A master at merchandising frauds, Salmoneus discovers benefits of the real thing from his encounters with a warlord who isn’t quite the "knock-off" she seems. In addition to XENA episodes, the following draws on the HERCULES trilogy "Warrior Princess," "The Gauntlet" and "Unchained Heart."
PROUD WARRIORESS... THOSE LEGS!
I’m basically a simple guy, you know? Sure, I’ve been around the square a few times. Rubbed shoulders with some big names. Run my share of scams – only good ones though, nothing schlocky or dangerous. I once brought a village back to life – energy-wise, that is – with my "secret elixir." Yeah, yeah, it got wasted by that unfortunate talgamite deal, where the "metal" I promised wasn’t exactly …well, metal. Hey, nothin’ wrong with fakes, especially in a low-margin business like mine. Authenticity costs. Not everybody can afford it. You could say I provide a public service, spreading knock-offs among the masses. Odds are, most can’t tell the difference. Win some, lose some is the name of this game.
Bottom line, nothing in my ledger added up to me ever holding, helpless in my arms, the most beautiful, lethal, powerful, heroic – did I mention lethal? – woman in the known world. You got it – none other than Xena the Warrior Princess, formerly aka Destroyer of Nations. So she wasn’t breathing at the time. Minor detail. How many men, excluding Hercules, can make that claim? Uh huh. Not a lot of folks period got a peek at so many of her facets as yours truly.
You got any idea how huge that is? Gigantic, Titanic. Olympian. Even Ares himself …. Okay, I probably shouldn’t go there, given the War God’s thing for Xena. Not to mention his temper. Let’s just leave it at I succeeded where few mortals (Herc’s a demi-god, don’t forget) ever will. Considering my looks and physique ain’t my best assets, that’s saying something. Not that she’d’ve noticed my understated virility anyway when we first met, seeing as how I was in drag at the time.
Hey, don’t get the wrong idea. I’m all man, a real "ladies man," if you get my drift. But like I said, I’m a simple guy – eat, sleep, play, make a living. I knew early on I’d have to depend on my brains. And mouth. I can turn just about anything into something, then sell it for more. Rocks, an old pair of boots, your mother-in-law’s warts. That’s how I first met Xena, practicing my merchant arts.
Picture, if you will, lots of tired farm wives slaving over cooking fires. What could make their lives better? More pots and pans. Not just any pots and pans. Ones with colorful decorations. Flowers, suns, moons, waterfalls. Scenes to lose yourself in and forget your miseries. Laugh if you want. I had those women flocking to my kitchenware, ripe for the picking, when – bam! – Xena’s goons ruin everything. Being the only man around, they’d’ve killed me if I hadn’t blended into my customers. I disguised myself in a wig and dress, a veil to cover my face. Heh, seemed like a good enough idea at the time.
Maybe it was my unmistakable masculinity. Could’ve been the exposed chest hair. Whatever, those louts sniffed me out. Grabbed me and pushed me over to Xena, ready to gut me, if I hadn’t dropped Herc’s name. I think the dress helped too. I can be quite the comedian when I want, and that get-up didn’t hurt. Xena’s men were a tough crowd. What mattered was she laughed. She spared me. Made me keep the dress on, though. Hey, who cared, long as humoring her kept my body parts intact?
Once I got past my terror … um, my … awe of her, I couldn’t help but admire how well put together she was. Lethal, but boy was she hot! Blue eyes you could drown in, if you didn’t freeze first. Raven hair cascading down cheekbones you could fall off. Dark leather cut low over luscious mounds you could suffocate in. Shoulder guards like winged claws lifting her even higher than the six feet I’m pretty sure she stood. Swirls of bright metal that might protect against blades but made sure your eyes couldn’t miss the "to die for" body underneath. Drew them down the gold strips of that short battle skirt to … gods … those thighs! Those incredible killer legs that, at my height, seemed to go on forever.
I’ve seen my share of warlords. She had brains, style, a certain professionalism that made the others look like defective goods you couldn’t even give away. All I could think was, "What a waste!" A beauty like that, covered in dirt and gore, in the company of smelly barbarians? How could people appreciate her attributes with the point of her sword in their way? Or dead? My mind flooded with ways to market her. A catchy theme song. Working on her image, accentuating that drop-dead face. Putting a positive spin on her publicity, which was pretty much a turn-off in those days. Laugh if you want. It didn’t work then, but I got close a few years later, after she’d turned good. Uh huh.
See, I’d dreamed up the Miss Known World Beauty Pageant and got her to enter. Hey, it was for a good cause – to stop a war. So there I am, announcing the contestants, when this knockout blonde sashays down the runway, practically stuffed in a revealing gold outfit. I couldn’t believe my eyes, especially when I recognized those legs. She would’ve won, too, if she hadn’t withdrawn. Just think if she’d listened to me back when we met. With the dinars we would’ve made, she could’ve given up warlording. Maybe won converts with her singing talent. Got a great voice – something else not many know.
