Sex and Violence: Less violence than the show, and there are two women in love here. So run for the hills if you have problems with that.
A Solstice Card to my Friends in the Xenaverse
A SOLSTICE BENEFIT
I was in big trouble.
I think that for a just a moment, the tanned hands clenching the poster would have been much happier doing the same thing around my throat. I could sort of understand why.
The main body of the flyer read:
Salmonius Productions presents:
For the benefit of the war orphans
A Solstice Concert
Gabrielle, The Great Bard Of Potadiea
Favorite of Kings and Gods
ONE NIGHT ONLY!
Spellbinding you with her Tales of War and Love
ONE NIGHT ONLY!
Eyewitness to History
One of the Great Performers of our Time!
Considering that I hadnít performed in public for over a year, I thought I might also have had some reason to be angry.
The real problem was that it continued.
Oh yeah, someone was going to have to die.
And if I didnít talk fast, it was going to be me.
I watched as her eyes bypassed all of the hubbub of the Athens market place, zeroing in on each of the damned posters, plastered on every conceivable surface. Watched the bronzed face and shoulders tighten with each one she spotted. When she grinds her teeth like that, itís usually better to get out of the way, but I knew, this REALLY, wasnít my fault. I just had to hope that her natural sense of justice would give me a chance to explain.
Or, I could start running. Now.
"Gabrielle." Very quiet. Not good.
"Gabrielle, when you and Salmoneous," she bit the name off like a curse, "were talking about you having a chance to perform again, I was very supportive of it, wasnít I."
"Yes, Xena, you were very supportive."
"And when Salmoneous," She was going to hurt herself saying his name like that, I could tell, "asked if I would participate to help the orphans at Solstice, what did I say?"
"That they would have to be baking them in an breadoven before you would sing in public." Hard to forget a picture like that.
I tried, though.
"I thought that would have made my sentiments clear."
Uh oh. Much worse than teeth grinding, Xena had not only spoken using complete sentences, but three times had employed words with three syllables. She began to move. Trying to keep up with her long strides, I nearly collided with a piper, two fruit venders and a harpist. "Xena!" She stopped and turned to look at me.
"Now, you know I would never try to make you do something you didnít..." Her eyes nailed me before I could continue with that thought any further. Start again. "Look. Xena. We both know that Sal is trying to push you into this thing by promoting it as a done deal, but he wouldnít have even tried if he hadnít been counting on your good heart, and generous nature when it came to a worthy cause..."
I think that line just might have had an effect, but unfortunately at that moment, a hawker came around the corner calling out about the concert with his arms filled with leaflets. The Good Hearted, Generous Warrior Princess hauled him up in the air by the crotch of his pants and held him at eye level. He looked pretty scared, so he got points for the correct response.
"Are you an Orphan?" She snarled into his face. He shook his head wildly.
"Would you like to BE an orphan?" Same response.
"Then tell me where that Centaurís butt of a boss of yours is hiding."
Speaking when you think that youíre about to breathe your last is a bit of a trick, but somehow he managed to babble out: "Heís got a secret office, behind the staging area, itís marked by a lions head, you pull down a lever beside the head and slide a panel under..." Xena dropped him.
The Destroyer of Nations smiled. "Oh, I donít think opening it will be that complicated," she assured him, and started walking.
"Xena!" This time I crashed through a schoolmaster, his class, and two dancers before I caught up.
She waited. "Gabrielle. Iím not going to hurt Salmoneous. At least not too much. After all, heís the only one who can turn this around." I smiled in relief, but she continued. "Then Iíll kill him."
I wasnít worried any more, so I laughed. Because as dangerous as she is, her temper is short lived, unlike mine. When I get mad at her, it usually lasts for at least a day. Being dead and leaving the Way of Love hadnít improved it any, either. Lately, if she saw I was angry she would just say, "Tomorrow?" and disappear with Argo for the rest of the day.
We arrived at the theatre, and I found out that it was an open air affair, with a capacity of almost 1,000. My heart dropped into my knees.
She didnít smile or anything, but I think a large part of her was enjoying the fact that both of us had been screwed.
