Except for the unconscious bodies, Xena had cleared the streets of Sensurian attackers. Sheathing her sword, she approached the Verbinians.
"Alright, somebody start talking. What that was all about." She commanded the group. Despite her having just saved their lives, the robed man looked surprised and insulted by the warrior's demand.
Xena looked coldly at the robed man, quickly concluding he was not about to offer any information. "You" Xena barked at the oldest soldier.
"Darmas." The soldier responded uneasily.
"Well Darmas" Xena spoke with a tight smile and stepped closer to the nervous soldier. "There is something about fighting and not knowing why that tends to bother me." She relayed, her smile faded with her patience. "Why were you attacked by the Sensurians?" Xena asked, her eyes narrowing.
The man looked incredibly nervous but didn't respond. "Tell me!" Xena snapped.
"We will be going back to Verbinia now." The robed man snidely interrupted her questions.
"Not until you explain what just happened." Xena eyed the young man, who was visibly irritated. "Perhaps we should see if you are able to hold your tongue as well as the soldiers." She suggested.
Bass noticed the Attendant's anger grow the more Xena spoke to him. "Xena...Outsider."
He reminded the Attendant. The Attendant looked at Bass and nodded. "Yes." The Attendant exhaled slowly, remembering to be patient with this disrespectful warrior woman.
"It must be apparent, even to YOU, that Sensurians don't like Verbinians." The young man responded condescendingly, looking around the city.
"Then why are you here?" Xena asked cooly. The young man forced a smile. "It is not of your concern, warrior." He uttered with contempt. "We will be on our way."
"Well, before you head back, I'd like to at least be properly introduced. Since we did, after all, fight together." Gabrielle interjected with a warm smile. The young man looked over the bard, thoroughly, further irritating the Warrior Princess.
"You seem to already know of Xena, I am Gabrielle." The bard introduced herself, ignoring the man's blatant assessment of her. "I think you already know Joxer." Gabrielle added flatly.
"Not really" Joxer shrugged and pointed to Bass. "I just..." Joxer's comment was interrupted by the Attendant who recognized the bard's name.
"Gabrielle?" The man questioned with interest, surprising the bard. "Gabrielle...the bard?" He asked with growing excitement. Well...uh...yes, I'm a bard" Gabrielle smiled awkwardly at this incredible change in demeanor. "THE Gabrielle?" He asked in amazement, almost awe, Xena noted.
"She's the only Gabrielle I..." Joxer was interrupted again.
"I can't believe I get to meet you." He responded, reaching for her hand to shake it but stopped short with an embarrassed laugh at his considerable breach of etiquette. "Your scrolls are held in great esteem by the Elders. I have been fortunate enough to read THREE of them." The Attendant informed her enthusiastically.
"You truly have a great Gift! There is even a rumor that you are a Verbinian Elder." He smiled and laughed warmly.
Gabrielle smiled awkwardly, unused to such unabashed praise over something that meant so much to her. She was well aware he was giving her a great compliment.
His comments obviously pleased her, Xena noted, trying to remember the last time she told Gabrielle how much she really liked her stories.
"Are you a bard?" Gabrielle asked. The Attendant smiled broadly, acting as if she had just given him a Solstice present.
"Oh no...I wish...I am only an Attendant." Liberus's smile quickly faded as he realized another breach of etiquette, he still hadn't introduced himself. "Oh PLEASE forgive my poor manners...I am Liberus, Sixth Attendant." He announced his position with a formal air.
"Well Liberus, I'm pleased to meet you." Gabrielle smiled warmly. "We were actually heading in your direction. Xena was invited to Verbinia by Texius. Do you know him?" Gabrielle asked him nonchalantly.
Appreciating Gabrielle's subtlety, Xena quietly waited and listened. Though his annoying fawning over the bard gave Gabrielle a useful edge in obtaining information, the Warrior Princess still preferred his previous rudeness.
"Texius?" Liberus questioned the bard, who smiled and nodded. "Invitations to outsiders are very rare." He informed her, surprised with the news.
"Why is that?" Gabrielle asked curiously.
Liberus looked sharply at the Warrior Princess who stared blankly at him. "Safety." He answered bluntly. "Gabrielle...we really must be going now." He added quickly, before the bard could question him further.
"Perhaps we could travel together..." Gabrielle offered.
The prospect of traveling with this irritating Attendant did not please the Warrior Princess. Strategically, however, she knew it would give the clever bard more time to extract information.
"NO! I mean...our protocols on travel and interactions with outsiders are extremely rigid, especially before a Ceremony." He added, his eyes glancing down at an amazingly quiet young boy.
"Ceremony?" Xena asked, eyeing the Attendant and the young boy, unable to contain her curiosity. Once again, Gabrielle noted uncomfortably, the warrior and Attendant staring coldly at each other.
"Ah Liberus, you can't go before you introduce me to this little guy." Gabrielle interrupted the unproductive cold war, kneeling down and smiling at the young child. He was little over six summers old and shyly returned a smile.
Bass smiled and pointed. "Scholaris. Elder." He informed them. Calling the young child an Elder surprised Gabrielle, who also remembered the old woman telling her this child was mute. "Hello Scholaris. Aren't you a little young to be an Elder?" Gabrielle greeted the child with a warm chuckle. Scholaris smiled back.
