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A Musing Bard

by Verrath

It was so frustrating!

Gabrielle was sitting back against a log, staring at a blank scroll. She'd been doing this for most of the morning, ever since Xena had left for the smithy in the village to get Argo shoed. With their stores depleted and their purses all but empty, they had been forced to choose between a decently shod horse and a warm bed in an inn. At least the day was sunny and dry. Rain did terrible things to her scrolls. No matter how tightly you thought you had packed them, there always seemed to be a spot where the water got in.

The bard sighed. It was always like this. Here Xena was gone, giving her all the time in the world to catch up on her writing - there were plenty of stories to tell, after all - and no words came. Of course, had they been on the move, where she could not readily unpack her ink and quill, and would have risked the warrior's ire if she called for a stop, she would have been bursting with ideas.

This was exactly what had been happening yesterday. All day long, scenes had played out before her mind's eye, words had formed, taunting her. By the time they had set up camp and relaxed by the fire, with Xena sharpening her sword as usual, and Gabrielle finishing the last of dinner, by that time most of these wonderful images were gone. One, just one meager paragraph had actually made it on papyrus!

Thus this day of rest, with Xena away on business, was heaven-sent. The bard was determined to remember every last scene she had thought up the day before, and put it down in words that would make it come alive to those reading it years and years hence. She was a bard, after all.

It was a matter of profession.

A matter of pride.

She closed her eyes for a moment, willing the images to flood back into her head.

Nothing came.

"Come on, inspire me," she mumbled to nobody in particular.

She tapped the end of her quill to her lips, pondering. Then her face lit up suddenly, and she quickly dipped the pen into the ink.

Sticking the tip of her tongue out in concentration, the bard finally started scribbling.

"... And it happened one fine day that the beautiful, valiant and mighty Warrior Princess and her ever faithful, spirited bard were headed through a country torn by the never-ending ravages of a fierce and merciless war..."

"Ts, ts. You should go easier on your adjectives, dear."

Gabrielle almost jumped out of her skin when a woman suddenly appeared beside her. She hadn't heard her approach at all. The stranger was dressed in a cream-colored silk robe, and carried a rolled up parchment scroll under one arm. Her dark hair was tied back into a bun, giving her finely crafted face a somewhat severe look. A curious device made of some odd, rigid material, rested on her nose.

"Who...?" the bard began.

"What are you talking about?" someone behind the bard said.

The young woman whirled to find the source of this new voice. Behind her, a second woman stood, apparently having materialized out of thin air, much like the first one. This one was garbed in light blue and carrying a wax tablet. Her blonde hair flowed in luxurious tresses around her shoulders. It was hard to put an age to either of the two.

"I think it's beautiful. It flows nicely," the newcomer continued.

"Well, it would be, to you," retorted the first.

"Excuse me..." said Gabrielle. "Who are you? And where did you come from?"

Both women turned to face her, looking at her as if she had just asked if the sky was blue.

"Where did we come from?" asked the first. "Well, you called us. I'm Clio."

"I'm Calliope," said the other. We're the..."

"... the Muses of history and epic poetry. Wow," Gabrielle finished, dumbfounded. "You mean, I just said, 'inspire me', and here you are?"

"That's right," Calliope agreed. "Now, if you'd just finish that paragraph..."

Clio just sniffed, and got a baleful glare from her sister muse.

"Uh, of course," A little flustered, Gabrielle continued writing, casting occasional incredulous glances at the two Muses.

To her amazement, words fairly flew from her quill. In no time at all, she had woven a tale of valiant battle, of noble warriors and dark villains. Of course, in the end the Warrior Princess and her bard had been victorious, vanquishing the sinister forces of an evil and merciless warlord.

When she had finished, Calliope smiled approvingly. "Very nice, child. I can see the story unfold as you tell it."

The bard beamed at the praise, the more so because of who had given it. The Muse of Poetry herself!!!

Clio, however, grunted in disapproval. "This wasn't how it happened at all," she griped.

"Why, what do you mean?" asked Gabrielle.

"Well, for one thing, Xena did not 'leap up onto the tree branch five paces above in one powerful somersault'. That's perfectly ridiculous! No human being can jump that high."

