Xena double checked her saddle bags. She confirmed she had everything packed, including the birthday present Gabrielle promised they would deliver to Cumae's nephew. She shook her head with a smile, having lost count of how many times Gabrielle promised they would deliver something for someone. Satisfied with everything and ready to leave, Xena called out to her friend.
"Come on Gabrielle, we are wasting daylight." There was no response.The only sounds she heard were birds chirping and leaves rustling in the gentle breeze.
"Gabrielle" Xena uttered with annoyance. Gabrielle was practicing her stealth in the forest - AGAIN.
Each time she did so, Xena would find her and be on the receiving end of a barrage of questions. "How did you track me? How did you know? What noise did you hear first?", would be among the first questions. Gabrielle's tenacity could be irritating at times. Yet, that tenacity was what helped her to learn so quickly, Xena acknowledged.
Peering down on Xena, Gabrielle remembered, with a smile, the lessons she learned from her Amazon teachers Trayla and Sustra. "Up" was one that they stressed so she think of an attack in three dimensions not two. Gabrielle found herself pleased for this was the closest she got to Xena without Xena knowing. Or was it? Gabrielle wondered if Xena knew but didn't let her know she knew. Xena could be hard to read at times, Gabrielle knew well.
Before Gabrielle could make another move to see if she could surprise Xena, a man traveling with a crumpled map walked towards Xena. His smile was friendly which added a great deal to his already handsome face, Gabrielle noted.
"Hello." He said brightly, glad to finally see someone on the road and one so beautiful. Xena looked at him and nodded.
"I am trying to find my way to Marapolis but I am afraid I am not very good at reading maps. Could you help me?" He asked. Xena relaxed, noting he was not wearing any weapons and he had a gentle disposition.
"Sure. Marapolis is actually due West of here. Just follow the sun set and you should get there in about two days." Xena smiled warmly and placed her hand on his shoulder as she pointed West.
Gabrielle's eyebrow raised. "Awfully friendly to a guy she's just met", Gabrielle noted. She noticed how he looked at her as well. "Gods, what flagrant flirting!" Gabrielle silently sighed as she witnessed the conversation below.
"What ever happened to the good old, 'don't waste my time' Xena?" Gabrielle wondered.
After hearing the man a few minutes, Gabrielle found his complements really did not do Xena justice. In fact, the man was not very articulate or observant Gabrielle concluded. He didn't even mention her beautiful smile.
"Gods he has to be blind to miss that one." Gabrielle thought, shaking her head. "Hey ..why is she smiling so much?" Gabrielle asked herself.
Stretching further out on the limb for a better look, Gabrielle continued to watch and critique this man's performance.
"Sure, go for the easy eyes complement. That's it? You completely missed the boat buddy, you can't just SAY they are beautiful, you should tell her WHY they are so beautiful." She rolled her eyes, thinking of all the things she could say to Xena that would put his lame comments to shame.
Of course, she was in no position to say such things to Xena, Gabrielle sighed. After listening a while to the man's unimpressive performance, Gabrielle wondered if he was ever going to leave so she could get out of the tree. She couldn't very well jump down now and reveal she had been eves-dropping. Reaching up to a nearby branch to steady herself, she quietly shifted her position so her leg wouldn't fall asleep.
Unfortunately, Gabrielle just learned the importance of recognizing the healthy branches from the dead ones. A lesson she apparently missed during her last visit at the Amazon camp. The limb gave way and Gabrielle's eyes widened, knowing she was coming down hard.
"Watch out!" Gabrielle warned Xena who already heard the cracking of the limb.
Xena pulled the man out of the way and watched helplessly as the bard flapped her arms unable to avoid her fall. Gabrielle hit the ground with a thud.
"Gabrielle!" Xena rushed over to her friend.
"Ow Ow ..." The bard repeated as she moved.
"Gods, is she all right?" The man asked looking over Xena's shoulder.
Gabrielle pushed Xena's hands away from her, not giving Xena the opportunity to pinpoint the pain.
