by Nene Adams
PART I: MAKE A JOYFUL NOISE
''Oh, what a beautiful morning,'' Gabrielle caroled, head thrown back in joy, ''Oh, what a beautiful day...''
Xena hid a wince. While Gabrielle might be very talented as a bard, this Peking-opera-singer imitation of hers was starting to wear a little thin.
Xena, possessed of absolute, perfect pitch, practically bugged her eyes out whenever the enthusiastic-but-distinctly-untalented Gabrielle hit those killer high notes like a young castrato going through The Change... or maybe it was more like a cat getting caught in a sausage grinder...
...it is perhaps fortunate that the amazon bard had never trod the boards on Amateur Night at the Amphitheater. Gabrielle was the type of diddle-about-in-the-Roman-baths-while-dreaming-she's-Pagliacchi singer who would make peasant costermongers' eyes light up with feral glee and loosen their pitching arms, making heartfelt thanks to whatever god had possessed them to bring not only overripe tomatoes but rotten eggs and moldy cabbages to the concert...
Whatever, Xena sighed internally. Much more of this and I'm gonna have to beat her unconscious just to keep from killing her.
Gabrielle, oblivious to her lover's distress, segued into the enormously popular, if considerably overdone and overwrought classic, 'Feelings.' Xena gritted her teeth and clutched Argo's reins until her knuckles were white. It was the thirteenth time the strawberry-blonde had sung that song and Xena's nerves were stretched as tight as Aphrodite's undergarments.
''Hey, um, Gabrielle? D'ya mind?,'' Xena asked in a strangled tone, struggling to keep from drawing her sword and poking the bard in a non-fatal part of her anatomy, ''I really enjoy your singing, but I think your voice is starting to give out. Maybe you'd better give it a rest for awhile.''
''Feeeeeeeelings, whoa, whoa, whoa, feeeeelings!,'' the amazon bard sang, belting it out like she was on stage at the Hippodrome, ''I wish I'd never met you, girl... you'll never come again...''
''Gabrielle...,'' Xena warned tightly in her best, 'okay, I've had just about enough of this frimpin' nonsense and any minute now there's gonna be a bloodbath,' tone. ''...Cut it out.''
''Okay, Xena,'' Gabrielle broke off in the middle of a heart-felt ''whoa,'' ''How about something by that woodworking duo.... 'I'm on the... top of the world lookin'... down on creation...''
Xena's dark hair started to curl at the ends. ''Please, Gabrielle...,'' she gritted through her teeth, but was interrupted by the bard.
Gabrielle was really starting to get into the whole 'Who-is-Francis-Sinatrius-kidding?' thing. 'I did it... MY WAY!,'' she bellowed, notes cracking like cheap Sumerian pottery.
A little puff of smoke issued from Xena's ears. Her hand whipped up and grabbed the hilt of her sword.
Gabrielle continued, ''Or how about this one? It really knocks 'em dead in Peoria... '...We had joy, we had fun, we had seasons in the sun...' or,'' the amazon bard said hastily as the suffering warrior turned in the saddle and fixed her with a pale blue glare, ''maybe you'd prefer, 'FEEEEELINGS! WHOA! WHOA! WHOA! FEEEELINGS!''
Each time the bard shouted, ''Whoa!,'' Xena's skull rang as if it were trapped inside a temple bell being lustily beaten by an overly enthusiastic hunch-backed acolyte with a ten-pound hammer. She half drew her sword, then thrust it back into the scabbard. No, I can just tear open the veins in my wrist with my teeth, the warrior thought desperately.
''WHOA! WHOA! WHOA! FEELINGS!''
''GABRIELLE!,'' Xena screamed, able to bear any more, ''ENOUGH! PLEASE!'' For the first time in her life, the warrior was seriously considering suicide as an option. Tartarus had never looked so good...
Gabrielle last, ''Whoa!,'' trailed off as she realized Xena was serious.
Blessed silence reigned for a long moment, broken only by the creak of Argo's saddle, the clopping of the war horse's hooves on the dirt trail... and finally, a tiny, smothered sob from Gabrielle.
Instantly, Xena pulled Argo to a halt and slid down from the saddle.
Gabrielle's face was beet red and pulled tight in the not-terribly-attractive scrunchiness associated with babies who are about to make the plaster walls splinter with a skull-splitting wail... or do something else entirely (which was not the bard's problem at the moment - a steady diet of olives and flatbread do wonders for regularity).
Xena's heart sank clear down to the pit of her stomach ...
(And the warrior's stomach, intolerant of interlopers, immediately tossed the organ out on its non-existent ear, pretending not to hear the large intestine's cry of, '''Ere, now! Whot the bloody 'ell am I supposed t' do wif this thing?'' The heart managed to find its way back to its proper cavity only after the spleen drew it a map and gave it a nice cup of tea.)