I wished she’d listened. Yeah, she changed careers later anyway, but no, she had to do it the hard way. An excruciatingly hard way. I know, because I was there. I felt it, right along with her. The betrayal. The brutality. The pain. Mind you, it’s not like she was such a good person herself back then. Tough as nails. That village where they found me? Nothing but charred bodies and rubble after her boys got through. She had this code about giving people a chance to surrender, but her lieutenant, Darphus, had other ideas. While she was gone, he ordered the whole place torched.
She was furious when she saw what they’d done. Stopped them from killing a baby they’d overlooked. Darphus turned the men against her. Had them form a gauntlet. Nobody’d ever survived, but she strode toward it confident, like the "proud warrioress" I’d called her to get in her good graces. I thought for a moment they’d respect the truth in that title. Then the first man hit her, and the next, until I lost her in the blur of swinging clubs. I shudder to this day at the horror. When the drum stopped and the sound of blows, she lay beaten and bloody, not moving, her fingers gouging the dirt she’d used to pull herself across the end line.
I couldn’t move either. For a simple man, I felt a surprising loss. Not so much for the beauty I enjoyed and what I could’ve done with it. She’d shown such spirit. My eyes welled at seeing its magnificence trampled, and by thugs who’d be much worse without her presence in the world. Darphus and his cronies cheered, when all of a sudden it got quiet again. I’ll never understand how, but she rose from the ground, spit in their faces and staggered away proud as ever.
But she’s stubborn, that one. Had this idea she’d win her army back, climb to the top of the bad-guy heap using Hercules as a steppingstone. I found him, ended up trying to convince him she wasn’t so bad. He wouldn’t hear it. Little did I know they’d already had a run-in. Now he’d seen what her men had done. Didn’t help that she challenged him to a fight and would’ve killed him. But we’re talking Herc here. Naturally he defeated her and, being him, let her go. She skulked off like a hardheaded kid. I thought we’d seen the last of her for a while.
Maybe the baby she saved was still on her mind. I could tell it cut deep – leading an army that would snuff out such innocence without a thought. Maybe it was because the Big Guy had shown her the same mercy. Whatever, she surprised us by popping in to help defeat her traitorous men. Paid ol’ Darphus back with a sword through his gut. Talk about a change of heart. She went from wanting to do Herc in, to wanting to … do him, if you get my meaning. Herc decided she wasn’t such a "cold-hearted evil bitch" – hey, his words, not mine – but soft, warm, good. Heh, squeezably soft, warm and good. Not many folks got to see those two looking all dewy-eyed like that, their voices dripping sweetness when they chatted together.
I started picturing them getting hitched, raising warrior urchins. Yeah, I know – sounds kinda mushy for me, but I’m always looking for the silver lining. In this case, it was a new promotional gimmick I planned to introduce – the "celebrity biography." You know, stories about the life and achievements of famous folks like Herc. I already had some notes about his fights for good. Inspiring, but missing that "something" to really whet the appetite. Romance! Just the spice I needed. Hot, steamy scenes of passion. Two buff heroes segueing from the throes of battle to the throes of …. Let’s just say I saw "best seller" written all over it.
Unfortunately, my subjects weren’t exactly ideal candidates for domestic bliss. Both of `em preferred wandering around in the wilderness to "home sweet home." Xena didn’t cotton much to cooking, which meant the Big Guy got stuck sitting around the campfire while she did the scouting. Neither of `em had much appreciation for seductive settings, like moonlit picnics of quail and wine. Meeting up after work all sweaty and bloody from battle lust wasn’t the foreplay I had in mind.
Things got kinda dicey for a bit when Iolaus joined us. I could see they had some kind of triangle going that might add a little intrigue. He definitely wasn’t buying the Herc-Xena thing. Turns out she’d nearly split the two earlier by pretending Iolaus was the object of her desires. But she proved to be real all right – her affection for the Big Guy and her wanting to do good from now on. We all went after Darphus, who’d somehow turned into the living dead. After we took care of him, she and Herc parted company. Seems she wanted to start her new life on her own. I wasn’t too discouraged. Could mean two best sellers instead of one.
Some months later, I was hawking my Black Wolf line – some great leather products I named after local rebels. Purses, belts, cute pouches you can use for …. Oh, right – Xena. I tend to get carried away with my sales pitch. Anyway, trouble came this time in the form of a little redhead. Sweet kid, but nuts. As bad for sales as Xena and almost as lethal. Hit one of King Xerxe’s guards with a tomato. They thought I did it! Figured I was a goner when they dragged me off like a sack of grain.
