Chapter 1: Prologue
PROLOGUE - in which Gabrielle, the blonde bard, arrives in Athens with Sapphic verses at the tip of her tongue
"If you forget me, think of our gifts to Aphrodite…"
It had become a habit for Gabrielle to hum quietly to herself when she travelled by Xena's side, but today she had the dusty country road all to herself and no reason to keep the volume down.
"…braided rosebuds, dill and crocus twined around your young neck …"
She was in an unusually good mood considering the fact that Xena was busy with some warrior princess mission of unknown duration. A mission, which she apparently found the petite bard unfit for. Consequently, Gabrielle had – once again – been left behind.
Xena meant well, but her overprotective behaviour was becoming an increasing pain in the neck for Gabrielle, who was perfectly capable of reading between the lines. What she found there was the fact that Xena still didn't consider Gabrielle and equal.
While she could not compete with the warrior princess' combat skills – no one could – Gabrielle was far from helpless. She had long ago shed the remains of the naïve, rural girl who had initially been at Xena's heels like an eager puppy. She had grown older, wiser and excellent at defending herself as well as others with the wooden staff that doubled as her walking stick. In fact, Gabrielle had managed to save Xena's life a few times. Admittedly, not quite as many times as Xena had saved hers – but in any case; Xena's endless concern for her was misplaced at best, if not downright insulting.
However, on this particular day Gabrielle's spirits were high. You see, while Xena was off on adventures Gabrielle would pass the time in Athens – the most glorious of cities with an abundance of stories just waiting to be discovered and told. Gabrielle had spent a few days behind its massive city walls some years back. Back then she had been trying to enrol at the Academy of Bards, but this time, with no tests at hand, she would be able to explore Athens more thoroughly.
"…myrrh poured on your head and on soft mats girls with all that they most wished for beside them…"
She tapped her walking stick rhythmically against the ground, adding a bit of percussion to her tune. With every step the city gate seemed to increase in size as she approached it. Soon she would disappear into a sea of people, but she was too happy to lower her voice and continued singing at the top of her lungs while closing the distance to the entrance.
"…while no voices chanted choruses without ours, no woodlot bloomed in spring without… song."
The last word of the verse never amounted to more than a dry whisper stuck in Gabrielle's mouth, for in that moment she crossed the threshold to the political and cultural centre of Greece: The sight that greeted her resembled ruins.
Chapter 2: ACT I
ACT I - in which Gabrielle gives up on shopping and meets Lysistrata
Athens was a shadow of its former self.
Slowly, her mouth agape in disbelief, Gabrielle turned one corner after another until she found the street that used to be one of the liveliest and wealthiest of the city. If not for the marble sign bearing the street name she would never have recognized it. The buildings had decayed, and instead of colourful stalls with luxurious goods her eyes found only littered and unswept lanes.
But it was the same city. She recognised the library; even if it was now fighting a losing battle with untamed ivy, it was a building she could never forget. That meant the vegetable market was close by and Gabrielle had noticed a cosy-looking inn adjacent to it during her last visit. Hopefully it would still be there.
Her sense of directions did not disappoint. Soon, the street widened and became a square, but the tumultuous and energetic everyday bargaining of merchants and customers was nowhere to be found. A couple of women in faded clothes were scrutinizing a rather depressing assortment of goods. There were few vegetables to choose from, and they were all in poor condition. Brownish cabbage; carrots that couldn't stand; fruit so overripe they might make you tipsy if you indulged yourself. No one in their right bargaining mind would pay as much as a dinar for the entire collection, but the local women did. Gabrielle watched as one woman handed over a coin in a gesture of resignation while absentmindedly scolding two shabby looking toddlers running around her feet.
The sight was by no means unique. All the women in the square looked tired, almost broken, and their children seemed neglected and undisciplined. In one corner an old toothless man sat cross-legged on the ground, begging. Aside from him, Gabrielle didn't see a single man anywhere.
Fortunately, the inn was still in business. Gabrielle sighed with relief as she entered it and found its interior relatively unchanged by whatever powers that had forced the city to its knees. Numerous candles cast a cosy, flickering light across dark stone tiles and wooden furniture. She had never spent the night here, but shared an excellent meal with Xena in the dining room once, and she hoped the rooms would be equally satisfactory.
The sound of a deep and coarse female voice brought her back to the present. She turned around and found the innkeeper greeting her with a wide smile and open arms. Apart from a few thinly worn patches on her dress the woman looked just the way Gabrielle remembered her: tall with an ample bosom and the kind of built-in strength that is crucial when dealing with a bunch of drunken soldiers.
"Food or bed?" the woman asked, to the point.
"Both would be lovely," Gabrielle replied with a smile, grateful that something seemed to have remained the way it used to be after all.
"Marvellous! And you even look like someone who'll pay for it. Decent customers are a rare treat these days, I'll tell you that. And all because of that gods awful war…" The innkeeper grunted and drifted off, but only for a moment; then she put her efficient face back on. "Let me take your bag. Then we'll find you a room, and afterwards you can have a bowlful of my famous stew."
END ACT I
Chapter 3: ACT II
ACT II - in which Lysistrata relays the horrors of war and has an idea
Approximately an hour later Gabrielle was blowing on a large serving of hot stew which the innkeeper named Lysistrata had supplied her with. The chunks of meat were few and minuscule, but the meal was spicy and its rich scent had awakened the growling monster in Gabrielle's ever hungry stomach.
As Gabrielle was the only dining customer at the moment Lysistrata had taken a seat across from the young bard. Now that she was sitting on the bench, her head slightly bent, she seemed stricken with the same weariness that had characterised the women at the vegetable market. The contrast to the warm, energetic innkeeper attitude she had initially greeted Gabrielle with was unbearable, and so the bard took it upon herself to break the silence before it became heavy.
"Athens has certainly changed," Gabrielle commented.
The innkeeper straightened up. "When were you last here?"
Gabrielle was not offended by the fact that the innkeeper didn't remember her – after all she had only had one meal here, and the inn had been abuzz with people at the time. She told Lysistrata about her visit, her stay at the Academy of Bards and how she was briefly tempted to become a permanent resident. At the time the city had flourished, even though its people were at war with Sparta and Corinth.
"Well, that was a few years ago. And one year of war is like seven to the people it left behind." Lysistrata gave a deep, dry laugh, but it didn't do much to cover up the bitterness behind her words. "That darn Peloponnesian war… It has lasted forever, but the past few years have been particularly hard on all of us."
She wiped her forehead with a surprisingly slender looking hand. It didn't quite seem to go with the rest of the woman.
"And what's worse is it's all so bloody pointless! Athenians, citizens of Sparta and Corinth... we're all Greeks, damn it! It's brothers killing each other out there. And we all suffer because of it."
Gabrielle was about to say something – preferably something comforting, but before she got any words past her lips, the inn door was flung open and then slammed shut.
"That rat bastard!"
The furious female voice was impressively ear piercing considering its owner's diminutive size. She was headed directly for Lysistrata and Gabrielle.
"Useless, hopeless, worthless wanker!" She emphasised the last word by banging her clenched fists against their wooden table.
Lysistrata sent the young bard a slightly apologetic smile while her gentle, yet firm hands forced the newcomer into a chair. "Gabrielle, meet my close friend Calonike."
Calonike's fists relaxed, unfolded and revealed her neatly painted nails. Her dress was certainly not the latest in fashion, but its owner had obviously done her utmost to repair every tear as discretely as possibly.
"Just arrived home on leave and then, poof, he's off again. Gone out to fight." Calonike practically spat out the last word. "But for what, I ask?! Not for his family, that's for sure. His own children barely recognise the idiot anymore."
