A BARD DAY'S NIGHT
"For me, love has brought the brightness
and the beauty of the sun."
Sappho Fragment #126, circa 625 B.C.
Xena twisted in her saddle to look across her shoulder at the procession. There were no less than ten cartloads of people and supplies following her in a long, seemingly never ending line down the road. Their pace as they headed toward Kapandrition was agonizingly slow. At this rate, they would not reach the town until tomorrow. Xena frowned at the numerous problems camping in the open would cause. Camping overnight reeked of danger for Sappho, and the warrior could smell danger a league away. She sighed and looked down at Gabrielle.
The bard was uncharacteristically quiet the entire morning. For every mile that passed by, she seemed more pale and her step less energetic. They had several leagues under their belt, and her poor friend was now white as a sheet and shuffling sullenly. Xena could only imagine the size of her headache. The warrior twisted around again for a look at the cart behind her. Sappho had crawled into it at the start of their journey and was sleeping comfortably in the arms of both Cleo and Laci. The rest of the performers had crammed into whatever space they could find in any cart available, and were also deep in slumber. Only the stage hands and crew had worked this morning to pack them up. Xena suspected that this was the normal procedure. The performers worried about their performance, and the rest of the crew worried about everything else.
Xena looked down at Gabrielle once more, feeling a little guilty. She had given the bard no sympathy this morning for her hangover. Now everyone else was getting to rest, except Gabrielle. There was really no room for her in any of the carts, and Xena had not offered an alternative. The stubborn bard refused to show any sign of weakness whatsoever, and so plodded along wordlessly beside Xena, not a complaint leaving her lips. The warrior grinned when her sensitive ears caught a slight groan as Gabrielle rubbed her forehead. The bard quickly dropped her hand when she noticed Xena watching.
"Gabrielle," Xena started softly, but Gabrielle held up her hand.
"You don't have to say I told you so."
"I wasn't going to say 'I told you so', but since you mention it, well "
Gabrielle's glare stopped the warrior from finishing her statement. Now was not the time to tease, Xena thought to herself.
"Gabrielle, you look terrible," Xena said, trying for a fresh start.
"I feel terrible," Gabrielle replied weakly.
Xena chuckled and extended her hand. "Why don't you ride with me."
"Can I?" Gabrielle asked, looking up with pitiful eyes.
Xena's eyes answered her warmly, and she nodded.
"Are you sure, Xena?" Gabrielle sighed with relief, while reaching for the warrior's outstretched hand. "What if I get sick up there?"
Xena pulled the bard up and plopped her down in the saddle behind her.
"Then just make sure you lean over. Waaayyy over," Xena advised sternly, settling forward in the saddle to make room. The warrior grinned again as she felt Gabrielle lean her head against her back and wrap tired arms around her waist. She knew that the bard would be asleep in moments.
A contented sigh left Gabrielle's lips as she settled into the gentle rocking of Argo's slow gate. It wasn't long until Xena heard the muffled sound of snoring. She felt Gabrielle jerk as her body threatened to fall from the horse, so she took her whip and tied it around the two of them, securing Gabrielle in place.
"Hmmm," the bard cooed softly in appreciation as she snuggled against the warrior. Xena merely grinned and watched the road ahead.
They continued on in this manner for hours, until the noon sun passed overhead into late afternoon.
Xena had just finished weighing the benefits of either stopping to set camp now or continuing on through the night until they reached Kapandrition, when she heard life from the cart behind her. Sappho was beginning to stir and, as though the rest of the performers were attuned to Sappho's every vibration, the other members of the troupe began to wake as well. Xena could hear Sappho complaining to her two sleeping companions.
"By the gods, Cleo, give me some air, will you?" Sappho grumbled to the woman in leather.
"There's no room!" Cleo complained. "Why does 'she' have to be here too?" Cleo pushed Laci in the back.
"Hey!" Laci swatted at Cleo and missed.
"Because I want her here," Sappho replied and pushed Cleo's shoulder. Cleo swatted at Sappho with the whip. Sappho laughed as the whip hit Laci. Laci yelled a protest and swatted Sappho, who tickled her back. Laci jerked up as Sappho tickled her, hitting Cleo in the chin with her head. Cleo screamed and jumped out of the cart. She was mad.
"Then sleep with her!" Cleo threw the whip at Sappho and stomped away. Sappho laughed gleefully and began to swat Laci's rump with the whip. The two women playfully jumped around in the back of the cart until Samthus had to yell at them to calm down; they had almost tipped the wagon over. The noise woke almost everyone else up.
Everyone but Gabrielle. Xena had tried to turn around to look at the commotion, but Gabrielle was still sleeping, clinging with tight arms around the warrior's waist. Sappho's laughter finally caused the bard to stir. Xena chuckled as she heard Gabrielle's lips smack in an effort to contain some errant drool. The bard's arms trembled as a mighty yawn racked through her slight body.
Xena started in surprise as Gabrielle's hands began to roam in little circles on her stomach. The bard was not yet fully conscious, and was obviously still in the warm embrace of a very nice dream. Xena raised an eyebrow and tried to give her a nudge.
"Er, Gabrielle " Xena said softly.
"Hhhmmmmm?" the bard answered dreamily, and caressed the warrior again. Gabrielle's roving hands were giving Xena a little more pleasure than she cared to admit.
"Gabrielle," Xena said gently and tried to arouse Gabrielle from her dream again. The bard merely shifted a little closer. Xena's body involuntarily reacted as Gabrielle's small hand slipped comfortably under the warrior's breast armor.
"Gabrielle!" Xena's yell snapped the bard out of her dream.
"What?" Gabrielle squeaked, looking around in confusion until she remembered where she was and noticed the location of her hand. She snatched it back from under Xena's armor and blushed crimson red.
"I guess er I was just er afraid of falling," Gabrielle stammered, unwrapping her arms quickly. Xena untied the whip and halted Argo. The procession came to an abrupt halt.
"Don't worry about it." She offered the bard a hand and helped Gabrielle to slip down to the ground. "I just hope it was a good dream," Xena said, her azure eyes twinkling mischievously.
The bard, for once, was at a loss for words. However, any reply would have been cut off anyway by the expression on Xena's face. The warrior's chin dropped open as her eyes examined Gabrielle's face in surprise. Xena jumped off the horse and grabbed Gabrielle's shoulders for a better look.
"What's the matter?" Gabrielle asked in confusion, staring up at Xena's bemused expression. Then the bard watched in amazement as Xena did something that Gabrielle had never seen her do in all of their years together so far.
The warrior threw back her head and laughed outright.
"BWA HA HA HA HA!"
It was a full, deep, throaty laugh that actually brought tears to Xena's eyes. Xena looked at Gabrielle trying to blink the tears away and catch her breath. The sight of Gabrielle's face only made the warrior laugh harder.
"BWA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA!"
"What's so funny?" Gabrielle asked, touching her cheeks with her fingertips. "Is there something wrong with my face?"
The comment caused Xena to chortle even louder. The warrior had to grab onto Argo's saddle for support. Gabrielle was speechless.
Sappho popped her head up from the cart to see who was laughing so hard. The poet's jaw dropped to find it was the Warrior Princess. She jumped out of the cart and ran over to see what could possibly be so funny as to make the usually unreadable, stoic Xena lose her stern composure.
The sight of Xena laughing only helped to make Sappho chuckle, even though she had no idea what was going on. She tapped Gabrielle on the shoulder and was about to ask, when the bard turned to face her.
The entire left side of Gabrielle's face held a perfect imprint of Xena's swirling armor etched in her skin. Sappho looked at Xena, and they both began to laugh anew.
Gabrielle stamped her foot.
"What is wrong with my face!" she yelled at the two of them. Xena took pity and drew in a deep breath to bring her amusement under control. The poet staggered back to her cart, still chuckling. Xena wiped her eyes and looked down at her very best friend.
"I'm sorry, Gabrielle," she said trying to be serious, but chuckled again as she looked down at the bard's innocent and etched face. She took her palm and gently tried to rub the impressions away. "You have my armor imprinted all over your face."
"Oh." Gabrielle touched the deep impressions with her fingertips, following the swirls all across her cheek. She looked up at Xena and smiled. "I hope it's not permanent!"
"Don't worry," Xena replied softly, "It will fade." She rubbed the bard's cheek again and grinned. "Next time you fall asleep on me, I'll have to remember to take my armor off."
Gabrielle nodded in agreement and smiled. But the smile faded at the answering snort from Sappho. "Armor off, indeed," the poet said, coughing to the side.
Xena's normally tan cheek turned a bit crimson.
"Just rub your cheek. It will help it to fade," Xena turned and straightened her back. "I have to talk with Samthus. I'll be right back." And with that, the warrior walked off.
