By CN Winters
See Part One for disclaimers. Email the author at firstname.lastname@example.org
“She is I tell you!”
A group of patrons at the tables of the tavern laughed louder the more August protested.
“Well if she is who you claim little girl,” a man called out. “Perhaps the great bard of Poteidaia will favor us with a tale umm?”
Why couldn’t she just let it go? Gabrielle thought. Her fingers worked their way through her growing hair as she sighed in frustration.
“Come on Gabrielle,” August coaxed toward the stage. “Get up there and show ‘em.”
Gabrielle looked to Eponin who tried to hide her grin by taking a quick swig of mead.
Reluctantly Gabrielle rose from the table and made her way to the stage as the man who had been teasing August began a round of applause.
“Give it up for the ‘bard of Poteidaia’,” the man teased as he clapped, certain that the young woman was pulling his leg.
The barkeep put a stool on the small platform, which was used as a stage. “Go on honey,” he said warmly to the bard.
As Gabrielle looked out into the audience, judging the crowd, she wondered what kind of tale would do well with them. The longer she looked the more she realized something. Every tale she had was about Xena. Her ‘life’s work’ consisted solely of the warrior princess. Could she possibly pull of a tale of bravery and passion since she was so undecided about her former lover?
The longer Gabrielle sat the more hecklers joined in. She felt herself beginning to sweat. Stage fright. You’ve never had stage fright Gabrielle. Just calm down and take a deep breath. Think damn it. Think! . . . What the hell – just do it!!
“I sing of Xena,” Gabrielle said loud enough to be heard over the crowd. The boldness of her words brought the chatter to a halt. “Destroyer of Nations, Tigress of Amphipolis . . . the Warrior Princess.
I came to know the warrior known as Xena in my 17th year. I was an idealistic farm girl who craved adventure . . . something more in life than someone’s wife and mother . . . On my journeys with Xena I managed to become both . . . But this story, this adventure if you will, took place long before I took a bond oath, long before I had a daughter. It’s the story of bravery, heart wrenching decisions, pride of ones homeland and the power to change the world. That day came when the Persians landed at Marathon . . .”
Soon the words flowed from Gabrielle’s mouth. It was second nature to the bard. All eyes and ears were fixated on the petite blonde woman telling the powerful, moving story. Women wept when hearing how torn the warrior felt for serving the ‘greater good’ instead of the woman she prized. Men cheered as the listened to how Xena took on Persian after Persian unwilling to surrender. By the time Gabrielle finished the crowd was on its feet applauding the tale as the man who began the heckling came over to her.
“My apologies great bard,” he said with a warm grin as he kissed her knuckles softly. “Thank you for the tale.”
Gabrielle smiled in kind, “It was my pleasure.”
August’s grin was as wide as the staff she now carried as Gabrielle returned to the their table. Eponin however didn’t look as pleased.
“Are you okay?” Gabrielle asked upon seeing her friends’ condition.
“Yeah I just need another mead,” she said rising, going to the bar.
August and Gabrielle exchanged looks and August gave a shrug unsure of what was transpiring. “I thought it was a beautiful story,” she said as Gabrielle rose to follow the amazon.
“Thanks sweetie,” Gabrielle replied sincerely. “I’ll be right back so stay out of trouble,” the bard teased.
“Who? Me?” August grinned, knowing full aware of the havoc that she could wreak.
Gabrielle gave a light chuckle but said nothing as she took a spot at Eponin's elbow at the bar.
“Come here often,” Gabrielle teased as she wiggled her eyebrows.
That got a small grin to appear on the amazon’s lips, “You know for a bard you have some lousy pick up lines.”
“I should work on that area huh?” Gabrielle grinned. When Eponin did nothing more than drink from her mug Gabrielle pressed on. “So what’s wrong Ep?” the bard asked.
“Just feeling sorry for myself if you don’t mind,” Ep answered with a forced grin.
“Why?” Gabrielle asked genuinely confused.