"Your husband is in the army?" Gabrielle asked, mostly just to enter the conversation, but she immediately regretted her words as the woman stared her down with a dark, almost scornful look in her eyes.
"All our husbands are in the army. That is, those who haven't been chopped to pieces already. Athens might as well change its name to Amazonia – there's nothing but women and children left!"
As heir to the Amazon nation Gabrielle felt an urge to object and make sure the woman appreciated the difference between the sad remains of this city and the politically and culturally very well-functioning Amazon society. But considering the newcomer's less than cheerful demeanour it was probably wiser not to get into that particular debate.
"It's a dreadful situation," Lysistrata stated. "At this point I barely care who wins the war as long as it comes to an end."
Gabrielle leaned forward slightly. "Has no one tried to stop it?"
"The fighting cities are not open to compromises, so all attempts at peace negotiations were doomed from the beginning. They simply want to beat each other up until there is only one surviving part left," Lysistrata explained with a sigh.
"Sure, but I mean – has no neutral part tried to stop it?
The two Athenian women exchanged sceptical looks. "Stop a handful of armies, each consisting of several thousand battle lusting men?" Calonike measured Gabrielle disbelievingly with her eyes.
"Yes!" Gabrielle said eagerly. "It's absolutely possible! My best friend Xena has single-handedly stopped a few." The two women did not seem convinced, and so Gabrielle found it necessary to jump head-first into the art of storytelling. It was an art she mastered better than anyone. A few tales of Xena's accomplishments did not completely convert the women, but it seemed to bring back a flicker of life to their eyes.
"Is she also in town, your friend?" Lysistrate asked.
"No", Gabrielle admitted, "and I'm afraid it's impossible to say when she'll turn up."
"Which brings us back to square one," Calonike said drily, but the harshness of her voice failed to cover up the deep-felt resignation beneath it.
Gabrielle couldn't bear it and certainly couldn't ignore it. She always had a hard time simply looking away when someone suffered as these women clearly did. The least she could do was to offer them encouragement.
"Who says we need Xena to make peace?" Gabrielle forced cheerfulness into her own voice. "All I meant was: If one single warrior woman can stop a whole war, then of course we can achieve the same together."
"We?" Lysistrata raised an eyebrow. The gesture was probably supposed to signify scepticism, but there was an undeniably eager glint in her eyes.
"Us. The women. Me, you, all the women of Athens." Gabrielle threw out her arms, taking the whole room into a metaphorical embrace. "And the women of Sparta and Corinth, for that matter! Surely they must be as fed up with this mess as you are, of patching up the remains of their husbands or doing without them altogether."
"But we're not warriors like your friend," Lysistrata protested.
"No, we're just ordinary women," Calonike added. "All we know is how to tend to house and kids and service our husbands when they occasionally turn up."
"Well, those are fundamental tasks. Without you everything would fall to pieces," Gabrielle insisted, but she quickly corrected herself: "Fall even more to pieces."
Calonike laughed. "I doubt my husband would even notice if his kids smelled like the gutter or the house looked like a pigsty… He barely lives there anyway. The only time he notices my efforts is when I have his undivided attention in the bedroom."
"It's too much, you know. How we continue to spoil every inch of their bodies-" Lysistrata began.
"Especially the crucial inches…" Calonike added, licking her lips.
"-when they still insist on going out and getting chopped up afterwards," Lysistrata continued. "Perhaps we should stop. That might teach them a lesson."
"Yes, it might…" A smile sneaked its way into Gabrielle's thoughtful face until she was grinning from ear to ear. "Lysistrata, I do believe you just found the solution to your problem!"
"The solution?" Lysistrata looked somewhat confused.
"Yes, the means to put an end to the Peloponnesian war. You have to stop…" She paused momentarily, searching for the right word, then raised her chin and declared almost theatrically: "Stop servicing your men until they promise to give up their weapons!"
"You mean we should go on strike in the bedroom?" Lysistrata asked.
"…and on the dining table, the kitchen table and against the wall," Calonike mumbled dreamily.
"Yes, that's exactly what I mean!" Gabrielle clasped her hands with an enthusiasm few would be able to trump. "That's what you just suggested, Lysistrata, and I think it's a marvellous idea!"
"I really said that?" Lysistrata wondered somewhat bewildered as she got to her feet and gathered the remains of Gabrielle's meal.
Calonike just shook her head. "It'll never work! As if we women could stop a war. We can't beat the men at anything, except looking good in transparent underwear."
"Yesss…" came Lysistrata's slow reply from the kitchen accompanied by the clanking of pots and pans. "And that would in fact be the perfect weapon in such a strike, wouldn't it?"
"Exactly!" Gabrielle clasped her hands again. "All we need to do is convince the other women to join us!"
Lysistrata returned, wiping her hands on her apron with determination. She smiled victoriously. "Well, by the gods, let's do it then. Let's get out our lipstick, perfume and the low-cut frocks! Until the war between the brothers of Greece ends, their bedrooms will become our warzone."
END ACT II
Chapter 4: ACT III
ACT III - in which the women are gathered, and Gabrielle's bardic tongue is put to good use
Over the next couple of days Lysistrata proved that being the founder of the most hospitable inn in town had its merits. She had an impressive organisational talent, knew people from all parts of Greece, and even the most resistant sceptic could not resist the smell of Lysistrata's famous stew.
Soon hundreds of Athenian woman were taking over her dining hall. The representatives from Sparta and Corinth would be last to arrive, but passing time was not an issue. Gabrielle noted with satisfaction how much the general atmosphere had changed since her arrival. The inn was abuzz with delightful chatter and female laughter. Everyone had heard of Lysistrata's plan to stop the war, and although no one knew any of its details yet, the mere idea of peace to come was enough to bring out lively eyes and animated hand gestures.
"Lysistrata – me wee lassie!"
Lysistrata, who according to Gabrielle's definition was anything but small, immediately dropped pots and pans and shrieked with excitement as her eyes found the newcomer in the crowd.
"Lampito! You made it after all." Lysistrata leapt over the counter and caught Lampito in a heartfelt hug. "I was afraid the city guards might realise you came from enemy territory and detain you."
"You mean those scrawny laddies leaning against the gate? Havers! I huv had rammies with much tougher men in me time." Lampito laughed hoarsely, and curiosity drove Gabrielle closer so that she could get a more proper look at the woman with the distinct Spartan accent.
She was as tall as Lysistrata, but with a completely different built. Where Lysistrata was soft and round, Lampito seemed firm and well-trained. Gabrielle could make out the movement of muscles through the tanned skin of a back that for a moment blended with images of another back. One, which Gabrielle had so often discretely admired.
"Gabrielle!" Lysistrata called across Lampito's shoulder. "Come meet my dear friend from Sparta."
Lampito turned around, and Gabrielle felt a small stab in her stomach as the resemblance to Xena vanished. Lampito's face was coarser, more marked by sun and wind, her mouth was wider, and her eyes hazel. They were warm, but paled in comparison to Xena's crisp clear, intelligent gaze; a gaze capable of seeing directly into Gabrielle, of reading her like an open book – except where one crucial topic was concerned…
Gabrielle shook the thoughts away. They were useless, especially here. So she moulded her face into a cheerful expression instead and went over to greet the newcomer.
"Well, I suppose we're all here, then." Lysistrata squinted as she looked around as if trying to hone her gaze to better penetrate the dimly lit room. "Now all we need to do is give people the proper instructions and let them put the plan into action." She cleared her throat noisily, and soon all eyes were glued to the tall innkeeper.
"You already know why we are gathered here today: To stop the war," Lysistrata summed up. "But to accomplish this we have to stop spoiling our men in the bed rooms."
The last sentence led to gasps and, from one corner, sardonic laughter. Lysistrata looked about nervously; it was impossible to identify the laughter's owner in the darkness.
