See disclaimers in Part I.
It is morning and once again life announces its return having disappeared during the torrential rains. The rain had subsided during the early morning hours, just as Gabrielle's fever and the darkness in Xena's heart.
Gabrielle stirs to the delicious smells of something roasting over a warm fire. The dark haired warrior is staring intently at the birds before her. Only when she feels the awakening presence of the small blonde does she divert her eyes. So she doesn't burn the meal, she removes the cooking meat from the flames and sets it off to the side. Once at Gabrielle's side, Xena touches the blonde's forehead. "Your fever broke early this morning."
The Amazon gives Xena a smile and turns her head toward the fire. "You made breakfast. A healer and a cook. I'm impressed."
"I have many skills," Xena replies. "Unfortunately cooking isn't one of them." She helps Gabrielle sit up. "Easy."
"Oh I beg to differ. It smells wonderful."
"Don't be so quick to hand out the compliments until you've tasted it."
"I'm sure it will be fine. I'm so hungry I could eat…" Gabrielle leaves her sentence uncompleted as she sees the pained expression of guilt on the warrior's face. She changes the subject. "The rains have stopped."
"Yeah. Apollo's chariot greets us with a glorious sunny day… What?" Xena asks when she sees the look on the blonde's face.
"What you just said… It was part of the visions."
"I'm not one to believe in those kinds of things… but some things you just can't ignore."
At the moment, the smaller woman's stomach announces its demands. Gabrielle's sheepish grin brings a soft chuckle from Xena. Picking up a steaming cup, Xena offers it. "I want you to drink this first before diving in on the gourmet feast."
"Are you going to join me?"
"Sure. I should suffer along with you." The women quietly finish off the meal. Afterwards, Xena examines Gabrielle. Salve is reapplied and the bandages changed. Satisfied that all is taken care of Xena gathers her things and tells Gabrielle, "You should be safe here. No one knows about this place."
"Where are you going?"
"To tie up some loose ends."
"Let me go with you."
"No. You're not a hundred percent and I want you to get some more rest."
She looks at the blonde. It was the first time that the Amazon had called her by her name. Returning the gesture, Xena tells her, "Gabrielle, please trust me. What I'm planning… there won't be any blood shed."
After leaving Gabrielle, Xena rides Argo back toward her camp. Very discretely she makes her way to the outer edges. With the guards no longer watching the outer perimeters, Xena easily creeps closer and sees the men arguing among themselves. Apparently with Callisto's sudden rise to leadership, the men were divided between following her or The Conqueror. Some of them had already broken off and formed a separate group. Shaking her head at the disorder, Xena quickly turns back to the task at hand. She attaches a rolled up parchment to an arrow and takes aim. The arrow zips through the air and hits its target - a pole near Callisto's tent. Looking carefully around, Xena makes her way back to Argo and disappears toward her next destination. The Amazon village.
Hours later, Xena and Gabrielle wait in the middle of the field where the Amazons and The Conqueror's army had previously fought. First checking the sun for the time, she searches the area and sees a group approaching. Instinctively she reaches for her chakram. It is some of the men from her army. Xena then hears a few bird calls and turns toward the forest where she sees some Amazons appear. Leaders from each party approach. She sees Callisto and a man that she recognizes to be one of her lieutenants, Theodorus. From the other side, Velaska and Ephiny make their way toward the two women.
At first glance, Ephiny notes Gabrielle's paleness, the bandages and the many cuts and bruises on the small body. Eyeing the stitches on the queen's forehead Ephiny greets her friend, the concern showing on her face. "Gabrielle."
"Ephiny. Velaska." The small blonde gives them a reassuring smile. "It's okay. I'm all right."
Before addressing Xena, Velaska looks around at the people that have assembled. "It seems that Gabrielle isn't dead after all."
Directing her statement toward Gabrielle and Velaska Ephiny adds, "Looks like we have much to discuss."
"Sorry to interrupt this Amazon reunion but I've got my own to attend," Callisto spits out. She looks at Xena. "I didn't know we were going to have uninvited guests."
"They received an invitation just like you did."
Impatiently Callisto replies, "Then let's cut to the chase, shall we? I want to hear about your proposal."
