Copyright disclaimer: The characters of Xena, Gabrielle, Cyrene and Joxer belong to whomever owns them now. Heck, I dont even really know. This story falls into the category of fan fiction; it is offered to the public free. Were talking fun, not money here.
Violence disclaimer: Yes, but not bloodthirsty. Its more in a humorous vein. (Sorry about the pun; couldnt help myself.) No need for aspirin after reading this, although some of the characters in the story might need some.
Sex/Disturbing content disclaimer: ALT. This story portrays Xena and Gabrielle in a loving, romantic relationship. (I sees em that way, sos I writes em that way.) No scenes of graphic sex are contained, however. (Sorry to disappoint, gang; Im much too shy to do the smoky stuff.) Plenty of lighthearted sexual innuendo and humor, however. (Well, grumble, grumble, thats something, anyway!)
Comments, etc.: You can reach me at email@example.com for comments and such. As always, I love hearing from you. Dont be shy. If you liked it, then Im extremely pleased. If you didnt, then I apologize deeply. I do strive for excellence in these stories, and work hard to make them worthy of your time and attention. I hope that Ive succeeded in offering entertainment for you that will please you. I thank all who have written to me regarding other stories in the past, and look forward to hearing from you in the future.
Story time-line: This is a classic Xena/Gabrielle story, but where exactly in their career together that it takes place is beyond me. You decide, dear readers.
Miscellaneous bardic rants: Friends, this is my first time doing pure comedy (so be gentle with me). Having written lots of heavier stuff, and being in a particularly jocular (translate: strange) mood, I decided to write something totally lighthearted and fun for a change of pace. (That partial bottle of wine probably didnt hurt, either.) Writing comedy that flies well is, I think, difficult. One must push the envelope without offending horribly. So, I put this humble offering before you in hopes that it makes you laugh out loud. If it does, then great! Ive done my job for you, and that is my reward. Now, without further ado, as they say, snuggle down and prepare for the further (mis)adventures of our two favorite kick-butt girls, as they tackle a labor worthy of Hercules himself!
The early afternoon presented a bright and cheery sun, pleasantly warming the skin and filling the senses with the fragrance of wild-flowers in bloom. Birds sung and chirped and insects buzzed, altogether a most pleasurable surrounding in which to finish a long trip. Xena and Gabrielle paced along the road to Amphipolis, Xenas war-horse trailing behind, Gabrielles staff thumping softly in counterpoint to their footfalls. The trip was not punctuated by much conversation. Their company was enough for the time being as they strolled hand in hand, fingers interlaced, and Gabrielle was marveling at the natural beauty of the Macedonian countryside. Xena, for her part, was doing her own marveling at the relative quiet of the little bard beside her, whose usual chatter kept her alternately entertained and puzzled at her incredible ability to converse on an endless variety of topics, both mundane and lofty. After a bit, though, Gabrielle squeezed Xenas hand and broke the silence.
"Arent you excited to see your mother again? Whats it been now, most of a season?"
Xena muttered, "Not long enough."
"What? Oh, come on. You love your mother. Dont give me that grumpy act. I know that youll be glad to see her again."
"Sure I love her, Gabrielle, but she gets on my nerves after a couple of days. You know how she is, always finding fault with the way I live my life." Xena affected a pleasantly nagging voice and mimicked, "Look at you, not getting any younger. Still a tramp, a vagabond. Why dont you settle down and get a real job?"
Gabrielle chuckled at the imitation. "Thats good, Xena. Who else can you do? Have you ever done Hercules, for instance?"
At the question, Xena raised an eyebrow and got a faraway look in her blue eyes. "Oh, yeah."
She shook her head, bringing herself back to the present. "Oh, nothing. Anyway, you know how it always goes, Gab. Look, you have to promise that we dont stay more than about two days."
"Okay, I can go with that. Well leave when she starts trying to set you up with men."
Xena rolled her eyes. "And thats another thing. Always trying to play matchmaker for me. It drives me crazy."
Gabrielle eyed Xena. "Well, love, why dont you just finally tell her about us? Once she gets the picture, shell leave you alone." Gabrielle paused, then finished her thought. "Unless youre ashamed, that is."
Xena stopped in the road at that, slightly aghast. "Is that what you think?"
Gabrielle shrugged, suddenly shy under Xenas stare. "Well, what else can I think? You wont tell your mother about us."
"Gabrielle, Im not ashamed of you, or of what we have together. You know that our being in love means more to me than anything in this world. Its just that......"
"That what?" Gabrielle awaited an answer, leaning on her staff.
"Well, I know my mother. That wont stop her, either. Shell just ignore me when I try to tell her, or blow it off as a phase, or something." Xenas expression became slightly exasperated as she looked into the apprehensive hazel eyes peering back at her. "You know how she is. If she doesnt want to hear something, she just pretends that she didnt. She wont take our relationship seriously, even if we @$#*@!!! right in front of her."
Gabrielle rolled her eyes at the mental image. "Thats nice, Xena."
"Well, its true."
"I told my mother about us."
"And she told your father. And he threw me out of their house. Forever."
"But my mother didnt. You dont have a father to deal with."
"No. I have my mother. Somehow, thats more frightening."
"Do you want me to tell her?" At that, Xena paled slightly. "I will, you know, if you wont, just to get her to stop trying to set you up with every doofus in Amphipolis. You know, Xena, it really does bother me when that starts. I dont like those guys sniffing around you."
Xena pointed a finger at Gabrielle. "Youre jealous."
Gabrielle flicked her staff, striking Xenas shin armor lightly and causing a metallic clank. "Damned right Im jealous. And dont change the subject. Xena, Im going to ask you a question, and I want an honest answer."
"Have I ever given you any other kind?"
Gabrielle raised her eyebrows. "Never. Look, do you really love me?"
Xenas expression softened. She could see the earnest seriousness in the hazel eyes, and the sad countenance which surrounded them. "Yes. I really love you." She reached down and lifted Gabrielles hand, opening it and holding it palm up in both her own. "I have put my heart and soul here. Ive never done that with anyone else, and I never will."
Gabrielle smiled a little at that. "Then, for me, will you tell her on this trip?"
"I will. Now, cmere." She reached out and embraced Gabrielle, who relaxed and buried her head in Xenas chest, squeezing her tightly. "I will. Do you feel better now?"
Gabrielle looked up. "I do. Just dont chicken out on me, Warrior Princess."
"I cant, now. Ive given you my word."
"I know. Thats one of the things that I love so much about you. You have more honor than anyone Ive ever known." At that, Xena leaned down and kissed her, a soft, gentle, lingering kiss that made the world close in around them. After a moment, they reluctantly separated and began walking down the road again, holding hands. They were silent, walking easily, their clasped hands swinging slightly, until Gabrielle laughed aloud.
"Whats so funny?"
"You, Xena. Youre the bravest warrior Ive ever seen, and yet your mother scares you to death. Thats hilarious. Tell me, O warlord reformed, is there anything that scares you as much as your mommy?"
Xena scrunched her expression into a thoughtful squint, then responded, "Yeah."
"Oh, really? What, in the name of all the gods?"
The tall warrior raised an eyebrow, then cast a glance aside at her companion. "You. Your displeasure, my fear that someday Ill disappoint you."
Gabrielle squeezed Xenas hand reassuringly. "You could never disappoint me. You always come through. You will this time as well, and so will your mother. Youll see."
The interior of the inns main room was sparsely occupied. Only one table held any occupants, some farmers sitting together by the window, talking and sipping their ale. They glanced up when the tall warrior entered, their eyes taking in her formidable presence and the softer balance of her blonde companion, and then returned to their conversation. Xena softly tread across the stone floor to the long bar, then leaned slightly across it to peer into the kitchen door. She straightened up when a familiar voice greeted her enthusiastically from the stairs leading to the rooms for rent.
"Xena! Oh, my prodigal daughters come home to visit! Come here and let me look at you!" Xena turned just in time to see her mother breeze down the stairs and grasp her in a surprisingly strong embrace. "Dusty, as usual after traveling. My, and just a bit underfed, as well. You stay for a bit, and Ill fix that. And look at those arms of yours! You have more muscle than some of the farmers around here." She squinted at Xena, then added, "Are those new scars? Xena, have you been fighting again?"
