A few months after Season 2ís THE QUEST, an injured Gabrielle brings out a surprisingly different Warrior Princess.
"Gabrielle?" Xena removed the poultice from her friendís forehead, wincing at the purple lump visible in the firelight. She slid an arm under the young womanís shoulders. "I need to lift you a little."
"Time for some of that delicious medicine."
Gabrielle groaned, but her eyes blinked open slightly.
"Thata girl." Xena placed a cup to her patientís mouth. "Open up for me. Come on, you can do it."
"Mm." Gabrielleís lips parted enough to allow some of the liquid in. Her face screwed up. "Um eeewww."
"I know. Couple more sips." Xena tilted the cup slightly, waiting until Gabrielle swallowed. "Good girl." She lowered Gabrielle back down and put the poultice on again. "Rest now."
The stamping of an impatient hoof drew Xenaís attention to the Palomino nibbling at leaves on the other side of their campfire. The warrior rested her hand a moment on Gabrielleís shoulder, brow furrowed in concern. She sighed, rose and took a brush from her saddlebag.
"Yeah, yeah, your turn. Gimme a break, will ya? Iíve been busy."
Argo whinnied and bucked her head. She nuzzled her mistress when the tall woman finally began the long firm strokes the mare so loved.
"Iím forgiven, eh?" Xena scratched behind the horseís ear. "Thanks. I needed that." She glanced across at the restlessly sleeping Gabrielle. "Iím a little worried about our friend over there," she confessed. "She should be up, driving us nuts with her chatter by now."
Absently grooming Argo, Xena reviewed the last few days, hoping to pinpoint anything unusual. She snorted. "Unusual for us anyway." Thereíd been the usual mixing it up with bad guys. Gabrielle had stepped in to do her part ñ also not unusual, given the proficiency sheíd developed wielding a staff since inadvertently becoming Amazon royalty. Sheíd certainly taken the usual bumps and bruises like a true Amazon.
This latest injury hadnít seemed that bad at first. Sheíd been knocked unconscious, maybe hard enough for a concussion, but not to be out this long. As a precaution, Xenaíd carried her to a village to replenish their healing herbs. The warrior had immediately concocted a brew designed to relieve nausea and swelling, as well as stimulate alertness and the bodyís restorative powers. While Gabrielleís overall health improved, she barely responded otherwise. She dozed fitfully enough that Xena feared letting her ride on Argo. Theyíd been camped for over a week.
"Happy now?" Xena patted Argoís flank "all done." She smiled as the horse ambled off for some "me" time away from her humans. The warrior stoked the fire before lying next to Gabrielle, wishing it could be so easy satisfying the needs of her two-legged companion.
The sunís rays had begun their languid stretch over the horizon when Xena sensed something wrong. Not dangerous, so much as...unusual. Sheíd slept facing Gabrielle. Her eyes opened to see the young woman sitting up, staring at the warrior.
"Hey, the sleeping princess awakes!" Xena sat up to check on her friend. "Howíre you feeling?" she asked, pushing up Gabrielleís eyelids.
"Iím fine." Gabrielle swatted Xenaís hands away. "Stop fussing."
"Iíve got good reason to fuss." Xena lightly brushed the discolored spot on Gabrielleís forehead. "Hurt much?"
Gabrielle reached up to touch the knot as if surprised to find it there. "Mm. So thatís why...." She studied Xena a moment. "How.... Iím kinda fuzzy on what happened."
Xena sat back, head cocked. Something.... She realized sheíd never seen Gabrielle so expressionless. So... stiff. Was she hiding pain she didnít want to admit? "No headache? Blurred vision?"
"I said Iím fine. Nothing worth worrying about." Gabrielle shook her head to clear the cobwebs. "Brains got a little scrambled is all. Accident? I fall or something?"
"Sort of." Xena smirked. "You stumbled into the pommel of a highwaymanís sword."
Gabrielle narrowed her eyes. "A highwayman? You saying I let one guy take me out?"
