XenaSpartacus: A Tribute
The characters of Xena and Gabrielle and others belong in their entirety to Universal/MCA, Renaissance Pictures, and all the other powers that be. No copyright infringement is intended. I wrote this story at the urging of my muse; it should never be used for profit. Please do not copy or cite elsewhere without express permission of the author.
This story contains scenes of violence and/or its aftermath.
This story depicts a loving friendship between two consenting adult women. If you are under 18 years of age or if this type of story is illegal in the state or country in which you live, please do not read it. If depictions of this nature disturb you, you may wish to read something other than this story.
CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR SPARTACUS
I had the pleasure of watching Stanley Kubrick’s Spartacus recently. Based on the novel by Howard Fast, with screenplay by Dalton Trumbo, the excellent film tells the compelling story of a slave revolt against Rome – a Rome with characters familiar to those of us who watch Xena: Warrior Princess. The film features Crassus (Laurence Olivier) and Julius Caesar (John Gavin), and mentions Pompey, although we never see the latter.
Anyway, there’s a riveting, gut-wrenching scene near the end where the cruel Roman general, Crassus, forces the rebel gladiator/slave Spartacus (Kirk Douglas) to fight his best friend, Antoninus (Tony Curtis). Crassus is jealous because he cannot win the love of Virinia (Jean Simmons), Spartacus’ wife whom Crassus has taken as his slave after defeating her husband’s rebel army. Further, there may have been a "relationship" between Crassus and Antoninus when the latter served as the Roman General’s personal slave. By the way, Antoninus is a "singer of tales" – a bard – who becomes a warrior in Spartacus’ service after he escapes from Crassus. Beginning to sound familiar?
Crassus announces that the winner of this duel-to-the-death between friends will be crucified. This portends a slow, horrific demise. Despite their bond, Spartacus and Antoninus fight hard to kill each other to save one another from the cross.
When viewing this scene, I thought about what a fantastic "Xena" piece this would make. Of course, we have to pretend that Caesar and Crassus still live, that ex-Warlord Xena led a slave revolt with the help of the Bard, and that she and Gabrielle have not yet experienced their crucifixion.
On with the tale.
I sing of Xena, warrior, rebel leader, and enemy of Rome; of Gabrielle, her friend; and one dark, fateful night…
Flickering torches and campfires cast eerie shadows across the barren clearing outside the gates of Rome. The cries of those already crucified echoed in the darkness beyond the flames. Crassus and Caesar had lined the main road from the Eternal City with almost 6,000 crosses – a somber warning to all slaves who dared to defy the Empire.
Gabrielle shuddered as a familiar, shattered voice reached her ears. She knew that voice: Anteus, one of her closest friends in Xena’s army, and a bard in his own right, was dying horribly, suffocating to death on the cross, and she could not help him. The exhausted young woman raised her manacled hands and covered her ears to block out the sounds. She wanted nothing more than to lay down and let her own tears flow, but she bit her lip and stared into the night. If Gabrielle wept, then the Dark Warrior sitting next to her might think she was a coward. Now, more than ever, she knew Xena needed to believe in her – to believe that she had the strength to face their destiny.
Xena, all powerful warrior and leader of the rebellion against the Roman oppressors, could no longer rescue her Bard. Gone was her proud, well-trained army of the dispossessed – slaves all. The Warrior Princess had molded them into a formidable threat to the Empire. So powerful were her forces, three separate Roman armies had been thrown at them, finally defeating the rebels through sheer numbers, and treacherous bribery of turncoat "allies."
For her part, Xena pondered countless strategies to save her soulmate from tomorrow’s fate. Crassus had announced a gladiatorial combat between the Amazon Bard and the Dark Warrior – a fight to the death in the Arena. Romans of every stratum anticipated a unique battle. Never had they experienced a contest between two women, both with reputations as fierce fighters, and more uniquely – friends. The city’s gossipmongers even whispered that the two women were lovers, adding an extra dimension to the event.
The fateful ironies did not end there.
Gabrielle had served as a slave in Crassus’ household until his abuses forced her to escape. And rumor had it that Virinia, the slave who replaced Gabrielle at Crassus’ bidding, had been a companion to Xena in the distant past, long before the Warrior met the young Bard from Potidaea who had captured her heart.