Xena shrugged. "Its my job, Mom. Im a warrior, remember?"
"Yes, well, that will do until you get a real job. Oh, and youve brought your friend Gabrielle along." She released Xena to offer the bard a welcoming hug. "Good to see you, dear. Youre still as sweet as always, Ill bet."
Gabrielle returned the hug and answered, "Thats what Xena says. Its good to see you too, Cyrene."
Xenas mother held the little bard out at arms length and looked her over. "Youre all dusty, as well." She poked Gabrielle in the abdomen with a finger. "And losing weight. I swear, you two will be the death of me. Well, Ive got plenty of empty rooms up there. You two take the one at the end of the hall. Xena, fill the bath, and you both can clean up. Dinner will be ready later. Oh, and grab an ale for each of you, wont you? Ive got to get to the kitchen."
"Can we help, Mom?"
"No, no. Ive just got to finish the stew and the bread. People expect to eat around here, you know. Now you two make yourselves at home. Go on." With that, she breezed into the kitchen, leaving the two travelers standing in the common room. Xena shrugged, then walked around the bar to the ale barrel, drawing two wooden cups of the drink and plopping them down on the counter. She slid one over to Gabrielle, who perched on a stool and propped her staff against the bar. Xena leaned on the bar from her side, and they drank deeply of the cool ale. Gabrielle put her cup down first, then studied Xena from across the bar, a twinkle forming in her eye and the corner of her mouth turning up in a slight grin. In response, Xena just raised an eyebrow.
Gabrielle teased, "I can see you as a barmaid. Youd make a good one, Id bet."
Xena scoffed. "I did it as a teen, here in Moms tavern. Hated it."
"Really? Hey, maybe this can be your real job." Gabrielle snickered a bit at the thought. "Xena the barmaid."
"Why, thats a wonderful idea." Cyrenes voice joined the conversation from behind Xena. "One of my girls is sick, and weve been crazy around here. Why dont you two fill in for her tonight?"
Gabrielle noticed the pained look on Xenas face, and took the opportunity to goad her a bit. "Yeah, Xena, lets help your mom tonight. Cmon, how hard can it be?"
Xena cast Gabrielle a withering look. "You dont know what youre saying."
Cyrene waved a hand through the air. "Thats wonderful. Thank you, Gabrielle. You both will be a big help. Now, go and get cleaned up, the both of you. Ill feed you, and then you can help me tonight. Its settled." With that, she disappeared back into the kitchen. There was an icy silence at the bar for a moment, then Xena slowly raised one eyebrow and turned her head toward Gabrielle, who just sat sheepishly on her side of the bar.
"Guess I put my foot in it, huh, Xena?"
"Oh, you have no idea. The labors of Hercules? Peanuts! The Horde? Easy money. Bacchus? A pansy, compared to what can happen tonight in here." She drilled a piercing blue eye into Gabrielle. "Tavern-keeping isnt for the weak of heart, love."
"Well, how hard can it be? Well sling some ale and wine and serve some stew. Maybe Ill even tell some stories. Come on, Xena, it might be fun!"
Xena waggled her head and repeated Gabrielles words in a squeaky voice. "How hard can it be?" She then leveled her icy blues at her friend. "Come midnight, Ill remind you that you said that."
Gabrielle rose to the challenge. "Oh, yeah? Well, Ill bet you five dinars that I make more in tips than you do."
"Youre on, little bard. Now, lets get that bath, hey?"
"Xena, you are absolutely not going to wear that."
"Mom, whats wrong with my leather? I always wear it."
"When youre busting heads, perhaps. This is a tavern and inn. It just wont do at all. Look, Ill get you something more appropriate to wear." Xena raised an eyebrow and Gabrielle snickered from behind the towels that covered her wet hair and body. "And Gabrielle, you just cant wear your usual clothes, either." The snickering suddenly stopped, and the hazel eyes grew large.
"No buts. Too much skin. Trust me, when these farm boys get some ale into them, you dont want to provoke them. No arguments, now. Ill bring you something." With that, Cyrene breezed out of their room, leaving the two women eyeing each other apprehensively.
Gabrielle weakly called after her, "But its practical, and Xena likes it." There was no answer from Cyrene; she was already headed down the hall. A rumbling, low laugh echoed in the room, and Gabrielle turned her attention to Xena.
"Just whats so funny?"
"Dont say I didnt warn you."
"Youre enjoying this, arent you?"
Gabrielle just shook her head, and smiled. "See? Youre having fun already." Xena opened her mouth and waved a finger at her friend, but was interrupted by Cyrenes return.
"This is for you, Xena, and Gabrielle, you wear this. Its a bit big, but youll manage." She offered out a white peasant shirt and a long, colorful skirt for each of them, then stopped halfway out the door, looking back. "Come on, girls, you just have time to eat before people start arriving. Hurry, now." She paused, then winked at them. "Who knows, each of you might find a nice fellow tonight." With that, she was gone.
"Oh, great. Now shes going to start on you."
"Xena, you just have to tell her."
Gabrielle mused a bit over that one, and then nodded. "Im beginning to see what you mean."
Shortly, Xena and Gabrielle sat at a small table in the corner of the kitchen, a bowl of stew and cup of ale in front of them. The sleeves of their peasant shirts were rolled up to the elbows, and their hair tied back out of their faces at Cyrenes suggestion. Xena ate furtively while Gabrielle finished her dinner with gusto, occasionally mumbling in between mouthfuls of hot stew and round bread. Cyrene breezed around the kitchen, pleasantly chattering and fussing with one detail after another. As Xena watched her, her mind was brought back to attention by Gabrielles voice. "Xena, are you hearing anything Im saying?"
The smaller blonde studied her friend closely. "Oh, my. Youve got that same look that you get when youre about to go into battle."
"I am about to go into battle. Excuse me, will you?" Without waiting for an answer, she rose and left the table, striding toward her mother. Gabrielle just cocked her head slightly and mumbled, "Uh, yeah, sure."
Cyrene looked up to see her daughter approach her, a determined look in her blue eyes. "Oh, Xena, look, can you........" She stopped short at the hands which grasped her shoulders and the voice which softly addressed her.
"Mom? We have to talk."
"Does it have to be now? Im...."
"I know. Itll just take a minute."
"Well, all right, Xena, if you insist."
"I do. Come here." She led her mother aside, and then stared hard at her.
"Xena? What is it?"
"Look, Mom, I dont want a man, so please stop trying to set me up with them. Do you understand?"
"No, I dont, dear. Every girl wants to settle down eventually."
"Look, Mom. No matchmaking tonight, for either me or Gabrielle. Please?"
"This isnt like you, Xena. Youve always been a lusty girl. Why, I remember that time that I caught you in the barn with......."
"Mom? My lust is just fine! I just dont need a man, now or ever. Understood?"
Cyrenes face assumed an extremely puzzled look, and then her eyes widened. "You mean..."
"Yes! Thats what Ive been trying to tell you."
"Youve joined one of those weird religious cults? Which one? Artemis? The Hestians?"
Xena heaved a deep sigh, then covered her face with her hands. "No, Mom."
"Say, Aphrodite isnt involved here, is she? Now thats a strange one, Im telling you." Cyrene looked askance at Xena, then continued, "Is that dear Gabrielle involved, as well? You didnt get her into this, did you? Xena, Im ashamed of you, influencing that poor girl that way. Ill just have to have a talk with her."
"Mom!!!" Xena placed one hand on her mothers shoulder, and the other pressed a finger gently over her lips. "No, its not a cult, and yes, Gabrielles involved here. Deeply involved, if you get my meaning."
Cyrene shook her head. "Im afraid I dont, dear."
Xena rolled her eyes. "I had hoped that I wouldnt have to be this blunt, but....." She leaned close to Cyrenes ear and began whispering. Cyrene just stood still, her eyes growing ever wider, the hand holding a wooden spoon slowly sinking to her side. After a minute or so, Xena straightened up and just stood awkwardly, gazing at her mother. Cyrene said nothing for a moment, then tilted her head slightly as she mentally digested what she had just heard. Finally, she looked at Xena and smiled broadly.