"Let it be clear that without truce there will be no caresses for them."
"What about caresses for us?" a redheaded woman yelled.
"Yeah, it's bad enough having to do with Mary Palm and her five sisters when Alkibiades is off fighting," a brunette agreed. "I'm sorry, but your plan won't work. You might as well shoot yourself with an arrow."
"But hey, if it's a really long and thick arrow..." another voice chimed in from somewhere in the crowd.
More scattered laughter made Lysistrata's eyes move about even quicker as if they couldn't find any place to rest. Her experience as an innkeeper had taught her how to handle a room full of horny soldiers, Gabrielle thought; but she had clearly never dealt with a room full of horny women before. Help was obviously required.
"Come on," Gabrielle whispered close to Lysistrata's ear, making sure no one else heard. "You can do it! It's going really well."
"Like Tartarus it is," Lysistrata hissed back out of the corner of her mouth. "I can cook, attract people, give dim-witted drunkards the boot. But words were never one of my weapons. I am no bard." She shot a quick, sideways glance in Gabrielle's direction to make sure her message had come across.
Gabrielle hesitated, but felt the crowd's concentration dwindle with every heartbeat. Lysistrata was right; this was going down the drain. And so Gabrielle took a swift decision, grabbed the nearest chair and jumped on to it.
"Fellow sisters! Is this really Athens, pride of Greece?" she exclaimed. "You can't even buy decent cabbage at the market, and the carrots are so old they bend. Your houses are falling apart, your streets littered with trash, your children out of control. And when was the last time any of you had a new dress?"
She looked around and noted with satisfaction that all eyes and ears were now on her.
"And your husbands – where are they when you need them the most?"
She paused for dramatic effect, and the loud-mouthed redheaded women cut in, just as Gabrielle had hoped: "Out playing war!" the woman yelled and grunts of approval could be heard from all directions.
"That's right!" Gabrielle pointed towards the woman for emphasis. "While you work day and night trying to save the sad remains of Athens and your families, they just go out and kill each other! Men, brothers, sons. This war does not discriminate – it takes everything, including your love life. It all goes to Tartarus."
"But what can we do about it?" a very young woman asked in earnest.
"You can do exactly what Lysistrata suggested: Keep your legs crossed. It will drive them mad in just a few days. Consider your own frustration when your loved ones are away fighting!"
…Or when she leaves you behind in Athens, a voice mocked in the back of Gabrielle's head, or when she is right beside you and still doesn't want you…
Fortunately a woman cut in and stopped that particular train of thoughts. "What if they try to drag us into the bedroom?"
"Then you grab the doorframe and refuse to let go!" Gabrielle replied automatically.
"And if they beat us?"
This time she hesitated for a second. She hadn't thought of that possibility. "Then you have to give in…" she began slowly, then added in a much clearer voice: "But lie completely still, like a dead fish. Their pleasure will be brief at best without your cooperation."
Lysistrata and Calonike nodded energetically. It was true.
"So you see," Gabrielle summed up, "all you have to do is wear something red and transparent and wait for your husbands."
"Instant erection!" Calonike laughed.
"A huge sword!" the redheaded woman exclaimed.
"Just remember: No sheath for that particular sword until the war is ended," Lysistrata broke in.
"Yes," Gabrielle agreed with a smile. "Until then they will just have to… to stand and sway in the breeze."
Laughter had returned to the room, but this time it unified the women; there was no hint of scepticism to be found in it. It made Gabrielle feel almost giddy. Now she just had to set the plan into motion in a proper manner.
"Sisters, we must swear an oath!" she jumped directly from the chair onto the counter, years of practice with Xena evident in her agility. "Lysistrata, get me a shield."
"A shield? I thought we were trying to get rid of weapons?"
"Alright, a bowl then," Gabrielle said. "And we need to sacrifice something."
"A white horse?" a woman suggested.
"Do we have a white horse?" Gabrielle asked, and all visible heads were shaking. "Didn't think so."
"Perhaps a stud?" another woman said.
"Don't know about yours, but my stud is busy beating up other studs near Sparta." It was the redhead again; her voice cut directly through the crowd and made people giggle. Gabrielle knew she had to act fast before their concentration dwindled completely.
"Lysistrata, du you have anything we can sacrifice?" she simply asked.
"How about a bottle of wine?" the innkeeper suggested.
"That's perfect." Gabrielle received bowl and bottle and as she poured one's content into the other she spoke to the crowd in a solemn voice. "Mighty god…"
She was about to swear by Zeus, but instantly imagined his lightening cutting her into halves in the middle of the inn and decided on one of his less powerful colleagues instead. "Mighty Peitho, goddess of persuasion – accept this sacrifice and be propitious to these women's cause."
She turned slowly, drawing a semi-circle with the bowl in front of her. "Sisters, repeat this oath after me: To husband or lover I will not open my arms…"
The women repeated every word in one soprano voice.
"…I will be waiting in saffron silk all day, making my loved one burn with desire – but never of my own free will I give in. And should he seize me by dint of force, then I will be still like death…"
"…and not lock my heels behind his neck…" Lysistrata added.
"…nor crouch like a lion on all fours…" Calonike suggested with a sigh.
Gabrielle cast a quick glace in the two women's direction, but they did appeared serious and focused. So she raised her voice again, ready for the final.
"…If I keep this promise, then bountenous bowl; be mine…" She indicated the content of the bowl with a nod of her head.
"…but if I break it, to dreary water change this wine!"
A horrified gasp went through the crowd.
"Would be such a shame to waste good wine like that," one woman mumbled.
"Can we drink it now?" another wanted to know.
Gabrielle looked from the women to the bowl before nodding in agreement. "Yes, that's an excellent idea. By drinking the wine we confirm the oath that now binds us together."
She was about to pass the bowl around, but Lysistrata took it from her hands. "Wait! I know these people far to well," she whispered, "Unless I do the pouring, this wine won't make it to the other end of the room…"
And so glasses were fetched. When all had been filled – Lysistrata had to run to the kitchen more than once for extra supplies – Gabrielle raised hers and waited for the other women to do the same.
"To the shortest skirts and deepest cleavages in Greece!" she declared, and with that everyone emptied their glasses.
A rather merry atmosphere soon took over. However, the celebration was eventually interrupted by a number of cries from outside, clearly female ones. Gabrielle looked up as the door was thrown open. Three women of her grandmother's age entered, their cheeks flushed from exertion.
"Lysistrata!" the one in the middle gasped. "We have come to tell you that we are at your disposition and that we have taken over Acropolis!"
"Acropolis?" Calonike's mouth fell open wide. "How on earth did you manage to do that?"
"If it's guarded by the same kind of scrawny ladies as the city gates, it shouldn't be hard,"
Lampito remarked. She was busy cleaning her nails with her teeth.
Gabrielle was one big smile. "Excellent! Now we have a proper headquarter. Everyone – let's head to Acropolis!"
END ACT III
Chapter 5: ACT IV
ACT IV - in which the women go on strike, which proves harder for some than for others
The days flew by and became weeks with the sexual strike still in effect. Most of the women had taken up more or less permanent residence on Acropolis, where Lysistrate remained commander in chief.
Initially a few men had tried to force their way into the temple, but they had – according to Lampito – been 'scrawny laddies', as all fit men were off fighting. Even when a whole dozen scrawny laddies had arrived at the same time, they couldn't keep up with Lampito's fists or Gabrielle's stick. They had withdrawn almost immediately.
No new attempts at attacking Acropolis from the outside had been made recently, but a new kind of threat was lurking; this time from within.
"Halt!" Lysistrata demanded as a woman discretely tried to sneak away from the temple. "Where do you think you're going?" The innkeeper stared her down, while the woman herself looked in all other directions.
