Part 3 of 5 of Fate's Gift
Staring at the angry purple shadows Xena asked quietly, "Gabrielle, you said Cyrene received a letter?" Gabrielle nodded. " My mother?"
Gabrielle furrowed her brow, "Yes, Xena. Why?"
"Cyrene is still alive?" Xena looked as if she might cry at any moment.
Gabrielle spoke softly and laid her palm against Xenas cheek. "Xena, Cyrene is alive and well. We saw her just over a moon ago."
"I thought she died not long after Lyceus died," Xena explained.
Gabrielle shook her head. "Xena, believe me she is fine."
Xena breathed deeply and with a look urged Gabrielle to continue.
"In the letter Chloe informed Cyrene that her husband was dead, and her son had inherited the throne. There were threats against her life, however, and the lives of her two children." Gabrielle paused and looked over at the sleeping figure in her bed. She and Petra had pushed it against the wall earlier that day. Xena who had been listening to Gabrielle looked up and followed her gaze. Gabrielle averted her attention back to Xena and their eyes locked. Xena understood now why the little girl haunted her mind and teased her memory.
Gabrielle continued, "With Cyrene and Toris help, we made plans to travel to Sinope to rescue them. There you found Chloe, but before you could rescue them, they killed Chloes son, the young king, and they sent assassins for Chloe and her daughter, Zoe."
Xena looked over at the face of the sleeping child, "I should have recognized her. She looks like Chloe." Gabrielle touched Xenas arm, and Xena looked back up at Gabrielle. Seeing a strange look on the young womans face, she asked, "What is it; whats wrong, Gabrielle?"
"Xena, I dont really understand all of this, but you know Chloe had an intimate relationship with the gods. Your mother recognized it, and Zoe even told me." Gabrielle paused uncharacteristically searching for the words to explain Zoe to Xena.
"Tell me what is it, Gabrielle," Xena insisted.
"Chloe and Zoe both claim that you are also Zoes mother." Xena looked incredulous. "Im sure Chloe convinced you because you accepted her as your child." Gabrielle paused allowing the warrior time to think then she said, "Look into her eyes, Xena. They are your eyes. Look at her hair. It is your hair. And believe me, you dont remember, but she acts like you too. I dont know how Chloe did it, but Zoe is your child too."
Xena knew that Gabrielle would have no reason to deceive her, but she would have to see for herself. Then she remembered the voice in her head earlier in the evening, Shes your child too.
Gabrielle went on, "Chloe came to us with Zoe the night her son was murdered, and we escaped from Sinope. On the plains, three assassins with bows caught up with us. You killed two, but one slipped past you and..." Gabrielle felt her chest constrict and her throat tighten, and she fought back tears at the memory. Xena took her hand. Gabrielle looked into Xenas face, and wondered to herself, How many times am I going to have to live through this? Xena squeezed her hand and looked at her questioningly. "He shot her through the chest with an arrow...right in front of you and me and Zoe...there was nothing we could do. You killed him." Gabrielle looked down and whispered, "She died in your arms."
That night as they slept, Gabrielle lying wrapped in Xenas arm, Xena felt a presence enter the room. Her warrior instincts were not hampered by her injuries, but she was helpless to defend them from the intruder. She was too weak to move, her left arm was useless and Gabrielle lay on her right arm. Xena peered through the dark, her mind racing as she tried to find a way to defend Gabrielle. As her eyes fell on the dark image before her, she realized Gabrielle was in no danger. Petra stood over her and looked down on her and Gabrielle. Xena did not move but peered up at the warrior who had called her friend earlier. Petra only stayed for a few moments and then left making no noise at all. Xena did not have to wonder at the warriors actions as memories of bruises on Gabrielles face and neck haunted her and made the visit perfectly clear.
Eyes watched the queens chambers, and when Gabrielle left that morning with Zoe in tow, Xena had an unexpected visitor. The tall warrior stood over the dozing woman who lay helplessly in bed before her. Petra shook her head at the sleeping figure. How could she put the queen through such misery? Petra loved Xena as a sister and a fellow warrior. She owed Xena her life, and she would always be grateful for the warriors words that night under a full moon, but she would never believe the Warrior Princess made a good match for their queen. Gabrielle was good and pure, and she deserved better. Xena was the opposite. She was dark and too worldly. Petra feared the warrior would one day in a rage kill or seriously injure her Queen, and she could never stand by and let that happen. Petra was often haunted by visions of Gabrielle after she and Xena returned from Sinope. The sorrow in her Queens eyes broke the big warriors heart. Petra did not doubt Xenas love for Gabrielle; it was her dark, volatile side that she feared. She reached down with her hardened hand and clasped Xenas throat in her grip.
Xenas eyes flew open, and she stared into Petras dark ones as she struggled against the death grip around her throat. Reflexively Xena tried to grab the arm of her attacker with both her hands. A wave of pain to radiated from the mangled shoulder and engulfed her. Only her right hand obeyed its command and grasped ineffectually at the Petras wrist trying vainly to pull it away. Her assailant was too strong, and Xena was too weak. Fire danced in her throbbing skull and her meager struggles ceased as the hand around her throat squeezed tighter completely cutting off the air flow. Her brain screamed at the lack of air. Black spots blotted out her vision and she looked into Petras eyes as Morpheus softly called to her, and just before she slipped into oblivion, the powerful warrior released her. Xena gasped as the first painful breath of air ripped through her raw air passage and assaulted her starving lungs. She coughed, an action that reverberated painfully in her head and jarred her tender shoulder. Tears flowed from her eyes as she choked, and Petra roughly sat her up helping her get air into her lungs. Xena was as helpless as a childs rag doll as the big warrior tossed her around and then beat on her back. Petra flopped down on the side of her bed steadying the weakened warrior. Xena leaned into the big warrior holding on to Petras strong shoulder as she tried to drag air into her lungs, fight against the pain in her head, and hold in check the nausea that wept over her. Weak from her ordeal, she leaned her head on her enemys shoulder to keep from passing out. Petra gently wrapped her arms around Xena, cradling her head in her large hand and laid her back into the pillows.
Leaning back for only a moment, Xena struggled hopelessly to sit back up, "Im going to be sick," she whispered hoarsely. Petra jumped to her feet and sat Xena up, grabbing the wooden pail by the bed; Petra supported her as Xena leaned over the edge of the bed. Xena heaved violently into the pail as Petra steadied her and held her forehead. Xena cried in pain and tears poured from her eyes as her injured arm slipped from the mattress lifelessly and banged on the side of the bed. Hanging there over the edge of the bed in the arms of the woman who had just tried to kill her, she thought distractedly, How strange, as she examined the appendage that dangled stiffly before her eyes. She curiously noted it was attached to her body, but it was useless and uncontrollable. When her nausea passed, Petra carefully lowered her back onto the pillows and cradling Xenas crippled arm, she gently placed it across her stomach. She pushed the pail aside and crossed the room and retrieve a cool damp cloth from the wash basin. Sitting on the edge of the bed, she gently wiped Xenas face and laid the cool cloth on Xenas fevered brow.
Petra sat silently observing the woman who lay in misery before her. Looking down at her withered arm she wondered if Xena would ever lead another army into battle, and she frowned at the thought of having to give up everything shed ever known. She wondered how she herself would cope with such a future, and she absently laid her fingertips on the scar beneath her leather shirt. Taking the cloth from Xenas head Petra rewet it in the cool water in the basin and brought the basin back with her placing it on the floor by the bed. She laid the cool compress back on Xenas forehead.
Xena opened her pained eyes and studied the woman who now so tenderly attended her and frowned, a movement that brought another pain to her head. She shut her eyes against the light of the room. Petra pulled the cloth over Xenas eye lids and began to massage her forehead with her strong fingers, running her thumbs firmly across the brow and working in circular motion on the temples. Xena relaxed under her strong touch as the intensity of the pain lessened with the massage. Xena spoke quietly so as not to aggravate the throb in her skull. "Its Petra, isnt it?"
