Part 4 of 5 of Fate's Gift
Xena watched as Gabrielle handed Petra Zoes things, and then escorted them to the door. The warrior averted her attention to the table, munched, and picked at the food as Gabrielle approached her. The bard touched Xena on the shoulder and said, "Would you like to tell me what that was all about?" Xena looked at her innocently. Exasperated Gabrielle said, "You know what I am talking about, Xena. What is going on between you two?"
"I dont know what you are talking about, Gabrielle," Xena replied.
"Xena, I dont understand your relationship with Petra. I dont want to see you two out on the practice field trying to kill each other over something that neither one of you understand either. I still have no idea why she hit you in the mouth and why you almost killed her on the practice field in the Eastern Nation."
"Gabrielle that was months ago. Ive told you we are over that." Gabrielle eyed Xena. She was unsure that Xena was being entirely honest with her.
Deciding she was not going to get any more out of her, Gabrielle changed the subject. "We didnt do your exercises this morning, Xena. When youre finished eating, lets go to the hot springs so you can limber up your muscles. Then we will work on the exercises."
Xena shoved a piece of bread into her mouth, nodded, and mumbled, "All right."
It was quite late when Xena and Gabrielle dipped into the hot spring water. They found themselves all alone. Xena deftly slipped out of her clothes and proud of her independence smiled at Gabrielle. In the water, Gabrielle kneaded Xenas neck and back muscles. Then she washed her hair. They talked pleasantly with each other, something Gabrielle missed so much over the last two moons, and she was delighted when Xena laughed aloud. They moved to the ledge where Solari and Eponin sat earlier. Finally Gabrielle spoke breaking the tranquillity of the evening.
"Do you ever think it will be like it was?" Gabrielle asked.
Xena looked at Gabrielle out of the corners of her eyes and saw that Gabrielle was staring straight ahead. Xena sadly noted the tiny worry lines around Gabrielles eyes. Those had not been there before. She thought of all the things the two had been through together and she remembered the words Toris had said to her. It seemed ages ago. What price does one pay for loving you, Xena? A deep sadness engulfed her.
Gabrielle looked up into Xenas sorrowful eyes and raised her eyebrows. "Xena?"
Xena found her voice, "Great Artemis! Gabrielle, what have I done to you?" Gabrielle frowned in question, and Xena gently touched her cheek with her finger tips. "I look at you and you are so unhappy. I know its my fault." Gabrielle began to shake her head, but Xena continued. "Three years ago in Poteidaia you were a little girl, filled with joy and wonder. Now after being with me, you are old beyond your years. Ive saddled you down with a child. Im never here for you, and I constantly worry you. You have no home you can call your own. All you have is a worn out, crippled ex-warrior whom you cant even rely on to be there when you need her. You deserve so much more."
Gabrielle shook her head and grabbed Xenas hand as tears gathered in her eyes she said, "Xena, please, I didnt meant that. I meant will we ever be carefree, just you, Zoe and me like it was when we were in Amphipolis with Toris and Cyrene. Xena, please dont say those things. If I didnt have you and Zoe, I dont think I could go on living. The only thing that kept me going when you lay lost in Morpheus realm was Zoe. I love her as much as I would a child of my own womb. When I look at her, I see you, and I love her all the more." Xena frowned at the emotion she saw in Gabrielles face. "Xena, when you were lost to me in the deep sleep of Morpheus as long as your heart beat I had hope. That was all I needed. When the younger you returned, I at least had a piece of you. That was good enough for me. That Xena grew to love me and I her. And I prayed to Artemis that you would return to me. And you did. I know we are meant to be together, Xena. It is Fate. The day your heart stops beating is the day mine will too, so please dont tell me you are sending me away. Dont tell me you are leaving me. I dont care about having a home. You are my home. It doesnt matter what you did in the past; I know you now and you are good. I dont care if you are no longer a warrior. You are my Xena and I love you. I dont care if your arm is crippled; you are stronger as you are now than I could ever be. Please dont take you away from me." And with that she cried. Xena wrapped her in her embrace and held her and spoke to her quietly.
Much later, after Gabrielle calmed down and Xena reassured her she was not sending her away, Gabrielle began to work on Xenas arm as they sat in the hot springs. Gabrielle had hoped the hot water would make it easier, but Xenas arm was very stiff and painful. Gabrielle noted with pleasure an improvement in strength and flexibility in Xenas wrist and hand. But when she then moved to the elbow, Xena could still not make the joint work without help. Her shoulder was completely frozen and no amount of pressure could convince the joint to cooperate.
Xena finally stopped Gabrielle. Pain evident in her stoic face she gasped, "Thats enough, Gabrielle."
Gabrielle looked into Xenas face and smiled, "It is getting better, Xena. A moon ago you couldnt move your fingers."
"Well keep working on building up my hand and wrist. Im not so sure any amount of work will help my elbow or shoulder." Gabrielle frowned. She couldnt quite believe Xena was ready to accept the fact that she wasnt going recover the use of her arm.
Gabrielle was thankful that most of Xenas recuperation occurred when she was her younger self because even after their serious talk, Xena was becoming impossible to live with. She pushed herself every day until she fell exhausted into bed in the evenings. When she became frustrated with her inabilities, nothing was safe from her wrath. She would fly into a rage wreaking destruction in her path. The Amazon nation soon discovered Xena was back, but rather than rejoicing, everyone stayed as far out of her way as possible. Gabrielle sent Zoe to stay with Petra and Electra for longer periods until the child almost lived with them. Petra constantly watched Xena and questioned her Queen about Xenas behavior. Gabrielle tried to assure her that Xena would never hurt her, but sometimes even she became frightened with Xenas behavior.
While Gabrielle took Zoe to eat and pick up her and Xenas meal, Xena sat in a chair in the queens quarters, a rock clasped in her left hand. Shed just finished exercising her hand and wrist. Using the hefty stone, she had built up a great deal of strength in her left hand. Having discovered she could flex the muscles in her forearm and upper arm if she concentrated hard enough, Xena turned her attention to the elbow. For the last few days she had noticed a little movement there. She and Gabrielle worked the arm twice a day, but she had not mentioned to Gabrielle that she was able to move the elbow. She wasnt satisfied yet because it was such a minor accomplishment. Today, no matter what she did, the elbow would not respond. In frustration, she grabbed up the stone and threw it as hard as she could at the opposite wall just as Gabrielle entered the room. The rock bounced off the wall and shattered the water pitcher on the wash basin spraying shards of pottery and water all over the wall and onto the floor around the basin stand. Unaware that Gabrielle had walked in on the scene, Xena stood knocking over the chair. She viscously kicked a wooden toy horse that Zoe had left on the floor. The toy careened off the table leg splintered hitting Gabrielle in the thigh. Gabrielle dropped the tray of food onto the floor and grasped her leg in shock and in pain.
Xenas rage cooled when she saw what she had done, "Gabrielle, Im sorry!" Still holding her leg, Gabrielle limped to a chair and sat down as Xena stood watching stunned that she had actually hurt Gabrielle. When Gabrielle moved her hand, blood trickled and dripped to the floor from a gash almost three fingers wide. Xena grabbed up a cloth from the table and kneeled in front of Gabrielle who sat stoically staring at her own blood. Xena stanched the blood with the rag and took Gabrielles hand and placed it on the cloth. "Hold this. Ill get the sewing kit." Holding the needle in her left hand, Xena threaded it and tied a quick knot in the end of the thread. The bleeding had slowed, but the wound was deep into the muscle and would need at least ten stitches. Xena cleaned the wound and looked up at Gabrielles face. It was expressionless. "Gab, Im sorry. I didnt know you had come back. Please forgive me." Gabrielle saw tears in Xenas eyes, but she was tired of the battle, and she could find nothing of comfort to say.
"Just sew it up, Xena," Gabrielle said. Xena sighed and focused her attention on the wound, suturing twelve, tiny, perfect, individual stitches closing the wound expertly and cleanly. There would probably only be a small line scar when it was healed. She then wrapped the wound in a clean bandage and tore the bandage using the ends to secure the dressing in place.
