DISCLAIMER: The characters from Xena, Warrior Princess belong to MCA and Renaissance. I have only borrowed them for fun and not for profit. The Tenth Muse is an historical figure, but I don't believe she's ever been characterized quite like this before.
A Bard Day's Night was written during the second season. I started it sometime after Blind Faith and posted in June of 1997. As such, the characterizations of Xena and Gabrielle are in keeping with the second season and what I knew at that time about the Warrior Princess and her bard.
Sex: Although not explicit, this is a story about two women in love, and the most famous lesbian of all. If this type of this offends you, please choose another (but you'll be missing a lot of fun)!
Drugs: There is reference to liquor, partying and other drugs in this story. This author does not condone the use of mind-altering substances, but she has nothing against having a good time.
Rock 'n Roll: This story uses various songs and poems taken from many authors. Please see the notes at the end of the last chapter their due recognition.
A BARD DAY'S NIGHT
For some, it is horsemen; for others, it is infantry;
For some others - it is ships which are on this black earth,
visibly constant in their beauty.
But for me, it is you that I desire.
-Sappho Fragment, circa 625 B.C.
Gabrielle placed her right foot tentatively on the ground in front of her. She felt carefully ahead with the tip of her boot and, encountering no obstructions, took one step forward with a sigh of relief.
"There, that was easy!" she announced triumphantly, while adjusting the scarf she had tied over her eyes.
"Gabrielle, you're going to hurt yourself!" Xena chided from behind. Argo snorted in agreement. Xena shook her head as she watched the bard walk slowly down the trail, one careful step at a time.
"Watch out for that root !" Xena began, but Gabrielle's foot had managed to find the only protruding tree root on the path. She stubbed her toe hard and tripped forward, cursing at both the surprise and the pain. Her exclamations were as colorful as any Xena had ever heard.
Xena covered her eyes and winced in sympathetic pain, but couldn't resist a peek. Her hand slipped down to cover her mouth in an attempt to suppress a laugh, but didn't succeed. Argo snorted in agreement.
"It's not funny!" Gabrielle cried, rubbing her toe. She stamped her foot down to the ground. "I want to know what it's like to be blind." Reaching out with her hands, she felt the air in front of her, just in case an errant tree happened to jump into her path unexpectedly.
"Trust me Gabrielle, you don't want to know." Xena followed slowly, watching the ground in front of Gabrielle for any other obstacles. After all, she really didn't want her to fall and get hurt.
Gabrielle turned her back to Xena and continued down the trail. She lifted her head a bit, and secretly adjusted the scarf so she could peek out of the bottom, just a little. Her steps became more confident and she walked a bit faster down the road.
"There, you see!" she exclaimed, peeking at the road ahead from under the blue, silk mask. "This isn't so hard. You've just got to listen, be aware with your other senses." She waved her arms around. "I can feel the air, smell the road, you know, listen for obstacles with my amazon warrior sense!"
Xena took the opportunity to quietly sneak up behind the bard.
"And it also helps if you peek!" Xena pulled the scarf down to completely cover Gabrielle's eyes and twirled her around in a circle by the shoulders.
"Hey!" Gabrielle cried, searching for the warrior with extended hands.
"Now let's see you find your way." Xena laughed and scooted out of the bard's reach.
Gabrielle stood in the middle of the road not knowing which way to turn. "No fair! Now my sense of direction is all mixed up."
"As if it wasn't before," Xena mumbled and walked back to her friend to put her hands gently on her shoulders. Gabrielle jumped at the touch and Xena smiled at the reaction.
"That's what it's like to be blind," she said softly into Gabrielle's ear and tightened the scarf's knot. "There is no way to know what direction you're facing, and there's no way to peek either." She turned Gabrielle and gave her a gentle shove in the right direction. "It was very frightening."
Gabrielle continued to walk, slowly feeling the air in front of her. "How did you do it, Xena? I mean, get all the way to the castle, past the guards, into the crematorium, find me in the casket. Arrgghh, I can still smell the fumes." A shiver ran down her spine. She stopped and turned to face her friend.
Xena gave her another spin and pushed her back along the road. "I was a woman on a mission," she explained, following carefully behind Gabrielle. "I didn't have time to think or worry about being blind. Beside, Palimon was my eyes. Thank the Gods he led me to you in time," she said, frowning at the possible consequences. No doubt about it, she owed Palimon -- big time. She stopped following Gabrielle, and watched as her partner walked down the road alone. Xena's frown turned to a warm smile. The bard continued the conversation, not realizing she was now talking to herself.
"Please, I don't even want to think about it!" Gabrielle prodded slowly away from the warrior. "I can't believe I was married to a corpse! Zeus, can you imagine my honeymoon? I think I'd rather be burned alive! Cold hands, warm heart wouldn't apply in this instance."
Gabrielle rambled on and on, getting further and further away from her friend. Xena swallowed a mischievous chuckle and hushed at Argo to be still. They watched in amusement as Gabrielle shuffled farther and farther down the path, her chattering voice disappearing in the distance.
"Ahhh, peace at last," Xena sighed to Argo. Argo snorted in agreement.
"Hey!" they heard Gabrielle suddenly yell. "Where are you? Xena!" Her yell got louder and a little more anxious. "XENA! This is not funny." Gabrielle fumbled at the scarf, but couldn't immediately untie Xena's tight knot. "HEY, THIS IS REALLY NOT FUNNY!!"
Xena felt a little guilty at the panic in Gabrielle's voice. "Take it easy, Gabrielle," she yelled and moved to help her. "I'm right here."
At that moment, Xena heard the screaming. Alarming outcries filled the air as a mass of people choked the road to their rear, heading in their immediate direction. They were yelling as if they were running for their lives; but from what, Xena could not tell. She drew her sword out of instinct and looked for Gabrielle in a panic. The bard was too far away down the road and her blindfold was still in place. Xena flipped her sword back in its sheath and headed for her friend at a dead run. Glancing over her shoulder, the warrior could see the mob of people gaining on her; the human stampede was almost upon them.
"Xena, what's going on?" Gabrielle asked anxiously and reached around for her friend. She thought about running for a moment, and would have run right into a tree if Xena had not reached her in time.
"Gabrielle don't move!" Xena yelled and intercepted the bard.
Gabrielle grunted as Xena wrapped her arms around her waist and lifted her off the ground , carrying her to the side of the road just in time. The screaming mob kicked up the dirt and dust as they passed, not even acknowledging the presence of anyone else on the road. They ran by Xena and Gabrielle like a stampede of wild horses and then disappeared around a bend, screams fading in the distance.
The dirt and dust settled as the duo stared after the mob in disbelief. Xena held onto Gabrielle and waited breathlessly for whatever had been chasing them. She was expecting the worst. Her eyes watched the path behind intently, but there was nothing coming.
"What in Hades Blazes was that?" Gabrielle tore at the scarf covering her eyes. She ripped the mask off and swatted at the dust that greeted her nose. Xena held onto the bard and looked cautiously down the road. After a moment, she released Gabrielle from her safe embrace and took a hesitant step onto the path to get a better look at what might be heading their way. There was still nothing coming.
"Xena?" Gabrielle took a step forward.
"Stay back Gabrielle!" Xena held her hand up, motioning for Gabrielle to stay in her place. Like two statues, they stood frozen in place staring in the same direction. There was still nothing coming.
Argo had meandered off of the trail and was calmly munching on a bit a grass on the side of the road. Other than that, it was as if the mob had never passed.
"What's going on?" Gabrielle walked over to Xena and put her hand gently on her arm.