''Look, Gabrielle,'' Xena said hastily as she noted the bard's sea-green eyes shimmering with unshed tears, ''It's not like I don't like music and all, but...''
Gabrielle crossed her arms. Her bottom lip trembled. ''You don't like my singing?,'' she asked in a very small voice.
Xena drew a deep breath. There are lies, she thought, and damn lies... and then there's my libido.
''Of course I like your singing, Gabrielle,'' the dark haired warrior said, carefully crossing the fingers of one hand behind her back, ''It's great! Better than that Italian guy, whatsisname?'' Xena snapped the fingers of her free hand. ''Caruso! Yeah, he's got nothing on you!
''Believe me, I'd love to hear more! Lots and lots more! ESPECIALLY that 'Feelings' song. But really, Gabrielle... don't you think you should rest your voice? After all,'' Xena continued, ''aren't the Amazons going to want you to give a speech or something when we get there?''
Xena waited breathlessly. If this didn't work, there was always poetry to fall back on... but lately, the well had been running a wee bit dry. The warrior made a mental note, backing it up with a strongly shaken forefinger at her Memory (who stuck out its metaphorical tongue at the implied criticism) not to forget that unabridged scroll of the Spear-Shaker's verse!
To the warrior's vast relief, Gabrielle seemed to be considering the idea. After a moment, the arms uncrossed and her face regained its normal complexion. ''Okay,'' she said brightly, ''I'll just work on my speech.''
Xena's heart rose (after taking a wrong left turn at the liver, the weary organ finally dropped into its proper place, wiping the sweat from its non-existent brow. The lungs debated throwing a party to celebrate, but those plans were scotched by the kidneys, who had quite enough of partying lately, thank you very much, and were still feeling a bit miffed over the ''Erosia Incident'').
''So I take it you're still my sweet little,'' the warrior glanced around hastily; seeing no witnesses, she continued, ''bardie-poo?''
''Only if you're still my big, tweet dweam wabbit,'' Gabrielle replied, her imagination fired by the image of herself addressing the entire Amazon nation and knockin' 'em dead with literary allusions and iambic rhetoric. ''Now, get your butt back on this horse, Xena. I want to get to Amazonia before nightfall.''
Xena gave the bard a mock salute. ''Yes, ma'am!,'' she said in her crispest military manner, and vaulted to Argo's back in a display of acrobatic skill that would have made a Mongolian contortionist hiss through her teeth in envy and make numerous catty remarks over the morning rice.
Now, Xena thought as she urged Argo into a trot, if only I
can get Gabrielle to practice her speech silently...
PART II: WHAT'S OPERA, DOC
The two women got to the Amazon forest around two o'clock and were greeted by a band of masked Amazon warriors, who rappelled down from the trees. Xena threw down her sword, Gabrielle leaned her staff against her chest, and both women raised their arms and put their hands together above their heads to show their non-threatening intentions.
The Amazons immediately went down on one knee before the beaming Gabrielle. The heroines lowered their arms and Xena picked up her sword, jamming it back into its scabbard.
''Hiya, guys!,'' Gabrielle said brightly, ignoring Xena's elbow jab to her ribs, ''You comin' to the wedding?''
Xena sighed. If anything happened to her (gods forbid!), Gabrielle's unlikely association with the Amazons would be the one thing the bard could fall back on. The warrior had been coaching Gabrielle in the mannerisms and speech of ''royalty'' - but obviously the lessons had failed to stick.
One of the warriors rose smoothly to her feet, pushing her mask to the back of her head. It was Ephiny, Gabrielle's Regent, and her brown eyes were twinkling. ''Of course, my Queen,'' she said, ''The entire Nation's gathered here to attend the Wedding of the Millennia.''
Xena's pale blue eyes bulged a little. ''The entire Nation?,'' she gasped.
Gabrielle and Ephiny exchanged a look. If looks could talk, Ephiny's would say something like, ''What's got into her?,'' while Gabrielle's would reply, ''I dunno,'' or something equally clever.
...it's probably a good thing non-verbal communication was invented - not only did it save the lungs a lot of work (for which lungs everywhere breathed a prayer of thankfulness every night) - but it also gave witty conversationalists something to think about when they sat around at night, composing aphorisms and scintillating repartee and practicing eyebrow arching in the mirror...
''Yes,'' Ephiny explained, ''No Amazon worth her lineage would miss this event! Even Aramanthia, the mountain hermit no one's seen in years, showed up two days ago. She'd sworn nothing would ever lure her out of retirement. Well,'' the Regent concluded with a wide smile, ''I suppose she never thought she'd attend a Queen's wedding!''
