2003 Bardie Winner!
" so I flipped in the air and knocked the bad guy to the ground. End of story."
The dark-haired warrior took in the blank faces of the crowd that had gathered in the tavern to hear the tales of the Warrior Princess from the icon herself. They were not impressed.
To her right, Xena grimaced as she caught the scowl on the face of the tavern owner. He had agreed to one nights room and board for the Warrior Princess and her blonde sidekick in exchange for the telling of her heroic exploits. Several of the innkeepers from neighboring villages had told how the wonderful bard had packed their establishments, boosting their profits; so naturally, he was thrilled when the pair walked into his tavern this afternoon. He did not, however, anticipate the bait and switch. Barding was not one of Xenas many skills.
"Okayyyy, heres another one." Before she could begin again, the shuffling of feet was heard as several patrons gave up their seats near the warriors perch to return to their clusters of friends. Soon, they would drink up and go home to their wives.
Unable to ignore the not-so-subtle critique of her storytelling skills, Xena tossed up a sneering eyebrow at perhaps the only person in the Known World who was not intimidated by the gesture. The bard herself sat smirking at a table in the back, twirling her long blonde hair as she watched the debacle of Xenas stage debut.
"Excuse me for a moment," the warrior told the crowd as if they would even notice her departure from the stage. "Is something funny, Gabrielle?"
"Funny? Oh, definitely not. Theres nothing funny happening here tonight," the bard answered.
"Its the crowd, Gabrielle. Half of them are already too drunk to know a good story when they hear it. The other half are obvious dimwits."
"Or maybe only one of us is truly talented when it comes to storytelling. And that would be ," with infuriating nonchalance, Gabrielle held out her hand and examined her buffed nails, " me. Now, if youre ready to admit that, Warrior Flop, Id be happy to take over."
The warrior glowered back at the bard, her lips pursed in defiance. "Warrior Flop?" No way on earth was Xena backing down now!
"Believe me, Im not about to say no to a soft dry bed, but Ive got bad news for you in the dinars department," Gabrielle said as she rummaged through the saddlebag.
"Well, when has that ever stopped us? Just tell some of your stories like you usually do." But then the warrior added an unfortunate postscript. "No big deal."
"Hmph! No big deal, huh?" It was bad enough that Xena never wanted to share the bad guys in a good fight not even one or two but now she was dissing Gabrielles proudest asset.
"Right," Xena agreed. It was all very simple to the Warrior Princess. "You just tell a couple of stories. We get a room. No big deal." She said it again.
"You mean as opposed to the kinds of things you do. Those are a big deal."
"Well ," the dark warrior considered her position and drew an ill-fated conclusion, " yeah."
"Tell you what, then ." Xena obviously didnt appreciate what was involved here because she didnt believe storytelling required any skill. "You tell the stories tonight and Ill sit over in the corner and look sullen."
One more utterance and the too-proud warrior sealed her fate. "What, you think I cant?"
"I guess well see."
"I can tell stories." Nothing to it, right?
"Have at it, Warrior."
"So does it have to be stories? I mean, what were really talking about here is entertaining these folks so theyll stay and spend their dinars on food and drink, right?" An idea was forming in the warriors head.
"Xena, are you going to sing?" the bard asked excitedly.
"No!" The Warrior Princess didnt sing for just anyone. "But I have another idea ."
A clap of thunder and the ensuing sound of a torrential downpour rendered the soft, dry bed at the inn much more important than proving a point about bardic abilities.
"Maybe you should let me take over, Xena. We wouldnt want to lose out on our bed," the bard pleaded, hoping that the warrior would see the logic of her reasoning.
Too late for that, though. The Warrior Princess wasnt about to lose face in front of this crowd, and besides her idea was pretty good.
"Ill let you help."
The blonde bard scooted to the stage area and began banging on the closest table to quiet the crowd.
"Ladies and gentlemen, from beautiful downtown Furka, its "Tonights Show Starring Xena of Amphipolis. Im Gabrielle, your host, and I invite you to join Xena and her special guest, Xenac the Magnificent. And now heeeeeeeeeeres Xena!"
Curiosity about what might follow compelled the tavern customers to keep their seats and turn their attention to the now commanding presence of the Warrior Princess.
"Thank you, Gabrielle." Xena clasped her hands behind her back and rocked stiffly from heel to toe and back.
