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Learning to Sing in Sparta

by Lisa Grandstaff


The characters of Xena: Warrior Princess, Gabrielle, Argo, Perdicas, Herodotus, Senticles and any other characters who have appeared in the syndicated series Xena: Warrior Princess, along with the backstory, are the sole copyright of MCA/Universal Television and Renaissance Pictures. No copyright infringement is intended by writing this “fan fiction” story. The characters of Melodion, Stephon, Aurianna, and Solemnaestra, as well as the story idea and the story itself are the sole property of myself, Lisa Grandstaff/WarriorScholar. This story cannot be sold or used for profit in any way. Copies of this story may be made for the reader’s own use only and must include all disclaimers and copyright notices.

In addition: The story contains some scenes of violence, (although not “graphic” in nature) so be forewarned if you don’t care for it. This is an adventure story which follows the general trend of the series; in other words, it can be considered mildly alt., romantic friendship, or nothing at all if you don’t see anything in the passages contained herein. The events that take place in this story follow on the heels of the episode “Crusader.” Thank You.

Part I Part II Part III


The two women looked at each other across the table, but said nothing. They knew the man was looking at them far more closely than he should. Would he be trouble? Sometimes these types didn’t even have to be drunk; that sort caused more problems than any woman needed.

This kind of thing was the main reason they usually didn’t stop in taverns and other establishments, unless in well-known territory. The two had been on the road for several weeks non-stop, however, and one was still nursing a tooth ache. Eating dried meats and fruits with a sore jaw got to be quite a chore, so soft, warm food developed an even greater appeal. Her companion, however, never needed any special reason to be invited for a supper indoors.

The food still hadn’t arrived at the table, so both had taken the opportunity to examine the man discretely.

“I like his clothes; they’re very...shall I say, romantic, in a stylish kind of way...”

“Gabrielle, his clothes border on outlandish. I’d guess he’s some sort of traveling entertainer, but the look in his eyes is not what I’m used to seeing from that type.”

Gabrielle shifted her chair slightly to the side, and looked back at Xena. “I think we should ask him over. I know he could be trouble, but he looks interesting. He’s not anything you can’t handle, right?”

Xena shook her head. “You know that’s not my objection. I just wanted to sit here in peace, and have a good meal, without any disruptions. Just let him be, until we’ve eaten.”

Gabrielle watched Xena’s hand unconsciously move toward her jaw again, slowly massaging the right side of her face with her fingers. Xena caught Gabrielle’s gaze, and quickly put her hand back on the table.

“I know one thing. I’m going straight to the apothecary, after we’re done eating. You can’t convince me any longer that your jaw is going to heal naturally.”

“Fine. I’ve got to go over to the armorer. I need more supplies for my repair kit. I think Argo could use a once-over from the local horse doctor, too. She’s been a little off her feed since those Scythians captured her.”

A young woman with healthy cheeks approached the table, carrying a tray laden with steaming food. Both women leaned back in their chairs, relaxing in anticipation of the supper they had ordered. Gabrielle had a small roasted bird, stuffed plumply with figs, olives, and crusty bread cubes placed before her. This was followed by a dish of fruited sauce, a platter of vegetables, and a bowl of piping hot eggplant slices. The young woman set a large bowl in front of Xena, filled with chunks of vegetables, shrimp, and fragrant broth. Next to the bowl, she placed a small basket of hot, knot-shaped rolls.

“This is the softest roll we make here. I hope you like them. If you need anything else, please ask. I’ll check back with you later. Enjoy!” The girl backed away slowly, her eyes locked on Xena, until she heard her father’s voice call out to her. She turned and scampered off towards the kitchen.

“Is it my imagination, or do I have some kind of glowing aura around me, attracting the attention of these people?” Xena asked sarcastically.

Gabrielle nodded, her mouth already full, and held up a finger. Xena began tearing a roll in half; her friend finished her chewing.

