Based on her near-fatal experiences in the third episode DREAMWORKER, Gabrielle questions which has more value – her "blood innocence" or the weapons Xena warned her against wielding.
AS I AM
"I wish you wouldn’t do that."
"What?" Gabrielle nodded to herself. The downward motion definitely felt more comfortable than straight ahead. More force that way. "So it’s not pretty. That a crime?" She shrugged innocently. "I’m doing the chore you gave me. To the best of my limited ability. There some special technique I’m supposed to use?"
"You were practicing. Stabs. Thrusts. I asked you to clean the fish. Not attack it."
"Xena, must you see violence in every little thing? Because it’s your precious hunting knife?" Gabrielle waved the bloody blade. "You afraid I’ll turn murderer now? In case you didn’t notice, my ‘victim’ was already dead."
"I should. I killed it." Xena cocked her head. "In case you didn’t notice."
"Like I could forget." Gabrielle cut her eyes at the warrior. "That’s your job, right? The ‘important’ things?"
"If it involves killing. Especially people."
Gabrielle huffed in exasperation. "What’s the harm? At least knowing about some kind of weapon? I don’t have to use it. Or even carry one. I learned that lesson, thank you very much. But if I’m traveling with a warrior, what’s the sense – ."
"Exactly. Not just any warrior. One who’s made a name as among the best. Who knows where to find as good a warrior to partner with." Xena pursed her lips. "If that’s what I wanted."
"What about what I want?" Gabrielle rested her hands in her lap. "I told you why I followed you. Not just for adventure. Maybe to become a warrior like you someday."
"It’s your life. I can’t stop you. But as long as you’re with me, I get some say in it."
"That’s fair." Gabrielle grinned. "Like I have some say in yours?"
"This isn’t a game, Gabrielle. My life kills. You’ve got something inside that could die being with me. You won’t know how precious until it’s gone."
Gabrielle scooted closer to the warrior. "Did you have it? That ‘something?’"
Xena studied her hands. "In the beginning maybe. Whatever, it lost out to something else. Something I came to value more." She raised her head, eyes cold. "And apparently still do."
"The other’s winning out now though, right? You hurt people, but to keep somebody else from being hurt."
"Lemme put it this way. If Morpheus’ guys had found me at your age? They wouldn’t have kidnapped me for my ‘blood innocence.’"
"And that’s such a bad thing? You want me to go around the rest of my life hiding? Running? A tempting sacrificial lamb for zealots or crazy gods or – ."
"You’ll learn about defense being around me. You’ll see enough killing to – ."
"Xena, I already have. My sister Lila would’ve run home screaming at the first scratch. Something makes me stay. Maybe something like the part of you that has to get physical."
"There’s a difference, Gabrielle. You –."
"Have somebody to teach me? Keep me from making some of the mistakes you did?"
Xena rolled her tongue in her cheek. "Assuming you’d listen."
"Oh, I would! I do! I haven’t messed with your sword again, have I? Or your chakram?" Gabrielle scowled. "Or that breast dagger you confiscated?"
"As if you had anything to hold them."
"Hey! No need to make little of my … modest … endowments."
Sighing resignedly, Xena resumed sharpening her sword. "I’ll show you some moves from time to time. No more sneaking, all right? I can’t be worried you’ll –."
"Deal." Gabrielle wiped the knife in some grass. "Sorry about – ."
"S’okay. You’ll get better at following my orders."
"Um …." Gabrielle screwed up her face at the mangled corpse. "I was speaking more about this poor fella. Forget his blood innocence. He sacrificed vital body parts to help us through this. Not to mention his good looks."
The next day the two stopped at a village for supplies. They were loading Argo when a dozen or so horses came thundering in. The riders dismounted in front of the tavern. Half went inside. The other half swaggered through the market, bullying merchants into free or reduced items.
"Xena?" Gabrielle said with that "shouldn’t we do something" expression.
The warrior rolled her eyes. "Stay here." She strode to a platform, leaped atop and stood with her arms folded. "Ayiyiyiyiyi!" When she’d attracted sufficient attention, she leveled her eyes at each of the miscreants. "I’m not likin’ the smell you boys brought with ya."
The thugs gaped at her. "You talkin’ to us?"
"I’m talkin’ to anybody rotten enough to intimidate these good people. Which of you is the Big Stink?"
