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Chapter 1 - 6

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.


Xena quickly left camp to intercept the intruder, wondering who was foolish enough to approach them this late at night, and more importantly ... interrupt them. "Damn it." Xena muttered under her breath, feeling for her chakrum only to find an empty thong. At least she had enough wits about her to remember her sword, an irritated Warrior Princess considered.

No longer on uncertain ground, the two best friends finally embraced the feelings they had for each other. Xena could not believe that after such darkness in her life, she would be able to experience so much joy. How wonderful it was to finally show Gabrielle how much she loved her, well...almost show her, the Warrior Princess sighed heavily.

Her eyes narrowed, hearing yet another sound from the ill-timed interruption.

Quickly moving through the forest to flank the noisy intruder, Xena's thoughts lingered back at the camp with Gabrielle. She could not believe the incredible depth of Gabrielle's love for her. A smile slowly crossed Xena's face as she recalled the most recent evidence of that love...the tender words, the gentle touch.... the incredible passion in her kisses.

"Focus, you idiot." Xena scolded herself, hearing the surprising sound of a second intruder. Waiting motionless, Xena monitored the progress of the two intruders by their not so subtle noises.

As the second intruder came closer, Xena's body tensed, ready for a battle. Finally appearing, the second intruder surprised Xena again. "I thought I told you I'd take care of it." Xena sighed as a disheveled bard came along side her.

"I know what you said," Gabrielle responded, trying to tie her top's laces with her staff awkwardly wedged under her arm. "But you were taking entirely too long," The bard complained, still fumbling with the laces. The staff slipped. As she grabbed for it, she knocked herself in the head. "Ow..." The bard muffled her moan and rubbed her head.

"You ok?" Xena asked, wisely wiping the grin from her face before the bard's eyes caught it.

"Just wonderful," Gabrielle muttered, placing her staff back under her arm and continued her struggle with the laces

"Let me help." Xena offered with a slight grin, reaching out for laces that moments ago, the warrior had no difficulty untying.

"Thanks." Gabrielle responded, placing her staff in the surprised warrior's hand. "There." Gabrielle exhaled with quiet triumph over the stubborn top. With a slight sigh of disappointment, Xena returned the staff to the now-laced bard. Back to the business at hand, Xena's attention refocused on the intruder.

The Warrior Princess seemed amazingly calm to the bard. Almost too calm.

"You act as if you expected this," Gabrielle whispered, also noting the warrior fully dressed and ready for battle. "...and how did you get your armor back on so quickly?" Gabrielle quietly interrogated her partner who tried, with great difficulty, to keep her attention on the intruder's movement.

Gabrielle looked at her feet, one bare and one booted. "You don't happen to know where my other..." Xena gently put her fingers on the bard's lips and pointed towards the shadowy figure, now very close.

The shadowy figure tripped and fell down with a familiar metallic thud. The two women looked at each other. "Joxer" They sighed in unison.

"You know Xena...I won't hold it against you if your chakrum just happens to slip out of your hand," Gabrielle offered, eyeing the intruder as he quickly picked himself up and looked around to see if anyone saw him.

"Gabrielle," Xena sighed and shook her head, hiding her amusement. "Ok, chakrum...hey...where IS your chakrum?" Gabrielle noticed and touched the empty thong.

Probably next to your boot, Xena thought to herself. "Hard to get a good shot with all these trees." Xena explained to the interested bard. "For close-in confrontations, a sword is a better weapon." Xena lectured, further amusing the bard.

Before Gabrielle could respond, Joxer called out to them. "Xena?... Xena?...Gabrielle?" He scratched his head wondering why both of them were away from camp this late at night.

The two sighed again as they looked back at Joxer. "OK...Did you know sword accidents are very common? People trip and fall on swords all the time," Gabrielle casually informed the warrior.

"Are you trying to tell me something Gabrielle?" Xena asked innocently.

"Well you did say YOU would take care of it didn't you?" Gabrielle turned to her partner with a raised eyebrow, causing the warrior to smile and laugh softly.

"Well?" Gabrielle quickly added as she crossed her arms and impatiently tapped her bare foot. "Gabrielle," Xena responded, tenderly caressing her cheek, making the bard's irritation evaporate. "Patience..." Xena whispered, leaning towards the bard for a kiss.

With her flame of desire just extinguished by that incredibly cold bucket of wisdom, Gabrielle's eyes narrowed. "All right." Gabrielle responded with a polite smile as she stepped back from the Warrior Princess, avoiding the kiss. "I can be patient." Gabrielle slowly added.

"Gabrielle....I didn't mean...I....Gab..." Xena called to her partner, who ignored her as she briskly turned and headed back to camp. Watching the one-booted bard hobble away, the warrior made a mental note that not all of her wonderfully sage advice should be shared with the bard.

"Ugh" Xena groaned, wondering just how patient the stubborn bard intended to be.

Returning to camp, Gabrielle's eyes furrowed at the intruder who was inspecting her misplaced boot. "Joxer!" Gabrielle called out with a forced smile.

"Gabrielle!" He responded happily but coughed and took on a more dramatic tone to deliver his news. "I have news for Xena, where is she?" He looked around the camp, then down curiously at the bard's bare foot.

"Out there." Gabrielle sighed, pointing over her shoulder to the forest. "Being PATIENT." Gabrielle snapped, taking the boot from his hands and plopping down on her bed roll. Lying back with her head on her arm, Gabrielle let out a long sigh.

"Joxer..." Xena nodded to him, noting Gabrielle ignore her return. "You said you had news?" The warrior questioned the intruder, disclosing mild interest.

"You bet Xena, your friend Texius needs your...uh ...OUR help." He grinned widely, excited there was to be another adventure for him with the Warrior Princess.

'So somebody needs her help, what ELSE is new?' Gabrielle thought. 'Will THEY get told to be patient? Oh no... just the bard,' Gabrielle sighed heavily.

"Why?" Xena asked, ignoring Joxer's "our" comment and Gabrielle's belabored sigh.

"He wouldn't tell me...just that it was important to his people. He said he would tell you everything once you got there." Joxer shrugged.

"There where?" Gabrielle asked, still staring at the stars. As if it really mattered, she sighed.

"Someplace you will appreciate Gabrielle." Xena spoke enticingly, eyeing her. Rolling on her side, Gabrielle propped her head up on her hand and finally looked at Xena.

"Oh?" Gabrielle responded casually.

Xena grinned slightly, waiting for the ever-curious bard to ask again before explaining. Gabrielle, however, had no intentions of complying. Although dying to ask, she just looked at the Warrior Princess and demonstrated...patience. The Warrior Princess considered the bard's curiosity would ultimately overwhelm her, so Xena waited....patiently.

"Well, I thought the Verbinians were just a myth until I actually met them." Joxer offered, drawing a sharp look from Xena, who carefully weighed the pros and cons of the chakrum and sword accidents.

"Verbinia! We are going to Verbinia?" Gabrielle bolted up with a huge smile on her face, all evidence of her annoyance evaporated. A response that pleased and, though she wouldn't admit it, relieved Xena. "Unless Texius moved..." Xena looked at Joxer.

" know it's weird that not too many people get a chance to see their city." He shrugged. "They seem nice enough. Makes you wonder why the walls and secrecy." Joxer added as he plopped down his bed roll between the two women. They stared at him for a moment as he made himself comfortable.

"So what is Verbinia like?" Gabrielle asked her partner, exaggerating the need to look around an unaware Joxer. Xena smiled, considering perhaps her comment about patience was water under the bridge.

"Don't know. I wasn't allowed in," Xena replied, sitting down on her bed roll. She eyed the distance between bedrolls and sighed. A sigh not lost on the bard.

"Well...I've seen it and once you've seen one Greek town, you've seen them all..I don't know what all the fuss is about." Joxer lied back on his bed roll, shifting around a number of times to get into the most comfortable sleeping position.

"But to be around a people with such a RICH literary history, to be around such great story tellers!" Gabrielle responded with infectious enthusiasm. "It is said that the Verbinians are gifted with the ability to tell their tales at a very early age, some say they are gifted from BIRTH. Imagine!"

"I'm not sure I'd like to hear a story from a newborn." Xena grimaced.

