In a Man's World
Part 1| Part 2 | Part 3 | Index
After the crowds in the tavern started to thin out, Esther's father gently tapped Xena's arm as he got up.
"We should leave." Xena had been very quiet as she stared at Gabriel.
"You go on. I'll stay here awhile," Xena responded weakly, waiving him off, intending to get Gabrielle alone to talk.
"Xena. As you have reminded me a few times now, we are in Sunmoon territory. You shouldn't stay here alone, even if you can take on everyone here." He laughed. "Come on. Gabriel will fill us in later. He should be safe enough. They all seem quite taken with him. Just like a few women I know." Esther's father couldn't help but poke fun at his daughter.
Esther looked at him and decided she would not be talking to her father for the next week. She also wondered if he remember how to cook dinner for himself. Xena reluctantly got up and followed Esther's father out the tavern. When she kept looking back at Gabrielle, Esther's father wondered what was bothering her.
"Are you OK?" He asked. Xena nodded yes.
"Gabe! What a story!" Leo raved.
"Thanks." Gabrielle responded. While Portus was off talking to Boean, Leo took the opportunity to confide in someone he trusted.
"I get worried sometimes that our core beliefs will be lost while we try to survive, yet when you told that story..." Leo almost shed a tear. "I have hope we will not be lost. Perhaps a bard will lead us back to the path we were intended to be on." Leo sipped his third mug of wine. Gabrielle was taken aback by this admission.
"Brother Leo, and I do mean brother..." Boean laughed at his own joke. "Introduce me to your new friend and our new brother."
Gabrielle remembered this man from her previous encounter with the three on the wagon. She wondered with a grin if the bruise she gave him to his stomach with her staff was gone yet. Boean had an easy and confident air about him. After exchanging a few pleasantries, Boean excused himself.
"I hope you find the Peace and Harmony you seek brother Gabe." Gabrielle nodded.
"Peace and Harmony to you ...Boean," she responded. Leo saw Gabrielle's eyes follow his brother.
"You don't trust him," Leo said bluntly surprising Gabrielle.
"Ah, Leo. I don't really know him," she awkwardly responded.
"It's OK Gabe. I don't trust him either. I know that is a sin. But by the Gods, he is up to no good. I just haven't been able to prove anything. He has our grandfather wrapped around his little finger." Leo sipped his wine.
"Leo, you should mind your words in public. Perhaps we could find someplace more private to talk," Gabrielle offered. Leo nodded, feeling foolish and a little drunk.
Gabrielle returned Leo to his room in the Sunmoon brethren barracks behind the Great Hall. She had to occasionally shush him along the way when he got too loud with his accusations.
"Leo. You have to be more careful." She scolded him and helped in his bed. Attempting to lean on his side to talk to his new ally, he rolled off his bed onto the floor with a thud. Gabrielle heard a muffled "ouch" from the still body.
"LEO!" Gabrielle lifted him up off the floor and back onto the bed. She wedged a pillow against his side figuring it ought to prevent a repeat of that fall.
"My best friends were killed by Boean's men." He blurted. "Grandfather accepted his word on that. He saw two stupid arrows and concluded the Amazons killed them. Why would THEY do that?" He blurted waiving his arms up in the air trying to emphasize his question. Gabrielle wasn't sure of which question he was asking.
"The Amazons wouldn't Leo. You have my word on that." The comment caused him look at her oddly. He shook it off.
"I know YOU think that, I know I think that, but unfortunately, Sunal believes Boean. And if Sunal is behind Boean, ALL Sunmoon are behind Boean."
Behind the Tavern, Portus and Boean discuss their plans.
"Leo knows something is going on," Portus relayed to Boean who nodded.
"Leo is too weak to do anything. But that Gabriel, he did seem a bit preachy with that story. The bard might actually be more trouble. I wonder if Gabriel is willing to fight for those beliefs...just keep an eye on him," Boean added. Portus nodded and listened to the rest of Boean' instructions.
"Look, we need to get the scouting party on Amazon territory soon. The army will be here shortly and I don't want them hovering around this town too long. I don't want the Amazons to get wind of our plans too soon. They are still formidable opponents, even when out numbered 30 to 1. I don't want to thin out the army too much after all the effort to establish them. What's wrong now ?" Boean sighed at Portus concerned look.
"Our scouts, Boean. Do they all have to die? Most of them don't know it will be their last mission." Boean put his hand on his spy's shoulder.
"Portus. The way to convince the army to fight is to give them a reason. Brother Lerus will willingly sacrifice himself and his platoon for the cause. Their death by Amazon arrows will provide that reason. Once the army sees the bodies, we will have a true holy war which will unite our brethren in strength. We will no longer need to fear for our survival. Remember, united in strength. We will honor those who have strengthened us with their blood. I promise you that Portus." Boean patted his spy on the back.
"United in strength." Portus repeated to convince himself he was doing the right thing.
After the two men left, the barmaid Rachel started breathing again. She had taken the garbage out back and found herself listening in on a conversation. At first she had no idea the seriousness of their plans but quickly figured it out. She thought her Gabriel would be interested in what she had just heard. She also wouldn't mind too much if he also happened to be very grateful.
"The pacifiisssttss need to learn how to fight Gabe. There is no other way. I need to stop Boean and the only way is to beat him up....senseless. You know how to fight don't you? Bards have to deal with hecklers all the time don't they?" Leo spoke, still feeling the effects from the wine.
"Leo, trust me when I tell you, doing battle with hecklers is a just a wee bit different than doing battle with an army. There has to be another way. We'll find it," Gabrielle spoke to her drunk friend who frowned. "Leo, we'll find another way. Now sleep this off. We'll need to talk later."
Gabrielle pulled the covers up on Leo already thinking of a plan.
"Your a good man Gabriel." Leo spoke before he passed out.
Gabrielle looked back at him from the doorway. The words hit her hard. Her time was indeed out. There was no way now to get to Athens and protect the Amazons.
"So are you Leo."
As Gabrielle left the grounds of the Great Hall and proceeded back to the Inn, she was yanked into a dark alley.
"Hey!" She couldn't see the mugger but recognized her attributes.
"Honey, there are really strange things going on in this town," Rachel relayed.
"You're telling me," Gabrielle sighed then listened to her spy.
Rachel relayed Boean' plans to an amazed Gabrielle.
"Oh Gods." Gabrielle uttered, seeing the whole situation crashing down quickly. Rachel saw the worry on Gabriel's face and put her arm around his shoulders to comfort him.
"Is there anything you need? Anything I can do," she asked.
"I need a better plan." Gabrielle uttered quietly, trying to think as all the information collided in her head.
"I know its hard to think when you're tense. I know a way to help you release that tension." Rachel pulled Gabriel closer. Gabrielle was going to say no thank you, but then she had a plan. Looking into Rachel's eyes Gabrielle responded.
"Actually I do need your help."
The words made Rachel smile until she found out what Gabrielle wanted. What the bard asked was not what she had in mind. However, Rachel agreed to the request. Gabriel had been a true friend and she didn't mind getting away from Corerik for a while.
Gabrielle climbed the stairs quietly to her room. Gods, what a mess, she thought recounting all that she learned this evening. A short moment after entering her room, there was a rapping on Gabrielle's door which disrupted her mild panic attack. Gabrielle went down the list of possible visitors.
It could be Esther, who was fond of Gabrielle's Gabriel, in a not-as-a-friend sort of way, and found another excuse to drop in on Gabriel in his bedroom.
It could be Leo, formerly known as a pacifist, who's beliefs were being shattered and was interested in beating up his brother after, of course, being trained in the fine art of handling hecklers.
It could also be Rachel, who was not shy and was perhaps there to persuade Gabriel that a verbal thank you for helping him was not enough.
Or, it was Xena who had been suspicious of her "Cousin" story since she heard it.
"Oh Gods, if everyone would just..." Gabrielle stopped herself from finishing the thought, considering Hermes' possible actions. Gabrielle smiled weakly when she remembered Melosa told her. "Be careful of what you wish for."
Of course, Gabrielle, nor Melosa, had any idea THIS could happen. Certainly Terrais never did when she passed on her Right of Caste to her. She wondered how Melosa would react.
