A BARD DAY'S NIGHT
Wild Nights Wild Nights!
Were I with thee
Wild Nights should be
Xena leaned her elbows down on the bar and motioned to the barkeep. He nodded and slid over a full mug of ale, which Xena caught, lifted and drank in one easy motion. The mug had barely left her lips when she felt the presence of someone behind her.
"Excuse me," the deep voice blurted, a little too loudly for Xena's taste. Xena turned halfway and narrowed her eyes.
"Yes?" she answered curtly, recognizing the voice as belonging to the long haired man who Sappho had addressed as Samth.
"My name is Samthus. I am Sappho's manager." He extended his hand in greeting. Xena eyed him, choosing not to shake the man's hand. He withdrew it nervously and then became annoyed.
"Look, I just wanted to be sure to thank you -- before you and your friend left that is.
Xena chose to ignore the not so subtle hint. "You have no internal security measures at all during these shows, do you?" she asked turning around completely to face the man, and taking a long sip of ale.
"Well, there never seemed to be a need for any."
"No need, huh?" Xena took another sip. "Not with thousands of people crowding into small villages? Warlords everywhere. Sappho probably could command quite a ransom, you know. Not to mention all the pretty boys and girls that adorn the stage. Didn't you ever stop to think what could happen if things got out of control?" Xena emptied the mug and slammed it down on the bar. Samthus jumped.
"I bet you make a lot of money at these shows too, don't you?" Xena's eyes bore down into the manager's. "What do you do, just carry it around in a big box between villages?" Samthus confirmed Xena's suspicions with a weak nod.
"I thought so." Xena leaned back on the bar.
"Everything's been fine, up until today!" Samthus answered defensively. "We've never had any trouble before. Everything's been under control!"
"I'm surprised something like this or worse hasn't happened before now," Xena sneered at the manager.
Samthus slammed his fist down on the bar and then pointed a finger at the warrior. "Look here! You can't just waltz in with your high and mighty warrior attitude and pass judgment on how I've been handling this. You have no idea what it takes to move this circus from town to town. No idea how hard it is to keep that crazy, wild woman in control."
Xena raised her eyebrows.
"Oh, yes! She's a wild woman all right!" Samthus widened his eyes. "Think she's this meditative, contemplative, serious artist, poet, do you? Well, that's horse dung. She's like a landslide, flying downhill, out of control and taking everything and everybody with her."
Samthus turned to storm away, but found himself face to face with Sappho and Gabrielle. Sappho motioned to the barkeep for a drink. He slid one over and she pushed it toward Samthus.
"Here, you're going to need this." The poet grinned and looked at Xena. "I apologize for Samth. I drive him to the brink of insanity. But he loves it, don't you Samth?" Sappho slapped him on the arm, and motioned for him to drink. He grabbed at the mug with a grunt.
"Samth. This is Gabrielle." Sappho introduced the bard and Samthus nodded his acknowledgment while taking a long draught of ale. "And I guess you've already met Xena."
Samth did not respond, but merely regarded Sappho darkly. Sappho smiled.
"Xena and Gabrielle are going to travel with us for the rest of the tour."
Samth choked on his drink.
Sappho slapped him on the back, "You all right there, Samth."
He cleared his throat and stared at Xena.
Sappho continued with a smirk. "Xena is going to be in charge from now on." She slapped Samth hard on the back, causing him to choke again. "You're going to do everything she tells you to do. You got that?" Sappho said, imitating Xena's deep, deadpan voice. Gabrielle laughed openly.
"Gabrielle is going to help me heal my wound. Right, Gabrielle?" Sappho draped an arm around Gabrielle's shoulder and gave her a friendly hug.
"Er, right!" Gabrielle responded, not sure if that was the role she had intended to play.
Xena narrowed her eyes at the poet. Sappho's expression turned to one of pure innocence, but she carefully removed her arm from around the bard just the same.
"Sappho," Samth said with a groan. "This is ridiculous! We have too many people following us around as it is."
"Shut up, Samth!" Sappho lost her smile and glared at the manager, "Xena knows what she's doing. We need someone around here that knows something for Zeus sake! This has been getting out of control for a long time now, and you know it!"
"I wonder whose fault that is!"
Sappho was not amused. "This situation has gotten just too dangerous for us to handle alone, Samth. Now I suggest we take Xena's kind offer to help us, and run with it. I mean it. Beside, I want them here. That's all you need to know."
Samthus grunted and gulped down the rest of his ale. He turned to Xena and pointed his finger again.
"You're making a mistake," the manager warned.
Xena's eyes grew cold, deciding she had seen enough of this man's finger in her face.
Samthus threw his mug onto the bar and stomped off in a huff.
The poet dismissed him with a wave of her hand. "Just ignore him. He'll get over it. He just doesn't like anyone else getting close to me. He's very protective. It's like having my ugly, older brother around all of the time."
Sappho grabbed Xena's arm and pulled her away from the bar. Slipping one arm through each of their own, she led Gabrielle and Xena into the center of the room. "Come with me, my protectors. I want to introduce you to the rest of the Sappho family of circus performers."