"Me neither." Joxer interjected.

Ignoring the two, Gabrielle continued with her unabashed appreciation of these mysterious people. "A elderly Verbinian poet, Loquus, came to the Athens Academy causing quiet a stir in the bard community. His poetry was SO incredible." Gabrielle beamed.

Xena enjoyed watching the bard, especially when such enthusiasm radiated from the young woman. Of course, Xena noted as she eyed the intruder, watching was the only pleasure she would be able to enjoy this evening. Patience, oh wise warrior, patience, Xena sighed heavily, starting to remove her boots for a second time that evening.

"What's wrong?" Xena asked softly, noticing the bard's smile fade.

"For a man so proud of his people, I would have expected him to want to talk a bit more about them. He always seemed to be alone in the library, writing." She relayed.

"The Verbinians are a secretive people." Xena responded from experience. Gabrielle nodded.

"Tell me about it! I kept asking Texius what was wrong and got no where fast," Joxer relayed.

"Wait a minute, why would Joxer be allowed in their city but not you?" Gabrielle questioned her partner.

"Yeah." Joxer interjected.

Xena stopped unlacing her boots and looked Gabrielle directly in the eyes. "I was with my army. They made the right decision to keep us out." Xena said bluntly.

"But how could they stop you? Especially with how strong your army was." Gabrielle questioned, always wanting to understand.

"Yeah" Joxer interjected, wanting to participate in the conversation.

"Their army was formidable and they had the benefit of a strong defensive position. It wasn't worth the risk." Xena relayed matter-of-factly, staring into Gabrielle's eyes, wondering what she would ever do if those beautiful eyes, that had always shown her love and understanding, ever turned away in fear or disgust.

The bard shook her head, confused. "Hmm...all the stories I've heard about the Verbinians were about their stories and literary gifts... I've never heard of a Verbinian army...seems ....odd." Gabrielle shrugged. "Do you think that could be the problem now? Someone challenging their army?" Gabrielle asked her partner.

"Don't know. I guess."

"Hmm!" Joxer interjected thoughtfully, wanting to participate in the conversation.

Gabrielle looked at Joxer and sighed, not exactly happy about the evening's interruption. Nor was she happy about this mysterious Verbinian problem which threatened to prolong the interruption, not that the Warrior Princess seemed too concerned, the bard noted with irritation.

"Well, rather than letting my imagination run wild and guessing the worst about your friend, I guess I should be... PATIENT... because we'll find out once we get there." Gabrielle informed her partner with a thin smile, as she pulled her blanket up over her and laid down.

Well, so much for water under the bridge, Xena sighed, removing her boots. The bard was not going to let this drop, Xena correctly concluded. Wondering what it would take to get Gabrielle to forgive her, a slight grin formed as she thought of ways they both would enjoy. There may be a silver lining in this after all, Xena considered.

"Good night you guys." Joxer said happily. "Good night Joxer." The women sighed in unison.


"How do you feel?" A young man asked his brother, touching his forehead and temple gently. "Gods, I feel...REBORN! I want to sing the songs of Verbinia from the highest mountain!" The soldier announced enthusiastically. "I had no idea it would be so wonderful!" He beamed. The young man smiled, relieved there were no adverse side affects.

"Look" The soldier pointed to the evening mist over the pond. "In the still of the night, a heavenly cloud steals a gentle kiss from the slumbering pond." The soldier smiles at the sight. "I see things...differently...Like I have been stumbling my way through a dreary cave and finally a torch has been lit, revealing the wondrous beauty of the path I've been traveling." He laughed when his brother raised a skeptical eyebrow. "Well, at least I can express my wonder more articulately." He added with a grin.

"Brother, you know you mustn't let anyone know of this yet." The younger brother cautioned, attempting to temper his enthusiasm. "I know. I know." The older brother sighed sadly. "But you don't know what it was like to live without it all your life, and to finally get one so truly great." The older brother explained with great emotion, tears forming in his eyes.

"No....I don't. But I do know what it is like to want something better...for all of us." The younger brother responded. "I hope you can restrain yourself from singing brother, we are not finished yet." The younger brother added.

"I owe you brother. You have my help." The soldier promised.

Xena spent most of the night lying back with her head resting on her arm, listening. Between Joxer's snoring, interrupted by occasional mumblings of grandeur, and the bard's heavy sighs as she tossed and turned, the warrior found little sleep.

"You're up." Xena stated softly, hearing the bard stir more as the first rays of morning light peered over the mountain.

"Unhun." Gabrielle mumbled affirmatively, rubbing her eyes. "Sleep well?" Xena asked, already knowing the answer.

"UnUn." Gabrielle mumbled negatively, slowly stretching her stiff body, unknowingly mesmerizing the Warrior Princess. "You?" The bard asked with a yawn, snapping Xena's attention back to the conversation.

"NO." Xena responded gruffly, making the bard giggle and in turn, the warrior chuckle.

Gabrielle rolled over on her side, eyeing Joxer. "You know, I've heard of people accidently suffocating while they sleep," Gabrielle noted with great seriousness.

"Gabrielle!" The warrior tried to feign annoyance but couldn't keep a straight face. The two chuckled again, making sleeping beauty stir, but not wake.

"He looks so...." Gabrielle sat up and looked at Joxer thoughtfully. "Annoying?" Xena guessed the first word that popped into her head.

"No...ok...yes...annoying does describe him, ESPECIALLY his snoring." Gabrielle agreed. "But he LOOKS so..." Gabrielle responded, still thinking.

"Peaceful?" Xena got up to get a closer look at Joxer. "Well yes, but that wasn't exactly the word I was looking for," Gabrielle responded thoughtfully then grinned, thinking of the word. "Vulnerable! Veeeery vulnerable." Gabrielle spoke with a sinister tone while eyeing him.

"Gabrielle, I'm not going to kill him. Not even for you." Xena responded matter-of-factly.

Gabrielle sighed with disappointment as she got up from her bedroll. "I know...I know...not enough of a challenge for you..." The bard eyed the sleeping form at their feet, then her warrior. "But a girl can dream, can't she?" Gabrielle shrugged.

"I know I do." Xena slipped her arm around the bard and pulled her close. "Good morning Gabrielle." Xena greeted the bard, looking deeply into her eyes.

"Good morning Xena." The bard responded softly, almost forgetting how annoyed she was with the warrior. As Xena slowly leaned closer to the bard, she noticed the bard not stepping back. Finally forgiven, Xena happily concluded with a smile.

A loud yawn interrupted their attempt at a morning kiss, drawing their attention towards sleeping beauty. Xena reluctantly broke from their warm embrace, but the thought of Joxer observing an intimate moment between them was even more distasteful.

Finally aware of someone watching him, Joxer bolted up from his prone position and looked around until he focused on the two familiar faces.

"Oh! Good morning you guys" Joxer responded, surprised to see the two standing at the foot of his bed roll.

"Good morning Joxer." The two responded flatly. Gabrielle shook her head and returned to her bed roll to pack up.

"You guys were waiting for me? You should have woken me up. Warriors don't need much sleep. In fact, I could have stayed up to guard the camp...I..." Joxer found himself talking to the air. Xena had also returned to her bed roll to pack up. "Could have woken me up...." Joxer muttered to himself.

A robed man stood nervously before the Verbinian Counsel of Elders. This very rare audience with the Counsel was granted due to his position as lead Attendant. A position, he wondered if he would still have after all of this.

Respecting protocol, he waited for the Counsel of Elders to formally address him before he spoke. Texius found himself scanning the long, semi-circular table with nine chairs, one of which was now vacant. A sight that painfully reminded him of their people's desperate need for help.

Actions taken involving Outsiders were not allowed without the Counsel's consent. Despite that knowledge, Texius still sent word requesting the Warrior Princess to come to Verbinia for help. He wondered if they would actually listen to him plead his case, or just make an example out of him.

"Texius, you have gone TOO far this time!" One Elder snapped at the man, finally breaking the silence. "Verbis, we are a DYING people! We need help." Texius responded emphatically, looking at the empty chair.