"Right," Gabrielle said as she rubbed her cheek and followed the warrior with her eyes.
Xena stopped at Sappho's cart and looked up at Samthus, its driver. "I think we should continue on until we reach Kapandrition."
"Why? Everyone is tired. If we camp tonight, we'll be in Kapandrition before tomorrow, fully rested. We don't need the whole day to set up anyway, and we don't have a show until the following evening."
"It's dangerous to camp out in the open."
"We've done it before. We do it all the time. Besides, Sappho doesn't like to rush." The man motioned his head towards the back of the cart. Sappho sat on the edge, laughing with Laci and Gabrielle. The bard had walked over to say hello.
Xena considered Samthus's comments. It was true that they had been on the road doing this tour for a very long time now, and the manager probably knew what was best for the entire troupe.
"Very well," Xena grudgingly agreed, "but I want everyone in small groups in a circle, sheltered by those trees." The warrior pointed to a large patch of trees a short distance ahead.
"Whatever you say, General." Samthus saluted and jumped down from the cart.
"OK everybody. Set up camp by those trees. Tight circle. Same as we always do," Samthus ordered, smirked at Xena and stomped away. Xena shook her head and walked down the road to inspect the carts and count heads. She wanted to make sure they hadn't lost anyone along the way.
Sappho jumped back into the cart and stretched. She smiled warmly at Gabrielle and sat down in the back of the cart with a thump.
"I love to camp out overnight," the poet said rubbing her hands together. "It's been the best part of the trip."
Gabrielle pulled herself up onto the back edge of the cart and leaned against the side. She brought one leg up and allowed one leg to dangle to the ground.
"Me too," Gabrielle agreed. "Xena and I have been through a lot of adventures together, but what I really look forward to, sometimes, are the quiet nights under the stars."
Gabrielle looked up to the late afternoon sky and then smiled back at Sappho.
"It's amazing," Sappho said, examining Gabrielle closely. "I've heard so many stories about her. She's been described to me in so many ways, not the least of which was as a blood thirsty, cold hearted killer."
"She's changed," Gabrielle explained simply.
"Obviously. Thanks to you," Sappho commented.
"No," Gabrielle argued, "the burden of change lies with her. It was her decision, and it's her responsibility to keep to her new path. It hasn't been easy, I can tell you that." Gabrielle rolled her eyes, remembering a few very dark moments along the way. "But I'm here for her, when she needs me."
Sappho reached out and gently touched the fading armor marks on Gabrielle's cheek. Gabrielle noticed a strange expression pass over the poet's features, almost as though she found the armor's pattern familiar and somehow comforting.
"I hope she realizes just how lucky she is," the poet whispered.
Suddenly, the cart jerked forward. Sappho grabbed onto Gabrielle to stop her from falling out. The cart's horse whinnied and kicked, and then took off in a panic pulling the cart, Sappho, and Gabrielle along with it. The two women were thrown from side to side in the rear, unable to do anything but cling to each other for their lives.
Xena heard the cry and whirled around to watch in horror as the wagon took off down the road. She could see Gabrielle's dangling legs disappearing in a cloud of dirt and dust. The warrior took off running as fast as she could toward Argo. In seconds, she was vaulting through the air and landed firmly on Argo's back. One kick sent Xena galloping down the road after the runaway wagon.
The horse's eyes were white with fear and foam flew from its bridle as it galloped out of control, heedless of the path or its passengers. The wagon hit rocks and dips in the road, sending Gabrielle and Sappho crashing in the back of the cart as it rocked from side to side. Gabrielle tried to stand and reach over the front to grab the reins, but they had fallen into the dirt and were being dragged along the road, out of reach. The cart hit a large rock and flew into the air, sending the bard flipping. She landed with a thud and almost slipped out of the back, had Sappho not grabbed her arms to pull her back in. She was only partially successful. The horse continued its frenzied race down the road with Gabrielle dangling from the back.
"Yyyahhh!" Xena yelled urging Argo faster. She leaned deeper into the stride and pressed the horse into a breakneck gallop. She was gaining, but was afraid she would not be fast enough. She could see Gabrielle dangling from the back of the wagon. All it would take would be one sharp curve and the wagon would topple over, probably killing them both. Xena channeled her fear into energy and pressed Argo even harder. She began to catch up to the wagon.
"Hold on, Gabrielle!" the warrior screamed as she caught up to the cart and began to pass them. The cart shimmied and twisted in the road almost crashing into the warrior and her horse. The wind whipped through Xena's hair; the dust and dirt filled her lungs and blinded her eyes. As she approached the cart, she could barely see what was happening.
The dust eased up as Xena passed by the wheel and moved forward to catch up to the horse. She pressed Argo harder with her knees and looked for the reins to the cart. They were bouncing in the dirt below, out of reach. Xena glanced back to check on Sappho and Gabrielle. Sappho had managed to pull Gabrielle into the wagon, but the road took an unexpected turn and sent the two women crashing into each other. Xena urged Argo forward. There was no choice. She was going to have to jump.
Gabrielle grabbed the side of the cart and pulled herself up just in time to see Xena leap from the back of Argo and onto the panicked mare. Her strong arms wrapped around the horses neck, but the horse suddenly veered to the left, leaving her jump short. The warrior's legs slipped from the mare's back and scrapped along the ground racing by.
"XEENNNAA!" Gabrielle screamed. Sappho lifted herself up and held onto Gabrielle. The cart torqued and sent them both crashing to the floor.
Xena gritted her teeth and held onto the mare's neck with all the strength that she possessed. She used the momentum of the rushing ground to bounce her legs until she had enough speed and height to flip herself up and onto the back of the panic stricken horse. Now that she was riding the horse, it was a simple matter of grabbing the bridle and bringing the mare under her control. The warrior took a deep breath, leaned forward, and pulled. The horse came to an abrupt stop. The sudden stop sent Gabrielle and Sappho crashing into the front of the wagon.
They looked at each other with wide eyes, and slowly peeked above the edge of the wagon. Xena was sitting on top of the mare, leaning forward and breathing heavily. Gabrielle's heart was in her throat.
Xena whirled her head around in concern and caught Gabrielle's worried eyes in her own.
"Are you all right?" They both asked each other at the same time.
"I'm fine," Sappho answered, and brushed her toga off. She jumped over the edge of the cart, and landed in the dirt. "Wow! That was really something!"
"I'm glad you enjoyed it," Xena commented sarcastically, and vaulted off the back of the mare wincing in pain. Gabrielle noticed this immediately. She jumped out of the wagon and ran over to examine Xena's legs.
"I'm fine." Xena smiled down and pulled the bard up from her examination. It was then that the warrior noticed the small arrow protruding from the mare's rump. Sappho noticed the warrior's scowl and looked in the same direction. So did Gabrielle.
Xena slapped the horse's rump to distract it as she snatched the arrow out. The mare
bucked a bit, but did nothing else. Xena examined the small arrow and showed it to Sappho.
There was indeed a piece of scroll wrapped around the shaft. The warrior unwrapped it
carefully and read it with a frown, then she handed it to the poet.
"You're mine. If I can't have you, no one can."
Sappho handed the note back to the warrior and rubbed her forehead.
"What do we do now?" the poet asked.
"I'm going to find out who wrote this note!" Xena said with an angry fire glowing in her eyes. "There are only two things that really make me mad."
Xena squeezed onto the note, crushing it in her hand. "No one, but no one messes with Gabrielle!"
Sappho watched as the warrior's eyes turned ice cold and she stomped off to collect Argo.
Sappho gulped and turned to the bard. "What's the other thing?" The poet was almost afraid to ask.
"Don't touch her horse," Gabrielle answered, and followed after Xena.
A BARD DAY'S NIGHT
"Although they are only breath,
Words which I command are immortal."
- Sappho, circa 625 B.C.
"Safe under the blanket of the night and warmed by the heat of the fire "
Calliope, one of the chorus singers was reading from a scroll as Sappho listened intently. Firelight danced across the poet's fine features and small, twin flames flicked within her silver eyes as she watched the singer read her poem. She was polite and patient, but as Gabrielle listened and watched, she could tell that the woman's writing did not come near to what Sappho was trying to teach them.
Gabrielle, being a bard and not a poet, did not presume to know at all what it was which made a poem touch someone's soul, but she knew how to weave a tale. The weaving of the tale was the art, and not the tale itself. It was probably much the same for poetry. Gabrielle smiled and leaned back against the fallen tree trunk that she had luckily claimed as Xena's and her own.