"I just realised that I forgot to turn off the stove!" the woman chirped.
"You've been here for a fortnight. The fire is either gone by now, or your house has burnt down completely. In either case you might as well stay here."
She signalled for Lampito to escort the pouting woman back to the others.
"If only you knew how that fire burns and burns…" the woman mumbled, barely audible, but Lysistrata heard. The innkeeper sighed and a slender hand was laid on her arm almost immediately. She raised her head, apparently letting her gaze travel from the hand along a slim arm until she met our heroine's concerned, light green eyes.
"Is something the matter?" Gabrielle wanted to know.
"You could say so!" Lysistrata shook her head. "Several of the men are at home on leave, and the bad morale is spreading like lice among the women. So far five horny women have tried to sneak back to their bedrooms, and that's just today! Always offering the most pathetic, far-fetched excuses."
"That's a good sign!" Gabrielle insisted in her ever-optimistic way. "That means the plan is working. If the women are dying from lust already then imagine how their men must suffer! There'll be peace before you know it."
"I suppose you're right... I guess it's just because I myself am beginning to feel the lack of-" Lysistrata looked past Gabrielle for a second and instantly raised her voice: "Hey, you two! What are you playing at?"
Gabrielle turned around and spotted two women with guilt written all over their faces. She recognised one as the loud-mouthed redhead from their first group meeting. This time she looked a lot less cocky.
"My sheets need fresh air, otherwise they'll be eaten by moths," she said in a seemingly casual tone, but her left foot betrayed her by drawing nervous patterns on the stone floor. "And so I thought I might as well put them on my bed!"
"Oh you did, did you," Lysistrata growled. "And you? Are your sheets in danger as well?"
The other women shook her head. "I am very ill," she said earnestly. "I have a terribly itching eczema which requires immediate attention!"
"If you're looking for relief, you'll have to scratch that itch yourself… Or try a bucket of cold water out in the back." She pointed into the temple with her thumb. "Now get back in, both of you!"
The women hesitated for a moment, until Gabrielle demonstratively attacked the air with a couple of swift, graceful strokes of her staff. The women looked at each other, then took a step backwards and disappeared into the shadows.
"Thanks," Lysistrata said.
"No problem." Gabrielle put her stick down, once again transforming it into a perfectly harmless wanderer's staff. "But I see your point. They'll be deserting by the dozen unless we do something about it soon."
"What more can we do?" Lysistrata leaned her head against the temple wall. "I am guarding the entrance around the clock and yours as well as Lampito's fighting skills have already been put to use."
"Don't worry. I'll keep them occupied." Gabrielle poked Lysistrata's soft stomach with an index finger. "Did I mention that the Academy of Bards actually did offer me a spot?" She smiled knowingly. "Wait and see... They'll be glued to the floor!"
And with that Gabrielle climbed onto a small altar in the middle of the temple and began telling stories. Before she had finished her first – the one about her and Xena finding a child in a stream – a dozen women were eagerly listening on the floor. Somewhat into the second approximately half the women had found a spot in front of her, and by the time she was telling her third tale every single temple squatter was wrapped around Gabrielle's finger.
"But what happened to Callisto afterwards," a woman wanted to know, "didn't she come back for revenge?"
"She did, in fact," Gabrielle admitted and began telling her fourth story. Fortunately she had more than enough to last throughout the strike.
Gabrielle didn't allow herself to take a break until nearly all of the women had dozed off. By then the sun had set. She ought to be exhausted as well, but for some reason couldn't find rest and volunteered for the night shift at the temple entrance.
There were no clouds that night, but the city lights made it impossible to make out the many constellations that she and Xena could see when they were sleeping under open skies far from the comforts of civilisation. She wondered if the warrior princess, wherever she was right now, was able to see more stars? She imagined her friend curled up next to a fire, fast asleep. Her calm breathing. The flames making her dark hair glow. The soft shadows playing across her temporarily peaceful face… Picturing the scenario in vivid details was easy for Gabrielle; she had watched Xena sleep oh so often and each time fought the urge to reach out and touch her.
Almost three weeks had passed since they last saw each other and Gabrielle sorely missed the closeness of the older woman, but knew from experience that their reunion would prove anticlimactic. Reality never lived up to Gabrielle's blissful reveries in which the reunion entailed much more than a platonic embrace. In reality, she always missed Xena just as much when she was actually around as a constant reminder of what was missing from their friendship. The young bard had bit back her frustrations up until now but they were building like tumour in her abdomen.
"Wut's eatin', luv?"
A question posed in a heavy Spartan accent interrupted Gabrielle's thoughts. She hadn't been aware of the sighs she was uttering, much less noticed that someone else had joined her in the dark.
"Suppose it's some laddie?" Lampito suggested as she sat down on the floor next to Gabrielle.
"Not really." Gabrielle put on a smile, but knew it didn't reach her eyes. Hopefully the night shadows would hide as much.
"I must say, you have more backbone than most of us."
This time the voice belonged to Lysistrata. She picked a spot across from them so the three women formed a kind of circle and handed Gabrielle a bowl of steaming stew. Its tempting spicy scent mixed with the cool breeze. How the innkeeper managed to cook it out here, in the middle of Acropolis, was beyond Gabrielle.
"Thought you'd need it after entertaining all of us for hours. You're not a camel, after all," Lysistrata automatically added. It was probably one of the innkeeper's favourite phrases, Gabrielle mused.
For once, the bard's ever hungry stomach remained unmoved by the prospect of food, but she stuffed her mouth anyway, hoping Lampito would forget her initial question. Unfortunately, Lysistrata took over instead.
"Tell me, how do you manage to keep going all those months on the road? Three weeks without men and the rest of us are ready to jump the nearest door knob," the innkeeper drily remarked.
"That's because you're all spoiled lassies," Lampito interjected. "Military school from the age of five, divided by gender – that's how proper women are bred!"
Lysistrata arched an eyebrow. "I seriously doubt Gabrielle has attended military school, Lampito." She turned her attention back to the bard. "But what is your secret? Do you have a man waiting for you in every province?"
"Suppose it's easy for you to pick them up, even if you are a bit scrawny," Lampito mused. "Many a laddie does prefer a wee wifey, so he won't have to fear being hit back when he beats her."
Gabrielle cast a horrified glance at Lampito and was shocked to find that the Spartan woman appeared absolutely serious.
"You're mistaken, both of you," she said with conviction and a head shake. "The only men awaiting Xena and me with regular intervals are thugs and thieves. And then of course the ones we help and the ones we fight. Frankly, we have no time left for other men," she concluded before shovelling enough stew into her mouth to prevent her from answering any more questions in the near future.
"Sounds superhuman to me," Lysistrata said simply. Then, accompanied by something in between a sigh and a yawn, she added: "But you're lucky; it must spare you from a lot of frustrations."
And with that, the innkeeper got up and disappeared into the temple. Lampito followed her example, and Gabrielle was, once again, alone in the dark.
"I'm not at all superhuman," she mumbled to herself. Huffing, the bard pushed the empty bowl away with more force than intended. It rattled noisily across the stone floor, heading directly for the flight of stairs leading up to the temple, but stopped in the very last moment and was left balancing on the edge of the first step. The sound of pottery breaking into a thousand pieces was only – like so many other things – in Gabrielle's imagination.
END ACT IV - after a short refreshment break, we shall return for act V, in which the arrival of a certain warrior princess lets Lysistrata put two and two together, and Gabrielle learns new skills. Cheers!
Chapter 6: ACT V
ACT V - in which the arrival of a certain warrior princess makes Lysistrata put two and two together, and Gabrielle leans new skills
"Lysistrata! Alarm, alarm!"