Xena sucked in a breath, prepared to protest, but Ephiny smoothly linked her arm through Gabrielle's and began escorting the wide-eyed bard towards the village. The two women murmured as the remaining Amazons formed an escort, leaving a gaping (and increasingly livid) Xena behind.
Xena swore under her breath, a particularly ripe and foul oath she'd picked up from a Mesopotamian fish-wife in Rhodes. A tiny robin, happening to overhear, fell from its tree branch, stunned; Argo trembled and showed the whites of her eyes.
The warrior's ice blue eyes resembled glacial agates. She'd get to the bottom of this... and soon...
Gabrielle was stunned.
Not only was the village crammed with Amazons of every age, rank and station, but the welcome they'd given her had been nothing short of spectacular.
A full contingent of the ''Artemis' Lonely Hearts Club Band'' marched in intricate formations, furiously playing that perennial favorite, 'Feelings,' with full drum corps pounding the beat frantically, and the purple-faced pipers practically passing out with enthusiasm. Their dress uniforms of white leather with glittering gold fringed epaulets, not to mention the big furry hats they wore on their heads, made them resemble animated buffalo in drag who'd spent weeks on the Make-Smaller-Quicker Diet Plan.
''Oooooooh,'' Gabrielle breathed in awe.
Following on the heels of the band came a troop of jugglers and acrobats, wowing the crowd with intricate maneuvers and feats of coordination that had taken years to perfect. Even the normally staid Epinon was heard to utter a discreet, ''Whoa!'' when six of the jugglers, tossing flaming torches high overhead, nearly set fire to the marching band's fuzzy hats.
After the jugglers, a welcoming committee of children stood in front of the dais where Gabrielle, Ephiny and an increasingly fidgety Xena sat, and sang a tinnily soprano version of 'Good Morning to You,' immediately followed by yet another chorus of 'Feelings.'
Xena felt as if her skull were going to explode.
Next came the floats. Pulled by teams of oxen, the flatbed wagons had been decorated to the nines. The parade coordinators had asked every village to contribute a tableaux on the subject of Love. Needless to say, talented amateurs, each convinced they were going to be the next Luciusangelo, ran amok.
After seeing a toothless granny - who should have known better - dressed in a diaphanous pink gown (which left little to the imagination - more's the pity) and a hideously false blonde wig doing her best arthritic yet Aphrodite-ish bump-and-grind to the uneven strains of a pouting teenager on a lute, Xena was beginning to contemplate the peace of the grave again.
And it didn't get any better...
The final float was composed entirely of roses. From an enormous fake clamshell, an ashen faced blonde tossed flower petals to the crowd and recited poetry in numb, sing-song fashion while children in red loincloths, carrying tiny bows and arrows, cavorted at her feet.
Except for one sullen little girl; her mother, hidden in the depths of the float, was heard to say impatiently, ''G'wan, then, Reveli! Give our Queen a smile!'' The child shook her head, disarranging golden curls. As the float lumbered past, the sound of a sharp smack and a child's wail of, ''But mum! I don' wanna smile at the stupid Queen!'' could be heard above the sawing rasp of the marching ''Horned Moon Society's All-Washboard Band'' playing their version of 'I Hear Laughter in the Rain.'
Even the hermit Aramanthia got into the act. The aged Amazon, dressed in a sensible linen smock and sandals, salt-and-pepper hair pulled into a loose braid, sang a tear-jerking chorus of 'Endless Love' accompanied by a tall Spartan beauty on a hurdy-gurdy.
As the others cheered and whooped it up, Xena felt that she could endure no more. Turning to the excited Gabrielle, the warrior whispered, ''I'm going to the stables to see after Argo. I'll be back.''
Gabrielle gave her a disappointed glare, then she remembered Xena's dislike of crowds and decided to be gracious. ''Sure, dream rabbit,'' she replied absently, watching a pair of intrepid jugglers tossing cleavers around the increasingly angry Aramanthia with the brain-numbed fascination of a bystander at a horrible avalanche accident who's awaiting further developments, ''You go right ahead.''
Gabrielle patted Xena's hand and realized she had a sudden craving for popped corn... whatever that was.
When Aramanthia, having dismissed the disrespectful jugglers with some extremely grisly threats, segued into the enormously popular Cymric ballad, 'Fanny Girl' - reaching desperately for unbelievably high notes with lung-wrenching effort - Xena fled.
Ephiny wondered briefly what had gotten into Xena. She opened her mouth, about to question Queen Gabrielle... then saw how much fun the amazon bard was having. I'll ask about it later, the Regent thought, and joined the other Amazons in applauding the aged hermit's efforts.
Suddenly, without any warning, an enormous gray-and-white rabbit plunged through the crowd, running so fast its legs were a whirling blur of motion. A blonde wig, sporting two long braids and a tiny steel hat with itsy-bitsy dove wings, was askew on its head.
