Ode to Dionysus
By Melissa Good
A hummingbird darted agilely from flower to flower, delicately slurping nectar as it’s wings blurred into hovering motion. Its green and red feathers blended into the plants, and made it nearly invisible but as it carefully drew it’s curved beak from a stalk it was suddenly caught in mid motion.
“Gotcha.” Dori pulled her hand back and inspected her catch, half turning to display it to Cari who was standing behind her. “See?”
“Ooo pretty.” Cari leaned close. “So pretty!” She grinned and took a step back. “Nice birdie?”
Dori lifted her free hand and very gently petted the bird on the head, her fingers closed very carefully around it’s body trapping it’s wings. “Mama say, this one makes all the other flowers grow.” She told Cari. “Go here, go there, take stuff from one flower and put it in another one.”
“Wow.” Cari stared respectfully at the bird. “That’s a lot for just a birdie.” She edged closer and stroked the bird’s back with her finger. “Good birdie.”
Dori opened her hand and for a moment, the bird simply sat there, the cool breeze fluffing it’s feathers. Then it hopped to her finger, and then jumped into the air, going back into blurring motion. It went off into the forest, leaving the two children behind.
“Cool.” Dori kept along the path, it’s grade steadily rising and Cari trotted along at her side. They were both dressed in soft leather tunics and boots, and both had little braided bracelets around their left wrists. “Gonna have a party later.”
“Yes.” Cari said. “Heard all the people talking.”
“Yak Yak all about dis one and dat one.” Dori rolled her eyes. “Weird peoples.”
They reached a flat area, and waved, the half dozen Amazons at the guard house waving back. Then they continued on up the steeper portion of the trail, and across the rope bridge that separated two sections of the ridge they lived on.
“Guff!” Dori spotted a large black wolf trotting down the path, and the animal stopped and waited for her, then turned around and continued back up the trail with them. “Mama sent you?”
“Groouu.” The wolf made a soft, melodic yodel.
“Where’s Buppit and Friend, Guff?” Dori asked. “You see them?”
“Up up.” Cari said. “Saw them go up before.”
They climbed up the last bit of the path and emerged into the plateau beyond. It was large, and surrounded by trees, with a spring off to one side and a cabin in the center of it, and they clomped up the steps and ran over to the blond haired women seated on one of the rocking chairs on the porch.
She was dressed in a wraparound skirt and brief top, both in a deep green color with a pair of worn leather boots and an equally worn leather belt around her waist. A thin cloth covered binder was on her lap, and she had a pair of quills clasped lightly in one hand.
“Mama!” Dori greeted her. ‘What you do? You see Buppit?”
“Hey kids!” Gabrielle had one boot propped against the railing and was gently pushing herself back and forth. “I was just making up a poem. What have you two been up to?” She ruffled Cari’s red curls and got a still shy but growing steadily more confident smile from the child. “I did see Buppit and Friend, and they were playing with Ares’ puppies near the spring.”
“Mama, we were down by Grammas and got happles and we gave them to Gogo.” Dori informed her. “They’re having a party. Can we go to Gramma’s party too?”?”
Gabrielle’s green eyes twinkled. “Hm.” She leaned on the chair arm. “We can go for a little while. But then we have to come home because it’s not really fun for little kids to stay for a long time.”
“C’mon, Dor – you know all the kids are going to be at the big tent, right? And mama will come and tell you stories.”
“You c’n tell stories at the party.” Dori said. “Gramma said going to be fun there.”
“Eh – I don’t think so, Dor.” Her mother said. “We’ll make our own fun up here. Besides, I think it’s going to be way too loud for you kids down there.”
“Loud?” Dori’s brow puckered.
“They going to sing?” Cari spoke up. “I like that.”
“There’s going to be people making music and singing yes.” Gabrielle assured her. “Don’t worry, kids. We’re going to have a great time with your friends up here.”
“You should make Boo sing, mama.”
Gabrielle leaned her elbow on the chair and regarded her daughter. “Doriana, mama doesn’t make Boo do anything.” She said, in a firm tone. “But if you ask nicely, she might.”
“I might what?”
All three looked up to see a tall, dark haired woman approaching, dressed in a royal blue tunic and short boots. She had a basket hooked over one arm, and a sword slung over her back. Her eyes met Gabrielle’s and they both smiled in reflex.
“Hey honey.” Gabrielle greeted her partner.
