bad news. She never enjoyed that responsibility, but of all those with whom she had dealt, none touched her heart as much as Queen Gabrielle. Her undying loyalty to her warrior even when things looked hopeless was heroically tragic in Thyra’s eyes. And even now when things looked the bleakest, Gabrielle still lovingly ministered to the injured woman.
"Of course, my Queen, but why don’t you let me get an attendant to help me. You don’t need to do this."
Gabrielle looked deeply into her eyes for a heartbeat and spoke, "Thyra, when I lay dying in a cave in eastern Thrace, Xena stayed awake for six days and six nights taking care of my every need. She brought me back from death’s grip in Thessaly, saved me from slavers in Poteidaia and rapists on a ship on the Propontis. She has always been there for me, and I intend to be here for Xena until her mortal body needs me no longer." Thyra only nodded, afraid to speak and reveal the depth of her emotions.
The healer removed the bandages that secured Xena’s arm to her chest and stood aside while Gabrielle lovingly bathed Xena’s body. She helped only to carefully hold Xena’s arm and then to roll the warrior onto her side so Gabrielle could wash her back. When Gabrielle finished and had slipped a clean linen shift slit up the back over Xena’s good arm and tucked it around her body, Thyra stepped forward to examine Xena’s shoulder. She poked and prodded at the wound and was pleased with the way it looked. The scar was ugly and jagged, but it was not red or swollen. Not that it really mattered, but on the outside, the wound looked good. With Gabrielle’s help, she bandaged the shoulder and bound Xena’s arm to her torso.
As Thyra left, she looked back through the closing door to see Gabrielle sitting on the bed brushing Xena’s hair.
Xena soaked in a tub of hot water and chatted with Chloe who sat in a chair across the room, her feet casually propped up on the bed. "Well, since you won’t join me, will you at least come over here and wash my back?" Xena teased.
Chloe laughed as she pushed up out of her chair, "You are so demanding, my love." She walked across the room and knelt behind Xena. Pushing up her sleeves, she took the cloth from Xena’s hand and proceeded to scrub the tall woman’s back. "How was the market today?" Chloe asked.
Xena frowned, "It was fine." and she grew silent.
"Why so pensive, Xe?" Chloe asked. Xena shrugged and Chloe persisted. "Did something happen today at the market?"
"No, not really. It’s just that I keep seeing this little girl who keeps staring at me. She’s there one moment and gone the next." Xena stood up, and Chloe handed her the linen drying cloth and then her night shift. Xena went to the bed and sat down on its edge, lost in thought as a little freckled face darted in and out of her mind.
Chloe picked up the brush and sat behind Xena on the bed. She began to brush the long, raven hair. When she was finished, she moved to sit next to Xena and smiling ran her finger tips through the long, dark tresses. "Have I told you how much I love your hair?" she asked.
Xena allowed a smile to creep across her face. "Let’s see. Only about a thousand times."
Chloe playfully punched her on the shoulder. Xena cried out, crumpling in pain and almost tumbled to the floor as she clasped her shoulder in her hand.
"My gods, Xena what is it? What’s wrong?" Chloe asked. Xena could not answer through the pain, and Chloe could only wrap her in her arms and hold her close.
Gabrielle and Zoe sat in a tub of hot water both lost in thought. Gabrielle mentally relived the times she and Xena had luxuriated together in a tub just like this. She listened to their past conversations and remembered the bath in Cius. She looked sadly across the room at the pale, silent warrior suspended between life and death, like fly trapped in a web. She wondered if Xena was struggling to escape from somewhere beyond this realm .
Zoe finally interrupted her thoughts, "Gabrielle, I would like to sleep with Xena tonight. I’ll be careful of her arm."
Gabrielle looked down at Zoe and realized she had not been very attentive to the child’s needs lately. She knew Zoe must be suffering horribly, but like Xena, she seldom let her feelings be known. Gabrielle thought back to the one time those feelings had exploded from that tiny body and she realized it was probably a good thing that Zoe was stoic. Without questioning her, Gabrielle said, "All right Zoe. You may sleep with Xena." Gabrielle had wished she too could crawl in bed with her, but she was afraid she might in some way steal away what strength Xena had left, and her love, her warrior, her Xena would slip away forever. A tear slid down the bard’s cheek. Zoe stood in the tub, clambered into her lap, and wrapped her arms around Gabrielle’s neck. The two held tightly to each other, knowing that they were each other’s only link to Xena.
Zoe stood silently by the bed peering into Xena’s sleeping face for the longest time. She then quietly padded around the bed and touched the sleeping woman who lay next to Xena. Chloe opened her eyes, smiled into those of her beautiful, little daughter, but warned her to be quiet with her finger to her own lips. Chloe slipped out of bed and took the child’s hand. The two walked silently from the room and down the stairs to the inn’s kitchen. Chloe sat at the table and Zoe climbed into her lap. Chloe kissed her child on the top of her head and hugged her as Zoe snuggled into her mother’s loving embrace.
Finally Zoe spoke, "Mommy, you have to let Xena go."
Smiling down at her daughter, Chloe replied, "Oh, Zoe, I’m not holding Xena here."
Zoe pulled away and looked into her mother’s laughing eyes. She said somberly, "We need her."
"I know, my little one, but I can’t send her back." Chloe said, "She’s not ready."
"Mommy, when will she be ready?" Zoe asked.
"I don’t know, honey," Chloe answered as she ran her fingers through her child’s soft dark hair. "She was hurt very badly. Here she can heal. If she goes back too soon, she will die, Zoe. I can’t let that happen. I need her to take care of you and Gabrielle."
"Gabrielle is so sad, mommy, and I don’t know what to do to help her. She keeps having the dream, and I know she thinks Xena is going to die," Zoe explained.
Chloe wrinkled her brow in a rare frown, "Zoe, you and Gabrielle are the most powerful ties Xena has to that existence. If Xena loses that link, she will float in the sleep of Morpheus forever. You must be strong and help Gabrielle." Zoe’s mind felt her mother’s soft caresses and she understood what she must do. "Zoe, when the time comes," Chloe explained, "I will call for you. Xena will need your help, you know that?" Zoe nodded and Chloe said, "Be strong, little one."
"Goodbye, Gabrielle." Xena turned and walked into Chloe’s waiting arms and the two walked away arm-in-arm. They turned and smiled and waved back at Gabrielle and Zoe sitting atop Argo. They disappeared as they crested a hill. The desolation gripped Gabrielle’s chest. How was she going to go on without her warrior? How was she going to raise this child who sat in front of her? How was she going to survive with this broken and bloodied heart that still hammered painfully in her chest?
"Gabrielle," the child spoke up at her, "follow them."
Gabrielle looked down at the tiny, serious face, she reined Argo around and slowly pursued the blurred images walking hand-in hand through the drifting mist of the dream world.
When Gabrielle awoke in the morning, the desolation that had smothered her seemed less oppressive. She looked down at the sleeping child draped across her body, and then over at the gray, motionless warrior. She somehow felt better...at least she had taken some action.
Although Gabrielle focused only on the pain she and Zoe felt and on attending Xena day and night, life continued in the Amazon Nation. The brilliant attacks planned by Xena and carried out by the able Amazon military were a total success. The Athenians had completely withdrawn from Amazon territory and were indeed speeding back to Athens as Xena had predicted. The Amazons, under the direction of Eponin, maintained constant pressure on the retreating forces and terrorized them at every move. Although they never attacked the civilian settlements, many villagers withdrew along with the military. Those who remained, according to Amazon intelligence, appeared to be only interested in homesteading.
Gabrielle was surprised to see Ephiny standing in her doorway. Ephiny, busy with the affairs of state of the Amazon nation, had only managed two other visits since Xena’s injuries well over a fortnight ago. Those visits were not long after the battle. She had made it a point to see Gabrielle at least once every day in the dining hall and made sure her friend was eating. She was shocked to see the gaunt ghost who was Xena lying motionlessly on the Queen’s bed with her arm strapped to her chest. She was amazed Gabrielle was doing as well as she was. Ephiny was ashamed of herself for not visiting more, but she knew the reason as she glanced at Zoe sitting quietly watching her from a chair by Xena’s side. What she had come for was irrelevant now. She was sure Gabrielle had no desires to be saddled with the affairs of state. She forced herself to cross the room and gazed down at Xena, and then looking up at Gabrielle said, "Gabrielle, I am sorry I have not come sooner. How are you doing?" Gabrielle stepped protectively between Ephiny and Xena and sat on the bed leaning against the headboard. She caressed Xena’s brow as she looked up into Ephiny’s eyes.
Gabrielle was tired and she had been hurt by Ephiny’s absence. Petra and Electra were always there whenever she needed anything. Thyra stopped by three and four times a day. Even Solari and Eponin visited often when they were not off terrorizing Athenian troops. But Ephiny had been absent; yes, she made it a point to see her every day in the dining hall. Gabrielle had needed her, she who had proclaimed Gabrielle to be a sister of her heart was no where to be found. Gabrielle’s hurt came through when she finally answered Ephiny. "I am doing just fine, Ephiny, what is it you want of me?"
Ephiny knew full well she deserved Gabrielle’s anger. She ached inside at the knowledge that she had been responsible for this tragedy and then could not be strong for Gabrielle in her time of need. "Gabrielle, I am sorry." Ephiny could not stop the tears, and she dropped onto her knees in front of her Queen and took her hand in hers. She spoke through her tears. "I couldn’t face you, Gabrielle. Not after this." She swept her hand in the direction of Xena’s prostrate body. "This was my fault."
Gabrielle furrowed her brow in bewilderment. Shaking her head in confusion, she looked into Ephiny’s anguished face, "I don’t know what you mean, Ephiny. How can this be your fault?"
Ephiny wiped at her tears, angry with herself for being so weak. "I let Xena lead that attack and then I didn’t have the guts to stand by you and help you through this."
Gabrielle was so tired of being the strong one. ‘Would this ever end?’ she wondered. She just wished some one would cradle her in their arms and tell her everything would be all right. She sighed, "Ephiny, you did not let Xena do anything. It was her choice."
Tears streamed down her face as Ephiny shook her head and continued. "Zoe told us of the vision and of the threat to Xena in that cursed battle. Petra begged me to send a party to retrieve Xena, but I did nothing; I let her go knowing full well that she was marching into the arms of death." Ephiny dropped her head, "And then I didn’t even have the strength to be strong for you. I’ll never forgive myself, Gabrielle." Gabrielle finally understood. She slid from the bed to the floor and wrapped her arms around Ephiny. The two women held onto each other and wept.
Chloe sat on the bed next to Xena and caressed her brow, "Are you feeling better, love?"
"Not really. My head is pounding." She covered her eyes with her arm to block out the light coming through the window.
"I’ll make you some willow tea," Chloe said as left the room.
Xena felt as though her head were splitting in two. She seldom had headaches, and she wished she could just drift off to sleep to escape this infernal pain. As she squeezed her eyes shut, she heard a voice cry out her name, ‘Xena.’ and the image of a young blonde woman flitted through her mind. But it was gone in a heartbeat. She struggled against the pain in her head to recall the voice and the face, but all she could see in her mind’s eye was the back of the woman’s head and the golden tresses that fell down her back.
"Goodbye, Gabrielle." The dream began again and Gabrielle braced herself for its inevitable outcome. Xena turned and walked into Chloe’s waiting arms and the two walked away arm-in-arm. And then they turned and smiled and waved back at Gabrielle and Zoe sitting atop Argo. They disappeared as they crested a hill. Zoe looked up at her, and Gabrielle turned Argo to follow them, but this time the dream continued. As Argo crested the hill, Gabrielle saw Xena standing tall at the crest of the next hill looking back in her direction. Chloe walked towards her and Zoe. Gabrielle reined Argo to a stop and curiously watched as Chloe approached them and stood smiling and looking up at her. Chloe reached up and Zoe thrusting her arms out leaned down to her. Chloe plucked the child from the saddle and held her in her right arm. Gabrielle was confused, and Chloe spoke as Zoe looked up at her and gave her a dazzling smile, "Don’t worry Gabrielle." With that Chloe turned and walked away in Xena’s direction as Zoe looked back over her mother’s shoulder at Gabrielle.
Xena stood in the middle of the primeval forest bewildered as the fog thickened around her. She had no idea how she had gotten there. She searched her memory, but it seemed as foggy as the dismal, silent wilderness in which she stood. Straining, she remembered the pain in her head, Chloe and willow tea. "Chloe!" She swung around in a wild circle desperately searching, but dark clouds and the enormous gnarled trees hid the luminous moon and shadows blended to black casting dreary phantoms upon the ground. They played tricks with her vision. She was confused and lost. As despair enveloped her, she heard a familiar voice, and Chloe appeared in front of her. Xena ran to her and wrapping her in her arms held her tightly.
"It’s all right, Xe." Xena pushed her at arm’s length afraid she might disappear if she relinquished her hold. Chloe smiled up into Xena’s face and spoke, "Xena, it’s time. You need to go back now."
Xena shook her head confused, "Go back? What are you talking about, Chloe?"
Chloe placed her hands on Xena’s arms and gently pressed them down releasing Xena’s hold on her. "You’ve been asleep. Drifting in Morpheus’ web of dreams, and it is time for you to go back where you belong."
Xena did not understand what Chloe was saying, "What about you, Chloe? Will you come with me?" Desperation played across the warrior’s features.
Chloe smiled lovingly into Xena’s ocean-blue eyes, "No, my love, I belong here in your dreams."
Xena began to cry. "What are you saying, Chloe? Please, you’re scaring me. I don’t want to leave you."
Chloe gently caressed Xena’s cheek with the back of her finger. "Xe, your not leaving me, I’m already gone." Tears fell down Xena’s cheeks. "You need to go home, Xena."
"Chloe, please, there is no home without you."
"Xe, there are some very important people in your life who are weeping right now for you, and they need you."
Xena frowned. She searched her memory and shook her head, "But I don’t know them. I love you, Chloe. I want to stay here with you."
Chloe smiled sadly at the warrior who stood before her pleading. "I love you too, Xe, but it is too late for us. Your place is among the living, and mine is among the dead."
At those words, Xena’s heart broke in two, and crying out, "Nooo!" she dropped to her knees. Chloe kneeled before her and took her into her arms one more time, holding her to her breast. Xena cried and clutched her tightly. Eventually Xena relaxed her hold and ran her fingers through Chloe’s brown locks. Her curls, dark against Xena’s hands fell between her fingers, and the warrior rose up on her knees. She gently kissed Chloe on the lips, cradling her head in her large hands. Chloe smiled at her, stood up, turned, and disappeared into the mist.
Gabrielle awoke with a start. The dream. Chloe took Zoe!
Frantically she searched the bed for the child. Not finding her there, she looked over at Xena and with relief saw Zoe lying peacefully in the crook of Xena’s right arm. Gabrielle crawled across her bed and touched the sleeping child. She did not move. Gabrielle believing she was exhausted from the stress of their situation, rolled out of bed and slipped on her clothes before splashing water into her face. From the light that shone through the window, she knew it was late. She wanted Zoe to eat before the dining hall was closed. She returned to the bed and crawled across it to awaken the child. She shook her gently and called her name, and when she received no response, she shook her harder. Nothing. Frantic with fear she grabbed the child up and held her in her arms calling to her, "Zoe? Zoe, please wake up!" Gabrielle’s heart pounded in her chest, and she thought she would be sick. She held Zoe close to her cheek to feel her breath. It was not detectable. The child was cold. Gabrielle dropped her ear to Zoe’s chest. Her heart beat faintly and slowly. Distraught, Gabrielle scrambled off the bed with the child and darted out of her quarters toward the healer’s hut.
Petra was walking towards Gabrielle’s quarters when she saw the Queen running toward her with Zoe limp in her arms. "Gabrielle, what’s wrong?"
Gabrielle sobbed as she tried to explain, "Petra, I can’t wake her."
Petra immediately took the child from Gabrielle and held her easily in one arm while she lifted an eye lid and peered into the child’s unresponsive eye. Without a word, she swung around and trotted in the direction of Thyra’s hut. Gabrielle ran to keep up with her. The other Amazons, noticing the apparent anxiety written all over Petra and the Queen, began to mill around and tag after the racing women. Ephiny stepped out of her hut in time to glimpse Gabrielle’s golden hair as she slipped into the Thyra’s hut. Ephiny leaned back weakly against her door. She feared the worst as images of Xena crashed through her mind. She took several deep breaths and moved quickly to join Gabrielle.
When Ephiny pushed through the crowd of Amazons, she discovered Zoe not Xena was the reason for the commotion. Gabrielle was in tears, and Petra paced anxiously back and forth and then enveloped Gabrielle in her embrace as Thyra examined the child.
Thyra looked up at Gabrielle, "How did you find her, my Queen?"
Petra loosened her hold on Gabrielle as the Queen turned to face Thyra, "She was laying cradled in Xena’s arm. I thought she was just tired." Pleading through her tears Gabrielle asked, "Thyra, what’s wrong with her?" Ephiny stepped forward and pulled Gabrielle into her arms.
Thyra picked up the tiny child and replied, "I think she dream walks, my Queen. We need to tuck her back into Xena’s bed and hope she finds her way home to us."
Xena sat on the forest floor in abject grief, lost and alone. She looked sadly in the direction in which Chloe had disappeared, and there stood the tiny child whom she had seen in Amphipolis. Xena frowned at the apparition, afraid to take her eyes from her for fear she might disappear. When she stood, the child turned and walked into the mist. Xena followed.
The silent vigil began again in the Queen’s apartment. Ephiny remained by Gabrielle’s side and Electra hearing the news, rushed to be with Petra. Thyra placed Zoe in the crook of Xena’s arm and gently pulled the covers around them. "If Zoe is indeed dream walking, she will be cold. We must keep her body warm. When she returns, she will be exhausted."
"I don’t understand, what do you mean by dream walking?" Gabrielle asked as she slumped tiredly into a chair by Xena’s bed.
Thyra began patiently, "My Queen, I am not a seer, but I do know of such things. I think it is quite apparent to all of us here that Zoe possesses the gift of sight. She did predict Xena’s injury, and when you were sick in eastern Thrace, she knew it." Thyra looked over at Petra and Electra remembering how distraught the young couple had been when Zoe became ill in their charge. No one spoke, but every person in the room had first hand experience with Zoe’s gift.
Gabrielle probed further, "But why is she like this? Why can’t I waken her?"
"She is traveling in Morpheus’ realm," Thyra said. "She cannot hear you. She is unaware of her physical existence right now. That is why it is important to protect her body; she cannot."
Gabrielle touched the little hand that rested on Xena’s arm which was draped limply around her daughter. "Did she choose to dream walk?"
"I am not sure, my Queen, but I would say it was a conscious choice."
"Is it dangerous, Thyra? You said we can hope she finds her way back."
Thyra hated delivering any more bad news to Gabrielle; the young woman had suffered enough over the last moon. She knew, however, it would be futile to withhold anything from the Queen; she had an uncanny ability to see through her anyway. "It can be dangerous, my Queen. The child could become disoriented and lost. I don’t know what other perils she might face in the dream world."
Gabrielle looked down at Xena and Zoe and then up at Thyra, "Why is she doing it, Thyra? Why is she dream walking? What does she hope to accomplish?"
"I’m not sure, my Queen, but I would guess she is searching for Xena."
Gabrielle furrowed her brow, "Are you telling me she can enter Xena’s dreams?"
Thyra raised her eyebrow at the Queen’s question, "Hasn’t Zoe visited your dreams, my Queen?"
Gabrielle’s mouth dropped at that question as Zoe’s word pummeled her mind, ‘Follow them, Gabrielle,’ and she could only nod. What was the significance of her last dream. Why did Chloe take Zoe? Finally she found her voice, "How long will this take, Thyra?"
"I’m not sure my Queen."
The mist thickened and thinned like a living, breathing creature. At times Xena lost sight of the child she was followed. When that happened, Xena would quicken her pace. Eventually she would catch up to the child and find her waiting patiently. When Xena came into view, the child would turn and continue the journey. Xena wished the child would say something, anything, but she remained silent.
Several candlemarks had passed and the watch in the Queen’s quarters continued. Thyra rose from her chair and felt Zoe’s forehead, opened her eyelids, and peered into the dark orbs centered in the brilliant blue eyes. She then focused her attention on Xena. Turning to Gabrielle she said, "My Queen, we should reposition Xena; she’s been in this position far too long. I don’t want fluid to gather in her lungs."
Gabrielle nodded to Ephiny who moved forward to help. Gabrielle picked up Zoe and handed her to Petra. As they rolled Xena on to her side, Ephiny inadvertently grabbed Xena’s shoulder and the warrior moaned. Thyra immediately stepped forward to examine Xena more closely. She carefully laid her on her back and turning to Petra spoke, "Petra, hand me the lamp." Petra, with Zoe in her arm leaped from the chair and retrieved the lamp.
Thyra took it and with her other hand lifted one of Xena’s eyelids. She waved the flame back and forth in front of Xena’s eye. There was a flicker of movement. She then looked into her other eye and saw the center contract. She exhaled and smiled at Gabrielle who stood there frozen, too scared to even hope. "My Queen, her eyes are reacting to the light. That is a very good sign."
With those words, Gabrielle, who had not cried in front of anyone but Ephiny the day she confessed her misplaced guilt, collapsed in tears.
Ephiny and Electra were immediately kneeling at her side. Petra gently placed Zoe next to Xena and went to Gabrielle. She bent and effortlessly picked up her Queen. Petra sat on the bed still holding Gabrielle in her strong arms and quietly spoke to her as Gabrielle gave in to all the fears and anxieties she had suffered over the last moon. She cried in Petra’s arms, thankful that finally some one else was being strong for her.
The spear impaled her shoulder sending searing rivulets of red-hot pain racing down her arm to her finger tips and radiating out across her chest jolting her from the saddle. Her head exploded in white agony and abysmal darkness threaten to pull her under. The warrior lay on the ground writhing in pain. The dreary forest pressed down upon her crushing the wind from her lungs. Her senses were pummeled while the mist enshrouded her. She curled into a tight ball squeezing her eyes closed in an attempt to shut out the pain, the loneliness, the terror that battered her in endless, brutal waves. After what seemed forever, the agony subsided and all that remained was the dull ache in her shoulder and in her head and the fear of knowing it would return again to torment her. She cautiously relaxed, fearful that it was a cruel trick. When she opened her eyes, the raven-haired child with freckles squatted next to her peering into her eyes with strangely familiar blue eyes. The child tenderly brushed back Xena’s dark hair that had fallen in her face. Then the child stood and reached her hand down to the warrior. Xena stared up into this familiar face, then struggled to her knees and stumbled to her feet. The child slipped her hand into the warrior’s hand and led her on through the forest.
Gabrielle lay weeping in Petra’s arms for more than a candlemark before she fell into an exhausted sleep. The big warrior, with the help of Electra and Ephiny, removed the Queen’s boots and slipped her into bed. The day had been very long and everyone was fatigued. Thyra said, "Ephiny, I believe we should all turn in. There’s nothing we can do here tonight. Zoe will probably not awaken before tomorrow."
Petra turned to Ephiny, "With you permission, Queen Ephiny, I would like to remain here with Gabrielle."
"Petra, you need rest," Thyra said sternly before Ephiny could respond. "You’ve already disobeyed my orders for no physical activity."
Ephiny agreed, "Thyra’s right, Petra, you need your rest. It’s late, and I’m sure we’ll have another long day tomorrow."
Petra started to protest but Electra stepped next to her and touched her arm lightly. "Come on, Petra, let’s go home. We’ll come back first thing in the morning."
Looking down into Electra’s eyes, Petra relented, "All right, just a moment." She walked over to where Xena lay, looked at her warrior friend and adjusted the blanket that covered her. Petra gently caressed Zoe’s cheek. Something gnawed at her. She did not want to leave.
As Ephiny and Thyra looked on, Electra came up beside her, wrapped her arm around her waist and whispered, "They’ll be all right, my love. You need your rest, let’s go." Petra glanced at the sleeping Queen, turned and joined Thyra and Ephiny as they left Gabrielle’s quarters.
The warrior, barely conscious, staggered behind the child who clung to her hand and dragged her forward through the gray mist. The little girl kept looking up at Xena, staring into her eyes, urging her forward in silent communication. Xena only wished to lay down and rest, but the child was insistent, and the warrior pushed herself on through the pain and the grief that gripped her soul, and through the trees that obliterated the sky. Her head throbbed, her shoulder ached, and the increasing light sent stabbing pains through her eyes. She raised her left arm painfully to block out the intensifying rays. Suddenly they were both pushed forward as if being expelled from the ocean by a savage wave. They landed roughly in a sea-green, clover field, and both fell peacefully asleep, the little child cradled in the arm of the warrior.
Gabrielle floated above the scene both outside the dream and in it. She recognized the rolling steppes as her blurred vision cleared and dread gripped her chest. She looked down slowly. She was on Argo, and Zoe sat in front of her. It was no longer dark, and the sun was bright. The golden horse glistened in the sunlight with frothy sweat as she galloped, her hooves beating out a jolting rhythm. Gabrielle realized she was desperately clinging to the saddle and holding Zoe between her arms. The pounding moved up through the animal’s legs and into the body of the inexperienced rider who felt the jarring vibrations to the very essence of her being. Somewhere her mind screamed slowly, ‘hold on tight.’
She looked around, and in horror, realized what was happening. Chloe was riding behind her. Gabrielle turned in time to see her thrown to the ground as the arrow penetrated her chest. Gabrielle screamed, "Noooo!" Somewhere outside looking in she thought, ‘Please, not again.’ She reined Argo and jumped from the horse. Placing Zoe on the ground, Gabrielle began her long painfully familiar run to Chloe as she screamed at Xena. Her body was heavy, her movements like lead, every action frozen momentarily in time.
When Gabrielle reached the fallen form, tears ran down her cheeks. Chloe’s lips moved. The words hung and echoed in the air for an eternity, "Take care of Xe for me." The warrior appeared, a slow blur of inert energy, and dragged Chloe from Gabrielle’s arms. Gabrielle braced herself for the words that like a cruel sword would slash and bloody her heart. Gabrielle floated above and below the scene. She was in it. She observed it. She was surrounded by the events, and she surrounded them. It all moved in painfully slow, jerky heart beats with a pause between each beat which pounded loudly in her ears.
Xena cried, rocked Chloe in her arms, kissed her on the cheek, the eyes, the lips. "Chloe, I love you. I have always loved you. I will always love you." Gabrielle looked down at her heart that lay crushed and bloodied at her feet. The words reverberated, echoed, and bounced around her, assaulting her from all sides, beating her, pummeling her bearing down on her with their weight.
She was on Argo again. Zoe sat in front of her, and the stranger who had been Xena sat behind her, cold and distant and empty. And then from above the words ‘Where is she?’ battered her.
The dream ended abruptly. Gabrielle was jerked savagely from her sleep, and dazed state, she stared into the angry, cold eyes of the Warrior Princess. In a dangerous voice Xena snarled, "I said, where is she? What have you done with her?" Xena hovered menacingly over Gabrielle clutching Gabrielle’s blouse in her right fist. The warrior looked like a phantom returned from the dead. Dark circles beneath her sunken eyes contrasted starkly with her ashen face. Her cheeks were thin and hollow, and her cracked lips curled back in a wolf like snarl.
Gabrielle finally found her voice. Ignoring her pounding heart and reaching deep from within, she spoke calmly, "Xena, listen to me." Xena was perplexed; she searched her mind, but it only made her head hurt more. She scowled. Gabrielle went on, reading the confusion in her attacker’s face. "You’ve been injured. You’re hurt. Let me help you to lay back down." Xena heard the words, but pain stabbed her head and dulled her reason. She wanted to lash out at the pain like an snared beast snapping savagely at its ruined paw. She released Gabrielle’s blouse but laid more weight on her, holding her down with her uninjured arm and grinding her elbow into her Gabrielle’s flesh. She deliberately moved her hand up her victim’s chest and dug her fingers into Gabrielle’s face and jaw.
Xena hissed through clenched teeth, "I asked you a question. Where is Chloe?"
Tears of pain and fear gathered in Gabrielle’s eyes, and she struggle to speak. "Xena, please, you’re hurting me." Xena ignored the plea as white-hot rage overwhelmed her. She dragged her fingers slowly down Gabrielle’s face leaving angry, scarlet paths of bruised and abraded skin in their wake. She wrapped her fingers around Gabrielle’s throat and squeezed.
Gabrielle, feeling the airflow slowly being pinched off, desperately struggled to free her hands from the blanket, but her left arm was trapped beneath Xena. Finally freeing her right hand, she clasped Xena’s wrist and tugged vainly. Staring into Xena’s cold eyes, Gabrielle saw nothing but dark pools of hate.
Gabrielle gasped as lights danced in her eyes and her vision was encapsulated in fingers of darkness. "Xena, please, I love you," she rasped. Just before darkness carried her away, a tiny hand touched Xena’s.
"Xena, don’t." The warrior looked into Zoe’s face and slowly released Gabrielle from her grip. Gabrielle gasped for air. The woman above her looked dazed and confused as if just awakening from a nightmare. Gabrielle began to cry. Zoe crawled next to her and wrapped a protective arm across her chest. "It’s all right, Gabrielle. Xena doesn’t know what she’s doing. It’s all right. She won’t hurt you now." Xena frowned at the words coming from the child and glimpsed of a blonde woman tumbling through her tangled memory.
Closing her eyes, Xena pushed back as she tried to battle the blinding pain in her head. She tried to make sense of the things that spun around her. Gabrielle, freed finally from Xena’s weight, pulled her left arm from the blanket, drew Zoe into her embrace, and cried as she hugged and kissed the little child. Through her tears she spoke, "Oh, Zoe, I was so worried about you. Where did you go?"
Xena, cutting a swath through her pain, dragged her attention to the woman and the child and observed the interchange. She wondered through the fog that muddled her mind, ‘Who are these people who seemed to know me?’
Looking up at Gabrielle, Zoe explained, "I’m sorry, Gabrielle. I didn’t mean to worry you, but Mommy told me it was time, so I had to go."
Glancing at Xena fearfully, Gabrielle continued to question the child, "Time for what Zoe?"
Locking eyes with Xena Zoe answered, "Time to bring Xena home. She was lost and couldn’t find her way."
Gabrielle wanted so much to wrap her arms around the warrior and comfort her, but the woman who stared back at her was not her Xena. The hurt look on the young woman’s face puzzled Xena. She was haunted by a voice that rippled through her mind, ‘There are some important people in your life who are weeping right now for you. Your place is among the living and mine is among the dead.’ Xena cried out desperately, "Nooo!"
Gabrielle jumped in fear at the warrior’s cry, and clutched Zoe protectively in her arms as she shielded her from the mad woman next to her. Xena crumpled back onto the bed clutching madly at her skull, she cried tears of sorrow and writhed in excruciating agony. At that sight, Gabrielle’s her heart melted. She released Zoe and crawled to Xena, took her into her arms caressed her brow and spoke soothingly as she gently rocked her.
The next morning, Gabrielle awoke to find Xena struggling to sit up in her bed. Gabrielle quickly made her way to Xena’s side. She didn’t touch the warrior afraid of Xena’s reaction. "Xena, please don’t try to get up, yet, you’re too weak."
Xena flopped back into the pillows scowling at the arm bound tightly to her chest. She looked at Gabrielle and demanded, "Help me take this off."
"I’ll get the healer and see if it’s all right." Gabrielle made to move but recognized a flash of angry frustration play across Xena’s face. In her heart she was relieved to know Xena was too weak to catch her if the warrior came for her again as she had done the previous night.
Xena was not about to wait and she tried to remove the wrap by herself causing her abused shoulder to scream in pain. Dots spun before her eyes and she bit her lip not to cry out. Gabrielle, her fear erased by the pain she recognized on Xena’s face, moved forward and sat carefully on the edge of the bed. She spoke quietly, "Xena, I’ll help you."
Xena opened her eyes and looked at the stranger before her. She realized what she had done the night before and remembered that this same woman, whom she’d tried to kill, had gently rocked her through the pain. "I’m sorry I hurt you last night," she said as a confused frown creased her forehead.
Gabrielle reached for the bandage not looking at Xena. She shrugged, "You didn’t know what you were doing." She found the end of the bandage and continued, "Can you sit up?"
Xena tried but found it impossible. Movement made her head pound even more. Seeing her strong warrior fighting to sit up broke Gabrielle’s heart. She intervened, laying a soft hand on the emaciated warrior’s injured shoulder, "That’s all right, Xena, let me help you." Gabrielle climbed into the bed, helped Xena into a sitting position, and sat behind her. "There, you can lean into me if you need to." Xena, too weak to sit on her own, leaned into the stranger.
