A Story of Magic
By: C.L. Bactad
Time passes to spite us. Like the wind lifting the dust at our feet, moments are carried away. Into the air and away from outstretched arms they inevitably leave us. What is left are fossils filled with memories. What a shame it would be if those memories were empty of warmth, barren of hope, absent of love and devoid of magic. I say, let there be love and so shall magic follow. This is a story of such love and its magic.
Chapter 1: Introductions, Ravings and Definitions
"The truest love that ever heart
Felt at its kindled core
Did through each vein, in quickened start,
The Tide of being pour.
Her coming was my hope each day,
Her parting was my pain;
That chance that did her steps delay
Was ice in every vein . . . "
What is magic? It is not science. It is beyond logic, it is supernatural, ethereal, practiced, tested and unexplained. Magic is less accepted than science because it scares a species bent on knowing and controlling. Oh sure, some magic is all smoke and mirrors but that isnt real magic. Real magic cant be explained or reasoned with. Yet, it may be less illusory than science. There is no pretense that magic will offer explanations. In fact, its quite the contrary. In magic there are no answers just more questions; it is a spiraling vortex of wonder. Just like love. To fight it is to be foolish. Love must be accepted and unquestioned, just like magic, or the wonder is lost. And that would be very sad.
For love is the greatest magic of all. It is an intangible force; love is a mere notion that, upon acceptance, is more solid than stone. It is a feeling, a joy, a tingling, and a yearning so great it has the ability to lift you higher than the furthest star or sink you lower than the deepest chasm. Real love is timeless, boundless and elemental. And like the most precious elements, real love is rare. It is beyond fate, beyond what we know. Real love is a perfect moment in time, when two lost souls find each other after an eternity apart.
Souls ripped apart at the beginning of time, found again. So quiet and unmoving that neither expect nor know. For the lost loves, it is only a feeling that something has changed. A subtle spark of energy that flows between the unknowing lovers. A look, a touch, a voice carried upon the wind, which brings back a memory hidden by time. It becomes a smile upon a golden face, an ache in a heaving chest or slight trembling of a hand. Like a cherry blossom that gently floats down to earth, love has come back to them. It is magic.
Indeed, love is the greatest magic of all and I am here to tell the tale of the greatest love of all. Who am I? I am a shadow cast against a tavern wall. I am a blade of grass swaying in a meadow. I am a battered tree along a well-trodden road. Does it really matter? In the grand scheme of things, I am unimportant. My desire is to tell a story and that I shall do. For I have been witness to a magic more remarkable than the rise of the sun and more pure than an artesian spring. This, my friends, is a love that is real.
And so the story begins. It was a time of ancient warlords, when the land cried out for . . . wait thats not it. It was a time of . . . Hades! It was a hot and steamy night . . .
Chapter 2: Of Matters Most Discreet
"...I dreamed it would be nameless bliss,
As I loved, loved to be;
And to this object did I press
As blind as eagerly . . . "
"By the gods its hot and steamy out there," said the pudgy man to no one in particular. He was a merchant who had just stepped into the local tavern for some drink. No one paid much attention to the sweaty merchant as he made his way to a table. This was an ordinary tavern in an ordinary village and he, was most certainly, an ordinary man.
However, in the back, against the wall sat two women who werent so ordinary. Oh no, quite the opposite. They were absolutely gorgeous and had attracted the eye of every red-blooded, testosterone-laden gent in the place, not to mention a few glances from some of the fairer sex. This was ancient Greece, after all, and the writings of Sappho were quite popular. They sat relatively un-bothered (it did help that one of them was armed to the teeth) giggling conspiratorially. "How do you think they . . . you know," said the strawberry-blonde woman to her table-mate.
"Who?" The other woman spoke, confused by the change in topic.
"You know," the blonde waggled her eyebrows.
"Oh no . . . no way am I going near that again." The darker haired woman put up her hands and promptly turned away from her friend. Obviously, Gabrielles waggling eyebrows was a code for a topic of a rather delicate nature.
"Solari! Arent you just a little curious?"
"Sweet Artemis Gabrielle! You have such a dirty mind for such an innocent face." An innocent face indeed. Some have described it as that of a cherub but if one looked closer, they could also see a face wiser with time. Her soft green eyes had seen more than her share of innocence lost. Yet, she with her propensity for laughter chose to believe in good and kept her own innocence intact.
"Oh come on! I know you want to know."
You see, these women had been sitting in this tavern for quite some time. Gabrielle, thats the blonde, and Solari, thats the one heavily armed, were waiting for two other friends. However, these friends were late so being left with little else to do, they drank. And drank and then drank some more. Yup, these two were well on their way to becoming sloshed and didnt mind it one bit. However, as it always happened, when these two drank together, the topic of conversation always turned to more risque¢ matters.
"Gabrielle, I assure you that I do not go about my days wondering how
"What about me?" Just as Solari was about to say something most unfortunate another gorgeous woman stepped up to the table. She too was heavily armed and . . . um . . . fully leathered. (Oh my).
"Ephiny! Glad to see you. Gabrielle and I were just talking about you." Solaris cheeks turned a deep red but she was hoping that the dim lighting would cover it up.
Ephiny eyed her friend warily. "Yeah, I heard. What exactly where you two talking about . . . " She turned to face Gabrielle who she knew lied horribly. "Hmmm Gabrielle?"
Gabrielle fumbled with her mug of ale and tried to look as innocent as
possible. With her soft green eyes it wasnt a stretch. She opened her
mouth several times but coherent words failed to form. Finally she spoke
(well kind of). "We . . . um . . . were just talking . . . about . . .
"Oh holy helmet of Athena!" Ephiny cut off the stammering blonde. "You
two are like freakin children. I swear I should ban you two from the
liquor. Cant you delinquents come up with a different topic other than
Just then, a rather large man interrupted the three women. "Hi ya toots. Can I buy you gals a drink?" He was friendly but not too bright. He failed to recognize two of the international rules of interacting with Amazons as stated in the scroll, "Things to Know before Approaching an Amazon." First, unless direct eye contact has been made you never assume an Amazon is thirsty. Being independent women, they preferred to procure their own beverages. Second, you never ever call them gals and you most certainly never call them toots. This is akin to calling them chicks and that usually meant death for the offender. To top off his grievous error, standing before him was Amazon royalty and seated before him was the head honcho herself, Gabrielle. Although, she deferred her leadership to Ephiny, Gabrielle was officially Queen of the Amazons. Not good for the congenial, but ignorant oaf who stood before them with a naive smile.
Slowly, Ephiny turned toward the man. For all the emotion she had on her face, she might as well have been wearing her Amazon mask. Hard hazel eyes definitively conveyed a resounding no you moron . . . do you know who I am . . . do you know who she is? The man gulped hard then looked over at the other two women. Gabrielle, who never did understand her important Amazon status, was adorably clueless about this mans faux pas and flashed him a Im sorry but no thanks, smile. Solari, on the other hand, was silently sharpening her sword underneath the table. Nope, no luck for our brave suitor-to-be. Lamely, he smiled and abruptly retreated to the bar.
Rolling her eyes, Ephiny turned back to her friends. Gabrielle used the interruption to her advantage. "So wheres Xena?"
The Amazon narrowed her eyes at Gabrielle to let her know she wasnt off the hook. Then she gave Solari a wink that said, Watch this. With a mischievous glint in her hazel eyes, she tried to act nonchalant. "Shes over there talkin to some guy," said the Amazon as she casually waved her hand into the air.
"Where!?" Gabrielle shot up to a rigid standing position and thoroughly scanned the crowded tavern. Her eyes were very intent on finding the conversing couple. She saw her, or saw them actually, standing by the door. Her statuesque friend was talking to a very handsome man. He was about Xenas height (impossibly tall), had sandy brown hair and a finely chiseled face. Gabrielle reluctantly admitted that Xena and this stranger made a very attractive couple. Her brow then wrinkled at the thought. I need another drink.
The Amazon Queen watched the couple interact as time slowed to an agonizing crawl. As Gabrielle wished for their conversation to come to a speedy end, it seemed to do quite the opposite. The stranger reached out to lightly touch Xenas arm and Gabrielle felt her own skin burn. Xena smiled at him. She smiled? By the gods she smiled at him! The Amazons heart dropped to the floor (Xena didnt grace just anyone with a smile).