Petra answered evenly, "Yes."
"I know why you came here to kill me."
Petra wasnt even sure those were her intentions. Maybe she just wanted the warrior to be in Gabrielles position for once. "Why is that?"
"Because of Gabrielle." Petra said nothing. After several moments, Petra stopped the massage and rewet the cloth over Xenas eyes. "I dont blame you," Xena said. Petra resumed the massage as Xena talked. "I regret that incident; Im sorry to say, I can hardly remember it. I wish I could turn back the sands of time and remove that event, Petra. Gabrielle is so..." Xena paused searching for the words. "I cant even remember her, but I know I loved her...I think I am falling..." Xena stopped and removed the damp cloth to look into the serious face above her. "Are you in love with Gabrielle, Petra?"
Petra still massaging Xenas temple said indifferently, "Shes in love with you, Xena."
Xena noted the absence of a denial. "Petra, does Gabrielle know how you feel?" Petra stopped.
"Xena, I am bound to another. I love her."
Xena remembered Chloe and then thought of Gabrielle. "Sometimes we are cursed or blessed to love more than one, Petra."
"There is nothing I would not do for Gabrielle, Xena, but I cannot hurt Electra." Xena leaned back into the pillows. Her head felt a little better. Petra continued, "I just cant stand by and let you hurt Gabrielle again, Xena."
Xena frowned, "I told you that was a mistake. It wont happen again. Thats why you came here last night, wasnt it? To check on Gabrielle, to make sure I wasnt hurting her? Were you satisfied, Petra?"
Ignoring Xenas question, Petra said , "It wasnt the first time you hurt her, Xena."
Xena searched her memory, afraid to probe too deeply for fear that the pain would return, "Ive injured her before?" Xena was almost grief stricken at the thought that she might have, in another life, mistreated the gentle soul she was getting to know anew.
Petra heard the concern in Xenas voice and looked away as she replied, "Not physically. I dont know what happened, but when you returned from Sinope, you were ready to walk away from her and she..." Petra looked into Xenas eyes and declared, "She threw her body under my sword to save your life. But when you came back from Sinope, you treated her as though she was nothing to you. I wish you could remember the pain in her eyes, Xena, because I cant forget it."
The comments confused and shocked Xena, but before she could respond Gabrielle came bustling into the room with Xenas morning meal. She stared curiously at the sight in front of her. Petra stood up suddenly almost kicking over the basin on the floor, and Xena tried to push herself up in the bed. If she hadnt known better, Gabrielle would have thought she had just intruded on lovers in an intimate moment.
Xena tried to save the moment, feeling that Petra surely would just stand there like a dumb warrior with her mouth hanging open forever, "Gabrielle, Petra came by to see me, but I was having another one of those headaches, so she helped me..."
Petra found her voice and her feet, "Yes, let me dump the pail; Xenas headache made her sick." She bent down, grabbed the pail and headed for the door, but Gabrielle intervened, stopping Petra with a touch to her arm. Petra glanced back at Xena.
"Could you come back in a candlemark after Xenas eaten and help me with her bath?" Gabrielle asked. "Im having some hot water delivered in a while."
Petra wasnt sure if she wanted that job, but she could not deny her Queen anything, "Of course, Gabrielle."
Gabrielle smiled her sweet smile into Petras face, and the warrior left, glad to have escaped. As Petra walked away, she glanced back at Xena searching for her finger marks on her throat. She hoped Gabrielle never found out what she had done, and she silently cursed herself for her stupid actions. Gabrielle would never forgive her for hurting Xena. Then again she knew she would have never forgiven herself either.
After that first bath, Petra came by every day and helped Gabrielle with Xenas care and rehabilitation. Gabrielle wasnt strong enough to drag Xena around their quarters, but Petra was quite good at it. Everyday, three times a day, she helped Xena sit up on the edge of the bed. Then shed wrap Xenas arm around her shoulder and hold her up as Xena took her first feeble steps towards recovery. Petra would then place her in a chair and massage her shoulder and neck and sometimes her head if she was suffering from one of her headaches. Of a morning, after their exercise, Petra would help Xena into a steamy hot tub of water. She would take her leave then return sometime later to help her out of the tub and back to bed. After Petra left, Gabrielle would work on Xenas arm massaging the muscles and flexing the joints. This was part of the day they both dreaded and Gabrielle made sure no one bothered them for that half a candlemark in the morning, afternoon, and late evening. Gabrielle couldnt stand the idea of anyone seeing Xenas weakness at that time because her brave warrior would often cry during the painful exercises, all the while urging Gabrielle on with a tearful crooked smile and words of encouragement.
Gabrielle had no idea what had transpired between Petra and Xena the day she had walked in on them, but she was certain something had happened. She truly hoped Petra had not done anything to Xena. Xena was so different, and it worried Gabrielle that in many ways she liked this Xena better. This Xena was talkative, pleasant and considerate. After the initial shock of returning from the dream world and finding her own world completely changed, she had settled into an easy routine. The Xena Gabrielle knew would have been a terror. This Xena was so very patient even with herself, and she would laugh at herself for her weaknesses. Gabrielle cringed at the thought of going through this arduous rehabilitation with her Xena. It wasnt until she talked to Thyra that it dawned on her the reason for Xenas personality difference.
Gabrielle had left Zoe to entertain Xena and she trekked over to the healers hut. "You wanted to see me, Thyra?" she asked, curious why Thyra had sent for her rather than coming to her quarters as she had always done before.
Smiling at Gabrielle as she entered, Thyra waved her to a chair and offered her some tea she had been brewing. "I apologize, my Queen, for sending for you, but I did not want to discuss these matters in front of Xena. How is Xena doing, my Queen?"
Gabrielle smiled. "Shes doing quite well considering. She can sit up in a chair for a candlemark at a time without becoming too fatigued. She sits in the chair three times a day. Petra has been coming by and helping me with her. With Petras help, she can walk around the room a little."
"What of her headaches?" Thyra asked.
"She still has them, but it seems with less intensity. The light still bothers her eyes though." Gabrielles voice grew concerned, "Thats not good is it?"
Thyra patted her on the knee and said, "Thats to be expected. Its only been a little more than a fortnight since she returned to us, my Queen. Is she gaining any mobility in her arm yet?"
Gabrielle sighed and replied, "Not in her arm. She can move her fingers quiet well, but she cant move her elbow or her shoulder. Just moving her arm away from her body now for her bath is becoming very painful for her." Gabrielle looked down as tears gathered in her eyes, and she then looked up at Thyra and asked, "Was I wrong, Thyra?"
"Ssshhh, My Queen. You gave Xena a chance to regain the use of her arm. Had you not been there, she would not have had that chance, and she would have always wondered if it was the right decision. Its early, yet. Give her time and just keep pushing her." Gabrielle smiled at the healer whom she had come to know so well. "Now tell me, how is Xena doing in all this?" Thyra inquired.
Gabrielle smiled warmly, and her eyes lit up. "Its amazing, Thyra," she said, "She is so patient and easy to take care of. She is so considerate, you would hardly know she is the same woman."
"Well, my Queen, she is not the same woman. Remember her last memory? She is almost thirteen years younger. In her eyes, you and she are practically the same age. The Xena before you is only eighteen summers old. She was never defeated by Cortese; she never became a warlord; she never became a disciple of Ares; she never saw ten years of horror and terror. Think about it, my Queen, you are seeing Xena before her dark side claimed her soul. That is one reason I asked you to come and see me. Xena did receive a serious head injury that could have easily caused the amnesia, but I find it intriguing that it is the most traumatic time of her life which she has lost. She even rewrote the single event that was the most responsible for her darkest period in her life."