"You know we do not involve Outsiders in our problems, our worries." Thesaurus, the First Elder, spoke with fatherly warmth, a stark contrast to Verbis. "They do not understand our ways, our can they possibly help, assist?" Thesaurus added, holding his hand up to prevent an annoyed Verbis from interrupting.

"If lack of knowledge of our ways is a problem, then we should explain our ways." Texius spoke confidently. The bold suggestion caused a great murmur from the other counsel members. "NO!" Verbis strongly objected.

"Thesaurus, we can not allow that WOMAN in here. She's a murderer!" Verbis argued, remembering as if it was yesterday when her army camped outside their walls.

"We already have one murderer to deal with Thesaurus, we should not invite more trouble." The Third Elder, Loquus, agreed with Verbis.

"I have asked for her help only because I am unwilling to let our people loose our Gifts. We have already lost one Attendant and an Elder! An ELDER! If we don't get help, who will be next?" Texius looked each of the Counsel members in the eye, making many of them shift uncomfortably.

"Our past is in jeopardy Thesaurus....we suffer every loss, even Attendants and their modest Gifts. Xena is my friend and she WILL help us." Texius looked at the unconvinced faces of the elders.

"I stake my life on it." Texius added, making Thesaurus sigh.

"We will put it to a vote, decide by ballot." Thesaurus waived his hand for Texius to leave. Texius bowed and left, uncertain he had been convincing enough. For the first time, he was envious of those blessed with a superior Gift.


As they entered the town of Sensuria, Gabrielle and Xena walked numbly side by side. They stared at Joxer who continued his enthusiastic lecture on the Sensurian tourist sites they just shouldn't miss. Joxer pointed to the blacksmith's shop. "The blacksmith is really good Xena, he'll have Argo's shoes fixed up in no time." Joxer said happily.

"Why don't you show Gabrielle the sights while I tend to Argo." Xena offered. It seemed like a good idea, until she saw the look on Gabrielle's face. Gabrielle's cold glare at a certain, helpful Warrior Princess, was interrupted by her tour guide.

"Sure thing Xena! Come on Gabrielle!!" Joxer bubbled as he pulled Gabrielle's arm and the bard attached to it, towards the shops. "You'll like the shops Gabby, the best craftsmen and artists from all over display there goods here. OH, and they have the BEST taverns here too!" Joxer informed her with a huge smile.

"JOXER, you've told me this already!" Gabrielle stopped in her tracks. "In fact, you've told us EVERYTHING about this place.....MANY times!" Gabrielle blurted, yanking her arm from his hand. Turning to have a word with the Princess of Help, she found the woman and her horse gone. "How does she DO that?" Gabrielle muttered with annoyed amazement.

"Sorry Gabby...uh Gabrielle. I just wanted to show you this place, since you've never been here and all...uh I guess I..." Joxer stumbled over his words, making the bard feel bad.

"Joxer, I'm sorry too. I have been... preoccupied lately. Sorry for being so short with you." Gabrielle smiled weakly, feeling trapped.

"No problem! Let's start with..."

"Joxer?" Gabrielle held her hand up to stop his tidal wave of enthusiasm. "Why don't you go on ahead, I need to tell Xena something." She added.

"Tell her what?"

'She's a dead woman', Gabrielle considered would be a good start. "Uh, I just wanted to see if she needed anything... at the stores." Gabrielle considered that close enough to the truth. "No use in both of us going. You go...enjoy the sights, I'll catch up." She smiled, patting his arm.

"Oh, ok Gabby." He responded with a shrug. "Don't take too long...there is this really neat glass blower..." He noted, instinctively launched into another lecture on Sensuria as he looked towards a favorite tourist spot. Turning back to see if Gabrielle found this as interesting as he did, he found her already gone.

On her way to the blacksmith's, Gabrielle slowed to a stop, watching a man in a familiar looking robe enter a store with a young child in hand. Two soldiers traveling with them waited outside.

"Verbinians." An old woman offered flatly, confirming the staring bard's suspicions. "Do they travel here often?" Gabrielle asked, not sure from the woman's tone how she felt about them.

"Not often." The old woman responded, arranging the fruit on her cart. "They don't like to leave Verbinia unless they have to. Many Sensurians don't like them, weird customs...too secretive." The woman shook her head, watching the soldiers use hand signals. A sight that fascinated the bard.

"But if they bring us business..." The woman shrugged. " the whole lot of them are welcome as far as I'm concerned." She eyed her potential customer. "Apple? Best you'll ever taste." She held a beautiful red apple up to entice the bard.

"Oh, no thank you." Gabrielle declined, focused on the soldiers as they used hand signals. Xena mentioned that hand signals allowed warriors the ability to communicate without giving away their position. These Verbinians, however, were using hand signals in public, she noted curiously. "Do you know what they are saying to each other?" The bard asked.

"No. Though I wish I could. I might be able to sell them an APPLE." The woman responded. The bard was still watching the soldiers. The woman sighed.

"I heard the young one was sick and needed a healer." The woman finally got the bard's undivided attention. "Of course, in Sensuria, we have the best here. Best healers, best APPLES," She added, holding up an apple, eyeing it then her tough customer.

Gabrielle grinned at the woman's tenacity and bought an apple. She wasn't disappointed. "Mmmm" Gabrielle relayed appreciatively, biting into the best tasting apple she ever had.

"Told you." The woman responded. Gabrielle smiled warmly, wiping the juice from the side of her chin.

"Why don't the Verbinian's have their own healers?" Gabrielle asked.

"Don't know. I've only seen Soldiers and Attendants. I've heard about the Elders. None of them are healers. Guess they realize Sensuria has the best healers....did I mention we also have the best APPLES?" The woman added with a smile.

Gabrielle looked at her and chuckled. "You ARE good." Gabrielle grinned as she bought another apple. Not a bad bargain, she considered. For one price, she not only got a delicious apple but interesting information.

"The best." The old woman stated with pride.

"I heard the Verbinian children are gifted with the ability to tell stories from birth," Gabrielle relayed.

"Well, I don't know about that. I heard that child is mute. Can't speak or understand a single word. Most kids you can't get to stop talking at that age. Such a shame. Maybe that's why they needed a healer." The woman guessed. Gabrielle pondered the intriguing information. "Of course, they are in the best place for healers...and APPLES." The old woman grinned.

Enjoying the sights of Sensuria, Joxer failed to see a well-dressed portly man, who was frankly, not easy to miss. Due to the man's enormous size, Joxer merely bounced off him.

"Hey! You ...You....YOU!" Joxer called up from the ground, tongue-tied with annoyance. The large man looked down at the skinny, oddly clothed soldier in the dirt and shook his head.

"Verbinian idiot" The portly man sighed, shaking his head as he walked away.

Joxer jumped to his feet. "Yeah...wise choice my friend." Joxer called out to the portly man. "And I just washed!" He whined, brushing the dirt off himself.

"OK?" A young soldier asked Joxer with concern, having heard the insult. "Oh him? No problem there. He knew not to mess with me... too intimidated by my warrior bearing." Joxer saw the soldier look at him oddly.

"Joxer's the name." He held out his hand to the soldier, who smiled and happily shook it.

"Joxer." The soldier said slowly, repeating his name a few times.

"Yeah buddy, don't wear it out." Joxer responded with a little concern at this man's fixation with his name. The soldier looked at him and smiled.

"JOXER!" The Verbinian soldier called out happily. "My name... is... Basullus." The man said slowly. "Call me Bass. Easier." Bass added with a smile. Joxer returned the smile, concluding the poor young soldier was a few slices short of a full loaf.

"Well Bass, thanks for your concern...Believe me, I can take care of myself...don't you worry about me! Are you a Verbinian? Your armor looks Verbinian. I don't recall seeing you there the last time I was there. Have you been visiting Sensuria long? They've got the best Tavern food don't you think?" Joxer rambled on, delighted to find a new friend, even one who's eyes glazed over as he rambled.

Finished chatting with the old woman, Gabrielle finally made it to the stables, armed with a large bag of apples. She spotted the blacksmith nervously watching Xena as the Warrior Princess thoroughly and slowly inspected Argo's new shoes. Apparently satisfied with his work, though not obvious from her expression, Xena silently paid the blacksmith.

