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Murder at the Academy of the Performing Bards
by Becky Lutzke (deanlu)
They say stories are born out of ones soul. Perhaps they are right. But
to write a story one must know both sides of the soul. Hopefully one
never drowns in the wrong side!- The Enforcer
Gabrielle walks along, excitement in her voice. "You know you didn't
have to come along!" Xena looks down from Argo at her friend. These were
the moments Xena loved about Gabrielle. When Gabrielle was in her
element, happy and safe.
"No! I wanted to come. It will be nice to rest. I'll finally get to meet
these friends you talk about so much."
Gabrielle smiles up at her friend. Secretly, inside, she was hoping
that Xena wanted to come along. She had grown use to having Xena by her
side. The thought of being apart from Xena was not something she
relished. When the message had come to her three days earlier that her
presence was requested at a Bard contest at the Academy, she had been
overjoyed! But she had to contain any thoughts of going till they had
dispatched the warlord Aristos. Xena and Gabrielle had wandered into a
village that he was threatening. And as things happened most of the time,
they stayed to help the villagers. It hadn't taken long. He wasn't as
skilled or as agile as Xena. Aristos had openly challenged Xena to a
fight to the death. Xena had quickly agreed. The fight didn't last very
long. But Aristos had landed a lucky shot to Xenas head with the flat of
his sword. Gabrielle shudders. She thinks about what would have happened
if it had been the edge. But it wasn't. She pushed those thoughts as far
down as possible. Even after Xena had run Aristos through with her sword,
the army had still attacked. But the soldiers battled only half heartedly
now that there was no one to lead them. Gabrielle had tried to figure out
why they had attacked at all.
Enough she thought. I'll wonder on this later. They were only a few
miles from the academy. Xena would get the rest she needed and time to
heal. She did seem more relaxed than usual. Gabrielle could hear her
humming a familiar song. She alway did that when she was thinking of
home. Then suddenly the humming stopped. Gabrielle looked up to see Xena
had gone rigid. Her eyes were staring down the road toward a stranger. A
young man, tall and muscular waited in the middle of the road. He was
dressed in normal clothing, but had a sword hanging from his side. He
didn't seem to be threatening, but Xena wasn't about to take any chances.
Gabrielle looked harder at the young man.
"Stay here Gabrielle!" Xena started to moved Argo forward.
"Xena, wait. It's OK!" A smile breaks over Gabrielles face. Just as Xena
is about to ask why, Gabrielle runs forward and hugs the young man!!
"Stallones! How are you? What are you doing here? I thought you were
training for the Olympics??"
He hugs Gabrielle back and laughs. "Gabrielle! Always full of questions
aren't you. If you must know, I'm here to escort you back to the Academy.
As for your other questions, I'll tell you as we walk back."
"As long as it's not acted out!" Gabrielle chides Stallones. Stallones
"Gabrielle, Aren't you going to introduce me to your friend??" Xena has
moved up next to the two.
Gabrielle looks over a little embarrassed. "I'm sorry. Xena, this is
Stallones. Stallones this is my best friend, Xena."
Xenas eyebrow rises and she gets a smirk on her face. "I've heard a lot
Stallones looks at Gabrielle comprehending Xenas meaning. "Its all true,
fortunately." He smiles and places a hand gently on Gabrielles shoulder.
"So you are the Great Warrior Princess that Gabrielle has told us so much
about. It's nice to meet you finally. Any friend of Gabrielles is welcome
to join us."
"So exactly what has Gabrielle told you about me?" Xena asks curiously.
Changing the subject quickly. "Hadn't we better get going? I mean the
competition is going to start soon and I need rest if I'm going to be any
Stallones snorts at this. "Gabrielle you would be good whether you had
sleep or not! You could charm a warlord out of his army!" Stallones
glances up at Xena.
"You're right about that Stallones." Xena chuckles now and the begin
walking down the road.
"I'm not that good." Gabrielle mumbles. Both Stallones and Xena look at
each other, shaking there heads. Gabrielle would never admit she was
great at storytelling. That was another one of the things Xena liked
about her. She had a humility that always searched out the best in
everyone else first.
"So Gabrielle, What have you been up to since you left the academy? You
know Orion was deeply hurt you didn't stay."
Gabrielle laughs. "I'm sure that he got over it. So what is Orion up
"Well, he's helping organize the bard competition. But I know he is
looking forward to seeing you!" Stallones smiles knowingly at Gabrielle,
who blushes just slightly. Xena doesn't fail to notice. Obviously there
was more to what happen last time then Gabrielle told her. Xena listens
to the friends chat back and forth as they move down the road. She can
see that Stallones is a good man. Gabrielle always seems to have a knack
of choosing her friends well. The talk is amicable and more than one or
two little things about Gabrielles time at the academy slip out!
"You all conspired to keep me here!" Gabrielle responds to something
"Yes, but still you left! But I think we all knew where your heart was
when you got to the academy." Stallones looks at Xena and Gabrielle looks
away. Xena looks at her friend and smiles. Xena had knew it was more than
adventure that had brought Gabrielle back.
"So what has been going on at the Academy lately??" Gabrielle asks.
Stallones face clouds up. His voice becomes very soft. "One of our newest
Bards, Mearus was killed just a couple nights ago!"
"Killed? By whom?" Gabrielle is stunned to say the least.
"We don't know. He was such a promising Bard. Orion thought his skill at
telling a story could even rival yours in time."
Gabrielle looks up at Stallones. "What happened?"
Stallones takes a deep breath. Wiping away the worry on his face. "He was
found slumped over his desk with a knife in his back. We think he knew
his attacker because there was no struggle."
"What have you done to find his murderer??" Xena asks concerned.
"We did a search of the grounds and everyones room. We questioned all
his friends and all those coming and going. But it's such a large school,
and with all the extra vendors and people for the competition. It's like
searching for a needle in a hay stack. And with nothing much to go on..."
Stallones trails off.
"But you are going on with the bard competition!!" Xena states, looking
more worried now.
"Orion believes that it was someone that had a grudge against Mearus. The
Academy's academic board agrees. They say it was brought from outside and
that there is nothing to worry about. But Xena if you knew Mearus, you'd
know he had no enemies." Xena can tell Stallones believes what he is
"Everyone has enemies' Stallones! Sometimes we may not know they are
there, but we all have them." Xena walks along thinking.