"No Gift...yet." Bass explained warmly, gazing down at the boy.
"Move! Verbinia. NOW." Liberus barked to the soldiers, glaring at Basullus, who cringed. As he took the child by the hand, Liberus looked at the bard with mixed feelings. "We must go now Gabrielle. It has been an honor. I hope to hear one of your stories one day." He rushed off with the Verbinian group.
The Warrior Princess and bard looked at each other then the departing Verbinians. "Odd." Joxer vocalized their thoughts. "I'll say." Gabrielle agreed. "Yeah, I can't believe he was making such a fuss over a BARD." Joxer smirked.
"Excuse me" A portly man came up to the three. Joxer eyed the familiar man. "EXCUSE me. Uh...." The portly man cleared his throat, seeing all three stare at him, unamused. "I wanted to apologize on behalf of Sensuria for the little..." He searched for the right word. "Scuffle... here today." He informed them, diplomatically. Xena's eyebrow raised.
"Little scuffle? Your whole town tried to KILL us!" Gabrielle snapped.
"Yeah!" Joxer agreed, making Gabrielle's eyes roll at his helpful commentary.
"Uh, well, we never meant for tourists to get involved in our problems with our enemies." He responded nervously.
"Why are the Verbinians your enemy?" Xena asked.
"It goes back generations...when a Sensurian witnessed one of those heathen Ceremonies they put their old people through...just before they pass on." He shuttered as informed them.
"Heathen Ceremonies? What happens at these Ceremonies? Don't they have children participate in them too?" Gabrielle asked, concerned for Scholaris.
The portly man shrugged. "I'm afraid as the stories have been passed down through the generations, many of the details have been lost."
"Your town attacked the Verbinians today because of an old story no one knows the details too? Gabrielle blurted in amazement.
"We know enough Miss." He responded defensively. "The Ceremony the Sensurian witnessed was performed on a man who didn't want it to happen. He died a painful death. What kind of civilized people torture their elderly?" He responded emphatically to a stunned bard, who looked into Xena's concerned eyes.
"Enough of boring Sensurian politics. As Mayor of Sensuria, I wanted to
show you how truly sorry our fine city is about the unfortunate event this
afternoon. I have reserved a table at our finest tavern and three rooms at the
"That's gre..." Joxer enthusiastic response was interrupted by the Warrior Princess.
"That won't be necessary. We must be on our way." Xena informed the portly man who frowned. She looked sadly at Gabrielle, who nodded in agreement.
"But we'd be glad to take a rain check." Gabrielle interjected, not wanting to let an opportunity pass. Xena grinned.
"Very good!" He bellowed. Carefully looking around the street, he spoke discretely to the group. "You wouldn't mind keeping this little... incident quiet would you? Five-star Triple Alpha ratings are very hard to get..."
While Xena and Gabrielle were extremely quiet, Joxer rambled on, pleased they would be staying overnight in his favorite tourist spot.
"There you go." The portly man smiled happily, pulling out chairs for the two women in the Tavern. To avoid anymore risk to his Triple Alpha rating, the Mayor decided it was best to personally take care of the three travelers.
"I hope you'll find everything satisfactory...if you need anything..." The Mayor bowed graciously and left. Joxer was extremely happy the meal was on the house.
"This is great!" Joxer relayed. "I can't believe they wanted to make up for that little incident in the street. But I'm sure glad they decided to!" Joxer eyed their surroundings appreciatively.
"I said I was sorry." Gabrielle quietly offered again.
Ignoring the apology, Xena silently reached for a goblet on the table. As she raised the goblet to her lips, she noticed it was wine. Shooting a cold glared towards the bard, she placed the wine goblet down and picked up a goblet of water. The warrior exhaled slowly and proceeded to quietly drink the water.
"How many more times do I have to apologize?" Gabrielle asked in an irritated whisper.
"I'M not the one you have to apologize to." Xena finally responded. "Of course, thanks to you, Argo is in NO condition at the moment to ACCEPT your apology." Xena added curtly.
"LOOK....how was I supposed to know we would be off fighting and she would eat the entire bag?" Gabrielle responded.
"You know how apples affect a horse! You placed the ENTIRE bag next to her." Xena replied, struggling to keep her voice down.
"Yeah, well...I didn't hear YOU say anything to stop me." Gabrielle countered with a good point, annoying the warrior more.
"She'll sleep it off and be fine...don't you wor..." Joxer interjected, overhearing the not so quiet argument.
"Stay out of this Joxer." The two responded in unison, making him cringe.
"Well?" A young woman asked Texius, who sat outside the guarded doors of the Counsel Chambers. "Any word on the vote?" She added, seeing her mentor not budging from his slumped position.
"No." He sighed, straightening up, lifting his head out of his hands. "They are probably taking a nap in there...." He remarked glibly.
"Texius...you should respect your Elders!" Talea scolded him, restraining a smile.
"Let's go for a short walk." Texius responded, taking a deep breath. As he stood up, before his resting body was ready to, he let out a pained groan.
"You sound like an Elder." Talea remarked with a grin. "Talea!" Texius feigned surprise at her insolence, which caused her them to chuckle.
"Are you excited about the ceremony?" Texius asked the young woman with a knowing grin. She beamed. "Of course I am! To be the Attendant for the Gift of Loquus is truly an honor...the THIRD Elder!" She beamed, then saddened when she realized what would happen to the old man.