Although the main tavern room had emptied somewhat, it was still crowded with people. Gabrielle could not imagine what part all of these people played in Sappho's shows. She looked around in wonder at the many different types of people mulling about in the tavern.
"All of these people can't be a part of the show, can they?" Gabrielle asked.
"Well," Sappho shrugged, "I guess I kind of collected a lot of people along the way. But they all perform a specific function, I think. Hades, I can't even remember half of the names." Sappho flashed a grin and Gabrielle once again noticed how impossible it was not to smile back.
Xena glanced down at the poet and then glared at Gabrielle. Gabrielle knew that Xena was angry for making her one of Sappho's "collection", so to speak. Gabrielle smiled meekly back at Xena; she was going to have a lot of apologizing to do later.
"Attention, everyone!" Sappho yelled, commanding an instant response from the group. "Let me introduce to you our brave saviors! This is Xena and this is Gabrielle. They have volunteered to escort us the rest of the way to Athens!"
Xena looked down at the poet and grunted softly at the word "volunteered." The warrior glanced briefly at Gabrielle, who smiled back innocently at her friend and shrugged. Sappho pushed Xena and Gabrielle into the crowd.
"I hate to throw you to the lions like this, but I have to go talk to my manager." She smiled apologetically at Xena and Gabrielle, and then she turned to the group. "Be nice," she admonished her friends, and strolled away.
Xena and Gabrielle were left alone, stranded among the troupe of performers. The group stared at them; Xena and Gabrielle stared back. Several of the women looked Xena up and down in open admiration. Gabrielle glared and turned her head only to notice several other women looking at her in the same manner. The openly brazen attention made the bard instantly uncomfortable.
"They look like a bunch of vultures," Gabrielle whispered to Xena and gulped. She moved a tad closer to the warrior and put a hand on her arm. Xena looked down with a raised eyebrow, then noticed the women who were eyeing Gabrielle. She shot them a look that sent their eyes elsewhere.
One of the drummers walked over and broke the tension. It was the boy who had helped the wounded musician from the stage. He smiled warmly at Xena and bowed.
"Hi! I'm Alecto."
"And I'm Meager." The other drummer gaining confidence from his friend also moved forward and bowed.
The dam was broken and they all ran over, surrounding Xena and Gabrielle with warm smiles and formal courtesies.
Calliope, Clio, Eutrope, Melpomene, Terpsichore, Erato, Polyhmnia, Urania, Thalia, Aglaia and on and on. Gabrielle politely nodded to each and tried to find some way to memorize each name with the appropriate face. She lost all track before long. Xena simply nodded, her stern warrior mask firmly in place.
They were all so beautiful, Gabrielle thought to herself. Sappho obviously liked to "collect" beautiful people.
"We're so glad you're staying!" Thalia, the wounded musician, grinned from the table she was still sitting on. "We all feel so much safer!"
"Yes, and you're going to have a great time," another young girl chimed in.
"You'll have to tell us all about yourselves," said yet another young, pretty girl.
"So we can write poetry about you!" They all agreed with enthusiastic nods.
"Well, now," Gabrielle spoke for both of them. "We're looking forward to getting to know all of you, too."
A tall, incredibly thin woman, dressed completely in black leather and swinging a short braided whip, pushed through the crowd and over to Xena. The bard found herself wondering how in hades the woman managed to breathe, the outfit was so tight. Standing directly in front of the warrior, the leather-clad woman openly checked Xena out from head to toe, taking in the domineering presence of the warrior princess with a knowing smirk and a nonchalant spin of her lash.
"Don't worry about a thing!" Gabrielle announced cheerily, patting her warrior on the back. "You're in good hands. Xena is the perfect one for the job."
"Don't bother," the leatherclad woman sneered, after her appraisal of the warrior was complete. "The job's already taken." She flipped her nose in the air and turned sharply to strut away.
"Don't get jealous, Cleo!" A woman called out, emerging from the group, "I don't think Xena is interested in that particular job!" The group laughed knowingly as the leather-clad Cleo snapped her whip and smiled.
Xena arched her ever-expressive brow yet again and stared down at Gabrielle. The bard nervously removed her hand from the warrior's back. Yes, she was going to have a lot of apologizing to do. She smiled sheepishly back up at her friend.
Another, much less threatening woman came forward and took Gabrielle's hands in her own, and then nodded at Xena. She was also tall, and hovered over Gabrielle, who could not help but stare directly at her two best features.
"Hi!" Gabrielle could not avoid the cleavage that was staring her in the face. " Are are you one of the singers?" she sputtered out. Now it was Xena's turn to chuckle.
"Oh my no," the woman giggled, wiggling her best features directly in Gabrielle's nose. "I'm Lachesis. I'm not a musician. But Sappho is teaching me to sing." She smiled proudly, turning to the group.
"Yeah, Laci, she's teaching you to sing all right!" someone yelled.
"Don't listen to them!" Laci flipped a hand over her shoulder, "They're just jealous." She turned to the group and yelled at them. "You're all just jealous!"
The introductions were interrupted by Samthus clapping his hands loudly. "Come on, people! Let's get this place ready for dinner. You know the drill. Earn your keep. Let's go!"
