Test of Friendship
By Maureen McGowan
"...so the princess and her handsome
prince reaffirmed their love with a tender kiss."
The bard completed her story, still
getting no response from her audience of one. Gabrielle sighed and looked
down at the one person in the world who meant everything to her. Xena lay
prone, her head resting lightly in Gabrielle's lap. A nasty gash was only
partially visible through the warrior's thick black hair, but bruising
extended outward covering about a third of her forehead, and swelling along
her hairline was still obvious.
"Come on Xena...please wake up."
Gabrielle began to cry again; something she had done alot lately. "It's
been two days and I don't know what else I can do. I'm so, so sorry...if
I hadn't slipped..." As she began to calm down, she lightly stroked
her friend's temples, as if her touch could somehow make her friend better...or
give her comfort. The bard's eyes stared down at Xena as she remembered
again the events of two days ago.
The torrential rain was reeking
havoc on the small cliffside path. Xena had dismounted Argo well over an
hour ago and was very slowly leading her over the mud-slick terrain, with
Gabrielle cautiously bringing up the rear. The sudden downpour had caught
the travelers by surprise, and being too far along the narrow walkway,
they could not turn back. Instead, they weathered the storm as best as
they could, and made their way towards the valley on the other side of
"Come on Gabrielle!" Xena's
voice could barely be heard over the noise of the storm. "We're almost
"If I weren't so worried about
this path disappearing from under my feet," Gabrielle yelled, "I'd
just take out some soap and wash. Who needs a river to bathe?"
Xena turned and quickly smiled at
her friend. "You have a point. I think it'll take a week to dry everything
out - including us! But this opens up right around the next corner. We
should be able to find some shelter there."
Nodding her head, Gabrielle continued
to slowly walk forward slipping now and again on the loose rocks floating
in the muddy water along the pathway. Looking below, she saw that the river
siding up against the hills had become a raging torrent. She shuddered
to think what would happen if any of them lost their footing.
"We're here! Come on Gabrielle!
I think I see a cave over here!"
Quickly looking up as Xena got Argo
to safe ground, Gabrielle lost her concentration and did exactly what she
had dreaded...she slipped. With nothing to grab on to, she completely lost
her footing and fell sideways over the steep hillside.
After that, everything happened
so fast, Gabrielle could barely recall the sequence of events. As she roughly
slid down the hill towards the river, she remembered seeing Xena literally
dive over the cliffside towards her. The warrior somehow managed to grab
her with one arm while she miraculously produced her whip with the other,
throwing it out over a tree branch near the river's edge.
Their momentum came to abrupt halt
as their bodies entered the raging river. "CAN YOU CLIMB OVER ME?"
Unable to speak, Gabrielle just
did what she was supposed to. Using Xena's body, she slowly climbed onto
firm ground, collapsing from fear and exhaustion. Turning to look at Xena,
she saw a large log rushing at her along the river's edge.
"XENA! LOOK OUT!"
The warrior had extracted herself
from the river and started to turn around to see what Gabrielle was yelling
about when she was hit on the side of the head by the wooden juggernaut.
Luckily she was not thrown very far, or her body would have most assuredly
gone into the river. But when Gabrielle got to her friend, she was unconscious,
blood running down the side of her head. The bard's gentle attempts to
wake the warrior up met with failure. The only positive thing that happened
was that it finally stopped raining.
It was obvious that Xena could not
make it up the hillside on her own even if she woke up. Gabrielle was forced
to make the hard decision to leave her alone while she went back up by
herself. Looking back at her friend, Gabrielle began to climb the steep
incline. After more failed attempts than she cared to remember, she finally
made it to the top. The bard ran to Argo and led the horse back over to
the side of the cliff, while pulling some rope out of a saddlebag. Securing
one end to the horse's saddlehorn, Gabrielle threw the rest of the coiled
hemp down the hill towards Xena. She then pulled out a few blankets, and
using the rope, slowly descended back towards her friend.
Xena was still unconscious when
Gabrielle dropped down by her side. As carefully as she could, the bard
wrapped Xena's head and neck in the blankets; afraid to move her without
such protection. Since Xena was not awake, Gabrielle could see no way to
secure her safely in the single rope, so she tied the lose end around her
own waist, sat down, and gently lifted Xena's upper body into her lap,
so that the warrior's back was cradled against her chest. Xena's immobilized
head rested against the bard's shoulder as Gabrielle whistled for Argo,
who then slowly dragged the two women up the hill to level land.
Taking most of the punishment of
the terrain, Gabrielle endured the painful trip up the hill, making sure
that Xena's ride was smooth. By the time they reached the top, the bard's
arms were quivering with fatigue. She let Argo continue to drag them nearer
to the cave Xena had spotted earlier, knowing that she did not have the
strength to carry her friend any distance. When Argo stopped right outside
the entrance, Gabrielle untied herself from the horse and gently laid Xena
down flat on the ground. Quickly, she went into the cave to make sure there
were no animals or other reasons they could not set up camp there.
Seeing that the small cave was empty
and dry, the bard went about briskly setting up camp. Knowing Xena needed
to get warm and have some attention to her head wound, Gabrielle immediately
got a fire started, then pulled their remaining blankets from Argo's saddlebags.
She adeptly got Xena situated near the fire and gently removed her armor,
weapons, boots and soaked leathers. Covering her with the blankets, Gabrielle
then took the protective wrapping from around the warrior's head and neck.
