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The Language of Poteidaia

by Erika Bwo

After four months of reading and critiquing, I thought it only fair I finally post a story of my own. So here it is, my first effort. Constructive criticism is always appreciated.

Obviously, the characters you recognize belong to the Universal/MCA people, all new characters are mine. The story contains no sex and little implied violence, so feel free to share this legend with the young’uns.

Xena wasn’t sure how Gabrielle had managed to convince her that visiting Athens was a good idea, but here she was, quietly sitting at a back table in an Athens tavern, listening to Gabrielle embellish another one of their adventures. As she listened to yet a different ending to the tale of "The Freeing of Prometheus," she realized that Gabrielle never told them as ‘their’ adventures. Actually, from the way she told it, it almost sounded as if Xena traveled alone. "Maybe I should become a bard just to get back at her," she silently mused.

Xena was broken from her train of thought when a man from the bar called out, "Gabrielle, tell us a story with you in it, we all know you’re out there right along with Xena!"

Xena immediately recognized the man as Homer, one of Gabrielle’s friends from the Academy. Looking more closly, she recognized a good number of people in the tavern from the Academy. "This should get interesting," she thought, letting a slow, slightly evil smile cross her face as she looked back up at the stage.

"Oh, you know I don’t help much, just hide in the bushes or protect distant towns. Occasionally I get to talk people out of fighting, but that is never as exciting as what Xena gets to do." Gabrielle looked over and gave Xena a quick wink.

Xena was quietly amazed, "The self effacing ability of this woman is incredible!"

"Come on Gabrielle, everyone here knows that’s not the truth! Otherwise you wouldn’t be a staff master or an Amazon Queen!"

The room fell suddenly silent as all the patrons became caught up in this friendly bantering. Their heads were bobbing back and forth with the dialog as if they were watching a chakram throwing contest.

"Now quit holding out on us and tell us one of your stories!"

"Homer, you’re incorrigible! Besides, I don’t have any stories like that, and the one about the Amazons is short and not very exciting." Gabrielle was now talking more to her boots then the crowd.

"Why not tell the legend of ‘The Language of Poteidaia.’" All eyes suddenly turned to the quite, unassuming man sitting in the back of the room. He sat there calmly staring up at Gabrielle, and the eyes of the audience soon followed his gaze back to the stage.

The bard’s face had turned a deep shade of red before she stared back down at the floor. "Hello Iaphion. You know I can’t tell that story, you shouldn’t have asked." Her words were only above a whisper, the room suddenly tensed as all eyes shifted back to the young man called Iaphion.

"And why not, Gabrielle? It’s been almost fifteen years since that summer. There is no Poteidaian law that says you cannot share the legend." Iaphion’s voice fell even lower, causing everyone to lean towards him to make sure they heard him, "I would think you would want to honor her memory, not ignore her as if she never even existed!"

All heads swung back towards the stage.

Gabrielle’s head slowly raised, and her eyes narrowed. "That was a low blow, Iaphion. You know there was no one that was hurt more by that day then me!"

All eyes bounced back to Iaphion, eyes that were also narrowed with the intense emotion that Gabrielle was unknowingly radiating.

Now it was Iaphion’s turn to stare at his boots. "I’m sorry, Gabrielle, but you know I loved her too." He paused, seemingly in deep thought. Then he glanced back up to Gabrielle. "I just feel that it is finally time for the story to be told. It wasn’t right to bury her memory all those years ago. And I can think of no one who would do her memory more honor by telling her tale then you."

Once again all eyes shifted back to Gabrielle, who was staring at Iaphion. Her face told the audience that they might actually get the chance to hear this mysterious tale today. The anticipation was almost more then some of them could handle. Even Xena found herself caught up in the rising hope of the room.

Half the room was on the brink of asphyxiation when Gabrielle finally blinked and gave Iaphion a slight nod. The collective exhalation of the crowd ruffled hair and tablecloths about the room. Everyone quickly had their drinks refilled before settling back to hear this unknown, and apparently, emotional tale from Poteidaia.

"I tell the tale of two sisters from the town of Poteidaia, joined by birth, but closer then blood." Gabrielle seemed to encompass the entire audience with a single ‘serious bard’ glare, as she launched into her story.


Early one spring, not too long ago, a young couple discovered they were to have their first born by summers end. The woman grew fast and large, worrying her husband, but the midwife claimed it could only mean they were to have a strapping young boy by harvest time. The town had joked that he would probably jump right out, full grown, and take up a plow to help his father in the fields.

Yet, a full moon before the birth was expected, the young woman began to feel the pains of labor. The healer assured the couple that the child was big enough to survive the birth, and that it would all turn out just fine. But the labor continued long into the night, and then into the next day. Everyone was becoming worried, not only with the long labor, but also with the fact that the child seemed to be in the throes of a fight with Hades himself inside the woman’s womb. It was finally around midday that the fighting child calmed, but the labor also eased. It was as if the baby wanted to take a break before entering the new world.