"Oh, is that all it is? Im so relieved that its not a cult. Why didnt you just say so sooner? You had me worried to death!"
"Mom? Talk to me. Do you understand, now?"
Cyrene reached out and hugged Xena tightly, then stepped back and waved her cooking spoon in the air to punctuate her words. "Of course, daughter. Now I see why you two always insist on sharing a room. My word, I should have seen it sooner. You do act like two lovebirds when you think no ones around."
"So, youre okay with this?"
Cyrene, who had begun walking back to the center of the kitchen, stopped and looked over her shoulder. "I understand, Xena. Ive been there as well. I wasnt always a frumpy innkeeper, you know. I was young once, myself." She returned to the large stew pot and gave it a stir or two, raising the spoon to taste the results.
Cyrene saw Xenas expression, and her eyes twinkled. She gave her hips a suggestive shake. "Sure. I was pretty lusty in my youth, as well. I understand perfectly. A girl like Gabrielle can certainly steal a heart, and it seems that shes stolen my daughters."
Xena slowly walked through the kitchen, and as she passed her mother, she gave her hand a gentle squeeze. "Im sure glad you understand now, Mom."
"Oh, of course I understand. Its just a phase. Youll get over it, and when you do, youll still need a man. Now, lets get ready for business, shall we?" With that, she breezed from the kitchen toward the main room, leaving Xena standing alone in the kitchen, her jaw hanging slackly, her expression one of total defeat. After a moment, she just raised her hands to the heavens and uttered what sounded to Gabrielle strangely like a primal scream.
The tavern portion of the inn began to fill with locals both hungry and thirsty, and Gabrielle, Xena, and Cyrene buzzed around the tables. They poured wine, ale and cider, and offered out innumerable bowls of hot stew and slabs of round bread. To Cyrene, it was just another evening in her life; to Gabrielle, it was a fascinating new experience, and to Xena, it was like a bad dream from her youth. She was still disappointed and smarting over her conversation with Cyrene, and her thoughts were only half on her duties. As she hefted a tray loaded with empty bowls and cups over her head and steered to the bar, Gabrielle cornered her.
"Did you have the talk with your mom?"
"So? Whats the verdict?"
Xena rolled her eyes. "She thinks its a phase. Told you, didnt I?"
"So, is she going to stop trying to set you up with men?"
"How should I know? Look, Im busy." With that, Xena headed for the kitchen, leaving Gabrielle standing near the bar. She watched her friend disappear around the corner with the tray, and then shook her head slightly.
"Grumpy tonight, arent we? That phase of the moon already?" Xenas head reappeared around the corner.
"I heard that."
"Xena, how is it that you can look right at me and not hear me, but then hear me from around the corner?"
She just wiggled an eyebrow and retorted, "I have many skills."
As the face disappeared once again, Gabrielle smiled wistfully. "Ill say, love. Oh, yeah!." Her pleasant, rather smoky daydream was broken by a loud voice from nearby.
"Hey! Can we get some more ale here?"
Gabrielle started, then sighed deeply. "Sure, pal. Comin right up."
In the kitchen, another discussion was taking place. Dirty bowls and cups were gathering. Cyrene eyed the pile, and pulled Xena aside. "Dear, wash those and bring them back out before we run out. Theres the bucket and soap."
"Sure, Mom." Xena eyed the pile with chagrin, then forged ahead with her task. Dirty became clean and wet, and those items piled up next to her left elbow. When they were all washed, she looked around for a towel. A voice assailed her from the door.
"Xena, wheres those bowls and cups? Were getting low."
"In a minute." No towels were evident, and she growled under her breath, her language becoming very colorful. "Towels. Wheres the towels? What am I supposed to do here, pull one out of my........" At that, a hand thrust one out to her, accompanied by a pleasant laugh. Xena looked up to see a young woman at the end of the hand, her eyes twinkling.
"You look like you could use some help."
Xena grinned in spite of her cloudy mood, and accepted the towel. "Yeah, guess you could say that. Thanks."
"Sure. Im Scylla, by the way. You new here?"
Her eyes widened. "Not the Xena?"
Xena looked down at herself, her peasant shirt wet, her hands and arms covered in soapsuds. "Thats me, in all my glory."
Scylla laughed. "You dont look as fearsome as everyone says. Helping your mom?"
"Trying, and making a mess."
"Come on. Im with you." They began drying cups and bowls, and in no time, were delivering them to the bar.
Cyrene brightened when she saw them, and pointed to the area under the bar where they were to be stowed, with the comment, "Oh, I see youve met Scylla. Good, shes a sweetheart. Xena, see to those tables over there, will you? Scyllas got the bar for a moment".
Xena eyed the tables apprehensively. They were populated by a batch of men, talking loudly and draining the last from a pitcher of ale. Xena filled another pitcher, then approached the table, leaning to avoid a frantic Gabrielle as she whizzed past with an empty ale pitcher in each hand and the exclamation, "Outta the way, Warrior Princess. Move it or lose it."
Xena reached the table and set the full ale pitcher down in its center, snatching her hand away just in time to avoid a meaty paw grabbing the handle. Its owner bellowed, "Thanks, hot stuff. Hey, hows about some chow in this dump? Whatcha got to eat? Besides you, I mean!"
The table erupted in slightly inebriated roars of laughter at the jest. Xena bit her lip and picked up the empty ale pitcher, holding it in her hand. "Got stew tonight. Interested?"
"Sure. Ate some myself."
"Ill bet you have, sweetie!" At that, the table roared again, and Xena just eyed the source of the jokes.
"Youre a funny guy. Tell me, are you one of Cyrenes regular customers here?"
"Naah. Never been to this dive before."
"Good." With that, Xena brought the empty ale pitcher squarely down on the mans head. The pottery shattered, and the mans eyes rolled back in his head and he fell forward, his head thumping heavily on the wooden table. The others at the table cringed at the blow, then stared at her silently. She dropped the handle back down on the table, placed both hands on her hips, and looked at the other faces. They all peered back at her, eyes wide, expressions frozen. "Now, anyone else got anything to say?"
No one spoke for a moment, and then one man offered a weak, "Were all regulars here, if you please."
Xena continued, "You guys want some stew?"
Several heads nodded silently, and one voice responded, "Would yes, maam be the right answer?"
"Bingo. Comin right up." As Xena left the table, she nodded to herself, and muttered, "Gabrielles right. This could turn out to be fun, after all." She picked up a tray at the bar and walked back to the kitchen, returning with five stews and a round bread, tray held above her head. As she passed the bar, Cyrene collared her.
"Xena, I want you to meet someone. This is Coeus. Coeus, this is my daughter, Xena." Xena looked around to see her mother gesturing toward a man, who nodded and smiled. Xena responded with a nod, then a squinted eye toward her mother, who waved a hand in front of her. "Oh, Xena, Im not setting you up, Im just introducing you two. Hes an old friend." She laughed, and looked at Coeus. "She always thinks that Im trying to match her up with someone."
Xena, her full tray still over her head, reached out her free arm and gave her mother a hug. "Shes not doing that anymore now that she knows Im taken. Isnt that right, Mom?"
Cyrene smiled her most disarming smile. "Of course, daughter. I know when to take a hint."
Xena grinned skeptically. "Yeah, right."
Coeus just nodded pleasantly. "Taken, eh? Congratulations. Hes a lucky guy!"
Xena looked him squarely in the eye, pleasantly correcting him. "Thanks, but shes a lucky girl." Not waiting for a reply, she sailed away from the bar, weaving between the tables with her tray still high over her head.
Coeus watched her go, then sipped his ale and said aloud to no one in particular, "Yup. Story of my life."
On her way through the noisy, crowded room, Xena passed Gabrielle and noticed a flustered look on her face. "Whats the matter, Gab? Not having fun?"
"Xena, my butts been grabbed more times than I can count with my boots off. I think my left cheeks got a permanent hand print on it."
"You just have to know how to handle these guys with a little finesse."