As the rabbit flew past the astonished Amazons, it said in a strange accent, ''I knew I shoulda taken a left toin at Albuquerque!''
On the heels of the rabbit came an unusual individual. A short, plump little man with a huge head - wearing a leather jerkin, breeches, and a steel cap sprouting horns on either side - he pushed surprised Amazons aside with single minded purpose. Reaching a clear spot in the crowd, he brandished a short spear and shouted, ''Kill the WABBIT! KILL the wabbit! Kill THE wabbit! KILL THE WABBIT!''
Then he disappeared, running so fast after the rabbit that he left a small cloud of dust in his wake.
Gabrielle, who had stood and snatched up her staff, believing for a stunned moment that it was Xena the spear-totin' mutant had been referring to, turned to an open-mouthed Ephiny. ''What the Hades was that?,'' she asked her Regent.
The blonde woman shrugged and closed her mouth. ''I don't know,'' she replied thoughtfully, ''but it explains the weird noises the scouts have reported from the forest.''
Gabrielle shook her head. Sometimes the gods have a strange sense of humor, she thought. The parade was over; the last band, ''The Rovers Club'' ended their rendition of 'Greensleeves'' with an enthusiastic, off-key screech. Gabrielle rose, drawing a deep breath, preparing to knock the assembled women dead with her speech, but...
After the Amazons recovered from their surprise, they gave their blushing Queen three rousing cheers, accompanied by whistles, clapping and ''Whoo-hoo!'s''... and the party began to break up as Amazons left, already deep in critical assessment of the parade, the performers, and the sunrise all-you-can-swill breakfast banquet and wine bar at the food tent.
Gabrielle sighed. Oh, well, she thought, maybe I'll save that speech for after the wedding. She said aloud to Ephiny, ''So now what?''
Ephiny smiled and laid a friendly hand on Gabrielle's arm. ''Now, you and Xena need to go and consult with the wedding planner.''
Wedding planner? Gabrielle's sea-green eyes were wide. She'd never realized royal weddings had to be planned.
''O-kay,'' the strawberry-blonde bard said to Ephiny, ''I'll go get Xena and we'll meet you and this planner in the Queen's hut.''
As Gabrielle strode away, she stopped as a thought struck her. Turning her head, she asked Ephiny over her shoulder, ''What's her name?''
Ephiny grinned. ''Oscarina. Oscarina Myer. You'll like her, my Queen. She's very... different.''
As Gabrielle walked to the stables, she wondered just what Ephiny had
meant by that remark.
PART III: SHE'S A SWEET YOU-KNOW-WHAT
Having dragged a protesting Xena to the Queen's hut, Gabrielle settled down in her seat. Ephiny, the Queen and a sulking warrior princess sat around a small table; facing them was the bizarre figure of the wedding planner - Oscarina Myer, M.D.
The... er, woman was dressed (if you wanted to call it that) in a black, strapless number trimmed with scarlet, laced up the front with cords. Her long legs were encased in sheer fishnet stockings (also black), held up by thin leather straps that wrapped around her thighs. On her feet she wore leather shoes with spiked heels that made her hips sway like a harbor-locked sampan in hurricane weather when she walked.
Oscarina's frizzy black hair hung loose to her shoulders. Dark eyes, outlined heavily in coal-black stibium, and with shimmering ground lead applied to her eyelids, added to the sexpot illusion.
Oscarina parted thick yet luscious crimson lips (painted with smashed cochineal beetle guts) and breathed, ''So, babies... you want to get married, hmmm? Have you got any interesting tattoos?'' She raised one ebony brow and pursed her lips in a moue.
As Oscarina swayed around the table, Gabrielle noticed the tattoo of a heart that decorated one of the planner's muscular arms... and she also noticed that Oscarina was practically flat chested... and tiny black hairs peeped over the edge of her bustier. Hmmmmm...
Oscarina stood in a hip-shot stance and crossed her arms. ''Well, this is going to require some thought.'' Her voice had a round yet cultured Britannic accent, hailing from the region of Oxford. ''I suppose you're the groom?,'' Oscarina asked Xena.
The warrior seemed nervous; in fact, it was all she could do not to run out of the room screaming. ''Um, yeah, I guess. If you want to call it that.'' Oh, gods, she groaned internally, I don't think I can go through with this. Her brain reeled at the thought of all those people.
Oscarina pursed her lips. ''Hmph.'' She swayed around again, then stopped in front of Gabrielle. ''Darling,'' she breathed, ''you'll be a beautiful bride. With a little help, of course,'' she continued, raising her brow again.
