Disclaimers - You know the routine, don't own them - wish I did. Heck, I've never even been to Greece or New Zealand. No profit will be made my attempt at comedy...a feable attempt at that! Thanks to all the people who could sue me for using their characters but hopefully won't.
I'd also like to thank Blayne Cooper (aka Advocate) who should probably get co-writing credit. I'm sure if you come across anything funny, it's because of her!
Thank you to Idryth who, in her very little spare time, took time to help make this a better story.
And last but we all know not least, to Phil for coming up with these great ideas and forcing...uh...inviting us to participate.
Half a candlemark later, the swinging doors of the establishment were unlatched and the townsfolk shuffled in to try and find just the right drink to quench their thirst. Xena waited patiently behind the bar for orders as she finished wiping the rims of the newly cleaned mugs.
"What'll you have, bud?" she queried after taking her usual leaning position against the heavy wooden bar idly continuing the cleaning of the mugs.
"Glass of port," the young man deepened his voice unnaturally, "make it a double."
Xena smirked at his attempt. 'How old are you?"
The boy's voice squeaked before it settled back into the deeper timbre, "I am 22 summers." He straightened in his chair and jutted out his chin, trying to look the part. "I have spent the last three summers as part of the Amphipolis militia!"
"You know the rules here, no one under 18 summers can drink in my establishment," Xena stated clearly with a raise of a single eyebrow. The barely noticeable gesture made her look more menacing than people who actually tried to be.
"But...." the boy froze in place when he saw an older woman enter the room, his eyes widening with every step closer that the woman took. "Mom..." The acknowledgement of his relationship with the new person in the room was barely audible.
The elder woman wiped her hands on the apron hanging from her ample hips and with the back of her hand, removed some of the sweat pouring off her brow.
"If I've told you once, I've told you a thousand times. You are only 12, you are too young to be sitting here in this ...this..." His mother scrunched her nose as testimony to her distaste of the place. "This saloon,' she spat literally, into a silver spittoon next to the bar. "Now get back home and help me tend to your brothers and sisters," she bellowed.
"Yes, ma'am, ' he squeaked and quickly ran toward the swinging door, shoving aside two new patrons who were trying to enter.
Xena's icy blue eyes met those of the boy's mother. In a huff, the matriarch turned up her prominent nose and stomped out of the tavern leaving a chuckling Xena and a still ringing spittoon in her wake.
A blonde-haired woman at the doorway was still rubbing her arm where the boy had shoved her. Her companion was a tall, good-looking man dressed in what could be mistaken as royal finery in a Wal-Mart sort of way.
Like Michael Jackson, he was not used to anyone touching him in public, the man questioned, "Wonder what got up his a..."
The blonde gathered her long and now somewhat dusty cornflower blue skirt and swatted him on his arm. It was, for anyone who cared to notice, an intimate gesture. But the only person who did notice was the one who noticed everything, Xena.
A brief moment of distaste settled on his face as he looked down at his offended appendage. Then, just as quickly, it was gone. The look of distaste, not his appendage. His blonde friend was oblivious to his entire mental ordeal. But not Xena, she noticed everything.
"We need to hurry," the woman prompted.
"Gabrielle, if we are going to be man and wife, then I insist that you wear my grandmother's necklace during the ceremony. I'll just call on Beatrix and get it back from her. Trust me, it won't take me long. Her family is selling at the market here. I'll just run down and get it."
"But it's not important to me," she simply stated.
"Ah, but it's important to me, it's a symbol of my family and symbols are important," he drawled in that insipid nasal tone only achieved by the very pretentious.
"Ok," the blonde turned and grabbed his elbow, remembering to smile to not make herself look as desperate as she felt, "but hurry back, we have a ship to meet."
"Of course, my sweet," his smile was even more fake than his voice, " but now, I must go and wash some of this dust from this rancid city off my hands." Not to mention the germs from everyone touching me! Hey maybe someone makes gloves and a mask to wear? With that thought, Gerard had an inexplicable urge to buy a monkey and follow the 12 year old who had earlier made the hasty retreat. Shaking the odd impulse off, he exaggeratedly brushed the dirt from his hands as he retreated to the washroom.
