~ Eudaimonia ~
Rating/Author's Notes: PG. XGR (Xena/Gabrielle Romance) Note that this piece is unedited. It was written for a forum (Talking Xena) mini-challenge. Please send all comments to firstname.lastname@example.org
Summary: The relationship of Xena and Gabrielle as seen through Herodotus (Gabrielle's father). A brief exploration of social politics in ancient Greece.
Disclaimer: All named characters in this story do not belong to me, they belong to the creators and producers and studios that own Xena: Warrior Princess.
Episode Spoilers: Sins of the Past, A Family Affair
Dark and cantankerous clouds hung low in the sky and stretched to the horizon, emptied of water and strength. Mud splashed beneath little naked feet slapping atop the puddles on the grass. A group of children squealed and darted around the open field, one after the other, a singled-out child running to catch the rest. Perdicus, with his little legs pumping furiously, slipped on the slickened ground and landed on his backside. Gabrielle, staring at the child behind her, tripped over Perdicus and crashed into the mud. The little Egyptian boy who had given chase to both of them caught up to Perdicus and tapped him on the head with an open palm.
"It!" The Egyptian boy yelled.
Perdicus giggled, baring his tiny white teeth and struggled to get up from the mud, turning to see if Gabrielle was still behind him. He wiped the dirt from the corner of his mouth and saw her running across the grass, mud caked over her body and twisted into her white-blonde hair. Undaunted, he darted down the field, sliding about but keeping his balance with his hands reached out to nab whomever came close to him.
Herodotus sat on the porch and watched the game unfold, his bent knees flanked by a calabash of tea and his youngest daughter. Lila squealed and pounded her leg with a fist before shoving half of her fist into her mouth. She teetered away from him and Herodotus helped her sit up again as she mumbled and hummed and struggled furiously to talk to her father about what she saw. He chuckled as she watched the others, her large, marble eyes absorbing the scenery.
"You grow old, Herodotus," a young voice sneered behind him. He started and looked back, grinned and brought the calabash to his lips.
"Pelias," he replied.
"Will you not train today?" Pelias said, pulling his sleeves up and crossing his arms over his chest. "Or come to play a game?"
"There is already a game in progress," he answered. A handful of slave children inched from the mouth of the nursery and approached Gabrielle. She stopped for a moment, placed her hands at her sides and nodded her head as they spoke to her. When an Egyptian child approached the group, they all broke out into a run with shouts floating across the field.
"Only old women and new mothers fawn upon their children," the youth snickered, placing his hands on Herodotus' shoulders and leaning over him.
He stiffened his back and groaned, "You're not yet wise enough to understand."
He kept the calabash in his lap and the Greek youth moved to next to him. He stared affectionately at Herodotus, "Perhaps I will never be."
"I wouldn't mind if you never got older," Herodotus said wistfully.
"And have to listen to your wife until I die?" Pelias grimaced. "No, thank you."
Herodotus chuckled and Lila mimicked him. Eyeing her with a grin, he took the calabash and tipped it toward Lila's puckered lips. She sipped gingerly and grimaced at the taste, fussing for a moment before it disappeared on her tongue. Relieved, she sucked on her thumb and turned her attention back to the game.
"What do you make of this thing?"Pelias asked.
"What do I make of what?" He drank a bit of tea.
"Family." Pelias replied softly.
Herodotus thought for a moment, his eyes following the children as they played.
"It's what a man has a right to." He said finally.
"The best men." He answered.
"And who are the best men?" Pelias brushed a curled, blonde lock from his eyes.
Herodotus sighed and shook his head, "You need to study more."
"It doesn't make sense to me."
"Life doesn't always make sense," he said; muted rage emanated from him.
Minutes passed in silence between them. Lila, gone quiet, stared up at her father. Her round, blue eyes fixed on the lines in his face. He glanced down at her, cleared his throat and turned back to Pelias.
"Go study. I will see you tonight."
Pelias resigned himself and nodded, "As you wish."