"Xena is stronger than any other human being I know," Gabrielle said a touch defensively.

"Oh, no doubt about that. But we both know that the branch was only three paces high, and she pulled herself up laboriously after jumping up on one of the lower branches." She looked at Gabrielle sternly. "Don't we, bard?"

The bard in question blushed faintly. "I guess I... improvised a little," she admitted sheepishly.

"And what about the scene where she vaulted over the group of soldiers, and kicked each of them in the face as she passed?"

"Well, she did vault over them," Gabrielle said with the hint of a sullen glower.

"Yes, she did, but contrary to your account," and here she sniffed disdainfully, "she used your staff for a pole, and she did three, I say three, jumping kicks after she landed, to deliver those blows to the soldiers' faces. I'll grant you she's pretty amazing where her battle skills are concerned - and that's not all, judging from your scrolls..." Here, Gabrielle turned a violent shade of red, for some reason, which the Muse seemed not to notice. "She already is fairly incredible, even without your... improvising. You should tell it like it is. That's what history is all about. No embellishing, no fancy words."

"But that would be boring!" the bard blurted. "Who would want to read about Xena heaving herself up a tree, or her leathers ripping in mid-jump..." She clapped her hand over her mouth.

Clio raised an eyebrow. "You don't say!"

Calliope's lips quirked.

"Well," Gabrielle said, grinning with the memory, "it would have made for great comedy, but she never even turned a hair. It didn't make any difference in the fight, so I just ignored it in my writing. She can be pretty frustrating, sometimes..." She looked wistful. Then she grinned again. "I did have a fun time teasing her when she stitched it up, though. I loved it when she got all grumpy trying not to admit how funny she really thought the whole thing was."

"Yes, Yes, quite. Anyway, now rewrite that, and stay a little closer to the truth."

"Hold it, hold it!" Calliope broke in. "I don't see why she should change this. It's a good, strong tale. And she did get the basics right. Xena did win that particular battle, and that's what will be important to historians years and years hence. The details don't count for that much. But it does read so much nicer if you add some dramatics. Poetic License, Clio, that's the thing! But you wouldn't know about that."

"Well, if I was a historian, I wouldn't trust an account where the antagonists performed all these impossible feats," Clio said stiffly, adjusting the curious device on her nose.

While the sisters argued, Gabrielle had a chance to get a closer look at the thing. It consisted of two slender circles over the eyes, held together by a thin strip that ran across the bridge of her nose, and kept in place by two long extensions that were hooked behind the ears.

The circles held some hard, translucent substance, that somehow seemed to make Clio's eyes look smaller than they actually were. After a few moments, Gabrielle caught on. This thing must be helping the Muse see better! How clever!

"What do you call that thing?" Gabrielle asked, her curiosity aroused.

Clio did a double take, and hastily removed the device. She tucked it into an obscure fold of her dress. "That hasn't been invented yet. So you'd better forget you ever saw this! But we are digressing. I was saying...?"

"Oh, don't worry, you were just being your usual, stuck-up self," Calliope muttered.

Clio ignored her sister's snide remark, and turned to the bard again. She leaned over in order to reread the young woman's story. "Xena burst on the scene in a blaze of glory!" She shook her head. "Let's hope no-one ever takes that literally... Listen, child. You really do need to pick your words more carefully. Otherwise your flowery speech is going to get you into serious trouble one of these days."

"Thus speaketh one who knoweth past, present and future," Calliope taunted. "Really, Clio, sometimes you're so stiff, I wonder if you're really my sister at all. Let the girl have some fun. She's a poet, not a scholar."

"Wait, wait!" Gabrielle piped in. "You mean you really do know the future?"

"Of course I do," said Clio. "I'm the Muse of History."

"Um, could I-?" the bard began carefully.

"No," Clio said diffidently.

"Come on, I just have this one little-"

"No!" The Muse of History looked dangerously close to stamping her foot. Little flashes of lightning seemed to be coming from her head.

"Okay," mumbled Gabrielle. "I was just wondering."

