The Gift Of Gab
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In the soldier's barracks, Joxer and Bass were engaged in an animated discussion about Joxer's adventures with Xena. As Joxer was signing that he had single handedly killed three hydras, saving both the Warrior Princess and the bard, he was interrupted by another soldier.
"Don't go away. I'll be right back." Bass signed to him. Joxer nodded and started up a discussion with the soldier who regretted interrupting them.
"Hello handsome." Talea surprised Bass, pulling him from the sight of unwanted eyes and kissing him passionately. "Hello." He spoke as he came up for air. "Should not be here." He said haltingly, then kissed her back with the same intensity.
Talea caught her breath. "I wanted to tell you we should stop the classes until the Outsiders are gone." Talea signed to him. He frowned and nodded. "Don't worry...we will continue just as soon as they leave. They are asking a lot of questions and I don't want to risk the Elders finding out about our work." She signed.
"We'll have you and your friends reading in no time!" She kissed him again. "I love you." He signed. "You just love my words." She signed back, eyeing him playfully. "Those too." He spoke to her with a grin.
"Xena?" Gabrielle called out as she entered the Warrior Princess' room. Xena stared out the window to the alley below. "Xena?" Gabrielle asked again, concern evident in her voice. "What's wrong?" The bard touched her arm.
"How did your visit with the Elder's go?" Xena asked turning towards her, ignoring the bard's question. "I'll tell you AFTER you tell me what's wrong." The bard countered. Xena sighed, looking at floor. "Is it something I did?" The bard asked, causing the warrior to look up with surprise.
"NO!...no...It's something I did." She responded, uneasily pulling the bard to her for a needed hug. Now the bard was getting really worried. "Xena...talk to me. What's wrong?" Gabrielle asked.
"Did you know the soldiers don't barely speak? They can't read either." Xena relayed, the bard still in her arms.
"That's one of many strange things I've learned today. Did you know the Elders actually restrict access to their scrolls! And did you know they don't have ANY schools here?!? They don't allow it because they think it a waste of time! No wonder the poor soldiers can't read...." The bard shook her head. Realizing she was off on another tangent, she refocused on the Warrior Princess' odd behavior. "Why are you so bothered by the soldiers?" Gabrielle asked, stepping back to look into her warrior's eyes.
As soon as Xena started to explain, there was a knock on the door. "GODS...now we can't even TALK to each other?" Gabrielle blurted with frustration, causing the depressed warrior to crack a smile.
"I'll get rid of whoever's there." Xena informed her, caressing her cheek before tending to the door.
"Oh GREAT. You said you'd take care of Joxer and HOW many days has he been traveling with us?" Gabrielle responded, with a raised eyebrow.
"Be nice." Xena responded before cracking open the door.
"Yes?" Xena asked cooly.
"Is Gabrielle here?" Liberus blurted, annoyed to have to talk to this warrior.
"Why do you want to know?" Xena asked him, confident that would further annoy him.
"Loquus has prepared a special room for his honored guest and I am to escort Gabrielle there when she is ready to retire for the evening." Liberus explained coldly.
"Oh really?" Xena responded, unimpressed.
"Is she here?" He asked again slowly, his temper close to flaring.
After eyeing him a deliberately long moment, Xena stepped back quietly as Gabrielle came to the door. His disposition immediately improved as he smiled warmly at the bard. "I really don't need a special room Liberus...I'm fine here." She explained.
"Gabrielle...it is an HONOR you can't ... I mean...I ...please??" He implored, stumbling nervously over his words, not exactly knowing how he would explain it to Loquus if the honored bard didn't accept the offer. He knew for the time being he still had to play by the archaic rules.
"Give me a minute?" Gabrielle caved in, not wanting to cause any difficulties or ill feelings with the Verbinians. Liberus nodded and smiled with relief as Gabrielle stepped back in the room. Closing the door behind her, Gabrielle eyed the Warrior Princess. Surely Xena knew that strategically speaking, this was a good move, she hoped.
"Xena I..." Gabrielle started to explain. "I should have never let you near the door." Xena shook her head as she analyzed her mistake.
"Actually this will..." Gabrielle tried to explain. "I KNOW Gabrielle...But I don't have to be happy about it." Xena blurted. "At least I'm not going to have to sleep on the floor." Xena muttered.
"Hey, that was your decision." Gabrielle responded playfully.
"No, THAT was a necessity." Xena responded bluntly. Gabrielle's grin faded as their eyes locked. Without a second thought, she leaned into the warrior for a kiss. As their lips brushed together, they heard a pounding on the door.
"Are your men ready for tomorrow night?" Liberus asked his brother. "Are you sure about this Liberus?" Darmas asked.
"Absolutely." Liberus responded confidently. "Ceremony time is the still perfect time to pull it off, besides being incredibly poetic" He laughed. "With everyone focused on the preparations, no one will question our activities." Liberus informed his brother.
"Not even Xena?" Darmas asked nervously.
"I expect her to be suspicious, but her attentions will be focused on Loquus...right where we want them." Liberus grinned, his plans were coming together beautifully.
Darmas shook his head, not as confident as his brother. "She will be dangerous Liberus. She won't let you get away with it." Darmas questioned.
"She'll be beside herself trying to figure out what happened." He explained. "When she does, those archaic Verbinian laws will actually prove useful to us, just before our little Civil War does away with them. She won't be able touch me!" He laughed, pleased his plan would not only get him the greatest Gift but the pleasure of tormenting the Warrior Princess. Darmas eyed his brother, looking forward to the day when this would be behind them.
