"Come on Gabrielle, we’ve got to go." Xena came over to where Gabrielle was standing. "What are you looking at?"
"Do you see that Xena?" Gabrielle pointed to a sword somewhat neglected to one side among the various other weapons in the showcase.
"It’s okay Gabrielle, I’ve already told you, I’ve forgiven you for ACCIDENTALLY piercing a hole in my leather skirt. Since you’ve already replaced the skirt, you don’t need to buy me another present. Besides, what would I want with that thing? I’m perfectly happy with the sword that I have." Xena said impatiently.
"I wasn’t thinking of getting it for you." Gabrielle said slowly. "And IT WAS an accident."
"Then who…oh come on Gabby, you aren’t thinking of getting it for yourself are you?"
"Why not?" Gabrielle turned her head and glanced at Xena for a second and then turned her attention back to the showcase. She can’t explain it to her friend, but somehow the sword draws her.
Seeing her interest, the storekeeper came over and took it out of the showcase for her. In spite of Xena’s objection, Gabrielle took the sword and turned it toward the light. The sword was long and thin; it gleamed in the sunlight, blinding the bard for a moment. The handle was carved with that of a phoenix rising. Gabrielle ran her hand lovingly along the flattened surface of the sword, feeling the steel beneath the smoothness of the blade. Before she could do anything else, Xena took the sword from her. She turned it around in her hands a few times; "this sword is too light weighted for anything. It’s a decorative piece." She said, handing it back to the storekeeper.
"Wait!" Gabrielle once again took the sword. "I want it."
"Gabby…" Xena was staring at her as if she had lost her mind.
"I want it." Gabrielle turned to storekeeper and asked for the price. Anticipating a long haggle session, the man doubled the price. Gabrielle, however, didn’t even blink when told of the outrageous cost. To the storekeeper's amazement, she pulled out the required amount, paid for her sword and thanked him politely.
She carefully placed the sword back inside the scabbard and walked out of the store. She heard the involuntary "what a sucker" came out from the storekeeper, but for once, she didn't care.
Xena caught up with her once she was outside and spun her around to face her. "Why? You just paid a small fortune for that. That sword isn't worth a third of what you paid. Just tell me why?"
"I can’t really explain it Xena, but I wanted it like I’ve never wanted anything before." Gabrielle turned to Xena and said softly. "Besides I’ve always wanted to learn how to use a sword properly."
"I thought you were comfortable with the sais."
"I am, but…I can improve myself by learning how to use a sword as well. After all isn't life a continuous learning experience?"
"What’s gotten into you? A sword is the ultimate killing machine Gabrielle. Have you thought of that?"
"Yes I have, but if you learn to control it instead of letting it control you, then it doesn’t need to be." Gabrielle said with a degree of anger in her voice. "Let’s not forget that I have killed with the sais before. The sword is an inanimate object Xena; it doesn’t kill unless the user dictates it. It’s how we choose to use it that defines its true meaning." Lecture over, she walked on ahead without even waiting for Xena.
Xena glanced at the bard quizzically and muttered, "Sometimes you can be such a pain." Then she sighed and ran to catch up with her friend.
By the firelight Gabrielle once again pulled out her new sword and examined it with loving care. Xena looked at her from across the campfire and was finally unable to keep silent any longer. "This is ridiculous! We are sitting here starving to death and all because you spent all our dinars on that...thing."
"I'm sorry Xena...I know it was impulsive of me, but..."
"Impulsive? Look, you wanted to come into town so that we could get a nice meal, a bath and sleep in a comfortable bed for a change. Instead we are sitting here being eaten by mosquitoes and..."
Gabrielle interrupted her, "what can I say? I'm really sorry Xena. I promise I'll make it up to you."
The beguiling smile was too much to resist. Xena felt her temple cooled, but she still wasn't happy about the sword. "If you really want a sword, then get one that works, this thing you are holding might be pretty, but it’s too light to hurt anybody."
"First of all, I don’t want to hurt anybody, secondly I like this sword." Gabrielle said without even looking up. "Just look at the craftsmanship on this, I’ve never seen a weapon that looked so delicate before."
"Gabrielle, a sword is not a toy. It’s not supposed to look delicate. Now don’t get mad at me, but you’ve never shown any interest in learning how to use a sword before, why now?"
"Maybe it’s time I learn. What’s a battling bard without a sword huh?" Gabrielle shrugged and smiled at her friend.