"So that's why you are here to meet us. Isn't it?" Gabrielle asks
He looks over at her, "Yes. I don't believe the explanation they gave!
And it wouldn't do to have our best bard disappear."
"I can take care of myself!" Gabrielle says. Stallones just nods. The Joy
of the day has left now, and all three are thinking about what has been
said. The road to the Academy is lined with vendors selling there wears.
They reach the Academy and Gabrielle stops to take in the view of all the
activity. Everywhere there are people. Mostly bards telling stories,
studying scrolls, debating with each other and around them move the
servants going about there daily chores. Xena smiles at all the young men
and women who have dedicated their lives to something other than war. She
had never realized how many there were before. Looking now over the
courtyard, she knew for sure Gabrielle and those like her would one day
turn the world to peace.
Gabrielle pulls away from Stallones and Xena when she sees Twicanim with
a younger group of students. "Twicanim!"
Twicanim turns around and smiles. He quickly walks over to Gabrielle.
"Well, I s..s..see they f..f..found you!" He hugs her.
A hand touches her shoulder. Gabrielle turns to see Euripides . "Oh
beautiful Rose that graces our presence with her loving beauty!"
Gabrielle laughs and hugs him. "I missed you too!"
"Twicanim and Euripides, I'd like you to meet my friend Xena!" Xena just
nods her head.
"So do I get a hug?" Gabrielle and the others turn at the sound of the
familiar voice. Standing just off to the side of Stallones is Orion.
Gabrielles face lights up. She rushes over and hugs Orion.
Quietly he whispers in her ear, "I missed you!"
She pulls gently from his embrace. "I missed you too!"
Twicanim, Euripides, and Stallones just grin. Xena shakes her head
smiling. Only Gabrielle.
"Orion this is my best friend Xena. Xena ..Orion."
"Nice to meet you Orion. I see we made it in time."
"Yes, the contest starts tomorrow. But you both must be tired. I have a
room ready for you both. This time Gabrielle it's not the servant
quarters." Orion's eyes gleam at the private joke.
Gabrielle laughs, remembering the late nights of storytelling. "The
servant quarters weren't so bad. I always had more company than I knew
what to do with."
Xena eye brow rises, "I'm missing something here." Orion chuckles.
"Let me get someone to stable your horse. Sage, come here." Orion starts
to wave a young girl over.
"No, I'll take care of Argo, myself. You and Gabrielle go on" The young
girl has arrived and Xena begins to follow him to the stables.
Gabrielle watches her for a moment and the turns to Orion. "So, How have
you been?" They both walk slowly toward the guest quarters.
"All right. Better now that you're here." Gabrielle looks over at him and
sees the warm smile she enjoyed so much last time.
"Really?" She blushes slightly. "So Stallones says you there has been
some trouble here?"
"Yes, but it was a one time thing. Nothing to worry about." Orion quickly
moves the subject along.
Gabrielle lays a hand on Orions shoulder stopping him from their walk.
"Orion if there is a problem, Xena and I could help."
Orion looks into her eyes. "No, everything is taken care of. It was just
a very bad accident. Please Gabrielle, I'd rather not discuss this now."
But Gabrielle has seen the worry there and knows it's not all right. She
lets the subject drop for now. Xena has caught up to them.
"I thought you were going to stable Argo?" Gabrielle asks.
"Well, Sage, was just very willing to help out. So I left Argo in her
care." Xena says.
"Sage can be rather stubborn, but she loves horses. She'll take good care
of Argo. Come on, I'll show you to your room. I think you'll like this
one a lot more, than your accommodations last time." He smiles and begins
to walk off.
"What does he mean by that?" Xena asks curiously.
"Well, last time I was here. I stayed in the servant quarters."
Gabrielle says. Xena looks at her friend. "It wasn't important where I
stayed, just that I was here." Gabrielle follows Orion into the guest
Orion leads them through the halls of the guest house. He comes to a
door and opens it to reveal a large room with a fire place. Tapestries
line the walls and a window looks out into the courtyard. Two beds face
the far wall and a table is laden with fruit, drink and fresh flowers.
Gabrielle is speechless. This is more than she expected, even Xena seems
to be surprised. Gabrielle turns to Orion. "What ...This can't be for
"It was the least I could do after the way the Academy and my father
treated you! Anyway, we wouldn't want the Warrior Princess to be treated
badly!" Orions eyes gleam with delight at Gabrielle's expression.
"Dinner will be ready in an hour. If you both would join us then, it will
be in the Great Hall." He looks expectantly at Gabrielle.
"Yes, we'll be there." Xena says, enjoying Gabrielle being speechless for
once. Orion departs and Gabrielle walks over to the window. She stares
out at the place she once thought to call home. Not much had changed. The
Great Hall sat at the head of the courtyard. The servants quarters were
off to the left. The student rooms to the right. The great Library was
just beyond the Great Hall. Gabrielle knew she would have been happy
here, but not as happy as traveling with Xena.
Xena interrupts Gabrielle thoughts. "A very nice young man."Xena places
her saddlebags on a chair.
"Yes" Gabrielle says, not quite in tune with the conversation
Xena comes to stand behind Gabrielle at the window. "He seems to care a
great deal about you."
"Huh?!" Gabrielle turns and looks at her friend. "Oh, yeah, Well Orion is
sweet . A really good friend." But Gabrielle mind is onto other things.
She turns back to the view and a puzzled expression comes over her face.
"What is it Gabrielle?" Xena sees the change of expression.
"It's nothing really? I was just wondering why anyone would want to kill
Mearus ? I mean he was a bard. So he wasn't rich, most likely not a
fighter, so why?"
Xena looks at the students quarters and ponders her friends' words. "I
don't know Gabrielle. But it could have been something personal. It is
Gabrielle looks back at her friend. "You're right. I'm going to the
library before dinner. Want to come along?" Just then there is a knock at
the door and two servants step through carrying a tub. Then they are
followed by others carrying hot water.
Xena looks at Gabrielle. "Lets see, Go to a musty old library or stay
and take a long hot bath. The bath!" Gabrielle laughs and walks toward
the door. "Gabrielle, stay out of trouble."