"Like breaking an ale pitcher over their heads?"
Xena shrugged and continued on, calling over her shoulder, "Works for me." Gabrielle raised an eyebrow at that, then gathered some food and returned to one of her tables. As she stood at the end of the table, passing out an ale pitcher and bowls of stew, she felt an offending hand once again grab her fanny.
"Heres your stew, heres your ale, and heres your bread." She then looked down at the face belonging to the hand, and grasped the knife on the tray. "And heres a knife to cut the bread with." She picked it up, and flicked it down toward the mans stool. The knifes point thumped deeply into the wood between his legs, the handle quivering, as the man slowly stared down at his stool. The point was barely an inch from his crotch. She felt the hand remove itself from her behind, and he cleared his throat nervously. Never losing her smile, she finished, "My ass is not on the menu. Unless you want to be known as Stubby from now on. Got it?"
"Um, yeah, sure."
"Good." She wheeled about and strode from the table, thinking aloud, "Xenas right. Finesse. Oh, yeah, this is fun."
As the night wore on, Cyrenes army, as Gabrielle jokingly referred to themselves, perfected their dance of bowls, pitchers, and deflected advances. The deep pocket sewn into the front of Gabrielles apron began to clink with tips, and she felt the bulge with satisfaction, wondering to herself whether Xena was having the same luck as she. The crowd became increasingly inebriated, the early diners leaving, and the die-hard drinkers remained to dominate the inns main room. The noise and laughter grew increasingly raucous, the fire in the large hearth burned brighter and the smoky oil lamps grew hotter.
As Xena prepared to set down yet another pitcher of ale at one of her tables, she overheard an energetic conversation between the men. One, loud with too much ale, was bragging. "Ah, that Draco was a bad-ass, I tell you that! Rode with him for a while, I did."
His friend disagreed. "Nope. Xena kicked his butt good. No ones badder than her. I saw her in action once."
The first man roared. "Xena? That pansy? I could beat her with one hand."
Xena clunked the pitcher down in the center of the table a bit harder than necessary, then placed her hands on her hips. "Pansy??!!?"
The braggart looked up. "Yeah, shes a pansy. What the blazes do you know about it anyway?" He waved a hand. "Youre just a barmaid. Never seen the action I have." Xena felt the color begin to rise in her cheeks. The braggart cocked an eye her way. "Whatre you waiting for, strumpet? A tip? Ah, here you go." He fumbled in a pocket, and cast a single copper coin onto the table in front of her. Xena said nothing, but only allowed one eyebrow to rise slowly. She cast a glance at the others at the table. Most were listening to the braggarts words, but one had his eyes fixed on Xena. His jaw slackened and he stared unblinkingly at her, then swallowed hard as his loud companion continued. "Yeah, like I said. That Xena was a pushover." He roared a short laugh. "Pushed her over once, myself."
The fellow held a hand up toward the braggart, then pointed toward Xena. "Ah, Poliminius, ah.......Id shut up if I were you."
"What? Dont interrupt. Now, like I said......"
The braggart became slightly irritated. "What?"
His companion motioned toward the waiting barmaid with a thumb. "Thats Xena."
The braggart looked at his companion, then glanced toward the barmaid. He once again roared with laughter. "You fool! Thats not Xena. I knew Xena, if you get my meaning. Xenas taller than her, and besides......"
Xena leaned forward slightly. "Besides?"
The braggart finished his thought, dismissing Xena with a contemptuous wave of his hand. "Shes got much bigger ta-tas than you."
Cyrenes attention was attracted by a short scuffle, and she looked up to see Xena drag a fellow toward the door by the back of his tunic, then deftly throw him out into the street, banging his head on the door jamb in the process. He rolled down the front steps and came to a stop in the street, face down. Xena shouted after him, "And theres nothing wrong with my...." Her expression became exasperated. "......Ta-tas!" A couple of the tables full of people nearby stared at her, and she just growled in reply, "He didnt leave a tip." As she dusted her hands off, walking toward the bar, Cyrene could hear the clink of many coins hitting many tables throughout the inn. For her part, Cyrene just smiled slightly and wondered at how the gods seemed to work in mysterious ways.
A loud crash followed by much drunken applause filled the room. Xena, puzzled, walked between tables and finally found the source of the amusement. Gabrielle was sprawled out on the floor, bowls and cups rolling around her head, Xenas feet in front of her. She slowly looked up, then muttered, "Not used to long skirts anymore, I guess."
"So, love, are we having fun yet?"
"Very funny, Xena." She rose to her hands and knees and began gathering utensils as Xena bent low to help her. As the little bard finally bustled away, tray high above her head, Xena watched her go and smiled, deciding that Gabrielle had endured enough teasing that evening. After all, she mused, every human being was a balance of light and darkness, and it didnt take a philosopher to see that Gabrielles darkness could erupt with a vengeance if the night didnt end pretty darn soon. Her thoughts were interrupted by a voice near her elbow.
"Hard to get good help these days, eh?" She looked down at a slightly drunken but pleasant older man.
Xena nodded. "Thats what Cyrene tells me."
"Sorry to say, but the girls a bit clumsy as a barmaid."
Xena patted him on the shoulder. "Yes, but shes one Tartarus of a sidekick."
Gabrielle deposited the bowls and cups in the kitchen, then turned and almost collided with Scylla. She placed a hand on Gabrielles. "Oh, honey, thats okay. Ive done that before, myself. Those guys, they trip you on purpose sometimes. I just look on it as part of the entertainment."
Gabrielle was frazzled. "What else can go wrong tonight?"
Scylla just laughed. "Oh, thats nothing. By the way, theres a guy out there who told me that you look just like his girlfriend. He asked your name. When I told him, he looked as if hed swallowed a horse or something." She shook her head. "Weird guy, but rather nice in a strange sort of way. Pretty drunk, too. Says he a mighty warrior, but I suspect that hes full of crap. You know him?"
Gabrielles jaw dropped. She gulped, then asked, "Pointy helmet?"
"Thats him, honey."
"Oh, by all the gods. Joxer. Thats what else can go wrong. I give up."
Scylla eyed Gabrielle perceptively. "Not your boyfriend, is he?"
"Him? Thats ridiculous." A smile broke out upon her face, and in a moment she was laughing hysterically at the thought. Scylla watched her, amused at the outburst, and then commented.
"Yeah, I thought so too. I had you pegged as a girls girl from the start."
Gabrielle stopped laughing. "You.....did?"
"Oh, yeah. Youre Xenas honey, right?" Gabrielle nodded, totally speechless. "Aha! See, Im never wrong about these things. You two got the sparks flying, I can see it." She elbowed Gabrielle, accompanied by a good-natured wink, and finished, "Thats swell. Shes a beauty, that one is. Come on, lets get back out there."
Xena looked up from the bar to see a couple of slightly over-painted and under-dressed young women hanging over the bar toward her. One of them pleasantly addressed her. "Hey, doll, you new here?"
Xenas eyes trailed over the ample bosoms and blinked at the slight traces of perfume. "Just helping out."
"Were here to start workin, sweetheart. Hows about a couple of cups of wine?"
The other chimed in, "Yeah. Cyrene always gives us our drinks for free."
"Sure, babe. Were good for business, ya know." They eyed each other knowingly and giggled a bit.
Xena raised an eyebrow and then grinned a lopsided grin. "Ill bet." She turned around, and saw her mother near the kitchen door. "Hey, Mom! You know these two?"
Cyrene glanced over and then smiled. "Oh, hey, girls. Glad you could make it. Yes, Xena, they drink for free here."
The other added, "Yeah, and theres more coming along soon. They......"
Xena finished her thought for her. "I know. They drink for free, too. Dont worry, Ill know them when I see them, Im sure." She drew two cups of dark red wine and scooted them across the bar to the women.
"Thanks, doll. Say, you the Xena? Yknow, Cyrenes daughter? Vicious warlord, destroyer of nations, former disciple of Ares, that sorta thing?"
"Last time I checked."
"You cant be that Xena. I dont see any horns and cloven hooves."
Xena patted her head. "Damn, must have left them upstairs."
