Part 2 of 5 of Fate's Gift
When Gabrielle and Ephinys party met up with the returning Amazons almost five candlemarks later, it was a somber sight. Although the Amazons had soundly destroyed the Athenian military unit and had suffered no fatalities in doing so, there was none of the usual raucous celebration that usually accompanied such victories. Returning to face their young Queen weighed heavily on everyones heart. News of Xenas serious injuries quickly spread among the troops, and it left them disheartened, and they all prayed fervently to Artemis that the Warrior Princess would somehow survive her injuries.
Ephiny and Gabrielle soon discovered the reason for the somber atmosphere that dampened the Amazons spirits. About half way through the ranks, Eponin and Solari rode with their horses literally touching as they both struggled to keep the unconscious warrior atop Argo. Eponin rode behind Xena, and held her in the saddle with her arms wrapped around the wounded warrior and one hand firmly gripping the high saddle horn. Solari rode next to them with her arm stretched out. Her hand clenched Xenas right arm, helping Eponin to keep the warrior balanced. Gabrielle gasped at the sight. Xenas left arm was bandaged and strapped to her body and her whole torso was soaked in blood. Her head, resting on her chest, lolled from side to side. Her hair was a mass of blood, dirt and leaves; the leather shift ripped, torn and scraped was covered in dark, sticky blood.
Thyra quickly jumped from the wagon and ran to the two warriors who held Xena in the saddle. Yelling orders, she had Xena removed from the horse and laid in the wagon. She then turned to Solari, "What exactly happened?" Gabrielle tried to run to Xena, but Ephiny held her back insisting that Thyra needed room to work.
Solari spoke as she and Eponin dismounted and moved to the wagon, "She took a spear to the shoulder. Its bad, Thyra." The healer already knew that from the blood that drenched the two who stood before her. Solari continued, "But worse than that, her foot got hung up in the stirrup, and she was dragged...blessed goddess, it seemed forever." Gabrielle couldnt help but overhear the conversation.
"Did you notice any other injuries?" Thyra asked as she climbed into the wagon with Xena.
"Thyra, she was trampled under Argos hooves. I dont know; we couldnt stop the bleeding in her shoulder. We just bound it and headed back as fast as we could. Thank the gods you came out to meet us." Thyra nodded as she took her knife and sliced away the soaked binding from the warriors arm and shoulder. The sight of the wicked wound shocked even Thyra, but she stopped only for a moment before she began to clean the blood from the area.
Gabrielle could stay away no longer. She pulled out of Ephinys arms, approached the wagon, and climbed in. The sight of Xenas mangled shoulder sickened her, but she managed to maintain her composure and steadfastly asked, "Thyra, will she be able to use her arm?"
"It looks very bad, My Queen. We would be better to simply cauterized the wound and remove the arm."
"No!" Thyra looked up at the Queen. Gabrielle realized her outburst was a gut reaction. Now she needed to calm down and speak with reason. Drawing on strength she did not know she had, "You are to repair the damage as best you can. You are not to take her arm. That is an order."
"But, my Queen, the wound is corrupted with filth. All of the tendons are sliced. Her collar bone is broken and there are bone chips in the shoulder joint. If I dont remove her arm she might die from infection."
Gabrielle mustered her resolve from some unknown source and spoke with the authority of a true monarch, "Xena is very strong, and she has incredible healing powers. Align the collar bone, remove the bone chips and stitch the tendons together. Can you do that?"
Thyra looked down at the horrible wound and then up into the determined face of her young queen, "I will try, but if infection sets in..." Gabrielle cut her off.
"We will worry about that when the time comes. For now, what do you need, and how can I help you?" Thyra took a deep breath and went to work.
Late that night the returning party arrived home. Gabrielle instructed her Amazons to take Xena to the queens quarters. Thyra would have much preferred Xena in her hut, but she was not about to argue with the Queen.
After Xena was laid in Gabrielles bed, Ephiny and Electra helped Gabrielle remove the remainder of her tattered clothing and bathe the blood and grime from her bruised and battered body, while Petra sat in a corner holding Zoe. Thyra had done exactly as Gabrielle had instructed. She had bound Xenas arm and shoulder tightly to her chest in hopes that the collar bone would knit properly and the tendons would some how grow back together. Xena had also suffered a head injury and some broken ribs not to mention a tremendous loss of blood. No one said anything as Gabrielle struggled to maintain her self-control as she beheld the body she knew so well.
Her friends could not know that Gabrielle was dealing with more than just this new threat to Xenas life. Gabrielle remembered the horrors perpetrated against Xena on the Sea Mist and the agony they both faced in Cius. At least then they went through everything together. Gabrielle felt alone at this moment even among her caring friends. Xena lay unconscious, unable to talk to her and reassure her or even give her that crooked little smile. Gabrielle knew in her heart Xena could be slipping away from her this very moment. Goodbye, Gabrielle, Xenas voice echoed in her mind. And as her dream came crashing down on her, threatening to sweep her away like waves crashing on a beach. She looked over at Zoe sitting in Petras lap. The child stared back solemnly, and Gabrielle wished only to be alone with her family.
Artemis, her face a mass of emotion, stared dismally into the pool that revealed the actions of humans. She wondered at the price that would be exacted, and swung angrily around. What would be the price for a hands breadth? The Fates moved the devastating wound a mere hands breadth away from the warriors heart. What could they demand in return? She shuddered at the possibilities.
The shadow image stared down at her through piercing blue eyes. It was dark and gloomy and the warrior was lost and confused. She couldnt remember how she came to be in this place and she had no idea where she was. One moment she was fighting in the in the blood red fields and the next she was standing in this dark, gray, mist-enshrouded forest.
It must be the gods playing with me again, she laughed, they can be so exasperating, but they do make things interesting. Her thoughts turned to Lyceus, and she suddenly became concerned. We were in the middle of a very important battle. The tide was turning in our favor. She remembered that was her last thought before she arrived here, where ever here was. They were going to be successful; they were going to rescue Amphipolis from Cortese.
"Enough of this, return me to the field of battle." She shouted out at the unseen forces that played with her.
The battle swelled around her and for the briefest moment she was puzzled, but shaking her head, she threw herself into the struggle, clanging her sword into that of an enemy warrior. It felt good, the sword in her hand. She effortlessly parried with her inept foe. Xena could have easily finished him sooner, but she enjoyed the feeling of power that rushed through her body and her mind. It was exhilarating knowing this sword fight was won even before her opponent lay dead at her feet. She glanced over at Lyceus; he had a smile on his face. She smirked at her foe. In three quick moves she was withdrawing her sword from his chest searching for the next soldier who would die on her blade. A grin played across her features as another soldier charged her. She danced away and followed him with the hilt of her sword to the back of his head. As he stumbled and fell, she thrust her sword through his back. She laughed aloud and glanced at Lyceus.
He disappeared before her eyes and she stood in the forest again. The gray fog clung to the ground and when she looked down, she could not see her boots. The mist seemed deeper and thicker, and she wondered where she was. How did she get there? What was she doing? She could not remember and she looked at the sword, and it all returned. There was blood on the sword. She was fighting a battle, a great battle, and the tide was turning. They were going to save their homeland from a vicious warlord. The gods had always teased her. She laughed and spoke out loud to them, "All right this is fun, but I need to be getting back to my battle."
Her soldiers cheered as they forged ahead. Her confused frown turned to a smile as she searched for Lyceus. Seeing him swing his sword in great arcs caused her heart to sing and the power pumped through her veins as she challenged another with her blade, metal on metal. The singing of the blades as they slashed and crashed together invigorated her. She wanted the moment to last forever as she looked at Lyceus, but something was wrong. He dropped to his knees, and a dark warrior savagely kicked her brothers dying body from his sword. Then the warrior was gone. She threw herself into the fight and quickly finished the soldier before her. She raised her sword and urged her troops forward. They fought savagely to defend their homeland. The battle surged and swelled like an angry ocean. The tide turned, the enemy ebbed, but she wouldnt let their troops recede. She pressed her forces forward slashing and killing so that none would live to ever fight again. It was over. She and her forces were victorious, and her brother was dead.
It was very late when Gabrielle finally tucked Zoe into bed with her. Ephiny had ordered another bed brought into the Queens chambers and placed next to the one in which Xena lay. Gabrielle cradled Zoe in her arms and stretched on her left side so she could watch Xena. She looked down into Zoes sad eyes and wanted so much to probe the childs mind for information, but she could not bring herself to do so, fearful of the answers she might find. Zoe reached out towards Xena, but she could not grasp Xenas hand from where she lay in Gabrielles arms. Gabrielle, noticing Zoes desire to touch Xena, raised up and reached over her pulling Xenas hand to them. Bard and child desperately clung to the warriors hand as though it was a lifeline linking them to salvation from dark, murky waters.
Chloe reached to grasp the young warrior womans hand in hers. Xena smiled her dazzling smile and helped Chloe to swing into the saddle behind her. Chloe wrapped her arms around Xenas waist and laid her head on Xenas shoulder, "I love you, Xe, Im so proud of you." All around them the crowds cheered for the young Xena who had delivered their city from destruction. Xena shared her radiant smile with the crowds and for the briefest of moments her eyes fell on a small raven-haired, blue-eye girl who looked up at her sadly. When her horse stumbled, Xena averted her gaze but for a moment. When she looked back, the child was gone. Xena frowned, but her attention was drawn back to the woman behind her who squeezed her tightly.