Then, as if Xena sensed someone watching she turned her head toward Gabrielles questing eyes. In that instant, when gazes locked, the handsome stranger was forgotten. Xena, upon seeing her friend, bestowed a smile more radiant, more special and heartfelt onto Gabrielle. The smile she had given the stranger paled in comparison. In fact, this glorious showing of teeth was so bright and broad that it blinded most of the tavern patrons. Xena didnt notice; she had eyes only for Gabrielle.
As Xena, by the strength of that smile, gently bent down and picked up Gabrielles heart off the floor, the Amazon Queen smiled too. A lopsided, slightly goofy but altogether endearing smile that had imprinted itself in Xenas soul. Candles flickered and time returned to normal.
Gabrielle motioned for Xena to join them. Xena held up a finger to motion that she would be a bit longer. Gabrielle nodded then returned her attention to her forgotten friends. Ephiny and Solari snickered and passed each other knowing looks. Gabrielle looked back over to her friends. "What?"
"What?" The two Amazons mimicked and mocked their queen.
"I was just curious. Xena doesnt talk to a lot of people . . . I just wanted to see if something was wrong?" Crossing her arms over her chest in the supreme pouting motion, Gabrielle sat back down.
Ephiny took the seat next to Solari and downed the other womans ale with one swift gulp. (Those Amazons really know how to pack it away). Ephiny looked at the blonde warily. "Yeah right." Solari snorted in agreement.
"Yeah right? Whats that supposed to mean? You know I dont understand you two. I thought I was talking to intelligent . . . "
Ephiny and Solari rolled their eyes in unison as Gabrielle launched into a rolling diatribe, which was really meant to cover up her own confusion. Solari motioned for the barmaid.
"And one more thing, I dont think that an innocent gesture of wanting to make sure . . . " Gabrielle droned on as the barmaid made her way over.
Solari smiled, somewhat sexily, at the barmaid. "Ill take . . . " The dark-haired Amazon lifted her eyebrows at Ephiny who responded with a firm nod of her curly blonde head. "Ill take two ales and a water." Solari looked over at the queen, who was still spouting out sentences, and whispered conspiratorially to the barmaid. "I think shes going to be a bit thirsty once shes done." With a wink, the barmaid left to fill the order.
The two Amazons sat patiently while Gabrielle vented and reasoned with nobody but herself. Her friends werent fooled by Gabrielles act. Even if Gabrielle didnt realize it was an act. You see it was apparent to the two Amazons (and I dare say most of Greece) that their queen and Xena had rather strong feelings for each other. Who is Xena? Well shes a beautiful warrior that travels with Gabrielle. Or should I say whom Gabrielle travels with. I suppose it doesnt matter now, but it did matter . . . once.
Chapter 3: And Then There Was Light
"...But wide as pathless was the space
That lay, our lives, between,
And dangerous as the foamy race
Of ocean-surges green . . . "
Xena of Amphipolis, Warrior Princess and (secretly her favorite) Destroyer of Nations was a warrior. Actually, the best warrior in the business and needless to say, she had a reputation. In fact, she had a very nasty reputation. You see, at one point in Xenas life she was not a...friendly person. Nope, she was downright mean. Destroyer of Nations was not a boast. It was a fact. At one unfortunate time in her life, Xena was the most feared warlord in all Greece. Her cruel deeds had become legendary and even instilled fear within the hearts of the bravest soldiers. She was bad . . . bad to the bone.
Yup, Xena was seriously evil and had a bad attitude to boot. For about ten years this combination of evil and crankiness proved to be a real pain in the you-know-what for Greece, or anywhere else this comely warlord decided to travel. In her pillaging wake, she left a trail of . . . well heads actually, but thats another story.
However, a lot has happened in the last few years. Namely, due to the . . . um . . . persuasion of a certain demi-god, Xena had given up her warlord ways. Although the darkness still called to her, the path she walked on was aimed toward redemption. Xena could see the light and although, she believed she was moving toward it, the warrior actually stood beside it.
Ahh Gabrielle. A lovely, sweet, innocent girl. Yes, thats how Xena came upon her light. In a sleepy village called Potetitato ..Protazoa . . . anyway, about three years ago, Gabrielle had the great misfortune of being captured by slavers. They were a greasy lot with rotten teeth and bad outfits. Lucky for Gabrielle, and unfortunate for our badly tailored slavers, Xena was also in the vicinity of Potadata, Potato . . . well whatever. Xena was around. And in a rescue that would shame any fairy tale Xena, saved the fair maiden Gabrielle. The ex-warlord had not only rescued the girl from the slavers but also from an ordinary life spent in a village that didnt understand a lost spirit.
Gabrielle was unlike most girls. She had a mind of her own and questioned implied truths. She had theories, thoughts, and words. Gabrielle wanted to be a bard and one of the best she was destined to be. Dormant, in her soul laid the stories of her life. The bard knew she was meant for more and for some inexplicable reason she was drawn to the woman in dark brown leather.
It could have been Xenas ebony hair, which entranced Gabrielles hands as they sometimes reached out on their own volition. Or it could have been the ice blue eyes that held her own like a magnet. Or it may have been that subtle shift of time and space where everything freezes for a split second but your own beating heart; magic had happened.
So, on that fateful day almost three years ago, Xena had acquired her greatest friend. After much begging and pleading (and promises of edible meals) from Gabrielle, Xena allowed the village girl to accompany her on her journey. However, cranky and atoning ex-warlords do not become jovial and playful travel companions overnight. (Besides, jovial just isnt Xena). With a heart hardened by spilt blood and a soul filled with guilt it was safe to say, Xena had some baggage. It was amazing that they survived their first year together. The bard found out that conversation wasnt Xenas forte¢, while Xena found out that for Gabrielle, it was. Oh yes, the suffering warrior had wanted to gag her little friend more than once during their travels. (By the gods! The woman wasnt even silent when she ate . . . which she did often.)
However, as time rolled along so did their growing friendship. At one point, Xena was not sure when, she had come to like Gabrielles chatter. It provided a normalcy to her life that the ex-warlord craved. The bards lilting voice would cross the campfire and surround the warrior in thoughts, questions and philosophies. It was the closest thing to home Xena ever had. She needed the bard, her voice, and her stories to let her know that she too was human. Then one night, as she silently watched Gabrielle writing in one of her scrolls, she tried to remember how she felt before the bard joined her in this life. To her amazement, the thought left her with a profound emptiness. Xena wanted redemption not only for her past deeds but to deserve her bard. The brooding darkness that followed such reflections covered their simple camp. Gabrielle always noticed.
"Xena whats wrong?" The strawberry-blonde looked across the campfire to her silent partner.
Xenas blue gaze hardened with an intensity that prefaced words, which should never be doubted. "Gabrielle Ill always protect you," the words left Xenas mouth before she could stop them. It just seemed like the right thing to say; it was the truth and yet it was a lie. The lie was that the word protect was meant to be love and that the heart provides vulnerabilities that nobody can protect. And for their two hearts, it was already too late. Love had claimed them both. (Of course, they werent ready to admit that yet.)
You see, bitter denial is sometimes stronger than sweet love and what is done out of fear hides the truth in our hearts. Xena, who is an expert in war, pillaging, weapons, equestrian events and leather repair knew little about affairs of the heart. Nope, she didnt have the best record when it came to that department. In fact, it was horrid. Case in point, Caesar. On the other hand, there was Gabrielle. She was an expert in writing, philosophy, being held at knifepoint, and washing Xenas hair. Naive as she was, she did know a little something about love, case in point, Perdicus. (Hey, dont go all ballistic on me! She loved him . . . in her own way. Now let me finish.)
Gabrielle did love Perdicus. However, as it often happens, love for a friend is mistaken for true love. Gabrielle, who yearned to be loved with passion, accepted what Perdicus offered. For the bard, it felt good to be openly wanted, desired and touched. When Perdicus told her that he needed her, the bards gentle heart gave in. Before her, stood a man who needed her and she thought he would be the only one who ever would. What did it matter that when she closed her eyes it wasnt Perdicus she saw? So instead, she settled for a surrogate of the love that she thought she could never have. Hell make me happy, she tried to convince herself, when inside, she subdued the feeling that it was a terrible lie.