Xena chuckled. "He had a few friends with him. You got distracted, worrying about me, of course." She shrugged. "He got in a lucky blow." She put her hand up at Gabrielleís scowl. "I took care of him for you while you were out."
"How long have I...." Gabrielleís quick survey of their camp revealed evidence of an unusually long stay. "You... brought me here?"
"Sure, on Argo. After I got some herbs in a village we passed. You remember drinking something yummy, donít you?"
Gabrielle ran her tongue around the inside of her mouth. "Ugh. Hard to forget."
"What else do you remember?"
Xena stiffened. "What?"
"Gabrielle. Is she all right?"
The warrior blew out a long-suffering breath. "According to her, sheís fine."
"Good. You can take me to her, soon as weíre packed." Gabrielle cocked her head. "Whoever you are. Not Princess Diana, thatís for sure. Or Meg either. Just my luck, running into another look-alike." She snorted. "Judging by you, at least thereís hope all of `em wonít be twits."
Xena crossed her arms. "Glad you think me a cut above. Seeing as how Iím the original."
"Heh. Good one. Next youíll be telling me Iím Gabrielle."
Gabrielle bristled. "Yeah, gameís over. I donít have time for this." She got to her feet and glowered down at the other woman. "Youíre taking me to Gabrielle. Now."
"Gods." Xena shook her head. "Look, youíre suffering from a touch of amnesia. Temporary, Iím sure. You gotta trust me, okay? Iím not some look-alike. I really am Xena."
Gabrielle planted her feet in a wide-legged stance and folded her arms across her chest. "Sorry to hear that. I was starting to like you."
"Hey, rumor has it the Warrior Princess isnít all bad."
"Youíd better hope so. Except occasionally for Gabrielle, Iím not fond of people passing themselves off as me."
Robin songs and the comfortable warmth of a clear blue sky seemed to welcome the two travelers nearing Amazonia ñ at least the redhead on horseback humming to herself. The tall woman walking alongside muttered darkly, apparently not enjoying the promise of a beautiful day. When they reached the border, they clasped their hands above their heads in expectation of the silent sentries who dropped from the trees.
"Take us to Ephiny," the rider commanded.
One of the sentries removed her mask. She regarded their visitors curiously, but with a small smile. The dark-haired weapons master preferred not concerning herself with oddities posing no threat. "Of course," she replied with a slight bow. "I will send a runner ahead to announce you." She nodded to one of the sentries, who took off up the trail, then signaled for the others to resume their posts above. "I will escort you personally."
"Eponin. Good to see you again. I thank you."
The three proceeded without conversation. When they reached the gates, a curly blonde came up to greet them. The redhead dismounted and strode over to her. "Ephiny," she said, accepting the other womanís hug.
"Yes." The redhead stepped back a few paces. "Weíve come for her."
Ephiny blinked, not sure sheíd heard correctly. She glanced at the tall woman whoíd come up behind the redhead. "Youíve.... Xena.... Youíve come for... Gabrielle?"
"I understand sheís here. I want to see her. Got a problem with that?"
"Problem?" Ephiny addressed Gabrielle but focused part of her attention on the other visitor gesticulating like a madwoman. "Um...."
Xena shook her head rapidly, silently mouthing, "No, no problem."
"Ö. No, no problem. Sheís...."
Xena twirled her finger at Gabrielleís head.
Xena nodded vigorously.
"Yes, sheís... off. Um, helping negotiate... some matters with... a neighboring village. We, um, thought sheíd be better at that than me."
Gabrielle growled. "How far?"
Xena stretched her arms wide.
"Oh, two... maybe three dayís ride. I expect her back soon though. The negotiations are quite sensitive, but shouldnít be too difficult for her."
Xena jabbed her finger toward the ground.
"Please, be our guests until her return. She has two guards. I canít risk complicating things with extra folks, you understand." Ephiny squinted at the red swelling on Gabrielleís face. "You want our healer to take a look at that?"