Xena and Gabrielle watched as the group dispersed and began to rearrange the tables and chairs in preparation for a meal. They quickly moved out of the way. It was obvious the troupe had done this many times before and they did not need to get involved. 'Besides,' Xena thought to herself, 'I have some of my own work to do.' She motioned for Gabrielle to follow her to the nearest corner so they could have a talk.
Gabrielle started the conversation by trying to apologize. "Xena, don't be mad at me "
Xena did not let her finish. "Gabrielle, I'm not mad at you. Maybe a tad annoyed, but never mad." She smiled down at the bard and squeezed her shoulder. "Quite a 'collection' we have here, huh?"
Gabrielle rolled her eyes in agreement. "Well, it's not going to be boring, that's for sure."
"Listen, I'm going to go talk to those soldiers outside to see if they found anything at the wall. I want you to stay close to Sappho and keep an eye on things."
"I thought you were going to say something like that," Gabrielle pouted. "Be careful out there, OK?" Gabrielle squeezed Xena's forearm and smiled. She hated it when Xena went anywhere without her.
Xena smiled back. "Aren't I always careful?"
"No," Gabrielle answered and was about to say more when the sound of a growing argument distracted them both.
The warrior reluctantly broke contact with Gabrielle.
"Now what?" Xena mumbled under her breath. She and Gabrielle moved out of the corner and toward the source of the argument.
"There is no reason for you to go out there again!" Samthus yelled.
"They're still out there!" Sappho motioned outside. "Thousands of them! I have to!"
Sappho looked about the room and began to panic. "Where's my lyre!" she screamed to Samthus.
Samthus shrugged. "I don't know and I don't care. This is stupid! You're crazy, do you know that? Fallen right off Mount Olympus. Smacked your head right good on the way down, too."
Sappho ignored the yells of her manager as she paced through the tavern, looking for her instrument.
"WHERE IS MY LYRE!"
"It's all right, Sappho," Gabrielle gently touched Sappho's shoulder, careful of her wound. " I took it from you on the stage, remember? It's probably still there."
Sappho turned to Gabrielle and smiled, then quickly headed for the door. Xena blocked her way.
"You're not thinking of going out there again, are you?" Xena said sternly.
"I'm just going to get my lyre and tell them I'm OK."
"And sing that Hades blasted stupid song!" Samthus yelled and then added, sneering at Xena. "You don't know ANYTHING."
Sappho turned on Samthus. "Stupid song?" Her eyes spat fire at the manager. The troupe collectively held their breath.
Sappho stood tall (as tall as the small poet could) and moved closer, staring eye to eye with Samthus.
"Stupid song?" she repeated incredulously.
Sappho's friends looked at one another nervously.
The manager seemed to back down and looked away in regret. "All right Sappho, I'm sorry I said that. But there's no reason for you to go back out there."
The troupe sighed as one.
"I have to sing," Sappho stated simply.
"Why?" Samthus asked, gently.
"Because I have to," Sappho answered.
"Why?" Samthus asked again, loudly, grabbing at the poet's shoulders.
"You know why!" Sappho yelled, pulling away abruptly.
"WHY?" Samthus screamed. "It's a cursed waste of time! Let it go!"
Gabrielle could see a great sadness sweep across the poet's features as she glared defiantly at her manager. The bard held her breath as Gabrielle alone seemed to notice Sappho close her eyes, overcome by some hidden pain.
"It's not a waste of time!" Sappho replied harshly, opening her eyes. "The Muses themselves can not stop me!" she yelled, sweeping her arm around the room. "So don't think for a moment that you can!"
Samthus rolled his eyes, throwing his hands into the air in surrender and stepped out of the way. But there was still Xena.
The warrior shook her head and barred the door. "Look, I don't know what's going on, but you can't go out there again. It's too dangerous and you're hurt. The show's over."
Gabrielle watched as the poet visibly shook, overcome for the moment by whatever demons raced around in her mind. Then, her shoulders fell and she looked sadly at Xena, knowing there was no way that the warrior was going to let her pass. She nodded once in agreement and grabbed a mug out of someone's hand. Downing the contents quickly, she moved off in the direction of the bar. Xena waited, barring the exit until Sappho was well away from the door, then she moved back to Gabrielle.
"What's going on?" Gabrielle asked.
As Xena turned her head to relay her thoughts on the subject, Sappho dashed from the bar and ran out of the door. Xena cursed the gods, and ran after her with Gabrielle in hot pursuit. The troupe took one second to look at one another and then plowed out of the tavern as quickly as the door would allow.
Thousands of people still waited in the village center. Sappho ran onto the stage without hesitation and caught her breath as the crowd roared in excitement at her arrival. Xena was right behind her, but halted in mid-stride as she realized she couldn't possibly remove Sappho from the stage in front of an audience of this size. Xena caught Gabrielle in her arms, stopping the bard from running onto the stage as she scooted up the stairs.
Gabrielle gasped as she realized she had been about to run out onto a stage in front of what seemed like millions. She was suddenly very glad that Xena had caught her.
The warrior's eyes scanned the crowd watching for any signs of trouble. She was going to have to let Sappho have her way, and she was not happy about it at all.
Xena glanced over her shoulder at the group of performers and followers growing behind them. "Tell them to stay off of the stage," she whispered to Gabrielle. "We don't need any one else in the line of fire." Gabrielle nodded and held the group at bay.