"Chloe," the warrior spoke over her shoulder, "have you spoken to Cyrene? Does she know of Lyceus death?"
"Yes, Xena, Toris brought Lyceus body home from the field."
Concerned Xena asked, "How is she handling it?"
Chloe hugged tightly to Xenas back and squeezed her eyes shut. Xena could feel the tenseness in Chloes body and knew the answer. "Not well. Im afraid Cyrene is not long for this world, Xe."
"Goodbye, Gabrielle," and Xena turned and walked into Chloes waiting arms. The two walked away arm-in-arm, turned, smiled and waved back at Gabrielle and Zoe sitting atop Argo. They disappeared in the mist. The rain poured from the dark heavens and drenched the three lonely figures -- a horse, a young woman, and a tiny girl-child, desolate and alone on the endless, rolling steppes. Gabrielle did not cry out Xenas name. She merely wept in her sleep until the rain stopped and blackness engulfed her.
When morning came, Gabrielle awoke to find Thyra standing over Xena. The young Queen quickly rose and stumbled around the bed.
"How is she this morning, Thyra?" Gabrielle looked down at Xenas bruised face and noticed that she had not moved since they put her in the bed the night before.
Thyra looked into the face of her Queen; dark circles under her eyes marred the young womans beauty. Thyra spoke carefully, "My Queen, its too early to tell." However true, the comment was an evasion. Thyra feared Gabrielle would push for the truth.
Gabrielle sighed. She didnt know if she had the strength to challenge the healer as she had done the day before, but when she glanced over at the little blue eyes that stared at her she knew she must push forward. "Thyra, I need to know what you know so that I may prepare myself and Zoe for what is to come."
Thyra looked down at the battered warrior who only a few days before had patiently explained her destiny to the healer. She glanced over at Zoe and wondered if the child didnt actually know more than she at this moment. Finally she spoke, marveling at the strength of this young Queen only twenty summers old. "My Queen, it is too soon to tell, but I am not optimistic. I will be honest with you. Xena responds to deep pain, therefore, there is no serious spinal injuries. Her fingertips in her left hand are warm which means there is blood flow. That is a good sign. There is no fever yet, and that too is a good sign. The injury to her shoulder is crippling but not life threatening if she does not develop a fever. I would have expected a fever by now if she was going to have one...she does indeed have strong healing abilities."
Gabrielle nodded, remembering other times. "But?"
Thyra took a deep breath and continued, "My Queen, it is the head injury that most concerns me. Her head was pounded on the ground and she has bruising on her temple where her horse probably kicked her. She has a bad laceration on the back of her skull. I fear the bone is fractured there. That causes internal bleeding. Now she sleeps the deepest sleep of Morpheus. The dark orbs in her eyes are not responding to light." Thyra paused and inhaled, "Her heart beats, but she may already be gone."
Gabrielle fought back tears. Her stomach twisted at Thyras words. She looked at Zoe for any reaction; there was none. She asked, "Is there anything we can do?"
Thyra shook her head, "Not much, My Queen. We need to get water into her and perhaps some broth later. We must keep moving her so fluids do not build up in her lungs, but we must be very careful of the shoulder. I dont want those stitches tearing or the collar bone to become misaligned." Gabrielle nodded and Thyra excused herself.
Gabrielle sat on the bed next to Xenas injured shoulder and looked down at the warrior who had become her life. She bent down, gently placed a kiss on Xenas lips, and whispered softly in her ear, "Xena, I love you."
Chloe bent over and kissed the woman sleeping next to her and whispered in her ear, "Xena, I love you." Xena grinned as the spell of Morpheus drifted from her, and Chloes gentle kiss and soft whisper awakened her. She stretched and then rolled out of bed and grabbed her clothing.
As she pulled her shift and clothes on, Xena asked, "What do you have planned for me today, my dear?"
Chloe smiled, "You have such a short memory, Xe!" She planted her hands on her hips in mock displeasure. "You need to go to the market and buy some produce and meat for the inn. We discussed this last night, remember?"
Xena laughed and pretended ignorance. "We did? I dont recall that discussion."
Chloe laughed and threw a pillow at her and headed for the door, "Ill see you downstairs, Xena. Im going to gather some eggs for our meal. Dont be late; it will be ready shortly." She grinned back at Xena as she exited the room.
Xena smiled after her and shook her head. She was so happy, and she thought to herself, Chloe makes my life worth living. I only wish Cyrene and Lyceus were here and then everything would be perfect.
After Thyra left, Gabrielle dressed, helped Zoe pull on her clothes, and took her to the dining hall to eat. She left her with Ephiny with the assurance that she would return within a candlemark to retrieve the child. Ephiny, unsure how to act around this little mystery, had had little to do with the child. Xenas explanation of the childs origins left Ephiny as confused as the day she first saw this little image of Xena looking stoically down at her from Petras embrace. She had silently observed the child with Electra and Petra and had even moved the child and Electra into her own quarters when Zoe had become ill before Xena and Gabrielle had arrived from their overland trip from Sinope. She knew that Xena and Gabrielle were both smitten by the child and the little one went everywhere with them. Ephiny quietly noted that almost everyone who came in contact with the tiny girl seemed to be enchanted by her. Even Eponin and Solari laughed hysterically recounting Zoe and Gabrielles mad chase the day Petra was wounded. Petra, that tall warrior who had been a welcome addition to her war counsel, went to mush around the little girl. The recent events only added to Ephinys confusion. Even now as the child ate silently next to her, Ephiny felt uneasy as she watched Zoe out of the corner of her eyes.
Zoe looked up at her with those mesmerizing blue eyes and Ephiny had the sudden urge to cry. Her throat constricted and she struggled to maintain her composure. She had no idea where those feeling were coming from, but the tiny girl seemed to know, "Ephiny, it wasnt you fault. You couldnt have stopped Xena from going."
Ephiny closed her eyes and lifted her head as her stomach lurched and suddenly as though a lamp was lit in the dark she could see. Shed had this uneasy feeling for the last three days. She now realized she had been blaming herself for not going after Xena and bringing her back. And now Gabrielle, the sister of her heart, was devastated as Xena probably lay dying. Turning to Zoe, Ephiny looked at her seriously, "Thank you, Zoe." The little girl smiled a crooked smile at her and then looked at the food in front of her. Ephiny could not get the image of Xena out of her mind, and she wondered at Zoes uncanny resemblance to the warrior. "Zoe," she asked, "are you doing all right?"
Zoe shrugged, another Xena trait. Ephiny reached her hand out to caressed the childs head. "You want to talk about it?" Zoe looked up at Ephiny as tears welled up in her eyes and spilled down her freckled face. Ephiny idly wondered where those freckles came from as her heart went out to the little girl sitting by her.
Zoe quietly whispered through her tears, "Chloe had freckles." Ephiny furrowed her brow. She wasnt very comfortable with the way the child could simply walk through her thoughts at will. "I cant always do that," Zoe explained. "It just happens sometimes."
Ephiny snorted quietly and shook her head. "Zoe, are you worried about Xena?" Zoe nodded.
"Do you know whats going to happen?" Zoe shook her head. "Zoe, listen to me. Xena is very strong. The gods smile on her. Dont give up on her yet."
"Shes in there with Chloe, Ephiny. Im afraid she wont want to come back," the little girl replied disregarding Ephinys feeble attempts at comforting her.
Gabrielle had gone to Electra and Petras hut to ask Electra if she would help her move Xena. It had been eight days since Petras injury, and she was much stronger, but Thyra ordered her to do no physical activity for a moon and threatened her with Ephinys wrath if she disobeyed. And although Petra accompanied the two back to Gabrielles quarters, she could only stand by helplessly and watch the two smaller women work on Xena.
Standing by Xenas bed and looking down at her injured friend, Petra asked, "Has there been any change, Gabrielle? What does Thyra say about Xena?"
Gabrielle replied softly, "Theres been no change, and Thyra says its too early to tell." She intentionally left out most of the healers comments mainly because she couldnt stand voicing that horrible possibility and because she didnt want to upset Petra either.
Electra and Gabrielle carefully rolled Xena onto her side, and both held their breath when a moan escaped the warriors lips. The three exchanged a hopeful look.
When Chloe left the room, Xena turned to make the bed. As she bent over straightening the covers, she was suddenly struck by a searing pain in her head. She moaned as it brought her to her knees, and she grabbed the bed to keep from falling to the floor. The world spun around her. Blinded by the pain she saw nothing but blackness for several moments. Finally the agony subsided and she pushed herself onto the bed, sprawling across it she tried to regain her senses. As she lay there, nausea gripped her and she rolled onto her side holding her stomach. For a moment she thought of a cave in eastern Thrace-- the fever, the pounding headache, and the icy water, but that was more than two cycles ago. What was going on?
When Gabrielle entered the dining hall, Zoe spoke quickly to Ephiny, "Dont tell Gabrielle, Ephiny. I dont want to hurt her." Although Ephiny was unsure of the exact nature of the relationship between Xena and Chloe, she had surmised it was special.
The maturity she saw in this little miracle sitting next to her amazed her. "Dont worry, Zoe. I wont tell her." Ephiny smiled at Gabrielle as she approached. "Gabrielle, sit down and eat something."