"If you are determined to use one, then get a real one like mine and not that poor excuse of a sword that you are holding." Xena said.
For some strange reason, Gabrielle felt bonded with the sword, and Xena's dismissive attitude was really getting on her nerves. Without giving herself time for second thoughts, "I bet I can take you with this."
"Oh please Gabby, that thing couldn’t even hurt a fly."
"Wanna bet?" The bard looked up and Xena realized that she was serious.
"Alright." Xena stood up and pulled out her sword. It might be an expensive lesson, but maybe if she cut her little sword in half, Gabrielle would learn of the absurdity of her new purchase.
As soon as the two blades made contact, Xena realized her mistake. When her sword had hit Gabrielle’s lighter one, she had felt the force of it like never before. She could feel a strange tingle running all the way up to the top of her arm. What surprised her the most was the way Gabrielle was wielding her sword. Instead of the heck and butcher moments that Xena herself uses, the bard was wielding it like an extension of herself. Her movements were quick, light and flurry. In the amount of time it took Xena to strike once, she had turned the sword in three directions. Xena quickly realized that there were plenty of opportunities for the bard to strike a deathblow, but she never took it, instead she was driving her back without much effort. All of a sudden Xena felt her hand shook as she watched in disbelief when her sword broke in two.
"How…it can’t be!" Xena watched in shock.
Gabrielle seems to come out of a trance. "I’m sorry Xena, I never meant to do that." But she was smiling and there was definitely a note of satisfaction in her voice as she said that.
Xena came over and took the sword from Gabrielle, examining it carefully. It still looked the same to her. It was too light weighted to have been able to cut through her sword, wasn’t it? If she had not experienced it first hand, she would never have believed it. She looked at her friend and saw that she was just standing there, "when did you learn to use a sword like that?"
"When we were in Chin." Gabrielle said; she glanced at Xena with a slightly guilty look. "When you went to Lo Ma’s grave to pay your respect, I took the opportunity to visit one of the temples and met some of the warriors that were training there. I liked how they were using their swords, so I asked them to show me."
"You never told me that. I was only gone for a few days, you have learned a lot in a surprisingly short time."
"I suppose. This sword reminds me of the ones that they used in Chin. To be honest I would never carry a sword like yours, no offense." Gabrielle took the sword and put it back in the scabbard. "It’s surprisingly easy once you know your weapon and allow it to be a part of you. It's actually the first thing they taught me."
"Gabrielle, don’t you think it’s strange how you just came upon this." Xena said, looking into the darkness as if trying to see if anyone was out there.
"Not everything is about Ares, Xena." Gabrielle smiled. "Go to sleep, and tomorrow I’ll buy you a new sword."
Xena lay down uneasily. She spent an uncomfortable night drifting in and out of sleep. Her mind is constantly on the alert to possible danger, but nothing happened. She checked on Gabrielle from time to time and saw her frown repeatedly in her sleep.
In her dreams Gabrielle can once again see herself walking over the high mountains of Chin. The early morning mist hid the lower valleys from sight, and yet provided an astonishingly breathtaking view of the mountaintops peaking out from above the fog. As she walked down the mountain, tall bamboo trees came into view. The lush green leaves hanging on thin branches slowly waving in and out against the wind. Gabrielle frowned again; Chin brought back memories that were best forgotten. So much had happened here, so much regrets, so much sorrows in a land so magnificent. A land where the women were soft and light as the wind on the outside, but strong as steel on the inside. A land where warriors and scholars coexist peacefully simply by living to their code of honor, where self sacrifice is an everyday occurrence, and responsibility is accepted as a way of life.
"Gabrielle," a soft voice called.
Gabrielle looked up and saw the vision of a young girl floating among the bamboo trees. She had long black hair, wore a long white gown and was holding the same sword that Gabrielle had bought. Gabrielle frowned again; she reached out but touched nothing. Somehow the girl seems strangely familiar.
"Gabrielle, I’m glad my sword has finally made its way to you." The voice said again.
"Yes, it’s the Sword of Destiny." The vision smiled, and Gabrielle felt like she was hit by a ton of bricks. The smile was the warmest she had ever seen. "My name is Yin. The sword has been passed down in my family for generations. But since I’m the last in my family, there is no one to inherit it after my death. I've searched high and low in the last ten years since my death hoping to find a worthy successor. I’m glad I was finally able to get it to you."
