by: de Bonheur
Disclaimer: The characters of Xena and Gabrielle et. al. belong to MCA/Universal, and are used without intent for commercial profits. Author's copyright does not extend to said characters.
Notice: The author retains all rights automatically attached to the creation of this work.
Warnings: This is a work of alternative fan fiction and contains fictionalization and/or out-of-context use of literary classics and historical characters. Caveat emptor.
Setting: The month of Eaphebolion, in the 5th-4th Century B.C.
Inspired by: Aristophanes' FROGS; Selected Bibliography: Translated writings of Aeschylus, Apollodorus, Aristophanes, Euripides, Hesiod, Plutarch, and Thucydides.
The quarter moon was covered by thick grey clouds, reflecting shifting moods of the sky. In the shadows, Moros, Son of the Night, invisible and dark like his mother, prepared his decrees. His dominion, inescapable, over all.
An owl uttered its haunting, melancholy cry, spreading sharp wings over scurrying creatures.
The biting pre-dawn breeze shook the surrounding trees, casting shadows over flitting shapes, allowing glints of golden pupils and lighted sparks in flight.
The lone rider on the palomino focused on the fleeting surrounding. Occasionally, she looked back behind her, as if to make sure she wasn't followed, but half expecting to be.
How long has it been? The warrior asked herself. Fifteen years? She had thought or even hoped that he wouldn't live that long. She feared his disappointment, or worse, scorn, toward the Warlord. But when words of his death came, she cursed almost every deity on Mount Olympus.
Few moons ago, she came upon rumours that Hades had released him, on Dionysus' account. She was skeptical... until a messenger found her and delivered the scroll.
"Come at once. I need you." The letter had said, in the handwriting she knew so well, without the usual elegant flourishes accustomed to by the world. Guess he still believes in me to send for me. The warrior thought.
I used to think he would live until the end of time... When did I stop believing that? When did I start knowing even the gods die? She knew when.
When did I stop looking forward to my own death? When did I start being afraid of it? She knew the answer to that, too.
She shook her head to let free her thoughts. And looking back one last time, she raced on.
. . . . . . .
. . . . . . .
A violet chariot drawn by two magnificent winged-horses emerged from blue Aegean. Eos rode into the sky, in her saffron tunic, young and lovely. Snowy eyelids, rosy-fingers, she was made to awaken desire.
Softly, the delicate hand tilted, felling the morning dew from her urn. The goddess brought forth the first glimmer of day.
Rabbits blinked their sleepy eyes, burrowed out their den in pairs. Squirrels chased the clement air playfully along tree limps, now and then dropping nutbits on unsuspecting life below.
Birds, their feathers harmonizing the blossoms stretching to greet the dawn, exalted Spring in their vibrant song.
A similar scene would inspire a beautiful Prelude, heralding the morn, from a composer centuries later and seas apart. But this one was completely lost on one bard pounding furiously down the road.
It was almost a moon since their stay with the Amazons. The warrior and the bard continued their wanderings, helping people and villages along the way.
Gabrielle didn't think it was ever possible between two people, but they seemed to have become closer still. It could have been the Amazon ambush... The bard smiled at the memory of the tryst she had in a whim arranged, and induced Solari and Eponin to help with. The looks had become softer, the touches in public more spontaneous and affectionate...
The warrior had promised revenge, and had the bard on her toes for many days. One evening Xena went to her with a mysterious smile and a wicked glint. Gabrielle almost bolted out of sheer nervousness. For all the delicious torture that had went through her creative mind, she could not have anticipated what followed.
The bard squealed in excitement. At the time, she wasn't sure what delighted her more: that she got to attend the biggest and most important festival of the year and see all the great bards perform; that the Warrior of Solitude had finally agreed to go; or that she had asked if Gabrielle wanted to be there and if she could accompany Gabrielle.
For the next few days, a deliriously happy bard she was; and she was sure all in the known world had cause to envy her. Then it suddenly changed two nights ago, when the warrior came back from scouting the perimeters. Xena reverted to her Monosyllabic Self.
Then the night before, the Warrior Princess informed Gabrielle that she needed to go ahead on Argo and that the bard should follow behind. "I'll try to find you there; otherwise, I'll see you at Hippocrates when it's all over." The warrior had said, refusing to provide more.
"WHAT WENT WRONG!" The bard growled in frustration. She continued to track the hoof marks heading toward Athens, jamming the butt of her staff to echo each step.
. . . . . . .
The second day of City Dionysia was drawing to a close. The comedy presented by Aristophanes, based on Dionysus' trip to the underworld, was a spectacular success. The actors and choruses joined in the festival procession. Boisterous party-goers carried their noises and rowdiness from the hillside on the Acropolis to the streets below.