"Good evening. I, uh, heard from a traveler on the road that Caesar had set his sights on attacking Turkey from the rear. He was hoping that maybe Greece might help."
A few heads nodded seriously and anxious whispers were exchanged.
"You know, Greece? Like you know, using Greece? To help attack Turkey? From the rear?"
"On a related note, when they heard the Romans were headed west, Gaul surrendered."
That brought a round of chuckles, as all were familiar with the Gallic penchant for retreat.
"Say, does anyone know how many soldiers it takes to defend Gaul?"
"How many?" Gabrielle prompted from the wings.
"No one knows. Its never been tried."
The raucous laughter told Xena that the Gauls were fair game for their entertainment tonight.
"We probably shouldnt pick on the Gauls, though." Xenas demeanor switched suddenly to serious. "How many of you like the Gauls? Raise your hand."
Only a couple of hands went up from among the crowd.
"And how many of you are Gauls? Raise both hands."
That brought a round of knee-slapping laughter, assuring Xena that the crowd was primed for the next act.
"I have a special guest tonight. Xenac the Magnificent is here. Dont go away." In a gesture that was signature Xena, the Warrior Princess drew her sword from its scabbard, twirled it before her twice, and bowed low as she tucked it backward beneath her arm.
"Not bad at all, Warrior." Gabrielle peeked out and watched as the crowd rushed the bar for refills. Their soft, dry bed was almost a sure thing.
"Help me into this, Gabrielle." Xena tucked her raven locks beneath a majestic turban, fashioned from one of several slinky dresses that she and the bard always had on hand when they needed to deceive men who thought with their whatever. From the small saddlebag, she pitched their full set of cast-iron cookware; bread, cheese, jerky, and spices; the medicine kit; two bedrolls with extra blankets; finally drawing out a royal cape of blue velvet with a white fur collar.
Gabrielle held the cape while Xena wrapped it around her neck. "There you go. Let me have the scrolls."
Xena handed over the collection of folded parchments, and the bard returned to the stage area and banged again on the table.
"Ladies and gentlemen, if I could have your attention, please. Mount Olympus has nothing on our next guest, the All-Knowing, All-Seeing, Supreme Master of All Things Known and Seen. I give you Xenac the Magnificent."
The crowd clapped wildly as the seer quietly took her seat opposite the host.
"Welcome, Oh Great Thinker."
"Is that a lisp?"
"Xenac, I hold in my hand several parchments." Gabrielle waved the small scrolls high in the air so that even those in the back could see. "These parchments have been hermetically sealed and tucked for the last 24 hours within the goddess Aphrodites white lace garter."
"In other words, half the men in the Known World have had the opportunity to peek at the parchments."
"Hermetically sealed, I remind you! That means they were sealed by Hermes himself! No man not even those worshipping at Aphrodites garter could have breached that seal to know the contents of these parchments."
Xena nodded in acquiescence as the crowd drew closer as if to confirm the bards assertions.
"No one knows the contents of these parchments no one! But you, Xenac, with your supreme mystical powers, will divine the answers to these questions never before seen!"
Xena extracted the first parchment and held it to her forehead, which creased in concentration.
"The answer is Tartarus," Gabrielle boomed in echo.
The turbaned host broke the seal and read the question.
"What do you get when you dont brush your teeth-us?"
The bard roared with exaggerated laughter, eliciting the same enthusiastic response from the crowd. Even if the joke hadnt been hilarious, it appeared they were willing to cut this Xenac some slack.
"That was excellent, Mighty Xenac. Do you have more?"
Again, the warrior selected a parchment, holding it close to her forehead as the crowd quieted.
"A Persian rug."
"A Persian rug," Gabrielle shouted, evoking a sharp frown of disapproval from the Seer.
"What does a bald Persian wear on his head?"
Most of those in the crowd chuckled mildly at the feeble joke, but a handful couldnt contain a collective groan.
"May your daughters run off with the Hoard," she admonished.
The third envelope was drawn, and the Magnificent Mystic squinted as she held it to her forehead.
"A lightning bolt, a fight with Joxer, and Ulysses."
Gabrielle repeated for the crowd. "A lightning bolt, a fight with Joxer, and Ulysses."
Xena cracked the seal to see the question.
"Name three things that are over with in seconds."
The crowd was perplexed.
"Over with in seconds," Xena explained, "Ulysses, over in seconds ."