"How did it end up in Greece?" Gabrielle asked.
"I wanted you to have it." The girl came a little closer, and all of a sudden, recognition dawned on Gabrielle. She had met her before. Twenty-seven years ago when she was in Chin with Xena battling Ming Tien and his sister. The girl was a child then, no more than 9 or 10, but she was already quite a warrior even at that tender age. Gabrielle remembered seeing her wielding her sword in the temple among others who were there to train. The girl had made a strong impression not only because of her skill, but also because of her bardic ability. She was the one who convinced the others to teach Gabrielle how to use a sword. Gabrielle had never been able to share with Xena what she had learned in Chin simply because she had known her friend did not appreciate their artistic approach to wielding their weapons. The lightness, the speed, the grace, all channeled through deadly accuracy.
"If this sword has been in your family for generation, then it's a family heirloom." Gabrielle said unsteadily.
"I’m the last of my line Gabrielle. I remembered you from those days of long ago. You were the most idealistic person I’ve ever met. If the sword is to leave my family, then I want you to have it because I know you will take care of it and use it as its destined to be used. This sword has never been used for destruction but whether for protection, to protect you and others. I know you will honor that."
"I’m honored that you wanted me to have it, but I don’t know if I’m worthy of it."
"Yes you are. You have the ability of a warrior but the heart of poet. You are the ultimate combination of both strength and grace. It’s a characteristic that is shared by all the female members of my family. Through all that you have endured and the difficulties that you will encounter in the future, this sword will be your companion and it will help you when you need it. I’m gifting it to you because I believe in your integrity and compassion. It wasn't easy getting it to you, but it must have been written in the stars. Your God made it happen Gabrielle, without him, I could never have gotten it to Greece." The voice was fading as the image disappeared. Gabrielle reached out a hand, but there was nothing there but mist.
"Wait!" Gabrielle woke up and felt the solid weight of the sword beside her. "Yin? Don't go! Just what exactly do you mean my God made it happen?" Gabrielle had never felt so frustrated before. Surprisingly her outburst did not wake the Warrior Princess although Gabrielle had felt like shaking her awake just so that she could have someone to talk to. But knowing how Xena feels about the sword, she forced herself to calm down and slowly got out of her bedroll.
As quietly as she could, she walked away from camp. She stopped when she was a few hundred yards away. "Please Yin, I need to talk to you."
"Yin isn't here, but maybe I can be of service." The familiar voice sounded so close behind her had her spinning back to face him.
"Ares, why am I not surprised?" She questioned resignedly. "It was you that Yin was telling me about, wasn't it? You are the one who brought the Sword of Destiny to Greece."
"Yes, and what a sword." Ares said appreciatively. "You certainly did not disappoint me. I'm sure Xena is still wondering what had happened."
"Why not?" He shrugged, "you said it yourself, it's time to learn new things Gabrielle. Perhaps time to worship a new god."
"You are unbelievable Ares. I don't want to have anything associated with you, so you can just take the sword back." Gabrielle said, handing him the sword still sheathed in its scabbard.
"Sorry Gabrielle, I can only deliver. I cannot return it to Chin for you."
"Fine, then I'll just toss it into the sea and let it sail back to Chin." Gabrielle said and turned to leave.
"Wait! Are you really willing to condemn Yin to becoming a lost soul forever?" That stopped her in her tracks, but she did not turn her head. In a flash he was once again standing in front of her. "The sword was a gift. If you willfully throw it away, Yin's soul will never find peace. She will be forced to wander the mortal realm forever." At her unbelievable look, "it's true Gabrielle. She had been wandering for the last ten years just waiting for you. She could have gifted it to anyone and be reunited with her family a long time ago, but she was determined to give it to you. Are you going to be the cause of her not being able to find an afterlife?"
"You are lying!"
The lack of conviction in her voice did not go unnoticed. "You know I'm not. You and her are actually a lot alike. Spirited, idealistic, loyal, stubborn to the point of stupidity, and...beautiful." The last word came out softly and slowly. Gabrielle felt herself shivered in the night.
"You brought it here just for this purpose didn’t you? Just so that I can be indebted to you?" She said angrily.
He didn't deny it. "I knew she wanted you to have it, and you must know I wouldn't pass up a chance to be your god."
"You are NOT my god."