"All right," Xena says and begins her explanation. "The men are divided. Oh yes. I've been to the camp and seen the chaos." To Callisto's 'so what' expression she adds, "How can they follow a leader they don't even respect. You have to earn that Callisto. I'm giving you an opportunity to do just that."
"I'm all ears."
"You and me. Right here. Right now. One on one in a fair fight." Xena gives Callisto a smirk. "What better way to show the men who the true leader is."
"So why are they here?" Callisto says as she jerks her head toward the Amazons.
"We have an alliance with them. Or don't you remember? I think they will be interested in the outcome of this contest. And they can be the impartial judges to this fight," Xena tells her. 'And I know that they will take Gabrielle back safely to their village in case something happens to me.'
"Sounds fair enough. All right. Weapons."
"Only swords. Remove your chakram."
Xena complies with the Callisto's request and hands it over to the only person she trusts. Gabrielle.
"Rules," Xena begins.
"Why Xena, since when have you played by the rules?" Callisto gives her a sly grin.
"You're right. We don't stop until there is a winner."
A little worried Gabrielle asks, "How is the winner determined?"
"Don't worry dear. You'll know," Callisto tells her.
The audience steps back as the warriors prepare to begin their battle. Circling they wait for the other one to make the first move. Xena knows that it is not just physical strength that will defeat an opponent but also the mental strategy. She plans to play on Callisto's impatience and arrogance. Finally the blonde swings her sword to attack. Back and forth they strike and block. The metal swords meet each other, the sounds of their contact ring in the air. As the fighting continues, each woman is able to break through and superficially wound the other.
"You told me that I was a fool to believe that I make my own destiny. You should heed your own words," Xena tells Callisto
Xena continues to taunt the blonde. "You need to work on your techniques because Larasia didn't tell you everything."
Jab. Spin. Slice.
"You thought it was perfect!" the raven-haired woman continues.
"Far from it."
"No she told me everything!" Callisto yells as her sword slices the air and heads toward the dark haired woman.
Xena gracefully dodges it. Stopping their battle both woman wearily eye each other, their swords ready for a continuation. "Did she? You see, there was one more vision."
"Am I?" A shade of doubt can be seen in Callisto's face. "Don't cha wanna know?" Xena baits her.
"Aarrgh!" Callisto screams as she lunges at Xena.
With a flip Xena avoids Callisto and lands behind her. A painful slash on the blonde's arm disables the crazed woman. A boot to the backside forces her to the ground. Turning around the blonde faces her ex-Commander. Xena stands over Callisto and steps forward causing the tip of her sword to make a small puncture on her neck.
"Mercy," Xena quietly breathes out. After sheathing her sword, she quickly puts a pinch on Callisto's left leg making it useless. She moves away from Callisto and looks up, searching for approval of her actions. Gabrielle gives her a smile and a slight nod.
"Theodorus. Return to camp and take her to the holding area," Xena tells her man as she jerks her head toward Callisto. "I have some business with the Amazons. It may take a few days."
Ephiny and Velaska are surprised by Xena's instructions. Both look suspiciously at the dark warrior and move instinctively closer to their queen.
"I'll tell the men that The Conqueror has returned," Theodorus calls out. He gives her a salute and leaves dragging a seething Callisto away.
After Xena's men leave, Ephiny does a more thorough inventory of her friend's injuries. "Gabrielle. We should take you to see Clara. Now."
The emphasis on the last word is clearly heard by Gabrielle. "There's no need for that."
"I insist. Your well being is my responsibility," Ephiny remarks.
Velaska gives an accusing glare at Xena. "I don't know what your little game is, but obviously you lied to us about Gabrielle's demise. We need to rediscuss our alliance."
"There's no need for any discussion," Xena tells her.
Ephiny looks suspiciously at the raven-haired woman. "Then what is this business you mentioned earlier."
"The business is to take Gabrielle, your rightful queen, safely back home. And then hand myself over."
Surprised by her comments Gabrielle asks, "What are you saying?"
Xena looks directly into the young blonde's face. "For the things I have done to you, I am surrendering myself to Amazon justice."