“Hey.” Xena leaned on the railing. “Ephs’ about ready to pop.”
“Oh my goodness. On the eve of the festival of Dionysus?” Gabrielle stifled a snicker. “Everyone must be giving her seven levels of razzing.”
“Oh yeah. What are you three up to?” Xena sauntered up onto the porch and set the basket down. She dropped into the chair next to Gabrielle and Dori immediately climbed up onto her lap. “Getting into trouble?”
“No Boo.” Dori shook her head. “Want to go to Gramma’s party!”
“She’s afraid of missing out.” Gabrielle dryly told her partner. “Not really sure how to explain it’s not really a kids kind of party.”
“Ahh.” Xena propped her elbow on the chair arm and rested her chin on her fist. “I see.” She bounced Dori on her knee a little. “You kids are getting your own party, arencha?” She asked. “Solari told me they got all sorts of things planned for ya.”
Dori pouted. “Want to stay with you and mama, Boo.”
“Nah, mama and I don’t much go for parties anyway, kiddo.” Xena told her. “You can have fun with your friends.”
“They do dumb stuff.” Dori sighed.
“The big ones so dumb.” Cari backed her up. “Making with their hair and stuff.”
Gabrielle cleared her throat. “We’re going to have to have that little talk sooner or later, Boo.” She said, with a somewhat rakish grin. “About what Dionysus is really all about.”
“And of course, y’know that poses a little problem.”
“What, the birds and the bees?” Xena snorted. “Kid’s not dumb. She knows where puppies come from.”
“The birds and the bees and the apple seeds.” Gabrielle’s pale green eyes twinkled. “Boo.”
Dori was swinging her head from one to the other with a puzzled expression.
“Ahhh.” Xena made a little face. “Yeeahh.”
“I mean, those older girls talk, you know?”
“Dori catched a birdie.” Cari offered helpfully. “It was a zuuzuu. “ She made a motion with her hand like a fluttering leaf. “It was pretty.”
“Matter of fact, I think you should be the one to give that little chat, sweetheart.” Gabrielle said. “Some of the girls in the village are right on the edge of knowing better. I’d rather them hear it from us than them.”
“Now?” Xena’s blue eyes widened a little.
“Mama, what are you talking about?” Dori tugged on Xena’s belt.
“Is there a better time?’ Gabrielle grinned a little. “Tell you what, you tell Dori, and I’ll tell Cari. Fair?”
Xena sighed. “You’re probably right.” She stood up and picked Dori up with her, the child’s ever lengthening legs thumping her in the knees. “Let’s go for a walk, Dori.”
“We go fly?” Dori asked hopefully.
“When we’re done walking.” Xena let her down and then took her hand as they walked away from the cabin, heading up the slope and past the ring of trees that surrounded it. “So you caught a hummingbird, huh?”
“Boo, I did.” Dori confirmed, hopping over some of the rocks half buried in dirt. “It sat on my hand when I let it go and I liked it.”
“You like all the animals.” Xena took them both up a long, narrow path, and up onto a second plateau, this one overlooking the valley below with it’s broad river, and the long road that led past Potadeia and through the pass in the narrows. “Just like me.”
It was a nice view today, and they stood together for a few minutes, just looking. It was sunny, and breezy and there was a smell of spring in the air.
Then Xena walked over to a sturdy, leafy tree nearby and looked up. “Want to climb the tree, Dor?”
“Chur.” Dori started up confidently. “This is mama’s tree.”
“Uh huh.” Xena followed her until they were near the top, where the branches had grown into a twisted bowl which was full now of leaves and debris. She climbed into the depression and watched Dori scatter the leaves with glee, tossing handfuls of them over the side of the bowl. “You like it up here?”
“Yes, Boo.” Dori kicked her feet out and laughed, smiling into the sun that bathed both of them. “Can we bring Cari here too? I can help her climb up.”
“Sure.” Xena relaxed in the leaves and lay half on her side. “But first, let’s talk about the party.”
Dori eyed her. “Gramma’s party?”
“The party for Dionysus and what that’s all about.”
“Want to see what’s in the basket, Cari?” Gabrielle pulled it over. “Maybe it’s something nice.”
Cari agreeably climbed up onto the chair Xena had vacated and peeked over the side. “Oh, cookies!”
Gabrielle took one, and handed her a second. “I think this comes from Grandma’s kitchen.” She said. “She must be cooking for the party.”