Xena gazed at Gabrielle. Gabrielle responded with a small, sad smile. The older woman longed to comfort her partner, but the cautious Captain of the Guard had ordered her chained to the wagon against which she now leaned. Her body ached. Her parched throat burned. Three straight days of fighting against impossible odds had taken their toll. And now she listened and watched as her men died. Tomorrow, she would fight the woman she loved more than life, and Xena knew who would triumph. Her one ray of hope might be to win the favor of the bloodthirsty Arena crowd, then beg Crassus to spare Gabrielle. The Bard would return to slavery, but remain alive. Following that, she would deprive Rome of the spectacle of her crucifixion by turning the blade on herself.
Gabrielle watched the Warrior. She knew her friend so well. The wheels were turning… Xena might yet get them out of this.
"How are you doing?" asked the older woman when she noticed the Bard staring at her.
"I’ve been better," Gabrielle answered flatly, "And you?"
"I could use a drink," the Warrior quipped.
"What’s your pleasure, my Princess? Wine? Mead?" Gabrielle picked up on the black humor of their situation and went with it.
"Actually, I was thinking more of cool, clean water."
Before Xena could order her to stop, Gabrielle rolled to her knees and struggled to her feet. Moving awkwardly due to her manacled ankles, she approached the nearest guard.
He reached for his sword and called to his companions. The small, tough Amazon had become something of a legend among the Romans, and they treated her with almost as much caution as the Warrior.
"Peace, soldier." Gabrielle kept her voice low, gentle, unthreatening. "I just want to fetch some water." She motioned to the nearby bucket and dipper.
The soldier relaxed and nodded his consent.
Carefully, Gabrielle took the dipper in both hands and drew a full portion of the tepid, dirty liquid. Doing her best to avoid spilling it, she shuffled back toward Xena.
Pride and gratitude shone in the Warrior’s eyes as Gabrielle leaned down and held the dipper to her lips. Dark fury replaced all other emotion when the guard kicked Gabrielle from behind, hurling the surprised woman headfirst into the side of the wagon.
"No water for her!" the Roman snarled at the stunned Bard sprawled in the dirt. "Crassus’ order!" he spat. He retrieved the dipper and pointed it at Gabrielle.
"Do anything like that again, girl, and I’ll chain you to the wagon too."
Xena strained at her bonds. "You are dead," she promised as she watched the soldier resume his seat near the campfire.
Gabrielle rolled onto her back and brought a hand to her forehead. She felt the warm, sticky fluid on her fingertips. By the firelight, Xena could see blood trickling from a large gash over her partner’s right eye. Despite the nobility of Gabrielle’s gesture, Xena found herself irritated at the young woman for provoking the guard.
She didn’t have to say a word.
"I know, " Gabrielle spoke, fighting back tears, "I should have been more careful."
Xena inhaled and let her irritation pass.
"Next time, Gabrielle, just take a big sip, then come give me a large, wet kiss."
Gabrielle responded somewhere between a chuckle and a sob.
Suddenly, the encampment tensed. The city gates opened.
Soldiers throughout the clearing came to attention as Crassus rode through the portal on his massive, white stallion. Caesar followed closely on an equally impressive chestnut steed.
Crassus halted in front of the wagon and dismounted. A soldier strode up to take the horse’s reins.
The Roman General smiled at Xena, then at Gabrielle, but the smile never reached beyond his thin lips. His eyes remained cold, shark-like. His voice was pure ice as he gave the fateful order with a clipped, controlled cadence.
"Unchain them. Bring two short swords. They fight each other here and now, to the death. " He paused dramatically, then added, "Crucify the winner."
Xena and Gabrielle stared at the Roman leader in stunned disbelief.
Even Caesar took issue with Crassus.
"You promised the people combat in the Arena tomorrow…"
Crassus interrupted the younger man. Keeping his eyes focused on Xena, he responded coldly to Caesar’s challenge.
"This is my business and these are my prisoners. I do with them as I please, Caesar.’
The other general kept silent.
Crassus thought a moment. Then another smile crossed his cruelly handsome face.
"And something else would please me as well." He looked directly at the Centurion in charge of the guard detail. His voice dripped with menace.
"Centurion, select three of your most deserving soldiers. You and they may take your pleasure with the victor, until you crucify her at dawn."
The Centurion’s eyes widened; his mouth went dry. Either prisoner would suffice. He favored the small blonde, but no matter.
"It will be done as you command," he responded crisply.
A fat, greasy-looking guard unfastened the chains anchoring the Warrior to the wagon. Four soldiers stood by; javelins at the ready in case Xena attempted an escape. The Centurion released Gabrielle from her shackles.