The rapping was louder the second time.
"Come in." Gabrielle called out, resigned to the fact the person knocking actually wanted to come in. The door opened. Gabrielle didn't turn to see who it was, still staring out the window.
"Yes?" Gabrielle exhaled softly, continuing to look out the window with the hope of discouraging the person from visiting. She didn't know if she could handle company right now.
Besides the initial sound of the door opening, the absence of sound and the quiet presence was unmistakable to Gabrielle, it had to be Xena.
"You shouldn't keep your back to the door. Especially with your talent at aggravating the men with the swords. You would have been an easy target," Xena spoke sternly. Gabrielle didn't turn to meet her gaze. Instead she continued to look out over the garden.
"If I had to worry about being attacked by everyone I aggravated, I would be paranoid all the time..." She responded, bringing for the first time in many days a relaxed smile to Xena's face. With a softer tone, Xena reasserted the need for caution.
"You really should watch out for Boean and his armed men...He likely sees you and Leo as obstacles. Especially after your story," Xena relayed.
Gabrielle finally turned to face her friend.
"Yes, you are right. I won't be so careless in the future...is there something ELSE you wanted besides my increased attention to my surroundings?" Gabrielle snapped back unintentionally but quickly apologized. "I'm sorry. I've had a bad couple of days and it's catching up to me..."
Xena's eyes searched floor as if she would find the appropriate words laying there. Gabrielle waited curiously for Xena speak. When Xena's eyes lifted to meet hers, it was obvious to Gabrielle Xena knew who she was. Aesop's fable about the Sun and Wind did her in, she concluded with a heavy sigh. Only if she could tell Xena everything.
Xena knew there was a God's hand in this and a reason for Gabrielle's silence.
"Your story today...it was... almost...as good as Gabrielle's" Xena spoke cautiously. Gabrielle looked oddly at her friend wondering why she was comparing stories. Then it struck Gabrielle like a ton of stones. Xena had just opened a door she could walk through. Xena knew she had reached her friend from the light in the bards eyes and wide grin.
"I would say the story was exactly the same." Gabrielle looked down at herself then back at Xena. "But I guess you don't see it that way," she quickly added. Gabrielle paced a moment thinking then stopped.
"Unfortunately, I am forbidden by the strict rules of ah...barddom... to discuss differences in stories. A bard can't even discuss the details of the original stories being written."
Xena's questioning look prompted Gabrielle to continue.
"Although, once an original story is finished, I...a good bard following those rules can discuss it. So please, no questions about the stories, I can't answer them...now." Xena, not thrilled with the conditions, nodded in agreement. She trusted her friend would tell her when she could.
So many questions and too few answers. At least she found Gabrielle, Xena thought thankfully. She stared at the form of young man standing before her and sighed. Then surprising Gabrielle, a slight smile crossed Xena's face.
"I thought I asked you not to get into trouble." Xena revealed the reason for her grin. Gabrielle laughed softly then answered.
"You didn't ask, you ORDERED me. You know I don't do orders," Gabrielle responded sarcastically, yet her heart soared knowing she did not have to go through this alone. Xena circled Gabrielle, looking her over.
"Don't you think you went a little overboard to prove that point?" She asked, gently lifting Gabrielle's "manly" arm by the wrist and inspected it curiously.
"Hey!" Gabrielle yanked her arm from Xena's grip. "Would you mind. I'm not merchandise you know."
Xena playfully ran her finger down Gabrielle's stomach, causing Gabrielle to slap Xena's hand.
"Stop that" Gabrielle protested with growing irritation at Xena's discomforting attention.
"You said no questions, but you never said I couldn't get answers on my own," Xena responded with a raised eyebrow and once again ran her fingers down Gabrielle's stomach. Gabrielle pushed her hand away and backed up a step.
"Trust me, you would be sorely disappointed," Gabrielle blurted, feeling more uneasy than she ever had with Xena.
Xena stepped closer with a bigger grin.
"I'll be the judge of that..." Gabrielle backed up a few more steps, stumbling into a chair. Closing her eyes and taking a deep breath, Gabrielle tried to calm her nerves. The look in Gabrielle's face and her trembling made Xena immediately stop as guilt and sorrow flooded her heart.
"Oh Gab..." Xena's emotional apology was abruptly stopped out of fear of doing something else wrong. Xena didn't know if she could even mention Gabrielle's name.
The noise of Gabrielle stumbling got the attention of Esther, who rushed in the room.
"Gabriel? Are you..." She saw Xena then looked over at Gabrielle. Xena could see Esther's embarrassment thinking she had interrupted something. "I heard a noise. I thought...I'm sorry." She looked away upset. "Good night," she blurted and left the room before Gabrielle could say anything. Xena had noticed Esther's interest in "Gabriel" previously and wondered why "Gabriel" maintained his polite distance from this very attractive woman. Xena had learned the answer this evening.
Xena looked at her friend, now slumped in that chair with her head in her hands. "I can't win," Gabrielle mumbled.
"I had no idea how...complicated...things have gotten." Xena's heart ached knowing she had added to her friend's stress. She resisted her urge to step forward and embrace her friend. The last thing Xena wanted was to further upset Gabrielle.
"Complicated... That's one way of putting it," Gabrielle responded.
"I was thoughtless. I'm so sorry...Gah ...Gabriel." Xena found it hard to say that name. Gabrielle looked up, finding comfort in those blue eyes.
"I know." Gabrielle said softly, having already forgiven her friend.
"Well," Gabrielle got up, shaking off the stressful events of the evening. "I'll have to put off wallowing in self-pity for now." Gabrielle paced the room. "But one day, I will wallow ...and I will wallow in a grand way." Gabrielle turned and grinned at her friend, making them both feel a little better. Xena wondered with admiration and amazement where Gabrielle got her seemingly limitless strength.
"No doubt a very grand way," Xena responded.
Gabrielle relayed some news to her friend.
"We've got a bigger problem with the Sunmoon. Rachel overheard..." Xena's eyebrow raised. "Don't start..." Gabrielle eyed her.
"I didn't say anything." Xena shrugged.
Gabrielle relayed Boean's insidious plan.
"He doesn't sound like a man who can be reasoned with." Xena sighed, concluding that the solution would be bloody and in Amazon territory. She didn't see any other "better way" with a man like Boean. At least war was something she understood and had a good chance of stopping these Sunmoon with. Her mind easily shifted into the familiar war mode. She knew they needed to gather more information on size and strength of the Sunmoon army.
"We can probably reach the army by morning," Xena noted. "Once we get the information on their strength, we will go warn Melosa and help her prepare." Gabrielle did not like Xena's idea.
"Xena, I think we can still avoid a war." Xena looked at her friend wondering how she could possibly think that considering all that was going on.
"How confident are you? There are many lives at stake." Xena challenged her.
"I may not be as experienced in War as you Xena" Gabrielle responded, obviously annoyed with her friends last comment. "but I think I know enough to know we don't want it. We shouldn't rule out a peaceful solution just yet." Xena looked at her friend, full of conviction.
"You don't happen to have a plan do you?" Xena asked. Gabrielle smiled. "Why did I ask?" Xena muttered.
Xena, feeling comfort in her leathers and armor but little else, crept quietly into the barn with Gabrielle. Argo whinnied a quiet hello having missed riding for a many days.
"Hello girl." Xena warmly greeted Argo with a scratch on the neck. Turning back to her friend, Xena was not finished arguing about the plan.
"You don't know Sunal, or how he will react to your news about Boean." Xena grew more agitated the more she thought about Gabrielle's plans.
"Xena, there are still a large faction of those Sunmoon who don't want to fight. They are only following because of lies or fear. You saw them in the tavern. There was a definite division. Maybe we can use that to our advantage. Leo and I might be able to sway them back to practicing their pacifist beliefs." Only one of them was confident with the plan.
"Mights...Maybes? Do you know how weak that plan is?" Xena struggled to keep her voice quiet. Gabrielle sighed.
"I'm not changing my mind." Gabrielle said simply.