She raised her hands and played with the string of pearls around her neck. ''Don't you fret, babies. Oscarina will take care of everything!,'' she declared dramatically. ''And I do mean everything,'' she purred suggestively, making Gabrielle blush.
Turning to Ephiny, the, er, woman said, ''We'll have to work fast, sweetie. Wedding gown, something for Miss Pootchie-Face over there,'' she added, gesturing to Xena, ''and I think a buffet would be more appropriate for an outdoor affair than a formal sit-down. We'll need a big tent, a band, and just oodles of stuff. What about a caterer?''
Ephiny grinned. ''Salmoneus is coming; I had a runner take him a message a week ago. He promised to come to Amazonia with all the equipment necessary to cater the wedding - except the food, of course. Some guy named Falafel gave us a great bid on a buffet.''
Xena and Gabrielle raised their eyebrows simultaneously. ''Falafel?,'' Gabrielle asked with alarm, ''Not the guy with the hot dogs?''
Oscarina ''moued'' again. ''Mmmm-hmmm. Now then,'' she continued, sitting down in her chair and crossing her long legs ostentatiously. ''You, my luscious little bard, will need a wedding gown. Something in white chiffon, I think - tasteful yet elegant. Throw in a few strands of pearls, some white gloves and a veil, and you'll be the star of the show.''
''What about Xena?,'' Gabrielle asked.
Oscarina's dark eyes lit up. ''We've only got a few days, baby-kins. But I have been known to work a miracle or two. We'll need to coordinate with the High Priestess, maybe a chorus of 'Feelings' or something appropriate before the ceremony... do you think it would be too abysmal if Steve Reeves showed up?''
''Steve who?,'' Ephiny asked.
Oscarina waved a dismissive hand. ''Oh, never mind,'' she said.
Throughout Oscarina's presentation, Gabrielle's brain had been busily putting two and two together. This just couldn't be a woman. Finally, the bard blurted, ''Oscarina... What are you?''
Oscarina smiled widely. ''I'm just a sweet transvestite,'' she purred, re-crossing her legs, ''from trans-sexual Transylvania.''
Xena's brain was on the verge of implosion. She'd envisioned a quiet ceremony; just her, the bard and a priestess somewhere on a secluded river bank. This was turning into a nightmare. Abruptly, the warrior stood. ''I'm going for a walk,'' she said tightly, then practically ran from the room.
Oscarina watched Xena leave with raised brows. ''Was it something I said?,'' she asked with a wide-lipped grin.
Gabrielle excused herself hastily and ran out after the distressed warrior.
I'm gonna get to the bottom of this, she thought, even if it
PART IV: YOU SAY TOM-AY-TO, I SAY TOM-AH-TO
Gabrielle caught up with Xena by the riverbank. ''What's going on?,'' she asked, slightly out of breath.
Xena's only reply was a growl. She kept her back to the bard, trying to force her hands to stop shaking.
The dark-haired warrior was feeling frustrated and on the verge of drawing her sword and hacking the village apart with it. ''Nothing,'' she finally said when she could control her tone. Silently she thought, I wonder if I could convince Gabrielle to elope...
Gabrielle raised a red-gold brow (My-oh-my, but she was getting good at this eyebrow business!). ''Don't 'nothing' me, Xena. Something's the matter with you. Why are you acting this way?''
Xena shook her head. ''Gabrielle, it's nothing. Really. Now, if you don't mind, I'd like to be alone for a while.''
Gabrielle put her hands on her hips. ''Nothing, huh? You've been acting as jumpy as a felinus in a room full of tap-dancing dryads ever since we got to Amazonia. Don't you want to get married?''
Xena turned around. ''I said it's nothing!''
''Nothing, huh? I want the truth, Xena. I'm not leaving till I get it.''
''The truth? You can't handle the truth!,'' The dark-haired warrior said emphatically, unknowingly quoting the noted Stoic actor Nicholas Jackius in his finest role, 'Semper Fidelis'.
Gabrielle tapped one foot against the grass. ''I guess you really don't want to marry me, then.''
''Gabrielle...'' Xena was in agony. How could she explain the fear that consumed her whenever she was in the midst of a crowd? How could she explain the compulsion to get away from mobs - torchbearing or otherwise?
Finally, the dark-haired warrior shrugged her shoulders. ''I do want to marry you, Gabrielle. I just... well, I thought it would be a lot simpler than this.''
The amazon bard was feeling ever-so-slightly pissy. ''Simpler? Oh, you mean like getting married in some flea-infested dump with an ancient priestess doddering through the rites? Oh, no, MissSo-Tough-I-Can-Take-On-Goliath-With -One-Hand-Tied-Behind-My-Back!We're getting married in the Temple of Artemis with all the honors accorded the Queen of the Amazons. I've looked up the rites and they're just beautiful.'' Her sweet face took on a dreamy expression.