Gabrielle confused asked, "What are you suggesting, Thyra."
"I could be wrong, my Queen, but Xena may actually want to forget those years," Thyra replied.
Gabrielle frowned and said, "Are you saying she has consciously chosen to block out that time in her life?"
"Queen Gabrielle, I dont think it was a conscious choice, but somewhere part of Xena would just as soon not remember those years."
"I really cant blame her Thyra. So many horrible things happened to her."
"I wonder, my Queen," Thyra said lost deep in thought for a moment but then proceeded, "Xena is fearless and strong , but I wouldnt be surprised if somewhere in the recesses of her mind is a dark memory. That could have triggered her memory loss. Something too horrible for her to face."
Gabrielles mind raced at those thoughts. Even though she had recounted some of Xenas dark past for her, Gabrielle knew it was not real to her. This is the Xena not long after the voices left her. Gabrielle thought back to that terrifying night in eastern Thrace when she and Xena sat in fear of the horrible illness that would soon take her. She remembered Xenas confessions about the voices and Lyceus and Chloe. Xena had been wild, untamed, a free spirit, but after, she was broken and fearful. Gabrielle admitted to herself this was the Xena she liked better. At those thoughts, Gabrielle began to cry. She cried for the young child who threw temper tantrums when she wished to ride the wild stallion. She cried for the youth who with Lyceus and Chloe touched life with passion and joy. She cried for the fiery, young Xena who jumped on her horse and rode off for fortnights at a time. She cried for the Xena who in confusion lost her way and became a murdering warlord, and for the Xena who would throw herself on her sword to end the horrible life she had chosen, and for the brave Xena who dared to challenge and change her destiny. And Gabrielle cried for the noble Xena she had fallen in love with and who she wanted back so badly. When she stopped crying, the young Queen found herself in Thyras arms. Gabrielle asked, "How can I help her find her way back, Thyra?"
Thyra could only shake her head and say, "I dont know, my Queen."
Artemis looked into the crystal clear pool and watched intently the drama that played out before her. It broke her heart to see her Queen in tears over her warrior. She was powerless, and that was something she was not used to experiencing. In her mind she cursed the Fates for their lack of feeling. If only she could restore Xenas memory. She angrily slammed her palm into the water and caused a minor tidal wave in the mirrored waters that reflected the activities and the sorrows of humans. She stared angrily into the turbulent liquid. Leaning with her fists resting on the edges of the pool she explored possible answers when before her the images of Clotho, Lachesis, and Atropos materialized in the rippling waters and stared back at her. Artemis eyes narrowed as in unison the trio spoke. "Be careful what you wish for, impudent one." Artemis frowned at their rudeness. Even the great Zeus feared the Fates and she knew no revenge could be enact against them.
Artemis put away her anger and pursued the subject, "Exactly what do you mean?"
Clotho spoke, "Be careful what you wish for; it might come to pass."
Thinking of the joy it would bring her Queen, Artemis shot back, "And what would be so wrong with that?"
"No one can know the outcomes of actions, Artemis, not even the gods, although they would have mortals believe they possess that power," Lachesis interjected evenly.
Artemis steamed, How trying these Fates were. "What could go wrong by restoring Xenas memory, Lachesis?" She immediately directed her attention to Atropos knowing full well she would speak next. Artemis thought to herself, No wonder Nemesis was never seen with her sisters; they probably wouldnt let her have her turn speaking."
"You cannot know what could go wrong just as you cannot know what could go right," Atropos answered.
Artemis, a goddess of action, quickly tired of this dialogue. She saw no reason to sit around and talk about what may or may not happen. "Im sure the Fates know," she said in a bored voice as she turned and took in the sights. Olympus in all its glory sprawled out before her. How she hated it! So sterile and white, not warmed by the soft golden light of Apollo, her brother. And at night her beautiful silver orb was blocked by invisible ceilings covered with artificial constellations against an unnatural blue sky. Artemis crossed her arms, shook her head, and looked down. How she longed for her green glens and cool spring pools alive with Gaeas beating heart!
Clotho spoke drawing Artemis from her musings, "Know this, Artemis, when a river changes its course, there is destruction within its path." Artemis turned back and peered down at the women.
Before Artemis could comment Lachesis said, "The destruction is the price. Are you willing to pay the price? Is Xena willing to pay the price? Will you speak for your warrior?"
Artemis tossed her hands out in frustration and demanded, "What else can you take from her? Youve taken her memory. Youve taken her arm. Xena is no longer a warrior. What else is left to take from her?"
Atropos spoke blandly, "We take nothing. We give nothing. We have need of nothing."
"Only the gods and humans see the need to give and take," added Clotho, "Remember, Artemis, you intervened in Xenas destiny for your own end."
Lachesis looked indifferently beyond Artemis and said, "You changed her fate; she paid the price."
At that realization, deep sorrow engulfed Artemis, and she uttered, "Well pay the price." Her words barely audible.
"So be it," the women echoed, and their image dissolved as a single tear fell into the pool.
While Xena convalesced, Gabrielle had Xenas armor repaired and new leathers made. Her old clothes which had been cut from her body after she had been wounded and were beyond repair. Gabrielle presented the new clothes and armor to Xena but was disappointed at Xenas reaction. Xena fingered the armor and held up the dark leather shift. She asked in a hushed voice, "I wore these?"
Gabrielle nodded, "Yes, always."
Xena frowned as she held the shift in front of her body with her good hand. "Looks a little too big. I think Ill wait to climb back into this; the strap will probably hurt my shoulder." Xena wore the typical Amazon clothing. Soft doe skin wrap around skirt and blouse that opened in the front and closed with leather ties. It was easy for her to get her arm into, but Gabrielle had to help her with the laces sometimes when her left hand would not cooperate.
Gabrielle frowned, "Yes, you have lost quite a bit of weight," she agreed, "I guess you are right about the strap. It would probably rub your shoulder." It was hard for Gabrielle to believe that Xena would prefer Amazon clothing to her leathers; she had always detested the clothing in the past.
Xena noticed Gabrielles disappointment. She laid the clothes aside, stood on shaky legs and made her way over to her pensive bard. Xena pulled Gabrielle into her and kissed her cheek, "Thanks, Gab. That was very thoughtful of you." Gabrielle smiled up at her but glanced wistfully at the discarded warriors clothing.
Xena was finally able to walk quite well unassisted by Petra or Gabrielle. She spent less time in bed and more time sitting in a chair opposite Gabrielle or puttering around the Queens chamber. Her arm was still all but useless even though Gabrielle worked the warrior hard as she concentrated on more and more exercises. After one painful evenings exercise session, Xena lay in bed and tried to maintain her composure. The pain seared through her shoulder like a red-hot iron and sent screaming flames shooting from her arm pit to her finger tips. Xena confronted Gabrielle. "Gabrielle, please come here." Gabrielle had just tucked Zoe into bed and was busy finding something to occupy her mind, so she didnt have to watch Xena go through the nightly agony that often followed the exercises. When Xena called her, she looked up and into Xenas face from across the room. Her stomach lurched at the pain she saw written on the warriors face.
Crossing the room, Gabrielle sat down on the edge of the bed. Xena took her hand and spoke, "Gabrielle, I know this means a great deal to you, and that some how you feel responsible for me making a complete recovery." Gabrielle squeezed Xenas hand and started to interrupt, but Xena cut her off. "Hear me out, please." Xena raised her eyebrows and looked up into Gabrielles eyes questioning. The bard nodded and Xena quietly explained, "Weve both worked very hard, but its not getting any better, Gabrielle. The sooner we accept the fact, the better off we will be."
Tears welled up in the young Queens eyes and she shook her head, "Xena, please. Lets not give up." She thought to herself, Her Xena would have never admitted defeat.
