'An Amazon Critic'

—O—

Note:— Ha, bet you all thought I'd given up on this series—well, I haven't, so let's get going again, —

Explanatory Note:— The above, and following, scenarios are wholly based on the original character studies from John Earle's 'Microcosmographie', of 1628. My idea has been to transpose them into a more modern form; allowing the reader, especially interested in Hellenistic Greece and of Xena and Gabrielle, to understand them more easily. I have deliberately used much of Earle's original wording, phrasing, and text, in order to retain the essential nature of the original. My numbering, however, does not relate to the numbered character-studies in the original.

With around 70 character studies in Earle's book, there are still several proto-Xena tales yet to come, I'm sure.

13. A Detractor.

The play had leisurely reached a quiet point, where the actors were softly expounding the Gods' reasons for their interest in the heroes of the piece, The audience were relaxed and enjoying the occasion; both as a performance, and as a social event. Some spectators were sitting slumped on their benches, clearly nearly asleep in the warm sun. Others were deep in personal whispered conversations, gossiping on a hundred topics of interest. A few sat upright and intent, taking in even the less dramatic scenes of the play. While, scattered amongst the thousands occupying the curved marble benches rising in tiers around the central stage, were those most obnoxious of audience members—the self-righteous critics. One of whom, fortuitously, sat on a tier above and to the left of the Amazon Queen—but still within hearing distance.

"Aeschylus does this so much better, believe me." The man was young, as evidenced by the lack of a beard; and pretentiously sure of his own opinion, as reflected in the bored enduring looks on the two slightly more mature men sitting on either side of the youth. "He presents the whole atmosphere in a far purer tragic light. When one has seen the best players doing Aeschylus one is surfeited with genius; making all other plays and players—as these before us this afternoon—merely village entertainers. One can tolerate them; but one can never enthuse over them. What? What? I'm right, of course."

He took no trouble to soften his tone or loud speech; probably deliberately making sure everyone within ten yards heard everything he said. Misplaced self-assuredness, of a high order, can do that. Gabrielle heard, and was moved to reply within her own circle.

"Great Harpies in Hades! What a loud-mouth."

"Who? Where?" Xena had been absorbed in eyeing a particularly luscious looking small venison pasty peeping out of Gabrielle's provision bag, at her feet.

"That idiot with the loud views, up there." The blonde Amazon waved a supercilious arm in the general direction of he-who-had-riled-her. "Thinks he knows everything. Probably of a cunning and active envy, gnawing not foolishly himself with his opinion but throws it abroad and would have it blister others. Don't worry, I've seen his like before at these sort of events."

"Oh yeah." The Princess wasn't particularly interested.

"Yeah." Gabrielle nodded, and moved smoothly into second gear. "They're commonly weak-parted fellows and worse-minded; yet strangely ambitious to match others, not by mounting their worth, but by bringing them down with his tongue to his own poorness."

"Gabs," Autolycus felt impelled to enter the conversation at this point. "remember when you asked me t'tell you when y'were gettin' all snarky again? Well, you're doin' it now."

"Back-off, Auto." The Amazon favoured her friend with a gentle sneer, that just wasn't quite a snarl. "So, this guy up there to your left, Princess. Y'might wan'na think about some practice with your chakram. No? Oh well, tra-la-la. Anyways, he's indeed like the Red Dragon that pursued the woman—remember, Xena?—for when he cannot overreach another critic's view, he opens his mouth and throws a flood of bile after to drown him instead."

"That wasn't what the Red Dragon did." The Princess perked up at this mention of a somewhat messy and dramatic adventure they had been involved in a year or two previously. "She actual—"

"Gim'me a break, Princess. I'm on a roll, here." Gabrielle never took prisoners when on a particularly satisfying rant. "Look at these players, down on the stage. They're just a country group, usually doing the outlying towns an' villages; but they're good for all that. Which is just what gets up the noses of self-satisfied morons, like that callow youth up there. You couldn't anger him worse, than to do well; he hates you more bitterly for this than if you'd cheated him of his patrimony with your own discrediting talk."

"He only said he'd seen better players in his time." Autolycus had a fair mind, at heart. "Ain't ya gettin' hot under your chiton-collar over nothing?"

"Bah!" The blonde grumbler nonetheless carried on grumbling. "People like him are always slighting the general opinion, and wondering why such-and-such men or women should be applauded. If you commend a good Priest, he cries posturing. Or praise a Philologer, he calls it pedantry. If you like any special Poet, he sneers and calls it mere rhyme. Mention a School-master, and he'll say just dull wrangling. If any man or woman is of a sharp conceit or personality, he'll mark it as so much childishness. Even if an honest person is mentioned, he'll simply say they'd fall for any plausible story."