Sappho waited for the commotion of the audience to calm before beginning to speak. She smiled warmly at the crowd and received a light applause in the response.
"I just wanted to let you know that I'm fine." The applause increased. "Thanks to this brave warrior, Xena and her friend Gabrielle, I was not badly hurt."
There were a few gasps of alarm from the audience at the mention of Xena's name, and more than a few strained their necks for a look at the infamous warlord who was standing stoically in the corner of the stage.
"Great. Thanks, Sappho," Xena mumbled sarcastically. She looked down at Gabrielle, who shrugged her shoulders and smiled. "Good press, can't hurt," the bard stated simply.
"I'm sorry you all traveled so far for such a short show," Sappho continued to her audience, "but I was hit in the shoulder and it is hard for me to play." The crowd moaned, seemingly a bit dissatisfied by the news that there would be no more performance. Sappho smiled in sympathy and she raised an arm for silence. The audience could see her grimace at the movement and became still.
"But I could manage to sing just one more song," the Tenth Muse said, a mischievous smile gracing her features. "How can I keep from singing to you? I must always sing for my friends' pleasure!"
She bent down and lifted her lyre. It was not an easy task as she was in obvious pain, but somehow she managed to settle the instrument next to her shoulder, and to the delight of all, she began to sing.
Gabrielle was riveted in her place. She imagined that Sappho could sing beautifully and could play the lyre beautifully as well. But to hear her sing alone, without the backing of additional musicians, accompanied only by her lyre, could not be adequately described. Truly she was one of the Muses; there could be no other explanation. The song itself was a haunting melody, with Mycaenian lyrics that told the tale of a love lost and a vow to roam the earth until the lovers were reunited once more.
Gabrielle realized very clearly that the story was Sappho's own and the song she sang was a call to her lost lover, who she believed was somewhere out there, still to be found.
Gabrielle watched the poet with new understanding. The tour they were on had nothing to do with dinars or fame. The Tenth Muse was looking for someone; someone she had once loved dearly and somehow lost. She sang in every village and every town hoping her lover would hear her song and return. Sappho had traveled throughout Greece, and now there were only two villages and one city left to sing in, and still she had not found her lover. The bard watched the poet performance quietly as tears filled her eyes.
Xena realized halfway through the song that she had forgotten to guard against an attack, so engrossed was she in Sappho's performance. It was the melody that was plaguing her. She had heard it somewhere before, but she could not remember where or when. The song had drawn her attention as if she were suddenly watching Sappho from the end of a long, dark tunnel. The poet appeared as if she was a ghost from her past, flickering in and out of reality on stage until the sensation of someone touching her arm pulled her out of the tunnel and out of her trance.
"Xena, are you all right?" Gabrielle whispered with concern filling her eyes. Xena noticed the wet remains of tears on Gabrielle's usually bright cheeks.
"Gabrielle, are you crying?" Xena whispered as she wiped a tear from the bard's cheek and pulled her in for a hug around the shoulder.
"It's stupid, I know," Gabrielle admitted, leaning in closer, and draping her own arm around the warrior's waist. "It's such a sad song, though."
"I don't know," Xena said, squeezing the bard tightly for comfort. "There's something very familiar about this song."
Gabrielle regarded her closely. "You've probably heard it before. A lot of her work is well, you know, famous."
"Maybe," Xena's replied quietly.
The song was over. Xena released Gabrielle, and they both hoped that this would finally be the end of the show. The crowd waited a breathless moment and then erupted into screams and applause. Sappho bowed graciously and turned to leave the stage. She passed by Gabrielle and Xena without a word. Only Gabrielle noticed the glistening stains on the poet's face left behind by falling tears.
"Of Valor, discretion is the better part -
Of dinner, dessert!"
- William Shakespeare
(quoting an ancient Grecian toast
attributed to Sappho, circa 625 B.C.)
Gabrielle and Xena looked at one another and sighed in relief. Sappho was off the stage and back in the tavern, out of harm's way. The bard watched the audience slowly begin to disperse, wondering where all of the people would sleep tonight. Her thoughts were interrupted by Xena.
"Gabrielle, I'm going to ..." Xena began but Gabrielle finished the sentence for her.
"I know, I know. You're going to talk with the soldiers. You want me to stay in the tavern and keep an eye on Sappho."
Xena smiled and wiped from Gabrielle's cheek a single, errant tear shed during Sappho's performance.
"I won't be long," the warrior said warmly.
"Hurry back," Gabrielle said with a smile. "I'll save a plate of food for you and try to find out if there's going to be a place for us to sleep tonight."
Xena patted her on the shoulder. "Good thinking."
"Well, if I didn't think of it, you sure wouldn't. If it wasn't for me, you probably would forget to eat and sleep completely, once you've taken on a job."
Xena smiled and squeezed her arm. "I don't know what I'd do without you."
"Just hurry back, and be careful," Gabrielle said as she opened the door to the tavern. Xena had already turned away and headed into the crowd. Gabrielle watched her disappear into a mass of people, wishing she could have gone with her. She entered the tavern with a heavy sigh.