"Say, bard," Calliope said. She had strolled over to the packs and saddlebags, and was holding one of Gabrielle's scrolls in her hands. This one was stained and crinkled, as if it had been handled a lot. "Do you let the warrior read all of your writing?" She had a slightly amused look on her face.

Mortified, Gabrielle leaped to her feet and hurried over to snatch the scroll out of the Muse's hands, but tall Calliope just raised it high over her head, out of the bard's reach, grinning much in the way a cat will grin at a trapped mouse.

Gabrielle jumped up to grab the scroll. "Gimme that," she said angrily. The red on her face had spread all the way behind her ears and down her neck. Calliope nimbly avoided the shorter woman's efforts, her grin growing broader.

Fearing that her prank might have gone a little too far, the Muse finally relented, although her lips were still twitching suspiciously. "Relax," she said soothingly as she handed the scroll back to a very upset bard, who quickly put it into its original hiding place, way down deep in her pack.

Gabrielle's face was on fire. She had never meant or anyone to see this...

"What are you doing reading other people's private stuff?" she flared.

Calliope's mouth quirked. "Dear, I saw you write the thing. I'm a Muse, remember? And I happen to find it very... stimulating. Though I will not claim responsibility for it - I wasn't the one who inspired you for this."

"You were not? Then who...?"

"Did somebody summon me?" a dulcet voice said from behind some bushes.

The Muse of History groaned and buried her face in her hands.

"Aphrodite?" Gabrielle ventured a guess.

"Ah, no," Calliope said. "As you can easily see by Clio's reaction here, it's not the Goddess of Love. It's just our wayward sister. Come and show yourself, Erato!"

The woman that stepped out of hiding a moment later was not what Gabrielle had expected in the Muse of Erotic Poetry. She was a plump woman of short build, with copper hair that was graying at the temples. Her clothes - what there was of them, a short skirt and a top that left her belly bare - matched the intense green of her eyes. Cheeks flabby, bulbous nose, she looked way past her prime.

And yet, there was something about her that you couldn't help but find alluring. The skimpy dress did not look out of place at all - in fact, anything else would have. And those eyes... Gabrielle found herself wanting to write some more on that secret scroll. In fact, she also found herself wanting to... would that blush ever leave her face again?

She could hear Calliope chuckle. "She does have that effect," she said, a trifle enviously. "Now, if she weren't so full of herself, I might actually be willing to let her show me how she does that." There was a hint of competition in Calliope's voice when she said it, but it was easy to see that she was fond of her sister.

The Muse of History was another matter. "Also, she tends to hear a summons when she is least wanted," she grated.

"Ah, but, sis, you know I can't be summoned by mere words. It has to come from the heart."

Clio snorted. "I'd say somewhere lower than that," she muttered acidly.

Erato ignored the comment. "And boy, was this ever a summons," she leered. "You've got it bad, my dear, don't you?" she asked the bard.

"I... uh..."

"I know you do. The scrolls that you don't want anyone to see are by far the best you've written. And I'm not saying this to slight my sisters."

"Sure you aren't," Clio muttered dryly.

Gabrielle swallowed hard. "Could we just not discuss this?"

"You're so right, dear," Calliope said. "After all, we're here to inspire you, right? You must excuse my sisters - they do bicker so much."

She was rewarded by identical stares from her sisters, that put more family resemblance into their faces than anything else ever would.

"Yes, well," Calliope cleared her throat. "Why don't we get to work, sisters? I'd say-"

"Hold that thought," Gabrielle said suddenly, "I just had the greatest idea..."

The bard almost bowled over the ink jar in her haste to dip the quill into it. She dropped into a sitting position still fumbling with her scrolls, and before she had quite settled down, the first words had been scribbled. She could barely hear her own thoughts, her heart was thumping so wildly. She had thought of this perfect story premise! She must write it down this instant, or her head would burst.

The three Muses looked on, be-mused, as the bard scrawled frantically. She wrote and wrote and wrote, filling page after page with writing untidy, barely even legible in her haste to put it all in words.

Time passed. Beads of sweat appeared on her face, her breathing grew strained, her expression harrowed.

The Muses were smiling on her.

And then...