Gabrielle stood at the table waiting for Zoe to follow her and said, "Im not hungry, Ephiny."
Ephiny placed her hand on Zoes shoulder silently communicating that she should remain seated. She stood and walked around to Gabrielle and putting her arm around the Queens shoulders she walked her to the bench opposite Zoe. "I know youre not hungry, Gabrielle, but you must eat something. You need to keep up your strength. Xena and Zoe both need you to be strong for them."
Gabrielle sighed. She knew Ephiny was right, but she was so tired of being strong. Her heart ached for Xena. She just wanted to lay in those strong arms and feel safe where the world could never hurt her. She missed Xena so much, she thought her heart would break in two.
Almost a fortnight passed and Gabrielle grew disheartened. Xena had made no discernible progress. Other than the feeble moan on the second day there had been no movement or sound from her. Thyra only shook her head and gave Gabrielle little hope. "Im sorry, my Queen, there is no change. The longer Xena remains in this state, the less likely she will ever regain consciousness."
Gabrielle looked away and spoke quietly, "Can we remove the bandages so that I might bathe her better?"
In her profession, Thyra had often had the unpleasant job of delivering bad news. She never enjoyed that responsibility, but of all those with whom she had dealt, none touched her heart as much as Queen Gabrielle. Her undying loyalty to her warrior even when things looked hopeless was heroically tragic in Thyras eyes. And even now when things looked the bleakest, Gabrielle still lovingly ministered to the injured woman.
"Of course, my Queen, but why dont you let me get an attendant to help me. You dont need to do this."
Gabrielle looked deeply into her eyes for a heartbeat and spoke, "Thyra, when I lay dying in a cave in eastern Thrace, Xena stayed awake for six days and six nights taking care of my every need. She brought me back from deaths grip in Thessaly, saved me from slavers in Poteidaia and rapists on a ship on the Propontis. She has always been there for me, and I intend to be here for Xena until her mortal body needs me no longer." Thyra only nodded, afraid to speak and reveal the depth of her emotions.
The healer removed the bandages that secured Xenas arm to her chest and stood aside while Gabrielle lovingly bathed Xenas body. She helped only to carefully hold Xenas arm and then to roll the warrior onto her side so Gabrielle could wash her back. When Gabrielle finished and had slipped a clean linen shift slit up the back over Xenas good arm and tucked it around her body, Thyra stepped forward to examine Xenas shoulder. She poked and prodded at the wound and was pleased with the way it looked. The scar was ugly and jagged, but it was not red or swollen. Not that it really mattered, but on the outside, the wound looked good. With Gabrielles help, she bandaged the shoulder and bound Xenas arm to her torso.
As Thyra left, she looked back through the closing door to see Gabrielle sitting on the bed brushing Xenas hair.
Xena soaked in a tub of hot water and chatted with Chloe who sat in a chair across the room, her feet casually propped up on the bed. "Well, since you wont join me, will you at least come over here and wash my back?" Xena teased.
Chloe laughed as she pushed up out of her chair, "You are so demanding, my love." She walked across the room and knelt behind Xena. Pushing up her sleeves, she took the cloth from Xenas hand and proceeded to scrub the tall womans back. "How was the market today?" Chloe asked.
Xena frowned, "It was fine." and she grew silent.
"Why so pensive, Xe?" Chloe asked. Xena shrugged and Chloe persisted. "Did something happen today at the market?"
"No, not really. Its just that I keep seeing this little girl who keeps staring at me. Shes there one moment and gone the next." Xena stood up, and Chloe handed her the linen drying cloth and then her night shift. Xena went to the bed and sat down on its edge, lost in thought as a little freckled face darted in and out of her mind.
Chloe picked up the brush and sat behind Xena on the bed. She began to brush the long, raven hair. When she was finished, she moved to sit next to Xena and smiling ran her finger tips through the long, dark tresses. "Have I told you how much I love your hair?" she asked.
Xena allowed a smile to creep across her face. "Lets see. Only about a thousand times."
Chloe playfully punched her on the shoulder. Xena cried out, crumpling in pain and almost tumbled to the floor as she clasped her shoulder in her hand.
"My gods, Xena what is it? Whats wrong?" Chloe asked. Xena could not answer through the pain, and Chloe could only wrap her in her arms and hold her close.
Gabrielle and Zoe sat in a tub of hot water both lost in thought. Gabrielle mentally relived the times she and Xena had luxuriated together in a tub just like this. She listened to their past conversations and remembered the bath in Cius. She looked sadly across the room at the pale, silent warrior suspended between life and death, like fly trapped in a web. She wondered if Xena was struggling to escape from somewhere beyond this realm .
Zoe finally interrupted her thoughts, "Gabrielle, I would like to sleep with Xena tonight. Ill be careful of her arm."
Gabrielle looked down at Zoe and realized she had not been very attentive to the childs needs lately. She knew Zoe must be suffering horribly, but like Xena, she seldom let her feelings be known. Gabrielle thought back to the one time those feelings had exploded from that tiny body and she realized it was probably a good thing that Zoe was stoic. Without questioning her, Gabrielle said, "All right Zoe. You may sleep with Xena." Gabrielle had wished she too could crawl in bed with her, but she was afraid she might in some way steal away what strength Xena had left, and her love, her warrior, her Xena would slip away forever. A tear slid down the bards cheek. Zoe stood in the tub, clambered into her lap, and wrapped her arms around Gabrielles neck. The two held tightly to each other, knowing that they were each others only link to Xena.
Zoe stood silently by the bed peering into Xenas sleeping face for the longest time. She then quietly padded around the bed and touched the sleeping woman who lay next to Xena. Chloe opened her eyes, smiled into those of her beautiful, little daughter, but warned her to be quiet with her finger to her own lips. Chloe slipped out of bed and took the childs hand. The two walked silently from the room and down the stairs to the inns kitchen. Chloe sat at the table and Zoe climbed into her lap. Chloe kissed her child on the top of her head and hugged her as Zoe snuggled into her mothers loving embrace.
Finally Zoe spoke, "Mommy, you have to let Xena go."
Smiling down at her daughter, Chloe replied, "Oh, Zoe, Im not holding Xena here."
Zoe pulled away and looked into her mothers laughing eyes. She said somberly, "We need her."
"I know, my little one, but I cant send her back." Chloe said, "Shes not ready."
"Mommy, when will she be ready?" Zoe asked.
"I dont know, honey," Chloe answered as she ran her fingers through her childs soft dark hair. "She was hurt very badly. Here she can heal. If she goes back too soon, she will die, Zoe. I cant let that happen. I need her to take care of you and Gabrielle."
"Gabrielle is so sad, mommy, and I dont know what to do to help her. She keeps having the dream, and I know she thinks Xena is going to die," Zoe explained.
Chloe wrinkled her brow in a rare frown, "Zoe, you and Gabrielle are the most powerful ties Xena has to that existence. If Xena loses that link, she will float in the sleep of Morpheus forever. You must be strong and help Gabrielle." Zoes mind felt her mothers soft caresses and she understood what she must do. "Zoe, when the time comes," Chloe explained, "I will call for you. Xena will need your help, you know that?" Zoe nodded and Chloe said, "Be strong, little one."
"Goodbye, Gabrielle." Xena turned and walked into Chloes waiting arms and the two walked away arm-in-arm. They turned and smiled and waved back at Gabrielle and Zoe sitting atop Argo. They disappeared as they crested a hill. The desolation gripped Gabrielles chest. How was she going to go on without her warrior? How was she going to raise this child who sat in front of her? How was she going to survive with this broken and bloodied heart that still hammered painfully in her chest?
"Gabrielle," the child spoke up at her, "follow them."
Gabrielle looked down at the tiny, serious face, she reined Argo around and slowly pursued the blurred images walking hand-in hand through the drifting mist of the dream world.
When Gabrielle awoke in the morning, the desolation that had smothered her seemed less oppressive. She looked down at the sleeping child draped across her body, and then over at the gray, motionless warrior. She somehow felt better...at least she had taken some action.
Although Gabrielle focused only on the pain she and Zoe felt and on attending Xena day and night, life continued in the Amazon Nation. The brilliant attacks planned by Xena and carried out by the able Amazon military were a total success. The Athenians had completely withdrawn from Amazon territory and were indeed speeding back to Athens as Xena had predicted. The Amazons, under the direction of Eponin, maintained constant pressure on the retreating forces and terrorized them at every move. Although they never attacked the civilian settlements, many villagers withdrew along with the military. Those who remained, according to Amazon intelligence, appeared to be only interested in homesteading.
Gabrielle was surprised to see Ephiny standing in her doorway. Ephiny, busy with the affairs of state of the Amazon nation, had only managed two other visits since Xenas injuries well over a fortnight ago. Those visits were not long after the battle. She had made it a point to see Gabrielle at least once every day in the dining hall and made sure her friend was eating. She was shocked to see the gaunt ghost who was Xena lying motionlessly on the Queens bed with her arm strapped to her chest. She was amazed Gabrielle was doing as well as she was. Ephiny was ashamed of herself for not visiting more, but she knew the reason as she glanced at Zoe sitting quietly watching her from a chair by Xenas side. What she had come for was irrelevant now. She was sure Gabrielle had no desires to be saddled with the affairs of state. She forced herself to cross the room and gazed down at Xena, and then looking up at Gabrielle said, "Gabrielle, I am sorry I have not come sooner. How are you doing?" Gabrielle stepped protectively between Ephiny and Xena and sat on the bed leaning against the headboard. She caressed Xenas brow as she looked up into Ephinys eyes.
