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Chapter 21:

When Xena awoke two candlemarks later, she kissed her sleeping bard and rolled out of

bed, anxious to face the day. She had many things to do before evening. Xena dressed and splashed water on her face before Gabrielle awoke and rolled over to face her. "Good morning, sunshine. Ready to get up?" Xena asked. Gabrielle grinned and stretched, sensing Xena was in a much better mood than she had been in a fortnight.

"What are we doing today?" she asked, yawning.

Xena grinned and said, "Well, I need my slave to help me purchase a couple of good war-horses and some other gear."

"Does this mean we have a plan?" Gab asked, sitting up suddenly less sleepy.

Xena answered, "Not completely, but it's getting there. Why don't you get dressed, and I'll run downstairs and order our morning meal? Join me when you are ready." Gabrielle agreed and a little later they were sitting in a corner of the tavern eating.

Xena began to speak halfway through their meal, "I need to fill you in on what I know so that we can work out the details on this end of things." Gabrielle leaned forward listening intently, glad to finally be included. "It is a simple matter breaking into the palace and reaching Chloe and Zoe, but Lyceus is another matter."

Gabrielle interrupted, "Wait a moment, who are Zoe and Lyceus, Chloe's children?"

"Oh, yeah. Zoe is her daughter, almost three summers old." Xena smiled at the thought of the beautiful child who looked so much like her mother. Gabrielle noted with curiosity Xena’s reaction. "Lyceus is her son, the heir. I haven't seen him. He is kept under guard in a separate section of the palace. He is just a little older than Solon, perhaps a year."

"Xena, how did a slave manage to become the mother of the king?" Gabrielle asked.

Xena replied stoically, "Bad luck, basically. Chloe was bought by the King of Sinope, Mithridates. He had six sons. His youngest son, Darius, fell in love with Chloe. The king evidently doted on his youngest son, and never believing his son would ever be king, he freed Chloe and gave her to Darius to be wed. His eldest son was killed when the horse he was riding slipped and fell on him. Another son took ill and died. One was lost at sea, and the other two battling the Cimerians in the East. Chloe's husband died a year ago from a fever. The only living male heir is Chloe and Darius' son, Lyceus. Evidently the minister to the king wants the power of the throne for himself and has made several attempts on the life of the young king and Chloe. If it was up to me, I would clean out the palace, but Chloe claims the intrigue goes beyond the palace and includes distant cousins who would also stoop to murder in order to steal the crown."

"So what are we going to do?" Gabrielle asked.

Xena replied, "Somehow I must free young Lyceus and help him and his mother and sister escape over the mountains. If we can get them back to Thrace, they will be safe."

"So that is why we need to purchase two good war-horses?" Gabrielle concluded.

"Yes, I don't know when, but soon we are going to need to make a fast get away, and a pack horse is not the animal for the job," Xena explained.

Gabrielle's mind raced and suddenly an unpleasant thought occurred to her. She asked, "Xena, just who will be riding the war-horses?"

Xena knew where that question was coming from; Gabrielle did not have a natural affinity for horses, they frightened her. "I guess we could purchase three if you want one of your own." Xena said seriously.

"Oh no, no, that's all right."

Xena laughed, "Don't worry, my little bard, you are going to be riding with me. I know those women of Corinthian colonies aren't natural horse women."

"Can Chloe ride?" Gabrielle asked.

"Like the wind." Gabrielle noted the pride with which Xena spoke of Chloe's ability and wished she could please Xena more. "That's one common practice among Thracians, men and women alike," Xena added. "And I am sure Lyceus as been trained in the kingly arts of cavalry tactics and horsemanship." Xena reached for her goblet and drained it, setting it back down asked, "Are you ready?" Gabrielle nodded and the noble woman and her slave left the tavern.


The two had spent most of the day finding and acquiring two sturdy, well built horses and the tack for the new animals. Xena would have much preferred to hop on the animals and put them through her test personally. Being a lady did have its drawbacks, and she had to be satisfied with the trader's young boy’s demonstration of the animal’s strengths. They were not Thessalian horseflesh like Argo, but they would have to do.

That evening Xena and Gabrielle shared a hearty meal at the tavern and retired early to enjoy a long, hot bath together. Gabrielle slipped into her sleeping gown, and Xena dressed in her leather. In another candlemark, she would visit the palace again. This time she would reconnoiter the section of the palace in which Lyceus was held prisoner.

The two sat enjoying each other's company discussing the horses they had bought and the events of the day when a frantic pounding on the door brought them to their feet. Xena grabbed her sword and strode to the door. When she heard Chloe's desperate voice in the hall, she swung the door open. Chloe burst into the room with Zoe in her arms and flung herself into Xena's arms crying. Zoe’s little face was streaked with tears. Xena took the child and held her effortlessly as she hugged Chloe into her body.

Gabrielle closed and bolted the door and stood back observing the trio before her. If not for the tears and obviously traumatic event, they were the picture of a perfectly beautiful family. Xena tall, commanding, and strong; Chloe, the picture of feminine beauty, willowy who stood just a hand shorter than Xena, and Zoe, the image of her mother yet through her tears seemed strong like Xena. Gabrielle, uncomfortable, felt as if she intruded on a personal moment. Obviously Xena still loved this woman very much. Why shouldn't she? She was one of the most beautiful women Gabrielle had ever seen. Her writer's eye saw more than just beauty; there was a magnetic attraction. Had the situation been different, she believed she too would have been drawn to this woman like a moth to the flame.

Xena moved Chloe to the bed and sat her down still holding Zoe in her arm. She tried to calm Chloe. Finally Chloe choked through her tears what had happened. She was told her son had taken ill. She immediately went to him arriving too late, and on her way back to her chambers, she overheard the minister to the king speaking with their personal surgeon that the poison had done its job well with the young heir. Fearful that they had discovered her, and afraid for Zoe's life, she fled with the assistance of her faithful servant.

Xena questioned her. Handing Zoe to Gabrielle she dropped to her knees in front of her distraught friend. Remembering another time long ago, Xena asked, "Chloe, are you sure he's dead?"

Crying, Chloe slid from the bed into Xena's arms, "Yes, Xe, my beautiful boy, my Lyceus is dead." The words cut through Xena like a dagger. Chloe echoed the thoughts that pounded Xena’s mind, "Dead again. I held him in my arms, and his lips were cold and blue." She collapsed into tears. Xena picked her up and laid her on the bed. Then she sat by her half reclining and held and comforted her.

Gabrielle dropped into a chair across the room with Zoe in her lap and the little girl leaned into Gabrielle laying her little head on Gabrielle's breast. Gabrielle looked down on her dark, straight hair and wondered if Xena's hair was like this when she was young.


Two candlemarks later Gabrielle laid Zoe next to her sleeping mother in the bed and joined Xena on the balcony. "What are we going to do, Xena?" she asked.

Xena stared out over the city before her and sighed ignoring Gabrielle's question she spoke evenly, "Tell me, Gab, why do I always let her down? Why didn't I try to take them out of there sooner?"

"Xena, you can't blame yourself for this. You're only human!" Xena shifted her gaze to Gabrielle, and tears welled up in her eyes. Then she looked back quickly at the city not wanting to cry.

With effort, she spoke, "We must get them out of this city. It's only a matter of time before they come for Chloe and the child." Realizing she needed to act immediately, Xena stiffened her resolve and shifted into her warrior mode. "Gabrielle, I'm going to saddle the horses. Get our gear packed and wake Chloe. Tell her we are leaving immediately." Xena strode back into the room, fastened on her armor and sword, grabbed her chakram, and exited the room.

Gabrielle stood by the bed and stared down at the mother and child sleeping peacefully. Gabrielle was struck by how in sleep Zoe was almost an exact miniature of her mother. Chloe's hair was lighter brown and lay in soft waves and curls, but, otherwise, they were the same. Then she gently shook Chloe's shoulder and wakened her. Chloe smiled up sadly at Gabrielle. "Xena wants us to leave the city as soon as we can be ready. She asked me to wake you," Gabrielle said helping her sit up on the edge of the bed.

Realizing that they had not been properly introduced, she started to speak, but before she could, Chloe began, "Gabrielle, I only wished our first meeting could have been under happier circumstances." Gabrielle wondered how Chloe knew her name, unless of course, Xena had mentioned her. "Xena told me about you. I apologize for not speaking to you sooner." Gabrielle was completely shocked. Here was a woman who lost her only son tonight apologizing for not being more considerate of her feelings.

"Oh, Chloe, please don't apologize," Gabrielle begged. "I am the one who is so sorry for your loss." For once the bard had few words. She didn't know what to say or how to act in front of this woman who possessed Xena's heart. She was beautiful and kind, and Gabrielle was feeling quite inadequate. How could she compete with her for Xena's love?

As though she read Gabrielle's thoughts, Chloe spoke sincerely, "Thank you for your kind words. Gabrielle, I am very happy to meet you. It takes a special woman to win Xena's heart. I can see why she loves you so. You are so lovely." Blushing, Gabrielle turned and looked at Chloe strangely; she felt as if this woman had just walked through her mind. Chloe smiled at the look on Gabrielle's face and continued, "Xena doesn't believe; she refuses sometimes to accept her gifts. Always wants to do everything the hard way and thinks everything is her fault." Gabrielle wasn't sure she followed Chloe. "You know that warrior is very stubborn, but she told me you make her very happy. She loves you."

"She told you that?" Gabrielle asked. Her Xena never expressed her feelings easily.

Chloe looked surprised, "Yes, hasn't she told you?"

Gabrielle nodded, "Well, yes but I..."

