HEROIC BARDING JUNIOR YEAR © Absinthe Angel 777 aka M. Guerriere 12/28/2004
Legal disclaimer: Xena & Gabrielle are the property of Ren Pics and MCA/Universal. The following story serves as a writing exercise and no more. I do not make any profit from it and it is to be used for amatueur fan fiction purposes only.
"Attention, class!" Mistress Ademia, the stern, matronly prose professor waited for quiet. She rearranged her conservative, ivory toga then droned on. "Before you leave today, please note that your mid-term epic poem is due next week.
Now class, as you recall, before we adjourned for the Bacchanal holiday you were given a 5000 word assignment reporting on the festivities and the activities of our rather high profile visitors. You were to get up close and monitor the movements of these well-known personas and relay a short report bringing as much life into your characters as you could."
The woman stopped talking abruptly and glared at two boys whispering in the back of the room. Slowly she made her way towards them.
"Consider yourself very lucky, young bards, to be allowed in the same company as heads of state, foreign dignitaries, artists, gladiators, distinguished orators, warlords and women of exquisite beauty. Only this school could give a room full of relative unknown writers the opportunity to dine and share the same hall with such a variety of celebrities."
Grabbing the ear of one young man and yanking the side-locks of another, the teacher guided the two disruptive students through the classroom and banished them into the hallway. Her actions never interrupted the flow of her monotone instruction.
"It's not often that young writers like yourself would be exposed to this many famous people in such a candid and uninhibited environment. Truly the events of the Bacchanal are a window into the how the rich and beautiful people of the world interact with each other.
I am now going to hand you back your graded Bacchanal reports. Let me inform you that I am highly disappointed in the general quality of your writing! If you all wish to be professional bards, you are going to have to learn how to report the activities of high society and hold your liquor at the same time!"
"Epic poem due in 5 days." Gabrielle wrote a small note to herself on a piece of parchment and stuffed it into her leather school bag. She looked around suspiciously after the noisy shuffling of scrolls had diminished. Strangely, hers had not been returned.
"All of you", the teacher waved her pointer about menacingly, "are here under special arrangement. Do you know how many talented, young, aspiring bards are waiting to sit in your seats? Here at the Athens School of Fine Arts we only admit the cream of the crop! I want you all to be cognizant of that fact the next time you dare to turn an assignment in!"
The class went silent.
"If you have received your scrolls, you are dismissed. If not, you are to report to Head Master Philander's office directly. I will meet you there to further discuss your failing grade."
The feeling of cold, unsympathetic bile ran up and down Gabrielle's throat. She was attending school on the terms of a very strict scholarship. She could not fail anything. If her performance went down even one iota, she would be sent home.
Slowly she drifted down the large, marble hallway. Through the pillars she could see outside to the ongoing philosophy classes in the courtyard. Inside the hallowed school halls she passed classes in Wood Carving, Sculpture and Poetry. "Oh poetry!" she sighed heavily. She would surely die if she were cut off from the exceptional opportunities presented at this university.
Behind her, two young men snickered to themselves as they walked along. She knew who they were. Classmates of hers going in the same direction. It was highly likely they did not complete their assignment at all. They were the sons of well-connected diplomats who never had to follow any of the rules.
"It isn't fair", she thought. "They get to stay, no matter how poorly they do. But I have this constant Sword of Damocles over my head." The more she thought, the angrier she became. "There was nothing wrong with that assignment. There must be some mistake. And if it's not a mistake, I'm not leaving without a fight!"
Mustering up all her courage, Gabrielle walked through the doorway of Headmaster Philander's outer office expecting but not ready to accept a painful reprimand. Perhaps he would only give her a stern warning and pile on some extra assignments. She sat down on a carved wooden bench and boldly awaited the confrontation.
Her two slacking classmates shuffled into the office, stifling laughter as Mistress Ademia poked her nose out of a foreboding inner sanctum.