Indeed, the lie was perpetuated by both of them. Fear of rejection and loss kept their denial strong. So strong, in fact, that they refused to analyze odd occurrences when they were in the presence of one another. The sly looks of longing, the sweaty palms, the nervous laughter, the fleeting touches, the fluttering butterflies in the stomach . . . (and well, surely you have felt love before. You know the symptoms.) It was easier and safer to deny any such feelings. Were just good friends. They would try to reason. I love her like a sister. Was their attempt at logic. (Although if I had those kind of thoughts about my sister I would seek out therapy . . . fast.)
So, we return to the tavern, in that ordinary village, where the magic had lost to logic and reason. The sweaty palms, the unbidden smiles, the fluttering stomach had often been diagnosed as too much wine, bad cheese or lack of sleep. However, that was about to change because the truth can only be denied for so long before the magic reveals itself.
Chapter 4: I Will and You Cant Stop Me
"...And haunted as a robber path
Through wilderness or wood;
For Might and Right, and Woe and Wrath,
Between our spirits stood . . . "
". . .so there," Gabrielle finished indignantly.
Ephiny picked up the candle in front of her and contemplated it for a few moments. Turning to Solari she spoke. "Ha! I win! It took her exactly a quarter of a candlemark before she had to take a breath. Pass me the dinars."
Solari dug into her leather skirt (dont ask me where) and slammed two dinars onto the table. "Suffering Persephone! Fine. You win." Ephiny smiled and pocketed the dinars.
Gabrielle narrowed green eyes onto her companions. "And what was that about?"
Solari snickered. "We bet to see how long you could talk without stopping. Impressive Gabrielle, sorry I underestimated you."
"Funny." Gabrielle rolled her eyes then brought her hand up to her throat. "My throat is a little dry."
"I would imagine," Ephiny said wryly. She then pushed a mug of water in front of the bard which, Gabrielle took thankfully. "So. . . . recognize the man?"
Gabrielle gulped hard. Oh yeah the guy. She looked back over to Xena but they were gone. Again, the bard shot to her feet. "Whered they go?"
"Who?" A low voice crept over her shoulder. Gabrielle gulped again and a slight tremor passed through her body. Slowly, she turned around to face six feet of Warrior Princess.
"You," mercifully, Ephiny answered Xenas question.
Xena shrugged. "We stopped at the bar to get a drink."
We? The bard thought to herself before noticing the sandy-haired stranger standing slightly behind Xena. Oh yeah, the guy. "Um . . . Xena whos your . . . friend?"
Xena arched her eyebrow and turned to the man. "This is Xavier. He was in my army."
"Oh," all three Amazons said in unison with apprehension apparent in each voice.
"Before Caesar," Xena continued for clarification.
"Oh," the three Amazons said with relief. You see, Xenas army before Caesar wasnt as ruthless as her army after Caesar. No, before that pompous pig of a . . . (sorry) well her army was mostly made of villagers who had originally joined Xena to protect their villages. Some of them just lost their way. But Xenas army when she was Destroyer of Nations, now those men were just plain nasty.
"Nice to meet you Xavier," Gabrielle offered her hand to the stranger but still wondered just what Xaviers position was in Xenas army.
The man smiled and graciously shook the bards hand. "You must be Gabrielle. Xenas told me a lot about you. You are as beautiful as she sa . . . oompff." Xavier was cut off by a sharp elbow to the ribs.
Xena eyed Xavier coldly. "Xavier travels a lot. Who said Gabrielle was beautiful?"
Confused, Xavier tried again. "Xena you said . . . oompff."
Xena slapped the sandy haired man sharply on the back. "Geez, Xavier are you okay? Got a bit of a cough huh? Lets go to the bar Ill get you some water." With a shocked look on his face Xavier was hauled roughly to the bar.
Gabrielle smiled wryly to herself. So she thinks Im beautiful huh?
Ephiny, noticing Gabrielles smile, nudged Solari in the ribs, which caused the Amazon, who was journeying closer to inebriation, to miss her mouth with her drink. "Hey! Whyd ya do that for?" Solari sulked as she wiped the (lucky) droplets of ale from her breasts. "Now look I shpilled on my boobs."
Ephiny shook her head and mumbled. "Never mind Solari."
Once again, they were joined by Xena and Xavier. "Anyway," Xena spoke. "Xavier was just passing through and he told me about this staff tournament at the next town South of here. Isnt that right Xavier?" The man nodded mutely, as he was briefed at the bar that he should keep his mouth shut. "He also said that there was a pretty hefty prize."
"Really Xavier?" Ephiny asked while inwardly grinning at this whole scene.
"Yes," Xena answered for the sandy-haired man whom she had forbidden to
speak. "So I was thinking Id like to travel-"
"Sho Shaver what town is shis exshactly?" Even in her hazy state, Solari had picked up on Ephinys little game.
Xena narrowed her eyes at the two Amazons then let out a big breath of
air. "Its in Dundar. Now, if youll let me continue-"
"Xavier, are you entering this tournament?" Ephiny asked with barely contained mirth.
"For the love of Zeus! Hold on." Xena grabbed the suffering man and hauled him back to the bar.
As soon as Xena left with Xavier, Ephiny and Solari burst out into merry laughter (yeah, I said merry have a problem with that?) Gabrielle, who was silently enjoying the show, just smiled and indiscretely exchanged her water for Solaris ale. The Amazons laughter quieted to intermittent chuckles as Xena led Xavier back to the table.
Xavier and Xena stood near the table. Xavier looked at Xena for a moment as if he were waiting for something. The ex-warlord rolled her eyes and tilted her head toward the Amazons. The gesture was Xaviers cue and he began to speak. "No."
Gabrielles brow furrowed to a concentrated point. "No what?"
"Um . . . No, Im not going to enter the tournament." Xavier looked at Xena to see if everything was still okay. She hadnt hauled him back to the bar so he assumed that it was. "Only the best staff wielders can enter and Ive never been good at weapons."
"No?" Gabrielle was intrigued. "So what did you do in Xenas army?"
"I was the bar-"
"Well so nice to see you Xavier. You dont want to be late for that . . . thing you need to be at," said Xena as she pushed the sandy-haired man toward the door.
Gabrielle looked back and forth between the two seated Amazons. Her mouth was open in amazement. "Did I just hear him say what I thought I heard him say?"
"Yup," the two Amazons said in unison.
A wicked grin flashed upon Gabrielles face as she saw Xena coming back to the table somewhat shyly. "Oh Xena."
Xena froze in her tracks. She knew Gabrielles tone held nothing but trouble (although, she secretly liked it but would never admit that). "What?"
"You had a bard in your army," the sentence was almost sung as it floated out of the bards mouth.
"Gabrielle are you drunk? I did not have a bard in my army."
"Did too. Come on, admit it."
"You like stories . . . you big literary softy."
Ephiny snorted in surprise and ale shot out her nose.
Xena sneered at Ephiny then looked at Solari. "I thought I told you not to let her drink too much."
Solari shrugged as she reached for her mug of ale, which was now being consumed by Gabrielle. " Shesh my queen. She wants tdrink . . . what can I do? Beshides, I think Ive drunk losh more than she did. Hey Queenie, gimme back my ale."
"Yeah, I can see that."
Solari chuckled then leaned closer to Xena. "I dont think shesh really drunk . . . whaddya think?" Solari ended her sentence with a wink.
"Whatever, Im going to bed. Gabrielle tomorrow were going to Dundar and Im entering that tournament. Should be an easy dinar or two." With clear, malicious intent, she eyed the Regent and Solari. "You two can leave for Amazonia whenever you want."
"Wait Xena." The bard downed the last of Solaris drink than stood up as if she were going to proclaim something important. "Im going to enter that tournament."
"What!?" Two Amazons and one Warrior Princess said in amazement.
"Yup, I think Im pretty good . . . Id like to challenge my skills, test my endurance, go head to head in heated combat. Two fighters with nothing but gritty determination pushing themselves to the limit of . .
The three women slumped down into chairs and silently thought There she goes again. Solari called the barmaid over, Ephiny gave the patrons menacing looks, and Xena sharpened her sword as Gabrielle droned on about the human spirit and its strength in the face of adversity.
