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