"If WE go now, we can eliminate their element of surprise. Perhaps we can also stop Brother Lerus from killing his own men and avoid this conflict altogether." Xena attempted to convince her friend. Gabrielle reflected on that thought a moment.
"If the scouting party is stopped, that WOULD help avoid a conflict with the army," Gabrielle noted. Xena smiled believing she had just won a rare victory, persuading her friend to listen to her. It was even sweeter in that she also came up with a possible alternative to an all out war.
"OK then, lets go." Xena started towards Argo with enthusiasm.
"No." Gabrielle said simply.
"No? You just agreed we would go." Xena was clearly annoyed.
"I didn't agree WE would go, you did. I just agree that stopping the scouting party is a good idea," Gabrielle responded. Xena saw her victory slipping away and was not pleased.
"Xena, you wouldn't have us risk lives with my Mights and Maybes, yet you would have us risk lives with your Perhapses? Seems to me, neither of us have full-proof plans. Our chances for success will be better if we don't place all our eggs in one basket." Gabrielle made a good point. Too good a point. Xena knew she was right but her heart still disagreed with Gabrielle's plan.
"I don't want to leave you again," She uttered honestly, feeling some guilt for having gone to see her contact, Burell, alone. Smiling, Gabrielle squeezed her friend's arm.
"What ELSE do you think could ... never mind, don't answer that," Gabrielle responded with a gentle laugh. Focusing on the current Sunmoon situation helped Gabrielle avoid an emotional collapse. There was just no time for it. "What happened to me was my fault Xena, as it usually is. And Xena, you can't protect me ALL the time," Gabrielle asserted to her friend.
"Gabr...ugh." Xena grunted with great annoyance. She still had trouble using the name Gabriel. She couldn't ask any questions and she just lost another argument with her stubborn friend. Xena sighed and placed her hand on her friend's shoulder. Looking into Gabrielle's eyes, Xena was going to say something but was interrupted.
"I know, I know....don't get into trouble." Gabrielle looked at her, surprised when Xena shook her head no.
"I've tried to tell you that before, but you've proven that doesn't work," Xena responded glibly.
"Don't do anything stupid?" Gabrielle blurted a second obvious caution. Once again, Xena shook her head no again.
"No, but that is never bad advice." Gabrielle, out of obvious cautions, grinned and tried again.
"Don't take any wooden dinars?".
That comment finally prompted Xena to cover her friend's mouth out of frustration. Gabrielle kept interrupting and wasn't being serious enough.
"I want..." Xena started but sighed realizing she couldn't hold a serious conversation with her friend while her hand covering his...her mouth. "Will you be quiet for a minute?" She asked, uncovering Gabrielle's mouth and placing her hand on Gabrielle's shoulder. Gabrielle quietly nodded yes, giving Xena a moment to look thoughtfully in her friend's eyes. The change of mood made Gabrielle uncomfortable.
No one could hide the friend she knew, Xena reflected with a slight smile. Neither Gabrielle's words nor deeds could be cloaked by this masculine facade. Although, it took a while for her mind to accept this absurdity, her heart knew almost immediately. The facial expressions, mannerisms, Gabrielle's personality...all here, wrapped up in this masculine package.
"Whatever happens, I want you to come back to me." Xena spoke with great feeling and was referring to more than the problem with the Sunmoon.
"That IS the plan." Gabrielle responded honestly, though she knew that might not be possible.
With an intimacy that surprised Gabrielle, Xena slowly traced the side of Gabrielle's cheek with her fingers. Xena hoped her touch would disturb this masculine vision, as easily as causing ripples on the glassy surface of a pond, and momentarily restore the familiar face she longed to see.
This had to be a result of Hermes' spell, Gabrielle thought with growing irritation. First Esther, then Rachel, now Xena, Gabrielle sighed. "There is no way I am going to let Xena be another victim of Hermes' spell" Gabrielle silently promised. Reaching up and gently squeezing her hand, Gabrielle interrupted the caress.
"Be sure to say hello to Melosa for me." Gabrielle smiled, feeling uneasy.
Xena cleared her throat, embarrassed at her display of affection, a surprise to herself and obviously unwanted by her friend.
"Sure. But I think she would prefer a visit from you," Xena spoke evenly as she backed away, trying to push aside her feelings. As she walked towards Argo, she looked back with a half laugh.
"You know, NOW would be a great time for that visit," Xena joked, seeking her usual protection from uncomfortable situations with Gabrielle with humor.
"I wonder just how open-minded Melosa is. Do you think they would accept me as an Amazon Prince?" Gabrielle also joked, welcoming the more comfortable banter.
Xena looked at her friend with concern. Gabrielle was talking about her future as a man.
"OK, a bad joke." Xena nodded silently in agreement. However, Gabrielle had thought about that, and her Right of Caste.
Xena mounted Argo was quickly off to assess the enemy.
Gabrielle left the stables with more work to do.
In the morning, Gabrielle entered the brethren quarters after having asked many Sunmoon where Leo's room was.
"Leo" Gabrielle spoke to him quietly waking him up from a sound sleep. "Get up, we need to talk." She shakes him into the painful world of the conscious.
"Oh GODs....ah... ah....shhhhh." He blurted out, feeling his head throb harder than he ever thought possible. "Do you have to breath so loud?" He asked rubbing his temples. Gabrielle rolled her eyes.
"Somehow I knew you would need this." She pulled out some herbs for his hangover and makes a tea. As she hands the tea to Leo, she hears a breeze behind the tapestry in his room and a sly smile crosses her face.
Leo lies back waiting for the tea to work before he attempts to get up.
"So when do we go tell Grandfather about Boean?" He asked, continuing to rub his temples.
"I've requested an audience with him during his evening meal, when he is done his duties for the day and able to see visitors. To ensure we get to see him, I told his assistant that we would like to discuss me becoming a monk. Once we're received, we'll then discuss Boean." Gabrielle's confidence was a surprise to Leo.
"How do you know he will accept our word that Boean is planning to attack the Amazons?" Leo asked a good question.
"I have evidence he can't refute." Gabrielle grinned. Leo's eyes widened as he sat up quickly.
"What!?....Oh Gods." The tea not having its full effect yet, Leo lays back down quickly. "What evidence?" He repeated from a more comfortable horizontal position.
"Trust me." Gabrielle looked in his unsatisfied eyes. "Just trust me." She repeated.
Xena rode hard to reach the Amazon territory and deliver the news about the Sunmoon plans. She wanted to give Melosa every minute she could to prepare for the Sunmoon army. Xena didn't tell Gabrielle of her concern of how little time Maltose had to gather her forces. There was enough on Gabrielle's mind already. As Xena rode, despite the wind and the thundering of Argo's hooves, Xena could hear an Amazon signaling her arrival in the Amazon territory with loud bird calls. They were as cautious as ever, Xena noted.
Xena pulled on Argo's reigns, stopping at the edge of the Amazon camp. From there, she was witness to the busy sights and sounds of a people preparing for war. At once she was both grateful, for they were already preparing, and sad, for there was a need for such preparations. She stared solemnly at those busy sights for a moment before taking a deep breath and riding into camp.
Dismounting, Xena found someone already waiting for her. There was no time for pleasantries. Before Xena could speak, Tralya instructed her to follow her into the war tent.
"Melosa is expecting you."
Inside the tent, Melosa stood with three other senior Amazons and one centaur. The centaur pointed to a map on the table which, during happier times, was used for dining celebrations.
"Our forces will be standing by here and here, well hidden. When you signal, we will be there," he promised.
"Good, if the army comes, we will need that element of surprise. We have word it is large but I still don't know how large. The scouting report on their strength hasn't come in yet." Melosa looked at him then caught Xena out of the corner of her eye.
"I stand corrected." Melosa did not miss a beat.
"I really hope this is all for the Sunmoon army and not another enemy," Xena responded wryly, disclosing her surprise at their stage in planning. Despite the gravity of the situation, everyone smiled, except Melosa.
"Tell me Xena, is this Sunmoon army of thousands an exaggeration?" Melosa asked knowing if the answer was no, few of her Amazons would survive. Xena didn't need to answer. Her eyes disclosed that she couldn't answer favorably.