"What is it with everybody?" Gabrielle huffed. "Youíd think I hadnít survived worse than a bump on the head." Sighing disgustedly, she added, "I suppose it wouldnít hurt. The effects are lasting longer than usual. Maybe she can give me something thatíll help."
"Yes, yes, good idea. Solari will show you to your hut. She can take you to the healer after you and ñ ."
"Anexa," Xena said quickly, coming alongside Gabrielle.
Ephinyís jaw dropped, as did several others within hearing distance. "Anexa?"
"Long story." Gabrielle waved dismissively at her tall companion. "Iíll let her fill you in. Take care of Argo for me, will you, Eponin?" She headed for the center of the compound. "Come on," she said as she strode past Solari. "No doubt Anexaís ready for her afternoon nap."
Xena rocked in the chair across from Gabrielleís cot. Since regaining consciousness, the young woman had continued dozing throughout the day. Xena guiltily admitted to herself that this was one bright spot in an ever-growing pile of indignities. Sheíd figured the gods would eventually get even with her for disdaining them all these years. If her current situation wasnít sufficient payback, she hated to imagine what might await her in the future.
"Anexa," she spit out. What good was it being the mighty ñ and scary ñ former Destroyer of Nations, if forced to play some knock-off? Sure, sheíd done that with Diana and Meg, but willingly, as part of a mission. But this? Because her own partner insisted she was the Warrior Princess? The more Xena had tried to convince Gabrielle otherwise, the more distrustful and sullen the redhead had become. The warrior realized sheíd better go along, if she had any chance of fixing this mess.
Sheíd concocted a story about being a renegade Amazon, renaming herself Anexa because everyone remarked how much she resembled and fought like Xena. Said sheíd come upon Gabrielle battling some bad guys after "Xena" had been hurt. Exaggerated the length of the unconsciousness. Explained she stayed on as nursemaid after someone from Gabrielleís tribe came to fetch her.
"Itís not like her to leave me hurt," Gabrielle had said. Still, she seemed placated for the moment. Xena hoped the familiarity and healers of Gabrielleís tribe would help what had become an almost intolerable situation. Like being ordered around from sun up to sun down. Expected to take a back seat during the couple run-ins theyíd had with gangs attacking travelers. Walking behind her own horse. Good thing sheíd trained Argo so well, or Gabrielle wouldíve spent more of the journey being thrown on her butt.
"Mm. Mmph. Mmmmmm."
Gabrielle appeared on the verge of waking. Xena gritted her teeth, anticipating more indignity. She respected the Amazons greatly. Sheíd felt good sheíd had a chance to mend old misunderstandings, to fight with them and the Centaurs against a common enemy. Only a few months ago, Amazons loyal to Gabrielle had helped the warrior get her body back after sheíd "died." Being in their debt for that was one thing. The embarrassing chats looming now was quite another. Lips pursed, she eyed the weapons spread out on her cot. "Better leave `em here," she muttered. Wouldnít do to kill the only people who might help Gabrielle.
"Okay, sheís with Dedrea," Solari announced breathlessly. "Whatíd I miss?" She grabbed a chair and looked expectantly at the other three women. She, unlike the weapons master, preferred concerning herself with just about any and every thing.
"Not much. How Gabrielle got hurt and woke up not believing Xena was Xena." Ephiny shook her head. "Or that she was Gabrielle."
"Well, we know youíre ëAnexa.í" Solari suppressed a snicker. "Whoís Gabrielle think she is?"
Ephiny chuckled. "Whoídíve believed she of all people had a dark side? To think I made fun of her when she bubbled all over the place. Itís like sheís turned to stone."
Xena endured the conversation with her usual stoicism. Inside, she wanted to run screaming from the room. Having an arrow snatched out of her gut had been easier than forming the words to end the conjecture being bandied about.
Eponin cleared her throat. "Think about it. She remind you of anyone?"