Ephiny signals to Velaska to draw her weapon and then gives Xena a stern warning. "Hand over your sword and step away. If this is a trick… you won't live to see Amazon justice." She directs a birdcall to the Amazons near the forest. The warriors approach with their bows and arrows directed at Xena ready to shoot.
"Ephiny, this isn't necessary," Gabrielle quietly states.
Velaska interrupts. "Gabrielle. We must take these precautions. We don't know if we can trust her."
'I trust her.' Gabrielle looks at the dark haired woman, her face full of apology. "I'm sorry."
"It's all right," Xena reassures her. Complying with Ephiny's request, she hands over her sword. "Time to face up to my deeds."
The group returns to the Amazon village. The women there cheer for and kneel to their returning queen. Embarrassed by the display Gabrielle acknowledges them and then quickly heads toward the healer's hut motioning for Xena to follow. She had insisted that Xena see Clara also for her wounds and the warrior had reluctantly agreed.
The healer gives Gabrielle a complete examination and takes care to examine the stitches on her forehead a second time. "Your wounds were well taken care of." Clara gestures to Gabrielle to indicate that she has finished and steps back to allow the blonde to get off the examining table.
"Yes they were." Turning to Ephiny Gabrielle excuses herself. "I need to take care of a few things. I'll be back shortly."
Clara moves on to her next patient and works on treating Xena's injuries. Not surprisingly, none of her wounds are serious and do not require any stitches.
As Xena flexes her right arm to test the wrapping that Clara had tied, her eyes fall on Dana. While the healer was examining Gabrielle, Xena had seen the injured Amazon in one of the beds. She recognized the young woman as the one she had whipped. The warrior shifts her glaze when she feels Gabrielle's presence and turns to see the blonde reenter.
Just before the queen had entered the room, Gabrielle had seen Xena looking at Dana. Once there, the queen finds Xena's glaze on her, the blue eyes filled with one question. "That is Dana," Gabrielle answers her. Xena looks down to the ground. She returns her eyes to Gabrielle and with a tilt of her head toward Dana she silently asks another question. Reading her thoughts, Gabrielle looks at Clara first and then nods to give her ascent. The queen whispers her instructions to the healer as Xena moves toward Dana's bed. Looking into the very still face, Xena listens as the healer tells her of the Amazon's current state.
"Dana has a severe concussion. From what I can tell there is swelling and the pressure on her brain is causing her unconsciousness. I have waited for the pass two days for the swelling to go down, but it hasn't."
"Have you attempted to relieve the pressure?" Xena asks.
"Yes but so far nothing I have done seems to work."
"Have you tried draining the area?"
"No. Because of the location of the swelling I am afraid it would endanger her life."
"I believe I can help but we must work quickly." Xena explains what she has in mind. Clara nods her agreement. "It might work." Clara looks to Gabrielle for guidance. "My Queen?"
"If you feel this will help…"
"It's the best chance she has," Clara replies.
Gabrielle turns to Ephiny and searches for her concurrence.
At first Ephiny hesitates. She trusts Clara's medical knowledge but most importantly she trusts her friend's judgement. She gives Gabrielle a nod showing her support.
With the queen's permission, the two ladies begin. First they laying out the instruments and then they position Dana on the table. With two quick jabs with her fingers, Xena stops the flow of blood. Clara then swiftly slices the swollen tissue and drains the fluid that had built up. Immediately Xena hands her a needle and thread and Clara swiftly sews up the cut. Another series of jabs from Xena and the work is finished. Xena and Clara confer with each other on what to watch for and what to do next. Satisfied that Clara has understood and has agreed with her, Xena makes her way toward the other women.
"Thank you Xena," Gabrielle says.
They leave the healer's hut escorted by some guards and head toward a large assembly room. Before entering Ephiny motions for two of the guards to stay outside. The queen instructs the one remaining guard and motions for Xena to take a seat. Gabrielle begins to explain the Amazon legal process to Xena. The warrior listens patiently even though she already knows all about the process.
"You will be judged by the Amazon council which consists of seven woman. Three of our elders, Ephiny, myself and two of our other warriors. I will remove myself from the council for obvious reasons."
"But that will leave six on the council," Ephiny points out.
Before Gabrielle can respond, Solari and Velaska join them. "Yes it will." Turning to Xena the blonde continues. "Usually the defendant can ask any of her sisters to stand in defense with her. I took the liberty of asking Solari to stand with you and she has agreed… if that is all right with you?"