Cari sat own and clutched the cookie in both small hands chewing on the side of it. “Yum.”
“Yum.” Gabrielle agreed. “So are you doing okay, Cari? You like living with us?” She watched the child nod vigorously. “That’s good, because we like it too. Dori’s very happy to have a friend to play with all the time and do things with.”
“I like it.” Cari said, shyly. “Its good.”
“Good to have a place of your own?” Gabrielle smiled gently at her. They had built on two more rooms on the back of their cabin, a smaller one for Cari’s bedroom and a larger playroom she could use with Dori. It was full of toys and there was a large wooden climbing structure outside in the back they loved to clamber over.
Well, Dori loved to anyway.
“Yes.” Cari agreed. “Everyone’s nice now too.”
The kids in the village, certainly. Since Cari had been adopted by their Queen, she was no longer the smallest of the orphans to be pushed around in the common hut and she had Dori to stand up for her which Gabrielle’s daughter did as naturally as breathing.
As naturally as her parents did, and even the older girls, older than Dori, avoided messing with her not only because whose daughter she was but because even at six, Dori was formidable and utterly fearless.
Good for everyone, all around. “So, do you remember celebrating Dionysus before, Cari? What do you know about it.”
Cari was halfway through her cookie, and now she looked over at Gabrielle and shook her head. “Dunno.” She said. “We go to sleep and no party.”
“Okay.” Gabrielle mentally girded her loins and then almost burst out laughing as she thought about that. “Dionysus is the god of .. um…” She watched the innocent eyes watching her and tried to remember what she’d known about sex when she was Cari’s age.
Not a Hades of a lot. “After winter, we celebate … um, celebrate the coming of spring after all the cold, right?” The bard felt more than sun warming her skin.
“Yes.” Cari nodded. “Flowers and the birdies come back. Like spring.”
“Right, so – part of that is all kinds of stuff blossoming, like the flowers.” Gabrielle soldiered on. “And we see the little ducks, and the birdies in their nests, and sometimes puppies, and all that stuff right?”
Confidently, Cari nodded, finishing her cookie.
“Okay, so we celebrate Dionysus because he’s the god of everything coming back to life after the cold of winter. And we want all the plants, and the animals to grow and have babies.” Gabrielle said. “And people too. Like Ephiny is going to have a baby.”
“Grow like flowers?” Cari was interested. “Dori showed me the zuuzuu suck the flowers.”
“Um.” Gabrielle sorted that in her head. “Well, not really… um.”
They looked at each other solemnly. “Do you know how animals have babies, Cari?” Gabrielle asked, hesitantly. “Have you seen that?”
Cari shook her head. “You show me?” She asked shyly.
It occurred to Gabrielle at that moment that she possibly had gotten hoisted on her own petard. “When we go down to town, we’ll stop in the stables and talk about it, sure.” She temporized. “Anyway, when we celebrate the festival of Dionysus we’re enjoying the spring, and the rebirth of all the plants and animals.”
“Good party.” Cari agreed. “Its boring with them.” She pointed in the vague direction of the village. “They do pitures, and yak yak.”
Hm. “So she wants to go down to town for her Grandma’s party, sure.” The bard sighed.
“Says Grandma knows how to do fun.”
Gabrielle stifled a snort of laughter.
“You do fun?”
The bard got up. “C’mon, lets go down to Grandma’s. Maybe she can help me explain.” She offered her hand to Cari. “And if not, we can get more cookies.”
“Yes!” Cari hopped down and joined her. “Go to fun!”
“Boo, it’s more fun.” Dori insisted. “No fun with the feather peoples.” She examined one of the leaves. “Just do pictures, make feathers, yak yak.”
Xena regarded her daughter with a faint, understanding smile. “Problem is, we do grown up things at Grandma’s party, Dor. Stuff you can’t do yet.”
Dori frowned. “What you do?”
“Okay so listen.”
“Okay.” Dori agreeably wriggled closer. “Boo telling a story?”
“Sorta. So – people, when they grow up, they have fun by doing things with each other that you can’t do when you’re little.” Xena said. “Things that, sometimes ends up with babies. You know that right?”
Dori frowned, then cocked her head in a motion that was so much like her own it made Xena blink. “Like the aminals?” She asked. “Like the cows?”