"A little bigger than you thought it would be?" The concern in her voice was so sweet that you could have bottled it as syrup.
"Xena. I havenít performed in over a year. This was supposed to give me a reason to practice, to see if I could still do it."
She smiled and gave me a bland quizzical look. "And...?"
"AND... I worked in taverns. Enclosed spaces where your voice could carry. Where I could start by working the front rows and bring them in seat by seat, until the whole place would listen. Taverns; where I had the Warrior Princess sitting in the rear if anybody so much as coughed.... Taverns, Xena."
I stared out at the audience pits, which seemed to be getting larger in front of my eyes.
Xena merely smiled. "Then I take it we might need to toss a coin over who...?"
I wasnít smiling. "Iím going to kill him."
Salmoneous was quite jovial in his welcome. "I see you girls got in. Wonderful! Are you looking for a place to stay?" Other than the fact that his voice was half an octave higher, you could never have told that Xena had just kicked in his wall and was now standing on his chest with her sword at his throat. "Is there a problem about the billing?" He asked.
I moved to hold Xenaís sword hand as she raised it high. "This wasnít what we agreed to, Sal. The concert is off."
Now, he was frightened. "Canceled? It canít be canceled! Itís been sold out for over a week! Every important figure in Athens is coming. Tickets are as prized as a seat in Parliament! You canít cancel! Itís impossible."
I could tell Xena was about to comment on the many things that were possible, especially to a large overweight human body, but I cut her off and said, "If itís been sold out for so long, why are you still promoting it? Whereís the money for the Solstice dinner? You swore to Athena you wouldnít keep a half dinar for yourself."
"Gabrielle." I hated when he talked with his hands. Made me so conscious of me doing the same. "Donít you see? I donít need to touch a single coin. This concert is going to be the making of me. Iím sending out flyers just to keep my name out there. And... weíre not talking about just a dinner and toys for the orphans anymore." He clutched his fists to his belly and then pointed a hesitant finger at Xena still looming above him. Grudgingly, she lifted him up. He oiled his way over to a large chest in the corner of the room. Showman to the end, and it had been that close, he threw open the lid. I had never seen that many dinars in my life.
"How, how many..." I stuttered.
"Would you believe, approximately... 48,346?"
I collapsed in a chair. Xena smirked.
"Approximately? How many times have you counted it?"
He tried to look earnest. "Only a dozen times. Today. But donít you see? You can rebuild, double the size of the orphanage. Hire teachers, and teach trades, you can change their lives. Kids will be banging on their doors, claiming to be orphans. Heraís Girdle, Xena, I would do it!"
I could see the effect this was having on Xena. I know the effect it was having on me. This time she only muttered "I am not singing in public."
Salmoneous made a tent with his fingers and touched his lips while he thought. He turned to me, probably trying to come up a plan to divide and conquer when he remembered, "Oh. Gabrielle? You left me as your next address, and one of your Amazons left a scroll. Itís on my desk there." He turned to try to work on my partner, and I walked over to the paper strewn table.
Sure enough, there was a scroll with Shalupaís seal on the outside. I carefully examined it to see if it had been tampered with. Salmoneous saw this, and gave me his best hurt expression.
So I examined it again.
It seemed fine, and I opened it to discover it was the Solstice pardon, a tradition that I had first instituted two years before. Apparently the practice was spreading because this one was by the Northern tribes, or at least what was left of them. It was for Xena of Amphipolis, written by the of the Shamaness of the tribe, and it absolved her of the crime of murdering the Amazon leaders 10 years previously.
I sat down.
Apparently, this Xena of Amphipolis had returned in search of her companion Gabrielle in the past cycle, and risked her life and soul to enter the spiritís realm in an unsuccessful attempt to speak with the (at the time presumed dead) holder of the Rite of Caste. When this was unsuccessful, this Xena person, then stayed to free the souls trapped behind by her previous actions, again risking her soul and life to do so. Shalupa had made a note at the base indicating that I would be happy that this Xena would no longer be considered a war criminal by my people.
How nice, I thought. Wish Iíd known about any of this before, so it would have been a relief.
Xena had been waiting, becoming more and worried as my silence continued. "Honey? What is it? Is something wrong?" she reached out to touch my hand but I jerked it away.