The gash along the side of Xena's
head had stopped bleeding, but it was obvious that she had a very serious
head wound. The swelling and bruising had already begun to spread. All
Gabrielle could do at this point was clean out the wound as best she could
and hope that Xena would wake up soon.
Gabrielle slowly opened her eyes and
sighed as she continued to gently stroke Xena's temples. She knew the longer
the warrior stayed unconscious, the more likely it was that she would never
wake up. Her guilt was tearing her apart inside and she slowly came to
the realization that this was the feeling that Xena dealt with most of
the time. Shaking her head, wondering how she managed to do it, Gabrielle
mumbled, "By the gods, if anything happens to you, I won't be able
to live with myself."
The bard's thoughts were interrupted
by Argo's insistent neighing. "Oh girl, I'm sorry. I'm not taking
very good care of you am I? You must be hungry."
As much as she hated to, Gabrielle
slowly shifted herself from the back of Xena and laid her friend's head
gently down on the blanket. The only times that the bard had done this...left
her friend's side...was to cook a few small meals, tend to the fire, and
care for Xena's horse.
"Come on girl," taking Argo's reigns, " You can graze a bit outside while I get us all some more water."
When Gabrielle returned to the cave
a few minutes later, she noticed that Xena's body had moved slightly from
the position she had left her. Joyous hope filled her whole being as she
ran and dropped down beside her friend.
"Xena...Xena...come on...can you
hear me? Please try to wake up....Hear my voice and try to wake up!"
The bard noticed her friend becoming
more restless...shifting her body, struggling to regain consciousness.
Then, miraculously, Xena's eyes slowly fluttered open. Tears ran down Gabrielle's
face as she gently stroked Xena's forehead. "That's right, concentrate...oh,
thank the gods...Come on Xena, can you see me? Try to stay with me, please..."
Xena seemed to be trying to focus on
her surroundings. A confused look settled on her face as it seemed as it
she was having trouble comprehending what was going on. Seeing her confusion,
Gabrielle tried to reassure her friend. "That's all right Xena...you're
safe. Just take your time. Stay with me...you're going to be fine. You
were hit on the head, but you're safe now...just relax."
It took a few minutes, but Xena's eyes
slowly began to focus and she seemed more alert, more aware. Her hand went
up to the side of her head, and the warrior grimaced as she barely touched
her head wound. Closing her eyes, she seemed to absorb the pain. Reopening
her eyes, she earnestly began to look around her surroundings.
"Xena, "Gabrielle interjected,
"I got us into the cave you found. Oh, and Argo's fine...she's just
worried about you." Smiling at her friend, Gabrielle got back to business.
"You've been out of it for a while. Hang on a minute...I need to get
you to drink some water. You haven't had anything to eat or drink for way
too long. I'll be right back."
The bard quickly got up and ran to
the water pouches she had dropped earlier at the front of the cave. She
hurried back to Xena's side and kneeled down to help her friend drink.
As she extended her arm to help support Xena's head, she barely registered
the warrior's elbow bolt forward and crash into her jaw. She definitely
did not feel anything as she flew backwards into the cave wall, as she
was already unconscious.
Xena laid back down as it felt like
a vice was crushing her skull. Taking deep breaths and using some relaxation
techniques taught to her by her long lost friend M'Lila, the warrior began
to regain her composure. Once the stabbing pain had been controlled down
to a constant throbbing, Xena opened her eyes and slowly sat up. Looking
around the small cave, she saw her familiar items of clothing, her weapons,
and her precious horse Argo. This seemed to settle the warrior even more.
The Warrior Princess, realizing that
her head injury had left her weakened, sought and found a water pouch dropped
nearby. Opening the top, she surprised herself by draining the container.
"Just how long have I been out?" she wondered. Feeling too weak
to walk quite yet, Xena crawled over to the fire and found the remnants
of a meal - soup and some bread. She devoured the food quickly while surveying
the rest of the cave. Feeling a bit stronger, Xena then set about getting
dressed and securing the cave area.
It was nightfall by the time Gabrielle
began to come around. At first, her eyes, mind, and body would not cooperate
with each other, but eventually she regained some semblance of consciousness.
Still fairly groggy, she could not understand why her limbs would not move
or recall why her jaw felt like it had been kicked by a horse. It was only
after she became more lucid that she remembered. "Gods, when will
I ever learn not to startle her..."
Finally remembering what had happened,
Gabrielle tried to sit up. She realized very quickly why her body would
not work. Her hands were tied behind her back, with the rope extended down,
securing her legs at the ankles; effectively making it impossible for her
to do much of anything. Panic set in and the bard looked around the cave
for Xena. All she could think was that someone had come in after Xena had
hit her, and done something to her hurt friend. In her weakened state,
Xena would have been vulnerable to an attack. With a renewed purpose and
strength, Gabrielle began struggling against her bindings. All she knew
was that she had to find Xena.
What seemed like hours later, Gabrielle
was still bound, her wrists sore and bleeding from the effort to break
free. She heard a noise coming from outside the cave and looked over towards
the entrance as Xena walked into the small cavern carrying a snared rabbit
in her hand.
"Thank the gods...Xena you're
all right. I thought someone had..."
Xena turned towards Gabrielle and in
a very commanding voice ordered, "QUIET. You talk when I say talk...not
The bard was dumbstruck. The realization
of what was happening, that Xena had bound her, hit Gabrielle like a ton
of boulders. She watched as the warrior totally ignored her presence and
went over to the fire to cook the rabbit. It was almost as Xena did not
know her at all...