"You two! In here now!" She was pointing at the boys. They rolled their eyes and wandered in. The door shut behind them. Gabrielle could hear the muffled rumblings of a man's voice, the boys protesting and Mistress Ademia's rather shrill accusations. The shouting increased. The man's voice intensified and she could now hear the boys pleading on their own behalf. The older man was punctuating his threats by banging his fist on a table, then on a wall. It was all over in a few minutes but by that time Gabrielle was already tasting the repeated acid of her own fear. The young men shuffled out, heads hung low and grumbling epithets.
A broad, overly tanned man with tight black curls and a precisely trimmed beard appeared, pursed his lips and impatiently called out, "Miss Gabrielle."
It was Head Master Philander. He wore a heavy, dyed robe of rich blue. Several heavy, extravagant gold rings seemed stuffed onto his fat fingers. Gabrielle swallowed a deep breath and walked head held high into the private office.
Philander seated himself with a grandiose sweep of his toga and cleared his throat. Mistress Ademia and Head Master Philander sat side by side on matching, elaborately decorated thrones. Gabrielle followed their commanding eyes and seated herself before her two teachers on a very low stool.
Mistress Ademia began, "Gabrielle."
Before the Mistress had the opportunity to fully state the crime, Gabrielle laid out her defense. "I don't understand. Up until know I've done good work. No one has ever complained. If I'm guilty of anything, I should have been more logical with my assignment. I might have gotten too creative."
"Indeed." Master Philander clasped his hands in front of his mouth and grunted.
Ignoring the girl's precocious explanations, Mistress Ademia continued, "Gabrielle, both of us have been giving out assignments for many years and your scroll…your scroll was very unusual."
"I concede. I totally screwed up on my use of metaphor." Gabrielle laid out the guilty analysis. "But I was very distracted. It was the holiday and I've never experienced anything like that before. There was so much excitement. It was hard to concentrate. It was noisy. Every time I tried to sit down and write I got pulled away. I didn't know whether to laugh or cry or scream. The whole three days and nights of the Bacchanal were a complete sensual overload."
Head Master Philander moved uncomfortably in chair and looked without expression into Mistress Ademia's eyes, then back to Gabrielle. "One gets the feeling of that from what you wrote."
"My assignment description was for 5000 words." Mistress Ademia's voice was stark and antiseptic. "You wrote double! 10,000 words. Any accounting for that, young lady?"
"I wrote as many words as I thought I needed", Gabrielle scrambled.
"Oh really?" Ademia's eyes crossed. "Are you the teacher now? Do you fancy yourself to be so talented that you can take liberties with my instructions?"
Trying to plead her case Gabrielle offered, "I wanted to truly express what it was like to be in the moment. I became inspired and once I got going, I couldn't stop myself. I was pushing all my limits. I was in an uncontrolled frenzy."
"Apparently." The Head Master huffed and rolled his eyes at the excitable girl. "But a bard should focus her attention at the assignment at hand. Not wander down the literary garden path with whatever passing maenad one chooses."
"This is highly unorthodox." The woman gripped Gabrielle's scroll tightly in her hand and shook it. "You realize that you can complete an assignment and still fail. You do know what the penalty would be in your case for failing, don't you?"
"Oh please!" Gabrielle cracked under the pressure, "I can redo it! I just want to please. I'll do it over and over again if I'm asked. I'll do it over and over a hundred times without complaint!"
A smile curled across Mistress Ademia's lips and she began to chuckle as the solemn tone flickered.
Head Master Philander coughed nervously into his hand, and broke out into a snicker. "If I had been in your position, so would I, darling! So would I!"
Gabrielle sat before them both with a look of total hopelessness. She knew there would be no opportunity to redo her assignment and save her grade. Not only had she failed miserably, she was being mocked by her professors. She prepared herself to be expelled.
Through a gaze heavy with sadness she looked closer at the rolled up scroll in her teachers hands. Her green eyes widened and swirled. Feelings that were seconds ago only that of despair twisted horribly into sheer mortification.
Gabrielle realized that the graded scroll Mistress Ademia was waving about was not the Bacchanal assignment at all, but a misplaced part of her personal diary from those very same nights.