Gabrielle turns and looks at her friend. "How much trouble could I get
in here? Never mind, Don't answer that." And she turns and leaves. Xena
shakes her head. Gabrielle could find trouble almost anywhere they went!!
But perhaps she was right, maybe there was nothing to worry about. But
Xena couldn't shake the nagging feeling she had ever since they arrived.
Something more was going on at the Academy. She goes to the window and
watches Gabrielle head off toward the library.
Gabrielle walks back out to the courtyard. The courtyard is still
bustling with activity. She notices a merchant arguing with a student
over a bracelets price. She goes on, heading down the street past the
great hall and enters the library. She recognizes a friend from last time
seated at the desk. He is talking, well actually arguing with a young
woman about the relativity of near death experiences in her stories. The
young girl shakes her head and walks back to her desk.
"Democratus, How are you?" Democratus rises up from his chair behind the
desk and walks around to hug Gabrielle.
"Gabrielle, So Orion lured you back! Used the nutbread to tempt you,
didn't he!" Democratus laugh.
Gabrielle chuckles softly. "No, I came for the competition. I'll be
leaving afterwards. Who was that young girl?"
Democratus looks at the young girl seated at the desk. "That's Roo. Yeah,
a weird name. But an excellent storyteller. She has a wicked sense of
humor too. She's a first year student. So what can I do for you?"
"I'm looking for some new stories to read while I'm here. And maybe hunt
up some of those scrolls I was looking for last time I was
here."Gabrielle eyes shine in anticipation.
"Go on then. I wouldn't want to keep you. If you need anything, I will be
at the front desk."He smiles as Gabrielle wanders off through the
library. Every once and a while she stops, pulling a scroll from the
shelf. So enthralled in one scroll on Eris, that she doesn't notice the
time slip away quickly. The torches now give off the only light as
darkness has fell. They cast an eery glow throughout the library. She
continues to walk between the shelves reading the scroll, not watching
her destination. Then quietly from between the shelves hears a cold voice
She looks up, searching for the source of the voice. "Yes?" But no one
answers back. Shaking her head she shrugs it off. She then notices that
she is late and must get back to Xena before she begins to worry. She is
near the back of the library now. She slowly walks toward the front,
rolling the scroll for study later, When she hears her name whispered
again by the same cold voice....
"Who's there?" Gabrielle senses begin to warn her of danger.
A harsh laugh echos through the library. "I'm coming for you. You will be
taken soon!" She hears a shuffle near one of the shelves. She slowly
creeps to the edge of the shelving and looks around the corner. No one is
there. She lets out a sigh, and continues toward the front a little
faster. She hears her name again, only a little louder this time.
Gabrielle turns and looks. She sees something move toward the back of the
library in the shadows. "This isn't funny you know! Who's there?"
She takes a couple of tentative steps forward, when a hand clamps firmly
down on her shoulder.
Gabrielle jumps and screams. She swings around to punch with her
fist. "Whoa! Gabrielle it's me!" Xena catches her fist. Gabrielle looks
at her friend and lets out a slight shudder. She shakes her head laughing
"You sure know how to sneak up on someone."
Xena gently releases her hand. "Sorry, I thought you heard me call to
you. What were you looking at?" Xena knows that Gabrielle doesn't
frighten easily, but there is fear in her eye's now.
"Nothing, lets go and eat." Gabrielle walks toward the exit. Xena glances
back down the aisle the way Gabrielle was looking. Nothing is there, but
from Gabrielle expression, someone was there. She turns and follows
Gabrielle. As they leave the library a figure steps out of the shadows.
The torch light catches on the edge of a knife in the figures hand.
"Next time Gabrielle, next time." The figure disappears into the shadows.
Xena catches up with Gabrielle. "What's going on, Gabrielle?"
"Nothing really! I just lost track of time and got involved in the scroll
I was reading?" Xena knew there was more to it. Fear had been in
Gabrielles eyes and now she was walking as fast as she could. "Come on
Xena, I'm hungry!" But Gabrielle couldn't mask the nervous twitch in her
voice. Xena sighs, later she would talk with Gabrielle. Orion motions
them over to a table as they enter the Great Hall.
"Gabrielle, I never thought you would be late for a meal!" Orion and the
others snicker softly. They all remember Gabrielles appetite very
vividly. The running joke at the Academy when she was there was that
Gabrielles stories were only rivaled by her appetite!
"Sorry, I guess I got a little carried away in reading the scroll I was
searching for." Gabrielle immediately begins to fill her plate.
"The Azure Blue of the Ocean depths cannot hold a candle to you Xena!"
Euripades smiles appreciatively and Xena shakes her head. That's when
Gabrielle notices Xena is wearing a dress, she smiles. This is a rare
moment indeed. Xena sees her grin and gives her a sarcastic look.
Gabrielle snickers and turns her attention back to her food. But the
smile never leaves Gabrielles face.
The Academy is Celebrating tonight for the opening of the Bard
Competition. The Hall is gleams in the light. The tables are laden with
wine and food. The talk is cheerful and joyous and even Xena finds the
mood infectious. Xena glances at Gabrielle and then turns to Orion.
"So Orion, Gabrielle says they call you the blind bard. Why? It's obvious
you are not really blind." Orion snickers and looks at Gabrielle.
Gabrielle, you sure haven't told Xena much about your stay here or did
you give her the edited version?" Gabrielle knows Orion is teasing, but
there were things she didn't think were too important to relate. Mainly
anything concerning her helping Orion or the others. The true tale was
always about the other person.
"Not s...s..surprising. Gabrielle never s....s...sings her own story."
Twicanim responds, giving Gabrielle a soft gently squeeze on her hand.
The others nod in agreement.
"Gabrielle helped me to realize the joy again in telling my stories. She
helped me to be myself. She is a very wise lady." Orions gaze softens on
Gabrielle quickly protests though. "Nonsense. I didn't tell you anything
you didn't already know." Gabrielle breaks his gaze.