The men snickered. They stalked toward her. "Why’n’t ya come down’n find out?"
"Nah. That’s close enough." Xena unsnapped and threw her chakram. It lopped off the ends of any blades pointed at her. Undeterred, the ruffians rushed the platform. When they reached the bottom, Xena somersaulted behind them and kicked them into the wooden edge. A couple slumped unconscious. The others scrambled to turn around, earning a fist in the face for their trouble.
The men in the tavern spilled out to join their brethren. Some of the villagers decided to even the odds, wielding brooms, pots and whatever else they had to disable the enemy. Gabrielle ushered the children a safe distance away. Two older girls refused to abandon a stall where one of the ruffians had crawled to regain his senses. The taller girl grasped a handful of her friend’s blouse, trying to pull her away from banging a skillet against the man’s skull.
"Talia, no! You’re killing him!"
"Get off me! He deserves what’s comin’ to `im!"
Gabrielle also grabbed Talia. "Stop! She’s right. Look at him!"
Huffing and puffing, Talia paused in her attack long enough to see the man lay motionless, blood oozing from his forehead. "That’s the one threatened my ma and pa," she hurled at the other girl. "Why’re you always takin’ up for scum like that." She shrugged off the hands restraining her. "See?" She pointed to where Xena stood surrounded by bodies, engaged with two men determined to beat her. "She knows what oughtta be done."
"That’s true. And she doesn’t hit people once they’re down."
Talia scowled at Gabrielle. "How would you know?"
"Have you heard of Xena?"
"The Warrior Princess?"
Talia’s eyes grew. "Wow. That her? I hear she’s the best there is. Takes no prisoners. Pulverizes anybody who crosses `er."
"She’s changed." Gabrielle smiled. "Only pulverizes bad guys. Doesn’t kill unless she has to. I know because she’s my friend. I’m Gabrielle. I travel with her."
"Awww, come on." Talia glanced skeptically between Gabrielle and the woman who now faced a single opponent – the man who’d ordered, "Get `er!" As if on cue, he lunged at Xena in such a way as to force her to run him through. Talia snickered. "Changed or not, that’s one scumbag won’t be botherin’ us again." She kicked her victim’s leg. He groaned. "But this one will. Happy now?" She snorted in disgust at the man’s saviors before marching off. "Shows what you two know about being a true warrior," she threw over her shoulder.
"Hard head. Thinks she knows everything."
Gabrielle laughed. "Comes natural to warrior types. I’m assuming Talia considers herself a warrior type?"
"Yeah." The other girl’s shoulders sagged. "Always calling me ‘chicken’ if I don’t get excited about whacking somebody."
"I didn’t catch your name," Gabrielle said, extending her hand.
Surprised, the girl shyly shook the hand. "Amelea."
"Amelea, whacking isn’t the only way. Sometimes words and brains work even better."
"Don’t see how. Not against bad people like those men."
"Would you believe only a few days ago it worked for me?"
"Uh huh. Evil priests snatched me. They needed an innocent girl who hadn’t killed. Problem is, they tried to make me do it for their god, so they could sacrifice me to him."
"Goodness! What did you do?"
"Well, Xena deserves the credit. She’d given me some advice earlier – try talking your way out first, then pitting opponents against each other. If that doesn’t work, run if you can."
"That’s how you got away?"
"Not entirely." Gabrielle chuckled. "Bought myself time until a certain hard-headed warrior came to the rescue."
"Oh." Amelea sighed her disappointment. "I thought …."
Gabrielle steered the girl to sit on a bench nearby. "Xena says the world needs all kinds. That fighting should be a last resort." She gazed thoughtfully at the warrior, who was helping truss the ruffians who hadn’t made it to their horses. "When we run into trouble? If there’s time, Xena let’s me try getting folks to listen to each other first. Or she’ll consider an idea I have for resolving it peacefully."
"She does?" Amelea frowned. "Why not crack heads and be done with it? What if somebody escapes to do even more harm, like Talia said?"
"From what I’ve seen? She’d have to eliminate half the world. Xena’s more a problem solver, not so much into changing somebody. On a good day she makes them think twice. If not, they’re a problem for another day." Gabrielle shrugged. "You know, people don’t always fight because they’re bad. Many are basically decent, fearing somebody else’s way could be bad. You can’t rush in taking out the whole lot. You could hurt somebody who really doesn’t deserve it."