"Gabrielle...let me.." Xena asked with great concern in her eyes.
"I'm...Ow Ow...OK......Ugh." Gabrielle moans as she gets up and limps around.
"Fine, see?" She informs Xena and dusts herself off, exhaling loudly.
"Hi, I'm Gabrielle. Sorry to drop in on you like this." Gabrielle smiled sheepishly at the man who, still stunned by the event, smiles awkwardly.
"Well, I've got to get going." The man announces to Xena who doesn't appear to hear him. "Hope you're OK." He tells Gabrielle, who shrugs and waives indicating there's no problem.
"Thanks for your help Xena." He speaks to the Warrior Princess who grunts something, continuing to eye her friend for signs of serious injury.
After the man departs, Gabrielle walks around a bit with a slight limp, to convince Xena she was not hurt too badly.
"Your in pain, I'll make you some tea..." Xena offered knowing Gabrielle had to hurt bad.
"That's OK...I'm fine. Really. You were right, we are wasting daylight..." Gabrielle remarked, attempting to sound enthusiastic about walking.
Xena noted Gabrielle using her staff a little more that usual when she started down the road. Xena sighed, relieved Gabrielle didn't hurt herself worse. As she followed the bard, a small grin crossed her face.
In the Great Hall of the Sunmoon brothers, Sunal , the founder of the Sunmoon, looked upon his grandson Leo with great pride. Leo was to go through the Ceremony of Peace and become a full Sunmoon Monk. Sunal wished Leo's father could be there to witness this great event. However, Sunal's son was murdered when Leo and Boean were young. That fact made this ceremony even more precious to Sunal. Leo had gotten past the hate and anger to embrace the pacifist beliefs of the Sunmoon.
After the Ceremony started, two Sunmoon brothers burst in, carrying a bloodied man into the Great Hall.
"My gods! It's Boean! Get the healers!" Leo shouted, helping him onto the alter. The Sunmoon monks looked on in horror.
"Who did this to you my son?" Sunal asked taking his hand. Boean tried to focus on Sunal.
"Grandfather, I only tried to spread the word of Peace and Harmony...They thought me weak when I didn't fight. I promised you I wouldn't..." Boean uttered with a cough. "Who?!" Sunal demanded.
"The Amazons." Sunal looked at Leo fearing rumors about the growing animosity towards the Sunmoon were not exaggerated.
Every time Xena would offer to stop or get Gabrielle something for the pain, she refused. All day, Xena could tell Gabrielle was silently and unnecessarily suffering while they walked. As a result, Xena grew increasingly annoyed at the bard's pride. Foolish pride was something she hoped Gabrielle would not learn from her.
That evening, Gabrielle sat down carefully on her bed roll to minimize her pain. Without telling Gabrielle what she was doing, Xena had made an herbal remedy for her bard despite earlier refusals.
"Xena, I don't need..." Gabrielle started to object again but Xena interrupted.
"Humor me..." Xena looked at her with a blank look and handed her a cup. Gabrielle sighed, she could use something for the pain she concluded, sipping the tea. Her face cringed at the horrible taste as she swallowed.
"This tastes.." Xena revealed a slight grin.
"If I didn't know better, I'd think ...hmmm. You know, this actually doesn't taste THAT bad..." Gabrielle eagerly gulped the entire contents of the cup. A confused Xena eyed her. The drink wasn't supposed to taste good. Gabrielle started to giggle and appeared light headed.
"Not bad at all. More...please" Gabrielle held out the cup, eyeing what was left of the tea. Xena was disturbed by Gabrielle's reaction, it wasn't right. Doubts filled Xena's mind. Surely I didn't pick the wrong herb, she thought to herself, growing concerned. Xena grabbed Gabrielle's cup, poured herself the rest of the tea and tasted it. Immediately, she spit out the foul tasting contents "ugh.." Xena blurted. Gabrielle stared at her with a victory grin and responded, "I'm humored, what about you?" Xena stared with amazement at her cunning friend, then her eyes n rrowed.