With a quiet sigh, Gabrielle took in her environment. There had been customers when she and Gerard hand entered, but now it seemed everyone had suddenly vanished. With a non-plussed shrug she pulled a scroll out of her traveling bag and settled in a seat to wait for Gerards return.
A woman sashayed into the tavern. Her low cut, rich red dress barely covered her...assets. Her eyes settled on the lone person in the establishment. With no small amount of disdain, she exhaled, "You must be the new one, I knew there had to be a reason she hadn't called on me again."
"Me?" Gabrielle indicated herself then looked around for anyone else that it might be.
"Don't play all innocent with me," the other woman gazed at her critically, then added, "shortie." The hip-driven woman moved in like a hyena after a kill. "I know how she likes them. And the gold spun hair, well, that's a perfect touch. Do me a favor; tell her I'll be in my father's barn when the sun goes down, waiting." She gave Gabrielle a challenging look. "I'll do all the things to her that youre too proper to even imagine."
The hairs on Gabrielles neck bristled. "Ive got an excellent imagination! Im a bard! Sort of."
"Have you ever seen gymnastics in the Olympics?"
Gabrielle frowned. "No."
"Then you dont know half of what I cant do. I once had a lover jumped out of bed after we made love, scribbled a perfect 10 on a scroll, and began a rousing chorus of the Greek National Anthem, all while weeping. Do you get that sort of reaction like that?"
"I dont believe in dating the mentally retarded."
"Hmph." The woman must have met her old boyfriend. Damn that man-slut and his roaming ways. "Do you get reactions like that from her?"
"Now listen here, it's not like that!"
"Whatever," she waved Gabrielle off. "She's like an untamed steed and I'm the only one who can...ride her right. She has no business with someone like you."
Gabrielle was taken aback at the crude language. "I think you're mistaken." And then she was just confused. She sported the cross-eyed look so many Barbra Streisand imitators achieved.
"Don't defend her, she's not worth it." The woman's eyes briefly softened, and on some level she understood that sadly, that was very much the truth.
"Everyone needs to be defended,' was Gabrielle's reply, but by the time the words were all the way out of her mouth, she was already wondering why she said them.
"No, not her. She doesn't deserve it. Just give her my message and stay away from her. You'll only get hurt." The woman then straightened her voluminous dress, which held her no less than one third of her voluminous assets and stalked out.
Gabrielle watched the woman take her leave, still confused but her eyes were now both uncrossed.
"Thank you," a deep voice whispered from behind her.
Gabrielle swung around, startled by the sudden appearance of the bartender.
"People don't defend my honor so much around here."
"I didn't..." Gabrielle started.
"Oh, but you did." A bittersweet look swept over Xena's face. "Hey, let me buy you a drink. You didn't have to do what you did. That woman has been harassing me for moons now. She can't understand that it's over."
"Over? I don't understand...." a moment of clarity then reached her face. "You," Gabrielle pointed at Xena, "and her?" Gabrielle's finger then moved toward the door following the same path as the woman when she left. "Well, youd better hurry. Shes probably waiting for you on a balance beam right now."
"Sure...you got a problem with that?"
"Uh, no, I suppose I don't. I just didn't know..."
"That two women could be together?" Xena finished for her.
The conversation ceased with the re-emergence of Gerard. His gaze went from woman to woman. "What's going on here?"
Gabrielle hesitated. "Nothing." Then with more conviction she repeated, "Nothing." She smiled her most dazzling smile and turned fully toward her fiancé. "We were just chatting about the dry, hot weather .and sports. So, did you get everything taken care of?"
"Yes, I asked around and Beatrix and her family are at the market. I'll go see if she's there and then I'll be back to get us to the ship in time with the necklace in tow." Gerard decided to play his part and moved in beside Gabrielle putting a possessive arm around her shoulder and pulling her as close as he could without getting a cootie shot to protect him from her girl germs. Gerard turned toward Xena. "We are getting married today."
"Congratulations," she drawled with not one hint of sincerity in her voice.
Gerard forced himself to smile, "I heard you offer to buy my lady a drink. Would it be alright for her to wait here and have it while I tend to the business at hand?"
With much more sincerity and just a hint of a leer, Xena responded...perhaps a little too quickly, "Sure, I'd be happy to keep my eyes on her."
