As Innocuous Toothygrinnus, fondly known as "Inky" to his admiring public, was about to scribe this weeks edition of 60 Candlemarks, the most read, most revered news scroll in the known world, to parchment, the familiar wash of satisfaction and inflated ego rolled over him. The best reporter the scroll had ever seen, Innocuous had delivered some of the most important breaking news stories of the day, from his exclusive series following Caesar across the Rubicon, to his award winning exposé of Caligulas debauchery. Hed achieved an unprecedented coup when he interviewed Cleopatra just days before her untimely death. It was said that Inky would brave the fires of Hades, and later, of Hell, for a chance at an audience with their leading denizens. His was a long and lauded career, and although he was always on top, always the premiere newsman of his time, he knew, deep down, that it was never enough, that he was only as good as his last story, and that he needed a new one.
Before his main competition, Lycos Meus, scooped him.
Innocuous was never one to rest on his laurels, or his haunches. Besides, his scroll network, Chi Beta Sigma, didnt pay him to pick his toenails all day. Fortunately for Inky, his reputation was known far and wide, and his network of contacts extended even farther than that. So when an anonymous tip was delivered to him, he figured it was one of two things. Either his vast web of contacts had pointed the anonymous source in his direction, or his deceptively mild demeanor, sincere smile and soothing voice had won over yet another fan. Beloved philosophers, powerful statesmen, despots and tyrants...none seemed immune to his charm, all had succumbed to be interviewed by him, and happily spilled their guts.
But this new lead was a little confusing to him. He needed an expert to explain the technical details in a way his readers would gobble up. He dispatched several scrolls to various contacts, seeking assistance.
"Xena!" Gabrielle yelled sharply.
It had been a peaceful evening at the campfire, and Xena had begun to relax quite comfortably against her log. At Gabrielles shout, she was on her feet, sword in hand, and halfway up the nearest tree in the blink of an eye. As she became aware of her surroundings, she calmed somewhat, and looked down at the bard.
Gabrielle blinked. Sixty seven years old, and as agile as she was at thirty. And looks it, too. Not too many people can say that. Okay, so not too many people can say they were frozen for decades, either, but thats a technicality. "Um, Im not sure that was necessary."
Dangling by one arm from a low hanging limb, Xena glared. "Ya think?"
Gabrielle shook her head, and waved the scroll shed been reading at the time of her outburst. "Weve been cancelled."
"Cancelled, terminated, fired, finished, done, cooked, hung out to dry..."
Xena dropped to the ground, her thump stopping her partner just long enough to allow her to interrupt. "Do you have a scroll full of words that all mean the same thing or something?"
Xena shook her head. "Nevermind...something I picked up from the Rhein Maidens. Now tell me, why was I just hanging from a tree when Id been thinking it was time to hit the furs?" she purred.
"This!" Gabrielle flung the scroll towards her. "No more stories! Pocket Scrolls refuses to publish any more. No more job, no more paycheck, no more medical/dental, no more 401kappa. Were screwed."
"Soooo...we can sleep in tomorrow?" Xena waggled her eyebrows.
Gabrielle stomped her foot. "Be serious. You really need the emergency room coverage...how many times do you think you can be frozen and thawed out, anyway? Not to mention the build up of scar tissue on your left arm. Do you just forget that you dont carry a shield there, or what?"
"Well, yeah, but you hate when I lead with my head. Look, whats the big deal? We got along in the past without all that. Its all too damn complicated...co-pay this, deduct that, matching funds...we used to live so simply." Xena tugged Gabrielles arm towards their bedding as she spoke.
The bard chuckled. "Simply? Thats a relative term, isnt it?" She sighed, let herself be pulled down to the furs, and closed her eyes. "Were not getting any younger, you know," she mumbled.
Xena looked at her, then down at herself. "Dont seem to be getting any older either. Well talk about it more tomorrow. Go to sleep."
Inkys contacts, as usual, came through for him. He had a name. Someone who, rumor had it, could decipher the technical jargon of the statistics and demographics in the report he had received anonymously. He didnt hesitate to send out his request for a meeting with Gabrielle of Poteideia.
He was on to something big, he could feel it.
Except Gabrielle didnt respond. Inky sent out another message, and then another. No one refused him...hell, he usually had to beat them off with a stick. This was intolerable. If she wouldnt come to him, hed track her down himself. Decision made, Inky was in a carriage and on his way to the hinterlands that very day.
Gabrielle crumpled another scroll with a sundial in the upper corner. "Xena, maybe we should talk to him."
"This Innocuous guy that keeps scrolling me. He wants an expert."
"And that would be you?"
"You got a problem with that?"