"I wish I knew." Xena turned to Gabrielle and grabbed the scarf out of her hand. "That's enough of that, I think," she said, no longer amused by the game. Xena looked for a spot to put the scarf, but there was no pockets on her armor. She began to stuff the scarf between her breasts until Gabrielle snatched it back from her.
"Give me that!" Gabrielle stuffed it into her scroll bag. "You've got enough stuffing."
"Very funny," Xena said narrowing her eyes at her friend and then allowing her lips to curve up into a small smile. "Come on, let's get moving." She whistled for Argo, who snorted but did not move in. Instead, the horse stood at attention on the side of the road, looking up with her ears twitching.
"Uh Oh!" Gabrielle groaned, "here comes some more!"
They both backed up to the side of the road and watched a second group of people rush toward them. This group was a little more controlled, but they were in a hurry nonetheless. There were several horse-drawn carts which bounced along almost out of control due to the speed at which the entire group was traveling. The carts were filled with people who were cheering and urging the drivers to go even faster.
"What in the known world ?" Gabrielle began, looking to Xena for an explanation.
Xena only shrugged and turned back to watch this second group as they careened down the road. There were a score of people on foot -- not counting those in the carts, and all the carts were full.
They were sure in a hurry to get somewhere fast and very excited about getting there. The outcries, Xena now recognized, were screams and yells of delight. They were not running from something in terror, but were heading toward something in frenzied excitement.
"What's all the hubbub about?" Gabrielle asked again, watching as the first of the runners to reach them flew by.
They were simple villagers and farmers. Some were mothers carrying children , some were fathers pulling along families. Others were boyfriend and girlfriend, holding hands and skipping down the road. Still others were younger. In the carts road the elderly, being driven to their happy destination by man or woman; it mattered not. They were all headed for the same destination.
It was a baffling picture and Xena hated puzzles.
She stared as the villagers passed by them with her eyes in a scowl and her lips in a tight frown. Gabrielle looked to her impatiently and tugged at her arm. "Well, don't just stand there - ask somebody!"
"What?" Xena's thoughts about hating puzzles were interrupted by Gabrielle's simple and logical suggestion.
She turned her head to the bard. "Why don't you ask someone?"
Gabrielle grunted, stepped out into the road, and motioned to a young man as he ran by.
He ignored her and continued down the road.
Gabrielle stepped into the path of a young woman.
"Ah, excuse me?" she said a little louder, but the woman just ran around her.
Gabrielle looked back at Xena and shrugged. Xena motioned impatiently for her to try again.
A little boy came sauntering by, very close to Gabrielle, so she bent down and put out her arms to stop the young lad.
"Excuse me? Can you tell me what's going on?" Gabrielle tried to stop the boy in her arms, but he kicked her in the shin and kept on running.
"OWWWW!" she yelled, grabbing her shin and watched as he ran away.
Xena lost her patience. She stepped into the road, put out a muscled arm, and grabbed at the first shirt that ran by. It was a young man with long blond hair. Clenching the front of his tunic, she pulled him to her. He gulped in surprise and stared into the deadly blue eyes of a very irritated warrior woman. Xena waited for the young man to catch his breath and then released him; her eyes kept him standing in place.
"What's the hurry?"she asked calmly.
Gabrielle rubbed her shin as she limped over to hear the answer.
"We're going to Avlon," he replied, glancing at the bard nervously.
"I'm asking again, what's the hurry?" Xena repeated, shifting her weight impatiently.
"Well," he gulped, "we want to be sure we can get a good place to stand, of course! It's going to be very crowded." Believing he had answered the question, he flashed a small smile and started to run off. Xena grabbed him by the collar and pulled him back.
"Whooa! Not so fast." Xena pulled him back in front of her. "What are you talking about? What's going on in Avlon?"
"You mean you don't know?" the young boy asked incredulously, looking from Xena to Gabrielle. Gabrielle shook her head; Xena raised an eyebrow.
"The Tenth Muse is going to play tonight at sunset! The entire region will be in Avlon to hear the show," the young lad explained, suddenly getting anxious that this conversation was delaying him too long. Gabrielle gasped in understanding.
Xena glanced at her briefly.
"What is a Tenth Muse?" Xena began, but Gabrielle interrupted, "Let him go, Xena. I'll explain."
Xena released his shirt and fixed the front, which had bunched up in her fist. "Sorry," she said, smiling sheepishly. "Thanks for the info."
"You're welcome." He smiled and bowed briefly, and then took off at full speed down the road.
"Nice kid. Good manners," Gabrielle commented, watching a certain part of his anatomy with appreciation as the young man ran away.
"Red shirt, not your type," Xena mumbled.
"What did you say?" Gabrielle whirled around.
Xena bit back a sly smile and whistled for Argo, "I said, let me get Argo."
Gabrielle narrowed her eyes. "Right."
The horse trotted over and Xena grabbed the reins, deciding to change the subject.
"So what's this all about. What is this Tenth Muse? I thought there were only nine. Why would one of the Muses be performing in this little village?"
So many questions from the Warrior Princess at one time that Gabrielle could hardly believe it. She decided to let her friend's sly comment go, and fell in step beside the warrior. She enjoyed being able to tell Xena something she didn't already know. These moments came so far and few between, that she savored each and every question.
The dramatic pause before her reply was more than Xena could bear.
"Come on, Gabrielle. Do you know what's going on or not?" Xena smiled warmly and continued walking. "Out with the story. You know you can't wait to tell it."
Gabrielle grabbed her arm and walked along. "Well, the Tenth Muse isn't one of the gods. Just mortal, like you and me. Well, maybe just like me." Gabrielle smiled looking up at the warrior. Xena rolled her eyes.
"They call her the Tenth Muse because she is the greatest poet that Greece has ever known. Did I mention she was a woman?"
Xena shook her head in the negative and interrupted. "You mean all this commotion is over a bard?"
Now it was Gabrielle's turn to roll her eyes. "Oh no, no, no, Xena. She's not a bard. A bard tells stories. The Tenth Muse is a poet. Not just any poet, either. Most bards and poets tell stories or write verses of epic adventures, stories of gods and heroes and such. Like the ones you've heard me tell."
"Yeah, and tell and tell and tell," Xena kidded. Gabrielle slapped her arm, but laughed.
"The Tenth Muse has taken it to another level altogether. I've heard her verses have a certain rhythm that's never been done before with words. And it's not only that. What she sings is not about gods or heroes or adventures at all. Her verses are very personal and very moving.
"What do you mean, personal? Have you ever heard her perform?"
"No. I haven't. But Pericles of Athens is said to have taken up the lyre just so he could learn to recite one of her famous poems. It is said 'he wanted to learn it and die,'" Gabrielle recited dreamily to the sky.
"What could she possibly sing about that would make him 'want to die'?" Xena repeated sarcastically.
Gabrielle chuckled and squeezed her arm, "Why, she sings about 'love' of course. Most of her work is about love. What else would be worth dying for?"
"I know," Gabrielle continued, ignoring Xena's sarcastic expression. "It is very controversial. Some people think she will anger the Gods by leaving them out of her verses. It's been known that they burn her writings in some places in fear of the gods' wrath."
"I would think there would be worse things to fear in this world than a simple poem about love." Xena's attitude about life always leaned toward the practical.
"Well, poetry can really influence people," Gabrielle argued.
"Nonsense," Xena retorted.
"What do you mean, nonsense!" Gabrielle was appalled. "A story or a verse can affect you very deeply. A really good poet can make it seem as though the poem was written especially for you, make you see yourself in the poem and identify with it. Haven't you ever experienced that?"
"Nope," Xena answered flatly, stretching her head for a better look around the bend. She knew they would be approaching a ridge that would give them a good view of Avlon, the village ahead.