Gabrielle was tired and she had been hurt by Ephinys absence. Petra and Electra were always there whenever she needed anything. Thyra stopped by three and four times a day. Even Solari and Eponin visited often when they were not off terrorizing Athenian troops. But Ephiny had been absent; yes, she made it a point to see her every day in the dining hall. Gabrielle had needed her, she who had proclaimed Gabrielle to be a sister of her heart was no where to be found. Gabrielles hurt came through when she finally answered Ephiny. "I am doing just fine, Ephiny, what is it you want of me?"
Ephiny knew full well she deserved Gabrielles anger. She ached inside at the knowledge that she had been responsible for this tragedy and then could not be strong for Gabrielle in her time of need. "Gabrielle, I am sorry." Ephiny could not stop the tears, and she dropped onto her knees in front of her Queen and took her hand in hers. She spoke through her tears. "I couldnt face you, Gabrielle. Not after this." She swept her hand in the direction of Xenas prostrate body. "This was my fault."
Gabrielle furrowed her brow in bewilderment. Shaking her head in confusion, she looked into Ephinys anguished face, "I dont know what you mean, Ephiny. How can this be your fault?"
Ephiny wiped at her tears, angry with herself for being so weak. "I let Xena lead that attack and then I didnt have the guts to stand by you and help you through this."
Gabrielle was so tired of being the strong one. Would this ever end? she wondered. She just wished some one would cradle her in their arms and tell her everything would be all right. She sighed, "Ephiny, you did not let Xena do anything. It was her choice."
Tears streamed down her face as Ephiny shook her head and continued. "Zoe told us of the vision and of the threat to Xena in that cursed battle. Petra begged me to send a party to retrieve Xena, but I did nothing; I let her go knowing full well that she was marching into the arms of death." Ephiny dropped her head, "And then I didnt even have the strength to be strong for you. Ill never forgive myself, Gabrielle." Gabrielle finally understood. She slid from the bed to the floor and wrapped her arms around Ephiny. The two women held onto each other and wept.
Chloe sat on the bed next to Xena and caressed her brow, "Are you feeling better, love?"
"Not really. My head is pounding." She covered her eyes with her arm to block out the light coming through the window.
"Ill make you some willow tea," Chloe said as left the room.
Xena felt as though her head were splitting in two. She seldom had headaches, and she wished she could just drift off to sleep to escape this infernal pain. As she squeezed her eyes shut, she heard a voice cry out her name, Xena. and the image of a young blonde woman flitted through her mind. But it was gone in a heartbeat. She struggled against the pain in her head to recall the voice and the face, but all she could see in her minds eye was the back of the womans head and the golden tresses that fell down her back.
"Goodbye, Gabrielle." The dream began again and Gabrielle braced herself for its inevitable outcome. Xena turned and walked into Chloes waiting arms and the two walked away arm-in-arm. And then they turned and smiled and waved back at Gabrielle and Zoe sitting atop Argo. They disappeared as they crested a hill. Zoe looked up at her, and Gabrielle turned Argo to follow them, but this time the dream continued. As Argo crested the hill, Gabrielle saw Xena standing tall at the crest of the next hill looking back in her direction. Chloe walked towards her and Zoe. Gabrielle reined Argo to a stop and curiously watched as Chloe approached them and stood smiling and looking up at her. Chloe reached up and Zoe thrusting her arms out leaned down to her. Chloe plucked the child from the saddle and held her in her right arm. Gabrielle was confused, and Chloe spoke as Zoe looked up at her and gave her a dazzling smile, "Dont worry Gabrielle." With that Chloe turned and walked away in Xenas direction as Zoe looked back over her mothers shoulder at Gabrielle.
Xena stood in the middle of the primeval forest bewildered as the fog thickened around her. She had no idea how she had gotten there. She searched her memory, but it seemed as foggy as the dismal, silent wilderness in which she stood. Straining, she remembered the pain in her head, Chloe and willow tea. "Chloe!" She swung around in a wild circle desperately searching, but dark clouds and the enormous gnarled trees hid the luminous moon and shadows blended to black casting dreary phantoms upon the ground. They played tricks with her vision. She was confused and lost. As despair enveloped her, she heard a familiar voice, and Chloe appeared in front of her. Xena ran to her and wrapping her in her arms held her tightly.
"Its all right, Xe." Xena pushed her at arms length afraid she might disappear if she relinquished her hold. Chloe smiled up into Xenas face and spoke, "Xena, its time. You need to go back now."
Xena shook her head confused, "Go back? What are you talking about, Chloe?"
Chloe placed her hands on Xenas arms and gently pressed them down releasing Xenas hold on her. "Youve been asleep. Drifting in Morpheus web of dreams, and it is time for you to go back where you belong."
Xena did not understand what Chloe was saying, "What about you, Chloe? Will you come with me?" Desperation played across the warriors features.
Chloe smiled lovingly into Xenas ocean-blue eyes, "No, my love, I belong here in your dreams."
Xena began to cry. "What are you saying, Chloe? Please, youre scaring me. I dont want to leave you."
Chloe gently caressed Xenas cheek with the back of her finger. "Xe, your not leaving me, Im already gone." Tears fell down Xenas cheeks. "You need to go home, Xena."
"Chloe, please, there is no home without you."
"Xe, there are some very important people in your life who are weeping right now for you, and they need you."
Xena frowned. She searched her memory and shook her head, "But I dont know them. I love you, Chloe. I want to stay here with you."
Chloe smiled sadly at the warrior who stood before her pleading. "I love you too, Xe, but it is too late for us. Your place is among the living, and mine is among the dead."
At those words, Xenas heart broke in two, and crying out, "Nooo!" she dropped to her knees. Chloe kneeled before her and took her into her arms one more time, holding her to her breast. Xena cried and clutched her tightly. Eventually Xena relaxed her hold and ran her fingers through Chloes brown locks. Her curls, dark against Xenas hands fell between her fingers, and the warrior rose up on her knees. She gently kissed Chloe on the lips, cradling her head in her large hands. Chloe smiled at her, stood up, turned, and disappeared into the mist.
Gabrielle awoke with a start. The dream. Chloe took Zoe!
Frantically she searched the bed for the child. Not finding her there, she looked over at Xena and with relief saw Zoe lying peacefully in the crook of Xenas right arm. Gabrielle crawled across her bed and touched the sleeping child. She did not move. Gabrielle believing she was exhausted from the stress of their situation, rolled out of bed and slipped on her clothes before splashing water into her face. From the light that shone through the window, she knew it was late. She wanted Zoe to eat before the dining hall was closed. She returned to the bed and crawled across it to awaken the child. She shook her gently and called her name, and when she received no response, she shook her harder. Nothing. Frantic with fear she grabbed the child up and held her in her arms calling to her, "Zoe? Zoe, please wake up!" Gabrielles heart pounded in her chest, and she thought she would be sick. She held Zoe close to her cheek to feel her breath. It was not detectable. The child was cold. Gabrielle dropped her ear to Zoes chest. Her heart beat faintly and slowly. Distraught, Gabrielle scrambled off the bed with the child and darted out of her quarters toward the healers hut.
Petra was walking towards Gabrielles quarters when she saw the Queen running toward her with Zoe limp in her arms. "Gabrielle, whats wrong?"
Gabrielle sobbed as she tried to explain, "Petra, I cant wake her."
Petra immediately took the child from Gabrielle and held her easily in one arm while she lifted an eye lid and peered into the childs unresponsive eye. Without a word, she swung around and trotted in the direction of Thyras hut. Gabrielle ran to keep up with her. The other Amazons, noticing the apparent anxiety written all over Petra and the Queen, began to mill around and tag after the racing women. Ephiny stepped out of her hut in time to glimpse Gabrielles golden hair as she slipped into the Thyras hut. Ephiny leaned back weakly against her door. She feared the worst as images of Xena crashed through her mind. She took several deep breaths and moved quickly to join Gabrielle.
When Ephiny pushed through the crowd of Amazons, she discovered Zoe not Xena was the reason for the commotion. Gabrielle was in tears, and Petra paced anxiously back and forth and then enveloped Gabrielle in her embrace as Thyra examined the child.
Thyra looked up at Gabrielle, "How did you find her, my Queen?"
Petra loosened her hold on Gabrielle as the Queen turned to face Thyra, "She was laying cradled in Xenas arm. I thought she was just tired." Pleading through her tears Gabrielle asked, "Thyra, whats wrong with her?" Ephiny stepped forward and pulled Gabrielle into her arms.
Thyra picked up the tiny child and replied, "I think she dream walks, my Queen. We need to tuck her back into Xenas bed and hope she finds her way home to us."
Xena sat on the forest floor in abject grief, lost and alone. She looked sadly in the direction in which Chloe had disappeared, and there stood the tiny child whom she had seen in Amphipolis. Xena frowned at the apparition, afraid to take her eyes from her for fear she might disappear. When she stood, the child turned and walked into the mist. Xena followed.