"...and so I think that Im ready for this experience." Gabrielle finished with a triumphant slap to the table.
Xena sheathed her sword and with a bored look upon her face she said, "No."
"What do you mean no," Gabrielle said while narrowing her, slightly blurred but still functioning, green eyes.
"Exactly, what I said. No. Look Gabrielle, we need the dinar and Im the best candidate to get it." (Oooh, not a good move by the Warrior Princess. Gabrielle had a rather competitive nature and once challenged it only got worse. Much worse.)
"So," Gabrielles tone was enough to make Solari and Ephiny scoot back from the table, just in case anything went flying. "What youre telling me is that you dont have confidence in my abilities."
Xenas blue eyes (beautiful but sometimes oh so blind) rolled back in frustration. "I didnt say that."
"No, what you said is that you could win but I could not."
Xena looked to the Amazons for help. They shook their heads in a way that said Youre on your own Princess. Xena faced her friend; her angry and scowling friend. Damage control . . . I need damage control. "Now Gabrielle, if you enter that means I cant enter because I wouldnt want to fight you. Might cause some tension." There she cant argue with logic like that.
"So dont enter."
Well, I guess she can argue with that. Xena realized that this was something that she wasnt going to win. So reluctantly, she decided to concede. Of course, she would have never done this for anyone else, but this was Gabrielle. "Fine. You want to enter then do it. Ill just . . . watch."
"Thanks Xena," Gabrielle said as she leaped over and gave Xena a huge hug. (A hug that both of them held just a fraction of a second longer than what was really necessary.) "Im going to make you proud . . . just wait."
Xenas stoic face softened with a smile. "Gabrielle, you dont need a silly tournament to make me proud. You dont need anything at all."
Gabrielles face reddened at Xenas rare compliment. "Uh, thanks Xena."
Ephiny and Solari waggled their eyebrows at each other while inwardly they were thinking ahhh. Then Solari promptly passed out.
Chapter 5: Speak Softly Little Man
"...I dangers dared; I hindrance scorned;
I omens did defy;
Whatever menaced, harassed, warned,
I passed impetuous by . . . "
This story is about a staff tournament!? You say. Well, yes it is. Not everything in the warrior and bards life revolved around mortal danger. How is anybody really supposed to comprehend love when youre trying to dodge deadly sword thrusts? Come on. Imagine this: dodge, parry, thrust, Oh, I think I love Xena. Or how about: duck, block, strike why do I enjoy bathing with Gabrielle? Nope, this story is how they discovered the truth in their hearts and that didnt happen in the heat of battle. Well, maybe it did but thats not when they admitted it. Sometimes, the inane that brings about cosmic revelations. Now, just read along and hopefully youll see what I mean.
Dundar: Another sleepy village on the Eastern Coast of Greece safely tucked between the towering granite cliffs formed by the upheaval of the world. This town had little to worry about. Until a certain bard and her warrior showed up.
"Okay Xena," the bard said excitedly. "Where do I sign up for this thing?"
Xena couldnt help but grin at Gabrielles enthusiasm. She shifted atop of Argo, the leather battledress (that fit oh so snug) groaned at the movement. "Where do we always go first Gabrielle?"
Gabrielle looked up at Xena, who made a magnificent silhouette against the afternoon sky. She snapped her fingers before she answered. "The tavern!"
Xena smiled and was about to say something but she was interrupted by a rather irritable voice somewhere behind her. "Good! I could use a stiff drink. Heras cursed tits Xena! What the Hades was your hurry? I felt like I was in the bloody Olympiad trying to keep up with you two," Ephiny spat through dust encrusted lips. Then she turned her wrath toward Solari who walked meekly behind. " Leave the horses, you said. Gabrielle walks all the time, you said. Well that is the last time I listen to you! I think I got a freakin blister!"
Xena held back the glee she felt at Ephinys expense. (Cant laugh and smile too much in one-day lest her vicious reputation be tarnished.) "Nobody asked you to come along. Besides, I thought you two had some festival or dance to plan. I know how serious you fierce Amazons are about your little parties." Xena smirked then urged Argo into a condescending gallop. Fortunately, she missed Ephiny make a half-hearted lunge at Xena while fully expecting to be held back by Solari, which the Amazon did with much reluctance. (Sometimes Ephiny was a real pain in the butt.)
Ephiny, after a weak struggle to free herself from Solari, called out indignantly to the Warrior Princess. "Well, we have a duty to protect our queen!"
"Its a staff tournament Ephiny," Gabrielle cracked. "Its not like Im running from a crazed Amazon turned immortal. Geez, Eph get a grip." Gabrielle teased her friend then followed after her warrior.
Solari straightened her friend up and, just for the fun of it, dusted off various parts of the Regents leather outfit. "Can you make it the rest of the way?" Solaris tone mocked the bitchy Amazon.
Ephiny turned menacingly toward Solari. "I can make it and still have enough left over to kick your ass all over the known world!"
Solari guffawed then took off toward the local tavern with an acrimonious Amazon hot on her heels.
The tavern, "The Rusty Sword," was full of participants. In the back there was a table set up for registration. Xena, who never was one for lines, pushed her way to the front. Behind the table, a small balding man with an array of jewelry adorning his person held up his hand to the aggressive, leather-clad beauty. "Now hold on there missy." Xenas eyebrows arched to full attention. "We cant have you just bargin in here acting like youre all that just because you got leather on."
"Hey I just want to-" Xena tried to interject but was again surprised by an annoying hand in her face.
"Talk to the hand sister cuz the face aint listening." He pointed to the long line behind her. "Nuh uh Miss thing. You see those people behind you?" Xena gave the man her trademark bored look then brought her hand up to inspect her short (if you know what I mean) nails.
"Girlfriend, those people are some of the best staff wielders round
these parts so I suggest you adjust that attitude and step away from
The small, and once brave man, found himself looking down into two cool blue eyes. Looking down? Now howd that happen? He gulped when he realized that Xena had him firmly by the collar and was easily holding him above her head. "Do you know who I am?" Although, Xena didnt often go around and flaunt her reputation, sometimes moments like these just called for it. Emphatically, the man shook his head No!. "Perhaps youve heard of me . . . names Xena." A collective gasp could be heard behind her and the small man fainted. Lets face it, there wasnt a village that hadnt heard of Xena. Then, as one could expect, the best staff wielders started to exit the tavern in dejected and fearful silence. (By the gods, this was Xena . . . they were right to assume that they didnt have a chance.) "But Im not here to enter the tournament," said Xena. There was a collective sigh of relief. "My friend is . . . Gabrielle!"
From the throngs of people, Gabrielle politely pushed her way through the crowd. "Excuse me, pardon me, oops sorry about that." Finally, she stood next to the Warrior Princess. " Xena . . . why are you holding a man above your head?"
"This mans going to sign you up for the tournament."
"Oh." Gabrielle looked at Xena inquisitively. "Perhaps, he could do that more efficiently if you werent scaring the crap out of him? Look hes fainted."
Xena smirked at Gabrielle who simply smiled sweetly. "Maybe," Xena said as she roughly put the man down. With a firm slap to his face, the man awoke from his blissful unconsciousness. However, he immediately tried to faint again once seeing the same deadly set of blue eyes staring at him.
"Oh no you dont," Xena warned as she shook him forcefully. "Now, are you gonna sign my friend up or what?"
"Y-yes of course."
"Good. Gabrielle I can take care of this. Go and secure a room for us .
. . and your pesky friends."
The bard punched Xena on the arm. The tavern gasped again. Who was this little 54" blonde who dared to punch the infamous Warrior Princess? The crowd held their breath and waited for this unfortunate woman to be pulverized. Perplexed by the lack of breathing, Gabrielle looked around but then shrugged her shoulders. Weird crowd. "Xena theyre your friends too."
"Whatever, now go." And with that, the warrior gave her bard a slight, almost delicate, push.
Now, let me tell you that there were a lot of surprised looks flying through that room. This ruthless ex-warlord had allowed a waif of a woman (okay shes no waif but give me some creative license) to lay a hand upon her without so much as the obligatory snarl. In fact, the people were down right shocked that the warrior could be so . . . gentle. A woman in the back passed out from lack of oxygen and that was the cue for the rest of them to start breathing again. Obviously, the Warrior Princess could still surprise a few folks.