Gabrielle then stood up and left without a word, leaving Xena to clean up the mess she had created.
"What am I going to do Ephiny?" Gabrielle was in tears, and the only one she could turn to was Ephiny. She knew if Petra found out, she would hurt Xena, and Xena had been hurt enough. Gabrielle knew that she could not continue suffering through Xenas moods.
"Gabrielle, what exactly happened?"
"I dont know what happened, Ephiny. I took Zoe to get us our morning meal and when I returned, Xena angrily threw a rock shattering the water pitcher. Then she stood up and kicked one of Zoes toys. It splintered and struck me in the leg." Ephiny noted the bandage and remembered angry bruises and a raging warrior. She pursed her lips in thought.
"Maybe Xena should move out, Gabrielle, before she hurts you or Zoe."
Gabrielle shook her head, "She didnt know I was in the room, Ephiny. She didnt mean to do it. Its just that I dont know what to do anymore. I dont know how to handle her."
Ephiny raised her eyebrow at that comment. She knew of no one who could handle the Warrior Princess. "But what if she loses her temper with Zoe, Gabrielle?"
"Ive been sending Zoe to stay with Petra and Electra lately because I didnt want her subjected to Xenas moods. Ephiny, I love Xena. I dont want to lose her. After all I went through, all I want is her back the way she was."
Ephiny took the Queens hands in hers and said quietly, "Gabrielle, that may never happen." Gabrielle looked into Ephinys eyes. "Why do you think she is acting like this?" Ephiny inquired.
"I guess because she is frustrated over the loss of her arm," Gabrielle said.
"Have you spoken to Thyra? It could be the head injury, Gabrielle. Have you ever thought of that?"
"I dont know, Ephiny. Even with blinding headaches, the young Xena didnt act like this. My Xena has fought her dark side for so long sometimes it wins for a while."
"You are probably right, Gabrielle. I dont know, its been a while since I was a warrior, but I dont remember them being this sensitive. All I know is that Ive had three, big overgrown warriors in here crying over Xena."
Gabrielle frowned and asked, "Over Xena? Who? When?"
"Over the last two moons Solari has been in here seven or eight times. She is feeling guilty about not being able to release Xenas foot from the stirrup sooner. She blames herself for the severity of Xenas injuries. Shes been drinking way too much. I thought when Xena regained consciousness, she would get better, but she just finds something else to blame on herself. I fear if Xena doesnt make a full recovery, we are going to have to bury Solari."
Gabrielle shook her head. "I never even thanked her for what she did to save Xena; I was too distraught myself to worry about anyone else."
Ephiny laid her hand on Gabrielles arm. "Dont beat yourself up, Gabrielle. You had too much to worry about."
"You said there were others?" Gabrielle probed.
Ephiny nodded and said, "Yes, Eponin. Right before Xena was speared, her attention was on saving Eponin from an Athenian spear. She saved Eponin but was speared herself."
"Oh, no! poor Eponin."
"Yes, shes feeling badly. On top of that, shes worried about Solari." Ephiny took Gabrielles hand in hers. "And then theres Petra." Gabrielle wrinkled her brow. "Petra worships Xena, but shes in love with you." Gabrielle shook her head. "Yes, Gabrielle, she is in love with you. She told me so. After that incident when Xena hurt you, when she awoke from Morpheus spell, I called Petra here before me to explain her actions, and she confessed. She also told me that your young Xena guessed it. Apparently after the incident, Petra paid Xena a visit."
Gabrielle exclaimed, "Thats it!" Ephiny raised her eyebrow as Gabrielle continued, "I walked in on the two in deep conversation. The way they reacted, you would have thought that I caught them in bed together." Ephiny was shocked at her queens comment. She had no idea Gabrielle would have even thought of that. Then again Gabrielle had grown up quite a bit over the last three years.
Ephiny continued, "Well anyway, Petra told me that she went there to either kill Xena or to make her feel what it was like to be defenseless. She herself didnt know which it was. She strangled Xena but then changed her mind. This threw Xena into one of her bad headaches, and she became ill. Petra took care of her. Rubbed her head. The whole works. Can you imagine? Petra goes to possibly kill her but ends up taking care of her. Petra loves Xena like a sister and has a great deal of respect for her. However, she cant stand to see Xena mistreat you in anyway. Shes put you in a goddess category. She claims that she would never act on her feelings but she told me that you deserve better than a warrior. She also added that she is in love with Electra and could never hurt her. Petra feels guilty about her feelings, believing that she has betrayed both Electra and Xena."
"So Xena knew this?" Gabrielle asked amazed.
"Yes, Petra said Xena came right out and asked her." Ephiny said and then asked, "Doesnt Xena remember any of this?"
"She said that she doesnt," Gabrielle said and then paused frowning before she continued, "but theres this strange tension between the two of them. Its like they both know that the other one knows. Xena told me once Petra would do anything for me." Gabrielle closed her eyes and cringed.
"What is it, Gabrielle?" Ephiny said.
"I just had an awful thought. I am fearful of what may happen if Xena ever remembers that conversation. In the Eastern Nation something occurred between them. Petra bloodied Xenas lip. They had this horrible sword fight, and Xena came very close to killing her. Petra still wears Xenas scar on her throat." Ephiny was amazed. "Xena keeps telling me they are both over the problem they had, but I wonder. I think that fight was over me, but Xena would never tell me."
Remembering another incident, Ephiny remarked, "That evening right after Xena regained consciousness when we were in your apartment, I noticed that even young Xena seemed jealous of Petra when she was around you. That was before she even got to know you, Gabrielle."
Gabrielle frowned and shrugged, "I think Xena is sometimes resentful when Petra is around Zoe too. Ephiny, Zoe worships Petra. I dont know what it is about Petra, but she is so..." Suddenly Gabrielle realized what she was admitting, and was afraid to finish the statement for what it might reveal.
Ephiny finished it for her, "So much like Xena, only younger and less jaded?" Gabrielle looked down in her lap as tears formed in her eyes. Ephiny remembered the exchange she had witnessed the morning Petra had seen the bruises on Gabrielles face and knew then that some feelings were mutual.
Gabrielle Looked up at Ephiny with tears in her eyes, "Xena must never learn this, Ephiny, or I would lose her forever." Gabrielle realized it would be so easy for her to fall deeply in love with Petra.
"Gabrielle, you need not worry. You are the sister of my heart and my queen. Xena will never find out from me. I only told you about Petra because I thought you should know so that you might avoid some issues in the future." Gabrielle nodded knowingly.
Gabrielle remained all day in Ephinys chambers, and the two enjoyed each others company, something they had not been able to do for a long time. Ephiny had their evening meal delivered to her quarters, and the two ate together before Gabrielle went home for the evening. When she arrived back in her own quarters, she found that Xena had cleaned up everything but was not there. As Gabrielle walked across the central compound towards Petra and Electras, she hoped that Electra was not aware of the feelings that existed between her and Petra. Gabrielle retrieved Zoe and took her to the baths before retiring for the night. She thought that she might catch a glimpse of Xena, but she had no luck. She and Zoe went home to an empty bed. Gabrielle climbed in bed with Zoe, and after a brief story the two drifted off to sleep, Zoe cradled in Gabrielles arms.
When Gabrielle did not return all day, Xena decided she needed to find a full wine skin and a couple of friends who needed cheering up. While she helped them, perhaps they could help her too. Xena procured two wine flasks from the dining hall and found her warrior friends around a large bonfire talking to some young warriors in training.
When Xena strode up, the conversation died off. The young warriors were in awe of the Warrior Princess legendary fighting skills, and she was the Queens consort. However, Xena figured it was because of her sad appearance, but she pushed on, "Eponin, Solari, my friends, Ive been looking for you." The two immediately jumped to their feet and joined Xena. "I was hoping you could help me finish off these wine skins," Xena said taking one from her shoulder which she tossed it to Eponin, the other she tossed to Solari.