The people on the streets brought out torches and musical instruments. Weaving around food hawkers vending exotic delicacies, singing, dancing and drinking with such gleeful abandonment, they were as if possessed by the god of wine and fertility himself.
Some of the citizens chose to stay in, or perhaps they simply needed a little break from the festivities. At the back of a busy tavern on a crowded street [nothing special here, there must be hundreds similarly situated in Athens, except:-] two
people were rapt in conversation. They even looked sober.
The man was beyond doubt the most potently beautiful sample of his species. His lightly-oiled muscled arms and thighs were testaments to his prowess as a wrestler. Short curly hair framed his dazzling eyes which needed no kohl to enhance. The magnificent robe in silk trimmed with golden threads barely covered the proof of his virility, when with legs crossed he leaned back to accept morsels of delight and sips of wine from his personal slave.
On his side loyally rest a dog exceptionally large and handsome. The stub which was once its tail made it look even more distinguished, if a dog could be considered such. He had simply laughed when his friend scolded him for the cruelty he inflicted on the creature. He'd rather Athens chatter about him cutting the tail than anything worse.
The man has such extraordinary grace and charm that the citizens thought even his lisp suited his voice well and made his speech persuasive. His beauty and wealth, combined with arrogance and savagery made him the object of desire and worship of many men and women in Greece, allying their power with his.
At the moment, the statesman captured the hand of his companion, and softly placed a kiss on the palm. His gesture was rewarded by a brilliant smile. His glance flicked over and lingered on the leather-covered body. His mouth was closed, but the expression on his face seemed close to bliss. A child could recognise the look. She didn't seem offended, merely amused.
Meanwhile, the door to the busy tavern opened. A weary traveller walked in, paused for a moment to scan the surrounding and take in the sight before, then turned around and walked out again. Everyone there was too occupied to notice the brief intrusion.
"So, are you going to attend Agamemnon tomorwow, Xena?"
"I don't know yet. Probably. Tell me, what do you think of Euripides?"
"Ugh! Did you hear what he said of me? 'Slow to help Athens, swift to harm it, ingenious for himself, feckless for the state'?
I am so glad Dionysus chose Aeschylus over him to bwing back fwom Hades. Athens does not need any more poets who can only churn out pwologues you could fix 'lost his oilcan' to."
"And Aeschylus? What did you think of him?"
"Aeschylus? What is this sudden intewest on playwwights, Xena? All right, all right, I love the old man. How could I not? He thinks I am a lion whose way must be yielded to; and he is so right, you know?...
Tsk, tsk! Xena, that smirk becomes you but only when it is diwected at somebody else!
Why, who did you think bankwolled the performance of the old guy's twilogy? He thinks war is a blessing fwom Athena. Orwestes, the hewo, an Argive, sought the glorwy of Athenian expansion by an Athenian-Argive alliance. Tell me if I'm wwong, but this has to be the ultimate political statement!
Anyway, enough talk about borwing old men. Let us talk about your beauty." He said suggestively.
The Warrior Princess' nostrils flared, and guffawed heartily. "Come, Alcibiades, let's talk about YOUR beauty!"
The two people in the corner drank and laughed and chatted merrily into the night.
Gabrielle flung herself from the street into the stable behind the inn. It was by providence she made it there at all.
She had recognised the look. Had seen it many times before - the almost-greed, definitely-hunger she has in her own eyes every time she looked at her Warrior Princess.
She didn't really care that he was looking, she honestly couldn't really blame him. But why didn't she rebuff his advances? And her smile after that kiss... Was he the reason why Xena left in such a hurry? why she became so withdrawn?
And the smile... It was the same smile that casted a spell over me so many moons ago... Why is she giving it to him? Who is he? Why, why, why!?
A soft whinny made its way into her jumbled thoughts. "Argo!" The bard ran over and collapsed her arms around the horse's neck. It was the closest connection she had to her warrior right then, and she clung onto the palomino like a drowning sailor to a broken oar.
A light breeze rippled through the stable, ruffling Gabrielle's honey blonde bangs. She lifted her face from its sanctuary, and met the passionate gaze of a young man. Where did HE come from?
The youth had a wine cup in one hand and a bunch of grapes in another. Vine leaves crowned his curly long hair. His body half covered by light fawn skin was delicate. His lips, ripened with carmine, formed the shape of kiss.
Gabrielle began clutching at Argo as if it was Athena's aegis.
He spoke, his lyrical voice washed over the bard like quick silver. "Why aren't you out there enjoying yourself, bard? Life's made up of sensations, some to be indulged in, some to be avoided, and you definitely should be avoiding."
"What do you want?" Gabrielle managed shakily.
"Me? Nothing! It just annoys me when people don't enjoy themselves in my festivals!