"Ares' boots!" (She had, in fact, said something other than 'boots', drawing a startled gasp and making three Muse jaws drop)

Without a second glance, she discarded the scroll she was working on and started on a fresh one, the expression on her face growing more urgent.

Erato smiled a knowing little smile.

A while later, that scroll, too, was discarded, and another new one started in much the same fashion.

Clio looked smug.

When the bard paused in her writing to go back to her second scroll, she made an impatient sound and raised her head to give the three sisters a dark look.

"This won't work," she said angrily. "If all of you get into my mind at once, how am I supposed to write a coherent story here? Every time I'm in the middle of a paragraph, this completely unrelated thought pops into my head, and I have no choice but to stop what I'm writing and start something fresh, or my mind will blow. Don't you realize I can't work this way? Do you have any idea what kind of thought just came to me? I just found myself thinking about the pet hamster Xena once told me about, and trying to figure out how that would make a story."

All three muses gaped at the young woman, momentarily speechless in the face of this tirade.

"Well? Are we gonna do this one at a time now?" the irate bard demanded. "Or maybe you'll find it in you to agree on one storyline?"

Looks passed back and forth between the three sisters, until finally they appeared to agree on something. Calliope spoke.

"We're sorry, child, but a Muse will not be commanded, or forced into anything. I'm afraid we will have to leave you."

And with that, all three of them vanished. Gabrielle thought she had seen Erato give her an apologetic look. Not that it did her much good. Her head suddenly felt almost painfully empty.

"Bummer," she muttered, and looked at the three half-written scrolls at her feet. She contemplated throwing them into the fire, and found there was no campfire left to throw them into. The sun had traveled most of its celestial arc. She had not realized how much time had passed! Xena should be home soon. A pleasant warmth spread through her body and gathered into a little ball to punch her gently in the stomach at the thought.

She shook herself to clear away the less than virtuous thoughts that had been assaulting her more and more lately, whenever she pictured the athletic figure of her friend. For Zeus' sake, she was blushing again!

She crouched down to get the fire going again, and found herself looking at a set of chubby, bare legs right in front of her.

"Ah," Erato said theatrically, "I can't resist your summons, it's too strong."

Gabrielle wasn't sure whether to be pleased, or uneasy, that this particular Muse had chosen to return. The prickling in her gut that was slowly traveling downward to settle between her legs made her decide on "uneasy". Definitely uneasy!

She got to her feet, and wiped her hands on her skirt. "Well, umm..."

Erato's gaze went to the discarded scrolls. "You weren't seriously thinking about chucking those, were you, hon?"

The bard sighed. "Well, what would I want with them? I insulted you and your sisters, and they left. Without inspiration, how will I finish any of them? All they could do is to remind me-"

"Don't sweat it, kiddo, Cal and Cli will be moping for a bit, but they'll be back. You're too fine a bard for them to abandon you. Just tuck them in with your," and here she waggled her eyebrows and winked, "other scrolls, and see what's going to happen."

"Oh, I might as well," the bard murmured, and complied.

"Now, about this thing you have for the warrior..."

Gabrielle groaned softly. "Do we have to talk about that? I really don't-"

"Nonsense! You do, and you know it. Have you ever considered the fact that she might feel the same about you?"

With a little sigh, the bard gave in. "Xena? Why should she? I'm just a tagalong. I don't even think she knows I'm grown up, most of the time."

Erato smirked. "Ah, you have no idea."

Gabrielle stared at the Muse. "What are you saying?"

The plump woman chuckled softly. Her cheeks quivered with mirth. "I am saying, my dear bard, that if that warrior wasn't such a complete loss when it comes to forming sentences that have more than one or two words in them, the poems she wrote for you might have made that cute little blush of yours rather less attractive."

"She did what??"

"You heard me."

After having finally had her face return to its normal color, Gabrielle found her cheeks heating up again. This Muse was one uncomfortable person to talk with! And that smirk on her face really was quite insufferable. But could it be true what she said...? Poems? Xena? Unthinkable. Fish did not fly, and warriors didn't write poems.

"I know what you're thinking. And yes, I have visited her."

"You mean you... she really...?" Gabrielle was aghast.

"I'm not supposed to talk about this, you know," the Muse said.