“Xena, I know, and you know, we tend to attract attention anytime we go somewhere new. C’mon, two women, armed, and traveling without a man or child? That is strange... they’re either wondering who we are, or if you’re really HER.” A small smile slid onto Gabrielle’s face, and she continued. “You know, that girl probably is feeling a little like I first did, when you came to Poteidaia. You’re someone who isn’t a farm wife, a village elder, a healer, a priestess... you’re opening her eyes to something completely new, places she can go....” she trailed off, and her smile slowly dissolved. She looked away, and resumed eating.

Xena picked up her spoon, noticing Gabrielle’s expression change. Suddenly, her food didn’t seem so appealing, after all, and she began to slide the bowl to the side, then stopped.

No! she thought. I’m only trying to push away the truth. I feel so... helpless! I can’t stand seeing her like this. I want to see her smile without thinking about it first, or wiping it away so fast when it does happen. Her smile....

“Xena?” Gabrielle interrupted. “What is it? Too hot? Your tooth? C’mon, you were really, really hungry, remember?”

“Oh, I... Never mind, I was just thinking....” she let the words trail off into silence. Gabrielle shrugged and turned back to her own plate, without prompting Xena to finish her thoughts. Xena frowned, disappointed, then began her meal.

“Renesha, can you please bring me some of that good tea your father promised us?” Gabrielle asked sweetly. Renesha glanced at Xena, and looked at her questioningly.

“Yes, I’ll have some, too. And one more thing...”

“What, what is it? What can I get you?” the girl asked eagerly.

“Please ask the flashy gentleman over there to join us, would you?” Xena turned away, and looked at Gabrielle. The younger woman’s face was a study in careful control, neither smiling nor frowning, but clearly anticipating the encounter to come.

As Gabrielle’s eyes rose to meet the stranger’s, Xena pushed her chair back and assumed a nonchalant position.

“What do you want with us?” she asked, without waiting for any of the normal pleasantries.

“Ladies, please allow me to introduce myself, since I already know who you two are. I am Melodion, Master Bard of the Peloponnesian Performing Guild.” With an artful flourish, he swept an empty chair back, and sat quickly. “I do not wish to attract undue attention to us, so if you don’t mind....”

“We asked you to join us, didn’t we?” Xena asked sharply. “Now, answer my first question.”

“Why, of course! I needed to find the great Warrior Princess and the traveling bard who is her companion. Er...” he cleared his throat. “Actually, I needed to speak to the bard, but I had to find you, first, you see...”

“Why do you need to speak to me?” Gabrielle asked. All pretense of control had fallen away, victim of her curiosity. “Are you a musician? A story-teller? A minstrel?” she smiled winningly at Melodion. “Because if you’re trying not to attract attention to us...” she glanced at his garments.

Melodion smiled. “Well, next to my clothing, I meant. Everyone here knows of me. That is, except for you two.”

Xena’s patience was nearing its end. “Okay, Melodion, enough of the chit-chat. What is it you want with Gabrielle? You didn’t watch us the entire time we’ve been here, just to make small talk when your chance came.”

Gabrielle frowned. “It’s all right, Xena, I can deal with this. Please.”

Xena waved her hand toward Melodion. “Sorry.”

“Gabrielle, of Poteidaia? I have a message from a cousin of yours, Aurianna, wife of Klianthes, of Sparta. She needs your help.” Melodion pressed on, before he could be sidetracked by any further questions. “She has been put under house arrest for ‘inappropriate behavior.’ Solemnaestra has been more than happy to be put in charge of”

Gabrielle broke in. “Is she okay? And what did she do that was so improper?”

Xena, in spite of her aching tooth, was becoming interested. She spoke up.

“Sparta, you say? The possibilities are endless, if you’re a woman in that society. Gabrielle, I didn’t know you had a cousin in Sparta. May the gods look down on her in mercy, because she’ll need it, there, if she’s in trouble for ‘improper behavior’.”

While Melodion made arrangements for traveling, the two women gathered their belongings, paid for their meals, and canceled the room they had arranged to sleep in for that night. Xena insisted on speaking to the local horse doctor, and Gabrielle did not try to slow her down. By the time Xena had turned the corner by the fish-monger’s stall, Gabrielle was halfway to the local apothecary’s hut.

Within forty minutes, all three were on the road, heading southward from the little town. “So, why must we hurry, if Aurianna is in no immediate danger?” Xena asked. “I’m not crazy about traveling in Peloponnesia after dark, if we don’t have to.”