"Now I know you're lying," Gabrielle pulled on Xena's arm.
Xena looked at the bard with exaggerated innocence, "Who me?"
"What about that song you sing? You say you only sing it when you are moved," Gabrielle felt she had trapped Xena in her white lie, and smiled triumphantly.
"That's different. I wrote that song, so of course it moves me."
"Oh." Gabrielle lost the smile and thought for a moment. "What about my stories, aren't you ever moved by the stories I tell?" Gabrielle looked darkly at Xena with eyes warning her that she better be careful how she answered.
"Oh, yeah!" Xena admitted with a wicked grin. "They move me all right. Move me to run right down the road!"
"Hey!" Gabrielle punched Xena's arm, a little harder than she expected.
"Ow!" Xena rubbed her muscle and looked down in surprise.
"Ooops! Sorry." Gabrielle bit back a grin, then shook her finger at the warrior. "That'll teach ya! Never insult a bard about their art!"
"No, I'm sorry Gabrielle." Xena stopped at the ridge and placed her hand on the proud bard's shoulder, "Your stories always touch me. Like no one else can."
Gabrielle smiled at the compliment. "Well, if my stories touch you, wait until you hear the Tenth Muse! I hear she can make a hundred men cry a thousand tears."
They both looked out over the ridge and down at Avlon. What they saw was incredible enough to stop even Gabrielle from talking. It took a few moments before even the bard could muster a comment.
"Make that ten thousand men cry one million tears."
The town of Avlon was jam-packed and crawling with people. The village center was completely full. The crowd spilled out of the center walls and filled the surrounding streets. From their height on the ridge, the village looked like a piece of nutbread being devoured by a million ants. There were people everywhere.
"No way are we going there," Xena mumbled under her breath, staring at the swarming throngs.
"Oh, Xena!" Gabrielle turned, grabbed onto Xena's arm and began to implore in earnest. "Oh, Xena please!"
"Here we go," Xena mumbled.
"Xena. Xena. Oh, please! I've never seen her perform!" Gabrielle pleaded, pulling on Xena's arm.
"No way." Xena ignored the bard's pleas and pulled her arm out of reach. "There is no way we are going into that village!"
"Xena!" Gabrielle began to stomp like a child.
Xena ignored the tirade and turned, pulling Argo down the road in the opposite direction. Gabrielle decided she needed to change tactics.
"This is really important to me, Xena. I may never get this chance again. This poet is a living legend. I could learn so much. It means so much to me," Gabrielle said, imploring in her sweetest and most innocent voice to Xena's back.
The warrior paused in stride.
Gabrielle smiled knowingly; Xena never could resist. "I promise never to ask you to do anything like this again. Well, maybe not ever, but a least not for a very long time. And I promise not to get into any trouble. We'll just watch the show and then leave."
Gabrielle paused and held her breath, waiting for the inevitable. Xena stood with her back to her and sighed.
"It's really that important to you?" Xena asked turning around to face her friend.
Gabrielle nodded and smiled her sweetest smile. Xena narrowed her eyes suspecting that she was being manipulated. There was no denying it; Gabrielle knew just how to do it.
Xena pointed a long finger at the bard's nose. "OK. But you better stay out of trouble!".
Gabrielle clapped her hands in triumph and jumped up, stealing a kiss from the warrior's cheek.
"Thank you! Thank you!" She grabbed Argo's reigns from Xena's hands and started to pull the horse down the road. "Come on! Let's get going. We want to get a good place to stand," she said as she happily pulled Argo away.
Xena touched the cheek that Gabrielle had kissed and shook her head in wonder.
"You're getting soft, warrior," she said to herself, and followed the excited bard toward the village with a crooked smile.
A BARD DAY'S NIGHT
"Your strange hair, gold light,
has red glows and blonde sparkles;
Your gaze has the green of the sea and the waves;
Your smile has the warmth of the sun and the sand."
-Lost Scroll, Sappho 'Genuine Copy' circa 625 B.C.
It took the travelers more than an hour to wind their way down from the ridge and into the outskirts of the town; then it took nearly two more hours to find a stable for Argo. The festivities had packed the town beyond capacity, and it seemed as though all available stables were full. Finally, Gabrielle sweet-talked a farmer into letting them keep Argo in his grain barn, for a slight fee of course. 'Why not take advantage of a money making opportunity?' she had argued and won. With Argo settled, they headed for the town square.
Gabrielle beamed at Xena. "Did I thank you for letting us come here?"
"Yes, many times," Xena said with a smirk. "You're lucky you found a place for Argo or we wouldn't be staying."
Gabrielle grunted. As though I really would have let that happen, she thought to herself, but grabbed Xena's hand and pulled her along. "Look Xena! There's the stage!"
Just beyond an archway, they were able to see into the village's center. There was a gigantic stage set up made of wood planks and stone at the western wall. It was already laden with drums and various other musical instruments. The warrior and the bard squeezed around an endless number of people and made their way under the arch and into the town center. The air was electric with excitement.
Xena gave Gabrielle's arm a tug. "Stay close," she admonished. "Don't get separated from me."
They wove through the throngs of people, entering at the farthest point from the stage. It was not as crowded in this area. Gabrielle grabbed onto a piece of Xena's backplate and allowed the warrior to lead them through the crowd. Spotting some booths and various other vendors, the bard pulled them both to a stop and pointed.
"Let's go over there!"
Gabrielle took Xena's hand again and led her over to the vendors. The warrior scowled as a passerby bumped her. She hated crowds, and swore under her breath that if anyone pinched her, they were going to get a black eye. She looked down at Gabrielle. If anyone pinched Gabrielle, they would die.
"Wow! It's crowded." Gabrielle wiped her brow as they approached the first of the booths. She started examining the wares on the tables. They were all Tenth Muse souvenirs.
"I hope you're happy." Xena glared as someone else bumped into her. "So who is this Tenth Muse? You haven't told me this wonderful poet's real name yet."
Gabrielle held up a shirt. She turned the back of the shirt to Xena. It was poorly painted with the words: "Tenth Muse - Known World Tour DCXXXIV B.C." and it listed a countless number of cities down the back of it. Then Gabrielle flipped it to the front, which had a hand-painted picture of a very interesting, unusual looking woman holding a 21 string lyre. Her name was painted in bold letters underneath: Sappho.
A young girl was skipping by as she noticed Gabrielle holding up the shirt. She screamed and snatched the shirt out of the bard's hands.
"Hey!" Gabrielle yelled, looking in surprise at her now empty hands.
"Oh, I thought they were all out! Thanks!" the young girl said with a charming smile. She pushed between Gabrielle and Xena and handed the merchant some dinars, then skipped away. Gabrielle scowled as she watched the girl leave.
"Did ya want that?" Xena asked about to take off after the girl.
"Oh no, no." Gabrielle grabbed Xena before she could leave. She didn't want Xena strangling some poor, innocent girl over a souvenir. "It was ugly anyway."
"I'll say." Xena glanced around, watching the movement of the crowd. Maybe there was a booth with some food or even better, a nice, cold mug of mead!
Gabrielle shuffled through some other souvenirs. It was junk mostly: a plaster bust in Sappho's image -- more than likely, a horrible rendition; little coral lyre earrings -very ugly; feathered quills with a sign that read: ' Touched by Sappho, Certificate of Authenticity provided.' There were plates that Sappho had eaten from; mugs that Sappho had drunk from; Gabrielle half expected to see rags that Sappho had used for "
"I'm surprised they don't have Sappho's toilet rags here," Xena commented looking over Gabrielle's shoulder at all of the junk on the table. Gabrielle burst out into laughter then she saw something that caught her eye.