"No Queen Melosa. It is not an exaggeration." The others in the room looked at each other, uncertain of the future.
"They may be many, but they are not experienced," Melosa responded, successfully instilling some confidence in those taken aback by the discouraging news.
Xena appreciated Melosa's skill in handling her people.
"The leader of the Sunmoon scouting party, Lerus, will be arriving on Amazon land in a day. Stopping him from murdering his men will undermine Boean's plan to provoke his own army into fighting." Xena provided more hope to Melosa's strategists. Melosa nodded.
"With that and Gabrielle's efforts on her end, the battle just may be over before it has begun. But we still must plan for the worst." Melosa looked at her people and the Centaur soldier who nodded in understanding.
"How did Gabrielle get word to you?" Xena asked, appreciating her friend's move in getting the preliminary word to Melosa.
"She had a barmaid, Rachel, deliver....a letter.... to me," Melosa responded. Knowing Rachel's type, Xena wondered just what exactly Gabrielle had to do to convince Rachel to risk her life and deliver the message. Melosa turned to the others.
"Leave. I wish to talk with Xena. Alone." Melosa's tent quickly cleared.
The war tent was now empty, except for the Amazon Queen and the Warrior Princess.
"The barmaid not only brought a letter," Melosa explained the reason for the private discussion as she opened finely crafted wooden box next to the table.
"She also brought with her Gabrielle's staff," Melosa pulled out the folded up staff from the box and slammed it down on the map-covered table, the only evidence of her incredible anger. "Can YOU explain why she felt it necessary to give back her Right of Caste?"
Xena eye's widened and mouth dropped. She stood silently staring at her friend's staff. Having heard Melosa's words but with too many thoughts invading her mind, she didn't....couldn't, answer.
"Perhaps you can get more of an answer out of her letter than I could." Melosa cold tone warmed slightly, seeing Xena was caught just as off-guard with Gabrielle's actions as she. Placing the letter next to the staff, Melosa sighed. "We WILL talk about this later." The queen left Xena to read her friend's letter.
Xena now alone, stared at her friend's staff and letter. Reaching to the middle of the table, she took the letter and opened it. She first looked at the end of the letter. Her fingers gently touched the parchment where "Gabrielle of Poteidaia" was scripted in her friend's beautiful handwriting. Taking a deep breath, Xena read Gabrielle's letter.
To Queen Melosa,
I write to you with great concern for my Amazon sisters. There is a movement by the Sunmoon, lead by Boean, Grandson of the Founder Sunal, to destroy the Amazons. With Amazon arrows and Boean's word, the Sunmoon believe the deaths of two Sunmoon were by Amazon hands.
Boean has convinced the Sunmoon pacifists an army is necessary for self-defense. Boean plans to provoke this army into attacking the Amazons by murdering a small Sunmoon scouting platoon on Amazon land to flame their anger. From the massive recruiting efforts undergone by the Sunmoon, we estimate over 2500 soldiers. We hope to get a more information, which Xena will deliver.
I will not be with Xena as there is a good chance the majority of the Sunmoon can be persuaded out of this foolishness. Loyalty to Boean is tenuous, based on his lies about the Amazons. If the Sunmoon learn the truth, I believe Boean will loose his influence with the army, and the threat will be eliminated. I am in a unique position to help a Sunmoon ally, Leo, brother of Boean, expose the truth. While I am unable, Xena can explain my unique position to you.
As you have taught me, I have contemplated the worst case. If I fail you and my Amazon sisters, the full army will be marching against you. You will need Xena's help to prepare and to fight. Xena will wish to return to Corerik to help me but there is no time. She will better help us both by staying at your side. Perhaps you will be able to convince her of this truth.
The worst case will also mean my death. As an Amazon Princess, I know what is expected of me. However, in my current situation, I know not how to accomplish my duty without bring dishonor to the Amazons and the memory of Terrais. I also know by not passing on the Right of Caste upon my death, I will also bring dishonor to the Amazons and Terrais. There is only one way I can think of to protect Terrais' precious gift. I do not know if current Amazon law allows this, but as Queen, I hope you will see that I only wish to do the right thing and will allow it.
Therefore, I entrust to you, Melosa, Queen of the Amazons and Sister of Terrais, the Right of Caste, given to me by Terrais. I do this so that you may grant the Right of Caste to another who can carry out her duty with the honor that is required and justly, demanded.
With a heavy heart, but immeasurable respect, I do this.
Gabrielle of Poteidaia
With many hours to wait before the audience with Sunal, Gabrielle returned to the Inn. Although exhausted from the running around, Gabrielle couldn't sleep if she tried. She found Esther quietly going about her chores.
"Esther?" Gabrielle wanted to talk to her and her family before the evening's events took place. Esther ignored Gabrielle and entered the kitchen. Gabrielle followed her into the kitchen and watched her pull out a big knife and chop vegetables with great vigor. Careful to approach her, Gabrielle sighed. "Esther, why are you mad?"
Esther stopped her chopping and looked over at the young bard.
"What makes you think I am mad?" She snapped back then returning to her chopping with more gusto.
"Nothing" Gabrielle answered. "But from the way you are cutting those vegetables, they must have really done something to annoy you," Gabrielle joked.
Esther stopped chopping but kept the knife in her grip. "I am mad at you and I know I have no right," she revealed not looking at Gabrielle. "But I am still mad at you," she blurted.
"Oh, as long as we've cleared the air," Gabrielle joked again. Esther chopped more then stopped to look at Gabriel.
"First, she tried to strangle you, then I see you two becoming real friendly over this Sunmoon thing, then I find her in your room! I can't believe I've been making such a fool of myself over you," Esther grunted and started chopping again. Gabrielle took a risk and held her arm, preventing her from further mutilating the innocent vegetables.
"Esther, Xena and I are good FRIENDS," Gabrielle responded, finding this whole conversation very odd and uncomfortable. But the way things have been going, this conversation was no different from others she had lately.
"Yeah. Good friends. You know Gabriel, I thought WE could have been good friends." Esther waved the knife between the two of them. "I thought you were different from any man I've ever met...gentle, thoughtful, loving. But I guess I should have strapped on some body armor and a broad sword to get your attention." Esther relayed with great hurt.
"Esther...I'm sorry, I never.." The bard was at a loss for words. How could she explain that she was placed under a spell by Hermes and that Esther was a victim of his warped sense of humor? "I'll be leaving this evening. I wanted to say good bye to you and your family." There was nothing she could say, so Gabrielle told her what she originally wanted to and left the kitchen.
Gabrielle walked to the Inn's garden with a heavy heart. This experience didn't just affect her but others she grew to care about. For Hermes to change her was one thing, she did after all treated Hermes poorly after he helped her, but for Hermes to make women fall for her was just cruel.
Riding in the Amazon territory, Xena and Melosa looked down onto Rickas Pass. They lead a band of Amazons to set up their surprises for their Sunmoon guests.
"You're quiet." Xena mentioned, keeping her eyes on the road before them.
"Sorry I'm not as amusing a companion as Gabrielle," Melosa spoke coldly also looking straight ahead.
That's an understatement, Xena thought. "She did what she thought was right," Xena reminded Malosa.
"As will I," Melosa countered, drawing an uneasy look from Xena. Returning her eyes to the road, Xena thought of her friend. How someone with such a good heart could find so much trouble was truly amazing to the Warrior Princess. They rode on a few minutes before Melosa interrupted the silence.
"You are not going to remain to fight the army are you..." Melosa's comment was more of a statement than a question.
"No," Xena admitted uncomfortably, knowing that wasn't what Gabrielle wanted.
"Good," Melosa responded surprising Xena. "Make sure she doesn't get herself killed before I talk to her." Xena wasn't sure, but she thought she saw a slight grin on the Queen's face.
Harral was digging in the dirt with another child when he saw his friend.
"Gabriel! Want to play in the mud?" The boy giggled, recalling the other day.
"You know Harral, I think we need to have that discussion on manners." Gabrielle grinned as she saw the boy's eyes roll.