The Warrior Princess looked up from
the fire and rested her piercing blue eyes on Gabrielle. The bard quizzically
looked at her friend. "Um...Xena...are you all right? I don't understand..."
Gabrielle tried to gauge Xena's reaction, but it was almost like the woman
in front of her was a total stranger. "It's me...Gabrielle...you know
who I am, don't you? Please, untie me...you're hurt and a bit confused.
I know I..."
Xena quickly reached behind her and
unsheathed her sword. Leaning over, she placed the metal blade roughly
against Gabrielle's neck. In a menacing tone, Xena emphasized her point.
"I won't tell you again Amazon. We have time enough to talk. Right
now I'm going to eat in peace. I hope for your sake I'm making myself clear."
Xena prodded Gabrielle with her sword tip, barely puncturing the skin.
Seeing that her point was made, she turned back to her supper.
As Xena ate, Gabrielle tried to calm
herself down some and make sense out of what had transpired. Her friend
obviously did not remember her at all...and what was more frightening was
that the bard had seen the persona that she was displaying only once before...when
Xena thought her father had been executed. Then, the bloodthirsty Warrior
Princess had emerged from her hiding place with almost tragic results.
Looking over at her friend, the same aura was surrounding her... Gabrielle
could not help but stare at the warrior. It was Xena...but not *her* Xena.
Her whole persona was different...hard. She gave off an air of complete
authority but also one of cold indifference.
The bard also noted that Xena was apparently
in alot of pain. She continually reached up to grasp her head, and a number
of times, Gabrielle could see her friend's eyes glaze over. She knew that
Xena needed to rest, but she also knew that she needed to get her to remember.
How to do that was another matter. The bard had never come across anything
like this before.
Xena looked over at the Amazon woman
and wondered who she was. There was a familiarity about her, but the warrior
had no idea why or where she came from. The splitting headache she was
suffering with did not help. She couldn't keep her thoughts straight, and
had actually almost passed out a few times. Head injuries were always tricky
to gauge. Maybe with a good night's sleep, things would be clearer. But
before she turned in, the warrior knew she needed a few answers.
Xena rose from the fire with a small
piece of meat and some water. She walked over to Gabrielle and sat cross-legged
in front of her. "Here eat this, then you and I talk." She roughly
shoved the meat into Gabrielle's mouth, then lifted her head up slightly
to allow her to drink some water. The bard was grateful for the small amount
of food, but nearly choked at the calm cruelty Xena was showing her. She
was unsure how to react or what to say, but Xena was the first to initiate
"All right, we start with the
basics. Where are we?"
"Xena...let me explain what happened."
The warrior grabbed Gabrielle by the
hair and pulled her head painfully back. "I *asked* you a question...now
let go..." When the warrior made no move to do so, Gabrielle quickly
answered her question. "We're...well, we were going near Corinth.
I'm not exactly sure where we are now, but there was a small village called
Melania about a day south of here."
Xena released her grip on the Amazon's hair and seemed to ponder her words. Gabrielle took a chance and decided to continue. "We were going to a harvest festival in Indios...it started raining and we got caught in the downpour. I fell and you hurt your head saving me. Please Xena, you've got to try to remember."
Xena's head was splitting open. Although
she heard the Amazon's words, they stopped registering. The warrior put
her hands up to her head, holding it in an attempt to lessen the pain.
"I need to rest. We'll take this up in the morning."
The warrior reached over tightening
the ropes around Gabrielle's hands and feet, then slowly got up and made
her way over to the campfire. Laying down on the blankets, Xena passed
Xena woke up early, her headache slightly
less intense than the day before. She looked over at the sleeping Amazon
woman across the cave. For a moment, there was a flash of memory...a small
village...Potei...something. The memories were fleeting...so much so that
Xena could not recall them at all. Slowly rising, the warrior stoked the
fire and went outside to check on Argo. She wasn't gone all that long,
but when she returned, the Amazon had woken up.
"Xena, how's your head this morning?
Are you feeling any better? Do you remember anything?"
Ignoring the woman, Xena grabbed some
tea and dried meat from her saddlebags, sat down by the fire, and began
to heat her breakfast. She turned back to her prisoner only because the
talkative woman spoke up again.
"Um...Xena...Please, I need to
get up. I can't feel my arms or legs anymore, and well...um...I have to...um...nature
calls? I swear I won't try anything."
The warrior looked at the prisoner
and weighed the pros and cons of letting her up. Amazons were known for
their strength and cunning, and Xena was under no illusions that she was
in less than top condition with her head injury. But looking over at the
woman, the warrior decided that she could control her once she was released.
She got up and calmly walked over to Gabrielle. Rolling her over onto her
stomach, Xena untied her hands and feet. She then roughly turned her over
onto her back and grabbed her neck. Looking down at the pinned woman, Xena
spoke in a clearly threatening voice.
"Don't be stupid."
Once Xena let go, Gabrielle began the
painful attempt to get some feeling back into her arms and legs. It took
a while, but she was finally able to stand up. The warrior grabbed her
arm, leading her outside towards a grouping of bushes. Once there, Gabrielle
made a move forward to the sheltering foliage.
Xena halted the bard from leaving her
side and in a swift move, bent down and hit Gabrielle's right leg. The
pressure point pinch effectively made her leg useless. The bard would have
collapsed over had the warrior not been there to hold her up. She had seen
Xena use this technique before, but now knew the actual reality of its
"Just making sure you don't try
anything. Be quick about it." Xena then let go of Gabrielle and watched
as she maneuvered herself into the bushes.
