[An introduction from the Handpuppet: As we fast approach the close of X:WP's third season, one great mystery in this narrative still shows no signs of ever being solved, and Gabfans far and wide are becoming increasingly restless. Just what is this mystery, you ask? Read on, oh ye curious, and satisfy your hunger for revenge....]

by The Handpuppet


[Establishing shot: Gabrielle is seated at the communal picnic and disemboweling table in the Amazon village square, surrounded by immense piles of parchment wads, palm fronds, half-eaten pomegranates and broken quills. Her face and hands are smeared with ink, and we can see by the look on her face that something is troubling her. Ephiny, sensing her distress, approaches....]

"Gabrielle?" Ephiny waited patiently for a reaction, then insisted, "Gabrielle I think it's time you told me what's wrong. You haven't budged from that table for three days now."

"Huh?" Gabrielle's voice was hushed and dreamy, but she peered up from her empty scroll long enough to acknowledge Ephiny's question. "Wrong?" she repeated, trying to refocus her thoughts. "Yeah, I guess you could say that... or maybe not... well, not exactly wrong, I guess... that is --"


"I mean, it's not a big something wrong like, `Gabrielle, Velasca's escaped from the lava pit and is coming to kill you', or "Say, Gabrielle, Callisto's back and wants you over for a friendly barbeque', or, "Run, Gabrielle, Xena's gone nutters again!' or --"

"I get the picture." Ephiny smiled, slipping quietly onto the bench beside the small bard. "So you've established no one's out to kill you -- at least not today. So exactly what *is* the problem, love?"

Gabrielle sighed. "It's this writer's block, Eph. I'm just so frustrated. Nothing like this has ever happened to me before." Crushing another perfectly good piece of scroll parchment between her hands, she explained, "I mean, writing stories used to be sooooo easy. I just recorded everything Xena did. You know, heroic stuff -- her adventures, her brawls, her one night stands, her endless sharpening of that stupid sword of hers -- thwwwwup!thwwwwup! Every damned night, I swear I could have strang--" The bard cleared her throat. "Well, never mind the sword. But now that I'm not traveling with her anymore, I don't know what to write, what to say. I keep staring at these stupid sheets of parchment and absolutely nothing speaks to me."

"I see." The Amazon frowned, leaning her elbows forward onto the picnic table in a gesture mirroring that of the pouting bard. "You know, Gabrielle... maybe you're just taking the wrong approach to this whole storytelling thing."

"Just what do you mean by that?" Gabrielle snapped.

"Don't get me wrong, now," said Ephiny. "What I mean is, why don't you write about *yourself* for a change?"

For a long moment the bard stared blankly at Ephiny, almost as if she hadn't heard a word, then muttered weakly, "Me?"

"Why not?"

"As in ME, Gabrielle? Crazy Gabrielle, the useless sidekick, portable incubator to the gods and trusty blame bag?" Gabrielle snickered. "Besides, what do you think I've been doing these past couple of years? I've already written those stories."

*I see we still have a few issues to work on,* Ephiny thought. "No," she said. "I mean a story about your past. Your childhood, or what it was like growing up in Poteidaia, maybe something about your family."

She had expected to reward herself with a self-satisfied pat on the back for what she thought was a perfectly good suggestion, but the reaction Ephiny got from Gabrielle was not at all the one she had expected. A flush rose in the bard's cheeks even as a tear threatened to spill from each downcast eye.

"What?" Ephiny asked quickly. "What is it? What did I say?"

"Nothing." There was an extended pause. "That is... I know what you're saying, Eph, and I'd already considered that idea. But there's a problem, you see..." Gabrielle faltered. "I can't--"

"Can't what? What's the problem? Tell me."

Gabrielle fidgeted nervously. "It's just that..." she began, then idly fondled a pomegranate, "...I don't seem to have a history." Her lips curled at the irony of her own remark. "No stories to tell. I'm just Gabrielle, the woman without a past. The bard without a tale."

The Amazon held back a retort, but was disappointed to find no clue in Gabrielle's expression that would have revealed a jest. "C'mon Gabrielle," she said finally. "I don't mean to make light of your situation, but an incredibly boring and uneventful childhood in some backwoods peasant village is nothing to be ashamed of. Not every girl is born an Amazon."

"Gee, thanks, Eph," Gabrielle mumbled.

"Er...that probably didn't come out right."

"No," said Gabrielle, glumly nodding her head. "You pretty much described it. Except it's worse than that. I really *don't* have a past."