"Gabrielle, we are not giving up, yet. Its been well over a moon since we started the exercises. I am much stronger and getting stronger every day. I can take care of myself now without anyones help. You have to admit that." Gabrielle nodded her head. "Even the headaches are getting better. My arm, however, has remained the same, its probably not going to get any better. I know I can accept that fact, but Im not so sure you can."
Gabrielle looked up and thought her heart would break, "Xena, I just want whats best."
Xena sighed leaning her head back into the pillow and said, "Gabrielle, Im tired of the pain."
The bard looked at the weary woman lying exhausted before her among the pillows.
The exhaustion written on Xenas face worried her but she was unwilling to give up and she said, "Xena, I know youve been in a great deal of pain, but..."
Xena interrupted her, "Gabrielle, you dont have any idea how much Ive suffered with this pain." and she lifted her limp arm slightly and said "You dont know at all, and I cant go on pretending its going to be all right." Gabrielle felt her guts twist fearful at what Xena was going to tell her, afraid that because of this infirmity Xena wouldnt stay with her.
Gabrielle pleaded, "Xena, please I dont want us to quit, to give up."
Xena furrowed her brow and said evenly, "I know you expect me to be your Xena." Xena broke eye contacted and looked down at her arm and then said, "but I cant, Gabrielle." At those words Gabrielles heart dropped and she choked back the lump in her throat. Xena continued her voice low, "I have fallen in love with you, Gabrielle, but if you cant stay with me because of this, Ill understand." Xena looked up to see tears roll from Gabrielles eyes as she clasped Xenas hand to her cheek, and kissed her palm.
"Oh, Xena, I thought you were going to send me away because of your arm. I dont care about your arm. I love you, and I just want us to be together," Gabrielle cried.
Xena reached behind Gabrielles head, pulled her gently down to her so their lips could meet, and they kissed deeply. When Gabrielle pulled away, she saw tears in Xenas laughing eyes. Not the tears of pain but of joy. Xena whispered, "I was so afraid you would turn away from me."
"Never," Gabrielle replied and she tucked herself into Xenas body. That night Gabrielle loved her stranger, her new Xena.
Days passed. Xenas heart was light with the joy she experienced in Gabrielles arms, and the two lolled away the time, enjoyed each others company, and played with Zoe. Gabrielle fashioned a sling, and Xena kept her arm tucked in the sling to protect it from additional injury, yet with the sling, she could still use her left hand. The light still bothered her eyes on occasion, and she would succumb to blinding headaches. At those times Gabrielle fetched Petra to rub away the pain behind Xenas eyes. The headaches gradually decreased in number, and eventually Xena and Gabrielle believed it was time to venture outside to soak up the healing rays of the sun. This was Xenas first trip out since she suffered the spear wound almost two moons ago. They walked in the shadows of the buildings avoiding the bright light as they headed for the dining hall. Xena leaned lightly on Gabrielle. Zoe trudged along and looked occasionally into Xenas eyes. Xena smiled down at her.
Rumor had it that Xena remembered nothing when she finally escaped Morpheus realm and everyone mourned for their Queens pain. They were more than aware of the deep affection and love the Queen felt for her warrior. The Amazons spent many a candlemark discussing Xenas crippled arm and how saddened they were that such a great sacrifice had been made by the Warrior Princess on their behalf. As Amazons sat around the campfires at night and told of how Xena had fought so bravely, legends about the Warrior Princess increased. Every Amazon who followed her that fateful day had a personal experience to share. Some claimed over twenty Athenian soldiers met Hades that day at the hand of the great Warrior Princess. Eponin frowned angrily when talk turned from Xena, and her name was mentioned and how Xena had flung her chakram slicing the spear aimed for her Amazon heart. She only wished she could have saved her friend from a fate not so dissimilar. Eponin and Solari both told them to hush when their tale included their heroic efforts at stanching the blood pouring from the Warrior Princess and how they struggled to bring her home alive. The two warriors sat stoically by as others related their Queens bravery as she lead the rescue team to bring Xena home and of her epic fight to save Xenas arm when the healer suggested amputation. When they told how Xena had been dragged and trampled under the hooves of her steed and how the brave Solari had raced down a frightened Argo and saved the warrior with a slash of her sword, Solari rose and stomped off to find a full wine skin and to drink away the memory that still haunted her dreams. Eponin watched as Solari left; she worried about her warrior friend. She had taken it very hard and had been drinking a great deal. Solari couldnt even stand to look at Argo. Maybe she should talk to Ephiny about Solari. Eponin frowned at the thought of Ephiny. The acting queen didnt seem herself either since Xenas injury.
The Amazons present in the dining hall were quite pleased to see their young Queen with her consort. Many stopped by their table and expressed their joy at Xenas recovery and thanked the Warrior Princess for her part in defeating the Athenians. Although Xena had no memory of the events, she flashed them her smile and nodded. Gabrielle shook her head amazed that Xena seemed quite comfortable with the attention she was receiving from the women around her. When they were served their meal, the Amazons milling around them left them in peace, and Xena smiled over to Gabrielle who was seated across from her and asked, "Well, how did I do?" Lowering her voice she added, "I hate all this attention; I think I would much prefer to break our fast in our quarters." She then looked down at Zoe sitting next to her and said, "What about you, Zoe? What do you think?" The little child only stared up into Xenas eyes.
Gabrielle frowned at the pensiveness Zoe exhibited. Xena, unaware of Zoes special gifts, did not notice the interchange, and Gabrielle did not wish to alarm her. She directed her attention to Xenas comments, smiled and said, "You were incredible!" Xena grinned. She then munched contentedly on a piece of wild boar meat as she looked curiously around the dining hall. Gabrielle glanced back at Zoe and caught the child staring at the food in front of her. Zoe then shifted her gaze to Gabrielle, Gabrielle looked into her eyes questioningly. A dreadful feeling gripped her stomach.
After their meal, Gabrielle lead Xena over to the barn where Argo was stabled. Petra and Eponin had taken good care of the horse. Xena looked at the horse and ran her hand down Argos neck. Her face lit up with excitement as she smiled down at Gabrielle. "Shes Thessalian!" she exclaimed, "The best horses in Greece, perhaps the world!"
Gabrielle smiled at Xenas enthusiasm and remembered Thyras comment, Shes the same age as you are. Her smile disappeared when Zoe jerked on her skirt and Gabrielle looked down at her.
Zoe said, "Gabrielle, I think we should go back now." Gabrielle quickly looked into Xenas face. The warrior still smiled as she examined the horse. Gabrielle then looked back down at Zoe. She thought for a moment that the child was about to cry.
Gabrielle said, "Xena, lets head back to our quarters for a while so that you can rest."
Xena looked up from her horse puzzled then flashed her winning smile and said, "I feel fine, Gab."
"I know, but I dont want you to tire yourself. We can come back out later after youve rested," Gabrielle said hiding her real motives.
"Xena gave Argo a final pat. She then and came around the big horse and slipped her arm into Gabrielles. Grinning down at her bard Xena teased, "All right, Mother. Take me home, and tuck me into bed." Zoe slipped her hand into Gabrielles, and the trio exited the barn. As soon as she stepped into the bright sunlight, Xena wavered, and Gabrielle struggled to help her maintain her balance.
"Xena, what is it?" Gabrielle implored.
Xena covered her eyes with her hand, muttered, "Head." staggered back into the shade of the stables, and laid her hand against the barn to steady herself as she bent over.
Gabrielle turned to Zoe, "Go get Petra, Zoe." The little girl raced off without a word.