"Er...no...well, I mean...expert at what?"
"Oh, you know...battling gods, bringing down corrupt governments, transcendental travel..."
Xena spluttered. "And youre the expert?"
"Well, I do have a certain cachet in the records of political science and history," Gabrielle said airily.
"Uh...huh." Xenas tone implied a slight hint of annoyance.
"Okay, okay, we have a certain cachet. We have the expertise. We should talk to the man. Happy now?"
"Better. So if you want to talk to him, talk to him. Whos stopping you?"
Gabrielle growled and pressed her hands to her temples as her brain exploded.
Inky was close. His instincts were unerring, and he followed them like a tail follows a dog. Hed known the general direction of his quarry, but homing in on her precise whereabouts might have consisted of using a divining rod, if it werent for the wide swath of destruction left by the rogue army Gabrielle and her companion were chasing. Still, he was unprepared to be suddenly jerked through a bush into the bards camp one evening, by a very tall, very dark, very mean looking warrior woman.
"Sorry, the entertainment portion of your evening is now over," said the woman in leather. Then she leaned closer and snarled, "Mines about to start."
"Xena," said an exasperated voice from across the fire.
Inky looked to the voice, and the bemused blonde woman it belonged to, and knew hed found who he was looking for. Then he panned upward to the menace towering over him, and questioned his sanity. He looked back to the blonde and cleared his throat. "G- Gabrielle? Gabrielle of Poteideia?"
"Yes," she answered, cocking her head just a little as she peered at him through the flicker of the fire.
Inky let out a huge sigh and began to rise from the spot where hed been so unceremoniously dumped on his butt. His feet were taken out from under him again.
"Did I say you could get up?" Xena asked brusquely.
"Um, no..." Inky looked for help across the fire, "My name is Innocuous Toothygrinnus...I tried to contact you..."
"Yes, I got your scrolls. Xena and I had just been discussing whether to meet with you earlier today."
"Well..." Inky began, as his well-honed journalistic skills reasserted themselves and his natural charm oozed out his pores, "then you know why Im here. I could use your help."
"Mmhmm," Xena loosened the tether on her own brand of charm, "As I understand it, Inoculate, you require Gabrielles assistance with world history and politics? That right?"
"Its Innocuous..." the newsman started, but seeing the look on Xenas face, he surmised that she didnt really care what his name was. "Right...anyway, thats not quite what I had in mind. Ive got some data I was hoping you could help me interpret about the distortion and fictionalization of historical facts for public consumption. Gabrielles name was given to me as someone with a lot of experience in the art of exaggeration."
"I...beg...your...pardon?" Gabrielle enunciated each word sharply. "I do not exaggerate."
"But isnt it true that your best selling scrolls were fantasies, but were marketed as true events? There was never even a disclaimer that they were fictionalized and only based on actual events, was there? And yet, you didnt even change the names to protect the innocent, did you?"
"Because theyre true! Every last word! I didnt make them up. Weve been to bloody Hell and back more times than I can count." Gabrielle had popped off the log she was seated on, and paced around the fire.
"And you expect me to believe..." Innocuous started to say, when he was cut off. Literally. At his windpipe. By a rather annoyed warrior princess.
Xenas voice was low, cold, and the most dangerous thing Inky had ever heard. "Alpha: Gabrielle doesnt lie. She doesnt exaggerate. She doesnt embellish. Beta: Did you come here to get her expertise on something, or are you looking for a smear campaign? Because if its the latter, Im the expert, ya got me? And Im talking smeared thin, over a very large area...understand?" She relaxed her choke hold. "Now, Emasculatus, I suggest, if you dont want to live up to your name, that you think about where you are for a minute."
Innocuous dropped to the ground, wheezing and coughing and trying very hard not to lose his bladder control.
"This is no good, Xena. He doesnt know what hes got. Hell never see the big picture. Or if he does, he wont report it. Talk about hiding the truth. No wonder we were cancelled. The industry might never recover." Gabrielle had moved nearer to the warrior, stepping over Inkys prone body in the process. Xena had been flicking her hand oddly since letting the reporter go, then hid it behind her back as Gabrielle came close. The bard knew better. "Okay, what did you do? Let me see." She reached out her hand.
"Nothing. What makes you think I did anything?"
Gabrielle simply stared, arm outstretched.
"Brk a nml," Xena muttered.
"Broke a nail," she said louder.
Gabrielle rolled her eyes. "Well, they were due for a trimming, anyway. Give me your hand." Xena complied, reluctantly, and Gabrielle confirmed, "Yep, thats broke, all right. Bout time you got some use out of my breast dagger. I always knew it would be practical."