"Is something wrong?" There was tremor in my voice. "Yes, there is something wrong. You, are whatís wrong. You and Me, are whatís wrong...."
I stood and threw the scroll at her. She scanned it for just a second, and her face went white. "Gabrielle, that was a long time ago...I was, you always said..."
"Yes, that WAS a long time ago. But your not telling me about it, was today, and yesterday, and every day weíve been together since I first took the mask! You dishonest, lying scrap of pigís slime."
"I donít think tomorrow is going to
come for a looooong time, Xena." And I left.
It was a fortunate thing that no one tried to attack me as I wondered around Athens alone that night. I wouldnít have wanted some poor thieves death on my conscience. I tried to work though my anger. I had thought we were passed all of this. That she had learned to truly trust me. How could she think that because Amazon were involved that it would be any different? She had defeated them in battle. They had died as warriors. That their souls had not passed to the Amazon Fields had been corrected at her own risk. I could live with that. But that she could not tell me... That hung heavy on my heart. Every insecurity I ever had rose again to haunt me.
I finally got back to our, my room, and knew immediately that someone was inside. I think it was the sound of grunting as they tried to leap out of the window. Well, leap is a relative term. Somewhere between leap and plunge. I ran in, my sais at the ready, when my nose picked up the smell of port and I saw my journal lying open. There was a curse outside and I looked out the second story window expecting to find some clumsy fool lying outside, and I wasnít disappointed. The always graceful Warrior Princess was on all fours, seemingly confused about which of her limbs was meant to be used for standing. Now, seeing Xena drunk was a unique and pitiful spectacle in itself, but I was the last person to feel any sympathy. She must have finally realized that the part of the body with the head attached went upwards and raised her bleary eyes to my window. I gave a sigh and headed down to get her. Not for her sake, mind you, but a drunk Destroyer of Nations was probably a danger to all Athens, and whether I liked it or not, I was the only one who could handle her.
I had decided that I wouldnít say a word, but that was a futile promise coming from me.
I felt like some old fish wife standing there, hands on my hips, staring at my drunken spouse. "Well, this is an impressive spectacle."
She looked at me, staggered and placed her hands over her eyes. "You didnít see me." she mumbled.
"I damn well did. What the Tartarus were you doing in my journal?"
"I am writing a poem to win back my love."
"Uh huh. And you thought you could steal one of mine?"
"Youíre the best poet I know in aaaallll of Athens." Now that honest admission might have won several points from me if she had just shut up.
"In fact, youíre the only poet I know. In Athens."
I think I began to stamp my foot at this point. "Xena. Why are you drunk?"
"Because there is all this liquor in me." And she patted her belly, grinning owlishly.
"Very amusing, Xena."
"You arenít laughing though." She wagged her finger at me as she swayed. Gods, Iíd never seen her this bad before.
"As much as I really love asking questions of drunks, why did you drink all that liquor?"
"I decided I needed three things. One" and a finger was held up unsteadily, "was some of your poems, so that I could write a lyric that would be part of both of us." Well, as angry as I was, that was a pretty damned good explanation for reading my journal.
"Two," getting up the second finger required both hands, and then she became confused about which hand was counting and which was helping. Eventually figuring it out, she repeated "Two. I needed to be inspired, and since I didnít have you, I decided to try being drunk." Well, in the stupid but charming department she was batting two for two.
"And three," this time the third finger came up without any problem, and she grinned at me, clearly proud of this accomplishment, "third, I needed Alicia."
I dropped her on the ground.
Realizing I must be misunderstanding her, I helped her up again, and she stared blurrily at me and said in explanation and apology "I fell."
Pursing my mouth, speaking very clearly, I asked, "What was the third thing?"
She tried to form her fingers again but waved it off and said, "Alicia. Sheís got the room beside ours. Would you be so very kind as to help me get there?"
I dropped her again and this time she landed on her face. I was glad.
I looked up and saw what some might consider a very pretty woman peering out the window next to ours, and I called up to her "Is this yours?"
She called down, "Oh my gosh, she was supposed to be here over an hour ago. Is she OK?"