The playmate of Harral's looked at his friend. "My dad's calling me," Harral's friend blurted and quickly departed.
"Ohhh, can't this wait?" The boy whined, annoyed that his friend left.
"I'm afraid not. I'll be gone tomorrow," Gabrielle explained.
Harral was out of the dirt and by Gabrielle's side in a flash. "What? You're leaving? Why? Can't you stay a couple of days?" He asked his many questions quickly.
"I can't stay. I wanted to talk to you before I left." Gabrielle sat down on the bench, followed by Harral.
"What about? Attributes?" Harral asked making Gabrielle smile that he remembered. Ever since his rudeness with Rachel, Gabrielle planned on discussing it with him. "Hey, I already know about the birds and the bees Gabriel," Harral bragged.
"Good. But do you know about Love? Respect? The things that come before the birds and the bees?" Gabrielle asked. Harral frowned.
"I guess I didn't show much respect to Rachel...but did she have attri.." Harral somehow got off track again.
"Harral! You shouldn't be ogling women. That is disrespectful and down right rude." Gabrielle seriousness made Harral think about what she said.
"Even if they have big.." He asked.
"YES!" Gabrielle interrupted him. "Have you heard anything I've been telling you?" Gabrielle blurted with frustration.
"Yes Gabriel." Harral nodded. Gabrielle wondered how much good this talk really did.
"Run along Harral, I'd like to talk to Gabriel." Esther walked towards them. He gladly complied with his sister's request. "I heard what you said." Esther sat down next to Gabrielle. "Thanks for taking the time with him." She spoke unable to look in Gabrielle's eyes.
"I hope it helped. Harral is a good...well…he has great potential," Gabrielle responded making Esther laugh.
"I'm sorry Gabriel. You didn't deserve my tirade." Esther apologized.
"It's OK Esther. I'm just sorry you have been hurt," she said honestly. "I can see why you love her." Esther finally looked in Gabrielle's eyes. Gabrielle looked down at the ground uncomfortably, than back at her with a grin.
"It's really not the body armor or broad sword you know," Gabrielle relayed to her. Esther nodded thoughtfully. "It's her Chakrum," Gabrielle added. Esther looked confused.
"What?" She asked.
"Never mind," Gabrielle responded with a gentle laugh.
Esther shrugged. "Well, tonight we'll have a big feast for you. I hope you like LOTS of chopped vegetables." Gabrielle laughed hard, then realized she wouldn't be there.
"I hate to ruin your plans but I won't be here for dinner."
The news saddened Esther, but she quickly countered, "We'll have dinner early then!"
The Sunmoon scouting party finally arrived at Rickas Pass. Lerus, told the platoon to spread out and keep their eyes open for the Amazons. He and his corporal eyed each other knowing what they were to do next. They each reached into their saddlebags for the Amazon arrows and loaded their crossbows. Lerus motioned his corporal to go right. Once their men were spread out, they were going to kill them off one by one. As the corporal approached his first target, he raised his crossbow. As he aimed at his first unsuspecting Sunmoon target, he blinked and saw the upside-down face of a woman.
Sustra, dangling from a tree, smiled at the confused and soon to be unconscious man. The noise of Sustra's punch alerted the Sunmoon who was to be the victim. Before he could pull his sword out, Trayla tapped him on his shoulder and put her finger to her lips to shush him. He stood there confused until Trayla punched his lights out.
Throughout the pass, the Amazons carefully collected the Sunmoon soldiers. Melosa's instructions were clear - not one Sunmoon could be seriously injured - despite the temptation.
Lerus pulled up his crossbow up to aim. He fired his arrow at his man with a grin that faded when he saw a metallic blur knock his arrow from its path.
"Huh?" He blurted with confusion. The last thing he saw was another, larger and darker blur somersault over him.
Melosa placed the unconscious man down on the ground, looking down on him with contempt. "Shooting someone in the back. Repulsive." The Queen muttered.
Xena placed her chakrum back in its thong as she approached Melosa's side. The two nodded to each other and sought out more Sunmoon to overpower. The Queen received reports of success in capturing the Sunmoon from all her Amazons except Sustra and Trayla.
"Take the prisoners to camp and clean up the area. I want no evidence they were here," Melosa ordered. "I wonder what is taking Sustra and Trayla so long." She looked about.
"I'll go get them," Xena offered and was off. In the distance, Xena could see the two Amazons next to a horse looking down at the would-be Sunmoon murderer.
"You weren't supposed to KILL him," Trayla scolded Sustra for not following orders.
"I DIDN'T kill him. He just kinda fell off his horse funny," Sustra responded defensively as she tilted her head at the body on the ground. "How ELSE do you expect an unconscious person to fall off a horse?!" Trayla asked. Xena came over to the two having heard their conversation. "You killed him?" Xena questioned. "I DIDN'T kill him!" Sustra responded again.
"Melosa will NOT be pleased." Trayla warned, shaking her head. Xena rolled her eyes then checked the man for vital signs.
"He's alive." Xena sighed, then looked up at the two.
"Told you I didn't kill him!" Sustra blurted and walked off.
With the Sunmoon platoon successfully detained, the Amazons regrouped for the next wave of Sunmoon. The wave that could be a tidal wave. In the war tent, Xena pulled Melosa aside to tell her she was going.
"You know you'll be riding right into them," Melosa warned her.
"If they are coming," Xena countered.
Melosa grinned at the faith Xena had in Gabrielle, a faith the Amazon Queen could not afford to base her plans on. "Be safe Xena."
Gabrielle and Leo entered the dining room to await Sunal's arrival.
"Where is his assistant?" Leo asked nervously. "He's never away from his post or very far from Grandfather's side" Leo added. Gabrielle looked around the room suspiciously.
"Don't worry Leo, I'm sure we'll see both of them soon." Gabrielle took particular note of where all the doors, windows and tapestries were.
"Yeah, I'm sure you're right," Leo agreed uneasily.
"You are both mistaken," Boean spoke as he emerged from the darkness. Leo almost passed out at the sight of his brother. "I understand you have something for me?" He asked Gabriel.
"And what, or should I say who, has given you that impression?" Gabrielle asked.
"Well, I have my sources." Boean smiled as Portus reveals himself, armed with two cross bows.
"Aren't you risking everything by coming here with those things? Sunal will be here any moment" Gabrielle eyed him. He laughed and looked over to Portus who hands over a loaded crossbow to him.
"I'm insulted bard. Surely you don't think me that stupid." Boean checked the crossbow as he elaborates. "Sunal changed his plans to have dinner with an old friend he hasn't seen in a while. Oh, and he asked me to relay to you his apologies." Boean laughed at the irony. "So Gabriel, I think the risk is actually small. Sunal won't be here to witness this." Boean's words caused Leo to gasp.
"Witness what???" Gabrielle was still calm.
"Boean, you really don't intend to shoot us like you shot Weil and Ral do you?" Gabrielle asked. Boean shrugged and nodded yes.
"It served a purpose before and it will serve a purpose again," Boean noted. Leo looked at his brother in horror at his admission.
"My Gods brother, why did you have to kill Weil and Ral?" Boean looked sadly at his brother who he would also have to kill.
"So Grandfather would finally wake up and see how ridiculous his pacifist beliefs are. Father died because he didn't fight, he followed Grandfather's way and LOOK where it got us. We grew up without a father! How can the Sunmoon continue to promote the family yet not the means to protect it?"
Portus looked at him uneasily. Boean had his own crusade, Gabrielle noted. Gabrielle looked around thinking now would be a good time for Sunal and Esther's father to come in and stop Boean. However, they were nowhere to be found as Boean lifted his crossbow and aimed at Gabrielle.
"Uh, Boean. Can't we discuss this further?" She asked now getting worried.
"I'm done talking," Boean spoke gruffly and quickly fired his crossbow.
Gabrielle focused on the Amazon arrow as it left the crossbow and flew towards her. With no time to think, her right hand swept through the air and plucked the arrow from its intended course. Esther's father gave up on trying to unlock the door behind the tapestry. With desperation, he took a deep breath and rammed into the door with his shoulder. Sunal and Esther's father finally entered the room.