"Uh, I hope you'll consider me the next time your in the area and need a black...smith." He smiled weakly as the still silent Warrior Princess raised an eyebrow and dropped the last coin in his hand.

"Well, I'll be going now." The blacksmith nervously informed her and quickly left. Waiting until he was out of sight, Xena turned toward her beloved horse. "There there" She patted the horse's neck lovingly. "Happy now? Do you like your new shoes?" She asked, causing the amused bard to grin.

"Don't look at me like that." Xena told the bard in the shadows.

"Like what?" Gabrielle asked, approaching the warrior and her horse.

"Like I'm being over protective." Xena responded cooly, placing Argo's saddle back on. "There you go girl." Xena spoke warmly to the horse.

"You ARE." Gabrielle answered, scratching Argo's neck. "But I think it is sweet." Gabrielle added quickly with a warm smile.

"Sweet huh?" Xena responded, tightening up the saddle.

"Yes, VERY." Gabrielle answered, gazing appreciatively at this beautiful, caring, strong, amazing woman, wondering how she could ever get annoyed with her.

"Try to remember that the next time you think I'm being over protective of you." Xena noted dryly. "What's with all the apples? How much did you spend? How much do we have LEFT!?" Xena asked with concern, eyeing the large bag. Gabrielle sighed, knowing EXACTLY how she could get so annoyed with this woman.

Argo neighed and nudged the bard, who handed over an apple. At least someone appreciated her purchase, she considered.

"We still have about 6 dinars. Why?" Gabrielle asked, slightly defensive in her tone.

"Well, Sensuria IS supposed to have some of the best food and Inns in the area. How does a good meal and a comfortable room sound to you?" Xena asked with a twinkle in her eye, stepping closer to the bard.

"Sounds WONDERFUL." Gabrielle responded with a large smile that quickly faded. "But do you think 6 dinars will get two rooms?" Gabrielle asked.

"Two?!?" Xena responded with confusion. "Oh...yeah." Xena exhaled.

"And we can't let him eat alone...." Gabrielle sighed as she hugged the warrior with her free arm. "No, I guess we shouldn't." Xena responded, resting her chin on top of the bard's head.

"Unless..." Gabrielle offered. "Unless what?" Xena asked looking into the bard's serious face. The bard placed the bag down and picked out a single apple, which she carefully inspected.

"Did you know a number of people have died in apple choking accidents over the last year?" Gabrielle responded with a serious face.

"Gab..." Xena's attempt to scold the blood thirsty bard was interrupted by a kiss to the warrior's neck. "ahhh...uh...Gabrielle?" Xena responded, quickly looking around for intruders.

"Xena, we should make the most of the privacy we get. And right now, its just you ...and me." The bard responded with a sly smile. Argo snorted. "Oh..Sorry." Gabrielle apologized. "And Argo." She added. "You don't mind do you?" She asked the horse. Argo neighed. "I didn't think so." Gabrielle smiled then looked at the warrior who chuckled at her bard.

Xena's smile faded as she gazed upon the amazing woman who completely captured her heart. Not needing anymore encouragement, she leaned down for a kiss. Their lips barely touched when the two heard the sounds of swords clanking. Xena's head snapped towards the noise. "Why am I NOT surprised?" Gabrielle blurted with frustration.

The Warrior Princess looked back and smiled warmly at her bard. "Gabrielle, pa--" The warrior stopped just before finishing the bard's least favorite word.

"What?!?" Gabrielle's eyes narrowed. "Nothing." Xena blurted innocently. The sound of clanking swords was now accompanied by the unnerving screech of a child.

Rushing out to the main road, the Warrior Princess and Amazon Bard immediately found the source of the disturbing noise. A large group of armed Sensurians were closing in around three Verbinian soldiers, a robed young man, a small child and....Joxer. Greatly outnumbered, the soldiers bravely fought the advancing men.

The familiar war cry of the Warrior Princess made Joxer's face brighten with a huge smile. "That's Xena... the Warrior Princess, she's my friend." Joxer proudly informed his new friend Basullus, who successfully parried the thrusts from two Sensurian swords.

Unlike Joxer however, the sound of her war cry and name caused the three Verbinian soldiers to look to each other nervously. They were acquainted with her reputation and results of her deeds. She killed two fellow Verbinian soldiers during a brutal interrogation.

The Warrior Princess somersaulted into the middle of the Verbinian group, making it perfectly clear she was fighting with the Verbinians.

The first two men who dared to approach the Warrior Princess held their weapons awkwardly, obviously inexperienced in fighting. Revealing a relaxed grin, Xena pulled out her sword with a flourish. The Sensurians stood frozen for a moment, considering whether or not to continue with the attack.

"Tsk...Tsk....Tsk...You know, hospitality like this is the kind of thing that really hurts tourism." Xena warned them and proceeded to easily disarmed the men. Skillfully parrying their uncertain thrusts with great power, the Warrior Princess grinned as their swords flew through the air and imbedded in a water barrel.

Only half of the Sensurian mob was not wise enough to realize they had no way of winning. Incorrectly concluding the raven-haired warrior lucky, three Sensurians exercised their poor judgement and decided to approach her. One man with an axe went first, cautiously stepping towards the smiling warrior.

"Please, everyone... PLEASE!.... stop fighting!" The well dressed portly man called out, trying to squeeze his way through the spectators. The man's pleas fell on deaf ears.

"Perhaps if you recommend a REALLY good restaurant, I will over look your town's little hospitality problem" Xena informed the attackers, kicking the axe out of the man's hands. The axe whirled over the head of another attacker, knocking his hat off and pinning it to the side of a wagon with a reverberating thunk.

"What do you know, Sensurians DO have some manners after all." Xena smiled at the shocked and now hatless man.

The Verbinian soldiers watched with amazement at how much this warrior woman talked during the fight. They silently signed to each other and shrugged.

Easily blocking the attacks of two Sensurians, Gabrielle made her way over to Joxer, who successfully avoided getting killed by sticking with his new friend Bass. "Hi Gabrielle!" He greeted the bard with a happy waive.

Gabrielle sighed and shook her head before deflecting a swordsman's lunge with the end of her staff. With a graceful sweep, she followed through with a blow to his chest. With the wind knocked out of him, the attacker collapsed to the ground.

"JOXER! Why are these people attacking these soldiers with this child here?" Gabrielle asked hurriedly, watching out for attackers. "DUCK!!" Gabrielle ordered as she swung her staff towards Joxer's head.

"Huh?" Joxer responded, unaware that a man behind him about to thwap him over the head with a spiked club. Bass, finishing up with his attacker, grabbed Joxer just in time and pulled him out of the way. The staff forcefully met the attacker's arm, imparting great pain to the man. In a quick and concise motion, Gabrielle lunged at the attacker's chest with the opposite end of her staff, knocking him down.

"Hey! Are you trying to KILL me????" Joxer snapped at the bard who glared at him.

"Never ask questions you don't want to know the answer to." Gabrielle responded coldly, surprising Joxer. Seeing that her comment drew a raised eyebrow of reprimand from a certain Warrior Princess, the bard sighed with exasperation just before responding to another attacker. With swift and precise staff work, she blocked another blow, swept the feet out from under the attacker and knocked him out.

Seeing four Sensurians approaching, Xena swung her sword easily around her in a amazing flourish. The sword appeared like an extension of her body. With a deadly grace, the sword was guided through the air in intricate patterns that mesmerized the oncoming Sensurians. The fighting around her slowed down to a stop as everyone's attention was drawn to the skillful sword display.

Gabrielle smiled as she considered the Sensurians may have a lot of bests, but none could hold a candle to Xena.

Xena stopped her sword display, indicating she was ready to fight again as she sported an unnerving grin. "Come on." She encouraged the hesitating attackers as if they were little children. "Come on," She repeated her invitation. Suddenly, they must have heard their parents calling, for they abruptly ran away.

"Leaving so soon?" Xena questioned the four fleeing men. "And I was just starting to enjoy this place." She muttered. Looking to her bard, Xena found an amused grin on Gabrielle's face. "What?" Xena asked innocently.


Except for the unconscious bodies, Xena had cleared the streets of Sensurian attackers. Sheathing her sword, she approached the Verbinians.