Yes, she does have the habit of doing that for her friends." Xena looks
gratefully at Gabrielle. She wished the Bard would for just once
acknowledge that she had a great effect on those around her. But Like
Twicanim had said, Gabrielle was way too humble for that. One of those
things she liked about Gabrielle. While everyone was grabbing for glory,
Gabrielle just quietly waited in the background. What she didn't know
though was she already had what the others wanted, just by caring and
placing others first. Xena thoughts are interrupted as she hears
Gabrielle talking to Democratus.
"Democratus. Has anyone ever mentioned seeing ghosts in the library
Democratus snickers softly. "Only the ones in there stories or too much
Gabrielle looks back at the piece of chicken she is eating. "No reason."
But Xena knows better and sees more in Gabrielles question.
"Did you think I was a ghost Gabrielle? Is that what scared you in the
library?" Orion and the others lean forward now. Curious as to why
Gabrielle was really late for dinner. Orion looks worriedly at Gabrielle.
Gabrielle squirms under all of the attention, not quite ready to relate
what happened in the library.
"W..What are you talking about Xena?" Twicanim asks.
"When I went to retrieve Gabrielle from the library, she was intently
looking toward the back of the library." Xenas eyes hold Gabrielles,
demanding an answer. Orion flash fearfully, but no one seems to notice.
"Like someone was speaking in a whisper to you?" Euripades responds.
Gabrielle quickly looks at him, searching his face.
"And the voice, was it cold and harsh? Like something from the
otherside?" Euripades eyes reflect the fear Gabrielles held earlier.
"Yes, exactly. Like the person knew you. Very haunting and cruel."
Gabrielle stares off into space remembering the encounter earlier.
Alarm bells begin to go off in Xenas head. "What did the voice want?"
Gabrielle and Euripades look at each other. Agreeing silently about the
same thing. Euripades responds first. "He said he was coming for me? My
death I believe." The other faces register
shock. But Gabrielle thoughts are beginning to find a thread of
"Death of the bards", she whispers. "But why?" ponders in deep thought.
Orion interrupts there thoughts. "Who would want to kill a bard? We don't
harm anyone, we tell stories. No, Your all just hearing things. The
library is big and drafty. Voices echo through it. You've caught a piece
of a conversation. That's all!" Gabrielles face looks up at Orion. Hurt
and puzzlement reflecting there. Xena wonders to herself why Orion would
brush this account aside. Even if it's not true, He could weave a story
about it. And why did Orions face reflect deep fear.
"Gabrielle and Euripades, is there anything else you can tell us?"
Gabrielle looks at Xena. Xena can see she wants to say more, but Orions
rebuke won't let her.
"No, just what Euripades said." She looks back down at her plate. Around
them tables are being moved. Minstrels are setting up on stage. The
group of bards have become quiet and sullen. Around them laughter and
talking ring out still. The music strikes up and people begin to dance.
The group is forced from it's gloom, by a lone figure that appears next
"Care to dance?" Roo asks. Orion smiles and nods to her. Orion looks at
Gabrielle, "I'll be back for a dance with you." and off he goes being
gently pulled along by Roo. Dianac comes over and asks Euripades for a
dance. Then Stallones asks Xena for a dance. The Warrior looks up at
"Go on Xena, you could use some fun." Gabrielle urges.
Xena looks at Gabrielle. It wasn't that she didn't like to dance, it
just had been a long time. "All right." Stallones offers her arm and off
Twicanim grabs Gabrielles hand. "This is not a n..nnight for sadness."
And he twirls her out onto the dance floor. Well, no matter what they
said about Twicanim, Gabrielle decided later, They had better never say
he couldn't dance.
As the night wears on Gabrielle watches as Xenas mood lightens. Xena
hadn't stopped smiling since the dancing had begun. It was nice to see
and Gabrielle wished that smile would never fade from her face. Xena for
her part was relieved to see that the fear that was in Gabrielles eyes
earlier was now gone. Soon the music is replaced by bards spinning tales
of heros and heroines. Gabrielle takes her turn, weaving a tale of her
and Xenas encounter with the Thessilian and Mitoan war. Xena listens,
barely breathing, as Gabrielle describes the warriors frantic attempts to
bring her back and the beauty of the Elysian fields. Everyone watches in
silence, hanging on every word of the young bard. All the pain, fear,
love and joy reflected in the story. And when the tale ends cheering
rises loudly in the hall. Gabrielle shakes her head, unsure of for a
moment where she is. She smiles and gets down from the stage.
Another bard takes her place and begins his tale. Soon the audience is
drawn into the tale again, but without the wrapped attention given the
young bard before him. Gabrielle looks over at Xena, she is talking
quietly with Stallones. He seems to be regaling her with a story, as his
actions are speaking louder than his words as usual. Gabrielle quietly
slips away, not wanting to disturb her friends joy right now.
The moon shines down brightly on the young bard as the cool night air
caresses her face softly. She smiles, softly humming as she walks toward
the guest residence. Gabrielle hears soft footfalls behind her. She turns
thinking Xena has followed her, "Xena I'm fine. G..." But no one is
there. She sees some students walking back to there rooms. "Come on
Gabrielle, your letting your imagination run." she says under her breath.
She continues on and walks though the door of the residence. As she
closes the door, the lone light of a lamp in the hallway blows out. Great
she thinks, just what I need. She walks slowly and carefully down the
hallway toward her room. The in the dark she hears the sound of a boot
scraping against the floor.
"Is someone here?" a prickling begins to rise on the back of her neck. In
the dark a voice cold and harsh calls out to her...
"Gabrielle, I'm back for you." A hand shoots out and grabs Gabrielle by
the throat. Gabrielle steps back and twists trying to free herself, but
the grasp of the hand around her throat is too tight. Reacting purely out
of instinct her hand shoots up, catching the sharp blade of a dagger.
Fire lances through her hand as the blade digs in and in desperation she
"XENA!" She gasps trying to get enough air and tries to keep the knife
away. The sickly sweet smell of her assailants breath wafts over her.
"No, you are going to die." The assailant gripes her throat even tighter
and pushes forward on the knife with his weight. "Gods Xena where are
you?" Gabrielles breath comes in gasps and the spots be fore her eyes
start to blot out her awareness. Her grip on the dagger starts to weaken,
and she prays that its quick death. The sound of peoples voices and
running footsteps can be heard. Desperate she use what air she has left
and calls as loud as she can one last time.