Eponin grinned and elbowed Solari whose somber expression finally gave way to a smile. "Sure, come on, Solari," Eponin said, "Where to Xena?"
"How about the hot springs? Think anybody will be there?" Xena asked.
"If there is, well scare them away," Eponin said laughing, as she slung the skin over her left shoulder. She wrapped her arm around Xenas shoulder as they headed off toward the springs.
As they walked through the night, Xena inquired, "Still have that amethyst, Eponin?"
"Sure do, Xena. You dont see me stumbling around like Solari." She patted the pouch at her waist.
"What are you two talking about?" Solari asked. Xena and Eponin laughed.
"After one Tartarus of a hangover," Eponin explained, "Xena gave me a piece of amethyst. That little purple stone helps fight the effects of that purple substance we all so love to drink." Turning to Solari she teased loudly, "Wine! Havent had a hangover in moons. It really works."
"Really?" Eponin nodded and Xena grinned. "Hey, I want one!" Eponin laughed loudly at Solaris child-like outburst.
Xena dug into her pouch and pulled out the stone she carried, "Here you can have mine; Im not going to need it tonight." She handed it over to Solari who examined it closely and then tucked it in her amulet bag.
"Thanks, Xena," Solari said. Xena smiled and slapped her on her back.
"You intend to get drunk tonight, Xena?" Eponin inquired a wicked grin tugging at her lips.
Xena announced, "I certainly do, my friend."
"Well, Solari and I will make sure you get home and tucked into bed."
"Thank you Eponin, I appreciate that," said Xena.
When they arrived at the spring, Eponin shooed away some youths. Then the three stripped down and eased into the hot water. Xena noted that the two warriors avoided looking at her scarred shoulder and at her shriveled arm. Xena sat between them as they settled down to some serious drinking, Eponin on her right and Solari on her left. Xena was reminded of that fateful retreat through the forest and thought, Just like then.
Eponin joked, "Hey are you sure this will be enough wine for our purposes? Solari, why dont you run over to your hut and get two or three more?"
"Ah shut up, Eponin. I dont have any wine at my place," Solari growled.
Xena spoke up, "Hey, before we get too happy, I wanted to say something to you two."
Eponin lowered her wine skin, staring straight ahead and asked somberly, "Whats that, Xena?"
"Solari, I wanted to thank you for cutting me loose that day. If Argo had dragged me much farther, I would be dead. Thanks, Solari. I know that you wished you could have got to me sooner, but you know how fast Argo is." Eponin and Solari nodded.
Speaking quietly and sincerely, Solari replied, "Yeah, well, you would have done the same thing for me, Xena. Im just sorry that it had to happen at all. Im glad youre back with us."
Xena said, "I also want to thank you both for binding my wound and getting me back here alive."
Solari spoke up, "Well, if it wasnt for Queen Gabrielle, I think you would have bled to death before we could have got you back here."
Xena was confused at that comment. "What do you mean, Solari?" she asked.
Surprised Solari asked, "Xena, they didnt tell you?" .
"Tell me what?" Xena asked.
Solari explained, "Zoe told Queen Gabrielle the moment you were wounded, and Queen Gabrielle made Ephiny bring a wagon out to retrieve you. They brought Thyra with them. We couldnt get the bleeding to stop, and we were sure you were not going to make it. The most beautiful sight I ever saw was that wagon and our Queen coming for you."
Eponin took a long swig from the skin and handed it to Xena. She then spoke, "You should have seen her, Xena. You should have seen our Queen. You would have been so proud of her. My gods, you were a bloody mess but she took it like a warrior. Thyra had you laid in that wagon and took one look at your wound and was ready remove your arm at the shoulder and cauterize it." Xena furrowed her brow and winced. "Queen Gabrielle climbed into that wagon and gave her the order that she was not to take your arm and that she was to repair it. She even told her exactly what to do." Xena took a thoughtful draught from the skin and passed it on to Solari.
Solari commented, "She was magnificent!"
"Yeah," Eponin said, "no wonder half the young warriors are in love with her." Xena turned and stared at Eponin. Noticing Xenas reaction Eponin blurted out, "Of course its just infatuation, Xena. But can you blame them? Who wouldnt give anything to have that kind of devotion?"
Xena grinned, "I guess you are right."
Solari interjected, "You know Eponin is right about that; although shes usually not right about much."
Eponin reached across Xena and slapped at Solari, "I was right about you! You Hedonist." Solari slapped back.
"Hey! If you two are going to fight, Im moving." Xena made as if to move, but her two friends pulled her back down and shoved the wine skin into her hand. Xena grinned, sat back and took a long, deep drink of the potent elixir. She had almost climbed out of the springs to go search for her Gabrielle. After Solari and Eponins comments about her brave Gabrielle, all Xena wanted to do was to find her and hold her. Before too long the three were feeling the effects of the wine and were playing in the water like three Amazon youths. Solari scrambled out of the water and not bothering with clothes streaked off to find some more wine . When she came pounding back down the path with a full wine skin in each hand, she leaped screaming into the middle of the deep pool causing a tidal wave to wash over Xena and Eponin. Both received a mouthful of water because they were laughing so hard. After consuming half of the third skin, they played keep away from each other. Xena found herself leaping into the air, slapping the skin away from Eponin, tackling Solari and being dunked by Eponin and dunking back. After a candlemark of horseplay, they floated exhausted in the warm waters and took turns trying to shoot the wine into each others mouths.
Eventually they ended up sitting on the ledge and passing the skins around in a semi-orderly fashion when Eponin looking at Xenas shoulder and remarked, "Great goddess, what a scar!"
Xena looked down at it through bleary eyes and then grinned at them both, "Yeah, bet you two dont have any that good."
Solari raised her arm, stood up, and pointed to a long straight scar that ran along her ribs, "Forty stitches, the Centaur wars. Grazed my lung." Xena leaned forward, ran her finger along the scar and whistled.
"Oh, Solari, Xena has you beat. Thyra said she put forty stitches inside, and..." Eponin said. She frowned and turned to Solari. "How many did she say was on the outside?" Xena and Solari shrugged. "Hey, can you still see the stitch holes? Lets count em," Eponin suggested. Three heads almost touched as the women closely examined the scar. After getting to twenty-eight and losing count, Eponin splashed water into Xena and Solaris eyes and fell over backwards into the water laughing.
Solari turned to Xena and said, "Eponin didnt show us her scar, and I happen to know shes got a big one on her butt." They both looked wickedly at Eponin as she back paddled away from them.
"Oh no you dont!" Eponin exclaimed. Solari tossed the near empty wine skin on the bank. Then she and Xena tackled Eponin, pushed her under water, and wrapped their arms around her neck. When she finally manage to sputter to the surface, she relented. "Stop! Ill show you." She rolled over on her belly revealing the long straight scar that ran down her lower back and ended in the muscle of her left hip. Rolling over she said, "Satisfied? Sixty-three stitches, the Centaur wars. I was never so tired of sleeping on my belly. My back ached for days." Her two assailants roared with laughter, and the three friends made their way back to the ledge where they retrieved the last skin.
As they sat there and chugged down the wine, Eponin asked Xena about her arm, "You think youll ever get it all back Xena?"
Xena took a big swig, not noticing the two were passing their turns to her, and she shrugged. "I dont know. It seems to get better and then...I just dont know. I kind of doubt it."
Solari wrapped her arm around Xenas shoulders and said, "Oh Tartarus, Xena, youre still a better warrior with one arm than anyone I know." Xena grinned and took another drink.
"You should see all those young pups trying to imitate your style, Xena," Eponin interjected.
Xena raised her eyebrow and looked at Eponin, "Really?"
Eponin rolled her eyes and gave her a dumb look, "Yeah, really. They all want to fight like you," Eponin answered in mock sarcasm. "Youll probably perfect this one-arm fighting style and then all of your adoring followers will study the technique and try to copy you." Xena shook her head and grinned.
