by Nene Adams
PART I: SOAP, SOAP, WHO'S GOT THE SOAP?
Erosia-By-The-Sea was grand, glorious and thoroughly the most architecturally
beautiful city in the Known World. Perched on the edge of a high clifftop
that overlooked the miraculously blue waters of the ocean, filled to bursting
with graceful turrets, slender towers and colorful, happy natives - its
streets were clean and straight, the citizens were fat and frisky, and
In fact, Erosia-By-The-Sea was a city that had never known a government committee, publicly appointed architect or traffic engineer. And they intended to keep it that way, too.
There were two things for which Erosia was most famed: first, the annual Festival of Aphrodite, a blow-out of epic proportions whose major theme seemed to be "Anything goes;" and second, the lush, flowering vines that covered every surface of the city, filling the atmosphere with a profusion of colors and exotic scents.
In fact, the Clinging Gardens of Erosia were so famed throughout the world that King Nebuchadnezzer of Babylon turned pea-green with envy every time he thought about them.
"Oooooooooh! Look over there!"
Hercules sighed. Gabrielle's voice, normally so lyrical, so melodious, now grated on the demi-god's ears like a harpy's screech. His ears were still ringing after the rough night he, Iolaus, Xena and the talkative bard had spent in the Alustrian Forest, during which every myth-understanding known to mortal man had occurred. Hercules blushed just thinking about it.
"Oh! Xena! Have you ever seen one of those before? Look! It's a man and a donkey... Hades! What's he doing with that thing in his hand?"
Hercules sighed again, the rise and fall of his muscular chest causing a trio of cow-eyed matronly women to giggle hysterically. Hercules cocked a brow in their direction and one of the women fell over in a dead faint. Gotta remember to give Xena the fifty dinars I owe her for eyebrow lessons, he thought smugly.
"Hey, Gabrielle! Give it a rest, willya? Gods, people'll think you never seen an agora before!," Iolaus yelled irritably over his shoulder to the open mouthed amazon bard. I feel like what's-his-name, Quasimodius, the Roman bell-ringer!, the blonde warrior thought. Are my ears ever gonna be the same?
Gabrielle got the hint and closed her mouth, settling for surreptitiously holding Xena's hand. Her green eyes sparkled with glee; last night, she and the tall, dark and devastatingly beautiful warrior had finally declared their love for one another, and she was happier than a porcinus in caco.
Xena looked down at the bard's strawberry-blonde hair and allowed her
lips to quirk up in a tiny smile. To her mind, the only thing that marred
this perfect moment were the hordes of people jostling along the Merchant's
Quarter. Never comfortable in crowds, Xena had to suppress the urge to
draw her sword and start chopping like a demented Paulus Bunyunus, the
Yeah, that's right, Miss Former Warlord, Xena thought, ashamed of her reaction. Kick 'em in the face! Kick 'em in the spleen! Kick 'em in the crotch, Wow! Xena sure is mean!
Xena saw the happiness bubbling from Gabrielle's shining eyes and relented; she loved this woman more than life. If Gabrielle is happy, you're happy, she said forcefully to herself. Quit behaving like a hag-ridden old pain-in-the-podex and get with the love program!
The two women trailed behind Hercules and Iolaus, sure that the love they felt for one another was well concealed. In fact, there was about these two such an aura of sickeningly sweet, ootsie-foosie sappiness, not to mention the threat of imminent baby-talk hovering in the wings, that several budding diabetics keeled over in sugar shock.
Gabrielle seemed inclined to lag until she felt Xena's warm breath against her ear. "I reserved a private room for us at the Goatboy's Amphora," the warrior whispered, "And dinner. And a bath. And I specifically requested several bars of soap..."
Startled sea green eyes met pale blue. "Uh, guys?," Gabrielle said in a slightly strangled tone to Hercules and Iolaus, "We're-going-on-to-the-inn-we'll-see-you-later-c'mon-Xena-bye!," the bard said in one breath as she tugged a smirking Xena through the agora, pushing people out of the way with her staff.
Until there is held a Greek-wide freestyle"hurrying-through-the-agora-while-trying-to-maintain-an-air-of-nonchalance -so-you-can-get-to-an-inn-and-make-love-like-rabid-weasels" contest, then it is sufficient to say that Xena and Gabrielle set an unbeatable record.
A short time later, ensconced to the chin in steamy bathwater, both women were finally free to relax. Gabrielle had lost the soap for the third time, and they were playing a leisurely game of "Whoa! That's not soap, Gabrielle!" "Then why's it so slippery, Xena, hee-hee-hee?," punctuated by the occasional moan, when there was a knock on the door.