"Now stop that," Ephiny chided. "Everyone has a past, some family, a childhood. What would your family say if they heard you talking like this?"

"Family? You mean my parents? Haven't seen hide nor hair of them since Xena first showed up in Poteidaia, and truth be known, I only met them that day. Then they were gone, just like that," she said, snapping her fingers. "Not even a scroll in over two years." Gabrielle cupped both hands to her face. "It's left me with a lot of unresolved abandonment issues."

"I had no idea." Ephiny shook her head, then brightened. "But you have Lila..."

"Lila?" the bard repeated wistfully. "Yep, I saw her once a couple of years back, then I guess you could say I saw her again a few months ago. Turned out it was only a bad dream, though." Gabrielle picked up a quill and jabbed at the pomegranate. "Strangest thing about Lila and me," she remarked. "I've always wondered why, for two sisters, we look absolutely nothing alike. I was going to ask my parents about that someday."

"But you must have other family--"

"I have a grandmother and an uncle in Elysia."

Ephiny uttered a soft, "Oh. Sorry."

"That's okay," said Gabrielle. "No need to apologize. I actually got to talk to them for a while after I died."

"Isn't there anyone else?"

Gabrielle plucked two more pomegranates from a bowl and began to juggle. "I know I had a pony once, when I was five, though I don't actually recall ever having seen him. His name was Tympani."

"And where's he?"

"Dead," Gabrielle said flatly. "Just up and died. That's what happens to things that you love, you know. Sometimes they just leave you." A pomegranate slipped from the bard's grasp and fell to the ground, where she squashed it beneath the heel of her boot. "In my case, that includes everybody."

"Perdicus didn't leave you," Ephiny said soberly. "Not deliberately, anyway."

Gabrielle grunted. "I suppose murder could be considered an extenuating circumstance." Carefully placing the last of the overripe pomegranates on the table before her, Gabrielle slowly raised a scroll above her head, then with a forceful smack, splattered the hapless fruit across the picnic table, leaving a smattering of fleshy pulp and blood-red juice in its wake. "Bride for a night, a widow forever."

Ephiny clicked her tongue. "It was probably best," she said.

"The only decent thing Callisto ever did," agreed the bard. "The man was messing with my head, big time."

"What do you mean?" Ephiny leaned in closer, intrigued by the game of tiddlywinks Gabrielle was playing with pomegranate seeds.

"I mean the dude had me totally confused. When I left Poteidaia, Perdicus was this stupid, boring lug of a guy, a real Macedonian. The next time I see him, he's half a foot shorter -- a cute, dark-haired, studly warrior. Go figure."

"I get your point."

"And *then*," she continued, "the third time I saw him, he'd transformed into this pathetic, whining, suicidal jerk who said he'd kill himself if I didn't agree to marry him."

"Fortunate for you that marriage didn't last long."

"Six minutes, give or take the time it took me to brush my teeth. But the bottom line is, he was the last link to my pre-Xena days which, in the scope of my life, has taken up about all of 37 minutes." Suppressing a yawn, Gabrielle scooped up her tiddlyseeds and placed them in a cup. "And people wonder why I'm so naive. I'd claim to have amnesia if I had anything to forget."

"Hmmmm. So there's no one at all who--"

"Nope. not a blessed soul." Gabrielle put the cup to her lips and took a mouthful of Pomegranate seeds. "You'd think," she said, aiming a sticky ovule through pursed lips, "that after having traveled the entire known world in the past three years, I'd have run into somebody -- anybody -- from the old hometown." The spat seed had barely left the bard's mouth when it fell from its limp arc to her cleavage. "Three years, and I've traipsed from Chin to Palestine to Britannia, and I've not heard a single `Hey, Gab! Long time no see. Where've you been?'"

"There's no when, then."


"I'm beginning to understand the extent of your problem," said Ephiny, her gaze casually following a sweet, sticky path of seed juice that trailed away into shadow like a coy invitation. "But sitting here day after day staring at a blank piece of parchment isn't going to solve anything. What you need right now is, is..." with a probing finger she judiciously retrieved the happy seed cuddled in the hollow of the bard's BGSB, "...is some sleep."

"Yeah. I guess you're right," Gabrielle conceded. "Even if I don't have a past, maybe I can dream one up, huh?"

Ephiny pondered the scarlet stain on her fingertip. "Sure you can," she said, sotto voce. "Maybe all you need is to relax." With sudden inspiration, the Amazon pushed herself away from the table and took Gabrielle by the hand. "And I think I may have just figured out a solution to your problem."