Chapter 6: Of Swine and Enlightenment
"...On sped my rainbow, fast as light;
I flew as in a dream;
For glorious rose upon my sight
That child of Shower and Gleam . . . "
Morning arrived as a silent messenger greeting the withering night. The sun began its journey into the heavens and the bard snuggled deeper into the blankets. The night had been full of fitful sleep, at best, for the blonde one. Unfortunately, there was only one room left at the inn so the four women had to share the cramped space. Xena and Gabrielle shared the bed, of course, which wasnt a problem. They often slept together to ward off the cold evenings. (Yeah right.) The problem was with the other two women. You see, they had rather annoying sleeping habits. Ephiny, although hardly a chatterbox when conscious, was quite a talker when she slept. During the course of the evening Gabrielle learned a new recipe for nutbread, how to properly care for a sword and could recite the twenty-five steps to Amazon enlightenment. For once, she understood how Xena felt.
Xena on the other hand could have slept through Ephinys nighttime dictation. (Being somewhat conditioned to constant chatter.) However, it was the other Amazon that kept the Warrior Princess from her beauty rest. Solari snored horribly. No, it wasnt like the dainty sound of someone simply breathing too loud. Nope, this sound was entirely unique to the dark-haired Amazon. Solaris snoring sounded like . . . well like a pig, a grunting, snorting, oinking pig. Xena, being on the verge of a warlord relapse, had to resort to desperate actions and that is why Solari woke up in the stables beside Argo rather than in the room with her friends. To this day, she still hasnt figured out why.
Gabrielle, who had finally fallen to sleep, felt a strong hand on her shoulders. "Get up sleepy-head and grab some breakfast. Ephiny and I are going to check on Solari," Xena said as she lovingly stroked the bards shoulder. An action she immediately stopped when she spotted Ephiny grinning in the corner. Then with a smirk of her own, she tugged the blanket off the bard exposing her to the cold morning air.
"Xena!" Gabrielle grabbed for the blanket but the Warrior Princess tossed it across the room. "I hate it when you do that," the bard grumbled. If there ever was a need for coffee to be invented, it was for Gabrielle, who epitomized the non-morning person. In fact, (a little known one I might add) Gabrielle . . . sweet, innocent Gabrielle often talked like a swarthy sailor in the mornings. "Stupid warrior . . . where the Tartarus are my boots . . . Hades! A girl cant even catch a few hours of sleep. Wheres that little piggy Solari . . . Id like to stuff an apple in her pie-hole! Blasted, bloody Amazons . . . who gives a flying fig about enlightenment . . . " Gabrielle continued as Ephiny and Xena silently crept out of the room.
After her brief bout of grumpiness, Gabrielle emerged from the room with a smile on her face. It was the day of the tournament and she was excited. The village had taken on a festival atmosphere and the streets and businesses were packed with patrons, participants, musicians and merchants. Dundar buzzed with excitement and tension. The bard loved it.
Gabrielle was making her way toward the "Rusty Sword," staff in hand, when the sun seemingly disappeared and was replaced by a dark shadow. The bard looked up and in her path, eclipsing the bright orb in the sky, was one very large mass. "Um excuse me but your blocking my path," Gabrielle said politely. The mass, which Gabrielle could now see was a huge man-made no attempt to move.
"Vhat did vou say?" The mans accent was as thick as his neck.
Gabrielle cleared her throat. "Im meeting my friends at the "Rusty
Sword" before I compete today-"
"Vou ah competink?"
Gabrielle could barely understand him but answered yes to what she thought she heard. She was mildly surprised when the man burst out into hysterical laughter. "Whats so funny? Are you competing?"
"No, but my seestar is." The man called over his shoulder. "Gretahl!"
Gabrielle swore she felt the ground shake as an incredibly large, muscular woman came to stand beside the incredibly huge man. The bard swallowed hard and then in a meek voice started to speak. "I assume you are his sister?"
" Im Gretahl ja, thees my bwrother is Hansuhl and vou are . . . small!"
With that the two giant beings burst out into raucous laughter.
"Ha ha," Gabrielle muttered under her breath. "Excuse me . . . Gristle-"
"Oh so sorry, but if youll . . . " Gabrielle began to push her way through the behemoths. "Excuse me, I have friends to meet."
"Sure . . . tiny!" The brother and sister team burst back into heavily accented laughter. "I tournahment vee shall see vou ja?"
Gods I hope not, Gabrielle thought to herself. Outwardly, she said "Ja" and waved good-bye.
"Gabrielle! Where have you been!?" Xena yelled across the packed tavern startling the bard and all the patrons.
Gabrielle put her hands up in a quieting motion and made her way over to the table. "Gods Xena! Whats the rush?"
Xena looked irritated but lowered her voice. "The rush is that youre supposed to compete in less than a candlemark and you havent eaten. Plus, I need to brief you on your first opponent." Xenas uncharacteristic anxiety was making itself known in full force. She was nervous (yes, cool and calm Ill-kick-your-ass-with-a-smile Xena, was cotton-mouthed, sweaty palmed nervous.) This tournament was full contact and the thought of Gabrielle getting hurt, in something as trivial as this, tied her stomach in knots. By the gods if someone hurts her Im gonna crack some heads!
The bard smiled and laid a soothing hand on Xenas arm. Instantly, the light touch calmed the Warrior Princess. "Xena dont worry. Now, whats this about my first opponent?"
"Hi girls." came a voice over her shoulder. Ephiny stepped around Gabrielle and laid a plate of eggs, bread, fish, stuffed grape leaves, calamari, roasted lamb, feta cheese, olives and fruit in front of her. Gods I hope thats enough. Hera! Forgot the oatmeal.
Gabrielle smiled graciously and promptly dug into her food while Xenas blue eyes pinned the Regent. "What did you find out?"
"Her first opponent is some little guy named Jackie Spam."
Gabrielles brow furrowed. "Jackie Spam? Thats an odd name."
"Hes from Chin," Ephiny added as if it would explain the oddity.
"What did Solari find out?" Xena had sent the other Amazon to scout out Gabrielles opponents. The Warrior Princess wanted to be prepared.
Ephiny shrugged. "That his names Jackie Spam." The Regent winced as Xena shot her a warning glance. "What? Thats all she told me!"
"Fine." Xena turned toward the bar and rubbed her forehead. "Thats what I get for sending out Amazons . . . " Xena mumbled to herself.
"What was that Xena?"
Gabrielle swallowed a large chunk of cheese and joined in the conversation. "Well, I ran into one of the competitors. Xena, this woman is huge, gigantic, abnormally big."
Xenas eyebrow raised (sometimes the darn thing just went up on its own). "What was her name?"
"Its Gretahl shorty." A booming voice came from the doorway and the crowd parted to let the abnormally large woman pass.
Ephiny shuddered at the enormous size of the woman and covertly bent down to whisper in Gabrielles ear. "Would you like to give me your right-of-caste now or later?"
Gabrielle sneered at Ephiny then turned to Xena. "This is Gretahl Xena."
"Weve meet." Gabrielle looked surprised then realized that Xena probably knew everybody, or at least it seemed that way. "Hello Gretahl. Hows Hansuhl?"
"Is good Zeena. Has been long time ja?" The woman towered over Xena (which looked entirely too strange).
"Ja. Still havent found your way home?"
"Nein, and dose bwreadcwrumbs didnt vork."
"It vas . . . I mean, it was a joke."
"Ah ves, humor. I dont like humor." Gretahl narrowed her eyes at
Gabrielle. "She vis your . . . -"
"Hmmm, ja I bet. Im sorry but I vill have to pummel zis fwriend."
"I dont think so. Gabrielle is very good." The bard couldnt help but smile at Xenas compliment then grinned wider as Ephiny playfully nudged her in the ribs.
"So shall ve see." With that, the gigantic woman departed.
"Is she good Xena?" The bard, although confident in her abilities, couldnt keep the doubt out of her voice.
