See disclaimers in part 1
I had never been so humiliated, so embarrassed, or so scared. What had started as a pleasant afternoon enjoying the hospitality of the Amazons and their queen, ended with an awful and very public argument between Xena and me. We certainly have had disagreements before, but we always managed to work things out. This time, however, it was different. Xena was as proud and intractable as I was stubborn and defiant, and things were said that could not easily be forgiven or forgotten. What made it worse was we argued in front of the entire Amazon camp. Terreis intervened, much to the annoyance of Xena and before I knew what was happening they were squaring up to each other with staffs. The fight resulted in a serious injury to Terreis' collarbone, and quite possibly a charge of treason for defying the will of my Empress.
After setting her queen's broken collarbone, N'Gila, the Amazons' healer, gave me instructions on how to prepare willow bark tea for the pain. She had the others fashion a backboard out of branches so Terreis could sit up more comfortably in bed.
N'Gila gathered her healer's kit and meticulously returned each item to an assigned spot in the leather satchel she had carried in. Meanwhile, Ephiny and I helped Terreis get settled on her pallet.
When N'Gila was finished she turned to Ephiny and me. "Someone should stay with the Queen tonight. That collarbone needs time to set, so I don't want her moving about too much."
"I'll stay with her," I said. It was the least I could do, and besides I wasn't too anxious to get back to the palace and face Xena.
Ephiny's usual stoic toughness gave way to a tender concern for her queen. She knelt down and patted Terreis' good arm. "You're in good hands." Ephiny glanced my way and then back at her queen. "If you need anything, have Gabrielle send for me."
Terreis looked into her sister's worried eyes. "Please don't worry. I'm fine," she replied.
Ephiny gave Terreis' arm another gentle squeeze before she stood up. "I'm going to see to our defences. I doubt the Empress will attack, but I want to be ready just in case." Ephiny nodded to me and then left.
"And I'll be going as well," the healer announced. "I'm just across the clearing if you need me."
Finally, I was alone with Terreis. It was the first opportunity I had to apologise and explain.
"I am so sorry, Terreis. This was all my fault."
"What was your fault?"
"The argument, your collarbone. I have a talent for causing trouble."
"I think Xena had something to do with it. And it was no trouble, the entertainment came with the meal," Terreis said with an impish grin.
"I don't know how you can sit there and joke after what happened," I replied.
Terreis' smile got broader. "Because sitting is about all I can do right now."
I appreciated her efforts to make light of the situation, but I saw no humour in the situation. "That was a foolish thing you did," I admonished her.
"What do you mean?"
"Fighting Xena. You were ready to let her kill you all because of some stupid warrior's code."
"Some things are worth fighting and dying for," Terreis replied, "like protecting your way of life and the lives of the people you love."
"Yeah, I suppose. But what about all the things you said about words ending wars and weapons prolonging them?" I reminded her.
"I never said I wasn't a warrior, Gabrielle. I couldn't rule the Amazons if I couldn't fight. But I do believe all those things we've talked about."
"You barely know me, and yet you risked your life. I don't understand."
"Ask yourself the same question. You barely know me, and yet you risked your life to save mine. Why?"
I sat down beside Terreis and pondered her words. Jumping in front of Terreis as Xena stood over her ready to deal a killing blow had been instinctive. It wasn't something I thought through. "I don't know. I didn't really have time to think. I just reacted," I replied.
"That's right. When those you care about are in danger, you will do anything to protect them. You, Gabrielle, reacted with a Warrior's Heart – brave, compassionate, self-sacrificing," Terreis explained.
"I never thought about it like that."
Terreis must've sensed my sudden pensiveness, because she inched closer and tenderly patted my leg. "It might do you good to talk about it."
"Talk about what?"
"You and Xena."
"What about me and Xena…uh, I mean the Empress?"
"You don't have to pretend any longer, Gabrielle. I think 'the ship has left the wharf' on that secret."
"Yeah. I guess our argument gave it away," I said wearily.
Terreis started laughing.
"Why are you laughing?"
"Because my friend, I suspected it from the first day we all met. It was the way you looked at her."
"How do I look at her?"
"The way anyone would wish you to look at them – with love."