The women laughed at that, and sipped their wine. One nodded and replied, "You dont seem as ferocious in person. Thats okay, honey. Weve decided that we like ya anyway. Might even give ya a free one, end of the night." She waggled her eyebrows, then explained, "We might drink for free, but we tip good."
Xena grinned and leaned over the bar toward the women. "Thanks anyway. See the little blonde?" The women looked over toward Gabrielle, then back to Xena. One of them spoke.
"You got good taste, honey. Shes a cutie. Oh, well, guess we settle for men tonight."
The other consoled her friend. "Thats okay. They pay better, and dont take as long."
Her friend retorted, "Thats true. Its the fellas that pay our rent."
The crowd was becoming increasingly drunk and raucous as the evening wore on, a situation that Xena noticed and perspired slightly over. As they passed between tables, Gabrielle noted the concerned look on her face and touched Xenas shoulder gently. "Love? Whats wrong?"
"Getting kind of wild in here."
Gabrielles expression brightened. "Entertainment, thats what we need. Perhaps I could tell them a story or two."
Xena shook her head. "Not this crowd, Gabrielle. Trust me."
Gabrielle was already assuming her bards persona. "How about the one where Im challenged as queen of the Amazons?"
"Gab, I dont think......."
A loud voice from the table next to them interrupted. "Amazon? Thats rich! You? Haw!"
Another voice joined him. "Aw, shut up. Let her tell us a story."
A third chimed in, "Yeah. Hey, blondie, tell us about when you lost your maidenhead!"
Roars of laughter erupted at that joke, and Xena could see Gabrielle burn. The jokes, however, just continued. "Aah, she doesnt remember that far back!"
"Sure she does, and so does the entire Spartan army!"
More laughter. Xena thought that she could actually perceive steam shooting from Gabrielles ears. The awful moment of destiny was close at hand, Xena felt, and when it erupted, it wasnt going to be pretty. Gabrielle looked at Xena, her eyes burning with fury, and muttered, "Wheres my staff when I need it?"
A bleary face looked up at her. "Under your pillow, probably." More drunken laughter followed. "Aw, come on, pumpkin, you look like youve been around the block a few times. Amazon, my ass. Now shake your tooshy and get us some more ale." Gabrielles mouth fell open and her eyes bulged with a primal fury. Xena attempted to sooth her friend.
"Now, love, remember. Finesse. Peace and understanding, right?"
The little bards voice emerged as a guttural growl. "!!!!%#^*&_=@!!!!" Gabrielle whirled, fist tight, and a resounding crack echoed through the inn. The man sprawled out in the isle, stool clattering, and slid between tables on his back, finally coming to rest unconscious in a puddle of warm ale. Gabrielle then placed one fist on the table and leaned in toward the other faces, swinging an open hand and slapping every face at the table in one sweep. A rapid series of smacks resounded, and a ripple of bobbing heads ran around the table. "Ill have you !!~**$!!%^+! morons know that Im a !!*&>/!! princess of a tribe of Thessalonian Amazons. Got a ?%@&*****!!!!!!! problem with that?" She glared around the table, noting each head as it silently shook in a negative answer. As the last head shook, she picked up the knife from the table and brought it down harshly on the round bread in the center of the table with such force that it penetrated to its handle the wooden plate beneath it and pinned both plate and bread to the center of the table. Ale cups and pitchers bounced and sloshed. "Good. Now, any more speculation about my !!!$&^%$!!! maidenhead?" All heads shook unanimously. Gabrielle stood up, an expression of evil satisfaction evident. She looked at Xena and commented, "Finesse. Theres your !!!%$&*_+!! Finesse."
Xena blinked several times coyly. "My goodness, Gabrielle, your language has certainly become quite colorful over the course of the evening." The little blonde shook a finger vigorously toward the tall warrior, then snatched the large wooden serving-tray from her hands.
"Dont f*** with me, Xena. Not in the mood for it."
"Me? I wouldnt think of it, love. Ahem. Say, why dont you give our greetings to Joxer? It would be the polite thing to do, you know."
Gabrielle sighed heavily, then nodded. "If I have to. He is our friend, after all." She turned and walked toward that side of the tavern, her manner seeming much like the condemned walking toward the gallows.
Xena chuckled to herself as she watched the object of her hearts affection from a distance, and muttered aloud, "Yeah. I think youre just about ready to talk to him now. Gotta watch this. Oh, yeah. Fun."
Gabrielle cautiously approached the small table in the corner of the room. "Joxer?" At her question, he looked up, slightly bleary-eyed and slurred of speech. His eyes widened and his jaw almost bounced off the table.
"Gabby? Is that you?"
"What are you doing here? And dont call me Gabby. I hate that."
He attempted to rise from the table, but couldnt quite get his grip. "Is this what its come to for you, a barmaid? Ive come to take you away from all this, my love."
Gabrielle fumed. "Joxer, I am not your love and I am not going anywhere with you."
"Your lips say no, but your eyes say yes. Fess up, now. I light your fire, dont I?" He tried to rise again. Voices started to assail her from all around her.
"Come on, blondie, lets get some more ale."
"Yeah. What do we have to do for service here?"
"Cough up some more booze, kid. Weve been waiting."
Joxer was not to be outdone. He finally struggled to his feet and announced to the other drunks, "Shes in love with me and Im going to prove it to her."
"Joxer, youre drunk!"
He waved a finger in the air. "That may be true, but Im going to marry you one day."
More voices surrounded her. "Aw, come on, blondie, marry the guy."
"Yeah. Cant you see hes crazy about you?"
"Just marry him, and then get us our ale, will you? Hurry up, now! We wanna get laid, too."
Roars of drunken laughter filled the corner of the tavern, and Gabrielle felt the color rise in her cheeks. She gritted her teeth and stared hard at a drunken Joxer, who was leaning across the table toward her. "Just tell me when to set the date, Gabby."
Gabrielles voice, now a hoarse scream, rose above the din. "Snowballs in Tartarus, Joxer! Snowballs in Tartarus! Pigs flying! Does that mean anything to you?"
"Aw, come on, Gabby, I know ya love me. Give me a little kiss." He puckered his lips and closed his eyes. Once more, the voices from around her pounded in her ears.
"Give him a kiss, sweet cheeks, and then get us our ale. Were thirsty!"
Gabrielles vision reddened. She could feel the veins pulse in the sides of her head. "Ill give you a !!!&^>:***!!! kiss, all right." She pulled the large tray out from underneath her arm and brought it down squarely on top of Joxers head with a resounding crash. It splintered, and pieces flew in every direction. Joxer collapsed backward, thumping against the wall, and applause erupted from the inns occupants. Gabrielle then spun around, faced the sea of drunken faces with her fists on her hips, and hissed through gritted teeth, "Now who wanted the !!%+<$&*@#!!! ale?"
In reply, there was a split seconds silence, and then all the men at the near tables pointed fingers at each other. A sea of voices rejoined, "He did." Gabrielle nodded, then stomped off toward the bar. Joxer opened one bleary eye and waved a finger in the air.
"Thats okay, Gabby. I can be patient."
At the bar, Xena watched Gabrielle storm by and then stop. "Three pitchers of ale, Xena."
Xena nodded her head, then dipped out the large pottery pitchers from the open barrel. As she set them on a new tray, Xena raised an eyebrow at Gabrielle. She could see that her temper had cooled slightly, but that she was still no one to be teased at the moment. Sincerely, she asked, "Having trouble with a customer, Gabrielle?"
The little blondes eyes grew suddenly pleading. "Xena, its Joxer."
"Yeah? What does he want, as if I didnt know?"
"Hes drunk as a pig, and he wants to marry me. Hes like a puppy dog. Im surprised that hes not humping my leg right now." Gabrielle was waving her hands as she spoke.
Xena tried to be soothing. "Thats understandable, love. Im sober, and I want to marry you. And, as far as humping your leg goes,......" The two women at the bar giggled at that, and the jest got an outright laugh from Scylla. Xena reached out and hugged Gabrielle reassuringly. "Look, let Scylla and me handle that side of the room, and dont worry about it. Ill see to him. I guarantee that he wont bother you for the rest of the night."