"Hah, ya really got it in for that guy." Xena finally took an interest in her companion's discussion. "So, where is he again. I got'ta see this Heroic Champion in person. What? That wimp up there? The boy with the fancy oiled hair and spoiled attitude. Gods, looks like a really good spankin'd do him the world of good. Don't waste your time on him. Come on, listen t'the play. They're just about t'come to a great tragic bit, I think."

"Yeah, yeah. But, anyways," Gabrielle, still smouldering, wasn't to be side-tracked so easily. "he's the kind'a guy who comes to plays or other public things, not to learn but to catch the players or whoever out; if there's but one mistake or solecism that's all he carries away. He's the type who looks on all things with a—a prepared sourness; and furnishes himself beforehand with a remark like 'Pish and nonsense', or some musty proverb that—that dis-relishes all things whatsoever."

"What'cha got it in for critics so bad for, Gabs?" Autolycus could, when he put his mind to it, figure out the underlying motive of someone's actions fairly well. "Did one say something rude about one of your scrolls, or what?"

"Never you mind, Auto. Just drink your wine, an' watch the play." Gabrielle sniffed austerely. "And don't forget t'take notes—I'll be askin' questions afterwards."

"Har."

"Anyway, where was I?" The blonde tyrant took up the cudgels once more. "Oh yes. If he finds himself in a situation where he's afraid of the assembled company and he feels scared into seconding any commendation put forward, it's like a Law-writ—always with a clause and an exception, to smooth his way to some greater scandal or remark. He'll grant you something, in conversation, but take back more. And in this bating, or taking back, he'll conclude by taking away again all he granted."

Xena, at this point, took advantage of her loved one's distracted attitude to slyly nab the venison pasty; then grinned with relish at the blonde interrogator.

"Gods, he's off your Winter Solstice Party invitation list then, I take it?" The Princess laughed out loud, then quickly made embarrassedly pacific gestures as several nearby spectators shushed her outburst. "Sorry. So, what's really niggling ya about him, then?"

"Well, you know the type well enough, Xena." Gabrielle, in her fury, credited her companion with an insight that was rather on the excessive side than otherwise. "His speech usually concludes with an 'Oh but, and I could wish one thing amended'; and this one thing will be enough to deface all his former commendations. I bet he's the kind that'd be very inward and pleasant with someone, to fish some bad action of theirs out of them. And then he'll recount these in public, with added seeming-authentic details, and say an anonymous friend reported it to him."

"Hah. I don't believe it." The King of Thieves racked his neck, turning to investigate the source of Gabrielle's rancour, then gave his considered opinion. "He's only a lad; barely twenty, if that. What harm could he possibly do to an experienced man of the world—say, me for instance?"

"Oh, watch out, Auto." Gabrielle shook her blonde locks with meaningful assurance. "He's the sort that'd inveigle you to some naughtiness, to get your good name into his clutches; and make you drunk simply to show you reeling, in public. He passes more plausibly because all men have a smatch or smidgin of his humour; and it's only thought a kind of wide-ranging freeness which is malice."

"Yeah?" The Princess, chewing contentedly, was wearying of the topic. "So, ya really think that pitiful kid up there is as bad as all that?"

"Believe me, Princess-of-my-Heart, he's just the kind'a molly-coddled infant that'd grow up t'be another Critias." When Gabrielle felt like over-emphasising a fact, she liked to go all the way. "If he can say nothing cutting about a man or woman, he'll seem t'speak in riddles instead; as if he could tell strange stories about them, if he would; and he only ends when he has racked his inventive imagination to the uttermost."

"Come on, Gabs." Xena, surreptitiously brushing crumbs off her short skirt, was finally fed up with the sorry history of a youth she had absolutely no interest in. "Give it a rest, for Aphrodite's sake."

"Humph, alright." The Amazon Queen bowed to the wishes of the only person she allowed to influence her,—sometimes. "But I wish him well; I do, and therefore must hold my peace, I suppose. Though, mind you, his type are always listening and enquiring after men and women; and suffer not a cloak or chiton to pass them by un-examined. In brief, he's one who has lost all good himself, and is loth to find it in another. So there. Oh look, this's the scene where the Hero tears all Hades out'ta the God in disguise—just like that time you did the same thing with Ares a few months ago, Xena. Who said fiction never reflects real life."

"Oh, Gods." The Warrior Princess gave in resignedly; leaning forward, elbows on knees and chin in hand, the better to concentrate on the stage. "Iz'zat so?"