"Alright, somebody start talking. What that was all about." She commanded the group. Despite her having just saved their lives, the robed man looked surprised and insulted by the warrior's demand.

Xena looked coldly at the robed man, quickly concluding he was not about to offer any information. "You" Xena barked at the oldest soldier.

"Darmas." The soldier responded uneasily.

"Well Darmas" Xena spoke with a tight smile and stepped closer to the nervous soldier. "There is something about fighting and not knowing why that tends to bother me." She relayed, her smile faded with her patience. "Why were you attacked by the Sensurians?" Xena asked, her eyes narrowing.

The man looked incredibly nervous but didn't respond. "Tell me!" Xena snapped.

"We will be going back to Verbinia now." The robed man snidely interrupted her questions.

"Not until you explain what just happened." Xena eyed the young man, who was visibly irritated. "Perhaps we should see if you are able to hold your tongue as well as the soldiers." She suggested.

Bass noticed the Attendant's anger grow the more Xena spoke to him. "Xena...Outsider."

He reminded the Attendant. The Attendant looked at Bass and nodded. "Yes." The Attendant exhaled slowly, remembering to be patient with this disrespectful warrior woman.

"It must be apparent, even to YOU, that Sensurians don't like Verbinians." The young man responded condescendingly, looking around the city.

"Then why are you here?" Xena asked cooly. The young man forced a smile. "It is not of your concern, warrior." He uttered with contempt. "We will be on our way."

"Well, before you head back, I'd like to at least be properly introduced. Since we did, after all, fight together." Gabrielle interjected with a warm smile. The young man looked over the bard, thoroughly, further irritating the Warrior Princess.

"You seem to already know of Xena, I am Gabrielle." The bard introduced herself, ignoring the man's blatant assessment of her. "I think you already know Joxer." Gabrielle added flatly.

"Not really" Joxer shrugged and pointed to Bass. "I just..." Joxer's comment was interrupted by the Attendant who recognized the bard's name.

"Gabrielle?" The man questioned with interest, surprising the bard. "Gabrielle...the bard?" He asked with growing excitement. "Well...uh...yes, I'm a bard" Gabrielle smiled awkwardly at this incredible change in demeanor. "THE Gabrielle?" He asked in amazement, almost awe, Xena noted.

"She's the only Gabrielle I..." Joxer was interrupted again.

"I can't believe I get to meet you." He responded, reaching for her hand to shake it but stopped short with an embarrassed laugh at his considerable breach of etiquette. "Your scrolls are held in great esteem by the Elders. I have been fortunate enough to read THREE of them." The Attendant informed her enthusiastically.

"You truly have a great Gift! There is even a rumor that you are a Verbinian Elder." He smiled and laughed warmly.

Gabrielle smiled awkwardly, unused to such unabashed praise over something that meant so much to her. She was well aware he was giving her a great compliment.

His comments obviously pleased her, Xena noted, trying to remember the last time she told Gabrielle how much she really liked her stories.

"Are you a bard?" Gabrielle asked. The Attendant smiled broadly, acting as if she had just given him a Solstice present.

"Oh no...I wish...I am only an Attendant." Liberus's smile quickly faded as he realized another breach of etiquette, he still hadn't introduced himself. "Oh PLEASE forgive my poor manners...I am Liberus, Sixth Attendant." He announced his position with a formal air.

"Well Liberus, I'm pleased to meet you." Gabrielle smiled warmly. "We were actually heading in your direction. Xena was invited to Verbinia by Texius. Do you know him?" Gabrielle asked him nonchalantly.

Appreciating Gabrielle's subtlety, Xena quietly waited and listened. Though his annoying fawning over the bard gave Gabrielle a useful edge in obtaining information, the Warrior Princess still preferred his previous rudeness.

"Texius?" Liberus questioned the bard, who smiled and nodded. "Invitations to outsiders are very rare." He informed her, surprised with the news.

"Why is that?" Gabrielle asked curiously.

Liberus looked sharply at the Warrior Princess who stared blankly at him. "Safety." He answered bluntly. "Gabrielle...we really must be going now." He added quickly, before the bard could question him further.

"Perhaps we could travel together..." Gabrielle offered.

The prospect of traveling with this irritating Attendant did not please the Warrior Princess. Strategically, however, she knew it would give the clever bard more time to extract information.

"NO!...I mean...our protocols on travel and interactions with outsiders are extremely rigid, especially before a Ceremony." He added, his eyes glancing down at an amazingly quiet young boy.

"Ceremony?" Xena asked, eyeing the Attendant and the young boy, unable to contain her curiosity. Once again, Gabrielle noted uncomfortably, the warrior and Attendant staring coldly at each other.

"Ah Liberus, you can't go before you introduce me to this little guy." Gabrielle interrupted the unproductive cold war, kneeling down and smiling at the young child. He was little over six summers old and shyly returned a smile.

Bass smiled and pointed. "Scholaris. Elder." He informed them. Calling the young child an Elder surprised Gabrielle, who also remembered the old woman telling her this child was mute. "Hello Scholaris. Aren't you a little young to be an Elder?" Gabrielle greeted the child with a warm chuckle. Scholaris smiled back.

"No Gift...yet." Bass explained warmly, gazing down at the boy.

"Move! Verbinia. NOW." Liberus barked to the soldiers, glaring at Basullus, who cringed. As he took the child by the hand, Liberus looked at the bard with mixed feelings. "We must go now Gabrielle. It has been an honor. I hope to hear one of your stories one day." He rushed off with the Verbinian group.

The Warrior Princess and bard looked at each other then the departing Verbinians. "Odd." Joxer vocalized their thoughts. "I'll say." Gabrielle agreed. "Yeah, I can't believe he was making such a fuss over a BARD." Joxer smirked.

"Excuse me" A portly man came up to the three. Joxer eyed the familiar man. "EXCUSE me. Uh..." The portly man cleared his throat, seeing all three stare at him, unamused. "I wanted to apologize on behalf of Sensuria for the little..." He searched for the right word. "scuffle... here today." He informed them, diplomatically. Xena's eyebrow raised.

"Little scuffle? Your whole town tried to KILL us!" Gabrielle snapped.

"Yeah!" Joxer agreed, making Gabrielle's eyes roll at his helpful commentary.

"Uh, well, we never meant for tourists to get involved in our problems with our enemies." He responded nervously.

"Why are the Verbinians your enemy?" Xena asked.

"It goes back generations...when a Sensurian witnessed one of those heathen Ceremonies they put their old people through...just before they pass on." He shuttered as informed them.

"Heathen Ceremonies? What happens at these Ceremonies? Don't they have children participate in them too?" Gabrielle asked, concerned for Scholaris.

The portly man shrugged. "I'm afraid as the stories have been passed down through the generations, many of the details have been lost."

"Your town attacked the Verbinians today because of an old story no one knows the details too? Gabrielle blurted in amazement.

"We know enough Miss." He responded defensively. "The Ceremony the Sensurian witnessed was performed on a man who didn't want it to happen. He died a painful death. What kind of civilized people torture their elderly?" He responded emphatically to a stunned bard, who looked into Xena's concerned eyes.

"Enough of boring Sensurian politics. As Mayor of Sensuria, I wanted to show you how truly sorry our fine city is about the unfortunate event this afternoon. I have reserved a table at our finest tavern and three rooms at the best Inn." The portly man smiled proudly.

"That's gre..." Joxer enthusiastic response was interrupted by the Warrior Princess.

"That won't be necessary. We must be on our way." Xena informed the portly man who frowned. She looked sadly at Gabrielle, who nodded in agreement.

"But we'd be glad to take a rain check." Gabrielle interjected, not wanting to let an opportunity pass. Xena grinned.

"Very good!" He bellowed. Carefully looking around the street, he spoke discretely to the group. "You wouldn't mind keeping this little... incident quiet would you? Five-star Triple Alpha ratings are very hard to get..."

While Xena and Gabrielle were extremely quiet, Joxer rambled on, pleased they would be staying overnight in his favorite tourist spot.

"There you go." The portly man smiled happily, pulling out chairs for the two women in the Tavern. To avoid anymore risk to his Triple Alpha rating, the Mayor decided it was best to personally take care of the three travelers.