Surprised he broke with tradition, Gabrielle eagerly took Loquus up on his invitation to inspect the Ceremonial chambers with him. Entering the chamber through the Attendant's door, Gabrielle noted how barren the room was. "So what is the purpose of this chamber?" Gabrielle asked Loquus with a yawn.
"You are not a morning person are you my dear." Loquus remarked with a grin. "Not really. But you did keep me up quiet late you know." Gabrielle gently scolded him for his contribution to her fatigue.
"I want to thank you for indulging me with your stories my dear. You have made an old man VERY happy." He smiled at her warmly, making her glad she lost those hours of sleep. Gabrielle thought she saw tears welling up in his eyes. He coughed, collecting himself and stood in the center of the chamber, next to the lone chair in the cold room.
"This is where I will collect my thoughts before I pass on the Gift." He informed her. "I will come here after the dinner and spend the entire night here...alone... contemplating the past and the bright future in store for Scholaris." He smiled, gliding his fingers gently over the chair.
"In the morning, I will go in a Grand Procession from here to the Ceremonial Hall, to the Alter room, where I will pass on the gift with the help of Talea, my Attendant." He saw confusion in the bard's face.
"You act as if you are handing over a scroll or something, I don't understand this GIFT you keep talking about." Gabrielle admitted honestly. Loquus smiled. "Outsiders usually don't." He relayed with understanding.
"I thought the gift you kept talking about was just the natural talent given by the Gods... that we each have within ourselves to develop." She noted. Loquus shook his head no.
"My dear, Verbinians rely on the talent of our Ancestors. The Gods have not blessed us with 'natural talent', as you call it, for centuries. Before an Elder or Attendant dies, they must pass on their verbal talents, The Gift, or it will be lost forever. That tragedy is felt by all Verbinians." He explained to a wide-eyed bard.
"What...what happens to you..." She spoke weakly. "...after you give your gift?"
Loquus sighed, knowing his answer would upset the bard. "My life will be over but Scholaris' will have just begun." He stated calmly, accepting of his role and short future.
"Xena!" Joxer called out as she entered the soldiers' barracks. The bustling room became still. She couldn't blame them for their fear. She had severely tortured the two Verbinian soldiers because they wouldn't answer her questions, adding to the Warrior Princess' already long list of shameful acts. Yet, this act weighed more heavily upon her than the others. Even as a ruthless warlord, she had a code which would not have allowed torture of the slow or dim witted.
Xena focused on her friend, ignoring the many eyes staring at her. "I need your help investigating two murders." Joxer looked over his shoulder, convinced she was talking to someone else. "Joxer" She blurted with impatience to get his attention. "We need to ask the soldiers what they saw the night of the murders." She added.
"Sure thing Xena! I'm your man." Joxer gushed.
Gabrielle waited outside of the Dining Room for the Warrior Princess. If someone asked her, she would have to admit, yes, she was waiting... impatiently. She had not seen Xena all day and had so much to tell her.
Seeing Xena enter the building, she rushed up to her. "What's wrong?" Xena asked. "This whole place is wrong Xena. We need to talk." The agitated bard responded cryptically.
"What is SHE doing here!" Verbis called out indignantly.
"Verbis, Xena is my guest." Loquus quickly explained. "WHAT!?!" Verbis blurted angrily.
"The Elder's voted, for some reason you weren't there..." Loquus cleared his throat. "and we have seven votes saying they are to be my guests. Of course you can still vote if you care to." Loquus smiled at him.
"This is an OUTRAGE! You are allowing this murderer to ruin your Ceremony!" Verbis blurted.
Gabrielle saw something more disturbing than Verbis' tirade. Instead of standing up straight and staring him confidently in the eye, Xena focused on the ground, quietly enduring the harsh words.
"I trust we are all getting to know one another." Thesaurus asked with unsuccessful diplomacy as he joined the vocal group. "How could you allow a vote without me?" Verbis asked, beside himself with anger.
"Hi everybody!" Joxer entered the Dining Room, interrupting Verbis' tirade.
"Dear Gods! Don't tell me you voted to let him in too?" Verbis asked in utter amazement. Thesaurus cleared his throat, giving Verbis the answer. "Is there no end to this madness?" Verbis stormed off to his seat.
"Where's the food, I'm starved." Joxer smiled.
As the group headed into the Dining Room, Gabrielle looked at the Warrior Princess with concern. "I'm fine." Xena responded unconvincingly to the bard's questioning gaze.
"What is Verbis' problem with you Xena?" She asked directly, knowing she didn't have time to beat around the bush.
"I killed his brother." She admitted cooly, yet her eyes revealed deep remorse to the bard.
"He was one of the soldiers you interrogated?" Gabrielle asked, surprising the Warrior Princess. Xena nodded silently. "You didn't know he was unable to talk Xena. I KNOW that." Gabrielle emphasized. "I also know you wouldn't have...tortured him..." Gabrielle paused uncomfortably as disturbing images entered her mind. "...had YOU known."
"I still would have killed him." Xena responded bluntly. "I know that too Xena." Gabrielle responded with equal bluntness.
"Come on you guys, the Elders are waiting!" Joxer called back, interrupting the women's intense gaze. They looked to Joxer and back to each other.
"Well, we don't want to keep Verbis waiting, now do we. I'm sure he'll want to sit next to you." Gabrielle quipped patting the warrior's shoulder, hoping to lighten the mood. She carefully eyed her partner to see if it worked.
"I knew he was just playing hard to get." Xena replied, attempting to find comfort in the banter. "Of course he'll have fight on his hands...Liberus will be here tonight too." Gabrielle added with a grin.