"I really enjoyed talking with Loquus...it is so sad." She became depressed. "Talea" Texius spoke with a fatherly tone.
"He knows he is old and not in the best of health. For him to die without the Gift being passed on would be the true death of the man...as well as the death of a piece of all of us...REMEMBER that Talea." Texius lectured. Talea nodded. "I know. It is still so sad, I don't want him to die Texius." Talea obviously still had mixed feeling about the 'honor' of being the Attendant.
"Death is HIS choice...REMEMBER that!" Texius spoke with conviction, looking into her eyes. She nodded. "I know...It is still sad." She sighed.
"You must get use to it Talea. Your role in Verbinia is as sacred as the role of the Elders." He lectured once again. "With the Attendants lies a great responsibility to facilitate the passing of the Gifts ...without us" Texius was interrupted by his student.
"I know Texius, without the Attendant, the cycle would not be possible." She repeated the words Texius made them learn by rote.
"Hey you were listening!" He grinned at his protegee. "Come on, we'd better get back to see if their nap is over." Texius sighed, rubbing his sore neck.
After dinner, the Mayor personally escorted the three travelers to the best
"WAIT a minute," Gabrielle interjected. "You couldn't get us THREE rooms?" She snapped, looking at the Warrior Princess who shook her head at how amazingly bad this evening was.
As the Mayor started to apologize profusely that it was the height of the tourist season, and there were no other rooms left, Joxer patted the nervous man on the back. "No problem Mayor," Joxer consoled the nervous man. "I am sure my friends and I will enjoy a soft bed after spending many a cold and harsh night, sleeping on the unforgiving ground." Joxer offered, being magnanimous about this minor inconvenience. "In fact, its been ages since I have been....Hey! Wait up!" He interrupted himself, calling to Gabrielle and Xena, who had already left for the room.
"I'm NOT sleeping on the floor." Xena cooly informed Gabrielle, as they arrived at the door. "FINE. Neither am I," Gabrielle cooly informed Xena. "Fine," Xena responded as Gabrielle opened the door to the large room.
"Oh my." Gabrielle uttered with awe, eyeing the luxurious room. Joxer caught up to them quickly and had a similar reaction.
"WOW!" He slipped past the two women in the doorway as he inspected the large room. "This is GREAT!" He looked around then spotted the two large canopy beds. "I've got dibs on the bed by the window." He jumped up on the soft mattress, relishing the entire experience.
Eyeing the remaining bed then each other, each held their ground. "I'm NOT sleeping on the floor." Xena repeated. "Neither am I." Gabrielle responded.
Joxer let out a huge yawn. "Sorry, a big meal always does that to me." He smiled as he rolled around happily on the bed. "Hey...if this is the honeymoon suite, why are there two beds?" Joxer asked Gabrielle, who shrugged.
"Maybe as backup, in case the deliriously happy couple have a really big argument." Gabrielle offered as she sat on the edge of her bed and coldly eyed Xena.
Removing her armor, Xena noticed a large basket of fruit on the table by the fireplace. "Oh LOOK Gabrielle." Xena grabbed the red fruit and tossed it to Gabrielle. "They must have heard how much you like APPLES." Xena spoke coldly, as the bard caught it.
The lack of an acerbic response from the bard surprised the Warrior Princess, until she saw the look on Gabrielle's face. Xena realized she had once again managed to say something wrong. This time, however, she knew exactly what she was saying and still said it. Guilt was not in short supply between the two women.
"Argo will be ok...right?" Gabrielle asked weakly, her voice barely audible, still staring at the apple.
"Sure Gabrielle, like I told you...Argo just needs to sleep it off." Joxer offered warmly.
"Joxer, could you give us a moment...to get ready for bed?" Xena asked, focused on the bard, who continued to stare at the apple in her hands.
"Oh SURE...but I still have dibs on this bed....OK?" He asked. "Yes, Joxer." Xena sighed, nodding in agreement. "Great," Joxer responded, leaving happy he called dibs.
Gabrielle was unable to meet Xena's gaze. "I keep doing stupid things don't I?" Gabrielle muttered, berating herself as her eyes welled up with tears. Xena sat next to the bard and wiped a tear of her bard's cheek.
"No more than I keep saying stupid things." Xena responded, her words heartfelt.
"Because of me, Argo is in no condition to travel...we are delayed in getting to Verbinia...who KNOWS what awful things are happening there..." She blurted with great guilt.
"We haven't lost much time Gabrielle... and if Texius wanted us to rush to get there he would have said so." Xena put her arm around the bard and pulled her close. "I over reacted Gabrielle, I'm sorry." Xena admitted, kissing her on the forehead.
"And I am sorry I argue so much, and give you such a hard time, and...." The bard's rapid apologies were halted when Xena placed her fingers gently upon Gabrielle's lips.
"Gabrielle, don't be sorry...just.." Xena removed her fingers from the bard's lips too soon. "I know, I know...improve." Gabrielle interrupted with a heavy sigh, considering the comment deserved.
"No." Xena responded with a chuckle, surprising the bard. "Though, one SHOULD always try to improve one's self." Xena added thoughtfully with a slight grin.
"Stop apologizing?" Gabrielle guessed.