"I hope you'll find everything satisfactory...if you need anything..." The Mayor bowed graciously and left. Joxer was extremely happy the meal was on the house.

"This is great!" Joxer relayed. "I can't believe they wanted to make up for that little incident in the street. But I'm sure glad they decided to!" Joxer eyed their surroundings appreciatively.

"I said I was sorry." Gabrielle quietly offered again.

Ignoring the apology, Xena silently reached for a goblet on the table. As she raised the goblet to her lips, she noticed it was wine. Shooting a cold glared towards the bard, she placed the wine goblet down and picked up a goblet of water. The warrior exhaled slowly and proceeded to quietly drink the water.

"How many more times do I have to apologize?" Gabrielle asked in an irritated whisper.

"I'M not the one you have to apologize to." Xena finally responded. "Of course, thanks to you, Argo is in NO condition at the moment to ACCEPT your apology." Xena added curtly.

" was I supposed to know we would be off fighting and she would eat the entire bag?" Gabrielle responded.

"You know how apples affect a horse! You placed the ENTIRE bag next to her." Xena replied, struggling to keep her voice down.

"Yeah, well...I didn't hear YOU say anything to stop me." Gabrielle countered with a good point, annoying the warrior more.

"She'll sleep it off and be fine...don't you wor..." Joxer interjected, overhearing the not so quiet argument.

"Stay out of this Joxer." The two responded in unison, making him cringe.

"Well?" A young woman asked Texius, who sat outside the guarded doors of the Counsel Chambers. "Any word on the vote?" She added, seeing her mentor not budging from his slumped position.

"No." He sighed, straightening up, lifting his head out of his hands. "They are probably taking a nap in there...." He remarked glibly.

" should respect your Elders!" Talea scolded him, restraining a smile.

"Let's go for a short walk." Texius responded, taking a deep breath. As he stood up, before his resting body was ready to, he let out a pained groan.

"You sound like an Elder." Talea remarked with a grin. "Talea!" Texius feigned surprise at her insolence, which caused her them to chuckle.

"Are you excited about the ceremony?" Texius asked the young woman with a knowing grin. She beamed. "Of course I am! To be the Attendant for the Gift of Loquus is truly an honor...the THIRD Elder!" She beamed, then saddened when she realized what would happen to the old man.

"I really enjoyed talking with is so sad." She became depressed. "Talea" Texius spoke with a fatherly tone.

"He knows he is old and not in the best of health. For him to die without the Gift being passed on would be the true death of the well as the death of a piece of all of us...REMEMBER that Talea." Texius lectured. Talea nodded. "I know. It is still so sad, I don't want him to die Texius." Talea obviously still had mixed feeling about the 'honor' of being the Attendant.

"Death is HIS choice...REMEMBER that!" Texius spoke with conviction, looking into her eyes. She nodded. "I know...It is still sad." She sighed.

"You must get use to it Talea. Your role in Verbinia is as sacred as the role of the Elders." He lectured once again. "With the Attendants lies a great responsibility to facilitate the passing of the Gifts ...without us" Texius was interrupted by his student.

"I know Texius, without the Attendant, the cycle would not be possible." She repeated the words Texius made them learn by rote.

"Hey you were listening!" He grinned at his protegee. "Come on, we'd better get back to see if their nap is over." Texius sighed, rubbing his sore neck.

After dinner, the Mayor personally escorted the three travelers to the best Inn in Sensuria. He spent a moment in an animated discussion with the Inn keeper, before returning to their side. "Good News!" The Mayor plastered on a smile. "You will get the honeymoon suite, it has PLENTY of space....two HUGE beds...I'm sure..." He blurted out quickly.

"WAIT a minute," Gabrielle interjected. "You couldn't get us THREE rooms?" She snapped, looking at the Warrior Princess who shook her head at how amazingly bad this evening was.

As the Mayor started to apologize profusely that it was the height of the tourist season, and there were no other rooms left, Joxer patted the nervous man on the back. "No problem Mayor," Joxer consoled the nervous man. "I am sure my friends and I will enjoy a soft bed after spending many a cold and harsh night, sleeping on the unforgiving ground." Joxer offered, being magnanimous about this minor inconvenience. "In fact, its been ages since I have been....Hey! Wait up!" He interrupted himself, calling to Gabrielle and Xena, who had already left for the room.

"I'm NOT sleeping on the floor." Xena cooly informed Gabrielle, as they arrived at the door. "FINE. Neither am I," Gabrielle cooly informed Xena. "Fine," Xena responded as Gabrielle opened the door to the large room.

"Oh my." Gabrielle uttered with awe, eyeing the luxurious room. Joxer caught up to them quickly and had a similar reaction.

"WOW!" He slipped past the two women in the doorway as he inspected the large room. "This is GREAT!" He looked around then spotted the two large canopy beds. "I've got dibs on the bed by the window." He jumped up on the soft mattress, relishing the entire experience.

Eyeing the remaining bed then each other, each held their ground. "I'm NOT sleeping on the floor." Xena repeated. "Neither am I." Gabrielle responded.

Joxer let out a huge yawn. "Sorry, a big meal always does that to me." He smiled as he rolled around happily on the bed. "Hey...if this is the honeymoon suite, why are there two beds?" Joxer asked Gabrielle, who shrugged.

"Maybe as backup, in case the deliriously happy couple have a really big argument." Gabrielle offered as she sat on the edge of her bed and coldly eyed Xena.

Removing her armor, Xena noticed a large basket of fruit on the table by the fireplace. "Oh LOOK Gabrielle." Xena grabbed the red fruit and tossed it to Gabrielle. "They must have heard how much you like APPLES." Xena spoke coldly, as the bard caught it.

The lack of an acerbic response from the bard surprised the Warrior Princess, until she saw the look on Gabrielle's face. Xena realized she had once again managed to say something wrong. This time, however, she knew exactly what she was saying and still said it. Guilt was not in short supply between the two women.

"Argo will be ok...right?" Gabrielle asked weakly, her voice barely audible, still staring at the apple.

"Sure Gabrielle, like I told you...Argo just needs to sleep it off." Joxer offered warmly.

"Joxer, could you give us a get ready for bed?" Xena asked, focused on the bard, who continued to stare at the apple in her hands.

"Oh SURE...but I still have dibs on this bed....OK?" He asked. "Yes, Joxer." Xena sighed, nodding in agreement. "Great," Joxer responded, leaving happy he called dibs.

Gabrielle was unable to meet Xena's gaze. "I keep doing stupid things don't I?" Gabrielle muttered, berating herself as her eyes welled up with tears. Xena sat next to the bard and wiped a tear of her bard's cheek.

"No more than I keep saying stupid things." Xena responded, her words heartfelt.

"Because of me, Argo is in no condition to travel...we are delayed in getting to Verbinia...who KNOWS what awful things are happening there..." She blurted with great guilt.

"We haven't lost much time Gabrielle... and if Texius wanted us to rush to get there he would have said so." Xena put her arm around the bard and pulled her close. "I over reacted Gabrielle, I'm sorry." Xena admitted, kissing her on the forehead.

"And I am sorry I argue so much, and give you such a hard time, and...." The bard's rapid apologies were halted when Xena placed her fingers gently upon Gabrielle's lips.

"Gabrielle, don't be sorry...just.." Xena removed her fingers from the bard's lips too soon. "I know, I know...improve." Gabrielle interrupted with a heavy sigh, considering the comment deserved.

"No." Xena responded with a chuckle, surprising the bard. "Though, one SHOULD always try to improve one's self." Xena added thoughtfully with a slight grin.

"Stop apologizing?" Gabrielle guessed.

"No. But you really do apologize too much and it's unnecessary...most of the time." Xena added. "MOST of the time?" Gabrielle queried.

"What I was GOING to say ..." Xena responded, wisely ignoring Gabrielle's dangerous tangent. "Was just... kiss me." Xena told her.

"Oh" The bard responded with a slight grin and gladly leaned towards her partner to comply. As their lips brushed, there was a knock on the door and a familiar voice calling to them. "You guys finished in there? I'm kinda tired."

Gabrielle pulled back with a frustrated grunt. Xena calmly closed her eyes, sighing heavily, carefully weighing the merits of the chakrum, sword, suffocation and apple accidents.