"My breast dagger, Gabrielle."
"Your breasts, Xena...my dagger."
Meanwhile, Inky had regained some semblance of his wits, and had been watching the exchange between the two women. Big picture? What hed got? What did he got...er, have? He rasped out, "If its important to the public, I report it. I dont hide the truth."
The women glanced down at him, then at each other. "What do you think?" Gabrielle asked.
Xena shrugged. "What can they do, sue us? Theyve already taken away your parking spot. And I dont think medical covers broken nails, so no loss there. If they wont play nice, why should we?"
The bard nodded and turned to Inky. "Buddy, the data youve got is a drop in the bucket. You want a real story, were it. How would you like an interview?"
"Im telling you, we cant print that. Not with their real names, not who they worked for, and very little of what they know. Were the premiere news scroll around the Aegean. We got that distinction because our facts are always solid and our sources impeccable. Weve never been sued. But youre talking about a segment of society with a lot of power, and a lot of dinars to back them up. If we arent careful, they could end up owning us by the time the smoke clears."
Inky couldnt believe what he was hearing. The story of the year, and they were going to sit on it? "Dont yank me, Thesis. This isnt one of your philosophical theories to bat around. Ive got the facts to back this up. Since when do we cave to the threat of a lawsuit?"
"Since Sappho could end up being our boss. We cant distribute this, Inky."
"Trust me, Xena is a far worse threat if we piss her off." Inky ruefully rubbed his throat.
Inkys battle to get his story printed was long and arduous, and any lesser newsman would have quit long before. But finally, after finagling, bribing, pleading and cajoling, and a few legal maneuvers that quelled Chi Beta Sigmas fears of lawsuits, he had the network scribes scribbling editions furiously, to be done in time for the weekly distribution.
Gabrielle picked up the copy of 60 Candlemarks from the local scroll stand, with the familiar sundial logo seal. She unfurled it, and the headline virtually leaped off the parchment at her.
Hello, and welcome to another edition of 60 Candlemarks. Im Innocuous Toothygrinnus, and this weeks story is a dose of reality for all of us. We bring you the story of Gabrielle, the Battling Bard of Poteideia, and her partner, Xena of Amphipolis, the Warrior Princess. Theirs is a story of love, strength, and bravery against all odds. But in the end, it nearly cost them their future.
Gabrielle: They said we were cancelled because of unbelievable plot lines...that it wasnt selling scrolls. But the fact is, they were selling better than ever. Ive got the royalties to prove it. The truth is, the scrolls were too popular, and the male dominated industries felt threatened. Too many women felt empowered, and started thinking for themselves, standing up for themselves.
Innocuous: You were acting like first class citizens?
Gabrielle: (chuckles) Yeah, how dare we?
Innocuous: So then what happened?
Gabrielle: Well, they tried to bury the scrolls. No marketing for new ones, bad shelf positions in the stores, poor promotional tie-ins...it was pretty obvious what they were trying to do. But there was this underground movement, where they were really popular, in fact the scrolls thrived, and took on a life of their own, it seemed. Soon, stories of other women, or at least, women with different names, even if they seemed to look and act an awful lot like Xena and I, started to turn up. Amazing, inspirational stories. Not to mention the myriad of other female driven scroll series out there. They tend to be subtly different, though...usually theres a male figure around somewhere to take the heat off the woman when it gets too tough for her.
Innocuous: You became icons.
Gabrielle: Yeah, I guess we were. But as if that wasnt enough, that a whole culture had started around the scrolls, and flourished despite attempts to quash it, and make a profit at the same time, they tried to lop off the Gorgons head, so to speak.
Innocuous: You dont mean...
Gabrielle: Oh, that they tried to kill us? Of course thats what I mean. Its not really any big deal...someones always been trying to kill Xena since the first day I met her...and well, actually, they like to try to kill me quite a bit, too...but they figured out a different kind of death for us...they cancelled our contract for future scroll publishings. I guess their theory is "Out of sight, out of mind." They tried to say the series wasnt popular anymore, that the genre had run its course, but the field is littered with copycats, so how can they say that? They targeted our series, personally.
Innocuous: So whats the outlook for the two of you, then?
Gabrielle: Oh, well manage. We always have. Well continue to fight our battles, and the scrolls will live on, go forth, and multiply...they already are.
Gabrielle smiled. The older she got, the more she seemed to love taking a poke at establishment. And managing to use the establishment to do it at the same time was doubly sweet. A fleeting thought that some day, she could become the establishment was quickly obliterated from thought. There were many kinds of power, but conformity didnt suit her. She knew another kind of power: physical, mental, and devoted to her. And she was waiting at home...by the campfire.
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