By the time Petra and Gabrielle laid Xena into her bed, she was in the throes of a frightful headache. Petra rubbed her head, and applied cold compresses but to no avail. Gripped with nausea, the warrior became violently ill. Then she tossed and turned in agony as she tried to escape the crushing pain in her head. Eventually Gabrielle retrieved Thyra who immediately gave Xena something to help her sleep. When Xena finally drifted off to sleep after several candlemarks of sheer agony, the three in attendance sat wearily down and looked at each other. Finally Thyra spoke. "Xena will probably not wake up before morning and by then this will have passed." As Thyra stood up to leave, she looked at Gabrielle and said, "Dont worry, my Queen. This is not uncommon with what she has been through. With any luck at all the headaches will lessen in their severity. Eventually she will not have them anymore."
As Thyra left, Petra asked, "Do you want me to stay with you a while?"
Gabrielle smiled, "No, thats all right, Petra. Ill send Zoe if I need you. Petra nodded and took her leave. It was almost sundown.
The warrior thrashed in her restless sleep as haunting images swirled around her and voices battered her from all sides...His dark image looked down at her with piercing blue eyes...Gabrielle stood before her defiant..."I cant do that, Gabrielle!" ... "Ill miss you Xena..." Gabrielles sad eyes looked up at her...the forest... "You cant let them down...what about us Xena?"...blue eyes and freckles...Zoes crying face...Amazon warriors in the trees... "But, Xena, you were the one who said we should listen more to Zoe"..."Shes yours too, Xena"...tents trampled...Chloes laughing face looked up at her..."Whats going to happen to us if something happens to you?"...broken nose piece..."Gabrielle...Im sorry"...Gabrielle stood there tears with in her eyes... "What if you are killed?"..."You promised, Xe!"..."Gab, nothing is going to happen to me"...Blood trickled from her lips..."Chloe, Ill always love you"..."Gabrielle, I love you"... "Think about Zoe"...foot soldier..."and who will I have, Xena?"...long cavalry spear..."I could have you arrested and thrown in prison"..."hell spear you through the heart"..."Ill remember, Zoe"..."Ill always love you"..."lean to the right, Xena!"..."Would you please take care of Gabrielle for me"...The raven-haired child stared at her..."I love you too"... "Xena, Ill take care of Gabrielle for you"... "If you see mommy, tell her I miss her"..."Ill do that Zoe" ... "And, Xena"..."Yes, Zoe"..."Ill miss you." The spear tore into her chest and sent fire into her shoulder. She was lifted out of the saddle as a loud crack popped by her left ear. Searing pain raced towards her neck as her collarbone snapped. She was thrown back and jerked forward and slung to the ground. Her foot was ripped almost from her leg as her body hit the ground and darkness greeted her. She drifted on a sea of blackness floating in pain and loneliness, lost alone and an image in the distance, a temple in Thessaly... "GABRIELLE!"
Xena jerked up in bed. Sweat poured from her body, and her heart pounded madly in her chest as she battled to draw air into her lungs. Her shoulder throbbed, and she struggled to clear her mind of the fog that blurred her thinking. "Gabrielle?" She groped madly to locate Gabrielle, "Gabrielle?" but her left arm refused to cooperate, "Gabrielle?" so she reached across with her right hand and felt along the bed in the darkness searching frantically for her bard. Finally her hand was captured by two small hands, and a familiar voice comforted her.
"Its all right, Xena. You just had a dream." Through the blur of sleep Gabrielle wondered at that fact. "Hows your head?"
Xena frowned at the question, "My head? Its all right. Gab, I dreamed of Thessaly again, and I saw you dead."
Through her sleepiness Gabrielle rolled over and reached up for Xena, "Its all right, Xena. It was just a bad dream."
Xena turned to take Gabrielle into her arms to reassure herself her bard was really there and not lying cold and lifeless in a temple in Thessaly. The stabbing pain in her shoulder stopped her. She moaned as flashes of the battle exploded in her head, and she searched her memory for its outcome. She remembered leading the retreat with Solari and Eponin at her side. She saw the spear coming at Eponin and she remembered slinging her chakram. In her mind she saw the missing nose piece and she caught her breath as the spear impaled her again. She sat motionless and then quietly slipped her fingers under the sling that cradled her arm and touched her chest. She found the raised, tender scar and ran her finger tips along it. She tried to move her shoulder and winced at the pain. "Gabrielle?"
"I need to talk to you."
The bard rolled over onto her back with her eyes still closed she replied sleepily, "About what, Xena?"
Xena massaged her shoulder and looked down at Gabrielles form in the dark, "How did I get here...what happened...what was the outcome of the battle? I remember the spear driving into my chest, but thats the last I remember."
Gabrielle, suddenly awake, stared wide-eyed at the ceiling as the realization of Xenas words drove home. Unable to believe it was true, she searched her mind for a question. After several moments she asked, "Xena, whats the story I tell only you?"
Xena frowned and thought, This is not the time for stories. She answered a little annoyed, "Helios, Gabrielle. Now will you please answer me?" Gabrielle rolled out of bed and ran to light a lamp. She quickly returned and sat the lamp down on the table by the bed as Xena watched her confused by the bards strange actions. Xena pushed herself up against the headboard and shoved a pillow behind her keenly aware of the arm that hung in a sling around her neck.
Gabrielle sat on the edge of the bed and stared intently into Xenas eyes with hopeful wonder. Xena frowned, raised her eyebrow and finally asked in an annoyed tone, "What? Gabrielle, what is wrong with you?"
Gabrielle couldnt believe it. "Xena, is it really you?" Xena shook her head and rolled her eyes. Gabrielle began to cry with her arms outstretched she leaned towards Xena. The warrior softened and wrapped her in a one arm embrace. Confused at the reaction she observed, she held Gabrielle comforting her with pats and little kisses.
When her tears finally ended, and she had regained her self-composure, Gabrielle sat up so that she could drink in her warrior with her eyes. Then she began the painful explanation that Xena demanded.
"I thought you were gone forever, Xena," Gabrielle said. They brought you home bloodied and broken. You were more dead than alive. You floated in the Morpheus sleep for almost a moon." Tears formed in Gabrielles eyes at the memory and she looked away as Xena squeezed her hand in hers. "For a moon you lay unmoving and silent," Gabrielle said and looked down into her lap. Not knowing how to proceed her words abandoned her.
Xena said softly, "Gabrielle, I am sorry I worried you. It must have been very hard on you."
Gabrielle nodded her head and looked over at the tiny form lying under a blanket in the next bed. "I wasnt the only one who suffered, Xena."
Xena followed Gabrielles gaze and smiled at Zoe. She remembered the childs visit the night before the battle and her voice crying out, Lean to the right, Xena. Xena climbed out of bed, and on unsteady legs made her way to Zoes sleeping form as Gabrielle followed. Xena kneeled by the bed and softly wrapped her hand around the back of the little girls head. She bent down and kissed the child on the cheek and whispered in her ear, "I love you, Zoe. Thank you. Sweet dreams, little one." A hint of a smile played across the childs face. The warrior swallowed hard at the beauty she beheld. Gabrielle touched Xenas shoulder and knelt beside her, and the two melted into each others arms and wept.
Later back in bed, Xena told Gabrielle how Zoe had saved her life, "I heard her voice. She said lean to the right even before I saw the soldier. I would be dead if not for Zoe."
Gabrielle nodded and said, "She and Chloe led you out of your dream state too, Xena." Xena looked up and frowned in confusion. Explaining the childs mysterious sleep Gabrielle said, "Zoe told me Chloe came for her and told her you were lost. She told Zoe that she needed to guide you back to us." Gabrielle shivered at the memory of the night Xena returned and decided she would skip that detail and hoped in her heart Petra would forget it too. "When she brought you back, you remembered nothing of the last thirteen years, Xena." Gabrielle looked up into Xenas face. "Do you remember anything of the last moon?"