Finished outside, Xena led Gabrielle,
still hobbled by Xena's "pinch," back into the cave. Once there,
the warrior pushed her prisoner towards the fire. Gabrielle was so off
balance that she fell flat on her face near the campfire. Grabbing the
rope that had bound the prisoner earlier, Xena quickly tied the Amazon's
hands in front of her, released the pinch on her leg, and then sat down
to check on her breakfast.
"So, you say your name is Gabrielle?"
Thankful for the opportunity to talk
without angering Xena more, the bard spoke up. "Yes...right. Xena,
we've been traveling together for almost two years now. I'm your best friend."
Xena looked up with a sneer on her
face. "I don't have, nor do I need *friends* Amazon." Xena winced
again as a stabbing pain continued to pound away in her head.
"Xena, I don't want to upset you...but
you're wrong. It's your head injury. Listen, you were unconscious for almost
two days. You're just a bit confused right now. Would you please let me
take a look at the cut on your head? It probably needs cleaning again,
and you need to rest."
"No, I can take care of myself,
and as soon as we eat, we'll be going. I suggest you take a bit of this,
we won't be stopping once we start out." Xena threw a piece of dried
meat towards Gabrielle and began to eat.
As Gabrielle munched on her meager
rations, she tried to reach Xena another way. "Xena, your favorite
food is roasted wild game hen, you have a scar from an arrow wound to the
left of your navel, you fought side by side with Goliath. His family was
killed while he was protecting you. You have your father's stature, but
your mother's smile and eyes. You still mourn the death of your younger
brother Lyceus, and you travel to the Temple of the Three Fates every year
on the anniversary of his death. You have terrible nightmares...you don't
sleep well. Xena, you have a son...Solan...he has his father's coloring,
except his eyes...they're all you. You left him with the centaurs so he
would be safe."
Xena looked over at her prisoner with
horror. How did this woman know so much about her? A dangerous sneer appeared
on her face.
Gabrielle realized that sharing this
information may not have been the best thing to do, as it seemed to make
Xena more agitated. "Don't be afraid that I know this stuff Xena.
We're friends...you either told me or I saw it first hand...really. We've
been together for almost two years for Gaia's sake...please try to remember."
Xena put her hands up to the sides
of her head as the pain threatened to totally incapacitate her. Any time
she tried too hard to think, it was like her head would explode. "Shut
up! I need some quiet!"
Gabrielle was about to speak up again,
but thought better of it. Xena was obviously in a great deal of pain, and
in her confusion would probably not think twice about hurting her. It pained
the bard to see her best friend in such a state. Hopefully, in time, she
would come to her senses.
The two women had been on the road
for hours. After their breakfast, Xena had packed up their supplies and
led Argo towards Indios. As they made their way along the road, Xena looked
down at her prisoner. There was another flash of memory...this woman walking
along side of Argo, pleasantly chatting and looking up with a radiant smile
at Xena. Back to reality, Gabrielle looked up at Xena, but she had a tired,
worried look on her face. She lifted her bound hands up to her head, wiping
a wisp of hair off her face.
"Xena, can we please stop for
a few minutes? I'm tired and you need to rest."
The warrior found an inlet near the
road, perfect for a campsite, and surprisingly led Argo off the roadway.
She jumped down from the horse, the jolt sending a lightning bolt of pain
through her head, and pulled the end of Gabrielle's rope from Argo's saddlehorn.
She led the bard to a grouping of trees and ordered her to sit. Once Gabrielle
was down, Xena took the rope and wrapped it around the Amazon tying her
to a tree. Only when she was sure her prisoner was secure did she relax
her guard and settle down to rest. Taking a water pouch from Argo's saddle,
Xena sat down near Gabrielle. Taking a long swallow of water, Xena wiped
her mouth on the side of her hand, then turned to the Amazon and poured
some water into her mouth.
"Thank you. Xena....," Gabrielle
said softly, "...please, let's just stay here tonight. You shouldn't
be riding in your condition."
"What do you care?"
"You're more than family to me
Xena...I know you don't remember, but look into my eyes. It's the truth.
And this is all my fault. If only I hadn't fallen..." Knowing she
needed to get past her guilt right now Gabrielle shook her head. "Anyway,
you need to rest. You're obviously in alot of pain. You shouldn't be riding...please..."
Xena got up and walked over to Argo,
lightly patting her head. She considered the words of the Amazon and decided
to stop for the day. Her head was splitting open and she knew she needed
to rest. After making camp, the warrior was so exhausted that she laid
down and fell into a deep sleep. Seeing that her friend was unconscious,
Gabrielle began to work on her bindings.
It was well past sunset when Xena regained
consciousness. Luckily, her head felt better, the sharp pains less frequent.
The hard throbbing pain that enveloped her whole head, however, was still
present. She slowly stood up and went over to her sleeping prisoner. From
the looks of her wrists and arms, the Amazon had tried very hard to break
the bindings that secured her to the tree...without success.
Xena left Gabrielle's side and went
about the business of tending to Argo, starting a fire and getting some
food ready. Once that was done, she went back over to her prisoner and
kicked her in the shin. The bard wakened with a start. "Xena?"
Seeing that her friend still had a vacant expression on her face, she shook
her head and lightly murmured, "Gods...this is a nightmare..."
The Warrior Princess just turned away
and left the camp area. She took some of the water pouches along with another
cotton shift. Obviously there was a river close by for her to bathe in.
