Like A Holiday
Xena lowered her gaze watching her feet fall upon the dirt road. The road seemed hotter and drier than ever before. The greenness of the land always in the distance, never where she was walking. This particular dirt road was kicking up dust as they traveled along it. The summer sun drained the water out of every living thing. It didn’t help Xena’s mood. She couldn’t seem to stop thinking about the beginning. About Gabrielle. Was it just one of those things you let happen because once it starts it’s just easier to let it go? Did she really need Gabrielle so much at first? Was it a need to be loved? Hero-worshipped? Why had she let Gabrielle stay with her on such a dangerous road? Oh yes, now it was too late for any changes. She knew that. Especially after everything they had been through.
Gabrielle walked silently beside Xena. There was something between them, not visible, but large and dense with its relevance. Like a monster eating its way through the air, sucking in every bit of oxygen until, like a vacuum, their world would shrink smaller and smaller until they would no longer exist.
They both sensed it, though neither really understood the danger—so preoccupied with their own minds, their own demons.
Aphrodite appeared in a dusty cloud of glitter. Xena looked around her. A chill moving up her spine in this heat was nothing short of a red flag. She noted her surroundings, cautious and on alert. The Love Goddess joined them on their walk.
After a few minutes of careful observation, Xena decided it was her imagination. She went back to brooding about the last few weeks, and how their problems were compounded by the fact that there was virtually nothing happening. From village to village, new places and old, there was not a thing to be done. It was as though all warlords and villains had hung up their swords and taken a Roman holiday. There was not a good deed to be had.
Normally this would have produced an ease between the two lovers, excitedly looking for out-of-the-way watering holes and what-have-you. But this time, though neither mentioned it, they stuck to the road. Plodding away down a dirt path that took them from one dull, uneventful place to the next.
Gabrielle built a fire as Xena tended to Argo. They ate dinner in companionable silence with an unusually quiet and thoughtful Aphrodite sitting between them. When they did talk it was almost too polite, too considerate: Xena asking Gabrielle for a story. Something she rarely did. Gabrielle reciting one half-heartedly. Something she never did.
Xena wondered if she should break their silently, agreed upon, distance. "Is everything alright, Gabrielle? You seem less...enthusiastic than usual. Normally, I ask for a story and it’s a never ending stream of—"
"I’m fine. Just tired. It’s been a long day. All the walking we’ve been doing."
"Yeah, I’ve been thinking...."
"Just a thought. But why don’t we get off the road for awhile?"
Gabrielle hesitated, that’s when Aphrodite could no longer take it. "Oh, I am sooo over this!" She wiggled a couple fingers at Gabrielle.
The bard straightened up, enthusiasm striking like a thunderbolt. "Okay, let’s do it. Umm...what do you want to do?"
"I don’t know. Whatever people do when they stop doing what they do."
Gabrielle thought about it, hand characteristically to her chin in thought. "Like a holiday without any specific reason. Sounds good. Where do you want to go?"
"I haven’t gotten that far. I thought you might figure it out."
Gabrielle gave her a look. "Up to me, is it? Alright, hmm...."
Aphrodite rolled her eyes and shook another magical finger at the bard.
Gabrielle brightened, then turned dour. "No, that would require a boat."
"Oh, it’s just that I’ve heard about these great little islands off the coast. I’ve even heard a rumor that the famous poet Sappho lives on one of them."
"That sounds good. Let’s do that." Xena leaned back against the tree figuring the arrangements were set.
"Xena, aren’t you forgetting something?"
"Oh yeah, Argo. I know a good place I can board her."
"I’m talking about my sea sickness."
"I don’t know."
"We need the rest, Gabrielle. Have faith in me, or at least trust me with this."
Trust her? Gabrielle wondered if she still did. She didn’t think Xena really trusted her anymore. The bard looked into the fire without answering.
Aphrodite sighed, "Women...." and disappeared in a trail of glitter.
* * * * * *
The boat trip was fairly uneventful. Gabrielle managed through the use of pressure points though she did consume more squid than she could handle and ended up sick for a night. Xena held her blonde locks back while she returned the squids to their ocean home.
Xena used the time between the retching to hold Gabrielle on the deck, soothing her with hands that stroked the bard’s hair back. It was one of the few physical contacts they had since before Chin. Then after Solon and Hope...it was all too much. Everything after that unraveled at such a heated pace their lives were turned inside out, all but destroyed. Somehow, they had tried to hold on to what they knew. But now that they were no longer lovers, not really even friends—how could they be, when they dare not speak to each other about the pain they were in? Then, really, they were nothing more than traveling companions. And wandering aimlessly at that. But now, this sudden trip, Xena was afraid it would have the opposite effect of healing. What if it exposed just how deep the wounds were? And was there any healing for that?