Gabrielle glanced around the camp to see if she could spot Xena approaching. There were small fires spread out in a circle around and within the shelter of trees. Several members of the crew were still sitting around these isolated fires, but the majority of the troupe was in the center of the encampment listening to Sappho. Obviously, when they camped, Sappho gave her time and talent to the troupe, and they all devoured her teachings hungrily. Gabrielle hungered for the poet's attention as well, but she was too shy to reveal herself as a bard, and so refrained from asking to join in the lesson. For now, Gabrielle watched and listened and learned what she could from a distance. When the time was right, she would talk with Sappho -- maybe even tell her one of her stories. Maybe. Gabrielle looked around for Xena once more.
Sappho took another long sip of wine from her pouch. She let the liquid flow slowly down her throat, enjoying the taste, but welcoming more the numbness that she knew would follow. The closer they got to Athens, the more she had to drink to numb the pain. She would soon have to face the fact that her companions were probably right. All these years of travel were for naught. All the writing and singing into the wind had done nothing but spread her own name, instead of calling the one she loved back to her. 'What will I do after Athens?' the poet thought to herself sadly, and took another swallow of blessed wine.
Although Sappho kept a trained ear on the meter and words of the poetry being read, her eyes could not help but wander to Gabrielle. She thought of calling the girl over to sit closer to the group, but realized she had a far better view of them both if they stayed where they were. Sappho's thoughts drifted from her sadness to Gabrielle and Xena. It lightened her mood instantly, with the help of the wine, of course. She intended to watch the pair closely all night long. They fascinated her. The two of them tweaked her curiosity beyond measure. They were an incredible puzzle for the poet to solve, and solve it she would.
Sappho studied Gabrielle as the girl fidgeted with the dinner plates. Gabrielle had, of course, prepared one for the warrior. Even when she wasn't looking for the Warrior Princess, Gabrielle was waiting for her. Sappho smiled inwardly as Gabrielle once again looked up from the firelight to search the darkness for her companion. Xena was patrolling their entire camp once more. The warrior woman seemed incapable of sitting still, Sappho mused. Xena had been up and down all night long, either checking on the guards or checking on her horse, or else sharpening that damn sword.
Sappho chuckled remembering Xena's look when the poet had called over to her, asking the warrior if she planned on making that annoying scraping sound all night long. The poet had been trying to teach Erato a new piece she had written on her lyre, and Xena's scraping was irritatingly syncopated. Gabrielle had not seemed to notice the scrape of the sword at all. She had actually been enjoying it, the poet mused. In fact, Sappho caught a perturbed look thrown her way by Gabrielle when the warrior put the sword down and stood, and announced she was going to check on something or other one more time. Sappho caressed her lyre, listened to the reading, but continued to analyze the enigma of Xena and Gabrielle's relationship.
The poet noticed a sudden change in the sparkle in Gabrielle's eyes. The girl didn't even have to look up to know that the warrior was approaching. Sappho imagined she could probably feel the change in the air, or was familiar with the sound of her footsteps, or maybe even recognized her scent drifting to her in the slight nighttime breeze.
Yes, Xena was coming back to the fire and Gabrielle knew it without even looking up. A few seconds later, two heavily armored legs stopped beside Gabrielle and bent to reveal the Warrior Princess herself. She sat down with a smile and crossed those incredibly long legs, readily accepting the plate of food from her companion.
Sappho shifted her position slightly, as someone moved to block her view, and continued to scrutinize Xena's and Gabrielle's interactions. Gabrielle was talking and Xena was listening. It was probably very common for Gabrielle to do the talking while Xena did the listening, Sappho thought. The poet chuckled silently as she watched the warrior closely.
Xena ate slowly from her plate, glancing occasionally at her companion with a smile or a small reply to Gabrielle's conversation. What made the poet laugh was not Xena's lack of contribution to the conversation, but the stolen glances the warrior took when she thought Gabrielle was not aware; the private, silent looks were so soft and loving that Sappho could not believe such emotions were possible from eyes that could be so hard and cold.
Sappho caught her breath in her throat as she regarded Gabrielle. The woman was absolutely beautiful, she thought to herself as she watched the fire light dance on Gabrielle's golden red hair. Her eyes sparkled with such brightness and with such a love for life that it took Sappho's breath away. Her smile was as disarming as her innocent, open manner.
Sappho shook her head in wonder at the strange workings of Aphrodite. For the young woman was the very picture of light and love, a gorgeous reflection of both wisdom and innocence, and sitting next to her was the epitome of the darkness and power of mankind.
Power and danger emanated from Xena's every pore. Her raven mane flowed like a wild animal's and her piercing blue eyes could stop one's heart with a glance. Xena had once belonged to Ares, and there was no doubt in Sappho's mind that she served him beyond the God's wildest dreams. Her murderous exploits were legendary. Yet, despite the tremendous walls of rage and darkness that the warrior woman must have constructed around her heart, it was obvious to the poet that Gabrielle had somehow managed to find a way inside that intimidating fortress. For Xena's deadly cold eyes warmed whenever Gabrielle came into her view and the warrior's breathtaking smile, when she did smile, was for Gabrielle alone.
Sappho suddenly realized two things for certain in regards to these newest members of her troupe. Number one, there was a bond between them that no man or God could ever undo. It was the kind of love from which legends were made. And number two, they had not yet consummated their love.
Sappho took another long drink of wine and considered this. She was sure that the two had probably not even kissed. The sexual tension was so thick between them, you could cut it with a knife. And then an idea popped into her head. She would get them together. Yes, she, Sappho, the so-called Tenth Muse, the Poet of Love, would inspire Xena and Gabrielle to consummate their already obvious love before this tour was over.
Silently toasting Xena and Gabrielle in her new private quest, Sappho closed her eyes and gave her thanks to the Muses. Her new found endeavor would keep her mind from the impending disappointment of Athens, and she would have material to write about for years to come. She drank again and laughed out loud.
"Sappho?" Calliope asked timidly. She had finished reading her poem, and Sappho was just sitting there, laughing, with her eyes closed and an evil smirk on her face. The poet blinked and looked at the young singer.
"Calliope," Sappho opened her eyes and smiled apologetically. "I'm sorry, I wasn't laughing at you." The young singer looked relieved. Sappho got back to the business at hand.
"Calliope, your meter is perfect and your images are lovely." The young singer's smile grew. "But ..." Sappho continued and the young singer's smile disappeared, "but your imagery is is is " Sappho struggled to be kind. " is ordinary," the poet finally finished.
Gabrielle stopped talking to Xena in mid-sentence to listen to Sappho's criticism closely. Xena grinned at her friend's sudden silence, and continued to eat.
"Search for words that are simple. Words that can describe a simple thing, but in a complicated way." The young singer looked at the poet with a question in her eyes. Sappho put down her lyre and stood.
"Let's see," the poet tapped her chin and looked around. Her eyes lit on Xena. Xena stopped eating mid-bite, anticipating nothing but trouble from the famous poet. The warrior narrowed her eyes in warning at the instigator. Sappho raised an eyebrow in challenge.
"What color are Xena's eyes?" Sappho asked the troupe. Xena frowned. Gabrielle smiled.
"They're a bright, sky blue!" Calliope answered.
"You would say that," Sappho chided. The girl's shoulders slumped.
"Azure!" Thalia yelled.
"Sapphire," Cleo commented.
"Cerulean," Laci offered with a giggle.
"Cerulean?" Sappho said with a snort, but smiled indulgently at Laci when the young girl looked insulted. "All very beautiful words for such beautiful eyes." Sappho turned to Xena and fluttered her eyelashes. Xena rolled the orbs in question and continued eating. "But I still ask you, what color are Xena's eyes?"
Sappho looked around the campfire as her students silently pondered her meaning. Only the crackle of the campfire could be heard for many seconds. Sappho waited.
"Ice or fire," Gabrielle's small voice filled the void. Everyone turned to look at her. "They can be the color of ice or fire. It depends upon her mood, of course." Xena's jaw dropped open as she turned to look at the bard. Gabrielle shrugged.
"Gabrielle!" Sappho raised her arms to the sky above, "Thank you." Sappho looked at the troupe. "If I described Xena's eyes as 'ice', you would not only get the image of a clear, bluish color but you would also get a description of her mood, would you not?" Sappho looked over at the warrior and smirked.
"But fire is not blue, it's orange! I wouldn't see 'blue' if you said fire!" Calliope protested.
"Ahhh, but the hottest embers always burn blue," Gabrielle explained. Xena snapped her head once again to stare at the bard.
"Yes," Sappho whispered to Gabrielle, her voice suddenly turning soft and seductive.. "Love's embers burn very blue indeed. That's a nice phrase, Gabrielle, I'll have to remember it."
All heads then turned to stare at Xena's burning blue embers, but Xena's glaring eyes looked more like ice than the embers in question.