Chloe interrupted Gabrielle, "One thing Xena does not waste is words; If she says something, she means it. So believe her, Gabrielle." Gabrielle nodded, and a little smile played on her face, then the look of horror quickly displaced the joy.

"Oh, my gods, Xena! She'll be back any moment, and I haven't got a thing packed."

The two women looked at each other and said in unison, "And you know how she gets!" Then they both chuckled and quickly worked together to pack up the room.

When Xena walked in, she found them sitting on the bed staring at her with all the gear sitting by the door. The only thing left to gather up was Zoe's sleeping, little form.

The three women left Sinope under cover of darkness, Gabrielle behind Xena on Argo and Zoe rode dozing in the saddle in front of Xena. Chloe rode next to Xena on one of the horses Gabrielle and Xena had purchased earlier that day. The other war-horse Xena used as a pack horse. As soon as they were out of the city limits, Xena spurred them on wishing to put as much distance as possible between them and the city. She had a very uneasy feeling that they would soon be followed. If she could only get them over the mountains, she new they would be safe from possible assassins.


Chapter 22:

Sunrise found them high in the mountains over Sinope, and Xena allowed the women and Zoe to rest while she stood guard watching for any sign that they were being followed. When the sun reached the mid-morning mark, Xena prepared some food and rousted the sleeping women. There was no sign yet that they were being pursued, but Xena was nervous and tense. She could hardly contain her impatience, and she wished Chloe and Gabrielle would hurry. When they were finally on the road again, Xena felt better, but an uneasy feeling sat in her gut. Her contemplation was interrupted by her tiny passenger.

"You know, Xena, I could ride that other horse." Gabrielle overheard the comment and looked amused at Chloe who rode next to them. Chloe only stared at Xena expectantly.

Oblivious of the two women, Xena continued the conversation with Zoe. "You could, could you?

"Uh huh."

"How old are you?" Xena asked.

"Almost three, the same as you when you started to ride," Zoe replied.

Xena raised her eyebrow, looked at Chloe, and said, "And exactly what did she take after you?" Chloe laughed out loud. Gabrielle puzzled over the private knowledge the two shared, like familiar lovers. The knowledge that someone other than she had shared personal little things with Xena saddened her.


Xena pushed them almost until dusk. Everyone was exhausted including the horses, and Zoe had long since given up and lolled sleeping in the crook of Xena's left arm. Finding a sheer rock face to camp against, Xena felt secure knowing she would only have one front to defend. The camp site she had chosen was on a slight rise, and there was a clear mountain stream not far for fresh water. She only worried about the tall trees encircling them on one side. They could easily be picked off by an archer in one of those trees. She would secure the camp after everyone had been fed. She knew for now no one was following them, or at least if they were, they were several leagues behind them.

Gabrielle sat up camp but did not start a fire. Xena did not want to draw unwanted attention. Chloe fixed the evening meal of dried meat and fruit and fed Zoe while Xena scouted the area behind and ahead of them looking for any possible ambush sites. When she returned, she quickly ate and then walked the parameter of the camp again. Gabrielle began to lay out their bedrolls and suddenly realized Xena may not want to sleep with her if Chloe was around. She left Xena's rolled up on the ground. When Xena returned, she did not notice her bedroll, much to Gabrielle's disappointment, but went straight to the horses to take care of them.

When Xena tromped through camp without so much as a word to either one of them Chloe spoke to Gabrielle. "You know she hasn't changed a bit. Whenever she is focused on something, forget it." Gabrielle nodded and looked back at where Xena was busy brushing the horses. Chloe continued, "And you watch, she'll come stomping back through and plop down somewhere with that sword and make love to it with that whet stone. Long and slow love for candlemarks. Used to make me jealous as Hades." She laughed. "Imagine being jealous of a sword?" Gabrielle burst out laughing at Chloe's observation. She never looked at it like that before, although she had wished a time or two Xena would have paid as much attention to her as she did to her sword.

Gabrielle confessed to Chloe, "I really don't have a problem with the sword; it's Argo I'm jealous over. She's always checking on Argo, brushing Argo, feeding Argo, exercising Argo. And you know what, I think the horse knows I'm jealous, and she just does things to annoy me." Chloe laughed along with Gabrielle and then Gabrielle asked Chloe, "How long have you known Xena."

Chloe replied evenly, "Since before I was born." Gabrielle was quiet, not knowing exactly how Chloe meant that. Seeing Gabrielle's confusion, Chloe continued, "I mean it, Gabrielle. As children my mother and Cyrene lived next door to each other. They were great friends, closer than sisters. Mother lived with Cyrene at the inn for a while. Xena was eight moons older than me; I swear I heard her talking to me before I was born."

Incredulously, Gabrielle could only say, "Really?" Chloe nodded. The solemn atmosphere changed when Xena strolled back through, chose a seat away from them facing the trees, drew her sword, and began her slow methodical sharpening of the glinting blade. The two women put their hands to their mouths and chuckled quietly looking mischievously into each other's eyes. Suddenly Gabrielle did not feel threatened any longer being with this woman who had been Xena's lover and who could still easily be a love interest to Xena. Gabrielle got up and moved closer to Chloe so Zoe lay between them, and the two women could talk without Xena hearing them.

When Xena finally decided they were safe for the night, and she needed a little sleep, she found Gabrielle and Chloe sound asleep facing each other with only Zoe separating them. Xena shook her head and smiled down at the two women more important than life itself to her and thought to herself, ‘Maybe this will all work out.’ She then picked up her bed roll, looked at it with a frown, and shrugged her shoulders. She spread it out behind Gabrielle and laid down and looked up at the stars. She wished was in Amphipolis.


Early the next morning Xena rolled out of bed and quickly walked the perimeter of the camp and then checked on the horses. When she returned, she woke Gabrielle and Chloe and told Gabrielle it would be all right to start a fire in the daylight. She picked up the water skins and trudged off towards the stream. The stream was clear and inviting, but Xena didn't want to take the time for a quick dip, therefore, she just washed her hands and face in the cool water. As she was bending over, she noticed a silver reflection in the water and thought, `Trout would be good for breaking fast.' She pulled off her boots and waded quietly into the water. Within a short period of time, she had three nice trout flopping on the bank. She waded out of the water and slipped on and laced her boots, picked up her water skins and the three fish and headed back to the camp. When she returned to camp, Gabrielle had a fire going, water heating for tea, and was busy packing their things. "Brought you something to do." Gabrielle looked up and smiled at Xena and the fish she held up. "Where's Chloe and Zoe?" Xena asked.

Gabrielle swung around concerned, "I thought they were with you. Chloe picked up Zoe and followed you to give her a bath. Didn't you see them?"

A look of sheer terror clouded Xena's face and was reflected back in Gabrielle's face as well. Xena spun on her heels and ran like a mad woman through the underbrush in the direction she had just come. Gabrielle grabbed her staff and followed running as fast as she could but was unable to keep up with Xena's long, powerful strides. As she neared the stream, Xena, thinking her heart was going to explode with fear began to yell loudly, "Chloe! Chloe!" Gabrielle, hearing Xena's yells, almost became ill with thoughts of what might be happening, and she pushed herself forward.

When Xena finally burst through the underbrush to the stream, she leaped into the water. Chloe and Zoe were in the middle of the stream laughing and swimming. Xena plowed through the water, reaching them in three long strides, grabbed them both into her arms and hugged them crying. "Oh Chloe, I thought I had lost you. Don't ever do this again. Don't go off without me, promise. Don't ever do this again."

Chloe, realizing what had happened held on to Xena and tried to calm her down, "It's all right, Xe, we're all right, I'm sorry we frightened you; it was stupid of me, but I thought we could catch up with you." She reached up and grabbed the warrior's face between her hands and repeated herself. "We're all right." And they kissed.

Gabrielle had barreled through the underbrush in time to see Xena holding Chloe and Zoe tightly and crying, then she saw Chloe kiss Xena. She saw nothing else because she turned and made her way back to camp.

It took Xena a long time to recover from the thought of having lost Chloe again. She and Chloe sat on the bank while she regained her composure. Eventually she realized something was wrong. Gabrielle had been following her. She leaped to her feet. Startled, Chloe asked, "What is it Xe, what's wrong?"

"Gabrielle was following me through the woods. We were both looking for you. I have to make sure she is all right."

"You don't suppose she saw me kiss you, do you?" Chloe asked.

Zoe spoke up, "I saw Gabrielle, Mommy, when Xena was holding us in the water; she was on the bank. She left after a while."

The two adults listened to Zoe and then Chloe turned to Xena. "I'm sorry Xe. It’s my fault. I just feel so close to you, it's impossible for me not to act like we are family."

Xena shook her head and said, "It's not your fault. Gabrielle will be all right. It's just that she is so young, and we have been through so much together. It's just been the two of us for so long, you know."

"It's not just because she is young. Gods! Xena, she's older than we were when we lost each other," Chloe said. "It was all right when it was just you and Lyceus and me. But we were just as jealous as Gabrielle if anyone else interfered in our lives. She is deeply in love with you."

Xena helped Chloe to her feet and then swung Zoe up into her arms and hugged her, "Come on, let's go see Gabrielle and see if the fish are done."

When they returned to camp, Gabrielle had everything packed and the fish were gutted skewered and roasting over the flames. She was sitting on a log by the fire staring into the flames. Xena went over and sat next to her on the log. "You should have joined us Gabrielle. I lost it, we were crying and kissing and blubbering." Chloe stood silently by observing her warrior and wondering how her woman of action was going to talk her way out of this. "It reminded me of a temple in Thessaly," Xena explained. Gabrielle looked up into Xena's eyes. "You know how I get when someone I love dies, or I think they are dead." Gabrielle smiled, and Xena tenderly leaned toward her and kissed her on the lips. Gabrielle was pleasantly surprised that Xena would do that in front of Chloe, or anyone for that matter. Chloe was well pleased with her warrior; she had matured over the years, and she smiled inside.