As required by tradition, each Elder took their turn reading the Ceremonial blessings, which Xena guessed was taking about the same amount of time it took to grow the food they were about to eat. Xena noticed the Elders never once looked at the scrolls they held. They had memorized their very, very, very long parts. If she had been even remotely interested in what they were saying, she might have been impressed.
Glancing over to Gabrielle during the blessing, Xena noticed the bard hanging on every word. At least someone was enjoying this, she sighed, thinking of all the stones left unturned in her investigation of the murders.
Muffling a yawn, Xena finally noticed some movement at the head table after the last Elder spoke, giving her hope the blessing would be over soon. The Elders looked to the ninth and empty chair. Verbis was visibly irritated with the discussion, Xena observed. She barely heard Loquus but could swear he responded to Verbis with "Its my Ceremony Dinner damn it." Thesaurus rolled his eyes and nodded to Loquus.
Loquus came over to their table with a broad smile.
"Gabrielle my dear." He looked upon her with genuine affection, Xena noted. "Loquus, that was a lovely blessing." Gabrielle responded. "I'm pleased you think so but we are not done." He noted. Xena's eyes rolled when she noticed a slumped over Joxer, fast asleep. She debated whether to wake him but considered he would have a better time sleeping.
"Our ninth Elder would have finished the blessing but, as you know, he can not." Loquus looked back at the head table sadly. "Thesaurus would have spoken the ninth Elder's part but I just came up with a better alternative." He grinned at the bard, whose eyes widened with both delight and uneasiness. "Would you mind honoring me with the reading of the ninth Elder's words?"
Gabrielle paused a moment with mixed emotions. She didn't believe in the Ceremony but knew this meant everything to the old man. "I would be honored to Loquus." Gabrielle's answer made the old man beam.
Xena scanned the room as Gabrielle walked up to the head table and opened the ninth Elder's scroll. All eyes were fixed on the bard with great anticipation, especially an extremely attentive Liberus, Xena noted, her eyes narrowing.
While the Elders didn't need to read their scrolls, Gabrielle took a moment to carefully read her's. Her face cringed with confusion as she went over the ancient text again. Xena felt bad, considering the bard was having difficulty with the ancient Verbinian dialect. Gabrielle looked up at the Elders.
Except for Verbis, who rolled his eyes with disgust, the Elders encouraged her on with warm smiles and nods. She shook her head, sighed, and plowed right in.
"Brothers and Sisters of Verbinia.... The Elder's before me spoke of the past and the glory of the word. I speak of the future and the glory of our people." Gabrielle proclaimed as if she were a Verbinian, obtaining appreciative nods from the audience and head table. Xena smiled at the regal bard, who was definitely in her element.
"The future is bright. Our youth shall inherit the Gifts of our ancestors, passed on through the generations to our fathers and those here today. Yet a bright future is NOT assured with the mere receipt of those Gifts." Her inclusion and emphasis of the word 'not' took the audience by surprise.
Incredible tension grew throughout the audience as Gabrielle continued. The Warrior Princess somehow knew Gabrielle would liven the Ceremonial Blessing up. Surely, she was reading it wrong, Thesaurus considered uncomfortably.
"The gift of experience and understanding MUST ALSO be passed on with the Gift." She eyed Loquus who was shifting uncomfortably in his chair not sure what to do. Surely, she was reading it wrong, Loquus considered.
"Without THAT gift, education of the word would be useless. For mere words are NOT enough."
"STOP THIS BLASPHEMY!" Verbis called out as he bolted out of his chair and tore the scroll from the bard's hands. In a blink of an eye, Xena was out of her chair and beside the bard.
"You speak LIES!" He opened the scroll up with great agitation and searched the text to prove the offensive words did not exist. "I have only read what was written Verbis." Gabrielle responded calmly, confident in her translation.
"...bright future IS assured." He repeated nervously, more from memory than from the text before him. He fumbled through the scroll with great agitation, realizing how much difficulty he was having with the ancient dialect.
"Is NOT!" Gabrielle argued, pointing to the word. "The ending on that word makes it a negative...just like that word for enough...its 'NOT enough' not 'ENOUGH'. Granted, it is very subtle and easily missed..." She pointed to the other word.
"You insolent little..." Verbis boiled. "I'm sure you were going to say bard." Xena responded, standing between the two as she coldly eyed the Elder.
"FRIENDS!" Thesaurus interjected. "Please this is a Celebration Dinner!" He squeezed between the Warrior Princess and Verbis.
"It ceased to be a Celebration went you let this IGNORANT BITCH in." Verbis spewed, eyeing the murderer of his brother.
"HEY!" The angry bard moved out from behind Xena and Thesaurus, to face Verbis.
"Gabrielle..." Xena called softly to the determined bard.
"How DARE you call her ignorant. It takes not only strength but INTELLIGENCE to be a good warrior. And part of that intelligence includes language skills." She poked him in the chest.
"Did you know Xena speaks four languages fluently? Not to mention a handful well enough to communicate with?" She continued with fire in her eyes. The bard's fierce defense of the Warrior Princess shocked the group and made Xena hope that one day, she would actually be worthy of such devotion.
"She killed my brother..." He replied weakly. "Yes...she did. And she regrets it and there is nothing she can do to bring him back" Gabrielle snapped. "But what she CAN do is help..."
"I think we have heard enough Gabrielle. It is time to eat." Loquus interrupted the bard. "After dinner, I will retire to the Ceremonial chamber for an evening of meditation, as is tradition." Loquus added loudly, indicating to the Verbinian gathering the Ceremony would still proceed as planned.
"You can't possibly go through with this NOW Loquus...the scrolls." She responded with disbelief.
