Disclaimer: Characters from the television show Xena: Warrior Princess are not owned by me, to my regret. This is written purely for enjoyment with no thought to monetary gain. There are women in love (eventually, as Gabrielle is a bit miffed) and if that is illegal for you or where you live, move on or simply move.
Post FIN, I guess, though I have kept specific references to a minimum.
Mail is always answered and appreciated at Kamouraskan@yahoo.com
My website is at http://dreamcatching.netfirms.com/kam/index.htm
Thanks for corrections and encouragement to the members of the Bardic Circle and Tavern Wall, especially Extra, Jaden, Dawn, JLynn, Jordon Falconer, and Sue. More thanks to Claudia, Morgane, and for rereading this countless times, Abardreader. And my thanks as always, to the great Mary Morgan.
When In Rome
Marcus Tullius was now standing steadfast at the western entry that barred the exit of anyone from the staging area, completely unaware that anything out of the ordinary was happening on the field. It was only when his commander rushed by, demanding that the rest of the guards follow, that he became even curious. He started forward but was harshly ordered to stay as his fellows followed the officer. But at the sounds of screaming and the cries of fire he ventured a little further out of the dark hall.
He had intended to simply steal a peek, but his eyes widened and he stopped, disbelieving, in the archway.
A female gladiator was careening wildly about the circumference of the upper Coliseum on a rope swing, with flames eating away at the roof fabrics hanging on either side of her. As she twisted crazily about the stadium, she was lighting the netting that protected the spectators throughout the building. The flames were growing brighter with each elliptical circuit, but she was calmly calling down to the crowd, ‘Please evacuate the Coliseum. Do not panic. Walk, do not run, to the nearest exit.” She was doing all of this, while at the same time evading or snatching out of the air, projectiles aimed at her from those few guards not being swamped or busy attempting to control the terrified mob. The crowd was obeying with alacrity but the panic was well contained by those professional soldiers who had moved into position to aid the exodus.
If they had looked carefully, they might have realised that the fire on the roof banners was already burning itself out, but the movement towards the many exits still continued. Marcus knew that his job was to make sure that the competitors at the ring level did not escape during the confusion, so he stood staunchly in the centre of the archway, his hand on the hilt of his sword, waiting for the onslaught. He was not prepared when the inverted face of the Vestal appeared ten feet above him over the balcony. He stared at the beautiful apparition in shock for a moment until it said, “Oh, it’s you!”
Marcus simply nodded, his brain not having access to any words. The upside down head frowned and said, “I don’t suppose you’d consider opening that gate, would you?”
Marcus swallowed, and shook his head. “I didn’t think so,” she seemed to sympathise. “Duty, right? Tell me about it.”
Again he nodded. “Oh well.” The head disappeared and Marcus advanced enough to look upwards and see the Vestal straighten, and pull out a round gleaming piece of metal. She muttered something to herself, and Marcus found himself asking. “I’m sorry, what did you say?”
“She had the nerve to ask me, ‘are you sure you still know how to throw it?’ I mean, I had this for over sixty years, and she wants to know if I can throw it. Hades, I’LL show her who can throw it.”
In the corner of his eye, he had become aware that in the meantime, the gladiator had reduced the orbit of the rope, and was now pitching her swing higher and higher in a line aimed directly towards him. Nevertheless, his eyes followed the disc after it was thrown. It sailed boldly to the ridge of the roof and caught the sunshine as it severed the ropes at their rooftop junction. The glints must have appeared to be bolts of lightning, for as the severed ropes dropped away, there was a cry of awe from the few remaining in the stands. But the swinging gladiator was already prepared for that and when her line was aimed straight at Marcus, she leapt from her rope seat before the ropes and banners began to slack off and fall, hissing, into the water-sogged sub-floor. Things moved even more quickly for Marcus then, for the disc bounced off another support and also came unswervingly towards him. Before he could move turn, or even think, the disc arrived before the gladiator and struck him a glancing blow on the helmet. As his eyes curled up in their sockets, he saw the disc seemingly magically return to the Vestal’s hand above. He fell to the ground and was vaguely aware that the female gladiator was flying over his body, crashing into the gate behind him, before he lost consciousness.
Gabrielle was just slipping the chakram into a belt under her robes when she heard a voice below her call out, “Nice.”