In one perfectly synchronised movement all heads turned towards Calonike as she stormed into the temple, nearly stepping on several of the women occupying the floor in front of Gabrielle's improvised stage. Gabrielle herself froze in the middle of her imitation of Xena swinging her sword.
"What's going on?" Lysistrata was slouching in a corner, but did lift her head.
"The poor lassie's gone mad," Lampito concluded without missing a beat. She was doing push-ups in another corner.
"A warrior is heading our way! A real one this time, in shining armour and everything," Calonike added quickly. "I heard the rumour from one of the slaves down town and was sceptical at first, but now I see the sword reflecting the sunlight!"
"How close is he?" Lampito was already on her feet and Gabrielle reached for her staff.
"Still merely a dot in the distance, but-" Calonike voice was drowned out by the thunder of rapidly approaching horse hoofs immediately followed by a deep, melodic voice.
"Gabrielle! You in there?! Are you in trouble?"
The voice definitely belonged to a warrior and it made a goofy wide smile spread on the young bard's face. "Xena! Come on in!"
Gabrielle leapt from her stage and across two female fans in one continuous movement. She caught Xena in a hug in the middle of the temple entrance. The warrior princess, briefly blinded by the sudden shift from glaring noon sun to temple gloom, tensed for an instant before recognising the bard's form and returning the embrace.
However, she was clearly still too concerned to lose herself in the reunion. "Gabrielle, are you alright?" She tried to push Gabrielle away in order to catch her gaze, but the young bard was clinging on too tightly.
Anticlimax or not, might as well get the most out of this rare opportunity, Gabrielle thought, resting her cheek against the warrior princess' bosom. She took a deep breath, trying to keep as much of Xena's scent with her, intending to save it for darker times.
"I came as quickly as I could once I heard Acropolis had fallen and that you were in the middle of it all," Xena told the top of Gabrielle's head. "Are you sure everything is alright?"
Gabrielle counted her heartbeats. In a moment she would have to end the embrace or things might become awkward between them. But being this close to Xena felt so right, and that made the thought of letting go unbearable.
She did it anyway. But she loosened her grip as slowly as possible and allowed her fingers to trace the warrior princess' back, waist and hips, until Gabrielle's hands finally settled along Gabrielle's own hips. Settled to any outside observer, that is, for her fingertips were tingling, tickling.
"Everything is fine." Gabrielle adjusted her toothy smile down to less suspicious dimensions and forced her flickering eyes under control before finally meeting Xena's. "I am not their hostage," she assured her. "On the contrary; I am helping these women stop the Peloponnesian war."
"In here?" Xena surveyed their surroundings with a mixture of disbelief and wonder written on her face. There were women everywhere. On the floor, along the walls, against the altars. Some of them separately, but a great deal of them more or less in piles, one woman's body providing the pillow for another. The scenario was decadent to say the least.
"In a manner of speaking, yes." Gabrielle closed and opened her hands, trying to make the distracting tingling go away. "These women are on strike until their husbands give up the war. Even activists from Sparta and Corinth have joined us. Come and meet some of them!"
Her right hand, still humming and seemingly obeying its own will, automatically found Xena's and she pulled the warrior princess towards the centre of the temple. Lysistrata and Lampito awaited them there.
"Xena, this is Lysistrata, our mission's commander in chief." Gabrielle nodded towards the innkeeper. "And this is her Spartan friend, Lampito."
"Nice to meet you," Xena mumbled. She still looked uncharacteristically confused.
"You're not as big as I expected," were the first words out of Lampito's mouth. Gabrielle noticed how the Spartan woman casually flexed her biceps as she clasped Xena's hand.
Lysistrata was as welcoming as always. "We have heard so much about you!" she exclaimed with a smile. "Gabrielle has told us the most amazing tales, and every single one of them revolved around you."
Gabrielle skilfully avoided her friend's gaze. She hoped the heat in her cheeks didn't show.
"Did you have a pleasant journey here?" Lysistrate politely enquired.
"Pretty uneventful," Xena replied, "except…" She frowned. "This might sound odd, but an unusual amount of soldiers offered up their services along the way, if you get my drift. The closer I got to Athens, the more insistent they became."
Gabrielle threw a concerned glance across her shoulder, and Xena quickly added: "Not that they were difficult to get rid of. They seemed rather... unfocused." She gave Gabrielle's hand a discrete squeeze, and only then did the bard realise that she had not yet let go of Xena's. Interestingly, the warrior princess had not objected.
"They're all scrawny lads," Lampito agreed. "And badly raised."
"It's because of the strike," Lysistrata said, seizing the opportunity to explain the plan to the newly arrived warrior.
"And your travel experiences indicate that a truce is just around the corner!" Gabrielle enthusiastically clapped her hands, which gave her a natural excuse to untangle her fingers from Xena's before it became too apparent how much she wanted to hold on to them. "So there you go – it is in fact possible to stop a war without any casualties!"
"Without casualties? Understatement of the century," Calonike mumbled. She had kept out of the conversation so far as she was technically still on watch duty.
Xena crossed her arms. The movement made the metallic breast plates ring ever so slightly. "Well, it certainly is an alternative approach… And you really believe it's working?"
Lysistrata nodded. "Initially some soldiers tried to force us off the temple premises, but lately the soldiers stopping by have had something entirely different on their minds. They are getting desperate."
"And they are not alone there," Calonike drily interjected. She held one hand up to protect her eyes from the glaring sun and pointed with the other. "There's another one approaching, by the way. I believe it's Myrrhina's husband."
"Is he armed?" Lampito asked.
"Well, he is certainly carrying an impressive sword," Calonike replied as she eyed the stranger with an indiscreetly lustful gaze. "Someone might get themselves stabbed."
"Myrrhina!" Lysistrata called into the darkness. "You're needed. You know what to do."
A well-shaped Athenian women in a dress so short Gabrielle would consider classifying it as a shirt got up from the floor and shook her light curls. "I sure do," she said, arranging her full lips in the shape of a kiss before she stepped out into the light.
Gabrielle fidgeted for a moment, coughing and shifting her weight from one foot to the other as she noticed how Xena arched an approving eyebrow and seemed to nod along with the rhythm of Myrrhina's swaying hips.
Lysistrata, meanwhile, let her gaze drift from Xena to Gabrielle and back again and suddenly exclaimed: "Dear me, you must be starving after all those hours on the road! Calonike, why don't you make sure our guest gets a healthy serving of steaming stew. Gabrielle and I will mind the entrance in the meantime."
Gabrielle was about to object – she hadn't seen her friend for weeks and a temple shift was not exactly on the top of her wish list – but she bit her tongue at the sight of the innkeeper's eyes. They were full of barely contained laughter and Gabrielle suspected she was the butt of the joke.
And sure enough, once they were alone outside the temple entrance the laughter bubbled over.
"Finally the pieces fall into place! Now I understand why you get on so well without men." She patted Gabrielle's shoulder heartily. "Admittedly, even I might switch team for a travel companion like that."
"You think Xena and I-" The bard's mouth opened and clothes in what she suspected was a rather unrefined, cod-like manner, but for once no words left it.
"It's obvious for anyone just from the way you two look at each other!" The innkeeper winked at Gabrielle. "Though, personally, I already had my suspicions. Your glorious descriptions of her in all your tales were rather telling."
"Look at each other …?" Gabrielle had only heard the first sentence out of Lysistrata's mouth and it left a hungry vacuum in her abdomen. "You mean she also looks at me... that way?"
"Why, of course!" Lysistrata blinked a few times. Something seemed to dawn on her. "Oh! You mean, you didn't know? Really? You and Xena have nev-"
"We haven't," Gabrielle said brusquely, immediately regretting her tone. It gave far too much away.