The few who thought they understood the inside joke nodded and smiled, but that wasnt the reaction the Warrior Princess wanted.
"May your wineskins be filled with camel urine," she scolded.
The fourth envelope was drawn.
"Sunburned armpits," the bard repeated. Her echo was getting obnoxious.
"How can you tell if a soldier is from Gaul?"
The return of Gaul jokes brought raucous laughter and backslapping, and this one would be repeated many times tomorrow.
"You are indeed magnificent, Oh Great Xenac," the bard worshipped with animation.
Of course I am, Xena thought, drawing the fifth parchment.
"A Trojan horse."
"The answer is A Trojan horse," Gabrielle said again.
"What do Centaurs use for birth control?" Even Xena couldnt conceal her smile after that one, waiting a long time for the howling crowd to quiet down.
"We have one more, Magnificent Xenac."
Xena took the last envelope and held it to her forehead in concentration.
"I must have absolute quiet."
"She must have absolute quiet!" Gabrielle bellowed.
"Okay, its coming through. A somersault Gabrielle and Ares."
"And the final answer is a somersault, Gabrielle, and Ares."
Xenac slid her long finger through the seal, cracking open the parchment. The crowd waited in excited anticipation.
"Name a trick, a chick and a"
"Thats all, folks! Thank you very much for joining us for Tonights Show Starring Xena of Amphipolis. Lets hear it one more time for Xenac the Magnificent!"
Cheers erupted all around. Xena and Gabrielle turned to find the tavern keeper smiling in gratitude. It had been a most profitable night.
"Pretty proud of yourself, arent you Warrior?"
The dark-haired woman was already in bed, her face wearing a permanent smirk.
"So does this mean that youre going to take over this part of our partnership too? Is The Tonight Show Starring Xena of Amphipolis going to be your regular gig whenever we need some dinars?"
Not in a million years did Xena want to have to take the stage again, but she couldnt let Gabrielle know that it really was a big deal after all. No, she had to make sure that only the bard did the bard thing from now on, but she needed to portray this as a magnanimous gesture.
"I tell you what, Gabrielle. Since were partners "
"Ill do it half the time and youll do it half the time," Gabrielle finished.
No, that wasnt what she was going to say at all. "Well actually, I was going to suggest that you do the bard thing and Ill do the warrior thing you know, smacking people and running them through with my sword and stuff."
"I see," Gabrielle nodded in understanding. Cyrene had taught her a few tricks about reading panic on the warriors face, and Xena was definitely spooked. "I was actually thinking about sharing the barding with you, and you sharing the warrior thing with me. You know, half and half."
Xenas mind jumped ahead to their next night in an inn. It would be after the bard told her stories. Then it would be Xenas turn again. This might be their next to last night in a soft bed!
"And thats an excellent idea! But in the interest of specialization, I think we should focus our skills you know, try not to spread ourselves too thin."
"Oh, good idea! So what if I take over being the warrior and you keep on being the bard. Youre so good at it, Xena."
"No, Gabrielle. Im the warrior. Youre the bard."
"Well, you see, Xena thats what I thought until you decided that barding was no big deal. And who wants to do something thats no big deal? You see what Im getting at?" Gabrielle had crawled onto the bed and pinned the Warrior Princess in place. There was no escaping this maneuver.
"It is a big deal." Xena used her smallest voice for this proclamation.
"Excuse me? Did you say something?"
"I said its a big deal."
"Whats a big deal?"
"Telling stories. Its a big deal."
"I cant tell stories. You can. Youre the best there ever was and Im the worst."
The real bard was enjoying this immensely. "So Im going to do all the barding from now on?"
"Fine. And youre going to give me at least one bad guy out of every three."
"Or were going to share the barding." Gabrielle had the warrior cornered and she knew it.
"Okay five. So every time we meet at least five bad guys, I get one."
"So if we meet 10, I get two."
"Yes, Gabrielle," Xena promised drearily. There went all her fun.
"And if you dont keep your word, Xena, you know what happens?"
The warrior had almost pulled the pillow completely over her head. "What?"
"More barding for Xena."
Xena agreed. In the nightmares that followed, she saw herself as someone named Xeno, Scrollerman, and one half of the team Xenis and Gabby Lee.
As the warrior and bard drifted off to sleep, a colorful peacock alit on their window sill and spread its colorful feathers.
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