—O—

14. A Mere Young Gentleman.

The play was over; the stage was empty; the tiers of marble seats, minus their many cushions, were now also emptying as the audience manifested itself as a vast moving crowd heading for the many exits of the Theatre. This, of course, meant a deal of pushing, shoving, and kicking unsuspecting peoples ankles and then staring studiously off into the distance in frankly ingenuous attempts to pretend it wasn't you! Foremost among these latter, as the three companions struggled down the narrow alleys between the seat tiers then along the only slightly wider corridors leading to the street exits, was Autolycus. Kicking ankles, and at the same time managing to successfully make it appear the culprit was actually the large rotund citizen in the flowing toga to his right, seemed to be his specialty. At least, in Gabrielle's and Xena's sight, he blatantly got away with it three times in succession. It was the Amazon Queen, in fact, who re-directed his attention from this childishly delightful party-game to an interesting individual amongst the passing throng.

"Hey, Auto, wha'd'ya think of him?" She pointed, in a perfectly unembarrassed manner, towards a young man who apparently believed himself to be both the owner of a great sang-froid and at the same time the cynosure of all eyes—judging by his method of swanning through the masses as if he were far superior to absolutely everyone around him. "Is that what they call style—or is he just bein' an ass?"

The King of Thieves abandoned his hobby to cast a critical eye over the person indicated—Auto having enough sense not to ignore a question posed by the blonde but lethal sai-carrier walking on his left-hand.

"Ah, he's one of the Academy scholars." Autolycus nodded knowingly. "I've been, er, associated with a few in my time. At least, looking at him, he probably goes there merely to wear the toga or gown just to say hereafter he's been at the Academy."

"Huh." The blonde one wasn't impressed. "T'pass himself off in later life as having been a true scholar, y'mean. Can you get away with that?"

"Oh, his father likely sent him because he heard the best Fencing and Dancing Schools were there; from these he has whatever education he pleases to attain; from his Tutor, merely the oversight or looking-after." Autolycus seemed to have the whole history of the youth at his fingertips; though never having set eyes on him previously. "These kind of youths won't take their scholastic careers too seriously. The first Element of his knowledge is to be shown the Colleges or separate Schools of the Academy; and his new friends, of his own persuasion, will initiate him in a Tavern along the way. A method which, hereafter, he will easily learn for himself."

"Sounds like Gabs was right first time." Xena nodded understandingly, casting a cold sneer in the callow youth's direction that would have killed him dead in his tracks if he had noticed it. "Not my idea of gettin' an education."

"The two marks of his seniority, you'll notice, are the bare velvet of his toga and his proficiency at tennis," The K. of T.'s carried on blithely; after all, criticising a complete stranger without warrant was always so much fun. "where, when he can once play a Set he's a Freshman, or new scholar, no more."

"Tennis? What's that?" Gabrielle was always up for learning something new, especially if it involved group sports; heaving and shoving, and lots of innocent enjoyment.

"Uh, I believe it's a new game just come over from Britannia, or Gaul or, er, somewhere." Xena shook her head, causing her black locks to wave in the breeze becomingly—thereby taking Gabrielle's attention right off the subject of her earlier question. "Ya keep hittin' a little ball over a net between your opponent and you, using sort'a a string-covered paddle; and eventually one of you wins, I'm not quite sure how. Can take a long while sometimes, so I've heard."

"Sounds like a dam' silly way of spendin' the afternoon." Gabrielle deliberated on the subject, as well as a complete lack of knowledge of the sport would allow her, then gave her considered opinion. "Wouldn't do for the Amazons. A game like that'd end in a minor bloody war before you could say 'Great Artemis'. "

"Anyways," Autolycus clearly thought they were straying somewhat from the primary topic. "When he stays at the Academy his study, or private room, commonly has handsome shelves; his scrolls neat silk bands; which he shows to his Father's man, as evidence of his supposed lessons; but is loth to untie or take down any for, he says, fear of misplacing them—though in fact, of course, he has no idea of any of their contents from one year's end to the other."

"Gods." Now Gabrielle really was becoming angry; if there was anything she heartily disapproved of it was deliberately lost opportunities. "And t'think if his father only had the sense t'keep his idiot offspring at home on the family estate, where he couldn't cause trouble, some other needful student could have a great education in his place. Bah."

By this time they had made their way through the short tunnel under the Theatre tiers and walls to come out onto the wide road leading back into the city proper, along the steep rocky side of the Acropolis. The crowd was now able to spread itself further afield, giving more elbow room; but this also made it all the easier for those who wished to show-off and make their presence felt—among whom was the young subject of the women's, and Auto's, present attention.

"Yeah, you're not wrong, Gabs." Autolycus agreed with a grunting laugh. "Hey, mister, watch where ya put those clod-hoppers o'your's. This here's a public street—why'd ya need t'trample on my toes? Shove off! Gods, where was I, Gabs?"

"The student can't read; or at least, that's what y'were tryin' t'make us believe." Gabrielle always liked to keep a modicum of reserve where Autolycus's stories were concerned.

"Right. On foul days, when the weather's bad and he can't slope off to enjoy himself somewhere, he retires to his study and looks over the pretty scroll he inveigles his tutor into reading to him," Once more having set sail on the green waters of blind criticism Auto took his second wind, and launched out into ever higher flights of fancy. "which is commonly some short History, or a piece of Euphormio; for which his tutor, having been taken in by such false sincerity, usually gives him money to spend next day."