Gabrielle reached her arms around Xena and unwrapped her shoulder and arm. The arm fell limply into Xena’s lap causing her to suck in air at the pain. Pulling the pillows behind her, Gabrielle propped Xena up and moved back to the edge of the bed. She looked on as Xena tried to put her lifeless arm through the sleeve of the gown that had been draped loosely over her. Gabrielle fought back tears as she watched her brave warrior and spoke quietly, "Here, let me do that." Gabrielle gently took Xena’s painfully thin arm in her hands, and carefully slipped it into the sleeve, and pulled the gown around Xena. She began to massage the atrophied muscles in her warrior’s arm as Xena pulled the gown from her shoulder and examined the scar. It ran jaggedly across her upper chest and branched into a "y" across her collar bone in one direction and her shoulder in the other.
Fingering the tender area, she asked, "How did this happen?"
Gabrielle continued to rub and flex Xena’s stiff hand and wrist. "An Athenian foot soldier speared you," she answered.
Xena raised her left eyebrow, but Gabrielle was looking down and did not notice. Puzzled, Xena asked, "Why?"
Intent on her work, Gabrielle answered without looking up, "We are at war with them."
Xena furrowed her brow in confusion, "Amphipolis is at war with Athens?"
Gabrielle looked up into Xena’s face curiously, "No, Xena, the Amazons are at war with Athens." Realizing Xena had no memory of the fight, Gabrielle asked, "Xena, what is the last thing you remember?"
Xena searched her mind and finally spoke, "Riding triumphantly through the streets of Amphipolis after the defeat of Cortese." Gabrielle wasn’t sure how to handle this. She wished Thyra was here, but she was afraid to leave Xena alone to fetch her.
Xena looked over at the sleeping child lying in the bed pushed next to hers, then back at the blonde woman working on her arm. She was mystified. The two beds were pushed together. "I know the little girl said your name last night, but I’m sorry, I can’t remember it."
Gabrielle could not bring herself to look at Xena for fear she would cry at the realization that she was nobody to Xena. She intensified her concentration on Xena’s arm and replied, "My name is Gabrielle, and the little girl is Zoe."
Xena questioned, "And I know you?" Gabrielle nodded but kept her eyes focused on her ministerings.
Xena probed deeper, "How long have we known each other?"
Gabrielle inhaled deeply, "Almost three years."
Xena looked around the room, "Where are we?"
"We are in Amazonia." Xena gasped as Gabrielle flexed her elbow, and Gabrielle looked up suddenly to see the shadow of pain flee from the warrior’s face before her stoic expression returned. "I’m sorry. Do you want me to stop?" she asked.
"No, go on. I have to work out the stiffness." She gritted her teeth against the pain as Gabrielle slowly flexed the elbow, pushing it a little farther each time, but the warrior could not stand the pain of straightening it completely. She sat cursing her infirmity.
Gabrielle spoke assuringly, "It will just take time, Xena." The warrior frowned and Gabrielle smiled a little inside as glimpses of her Xena returned. Patience had never been one of the warrior’s strong points. "Xena can you move your fingers?" After intense concentration, she was able to wiggle them feebly. Gabrielle smiled in relief remembering her confrontation with Thyra over Xena’s arm. Gabrielle had undying faith in Xena’s healing powers. "I’d better wake Zoe. She needs to eat, and it’s getting late." Xena glanced at the light streaming through the window and winced at the pain in her head as her eyes pulled away from the dagger sunlight. Resting her head against the pillows, she watched with interest as Gabrielle lovingly awakened the child.
Kneeling on the bed, Gabrielle wrapped the tiny girl in her embrace and kissed her on the cheek. "Zoe, sweetheart, time to get up." Zoe rolled over and tiredly flopped her hand across Gabrielle’s shoulder. She smiled sleepily. Her eyes drifted to Xena and Zoe’s smile became dazzling. "Come on, cuddle bug, you need to go to the dining hall and eat," Gabrielle said, "You can take a nap later." Zoe climbed out of bed, and Gabrielle stripped off her night shirt and scrubbed her face and hands and pulled a clean shift over her head. Then she whispered in her ear, "I love you, Zoe. Thank you." The little girl pulled back and grinned happily at Gabrielle. They exchanged knowing looks. "Let’s run the brush through your hair, then you go get something to eat. You can find Ephiny, can’t you, and she can help you?" Zoe nodded and smiled. Gabrielle finished brushing her long, dark hair, and Zoe turned and skipped out of the room waving back at Xena.
Looking into Gabrielle’s face, Xena searched for answers that teased her just beyond her awareness, "You are the child’s mother?" she asked.
Gabrielle frowned slightly and said, "She’s my adopted daughter." Gabrielle wasn’t sure if that was the right answer, but she felt as close to Zoe as she believed any mother could feel about a child of her womb. Gabrielle poured water into a cup and brought it to Xena. "We need to get some food into you. I’m going to check on Zoe and bring you something to eat. You need to rest, Xena. I’ll be back soon."
Xena drank down the water and handed the cup back to Gabrielle and laid back against the pillows examining the young woman before her. Her voice seemed so familiar, and she remembered the blonde hair, but everything else eluded her. "Gabrielle?" Gabrielle looked into the ocean-blue eyes she knew and loved so well. "I am sorry. I know I should remember. I feel as if I’ve hurt you." Xena paused and frowned as disjointed pieces of last night came back to her. "I just can’t remember, and I don’t know why." She furrowed her brow. That wasn’t what she wanted to say, but she could not find better words.
Seeing the confusion and sorrow in Xena’s face, Gabrielle’s heart jumped in her chest. She moved to the bed and took Xena’s hand, "Xena, it will be all right. You will remember everything. You can’t remember because you were knocked off your horse and dragged. Not only did you hit your head on the ground, the horse trampled you." Gabrielle reflexively gasped at the image she created in her mind, and her eyes welled up. Fighting back tears, she went on, "The healer told me you would die." Xena was struck by the emotion on Gabrielle’s face. As she squeezed the tiny hand in hers she looked down on it and knew the truth. This woman had been very special to her; the evidence rested there on her hand. On her finger was a gold crescent and a purple stone. ‘Gabrielle’s ring.’ The phrase danced in her head, and she heard Chloe’s voice.
Xena looked up into Gabrielle’s blue-gray eyes and gave her a crooked grin. "Your healer was wrong." She paused and then said, "Gabrielle, will you help me remember?"
Petra took one look at Gabrielle and flew into a rage, "I’ll kill her!" She pushed past Gabrielle and stomped towards the Queen’s quarters.
"No, Petra, no!" Gabrielle dashed after her and grabbed her arm. "Petra, wait, listen to me, please!" Petra swung around, her dark braids and loose black hair coming to rest across her shoulder, and with tears of anger in her eyes, she looked down at Gabrielle. Ephiny who had heard Gabrielle’s scream came running up to the two women, and observed Petra’s reaction as several Amazons stood by curiously. Petra reached out and with the gentle touch of a soft breeze laid her finger tips on Gabrielle’s face and brushed them tenderly across her throat. Her hand lingered for several moments as Gabrielle looked strangely into the big warrior’s eyes, and Xena’s voice played in her memory, ‘For you, she would do anything.’ Gabrielle had been unaware that the shadows of Xena’s rage remained on her face and throat as angry, purple bruises.
Ephiny, confused by the strange interchange demanded, "Gabrielle, Petra what is this all about?"
They were both jarred from their private musings, and Petra impaled Ephiny with her eyes, "Look at her throat and her face." Anger welled up in her. "You should have let me stay with our Queen last night, Ephiny. Look what Xena did to her." Petra’s anger boiled over. "You know she can be dangerous when she is not herself."
Ephiny turned to Gabrielle and saw the dark bruises, "Gabrielle, are you all right?" Gabrielle nodded. Ephiny asked, "Xena is awake?"
"Yes, I was going to get Thyra and some food for her when I ran into Petra," Gabrielle answered as she looked up uncertainly into the warrior’s dark eyes.
"Tell us what happened," Ephiny said. Noticing the fear in Gabrielle’s eyes as she looked up at Petra, Ephiny turned to Petra and gave her an order. "Petra, you either calm down, or I will put you under house arrest. Xena has been at death’s door. I’m sure there is a logical explanation." Ephiny continued to pin the big warrior with her eyes.
Petra immediately gained control of her emotions, "I apologize, my Queen." She turned to Gabrielle, "I’m sorry, Gabrielle, I shouldn’t have lost my temper like that."
Memories of the Eastern nation, a split lip, and a brutal sword fight flipped through Gabrielle’s awareness. Xena’s words ‘For you, she would do anything," haunted her as she looked into Petra’s eyes. "It’s all right, Petra. We’ve all been under a great deal of stress," she replied simply.
"Gabrielle, what happened?" Ephiny prodded.
Looking warily at Petra and then back at Ephiny, Gabrielle answered, "Xena awoke sometime in the night totally confused and searching for Chloe. She doesn’t remember Chloe’s dead." Ephiny frowned; she wished someone would please explain exactly who this Chloe was. "She must have thought that Chloe was in danger. She tried to get me to tell her where she was and then she..." Gabrielle trailed off as Petra’s eyes grew pained.
Ephiny touched her arm, "Gabrielle, what happened after that."
Gabrielle took a deep breath, "Zoe intervened with just two words, and Xena stopped and collapsed in pain." Tears welled up in Gabrielle’s eyes, and Petra stepped forward and wrapped her arms around her Queen. Gabrielle cried into Petra’s chest but continued looking out from the embrace. "Ephiny, it’s as though she has drunk from the spring of Lethe; she has no memory of the last thirteen years."
Thyra sat on the edge of Xena’s bed puzzling over Xena’s amnesia, "You know who you are and where you are from, but you remember nothing of the last thirteen years?"
Xena had effectively erased the most traumatic years of her life, her warlord days. Xena glanced over at Gabrielle who stood with her arms crossed, concern evident on her face. Then, looking back at the healer she shrugged and nodded, "I guess it’s thirteen years. The last thing I recall is our victory over Cortese."
Ephiny exchanged a look with Gabrielle and Thyra furrowed her brow. Not only had Xena erased her past, she had reinvented one of the most traumatic events in her life. Thyra thought there might be more to the amnesia than just a severe blow to the head.
The healer stood up and bent over the bed-ridden warrior. She peered into Xena’s eyes. "Follow my finger, good." She stood back, "How is your vision?"
"Fine." Xena replied. The attention from these strangers made her uncomfortable. The young woman with the curly, blonde hair stood with her arms crossed staring down at her, and the tall, dark warrior hovered around Gabrielle. Xena snapped out of her thoughts when Thyra asked, "Are you having headaches?"
"Yeah." She answered in a monotone. She sat propped up by pillows and holding her left arm in her right hand, trapping the painful shoulder against her body.
"How bad are they?" Thyra asked.
"Not that bad," Xena lied.
Thyra turned to Petra, "Petra, could you light the lamp and bring it here for me?" Petra nodded and hurriedly produced the requested item. Thyra began to bring the flame close to Xena’s eyes. Xena quickly dropped her left arm and ignoring the shooting pain grabbed Thyra’s wrist and pushed her arm away. Petra immediately stepped forward but Thyra gave her an angry look. "It’s all right, Xena. Petra, take the lamp and move back." Xena glared up at the warrior and watched her move away to position herself next to Gabrielle and lightly touch her shoulder. Xena narrowed her eyes and wondered at the feeling that small action sent through her. She didn’t understand it, but for some reason, she did not want that woman near Gabrielle.
"The light hurts your eyes, Xena?" Xena dragged her eyes from Gabrielle and Petra and looked back at Thyra.
"Yeah...it makes my head hurt more." Thyra nodded, and Xena glanced back at Gabrielle and Petra. Ephiny observed the small drama playing out in the room...‘For having no memory, Xena seemed pretty protective of Gabrielle where Petra is concerned,’ she thought.
Thyra said, "The headaches will probably continue for sometime to come, but eventually they will go away. You will have to gradually get used to the light. It will take a while." Turning to Gabrielle she said, "My Queen, you should block out the light from that window until this sensitivity passes."
Xena looked strangely at Gabrielle. ‘Gabrielle was an Amazon queen?’
Gabrielle asked from where she stood, "Thyra, what of Xena’s memory?" Xena, ignoring the fact that everyone was talking about her as though she wasn’t present, continued to observe the tall woman whom she somehow perceived as a threat.
"Xena received several severe blows to the head, my Queen. Some disorientation is to be expected." Thyra did not want to discuss other possibilities in front of Xena. She would speak to Gabrielle later in private.
Gabrielle asked, remembering Xena’s earlier plea, "Is it all right to try and help her remember?"
Thyra looked from the Queen to Xena and noticed the injured woman was staring toward Gabrielle. Following her gaze, Thyra discovered it was Petra who Xena was observing. "It is fine if Xena feels she is up to it." Xena, at those words, came out of her haze and focused her attention back on the conversation.
Reaching for Xena’s arm, Thyra continued her examination, "Let me take a look at your arm." Thyra checked for feeling and was pleased that Xena had normal sensation in the arm, but her mobility was extremely limited. "That will take work; only time will tell how much you get back. Now let me see you wiggle you fingers." Xena complied, focusing intently on the task. Thyra grinned and looked over at Gabrielle. She then looked back at Xena, "You can thank your Queen for that."
Xena frowned, "I’m not an Amazon; I have no queen."
Thyra grinned and looked up at Ephiny who lifted her eyebrows. Thyra answered, "Xena, you’re more an Amazon than any woman I have ever met." Xena frowned again knowing she was missing something. "And you will want to thank Queen Gabrielle anyway. Your shoulder was so mangled internally, I would have sworn you would never have use of it. I thought it best to amputate before infection set in. Queen Gabrielle wouldn’t let me, told me exactly how I was to repair the damage, and stood over me while I sewed everything back together." The look on Gabrielle’s face saddened Xena and her guts clenched at the dark marks on the smaller woman’s face and throat. But sadness turned to quiet anger when Petra put her arm around Gabrielle’s shoulder and pulled her close. Gabrielle smiled up at the tall woman. Xena wanted to climb out of that bed and punch the big warrior called Petra right in the face.
Xena’s angry view was blocked when Ephiny stepped forward and began to talk to her.
"Xena, we are so glad you’re back, and I want you to know the Amazon nation owes you a debt of gratitude." Xena listened but tilted her head to peek around Ephiny to look at Gabrielle. Suddenly Zoe burst into the room, and Ephiny stepped back revealing the scene behind her to the woman confined to the bed. Petra swept the giggling child into her arms and lifted her skyward and then pulled her into an embrace. Zoe wrapped her arms around Petra’s neck and gave her a big hug. Gabrielle looked up lovingly at the picture of Zoe in Petra’s arms, and the little girl leaned out to Gabrielle and hugged her, pulling her into Petra who wrapped her free arm around the blonde woman. Xena’s heart sank but she didn’t understand why.
After Thyra and Ephiny left, Zoe wiggled in Petra’s arms and Petra put her down. The little child ran to Xena’s bed under the watchful eye of the big warrior, an action not lost on Xena, and climbed into Xena’s bed. Zoe gently laid down next to her on the pillows and wrapped her arms around Xena’s neck. Xena embraced the child with her right arm, pulled her into her, and stared at Petra who stared back. Xena was distracted by the little kiss Zoe placed on her cheek. She looked down into the child’s blue eyes and freckled face and was struck by Chloe’s voice in her head, ‘And she’s yours too.’ Xena did not have time to contemplate that realization because Petra approached her and stood by the side of the bed. She squeezed Xena’s leg and said, "Get well, my warrior friend." Flashing Xena a smile, she turned to Gabrielle and placed her hand on the Queen’s shoulder as the two walked to the door. Xena strained to hear the interchange and was hurt to see Gabrielle hug Petra.
Gabrielle sat by Xena’s bed and finished her story as Zoe smiled and yawned. Xena enjoyed the ending of the story and silently contemplated this incredible woman who was tucking Zoe into bed. She watched intently as Gabrielle pulled up the covers and kissed the child good night. Zoe had begged for a story and lay in Xena’s arm as Gabrielle delighted them both with a tale about Artemis’ fox friend and Athene’s owl.
With Zoe tucked in Gabrielle came back around the bed and spoke to Xena, "Is there anything you need before we turn in for the night?"
Xena looked up and smiled. She patted the bed for Gabrielle to sit next to her. Gabrielle looked unsure but sat down. Xena saw her handiwork on Gabrielle’s cheeks and throat and she frowned angrily at herself. Fear flashed in Gabrielle’s eyes bringing Xena abruptly out of her thoughts to quickly reassured the young woman. "Gabrielle, please, don’t be afraid of me. Seeing the marks on your face made me angry with myself for hurting you. I don’t know why that happened. One moment I was with Chloe and the next she was gone. I was so confused." Xena dropped her gaze and her voice. "I know she is dead." The warrior became quiet as Chloe’s memory teased her mind.
Gabrielle squeezed Xena’s hand. It was painful for her to relive all of this again because she knew in her heart how much Chloe had meant to Xena, but she also knew Xena needed to deal with it. Gabrielle suddenly realized that after Chloe was killed, Xena never talked to anyone about it. Perhaps that was why she couldn’t let it go. "I’m sorry, Xena. I know you and Chloe loved each other very much." Xena looked down into her lap. Noting Xena’s quiet pensiveness, Gabrielle suggested, "Perhaps we should get some rest. I’m sure you’re tired." Xena looked up.
"Gabrielle, if you’re not too tired, I’d like to talk for a while." When Gabrielle smiled an odd smile, Xena asked, "What? Did I say something wrong?"
Gabrielle chuckled, "No, it’s just I’m not used to you wanting to talk. I’m usually the one who has to do all the talking." Xena arched her eyebrow and Gabrielle teased, "Now that looked like my Xena."
"Gabrielle, tell me about your Xena." Gabrielle looked down. The tenderness in Xena’s voice touched her bruised heart and almost made her cry. Xena reached for the ring on Gabrielle’s finger. Gabrielle met Xena’s ocean-blue eyes and realized Xena sensed the nature of their relationship. Xena spoke again, "But tell me first about my Gabrielle." Gabrielle dropped her head and broke down. Xena was frustrated that she was too weak to take this woman into her arms. "Gabrielle, let me hold you." Gabrielle looked up through her tears at the sounds of words she feared she would never hear again. She lay down next to Xena, draped her arm across her, resting her head on Xena’s chest as Xena’s strong arm came around her and drew her body close.
Unable to stop the words even though she knew Xena didn’t recognize her, Gabrielle bared her soul, "Xena, I have missed you so much, I thought I would die. I have missed lying in your arms and feeling you next to me. I have hungered for your touch, and I was so afraid I had lost you forever." And with that confession, the bard cried into Xena’s breast, and Xena stroked her back and quietly reassured her. Xena felt she was holding a stranger, but somewhere in her heart she also felt she was meant to be with this woman.
Gabrielle did not know where to begin. How could she possibly recount thirteen years? Xena saw the confusion in the eyes of the young woman who lay in her arms. "What is it, Gabrielle?"
"I’m sorry Xena, I simply don’t know where to begin."
Xena sighed, "I think I need to know about Chloe first." Gabrielle had feared Xena would say just that.
"Xena, I don’t want to upset you. That was a very traumatic time for us all."
Realizing Gabrielle knew that she and Chloe had been lovers, Xena was quiet for a while before saying, "If you can’t tell me, it’s all right. It is unfair of me to ask you about Chloe."
"No, it’s not that," Gabrielle lied. "I just don’t know if you’re ready, that’s all."
"Gabrielle, I already know she’s dead," Xena said. "She told me when I drifted in that other world. I just need to know when and how."
Gabrielle gave in, "It started almost thirteen years ago. I’ll tell you everything I know, but if at any point you want me to stop, just say so." Gabrielle raised up and looked into Xena’s eyes.
Xena nodded for her to continue, "I need to know. Please, Gab, tell me." Gabrielle laid her head back down and smiled wistfully at the pet name Xena used at times with her when they were alone.
"Xena, Amphipolis did not defeat Cortese." Xena couldn’t believe those words; she was there...but was she? She remembered flashing in and out of the battle...maybe it had been a dream. "Xena, are you all right?" Gabrielle asked.
"Go on, Gabrielle."
"Lyceus was killed, you were injured, and Chloe was taken by slavers." Gabrielle paused and cringed waiting for Xena’s reaction. There was none. "Chloe was sold into slavery in Sinope, and everyone believed she was dead. Three years later you received word that she was alive."
Gabrielle raised herself up to rested on her elbow and searched Xena for guidance. Xena searched her memory in vain for any recollection of these events.
Looking into Gabrielle’s concerned face she said, "Go on, I’m all right." Gabrielle drew in a deep breath that made Xena wondered what horrible things would come next.
"After Cortese, you became a warlord, Xena." When Xena shook her head furiously as Gabrielle said. "I’m sorry, my love, maybe we should stop for tonight."
"No, Gabrielle, I must know."
The young Queen sighed. "When you discovered she was alive, you took your army and tried to rescue her. Chloe, fearful that you would be killed, sent you away. She made you believe that she was happy and did not want to leave with you. She was no longer a slave. She was married to the youngest son of the King of Sinope, and she was with child." Gabrielle paused and looked into Xena’s eyes. They floated in pools of tears. "Do you remember that, Xena?"
Xena choked, "I think I remember." and the tears spilled down her cheeks. Gabrielle slipped an arm under her and held her as Xena mourned that part of her life.
Sometime later Gabrielle asked, "Do you want to sleep now, Xena? We can continue this tomorrow."
Xena had stopped crying, and she held tightly to Gabrielle, "No, I have to know the rest."
"Xena, I don’t know everything that happened because you didn’t tell me, but I’ll tell you what I know." Xena nodded and squeezed Gabrielle. "Almost five moons ago, Cyrene received a letter from Chloe." Xena jerked up forgetting her arm and yelped as pain shot through her shoulder and down her arm. Gabrielle rolled out of her embrace and knelt on the floor by her. "Xena, what is it?" Xena’s eyes were closed, and she cradled her arm protectively. Gabrielle rose and sat on the bed facing her. She gently pulled Xena’s hand away and massaged her arm and shoulder until the warrior relaxed and opened her eyes to see Gabrielle’s filled with love and concern. Touched, Xena ran the back of her fingers along Gabrielle’s jaw, and she bit her lip at the bruises she had put there.
Staring at the angry purple shadows Xena asked quietly, "Gabrielle, you said Cyrene received a letter?" Gabrielle nodded. " My mother?"
Gabrielle furrowed her brow, "Yes, Xena. Why?"
"Cyrene is still alive?" Xena looked as if she might cry at any moment.
Gabrielle spoke softly and laid her palm against Xena’s cheek. "Xena, Cyrene is alive and well. We saw her just over a moon ago."
"I thought she died not long after Lyceus died," Xena explained.
Gabrielle shook her head. "Xena, believe me she is fine."
Xena breathed deeply and with a look urged Gabrielle to continue.
"In the letter Chloe informed Cyrene that her husband was dead, and her son had inherited the throne. There were threats against her life, however, and the lives of her two children." Gabrielle paused and looked over at the sleeping figure in her bed. She and Petra had pushed it against the wall earlier that day. Xena who had been listening to Gabrielle looked up and followed her gaze. Gabrielle averted her attention back to Xena and their eyes locked. Xena understood now why the little girl haunted her mind and teased her memory.
Gabrielle continued, "With Cyrene and Toris’ help, we made plans to travel to Sinope to rescue them. There you found Chloe, but before you could rescue them, they killed Chloe’s son, the young king, and they sent assassins for Chloe and her daughter, Zoe."
Xena looked over at the face of the sleeping child, "I should have recognized her. She looks like Chloe." Gabrielle touched Xena’s arm, and Xena looked back up at Gabrielle. Seeing a strange look on the young woman’s face, she asked, "What is it; what’s wrong, Gabrielle?"
"Xena, I don’t really understand all of this, but you know Chloe had an intimate relationship with the gods. Your mother recognized it, and Zoe even told me." Gabrielle paused uncharacteristically searching for the words to explain Zoe to Xena.
"Tell me what is it, Gabrielle," Xena insisted.
"Chloe and Zoe both claim that you are also Zoe’s mother." Xena looked incredulous. "I’m sure Chloe convinced you because you accepted her as your child." Gabrielle paused allowing the warrior time to think then she said, "Look into her eyes, Xena. They are your eyes. Look at her hair. It is your hair. And believe me, you don’t remember, but she acts like you too. I don’t know how Chloe did it, but Zoe is your child too."
Xena knew that Gabrielle would have no reason to deceive her, but she would have to see for herself. Then she remembered the voice in her head earlier in the evening, ‘She’s your child too’.
Gabrielle went on, "Chloe came to us with Zoe the night her son was murdered, and we escaped from Sinope. On the plains, three assassins with bows caught up with us. You killed two, but one slipped past you and..." Gabrielle felt her chest constrict and her throat tighten, and she fought back tears at the memory. Xena took her hand. Gabrielle looked into Xena’s face, and wondered to herself, ‘How many times am I going to have to live through this?’ Xena squeezed her hand and looked at her questioningly. "He shot her through the chest with an arrow...right in front of you and me and Zoe...there was nothing we could do. You killed him." Gabrielle looked down and whispered, "She died in your arms."
That night as they slept, Gabrielle lying wrapped in Xena’s arm, Xena felt a presence enter the room. Her warrior instincts were not hampered by her injuries, but she was helpless to defend them from the intruder. She was too weak to move, her left arm was useless and Gabrielle lay on her right arm. Xena peered through the dark, her mind racing as she tried to find a way to defend Gabrielle. As her eyes fell on the dark image before her, she realized Gabrielle was in no danger. Petra stood over her and looked down on her and Gabrielle. Xena did not move but peered up at the warrior who had called her friend earlier. Petra only stayed for a few moments and then left making no noise at all. Xena did not have to wonder at the warrior’s actions as memories of bruises on Gabrielle’s face and neck haunted her and made the visit perfectly clear.
Eyes watched the queen’s chambers, and when Gabrielle left that morning with Zoe in tow, Xena had an unexpected visitor. The tall warrior stood over the dozing woman who lay helplessly in bed before her. Petra shook her head at the sleeping figure. ‘How could she put the queen through such misery?’ Petra loved Xena as a sister and a fellow warrior. She owed Xena her life, and she would always be grateful for the warrior’s words that night under a full moon, but she would never believe the Warrior Princess made a good match for their queen. Gabrielle was good and pure, and she deserved better. Xena was the opposite. She was dark and too worldly. Petra feared the warrior would one day in a rage kill or seriously injure her Queen, and she could never stand by and let that happen. Petra was often haunted by visions of Gabrielle after she and Xena returned from Sinope. The sorrow in her Queen’s eyes broke the big warrior’s heart. Petra did not doubt Xena’s love for Gabrielle; it was her dark, volatile side that she feared. She reached down with her hardened hand and clasped Xena’s throat in her grip.
Xena’s eyes flew open, and she stared into Petra’s dark ones as she struggled against the death grip around her throat. Reflexively Xena tried to grab the arm of her attacker with both her hands. A wave of pain to radiated from the mangled shoulder and engulfed her. Only her right hand obeyed its command and grasped ineffectually at the Petra’s wrist trying vainly to pull it away. Her assailant was too strong, and Xena was too weak. Fire danced in her throbbing skull and her meager struggles ceased as the hand around her throat squeezed tighter completely cutting off the air flow. Her brain screamed at the lack of air. Black spots blotted out her vision and she looked into Petra’s eyes as Morpheus softly called to her, and just before she slipped into oblivion, the powerful warrior released her. Xena gasped as the first painful breath of air ripped through her raw air passage and assaulted her starving lungs. She coughed, an action that reverberated painfully in her head and jarred her tender shoulder. Tears flowed from her eyes as she choked, and Petra roughly sat her up helping her get air into her lungs. Xena was as helpless as a child’s rag doll as the big warrior tossed her around and then beat on her back. Petra flopped down on the side of her bed steadying the weakened warrior. Xena leaned into the big warrior holding on to Petra’s strong shoulder as she tried to drag air into her lungs, fight against the pain in her head, and hold in check the nausea that wept over her. Weak from her ordeal, she leaned her head on her enemy’s shoulder to keep from passing out. Petra gently wrapped her arms around Xena, cradling her head in her large hand and laid her back into the pillows.
Leaning back for only a moment, Xena struggled hopelessly to sit back up, "I’m going to be sick," she whispered hoarsely. Petra jumped to her feet and sat Xena up, grabbing the wooden pail by the bed; Petra supported her as Xena leaned over the edge of the bed. Xena heaved violently into the pail as Petra steadied her and held her forehead. Xena cried in pain and tears poured from her eyes as her injured arm slipped from the mattress lifelessly and banged on the side of the bed. Hanging there over the edge of the bed in the arms of the woman who had just tried to kill her, she thought distractedly, ‘How strange,’ as she examined the appendage that dangled stiffly before her eyes. She curiously noted it was attached to her body, but it was useless and uncontrollable. When her nausea passed, Petra carefully lowered her back onto the pillows and cradling Xena’s crippled arm, she gently placed it across her stomach. She pushed the pail aside and crossed the room and retrieve a cool damp cloth from the wash basin. Sitting on the edge of the bed, she gently wiped Xena’s face and laid the cool cloth on Xena’s fevered brow.
Petra sat silently observing the woman who lay in misery before her. Looking down at her withered arm she wondered if Xena would ever lead another army into battle, and she frowned at the thought of having to give up everything she’d ever known. She wondered how she herself would cope with such a future, and she absently laid her fingertips on the scar beneath her leather shirt. Taking the cloth from Xena’s head Petra rewet it in the cool water in the basin and brought the basin back with her placing it on the floor by the bed. She laid the cool compress back on Xena’s forehead.
Xena opened her pained eyes and studied the woman who now so tenderly attended her and frowned, a movement that brought another pain to her head. She shut her eyes against the light of the room. Petra pulled the cloth over Xena’s eye lids and began to massage her forehead with her strong fingers, running her thumbs firmly across the brow and working in circular motion on the temples. Xena relaxed under her strong touch as the intensity of the pain lessened with the massage. Xena spoke quietly so as not to aggravate the throb in her skull. "It’s Petra, isn’t it?"
Petra answered evenly, "Yes."
"I know why you came here to kill me."
Petra wasn’t even sure those were her intentions. Maybe she just wanted the warrior to be in Gabrielle’s position for once. "Why is that?"
"Because of Gabrielle." Petra said nothing. After several moments, Petra stopped the massage and rewet the cloth over Xena’s eyes. "I don’t blame you," Xena said. Petra resumed the massage as Xena talked. "I regret that incident; I’m sorry to say, I can hardly remember it. I wish I could turn back the sands of time and remove that event, Petra. Gabrielle is so..." Xena paused searching for the words. "I can’t even remember her, but I know I loved her...I think I am falling..." Xena stopped and removed the damp cloth to look into the serious face above her. "Are you in love with Gabrielle, Petra?"
Petra still massaging Xena’s temple said indifferently, "She’s in love with you, Xena."
Xena noted the absence of a denial. "Petra, does Gabrielle know how you feel?" Petra stopped.
"Xena, I am bound to another. I love her."
Xena remembered Chloe and then thought of Gabrielle. "Sometimes we are cursed or blessed to love more than one, Petra."
"There is nothing I would not do for Gabrielle, Xena, but I cannot hurt Electra." Xena leaned back into the pillows. Her head felt a little better. Petra continued, "I just can’t stand by and let you hurt Gabrielle again, Xena."
Xena frowned, "I told you that was a mistake. It won’t happen again. That’s why you came here last night, wasn’t it? To check on Gabrielle, to make sure I wasn’t hurting her? Were you satisfied, Petra?"
Ignoring Xena’s question, Petra said , "It wasn’t the first time you hurt her, Xena."
Xena searched her memory, afraid to probe too deeply for fear that the pain would return, "I’ve injured her before?" Xena was almost grief stricken at the thought that she might have, in another life, mistreated the gentle soul she was getting to know anew.
Petra heard the concern in Xena’s voice and looked away as she replied, "Not physically. I don’t know what happened, but when you returned from Sinope, you were ready to walk away from her and she..." Petra looked into Xena’s eyes and declared, "She threw her body under my sword to save your life. But when you came back from Sinope, you treated her as though she was nothing to you. I wish you could remember the pain in her eyes, Xena, because I can’t forget it."