"Allow me to explain a few things. The Sword of Destiny was a gift from the war god of Chin to the first daughter of Yin's family two hundred years ago. It was designed to protect the user and that protection came from the god. As long as the user worships the god, no harm will ever come to her during battle. Yes, the sword has always belonged to a female member of the family." He answered, seeing her unspoken question. "When Yin died without anyone to inherit the sword, the war god of Chin relinquished his tie with the sword, allowing Yin to find a new successor, and she has chosen you. Her God was not exactly enthusiastic with her choice of the recipient of such a magnificent gift, but it was Yin’s choice. By purchasing the sword, you have accepted the gift willingly. If you choose to throw it away now, you are insulting her god, and Yin will suffer the consequences of his wrath. You don’t want to do that to her, Gabrielle. All the warriors are granted an afterlife if they had taken good care of the sword and found an equally worthy successor after they die. The only other alternative is to bury the sword with the owner." Gabrielle could feel him smiled in the darkness. "When Yin couldn’t find you, the sword was buried with her. But she did not give up and stayed in the mortal realm searching for you. I felt her trying to reach out a connection because I'm always aware of what's going on with you Gabrielle. I went to Chin and brought the sword back for you. I think you should at least thank me for my trouble."
"Don’t do this to her Ares, release her soul, take the sword back to Chin. I am even willing to owe you another debt." There was a note of pleading in her voice.
" I don't think so Gabrielle." Gabrielle could see him shaking his head in the dark. "Why should I be contented with one debt when I can own your soul?"
"You don't need me to worship you Ares. You don't need another reluctant follower."
"I'll decide on what I need, and right now, it suits my purpose to have you in my service."
"Alright, then I'll take the sword back to Chin myself, and this time I don't need your help." Gabrielle said and shoved Ares away, quickly running back to camp.
Ares watched until she was out of sight. He shook his head in amusement. "You don't think your god is going to let you just go running all the way to Chin on your own, now do you?"
"Have you gone mad?"
"I have to do this Xena. I owe it to Yin. I can’t just let her soul wander forever. I’m going to see to that she’s reunited with her family." Gabrielle kneeled down by Xena and took hold of her hand. "Please Xena, you must understand why I have to do this."
"I understand all right, just as I’ve expected it, this is all Ares’ doing." Xena pulled away from Gabrielle and jumped up. "Ares, get your devious, lying, good for nothing self out here now."
"Xena, don’t." Gabrielle pulled on her elbow, forcibly sitting her down again. "I don’t care what he has done, but this is something that I have to do."
"Gabrielle, you don’t even know if what he told you is true. You know Ares as well as I do, he’ll lie to his own mother just to get what he wants. This is probably just another ploy of his, and you are falling for it."
"You are right, I don’t know for sure if what he told me is true, but I can’t take that chance. Besides, I can feel it in my heart that Yin’s spirit is out there, and I have to do what I think is right. Don’t you see?"
"Yeah, I guess I do see." Xena sighed and smiled at her friend. Although she still didn’t like it, she had decided to support Gabrielle on her decision. "If you must, you must, but I am coming with you."
"No, you are not. This is something that I need to do on my own. Besides aren’t you suppose to meet Eve in Delphi?"
"I’m not letting you go to Chin all by yourself. I’ll send a message to Eve and put her off for a while."
"You are not putting off your daughter. I am going to be fine Xena. Trust me, I know what I am doing." When Xena started to shake her head, "I’m not that naïve little girl that you saved a life time ago. I can take care of myself; after all, I’ve had the best teacher."
"You know I’m not doubting your ability to take care of yourself, but I can’t just let you go running around on your own when I know Ares is out there just waiting for an opportunity to harm you."
"I can take care of Ares. I know what I am doing. Trust me, please?"
"I tell you what, you go meet up with Eve, and let me take the sword back to Chin. I’m just going return it and I’ll be on the next boat back to Greece. I promise I’ll be careful. I’ll meet you at Amphipolis afterwards, okay?"
"I don’t like this…"
"But you are going to let me do this because you know in your heart it’s the right thing to do." Then she laughed hoping to break the tension. "And you know you won’t have a moment of peace if you don’t."
Xena was still looking doubtful. "Stop worrying Xena. I bet you now that we’re splitting up, Ares will be following you instead of me."
"For once, I wish he would."