“We weren’t even there long enough for me to catch the name of the place.” Gabrielle added. “But I’m not complaining! In fact, I can’t go fast enough. I haven’t seen Aurianna since she left Poteidaia, two years before I did.”

Melodion grinned expansively, his teeth and eyes catching the last of the sun’s setting rays. “We needed to leave so that we could catch up with my companions. We’re on our way back to Sparta for the season, having made a full circuit of the outlying towns. I didn’t want to delay the group, and I assumed you might be in something of a hurry, once I explained the situation to you. It won’t take long, maybe another hour at most. By full dark, we will have found our camp. I’m going to ride ahead, so that they may prepare for you both.” He tipped his colorful cap, then spurred his horse forward.

The two women watched the outline of the mounted rider blend into the brightly hued horizon to their right, then he passed wholly out of sight, around a bend in the road. They traveled in silence a while, each thinking her own thoughts. Xena, alternating between concern for the developing “situation” and for Gabrielle, kept completely silent. Normally, she’d discuss a few of her reservations with her partner, but now, unsure of Gabrielle’s mood, she’d decided against it. Better to let Gabrielle dictate the flow of conversation tonight.

“Let me tell you about Aurianna.” Gabrielle said suddenly.

Xena smiled in the settling darkness, enjoying the feeling that came with Gabrielle’s storytelling.

“Please do.”

“Aurianna fell in love with a Spartan lad, when he came with his mother to Poteidaia. His father had been killed accidentally, in a training drill, so his wife had been allowed one visit with relatives. Solemnaestra, the wife, spent a week in the village inn, and she and her children, Klianthes, and Kytella, created quite a stir with their Spartan style.” Gabrielle laughed lightly in remembrance, then continued. “Yes, indeed, their manner was so dignified and aloof, as though they were doing all of Poteidaia a favor by visiting us. The baker and his wife were so puffed up about his sister from Sparta, that we all had a great time for weeks after she left, teasing him about ‘The Visit.’”

“Kytella attracted many of Poteidaia’s young men, but made it obvious she had no interest, other than provoking theirs. Klianthes, though...he was different. His eyes didn’t have that cold, brittle look of his sister and mother. And when Aurianna saw his face, and he, hers...well, let’s just say it was instant infatuation. Even though we all knew Aurianna had the cow eyes for Klianthes, she shocked us, or, ah...should I say, shocked the village, when she followed them back to Sparta. I knew she’d do it, so when she told me about her plans, I was excited, even a little envious of her, for her courage and opportunity. I always looked up to Aurianna, like an older sister, and I was proud of her, too. I know I never stopped to think what a rash decision she was making at the time. She was madly in love and determined to go. Quite a heady combination, I have to admit.”

“At any rate, she somehow succeeded in her desire to be with Klianthes, because she sent word back to Poteidaia that she had married him. The village was proud of her, then, by the gods! Local girl goes big time! She landed one of the houses of Peri, yes indeed, not some lowly helot!”

“Within a year or so, we heard, through the baker’s family, that she had borne twins, a boy and a girl. I guess they’d be about five...maybe six. Always, we heard she was doing well. Sometimes she wrote to my aunt and uncle; I’d have to go over and read the letter to them, and promise to answer for them as well. I enjoyed those exchanges. I never got a chance to let her know I left, though. I suppose my mother or father saw to that.” Gabrielle shook her head. “Boy, could I tell her a story or two, now! And I envied her! Why, she’d be shocked to hear some of the things I’ve lived through.”

Gabrielle fell silent, and for several minutes, said nothing. At last, she said “What could she have done? What kind of behavior got her in trouble? Speaking out against the Ephoric council, I wonder?”

“How much do you know of the Ephoric council ?”

“I only know what I’ve read and heard; obviously, since I’ve never been to Sparta, it isn’t first-hand, although everyone in Poteidaia is a little more informed about the place than other villages might expect to be. After all, we have ‘connections.’ “ she said wryly. “Solemnaestra told Aurianna, at some point, that Poteidaia is an ‘acceptable’ village... you know, righteous, conservative... all those things that I didn’t want to be a part of, for the rest of my life. It’s funny, you know, how we get so far from where we started....”