Chloe broke the moment by announcing the fish were done, "Let's eat."

As everyone ate, Xena talked about how far she hoped they would get today. They could if they pushed it, reach the plains. As Gabrielle finished up her meal, Zoe walked over to her and wrapped her arms around Gabrielle's knee, squatted and looked up into her eyes and said, "Gabrielle, Momma says you are a bard, do you think you could tell me a story tonight?"

Gabrielle smiled down at the child as the sunlight came through the trees and shone in Zoe's face. Gabrielle almost gasped when she noticed for the first time Zoe's ocean-blue eyes. She regained her composure before Xena noticed but not before Chloe noticed. She answered Zoe, "I'd be happy to tell you a story." Zoe was pleased and sat down next to Gabrielle. Gabrielle glanced over at Chloe who captured and held Gabrielle's gaze as if trying to communicate silently through her eyes. Gabrielle broke eye contact finally and looked up at Xena who was oblivious as usual.


That evening Gabrielle delighted Zoe with stories of Amazons and Titans and perilous sea journeys, and Chloe laughed when Gabrielle told of Princess Diana and the chakram. Xena seemed much more at ease because they had made it to the plains. She felt it easier to defend them because one could see better with no trees to hide one's enemies. That evening they all settled in for a good night sleep content in each other's company.

When morning came, Xena rolled out of bed, woke Gabrielle and Chloe and quickly surveyed the plains that lay before them and behind them. There did not appear to be any threats in sight. She relaxed into the routine of breaking camp while Gabrielle and Chloe prepared their morning meal. They were about to mount up when suddenly over a small grassy ridge behind them, three horsemen appeared galloping in their direction. Chloe was already mounted, and Xena slapped her horse's rump and yelled at her to go. Xena ran to Gabrielle and literally threw her on to Argo. She grabbed Zoe by the underarm, swung her up in front of Gabrielle, handed Gabrielle the reins, and told her to hold on tight. She whistled the go command and Argo took off in a full gallop in Chloe's direction. Xena, then struggling slightly with the spirited war-horse left behind, swung herself into the saddle and galloped to meet the three would-be attackers.

Seeing the warrior barreling down on them, the three split wide. Xena knew at best she would only be able to get one with her chakram. Just as she flung the chakram, one of the horseman let fly an arrow. The arrow struck her steed in the chest bringing the horse to its knees as it somersaulted forward. Xena was thrown savagely to the ground. She tucked her head, rolled several paces, bounded to her feet, and drew her sword. The chakram had hit true and only two riders remained. One bore down on her, and the other made a wide circle avoiding the thrown warrior. Xena would have normally slashed out at the horse's legs as it passed, but she needed the animal if she was to stop the other horseman. When she could almost see the rider's eyes, Xena lunged in front of the horse and grabbed the reins in her left hand. She jerked sharply twisting the horse's head causing the animal to lose its footing and roll onto its side over its rider. Xena immediately jumped to her feet and finished the injured man with her blade.

Xena chased down the spooked horse, swung up into the saddle and spurred the horse on after the remaining assassin. He was well ahead of her as Xena urged on the horse. She could not see Gabrielle or Chloe, but the tall grass made it an easy job for both the assassin and Xena to trail the two women. Xena knew she was gaining on the him if the horse could hold out.

Chloe, worrying over Zoe, had not gone too far when she slowed her animal. Soon Gabrielle and Zoe caught up on Argo, and the two women raced death through the prairie grass. Argo, the stronger of the two horses, nudged past the other as if to lead the way while Gabrielle's arms trapped Zoe between them as she clung to the saddle horn and clamped her legs tightly around Argo's girth. She felt as if her skull would shatter from the pounding of Argo's hooves onto the hard packed earth. She knew no matter what, she had to stay atop the thundering beast, or Zoe would not have a chance.

As the assassin gained ground on his intended victim, Xena gained on him. She wished she had her chakram. As she watched the drama unfold before her, she felt completely helpless. Chloe's horse began to drop back as the assassin reached for an arrow from the quiver on his back. Xena could see him move to secure his reins to the saddle horn as he urged his horse on using the heels of his boots. Xena herself savagely kicked her horse’s flanks pressing the animal forward. Then she saw the assassin sit up in the saddle, angle his body to the right, and pull his elbow behind his head. She knew he had nocked an arrow and was taking aim. Then everything slowed almost to a stand still. Xena kicked her horse forward and screamed at the top of her lungs in slow motion. Chloe urged the frothing animal forward, and Gabrielle pulled up Argo as the arrow left the killer's bow and glided slowly in a lethal path toward Chloe who at the last moment turned to look at Xena. The arrow caught her at an angle in the left chest, and she was thrown back and landed in the deep grass. Xena jerked in the saddle as a stabbing pain hit her in the left chest, but she continued her blood curdling scream and bore down on the horseman with deadly intensity. He veered off to the right, and Xena followed cutting across the semicircle and caught the murderer, slamming her horse into his. The collision was catastrophic. The horses tumbled and flipped; riders were tossed high into the air. The assassin landed at a peculiar angle, and Xena hit hard and scraped across the ground grinding soil and fine gravel into her unprotected skin. In a rage and oblivious of her own pain, she rolled to her feet and slashed the already dead man to pieces with her sword only stopping when Gabrielle’s screams penetrated her anguish induced madness.

Xena dropped her bloody sword and ran back to Chloe. Gabrielle had dismounted, placed Zoe on the ground, told her to stay there, and raced to the fallen woman. Seeing Xena savagely slashing at the man, she had called her several times. Finally she screamed her name, dropped to the ground, and pulled Chloe into her arms. She was still alive, but Gabrielle could tell it would not be long.

Before Xena arrived, Chloe smiled up at Gabrielle and through her frothy breath asked, "Gabrielle, take care of Xe for me, and take our Zoe to Cyrene, promise me."

Gabrielle choked back tears, nodded and whispered, "I promise." Xena arrived at the scene, dropped by her side, and took Chloe from Gabrielle's arms.

One look at Chloe and Xena began to cry, tears running down her cheeks, and she rocked her in her arms and kissed her on the cheek, the eyes, and the lips. "Chloe, I love you. I have always loved you, and I will always love you." It was becoming harder for Chloe to breath as blood filled her left lung and appeared at the corners of her lips, but she managed to speak.

"Xe, be happy for we found each other again. Remember your promise, our daughter." Xena nodded but cried harder, and Chloe coughed and gurgled, "I see my son and Lyceus and it's so beautiful; I'll wait for you and Gab and Zoe there." She then smiled up into the ocean-blue eyes that she had so loved, and they gently eased her into the sleep of eternal peace, as she closed her eyes forever.

Xena ripped the arrow from Chloe's breast and clutched her to her. She cried out in primal pain mixed with grief and anger. Gabrielle backed away both afraid of Xena and afraid for Xena. She went to Zoe and took her in her arms and hugged her as Xena mourned her loss. Sometime later Xena picked up the lifeless body and carried it to a knoll and sat down cradling Chloe in her arms, and there she sat hugging and kissing her and weeping over her lost love. And she would remain there all evening and well into the next morning.

That evening with a sad heart, Gabrielle worked alone. She tended Argo and made camp, laid out their bedrolls and started the campfire. She fed the quiet little girl and then bathed Zoe in water she had heated earlier. Holding the tiny child in her arms she rocked her until Zoe fell asleep. She then tucked her in her bed roll and went to Xena. Xena sat staring down into Chloe's face and didn’t look up when Gabrielle approached. "Xena, is there anything I can do?" Xena only stared down at Chloe and shook her head. Gabrielle returned to Zoe and wrapped herself around the little orphan and wondered at Chloe's last words, `our daughter'. If only she could talk with Xena. Xena knew what Chloe meant. Gabrielle finally slept that night, but she was haunted by dreams that were filled with visions of Xena walking away from her.

The next morning Gabrielle found Xena in the exact place she had left her the evening before. She was relieved that at least Xena was still with her. As she broke camp, fixed some food and loaded Argo, Zoe followed her. Finally Zoe asked Gabrielle, "Is Xena going to be all right?"

Gabrielle thought her heart would break when she turned and looked down at the sad little child, "She's just very sad, Zoe. She loved your mother very much, and she is having a hard time letting go."

"I know, Mommy told me this would happen," Zoe replied as she looked beyond Gabrielle at the distraught warrior.

Gabrielle was taken aback by this blue-eyed child, "Zoe, can you tell me what your Mommy said about this?"

Zoe looked back at Gabrielle and said, "She said that she needed to go and live with my brother and Xena's brother. They were both called Lyceus, you know." Gabrielle nodded solemnly. "And then she said that Xena would be very sad, but that she still had you and me."

Gabrielle prompted the child for more information, "Did she say anything else?" Gabrielle reached down, took the child's hand, and lead her to the campfire. Zoe talked as they walked.

"She told me not to be sad because I was going to go live with my grandmother, Cyrene, and Xena was going to be my mommy now, and you would take care of me too. She said it was all planned, and everything would be all right."

"Did she say if Xena knew about all this?" Gabrielle probed.

Zoe nodded, "Mommy said if Xena would listen, she would know everything."

"Did she ever tell you how she knew these things?"

Zoe furrowed her little brow and said, "She said the gods talked to her, and she could hear people's thoughts. She said you would have to be very strong because Xena would be weak for a while."