Raw, red welts at their wrists and ankles attested to the brutality of the women’s confinement.
Xena winced as she tried to stand. Her legs and back cramped. She gasped and steadied herself against the wagon, waiting for the pain to pass. Two days in Roman bondage without food or water left the Warrior Princess at less than her best.
Automatically, Gabrielle started toward her soulmate, offering comfort. The guard beside her grabbed her arm roughly. The Amazon snapped.
Gabrielle whirled on the man. With a vicious upward thrust of her elbow, she caught him in the throat, just under the chin. His head whipped back, and he dropped like a rock, sprawled in the dust – lifeless eyes gazing into the night sky.
A second guard slammed the flat of his sword across her upper back – without effect. She took the blow, rolled forward, sprang to her feet, then turned on him. Xena noted the woman’s wild eyes and erratic breathing. Her small, powerful body glistened in the torchlight. It was a scene unlike any other the Warrior had ever witnessed. Gabrielle, the tigress, dwelled in another world, perhaps believing they still had a chance…
Several men surrounded the Amazon. Damaging her before Crassus completed his torture would cost them their lives. Yet, they respected the madness that had just killed their fellow soldier.
With a mixture of admiration and regret, Crassus watched his ex-slave take on Rome’s best. Gabrielle had challenged the General from the moment he bought her. She thrilled his household with her tales, worked tirelessly, and proved a delightful, if unwilling, bedmate. Unfortunately, she escaped before he had the opportunity to break her.
"Pity," he mused, "I’ll never have the pleasure of making her truly mine." Then came darker thoughts. "No, that pleasure was Xena’s… and she will pay dearly for it."
Time assumed an unreal, crawling pace. Shadows danced on the city walls, and the colorless earth. Firelight illuminated the tense, sweat-slick faces of the Romans and their prey.
Only Xena managed to break free of the spell. She gazed at Gabrielle.
The Amazon Bard half-crouched, one foot forward, both fists up, swaying gently, finding her center. Her grim expression challenged all attackers.
"I trained her too well," the Warrior Princess whispered to herself, sadness mingling with pride.
From the corner of her eye, Xena noticed a guard surreptitiously raising his javelin. It was the same man whose earlier brutality had wounded her soulmate. Now, the soldier prepared to hurl his weapon, and the Amazon could not see him! He aimed low, probably for Gabrielle's legs, or perhaps merely to divert her long enough for the others to seize her.
All eyes fixed on the absurd, but deadly, standoff between a small, unarmed blonde and at least four burly Romans. The distraction gave Xena her chance. In three swift strides, she covered the distance to the man with the javelin. Before he could react, she jabbed two fingers of both hands into the sides of his neck. The solder gasped and dropped his weapon, clutching at his throat.
"I keep my promises."
Xena smiled triumphantly at the guard. He collapsed to his knees, then rolled to his side and closed his eyes. A thin trickle of blood ran from his nose. The Roman died while his companions stood by helplessly.
"Fool!" the Centurion shouted. "Take them both!"
Soldiers swarmed the women, overwhelming them, but not before another dozen fell, more than a few with crippling injuries.
Five Romans held Xena. It took three to pin Gabrielle.
Crassus strode up to the Warrior Princess. He stared his adversary directly in the eyes. The hatred and resolve he found in those blue depths chilled him to the core of his soul. He smashed his right fist brutally into Xena's abdomen, knocking the breath from her, doubling her in pain. The soldiers held fast.
Slowly, she straightened and fought for air. When Crassus observed her again, the deadly defiance remained.
Shaking his head, he moved toward Gabrielle. The General tilted her chin upward with his hand and looked down into sparkling emerald eyes. Another chill coursed up his spine. He saw nothing there - not even contempt, and certainly not the fear he desired. Gabrielle had no regard for him, for the men twisting her arms behind her back, for the situation. She had moved beyond it all, into her own world.
"The swords!" Crassus commanded.
Two short swords landed in the dust at Xena's feet. The guards released her. Without shifting her gaze from her captors, the Warrior Princess squatted and retrieved both blades.
She advanced toward her companion. The men holding Gabrielle let her go and stepped back. Xena offered the sword, but Gabrielle stared past her, into nothingness. Xena reached down and placed the hilt into the Amazon's hand. The young woman held the weapon limply at her side.
"Gabrielle, come on," Xena whispered the plea to her soulmate.
Gabrielle's mind and spirit had slipped beyond the present. Only her body remained.
"Engage!" the Centurion ordered. "Engage or you both die."
