Gabrielle blinked twice as the sunlight streamed into the hut. She eased herself up into a sitting position and shuffled back slightly to lean on the pillows. She turned her head to look at the empty space where Xena usually was. One hand felt the cold sheet indicating that the warrior had been gone for some time, and the other reached around and gently rubbed the small of her back. Whether the sigh she emitted was due to the aching in her back or the disappointment of Xena not being there again, only Gabrielle would know.
Xena observed the peaceful forest. She inhaled deeply then exhaled, her breathing and that of Argo's the only sound. She gently kicked the mare and the faithful Palomino trotted on. They walked slowly until Xena reached a clearing. She dismounted, and took the saddle off Argo. Xena reached around and withdrew her sword from her holder but after gazing at it for several seconds dropped it harmlessly on the grass. She sighed and slumped on the floor staring into nothingness. Argo wandered over to her and nudged her, but even that failed to jolt her from her reverie.
When Xena was aware of her surroundings again, she noticed that the sun was low in the sky. Argo was nearby, grazing, and wordlessly she saddled the palomino and mounted her. The trip back to the Amazon village was as slow as the trip out and by the time she had returned it was dark. Xena declined the help of the stable girl, and brushed and fed Argo herself.
Xena quietly opened the door. As expected Gabrielle was in bed sleeping. She was surrounded by scrolls and a quill. Xena gave a quick smile, and then removed the scrolls and quill, placing them on the table. She then gently covered the bard up, giving her a long look, before getting into bed. As was typical recently sleep did not come easy, and Xena lay in bed staring at the ceiling for many hours before finally drifting off into an uneasy sleep.
"What can I do for you, Pony?" Said Gabrielle with a smile. She indicated to the weapon's master to sit down, although she herself got up and walked around, rubbing her back.
"Are you well?" asked Epinon, concerned.
Gabrielle turned and gave a smile. "I get a bit stiff from staying in the same position too long, that's all."
"I was wondering if you knew what Xena's plans were?" asked Epinon. She saw the puzzled expression on Gabrielle's face. "I was hoping she would take some of the Xenites, I mean younger amazons tracking with me later." They shared a smile at Epinon's faux pas, but Gabrielle's faded quickly.
"I don't Pony. I'm sorry. "
"Oh. It's just they enjoy her teaching them."
Gabrielle snorted. "I bet they do."
Epinon looked embarrassed. "I didn't mean- What I meant. Oh Hades," she stammered.
"Quit while you're ahead Epinon," came a voice from the door and it was Ephiny. Epinon rolled her eyes at the Regent.
"I think I'll take your advice, Eph. They get a lot out of her-Oh for Artemis sake, I'm at it again." Epinon already crimson face reddened further. "They learn a lot from her."
"I know," said Gabrielle quietly.
"And she hasn't given any lessons for a week now." The weapons master paused. "Or been around to spar or hunt."
There was an awkward silence. "I'll talk to her," said Gabrielle quietly.
Epinon detected the note of finality in the Queen's tone and rose from her chair. "Thanks Gabrielle." Epinon looked momentarily embarrassed. "Tell that warrior I miss her," she mumbled and strode out of the room, shrugging her shoulders at Ephiny who mirrored the movement back, out of Gabrielle's sight.
There was silence as Ephiny took a few steps towards the centre of the room. Gabrielle continued to pace around the room, rubbing her back frequently. Ephiny watched her with a concerned look.
"So did you speak to her last night?" asked Ephiny trying to keep her tone light. Gabrielle didn't need to answer verbally, her look answered the question.
"What's going on Gab?" said Ephiny exasperated.
Gabrielle looked at the floor for several moments composing herself. She then looked up at her dear friend. "Alti really stirred things up for Xena. She brought back some shocking memories as well as revealing a couple of shattering details." Gabrielle paused as she thought how distraught Xena had been when she learned that Solon was cursed by the witch as well learning that she was part God.