"We can not change our ways over night because of a few minor errors..." He explained uneasily. Her mouth dropped. "MINOR ERRORS? You should look over ALL these scrolls to see what other MINOR errors were missed before you commit yourself to a death sentence!" She blurted.
"Gabrielle, the Ceremony will proceed. It is my duty." He said looking at the bard hoping she would understand. Gabrielle was speechless, unable to think of any more arguments to change his mind. Her eyes dropped to the ground, understanding but not agreeing with his duty. Unable to stay any longer, the upset bard left the Dining Room.
Turning to follow the dejected bard, Xena noticed Joxer still hunched over and sleeping in his chair. "Joxer, time to go." She startled him by placing her hand on his shoulder. "Huh...What!? Did I miss anything?" Joxer looked around seeing a bunch of anxious Verbinians. "Come on Joxer."
As they left the Dining Room, Xena stopped Joxer. "I would like you to follow Verbis. I don't trust him as far as you can throw him." She relayed. "SURE THING Xena!" He responded with loud enthusiasm, making the warrior cringe. As he started to leave, she grabbed his arm. "Discretely Joxer...discretely." She instructed him. "OH!...oh...sure thing..." He whispered to her and left happily, on another mission.
"Gabrielle?" Xena called softly, opening the door to her room. Gabrielle stood quietly staring out the window, down to the dark ally. "Find anything interesting in the ally?" Xena asked as she approached the bard and peered out the window herself. Gabrielle sighed, remaining silent. "Gabrielle, you can't make a person change his mind...not even you." Xena smiled down warmly. Gabrielle nodded.
"Well I guess I shouldn't expect to get my normal speaking fee." Gabrielle quipped, starting to wipe a tear from her eye. "Well, I found it became more interesting when you spoke." Xena informed her, intercepting the tear before the bard. "Of course, compared to those blessings, Joxer's snoring was more interesting." Xena added, making Gabrielle break into a smile and soft laugh.
"What did you find out about the murders?" She asked, making Xena sigh.
"Not much. The Attendants didn't exactly open up to an Outsider asking a bunch of questions." She relayed with frustration.
"Even with Joxer's sign language, the soldiers weren't exactly...." Xena sighed again, then continued. "Texius told me the murders didn't occur the day of the Ceremony but the evening of the Ceremony." The Warrior Princess relayed what little she knew.
"Well, with the GIFT Giver stuck meditating alone in the Ceremonial chamber all night, it would be the best time for an attack." Gabrielle considered.
"Exactly." Xena relayed with a nod.
"Liberus, NOW what?" Darmas paced the Ceremonial Hall, empty except for the two brothers. He watched Liberus happily arrange a few things on the altar.
"You worry too much Darmas. This little revelation helps our position!" Liberus responded with enthusiasm. "The archaic laws and beliefs which we want to do away with were actually a result of the MISINTERPRETATION of the ancient text by those FOOLS!" Liberus laughed, shaking his head. "Who knew that Great Gift would have come in useful so soon! To think, I would have settled for the Gift of Loquus!"
"Get your men ready, we've got a busy night ahead of us." Liberus added.
Darmas looked nervously at his brother. "With this fortunate turn of events, are you sure we even need to do this?" Darmas added, still not comfortable with the idea. "What you wanted...we wanted...was change. I think that door has been opened for us." Darmas noted. "They..."
"Those Elders are too stubborn to change Darmas." Liberus blurted angrily. "They have their position and they are comfortable. There is no reason for them to WANT to change. And as YOU have reminded me Darmas, even the Verbinians ready for change still respect the Gift." Liberus added emphatically. "And what better assurance of our people getting that change than for ME to receive the Gift of Gabrielle?"
"Loquus will need our protection this evening." Gabrielle sighed, enjoying the Warrior Princess' comfortable embrace she knew would end all too soon. "He's determined to meditate alone ALL night in the Ceremonial chamber after dinner." Gabrielle added sadly.
Suddenly, Gabrielle stepped back with a big smile. "Which means I have a whole night to try and change his mind!" She blurted with hope. "Gabrielle...you can't just..." Xena blurted, causing the bard to furrow her eyebrows. "And how do you expect to do that?" Xena asked, shrewdly rephrasing her comment, making the bard grin.
"I'm not EXACTLY sure yet, but just keep him alive until I can talk some sense into him!" She enthusiastically started for the door then stopped and turned back to the Warrior Princess. "OK?" She asked as an afterthought, squeezing the warrior's forearm. Xena shook her head.
"Do I have a choice?" Xena replied, making the bard grin. "NO." Gabrielle forcefully responded, planted a kiss firmly on the warrior's lips, grinned and left.
Gabrielle proceeded through the dimly lit Ceremonial Hall. Somewhere, there had to be some persuasive and sacred Verbinian words that would change Loquus' mind about the Ceremony or at least, postpone it. She knew somewhere in this Library there was hope. She only had to find it, she sighed. Where to begin?
Xena peered out from the rafters high above the Ceremonial chamber. From her position, she could see the entire room, the two doors and the currently empty chair at the room's center. Shifting to make herself as comfortable as possible, Xena sighed, considering it was going to be another long night.
A door creaked opened. Loquus quietly entered, followed closely by Talea. Loquus removed his Ceremonial robe and handed it to his sad Attendant. "My child, the bard's words have disturbed you haven't they?" He asked with fatherly warmth.
She paused, carefully considering her answer. "If anything Loquus, they have given me hope." She said honestly, folding his robe and handing it to him.
"What do you mean?" He asked. "You won't like what I have to say." She found strength and would tell him the truth. "Speak your mind child."