Gabrielle stepped off the boat and was surprised at how little Chin had changed in three decades. She wasn't sure how to go about doing what she has in mind, but she figured a good place to start would be at the temple. She had hoped that Yin would come to her again, but she never did. Gabrielle sighed, feeling the familiar presence of Ares. He has been with her since the first day of her journey. He had never shown himself, but Gabrielle knew he was there. If she could just return the sword, then maybe there will be no reason for him to hang around her.
As Gabrielle took the flight of steps leading up to the temple at the top of the mountain, she could already feel her breath quicken as the air got thinner. Why would anyone build a temple at the top of a mountain is beyond her, but this is a land where discipline was a number one priority with its warriors.
"Can’t you slow down? You are tiring me out." Gabrielle stiffened as she heard his voice right beside her.
"Then why don’t you just go away?" She stopped and turned to face him. "You can whine all the way back to Greece on your magic flying carpet or something. Why are you following me anyway?"
"Hey, I always take care of my belongings."
"I don’t belong to you!" She was shouting by now. She glanced away in embarrassment as a man coming down the steps gave her a stern look. "We do not raise our voices in the temple grounds Miss."
"I’m sorry." Gabrielle quickly apologized. She waited until the man continued down the steps before turning to Ares and hissed, "You see what you made me do?"
"You can’t hold on to your temper, how did that become my fault?" He asked innocently.
"I don’t know, but it just is." Realizing how absurd that sounded, she took the steps two at a time trying to get away from him. His amused laughter followed her as she continued to charge up the steps.
Gabrielle was breathing heavily by the time she got to the top, and it didn’t help her temper any to find that Ares was already there leaning against a tree waiting for her. She totally ignored him and stepped into the courtyard.
A group of young men was doing their drills in the middle of the courtyard, and once again Gabrielle was stunned as she stared at the almost liquefied movements in front of her. She turned her head and saw a group of young women practicing with their swords on the other side of the courtyard. They might not strike with the power of Xena, but Gabrielle knows for a fact that there is power hidden beneath the grace. Every moment has a purpose; every stroke is a dance on its own.
A man approached them and stopped in front of Ares. "May I help you, sir?" He asked politely, but Ares knew that the show of courtesy was only skin deep, there was an undercurrent of threat in that voice.
"I’m here to return this sword to its rightful owner." Gabrielle stepped forward, showing the sword to the man. "Can you please tell me whom I should speak with?"
The man looked at sword without touching it. He appraised Gabrielle silently. "Why would you want to return a magnificent sword like this?"
"Because…because it comes with strings that I need to sever." Gabrielle said honestly, ignoring Ares’ soft chuckles. "Look, may I speak with your master?"
"You are speaking with the master, child." The man said. Gabrielle stared at him and was speechless. The man looked more a like groundskeeper than a master of the most prestigious temple in Chin.
"I’m…I’m sorry, I.." Gabrielle stuttered.
"What you see isn’t always what it is." The man said without malice. "You need to learn to look beyond the surface, child." He turned and started to walk away, "I’m master Yu, you and companion may come inside for some tea."
Once inside he gestured for them to sit down beside a small rounded table. He poured them tea in dainty little cups. Gabrielle took a sip and then, "I’m Gabrielle, and this is Ares. I’m here because…"
"I know who you are." Master Yu said quietly. "You were here twenty seven years ago. I remember you very well. I wasn’t the master here then, but I remember how quickly you caught on to our techniques. I don’t know how you stayed the same after all these years, but that doesn’t really concern me. What I would like to know is why you are here now."
"I’m here to return the sword." Gabrielle swallowed, for some strange reason this mild mannered priest unnerves her. Why isn’t this as simple as she thought?
"Why? Yin went to a lot of trouble to get this to you. Since we had no way of getting the sword across the sea, it was buried with Yin ten years ago when she died. I know you didn’t go and dug it up from her grave." The master turned and looked at Ares, "With your help perhaps? You are not like her, are you?"
"No, I don’t suppose I am. I am a god."
Master Yu just nodded as if meeting a god is an everyday occurrence. "The God of War, I suppose?"
"Yes." Ares stared at the master, "how did you know?"
"You wouldn’t have been able to take the sword otherwise." Master Yu directed their attention to a picture on the wall. "The Sword of Destiny has always connected the owner to the war god. It’s no different whether its in Chin or Greece."