"Great." Gerard leaned over and air-kissed Gabrielle's cheek. "I'll be back before you know it, with the necklace."
Gabrielle hefted her bag and settled in another seat next to the bar. It wasn't as if she couldn't be constructive while she was waiting, she could always use the time to catch up on her scrolls. Although she'd have to give up her dream of being a traveling bard, it would all be worth it soon. She was going to marry into a good and rich clan and her whole family would benefit. The loans her parents had on their farm would be excused and her sister, Lila, would be able to quit working as a bull castrator, even though she had a natural talent for the job, and would be able to go to school.
"So," Xena leaned on the counter while drying one of the endless supply of mugs, "what business do you have in this town?" She tried to appear interested in the answer, but couldnt quite pull it off.
The blonde was startled out of the thoughts of how she was going to manage all that money.
"If you are to be married, why are you and...him," Xena dismissively motioned in the direction Gerard left, "after a necklace? I heard him mention something about one anyway."
"Oh, yes, that. Well, it seems that Gerard was engaged to be married before but that woman made up a nasty rumor about his...well, about him. He broke their engagement but the harlot kept his family necklace.
"Really?" Xena was still a sentence behind. "Just what kind of rumor could she make up that would prevent a wedding?" She leaned forward in fake interest, hoping Gabrielle's cleavage would come back into view. The reflection off the glass she was a little like looking at a fun house mirror. Things were huge as Hades, but there instances when that wasnt a bad thing.
Gabrielle looked down at her scrolls and pretended to straighten the already organized papers. "Nothing really, it's just.... It's just..." She straightened her back and strengthened her resolve. "It's just that it's none of your business!"
Xena kept up with the reflection even as it turned away from her and faced the door. She found that if she moved the mug is just the right way, she could make Gabrielle look like a rabbit.
"Look," Gabrielle clenched her teeth, "you don't have to make conversation with me. I'm fine. I'll just wait for Gerard. Now, if you'll excuse me..."
Gabrielle jumped, startled by all the patrons of the bard suddenly shouting as they lifted their mugs in the air. "Sal!!!!!" She had been so engrossed in trying to be inconspicuous; she hadn't noticed the bar quickly had become full.
"Hi, guys!" the jovial, chubby man waved at no one in particular. He sauntered in to the opposite side of the bar from Xena and practically snuggled onto a stool.
"Hiya, Sal." Xena drawled. "Your usual, I'm guessing?" As if by magic, a full mug of ale slid to a stop in front of him.
"Yep, thanks, Xena."
Xena shook her head, smiling at the foam dripping from Sal's beard after he inhaled half the drink. Sal was a regular patron. The cloth on his barstool was more formed to his butt like a second pair of underwear or, if the sticking noises he made when he got up were any indication, his first pair. He was in the tavern so often there had been times Xena considered asking him for rent.
The tavern doors exploded open.
"What kind of decision was that? The Amphipolis Guard track and field team had the first choice, they could have gotten a new javelin thrower but they chose the discus thrower who just came here from Rome. We are weak in the javelin. We're never going to win the Olympics with a bad javelin thrower!" was not so much spoken, but part of a larger, somewhat non-sensical jumble of words
"G'day to you too, Joxer." Xena shot him her trademarked one-raised-eyebrow look. The licensing fees she received for that baby kept Argo in the best stall in town.
"Hi, Xena, did you hear the news? The track and field team took a discus thrower instead of the javelin." Joxer was nearly in tears.
"Well, sure," Xena picked up another mug to clean, "but I've seen a good discus thrower make all the difference in a team.
"You know," A light went on above Joxers head. Really. The room actually got brighter. "You're right Xena, thanks."
Joxer glanced over to the blonde woman sitting at the bar. Nodding his head in her direction asked loudly, "she's cute, should I buy her a drink?"
Xena shrugged. "She's going to be sitting there a while, up to you."
"Excuse me!" Gabrielle was incredulous they were talking about her as though she couldn't hear. "I'd appreciate you not talk about my private life with everyone who comes in."
"What do you want me to tell them then?" Xena actually set one of the glasses down momentarily.
"I don't care. Tell them whatever you want, just leave my private life private."
"She's a working girl, Joxer. She's waiting for her next customer." Xena indicated the luggage and scrolls next to Gabrielle.