"Xena!" It comes out as a ragged gasp. She hears the familiar, "
AIAIAIAIAIAYAAAA!" The grip releases from around her throat and she
collapses to the ground. Light shines down the hallway, as Xena and
Stallones come rushing in. Xena rushes toward Gabrielle, even as the
young bard calls her name weakly, "Xena". As Gabrielle slides into
unconsciousness she hears Xenas desperate cry, "Gabrielle!", and feels
arms reach around her. "I'm here"and blackness covers her.
Xena quickly assesses Gabrielles injuries. Blood streams from her hand
and her neck begins to turn black and blue. "Is she..." Stallones asks.
"No, she just unconscious. Quickly help me get her to our room." The rush
Gabrielle to the room. Xena checks Gabrielles breathing, reassured she
then applies pressure to the cut on Gabrielles hand. "Stallones the
saddle bag on the chair, bring it here." Stallones grabs the saddlebag
quickly and returns to Xenas side with it. "Here hold this bandage
tightly in place." Xena grabs twine and needle and begins stitching
slowly on the hand.
"Will she be ok?" Stallones worried eyes watch the even breathing of
Gabrielles chest. Anger rises as he sees the bruising around her throat.
"Yes, we got here in time. A little longer though and..." Xena trails
off, not wanting to think of what may have happened.
"She'd be dead." Stallones voice is flat.
Xena finishes stitching. "Yes, go get the school officials Stallones. I
want to talk to them." Stallones looks over at Gabrielle worriedly.
"Don't worry, I'll stay with her till you return."
Stallones departs and Xena goes back to examining Gabrielles neck. "You
do have a way at finding trouble, don't you?"The bruising is bad, but not
too much damage was done from what Xena can tell. She will have to wait
and see how Gabrielles voice is when she wakes. Xena lets her head rest
on Gabrielles arm, the fear ebbing away.
Stallones returns and Xena has him sit by Gabrielle, while she goes to
talk to the officials. She steps into the hall and notices that Only one
official and Orion stand there. "Xena this is Madoras, head of the
Academy. Is Gabrielle OK?"
"Yes, she should recover fine. But we will have to wait and see about her
voice." Xena watches as Orion looks away in pain.
"Xena we need your help. This isn't the first incident." Madoras replies.
Inside Gabrielle wakens, her throat burning and a dull ache in her hand.
Fear suddenly washes over her heart and panic sets in. She begins to rise
quickly. "No. It's Stallones, your safe Gabrielle."
She relaxes a little. "Xena?" she croaks out in barely a whisper.
Stallones helps her sit up and drink a little water.
"She's talking with the school officials. She'll be here in a minute.
I'll be here till she returns. Now rest." Gabrielle leans back and closes
her eyes. She can hear voices drifting through the door from the hallway.
Xenas angry voice, Orions concerned voice, and another trying to remain
"What do you mean this isn't the first such incident?" Staring coolly at
Madoras tries to explain under Xenas withering gaze. "Three students have
died already. There have been a total of 5 attempts. At first we thought
they were random incidents, because they happened so far apart. But now
we are not sure."
Xena can't believe what she is hearing. "How come you haven't warned
anyone? And Why have a contest when someone is murdering bards??"
"We don't want to alarm anyone!" Madoras says calmly.
"Alarm!" Xena yells, then more quietly remembering Gabrielle in the other
room. "Alarm, people are dying! And you don't want to alarm anyone?"
"Xena understand. The Bard Academy is a peaceful place where bards can
practice and learn there gift. We hurt no one. We don't want to scare off
talented bards because someone has chosen to target them."
Xena shakes her head in disbelief, trying to control her anger for
Madoras and the other officials stupidity. "You listen to me. There is
going to be more deaths, as long as you ignore this. I suggest you do
"What do you suggest we do? The assailant attacks without warning. He is
quick and quiet. By the time we discover the deaths, he is long gone.
Xena there are over 100 students her, not counting staff and servants.
How are we to protect them all??" Madoras asks angrily. Xena can tell
his anger isn't at her but frustration for a situation he can't do
"Well for starters, you can have no one go anywhere alone. Have everyone
move around in pairs or groups. Secondly, you can try and find out what
all the victims have in common, besides being a bard. Third, the
assailant obviously knows the academy well. So it's either a student,
teacher, or one of the servants. Check it OUT!"
Madoras is appalled. "How can you even suggest that a student or teacher
could do this? It's a privilege to come to the Academy. No one would
react this way, we are peaceful people."
"Obviously someone isn't! Check on it!" Xena turns on Orion now. "If you
cared as much as you say you do for Gabrielle, you would have warned her.
I'm holding you, personally responsible
for what happened Orion. Don't lie to us again." Orions face falls. Xena
angrily she spins around and quietly enters the room. She closes the door
and walks toward the bed. Gabrielle is leaning toward Stallones and
"There was nothing I could do. His grip was so tight. And...." Gabrielle
words stop as feelings of panic begin to rise again. Stallones quickly
responds. "Shhh..Gabrielle, it's ok. We heard your scream. Xena got there
in time. No one is going to hurt you, I'll make sure of it." Gabrielle
looks up at Stallones trying to give him a smile, but failing.
Xena steps up and lays a hand on Stallones shoulder. "Stallones, I'll
take care of Gabrielle now. Meet me back here in the morning and be
careful." Stallones looks down at Gabrielle before leaving. Xena bolts
the door behind him. Xena sits down in the chair next to the bed. She
rechecks Gabrielles hand and throat. She softly swears under her breath.
She can't forget Gabrielles scream that echoed into the Great Hall. It
had chilled her soul. She had never run so fast in all her life.
Gabrielle watches her friend face. Seeing the anger there, she thinks
Xena is mad at her."I'm sorry, I..." Gabrielle's voice cracks and she
begins to cough. Xena holds Gabrielle till the coughing passes and then
gives her a drink of water.
"No you have nothing to be sorry for." Xena says, softening her look at
Gabrielle. "There's more going on here than we have been told. There's a
murderer going after the bards Gabrielle."
Gabrielle nods her head. "Yes, I know. I've known for a while now."
Xena stares in disbelief at her friend.
"You've known?! For how long?!" Seeing that Xena has misunderstood what
she was trying to say, she quickly explains.