She looked out at the vastness of the sea, the bard warm in her arms and she could sense something, like a tiny flicker that she needed to get back to. A lost element. She needed it, whatever it was, wherever it was, in order to save what was left between her and Gabrielle. She would need it, simply put, to find the rest of her way through this world. Right now she and Gabrielle were on a precipice, about to fall in. They both knew it, though neither spoke of it.
Poet, Bard, Wave Rider, Warrior
The island was beautiful and unlike anything they were used to. White sands and ocean water that was as clear as a mountain stream. Xena could look down and see her toes as her dinner swam by. She reached down and nabbed it, though it didn’t seem very sporting.
Gabrielle sat on the beach, her toes digging into the warm sand. She watched the tall woman who was so familiar to her, yet at that moment—and too often lately—nearly a stranger. Everything was the same. Xena catching fish like she always did. The gestures, everything about her. Well, except for the recent withdrawal, which was even more pronounced than her usual brooding. The bard felt so distant from the warrior, like she had been looking at Xena through a clear colored stone that somehow had been turned, and with that one act, distorted everything. Nothing retained its shape or form. Long was short, thin was wide, beautiful was grotesque.
There were times when she woke in the morning, dawn breaking, when she just knew she would find the answers she needed. But by evening’s end she was just as lost as the day before. But there was something about being here. Ever since the idea came to her she felt...hopeful. Though she was at a loss as how this place could do what they had not managed to do traveling through out all of Greece. Still, there seemed to be something....
Xena brought the fish to shore and cleaned them. She skewered them and let them cook over the fire.
Gabrielle found herself talking before she was able to stop herself. "Do you notice, I mean, I know you do, but do you ever wonder why we never talk much anymore?"
Xena looked at the fish, adjusting the sticks, though they were fine. "I figured it was you. I never talk much."
Gabrielle was nervous, her stomach tight, but she pressed on. "True. But Xena, I can feel something between us, I have to believe you feel it too?" There it was. She had spoken about the taboo that had been constructed between them: Not to bring up this matter, a matter that neither of them completely understood. At least not yet.
Xena sighed and gave in to the wreckage of the wall Gabrielle was destroying. "You know what it’s about. All of it. Why do we have to relive it?"
"But it’s more than that. Everything else might have started this, but we’ve nourished it. We’ve fed this monster everyday since and now it’s out of control. We’ve got to do something, Xena." Tears came quickly to Gabrielle’s eyes, faster than she had expected. She was closer to the edge than she realized. "If we don’t do something, I’m afraid of what’s going to happen."
Xena went to Gabrielle and kneeled beside her. "Hey, it’s alright. We’ll work it out." She smiled, tying to convince both Gabrielle and herself that this thing could be toppled. Xena pulled Gabrielle to her, meaning to be tender but her own emotions took over and she held Gabrielle forcefully to her, chin on the bard’s head.
"You know," Xena said, "if we don’t work it out, we don’t win. And I never accept defeat."
"It’s more than that," Gabrielle answered and for the first time, breathing against Xena’s neck, she could face her biggest fear. "I’m afraid for my soul."
* * * * * *
The lyric poetry struck at the very heart of Gabrielle. Its telling moved her as the words moved in and about the accompanying lyre. She sat among a row of other women still trying to push back those tears that seemed too near the surface these days. And she was not quite comfortable enough in this new environment to make a spectacle of herself. Her eyes sought out Xena. There she was near the back, eyes heavy-lidded, leaning against a pillar. Gabrielle couldn’t tell if the warrior was moved by the poetry or if she had sealed up all entrances to her heart.
It was over and the other women moved from their chairs to mingle. Gabrielle made her way across the floor to Sappho. The poet saw the young blonde approaching and turned to greet her, raising her eyebrow in a strangely familiar way.
"I just wanted to say how much I enjoyed—no, that’s not strong enough—I loved it. It really moved me. It had verve."
Gabrielle would have gone on but Sappho asked, "What’s your name?"
"Oh, right, where are my manners? I’m Gabrielle. I’ve heard so much about you. ‘Sappho the tenth muse.’ ‘Sappho, the honey tongued poet.’ You know, after awhile you figure the build up is going to be bigger than the payoff, but wow...I’m floored!"
Sappho’s eyes roamed over the enthusiastic young woman. She saw everything about her: the gestures, the passion, and the light that she came from, the merriment and joy she was capable of. Then something like a cloud, dark and harder to penetrate, shadowed this young Gabrielle’s features. And soon the poet was looking up into the blue eyes of a tall dark warrior. She involuntarily swallowed.
"Nice song," the dark one said.
"She’s not one for words," Gabrielle explained, giving the taller one a look. The warrior just shrugged it off and looked across the room.
Sappho could see the tall woman’s mind at work, taking in her environment, measuring it up. First the warrior would make sure they were safe, the rest was just curiosity. Like the poet’s own gift for seeing into people, this very striking warrior could read situations, environments, maybe large human traits like dishonorable intentions, or the like. She was like the bird that could see everything, but only from a great distance. She was blind in the smaller, minute matters. The things the young blonde would be most capable of—probably those things that involved the heart. They were a compliment to each other. No doubt companions of some sort.