Ephiny frowned. "She... does."
"Uh huh. The walk. The talk."
Solari, along with the others, focused on the formidable woman whoíd managed to avoid their attention the last few moments. "The ëtougher than Haephestesí metalí attitude."
Xena rolled her tongue in cheek. "You Amazons arenít as slow as you look."
"She...." Ephiny covered her mouth. "She really thinks sheís you?"
Xena glowered in response. Ephiny and Solari exchanged incredulous glances, before doubling over with laughter. Eponin merely smirked.
"Oh, gods," Ephiny finally got out. "One of you is bad enough. But two?!"
Xena got up. She spread her legs and crossed her arms. "Listen, I didnít come here for the entertainment. Or to be the entertainment. If that healer of yours canít do anything, were outta here."
"Wait...." Solari composed herself. "Has she seen herself? Weíll get a mirror. That should ñ."
"Tried it. Her reflection in the water, our pots ñ she sees Xena."
"B-but she knows you look just like her. Um... like you.... Xena. I mean, that you look just like ñ ."
"It doesnít matter, Ephiny. I put my arm next to hers. She thinks theyíre the same length. It doesnít register that weíre different sizes and look nothing alike."
"The chakram and sword." Eponin nodded her head. "She canít use those."
"Doesnít need to. The Xena in her head uses a staff."
The three Amazons sobered. This was not a simple case of amnesia or concussion-induced confusion. They now regarded Xena with sympathy.
"Iíve tried everything, believe me. You donít think Iíd be going around as ëAnexa,í do you, if there was another way."
"Must be hard." Eponin gazed at Xena, warrior to warrior. "Canít do anything as you. Canít do anything as somebody else. Rough."
Xena nodded. "If it was physical.... Worst part is whatís going on in her head. And the big bad Warrior Princess hasnít a clue how to fix it."
Dedrea patted Gabrielleís shoulder. "You can sit up now." Sheíd been warned not to use her patientís name ñ difficult, since she remembered Gabrielle from her last visit. Sheíd been surprised by the gruff impatience, until Solari popped in again to call her aside with some new information.
"Yeah? You figure it out?"
"Perhaps so. I need you to relax. Lean back against the wall and close your eyes."
Gabrielleís lips pursed. "Look, I know youíre being thorough. Doing your job. I promise not to tell, if you give me some of those herbs over there and send me on my way."
Dedrea smiled. "Thatís the plan. Iím trying to decide which ones. I can tell from the symptoms in the body part affected. In this case, the body part is your head. Now," she said, her voice firm, "scoot back, close your eyes and take a few deep breaths."
Gabrielle scowled at the healer a moment before doing as instructed.
"You feeling relaxed?"
"As much as Iím gonna get."
"Iíll accept that." Dedrea sat at her desk and picked up a quill. "Tell me about your childhood."
Gabrielleís eyes shot open. "My.... Oh, for...."
"Do you want the fogginess you spoke of to go away or not?"
Gabrielle huffed, but closed her eyes. "I grew up in... Amphipolis. I had pretty decent parents, two brothers...." She paused. "And... a sister."
"A sister?" Dedrea made a note about Gabrielleís apparent uncertainty. "Iím sorry, did she die as an infant?"
"Um, no. Sheís... younger. I played with my brothers more. You know, war games and stuff."
"Ah. You liked war games?"
"Sure. Thatís why I became a warrior. So I could defend my village. Conquer enemies. Maybe one day rule the world."
"You wanted to hurt people?"
"No, of course not." Gabrielleís brow furrowed. "Not at first. Maybe for a while.... Not now though."
"So you feel pretty good about yourself?"
"Why wouldnít I? Iím not proud of some bad things Iíve done, but Iím working hard to atone for them. Iím strong and smart. I can sing and ride horses. Travel all over whenever I want. And... tell stories." Gabrielle frowned. "Unusual for a warrior, I know." She grinned. "I have many skills."
