Meg recounts the highlights of her checkered journey from lowlife to midlife.
Joxer: Hey! That's my girl you’re talkin’ about.
Autolycus: That's anybody’s girl I'm talkin’ about. Come on. She doesn’t have an ounce of loyalty for any one man. Trust me – I know the type. I love the type.
-- KEY TO THE KINGDOM
Yeah, I know I don’t got one a those stellular reputations. Slept around enough so’s it’s come back to me. I did some bad things in m’ life. Not Zena bad, a course. Just like the good I did don’t compare to Gabs. Nobody could. Hear Joxer tell it, they’re the pedicure or pennycule or whatever of everything. Can’t fault `im for that. For hangin’ on to his thing for Gabs `til it killed `im. I mean, my eye did its share of wanderin’. Might’ve stuck on Auto, if his hadn’t been so set on the WP. Typical, like all those others lustin’ after `em. Barflies, warlords, gods, kings, Amazons. Tsk. Prob’ly flyin’ lizards with three heads. Funny, when you think about it. Only bodies they saw was each other. To the rest a the world, could’ve been anybody’s girls. Heh. Same as me.
Mind ya, they had their share of enemies too. I started out as one. Didn’t know it at the time. Or who Zena was, for that matter. Just another gig far as I was concerned. `Cept it called for more’n my skills in bed. Well, that got me the job, but this guy – Aggie – was more concerned with my looks. Said I matched somebody he was interested in. Two somebodies. Promises me a sack a loot if I’ll make out like I’m them. No, not that kinda “make out.” I’m s’posed to pretend I’m some famous warrior woman so I can get inside a castle, change into a princess, and when her daddy dies – with a little help from Aggie – I take his place as queen, turn the army over to Aggie, and he makes the kingdomers slaves. Got it? Yeah, yeah, my standards wasn’t so high then, okay?
Anyways, I’m in this tavern, sportin’ the battle outfit from Aggie, before I set out for the castle. Whooeee, did I attract attention! Men fallin’ all over themselves to get their hands on that leather. Could’ve made as much off it as Aggie’s coins for trekkin’ into who knows what. Might’ve stolen it and earned a life of leisure lyin’ around in bed, so to speak, `cept for Aggie huntin` me down. Good thing I hung around though, `cause that’s how I met the love a my life. He swaggers in with all this big talk about battles alongside “legendary” acquaintances. Had a sword all right. >From the rest of his getup, you’d think he had a fight with kitchen utensils. And lost.
He catches sight a me and suddenly clams up. Eyes nearly bug out his head. Next thing I know, he’s huggin’ me like we’re best friends, callin’ me by the warrior woman’s name. I’m like, ooookay, guess I’m already on the clock for Aggie. And it wasn’t so bad! Kinda fun. The new guy was dorky, but a cut above the rest. Sweet no matter how he tried to hide it. I didn’t mind he’d be a freebie. Took `im awhile to get m`drift. I patted his behind. He giggled all nervous like it was a joke. I played in his hair. Stared at me like I’d lost my mind. Finally I whispered what I wanted in his ear. It’s a good bet he wet his pants!
Oh, he was changed man after we came back from our little “greetin’” session. Chest all poked out like he’d wrestled Hercules to the ground. Buyin’ drinks for all the guys slappin’ him on his back. Seems I made `im their hero. I know now it wasn’t just the leather, but who they thought was in it. Whatever, it gave me power. Guess I was feelin’ it when I told `im to meet me at the castle when he could. He bowed and said, “Jocksurrrr the Mighty, at your service.” J-o-x-e-r. Not like it sounded. I know, `cause he spelled it for me.
Things pretty much went downhill after that. Hard enough keepin’ straight when I was Zena and when I was Princess Diana. This little blonde busts in claimin’ to know me – meaning Zena. Fussin’ about how Joxer’s dirtying up my rep like I’m some “lowlife tramp” – meaning the real me. How he’s not right in the head and what did I do to make him think there’s somethin’ between us? How she and I needed to improve our communicatin’. And on and on. Ooo, did I want to shut her up, and not just so’s she wouldn’t ruin Aggie’s plot. “Throw `er in the dungeon,” I said as “Zena.” And they did!