The comments confused and shocked Xena, but before she could respond Gabrielle came bustling into the room with Xena’s morning meal. She stared curiously at the sight in front of her. Petra stood up suddenly almost kicking over the basin on the floor, and Xena tried to push herself up in the bed. If she hadn’t known better, Gabrielle would have thought she had just intruded on lovers in an intimate moment.
Xena tried to save the moment, feeling that Petra surely would just stand there like a dumb warrior with her mouth hanging open forever, "Gabrielle, Petra came by to see me, but I was having another one of those headaches, so she helped me..."
Petra found her voice and her feet, "Yes, let me dump the pail; Xena’s headache made her sick." She bent down, grabbed the pail and headed for the door, but Gabrielle intervened, stopping Petra with a touch to her arm. Petra glanced back at Xena.
"Could you come back in a candlemark after Xena’s eaten and help me with her bath?" Gabrielle asked. "I’m having some hot water delivered in a while."
Petra wasn’t sure if she wanted that job, but she could not deny her Queen anything, "Of course, Gabrielle."
Gabrielle smiled her sweet smile into Petra’s face, and the warrior left, glad to have escaped. As Petra walked away, she glanced back at Xena searching for her finger marks on her throat. She hoped Gabrielle never found out what she had done, and she silently cursed herself for her stupid actions. Gabrielle would never forgive her for hurting Xena. Then again she knew she would have never forgiven herself either.
After that first bath, Petra came by every day and helped Gabrielle with Xena’s care and rehabilitation. Gabrielle wasn’t strong enough to drag Xena around their quarters, but Petra was quite good at it. Everyday, three times a day, she helped Xena sit up on the edge of the bed. Then she’d wrap Xena’s arm around her shoulder and hold her up as Xena took her first feeble steps towards recovery. Petra would then place her in a chair and massage her shoulder and neck and sometimes her head if she was suffering from one of her headaches. Of a morning, after their exercise, Petra would help Xena into a steamy hot tub of water. She would take her leave then return sometime later to help her out of the tub and back to bed. After Petra left, Gabrielle would work on Xena’s arm massaging the muscles and flexing the joints. This was part of the day they both dreaded and Gabrielle made sure no one bothered them for that half a candlemark in the morning, afternoon, and late evening. Gabrielle couldn’t stand the idea of anyone seeing Xena’s weakness at that time because her brave warrior would often cry during the painful exercises, all the while urging Gabrielle on with a tearful crooked smile and words of encouragement.
Gabrielle had no idea what had transpired between Petra and Xena the day she had walked in on them, but she was certain something had happened. She truly hoped Petra had not done anything to Xena. Xena was so different, and it worried Gabrielle that in many ways she liked this Xena better. This Xena was talkative, pleasant and considerate. After the initial shock of returning from the dream world and finding her own world completely changed, she had settled into an easy routine. The Xena Gabrielle knew would have been a terror. This Xena was so very patient even with herself, and she would laugh at herself for her weaknesses. Gabrielle cringed at the thought of going through this arduous rehabilitation with her Xena. It wasn’t until she talked to Thyra that it dawned on her the reason for Xena’s personality difference.
Gabrielle had left Zoe to entertain Xena and she trekked over to the healer’s hut. "You wanted to see me, Thyra?" she asked, curious why Thyra had sent for her rather than coming to her quarters as she had always done before.
Smiling at Gabrielle as she entered, Thyra waved her to a chair and offered her some tea she had been brewing. "I apologize, my Queen, for sending for you, but I did not want to discuss these matters in front of Xena. How is Xena doing, my Queen?"
Gabrielle smiled. "She’s doing quite well considering. She can sit up in a chair for a candlemark at a time without becoming too fatigued. She sits in the chair three times a day. Petra has been coming by and helping me with her. With Petra’s help, she can walk around the room a little."
"What of her headaches?" Thyra asked.
"She still has them, but it seems with less intensity. The light still bothers her eyes though." Gabrielle’s voice grew concerned, "That’s not good is it?"
Thyra patted her on the knee and said, "That’s to be expected. It’s only been a little more than a fortnight since she returned to us, my Queen. Is she gaining any mobility in her arm yet?"
Gabrielle sighed and replied, "Not in her arm. She can move her fingers quiet well, but she can’t move her elbow or her shoulder. Just moving her arm away from her body now for her bath is becoming very painful for her." Gabrielle looked down as tears gathered in her eyes, and she then looked up at Thyra and asked, "Was I wrong, Thyra?"
"Ssshhh, My Queen. You gave Xena a chance to regain the use of her arm. Had you not been there, she would not have had that chance, and she would have always wondered if it was the right decision. It’s early, yet. Give her time and just keep pushing her." Gabrielle smiled at the healer whom she had come to know so well. "Now tell me, how is Xena doing in all this?" Thyra inquired.
Gabrielle smiled warmly, and her eyes lit up. "It’s amazing, Thyra," she said, "She is so patient and easy to take care of. She is so considerate, you would hardly know she is the same woman."
"Well, my Queen, she is not the same woman. Remember her last memory? She is almost thirteen years younger. In her eyes, you and she are practically the same age. The Xena before you is only eighteen summers old. She was never defeated by Cortese; she never became a warlord; she never became a disciple of Ares; she never saw ten years of horror and terror. Think about it, my Queen, you are seeing Xena before her dark side claimed her soul. That is one reason I asked you to come and see me. Xena did receive a serious head injury that could have easily caused the amnesia, but I find it intriguing that it is the most traumatic time of her life which she has lost. She even rewrote the single event that was the most responsible for her darkest period in her life."
Gabrielle confused asked, "What are you suggesting, Thyra."
"I could be wrong, my Queen, but Xena may actually want to forget those years," Thyra replied.
Gabrielle frowned and said, "Are you saying she has consciously chosen to block out that time in her life?"
"Queen Gabrielle, I don’t think it was a conscious choice, but somewhere part of Xena would just as soon not remember those years."
"I really can’t blame her Thyra. So many horrible things happened to her."
"I wonder, my Queen," Thyra said lost deep in thought for a moment but then proceeded, "Xena is fearless and strong , but I wouldn’t be surprised if somewhere in the recesses of her mind is a dark memory. That could have triggered her memory loss. Something too horrible for her to face."
Gabrielle’s mind raced at those thoughts. Even though she had recounted some of Xena’s dark past for her, Gabrielle knew it was not real to her. This is the Xena not long after the voices left her. Gabrielle thought back to that terrifying night in eastern Thrace when she and Xena sat in fear of the horrible illness that would soon take her. She remembered Xena’s confessions about the voices and Lyceus and Chloe. Xena had been wild, untamed, a free spirit, but after, she was broken and fearful. Gabrielle admitted to herself this was the Xena she liked better. At those thoughts, Gabrielle began to cry. She cried for the young child who threw temper tantrums when she wished to ride the wild stallion. She cried for the youth who with Lyceus and Chloe touched life with passion and joy. She cried for the fiery, young Xena who jumped on her horse and rode off for fortnights at a time. She cried for the Xena who in confusion lost her way and became a murdering warlord, and for the Xena who would throw herself on her sword to end the horrible life she had chosen, and for the brave Xena who dared to challenge and change her destiny. And Gabrielle cried for the noble Xena she had fallen in love with and who she wanted back so badly. When she stopped crying, the young Queen found herself in Thyra’s arms. Gabrielle asked, "How can I help her find her way back, Thyra?"
Thyra could only shake her head and say, "I don’t know, my Queen."
Artemis looked into the crystal clear pool and watched intently the drama that played out before her. It broke her heart to see her Queen in tears over her warrior. She was powerless, and that was something she was not used to experiencing. In her mind she cursed the Fates for their lack of feeling. If only she could restore Xena’s memory. She angrily slammed her palm into the water and caused a minor tidal wave in the mirrored waters that reflected the activities and the sorrows of humans. She stared angrily into the turbulent liquid. Leaning with her fists resting on the edges of the pool she explored possible answers when before her the images of Clotho, Lachesis, and Atropos materialized in the rippling waters and stared back at her. Artemis’ eyes narrowed as in unison the trio spoke. "Be careful what you wish for, impudent one." Artemis frowned at their rudeness. Even the great Zeus feared the Fates and she knew no revenge could be enact against them.
Artemis put away her anger and pursued the subject, "Exactly what do you mean?"
Clotho spoke, "Be careful what you wish for; it might come to pass."
Thinking of the joy it would bring her Queen, Artemis shot back, "And what would be so wrong with that?"
"No one can know the outcomes of actions, Artemis, not even the gods, although they would have mortals believe they possess that power," Lachesis interjected evenly.
Artemis steamed, ‘How trying these Fates were.’ "What could go wrong by restoring Xena’s memory, Lachesis?" She immediately directed her attention to Atropos knowing full well she would speak next. Artemis thought to herself, ‘No wonder Nemesis was never seen with her sisters; they probably wouldn’t let her have her turn speaking."
"You cannot know what could go wrong just as you cannot know what could go right," Atropos answered.
Artemis, a goddess of action, quickly tired of this dialogue. She saw no reason to sit around and talk about what may or may not happen. "I’m sure the Fates know," she said in a bored voice as she turned and took in the sights. Olympus in all its glory sprawled out before her. How she hated it! So sterile and white, not warmed by the soft golden light of Apollo, her brother. And at night her beautiful silver orb was blocked by invisible ceilings covered with artificial constellations against an unnatural blue sky. Artemis crossed her arms, shook her head, and looked down. How she longed for her green glens and cool spring pools alive with Gaea’s beating heart!
Clotho spoke drawing Artemis from her musings, "Know this, Artemis, when a river changes its course, there is destruction within its path." Artemis turned back and peered down at the women.
Before Artemis could comment Lachesis said, "The destruction is the price. Are you willing to pay the price? Is Xena willing to pay the price? Will you speak for your warrior?"
Artemis tossed her hands out in frustration and demanded, "What else can you take from her? You’ve taken her memory. You’ve taken her arm. Xena is no longer a warrior. What else is left to take from her?"
Atropos spoke blandly, "We take nothing. We give nothing. We have need of nothing."
"Only the gods and humans see the need to give and take," added Clotho, "Remember, Artemis, you intervened in Xena’s destiny for your own end."
Lachesis looked indifferently beyond Artemis and said, "You changed her fate; she paid the price."
At that realization, deep sorrow engulfed Artemis, and she uttered, "We’ll pay the price." Her words barely audible.
"So be it," the women echoed, and their image dissolved as a single tear fell into the pool.
While Xena convalesced, Gabrielle had Xena’s armor repaired and new leathers made. Her old clothes which had been cut from her body after she had been wounded and were beyond repair. Gabrielle presented the new clothes and armor to Xena but was disappointed at Xena’s reaction. Xena fingered the armor and held up the dark leather shift. She asked in a hushed voice, "I wore these?"
Gabrielle nodded, "Yes, always."
Xena frowned as she held the shift in front of her body with her good hand. "Looks a little too big. I think I’ll wait to climb back into this; the strap will probably hurt my shoulder." Xena wore the typical Amazon clothing. Soft doe skin wrap around skirt and blouse that opened in the front and closed with leather ties. It was easy for her to get her arm into, but Gabrielle had to help her with the laces sometimes when her left hand would not cooperate.
Gabrielle frowned, "Yes, you have lost quite a bit of weight," she agreed, "I guess you are right about the strap. It would probably rub your shoulder." It was hard for Gabrielle to believe that Xena would prefer Amazon clothing to her leathers; she had always detested the clothing in the past.
Xena noticed Gabrielle’s disappointment. She laid the clothes aside, stood on shaky legs and made her way over to her pensive bard. Xena pulled Gabrielle into her and kissed her cheek, "Thanks, Gab. That was very thoughtful of you." Gabrielle smiled up at her but glanced wistfully at the discarded warrior’s clothing.
Xena was finally able to walk quite well unassisted by Petra or Gabrielle. She spent less time in bed and more time sitting in a chair opposite Gabrielle or puttering around the Queen’s chamber. Her arm was still all but useless even though Gabrielle worked the warrior hard as she concentrated on more and more exercises. After one painful evening’s exercise session, Xena lay in bed and tried to maintain her composure. The pain seared through her shoulder like a red-hot iron and sent screaming flames shooting from her arm pit to her finger tips. Xena confronted Gabrielle. "Gabrielle, please come here." Gabrielle had just tucked Zoe into bed and was busy finding something to occupy her mind, so she didn’t have to watch Xena go through the nightly agony that often followed the exercises. When Xena called her, she looked up and into Xena’s face from across the room. Her stomach lurched at the pain she saw written on the warrior’s face.
Crossing the room, Gabrielle sat down on the edge of the bed. Xena took her hand and spoke, "Gabrielle, I know this means a great deal to you, and that some how you feel responsible for me making a complete recovery." Gabrielle squeezed Xena’s hand and started to interrupt, but Xena cut her off. "Hear me out, please." Xena raised her eyebrows and looked up into Gabrielle’s eyes questioning. The bard nodded and Xena quietly explained, "We’ve both worked very hard, but it’s not getting any better, Gabrielle. The sooner we accept the fact, the better off we will be."
Tears welled up in the young Queen’s eyes and she shook her head, "Xena, please. Let’s not give up." She thought to herself, ‘Her Xena would have never admitted defeat.’
"Gabrielle, we are not giving up, yet. It’s been well over a moon since we started the exercises. I am much stronger and getting stronger every day. I can take care of myself now without anyone’s help. You have to admit that." Gabrielle nodded her head. "Even the headaches are getting better. My arm, however, has remained the same, it’s probably not going to get any better. I know I can accept that fact, but I’m not so sure you can."
Gabrielle looked up and thought her heart would break, "Xena, I just want what’s best."
Xena sighed leaning her head back into the pillow and said, "Gabrielle, I’m tired of the pain."
The bard looked at the weary woman lying exhausted before her among the pillows.
The exhaustion written on Xena’s face worried her but she was unwilling to give up and she said, "Xena, I know you’ve been in a great deal of pain, but..."
Xena interrupted her, "Gabrielle, you don’t have any idea how much I’ve suffered with this pain." and she lifted her limp arm slightly and said "You don’t know at all, and I can’t go on pretending it’s going to be all right." Gabrielle felt her guts twist fearful at what Xena was going to tell her, afraid that because of this infirmity Xena wouldn’t stay with her.
Gabrielle pleaded, "Xena, please I don’t want us to quit, to give up."
Xena furrowed her brow and said evenly, "I know you expect me to be your Xena." Xena broke eye contacted and looked down at her arm and then said, "but I can’t, Gabrielle." At those words Gabrielle’s heart dropped and she choked back the lump in her throat. Xena continued her voice low, "I have fallen in love with you, Gabrielle, but if you can’t stay with me because of this, I’ll understand." Xena looked up to see tears roll from Gabrielle’s eyes as she clasped Xena’s hand to her cheek, and kissed her palm.
"Oh, Xena, I thought you were going to send me away because of your arm. I don’t care about your arm. I love you, and I just want us to be together," Gabrielle cried.
Xena reached behind Gabrielle’s head, pulled her gently down to her so their lips could meet, and they kissed deeply. When Gabrielle pulled away, she saw tears in Xena’s laughing eyes. Not the tears of pain but of joy. Xena whispered, "I was so afraid you would turn away from me."
"Never," Gabrielle replied and she tucked herself into Xena’s body. That night Gabrielle loved her stranger, her new Xena.
Days passed. Xena’s heart was light with the joy she experienced in Gabrielle’s arms, and the two lolled away the time, enjoyed each other’s company, and played with Zoe. Gabrielle fashioned a sling, and Xena kept her arm tucked in the sling to protect it from additional injury, yet with the sling, she could still use her left hand. The light still bothered her eyes on occasion, and she would succumb to blinding headaches. At those times Gabrielle fetched Petra to rub away the pain behind Xena’s eyes. The headaches gradually decreased in number, and eventually Xena and Gabrielle believed it was time to venture outside to soak up the healing rays of the sun. This was Xena’s first trip out since she suffered the spear wound almost two moons ago. They walked in the shadows of the buildings avoiding the bright light as they headed for the dining hall. Xena leaned lightly on Gabrielle. Zoe trudged along and looked occasionally into Xena’s eyes. Xena smiled down at her.
Rumor had it that Xena remembered nothing when she finally escaped Morpheus’ realm and everyone mourned for their Queen’s pain. They were more than aware of the deep affection and love the Queen felt for her warrior. The Amazons spent many a candlemark discussing Xena’s crippled arm and how saddened they were that such a great sacrifice had been made by the Warrior Princess on their behalf. As Amazons sat around the campfires at night and told of how Xena had fought so bravely, legends about the Warrior Princess increased. Every Amazon who followed her that fateful day had a personal experience to share. Some claimed over twenty Athenian soldiers met Hades that day at the hand of the great Warrior Princess. Eponin frowned angrily when talk turned from Xena, and her name was mentioned and how Xena had flung her chakram slicing the spear aimed for her Amazon heart. She only wished she could have saved her friend from a fate not so dissimilar. Eponin and Solari both told them to hush when their tale included their heroic efforts at stanching the blood pouring from the Warrior Princess and how they struggled to bring her home alive. The two warriors sat stoically by as others related their Queen’s bravery as she lead the rescue team to bring Xena home and of her epic fight to save Xena’s arm when the healer suggested amputation. When they told how Xena had been dragged and trampled under the hooves of her steed and how the brave Solari had raced down a frightened Argo and saved the warrior with a slash of her sword, Solari rose and stomped off to find a full wine skin and to drink away the memory that still haunted her dreams. Eponin watched as Solari left; she worried about her warrior friend. She had taken it very hard and had been drinking a great deal. Solari couldn’t even stand to look at Argo. Maybe she should talk to Ephiny about Solari. Eponin frowned at the thought of Ephiny. The acting queen didn’t seem herself either since Xena’s injury.
The Amazons present in the dining hall were quite pleased to see their young Queen with her consort. Many stopped by their table and expressed their joy at Xena’s recovery and thanked the Warrior Princess for her part in defeating the Athenians. Although Xena had no memory of the events, she flashed them her smile and nodded. Gabrielle shook her head amazed that Xena seemed quite comfortable with the attention she was receiving from the women around her. When they were served their meal, the Amazons milling around them left them in peace, and Xena smiled over to Gabrielle who was seated across from her and asked, "Well, how did I do?" Lowering her voice she added, "I hate all this attention; I think I would much prefer to break our fast in our quarters." She then looked down at Zoe sitting next to her and said, "What about you, Zoe? What do you think?" The little child only stared up into Xena’s eyes.
Gabrielle frowned at the pensiveness Zoe exhibited. Xena, unaware of Zoe’s special gifts, did not notice the interchange, and Gabrielle did not wish to alarm her. She directed her attention to Xena’s comments, smiled and said, "You were incredible!" Xena grinned. She then munched contentedly on a piece of wild boar meat as she looked curiously around the dining hall. Gabrielle glanced back at Zoe and caught the child staring at the food in front of her. Zoe then shifted her gaze to Gabrielle, Gabrielle looked into her eyes questioningly. A dreadful feeling gripped her stomach.
After their meal, Gabrielle lead Xena over to the barn where Argo was stabled. Petra and Eponin had taken good care of the horse. Xena looked at the horse and ran her hand down Argo’s neck. Her face lit up with excitement as she smiled down at Gabrielle. "She’s Thessalian!" she exclaimed, "The best horses in Greece, perhaps the world!"
Gabrielle smiled at Xena’s enthusiasm and remembered Thyra’s comment, ‘She’s the same age as you are.’ Her smile disappeared when Zoe jerked on her skirt and Gabrielle looked down at her.
Zoe said, "Gabrielle, I think we should go back now." Gabrielle quickly looked into Xena’s face. The warrior still smiled as she examined the horse. Gabrielle then looked back down at Zoe. She thought for a moment that the child was about to cry.
Gabrielle said, "Xena, let’s head back to our quarters for a while so that you can rest."
Xena looked up from her horse puzzled then flashed her winning smile and said, "I feel fine, Gab."
"I know, but I don’t want you to tire yourself. We can come back out later after you’ve rested," Gabrielle said hiding her real motives.
"Xena gave Argo a final pat. She then and came around the big horse and slipped her arm into Gabrielle’s. Grinning down at her bard Xena teased, "All right, Mother. Take me home, and tuck me into bed." Zoe slipped her hand into Gabrielle’s, and the trio exited the barn. As soon as she stepped into the bright sunlight, Xena wavered, and Gabrielle struggled to help her maintain her balance.
"Xena, what is it?" Gabrielle implored.
Xena covered her eyes with her hand, muttered, "Head." staggered back into the shade of the stables, and laid her hand against the barn to steady herself as she bent over.
Gabrielle turned to Zoe, "Go get Petra, Zoe." The little girl raced off without a word.
By the time Petra and Gabrielle laid Xena into her bed, she was in the throes of a frightful headache. Petra rubbed her head, and applied cold compresses but to no avail. Gripped with nausea, the warrior became violently ill. Then she tossed and turned in agony as she tried to escape the crushing pain in her head. Eventually Gabrielle retrieved Thyra who immediately gave Xena something to help her sleep. When Xena finally drifted off to sleep after several candlemarks of sheer agony, the three in attendance sat wearily down and looked at each other. Finally Thyra spoke. "Xena will probably not wake up before morning and by then this will have passed." As Thyra stood up to leave, she looked at Gabrielle and said, "Don’t worry, my Queen. This is not uncommon with what she has been through. With any luck at all the headaches will lessen in their severity. Eventually she will not have them anymore."
As Thyra left, Petra asked, "Do you want me to stay with you a while?"
Gabrielle smiled, "No, that’s all right, Petra. I’ll send Zoe if I need you. Petra nodded and took her leave. It was almost sundown.
The warrior thrashed in her restless sleep as haunting images swirled around her and voices battered her from all sides...His dark image looked down at her with piercing blue eyes...Gabrielle stood before her defiant..."I can’t do that, Gabrielle!" ... "I’ll miss you Xena..." Gabrielle’s sad eyes looked up at her...the forest... "You can’t let them down...what about us Xena?"...blue eyes and freckles...Zoe’s crying face...Amazon warriors in the trees... "But, Xena, you were the one who said we should listen more to Zoe"..."She’s yours too, Xena"...tents trampled...Chloe’s laughing face looked up at her..."What’s going to happen to us if something happens to you?"...broken nose piece..."Gabrielle...I’m sorry"...Gabrielle stood there tears with in her eyes... "What if you are killed?"..."You promised, Xe!"..."Gab, nothing is going to happen to me"...Blood trickled from her lips..."Chloe, I’ll always love you"..."Gabrielle, I love you"... "Think about Zoe"...foot soldier..."and who will I have, Xena?"...long cavalry spear..."I could have you arrested and thrown in prison"..."he’ll spear you through the heart"..."I’ll remember, Zoe"..."I’ll always love you"..."lean to the right, Xena!"..."Would you please take care of Gabrielle for me"...The raven-haired child stared at her..."I love you too"... "Xena, I’ll take care of Gabrielle for you"... "If you see mommy, tell her I miss her"..."I’ll do that Zoe" ... "And, Xena"..."Yes, Zoe"..."I’ll miss you." The spear tore into her chest and sent fire into her shoulder. She was lifted out of the saddle as a loud crack popped by her left ear. Searing pain raced towards her neck as her collarbone snapped. She was thrown back and jerked forward and slung to the ground. Her foot was ripped almost from her leg as her body hit the ground and darkness greeted her. She drifted on a sea of blackness floating in pain and loneliness, lost alone and an image in the distance, a temple in Thessaly... "GABRIELLE!"
Xena jerked up in bed. Sweat poured from her body, and her heart pounded madly in her chest as she battled to draw air into her lungs. Her shoulder throbbed, and she struggled to clear her mind of the fog that blurred her thinking. "Gabrielle?" She groped madly to locate Gabrielle, "Gabrielle?" but her left arm refused to cooperate, "Gabrielle?" so she reached across with her right hand and felt along the bed in the darkness searching frantically for her bard. Finally her hand was captured by two small hands, and a familiar voice comforted her.
"It’s all right, Xena. You just had a dream." Through the blur of sleep Gabrielle wondered at that fact. "How’s your head?"
Xena frowned at the question, "My head? It’s all right. Gab, I dreamed of Thessaly again, and I saw you dead."
Through her sleepiness Gabrielle rolled over and reached up for Xena, "It’s all right, Xena. It was just a bad dream."
Xena turned to take Gabrielle into her arms to reassure herself her bard was really there and not lying cold and lifeless in a temple in Thessaly. The stabbing pain in her shoulder stopped her. She moaned as flashes of the battle exploded in her head, and she searched her memory for its outcome. She remembered leading the retreat with Solari and Eponin at her side. She saw the spear coming at Eponin and she remembered slinging her chakram. In her mind she saw the missing nose piece and she caught her breath as the spear impaled her again. She sat motionless and then quietly slipped her fingers under the sling that cradled her arm and touched her chest. She found the raised, tender scar and ran her finger tips along it. She tried to move her shoulder and winced at the pain. "Gabrielle?"
"I need to talk to you."
The bard rolled over onto her back with her eyes still closed she replied sleepily, "About what, Xena?"
Xena massaged her shoulder and looked down at Gabrielle’s form in the dark, "How did I get here...what happened...what was the outcome of the battle? I remember the spear driving into my chest, but that’s the last I remember."
Gabrielle, suddenly awake, stared wide-eyed at the ceiling as the realization of Xena’s words drove home. Unable to believe it was true, she searched her mind for a question. After several moments she asked, "Xena, what’s the story I tell only you?"
Xena frowned and thought, ‘This is not the time for stories.’ She answered a little annoyed, "Helios, Gabrielle. Now will you please answer me?" Gabrielle rolled out of bed and ran to light a lamp. She quickly returned and sat the lamp down on the table by the bed as Xena watched her confused by the bard’s strange actions. Xena pushed herself up against the headboard and shoved a pillow behind her keenly aware of the arm that hung in a sling around her neck.
Gabrielle sat on the edge of the bed and stared intently into Xena’s eyes with hopeful wonder. Xena frowned, raised her eyebrow and finally asked in an annoyed tone, "What? Gabrielle, what is wrong with you?"
Gabrielle couldn’t believe it. "Xena, is it really you?" Xena shook her head and rolled her eyes. Gabrielle began to cry with her arms outstretched she leaned towards Xena. The warrior softened and wrapped her in a one arm embrace. Confused at the reaction she observed, she held Gabrielle comforting her with pats and little kisses.
When her tears finally ended, and she had regained her self-composure, Gabrielle sat up so that she could drink in her warrior with her eyes. Then she began the painful explanation that Xena demanded.
"I thought you were gone forever, Xena," Gabrielle said. They brought you home bloodied and broken. You were more dead than alive. You floated in the Morpheus’ sleep for almost a moon." Tears formed in Gabrielle’s eyes at the memory and she looked away as Xena squeezed her hand in hers. "For a moon you lay unmoving and silent," Gabrielle said and looked down into her lap. Not knowing how to proceed her words abandoned her.
Xena said softly, "Gabrielle, I am sorry I worried you. It must have been very hard on you."
Gabrielle nodded her head and looked over at the tiny form lying under a blanket in the next bed. "I wasn’t the only one who suffered, Xena."
Xena followed Gabrielle’s gaze and smiled at Zoe. She remembered the child’s visit the night before the battle and her voice crying out, ‘Lean to the right, Xena.’ Xena climbed out of bed, and on unsteady legs made her way to Zoe’s sleeping form as Gabrielle followed. Xena kneeled by the bed and softly wrapped her hand around the back of the little girl’s head. She bent down and kissed the child on the cheek and whispered in her ear, "I love you, Zoe. Thank you. Sweet dreams, little one." A hint of a smile played across the child’s face. The warrior swallowed hard at the beauty she beheld. Gabrielle touched Xena’s shoulder and knelt beside her, and the two melted into each other’s arms and wept.
Later back in bed, Xena told Gabrielle how Zoe had saved her life, "I heard her voice. She said lean to the right even before I saw the soldier. I would be dead if not for Zoe."
Gabrielle nodded and said, "She and Chloe led you out of your dream state too, Xena." Xena looked up and frowned in confusion. Explaining the child’s mysterious sleep Gabrielle said, "Zoe told me Chloe came for her and told her you were lost. She told Zoe that she needed to guide you back to us." Gabrielle shivered at the memory of the night Xena returned and decided she would skip that detail and hoped in her heart Petra would forget it too. "When she brought you back, you remembered nothing of the last thirteen years, Xena." Gabrielle looked up into Xena’s face. "Do you remember anything of the last moon?"
Xena frowned and shook her head as she said, "No, the last thing I remember was the spear driving through my chest. I thought I was dead, and I knew I was going to fall to the ground." Xena then wrinkled her brow and asked, "Is Argo all right, Gabrielle?" Gabrielle gasped at the vision Xena’s words painted in her mind. She was thankful Xena could not remember what happened after she was thrown. At her reaction Xena became concerned and pressed her, "Gabrielle, what is it? Is Argo all right?"
Gabrielle struggled to control her tears and speak without choking from the lump in her throat, "Yes, Xena. Argo is fine. Petra and Eponin have been taking good care of her."
Xena frowned, "Then tell me, Gab. What is it?"
Gabrielle swallowed as images of Xena’s inert body riding atop Argo in front of Eponin flashed through her mind. "It was all just so horrible, Xena." She paused, looked down and closed her eyes. She wished she could block out the visual image burned in her mind.
Xena laid her palm against her cheek. "It’s all right now, Gabrielle. You can tell me." Then Xena took Gabrielle’s hand in hers.
Gabrielle’s eyes filled with tears that spilled over as Xena squeezed her hand. "Xena, you were dragged by Argo. Solari had to run her down and cut you loose." Xena frowned. "When we met your returning troops," Gabrielle paused trying to gather her strength, "Eponin held you in the saddle with Solari’s help. You were soaked in blood, as were they. No one believed you would live." Gabrielle could go no further. She collapsed into tears as Xena held her.
The next morning Gabrielle was awakened by Xena standing over her and shaking her shoulder. She wore her night shift and had removed her sling.
"Gabrielle, where are my clothes?" Gabrielle fought to push the sleep from her eyes as she struggled from their bed. She picked up the Amazon outfit lying across the back of a chair, and rubbing the sleep from her eyes, offered them to Xena. Xena frowned. "What about my leathers?"
"You did not want to wear them because of your shoulder, so I put them away." Realizing her mistake at that comment, Gabrielle grinned sheepishly and retrieved them from the cabinet across the room. Holding them in her hands, Gabrielle looked down at them and lovingly touch the dark leather between her finger tips. Then she turned and handed them to Xena who stood frowning at her. "I had to have knew ones made for you because..." Gabrielle paused and looked away afraid tears might threaten again. Then she looked up, "I worked the leather to soften it; they shouldn’t be too uncomfortable."
Xena’s frown turned to a crooked grin. "I’m going to the hot springs to soak; want to join me?" she asked.
Gabrielle looked at the sleeping child in the bed and then back up at Xena, "You go ahead; I’ll wake Zoe, and we’ll join you in a little while." Xena smiled and turned to go as Gabrielle looked after her. Realizing that Xena would probably need help because of her arm, Gabrielle hurried to rouse the child and gather their things for the bath.
Zoe stood, rubbed her eyes and asked, "How’s Xena, Gabrielle?"
Smiling down at Zoe, Gabrielle replied, "Our Xena’s back, Zoe." When Zoe did not immediately answer Gabrielle frowned. She looked down at the child who was lost in thought. "Zoe, is everything all right?"
Zoe looked up at Gabrielle, "It’s going to be hard on Xena, Gabrielle," she replied
"I know, honey. Come on let’s go and join her." Noticing the sling lying on the floor, Gabrielle picked it up and stuffed it among the things she was taking to the baths.
Xena recognized the voices coming from the hot spring long before she saw Eponin and Solari sitting in the soothing waters. At the mention of her name, Xena stepped back quietly into the shadow of a rock formation that added to the privacy of the springs. She knew that her warrior friends often came at this time of the day before others were out of bed. From the looks of the pair, they were deep in serious conversation, and the mention of her name sparked Xena’s curiosity.
Eponin’s voice carried across the water, "Look, Solari, we are all with heavy hearts, but you have got to stop drinking. It’s not going to make it go away, and you’re only ruining your health. It’s only a matter of time before Ephiny steps in and removes you from command." Xena wondered at Eponin giving such advice since she was known to go on a binge or two.
Solari’s shoulders slumped as she looked over at the woman sitting next to her and said, "I don’t care about my command. Maybe I shouldn’t have a command anyway."
Eponin frowned and said, "Stop talking like that! You’re a damn good commander, and you have common sense. Where would I be if I didn’t have you there to remind me to rein in my temper?"