"Gabrielle!" Sappho yelled to her as she walked in the room. "Come over here. Sit with me."
Gabrielle walked to Sappho's table and sat in the empty chair. The long table was crowded with members of her retinue eager to sit next to the poet at dinner. Sappho had been careful to save a place for Gabrielle. Those who couldn't fit, sat around other dinner tables scattered throughout the dining room. Samthus was one of them. He sat in a corner by himself, watching the bard sit in the seat next to the poet with distaste written all over his face. Sappho ignored him completely.
"Where's Xena?" Sappho asked, expecting the tall warrior to be with the bard at all times.
"She went to check on a few things. She'll be right back," Gabrielle said, nodding at the table's occupants. They all smiled back. Laci sat opposite, across from Gabrielle and next to Sappho. She smiled at Gabrielle and gave her a little wave, and then looked adoringly at the poet. Sappho was grinning at Gabrielle, apparently happy to have her away from the Warrior Princess for the moment.
"Are you hungry?" she asked Gabrielle.
Gabrielle nodded. "Starving!"
"Good! Dinner will be served shortly. What's for dinner, Laci?" Sappho asked, turning her silver-gray eyes to the young, bubbling girl on her left.
"Hmm, everything, I hope," Laci answered brightly.
"Then everything it shall be!" Sappho commanded to the room.
The troupe yelled in approval and, as if by magic, the food began to be served. Gabrielle's eyes grew wide as she watched the wide assortment of food and beverage being served to all of the tables in the room. It was an absolute feast. She noticed that no one waited for the serving to be completed, nor did they wait for Sappho to be served. They simply grabbed any plate as soon as it was put in place and began to help themselves. Gabrielle didn't need to have it explained to her, she just jumped right in. Sappho smiled in approval.
"Do you always eat like this?" Gabrielle inquired, while grabbing a big leg of goose. 'By the gods, goose! I haven't had this since I was home!' She bit into the meat herself and wiped a bit of drool from the side of her mouth.
"Everyday," Sappho replied. The poet had not yet taken anything to eat.
"How can you afford all this? This meal must cost a million dinars!" Gabrielle stuffed a homemade piece of nutbread hungrily into her mouth and chewed it with relish.
"We make a lot of money doing this show. So much, I don't think I could ever spend it all in one lifetime," Sappho explained, filling a tall mug with ale. She took a long, deep drink and sighed happily, smacking her lips. The poet's expression turned to one of amusement as she noticed that for every piece of food Gabrielle put in her mouth, she took another of the same and placed it on her plate.
"What? Are you going to eat for two tonight? You must really be starving."
Gabrielle shook her head and chewed quickly, not wanting to talk with her mouth full. She swallowed the big piece of nutbread and looked hungrily around for another.
"Oh no. Although, I probably could eat for two. But, no, I'm making a plate for Xena. If I don't, she'll forget to eat."
Sappho leaned back in her chair and smiled knowingly. "Of course," she said under her breath while taking a another deep sip.
"Aren't you going to eat?" Gabrielle pointed to Sappho's empty plate and took a big bite from the goose leg. "Hhmmmm," the bard said rolling her eyes in ecstasy.
Sappho smiled mischievously and looked at Cleo. "Oh, I'll have something to eat a little later." Cleo winked back. "Right now, though, I'd rather have dessert!" Sappho raised her mug in the air for a toast. The troupe members sitting at the table stopped eating and raised their glasses high. They were soon followed by everyone else in the room. Gabrielle hastily put down her goose leg and grabbed a mug of ale to raise in salute as well.
"To our saviors, Xena and Gabrielle!" Sappho lifted her mug toward the bard.
"To Xena and Gabrielle!" someone said, echoing the toast.
"And of course," Sappho continued, "here's to dessert!"
The room yelled a cheer and all emptied the contents of their mugs. Gabrielle took a deep breath and drank. She thought of holding her nose before drinking the ale down, but decided against it, not wanting to embarrass herself in front of the great poet. Taking a deep breath, she drank it all down as quickly as possible, hoping she wouldn't be able to taste the ale. When she finished, she slammed the mug down on the table and instantly felt her skin begin to flush. The hiccup that followed could not be stopped.
"Bravo!" Sappho patted Gabrielle on the back.
"Bravo!" the troupe echoed.
"Fill the mugs!" Sappho ordered.
Gabrielle stifled a burp, but could not hide the subsequent hiccup. She watched her mug being filled by Sappho with trepidation and silently prayed to whatever gods were listening that she would not have to drink this one down as well.
Sappho raised her glass in the air for the second time, and again everyone in the room followed suit. Gabrielle took a deep breath and raised her mug.
"Here's to the next village, Kapandrition! We sing for the pleasure of our friends!" Sappho toasted.
"Kapandrition!" the troupe echoed.
"And here's to dessert, of course!" Sappho said again, downing the contents of her mug.
Gabrielle had the feeling that she was now participating in a nightly ritual. She took a second to prepare herself and then drank the contents of her mug.
'Hmm, it's doesn't taste so bad after all, once you get used to it,' the bard thought to herself, looking at the inside of the mug. Her cheeks were now a bright red, but the hiccups had miraculously disappeared.