The silent vigil began again in the Queens apartment. Ephiny remained by Gabrielles side and Electra hearing the news, rushed to be with Petra. Thyra placed Zoe in the crook of Xenas arm and gently pulled the covers around them. "If Zoe is indeed dream walking, she will be cold. We must keep her body warm. When she returns, she will be exhausted."
"I dont understand, what do you mean by dream walking?" Gabrielle asked as she slumped tiredly into a chair by Xenas bed.
Thyra began patiently, "My Queen, I am not a seer, but I do know of such things. I think it is quite apparent to all of us here that Zoe possesses the gift of sight. She did predict Xenas injury, and when you were sick in eastern Thrace, she knew it." Thyra looked over at Petra and Electra remembering how distraught the young couple had been when Zoe became ill in their charge. No one spoke, but every person in the room had first hand experience with Zoes gift.
Gabrielle probed further, "But why is she like this? Why cant I waken her?"
"She is traveling in Morpheus realm," Thyra said. "She cannot hear you. She is unaware of her physical existence right now. That is why it is important to protect her body; she cannot."
Gabrielle touched the little hand that rested on Xenas arm which was draped limply around her daughter. "Did she choose to dream walk?"
"I am not sure, my Queen, but I would say it was a conscious choice."
"Is it dangerous, Thyra? You said we can hope she finds her way back."
Thyra hated delivering any more bad news to Gabrielle; the young woman had suffered enough over the last moon. She knew, however, it would be futile to withhold anything from the Queen; she had an uncanny ability to see through her anyway. "It can be dangerous, my Queen. The child could become disoriented and lost. I dont know what other perils she might face in the dream world."
Gabrielle looked down at Xena and Zoe and then up at Thyra, "Why is she doing it, Thyra? Why is she dream walking? What does she hope to accomplish?"
"Im not sure, my Queen, but I would guess she is searching for Xena."
Gabrielle furrowed her brow, "Are you telling me she can enter Xenas dreams?"
Thyra raised her eyebrow at the Queens question, "Hasnt Zoe visited your dreams, my Queen?"
Gabrielles mouth dropped at that question as Zoes word pummeled her mind, Follow them, Gabrielle, and she could only nod. What was the significance of her last dream. Why did Chloe take Zoe? Finally she found her voice, "How long will this take, Thyra?"
"Im not sure my Queen."
The mist thickened and thinned like a living, breathing creature. At times Xena lost sight of the child she was followed. When that happened, Xena would quicken her pace. Eventually she would catch up to the child and find her waiting patiently. When Xena came into view, the child would turn and continue the journey. Xena wished the child would say something, anything, but she remained silent.
Several candlemarks had passed and the watch in the Queens quarters continued. Thyra rose from her chair and felt Zoes forehead, opened her eyelids, and peered into the dark orbs centered in the brilliant blue eyes. She then focused her attention on Xena. Turning to Gabrielle she said, "My Queen, we should reposition Xena; shes been in this position far too long. I dont want fluid to gather in her lungs."
Gabrielle nodded to Ephiny who moved forward to help. Gabrielle picked up Zoe and handed her to Petra. As they rolled Xena on to her side, Ephiny inadvertently grabbed Xenas shoulder and the warrior moaned. Thyra immediately stepped forward to examine Xena more closely. She carefully laid her on her back and turning to Petra spoke, "Petra, hand me the lamp." Petra, with Zoe in her arm leaped from the chair and retrieved the lamp.
Thyra took it and with her other hand lifted one of Xenas eyelids. She waved the flame back and forth in front of Xenas eye. There was a flicker of movement. She then looked into her other eye and saw the center contract. She exhaled and smiled at Gabrielle who stood there frozen, too scared to even hope. "My Queen, her eyes are reacting to the light. That is a very good sign."
With those words, Gabrielle, who had not cried in front of anyone but Ephiny the day she confessed her misplaced guilt, collapsed in tears.
Ephiny and Electra were immediately kneeling at her side. Petra gently placed Zoe next to Xena and went to Gabrielle. She bent and effortlessly picked up her Queen. Petra sat on the bed still holding Gabrielle in her strong arms and quietly spoke to her as Gabrielle gave in to all the fears and anxieties she had suffered over the last moon. She cried in Petras arms, thankful that finally some one else was being strong for her.
The spear impaled her shoulder sending searing rivulets of red-hot pain racing down her arm to her finger tips and radiating out across her chest jolting her from the saddle. Her head exploded in white agony and abysmal darkness threaten to pull her under. The warrior lay on the ground writhing in pain. The dreary forest pressed down upon her crushing the wind from her lungs. Her senses were pummeled while the mist enshrouded her. She curled into a tight ball squeezing her eyes closed in an attempt to shut out the pain, the loneliness, the terror that battered her in endless, brutal waves. After what seemed forever, the agony subsided and all that remained was the dull ache in her shoulder and in her head and the fear of knowing it would return again to torment her. She cautiously relaxed, fearful that it was a cruel trick. When she opened her eyes, the raven-haired child with freckles squatted next to her peering into her eyes with strangely familiar blue eyes. The child tenderly brushed back Xenas dark hair that had fallen in her face. Then the child stood and reached her hand down to the warrior. Xena stared up into this familiar face, then struggled to her knees and stumbled to her feet. The child slipped her hand into the warriors hand and led her on through the forest.
Gabrielle lay weeping in Petras arms for more than a candlemark before she fell into an exhausted sleep. The big warrior, with the help of Electra and Ephiny, removed the Queens boots and slipped her into bed. The day had been very long and everyone was fatigued. Thyra said, "Ephiny, I believe we should all turn in. Theres nothing we can do here tonight. Zoe will probably not awaken before tomorrow."
Petra turned to Ephiny, "With you permission, Queen Ephiny, I would like to remain here with Gabrielle."
"Petra, you need rest," Thyra said sternly before Ephiny could respond. "Youve already disobeyed my orders for no physical activity."
Ephiny agreed, "Thyras right, Petra, you need your rest. Its late, and Im sure well have another long day tomorrow."
Petra started to protest but Electra stepped next to her and touched her arm lightly. "Come on, Petra, lets go home. Well come back first thing in the morning."
Looking down into Electras eyes, Petra relented, "All right, just a moment." She walked over to where Xena lay, looked at her warrior friend and adjusted the blanket that covered her. Petra gently caressed Zoes cheek. Something gnawed at her. She did not want to leave.
As Ephiny and Thyra looked on, Electra came up beside her, wrapped her arm around her waist and whispered, "Theyll be all right, my love. You need your rest, lets go." Petra glanced at the sleeping Queen, turned and joined Thyra and Ephiny as they left Gabrielles quarters.
The warrior, barely conscious, staggered behind the child who clung to her hand and dragged her forward through the gray mist. The little girl kept looking up at Xena, staring into her eyes, urging her forward in silent communication. Xena only wished to lay down and rest, but the child was insistent, and the warrior pushed herself on through the pain and the grief that gripped her soul, and through the trees that obliterated the sky. Her head throbbed, her shoulder ached, and the increasing light sent stabbing pains through her eyes. She raised her left arm painfully to block out the intensifying rays. Suddenly they were both pushed forward as if being expelled from the ocean by a savage wave. They landed roughly in a sea-green, clover field, and both fell peacefully asleep, the little child cradled in the arm of the warrior.
Gabrielle floated above the scene both outside the dream and in it. She recognized the rolling steppes as her blurred vision cleared and dread gripped her chest. She looked down slowly. She was on Argo, and Zoe sat in front of her. It was no longer dark, and the sun was bright. The golden horse glistened in the sunlight with frothy sweat as she galloped, her hooves beating out a jolting rhythm. Gabrielle realized she was desperately clinging to the saddle and holding Zoe between her arms. The pounding moved up through the animals legs and into the body of the inexperienced rider who felt the jarring vibrations to the very essence of her being. Somewhere her mind screamed slowly, hold on tight.
She looked around, and in horror, realized what was happening. Chloe was riding behind her. Gabrielle turned in time to see her thrown to the ground as the arrow penetrated her chest. Gabrielle screamed, "Noooo!" Somewhere outside looking in she thought, Please, not again. She reined Argo and jumped from the horse. Placing Zoe on the ground, Gabrielle began her long painfully familiar run to Chloe as she screamed at Xena. Her body was heavy, her movements like lead, every action frozen momentarily in time.
When Gabrielle reached the fallen form, tears ran down her cheeks. Chloes lips moved. The words hung and echoed in the air for an eternity, "Take care of Xe for me." The warrior appeared, a slow blur of inert energy, and dragged Chloe from Gabrielles arms. Gabrielle braced herself for the words that like a cruel sword would slash and bloody her heart. Gabrielle floated above and below the scene. She was in it. She observed it. She was surrounded by the events, and she surrounded them. It all moved in painfully slow, jerky heart beats with a pause between each beat which pounded loudly in her ears.
Xena cried, rocked Chloe in her arms, kissed her on the cheek, the eyes, the lips. "Chloe, I love you. I have always loved you. I will always love you." Gabrielle looked down at her heart that lay crushed and bloodied at her feet. The words reverberated, echoed, and bounced around her, assaulting her from all sides, beating her, pummeling her bearing down on her with their weight.
She was on Argo again. Zoe sat in front of her, and the stranger who had been Xena sat behind her, cold and distant and empty. And then from above the words Where is she? battered her.