After reading ten scrolls, which were of absolutely no help to her, Gabrielle started to have doubts she would find anything to change Loquus' mind. "Gabrielle?" Liberus questioned the bard. "AH!" The startled bard jumped. "Oh ...Liberus." She exhaled with a laugh. He smiled at his fortune. He didn't have to go get her, she had come to him.
"What ARE you doing?" He questioned softly, looking over her shoulder at a scroll.
"I was hoping to find something that would convince Loquus to stop this foolish..." Gabrielle looked at the Attendant and sighed. "I'm sorry Liberus, I don't mean to insult your people." She apologized, frustration evident in her furrowed brow.
"Don't apologize Gabrielle." He said honestly. "The whole Ceremony has lost its original meaning over the years." He surprised the bard with his admission. "The Elders have gotten too lazy. They have let their precious Gifts atrophy away." He relayed sadly.
"You saw how Verbis struggled with the Ancient dialect. I wonder how many other mistakes we are living with because of a letter dropped here, a missed word there..." He shrugged.
"I was hoping to find more of those mistakes to convince Loquus he should change his mind about the Ceremony." Gabrielle revealed.
"No one ever challenges the Elders. He will not listen to your arguments. They are stubborn foolish old men." Liberus disclosed.
"If things are as bad as you say, why hasn't anybody ever tried to challenge the Elders?" She questioned. "They have great Gifts Gabrielle...that means incredible power here." Liberus explained to the curious bard.
"Respect for the Elders is a hard thing to overcome. But, that respect is crumbling as our people become tired of living with the mistakes those men make." Liberus spoke from the heart.
"Sounds like you are ready for a change." Gabrielle observed, surprising him.
"Yes, you could say that." He laughed softly, smiling at the woman who was part of that change. "I would like to show you something. Maybe it will help you with Loquus." He added quickly, amused at the ease of it all. She nodded, considering anything better than the random reading of thousands of Verbinian scrolls.
"And they have even learned how to write their names and basic words Loquus." Talea, now sitting at the man's feet, informed the Elder. "They may not have THE Gift but they do have ability. It is amazing no one considered their sign language another expression of the Gift. They only need to be TAUGHT, nurtured, like all of us Loquus." She explained emphatically.
Loquus sighed. "Talea...if I were to ask you to still be my Attendant tomorrow...would you?" He asked her, not sure she would. Apparently none of Talea's impassioned and eye-opening words sunk in, Xena sighed. Gabrielle certainly had her work cut out for her if she expected to change his stubborn mind, Xena considered. Of course, in a battle of stubbornness, she would place all her dinars on the bard, she mused.
"I will do my duty Loquus. But I will not be happy." She responded, getting up from the floor. "Is that what you want?" She challenged him.
Loquus sighed. "I am old Talea. I don't have many choices or much time. That is what I want." Getting her unwanted answer, Talea left him to prepare for the Ceremony.
Alone, curled up on the altar, the bard struggled with consciousness. Her body convulsed uncontrollably as she gasped, as much out of pain as for air. The disjointed pieces of her memory slowly emerged out of the whirlpool of confusion.
She remembered the faces of the men, pinning her on the altar, the chants, the laying on of hands to her head. She remembered fighting, every step of the way, lashing out, scratching a face, drawing blood. She remembered fighting until she was too weak to fight. That was when it was ripped away. She remembered the pain....such pain.
Once the tearing of her mind and soul was complete, she was left alone in her new darkness, a scary emptiness where only confusion dwelled. Her hands grabbed her throbbing head, just one of the remnants of the crime. Though her mind unable to construct a coherent thought, her heart told her one thing with great clarity - she needed the Warrior Princess.
Climbing down from the cold stone alter, she instinctively headed towards the door. Her trembling body, still too weak from the crime, was unable to comply. Her legs buckled under her, causing her to fall hard onto the stone floor.
The pain from the fall did not register with the bard. It was nothing compared to the ache still permeating through her wounded mind and soul. A steady stream of tears flowed down her face as she struggled to control her fear. She needed the Warrior Princess.
Crying out for the one she needed, only a pained yelp emerged, like an animal caught in a hunter's trap. A name did not come from her lips because a name could not form in her mind.
"DEAR GODS!" Talea blurted, rushing into the altar room, locating source of the yell. "Gabrielle!" She called out, kneeling by the bard. The words caused the bard to moan in pain as she held her throbbing head in her hands.
"Gabrielle..." Talea called again, trembling as she witnessed the horror that, until now, this Attendant had only witnessed in her worst Ceremony nightmares.
Verbis rushed in, hearing the commotion. "What's going on?" He called out indignantly, stopping dead in his tracks seeing Talea unsuccessfully attempting to comfort the bard. "No." Verbis uttered hollowly, not wanting to believe.
"Gabrielle?" Joxer called from behind a startled Verbis, almost bumping into him. "Gabrielle! Don't you worry Gabrielle, I'll get Xena." He called to her not understanding what he saw. He just knew everything would be OK once the Warrior Princess got there.
Verbis realized valuable time was being lost. "Stay with her." He called to Talea as he left to alert the gate guards. No one would be leaving Verbinia until the thief was caught, he promised himself angrily.
After alerting the soldiers, Verbis knew that despite tradition, the Third Elder would want to know. "Loquus!" Verbis called as he barged in the chamber, trying to catch his breath. Xena tensed, her hand sought her chakrum. "This had better be good Verbis." Loquus warned the winded Elder, who interrupted his needed meditation. "Its Gabrielle." He blurted with genuine concern.