In fact, there were several knocks.
In further fact, there was so much knocking going on that is sounded like a battalion of frenzied Celtic battle bands practicing "Inna-Godda-Da-Vida" - sans the bagpipe corps.
Xena levitated out of the bathwater like a dolphin broaching the sea and began throwing on her clothes. Seeing a pouting Gabrielle still in the tub, she hissed, "C'mon, Gabrielle, c'mon! You said you wanted to tell your parents first!," then in a slightly louder voice, Xena called to the still knocking visitor, "Coming!"
"You wish," the frustrated bard muttered as she sullenly left the cooling water and pulled on a linen shift.
Xena shot her a look and went to the vibrating door. "Yeah, yeah, just a second!," she yelled irritably, then unlocked the door and pulled it open.
A familiar figure stumbled into the room. Xena's eyebrow rose and Gabrielle stared.
"Joxer?," Gabrielle finally managed to get out.
The warrior wanna-be picked himself up off the floor. "Hiya, Xena! Oh, hi Gabrielle," he said in a slightly less enthusiastic tone. "Hey, Xena! I met Hercules and Iolaus downstairs and they said you two were here for the Festival, too. So anyways, I thought we could attend the opening night festivities together. You know, free wine, all you can eat buffet, and the all-night orgy! Whoo hoo!" He waggled his eyebrows in a suggestive manner and leered.
Xena rolled her eyes. Gabrielle whacked him with her staff, sending Joxer crashing to the ground, mis-matched bits of armor clamoring like a collapsing smithy.
"Hey! What'd you wanna go and do that for?," he whined, rubbing his nose, "You might have spoiled my boyish good looks!"
Gabrielle shook her staff at him. Normally the most even tempered of women, sexual frustration had her boiling in more ways than one. "Look, Joxer! I am not in the mood! Tell us what you want and get out of here before I REALLY get mad!"
Joxer stood up, still rubbing his nose. "Awright, don't be so hostile, for the love of Zeus! Actually," he drew himself up with an air of self-importance, "I was gonna ask Xena to come down and have a drink with us. Meaning Hercules, Iolaus and me. You know, Xena - the old warrior's custom." He grinned in smug foolishness.
As Gabrielle looked at her askance, Xena gritted her teeth, fighting the urge to draw her chakram and cut the smirking idiot in half. Ye Olde Warrior's Custom of lifting a goblet to fallen comrades and thanking the gods for continued survival was one of the few rituals she'd enjoyed in her warlord days... but not now! She glanced over to Gabrielle, who was now slack mouthed in astonishment that the warrior hadn't cut Joxer off at the knees... or slightly higher.
Still, Xena sighed to herself, a warrior's oath is a warrior's oath, and gods help me, as much as I might love my feisty bard, I have to do this or be forsworn. I hope my loins don't start smoking, though!
"Uh, Gabrielle," Xena began, and flinched at the heat in the other woman's glare, "I... well, I won't be long. I promise. Why don't you have the servants refill the tub with some nice hot water; I'll be back in two shakes of a ewe's tail."
Gabrielle was beside herself with fury, but forced herself to calm a little when she saw the gleam of speculation in Joxer's slightly crossed eyes. All right, bard, get a grip, she said to herself. This is obviously something she has to do, so you might as well grit your teeth and be at least graceful about it, by the gods! Even if you do feel like you've got a volcano between your thighs!
The bard still wanted to pound Joxer into the dust, but took a deep breath and fought the impulse. "Okay, Xena," Gabrielle said, "but don't be too long! I'm about ready for... bed," she said with a raised eyebrow, "and I know you are, too. So hurry back, okay?"
Xena hastily threw on her breastplate and practically leaped into her boots. "I'll meet you downstairs," she said to Joxer. The wanna-be opened his mouth to argue, but closed it with a click and fled at the promise of severe bodily mutilation in Xena's pale blue eyes.
Xena crossed to the fuming bard. "Look," she said softly, "This is just one of those warrior things. I promise, I'll just raise a couple of goblets and be outta there before you know it. So," she kissed Gabrielle's forehead, "Don't be angry, okay?"
Looking into the ice blue eyes of the woman she loved, Gabrielle relented. "Okay, okay. Just make it fast, Xena... or ELSE!"
Laughing, Xena exited the room, leaving Gabrielle alone...
And soon as mad as Hades. After a moment of pacing, the bard was ready to crawl out of her skin with frustration. Then, an incredibly wicked thought struck her, and a smile of pure mischief crossed her normally sweet face.
Two can play this game, she thought, as she grabbed a piece of
parchment from her pouch and hastily scrawled a message. Leaving it on
the table, she swiftly combed her hair, threw on her amazon garb and left
the room, chuckling evilly.