I called back up. "No. Sheís a piece of Centaur dung, but I suppose even that has its uses. Come and get it."
The window closed and there were soon footsteps coming down the stairs.
I was stalking out past the entrance when she rolled over on the ground and looked at me, and I saw her smile peacefully. "Is it tomorrow already?"
I called back as Alicia passed me on the way to the warrior. "Not for a long time."
Well, the thieves and cut-purses of Athens lucked out again, because I didnít meet anyone on the streets that night. Maybe it was the sight of a woman tossing sias in her hands back and forth continuously that kept them away, but I was more than physically tired when I finally got back to the inn near dawn. I knew that there was an explanation for what was going on, but I think I was determined to enjoy my anger until I finally heard it. I mean, this was Xena, this was my soul mate. And it was Solstice, a time of forgiveness. Such were my thoughts as I climbed the stairs and passed Aliciaís room, and heard her cry out in rhapsodic wonder "Xena! Iíve never thought it could be done like that!"
What really hurt, what nearly killed me right there, was that I had said the same thing too many times before.
I managed to get a few hours sleep before making my way to Salmoneousí office. I was still trying to think of how I could have misinterpreted what I had seen and heard. I refused to believe it, maybe because I would have had to admit that my trust in Xena was as flawed as hers must be, to not tell me about the Amazons. I kept hoping that Alicia and Xena would be at the office yelling surprise, with some explanation, any explanation.
So I wasnít in the mood to be greeted by Salís smug happiness.
"Well, everythingís all straightened out. Sheís going to do it."
I think stunned was the word that best described my reaction. I gave him a quick once over for head trauma.
"Sheís going to do it?"
He was all smarmy charm and delight. "Of course, Gabrielle. Just the chance that this would make you happy was all the incentive she needed." He gave a smile that told me where she might have gotten that impression. "Also, I informed her that the only way she was going to be able to see a sell out performance of this magnitude was if she was a performer. Barring violence, of course. And she seemed to feel, that as angry as you might be, that she needed to be there for you."
Suddenly my stage fright was back full force; Gods, after all this time, I really was going to do this.
Sal continued "She arranged for a few of the regular performers to help out with your sound check, and she left this note for you."
I grabbed the parchment out of his hand, asking "Sheís already been and gone?"
"She said something about how she didnít think it was tomorrow yet, and she and Alicia only needed to rehearse a little bit. Theyíd been working most of the night."
I took a deep breath. "Alicia?"
He shook his head in wonder. "Only Xena could find the best flautist in Athens at a moments notice like that."
"Sheís a musician?"
"Oh yes, every kind of pipe. She and her husband are staying in the rooms next to yours apparently."
"I knew that." I said.
"Yes, theyíre trying something very experimental, never heard it done like that before."
"I knew that too." I said
I opened the parchment, loving the familiarity of the firmly made strokes.
I was so very wrong not to trust in you. In Us. I know that I hurt you, and I canít tell you how it makes me feel. So I had to go back to one of your poems to express myself, Walking Through Tarterus. I know it was a terribly personal piece, Iíve only used a few lines, but I hope youíll let me have them this one time, so that you will once again give me a voice to explain my own emotions.
I remembered that poem. I had written it while returning from Britannia, trying to express how desolated, how disconnected I felt. Great Artemis. I could make her feel like that?
And I knew I could. Once she had given me her heart, if I coughed, she got a cold. Gods, I hated hurting her, even more than having her hurt me.
I also used two of your more romantic pieces as well. I believe that you still feel this way, I know that I do.
I love you.
I suppose that being melted into a pile of mush would have normally meant that I had forgiven her, but I was still a bundle of nerves about performing to this audience. So I carefully folded the note, and glared at Salmoneous.
"So. Where are these experts?"
The rest of the afternoon was spent on the sound check. I sat on the stage, and in the cheap seats, to see how the sound was pitched. The actors that Xena had found showed me how to project my voice over the crowd along the rafters above the stage. They also showed me the Ďsweetí spots, where I could whisper and still be heard. Quitting before my voice was overused, and before I began to get spooked again by the size of the place, I thanked them, and Xena too, at least in my heart.
