A few months after Season 2’s THE QUEST, an injured Gabrielle brings out a surprisingly different Warrior Princess.
"Gabrielle?" Xena removed the poultice from her friend’s forehead, wincing at the purple lump visible in the firelight. She slid an arm under the young woman’s 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 patient’s mouth. "Open up for me. Come on, you can do it."
"Mm." Gabrielle’s 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 Xena’s attention to the Palomino nibbling at leaves on the other side of their campfire. The warrior rested her hand a moment on Gabrielle’s shoulder, brow furrowed in concern. She sighed, rose and took a brush from her saddlebag.
"Yeah, yeah, your turn. Gimme a break, will ya? I’ve 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.
"I’m forgiven, eh?" Xena scratched behind the horse’s ear. "Thanks. I needed that." She glanced across at the restlessly sleeping Gabrielle. "I’m 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." There’d been the usual mixing it up with bad guys. Gabrielle had stepped in to do her part – also not unusual, given the proficiency she’d developed wielding a staff since inadvertently becoming Amazon royalty. She’d certainly taken the usual bumps and bruises like a true Amazon.
This latest injury hadn’t seemed that bad at first. She’d been knocked unconscious, maybe hard enough for a concussion, but not to be out this long. As a precaution, Xena’d 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 body’s restorative powers. While Gabrielle’s overall health improved, she barely responded otherwise. She dozed fitfully enough that Xena feared letting her ride on Argo. They’d been camped for over a week.
"Happy now?" Xena patted Argo’s 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 sun’s rays had begun their languid stretch over the horizon when Xena sensed something wrong. Not dangerous, so much as...unusual. She’d 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. "How’re you feeling?" she asked, pushing up Gabrielle’s eyelids.
"I’m fine." Gabrielle swatted Xena’s hands away. "Stop fussing."
"I’ve got good reason to fuss." Xena lightly brushed the discolored spot on Gabrielle’s forehead. "Hurt much?"
Gabrielle reached up to touch the knot as if surprised to find it there. "Mm. So that’s why...." She studied Xena a moment. "How.... I’m kinda fuzzy on what happened."
Xena sat back, head cocked. Something.... She realized she’d never seen Gabrielle so expressionless. So... stiff. Was she hiding pain she didn’t want to admit? "No headache? Blurred vision?"
"I said I’m 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 highwayman’s 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 Gabrielle’s scowl. "I took care of him for you while you were out."
"How long have I...." Gabrielle’s 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, don’t 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, she’s fine."
"Good. You can take me to her, soon as we’re packed." Gabrielle cocked her head. "Whoever you are. Not Princess Diana, that’s for sure. Or Meg either. Just my luck, running into another look-alike." She snorted. "Judging by you, at least there’s hope all of `em won’t be twits."
Xena crossed her arms. "Glad you think me a cut above. Seeing as how I’m the original."
"Heh. Good one. Next you’ll be telling me I’m Gabrielle."
Gabrielle bristled. "Yeah, game’s over. I don’t have time for this." She got to her feet and glowered down at the other woman. "You’re taking me to Gabrielle. Now."
"Gods." Xena shook her head. "Look, you’re suffering from a touch of amnesia. Temporary, I’m sure. You gotta trust me, okay? I’m 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 isn’t all bad."
"You’d better hope so. Except occasionally for Gabrielle, I’m 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 – 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 woman’s hug.
"Yes." The redhead stepped back a few paces. "We’ve come for her."
Ephiny blinked, not sure she’d heard correctly. She glanced at the tall woman who’d come up behind the redhead. "You’ve.... Xena.... You’ve come for... Gabrielle?"
"I understand she’s here. I wanna 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."
"…. No, no problem. She’s...."
Xena twirled her finger at Gabrielle’s head.
Xena nodded vigorously.
"Yes, she’s... off. Um, helping negotiate... some matters with... a neighboring village. We, um, thought she’d be better at that than me."
Gabrielle growled. "How far?"
Xena stretched her arms wide.
"Oh, two... maybe three day’s ride. I expect her back soon though. The negotiations are quite sensitive, but shouldn’t be too difficult for her."
Xena jabbed her finger toward the ground.
"Please, be our guests until her return. She has two guards. I can’t risk complicating things with extra folks, you understand." Ephiny squinted at the red swelling on Gabrielle’s face. "You want our healer to take a look at that?"