PART II: THE
BEST LAID PLANS
Bystanders were startled to see a woman stagger from the door of the Goatboy's Amphora. Dressed as a warrior in dark leathers, her face had a bilious green tinge, her pale blue eyes bulged, and rather frightening noises were issuing from her midsection, which she clutched tightly with both hands.
Xena managed to get to a friendly bush before heaving and retching until she thought her toenails were going to come up.
Ye Olde Warrior's Custom had started innocently enough - just a couple of goblets of wine. Then, the three men had insisted on switching to port, ale, beer, brandy and mead - in that order - and had eventually segued into more exotic substances, including a lethal little concoction called spirits-of-wheat, which the bartender served in tiny glasses.
Then the insanely drunken quartet all had several rounds of some foul tasting and incredibly intoxicating hellbrew imported from Gaul - Where the men are men, the women are women and the sheep are nervous, Xena thought with a mental giggle, still a little plastered, then grabbed her hair with both hands and groaned, staggering to a nearby horse trough.
Xena's head pounded; her eyes were flaming balls of blood; her hair resembled a Medusa's nest; and her mouth tasted like the Aegean stables - before Hercules' Labor. Still, I can't wait to get my hands on that sexy little amazon chickie, she thought. Drunk or no drunk, that hot bod is mine!
Plunging her head deep into the water-filled horse trough, the suffering warrior was down so long that all undertakers present began making bids for the body. Finally, she flipped her head up and back, long dark hair flinging shimmering droplets of water into the air, and took a breath so deep her breastplate almost split in half.
It definitely creaked under the strain.
"Ooooooooh," the bystanders moaned.
Xena gave them the Look at Intensity #5, both eyebrows cocked and locked, and several collapsed on the spot. Serves them right, the warrior groused to herself as she made her way back to the inn.
"Now," she said under her breath, "Where's that bard? Oh, my, my, Gabrielle-honey, I can practically taste your kisses now!"
Xena swaggered upstairs to the two women's room on unsteady legs, her thoughts already tuned to images of a naked, slick and pinkly clean Gabrielle, and walked in the door, saying sweetly, "See, bardie-poo. Told you your big, bad warlord wouldn't be long! C'mere and gimme some of that Potiedian sugar, baby!"
There was no answer.
Xena swayed in the middle of the room, brows furrowed in owlish concentration.
It took a few moments for the realization to hit the love hungry warrior. Where the Hades is Gabrielle?
After a few frenzied minutes of looking under the bed, splashing through the tepid water in the tub, slipping on the soap and debating going downstairs and starting a bloodbath, the increasingly belligerent warrior finally noticed the scrap of parchment lying on the table. What the...?
Gabrielle's brief note read:
Crumpling the parchment in one hand, the muscles in Xena's strong jaw convulsed, writhing like serpents beneath the smooth skin.
I will be calm... I will be calm...
The mantra didn't work. Xena stalked over to the wall and began punching holes in it while screaming at the top of her lungs, starting with her distinct war cry, then running through every bit of invective gathered in a lifetime of war camps - twice! - and ended inventing new swear words and chopping the bed and most of the furniture into kindling.
Finished at last, the furious warrior stood in the middle of the room, breasts heaving with exertion, surveying the damage with something that approached satisfaction. The look in her pale blue eyes would have made the Furies drop fewmets in fear.
Wait'll I get my hands on that nervy little bard, she thought, giving an innocent mirror the Look at Intensity #2. The tinkling of shattered glass on the wooden floor made Xena's face stretch in a diabolical smile. Then hiccup. Twice.
Now, where's that Zeus-damned parchment, she thought...
Gabrille groaned as she made her way back to the Goatboy's Amphora. Between stuffing herself on nutbread and other dubious festival treats, and spending candlemarks trying to find the perfect gift to give her warrior lover, the amazon bard was exhausted. But not so tired I can't give Xena a workout tonight, she thought, snickering.
As she entered the inn, she was not surprised to find that Hercules
and Iolaus had entered the"too-frimped-up-to-know-any -better" stage of
their drunken binge. Arms around each other's shoulders, they were singing
The Snakecharmer's Daughter*, a bawdy little ditty that had made
Gabrielle blush for two days after she'd heard it in a tavern near Herpitopia.
Shattered furniture and a furious bartender were evidence that Hercules and Iolaus had already passed the"throwing-offensive -people-through-the-walls-widows-and-doors" thingy, which pleased the bard no end.
Glad I don't have to fight my way through a patented Hercules-and-Iolaus brawl, she thought as she made her way heavily up the stairs. Those guys sure mix it up whenever they hit town!