He secretly watched the youth from the edge of his vision as Pelias lumbered back to a small home next to the one Herodotus shared with his wife and two daughters. He drained the calabash of tea and swallowed the burning liquid with a grimace. A raindrop landed on his forehead, then another burst on his arm. And the rain fell impatiently, without warning, pouring onto the world outside. He gathered Lila in his arms and called out to Gabrielle. She ran up the porch, drenched in mud and tore into the house. Hecuba screamed at the sight of her daughter dragging filth through the house. Gabrielle shrieked, running through the home to avoid a beating. Herodotus looked back toward Pelias' house, imagining the boy bent over his schoolwork. There were things a man might never understand, no matter how hard he tried.
She watched as her father lifted the lid from the pot of tea and sprinkled a collection of herbs into the boiling water. Spices from Crete. Very rare. He ladled the tea into a new calabash that Pelias had fashioned for him, decorated with images of Athena and golden leaves. Herodotus loved the gift, marvelled at the exotic Roman style of the paintings. He was reading about Alexandria, the youth told him, when the idea for the design came to him. Foreign artefacts and people fascinated Herodotus, and he could see his own curiosity acutely mirrored in his eldest daughter.
"What does it taste like?" Gabrielle said poised over the open mouth of the calabash, inhaling the fragrance of the tea.
Her father turned, obtained a small pouch of Egyptian sugar and dissolved it into the tea. Sitting at the table next to his daughter, he gingerly sipped the brew.
"Sweet," he said softly, "and bitter."
Gabrielle frowned, "At the same time?"
"Sweet first, then slowly," he took a sip again, smiling, "it transforms."
Her green eyes narrowed, fixed on the vessel of tea. "Can I have some?"
"It's not for girls," he replied, his eyes gazing into the dark, glassy liquid.
"Why not?" She asked, her childish voice on the precipice of a shriek.
"Because it's meant for men," he answered.
"Why is it meant for men?"
He sighed, "Why do you ask so many questions?"
"Because I want to have some tea."
He stared at her for a while, somewhat stoic, somewhat intrigued. Her face was full of innocence, rose-cheeked and chubby with baby fat. Her mind was sharpening, a kinch to begin with despite being only five seasons. Her growth was a mesmerizing process to witness, each day maturing and reflecting many of the qualities he attributed to himself. Without a son to mould in his image, the thought of Gabrielle as his most beloved child was a tempting prospect. She was witty enough, intelligent enough for it.
He sighed, pushed the calabash toward her and grinned. "Don't tell your mother."
Elated, Gabrielle grasped the calabash with both hands and brought it to her lips. Impervious to the heat of the tea, she drank and set the calabash back down, gulping the tea gathered in her cheeks, wiping her mouth and smiling triumphantly.
"Did you like it?"
She nodded, "I like it more at the beginning."
"You'll get used to it," he took a sip for himself.
"I can have more?"
"If you keep it a secret."
Her face filled with mischief and she inhaled deeply, her chest swelling with pride. She leaned over the table toward him, whispering.
"If I keep this secret, will you tell me more secrets?"
Herodotus chuckled, "If you can keep this one, I will tell you more."
She smiled and sat drinking tea with her father until the pot over the fire was empty.
When she was six, Herodotus taught Gabrielle how to read and write.
"It is frowned upon," he said, "if the village knows you're learning to write."
"Why?" - The constant question.
"It simply is." He obtained a thin box of sand and put a reed next to it, drew the Greek alphabet in the sand and glanced at his daughter to make sure she was listening. Her eyes burned with fascination. He gave her the reed.
Gabrielle walked up to the box slowly and copied the symbols. When she was done, her father shook the sand and demanded she write them again. She did and Herodotus made her repeat it. The mistakes disappeared with each successive trial. When it was perfect, he taught her how to write her name.
Her bright green eyes gaped up at him, "Is this another secret?"
He put his finger in front of his mouth to silence her and she smiled.
In a few months she was reading full scrolls: the scribbles of children's poetry Herodotus wrote in his spare-time, the city's bill of crimes and punishments, tax forms and funeral tablets with prayers scrawled into them. Hecuba, noticing the change, began to teach what little she knew of writing to her daughter, what Herodotus had taught her throughout their marriage.
Soon Gabrielle was retelling the stories over dinner, standing on a chair in front of the family and sharing tales of monsters, gods and Spartan heroes.
"Which way home?"
The nine-year-old Gabrielle tugged on her father's hand, "This way."