I was stunned to learn that all my efforts to conceal my feelings for Xena in public had been for naught. "We were very careful not to reveal that part of our relationship." Xena's choice not mine, I thought.
"And you two weren't very successful. It was obvious to all who have eyes to see."
I reacted with genuine surprise. "But you never said anything."
Terreis shrugged her shoulders and that made her wince in pain from the broken collarbone.
"Ooh, Terreis. Be careful. Here let me get you some more pillows." I gathered up a few more cushions and put them behind Terreis' back and under her slinged arm.
"Thanks," Terreis said as she leaned back against the mound of pillows.
"If you love Xena, why are you here? Why didn't you leave with her?" she asked.
I didn't have to think about my reply. "Because I want to be loved by her, not possessed by her."
Once I started opening up about my feelings for Xena I couldn't stop. I tried to speak in a slow, measured voice, but the words came too fast for my brain, and I rambled from one point to another.
"All my life I had fought to be accepted for who and what I was and not conform to what was expected of me. My parents and that farmer they wanted me to marry never understood me. They thought I was rebellious, high-spirited – even eccentric. Xena had been the first to see me for what I could be, or so I thought. It turned out Xena wanted to control me just like everyone else in my life had tried to do. She said she wanted to keep our relationship private because it would be dangerous if her enemies found out. In public she wanted us to be Empress and Advisor and I thought I could accept that. In private she was different... most of the time. She can't, or won't, let herself show her true feelings."
As I rambled, Terreis listened, despite the pain she must've been feeling. I stopped talking and made her a cup of willow bark tea like N'Gila had shown me.
"Here, drink this. It may not help the pain in your shoulder, but it might help the pain of having to listen to me jabber on about my troubles."
Terreis tried to take the cup from me, but she had trouble holding it in her good hand, so I held it up to her lips.
"Thanks," the Amazon Queen said when she had taken a few sips. She leaned back on the pillows. "As you were saying."
"I think I've said enough already. You need to rest."
"No, I'm fine. Please. It takes my mind off my shoulder."
"Well, if it helps," I replied. Night had fallen and the air was getting chilly. I picked up a blanket and carefully draped it around Terreis' shoulders and settled back again facing Terreis and continued. "Do you think I'm foolish for loving Xena? For thinking my love could change her?" I asked myself as much as Terreis.
Terreis looked me straight in the eye with an earnest expression. "It is no easy thing to risk your heart by giving it to another. Falling in love takes faith and courage – hardly the attributes of a fool. So no, Gabrielle, you're not foolish." Terreis' eyes twinkled as she added, "For thinking you can change her, perhaps, but not for loving her."
"Falling in love was the easy part. Now, building a relationship with Xena, that's the hard part."
Terreis chuckled. "I can imagine."
I hadn't meant it as a joke but I allowed myself a slight smile. "You know, Xena did try, at least a little, but I was too angry and stubborn to acknowledge it."
"What do you mean?" Terreis asked.
"I mean, during the argument. Xena was trying very hard to control her temper—"
"If that was controlled, I'd hate to see out of control!" Terreis interjected.
"Oh, believe me…just her icy stare alone could make the Nile freeze!" I replied.
I immediately regretted the joke when I saw Terreis wince and grab her arm. "Ooh, I'm sorry, Terreis. I promise not to say anything even remotely humorous for the rest of the night."
"No, that's okay, After all, laughter is good medicine," Terreis replied.
"I wish laughter could fix this mess I'm in," I said, which made me think about Xena again. "Perhaps I should go back to the palace tonight and try to sort things out with Xena. But what if she's really angry because I defied her in public? Or worse… Xena's paranoid about anyone finding out about the two of us, and now everyone here knows. I hate to think what she'd do. Maybe I should go and apologise right away. But why should I apologise first? It takes two to have an argument, so it's her fault as much as it is mine." I was getting myself all worked up again. "Oh, Terreis, I don't know what to do."
"Look, don't worry about what to do right now," Terreis replied with a comforting tone, like a mother promising to make it all better. "It's late," she continued, "it's dark, and you're in no shape to go another round with Xena. So, stay here tonight. Things may be clearer to you after a good night's sleep."