Suddenly, the Warrior Princess descended from the rafters. Within one step, Xena grabbed Verbis by the front of his robe. "What about Gabrielle!" She snapped. "Someone..." Verbis paused, still unable to believe it himself. "Someone WHAT!" Xena barked, shaking him with an angry jolt.
"Someone stole her Gift."
Curled up on the floor in a mass of sobs, the bard pushed away those who tried to help her. She wanted no one except the one she cried out for. Her cries were finally soothed by the touch of the one she desperately needed. Strong, but gentle, arms lifted the bard into a protective embrace. A flood of sounds spilled from the warrior.
Unable to accept the possibility that someone stole Gabrielle's Gift, the Warrior Princess attempted to prove it just wasn't so. "Come on Gabrielle...say something to me..." Xena stroked the bard's face nervously, seeing confusion and fear in her eyes.
"Gabrielle, SAY something." Xena urged the bard, who's trembling shell desperately clung to the warrior as she heard sounds that meant absolutely nothing to her.
"SAY something Gabrielle....please..."
"Xena, her Gift is gone, she can't understand you." Talea relayed with tears in her eyes. Xena desperately looked around the room for someone to tell her there was some misunderstanding.
"We've got to get it back..." Xena responded hollowly, finally accepting what the bard's eyes told her. The Gift was gone.
"We don't know who did it Xena..." Verbis relayed, feeling something for the Warrior Princess he never expected to, incredible sympathy.
"What are you standing around waiting for?!? FIND THEM!" Xena barked angrily. "NOW!"
Verbis nodded at the warrior and left.
Hearing a moan from the confused woman in her arms, her rage was temporarily pushed aside. "Don't worry Gabrielle...you need rest. Everything will be fine" Xena rambled, lifting the bard from the floor. "Don't worry...everything will be fine." The warrior repeated with a distant look in her eyes. "Everything will be fine." The warrior softly repeated to herself as they headed back to her room.
Knocking the cup of tea out of the warrior's hand, Gabrielle moaned while trying to get out of bed. Gabrielle found strength to fight sleep and the warrior who tried to bring it to her, Texius observed with utter amazement.
"Gabrielle. Gabrielle! No...NO Gabrielle." Xena called out nervously, holding her down. Each word spoken just made the woman of no words more upset, Xena quickly realized.
Xena firmly grabbed Gabrielle's chin and made the woman of no words look at her. After a moment of resistance, the woman of no words finally focused on the silent warrior's eyes and calmed down. Xena released her hold on Gabrielle's chin when the Amazon gently pulled the warrior's hand away.
Gabrielle focused intently on the warrior as she showed her five fingers. Xena stared with confusion at her open palm. Gabrielle sighed and closed her eyes, then tried again. She displayed her fingers this time, one at a time before stressing five. "Five men attacked you?" Xena asked, receiving a confused look from the woman of no words. "Oh Gabrielle...." Xena whispered, aching for the bard's loss.
Xena breathed in deeply as she lifted up five fingers and nodded. Gabrielle nodded back with a relieved sigh, the warrior understood.
"Joxer" Xena called softly and received another cup of tea. The bard shook her head no, holding her hands up in protest. Xena's annoyed stare made Gabrielle shake her head no again. Xena forcefully held out the cup insisting Gabrielle take it. Gabrielle sighed and firmly grabbed the warrior's chin and stared deeply into her eyes. Xena realized the stubborn bard wasn't finished telling her wordless story.
Gabrielle raised her hand up and clawed at Xena's face, falling short of actually striking her. Xena looked at her with surprise than an inkling of understanding. Gabrielle nodded, tracing her fingers on Xena's face where she had left her mark on the attacker. Gabrielle suddenly withdrew her hand and clenched her head with a groan. Xena's heart dropped as she watched the one she loved recoil in pain.
Breathing deeply and slowly, Gabrielle lifted up her head from her hands revealing fresh tears. Xena slowly and gently placed the cup of tea to the bard's lips. The bard finally accepted the sedative.
With Gabrielle finally asleep, Xena reluctantly left her bedside. "I will find the bastards who did this." Xena spoke cooly to Texius and Joxer. The vacancy in her eyes disturbed them.
"No one can leave Verbinia without us knowing Xena. We will find them." Texius tried to comfort her.
"If someone could take her gift...she get it back, right?" Xena asked, attempting to construct a plan. Texius shook his head no. "I've never heard of a Gift being returned Xena." Texius responded sadly, his words powerful blows to the warrior, whose gaze fell to the ground as she struggled with feelings of helplessness and fear.
"Just because you haven't heard of such a thing doesn't mean it can't be done...does it?" Joxer interjected, drawing a quick look from Xena, which made him uneasy. He had a habit of being annoying when he tried to help and he sincerely hoped that was not the case now.
"DOES IT?" She snapped back to the Verbinian. Texius scratched his head. "I ... I don't know..." Xena's hope resurfaced. "Well FIND OUT!" Xena barked. "All right Xena." He nodded and left.
With explicit instructions from the Warrior Princess, Joxer went back to the soldier's barracks that evening. Upon his arrival, he was immediately questioned by the soldiers about Gabrielle's condition. "She's strong but..." Joxer signed to them. "We have been told no one survives after losing the Gift." Joxer added sadly, carefully eyeing the soldiers for a man with a scratched face.
Liberus woke from a sound sleep, refreshed and ready for the glorious future. He stretched as he yawned, eyeing the room and the other Attendants. Soon he would not have to live in such cramped surroundings, he mused. Soon his brother would gather the Verbinians ready for change and they would finally break the chains of the Elders' rule. Soon he would lead his people. He looked out the window at the glorious weather, nice day for a take over, he laughed to himself.