This, however, was not at all what was happening. For the couple had not conceived a young boy, but rather, two girls. It was in the eighth moon that the two had decided enough was enough, and they wanted to get out and see their new world. But when the time came to leave, both girls wanted the privilege of being the first born. They may have not been royalty, but it was still important to the girls to know who was the first of their peasant line. When neither was able to talk the other out of their position, they began to fight. They kicked and punched and jabbed as best they could with their tiny, uncoordinated limbs. Neither was able to gain an advantage like this, so they both stopped to further ponder the dilemma. Finally, one of the girls came up with a plan.

"If you will allow me the honor of first born, I will give you my greatest gift in return."

The other daughter thought on this for a moment. "What would this gift be?"

"I will grant you the use of my voice. The second born will be born with the voice of two."

"But this will leave you with no voice. It is more than I can accept from my own sister."

"It is a gift you could accept from only your own sister. We both know it is to be this way if we are to resolve this impasse. It will all work out in the end."

The other girl thought on this for a moment. Deep down she knew her sister was right. "Agreed."

And with that, the mother’s labor began anew.

The midwife was beginning to worry. She had never seen such a long labor spontaneously end, with no results. She was preparing some herbs to try and reinduce the labor when she heard the young woman cry out again. This time when she went to check on the woman’s condition, she was surprised to find a tiny head emerging.

"Your child is coming! I need you to push, now!"

With one last push and yell from the woman, the midwife suddenly found herself holding the tiniest baby girl she had ever seen. But something was wrong. After a moment she suddenly realized that the baby was crying, but not even the faintest sound of a wail could be heard. The midwife quickly tried to calm the mother, who was also becoming distressed, while making sure that the baby was in fact breathing. Finally, after not being able to find anything wrong, other then the lack of voice, she handed the baby over to the new mother.

"What’s wrong with my little baby?" the woman wailed. "Why isn’t she...aahhh!"

Confused by the sudden outburst, it took the midwife a moment to realize that the woman was experiencing labor pains, again. Just as that realization hit her, so did the sound of a high pitched scream. She was sure her ears were bleeding from the arrival of this second little girl. The family in the next room had unknowingly agreed with the midwife.

And so it was with that wail, that the birth of the Poteidaian sisters, the first of no voice, and the second of the voice of two, was announced to the world.

At first, it looked like the girls would not survive due to their tiny size. That worry was quickly dispelled, however, when the new parents discovered their daughters ravenous appetites. It didn’t take long for the young pair to become healthy and active, whether or not they would survive was no longer a worry for anyone. And so it was, one moon after their birth, the naming ceremony was held.

The mother stood before the townsfolk, proudly holding her two healthy daughters, while her husband spoke. "We thank the gods for blessing us with these two girls. We thank Aphrodite for their beauty. And we humbly ask that Athena grant them great wisdom, and that the Graces and Muses look favorably upon them. We also plead with the Fates to spin their life threads long and strong. Before all the gods, and in their honor, we name our first daughter Sathalia, the name of my mother’s mother, and our second daughter, Gabrielle. May the gods watch over and protect them."

The crowd yelled "Huzzah!" in unison, and the small banquet began.


Gabrielle paused in her tale a moment to take a drink of water and compose herself. It had been more then fifteen years since she had told this tale. She knew she was quickly coming to the part of the tale that had never been told. A part that she was not sure she would be able to tell, but was determined to try. Iaphion had been right, it was time that Sathalia’s tale be known. She looked back out at the silent crowd and took a deep breath.

The audience was also glad for the short respite in the tale. The fact that the Bard Gabrielle was telling an intimate tale about her beginnings was astounding, and promising to be very intense. Xena herself was on the edge of her seat. Cortese’s army could have come barging into the tavern at that moment, and she wouldn’t even have noticed. The crowd would probably have shushed him and told him to sit down. Xena was silently wondering why Gabrielle had never mentioned having a twin sister. Her heart seized as she realized she was soon going to find out.


Although the village felt that not being able to communicate would put Sathalia at a disadvantage her entire life, her family felt differently. As long as the sisters remained together. Even as babies, if Sathalia was hungry, Gabrielle would wail. If Gabrielle was hungry, Gabrielle would wail. It was hard for the couple to believe that one of their daughters was mute when the other screamed for both of them. This arrangement only strengthened as the girls grew older. The parents began to wonder if their second daughter, who was so completely in tune with her sisters feelings and needs, was perhaps a mystic of some sort. They could think of nothing else to explain Gabrielle’s ability to anticipate and vocalize her sister’s every need.