"Why is it that you muses always have to tease people?" the bard said caustically. "Is it that you get some sort of evil pleasure out of seeing people squirm?"

Erato chuckled. "You got it, babe. It's not like you bardly types are any better, you know. Might I remind you of all the unfinished scrolls you let Xena read? And your gleeful giggle when she gets all caught up in it, and then finds that it breaks off just when things get interesting?"

"Well, she's not exactly a big reader, you know. I have to keep her on her toes, or she won't read my stuff at all." Gabrielle had the grace to look embarrassed.

"Uh huh," Erato said, grinning broadly. "Well, I hope you are aware of the power your stories are having. I bet if your warrior were to read the right story at the right time..." Her grin grew slightly wicked as she winked at the bard.

Slowly, the bard's grin matched that of the muse. "You mean...?


"But do you think it will work?"

"Well, knowing the future isn't my job, but I'd sure say it was worth a try. Here, you may want to take a sip of this." She handed the bard a goblet filled with some fragrant liquid. "It will get your juices going. Uh, your creative juices, of course." There was that confounded smirk again!

Gabrielle took a deep breath, looked at the muse, and accepted the goblet. "Okay then." She took a sip, tasted it for a moment, and started giggling. "This could actually be fun. But it's sooo silly."

Erato was still smirking.


Behind the bushes a few paces away, Calliope and Clio watched as the bard, giggling girlishly to herself all the while, wrote on her last scroll for that day, with a silently a-mused Erato looking on.

They shook their heads sadly as Gabrielle's sanity seemed to slip from her. Some people just did not take very well to being over-stimulated by the muses.

When night started to fall, the scroll lay forgotten by the bard's side, while Gabrielle sat staring into the still-glowing embers of the fire, alternately furrowing her brow and exploding into hysterical laughter.

At last, all three muses left her once more, wondering if their inspiration might have gone too far this time. And two of them would have given their right arm to know what was on that scroll! The third just wore a thoughtful little smile and would not talk.


By the time the Muse of Erotic Poetry left the bard to her own devices, Gabrielle was beyond caring. Her mind completely boggled by the myriad of conflicting impulses sent her way by a bunch of overzealous muses, she was on the point of losing it completely.

She barely remembered what she had written on that scroll. Besides, it would have embarrassed her beyond words had she given it any more thought, and had she not been under the influence of whatever heady stuff Erato had given her to drink. As it was, she just felt... wonderful.

Besides, she was just dying to see the look on Xena's face! The scroll was not very long; she could have written as much in half an hour, but it packed quite a punch. She giggled again.


The day had not gone exactly well for the Warrior Princess.

Firstly, used to seeing eyes go wide with fear and mothers calling their children to them upon recognizing her, or else have people stare in wide-eyed wonder at the valiant hero from the stories, the complete and utter oblivion to her presence here was faintly annoying. Not that she would ever have admitted it. She did not like all the attention she had been getting lately anyway. Not one bit.

Secondly, that idiot of a smith had tried selling her the lousiest quality of horseshoes she had seen in a long time. The man had no idea how close he had come to having the bellows rammed up his nose. But, in the end he'd finally showed her the rest of his stock and let her have her pick. And then he'd had the nerve to haggle with her about the price!

Stale food and lukewarm ale in the Tavern, someone calling her "sweetie", and getting a broken nose in thanks. A broken down carriage on the way back, with her heaving and straining to get a wheel back into place. The driver taking off in a hurry after learning her name, without a word of thanks. Enough said.

Thus, when the weary warrior came back that night and found Gabrielle basically sitting there the way she had left her this morning, bubbling with silent mirth, she was not amused. Her steely gaze took in the untidy camp site, the dead fire, the remains of breakfast, and Gabrielle's crumpled blankets. Xena's own, of course, were neatly rolled up and stacked by those pieces of gear that she had not needed today.

"What in Tartarus is going on here, Gabrielle?" she snapped.

"Oh, you're back," the bard said brightly. "Did you have a good day?"

"No." Grumbling wordlessly, she set about removing Argo's bridle.

"Oh," said Gabrielle, and chuckled.

Xena's head whipped around, and she shot a dark glare at her friend.