"Sometimes I underestimate how devious your mind really is Gabrielle." Xena remarked. Gabrielle wasn't going to let Xena get away with any practical joke without an appropriate response.
"I'm sure you mean DEVIOUS in the best possible sense. Good night Xena." Gabrielle laid back with a slight smile, pulling up the covers. She muffled a groan as she shifted to a more comfortable position. Xena felt guilty about the practical joke.
"The herb tea really should help." Xena offered softly. "...I'm sorry about the taste." Gabrielle looked over to her friend and softly laughed.
"I wouldn't have needed the tea if I didn't fall and I KNOW I should have taken you up on your first offer." Gabrielle propped herself on her elbow, her face cringed from the pain but was quickly replaced by a grin.
"Anyway, I really should have known from the odor that you added Urut to the tea. Of course, you know how much Urut looks like Henbane." Gabrielle knowingly raised an eyebrow. Xena shook her head, realizing with appreciation how much her friend had learned about herbs.
"I HAVE underestimated you." Xena smiled. "That makes a few lessons learned today." Gabrielle responded with a satisfied smile.
"Of course the BIGGEST one is that no matter how hard I flap my arms. I can't fly." Xena laughed with her intrepid friend.
It took several days for Gabrielle to walk without a limp after she came crashing down from the tree. Once she felt better, she decided to practice her stealth again.
"Gabrielle" Xena called out as she had done many times in the past, ready to start their travels only to be waiting for Gabrielle. No response. Xena had expected Gabrielle to start her practicing again, but hoped she would at least wait until the present was delivered. Xena hated having an outstanding promise to fulfill. The quicker she accomplished the delivery the better, she thought.
Xena was pretty sure the bard would not try to fly again so soon. But then again, Gabrielle was not one to let one setback stop her. Remembering the uncomfortable feelings of fear as she watched Gabrielle fall out of the tree and hit the ground so hard, Xena spoke loudly and deliberately.
"Gabrielle, I'm NOT in the mood for this." Xena warned her friend.
"FINE" Gabrielle said with annoyance from behind a startled Xena. Gabrielle looked down at the point of Xena's sword, which was draw instinctively.
"I guess you really AREN'T in the mood for this." Gabrielle eyed her friend, unaware of her monumental success.
"Gabrielle." Xena said evenly with the sword still pointed at Gabrielle's throat. "What if you get SO good, I don't know it's you?" Xena asked with a raised eyebrow.
Gabrielle looked down at the sword tip. "I see your point."
Once again they were on their way to fulfill one of Gabrielle's promises. Xena's desire to quickly deliver the birthday present to Alletus, though there was plenty of time, was not lost on Gabrielle. For some reason, lost on Xena, Gabrielle found amusement in deliberately stalling their progress. Gabrielle wanted to see how long Xena would tolerate the delay before saying something. They came across another quaint town, Zemal, when Gabrielle deviously grinned.
"Oh look, shops!" She blurted and quickly headed towards the stores. Looking back, Gabrielle found Xena's blue eyes glaring, clearly conveying Xena's frustration that they were unnecessarily stopping again. Gabrielle's grin grew bigger.
Xena looked at her horse. "Maybe I did mix up the herbs." Argo snorted as they walked to the troth.
Sunal looked over at his grandson Boean, who just woke from a restful sleep.
"How are you feeling my son?" Boean sat up, still weak from the beating, yet recovering.
"Physically, stronger Grandfather. Mentally? I see our brethren, our beliefs threatened, yet my hands are tied. How do you think I feel?" His head sinks.
"The test of our beliefs is not an easy one. We can not allow external forces to corrupt our beliefs of peace and unity. Even if it means we will be hurt.... " Sunal takes his grandson's hand but Boean pulls it from him.
