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DISCLAIMER: Xena and Gabrielle are not mine, all other characters are, and can be purchased by Universal TV for large sums of money if they wish.

SUBTEXT: Lots of innuendo but no inappropriate behaviour.

HUMOUR: I have tried anyway.

All feedback gratefully received. email-

Bard Times

by Catkin

"With one thrust of her mighty sword, the majestic warrior princess disarmed the foul and cowardly attacker. She leapt into the air, graceful as a gazelle as she twirled and kicked out at the filthy brigand, sending him spinning to the dusty floor. With barely a pause, Xena raised her gleaming sword once more. Her dazzlingly blue eyes flashing with gleeful enjoyment as she regarded her weakened opponents.
The ten ragged men, in varying states of injury and agony cowered before her. They were no match for the warrior princess and they knew it. Their only recourse was retreat, and Xena, ever merciful, paused for an instant to allow them the chance to flee. As they hesitated, she drew her chakram, the shining weapon sharp as a razor, deadly as the warrior herself. It was too much for most of the cowardly thugs, who turned and ran for their lives. The one remaining man stared at the Warrior Princess, tall and menacing, as she regarded him, like a tom cat with a trembling mouse. Her eyes narrowed as she assessed her frozen opponent, the smell of his fear was evident. Then swift as an arrow, she released the weapon.


But wait...had she aimed incorrectly? The chakram rose in a steep arc, missing the stunned thief and heading for the trees behind him. The relieved brigand risked a smirk at the warrior.

"Having an off day Xe- ooff!" He was interrupted by a large branch and a small grey squirrel falling on his head. With a thunk, the wood crashed onto him, knocking him out cold. The squirrel had a softer landing on the man's chest, although tragically, it was already dead, yet another victim of the deadly chakram.

"You were saying?" Xena said with a smug smile as she viewed her unconscious opponent, her dinner and the necessary firewood upon which to cook it. Another triumph for the warrior princess, another village saved from attack, more thugs brought to justice.

She is Xena, a mighty princess forged in the heat of battle, a hero for a land in turmoil. Her courage will change the world!"

Thunderous applause filled the shabby tavern as Gabrielle concluded with her usual enthusiasm. The patrons loved a good stirring story, and Gabrielle had become expert at working an audience.

Xena sat cowering behind her hands in the darkest corner. While Gabrielle's story telling brought in the dinars, Xena was getting a bit worried that she was exaggerating a bit too much these days. Squirrels tasted horrid.

As the fair haired bard made her way back to the table, Xena watched her acknowledging the praise and collecting the donations. * She loves this* Xena thought.

"Xena, what did you think?" she asked, still brimming with enthusiasm.

" was fine Gabrielle," replied a disconcerted warrior princess.

"FINE! Is that all you can say? Honestly Xena, you could give me a bit of encouragement! Didn't you like the story?" Little pink spots were appearing on the bard's cheeks.

"Yes, it was fi- erm it was very good Gabrielle. You really are an excellent bard, the way you get those people hanging on your every word. The expression and emotion you are amazing Gabrielle." Xena drew on her many skills. Including the little used sweet talking one. Very little used.

This brought a happier smile to the young woman's face.

*Phew! Nice save Xena* the warrior said to herself.

She might have been forged in the heat of battle, but a pissed off Gabrielle was not something Xena liked. Burnt food, stony silences, having to wash her own back, it just was horrible when Gabrielle was in a huff.

Gabrielle's sunny nature and inherent optimism balanced perfectly with Xena's dark and suspicious side. While she was learning to be more tolerant, Gabrielle was learning to be more worldly. Yes, they made a great team.

"Glad you liked it Xena, as I have five new ones I want to try out on you tomorrow. I need an audience, to tell the stories. It isn't the same when I just write them down." The bard gave a wide and seemingly guileless smile to her friend. *HA! Got you now Warrior Princess!*

"Hmm, lovely Gabrielle. Can't wait," muttered Xena through clenched teeth.

"Look Xena, there's a Bard contest in Corinth. See...there's the sign. Can we go? Can we? Please? We don't have much pressing business do we?"

Xena knew an eager Gabrielle when she heard one. The sweet and slightly anxious smile gave her a clue too- Gabrielle wanted to go to Corinth.