The bard's face went serious as she returned the warrior's stare. But only for a moment, then she snorted and clapped her hand over her mouth.

Fuming, Xena turned back to her mare, yanked off the saddle and tossed it to the ground. Argo snorted and swished her tail in protest. "Sorry, girl," the warrior muttered without much sincerity.

Gabrielle snorted again, then she suddenly found an intensely interesting spot on her skirt that needed immediate contemplation.

After she had given the mare a rather too brisk rub, without turning or speaking, Xena rounded on the bard. "Ares boots, what are you giggling about?"

"Ah, nothing, Xena. I'm sorry." Gabrielle's voice sounded a little strained, and she took care not to look up at her friend. Her mouth twitched.

"Uh-huh," the warrior grunted, watching the bard's features as the smaller woman fought to bring them under control, with dubious success.

Xena stood there, one hand on her hip, the other rubbing her chin, as she tried to make sense of the jumble of emotions that was assaulting her in the face of Gabrielle's strangely irrational behavior. Hiding her inner struggle behind a wry twist of her face, she tapped her foot lightly, waiting for answers to her unspoken questions.

This girl - this woman had turned her world upside down with a smile and a few kind words. The warrior had no illusions about it - she had fallen for the bard right from the start.

And now, the small woman's inexplicable mirth should have irritated her even more, yet she found the day's frustrations slip away from her, to be replaced by a welcome sense of calm.

However, it would never do to let that show! She scowled.

Gabrielle cleared her throat, seeming suddenly bashful. Then she blinked, looked over at a spot somewhere to the left. Her breath caught, and she made shushing gestures with both arms.

Xena gaped. There was nothing there. She watched, increasingly flabbergasted, as the bard held an inaudible conversation with something invisible standing somewhere at the edge of their camp. More and more it became clear to her that her little friend must not be shooting from all quivers, as it were.

"Gabrielle?" she asked cautiously.

The bard jumped, and blushed a rather fetching shade of red. Another look to the side, and she cleared her throat, approaching the warrior shyly. Then something very strange happened. When Gabrielle had almost reached the warrior, she somehow tripped - the ground was even, and her skirt too short to hinder her walking - and stumbled forward into the warrior, who caught her deftly in her arms. Xena could have sworn Gabrielle had been shoved from behind. But there was nobody there.

But, now that she had the bard in her arms, she did not question the circumstances that had put her there.

Not trusting herself to speak, she just held her there, waiting to see what she would do.

"I... I'm sorry, I... tripped," Gabrielle said stupidly. However, she made no move to disentangle herself from the warrior's arms.

Xena thought she heard a soft chuckle somewhere near the trees, but she could detect nobody. Somehow, her warrior instincts refused to kick in. She gave a mental shrug and focused her attention once more on the armful of bard before her, grinning crookedly.

"So I gathered," she said dryly, squeezing a little to emphasize her words. Gabrielle giggled nervously.

"Ah, well, I...", the bard stammered, and fell silent, breathless, when she gazed upon the sea of blue that was the warrior's eyes resting on her.

"What is it, Gabrielle?"

"Huh?" Again, that flick of her eyes over to the edge of the trees, before the bard answered slowly. "Ah, Xena, I want to show you something..."

The warrior cocked an eyebrow.

"It's an... um... scroll," Gabrielle mumbled.

"Uh-huh." Holding the bard's gaze, Xena made no move to release her hold. She could feel her blood pumping at her throat, for some reason.

"But I really don't feel like reading right now, Gabrielle. I've had a lousy day." Xena let her voice soften a little. "I'd much rather submit myself to one of your infamous back rubs."

"Ah... no."

Taken aback, the warrior released her hold.



"Well, that's a first."


And in the silence that followed, the only sound that could be heard was an a-mused bard's muted giggle, as she held out the scroll to Xena.

Xena groaned softly.

"All right, all right." She accepted the scroll and glanced over it. Then she looked at the bard, cocking an eyebrow. Gabrielle looked back at her, all wide-eyed innocence.

"That's it? Half a page? Don't tell me it took you all day to write this! For Zeus' sake, you didn't even do the dishes!"


The End? What do you think? <EG>


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