Addressing Ephiny's earlier comment Gabrielle states, "So now we have five on the council."
A girl enters with drinks, quills and parchment. Ephiny retrieves them and then announces her departure. "I'll leave you ladies to do your work. My Queen."
Gabrielle nods at her friend and then continues in her explanation. "We are waiting on Cassandra before we start the interviews. She and Velaska will be standing for the Amazon Nation. If you are wondering, Velaska served in that capacity in her tribe. If we don't use her skills some here may think something is up and call for a mistrial and I don't want that to happen."
When Cassandra arrives, the interviews begin. Witness after witness is summoned and each tells her story without much interruption from either side. Finally Gabrielle is questioned. Throughout it, Xena sits stone faced staring at the ground unable to move even though every fiber of her being wants to run away screaming from the acts that she had committed against this fair haired woman. With the last words, the very spent queen slumps back in the chair. Xena still does not look up even though she senses the queen's eyes upon her. At last she lifts her head, expecting to see disgust or hatred. But the emerald eyes glistened only with forgiveness.
Solari refills her queen's cup and Gabrielle smiles her thanks. "Xena as the defendant, you have the right to be interviewed only by Solari at this time. Do you wish to exercise this option?"
Solari moves to Xena's side and whispers her advice. Xena nods in agreement. Solari gives her reply. "Yes my Queen. We would like to exercise that option."
"Fine. After Solari has completed her questioning, then Cassandra and Velaska will be provided the same opportunity. I believe we can start the trial some time after the morning meal."
Xena clears her throat to catch the blonde's attention. "If I may speak with you."
The other ladies oblige the request and move to the other side of the room.
In a quiet voice Xena asks, "Why do we need to go through a process of a trial? You know as well as I do that I am guilty of every charge against me. Just when were you going to give me a chance to answer them? I appreciate your efforts but you don't have to protect me."
So consumed with giving Xena a fair trial, Gabrielle had plowed through the process. The thought of her guilt had slipped her mind since all of her energy was focused into saving a life. Xena's life. Gabrielle takes a deep breath and motions for the others to join them.
"Cassandra, based on the interviews, what charges will the Nation bring against the accused?"
Cassandra quickly glances over her notes. "My Queen, if I may have a word with Velaska." Moments later Cassandra reads out her list. "Here are the charges that the accused will face. Two counts of injury to an Amazon, kidnapping of our queen, attempted murder of our queen, and conspiracy to over take the Amazon Nation."
"The two charges of injury to an Amazon pertains to…"
"Dana and yourself my Queen," Velaska offers.
Turning to Xena Gabrielle asks, "How do you answer to the charge of-"
Interrupting Xena states, "Guilty on all the charges."
A stunned silence fills the room. Xena looks over to Gabrielle and their gazes lock. An understanding passes between them and the queen gives her a sad smile. "All right. What will the representatives of the Nation seek as punishment?"
"As the law states for the most serious crimes, we will seek nothing less than death," Cassandra declares.
"The punishment phase of the trial will begin tomorrow after the morning meal. I know you won't let emotions or your friendship to me affect your efforts in anyway," Gabrielle adds.
Cassandra replies, "I will keep within the legal limits of the law but I will do anything to convince the council to pass the sentence of death."
Gabrielle face shows her weariness but with a firm voice she answers. "I won't expect anything less." She dismisses the group. Each party departs to work on their arguments. The guards enter to escort Xena to a holding cell. Gabrielle stops Solari from leaving and asks her to join her in her quarters.
"Xena, I'll be there later and we can talk about our arguments and our strategy," Solari tells her. The warrior nods her response and allows the guards to lead her away.
Gabrielle is alone in her quarters. After her discussion with Solari, she is able to stretch out and relax a bit. Her body aches from the punishment it has received and is weak from her ordeal. After a long hot bath, she reviews the past few days over in her mind. She hears a soft knock and she calls for the person to enter. It is Eponin.
The weapons master bows. "My Queen."
"Poni. Why the formality?" Gabrielle studies her friend. "Is there something wrong?"