Gabrielle took the opportunity to again try to loosen the rope around her.
Finally, she gave out a loud frustrating groan as it became obvious to
her that the ropes were staying in place. She leaned her head back against
the tree trunk and closed her teary eyes. Although she was an optimist
by nature, Gabrielle was beginning to get worried. What if Xena never snapped
out of it? What if her head was so damaged that she never remembered? This
was the old Xena here...there was no telling what she was capable of doing.
Xena returned a short while later, her wet hair slicked back away from her face. Gabrielle could see that the swelling along her temple had gone down a little, but the bruising was definitely worse. And it was not clear as to whether Xena had cleaned out the headwound itself. "Xena...um...you should put some of your healing poultice on that cut." Seeing Xena ignoring her again, she resigned herself to the fact that she was dealing with a stranger. "May I please get up? I have to...you know..."
The Warrior walked over to her prisoner
and untied her from the tree. Helping her to stand, Xena led Gabrielle
towards the river she had just come from. Once there, she turned towards
the Amazon and quickly reapplied the pinch to her right leg. Gabrielle
winced and grabbed onto the warrior with her bound hands as she lost her
balance. "You know, you *really* don't have to do this Xena. I'm not
going anywhere. Honestly, I only want to help you. Please let me..."
"Do what you have to do...I'll
be right over here." The menacing look of the warrior Xena stared
into Gabrielle's eyes. "Don't think about leaving. You'll just make
Gabrielle watched as Xena went over
to a small boulder and sat down, staring ominously at her. Shaking her
head in total frustration, Gabrielle went about her business, including
limping partially into the river to wash up some. It was difficult to say
the least as her hands were bound and she had no use of her right leg at
all. As she finished, the bard shakily stood as straight as she could and
looked out over the water. It was a beautiful night. She closed her eyes
and tried to take in the gentle breezes and sounds of the exquisite night,
for a moment forgetting the problems at hand.
Turning towards Xena, Gabrielle nodded
dejectedly, "Yeah, sure..."
Xena helped Gabrielle back to camp
and allowed her to sit under her own volition near the fire. After making
sure that Argo was secured, she returned to the campfire, released the
pinch she had inflicted on her prisoner's leg, and sat back to eat.
"Xena," Gabrielle tentatively
asked as she rubbed her aching leg, "can you remember anything at
all? I mean, what's going through your head right now? Don't I seem at
all familiar to you?"
"All I know is that I've got a
pretty significant head injury and you, Amazon, were standing over me when
I woke up. I can think of a few reasons why you were there with me, none
of them friendly. That'll be taken care of tomorrow. Here...eat this."
Xena threw a piece of cheese and bread at her prisoner. "We leave
at first light."
The rest of the night passed in silence.
The few times Gabrielle tried to initiate conversation, Xena had given
her some fairly threatening looks. Finally, she just gave up. Eventually
Xena had led her back over to the tree and tied her securely to its trunk.
Now the bard watched as her friend tossed and turned in her sleep. "Gods...what
a mess..." Finally, she too fell into an uneasy sleep.
True to her word, at dawn, Xena had
woken Gabrielle up and broken camp. Once everything was packed up, Xena
had helped the Amazon onto Argo, tying the loose end of the rope around
her wrists to her saddlehorn. Mounting the war-horse, Xena then left the
campsite at a fairly quick pace.
At first, Gabrielle kept quiet. She
tried to concentrate on their lush surroundings as they made their way
through the beautiful landscape. But the reality of the situation kept
coming back into her mind, and she found herself getting more and more
depressed. She realized that she was just exhausted, and having had little
food and water over the past three or four days had not helped matters
any. As much as she tried to stay optimistic, she found herself wondering
if things would ever be all right again. Gabrielle had looked back over
her shoulder a few times only to see Xena stare back at her with a menacing
scowl. "Her" Xena was nowhere to be found.
As the morning wore on, however, the
bard's curiosity got the best of her. "Xena, where are we going? I
remember you saying that Indios was due north. Um...I think we're going
the wrong way."
"I have a stop to make...we'll
be there shortly. Then I'm heading to Thebes. Now be quiet."
The words registered with Gabrielle
like a bolt of lightning. 'She' was headed to Thebes...not them. The bard
started to panic and unconsciously began to work her hands free. Seeing
her prisoner getting anxious, Xena leaned into her with her body and ordered
her to be still. Seeing the threatening look on the warrior's face, Gabrielle
complied. She only hoped that she was wrong...that she had somehow misunderstood
Xena led Argo west towards the shore.
She remembered that the Warlord Palidon kept a permanent outpost in this
vicinity, and intended on conducting her business quickly then departing
for Thebes. It was another hour before the shoreline became visible, and
soon after, Xena made out the tell tale signs of a camp in the distance.
Slowing Argo down, Xena dismounted and led her horse over the sandy beach
towards the camp site. She looked up at her prisoner, who was staring out
towards the far reaches of the beach trying see where they were headed.
As expected, Palidon sent a group of soldiers out to intercept the wanderers.
"Hey, you're Xena. What brings
you here? We heard that you..."
"I'm here to see Palidon and to
conduct some business. Take me to him now." Xena's commanding voice
got an immediate reaction from the soldiers and they complied with her
Xena and Gabrielle were led by the
soldiers into the camp of the Warlord Palidon. There were over 25 warriors
that the bard could easily count, and gods only knew how many more were
just not in plain sight. She was jolted out of her thoughts when Argo stopped
in front of a large tent. Tying the horse's reigns to the nearest solid
object, Xena looked at the soldiers and ordered them to keep an eye on
her prisoner. She then turned and walked into the tent. A sickening feeling
was all the bard knew.
