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Chapter 7 - 10

by Enginerd

Author's Notes:

This Xena: Warrior Princess story takes place immediately after "On Uncertain Ground." While not absolutely necessary, it is HIGHLY recommended that this story be read before "The Gift of Gab."

This story is dedicated to my fellow recreational writers who are possessed by an urge to touch others through their words and endure the constant struggle to find the right wons.

Enginerd (April 1997)


1. Content: While not sexually explicit, the story involves mature themes and a romantic relationship between two woman. This story also depicts violent acts.

2. This story exemplifies how the author is unable to write a short story. Unless you have taught yourself to read very quickly or you are related to Evelyn Wood, be prepared for a long haul.

3. Avoiding operation of heavy equipment after having read this story in one sitting continues to be sage advice.

4. For those who are impatient, the story may really bother you.


On her way to the Counsel chambers, Gabrielle quizzed the Attendant escorting her. "So... why do you think they want to talk to ME?" She asked.

"You've got to be kidding." Talea responded with a laugh. Gabrielle's shrug, made Talea realize she really didn't know.

"You Gabrielle, are one of a VERY few Outsiders who's works have been enshrined in the Great Library." She enthusiastically informed the bard of her incredible status. "I've even been allowed to read FOUR of your scrolls." She responded proudly.

"Talea." Gabrielle stopped her, taken aback by the word 'enshrined'. "I've never been to Verbinia before and apparently Verbinians don't like to is it everyone knows of my stories?" She asked, trying not to be overwhelmed by the honor given her by a people she admired so much.

"Loquus personally made copies of your stories when he visited the Athens Academy. We were all very fortunate he was able to go. Once the Elder's learned of your Gift, they insisted on collecting your stories." Talea smiled warmly. "You are quite the celebrity here Gabrielle."

"Except with your guards ..." Gabrielle responded with a laugh, trying to comprehend all of this attention.

"The Elders will likely formally apologize to you for that." Talea informed her, surprising the bard. "The soldiers really had no idea...Soldiers are worker class after all. They wouldn't recognize someone with a Gift as great as yours. They can't read and they can barely talk, so how could they?" She defended them.

"I thought that ALL Verbinians were gifted with verbal skills." Gabrielle stated, wondering what other perceptions she had were incorrect.

"Not all Verbinians are blessed with the Gift Gabrielle." Talea responded, seeming slightly annoyed. "Without it, they can barely communicate, so they resort to signing." She sighed. "It is a shame we don't have enough Gifts for all Verbinians, but that is neither here nor there, we just don't." She said bluntly.

"Gifts? What.."

"Gabrielle we really should not keep the Elder's waiting." Talea interrupted started to get a little nervous. The plethora of questions on the tip of the bard's tongue would have to wait.

"So this is what I missed?" Xena looked around, unimpressed as she and Texius walked through the streets of Verbinia. It looked like the city was a grand place to live at one time, but that time had passed, Xena observed.

"Sorry for the delays but I don't know who to trust anymore...and caution is the better part of....something..." Texius sighed. "Valor." Xena responded. "You are gifted Xena. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise." She shook her head, feeling insulted for some reason.

"Texius, I'm here like you talk." Xena instructed him bluntly.

"We've had two murders." Texius responded, looking around nervously.

"Keep talking." Xena eyed him.

Loquus took Gabrielle's hand, as he tried to stop laughing at the tale the Elder's practically begged her to tell. "My dear. You make us young again with your stories." He smiled at her, his comment pleasing her. The rest of the Elders continued to giggle at her adventures when, thanks to Hermes, she had to live in a man's world, perceived as a man.

"Amazing." They kept shaking their heads and laughing at the absurdity. "Don't mouth off to a God." One Elder repeated to another. Even the First Elder, Thesaurus, could not contain his chuckling. Not all the Elders, however, were so taken with this young woman.

Verbis sat brooding, not happy with the last minute change in vote when the Elders heard the bard was at their door. Unlike the rest of the Elders, he was unmoved by Gabrielle's obvious skills at story telling. He seemed to get more irritated as she continued to tell stories about the Warrior Princess...especially now that murderous Warrior Princess finally made it inside the walls of Verbinia because of THIS young woman.

"You've graciously endured the requests of a bunch of old men. But tell us my dear, which of your stories is YOUR favorite?" Thesaurus asked.

Gabrielle was amazed. Not even when telling a prize winning story at the Academy had she been so honored. Every time she would answer an Elder's question, a hush fell over the room as they waited to hear her response.

"Well, I really don't have one favorite. Though, I would have to say my favorite stories are about Xena, if you hadn't guessed that already." She grinned.

This was the last straw for Verbis. "Enough! I will not tolerate another moment listening about that... Murderous BITCH." He exclaimed, storming out of the Counsel Chambers.

Gabrielle was shocked by the outburst and surprised to see she was not the only one. The great embarrassment felt by the Elders, and especially Loquus, was obvious from the look on their faces. "I guess this means he won't be requesting any more Xena stories." The bard responded to Loquus.

The stunned Elders looked at each other a moment and burst out laughing, relieved their honored guest was being so gracious. "My dear, you are a treasure." Loquus smiled broadly at his favorite bard.

Investigating the site of the murders, Xena entered the hallowed Ceremonial Hall. "It's just a library." Xena noted, unimpressed.