The dream ended abruptly. Gabrielle was jerked savagely from her sleep, and dazed state, she stared into the angry, cold eyes of the Warrior Princess. In a dangerous voice Xena snarled, "I said, where is she? What have you done with her?" Xena hovered menacingly over Gabrielle clutching Gabrielles blouse in her right fist. The warrior looked like a phantom returned from the dead. Dark circles beneath her sunken eyes contrasted starkly with her ashen face. Her cheeks were thin and hollow, and her cracked lips curled back in a wolf like snarl.
Gabrielle finally found her voice. Ignoring her pounding heart and reaching deep from within, she spoke calmly, "Xena, listen to me." Xena was perplexed; she searched her mind, but it only made her head hurt more. She scowled. Gabrielle went on, reading the confusion in her attackers face. "Youve been injured. Youre hurt. Let me help you to lay back down." Xena heard the words, but pain stabbed her head and dulled her reason. She wanted to lash out at the pain like an snared beast snapping savagely at its ruined paw. She released Gabrielles blouse but laid more weight on her, holding her down with her uninjured arm and grinding her elbow into her Gabrielles flesh. She deliberately moved her hand up her victims chest and dug her fingers into Gabrielles face and jaw.
Xena hissed through clenched teeth, "I asked you a question. Where is Chloe?"
Tears of pain and fear gathered in Gabrielles eyes, and she struggle to speak. "Xena, please, youre hurting me." Xena ignored the plea as white-hot rage overwhelmed her. She dragged her fingers slowly down Gabrielles face leaving angry, scarlet paths of bruised and abraded skin in their wake. She wrapped her fingers around Gabrielles throat and squeezed.
Gabrielle, feeling the airflow slowly being pinched off, desperately struggled to free her hands from the blanket, but her left arm was trapped beneath Xena. Finally freeing her right hand, she clasped Xenas wrist and tugged vainly. Staring into Xenas cold eyes, Gabrielle saw nothing but dark pools of hate.
Gabrielle gasped as lights danced in her eyes and her vision was encapsulated in fingers of darkness. "Xena, please, I love you," she rasped. Just before darkness carried her away, a tiny hand touched Xenas.
"Xena, dont." The warrior looked into Zoes face and slowly released Gabrielle from her grip. Gabrielle gasped for air. The woman above her looked dazed and confused as if just awakening from a nightmare. Gabrielle began to cry. Zoe crawled next to her and wrapped a protective arm across her chest. "Its all right, Gabrielle. Xena doesnt know what shes doing. Its all right. She wont hurt you now." Xena frowned at the words coming from the child and glimpsed of a blonde woman tumbling through her tangled memory.
Closing her eyes, Xena pushed back as she tried to battle the blinding pain in her head. She tried to make sense of the things that spun around her. Gabrielle, freed finally from Xenas weight, pulled her left arm from the blanket, drew Zoe into her embrace, and cried as she hugged and kissed the little child. Through her tears she spoke, "Oh, Zoe, I was so worried about you. Where did you go?"
Xena, cutting a swath through her pain, dragged her attention to the woman and the child and observed the interchange. She wondered through the fog that muddled her mind, Who are these people who seemed to know me?
Looking up at Gabrielle, Zoe explained, "Im sorry, Gabrielle. I didnt mean to worry you, but Mommy told me it was time, so I had to go."
Glancing at Xena fearfully, Gabrielle continued to question the child, "Time for what Zoe?"
Locking eyes with Xena Zoe answered, "Time to bring Xena home. She was lost and couldnt find her way."
Gabrielle wanted so much to wrap her arms around the warrior and comfort her, but the woman who stared back at her was not her Xena. The hurt look on the young womans face puzzled Xena. She was haunted by a voice that rippled through her mind, There are some important people in your life who are weeping right now for you. Your place is among the living and mine is among the dead. Xena cried out desperately, "Nooo!"
Gabrielle jumped in fear at the warriors cry, and clutched Zoe protectively in her arms as she shielded her from the mad woman next to her. Xena crumpled back onto the bed clutching madly at her skull, she cried tears of sorrow and writhed in excruciating agony. At that sight, Gabrielles her heart melted. She released Zoe and crawled to Xena, took her into her arms caressed her brow and spoke soothingly as she gently rocked her.
The next morning, Gabrielle awoke to find Xena struggling to sit up in her bed. Gabrielle quickly made her way to Xenas side. She didnt touch the warrior afraid of Xenas reaction. "Xena, please dont try to get up, yet, youre too weak."
Xena flopped back into the pillows scowling at the arm bound tightly to her chest. She looked at Gabrielle and demanded, "Help me take this off."
"Ill get the healer and see if its all right." Gabrielle made to move but recognized a flash of angry frustration play across Xenas face. In her heart she was relieved to know Xena was too weak to catch her if the warrior came for her again as she had done the previous night.
Xena was not about to wait and she tried to remove the wrap by herself causing her abused shoulder to scream in pain. Dots spun before her eyes and she bit her lip not to cry out. Gabrielle, her fear erased by the pain she recognized on Xenas face, moved forward and sat carefully on the edge of the bed. She spoke quietly, "Xena, Ill help you."
Xena opened her eyes and looked at the stranger before her. She realized what she had done the night before and remembered that this same woman, whom shed tried to kill, had gently rocked her through the pain. "Im sorry I hurt you last night," she said as a confused frown creased her forehead.
Gabrielle reached for the bandage not looking at Xena. She shrugged, "You didnt know what you were doing." She found the end of the bandage and continued, "Can you sit up?"
Xena tried but found it impossible. Movement made her head pound even more. Seeing her strong warrior fighting to sit up broke Gabrielles heart. She intervened, laying a soft hand on the emaciated warriors injured shoulder, "Thats all right, Xena, let me help you." Gabrielle climbed into the bed, helped Xena into a sitting position, and sat behind her. "There, you can lean into me if you need to." Xena, too weak to sit on her own, leaned into the stranger.
Gabrielle reached her arms around Xena and unwrapped her shoulder and arm. The arm fell limply into Xenas lap causing her to suck in air at the pain. Pulling the pillows behind her, Gabrielle propped Xena up and moved back to the edge of the bed. She looked on as Xena tried to put her lifeless arm through the sleeve of the gown that had been draped loosely over her. Gabrielle fought back tears as she watched her brave warrior and spoke quietly, "Here, let me do that." Gabrielle gently took Xenas painfully thin arm in her hands, and carefully slipped it into the sleeve, and pulled the gown around Xena. She began to massage the atrophied muscles in her warriors arm as Xena pulled the gown from her shoulder and examined the scar. It ran jaggedly across her upper chest and branched into a "y" across her collar bone in one direction and her shoulder in the other.
Fingering the tender area, she asked, "How did this happen?"
Gabrielle continued to rub and flex Xenas stiff hand and wrist. "An Athenian foot soldier speared you," she answered.
Xena raised her left eyebrow, but Gabrielle was looking down and did not notice. Puzzled, Xena asked, "Why?"
Intent on her work, Gabrielle answered without looking up, "We are at war with them."
Xena furrowed her brow in confusion, "Amphipolis is at war with Athens?"
Gabrielle looked up into Xenas face curiously, "No, Xena, the Amazons are at war with Athens." Realizing Xena had no memory of the fight, Gabrielle asked, "Xena, what is the last thing you remember?"
Xena searched her mind and finally spoke, "Riding triumphantly through the streets of Amphipolis after the defeat of Cortese." Gabrielle wasnt sure how to handle this. She wished Thyra was here, but she was afraid to leave Xena alone to fetch her.
Xena looked over at the sleeping child lying in the bed pushed next to hers, then back at the blonde woman working on her arm. She was mystified. The two beds were pushed together. "I know the little girl said your name last night, but Im sorry, I cant remember it."
Gabrielle could not bring herself to look at Xena for fear she would cry at the realization that she was nobody to Xena. She intensified her concentration on Xenas arm and replied, "My name is Gabrielle, and the little girl is Zoe."
Xena questioned, "And I know you?" Gabrielle nodded but kept her eyes focused on her ministerings.
Xena probed deeper, "How long have we known each other?"
Gabrielle inhaled deeply, "Almost three years."
Xena looked around the room, "Where are we?"
"We are in Amazonia." Xena gasped as Gabrielle flexed her elbow, and Gabrielle looked up suddenly to see the shadow of pain flee from the warriors face before her stoic expression returned. "Im sorry. Do you want me to stop?" she asked.
"No, go on. I have to work out the stiffness." She gritted her teeth against the pain as Gabrielle slowly flexed the elbow, pushing it a little farther each time, but the warrior could not stand the pain of straightening it completely. She sat cursing her infirmity.
Gabrielle spoke assuringly, "It will just take time, Xena." The warrior frowned and Gabrielle smiled a little inside as glimpses of her Xena returned. Patience had never been one of the warriors strong points. "Xena can you move your fingers?" After intense concentration, she was able to wiggle them feebly. Gabrielle smiled in relief remembering her confrontation with Thyra over Xenas arm. Gabrielle had undying faith in Xenas healing powers. "Id better wake Zoe. She needs to eat, and its getting late." Xena glanced at the light streaming through the window and winced at the pain in her head as her eyes pulled away from the dagger sunlight. Resting her head against the pillows, she watched with interest as Gabrielle lovingly awakened the child.