"Eph. It's taking her a while to get her head around these things. I wish I could help her, I really do, but I can't."
"Can't, or she won't let you."
Gabrielle frowned. "It's between us, Ephiny," she said coolly.
The regent nodded. "OK it can stay between you. But as your regent and your friend, I feel I must say something, as your health is suffering." There was a pause. "And it is."
"You don't have to fuss. I have Piri clucking over me. I am pregnant Eph. Pregnant. Not made of glass. You have been through it; as have many, many other women."
The regent pursed her lips together and stared at Gabrielle for several moments before saying. "Your back's been getting worse, hasn't it? And you haven't been eating or drinking as much these past couple of days, have you?"
Ephiny approached Gabrielle and placed a hand on the bard's arm. "I worry, and usually I'm not the first to realise something is wrong. And that worries me more."
Gabrielle nodded. "I haven't been feeling great, but I put that down to being nearly seven months pregnant and worried about Xena and what's gone on here recently."
"Go and see Piri."
Gabrielle nodded, and turned back to tidy her desk.
"Don't worry about that. I'll do it. Piri's expecting you," she added with a wry smile.
Gabrielle gave her a mock angry glare and then walked out of the hut.
Piri gently felt around Gabrielle's neck. "Lean forward," she said.
Gabrielle complied, and Piri's hands worked her way down Gabrielle's back. She noted the bard wince as she pressed her lower back.
"Mmmm." Said the healer and pushed Gabrielle back on the pillows. She walked away and washed her hands in the basin on the shelf. She picked up a cloth and dried them as she walked back towards the bard who was watching her intently. "Why didn't you come to me when you started feeling pain?"
Gabrielle looked down. "I have had other things on my mind," she said quietly.
"The warrior." Said Piri simply. Gabrielle nodded.
The healer gave her a long stare and then went to the cabinet that contained her medicines. She found both a jar and bottle and walked back to the bed. Gabrielle was swinging her legs over the side, but stopped as Piri approached.
"This salve will help with your back. You will need help applying it obviously." Gabrielle looked up at the expressionless face of the healer that was impossible to read. "And this is for your infection. You need to drink more, my Queen. That will also help the pain. "She put them both down on the bedside table.
"Thank you Piri," said Gabrielle.
"How about a cup of tea? Consultation's over, I promise."
Gabrielle gave a wry smile and manoeuvred herself off the bed. "That sounds good, thank you." She walked over to a chair by the table and eased herself on to it. There was a comfortable silence as Piri prepared the tea. Finally she brought the mugs over to the table, and set them down before sitting herself down.
"You really should take a few days off," said Piri as she picked up her steaming mug.
"I thought you said the consultation was over," retorted Gabrielle, irately.
"You need it. The last few weeks have been stressful; the executions, the tribe's recovery, and-"Piri inhaled deeply, "the problems with your warrior." She raised her hands as Gabrielle gave her a cold glare. "I just feel a few days off would recharge you."
"Like it did you," said Gabrielle, but this time in a softer tone. She smiled at Piri's uncharacteristic awkwardness, as the healer blushed and fixed her stare on her mug.
"How is Joxer?" asked Gabrielle even more softly.
The healer looked up and Gabrielle could see the older woman's eyes twinkling. "He's very well," she said hoarsely, and then coughed to clear her throat. "It was a lovely few days."
Gabrielle continued to stare at Piri. The healer looked past Gabrielle, her eyes now misting over, and a slight smile on her face. After a few moments she shook her head and turned her attention back to Gabrielle.
The bard reached over with her hand and placed it on the healers'. "I am so glad for you both. You suit each other."
Piri nodded. "I do worry about the age difference and the fact that I can't give him children-"
"So you've got a toy boy, Piri. Joxer loves you-that doesn't matter to him. And the age difference is the same as me and Xena. It's not worth worrying about."
