by: de Bonheur
Disclaimer: The characters of Xena and Gabrielle 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 very low level violence. It includes fictionalization and/or out-of-context use of historical characters.
Author's Note: Please refer to CHARON'S FROGS for certain aspects of character developments. The History: Aeschylus, according to one account, was almost murdered on stage (Perseus Project web site) for revealing the secrets of the Eleusinian Mysteries in one of his plays. (I'm assuming it's the ELEUSINIANS, only fragments of which remains). Alcibiades was impeached for impiety towards the goddesses of Eleusis and was condemned by default. (Plutarch). Athenian law and procedure at the time were as provided in the OXFORD CLASSICAL DICTIONARY (one of the niftiest books I've ever owned). The Myths: For one of Hercules' labours, he had to bring back Kerberos, Hades' dog. To appear before Persephone, one would need to be initiated into the Mysteries. At the time only Eleusinians and Athenians could be inducted, and one version had Hercules adopted by a fictitious Eleusinian. (Kerenyi). Finally: The "Sage" mentioned (here and perhaps in later parts of the series)... any mistranslation or misinterpretation of the Tao Te Ching would entirely be my fault.
A group of young men sat around a raised platform. At the centre, slender fingers stroke the strings of a large kitharis, which rested against long body. Flanking his sides, musicians strumming their barbitos harmonized in tenor. On each end of the semi-circle, lanky forms swayed, marking with metal krotala the orgiastic rhythm of the melody.
Slim, muscular dancers with curly locks and painted faces, wearing short tunics that did little to cover their body, whirled. The performers undulated languidly. They approached their audience, then retreated, gyrating sensually. Circling around and around.
Alcibiades reclined on the down-padded mat and clapped his hands to keep time. Occasionally he drank from the wine glass held by his slave. His eyes drifting close; his person seeping in the sensuous atmosphere.
Frenzy of shouts outside the chamber interrupted the display.
A shrill cry pierced the room. Flashes of sunlight reflected against well-polished metal. Faster than the sight of mere mortals, a long sharp blade thrust at the then half sitting statesman.
The slave dropped the goblet; and red liquid spilled across the marble floor. He was paralysed with fear.
Frightened dancers and musicians screamed and spread about the room, hiding behind pillars and curtains.
The dozen armed guards in pursuit of the fierce dark warrior paused at the door when they saw the situation. They panicked, not knowing what to do.
An anxious high voice ensued by clangs of wood blocking metal and thuds of a staff hitting flesh added to the disarray. The blonde's heart leapt in her chest as she pushed through the guards and the servants. She was intent on entering the room and reaching her warrior, regardless of the ultimate cost.
When Gabrielle saw the scene before her, she too halted her actions.
The tip of Xena's sword was pointed against Alcibiades' throat. His eyes were ready to bulge out of their sockets; his face contorted in fear and surprise.
Everyone in the room held his breath. Only a gurgling noise from the young politician's throat broke the silence.
"Nooo, Xena! STOP!!"
The bard's plea was ignored.
"Please, Xena, don't hurt me. What is it you want? Tell me." The Athenian managed to force his voice into a whisper. Alcibiades dared not move his vocal cord too much, fearing the sharp metal.
"You tell me why you had charges brought against Aeschylus." Ice blue daggers bored into him.
His face turned an even uglier shade.
"Stay out of this Gabrielle," the Warrior Princess responded, without removing her fix on her quarry.
"He wrote the play, he deserved it."
Hand trembled imperceptibly, causing drops of blood to ooze from pale throat.
"I'm the benefactor, if it's not him, it'll be me!"
Keeping at bay warring emotions, the leather clad woman tilted her head a trifle upward, inhaled deeply, and lowered her sword.
"Where is your sense of honour, Alcibiades?"
She didn't wait for an answer. Still half stupefied guards parted as she headed toward the door. The warrior took one last backward scan as she exited. Her friend silently followed.
"Even sweet words can buy honour, Xena," Alcibiades fingered his wound and sneered.
. . . . . . .
This was the first real, full-fledged trial that Gabrielle had attended. It was nothing like the one that Meleager went through.
Meleager, her childhood hero. The bard was so grateful that Xena had the corrupt magistrate figured out and then found a way to save him. When Gabrielle tried to thank her, the warrior just shrugged and gave her the usual "that's what friends are for" look. Which had, through time, been gradually replaced by something else. Something deeper, more profound...
People entering the building jostled the blonde woman back to the situation at hand. Gabrielle discovered with great dismay that being female, Xena and she could only watch the proceedings from the back of the courtroom.
The hall was crowded. Normally, men of no special intelligence, or too old for work would volunteer for jury duty. However, because of the nature of the allegations and the identity of the accused, this trial drew in a different mix. Men as if born with the belief that they were better than the common folks sat in front with superior air and looks of boredom.
A well-dressed man approached the judge and addressed the mass. Gabrielle recognised his role. The prosecutor representing the state spoke articulately. He denounced the playwright of impiety, and of disclosing too much of the Mysteries of Demeter and the Kore in his latest play. And he alleged that in so doing, Aeschylus had exercised rights to which he was not entitled.
The bard would very much have liked to commit to memory what she was witnessing for use in a later story. But her attention was drawn to the fist clenching and unclenching next to her. And the oratory became inconsequential.