She looked up from within Xenas arms. "Youre not going to hurt him, are you?"
"What? Of course not, love."
"Because you have my permission to kill him if you want to." Gabrielle, still squeezed against Xenas chest, could feel the rumbles of laughter.
"Ill keep him off your back. Now do me a favor and check my tables, will you?" Xena could feel her head nod, and she released her from the hug. Scylla breezed by and gathered up the ale pitchers, heading toward Joxers side of the tavern. Xena studied Gabrielle. "You okay?"
Gabrielle sighed. "Yeah. Im fine, now. Thanks." She left, and Xena leaned over the bar and toward the two women on the other side.
"So, when do you gals start to work?"
"When they get drunk enough to play and pay."
"How much do you charge, usually?"
"Five a throw, fifteen for the night."
Xena continued, "You see that guy in the corner?" They nodded. "Heres what Id like for one of you to do." She leaned close, and then whispered. As she did, the womens faces began grinning, and their heads nodded. Xena finished her clandestine instruction and then raised an eyebrow. "One of you two up for it?"
One of the women smiled. "Ill go. Hes actually kinda cute, in a weird sort of way. Oh, hey. Pay up front."
"What? Oh, yeah." Xena reached into the money box under the counter, and plopped out fifteen dinars. She looked down at the money, and then added five more. "After all, you poor girl, it is Joxer."
Cyrene bustled out from the kitchen, held a tambourine high in the air, and then rapped it several times loudly. "Attention, everyone! The entertainment has arrived!" Roars of approval met her announcement, and applause started. A few rather scantily-clad women, small strings of bells about their ankles ringing as they pranced, emerged from the kitchen and passed by the bar, and several musicians followed. They immediately began strains of pounding music, drums thumping, castanets clattering, stringed instruments strumming and flute sounding, as the women expertly fell into a rhythmic dance. The tavern erupted in cheers, and hands began clapping and feet stamping to the time of the music. As Gabrielle, Xena, and Scylla wove among the tables with pitchers of ale, the music became increasingly infectious. Now, cups were thumping on tables and shouts and cheers goaded the performers on. The room was quite warm, and the serving-people found themselves starting to perspire freely but were unmindful of the heat as the taverns guests had become thoroughly involved with the spectacle and were enjoying themselves enormously. Their good cheer brightened the moods of the taverns workers, as well.
On her third or fourth trip around the tables, Xena noted that the number of women in the room had increased, and guessed that the compatriots of the first two ladies had finally arrived. Some of them had risen and shed cloaks to reveal themselves in more alluring clothing, and were dancing as well. One had even taken to dancing rather suggestively atop a long table at which several men were dropping coins at her feet and shouting encouragement. Xena looked around to notice her mother, standing in one corner, eyeing the cacophony with approval. On her way back to the bar, she stopped next to her mothers shoulder and shouted over the din.
"Youve got the place hopping now, Mom."
"Ill make some money tonight. You girls have been a real help to me. How can I ever thank you and Gabrielle?"
Xena grinned. "Dont thank us yet. The nights not over." She headed toward the bar, swaying in time to the music.
Scylla bumped into Gabrielle as she collected several empty ale pitchers, and pulled on her arm. "That fellas not going to be thinking about you tonight."
"Why? What do you mean?"
"Lookie there!" She pointed, and Joxer was staggering toward the stairs arm-over-shoulder with one of the two females that she had first noticed at the bar.
"How did that happen?"
Scylla laughed. "Ask your girlfriend." With that, she steered herself toward the kitchen. Gabrielle headed for the bar, then poked Xena in the ribs.
"Joxer just went upstairs with some girl. Did you arrange that, Xena?"
"What? Me? Oh, gee. So Joxers gonna get lucky. No accounting for taste, huh?" Xena just grinned and chuckled, and then headed back out into the crowd, swaying to the music and with a full pitcher of ale in each hand.
Gabrielle watched her go, her hips moving to the infectious music, and smiled slightly. After a moments reflection, she sighed, "Oh, what the Tartarus. Here goes nothing." She dipped two pottery pitchers into the ale barrel, and then, holding them aloft, began dancing across the floor toward her tables, finding the music, the clapping and over-warm room strangely exhilarating.
Some of the men were rising from their seats and dancing now, often in the company of one of the women who had infiltrated the crowd. Stools began to tumble and tables were being shoved out of the way, and Gabrielle, swaying to the drumbeat and waving now-empty ale pitchers in her hands, found herself snagged by one of the entertainers dancing girls as she passed by. They pulled the little blonde into the middle of the dancing circle, and the ale pitchers left her hands to be replaced by a tambourine. She found the moment so intoxicating, so rousing from its own accord that she joined the scantily-clad dancers in their circle, tambourine high, eyes closed, lost to the moment. Voices in the inn cheered her on, shouting encouragement and many ribald comments. More joined the dancing, and the inns main room became a swirl of noise and rhythm around her.
Xena, dancing through the crowd, slapped down two empty ale pitchers on the bar, then looked up to see Scylla standing on the bar, looking over the heads of the crowd. She noticed Xena and pointed, shouting, "Seen your sweetie lately? Take a look!" Xena, puzzled, crouched and easily leapt up to stand on the bar next to the young woman, peering over the heads of the crowd. There, surrounded by scantily-clad dancers was Gabrielle, center stage. Her eyes were closed, her tambourine keeping time above her head, her peasant shirt dotted with perspiration, her long skirt swaying about her legs as she danced with total abandon. Xena just scratched her chin and grinned over toward Scylla.
"Well, Ill be damned. You think you know a person, and then......"
"Oh, oh." Scylla pointed toward the crowd. Xenas eyes followed her finger to see a scuffle starting near the dancers.
"Time to play bouncer, I guess." Xena leapt forward off the bar and landed on the floor. She pushed her way through the crowd of dancers and spectators to pull the two fighting men apart. Grabbing each by the front of their shirts or tunics, she shook them both soundly, then held them up, side by side. Over the roar of music, she shouted, "Whats going on here?"
One of the men, nose bloodied somewhat, pointed over at the other. "He started it."
The other retorted, "Did not. He made a grab for my girl."
"Your girl? Shes not yours. Shes mine."
"Shes mine. I saw her first."
"Did not, you goat." They began pummeling one another again, and Xena shook them both soundly until their heads bobbed back and forth. She could feel her anger rising, and banged their heads together. Both now totally subdued, she held them up.
Over the din of music, she shouted, "What girl?"
They both gestured weakly. "The little blonde," one of them said.
Xena could feel her anger at the two drunks swell, and she let it explode, pulling their heads close together and staring hard at them. Just as she shouted into their faces, the music stopped and the room fell quiet. Her voice resounded through the room and echoed off the ceiling rafters. "YOU MORONS! THE LITTLE BLONDE IS MY GIRLFRIEND! IM SLEEPING WITH HER TONIGHT, NOT YOU! GOT IT?"
The two men looked at each other, and then back to Xena, nodding their heads weakly. Xena, for her part, now realized that the entire tavern had fallen silent, and looked up from the two drunken forms in front of her. The room was so still that one could hear a pin drop. All faces were riveted on Xena. The only sound which could be heard was a loud belch from the back of the room. She straightened up, drunks still in hand, and held herself with as much dignity as she could muster. Her face flushed scarlet with the heat of embarrassment, and she just muttered aloud, "Well, she is."
Another long, uncomfortable moment of silence followed, finally broken by Gabrielles voice, tinged with ironic humor and echoing from behind Xena. "Well, Xena, I guess youve told everybody now."
"Ahem. Yes. Well......" At that, one of the drunks slapped the other one in the face.
"You shmuck! Look what youve done, grabbing for Xenas girl. Shell pulverize us."
"Did not. You did." They began tussling with each other again, Xena still holding them at arms length. In the flurry of swinging arms, a fist emerged from the fracas and cracked Xena across the cheek. At that, the fighting abruptly stopped, and it seemed as if the entire crowd gasped at once. Xena recovered from the blow and looked at the two men, her eyes bulging, her teeth showing in a ferocious growl. The drunk who dealt the blow pointed at the other, and said sheepishly, "He did it."