"He makes me very happy," said Piri simply. "I thought, well, I thought it was too late for me. But thankfully I was wrong. With him so close by, most of the time, it's perfect."
They shared a smile and then both sipped their tea.
"What ever is wrong between you and the warrior you need to fix it." Piri's calm voice broke the peace. They stared at each other for several moments before Gabrielle closed her eyes.
"I wish I could share with you Piri, I do. But I don't want to break Xena's confidence." A tear rolled down her cheek. When she opened her eyes she saw the healer's worried countenance.
"Gabrielle." Gabrielle jumped in surprised, so rare was it that Piri used her name. "Gabrielle I am concerned. Your pregnancy has not been straightforward and easy, and the last few weeks have been, "The healer paused, "Extremely stressful for you. You need a break. You need your partner. Take a few days and spend it with her."
Gabrielle's lips quivered and she rubbed her eyes that were leaking tears. "I would love to, but-"she sobbed, "She's avoiding me at the moment. For the last few days she leaves before I am awake and returns once I'm asleep. "Gabrielle sniffed and rubbed her eyes again.
Piri got up and wrapped her arms around the bard and held her until the bard stopped sobbing.
"Sorry," said Gabrielle.
"That's what I am here for, as your healer and friend." Piri held her hand out. "Let's go back to your hut and have some lunch. Then you can rest-healer's orders."
Gabrielle smiled through her tears, and took the offered hand.
Despite the dim light the palomino walked flawlessly towards the edge of the village. Xena unconsciously patted the side of the mare, as the guards came into view. Xena's eyes narrowed as she saw an unexpected person waiting with them. She pulled Argo to a halt and dismounted in a fluid movement.
"Piri," she said tonelessly.
"Warrior," was the reply. Xena gathered Argo's reins in her right hand and started to walk towards the village.
"I thought we may take a walk," said Piri looking at Xena intently.
"I've been out all day, I should get Argo back."
"That's what we have stable hands for," said Piri. "It's a fine evening, walk with me warrior."
Xena gave Piri an angry glare. "I said-"
"Or I will tell the Regent that I thought I spotted the first signs of Irip fever on you, and you should be quarantined straight away." The healer looked innocently at Xena whose face contorted with anger.
"Alright you win." She spat out and handed the reins over to a guard who eyed her up suspiciously, and then walked nosily in the opposite direction.
"Does she really have Irip fever?" said the guard nervously.
"I hope not," said Piri, "I just made it up." And she turned and strode after the warrior.
They walked in silence until the came to a stream. Piri sat down on a fallen log while Xena kept her back to her, gazing at the stream.
Piri continued to sit silently saying nothing and eventually Xena spun around. "I thought you wanted to talk?"
"I said a walk, but talking is good." Piri fixed the warrior with a stare which the Xena returned, although she knew that the healer was a formidable foe in the staring steaks.
"Xena, what is wrong?" The healer's tone was so gentle and the use of her name such a surprise that Xena found her self walking over to the log and sitting on it. She was even more shocked that the healer took her hand and squeezed it, then let it drop.
"Piri, I don't, I can't-I'm no good with words. I can't really vocalise it like Gabrielle can." Xena put her head in her hands.
"I'm asking you. What's wrong? Why have you isolated yourself from everyone, including the Queen?"
Xena's head rose and Piri could see the anxiety in her eyes. Xena inhaled deeply. "I found out something shocking." She looked away from Piri. "I think I should keep my distance from the amazons for their own safety." Xena turned back to look at Piri.
The healer continued to look impassively at Xena, who shut her eyes and blurted out, "I'm part God."
There was silence at first then Piri gave a laugh. Xena opened her eyes and Piri laughed again, a belly laugh that ricocheted around the trees. She wiped her eyes as tears formed in them.
Xena got up. She unhooked her chakram and hurled it at a tree trunk, embedding it deeply. She spun around. "Thanks, Piri. I unburden myself and this is the reaction I get."