Drawing his attention away from the window, he heard the name Gabrielle. "What are you all talking about?" He asked nonchalantly, joining the other Attendants.
"Liberus, I'm surprised you were able to sleep with all the commotion last night." An Attendant noted. "Commotion?" He asked innocently.
"The Gift of Gabrielle was stolen last night..." Talea spoke numbly, worn out from a sleepless night.
"Gods NO!" Liberus feigned concern. "How is she?" He asked, expecting a sad answer.
"It's too soon to tell." Talea noted, tears welling up in her eyes again.
"WHAT!?!...uh...She's still alive?" He asked, surprised by the news.
"Yes, but I think it is wishful thinking to believe she'll recover." Talea sighed, wiping the tears she thought she had under control.
"Oh...Yet, she IS strong" He said distractedly, patting Talea on the back. "What are you doing here? Aren't you supposed to be preparing for a Ceremony?" He asked, still pondering the disturbing news about the bard.
"Loquus has postponed it...thank the Gods." Talea relayed.
Gabrielle woke, cringing at the blinding beam of light peaking through the curtains. Xena quickly closed the curtains, stopping the offensive beam. "Is that better?" She asked, turning to the bard, hoping for a response. Yet, the bard remained quiet.
Gabrielle watched the Warrior Princess approach and sit down on the bed. Soft sounds came from her lips as she took the bard's hand in hers. Gabrielle's eyebrows furrowed as she listened, as if she believed she could understand if she just concentrated more. The effort encouraged the Warrior Princess, who spoke slower and more deliberately.
"Gabrielle...can you say your name?" Xena asked. "Gab...brie...elle." Xena broke the name down. "Gab...brie....elle," she repeated, slowly.
"Uhh," the bard responded.
"No...Ga..Ga..." Xena corrected her.
"Uhh," the bard repeated.
"NO!..GA..GA..." Xena snapped with frustration, causing the bard to cringe at the harsh sound. "Oh Gods Gabrielle.... I'm sorry." Xena immediately blurted, her heart dropped realizing what she had just done. "I'm so sorry...."
With the desire to erase that look of panic in the warrior's eyes, the bard reached up and caressed the warrior's cheek.
Verbis and Texius searched the scrolls in the Ceremonial Hall. "Any luck?" Verbis asked. "No. I have not ready ANYTHING that would help us." Texius blurted with frustration, rubbing his sore neck.
"Help you with what?" Liberus asked the two tired men.
"Liberus, another set of eyes...come and start reading!" Texius ordered, handing him a scroll.
"I am honored but...what am I looking for?" He asked.
"A way to return the Gift." Verbis relayed.
"Wha..Why would we want to do that?" He asked, growing nervous.
"Xena says she will find the thief who stole the Gift of Gabrielle. When she does, I don't want to be the one to tell her we can't give it back." Texius' hope the situation could be reversed unnerved Liberus.
"But our laws... they don't allow such things. Returning a Gift is unheard of." Liberus argued nervously. Verbis shook his head no.
"Technically our laws don't cover Gifts of Outsiders. We are treading new ground here. I suspect anything is possible." Verbis interjected, holding out a scroll and eyed the Attendant. "Well?"
Taking the scroll, Liberus felt ill. "A Gift wouldn't be returned to someone who's not healthy right?" Liberus asked weakly. "All this depends on Gabrielle's recovery doesn't it? How is she?" Liberus asked.
"She's alive, I don't know how...but she's alive." Verbis shook his head as he reached for another scroll.
"I'm sorry Xena. I haven't seen anybody with a scratch on his face. They are probably laying low." Joxer relayed sadly.
"Just keep looking." She said gazing upon Gabrielle, who was asleep. "He will show up. When he does..." Xena's voice trailed off.
For hours the Verbinians searched through the thousands of scrolls for some instructions on how to return the Gift. "HEY!" Texius blurted with excitement, causing everyone, except Liberus, to look up with hope. "Oh..." Texius sighed and shook his head. Another false alarm.
"You keep DOING that...STOP IT!" Verbis blurted at the Lead Attendant.
"Sorry." Texius winced at the Elder's admonition.
"Let's take a break for dinner and start fresh afterwards." Talea suggested to the group.
"We shouldn't...." Verbis started to decline.
"You need a break, as we all do. And don't argue with me Verbis! You know I'm right!" She scolded him. Texius and Liberus looked at her with shock.
"I'm sorry Verbis an Attendant should never..." Texius started to apologize for the rude behavior.
"Don't be sorry...she's right." Verbis got up and stretched. "It's about time someone wasn't afraid to speak their mind..." He added. Liberus could not believe his ears, the change was happening before his eyes...and without him.
When Xena answered the knock at the door, she was surprised to find Verbis. "Did you find anything?" She asked cautiously, not to get her hopes up.
"No, but we are still looking." He relayed, genuinely hopeful. "Here's some food for her...there's enough for both of you." He handed her a tray. He watched her silently stare at the food.
"Don't worry, it's not poisoned Warrior Princess." He added.
"I..." She looked up, speechless at the unexpected kindness.
"Just make sure she gets some." He added and turned to leave.
"Verbis." Xena called to him.
"I hope she likes nutbread." Verbis responded with a grin, making the warrior nod.
Gabrielle stretched as she woke to the voices. Closing the door behind her, Xena came over to the bed with a tray of food, confident the bard must be hungry after a day of only tea. Xena sat on the bed and with a slight smile, uncovered the plate to reveal healthy portions of nutbread. Gabrielle closed her eyes and exhaled as she shook her head no.
"We've got to act and we've go to act now!" Liberus blurted nervously to his brother, who was packing his bags. "You can't be serious." Darmas responded, still feeling the ache in his face.