"We must be able to at least DEFEND ourselves rom attack Grandfather. Those Amazons that beat me...they would have killed me if it weren't for Portus coming by with townspeople who were not AFRAID to fight them."
Sunal sighed at the word 'afraid'. Boean realized his mistake, but continued.
"I AM angered Grandfather, because we should not let those external forces, those UNNATURALS who disagree with our beliefs control us and try to hurt us anymore. They shouldn't think we are easy targets - but we are. We cannot even defend ourselves." Boean could see Sunal was thinking about his words.
"Those Unnaturals, as you call them, have not done the Sunmoon any permanent harm. I believe that we should forgive those transgressions against us and move on Boean." Boean was livid but contained his anger.
"Perhaps you are right Grandfather. No permanent harm was done...." Sunal smiled warmly at his grandson.
Unknown to the two, from behind a large tapestry of a Sun, Moon and Man, Leo listened.
In the shop in Zemal, Gabrielle found many interesting curios on display as she walked from table to table. The sunlight from the large window in the front of the store beamed in, revealing dust on the artifacts. The arrangement of the shop reminded her of one of her favorite stores in Athens, but not the atmosphere. A young couple acted as if she was a leper and abruptly left. The remaining three patrons carefully kept their distance and continued to watch her. They had eyed her since she entered the store. Gabrielle felt uncomfortable with their cold stares and unsuccessfully tried to warm them with a smile. She could only conclude they were that way because she was new in town and they were not trusting of strangers.
She considered the purchase of a hair comb she was inspecting when the shop owner came out from behind the counter.
"That's NOT for sale." He spoke gruffly and pulled the comb out of her hands. When he placed it back on the table, Gabrielle's confusion grew.
"I didn't know, I thought....I'm sorry." Gabrielle apologized, finding his hostility very odd. Another young woman, in a pretty dress, picked up the same comb and handed it to the shopkeeper as she looked defiantly into Gabrielle's eyes.
"That will be 2 Dinars."
Gabrielle's mouth dropped hearing the shopkeeper make the sale.
"Thank you." The young woman responded taking the prize comb with her out of the store.
"Why did you do that? I had money." Gabrielle uttered in shock.
"We don't sell to YOUR kind here.
You'd be best on your way." He dismissed her, which she would have none of. Her anger grew.
"What do you mean MY kind?" Gabrielle blocked him from returning behind the counter. His eyes quickly glanced towards a tapestry on his wall, a sun and moon and a man standing between.
"Unnaturally aggressive women." Gabrielle squeezed her staff uneasily as the man continued with unprovoked venom.
"Women who would rather fight, travel on the road with each other." He explained as he glanced out the window spotting Xena coming towards the store. "than stay home with their families where they belong." Gabrielle could not comprehend where this man's hatred for her came from.
"Who are you to know what is right for me?" Gabrielle asked her heart torn between anger and hurt from a man she didn't know.
"Go, harlot. Get yourself and your warrior WOMAN friend out of my town." Xena entered the store.
"Are you finished in here yet?" She questioned Gabrielle with a grin that faded fast when she saw Gabrielle's face.
"Is everything OK?" Xena's demeanor quickly changed. She threw an icy stare at the storekeeper.
The man looked at Xena as he slowly pulled out a sword from below the counter and placed it on the counter. Unimpressed, Xena sighed. He turned to Gabrielle.
"I've asked you, now I am telling you...leave. I don't want to fight, although I understand that is all your KIND understands..."
Gabrielle was visibly upset and abruptly left, passing Xena without a word. It enraged Xena to think anyone would deliberately try to upset Gabrielle.
"That goes for you too." The man said harshly. Xena, took a deep breath and slowly approached the man. He didn't appreciate her height and intimidating bearing until he looked up into her cold eyes. It finally dawned on him that Xena was not one he would want to fight.
"Be thankful I didn't hear everything you said to my friend." Her voice was as cold as her stare.
"I am not as forgiving as she is."
The man's eyes widened with fear which pleased Xena. However, she was still left unsatisfied that he didn't give her a reason to rough him up.