"What is it with everybody?" Gabrielle huffed. "You’d think I hadn’t survived worse than a bump on the head." Sighing disgustedly, she added, "I suppose it wouldn’t hurt. The effects are lasting longer than usual. Maybe she can give me something that’ll help."
"Yes, yes, good idea. Solari will show you to your hut. She can take you to the healer after you and – ."
"Anexa," Xena said quickly, coming alongside Gabrielle.
Ephiny’s jaw dropped, as did several others within hearing distance. "Anexa?"
"Long story." Gabrielle waved dismissively at her tall companion. "I’ll 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 Anexa’s ready for her afternoon nap."
Xena rocked in the chair across from Gabrielle’s cot. Since regaining consciousness, the young woman had continued dozing throughout the day. Xena guiltily admitted to herself this was one bright spot in an ever-growing pile of indignities. She’d figured the gods would eventually get even with her for disdaining them all these years. If her current situation wasn’t sufficient payback, she hated to imagine what might await her in the future.
"Anexa," she spit out. What good was it being the mighty – and scary – former Destroyer of Nations, if forced to play some knock-off? Sure, she’d 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 she’d better go along, if she had any chance of fixing this mess.
She’d concocted a story about being a renegade Amazon, renaming herself Anexa because everyone remarked how much she resembled and fought like Xena. Said she’d 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 Gabrielle’s tribe came to fetch her.
"It’s not like her to leave me hurt," Gabrielle had said. Still, she seemed placated for the moment. Xena hoped the familiarity and healers of Gabrielle’s 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 they’d had with gangs attacking travelers. Walking behind her own horse. Good thing she’d trained Argo so well, or Gabrielle would’ve 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. She’d felt good she’d 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 she’d "died." Being in their debt for that was one thing. The embarrassing chats looming now were quite another. Lips pursed, she eyed the weapons spread out on her cot. "Better leave `em here," she muttered. Wouldn’t do to kill the only people who might help Gabrielle.
"Okay, she’s with Dedrea," Solari announced breathlessly. "What’d 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 you’re ‘Anexa.’" Solari suppressed a snicker. "Who’s Gabrielle think she is?"
Ephiny chuckled. "Who’d’ve believed she of all people had a dark side? To think I made fun of her when she bubbled all over the place. It’s like she’s turned to stone."
Xena endured the conversation with her usual stoicism. Inside, she wanted to run screaming from the room. Having an arrow snatched from 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 who’d managed to avoid their attention the last few moments. "The ‘tougher than Haephestes’ metal’ attitude."
Xena rolled her tongue in her cheek. "You Amazons aren’t as slow as you look."
"She...." Ephiny covered her mouth. "She really thinks she’s 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 didn’t come here for the entertainment. Or to be the entertainment. If that healer of yours can’t do anything, were outta here."
"Wait...." Solari composed herself. "Has she seen herself? We’ll get a mirror. That should –."
"Tried it. Her reflection in the water, our pots – she sees Xena."
"B-but she knows you look just like her. Um... like you.... Xena. I mean, that you look just like – ."
"It doesn’t matter, Ephiny. I put my arm next to hers. She thinks they’re the same length. It doesn’t register we’re different sizes and look nothing alike."
"The chakram and sword." Eponin nodded. "She can’t use those."
"Doesn’t 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.
"I’ve tried everything, believe me. You don’t think I’d be going around as ‘Anexa,’ do you, if there was another way."
"Must be hard." Eponin gazed at Xena, warrior to warrior. "Can’t do anything as you. Can’t do anything as somebody else. Rough."
Xena nodded. "If it was physical.... Worst part is what’s going on in her head. And the big bad Warrior Princess hasn’t a clue how to fix it."
Dedrea patted Gabrielle’s shoulder. "You can sit up now." She’d been warned not to use her patient’s name – difficult, since she remembered Gabrielle from her last visit. She’d 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."
Gabrielle’s lips pursed. "Look, I know you’re 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. "That’s the plan. I’m 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 I’m gonna get."
"I’ll accept that." Dedrea sat at her desk and picked up a quill. "Tell me about your childhood."
Gabrielle’s 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 Gabrielle’s apparent uncertainty. "I’m sorry, did she die as an infant?"
"Um, no. She’s... younger. I played with my brothers more. You know, war games and stuff."
"Ah. You liked war games?"
"Sure. That’s 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." Gabrielle’s brow furrowed. "Not at first. Maybe for a while.... Not now though."