A short time later, two soldiers came
out of the tent and approached Gabrielle. They untied her hands and roughly
pulled her from Argo, then led her inside the enclosure. Once inside, the
soldiers pushed her towards their warlord. Grabbing the Amazon, he looked
her over like a piece of meat, then seemingly satisfied, turned to Xena.
"You were right. She will fetch
a fine price at Sparta. I'll make you a deal. Five hundred dinar...right
on the spot."
"I told you Palidon, seven hundred's
my final offer. Take it or leave it. She'll get you over a thousand and
you know it. Just pay up...I need to get going." Xena smiled at the
warlord knowing she was going to get her price. It was only a matter of
Gabrielle stood, in shock, sickened
by what was going on. As Palidon gave her another once over, she fought
the urge to throw up... She looked over at Xena, as tears began to fall
down her face. "Xena, don't do this...please...I'm begging you...don't..."
"All right Xena," the warlord
called out, "you have a deal. I'm just surprised to see you doing
this though...I'd heard that you changed..." Turning towards his first
lieutenant, Palidon ordered him to get Xena's money. He then pushed Gabrielle
towards the remaining soldiers. "Take her to the cave and make sure
she's secure. The boat won't be here for another day or so. I don't want
her going anywhere till then. And don't *touch* her. She's worth alot of
As the soldiers grabbed her, Gabrielle began crying as she struggled to break free. She was barely able to turn around and look at Xena. "Xena! Gods, Xena please don't let them...please!!!" Xena could hear nothing but the bard's tortured pleas as they dragged her away from the tent.
After the soldiers left with her prisoner,
Xena seemed somewhat subdued, almost shaken. Palidon looked at the warrior
and asked, "She someone special to you Xena? You look like you lost
your favorite puppy or something."
Xena sneered at the warlord in front
of her. All she said was, "Give me my money so I can leave."
Palidon's lieutenant came back and
gave Xena a pouch full of dinars. Knowing she didn't need to count it,
the warrior turned around and left the tent. Undoing Argo's reigns, Xena
mounted her horse and led her away from the campsite. For some reason,
a feeling of dread enveloped her body and she turned back around, looking
over at the cave where Palidon had ordered the Amazon taken. Shaking her
head, Xena turned around and led Argo towards Thebes.
Very late that night, Xena sat at her
campfire trying to shake off the dire feelings she'd experienced all day.
Ever since she left Palidon's camp, she couldn't get past the conviction
that something was terribly wrong. She remembered riding throughout the
day, constantly looking to her side, or in back of her...as if something
was...missing. Xena concluded that her injury was responsible for her mental
state and had tried to get some sleep - but it would not come. Her head
was pounding relentlessly, and nothing she did helped her relax.
Standing up, the warrior walked over
to Argo and began lightly talking with her as she gently scratched the
horse behind the ears. It was funny, but it seemed Argo was edgy too. Xena
concluded that she was just picking up on her mood and that was making
Deciding that it might help to occupy
her hands with something, Xena went over to Argo's saddle and began searching
through the attached bags for the war-horse's brush. When her hand reached
into one saddlebag, she quizzically pulled out a number of scrolls. Xena
was clueless as to where these parchments had come from as she was never
one that was good with words. Reaching back into the bag, she pulled out
the remaining scrolls and took them over to the campfire. Settling down,
she picked up the oldest looking parchment and began reading.
"I sing the song of Xena...mighty
Warrior Princess...forged in the heat of battle..."
Gabrielle sat dejectedly on the hardened
ground near the back of Palidon's cave, her wrists in manacles attached
to chains imbedded in the rock wall above her head. About five meters in
front of her were bars, also imbedded in the cave walls and ceiling, effectively
making a cell in the back of the cave. Although she was the only one in
the enclosure, it was obvious that Palidon did a brisk business. Various
chains and bindings were hung from the walls and the ceiling of the cave,
and the sandy ground was packed down from all the traffic in and out of
When the soldiers dragged Gabrielle
into the cave earlier that morning, they had just thrown her in the cell.
But when they came back later that day with a bit of water, she had tried
to escape. Her reward was a black eye, no food or water, and the chains.
Palidon had come in once after that, sarcastically lecturing her on the
proper demeanor of a slave. Since that time, she had been left alone to
ponder her fate.
How ironic, Gabrielle thought, that
she and Xena had met almost two years ago when the Warrior Princess saved
her from slavers. Now the same woman had literally turned the tables on
her...and actually *sold* her. Just the thought of it made the bard sick
to her stomach, and tears began to flow down her face. It surprised Gabrielle
that she had any left. But she saw her future laid out in front of her,
and she was terrified of the prospect. Her thoughts then moved to her friends
and family, knowing they would never hear from her or see her again. They
would probably never even know what happened to her. And then there was
Xena, the woman she admired more than any other, gave her total trust to,
and...loved. She had betrayed her like no one else ever could.
"No! It wasn't Xena!" Gabrielle
cried out loud, "She'd never do this. And one day she'll remember."
Gabrielle continued to sob, not only for herself but for her friend. She
knew that whenever Xena regained her memory, the guilt of what she had
done here today would surely kill her.