"And Gabrielle? You seem to care a lot for her."
"I do. I make sure she stays out of trouble. Protect her. Show her the ropes. She can be pretty clumsy and naïve sometimes. Fun, though. Makes me laugh."
"How about her? She like you?"
Gabrielle was quiet a moment. "Itís kind of complicated. On the road, I have to be a lot of things to her. Some she likes, some she... kind of resents." She shrugged. "She understands I have her best interests at heart. Thatís what counts."
"All right, you can open your eyes."
"Yeah? Weíre done?"
"For now. You said youíd been taking some kind of medicine. Iíd like you to bring me samples of every ingredient. And have your tall friend drop by. After that, I should be able to give you a remedy that might work better."
Another warm, cloudless morning. A beautiful day to the rider humming softly. Xena stroked Argoís neck. The Palomino snorted. "Me too," Xena murmured. "Feels good to be up here again." Once across the Amazon border ñ and out of range of certain eyes ñ the warrior ceased worrying about her pride. She reined Argo in.
"Nope." Xena smiled down. "Feel like walking." She made a flashy dismount, landing next to Gabrielle.
"Hey, gotta make sure I didnít get rusty."
The two walked along in silence.
"You okay?" Xena studied her subdued companion. "Still getting used to being you again?"
"Mm. Enjoying the peace in my head." Gabrielle bumped shoulders. "Youíre much quieter on the outside."
Xena grimaced. "Sorry about that."
"Donít be. Dedrea said it was easy to confuse those herbs you bought, with the ones you really wanted. She figured the merchant made an honest mistake."
"Maybe. He shouldíve kept them off to the side. Theyíre mainly for certain rituals, not everyday healing. In the wrong hands...." Xena blew out a breath. "But I didnít mean that. I meant the... other part."
"My... ëpeople skills.í Itís a wonder you havenít killed me. I was ready to put ëthe pinchí on you when you were acting like me."
"Xena?" Gabrielle put her arm through Xenaís. "No offense, but this wasnít really about you."
Xenaís cheeks reddened. "I... um.... From what Dedrea said...."
"Címere." Gabrielle pulled Xena to the side of the road. "Excuse us a minute," she said to Argo, taking the reins from the warrior and wrapping them lightly around a bush. She turned to Xena and pointed at a patch of grass in the shade. "Sit."
Xena shivered slightly. Gabrielleís tone sounded unnervingly like that of her Xena persona. "Gabri-ellle."
"What?" Gabrielle smirked as it dawned on her what Xena was thinking. "Donít worry, Iím still me. I can be bossy too, you know."
Xena thought about that. "Imperious even. And grumpy, when you donít get your way."
"Okay, okay." Xena sat.
Gabrielle dropped down across from the warrior. "I donít really remember much. I mean, itís like my memories and experiences somehow got confused with yours. What Iíd heard or imagined. At least, thatís how Dedrea saw it after she talked with you."
"Like mixing my brothers in with your sister?"
"Uh huh." Gabrielle gazed into the distance. "Itís like, even as a little girl, Iíve had this struggle inside. The dreamer searching for goodness and beauty. The adventurer fascinated with things new and dangerous. The rebel prepared to die for whatís right and people in need."
Xena chuckled. "And here Iíve been worried about my inner battles."
Gabrielle lowered her eyes. "Sounds crazy, but I do envy you sometimes. I know itís hard," she hastened to add. "I donít know how you do it. But in its way, itís...."
"Clearer, I think. In your heart, you know which way you have to go. You know the consequences if you donít. I seem to have so many paths. It wonít matter much to the world which one I choose, but I think itíll matter to me."
Xena scooted over to a nearby tree and leaned against it. "Youíve been all over Greece and beyond. You kick butt for the greater good. You hash out what it all means, usually in your scrolls." She grinned. "Sometimes running it by poor Argo. Gabrielle, youíve made the world a better place just by saving and giving away a donkey. Why do you have to choose?"