The older women caught on and put a warm hand on her arm. "Well, then it's clearly about time."
"I don't think Xena feels that way." Gabrielle looked at her own feet as she spoke. "In certain critical areas she still considers me the innocent child I was when we first met."
"The Virgin Goddess Syndrome," said Calonike. Gabrielle had not noticed her arrival and cast a nervous glance around. Calonike caught on immediately and quickly added: "Don't worry, your friend is tending her horse out back." She studied her painted nails. "But I am familiar with the problem you just described. My husband suffered from the syndrome when we got engaged and believed his most sacred duty was the preservation of my innocence."
Lysistrata whistled sarcastically, but Calonike ignored her.
"He wouldn't touch me. Well, he wanted to, but he had put me on some out-of-reach virgin goddess pedestal. In the end I was so frustrated all I could think about was sex." She frowned for a moment. "Rather like now, actually."
"But what did you do about it?" Gabrielle wondered.
"I made it painfully clear to him that I was a sexual being of flesh and blood and right in front of his nose. In the end he just couldn't keep his hands off me."
"Learn from Myrrhina if you need to pick up a few tricks. She's torturing her husband as we speak." Lysistrata nodded towards a corner up against the temple staircase where the attractive Athenian woman was discussing something with her spouse. His gaze was glued to her bosom, which threatened to spill over the low-cut dress. She was leaning slightly forward, offering a perfect view.
Gabrielle, in turn, leaned forward trying to catch Myrrhina's words.
"Alright, Cinesias, I will lie with you – but only if you promise to make peace."
"I promise," Cinesias mechanically replied, leaning towards Myrrhina's cleavage. When he was merely a hair's width from burying his nose in his wife's generous curves she pulled away so suddenly he almost lost his balance.
"But first I have to get a blanket!" she said.
"Never mind that," Cinesias objected, but she was already gone. "Oh well." Cinesia's trousers were bulging in a way that had to be painful and Gabrielle winced in sympathy in spite of herself. He began to undo them, but his wife returned before he could finish.
"Let me help you," she whispered into his ear as she fumbled with the last buttons. He gave a satisfied grunt as the trousers gave into gravity and leant forward to kiss his wife, but his lips met only thin air.
"I forgot to get a pillow," Myrrhina shouted across her shoulder to her husband, left behind and exposed to the world.
It didn't seem to concern him. He was clearly too sexually frustrated to mind the audience and simply kicked the clothes away. When his wife returned he quickly caught her by the hips.
"My, you do have a strong grip," she purred. This time she allowed him to kiss her neck. "You take my breath away, darling. Wait, let me take off my dress..."
That made an impression. He loosened his grip and watched as she slowly undid one sandal and pulled it off.
"To Hades with the sandals," he impatiently exclaimed, taking a step towards his wife. "To Hades with the dress. All I want is to fu… To make love to my wife!" He looked perfectly miserable and she padded his thigh in consolation.
"Alright then," she said.
"Alright?" His face lit up, but his hands – for the third time – caught only each other when they were in fact trying to catch her. Myrrhina was already halfway up the stairs.
"But first I need to fetch some massage oil!" she yelled before disappearing into the temple.
Lysistrata laughed. "Just look at him! Once he realises that she isn't coming back he'll be begging his comrades to begin peace negotiations. Anything to get release!"
"You see what we're getting at?" Calonike leaned confidentially towards Gabrielle and spelled out the punch line: "You've got to sacrifice the virgin goddess."
END ACT V
Chapter 7: ACT VI
ACT VI – in which the men give in to the women's torture, unlike Gabrielle's stubborn warrior princess.
"They give up! We won! We won!" Calonike's ecstatic voice reached Gabrielle's ears long before the woman herself entered the inn.
Gabrielle and Xena had gone there to get some practical details straight before they would have to hit the dusty road once again. Even though the inn was only a short walk from Acropolis they had encountered several desperate soldiers along the way – many so swollen they could hardly walk. It was evident that the strike would soon break them. And today, finally, came the message of peace.
"Gabrielle, Xena? You there!?" Calonike burst through the door and cast a look around in the deserted dining hall.
"Up here," Gabrielle called from the top of the stairs. Calonike's face lit up and she met the bard hallway, catching the small women in a spontaneous hug, which Gabrielle, though taken slightly by surprise, immediately returned.
"You were right! It worked! They are surrendering their weapons. Official and conclusive peace negotiations are taking place as we speak!"
Calonike's neck and cheeks were flushed. She had clearly rushed to the inn with the great news, but still taken the necessary time to perfect her make-up and braid flowers into her hair. She was clearly expecting to see her husband soon, Gabrielle thought.
"That's amazing! I knew you could do it." The women, still standing halfway between the ground and first floor, both leaned against the railing.
"You did... and tonight Athenians, Spartans and the people of Corinth will celebrate the truce together! That's one of the reason I hurried to get here..." Calonike's gaze was part pleading request, part command. "We would never have succeeded without your efforts. You have to stay a few more days to celebrate the victory with us."
Gabrielle nodded. "I'd love to. And although Xena is eager to move on I am sure I can convince her to stay for at least another night." The bard tilted her head teasingly. "But Calonike, will we be seeing you at all tonight…?"
Calonike covered her mouth with her hand, but the wide smile she was trying to hide made any verbal reply redundant.
"Didn't think so." Gabrielle laughed. "Good for you."
"Well, I sure was reaching the end of my rope," Calonike admitted. "But enough about me – how are things panning out with your femme fatale? Is she wet and willing yet?"
Gabrielle had to confess that, sadly, not much progress had been made in that department. However, she did plan to take action soon.
"Then do it tonight," Calonike said with conviction. "After this strike the atmosphere will be so steamy you can drink from it. I doubt it'll leave even your tough warrior woman unaffected." She looked Gabrielle up and down. "But first we'll have to find you a different outfit."
Gabrielle was about to act all insulted, but Calonike had already grabbed her arm firmly and was pulling her down the stairs. She had to stumble along.
"Come on. It'll be a few more hours before my husband returns from the front. By then you'll be perfectly dressed to undress."
"By the gods, people have gone berserk."
The warrior woman simultaneously shook her head and cast a glance across her shoulder before slamming the door to their shared room shut.
"I had to climb piles of bodies on my way up the stairs, and had they only been drunkards sleeping it off… but oh, no! You'd think this inn was run by satyrs." She sat down heavily on an oak chair placed next to a small table lit by candles. Otherwise the room was mostly dark. "Gabrielle? Where are you?"
The visible jerk in Xena's body might be caused by Gabrielle's sudden manifestation out of the shadows. But there could also be an entirely different explanation.
Gabrielle had undergone one of Calonike's so-called make-overs. Her hair had been washed with vinegar, brushed repeatedly and was now shining brighter than ever. It was fastened with pearl pins in the back, but a couple of curly, golden locks swayed freely. She had vetoed heavy make-up, but accepted a bit of red to enhance her high cheek bones and lips, and her neck, wrists as well as less visible body parts had been scented with lavender oil. The dress, which was a perfect fit, was obscenely short and low-cut and so transparently thin that any undergarments would show through it. Which was exactly the argument Calonike had used to convince her not to wear any.
"You startled me," Xena said with a short and seemingly forced laughter. She was clearly having an uncharacteristically hard time maintaining eye-contact. She chose to focus on the bowl between Gabrielle's hands.
"I'm sorry," Gabrielle replied simply as she placed it on the table.
"What's in it? More of Lysistrata's stew?"
"Not quite." Gabrielle smiled. "It's something a bit more uplifting in the spirit of the evening. Something sweet." She looked directly into the warrior princess' light blue eyes and was surprised to find it easy. Perhaps because she no longer cared if her own eyes gave too much away.