Kneeling on the bed, Gabrielle wrapped the tiny girl in her embrace and kissed her on the cheek. "Zoe, sweetheart, time to get up." Zoe rolled over and tiredly flopped her hand across Gabrielles shoulder. She smiled sleepily. Her eyes drifted to Xena and Zoes smile became dazzling. "Come on, cuddle bug, you need to go to the dining hall and eat," Gabrielle said, "You can take a nap later." Zoe climbed out of bed, and Gabrielle stripped off her night shirt and scrubbed her face and hands and pulled a clean shift over her head. Then she whispered in her ear, "I love you, Zoe. Thank you." The little girl pulled back and grinned happily at Gabrielle. They exchanged knowing looks. "Lets run the brush through your hair, then you go get something to eat. You can find Ephiny, cant you, and she can help you?" Zoe nodded and smiled. Gabrielle finished brushing her long, dark hair, and Zoe turned and skipped out of the room waving back at Xena.
Looking into Gabrielles face, Xena searched for answers that teased her just beyond her awareness, "You are the childs mother?" she asked.
Gabrielle frowned slightly and said, "Shes my adopted daughter." Gabrielle wasnt sure if that was the right answer, but she felt as close to Zoe as she believed any mother could feel about a child of her womb. Gabrielle poured water into a cup and brought it to Xena. "We need to get some food into you. Im going to check on Zoe and bring you something to eat. You need to rest, Xena. Ill be back soon."
Xena drank down the water and handed the cup back to Gabrielle and laid back against the pillows examining the young woman before her. Her voice seemed so familiar, and she remembered the blonde hair, but everything else eluded her. "Gabrielle?" Gabrielle looked into the ocean-blue eyes she knew and loved so well. "I am sorry. I know I should remember. I feel as if Ive hurt you." Xena paused and frowned as disjointed pieces of last night came back to her. "I just cant remember, and I dont know why." She furrowed her brow. That wasnt what she wanted to say, but she could not find better words.
Seeing the confusion and sorrow in Xenas face, Gabrielles heart jumped in her chest. She moved to the bed and took Xenas hand, "Xena, it will be all right. You will remember everything. You cant remember because you were knocked off your horse and dragged. Not only did you hit your head on the ground, the horse trampled you." Gabrielle reflexively gasped at the image she created in her mind, and her eyes welled up. Fighting back tears, she went on, "The healer told me you would die." Xena was struck by the emotion on Gabrielles face. As she squeezed the tiny hand in hers she looked down on it and knew the truth. This woman had been very special to her; the evidence rested there on her hand. On her finger was a gold crescent and a purple stone. Gabrielles ring. The phrase danced in her head, and she heard Chloes voice.
Xena looked up into Gabrielles blue-gray eyes and gave her a crooked grin. "Your healer was wrong." She paused and then said, "Gabrielle, will you help me remember?"
Petra took one look at Gabrielle and flew into a rage, "Ill kill her!" She pushed past Gabrielle and stomped towards the Queens quarters.
"No, Petra, no!" Gabrielle dashed after her and grabbed her arm. "Petra, wait, listen to me, please!" Petra swung around, her dark braids and loose black hair coming to rest across her shoulder, and with tears of anger in her eyes, she looked down at Gabrielle. Ephiny who had heard Gabrielles scream came running up to the two women, and observed Petras reaction as several Amazons stood by curiously. Petra reached out and with the gentle touch of a soft breeze laid her finger tips on Gabrielles face and brushed them tenderly across her throat. Her hand lingered for several moments as Gabrielle looked strangely into the big warriors eyes, and Xenas voice played in her memory, For you, she would do anything. Gabrielle had been unaware that the shadows of Xenas rage remained on her face and throat as angry, purple bruises.
Ephiny, confused by the strange interchange demanded, "Gabrielle, Petra what is this all about?"
They were both jarred from their private musings, and Petra impaled Ephiny with her eyes, "Look at her throat and her face." Anger welled up in her. "You should have let me stay with our Queen last night, Ephiny. Look what Xena did to her." Petras anger boiled over. "You know she can be dangerous when she is not herself."
Ephiny turned to Gabrielle and saw the dark bruises, "Gabrielle, are you all right?" Gabrielle nodded. Ephiny asked, "Xena is awake?"
"Yes, I was going to get Thyra and some food for her when I ran into Petra," Gabrielle answered as she looked up uncertainly into the warriors dark eyes.
"Tell us what happened," Ephiny said. Noticing the fear in Gabrielles eyes as she looked up at Petra, Ephiny turned to Petra and gave her an order. "Petra, you either calm down, or I will put you under house arrest. Xena has been at deaths door. Im sure there is a logical explanation." Ephiny continued to pin the big warrior with her eyes.
Petra immediately gained control of her emotions, "I apologize, my Queen." She turned to Gabrielle, "Im sorry, Gabrielle, I shouldnt have lost my temper like that."
Memories of the Eastern nation, a split lip, and a brutal sword fight flipped through Gabrielles awareness. Xenas words For you, she would do anything," haunted her as she looked into Petras eyes. "Its all right, Petra. Weve all been under a great deal of stress," she replied simply.
"Gabrielle, what happened?" Ephiny prodded.
Looking warily at Petra and then back at Ephiny, Gabrielle answered, "Xena awoke sometime in the night totally confused and searching for Chloe. She doesnt remember Chloes dead." Ephiny frowned; she wished someone would please explain exactly who this Chloe was. "She must have thought that Chloe was in danger. She tried to get me to tell her where she was and then she..." Gabrielle trailed off as Petras eyes grew pained.
Ephiny touched her arm, "Gabrielle, what happened after that."
Gabrielle took a deep breath, "Zoe intervened with just two words, and Xena stopped and collapsed in pain." Tears welled up in Gabrielles eyes, and Petra stepped forward and wrapped her arms around her Queen. Gabrielle cried into Petras chest but continued looking out from the embrace. "Ephiny, its as though she has drunk from the spring of Lethe; she has no memory of the last thirteen years."
Thyra sat on the edge of Xenas bed puzzling over Xenas amnesia, "You know who you are and where you are from, but you remember nothing of the last thirteen years?"
Xena had effectively erased the most traumatic years of her life, her warlord days. Xena glanced over at Gabrielle who stood with her arms crossed, concern evident on her face. Then, looking back at the healer she shrugged and nodded, "I guess its thirteen years. The last thing I recall is our victory over Cortese."
Ephiny exchanged a look with Gabrielle and Thyra furrowed her brow. Not only had Xena erased her past, she had reinvented one of the most traumatic events in her life. Thyra thought there might be more to the amnesia than just a severe blow to the head.
The healer stood up and bent over the bed-ridden warrior. She peered into Xenas eyes. "Follow my finger, good." She stood back, "How is your vision?"
"Fine." Xena replied. The attention from these strangers made her uncomfortable. The young woman with the curly, blonde hair stood with her arms crossed staring down at her, and the tall, dark warrior hovered around Gabrielle. Xena snapped out of her thoughts when Thyra asked, "Are you having headaches?"
"Yeah." She answered in a monotone. She sat propped up by pillows and holding her left arm in her right hand, trapping the painful shoulder against her body.
"How bad are they?" Thyra asked.
"Not that bad," Xena lied.
Thyra turned to Petra, "Petra, could you light the lamp and bring it here for me?" Petra nodded and hurriedly produced the requested item. Thyra began to bring the flame close to Xenas eyes. Xena quickly dropped her left arm and ignoring the shooting pain grabbed Thyras wrist and pushed her arm away. Petra immediately stepped forward but Thyra gave her an angry look. "Its all right, Xena. Petra, take the lamp and move back." Xena glared up at the warrior and watched her move away to position herself next to Gabrielle and lightly touch her shoulder. Xena narrowed her eyes and wondered at the feeling that small action sent through her. She didnt understand it, but for some reason, she did not want that woman near Gabrielle.
"The light hurts your eyes, Xena?" Xena dragged her eyes from Gabrielle and Petra and looked back at Thyra.
"Yeah...it makes my head hurt more." Thyra nodded, and Xena glanced back at Gabrielle and Petra. Ephiny observed the small drama playing out in the room...For having no memory, Xena seemed pretty protective of Gabrielle where Petra is concerned, she thought.
Thyra said, "The headaches will probably continue for sometime to come, but eventually they will go away. You will have to gradually get used to the light. It will take a while." Turning to Gabrielle she said, "My Queen, you should block out the light from that window until this sensitivity passes."
Xena looked strangely at Gabrielle. Gabrielle was an Amazon queen?
Gabrielle asked from where she stood, "Thyra, what of Xenas memory?" Xena, ignoring the fact that everyone was talking about her as though she wasnt present, continued to observe the tall woman whom she somehow perceived as a threat.
"Xena received several severe blows to the head, my Queen. Some disorientation is to be expected." Thyra did not want to discuss other possibilities in front of Xena. She would speak to Gabrielle later in private.
Gabrielle asked, remembering Xenas earlier plea, "Is it all right to try and help her remember?"
Thyra looked from the Queen to Xena and noticed the injured woman was staring toward Gabrielle. Following her gaze, Thyra discovered it was Petra who Xena was observing. "It is fine if Xena feels she is up to it." Xena, at those words, came out of her haze and focused her attention back on the conversation.