"Little rat." Xena could form an instant opinion, with the best. "A good kick up the backside'd soon make him take note of reality. Maybe—if I can just get close behind him—"

"Nah." The Warrior Princess's better half took firm control of the escalating situation. "Hold hard, Xena. No need t'get stroppy over nothing. Take it easy. Here, hold my hand."

With this tried and tested request having its full effect; Xena happily grasping Gabrielle's hand with no further instruction needed, Autolycus was free to go on his merry way—the youth, in all his obnoxious glory, still being well in sight.

"His main loitering you'll find, ladies, is at the Library." The King nodded contentedly. "Where he studies Arms and books of Honour, and turns a gentleman-critic in Family Pedigrees—"

"So he eventually will end up learning something, is what you're sayin', Auto?" Xena grinned across at the mustachioed swashbuckler.

"Hades, no." Auto shook his head firmly in disagreement. "Of all things he endures not to be mistaken for a Scholar, and hates a black toga though it be made of satin. His general companion is ordinarily some stale fellow, that has been notorious for a snob to those who wear gold hatbands—who will admire the student at first, though afterwards scorn him. If the youth has any spirit or wit he may light on better company, and may learn some flashes of sense which will do him a soldier's service in the country hereafter. But he'll soon be gone to the Higher Academy, where he'll study to forget what he learned before—both his late acquaintances, and the old fashions."

"Oh, look, here's the turn-off to our Inn." Gabrielle pointed to the left with her free hand. "You goin' on t'your own fleapit, Auto?"

"Yeah." The King of Thieves nodded, waving a cheery goodbye to his two companions. "An' it's the best Hostelry in the city, I'll have you know. G'bye."

The two women, still happily holding hands, strode on along the now quiet lane in the bright sunshine.

"Gods, I loved the play. Did you, Xena?"

"I kind'a managed t'fight my way through it eventually, yeah." The Warrior Princess favoured her lover with a wide smile. "I know you did, girl. How about a cooling goblet o'wine when we make it back t'the Inn? Then ya can really settle down, in our room, an' tell me just how much you did enjoy the production. How's that sound?"

"Suits me, Princess." Gabrielle commenced to swinging her paramour's hand up and down in a wide arc as they continued walking along. "Gods, what a day it's been. Thanks, Xena."

"Y're welcome."

And the tall black-haired warrior blushed with pleasure.

—O—

15. A Pot-Poet.

The next morning found the intrepid warriors settled at a wooden table, just outside the Inn door, giving a wide prospect along the quiet street. There were several other tables nearby; at which a selection of local citizens and other travelers sat refreshing themselves, while chatting idly with friends. One such, sitting by himself near the Inn wall, had caught the Amazon's attention through his scribbling on an untidy scroll; with a small pot of ink and a threadbare quill at his elbow—not to mention the full goblet of red wine, with a large flagon nearby to replenish supplies when needed.

"Hallo, what's he up to?" Gabrielle could never ignore anything even remotely connected to literature. "A scribe, d'ya think? Or a Government official? Maybe a great literary figure. Wonder if I could go over an' introduce myself?"

"Huh. A Pot-Poet, y'mean. Don't bother." Xena, with one expert glance, had skewered the reputation of the slightly scruffy figure—after all, she'd been around the Agora more than once. "A useless scribbler, that's all."

"What makes you say that?" Gabrielle was intrigued.

"Oh, y'know." Xena shrugged nonchalantly, frowning as she observed her prey several yards off. "He's just the dregs of Wit; yet mingled with good drink may have some relish, for those who like bad verse. His inspirations are more real than others; for they do but feign a God, but he has his by him—in that goblet. His verses, such as they are, run like a barrel-tap; and his invention, as the barrel, ebbs and flows at the mercy of the spiggot."

The Amazon Queen glanced from her companion to the source of the warrior's condemnation, then back again—a faint sparkle glittering in eyes green as the depths of the ocean.

"Oh yeah?" Gabrielle smiled, and gently reached over to touch the dark one's fingertips as her hand lay outspread on the table. "So, what kind'a poet d'you take him for? Come on, spill it, warrior."

"That's easy." The Princess wasn't to be trapped so simply. "In thin drink he aspires not above a ballad; but a cup of Sack inflames him, and sets his Muse and nose afire together. Look, see how red his conk is? Been knockin' back the sauce for years. The publishers are his Mint; stamping him now and then a drachma or two, in reward of the baser coin of his short scrolls or pamphlet-sheets. His works would actually scarce sell for three obols; though they are given often for three tetradrachms, because of the pretty titles that allure the country gentlemen who know no better; for which his publisher maintains him in ale a fortnight."