"Enough!" Sunal called out a belated order. Boean, Portus, Leo and Gabrielle all stared in amazement at the arrow in Gabrielle's hand.
"My Gods Boean, how many people did you intend to murder?!" Boean eyed his grandfather who didn't see the amazing feat.
"You have been a thorn in my side since my father died, old man." The look of fear and shock on the old man's face didn't make Boean pause. "Portus, shoot the foolish old man!" Boean yelled as he flung his empty bow away and pulled out a dagger. Portus' mouth dropped at the insane words, unable to move. "Do it for the Sunmoon!" Boean barked, seeing Portus' hesitation.
"You Hydra!" Leo's anger swelled causing him to charge at his brother. Gabrielle turned, restraining Leo to keep him away from Boean's dagger. Seeing an opening, Boean lunged towards the two, thrusting his dagger blindly.
The three tumbled to the floor.
Esther's father came over and yanked the murderer off the young men. A solid right hook landed on Boean's jaw, followed by a few punches to the stomach. Esther's father easily overpowered Boean who dropped to the ground unconscious. Seeing the bloodied dagger, Esther's father knelt down by the two men still on the floor. Leo held Gabriel's side.
"It will be OK Gabriel," He offered words of encouragement, not sure which one of them needed them the most. "I'll get a healer." Esther's father quickly left to get help.
Sunal looked down at the two in shock.
Xena rode towards Corerik with no signs of a Sunmoon army. That was good news for the Amazons. Xena hoped that meant the same for Gabrielle. After hours of riding, she finally arrived in town. There was no one on the street this early in the morning for her to question. She debated where to go first. Considering Gabrielle was going to go talk some sense into Sunal, she decided the Great Hall would the place she could get answers the quickest. Xena dismounted Argo in front of the Great Hall, carefully looking about for armed Sunmoon. If there was still a threat, she expected to find that out quickly. There were no armed Sunmoon to be found.
She cautiously entered the Great Hall. A service was in progress, the room full of Sunmoon brethren. Her hand instinctively reached for her Chakrum as she proceeded further inside undetected. The ceremony was somber as Sunal spoke at the altar. Listening to Sunal, Xena realized Sunal was sadly discussing the sins of his grandson to the brethren. Sunal spoke without his usual vigor and enthusiasm, but it was obvious to Xena he spoke from his heart.
"Boean lied to all of us and caused great pain and suffering to many. For that, I must take some blame. As his grandfather, I did not see what I did not want to see. If there is any good to come from this, it is another lesson of what we know to be true...violence is not the answer to violence."
Gabrielle had succeeded in making him see the truth, Xena concluded with a smile.
"We can not allow one man's actions destroy our beliefs." Sunal stated.
Grinning to herself, she could almost hear Gabrielle telling her "I told you so." Pleased and proud of the results of her friend's efforts, she searched the room for her friend and Leo. She spotted Leo across the room. As she walked towards him, she caught his eye and smiled at him. His apprehensive look didn't register until she heard Sunal's voice from the altar.
"Let us pray for Brother Gabriel, who helped us through this dark time."
"Xena," Leo called as he went to her side. She grabbed his arm.
"What happened" She spoke evenly, her eyes boring into his.
"I'll take you to him." Leo answered, rubbing his arm where she had grabbed him.
He quickly led her out of the Great Hall. Xena said nothing as he told her of the showdown with Boean. Her gate was longer and quicker than Leo's, making it difficult for him to keep up. He could see the anger in her eyes after he admitted Gabriel was stabbed trying to protect him when he lunged towards his brother. He deserved more than that glare, he thought.
With all her patience gone, Xena broke into a jog. She entered the Inn and immediately saw Esther who pointed upstairs. Within a few strides, Xena was up the stairs and at the entrance of Gabrielle's room. Xena paused only a moment, seeing her friend unconscious on the bed with a man inspecting the wound. Without a word, she grabbed his shoulder. In one swift motion, she pulled him away from Gabrielle's side and out of her way.
"What?!...Hey!" The man complained. About to continue in his protest, he received a cold glare. He also saw her skillfully inspect the wound and though better of interrupting the determined and strong woman. Although relieved the wound was not too deep, Xena found the wound was poorly cleaned and the stitches were haphazard and horribly large. If she didn't do something soon, there was a good chance of infection, not to mention a nasty scar.
"Did YOU do this!?" She angrily eyed him.
"I...ah." His fear of this woman grew.
"Get me hot water, a needle and thread...NOW!" Xena barked. He stumbled back and was too slow. "Esther!" Xena called for and received more competent help.
A few hours later, Gabrielle woke, still groggy. Gabrielle called for her friend who was already at her side. "I'm here Gabrielle. You will be OK. Your wound wasn't that deep," Xena reported to her friend.
"Did Leo stop the army?" She asked struggling to keep her eyes open and focus. Esther, doing chores, heard the bard wake and went to check on him but stopped at the door hearing Xena's answer.
"Yes Gabrielle. You and Leo stopped the army," Xena answered and corrected her.
"Lerus? Are the Amazons ok?" Gabrielle asked.
"Lerus and his men are now guests at the Amazon camp. Although, I can't really say they are enjoying their accommodations." Xena grinned.
"That's nice," Gabrielle responded groggily before she drifted back into unconsciousness.
Xena sat quietly staring in amazement at the unfamiliar face of her friend. She wondered how her friend got herself in this predicament. She wondered how anyone could go through this and still commit themselves so selflessly to others. She also wondered how Gabrielle would deal with this if she was not changed back. "With me," Xena promised herself. If there were going to be an argument from Gabrielle on this, Xena was determined that would be the one argument she would win.
"Gabrielle?" Xena spoke softly. When the bard didn't stir, Xena traced her fingers upon her friend's still unfamiliar cheek. Recalling that Gabrielle had stopped her from that same caress when she was awake, Xena quickly retracted her hand. She felt no better than a common thief stealing that touch. Xena sighed and looked down on the floor. Hearing the movement of Esther approaching behind her, Xena scolded herself for not being careful about using Gabrielle's name. Xena turned to look her in the eye. Before she could say anything, Esther placed her hand on Xena's shoulder.
"I am not going to believe, understand or like what your are about to tell me - am I?" Xena sighed, shaking her head no.
Gabrielle rested well through the night and awoke to the comforting aroma of breakfast cooking. "This all smells so good!" Gabrielle entered the kitchen surprising Esther and Xena, who intended to bring her some food to eat in bed. "Don't give me that look Xena, I'm eating at the table and that's final..." Gabrielle responded before Xena could say anything.
"Is he...she always like that?" Esther asked, surprising Gabrielle.
Xena looked at Esther then Gabrielle, who looked a bit concerned. "I told her...that's not a problem is it?" Xena considered for the first time it might be.
Gabrielle thought a moment and realized it really didn't matter since she wasn't able to get to Athens in time. "Nah."
Xena noticed Gabrielle's mood changed from the kitchen to the breakfast table, where the previously hungry bard was picking at her food. Esther was especially quiet as she kept looking at the young bard trying to envision him as a woman.
"I thought we would go by the Amazon camp, on the way to Athens. Unless we don't have time." Xena eyed her friend.
Gabrielle sighed. "We have time. All the time in the world," Gabrielle noted weakly. "Excuse me."
Xena and Esther looked at each other knowing there was something very wrong.
"If you don't tell me what is wrong, I can't help Gabrielle," Xena stated as she joined Gabrielle in the garden.
Gabrielle sat on the bench looking at the flowers that Esther had planted. "You really should start calling me Gabriel, Xena. People will think you are crazy if you keep calling me Gabrielle." Gabrielle had never looked so defeated as this bard did now, which greatly disturbed Xena.
"What are you talking about? " Xena sat down on the bench. With sadness in her eyes, Gabrielle quickly glanced over to her friend.
"I was supposed to meet Hermes in his temple in Athens during the next full moon. There is no way to make it now." Gabrielle smiled weakly and forced a quip to cheer both of them up. "I hope you're not too disappointed with this look. You know, I still have no idea what you see."
Xena bolted straight up. "WE are going to Athens," she said with such determination that it made Gabrielle laugh.