"Look at this," Gabrielle motioned Xena over to the side of the table. She picked up a golden coin and turned it over in her hand. It really was quite beautiful. One side had an image of the poet, and the other had an image of an island. The coin was well minted and sparkled in the sun as Gabrielle turned it in her hand.
The merchant ambled over to their side of the table. "Very popular item," he said with an insincere smile. "All the Kings and Queens are buying them these days. Heard they might even replace the dinar as the coin of trade."
Gabrielle's eyes twinkled as she turned the coin in the sunlight.
"How much?" the warrior asked, noticing how entranced Gabrielle was with the item.
Xena grabbed the coin out of the bard's hand and slammed it back on the table.
"Thief," she mumbled and pulled Gabrielle along to the next booth.
"But," Gabrielle protested, "it was beautiful."
"It was a half dinar's worth of metal for 10." Xena expected Gabrielle to protest further, but something else had captured the bard's attention.
"Look!" she said, taking control and pulling the warrior along. "Scrolls," she said reverently as she took a piece of the papyrus from a wicker basket on the table and unrolled it. There was verse written on it and Gabrielle gasped in awe.
"Look Xena, a scroll! A verse written by the hand of Sappho." Her sea green eyes danced over the words and she sighed. "How beautiful!"
Xena grabbed the scroll out of the bard's hand and pointed to a sign. It read "Genuine Copy".
"A verse written by the hand of the merchant is more like it," she said, then
grunted and threw the scroll down back into the basket.
"What's that?" Gabrielle cried in excitement and ran around to the back of another booth.
An old woman walked up to Xena and smiled. "You know, they may be copies, but they are verse which she has sung. I know. I heard them myself and scribed them word for word. Here." The old woman shuffled through the basket. Picking out a small scroll, she handed it to Xena. "Here's one I think you will like."
Xena stared at the old woman, wanting to leave, but the woman's sincerity made her stay and she slowly opened the scroll and read it.
"Your strange hair, gold light,
has red glows and blonde sparkles "
Xena's normally cold blue eyes warmed, and she smiled at the old woman, whose eyes twinkled back in amusement.
"How much?" Xena whispered.
"For you, one dinar." The old woman smiled. Xena handed the old woman the dinar, and looked around for Gabrielle. Seeing that the bard was busy elsewhere, Xena rolled up the small scroll and carefully hid it in her gauntlet.
The warm, old eyes regarded her in amused silence.
"What?" Xena asked flatly, suddenly embarrassed under the gaze. "It's a gift," she explained, trying to sound nonchalant. Xena avoided her eyes and walked away to find Gabrielle.
"Warriors," the old woman said, shaking her head and smiling as she moved to the next customer.
Xena innocently strolled around the booth to Gabrielle, who was sorting through some small renditions of Sappho's lyre and various other cheap, inconsequential items. Shopping was not Xena's forte; she was beginning to get impatient. Suddenly a breeze brought the unmistakable scent of food cooking over an open flame. Her stomach voiced its desire.
Gabrielle looked up from the wares. "Hungry?" she asked, patting Xena just under the breast plate.
"You got that right!" Xena grabbed Gabrielle's shoulders, pulled her away from the booth and then pushed her along in front. "Follow your nose."
Gabrielle sniffed and smiled, "Hmmm, right this way!" They made their way through the crowds and toward the food booths.
Xena grabbed the lamb sandwich from Gabrielle just as she was about to sink her teeth in for a big, delicious bite. Xena took the bite instead and rolled her eyes in ecstasy then turned and moved away.
"Hey!" Gabrielle complained, took the next sandwich from the vendor's outstretched hands and passed him two dinars. She muttered a 'thank you' to the vendor and followed Xena, stretching her own mouth over her sandwich.
They walked in silence for a while, munching the food with hungry chomps and watching the endless parade of people pass by. Xena had honestly never seen anything quite like this. It had the air of a festival, but it wasn't a festival. There were jugglers, magicians, and performers of all types attracting crowds within and around the square. There was every kind of person here: rich and poor, young and old. Yes, it was like a festival, the difference being that this crowd had gathered for one reason only: to see one poet perform. The last time she saw this many people in a village square was when her army had attacked Corinth. Pushing out the unpleasant thought, Xena looked to the sun. Sure enough, it was almost at the end of its journey and about to set down in the west.
Xena stuffed the last piece of sandwich into her mouth and mumbled to Gabrielle: "We bedda mak r way doda stagge."
"Don't talk with your mouth full." Gabrielle daintily finished the last of her sandwich.
Somehow, she always managed to eat everything in sight, but avoided over-stuffing her mouth. How she managed to eat so quickly and with such good manners, Xena could not understand. Practice makes perfect, Xena thought to herself, and gulped her food down in a very warlord-like manner, complete with burp.
"I said, we better make our way to the stage. It's going to start soon," she repeated, choosing to ignore Gabrielle's indignant stare.
They moved from the perimeter of the square, where they had been meandering, and headed into the heart of the crowd, toward the stage. It was not going to be easy to get close.
They were soon surrounded by a mass of people, all intent on getting as near to the stage as they could. Xena became concerned and pulled Gabrielle in front of her. They surged forward, but could get no closer. Xena could see the stage from where they were. She looked down to Gabrielle who was straining her neck, trying to look over the heads of those in front of her. Problem was, everyone was taller than she.
"Can you see?" Xena asked down to her friend.
Gabrielle looked up with pitiful disappointment in her eyes and shook her head. That was all Xena needed to see.
"Hang on to me," Xena moved around in front of Gabrielle and had the bard hold onto her hips.
Xena tapped on the shoulder of a man ahead of her. He turned around to stare into two of the most deadly, most dangerous blue eyes he had ever seen. He gulped and stepped to the side immediately. They moved forward.
Xena cleared her throat, and the next man turned in annoyance. One well-practiced, icy stare quickly changed his demeanor and he stepped politely out of the way. They moved forward.
A large man tried to crowd Xena out of this new position. With a quick movement of her left hand, he was doubled over and pushed aside. Slowly a bubble of space widened around the warrior and the bard.
Xena tried to move forward again, but two well muscled, young men turned and crossed their arms, refusing to get out of the way.
Gabrielle's eyes followed the flight of first one and then the other , as Xena tossed them overhead and into the arms of the crowd behind. They heard cheers and laughter as the audience kept them both aloft, passing them around like two balls in the air. Their furious objections faded into the distance.
Xena and Gabrielle moved forward.
The next obstacle was a group of soldiers. They had been brought in to keep the crowd under control, but now they appeared to be waiting for the show to begin. Xena started to pull her sword out of its sheath. Gabrielle gulped and put a hand on her arm to stop her; this was going too far. But Xena only wanted the sound to attract the attention of a well-trained soldier. It worked. One heard the unmistakable scrape of steel and whirled around to find himself eye to eye with the Warrior Princess. He recognized her immediately.
"Xena," he announced in amazement and reached for his sword. Ice cold eyes froze him still. It was easy to see himself as a dead man in their reflection. Instead of killing him instantly, the warrior pricess smiled.
"Do you think we could get by?" she asked politely.
"S-s-sure," the soldier stammered, happy to live another day.
"Make way!" He turned to his companions and ordered. The soldiers stared in surprise, but followed their orders and moved the crowd aside, forming a path to the front. Xena walked proudly through with the bard in tow. Gabrielle inclined her head and politely thanked each soldier as they passed by.