How was I to know the chatterbox could be a so-called deadly killer’s best friend? Even worse, one of Joxer’s? Or could mess things up even when she wasn’t around? Joxer shows up, I got `im on this nice cushy bed, and her name pops up. Gabrielle. I tell `im about the dungeon. Is he glad she’s out the way? Noooo. Gets all goody two shoes on me. Runs out moanin’ he can’t come between two gal pals. Changes his mind later, but comes on to Princess Di instead. The real one. He gets tossed in the slammer. Pffft. So much for the leather and power of the woman inside.
To top it off, Aggie’s boys didn’t ambush Zena like they was s’posed to and she shows up. I’m thinkin’ no amount a money is worth my sorry hide now. Aggie sees it otherwise. He still hi-jacks the princess and substitutes me. I figure maybe I can get a little somethin’ for m’self playin’ royalty. I order Joxer released. Things’re gettin’ hot’n heavy in the hallway, when the princeling’s nurse shows up. I gotta baby sit?! That sure as heck wasn’t in my contract. What next? A catfight? You got it. Gabbermouth somehow escapes, finds me, we have a hair-pullin’ chat, and she gets me to join her team.
I play my last act helpin’ save King Lias as “Diana” and her baby as “Zena.” I gotta admit, things turned out better than I feared. Zena told me not to worry about my past. Said good deeds would make me good. She oughtta know about that, huh? And she was right. My “reformed” bits on their side kept me outta jail. Won me a cook job at the castle. Joxer hung around and finally got together with me. As Meg. And no interruptions.
Hard imaginin’ lowly ol’ Meg as a warrior or a princess, huh? Or, better yet, a virgin priestess! Bwahahahahaha! I think I’m doin’ one a those good deeds – standin’ in for another twin of me and Zena. A priest named Balius tells me this Leah person’s abandoned her flock at the altar and he needs me to carry on her duties. I was a legit businesswoman at the time, runnin’ a tavern and … gentleman’s club … down the road. I’m at the temple in the holy woman’s gown when Zena swoops in. She finds out Balius is actually a bad guy who wants to hurt Priestess Leah. Unfortunately, I kinda spilled the beans about Zena comin’. To keep Balius off guard, they send Leah to my place as me. Soon ya got three look-alikes passin’ themselves off as each other. Talk about makin’ your head spin!
Eh, it worked out okay. The interestin’ part is where Joxer comes in. Seems he saw Gabs at my place and thinks she’s one a my girls. Bwahahahaha! Then I get to hear what he really thinks a me when I’m dressed like Leah. Says he’s oh so sorry for mistakin’ her for somebody who’s “been around the block” as much as me. Too bad for him it also taught me a good right hook. Redeemed himself later, tryin’ to rescue me. Botched it, a course, but they say it’s the thought that counts.
Him and me did okay for a while after that. One night he comes to my place all weepy. “She’s dead!” Yeah, Gabs had pulled another of her dyin’ swan acts. Jumped in a pit all on her own to save Zena. Sure, I was sorry to hear that. Can’t blame a girl for seein’ opportunity. I’m thinkin’ maybe he and I can finally seal the deal without the Dynamic Duo buttin’ in. Wrong. Zena’s got this notion she can save Gabs’ soul somehow by marryin’ Ares. I hear Joxer’s gonna give the war god a bachelor party. I get an idea for earnin’ some extra dinars, plus a chance to give Joxer his just desserts – me.
I’m inside a big fake cake. Pop out in nothin’ but cherries and cream, shakin’ and givin’ an eyeful of my few covered body parts. Singin’, “Give me an A, give me an R, give me an S, give me an E.” Ares sure seemed taken with my act. My idiot boyfriend? I make a cheery toast to dearly departed Blondie and suddenly he takes off, leavin’ me with nothin’ but goose bumps and the bill for my costume. I find out later he’s gonna follow that hardheaded, never give up fool Warrior Princess. Claims she had a “vision” of Gabs alive. Naturally they find Gabs. Worse, Joxer comes back with the hots for her sister! If I’d a been Priestess Leah, I’d’ve said, “Ye gods on Mt Olympus, can I get a break?”
Well, I’m Meg. She don’t give up so easy neither. Maybe on Joxer, but if a plan formin’ in m’ brain worked, maybe not. See, I’d always had this idea of a family one day. A kid a my own to raise better’n I got. Somebody ain’t inclined to run off after the first skirt or smell of adventure. Problem was, didn’t seem my female parts agreed. Plenty times in the sack, not always careful. No hint of bein’ preggers. Kinda bummed about it `til I hear some guys talkin’ about this royal baby. No parents. Guardians who don’t love `im. Kept in a drafty ol’ room by himself. He needs a mom. I need a kid. Bingo.