"So my appearance is that bad, eh?" Gabrielle responded, looking down at herself.
"Gabrielle..." Xena responded with frustration.
"Xena, what do you think I will be able to do when I get there? Twist his arm until he cries uncle? I will just have to deal with this and accept this." Gabrielle got up intending to go back in the Inn. Xena grabbed her friend's arm to stop her.
"What is this "I" stuff? We are in this together, don't you forget that!"
Xena felt angry her friend was giving up. She felt angry her friend was reluctant to turn to her for help. She felt angry she felt things Gabrielle didn't. She felt angry she felt so angry. When Xena turned, needing to go off and do something about her anger, Gabrielle spoke softly.
"Forget?....that is the only thing that has kept me going."
Xena's anger drained away with the admission of her friend. Not sure she could control her emotions if she looked in her friend's eyes just then, she did not. Xena wanted to tell her not to loose hope, not to give up, not to let Hermes destroy those things in her that made her so special. However, all the Warrior Princess could manage was a question.
"Will you go to Athens with me?" Xena asked with her eyes to the ground and back towards her friend. Gabrielle sighed, unaware of her friend's struggle.
"All right Xena. We will go to Athens."
"Why Athens?" Esther finally got up enough nerve to join them in the garden after hearing the end of their discussion.
"I am supposed to meet Hermes in his temple at the next full moon," Gabrielle responded. Esther looked confused at Gabriel's answer.
"Wouldn't it be easier to go to the temple in Zemal? It's much closer," Esther offered.
Xena was about to curtly dismiss the idea until she saw her friend's face. Gabrielle recalled the conversation with Hermes more critically now.
They stood outside the temple as Gabrielle looked up at the full moon.
"Tell me again why we are here?" Gabrielle asked revealing her edginess recalling the results of her last encounter with the God. Xena put a reassuring hand on her friend's shoulder and smiled.
"If you can use your words to stop an army from attacking, how hard can it be to convince Hermes to change you back?" Gabrielle looked up at her friend, unconvinced. After a moment, Gabrielle stepped forward but put her hand out to stop Xena.
"Xena, I think I need to do this alone," she said softly. Xena looked at her disapprovingly, ready to engage in yet another argument.
"Besides, if things go really bad in there, can you promise you won't say anything that would cause him get mad at you?" Gabrielle's comment made Xena pause. She couldn't promise. "What if YOU were turned into a man? As if you aren't aggressive enough as it is..." Gabrielle added with a grin.
"Gabrielle," Xena responded not appreciating her humor at the moment.
"Xena, if I need help, I'll yell...trust me...I'll yell." She smiled.
Gabrielle entered Hermes' temple in Zemal alone. It was made of simple gray marble, lit only by the moonlight shining through the openings in the ceiling. Although plain, it was still aesthetically pleasing, she concluded. She looked around finding no person or God, in this place. Approaching the altar, she wondered how she would accomplish her first task. Getting Hermes to show up.
"Gabrielle?" Xena questioned her friend who returned quickly from the temple. "What's wrong?" Xena asked. She saw Gabrielle searching through the saddlebags.
"I hope you still have.... There it is!" Gabrielle pulled out the object and sees her friend's confusion. "I can't just go in there empty-handed…that would be impolite wouldn't it?" Gabrielle grinned at her friend.
Entering the temple a second time, with a gift in hand, Gabrielle hoped that would be enough. Laying the object on the altar, she looked around.
"Oh, Great Hermes, I offer you this..." Gabrielle looked down at the object, still not knowing what it was. "This gift." She waited.
There was no sign of him.
Gabrielle tried again. "Oh great and WISE Hermes, I offer you this SMALL gift."
Still no sign of the God.
Gabrielle sighed, getting an audience with a God when you wanted one wasn't such an easy task.
"Oh Great, Wise and POWERFUL Hermes, I offer you this most humble token to speak with the God known for his compassion and…." Gabrielle's reverent speech was interrupted.
"I heard you the first time Gabrielle." Hermes appeared behind her and approached the altar. He placed his bag and helmet on the alter as if he came home from work. "You do realize you are in the wrong temple don't you?" He eyed her. Gabrielle knew the real work was just beginning.
"No I'm not," she responded innocently. He looked at her amazed. He then smiled wondering what this bard was up to.
"I told you Athens," he countered, distinctly recalling he said Athens.
"At first, you did mention your temple in Athens," she started.
"Ah ha!" He blurted thinking she just admitted he was right.
"But when you formally declared your conditions," she continued with increasing confidence.
"You never specifically mentioned Athens." Hermes looked confused as he remembered his conditions, not believing he could have messed that up.
"So I really didn't specify Athens?" He scratched his head, asking himself more than Gabrielle. Sensing victory, Gabrielle held back a grin and just shook her head no.
"Hmm, alright Gabrielle, this temple is satisfactory...though the one in Athens IS much nicer...." He acknowledged, making Gabrielle breath a little easier for the moment. "Unfortunately, you failed to meet the other condition of not discussing this change with anyone." Hermes spoke matter-of-factly.
"I never told anyone of my change." Gabrielle countered carefully. He laughed at her statement.
"Oh come on Gabrielle, Xena's been calling you Gabrielle, Melosa knows and now Esther knows." Hermes walked around her shaking his head.
"I never told anyone of my change. And that WAS the condition, wasn't it?" Gabrielle responded nervously. Hermes silently listened. "I met the condition...I never told anyone..." Gabrielle repeated hollowly, noting his expressionless face. Her heart sank. Having Xena know was what got her thought the experience with the Sunmoon, she realized. There was no way she was going to feel that was a mistake. Whatever condition she was in, Xena would be there for her, Gabrielle reminded herself as her frustration and anger with Hermes grew. That was it! She had been through enough! She tried, like Xena wanted her to, but she wasn't going to allow herself to be manipulated any longer.
"If you'll excuse me, I have a life to live..." Gabrielle abruptly turned around and started to leave. Hermes was surprised by this bard's actions and appeared in front of her, blocking her exit.
"So you don't want me to turn you back?" She eyed him and walked around, only to have him reappear in front of her again. "I guess you DO think men have it easier and want to remain as one" He asked with interest and some playfulness. This bard was certainly an unusual mortal.
"I would LOVE it if you changed me back to my old self but I am tired of this game. I am tired of having to deal with ALL of this. I am sorry I snapped at you before when you were trying to be kind to me. That was wrong - but I didn't deserve everything you put me through Hermes." Hermes found himself listening to the bard again. He definitely found this person bold, if not incredibly stupid to be so bold to a God. Gabrielle didn't realize she was venting again. Had she, she would have stopped before she started.
"In addition to making everyone see me as a man, did you have to make women so...so...attracted to me? Gods!" She walked around him shaking her head. He laughed loudly holding his stomach. "You are cruel, you know that?" She responded to his laughter, turning to face him. "The least you could do is lift that part of the spell." Gabrielle blurted, obviously annoyed with the laughing God. After a few minutes, Hermes regained his composure and stood before the angry mortal with a smile.
"Gabrielle, I only made everyone see you as a man. That's all. Nothing else." He lifted his hands up in the air, innocently shrugging. Gabrielle looked at him disbelieving. Then she remembered the details of what happened every time she blamed him for an uncomfortable situation. Finally considering his words the truth, she turned beet-red. "You didn't even know your kindness could and would be so easily interpreted as flirting? Gods help the person you actually set your sights on." He laughed loudly then added triumphantly, "I guess you have learned it isn't so easy to be a man." He grinned at the stunned and embarrassed bard. He hopped up on his altar staring at Gabrielle, waiting.
Gabrielle knew he wanted her to relay what she had learned. Perhaps the longer they spoke, the better her chances were of getting things returned to normal, she considered. Sighing, not thrilled at being his amusement, she sat on the steps to the altar.
"Yeah," she exhaled the admission. "I was wrong about many things Hermes. Blaming my frustrations on being a woman in a man's world was...well easy...and wrong." Gabrielle sat back against the altar.
"So would you now agree men have it harder?" Hermes suggested playfully. Gabrielle sat straight up and looked back at him.