"So you feel pretty good about yourself?"
"Why wouldn’t I? I’m not proud of some bad things I’ve done, but I’m working hard to atone for them. I’m 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. "It’s 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. That’s what counts."
"All right, you can open your eyes."
"Yeah? We’re done?"
"For now. You said you’d been taking some kind of medicine. I’d 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 Argo’s neck. The Palomino snorted. "Me too," she murmured. "Feels good to be up here again." Once across the Amazon border – and out of range of certain eyes – 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 didn’t 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. "You’re much quieter on the outside."
Xena grimaced. "Sorry about that."
"Don’t 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 should’ve kept them off to the side. They’re mainly for certain rituals, not everyday healing. In the wrong hands...." Xena blew out a breath. "But I didn’t mean that. I meant the... other part."
"My... ‘people skills.’ It’s a wonder you haven’t killed me. I was ready to put ‘the pinch’ on you when you were acting like me."
"Xena?" Gabrielle put her arm through Xena’s. "No offense, but this wasn’t really about you."
Xena’s cheeks reddened. "I... um.... From what Dedrea said...."
"C’mere." 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. Gabrielle’s tone sounded unnervingly like that of her Xena persona. "Gabri-ellle."
"What?" Gabrielle smirked as it dawned on her what Xena was thinking. "Don’t worry, I’m still me. I can be bossy too, you know."
Xena thought about that. "Imperious even. And grumpy, when you don’t get your way."
"Okay, okay." Xena sat.
Gabrielle dropped down across from the warrior. "I don’t really remember much. I mean, it’s like my memories and experiences somehow got confused with yours. What I’d heard or imagined. At least, that’s how Dedrea saw it after she talked with you."
"Like mixing my brothers in with your sister?"
"Uh huh." Gabrielle gazed into the distance. "It’s like, even as a little girl, I’ve 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 what’s right and people in need."
Xena chuckled. "And here I’ve been worried about my inner battles."
Gabrielle lowered her eyes. "Sounds crazy, but I do envy you sometimes. I know it’s hard," she hastened to add. "I don’t know how you do it. But in its way, it’s...."
"Clearer, I think. In your heart, you know which way you have to go. You know the consequences if you don’t. I seem to have so many paths. It won’t matter much to the world which one I choose, but I think it’ll matter to me."
Xena scooted over to a nearby tree and leaned against it. "You’ve 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, you’ve 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 – 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. How’d I do?"
"You mean, how’d I do?" Xena snorted. "The ‘me’ 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 Argo’s butt is as cute as her head?"
"She’s a warhorse, Gabrielle. No part of her is ‘cute.’ Impressive, but not cute." Xena shot a proud glance at her beloved steed. "Anyway, while I didn’t find the experience pleasant, Argo’s 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, I’m used to people trying to get in my head. Tiptoeing around me. Sucking it up when they’ve got other ideas. I’m used to bearing responsibility for whatever happens." She held Gabrielle’s eyes. "Not worrying about what anybody thinks or caring about anything except what’s in my gut, because I can’t afford otherwise. I’m 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 wasn’t you. No one treats me with more respect. Sure, I get irritated sometimes, but I never feel – ."
"Gabrielle, let me finish. This time it is about me, okay?"
Gabrielle smiled. "Okay."
"No, you don’t 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. I’m just saying it was... hard."
"Wow." Gabrielle steepled her hands under her chin, pondering Xena’s admission as if it were a perfectly normal topic of discussion. "Food for thought. Guess I’m usually more worried about myself – you know, doing the wrong thing at the wrong time, getting in your way. I mean, it’s not like I’m always that easy to be around either."
Xena smiled. "So maybe we’re even in the ‘rough edges’ department?"
"Uh huh. Certainly more interesting than too smooth."
"Oh, yeah. We positively reek of ‘interesting.’"
Gabrielle laughed. "I bet the Amazons think so. If only I could remember their reactions."
Xena grimaced. "Let’s just say they couldn’t 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 I’m feeling better myself about being me."
"Hey, you got me back from death’s 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. "What’s that?"
"Tell me about ‘Anexa.’" Gabrielle’s eyes twinkled. "Ephiny said something about she didn’t know you had that in you."
Xena’s jaw 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 must’ve 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 mare’s tail flicked Gabrielle in the butt. The warrior glanced back, eyes twinkling, as she trotted ahead. "Payback usually is!"
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