"Let the games begin!" Sappho shouted, and her faithful entourage yelled their answer with glee. They began to clear the tables and shuffle the chairs around. Laci tried to remove Xena's plate, but Gabrielle grabbed it back with a frown. Sappho dismissed Laci with a wave.
"Let's have some music! And fill the mugs!" Sappho ordered. Gabrielle groaned.
A fresh mug was placed in front of each person at the main table. Those who couldn't fit, stood behind to watch. Some of the musicians began to play music in the back of the tavern. It filled the room with a happy refrain. Gabrielle attempted to stand to allow someone to sit in her place, but Sappho motioned for her to stay.
"We're going to play a game. Please say you'll play." Sappho placed her hand on Gabrielle's shoulder and smiled warmly at the bard. There was nothing Gabrielle could do but smile back.
"What kind of game?" Gabrielle asked, fanning her face with her hand as a hot flash caused her cheeks to pink again.
Sappho's eyes twinkled. "Dinars! Ever heard of it?"
Gabrielle thought a minute and then shook her head.
"Watch," Sappho ordered as she put up her hand behind her head. She knew Samth was standing there, watching, and she waited impatiently for him to hand her a dinar. He slapped a coin into her palm and she flashed a smile. Flipping it once, she threw the dinar down into the center of the table. It hit once, bounced, and landed with a splash right in the mug in front of Alecto. Everyone applauded.
"If you make the toss, then you get to pick who chugs down their drink," Sappho said with a gleam in her eye.
"And if you miss?" Gabrielle asked.
"Then the person who tosses has to chug down their own drink and the dinar moves on to right," Sappho answered with a laugh.
"Well, you made it! So who has to chug!" Gabrielle pointed to Alecto laughing, assuming whoever owned the mug in which the coin landed would have to drink.
"You do, Gabrielle!" Sappho yelled with a clap. Gabrielle's smile disappeared.
"How come Alecto doesn't have to drink. It's his mug!" Gabrielle said, pointing at the goblet of ale and a very suspiciously innocent-looking Alecto
"Because I get to choose who has to chug. Alecto has to go next and try to make the next shot. If he doesn't get it in a glass, he'll have to chug anyway. Get it?"
Gabrielle's face brightened as she thought she began to catch on.
"Ohhh! I get it!" Gabrielle laughed, with bright, red cheeks. Everyone laughed along with her. The laughter faded and the bard began to wonder what everyone was waiting for. Her smile faded slightly, as she remember she was the one who now had to down her drink.
"Oh, I have to drink, don't I," she gulped looking for sympathy from someone around the table. There was none to be had. Gabrielle took a deep breath and drank down the contents of her mug. She choked a bit, and Sappho had to slap her on the back, but everyone cheered and applauded the bard and smiled in approval at her willingness to participate.
"Your turn, Alecto." Gabrielle looked forward to watching Alecto miss the shot so someone else would have to chug his mug. He flipped the coin down, and Gabrielle watched in disbelief as it landed with a plunk right in her mug. The room cheered. Gabrielle looked up, narrowing her eyes.
"This is a set up," the bard accused the group and turned to stare at Sappho. The poet was choking on her own drink with laughter and could only shake her head in ardent denial.
"Down the hatch, Gabrielle," Cleo instructed, wiping mirthful tears from her eyes. Gabrielle looked around once more with distrust, but filled her mug in defiance. The group began to pound on the table and call her name. With her chin held high in the air, the bard downed her ale as best she could, but she was getting very full and could not finish it off. She let the rest dribble down her chin and, unknowningly, all over the plate of food she had been saving for Xena.
Gabrielle managed to finish the drink and let the dinar slide out to drop into her mouth. She caught it between her teeth and smiled at the table with sly confidence. The room howled its approval.
Gabrielle spit the dinar out into her palm.
"Allllright, Sappho! Get ready to drink, because you're going to pay for thissss!" Gabrielle flipped the coin and prepared to toss.
The bard aimed at her target with the eye of an expert, and threw the dinar to the table . It hit the center of the wood squarely, and got stuck in a puddle of ale, thus going nowhere. Gabrielle's eyes widened in horror.
"No fair!" the bard yelled pointing to the puddle and the dinar and looking frantically at the rest of the participants for a sympathetic face. Her plea was lost in the howls of laughter. Sappho was chortling so hard, she looked as though she might actually soil her toga.
"No fair!" Gabrielle yelled again, looking for any referee who would rule in her favor. There was no one to be found.
"You have to drink Gabrielle!"
They all exploded with laughter again at the words. Gabrielle's face flushed a bright, crimson red as she watched Sappho slowly refill her mug.
Sappho was laughing so hard she could barely pour the ale into the glass. The beverage dribbled left and right, soaking the contents of the food still on the plate. Gabrielle watched the stream of ale flow from pitcher to mug with crossed eyes; at this point, she was seeing two of everything.
"You're cheating!" Gabrielle moaned. "Bothhh offf you," the bard said as she pointed a wavering finger at Sappho. The poet nearly dropped the goblet. She finished filling Gabrielle's mug and emptied the rest of the contents into her own mouth.
"There, I'm drinking too. Are you happy?" Sappho said, looking for Gabrielle to accept her offer. "Now it's your turn to drink."