“What do you mean? Do you think Aurianna will disapprove of you? Of the choices you made? You know, traveling with me, for instance?”

“No, that’s not what I meant, but I didn’t really stop to think of that, either. I suppose she might not like it, but since she’s prone to ‘inappropriate behavior’ herself, she’s likely to understand why I chose this lifestyle. If only I could understand some of it better, for myself.”

Xena shook her head in frustration. She knew Gabrielle was struggling with choices and actions of her own, but could offer her no help. Words didn’t seem to do anything but make it worse, at times, and Gabrielle had a much better command of them. If Gabrielle had no way to express what she felt, there wouldn’t be a solution any time soon.

“Next, you’re going to tell me that you’ve been to Sparta, right?” Gabrielle asked. “We’ve never actually talked about it, but judging from your comment back at supper, you know quite a bit about Sparta and how their women are expected to behave. Am I right?”

“Yes, I have been to Sparta. Most of my time there was spent on the outside of it, naturally. My army was never large enough, or strong enough, to mount a serious threat to the Spartan defenses. But we found great entertainment in raiding their military outposts. I, especially, enjoyed letting them know that it was a woman who was responsible for the chronic disruptions to their supply systems and the looting of their perimeter establishments.”

“On a few occasions, I needed to go into the city itself. I simply donned some foolish female garb, and walked about boldly, since none of the city guard had ever been told about the humiliating attacks that a woman had been conducting on their fellows outside the walls. I did finally get caught, though...”

“You did? But, who...?”

“It was a woman! A Spartan lady, no less. She’d heard about me from her husband, I suppose. Such a surprising breach of discipline from him; I’m sure, during one of his conjugal visits, he let it slip-- perhaps he had too much to drink, or he talked in his sleep.... I don’t know! At any rate, she set up such a commotion, that I ended up being temporarily ‘detained’ in some silly holding cell, awaiting an official to come and take his measure of the situation, of my capture. They didn’t know what to do with me. This fine example of Spartan womanhood stayed, though. She felt the need to rant at me about my disgusting, vulgar behavior. My wicked, horrifying, and unfeminine lifestyle curdled her sensibilities, and she was sure it would lead to my immediate, strict punishment.” After a moment, under her breath, she added “I guess she was right, in a strange sort of way.”

“Did she ever say what that punishment was?”

“Oh yes, she was quite graphic in her descriptions of the interrogation, the ‘conditioning’ I would receive, the example that would be made of me to all. Before you get too worried, though, don’t draw any conclusions from this. Aurianna has never conducted any military raids against Spartan defenses! I was scheduled for much more than the usual process. I only hung around that stupid cell to find out anything that I could. Once that nagging fool left, I was able to learn a few more things, but nothing of any use for my army, so I took my leave soon after. When I reached my own camp, we all enjoyed a good laugh at the experience.”

“After a few months, I felt it best to move along. Most of my men didn’t want to go, but I knew, sooner or later, the full brunt of the Spartan army would fall on us. Plus, with the easy pickings we had been getting, I thought my men were in danger of getting soft. Ares knows, we were no match for their discipline and training! I did manage to gain a few recruits for my army; one, a woman. When she came to us, she was disguised as a man.”

“Really?” Gabrielle asked pointedly. “What did you do with her? Did you let her stay?”

“She rode with us for a while. Eventually, she decided on something else, and left.” Xena let the conversation drop into renewed silence, as a faint glow ahead, and smoke rising from a fire alerted her to Melodion’s promised camp site.

“Wait here. I just want to be absolutely sure he is what he says he is, and that his friends are what he claims they are.”

“Fine.” Gabrielle sighed. She knew Xena would have it no other way. She simply waited anxiously for the warrior to return, so that they could settle in for the night. To say she was interested in making the group’s acquaintance was no exaggeration. The sharing of stories, of experiences, of laughter... all those things that had always filled her with immense energy and vitality, were just a few minutes away. She sorely needed some of that magic now.

A light touch on her shoulder startled her. “It’s me. Everything seems to check out. Are you ready?” Xena asked quietly.