“Well… sorta.” Xena said. “All the animals, and the people too when they’re grown up, they do things with each other. The animals a lot of time do that in the spring, and so the festival, the party is to ask the gods to make that good, so the animals have lots of babies and we get more of them.”
Dori stared at her in utter incomprehension. “Boo, that’s weird.”
“Yeah, I know.” Xena laughed. “But you saw Grandma’s bull last week, right? He was sitting on top of the brown cow?”
“Oh.” Her daughter said, after a moment. “He had a thing and he stuck it in.”
“He had a thing.” Xena confirmed. “Animals all do, and people too. And when they do that, afterwards there are baby animals.” She paused. “And baby people.” She eyed Dori’s puckered brow. “That’s called sex. That’s how we all got here.”
“That’s how the buppits got here.” Xena nodded firmly. “Ares got together with the buppit’s mama, and they did what the cows did, and then after that the buppits were born in the barn.”
Dori nodded slightly after a moment. “Ares got a thing.”
“Ares does.” Xena agreed. “Boys all do, animals or people, and they have sex with girls and that’s how that all works.”
Dori stared at her. “Always Boo?”
Gods be damned she was smart. Xena grinned briefly. “Almost always, Dori.” She acknowledged. “Cause I think you know I don’t have a thing.” She paused. “And neither does your mama.”
Dori’s brow creased in confusion. “So what you do?” She asked.
Xena took a breath. “See, here’s the deal, Dor. It’s one thing to be grown up and have sex, okay? It’s fun, and the animals like it too, so they can have babies. But people.. “ She paused, and thought. “People have something else, something different we call love.”
Dori frowned. “Gush?”
“Yeah.” Xena chuckled. “But you know, it’s a very special thing. It’s a very strong thing, and it’s not really about sex or anything like that, because you know Grandma loves you, and I love Uncle Toris, and it makes us want to take care of each other, right?”
Dori’s face cleared and she nodded. “Love you, Boo.”
Xena extended her hand out and Dori grabbed onto it. “And I love you, little one.” She said, softly. “So your mama and I… you know I love your mama very very much, Dor. We love each other so much that it let us make you.” She took a breath. “Just from that love. Without anyone having a thing.”
Dori’s jaw dropped a little.
Hard to really say what the reaction was, Xena studied her daughters face as her eyes widened in wonder. “Anyway, this festival is all about the sex part, and it’s not really for kids, you got me? You can go when you’re older.”
Dori scrambled over and threw her arms around Xena’s neck and hugged her as tightly as she could.
“You’re the most loved, and wanted little girl in the whole world, Dori.” Xena felt her throat tighten, and she stopped speaking to let the emotion pass. “So all the gush was worth it, you know?”
“Dats good Boo.” Dori hugged her again. “So we can go to Gramma’s party?”
Xena started laughing.
“Feather people are boring!”
Gabrielle opened the door to the inn and they walked inside, to find a beehive of activity as the staff got ready for the festival. A small raised platform had been added, and stacked against the walls were bedrolls and bags with instruments of the traveling buskers who would entertain, first down on the square, then up here at the Inn for a smaller crowd after.
No storytelling tonight. “Hi mom.” She greeted Cyrene. No storytelling, and no plays, just dancing music and drink, and the various treats all known for their aphrodisiac qualities. “Got any cookies for us?”
“Hey there.” Her mother in law was leaning on the bar, watching the tables being set up. “Didn’t my rapscallion daughter share the basket I sent?” She asked. “I sent it up with her a candlemark ago.”
“She did.” Gabrielle smiled. “But Cari and I thought we would come down to see what was going on. “ She lowered her voice. “My other half is having a chat with our kid. She wants to come to your party.”
“Ahh.” Cyrene glanced down at Cari. “Hi there cute stuff.”
“Hi.” Cari responded softly.
“Going to be quite the do.” The innkeeper said. “Got the entire field down there filled with wagons. Plenty of folks from all around joining in.” She sniffed reflectively. “Good for business.”
“Yeah, true.” Gabrielle could smell the scent of a spicy stew from the kitchen. “ Xe thinks Ephiny might deliver tonight.”
“Really? All part of the celebration.” Cyrene chuckled. “Birthing on Dionysus’ Festivals a good omen, they say.” She glanced down at Cari. “You can bring the little ones. The kids from town are staying.”