Solari added, "Youre a legend to them; a goddess of war. They love you. By Zeus, Xena! The other half who are not in love with Queen Gabrielle are in love with you."
Xena laughed and said, "Thats only because they dont know me."
Eponin chuckled and added, "Thats the truth. I hope none of them are eavesdropping right now or that legend is going to suffer some serious bruises."
"Yeah they do admire you," Solari said, "You know Petra, shes been training the young ones. Shes and incredible warrior, so powerful and fast." Xena frowned. "She kicks their butts all over that field and then reminds them when they are lying in the dust that you could do the exact same thing to her. Those words alone knocks some of the cockiness out of them and builds their desire to be like you. They would love to one day kick Petras butt."
Xena thought of the warrior who brought her to her knees and almost sent her to Tartarus and of the dark image of her floating over her. Through her bleariness she asked, "What about her anyway?"
Eponin took the skin and commented seriously, "Shes a great asset to the war counsel. So even tempered most of the time."
Solari muttered, "Yeah, unlike some people we know!"
Eponin snorted at Solaris dig and then said, "She is a mystery though. I cant figure out if shes in love with you or if its the Queen whos won her heart. Usually I can tell, but shes not as green as the young warriors who cant see for the stars in their eyes."
"Enough of this talking! Drink up! Weve got to finish this skin," Solari said and slapped the flask into Xenas hand. Xena took a long drink from the skin, and tried to focus her mind on the previous conversation. She wasnt successful as the wine took hold and blurred her senses. Before long she drifted into dull dreamless oblivion.
"Mission accomplished. My gods! How much wine did she drink?" Eponin inquired.
"Well, unless you were cheating," Solari said, "I would say at least two and a half skins." and shook her head. "Glad Im not going to be in her boots tomorrow. Come on, lets get her home." Solari and Eponin hauled Xena out of the water, and being careful of her arm, they laid her on the bank, while they dressed. Eponin gathered Xenas clothes.
"Should we dress her?" Solari asked.
"No ones awake but the guards anyway," Eponin said. "Why bother. Well just have to strip her out of em when we get her home."
"I hope the Queen wont be angry," Solari said.
"Look, Solari, Xena needed this. Gabrielle will understand. Now lets get her home."
Eponin wrapped her arm around Xenas chest, and Solari took her legs, and the two tramped through the village towards the queens quarters carrying a very inebriated Warrior Princess. When they arrived, they quietly let themselves in and laid Xena on her bed and covered her. As they left, Eponin dropped her clothes on a chair.
Xena drifted in the abyss of wine induced oblivion for several candlemarks, but as the effects lessened, her mind became active with memories both familiar and unfamiliar. She saw his dark image standing there. His blue eyes looked down into hers. She ran through the fields with Chloe and Lyceus. With Gabrielle she watched as Zoe rode Argo in a gentle, loping gait. She raised a wine skin with friends and swam in cool streams with Gabrielle. She spun her mother in circles and laughed into Cyrenes smiling eyes. She looked up into Chloes eyes and down into Gabrielles eyes. She reached across a table and squeezed Ephinys hand. She slapped Eponin on the back and was spun around in her arms. She saw Lyceus cut down. She searched in vain for Chloe. She watched Cyrene turn angrily away from her. She felt the rough, jute rope dig into her wrists and ankles. She felt him brutally hit her battered face. She saw him roll off her bruised and nude body. She saw the assassins galloping towards them as Chloe looked back into her eyes. She saw the arrow pierce Chloes chest and felt the stab in her own. She heard Gabrielle scream her name. She held Chloe as she died in her arms and Zoe as she cried in her arms. She bathed Gabrielles fevered body and held her. She wiped the tears as they fell from her own eyes. She knelt before Artemis and begged for help. She saw the helmet and the spear. She felt it sear through her body, and she felt herself hit the ground. The world spun until the black abyss swallowed her, and she drifted on a sea of blackness floating in pain and loneliness, lost alone. An image in the distance, a temple in Thessaly. She saw Gabrielle spattered with blood and dead in the temple. She saw Petra standing over her, felt her hands enclose her throat, the darkness engulf her and she screamed, "Noooo!" and flung out her fist fighting the darkness.
"Xena! What have you done?"
Xenas eye flew open and she scrambled back in bed, expecting to see Petra standing over her, but all she saw was Gabrielles angry face and all she heard was Gabrielles angry voice and Zoe crying. Shaking the sleep from her head, she tried to make sense out of the scene that lay before her. Her head pounded. She felt queasy and the world tilted around her. The taste in her mouth reminded her of the wine and the night before. Gabrielle screamed at her as she ran around the bed. Xena finally realized that Zoe was on the floor crying. The warrior struggled out of bed to go to her, but Gabrielle arrived first. She swept the child into her arms and turned protectively away from Xena. When Xena approached them Gabrielle slapped Xena across the face with all her might, as she angrily retorted, "Dont you ever touch her again!" Gabrielle turned and headed for the door. As Zoe looked back through her tear-flooded, sapphire eyes, Xena saw a purple bruise appearing on her tiny cheek.
After taking Zoe to Thyra, Gabrielle went straight to Ephiny to discuss matters with her. The two women tucked the little girl into Ephinys bed where she lay dozing. Then they moved to the other room to talk.
Gabrielle asked, "Ephiny, is it safe enough now to return to Amphipolis?"
"I believe so, but why Gabrielle?
"If the Athenian threat is over, I wish to return to Amphipolis with Zoe. Zoe needs to see Cyrene, and I do too," Gabrielle said.
Ephiny asked, "What do you plan to do, Gabrielle?"
"Im not sure, but I should have heeded your warning. I wont have Xena hurting Zoe."
"Have you spoken to her?" Ephiny questioned and then stated, "Im sure it was an accident. The guards reported to me this morning about the activity of three warriors. It seems they got very drunk last night, and Solari and Eponin carried Xena home in the wee hours of the morning."
Gabrielle listened, but her anger was not displaced, "Before, I only had to put up with her bad moods and raging temper. Now she is turning to wine. She has a hard enough time controlling herself without letting wine help dictate her actions." Gabrielle sighed, "I just cant deal with this any more, Ephiny. When I saw her punch Zoe, I wanted to..." Gabrielle paused.
Ephiny said calmly, "Gabrielle, youve been through a great deal with all this. You just need time. After you take Zoe to Amphipolis, then what will you do?"
"That depends on Cyrene, Ephiny. I know I will not go back to Poteidaia." Ephiny raised her eyebrow in question. "I have never had that good of a relationship with my parents, Ephiny. I feel closer to Cyrene than I have ever felt to either of my parents. There are just too many bad memories in Poteidaia; I cant go there. Besides, I owe it to Chloe and to Zoe to be there for the child of my heart. Im afraid Xena can never be a real mother to Zoe. I love Zoe, and I dont want to give her up." Gabrielle looked away as Zoes words played in her mind, Momma said you would always take care of me Gabrielle. Gabrielle looked down and tears formed in her eyes as Ephiny stood, walked over to her, and knelt in front of her.
"Gabrielle, you know Xena still loves you both very much." Ephiny lifted Gabrielles chin, peered into her eyes, and insisted, "You do know that." Gabrielle bit her lip and nodded as tears cascaded down her face. "Maybe some time apart will be good for both of you." Gabrielle wiped away her tears.
"Whether it will be good or not its just going to have to be that way," Gabrielle said as she looked into Ephinys eyes, daring her to say something. "I am going to ask Petra to escort us to Amphipolis, Ephiny."
Ephiny stood. "Are you sure thats a good idea, Gabrielle?"
"I need someone right now, Ephiny, who understands my actions. And besides, there is no one Xena trusts more with our safety."
Ephiny crossed her arms and asked, "What do you think Petra will do when she sees Zoes cheek? That bruise will likely spread to her eye, and by tomorrow, she will probably have a black eye."