Gabrielle reflected back on every conversation she’d had with Chloe and now everything began to make sense. She would have to be strong, and it was time right now. "Zoe, I want you to stay right here by the campfire while I go talk to Xena. Can you do that for me?" Zoe peeked around Gabrielle and looked sadly at Xena sitting off in the distance with her dead mother still in her arms and then back up at Gabrielle, and she nodded.

Gabrielle approached the warrior who looked more like a statue than a living, breathing woman and stood in front of her. She spoke to Xena in a commanding voice, "Xena, we need to go. Xena, we need to bury Chloe, and we need to take Zoe away from this place. Do you hear me?"

Xena slowly looked up at Gabrielle, her eyes red rimmed. Gabrielle wasn't sure if Xena heard her. "Did you hear me? We need to bury Chloe and take Zoe away from here." Xena simply nodded, and Gabrielle left her to retrieve the shovel from their packs. Two candlemarks later Xena tenderly placed Chloe's body in the shallow grave Gabrielle had managed to hack out of the prairie floor. Gabrielle watched sadly as Xena, kneeling by the open grave, kissed her own fingers and reached down and touched them to Chloe's lips for the last time. Gabrielle took Xena by the shoulders and pulled her back from the grave and quietly told her to go and take care of Zoe. Xena obediently rose and walked away as Gabrielle filled in the grave with shovels full of dry, dark earth. As she finished, she wiped her brow and looked over to where Xena was sitting with Zoe cradled in her lap. Gabrielle took a deep breath and joined her warrior.


Chapter 23:

Xena rose with Zoe in her arms and walked over to Argo as Gabrielle approached and slipped the shovel back into their packs. Xena lifted Zoe onto the saddle and then helped Gabrielle up behind Zoe. She then spoke in a dead voice, "Ride due west toward the Amazons; I'll catch up with you later."

Gabrielle was frightened, in her mind she saw pieces of her dream, Xena walking away, but she tried to conceal her concern, "What are you going to do, Xena?"

Looking off in the direction of the remaining war-horse that survived yesterday's battle, Xena mumbled, "There's something I have to do." Gabrielle wanted to beg and plead with Xena not to abandon them in this foreign and frightening land, but she knew it was useless. Xena was changed, and Gabrielle feared in her heart that she would never see her warrior again.

Touching Xena on the shoulder Gabrielle said quietly, "Xena, I need you; Zoe needs you." Zoe looked down at Xena and clasped her tiny hands around Gabrielle's left hand resting on the saddle horn.

Xena would not look at either of them and simply said, "I'm sorry." She then turned and headed in the direction of the other horse and the corpse she had left the day before. Gabrielle and Zoe watched her walk away, and then Gabrielle, with tears sliding down her cheeks, clicked her tongue at Argo, and they turned west.


Xena gathered the horse and checked it for injuries from yesterday's collision. Other than a badly scraped fore knee the animal was in good shape. She then led the horse to where she had thrown her sword; it lay in the dirt crusted with dried blood and pieces of flesh. She picked it up and slipped it mindlessly into its sheath. She then swung up into the saddle and turned her steed eastward. A candlemark later she had retrieved her chakram, and plundered the two bodies she had dispatched the day before, removing their weapons and gold and any thing else of value. Stuffing her saddlebags with the plundered loot, she then collected her bedroll and water skin from her dead steed and the water skins from the other dead horse. She would ride through the night resting only for the sake of the horse; by tomorrow afternoon she would be in Sinope.


Gabrielle had ridden for over a candlemark, a steady stream of tears falling from her eyes. Her thoughts finally drifted to the silent, little girl sitting in front of her, and she thought, `My gods, how selfish I am; this poor child has lost every member of her family, watched her mother die and look at me.' Gabrielle sighed.

Zoe looked up at her and spoke, "I'm sorry you are so sad, Gabrielle. Xena will be back, don't worry." Gabrielle smiled down at the raven-haired child.

Gabrielle said, "Zoe, how did you get to be so wise?"

Zoe's stoic little face smiled sweetly although Gabrielle could not see it from where she was seated, "Momma said I took that after Xena."

Gabrielle frowned, her mind racing in utter confusion. "Why would your momma say that, Zoe?"

Zoe shrugged and replied, "She said I have a lot of Xena in me. I have her eyes, and her hair, and she said I have her temperament too."

Gabrielle wondered at such a small child using such large words; she also questioned in her mind the physical similarities between Zoe and Xena. If one did not know better, one would swear Xena was Zoe's mother. "Zoe, how can you have Xena's eyes and hair?"

Zoe tipped her head to the side examining Gabrielle's fingers wrapped around the saddle horn and spoke nonchalantly, "Momma willed it so."

Gabrielle was more confused than before. "How could she do that, Zoe?"

Zoe ran her fingers over Gabrielle's hands rubbing them with her little finger tips for no particular reason. "She asked the gods. Then she talked to me, and asked if I would like to have Xena as a mommy too. She said Xena had so much to teach me."

Gabrielle's brow was furrowed in thought as she pursued the topic. "She talked to you?"

Zoe nodded, "Uh huh."

"When did she talk to you, Zoe?"

"Before I was born." Gabrielle's mind flashed to the memory of her conversation with Chloe that night in the mountains and her reference to speaking with Xena from the womb.

"Zoe, did your brother look like you?"

The child replied, "No, he was dark like Darius."


Xena rode into the night up the now familiar mountain pass and past their previous camp site, her mind empty of any thought. With thought came memories and with memories came pain. As the moon was setting, she reined her horse to rest near a cool, mountain stream and dismounted. She took a short length of rope and hobbled the horse so that it would not roam too far. She then grabbed a water skin and her bedroll and propped herself between two boulders by the stream draping the blanket around her. She drank some water and stared passively at the stream letting its gentle babble lull her into a light sleep. Three candlemarks later Chloe's voice shattered her abysmal sleep; she awoke with a start as the words reverberated through her mind, "You promised." Xena rose quickly and looked around. Remembering where she was, she retrieved her horse and pushed on towards Sinope.


The following day the leather and armor clad warrior arrived in Sinope. Xena made no attempts to conceal her identity, daring anyone to challenge her. She went straight to the horse trader and traded for a big gray mare with black mane and stockings. She wanted a fresh horse when she was finished in Sinope. Then she stabled her horse and found a tavern to purchase a meal. Finding a dark corner, she washed down her meal with several mugs of port. When she was finished, she made her way back to the stables and climbed into the loft to await the night. There she cleaned the gory grime from her sword and chakram and spent the rest of the time grinding the nicks and dents from the blades and honing them to a fine edge.

When the moon set and the night was dark as pitch, Xena saddled her horse and rode out of the stables toward the palace. She secured her horse in an alley near the palace walls and made her familiar way into the palace. Methodically she checked every room. Her first victim was the surgeon. Finding him in his chambers with his wife she quickly employed the pinch before he even knew she was in the room. As he lay in convulsive agony on the bed, Xena, holding her sword to his wife's throat threatened coldly, "Say nothing and you might live." as she lit the oil lamp. The woman nodded fearfully, and Xena, with the sword still at the woman's throat, turned to the surgeon. "Did she," nodding to his wife, "know of the plot to poison the king?" The wife's reaction told Xena she was innocent before he shook his head. "Who was behind the plot to kill the royal family?" The man choked out the minister to the king, and then he convulsed into spasms and died. Xena shifted her rage filled gaze to the cringing woman in front of her and snarled, "Leave this palace of death now, and say nothing." The woman stumbled out of her bed and grabbed her clothes as Xena exited the room and stormed down the long hallway.

Xena found the minister to the king almost a candlemark later sleeping peacefully in the king's chamber unaware that she had just dispatched his royal surgeon, the royal guard, and his entire cabinet. The only ones left were the palace guard stationed at the main gate. She entered his chambers loudly slamming the thick oaken door against the interior wall. She wanted him to know she was coming for him. He scrambled out of bed, demanded the meaning of this interruption, and screamed for his guards. Xena only laughed a mirthless, chilling laugh as the evil little man backed away from her. "You may as well save your voice," she said as she began to light the oil lamps throughout the room.

Backing away from her and in a fearful voice he asked, "What do you want?"

"Justice," came the icy reply.

"What, do you mean?" He asked shakily.

"You murdered King Lyceus and the king's mother. I am here to enact justice for the innocent."

The minister was visibly shaken at her revelations and the cold calculation in her icy blue eyes. He wasn't foolish enough to deny the allegations, his mind raced. "How much do you want? Name your price," he almost beseeched.

A snarl transformed her face and she spit out, "Your blood on my hands. I want to bathe in your blood. That's my price."

Desperately he grabbed a dagger from a table and flung it in her direction. Xena snatched the dagger out of mid-air. His eyes widened, and a strange calmness came over him at the realization he was a dead man. Quicker than the eye could detect, she flipped his knife in her hand, caught it by the blade, and released it in a flash. It caught him in the throat, ripped through the larynx, and severed the spinal chord in his neck. He was dead before his body hit the floor. Xena casually picked up the oil lamps one-by-one and shattered them around the room. In a matter of heart beats, the room was ablaze. She turned and walked out breaking oil lamps in her path leaving a trail of fiery death. As she stalked across the courtyard, flames engulfed the king's chambers and the administrative offices and threatened the rest of the palace.

Xena entered the familiar chambers. There she lingered, touching, caressing, and smelling the things that had belonged to her love. She moved to the large chest in the bed chambers, opened the drawers, and searched quickly through the contents. She could hear shouts as people scurried to extinguish the flames that shot into the sky. In the bottom drawer, she found what she searched for, a wooden carved box which she immediately opened. There she located a carved ivory broach and a moon shaped gold ring with a polished tear drop amethyst setting cradled in its crescent. She quickly dropped the two pieces of jewelry into her bodice between her breasts, left the chambers, and headed to Zoe's room. Among the pillows on the bed, she found the small cloth doll with blue gemstone eyes.