Thoughts of a bronzed and naked Xena running through her mind, not to mention subsequent yodeling practice, Gabrielle could only stare in shocked astonishment when she got to the room.
The door was ajar; in fact, it was hanging from its hinges. A wide eyed Gabrielle cautiously poked her head into the room and gasped. The place looked like a herd of angry giants had held a confrontational group therapy session. "X-x-x-xena?," she stuttered.
Not a stick of furniture was left whole, save for one rickety table. Even the feather mattress had been slashed, and white goose down drifted through the air.
Crossing to the table, Gabrielle noticed a scrap of parchment. She picked it up and began to read, the lustful anticipation on her face draining away, leaving her green eyes sparkling with rage.
Xena's note read:
A few heartbeats of silence followed.Then, outwardly calm but steaming
within, Gabrielle deliberately dropped the inoffensive parchment to the
floor, turned about on her heel and left.
PART III: MR.
TELL, EAT YER FRIMPIN' HEART OUT
Xena held the unfamiliar bow in her hands and glanced up at the female centaur. "You sure this thing's *hic* legal?," the warrior asked.
The female centaur tossed her palomino locks. "I checked. There's nothing in the rules against a longbow. Even if it is seven feet long."
Xena whistled. K'trina's bow was seven feet long, and she knew
there were few men in the world, save perhaps the Jolly Green Giant of
Sherwood Forest in distant Britannica, who could even draw the thing; in
fact, she figured even Odysseus would get a hernia. She handed the lethal
weapon back to the centaur. "Bet you could *hic* punch through armor with
"Yeah," K'trina replied, "but if you think it's hard to draw, you should see the mark it leaves if it snaps back on you. Wanna talk about sting?"
Xena winced. Having had the experience herself a time or two, she knew how painful it was to have a bowstring snap on the sensitive tissue of a woman's breast.
And speaking of breasts... Xena was no little fascinated by K'trina's. Having read the learned Disnicius' "Fantasticus", a treatise on centaur physiology, she'd assumed that the females of the species had no nipples. But K'trina did; in fact, in the centaur custom of wearing as little as possible, her nipples and everything else were hanging out for the world to see.
Xena and K'trina walked over to the lists. They were the final contestants in the All-Amazon Archery Invitational; the two had out-shot everyone else. The next event would decide the winner.
Xena shaded her eyes with one hand, still emitting the occasional hiccup,
and peered down at her target: a tiny gold ring fastened to a thin scarlet
ribbon that hung from a willow branch. Behind the ring, an equally tiny
statuette of Athena had been set up on a stump. K'trina's target was the
It was the ultimate shot: send the arror through the ring at two hundred yards and knock the owl off Athena's helmet without making the statuette fall from its precarious perch, all without severing the ribbon. Tough shot, Xena thought, hiccuped, then licked one finger and held it up, testing the wind current.
K'trina snorted. "Well, I'm as ready as I'm gonna be," she said cheerfully. The centaur filly had come to Erosia to attend the festival, and had already attended an orgy at The Forked Tongue; the only reason she'd entered this stupid contest was at the behest of a woman she'd met who had been mightily impressed by the size of the centaur's bow.
A statuesque Kushite woman wearing an eye-searing tunic jumped up and down, waving and yelling incoherently at the centaur filly, who blushed a little and waved back with the fingers of one hand.
Seeing Xena's speculative stare, K'trina mumbled, "Just a friend, okay? Let's get this over with."
K'trina expertly threaded an arrow to her massive bow and drew it back to her ear, muscles in her back, arms and shoulders shuddering under the strain. Her tongue stuck out of the side of her mouth as she concentrated. Then, she released.
The arrow hummed through the air, rocketed through the ring, and the tiny statuette's owl-bedecked helm flew off. Unfortunately, the statue spun wildly with the force of the blow, and accompanied by groans of disappointment from the crowd, fell from its perch with a muffled thud.
"Awwwwwww," the crowd moaned. The Kushite woman didn't even glance back; she was already leaving on the arm of a huge Amazon blacksmith, saying as she steered her new lover away, "So... you've got a big sword, right? Betcha know how to use it..."
Xena smirked at K'trina's pout. "Serves you *hic* right, shentaur, I mean centaur. Now... watch thish."
Pale blue eyes narrowed in concentration, Xena took aim with her own, more ordinary bow. The wind ruffled her dark hair. She held the pose a moment, sighting her target. Sonnuva-Cerberus is a toughie, she thought. The alcohol she'd consumed made her glow down to her toes and gave her a lopsided smile.