At this juncture the Amazon glanced swiftly across the intervening space, judging whether they were really out of hearing distance of their prey or not. Gods, what'd she say if he could hear every word her unrestrained consort was gaily uttering?

"That's harsh, ain't it, Princess?" Gabs could always see the nicer side of almost anyone. "Give the man a chance, why don'cha."

"Look at him." The black-haired Valkyrie was not for turning, however. With the whiff of blood in her nostrils she went in for the kill. "His verses, for what they're worth—which ain't much, dearie,—are like his clothes. See?—miserable Cento's and patches; yet their pace is not altogether so hobbling as an Almanack's, an' ya know how boring they can be! The death of a great Senator, or the burning of a rich man's house furnish him with an Argument or Plot, and the whole Nine Muses are out straight in mourning chitons at his insistence; and Melpomene cries 'Fire, Fire!'."

"Wow. Drama; Fire; Tragedy; an' the whole hoplite squadron of Muses—I like it. I'd read that, Xena." Gabrielle had, all the same, a mocking note in her low voice. "Gim'me more."

"Idiot." But the Princess was on a roll. "His other poems are but lawyers' briefs in rhyme; and, like many others of the poor Greeks, collections to redeem from the captivity of lost history—for those who like that sort'a thing; of whom, Gabrielle, I ain't one."

"Ha, Ha. Don't I know it."

"He's probably a man now much employed in commendations of our Navy triremes, and a bitter inveigher against the Spartans." Xena nodded, clearly having the whole mind-set of the unfortunate poet sharply focussed in her imagination. "His frequentest works go out in single sheets, and are chanted from market to market, and Agora to Agora, to a vile tune and a worse throat from some ill-paid rhetor by way of advertisement; while the poor simple country wench nonetheless melts, like her butter, to hear them."

"Yeah?" The Amazon Queen was unconvinced, smirking openly at her compatriot's words. "An' what would they be, eh?"

"These, lady, are generally the stories of some idle men or cut-throats of Piraeus; or of a strange monster lately out of Germania: or, more than likely, sitting in a bawdy-house he writes the judgements of the Gods. But don't worry, he ends at last in some obscure painted cloth or play's backdrop, to which he himself made the poor verses. And his Life, like a goblet too full, finally spills upon the bench where he sits. He leaves five tetradrachms on his Inn-score, which the Hostess of the Inn loses."

"And that's the end?"

"Yup—that's the end, girl. Want another refill? I kind'a like this red wine from Athos."

"Nah." The blonde Amazon shook her head; grasped the arm of her companion, and dragged the warrior to her feet with a determination not to be overcome. "We've both had enough juice of the grape, I think. Wan'na take a walk out into the country? The lanes'll be full of Summer flowers an' blue-bells, an' the sun's shining. It'll be beautiful."

"With you, Gabrielle? Always."

—O—

16. 'A Cooke'.

It was early afternoon, and Gabrielle had dragged Xena round to the back of the Inn where the kitchen outhouse stood, enveloped in all sorts of aromas, scents, and plain smells. The blonde Amazon, still feeling a little peaky, was on a pilgrimage to bring expertise to the kitchen's output—and, in passing, maybe educate the cook a little, Gabrielle being like that.

"Must ya barge in t'the poor cook's domain like this, without so much as a by-your-leave?" The Princess tried, hopelessly she well knew, to curb the blonde's determined re-alignment of the kitchen's menu. "He won't be happy, y'realise?"

"Huh! There'll be changes round these parts, don't worry." Gabrielle had a bee in her bonnet, and she wasn't going to be sidetracked by mere common-sense at this late stage. "This kitchen is his Tartarus, I bet, and he the representatiove of Hades in it; where his meat and he fry together. His revenues, or monetary gains, are showered down from the fat of the land—"

"What? If ya mean rich customers, for all the Gods' sakes say so, gal."

"—and he interlards his own grease among it to help the dripping—"

"Ewh! That's nasty."

"—Mark my words, he'll be coleric by nature, you wait'n see, warrior-lady." Gabrielle by this time was approaching the wide-open door, with a gleam in her eye. "Coleric, not by nature, so much as by his art; and it'll be a shrewd temptation that the chopping-knife is so near his hand—so watch out, baby."

"Gods, y'ain't met the poor sap yet, an' already you've figured him for a homicidal maniac. You're losing it, lady—maybe I should just take ya home right now, eh?"

"Ease off, lover, I got things t'do here." Gabrielle condescended to give her companion a gentle smile. "His other weapons, by the way, are often offensive too, though you'd not think so t'begin with. Hot broth an' scalding water, I mean; the tools of his trade—and woe be to him who comes in his way when his temper's fraught."

"Gods, ya make him out t'be some kind'a offshoot o'the Spartan army."