"I want to leave by first light tomorrow," Gabrielle replied, "I hope Petra wont see her until its too late."
Ephiny nodded, "Ill go and speak with Petra right now and organize an escort party. You and Zoe will stay here with me tonight. Im going to send for some food and some hot water for a bath. That should make you feel better. Ill be back within two candlemarks.
Xena sat in a stupor, head between her knees, her arm clasped firmly around her crippled arm which she held into her stomach against the churning. Between her feet sat the wash basin and the sad contents of her stomach. At this moment she wished that she had died on that Athenian spear. Her head pounded and her vision was bleary. Beads of sweat gathered on her brow as her stomach churned, and the world spun around her. When the realization of what she had done hit home, Xena became violently ill. Now she sat alone. Her mind searched for a route across the chasm her actions had created, but a landslide of incomprehensible problems blocked each passage. She thought miserably, Gabrielle will never forgive me. Tears dropped into the bowl at her feet, and the sharp, pounding words pummeled her sore brain, Shes yours too; you promised, Xe.
Ephiny was steaming mad and although the two warriors towered over her, they cowered at her anger and harsh words. "And what were you two expecting to achieve by getting Xena drunk last night?"
Eponin spoke first. "Ephiny, Xena hunted us down and invited us to join her."
Ephiny demanded, "And at what point did you decide to not get drunk but allow to her believe you were joining her? And why?" Ephiny pierced Eponin with her eyes and then glared at Solari.
Solari said, "Ephiny, as you well know Xena has not been herself. We knew she was feeling...well I dont know, but we knew the loss of her arm was killing her inside. Shes a warrior! By the gods, Ephiny, you remember what it was like. If you were hurt or injured, and you had to sit out a fight or a battle. You remember? Imagine being Xena and knowing that you may have to sit out every battle for the rest of your life." Ephiny frowned, she knew exactly what Solari was trying to say. "When Xena finally worked up the nerve to join us and become one with us again...we had to let her know she was still a warrior."
Ephiny sighed and then said, "Look, I know you two had the best intentions, but in her drunken stupor, she hit Zoe." The two warriors were visibly shaken. "And now Gabrielle is taking Zoe and leaving Xena."
Eponin pleaded, "But, Ephiny, that will kill Xena." Eponin looked at Solari and back to Ephiny. "She may as well have died on that Athenian spear."
"I know all that, Eponin, and that is why Ive come here to talk to you, besides giving you a piece of my mind for your rather irresponsible, youthful behavior." Turning to Solari Ephiny said, "You werent drunk?" Solari shook her head. "Really, Solari, running through the compound naked, carrying two wine flasks and screaming at the top of your lungs?"
Solari looked at Ephiny sheepishly. "Uh, you heard about that," Solari said and then shrugged her shoulders, "We had to be convincing, Ephiny. You know how Xena is."
Ephiny just shook her head, "Well, anyway, as we speak, Petra is organizing an escort party for Gabrielle and Zoe."
"Ephiny, dont you think Solari and I should take the Queen?" Eponin asked.
"No, Petra is more than capable of transporting the Queen and the child," Ephiny said, "Besides, it was Xena who chose Petra to escort Zoe from the Eastern Nation. She has a great deal of trust in Petra." Eponin smirked and Ephiny narrowed her eyes. "And what is that supposed to mean?"
"Ephiny theres been talk," Eponin responded.
Ephiny replied, "Ive heard all that, and I understand your concern, but Gabrielle will have no one else. As for you two, I want you to get over to the queens quarters right now and take care of Xena. Gabrielle and Zoe are staying with me. You are to become Xenas shadow. Keep her away from Gabrielle and Zoe. And keep her away from Petra too. You might try helping her find a way to get over her problem with her arm so that she has a chance of winning Gabrielle back." Both warriors nodded grimly. "Gabrielle did everything for Xena, including exercising her arm. Since you two are somewhat responsible for the things that happened here, you can take over that job too. If Xena complains, figure it out, but just do your job."
Attendants had gone to the queens chambers and retrieved Gabrielle and Zoes things, and all the preparations had been made for the journey to Amphipolis. Gabrielle and Zoe stayed in Ephinys chambers. The three ate their evening meal together as Gabrielle held Zoe in her lap. Zoes little cheek was black and blue and a deep purple stain appeared beneath her eye. Gabrielle almost cried when she looked upon the tiny child.
When Ephiny left the room to speak with a messenger, Zoe looked up into Gabrielles eyes. "Gabrielle, I dont want to leave Xena," Zoe said, and tears welled up in her ocean-blue eyes. "She didnt mean to hit me, Gabrielle. She was dreaming, and she thought I was Petra." Gabrielle looked into the childs eyes as a pain stabbed her chest. She no more wanted to leave Xena than she wanted to cut off her own right arm, but she knew she had to.
"Zoe, honey, I know Xena didnt mean to hurt you. We just need to get you home to Cyrene for a while. Xena will join us later." Gabrielle prayed silently that her words were not a lie.
Zoe looked down at the white bandage on Gabrielles thigh, and she laid a gentle hand over the wound. Staring at her own hand on the dressing she inquired, "Does it hurt?"
Gabrielle had almost forgotten the gash in her leg when Zoe reminded her of it. "No, honey, it doesnt hurt," she answered. Although Zoe had not been told, Gabrielle knew the child knew everything about that incident. Ephiny stood in the doorway witnessing the interchange. "Come here, honey," Gabrielle said. She shifted Zoe in her arms holding her like an infant she gently kissed her cheek and whispered, "I love you Zoe, everything will be all right, I promise." Zoe gave Gabrielle a smile. Ephiny frowned at the little pain that flitted through her chest.
After Gabrielle had bathed Zoe and slipped her into the middle of Ephinys bed, she informed Ephiny that she was going to talk to Xena. Arriving at her quarters, she found the three warriors talking somberly in the dim light of a single lamp. The room was a mess. The bed unmade, the table covered with the remnants of half eaten food, and a stale smell permeated the room. Xena looked horrible. Wearing only a linen shift and the sling for her arm, she looked like she had just rolled out of bed. Her hair had not been brushed, and dark circles shadowed her blood shot eyes. She had been crying. When Gabrielle entered the room, Solari and Eponin jumped to their feet, and Xena rose slowly. Her face belied her fear and uncertainty. She knew Zoe was all right. She had staggered over to Thyra early that morning to check on her. As she stood staring into Gabrielles eyes, her mind was too sore to explore the possible reasons she might be there.
Dragging her somber stare from Xena, Gabrielle looked at Solari and Eponin, "I need to speak with Xena alone." The two immediately exited the room dropping their heads in deference and mumbling my Queen as they passed by her. Gabrielle watched the two warriors as they left and then shifted her gaze to Xena.
Xena tried to speak, "Gabrielle, Im..." Gabrielle raised her hands and interrupted her.
"Xena, you do not have to say anything. Youve already apologized enough over the last fortnight. I know you did not intend to hurt Zoe, but you did hurt her. I know you did not intend to hurt me, but you did hurt me. I can no long stay here and let either of us get hurt by you whether you intend harm or not. Zoes life is too precious to me, and I need to be there to take care of her." Gabrielle paused and stepped closer to Xena so she could better see her face in the dim light. "Xena, I came here to tell you that in the morning Zoe and I are leaving for Amphipolis." Xena felt her heart sink as a wave of nausea gripped her guts. She sat back down in the chair. A tear fell down her cheek as she stared up at Gabrielle. Gabrielle knew it would be so easy to run to Xena and hold her, but Zoes bruised cheek haunted her, and she looked away. "Im sorry, Xena, we could not make this work out between us, but I have to think of Zoe." Gabrielle turned to leave but paused as she said, "I hope you find peace, Xena." and she walked away.
Outside she found Solari and Eponin standing against the building. When she appeared they stood up straight and turned to her. "Queen Gabrielle, Solari and I want to apologize to you for what happened last night. I fear this unfortunate incident is our fault. Will you ever forgive us?"