In all the excitement, no one saw the tall, warrior woman leap easily over the stone wall, swing down to the other side and race off into the night.


Gabrielle was completely miserable. Three days had passed since she had seen Xena. To add to her emotional darkness, the sky turned angry and gray and poured down on them the entire day. The going had been painfully slow. She was afraid to ride Argo fast in this weather with Zoe. She was sick of soft rolling hills and longed for the dry comfort of a Thracian cave. It didn't appear likely to stop raining anytime soon, and night quickly approached. The prospects of making camp with no fire was dismal. It had been impossible to keep Zoe dry, and she worried about the little girl. The child had not complained once. `Stoic just like Xena.' Gabrielle was starting to believe Zoe's incredible tale of her parentage.

The wind picked up, and the torrent pounded them. Gabrielle scoured the landscape for any natural wind break. About to give up she noticed the hill they just descended had been eroded by the elements over the years revealing a small rock ledge. It faced the west, and though they would be exposed to the driving rain, she thought she could at least protect Zoe with her own body. She stopped Argo, dismounted, and lifting Zoe down inspected the ledge. It looked deep enough to allow them both to sleep under its protection, and it was high enough for Zoe to sit upright. Turning to Zoe, Gabrielle said, "Go in there and tell me if is dry, Zoe." Zoe obediently did as she was told and then waved back at Gabrielle to join her. "I'll be there in just a bit, Zoe," Gabrielle said and then returned to Argo and retrieved their packs, a water skin, and their soaked bedrolls. She quickly tossed their things under the ledge and spread out their blankets over the ledge weighting them down with the loose rocks. Gabrielle, cold and wet, knew she would never dry out unless she removed her clothes. She stripped, dropping her clothes on the rocks and rolled under the ledge pulling the blankets down to block the bitter weather. In the cramped quarters, she quickly removed Zoe's clothes, took her own last dry shift out of her bag and wrapped it around Zoe's little body like a blanket and then held her close to share body heat.

That night in their cramped alcove they ate pieces of fruit and dried meat cuddled together, and Gabrielle told Zoe stories of Xena. Well after Zoe drifted off to sleep in her arms, Gabrielle continued to relate her tales of the Warrior Princess. She told the tales of transformation and the noble and loyal warrior fighting on the side of right. She talked of her good and brave heart and of her strong and kind spirit long into the dark night. When she finally drifted off to sleep she dreamed of Xena.

The next morning Gabrielle awoke to find herself and Zoe wrapped in a warm, dry blanket. When Gabrielle rolled out from under the ledge, her heart sang with joy in her chest to see Xena sitting not far away by a large campfire. Rigged by the fire was a wooden rack with Zoe and Gabrielle's clothes spread out drying. Two rabbits roasted on a spit, and Xena sat working oil into her saddle. Gabrielle was ecstatic until she studied the frown on Xena's face and the dark circles beneath her eyes. She recognized from her body movements and her looks that she was back but not healed. Gabrielle approached tentatively; Xena did not look up. Gabrielle went to her clothes, suddenly embarrassed at her nakedness in front of Xena. At that realization, she felt like crying. They were suddenly strangers. Gabrielle turned away from Xena and slipped into her clothes. They were still a little damp in places, but it was better than standing there exposed in front of this stranger. Gabrielle turned back to the ledge and crawled under to retrieve their things and to check on Zoe.

Xena wordlessly loaded the gray mare with their gear as Gabrielle helped Zoe dress. They ate a silent meal as Zoe sat between Gabrielle's legs and watched Xena's face. Gabrielle was happy that at least Xena was here to protect them and hunt game for the child. Zoe seemed lethargic, and Gabrielle worried about her. When they were ready to break camp, Xena stamped out the fire and poured a skin of water over the embers. Then she helped Gabrielle onto Argo and handed Zoe up to her. Standing in the stirrup she swung up behind them wrapping her arms around them both, she urged Argo into an easy, distance-gobbling canter. Four candlemarks later, Gabrielle said her first words to Xena, "Xena, we need to stop a while for Zoe."

Xena reined Argo in and swung to the ground. Reaching up and taking Zoe in her arms, she held the bridle while Gabrielle eased out of the saddle. Stretching, Gabrielle turned and walked away trying to work the kinks from her back and legs. Xena started to put Zoe down, but Zoe hung to her neck tightly, jarring Xena for the moment from her haze. Momentarily confused, Xena did not know how to react or what to do. She finally realized Zoe was crying when she felt warm wetness on her neck where Zoe had buried her face. Xena heard Chloe's voice dancing inside her head, "She's yours too." Xena walked to the saddlebag and rummaged around until she found a small package wrapped in soft brushed leather. She then moved to a soft patch of grass and sat down. By this time Gabrielle had turned to face Xena and Zoe, her hands massaging her lower back, she looked curiously at the two. Xena positioned Zoe in her lap still holding her tightly feeling intuitively that was what the child needed. Then she handed her the package. Zoe looked up at Xena seriously, and Xena wiped away the tears on the child's cheeks and said, "I thought you might be missing this."

Zoe unwrapped the doll and smiled delightedly up at Xena and over at Gabrielle whose curiosity had got the better of her and she came closer. "Thank you, Xena, Momma made this for me. She said it reminded her of the two girls she loved the most in the world." Xena's half grin at the joy she brought Zoe turned to sorrow at Zoe's words. Zoe reached up and touched Xena's face, "Please don't be so sad, Xena; Momma said she would never die as long as you were alive because she lives in your heart and in mine." Xena smiled sadly at the little girl who looked up at her with her blue eyes, and she hugged her to her weeping openly as Zoe's arms encircled her neck. Gabrielle stood watching; there was nothing she could do although she wanted so very much to take Xena in her arms and hold her and kiss away all the sorrow. She knew she would never be able to do that. Her own heart felt as if were lying ripped and crushed at her feet. An empty abyss engulfed her. She knew Chloe's memory had displaced all feelings for her in her warrior's heart. Gabrielle only hoped that Xena would allow Zoe into that warrior's hard heart.


The remainder of the trip back to Amazon territory was uneventful until the final day. Zoe began running a fever. It was slight, but the little girl was achy and miserable riding in the saddle. She wiggled from position to position trying to get comfortable. Gabrielle was beside herself and actually raised her voice at Xena that she needed to stop and do something. Xena was equally as worried, but she just wanted to get them all under the protection of the Amazon Nation.

Finally, they stopped, and Xena built a fire from the scrub brush they had gathered. The day before they had moved into the foot hills of the mountains, and more cedars and small trees dotted the landscape. Xena heated water and made some willow tea with honey for Gabrielle to give to Zoe and then took her chakram and went hunting. Xena knew the child needed some broth and a warm bed. She was most likely suffering from exhaustion from the long trip. Gabrielle sat rocking Zoe who clung to her doll when Xena returned with a partridge. Xena immediately went to work to dress the bird and roasted part of in on a spit; the rest she cubed and boiled in water with a concoction of various herbs to create a nutritious healing broth for the child. Gabrielle, kissing Zoe on the top of the head and humming to her softly, watched Xena silently as she worked.

When the meal was ready, Gabrielle was surprised that Xena took Zoe in her arms and patiently spooned the soup into her and talked to her, encouraging her to eat as much as she could. While she feed Zoe, Xena took bites of her portion of the bird. When they finished eating, Xena picked up Zoe and carried her with her. She pulled some clean clothes out of her gear, and returned placing the child on her bedroll. Xena quickly and deftly disrobed the child and sponged her off with the warm healing herb scented water she had heated earlier. She then quickly dried the child and pulled a warm shift over her head and said, "There, feel better?" Zoe nodded. Xena smiled at the child and tucked her into her bedroll and told her she would be right back after she took care of Argo. When Xena returned, she crawled into the bedroll and moved Zoe on top of her and covered them both. Turning to Gabrielle, Xena said, "Gabrielle sleep next to us; it's going to be cold tonight."

Gabrielle was surprised at the invitation, but then realized it was really a command. She didn't care anymore. She just wanted this journey to be over so that she could pick up the pieces of her life, what little there was left, and get on with it. She knew she would never be able to remain with Xena now. Things were just too strained, too cold. She would return to her Amazons and hopefully find some semblance of life there. The next morning she awoke to find herself snuggled against Zoe who was sandwiched between her and Xena. When she shifted her glance, Xena's blue eyes stared at her. Gabrielle furrowed her brow in question, and Xena spoke to her, and for the first time since Chloe's death, it was not a command. "Do you think she looks like me?" she asked.

Gabrielle shifted her gaze back down at the sleeping child and replied, "In sleep with the exception of her hair, she is the perfect image of her mother." Gabrielle then looked back up into Xena's ocean-blue eyes and was lost for a moment floating in the memories of the brief love they shared. "Awake, I would swear she is your daughter." Xena continued to stare at Gabrielle, but Gabrielle could tell, with her last words, Xena no longer saw her. She too was drifting somewhere in her memories, and Gabrielle's heart ached, knowing that she was not a part of those memories. Gabrielle wanted to continue the dialogue so she pushed on. "Xena, how did she do it?" Xena's focus rested on Gabrielle again, and Gabrielle could see that she was struggling with an answer. Gabrielle interrupted her thoughts, "Never mind, maybe some day it will be easier." With that she rolled out of bed and began working on the fire as Xena felt Zoe's cheeks for fever. She too rolled out of bed tucking the covers around this little gift, thankful that Zoe felt cool to the touch.