Xena feverishly scanned through the
numerous scrolls. At first the words were unfamiliar to her, like someone
was reading a bard's tale of some mythical character. Slowly, ever so slowly,
Xena began to place images with the elegantly written passages. The more
she read, the worse her headache got. Regardless, the warrior ignored her
pain, as if a sickness had taken hold, and read on...unable to put the
The latest was about the Amazons. It
had described how Xena and Gabrielle had come to their hunting grounds
only wanting safe passage, when viciously attacked. Skimming down the scroll,
she found a passage that seemed to open up her mind to more vivid images.
"I demand the royal challenge."
(Xena recalled standing next to a blonde Amazon warrior. Ephiny?)
"You?" the Amazon Queen
quipped in a surprised tone.
"I'm an Amazon Princess...you
can't deny me."
"Gabrielle, do you want to
fight me to the death?"
"Not really." (Xena
remembered a cute dumbfounded look on the young girl's face)
Suddenly, Ephiny the Amazon warrior
spoke up. "You made the challenge Gabrielle...you have to follow through.
Choose your weapon...or choose your champion."
"Choose my champion?..."
Realizing what she could do, Gabrielle responded, "I choose Xena!"
(Xena remembered a look of total trust that emanated from the bard.)
Xena also recalled on her own that
a battle of centaurs and Amazons ended in the defeat of the Warlord Krykus.
As a gift to the new Amazon princess, Ephiny gave Gabrielle a fighting
staff. Xena looked over to Argo's saddlebags and saw the staff sticking
out of one of the pouches.
Grabbing another scroll, she scanned
through one that had her in some sort of prison. Looking further for references
to the Amazon...Gabrielle...she spotted a passage.
"What in the gods' name are
you doing here?" Xena quipped.
"Xena, hah, you get yourself
thrown into a dungeon and you expect me to do nothing? You should know
me better by now."
Tossing yet another scroll aside, Xena
picked up the next. Once opened, one single word jumped off the parchment...Thessily.
It was like a thunderbolt of lightning struck Xena and she dropped the
scroll as her mind immediately went back to the temple where she had nearly
lost Gabrielle. She saw herself crying over the prone body of her friend,
begging her not to leave, then literally bringing her back to life.
Xena stood up, grasping the sides of
her head, as it was ready to explode. She cried out in pain, "GABRIELLE!!!"
then collapsed unconscious onto the ground.
It was late the next morning when Xena
began to regain consciousness. As she opened her eyes, she called out,
"Gabrielle?" Looking around, she saw the scrolls, Gabrielle's
precious scrolls, thrown about the camp. She remembered everything in that
moment...the storm, Gabrielle's fall, and most of all...her own betrayal.
"Oh gods, what have I done...what
have I done...?"
Getting up, Xena's head registered
pain, but it had lessened from before. Not that it would have mattered,
as all the warrior could think about was getting to Gabrielle before it
was too late - that was all that mattered. She quickly broke camp, careful
only with Gabrielle's scrolls, and rode Argo back towards Palidon's camp.
The afternoon was almost over when
Palidon and a few of his men entered the cave and walked towards Gabrielle.
She looked up, barely finding the strength to lift her head, and watched
as the men unlocked the cell door and advanced towards her. One warrior
stooped down and produced a set of shackles, then proceeded to bind her
ankles. The other soldier unlocked the chains holding her wrists, only
to produce another set of shackles to replace them. As the guards went
about securing their prisoner, Palidon casually let Gabrielle know what
"The ship's just over the horizon.
We'll transfer you to them, and then you're off to Sparta. If I were you,
I'd get a serious attitude adjustment. Don't make this more painful than
it has to be...the men on that ship won't be as forgiving as me."
Nodding his head, the soldiers lifted
Gabrielle up and dragged her out to the beach, sitting her down on the
warm sand. She looked out to the water and saw a mid-sized ship slowly
making its way towards their beachhead. Panic engulfed her, along with
a feeling of total helplessness. As the ship dropped anchor and a small
boat headed towards shore, it was all she could do not to pass out from
Five men made shore in the small boat,
and Gabrielle watched as the captain stepped out onto the beach and walked
towards her. Palidon greeted the man with a hearty handshake, then they
turned their attention towards their prisoner.
Pulling her up to her feet, the captain
roughly inspected his "merchandise." Eyeing her up and down,
he noted, "Nice...she'll bring a fine price."
The ship's captain put his hand under
Gabrielle's chin and lifted her head up to meet his gaze. The look in his
eyes disgusted the bard, and when he bent down to kiss his "property,"
she recoiled as much as she could and spit in his face. Knowing this would
anger her captor, Gabrielle only hoped he was mad enough to kill her on
the spot. Anything was better than what the future held in store for her.
The captain bellowed at the slave's
act and reared back, striking Gabrielle full force in the stomach. She
dropped to the ground, unable to breathe.
"You'll pay for that dear. But
we can't damage the merchandise can we...well, not too much anyway."
He looked down and saw the woman's head drop as she passed out. Turning
to his men he ordered, "Put her in the boat NOW!"
As the men reached down to grab the
prisoner, a voice called out from behind Palidon. "The next person
who touches her dies."
Palidon turned to see Xena striding
quickly towards them, her chakram and sword at the ready. Seeing him look
over to his encampment, Xena added, "They're all otherwise occupied
Palidon. And I've changed my mind." Xena threw the pouch of money
back at Palidon's feet. "Here's your 700 dinar. The girl goes with
Xena looked quickly down at her unconscious
friend. The warriors took the opportunity to draw their swords and advance
towards the Warrior Princess. Knowing she was still not in top condition,
Xena let her chakram fly, cutting down everyone but Palidon. Once the weapon
flew back into her hand, she replaced it onto her belt and advanced towards
the warlord with her sword.