Gabrielle smiled sadly at the somber warriors before her. "Its not your fault, Eponin. Xena has been haunted by horrible dreams lately. They are to blame for Zoe getting hurt. Until she can find a way to deal with her fears and her infirmity, Zoe and I can not be around her."
Eponin bowed her head, Yes, my Queen."
Gabrielle turned to Solari, "Solari, I am sorry I havent spoken to you sooner. I want to thank you for saving Xena that day." Turning to Eponin and then back to Solari. "I want to thank both of you for getting her home to me alive. I also thank you for being her friends. She needs you both right now." Gabrielle dropped her eyes and fought the tears realizing as she talked to these proud warriors she relinquished the care of her love to someone else.
Solari lightly touched Gabrielles arm. "My Queen, well take care of her for you. We promise."
Gabrielle smiled through her tear filled eyes, "Thank you." She paused and looked at Eponin and back at Solari and they raised their brows expectantly. "Would you please clean her up and make her get dressed?"
Solari and Eponin spoke as one, "Of course, my Queen." They bowed slightly and laid their fists over their hearts as Gabrielle left them.
That night Gabrielle and Ephiny sat up talking long into the night. Ephiny realized just how much Gabrielle had gone through by loving Xena. She wondered at the fact that their young Queen still loved the Warrior Princess with a depth of emotion Ephiny didnt understand or think possible. The thought that the gods might be at play here flitted though her mind, but she was tugged from her musing as Gabrielle mentioned Chloe again.
"Gabrielle, you can tell me to mind my own business if you want, but would you please explain to me about Chloe? Xena never gave me much of an explanation as to Zoes origins. The only thing I know is that Chloe and Zoe are mother and child, but Xena claims she too is Zoes mother." Ephiny was then struck by the fact that Gabrielle too saw herself as Zoes mother, and she furrowed her eyebrows.
Gabrielle sighed and wished her warrior had explained everything to Ephiny, but she knew Xena better than that. "Chloe, Xena, and Lyceus, Xenas brother, were very close, Ephiny, when they were growing up. They actually lived in the same house when Chloes mother died. Xena told me there was more than just closeness...they could communicate with each other without speaking...they could actually feel each others pain in some ways." Ephiny furrowed her brow as Gabrielle continued, "Chloe and Xena became very close." Gabrielle locked eyes with Ephiny, and Ephiny understood before Gabrielle could speak the words. "Chloe was her first lover. They would probably have been together forever if the Fates had not been so cruel." Gabrielle went on to explain the entire affair and as she spoke Ephinys mind visualized Xenas reaction to all of this. She wondered how Gabrielle had survived the Warrior Princess anger and frustration.
"Gabrielle, it must have been horrible," Ephiny said. Gabrielle nodded and fought back tears.
"The assassin killed her right in front of all of us." Gabrielle paused, looked down then back into Ephinys eyes and said, "My poor Xena and my poor Zoe." She shook her head and cried into her hands. Ephiny immediately wrapped her arms around her. As she held her she thought, And my poor Gabrielle.
When Gabrielle finally composed herself, she explained to Ephiny as best as she could Chloes gifts and her relationship with the gods. Gabrielle said, "Zoe is Xenas child with her eyes and hair and even her temperament because Chloe beseeched the gods. Thats all I am sure of anyway."
Ephiny frowned at that comment and questioned Gabrielle. "What do you mean, Gabrielle?"
Gabrielle let out a large breath and said, " When we were in eastern Thrace, Xena admitted to me right before I became deathly ill, that she had self-healing powers. Those powers were beyond the mortal realm." Ephiny frowned. "That is one reason I refused to let Thyra remove her arm. I knew Xena would not get an infection, and I hoped she would make a complete recovery." Gabrielle paused deep in thought; she knew she wasnt wrong about Xena.
Ephiny gently prodded her on, "What is it Gabrielle?"
Gabrielle looked up into Ephinys eyes, "Im dont know for sure, but I think Xena knows. Ephiny, I believe that Xena and Chloe and possibly even Lyceus were all the children of a god."
Ephiny sat back stunned. Finally she asked, "You mean like Hercules?" Gabrielle nodded.
Solari and Eponin convinced Xena to go with them to the hot springs to get cleaned up. As they soaked clean, the three commiserated.
Eponin said, "Xena, what are you going to do?"
"I dont know, Eponin."
"She still loves you, you know," Solari stated.
"Yeah, well, a lot of good that does me as she rides out of my life," Xena said glumly. As Xenas head cleared and her physical pain diminished, the pain in her heart grew.
Eponin said, "Its not like you dont know where Amphipolis is, Xena."
Xena looked at Eponin. "What are you suggesting?" she said, "That I should go after her? She doesnt want me, Eponin."
Eponin leaned forward, looking around Xena she captured Solaris attention and they exchanged glances. Before Xena could react, the two warriors grabbed her head and dunked her. Xena came up sputtering and mad as Hades.
"Thats exactly whats wrong with you, Xena," Solari laughed, "You just dont get it. How could Gabrielle be so mad at you if she didnt love you?"
Eponin added, "Its like before you two got together. Everyone knew you were meant to be together. It took you so long to realize it because in matters of the heart, my warrior friend, youre just dumb!"
"Another thing, Xena, you are too hard on yourself. Then you lose your temper with yourself. You start blowing up and people around you get hurt." At Solaris comment Xena winced.
"How can I change, Solari? Tell me that. Ive been this way for as long as I can remember," Xena said.
Solari answered, "I dont know, Xena. Look at Eponin, always blowing up." Eponin rolled her eyes.
Eponin countered, "Yeah and look at Solari, Xena, always beating up on herself." Solari frowned and hoped Eponin would just shut up.
"Xena, whats more important to you right now?" Eponin asked, "Your arm or Gabrielle and Zoe?" Xena frowned and looked angrily at Eponin, but the big warrior did not back down.
Xena said, "Gabrielle and Zoe, you know that!"
Eponin shook her head. "No, I didnt know that, Xena. The way youve been acting over the last fortnight, I would have bet on the arm." Xena scowled and looked at Solari.
"Im sorry, Xena, I agree with Eponin. Youve been feeling sorry for yourself, and youve put yourself before them."
Eponin asked, "Xena, youre my friend. Were warriors, but there is much more to life than being a warrior. If you could get the use of your arm back right now, how would you feel?"
Xena dropped her head at Eponins question and shook it, "Id feel just as bad as I feel now."
"And why?" Eponin asked.
"Because I would not be able to hold Zoe or feel Gabrielle in its embrace, the two people who mean more than life to me." Xena tried to swallow the lump in her throat. "Ive lost them," Xena said sadly.
Solari reminded her quietly, "Its not uncommon to find lost things, Xena."
There were few present the next morning when the escort party assembled in front of Ephinys quarters as the sun touched the horizon sending golden fingers into the morning sky. Gabrielle hugged Ephiny, and they kissed each others cheeks. Then Petra, who had said her good-byes to Electra in the privacy of their quarters, assisted Gabrielle onto her tall, black steed. She then lifted Zoe up in front of Gabrielle. Placing her foot in the stirrup, she swung up onto the horse behind Gabrielle.
Ephiny stepped forward to give her final good-byes when she noticed that Gabrielle was staring towards her and Xenas quarters. Following her gaze, Ephiny was displeased at the sight. Xena, dressed in her full armor, her arm in her sling, her sword slung over her back and her chakram clipped to her side strode toward the assemblage. Behind her in their full Amazon battle gear, tagged Ephinys battle commanders, Eponin and Solari. Thinking she would personally kill them later, Ephiny glanced nervously up at Gabrielle and Petra.
As they approached, Ephiny intervened, first glaring at Solari and Eponin and then addressing Xena rather coolly, "Xena,..."