"Youre better." Xena looked at her bard and stifled a smile for Ephinys benefit (these Amazons were really starting to get on her nerves). "Finish your breakfast and Ill see you at the competition grounds." The smile Xena stifled, but for some reason, her hand shot out to smooth the golden hair of her companion. It was so brief that Xena didnt even realize what had happened; her hand was there and gone. Xena was out the door before she could register the effects of her simple act of love. Gracefully leaving the taciturn warrior were the instincts to protect oneself through the denial of physical expressions. Gabrielle was creeping over the enormous wall around Xenas heart.
"Wow," Ephiny said after Xena left.
"What?" Gabrielle looked at her with questioning green eyes.
Ephiny looked at Gabrielle softly, as one might look upon a little sister, and reached out her hand to mimic Xenas brief touch. "I miss being in love."
Gabrielle thought about denying this, as she often did, but something in Ephinys sad gaze brought her truth to the surface. Her voice was but a whisper when she spoke to her friend. "Ephiny, what if she doesnt really feel that way about me? I cant . . . it would hurt too much."
"Gabrielle, that warrior loves you like no other on this earth. Dont let this go because youre afraid . . . one day you might wake up and itll be too late."
Her appetite gone, the bard pushed the plate of food away from her and stood up. "I need to get to the arena." The bard turned to leave but a firm grip on her arm kept her in place.
"Gabrielle Im sorry. I just dont want to see you lose this chance. Something like this," Ephiny gestured toward the seat vacated by Xena, "doesnt come around too often."
The bard looked down at her feet suddenly feeling shy and awkward. "Its okay Eph. I just wish I could be as sure as you. If I ever lost her . . . her friendship . . . Id be shattered. I dont know if I can risk it." Gabrielle looked intently at the Regent, her eyes trying to plead with the Amazon to leave this alone, for now. "I need to get going."
"Okay Gabrielle but if you ever need to talk to anybody."
The bard smiled and retreated into the dusty village center.
Chapter 7: Lets Get Ready to Rumble
"...Still bright on clouds of suffering dim
Shines that soft, solemn joy;
Nor care I now, how dense and grim
Disasters gather nigh . . . "
The arena turned out to be an octagonal cage in the center of the village. Built up around it were wooden bleacher rising to seat over a hundred people. On the outside of the cage rested a huge sign that said "Welcome to the Ultimate Staff Fighting Championship." Spectators milled about, with heated excitement, waiting for the blood sport to begin. This tournament was particularly popular due to its laxity on rules; essentially, there were none.
On the outside of the cage, pacing with pent up bestial energy, was Xena. She had just found out about the tournaments unique rule that there were no rules. Her hands were clenching and unclenching around a shredded piece of parchment, the skin around her knuckles turning white with each contraction of muscle, her eyes hard and distant, and the lines of her jaw starkly outlined against the bronze of her face. Solari (being the sound mind that she is) had sent that piece of parchment, which told of this unfortunate turn of events, with a hapless villager. (An easy sacrifice for the Amazon. For she knew, that with Xena, killing the messenger was always a possibility. )
Gabrielle, upon seeing her friends agitated pacing, quickly rushed over. "Xena whats wrong?" (Isnt that cute that she always knows when Xenas upset? I mean Xena looks mad most the time . . . shes a bad-ass warrior for chrissakes . . . but Gabrielle always knew the difference between really upset and just looking upset.)
Xena turned and grasped Gabrielle by the shoulders. "Gabrielle listen to me. I want you to drop out of this tournament."
"What! No way Xena. I thought you had confidence-"
"Gabrielle I do! But this tournament is different. There are no rules."
No rules, you say? Big deal, you say? Well, youre right. So what? Gabrielle had defended and fought against thugs, warlords, crazed Amazons, raiders and . . . well the list goes on. So, whats the deal with this tournament? Why is Xena getting bent out of shape (and oh what a shape it is) over a no rules rule. Perhaps, I can explain. You see Xena- the embodiment of control freak- has no control here because behind the cage, separated from her love, will be Gabrielle. The bard, who holds Xenas heart and future in her strong hands, will be totally on her own. If Xena were to interfere, it would diminish the balance of trust that she and Gabrielle had established over the bards abilities. Nope. The only way that Xena could jump over that cage would be to save her bards life. Not that Im saying that its even a remote possibility but thats how Xenas seeing it. Flashing through Xenas frantic mind was thoughts of a bloody and battered Gabrielle. The thoughts of Gabrielle hurt had become most unbearable for the stoic warrior. This, my friends, was fear plain and simple. A fear so great that it overrode the confidence that Xena held in Gabrielle. The Warrior Princess was afraid of Gabrielle getting hurt while she could only watch. And this Gabrielle knew. For underneath it all, Xena had made a promise to the bard and Xena always kept her promises.
"Xena Im not afraid of getting hurt." Xenas eyes narrowed and the bard winced. "Okay maybe just a little bit but I need to do this. I know its just a silly tournament but its also become a test for me. I dont know why...I cant explain it." Yes I can. I want to do something to make you proud of me. To show you that I can be your equal . . . to show myself. Gabrielle took Xenas hand into hers and noticed how they fit nicely together. "Im not that fragile village girl that you saved from slavers. "
"No youre not Gabrielle . . . you never were. Youre strong and I believe in you but I dont think I can stand to see you get hurt because I . . . "
"Because what Xena?" Gabrielle uttered the sentence with a new hope in her voice. Say it . . . please say it.
Next to that octagonal cage, between the two insecure lovers to be, a spark ignited. A frozen flash of time releasing a bolt of energy. From one trembling conduit to the other this harnessed power prepared itself to be released. An eternal connection yearned to be established forever linking the bard and warrior like the elemental bond, which creates water; hydrogen and oxygen forever fuse to form the life-giving liquid. With an utterance of a phrase, a simple declaration of that which is denied the magic could be embraced. However . . .
"ARE YOU READY TO RUMMMMMBLE!!" An obnoxious announcer yelling at the top of his lungs cut off any reply Xena was to make. The crowd erupted into an excited roar and the spark faded from view (but fear not my friends because it did not die).
Ephiny and Solari came running out from the crowd. "GABRIELLE!"
Xena spun around on her heels. "WHAT!?"
The bard looked up at her taller friend with a disappointed grin then gently nudged the warrior aside. "What?"
"Youre first," Ephiny said while standing a good distance away from Xena (Solari had told the Regent about the bad news and Xena wasnt known for taking bad news well).
Gabrielle twirled her staff in her hands. "All right. Lets go."
Xena grabbed the bards arm. "Gabrielle . . . " A lost look plagued the warriors face. "Remember to guard your left side and . . . kick some butt."
An exuberant smile flashed onto Gabrielles face. "Okay." Then she disappeared into the crowd with Solari.
Ephiny gingerly laid a reassuring hand on Xena. She was pleasantly surprised when it wasnt shrugged off. "Shell do fine Xena."
"I know she will," Xena said. Then in a lower voice, "The question is, will I?"
Ephiny faced the warrior and for a moment, a millisecond of time, there was a look of pure helplessness on Xenas face. The regent blinked then looked again but the look was replaced with the hard mask of the friend she knew. Whoa, gods help the poor sap that hurts Gabrielle.
Gabrielle stood on the outside of the cage with Solari. She was nervous and it sat like a stone in her gut. She flipped her staff between her hands and flexed her knees in an effort to stay relaxed. Solari rubbed the bards tension filled shoulders. "Youll do fine my Queen." (Sly move by Solari in using the title "Queen". Yeah, Gabrielle was Queen of the Amazons and she had claimed that honor with astonishing bravery. Indeed, she had faced much worse than this silly tournament.)
"Solari I thought we talked about that my Queen thing." The bards tone was self-mocking but Solari felt a subtle loosening of muscle underneath her hands. The dark-haired Amazon smiled.
Inside the cage, the announcer, a man with strange black and white attire, motioned Gabrielle to step inside. With a brief glance over the crowd to Xena, the bard stepped in the cage. Suddenly, her world got very small. And then the music started. It was a deep pulsing beat that resembled the ceremonial drums of the Amazons. The steady rhythm reverberated in her chest (and she kinda liked it). Across from her, the small man from Chin also stepped into the ring. He gave the bard a jocular smile, which Gabrielle returned in kind. Well, at least hes not menacing.