Gabrielle and Ares both turned their attention to the picture. It was an imposing figure wearing a bright red robe and holding something that looks like a staff but with a blade in the shape of a half moon attached to one end.
Master Yu continued; "he is the guardian to all our warriors, but the bearer of the Sword of Destiny has always had a special relationship with him." He then spoke directly to Gabrielle; "the only reason you are returning the sword is because you don’t want to serve your god. It’s not that simple, child. You are bonded to him by more than just the sword, it was fate that granted you this sword, and you can’t run away from fate."
Gabrielle pretended that she didn't understand. "I just don’t want to see Yin’s soul forever wandering. I want her to find peace. Now if I return this sword to you, will her soul then be able to cross over to the afterlife?"
"Yin’s soul will find peace unless you use the sword for evil purposes which I don’t think you would." The master smiled gently at Gabrielle. "Your fate has already been sealed a long time ago child. Returning the sword will only delay what is inevitable."
Gabrielle stared at him stunned. She turned to look at Ares and was surprised to find him quite expressionless. She was so sure he would be wearing some victorious smirk, but instead he just looked pensive. She swallowed, "I can’t accept that. I believe in making my own destiny. Can’t you give the sword to one of your disciples or return it to Yin’s grave?"
"I could, but that will not change your future. You can’t run away from destiny." Master Yu said quietly. "You came all the way to Chin just so that Yin could rest, you are indeed a child worthy of the sword. I have to admit I wasn’t too pleased when I first learn of Yin’s decision in sending the sword across the sea, but now I think I understand. Why don’t you take a couple of days and consider this carefully. You are both welcome to stay here."
The following morning Master Yu found Gabrielle sitting on the steps right outside the courtyard watching the sunrise.
"What’s the matter child? You are making this a lot more complicated that it needs to be." He sat down beside her.
"Just how much influence does the god have on the bearer of the sword?" She questioned softly.
The master smiled, "as much or as little as you want." When she looked at him inquisitively. "Because he came and delivered the sword to you, he’s obligated to protect you. You are obligated to worship him, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have a mind or will of your own."
"He’s the God of War. I don’t believe in wars. I can’t follow him." Gabrielle said desperately.
"What is peace without war? Yin was a lot like you. She only ever fought to defend. Your problem is that you have a more complicated relationship with your god." He smiled when she shook her head. "It’s why you are so determined to return the sword. Let me give you some advice child, he’s not ready to let you go, and until he does, you will always be bonded to him." He stood up and held out his hand to her, "come along child. Come and join in our morning practice."
When Ares appeared he saw to his surprise that Gabrielle was standing in the middle surrounded by four of the temple’s disciples. As one of the men attacked her, she threw out what looks like an extremely long silk scarf and wrapped it around the man’s wrist. With a quick twist of the wrist, she had dislodged the man’s sword. In a flash another scarf left her left hand binding the man’s ankle, she did an aerial somersault and pulled the man down to the ground.
Ares was still standing there with a lopsided smile tugging at the corner of his mouth when Master Yu walked up to him. "She is a quick learner."
"Indeed she is. She never fails to amaze me." Ares looked thoughtful. "That’s an unusual weapon that she has."
"A weapon does not always have a sharp edge. We in Chin believe in taking what you see and turning it into a self-protective device. Make no mistake, the silk might look soft, but it can kill just easily as a blade."
"The description fits her just as well."
"You know she will always be a child of peace. Her destiny is to protect, not to destroy."
"Sometimes you have to fight for peace. I’m sure you understand that."
"I do, but does she?" The two turned their attention back to the bard. Another man is now attacking Gabrielle. She side-stepped out of the way, put up a hand to block the punch that came her way, and her other hand went around and tugged on the shirt sleeve at the elbow, she took another step to the side, and the man went crashing down to the ground. She turned around and ducked out of the way from another attacker. She quickly grabbed the man by the wrist, did a half turn and bend her hand backwards, and the man fell.
"Just look at her. She is a natural warrior. You can't deny that this is her destiny." Ares smiled.
"Perhaps. But a warrior of her own choosing. Take a look at the way she moves, she’s not out to hurt anybody. She is a very special person." He gave Ares a stern look. "Do not try to destroy the part of her that is pure and good. Don’t push her toward the path of destruction. Protect her, but let her lead the way."
"You are telling me what I should do?" The arrogance was back.