Gabrielle stared at Xena. It was true, she did sometimes want to smack the older woman. Then there were moments like this when she could kiss the no-frills ex-warlord for eternity. Maybe she had found the path of all her paths ñ Xena. Gabrielle felt the urge to acknowledge this aloud. Not right then, though. Xena looked much too smug.
"You know, for someone of few words, you sure know how to spin `em."
"I have many skills."
Gabrielle rolled her eyes. "Speaking of which, did I really ride Argo all that time?"
"Now I know I was out of my head. Howíd I do?"
"You mean, howíd I do?" Xena snorted. "The ëmeí riding probably looked as pompous as ever. The real me walking alongside made sure Argo behaved."
Gabrielle sprawled on her stomach, propped on her elbows. "So what was that like? You think Argoís butt is as cute as her head?"
"Sheís a warhorse, Gabrielle. No part of her is ëcute.í Impressive, but not cute." Xena shot a proud glance at her beloved steed. "Anyway, while I didnít find the experience pleasant, Argoís butt had nothing to do with it." Xena bit her lip. "Did teach me a few things."
"Mm." Xena adjusted her bracers. "Being in command, Iím used to people trying to get in my head. Tiptoeing around me. Sucking it up when theyíve got other ideas. Iím used to bearing responsibility for whatever happens." She held Gabrielleís eyes. "Not worrying about what anybody thinks or caring about anything except whatís in my gut, because I canít afford otherwise. Iím not used to being on the other end of that."
Gabrielle sat up and leaned forward. "Xena, my brain was jumbled up. However I acted, it wasnít you. No one treats me with more respect. Sure, I get irritated sometimes, but I never feel ñ ."
"Gabrielle, let me finish. This time it is about me, okay?"
Gabrielle smiled. "Okay."
"No, you donít let me walk over you. I admire that. Keeps me honest, in a lot of ways. Truth is, being around me takes a lot. Blind trust and loyalty. Patience. Forgiveness." Xena looked down at her hands. "I saw it from your view the last few days. Sure, it hit home more because you were supposed to be me, but the lesson was bigger than that. Iím just saying it was... hard."
"Wow." Gabrielle steepled her hands under her chin, pondering Xenaís admission as if it were a perfectly normal topic of discussion. "Food for thought. Guess Iím usually more worried about myself ñ you know, doing the wrong thing at the wrong time, getting in your way. I mean, itís not like Iím always that easy to be around either."
Xena smiled. "So maybe weíre even in the ërough edgesí department?"
"Uh huh. Certainly more interesting than too smooth."
"Oh, yeah. We positively reek of ëinteresting.í"
Gabrielle laughed. "I bet the Amazons think so. If only I could remember their reactions."
Xena grimaced. "Letís just say they couldnít decide whether two of me was too funny for words or too scary."
"What do they know? They lead sheltered lives."
"They knew enough to want at least one of you." Xena smiled fondly at her partner. "Me too."
Gabrielle blushed. "Thank you. And thanks for getting me back. Strange, after what happened, but Iím feeling better myself about being me."
"Hey, you got me back from deathís door, feeling better about myself. I owed you one. So.... We okay now? Ready to move on?"
"Uh huh." Gabrielle got up. "I do have another favor."
"Yeah?" Xena went to fetch Argo. "Whatís that?"
"Tell me about Anexa." Gabrielleís eyes twinkled. "Ephiny said something about she didnít know you had that in you."
Xenaís jaws clenched. "See," she muttered to the Palomino. "The gods."
"You say something?"
Xena came up beside Gabrielle. They started down the road.
"I was telling Argo the gods mustíve sent you to us for my good deeds."
"Oh, Xena, that is so sweet."
"Mm." Xena smiled wryly. She suddenly swung up on Argo, smirking when the mareís tail flicked Gabrielle in the butt. The warrior glanced back, eyes twinkling, as she trotted ahead. "Payback usually is!"