*Gods, what Xena must be feeling now. Feeling. Yeah, most people could not believe that the Destroyer of Nations has feelings.*
Even her Amazon sisters had looked at her in disbelief when once she mentioned in passing that her warrior was worried about Argo, who just then had thrown a shoe and sustained a sprain.
*Ah, but she does feel. Everything. Deeply. She worries... I ought to know. And she even fears, but she'll never admit it to anyone, including herself... And she tries so hard to hide her emotions, to bottle them up. Then when they eventually erupt, as suppressed feelings always do, they hit her extra hard...*
Gabrielle knew the severity of the inevitable emotional impact. She was no stranger to its harshness.
She laid a gentle hand on the tensed arm. *Yeah, Love, sometimes I feel I'm put here to help keep you whole, too.* The twitching eased a little.
Then it was Aeschylus' turn to speak on his own behalf.
When news of his arrest reached them in the countryside, they raced back to Athens.
During the journey, Xena drifted back to the taciturn mode. And the bard could feel the walls going up. But at least not completely this time, and she was actually there, at the trial, with her warrior. They certainly have come a long way.
Xena had kept her promise and told Gabrielle stories about how she met the dramatist, when he stopped through Amphipolis after his last war.
She even related to the bard the dream he had in his youth. Aeschylus had fallen asleep while guarding grapes in a field; and Dionysus appeared to him and instructed him to write tragedy. The warrior, after his last battle, thought it was time for him to follow his destiny, and not fight anymore.
The soldier-cum-poet had taught the young Xena many things. He was her Meleager.
A subtle tensing under her palm jarred her senses... somehow much more than the loud buzz of hushed whispers in the courtroom, which the bard's mind had finally registered.
Gabrielle transferred her attention back to the still speaking Aeschylus.
Apparently he had waived all the procedural and evidentiary rights accorded to him by law. Rather than employing a speech- writer skilled in defense, he wrote his own address and spoke from his heart.
Listening to his oration, the bard could not fathom how the young Athenians could judge him a pompous old-fashioned fool. She had rejoiced when the powers-that-be made special allowances so that his plays could be revived in the festivals after his death.
The speech did not last long.
Immediately afterwards, the jurors voted. Xena did not wait for the several hundreds men to cast their pebbles in the urns. Aeschylus had accepted the prosecutor's charges.
She did not remain to hear the official propose the penalty nor the defendant's counter-proposal. She already knew what the punishment would be, and how her friend would plead.
The warrior waited for Gabrielle at the door.
Green eyes were still accustomed to the darkened room. With the bright sunshine behind the tall form, she presented only a silhouette to the bard's vision. Gabrielle hurried to her partner, hugged her tightly, and pulled her away from the exit and into the light.
. . . . . . .
Outside the prison cell, Xena paced and Gabrielle waited.
"Why didn't you call in witnesses to testify on Alcibiades' role in your writing the play?"
"What good would it do, Xena?"
"Can't Dionysus help?"
"Not this time."
"You know I would get myself initiated and go before Persephone if I could."
"Isn't Hercules already initiated? Maybe we could ask him to help?" The bard suggested.
"Yes, Xena, I know you would. And no, Gabrielle, I don't want help from Hercules, or from anyone else.
"Cheating death once is enough for me. Besides, my very last concern has been assuaged," his gaze flicked momentarily to the slight form near his protegee, "I can rest happily now."
Before the warrior could argue some more, the guards arrived.
"Think of me often, kid, and I'll see you again."
The bard looked at the poet as he was being led out. He smiled and nodded. And she saw her own feelings reflected in his eyes. Only his were more ancient. She felt a connection between them, a kinship even. Then she turned away.
Gabrielle put her arms about her warrior's waist, and held her close. She look up into the deep blue eyes, and saw a small glimpse of sorrow and helplessness, before they were locked away.
. . . . . . .
That afternoon, Argo tore out of the city, carrying the friends miles away before they stopped to set up camp. They did not stay for the execution.
. . . . . . .
Under the starry sky, by a small fire, the warrior polish non-existent rust out of her armour. That was after her bard had wrestled away the sharpened and resharpened sword, chakram, and assorted daggers.
Across from the orange flames, Gabrielle fretted.
"Talk to me? Please?"
"High wind doesn't last all morning, heavy rain doesn't pour all day, Gabrielle."
That was the same line the warrior had used a long time ago to explain to the little girl of Poteidaia why it was natural for her to talk so little. It was supposedly a comment expounded by a sage the Warrior Princess met during one of her campaigns.
Hearing it again this night, the low voice betraying a trace of bitterness, the bard wasn't sure what her partner was referring to; if indeed it were just her silence...
Small steps around the fire; docile hands removing brass and cloth from vise hold; kneeling; digits trailing along tense jaws; reaching in.
The warrior dropped her eyes.
"Look at me," the bard implored. "Please, Love, let me in?"
Dark head raised reluctantly. Liquid blues meeting gentle, concerned greens. Telling so little, yet so much.
She closed her eyes and leaned into the waiting arms. Warm, loving, and strong in their own ways. And she blindly reached out for her bard, fastening her hands about trim waist and sank into the embrace...
Later that night, Gabrielle pulled the blanket over her warrior's shoulders. She let the tips of her fingers traced along where tears should have rolled, and rested her palm reassuringly on the slumbering form, holding her love close by the sound of her heartbeats.
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