Terreis managed to get some sleep, thanks to the willow bark tea. However, I lay awake all night making sure Terreis didn't hurt her arm by rolling over in her sleep. Not that I would've got any sleep anyway; the events of the previous day kept playing over and over in my mind.
Hour upon hour I waited and wondered and worried. I had hoped Xena wouldcome riding back into camp and try to make things right between us, but Xena never came.
As darkness gave way to dawn, hope gave way to despair. Questions swirled around inside my head like the Furies trying to drive me mad. Should I go and apologise? Why should I apologise, I did nothing wrong? How did things get to be such a mess? Do I show up for the morning council meeting and act like nothing had happened?
Seeing how edgy and unsettled I was Terreis suggested I release some of my pent up frustrations on the practice field.
"A bit of weapons practice helps me to focus," she said.
"But Xena never wanted to teach me how to use weapons. She says '…picking up a weapon makes you a target', and '…if you pick up a weapon, be prepared to kill.'"
Terreis replied, "She's right, it does, but every Amazon learns the basics of fighting, even if they do not become warriors. Like N'Gila – she's a healer, but she knows how to use weapons in case she ever needed to defend herself or her village. Besides, it is only in knowing about weapons, firsthand, that one can be a truly effective peacemaker."
"That's very true. And come to think of it, if I expect the officers of the Civil Protection Force to know how to use a weapon, then I should know a little of what I speak."
Ephiny and Solari were already in the centre sparring with swords. When I first met Ephiny, I was convinced she didn't like me, though I was at a loss as to why. Terreis had assured me that the warrior with the curly blonde hair wasn't as stern and surly as she appeared, but was really very nice once you got to know her.
Ephiny and Solari were putting on quite a display for the other Amazons gathered around.
At first, it appeared Solari was the more aggressive attacker and Ephiny more agile. Ephiny seemed content to wait for Solari to advance and then dodge Solari's thrusts. Solari answered by making short, quick jabs to Ephiny's mid-section. Ephiny parried and deflected Solari's attack, and then immediately came back with an overhead cut that had Solari scrambling out of the way to guard her head.
Our arrival distracted Ephiny for just a moment, allowing Solari to slip past Ephiny's defences.
"Shit!" Ephiny hissed and looked down at the blood oozing from a gash on her upper left arm.
Solari immediately lowered her sword. "Sorry, Eph. I was expecting you to guard against the left shoulder cut."
Ephiny dropped her sword in the dirt and clamped her hand over the wound to try and stop the bleeding.
"Shall I fetch the healer?" Solari offered.
Ephiny shrugged off her sister's concern. "It's nothing – just a scratch."
Terreis and I approached them. Blood was still seeping between Ephiny's fingers, so I knew her injury was more than just a scratch. Before Ephiny could object, I tore a strip of cloth from my tunic and bound up her arm. "There, that should help stop the bleeding."
Ephiny didn't say anything. She just glowered at me.
"Aren't you going to thank Gabrielle?" Terreis chided.
"For tending your injury."
"I didn't ask her to."
"No thanks are necessary," I offered, knowing how important it was for a warrior to save face.
Terreis gave Ephiny a disapproving look. "Since it's only a scratch, why don't you give Gabrielle a staff lesson?"
"Me? Why me?"
"Because I can't." Terreis pointed to her bandaged shoulder. "Besides, you are the best by far with the staff. Who better to teach our honoured guest?"
"She has no business being here. She's not an Amazon and she's certainly no warrior."
Ephiny glared at me with a disdainful look before obeying her queen. "Solari, hand me my staff."
Solari crossed the sparring ring and retrieved this finely hewed staff with a hawk's head carving on top. "Here," the shorter Amazon said as she handed the weapon to Terreis' second in command.
"Thanks." Ephiny replied. She then started twirling the staff at a dizzying pace, from hand to hand, above her head, around her waist. She gave quite an impressive demonstration. She ended by doing a series of fighting forms, ending with an overhead manoeuvre that stopped within a cat's whisker of my left ear. To my credit, I didn't flinch. I think that impressed her. It certainly impressed me.
Most of the Amazons in camp had gathered to watch once the word got out that Ephiny was teaching me to fight with a staff. They cheered the tall, strawberry-blonde warrior as she gave her performance.