"LADIES AND GENTLEMEN," the announcer began. "WELCOME TO THE ULTIMATE
STAFF FIGHTING CHAMPIONSHIP!" The crowd roared. Gabrielle wiped her
hands on her skirt. "IN THIS CORNER," he pointed toward the bard. "WE
HAVE THE RED . . . ER BLONDE . . . UM . . . STRAWBERRY-BLONDE POWERHOUSE
CALLED THE BILIOUS GREEN WONDER FROM POTATO!" Gabrielles mouth opened
in confusion. Immediately, she put her hands up to stop the announcer and forcefully walked over to him.
"Excuse me but Bilious Green Wonder from Potato? Whats that?"
"Thats you sweetie," the announcer said rather perturbed at being
interrupted. "Now if youll go back-"
"Wait a minute that is not me and Im not your sweetie."
"Look dont get your skirt in a twist. You have to have some catchy name
. . . you know like Dr. Deranged, Prince of Pandemonium, Destroyer of
Nations. You gotta have something to catch the audiences attention. Now
"Okay," the bard interrupted again. "I understand the name thing but Bilious Green Wonder? Where did that come from?"
"Your friend picked it out when she signed you up."
"She did huh?" Gabrielle turned an evil eye toward the crowd searching for her raven-haired friend. Xena sat, next to Ephiny, looking back at the bard rather sheepishly. She raised her hand in a toodles type wave that taunted and apologized all at the same time (the Warrior Princess was really good at that). Gabrielle smiled back but the wheels of revenge were already spinning madly in her mind. She turned back toward the announcer. "Fine, but Id rather be called Gabrielle from Poteidaia not Potato. Got it?"
"Yeah, yeah now please. The people are paying good dinar for this." He
pushed the bard back toward her corner and continued. "AS I SAID, WE
HAVE THE BILIOUS . . . " Gabrielle shot him a hard look. "I MEAN
GABRIELLE OF POTADATA IN THIS CORNER AND IN THAT CORNER WE HAVE JACKIE
SPAM FROM CHIN!"
Gabrielle rolled her eyes. It was better than nothing.
"LETS GET IT ON!" With that the announcer ran from the ring leaving Gabrielle stunned in the middle.
Xena was at her feet in an instant. Blue eyes intent on the action in the cage. Come on baby.
Moments after the announcer made a mad dash out of the ring the bard realized that the contest had begun. She increased her grip on her staff and crouched to a ready stance. Across the ring, the man from Chin was already a flurry of movement. His moves were intricate and flashed by with amazing speed. The staff tips blurred into a constant circle as he twirled his staff over his head, across his chest, between his legs, over his back, around his waist and finally around the neck. Gabrielle kept waiting for him to advance but he didnt. Instead, he stood there, twirling his staff in dizzying circles. Confused, the bard looked up to Xena who just shrugged. The bard waited a few moments more but frankly, she was getting bored. Deciding to move the contest up a notch she walked up to the small man. He didnt notice her, as he was quite intent on spinning his staff. Gabrielle tilted her head and tried to judge the velocity of the spins. With exact precision and timing (the bard was very good at physics) she stuck her staff in the middle of the whirring circle.
As she expected, the staff flew out of Jackie Spams hands and into the crowd. Shocked, the small man from Chin stood motionless. "Ahh, very good move."
Gabrielle smiled. "Thanks. Ready to give up?"
"No, blonde . . . um..red..er . . . strawberry-blonde haired foe. You have disarmed me but Im very acrobatic." Then he was all movement again. This time he was jumping back and forth doing flips and aerial maneuvers that would rival Xena. Gabrielle sighed, stuck her staff in the dirt and waited for the man to tire himself out.
Ephiny nudged Xena in the shoulder. "What the Tartarus is he doing?"
Xena, who was visibly more relaxed (she had managed to wipe the big ol grin off her face, after Gabrielle had disarmed the man, before anybody could see it) just shrugged. "I dont know but hes very . . . acrobatic."
"Hades! Whats the point to all that flippin stuff?" Solari, who had rejoined her friends, asked. Xena shot her sideways glare. Solari began to backtrack. "Not that when you do it, Xena, its not completely effective." Xena smiled and Solari let out a sigh of relief.
Back in the cage, Jackie landed squarely in front of the bard. His hand shot out in a quick fist punch but Gabrielle, who was very quick herself, anticipated the move and blocked his punch with her staff. She then brought the other side up to whack him soundly on the head. It was lights out for Jackie, who was very acrobatic, but not very lethal.
The crowd erupted into applause. "GAB-RIELLE, GAB-RIELLE, GAB-RIELLE!!" The crowd shouted. Again the music started and the bard was quickly ushered from the cage. The bard was converged by a mass of hands and praise. She was starting to get a bit overwhelmed when she felt a familiar set of hands on her shoulders. The rough calluses sending a warmth down her spine. Gabrielle smiled as she was spun around to face a very happy Warrior Princess. "Good job." The praise was simple but it meant everything to the bard. If she hadnt realized it before (but I think she did) she now knew that she would do anything for Xena.
"Gabrielle!" Ephiny and Solari emerged from the crowd and once again broke the moment. (Amazons, although very useful for many things, had an uncanny knack for interrupting at the worst times). "That was great," Ephiny praised the bard.
"Yeah," Solari chimed in. "But what was with the name? Bilious Green Wonder?"
Gabrielles eyes narrowed on Xena. "I dont know youll have to ask the Warrior Princess."
Although, the notion was fantastic: Xena tried to look as innocent as possible. "Youll pay Princess," Gabrielle warned in a low voice (that was somewhat flirtatious) and headed back toward the cage.
Xena smiled and thought whatever the price, Ill gladly pay my bard.
"Bilious Green Wonder Xena?" Solari interrupted the warriors musings. "Gods for a warrior with," Solari thrust her hands up in the air and made quotes with her fingers, "many skills I guess picking names aint one of them."
Xenas eyes focused intently on Solari. "Oh really what would you have come up with?"
Solari shrugged. "Oh I dunno. Maybe something with Amazon in it like, Gabrielle the Amazing Amazon."
Xena looked at Ephiny who was trying very hard not to laugh. She mouthed, "Amazing Amazon?"
Ephiny put a comforting arm around Solari. "Stick to what you know warrior . . . stick to what you know."
Chapter 8: The Myth of One Night Stands
"..I care not in this moment sweet,
Though all I have rushed oer
Should come on pinion, strong and fleet,
Proclaiming vengeance sore:.."
The Rusty Sword had taken on an air of festivity. The dark wooden interior clamored with excited chatter. Spirits were liberally consumed and events of the day repeated for posterity. In the background a band was playing. The weather-beaten door opened and a single stream of light invaded the crowed tavern. Then a golden voice could be heard in the distance. "No, I really cant sign that for you. If you have some parchment, I would gladly put my signature on that."
Gabrielle had two more fights after her bout with Jackie. Fights, she won quite easily (it seems as if our fair-headed heroine had learned a thing or two from the dark warrior). This fact, and her natural charisma, had made her a favorite of the crowd. And now Gabrielle, who was partner to the greatest warrior to ever walk Greece, had her own fans. Indeed, she had her own entourage, groupies and Gabbites.
The bard entered the tavern surrounded by her people. They moved as an amoebae (okay, so this is ancient Greece and amoebae werent discovered yet. Cut me slack for artistic reasons). Gabrielle was at the center of the human mass. Where she moved, the group followed and when one person was lost another person was gained. (It was really an amazing sight)
On the outside of the group walked two Amazons and a rather perturbed warrior. Ever since the end of her second fight, Xena had not been able to get close to the bard. (This fact irritated her more than she would like to admit. She had come to yearn for the closeness of walking shoulder to shoulder with the strawberry-blonde). When another groupie hurled herself at Gabrielle in hopes of gaining the bards attentions, the Warrior Princess kicked it into warlord mode. "ALL RIGHT! THATS IT!" Xenas yell stopped all activity in the Rusty Sword cold. Except for the clueless groupie who remained intent on reaching the object of her affection. With a low growl, Xena launched herself into the air, executed a perfect backflip, landed on the heads of the patrons, ran over to the bard and intercepted the groupie who had just launched herself toward Gabrielle. The unfortunate fan ran full force into a heavily armored chest and slumped to the ground in a daze. A swirling print embedded in her forehead.