"No. But you really do apologize too much and it's unnecessary...most of the time." Xena added. "MOST of the time?" Gabrielle queried.
"What I was GOING to say ..." Xena responded, wisely ignoring Gabrielle's dangerous tangent. "Was just... kiss me." Xena told her.
"Oh" The bard responded with a slight grin and gladly leaned towards her partner to comply. As their lips brushed, there was a knock on the door and a familiar voice calling to them. "You guys finished in there? I'm kinda tired."
Gabrielle pulled back with a frustrated grunt. Xena calmly closed her eyes, sighing heavily, carefully weighing the merits of the chakrum, sword, suffocation and apple accidents.
As they settled in for the night, the two women, lying painfully close to each other, stared at the ceiling.
In the next bed, Joxer exhaled loudly as he rolled on his side.
The two women stared at the ceiling.
Joxer muttered something as he drifted off into sleep.
The two women sighed heavily and stared at the ceiling.
Joxer began snoring.
After a moment, the two women turned their heads and stared at each other.
"I think I'll sleep on the floor." Xena informed the bard, who nodded weakly.
"Verbinia is up head Xena! Why don't I go there first...to make sure they really know you're not a bloodthirsty warlord anymore..." Joxer suggested. "Thanks." She replied flatly.
"Uh..Well, I should at least make sure it's safe for Gabrielle...don't you think?" He offered, pointing to the bard. Gabrielle nodded weakly in agreement, unruffled by his comment.
Sure, she could have told him that she could best him blindfolded and he was a complete idiot. Sure, she could have reminded him that the Verbinians, for some reason, admired her a great deal and wasn't worried about their reception, and of course, that he was an complete idiot. But, she didn't bother. Gabrielle just sighed and nodded in agreement.
Xena looked at Gabrielle wondering if she should be concerned by Gabrielle's unusual calm around this man.
"Sure," Xena responded, cautiously eyeing the bard, never quite sure how she would react. Seeing that the bard didn't flinch at her agreement, Xena followed up more confidently. "Good idea Joxer."
Joxer happily jogged towards Verbinia on a mission. "Thanks Joxer." Gabrielle called out, almost making the man trip. "Sure thing Gabby!" He waved back at her, a very happy man. Even that annoying nickname Gabby didn't seem to bother the bard, Xena noted.
Xena eyed her, confused. "Feeling ok?" Xena asked.
"Look" Gabrielle responded, pointing to Joxer, who was getting further away. Following the bard's instructions, Xena looked at him.
"I'm feeling... better...much better" Gabrielle remarked. "Oh much MUCH better." Gabrielle informed her warrior as Joxer disappeared over the hill. "Haven't felt this good in a long time, but then... it's really up to you to decide how I feel." Gabrielle moved closer to her warrior with a sly grin.
"Couldn't you have just said, 'yes...he's leaving'...?" Xena asked with a small chuckle, hiding her anticipation at being alone with the bard, even if it was for only a few precious moments, in the middle of a well traveled road.
"Sure...but that would have been boring...and I don't want to be...boring" Gabrielle put her hand on the warrior's waist. "Gabrielle, you are many things... but boring is not one of them." Xena responded with a caress to the bards face.
"Good..." Gabrielle responded with a sultry voice. Xena leaned in for a kiss but was stopped by gentle fingers which slowly traced over the warrior's lips. A not entirely unpleasant surprise, the Warrior Princess noted. Gabrielle smiled, feeling the warm breath from the warrior's slightly parted lips.
"But what... " Gabrielle slipped her arm around the warrior's waist, receiving a grin of approval.
"WOULD..." Gabrielle removed her fingers from the warrior's lips, trailing them gently over the warrior's chin and slowly down her neck. The warrior swallowed hard at the gentle touch's effect on her senses.
Xena had a feeling this bard would be good at foreplay. Unfortunately, they were in the middle of a road during midday, the warrior noted. Xena was about to mention they should move out of the road and continue this in private over by that...thing...over there... out of the... road.
"you..." Gabrielle kissed Xena's neck, causing the warrior to shudder at the gentle, wet touch of lips.
Road...concern...what WAS the concern? The warrior wondered.
"say I..." Gabrielle spoke into her neck and slowly placed another wet kiss in a different spot.
Concern...we're on the right road...no concern, the warrior concluded.
"was..." The bard paused. Her warm breath against the sensitive, freshly kissed flesh dominated the warrior's senses.
The bard did not move. "Gabrielle.." Xena asked softly, still feeling the warm breath on her throat, wanting the bard to continue.
"Well?" Gabrielle asked, her breath heavier against the warrior's skin, waiting for the warrior to answer.
"Gabrielle..." Xena sighed with increasing impatience, not really up for a chat at this moment.
"Impatient?" Gabrielle challenged the warrior, as she pulled away.
"All right...yes...I guess I...YES!" The warrior blurted, a little annoyed the bard would turn her comment against her now. Xena waited for the bard to display a huge victory grin at the warrior's admission.
"Ugh!!" Gabrielle growled loudly and broke away from the confused warrior. "Impatient!?! That's just WONDERFUL!" Gabrielle blurted angrily and stomped off to Verbinia.
Xena's mouth dropped, wondering what in Tartarus just happened. "Gabrielle...What...I ...Gab ." Xena called out as she watched the bard march down the road. "...brielle" Xena finished weakly.