"Didn’t those men deserve it? Anybody could see they’re not decent."
"Believe me, Xena doesn’t trust easily. Her past is full of bad people. So is her present, because of her mission to right wrongs. She ends up helping or sparing many she doesn’t like. Do they deserve to die because she doesn’t agree with them? Because they stole a ham?"
"She wants to be … fair? Even to somebody who’s done bad things?"
Gabrielle smiled. "Uh huh. Talia’s right. Xena hasn’t always been so fair. If people didn’t deserve a second chance, she’d be the first in line. She usually warns them, like she did today. When she called for the leader? She hoped defeating him would discourage his gang from causing more trouble."
Amelea snorted. "None of it worked. I didn’t see her run."
Gabrielle laughed. "Um, no. She’s kinda special. For her, running’s pretty much a last resort."
Amelea rubbed her chin. "I have stopped a lot of fights. Between my friends. Even ol` hothead listens to me sometimes."
"Bet it feels good, huh?"
Amelea grinned. "Yeah. Maybe one less wound to patch. Or somebody can get along with each again. I like that."
"Me too." Gabrielle noticed Xena searching for her. She patted Amelea’s hand and rose. "Remember that, next time Talia gives you the evil eye. Imagine how much sadder or crueler the world would be without people like us."
Amelea stood. "I will." She ducked her head. "Thanks for talking to me."
Gabrielle patted the girl’s shoulder. "Thanks for letting me. Maybe did us both some good."
"Um, Gabrielle?" Amelea spotted Talia hanging around her new hero. "Can I go over with you? You know – maybe meet Xena?"
"Sure. Come on."
The two walked to where Xena was once again preparing Argo for the trip out. She watched their approach with raised brow.
"Can’t resist making a new friend, eh? Even on a battlefield."
Gabrielle surveyed the trashed market area. "I wouldn’t exactly call it a battlefield." She threw a wry glance at the hovering Talia. "But then, I’m not a ‘true’ warrior.’"
Xena gave Talia a bemused glance. "I take it introductions are in order?"
"This is Amelea." Gabrielle beckoned the other girl to join them. "And Talia. Amelea and Talia, I’d like you to meet Xena."
Xena nodded to the girls. "My pleasure, I’m sure."
Talia stared at Xena, then Gabrielle. "Wow. You really are friends?"
Xena bit her lip. "So she tells me. Surprising huh?"
"I’ll say! What …." Talia scowled. "You’re whomping guys right’n left. She didn’t lift a finger!" She cut her eyes at Gabrielle. "Too busy helpin’ Amelea keep me from doin’ it."
"She deserves a rest sometimes."
"A rest? From what? Talking?"
Xena coughed. "Um …. I meant, a rest from saving me."
"Little while ago, wasn’t feeling so good about myself. Not sure I had it in me to be the kind of warrior I wanted. Next I know, I see this redheaded kid mouthing off to a bunch of slave traders."
Talia gawked at Gabrielle. "Her?"
"One and the same. Had to get out of my funk pretty quick, to back her up. Felt good."
Talia snorted. "Saving big-mouthed redheads?"
"Learning from her example. Somebody willing to put her life on the line for others. Armed only with her convictions."
"Yeah, well – ."
"I’m not finished." Xena’s eyes froze Talia into silence. "I warned her away from me. She trailed me to my home village anyway. They tried to stone me for the death and shame I’d caused them. My own mother turned her back. Not Gabrielle. She talked them out of it. Gave them the chance to see I’d changed. Gave me the chance to believe I could. This time around with honor and a conscience." She held Talia’s eyes. "A ‘true’ warrior."
"She deserved a second chance," Amelea explained softly. "Like she tried to give those men."
Talia searched the blue gaze for a shred of indulgence, the usual "wisdom" of adults who knew little about practicing what they preached. She saw instead unflinching honesty – as undeniable as it was open to the possibility of doubt. She suddenly realized how little she actually knew about being a warrior like this greatest of warriors. That anybody could go around whomping people, but only someone special would worry about why. She felt a surge of resentment, not quite willing yet to lose her youthful certainty. She stuck out her chin.
"A warrior has to act fast. Bein’ polite and considerate could –."
"I can tell you have a brave, good heart," Xena said, her eyes softening. "After all these years, I’m still learning. Made a lot of wrong turns, not listening to those who saw me better than I could. If you’re lucky, you’ll have someone like that. You’ll listen sooner." She smiled at Gabrielle. "Ready?"