Boy, was I relieved when they put me in jail instead. I’m on the floor where they’d thrown me, trying to get my bearings, when I see a pair of boots in front of me. My eyes travel up to bronzed flesh and legs I’d’ve known anywhere. Talk about a beautiful sight! "Xena!" I could’ve kissed her! I didn’t, of course. I mean, she does have her warrior reputation to maintain, especially in a place like that. Well, there was also the slight chance she might’ve decked me. Not quite the "people person" like myself.
Turns out she’d gotten herself thrown in there to help free some Black Wolfers inside. I figured our connection would pan out someday! Nobody knew who led the Wolf pack. If she could find out, I’d be able to put his signature on my products, get exclusive rights to the logo and …. The possibilities were endless! Of course, we had to get out first, but we had Xena for that, even though I wasn’t exactly feeling the love for her from the Wolf folks. They didn’t trust her at first, thought she’d been sent to spy on them.
As if all that wasn’t enough, the little redhead gets thrown in with us, all smiles like she’d won a trip to Olympus. I’m ready to give her a piece of my mind when Xena says, "This is my friend, Gabrielle." Friend? I couldn’t believe my ears. Or my eyes. Herc, I could understand. Who wouldn’t want him for a friend? Besides, you had gratitude and hormones working between him and her, on top of hero worship. But this bubbly cherub who looked like she just came in from planting potatoes? Whose chatter alone would’ve been enough for me to end up on Xena’s sword? Where …? How …?
Forget that. Let’s get back to the whole concept of the Warrior Princess with a … a … buddy?! Some ordinary kid she joked with, confided in, trusted? A touchy-feely type she let touch her? She didn’t allow that with her own men, even before they tried to kill her. Heck, she had trouble accepting help from Hercules. I mean, I could see she really had changed. Less threatening battle outfit. More mature. More focused in terms of her heart being in her work. More … relaxed.
But Gabrielle? That was a real shocker. Not so much after I saw her fight or learned she’d purposely gotten thrown in with us so she could help Xena. Pretty resourceful. Had Xena’s stubbornness and heart. Like I said before – just as lethal in her way.
One thing I know – whatever Xena was, however much she’d changed, she was no fool. If she’d decided to have a "friend," Gabrielle was as good a definition as I’ll ever meet. One of the few not looking to make a dinar off somebody. Sure proved her worth that time I held Xena lifeless in my arms.
See, I was passing myself off as "Lord Seltzer." The folks I had producing my fizzy "elixir" water had experienced the benefits, considered me a savior because they had more "get up and go." I thought I had it made. Problem was, I’d recently completed that talgamite deal with a warlord named Talmadeus. My silver linings do have a way of tarnishing sometimes. A hazard of the business, I guess. Still, who’d’ve thought somebody with his ambition would come after a nobody like me? That he’d hold such a grudge over weapons that happened to disintegrate when wet? I’m a traveling merchant, not a weatherman. How was I to know it would rain during his big battle?
Luckily Xena was in the area. Except her new career meant staying to protect Lord Seltzer’s customers, as opposed to getting me the heck out before Talmadeus took his refund out of Salmoneus’ hide. She and Gabrielle fought his men off all right, when they attacked the first time. Only, Xena neglected to mention she’d gotten hit by a poisoned dart. I’d seen her survive that gauntlet. She went out to fight Talmadeus’ men even after the dart. So when she came back with her legs dead from the poison, I just knew she’d shake it off. But she didn’t. She got worse. Gabrielle had to take her place.
Yeah, I laughed too at first. I thought Xena’s leathers would swallow Gabrielle up, that she’d wilt under the weight of Xena’s armor and sword. How would making her hair dark fool anybody, when her battle cry sounded like a pig squealing? But Xena said Gabrielle could do it – pretend to be the Warrior Princess. And she did. Rode into Talmadeus’ camp, decoyed the soldiers back for our ambush. Xena’s arms still worked, so she helped. Afterwards, she got so weak we had to carry her on a litter. It was up to us to convince Talmadeus she was okay.
Gabrielle went off to throw firebombs in his camp. I began organizing against another attack. Somebody conked me on the head. I staggered into the elixir factory and saw a couple of Talmadeus’ men lying on the ground. Xena must’ve fought them somehow and lay on the ground herself. I ran to her, praying she was only resting, begging her to answer me. I raised her up, put my fingers to her throat and under her nose, desperately hoping for some sign of life. Nothing. So still, so pale and silent. Nobody knew like I did that she was human, that she was my Proud Warrioress through and through, probably destined to die as one. But when I lay her limp body down and her head rolled …. Ahhh. I still get a little choked up.