Gabrielle laughed and pushed Xena's shoulder to get her to relax. The warrior released Sappho from her glare and smirked, gently pushing her friend in return.
"Gabrielle," Sappho clapped, walking over a little closer to them, "you are very good with words."
Xena decided to get even. "She should be, she's a bard," the warrior said flatly, taking a big bite from the meat on her plate. She knew Gabrielle had been too shy to tell Sappho of her bardly ambitions. Now it was Gabrielle's turn to shoot Xena a look. Xena hid a grin within her chewing.
"A bard?" Sappho exclaimed. "A bard? Gabrielle why didn't you tell me!" Sappho clapped and reached down to grab Gabrielle's hands and pull her up.
If looks could kill, Xena would have been severely injured. Gabrielle tried to resist being dragged into the center of attention, but failed. Sappho swung her around and gave her a hug.
"You are one of us!" Sappho exclaimed happily. "An artist. I bet you are an excellent bard."
Gabrielle blushed shyly. "Well, I don't know about that."
"She's an EXCELLENT bard!" Xena shouted with a full mouth. If looks could kill, Xena would be dead.
"You must tell us a story!" Sappho exclaimed, turning Gabrielle around to face the troupe.
"Yes, please Gabrielle! Tell us a story!" Laci bounced up and down happily. "All we ever get to hear is boring poetry!"
"HEY!" Sappho frowned at the girl for a moment, but then smiled brilliantly. "She's right after all. We could all use a good story, couldn't we?" Sappho asked, nodding her head to the group. Everyone responded in kind.
"Oh, no, I couldn't really " Gabrielle looked shyly at the ground, and flipped a lock of hair in her fingers. Xena laughed and almost choked on her food: she had seen that particular move of Gabrielle's a million times. Xena took their wine skin and leaned back, taking a long swallow of port. This is going to be good, she thought to herself settling back against the fallen tree with a grin.
"Come on, please Gabrielle," Sappho continued to beg, "please, for me?" Sappho lifted Gabrielle's chin with a gentle touch and smiled warmly, losing herself for a moment in Gabrielle's sea green eyes. Xena lost her grin. The warrior coughed a bit on purpose breaking the poet's gaze.
"Gabrielle," Xena spoke softly causing the bard to turn to the warrior. "Tell us a story. I'll stay and listen." This was an offer that Xena knew Gabrielle would not refuse. The bard's face lit up with a smile. Now it was Sappho's turn to narrow her eyes at Xena. Xena simply raised an eyebrow and took another drink.
"Well, then, if you really want me to?" Gabrielle turned back to Sappho and the rest of the troupe. There were enthusiastic yells of agreement. Sappho moved over to Xena, eyeing the wine skin.
"May I have a sip of that wine?" she asked with a mischievous grin. Xena handed her the skin and frowned as the poet plopped down next to the warrior and drank. Sappho eyed Xena with an amused stare and she drank deeply. And drank. And drank. Xena finally grabbed the wine skin from the poet's mouth and threw it out of reach.
Sappho was really enjoying herself now. She motioned for Gabrielle to proceed.
Gabrielle backed up a few steps so she could recite to everyone. She turned her back on her audience for a moment to collect her thoughts, and when she turned around, she began with a sparkle in her eyes.
"There was a mole who traveled the wide unknown world, following the horizon, crossing over the endless seas, traversing canyons and mountains and rivers and streams. Roads and lanes appeared wherever he set his feet, the evening winds of a new season lay at his back, and the world opened her arms, whispering, Come away.
This mole, exhausted by the journey of a strenuous day, stopped by a sparkling stream to quench his thirst. Suddenly the mole looked up. A sound out of place, a scent in the wind. The birds stopped singing. He rose to his feet, heart pounding, turning and spinning, trying to see in every direction.
In panic he turned and scrambled up a steep bank, clawing at the roots and stones, only to tumble down with a sad cry. A weight fell on his chest and he found himself staring up into the sharp eyes of a wolf, shoulders against the clouds.
'A mole above ground,' the wolf said, his voice deep and quiet, 'and so far from his home.'
'I have cause ' the mole stammered to explain.
The wolf leaned on his great paw and the mole felt his body pushed into the mud. He struggled and clawed and kicked, but the pillar on his chest held. Stones dug into his back, and his pulse thundered in his ears. With each wild beat of his heart, his vision grew darker. Then the pressure eased. He rose, gasping and coughing for air.
'Still alive?' the wolf asked.
'I will not die!' the mole sputtered. 'I can not die! Not yet!'
'You say you will not die. Not yet, you say? I have slain many of your brethren. They always surrender when caught. Yet you hold to your last breath. Why this courage? What is so important to a mole that he must not yet die?"
'Love!' the mole answered.
The wolf neither smiled nor frowned. 'Love?' the wolf asked, demanding an answer.
'Three summers past,' the mole began, 'I and an owl fell in love. Don't smile. It's true. A rider of the winds and a tunneller of the earth fell in love. She taught me the beauty of moonlit nights, the joy of evening breezes, and imprinted on my mind's eye such places as I had never even known existed! Mountains. Oceans. Stars!'
The mole paused wistfully, 'What she saw in me I myself never saw. But, we pledged our love to one another. I began a mansion under ground, complete with sky, where she could shelter from the harsh light of day.'
The mole smiled sadly at the wolf. 'Then this past summer, on the eve of our third year, she rode out on the evening winds and never returned.'
Tears warmed the moles eyes. 'So what can I do? I must find her. I will find her. Should I have to tunnel to the sea, through every rock in the world!' The mole glanced at the wolf. 'Provided, of course, you fast tonight!'
The wolf stood, "Go. Seek your love. In this, you are not a mole and I will not be a wolf. But I have your scent, and can find you when I choose. I'll be watching. If you ever abandon your search, if you ever give up on your love, you will be a mole to me and I, a wolf to you, and as such we will meet again.
The wolf walked a few paces away and then turned to glance back to the little mole.
'Wolves, too, love but once in life.'
And with a leap, the wolf disappeared into the wood."
The bard paused for dramatic effect, giving herself a chance to catch her breath and think before she continued the tale.
Gabrielle never ceased to amaze Xena. The warrior looked on her friend with silent admiration, wondering when she had come up with this story.
Sappho herself sat speechless for several seconds, feeling the weight of her earlier depression lifting. Finally, the poet managed to speak. "This story is not over."
"Of course not. Not yet." Gabrielle answered shyly, "Shall I continue?"
"No! Don't!" The poet rushed over to the bard and grabbed her hands. "Please. I don't want to know the end of this story. Not yet, anyway. We still have a few nights ahead of us. You can tell us more as we go. Is that all right?" Sappho seemed serious about her request. Even though most wished for Gabrielle to continue, the group murmured in assent, as usual giving in to Sappho's desires. Gabrielle seemed uncertain, but shrugged in agreement.
"Well, all right, if that's what you wish. I can tell you more tomorrow."
The poet looked deep into Gabrielle's eyes and then kissed her softly on each cheek. "So, the Muses have placed their kiss upon you, too, Gabrielle. For you have been given their gift as well, and need no instruction from me whatsoever."
Gabrielle blushed all the way up to her ears and looked beyond Sappho to catch Xena's eye. The warrior beamed back at her proudly. The rest of the troupe whispered softly in agreement.
Sappho squeezed the bard's hands one more time and walked away. The poet decided she would play with Xena and Gabrielle tomorrow. Tonight, she would sing for her lost lover and silently renewed her vow to never give up her search. Something will happen in Athens; she just knew it.
Gabrielle returned to her spot next to Xena, who placed a long arm her around her friend's shoulder and gave her a gentle squeeze. Gabrielle was embarrassed and speechless, so Xena leaned her head and whispered in her ear. "I knew you could do it. I'm proud of you. Where did you get that story, though? I never heard you tell that one before."
The question brought Gabrielle out of her embarrassment and she leaned a little into Xena's hug. "I just made it up."
Xena raised her eyebrows and looked down at her friend. "What about the rest of the story?"
"I think this story is going to write itself," Gabrielle answered.
One by one, members of the troupe began to leave the fire and head for their bedrolls. The night was winding to an end; it was time for rest. Sappho, ever the night owl, softly strummed her lyre, humming to no one in particular. The poet's soft song had already lulled a very tired Gabrielle to sleep. Xena reached down and gently pulled the bard's blanket to cover an exposed shoulder. She would often watch her friend as she slept, wrapped safely in the dreams of the innocent. The warrior did not usually have the luxury of a good night's sleep; her dreams being neither safe nor untainted.