"Calm down. Not long." Gabrielle rests for a second and then begins
again. "While we were at the banquet tonight I figured it out. After
hearing about Maerus, then what happened to me in the library, and
Euripades account. Then while we were dancing, Twicanim told me about
another death that had happened two days ago." Gabrielle rests her voice
again. Her throat burns badly, but she must finish her explanation.
"Gabrielle it can wait till tomorrow." Xena helps her take another sip of
"No, no it can't. I may not be able to talk by morning and you need to
know. They found a bright aspiring young bard named nonamia, pinned to
one of the shelves in the library. A sword through her heart. Xena should
wouldn't have hurt anyone. You have got to stop this madman." Xenas face
reflects horror. Gabrielle starts coughing again. Xena holds her till it
passes, then walks over to the table with the saddle bags. She pulls out
of purple looking powder and mixes it with the water on the table. She
brings it to Gabrielle.
"Here drink this, it will help sooth your throat." Gabrielle looks up
quickly searching Xena's face. "No Gabrielle, it will just help your
throat, not put you to sleep." Relief spreads across Gabrielles face,
dreams where not what she wanted right now. She drinks all of the mixture
and lays back on the bed resting. "Now rest your voice."
"How bad is it?" Gabrielle voice quivers nervously.
Xena places a finger over the bards lips. "I said quiet. It's not too
bad. It could have been a lot worse. You should be able to compete in the
contest tomorrow, but only if you rest your voice. Your hand will heal
with time. Now go to sleep." Xena turns the chair against the wall next
to Gabrielles bed. She places her sword across her lap. Gabrielle reaches
over and grabs hold of Xenas hand with her good one. Xena glances down,
still seeing mild fear in Gabrielles eyes. She smiles reassuringly and
goes to blow out the lamp next to the bed.
"No, please Xena. Let the lamp stay lit." Xena looks over and sees panic
in Gabrielles eyes.
"All right Gabrielle. Go to sleep, you have nothing to fear." Xena holds
her hand tightly, but gently. Gabrielle eventually falls asleep, still
holding Xenas hand. Even in her sleep her grip remains firm. "No one
Gabrielle, will hurt you", whispers Xena.
Silently in another part of the academy a young bard walks through a
hallway. Reading a scroll and not paying attention to what is around him.
He enters his room and closes the door. A hand reaches out and the next
thing he knows a knife is sticking in his chest. He looks up quickly and
utters one word."YOU?" He falls to the floor dead. "Yes Sage, me!" the
murderer bends over the body and cuts something free. Then he places the
scroll that Sage was reading over his body. "Dead bards tell no tales!"
He laughs evilly and disappears through the door.
Morning arrives too soon. Warm light filters into the room as Gabrielle
wakes. Feelings of panic begin to rise in her again till she feels the
reassuring hold of Xenas hand in hers. Relaxing slightly, Gabrielle takes
a deep breath. Dreams of her attacker had plagued her through the night.
Several times Xena had woken her and held her as she had beat the
feelings of panic down that made her cry out. Xena sleeps sitting in the
chair next to her. Gabrielle knows the slightest sound will wake her. So
she stays where she is, not moving and letting Xena get the rest she
needs. A soft knock on the door wakes Xena, her sword rising to a
" Xena, it's Stallones." Xena rises and crosses the room, unlocking the
door. Stallones enters the room. He is in an agitated state. He smiles at
Gabrielle and then turns and speaks with Xena.
"It's as you thought. All the victims and intended victims were the best
of the Academy. Also, the killer is taking a souvenir from each of his
victims." He halts here and seems to be mustering his strength for his
"Go on." Xena says.
Stallones looks her straight in the eye. "He is cutting their tongues
out and taking them with." Gabrielle and Xenas face reflect horror.
Gabrielle gets up and crosses to them. "Why would he do that? He has
already killed them."
Xena puts her arm around the bard for reassurance wishing this part of
people Gabrielle never had to see. "Sometimes a killer takes something of
the victims to remind himself of their victim, of the kill, or other deep
"There is one other thing. Another bard was killed last night after the
failed attack on Gabrielle."
The color drains from Gabrielles face. "Who?"
Stallones looks at her and puts a hand on her shoulder. "Sage. He was
returning from the library. Word hadn't reached him about the
Gabrielle had met Sage briefly at her last visit to the Academy. Sage had
argued with Gabrielle about one of the stories she had told. Gabrielle
had finally won the argument and her and Sage had become friends. "It
should have been me." Gabrielle says walking over and sitting at the
table in the room.
"What? Why would you think that Gabrielle?" Xena walks over and sits next
to her friend.
"If he had killed me, Sage would be alive now." Xena grips her shoulder
and turns Gabrielles face towards her. "You don't know that. He would
have killed you and then killed another. So stop this, you're not to
blame in anyway."
Stallones walks over and gently holds Gabrielles hand. "Xenas right
Gabrielle. You know he won't stop killing till he's caught."
Determination and courage replace the fear in Gabrielle's face. "You're
right. OK! So how are we going to catch this madman?"
Xena smiles to herself. Gabrielle always found the strength deep inside
to go forward. She never let her fears hold her back. Zeus knows, she's
had enough of them since she started traveling with me. "We are not! You
are going to get ready to compete in the competition. Stallones is going
to stick to you like glue. I'm going to have a look around and see what I
can find out!" Xena can see Gabrielles protest coming even before the
words can leave her lips.
"No Gabrielle! And be quiet till the competition starts. We wouldn't want
you to lose your voice." Xena chuckles softly. Gabrielle gives Xena a
perturbed look, but nods her head.
Stallones shakes his head and smiles. Even without a voice, Gabrielle
could communicate so much. Xena rebandages Gabrielles arm and checks her
throat again. They have something to eat and then get ready to leave.
"Come on Gabrielle. We need to get to the Great Hall." They all three
head out the door and to the Great Hall. The sun has begun to burn off
the last of a light fog as they cross to the hall. People are moving
about in groups and pairs. Quiet whispers can be heard about Sages death.
There is a sense of gloom even in the warm sunshine. Roo, Orion,
Twicanim, and Euripades meet them on the steps outside the hall.