Xena read the sign tacked onto the wall of the tavern in a small town a few days north of the city of Corinth. It was unusual- posters weren't terribly popular to be honest. Word of mouth was the best form of communication as a large proportion of the population had yet to master written Greek.

"Artists of Greece!" it said, or rather "ARTISTS OF GREECE!!"
"Come you all to the city that never sleeps for the party that never ends!!"

*Hmm, a fan of the exclamation mark this writer,* thought Xena with a slight sneer.

"Yes, you too can win! A thousand dinars to the most talented, and a five night run at the Corinth Palladium guaranteed. All applicants welcome (subject to actual talent of course), be you acrobat, singer, bard, actor, comedian or conjuror. We, the Corith Academy of Performers (CrAP), seek the most talented Greece can offer.

Entry fee 10 dinars, application form from CrAP Offices.
Finals to be held at the next new moon."

"Well? What do you think Xena? Can we go? Even if I don't wi- enter, it will still be fun. Won't it?" Gabrielle knew perfectly well that her wheedling tone irritated Xena.

Actually now she thought of it she resented having to wheedle- she and Xena were equal partners, there was no reason to beg like a spoilt child.


Xena grinned.
"Of course we're going Gabrielle. Wouldn't miss it for the world. Wonder how many singers enter?" she added evilly.
"Great Xena! " the young bard said, giving her friend a quick but enthusiastic hug."I know you'll enjoy....
Wait a minute.....Singers? You aren't....? Xena....You wouldn't be considering it would you?"

"Me!? Come on Gabs, you know I don't believe it wasting my talents like that. Sing in a contest? Nah." Xena gave her young friend's shoulder a quick squeeze and flashed a good natured if slightly condescending smile.

"Wasting talents?! But it's OK for me to *waste* my talent is it? " Gabrielle had got the huff. Xena was so dismissive of the contest. She clearly held Gabrielle's story telling in little regard.
So she was too good to sing at the contest was she? *Right, time for some manipulation.*

"So you're too good for the contest are you? The great Xena wouldn't lower herself, but little Gabrielle can is that it?!" She had a good head of steam up.

Xena knew she had dropped a clanger. She just wasn't quite sure HOW. This had been such an innocent and friendly conversation a few seconds ago. Where had it all gone wrong?

"No Gabrielle, you've got it all mixed up. I'm not too good, I just don't want to sing for a contest. I sing when I'm moved, not for entertainment. You're-"

"Oh yes, that sounds so deep and sensitive Xena. You are an artistic snob! You don't appreciate my stories-"
"Cos they're about me!"
" can barely stay in the same room when I perform-"
"..because you exaggerate!"
"You USED my scrolls for-"
"Now that was just a misunderstanding Gabrielle, I-"
"If it isn't warrior stuff you just don't even bother to pretend to be interested. I am hurt Xena." Gabrielle was pulling out the emotional blackmail stops now.

"Look Gabrielle, I don't know how we got into this, but I love your stories- well, apart from the ones about me, and to be honest I don't rate those ones about ponies either- but I think you are brilliantly, amazingly, wonderfully talented. I love the arts too- I even stayed awake during that play we saw in Athens a few moons back. "

"OK, prove it Xena."

"What? How?"

"Enter the talent show." Gabrielle smiled to herself.

"Aww, come on Gabs, anything else. Some other way to make it up to you- whatever I did wrong. Back scrubbed? Your choice of fish? Firewood duty?"

"No, I think you need to discover your artistic side, oh warrior princess. Ditch the leather and weapons for a week. Or is that too hard for you...?"

Xena bristled.
"Of course not- I could do that. If I wanted to."
"Great. So that's settled." Mission accomplished. Gabrielle's grin was Cheshire cat wide at that moment.

Xena on the other hand looked rather less than delirious. She was un-used to being out manoeuvred, but Gabrielle was an expert warrior of words. Xena had been well beaten by a superior foe.

As they made their way out of town to find a camp site, Xena still couldn't figure out where it had all fallen apart, but anyhow it looked like she was to become a different sort of performer for a bit.

"Name?" The official was busy and impatient. The CrAP office had been full of talentless oafs for days, all keen to earn what they thought was easy money.

