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