The warrior didn't know what she would apologize about if she caught up to her. All she knew was that every time she said something, Gabrielle got mad at her. If only they didn't have to talk to each other, Xena sighed, considering that would be the only possible way she could avoid getting the bard mad.
"Don't start." Xena snapped at her horse, whose ears twitched at the loud sound. "And YOU should have known better about those apples." She scolded Argo, who's head sunk.
Joxer stood staring at the large Verbinian gates, scratching his head. "Joxer?" The bard called out, surprised to find him still waiting outside the city walls.
Now close enough to touch the impressive wall, Gabrielle indulged a moment to inspect the sight before her. Running her fingers over the cold smooth marble, she strained her neck looking up at the wall's height. Considering the wall impervious to arrows, torches, battering rams and most likely catapults, the bard understood why Xena didn't think her army could get past these defenses without heavy losses.
Gabrielle stared for a moment at the two massive statues, which stood guarding the entrance. Yet, instead of a sword or spear, the statues held a scroll in one hand, and a quill in the other. Gabrielle smiled, pleased with the sight.
"Joxer, why are you still out here?" The bard asked, finally finished with her appreciation of the Verbinian statues.
"They won't let me in." He shrugged. "Don't tell me they think YOU are a threat." She laughed. "NOooo" He responded slowly with irritation. "They are voting on whether or not to let Xena inside. I told them she was good now. But they still..."
"Didn't you ask for Texius?" She interrupted. "Of course I did!" He squeaked, insulted she thought him so stupid. "But the guard told me it was not up to an Attendant to decide who can enter...it is up to the elders. The guard didn't think they would allow Xena in." Joxer explained with a frown.
"We'll see about that!" Gabrielle snapped, marching up to the small side door.
"Getting her to come all this way..." Gabrielle muttered as she knocked on the wooden side door. "To HELP them for Gods' sakes..." Gabrielle muttered as she banged on the door with her fist.
" and they have the AUDACITY to make her wait while they VOTE to let her inside??" Gabrielle complained, pounding on the door with more gusto.
"If they think they can just...." She immediately stopped muttering when the small side door cracked open, allowing a guard to peek through.
"Who goes there?" The soldier barked.
"Hello!" Gabrielle boomed brightly, sporting a big friendly smile. "My name is Gabrielle. I travel with Xena who was invited here by Texius. If you don't mind too terribly, I would like to talk with Texius." Gabrielle asked with the most courteous and pleasant voice she could muster.
"NO" The soldier barked and slammed the door in her face. Gabrielle's mouth dropped.
"See!" Joxer responded, relieved it wasn't just him for a change.
"WELL!" She blurted with indignation and pounded on the door again. "Do they expect her to help them out here? Do they? I'll give them 'NO'..." She muttered until the small side door opened slightly again.
"Hi again." Gabrielle smiled, giving a small friendly waive and a sheepish laugh. The soldier rolled his eyes and sighed. "I don't suppose there's a.... REASON.... " Gabrielle paused, looking down bashfully as she stepped closer to the suspicious soldier. "...for not letting us in..." She batted her innocent eyelashes.
"YES" The soldier barked and slammed the door in her face once again. Her eyes, at first wide with surprise, narrowed into dangerous slits.
"Gabrielle...perhaps we should just..." Joxer tried to defuse the situation.
Gabrielle pounded on the door again. The Amazon Bard was not amused.
The door opened slightly with a different, younger guard. "WHO there GOES! Uh... Who goes THERE!" The young man corrected himself, causing the bard to roll her eyes in disbelief.
"LOOK! You know DAMN well who I am. I've already told you!" Gabrielle snaps. Anticipating another slamming door, the bard quickly wedges her staff between the door and frame, frightening the young guard. "But in case you forgot, I'm GABRIELLE, I travel with XENA, and I want to talk to TEXIUS...NOW!"
The door opened wider, making the bard sigh with relief that the soldier was finally being rational. She looked over her shoulder at Joxer with a smug victory smile. However, she realized too late, she had removed her staff too soon, when she heard the familiar sound of a door slamming shut.
Inside the Counsel chambers, the Elders finally finished debating and announced their decision. "I am sorry to say there was no majority, the votes were tied, even." Thesaurus informed Texius. "You wouldn't be tied if you had a ninth elder!" Texius responded bitterly.
Thesaurus sighed and continued. "As you know Texius, there must be a majority decision before an action can be approved, authorized. Your friend must remain outside our walls, our ramparts. So is the decision of the Counsel." Thesaurus proclaimed and banged his gavel.
"Now for the matter of your actions, your deeds. Since Four Elders agreed with your heartfelt actions..." Thesaurus paused and looked at the outspoken Verbis, who argued strongly for disciplinary action. "You will not be punished, disciplined. So is the decision of the Counsel." Thesaurus proclaimed and banged his gavel.
After the final proclamation, an Attendant rushed into the Counsel chambers. "First Elder! Please forgive the intrusion but we have some Outsider trouble at the front gate." The Attendant relayed.
"I bet it's the Warrior Princess trying to get in." Verbis smirked, confident the walls would keep her out. "Actually no... it's a woman named Gabrielle."
"They won't let us in." Joxer relayed to Xena while they watched Gabrielle attack the door.