Here, have this, wouldn't want you to starve." He tossed the grapes to Gabrielle.
"Oh, tell Xena Euripides didn't have the frogs. And I talked to Hades, he is giving the old men until sundown tomorrow to find them. Charon is not a happy camper and is threatening to go on strike."
"Hail, hail, Iacchus!" Cheers from outside drifted in.
"Look, I gotta go. Have fun! Indulge!!" The young god disappeared the same way he came.
Gabrielle absentmindedly shoved the grapes into her mouth. So, Dionysus and the gods in the underworld are involved in whatever Xena is mixed up in. So, what's new!?
. . . . . . .
Dawn was breaking. In a pillared courtyard, two old friends strolled along winding patches of spring blooms and shrubberies, admiring the trail of golden flamingos left by Eos' flight.
"I haven't found the frogs." The warrior reported wistfully.
"You talked to our host?"
"Yes, I spent much of last night with Alcibiades. He thinks your work is not only propaganda for his political ambitions, but the award you'll win at the festival will bring him fame and prestige. And you know how he likes to win. [pause] There's really no reason for him to see you dead."
"No, I haven't seen him since yesterday morning. [pause] But he negotiated with Hades to get you here. If he wanted to send you back, he didn't need to steal Charon's frogs.
I even tried to track down Nicias, since he dislike Alcibiades so much, and he's against Athenian expansion. But the senate had sent him to Sparta..." The warrior shook her dark head sadly.
"You know, it really doesn't matter. I've died once already, and I really don't mind going back to Hades. Presiding over the Tragic Throne by his side really wasn't too bad."
"There must be something we're missing... something I can do. We can't..."
[Cutting off the warrior] "You came when I sent for you. That's all that matters to me."
Xena's lips twitched, uncontrollably; the warrior facade unable to hide her emotions.
"I swear, Aeschylus, I will find the one who stole Charon's frogs. I won't fail you again."
"You never did. I saw the genuine goodness in you when you were young. I still do...
[Changing the subject] Say, did you read the play?"
"The prologue sounds familiar, doesn't it?"
The warrior nodded.
"Don't be like that, Xena, don't be. [pause] It's hard, I know. Just take one small step at a time."
The old man turned his gaze toward the warrior, holding the silence for a long while...
"Now, you run along! I have a play to direct, people to make cry, and a lion to please.
I'll see you this afternoon. And go find your Gabrielle, I want to meet her."
The warrior wordlessly obeyed, and meandered her way to the exit of the garden. Two ancient eyes followed her fondly; the face flickered.
. . . . . . .
It was mid-morning when Gabrielle left Hippocrates'. She had spent half the night debating with herself about what to do with the gods' intrigue, and the other half convincing herself that the smile (and the kiss) she saw meant nothing.
Gabrielle hurried to the tavern. After too much time spent on patiently and politely waiting, after too many attempts at the Warrior-Princess-Glare imitation which failed miserably, the bard's stomping and huffing, not to mention staff-twirling dangerously close to a shelf of exquisite ceramic cups and dishes, finally got the nonchalant, pretending-to-be-super-busy innkeeper's attention.
He reluctantly told her the name of the "gorgeous godsent of a man" [his retort when Gabrielle referred to him as "the pretentious-looking guy"; hey, she was still miffed] who was with the Warrior Princess the night before, and where to find him.
The bard intended to dash over to Alcibiades' (So THAT'S who he is! Her heart sank; she had heard of his many exploits, political and [most importantly] otherwise...) when she was accosted by a gleeful long-haired man with a mustache.
"Oh, hi, Molieres!"
"How's everything? Are you still travelling around with Xena?"
"Yeah. How are things at the Academy?"
"Hey, come join me, we can talk over lunch."
"I can't. I'm sort of in a hurry..."
Gabrielle started to protest, but her stomach obliged; and she was being dragged to her old schoolmate's table.
"Are you going to the plays, Molieres? I heard Aeschylus' Oresteia is very good."
"BAHHHH! ANYbody can write a good tragedy. To be able to write comedy and farce, now, THAT'S something!
I don't know WHY we have to sit through three days of tragedy every year!
How are we suppose to eat, drink and make merry when those miserable fellows try to overwhelm us with horrid images of murder, suicide and grief? That's IMMORAL, I tell you!
..." [Now we see his hands waving excitedly to make his points, his spittle flying, his mouth moving rapidly, followed by the comical wriggling of his mustache. But we hear nothing...]
At any other time, the bard would have argued with him. She thought humour and pathos are equally important, without one, you can't know the other. But at the moment, she chose to remain silent.
Gabrielle picked at her food, eating, but not really tasting anything. Sweetmeats and pastries were decked out in different shapes and colours in festival traditions, enticing to most people's palate. Every time she filled her mouth, however, she felt disappointed. It was only food, after all.