"It still doesn’t help, Eponin. I can’t get that image out of my mind or out of my dreams." Solari looked away and with despair in her voice said, "If only I would have reacted faster."
"How do you think I feel?" Eponin demanded, "Xena saved my life. That spear was headed straight for my heart, but I did nothing to deliver her from her fate. Besides, you probably saved her life. Had she been dragged any further, she would have been killed."
Xena frowned and started to join the two warrior when the next words stopped her. Solari said, "I saved her life, but for what? She was the greatest warrior I had ever known and now look at her. Her arm is ruined; she has no memory. She looks like a grinning, silly youth of eighteen summers. Every time I see Argo in the stables, I think I’m going to be sick."
Eponin reached out and laid her arm across Solari’s shoulders, "She could still get her memory back, Solari."
Solari groaned and shook her head, "That would be even worse, Eponin. At least as she is now, she has no idea of what she is missing." Xena stared down at her arm that hung stiffly in front of her, and she moved her fingers, and rotated her wrist. Although she tried she could not move her elbow or her shoulder which seemed frozen against her body. She turned and headed back to her quarters. A few moments later she ran into Zoe and Gabrielle hurrying down the path. Gabrielle read the body language long before she saw the scowl on Xena’s face.
Moving aside, afraid that Xena would knock them down, Gabrielle grabbed Zoe’s hand and hurried to catch up with her angry warrior, "Xena, what’s wrong?"
Xena’s terse reply communicated more than her words, "Nothing, I changed my mind. I want to bathe in our quarters."
Gabrielle ordered food for their morning meal and hot water for Xena’s bath and returned to her quarters. When she arrived at her entrance, she paused and took in a large breath, and braced herself for what she feared she would face on the other side of the door. After returning in apparent anger from the springs, Xena refused to talk to Gabrielle and stomped around the room like a caged animal. Gabrielle couldn’t imagine what had upset Xena so. She assumed it had something to do with her arm because she would catch glimpses of Xena massaging her shoulder and flexing her fingers. Xena finally grabbed her sword up from the corner, fished around in her saddle bags, pulled out her whet stone and moved to a chair. Laying the sword across her lap and grasping the blade in her left hand she began to run the whet stone along its length. Her technique was unorthodox but effective. Gabrielle took Zoe’s hand and announced, "Xena, I am taking Zoe to the dining hall so that she eat. Xena only grunted an acknowledgment.
When Gabrielle entered her chambers later, she found Xena sitting where she had left her. She sat cradling her arm in her lap and looking down in thought. The sword and whet stone lay on the floor at her feet. Xena did not look up. Gabrielle walked over to where Xena sat and kneeled in front of her and looked up into her eyes. "Xena, what can I do?" Xena shifted her gaze to Gabrielle but said nothing. "Xena, would you please talk to me?"
Finally after several moments Xena spoke with quiet desperation in her voice, "Gabrielle, I’m a warrior." Gabrielle heard the sorrow in Xena’s voice and her heart ached. "What am I going to do if I can’t use my arm?" Xena whispered.
Gabrielle laid her hand on Xena’s thigh, "Xena, you’re more than just a warrior. You’re a friend to so many here, and they have missed you. You’re a healer; look at Petra and me. We would both be dead if not for you. You are a mother to Zoe. She loves you and needs you very much. Your wise counsel is always sought; your strategy saved the Amazon nation from war with Athens. And, Xena, you are my life, my love, and my anchor; without you, I am adrift on a sea of loneliness. You are so much more than a warrior, Xena, believe me." Xena looked with tear filled eyes into Gabrielle’s and gave her a crooked smile. "Xena, you’re not giving up on me, are you?" Xena shook her head. Gabrielle gently took her warrior’s crippled arm in her hands and began to massage the aching muscles. "Does it hurt?" Xena nodded through her tears. Gabrielle continued to rub her arm. "Does this help?" Xena smiled and nodded. "Xena, I think you should use the sling until you build back the strength." Xena frowned but Gabrielle continued. "Before you came back to me, the other you found that the sling helped relieve the pain."
Xena sighed and nodded her head, "All right, Gabrielle." Gabrielle stood up and retrieved the sling and tied it at Xena’s neck and then reached around and helped her maneuver her arm into it. Looking down at the sling Xena asked absently, "Gabrielle, what was I like?"
Resting her hands on Xena’s shoulders, Gabrielle frowned, "What do you mean, Xena?"
"The other me. I have no memory of any of that. What was I like?"
Gabrielle laughed, "Do you really want to know?"
Glancing back up at Gabrielle, "Sure, why not?" she said.
"Well let me see. First of all you thought you were younger than me." Gabrielle chuckled at the memory. "You were sweet, and kind, and loving. You always laughed at everything. When people you didn’t know swamped you with questions and talked to you, you pretended you enjoyed it." Gabrielle would have loved to question Xena about her younger days before Cortese. She would have loved to be able to sit and share childhood experiences and adventures, but that was not to be.
Xena frowned and commented dryly, "Sounds like I was easier to get along with, and I was a lot nicer. You were probably sad to see the old me back."
"Don’t you ever say that again to me, Xena!" Gabrielle, dead serious came around the chair and stood in front of Xena surprising her warrior with her passion. "The person I fell in love with is sitting right in front of me right now. Even though you decided it was more honorable to sacrifice your life than to stay here with Zoe and me, we both would rather have you than anything else in this world." As she spoke Gabrielle realized how angry she was at Xena for placing herself in danger. "I don’t know if you can accept the fact that your arm may never get any better, but Zoe and I can. All we need is you, Xena. You had better never do this to us again." Gabrielle’s anger turned to tears as the memory of almost losing Xena came home, and Xena rose and pulled her into her as Gabrielle wept into her chest.
"I’m sorry, Gab. I’m sorry. Ssshhh. It’s all right now, please, forgive me." Xena spoke softly into Gabrielle’s hair as she comforted her.
Sometime later the morning meal arrived, but Xena only picked at her food. Soon after Xena’s frustration flared again. Her disability would not easily allow her to pull her shift over her head in preparation for her bath.
Gabrielle knew she would have to reach deep inside and draw on her reserves of patience to get through this. She wondered how long it would be before they could settle down into any semblance of a normal life again. She replied patiently as if speaking to an angry child, "Xena, just slip it down over your shoulders."
Xena glared at Gabrielle as she followed the bard’s suggestion. The shift landed at her feet. She stepped out of its circle, kicked it angrily away, and stomped to the bath water that awaited her. She climbed in and looked over at Gabrielle who just stood there lost in thought. Xena gruffly asked, "Well, aren’t you going to join me?" Jolted from her musings, Gabrielle slipped out of her clothes and joined Xena in the tub.
"Xena, when we are done with our bath, and you have soaked your arm in the hot water, let me help you with the exercises for your arm." Gabrielle had already accepted the fact that Xena’s arm wasn’t going to get much better, but she knew Xena would have to arrive at that realization on her own. She knew it would be a long, arduous journey, and she prayed to Artemis that everyone would survive the treacherous voyage.
The water seemed to calm Xena’s nerves, and she slipped under immersing her shoulder, "All right, Gabrielle. I’m sorry I’m so impatient."
"It’s all right, Xena. I know you don’t mean it, and I understand how frustrated you are." Gabrielle remembered her own frustration when she was unable to walk after her bout with the illness that almost claimed her life. She smiled at the memory of how Xena helped her through all of that.
Seeing her bard smile as she drifted Xena wondered if Gabrielle was not thinking of the other Xena who was so kind and gentle. A spark of jealousy flared in her heart, "What are you thinking about, Gabrielle?"
Tugged from her thoughts, Gabrielle did not hear the annoyance in Xena’s voice and gave her a sweet smile. She replied, "I was thinking about the last time we were here and a special dance in which a certain non-dancing warrior participated." With that she grinned.
Xena felt a pang of guilt at doubting her Gabrielle, in a quiet voice gruff with emotion she spoke, "Come here; let me wash your back." Gabrielle slid around and positioned herself in front of Xena with her back to her, and Xena lovingly scrubbed her bard’s back and then pulled her into her and kissed her on top of the head. "I’m sorry."
"Xena, you’re going to have to stop apologizing all the time. It’s not befitting a warrior," Gabrielle replied seriously. Xena snorted.
Gabrielle helped Xena into her leathers and tightened them as snugly as she could, but still they hung on her gaunt body as if she were wearing a big sister’s clothes. Xena was not pleased. Looking angrily down at the baggy leather she said, "What in Hades have you been feeding me over the last moon?" She then pierced Gabrielle with her angry blue eyes.
"Xena, you were very emaciated. For the first moon after you were wounded we couldn’t
even keep broth in you. Thyra said it was caused by the head injury. Even after you came out of it you still couldn’t keep food in your stomach and would get sick every time you suffered from one of those horrible headaches." Gabrielle hoped at least the headaches would stay away. Xena still frowned. "Xena I did the best I could. I tried to get food into you." Xena’s badgering wore on her, and Gabrielle felt the tears threaten.
Ignoring Gabrielle’s comments, she gathered her sword, slid it into its sheath and slinging it over her back announced, "I’m going for a ride." Xena turned and left, leaving Gabrielle standing there in her own private pain.
As soon as Xena laid eyes on Argo, a calmness came over her. She rubbed the beast and hugged her with her strong arm. Gabrielle was correct. The horse was in fine condition, and someone had been exercising her. Xena quickly inspected Argo’s tendons, fetlocks, and hooves. Finding everything perfect, her eyes swept the stall until they landed on her saddle and bridle. She noted that both tack items were clean and well oiled. She laid the bridle aside and moved the saddle. Retrieving the blanket, she one handed it onto the horse’s back and adjusted it. Then she positioned the left stirrup over the saddle horn, grabbed the saddle in her right hand, and slung it up onto Argo’s back. The horse turned and looked at her, unaccustomed to the roughness. Glancing at Argo Xena said, "Sorry, girl. That’s the best I can do for now." Xena straightened the saddle and the blanket which had been knocked askew. She released the stirrup letting it flop against Argo’s side and looped the other stirrup over the horn revealing the girth loop. Reaching under Argo’s belly, she grabbed the girth strap, threaded it through the loop and up to the saddle loop. Concentrating on the challenge before her, she did not hear the warrior enter the stall. Before Xena knew it Petra was next to her removing the strap from her hand and deftly looping it into the slip knot and jerking the cinch tight.
Xena turned on her angrily, "I don’t need your help, Petra. I could have done it myself."
Petra knew immediately Xena was back, but she looked at her impassively, "I know, Xena, but if you can rip an arrow out of my chest, I can tighten a cinch for you." Xena frowned and moved around her to retrieve the bridle.
Standing at Argo’s head, she slipped the halter off and let it drop to the floor. She easily slipped the bit into the horse’s mouth and slid the bridle over the horse’s head all the while staring at Petra who looked back at her indifferently. Finally she spoke, "I’ve got to learn to do this by myself." Petra gave her a slight nod, and Xena frowned raising one eye brow. "How’s the chest?"
Petra glanced at Xena’s fingers as the warrior nimbly fastened the buckles on the bridle one handed and answered, "It’s all right. How’s your head?"
Xena scowled. Everyone kept asking her about her head. She couldn’t help but think, ‘It’s my arm not my head.’ She answered, "My head is fine." Xena tied the reins together, looped them over Argo’s head, and picked up her sword. Then she moved next to Petra.
Petra reached up and lowered the stirrup from the saddle horn and ran her finger tips over the leather stirrup strap that had been recently stitched together. Xena looked at the patch job that Petra was so closely examining. Noticing Xena’s sword, Petra dropped the stirrup and stepped back, "Perhaps we can spar a little when you feel up to it."
"Sure, when I get back," Xena replied. Petra gave her a half grin as Xena stepped into the stirrup and pulled herself into the saddle with her right arm. It was a little awkward, but Xena thought to herself, ‘She would adjust’.
Solari watched as the Warrior Princess trotted out of the stables and spurred her horse into a break neck gallop leaving a trail of dust in her wake. She turned to see Petra coming out of the barn, and she strode angrily up to her. "Why did you let her ride off like that by herself?"
Petra turned to Solari and pinned her with her dark eyes and answered evenly, "If you are worried about her, Solari, why don’t you follow her?" Petra turned away and walked off leaving Solari staring after Xena.
Xena rode Argo at a full gallop until the horse was covered in salty, foamy froth and was panting and wheezing. Finally she reined the horse off the road and through the trees until she arrived at the cool stream she knew would be there. She swung out of the saddle and held onto the saddle horn steadying herself. Without the use of her left arm she was a little off balanced, and she was still quite weak. She flipped the reins over Argo’s head and let the horse roam free. Xena hated tied reins, but that would be one adjustment with which she would have to live. Grabbing her sword from it sheath, she quickly scouted the area. Once assured she was alone, she returned to the company of the babbling stream.
There, she put her sword and herself through some intricate moves. She practiced testing her balance with her arm in the sling. Then she pulled the sling off and tossed it on the ground and tried the moves again. Xena quickly realized she could not fight effectively with her arm dangling at her side. Not only was it painful and distracting, it actually got in the way. She reluctantly retrieved the sling and whistled for Argo. When the horse appeared, Xena practiced mounting and dismounting the horse. Argo stood patiently as if understanding her mistress’ motives. Xena did not want to be embarrassed by a mishap that might occur in public due to her infirmity. When she was satisfied with her progress, she moved on to the next challenge. She swung her leg over Argo’s neck and leaped to the ground. Not satisfied with her landing she remounted again and again performing the feat numerous times until her actions were effortless and fluid.
Next she flipped the stirrup up, hooked it over the horn of the saddle and proceeded to loosen the snug slip knot Petra had placed there earlier. She pulled the saddle from Argo’s back and practiced placing it on her several times avoiding the sling and slap technique she had employed earlier. Argo did not complain. After several failed attempts and much cursing, she finally worked out a comfortable procedure for tightening the cinch. Standing very close to Argo, she could pull the cinch with her strong hand and use her left hand as a clamp. Then she could pull the strap tight into its slip knot. She would definitely have to work on strengthening her left hand. When she was finally satisfied with her new saddling ability, she was quite tired. She released Argo and moved over to the stream. She sat on the bank with her sword lying next to her.
Xena looked out at the cool waters that invited her and then down at the rivulets of sweat that left dirty paths through the road dust on her skin. She wondered how long it would take to get out of and then back into her clothes without Gabrielle’s help. She chuckled to herself at the thought of being unable to get them back on and having to ride back to the village in the nude. ‘Oh well, I could always just wait until dark,’ Xena shook her head at the silly thoughts. ‘After all this work to avoid embarrassment, wouldn’t that be a sight? Oh well, when I arrive and the throngs of Amazons encircle the naked Warrior Princess, at least I’ll be able to dismount in style!’ She unlaced her boots and kicked them off and reaching around behind her unlaced her leathers. Standing, she removed her arm from the sling, pulled it over her head and dropped it by her boots. She slid the loose shift down her thin body and stepped out of it just as Gabrielle had calmly suggested.
The water cool against her skin relaxed the warrior. Her thoughts drifted as she floated lazily on her back. As her mind wander, she saw Gabrielle and Zoe smiling at her. She smiled back. She lingered on the edge of sleep when a sudden flood of unfamiliar images overwhelmed her mind and jarred her awake. Irrational terror gripped her and she slapped the water madly as she struggled to gain her footing. She stumbled toward the bank clutching her left arm in her hand. Reaching the bank, she flopped down next to her clothes and stared out at the water half expecting the haunting images to still be there. Xena frowned as she tried to reconstruct the fleeting memories. Her heart beat savagely as the disjointed, foggy visions cleared. Petra and Gabrielle stood near each other. Then Zoe appeared in Petra’s arms. Gabrielle and Petra hugged and the two looked lovingly into each other’s eye. Xena touched her throat as the dark apparition hung over her and squeezed her throat. Argo stomping at a bothersome insect brought her out of the dismal haze. Confused momentarily, she looked around then checked the setting sun. It was getting late, and it would take her some time to dress. She stood, stepped into the circle of her leathers, and she drew them up her body. Eventually she was able to fasten the laces by twisting the baggy shift around to the front and loosely tying the laces. Then she twisted the shift back around and pulled the straps up last. She pulled on the boots, laced them easily, and slipped the sling over her head. With her right arm Xena guided her left arm into the sling. Gabrielle was right. It did feel better. She thought of Gabrielle and quickly mounted, impressed with her new talent, she reined Argo around. Xena was anxious to see Gabrielle, but then dark images of Petra flitted through her mind, and she frowned.
By the time Xena stabled Argo and brushed her down it was well after dark. She was hungry and tired. When she entered her quarters, she found Zoe sitting in Petra’s lap across from Gabrielle. They stood when she came through the door. Confused by the visions that had haunted her, the sight of Petra with Zoe and Gabrielle threw Xena into a dark mood, and she turned to the cold food sitting on the table waiting for her.
Gabrielle glanced at Petra and then went to the warrior. "Xena, where have you been? I’ve been worried about you." Petra hung back. Zoe clung to the tall warrior and looked at Xena from Petra’s protective arms.
Xena looked up from her food and answered, "I was out riding Argo, but I’m sure Petra already told you that." Gabrielle glanced back at Petra who looked on impassively.
Picking up on her somber mood, Gabrielle asked, "Xena, are you all right? You didn’t have any headaches did you?"
Xena looked at her annoyed, "I’m fine. And, no, I did not have a headache. My head is fine." As Xena glanced at Petra, Zoe’s gaze captured her for a moment. The images of earlier assaulted her. Picking up a cloth from the table she wiped her fingers, slammed the cloth down, and crossed over to Gabrielle. Then she wrapped her arm around her and pulled her into her embrace and whispered into her hair while staring at Petra, "I’m fine, and I’m sorry I worried you." Gabrielle wasn’t sure how to react. She received the distinct impression Xena’s actions were not just for her, and when she pulled away, she looked at Petra embarrassed. Xena noted the reaction and quiet rage rose in her blood.
Petra focused on the little girl in her arms and said, "Well, Zoe, how would you like to spend the night with Electra and me?" Zoe nodded and smiled. Petra looked at Xena and Gabrielle and said, "If it’s all right with you two, Zoe and I will be leaving." Xena said nothing but moved back to the food and picked at it.
Gabrielle glanced at Xena and then nodded at Petra thankful that Zoe would not be here tonight. It certainly would not be a healthy atmosphere for her given Xena’s dark mood. "Of course, Petra," Gabrielle said, "It’s fine if Zoe wants to spend the evening with you and Electra. Let me get you a clean night shirt for her." Gabrielle moved across the room, and Petra walked over to where Xena stood.
"Perhaps we can spar tomorrow if you are up to it," said Petra.
"I’d like that, " Xena replied as she studied the tall woman who stood next her. She did not know whether to hate her or love her. She knew she could trust Zoe with her. She was not so sure about Gabrielle. Xena would rather have no one else to fight at her side in battle, but she wasn’t sure she wanted to turn her back on the dark Amazon. Xena was angry with herself; she never had trouble reading people, but with Petra, there was an unknown factor. She glanced at Gabrielle and then at Petra.
Xena watched as Gabrielle handed Petra Zoe’s things, and then escorted them to the door. The warrior averted her attention to the table, munched, and picked at the food as Gabrielle approached her. The bard touched Xena on the shoulder and said, "Would you like to tell me what that was all about?" Xena looked at her innocently. Exasperated Gabrielle said, "You know what I am talking about, Xena. What is going on between you two?"
"I don’t know what you are talking about, Gabrielle," Xena replied.
"Xena, I don’t understand your relationship with Petra. I don’t want to see you two out on the practice field trying to kill each other over something that neither one of you understand either. I still have no idea why she hit you in the mouth and why you almost killed her on the practice field in the Eastern Nation."
"Gabrielle that was months ago. I’ve told you we are over that." Gabrielle eyed Xena. She was unsure that Xena was being entirely honest with her.
Deciding she was not going to get any more out of her, Gabrielle changed the subject. "We didn’t do your exercises this morning, Xena. When you’re finished eating, let’s go to the hot springs so you can limber up your muscles. Then we will work on the exercises."
Xena shoved a piece of bread into her mouth, nodded, and mumbled, "All right."
It was quite late when Xena and Gabrielle dipped into the hot spring water. They found themselves all alone. Xena deftly slipped out of her clothes and proud of her independence smiled at Gabrielle. In the water, Gabrielle kneaded Xena’s neck and back muscles. Then she washed her hair. They talked pleasantly with each other, something Gabrielle missed so much over the last two moons, and she was delighted when Xena laughed aloud. They moved to the ledge where Solari and Eponin sat earlier. Finally Gabrielle spoke breaking the tranquillity of the evening.
"Do you ever think it will be like it was?" Gabrielle asked.
Xena looked at Gabrielle out of the corners of her eyes and saw that Gabrielle was staring straight ahead. Xena sadly noted the tiny worry lines around Gabrielle’s eyes. Those had not been there before. She thought of all the things the two had been through together and she remembered the words Toris had said to her. It seemed ages ago. ‘What price does one pay for loving you, Xena?’ A deep sadness engulfed her.
Gabrielle looked up into Xena’s sorrowful eyes and raised her eyebrows. "Xena?"
Xena found her voice, "Great Artemis! Gabrielle, what have I done to you?" Gabrielle frowned in question, and Xena gently touched her cheek with her finger tips. "I look at you and you are so unhappy. I know it’s my fault." Gabrielle began to shake her head, but Xena continued. "Three years ago in Poteidaia you were a little girl, filled with joy and wonder. Now after being with me, you are old beyond your years. I’ve saddled you down with a child. I’m never here for you, and I constantly worry you. You have no home you can call your own. All you have is a worn out, crippled ex-warrior whom you can’t even rely on to be there when you need her. You deserve so much more."
Gabrielle shook her head and grabbed Xena’s hand as tears gathered in her eyes she said, "Xena, please, I didn’t meant that. I meant will we ever be carefree, just you, Zoe and me like it was when we were in Amphipolis with Toris and Cyrene. Xena, please don’t say those things. If I didn’t have you and Zoe, I don’t think I could go on living. The only thing that kept me going when you lay lost in Morpheus’ realm was Zoe. I love her as much as I would a child of my own womb. When I look at her, I see you, and I love her all the more." Xena frowned at the emotion she saw in Gabrielle’s face. "Xena, when you were lost to me in the deep sleep of Morpheus as long as your heart beat I had hope. That was all I needed. When the younger you returned, I at least had a piece of you. That was good enough for me. That Xena grew to love me and I her. And I prayed to Artemis that you would return to me. And you did. I know we are meant to be together, Xena. It is Fate. The day your heart stops beating is the day mine will too, so please don’t tell me you are sending me away. Don’t tell me you are leaving me. I don’t care about having a home. You are my home. It doesn’t matter what you did in the past; I know you now and you are good. I don’t care if you are no longer a warrior. You are my Xena and I love you. I don’t care if your arm is crippled; you are stronger as you are now than I could ever be. Please don’t take you away from me." And with that she cried. Xena wrapped her in her embrace and held her and spoke to her quietly.
Much later, after Gabrielle calmed down and Xena reassured her she was not sending her away, Gabrielle began to work on Xena’s arm as they sat in the hot springs. Gabrielle had hoped the hot water would make it easier, but Xena’s arm was very stiff and painful. Gabrielle noted with pleasure an improvement in strength and flexibility in Xena’s wrist and hand. But when she then moved to the elbow, Xena could still not make the joint work without help. Her shoulder was completely frozen and no amount of pressure could convince the joint to cooperate.
Xena finally stopped Gabrielle. Pain evident in her stoic face she gasped, "That’s enough, Gabrielle."
Gabrielle looked into Xena’s face and smiled, "It is getting better, Xena. A moon ago you couldn’t move your fingers."
"We’ll keep working on building up my hand and wrist. I’m not so sure any amount of work will help my elbow or shoulder." Gabrielle frowned. She couldn’t quite believe Xena was ready to accept the fact that she wasn’t going recover the use of her arm.
Gabrielle was thankful that most of Xena’s recuperation occurred when she was her younger self because even after their serious talk, Xena was becoming impossible to live with. She pushed herself every day until she fell exhausted into bed in the evenings. When she became frustrated with her inabilities, nothing was safe from her wrath. She would fly into a rage wreaking destruction in her path. The Amazon nation soon discovered Xena was back, but rather than rejoicing, everyone stayed as far out of her way as possible. Gabrielle sent Zoe to stay with Petra and Electra for longer periods until the child almost lived with them. Petra constantly watched Xena and questioned her Queen about Xena’s behavior. Gabrielle tried to assure her that Xena would never hurt her, but sometimes even she became frightened with Xena’s behavior.
While Gabrielle took Zoe to eat and pick up her and Xena’s meal, Xena sat in a chair in the queen’s quarters, a rock clasped in her left hand. She’d just finished exercising her hand and wrist. Using the hefty stone, she had built up a great deal of strength in her left hand. Having discovered she could flex the muscles in her forearm and upper arm if she concentrated hard enough, Xena turned her attention to the elbow. For the last few days she had noticed a little movement there. She and Gabrielle worked the arm twice a day, but she had not mentioned to Gabrielle that she was able to move the elbow. She wasn’t satisfied yet because it was such a minor accomplishment. Today, no matter what she did, the elbow would not respond. In frustration, she grabbed up the stone and threw it as hard as she could at the opposite wall just as Gabrielle entered the room. The rock bounced off the wall and shattered the water pitcher on the wash basin spraying shards of pottery and water all over the wall and onto the floor around the basin stand. Unaware that Gabrielle had walked in on the scene, Xena stood knocking over the chair. She viscously kicked a wooden toy horse that Zoe had left on the floor. The toy careened off the table leg splintered hitting Gabrielle in the thigh. Gabrielle dropped the tray of food onto the floor and grasped her leg in shock and in pain.
Xena’s rage cooled when she saw what she had done, "Gabrielle, I’m sorry!" Still holding her leg, Gabrielle limped to a chair and sat down as Xena stood watching stunned that she had actually hurt Gabrielle. When Gabrielle moved her hand, blood trickled and dripped to the floor from a gash almost three fingers wide. Xena grabbed up a cloth from the table and kneeled in front of Gabrielle who sat stoically staring at her own blood. Xena stanched the blood with the rag and took Gabrielle’s hand and placed it on the cloth. "Hold this. I’ll get the sewing kit." Holding the needle in her left hand, Xena threaded it and tied a quick knot in the end of the thread. The bleeding had slowed, but the wound was deep into the muscle and would need at least ten stitches. Xena cleaned the wound and looked up at Gabrielle’s face. It was expressionless. "Gab, I’m sorry. I didn’t know you had come back. Please forgive me." Gabrielle saw tears in Xena’s eyes, but she was tired of the battle, and she could find nothing of comfort to say.
"Just sew it up, Xena," Gabrielle said. Xena sighed and focused her attention on the wound, suturing twelve, tiny, perfect, individual stitches closing the wound expertly and cleanly. There would probably only be a small line scar when it was healed. She then wrapped the wound in a clean bandage and tore the bandage using the ends to secure the dressing in place.
Gabrielle then stood up and left without a word, leaving Xena to clean up the mess she had created.
"What am I going to do Ephiny?" Gabrielle was in tears, and the only one she could turn to was Ephiny. She knew if Petra found out, she would hurt Xena, and Xena had been hurt enough. Gabrielle knew that she could not continue suffering through Xena’s moods.
"Gabrielle, what exactly happened?"
"I don’t know what happened, Ephiny. I took Zoe to get us our morning meal and when I returned, Xena angrily threw a rock shattering the water pitcher. Then she stood up and kicked one of Zoe’s toys. It splintered and struck me in the leg." Ephiny noted the bandage and remembered angry bruises and a raging warrior. She pursed her lips in thought.
"Maybe Xena should move out, Gabrielle, before she hurts you or Zoe."
Gabrielle shook her head, "She didn’t know I was in the room, Ephiny. She didn’t mean to do it. It’s just that I don’t know what to do anymore. I don’t know how to handle her."
Ephiny raised her eyebrow at that comment. She knew of no one who could handle the Warrior Princess. "But what if she loses her temper with Zoe, Gabrielle?"
"I’ve been sending Zoe to stay with Petra and Electra lately because I didn’t want her subjected to Xena’s moods. Ephiny, I love Xena. I don’t want to lose her. After all I went through, all I want is her back the way she was."
Ephiny took the Queen’s hands in hers and said quietly, "Gabrielle, that may never happen." Gabrielle looked into Ephiny’s eyes. "Why do you think she is acting like this?" Ephiny inquired.
"I guess because she is frustrated over the loss of her arm," Gabrielle said.
"Have you spoken to Thyra? It could be the head injury, Gabrielle. Have you ever thought of that?"
"I don’t know, Ephiny. Even with blinding headaches, the young Xena didn’t act like this. My Xena has fought her dark side for so long sometimes it wins for a while."
"You are probably right, Gabrielle. I don’t know, it’s been a while since I was a warrior, but I don’t remember them being this sensitive. All I know is that I’ve had three, big overgrown warriors in here crying over Xena."
Gabrielle frowned and asked, "Over Xena? Who? When?"
"Over the last two moons Solari has been in here seven or eight times. She is feeling guilty about not being able to release Xena’s foot from the stirrup sooner. She blames herself for the severity of Xena’s injuries. She’s been drinking way too much. I thought when Xena regained consciousness, she would get better, but she just finds something else to blame on herself. I fear if Xena doesn’t make a full recovery, we are going to have to bury Solari."
Gabrielle shook her head. "I never even thanked her for what she did to save Xena; I was too distraught myself to worry about anyone else."
Ephiny laid her hand on Gabrielle’s arm. "Don’t beat yourself up, Gabrielle. You had too much to worry about."
"You said there were others?" Gabrielle probed.
Ephiny nodded and said, "Yes, Eponin. Right before Xena was speared, her attention was on saving Eponin from an Athenian spear. She saved Eponin but was speared herself."
"Oh, no! poor Eponin."
"Yes, she’s feeling badly. On top of that, she’s worried about Solari." Ephiny took Gabrielle’s hand in hers. "And then there’s Petra." Gabrielle wrinkled her brow. "Petra worships Xena, but she’s in love with you." Gabrielle shook her head. "Yes, Gabrielle, she is in love with you. She told me so. After that incident when Xena hurt you, when she awoke from Morpheus’ spell, I called Petra here before me to explain her actions, and she confessed. She also told me that your young Xena guessed it. Apparently after the incident, Petra paid Xena a visit."
Gabrielle exclaimed, "That’s it!" Ephiny raised her eyebrow as Gabrielle continued, "I walked in on the two in deep conversation. The way they reacted, you would have thought that I caught them in bed together." Ephiny was shocked at her queen’s comment. She had no idea Gabrielle would have even thought of that. Then again Gabrielle had grown up quite a bit over the last three years.
Ephiny continued, "Well anyway, Petra told me that she went there to either kill Xena or to make her feel what it was like to be defenseless. She herself didn’t know which it was. She strangled Xena but then changed her mind. This threw Xena into one of her bad headaches, and she became ill. Petra took care of her. Rubbed her head. The whole works. Can you imagine? Petra goes to possibly kill her but ends up taking care of her. Petra loves Xena like a sister and has a great deal of respect for her. However, she can’t stand to see Xena mistreat you in anyway. She’s put you in a goddess category. She claims that she would never act on her feelings but she told me that you deserve better than a warrior. She also added that she is in love with Electra and could never hurt her. Petra feels guilty about her feelings, believing that she has betrayed both Electra and Xena."
"So Xena knew this?" Gabrielle asked amazed.
"Yes, Petra said Xena came right out and asked her." Ephiny said and then asked, "Doesn’t Xena remember any of this?"
"She said that she doesn’t," Gabrielle said and then paused frowning before she continued, "but there’s this strange tension between the two of them. It’s like they both know that the other one knows. Xena told me once Petra would do anything for me." Gabrielle closed her eyes and cringed.
"What is it, Gabrielle?" Ephiny said.
"I just had an awful thought. I am fearful of what may happen if Xena ever remembers that conversation. In the Eastern Nation something occurred between them. Petra bloodied Xena’s lip. They had this horrible sword fight, and Xena came very close to killing her. Petra still wears Xena’s scar on her throat." Ephiny was amazed. "Xena keeps telling me they are both over the problem they had, but I wonder. I think that fight was over me, but Xena would never tell me."
Remembering another incident, Ephiny remarked, "That evening right after Xena regained consciousness when we were in your apartment, I noticed that even young Xena seemed jealous of Petra when she was around you. That was before she even got to know you, Gabrielle."