"Why not?" Xena asked, staring at the bard, who continued to lash out at the door with everything she had to lash out with...her staff, shoulder, fist, hip, foot and a few colorful phrases that surprised even Xena.
"The Elders need to vote. Your friend Texius didn't clear it with the Elders before he asked for your...our help..." Joxer explained, still eyeing the flourish of anger called Gabrielle.
Finishing her unsuccessful attack on the door, the bard approached them. "There seems to be a little misunderstanding." Gabrielle spoke nonchalantly, breathing heavily and wiping the sweat off her brow.
"It must be something in the air..." Xena muttered under her breath, eyeing the impressive wall around the city. "We should wait and find out how the Elder's voted." Xena announced, considering it would be much easier to be invited inside.
"Wait." Gabrielle repeated flatly. "I guess that WOULD be the PATIENT thing to do." Gabrielle snapped, eyeing the Warrior Princess, who finally realized what got Gabrielle upset in the road.
"What if they don't..." Joxer's question was interrupted by an irritated warrior.
"Gabrielle, we REALLY need to talk." Xena blurted with great exasperation. She sharply eyed Joxer, who looked back and forth between the two in confusion. "ALONE." Xena curtly added.
"I'll be by the door if you need me." He responded nervously, quickly retreating.
Gabrielle waited silently, eyeing the Princess of Patience. "I want to clear something up RIGHT now!" Xena blurted with obvious frustration. She hated the feeling of being out of control and, unfortunately, with this particular bard, she found herself in that position quite often.
"Hey you guys, they are going to let us in!" Joxer yelled to them happily, waiving to them to come towards him.
Gabrielle immediately felt bad for being the cause of such frustration for the warrior. "Xena. We'll talk later, I promise." Gabrielle offered warmly, reassuring her partner with a gentle squeeze of her forearm. Xena sighed, nodding in agreement that this discussion would wait.
"Come ON you guys!" Joxer called to them again, his head now poking out the side door.
As the three were escorted inside, they received curious stares from everyone they passed. "Gab. Jox. Xena. Follow." A soldier instructed them.
"Rather informal of them." Xena noted to Gabrielle with a smirk.
"Well, I think a little Verbinian informality is still better than Sensurian hospitality." Gabrielle relayed while the three were escorted through the main street by four Verbinian soldiers.
"I'll say." Joxer added, wanting to participate in the conversation.
"Don't get too relaxed here Gabrielle." Xena whispered in her ear, placing a protective hand on her shoulder. Gabrielle nodded, continuing to take in the Verbinian sights. Xena noticed the look of surprise from two soldiers when she touched the bard. A cold warning glare immediately stopped their stares.
"This is not exactly what I expected." Gabrielle noted with disappointment, seeing so many rundown buildings. As they passed two impressive stone buildings, the bard frowned. "How can they keep up those beautiful buildings and ignore all the others?" Gabrielle asked aloud.
"I'm sure you are not the only one asking that question." Xena responded, seeing an obvious and dangerous class division among the Verbinians.
"Yeah, especially the soldiers. They live in those run down buildings with the other workers." Joxer interjected, giving Xena more reason to consider the class division dangerous.
Gabrielle focused on a blond messenger gesturing to their escorts and their responding gestures. "I saw the soldiers do that in Sensuria, what did they say?" She asked Xena quietly. "They are using more hand signals than I know. I can make out only some of what they are saying." Xena noted with some concern.
"That's Greco-Verbinian sign language." Joxer announced, surprising the bard and warrior. "He is telling the escorts to quickly bring us to the Elders. The Elders are ready for us, and they should not delay." Joxer added as they continued their brisk pace to the Counsel chambers. After one of their escorts signed back to the blond messenger, the soldiers all smiled and chuckled.
"What?!? What did he say to them?" Xena asked Joxer, feeling incredibly uncomfortable not being able to understand them.
"Oh, he just said it was probably a good idea because the old men just might fall asleep again if left alone too long."
"How did you learn sign language?" Gabrielle asked Joxer, amazed at his useful skill.
"Uh...well, I had a crush on this girl...and uh...well...I wanted to ask her out." He admitted with embarrassment.
"You learned a whole language to ask a girl out?" Xena asked incredulously.
"Well, uh...yeah." Joxer answered.
Gabrielle grinned widely. "How romantic!" Gabrielle responded enthusiastically, her opinion of him significantly improved.
"What happened?" Xena asked, actually finding this interesting.
"Uh...I never got up the nerve to ask her out. I didn't want to say something stupid." He responded with embarrassment. Joxer's honest answer greatly disappointed the bard, whose eyes rolled. Her opinion of the man plummeted once again. Xena, however, appreciated Joxer's honesty and sympathized with his trouble finding the right words.
"Maybe you'll get another chance." Xena's encouragement surprised the bard. "Yeah. Who knows." Joxer responded with a shrug.
"Xena!" Texius called to her, meeting them outside the entrance of the Counsel chambers. Xena nodded to her old friend, who smiled with relief. "Joxer, thank you for delivering the message."
"No problem." Joxer responded, smiling proudly.
"This must be Gabrielle. Your presence has caused quiet a stir Gabrielle." He grinned, causing her to cringe with embarrassment.
"Yeah, well, I'm sorry about the door...I kinda lost my temper." Gabrielle laughed sheepishly. "And that happens so rarely." Xena added dryly, drawing an unamused look from the bard.