Chapter 24

As soon as they crossed into the Amazon territory, they were intercepted by an Amazon border patrol. This time, however, their reception was much more cordial. Gabrielle was immediately recognized, and the Amazons were kneeling even before Gabrielle or Xena had an opportunity to raise their hands in greeting. Gabrielle thought evidently word spread quickly about the previous incident with the Queen's consort, Xena, Warrior Princess. The Amazons certainly did not want another such occurrence. Then she reflected sadly, how quickly things had changed.

The Amazons escorted the welcomed guests to the interior of their nation and to Queen Philippa, affording them all of the comforts available as they trekked to the interior. Couriers were sent ahead announcing the arrival of Queen Gabrielle. When Petra learned of the arrival of the Queen and the warrior, she received permission to ride out and join the escort party. She was surprised when she found the party. Initially she did not notice there was anything amiss because she was too shocked at the presence of the beautiful little girl. She had no idea the Warrior Princess had a child, but Zoe was the perfect image of Xena. She expected Queen Gabrielle to be friendly and chatty as she was before. She could hardly believe this small, sad woman with dark circles under her red rimmed eyes was the same vibrant, young woman she had seen less than a moon ago. And the energy that had vibrated from Xena before was absent now. Her eyes were dull, almost dead. Even the child seemed joyless. They looked as though they had just returned from a visit to Tartarus. Petra had no idea what had happened, but she intended to find out. Xena had done her a great service, and she owed it to her to help her if she could.

After arriving in the central village of Hyppola, Petra immediately had Gabrielle, Xena, and Zoe escorted to their quarters. Hot baths were prepared and food and drink were delivered. Servants were posted at their doors, and their two horses were stabled and groomed. On a hunch, Petra sent a healer to check on their royal guests. Then she reported to Queen Philippa.

"Come in, Petra, I am glad you have returned. And how goes it with our Queen and her warrior?" Queen Philippa spoke while examining a message she had receive concerning trade with Heraclea.

Petra cleared her voice, "Well, my Queen, I am not so sure, but things do not seem well."

The Queen immediately put aside her parchment and looked up, "How so? What was said?"

"Nothing. That's the problem. They said nothing to me, nothing to each other, nothing to anyone. Queen Gabrielle looked, not just exhausted but...I don't know, your majesty. She looked so sad."

"And what of Xena?" Philippa asked.

Petra snorted quietly, "My Queen, she looked worse than Queen Gabrielle."

The queen said, "Were they ill...tired?"

"I don't believe they were ill...tired, yes, but it was beyond tired. If I may be so bold to offer a suggestion?" Petra said and then paused looking at her queen.

"Of course, Petra, you know I trust your instincts totally."

The tall warrior furrowed her brow and said, "Something very serious has happened that has shaken their love for each other, and neither one is dealing very well with it."

"Perhaps I need to have a talk with Gabrielle, queen to queen. Maybe you should do the same with Xena. I take it you two are over that unfortunate incident that occurred a moon ago?" Philippa asked.

"Yes, your majesty," Petra said. "I do not know about Xena, but I would call her friend." She paused and added, "Oh, and one other thing, they travel with a girl-child...looks to be almost three summers old." The Queen raised her eyebrows. Petra continued, "I would swear the child is of Xena's womb."


The next day Queen Philippa requested that Queen Gabrielle come and see her. Gabrielle arrived dressed in her traditional Amazon clothing, but as soon as she entered the Queen's apartment, Philippa knew her young Queen's spirit was shattered. Philippa greeted Gabrielle warmly and after the formal greetings were exchanged, Philippa enveloped the younger queen into her embrace, and Gabrielle was reduced to tears. The older woman held her and spoke words of comfort, and then ordered her some relaxing tea and sat her on her bed propping pillows behind her.

"Now, my dear Queen Gabrielle, how is it a moon ago you were so vibrant and alive with the joy of love and life and now, my dear, you are so heartbroken," Philippa asked quietly.

Gabrielle looked at Philippa through tear clouded eyes and said, "Oh, Philippa, I have no right to burden you."

Philippa squeezed Gabrielle’s hand and said, "Nonsense, you are my Queen, I will have it no other way. Now tell me what it is. Petra has already come to me concerned about you and Xena. You must let me help if I can."

"That's just it; I don't think anyone can help," Gabrielle said sighing.

Philippa frowned at the despair she heard in the young Queen’s voice and said, "Well, at least talk about it, and maybe you will at least feel somewhat better."

"It's Xena." Philippa wasn't at all shocked. "Something terrible has happened, and I think I have lost her forever," Gabrielle said as tears slipped down her cheeks.

"I find that hard to believe. Less than a moon ago she would travel to Tartarus and back for you. Love doesn't die that quickly. Tell me what happened," said Philippa.

Gabrielle related the entire story, and when she was finished, she lay in a heap in the Queen's bed. Evening was falling and Philippa ordered food for them both and sent a message to Xena that Gabrielle would be staying in the queen's chambers tonight. She also sent a nursemaid to look after the child.


Petra observed Queen Gabrielle's quarters, and as soon as the sad, little Queen left, she knocked on the door and let herself in. Xena sat in a chair holding Zoe and stared aimlessly into space. Petra stood in front of her before Xena was even aware she was in the room. Before Xena could react, Petra was on her knees talking to Zoe.

Holding out her large, callused, warrior hand, Petra introduced herself, "Greetings, Little One, I'm Petra." Xena only half listened to the interchange.

Zoe bestowed upon her a beautiful grin and reached out to shake her arm, "I'm Zoe," she said.

"I am very happy to meet you, Zoe," Petra said solemnly and then asked, "Hey, aren't you bored in here? How about you come with me, and I'll find you someone to play with."

Zoe smiled and took Petra's hand. Petra escorted her to one of the servants in waiting gave her instructions to take the child to play with others her age and to not let her out of her sight. After all she was the Queen and Xena's child. Petra then returned to sit opposite Xena. They were silent for awhile. Finally Petra began.

"Xena, I consider you my friend. We are warriors, and you really helped me when you were here before. Tell me what's going on," Petra said.

Xena, annoyed that someone dared to interrupt her thoughts, spoke gruffly, "I don't think this is any of your business."

Petra knew this would not be easy, after all Xena was a hardened warrior, and feelings were often the last thing a warrior had time for. She countered, "Perhaps you haven't notice, but you are coupled with Gabrielle, Queen of the Amazon Nation. I am an Amazon warrior sworn to allegiance to my Queen. I am sworn to protect her under any circumstance. Anything concerning my Queen is my business."

Xena listened indifferently, but somewhere a chord was struck, and this little speech sounded familiar, and she replied, "What are you talking about?"

Petra said, "You don't want to tell me your personal business, fine, but you owe it to the Amazons to explain why our Queen left the nation a moon ago happy and whole. She came back under your sworn protection looking like she has been dragged behind wild horses for ten leagues?"

Xena had no answer. She had been so totally self-consumed that she had no idea what was wrong with Gabrielle. "I don't know the answer to your question," she replied a little too indifferently.

In a flash Petra was out of her chair, grabbed Xena by the leather straps on her shift, dragged her to her feet, and yelled angrily, "What do you mean you don't know?" and before Xena could react or answer, Petra back handed her across the face splitting her lip. She then shoved her back into the chair. Then Petra flew into a rage and stomped back and forth speaking loudly and waving her hands, "You don't know! The mighty Warrior Princess doesn't know something! You were sworn to protect her, our Queen, and you have been so unobservant, you don't know what's wrong with her!" Xena sat impassively touching her lip and curiously examining the blood on her fingers. Petra stopped in front of Xena and yelled down at her, "What if someone killed her while you were being so wrapped up in your own problems? What then? How would that make you feel?" Xena finally registered the words Petra spoke. She shifted her angry gaze toward the woman who towered above her. Petra looked down at her in disgust, "And I thought we were alike you and me! I thought you were in love with Gabrielle! I guess I was wrong; you sure had me fooled. You know what's sad, Xena? You had Gabrielle fooled too." She then stalked out of the room kicking the door savagely as she left.


Xena was attending the cut on her lip when the message arrived that Queen Gabrielle would be staying in Queen Philippa's chambers tonight. Xena frowned at the message. For some reason she was irritated, even though she didn't know why. A little later Xena received word that Zoe would be staying with a nursemaid tonight. She thought, `Fine.' Early that evening food, drink, and hot bath water were delivered to her quarters along with the message that her horses had been exercised and groomed.

Xena had nothing left to do but eat and then bathe. She had a slight headache from the hard whack Petra had given her.. She thought, ‘That's twice now that Amazon's thumped me; I'm starting to lose my patience.’ She decided to retire early; there was nothing left to do. As she climbed into bed her gaze fell on Zoe's doll. She picked it up and looked at it as she rolled onto her back. Blue eyes. She laid the doll on the pillow next to her where Gabrielle would normally sleep. She repeated the thought in her mind...‘Gabrielle would normally sleep.’ She wondered what Gabrielle was doing in the Queen's chamber.... ‘probably Amazon politics.’ Then she thought of Petra. ‘Why was she so angry?’ She was talking about Gabrielle. Xena searched her mind, what was she so upset about? As she drifted off to sleep she hoped Zoe and Gabrielle would be all right tonight without her.


Petra still steamed and Philippa kept reminding her that Gabrielle was asleep in the next room.

"I tell you my Queen, I came so close to beating some sense into her tonight. I simply can't understand what is wrong with her. It's as though she is not the same person who came through here a moon ago!" Petra exclaimed as she paced the queen’s chambers.

Philippa asked calmly, "I take it your little warrior to warrior talk did not go well?"

Petra said, "No, I lost my temper and slugged her in the mouth."