"Remember, Xena, we only crucify the winner," Crassus added sarcastically.
Xena knew his game. She must kill Gabrielle whether the Bard fought or not. The Warrior refused to allow Rome to crucify her beloved.
She took her stance before Gabrielle, prepared to do what was necessary.
"I won't fight you, Xena." Gabrielle sounded far away. She refused to look directly at the Warrior Princess, fearing that she would lose all control and weep before their captors.
"And I won't let you die on the cross," her companion responded. "That means I must do this, whether you fight or not." Xena nodded toward her weapon.
"They can't make us do it." Gabrielle fixed the dark woman with a loving gaze. She spoke softly, her words meant for Xena alone. "We're better than this…"
"We're warriors. Sometimes it all comes down to the point of a sword."
Gabrielle shook her head. "You know you don't believe that. Look in your heart. Please. Look in my heart." The Bard waged war using her best weapon. Her gentle words almost reached Xena…
"Enough prattling!" Crassus interrupted. The former slave's golden tongue was thwarting his pleasure.
"If you refuse to fight, slave, I'll crucify Xena before your eyes." He spat his threat at the defiant Amazon. "You'll watch her die slowly, and very, very painfully. I promise. Now have mercy on your friend. Kill her."
With a leaden heart, Gabrielle turned toward Crassus, her sword raised in mock salute. Then, she lowered the blade to its ready position, and faced Xena.
The Warrior Princess raised her weapon and the women closed the gap slowly, circling…
When they were but four or five paces apart, each paused to gauge the other's readiness to die.
"Lower your guard and I'll kill you on the first pass," Xena commanded with as much love and gentility as her dire promise allowed.
"No. I won't let them crucify you." Gabrielle made a tentative thrust, which Xena parried with ease.
"Do you realize how long it takes to die on the cross?" Xena hoped that logic might prevail with her soulmate.
Gabrielle nodded sadly and lunged again with her blade, this time harder.
Xena countered and the Bard blocked.
Thrust, parry, block, jab, thrust again..… Their combat continued long into the night.
The sound of ringing metal on metal played as music to the General's ears.
The women backed away and circled, each seeking the fateful opening.
Gabrielle charged. Xena blocked, whirled, and brought her sword up toward the Amazon's midsection. With astonishing speed, the Gabrielle leapt away - the blade just grazing her. She looked down at the thin, red line that crossed her abdomen. She gripped the sword's hilt and tensed for another rush at her friend.
"Don't, Gabrielle" Xena warned as tears clouded her eyes. The Amazon disobeyed.
Gabrielle charged again. Xena evaded the edge and grabbed the smaller woman by the wrist of her other hand. She tried to bring her sword into the heart's killing region, but Gabrielle stopped the thrust with her forearm, grunting in pain as Xena's blade tore her flesh. The Warrior's momentary regret allowed Gabrielle to twist from her grasp and back away, panting, blood flowing from the shallow wound.
Crassus licked his lips and grinned. This would be a lesson to all slaves who dreamed of revolt and freedom. No matter what happened in the dark outside the gates of his city, the General had his triumph - a personal conquest of the young slave who defied him; a glorious victory over the Warrior who took arms against Rome, and stole what was his. If Xena lived, he would force Virinia to watch the Warrior die on the cross. If Gabrielle survived… Crassus felt pleasant, familiar stiffness in his groin.
Caesar studied the combatants philosophically. Blood, pain, and passion transformed the lovers into savage beasts. Death would be their only reward; one would die more slowly than the other, of course. And their harsh lesson served the Empire.
The Centurion looked on in amazement as two skilled warriors battled through the night - the smaller one - quick, agile, and so very determined, but with lesser skill. The large, dark woman -- strong, equally determined, tremendously skilled with the short sword… It surprised him that the young Amazon lasted as long as she did.
Part 5 -- Conclusion
Gabrielle's left arm dangled uselessly at her side, covered in dried blood and crusted dirt. Sweat stung her eyes and mingled with her tears. Somehow, she managed to lift her sword and parry Xena's next attack.
The Warrior's thrust was weak and wide. Gabrielle overcompensated the block. The Amazon tripped and fell as she tried to recover, landing hard on her backside.
Xena hated to pursue a downed adversary, but the moment had arrived for a quick, painless kill. Then, she could get on with the agonizing oblivion that awaited the so-called winner of this contest.
She leapt toward the smaller woman.