Gabrielle blinked. "Ready? Um, yeah." Blushing a bit, she fumbled around in her carry bag as if making sure she had everything. "I … uh …."
"Nice meeting you, Xena." Amelea quickly hugged Gabrielle. "You too, Gabrielle. I won’t forget you."
"Likewise." Talia threw Gabrielle a begrudging smile. She regarded Xena with mixed emotions. "Uh, great seeing you in action. It’s been … um … interesting. I’ll, uh, you know …."
"You’re welcome." Xena swung up on Argo. She offered her arm to Gabrielle. "Wanna ride awhile?"
Aware of two sets of curious eyes, Gabrielle decided image was more important than reluctance to climb aboard the picky Palomino. "Absolutely." She let herself be pulled up. "Bye!"
"Bye!" Amelea waved at the departing women. When they were almost out of sight, she turned to her friend with a smug smile.
"What’re you grinnin’ at? Don’t go gettin’ any ideas. I may be shorter’n you." Talia smirked. "But not as soft yet as Xena."
The early afternoon sun beamed down on the travelers, convincing them to rest in a shady spot beside a stream. Xena washed off the reminders of her run-in with the ruffians. Gabrielle knelt nearby filling their water skins.
"That’s a nasty cut. Does it need stitching?" Gabrielle asked hoping she wouldn’t have to assist.
"Looks worse than it is. I’ll put some ointment on. Keep it wrapped today." Xena stretched the wounded arm out toward Gabrielle. "Unless you want the practice?"
Gabrielle rolled her tongue in her cheek. "Um, I can wait. No doubt you’ll give me plenty more opportunities."
The two continued their respective activities. When finished, they relaxed under a tree eating some fruit.
"You know, it’s not true I do all the ‘important’ things."
"Killing our food. Bad guys. That needs to be done. It’s not more important just because I do it."
Gabrielle stared at the warrior. "Xena, what are you talking about?"
Xena focused on the apple in her hand. "When I said I’d killed the fish? I only meant …." She shrugged. "It’s what I do."
"The fish?" Gabrielle’s mouth dropped when she realized Xena was referring to their conversation the day before. It never ceased to amaze her how little the warrior missed or how much churned inside that brain without any outward sign. "I thought we’d settled that for now. I’m not planning any more assaults on –."
"Do you really feel that way? Like I don’t value you?"
Gabrielle frowned, trying to recall exactly what she’d said. She tended to spout off whatever popped in her head at the time. Her words often floated away, sometimes blowing back to her or touching someone in ways she didn’t anticipate. She hadn’t been prepared for how often Xena took them in, apparently dwelling on them long after she herself had breezed on to something else. She did, however, remember the feeling.
"I, um, think maybe that was more about me." Gabrielle ducked her head. "You know, feeling like a tagalong. Like I should do more than stand around or get out of the way or …."
"Clean up after I do the ‘main’ event?"
"I don’t blame you. I mean, what do I know about all this? I can barely wake up when I’m supposed to." Gabrielle fiddled with a water skin. "It’s not that you treat me like I’m a nuisance or anything. You actually seem okay with having me around." She snorted. "Not sure why sometimes."
Xena adjusted her bracers. "Maybe what I want for you really is more about me." Her gaze drifted to the stream. "Joy. Belief. A heart clean of rage and blood. Didn’t know how much I missed that." She smiled at Gabrielle. "With you I’m reminded every day." She sighed. "What you want comes as natural to me as breathing. Not that you couldn’t do it. You’d be good at whatever you set your mind to. It’s just I …"
"Kinda need me more as I am?"
Xena sucked in her cheeks. "Mm. ‘Need’s’ pretty strong. How ‘bout ‘tolerate.’"
"Hmm." Gabrielle cocked her head, chin in hand. "‘Need’ is definitely strong. Solid. Direct." She grinned. "Suits you better. ‘Tolerate’ has a wimpy ring, dontcha think?"
Xena growled under her breath. A master of many fields, she hadn’t been prepared for her young companion’s dominance on this particular turf. It required the warrior to stay on her toes for the simplest of chats. Be alert for deceptively airy comments that somehow penetrated her defenses with uncanny precision, lodging in her consciousness with surprising depth. And illumination.