“You bet.”

A single cry alerted the group of people around the camp, and soon a genial shout welcomed the women to the circle of light cast from the leaping bonfire. Melodion earned them enough time to unpack their bedrolls and tend to their needs, but couldn’t hold back his curious compatriots much longer. Xena insisted on staying with Argo until the mare had been soothed and cared for. Gabrielle took off for the circle almost immediately, lingering only long enough to see that everything was under control, and that Xena didn’t need her help.

At least thirty men and women of every shape and size were comfortably arranged around the outer fire ring. Some were deeply involved in conversation, a few held hands and smiled, while others deftly cleaned and tuned small instruments. The overall effect of this small crowd was one of warmth, intensity and dedication to their varying occupations. Gabrielle tried to keep a low profile and sneak peeks at the people around her without alarming their curiosity before she could take it all in. Animated discussions of storylines, plot mechanics, and character names swirled about her, amid short bursts of pipes, strings, and laughter. How exciting! To be even peripherally involved with a thriving artistic community was something the young bard had never allowed herself to dwell on. Even their clothing showed a great deal of expressiveness and imagination. Many wore garments she’d never seen before, not even in her greatly widened scope of experience. That it would be considered shocking back in Poteidaia would be an understatement! And here they were only a few days ride from the great walls of Sparta....

“Ah, there you are!”

She looked up to find Melodion standing directly in front of her. A smile turned into a grin at seeing him.

“This is wonderful! I am so impressed by everything I’ve seen and heard. I’d love to get to know everyone and what each of them does. Does that man over there in the...uh, the... never mind...does he do some kind of a dance?”

Melodion took her by the hand and led her to a spot near the fringes of the group, and motioned for her to sit next to him.

“Let me answer all of your questions, my dear. But, please-- one thing... only one question at a time?”

“I promise!”

Xena arrived in time to hear Melodion insisting on disguises for the two newcomers.

“There are far too many eyes upon us, that may indeed know of the Warrior Princess, and her companion.”

Melodion stopped as she sat down beside Gabrielle. He continued “I must take some of the blame, myself, in this matter, since so much can be found in her exploits of great valor, great wit, and uncommon bravery. More than once, I have chanced the wrath of the council by relating thinly guised stories of you, proud warrior.”

Xena had no reaction; she chose merely to sit in total stillness. She was startled when she felt Gabrielle’s hand reach discreetly for hers. At the warm touch, she immediately grasped the offered hand, and held it tight.

“So you’ve told a few stories of Xena, Melodion? Where have you gotten these tales of bravery and compassion?” Gabrielle asked.

“Why, my dear, from you, of course!” he laughed heartily. “Do you think that your own storytelling and scrolls have just been ignored? Certainly, what we tell is a bastardization of what you may have recorded, but some of your stories have spread through other bards...why even some children have known the name ‘Xena’ on their lips. Surely, though your tales speak of the Warrior Princess, and not of yourself, there is a flourishing community of like-minded souls, who always go to great lengths to learn more about one of their own-- if I may use that term with you?”

“By all means. I know that my stories have spread among the common folk, but I never imagined professionals would use them! I must admit, I’m very flattered.”

“Please! When can we read the real scrolls?” a voice cried out from the other side of the circle. A few more voices answered in kind, before Melodion motioned for silence.

He looked around the fire, his gaze eventually coming to rest on Gabrielle. He stood authoritatively. “Friends, listen, you know why I had to find Gabrielle and Xena... we have a mission to accomplish. Perhaps, when everything has come to a positive conclusion, she will have time for sharing!” Hope-filled muttering gently dissipated into the roar of the fire. Melodion resumed. “I say, let our guests rest peacefully tonight, at any rate. Tomorrow, we shall be within sight of the great city, and the next day....” he stopped suddenly, and looked at the two women. “I need to speak with you both, privately.” He turned once more to the circle of people, now slowly standing. “Good Evening, friends!” The crowd knew they had been dismissed.

Melodion followed Xena and Gabrielle to where they had lain their belongings. Argo snorted at their arrival. As Xena went to the mare, Melodion grabbed Gabrielle’s arm carefully.