[Interior Shot: The hut of the Amazon Queen, tastefully decorated with purification palm fronds, ceremonial coconut masks and a collection of cache pots discreetly marked "Made in Occupied Thrace." From the impressively sonorous somniloquy emanating from the queen-sized futon, we know the figure beneath the woolly comforter must be that of Gabrielle. Ephiny enters the scene from off-camera, carrying with her an array of armor. She approaches the sleeping bard, whispering softly.]

"Sweet dreams, love," Ephiny soothed, pausing to brush a stray lock of hair from the bard's cheek. Then with practiced motions she began to lay out her armory and, piece by piece, dressed herself for battle. When the last cinch was cinched and buckle buckled, the Amazon warrior swallowed three tic tacs and sheathed her weapon. "What you need, my Queen, is not a pipe dream," she vowed, "but a Champion."


[Exterior Shot. From a position just over the Amazon warrior's left shoulder, we follow a determined Ephiny past a collection of reedy huts back to the Amazon village square, where a contingent of determined warriors have gathered about the communal picnic and disemboweling table. As we approach the mustered women, angry torchlight reveals four writhing figures strapped to the table, moaning pitifully.]

Ephiny drew her new, razor-edged, Titan-sized seafood fork from its scabbard (thank the gods for that Amazonian bridal registry) and smirked at the fine string of fish she was about to fillet. "Well, well, well, what have we here?" she said, to no one in particular.

"The writers you asked for," answered Solari. "They weren't hard to find. We looked them up in the phone book." Turning her head to the other warriors, she sniggered, "Still using their real names."

A collective "Ahhhhh..." arose from the assemblage.

"Not very imaginative for bards," said Ephiny. Circling the prone quartet, she tested the manacles of their restraints as she passed. "And not very wise." Finally satisfied that her prey would not escape, she addressed Epinon. "Names?"

The strapping young warrior stretched out her pike over each writer in turn. "This one calls himself Th'Rob. And this one, Chris. This one with the Mickey Mouse ears, R.J. And...um..." She prodded the last of the four with the point of her pike. "What did you say your name was?"

With an impudent bark, the fourth writer declared, "I'm Tyldus, Prince of Centaurs!"

Ephiny slapped the blunt edge of her seafood fork to the chin of the usurper. "Like Hades you are!" she snapped. "My *son* is the prince of centaurs!"

After considering this for a moment, the prisoner offered a contrite, "Oh well, then. You can call me Steve."

"Steve, huh?" the Amazon glowered. "So, Steve, tell me, do you have any idea why you and your allies were brought here to this village?"

The one known as Steve stuttered about for a reply, then looked to his co-conspirators. "Lunch?" he suggested.

"Wrong answer. Eponin, release the Cocker Spaniels."

"Wait!" he cried, panicked. "Er... don't I get three guesses?"

"This is not an arbitration panel, heathen," Solari snapped. "It's just a television show."

Ephiny raised a quelling hand, silencing the angry voices among her Amazons. "No three guesses," she said. "However... I will put one more question to the four of you. You may consult among yourselves, but only your leader will speak for the group."

"That would be me," Th'Rob said cheerily.

"Very well. Then I will present the question to you."

"Which is?" he asked.

Ephiny leaned in nose to nose with her insolent prisoner. "What I want to know is," she snarled, nostrils flaring, "what have you done with Gabrielle's past?"

A pall descended over the crowd of onlookers, muting everything but the crackling of the sacrificial bonfire.

The four prisoners cast strained, sidelong glances at one another, but as the seconds ticked by like hours, there appeared to be no answer forthcoming. Finally, those who called themselves R.J., Chris and... Steve, shrugged at Th'Rob, who was by this time sweating rather profusely.

"We haven't done anything with Gabrielle's past," he admitted, "Because she doesn't *have* a past!"

"Correct!" Ephiny grinned as the four writers exhaled four relieved sighs. "And therefore..." she continued, pausing only for effect, "you are GUILTY as charged!"

"What!" screamed writer Chris, popping her Doc Martin's. "But Th'Rob gave you the correct answer!"

"Precisely." Ephiny casually strolled to the head of the table, where R.J. was splayed out like a catfish nailed to a board. "Gabrielle *has* no past," she said, staring into the man's eyes. "And who is responsible for that oversight?"

"Don't look at me," he gulped. "I created her, remember?"