Even harder was facing Gabrielle when she came back. She surprised me with her calm, though her grief cut through me like a knife. I hated to pry her away from where we’d laid Xena to rest, but we had to get out of there before it was too late for us as well. She wouldn’t hear of it. She became Xena before my very eyes. More than because she still had on Xena’s battledress. She commanded like Xena. Talked about the "greater good" of staying to help defend the village. Why didn’t I run? Believe me, I wanted to. The body on the litter wouldn’t let me. It reminded me Lord Seltzer had responsibilities to his "subjects," for bringing the village – and Xena – to Hades’ door. And that, like Gabrielle, Salmoneus was a friend.
To this day, I wonder who that guy was who went to Talmadeus prepared to sacrifice himself to save everyone else. Yeah, I’ve bopped a few bad guys in my time, when I ain’t cringing in a corner, crawling out of harm’s way. Not much profit in getting myself killed. Like I said, I’m a simple man. I don’t get why people waste so much energy killing and stealing. Life’s a pretty good bargain if you use your head, if you’re willing to give a little to get a little. Maybe that’s why I let Talmadeus sucker me into believing I could barter myself and Xena for the villagers.
I see why they say no good deed goes unpunished. Mine had turned to talgamite, melting by the moment. First Talmadeus gets me to persuade the villagers to come to his camp as collateral. But it’s only so he can turn around and sell them as slaves. Next his men toss Xena’s body down like a piece of garbage. Gabrielle shows up, kicks butt and gets captured. Talmadeus orders Xena’s body torn limb from limb. We’re all so horrified watching them try to get Xena’s horse to do it, I actually forgot I could be next.
Probably my finest moment, I’m standing there with my eyes closed, shaking like a leaf. It’s okay, you can laugh. I’m happy I survived to laugh with you. See, all of a sudden I hear, "Nobody touches my horse!" My eyes pop open to … those legs! Standing upright and steady! And that fist! Wrapped around the hand that had been whipping Argo. "Xena!" By the gods, she’d triumphed over death once again! Rescued me and my reputation from an ugly demise.
I didn’t see her again until the beauty pageant a few months ago. You can understand why I’m glad that was my latest encounter with her. Simple guy like me can take only so much drama and death-defying heroics. Not that I’d trade that for anything. Turned out pretty good, running into Xena. No, not just for business. Seeing somebody like her down and out – and I mean "down" in every way and "out" for the count – it showed me you can’t always rely on warrior types. When they’re lying there helpless – heh, dead, you think – somebody else’s got to step up, sell the brave face. Maybe it’s a Gabrielle. Every now and then a hero-shy boob like me becomes a better man. Humph, at least when Xena’s around.
Thanks to her, I’ve got a stack of notebooks filled with best-seller material. I may have to put that idea on the shelf though, since Gabrielle kind of stole it. Seems she fancies herself a bard. Spent a couple days at the Athens Academy. Personally, I think she’s better off sticking with her staff. She hasn’t witnessed the complete Xena like I have. Not sure she can fully appreciate the whole package, with those youthful ideals of hers. Still, no way I can compete with the "up close and personal" tidbits she gets traveling with the WP. On the upside, she doesn’t have my vision, my expertise in consumerism and the marketplace. I see much more potential in Xena than a few scrolls.
Visualize, if you will, a meeting hall, filled with congregations of her fans. Celebrating a now-legendary ex-warlord turned champion of the downtrodden. Hungry for souvenirs to carry her heroic spirit with them – on their backs, in their homes. Gladly shelling out dinars for replicas of her chakram and battledress. Paintings of her in action, pottery adorned with that gorgeous scowl. Tunics embroidered with "Proud Warrioress" and slogans like "Kill `em all!" Eager for commercial reenactments of her deeds – tastefully produced, of course. Uh huh. Few more months of good press, she’ll be ready for the big time.
Yeah, yeah, I’ve had my character questioned on occasion – "snake oil" peddler and all that. Trust me, this is the real deal. No way I’d push talgamite when it involves Xena. She can smell a fraud with her eyes closed. Is herself as authentic as you can get. Talk about your silver linings – lethal, with an all-weather heart you can count on in a storm. A genuine no-lose proposition …. Wait a minute. Did I just make …? That sounded like a …a guarantee!? Oy. Don’t tell me I’m falling for my own hype! Could be that animal magnetism of hers. But then I do have firsthand experience with what I’m selling.
What I’m saying is, I’d think twice about laughing at my fan-club enterprise if I were you. You’re gettin’ rare inside info here. The chance to buy stock before it takes off. I’m bettin’ it’ll have the same fabulous, unforgettable, endless, kick-butt – did I mention lethal to the competition? – feature that makes my Proud Warrioress so special. Uh huh. What we in the entertainment industry refer to as … mm mm mm …"legs"!
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