By instinct alone, Gabrielle brought both legs up, caught Xena in the gut, and used her attacker's momentum to hurl the larger woman head over heels into the air. Xena crashed to the ground with a solid, bone-crunching thud.
"Where did that come from?" thought the surprised Warrior Princess, trying to catch her breath. Before she could rise, Gabrielle was on her, desperately searching for an opening. Xena wrapped her companion in a smothering bear hug, pinning Gabrielle's sword harmlessly between them. They rolled together in the dirt.
Finally, Xena managed to toss the Amazon off. She moved quickly to retrieve her weapon.
Both warriors staggered to their feet, panting, exhausted. They looked at each other and, to the astonishment of all those watching, they smiled.
"You learned beautifully, Gabrielle."
"I had the finest teacher in the world." Gabrielle's grin-wrinkled nose, upturned chin, and sparkling eyes captured the Warrior Princess all over again.
"I'm sorry this is what I taught you." Xena's regret threatened to overwhelm her, but she straightened -- standing tall and proud, awesome in her courage and honesty. The Roman guards looked on in admiration. Gabrielle beheld a dark goddess.
"Don't be sorry, Xena. I wouldn't have lived my life any other way." The joy in Gabrielle's husky voice ascended beyond her tears. "I do love you so."
"As I love you, my Bard."
The sky turned a pale rose with the approaching dawn. Both women paused to watch the sun crest the hills of Rome, then faced each other again.
Xena tightened her grip on the sword's hilt and opened her arms.
With a choked sob, Gabrielle summoned all her remaining strength, brought her blade up, and charged.
"How could the brat write that drivel?"
The rough-and-tumble archeologist slammed the leather notebook closed in disgust. The mist in Janice Covington’s blue-green eyes belied her harsh statement. Although she sat across the room, Melinda Pappas caught the contradiction between Janice’s words and her expression.
Dr. Covington gazed out her window at the frosty, white blanket that covered all of Cambridge, and Harvard Yard. She cleared her throat and shuffled papers.
Melinda’s soft Southern drawl barely sounded above the noise from the crackling fire in the wood stove that warmed Janice’s modest office.
"I declare, Janice. A body would think you didn’t care a whit for your talented ancestor."
"She’s a chronicler, nothing more and nothing less. Why’d she have to try something else, especially something so, so…" Janice searched for the right word, "…sappy?"
"She got to ya, didn’t she?" Mel purposely deepened her accent and winked at Janice, then flashed a smile that almost melted the ice on their windowsill.
"Your translation is what got me. It’s beautiful you know."
Janice traced a finger across the notebook resting on her desk. She removed wire-rimmed eyeglasses and rubbed the bridge of her nose and the spot at the middle of her forehead that itched when she got too emotionally involved.
Mel brushed a wisp of long, dark hair from her eyes and opened a second notebook resting on her desk.
"You know, Gabrielle admits that she wanted to write a fictional tragedy. She says so right here in the introduction to her Spartacus scroll. "
Mel began to read from her translation of Gabrielle’s prologue.
"Xena and I remained in Athens to attend a tragic play by Euripides. It moved us both, though Xena would not admit this at the time. I can only hope to write so well one day. I make no claim to a playwright’s talent. Instead, here is my effort at a tragic tale using what I know best. I adapted this story from the marvelous history of the rebel slave, Spartacus."
"Well, if she was such a fine bard, why did she leave the ending so ambiguous?"
"Maybe she just couldn’t bring herself to kill either character, so she left it up to the reader."
"Or maybe there’s another scroll." The archeologist glowed with anticipation at any excuse for another expedition to Macedonia.
"Easy, young lady," Mel admonished. "You know Dr. Jellickson told you no gallivanting around until we’re sure that leg has healed."
Janice glared at the cast that covered her right leg from ankle to thigh – the result of her first and last foray from cross-country to downhill skiing.
"Damn, stupid Covington luck."
Easy silence prevailed as the partners resumed their studies. Mel moved her chair to her companion’s desk so she could cross-reference both notebooks.
Sometime later, Janice glanced up and saw the love of her life deep in thought. She almost hated to interfere, but a question continued to twitch in her mind.
"Do you think they really loved each other that much? I mean, in every way?"
"Do we love each other?" Mel responded.
Janice nodded. She leaned over and gently kissed the beautiful Southerner on the cheek.
"There’s your answer," Mel said simply.
Janice Covington just grinned.
Comments? Questions? Constructive feedback gladly accepted at: MsCL@ix.netcom.com
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