“C’mon, Gabrielle.” Cyrene grinned wryly at her. “They’ll fall asleep soon enough. It doesn’t make any sense to them yet… wait. Is that the talk she’s having?”
The bard nodded. “I started one but.. “ She ruffled Cari’s hair. “Any pointers?”
Cyrene snorted. “You don’t for an Athens minute think I was the one who gave my kid that little chat do you?”
Gabrielle sighed. “Okay let me try the stable.” She gave the inn a last look and started out “C’mon Cari – let’s see if there’s any chicks running around.”
“Plenty of that.” Cyrene laughed. “Isn’t that what it’s all about?”
“Get in the spirit, Gabrielle.” Cyrene shook a spoon at her. “Don’t’ be such a prude!”
“I’m not!” Gabrielle had to laugh as the door closed behind them and they were out in the center of the upper village again. The lanes were full of people, some heading down to the market square, others just casually chatting near the doors to their small cabins.
Everyone in a good mood. Looking forward to the festival. Most wearing little tokens to Dionysus on their upper arms, fresh green leaves braided in a tight pattern.
She returned the cheerful greetings with a wave, then paused as the door to the barn flew open and two little boys rushed out, all excited. “Oh my gosh what’s up with you two?”
“Auntie Gabrielle! Come see! Come see!” Lyceus yelled. “Come see!”
Since their destination was the barn anyway, Gabrielle agreeably followed the twins back inside. The barn was large and comfortable, and there were many familiar faces there munching hay. “Hey guys.” She waved hello to Argo, and her son Iolaus, and Dori’s pony Rusty.
“Look!” Solon was kneeling in the straw, pointing at the corner of it.
Gabrielle knelt next to him, with Cari peeking past her knee. “Oh. Wow.” She shifted closer to the panting ewe working hard to give birth. “Okay kids, stay back.”
“Auntie Gabrielle’ll fix it up.” Lyceus stated confidently.
“Well, I’m the only sheep expert in the barn right now so I guess I will.” She gently repositioned the animal and watched it strain. “Been there.”
“Is it having a baby?” Cari asked after a moment of silence.
“Yes.” Gabrielle could see the lamb was coming out wrong. “He’s a breech.” She recalled long ago memories and put her hand on the ewe’s hip. “Let me see what I can do here.”
The twins scrambled around to get a better look, their eyes wide. Identical twins, with their mother’s brown hair and coloring, and their father’s angular features. “Wow!”
Cari stayed behind Gabrielle, but watched just as intently.
“We heard it making noises!” Lyceus said. “Is it okay?”
Gabrielle could feel the lamb in it’s sac squirming and she took hold of the tiny hooves that were protruding and slid a finger inside the ewe, running it along the lamb’s back to make sure its head was forward and not turned back.
No, it was good. She closed her eyes and shifted her hand to the ewe’s stomach. “C’mon, mama, push.”
The ewe made a stuttering sound, but seemed to comply, and as she felt the motion Gabrielle very gently pulled the lamb around a little and then down, a brief flash of memory surfacing as she did. A dark night out in the fields, a touch of freezing rain on her arms on one eve of Dionysus’ festival.
Just her and the ewe, as though they were the only things in the world. She hadn’t even worried about what her father was going to say with her out so late. She just crouched over the birth and carefully felt her way into the lamb’s birth and ended up just tying her cloak over all of them while the rest of the village celebrated and no one cared about any of the three of them.
She’d cared, though, glad she’d helped at least one soul into the world, there all alone up on the mountain.
The ewe baa’d again, then the lamb slid out and free and was on the straw, and a panting moment later the ewe was squirming around to touch it with her tongue.
Gabrielle stripped the birth sac off and let the ewe lick the newborn, who was sticking his tongue out, eyes still closed. “Glad I haven’t lost my touch.” She smiled at the enthralled children. “I was delivering lambs when I was your age, y’know.”
“Wow!” Solon burst out. “Really?”
“So cute!” Cari was grinning. “Baby sheep!”
“Yes it is.” Gabrielle agreed. “That’s what spring’s all about, right guys?” She asked her nephews. “All the animals having babies.”
Lyceus reached boldly over and stroked the damp lamb. “That was cool Auntie.” He said, as the lamb blinked it’s eyes open and emitted a tiny baa. “We was born like that.”
Gabrielle drew a breath, then cleared her throat. “Well, not quite like that but you needed a little help. Did your mama tell you about that?”