"SHHH." Texius responded to her loud voice. "Sorry." Xena apologized insincerely, continuing to look around. Though not exactly her idea of fun, Gabrielle would certainly love it here, Xena noted eyeing the thousands of scrolls as they moved through the building.

After peeking carefully around the wall into the hallway to make sure the way was clear, Texius started for the Ceremonial Alter. Xena grabbed his arm, stopping him. "Texius, the Elder's didn't agree to my help...DID they?" Xena asked bluntly.

"SHHH!" He responded with a finger to his lips. "Over here..." He whispered, waiving her towards the alter, ignoring her question.

"Wonderful." Xena sighed as she followed.

"Gabrielle, I would be honored if you join us for my Ceremony Dinner tomorrow night." Loquus invited the bard, causing another murmur among the Elders.

"Loquus..." Thesaurus called to him cautiously. "You know what happened the last time an outsider..." The First Elder reminded the Third Elder.

Gabrielle refrained from asking "what". In this case, the bard considered patience was warranted.

"Thesaurus...It's MY Ceremony damn it." Loquus interrupted.

"You know you don't have to curse...there are more than enough words you could use to more than adequately express yourself Loquus." Thesaurus lectured him, causing the Third Elder to roll his eyes and lean towards the bard.

"Thesaurus wrote this book on synonyms and antonyms and now he acts as if he's the only one who understands the language." Loquus explained while the other Elders, also tired of Thesaurus' lecturing, chuckled.

"Well if you Elders would try a little harder to be more concise you wouldn't hear so many lectures from me!" Thesaurus defended his role.

"I happen to think a well placed swear or curse word is worth a thousand pictures." Loquus noted with a wink, making the bard smile.

"You don't even know the difference between a swear and a curse do you?" Thesaurus challenged him.

"There IS no difference!" Loquus responded confidently. "Is there?" He quickly asked the bard.

"What's your book called?" Gabrielle asked Thesaurus, avoiding the question and hopefully the argument.

"I haven't come up with a name yet..." Thesaurus responded thoughtfully, scratching his chin.

"So will you join us for the Ceremony Dinner?" Loquus smiled at her, patting her hand affectionately. "Yes. Please." A few Elders spoke up though, it was obvious no one in the room objected.

"I really couldn't, unless Xena and Joxer were going to join us." Gabrielle knew that would be pushing it, but considered her chances good to get her way.

A nervous hush fell the room. "Oh Damn." Thesaurus mumbled.

"Where does this lead?" Xena asked Texius, finding a hidden passageway connecting to the Ceremonial Alter room. "To the Attendant's chambers...why?" Texius asked. Xena rolled her eyes.

"You said that the Library..." Xena started to explain.

"Ceremonial Hall" Texius corrected her, making the Warrior Princess roll her eyes.

"Ceremonial Hall...was guarded by soldiers preventing access during Ceremonies." Xena noted. "That makes this the only escape route for the murderers. Didn't your soldiers do ANY investigating, ask ANY of the Attendants if they saw something unusual?" She asked incredulously, seeing Texius shake his head no.

"Soldiers are only worker class Xena, they wouldn't know where to start...without the Gift, they wouldn't be able to converse with the Attendants, let alone ask them questions." Texius revealed. "What?" Xena asked, taken aback by this information.

"They speak very few words, how could they? They don't have the Gift." Texius relayed matter-of-factly then froze with fear as an Elder approached them.

"That's why they are no use to enemies who wish to EXTRACT information from them." Verbis interjected, joining them by the Alter. "I guess you found that out when you killed my brother during an interrogation." He added coldly.

Xena stared at the Elder, remembering how uncooperative the Verbinian soldiers were while she interrogated them. She wondered whether they were very brave or just very foolish. Now she understood they simply did not understand her.

"I must tolerate your presence in Verbinia, Warrior. But I WILL not tolerate your presence in this hallowed place. Leave... now." He struggled to remain calm, not wanting to give his brother's murderer the satisfaction of seeing him loose control.

Accepting the hateful glare as deserved, Xena took a deep breath and left the Library.

"What do we do now?" The Soldier asked his brother. "How will we get the Gift of Loquus with those Outsiders poking their noses in Verbinian business?" Darmas added, looking around for unwelcome ears.

"I have changed our plans." Liberus informed Darmas.

"What?! We can't let the Elders to continue to decide who receives the Gifts. They condemned ME to a life of servitude because of some unfounded concern...Our people should decide, not a group of OLD MEN!" Darmas responded bitterly.

"Brother, calm down. I have not given up on our plans. Only on the Gift of Loquus." Liberus relayed.

"That's the same thing! Even the Verbinians anxious to break from tradition still respect the Gift. They will only be lead by someone with the Gift. Without it, they will not listen to you, let alone follow you in a revolt." Darmas argued to his brother. The Elders had controlled the Gifts too long, Darmas considered.

"I will get a Gift Darmas. A truly great Gift." Liberus smiled.

"But it will be a while before another Elder will be ready to pass on their Gift. We agreed not to cross that's too cruel, even for those old men." Darmas responded to his brother.

"I have no intention of crossing that line with our Elders Darmas." Liberus smiled at his brother.


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!'s something I did." She responded, uneasily pulling the bard to her for a needed hug. Now the bard was getting really worried.

" 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. " 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.

" 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.

"Oh joy."

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, who's 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 spued, 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 alter.

"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. " 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.

"Just checking."


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 a 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 alter, 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 alter, 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 alter 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 on 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 which 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 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, who's 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.

Continued - Chapters 11-13

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