"Xena and Gabrielle."
Gabrielle was doing the talking while Xena sulked. She had been forced to leave her weapons at the inn but she had drawn the line at her leathers. Gabrielle had a rather nasty pale green dress in mind for her pal, but Xena had been adamant. No. Definitely Not. Never. Ever.

The warrior princess wriggled. This green dress was too tight. They had been waiting about an hour already. Xena thought about the tortures various warlords had inflicted upon her over the years. All a doddle compared to this. *Give me a good whipping anyday,* she sighed.

"How do you spell that?" asked the official.

"With an 'X'", replied the younger woman.

"Really? Sounds like a 'G' in Gabrielle." he replied seriously. Xena sniggered.

Explanations followed.

"Right, so what do you two do then? A double act? Something kinky I hope.." the man asked with a rather dirty leer at Gabrielle's usual but admittedly brief outfit.

"No, we aren't together. I mean, we don't perform together." Xena tried to figure out who was giggling in the rather crowded room. Her glare wasn't working.

"Oh, shame dearie!" called a gruff voice from the back of the room. "I'd vote for you."

Xena couldn't work out why her stare was so ineffective today. Maybe it was the lack of weapons. Or the dress. Or the plaits with ribbons Gabrielle had done for her.

"No, I'm a bard and Xena is a singer," Gabrielle explained.
" could have said! I've written you down as a pair now," the official complained. "Maybe you could re-think and do it together, you know? Who is that laughing?" He said angrily as the room got noisier.

Xena decided to have her say. She reached over the table.

"Listen friend," she said, tightening her hold on the front of his shirt as his feet kicked at her shins. "Gabrielle tells stories, she is a bard and she wants to enter. Me, I sing. You got that?"

"S..s..s..sing....s.s.s..stories......OK, what ever you say." he gasped.

The room had gone strangely quiet. The only sound was the gentle thud of the shaken official's feet hitting the floor, followed soon after by his bottom. He was a lucky man. If those panic stricken kicks had left bruises, Xena decided she might have really got annoyed.

"So....that's ten dinars isn't it?" asked Gabrielle brightly as she bent down to help the man back into his chair.

"What? Oh, yes that's right ten dinars. Ten. Ten dinars, yes it is. Oh wait two of you ...erm, no, ten will be fine. Ten....." he gabbled nervously.

"Pay the man Gabrielle, I'll see you outside" grunted a slightly embarrassed Xena. She hadn't intended to get nasty, and she was sure Gabrielle would be annoyed with her. Damn.

"Oooh, now you're a big girl aren't you!" cooed a rather fey looking, slightly paunchy man in a bad wig.
Xena and Gabrielle were at the costumiers. Gabrielle had insisted that if they were going to perform, they had to look the part.

Xena was plotting nasty and painful ways of getting her former best friend back for these indignities. After the enrolment fiasco, Gab had been rather tight lipped and had given Xena a stern talking to about entering into the spirit of things and sticking to her promise. Xena had considered telling Gabrielle where she could stick it, but decided she had better not. Gabrielle had the sharpest elbows Xena had ever encountered.

"Right, I envisage something diaphanous- maybe chiffon, and I bet you look *fabulous* in pink duckie? Or maybe sky blue to match your pretty little eyes, hey pet?" Xena decided that if Gabrielle dared to snigger she would not be responsible for her actions.

"No." Xena said emphatically. "I don't do pink."

"Erm, how about that sky blue outfit up there," said Gabrielle, accurately predicting that Xena was getting annoyed. "I think that would suit you Xena."

It was OK as dresses went. Short sleeves, low cut, short skirt. Xena considered that it would hold up fine if she needed to kick a little butt, however, she was having trouble working out where she would fit her daggers.
"Any boots that go with it?" she asked.

"BOOTS! Oh my, how uncouth! Slippers or sandals only or you'll look like a cowherd. Artistes should be graceful and elegant, projecting an aura of intrigue, mystery and poetry. You want to seduce and entrance your audience with the ..."