Xena reclined against the tree trunk with a sigh and tried to relax. Sappho's song floated on a breeze and filled the night air, the poet's beautiful voice mesmerizing the warrior for moment.
Xena slowly became aware of the melody again. It pulled her back into that tunnel; a place where she could almost hear the song as it was being sung but yet could not. Her eyes burned into Sappho as she watched her sing. The image before her eyes shifted and suddenly, it was not Sappho singing, but someone else. Yet, she could not figure out who or where.
This melody was going to haunt Xena for a long time, or at least until she could remember where it was that she had heard it before. The darkness of the tunnel warned her that she really didn't want to remember at all. Let it go. Let it go.
The warrior drifted off to a fitful sleep with that dark warning still singing in her head.
An ominous shadow moved through the encampment. Its shape twisted as it touched against the trees, stretched as it passed over dreamers asleep on their bedrolls, shimmered and disappeared as it dissolved in the campfire's light.
The shadow chuckled quietly to itself as it paused over Sappho. 'It would be so easy,' it thought evily as it hovered over the poet, confident in the security of its own darkness. 'Sooo easy.'
The poet had drifted off to sleep with her lyre still nestled in limp arms and a pile of scrolls scattered all around her. The empty wine skin had been thrown to the side long ago.
Dark, distorted shadow hands danced over the sleeping poet's face and dripped down to waver at her throat. The shadow laughed.
'I could take you now and make you mine, and there would be nothing anyone could do to stop me.'
The shadow paused and thought of the warrior woman.
The distorted image floated away from Sappho and came to rest on the sleeping forms of Xena and Gabrielle.
"Fool! Even you cannot stop me," It whispered, the venom in its words causing Xena to furrow her brow and shift position briefly in her light sleep. The shadow's breathing was ragged in it's excitement. It could kill the warrior as well, couldn't it? Or, it could kill the pretty little bard instead and leave the warrior alive, but destroyed, and still take Sappho. It could do anything it wanted.
Xena was lying down. Though she tried to move, her struggle was in vain. She was immobilized. She could only raise her head to look helplessly at her surroundings. There was danger somewhere ... somewhere very close danger.
The warrior strained against an invisible weight with every ounce of her strength, but could only slowly lift her head to sit up. It was like moving through heavy water, so slow were her actions. She had to move faster there was danger very close.
Her eyes darted around the room. She knew where she was, but she couldn't exactly recall where. She saw someone, but didn't exactly know who. She tried to stand but could not. She could only sit up. Whatever it was, the danger was almost upon her. Her eyes darted around, wild in fear.
In slow motion, a door opened. She turned her head, but the movement was so disorienting that it left her dizzy. When the dizziness cleared, her eyes were filled with the sight of a crossbow. It was aimed at her heart. That very heart was now pounding loudly in her ears. It was too late. She could not move. The crossbow fired. She watched in horror as the arrow flew toward her, its aim true.
Suddenly, Gabrielle stood smiling in front of her. The arrow would hit her back instead. Xena gasped, but could not speak. By the Gods! Move Gabrielle Move!
Sappho stirred as a soft cry awoke her from sleep. She opened her eyes and quickly looked around the camp. The cry came from Xena. The warrior was thrashing her head and mumbling in her sleep.
'She's having a nightmare!' the poet suddenly realized.
It took only a second for Gabrielle to jump up from her bedroll and wrap her arms around her friend. Sappho watched with interest.
"Xena." Gabrielle touched Xena's face very lightly and whispered her name into her ear as softly as she could. "Xena, it's all right. Wake up. It's just a dream." She stroked her friend's cheek and then rubbed her shoulders. She knew better than to shake her and talk loudly. The first time she had done that, Xena had awoken from one of her nightmares, swinging her fists wildly.
Sappho watched in silence. Somehow, she imagined that the warrior didn't dream at all, but nightmares seemed to make more sense. The poet shivered a moment as she considered how horrible Xena's nightmares must be. Obviously, they happened often, for Gabrielle knew exactly how to handle it. Sappho laughed to herself. If she had gone over to awaken the warrior, she probably would have shook her by the shoulders and Xena would have knocked her out.
"Xena, it's me. Gabrielle." Gabrielle continued to stroke Xena's cheek as she watched her eyes flutter open. The warrior took in the sight of Gabrielle and began to calm down, confusion obvious on her face.
Gabrielle smiled and wiped back matted hair from a sweat soaked forehead. Xena slowly became aware and managed a weak smile. Suddenly, Xena's eyes widened and she jumped up from her bedroll.
"Someone was here!" she yelled, looking frantically around in all directions. Gabrielle stood and grabbed her.
"There's no one here, Xena. Calm down. You were dreaming again."
Xena looked around once more to be sure anyway, and sighed. "Are you all right, Gabrielle?" She grabbed the bard's shoulders, suddenly remembering her dream. Gabrielle pushed the warrior back down to the bedrolls. Xena sat reluctantly.
"I'm fine. It was just a dream, Xena. What was it about? Did you kill me off, again?"
"That's not funny, Gabrielle," Xena complained, wiping the sweat from her brow and looking around again one more time, just to be sure.
"I know. I'm sorry." The bard smiled and touched Xena's arm. "Think you can get back to sleep?" she asked, already knowing the answer to the question.
Xena smirked and wiped her nose. "Are you kidding? I have enough adrenaline in me now to fight an army."
Gabrielle chuckled and wrapped herself up in her blanket and laid back down. "Well, I'm exhausted, so if you don't mind." The bard turned away to face the fire, and closed her eyes.
Xena smiled warmly down at Gabrielle. Sappho watched as Xena reached out tentatively to stroke Gabrielle's tousled hair, but withdrew her hand.
"Go to sleep, Gabrielle. Sweet dreams," the warrior whispered to her friend instead.
Gabrielle laughed once and answered back without turning. "Sweet dreams yourself!"
Xena sighed and wiped her brow again, looking around in the dark again. She pulled herself up to sit atop the fallen tree trunk and reached for her sword. The scrape of whetstone against edge barely made a sound, but Xena glanced over to Sappho nonetheless.
Sappho quickly shut her eyes, not wanting Xena to see her awake. Soon the rhythmic scraping continued. Sappho slowly opened her eyes to watch the warrior sharpening her sword, keeping watch over the camp and Gabrielle, no longer able to sleep.
It was a scene the poet would witness each night for the rest of the tour.
A BARD DAY'S NIGHT
"Beautiful girls, towards
you my thoughts will never change ..."
Sappho fragment #47, circa 625 B.C.
"Where did all these people come from?" Gabrielle asked aloud, more to herself than to Xena.
"This is just great," Xena muttered in frustration and concentrated on moving Argo through the throngs of people who had already invaded Kapandrition.
"How did they find out that Sappho was going to play here so quickly?" Gabrielle wondered.
Xena did not turn her head to answer. "Probably just word of mouth. She's been headed this way for weeks. They're probably getting ready in Arkarna and Athens, too."
Xena glanced at the wagons that were following in a line. There were so many people coming and going, so many wagons and carts entering the town, that they slowly worked their way through the village virtually unnoticed. The warrior was grateful for this.
Gabrielle twisted around from atop Argo to peek at Sappho, who was sitting down in the cart just behind them. Samthus was driving, and Sappho was playing some kind of stick game with Laci and Cleo in the back. No one would be able to see her in the rear of the wagon.
Sappho looked up and noticed Gabrielle watching. She smiled and waved happily and Gabrielle smiled back, then turned to tighten her arms around Xena's waist. She shifted uncomfortably in the saddle; her butt was killing her.
"Getting tired?" Xena asked warmly. She knew Gabrielle didn't like to ride for long periods of time.
"I'm fine, but my butt isn't. Am I ever going to get use to this?"
"If you rode more, you would," Xena suggested. "We could get you your own horse."
Gabrielle rolled her eyes. Here we go with the horse argument again. "No thanks," she answered the warrior, "then I'd have to brush him every night, and cook, and clean the dishes. No thanks!"
"What are you trying to say?"
"Are you saying I don't do enough work?"
"Who does the hunting?"
"Who cleans the fish?"
"Well, who catches the fish?"
"Well, what are you trying to say? That providing the food is not enough?"
Gabrielle sighed. "What I'm trying to say, Xena, is that I like it right where I am."
"Oh. Okay, then. No horse."
Gabrielle smiled to herself and gave Xena's waist a gentle squeeze. What she didn't see was the big smile that had spread across the warrior's usually impassive face.
The procession entered the center of the village. There were many booths already set up and selling their wares. The village looked like one huge marketplace.
"The inn is right over there!" Samthus yelled from the wagon and pointed to the west end of the center square. Xena glanced over her shoulder to see where he was pointing and nodded. Now all she had to do was lead them through somehow. She took a moment to plan her path and then urged Argo forward. It would take awhile, but they would get there.