The idea that Gabrielle was a mystic quickly spread through the town, and soon there were very few who doubted it as fact. Gabrielle always knew when Sathalia wanted or needed something, and was always there to defend her sister’s actions, or claim it was Sathalia’s idea when they got in trouble for doing something they shouldn’t. Villagers often sat and listened to Gabrielle carry on conversations, and occasionally argue, with her sister. And despite only hearing one side of it, everyone swore that the conversations were very much two sided. Sathalia even seemed to win some of the arguments.

It was during the girls fourth winter, when their mother was pregnant with the family’s third child, that Gabrielle’s mysterious perceptions about her sister were finally explained. Their mother was tending her embroidery and listening to Gabrielle carry on yet another conversation with her sister, when Sathalia’s hand movements caught her mother’s eye. She watched the two intently for a few moments before she finally realized what Sathalia was doing. Every time Gabrielle would pause in the conversation, Sathalia would wave her hands around in an intricate pattern. When her hands rested, Gabrielle would either give an answer to a question, a statement of fact, or occasionally just huff and roll her eyes. Their mother watched the display all afternoon before she knelt down beside them and asked if they could teach her Sathalia’s hand language.

The girls both giggled at her and Gabrielle said, "We were wondering when you were going to learn to talk!"

Her husband was barely in the door that evening when the mother grabbed him and dragged him into the kitchen. The woman’s words were coming out in such a rush he had to sit her down and force her to breath before allowing her to speak again.

"Sathalia can speak, just not with words!" she finally blurted out.

"What are you talking about, woman?"

"Sathalia! She speaks with her hands! That is how Gabrielle is able to understand her! She’s not reading her thoughts! She’s reading her hands!"

The man looked at his wife skeptically for a moment. "She’s not a drinking woman. Perhaps this second pregnancy has been hard on her," he thought to himself. Instead he said, "I think you had better show me what you are talking about."

"Sathalia, come sit by me, baby. Now, can you tell papa what you want for dinner?"

Sathalia turned to her father and waved her hands at him. He had always assumed it was just a nervous habit his daughter had, but it began to dawn on him that perhaps his wife was correct. Gabrielle piped up and said, "She said she wants nutbread for dinner, papa!"

Sathalia suddenly turned to Gabrielle and waved her hands at her sister.

Gabrielle squared her shoulders at her sister and replied to her display, "Well, papa doesn’t know your talk, and that’s what I want for dinner!"

The man looked at his two young children arguing, and laughed. His wife was right! Sathalia was speaking with her hands! He looked over at his wife as she said, "Sathalia asked to have lamb for dinner." And she began to cry.

And so it went for the next several years. Not only did the girl’s parents learn Sathalia’s hand language, but so did everyone else in town. It had started out as a children’s language, but the town adults were soon willing to take the time and effort to learn when they realized that their children were telling secrets in front of them. The local merchants and town warriors soon found other uses for this silent language as well. It wasn’t long before the entire town of Poteidaia had their own language that was spoken entirely with the hands.


It was at this point in the tale that Iaphion moved up to sit beside Gabrielle. He knew the untold chapter was going to be difficult for her to get through, and she probably wouldn’t be able to do it alone. The audience seemed to take a synchronized gulp of their drinks to prepare themselves for what was coming next. With a heavy sigh, echoed by the audience, and a squeeze of Iaphion’s hand, Gabrielle began the final part of the tale.


The girls eighth birthday dawned bright and clear. Their mother had promised that they would have the whole day to themselves, and not have to look after their little sister for a single moment. They were practically out the door before their mother could finish wiping breakfast off their faces.

"Stay out of trouble you two!" their father called after them. He was actually looking forward to spending this day of rest with his wife and his soft spoken youngest daughter. Not that he didn’t love that ‘loud chatterbox’ and that ‘quiet chatterbox’ of his. But he was sure that they would keep him busy later tonight with their tales of the days adventures.

The girls immediately headed down to the large rocks that ran along the beach. It was their favorite place to play - far enough from town to feel like they were on their own, but close enough that they weren’t disobeying their parents. Not that that worry had ever stopped them from doing anything before! Soon the other kids would be joining them, and they had to find all the best hiding places before they got there. It was their birthday, and they had no intentions of losing any of the games!

Gabrielle was so intent on finding that perfect hiding spot, she never heard the group of large men coming up behind her. As one of the men grabbed her from behind, she let out a loud shriek. Sathalia heard this and immediately started running in her sisters direction. When she saw the large man holding her sister and laughing, she knew what she had to do. Without a moments hesitation, she climbed up the largest boulder around, and launched herself at her sisters attacker. As she hit, she clawed at his face until he fell to the ground and dropped both her and her sister. She quickly turned to Gabrielle and told her to run toward the village as fast as she could, screaming as loud as she could. They both took off running as fast as their little legs could carry them.