It was Xena who broke their gaze for a change, using her sandals as the pretext. She bent to unlace them.
Gabrielle stopped her hand mid-air. "Let me do it," she insisted and kneeled in front of the warrior princess, well aware that this particular position would offer Xena a grand view of her barely covered breasts.
Fortunately for Gabrielle, Xena's sandals were tied with long leather laces in a criss-cross pattern continuing all the way up to her knees. Gabrielle took her time loosening the laces one at a time, letting her fingers dwell and deliberately brush against the tanned leg underneath in a tickling manner. Once the feet were freed, she took one between both her hands.
"You have remarkably slender feet. Has anyone ever told you that?" she teasingly asked as she gently massaged the sole and heel of her friend's foot. "There's definitely more 'princess' than 'warrior' about them." Her fingertips continued past the ankle and travelled up the lower part of Xena's leg.
Xena shifted uneasily. "What's in the bowl?" she asked once again.
Gabrielle straightened up, resting her palms against the warrior princess' knees. "Nectar and ambrosia."
"Get out," another stifled laugh left Xena's lips as she shifted once again, this time managing to free her knees from Gabrielle's hold.
"You don't believe me?" Gabrielle tilted her head, then slowly got up and pulled another chair over. "Alright, I may have exaggerated a little. But it is almost divine."
She sat directly across from her friend, moved so close their knees had to slide in between each other. All tangled up, like braided fingers. Xena, having her back against the wall, could not withdraw this time, but she clearly did her best to prevent hers and Gabrielle's legs from actually touching. It made no difference. The tiny strip of air between them was burning hot.
Gabrielle's hand disappeared into the bowl and retrieved a piece of fruit glistening with honey. She made no attempt to hide her pleasure as she ate it, then carefully sucked the remaining honey off her thumb and index finger. She could almost taste Xena's intense gaze on her lips and had to suppress a smile.
"Would you like to try it?" she asked, and before the warrior princess could muster any objection, Gabrielle's hand had retrieved another piece of fruit. She held it to her friend, almost grazing her lips. Xena hesitated for a heartbeat, unintentionally allowing a drop of honey to fall from Gabrielle's fingers and onto the warrior princess' collarbone. Gabrielle saw it and smiled, but Xena was oblivious as she finally accepted the offering.
The touch of lips and fingertips was fleeting, but none the less it did something to the women's surroundings. The room couldn't possibly have gone quiet – the party downstairs was still going strong and would probably last until sunrise – yet their own sounds suddenly seemed oddly clear. Their mingled breaths, the metallic rustling of Xena's breast plates.
The strange sensation in Gabrielle's abdomen was back, but this time she felt certain she wasn't the only one reacting to their proximity. She could easily make out the hard, rapid pulse along the side of Xena's neck, close to the collarbone. The stray drop of honey glistened in the candle light.
"You spilled a drop." Gabrielle leaned forward, inching even closer to her friend, forcing Xena's knee further in between her own thighs until it disappeared under the skimpy skirt. The young bard deliberately shifted as she reached for her friend's neck, thereby replacing the diminutive space between them with skin-on-skin contact. Xena jolted, as if struck by a bolt of lightning which travelled into Gabrielle's thighs and further still until the bard felt completely abuzz with electric current. Her lashes grazed Xena's cheek as she gently rubbed the honey away with a soft thumb.
"There," she whispered, lifting her face without moving back in her seat. She met Xena's flickering gaze and held it. The warrior princess wet her lips.
She is going to kiss me. The realisation hit Gabrielle with so much force she nearly tumbled to the floor. And sure enough, Xena began to stir. For a moment the angle and movement was just right, and Gabrielle's entire body hummed – but then the warrior princess abruptly changed her course, bolting from her seat so quickly Gabrielle was forced backwards.
"I forgot to feed Argo," she simply said and was out the door, sandals in hand, before the bard could get a single word in edgeways. The door was simply slammed shut, leaving Gabrielle breathless and alone.
END ACT VI
Chapter 8: ACT VII
Act VII – in which Gabrielle finally gets what she wants.
No words came, only unintelligible vowels as Gabrielle punched the edge of the oak table with her hand. She put her pounding fingers in her mouth. The pain was sharp and concrete, but not nearly enough to distract her from the feeling of having been rejected at her most open and vulnerable.
It was unfathomable. She would swear Xena had felt the same as she did or at least felt something. Her unsteady gaze, her rapid pulse – they were hard evidence. So by the gods, why did the warrior princess run out like that?
Was the idea of redefining their friendship, expanding its frames, really that unthinkable to her? Was the Virgin Goddess Syndrome that strong? Strong enough to make someone oblivious to the glaringly obvious: that Gabrielle was worldly and so head over heals in love and lust with Xena that she couldn't even think in full sentences anymore.
The latter was almost the worst of it all. She was a bard and would normally vent through storytelling, but her yearning for Xena never brought stories to life. It was wordless and amounted to no more than dizzying noise in her head along with a body screaming for attention.
That's how she felt right now. Being walked out on in Calonike's most seductive attire ought to have the same quenching effect on desire as a bucket of cold water thrown in the face. Yet Gabrielle's body was burning and begging for release. She was physically hurting between her legs and had to fight the urge to let a hand disappear under her dress just to take the edge of. It was tempting, but she knew from experience that the effect faded in comparison to the feeling of emptiness accompanying it.
After a while – much longer than it could possibly take to feed Argo – Gabrielle got up and began to wander about the room aimlessly until something caught her attention. A glimpse of reflected moonlight, a fast and familiar motion pulling her towards the open window.
And sure enough.
Below, in the middle of the courtyard, Xena was busy. She was not feeding her horse, no, she was doing sword drills. Dragging high pitched noises out of nothing but air as she swung her sword wildly, chopping a pile of defenceless logs to bits and pieces.
Obviously, Xena had to stay in shape, but Gabrielle had long ago noticed the link between the warrior princess' mood and her need to fight, even when there were no bad guys around to beat up. Her mood always rubbed off on her style. Right now she was attacking the wood with fierce strokes that would definitely leave her arms and shoulders sore. Gasps of exertion escaped her with every impact; her jaw and neck were tense and would most definitely add to her collection of muscle infiltrations.
What was currently taking place in the courtyard had nothing to do with constructive drills. It was simply Xena's way of venting.
While Gabrielle's words and stories caught in her throat for days after another unresolved encounter with the warrior princess, her friend could simply go out and beat up thugs or logs and return an hour later, happy as a lark and completely at peace with herself.
Gabrielle sent Calonike and Lysistrata an uncharacteristically grumpy thought. Some advice they'd given her! Of course their method would fly right past someone like Xena. The warrior princess might become emotionally and sexually frustrated, and Gabrielle could swear her attempt at seduction had had some effect on her. But little good that did when Xena could sublimate anything in a cascade of sword strikes.
"The men of Athens, Sparta and Corinth might give up anything, including their weapons, to get laid. Xena's more likely to give up anything to get her weapons," Gabrielle mumbled to herself.
And although the words fell out of her own mouth, it was as if another person whispered an idea in her ear in that moment: In Xena's case the principles behind Lysistrata's successful strike would have to be turned upside down. It was obvious, in fact, and a small, optimistic smile snuck onto Gabrielle's face as she pulled on a shawl and ventured out into the night.
"Someone stole my sword!" Xena threw the door open and slammed it behind her with equal force. "And my chakram!"
"Well, a good evening to you, too," Gabrielle replied from the window without turning around. She was wearing the same feather light dress as before, but had let her hair down.
"I only left them for an instance while I washed up and now they're gone!" The warrior princess stomped back and forth.
"I know," Gabrielle said quietly, still glancing out the window.