Solon nodded. “She said Auntie Xe cut her up to let us out like a chicken dinner.” He remarked. “She got a big scar.”
“That’s true.” His aunt admitted. “But you ended up okay, right?”
“Sure.” Lyceus didn’t seem at all fazed over this, to him, old news. “Don remember nohow.”
Solon crouched next to him and gently petted the lamb as well. Then he scooted the lamb up so it could get a hold of its mother’s teat and start to drink from it. “Awww.”
It was finally too much for Cari. She squirmed around in front of Gabrielle and touched first the foot of the ewe, and then the tiny lamb, who was now sucking eagerly. The ewe watched them all with a benign calm, as she licked her baby clean, applying her tongue to Caris hand on the way.
“Oh!” Cari gasped in surprise. “Scratchy!”
“Let’s go get dad and show him!” Solon stood up and he and Lyceus rushed out in tandem as they always did everything, shutting the barn door behind them.
Cari leaned closer and touched the lamb’s little ears. “So cute.”
“He is right now.” Gabrielle reached up into the hay crib and took a handful of hay down, putting it near the ewe’s head so she could snack if she wanted to. “I’m glad someone had the sense to put her in the barn.” She watched the ewe nudge the lamb gently. “She’s a good mom.”’
Cari studied the animals. “How’d the baby get in there?”
Oh. Ah. “Well, it grows in there, Cari.” Gabrielle cleared her throat. “See, there’s a seed, and the mama and daddy sheep.. “
“Like a flower?” The piping voice asked.
“Um. A little bit.”
“Does the zuuzuu go in there too? “ Cari peeked at the back end of the sheep. “How do?”
“Um...” Gabrielle looked up as the doors swung open and her nephews came in pulling their father with them, and followed by two large dark brown dogs with round heads and small ears. “Hey Toris.” She greeted her brother in law gratefully.
“Hey sis.” Toris came around the stall end. “So Mabel had her lamb.” He said, with a tone of satisfaction. “Nice.”
The two dogs sniffed at the ewe, then sat down and regarded the lamb solemnly, while the ewe pinned her yellow eyes on them with evident skepticism.
‘Yeah, he was a breech. I got him out.” Gabrielle got up and wiped her hands down on a bit of sacking. “But he looks healthy.”
“Good omen for the festival.” Toris agreed. “Thanks sis. The kids knew exactly who to get, right boys?” He grinned down at his twins. “Always go for Auntie Gabrielle, sheep mistress.”
Gabrielle blew a raspberry at him.
“Yes!” Solon nodded. “She pulled the lamb out, dad. Like Auntie Xe did for us.”
“Not exactly.” Toris and Gabrielle said at the same time. “How would you know?” Gabrielle added. “You were out cold on the floor.”
The twins giggled. “Mama said that.” Lyceus said, flailing his arms and falling back onto a stack of straw. “Pffftttrrphhhh”
“Yeah well daddy was tired. It’d been a long day and night.” Toris told them. “Can’t wait for the party to start.” He grinned at his sister in law. “Mom tapped two new kegs.”
“We go?” Cari asked, hopefully. “You go?” She asked the twins.
“Sure.” Solon said.
“Course.” Lyceus said at the same time.
“You going to bring the kids this time?” Toris asked. “Not have them up with the rest of the ..um…”
“Yeah.” Gabrielle sighed, ruffling Cari’s hair. “We’re gonna party with you this year.”
“Yay!” Cari hopped up and down.
“Good, it’ll be fun.” Toris patted Gabrielle on the shoulder. “I’m betting on my sister to win the wrestling. Wanna go in?”
“Who in Hades would take THAT bet?”
They left the ewe to suckle her new baby, and emerged from the barn to find two other large brown and black dogs trotting towards them, and behind them, Xena’s tall figure following with Dori perched on her shoulders. They met in the crossroads amid wagging tails and children’s piping voices.
“Told the Amazons we’re going to hang out down here.” Xena said, just as Gabrielle drew breath.
“I was just going to tell you I was going to send a note up there saying the same thing.” The bard said. “What the heck once they see it maybe they’ll just want to stay up in the village next year.” She glanced up. “How’d it go?”
Xena laughed. “A snap. You?”
Gabrielle just covered her eyes with one hand.
“Xe, you suck.”