Gabrielle frowned and shrugged, "I think Xena is sometimes resentful when Petra is around Zoe too. Ephiny, Zoe worships Petra. I don’t know what it is about Petra, but she is so..." Suddenly Gabrielle realized what she was admitting, and was afraid to finish the statement for what it might reveal.
Ephiny finished it for her, "So much like Xena, only younger and less jaded?" Gabrielle looked down in her lap as tears formed in her eyes. Ephiny remembered the exchange she had witnessed the morning Petra had seen the bruises on Gabrielle’s face and knew then that some feelings were mutual.
Gabrielle Looked up at Ephiny with tears in her eyes, "Xena must never learn this, Ephiny, or I would lose her forever." Gabrielle realized it would be so easy for her to fall deeply in love with Petra.
"Gabrielle, you need not worry. You are the sister of my heart and my queen. Xena will never find out from me. I only told you about Petra because I thought you should know so that you might avoid some issues in the future." Gabrielle nodded knowingly.
Gabrielle remained all day in Ephiny’s chambers, and the two enjoyed each other’s company, something they had not been able to do for a long time. Ephiny had their evening meal delivered to her quarters, and the two ate together before Gabrielle went home for the evening. When she arrived back in her own quarters, she found that Xena had cleaned up everything but was not there. As Gabrielle walked across the central compound towards Petra and Electra’s, she hoped that Electra was not aware of the feelings that existed between her and Petra. Gabrielle retrieved Zoe and took her to the baths before retiring for the night. She thought that she might catch a glimpse of Xena, but she had no luck. She and Zoe went home to an empty bed. Gabrielle climbed in bed with Zoe, and after a brief story the two drifted off to sleep, Zoe cradled in Gabrielle’s arms.
When Gabrielle did not return all day, Xena decided she needed to find a full wine skin and a couple of friends who needed cheering up. While she helped them, perhaps they could help her too. Xena procured two wine flasks from the dining hall and found her warrior friends around a large bonfire talking to some young warriors in training.
When Xena strode up, the conversation died off. The young warriors were in awe of the Warrior Princess’ legendary fighting skills, and she was the Queen’s consort. However, Xena figured it was because of her sad appearance, but she pushed on, "Eponin, Solari, my friends, I’ve been looking for you." The two immediately jumped to their feet and joined Xena. "I was hoping you could help me finish off these wine skins," Xena said taking one from her shoulder which she tossed it to Eponin, the other she tossed to Solari.
Eponin grinned and elbowed Solari whose somber expression finally gave way to a smile. "Sure, come on, Solari," Eponin said, "Where to Xena?"
"How about the hot springs? Think anybody will be there?" Xena asked.
"If there is, we’ll scare them away," Eponin said laughing, as she slung the skin over her left shoulder. She wrapped her arm around Xena’s shoulder as they headed off toward the springs.
As they walked through the night, Xena inquired, "Still have that amethyst, Eponin?"
"Sure do, Xena. You don’t see me stumbling around like Solari." She patted the pouch at her waist.
"What are you two talking about?" Solari asked. Xena and Eponin laughed.
"After one Tartarus of a hangover," Eponin explained, "Xena gave me a piece of amethyst. That little purple stone helps fight the effects of that purple substance we all so love to drink." Turning to Solari she teased loudly, "Wine! Haven’t had a hangover in moons. It really works."
"Really?" Eponin nodded and Xena grinned. "Hey, I want one!" Eponin laughed loudly at Solari’s child-like outburst.
Xena dug into her pouch and pulled out the stone she carried, "Here you can have mine; I’m not going to need it tonight." She handed it over to Solari who examined it closely and then tucked it in her amulet bag.
"Thanks, Xena," Solari said. Xena smiled and slapped her on her back.
"You intend to get drunk tonight, Xena?" Eponin inquired a wicked grin tugging at her lips.
Xena announced, "I certainly do, my friend."
"Well, Solari and I will make sure you get home and tucked into bed."
"Thank you Eponin, I appreciate that," said Xena.
When they arrived at the spring, Eponin shooed away some youths. Then the three stripped down and eased into the hot water. Xena noted that the two warriors avoided looking at her scarred shoulder and at her shriveled arm. Xena sat between them as they settled down to some serious drinking, Eponin on her right and Solari on her left. Xena was reminded of that fateful retreat through the forest and thought, ‘Just like then’.
Eponin joked, "Hey are you sure this will be enough wine for our purposes? Solari, why don’t you run over to your hut and get two or three more?"
"Ah shut up, Eponin. I don’t have any wine at my place," Solari growled.
Xena spoke up, "Hey, before we get too happy, I wanted to say something to you two."
Eponin lowered her wine skin, staring straight ahead and asked somberly, "What’s that, Xena?"
"Solari, I wanted to thank you for cutting me loose that day. If Argo had dragged me much farther, I would be dead. Thanks, Solari. I know that you wished you could have got to me sooner, but you know how fast Argo is." Eponin and Solari nodded.
Speaking quietly and sincerely, Solari replied, "Yeah, well, you would have done the same thing for me, Xena. I’m just sorry that it had to happen at all. I’m glad you’re back with us."
Xena said, "I also want to thank you both for binding my wound and getting me back here alive."
Solari spoke up, "Well, if it wasn’t for Queen Gabrielle, I think you would have bled to death before we could have got you back here."
Xena was confused at that comment. "What do you mean, Solari?" she asked.
Surprised Solari asked, "Xena, they didn’t tell you?" .
"Tell me what?" Xena asked.
Solari explained, "Zoe told Queen Gabrielle the moment you were wounded, and Queen Gabrielle made Ephiny bring a wagon out to retrieve you. They brought Thyra with them. We couldn’t get the bleeding to stop, and we were sure you were not going to make it. The most beautiful sight I ever saw was that wagon and our Queen coming for you."
Eponin took a long swig from the skin and handed it to Xena. She then spoke, "You should have seen her, Xena. You should have seen our Queen. You would have been so proud of her. My gods, you were a bloody mess but she took it like a warrior. Thyra had you laid in that wagon and took one look at your wound and was ready remove your arm at the shoulder and cauterize it." Xena furrowed her brow and winced. "Queen Gabrielle climbed into that wagon and gave her the order that she was not to take your arm and that she was to repair it. She even told her exactly what to do." Xena took a thoughtful draught from the skin and passed it on to Solari.
Solari commented, "She was magnificent!"
"Yeah," Eponin said, "no wonder half the young warriors are in love with her." Xena turned and stared at Eponin. Noticing Xena’s reaction Eponin blurted out, "Of course it’s just infatuation, Xena. But can you blame them? Who wouldn’t give anything to have that kind of devotion?"
Xena grinned, "I guess you are right."
Solari interjected, "You know Eponin is right about that; although she’s usually not right about much."
Eponin reached across Xena and slapped at Solari, "I was right about you! You Hedonist." Solari slapped back.
"Hey! If you two are going to fight, I’m moving." Xena made as if to move, but her two friends pulled her back down and shoved the wine skin into her hand. Xena grinned, sat back and took a long, deep drink of the potent elixir. She had almost climbed out of the springs to go search for her Gabrielle. After Solari and Eponin’s comments about her brave Gabrielle, all Xena wanted to do was to find her and hold her. Before too long the three were feeling the effects of the wine and were playing in the water like three Amazon youths. Solari scrambled out of the water and not bothering with clothes streaked off to find some more wine . When she came pounding back down the path with a full wine skin in each hand, she leaped screaming into the middle of the deep pool causing a tidal wave to wash over Xena and Eponin. Both received a mouthful of water because they were laughing so hard. After consuming half of the third skin, they played keep away from each other. Xena found herself leaping into the air, slapping the skin away from Eponin, tackling Solari and being dunked by Eponin and dunking back. After a candlemark of horseplay, they floated exhausted in the warm waters and took turns trying to shoot the wine into each other’s mouths.
Eventually they ended up sitting on the ledge and passing the skins around in a semi-orderly fashion when Eponin looking at Xena’s shoulder and remarked, "Great goddess, what a scar!"
Xena looked down at it through bleary eyes and then grinned at them both, "Yeah, bet you two don’t have any that good."
Solari raised her arm, stood up, and pointed to a long straight scar that ran along her ribs, "Forty stitches, the Centaur wars. Grazed my lung." Xena leaned forward, ran her finger along the scar and whistled.
"Oh, Solari, Xena has you beat. Thyra said she put forty stitches inside, and..." Eponin said. She frowned and turned to Solari. "How many did she say was on the outside?" Xena and Solari shrugged. "Hey, can you still see the stitch holes? Let’s count em," Eponin suggested. Three heads almost touched as the women closely examined the scar. After getting to twenty-eight and losing count, Eponin splashed water into Xena and Solari’s eyes and fell over backwards into the water laughing.
Solari turned to Xena and said, "Eponin didn’t show us her scar, and I happen to know she’s got a big one on her butt." They both looked wickedly at Eponin as she back paddled away from them.
"Oh no you don’t!" Eponin exclaimed. Solari tossed the near empty wine skin on the bank. Then she and Xena tackled Eponin, pushed her under water, and wrapped their arms around her neck. When she finally manage to sputter to the surface, she relented. "Stop! I’ll show you." She rolled over on her belly revealing the long straight scar that ran down her lower back and ended in the muscle of her left hip. Rolling over she said, "Satisfied? Sixty-three stitches, the Centaur wars. I was never so tired of sleeping on my belly. My back ached for days." Her two assailants roared with laughter, and the three friends made their way back to the ledge where they retrieved the last skin.
As they sat there and chugged down the wine, Eponin asked Xena about her arm, "You think you’ll ever get it all back Xena?"
Xena took a big swig, not noticing the two were passing their turns to her, and she shrugged. "I don’t know. It seems to get better and then...I just don’t know. I kind of doubt it."
Solari wrapped her arm around Xena’s shoulders and said, "Oh Tartarus, Xena, you’re still a better warrior with one arm than anyone I know." Xena grinned and took another drink.
"You should see all those young pups trying to imitate your style, Xena," Eponin interjected.
Xena raised her eyebrow and looked at Eponin, "Really?"
Eponin rolled her eyes and gave her a dumb look, "Yeah, really. They all want to fight like you," Eponin answered in mock sarcasm. "You’ll probably perfect this one-arm fighting style and then all of your adoring followers will study the technique and try to copy you." Xena shook her head and grinned.
Solari added, "You’re a legend to them; a goddess of war. They love you. By Zeus, Xena! The other half who are not in love with Queen Gabrielle are in love with you."
Xena laughed and said, "That’s only because they don’t know me."
Eponin chuckled and added, "That’s the truth. I hope none of them are eavesdropping right now or that legend is going to suffer some serious bruises."
"Yeah they do admire you," Solari said, "You know Petra, she’s been training the young ones. She’s and incredible warrior, so powerful and fast." Xena frowned. "She kicks their butts all over that field and then reminds them when they are lying in the dust that you could do the exact same thing to her. Those words alone knocks some of the cockiness out of them and builds their desire to be like you. They would love to one day kick Petra’s butt."
Xena thought of the warrior who brought her to her knees and almost sent her to Tartarus and of the dark image of her floating over her. Through her bleariness she asked, "What about her anyway?"
Eponin took the skin and commented seriously, "She’s a great asset to the war counsel. So even tempered most of the time."
Solari muttered, "Yeah, unlike some people we know!"
Eponin snorted at Solari’s dig and then said, "She is a mystery though. I can’t figure out if she’s in love with you or if it’s the Queen who’s won her heart. Usually I can tell, but she’s not as green as the young warriors who can’t see for the stars in their eyes."
"Enough of this talking! Drink up! We’ve got to finish this skin," Solari said and slapped the flask into Xena’s hand. Xena took a long drink from the skin, and tried to focus her mind on the previous conversation. She wasn’t successful as the wine took hold and blurred her senses. Before long she drifted into dull dreamless oblivion.
"Mission accomplished. My gods! How much wine did she drink?" Eponin inquired.
"Well, unless you were cheating," Solari said, "I would say at least two and a half skins." and shook her head. "Glad I’m not going to be in her boots tomorrow. Come on, let’s get her home." Solari and Eponin hauled Xena out of the water, and being careful of her arm, they laid her on the bank, while they dressed. Eponin gathered Xena’s clothes.
"Should we dress her?" Solari asked.
"No one’s awake but the guards anyway," Eponin said. "Why bother. We’ll just have to strip her out of ‘em when we get her home."
"I hope the Queen won’t be angry," Solari said.
"Look, Solari, Xena needed this. Gabrielle will understand. Now let’s get her home."
Eponin wrapped her arm around Xena’s chest, and Solari took her legs, and the two tramped through the village towards the queen’s quarters carrying a very inebriated Warrior Princess. When they arrived, they quietly let themselves in and laid Xena on her bed and covered her. As they left, Eponin dropped her clothes on a chair.
Xena drifted in the abyss of wine induced oblivion for several candlemarks, but as the effects lessened, her mind became active with memories both familiar and unfamiliar. She saw his dark image standing there. His blue eyes looked down into hers. She ran through the fields with Chloe and Lyceus. With Gabrielle she watched as Zoe rode Argo in a gentle, loping gait. She raised a wine skin with friends and swam in cool streams with Gabrielle. She spun her mother in circles and laughed into Cyrene’s smiling eyes. She looked up into Chloe’s eyes and down into Gabrielle’s eyes. She reached across a table and squeezed Ephiny’s hand. She slapped Eponin on the back and was spun around in her arms. She saw Lyceus cut down. She searched in vain for Chloe. She watched Cyrene turn angrily away from her. She felt the rough, jute rope dig into her wrists and ankles. She felt him brutally hit her battered face. She saw him roll off her bruised and nude body. She saw the assassins galloping towards them as Chloe looked back into her eyes. She saw the arrow pierce Chloe’s chest and felt the stab in her own. She heard Gabrielle scream her name. She held Chloe as she died in her arms and Zoe as she cried in her arms. She bathed Gabrielle’s fevered body and held her. She wiped the tears as they fell from her own eyes. She knelt before Artemis and begged for help. She saw the helmet and the spear. She felt it sear through her body, and she felt herself hit the ground. The world spun until the black abyss swallowed her, and she drifted on a sea of blackness floating in pain and loneliness, lost alone. An image in the distance, a temple in Thessaly. She saw Gabrielle spattered with blood and dead in the temple. She saw Petra standing over her, felt her hands enclose her throat, the darkness engulf her and she screamed, "Noooo!" and flung out her fist fighting the darkness.
"Xena! What have you done?"
Xena’s eye flew open and she scrambled back in bed, expecting to see Petra standing over her, but all she saw was Gabrielle’s angry face and all she heard was Gabrielle’s angry voice and Zoe crying. Shaking the sleep from her head, she tried to make sense out of the scene that lay before her. Her head pounded. She felt queasy and the world tilted around her. The taste in her mouth reminded her of the wine and the night before. Gabrielle screamed at her as she ran around the bed. Xena finally realized that Zoe was on the floor crying. The warrior struggled out of bed to go to her, but Gabrielle arrived first. She swept the child into her arms and turned protectively away from Xena. When Xena approached them Gabrielle slapped Xena across the face with all her might, as she angrily retorted, "Don’t you ever touch her again!" Gabrielle turned and headed for the door. As Zoe looked back through her tear-flooded, sapphire eyes, Xena saw a purple bruise appearing on her tiny cheek.
After taking Zoe to Thyra, Gabrielle went straight to Ephiny to discuss matters with her. The two women tucked the little girl into Ephiny’s bed where she lay dozing. Then they moved to the other room to talk.
Gabrielle asked, "Ephiny, is it safe enough now to return to Amphipolis?"
"I believe so, but why Gabrielle?
"If the Athenian threat is over, I wish to return to Amphipolis with Zoe. Zoe needs to see Cyrene, and I do too," Gabrielle said.
Ephiny asked, "What do you plan to do, Gabrielle?"
"I’m not sure, but I should have heeded your warning. I won’t have Xena hurting Zoe."
"Have you spoken to her?" Ephiny questioned and then stated, "I’m sure it was an accident. The guards reported to me this morning about the activity of three warriors. It seems they got very drunk last night, and Solari and Eponin carried Xena home in the wee hours of the morning."
Gabrielle listened, but her anger was not displaced, "Before, I only had to put up with her bad moods and raging temper. Now she is turning to wine. She has a hard enough time controlling herself without letting wine help dictate her actions." Gabrielle sighed, "I just can’t deal with this any more, Ephiny. When I saw her punch Zoe, I wanted to..." Gabrielle paused.
Ephiny said calmly, "Gabrielle, you’ve been through a great deal with all this. You just need time. After you take Zoe to Amphipolis, then what will you do?"
"That depends on Cyrene, Ephiny. I know I will not go back to Poteidaia." Ephiny raised her eyebrow in question. "I have never had that good of a relationship with my parents, Ephiny. I feel closer to Cyrene than I have ever felt to either of my parents. There are just too many bad memories in Poteidaia; I can’t go there. Besides, I owe it to Chloe and to Zoe to be there for the child of my heart. I’m afraid Xena can never be a real mother to Zoe. I love Zoe, and I don’t want to give her up." Gabrielle looked away as Zoe’s words played in her mind, ‘Momma said you would always take care of me Gabrielle.’ Gabrielle looked down and tears formed in her eyes as Ephiny stood, walked over to her, and knelt in front of her.
"Gabrielle, you know Xena still loves you both very much." Ephiny lifted Gabrielle’s chin, peered into her eyes, and insisted, "You do know that." Gabrielle bit her lip and nodded as tears cascaded down her face. "Maybe some time apart will be good for both of you." Gabrielle wiped away her tears.
"Whether it will be good or not it’s just going to have to be that way," Gabrielle said as she looked into Ephiny’s eyes, daring her to say something. "I am going to ask Petra to escort us to Amphipolis, Ephiny."
Ephiny stood. "Are you sure that’s a good idea, Gabrielle?"
"I need someone right now, Ephiny, who understands my actions. And besides, there is no one Xena trusts more with our safety."
Ephiny crossed her arms and asked, "What do you think Petra will do when she sees Zoe’s cheek? That bruise will likely spread to her eye, and by tomorrow, she will probably have a black eye."
"I want to leave by first light tomorrow," Gabrielle replied, "I hope Petra won’t see her until it’s too late."
Ephiny nodded, "I’ll go and speak with Petra right now and organize an escort party. You and Zoe will stay here with me tonight. I’m going to send for some food and some hot water for a bath. That should make you feel better. I’ll be back within two candlemarks.
Xena sat in a stupor, head between her knees, her arm clasped firmly around her crippled arm which she held into her stomach against the churning. Between her feet sat the wash basin and the sad contents of her stomach. At this moment she wished that she had died on that Athenian spear. Her head pounded and her vision was bleary. Beads of sweat gathered on her brow as her stomach churned, and the world spun around her. When the realization of what she had done hit home, Xena became violently ill. Now she sat alone. Her mind searched for a route across the chasm her actions had created, but a landslide of incomprehensible problems blocked each passage. She thought miserably, ‘Gabrielle will never forgive me’. Tears dropped into the bowl at her feet, and the sharp, pounding words pummeled her sore brain, ‘She’s yours too; you promised, Xe’.
Ephiny was steaming mad and although the two warriors towered over her, they cowered at her anger and harsh words. "And what were you two expecting to achieve by getting Xena drunk last night?"
Eponin spoke first. "Ephiny, Xena hunted us down and invited us to join her."
Ephiny demanded, "And at what point did you decide to not get drunk but allow to her believe you were joining her? And why?" Ephiny pierced Eponin with her eyes and then glared at Solari.
Solari said, "Ephiny, as you well know Xena has not been herself. We knew she was feeling...well I don’t know, but we knew the loss of her arm was killing her inside. She’s a warrior! By the gods, Ephiny, you remember what it was like. If you were hurt or injured, and you had to sit out a fight or a battle. You remember? Imagine being Xena and knowing that you may have to sit out every battle for the rest of your life." Ephiny frowned, she knew exactly what Solari was trying to say. "When Xena finally worked up the nerve to join us and become one with us again...we had to let her know she was still a warrior."
Ephiny sighed and then said, "Look, I know you two had the best intentions, but in her drunken stupor, she hit Zoe." The two warriors were visibly shaken. "And now Gabrielle is taking Zoe and leaving Xena."
Eponin pleaded, "But, Ephiny, that will kill Xena." Eponin looked at Solari and back to Ephiny. "She may as well have died on that Athenian spear."
"I know all that, Eponin, and that is why I’ve come here to talk to you, besides giving you a piece of my mind for your rather irresponsible, youthful behavior." Turning to Solari Ephiny said, "You weren’t drunk?" Solari shook her head. "Really, Solari, running through the compound naked, carrying two wine flasks and screaming at the top of your lungs?"
Solari looked at Ephiny sheepishly. "Uh, you heard about that," Solari said and then shrugged her shoulders, "We had to be convincing, Ephiny. You know how Xena is."
Ephiny just shook her head, "Well, anyway, as we speak, Petra is organizing an escort party for Gabrielle and Zoe."
"Ephiny, don’t you think Solari and I should take the Queen?" Eponin asked.
"No, Petra is more than capable of transporting the Queen and the child," Ephiny said, "Besides, it was Xena who chose Petra to escort Zoe from the Eastern Nation. She has a great deal of trust in Petra." Eponin smirked and Ephiny narrowed her eyes. "And what is that supposed to mean?"
"Ephiny there’s been talk," Eponin responded.
Ephiny replied, "I’ve heard all that, and I understand your concern, but Gabrielle will have no one else. As for you two, I want you to get over to the queen’s quarters right now and take care of Xena. Gabrielle and Zoe are staying with me. You are to become Xena’s shadow. Keep her away from Gabrielle and Zoe. And keep her away from Petra too. You might try helping her find a way to get over her problem with her arm so that she has a chance of winning Gabrielle back." Both warriors nodded grimly. "Gabrielle did everything for Xena, including exercising her arm. Since you two are somewhat responsible for the things that happened here, you can take over that job too. If Xena complains, figure it out, but just do your job."
Attendants had gone to the queen’s chambers and retrieved Gabrielle and Zoe’s things, and all the preparations had been made for the journey to Amphipolis. Gabrielle and Zoe stayed in Ephiny’s chambers. The three ate their evening meal together as Gabrielle held Zoe in her lap. Zoe’s little cheek was black and blue and a deep purple stain appeared beneath her eye. Gabrielle almost cried when she looked upon the tiny child.
When Ephiny left the room to speak with a messenger, Zoe looked up into Gabrielle’s eyes. "Gabrielle, I don’t want to leave Xena," Zoe said, and tears welled up in her ocean-blue eyes. "She didn’t mean to hit me, Gabrielle. She was dreaming, and she thought I was Petra." Gabrielle looked into the child’s eyes as a pain stabbed her chest. She no more wanted to leave Xena than she wanted to cut off her own right arm, but she knew she had to.
"Zoe, honey, I know Xena didn’t mean to hurt you. We just need to get you home to Cyrene for a while. Xena will join us later." Gabrielle prayed silently that her words were not a lie.
Zoe looked down at the white bandage on Gabrielle’s thigh, and she laid a gentle hand over the wound. Staring at her own hand on the dressing she inquired, "Does it hurt?"
Gabrielle had almost forgotten the gash in her leg when Zoe reminded her of it. "No, honey, it doesn’t hurt," she answered. Although Zoe had not been told, Gabrielle knew the child knew everything about that incident. Ephiny stood in the doorway witnessing the interchange. "Come here, honey," Gabrielle said. She shifted Zoe in her arms holding her like an infant she gently kissed her cheek and whispered, "I love you Zoe, everything will be all right, I promise." Zoe gave Gabrielle a smile. Ephiny frowned at the little pain that flitted through her chest.
After Gabrielle had bathed Zoe and slipped her into the middle of Ephiny’s bed, she informed Ephiny that she was going to talk to Xena. Arriving at her quarters, she found the three warriors talking somberly in the dim light of a single lamp. The room was a mess. The bed unmade, the table covered with the remnants of half eaten food, and a stale smell permeated the room. Xena looked horrible. Wearing only a linen shift and the sling for her arm, she looked like she had just rolled out of bed. Her hair had not been brushed, and dark circles shadowed her blood shot eyes. She had been crying. When Gabrielle entered the room, Solari and Eponin jumped to their feet, and Xena rose slowly. Her face belied her fear and uncertainty. She knew Zoe was all right. She had staggered over to Thyra early that morning to check on her. As she stood staring into Gabrielle’s eyes, her mind was too sore to explore the possible reasons she might be there.
Dragging her somber stare from Xena, Gabrielle looked at Solari and Eponin, "I need to speak with Xena alone." The two immediately exited the room dropping their heads in deference and mumbling my Queen as they passed by her. Gabrielle watched the two warriors as they left and then shifted her gaze to Xena.
Xena tried to speak, "Gabrielle, I’m..." Gabrielle raised her hands and interrupted her.
"Xena, you do not have to say anything. You’ve already apologized enough over the last fortnight. I know you did not intend to hurt Zoe, but you did hurt her. I know you did not intend to hurt me, but you did hurt me. I can no long stay here and let either of us get hurt by you whether you intend harm or not. Zoe’s life is too precious to me, and I need to be there to take care of her." Gabrielle paused and stepped closer to Xena so she could better see her face in the dim light. "Xena, I came here to tell you that in the morning Zoe and I are leaving for Amphipolis." Xena felt her heart sink as a wave of nausea gripped her guts. She sat back down in the chair. A tear fell down her cheek as she stared up at Gabrielle. Gabrielle knew it would be so easy to run to Xena and hold her, but Zoe’s bruised cheek haunted her, and she looked away. "I’m sorry, Xena, we could not make this work out between us, but I have to think of Zoe." Gabrielle turned to leave but paused as she said, "I hope you find peace, Xena." and she walked away.
Outside she found Solari and Eponin standing against the building. When she appeared they stood up straight and turned to her. "Queen Gabrielle, Solari and I want to apologize to you for what happened last night. I fear this unfortunate incident is our fault. Will you ever forgive us?"
Gabrielle smiled sadly at the somber warriors before her. "It’s not your fault, Eponin. Xena has been haunted by horrible dreams lately. They are to blame for Zoe getting hurt. Until she can find a way to deal with her fears and her infirmity, Zoe and I can not be around her."
Eponin bowed her head, ‘Yes, my Queen."
Gabrielle turned to Solari, "Solari, I am sorry I haven’t spoken to you sooner. I want to thank you for saving Xena that day." Turning to Eponin and then back to Solari. "I want to thank both of you for getting her home to me alive. I also thank you for being her friends. She needs you both right now." Gabrielle dropped her eyes and fought the tears realizing as she talked to these proud warriors she relinquished the care of her love to someone else.
Solari lightly touched Gabrielle’s arm. "My Queen, we’ll take care of her for you. We promise."
Gabrielle smiled through her tear filled eyes, "Thank you." She paused and looked at Eponin and back at Solari and they raised their brows expectantly. "Would you please clean her up and make her get dressed?"
Solari and Eponin spoke as one, "Of course, my Queen." They bowed slightly and laid their fists over their hearts as Gabrielle left them.
That night Gabrielle and Ephiny sat up talking long into the night. Ephiny realized just how much Gabrielle had gone through by loving Xena. She wondered at the fact that their young Queen still loved the Warrior Princess with a depth of emotion Ephiny didn’t understand or think possible. The thought that the gods might be at play here flitted though her mind, but she was tugged from her musing as Gabrielle mentioned Chloe again.
"Gabrielle, you can tell me to mind my own business if you want, but would you please explain to me about Chloe? Xena never gave me much of an explanation as to Zoe’s origins. The only thing I know is that Chloe and Zoe are mother and child, but Xena claims she too is Zoe’s mother." Ephiny was then struck by the fact that Gabrielle too saw herself as Zoe’s mother, and she furrowed her eyebrows.
Gabrielle sighed and wished her warrior had explained everything to Ephiny, but she knew Xena better than that. "Chloe, Xena, and Lyceus, Xena’s brother, were very close, Ephiny, when they were growing up. They actually lived in the same house when Chloe’s mother died. Xena told me there was more than just closeness...they could communicate with each other without speaking...they could actually feel each other’s pain in some ways." Ephiny furrowed her brow as Gabrielle continued, "Chloe and Xena became very close." Gabrielle locked eyes with Ephiny, and Ephiny understood before Gabrielle could speak the words. "Chloe was her first lover. They would probably have been together forever if the Fates had not been so cruel." Gabrielle went on to explain the entire affair and as she spoke Ephiny’s mind visualized Xena’s reaction to all of this. She wondered how Gabrielle had survived the Warrior Princess’ anger and frustration.
"Gabrielle, it must have been horrible," Ephiny said. Gabrielle nodded and fought back tears.
"The assassin killed her right in front of all of us." Gabrielle paused, looked down then back into Ephiny’s eyes and said, "My poor Xena and my poor Zoe." She shook her head and cried into her hands. Ephiny immediately wrapped her arms around her. As she held her she thought, ‘And my poor Gabrielle’.
When Gabrielle finally composed herself, she explained to Ephiny as best as she could Chloe’s gifts and her relationship with the gods. Gabrielle said, "Zoe is Xena’s child with her eyes and hair and even her temperament because Chloe beseeched the gods. That’s all I am sure of anyway."
Ephiny frowned at that comment and questioned Gabrielle. "What do you mean, Gabrielle?"
Gabrielle let out a large breath and said, " When we were in eastern Thrace, Xena admitted to me right before I became deathly ill, that she had self-healing powers. Those powers were beyond the mortal realm." Ephiny frowned. "That is one reason I refused to let Thyra remove her arm. I knew Xena would not get an infection, and I hoped she would make a complete recovery." Gabrielle paused deep in thought; she knew she wasn’t wrong about Xena.
Ephiny gently prodded her on, "What is it Gabrielle?"
Gabrielle looked up into Ephiny’s eyes, "I’m don’t know for sure, but I think Xena knows. Ephiny, I believe that Xena and Chloe and possibly even Lyceus were all the children of a god."
Ephiny sat back stunned. Finally she asked, "You mean like Hercules?" Gabrielle nodded.
Solari and Eponin convinced Xena to go with them to the hot springs to get cleaned up. As they soaked clean, the three commiserated.
Eponin said, "Xena, what are you going to do?"
"I don’t know, Eponin."
"She still loves you, you know," Solari stated.
"Yeah, well, a lot of good that does me as she rides out of my life," Xena said glumly. As Xena’s head cleared and her physical pain diminished, the pain in her heart grew.
Eponin said, "It’s not like you don’t know where Amphipolis is, Xena."
Xena looked at Eponin. "What are you suggesting?" she said, "That I should go after her? She doesn’t want me, Eponin."
Eponin leaned forward, looking around Xena she captured Solari’s attention and they exchanged glances. Before Xena could react, the two warriors grabbed her head and dunked her. Xena came up sputtering and mad as Hades.
"That’s exactly what’s wrong with you, Xena," Solari laughed, "You just don’t get it. How could Gabrielle be so mad at you if she didn’t love you?"
Eponin added, "It’s like before you two got together. Everyone knew you were meant to be together. It took you so long to realize it because in matters of the heart, my warrior friend, you’re just dumb!"
"Another thing, Xena, you are too hard on yourself. Then you lose your temper with yourself. You start blowing up and people around you get hurt." At Solari’s comment Xena winced.
"How can I change, Solari? Tell me that. I’ve been this way for as long as I can remember," Xena said.
Solari answered, "I don’t know, Xena. Look at Eponin, always blowing up." Eponin rolled her eyes.
Eponin countered, "Yeah and look at Solari, Xena, always beating up on herself." Solari frowned and hoped Eponin would just shut up.
"Xena, what’s more important to you right now?" Eponin asked, "Your arm or Gabrielle and Zoe?" Xena frowned and looked angrily at Eponin, but the big warrior did not back down.
Xena said, "Gabrielle and Zoe, you know that!"
Eponin shook her head. "No, I didn’t know that, Xena. The way you’ve been acting over the last fortnight, I would have bet on the arm." Xena scowled and looked at Solari.
"I’m sorry, Xena, I agree with Eponin. You’ve been feeling sorry for yourself, and you’ve put yourself before them."
Eponin asked, "Xena, you’re my friend. We’re warriors, but there is much more to life than being a warrior. If you could get the use of your arm back right now, how would you feel?"
Xena dropped her head at Eponin’s question and shook it, "I’d feel just as bad as I feel now."
"And why?" Eponin asked.
"Because I would not be able to hold Zoe or feel Gabrielle in its embrace, the two people who mean more than life to me." Xena tried to swallow the lump in her throat. "I’ve lost them," Xena said sadly.