"Ooooh, Xena is going to kill me!" Gabrielle moaned, holding her head with both hands.
"Oh, Xena, Sschmena, who's afraid of a Warrior Princess?" Sappho dismissed the thought with a wave of her hand. She was happily getting a little whoozy herself and leaned closer to the bard with a twinkle in her eye. "What's she going to do, Gabrielle, spank you?"
Gabrielle raised her eyebrows and smiled a little at the thought.
Cleo raised her mug into the air."Here's to a good spanking!" she toasted the group.
They laughed and emptied their mugs.
Suddenly an idea sprang into Gabrielle's ever-scheming mind.
"Come on, Gabrielle!" Sappho poked the bard. "Empty that glass!"
"All right, all right!" Gabrielle leaned her elbow on the table to point at Sappho, but it slipped off the corner abruptly. She adjusted quickly with a crooked smile and pointed her finger again.
"I willll but on one condit-sshun," she slurred, but her voice had the air of a challenge in it.
Sappho's curiosity was peaked and her smile spread as she accepted the challenge. The poet looked around the room for consensus and received it.
"Name it!" Sappho replied, slamming her palm on the table.
"I want you all to play a game of my own." Gabrielle tried to stand, but only made it halfway before she had to plop back down into her chair.
"Name the game!" Sappho agreed.
"The name of the game is 'Gabrielle'," the bard said, fixing her red hair with a flourish. Sappho raised her eyebrows in anticipation of an explanation.
Gabrielle's eyes sparkled.
"The game starts when Xena gets back." Gabrielle looked at everyone in the group to be sure they understood. "Every time Xena says my name, you all have to 'chug your mugs'! Got it?"
Sappho beamed a bright smile and slapped the table again. "Done!"
"Every time," Gabrielle added pointedly, confirming that they all understood. All participants around the table nodded in agreement, but Gabrielle was not satisfied. She stood up, wobbling a little, and looked directly into the Tenth Muse's eyes.
"Every time she says my name. Every time. Agreed?" Gabrielle smiled mischievously. She knew exactly what Xena's reaction would be when she returned and discovered that she was drunk.
Sappho crossed her heart and raised her hand. "By the Muses, I swear."
Gabrielle slammed her fist on the table and then reached for the mug. She downed the contents expertly and then fell back into her chair with a fuzzy smile on her face. The group pounded on the table and howled her name.
"Gabrielle! Gabrielle! Gabrielle!"
"Well, what do we do until the warrior gets back?" Laci asked Sappho impatiently, not wanting to be bored while they waited.
"Let's dance!" Sappho jumped up and motioned for the musicians to play louder. With a yell, they all jumped up from their seats and continued the party.
Xena sighed wearily before opening the tavern door. It was late and she was tired and a little hungry, she had to admit. Questioning the soldiers and searching the village's battlements produced no answers as to who might have shot the arrows. After the disappointing investigation, she looked forward to seeing Gabrielle and having a plate full of food ready for her. She smiled at the thought of the bard, and pushed the door open.
Tables and chairs were scattered haphazardly in all direction. Drum, flute and bagpipe filled the room with music. Everywhere Xena looked, there were dancers, weaving and gyrating to the rhythms. In the center of the melee was Gabrielle. She had someone's toga wrapped around her head in a turban, filled with fruit and flowers, and she was dancing with wild abandon. Xena's mouth dropped open and she stepped into the room, slamming the door.
"Gabrielle!" Xena yelled in astonishment.
The music halted. Everyone in the room froze and looked toward the door. To Xena's amazement, they all suddenly raised their mugs in the air with a howl.
"GABRIELLE!" They echoed Xena and downed the contents of their mugs, then continued to dance.
Gabrielle laughed hysterically almost toppling over and loosing her fruit-filled toga hat. She repositioned it crookedly on her head. Xena stomped angrily over to the bard.
"Gabrielle! You're drunk." Xena scolded, frowning at the bard with her hands on her hips.
"GABRIELLE!" They howled again, and scattered to fill their mugs for another drink.
Gabrielle was laughing so hard, she fell onto a chair. It tipped over, sending her spilling backward onto the floor. Xena watched in confusion as the entire troupe emptied their glasses again, and just as quickly poured a refill. Xena narrowed her eyes and looked down at the laughing bard on the floor.
Gabrielle was feeling around trying to find her toga hat, which had rolled away from her head.
"My hat! My hat!" she managed to call out, choking all the while on laughter. Xena sighed and lifted the fruit adorned turban from the floor. She examined the hideous bonnet and rolled her eyes, then she unceremoniously pulled Gabrielle up from the floor by her arm, and stuffed the turban back down onto her head. It leaned crookedly to one side. Gabrielle adjusted the adornment, making it worse. She smiled at her warrior and giggled.
"Oh, thank you Xena," she bubbled, weaving slightly to and fro.
Xena grabbed the bard by the shoulders and moved her over to the table.
"Here. Sit down before you hurt yourself." She pushed Gabrielle down into her seat; Gabrielle made no objections. "Just how many drinks did you have?" Xena asked with a smirk, holding the bard to make sure she didn't fall over.