Gabrielle almost smiled. "Gee, thanks."
"Don't mention it." Xena picked up another mug to polish and went back to work. "Eph is late again." she mentioned to no one in particular.
Joxer pulled out the dinars in his pocket and started counting to see if he had enough to pay for Gabrielle when the doors of the building slammed opened once again and curly-headed, fiery blonde barged in. "Ok, I'm late. My little centaur child was throwing up all over the place. If you don't understand that, I'm quitting. I won't work with someone who has no compassion for my kids, the smelly little bastards. I don't need this place; it's not like it's a great job anyway. I'm usually very punctual, if you don't like it that's fine! I'm going to change now."
Another set of doors slammed as the horse-loving woman went into the changing room, not waiting for a response from her boss.
Xena smiled. "Think I was too hard on her Joxer?"
Joxer grinned at Xena. The word, "hard", always made him grin.
They were both used to Ephiny's outbursts to cover her inability to be punctual. She was so bad that Xena had asked Eph to come in at three, knowing she would need her by four. She wasn't really late. It was just one of those quirky things Xena did to make her life a little more exciting.
It what felt like only seconds, Ephiny came out of changing room fully dressed, all without breaking her stride. She might be slouch, but was invaluable to the tavern and everyone knew it.
Joxer, realizing he had a new person to impress with his vast knowledge of the unimportant, leaned over the counter while Eph was counting out her money for the day. "What do you think about the new discus thrower we have, Eph?" He spoke loudly so Gabrielle would hear him. "I think he's going to make all the difference, don't you?"
Ephiny threw the bar towel down hard and started wiping the carved bar. "I heard about that." She shook her curl-covered head, her face puckered in disgust. "It's the last thing we needed, when has a discus thrower ever helped? What we really needed was the javelin guy." Her scrubbing sped up with each word, punctuating it.
Joxer pondered for a moment and declared, "You're absolutely right! We need a javelin thrower! I knew it was a bad decision" He beamed with satisfaction at his new conclusion. Then grabbed his head, "I think I have a headache."
"Oh, darling." The voice boomed before the doors opened. "I have good news and I have a tiny bit of bad news."
Gabrielle's head snapped up from her scrolls. She plastered a smile on her face. "I hope this means we can be on our way?"
"Soon, my dear, soon." Whatever it was that dripped from his voice, it wasn't sincerity. "I just wanted to let you know that I found Beatrix. Actually, I found her brother, Heath."
Gerard silenced her with a discreet finger to his mouth. "Yes," he whispered, "but those rumors weren't true." His already shifty eyes became even more so. "We are only friends."
Gabrielle thought about the woman who came into the bar earlier. Were these kinds of things possible? Men with men, women with women? Women with women on the uneven bars? Women on trampolines! Ooooo ..
The stirring of stagnant air brushed the hairs in Gabrielles ear just before a voice whispered, "So, he came back for you." An unexpected chill traveled up Gabrielle's spine. Random, fleeting images of the bartender flickered before her eyes. Her heart seized in her chest and for moment she thought the vivid, sensual flashes were a near death experience. And yet, somehow she felt as though a part of her was coming to life. Then the pressure began to ease. With a shake of her head, the chill ...and the visions were gone.
Gabrielle straightened her back, she tended to do that because of that nasty sheep accident when she was nine, and tried to keep any inopportune and most likely illegal, thoughts from straying back into her mind. She couldnt afford to get off track now because her upcoming journey was a one-way trip on the gravy train. Enough money for her family, the most important thing in her life, to be comfortable for years to come. That's why she was doing this, offering herself to a man she didn't love. In fact, she could only just tolerate the man but he was handsome, rich, and from a good bloodline. If nothing else, he was good breeding stock and a way out for her family.
These thoughts swirled so quickly through her head that nary a minute had passed. Gerard didn't even notice that her thoughts had wandered away. In reality, he didn't notice much about Gabrielle at all.
"So, what's the bad news?" Gabrielle easily slid back into the persona he expected of her.
"The bad news is that no one knew where the necklace was, but I was promised as soon as she returned, it would be sent to me...to us." Gerard's smile was as genuine as the one Gabrielle returned to him. "It shouldn't be long...."