Xena flashed her that disarming smile and before she could say anything more, brushed by her with a, "Relax, Ephiny." With her eyes, Ephiny tossed daggers at her lieutenants and quickly turned to stand near Xena. Moving first to Petra, but not before she gave Gabrielle the gift of her smile, Xena offered up her arm and said, "I know you will take care of them for me, Petra." Petra did not smile back, but she took Xenas arm in warrior
style. Xena was a complete enigma to this strong warrior, and though she wanted to hate her for the bruise on Zoes face, she could not bring herself to do so. She shook her head at herself more than at Xena and found herself wondering if perhaps Xena wasnt mad. It was a known fact that the gods smiled on the mad.
Xena moved to Gabrielle and her smile communicated a deep sorrow that almost made Gabrielle gasp, but she remained stoic as Xena said, "My Queen, may your journey be safe and may Helios visit you when her mistress is well." Gabrielle caught the twisted question in Xenas statement, and she smiled ever so slightly. Xena graced her with another dazzling smile, and as Xena moved to Zoe, Gabrielle shifted her gaze to the tall warriors who stood behind Xena. She captured their eyes with hers, and blessed them with her smile that could melt the coldest of hearts. Eponin winked back at her and grinned as Solari smiled.
Xena stood looking into Zoes face, and a single tear slid down her cheek as she observed the bruise and purple stain beneath the childs eye. As she reached up and touched the childs cheek with her finger tips, Zoe smiled at her. Xena then pulled Zoes blue-eyed doll from inside her sling. Xena said, "As much as I would like to keep this near me to remind me of my little girl, I think you should take it with you to remind you of me." She handed the doll to Zoe.
Zoe took the doll and held it to her little chest and said, "I love you, Xena."
Xena stepped back from the horse, grinned her crooked smile and replied, "I love you too, Zoe."
The escort party turned their horses and began their journey south towards Amphipolis, but it would be a silent journey that morning as all were lost in thought contemplating the quiet, emotional scene they had witnessed earlier.
Xena stood surrounded by her warrior friends and Ephiny as she watched Gabrielle and Zoe ride out her life. As they disappeared from sight, she turned to go to her quarters. Ephiny stopped her with her hand on her arm.
"Im sorry, Xena. Are you all right?" Xena looked down at Ephiny, nodded and walked away. Looking at Solari and Eponin, Ephiny motioned with her head for them to follow her.
Back in her quarters Xena removed her sword, tossed it to the floor and began to unbuckle her armor when Eponin stepped forward and lent her a hand. No one spoke as Eponin helped Xena remove her arm from the sling, lift the armor from Xenas shoulders, and hand it to Solari. Eponin looked into Xenas eyes, and her heart broke at the sorrow there. Xena began to cry, and Eponin took her in her arms and held her as Solari looked away.
The journey south was uneventful as the escort party fell into an easy routine. Petra slept near Gabrielle and Zoe with one eye open every night. Talk was infrequent, something Gabrielle was used to having traveled with Xena for almost three years. Petra was quiet unlike Solari and Eponin who were constantly at each other and pulling everyone around them into their silliness. They could even bring out the child in Xena, a feat at which Gabrielle marveled.
When the party arrived in Amphipolis, they were greeted by a worried Cyrene. From their expressions and body language Cyrene feared the worst when she did not see her daughter or Argo. Petra swung down from her horse and immediately took Zoe into her arms and then helped Gabrielle dismount. Cyrenes heart almost stopped in her chest when Gabrielle ran crying into her arms. Holding the woman-child in her embrace, Cyrene whispered desperately as Petra stood back with Cyrenes grandchild in her arms, "Gabrielle, please tell me of Xena."
Realizing what Cyrene feared, Gabrielle choked out through tears, "Shes all right, Cyrene," and Gabrielle melted to the ground. Cyrene stared helplessly at the tall warrior she remembered from before. Petra handed Zoe to Cyrene. She easily picked Gabrielle up and held her in her arms as she turned to Cyrene questioningly.
Cyrene escorted the Amazon warrior up the stairs and to Xena and Gabrielles room. Petra laid her gently on the bed and tenderly brushed a lock of hair from Gabrielles forehead as Cyrene watched. Cyrene furrowed her brows as she questioned in her mind the relationship between these two. Petra stood and turned to Cyrene, "Ill stable the horses and bring up their gear. My warriors will only stay the night. I will stay until the Queen and Zoe are settled." With that, Petra nodded, laid her fist over her heart and left.
Cyrene sat Zoe down on the bed next to Gabrielle. She frowned at the shadow of a bruise on the childs face. Then Zoe smiled up at her. Cyrene smiled at her grandchild and asked, "You want to come with me or stay here with Gabrielle? Im going to fix the evening meal for your hungry Amazon warriors and Gabrielle and you."
Zoe smiled reaching up to hug Cyrene said, "Ill stay with Gabrielle, Cyrene. She may need me." Cyrene nodded and looked over at Gabrielles sleeping face and wondered why Gabrielle was so upset. She knew what ever it was, it surely had something to do with Xena.
That evening Gabrielle did not join the rest for their meal but stayed in her bed. She was emotionally exhausted from her ordeal and fatigued from the trip. As soon as the meal was finished, Cyrene brought soup to her. The Amazons insisted on cleaning up the dishes while Petra entertained Zoe.
Cyrene took the half eaten bowl of soup Gabrielle handed her and asked, "Gabrielle, can you please tell me what has happened?" Is Xena all right? Shes not..." Cyrene paused as a horrified look crossed her face. "She hasnt returned to her old ways has she?"
"No, Cyrene, its nothing like that," Gabrielle said and sighed. "I dont know if I have the strength to tell you everything. I feel so awful." Gabrielle broke down into tears as she blurted out, "I love her, but Ive lost her, and I dont know if I can go on."
"I cant believe youve lost her, Gabrielle." Cyrene was confused. "Xena loves you deeply. I know she does."
"Cyrene, I know she loves me, but we cant be together until she is well again. I just cant live with her the way she is. I cant put Zoe through that. And I dont know how long it will take"
"You said she is ill. Gabrielle what has happened? You must tell me," Cyrene pleaded.
Gabrielle looked up through her tears and shook her head slowly. She didnt want to relive the nightmare of the last three moons, but seeing the concern on Cyrenes face, she knew she had to tell Cyrene. "Xena lead the Amazons in a battle against the Athenians." Gabrielle paused and furrowed her brow. Her mind drifted as she thought, They destroyed my childhood and now the Athenians have ruined my life. Cyrene touched Gabrielles arm when she saw the far away look on Gabrielles face. Gabrielle focused. Looking at Cyrene she continued, "Zoe warned her. She told her not to go. She saw the events; Xenas death." Cyrene gasped as Gabrielle sobbed, "Xena refused to listen and that morning she was speared in the chest. Zoe somehow alerted her and she dodged the spear, and it drove into her shoulder rather than her heart." Tears formed in Cyrenes eye as she grabbed Gabrielles hand. "It was a horrible wound," Gabrielle cried, "and she was also dragged by Argo. She was trapped in Morpheus clutches for an entire moon. When she finally awoke, she had no memory of the last thirteen years." Tears streaked Cyrenes face.
"Gabrielle, I am so sorry, how horrible for you," Cyrene said.
Ignoring Cyrenes comment, Gabrielle plunged forward, "She finally regained her memory after another moon, Cyrene, but her arm is ruined and she..." Gabrielle could not go on. Cyrene sat on the bed and gathered into her arms. She didnt need to hear any more. She knew her untamed daughter would rebel against such a fate, and she knew the depths to which Xenas rage could drag her.
Cyrene brought Gabrielle hot water for her bath later that evening and helped her out of her clothes and into the tub. Cyrene stayed with her and as she scrubbed Gabrielles back and washed her hair, she talked to her assuring her that Xena would one day return . Gabrielle was grateful that someone cared enough to take care of her. She was so very tired. She thanked her while Cyrene dried her, dressed her, helped her to bed, and tucked her in. Cyrene kissed her on the forehead, bade her good night and left to wrestle Zoe away from the Amazon women who had taken over her kitchen. Later that night Cyrene was surprised and confused to see the warrior they called Petra slip into Gabrielles room. She frowned at the feelings she had recognized earlier when Petra had laid Gabrielle in her bed.
