A 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 the hills.

"Come on Gabrielle!" Xena's voice could barely be heard over the noise of the storm. "We're almost there!"

"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.


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.

Chapter 2

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 before."

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.

Chapter 3

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 the conversation.

"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 answer it!"

"Xeennaa...ahh...okay...please 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 out cold.

Chapter 4

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 power.

"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.

Chapter 5

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.

Chapter 6

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 me angry."

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.

Chapter 7

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 her friend.

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 wishes.

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 time.

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 money."

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.

Chapter 8

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 her jumpy.

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 the enclosure.

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 scrolls down.

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."

"I should."

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.

Chapter 9

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 was happening.

"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 fear.

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 me."

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 ever hit.

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.

Chapter 10

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 safe."

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, I..."

"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 her might.

Xena returned the hug and kissed the top of her friend's head. "I love you too..."

The End