Disclaimer: Xena & Gabrielle belong to each other and to MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures.
Apology for an anachronism: apparently true lace was not made until the 15th century but hey! never let historical accuracy get in the way of a story ;-)
In the City of Amphipolis, in the market, I come across an old woman selling lace. It is intricate and beautiful, perhaps the finest I have seen, but for some reason it is the woman who claims my attention. She was beautiful once; indeed, under the wrinkles and the grey hair, she still is. Except for the scar.
"If I were you, I'd concentrate on the lace, it's much prettier!" The woman laughs kindly and I realise I am staring. I blush.
"Don't worry, I get that a lot. You're wondering how I got this scar."
"I was listening to the voice of the dead rather than hearing the sounds of the living."
My face shows incomprehension. She laughs again.
"Sorry, even after all these years, I still find myself looking for just the right phrase. I used to be a Bard, you see."
"Yes, a Bard and an Amazon Queen and a Warrior… and now you're wondering how a girl like that could end up here, making lace."
She is very perceptive, this old woman.
Her face and voice become more sombre as she continues.
"My friend died and would not let me bring her back. I carried with me her ashes -in an urn - and her Voice - in my head. She always told me the dead can hear our thoughts. But I never realised that if you listen properly you can hear theirs. It should've been a blessing, but it wasn't. Because my thoughts were all anger at her for really, finally leaving me and hers were all anguish and apology for the misery I was in. Then I would hear the sadness in her Voice and want to comfort her and that was worse because sometimes when you've run out of words what you really need is to hold someone very tight and, well, hugging an urn really doesn't do it."
I am surprised to see her smiling.
"You've never tried to hug an urn, have you?" She laughs and I cannot help but smile too.
"I'm probably being a bit unfair. There were many times when her Voice helped me, gave me advice on how to deal with some warlord or slaver. That's what I did you see, carried on our work, protecting good folks from bad people and the things they do. But mostly, I hurt and we argued.
"And then - it was some years ago now - I was in the middle of a fight… Well me and her Voice were having a very bad day. I got distracted. The guy only cut me once but it was a stupid mistake and there are no excuses. She should have been furious with me - I was furious with myself - but instead she was mortified. Said all she ever wanted to do was keep me safe and see me happy and she couldn't do either. Then she left me again, finally. In the months that followed I realised that, however bad it was with her Voice, life was so much worse without it."
Her eyes are looking into the past and I fancy I can see a tear; or it could be a trick of the light.
"I dumped the urn - it was only ashes - and went looking for her Voice. Actually, I spent a lot of time looking at the bottom of a wine flagon; there are a lot of voices to be found down there."
She laughs harshly at that memory.
"Nobody wants to hire a drunk warrior, but somehow I managed to get enough work to get me home. Not that I knew where home was. I mean all my family are long dead and hers too - that's another story. So I settled on Amphipolis; that was her home once. I didn't find her Voice but I found kindness and friendship. I needed to earn a living of course - I'm not married, I'd given up being a warrior for hire and no one wants to pay Bards these days. But job options for respectable older women are limited. Lace-making seemed as good a choice as any. At first I wasn't convinced. I'm really not a woman of Many Skills and it took me an age to learn, but now, my hands pretty much work themselves…"
Even as she says these words her hands are busy weaving their own story.
"…and my mind is free to wander. I don't listen for her Voice anymore. I think about her, but nowadays I find I'm remembering the good times and it no longer seems to hurt. I'll always love her but-"
"You're supposed to be selling lace not telling stories." The voice, gently teasing, belongs to a handsome middle aged woman emerging from the back of the shop.
"I know" the old woman laughs "but, once a Bard, always a Bard."
It is obviously a conversation they have had many times before. There is great affection in the smile that passes between them.
Some years ago a Voice entered my head and set me on my life's path as an explorer, writer and teller of tales. Unsettled at first, I quickly became accustomed to it and have grown to think of it fondly as My Voice. It has guided me to the four corners of the known world, looking for someone.
Today it has found her.
What should I do? I ask it.
I don't know. Do you think she is happy?
I hesitate in replying. I do not know this old woman and… I do not want to lose My Voice. I realise I am staring again and that I must seem very rude.
Not Grand Passion happy I venture, but I think she looks… contented .
Contented… the Voice is equal parts pleased and disappointed. … Then we should go.
My Voice and I buy a piece of lace from the old woman, to remember her by, and leave.