"Did not. He did it."
Xena shook them both fiercely, then shouted, "THATS ENOUGH!!!" She hurled one over the heads of the crowd toward the back of the room, and a resounding crash sounded as he hit something. She held up the other and growled, "Youre outta here." She picked him up by his collar and the seat of his pants and flung him toward the front door, and he burst through them and into the darkness of the street outside, rolling a bit before coming to rest in the dust. A sodden voice hailed her, and a heavy hand grabbed her shoulder.
"Hey, you cant do that. Thems my friends."
"Oh, yeah? You want to join em?" At that, she ducked and felt the breeze of a fist swinging over her head. She straightened up, bringing her own fist into her assailants abdomen. He coughed, and fell backwards into the crowd. As he struggled to his feet, someone nearby joined in the argument.
"Wheres your manners, jackass? Thats Cyrenes daughter." A foot caught the man across the head and he dropped heavily, just as another drunken patron assaulted the foots owner.
"Thats my nephew!" He swung drunkenly, and, as he missed the intended target, his hand accidentally ripped the top from one of the dancers. She screamed, folded her arms across her chest, and then kicked the man squarely in the groin and dropped him on the spot.
"Hey! Thats my cousin." Within seconds, pandemonium erupted in the taverns main room, as shouts, blows, and the crash of breaking pottery pitchers filled the room. Stools began flying along with bowls and half-empty ale cups, and the entertainers scattered and ran for the door. Gabrielle ducked and crawled across the floor to the bar, reaching across it and lifting her staff from where she had left it earlier that day. With it, she prodded and slugged her way back to Xena, who, in the middle of the fray, was felling drunks left and right. She assumed her position guarding Xenas back, and could hear the tall warriors voice address her between grunts and gasps from fighting.
"Well, Gabrielle. Are we having fun yet?" Xena looked around to see Gabrielle deck a large man with one blow from her staff.
"Actually, yes, I think we are." She cracked the shin of another would-be assailant who got just a bit too close, then laughed gleefully.
Xena ducked, a pottery pitcher sailing just over her head. "Thats my girl."
Cyrene was frantic. She pulled Scylla aside, and shoved her toward the kitchen door. "Go and get the town guards. Quickly!" Scylla nodded, then sprinted out into the night and down the street as fast as she could toward the guards nearest post.
As Xena decked a drunk, she would throw him toward the door. Sometimes they rolled out and into the street, sometimes they would thud against the wall. The pile of groaning bodies near the door was growing, but the brawl was not lessening. Stools and cups were still bouncing off the ceiling beams and the walls with regular frequency, and grappling forms rolled across the floor or occasionally hurled through the air. The fracas showed no signs of lessening, and the situation was totally out of control.
As Xena, a drunk in a headlock under her arm, and Gabrielle, her staff swinging, hovered near each other, they saw a flesh-colored form streak by, shrieking. Xena recognized her as one of the two prostitutes hanging out by the bar earlier in the evening. She was naked except for a pointy helmet, which was askew on her head. She was followed closely by a laughing and shouting Joxer, wrapped only in socks and a smile. As she passed Xena and Gabrielle, they heard her shout, "You maniac! Three times is enough!" She made a wide curve around the brawling room, ducking under tables and frantically attempting to elude her pursuer, finally heading back past them to sprint up the stairs. Joxer was close behind her, and they could hear him shouting in an inebriated drawl.
"Aha, my little butterfly, youre dealing with Joxer the Mighty! Oh, hey, Xena. Hey, Gabby." He breezed right past them, taking the stairs on hands and knees and gaining on his quarry. Xena and Gabrielle stared incredulously at the spectacle, then at each other as the amorous circus passed them by.
Xena shouted after them, "Hey, we paid for all night!!"
A strained female voice responded from the top of the stairs. "Twenty dinars aint enough. Oh, by the gods!" She squealed, and then the door slammed. Gabrielle, still waving her staff to frustrate any close brawlers, looked over her shoulder at the tall warrior. "Xena?"
Xena, still holding the headlock on the drunk, kicked another back away from them. "Yeah?"
"Joxer was naked."
"That was scary. Nightmares for a week scary."
"Youre tellin me. Look, lets get to the door. I want to try to get this under control."
"Im with you, Xena." They edged their way to the door, and as they arrived, Xena hurled the drunk through the open door. He bounced off the steps and rolled into the street, stopping just before the feet of the Amphipolis militia. A shrill whistle sounded, and uniformed, armored figures began charging into the door, swords drawn and shouting. Xena saw the sight, froze momentarily, then snapped completely. At the sight of armored men hurling themselves through the door at her, her mind flashed back to the image of a desperate battle from long ago, and she went totally berserk.
"Persians! Stay out of sight, Gabrielle! Ill save you and Athens both! Yiyiyiyiyi sheeee-yah!" Her shrill, trademark battle cry resounded through the tavern, and she systematically decked the first five men through the door in quick succession. The others saw what had happened in front of them, and backed up. Their officer bumped into them, then cursed and shouted.
"Whats happening, you idiots? Get in there and stop that brawl!"
"Theres a maniac woman in there, guarding the door. She clobbered the first five of us."
"Well, get in there and subdue her!"
The Sergeant of the Guard coughed, and replied, "Sir, officers first."
The officer rubbed his chin. "On second thought, men, well just hold here for a moment and regroup."
The sergeant responded, "Right, sir. Good thinking."
In the tavern, the brawl was lessening in its intensity. Many of the participants were now littering the floor, leaned against the wall, or draped over tables. Enough were still scuffling, though, that a danger was presented. Cyrene, who had witnessed Xena begin to deck the militiamen, wove cautiously across the floor, a frying pan in her hand, occasionally banging it down upon the head of a brawler. She approached Gabrielle, then hailed her. "Gabrielle, whats wrong with Xena? Those were the militia!"
Gabrielle turned, slightly desperate. "I know. Xenas snapped. She thinks she fighting the Persians."
"Can you get her out of here? Use the back door. If they catch her, theyll throw her in jail for a month."
"I think so. Try to stall the militia." Gabrielle stood behind Xena, calling her name softly. Xena, armed with a sword from one of the prostrate militiamen, hovered in front of the door, her eyes wide. At the sound of Gabrielles voice, Xena responded.
"Huh? Gabrielle? What are you doing up? Youre deathly sick."
"Im all right, Xena. Look, follow me. We can get out of here."
Xena, perspiring freely now, turned toward Gabrielles voice. "Out? Which way? Theres hundreds of them."
"Xena, do you trust me?"
Xenas wide eyes flickered around the room. "Sure I do."
Gabrielle gently laid a hand on Xenas sword arm. "Come on." She pulled the arm, and Xena followed, eyes still wide and searching. She dragged her through the kitchen and out the back door into the cooler night. As they passed the well, Gabrielle lifted a dipper of water from the bucket and flung it into her friends face. Xena started, then stood still for a moment. When she spoke, it was in question.
"What am I doing in the back yard with a sword in my hand?"
"Oh, thank the gods. Ive got you back again. Look, its a long story. For now, just hide, okay? Ill come and get you when the coast is clear."
"Look, just trust me. Stay in the barn for a bit. Promise?"
Xenas expression was full of question, but she nodded her head, then headed for the barn door. Gabrielle watched her enter the barn and shut the door behind her. With a deep sigh, she then returned through the kitchen to the scene of devastation inside the tavern.
The remaining brawlers were being herded or dragged out of Cyrenes tavern by the militia. The officer stood by, questioning Cyrene on the evenings events. At Gabrielles approach, he studied her curiously. "Who are you?"
Cyrene added, "She is ah, ..... a friend of the family. She was helping out tonight, as we are a bit short-handed."
He grunted, then eyed the staff. "A barmaid with a staff? You look more like a shepherdess."
Gabrielle leaned it against the wall behind the bar. "Its a fighting staff. Im an Amazon. We always keep a weapon close. It came in handy tonight."
"I daresay. Hey, youre not the wild woman who decked five of my men, are you?" He eyed her suspiciously. "An Amazon could do that."
"Huh? Oh, no. She, ah, left. Gone."