"Oh beautiful Siren. Your bravery exudes forth sending our hope soaring
to Mount Olympus." Gabrielle shakes her head and reminds herself to get
Euripades to loosen up. She flinches as a twinge of pain runs through her
"W..Will you be ok? Twicanim asks.
Gabrielle is about to answer, when Xena interrupts her thoughts. "She
will be fine. But she needs to let her voice rest, till she competes.
Gabrielle, I need to take a look around. I'll be back to see you
compete." Gabrielle sighs and nods her head. Xena turns and looks at
Gabrielle friends. "Remember, no talking for her and don't let her out of
your sight." Xena gives Gabrielle one last warning look and leaves.
"Come on, Gabrielle." Stallones says, gently tugging her up the steps of
"Amazing!" Twicanim says. Gabrielle looks questioningly at him. "I've
n..never heard you this quiet b..before." They all start laughing.
Gabrielle gives them a look and rolls her eyes. Great, she thinks to
herself. It's not bad enough Xena talks to me like she's my mother, but
now I have to endure this! Oh well. She quickly picks up the pace. They
enter the Great Hall and register for competition. Excitement buzzes
through the bards in the room. The bards assemble as a school official
stands. "Welcome to all. We appreciate your participation in the
competition. The next three days you will compete against each other for
the honor of becoming the Best of the Academy. The winner will be decided
on the fourth and final day. Five bards will be left at that time to
perform before the great Bard Eustacious and one other secret judge. The
winning bard will be granted one wish by the Goddess Athena." A ripple of
excitement and wonder runs through the crowd. Even Gabrielle is stunned
at this announcement.
"Athena?" Gabrielle thinks, "How did they pull that one off?"
"Please..Please. Everyone quiets. Yes, Athena. Now for the rules. You
will be divided into groups. You will compete in the morning, afternoon
and evening each day. Each story will be judged on the integral parts.
Excitement, Compassion, and Depth. No story can be told twice by the same
bard." A murmur runs through the assembled bards. This is an unexpected
detail for some of them. Gabrielle looks up and smiles. "Competition
starts in 30 minutes. You have your assigned group. "May the Blessings of
The Muses be upon you!" The bards break into their groups and the
Elsewhere, Xena looks over Sages room carefully. What a waste of a
talented life. Blood covers the floor just inside the door, where Sage
died. She looks over Sages desk seeing only pen, ink, and scrolls. She
turns to leave a small piece of cloth with a couple strands of long brown
hair attached to it catches her eyes near the door. She picks it up. It
has been torn from something, maybe? She takes the cloth with her and
leaves. She spends some of the morning questioning students and servants
around the residence. She stops and checks Argo. She feeds Argo an apple
with the promise of a run later. Argo bumps his Mistress and snorts. She
hugs Argo and leaves. Xena heads toward the Great Hall quickly, entering
just as Gabrielle takes the stage. Gabrielle sees Xena enter, but keeps
her attention focused on the story.
"I sing of Goliath, a most sorrowful tale, who aloud revenge to consume
his soul and destroy the Love his family gave him..." Gabrielle goes on,
telling of Goliaths great sacrifice, while protecting Xena. Then how he
let his sorrow consume him and turn to revenge, spending the rest of his
life looking for the one that had cut down his family. Even allowing the
feelings of revenge to destroy the one true friendship he had with Xena.
"He battled her on the side of evil and lost the last thing he could
give..His Life." Gabrielles voice stills and her eyes come back from the
event she had witnessed.
The sadness and feeling had been too much for the judges and bards in
the room. As stillness remains, tears can be seen among those listening.
Even Xena has tears falling down her face, but she remains deeply hidden
in the shadows, not seen by any but her friend. Gabrielle did see, and
was glad for the tears that Xena shed. It was rare she evoked such a
response in her friend and knew that they would only help speed on the
healing of her soul. Gabrielle bows and leaves the stage to join her
friends. Xena walks toward the group, having composed herself.
Twicanim takes the stage and the process begins again. Xena takes a
seat off to Gabrielles right, keeping watch over the bard. Gabrielle is
quietly speaking to Stallones as Twicanim finishes and bows, when a hand
touches her shoulder from behind. She jumps, startled.
"I'm sorry Gabrielle. I didn't mean to frighten you." The young bard
"Greenmt! Is it you?!" Gabrielle sweeps the young woman up and swings her
"Gabby..Please..not..so tight, I can't breath." Quickly realizing how
tightly she was holding Greenmt, she releases her. "Sorry. It's just. I
haven't seen you in a long time."
Greenmt laughs. "Well, you did take off kind of sudden. I heard you went
back briefly, saved the town. Lilla told me that if I saw you to say Hi
and give you her love." Xena watches this exchange with some amusement.
Rarely did she see Gabrielle react to someone like this.
"How is Lilla doing?" Gabrielle asks.
"She is fine. She's in Love. Seeing a young man named Joxer. Funny
little man." Gabrielles mouth drops open and she stumbles back like she's
Stallones grabs her and quickly settles her in a chair."Whoa! Gabrielle
are you ok? What is it?"
Greenmt kneels before Gabrielle looking up into her face worriedly. Xena
is suddenly by her side. "What did I say?"
"I'm sorry. It was the thing about Lilla. I'm fine now." She looks up at
Xena. "Really, I'm fine"
Gabrielle looks back at Greenmt. "So what are you doing here?"
Greenmt pulls up a chair. "Getting an education, following my dream like
you told me to." Xena looks questioningly at Gabrielle.
"I'm sorry. Xena this is my cousin Greenmt. She uses to follow me
everywhere while I was growing up." Gabrielle snickers.
"Yes, Gabrielle and I were quite inseparable. So you're the Warrior
Princess who stole Gabrielle away. I have heard of you. Can't say it is
all good. But Gabrielle wouldn't travel with you unless you were
special." She shakes hands with Xena.
"Stole away Gabrielle. No one steals Gabrielle, she kind of follows you
and becomes a pain." Xena chuckles softly. Leave it to Gabrielle to find
family at the Academy, Xena thinks.
"Yes, she does have a way of getting her point across" Laughs Greenmt.
Gabrielle looks at the two and rolls her eyes. "We were just going to get
some lunch. Would you like to join us?"
"No Gabby. I have to run to my next class. How about dinner?" Greenmt
gets up to leave.