Gabrielle shrugged her shoulders. "Don't know. Lost count." She smiled up innocently at Xena, picking a piece of fruit out of her hat, and nibbling on it. Her eyes lit as she suddenly remembered something.
"Oh, Xena." Gabrielle blushed, looking up at the warrior, "Here, I saved you a plate of food." Gabrielle reached to the table and lifted the plate as an offering. She smiled up adoringly. Xena couldn't help but smile back, but the smile disappeared as she looked down onto the plate. The food was soaked and floating in a pool of ale.
Gabrielle followed Xena's eyes down onto the plate. "Oops!" She shrugged up at the warrior. "Sorry," she added, then hiccuped.
Xena grabbed the plate away and threw it on the table. "Gabrielle!" she said in disapproval.
Everyone in the room froze again.
"GABRIELLE!" They all cried in unison and downed their drinks once more. The howls and pounding on the tables increased to an ear shattering level.
Xena had enough.
"WHAT'S GOING ON HERE!" Xena yelled and whirled around searching the room for Sappho. Her eyes found the poet hiding behind Laci doubled over in laughter. Xena advanced threateningly. Laci shielded the poet in mock protection from the warrior.
"Don't hurt her! Don't hurt her!" the young girl choked out, through tears of mirth.
"YOU ARE ALL DRUNK!" Xena yelled reproachfully, looking around the room at all of the performers and stage hands.
"It's her fault!" Laci pointed to Gabrielle. Sappho poked her head out from behind the girl and nodded in agreement.
"She forced us to drink every time you said her name." Laci admitted. Sappho swatted Laci on the arm.
"Tattle-tale," Gabrielle shouted from her chair, her hat slipping down over her eyes.
Xena glared at the bard. Gabrielle smiled and attempted to push the turban back. It merely slipped down to cover her eyes again.
"Well, the game is over now!" Xena announced to the room and stared a warning at Gabrielle.
"Spoil sport," Gabrielle grumbled, and pushed the toga hat back into it's crooked position.
"No more for you, Gabrielle," Xena warned her, and then shot her eyes around the room, causing everyone to pause fearfully as they were about to toast again. They all grudgingly put their mugs down with a moan, the warrior's glare clearly telling them that she meant business.
Xena sat down next to Gabrielle and picked at the soaking remains on her plate.
"You're going to regret this in the morning," she whispered quietly to Gabrielle as she attempted to salvage some food from the plate.
The merry-makers in the room continued to dance, but the party was drawing to a close. The ale was getting the better of everyone, including Sappho. The poet was sitting at a table now and just watching a few others dance with a weary grin.
"Are you mad at me?" the bard asked sadly, taking the party ornament from her tousled head.
Xena could not help but chuckle as she watched Gabrielle trying to focus on the warrior's face. No doubt she was seeing three Xena's by now. The warrior wiped a piece of fruit from Gabrielle's cheek with the tip of a finger and grinned.
"Never," Xena whispered, her eyes smiling, "but don't come crying to me with a hangover in the morning."
The warrior took the only piece of meat salvageable from the plate and stood. Taking a bite, she walked to the door, and moved a bench over in front of it. It was obvious that everyone was going to sleep in the dinning room tonight, and she would have to guard the door. She looked around and grunted at the sight before her. The music had stopped and the dancing had ceased. Cast and crew were sleeping soundly wherever they happened to be last. Some were lying on the floor. Others were passed out on tables. There were comatose bodies everywhere. Xena looked to Gabrielle; she was wobbling unsteadily in her chair.
"Gabrielle," Xena called softly. Gabrielle's eyes popped open.
Somewhere in the back of the room, Laci raised her head and hand in a weak salute. "Gabrielle!" she echoed once and then her head crashed back down onto the table.
"Come here," Xena called to the bard. Gabrielle grabbed her party bonnet and stood shakily. She hobbled over to where the warrior sat.
"Sit here," Xena ordered, motioning for the bard to sit down. There was plenty of room on the bench. Gabrielle obeyed. Xena grabbed the turban from her hands and pulling out the fruit, she rolled the toga into a cushion and placed it on her lap. She patted her lap and motioned for the bard to lie down. Gabrielle sighed and obeyed. She laid her head down onto Xena's lap and was asleep instantly.
Xena leaned her head back against the wall, absently stroking Gabrielle's hair. The room was quiet and all was well. 'I might even be able to get some sleep tonight,' Xena thought to herself as she played with the bard's golden locks. Gabrielle was snoring softly.
A sound at the back of the room caught Xena's attention. She lifted her head and looked. Sappho was sitting in corner, looking out of a window at the stars in the late night sky. With a quill in her hand and a scroll rolled out in front of her, the poet quietly composed as everyone else slept. Xena watched as she wrote. Sappho's beautiful humming lulled even the Warrior Princess to sleep that night.
Somewhere near dawn, Sappho glanced over at the sleeping warrior and bard. Xena's head was back against the wall and leaning to one side. Gabrielle was curled up on the bench, with her reddish, golden head resting comfortably in Xena's lap. The warrior's arm was draped over the bard protectively.
Sappho smiled warmly at the pair and began a new verse:
"May you sleep on the breasts of your tender companion "
(Sappho fragment, circa 625 B.C.)
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