Both were beautiful. Both were troubled.
The poet could see the buffer that existed between them. If one moved forward, the other moved backward, as though an invisible barrier of energy prevented them from merging into the same physical space.
Sappho saw all this within minutes of their meeting.
"Sappho! Hey babe!" A voice called from across the room breaking the reverent silence that usually accompanied such events. Sappho’s breath caught at the sight of the tall blonde dressed in a loose toga. She held a long shiny wooden board under her arm. "Come on, let’s go. They’re kickin’ today."
"Who’s kicking? Is someone in trouble?" Gabrielle asked.
"I mean surf’s up!" The sleek brown skinned blonde ran down the stairs, down the hill toward the ocean, leaving the poet, warrior and bard looking after her.
"What’s she going to do with that board?" Xena asked, almost in spite of herself. She would have rather not been interested.
"Come on. I’ll show you." Sappho made her way past the two women.
Gabrielle looked up at Xena. The taller woman shrugged, as if to say, nothing better to do.
Once down at the shore Xena watched in amusement, and Gabrielle with some shyness, as dozens of naked young women entered the ocean with their long, shiny wooden boards.
"I don’t get it," Gabrielle said.
Xena scrutinized the situation then appeared to finally understand. "They’re going to ride the surf. Watch that one out there, the one out the furthest. See the wave beginning to form? Oh, there she goes, see? She’s paddling with the wave and now it’s going to rise up, there!"
Gabrielle saw the woman belly down on her board, riding the high wave until it crashed and so did she.
"Cool," Xena muttered.
"I dunno," Xena said, unsure what she had meant.
They watched while all the women rode wave after wave. Sappho’s tall blonde friend was clearly the best. Gabrielle caught Xena leaning forward with an intense gleam in her eye.
After a while, the poet and the tall blonde came out of the ocean, each bronzed and radiant from the sun and the exercise. They sat near Xena and Gabrielle.
"Can I look at this thingie?" Xena asked Sappho.
Sappho handed the board to Xena.
"So, what’s this called?" Gabrielle asked.
"Atthis discovered it," Sappho answered, gesturing to the tall blonde who simply shrugged. "We call it wave riding." The tall wave rider smiled shyly when Sappho looked at her with affection.
"It’s amazing to watch. What’s it feel like?" Gabrielle asked.
"It feels like poetry," Sappho grinned. "Like the ocean’s verse. You should try it."
Gabrielle looked skeptical. "You can’t get seasick from doing it, can you?"
"You know if you made this fin longer you would have more maneuverability. You should taper the ends a little more, here and here." Xena handed the board back to its owner.
Sappho was bright eyed, eager at the idea of bettering her board. "Can you make one for me?"
Atthis gave Xena a once over.
Xena shrugged. "Sure, I think I can do something with this." The poet handed the warrior the board again and she turned it over a few times in her hands.
Sappho studied the dark woman. "I don’t think we’ve been properly introduced. I’m Sappho and this is Atthis."
"Xena, and this is—"
"Yes, Gabrielle," Sappho smiled at the young blonde.
Gabrielle smiled and gave Xena a haughty look. For once, it was she who was recognized before Xena, and by someone as famous as the great poet Sappho.
Sappho regarded the warrior’s attire and gave Atthis a look. The tall wave rider ran up the cliffs to where the housing was located.
"Since you've been kind enough to better my board," Sappho said to Xena. "And you have been kind enough to praise my humble verse," she directed to Gabrielle, before speaking to them both, "I hope you will do me the honor of being my guests for dinner?"
"That would be an honor," Gabrielle said warmly, answering for them both.
"Do you need a place to stay?" The poet inquired.
"We’re just passing through." Xena gave Gabrielle a look meant to discourage the bard.
"Well, should it please you, we have an extra cottage, small but private, for as long as you are ‘passing through’."
Gabrielle ignored Xena’s firm gaze. "We’d be honored to accept your hospitality. Wouldn’t we, Xena?"
"Sure," said the warrior through her teeth.
Sappho stood and shrugged on her fine linen, prompting Gabrielle to look at the ocean. "Atthis will return and show you to the cottage."
After the poet was out of earshot, Xena turned to Gabrielle. "What did you do that for? Now we’ll have to spend all our time with them."
"What’s wrong with that? A little poetry, music, some wine. Good food that I don’t have to clean or cook for a change. How much better can it get?"
Gabrielle softened. "What’s bothering you about this, Xena?"
Xena saw the thoughtful look Gabrielle gave her, which made her more considerate in return. "Nothing. You’ll enjoy it, won’t you?"
"Well, I do love her writing. It’s sort of... I don’t know... nice, to be around another writer."
Xena smiled weakly but it had more heart in it than Gabrielle had seen in a long time. "Then, we’ll stay." She looked down at the wave riding board in her hand, tongue thrust to the corner of he mouth. "Now, to get to work."
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