"...ENOUGH!" bellowed the warrior, "by the Gods Gabrielle, where did you find him? He talks like a mad man. It's just clothes pal, and I want that dress, " she pointed, " and those boots." A pair of shiny black leather knee high boots leaned against a wall.
"Now, what have you got for Hans Christian Gabrielle here." (A joke wasted on the Ancient Greek who trembled under Xena's menacing tone.)

"Xena, stop bullying the poor man, he is just doing his job. Now Sir, I would like something maybe in green....What? What's the matter Xena, why did you just groan?" the younger woman asked.

"Come on Gabs, go for something different. How about something in leather for you too?"

Xena pointed to a small scrap of leather hanging near the back of the room.

"That looks a bit like your Amazon gear so you'd feel real comfortable. Hmm, I think black might be your colour Gabrielle."

"Oh YES! Ladies, you clearly have an eye for fashion. That outfit will look simply *marvellous* on you cutie-pie, especially with your muscle tone. Definitely a flattering look." The now recovered costumier gushed. "Try it, I bet you'll look good enough to eat!"

An uneasy cough from Xena and a blush from Gabrielle followed before the bard tried to figure out how to try the garment on. It was very small. Very small indeed. And she was unconvinced that black leather with metal studs was her style.

"Ladies and Gentlemen, I welcome you to the Corinth Academy of Performers New Talent Show!" announced the rather over dressed compere. Mr Crappie, Xena nicknamed him in her head. "And may I say how nice it is to see so many of you here tonight."

Indeed the hall was teeming with people. Xena and Gabrielle were a bit squashed backstage too.
It seemed as if the contest had attracted a very large number of entrants, all keen for a career in the Performance Arts.

Xena felt her toe trodden on for the eighth time that night and once again had to struggle to prevent herself from breaking a few limbs. All the entrants stood around waiting to be called and trying not to make eye contact with any of the other competitors. Except, of course, for Gabrielle, who was making them all very nervous as she kept smiling at them. Strange girl the other entrants decided. She was in good shape and wore black studded leather so maybe she was a weight lifter? That, or something kinkier.

Gabrielle was enraptured. Her eyes wandered over the throng of people in the audience as they stood off to the side of the stage. She had spent some time trying to decide which story to tell, and wanted to get a feel for the audience. Should she go for heroic? Bawdy? Spine chilling? Tragic? Humorous? Sexy? scrub that last one.

She had narrowed it down to the freeing of Prometheus or the battle against the Bacchae. Hercules was usually good for a heroic tale, whereas Xena's name just occasionally drew angry glares from a few who had suffered during her warlord years. Gabrielle had thought that tonight was not really the night for more Xena PR- it was about entertaining, amusing, enthralling.....WINNING!

"Now, we have many, many talented performers for you tonight, and our expert panel of judges will announce the winners at the very end of the show, so sit back and enjoy this feast of fun!"

Xena rolled her eyes. This was really going to be torture. Maybe she could threaten....or rather persuade someone to let her and Gabrielle perform first and then they could leave. No...wait, Gabrielle would insist on waiting for the results, and probably seeing ALL the others. Xena sighed. No escape.

"Our first performer is Toxolous, with his farmyard animal impressions...."

Muted applause followed as a short, bald man waddled onto the stage with a beam on his face.

"Erm...good evening ladies and gentlemen. I am Toxolous and I love sheep. For my first impression tonight I am going to do Betty, my favourite ewe. '!!' Thank you.
Chuck the oldest sheep in my flock sounds like this. 'Bbbaaaaaa! Bbbaaaaa!' Thank you.
Next I am going to do Dennis the ram. 'Baaaaaa...aaaaaaa! Baaaaaaa..aaaaaaaa!' Thank you.
Now this is an impression of Flossie the lamb, who is only a few moons old and really cute. '' Thank you...."

Xena wished she had her chakram. Even Gabrielle grimaced.

A flock of sheep later and after a few yelled comments about sheep-lovers, Toxolous finally finished.

"Wow, thank goodness he's finished hey Xena? Phew. Still, it can't get much worse can it?"
Xena looked less hopeful as an old woman tottered onto the stage as the still smiling farmer was ushered off.

"Hello, my name is Flatulelea and I am a singer," wheezed the crone. "I have an epic song to sing that I wrote myself. It is an adaptation of the story of Odysseus, from his birth and boyhood, to becoming king of Ithaca, then onto his participation in the Trojan war, and twenty year journey home."