"All right!" She tossels her cousins hair.
"Gabby, I'm not a little girl any more." Her cousin says. She runs off
quickly catching up with a group of students.
Gabrielle chuckles as she watches her leave. "You will be to me."
Gabrielle shakes her head. "Come on, I'm hungry."
Xena laughs, "When aren't you hungry?"
Gabrielle snorts and starts to walk off alone. "Wait up Gabrielle." Xena
catches her easily.
"So what did you find?" Gabrielle inquires curiously.
"Nothing much. Whoever it is, is good. Too good. Gabrielle whatever you
do, don't go anywhere alone. OK?" Xena and Gabrielle notice Orion waiting
off to the side.
"Xena, go on without me. I'll be along in a moment. I need to speak to
Orion." Xena stares
hard at Orion, then looks at Gabrielle. "All right. I'll be outside
waiting, don't be long." Gabrielle watches her go. The Hall is empty now,
all accept the two bards and a lone figure,
hidden by the marble columns. The bards do not see him. Gabrielle turns
and walks over to Orion. "How are you?"
Orions eyes stare at the floor. "I'm fine." He looks up. "How are you?"
Gabrielle sees the guilt in his eyes and wishes she could erase it.
Orion lets out a deep breath. "Gabrielle, I'm sorry. I should have told
"Yes, you should have." Gabrielle sighs. "It doesn't matter now. What
matters is you're my friend and I don't want to lose that friendship."
Orion grabs her and hugs her. Relief washes through him as he whispers
to her, "It won't happen again." He kisses her softly on the cheek and
looks into her eyes. "Come on, lets get you fed. Can't have our winning
Gabrielle laughs and walks with Orion."I haven't won yet!" The shadowed
figure follows them slipping from column to column.
Just as Gabrielle and Orion are going to depart, a whisper says... "I
know a secret Gabrielle."
The sound of a small bowl hitting the ground echos through the hall.
Gabrielle pivots quickly and sees the figure standing there. In a sing
song voice the figure speaks. "One by one the bards disappear, replaced
by one deserving and near." Laughing coldly the figure runs off.
"Xena" Gabrielle yells, taking off after the figure. "Not this time she
says." Orion follows closely behind.
"Catch me if you can Gabrielle." The figure laughs a cold haunting laugh
and leaps out the window. Gabrielle follows.
"Gabrielle, what are you doing?" Orion yells, watching the two figures
head off toward the library. But Gabrielle doesn't hear him.
"Gabrielle..Orion..??" Xena calls.
"Xena here, quickly. Gabrielle is after the murderer. They headed toward
the library." Xena swears something under her breath that sounds like
foolhardy bard and then leaps out the window.
Gabrielle has reached the library. Carefully moving forward, she looks
around. She sees no one in the library. She moves toward the back of the
library where she heard the noises the first time she was there. Seeing
the flash of a black cloak go around a shelf, she moves quickly forward.
She edges carefully up to the shelf and peers around the corner. No one
there, she moves slowly down along the length of the shelf. She stops and
listens. A scraping noise comes from a few rows down. Gabrielle moves
slowly from end to end. Too Quiet in here, could almost wake the dead,
she thinks to herself. Great, why did you have to think that. Get a hold
She hears the scraping noise again. Gabrielle slowly creeps forward. I
hand poises just around the next book case, a dagger ready to fall on the
bard. She goes to step forward as a hand clamps down over her mouth and
around her waist, pulling her back. Gabrielle begins to struggle.
"Gabrielle it's me." Xena whispers. The figure behind the book case hears
Xenas voice. Gabrielle relaxes as Xena moves past her toward the point
that Gabrielle was at. She looks around the corner and sees a dagger
sticking in one of the shelves. Looking around and seeing no one, she
moves forward slowly. Gabrielle comes to the end and watches as Xena
pulls the knife free. There's a loud creek and then shelves start falling
like dominos toward Xena. "Gabrielle get back." Gabrielle leaps clear of
the falling shelves. Xena leaps forward , sliding on the smooth marble
floor as the shelves collapse around her.
"Xena!" Gabrielle calls. But she hears nothing.
Gabrielle scrambles over the shelves, trying to find any sign of her
friend. Then she hears a faint muffled voice. "Gabrielle?"Orion and a
group of students run through the door of the library. As they enter, a
figure slips in among them, unnoticed.
Gabrielle is frantically moving scrolls and trying to lift the shelves
up. "Xena? Hang on! ORION! Xenas trapped under the shelves." The group
"We will have to stand up each shelf to get her out, as they are piled
one on top of each other."Orion says. A small group works together to
clear the scrolls away as Stallones, Orion and two others begin resetting
the shelves upright. Roo places a reassuring hand on Gabrielles shoulder,
which sends a shiver through Gabrielle. There's something familiar.. She
can see Xena now that they have cleared the scrolls away. "Xena, are you
Xena angrily responds, "Yes, My foot is stuck and I can't get it free.
It seems our friend, doesn't like to be pursued." After what seems like
an eternity to Gabrielle, the last shelf is set up.
Xena is helped to her feet by Stallones."You know if you wanted to
read a scroll on the top shelf there are easier ways to get one
down."Stallones quips with a grin. Xena gives him the Look.
"Are you all right?" Gabrielle inquires looking Xena over.
Xena tests the foot that was trapped and nods. "Yes, no worse for
wear."Gabrielle lets out a sigh.
"Excuse us for a moment." Xena says to Stallones. He nods and begins to
help the other students replace the scrolls on the shelves.
Xena grabs Gabrielle by the shoulder and pulls her off to the side.
"What did you think you were doing chasing after the murderer? You
weren't even armed Gabrielle!" Anger floods through Xena.
"I am not a child! I don't need to be scolded by you every time I turn
around." Gabrielle responds angrily.
"If you haven't noticed, he has tried to kill you twice. If I hadn't
gotten here when I did, you may have been dead now or in the least
trapped below those shelves." Xena responds.
Gabrielle pokes her finger at her friend. "If! If! You're not the only
one who takes chances Xena. I'm tired of being afraid of this madman. And
now he has decided to start taunting me. I won't run anymore. I won't be
Xena looks worriedly at her friend. "What do you mean he has started