Xena frowned and shook her head as she said, "No, the last thing I remember was the spear driving through my chest. I thought I was dead, and I knew I was going to fall to the ground." Xena then wrinkled her brow and asked, "Is Argo all right, Gabrielle?" Gabrielle gasped at the vision Xenas words painted in her mind. She was thankful Xena could not remember what happened after she was thrown. At her reaction Xena became concerned and pressed her, "Gabrielle, what is it? Is Argo all right?"
Gabrielle struggled to control her tears and speak without choking from the lump in her throat, "Yes, Xena. Argo is fine. Petra and Eponin have been taking good care of her."
Xena frowned, "Then tell me, Gab. What is it?"
Gabrielle swallowed as images of Xenas inert body riding atop Argo in front of Eponin flashed through her mind. "It was all just so horrible, Xena." She paused, looked down and closed her eyes. She wished she could block out the visual image burned in her mind.
Xena laid her palm against her cheek. "Its all right now, Gabrielle. You can tell me." Then Xena took Gabrielles hand in hers.
Gabrielles eyes filled with tears that spilled over as Xena squeezed her hand. "Xena, you were dragged by Argo. Solari had to run her down and cut you loose." Xena frowned. "When we met your returning troops," Gabrielle paused trying to gather her strength, "Eponin held you in the saddle with Solaris help. You were soaked in blood, as were they. No one believed you would live." Gabrielle could go no further. She collapsed into tears as Xena held her.
The next morning Gabrielle was awakened by Xena standing over her and shaking her shoulder. She wore her night shift and had removed her sling.
"Gabrielle, where are my clothes?" Gabrielle fought to push the sleep from her eyes as she struggled from their bed. She picked up the Amazon outfit lying across the back of a chair, and rubbing the sleep from her eyes, offered them to Xena. Xena frowned. "What about my leathers?"
"You did not want to wear them because of your shoulder, so I put them away." Realizing her mistake at that comment, Gabrielle grinned sheepishly and retrieved them from the cabinet across the room. Holding them in her hands, Gabrielle looked down at them and lovingly touch the dark leather between her finger tips. Then she turned and handed them to Xena who stood frowning at her. "I had to have knew ones made for you because..." Gabrielle paused and looked away afraid tears might threaten again. Then she looked up, "I worked the leather to soften it; they shouldnt be too uncomfortable."
Xenas frown turned to a crooked grin. "Im going to the hot springs to soak; want to join me?" she asked.
Gabrielle looked at the sleeping child in the bed and then back up at Xena, "You go ahead; Ill wake Zoe, and well join you in a little while." Xena smiled and turned to go as Gabrielle looked after her. Realizing that Xena would probably need help because of her arm, Gabrielle hurried to rouse the child and gather their things for the bath.
Zoe stood, rubbed her eyes and asked, "Hows Xena, Gabrielle?"
Smiling down at Zoe, Gabrielle replied, "Our Xenas back, Zoe." When Zoe did not immediately answer Gabrielle frowned. She looked down at the child who was lost in thought. "Zoe, is everything all right?"
Zoe looked up at Gabrielle, "Its going to be hard on Xena, Gabrielle," she replied
"I know, honey. Come on lets go and join her." Noticing the sling lying on the floor, Gabrielle picked it up and stuffed it among the things she was taking to the baths.
Xena recognized the voices coming from the hot spring long before she saw Eponin and Solari sitting in the soothing waters. At the mention of her name, Xena stepped back quietly into the shadow of a rock formation that added to the privacy of the springs. She knew that her warrior friends often came at this time of the day before others were out of bed. From the looks of the pair, they were deep in serious conversation, and the mention of her name sparked Xenas curiosity.
Eponins voice carried across the water, "Look, Solari, we are all with heavy hearts, but you have got to stop drinking. Its not going to make it go away, and youre only ruining your health. Its only a matter of time before Ephiny steps in and removes you from command." Xena wondered at Eponin giving such advice since she was known to go on a binge or two.
Solaris shoulders slumped as she looked over at the woman sitting next to her and said, "I dont care about my command. Maybe I shouldnt have a command anyway."
Eponin frowned and said, "Stop talking like that! Youre a damn good commander, and you have common sense. Where would I be if I didnt have you there to remind me to rein in my temper?"
"It still doesnt help, Eponin. I cant get that image out of my mind or out of my dreams." Solari looked away and with despair in her voice said, "If only I would have reacted faster."
"How do you think I feel?" Eponin demanded, "Xena saved my life. That spear was headed straight for my heart, but I did nothing to deliver her from her fate. Besides, you probably saved her life. Had she been dragged any further, she would have been killed."
Xena frowned and started to join the two warrior when the next words stopped her. Solari said, "I saved her life, but for what? She was the greatest warrior I had ever known and now look at her. Her arm is ruined; she has no memory. She looks like a grinning, silly youth of eighteen summers. Every time I see Argo in the stables, I think Im going to be sick."
Eponin reached out and laid her arm across Solaris shoulders, "She could still get her memory back, Solari."
Solari groaned and shook her head, "That would be even worse, Eponin. At least as she is now, she has no idea of what she is missing." Xena stared down at her arm that hung stiffly in front of her, and she moved her fingers, and rotated her wrist. Although she tried she could not move her elbow or her shoulder which seemed frozen against her body. She turned and headed back to her quarters. A few moments later she ran into Zoe and Gabrielle hurrying down the path. Gabrielle read the body language long before she saw the scowl on Xenas face.
Moving aside, afraid that Xena would knock them down, Gabrielle grabbed Zoes hand and hurried to catch up with her angry warrior, "Xena, whats wrong?"
Xenas terse reply communicated more than her words, "Nothing, I changed my mind. I want to bathe in our quarters."
Gabrielle ordered food for their morning meal and hot water for Xenas bath and returned to her quarters. When she arrived at her entrance, she paused and took in a large breath, and braced herself for what she feared she would face on the other side of the door. After returning in apparent anger from the springs, Xena refused to talk to Gabrielle and stomped around the room like a caged animal. Gabrielle couldnt imagine what had upset Xena so. She assumed it had something to do with her arm because she would catch glimpses of Xena massaging her shoulder and flexing her fingers. Xena finally grabbed her sword up from the corner, fished around in her saddle bags, pulled out her whet stone and moved to a chair. Laying the sword across her lap and grasping the blade in her left hand she began to run the whet stone along its length. Her technique was unorthodox but effective. Gabrielle took Zoes hand and announced, "Xena, I am taking Zoe to the dining hall so that she eat. Xena only grunted an acknowledgment.
When Gabrielle entered her chambers later, she found Xena sitting where she had left her. She sat cradling her arm in her lap and looking down in thought. The sword and whet stone lay on the floor at her feet. Xena did not look up. Gabrielle walked over to where Xena sat and kneeled in front of her and looked up into her eyes. "Xena, what can I do?" Xena shifted her gaze to Gabrielle but said nothing. "Xena, would you please talk to me?"
Finally after several moments Xena spoke with quiet desperation in her voice, "Gabrielle, Im a warrior." Gabrielle heard the sorrow in Xenas voice and her heart ached. "What am I going to do if I cant use my arm?" Xena whispered.
Gabrielle laid her hand on Xenas thigh, "Xena, youre more than just a warrior. Youre a friend to so many here, and they have missed you. Youre a healer; look at Petra and me. We would both be dead if not for you. You are a mother to Zoe. She loves you and needs you very much. Your wise counsel is always sought; your strategy saved the Amazon nation from war with Athens. And, Xena, you are my life, my love, and my anchor; without you, I am adrift on a sea of loneliness. You are so much more than a warrior, Xena, believe me." Xena looked with tear filled eyes into Gabrielles and gave her a crooked smile. "Xena, youre not giving up on me, are you?" Xena shook her head. Gabrielle gently took her warriors crippled arm in her hands and began to massage the aching muscles. "Does it hurt?" Xena nodded through her tears. Gabrielle continued to rub her arm. "Does this help?" Xena smiled and nodded. "Xena, I think you should use the sling until you build back the strength." Xena frowned but Gabrielle continued. "Before you came back to me, the other you found that the sling helped relieve the pain."