"Oh, Gerard!" A handsome, muscular man came running into the tavern. His thick mane of blonde hair was plastered with sweat. "Beatrix has returned. She has the necklace you wanted."
Gabrielle looked from man to man. Gerard was gazing dreamily at the good-looking man, and for the first time since she met him, he wore a genuine smile. Their eyes were glued on one another. It was the opposite of how he looked at her.
Gabrielle cleared her throat to break their trance.
"Oh, yes, umm, Gabrielle, this is Beatrix's brother, Heath." The words were jumbled from coming out so quickly.
"Heath, this is Gabrielle."
"Gabrielle, yes, it's nice to meet you. I heard some about you earlier today." Heath reached for her hand to shake but was still looking straight into Gerard's eyes . His voice softened, "I hope you'll make him happy. He deserves to be happy."
Gabrielle found that in a heartbeat her whole life could change. She not only realized that the rumor was true, but that she could never be happy with Gerard, nor could he be happy with her. The gentle love he felt for the other man showed in his face, and his eyes shone with a light Gabrielle knew she could never compete with.
"Yes, I'm sure she will." Gerard answered for her. Everything fell away and for Gerard there was only Heath in the room. "Im sure we'll be very happy."
If Gabrielle thought that Gerard actually had emotion, she would have believed she saw tears gathering in his eyes. But she knew that wasn't possible.
"Come away with me," Heath pleaded as he turned to Gerard, then quickly added in a lame attempt to hide his intent, "we need to retrieve the necklace."
Gerard stood transfixed by the imploration. He could go ahead and marry Gabrielle and make his family happy or take a chance and make himself happy. When he considered it that way he knew that there was no choice.
Heath held out his hand and Gerard grasped it like a lifeline, fully knowing there was no turning back. No way to go back to his family if he walked out the door.
"Yes, I'll go with you." He said without regret.
Gabrielle held her tongue, unable to stop the display of true love.
With a heavy sigh, Gabrielle went back to her seat at the bar.
"He's not coming back," the blonde whispered.
Xena leaned against the bar. Even she had been sucked into the romantic triangle. "I wouldn't bet on it. Do you want to talk about it?" she offered.
Gabrielle let out a breath she knew full well she was holding in a heavy sigh. "Why is it that people always lay their woes down at a barkeep's feet? How sad is that? Do they think because someone like you is stuck behind the bar, they can pour out their troubles to you as easily as you pour drinks and you'll be able to solve their life's problems? I find that so sad." Gabrielle took deep drink of the ale that mysteriously appeared before her. With a thud she sat the almost empty mug down, removed the foam from her mouth with a backhanded swipe of her hand and began. "I met Gerard two moons ago... I thought he was the salvation to my family's problems....."
"So girly, where you gonna go?" Ephiny interrupted.
"I don't know. I honestly don't know. I only know what goes on at a farm and you can't make a lot of money doing that. I want to be in a city like this. To be able to take in art and theater, to read to my heart's delight. But alas, I don't have any skills."
Ephiny had grown bored halfway through Gabrielles diatribe and was already onto more interesting things "Xena, I need two glasses of port, one Tsipouro, a half water/half raki and a tea.
Xena turned, and again tried to appear attentive, if nothing else, maybe she could be the one consoling her and teaching the ways of Sapphic love later this evening. "Say, I have an idea. I could use a hand around here. Why don't you stay and work for me?" Xena accentuated the point by covering Gabrielle's hand with her own. Oooooo, nice sized hands and calloused in all the right places.
"Oh no," Gabrielle giggled like a lovestruck schoolgirl. " I couldnt work here. I have no skills, what would I do?"
Xena stopped what she was doing, realizing she hadnt fixed the drinks from Ephiny's order yet. "Eph, what was that order again?"
"Two glasses of port, one tsipouro, a half water/half raki and a tea." Gabrielle blurted out then realized what she just did.
Xena and Ephiny looked at one another, stunned. Ephiny was the first to speak. "I thought you said you had no skills, girlie."
"Wow, well now you definitely have the offer, if you will consider staying that is."
Gabrielle looked at her packed bags and considered her options.
"I can make you glad you stayed," Xena tried to make the offer more enticing with her rakish smile.
"You know," Gabrielle sat her bags down decidedly, "this might just be the beginning of a beautiful friendship."
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