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