Ephiny moved the staff away from my head and said, "This is a fighting staff. It came to me when my mother was killed in battle, and she in turn received it from her mother when she came of age. It has saved my life many times." She held it out toward me. "Here, take it. Get the feel of it."
"My, it's beautiful," I said, admiring the detail along the shaft as I examined it more closely, "a work of art."
"That it may be, but make no mistake, little girl. It is not a toy. It is a lethal weapon."
"Okay, so show me how to use it."
"Fine." Ephiny yanked her staff from my hands and handed it back to Solari, who exchanged it for two rather plain-looking practise staffs. Ephiny gave one to me and pointed to where I should stand.
"Lesson one. Stand with your feet spread about shoulder width apart. Make sure your weight is evenly distributed and hold the staff in both hands across your chest."
I got into the stance, or I thought I had. Terreis, who had been watching from the sideline came behind me and helped me stand with my right foot slightly forward and my left hand higher than my right. As she moved around behind me to position my other hand I caught her scent, the virile underlying leather of her outfit was mixed with a gentle, flowery aroma. It was another contradiction to the warrior image she projected.
I turned and thanked her kindly.
Terreis leaned in and offered some encouragement. "Just remember to keep your feet firmly on the ground and your stick high and in front and you should survive your first lesson."
"Thanks, you're a big help," I said sarcastically.
"What are friends for?" Terreis replied as she walked back to join the crowd around the circle.
The first blow from Ephiny knocked the staff from my hands.
"If that was for real you'd be dead by now," sniped the Amazon. "Pick it up."
I did as I was told and took up my position. The next blow sent a shock like an earthquake through my arms, into my body and down to my feet.
"That's better," said Ephiny. "But any real attack will not be directed at your staff." She gave my staff a gentle tap as she said it. "They can come from any direction."
Ephiny's arms became a blur and the next thing I knew her staff had come to a halt an inch from my left ear.
"The point of using the staff," continued Ephiny, moving her staff back to her side, "is to defend yourself from attack, create an opening in your opponent's defence and exploit that opening. I'll show you what I mean. Take a swing at me."
Ephiny glared. "Attack me!"
I glanced at Terreis and she nodded encouragement. I shrugged my shoulders and stepped forward, swinging my staff down from the left. Ephiny blocked my strike easily.
"Right," she explained, "I've defended myself from your attack. If I do this…" Ephiny demonstrated by twisting her staff and ripping mine from my grip. "…I create an opening allowing me to attack you. Do you understand?"
"Yes, that makes sense."
"Good. Pick it up!"
I retrieved my staff and got ready again.
And again Terreis stepped behind me and corrected my stance. "Hold it firmly, but not too tight," she said as her fingers eased my grip on the staff. "You can break a wrist from the shock if your staff is struck and you're gripping it that tightly."
"Who's giving the lesson here?" Ephiny said impatiently.
"Ooh, sorry. You are." Terreis replied sheepishly and backed away.
Ephiny remembered her manners and thanked the Amazon Queen for pointing the grip issue out, and then she turned her attention back to me. "We'll go through defensive moves first. I'll attack from various angles and you block. We'll start from the left."
Ephiny stopped and glared at me. "What?"
"Is that my left or your left?"
Ephiny rolled her eyes. "Your left. Ready?" Ephiny swung and I blocked. "Your right." Her staff moved rapidly to my right and I moved mine to block it. "Left. Right. Left. Right."
As the lesson continued Ephiny increased the speed of her attacks. "Left-Right-Left."
I moved to block from the left and felt a prod on my right as Ephiny attacked on my exposed side.
"Hey! You said left!"
Ephiny regarded me coolly. "Most important lesson: Always be aware of where your opponent's weapon is. In a real fight they're not going to be telling where they're going to attack from."
"Ephiny is right," said Terreis. "But she could have explained that without trying to make you look foolish."
Ephiny bristled. "This is how we teach Amazons to become warriors. We do not coddle them. We challenge them. If Gabrielle is too fragile, then perhaps she should put down the staff and stick to quills."
"Gabrielle is not a warrior, Ephiny," Terreis replied, "you could go a little easier on her."
Looking over my shoulder, I addressed Terreis. "No, Ephiny's right, Your Highness. I don't expect any special treatment."