Xena had wormed their way as far forward as they could go. She turned and smiled at Gabrielle, who still couldn't see a thing beyond the warrior. Placing her hands gently on Gabrielle's shoulders, she pulled her friend around and moved her in front. To the bard's surprise, she discovered one more step would place her on the stage itself. Xena stood behind Gabrielle and kept the surging crowds back, providing a protective envelope around the two of them. Gabrielle reached back and gave Xena a hug.
"I'll never forget this," Gabrielle whispered, her eyes twinkling with excitement.
Xena smiled back. It didn't take much to make Gabrielle happy. They didn't have much either. Mile after endless mile, sleeping on the cold ground, often out of food and always low on dinars, there wasn't much Xena could give her. If something as simple as a clear view to a poet was all that Gabrielle needed to make her smile, then Xena would have cleared out the entire square without a moment's hesitation.
The color of the sky began to change. The breeze made a slight shift in direction and the air changed from afternoon to evening. The mood of the crowd shifted with the air and the undercurrent of excitement became more vocal as the audience grew tired of waiting.
Xena inspected the stage with an curious eye. She hadn't expected to see so many instruments there. Gabrielle had told her that Sappho was a poet and played the lyre. Thinking of Orpheus, she had anticipated that and really wasn't looking forward to listening to a woman recite poetry and play the lyre for hours. Now it appeared as though the show would be more unusual. There were very large drums off to the left, and several flutes and reed instruments, as well. In addition, there was an area built for a chorus, similar to what was usually seen in theater, off to the right.
"I thought a chorus was only used in theater?" Xena asked Gabrielle, figuring she would know.
"Me, too," Gabrielle answered. "Maybe she's going to do a play?"
"That would be odd," Xena said, half aloud, half thinking to herself. The sky behind the stage began to change color. This was a beautiful setting, Xena thought. Maybe she would enjoy the show after all.
Xena realized that the stage had been constructed in front of a tavern. The entrance to the tavern was blocked off and surrounded by some type of guard. They weren't mercenaries and they weren't soldiers, and they certainly weren't professionals, but they were trying to keep the general public away from the entrance.
Sappho must be in there, Xena thought and so she watched using a trained eye. With so many people, this could actually be dangerous for the poet. Xena's thoughts wandered to the strategy of security and she didn't like what she saw. This entire crowd could get out of hand, Xena suddenly realized and pulled Gabrielle in a little closer. The bard was too busy watching the stage door to notice.
The sun began to stain the sky above the stage red, and suddenly there was movement from the tavern door. The crowd's attention was riveted, and a unified howl filled the air. The show was definitely about to begin.
Two beautiful young men emerged from the door and walked slowly onto the stage. They were dressed in bright, white tunics and wore garlands in their hair. The crowd whistled their approval as they crossed the stage and took their places behind the large drums. Once behind the drums, they lifted mallets, paused for a moment and then, nodding in unison, began to play. An intoxicating rhythm filled the square. The crowd went wild.
Next out were two incredible looking women. They were tall, blond and draped in gorgeous gowns of white linen. They floated across the stage, picking up the flute and bagpipe and began to play, filling in a melody to compliment the rhythm. The screams of the audience almost drowned the music from the stage.
As if a secret cue had been sounded, a nine member chorus walked onto the stage in single file. They walked in rhythm to the music as though the walk was a dance. Moving to their places, each began to sing as they turned to the crowd. As each voice joined in the chorus, their words became clearer and clearer.
"Ah me! I cannot sleep at night!
Ah me! I cannot sleep!
Ah me! I cannot sleep at night!
Ah me! I cannot sleep!"
The crowd erupted into a frenzy as they recognized the lyrics. Gabrielle jumped in excitement, surprising the hades out of Xena, who had been watching so intently she had almost forgotten that her hands were on the bard's shoulders.
"I know this!" Gabrielle clapped in delight. "I can't believe she's going to mix poetry and music with chorus, and even rhythm! This is incredible!"
"Yeah," was all Xena could answer. In truth, Xena recognized the words a bit herself. She thought she could remember her soldiers singing it around campfires when the road had been particularly long and grueling. It had always lifted their spirits. She had no idea that Sappho had written it.
Xena's thoughts were distracted as she heard the crowd suddenly begin to join in the chant. They were singing with the chorus and clapping to the rhythm; the incredible volume of voice and hand clapping shook the walls of the tiny town to the core. Xena turned her eyes to the stage door, imagining that Sappho would make her grand entrance at any moment.
The warrior was totally taken by surprise as the chorus parted to reveal Sappho at the center, with a large lyre in her arms. Even Xena hadn't noticed her behind the chorus line as they entered. To say the crowd went ballistic would be an understatement, but they quieted considerably as Sappho shifted the instrument in her hands.
Though the music and rhythm continued, and the crowd chanted with the chorus, Xena could hear the voice of Sappho sing even above the din. She clearly had the most incredible singing voice that Xena ever heard:
"Ah me! I cannot sleep at night;
Ah me, I cannot sleep...
And when I shut my eyes, forsooth,
I cannot banish from my sight
The vision of her slender youth.
She stands before me lover-wise,
Her naked beauty fair and slim,
She smiles upon me, and her eyes
With over fierce desire grow dim.
Ah me! I cannot sleep at night;
Ah me! I cannot sleep!
Ah me! I cannot sleep at night;
Ah me! I cannot sleep!"
Xena laughed, now remembering the song. Yes, her men used to love to sing it around the fire and she realized she was going to enjoy this show very much. If she had any good memories of her warlord days, those nights around the campfire would fill them all.
"O, siren, with the mocking tongue!
O beauty, lily-sweet and white!
I see her, slim and fair and young,
And ah! I cannot sleep tonight!"
Sappho motioned for the audience to finish the chorus, which they did gladly. She played her lyre and skipped along the stage in delight, reveling in her song being sung back at her. The audience basked in her pleasure. Like a master bard, she had manipulated them all into the palm of her hand.
Xena looked down in amazement at the top of Gabrielle's head. The bard was singing along at the top of her bardly lungs. Xena had never heard Gabrielle sing aloud.
"Stick to storytelling," Xena whispered in her ear. Gabrielle poked her in the ribs.
The song was over and Sappho paced, waiting for the applause and the screaming to die down. Gabrielle looked her over closely. They were to the right of the stage, and Sappho was more to the left, but Gabrielle regarded her profile in earnest, wanting to examine what kind of woman could have so much talent and command so much presence over an audience as large as this.
Sappho was like Xena in a way, the bard mused. Just by walking in, she could fill a room.; but she was small -- smaller than Gabrielle even . The poet did have Xena's coloring though -- dark skin and blue eyes -- but they were not the intense blue of Xena's eyes. They were gray, almost silver.
And then there was her hair. Black and flowing, the dark locks hung in an arrangement of long, thin braids. The braids were riddled with beads and stone. There were also long, loose strands of hair, as though she hadn't taken the time to braid all of her hair. The entire effect of her hair made her look wild and untamable. This impression was reinforced by the wildest, widest, whitest smile that Gabrielle had ever seen. There was no doubt, when Sappho smiled, the known world would light up and smile back.
The poet took that moment to flash this most incredible feature at the audience, and the audience roared.
Sappho spoke. "Avlon, let me look upon you." The crowd hushed to listen.
"You are all so beautiful!" she said, gracing the audience with another brilliant smile. They loved it and screamed their approval.
"I am moved to write a poem for you!" A scattering of screams filled the air. Sappho tapped her chin. "Let me see "
She looked through the audience and her eyes fell upon a young couple, wrapped in one another's arms. Sappho smiled; she had found her mark.
"A verse for lovers, of course!" She motioned to the couple, who blushed in embarrassment while the audience applauded. Strumming her lyre, she composed the melody impromptu:
"Because you love me
stand with me face to face
and unveil the softness in your eyes."