Solari reminded her quietly, "It’s not uncommon to find lost things, Xena."
There were few present the next morning when the escort party assembled in front of Ephiny’s quarters as the sun touched the horizon sending golden fingers into the morning sky. Gabrielle hugged Ephiny, and they kissed each other’s cheeks. Then Petra, who had said her good-byes to Electra in the privacy of their quarters, assisted Gabrielle onto her tall, black steed. She then lifted Zoe up in front of Gabrielle. Placing her foot in the stirrup, she swung up onto the horse behind Gabrielle.
Ephiny stepped forward to give her final good-byes when she noticed that Gabrielle was staring towards her and Xena’s quarters. Following her gaze, Ephiny was displeased at the sight. Xena, dressed in her full armor, her arm in her sling, her sword slung over her back and her chakram clipped to her side strode toward the assemblage. Behind her in their full Amazon battle gear, tagged Ephiny’s battle commanders, Eponin and Solari. Thinking she would personally kill them later, Ephiny glanced nervously up at Gabrielle and Petra.
As they approached, Ephiny intervened, first glaring at Solari and Eponin and then addressing Xena rather coolly, "Xena,..."
Xena flashed her that disarming smile and before she could say anything more, brushed by her with a, "Relax, Ephiny." With her eyes, Ephiny tossed daggers at her lieutenants and quickly turned to stand near Xena. Moving first to Petra, but not before she gave Gabrielle the gift of her smile, Xena offered up her arm and said, "I know you will take care of them for me, Petra." Petra did not smile back, but she took Xena’s arm in warrior
style. Xena was a complete enigma to this strong warrior, and though she wanted to hate her for the bruise on Zoe’s face, she could not bring herself to do so. She shook her head at herself more than at Xena and found herself wondering if perhaps Xena wasn’t mad. It was a known fact that the gods smiled on the mad.
Xena moved to Gabrielle and her smile communicated a deep sorrow that almost made Gabrielle gasp, but she remained stoic as Xena said, "My Queen, may your journey be safe and may Helios visit you when her mistress is well." Gabrielle caught the twisted question in Xena’s statement, and she smiled ever so slightly. Xena graced her with another dazzling smile, and as Xena moved to Zoe, Gabrielle shifted her gaze to the tall warriors who stood behind Xena. She captured their eyes with hers, and blessed them with her smile that could melt the coldest of hearts. Eponin winked back at her and grinned as Solari smiled.
Xena stood looking into Zoe’s face, and a single tear slid down her cheek as she observed the bruise and purple stain beneath the child’s eye. As she reached up and touched the child’s cheek with her finger tips, Zoe smiled at her. Xena then pulled Zoe’s blue-eyed doll from inside her sling. Xena said, "As much as I would like to keep this near me to remind me of my little girl, I think you should take it with you to remind you of me." She handed the doll to Zoe.
Zoe took the doll and held it to her little chest and said, "I love you, Xena."
Xena stepped back from the horse, grinned her crooked smile and replied, "I love you too, Zoe."
The escort party turned their horses and began their journey south towards Amphipolis, but it would be a silent journey that morning as all were lost in thought contemplating the quiet, emotional scene they had witnessed earlier.
Xena stood surrounded by her warrior friends and Ephiny as she watched Gabrielle and Zoe ride out her life. As they disappeared from sight, she turned to go to her quarters. Ephiny stopped her with her hand on her arm.
"I’m sorry, Xena. Are you all right?" Xena looked down at Ephiny, nodded and walked away. Looking at Solari and Eponin, Ephiny motioned with her head for them to follow her.
Back in her quarters Xena removed her sword, tossed it to the floor and began to unbuckle her armor when Eponin stepped forward and lent her a hand. No one spoke as Eponin helped Xena remove her arm from the sling, lift the armor from Xena’s shoulders, and hand it to Solari. Eponin looked into Xena’s eyes, and her heart broke at the sorrow there. Xena began to cry, and Eponin took her in her arms and held her as Solari looked away.
The journey south was uneventful as the escort party fell into an easy routine. Petra slept near Gabrielle and Zoe with one eye open every night. Talk was infrequent, something Gabrielle was used to having traveled with Xena for almost three years. Petra was quiet unlike Solari and Eponin who were constantly at each other and pulling everyone around them into their silliness. They could even bring out the child in Xena, a feat at which Gabrielle marveled.
When the party arrived in Amphipolis, they were greeted by a worried Cyrene. From their expressions and body language Cyrene feared the worst when she did not see her daughter or Argo. Petra swung down from her horse and immediately took Zoe into her arms and then helped Gabrielle dismount. Cyrene’s heart almost stopped in her chest when Gabrielle ran crying into her arms. Holding the woman-child in her embrace, Cyrene whispered desperately as Petra stood back with Cyrene’s grandchild in her arms, "Gabrielle, please tell me of Xena."
Realizing what Cyrene feared, Gabrielle choked out through tears, "She’s all right, Cyrene," and Gabrielle melted to the ground. Cyrene stared helplessly at the tall warrior she remembered from before. Petra handed Zoe to Cyrene. She easily picked Gabrielle up and held her in her arms as she turned to Cyrene questioningly.
Cyrene escorted the Amazon warrior up the stairs and to Xena and Gabrielle’s room. Petra laid her gently on the bed and tenderly brushed a lock of hair from Gabrielle’s forehead as Cyrene watched. Cyrene furrowed her brows as she questioned in her mind the relationship between these two. Petra stood and turned to Cyrene, "I’ll stable the horses and bring up their gear. My warriors will only stay the night. I will stay until the Queen and Zoe are settled." With that, Petra nodded, laid her fist over her heart and left.
Cyrene sat Zoe down on the bed next to Gabrielle. She frowned at the shadow of a bruise on the child’s face. Then Zoe smiled up at her. Cyrene smiled at her grandchild and asked, "You want to come with me or stay here with Gabrielle? I’m going to fix the evening meal for your hungry Amazon warriors and Gabrielle and you."
Zoe smiled reaching up to hug Cyrene said, "I’ll stay with Gabrielle, Cyrene. She may need me." Cyrene nodded and looked over at Gabrielle’s sleeping face and wondered why Gabrielle was so upset. She knew what ever it was, it surely had something to do with Xena.
That evening Gabrielle did not join the rest for their meal but stayed in her bed. She was emotionally exhausted from her ordeal and fatigued from the trip. As soon as the meal was finished, Cyrene brought soup to her. The Amazons insisted on cleaning up the dishes while Petra entertained Zoe.
Cyrene took the half eaten bowl of soup Gabrielle handed her and asked, "Gabrielle, can you please tell me what has happened?" Is Xena all right? She’s not..." Cyrene paused as a horrified look crossed her face. "She hasn’t returned to her old ways has she?"
"No, Cyrene, it’s nothing like that," Gabrielle said and sighed. "I don’t know if I have the strength to tell you everything. I feel so awful." Gabrielle broke down into tears as she blurted out, "I love her, but I’ve lost her, and I don’t know if I can go on."
"I can’t believe you’ve lost her, Gabrielle." Cyrene was confused. "Xena loves you deeply. I know she does."
"Cyrene, I know she loves me, but we can’t be together until she is well again. I just can’t live with her the way she is. I can’t put Zoe through that. And I don’t know how long it will take"
"You said she is ill. Gabrielle what has happened? You must tell me," Cyrene pleaded.
Gabrielle looked up through her tears and shook her head slowly. She didn’t want to relive the nightmare of the last three moons, but seeing the concern on Cyrene’s face, she knew she had to tell Cyrene. "Xena lead the Amazons in a battle against the Athenians." Gabrielle paused and furrowed her brow. Her mind drifted as she thought, ‘They destroyed my childhood and now the Athenians have ruined my life.’ Cyrene touched Gabrielle’s arm when she saw the far away look on Gabrielle’s face. Gabrielle focused. Looking at Cyrene she continued, "Zoe warned her. She told her not to go. She saw the events; Xena’s death." Cyrene gasped as Gabrielle sobbed, "Xena refused to listen and that morning she was speared in the chest. Zoe somehow alerted her and she dodged the spear, and it drove into her shoulder rather than her heart." Tears formed in Cyrene’s eye as she grabbed Gabrielle’s hand. "It was a horrible wound," Gabrielle cried, "and she was also dragged by Argo. She was trapped in Morpheus’ clutches for an entire moon. When she finally awoke, she had no memory of the last thirteen years." Tears streaked Cyrene’s face.
"Gabrielle, I am so sorry, how horrible for you," Cyrene said.
Ignoring Cyrene’s comment, Gabrielle plunged forward, "She finally regained her memory after another moon, Cyrene, but her arm is ruined and she..." Gabrielle could not go on. Cyrene sat on the bed and gathered into her arms. She didn’t need to hear any more. She knew her untamed daughter would rebel against such a fate, and she knew the depths to which Xena’s rage could drag her.
Cyrene brought Gabrielle hot water for her bath later that evening and helped her out of her clothes and into the tub. Cyrene stayed with her and as she scrubbed Gabrielle’s back and washed her hair, she talked to her assuring her that Xena would one day return . Gabrielle was grateful that someone cared enough to take care of her. She was so very tired. She thanked her while Cyrene dried her, dressed her, helped her to bed, and tucked her in. Cyrene kissed her on the forehead, bade her good night and left to wrestle Zoe away from the Amazon women who had taken over her kitchen. Later that night Cyrene was surprised and confused to see the warrior they called Petra slip into Gabrielle’s room. She frowned at the feelings she had recognized earlier when Petra had laid Gabrielle in her bed.
The tall, dark warrior crossed the room and peered down at the lovely, young woman sleeping peacefully before her. Petra smiled, something she found herself doing often around Gabrielle. Furrowing her brow, she thought of how sad her Queen had been since Xena had been hurt, and she wished she could just hold her in her arms and make it all go away for her. She turned to leave when a soft, familiar voice beckoned to her, "Petra, please don’t leave."
Petra looked back over her shoulder, "I’m sorry, my Queen, I only wanted to check on you. I did not mean to awaken you."
"You did not awaken me; I was only dozing." Petra turned and stood next to the bed. Gabrielle’s soft, sad voice touched her heart, and she took Gabrielle’s hand in hers.
"Are you all right, Gabrielle?" Petra asked.
"No, Petra, I’m not all right." Petra sat on the edge of the bed facing Gabrielle, and she gently caressed the small, soft hand she held in her large, warrior hand.
"Gabrielle, I am truly sorry you and Xena are not together. I thought that you two were the most perfect couple when I first met you. There was so much love between you."
"It takes more than love, Petra," Gabrielle said sadly.
"I know that, my Queen, but if you were mine, I would never break you heart like this."
Gabrielle said, "I believe you, Petra."
Petra looked down at the small hand in hers and then back up into Gabrielle’s eyes. She spoke evenly, "You know I am in love with you, Gabrielle?" Petra gently caressed Gabrielle’s face, and Gabrielle caught her hand in hers and held it against her face. Petra leaned down and gently kissed Gabrielle’s lips lingering for several moments before she pulled away, but Gabrielle caught the back of her head in her hand and gently pulled Petra back down so that their lips could touch again. After a few sweet moments, Petra pulled away.
"Please hold me, Petra. I need to feel someone touch me. I need to feel that I am loved." Petra stood, removed her warrior accouterments and boots. She slipped under the cover next to Gabrielle taking her into her arms and holding her in her embrace, she gently kissed the top of her Queen’s head and caressed her shoulders and back.
It’s all right, my sweet Gabrielle. Everything will be all right, please don’t worry, Xena will come back. Her love for you is greater than the powers of Zeus." Gabrielle cried into Petra’s neck, and the warrior kept repeating, "It’s all right, my little one, it’s all right, she’ll find her way back to you."
After a while Gabrielle confessed, "Petra, I think I’m in love with you too, and if it were not for Xena, I know I would be happy with you." She cried softly.
"Ssshhh, my Queen, I know, Gabrielle. It’s all right. Sleep now." Eventually Gabrielle drifted off to sleep in Petra’s arms, and right before Petra joined her in peaceful sleep she thought of her Electra and a sad smile played across her lips at the image."
The rider leaped from the horse before it had come to a halt then led the beast into the stables. There she deftly removed the saddle and the bridle and slipped a halter around the big mare’s head. Xena had ridden for three days straight to get there, but she was not tired. She anxious to find her Gabrielle and make everything right for them again. Though morning was not far away, the sky was still dark. Xena was quiet so as not to awaken everyone as she nodded to the guard at the door and slipped into the inn and quietly up the familiar stairs of her childhood. She crossed the hall and stepped into Gabrielle’s room with a smile on her face.
At the sight of Gabrielle in Petra’s arms, Xena felt her guts lurch. The rage within her rose and exploded as she strode across the floor and wrapped her right hand around Petra’s throat. Petra’s confusion was brief as she felt herself being ripped from Gabrielle’s arms and flung across the room, knocking over a table and bowl. For a moment she wondered at the wounded warrior’s uncanny strength.
Xena drew her sword from her back and twirled it menacingly in Petra’s direction as she snarled, "Where’s your sword, warrior?"
Gabrielle was jarred from her sleep when Petra was dragged from her arms. Her sleepy confusion slowed her reaction. She heard Xena’s voice, and her sleepiness ran away, "My gods, Xena!" She rolled out of bed and ran between Petra and Xena. Facing Xena she implored, "Xena, listen to me."
Xena ignored Gabrielle, her eyes locked on Petra’s. She growled, "Shut up, Gabrielle." as she threatened the unarmed woman with her sword. Speaking to Petra she said, "So this is how you take care of them for me."
Gabrielle started to approach Xena as she said, "Xena, it’s not what it seems." but Petra grabbed her arm, pulled her back, and pushed her out of the way.
Xena lowered her sword and with narrowed eyes threw down her challenge, "Get dressed and get your sword." Xena then looked at Gabrielle with a look of hurt so deep Gabrielle felt a pain stab her in the chest. Xena turned and speared Petra with her blue crystal eyes, and she left.
"Xena, wait, please." Gabrielle tried to run after her, but Petra stopped her. "Please, Petra let me go."
"No, Gabrielle. She’s not thinking straight, she might hurt you. Then I would have to kill her."
Gabrielle looked up into Petra’s eyes and asked, "What are you going to do?"
"I have to fight her," Petra said evenly.
Gabrielle’s eyes filled with tears and she pleaded, "No...one of you might be killed."
Petra stated firmly, "I’m sorry, Gabrielle, you know I have to do this." Xena’s words pounded her as images of her trying to dissuade Xena from fighting the Athenians exploded in her mind, and she collapsed into tears as Petra grabbed her clothes and left the room pausing at the door. She looked back sadly at her Queen as Cyrene pushed past her and ran to Gabrielle.
Cyrene had heard the loud crash, Gabrielle’s pleas, and Xena’s cold voice. She rushed from her room in time to see Xena slash angrily at the wall with her sword as she ran down the stairs. Stepping back for a moment, Cyrene remembered seeing Petra slipping into Gabrielle’s room the evening before and suddenly everything was painfully clear to her. She hurried to Gabrielle’s side and dropped to her knees.
Gabrielle threw herself into Cyrene’s arms, and Cyrene pulled her into her arms, "Cyrene, it’s my fault and now one will die."
"Gabrielle, what has happened?" Cyrene asked.
Gabrielle clung desperately to her and begged, "Cyrene, please stop Xena, she won’t listen to me. It was a misunderstanding. We did nothing, please, I can’t lose her again."
Cyrene looked up to see Zoe standing in the doorway and she frowned. "Zoe, honey go back to bed." Zoe refused to move. Gabrielle looked at the child through her tears. She lifted her arms for her, Zoe ran to her, jumped into her embrace, and hugged her tightly. Knowing she would not be able to persuade her stubborn grandchild to leave Gabrielle’s side, Cyrene rose and left. She had to find Xena.
Gabrielle held Zoe and rocked her as she cried, "Gabrielle, it will be all right," Zoe said. The little girl patted Gabrielle’s back.
Cyrene did not have to look far to find Xena. Her daughter waited outside the inn door near the Amazon posted to guard the Queen. In a chair lay her chakram and knives. She had only her sword.
Cyrene was taken aback by Xena’s appearance. Gabrielle’s words, ‘Her arm is ruined.’ battered her mind as she beheld the child of her womb standing before her. Anguish ripped her heart to see her child’s arm cradled in a sling, her hollow cheeks, and her gauntness. "Xena," Cyrene said recovering her composure quickly.
Xena would not look at her, but replied in a cold, low tone. "Mother, you need to go back inside."
"Why, Xena so I won’t have to watch you kill someone or worse yet, be killed?" Xena’s face was stone, and Cyrene recognized immediately this conversation was a waste of time, but she persisted. "Xena, you’re making a mistake. Gabrielle loves you. She’s been inconsolable since she’s been here." Xena only stared forward. "Xena, if you kill this woman, you will lose Gabrielle forever. If you are killed, you will kill Gabrielle too."
Xena turned her icy eyes on her mother. "I’m sorry, Mother, go back inside." Before additional words could be exchanged, Petra appeared at the door and stepped out into the early morning dimness. "Mother, go back inside," Xena repeated.
Cyrene calmly replied, "No, Xena." The warrior frowned, and as she stepped past her mother to confront Petra, Gabrielle burst through the door. Cyrene caught her in her arms and pulled her back.
Petra looked into her adversary’s eyes and said, "Before we continue with this madness, Xena, I only went to Gabrielle to comfort her because she was mourning for you. Nothing happened between us."
Xena curled her lips in disgust, "Don’t lie to me, Petra. I remember your hands around my throat. I remember our conversation. You didn’t deny how you felt." With that Xena reached back and drew her sword. Petra did the same, and the two warriors stood staring and waiting for the other to make the first move.
Xena moved in first, her raging anger controlled and focused into analyzing, challenging and defeating her opponent. Everything around her disappeared as she and Petra became the only beings alive in her world. In three quick steps she swept in low surprising the warrior in a move that Petra had never before seen. Xena brought her sword up quickly almost dislodging Petra’s sword from her hand and leaving her arm in the air and her chest vulnerable. Xena took full advantage as she swung a lightening fast kick to Petra’s ribs. As quickly as she moved in she darted away from a counter attack.
Petra, unhurt, now regarded the Warrior Princess as a dangerous foe even in her weakened state and with a bad arm. Always an aggressive fighter, Petra pushed forward with a flurry of quick blows parrying with Xena. She refused to relent. She added several two fisted blows to her attack, something she knew would eventually wear her opponent down since Xena could not counter in like fashion.
Xena understood Petra’s strategy, and she retreated rather than waste strength to stand and fight. She cursed the lack of help from her left arm. She hadn’t tried a flip since her injury fearful that her balance would be impaired. She had swept the warrior before with a flip and knew it would not work again. Xena also noted the weaknesses she had observed before in her opponent were no longer present. She remembered Eponin’s comment about Petra training the youths in sword strategy.
Petra came in with a double fisted blow. Xena side-stepped it and slashed out with her sword catching Petra in the upper left arm and leaving a gash a hand’s breadth wide. Blood oozed down the warrior’s left arm threatening to make the hilt of the sword slick. Petra moved the sword back into a single handed grip. Realizing she had evened the playing field slightly, Xena smiled inside and searched for more weaknesses as Gabrielle and Cyrene watched in horror and in terror.
The battle dragged on neither warrior able to push the advantage. Both tired as sweat dribbled into their eyes. Xena realized she was not the sword woman she once was. In a final desperate attempt to take out her opponent she saw an opening, leaped into the air and landed a solid kick with the heal of her boot to the healed wound in Petra’s chest. It was purposeful and brutal. The tall warrior cried. She was carried over backwards by the momentum of the kick as shooting pains emanated from the tender area. Gabrielle gasped at the sight, surprised at Xena’s action. Xena landed slightly off balanced because of her arm. Before she could seize the advantage, Petra flipped over backwards using her momentum and landed on her feet. Pain and rage battled across her face.
Blinded by her agony and fury and ignoring the likelihood that her opponent could easily impale her on her sword, Petra charged Xena. She leapt up imitating Xena’s earlier move and kicked out striking Xena in her bad shoulder. The battle was over. Xena lay crumpled in the dust. She tried to get up, but it was as if her shoulder had been impaled and was pinned to the ground. Pain engulfed her and blackness swept her away. Petra was on her knees tears pouring down her cheeks, and her hand clasped to her chest, and she gasped for air as black spots danced before her eyes. She tried to stand but could not, and finally she placed her hand on the ground and slowly lowered herself into the dust, and she lay there gasping.
That night Xena awoke feeling sore and stiff. The grogginess told her she had been given green poppy seed to sedate her. Eventually she realized she was in her own bed in her old room. Running her hand along the mattress, Xena searched, but was disappointed to find that Gabrielle was not next to her. Then she remembered Petra and assumed she was with her. She struggled to sit up against the pain in her shoulder, and somewhere in the fog she remembered hearing the healer mumble something about dislocated. Then she recalled the pain that followed. Memories of that early morning encounter battered her thoughts. Dressed only in a night shift, she stood and walked on uncertain legs across the floor and peered out the window. The Amazon guards were gone, and she felt her heart flutter with fear in her chest. She knew that with them, went Gabrielle. In her mind, she also knew her dark nature had destroyed her own chance for happiness with her Gabrielle. She turned and sagged against the window sill and sat feeling abysmal emptiness swallowing her. She thought that she would be smothered by the pain. Glancing around the room, soft laughter and giggles from the past teased her. When her eyes fell on the bed, she knew she could not be alone tonight, and it struck her that Gabrielle had probably felt the same way the night before. Feeling hopelessly isolated, she rose from her seat and wearily left the room. She padded barefoot down the hall to Cyrene’s room, opened the door and crept inside. She could see Zoe lying next to Cyrene. She walked across the room and knelt next to her mother and touched her brow. Cyrene opened her eyes and stared into her daughter’s beautiful blue eyes. She smiled and reached out to her as Xena fell into her mother’s arms weeping. Cyrene held her against her breast and caressed her hair. "Momma, I’m sorry." Cyrene smiled remembering all the times her daughter had come to her like this apologizing with tears in her eyes for disobeying or upsetting her. "Can you forgive me?" Xena begged.
"Xena, I already have." Cyrene sat up and patted the bed next to her, and Xena sat down facing her. Cyrene ran her finger tips along Xena’s jaw, and wiped at the tears on Xena’s cheeks with her thumb. Xena grabbed her mother’s hand, pressed her lips to her palm and then released her hand.
Swiping at the tears that streamed down her cheeks, Xena asked, "Is she gone?" Cyrene thought her heart would break as she looked into Xena’s eyes. She prayed Xena would survive this, and she nodded. Xena looked down into her lap and was silent for a while. Then she spoke quietly, "Cyrene, I have never wanted to talk to you about this because I was always afraid of what you might tell me. I didn’t want to know; it was just easier to hide from the fearful truth than face it." Xena looked up into her mother’s eyes pleadingly. "Where did my rage come from, Mother? Why do I have such a horrible temper? I knew Gabrielle and Petra had done nothing wrong; why did I act like that?" Xena furrowed her brows and drawing in a breath, she continued, "Cyrene, When I had Chloe and Lyceus it didn’t matter. With them I was strong, and together we could handle not knowing." Cyrene frowned at the direction Xena was going. "I am nothing like Toris or you; you’re both so calm and controlled." Xena drew in a large breath, "Cyrene, is Atrius my real father?"
Cyrene looked away from her daughter, and Xena had her answer. Taking her mother’s hand in hers, Xena pressed on, "Mother, please, I need to know. I cannot continue living like this knowing at any moment I might explode and hurt someone. I need to know where this rage comes from. My dreams haunt me, and they are one of the reasons I lost Gabrielle, and the reason I hurt Zoe."
With that Cyrene looked at Xena with a frown and pulled her hand from Xena’s grasp. She pushed herself up higher in bed, "What do you mean you hurt Zoe?"
Xena raised her eyebrow. She was sure Gabrielle had already told Cyrene. "Cyrene, Gabrielle took Zoe and left me and came here because I hit Zoe." Cyrene furrowed her brows not believing what she was hearing. Xena explained, "I was dreaming, and Zoe climbed into bed with me and ...," She paused, looking away unable to verbalized what she had done. "Gabrielle had enough," Xena continued, "I had been so horrible to her ever since I regained consciousness from my injury. Everything angered me, and she could do nothing right. In a fit of anger, I kicked a toy, and it hit Gabrielle leaving a gash in her thigh. I don’t blame her for leaving me. I don’t know what she ever saw in me anyway; she’s better off without me." Xena looked up at her mother and saw an array of emotions in her eyes before Cyrene pulled her eyes away. "Mother, please if you know anything that might help me understand, I need to know."
Cyrene shifted her gaze and looked into Xena’s eyes. "Xena, I am so sorry. I should have talked to you sooner. If I had, perhaps your life would not have been filled with such turmoil." Xena frowned, and her mother looked down. "Atrius is not your father, nor was he Lyceus’ father." Xena leaned back realizing she had known the truth all along. With a wistful look in her eyes, Cyrene continued, "It was over thirty cycles ago, but I remember it as though it were only yesterday." Cyrene looked over at Xena, "Atrius never loved me Xena. Our fathers arranged the marriage when we were very young. By my fourteenth summer I was married. Toris was born a year later. Atrius always dreamed of being a soldier and traveling, and he would leave us for long periods of time, but I didn’t care. I didn’t love him, and I had Phoebe to keep me company; you remember Chloe’s mother." Xena nodded as a small woman with Chloe’s eyes and freckles flashed through her mind, and she wondered if she had her father’s eyes. She was tugged from her drifting by Cyrene’s voice. "It was almost the end of summer, and Phoebe and I went to the festival honoring Apollo and Demeter. We had a wonderful time. We ate excessively and drank too much wine and danced late into the night. The whole town was alive with energy and joy. The spring and summer seasons had been particularly good, the rains had come, and the sun was warm, and the crops were abundant. Everyone was drunk with not only wine but with life." Cyrene’s eyes lit up with the memories. "Late that evening we were joined by a tall, handsome young man who said he was from Eleusis. Of course we were fascinated by this revelation. Who did not dream of traveling there and becoming an initiate into the mysteries? We sat for candlemarks listening to him weave stories and watching his blue eyes dance and shimmer. He asked me to dance. We ended up walking and talking and looking up at the heavens at all the stars and the moon." Cyrene paused and looked at Xena, "I had never felt so alive; he was so kind and gentle. I loved his voice and his touch. Atrius had hardly even spoken to me in the three years we had been married." Cyrene paused and looked down as a gentle smile graced her face. Then she looked up into the ocean-blue eyes she remembered and said, "That night he gave me you, Xena." Cyrene’s face lit up, "And for that, I have thanked the gods for sending him to me every day of my life."
Xena frowned thinking and then she asked, "What was his name?"
Cyrene smiled, "He said his name was Dorin." Xena furrowed her brow in thought, as Cyrene drifted in gentle memories of Dorin, her gift, who smiled down at her from the past. Rousing herself from her pleasant musings, Cyrene jolted Xena from her thoughts, "Phoebe saw him again at the festival celebrating the reunion of Demeter and Persephone. I could not attend because I was but two moons from delivering you. She was as enchanted as I with him. Dorin told her she and I were linked by more than just friendship; we were sisters. Our sweet Chloe was born on the winter solstice." Xena’s eyebrow shot up, and she remembered Chloe’s voice from so long ago, ‘I’ve been sent to keep you company, sister.’
Xena asked curiously, "Did you ever see him again, Mother?"
Realizing she had been lost in her own memories, Cyrene looked at Xena, probing her daughter’s face for her feelings. Seeing that she was merely curious, she ventured down the path and continued, "Yes." Xena raised her eyebrow as Cyrene continued, "You were born a moon early but you were strong and healthy. It was the summer solstice, and you were just over a moon old when he came to visit us." Xena frowned but said nothing. Cyrene nodded. "Yes, he knew of your birth, and he came to see you when Atrius was gone on one of his many trips." Cyrene smiled, and Xena wondered at her Mother’s reaction. "He held you in his arms and looked at down at you for the longest time. Then he turned to me and smiled and told me a sweet lie. He said that you looked like me. You were his image, his eyes, his hair even as a babe I could see him in you. He then took me in his arms and held me and gave me the love and tenderness that I had only experienced in his arms. I was never with him again, but every time I looked at you and Lyceus I saw him." Xena frowned at the memory of a dark image looking down at her.
"He was Lyceus’ father too?" Cyrene nodded.
"Did Atrius know?"
"I don’t think so. If he did, he never let on. Xena, Atrius never paid any attention even to Toris, and he left us before Lyceus was born. I never saw him again, and I was glad. The only thing he ever noticed was Phoebe’s pregnancy, and he was critical of her because she was not wed. Her family threw her out, and she came to stay with us upon my insistence. By that time I had inherited the inn, but Atrius wanted nothing to do with it. After he left, it was just Phoebe and you four children and me . Your uncles helped out, and we were very happy." Xena remembered and nodded. "Your Uncle Theo loved Phoebe and married her. However, when she died, he thought it best that Chloe live with us. She was only eleven at the time." Cyrene looked down and brushed the tears away.
"Mother, do you have any idea who this Dorin was?"
"I don’t know, Xena."
"Mother, this is very important to me; do you have any feelings...impressions about him?"
Cyrene wrinkled her brow and remembered her children’s unusual abilities, "If you are asking me if I believe he was a mortal man, I would have to say, I don’t think so." Xena frowned at her mother’s answer. It only added to her fears. "Xena, you look exhausted. Lie down here with me, and try to rest, my dear." Cyrene raised the covers and Xena crawled into her mother’s bed and into the warm embrace that she remembered as a child. As she snuggled into her mother’s protective arms, she squeezed her eyes shut against the image of Ares as she fought to subdue her worst fears.
The dark image looked down on her with piercing blue eyes. Then the eyes transformed into the taunting black eyes of Ares as he stood over her laughing. She heard his voice, "And you thought you could escape me, Xena. Well, my daughter, now you finally know the truth. You were made for me, by me. My warrior child, come home to me, and I will heal your arm and return you to your rightful place by my side in battle. Together, we will make war for eternity."
Xena shook her head, "No, Ares."
"Yes, Xena. You cannot deny your Fate. Your destiny is by my side." Xena backed away and shook her head. He continued, "Look at you. You’re weak; you couldn’t even defeat that young Amazon." Xena furrowed her brow. "Return to me, and I’ll restore your strength, Xena. I’ll take your withered arm and make it strong again."
Xena looked around confused, "No, I can’t, I..."
"Xena, what do you have left there anyway? Gabrielle doesn’t want you anymore. Zoe is afraid of you. Come with me Xena; I’ll take care of you." Ares waved his right hand in the direction of an image that was walking towards them. "If you don’t believe me perhaps you’ll believe your sweet Gabrielle."
Gabrielle stood in front of Xena, her face filled with hatred. "Ares is right, Xena. You belong with him; you’ll never change. You’re still just a murdering warlord. Go back where you belong. I was crazy to think that I could have ever loved you. How many times do you think I was going to let you hurt me? It would be only a matter of time before you would kill me with your own hands. You are no better than the Athenians who murdered innocent children in Poteidaia." Gabrielle turned and walked into Petra’s opened arms. They smiled at her and disappeared as the surrounding mist swallowed them.
Ares appeared next to her and put his arm around her, "Come with me Xena; I’ll take care of you." Xena leaned into him weakly as tears filled her eyes and flowed down her cheeks. As she started to leave with him Zoe appeared. Xena cringed at the sight of the child, fearful of the accusations Zoe might pelt her with.
Zoe stretched out her hand and said, "Xena, come with me." Xena frowned. She was confused and frightened. It felt good in the protective embrace of Ares. "I love you Xena," Zoe begged, "I need you. Please don’t leave me." Xena pulled away from Ares and was amazed at how easily she slipped out of his arms. Zoe took Xena’s hand, "Mommy needs to see you, Xena." Xena nodded and looked back at Ares. He was gone.
The escort party had not traveled very far before they camped for the night. Gabrielle just wanted to be away from Amphipolis and Xena before she regained consciousness from the medication the healer had given her. Although Petra was really in no condition to travel, she insisted that she was all right. After Gabrielle was sure Xena was not seriously injured, she said her tearful good-byes to Zoe and Cyrene. It tore her heart to leave Zoe, but she knew she must. Zoe was Xena’s child, and Cyrene was there to protect her from Xena’s rages. Gabrielle knew it was over between her and Xena. Xena no longer trusted her, and Gabrielle couldn’t forgive her for her lack of trust. It was better this way. She couldn’t stand anymore emotional good-byes with Xena if Xena even wanted to see her to say goodbye after what she believed had happened. They had only traveled five leagues when they broke for camp. Petra was in a great deal of pain making it apparent that Xena’s brutal kick had broken some ribs and possibly even her breastbone. Petra had retired early that evening and Gabrielle brought her some broth and sat next to the big warrior.