"You also gave her Perdicus. Do you think we'd forgotten that little fact?"


"Well, we haven't. And she hasn't."

Th'Rob raised his head in protest. "What do you intend to do with us?"

"Do with you?" Ephiny chuckled. "Oh, many things. We Amazons could use a good workout, especially since that drubbing you gave us at the hand of that maniac, Xena."

"But...we may address that issue in a future episode?" proposed Steve.

"Too late." Ephiny removed a whetstone from her belt and began to draw it along the prongs of her seafood fork. "Epinon, why don't you escort our guest of honor to the ceremony -- and bring the matches. We're going to have ourselves a little cookout."

[There is much commotion as the women warriors hastily stack dry tinder beneath the picnic table. While the four doomed writers loudly rail against their fate, the Amazons amuse themselves by removing the shoes of the prisoners and, after smearing peanut butter between their heathen toes, release the Cocker Spaniels.]

When all was in place, Ephiny approached the four with her seafood fork at the ready. "If you pray to any gods, now's the time to make your peace." She looked to each writer in turn. "I thought not," she muttered without surprise.

"You can't intimidate us like this," said Th'Rob defiantly. "We have a creative vision."

"Vision, huh?" Ephiny espied Solari making her way through the crowd and motioned for her to advance. "I'll give you a vision that will make that horse dragging you gave our Queen look like a cakewalk."

[From among the shadows a lone figure emerges, the flickering torchlight illuminating features set with stony resolve. Despite the diminuitive size, the aura of a formidable presence hushes the Amazon gathering.]

"What... who are you?" asked writer Chris, straining against her manacles.

"Who am I?" After a feral circling of the prisoners, the woman leapt upon the table and planted her boots squarely among a tangle of writhing limbs.

"Those boots..." said Th'rob.

"That miniskirt..." admired Steve.

"Those breasts!" marveled R.J.

"That's right," cooed the young woman, pulling several wooden stakes from her purse. "I'm a slayer." She looked demurely at Steve. "But you can call me... Buffy."

"NOOoooooooo!" pleaded the four repentant writers in unison. "You can't do thisssssssss!"

"Watch me," she hummed, carefully selecting the most lethal-looking weapons for her task. "Buffy's the name, slaying's my game. And Gabrielle..." she smiled, "well, let's just say I'm a really big fan."

[The four writers react to the thunderous sound of the Amazon war drums by babbling pathetically and calling for their mommies. Meanwhile, Ephiny presents the ceremonial impaling mallet to Buffy, who has selected Th'rob as her first victim. Kneeling over his outstretched and paralyzed body, she positions her stake and draws back the mallet for a fearsome blow...]

"Of course," mused the Slayer, staying her hand at the apogee of her strike, "there is one little thing you could do to escape this execution...."

[Interior Shot: The darkened hut of the Amazon Queen. Having removed the last of her armor, Ephiny slips into bed beside the oblivious and still-snoring Gabrielle.]

"Sweet sleep, my love," Ephiny whispered into the tresses of her bard, then at last closed her own eyes. "In the morning, you'll awake to a whole new life...."

[Exterior Shot. The camera pans the night sky, filagreed with a smattering of stars. Then, as the face of a full moon crosses our field of vision, a rising billow of smoke and ash blurs the reflected light. We follow the smoke down, downward to its source... a series of torches erected about the perimeter of the communal picnic and disemboweling table, where four disheveled, barefoot prisoners are chained to the picnic bench, quills in hand.]

"No, no," admonished Solari, waggling her finger at the four bards. "No potty breaks until you've finished your task."

"But, but..." whined R.J., fiercely crossing his knees.

"But what?" asked Buffy innocently, casually whittling a fresh stake.

The four writers looked up from their blank scrolls, then at each other, and as if by some sudden, shared inspiration, set their quills to parchment and spoke as a single voice:

"Once upon a time...."

-- Finis --


Return to The Bard's Corner

table, where four disheveled, barefoot prisoners are chained to the picnic bench, quills in hand.]

"No, no," admonished Solari, waggling her finger at the four bards. "No potty breaks until you've finished your task."

"But, but..." whined R.J., fiercely crossing his knees.

"But what?" asked Buffy innocently, casually whittling a fresh stake.

The four writers looked up from their blank scrolls, then at each other, and as if by some sudden, shared inspiration, set their quills to parchment and spoke as a single voice:

"Once upon a time...."

-- Finis --


Return to The Bard's Corner