But first best
draw the shutters closed
Before your father hears our cries!"
The audience erupted into laughter. The young couple blushed.
Sappho smiled her brilliant smile and asked, "Another?"
The audience howled their approval.
A group of young women began to scream uncontrollably just to the left of Gabrielle and Xena. Sappho was heading across the stage in their direction, searching for her next victims. As she walked close, the women reached with outstretched arms just to try to touch the Tenth Muse.
Suddenly, one toga top and then another flew into the air and onto the stage. Sappho caught one and twirled it in the air, with a twinkle in her eye. The audience howled as she whipped it around and sent it flying back out into the crowd; desperate hands reached to catch it and a brief struggle erupted where the toga landed.
Gabrielle laughed as her eyes followed the flight of the toga into the crowd. Suddenly, her vision was blocked completely and she could not see at all. The second toga caught a breeze and had landed right on her head. She fumbled hopelessly trying to disentangle herself from the garment. Xena was laughing but made no effort to help.
Gabrielle pulled the toga from her face and shot the warrior an angry look. Xena snatched the top from her hands and threw it back at the girls. Gabrielle's eyes widened in surprise as she noticed that several of them were now topless. Xena laughed even louder.
Sappho smiled down at the topless women and reached her hand out. The women moaned in ecstasy as their outstretched hands were just barely able to touch the poet's fingertips. Sappho flashed a big smile again and the women screamed. Then she moved in the direction of Xena and Gabrielle; she was going to pass right in front of them.
Gabrielle gulped in nervousness for she knew one thing about Xena that could never be denied: Xena stood out in a crowd. There was no way Sappho was not going to notice the Warrior Princess.
Sappho scanned the crowd and, sure enough, her eyes rested on the dark form of Xena. Her bright smile faded and Gabrielle's heart sank.
'Please, don't let there be something from Xena's past,' she began to pray as Sappho halted in front of them.
The poet was outwardly staring at Xena now; the warrior had her complete attention. She shifted her lyre, and actually kneeled down to speak to them. Gabrielle thought she was going to faint. She looked back to Xena, who had the same incredulous expression on her face.
Sappho reached out a hand as if to try to touch Xena, but Xena was just out of her reach.
"Y-y-your armor " Sappho stammered, "the design w-where did you get it?"
The entire crowd had hushed to a complete silence.
It was only because of the sudden silence that Xena was able to hear the unmistakable sound of an arrow cutting through the air, heading directly for them. She instinctively pulled Gabrielle into her arms and ducked. The arrow was not meant for them, however. It sliced through the air just over their heads and hit Sappho squarely in the chest. The force sent the poet flying back onto the stage. A second arrow flew by, missing Sappho, who had fallen, but hit a musician in the leg. The woman screamed in agony.
The crowd erupted into cries of panic.
Xena jumped onto the stage and drew her sword. She hovered protectively in front of Sappho and waited. A third and fourth arrow flew her way. She blocked one with her sword, and caught the other in her hand inches from Sappho's head.
"Stay down!" Xena ordered, pushing the poet back. Sappho obeyed.
The crowd was getting very dangerous. People were panicking and running in all directions trying to get away from the stage. Gabrielle began to get pulled along in a crush of screaming bodies trying to move in two different directions.
"Gabrielle!" Xena yelled and extended her hand from the stage. Gabrielle reached up and grabbed the hand.
"Get behind me," Xena yelled to the bard, pulling her up onto the stage.
Xena turned and yelled to the other performers. "Get off the stage!"
Her command prompted them out of stunned silence and into action. The musician who had taken the arrow in the leg was writhing in pain on the floor.
"Help her off!" Xena ordered the two drummers, who were pushing their way off the stage in a panic. They hesitated, staring blankly at the injured musician, not wanting to delay their exit. "Pick her up now!" Xena commanded. They lifted the musician by the shoulders and helped her off.
Xena stood on the stage in her battle stance, but there were no other arrows. The crowd was still in motion, but the screams were fading. One of the soldiers who had helped Xena get to the front rushed over.
"Did you see where the arrows came from?" the soldier asked, wanting to try to catch the culprit.
"From the wall." Xena pointed to the village arch, and the soldier ran off.
Xena scanned through the commotion, looking for a sign of the attacker. Whoever it was is long gone, the warrior was thinking to herself when a heavy , long haired man tried to make his way onto the stage.
"STAY BACK!" Xena ordered. "We'll bring Sappho down." The man nodded and stepped back. Xena stayed in her stance and called to the bard. "Gabrielle, can you move her?"
Gabrielle was carefully removing the lyre, and draping Sappho's arm around her shoulder "Xena, I'm ready to move her now!" Xena acknowledged the statement with a nod.
"When I say so," Xena commanded. "Ready?"
"Yes." Gabrielle looked to Sappho, who was very much in pain, "We'll have to move when she says go, OK?" the bard whispered softly to the injured poet. Sappho gulped and nodded and grabbed firmly onto Gabrielle.
Xena gave the area one more sweep with her eyes. Deeming it safe to move, she prepared herself to be a human shield. "Right. NOW!" the warrior ordered, her voice carrying above the commotion.
Xena continued to shield them from attack as they moved from the stage. Gabrielle assisted Sappho down the stairs and into the tavern, with Xena guarding her back all the way.
"Show's over," Xena muttered to herself and, with once last look around, entered the tavern and slammed the door.
A BARD DAY'S NIGHT
"Come to me now to end this consuming pain
Bringing what my heart desires to be brought:
Be yourself my ally in this fight."
- Sappho Fragment, circa 625 B.C.
Chaos. Inside the tavern was absolute chaos. There were far too many people inside than the room could hold, and all of them were in a state of panic. Their cries and screams made it impossible to hear any one person, let alone think clearly. Gabrielle was trying to make her way through this panic and help Sappho to a chair, but was unable to get anywhere near any place of comfort. All were either trying to find safe heaven or reaching for Sappho in concern.
"Keep back!" Gabrielle commanded, but her voice was lost in the commotion. "She needs air!"
Sappho was holding onto to Gabrielle for dear life; the poet's face was growing paler by the moment.
Xena slammed the door behind her and took in the confused surroundings. She grasped onto her sword with both hands and swung a mighty strike at a metal rimmed mead barrel propped against the wall just to the left of the door. The blow rang out so loudly that it hushed the panic stricken group into silence.
"QUIET!" Xena commanded as loud as Gabrielle had ever heard her yell. Even the bard gulped at the presence in her voice. Xena could be very imposing just standing quietly in a room, but when she was mad, she was magnificent.
"Anything you say," Sappho smiled impishly through her pain. A few of the other women laughed just enough to ease the tension.
"What should we do?" Sappho asked Xena seriously, giving command of the situation over to her. Xena nodded slightly, acknowledging her approval and took control.
"Everyone stay calm," Xena began, moving through the room with her sword in her hand, dispersing the group away from Sappho and Gabrielle. "We should be safe in here. Just find a place and sit down, stay calm." Her eyes scanned the room, urging everyone to follow her orders. The sword in her hand helped them to make up their minds.
"Is anyone else hurt?" Xena asked, looking through the crowd for the other wounded performer. The young drummer who had helped the musician off stage raised his hand and motioned to the woman.
"Bring her over. Take your time. Everything is going to be fine." Xena put her sword back in its sheath, and helped the drummer walk the limping woman over to a table. The room collectively sighed and began to settle down.
"Gabrielle?" Xena called out.
"Over here, Xena."
Xena's eyes followed the voice and found Gabrielle still supporting Sappho in the back of the room.