'Oh it was a cold and lonely night
that a babe was born with eyes so bright
His mother held him in her arms
because he was not at all warm

She thought and thought about a name
and then she played a little game
Shall I call him Sam or Rob or Ted
I can't decide, I'll go to bed.

Xena debated the quickest form of suicide. Then wondered about a return to murder and mayhem. Looking on the bright side, she might even get off with justifiable homicide.

Gabrielle was worried. Not about Xena, she was confident that she had frisked her thoroughly for any weapons before they left the inn. She had carefully checked for the breast dagger or any hidden in her underwear and Xena was unarmed. For some strange reason Xena said that she needed to frisk Gabrielle in return. Although where she thought Gabrielle would hide her staff in the skimpy black leather outfit, the bard didn't know. Anyway, Xena had insisted on making sure.
No, she was worried because there had been so many bards. About thirty she thought, and three or four had even managed to tell a coherent story. The problem was the audience were rather fed up of storytellers. Well, to be honest they were pretty bored full stop. Only the heavy doors had stopped a mass exodus during Flatulelea's song- all 456 verses. Cragius the acrobat had tripped coming on-stage and the delay while he was carried off didn't help. Tedious was the first of the bards, but his tale of the life of an oak tree from acorn to firewood was not inspiring.

"Thank you Hendrixius, for that very...interesting lyre playing, " announced the host.
"Have we picked up all them bits now?" he asked in a loud whisper to one of the stage hands. "Well come on then, if he wants to smash up his own instrument that's up to him."

"Now", he called, resuming his ingratiating smile and posher accent." We have another Bard." A loud groan rose from the audience and a few rotten tomatoes hit the stage.

"Please, give a warm Corinth Academy welcome to Gabrielle!"

"Good luck Gabs!" called Xena as her friend edged onto the stage.

Gabrielle braced herself. It was going to be a tough battle. Still, in this outfit she felt ready for a struggle.

"Friends, Corinthians, Greeks, lend me your ears...
I tell of the greatest of heroes, Hercules and his quest to free mankind from the curse of the Gods.
Prometheus, the titan who gave mankind the gift of fire and healing had been bound, tricked
by Hera as a punishment for helping us weaker mortals....."

She was off. Admittedly, not many were listening, but Gabrielle was confident she could bring them around.

"But Hercules was not alone in his quest. The great and beautiful hero Xena, the warrior princess herself was also determined to free Prometheus, for the only thing that could cut the chains that bound him was the sword of Hephaestus. However, the bearer of the sword was doomed to die a horrible death, and Xena knew that Hercules could not be the one to strike the blow and die, so she...."

"Oi, you daft bard! Xena is no hero , she's a bloody murderer. You never heard of the Battle of Corinth? Don't tell us about Xena," yelled a very loud heckler.

Xena covered her eyes. She had wondered if anyone in Corinth held a grudge.

The heckler was receiving backslaps from those around him.

"But sir, surely you have heard of Xena's change? Her many brave and noble deeds? Of how she defeated the warlord Draco, prevented a war between the Centaurs and the Amazons, rescued Helen of Troy?!"

"Amazons? Those unnatural killer women! And Centaurs are even worse! And don't tell us about Troy, bard. Xena might have saved Helen, but she fought with Troy against Greece. How does that make her a hero." The heckler was doing well, and Gabrielle realized she wasn't.
OK, change of plan.

"Maybe you have never been to the Bacchae forests sir? Have you heard of them?" A few nods and tut tuts from old ladies.
"It is only the sweet music of Orpheus' lyre that tames the fearsome Bacchae and stops them swooping down on innocent girls, turning them into vampire-like predators, soul-less and forever estranged from their families and friends. Doomed to wander the forests in search of more young women to attack. But Bacchus is a powerful God, and when he tricked Orpheus and stole his lyre, the danger really began...."

Gradually, the crowd settled in for Gabrielle's story, becoming engrossed as the talented bard wove her tale.

Xena looked out over the crowd. That loudmouth who heckled Gabrielle was one face she would remember. She wondered what sort of punishment would be appropriate.