I turned back around and faced Ephiny again, repositioning my feet and hands as I had been instructed to do. "Shall we have another go?"
The lesson continued in a similar vein with Ephiny adding new directions of attack. My confidence grew as I learned to anticipate Ephiny's moves. On one attack I felt Ephiny's grip on her staff was slightly lighter than the previous attack and without thinking, instead of defending, I attacked Ephiny's weaker, injured side with a quick combination: high – high – low. Ephiny must've been anticipating me to go low again, but I changed up and went high. Ephiny's staff clattered to the ground and my staff connected with the bandage on the Amazon's left arm.
The spectators watching us started laughing and clapping, but Ephiny didn't react to them. She was too busy clutching her injury trying to stop the flow of fresh blood oozing from beneath the dressing.
"I'm so sorry!" I felt mortified. I dropped my staff and went over to Ephiny. "Here, let me bind it again." I went to rip another strip off my tunic, but Ephiny's strong hand stopped me.
"That won't be necessary," she said sternly. There was a faint twinkle in her eye. "That was very good," she whispered.
The other Amazons had reached us by this time and Solari took great delight in teasing Ephiny. "She got you a good one."
"Yeah, yeah," Ephiny groused.
Solari clapped me on the shoulder. "We won't let Ephiny forget this one. That was an inspired move."
"Thanks," I muttered. "I didn't really plan—"
"I think we can end the lesson now," said Terreis. "Ephiny will need to have N'Gila tend that wound."
"You mean her pride," Eponin added.
Ephiny glowered at me as she left the practice area, but it was only for show in front of her comrades, because there was also a smile tugging at the corner of her mouth.
Eponin had taken over teaching me while Ephiny was with the healer, and she said I showed a lot of promise. Terreis was right, sparring did help to release some pent up frustrations, and at least for a few hours it took my mind off my troubles. That's because I had to concentrate on not getting too banged and bruised.
We took a break from the staff lesson for a while to have something to eat. There was plenty of food left over from the feast the day before. Terreis suggested we pack a lunch and go find that waterfall she wanted to show me yesterday. It was still early enough for me to get back to the palace before dark, so I agreed to go but only if Terreis got the okay from N'Gila. I didn't want to get halfway there and Terreis pass out or trip on a root or something.
"Don't be silly, I'm fine," Terreis said.
"No offence, but I want a second opinion before I let you go traipsing off into the woods with a broken collarbone," I replied.
"All right, but I'm only doing this to humour you."
While Terreis went to find the healer, I packed a small knapsack with enough flatbread, figs, apples, and goat cheese for two hearty appetites. Terreis returned a few minutes later with N'Gila's blessing, and we set out on our hike. It wasn't too far from camp – perhaps twenty minutes up a natural trail left by winter runoff. We followed the sound of rushing water until we came to a small waterfall near a rocky outcrop at the top of the hill. I climbed up first and then gave Terreis a helping hand up the last bit where it was steepest.
"This is a nice spot." I said.
"Yes, isn't it?" Terreis replied. "I found this place quite by accident, but when I saw it, I just knew I had to show it to you. It's a place that speaks to a poet's soul."
I closed my eyes and listened for a moment to nature's whispering voice among the sounds of cascading water, birdsong, and leaves rustling in the breeze. "Hmm, I see what you mean," I said.
Terreis and I shared a look between us – a look of connection and understanding. In that moment I recognised a kindred spirit, someone who was able to reach inside and illuminate a corner of my soul long hidden in the shadows. It made me happy and a little sad at the same time.
Terreis broke the silence. "Shall we see what you brought for us to eat? I'm starved!"
"Sure," I replied, feeling a little empty, but not for want of food.
I opened the knapsack and laid out the contents on a square of woven cloth.
"Wow, you've brought enough to feed a small army!" Terreis commented as she selected a large, firm apple.
Even though my stomach was growling, I played with my food more than ate it. I didn't have much of an appetite, which for me was very unusual. Terreis picked up on it immediately.
"Not hungry? You couldn't wait to eat yesterday," Terreis teased.
"I don't know," I said, "I guess I'm a bit sore from the staff lesson this morning."
"Do you want to see the healer when we get back?" asked Terreis.