As they fought, Xena called out, "This
isn't worth dying for Palidon. I gave you your money back. Just walk away!"
Palidon, thinking he saw an opening
in Xena's guard, laughed and went in for the kill. At the last moment,
Xena flipped in the air over his head, and when he turned to meet Xena's
attack, was impaled by her sword. He fell to the ground, dead before he
Xena knew she didn't have much time
before the slavers and Palidon's guards came after them. Gathering Gabrielle
up in her arms, she whistled for Argo. The war-horse appeared out from
the distance and galloped to Xena, who lifted her friend up onto the saddle.
She quickly climbed up after her and urged Argo to run.
Xena kept Argo going at a fast clip
for a very long time. Finally, knowing that both she and her horse were
at their physical limits, she found a secure area to set up camp. Getting
down from the warhorse, Xena lifted Gabrielle off the saddle and gently
laid her down on the ground. Quickly getting a fire going, she grabbed
blankets and laid her friend on top of them. Settling down a bit, Xena
pulled out her breast dagger and began working on the locks that bound
the shackles to her friend. Once she released the chains, she began to
gently minister to her friend's wounds.
Gabrielle finally woke up with a start.
Still weak, hungry, and very sore, she looked around the camp, confused
as to where she was...and more importantly, who she was with. She was very
relieved to see that she was no longer chained. The bard also noticed that
her wrists were bandaged neatly, with a soothing ointment visible through
the wrappings. What surprised her was that she wore one of her old sleeping
shirts. Trying to piece together what happened on the beach, she turned
in a panic as she heard someone approach.
Xena stepped into the clearing only
to see Gabrielle visibly recoil from her presence. That moment, more than
any other in her life, shamed and hurt the warrior to her core. Gathering
herself, trying to be strong for her friend, she softly spoke.
"Gabrielle...it's all right...you're
Staying her distance, Xena tried to
gauge Gabrielle's body language...to see if it was okay for her to approach.
"I, um...I have dinner here...you need to eat something. Please, let
me come over near the fire."
Gabrielle made no move to talk, so
Xena slowly walked towards the fire, making sure her motions were very
deliberate. Throwing dinner into the pot over the fire, Xena reached over
and slowly picked up a water pouch. "Here, you need to drink something...please..."
Extending her arm towards her friend, Xena watched as Gabrielle hesitantly
reached out with her shaky hand and took the water.
As Gabrielle drank, quenching her deep
thirst, she eyed Xena. The Warrior Princess tried to smile at her, but
instead the bard saw tears begin to run down her face. In a quivering voice,
Gabrielle finally managed, "Xena? Is that really you?"
Trying to maintain herself, as her
only wish at this point was to jump over to her friend and hug and comfort
her, Xena took a deep breath and spoke.
"I, uh, gods Gabrielle, nothing
I will ever say to you could let you know how sorry I am. I...well...there
are still some parts of it that are a little fuzzy, but...after I...left
you there..." Xena lost her composure, and had to take a moment to
regain some semblance of stability to continue. "Um...after...it was
like things were wrong...something was missing. Later that night, I found
your scrolls and started reading them. They helped me to remember. I guess
I passed out or I would have gotten back sooner." Looking down to
the ground, Xena shook her head. "I don't know what I can do or say
to make this go away."
The blunt statement from Gabrielle
confirmed Xena's worst nightmares. Her friend could not forgive her. The
warrior's shoulders sagged and she put her aching head down into her hands,
as her world crumbled around her.
"Xena...look at me."
When the Warrior Princess looked over
at her friend, Gabrielle continued. "This *happened* and *we* have
to deal with it. But you were hurt...I know it wasn't you who did this
to me. It was someone else, hopefully somebody who's gone forever."
Gabrielle's voice began to crack. "What I really need right now is
for you to come over here and hug me. I really need...um..." The bard's
composure totally left her and she barely managed the words. " I really
need you to hold me..." Gabrielle started crying in earnest...the
horror of the past few days finally taking its emotional toll.
Xena jumped to her side and cradled
her friend while she sobbed. "Shhh...it's all right...I'm here...It's
all right now." Xena's tears silently ran down he cheeks as she knew
she had to be strong for her friend. "Gabrielle, you're safe now...I'll
protect you...I swear I'll always protect you....Gods, I'm so so sorry..."
After a long while, Gabrielle seemed
to settle down, but she wouldn't let go of Xena. Although it made it a
bit difficult to get their dinner, Xena cherished the contact. At first,
they ate in silence, but Gabrielle began to relax more as the normalcy
of their actions soothed her frayed nerves. Looking at Xena, the bard reached
up, turning the warrior's head sideways.
"How is it? I mean..."
"I've still got a splitting headache,
and like I said, some things about the last few days aren't real clear,
but I'll be fine. A few days rest maybe..." Looking down at her friend,
Xena felt the need to try again to talk to her about the her actions. "Gabrielle,
"Xena...I really don't want to
talk about this right now. I know we're going to have to have a serious
discussion soon, but I can't do it right now. I'm just happy you're okay...and
that you came back. I was worried about you."
"You were worried about me? How
could you after what I did to you?"
"Xena...I love you...I always
worry about you." Gabrielle smiled and hugged her friend with all
Xena returned the hug and kissed the
top of her friend's head. "I love you too..."