With Argo in tow, they left the town. Xena walked along side of Gabrielle with a comforting hand on her friend's shoulder. Xena saw to it they took their time leaving, despite the hateful eyes following them. Gabrielle, walked silently, looking only at the ground before her, wanting to put the town and those people far behind them. Xena made eye contact with as many of the people as she could. For her, it was a small victory each time she make them look away with her glare. This experience was not unfamiliar to the former warlord. However, it pained Xena to see Gabrielle going through this. Gabrielle couldn't comprehend that blind, yet not uncommon, hate. It would be a lesson she would have to learn if she was going to travel with the Warrior Princess, Xena sadly concluded.
Xena didn't broach the incident at the store until they had made camp that evening. Gabrielle sat quietly, staring at the fire.
"Gabrielle, you didn't do anything wrong." Xena broke the silence, wanting the smile to return to her friend's face. Gabrielle nodded, rubbing the beginnings of a tear away from her eye.
"I know and that makes it more confusing." Gabrielle then spoke with such d stress it surprised Xena.
"To be hated on sight alone...they didn't even KNOW me..." Xena looked at her troubled friend. "Then they WOULD have a reason..."
Gabrielle looked up at her friend not sure if she heard correctly. They looked at each other for a silent moment. A moment that made Xena begin to wonder if she had just made a mistake with her friend.
"Excuse me, I am trying to wallow in self-pity here. You are making that very difficult." Gabrielle found it hard, but responded with a straight face.
Xena cleared her throat. "Sorry. Go on, you were mentioning how to know you is to...go ahead...I won't interrupt." Xena wiped the grin from her face and feigned interested.
"I SUPPOSE I should thank you for cheering me up...." Gabrielle remarked as she laid down on her bedding with a deliberate and grand gesture of turning her back to Xena. Xena laughed.
"Good night Gabrielle." She said softly. "Good night Xena...Thanks."
Gabrielle replayed the scene in the shop over and over. "Your kind" she kept hearing him say. A woman in Amazon garb, carrying a staff and traveling with another woman. Why was that wrong? Gabrielle asked herself. She didn't realize how restless she had been until she heard her friend.
"Do you want me to make you some tea to help you sleep?" Xena asked. Gabrielle turned and looked over at her and laughed. It wasn't wrong, Gabrielle answered her own question and closed her eyes.
In Corerik, the Great Hall was once again full with Sunmoon brethren for a ceremony. However, the occasion was not a happy one. It was a double funeral. Sunal stood before the group visibly disturbed. Leo and Boean stood in a place of honor behind their grandfather.
"Our brethren lost their lives having lived their beliefs which I ..." Sunal's voice caught as an overwhelming sense of guilt flooded his heart. "...established so many years ago. Times have changed since those founding years. My son died because of those changes and but I did not see. My grandson tried to warn me of these changes but I did not hear. It took the heinous murders of two of our brothers for me to understand these changes. I see now. I hear now." The words caused a murmur in the congregation.
"Our quest for peace and harmony must continue, yet our lives are at stake. We must not be targets for this senseless violence from the Unnaturals." Sunal declares, pulling out Amazon arrows which were found through the hearts of the two brethren. He raises them in the air. Slowly and deliberately, he shows them to the congregation. Leo watches his grandfather torn by the events.
"Boean will establish a group to protect the Sunmoon brethren and our ways. Peace and Harmony Boean. Peace and Harmony Brethren." Sunal chanted with the divided brethren.
Their leader had just agreed to establishing an army, contradicting their core beliefs. Yet, the brethren trust d Sunal implicitly and would follow Sunal despite their misgivings. Both Leo and Boean knew that well. Boean spoke to his brother with enthusiasm.
"Finally brother, we will have a chance of surviving." Boean put his arm on his brother's shoulder. "Wile and Ral were good men and good friends." Leo looked sadly over to their casks.
"Yes they were. Examples to us all." Boean agreed.