Xena looked down at the groupie with narrowed blue-eyes. "I said, thats it. Now, back off girlie." She smiled triumphantly when the woozy fan backed away. There was an insistent tap on her shoulder gauntlet. Irritated, the warrior turned to face the fool who would dare touch her. "Are you furkin insane . . . " It was Gabrielle whose sardonic gaze quickly quieted the raving warrior. "What?" Xena innocently asked.
"What was that about?" The bard motioned toward the stumbling groupie.
Xena shrugged. "I thought she was attacking you." Snorts of laughter erupted from somewhere behind Xena. They sounded suspiciously like Amazon snorts. Xena turned to give Ephiny and Solari the look but the two Amazons were suddenly interested in the fine craftsmanship of the ale mugs.
"What do you think Solari. Pre-Mycenaean structure with a hint of post modern deconstructionism?" Ephiny asked as she held up a mug for Solaris perusal.
"Yes, right again Eph. I believe this mug to be originally from Arcadia
. . . "
Xena rolled her eyes at the Amazons and turned her attention back toward the bard. "Gabrielle, I honestly thought-" Xena was cut off by the strangest look she had ever seen come from her bard. It was happy, warm . . . loving?
Indeed, the warmth from Gabrielles soul was clearly manifesting itself through her eyes. Xena is jealous. Once again, as it had so many times before, the bards hand left her side to reach for her warrior. This time, however, she would not stop until she touched her loves face.
"Xena!" A voice from the, now active, crowd interrupted the path of Gabrielles hand. Xena turned her head toward the sound and her face went slightly dim with recognition. Out of the crowd a beautiful women emerged. She was tall, almost as tall as Xena, and her body was just as muscled. She had short brown hair and full sensual lips. Gabrielle noticed that her eyes were the lightest color of brown she had ever seen. The woman walked with a sense of confidence. She had experience and she showed it.
Oh no, the bard said to herself. When are the gods gonna cut me a break? Gabrielle had traveled with Xena long enough to know of the warriors sexual appetite. When they had first started traveling together Xena was blatant about her need. At a tavern, she would spot somebody, attractive and strong. Male or female it didnt matter. Then she would disappear and Gabrielle was left alone. Then as their friendship deepened things started to change. The looks more subtle the disappearances less often. And soon Xena never left Gabrielle alone. However, Xena had lovers in her past. The bard instinctively knew that this woman was part of this elite group.
Xena took two steps toward the approaching woman then turned around to face a slightly stunned bard. "Gabrielle find a table. Ill be right back." And then she was gone engulfed by the crowd.
Gabrielle craned her neck trying to find her friend but, as miraculous as it seemed, she couldnt. She started to move in the same direction but a firm grip on her arm stopped her. Ephiny smiled. "Gabrielle, I see a table over there." Dejected, the bard followed the Regent.
"Hello Tess," Xena said cautiously to the woman who stood before her. Her blue eyes discretely took in the woman whose attire was definitely masculine (white silk tunic, brown leather pants, boots and vest) but altogether feminine when it was upon her body.
Brown eyes moved up slightly but not before taking in the length of the warrior she had once known intimately. "Hello Xena." Then there was silence. That long uncomfortable silence that makes you keenly aware that not all memories are pleasant. Xena shifted her stance and the brown-haired woman relented. "Well this certainly brings back fond memories."
"Of how you once dazzled me with conversation." Tess smiled and it was neither malicious nor forgiving.
Xena shrugged off the remark with a smile of her own. In truth, she was glad for the tension breaker. "What brings you to Dundar Tess?"
"I suspect the same thing that brought you. To compete."
Xena was not surprised. "Im not competing and I didnt see you out there today."
Tess stopped the barmaid as she walked by. "Excuse me but could I get a cider and an ale for my friend here." She flashed a smile that charmed the barmaid to her very toes. Blushing, the barmaid nodded and quickly retrieved the drinks. The woman turned her attention back toward Xena. "I didnt need to compete today. I won the thing last year and the champion competes in the final rounds only. You know . . . its a little perk of winning."
"You must be very good."
Tess gave an affirmative nod of her head. "Do you remember what else I was good at?"
Oh you bet Xena remembered what Tess was good at. It had been a little over four years now. The brown-haired woman was younger then but her look was the same. Her rugged beauty marked her as a soldier, not one of Xenas but of some other warlord. Although, Tess had wanted to be Xenas . . . very badly.
It was in a tavern, much like the one they stood in now, late one evening. In a town under the warlord Xenas control, two armies met to discuss . . . business matters. One warlord was but a little fish in a big pond. A guppy really. The other was the predator at the top of this aquatic food chain. There was no mistaking who was calling the shots; her steel blue eyes left little doubt of that.
The guppy warlord was stupid and tried to push the boundaries of Xenas patience. Tess was there, a lieutenant in the other army. In a way that was neither disrespectful nor weak, she convinced her commander to back down. Xena noticed and appreciated the woman for her tactical mind among other things. And for Xena, appreciation usually turned into other more lustful thoughts.
Oh and Tess noticed Xena (like who wouldnt). That was never a question. Tess had zeroed in on Xena the moment the warlord set foot in the tavern. Her body sung at the site of the raven-haired warrior. The warlord was wild and her scent was the pheremone that lured Tess in. The women were primal in their need. The sex was raw and the caresses were hard. In the morning, as Xena put her armor on, Tess rolled over to face the woman who had taken her so completely. "Let me join your army," she said as her body still twitched with passion.
Xena smiled as if she knew that this was coming. As fun as Tess had been, she needed no complications or distractions. Xena had plans that didnt include jealous lovers. With a deliberate smoothness, the warlord stepped toward the woman who lay exposed upon the bed. She bent down and with the back of her hand, she stroked Tess face. Then, with a voice that made you yearn for things that would never be yours, she spoke, "You already have an armylovers. With a deliberate smoothness, the warlord stepped toward the woman who la
Tess had never seen Xena again after that night. She had continued to travel with that warlord for a couple more years. She gained some measure of success but that life was never for her. Her need for rough adventure had been quelled but still she traveled. Searching and yearning for something she couldnt put her finger on. She never forgot that wild night or the sting she felt the next morning. To her, it was unfair that the warlord had affected her so much when she didnt even dent Xenas armor. So when Tess saw Xena again, standing in that crowded tavern her mind immediately raced back four years ago. Oh no, Tess thought. That would never do.
For Xena, the past was never far behind.
Do I remember what else youre good at? Xena let the memories rush over her body before quickly snapping her attention back to the present. Yes, I do remember, the warrior thought to herself. But I was different then. I was alone then. Xena shrugged. "That was a long time ago."
Tess smiled then looked down into her mug of cider. "Not that long ago." She looked up and her brown eyes challenged Xena to disagree. "I heard you had changed Xena. Traveling about, doing good deeds, righting wrongs, and . . . saving maidens. Tell me Xena, save any maidens lately? Of course, Im sure they didnt stay maidens for long in your company."
(You think Tess had a little anger left?)
Xena let out a single biting laugh. She lifted her mug in a salute. "Thanks for the ale but Ive got someone waiting for me." She turned to leave but Tess wasnt finished yet.
"Yeah I know. Shes cute . . . if you go for that wholesome, innocent peasant girl look. I thought you would go for someone with more . . . experience. Honestly, she doesnt look like she could keep someone like you satisfied. However, her tight little body will probably keep you sated for a while. Let her down easy when youre done with her Xena. Some women dont take it so well."
The Warrior Princess smiled (not her friendly I kinda like you smile but her your in deep poop type of smile) and took a long pull off her ale. Then her left hand shot out to grab Tess leather vest. In less than a heartbeat Tess was thrust up against a bronze breastplate and dangerous blue eyes drilled into her stunned brown ones. "Her name is Gabrielle and you watch your mouth. Understand?"
Slowly, Tess brought her hand up and disengaged herself from Xenas grip. She took a step back and composed herself. However, she remained undaunted. "So that is Gabrielle? Well, I guess what they say is true."
"And what do they say?" Xenas tone was gentler but no less dangerous.
"That the great Xena has been whipped . . . so to speak."