It was dark, and the sky was full of stars. The market field was full of vendors, and stands with everything from shishkebabs to wrist wrestling, and stalls offering a plethora of things to buy. On one side of the square was the performance area, and in front of that rows and rows of stools and chairs beginning to be filled with people.
On the stage was a fiddler and he was playing a lively tune and in the open space between the stage and the chairs people were dancing.
Xena found Gabrielle and the kids complete with dogs under a tree near the side of the square and dropped into a seat next to them. “Buh.” She set down two big sacks. Her leathers were covered in mud, and she had large stripes of it on her cheek, and a long, ragged scrape down one bare thigh.
“What in the world is that?” Gabrielle had a big mug of ale in one fist, and she was keeping an eye on the two children, who were huddled over something in it the hazy light from the torches.
“Stuff.” Xena exhaled, putting a hand on her stomach. “One too many sweet cakes.”
“Hey I won fifty dinars off that wrestler from Thrace.” Xena dusted off her hands.
“Mm. Not sure what rock he’s been living under to not realize who you were.”
A group of four musicians went up onto the stage and started up a fast paced, catchy tune that brought more dancers up onto the floor, and Gabrielle’s boot started tapping as she moved along with the music.
A lot of the soldiers were there, and a surprising amount of Amazons. Or, Gabrielle reconsidered, maybe not so surprising given the festival. “You know last year we had a flood of babies nine months after this festival.” She commented to her partner.
Xena slowly swung her head around to regard her. “Duh.” She finally said, making a face. “Isn’t that the whole point?”
Gabrielle paused in mid breath, then grunted.
The bard stuck her tongue out at her partner. “I never really liked this festival back at home.” She said. “It was all just so.. “
Gabrielle watched the dancing for a long moment. “A lot of girls lost their virginity that night, yeah.” She admitted. “Maybe that’s why I just never wanted.. I wanted to protect Dori from that.” She sighed a little. “Not have her grow up too fast, you know Xe?”
Xena considered that for a long moment. “Hm.” She finally responded.
“Boo.” Dori had gotten up and she came over to Xena’s chair, putting her hands on the arm of it. “Zuuzuu makes little sheeps?”
“What?” Xena’s brow creased and she gave her partner a sidelong glance.
“Like a flower?” Dori persisted. “Mama said?”
Gabrielle covered her eyes with one hand, and stifled a laugh.
“Leeets talk about it later.” Xena said. “Mama knows more about sheep than I do.”
“Okay.” Dori went back to the small stump and sat down.
“What did you tell her?” Xena whispered, leaning closer to Gabrielle’s chair, then grinning as her partner just waved her hand in a passing off gesture. “Can’t wait to here this later on in bed.”
The music got a little faster, and took on a seductive note. Servers from Cyrene’s inn were circulating with a big pot of her famous venison stew, and everyone was taking a ladle of it into their bowl, with big grins around as the servers tossed freshly baked rolls into the bowls after it.
Behind them two men maneuvering a cask moved along, filling up cups of ale and behind them were men with wineskins slung over their shoulders with stained spouts they wielded with skill, pressing the skins with their elbows and shooting the liquid into waiting mouths.
Up in the village, it would be drums and the sweet honey wine they’d just finished fermenting, and if she concentrated Gabrielle could almost imagine she heard the sound and felt the rhythm vibrating against her skin.
The band on the stage started their own version, one of the players stepping forward with two drums slung over his muscular shoulders, and after a moment Gabrielle realized it was Micah and that he was beating out an Amazon rhythm that was greeted with low, female hoots.
She glanced at Xena. “Does he know he’s about to be a father?”
Xena shrugged. “Dunno. Doesn’t matter, for them.” She said. “He’s good looking, he’ll make nice kids. Ephiny told me it was just he was convenient and cute.”
Gabrielle exhaled, studying the Amazon stud, who with his shirt off, and in just breeches with that thumping rhythm might likely get a few offers. “He is cute.” She admitted. “And after all, I used Toris, right?”
Silence, and she turned to find Xena studying her with a gentle intensity. “Ah, I’m just being a goof, Xe.” She reached over and put her hand on Xena’s arm, rubbing her thumb over the skin there. “Want to dance with me?”
“Last time we did that, we caused a riot.” Xena reminded her.
Dori got up and went over to Xena, half climbing up and whispering to her. “Boo.”
“Yeah?” Xena whispered back.
Dori squirmed up and put her hand against Xenas ear and whispered right into it.