“I did not lie to you, back there. You have been quite an inspiration to many of us. We would cherish sharing with you, but helping Aurianna is far more important right now.”

Gabrielle looked up at him, flushed with his praise, but harboring a justified curiosity nonetheless.

“Why is Aurianna so important to you? She’s my cousin, not yours, right?”

“Yes, you are correct....”

“Then answer her question.” Xena demanded roughly.

Melodion, startled, saw Xena’s gaze on his hand around Gabrielle’s wrist. He dropped it immediately. “I’m sorry,” he said, gaining his composure rapidly “I never heard you approach.” Xena continued to stare at him, so he added “I needed to tell you both that Aurianna is... she’s a member of our ‘society’... the Ring of Brass.” Before Gabrielle could get the question out, he added “...our underground, so to speak.”

Gabrielle wiggled into a more comfortable position on her bedroll. Momentarily, the thought crossed her mind to go to Xena, but she quickly quashed it. It was so hard to get to sleep with her thoughts in conflict.

I’ve got to deal with this myself! I’ve got to be clear-headed. I’m sick of being so reliant on her! I know she doesn’t even notice it, but I do. How can I demonstrate to her my own independence, without hurting her? I’m done being the shadow, the burden, the bump in the road. Done! Do you hear me? she thought, as she shook her fist at the sky in her imagination. The full moon didn’t acknowledge her defiance, but merely gazed balefully down at her.

It sure felt good to be recognized by Melodion’s troupe for what she was. They even seemed more interested in her than in Xena. If only what Melodion had told her before he left hadn’t alarmed her so. Of course, she couldn’t be completely surprised to find Aurianna involved with an “underground” group, in such a repressive place as Sparta. Her fear for her cousin, coupled with the excitement of the evening, were holding her back from sleep a little longer than she had hoped.

Once more, she made an unconscious move toward the now sleeping warrior’s form, but stifled the response. It reminded her of what she “used” to be, and she wasn’t sure she liked that anymore.

Gabrielle looked up at Xena’s face, painted in a colorful sort of way, to match her harlequin garb. The taller woman’s expression belied her garish getup; a frown was the best she could do. Gabrielle knew her discomfort stemmed more from not riding or leading Argo, than from her disguise. Melodion had insisted on “hiding” the mare in front of a wagon, and Xena had finally given in, but a miserable cloud seemed to follow her from that point on. When the group broke for lunch, he had tried to get her to give him the chakram, saying it had been too well publicized in their stories. He gave up the effort rather quickly, when she almost snarled at him. “You mind your equipment, I’ll mind mine.” she had said caustically. Keeping the chakram well-hidden was going to have to do. As long as her amazing reflexes didn’t feel the need of its use, their cover would be safe enough.

Now Hyperion’s chariot began it’s familiar downward rush toward the western horizon. As the group crested a slight grade, the walls of Sparta materialized in the dimming distance. Gabrielle felt her breath taken from her; so many stories, so many legends, and now... here she was! By the Gods! It was huge, and almost majestic in its solemn ugliness. Startled, she pulled up as the entire caravan came to a halt. Melodion moved about at the front of the procession, pointing and gesturing, giving orders rapidly and firmly. His people were obviously devoted to him, and to their cause.

Most of the wagons moved off again in the same direction. Fading sounds of singing and laughter followed the procession on the evening breeze. The small wagon Argo pulled, alongside another mare, did not move. Xena kept her distance, waiting for Melodion to approach. When the larger part of the troupe had reached the bottom of the hill, Melodion gestured to what remained of the party; two women, three men, a boy, several dogs, and the two outsiders. This smaller, splinter group took a side road. Before long, Melodion was at their side, apprehension plainly evident on his face.

“I’m sorry, but I will need to blindfold you both. This is for your own protection, naturally. We’ll be there before the sun goes down entirely.”

Gabrielle watched Xena’s face for a reaction, but there was no change. The same stony frown remained. What’s one more humiliation? she thought. As if we would reveal anything even if we were caught. Whatever!

Sometimes, Xena’s grudging compliance surprised her.

“Get on with it!” Xena rasped out.

Part I Part II Part III

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