They headed through the south-side of the village flanked by the dense woods and rows of mud-brick huts. It had been an hour since they left home in Potidaea and they were going to be late for dinner. Gabrielle staggered, her legs fatigued from the long walk. Seeing her discomfort, Herodotus bent down and allowed her to climb up on his shoulders.
"Can you see the way home from there?" He asked.
"Yup," she replied, flattening her palms on the top of his head to balance herself. Her father held her ankles close to his chest to keep her from falling. He had given her maps of Potidaea, of Greece and of the known world according to the Greek empire. She had taken to drawing them and creating her own. I want to be like Alexander, she told him. She knew he wouldn't approve of it.
Herodotus craned his neck and stared up.
"When I grow up, will you take me to temples and meetings at city hall?"
"Why would you want me to do that?"
"So that I can be like you and expand my mind. Like what you tell Pelias to do."
"Don't be silly," he replied.
She was silent for a moment and he imagined the frown on her face. Stopping he said, "Which way is home?"
He felt her sit up straight and she leaned over to glance at him, "Are we expanding my mind, now?"
He chuckled, "Answer the question."
"That way." She pointed in the direction of a nearby marketplace.
As they manoeuvred through the crowds and the merchants' kiosks, they collided with Potidaean villagers and citizens.
"You spoil that daughter of yours," said a woman, "she has legs. She can walk just like the rest of us."
"What are you up to now, Herodotus?" Came another female voice, "You and that little girl are nothing but trouble."
He looked up and Gabrielle caught his expression, smiling with him as she guided them back home.
At 17, Gabrielle ran away.
Lila was silent at the kitchen table, ignoring the wails and demands of her mother. Herodotus watched as Hecuba dragged her from the chair and threw her onto the floor. He turned and headed out the front door as his wife grabbed the Sjambok kept next to the porch. He jogged toward the village stables until the sound of his daughter's cries slipped into the distance.
A merchant was loading a wagon; he was the last of the old slaves, all of his masters dead. The old slaves were forced to live from town to town on whatever they could trade. Herodotus knew he'd be desperate for money.
"You there!" He called, "Where are you taking this wagon?"
"T'is my home, sir," the slave replied, "I will take it to the next village for trades."
"I entreat you: a favour for a pouch of dinars?"
"Yes," the man answered, "I must assist you."
"My daughter has run away from here, she will be killed without protection. I need you to find her and take her to Amphipolis. There, you will give her to a warlord named Xena. She is well-known in that village and the people will take you to her. Take this red pouch of dinars and give it to her in exchange for keeping my daughter. You may keep this black pouch of dinars. It is a gift for your trouble."
"You would sell your daughter to Xena?" The slave looked back in disgust.
Herodotus scowled, "If you have any honour, you'll find her."
The slave scratched his long, white beard, "And what is to keep me from taking all the dinars for myself?"
"The law," Herodotus replied curtly, "A dishonourable citizen is protected by trial. A dishonourable slave is worth less than the dirt beneath my feet. You, Egyptian, would be foolish to test Greek law."
The slave kept his gaze away from Herodotus' narrowing eyes. He nodded, "I will find your daughter."
His voice deepened with rage, "Make no mistake. I will be watching."
The slave hesitated but bowed to him and turned to rummaging through the items in the wagon. He set out and Herodotus watched him disappear into the horizon. When the wagon moved out of view, Gabrielle's fiancÚ jogged up to her father, trembling from the news.
"Gabrielle is gone?" Perdicus cried. He knew Herodotus would tell him the truth.
Perdicus bent and rested his hands on his knees, panting, "What can I do?"
"What you're told," Herodotus began, "There is a slave over that hill steering an old horse and a wooden wagon. Follow him. I ordered him to find Gabrielle. See to it that he does, and that he takes her to Xena."
Perdicus stumbled back, eyes wide with horror, "Xena?"
"Don't question me," he said, his hands clenching into fists, "You're not a citizen yet. Your father owns you just as much as I do. Do as you're told and return with news when it is done."
He stared at the boy until Perdicas headed across the field after the phantom wagon, over the horizon and out of view.