"Absolutely not." She responded honestly and forcefully to his challenge. He laughed at her readiness to engage him in an argument. An interesting mortal indeed.
"Good, I really hate it when mortals become yes men...or women." He hopped off the table. "So what WOULD you say then?" He stretched his godly legs walking around the temple.
"Are you looking for something general or specific?" Gabrielle asked not knowing what to say.
"Whatever...what have you learned?" He looked at her.
"Not to mouth off to a God," Gabrielle muttered. He shook his head with a smile.
"Well that's a start..." He walked over to Gabrielle's offering, which still rested on the altar. He inspected it curiously, waiting. Gabrielle shifted uneasily then answered.
"When I was viewed as a woman, I did things...made choices, that some people didn't consider right. Becoming proficient with a staff, leaving home and seeing the world, traveling with the Warrior Princess," Gabrielle smiled, valuing that above all, then continued.
"When I was seen as a man...I still did things that some people didn't agree with...Preferring water over wine, being a pacifist, a bard, being associated with the Warrior Princess," Gabrielle smiled. "I guess I really relearned what I already knew." She got up from the steps.
"If I am happy with my choices, which I know in my heart are right for me, I shouldn't let people with their differing opinions bother me or affect my choices.... It's not how others see me, that is important, but how I see myself." Hermes nodded thoughtfully and spoke sadly.
"Unfortunately, you will struggle your entire life with this." The words hit Gabrielle hard. He was not going to accept her argument that she didn't tell anyone of her condition. She panicked.
"Hermes...please...I didn't TELL anyone." She spoke out of desperation. He disappeared, his final words rang hollowly throughout the dark temple.
"Remember this lesson...Peace and Harmony Brother Gabriel." "Hermes!" She yelled out loudly. Her voice carried outside the walls of the temple. Within a second, Xena was inside the temple.
"Gabrielle!" She called with concern, then stopped dead in her tracks. "Gabrielle," she uttered softly. Gabrielle sighed at the stunned look on her friend's face.
"I know..." Gabrielle's eyes fell to the floor as she responded with great depression. Xena looked at her friend oddly.
"Know what?" Xena questioned with smile. Gabrielle began to hope but was cautious.
"What do you see Xena?" She spoke slowly and deliberately, stepping closer to her friend. Xena smiled broadly, seeing a face she had missed. Not getting an answer, Gabrielle repeated her question.
"What do you see Xena? I need to hear the words." Gabrielle grabbed her friend's arms and looked her in the eyes. Words are indeed important to her friend, Xena scolded herself for not answering quickly.
"I see...a young woman whose face I have missed," Xena said simply.
At times, Xena wished she had Gabrielle's way with words. Now was one of those times. Gabrielle repeated the words "young woman" closing her eyes. When she opened them, she looked up at her friend with a relieved grin and hugged her with a laugh. Xena returned the embrace, knowing it for what it was - a precious moment. To finally see the face of her friend after such a long time, to see her smile, hear her laugh and to hold her so close, these were all very precious things to the Warrior Princess.
"Thank you," Gabrielle told her friend as she stepped back. "For what?" Xena asked.
"For not letting me give up." Gabrielle's voice cracked, betraying more emotion than she intended. The two looked at each other, each fighting back tears.
"Your welcome." Xena responded bluntly, causing them to laugh.
"Well I guess I won't have to worry about you changing careers and becoming a bard, " Gabrielle responded sarcastically. Xena raised an eyebrow. "Please Xena, I know you have many skills but for both our sakes.... Keep your day job."
They walked outside the temple and Gabrielle looked up at the moon. "Boy am I glad all that is over with," Gabrielle sighed with relief. Xena eyed her friend with a grin.
"What about your staff?"
"Are you ever going to tell me?" Xena asked breaking the silence as they departed the Amazon camp. Gabrielle slowed her pace a little.
"Tell you what?" The bard looked nervously into her friend's unreadable face. After a moment of silence, Xena sighed and reached in her saddlebags. She pulled out the mystery object.
"What IS this?" Xena remarked with annoyance she couldn't figure it out.
"How did you get that back? I thought Hermes accepted it." Gabrielle was immediately relieved then grinned widely, amazed and amused.
"I found it the saddlebags while you were having your discussion with Melosa. I guess Hermes didn't know what it was either," Xena responded with irritation, still bothered by not knowing what the object was.
"Huh! What do you THINK it is?" Gabrielle asked with a sly grin.
"I don't know," Xena answered with frustration. "Alletus thought it might be a really bad sculpture of something." Xena offered, eyeing her friend to see if that was close.
"You asked Alletus?" Gabrielle was more amused finding that Xena had enlisted the aid of someone else so she wouldn't have to ask her. Xena stared at her silently.
"Did you ask anyone else?" Gabrielle questioned her. There was no way to avoid this, Xena concluded.
"Yes." Xena responded with some embarrassment.
"Who?" Gabrielle found this very interesting.
"Burell" Xena answered. Seeing Gabrielle not familiar with the name, Xena offered more information. "The man I went to see, before Hermes became annoyed with you. Amazing how much Hermes and I have in common," Xena added bluntly. "What does Burell think it is?" Gabrielle asked, ignoring her friend's sarcasm. "Gabrielle," Xena blurted with irritation.
"Xena, I really would like to know what people's thoughts on this were. Please?" Gabrielle asked sincerely. Xena sighed.
"All right," Xena reluctantly agreed, which brought a broad smile to Gabrielle's face. Xena chuckled at how quickly Gabrielle was able to change her mood from being annoyed with her to happy to please her. "Burell said he would gladly tell me - for a price," Xena relayed eyeing her.
"He had no clue either," she added.
"Anyone else?" Gabrielle asked. Xena nodded, this was more embarrassing by the moment.
"Trayla and Sustra," Xena informed her. Gabrielle looked over at her friend.
"Let me guess...they didn't know either."
"No, but Sustra kept coming up with interesting suggestions on how to kill people with it," Xena shook her head and held the object up, regarding it thoughtfully. Gabrielle looked at her friend but thought better of asking for some examples.
"Neither Esther nor her father knew," Xena continued. "They wanted to know why I would be traveling around with something if I didn't know what it was." Xena laughed wondering the same thing. Gabrielle looked perplexed.
"Do you LIKE it?" She asked a surprising question. Xena shrugged.
"Gabrielle, I don't even know what it is." Xena didn't understand the distinction Gabrielle was making. Gabrielle didn't try to explain. She nodded and sighed. Xena thought her friend was saddened by the answer. After walking a few minutes, Xena took the time and really looked at the mystery object in her hand. Xena found it really was pleasing to look at.
"The wood is rich looking and the surface is very smooth," Xena described what she liked about it. "I like the way the dark and light woods wind together throughout the piece. It looks like someone put a lot of effort in making it this way...even though it would have been much easier if it was made from one piece of wood," Xena relayed not understanding why her friend appeared so pleased with her comments. Gabrielle looked at the object as well, but responded more philosophically.
"A definition really isn't necessary to appreciate something, is it?" Gabrielle asked rhetorically, or at least Xena thought so. "I think people sometimes spend too much time trying to define things." Gabrielle added. Xena thought a moment about what her friend just said.
"There ARE benefits to knowing what something is." Xena looked into Gabrielle's eyes then quickly down at the object again as if she was studying it.
"Are you ever going to tell me?" Xena asked, then looked up from the object.
"Well, uh...actually." Gabrielle rubbed her chin thoughtfully.
"You don't know what it is, do you?" Xena said flatly, the truth finally hitting her.
"Well...no. But we'll find out...together," Gabrielle said with resolve and proceeded down the path.
"I can't believe you don't know," Xena responded. Gabrielle stopped and looked back at Xena, who was still standing and staring in amazement.
"Xena," Gabrielle called to her, not getting her to move.
"You made me go through ALL that...and you don't know," Xena remarked. Gabrielle walked back and took Xena's hand in hers. Xena glanced down at their hands, then back at Gabrielle with a raised eyebrow.
"Come on Xena, we are wasting daylight." Gabrielle smiled and started down the road again, with Xena in hand.
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3
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