Disclaimer and Warnings: Certain comments have been recently made through the medium of the disclaimer. I think this childish practice must stop.

Two women are in an implied loving relationship. There are lots of stories out there that will not be about caring and love, and will not warp your sensibilities.

Characters described herein are the property of Renpic, and are used here solely for enjoyment and not personal profit. The story is mine. If there are any profits they should be directed to Archaeobard, to support her in her declining years. Anytime soon would be appropriate.

The title and story were inspired by Joni Mitchell’s song ‘He Played Real Good For Free.’

Played Real Good For Free

by Kamouraskan

The Bard was young, but expressive. Her words and hands soared about the room as she vividly described the attack on her and her companion. The ruler watched in intent but sad eyed admiration, as the storyteller’s eyes flashed, dominating the room. She was very good, the ruler thought, until being interrupted by an assistant.

"My Liege?"

The ruler glanced over wearily, thinking of the painstaking negotiations still ahead.

"One more moment," was the command. Then there was a pause, and the voice added, "please."

The assistant, caught between the constraints of the schedule and devoted loyalty, gave a quick nod and sat back down. On the stage, the Bard continued to describe a fight in which her companion had beaten half a dozen slavers single-handedly. The ruler noted with amusement that the storyteller had been pushed aside to safety when the fighting began, and that there clearly was some resentment about that. But there was nothing but admiration in her voice for her comrade, and the room was silent as she continued to describe their exploits. There was not a sound in the tavern until she finally brought the story to a conclusion. The bard stood and acknowledged the applause.

"Queen Gabrielle?" the assistant was again at her side, and with a sigh, the Queen indicated that some dinars should be taken to the Bard, and she made her meditative way to the carriage. The Amazons that acted as her bearers leaped instantly to attention. As much as the Queen hated the formality, she acknowledged the necessity for security and the obligation to impress when on State visits. But there was a tall substantial figure that did not jump to attention, but rather uncoiled to stand erect as she approached.

"You weren’t ready, were you?" her Consort frowned.

The Queen gave a small quiet smile. "She was very good..."

"....but not the best." her Consort appended.

The Queen took her Consort’s hand and gripped it, then passed through the door into the landau, and settled inside. The Consort stared after her with concern. As the sedan was raised she walked alongside, her attention on security, on the passersby, but her focus was, as always, for the woman inside.

She spoke to the woman inside the coach. "You could still do that, you know..."

Gabrielle laughed. "Right..." There was an ironic gesture to all the trappings of royalty, the accumulation of power that her ten years as Queen had provided. The amalgamation and growth of the various tribes of Amazons had made their Queen a force in Greek and world politics, but her dislike of the protocols had never diminished.

"I mean it." Xena continued. "You keep promising that we’ll take a break, not travel as Queen and Consort, but we always end up being sidetracked with some emergency, or some mission..."

Gabrielle reached out to touch her Warrior. "Xena, it’s all right...You know I wouldn’t trade anything for this life, what we’ve had, and accomplished. I think I was just feeling a little old...We all get older...there are things we all leave behind..."

The Warrior snorted, "speak for yourself..." and startling the Amazon attendants she executed a leap straight up, touching the landau lightly, and then alighting perfectly on the other side.

Almost perfectly.

The Queen smirked. "You’re gonna be limping...!"

The warrior stared straight ahead. "Not till we get back to our room."

There was a chuckle from inside the carriage, and there was no sign of any injury as the Royal couple made their way to the palace.

The conversation was nearly forgotten through the frustrations of days of negotiations, but on the night of the successful signing, the Queen awoke alone and alert. There was a movement and a slumping sound outside of her door. Reaching for her sais, she was in a crouch when Xena kicked open the door and dragged in the unconscious Amazon guard.

"What do you think you’re doing?" The Queen demanded in anger.

"You needed a break..."

"So you started with her head?"

The warrior looked at her partner with some amusement "No it’s just a ‘pinch’. Get dressed."

The Queen didn’t move.

"Come on!" the warrior urged.

"Xena, I can’t just go and play hooky with you! I’m sorry if I give you the impression that I am pining for my lost innocence, but it’ll pass. I have responsibilities to the Nation, and you swore fealty to that same Nation."

Xena approached her slowly, her pressure point fingers waving ominously. "Uh un. I swore that your concerns would come ahead of the Nation’s, and if there ever was a conflict..." She continued her threatening advance.

Gabrielle moved to put the bed between them. "Xena, this is ridiculous, we aren’t kids anymore, we can’t..."

Xena made a feint with her fingers, a quick deak, and avoiding it overbalanced the Queen, and the warrior scooped her up in her arms before she could move away. "You know," she said to the protesting bundle. "The more you talk like that, the more I think you need a vacation."

"Whatever you do, grab my sais, they’re on the bed." Supporting the Queen in her arms, Xena instead opened the door and brought in the staff she had secreted outside.

Gabrielle looked at the familiar object in puzzlement. " Is that what this is about? Xena, we can’t go back, I don’t need or want..."