As they settled in for the night, the two women, lying painfully close to each other, stared at the ceiling. In the next bed, Joxer exhaled loudly as he rolled on his side. The two women stared at the ceiling. Joxer muttered something as he drifted off into sleep. The two women sighed heavily and stared at the ceiling. Joxer began snoring.

After a moment, the two women turned their heads and stared at each other.

"I think I'll sleep on the floor." Xena informed the bard, who nodded weakly.


"Verbinia is up head Xena! Why don't I go there make sure they really know you're not a blood thirsty warlord anymore..." Joxer suggested. "Thanks." She replied flatly.

"Uh..Well, I should at least make sure it's safe for Gabrielle...don't you think?" He offered, pointing to the bard. Gabrielle nodded weakly in agreement, unruffled by his comment.

Sure, she could have told him that she could best him blindfolded and he was a complete idiot. Sure, she could have reminded him that the Verbinians, for some reason, admired her a great deal and wasn't worried about their reception, and of course, that he was an complete idiot. But, she didn't bother. Gabrielle just sighed and nodded in agreement.

Xena looked at Gabrielle wondering if she should be concerned by Gabrielle's unusual calm around this man.

"Sure," Xena responded, cautiously eyeing the bard, never quite sure how she would react. Seeing that the bard didn't flinch at her agreement, Xena followed up more confidently. "Good idea Joxer."

Joxer happily jogged towards Verbinia on a mission. "Thanks Joxer." Gabrielle called out, almost making the man trip. "Sure thing Gabby!" He waved back at her, a very happy man. Even that annoying nickname Gabby didn't seem to bother the bard, Xena noted.

Xena eyed her, confused. "Feeling ok?" Xena asked.

"Look" Gabrielle responded, pointing to Joxer, who was getting further away. Following the bard's instructions, Xena looked at him.

"I'm feeling... better...much better" Gabrielle remarked. "Oh much MUCH better." Gabrielle informed her warrior as Joxer disappeared over the hill. "Haven't felt this good in a long time, but then... it's really up to you to decide how I feel." Gabrielle moved closer to her warrior with a sly grin.

"Couldn't you have just said, 'yes...he's leaving'...?" Xena asked with a small chuckle, hiding her anticipation at being alone with the bard, even if it was for only a few precious moments, in the middle of a well traveled road.

"Sure...but that would have been boring...and I don't want to be...boring" Gabrielle put her hand on the warrior's waist. "Gabrielle, you are many things... but boring is not one of them." Xena responded with a caress to the bards face.

"Good..." Gabrielle responded with a sultry voice. Xena leaned in for a kiss but was stopped by gentle fingers which slowly traced over the warrior's lips. A not entirely unpleasant surprise, the Warrior Princess noted. Gabrielle smiled, feeling the warm breath from the warrior's slightly parted lips.

"But what... " Gabrielle slipped her arm around the warrior's waist, receiving a grin of approval.

"WOULD..." Gabrielle removed her fingers from the warrior's lips, trailing them gently over the warrior's chin and slowly down her neck. The warrior swallowed hard at the gentle touch's effect on her senses.

Xena had a feeling this bard would be good at foreplay. Unfortunately, they were in the middle of a road during midday, the warrior noted. Xena was about to mention they should move out of the road and continue this in private over by that...thing...over there... out of the... road.

"you..." Gabrielle kissed Xena's neck, causing the warrior to shudder at the gentle, wet touch of lips.

Road...concern...what WAS the concern? The warrior wondered.

"say I..." Gabrielle spoke into her neck and slowly placed another wet kiss in a different spot.

Concern...we're on the right concern, the warrior concluded.

"was..." The bard paused. Her warm breath against the sensitive, freshly kissed flesh dominated the warrior's senses.

The bard did not move. "Gabrielle.." Xena asked softly, still feeling the warm breath on her throat, wanting the bard to continue.

"Well?" Gabrielle asked, her breath heavier against the warrior's skin, waiting for the warrior to answer.

"Gabrielle..." Xena sighed with increasing impatience, not really up for a chat at this moment.

"Impatient?" Gabrielle challenged the warrior, as she pulled away.

"All right....yes...I guess I...YES!" The warrior blurted, a little annoyed the bard would turn her comment against her now. Xena waited for the bard to display a huge victory grin at the warrior's admission.

"Ugh!!" Gabrielle growled loudly and broke away from the confused warrior. "Impatient!?! That's just WONDERFUL!" Gabrielle blurted angrily and stomped off to Verbinia.

Xena's mouth dropped, wondering what in Tartarus just happened. "Gabrielle...What .....I ...Gab.." Xena called out as she watched the bard march down the road. "...brielle" Xena finished weakly.

The warrior didn't know what she would apologize about if she caught up to her. All she knew was that every time she said something, Gabrielle got mad at her. If only they didn't have to talk to each other, Xena sighed, considering that would be the only possible way she could avoid getting the bard mad.

Argo snorted.

"Don't start." Xena snapped at her horse, who's ears twitched at the loud sound. "And YOU should have known better about those apples." She scolded Argo, who's head sunk.


Joxer stood staring at the large Verbinian gates, scratching his head. "Joxer?" The bard called out, surprised to find him still waiting outside the city walls.

Now close enough to touch the impressive wall, Gabrielle indulged a moment to inspect the sight before her. Running her fingers over the cold smooth marble, she strained her neck looking up at the wall's height. Considering the wall impervious to arrows, torches, battering rams and most likely catapults, the bard understood why Xena didn't think her army could get past these defenses without heavy losses.

Gabrielle stared for a moment at the two massive statues which stood guarding the entrance. Yet, instead of a sword or spear, the statues held a scroll in one hand, and a quill in the other. Gabrielle smiled, pleased with the sight.

"Joxer, why are you still out here?" The bard asked, finally finished with her appreciation of the Verbinian statues.

"They won't let me in." He shrugged. "Don't tell me they think YOU are a threat." She laughed. "NOooo" He responded slowly with irritation. "They are voting on whether or not to let Xena inside. I told them she was good now. But they still..."

"Didn't you ask for Texius?" She interrupted. "Of course I did!" He squeaked, insulted she thought him so stupid. "But the guard told me it was not up to an Attendant to decide who can is up to the elders. The guard didn't think they would allow Xena in." Joxer explained with a frown.

"We'll see about that!" Gabrielle snapped, marching up to the small side door.

"Getting her to come all this way..." Gabrielle muttered as she knocked on the wooden side door. "To HELP them for Gods' sakes..." Gabrielle muttered as she banged on the door with her fist.

".. and they have the AUDACITY to make her wait while they VOTE to let her inside??" Gabrielle complained, pounding on the door with more gusto.

"If they think they can just...." She immediately stopped muttering when the small side door cracked open, allowing a guard to peek through.

"Who goes there?" The soldier barked.

"Hello!" Gabrielle boomed brightly, sporting a big friendly smile. "My name is Gabrielle. I travel with Xena who was invited here by Texius. If you don't mind too terribly, I would like to talk with Texius." Gabrielle asked with the most courteous and pleasant voice she could muster.

"NO" The soldier barked and slammed the door in her face. Gabrielle's mouth dropped.

"See!" Joxer responded, relieved it wasn't just him for a change.

"WELL!" She blurted with indignation and pounded on the door again. "Do they expect her to help them out here? Do they? I'll give them 'NO'..." She muttered until the small side door opened slightly again.

"Hi again." Gabrielle smiled, giving a small friendly waive and a sheepish laugh. The soldier rolled his eyes and sighed. "I don't suppose there's a.... REASON.... " Gabrielle paused, looking down bashfully as she stepped closer to the suspicious soldier. "...for not letting us in..." She batted her innocent eyelashes.

"YES" The soldier barked and slammed the door in her face once again. Her eyes, at first wide with surprise, narrowed into dangerous slits.

"Gabrielle...perhaps we should just..." Joxer tried to defuse the situation.

Gabrielle pounded on the door again. The Amazon Bard was not amused.

The door opened slightly with a different, younger guard. "WHO there GOES! Uh... Who goes THERE!" The young man corrected himself, causing the bard to roll her eyes in disbelief.