"No, I don't think N'Gila has something for what's ailing me. Besides the best thing for sore muscles is to keeping them moving."
I stood up and tossed the bits of bread I had been rolling up between my fingers instead of eating, and then I helped Terreis to her feet and packed up all the leftover food.
"We better head back before they send a search party out looking for their queen," I said.
By the time we got back to camp,Terreis' shoulder was hurting and my arms and legs were stiff, so she and I went back to her tent to rest. I couldn't wait to get Terreis settled on her pallet so I could stretch my tired, achy muscles out along side her.
N'Gila, the healer, came in a few minutes later. "They told me you two were back." On the other side of the tent there was a rough-hewn table. The tall thin woman placed her medicine bag on the table. "It's a good thing I came along with all the walking wounded around here," N'Gila said as she pulled a vial out and mixed it with warm water. "Here, My Queen, take this for the pain."
"I don’t need it, I'm fine," Terreis protested.
"Yes, I can tell from your grimace that you are," N'Gila replied. She handed the drink to Terreis and gave her a stern look until Terreis had drunk the entire mixture down.
When Terreis was finished, N'Gila took the cup from her and took out another vial. "And as for you," she said, turning to me. "I want you to take this." She handed me a similar cup of warm liquid.
I took a sniff. It didn't smell bad, just woody like tree bark or something, so I obediently drank it down. As I handed back the cup, I asked, "So what was that I just took?"
"Oh just a little something to help you relax," she replied. She closed her bag and turned to leave. "Now, you two get some rest – healer's orders."
Both Terreis and I answered in unison. "Yes, ma'am,"
I settled on the cushions next to Terreis and closed my eyes. I opened them again what I thought was only a few moments later, but the sunlight coming in told me it had been much longer.
"Good morning," said Terreis.
"Morning?" I jumped to my feet. "You mean, I've been asleep since yesterday afternoon?"
"Yes," Terreis replied.
"Why didn't you wake me? What did N'Gila put in that tea?"
"A little valerian, I should think. You obviously needed the rest."
"By the gods, Xena will be frantic that I stayed away so long!"
"Xena?" Terreis made the name a question and an accusation at the same time. "If she were that concerned she would've come back for you."
"You don't know her like I do. She's proud and stubborn. I need to go back. I need to make the first move."
"Why?" Terreis asked.
"What do you mean?"
"Why go back. Why not come live with me - the Amazons, I mean."
"Thank you…but no. My life is with Xena—"
"I know, I know," Terreis cut in. "A seer told you that you meant to help a great warrior… But there's more than one great warrior, Gabrielle. What if you were meant to be with another warrior?"
It never occurred to me that there might be another warrior. What if Terreis was right? What if Terreis was the warrior I was meant to follow and not Xena? I thought. Suddenly all the certainty and faith I had in my love for Xena was called into question. It felt as though the flesh had been stripped from my body and my bones were being pounded to dust.
"But Xena needs me."
"From the looks of things, she doesn't."
"This treaty. It's my idea. Without me she would walk all over you," I countered forcefully before continuing in a gentler tone. "Can't you see? I can do more with words than Xena can with a sword!"
Terreis shook her head. "Can't you see she's just used you like she uses everyone and everything to get what she wants, and when she's through she leaves a wake of destruction."
"No," I whispered. "No. No. No!" With each word I clawed back what I knew to be right. "Xena is the one. I feel it in here." I pounded my chest. "I've never felt this for anyone. Never! I don't feel that way for…" I let my voice trail. "For you," I whispered.
Terreis hung her head and took a deep breath. "I hope you're right, because you could be making a mistake that will ruin your life and the lives of countless others if you support Xena in her conquests."
"It won't come to that. I can change her."
A smile curled Terreis' lips as she looked at me. "I believe you."
"I think I'll go back to the palace now. I need to talk to Xena."
Terreis nodded. "I'll walk you back."
"That won't be necessary."
"Please. It's the least I can do."
"I'll be safe. Don't worry."
"I know, but I feel a bit responsible. Besides I want to tell Xena that I'll sign the treaty. Any reluctance I've shown in signing is because I didn't trust her. Now that I know the treaty is your idea, I'll trust Xena to honour it."
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