I spent the next three candlemarks trying on clothes and rejecting stories to tell. My carefully planned programme was in tatters, and so was my wardrobe. Dammit, where was she? Just because I told her to stay away from me, how dare she listen to me now?
At the last moment I grabbed the original programme that Xena and I had worked out so many days before, and the costume we had chosen together and ran to the theatre. I was pacing back and forth by the stage entrance, coming very close to walking out, when it finally struck me.
This was one of the most hated woman in Greece. She was planning to stand in front of a huge crowd, where she had been advertised to be for over a moon. This was insane! And she had to know this. What was wrong with me, that I hadnít thought of it before?
I ran over to Salmoneous, and yelled. "She canít do this. Some one will try to kill her."
He gave me a pat on the shoulder and a patronizing look which quickly changed to one of pain once I had grabbed that patting hand. "Xena went over the security with my men," he squeaked "the place is packed with hired goons, I swear Gabrielle, I donít want anything like that to happen."
I let him go, but I started looking through the crowd for familiar faces. I knew there would be at least one, but I began to imagine the entire crowd rising and charging the stage. I could imagine what a paranoid mind like Xenaís would see.
Gods, she could be so sweet sometimes.
By the time I had scanned the crowd from front to back, there was an announcement and the torches dimmed. I saw Alicia getting a kiss from a man in the wings, and decided that she didnít look nearly as whorish as she had last night. Then Xena mounted the steps from the Orchestra. She was wearing a simple blue shift, my favorite, and she looked a regal as royalty is supposed to, but never does. There was complete silence as the two woman arranged themselves, and Salmoneous announced from the wings:
"The song is about the merging of two hearts, and the breaking of one. It is called Tomorrow Is Such A Long Time."
And then with a nod from Xena, Alicia began to play. After a moment Xena joined in. No words yet, just sound.
Salmoneous was right, it was very different. The melody was simple; there was no attempt by her to showcase that wonderfully rich voice. For apologies, itís usually best to stick to the basics. Somehow the flute and voice merged, and then parted, running parallel occasionally. It was made up on the spur of the moment, but even when they clashed infrequently, it simply coloured the portions that were in sync. The first lines were a perfect mix of my words and hers, the whole arrangement was such a testimony to our relationship, I began to wonder how I was going to resist running out there on stage to hold her.
If Today, was not an endless highway
If Tonight was not a crooked trail
If Tomorrow, wasnít such a long time...
Then lonesome would mean nothing to me at all.
And if only if my own true love was waiting
And if I could hear her heart softly pounding
Only if she was lying by me
Then Iíd lie in my bed, once again.
Well, as they say, she had me just by walking on that stage. I was almost trekking towards her when I heard her begin the lines from my Britannia poem.
I canít see my reflection in the waters
I canít speak the sounds that show no pain
I canít hear the echo of my footsteps
I canít remember the sound of my own name
The rush of memories stopped me dead in my tracks.
I donít know how I saw the movement through the blur of my tears, I guess Xenaís senses have finally begun to rub off on me. More likely, she spotted it, even in the midst of her own concentration on the lyric, and somehow that alerted me. Directly in the centre of the audience I saw a flashes of metal that I knew were the clamps on a smuggled cross bow.
I had hoped that the butt of the sai I threw at his chin would just take him out quietly. Or maybe it was the light catching on my white and tan furs as I charged into the audience. But by the time I got to him and his buddies, there was complete silence on stage and off. Too angry to be embarrassed, I recovered my weapon and confronted the group seated around the unconscious erstwhile assassin.
"You have interrupted the performance" I hissed, "of one of MY love poems...and the next person that does it is going to lose a hand...if theyíre LUCKY!"
I became a little more aware of my surroundings, and of the shock my comments were causing. Two of Salmoneousí goons loped over and hauled the thugs away. I turned, cringing a little, towards the stage. Xena was smirking just a bit, and gave me a little hand wave, asking "Everything under control?"
I held up my sais and called up "No problem. Nooo problems here!"
She just grinned and said "Good to know that youíre out there to look after me."