Xena gazed into Gabrielle's sea-green eyes with something akin to horror. Rites?, she thought dazedly. Now what?
Gabrielle continued, ''First, we exchange vows. I've written yours so that's no problem; you just have to memorize them. Then, the High Priestess gives a sermon on the sacredness of marriage, and there's a chorus singing a hymn to Artemis, and all the assembled Amazons give the couple a sword-on-shield banging salute... then, we exchange blood oaths and rings...
After that, there's a big party... and a few days of the individual leaders of each village coming forward to swear oaths of fealty to you as my Consort, and to make their vows to me...''
Throughout Gabrielle's recital, Xena's trembling became more pronounced. When the amazon bard sucked in enough air to continue, Xena interrupted her. ''All that?,'' the warrior squeaked, ''All that just to get married?''
''Well, of course, silly,'' Gabrielle huffed, ''I am the Amazon Queen, after all. And you'll be the official Consort of the Amazon Queen, so it's a little elaborate.''
Xena's knees felt weak. For a moment she could not speak. ''Ah-hem!,'' she coughed, clearing her throat, then muttered something under her breath about, ''... go through with it.''
''What's that?,'' Gabrielle asked sharply.
''Ah-hem!,'' Xena coughed again. ''I said, I don't know if I can go through all that, Gabrielle. I'm a simple warrior; I like my weddings simple, too. Thinking about all that ritual makes me break out in hives. See?''
The warrior extended one arm and Gabrielle examined the tiny, red welts. ''Right,'' Gabrielle scoffed. ''Next thing you'll be telling me that the wedding's off.''
There was a moment of silence while both women stared at each other... Xena with an apologetic expression... Gabrielle with growing disbelief.
''C'mon, Xena!,'' Gabrielle pleaded, ''It's just a teeny little ceremony. It won't kill you!''
Xena shuddered. ''Bardie-poo, I'd almost rather take on Ares with a rubber sword than go through all that... ceremony stuff. I just can't handle all those... people.''
Now, the slight feeling of pissiness that had been lurking in Gabrielle's mood all day burst forth in all its glory. ''You BITCH!,'' the bard shrieked, ''You utter BITCH! Gods, and to think I LOVED you! I gave you my heart and you just throw it back in my face like... like... those nose-blowing-papers invented by that Persian guy, Kleenex!''
Xena was speechless. She could only listen helplessly as her beloved bard pitched what was rapidly becoming the hissy fit of the century.
''OOOOOOH!,'' the infuriated Gabrielle screeched, ''You make me so mad I could just spit! I can't believe you! You won't go through with it because you're SCARED???!! The woman who took on Julius Caesar...who jumped aboard Cecrops' ship to save me... who got me back from Hades... SCARED???!!''
The bard began to stamp her feet rapid-fire, swinging her arms up and down at the same time. ''Aaaaaarrrrrggggghhhhh!,'' she yelled. Gabrielle was really hitting her stride now.
Xena took two steps backward and held up her hands. ''Uh, Gabrielle,'' she began, ice blue eyes wide, ''I think we should discuss this calmly and rationally...''
Gabrielle fixed the warrior with a glare that would have rivaled a Gorgon's... and had pretty much the same effect on the astonished Xena, who was frozen in place as if she had been turned into stone. ''Calm? CALM? I'M PERFECTLY CALM!,'' the bard roared. ''In fact, I've NEVER been so calm in my life!!!''
Xena cast about in her mind desperately, trying to find a way to defuse the situation. Gabrielle's normally serene face was engorged with blood, and a vein was throbbing in the bard's forehead. Something bad was about to happen; Xena could feel it in her bones.
...in the usual manner of arguments everywhere, what started out about one thing rapidly became about something else entirely; this phenomenon was discovered in 1741 by Sir Benjamin Carruthers. Named ''The First Law of Picking Nits,'' this ground-breaking theorem proved to be highly unpopular with married physicists, and the depressed Carruthers later committed suicide by swallowing his mother-in-law...
Meanwhile, Gabrielle had thought of some other grievances to be aired. ''And by the way, MissI-Can-Catch-Fish -With-My-Bare-Hands, you pick your nose in your sleep. AND with all that fussing you do about my ears being clean, you're not exactly Miss Hygiene in that department, either! AND I've been meaning to tell you one more thing, too... flapping the bedroll after farting doesn't help matters any! Frankly, I wonder about your diet... have you been eating raw sewage lately?''
Xena was taken aback by Gabrielle's personal attack. Finally, her own temper began to simmer. ''Oh yeah?,'' the warrior sneered, ''I'm not the only one who breaks wind in the middle of the night! To be honest, I've sometimes wondered if I was sharing my bedroll with Zephyrus! And another thing... all that nutbread you eat is making you fatter than a Kushite concubine!''