"I'm sorry," said the healer panting slightly. She tried to stop her lips from quivering. "I just don't see what the deal is?"
"I have god's blood. The Olympians are my relatives. I'm no longer a mortal, but a half breed. I should have known better to discuss it with anyone." Xena's voice rose angrily and she stepped towards the healer.
"I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I shouldn't have reacted like that. Forgive me." There was silence as Xena looked unappeased. "I only reacted like that because I don't see what the problem is. I do know what it is like. Panacea is my grandmother, Asclepius is my Great Grandfather."
The words hung in the air. Xena's mouth opened ajar in shock. When she recovered her wits she stammered, "I-I didn't know."
Piri shrugged. "It's who I am. I never thought of myself as a half breed." Xena lowered her head. "I know there are many of us out there who have Olympians as parents and grandparents; Zeus, Apollo, Ares-"Xena flinched at his name, "All like to spread themselves around. Artemis is rumoured to have had children, although I do not know for sure." She looked at the dejected figure. "What is it really? You have no truck with the gods. I thought it wouldn't worry you if they are your relatives."
"I may be Ares daughter," whispered Xena. "It was bad enough as his chosen, but to be his daughter…" her voice faded away.
Piri got off the log and approached her. "You are the same person now, as you were before you knew you had God's blood. That hasn't changed."
"He offered me Lindos," said Xena in a whisper. "After Gabrielle admitted what happened. I was so tempted. I was so close to accepting his offer."
Piri put her hand on Xena's arm. "Don't you think I would have been? Or Joxer? Any of us would. You refused him."
"But I may not again. I could be dangerous-for the amazons, for Gabrielle." Her voice softened on the last two words.
Piri smiled. "You are admitting you are dangerous to know. Warrior, Xena Destroyer of Nations was dangerous. This Xena whether or not she is daughter of Ares, Zeus, Hades or a distant relative of mine is not a threat to the Amazons, and especially not to their queen." Xena slumped and Piri took both her hands. "And perhaps this Xena needs to share these worries with the queen."
Xena nodded dumbly and Piri removed her hands and wrapped them around the warrior. Xena put her head on the older woman's shoulder. After several moments she straightened up.
"I just feel lost not knowing who I am. It was easier to shut down than face up to it."
"For you maybe. But not for the Queen, Epinon and others that care for you."
Piri smiled at Xena's look of surprise. "People care for you warrior, get used to it. But you don't have to talk to me, anymore," said Piri. "You need to talk with the Queen. She's worried about you, and at the moment she doesn't need any additional concerns."
Xena looked at the healer. "Is Gabrielle ok?" she said anxiously.
Piri paused for slightly too long, and Xena sensed that immediately. Before the healer could answer Xena said, "What's wrong? There's something isn't there?" She ran her hand through her hair, but didn't take her eyes off the healer.
"She has a mild, and I stress a mild infection. I have given her herbs that will prevent it becoming a kidney infection."
Xena sighed and the relief showed for a moment before it was replaced by a guilty look. "I should have been there for her."
"Yes you should," said Piri simply. "But fortunately Ephiny was. If you carry on with being this martyr to the cause, get used to it."
Xena's face reddened with anger, and her fists tightened into balls.
"Don't speak the truth? You know it is. Talk to the queen. It will help you both. I've suggested she take a few days off. You should spend it together."
Xena took several deep breaths and her anger dissipated and she gave a long sigh. "I will. If she'll have me."
Piri gave her a broad smile. "Never worry about that, warrior. You've been through worse."
There was silence as Xena reflected on what they had discussed.
"Thank you Piri. I mean that." She smiled warmly at the healer. "I take it Piri is short for Panacea?"
The healer nodded. "And if that ever becomes common knowledge, warrior, you'll find out what other skills I have inherited from my family."
Xena chuckled. And Irip fever? Where was that from?"
Piri smiled broadly. "Didn't you guess? Piri backwards" and she gave Xena a wink.