Xena sighed and nodded her head, "All right, Gabrielle." Gabrielle stood up and retrieved the sling and tied it at Xenas neck and then reached around and helped her maneuver her arm into it. Looking down at the sling Xena asked absently, "Gabrielle, what was I like?"
Resting her hands on Xenas shoulders, Gabrielle frowned, "What do you mean, Xena?"
"The other me. I have no memory of any of that. What was I like?"
Gabrielle laughed, "Do you really want to know?"
Glancing back up at Gabrielle, "Sure, why not?" she said.
"Well let me see. First of all you thought you were younger than me." Gabrielle chuckled at the memory. "You were sweet, and kind, and loving. You always laughed at everything. When people you didnt know swamped you with questions and talked to you, you pretended you enjoyed it." Gabrielle would have loved to question Xena about her younger days before Cortese. She would have loved to be able to sit and share childhood experiences and adventures, but that was not to be.
Xena frowned and commented dryly, "Sounds like I was easier to get along with, and I was a lot nicer. You were probably sad to see the old me back."
"Dont you ever say that again to me, Xena!" Gabrielle, dead serious came around the chair and stood in front of Xena surprising her warrior with her passion. "The person I fell in love with is sitting right in front of me right now. Even though you decided it was more honorable to sacrifice your life than to stay here with Zoe and me, we both would rather have you than anything else in this world." As she spoke Gabrielle realized how angry she was at Xena for placing herself in danger. "I dont know if you can accept the fact that your arm may never get any better, but Zoe and I can. All we need is you, Xena. You had better never do this to us again." Gabrielles anger turned to tears as the memory of almost losing Xena came home, and Xena rose and pulled her into her as Gabrielle wept into her chest.
"Im sorry, Gab. Im sorry. Ssshhh. Its all right now, please, forgive me." Xena spoke softly into Gabrielles hair as she comforted her.
Sometime later the morning meal arrived, but Xena only picked at her food. Soon after Xenas frustration flared again. Her disability would not easily allow her to pull her shift over her head in preparation for her bath.
Gabrielle knew she would have to reach deep inside and draw on her reserves of patience to get through this. She wondered how long it would be before they could settle down into any semblance of a normal life again. She replied patiently as if speaking to an angry child, "Xena, just slip it down over your shoulders."
Xena glared at Gabrielle as she followed the bards suggestion. The shift landed at her feet. She stepped out of its circle, kicked it angrily away, and stomped to the bath water that awaited her. She climbed in and looked over at Gabrielle who just stood there lost in thought. Xena gruffly asked, "Well, arent you going to join me?" Jolted from her musings, Gabrielle slipped out of her clothes and joined Xena in the tub.
"Xena, when we are done with our bath, and you have soaked your arm in the hot water, let me help you with the exercises for your arm." Gabrielle had already accepted the fact that Xenas arm wasnt going to get much better, but she knew Xena would have to arrive at that realization on her own. She knew it would be a long, arduous journey, and she prayed to Artemis that everyone would survive the treacherous voyage.
The water seemed to calm Xenas nerves, and she slipped under immersing her shoulder, "All right, Gabrielle. Im sorry Im so impatient."
"Its all right, Xena. I know you dont mean it, and I understand how frustrated you are." Gabrielle remembered her own frustration when she was unable to walk after her bout with the illness that almost claimed her life. She smiled at the memory of how Xena helped her through all of that.
Seeing her bard smile as she drifted Xena wondered if Gabrielle was not thinking of the other Xena who was so kind and gentle. A spark of jealousy flared in her heart, "What are you thinking about, Gabrielle?"
Tugged from her thoughts, Gabrielle did not hear the annoyance in Xenas voice and gave her a sweet smile. She replied, "I was thinking about the last time we were here and a special dance in which a certain non-dancing warrior participated." With that she grinned.
Xena felt a pang of guilt at doubting her Gabrielle, in a quiet voice gruff with emotion she spoke, "Come here; let me wash your back." Gabrielle slid around and positioned herself in front of Xena with her back to her, and Xena lovingly scrubbed her bards back and then pulled her into her and kissed her on top of the head. "Im sorry."
"Xena, youre going to have to stop apologizing all the time. Its not befitting a warrior," Gabrielle replied seriously. Xena snorted.
Gabrielle helped Xena into her leathers and tightened them as snugly as she could, but still they hung on her gaunt body as if she were wearing a big sisters clothes. Xena was not pleased. Looking angrily down at the baggy leather she said, "What in Hades have you been feeding me over the last moon?" She then pierced Gabrielle with her angry blue eyes.
"Xena, you were very emaciated. For the first moon after you were wounded we couldnt
even keep broth in you. Thyra said it was caused by the head injury. Even after you came out of it you still couldnt keep food in your stomach and would get sick every time you suffered from one of those horrible headaches." Gabrielle hoped at least the headaches would stay away. Xena still frowned. "Xena I did the best I could. I tried to get food into you." Xenas badgering wore on her, and Gabrielle felt the tears threaten.
Ignoring Gabrielles comments, she gathered her sword, slid it into its sheath and slinging it over her back announced, "Im going for a ride." Xena turned and left, leaving Gabrielle standing there in her own private pain.
As soon as Xena laid eyes on Argo, a calmness came over her. She rubbed the beast and hugged her with her strong arm. Gabrielle was correct. The horse was in fine condition, and someone had been exercising her. Xena quickly inspected Argos tendons, fetlocks, and hooves. Finding everything perfect, her eyes swept the stall until they landed on her saddle and bridle. She noted that both tack items were clean and well oiled. She laid the bridle aside and moved the saddle. Retrieving the blanket, she one handed it onto the horses back and adjusted it. Then she positioned the left stirrup over the saddle horn, grabbed the saddle in her right hand, and slung it up onto Argos back. The horse turned and looked at her, unaccustomed to the roughness. Glancing at Argo Xena said, "Sorry, girl. Thats the best I can do for now." Xena straightened the saddle and the blanket which had been knocked askew. She released the stirrup letting it flop against Argos side and looped the other stirrup over the horn revealing the girth loop. Reaching under Argos belly, she grabbed the girth strap, threaded it through the loop and up to the saddle loop. Concentrating on the challenge before her, she did not hear the warrior enter the stall. Before Xena knew it Petra was next to her removing the strap from her hand and deftly looping it into the slip knot and jerking the cinch tight.
Xena turned on her angrily, "I dont need your help, Petra. I could have done it myself."
Petra knew immediately Xena was back, but she looked at her impassively, "I know, Xena, but if you can rip an arrow out of my chest, I can tighten a cinch for you." Xena frowned and moved around her to retrieve the bridle.
Standing at Argos head, she slipped the halter off and let it drop to the floor. She easily slipped the bit into the horses mouth and slid the bridle over the horses head all the while staring at Petra who looked back at her indifferently. Finally she spoke, "Ive got to learn to do this by myself." Petra gave her a slight nod, and Xena frowned raising one eye brow. "Hows the chest?"
Petra glanced at Xenas fingers as the warrior nimbly fastened the buckles on the bridle one handed and answered, "Its all right. Hows your head?"
Xena scowled. Everyone kept asking her about her head. She couldnt help but think, Its my arm not my head. She answered, "My head is fine." Xena tied the reins together, looped them over Argos head, and picked up her sword. Then she moved next to Petra.