''Fat? FAT?!! Your head's a lot fatter than my butt, that's for sure!''
''Well, you're lip's gonna be fatter, you keep this up!''
''Oh, yeah?'' Gabrielle's eyes were glowing with sheer rage.
''Yeah.'' Xena's lips twisted in disdain.
Both women turned their backs on each other and stood, arms crossed, breathing heavily.
Gabrielle was the first to break the silence. ''You have bad breath, too. Must be all that fish you eat.''
''You get eye boogers, bard. And speaking of odors, at certain times of the month, the bedroll smells like a Rhodes fish market at high noon.''
The strawberry blonde woman whipped around at that catty remark. ''Xena-of-Amphipolous, you don't have anything to hide in that department, either! Honestly... sometimes I'm surprised we're not being followed by a horde of hungry cats looking for a seafood handout!''
Xena turned around, too. ''Hah! And another thing, Gabrielle... I wouldn't marry you if you were the last amazon bard on Gaia!''
Abruptly, and much to Gabrielle's fury, the bard burst into tears.
(This was Gabrielle's Self-Preservation, who had finally wrested control of the bard's emotional state from Anger and Pissiness; Love helped, too, by distracting the negative emotions - it waved a pair of tickets to go see the Spartan Monster Truck Mud Bash and cooed, ''Yoo-hoo, girls!'' Anger beat Pissiness by a split second - and eventually went to the Bash on a double date with Homicidal Fury, accompanied by Frustration and General-Out-of-Sorts-ness.)
Xena immediately felt like a complete podex. As Gabrielle slid to the ground, racked by sobs, the dark-haired warrior's heart skipped a beat, then slid down to her stomach again.
(This time, the stomach was a little more cooperative. All of Xena's organs, knowing about the tiff, clustered 'round and patted the sensitive heart on its non-existent back, murmuring, ''There, there!'' and offering chamomile tea and chocolate biscuits. Eventually, the heart managed to get back to its proper cavity, aided by a helpfully supportive small intestine.)
Xena sank to her knees beside the weeping bard. ''I'm so sorry, bardie-poo,'' she said softly, stroking Gabrielle's hair. For once, the warrior didn't care if there were any witnesses to her pet name for the bard. ''I said some terrible things. I didn't mean a word of it. Please, please, stop crying... I still love you and I do want to marry you.''
With those magic words, Gabrielle managed to calm a little. ''Oh, Xena!,'' she wailed, ''I didn't mean what I said, either! I'm so, so sorry! Please tell me you forgive me!''
Xena smiled. ''Of course I forgive you. I'm still your big sweet dream-rabbit, aren't I?''
''Yeah, and I'm still your bardie-poo.'' Gabrielle sniffled. ''I guess the wedding's still on?,'' she asked tentatively.
The dark-haired warrior drew a deep breath. ''Yes. The wedding's still on. But,'' she added sternly, ''I'll only go through the whole frimpin' thing on one condition.''
Gabrielle snuggled close to Xena. ''What's that?,'' she asked.
''The honeymoon. I want to go somewhere quiet, peaceful... and as deserted as possible. My choice.''
The pretty bard giggled. ''Of course, dream-rabbit. Whatever you say.''
The two women wrapped their arms around one another and reveled in the closeness for a moment. Then Gabrielle broke the silence. ''Am I really getting fat?,'' she asked plaintively.
''Absolutely not,'' Xena replied emphatically, making a mental note never to bring up the nutbread subject again.
More silence reigned, broken only by the sound of clear, mountain water gurgling over river-smoothed rocks... and tiny rustlings in the bushes as a pair of amorous Amazons, who had come to the relatively secluded area for a bit of the old ''Tickle-the-Oyster,'' hastily snuck away...
As they left, one of them giggled softly. ''Bardie-poo?,'' Epinon asked under her breath to her companion.
Ephiny shushed her. ''Consider it a state secret, Epinon. Or else I'll sick 'dream rabbit' on you!''
Epinon turned white at the threat, and the two women got back to the
village as quickly as possible, each of them relieved that the wedding
was still on..
PART V: AIN'T
WE GOT FUN
Upon their arrival at the village, Xena and Gabrielle went immediately to the Royal hut.
The two women hoped for an hour or two to ''kiss-and-make-up,'' particularly since Gabrielle had firmly scotched Xena's plans for a riverbank seduction... not even all the Spear-Shakin' poetry Xena could muster had changed Gabrielle's mind.
''We're getting married soon,'' Gabrielle had said firmly, ''so save it for the honeymoon.''
However, after Xena had gotten down on her knees and (wincing internally) given a heart-felt rendition of the bard's favorite song, 'Feelings,' Gabrielle's resolve had melted like a snow-Cyclops in Junus.