The tall, dark warrior crossed the room and peered down at the lovely, young woman sleeping peacefully before her. Petra smiled, something she found herself doing often around Gabrielle. Furrowing her brow, she thought of how sad her Queen had been since Xena had been hurt, and she wished she could just hold her in her arms and make it all go away for her. She turned to leave when a soft, familiar voice beckoned to her, "Petra, please dont leave."
Petra looked back over her shoulder, "Im sorry, my Queen, I only wanted to check on you. I did not mean to awaken you."
"You did not awaken me; I was only dozing." Petra turned and stood next to the bed. Gabrielles soft, sad voice touched her heart, and she took Gabrielles hand in hers.
"Are you all right, Gabrielle?" Petra asked.
"No, Petra, Im not all right." Petra sat on the edge of the bed facing Gabrielle, and she gently caressed the small, soft hand she held in her large, warrior hand.
"Gabrielle, I am truly sorry you and Xena are not together. I thought that you two were the most perfect couple when I first met you. There was so much love between you."
"It takes more than love, Petra," Gabrielle said sadly.
"I know that, my Queen, but if you were mine, I would never break you heart like this."
Gabrielle said, "I believe you, Petra."
Petra looked down at the small hand in hers and then back up into Gabrielles eyes. She spoke evenly, "You know I am in love with you, Gabrielle?" Petra gently caressed Gabrielles face, and Gabrielle caught her hand in hers and held it against her face. Petra leaned down and gently kissed Gabrielles lips lingering for several moments before she pulled away, but Gabrielle caught the back of her head in her hand and gently pulled Petra back down so that their lips could touch again. After a few sweet moments, Petra pulled away.
"Please hold me, Petra. I need to feel someone touch me. I need to feel that I am loved." Petra stood, removed her warrior accouterments and boots. She slipped under the cover next to Gabrielle taking her into her arms and holding her in her embrace, she gently kissed the top of her Queens head and caressed her shoulders and back.
Its all right, my sweet Gabrielle. Everything will be all right, please dont worry, Xena will come back. Her love for you is greater than the powers of Zeus." Gabrielle cried into Petras neck, and the warrior kept repeating, "Its all right, my little one, its all right, shell find her way back to you."
After a while Gabrielle confessed, "Petra, I think Im in love with you too, and if it were not for Xena, I know I would be happy with you." She cried softly.
"Ssshhh, my Queen, I know, Gabrielle. Its all right. Sleep now." Eventually Gabrielle drifted off to sleep in Petras arms, and right before Petra joined her in peaceful sleep she thought of her Electra and a sad smile played across her lips at the image."
The rider leaped from the horse before it had come to a halt then led the beast into the stables. There she deftly removed the saddle and the bridle and slipped a halter around the big mares head. Xena had ridden for three days straight to get there, but she was not tired. She anxious to find her Gabrielle and make everything right for them again. Though morning was not far away, the sky was still dark. Xena was quiet so as not to awaken everyone as she nodded to the guard at the door and slipped into the inn and quietly up the familiar stairs of her childhood. She crossed the hall and stepped into Gabrielles room with a smile on her face.
At the sight of Gabrielle in Petras arms, Xena felt her guts lurch. The rage within her rose and exploded as she strode across the floor and wrapped her right hand around Petras throat. Petras confusion was brief as she felt herself being ripped from Gabrielles arms and flung across the room, knocking over a table and bowl. For a moment she wondered at the wounded warriors uncanny strength.
Xena drew her sword from her back and twirled it menacingly in Petras direction as she snarled, "Wheres your sword, warrior?"
Gabrielle was jarred from her sleep when Petra was dragged from her arms. Her sleepy confusion slowed her reaction. She heard Xenas voice, and her sleepiness ran away, "My gods, Xena!" She rolled out of bed and ran between Petra and Xena. Facing Xena she implored, "Xena, listen to me."
Xena ignored Gabrielle, her eyes locked on Petras. She growled, "Shut up, Gabrielle." as she threatened the unarmed woman with her sword. Speaking to Petra she said, "So this is how you take care of them for me."
Gabrielle started to approach Xena as she said, "Xena, its not what it seems." but Petra grabbed her arm, pulled her back, and pushed her out of the way.
Xena lowered her sword and with narrowed eyes threw down her challenge, "Get dressed and get your sword." Xena then looked at Gabrielle with a look of hurt so deep Gabrielle felt a pain stab her in the chest. Xena turned and speared Petra with her blue crystal eyes, and she left.
"Xena, wait, please." Gabrielle tried to run after her, but Petra stopped her. "Please, Petra let me go."
"No, Gabrielle. Shes not thinking straight, she might hurt you. Then I would have to kill her."
Gabrielle looked up into Petras eyes and asked, "What are you going to do?"
"I have to fight her," Petra said evenly.
Gabrielles eyes filled with tears and she pleaded, "No...one of you might be killed."
Petra stated firmly, "Im sorry, Gabrielle, you know I have to do this." Xenas words pounded her as images of her trying to dissuade Xena from fighting the Athenians exploded in her mind, and she collapsed into tears as Petra grabbed her clothes and left the room pausing at the door. She looked back sadly at her Queen as Cyrene pushed past her and ran to Gabrielle.
Cyrene had heard the loud crash, Gabrielles pleas, and Xenas cold voice. She rushed from her room in time to see Xena slash angrily at the wall with her sword as she ran down the stairs. Stepping back for a moment, Cyrene remembered seeing Petra slipping into Gabrielles room the evening before and suddenly everything was painfully clear to her. She hurried to Gabrielles side and dropped to her knees.
Gabrielle threw herself into Cyrenes arms, and Cyrene pulled her into her arms, "Cyrene, its my fault and now one will die."
"Gabrielle, what has happened?" Cyrene asked.
Gabrielle clung desperately to her and begged, "Cyrene, please stop Xena, she wont listen to me. It was a misunderstanding. We did nothing, please, I cant lose her again."
Cyrene looked up to see Zoe standing in the doorway and she frowned. "Zoe, honey go back to bed." Zoe refused to move. Gabrielle looked at the child through her tears. She lifted her arms for her, Zoe ran to her, jumped into her embrace, and hugged her tightly. Knowing she would not be able to persuade her stubborn grandchild to leave Gabrielles side, Cyrene rose and left. She had to find Xena.
Gabrielle held Zoe and rocked her as she cried, "Gabrielle, it will be all right," Zoe said. The little girl patted Gabrielles back.
Cyrene did not have to look far to find Xena. Her daughter waited outside the inn door near the Amazon posted to guard the Queen. In a chair lay her chakram and knives. She had only her sword.
Cyrene was taken aback by Xenas appearance. Gabrielles words, Her arm is ruined. battered her mind as she beheld the child of her womb standing before her. Anguish ripped her heart to see her childs arm cradled in a sling, her hollow cheeks, and her gauntness. "Xena," Cyrene said recovering her composure quickly.
Xena would not look at her, but replied in a cold, low tone. "Mother, you need to go back inside."
"Why, Xena so I wont have to watch you kill someone or worse yet, be killed?" Xenas face was stone, and Cyrene recognized immediately this conversation was a waste of time, but she persisted. "Xena, youre making a mistake. Gabrielle loves you. Shes been inconsolable since shes been here." Xena only stared forward. "Xena, if you kill this woman, you will lose Gabrielle forever. If you are killed, you will kill Gabrielle too."
Xena turned her icy eyes on her mother. "Im sorry, Mother, go back inside." Before additional words could be exchanged, Petra appeared at the door and stepped out into the early morning dimness. "Mother, go back inside," Xena repeated.
Continued...Part 5 of 5 (Conclusion)
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