Sappho started to peek over the side of the wagon, not being able to resist a look. Cleo hit her on the top of the head.
"Keep your head down," Cleo warned.
Laci laughed brightly. "I'll look for you," she offered and stood up in the back of the wagon to look around. "It's packed with women, Sappho! Women everywhere!"
"Let me see!" Sappho exclaimed and started to jump up. Cleo grabbed her toga and pulled her down.
"STAY DOWN, for Zeus's sake. Don't you remember what happened the last time?"
"Oh, no one will recognize me," Sappho complained and started to stand up again. Cleo pulled her down once more.
"That's what you said the last time." Cleo glared at the poet.
Sappho stared back, and then made a motion to stand up again. The movement caused Cleo to reach out.
Sappho laughed at her. "Fooled ya."
She stared at Cleo and moved again. Cleo jumped again. Sappho laughed again.
The poet kept staring at Cleo, until the woman grunted and sat back, waving at Sappho in dismissal. In that instant, Sappho jumped up and took a look around.
"What women?" Sappho asked, looking down at Laci.
"IT'S SAPPHO!" From somewhere in the crowd, a woman screamed.
"Oh, Great Goddess," Cleo moaned, "Xena!"
Xena turned around to see who had called her name.
"You better pick up the pace," Cleo said pointing to Sappho who was standing in the wagon, touching the hands of several people who had begun to gather around them. The recognition was spreading, and large groups were beginning to move toward the procession of wagons.
"Just great," Xena cursed under her breath. She nudged Argo forward and guided them to the inn a little quicker. Gabrielle turned in the saddle to watch in amusement. The crowd was growing around the wagon. People were handing Sappho scrolls to sign and babies to kiss.
Gabrielle's eyebrows shot straight up when a young woman wrapped her arms around Sappho's neck and pulled her down for a hearty kiss. Sappho tried to wrestle herself free from the admiration, but the determined woman held on as long as she could, until Laci and Cleo pried her arms away. The young fan fell back, screaming and jumping happily.
"I KISSED SAPPHO! I KISSED SAPPHO!"
Sappho looked up at Gabrielle and shrugged.
After the success of the one woman, other men and women began to push their way over to the wagon to try their luck for a kiss. The situation was getting a bit out of control.
"Xena," Gabrielle warned.
"We're almost there," Xena growled, and turned to assess the situation.
It was not good. The crowd was threatening to overturn the cart. Xena cursed loudly. The inn was just within view. Two Amazon guards jumped from their wagon in the rear of the line and sprinted to the front. The crowd around Sappho had grown to more than twenty people deep and getting deeper. Just when the situation seemed about to get totally out of control, Sappho vaulted out of her wagon and jumped into the center of the crowd. As soon as her feet hit the ground, she took off for the marketplace.
The crowd screamed and dispersed, taking off after the great poet, hot on her heels.
"What in Hades was that?" Xena yelled. She had not seen Sappho jump and run, but she did hear the crowd's reaction. Gabrielle, however, was watching in disbelief.
"Sappho just took off!" Gabrielle yelled in answer, and jumped down from Argo before Xena could protest. "I'll go after her!" And with that Gabrielle disappeared in the same direction.
Xena mumbled every curse she ever knew, and being an ex-warlord, she knew many. She jumped down from Argo and called to an Amazon. She quickly instructed the guard to take care of Argo, then ran over to Samthus and told him to get everyone in the tavern. Samthus nodded then shook his head in disdain. She didn't need to tell him what to do, he had been through this before. Xena took off into the crowd, after the bard and the poet
Sappho broke into a dead run when her feet hit the ground. She laughed in delight as the surprised fans missed in their attempts to grab her. She slipped past them, easily dodging any number of outstretched arms. That was one advantage to being small. She ran away easily.
Once clear of the crowd, she stopped for a look behind. A group of women was set in the chase. She could see them gaining the distance on her, their screams of delight filling the marketplace. She laughed again and took off for the market area.
The chase was on.
The poet rounded a tight corner at full speed and collided with two pretty young women. She stopped briefly to apologize, giving them the full benefit of her dazzling smile and took off as soon as they smiled back. Several seconds later, the group in chase rounded the same corner, practically knocking both young girls down. They looked at each other, realizing they had just bumped into Sappho and started to scream. They joined in the pursuit.
Gabrielle skipped around the same corner a second later.
Sappho skirted one turn, and then took another. As she flew by, she grabbed a scarf from a table letting the scarf unwrap itself in the wind as she ran. It fluttered in the wind, following the poet as she whipped around another corner. The Tenth Muse screeched to an abrupt halt and flipped the scarf around her head and shoulders, bringing the end of the fabric around to cover the lower half of her face with a demur flourish . She looked quickly around and darted behind one of the booths, pretending to be a vendor. The real vendor looked down at her with a scowl. She batted her eye lashes and brought her finger to her lips, asking for his silence.
"Sappho scrolls!" the poet crooned to the air, singing as any vendor would, but sounding a little too much like the Tenth Muse. The chasing women came careening around the corner at full speed, almost knocking over one of the stalls. They ran right by Sappho, one at a time, ignoring her completely.
Sappho grinned wickedly from behind the scarf as she watched the very last of her pursuers dash by the booth in a golden-blond blur.
"Sappho scrolls!" Sappho crooned again. Gabrielle stopped short and whirled around.
The poet laughed and hobbled around to the outside of the booth, trying her best to imitate a little, old lady.
"Would you like a Sappho scroll, little girl?" she cackled to Gabrielle, "guaranteed to make you fall in love."
Gabrielle scowled the poet, then twirled the poet around by the shoulders, pushing her back the way they had come.
"Come on, before they come back this way."
Too late. The screaming women, having lost the scent, were retracing their steps and heading right for them.
"Let's go!" Sappho threw the scarf from her head, and smiled at the bewildered vendor. They took off back to the center of the marketplace.
"Run!" Gabrielle yelled. The mob of women were screaming and running and doing a very good job of catching up with them.
Sappho skidded around another corner; Gabrielle right behind her
"What will they do if they catch you!" Gabrielle yelled her question as they ran.
"Probably tear my clothes off," Sappho answered, her black braids and loose hair flying in the wind as she ran. "Gabrielle, the alley!"
Sappho made an abrupt turn. The bard almost missed it, but was able to change direction and jump in with hardly a missed step. The poet and the bard leaned their backs flat against a wall and waited, their breaths coming in heavy gasps. They could hear the screams of the girls as they ran by, but none entered the alley. Their pursuers flew by the alley, and right by them, one by one.
Sappho and Gabrielle looked at one another in relief and smiled.
"That was close," Gabrielle whispered.
Then they heard a giggle from the back of the alley. The bard and the poet whirled their heads around. Four young women were watching them with shy eyes from the end of the alleyway.
"Hello," Gabrielle stood up from the wall and waved a greeting,"We er just can't seem to get away from those bargains."
Sappho looked at Gabrielle and nodded. "Yup. Buy now and save. Those vendors just don't give up "
"Are you Sappho?" One woman sauntered up, losing her shy smile. She walked right up to the poet. Sappho leaned against the wall, glancing briefing at Gabrielle, who merely shrugged her shoulders.
"I guess I am," Sappho admitted. She smiled demurely at Gabrielle, who nodded briskly and pointed back to the poet, wanting to make sure that if clothes were going to be torn off, it wouldn't be her clothes.
"They say a kiss from Sappho is a blessing from the Gods. Will you kiss me?"
"I don't think it's such a good idea to kiss a woman in an alley," Sappho advised, trying to discourage the pretty woman's resolve.
"Best place for it," the woman whispered and leaned fully against Sappho's body, kissing her with passion.
Gabrielle's eyes nearly popped out of her head. She was about to pull the woman away, when another ran up to Gabrielle, looking as though she was about to do the same thing to the bard. Gabrielle threw up her hands to block the woman, managing to end up with both hands full of breasts.
"Wait a minute now, I'm not Sappho!" Her denial came to an abrupt halt when she noticed the location of her hands. She pulled them both away, her face blushing bright red.
The young woman smiled, shrugged, and leaned in for a kiss anyway. Gabrielle turned her
head, trying to avoid the girl's advances, but she was pinned against the wall.
Xena rounded the corner into the alley at that very moment.
"I see you got caught," the warrior said flatly.
Though it seemed impossible, Gabrielle's face managed to blush an even deeper red. The bard gulped and smiled sheepishly as Xena pulled the woman away from her and then reached to pull the other from Sappho.
The young woman kissing Sappho would not pull away so easily, but Xena gave another tug and swung the young girl away. She whirled around to protest and stopped, staring in obvious awe at the statuesque warrior.