"What did she look like?"
"Ah, really, I didnt get a good look at her."
Cyrene echoed, "Neither did I."
The officer harrumphed skeptically and eyed the two women. "Also, one of my men is missing his sword. If you find it in this mess, be a good citizen and return it, wont you?"
Both women nodded innocently. "Of course."
"Well, good night, ladies."
"Good night. Thank you for coming."
"Not at all." He followed the last of his men through the door, and turned to face them just before he left. "If you see that woman again, youll let us know?"
Cyrene and Gabrielle both nodded, innocent expressions on their faces.
The officer smiled slightly and added, "Id like to offer her a job!" He roared at his own joke, leaving the tavern. Cyrene walked over and closed, then bolted the door. Wearily, she shuffled back to the bar and laid the frying pan down on the wooden counter-top. Gabrielle approached her, and rested a reassuring hand on her arm. Cyrene just smiled down at her, then hugged her closely. They heard Xenas voice from the kitchen entrance, a few paces away.
"Oh, Xena. Are you all right?"
Xena walked to the other side of the bar and rested the sword down on the counter-top. "Im fine. Sorry about your place."
Cyrene turned her head, examining the wreckage, then shrugged. "I needed to do a spring cleaning, anyway."
A shaky voice heralded the group from the bottom of the stairs. "Ive just had a spring cleaning, I think. Gods, I need a drink." All three women turned to see an extremely disheveled prostitute, hair in tangles, shoes in hand, make-up smeared, standing on the bottom stair. At the sight, Cyrenes eyes widened, but Gabrielle just covered her mouth with her hand and turned her head to stifle a laugh. Xena grinned her most endearing lop-sided grin and waved the unfortunate girl over to the bar.
"On the house. In fact, I think that we could all use one. Well join ya." Xena dipped four cups into the ale barrel and lined them up on the bar.
The weary prostitute shuffled over to the bar and downed her drink in one gulp. Xena refilled her cup, then queried, "So, hows your, ah, gentleman caller?"
"Drunk as a lord and sleeping it off. He probably wont be awake for a week."
Gabrielle nodded. "That works. Well be gone before then."
The girl sipped her second drink and set the cup down wearily. "Ive just got to find a new line of work."
Xena motioned toward her mother with her cup. "Hows about minding a tavern? Im sure that Mom can use your help."
The girls eyes trailed over the wreckage of the inns main room, then rolled around to look up the stairs. "That depends. Does he have any brothers?"
"Several, I believe."
She looked at Cyrene. "When can I start? Right now?"
Cyrene smiled, then answered, "You look dreadful, my dear. Why dont you take tomorrow off, and come to me on the day after that?"
The girl breathed a sigh of relief. "Ill be here. Assuming I can walk, that is. Oh, by the way, I owe you guys a refund. Theres no way in Tartarus Im staying up there all night. He could still wake up."
Xena laughed brightly. "Keep it. You earned it."
Gabrielle added, "Yes. Thank you. I do appreciate you keeping him off my back."
"You bet, sugar. Now, if I can just keep me off my back for a while."
Cyrene looked over at her daughter, then stretched out a hand and placed it on top of Xenas. "Now, speaking of new jobs, Xena, arent you ready to settle down and get a real job?"
Xena raised an eyebrow. "Like yours?"
"Yes, dear, like mine."
"Nah. Ive seen what you do. Its brutal. Believe me, Id rather face an army anytime."
"What about you, Gabrielle? If you two are going to be a family from now on, dont you want a job so you girls can have a place of your own? Every couple needs that."
Gabrielle studied Xena for a moment, then looked up at Cyrene, her eyes twinkling. "Im with Xena on this one. Facing warlords and evil deities is less brutal work than what you do. Besides, I have a place. Its in Xenas heart and soul. I dont need anywhere else."
Cyrene hugged Gabrielle close, her eyes misting slightly. "Oh, Xena, dont you dare let this one get away. I want to live to see you grow old with her."
"Id like that too, Mom. Id like that, too." Xena cast a genuine smile toward her mother. "So, you dont think that its just a phase?"
"It had better not be. If you ever dump her and break her heart, Xena, youll have me to deal with, former warlord or not." Gabrielle, still wrapped in one of Cyrenes arms, teasingly stuck her tongue out at Xena, who surrendered with a graceful smile.
"Trust me on this one, Mom, I love that girl more than I can say. Im with her for keeps. Now, no more matchmaking, right?"
"Right, daughter. Ive learned my lesson."
A slightly sodden sniff sounded from across the bar. Gabrielle, Cyrene and Xena turned their heads to see the exhausted, tipsy prostitute dab at her eyes and stifle a sob. "Oh, that is just so sweet. You two are so in love." She sniffled a bit, then rested her head down in her arms on the bar and began bawling. "It never happens to me. They never fall in love with me. All I meet are jerks. Theyre all jerks. Waaaaaah......"
Cyrene released Gabrielle and walked around her to comfort the young lady. "Now, dear, its not so bad as all that, is it?" She patted the bawling woman on her back and stroked her hair. The girl lifted her head slightly, one eye peering up from her folded arms, tears trailing down her cheek.
"You kidding? Dya know who I just bedded for twenty dinars? Four times?"
Xena and Gabrielle nodded at each other and replied in unison, "Its that bad." Xena walked around the bar and collected Gabrielle as they watched the girl drop her head back into her arms and wail, Cyrene offering soothing words to her.
Xena leaned over and kissed her mothers cheek as she passed by. "Gnight, Mom. Love ya."
Gabrielle leaned up slightly and pecked her cheek, as well. "Gnight, Cyrene. I love ya, too."
Cyrene paused, her hand on the sobbing girls shoulder, quite surprised and pleased at the quiet show of affection which she had just received. She watched Xena and Gabrielle begin their trek up the stairs, an arm around each others waist, and smiled.
As Xena and Gabrielle wearily trod the stairs, they heard Cyrenes voice in the background. "Good night, girls. I love you, too." Slightly softer, her voice continued, attempting to sooth the weeping prostitute. "There, there now. Dont be so despondent. I tell you what, I know some nice young men. Ill introduce you to one of them, if you like. Itll be a whole new life for you. New job, new love, new everything. Heres a hanky, dear."
A loud honk resounded, then the young ladys voice responded, "Youd do that for me?"
"Of course, dear. Cyrene takes care of her own. Just ask Scylla."
"Scylla? She seems nice. Can you introduce me to her? I think Ive had enough of drunken men for a while."
"After tonight, dear, I think we all have."
Gabrielle paused at the door to their room and rested a hand on Xenas arm. "Um, Xena?"
"Thanks for telling your mom about us."
"Thanks for making me. Hades, I ended up telling the whole tavern about us."
Gabrielle chuckled at that. "So, how much did you make in tips?"
"Thirty-two. How about you?"
"Forty-one. Gotcha beat, Warrior Princess. You owe me five dinars."
"Forty-one? Howd you do that, show some cleavage?"
"Nope. Finesse. I used tact and finesse."
Xena laughed outright. "Language, as well. By the way, what does !!!^%&****!!! mean?"
"Gods, Xena, thats really crude. Whered you hear that?"
"From you. Youve got a way with words, you know that?"
"Well, I am a bard. Lets hit the sack, love. Weve got a Tartarus of a cleanup job tomorrow. You trashed the place."
"Me? The brawl started over you."
"Oh?" Gabrielle pondered that, then raised an eyebrow. "Yeah, it did, didnt it? You know, this would make a great new story. Helen of Troy was the face that launched a thousand ships. I could be......." She paused, searching for just the right title, but Xena beat her to the punch-line.
"The face that demolished a tavern and got threescore horny drunks arrested?"
"Hmmm. I see what you mean. Not a flattering title, is it?"
Xena hugged Gabrielle close and kissed her fondly. "So, my little bard, did you have fun tonight?"
"Yeah, all things considered. You?"
"Yeah. I guess I did at that." Xena opened the door, then stood aside as Gabrielle entered the room. Her voice became suddenly quite excited.
"Xena? Lets do it again tomorrow night!"
The End. -djb, February, 2003
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