Surprised that the compliment meant as much as it did, she covered by curtsying and responding, “Thank you. It was a team effort.”
“I used to compliment you when you did something good, didn’t I?”
“It’s been so long, I’m not sure,” she called down with a grin.
“Well, that’s changing too. But now, I think it’s your turn.”
Gabrielle accepted the responsibility with a wave. “Simplicity is always best, I think.” As the slaves began dashing towards the now open gate, she swung herself over the archway and landed with a solid thump on the plank directly in front of an escaping Annia. Annia stopped, suddenly afraid that the freedom she had seen behind the Vestal was some sort of a trick.
Gabrielle stood with her hands on her hips and stated dramatically, “Praise Mars!”
Annia looked to Xena who was also surprised. Gabrielle repeated, “Praise Mars, for saving us from the fire!”
Again Annia looked to Xena, who shrugged and nodded. “Praise Mars,” Annia repeated dumbly.
“All together!! Louder!” And like a chorale director, Gabrielle raised her arms until all of the escaping slaves were repeating with her, “PRAISE MARS, PRAISE MARS FOR PUTTING OUT THE FIRE!!!”
“Very nice!” she said and moved out of the way to lean against the wall, pointing at the open gate. “Now keep repeating it and get out!”
The chant had already spread from the dozen slaves to stragglers in the crowd even before they ran out of the building. It continued to grow in louder and louder emphasis.
When Gabrielle caught up to Xena in the cool shelter of the exterior ring of the stadium, she was watching the scene quizzically. “A thousand Gods to worship in Rome. At least a hundred that would be connected with fire, and they’re all going to thank the war god?”
“If you were as superstitious as the Romans, and someone was giving a really big God credit, would you take the chance of pissing him off?” Gabrielle answered. Then she looked up to the raised eyebrows of the woman beside her. “Well, sure. You would. I’m talking about normal people.”
The chant continued to spread and the vast majority of the crowd were now caught up in it. Many were on their knees praying. Xena shook her head in admiration. “You’ve made a God magnet! Ares will be drawn and stuck to sixty thousand prayers like an ant to sugar. You are brilliant, my love.” Both women noticed the endearment, and Xena turned her face away. Gabrielle reached up and carefully grasping her partner’s chin, turned her to face her. Xena said quietly, “When I talked to you, when I needed to talk to you, I called you that. It just sort of slipped out from habit. Sorry.”
“It’s okay. It’s… nice. I wish…”
Xena shook the mood off and squared her shoulders. “Stuff for later, if we can make a later, right?”
Slower than Xena this time, Gabrielle took a moment before agreeing. “Right.”
Gabrielle watched the crowd as it seemed to grow in fervency and size. “What is really great is that Ares can’t even try to go back in time to find where we went, because he’d just get drawn there whatever time he showed up. Anyway, now that I’ve been brilliant, it’s your turn, I assume if the mob is drawing Ares, that we…?”
“We go that-a-way,” Xena said, pointing ahead of them.
“What a way?” Gabrielle asked.
“See that line of bushes?” indicating a line of scrub foliage perhaps a few feet wide that straggled up the hillside.
“I was just brilliant and your idea is to run for the bushes?”
“I think you’ll like my bush.” A smirk nearly escaped.
Gabrielle had no such restraints about smirking. “You do remember you’re talking to a Vestal Virgin, don’t you?”
“Depends if the Vestal trusts me.”
There was a small moment of thought before the answer came. “Yes. This one does.”
“Almost forgot, if we’re trying to be inconspicuous,” Xena said, indicating their respective remarkable costumes, “Isn’t this the time we usually change our wardrobe?”
Gabrielle looked beyond the shadows of the pillars they were behind and scanned the square. “I knew there had to be some advantage to being in Rome. One size toga fits all. In the old days, we’d be searching half the day for a short soldier or a really tall woman in a nice dress. In the correct shade, of course.”
“And then we’d bop them on the head.”
“We don’t even have to bop anyone.” Pushing Gabrielle in front, Xena called to two passing women wearing plain white togas. “Ladies, would you be interested in a special blessing from the great Vestia?”
Moments later, two women in plain togas emerged from the side of the Coliseum and appeared to stroll quite casually towards the line of brush leading up the hillside.
To be continued...
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