"No Gabrielle. I'm sorry to disturb you but I wanted to let you know that Shelia has been questioned and detained. She confessed to providing the information about the villagers' convoys."
"Thank you." The blonde sees the tension and agitation in the weapon master's face. Concerned Gabrielle asks, "What is it?"
"I would like to step down as the head of the Royal Guard."
Gabrielle hears the guilt in her friend's voice. 'I know what this is about.' She immediately answers. "Your request is denied."
"But-" Eponin begins to protest.
"Tell me Poni, do you think there is a warrior more skilled than you?"
"No," she quietly states.
"Then I do not see why you are making this request."
"Because I failed in my responsibilities. I shouldn't have left you."
"I gave you a command and you followed it."
"My lapse in judgement allowed them to capture you."
"No," Gabrielle firmly states. "After you left, Tessa and I handled Xena's men. We were on horseback and about to enter the forest when our horse went down."
"But if I had only stayed maybe none of this would have happened."
"We can't go around torturing ourselves with what ifs in life. If anyone is to blame it is me." Gabrielle holds up her hand to stop Eponin from interrupting. "I was only thinking of Megan and my promise to Dana. I put myself in that situation. Look Poni. I don't want you feeling that it was your fault because it wasn't. There's no reason to step down." She places a hand on Eponin's shoulder and speaks directly from her heart. "I have trusted you with my life. I still do."
Eponin hears the words and the trust behind them. "Then my request is withdrawn my Queen."
"Good." With a nod Eponin turns to leave. "Poni," Gabrielle calls out.
She turns to face the blonde. "Yes."
"For your friendship. For being who you are. You are a woman of great integrity. And I am very lucky to have you as part of my Royal Guard."
With those encouraging words Eponin smiles back at her queen. She bids her good night and exits the hut.
Xena looks up as Solari enters and one of the guards unlocks the cell door. "My apologies for taking so long. I hope you were able to get some rest."
"Some," the warrior replies.
"I have some good news… Dana has regained consciousness. Clara said that she is in good shape and on the road to recovery."
"That's good to hear."
"I don't know if she will be able to testify but at the very least her statement will be read at the hearing." Xena nods upon hearing this. Solari continues. "The Queen would've been here to tell you about the suggested arguments for leniency, but she doesn't want to influence the minds of the council in any way."
"Before we go on, I want to know how do you feel about this, arguing for my life."
Solari takes a long time before answering. "Even though I am older than Gabrielle, I've learned a few things from her. One of them is not to pass judgement on someone before looking first at yourself. We've all done things that we aren't proud of. I admit, I have strong feelings… But my Queen has made a request that I plan on honoring to the best of my ability. To do that I have to let go of those feelings."
"And how do you feel about me?"
Solari looks intently at Xena before honestly answering. "I could care less about the woman who committed these acts against my friend."
The warrior's body tenses at the stinging words. "This is only an obligation to you."
"No," Solari quickly answers. "If Gabrielle can find it in her heart to forgive you of what you have done to her, how can I do any less? She made me see the woman that you have become. And that woman I would be glad to have as a friend."
A length of time passes before either speaks. Finally Xena asks, "So tell me, what are Gabrielle's suggestions?"
Taking a deep breath Solari begins. "First of all you will not testify. Cassandra and Velaska are very smart and clever women. They will try to make you lose your temper to make you look bad. So we are not going to give them the opportunity. The plan is to emphasize on the results and to show them the new you."
"Yeah, new and improved," Xena mutters. "Okay we can do that. I have nothing to lose."
Very seriously Solari tells her, "Only your life."
"I know," Xena replies. "It is what I deserve."
"How can I save your life if you won't even give yourself a chance!" Solari exclaims. Trying unsuccessfully to keep the anger from her voice she states, "Gabrielle thinks you are worth redeeming. Please don't insult or belittle her with your attitude."
Xena sits quietly and thinks about what Solari has said. She clenches her jaw to prevent any heated response from spewing out. Closing the blue eyes Xena shakes her head. "I won't do that, not to Gabrielle."
"Okay… If we are going to do this, let's hear the facts. Don't hold back. I want every ugly detail."
The women make themselves comfortable and prepare for the long night ahead.
To be continued in Part V (Conclusion).
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