"Oooh, you must be Athena! I think I'll kiss you too!" The woman crooned as she wrapped her arms around Xena's neck.
Xena arched an eyebrow and grabbed her wrists, pushing the woman away. "I don't think so."
She pushed both women back and stood in front of Sappho and Gabrielle, motioning for the girls to exit the alley ... immediately. They did, but not without protest.
When the alleyway was clear, Xena turned back to face the poet and the bard with hands on her hips and a scowl on her face.
"What was that all about?"
"Would you believe a kiss from Sappho is a blessing from the gods?" Gabrielle tried to explain meekly.
"You're not Sappho."
"You're not Athena," Sappho countered.
"Ya got that right." Scouting carefully, first one way and then the other, the warrior deemed it safe to leave the alley and grabbed first Sappho by the arm, and then Gabrielle.
"Come on. Let's get going."
Xena maintained her stern look even as Gabrielle studied her expression, trying to gauge her friend's reaction. Once Gabrielle looked away, Xena's frown turned into an amused grin. They walked out of the alleyway and back into the marketplace. This time, their stroll was leisurely. No one else seemed to be interested in the famous poet anymore.
Sappho became distracted by the tables of merchandise. She grabbed a pretty, green skirt and held it up to Gabrielle with a smile.
"Look at this, Gabrielle. This would look great on you." The poet held it up to Gabrielle's hips. "Doesn't it look great, Xena. See, it matches her eyes."
Xena did not respond.
"What's the matter, doesn't she like to shop?" Sappho asked of Gabrielle.
"No, she doesn't," the warrior answered sharply.
Gabrielle laughed and grabbed the skirt from Sappho's hands. "It's way too big for me, anyway. Both Xena and I could fit in here." She threw the skirt back on the table.
"That would be fun to see," Sappho commented dryly and skipped to the next booth. Xena raised an eyebrow and motioned for Gabrielle to move along.
Sappho picked up an impossibly small top and laid it across Gabrielle's breasts.
"Here, this would be perfect. You need a new top. That green one looks like it's about to fall apart." The poet appraised her selection.
"Sappho!" Gabrielle protested, "I would be, well, falling out of this with one swing of my staff."
"Think how it would distract the enemy. What do you think, Xena?"
Xena grabbed the top from Gabrielle's chest and threw it back down on the table.
But the poet was adamant. "Come on. Let me buy you something. It's the least I can do."
"No, thank you," Xena replied flatly.
Gabrielle, however, gave her friend a 'why not?' look.
"There's nothing we need," Xena said to the bard in answer to her expression.
"I can't believe that," Sappho said, verbalizing Gabrielle's expression. "Look at you two. Gabrielle looks like she hasn't had a new outfit in years. And you, Xena, just look at those leathers!"
"What's wrong with my leathers?" Xena asked threateningly.
"They're all ripped and torn. Just look at this." Sappho poked a finger at a puncture in the leather covering Xena's stomach. The warrior swatted her hand away angrily.
Gabrielle took Sappho's arm and pulled her gently away.
"A knife made that," Gabrielle explained, as they continued to walk along ahead of Xena.
"You mean she was hurt?" Sappho was surprised. "Was it bad?"
Gabrielle nodded, talking softly as they walked. "Scared me to death. I thought I was going to lose her that time. Thanks to the gods, it'll take more than a knife wound to kill the Warrior Princess." Gabrielle glanced back at Xena and smiled.
Xena remained silent. She thought briefly back to the days and nights Gabrielle had spent watching over her, caring for the wound, and willing her back to life.
"The gods had nothing to do with it," the warrior commented. She caught Gabrielle's eyes with her own.
"Does every tear mean a wound?" Sappho asked, suddenly noticing just how many little nicks and tears there were.
"No, the leathers help to protect her most of the time." Gabrielle silently wished this was true for every time.
Sappho was speechless, and eyed Xena's leathers with new respect. "You must let me get you something," Sappho insisted.
"We have everything we need," Gabrielle replied.
"Surely, there's something you can use?"
"Well, what can you get the warrior who has everything?" Gabrielle chuckled, smiling back at her friend.
"How about a new sword?"
"The one she has was made especially for her," Gabrielle answered.
"How about a new round, shiny thing?" Sappho offered, pointing to the chakram hanging from Xena's waist.
This time both Xena and Gabrielle laughed.
"You'd never find another one like it," Gabrielle explained.
"She must be hard to buy birthday presents for."
"Impossible," Gabrielle agreed.
"Get something for Gabrielle instead," Xena suggested.
"Now, there's a good idea. All right, Gabrielle, surely there is something that you need?"
The answer to that one wasn't hard. "I could always use scroll papyrus. Actually, I'm almost out."
Sappho thought about this for a moment. "Pick something else," she said. The poet had her own ideas about the type of scroll papyrus she would be giving to Gabrielle.
"Well, we can always use supplies. You know food, bread. I could use a new frying pan?" She glanced mockingly back at Xena, who grinned and held up her hands in surrender, admitting her guilt, once again.
"A frying pan! How boring. What you both need is something extravagant. Something you would never get for yourselves." The poet looked around the marketplace, apparently having something already in mind.
"There!" She pointed to a storefront at the end of the street. "Follow me."
Without hesitating, Sappho took off down the street, Gabrielle and Xena following quickly behind.
Sappho opened the door to the shop and took a deep breath. The unmistakable scent of leather filled her nostrils.
"Aaahh! Perfect," the poet said as she entered the store and looked around. Gabrielle followed in right behind her.
"Wow!" Gabrielle voiced in amazement as she looked at the items hanging all over the walls and ceiling. There was leather everywhere. There was plenty of metal, as well. Armor, swords, and various other sundry military items. But mostly, there was leather. Anything one could imagine to be made from leather was hanging from a hook or lying on a table, and there were even some items that couldn't be imagined.
Xena entered the store last and took a long look around.
"Sappho," she said with a growl and shaking her head, recognizing the true nature of most of the items immediately.
"What is this?" Gabrielle asked, holding up a leather item in her hand to Xena. It was eight inches long and shaped like a cylinder. There was a spike at the one end, and shiny studs all over.
"It's a flute cover," Xena stammered, pulling the item out of the bard's hand and putting it somewhere else.
"Yeah, more likely for a skin flute," Sappho muttered, turning away to hide her grin.
Gabrielle looked at both of them quizzically and shrugged, continuing to inspect the unusual wares of the shop until a leather harness hanging from the ceiling caught her attention. It did not look like it had been made for a horse. The thing looked like it was made to muzzle a man.
"Don't ask," Xena warned, holding up a hand.
They were interrupted by the shop keeper entering the room from the back of the store. He scrutinized the three of them carefully, finally deciding to acknowledge the warrior with a respectful nod.
"Welcome to my store. How may I help you?"
Xena was about to tell him that they were just leaving, when Sappho jumped in.
"Do you repair leather?" she asked, smiling at Xena.
"Best leather repair in Thessaly," the shopkeep responded proudly. He looked a little more closely at the poet, and then recognition crossed his features.
"Are you Sappho, the Tenth Muse?"
"Some people call me that," Sappho answered, giving Xena a wink.
"I'm honored to have you in my shop," the shopkeeper said and turned back to Xena.
"You must be Xena, the Warrior Princess?"
"What makes you think so?" the warrior asked.
"Aside from the fact that there isn't another woman in the world who could fit the description? Well, there's rumor that you are traveling with the Tenth Muse. I just assumed that the rumor is true."
"It's true," Xena said flatly, and stood to wait by the door. Apparently, Sappho was planning to shop in here for a while.
"It's a honor to have the two most famous women in all of Greece here in my shop." He turned to acknowledge Gabrielle, who stood pouting, suddenly feeling very left out.
"And you are?"
"Gabrielle of Poteidaia," Gabrielle muttered in reply.
"Of course, the famous Bard. Xena's trusted partner. Well, I'm beyond words." Gabrielle beamed. "How may I help you?"
Sappho motioned to the shopkeeper as if to tell him a secret. He leaned forward expectantly.
"Her leathers and armor are in really bad shape. We need them repaired, but we don't have much time. Can you do it now?"
"The shopkeeper scratched his chin and thought. "I'll have to take a look." He walked over to Xena and bent to examine her breastplate. The warrior moved away quickly and glared at the merchant.
"Come on, Xena. Let him have a look. I'm sure it won't hurt one bit," the Tenth Muse pleaded with a sly smile.
Xena narrowed her eyes at the poet, and the looked to Gabrielle. The bard shrugged and continued to browse.
"Go ahead." the warrior motioned to the shopkeeper that it was safe for him to continue. He examined her front and back, and then stood to face the poet.