"I can't believe this could happen to me on a completely ordina-" Suddenly the pacing stopped. A moment of total silence. "You… what?"
Gabrielle turned to face her friend and was know partially sitting on the windowsill. "I know," she repeated.
"How do you know?" Xena asked impatiently. "Did you see who did it?"
"Not quite." Gabrielle contemplated her friend for a moment before stating: "It was me."
"You?" The warrior princess blinked repeatedly, unable to understand the implications. "Well, then give them back to me."
"Nope," Gabrielle said. "Not until I get what I want."
"What are you talking about? What do you want?" The words fell fast and gracelessly from the normally stoic woman and her body language was frantic. A stark contrast to Gabrielle's controlled calm.
The young bard in the window slowly put one thigh across the other and in doing so lifted the edge of her dress until it revealed even more than before. "What do I want?" Her fingertips caressed the sill. "You."
Xena visibly gulped, but tried to cover it up with a dry laughter. "Don't be silly, now. Just give me the weapons."
"Silly?" The bard arched an eyebrow as she straightened up and let go of the sill. She approached the warrior princess with slow but determined steps. "I assure you, there is nothing silly about it." The room was small and she quickly reached her destination. "I am absolutely serious," she stated, now directly in front of Xena's rapidly heaving chest.
Only then did Xena move. She took a step backwards, away from Gabrielle, but didn't manage to shake off her friend's direct, unwavering gaze. It was accompanied by heavy eyelids and dark expanded pupils spelling out their message to anyone.
But Xena was not just anyone. "Come on, Gabrielle, you know ultimatums never work on me. I get my way in the end if I really want to, I have methods to-"
"To force me to cooperate? You really mean that?" A hint of disbelief snuck into Gabrielle's voice. "You'd rather use your competent fingers to stop the blood flow to my brain than touch me?"
"That's not what I meant." The warrior princess once again stepped back, but this time bumped into the closed door. It was several inches thick and opened inwards so simply leaning against it would not work. She was trapped.
"Then what do you mean?" Gabrielle reached for the edge of Xena's jaw and felt her friend's rapid pulse beneath her fingers. It stirred up her own arousal even further. "Tell me what you intend to do to me, Xena," she stood on tip toes to triumphantly whisper into the warrior princess' ear: "Remember: I've got your weapons."
With her hand she guided Xena's face towards her own until their eyes locked. Her friend's otherwise light blue eyes had darkened considerably and for the second time that night she subconsciously licked her lips. For the second time that night Gabrielle felt absolutely certain that Xena's lips would finally find hers in a searing kiss; that everything Gabrielle felt with her entire being was mutual.
Xena parted her lips – but not to taste Gabrielle's. "I think this city's gotten to you," she said, and while Gabrielle stood still, momentarily stunned by the words, the warrior princess managed to push herself sideways out of Gabrielle's hold.
And that was the straw that broke the camel's back.
"It has nothing to do with this city!" Gabrielle yelled, almost shocked at her own outburst. But she couldn't, wouldn't hold her frustrations in any longer. "This – us…" She ran out of words, suddenly unsure of what to say. To Tartarus with Xena's ability to render me speechless! "It started ages before Athens." Gabrielle mirrored Xena's sideways escape along the wall. "So long ago I'm practically losing my mind over it," she sighed, once again reaching for the warrior princess.
Xena skilfully ducked under her friend's outstretched arm and was no longer caught between Gabrielle and the wall. She was free to run, but none the less remained were she was. "The last couple of weeks have been hectic. If you get a good night's sleep I'm sure you'll see things more clearly in the morning, Gabrielle," she tried, slightly short of breath.
"My thoughts have been all over the place for months, because I have been dying to be all over you! However, this – my ultimatum – is as clear as I can make it." Gabrielle took one step forward. "It is not a delusion, it's a physical fact!"
The warrior still didn't move a muscle; she simply stood in apathy in front of Gabrielle who was giving up on words once and for all.
"Feel it!" she said as she snatched Xena's right hand without warning and pressed it between her own thighs. The cobweb-thin cloth between Xena's fingers and Gabrielle's pounding groin was soaked within a heartbeat.
"Now do you believe me?" Gabrielle panted, "Do you understand that I mean this?" She let go of the warrior princess' hand in order to snake both of her own behind her friend's neck.
Xena said nothing. It was apparently her turn to be at a loss for words. She was breathing as heavily as Gabrielle and her hand remained between the bard's legs, but her fingers were completely still.
Gabrielle pulled Xena's face even closer. "I don't understand your hesitation when we so clearly both want this," she said gently. "But I will make things easy for you." She caressed Xena's neck with her thumbs, let them graze along her friend's jaw: "There will be no weapons, no sword drills, no fights…" Her face was so close that the last words were almost swallowed up by Xena's half-open mouth. "…until you take me as your lover as well as your friend."
This time Gabrielle did not wait for the déjà vu. She closed the distance and kissed Xena. The warrior princess responded with a sharp breath, almost as if in pain. Then she returned the kiss with a fierceness giving away the fact that she had been every bit as frustrated as Gabrielle.
The young bard smiled into the kiss and did not mind it one bit when she became the one caught between the wall and a friend whose hand was finally coming to life between her legs. It disappeared, but only to reappear moments later against Gabrielle's thigh fumbling its way to the right side – that is to say, the inside – of Calonike's dress.
END FINAL ACT
Chapter 9: EPILOGUE
EPILOGUE - where a certain warrior princess has finally gotten her priorities straight
"Looks like someone didn't get a wink of sleep," Lysistrata cheerfully stated as Gabrielle made her way into the kitchen the next morning.
Gabrielle responded with a kiss on the innkeeper's cheek. "As a matter of fact I haven't," she happily declared.
"Join the club." Calonike, who was hanging out in the bar, yawned. However, her fatigue did not stop her from sending the young bard a cocky wink.
"Breakfast for the guest of honour!" Lysistrata handed Gabrielle a plate of fresh bread, cheese and fruit. "Sit down wherever. Most of the other guests are still asleep. This truce has worn us out!"
Gabrielle sat on the nearest stool, but gave a wince and quickly got up again. "If you don't mind, I think I'd rather stand in the bar with you two," she said.
Calonike laughed. "That rough? Well, that's what you get from sharing a warrior's bed!"
Gabrielle said nothing, but felt the heat rising in her cheeks. She was about to come up with a similarly cheeky reply, but her train of thoughts was abruptly interrupted by a kiss to her neck.
"Any breakfast this early?" It was Xena. Already armour-clad and fit for fight, but her voice was soft and her hand found Gabrielle's on the table. Just like that; without hesitation and in public. Gabrielle had to give up on any attempt at cheekiness; by now she was smiling goofily from ear to ear into her plate.
"Just a moment," Lysistrata promised. She and Calonike exchanged knowing looks, before the innkeeper disappeared into the kitchen.
Gabrielle continued eating with her free hand, but all her senses were focused on the one Xena was caressing with long, thoughtful strikes along the fingers and in between.
Xena cleared her throat. "Gabrielle," she finally began, "I admit to a bit of initial scepticism towards yours and Lysistrata's peace strategy... But now I see how right you were all along."
Gabrielle put her fork down and looked at the woman who was by now both a friend and so much more.
The warrior princess had one eyebrow raised and a smile playing at the corner of her mouth as she added: "Turns out there are in fact certain things worth surrendering your weapons for."
At those words Gabrielle's blushing cheeks turned crimson, but this time the bard didn't curse her light skin. In fact, she couldn't have cared less.
- and a deep-felt thanks from your humble bard for listening to my tale. I had so much fun revisiting old classics when I wrote this. This story is full of actual quotes from Sappho and, obviously, Aristophanes :)