The blood curdling scream that was heard by the whole village chilled everyone to the bone. Nobody was sure what was happening, but all the women snatched up their children and ran inside, and the men grabbed swords, knives, pitchforks, whatever they could get heir hands on, and ran toward the noise.

Gabrielle was just outside town when the men finally spotted her. She was so out of breath, all she could do was wheeze "MEN" and point toward the beach. Everyone immediately understood, and began to run back to the beach, leaving Gabrielle behind. It was only after Gabrielle had caught her breath that she realized Sathalia was not with her. She jumped up and ran back down to the beach. Meleager saw her coming and dispatched his pirate as quickly as possible so he could catch her and keep her away from the battle. Gabrielle squirmed more then an eel trying to break Meleager’s hold on her, screaming "Sathalia! Sathalia!" over and over again.

Her father heard her screams and came running. "Gabrielle, where is your sister?"

"She was over there," Gabrielle cried, pointing to some large rocks to the north. "She helped me get away then told me to run for help. I thought she was right behind me! We have to find her, papa! I have to help her!"

"No, Gabrielle! You go home to your mother and sister, keep them safe. The rest of us will find Sathalia." He said this more to Meleager then to Gabrielle.

Meleager turned and headed back to the village, carrying a wailing Gabrielle in his arms and a desperate look on his face.

The few pirates that remained had retreated north along the beach. Sathalia’s father organized the village men into two groups; one group took the wounded pirates back to town, and the other followed the retreating tracks in the sand. Fear, although not for themselves, was obvious in the early morning sun.

It was shortly after dark when the last of the men returned to Poteidaia. Gabrielle and her mother were sitting on the front step of their home when her father returned. He simply stood before them, appearing as a beaten man would, avoiding any eye contact with his family. Gabrielle’s mother simply began to cry and rock her youngest back and forth in her arms. Gabrielle finally realized what had happened and began to scream.

"NO! She is not dead! I know my sister is all right! You have to keep looking! Don’t you just leave her! You HAVE to keep looking! I would know if she were dead! NOOOO!" Gabrielle got up and tried to run off toward the beach, but her father’s strong arms grabbed her and held on.

"Shh, shh, Gabrielle. Please. I’m sorry. We were too late. The ship had already left. We were too late. We were just too late." He held his daughter tightly as she began to shake uncontrollably with her sobbing. All he could think of was keeping his other two daughters safe, as he let the tears for his first daughter flow freely.

The town was nearly silent the next morning. Seven of the pirates had been wounded and captured, another two had been killed. Six had escaped back to the ship. The cost to Poteidaia was the loss of one child. Sathalia had disappeared onto the sea on her eighth birthday, and the town had lit her funeral pyre the following day. All the villagers prayed, to whatever gods were listening, that little Sathalia die a quick and painless death, rather then be forced to face a slaves life aboard a pirate ship at such a young age. It was on that day, nearly fifteen years ago, that the language of Poteidaia died, never to be spoken by another again.


Despite the fact that Gabrielle had spoken the last line too quietly for most to hear, everyone felt it’s impact as though she had screamed it. The tavern was silent. A few people were openly crying and an occasional sniffle could be heard. Xena was surprised to find tears running down her own face, she hadn’t even realized she had started crying. She quickly wiped away the tears and walked up to Gabrielle to pull her in for a tight hug. She felt the need to comfort Gabrielle, as she often did for her, but wasn’t sure how else to do it. Xena couldn’t believe this cheery little bard of hers had ever experienced such pain. Not even Perdicus’ death had brought the look to Gabrielle’s eyes that she had when she finished the story.

The bar patrons slowly filed past the stage, most dropping a dinar or two, trying to verbalize their shared pain or condolences. Much to the tavern owners satisfaction, the huge crowd was staying on to drown their sorrow in ale. "And not a single fight this evening," he mused. Nonetheless, he wasn’t sure he wanted to hear anymore of those gut wrenching tales.

Iaphion turned to Gabrielle as Xena released her hold. "That was beautiful Gabrielle. I don’t think anybody could tell it better, and I don’t mean for the obvious reason, either."

"Thank you, Iaphion. It actually felt good to tell it, it has been too long. Right now, though, I would like to rest. Perhaps we will see you tomorrow?"

"I should be around. Maybe I’ll even tell you a story of my own." With a soft smile and a gentle hug, Iaphion turned and quietly left the tavern.

Gabrielle still held Xena’s hand tightly as they made their way back to their room. It was still fairly early, but Gabrielle was drained, and Xena didn’t think she wanted to be alone just now. Xena wasn’t sure she wanted to be alone, either. Ever again.

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