Mistress Ademia placed the scroll down in the middle of the table and nodded her head indicating it was acceptable for Gabrielle to retrieve her scroll.
However Gabrielle was not quick enough. The Head Master intercepted the scroll before Gabrielle put her hand on it and held the document close to his heart.
"Wait! Wait!" Head Master Philander objected loudly and unrolled the scroll. "Before you reclaim this piece of witchery. Let me find that terribly explicit part again!" He mumbled to himself, shook his head and raised his eyebrows examining the words,
Mistress Ademia agreed, "Indecently controversial."
Gabrielle sat rigidly. Embarrassment burned her cheeks red as flame.
"Ahh yes. Here it is. That wicked part I was referring to. Tsk! tsk! Gabrielle, I was under the impression that you were just an innocent farm girl. We never dreamed that YOU of all people…"
He paused a moment and read. His face inscutable.
"You know, Gabrielle, most conservative people, people of taste and class, would consider this prose an abomination! Average citizens don't even discuss things like this with their closest personal friends. Never mind actually writing about it in lurid detail!" Philander paused a moment to read the passage to himself, eyebrows raising up and down.
"Xena." The name hissed slowly from his lips. "How accurately you've described her. You know, I didn't even see that awful Xena Warrior Princess person arrive. I must have been speaking with Cleopatra's stylist in the outdoor garden!"
The Head Master read on, twisting the scroll forward in a voracious fashion. "If you want to be a bard and keep up with all the beautiful people, you need to have eyes in the back of your head! I wonder how that snake of a warrior woman snuck into the main hall without me noticing."
"I saw Xena that first night." Mistress Ademia recounted in full detail, "I remember distinctly! Xena, the Warrior Princess swaggered in with such conceit and began to work the room. As usual she had her roving eye on all the pretty, young things. What a rogue! It's apparent she believes her own press, you know!".
The teacher paused for effect, "Then suddenly….quite mysteriously…..oh Head Master! You should have seen the events transpire!
I was sitting at the banquet table speaking with the director of the Off Off Off Athenian Way Tragic Village Theatre and there was our innocent Gabrielle on one side of the room and that pompous, arrogant, warrior Xena on the other!
The communication between both of them was incredibly subtle. But these trained eyes see everything noteworthy of gossip! I knew there was a story!"
The Head Master squealed, "Sounds delicious! Tell me more!"
Gabrielle's vision crossed as her teachers recounted the events out loud. She believed she was going to be ill.
"One moment they were being introduced …" Mistress Ademia cocked her head and moved her hands to and fro, "…and the next moment, Xena and Gabrielle were nowhere to be found. Each missing for three days!"
Head Master Philander burst out in flamboyant giggles. Winking at Gabrielle he teased, "You really cleaned her chariot, didn't you girl?"
Mistress Ademia put a reassuring hand on Gabrielle's shoulder. "You won't be reading this particular version of events to the class, dear. But it's an unusually thorough work. That's what I call becoming fully acquainted with your subject."
Sternly, Mistress Ademia finally moved to return the girl's scroll announcing, "Gabrielle - your grade is Alpha Plus!"
"Alpha Plus?" Gabrielle peeped in disbelief. She accepted the scroll meekly and nodded. "You mean I passed? I can stay? Thank you."
Fanning herself, Mistress Ademia remarked, "Oh no! Thank YOU! My! It's been years! Your description of the second night was a real potboiler! I enjoyed it! And Gabrielle… "
"Yes?" the young bard looked at her mark.
"Something a little more tame for the next class if you please." Mistress Ademia directed.
"I have an idea. Why don't you consider reporting for the Athens Tattler or Trojan Celebrity Confessions!" the Head Master gleefully suggested watching the flustered girl change color.
"Bright and early tomorrow morning, Gabrielle. We'll see you in class. You're excused." Mistress Ademia concluded.
Gabrielle rose from the small seat, clutching her precious scroll to her chest and quietly backed out of the silent room. She closed the door as shrieks of laughter broke out behind her.