"LOOK! You know DAMN well who I am. I've already told you!" Gabrielle snaps. Anticipating another slamming door, the bard quickly wedges her staff between the door and frame, frightening the young guard. "But in case you forgot, I'm GABRIELLE, I travel with XENA, and I want to talk to TEXIUS...NOW!"

The door opened wider, making the bard sigh with relief that the soldier was finally being rational. She looked over her shoulder at Joxer with a smug victory smile. However, she realized too late, she had removed her staff too soon, when she heard the familiar sound of a door slamming shut.


Inside the Counsel chambers, the Elders finally finished debating and announced their decision. "I am sorry to say there was no majority, the votes were tied, even." Thesaurus informed Texius. "You wouldn't be tied if you had a ninth elder!" Texius responded bitterly.

Thesaurus sighed and continued. "As you know Texius, there must be a majority decision before an action can be approved, authorized. Your friend must remain outside our walls, our ramparts. So is the decision of the Counsel." Thesaurus proclaimed and banged his gavel.

"Now for the matter of your actions, your deeds. Since Four Elders agreed with your heartfelt actions..." Thesaurus paused and looked at the outspoken Verbis, who argued strongly for disciplinary action. "You will not be punished, disciplined. So is the decision of the Counsel." Thesaurus proclaimed and banged his gavel.

After the final proclamation, an Attendant rushed into the Counsel chambers. "First Elder! Please forgive the intrusion but we have some Outsider trouble at the front gate." The Attendant relayed.

"I bet it's the Warrior Princess trying to get in." Verbis smirked, confident the walls would keep her out. "Actually no... it's a woman named Gabrielle."

"They won't let us in." Joxer relayed to Xena while they watched Gabrielle attack the door.

"Why not?" Xena asked, staring at the bard, who continued to lash out at the door with everything she had to lash out with...her staff, shoulder, fist, hip, foot and a few colorful phrases that surprised even Xena.

"The Elders need to vote. Your friend Texius didn't clear it with the Elders before he asked for your...our help..." Joxer explained, still eyeing the flourish of anger called Gabrielle.

Finishing her unsuccessful attack on the door, the bard approached them. "There seems to be a little misunderstanding." Gabrielle spoke nonchalantly, breathing heavily and wiping the sweat off her brow.

"It must be something in the air..." Xena muttered under her breath, eyeing the impressive wall around the city. "We should wait and find out how the Elder's voted." Xena announced, considering it would be much easier to be invited inside.

"Wait." Gabrielle repeated flatly. "I guess that WOULD be the PATIENT thing to do." Gabrielle snapped, eyeing the Warrior Princess, who finally realized what got Gabrielle upset in the road.

"What if they don't..." Joxer's question was interrupted by an irritated warrior.

"Gabrielle, we REALLY need to talk." Xena blurted with great exasperation. She sharply eyed Joxer, who looked back and forth between the two in confusion. "ALONE." Xena curtly added.

"I'll be by the door if you need me." He responded nervously, quickly retreating.

Gabrielle waited silently, eyeing the Princess of Patience. "I want to clear something up RIGHT now!" Xena blurted with obvious frustration. She hated the feeling of being out of control and, unfortunately, with this particular bard, she found herself in that position quite often.

"Hey you guys, they are going to let us in!" Joxer yelled to them happily, waiving to them to come towards him.

Gabrielle immediately felt bad for being the cause of such frustration for the warrior. "Xena. We'll talk later, I promise." Gabrielle offered warmly, reassuring her partner with a gentle squeeze of her forearm. Xena sighed, nodding in agreement that this discussion would wait.

"Come ON you guys!" Joxer called to them again, his head now poking out the side door.

As the three were escorted inside, they received curious stares from everyone they passed. "Gab. Jox. Xena. Follow." A soldier instructed them.

"Rather informal of them." Xena noted to Gabrielle with a smirk.

"Well, I think a little Verbinian informality is still better than Sensurian hospitality." Gabrielle relayed while the three were escorted to through the main street by four Verbinian soldiers.

"I'll say." Joxer added, wanting to participate in the conversation.

"Don't get too relaxed here Gabrielle." Xena whispered in her ear, placing a protective hand on her shoulder. Gabrielle nodded, continuing to take in the Verbinian sights. Xena noticed the look of surprise from two soldiers when she touched the bard. A cold warning glare immediately stopped their stares.

"This is not exactly what I expected." Gabrielle noted with disappointment, seeing so many run down buildings. As they passed two impressive stone buildings, the bard frowned. "How can they keep up those beautiful buildings and ignore all the others?" Gabrielle asked aloud.

"I'm sure you are not the only one asking that question." Xena responded, seeing an obvious and dangerous class division among the Verbinians.

"Yeah, especially the soldiers. They live in those run down buildings with the other workers." Joxer interjected, giving Xena more reason to consider the class division dangerous.

Gabrielle focused on a blond messenger gesturing to their escorts and their responding gestures. "I saw the soldiers do that in Sensuria, what did they say?" She asked Xena quietly. "They are using more hand signals than I know. I can make out only some of what they are saying." Xena noted with some concern.

"That's Greco-Verbinian sign language." Joxer announced, surprising the bard and warrior. "He is telling the escorts to quickly bring us to the Elders. The Elders are ready for us, and they should not delay." Joxer added as they continued their brisk pace to the Counsel chambers. After one of their escorts signed back to the blond messenger, the soldiers all smiled and chuckled.

"What?!? What did he say to them?" Xena asked Joxer, feeling incredibly uncomfortable not being able to understand them.

"Oh, he just said it was probably a good idea because the old men just might fall asleep again if left alone too long."

"How did you learn sign language?" Gabrielle asked Joxer, amazed at his useful skill.

"Uh...well, I had a crush on this girl...and uh...well...I wanted to ask her out." He admitted with embarrassment.

"You learned a whole language to ask a girl out?" Xena asked incredulously.

"Well, uh...yeah." Joxer answered.

Gabrielle grinned widely. "How romantic!" Gabrielle responded enthusiastically, her opinion of him significantly improved.

"What happened?" Xena asked, actually finding this interesting.

"Uh...I never got up the nerve to ask her out. I didn't want to say something stupid." He responded with embarrassment. Joxer's honest answer greatly disappointed the bard, who's eyes rolled. Her opinion of the man plummeted once again. Xena, however, appreciated Joxer's honesty and sympathized with his trouble finding the right words.

"Maybe you'll get another chance." Xena's encouragement surprised the bard. "Yeah. Who knows." Joxer responded with a shrug.

"Xena!" Texius called to her, meeting them outside the entrance of the Counsel chambers. Xena nodded to her old friend, who smiled with relief. "Joxer, thank you for delivering the message."

"No problem." Joxer responded, smiling proudly.

"This must be Gabrielle. Your presence has caused quiet a stir Gabrielle." He grinned, causing her to cringed with embarrassment.

"Yeah, well, I'm sorry about the door...I kinda lost my temper." Gabrielle laughed sheepishly. "And that happens so rarely." Xena added dryly, drawing an unamused look from the bard.

"Oh that. It was actually a good thing you...uh...made your presence known or we wouldn't be talking now." Texius informed her. "Your work has drawn the attention and great admiration of the Elders. They would very much like to meet you Gabrielle. I believe you already know Loquus." He smiled, noticing Xena's annoyed stare at his prolonged pleasantries.

"Xena, we can catch up on old times while Gabrielle visits with the Elders." He quickly answered her unspoken question.

"Perhaps we can catch up after Gabrielle and I ...visit with the Elders." Xena responded, not wanting to leave Gabrielle alone in this heavily fortified city. "I'm sorry Xena, you have not been invited by them." Texius responded uncomfortably.

"What?!...You ask her here to help you and now you are saying she's not allowed to talk to the Elders!?" Gabrielle blurted angrily.

"Gabrielle. We have our customs. The Elders must invite you to visit them in their chambers. They did not invite her, they invited YOU." He explained. "It IS a great honor Gabrielle." He added nervously, not sure how he would explain it to the Elders if the greatly admired bard decided not to accept their invitation.

Xena and Gabrielle looked at each other, neither pleased.

Continued - Chapter 7-10

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