The look on her warrior’s face silenced her. "I don’t want or need that little girl either, love. But, this, for me...?" And she presented the staff to her.

Gabrielle shook her head, but accepted it. "You’re becoming a sentimental old fool, you know that?"

The former Destroyer of Nations frowned. "Maybe... And if you tell anyone, I will have to kill you. Slowly."

"Oooooh." The Queen mocked.

There was a ladder outside, resting against the window. Gabrielle snickered as Xena , still carrying the Queen, began to step onto it. "I can remember when you didn’t need a ladder."

Xena’s face froze for a moment, and then she stepped off the ladder. Gabrielle gave a shriek as they plummeted to the ground, landing in the midst of a group of armed Amazons.

Chilapa took in the scene. The Consort escaping out of a window with a somewhat mildly resisting Amazon Queen in her arms. A tired and overworked Queen. The Regent frowned with as much hauteur as the scene allowed. She asked cautiously, "Just what is going on here?"

The Consort looked down to the Queen, and then back to the Regent and her Amazon warriors.

"I think it’s a kidnapping." she replied seriously. Gabrielle looked up and nodded agreement.. Xena looked back to the Regent. "Yes, it’s definitely a kidnapping."

Chilapa mulled this over. "How long would you say this kidnapping is going to take?"

There was another wordless exchange between captor and victim, both eventually shrugging. "We don’t know." Xena finally replied.

The Regent thought about that. "Perhaps there could be a few messages, like a ransom note every little while...?"

Both looked to the other again and smiled. "That would be traditional, wouldn’t it? Okay."

"What do we tell the delegates, when the Amazon Queen isn’t present for the banquet tomorrow in her honour?"

The kidnapper cut in on the Amazon Queen’s response. "Tell them that the Queen, like the rainbow, comes and goes. And yet I know, we’er I go, there hath passed away a glory from the earth..."

"Then tell them I’m involved in some other strenuous... negotiations.." Gabrielle added.

"At your command, " Chilapa bowed, and the Warrior carried her off towards the trees. They heard a final exchange before they disappeared into the darkness. "That was really excellent, that bit about the rainbow," the Queen was saying,

"Thank you, It only seems fair, you get a bit of warrior, I get the touch of the Bard,

"Is that really how it works?"

"Uh huh."

"Well, for that, you’ll get a lot more than just a touch of the bard..."

* * * *

The Prince watched with all the rest of the peasantry as the bard weaved her spell. He had not touched his wine from the moment she had begun, and he knew his aides would soon be demanding that he return to his chariot. His plans to meet with the Queen of the Amazons had again been postponed and he had only meant to tarry for a moment in this common tavern. But that plan had been swept away the moment the bard had taken the stage.

She was a very attractive woman, small, but simply dressed. There had hardly been a sound for over two candlemarks, and still she held them all in her thrall. ‘Beautiful and talented’, he thought as he watched her move about the stage. She had reached the climax of her story of Troy; descriptions so vivid that it was as if they all stood on the ramparts of that great battle. She finished, and the room was silent for a few heartbeats before erupting in cheers and cries for more. With a shy shake of the head, the bard moved from the stage and there was a small commotion as some of the more eager fans tried to make their way to congratulate her. His guards positioned themselves to defend him in case of trouble, but he directed them to help the small woman make her exit. It proved unnecessary when a tall dark warrior woman stepped from a corner and instantly pacified the crowd. There was a grateful glance from the Bard to the bouncer, which was returned, and the Prince saw in just that moment, that there was no hope for his thoughts of asking for her name, or her company. He was wise enough to know when a heart had already been claimed. He sighed, and directed his man to take some coins to her, so that at least she might sleep comfortably for the night.

He wondered about the Fates. He had once practiced his lute and dreamed of performing, of being a traveling minstrel. But the deaths of his brothers had forced him to the position he now occupied, and he had become too accustomed to the finer things in life to regret the loss. As he moved towards his chariot, he saw the warrior and the bard with a stave, making their way, holding hands, passing the closing markets. They both moved with an easy familiarity that came only from longtime companionship. He climbed to his seat, still watching when the larger woman was swatted on the rear with the tip of the staff by the Bard. A quick warriors boot returned the smack.There was a lighthearted exchange of some kind, which resulted in the smaller woman laughing and giggling, right there in the middle of the street. ‘That Life could be so simple,’ he thought, and the longing he felt, caused a small pang of jealousy, but that was eased by a moment of imagining their lives. Two women, on the road, sleeping and eating where and what was available? There was no reason to envy them. He signaled his men to proceed, but he gained one last impression of the two woman before they pulled out. The large dark woman was standing behind and holding the smaller blonde, while the Bard was pointing out some aspect of the last rays of the sunset, nestled safely in her arms.

Envy? Yes, there was some envy in his heart.

He was, in spite of it all, still human.

His chariot began to draw away, and as the sun set, it seemed to him as though there was only a single figure, drawn in the darkest of light.


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