"Oh that. It was actually a good thing you...uh...made your presence known or we wouldn't be talking now." Texius informed her. "Your work has drawn the attention and great admiration of the Elders. They would very much like to meet you Gabrielle. I believe you already know Loquus." He smiled, noticing Xena's annoyed stare at his prolonged pleasantries.
"Xena, we can catch up on old times while Gabrielle visits with the Elders." He quickly answered her unspoken question.
"Perhaps we can catch up after Gabrielle and I ...visit with the Elders." Xena responded, not wanting to leave Gabrielle alone in this heavily fortified city. "I'm sorry Xena, you have not been invited by them." Texius responded uncomfortably.
"What?!...You ask her here to help you and now you are saying she's not allowed to talk to the Elders!?" Gabrielle blurted angrily.
"Gabrielle. We have our customs. The Elders must invite you to visit them in their chambers. They did not invite her, they invited YOU." He explained. "It IS a great honor Gabrielle." He added nervously, not sure how he would explain it to the Elders if the greatly admired bard decided not to accept their invitation.
Xena and Gabrielle looked at each other, neither pleased.
On her way to the Counsel chambers, Gabrielle quizzed the Attendant escorting her. "So... why do you think they want to talk to ME?" She asked.
"You've got to be kidding." Talea responded with a laugh. Gabrielle's shrug, made Talea realize she really didn't know.
"You Gabrielle, are one of a VERY few Outsiders whose works have been enshrined in the Great Library." She enthusiastically informed the bard of her incredible status. "I've even been allowed to read FOUR of your scrolls." She responded proudly.
"Talea." Gabrielle stopped her, taken aback by the word 'enshrined'. "I've never been to Verbinia before and apparently Verbinians don't like to travel...how is it everyone knows of my stories?" She asked, trying not to be overwhelmed by the honor given her by a people she admired so much.
"Loquus personally made copies of your stories when he visited the
"Except with your guards. " Gabrielle responded with a laugh, trying to comprehend all of this attention.
"The Elders will likely formally apologize to you for that." Talea informed her, surprising the bard. "The soldiers really had no idea...Soldiers are worker class after all. They wouldn't recognize someone with a Gift as great as yours. They can't read and they can barely talk, so how could they?" She defended them.
"I thought that ALL Verbinians were gifted with verbal skills." Gabrielle stated, wondering what other perceptions she had were incorrect.
"Not all Verbinians are blessed with the Gift Gabrielle." Talea responded, seeming slightly annoyed. "Without it, they can barely communicate, so they resort to signing." She sighed. "It is a shame we don't have enough Gifts for all Verbinians, but that is neither here nor there, we just don't." She said bluntly.
"Gabrielle we really should not keep the Elder's waiting." Talea interrupted started to get a little nervous. The plethora of questions on the tip of the bard's tongue would have to wait.
"So this is what I missed?" Xena looked around, unimpressed as she and Texius walked through the streets of Verbinia. It looked like the city was a grand place to live at one time, but that time had passed, Xena observed.
"Sorry for the delays but I don't know who to trust anymore...and caution is the better part of...something. " Texius sighed.
"Valor." Xena responded.
"You are gifted Xena. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise." She shook her head, feeling insulted for some reason.
"Texius, I'm here like you asked...now talk." Xena instructed him bluntly.
"We've had two murders." Texius responded, looking around nervously.
"Keep talking." Xena eyed him.
Loquus took Gabrielle's hand, as he tried to stop laughing at the tale the Elder's practically begged her to tell. "My dear. You make us young again with your stories." He smiled at her, his comment pleasing her. The rest of the Elders continued to giggle at her adventures when, thanks to Hermes, she had to live in a man's world, perceived as a man.
"Amazing." They kept shaking their heads and laughing at the absurdity. "Don't mouth off to a God." One Elder repeated to another. Even the First Elder, Thesaurus, could not contain his chuckling. Not all the Elders, however, were so taken with this young woman.
Verbis sat brooding, not happy with the last minute change in vote when the Elders heard the bard was at their door. Unlike the rest of the Elders, he was unmoved by Gabrielle's obvious skills at story telling. He seemed to get more irritated as she continued to tell stories about the Warrior Princess...especially now that murderous Warrior Princess finally made it inside the walls of Verbinia because of THIS young woman.
"You've graciously endured the requests of a bunch of old men. But tell us my dear, which of your stories is YOUR favorite?" Thesaurus asked.
Gabrielle was amazed. Not even when telling a prize-winning story at the Academy had she been so honored. Every time she would answer an Elder's question, a hush fell over the room as they waited to hear her response.
"Well, I really don't have one favorite. Though, I would have to say my favorite stories are about Xena, if you hadn't guessed that already." She grinned.
This was the last straw for Verbis. "Enough! I will not tolerate another moment listening about that... Murderous BITCH." He exclaimed, storming out of the Counsel Chambers.
Gabrielle was shocked by the outburst and surprised to see she was not the only one. The great embarrassment felt by the Elders, and especially Loquus, was obvious from the look on their faces. "I guess this means he won't be requesting any more Xena stories." The bard responded to Loquus.
The stunned Elders looked at each other a moment and burst out laughing, relieved their honored guest was being so gracious. "My dear, you are a treasure." Loquus smiled broadly at his favorite bard.