Surprised, Philippa said, "Petra, I thought you two were friends."

"We are, were, I don't know," Petra answered confusion apparent. "If it wasn't for Xena, Electra and I would have never been handfasted. I owe her a great deal; I just do not understand how she can be so indifferent to Gabrielle."

"I don't think I'll be sending you as a diplomatic envoy anytime soon," Philippa said dryly, and then continued, "Let me fill you in on what I learned from Gabrielle."


She fought in the field which turned to blood beneath her feet. The tide was turning their way; she could smell victory. They were invincible. Together there was no enemy they could not defeat. And there Lyceus stood swinging his sword in wide, powerful strokes; he was so handsome; they loved each other so much...the field, soft, tall clover. Blue skies filled with white, puffy clouds; Chloe giggling, looking down at her... "I love you Xena...I'm going to marry Lyceus, so I can have you both"...then she heard another..."Promise me, Xena, if anything happens to me you won't"...voices, all familiar bombarded her restless dreams... "She's yours too"... "You promised me, Xe"... "What price does she pay for loving you"... "trust your heart"...Chloe looked down at her and suddenly she was Gabrielle... "I thought you loved her"...she was riding as hard as the horse would go... "You had Gabrielle fooled too"...accept your gifts... the rider ahead of her pulled the bow taut... "The dead can hear your thoughts, Gabrielle"... "That's what I about you, Gabrielle" ... the arrow followed its lethal path... "be careful of her heart"... "Congratulations, Xena...It's about time"...Chloe looked back at her as the arrow angled into her chest...Lyceus fell...Gabrielle is dead... Let her go, Xena.... NO, NO, NO...

"GABRIELLE!!!.... " Xena screamed into the night sitting straight up in bed. Sweat poured from her body, her heart pounded madly in her chest, and her breaths ragged as if she had been running for leagues. She turned and reached for the woman next to her only to find a blue eyed doll. Then she remembered. She clasped the doll to her chest and reaching over and pulled Gabrielle's pillow into her as she rolled over onto her side. She hugged the pillow tightly and tried to convince herself it was Gabrielle.


 Chapter 25:

The sun was well in its ascent when Xena tiredly crawled out of bed and stumbled to the wash basin to splash water into her face. Xena reflected on the conversation she had with Petra and was reminded of the outcome of that conversation when she roughly dried her face and rubbed the cloth across her swollen lip. "Damn!" She remembered that Petra had accused Xena of not protecting Gabrielle. The accusation for some reason angered her more today than it did last night. She was still annoyed that Gabrielle had stayed the night in Philippa's chambers, and if that wasn't bad enough, they even took Zoe from her. What? Didn't they trust her to take care of them? She then thought, ‘We'll see about that.’ She wadded up the drying cloth and slammed it down. Dressing quickly she put on her armor and strapped her sword to her back. She then march out of the hut in search of Petra.

Xena found Petra walking out of the stables and strode up to her. "Hey, I want to talk to you," she said.

Petra immediately read Xena's body language and knew she was angry. Then she thought, `Well, at least she has finally started feeling something.' "I don't think we have anything to talk about," she said and she began to walk away.

Xena threatened, "Stop right there, warrior." Petra turned and looked at Xena with cold anger in her eyes. Xena snarled, "No one tells me I am not able to carry out my duties to protect Gabrielle."

Petra curled her upper lip into a sneer and growled, "Well, I told you, and it still doesn't look like you are doing a good job to me."

Xena steamed and barely able to control her rage said, "Well, why don't we just see if I'm up to the challenge?"

"Fine, let's do it." Petra said and tromped off to the practice field with Xena right behind her. Several Amazons who had witnessed the exchange followed curiously, but when the sword play took on a serious turn, a runner was send to inform the Queen.


"Oh my gods! Philippa we must stop them! With Xena's state of mind, she might kill Petra!" Gabrielle exclaimed jumping to her feet.

"Gabrielle, Petra can take care of herself," Philippa said. Gabrielle was well aware of that having seen Petra bring Xena to her knees almost a moon ago. That was another reason Gabrielle was so upset. She trusted Xena was the best warrior she knew with a sword, but in her present state of mind, she might be careless.

"Philippa, I must try to stop Xena. She and Petra are friends; I can’t let them continue this ridiculous fight." Philippa agreed, and both Queens rushed to the practice field together.

On the field, Xena's rage chilled to a calculating, stalking game in which she shifted her mind into warrior mode. She would parry with Petra until she had read the warrior and memorized every nuance of her fighting style. Petra was as tall as Xena, a little more slender and very strong and quick. She liked to overpower her opponents and was somewhat impatient. Xena's mind quickly categorized her strengths and weaknesses and mentally drew to mind other warriors she had encountered who had similar fighting styles. Petra made a few quick moves and swung her sword at Xena, clanging their swords together in a deafening clash. Xena easily blocked the sword and grinned to herself noticing when Petra came crashing down with her sword she lifted the weight from her right foot and placed it all onto her left leaving her slightly off balanced. Xena parried a while longer waiting for Petra to execute the move again. Growing impatient herself, Xena unexpectedly leaped and spun suddenly connecting her foot with Petra's face. The warrior was stunned momentarily. Xena backed away and laughed, "Come on, warrior; you can do better than that." Petra, enraged by the taunting, drove toward Xena pushing her back. Xena parried each blow and taunted her more with the sneer on her lips. Petra stepped back, and Xena recognized the move and prepared to block the blow. As the blades clashed, Xena flipped in the air and landed behind Petra, dropped and swept Petra off her feet with her leg. Xena leaped forward jabbing her blade toward Petra's throat and stopping right as she pierced the skin. Gabrielle screamed Xena's name as the blade descended, but Xena ignored her, intent on her purpose. Petra, having the wind knocked out of her in the take down, was shocked to find that she still lived. Xena looked down at her foe seething she hissed, "As you can see, I am more than capable of protecting Gabrielle. She was never in any danger." The gathered audience could not hear the interchange.

Gabrielle, in shock, watched the interaction as Philippa held her back. Another small, bronze woman was crying and tried to break loose from the hands that held her. Petra, oblivious of the crowd that had gathered and of her lover, regained her breath and with Xena’s sword slowly cutting into her throat, fearlessly replied, "What about the three days you left Gabrielle and your child unprotected?" Xena pulled the blade out of Petra's throat and slipped it back into its sheath.

Looking down at Petra with a dark scowl on her face, she growled at her, "She's not my child." The comment sent a strange pain through Xena's chest, and Chloe's word reverberated inside her skull, `And she's yours too.'

Petra pushed herself up into a sitting position and still looking up at Xena argued, "By the gods, she is yours! I have no idea why, but the gods must smile on you, Xena, to give you a child without the pain of birth. Xena just stood and stared down at the warrior she had humiliated in battle, amazed that she still had the audacity to argue with her. Her silent musing was interrupted by the small, young woman who burst through the crowd, ran into the field and lunged into Petra's arms crying. Xena stood over them watching as Petra tried to calm her lover.

The small, bronze woman looked up through her tears at Xena as Gabrielle, who had been walking slowly toward Xena, reached her, took her by the elbow, and said, "Come on, Xena." Xena allowed herself be lead away by Gabrielle, but she kept looking back over her shoulder.


Back in her quarters Xena was sulky and fidgety. She ordered water for a bath. She had worked up quite a sweat, but she was still angry. Usually a good workout purged her soul of the tension that could build up for no apparent reason. While the water was being delivered and the bath filled, Xena stormed out of their quarters mumbling something about Zoe. Gabrielle was at a complete loss. Xena had gone from being completely distraught over Chloe's death to emotionally dead. Now she was filled with pent up energy that threatened to erupt into violence. Gabrielle thought for a moment she herself was even afraid of the Warrior Princess. She flopped on the unmade bed and wished things were the way they use to be. She missed Xena's gentle but passionate touch so much she thought she would burst. She looked back at the bed and noticed that her pillow had been pulled over next to where Xena slept, and she wondered momentarily if Xena missed her too. Then she shook off that idea thinking Xena was probably still thinking of Chloe.

Gabrielle's thoughts were interrupted by Zoe bounding into the room. "Hi, Gabrielle, I missed you," the little child said and threw herself into Gabrielle's arms. Gabrielle hugged her tightly and kissed her on the cheek as Xena entered the room and began to undress for her bath.

"I missed you too, Zoe. What have you been doing?" Gabrielle said as she glanced over at Xena. Xena was engrossed in looking into the mirror at her lip.

"I've been playing with the other girls, but I was so happy when Xena came and got me," Zoe said.

Xena stripped her shift off and climbed into the tub of hot, steamy water and scrubbed herself and washed her hair. She then looked over at the two sitting on the bed and said,

"Zoe, want to join me and wash some of that mud off before you get it all over our bed?"

Delighted, Zoe struggled to pull her shift over her head until Gabrielle finished the job. Zoe giggled and ran to Xena who lifted her up and into the hot water, held her on her lap and soaped and scrubbed her clean. Gabrielle smiled at the two playing in the tub and reminisced about the times she and Xena bathed together. So lost in thought she almost didn't hear Xena's comment to Zoe. "Think if we ask nicely, Gabrielle might come and wash our backs?"

That night after Zoe drifted off to sleep between Xena and Gabrielle in their bed, Gabrielle rolled over and studied Zoe in her sleep. The little child was sleeping peacefully with her doll wrapped in her arms. Unbeknownst to Gabrielle, Xena watched her and finally spoke quietly, "What are you thinking about, Gab?"

Gabrielle did not look up but answered, "I was just thinking how perfect she is, and I was wondering if this is what you were like when you were her age."