Well, with a comment like that, from the deadliest fighter in Greece, and all eyes of the elite of Athens on me, I sort of swaggered down the aisle, and plopped myself into a seat in the back. I stretched out my legs in a conscious imitation of Xena, the way she always sat in all of those hundreds of taverns watching me perform. I gave a little wave with one hand to indicate that they could continue, with my blessing.
A somewhat unstrung Salmoneous announced that the performance would begin again.
Now with anyone else, there would be no way to recapture the mood that had been established. But with the combination of her stage presence, and the sincerity with which she was singing, the audience was again mesmerized before they started again on the first words.
I cried again all through the Tartarus verse. A strange mixture of remembered pain, and guilt over having inflicted those emotions upon Xena. Who would believe me if I were to tell them that she was the sensitive one of this couple?
The last verse was even more passionate. The rat had taken the first poem I had written for her after we had finally admitted our feelings for each other, while I was still giddy with the joy of being able to express what we were.
Thereís beauty in that silver singing river
Thereís beauty in that sunrise in the sky
But none of these and nothing else can match the beauty
I remember in my own true loves eyes
And when she caught me with those beloved cerulean orbs, so that there was no one, not another soul between us.... I clutched my fists to my chest, and began to make my way to her.
And if only if my own true love was waiting.
And if I could hear her heart softly pounding
Only if she was lying by me
Could I lie...
In our bed...
I reached her just as she was singing that last drawn out note, and as Alicia continued to play the closing, I put my arms around her waist as she whispered "Iím so..."
And I put one finger on those lips, and with the tears streaming down my face in front of all of Athens, I told her with every bit of love and forgiveness I had, to "Shut Up."
And she did, and kissed me just as Alicia finished. And I heard the applause, and it seemed appropriate at that time for the kiss I was giving and receiving. Perhaps a small part of it was for the performance.
I was blissfully walking off stage when I realized that there was this show I was supposed to do. I froze.
Xena took my hand and still speechless, she began to lead me to the stage. "Youíre the Bard, my love." She said softly. "Itís still a part of you. You just have to get started and youí ll own them."
Salmoneous added "And if that isnít enough, you can always threaten to cut off their hands again."
There was applause like I had heard in my dreams in that little room in Potadiea, and I knew that little girl was still there when I was reluctant to let go of the firm hand in mine. But I knew if that child was inside me, then Xena was right. So was the Bard.
I waited for the audience to fall silent, and I began. I started slowly, and then built momentum.
And I took them like Xena took the Persians. I drew from their response and gave it back as pure energy. For two candlemarks, I just told stories, and I never was so alive in my life. They cried with me, they laughed in all the right spaces, and laughed even harder at my ad-libs. I dropped the intermission and went right into the story of Troy, and there was complete silence for my every word. For once, I really knew how Xena had felt when she had been in command of her armies, and I wondered fleetingly how she could have given this up. Briefly, I considered ordering my troops for an assault on Rome, but it passed.
There were two encores, and I told the one about Hercules and the pig, and then for the second, an old morality tale of my grandmotherís, and I was done. They stood stamping and whistling, only cheering louder when Xena and Alicia came out, and Xena hugged me. I looked across at MY audience, and then at Xena.
The most notorious woman in Greece and her lover, a farm girl from the back woods.
We avoided my, our fans and made it to the Orphanage on time. Senticles was extraordinarily generous this year, in girth as well as gifts, but I knew that Salmoneous was enjoying himself. I donít think he was capable of giving anything away without being in disguise. The kids were wonderful, and the meal passed in a haze of food and messages sent from absent friends and family.
And I think, but only because it was
the season for it, we decided not to kill Salmoneous.
Some might feel I have taken liberties with a song attributed to the artist formerly known as Robert Zimmerman. I think it is quite possible, that Mr. Zimmerman, as was his want, discovered this piece in his searches through traditional and public domain folk music, tacked on a tune, and sent it to himself for copyright purposes. It is clearly a combined work of the Bard of Potadiea and the Warrior Princess, and anyone who finds that impossible to believe, clearly cannot believe in true love.
For those of us that do, best wishes for Ramadan, The Festival of Lights, the season of Forgiveness, and the hope that you all have the love of at least one other soul...