"I’m telling you it’s the only way she will follow you. Right now she’s torn between what her heart tells her and what her head reminds her to do. The outcome will depend on you. But her calling is not war, she might be a warrior, but a warrior of peace."
"It isn’t my intention to hurt her." Ares muttered defensively.
"No, but you are hoping to mold her into what you want her to be, and she will never let that happen."
"What do you know about her anyway?" Ares was starting to get annoyed. "What do you know of anything? You are just some backwater priest living out here in seclusion pretending that he has an answer to everything. She is mine, and she will be whatever I want her to be."
Master Yu just stared at him like he would to a stubborn child. "She is destined to great things, but she is not destined for war."
"There must be war in order to have peace!" Ares said angrily. "There is aggression, anger, the need for revenge, the need for change, mortals need to release those emotions, that is why we have war. Even Gabrielle has her moments."
"Perhaps, but she has to live with the regrets of her actions. She isn’t meant for that. She will champion the need to change for the better through war, but she will never engage in war just for the sake of destruction. If you guide her down that path, it will ultimately destroy her. She is a special person, one that comes around maybe only once in a lifetime. Unfortunately she is not from my world, so I have no say in what she does. I don’t think you want to hurt her, but I also believe that you have the ability to hurt her."
"What’s going on?" Ares was surprised to find Gabrielle walking toward them. Instead of looking tired, she seems to be energized. Her hair was tousled and there was a light film of perspiration along her forehead, but she was smiling. "What are you two talking about?"
"Nothing. Absolutely, positively not a thing." Ares said, turned and stalked away.
Gabrielle watched until he turned the corner and was out sight. Her smile disappeared and she turned back to Master Yu. The master shook his head at her; "he’s confused."
"Ares? Confused?" Gabrielle said disbelievingly. "He has never been confused about anything."
"Which is why it’s so hard for him to accept. He doesn’t know how to handle this new emotion."
"What is he confused about?" Gabrielle knew she probably shouldn’t ask, but she couldn’t help herself.
"That, my child, is something that you should ask him."
"Well, it doesn’t matter. I really don’t want to know anyway." Gabrielle said somewhat defensively as she turned back and watched the practice.
But Master Yu was not ready to just let it go. "He does have emotions just like you and I. Unfortunately he was nurtured for war. There is a part of him that wants to rebel against it, but war is in his blood. Maybe someone can help him to understand that war should only be used as the last result to solving a problem." When Gabrielle remained stubbornly silent, "and whether he admits it or not, he appreciates you for who you really are. You are strong enough to stand up to him."
"To him everything is a battle. It’s all about winning. He doesn’t know who I am, he doesn’t know what I want, and he doesn’t care." Against her better judgment, the words just came tumbling out.
"And you care that he doesn’t care."
Gabrielle turned bright red. "No, of course not, but…I have feelings. I’m tired of being used." She watched as a group of young women set up a target and were throwing star like objects at it.
Master Yu watched her for a while and then pulled out the same star like object from inside his sleeve. "Just look at this, so small and delicate, but watch", in a flash too fast for a human eye to see, he had sent it sailing across the courtyard and embedded it into the target. "You wouldn’t think something like this matters, but it leaves a mark permanently on the target."
"Your wisdom is beyond me Master."
"You know perfectly well what I’m talking about child, but you are not ready to admit it yet, not to me, not to him, not even to yourself. I will not influence your decision child. If you decide not to keep the sword, I will return it to Yin’s grave, but think it over carefully. It is a magnificent gift that she has given you. And as I have said earlier, you are bonded to your god by a lot more than just a sword."
Gabrielle turned to him and said with a note of desperation in her voice; "I’m not from the East Master. I can’t just accept things. I can’t just hand my life over to the Fates. I believe in controlling my own destiny."
"I do understand child, but you need to learn that not everything is black and white. There is no absolute good or evil. What you eventually find depends on how hard you try to find it."
Seeing the distressed look on her face, Master Yu decided to change the subject, pulling several of the star-like objects from inside his sleeve. "Would you like to learn how to use these?"
For the next several days Gabrielle had stayed in the temple, trying to absorb everything that they were teaching her. She had learned various other weapons as well as some aerial moves that even Xena didn’t know about. She was amazed by the intricacy of all the movements associated with a sword and how flexibility plays a heavy role in the movements. She had seen some of the girls scaling the walls and was amazed with their agility. Master Yu had even taught her how to shut off the valves in a human body in order to immobilize the opponent. The couple of days had turned into a couple of weeks. Gabrielle never mentioned leaving, but the funny thing was neither did Ares. Most of the time she felt him watching her, but he never interfered and he had kept his distance since that second day.