Ignoring her comment, Xena continued, "Gabrielle, we need to talk." Gab felt her stomach clench reflexively and she thought, `This is it; she's going to tell me good-bye.' "I want to apologize to you for leaving you those three days in the plains all alone with Zoe. That was stupid and dangerous. I had no right putting you or Zoe in such danger. I don't expect you to forgive me."

Gabrielle did not know quite what to say. This was not what she was expecting. "Xena, it's over and done with. I'm sure you had your reasons," she answered.

Things were bad enough. Xena had no intentions of telling Gabrielle those reasons, so she changed the subject. "I also need to talk to you about something else." Gabrielle thought, `Oh here it comes; it doesn't really matter, I knew it was over a long time ago. "I'm worried about the trip home. You saw how Zoe became ill on the way here. We are more than a good fortnight of hard riding from Amphipolis. I'm afraid she won't make it." Gabrielle shifted her gaze and looked at Xena. She saw the dark clouds appear in her eyes. "I don't want to take a chance with losing her," Xena said solemnly.

Gabrielle replied, "Of course not, Xena, but what will we do?"

Xena said, "I've been thinking. By ship it’s only five days to Abdera."

The mere mention of a ship made Gabrielle's stomach churn and she said, "Abdera, isn't that the port in the heart of the Western Amazon Nation?" Xena nodded. "Whatever you think is best, Xena. I'm sure I will survive."

"I have no intentions of putting you on a ship, Gabrielle," Xena assured her. Confusion cluttered Gabrielle's mind. ‘Did Xena intend to take Zoe and leave me behind to have the Amazons escort me home?’ Her thoughts were interrupted, "I was wondering if you could use your influence and get an Amazon escort for Zoe aboard a fast ship. They could deliver her to Ephiny, and we could pick her up once we arrived over land."

Gabrielle was slightly surprised. "Sure, I don't see why not," she answered.

"There's just one thing; I want Petra to take her. I don't trust anyone else," Xena said.

"Petra?" Gabrielle couldn't believe after today, Xena would want Petra anywhere near Zoe. "Do you think she would do it, Xena?"

"For you, she would do anything," Xena stated. Gabrielle wondered at that comment. `What exactly did that mean? Was that why they were fighting?'


Gabrielle returned from Queen Philippa's with the news the next day, "Xena, Philippa agreed to provide an escort for Zoe, but she said you would have to talk to Petra if you wanted her to command the escort." Xena listened to the news and headed for the door.

"Where are you going?" Gabrielle called.

Looking over her shoulder Xena said, "To speak with Petra."

Gabrielle ran after her. "Xena, wait!"

Xena turned around and said, "What is it, Gabrielle?" impatient to make the arrangements.

"Are you sure you want to do this?" Gabrielle asked.

"And why not?"

"I don't know how she will react to seeing you after what happened yesterday," Gabrielle explained.

Xena seemed unaware there might be a problem and then realizing Gabrielle's concern tried the alleviate her fears. "Look, everything will be all right. I am not going to fight Petra any more. We now have an understanding. Don't worry." Xena turned and headed in the direction of Petra's hut.

Gabrielle stood watching Xena's back. `Why did everything have to be so difficult? What was it Chloe said? Xena always did everything the hard way. Well, at least Xena was beginning to talk to me. Maybe someday we will at least become friends again.'


Xena knocked on the door to Petra's hut. The building was a typical Amazon warrior's abode built from the wood and stone gathered from the area in which they lived. Both cozy and functional, it was a two room affair, stone foundation and lower walls, hewn timber shingled roof, two windows for light and a low heavy wooden door. Xena knocked again more loudly this time and then put her hand above the low door and leaned, resting her weight against the structure.

The door cracked open, and a small voice from behind the door asked, "What do you want?"

"I want to speak to Petra." Xena replied impatiently.

After a brief pause the voice relayed, "She's not here."

Annoyed at the lack of content in the simple answers Xena impatiently asked, "Where is she?"

"On patrol," came the short response.

Xena, growing quite impatient with this conversation said, "Look, it's important." It finally occurred to Xena this was probably the girl who ran out to Petra after their fight. The one and the same who also looked at her so fearfully. She said soothingly, "I'm not here to start anything. I'm sorry you were frightened yesterday. I had no intentions of hurting Petra. She is a good warrior; we just had a little disagreement, and now it's over. We actually are friends." the voice on the other side was silent, but the door was still ajar. That was a good sign. Xena searched her head for more assuring things to say to convince this woman to trust her. Finally it clicked, "Have you and Petra only been together recently?" No answer. "Well, I'm the one who gave her the advice on how to win your heart." With that, the door opened, and the voice invited Xena in.

Xena was greeted by a petite woman younger than Gabrielle. The woman who stood before her, bronzed from the sun, had coppery red hair, and her cheeks were tinged red. She was a delicate and fine boned creature so unlike Petra, and was quite pretty with full lips and brown eyes. Xena noted that if she were standing next to Gabrielle she would barely reach her chin in height. She spoke quietly and shyly, "Petra should be back shortly. She is always here by mealtime." Xena stood uncomfortably, never good with small talk. "Please have a seat," the woman said and pointed to a chair near the fireplace. "Would you like a cup of wine?"

Xena moved to the chair and replied, "Thank you, that would be nice." The young woman hurried to the wine skin hanging on the wall in her kitchen area and poured a cupful of wine and brought it to Xena. Xena nodded her thanks and took a drink from the cup watching the nervous actions of her host as she prepared their nooning meal. As she watched her mercurial actions, Xena was amazed that Petra was unafraid to touch this tiny woman who looked so fragile she might break. Trying to relieve that silent tension, Xena spoke, "I'm sure you know my name, but I, unfortunately, don't know yours. Petra never told me."

Stopping what she was doing, she looked at Xena and said, "My name is Electra."

Xena nodded and looked around the hut. A wall divided the sleeping quarters from the rest of the house. The stone floors were covered with animal skins, and a large fireplace was the center piece of the rear wall. Rough hewn rafters supported an open ceiling revealing a high peaked roof. Additional sleeping quarters could easily be added in the attic area. Xena breathed deeply and wished she had brought Gabrielle along. She could have entertained everyone with small talk. Xena still shook her head when she thought how disarming her bard could be. Sitting there in the silence of this strange hut, she was pummeled by the realization she had just made. Her bard. How long had it been since she had seen Gabrielle tell a story or write in her scrolls? Xena was lost in thought when the door swung open and a grinning Petra stepped into the room with her arms wide open, evidently her normal greeting for Electra. Xena stood up and faced the warrior. Petra dropped her arms. A frown replaced the grin, and she quickly located Electra as if making sure she was all right. An action that brought a scowl to Xena’s face.

Petra shut the door, remained standing, and said, "Xena, what are you doing here?"

"I came to ask you a favor," Xena replied. Petra's eyes narrowed, her brows furrowed, and she stepped closer to Xena. "I need you to escort Zoe to the Western Amazon Nation." Petra was silent for a long while. Electra moved to Petra who encircled her in her embrace, and the two women looked at Xena. Xena sat back down, and Petra moved to the other seat facing her.

"That's at least a hundred leagues. Why me? Where will you be? Why not take her yourself?" Petra spoke realizing Xena was serious.

Xena leaned forward and began, "By horseback it will take over a fortnight of hard riding, by ship four days and another day's travel by horse. Gabrielle cannot travel by ship. Makes her deathly ill, and I am not willing to risk her life or make her that miserable. The trip over land is extremely difficult and dangerous especially for a small child. I'm afraid Zoe will be unable to survive the trip. I have to remain with Gabrielle." Finished, Xena leaned back in her chair waiting for Petra's reply.

"I think you owe me some explanations," Petra said. "First, why do you want me to do this; why not someone else?" Electra moved closer to Petra not liking the fact that she might actually agree to this long trip.

Xena sighed, knowing she would have to open up to this woman she said, "You are the only woman in this village I trust with my child. I know you can defend her as well as I. I also know what's in your heart if you remember. You are a warrior like me." Using Petra’s own words against her. Then remembering Petra and Electra were only recently lovers she added, "Take Electra with you, and the two of you take care of Zoe for me. Once you have reached the Western Amazons, you can stay with them as long as you like. You will be treated well there."

"You are calling Zoe your child; I thought you told me she was not your child," Petra reminded her.

"And I recall you telling me she was," Xena said and then paused as a frown creased her brow. She sighed at her memories and said, "Her birth mother was someone very close to me. Don't ask me to explain it, but Zoe is my child too." Petra nodded.

After a moment of contemplation, Petra asked, "And, my warrior friend, what of you and Gabrielle?" Xena's sky-blue eyes became stormy.

Xena's gaze shifted to the floor unhappy with the turn of the conversation she mumbled, "I don't know. I have to deal with some things that have been inside me a long time. I thought they were all resolved, but I have recently rediscovered them. I won't ask Gabrielle to wait for me. It wouldn't be fair to her, and I can't continue to watch her suffer."

Petra shook her head, "I can't believe you, Xena," she said. "Why can't you just accept the gifts offered you? Why are you so hard on yourself? You and Gabrielle are kindred spirits linked eternally. Why fight it? "

Xena frowned as she listened and thought to herself, `I wish I could be as certain as everyone else is about us.'


Two days later Gabrielle and Xena mounted Argo and left the comfort of Queen Philippa's hospitality, all the planning completed and good-byes said. Zoe would be transported later that day on a ship bound for Abdera. Petra would lead an escort party of four Amazon warriors and with Electra would provide safe transportation for the child. Xena was thankful that Zoe had taken an instant liking to the big warrior and Electra. The good-byes were less difficult that way although Gabrielle cried after they left the limits of the village.