“Because . . . you love her . . . and you’ll always love her. And I know in my heart of hearts you’ll never love me that way – or anyone for that matter.”
“Ep-.” Gabrielle tried to say as she sighed.
“No Gabrielle,” Eponin said, cutting her off. “I saw it in your eyes tonight when you spoke of her. The emotion, the gestures . . . You still love her.”
“And I will always love her,” Gabrielle argued. “But that doesn’t mean I won’t be able to love someone else.”
Gabrielle would have continued but a man burst into the tavern, letting in what was left of daylight.
“Does anyone know where I can find Xena, the warrior princess?!” he asked loudly, short of breath.
Everyone seemed to stop what they were doing and looked at one another. In unison all the fingers in the tavern pointed back to the bar where Gabrielle was standing.
Oh boy, Gabrielle rolled her eyes.
The man rushed back to the amazon pair, still trying to catch his breath. “Are you Xena?” he asked Eponin.
Eponin shook her head at the irony of the comment. No but I wish I was she thought silently. The bard would be mine then.
“I’m Gabrielle. Is there someway I can help you?”
“Gabrielle? The bard of-.”
“Poteidaia,” Gabrielle finished in a bored tone. “Yeah that’s me. What’s the problem?”
“Well my village sent me to find Xena but it looks like I might have found the next best thing,” he grinned.
“Next best thing?” Gabrielle grinned to Eponin.
Realizing his error the man tried to make up for it. “A thousand apologies. I meant no disrespect. We would be grateful for your help.”
Gabrielle put her hands up to stop his rambling. “It’s okay. Tell me what’s going on.”
“An army is going to attack our village. Our elders sent four of us out to the four corners to find the warrior princess. Rumor has it that she still travels the countryside after all these years. It was a long shot but we thought if she did still live she could come to our aid.”
Gabrielle nodded at the man’s story and cleared her throat. “Well last I know Xena was babysitting the god of war. I’m not sure where she is but I think we’d be willing to lend a hand. Wouldn’t we?” she added as she turned to Eponin.
“I’m up for it,” the amazon grinned.
“Thank you so much,” the man said as he profusely shook Gabrielle’s hand; nearly making her whole body vibrate.
“That’s okay,” Gabrielle chuckled. “You look tired my friend. Why don’t you grab a drink and some food? Rest for a few candlemarks and we’ll head out before daybreak to your village. Okay?”
The man nodded and bellied up to the bar. “We’ll be forever in your debt Gabrielle. May I call you Gabrielle?”
“Yeah. Gabrielle, Gabby, Gabs – I’ll answer to just about anything,” she teased as she patted him on the back. “Rest now and we’ll head out in a bit.”
As the man sat down to his stew, Gabrielle motioned Eponin toward the table where August sat. “Do you think she’s up for it?” Eponin asked, looking at August.
“Weren’t you the one that said she needed a good dose of reality,” Gabrielle teased.
“Touché,” Eponin answered. “But seriously, when the battle begins-.”
“You’ll stick to her like glue,” Gabrielle answered. “Don’t confront anyone. Just watch our backs in case anyone gets by us. Okay?”
“So now I have to baby-sit?” Eponin teased. “Who knew Xena and I had so much in common?” she added in regard to Gabrielle’s earlier comment.
“I promised August’s parents I get her to Athens and I intend to keep my promise,” Gabrielle replied. “So don’t go in there acting the hero on me tomorrow. Keep the kid safe.”
“Aye, aye captain,” Eponin saluted as the pair neared the table.
August was already on her feet when she saw them approach. “What was that about?” she asked pointing to the man at the bar.
“Well August my dear,” Gabrielle grinned. “Looks like we’re not going straight to Athens. Are you up for a little diversion?”
“Are you kidding?” August said excitedly. “You mean like a ‘real’ adventure? A mission of some kind?”
“You could say that but you have to promise me to stick by Eponin at all times, no matter what . . . Promise?”
August crossed her heart with her pinky. “Promise! . . . This is toooo cool!”
Oh boy . . .