She usually responded with gruff indulgence of course, as if the flow of words hadn’t sunk in. Secretly she found them an unaccustomed challenge. A rare impetus for self-knowledge. One of the few gifts she didn’t already have and couldn’t bestow on herself. She suspected Gabrielle sensed this. Yet most times the girl didn’t seem to care. Not about impressing somebody or for personal gain. Mainly about truth for its own sake. Searching for it. Examining it. Expressing it with faith it wouldn’t hurt if it hit home. Xena welcomed the respite from truth bearing chains, traps or sharp edges.
"I think you have an interesting view of ‘strong.’ Considering your own ‘need’ to use blades on more than food."
Gabrielle took a swig of water. She wanted a moment to drink in Xena’s acknowledgement. She couldn’t show her pleasure too much of course. The warrior did have her pride. Was particularly skittish about inner stuff she guarded from public view. Gabrielle usually found it best to treat such issues lightly – let the chips fall where they may. Besides, as much as she admired Xena, she couldn’t afford to be too clingy, too dependent on the warrior’s approval. She sensed Xena appreciated people with minds of their own – fortuitous considering the warrior’s tagalong certainly had one and loved opportunities to explore it.
"Actually, I’m not so keen on that anymore. Blades, I mean."
"Oh? You practicing listening to me for a change?"
"Xena, I hang on your every word." Gabrielle giggled at Xena’s expression. She ducked her head. "I, um …. That was really nice what you told Talia. You know, about … me."
The warrior shrugged. "She needed to hear ‘whomping’ folks isn’t the only way."
"Huh. The listening thing? I’m thinking I should practice doing it more with myself for a change."
"Should I be scared?"
"Xeenaa." Gabrielle squirted some water Xena’s way. "I had a talk with Amelea. Trying to cheer her up about not being so fond of violence, like Talia. I ended up realizing something about myself."
"You’re not so fond of it either?"
Gabrielle nodded. "I know I have the potential. Funny, I think I valued it a lot like you do what you see in me. I took for granted not wanting to hurt people. My ‘blood innocence.’ You’re showing me how to bring the other out in a good way."
"Seriously. If I want to develop that part of me? There’s nobody else I’d trust more." Gabrielle’s tone did not invite debate. "It’s more a curiosity now. Maybe a necessary evil for me later as a wannabe warrior."
"You’re okay with staying out of fights for the time being?"
"I do have the urge. You know – to be more involved. Maybe bop somebody with a pan." Gabrielle grinned. "I guess I’m saying I appreciate the value of not needing to. Why you think it’s important. That I should listen to what’s in my heart. Not worry so much about what might be missing."
Xena raised a brow. "We’re still talkin’ your heart, right?"
Gabrielle rubbed her nose. "Well …. If the shoe fits …."
"Or maybe you’ve been wearing those boots too long? You forgot how comfortable plain old slippers feel?"
Xena shook her head. "And I’m supposed to be the scary one."
"If you ever get good with weapons, that mouth’ll mean double trouble."
Beaming, Gabrielle leaned back on her hands and gazed at the sky. "Gabrielle: Savvy Sidekick. Or maybe Gabrielle: The Bopping Bard? Oooo, Gabrielle: Word Warrior!"
"Note to self," Xena muttered. "Keep her away from Amazons." Sighing, she got up. "Come on, Pan of Peace, before your imagination gets too far off course."
"Who knows? Maybe I’ll rub off on you." Gabrielle continued her musings unfazed. "You’ll get better with sensitive chats. Nonviolent instincts. Come to be known as … as …."
"That’s easy. Xena: Warrior Who Oughtta Know By Now To Keep Her Mouth Shut."
Gabrielle pulled her head from the clouds. "What about your pearls of wisdom? How’m I gonna listen if you don’t talk?" She narrowed her eyes. "Those ‘orders’ I’m s’posed to get better at following? Lessons for harnessing my dark side?"
Xena was tightening Argo’s saddle. She turned with a somber expression. "You realize what that could mean."
"You’d need me as I am."
Gabrielle caught the "that’ll teach ya" smirk Xena shot at her before focusing again on Argo. She grinned with smug affection at the warrior’s back. Bloodless victories were indeed the sweetest. Especially ones of the heart. Even if they happened by chance, without fanfare, and the opponent didn’t yet comprehend she’d whomped herself.
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