"Not so far out, baby; in the kitchen he'll domineer f'sure, an' rule the roost." The blonde tossed a stray lock back from her forehead. "This'll be in spite of his Mistress in the Inn, an' curses will be the dialect of his calling."

"Y'mean he swears a lot?" Xena sneered coldly. "So would I, if I knew you were in the offing, dear."

Thankfully the Inn eating-room critic missed this piece of repartee, and went on unaffected.

"You just wait and see, lover." Gabrielle showed her white teeth. "His labour, or the way he usually works, will be mere blustering and fury, or hot words. His usual speech like that of sailors in a storm; a thousand businesses, or different outlooks and orders to his subordinates, at once. Yet in all this loud tumult he does not love combustion, but'll be the first man that'll go and quench it."

"What?"

Gabrielle had by now reached the point of no return—the kitchen door—but paused to really put the boot in.

"He's never a good Temple-goer till a hissing pot of ale has slak'd his thirst, like water cast on a firebrand; and for that time he's tame and dispossessed of evil intent."

Xena here put out a restraining hand to grab the blonde's shoulder. The longer she could stop this particular Amazonian firebrand from meeting its tinder, the black-haired warrior was thinking, the better.

"What d'ya think he'll be doin', anyway?" Xena shrugged discontentedly. "I mean, what can he possibly do in a kitchen that'd get your goat, baby?"

"Ha! His cunning is not small in architecture—"

"What? Ain't ya goin' off-topic a litt—"

"—for he builds strange fabrics in pastry and pies, Towers and Castles, which are then offered to the assault of valiant teeth; and like Dorius' Palace, in one banquet demolished." Gabrielle was grinning widely, obviously on a straight run to her goal. "His kind are pitiless murderers of innocents—"

"Come on, Gabs, what the Hades are ya talkin' about?"

"—he mangles poor fowls with unheard of tortures, and it's thought the Christian martyrs persecutions were devised from hence."

"Great Balls of Greek Fire." The Warrior-Princess had taken enough for one day. "That's crazy."

The petite form standing assuredly in front of the tall dark woman merely shrugged, as if she knew better.

"Didn't I hear somewhere, a few months ago, about that poor man Lawrence, that his Christian followers call, what is it again, oh yes—a saint?" Gabrielle raised her eyebrows, as if asking Xena to argue the point. "Y'remember,—the poor man; the Romans; and a gridiron of long metal bars he was tied to, over an open fire? Somebody told me the idea for that came from some Roman who'd visited his local Inn-kitchen the week before; fact, I assure you."

"Gods."

"The cooks best faculty, or skill, is at the customers' table though." The unrelenting Amazon carried on, unfazed by criticism. "Where he seems to always have great skill in the Tractiques, or methods of serving the various courses; ranging his dishes in military order."

"Oh yeah? Like how, f'instance?"

"Placing, with great discretion, in the forefront meats more strong and hardy; and the more cold and cowardly in the rear—"

"Huh."

"—as quaking tarts, and quivering custards—no, don't look so disgusted, I ain't referring t'you, doll—and other such milksop dishes which will, anyway, escape many times the fury of the sated customers' encounter."

"Too full to eat any more, y'mean?" Here some faint recalled fact about Roman banquets came into the warrior's remembrance. "Hey, don't Romans in that situation just go out t'the street, an' throw up like do—"

"But by this time the second course has gone up." Gabrielle hastily broke in, keeping her diatribe on track. "And the cook goes down into the cellar, where he simply drinks and sleeps till late in the afternoon; and then, refreshed, returns again to his regiment of helpers to prepare the evening meal. Come on, look, the door's open—after me."

Xena lunged forward and, with an expertise honed in many fights, grabbed the thin strings holding Gabrielle's top. With horny fingers digging into the pale skin of the Amazons bare back Xena made no bones about hauling her away from the kitchen, back towards the safety of the Inn proper.

"Come on, lady, we got a date with Autolycus, an' we're late already. Your meeting with the cook can await another occasion. No, I ain't lettin' ya go till we're in the street outside; so ya can just stop with the cursin', alright. Ewwh, that's a nasty one; where'd ya learn that?"

Note:— Dorius' Palace—probably Darius's palace at Persepolis, destroyed by fire by Alexander the Great in a drunken revel.

—O—

17. 'A Forward Bold Man'

Outside in the busy street Xena encountered even more in the way of harassment, she sadly well knowing her blonde confrere's usual attitude when confronted by a milling throng; today, unhappily, being no exception.

As the two women moved along the crowded thoroughfare their eyes naturally gravitated to the form of a large man walking some yards in front of them; his method of choice in dealing with those around him being, to say the least, cavalier in the extreme. In this potentially dangerous situation it took the mighty Warrior Princess all of three breaths,—yes, she was slipping,—to become aware of the worst possible outcome, Gabrielle had noticed and was grimly staring at the activities of this pedestrian, with less than the milk of human kindness glitttering in her glorious sea-green orbs. Xena put out a hand to gently steer them both down a nearby alley but, of course, it was far too late.