Seeing the depth of despair on her queen’s face Petra spoke, "Gabrielle, I am so sorry. This is my fault. I should never have allowed myself to fall asleep in your bed."
Gabrielle sighed, "It’s no one’s fault, Petra. It was probably just meant to be this way. I asked you to stay. We had no idea Xena would arrive in Amphipolis this morning. I’m just sorry I got you hurt."
Petra looked away, "I’ll be fine, Gabrielle." Petra paused and then said, "I just wonder how Xena is." She looked back at Gabrielle with tears in her eyes, and Gabrielle wondered at the emotion she saw there. "I’m sorry, my Queen, but I feel I have lost a sister of my heart." She wiped angrily at the tear that escaped her eyes. Looking into her own heart Gabrielle understood. She wondered at the power Xena had over people, and she smiled down at Petra.
"I know, Petra. You had better get some rest." Petra nodded, and Gabrielle moved to her own bedroll.
Cyrene awoke with Xena in her arms and her grown child’s head resting on her shoulder. She kissed her daughter on the forehead and gently eased from beneath her and then looked at Zoe who slept soundly at her other side. Cyrene turned and smiled sadly down at her daughter who in sleep exhibited none of the torment her waking child suffered. She then shifted her attention to her granddaughter, and her heart swelled with the love she felt for her and for the other lost child of her heart. She whispered a thank you. Cyrene knew that Xena was a light sleeper, but she tried anyway to crawl out of bed without waking her. At least in sleep Xena would not have to suffer the knowledge that Gabrielle was gone. Pleased with herself for not waking Xena, she tiptoed out of the room and down the stairs. She would gather the eggs and fix their morning meal before she awakened them.
Zoe looked up at Xena. The warrior stood there bewildered as she searched for Ares. "Xena?" Xena looked down at the small child. "This way, Mommy needs to talk to you." Zoe tugged on Xena’s hand and lead her through the swirling gray mist. Xena was disoriented, but she felt the hairs on the back of her neck raise. She protectively swept Zoe up into her arm. Then they appeared. The faces which haunted her nightmares. Countless victims of her warlord days. They walked past her in an endless stream of agonizing horror, until she thought she would go mad. Tears streamed down her face. The nightmare continued as a multitude of voices called out to her from all directions. They pleaded and cried and begged her for an explanation.
Xena clasped Zoe to her and spun madly trying to see the faces that spoke to her. She cried out, "Stop it! Stop it! I’m sorry, I’m sorry, please forgive me!" She dropped to her knees still holding Zoe in her arm, and she buried her face into the little child.
"Xena!" Ares taunting voice boomed out. Xena’s head shot up her eyes wide with terror searched for the source of her tormentor. He appeared in front of her as the specters, her sins of the past encircled and closed in around her. "Just say the word, Xena," he waved his arms in a flourish, "and all of this will be gone." She only stared at him, fear written on her face. "Come on, Xena, there’s no reason for a child of mine to be suffering like this." Ares grinned his seductive grin and reached out his hand. "You don’t even have to say it, Xena, just think it, and all of this will disappear, and you will be whole again." Xena stood, eyes locked on Ares, as the phantoms around her pressed in on her. She stepped towards him. Ares smiled and said, "That’s right, come home to me Xena. Be mine again, and I’ll take away all your pain, my daughter."
Zoe, who had been watching Ares from Xena’s arm, turned to her and put her little hands on either side of Xena’s face. Redirecting Xena’s attention on her Zoe spoke, "Xena, they are not real." Xena’s eyes did not register Zoe’s comment. "Xena, listen to me. They’re are not real; they are from you mind. Mommy said ignore them." Xena blinked and came out of her haze as Zoe’s words penetrated her fear. She focused on the child’s lips. "They are not real." Xena looked up from Zoe. The apparitions and Ares were gone.
Toris, whose own small house was not far away, always joined Cyrene in breaking fast before he went to work the fields. That morning he was feeding the livestock in the barn when Cyrene appeared to gather the eggs. "Mother, how is Xena?" he asked. He had arrived for his morning meal the day before in time to help carry his sister upstairs and fetch the healer. He knew how upset Xena would be when she discovered that Gabrielle had left with the Amazons that afternoon to return to their nation.
Cyrene had no intentions of telling Toris of her and Xena’s conversation the night before, but she was certain he had his suspicions about his sister. She replied, "She and Zoe are still asleep. I’m letting them sleep until I have the meal ready. She had a pretty rough night."
Toris nodded and asked, "Does she know that Gabrielle left?"
"Yes, she came to my bed last night and asked me, and I told her," said Cyrene.
Toris looked down and shook his head and then back up at his mother and said, "How did she take it?"
Cyrene shook her head, "You know your sister, Toris. She is heart sick, but she did not explode."
Toris knew Xena well enough to know she would either be stoic or destroy something. Most often her wrath was aimed at herself. "Mother, do you think she will be all right? You don’t think she’ll revert to her old ways; remember what happened when she lost Chloe?"
Cyrene frowned at the horrible memory. "I don’t know, Toris. She is dealing with a great deal right now and not just Gabrielle." Toris nodded his head.
Toris ran from the barn when he heard his mother’s frantic shouts. Cyrene had the meal ready and went upstairs to awaken Xena and Zoe. She smiled when she entered the room and saw Zoe cradled in Xena’s right arm. The two looked peaceful sleeping in the bed, but when she went to awaken them, she could not rouse them from their sleep. Frightened and desperate she raced outside to call Toris.
"Mother, what’s wrong?"
Cyrene was beside herself as she ran to Toris’ strong arms and hurried him to the inn, "It’s Xena and Zoe, Toris; I cannot awaken them."
"What do you mean you can’t awaken them?" Toris released his mother and ran to the house as she hurried behind him explaining.
"They won’t wake up. I shook them, but I could not arouse them, Toris. Something is seriously wrong!"
Toris raced up the stairs as Cyrene shouted after him, "They are in my room." He burst into the room half expecting to see Xena sitting there smiling at him with her blue eyes. Toris moved immediately to the bed and shook them. Nothing happened. He laid his head on Xena’s chest and listened to her heart beating slowly but strongly. He then slapped her lightly on the face. Nothing. He called to her, but received no response. Lifting an eye lid he looked into her blue eye and saw the black center contract.
Turning to Cyrene he asked, "Mother, was she recovered from the poppy seed last night?"
Cyrene nodded as she wrung her hands, "By the time we stopped talking she seemed fine."
Toris reached out and felt under Zoe’s chin for a pulse. Turning to Cyrene, "Mother they are freezing, yet their hearts are beating strongly. Cover them with some more blankets, and I’ll get the healer. Toris turned to leave, but as he started to rush past his mother, she reached out and stopped him. He looked at her curiously as she stared at the pair in her bed.
Turning her gaze to her son, "No, Toris. Take Argo and find Gabrielle and bring her back here." Toris furrowed his brow. She continued, "I’m sure they did not get that far. If you ride hard, you should be able to catch up with them quickly. Petra was hurt, and Gabrielle was very tired; I’m sure they are traveling slowly." Reading the strange look on his mother’s face, he nodded and hurried to the stable to saddle the big war-horse and be on his way.
Xena placed Zoe on the ground and the two walked hand-in-hand through the mist. As the mist thinned a small village sprawled before them at the foot of the mountains. Xena searched her mind. She had been there before. They suddenly found themselves in the center of the village pounding, hoofed beasts fell upon them . The warlord’s army swooped down out of the mountains and galloped through the streets burning huts and slashing at the peasants who ran terrified from their burning homes. Xena grabbed Zoe up in her embrace and searched for an escape route. There was no where to run as horsemen and screaming villagers surrounded them. In moments it was over and Xena and Zoe stood in the middle of the charred ruins and dead bodies. The smell of rotting flesh permeated the air and flies buzzed around the corpses as wild dogs tore at the bodies. A small girl perhaps nine years old walked towards them. Shocked and dazed, the child’s dirty face was streaked with tears. As she neared she transformed, aged. Her face changed. The shock turned to anguish and then to fear and then a cold anger. Finally madness replaced all emotions. Her blonde hair whipped in the wind and some became entangled in her eye lashes and stuck to her lips. The young woman stood in front of Xena. Running her hand across her face she brushed the hair away. Xena stared into cold, soulless eyes as Callisto stood there grinning a mad, mirthless grin.
"Xena, come here often?" The look of horror and fear on Xena’s face brought forth a demented cackle from Callisto and then she inquired, "What’s the matter Xena, cat got you tongue?" Callisto directed her mad brown eyes to Zoe. "Oh my, look at those blue eyes." Looking up at Xena, "You have been busy now haven’t you? Are you training her to be a murderer too like her mother?" Xena moved, positioning herself between Callisto and Zoe directing Callisto’s attention to her arm. Callisto smiled staring at the sling, "Too bad about the arm, Xena. Does it still hurt?" In a lightening fast movement she poked Xena’s shoulder. Xena winced and Callisto said, "Oops, guess so." Looking up into Xena’s eyes she added, "Sorry." Then Callisto turned her attention to Zoe again, "You know I had a little sister just about your age when your mommy came to visit my home. Want to see her?" Callisto pointed at the body of a child that lay crumpled on the ground before them. When Xena looked down it was Zoe lying dead, flies swarming around her empty eye sockets. Xena felt her stomach lurch although she held her Zoe in her arm. "How’s it feel, Xena? Imagine seeing that when you were only nine." Tears streamed down Xena’s cheeks. A puzzled look formed on the blonde woman’s face and then mild madness replaced the bewilderment and she asked, "Xena, did you cry for Cirra?"
Zoe wrapped her arms around Xena’s neck and whispered, "Walk away Xena. She’s not real. Walk away." Xena, hearing Zoe’s words, stepped around Callisto and walked into the mist as Cirra and Callisto disappeared behind her.
Toris pushed Argo hard and a little over two candlemarks later he reined the golden war-horse to a stop as he spied the Amazon escort party cresting the next hill. Pausing but a moment, he spurred Argo on. The Amazons caught sight of the racing horseman before he reached them, and they dropped back behind their Queen into a defensive position.
Gabrielle, sitting behind Petra looked around the big warrior and immediately recognized Argo. Her heart leaped into her throat, "Petra, is that Xena?" she asked.
"No, my Queen. It’s her brother," replied Petra.
"Toris?" Gabrielle frowned and with worry in her voice said, "Why would he be on Argo? Something must be wrong with Xena."
Toris knew better than to gallop into an Amazon escort party. He knew how Amazons felt about their queen, and even if he was Xena’s brother, he would be killed immediately if they thought he was a threat. He stopped Argo a healthy distance and waited for them to make the first move. Petra, the dark, Amazon warrior whom Xena had fought, made her way through the others on her large, black war-horse and approached him. Toris saw Gabrielle only after she leaned out from behind the powerful warrior.
"Toris, what is it?" Gabrielle asked, "Is something wrong with Xena?" Toris heard the anxiety in Gabrielle’s voice and knew instantly that she still cared very much for his sister.
"Gabrielle, I’m sorry to bring you bad news," Gabrielle felt her guts heave at his words and she fought tears. "but Cyrene sent me for you."
Desperation played in her voice as she pleaded, "Toris, what is wrong?"
Toris urged Argo forward so that he was positioned next to Gabrielle and Petra. "Last night when Xena awoke she was fine." He paused, looked at Argo and then back at Gabrielle. "Cyrene said that Xena was all right, physically anyway, but this morning Cyrene could not awaken her or Zoe." Gabrielle frowned as Petra shifted in the saddle and looked back at her. "Cyrene sent me to bring you back, Gabrielle. She is very frightened."
Gabrielle shook her head, "Zoe did this once before, Toris. Thyra, the Amazon healer, said she was dream walking. When Xena was injured and unconscious, she lead Xena from Morpheus’ realm. I don’t understand why this should be happening now." Gabrielle was worried but reluctant to return.
Petra said, "My Queen, perhaps you had better go with Toris. Xena and Zoe may need your to help them escape the dream world. You know Thyra said it could be dangerous." Petra feared that she had hurt Xena worse than the healer had indicated.
"I suppose you are right, Petra," said Gabrielle.
Petra looked over at Toris and said, "Toris, take my horse and Gabrielle. Our horses are fresh." Turning to Gabrielle, "I’m sorry, my Queen, but I am afraid I cannot ride that fast. I hate to admit it, but my chest and ribs are very tender. I’ll ride Argo back at a slower pace and let her rest." Toris and Petra exchanged mounts. One guard remained with Petra while the others spurred their way back to Amphipolis.
Cyrene, heard the horses and ran down the stairs and out into the court yard. Toris helped Gabrielle dismount and she rushed into Cyrene’s arms. Gabrielle grabbed her in her embrace and fought her tears as she asked, "Cyrene, what of Xena and Zoe?"
"They are the same, Gabrielle. I don’t know what is wrong, but they cannot be awakened." Gabrielle explained to Cyrene what she knew, and the two women rushed upstairs to Cyrene’s room. Noticing Gabrielle’s inquisitive look Cyrene began, "Last night when Xena awoke she came to me as she did when she was just a child. She knew you were gone, and she cried and apologized for her behavior. She was so heart broken, I don’t think she wanted to be alone, so she crawled in bed with me and slept in my arms all night. That is why she is here now." Gabrielle nodded, walked over, and peered down at her and Zoe. She brushed her hand across Zoe’s cheek and took Xena’s hand in hers. Cyrene came up beside her and put her arm around Gabrielle.
"Cyrene, what am I going to do? I love her so much, I don’t think I can live without her. Now that she thinks I betrayed her love, I know she will never feel the same about me."
"Gabrielle, Xena loves you with all her heart. True, she’s stubborn and sometimes blinded by her anger and rage, but as you told me once she always does the right thing in the end." Gabrielle half smiled at the memory. Cyrene continued, "Last night she admitted that she was wrong, and she knew you and Petra had done nothing wrong."
Gabrielle frowned and looked into Cyrene’s eyes, "Then if she knew, why did she insist on fighting Petra?"
Cyrene smiled sadly, "She asked me the same thing last night. She doesn’t even know why she acts the way she does sometimes. After last night, I think she has a better understanding of who she is." Gabrielle furrowed her brow in question as Cyrene said, "I’m not sure what is going on right now with Xena and Zoe, but I think she is trying to come to grips with some fears she’s been dealing with for such a long time. If she can find out the source of those fears, I believe you will finally have back the Xena whom you know and love." Gabrielle looked down into the peaceful face of her warrior and shook her head.
"Cyrene, she is so good inside if she could only see that in herself. It kills me to watch her torture herself and put herself through so much pain and sorrow. It’s as though she must make herself suffer a thousand times over for every sin she’s committed."
"She never was easy on herself, Gabrielle, nor was she ever easy on those around her. It takes a strong person to love Xena."
Gabrielle looked down and frowned, "I guess I haven’t been very strong lately."
Zoe tugged on Xena’s hand and pulled her through the rough grass of the rolling plains. Feeling dread in the pit of her stomach Xena was reticent. Zoe assured her it was all right. "Come on Xena, Mommy needs to talk to you." Xena looked back over her shoulder and spied the three horsemen galloping towards her. She reached for her chakram only to find it was not there. She suddenly realized she had nothing; no armor, no sword, nothing. The riders bore down on them, and Xena grabbed Zoe up and ran through the tall grass. With each stride she took the horsemen came closer and closer until they passed her. One reined his horse to a stop looked back at her. He raised his bow and took aim at the child cradled in her arms. Xena swung around to protect Zoe with her body leaving her back unprotected. When nothing happened, she looked around and saw the vision of her nightmare play out before her. She let Zoe slide to the ground, and she pulled the child’s little face into her thigh so that Zoe could not see the inevitable outcome. Chloe was on a horse looking back at her as an arrow ripped through her chest, and she fell to the ground. Pain ripped through Xena’s chest as the words, "Sister." screamed in her mind. She ran crying to the place where she saw Chloe fall, but when she reached the spot there was only swirling mist. She dropped to her knees her right hand clasped to her chest.
Zoe touched Xena on the shoulder. Xena looked up into her blue eyes but saw a dark vision looking down at her. She heard Zoe’s voice, "Come on, Xena, we need to go." Xena stood up and took Zoe’s hand, and together they disappeared into the mist.
"Xena needs her sword."
Gabrielle jerked awake and looked around expecting to see Zoe standing next to her. Looking down she was confused to see Zoe still lying in Xena’s arm asleep. Petra, who had arrived earlier sat across the room in a chair and silently observed her queen.
"Gabrielle, are you all right?" She inquired.
Gabrielle jumped out of her chair and turned to Petra. "Petra, where’s Cyrene. We need to get Xena dressed and get her her weapons." Petra frowned at Gabrielle’s insistence but stood and immediately sought Cyrene. A few moments later the two returned with Xena’s clothes and weapons.
Cyrene asked, "What is it Gabrielle?"
"I’m not sure but while I dozed, Zoe came to me and said Xena needed her weapons. Let’s get her dressed. Wherever she is, she must be able to protect herself and Zoe." Gabrielle picked up Zoe and handed her to Cyrene. Then she and Petra set about dressing Xena. Gabrielle carefully removed Xena’s sling and laid it aside. "I don’t know how we are going to get her arm into her shift."
Cyrene interjected, "Just raise her arms and slip it over her head."
"But Cyrene, Xena’s arm is frozen in place," Gabrielle replied.
Cyrene frowned, "It wasn’t yesterday when we slipped a shift on her after the healer relocated her shoulder."
Gabrielle looked at her in amazement, and she and Petra exchanged glances. They quickly sat Xena up and slipped her leathers over her head. Gabrielle carefully lifted Xena’s arm and slipped it through the strap of the shift. Her arm moved freely, and Gabrielle almost cried when she looked at Petra. They laced up her shift, slipped her armor over her head, laid her back down, fastened the armor, and clipped the chakram to her waist. Gabrielle slid Xena’s sword into the its scabbard and placed the sword and scabbard across her chest and down the length of her body. They then hurriedly slipped her feet into her boots and laced them up. Cyrene laid Zoe close to Xena’s left side. Remembering Thyra’s warning Gabrielle covered the pair. The three women then looked at each other.
Piercing blue eyes stared down at her. Then she heard Ares’ taunting laughter as the dark image before her transformed. The blue eyes became the dark, menacing eyes of the god of war. "Are you ready now, Xena," Ares asked, "to take your rightful place by the side of your father?" Xena frowned and curled her lips in disgust. "What are you waiting for?" Ares said, "Haven’t you felt enough pain?" With that Ares snapped his fingers and fleeting images of a large ruddy hulk of a man kicked her again and again in the gut and the face. Pain screamed throughout her body as Xena dropped to her knees clutching her stomach. Ares’ laughter surrounded her. Not yet recovered, Xena then relived the brutal rape by the same monster. A sob escaped her throat. In the next image she saw her horse flip. She somersaulted through the air and slammed to the ground as fine gravel tunneled into her flesh. Ares snapped his fingers again and Xena saw in flashes Lyceus’ death, Chloe bleeding in her arms, her pounding on Gabrielle’s chest. Then she was bombarded by every memory and agony of every injury she had experienced since walking away from Ares almost three cycles ago. She grabbed her shoulder as the Athenian spear rip through her flesh, snap her collarbone, and ground into her shoulder joint.
Xena lay on the ground in excruciating pain, but Ares wasn’t through. "Haven’t you seen enough of the destruction you wrought upon the world?" Ares asked as he waved his hand. Xena cried out as in a flash M’Lila leaped in front of her and took an arrow intended for her. The dying woman stretched out her hand to Xena. Tears steamed down Xena’s cheeks as she reached for M’Lila. Her form changed and a little, blonde girl walked through the charred streets of Cirra. Xena’s breath caught in her chest when the scene changed again and Gabrielle lay lifeless and pale on an alter, and finally the image of Zoe lay dead before her. "Haven’t you suffered enough?" Xena writhed on the ground, her eyes mad with pain and sorrow, and she dragged herself away from him trying desperately to escape the agony. Ares followed her unwilling to allow her to escape, he grabbed a handful of her hair in his fist, jerked her head back, and whispered in her ear. "Just say the word Xena, and I’ll take away all your torturous memories and pain." Ares released her with a shove. Xena rolled over onto her back and shook her head as she scramble crab-like away from him. Ares grinned at her feeble attempt to escape him and said, "Oh come on Xena, you know you want it. Don’t you miss the power you had over people? Remember how it was? They never were able to hurt you like you’ve been hurt now. Think about it Xena. Would the old Xena let a little farm girl from Poteidaia run out on her, let alone break her heart?"
Ares waved his hand and Xena found herself standing as Gabrielle appeared with Petra. Gabrielle walked up to Xena and slapped her across the face, "That’s for all the lies and everything you put me through. I know what you and Chloe did in Sinope, Xena. I hate you, Xena, and I never want to see you again. Go back to Ares, your father. He’s the only one who wants you." Gabrielle turned away, wrapped her arm around Petra’s waist and the two walked away as Petra smiled back at Xena.
Xena fell to her knees as tears tumbled down her cheeks, and she dropped her head into her hands. Zoe appeared in front of her and pulled her hands away from her face, "Don’t believe him, Xena," she pleaded. Xena looked up at Ares who stood above them, his arms crossed and a sneer on his face.
He reached for his sword saying, "I’ve had about enough of you, little brat." Xena realized his intentions and grabbed her sword in time to block his downward stroke. She leapt to her feet and stepped between Zoe and Ares. Ares laughed and said, "Xena, it’s been so long, and my how you’ve changed. Remember the days when not even a babe was safe from your blade. Now look at you protecting a worthless child."
Xena’s rage exploded to the surface and she challenged Ares with several quick thrusts attacking and pressing him forcing him away from Zoe. Ares laughed as he backed up and batted away each jab of Xena’s sword. Then he slapped away her blade with his hand as if swatting at flies. He lunged at her and slashed his sword blade across her chest. Xena looked down expecting to see her life blood pouring from a gaping wound. A deep shiny gash lay across her bronze-colored armor. Her sling was gone and she stood fully dressed and armor in place. She lifted her left hand and examined her arm. It was stiff and sore and the muscles were weak, but she could move it. She looked around. Ares was gone. She slid her sword into its sheath. Zoe stood next to her and Xena slipped her left hand into Zoe’s as Chloe appeared in front of them.
The four sat silently and motionlessly as the quiet vigil stretched into the late hours of the night. Resting her elbows on the bed, Gabrielle clasped Xena’s right hand between hers and sat with her face resting against her fist and Xena’s fingers. Her eyes transfixed on Xena’s face searching for the tiniest of movement. There had been nothing since she arrived. Toris, Cyrene, and Petra when not watching Xena or Zoe, watched Gabrielle. An almost imperceptible, collective gasp escaped the attendants in the room when Xena’s left hand inched out and grasped Zoe’s hand. Petra stood and came around the bed to Gabrielle and kneeled on the floor by her, "My Queen, why don’t we leave you with Xena and perhaps you can talk to her. Maybe she will hear your voice and find her way to you."
Gabrielle looked up at Cyrene and over at Toris, as they both stood, "We’ll leave you with her for a while, Gabrielle," Cyrene said, "Petra is right, maybe you can reach her." Cyrene came over, stood by Xena’s head, leaned down and kissed her daughter and then squeezed Gabrielle’s shoulder. Glancing momentarily at Petra she left with Toris.
"I’ll wait outside the door. If you need anything just let me know," Petra said as she stood. She then dragged a chair out into the hall and posted herself there.
When everyone had left, Gabrielle looked sadly down at Xena and then over at Zoe. She moved closer to Xena’s ear and spoke softly, "Xena, I have always loved you, and I will always love you. Please, my love, find your way home to me; I miss you. I am so sorry over what happened. I hope you can find it in your heart to forgive me. I didn’t betray you, and I will never betray you. If you send me away, I will never give my heart to another. You are the only one. You are the only one who has ever owned my heart." Gabrielle paused and wiped at a tear that trickled down her cheek. She furrowed her brow and in a soft voice she continued, "Xena, I loved Perdicus, but I was not in love with him. I never would have married him had I known that you loved me as I loved you. On our wedding night I closed my eyes and pretended it was you who touched me. That was the only way I could get through it. That night I made love to you in my mind not to him."
Chloe took Xena’s hand and the mist swirled up and engulfed them. Xena found herself in the middle of the soft rolling clover field of her youth. Zoe sat in her lap, and Chloe sat next to her smiling up at her. "What is it that you fear, Xe?" Chloe asked. Xena glanced at Chloe and then looked around expecting to be assaulted by some horrible apparition from her past. There was nothing but green fields, blue skies and the blue-eyed child of her heart and of her blood. "Xena, it’s all right nothing can hurt you here; I won’t let it," Chloe explained.
Xena looked deeply into the dark, dancing gray eyes of the woman she had known so well. Chloe had been so much, a sister, a friend, a confidant and a lover. Xena spoke with turmoil in her voice, "I no longer know what is real and what is not real, Chloe. I can’t control my actions; I’m afraid. I’m afraid of myself. I don’t know what to do anymore, Chloe. I no longer know who I am or where I am going." Xena’s eyes were filled with confused emotion.
"Xe, it’s all right. This is not your fault," Chloe said softly.
Xena frowned and looked at her curiously, "How can you say that, Chloe? I drove Gabrielle away. I tried to kill Petra." Xena looked down at the child sitting in her lap. "I hurt Zoe. I can’t drive the demons from my dreams. I fear I’m slipping, falling, and when I stop falling, I’m afraid I’ll have lost my mind."
"Xena, if you would look into your heart, you would know the reasons for your confusion. What is it you fear more than anything, Xena?" Xena’s eyes clouded over and she furrowed her brow. Chloe persisted, "What is the one thing you cannot even voice for fear of saying it?" Xena looked away from Chloe and then down, unable to answer her. "Xe, saying things does not make them so." Xena looked back into her eyes.
"I don’t know Chloe. There are so many things I fear. It seems everything I fear comes to pass." Xena saw an image of Gabrielle and Petra sitting on a horse in her mind and paused briefly before continuing. "Once I thought it was losing the voices and not being able to hear you and Lyceus." Xena frowned, "Then I saw the future, and I didn’t want the voices and the visions." Xena looked down at Zoe sitting in her lap and gently brushed the top of her head with her lips and still looking at the child, she continued, "Then I thought it was the fear of losing you, but I lost you, and now I don’t know."
Chloe smiled into Xena’s eyes. "Xena, you will never lose me. We are bound for eternity; we are one, Xe." Xena furrowed her brow and looked at Chloe strangely. "I’ll always be with you, Xe, forever; can’t you feel me, Xe?" Xena gave her a crooked grin and shook her head. Chloe smiled sadly for her and then said, "You spoke with Cyrene, Xena. You know the truth." Xena furrowed her brow and wished Chloe would drop that subject. "Why Xena?" Xena looked at her curiously. "Why do you block out Cyrene’s confession?"
Xena looked away, and closed her eyes against the tears that threatened. She was silent for a moment gathering her courage to speak through the emotion that sat in her chest. Finally she swallowed and said, "I’m afraid of what I’ll become once I admit the truth, Chloe. I’m afraid I’ll lose myself in that side of me."
Chloe touched Xena’s arm. "Xena, look at me. Remember Lyceus? Look in your lap." Xena looked into Chloe’s eyes and saw little dark diamonds dancing against a slate of gray; she then looked down into the eyes of Zoe who sat in her lap staring up at her. "Now remember Lyceus, Xe. Do you see anything evil?" Xena wrinkled her brow at the question."
"No," Xena replied.
"Xe, when you look at the three of us, you are looking at yourself. We are all one, Xena."
Xena’s eye brow shot up, and Chloe smiled at her reaction. "I don’t understand, Chloe," Xena said.
"Cyrene told you of our father, Xe. Zoe is our child, Xe. We are one, can’t you understand that?" Xena shook her head doubtfully. "Xena, sometimes our fears blind us to the truth. Your fear has blinded you since you were a young child, and you have fought it for so long it has become the only battle in your heart. You can see nothing else."
"I don’t know what you mean, Chloe."
"Chloe shook her head slightly and looked down with a smile on her lips and then she glanced up and pinned Xena with her eyes, "You know, Xena, you are frozen with fear. It’s like the moment you looked into Petra’s face when she was struck down by the arrow. You were frozen then with fear. You’re just afraid, and your fear is destroying you and everything you love. If you can’t face it, Xena, soon everything you know and love will be gone. Everything but your fear." Xena frowned, and Chloe sighed and finally asked, "Xena, who do you think our father is."
At that question Xena felt as if she’d been kicked in the gut, and she landed in a raging river of emotion. Her mind was inundated with the images as she was swept away in a flood of visions. She flailed against the current as her body and mind were pummeled by jagged memories that bruised and battered her soul as she was being sucked into a whirlpool that pulled her under. Gasping for air as the vision finally released her she found herself in Chloe’s arms. She looked up into her face as tears tumbled down her cheeks and she whispered, "Ares."
Gabrielle sat on the bed next to Xena with her back leaned against the headboard. She caressed Xena’s forehead and continued to talk to her. She told her of all her dreams, her feelings, and how much she needed her. As she looked into Xena’s face, she saw a tear glide down Xena’s cheek. With her fingers, she gently wiped the tear away and hoped that somewhere somehow Xena knew how much she really loved her.
Gabrielle scooted down in bed next to Xena and laid on her side examining the noble profile of the woman she loved more than life. She gently laid her hand on Xena’s shoulder and whispered, "I am going to tell you a story, my love...a story about a warrior and her bard." Gabrielle paused and smiled at the memory of Xena in Poteidaia and then she began to speak softly, "There was once a warrior and a bard, and most thought the two made an odd pair. Having found each other, they traveled everywhere together and in their long travels and over time, they found that they loved one another. In their love they discovered a happiness that had been missing from both their lives. They had no home, but slept each night under the stars in each other’s arms warmed by the love they shared. They had little money and few possessions, but what they had they shared. Through their sharing they never missed what they lacked. The bard was young and inexperienced in the ways of the world. But she was spirited and loved life for all the adventures it offered. She was just a farm girl who saw the good in everything when there was very little good to see and who only wished for a better life. She was blonde and slight of build and fair of skin and had blue eyes that came alive when she shared her gift. Her gift was the gift of tales. She could captivate an audience with her silver tongue. Stories became her life and she made them come alive for those who took the time to listen. The stories had rescued her from her pitiful existence and kept her alive until she found her warrior. All who listened to her stories thought she held the secret of happiness in her heart. But the only happiness the bard held in her heart was her warrior. The warrior was tall, a beautiful woman with raven hair that blew wild and untamed in the wind. Her eyes were like deep ocean water. They were so blue the sky was envious and the gods wept at their beauty, and mortals became lost in their depths. The warrior was strong and quiet, contemplative and pensive. Her quiet strength was her weapon, and her sword was her life. Her sword and her strength had rescued her from her sad existence and kept her alive until she found her bard. All who looked upon her believed she was a goddess. Her perfection was so complete. However, the warrior held a deep, dark secret, and that secret ate at her soul until one day she could tolerate it no longer. The warrior left in an attempt to escape the anguish within. And the bard who had loved the gift of gab stopped telling her stories, and her eyes became dull. Her spirit like a candle melted away to nothingness. Her joy died in the emptiness she felt, and she wasted away like Echo for her Narcissus leaving not even her voice behind."
Gabrielle wiped at a tear that trickled down her cheek.
The swirling mist thickened around them and swallowed the three. Xena found herself standing in a cool, dark temple, and she spun around searching for Zoe and Chloe who only moments before sat with her in soft green fields of clover. She was alone. Fear clutched her heart. Fear at having voiced her darkest secret, it would come to pass. Her eyes fell upon an a simple altar of rough hewn stone. Xena walked to the altar and ran her finger tips along the cool surface and studied the symbol engraved there. Half expecting it to be a temple of Ares, she was relieved to see the crescent moon. From a dark corner a shimmer of iridescent colors appeared and transformed before her eyes. Artemis stood before her.
Xena bowed her head in deference to her patron goddess, "Artemis, I apologize, I have no offering."
Artemis smiled and said, "You’ve given enough, my daughter." Xena looked up curiously.
Artemis walked around the altar and stood before Xena. With a wave of her hand they were transported to a beautiful glade. Taking Xena’s hand in hers she smiled into Xena’s blue eyes and lead her to the clear spring fed pool. "There that’s better, don’t you think, my warrior? Let’s sit here." The tall warrior sat by the pool next to the petite goddess, and looked around unsure of what to expect. "What is it Xena?" Artemis asked.