"You!" Xena pointed to a group who had just seated themselves comfortably down around a table. "Bring that table over there." She pointed to where the bard was holding the poet. The group of men and women obeyed immediately, aided by others who came running over to help. The table was moved in a few moments.
Gabrielle gently helped Sappho onto the table while Xena resumed her examination of the wound on the musician's leg.
"You're going to be fine," Xena assured the young woman. "It's going to hurt when I take it out, though. Do you understand?" The girl nodded and smiled weakly. Xena gave her a comforting squeeze on the shoulder. "Just wait here and don't move. I'm going to check out Sappho, OK?"
The young woman nodded anxiously. "Yes, please make sure she's all right first."
Xena's eyes smiled briefly and she left to inspect the poet's wound.
Gabrielle gently laid Sappho down and was placing a rolled toga under head when Xena approached.
"How does it look?" Xena asked. Gabrielle smiled, glad that the warrior had come over. Xena was far more expert in battle wounds than she, but she appreciated Xena's confidence in her own assessment of the injury.
"You are very lucky," Gabrielle said, smiling down at Sappho and wiping the sweat from her brow with a dry cloth.
"Lucky that you two were here, you mean." Sappho's looked warmly at Gabrielle and Xena, and then she broke into that incredible smile Gabrielle had noticed while watching her perform. It lit up the room. Gabrielle looked back to see even Xena smiling in response. 'Now, that is a gift,' Gabrielle thought to herself as she moved out of the way so Xena could get a closer look.
Xena inspected the wound. "You'll live," the warrior pronounced, always one for understatement. Sappho winced as Xena's fingers felt around the arrow.
"Don't worry!" Sappho shouted to the room. Everyone waited in hushed silence. "It wasn't my drinking arm!"
They all laughed. Xena raised an eyebrow, and then turned to Gabrielle. "Get some rags, and get her a drink." Gabrielle nodded knowingly, and left.
"Is it going to hurt that much?" Sappho asked, with a pained look in her eyes.
"I'm afraid so," Xena answered. "The arrow is not all the way through. I'm going to have to push it the rest of the way."
"Can't you just pull it out from where it is?"
"Sorry, the point of the arrow could cause more damage and it's more than halfway through already."
"Make that two drinks then," Sappho said with a pained grin.
Gabrielle returned with the rags and the drink.
"OK, here we go," Xena said with a nod to the bard. "Gabrielle get ready with the rags. Sappho, sit up on the side of the table."
Xena helped Sappho sit up and swing her legs over the side of the table. Gabrielle got the rags ready for use as compresses. Sappho reached for the drink. Xena stopped her.
"That's for after." Xena said and with blinding speed hit Sappho in the two pressure points that Xena knew would numb her body.
Sappho's eyes widened in surprise, but she could not speak or breathe. With swift and sure movements, Xena broke off the end of the arrow and braced Sappho for the blow. Xena took one breath to prepare, knowing it would have to be a strike hard enough to break though the rest of the muscle.
Gabrielle held her breath as well. She had seen Xena do this before, and hated the sound of tearing flesh. Sappho looked away as Xena struck the arrow with a penetrating blow. The arrow ripped through her muscle and shot out of the back of her shoulder. The room gasped. Gabrielle placed the compresses on either side of the wound. Xena caught Sappho just as she fainted. She gently laid the poet back on the table, and released the pressure points.
"Keep pressure on both sides!" Xena looked up at Gabrielle. Gabrielle nodded, her eyes telling Xena that she knew what to do. Xena looked for the young musician, and found her still waiting on the table with horror in her eyes.
"You're next," Xena said and moved towards the young woman.
"No, wait!" The young woman implored. "You can't do that! I won't be able to take it!"
Xena moved quickly over to her and placed a hand on her shoulder. Before the woman could speak another word, Xena had pulled the arrow out of her leg. The singer looked down in surprise.
"Yours wasn't so deep." Xena smiled sheepishly and tossed the arrow over her shoulder. The woman fainted anyway.
"Oh, for Zeus' sake." Xena rolled her eyes and held the woman up. "Here, get her some water."
Xena relinquished the woman into the arms of the waiting drummer and, after dressing the small open wound, walked back to Gabrielle. She draped her arm around Gabrielle's shoulder and watched while Sappho regained consciousness. The poet's eyes fluttered open and focused on the bard and warrior. The arm around Gabrielle's shoulder did not go unnoticed. Sappho's broad smile was directed at the bard, who found herself grinning back at the poet before she could stop herself.
"Are you ready for stitches?" Xena asked the poet with a smirk.
Sappho eyes rolled back in their sockets and she fainted again.
"Xena," Gabrielle admonished the warrior, "that was mean."
Xena shrugged and motioned for Gabrielle to hand over her amazon pouch. "Just help me with the stitches."
Sappho woke up after the front stitches were done, just as Gabrielle and Xena were lifting her to get to the back. She reached desperately for the pint of wine that Gabrielle had brought over. This time Xena did not stop her. She drank it down, and held out the mug to the closest spectator. She didn't even have to ask. He ran off and filled the goblet. She drank that down too.
She passed the goblet back for a third.
"Easy on the drinking," Gabrielle warned.
"You don't know me very well," Sappho eyes sparkled as she downed the third, " yet!"
The warrior only raised an eyebrow.
Xena finished off the last of the stitches, and let Gabrielle bind the wound. She looked at Sappho closely. It did not appear that she would faint again. Xena nodded in approval at Gabrielle's work, and then looked around the tavern. Everyone was sitting or standing, watching Sappho anxiously for a sign that this ordeal was over and that everything would be all right. Sappho waited until Gabrielle gently returned her toga's strap to its place on her shoulder, and then tried to stand. Gabrielle moved to help her, but Sappho refused and turned to face the room.
"All right, everybody, I'm fine. See? My hands haven't left my arms!" She mumbled 'Thank the gods' to Gabrielle and turned back to the room. "It's just a flesh wound, and I'll soon be playing the flute again!"
"But you can't play the flute now," someone yelled in response.
"It's a miracle!" Sappho cried, attempting to raise her hands to Mount Olympus. She winced at the movement and smirked at Xena. "Oops, sorry. Almost ruined your handiwork there."
Xena did not smile back. "Take it easy," she warned under her breath, but recognized the need for Sappho to reassure everyone of her health.
"Where's Samth?" Sappho asked looking around the room.
"I'm right here Sappho!" The heavy set man with the long hair responded. He walked briskly over with an obvious air of importance.
"Listen, Samth, clear out this room, would you? It smells in here," Sappho whispered softly so only he, Xena and Gabrielle could hear. "See if it's safe outside now. Do something. I want to talk to our saviors in private." Sappho pushed the man away and turned to the warrior, rolling her eyes. The manager started to shoo people away, assuring them that Sappho would be fine.
Sappho turned to Xena and Gabrielle and smiled, leaning back against the table with a sigh.
"I guess someone didn't like the show," Sappho said with a smirk.
"I thought it was fantastic!" Gabrielle began enthusiastically.
Sappho bowed her head. "You have me at a disadvantage. You know who I am, but I don't know who you are." She looked from the bard to the warrior and back again.
"I'm Gabrielle. And this is Xena." Gabrielle held her breath and waited for the response that the mention of Xena's name always received. Sappho raised her eyebrows and stood up from the table, regarding Xena closely.
"Xena, the Warrior Princess?" Sappho asked inspecting Xena's armor closely with her eyes.
Xena became stoic, not enjoying the mention of her title.
"Some people call me that," she stated coldly.