"...and so Orpheus regained his body, and the Bacchae were returned to their former selves, free to return to their families. Xena had stopped Bacchus for now, and Orpheus was able to play his lyre again. The woods were safe for travellers and people to walk and hunt in once more and all thanks to Xena. Thank you."
Gabrielle bowed as a smattering of applause broke out.

"Well done Gabrielle," said Xena, giving her friend a hug. "You did really well to survive out there," Xena grinned.

"Boy, oh, boy. What a tough audience. I thought they liked it but hardly anyone clapped. Do you think they enjoyed it Xena?"

"Oh yes Gabrielle, I think they are like that with everyone, bunch of morons who wouldn't know talent if it bit them in the ass," she said reassuringly. "Face it, this whole show is so appallingly bad, the audience are just wishing for it to end- bit like me," she added in an undertone. "I don't think they are going to get enthusiastic about anyone."

"Yes that is probably right. Gosh Xena, that was so hard. I'm sorry they booed like that every time I mentioned your name. Most of them had stopped doing it by the end though. What are you going to do when you have to go out?"

"Yes I noticed that. I've even memorized a few faces. I am going to use a stage name I think. It could turn nasty if I go out and say, 'hi, I'm Xena. Hey, didn't I kill your brothers.' I think I'll call myself Diana. Or maybe Meg. Nah, Diana it is. Sounds classier."

There was a rising tide of noise, as the crowd grew restless. Xena looked out. The compere looked back at her very irritated.
"Are you on or not dumbo? Come on before they rip the place up. You're the second last so get a move on," he snarled in his less than posh voice.

Xena gave Gabrielle a grin and tried to adjust the plunging neckline of her dress.

"It's been nice knowing you Gabs. Please look after Argo for me."

Gabrielle gave her a playful slap in the stomach.

"Good luck....Diana."

Xena stepped onto the stage and strode boldly to the front. Even the warrior princess felt a little stage fright but she didn't let it show.
"Good evening everyone, my name is Xe....Diana, and I won't take up too much of your time. Mr Crappie there tells me there is only one more after me so..." She was interrupted by a huge cheer and a perking up of the mostly comatose audience.
"So, I am going to sing for you." Resigned moaning.
"But it is a short song, just three verses." Loud cheers.

Xena made an effort and gave her friendliest grin. The flash of teeth and blue eyes caused a few swoons.
She leaned down to the small band of musicians at the front of the stage.
"The Last Rose of Summer in E flat. OK?"

"Right you are Miss," the rather flustered band leader replied after getting an eyeful.

The shortness of the dress and the sight of Xena bending over cheered up a few more of the crowd.

As the introduction began, Xena straightened and took a deep breath. The heaving bosom was too much for some in the audience. Stupid grins, glazed looks and lolling tongues greeted Xena as she began to sing the well known folk song. Toes tapped, heads swayed, more stupid grins appeared.

Xena's rich voice filled the hall, entrancing all of the audience as she sang.
All except for a pair of pick pockets who had been waiting all night for the crowd to get interested in the show and inattentive of their purses.

The two weedy young men began moving through the crowded auditorium collecting swag. Xena didn't miss a beat as she watched them slitting purse strings and snatching bags and she quickly plotted. No weapons, Gabrielle's search had been delightfully thorough.

Using the toe of her shiny black boots she flipped a couple of half eaten apples into her hand while singing of the rose petals that fell on a pair of young lovers. If the crowd wondered about the fruit they didn't show it. Most just enjoyed the song after an evening of torture.

The two thieves were at opposite sides of the hall so Xena knew she had to be quick. And accurate. Apples were not the best weapon. As she neared the end of her song, she drew back her arm and threw once to the left and once to the right. The first apple hit the first thief right in the eye socket- hard. He fell with a loud cry of pain, dropping his haul of purses, clutching his eye. The second thief had turned and the fruit flew into his surprised mouth and halfway down his throat, sending him choking and clutching his neck to the floor. He also spilled his loot, and the noise of both thieves crashing down alerted the stewards so that by the time Xena's song had reached its climax, both were being dragged away.

Rapturous applause filled the theatre as the crowd clapped and cheered this beautiful and talented singer. Even the judges leapt to their feet. Xena gave a slightly embarrassed smile as she bowed.