Her heart must have gone ahead in search of the Warrior Princess...
The bard was startled when a piece of meat flopped onto her plate.
"Hey, you'll want to try one of these."
"It's interesting. What is it?"
"It's frog leg. The newest culinary fad. I brought them; this place is too back-watered to serve any."
"Hmmm... It's not too bad."
"Anyway, as I was saying, those tragic writers are such bores. Each line is an impromptu epigram about something!
..." [Again, we watch Molieres' hands wave excitedly to make his points, his mouth and mustache moving rapidly. He's eating olives now, spitting the stones into a cup; and we try to count each "pop" as the pit hit the bottom...
At least that's what Gabrielle was doing, while she munched on frog legs.
Oh yeah, we continue to hear nothing...]
. . . . . . .
Helios, in his mid-voyage, found the Warrior Princess revisiting the pillared courtyard. She sat by a shallow pond, and watched multi-coloured exotic fish frolic amongst the narcissus stems. The warm spring sun pleased her skin. But what warmed and pleased her still more, was the soft body of her bard leaning against her chest, ensconced in her embrace.
"Xena, what's going on? I saw Dionysus last night, and he had a message for you."
"What's the message?"
"He said to tell you Euripides didn't have the frogs, Charon is mad, and Hades is giving Aeschylus and Aristophanes until sundown today to find the frogs."
The warrior muttered a curse.
"What's going on?"
"Basically, Aristophanes borrowed Charon's frog chorus to sing in his play. A few days ago, before the rehearsal, someone stole them from their locked cage. And Charon is upset. Hades told Dionysus if the frogs weren't found, he would have to return Aeschylus as punishment. He thinks it's Dionysus' fault since he told Aristophanes about Charon's frogs."
"Wait, Xena! Molieres and I were eating frog legs, and he said he got them himself... You don't think...?"
"But what would his motive be?"
"Well, he did say he hated tragic dramas... Maybe he wanted to get rid of Aeschylus..."
An idea came to the warrior...
"Wait here, Gabrielle. No arguments. I'll be back." With that, the Warrior Princess sprinted along the winding path toward the exit.
Then she turned around, vaulted into the air, and landed in front of Gabrielle.
"Oh, I almost forgot..." and seized a kiss from the stunned bard. She resumed her earlier intent, leaving Gabrielle smiling goofily at the blush creeping onto her reflection in the pond.
. . . . . . .
The man crouched before the Warrior Princess. His face contorted in fear, perspiration poured off his forehead.
"You're lying!" The warrior princess remarked incisively.
"Why would... I... well..."
"I'm losing patience here, Aristophanes. And you're running out of time."
"I really don't..." The playwright's head shook more precariously than ever.
"The way I figured, Aristophanes, is that you hid the frogs, then claimed that someone stole them, hoping that somehow it would make the gods mad enough to get Aeschylus back to the underworld. Then Alcibiades would not have his propaganda. You had argued for peace between Athens and Sparta, even in your play. I just didn't know why I didn't think of it before, she added to herself."
The man's lips trembled. He looked as if he was going to further protest his innocence until he met the ice blue glare of the Warrior Princess. His head dropped.
"Now tell me where you hid Charon's frogs!" Her fingers readied to employ harsher interrogation techniques.
"Brekekekex ko-ax ko-ax, brekekekex ko-ax ko-ax" The frogs, upon hearing their master's name, had chosen that particular moment to make their presence known.
Which was just as well, since the playwright had collapsed in a dead faint.
. . . . . . .
Under an apricot tree, sheltered from the festivities on the streets and in the villa over the triumphant success of Aeschylus' play, on a bench by the narcissus pond sat the bard and her Warrior Princess, contemplating the events of the past turbulent days.
Her head resting on her warrior's lap, Gabrielle felt the warmth of security and serenity that touched upon the divine. She had finally decided not to call Xena on the night before. Alcibiades had been a gracious and charming host, and she figured she was simply being over-sensitive.
"How come you never told me you knew THE Aeschylus?"
"It never came up before."
"What was he like then?"
"I was very young and he was a soldier then."
"He was a soldier?"
"Yes, a very brave one... Do you really want to hear such ancient stories..." The warrior lowered her head and captured enticing pink lips... Long moments later, "Right now?"
The bard's mouth parted slightly, her chest suddenly flushed pink as a rose. A pulse throbbed in her throat. She saw blue eyes glistened with the exact same hungry look reflected in her own.
The warrior brushed her fingertips tenderly against the soft cheeks and bare shoulders, gently spreading the stardust forever fall from the orbs above.
A lust to touch and reach deep into the warrior stretched from her soul. The bard voiced her silent reply, and became lost in the scents of night jasmine and narcissus and her Warrior Princess.
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