"Xena, the Destroyer of Nations? The Warrior Princess of Calmi?" Sappho asked lifting her eyes to gaze directly into the deep blue of the warrior's dangerous glare. Xena definitely did not enjoy hearing those titles.
"Ah," Gabrielle interrupted, "no one's called her that in a very long time."
"I wrote a song about you once," Sappho continued, ignoring Gabrielle. "No one wanted me to sing it." She leaned back against the table. Gabrielle gulped, not believing that Sappho was pushing Xena in this way. The warrior's eyes were growing colder and more deadly by the second.
"Obviously, they didn't know what they were talking about. Which is usually the case anyway. It's hard to be famous, isn't it? The bards are always exaggerating." Sappho beamed an incredible smile.
Xena's eyes lost their glare and her stern scowl turned into an amused grin. She glanced down at Gabrielle, who was looking just a bit insulted by Sappho's comment about bards, and about to protest when Sappho continued.
"Everything I heard about you must be wrong. From now on, I shall sing songs in your honor! I will write cartloads of verses about you! You will never be called the Destroyer of Nations again or Warrior Princess. But to tell you the truth," Sappho leaned forward as though to tell Xena a secret, "I kind of like that title." Sappho's eyes twinkled and her smile spread from ear to ear. "It fits you in a nice, princess, warrior kind of way. You are awfully statuesque, did you know that?"
Xena arched an eyebrow. She looked down to the bard, who was wiping her brow with the back of her hand.
"Whew!" Gabrielle said. "You were walking a fine line there for a minute."
"Warriors don't scare me," Sappho said, casting a mischievous eye to Xena. "They're the biggest romantics of all."
"You don't sing about them," Gabrielle commented, the reality of who she was talking to sinking in for the first time.
"I sing about them all of the time. Not about their deeds, though. I sing about their hearts." Sappho smirked, and then turned serious. "How can I ever repay you for what you have done. You've saved my life, and who knows how many others."
"Why would anyone try to kill you?" Gabrielle asked.
"This isn't the first time," Sappho informed them with a frown.
"Then it won't be the last," Xena stated flatly. Sappho nodded.
"Here, let me show you." Sappho searched the tavern floor and found the arrow that had been removed from the musician's leg. She held it up to Xena, who noticed for the first time that the arrow's shaft had a piece of papyrus wrapped around it. Sappho wrinkled her nose at the sight of the blood on the arrow, but it didn't stop her from unwrapping the scroll. Her eyes read it over once and she passed it to Xena. It read:
"If I can't have you, no one will.
Only Death will make a lover's heart still."
"Really bad poetry," Sappho commented and tossed the arrow away. Gabrielle took the papyrus from Xena and read it with a frown.
"Do you have any ideas who this could be?" Gabrielle asked, handing the scroll back to Sappho.
"No, but whoever it is, has been following me for months. I have dozens of notes. None of them nice, all of them very badly written. It's so depressing. If I'm going to get threatening notes, at least they could be written well. By the Goddess, this is torture!" Sappho wrinkled up the papyrus and threw it angrily away.
"What scares me is that this is the first time anyone has actually been hurt. I wasn't really worried about myself, but I guess I never realized that someone else might get hurt as well or worse." Sappho glanced over at the young woman still sitting on the table and looked to Xena for a comment.
Xena thought for a moment, and didn't like where this was leading, "You're in a lot of danger, you know."
"I only have three more stops on this tour. Kapandrition, Arkarna, and then Athens."
"If this keeps up, you'll never make it to Athens," Xena stated simply. "You should stop the tour now."
"You don't understand." Sappho lost her smile. "I have to finish this tour. It's the most important thing that I do. I simply have to make it to Athens."
"Why?" Gabrielle interrupted. "Why must you finish this tour? Why would you risk your life just to sing?"
"For love." Sappho could not look them in the eyes and so cast them to the ground. "Love is worth risking everything for. I must sing in every village, and I must finish the tour."
Gabrielle turned to Xena.
"Xena," she began to implore.
"What?" Xena snapped her head to Gabrielle, instantly recognizing that oh-too-familiar look in her friend's eyes. "Oh no you don't, Gabrielle." Xena pointed her finger at the bard. "I thought you promised you would never ask me for anything again!"
"I never promised that!" Gabrielle lied.
"Yes, you did!" Xena moved her face to within inches of Gabrielle's. "The answer is no! And I mean it, Gabrielle."
"Xena, please!" Gabrielle glanced at Sappho and grabbed the warrior by the arm. "Excuse us a minute, Sappho." She pulled Xena a bit away from the poet. Sappho whistled softly and stared at the ceiling.
"Xena, Sappho needs our help," Gabrielle began.
"No she doesn't." Xena crossed her arms.
"Yes she does!" Gabrielle grabbed Xena's crossed forearms. "Do you want to go through life knowing you could have prevented Greece's greatest living poet from becoming Greece's greatest dead poet?"
Xena looked at the ceiling, but did not reply.
"Besides, it's only until Athens! That's only two villages away. Less than a week!" Gabrielle argued. Xena looked at the floor and tapped her foot impatiently. "OK, one week at the most," Gabrielle conceded.
Xena looked back at the bard and sighed. Gabrielle knew it was time to close in for the kill.
"I could learn so much from her. Think of the opportunity I would have to learn from the great poet ,Sappho! The one and only Tenth Muse. It would help me SOOOO much. It means SOOOO much to me," Gabrielle's eyes glistened as if threatening to tear.
Xena's glare softened. She tapped her boot and looked away again. Gabrielle knew she was close to winning her over. She gave Xena time to think, and then closed the sale.
"You won't have to listen to my stories for a week," Gabrielle promised.
Xena bit back her smile.
"I'll polish your armor?" Gabrielle offered.
Xena stared at the bard.
"I'll sharpen your sword."
"Enough!" Xena lifted her hands. "I give up!" She narrowed her eyes at her friend and walked back to the poet.
"If you would like " Xena began.
"Yes. I would love it!" Sappho shouted.
Xena continued sternly, " we'll escort you to Athens. But under two conditions."
"Yes! Yes! Name them!" Sappho beseeched the warrior.
"Number one." Xena moved closer to the poet. "You put me in total control. I don't know who is in charge now, but whoever it is will take orders from me. Got that?"
"No problem. It's done!" Sappho saluted. Xena moved closer and stared directly into Sappho's eyes.
"Number Two. You, Sappho, the Tenth Muse, Greatest Living Poet in Greece, will listen to me and do everything I say, the minute I say it. Got that?"
"My, she's so strong!" Sappho smirked and winked at Gabrielle.
Xena shook Sappho's shoulder to get her attention back.
"I have a feeling," Xena said, affected not at all by Sappho's overtly sweet expression, "that you are nothing but 100% pure trouble."
"Who me?" Sappho pointed to herself, eyes filled with feigned innocence. Xena grabbed her finger and pushed it down.
"You and that one over there," Xena said pointing to Gabrielle, "together will probably get into more trouble than I could even imagine."
"Who me?" Now it was Gabrielle's turn. Xena quieted her with a look.
"You will do whatever I say. Agreed?" Xena poked Sappho in her good shoulder.
"Of course." Sappho answered in earnest and glanced at Gabrielle who was crossing her arms insulted by Xena's innuendo.
"You will stay out of trouble."
"No trouble. Got it." Sappho concurred.
"And you, too!" Xena turned her glare to Gabrielle.
"When am I ever trouble?" Gabrielle raised her hands in question.
Xena grunted and headed to the bar. "I think I need drink."
The bard looked to Sappho. Sappho lifted a hidden hand from behind her back and winked mischievously back at the bard. The poet's fingers were crossed.
Return to The Bard's Corner