"I can do it. But it's going to cost extra for emergency repair," the merchant warned.
"No problem. Whatever. Just do it."
"They'll have to come off," the shopkeeper said, looking at Xena expectantly. Xena glared at Sappho. Her expression told them all that there was no way she was going to wait in this shop naked, for her leathers to be repaired.
"There's a robe in the dressing room in the back. You can use that." The merchant smiled.
Xena grunted and headed into the dressing room. She drew the curtain and started to fumble with her armor.
"You need help in there?" Gabrielle offered.
Xena's arm extended through the curtain holding her breastplate. Gabrielle took it from her and handed it to the shopkeep.
The merchant examined it with a grunt. "This clasp is ready to break!"
Xena's arm extended through the curtain again, this time holding a leg bracer. Gabrielle took it and passed it along.
The shopkeeper tsk'd as he looked it over. "Pretty badly scuffed!"
Xena shoved another to Gabrielle. She passed that along, too.
Finally, Xena passed her leather tunic out to Gabrielle.
Sappho held her nose as it drifted by her face. "Wheww! Xena! When was the last time you cleaned that tunic? It could stand and fight by itself."
"Very funny," the warrior mumbled from within the dressing room.
Gabrielle laughed, handing the tunic over to the leatherman. He held it up to the light.
"Looks like you've seen a lot of action." The merchant looked at Gabrielle with concern on his face. He was well aware of how each and every mark must have been made.
"Can it be repaired?" Gabrielle asked.
"No problem," the artisan answered. "I'm an expert. It'll be done in a little while. Relax and have a good look around. Maybe there's something else you would like? There's jewelry in the back." The shopkeeper pointed to a room in the rear and started his work.
"Ooooh!" Gabrielle said. "I'll be in there." She ran off to look at the jewelry.
Xena came out of the dressing room wearing a blue robe.
Amazing, Sappho thought to herself, how unlike a warrior Xena appeared now. We are what we wear, she thought, and smiled. The warrior still had her gauntlets on.
"Why don't you give him the gauntlets as well. He can check them over," Sappho suggested.
Xena looked down as if she had forgotten about them. As she pulled one from her left arm, a rolled up scroll fell to the floor. Xena bent quickly to retrieve it but Sappho was quicker. The poet snatched it up.
"What's this?" Sappho asked, starting to unroll it.
Xena tried to grab it away, but Sappho turned away, out of reach. The poet unrolled the tiny scroll and read aloud:
"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."
"What is this?" the poet asked with a smirk on her face.
Xena looked away suddenly embarrassed.
"They said it was something you wrote," Xena answered, trying to sound uninterested.
Sappho said nothing, but stared in amazement at the Warrior Princess.
"Gabrielle wanted something you had written. I got it for her. I thought she'd like it. I er forgot it was in there," Xena tried to explain, but wasn't doing a good job of it.
Sappho smiled. "Xena, where did you get this?"
"From one of the vendors in Avlon."
Sappho shook her head. "Xena, I'm sorry but I never wrote this."
"I didn't think so, but I thought it was well, I thought Gabrielle would like it." Xena looked away, wishing her armor would be finished.
"You thought Gabrielle would like it?" Sappho rolled it back up and handed it to the warrior. "Xena, if you like the poem and if it touches you in some way, then it doesn't matter who wrote it. Actually, it's not that bad really."
Xena took it back and placed it next to her sword and chakram.
"I tell you what," Sappho said, smiling at the embarrassed warrior. "I promise I'll write something just for you to give to Gabrielle."
"That won't be necessary."
"No. I want to," Sappho said, placing her hand on the warrior's strong arm. "Really."
Xena did not answer, but looked at the poet with a slight smile.
"Gabrielle would love it," Xena said.
"I'm sure she will." Sappho smiled.
The voice of Gabrielle interrupted them. She was calling for Sappho to come into the back of the store. The poet winked at Xena and left. The warrior handed her gauntlets to the shopkeeper with a half grin.
"Hurry up," she ordered, not wanting to have to answer any more of Gabrielle's questions about the uses for the items hanging all over the walls. She looked around the store and coughed. Some of the items were downright embarrassing. She picked up a leather paddle from a table and examined it, more out of boredom than anything else.
"We have a sale on those today, if that's to your taste," the merchant offered.
Xena thought for a moment about a few of the things she'd liked to do with it, then tossed it back on the table with a smirk.
She sat down on a stool deciding it would be safer if she didn't look at anything else. She could hear Sappho and Gabrielle laughing in the back room. She thought about going in there, but decided she would rather let Sappho satisfy the bard's curiosity by answering what was probably an unending stream of questions. She could only imagine the kinds of things that would be in the back room.
A slight scream from Gabrielle brought Xena to her feet.
"What's back there?" she demanded of the merchant, grabbing her sword from the dressing room.
"Jewelry," the man answered calmly. "My wife is back there. She does the piercing."
"The what?" Xena put the sword back down slowly and turned, almost afraid to ask.
"She wouldn't," the warrior mumbled to herself. Xena took a step toward the back, only to be halted by Sappho coming out. The poet had a mischievous smile on her face. Xena did not like the look of it one bit.
"Gabrielle! Are you all right? What's going on back there?" Xena put her hands on her hips and glared down at the poet. "Just what did you talk her into doing now?"
Sappho's silent reply was an all too guilty face.
Gabrielle came out of the back room smiling. "So? What do you think?" She was twisting and turning as though displaying a new skirt, but her skirt was still the same old amazon cloth.
"What in the world ?" Xena's eyes traveled down the length of the bard's taut body and rested on her abdomen.
Her belly button had been newly pierced with a tiny, shiny, silver hoop.
Gabrielle twisted proudly. "Do you like it?"
Xena's eyebrows shot up into her bangs. "Gabrielle! What have you done?"
"You don't like it?" The bard asked, a little disappointed.
Xena shot Sappho a disgusted look, and moved to touch the hoop.
Gabrielle backed away and grimaced.
"Don't touch it. It's a little sore."
"I bet it is," Xena stated. She stared at the piercing and raised an eyebrow.
"I think it looks great," Sappho commented.
"Well, then why didn't you get one?" Xena asked the poet, turning to face her.
"I wanted to see how much it would hurt, first."
Xena narrowed her eyes. "And?"
"No way! It hurt too much!" Sappho laughed and stepped behind Gabrielle. She grabbed the bard's hips and displayed her to Xena. "It looks great on her though, doesn't it?"
Xena's eyes rested on the bard's stomach once more. Gabrielle's abdomen was tight and well muscled. The years with Xena, the constant travel and battles, had helped to shape her body very nicely. This was not the first time Xena had looked at her stomach in appreciation, but it was the first time she had done it so blatantly, with Gabrielle looking right at her. The warrior tried to keep her expression as stoic as humanly possibly.
The bard grinned as she saw a small smile play across Xena's lips. Though her words said otherwise, this tiny smile betrayed her friend.
In all truthfulness, Xena thought the piercing looked very sexy indeed, but she tried to remain the voice of reason. "That's going to take a long time to heal."
Gabrielle shrugged. "I can take it."
Xena smirked. "We'll see."
Gabrielle sauntered past Xena, wiggling her stomach in an over-exaggerated manner. Xena watched and laughed.
"Sure looks nice to me," Sappho mumbled.
Xena lost her smile and glared at Sappho.
The shop owner came between them with the leather tunic.
"You're all done, Princess." He handed her the tunic.
"Xena will do." She took it and walked into the dressing room, pulling the curtain closed roughly.
Sappho handed Xena the other items one by one. Xena grabbed them just as roughly from her hands. When she finally emerged from the booth, both Sappho and Gabrielle gasped.
Her leather tunic had been oiled and repaired. Her armor was sparkling and bright, as if brand new. The gauntlets and even her bracers where cleaned to perfection. If she didn't look like Xena, Warrior Princess before, she certainly looked every bit the infamous warrior now and then some.
She flipped her sword into its sheath, attached her chakram to her hip with a spin, and then pushed past them all.
"Let's go. It's getting late."
Xena opened the door and motioned for them to exit.
Sappho threw a bag of coins to the merchant, who bowed and smiled, measuring the weight of it in his hand. It was much more than he would have normally asked for. Sappho walked through the door first, followed by Gabrielle. The bard took Xena's arm and smiled. They walked out into the open air together.
"You look great! Your leathers look brand new," Gabrielle could not stop staring at her friend.
Xena looked down upon herself and could not surpress a grin. "They feel pretty good too. That was good oil he worked in." She smiled down at Gabrielle.
"The ring looks OK," the warrior added nonchalantly.
It was all that Gabrielle needed to hear.
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