Xena shook her head, "It’s nothing, Artemis." And remembering the goddess of the hunt’s earlier comment she inquired, "Artemis, what did you mean when you said I had given enough?"
Artemis looked down briefly and then back up into Xena’s eyes. "Xena you have suffered enough for my sake and for the sake of my people and my Queen. You need never make an offering to me again. I fear, my child, much of what has befallen you is my doings, and I have come to try and help you."
Xena frowned in her confusion, "I don’t understand, Artemis."
"Xena your destiny was to die in that battle with the Athenians for the sake of my Amazons and their Queen." Xena’s eyebrow shot up. "I am sorry, Xena, that you had to suffer for my intervention." Artemis looked down remembering it was not just she who had implored the Fates. She then looked up into Xena’s eyes, and Xena was shocked to see a shadow of a tear on Artemis’ cheek.
Trying to assuage Artemis’ guilt Xena said, "Had you not intervened, I would be in Tartarus right now, Artemis. Perhaps you should not be apologizing, but I should be thanking you." Artemis shook her head.
"Xena, I intervened for selfish reasons." She looked away. "Without you, Gabrielle would have withered away. She would never have taken her place as the Queen of my Amazons. Their destiny would have been sealed, and they would have been destroyed."
"What do you mean Gabrielle would have withered away?" Xena asked.
"Xena, you are her anchor and her lifeboat, just as she is your light house in the dark night. She lights your way and is your safe harbor, but you are her strong ship that keeps her safe." Artemis peered deeply into the taller woman’s eyes. "She would have taken your child and gone back to Amphipolis to live out her days taking care of Zoe only until the child needed her no longer. Then Gabrielle would have laid down and died from a broken heart." A look of anguish mixed with sorrow and horror played across Xena’s face.
"Artemis, I love Gabrielle; all the pain I went through will be worth it if I can get back to her." Artemis nodded. Xena touched her arm, "I must get back to her, but I don’t know how."
"Xena, I am not the only one at work here in your destiny. The Fates warned me there would be a price. At first the price was your memory and the use of your arm." Xena looked down at the arm she unconsciously favored in the crook of her right elbow." Artemis frowned at the memory of her most recent encounter with the three Fates. "Let’s just say I renegotiated your destiny." Xena looked up confused. "I intervened again hoping this time the price enacted would be more tolerable."
"What is the price, Artemis?" A sudden horrible thought crossed Xena’s mind and her face reflected the anguish in her heart. "Is it Gabrielle? Am I destined to never be with Gabrielle again?"
"The Fates have not revealed this to me, Xena. I do not know what the price is yet, but I am sure that it has something to do with the events that have occurred since your memory returned." Shifting her attention to Xena’s injured arm. "I thought perhaps the sacrifice would be only your arm." Xena looked down at her injured arm and moved it showing Artemis it was indeed getting better. Artemis frowned. "I have no idea what the price is, my daughter. I am sorry." Their conversation was interrupted by a trio of voices.
"As arrogant as ever, Artemis?" Looking into the clear pool, the two observed the wavering images of the three Fates. Artemis snorted at their comment.
Clotho spoke in an emotionless bored voice, "One cannot pretend to predict what the Fates have decreed, not even the gods, Artemis."
Lachesis added, "Xena’s fate will be revealed in due time, Artemis, and not even you can change that."
Artemis felt the anger inside her rise, and she spoke without regard for the consequences. "The wonderful Fates have spoken, Xena. Although in all their arrogant superiority, they never interfere with the lives of mortals, or so they claim. I do recall one incident in which a warrior was offered a different path...a path more unbearable than the original. Yet they claim indifference. Yes, they are indifferent...like a fat, lazy cat whose master keeps it well fed. It will still sit with its heavy paw on the tail of a hapless mouse. The cat is indifferent to the mouse as food, but it still teases and plays and even kills with no intentions of consuming its prey." Turning to Xena she asked, "Do you suppose the cat enjoys killing the mouse, or do you think it just likes to watch it squirm?" Xena raised an eyebrow at the audacity of the feisty goddess before her tempting the Fates.
Clotho and Lachesis looked at Atropos, "We do not care for your insinuation, Artemis." Atropos spoke blandly.
Artemis reached over her shoulder and withdrew an arrow from its quiver and closely examined its fletching. Xena smiled at the bored Hades-may-care attitude the goddess exuded. Running her thumb along the feather attached to the shaft, Artemis spoke in a voice imitating Atropos, "You know, that’s the funny thing about the truth; it’s like a double edged sword. It cuts cleanly both ways, but it still hurts." Artemis raised her eyebrows and slapped the shaft of the arrow into the palm of her hand. Then she gazed into the still pool at the image of the three women.
The three were silent and finally Clotho spoke, "What would you have us do Artemis?"
Artemis snapped the shaft of the arrow between her fingers and threw it away from her as she spoke passionately, "Why is everything a guessing game with you three? Don’t you think Xena and the people who love her have suffered enough?" Xena looked at Artemis as though looking at her for the first time. "At least tell her something," Artemis demanded. The Fates looked at each other, and Artemis thought she detected a slight nervousness among them. She rolled her eyes impatient with the lack of action.
Lachesis shifted her gaze to Xena who sat there mutely listening to the interchange, "But for the intervention of three, you were fated to die on an Athenian spear." Xena frowned and wondered who the other two were.
Atropos continued, "A hand’s breadth you were granted."
"The price was your arm for your life," Clotho added indifferently. The three Fates expecting Artemis’ question directed their attention to her.
Artemis frowned and she exclaimed, "Is that it? Is that all? What of her memory? She is a warrior! What of that which you took away?"
"The Fates did not take Xena’s memory or her desire to be a warrior, Artemis. That was Xena’s choice," Lachesis interjected. Xena stared into the pool with a look of confusion on her face. Artemis threw her a sidelong glance.
Atropos added, "Xena gladly gave up being a warrior, Artemis. It was you who could not live with that."
Turning to Xena, Clotho continued, "You chose not to remember, Xena, and you were quite happy. Yes, happy in the knowledge that your brother was dead, Chloe was dead, and even Cyrene. You erased everyone and everything connected with you before Cortese. You accepted the fact that your arm was useless. You were happy just being alive and being with Gabrielle. Artemis insisted on playing with your destiny one more time." Artemis looked away, knowing Clotho spoke the truth.
Lachesis looked into Xena’s confused eyes, "The price is simple, Xena. You must face that memory which was so horrible you would choose to erase your mother’s existence rather than face it." Xena heard the god of war laughing in her head as the images in the pool faded before her.
Gabrielle wiped at her tears as she lay next to Xena, her story finished for the moment. She closed her eyes and prayed silently to Artemis. When she opened her eyes, she stared into the beautiful blue eyes of Zoe. Scrambling over Xena, Zoe climbed into Gabrielle’s arms, and the two lay there next to the silent warrior hugging. Gabrielle could not stop her tears as she kissed and hugged the tiny child. "Oh, Zoe, are you all right?" She felt the little girls nod her head, and she looked down at her. "Zoe where is Xena?"
"I don’t know, Gabrielle. I lost her." Gabrielle felt a stabbing pain of fear in her guts.
"What happened, Zoe?"
"We were together, Xena, Mommy and me. Mommy was helping Xena find her way. Everything was all right and then the mist took Xena away. Mommy sent me back here to stay with you."
"Were you with Xena and Chloe all this time?"
"No, Gabrielle, I was with Xena and then Mommy joined us."
"What was Xena doing all this time, Zoe?"
Zoe looked over her shoulder at Xena, reached out her little hand, and placed it on Xena’s face for a moment. She then rolled back over into Gabrielle’s arms and buried her head under Gabrielle’s chin. Gabrielle frowned at Zoe’s apparent reluctance to speak. Finally Zoe answered her. "She’s been confronting her nightmares, and fighting Ares."
Gabrielle remembered her dream and said, "Is that why you came to me for Xena’s weapons?"
Zoe nodded. "You saved her life, Gabrielle."
Gabrielle frowned. ‘They were only dreams. How could she have saved Xena’s life?’ "What do you mean, Zoe?" she asked
"Ares tried to kill me, but Xena stopped him. He slashed her across the chest with his sword. You put the armor on her. Without it she would have died." Gabrielle frowned in disbelief, and Zoe pulled out of her arms and sat up. Looking down at Gabrielle, Zoe spoke, "I’ll show you." Zoe rolled over on her knees and pulled the blanket from Xena’s chest. Gabrielle sat up on her elbow and peered down at the warrior. A deep and bright new slash lay across the bronze-colored armor.
Xena sat in stunned silence as Artemis asked her for the second time, "Xena, answer me. What is it that you must remember and face?" Artemis was incredulous that the Fates would exact such a simple payment. "Xena, you merely have to face a memory...evidently something you fear, but everything will be all right."
Xena narrowed her eyes and peered at Artemis through angry tear filled eyes. "What do you know, Artemis? It’s easy for you to play with my fate knowing full well that I will pay the consequences not you. It’s easy for you to sit there and tell me to just face the fears and remember." Xena furrowed her brow and angry tears cascaded down her cheeks, "Maybe I would rather have spent eternity in Tartarus than deal with this. You could have asked; did that ever occur to you? It is my life, Artemis!"
Artemis looked away and spoke softly, "I’m sorry, Xena." With that she stood and when Xena looked up, she was standing in the temple with Artemis. Chloe leaned against the altar a sad smile graced her face as she gazed at Xena. Surprised to see Chloe, Xena’s eyes quickly searched the room.
"I sent Zoe back to Gabrielle; she is safe." At those words Xena relaxed. Artemis sighed and walked slowly around the stone edifice. She ran her finger tips across the stones of the wall looking occasionally at the warrior. Then she glanced at Chloe curiously. Chloe continued to speak, "Xena, Ares is not our father. He is not your father." Xena frowned and looked down shaking her head. Artemis stopped her circuit and stared at the two before her; everything was beginning to make sense. Chloe asked, "Xena, remember what Cyrene told you about our father?" Scowling, Xena looked up at her and Chloe said, "Lyceus and you and I all have the same father." Chloe turned to Artemis, "Artemis, who killed our Lyceus that day on the field of battle?"
Artemis raised her eyebrows and looked from Chloe to Xena, "Ares killed him." Artemis walked closer to Xena and looked into her eyes. "Xena, I told you that three cycles ago when we stood in that dark forest of death. Don’t you remember?" Xena backed up and leaned against the wall and squeezed her eyes shut.
Chloe looked seriously at Xena and wrinkled her brow, "Xena, even Ares would not slay his own son. Lyceus was not his son, and you are not his daughter."
Xena stood against the wall as tears cascaded down her face. She shook her head.
"How can I be sure?" she pleaded, "How do I know what you’re saying is true? Why am I so like Ares if he is not my father?" Chloe stepped towards Xena as Artemis leaned against the altar staring curiously at the Warrior Princess.
Chloe continued, "Listen to me, Xe. You have to stop torturing yourself. You are not like Ares."
Xena, her face tormented and pained, looked at Chloe as tears welled up in her eyes and she said, "You don’t know what I’ve done, Chloe. You weren’t there with me for those ten years. You didn’t see the death and destruction I handed out in the name of Ares and for my own glory." Chloe moved to take Xena into her arms, but Xena turned away.
Chloe stepped back at Xena’s reaction and spoke as if soothing a frightened yet dangerous animal, "Xe, I was there." Xena swung her head back around and frowning pinned Chloe with her piercing, blue eyes. Chloe continued seriously, "I told you I was always with you, Xe. Just because you couldn’t feel me or see me doesn’t mean I wasn’t with you. I was there when you hung on that cross. I saw M’Lila sacrificed herself for you." Xena cringed at the memory, "I watched as you brought Corinth to her knees at the point of your sword." Chloe enveloped Xena in her arms and whispered into her neck, "I was with you when Cirra burned. I was there when Hercules intervened in your destiny. I was there, Xe, when you ran the gauntlet. That night in the forest I watched as you pressed your sword to your own heart." Xena wept uncontrollably in Chloe’s arms. "I saw the dead infants, Xena, and the dead children and the dead women." Artemis looked down and brushed away a tear from her own cheek. Chloe pulled away and looked into Xena’s eyes, "And I was there when you saved a young woman from slavers in Poteidaia, Xe. I have always been by your side and in your heart." Chloe slipped her arms around Xena and held her.
Artemis stepped forward and touched Xena. The warrior looked at her through anguished eyes. The goddess of the hunt said, "Xena, those actions were the actions of Ares. He owned your soul. You did those things because he made you."
Xena lamented, "I should have been stronger; I should have fought the urges."
Artemis smiled sadly, "Xena, can the tides ignore the moon’s influence?" Xena frowned at her. "Xena, he seduced you; he was the moon, and you were the tides, powerless under his influence. Mortals cannot fight the will of the gods."
With furrowed brow, Xena questioned, "Then how did I escape from his power these last three years?"
"You are favored by the gods, Xena. Many grew tired of watching Ares have his way with one of our own." Xena’s eyes narrowed. "The gods intervened."
The conversation was disrupted by a whirlwind of motion. Xena instinctively stepped between Chloe and the unknown menace that threatened them as she deftly drew her sword and stood in a defensive stance. Hades appeared before them. The helm of invisibility he held tucked under his arm.
Artemis swung around and snared him with her narrowed eyes. "What took you so long?" she demanded, "This is your fault, and you promised you would be here." Xena frowned and let her sword drop to her side.
He answered Artemis but looked beyond her at Xena, "I am the Lord of the Underworld, you know. It’s difficult to get away sometimes." He then brushed Artemis aside handed her the helm and stepped forward. He spoke into Xena’s eyes, "You don’t need that sword, my daughter." Xena’s opened her mouth but no words came out. Hades continued to speak, "Xena, Ares is not your father; I am. I regret not intervening sooner, but we gods have trouble keeping track of mortal time." Turning to Artemis, "Isn’t that right, Artemis?" She rolled her eyes but nodded. Swinging around to Xena and Chloe, Hades flashed them his radiant smile. For the briefest moment, Xena saw Zoe in his face.
"I am sorry you suffered," Hades said, "but suffering is a part of atonement, Xena." The warrior frowned and looked down in a desperate attempt to digest Hades’ words. The lord of the underworld continued, "Xena, I should have come to you sooner. I regret that, but I have never regretted visiting Amphipolis nor the results of those visits. You must accept who you are and conquer your fears. You must turn away from Ares. He is no longer an excuse you can use for your actions and bad temper." Her eyes still downcast, Xena leaned weakly against the cool stone wall. Hades moved and stood in front of his warrior daughter. He towered over her in his dark leather clothing and flowing cape. Xena felt his shadow fall upon her. The memory of a dark image flitted through her mind as he gently lifted her chin. He held her face in his hand and she gazed into his piercing, blue eyes. "Xena, you do not have to forgive me for what I did, but you must forgive yourself. That night I lost myself with a beautiful, young woman in Amphipolis. When I realized what I had done, I knew I would not be able to be there for you. I gave you Chloe and Lyceus. I thought together you would grow up happy." A tear trickled from the corner of Xena’s eye, and Hades gently brushed it away. Hades said, "Ares destroyed my plans for his own selfish reasons. Your fighting abilities attracted his attention. He knew he could not win you over unless he destroyed your reasons for living. Xena, he killed Lyceus and arranged for Chloe to be sold into slavery far to the east." Tears flowed freely from the eyes that looked up at him. "I did not know of Ares’ plan until much later. By then it was too late. I could not sit by and let you destroy yourself. I would not let him send my child to Tartarus for all eternity." Hades pulled her into his embrace. In his strong arms, Xena found the peace she had never known but had always desired.
"Gabrielle, I’m going to go see Petra and Cyrene," Zoe said as she climbed out of bed and padded across the floor to the door. Gabrielle watched her as the little girl stretched up with both hands and turned the handle. As she stepped through the opened door, Zoe looked over her shoulder and smiled sweetly back at Gabrielle and then she closed the door.
Petra, who had been lightly dozing in the chair by the door, sat up and looked in the direction of the opening door as Zoe stepped into the hall. Zoe climbed into her lap and immediately wrapped her arms around the big warrior’s neck. Petra squeezed her eyes shut at the emotions that lurked too near the surface. Then she hugged the child into her.
Finally Petra spoke, "Little warrior, I missed you. Are you all right?"
Zoe pulled back and looked up at Petra with her blue eyes and graced her with the gift of her radiant smile. Petra had the strange feeling that she was holding a miniature Xena in her lap. "I’m all right, Petra. I missed you too." She then gently laid her little hand on Petra chest covering the old wound. "Does it still hurt?" she asked.
Petra shook her head, and Zoe raised her left eyebrow. Petra grinned at her and admitted, "Well, maybe a little."
"Petra, Xena was sad that she fought you," Zoe said, "She knows she was wrong."
"It’s all right, little one," Petra said, "we all do things we regret later." Zoe laid back into Petra’s chest and absently fingered a long, black braid that hung there.
"Is Xena back yet, Zoe?" Petra asked.
"No," Zoe replied quietly.
Worried, Petra frowned thinking about the sword fight the day before she asked, "Zoe, is Xena all right?"
Staring at the braid between her fingers, Zoe wrinkled her little brow. "I don’t know, Petra. I don’t know where she is right now." Zoe let the braid slip between her fingers and sat up looking into Petra’s eyes. "When you and Xena fought each other, she could have killed you." Petra frowned. "When you charged her, you left your chest and stomach open. She let you kick her in the shoulder, Petra." Petra relived the moment in her mind and knew Zoe spoke the truth.
"Why did she let me kick her, Zoe?"
"She loves you, Petra, you are her friend," the child said, "Her only choice would have been to run you through with the sword. She couldn’t do that, so she let the sword drop."
Petra swallowed, fighting the emotion that sat in her throat and she asked, "Did I injure her shoulder worse?"
Zoe said, "It was very painful and hurt Xena." Petra furrowed her brow fighting tears. Zoe continued, "Because of that kick, the healer was able to put her shoulder back into place better. She can use her arm now."
Gabrielle floated in dream filled sleep. She saw chaotic images drift by her. Her sleep was flooded with memories -- voices and images that rushed by her and dragged her along. The dream catapulted her forward and she tumbled into a placid lake of past visions. Slavers tromped through Poteidaia...burning houses...young women were torn from the arms of their loved ones...crying faces...Lila viciously ripped from her embrace... rough hands molested her...a cold voice laugh down at her...fear crushed her heart and despair gripped her...a tall, dark stranger jumped in the midst of the fray...long, raven hair and blue eyes, leather and sword, chakram and whip. The dream changed and drifted into another. Gabrielle saw Xena paralyzed by a dart...her heart stopped...Gabrielle dressed in Xena’s leathers...beat a tree with her staff...tears...emptiness and sorrow filled her soul. Voices echoed around her, "The dead can hear your thoughts."...pain...poison tipped arrow...the child...a raging battle...floating, drifting away...beautiful fields warmed with golden sun...bright, blue skies beckon to her. The peace shattered. The frantic voice of her warrior called her back, "Gabrielle, don’t leave me!" She opened her eyes and looked up into the tear filled eyes of the woman with whom she was in love. Another scene played out before her eyes...a scream escaped her lips too late...the vehicle of Xena’s death... a giant log swung from the branches... "That’s what I Lo...like about you, Gabrielle" ... flinging the warrior into a tree...fear and dread clutched her in its grip as she cradled Xena’s limp and bloodied head in her hands and peered into the warrior’s unfocused eyes..., she knew she had waited too late to tell her how she felt...abysmal sorrow. Soft lips caressed hers...defying death...ambrosia...Autolycus..."I know Gabrielle"...Xena’s bruised and injured face and battered body..."Gabrielle, I pray this never happens to you"...Chloe looked up onto her eyes..."Take care of them for me." Xena wept...and turned and walked away...a small dark-haired child...a golden horse... endless plains...blue eyes cold and distant...a bloody lip...death and decay...disease..."I can’t get this disease, Gabrielle, I already had it"...fever and pain...a cave in Thrace ... Xena’s bloodied form unconscious in Eponin’s arms...pale as death...her shoulder ruined... Xena and Chloe turned and waved... "Where is she?" Angry eyes...Gabrielle felt powerful fingers around her throat..."Xena, don’t." Frustration and anger...a kicked toy...Zoe’s bruised face...and looking down on the warrior...arm in a sling...a blue-eyed doll...she died inside at the hurt she observed in Xena’s ocean-blue eyes as the warrior turned and walked away. Clanging metal. Blade crashing into blade. The violent sword battle. Xena lay crumpled in the dust...The visions changed and Gabrielle stood in front of her quarters when the magnificent woman warrior, tall and beautiful with raven hair and sapphire eyes came galloping up on a golden horse. She stared strangely up at the woman and thought, ‘This must be a goddess for no mortal could be that beautiful, and that steed must be one of Apollo's because no mortal horse could be the color of Helios.’ And the horse danced and pranced in front of her. It pawed the earth and snorted fire. Then the mounted goddess spoke. Her voice like silk enveloped Gabrielle. Her words like honey. And she said "Gabrielle." And Gabrielle thought her legs would buckle beneath her at the way she spoke her name. In one graceful motion the warrior swung down from the horse and stood before the bard. She swept her up in her powerful arms, captured her lips with her hungry mouth, and kissed her.
Gabrielle awoke, and her breathing caught in her chest as she peered into Xena’s eyes. Xena reached out and gently caressed Gabrielle’s face, "Gabrielle, is it really you?" she asked.
"Yes, Xena it’s me."
Gabrielle touched Xena’s face unsure that the warrior before her was real. She feared this was just a part of her dream. The two peered into each other’s eyes for several sweet moments. Then Xena smiled, tossed the covers aside, rolled out of bed, and laid her sword and chakram on the floor. Gabrielle pushed herself up in bed and watched curiously as Xena strode across the room to the door and threw the latch. Xena turned and grinned at Gabrielle’s expression as her intentions dawned on the bard. Gabrielle smiled shyly and rose, and the two met half way and embraced. Pulling back from the bard, Xena looked down into Gabrielle’s eyes. She leaned down and pressed her lips to Gabrielle’s in a gentle yet passionately long kiss. Xena then slipped her hand in Gabrielle’s, moved to the chair by the bed, and sat down.
Xena looked up, raised an eyebrow, and asked with a grin, "Well, aren’t you going to help me with my armor?" Gabrielle smiled as joy crept into her heart. She unbuckled the armor and then moved to the other side. Gabrielle frowned and ran her hand along Xena’s left arm. Xena grinned, and much to Gabrielle’s delight, moved her arm for her. The bard then focused her attention on finishing her task. She gently pulled the armor over Xena’s head and turned to lay it aside when she noticed the deep shiny groove across the chest plate. She turned back and sat on the bed. The armor rested in her shaky hands.
Xena looked at her questioningly. "What is it Gabrielle?" she asked.
Gabrielle looked up with tears in her eyes, showed Xena the armor and asked quietly, "How did this happen, Xena?"
Xena leaned forward in her chair, took the armor from Gabrielle’s hands and laid it aside. "It’s all right; it’s over now, Gab," Xena said softly.
"Xena, Zoe told me you had to fight Ares. Did he do that?" Gabrielle said as she nodded at the armor.
Xena smiled her crooked smile and captured Gabrielle’s hands in hers. "Yes, Ares slashed at me with his sword," she said, "but as you can see, the armor saved me. Did you put the armor on me?"
Gabrielle nodded, "Zoe came to me as I dozed by your bed and told me you needed your weapons. Petra helped me. We dressed you, put your armor on, and placed the sword in your hand."
Xena looked down for a moment, furrowed her brow then she raised her head and spoke. "You saved Zoe’s and my life by doing that." She paused. "Gabrielle, is Petra all right?" Gabrielle nodded and looked away as tears welled up in her eyes. Xena dropped to the floor and placed her hands on Gabrielle’s thighs. Her finger touched the scar where twelve stitches had recently been removed. Xena ran her fingertip along the straight line bordered with tiny puncture holes. She closed her eyes at the memory of the pain she had inflicted on her Gabrielle. Then she looked up onto her bard’s eyes and implored, "Gabrielle, please forgive me for what I did. I was wrong. I knew you and Petra were innocent of my accusations. I was blinded by my anger and my fears. It had nothing to do with either of you." Xena paused, sighed and then said, "I don’t imagine Petra will ever forgive me, but I hope you can find it in your heart to do so. I couldn’t go on knowing that you hated me."
Gabrielle wiped her tears, "Xena, I could never hate you. I love you more than life itself. It broke my heart to think you believed that I would ever betray you." Gabrielle looked down and then she looked into Xena’s eyes and spoke passionately, "I have loved you since the first time I saw you. In my heart, I have never loved anyone else. I have never betrayed you." Gabrielle stared deeply into Xena’s eyes. Xena opened her arms as Gabrielle slipped from the bed into her embrace, and the two melted into one.
After several moments, Xena spoke softly into Gabrielle’s hair, "Gab, I have so much to tell you, but most of it can wait until tomorrow; just know that Helio’s mistress is well." Gabrielle pulled away and searched Xena’s eyes. Xena smiled, nodded, and whispered, "Probably for the first time in my life, Gab."
The full moon shone through the bedroom window and illuminated the lovers who lay in each other’s arms. Gabrielle smiled as she remembered the last time she felt Xena’s embrace in tender, passionate love making. It was her other Xena who had held her and made sweet, tender love to her. Her beautiful and gentle, youthful Xena who was passionate yet shy who with one arm tried desperately to unite them in body and spirit. It had been sweet and awkward. First time lovers, inexperienced youths desperately struggling to communicate the depth of their feelings and desires yet not knowing how. Strangers to each other’s bodies and each other’s touch.
Xena looked down into the bard’s smiling eyes and inquired, "What are you thinking about, my sweet bard?"
Gabrielle rolled over in Xena’s arms pushing her warrior onto her back and looked down into the blue eyes she knew and loved so well. "I was thinking about how glad I am that you’ve come home to me." She paused and wrinkled her brow somberly. "It was so lonely without you, Xena. Please don’t ever leave me again like that."
Xena reached up with her left hand and brushed Gabrielle’s hair from her face and promised, "I won’t, my love." Catching Xena’s hand in hers, Gabrielle held it against her face and then placed soft kisses in her palm. She directed her attention to the dark and jagged scar that marred the soft, marble skin of Xena’s chest and shoulder. She gently ran her finger tips along it and then bent forward and placed soft feather kisses along its length. Xena felt a warm wetness as Gabrielle laid her cheek on Xena’s chest, and she spoke, "Please don’t cry, Gab. I am fine. Everything will be all right, my gentle bard. You do believe me, don’t you?"
Gabrielle tightened her hold on her love and replied through her tears, "I believe you, Xena. It’s just the memories...the memory of seeing you hurt so badly and thinking you were going to die. When I close my eyes, I am haunted by the vision of your bloodied, unconscious body limp in Eponin’s arms. My dreams are still filled with the horrors of Sinope and now this. I’m afraid to close my eyes. I’m afraid I’ll awake, and this will have been a cruel dream, and you’ll be dead like Chloe." Gabrielle gasped and tears fell as she sobbed in Xena’s arms. Xena held her and comforted her with assuring words, soft caresses, and tiny kisses. She then rolled her bard onto her back. Holding her in the crook of her left arm, she kissed her lips communicating her love and her need. Then she helped Gabrielle discover that they were both alive. As they reunited and let the essence of their souls touch and intermingle they became lost in their passion and in the depth of their love for each other. As they became one again, the fear dissolved, and Gabrielle knew her Xena was home in her heart where she belonged. They drifted off to sleep, pleasantly exhausted, wrapped in love’s embrace, both were filled with warm, peaceful contentment. Soft smiles tugged at the corners of their lips.
The moon had set. The room was shrouded in velvet darkness when Xena awoke with a smile and quietly disentangled herself from Gabrielle’s arms and legs. She climbed out of bed and brushed her lips across her bard’s temple. She pulled her shift over her head as she treaded softly to the door. In the hall she found Zoe asleep in Petra’s lap. She reached down and squeezed Petra’s leg. Petra’s eye fluttered open, and she looked up in amazement as Xena took Zoe from her arms and spoke to her, "Go to bed, warrior." Petra gave her a grin as Xena turned and carried Zoe back into the bedroom. She closed the door behind her.
Xena sat down in the chair by the bed and pulled the child’s outer garments from her tiny body. Zoe smiled sleepily up at her. Xena cradled her in her arms as she climbed into bed and then snuggled the child between her and Gabrielle. She reached down and pulled the covers over them as Gabrielle sleepily kissed Zoe. Gabrielle tossed her arm across Xena, and the three drifted off to sleep cuddled together under the blankets.
The strings of destiny hummed and sung in silent vibrations as the three Fates worked quietly in their antechamber. Clotho, young and beautiful, sat spinning the threads of life while Lachesis, the mature matron, measured the strings in methodical patterns stretching the threads from her nose to the tip of her fingers. Black shears in the craggy hands of Atropos, the hag, snipped indifferently the measured threads of life. The work was endless and monotonous. Clotho slowly looked away from her spinning as the other two exchanged bored glances. Then they stared at her.
The women were silent and idle for long moments when Clotho finally spoke. "The little one is very powerful for a mortal child."
Atropos nodded seriously and said, "She carries the essence of Chloe and Xena who are both children of the gods. You must remember she is also a child of Hades. Her father is a god, therefore, she is indeed very powerful."
"Her power must be protected," Lachesis added seriously.
Looking from one to the other Clotho stated, "In order to protect the child and her gifts the warrior must live a long life."
Atropos interjected, "The gods must never discover the power that the child has, or they will use her against us."
With an ever so slight smirk on her face, Clotho commented, "Yes, and for that very reason we pretended to grant Artemis’ wish. It was totally unnecessary." The others grinned a rare grin. "Imagine her anger if she discovered that the child would have saved Xena without her or Hades’ intervention."
Lachesis held out her hands which were looped with the destiny strings and said, "But Xena did gain something from Artemis’ intervention."
Atropos noted solemnly, "True, it is unusual for the Fates to give anything to mortals or to gods."
"Yes, she gained another span of mortality, ten mortal cycles added to the end of her life," Clotho revealed as she looked at Lachesis.
"In mortal terms that was a gift, but we had no choice," Lachesis commented dryly, "We had to deceive that meddlesome goddess."
Almost with feeling, Atropos absently observed, "Xena loves her bard and her bard loves her. She will now live mortal life long enough to see the end of her bard’s life."
Clotho looked at her spindle and commented sadly, "Xena might not consider that a gift."
"No, but Gabrielle will," Lachesis added.
Atropos annoyed at their sudden melancholy inserted, "It matters not, in less than a cycle after Gabrielle’s death, Xena will join her bard in the fields. They will only be apart for six moons. Besides, that will not occur for many cycles."
Looking at Lachesis, Clotho commented. "Before Artemis’ intervention it would be almost ten cycles before Gabrielle would join Xena in the underworld."
Lachesis nodded and changing the subject, looked at Atropos, "What of the spirit Chloe? Will she betray her child’s powers to the gods?"
Atropos shook her head and said, "No, she understands and accepts the cycles of life. She will do anything to protect the child from harm."
"Let us hope that they never discover that the child has the power to intervene in Fate." Clotho added.
Quiet concern creased her forehead as Lachesis asked, "But what of mortals? What will happen if the child falls into the hands of mortals who have discovered the secret?"
Looking down at the shears Atropos answered, "Xena’s fate is sealed. The child needed a strong and healthy warrior to protect her. Xena is finally healed." Atropos paused deep in thought, and then looked at Clotho and Lachesis. "Perhaps Artemis was correct. We did interfere in destiny. We did give Xena a gift. The price was her gift." The other two nodded. "Although she will continue to put herself in danger, Xena will live to protect the child from such dangers." The three women fell into silence and quietly returned to their tasks. Clotho spun the threads, Lachesis measured the threads, and Atropos cut the threads of Fate.
Tucked protectively between Xena and Gabrielle Zoe stirred in her sleep. A smile creased her lips. She walked in fields of clover her tiny hand in her mother’s. Chloe smiled and knelt before her little daughter as she said, "Zoe."
Chloe laid her hand on Zoe’s chest. "You know I’ll always be right here."
Zoe nodded and smiled, her blue eyes dancing. "Yes, Mommy."
"Take care of Xena and Gabrielle."
"I will, Mommy."
"I love you."
"I love you too, Mommy."
Zoe slid one tiny arm under Xena’s neck and the other under Gabrielle. She hugged them tightly.
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