''Okay,'' she had relented. ''But... none of that funny stuff, Xena! I don't want to deafen the entire Nation right before the wedding!''
''Who, me?,'' Xena had asked innocently, but with a huge grin on her beautiful face. Zeus, the warrior had prayed silently, if I ever sing that song again... please, please! Put me out of my misery but quick!
Walking hand in hand through the door of the Royal hut, the two women were surprised to see Oscarina perched on a table, fishnet-clad legs crossed and one foot bouncing up and down.
''Oh, there you are!,'' the Transylvanian transvestite cooed, ''I've been waiting for you, babies! So much to do, so little time! I need Gabrielle for her gown fitting, and let's not forget about your pre-nuptial meeting with the High Priestess, Xena. Like, right now.'' She pursed her encarmined lips and gave the smoldering warrior an arch look.
''Um, can it wait a couple of hours?,'' Gabrielle asked, giving Xena a 'What-do-you-expect-me-to-do-about-it' look.
Oscarina shook her head, frizzy black curls bouncing. ''Not another moment, my beautiful little bride! We've delayed long enough. Come along, come along! Don't dawdle... it's sooo unbecoming!'' The transvestite dragged Gabrielle away by one arm.
As they left, Oscarina said over her shoulder, ''Oh, and Xena! The H.P.'s waiting for you in the temple, so I'd hustle my buns-of-steel if I were you. Ciao, sweetie!''
I'm gonna kill that... that... whatever!, the dark-haired warrior fumed. Her ice blue eyes glittered with rage.
After a moment, however, Xena sighed. I'd better get this over with, she thought. The sooner I go to the stupid meeting with the stupid High Priestess, the sooner Gabrielle and I can get hitched and blow this frimpin' joint!
She stomped out of the hut, narrowly avoiding knocking down Ephiny, who was frantically trying to stop an insanely giggling Epinon from blabbing the Queen's pet name all over Amazonia.
''Epinon!,'' Ephiny hissed, plucking at the ebony-haired Amazon's sleeve. ''I told you... ix-nay on the ardie-bay oo-pay!''
Epinon only laughed harder. ''Eam-dray abbit-ray, too!''
Several passing Amazons wondered if the two women had gone insane... or just gotten their teeth into a juicy bit of gossip. Speculation was soon rife - being a community of females, the Amazons naturally possessed a grapevine that transmitted news faster than the speed of Helios.
All too soon, a crowd gathered... and inevitably, since a few of the older Amazons spoke relatively fluent Swinus-Latin, the truth got out... much to Ephiny's distress and Epinon's delight.
Or at least, Epinon was delighted until an enraged Ephiny scolded her with, ''Wait until Xena hears about this. And I'm gonna tell her it was your big mouth that spilled the cannelli!''
Epinon gulped. Uh-oh, she thought. I'm in deep caco now.
''If you'd stop wriggling around like a gaffed eel, babykins, you wouldn't get stuck.''
Gabrielle glared down at Oscarina. ''I don't remember volunteering for pincushion duty.''
Oscarina tilted her face up. Speaking around the mouthful of pins that bristled from her thick, crimson lips, the transvestite wedding planner replied, ''Oh, my goodness... are we feeling a wee bit pissy this afternoon?''
''No, WE are not. I'm just afraid I'm gonna bleed to death before the wedding.''
''Hmph.'' Oscarina deftly thrust another pin into the fabric of Gabrielle's gown, ignoring the bard's instinctive flinch. ''There,'' she trilled, ''All done. Let me help you out of it, sweetie. Just bend over and raise your arms for dear old Auntie Oscarina...''
The Transylvanian transvestite professionally whipped the gown from the bard's body. Folding it carefully over one brawny arm, Oscarina said, ''All righty, then, Your Majesty. You can put your own clothes on now.''
Gabrielle dressed hurriedly. Something about the way Oscarina looked at her, one eyebrow arched and a suggestive pout to her lips, made the strawberry blonde's skin crawl. Snatching her top over her head, Gabrielle grabbed her staff and started to go, but was interrupted by Oscarina.
''Tell me something, angel,'' she said, fussing with a fold of the pristine white gown, ''Are you a virgin?''
Gabrielle turned to look at the frizzy haired, er... woman. ''Uh, no.''
Oscarina pouted. ''I don't suppose Xena...''
It was Gabrielle's turn to raise her brow. ''Most definitely not.''
Oscarina shrugged her shoulders. ''Oh, well, baby-kins. I should have known...''
As the transvestite turned away, Gabrielle took the opportunity to beat a hasty retreat.
What in Hades was that all about?, the bard asked herself
silently... then shook her head. Maybe I'm better off not knowing.
Please comment to Nene Adams at firstname.lastname@example.org