Turning to leave the stage she caught Gabrielle's eye. Her friend had a very strange look on her face. What was wrong with her? She looked almost....annoyed. Hadn't she liked the song?

"Well... 'morons, who wouldn't know talent if it bit them in the ass' -hey?" Gabrielle said a little acidly. "Guess you livened them up Xena. "

She *was* annoyed Xena decided.

"Oh, never mind, I am being mean," the younger girl sighed. She didn't want to be ungracious. "Well done Xena, you were wonderful as always. And I don't think anyone even spotted you nailing those thieves. Sometimes you are just so perfect I could hate you!" She said with a smile, only half meaning it.

"Nah, Gabrielle, the only reason they liked me was because I told them this whole damn show is nearly over. That is all. Well...the dress seemed to go down well. And because it was a short song. But that's all."

"Oh come on Xena, you have a wonderful voice, and the blue eyes always attract a few. You were a big hit- especially with those two pick pockets. "

"Look Gab, I just want to get out of here. Once that last act is over let's just get moving. This whole evening of torture is one I will have to get you back for," she said, throwing an arm over the bard's shoulder and giving her an affectionate squeeze.

"Oh, no Xena, I am sure you are going to win. Besides, they'll want to arrange your 5 night run at the Palladium." Gabrielle had a wicked grin on her face. Spiteful but fun.

Xena had gone a little pale.

"Thank the Gods for corrupt officials!" said a relieved Xena later that night as they sat in the inn eating their dinner. Gabrielle was not amused.

"You were robbed Xena. Even me in my spiteful jealously could see you were the best by a mile. That Flatulelea was absolutely dreadful and there was no way she should have won."

"Yes, but being Mr Crappie's mother certainly helped didn't it?" Xena smirked as she ate her bread. "Anyway, I am sure than song of hers will last all of the 5 nights at the Palladium. Did you want to go see it?"

"NO! But Xena, how can you just let them get away with fleecing all those people? Not just us competitors but the audience too? They paid to get in- although I think they might have paid more to get out!" Gabrielle paused in her chewing as she considered this.

"Look Gabrielle, I couldn't break my cover. Those people were in a mean mood. If I had said, 'I'm Xena and I demand to know what is going on', I would have ended up causing a riot. Besides, you are forgetting I came second. There was NO WAY I was going to be performing for 5 nights. Not even to beat a gang of con men. Mrs Flatulence can have the privilege," she growled good naturedly.

Gabrielle laughed and then was quiet for a few minutes as she finished her meal and watched her friend, now back in her leathers. She noticed how Xena kept patting her chakram.

"Xena, I'm really sorry for getting us into this farce of a competition, but didn't you enjoy being a performer? Even just a bit when the crowd were cheering?" She asked.

"Gabrielle, I am more than happy leaving the performing to you. Sure I can sing a bit, but I prefer to stick to performing with a sword thank you very much. All those people staring at me and not being able to hit any of them was hard. You are the one with the artistic talent. You tell stories really well. Don't let that ignorant crowd put you off." Xena noticed a familiar loud mouthed face enter the tavern as she spoke.
"But Corinth probably wasn't the best place for a story about me ya know. Excuse me a moment."

She leaned back from the table, picking up a rather stale bread roll she and Gabrielle had not eaten.
'Hmm, not a clear shot on from here,' she thought. With a glance around the interior of the tavern Xena measured a few angles with her eyes.

The loud mouth was standing with a small group at the bar as Xena launched the bread roll. It bounced off first one wall then another, heading towards the kitchen door. Just before contact, the door swung open as the serving girl backed through it, bringing out food for some customers. The swinging door altered the angle of the wheaten projectile, batting it straight at the loud mouth as he was about to take a gulp of his ale. The bread roll hit dead centre- right in the mouth, as he took a deep breath to drink, but instead, inhaling a mouth sized lump of overcooked dough.

Xena leaned back in to her young friend.
"Bullseye," she smiled.
Gabrielle was puzzled. She turned to see what all the commotion at the bar was. Some man whose drink had probably gone down the wrong way was writhing on the floor coughing as his friends banged him on the back and looked concerned. What a strange shade of purple his face was.

The End

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