"Look-it' that." The Amazon's ire was obviously up, without restraint. "One o' those, y'know the sort I mean, Princess—he's a lusty fellow in a crowd, that's beholding more to his elbow than his legs, for he does not simply go forward but thrusts his way well. He's a good shuffler in the world, wherein he is so oft putting forth that at length he puts on a bullying attitude."

"Give the guy a break, gal, it's a heavy crowd t'day." Xena, weakly trying to cast oil on troubled waters.

"He can do something, a trifling little, but dare not do much more," Gabrielle following her train of thought remorselessly as they carried on a few paces behind the as yet unknowing citizen. "and is like a desperate fearful soldier, who will assault anything where he is sure not to have to enter under attack."

"Oh, yeah?" The Princess, having given up with a bad grace, followed along beside her fiery friend, ready for anything.

"Yeah, He's not so well-opinioned of himself, as industrious to make others have another better opinion of him." The blonde let her white teeth show in something less than a grin. "And thinks no vice so prejudicial as blushing, when telling people a tale—y'know, like Autolycus."

Xena paused in her walk then, the crowds pressing, moved on again, shaking her head—what a gal.

"Why bring ol' Aut—"

But the mighty Amazon was still focussed on her prey, ten paces ahead on the crowded paving-stones.

"He still cites for himself, in everything he says to people he meets, believing that a candle shouldn't be hidden under a bush," Gabrielle curled a disdainful lip as they both proceeded. "and for his part he will be sure not to hide his, though his candle be but a snuff or rush-candle."

"Ye're awfully critical, over someone ye've not even met yet, dear,—only sayin'."

"Huh." Gabrielle wasn't going to let a minor detail like this derail her thoughts. "So, these few good parts he has he's not niggardly in displaying. Like some needy goldsmith, no thing hidden in an inner room, but all well displayed on the open cup-board in plain sight."

"Come on, Gabs, this's all nonsense." The Princess gratefully spying their side-road coming up on her left hand; depicting, in present circumstances, safety.

"He's well dressed enough, I suppose." Gabrielle here giving acknowledgement where it was due, but not effusively. "If he be a scholar, I bet he's commonly slipped into some high position before receiving a certificate, yet gettin' that, too, before he really deserved it."

Xena here nearly tripped over her boots on seeing the man in question, still innocently unaware of the carping critic in his rear, turning down the same side-street which she and Gabrielle had to take.

"Oh, dam'."

"What?"

"Nothin', dearest."

"Hum, well, I fancy he's the type who loves Public things above all else." The Amazon Queen, slumming it but enjoying herself immensely, carried on unregardingly. "And for any entertainment, banquet, or symposium he'll find a time to speak, never mind who else may be giving an oration already."

"Has anyone ever told ya you're ever so slightly not good at makin' new acquaintances?" Xena taking her life in her hands, but reaching the limits of her endurance and consequently throwing caution to the winds. "That's a sharp tongue ya got there, gal."

"Ha," Gabrielle not one whit put out, but now grinning openly; passers-by who noticed stepping hurriedly aside. "He, on the other hand, is greedy of new acquaintance, the more the merrier, especially if they are powerful; and thinks it no small advancement socially to rise in such company to be known by all as he speaks."

"Gabs, fer all the Gods' sakes, give over."

"Nah."

"Sh-t."

"As I was sayin', lover, his talk, at whatever banquets he attends, is always five times louder an' longer than others'; no attempted argument or interruption from his listeners being able to either start a quarrel or shut him off." On a roll the blonde Amazon carried on, exploring new fields of disparagement as she went. "Of all supposed disgraces he endeavours never to be non-plussed in his speech in any circumstance; and had generally rather fly for sanctuary to spouting nonsense, which few auditors can decry without feeling fools, than to nothing at all, and thereby admit his lack."

The women were finally in sight of their Inn, much to Xena's relief—whose only worry now being the man might take it into his head to enter there too.

"There jest ain't no stoppin' yer, is there, dearest?"

"Listen up, Princess, what I'm tellin' you is worth takin' note of." Gabrielle rising supreme above all criticism. "Look at him, will you? His boldness is beholding to other's modesty, which rescues him, I'm betting, many times from a baffle or stand-off argument. Yet his face, and bravado, is as good as armour, he being dashed out of anything sooner than countenance."

Finally, to the Princess's relief, they hove up at their Inn's entrance, watching the man who had been the subject of debate carry on pushing his way through the crowded citizens in the street—but the Amazon had not yet finally done with her prey.

"Grosser conceits, or ordinary people, are puzzled in him for appearing a rare man; and wiser women and men, though they know him, take him for their pleasure or fun, or as they would a scholar for being next at hand."