Xena stood up and put Dori down on the ground, then she shook herself a little. “Be right back.” She sauntered through the crowd, reaching the traveling vintners and accepting a squirt in the mouth with a grin and a wink.
“What did you tell Boo, honey?” Gabrielle accepted a mug of ale from the cask carriers, raising it to them as they gave her small mock bows.
“Nothing mama.” Dori replied earnestly. “C’mon Cari, we can sit in Boos’ chair.”
“Nothing?” Gabrielle watched them climb up into the seat, giving the two of them a wry look. “Did you tell Boo to go get your cookies?”
“No mama.” Dori shook her head.
“Uh huh.” Gabrielle watched her partner make her way through the crowd, people moving aside to let her pass and then letting their eyes linger on that tall, swaggering form as her partner headed across the dancing floor and up to the stage. “What is she up to?”
The band saw her coming and broke out in grins, but kept playing as she came up next to them, Micah edging closer saucily with his drums.
Uh oh. Gabrielle sat up in her seat, glancing at the two children next to her. Xena turned and faced the crowd, that sexy, seductive smile appearing on her face as she waited for the crowd to notice her. “Oh, Xe.. don’t.”
DIdn’t take long. After a minute the band settled down and let their song play out, and the huge crowd focused on Xena’s distinctive form, now standing there in front of them, at the edge of the stage, hands on hips.
The soldiers started a chant of her name, and letting that go on a moment, Xena then raised her hand and closed her fingers into a light fist, and they went silent.
“Good festival.” Xena said, after the silence had lengthened and the wind ruffling the torches became audible. “Having a good time?”
Enthusiastic and somewhat ribald yells answered her, and fists were raised all over the square filled with cups and mugs.
Gabrielle started to look around her, identifying a way to get the kids out of the crowd if she had to. “Why does she do this to me?” She sighed, putting her mug down. “Hey, Dor…”
“Shh mama.” Dori wagged a tiny finger at her. “Shh.”
Shh? Gabrielle drew a breath, then held it, as Xena let her hands drop and she recognized that visible pulling back of her shoulders and the movement of her chest as she drew in a breath of her own, and a moment later the square was filled with her voice.
She needed no band to help her, no musicians to keep her on tune and her voice had a tonal quality that caught the attention and focused it as she started singing words that after a moment became familiar.
But how? But why? Gabrielle sat forward to listen, as a poem she’d written, that she’d written just that morning took on depth and meaning set to music she could not have imagined.
Days of winter, long and lonely, gray and silver marks the ground.
Life in hiding, cold and quiet, waiting silent for the dawn.
We wait for the dawn, and look for the thaw, ever hoping.
And then one day it comes.
Through bough and branch and heart and soul it returns to us.
Love flares. Hearts fill.
Spring comes irresistible, shoving aside the cold, pushing through the chill
And those who keep the flame through the dark and the cold, we smile.
The world rejoins us. Rejoices in the renewal.
And we sing the Ode to Dionysys
It was lilting and beautiful and Gabrielle counted herself entranced, a stupid big smile on her face as her eyes met Xena’s, and the last word faded and she realized everyone was looking at her.
She absolutely did not care.
“Good!” Dori clapped enthusiastically, absurdly loud in the silence until the crowd joined in and Gabrielle felt like she wanted to make them stop, and hear it all over again.
Her words, Xena’s voice, and those last three lines that spoke for her why she felt so conflicted about this festival. Glad for others, but for her and for Xena, it was an always was past the dark times of their souls into that world within them, where love always burnished the edges.
She wanted that depth for everyone.
She drew a breath and then the crowd was parting and Xena was back, her blue eyes twinkling as she dropped to one knee next to her chair, clasped her hand around Gabrielle’s and raised it to her lips to kiss the back of it. “Happy happy, babe.” She bumped their hands against her head. “I get it.”
Gabrielle returned the gesture, then rested her cheek against their joined hands, expressing her emotion with just a look, no words required.
“Gush.” Dori pronounced.
Gabrielle reached out and touseled her daughters hair with her free hand. “Don’t knock it, Dor.”
“No mama.” Dori shook her head. “Gush makes babies, and zuuzuu makes babies, and sheeps are like flowers. Its good!”
Xena started laughing.
“And we go party!” Cari concluded. “Fun!”
The Pause. (because for them it never ends)