He sighed and headed back toward the village. He would have to negotiate with Perdicus's father in exchange for his son's absence. He bit his bottom lip, thinking of Gabrielle. She would never be free, never protected. She was as vulnerable as a slave, no better than the foreigners in the eyes of the law. With Xena, the law could neither protect nor control her. With Xena, she could have a freedom that Herodotus could never give her. She could travel, she could write and read and navigate. It was more than she was permitted to do in public, more than she could ever imagine in Potidaea.
He turned back to the horizon, nausea washing over him.
Perhaps it was all a mistake.
"You don't get lions like this," he remembered a Roman entertainer telling him in Alexandria, "We raise them ourselves, feed them well. A wild lion -out there -is ugly. He is all scratched and haggard. Scars across his face and snout. This one," he continued, poking the beast with a coiled whip, "this one is beautiful."
When Gabrielle returned to Potidaea, away from the wilderness outside the village perimeter, she was irreversibly changed. At only twenty years, she wore the signs of violence and trauma, prices paid for freedom in a society that deemed her infantile and unnatural: a woman warrior, unmarried, travelling with a female companion. No such title was acceptable in Potidaea, no such image existed. And there seemed to be something deeper, something he could not fathom brewing beneath the surface of his daughter's eyes, forming the blanket of tears over them.
They were sitting across from each other: Gabrielle and her father, each with a calabash of tea and imported sugar that Herodotus normally reserved for himself and his male patrons. It was the silent reflection of many nights filled with political discussion, with learning, all vanished over time. Neither he nor Gabrielle seemed able to speak, each plagued by questions of fault and fate, agonizing over choices and mistakes.
"Do you want more tea?" He asked her.
"No," she replied quietly, "I will leave soon."
"You won't stay at the house?"
"No. Xena has a room above the tavern."
"And you're staying with her?"
He looked down at the wooden table, tracing the pattern of lines in the grain with his eyes.
"It's dishonourable not to have you stay here," he stared at her earnestly.
She sipped her tea and met his gaze, "It causes you too much pain to have her here. I refuse to precipitate that."
They were silent a moment more.
"Why do you stay with her? I can guarantee your safety now. You're home."
"It's not so simple."
Gabrielle chewed her bottom lip. "What was it you felt for Pelias?"
"What did you feel for him?"
"That has nothing to do with you. It is a rare matter that only he and I can understand."
"But there were so many others in the village," she continued, "All citizens are entitled to whomever they want, whenever they want. But Pelias was ordered to stay."
"I told you: it was a rare matter."
"Did you love him?"
"He was obligated to do whatever I wanted him to do."
"Not like that," she said, shaking her head, "I meant: were you in love with him?"
"It is not your place to ask me that. And why bother? It didn't matter once he became of age and was a citizen himself. If I loved him, it would be forbidden."
"Just because it's forbidden doesn't mean the feeling goes away."
"You know nothing of that feeling. You're only a woman. One far more foolish than most."
"What makes a man different from a woman?"
"His sensibility, his intellect -a man can learn and dissect the world." Herodotus took a sip of his tea and stared into the dark liquid.
"Did you not teach me in the ways that men learn? Reading, writing, drawing. Geography. History. Literature. I've seen much of the Greek and Roman empire. I've seen the East, been to Qin."
"But a man is made for war. Only the greatest soldiers are real men."
"If the essence of man is war, then there is no greater, better man than Xena."
His shoulders tensed with anger but he kept himself calm, "Do you mean to tell me that you are in love with her?"
Gabrielle brought the tea to her lips, drank slowly and answered, "I have proven to you that I have a full and human intellect. So I feel as you feel, love as you love."
He ran a hand through his hair and sighed.
"Do you miss him?" She asked.
He shook his head and stood, gathering his calabash and wandering from the kitchen. He called over his shoulder,
"That's enough for tonight."
A short time later, he watched as Gabrielle wandered into the village square. Xena was waiting for her, leaning against a wooden fence where Argo nibbled on the grass. She slowed her approach as she neared Xena, looking around before she extended her hand. Xena took the proffered hand and guided her toward the tavern, sliding her arm around Gabrielle's waist as they walked. As he watched, he was overwhelmed with grief. Once Gabrielle left with Xena, she might forget, as he often feared, about her family, about Potidaea. As they disappeared into the tavern, Herodotus wondered if he'd ever see his daughter again.