Finally at the end of the third week, after one of her lessons, she turned and saw him about to walk away. Without giving herself time to think, she quickly followed him. She caught up with him at the end of the garden, "Ares, can we talk?"
He stopped and slowly turned around. All of a sudden Gabrielle didn’t know what to say. To be truthful, she didn't even know why she had stopped him, but he had looked a little lost, and she had wanted to reach out and offer comfort.
"What is it Gabrielle?" He said, frowning slightly.
Gabrielle lost her courage. "I was just wondering how long you are planning on staying?"
"Can’t wait for me to leave?"
"I’m planning on leaving soon." She started and when he just looked at her, "I have to go back to Greece before Xena thinks I’m dead. She’s probably worried sick."
Ares stared at the ground and then muttered softly. "I’ve sent her a message."
"I’ve sent her a message to let her know that you are staying on for a while." He said a little louder.
Gabrielle stared at him and finally her face broke into a beaming smile. "Thank you."
He just nodded, and Gabrielle continued, "Still, I think it’s time I head home."
"I thought you liked it here."
"I do, but it’s time to leave." Unable to contain her curiosity, she asked the question which she has been on her mind for a long time. "Why have you never mentioned leaving before?"
He stared at her broodingly for a while, "because this is your journey of discovery. This land and its people have much to offer, and I’ve seen you gaining invaluable knowledge in so short of a time. I know you weren’t ready to leave."
"Yeah, I have learned a lot."
"Yes, you have." He smiled, the first one she had seen on him in days, and she almost forgot what she had to say. "But, it’s time to go home. I’m grateful for the knowledge that I’ve gained, but my life is in Greece."
He nodded, then after a brief silence, "what are you going to do with the sword Gabrielle?"
"What do you want me to do with it?" She returned just as quietly.
"When have you ever cared about what I want? All you ever wanted from me was for me to get lost, stay out of your life." He said bitterly.
"Look Gabrielle, the choice is yours." He said impatiently.
"Why can’t you just be honest with me for once?" The mellow mood had gone, quickly replaced by frustration.
"Alright, I want you to keep it. I want to be tied to you. Why do you think I’ve neglected everything else just to stay in this godforsaken place with you? There, I have said it, now why don’t you be honest with yourself?"
Her anger quickly dissipated, "Would you allow me to choose my own path?"
"What?" He asked, stunned.
"Just answer me, would you?"
She smiled, "then this is now my sword." The sword was strapped on her back and she pulled it out, and turned it skyward. "Thank you Yin, I accept your gift." To her surprise, Gabrielle saw an image of a smiling Yin waving at her. The image grew fainter and fainter, until it finally disappeared. All of a sudden, Gabrielle felt at peace. She then turned toward Ares, "And I accept you as my god."
"You are more than welcome to stay on child. It’s not everyday that I find a student with as much natural ability as you. You have learned so much, but there is so much more that I wanted to teach you."
"Thank you Master Yu. But it’s time I return home. I promise I will take what I’ve learned here and perfect it when I get home. I thank you for giving me this opportunity to grow as a warrior and as a person." She put her left hand in a fist and covered it with her right palm, saluting her master.
Master Yu returned the salute. "I’m glad that you are taking the sword with you. I know you would eventually arrive with the right decision."
Gabrielle shook her head and laughed a little ruefully. "I still don’t know if it’s the right decision, but I guess I’ll find out in time."
"You will do fine Gabrielle." Gabrielle stared at him in astonishment, as this is the first time he had addressed her with her given name. "In my mind, you are now Gabrielle. When I first met you, you were just a child on a mission. Now, I see you not only as a gifted student, but also as a gifted individual." He explained softly. "You are a truly unique young woman. I will always remember you as such."
Gabrielle wished she could hug him, but she knew that was not an acceptable show of affection, so instead she bowed and said her goodbyes.
Master Yu just nodded and watched silently as she walked toward Ares. He nodded at the master and then took Gabrielle’s hand. "Ready?"
"Yes, let’s go home." She said and felt the strange tingle as the two of them vanished among a mist of lights.