A sensitive sculptor in the front row toppled from an excess of emotional inspiration upon seeing the warrior's heroic pose.
Zing! The arrow shot from the bow, but it was off by a hair. With a wild scream, accompanied by a barrage of hiccups, Xena snatched the chakram from her hip and flung it, while another sensitive sculptor heaved a massive sigh and collapsed on top of the first.
The chakram whizzed through the air and with a tinny clang, struck the arrowhead, sending the missile back on course.
As the crowd oooohed and aaaaahed, the arrow passed through the ring and popped the owl from the Athena statuette's helmet. The statuette didn't even twitch.
"Oooooooh, Xena," K'trina squeaked, rearing in excitement, "you did it!" The centaur filly leaned down and planted a big, wet, warm kiss on the startled warrior's lips.
"Mmmmmph!," the warrior protested, finally shoving K'trina away. "Okay, okay, already, I get the picture. But sorry, hon, you aren't my type. Too many legsh, I mean legs. Now if you'll excuse me, I've got an appointment with a bard and a feathershed, I mean a featherbed."
As Xena threw down the bow and began pushing through the adoring throng, she noticed with drunken satisfaction that her hiccups had stopped. Thank the gods, she thought, centaurs are good for something!
Gabrielle saw it all. Her Xena, so magnificent, so heroic, making the classic shot. Winning the Invitational! Outshooting everybody! Gods, Xena was terrific!
Then... her warrior smooching all over that... that... horse's ass!
Gods, Xena was infuriating!
The bard was so angry she was seeing red. She stomped through the agora, looking neither right nor left. In fact, she was so angry that she almost failed to hear a voice call her name.
"Hey! Gabrielle?! Is that you??"
Spinning around, the amazon bard saw a young, sandy bearded man dressed in a simple linen tunic and cotton trews. "Tersti!," she yelled and made her way to the young man's side.
"Gods, Gabrielle! It's so good to see you," Tersti said as he hugged the bard tightly.
Gabrielle felt the same. Poor Terstitsquiculus; she'd been his only friend at the Athens Academy. Tersti was an overly sensitive, utterly romantic, puppy-eyed sap who had an annoying penchant for getting involved with the worst dregs of warriordom.
She pulled back a little and looked into his face. Yep, she thought, seeing the empty-eyed gleam in his big blue eyes, still the same old Tersti. That shine in his eyes is Helios' light streaming through the hole in the back of his precious little blonde head.
"Oh, gods, Gabrielle," Tersti enthused, "I'm sooooo glad I found you! Here I was, thinking about you, wishing you were here to join the Bardic Circle, 'cause I know those wild Xena stories of yours would kill the judges, and just like that!" He snapped his fingers. "Here you are."
Gabrielle smiled. Tersti hadn't scrap of intelligence but there wasn't a malicious bone in his body. If the two of them were in a contest at the Academy, he'd whistle and clap enthusiastically, and when she won, he'd be as happy for her as if he'd won it himself. "You mean there's a bard's contest going on at the Festival?," she asked.
Keeping a long arm wrapped around Gabrielle's slender waist, Tersti urged her to keep walking. "Duh," he said, "It's a Circle, jerk. You know, just a buncha bards getting together to see who can whomp up the tallest tale." Seeing Gabrielle smile, he continued, "Wanna join? You'd slay them, I just know you would. Please? Pretty please with an olive on top?"
Gabrielle thought a moment. "Yeah, I'd love to," she finally said, an evil glint in her sea green eyes, "but I need to drop by the Goatboy's Amphora and leave a message for my roommate."
Tersti nodded. "Sure, sure," he said, "in fact, it's on the way. Oh, Gabrielle!," he said, hugging her again, "I sure missed you."
Once at the inn, Gabrielle noticed that Hercules and Iolaus were arguing about who used the most acrobatic combat moves. It looked like another fight might be brewing; apparently the bartender had the same idea, since he had removed his "equalizer" - a nail studded club - from behind the bar and stood viewing the duo with a jaundiced eye.
Leaving Tersti in a relatively safe corner with a tall glass of cider, Gabrielle strolled leisurely up the stairs. The room looked much better; apparently, servants had been busy cleaning up and replacing the destroyed furnishings. Gabrielle plucked the much rumpled bit of parchment off the floor and carefully smoothed it.
The note she left for Xena read:
Dear Xena, Saw you at the archery contest. Hope you and hay-breath are very happy together. I'm off to a Bardic Circle Contest with a very, very good friend from the Academy. Since you told me that I shouldn't wait up after I told you not to wait up... Ditto. Twice.
The bard flounced from the room, a self-satisfied smirk on her face.
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