"What?" Xena baffled. "Come on, I think there's a party goin' on in the main dinin' room, let's get on in an' join the fun."

"Thus preferment stumbles on him, merely because he's still in the way." Gabrielle here pursuing some curious mental by-way of her own. "His companions, that flouted him before, now envy him when they see him come ready for the purple toga, while they themselves still lie mufti in their old clothes and stuffy Academies."

Xena, reverting to old-fashioned means, dragged her own companion by her bare arm into the main entrance of the Inn, heading determinedly for the dining-room.

"Hey, look, gal, pastries an' pies. Y'can hardly see the table for them. Think I'll have this here venison pasty all t'myself—you get yerself whatever else y'want, dearie—this here's mine, grrr."

"Fool. All the same, Gods, look at all these pastries—Oh Gods, this must be the Elysian Fields, at last." The Amazon in ecstasy. "Hey, get out'ta my way, Princess, ye're standin' between me an' that fruit pie over there—move ass, lady."

"Aphrodite, what a gal—there, happy?"

"Yippee."

"Gods."

—O—

18. A Baker.

The Amazon Queen sat back on her chair, nearly but not quite sated; licking her lips at recent past glories sadly now gone forever.

"Y'know, dearest, no-one verifies the old saying more."

"What? What sayin'?" The Princess, on the other hand, was still intent on surveying, and more importantly sampling, the rapidly depleting bill of fare spread out on the table before them.

"The baker, back in the Inn kitchens, who made all these wonderful delights, dearest." Gabrielle sighed sadly. "It's said that it's simply an act of charity to punish such as he, because his penalty is a dole, something he has to hand out to the commonalty; this thereby doing the beggars as much good as their dinner, for he must, of course, provide for free what his main object of manufacture is—food."

"Ah, really? Wonder if this's a pork pie, or steak? Oh, what's the odds, I'd get t'it eventually, anyway—mmm, lark, I was wrong."

"He abhors therefore, as you'd expect, lady, acts of charity; thinking his cakes and pies just cast away when given to the poor." The Amazon pausing in loosening her waist-belt to laugh gently. "He loves not Justice, either, for his weigh-scales sake; loving to give less than the legal level, and so gain more in the long run."

"Been there, doll, seen that."

Gabrielle here sat back up, eyeing a small platter of what looked suspiciously like small individual fruit pies in deep pastry casings—her mouth beginning to water all over again, a stealthy Amazon hand reaching quietly out for its prey.

"As a result he hates the Clerk of the Market as much as if he were his executioner; the baker dearly loving, when selling at his stall there, to under-weigh his goods and thereby gain a bigger profit." Gabrielle already knowing all these devious ploys, as if to the manner born. "Yet, when discovered in these offences, he's generally shown mercy by the Court, they knowing full well what most irks him—his basket of wares being the only item, so to say, sent to prison—being given for free to the citizens and poor as a fine."

"Ha-ha, bet he won't like that, Gabs."

The Amazon Queen, suddenly looking less than comfortable and holding a comforting hand over her bare stomach, grimaced slightly.

"Well, a pillory's his deadly enemy," She nodding glumly, beginning to rub her stomach nervously. "he never hearing well again, after being put in them and his head and ears being battered by rotten lettuces for a morning."

"Oh, well, that's life, in'nit." Xena, unconcerned, was starting on what had turned out to be a turbot encased in jelly and thick pastry. "Here, want a plateful of this, it's scrumptious."

But the Amazon Queen had finally faced and admitted reality, and defeat, standing up and looking at her paramour with a plaintive air.

"Lover?"

"Yeah, what? Come on, si'down an' take a few mouthfuls o'this turbot, y'll love it."

"Xena?"

"What, fer all the Gods' sakes? Y'realise ye're eatin' in'ta my eatin' time, darlin'?"

"I'm gon'na—I'm gon'na throw up—now."

"Oh, Gods."

Note:— Alert readers will have cottoned on to the fact that the above (Baker) study is based on the same source as No.1 in this series. I'd written it before realising the fact; but as this latter attempt sticks closer to the original, and at least gives an alternate view from my first effort, I thought it better to leave it in, for purposes of comparison to those interested. And, in an excess of generosity, here is the whole, complete, entire, unedited, original character-study from John Earle's book of 1628.

27. A Baker.

No man verifies the Proverbe more, that it is an Almes-deed to punish him: for his penalty is a Dole, and do's the Beggers as much good as their Dinner. He abhors therefore workes of Charitie, and thinkes his Bread cast away when it is given to the poore. He loves not Justice neither, for the weigh-scales sake, and hates the Clarke of the Market as his Executioner: yet he findes mercy in his offences, and his basket onely is sent to Prison. Marry a Pillory is his deadly enemy, and he never heares well after.

—O—