Reaching for Xenas arm, Thyra continued her examination, "Let me take a look at your arm." Thyra checked for feeling and was pleased that Xena had normal sensation in the arm, but her mobility was extremely limited. "That will take work; only time will tell how much you get back. Now let me see you wiggle you fingers." Xena complied, focusing intently on the task. Thyra grinned and looked over at Gabrielle. She then looked back at Xena, "You can thank your Queen for that."
Xena frowned, "Im not an Amazon; I have no queen."
Thyra grinned and looked up at Ephiny who lifted her eyebrows. Thyra answered, "Xena, youre more an Amazon than any woman I have ever met." Xena frowned again knowing she was missing something. "And you will want to thank Queen Gabrielle anyway. Your shoulder was so mangled internally, I would have sworn you would never have use of it. I thought it best to amputate before infection set in. Queen Gabrielle wouldnt let me, told me exactly how I was to repair the damage, and stood over me while I sewed everything back together." The look on Gabrielles face saddened Xena and her guts clenched at the dark marks on the smaller womans face and throat. But sadness turned to quiet anger when Petra put her arm around Gabrielles shoulder and pulled her close. Gabrielle smiled up at the tall woman. Xena wanted to climb out of that bed and punch the big warrior called Petra right in the face.
Xenas angry view was blocked when Ephiny stepped forward and began to talk to her.
"Xena, we are so glad youre back, and I want you to know the Amazon nation owes you a debt of gratitude." Xena listened but tilted her head to peek around Ephiny to look at Gabrielle. Suddenly Zoe burst into the room, and Ephiny stepped back revealing the scene behind her to the woman confined to the bed. Petra swept the giggling child into her arms and lifted her skyward and then pulled her into an embrace. Zoe wrapped her arms around Petras neck and gave her a big hug. Gabrielle looked up lovingly at the picture of Zoe in Petras arms, and the little girl leaned out to Gabrielle and hugged her, pulling her into Petra who wrapped her free arm around the blonde woman. Xenas heart sank but she didnt understand why.
After Thyra and Ephiny left, Zoe wiggled in Petras arms and Petra put her down. The little child ran to Xenas bed under the watchful eye of the big warrior, an action not lost on Xena, and climbed into Xenas bed. Zoe gently laid down next to her on the pillows and wrapped her arms around Xenas neck. Xena embraced the child with her right arm, pulled her into her, and stared at Petra who stared back. Xena was distracted by the little kiss Zoe placed on her cheek. She looked down into the childs blue eyes and freckled face and was struck by Chloes voice in her head, And shes yours too. Xena did not have time to contemplate that realization because Petra approached her and stood by the side of the bed. She squeezed Xenas leg and said, "Get well, my warrior friend." Flashing Xena a smile, she turned to Gabrielle and placed her hand on the Queens shoulder as the two walked to the door. Xena strained to hear the interchange and was hurt to see Gabrielle hug Petra.
Gabrielle sat by Xenas bed and finished her story as Zoe smiled and yawned. Xena enjoyed the ending of the story and silently contemplated this incredible woman who was tucking Zoe into bed. She watched intently as Gabrielle pulled up the covers and kissed the child good night. Zoe had begged for a story and lay in Xenas arm as Gabrielle delighted them both with a tale about Artemis fox friend and Athenes owl.
With Zoe tucked in Gabrielle came back around the bed and spoke to Xena, "Is there anything you need before we turn in for the night?"
Xena looked up and smiled. She patted the bed for Gabrielle to sit next to her. Gabrielle looked unsure but sat down. Xena saw her handiwork on Gabrielles cheeks and throat and she frowned angrily at herself. Fear flashed in Gabrielles eyes bringing Xena abruptly out of her thoughts to quickly reassured the young woman. "Gabrielle, please, dont be afraid of me. Seeing the marks on your face made me angry with myself for hurting you. I dont know why that happened. One moment I was with Chloe and the next she was gone. I was so confused." Xena dropped her gaze and her voice. "I know she is dead." The warrior became quiet as Chloes memory teased her mind.
Gabrielle squeezed Xenas hand. It was painful for her to relive all of this again because she knew in her heart how much Chloe had meant to Xena, but she also knew Xena needed to deal with it. Gabrielle suddenly realized that after Chloe was killed, Xena never talked to anyone about it. Perhaps that was why she couldnt let it go. "Im sorry, Xena. I know you and Chloe loved each other very much." Xena looked down into her lap. Noting Xenas quiet pensiveness, Gabrielle suggested, "Perhaps we should get some rest. Im sure youre tired." Xena looked up.
"Gabrielle, if youre not too tired, Id like to talk for a while." When Gabrielle smiled an odd smile, Xena asked, "What? Did I say something wrong?"
Gabrielle chuckled, "No, its just Im not used to you wanting to talk. Im usually the one who has to do all the talking." Xena arched her eyebrow and Gabrielle teased, "Now that looked like my Xena."
"Gabrielle, tell me about your Xena." Gabrielle looked down. The tenderness in Xenas voice touched her bruised heart and almost made her cry. Xena reached for the ring on Gabrielles finger. Gabrielle met Xenas ocean-blue eyes and realized Xena sensed the nature of their relationship. Xena spoke again, "But tell me first about my Gabrielle." Gabrielle dropped her head and broke down. Xena was frustrated that she was too weak to take this woman into her arms. "Gabrielle, let me hold you." Gabrielle looked up through her tears at the sounds of words she feared she would never hear again. She lay down next to Xena, draped her arm across her, resting her head on Xenas chest as Xenas strong arm came around her and drew her body close.
Unable to stop the words even though she knew Xena didnt recognize her, Gabrielle bared her soul, "Xena, I have missed you so much, I thought I would die. I have missed lying in your arms and feeling you next to me. I have hungered for your touch, and I was so afraid I had lost you forever." And with that confession, the bard cried into Xenas breast, and Xena stroked her back and quietly reassured her. Xena felt she was holding a stranger, but somewhere in her heart she also felt she was meant to be with this woman.
Gabrielle did not know where to begin. How could she possibly recount thirteen years? Xena saw the confusion in the eyes of the young woman who lay in her arms. "What is it, Gabrielle?"
"Im sorry Xena, I simply dont know where to begin."
Xena sighed, "I think I need to know about Chloe first." Gabrielle had feared Xena would say just that.
"Xena, I dont want to upset you. That was a very traumatic time for us all."
Realizing Gabrielle knew that she and Chloe had been lovers, Xena was quiet for a while before saying, "If you cant tell me, its all right. It is unfair of me to ask you about Chloe."
"No, its not that," Gabrielle lied. "I just dont know if youre ready, thats all."
"Gabrielle, I already know shes dead," Xena said. "She told me when I drifted in that other world. I just need to know when and how."
Gabrielle gave in, "It started almost thirteen years ago. Ill tell you everything I know, but if at any point you want me to stop, just say so." Gabrielle raised up and looked into Xenas eyes.
Xena nodded for her to continue, "I need to know. Please, Gab, tell me." Gabrielle laid her head back down and smiled wistfully at the pet name Xena used at times with her when they were alone.
"Xena, Amphipolis did not defeat Cortese." Xena couldnt believe those words; she was there...but was she? She remembered flashing in and out of the battle...maybe it had been a dream. "Xena, are you all right?" Gabrielle asked.
"Go on, Gabrielle."
"Lyceus was killed, you were injured, and Chloe was taken by slavers." Gabrielle paused and cringed waiting for Xenas reaction. There was none. "Chloe was sold into slavery in Sinope, and everyone believed she was dead. Three years later you received word that she was alive."
Gabrielle raised herself up to rested on her elbow and searched Xena for guidance. Xena searched her memory in vain for any recollection of these events.
Looking into Gabrielles concerned face she said, "Go on, Im all right." Gabrielle drew in a deep breath that made Xena wondered what horrible things would come next.
"After Cortese, you became a warlord, Xena." When Xena shook her head furiously as Gabrielle said. "Im sorry, my love, maybe we should stop for tonight."
"No, Gabrielle, I must know."
The young Queen sighed. "When you discovered she was alive, you took your army and tried to rescue her. Chloe, fearful that you would be killed, sent you away. She made you believe that she was happy and did not want to leave with you. She was no longer a slave. She was married to the youngest son of the King of Sinope, and she was with child." Gabrielle paused and looked into Xenas eyes. They floated in pools of tears. "Do you remember that, Xena?"
Xena choked, "I think I remember." and the tears spilled down her cheeks. Gabrielle slipped an arm under her and held her as Xena mourned that part of her life.
Sometime later Gabrielle asked, "Do you want to sleep now, Xena? We can continue this tomorrow."
Xena had stopped crying, and she held tightly to Gabrielle, "No, I have to know the rest."
"Xena, I dont know everything that happened because you didnt tell me, but Ill tell you what I know." Xena nodded and squeezed Gabrielle. "Almost five moons ago, Cyrene received a letter from Chloe." Xena jerked up forgetting her arm and yelped as pain shot through her shoulder and down her arm. Gabrielle rolled out of her embrace and knelt on the floor by her. "Xena, what is it?" Xenas eyes were closed, and she cradled her arm protectively. Gabrielle rose and sat on the bed facing her. She gently pulled Xenas hand away and massaged her arm and shoulder until the warrior relaxed and opened her eyes to see Gabrielles filled with love and concern. Touched, Xena ran the back of her fingers along Gabrielles jaw, and she bit her lip at the bruises she had put there.
Continued...Part 3 of 5
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