Investigating the site of the murders, Xena entered the hallowed Ceremonial Hall. "It's just a library." Xena noted, unimpressed.
"SHHH." Texius responded to her loud voice. "Sorry." Xena apologized insincerely, continuing to look around. Though not exactly her idea of fun, Gabrielle would certainly love it here, Xena noted eyeing the thousands of scrolls as they moved through the building.
After peeking carefully around the wall into the hallway to make sure the way was clear, Texius started for the Ceremonial Alter. Xena grabbed his arm, stopping him. "Texius, the Elder's didn't agree to my help...DID they?" Xena asked bluntly.
"SHHH!" He responded with a finger to his lips. "Over here..." He whispered, waiving her towards the alter, ignoring her question.
"Wonderful." Xena sighed as she followed.
"Gabrielle, I would be honored if you join us for my Ceremony Dinner tomorrow night." Loquus invited the bard, causing another murmur among the Elders.
"Loquus..." Thesaurus called to him cautiously. "You know what happened the last time an outsider..." The First Elder reminded the Third Elder.
Gabrielle refrained from asking "what". In this case, the bard considered patience was warranted.
"Thesaurus...It's MY Ceremony damn it." Loquus interrupted.
"You know you don't have to curse...there are more than enough words you could use to more than adequately express yourself Loquus." Thesaurus lectured him, causing the Third Elder to roll his eyes and lean towards the bard.
"Thesaurus wrote this book on synonyms and antonyms and now he acts as if he's the only one who understands the language." Loquus explained while the other Elders, also tired of Thesaurus' lecturing, chuckled.
"Well if you Elders would try a little harder to be more concise you wouldn't hear so many lectures from me!" Thesaurus defended his role.
"I happen to think a well placed swear or curse word is worth a thousand pictures." Loquus noted with a wink, making the bard smile.
"You don't even know the difference between a swear and a curse do you?" Thesaurus challenged him.
"There IS no difference!" Loquus responded confidently. "Is there?" He quickly asked the bard.
"What's your book called?" Gabrielle asked Thesaurus, avoiding the question and hopefully the argument.
"I haven't come up with a name yet..." Thesaurus responded thoughtfully, scratching his chin.
"So will you join us for the Ceremony Dinner?" Loquus smiled at her, patting her hand affectionately. "Yes. Please." A few Elders spoke up though, it was obvious no one in the room objected.
"I really couldn't, unless Xena and Joxer were going to join us." Gabrielle knew that would be pushing it, but considered her chances good to get her way.
A nervous hush fell the room. "Oh Damn." Thesaurus mumbled.
"Where does this lead?" Xena asked Texius, finding a hidden passageway connecting to the Ceremonial Alter room. "To the Attendant's chambers...why?" Texius asked. Xena rolled her eyes.
"You said that the Library..." Xena started to explain.
"Ceremonial Hall" Texius corrected her, making the Warrior Princess roll her eyes.
"Ceremonial Hall...was guarded by soldiers preventing access during Ceremonies." Xena noted. "That makes this the only escape route for the murderers. Didn't your soldiers do ANY investigating, ask ANY of the Attendants if they saw something unusual?" She asked incredulously, seeing Texius shake his head no.
"Soldiers are only worker class Xena, they wouldn't know where to start...without the Gift, they wouldn't be able to converse with the Attendants, let alone ask them questions." Texius revealed. "What?" Xena asked, taken aback by this information.
"They speak very few words, how could they? They don't have the Gift." Texius relayed matter-of-factly then froze with fear as an Elder approached them.
"That's why they are no use to enemies who wish to EXTRACT information from them." Verbis interjected, joining them by the Alter. "I guess you found that out when you killed my brother during an interrogation." He added coldly.
Xena stared at the Elder, remembering how uncooperative the Verbinian soldiers were while she interrogated them. She wondered whether they were very brave or just very foolish. Now she understood they simply did not understand her.
"I must tolerate your presence in Verbinia, Warrior. But I WILL not tolerate your presence in this hallowed place. Leave... now." He struggled to remain calm, not wanting to give his brother's murderer the satisfaction of seeing him loose control.
Accepting the hateful glare as deserved, Xena took a deep breath and left the Library.
"What do we do now?" The Soldier asked his brother. "How will we get the Gift of Loquus with those Outsiders poking their noses in Verbinian business?" Darmas added, looking around for unwelcome ears.
"I have changed our plans." Liberus informed Darmas.
"What?! We can't let the Elders to continue to decide who receives the Gifts. They condemned ME to a life of servitude because of some unfounded concern...Our people should decide, not a group of OLD MEN!" Darmas responded bitterly.
"Brother, calm down. I have not given up on our plans. Only on the Gift of Loquus." Liberus relayed.
"That's the same thing! Even the Verbinians anxious to break from tradition still respect the Gift. They will only be lead by someone with the Gift. Without it, they will not listen to you, let alone follow you in a revolt." Darmas argued to his brother. The Elders had controlled the Gifts too long, Darmas considered.
"I will get a Gift Darmas. A truly great Gift." Liberus smiled.
"But it will be a while before another Elder will be ready to pass on their Gift. We agreed not to cross that line...it's too cruel, even for those old men." Darmas responded to his brother.
"I have no intention of crossing that line with our Elders Darmas." Liberus smiled at his brother.