"What do you mean? You have the Gift of Literas and I have the Gift of Gabrielle...we are all set! We just need to gather..." He responded with confusion.
"Gather whom? Who will follow YOU?" Darmas shook his head at his gullible brother.
"The Verbinians ready for change! The soldiers...the Attendants," Liberus responded with confusion.
"You are so naive." Darmas shook his head with amazement. "Do you actually think anyone will follow a murderer and a thief, a thief of the Gift of an OUTSIDER?" Darmas shook his head as he tied together his sparse belongings.
"But...we have the Gifts! You said..." Liberus was in shock at this betrayal.
"I said what I NEEDED to, to get myself a Gift brother. That is all I wanted from you and these Gods' forsaken people. Now I can leave this Tartarus Hole and have a chance to live like a normal person." Darmas spoke the blunt truth.
"What are you saying? Why didn't you leave then, after you got the Gift?" Liberus asked, his rage building.
"I was SO tempted, but I OWED you and the idea of taking another Gift from an Elder was...incredibly appealing." Darmas looked at his brother and shook his head. "But you just had to take that poor girl's Gift. That is something I will always regret...but I don't OWE you anymore brother...good bye." He lifted his pack over his shoulder.
Xena sat quietly on the edge of Gabrielle's bed looking at the bard stir, waiting for the next round of nightmares to wake her. Throughout the night she would jolt awake with violent gasps, remembering the attack, Xena guessed. Each time the Warrior Princess would cradle her and rock her back to sleep, wishing she could take away the pain and fear.
As Xena had come to expect from this weary cycle, the bard once again jolted awake with an unnerving gasp. Though Xena knew to expect the look of terror in the bard's eyes, it didn't make it any easier to witness. Xena took the bard in her arms once again. "Shhhhh." Xena responded to sooth the bard as she gently stroked her red head and kissed her forehead. Tears welled up in the bard's eyes as she clung to the Warrior Princess, seeking strength and finding sleep.
Joxer barged in the room. "Xena! Oh...sorry...we found the guy with the scratch on his face!" He said out of breath. The bard woke to the noise and felt Xena tense up in her arms.
"When I get my hands on him..." She said cooly. "He's dead Xena." Joxer informed her, making her stomach drop. There were still four others, she reminded herself....four others.
Xena gently removed the bard's arms from her waist and looked in Gabrielle's eyes. Xena pointed to herself and then the door. Gabrielle nodded and started to get out of bed.
"No" Xena spoke softly, gently pushing her back down. Xena pointed to herself then the door, then pointed to Gabrielle then the bed.
Gabrielle looked at her with a furrowed brow, shook her head no then pointed to herself, to Xena, then the door.
"NO" Xena responded firmly, shaking her head no as she pointed to Gabrielle then the bed. Gabrielle firmly shook her head no. Xena's eyes rolled, not believing the bard was successfully arguing without words.
Not about to loose this argument, Xena sighed and sat on the bed, staring at the bard...patiently. Gabrielle's eyes rolled as she shook her head. With a thin smile, the Amazon pointed to Xena and the bed, then herself and the door and started to get out of bed again.
"NO," Xena repeated firmly, pulling the bard back. Gabrielle let out a perturbed grunt. Noticed the ever present Joxer watching the argument, another option crossed Gabrielle's mind. Gabrielle returned her gaze to Xena and lifted her hands up in what looked like surrender to the hopeful warrior.
She pointed to herself then the bed. "Finally," Xena blurted with relief.
Gabrielle pointed to Joxer then the door. Xena eyed her curiously as she cautiously nodded yes. Gabrielle then pointed to Xena, raised an eyebrow and pointed to the bed. Joxer's eyes widened.
Staring at the knife sticking out of Darmas' back, Bass guarded over the body of Darmas. When she entered the storeroom, Xena's heart sunk seeing the lifeless form There were still four others, she reminded herself....four others.
"Did any of the soldiers see ANYTHING?" Xena blurted with annoyance.
"No Xena. Bass found the body this morning," Joxer informed her. Bass signed something to him. Xena looked sharply at them.
"WHAT did he say?" She snapped with frustration.
"Liberus hasn't been told of his brother's death yet." He relayed.
"Darmas is Liberus' brother," Joxer informed her.
All of the Warrior Princess' senses screamed out to her. They told her he was the one with Gabrielle's Gift. "I'll do it," She responded coldly, slowly standing up. "But I suspect he already knows."
Her eyes scanned every inch of the Attendant's chambers as she walked in. "Xena!?!" Talea called to the warrior. "What are you ...What's wrong?" She asked, seeing a hardened look on the warrior's face.
"Where is Liberus?" Xena hissed, her cold stare making Talea uncomfortable.
"I don't know... he hasn't been here all night. Why are you looking for him?" Talea asked.
Liberus shook with fear as he hid in the alley, his world crumbling around him. Darmas ruined everything, he thought, staring at his bloody hands. "Oh Darmas, why," he asked silently. His eyes focused on the gates, the barriers to the outside....his freedom and a fresh start. Patience, he told himself, patience.
"Where is his bunk?" Xena asked bluntly, ignoring Talea's questions.
"Right there," Talea immediately responded, knowing better than to impede this warrior.
"Xena why are you looking for Liberus?" She asked again, fearing the answer. Xena knelt down to inspect the box of belongings under his bed. "Xena??" Talea asked again.
"He did it." Xena spoke matter-of-factly.
A claxon sounded, bringing a slight smile to the Warrior Princess' lips. "Gods. What's going on?" Talea blurted.
"He's running," Xena stood up slowly "as he should be."
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Index