Petra reached up and lowered the stirrup from the saddle horn and ran her finger tips over the leather stirrup strap that had been recently stitched together. Xena looked at the patch job that Petra was so closely examining. Noticing Xenas sword, Petra dropped the stirrup and stepped back, "Perhaps we can spar a little when you feel up to it."
"Sure, when I get back," Xena replied. Petra gave her a half grin as Xena stepped into the stirrup and pulled herself into the saddle with her right arm. It was a little awkward, but Xena thought to herself, She would adjust.
Solari watched as the Warrior Princess trotted out of the stables and spurred her horse into a break neck gallop leaving a trail of dust in her wake. She turned to see Petra coming out of the barn, and she strode angrily up to her. "Why did you let her ride off like that by herself?"
Petra turned to Solari and pinned her with her dark eyes and answered evenly, "If you are worried about her, Solari, why dont you follow her?" Petra turned away and walked off leaving Solari staring after Xena.
Xena rode Argo at a full gallop until the horse was covered in salty, foamy froth and was panting and wheezing. Finally she reined the horse off the road and through the trees until she arrived at the cool stream she knew would be there. She swung out of the saddle and held onto the saddle horn steadying herself. Without the use of her left arm she was a little off balanced, and she was still quite weak. She flipped the reins over Argos head and let the horse roam free. Xena hated tied reins, but that would be one adjustment with which she would have to live. Grabbing her sword from it sheath, she quickly scouted the area. Once assured she was alone, she returned to the company of the babbling stream.
There, she put her sword and herself through some intricate moves. She practiced testing her balance with her arm in the sling. Then she pulled the sling off and tossed it on the ground and tried the moves again. Xena quickly realized she could not fight effectively with her arm dangling at her side. Not only was it painful and distracting, it actually got in the way. She reluctantly retrieved the sling and whistled for Argo. When the horse appeared, Xena practiced mounting and dismounting the horse. Argo stood patiently as if understanding her mistress motives. Xena did not want to be embarrassed by a mishap that might occur in public due to her infirmity. When she was satisfied with her progress, she moved on to the next challenge. She swung her leg over Argos neck and leaped to the ground. Not satisfied with her landing she remounted again and again performing the feat numerous times until her actions were effortless and fluid.
Next she flipped the stirrup up, hooked it over the horn of the saddle and proceeded to loosen the snug slip knot Petra had placed there earlier. She pulled the saddle from Argos back and practiced placing it on her several times avoiding the sling and slap technique she had employed earlier. Argo did not complain. After several failed attempts and much cursing, she finally worked out a comfortable procedure for tightening the cinch. Standing very close to Argo, she could pull the cinch with her strong hand and use her left hand as a clamp. Then she could pull the strap tight into its slip knot. She would definitely have to work on strengthening her left hand. When she was finally satisfied with her new saddling ability, she was quite tired. She released Argo and moved over to the stream. She sat on the bank with her sword lying next to her.
Xena looked out at the cool waters that invited her and then down at the rivulets of sweat that left dirty paths through the road dust on her skin. She wondered how long it would take to get out of and then back into her clothes without Gabrielles help. She chuckled to herself at the thought of being unable to get them back on and having to ride back to the village in the nude. Oh well, I could always just wait until dark, Xena shook her head at the silly thoughts. After all this work to avoid embarrassment, wouldnt that be a sight? Oh well, when I arrive and the throngs of Amazons encircle the naked Warrior Princess, at least Ill be able to dismount in style! She unlaced her boots and kicked them off and reaching around behind her unlaced her leathers. Standing, she removed her arm from the sling, pulled it over her head and dropped it by her boots. She slid the loose shift down her thin body and stepped out of it just as Gabrielle had calmly suggested.
The water cool against her skin relaxed the warrior. Her thoughts drifted as she floated lazily on her back. As her mind wander, she saw Gabrielle and Zoe smiling at her. She smiled back. She lingered on the edge of sleep when a sudden flood of unfamiliar images overwhelmed her mind and jarred her awake. Irrational terror gripped her and she slapped the water madly as she struggled to gain her footing. She stumbled toward the bank clutching her left arm in her hand. Reaching the bank, she flopped down next to her clothes and stared out at the water half expecting the haunting images to still be there. Xena frowned as she tried to reconstruct the fleeting memories. Her heart beat savagely as the disjointed, foggy visions cleared. Petra and Gabrielle stood near each other. Then Zoe appeared in Petras arms. Gabrielle and Petra hugged and the two looked lovingly into each others eye. Xena touched her throat as the dark apparition hung over her and squeezed her throat. Argo stomping at a bothersome insect brought her out of the dismal haze. Confused momentarily, she looked around then checked the setting sun. It was getting late, and it would take her some time to dress. She stood, stepped into the circle of her leathers, and she drew them up her body. Eventually she was able to fasten the laces by twisting the baggy shift around to the front and loosely tying the laces. Then she twisted the shift back around and pulled the straps up last. She pulled on the boots, laced them easily, and slipped the sling over her head. With her right arm Xena guided her left arm into the sling. Gabrielle was right. It did feel better. She thought of Gabrielle and quickly mounted, impressed with her new talent, she reined Argo around. Xena was anxious to see Gabrielle, but then dark images of Petra flitted through her mind, and she frowned.
By the time Xena stabled Argo and brushed her down it was well after dark. She was hungry and tired. When she entered her quarters, she found Zoe sitting in Petras lap across from Gabrielle. They stood when she came through the door. Confused by the visions that had haunted her, the sight of Petra with Zoe and Gabrielle threw Xena into a dark mood, and she turned to the cold food sitting on the table waiting for her.
Gabrielle glanced at Petra and then went to the warrior. "Xena, where have you been? Ive been worried about you." Petra hung back. Zoe clung to the tall warrior and looked at Xena from Petras protective arms.
Xena looked up from her food and answered, "I was out riding Argo, but Im sure Petra already told you that." Gabrielle glanced back at Petra who looked on impassively.
Picking up on her somber mood, Gabrielle asked, "Xena, are you all right? You didnt have any headaches did you?"
Xena looked at her annoyed, "Im fine. And, no, I did not have a headache. My head is fine." As Xena glanced at Petra, Zoes gaze captured her for a moment. The images of earlier assaulted her. Picking up a cloth from the table she wiped her fingers, slammed the cloth down, and crossed over to Gabrielle. Then she wrapped her arm around her and pulled her into her embrace and whispered into her hair while staring at Petra, "Im fine, and Im sorry I worried you." Gabrielle wasnt sure how to react. She received the distinct impression Xenas actions were not just for her, and when she pulled away, she looked at Petra embarrassed. Xena noted the reaction and quiet rage rose in her blood.
Petra focused on the little girl in her arms and said, "Well, Zoe, how would you like to spend the night with Electra and me?" Zoe nodded and smiled. Petra looked at Xena and Gabrielle and said, "If its all right with you two, Zoe and I will be leaving." Xena said nothing but moved back to the food and picked at it.
Gabrielle glanced at Xena and then nodded at Petra thankful that Zoe would not be here tonight. It certainly would not be a healthy atmosphere for her given Xenas dark mood. "Of course, Petra," Gabrielle said, "Its fine if Zoe wants to spend the evening with you and Electra. Let me get you a clean night shirt for her." Gabrielle moved across the room, and Petra walked over to where Xena stood.
"Perhaps we can spar tomorrow if you are up to it," said Petra.
"Id like that, " Xena replied as she studied the tall woman who stood next her. She did not know whether to hate her or love her. She knew she could trust Zoe with her. She was not so sure about Gabrielle. Xena would rather have no one else to fight at her side in battle, but she wasnt sure she wanted to turn her back on the dark Amazon. Xena was angry with herself; she never had trouble reading people, but with Petra, there was an unknown factor. She glanced at Gabrielle and then at Petra.
Continued...Part 4 of 5
Return to The Bard's Corner