I tell Joxer what I heard. Not the part about the baby. The part where they also mentioned a treasure. Joxer says he knows just the thief to help us get it. With me actin’ like Zena, it’ll be a cinch. We meet up with this Autolycus character. Oh, he’s a cute one, if full a himself. I can tell right off he’d like to sample ol’ Meg. Thing is, Joxer’s part of my big plan, and Auto won’t be happy with it when he finds out the truth. So I do a little of the ol’ bait’n switch. Call him “Mr. Stinky” to put him off. Bat my eyes and act dumb to suck `im in. He may be the King of Thieves, but I’m the Queen of Pullin’ One Over on Ya. I get `im to tell me his weakness when it comes to locks. Once I’ve snatched the kid, it takes Auto awhile to get free when I have him thrown in the pokey.
Eventually he catches up to me and Joxer. Meantime, I’d put the second part a my plan in action – convincin’ Joxer he’d be a good daddy. Him, Punkin and me as a family. Even Auto saw it. But not on the two dinars the parents had between us. We decide to go after the treasure anyway. Turns out Punkin was the key we needed. And that he was really a grown man cursed to live as a baby. After Punkin poofed into King Cleades, I figured my dreams of a family poofed along with `im. Once again Zena told me to buck up. That what I’d done for Punkin-Cleades deserved rewardin’. For someone who’d done so much wrong, she sure had a way of bein’ right when it came to me.
Took awhile, but Joxer’n and me settled down. Had kids. From my body. Ran a place to eat’n drink. Joxer made it into more a memorial to Zena and Gabrielle. Paintings of `em. Statues. Copies of their clothes and weapons. Even of Zena’s horse. He’d kept the real one until she kicked. The horse I mean. Her baby was the spittin’ image. Joxer wouldn’t let nobody ride `er. Couldn’t let go a the idea his friends was still alive. Can’t blame `im. He’d pried `em off Roman crosses once. Dead as doorknobs. Nearly broke his heart. Next he knows, they’re sittin’ up, breathin’ like before. A miracle. Yeah, they was the pennycule or whatever of that too.
I’ll never forget that day they came back. Joxer had just blown half our savings buyin’ Gab’s s’posed last scroll. It was about Zena’s miracle child. A girl the gods thought would bring their downfall. Joxer had nearly died helpin’ his friends protect `er. Witnessed the gods chase their wagon off a cliff. Gabs’ scroll said the baby wasn’t really with `em, that they’d found a way to fake their own deaths too. Might’ve worked, `cept Ares whisked their bodies off somewhere. But, like usual, they had more lives’n a cat.
It’s 25 years later and there they are, good as new. They say they got preserved in an ice cave Ares took `em to. Whatever, I’m starin’ at a vision of m’self in my prime. Me, I got farts, wrinkles and Bardburger fat on my buns. Not the real bard though. What normal person gets muscles like that even dead or sleepin’? Heck, I couldn’t compete back when. What chance I got with her lookin’ like my kid? No surprise I see the ol’ fire in Joxer. They figure Zena’s daughter’s out there somewhere, so a course he’s gotta help `em find `er. No use me fussin’ at `im. I do it anyway. Maybe `cause I want `im to remember we’re a cranky ol’ couple. Maybe `cause my heart says it’ll be my last chance.
I’ve had folks tell me they’d be bitter about what happened after. Joxer makin’ me a widow to save Gabs. Zena’s daughter his killer. My son Virgil there to see it and for the first time have hate in his heart. Me left to take care of his brothers and sisters. The gods findin’ their way to our doorstep. Makin’ our establishment their battlefield with Zena. Blowin’ it up along with our livelihood. Enough to make anybody throw up their hands I guess. I just didn’t have the heart for that.
The Gabs thing? I accepted that long ago. See, Joxer’n I felt akin to each other from the get-go. Comfy enough to talk about most anything. Both of us knowin’ what it’s like bein` looked down on. Folks expectin’ the worst of us or nothin’ at all – `les it was pretendin’ to be somebody else, under spells or in fairy tales. Now, I ain’t one for revisitin’ childhood stuff and such. Blamin’ how I turned out on where I came from. Sure, had its uses from time to time. Sob story about a poor little orphan girl survivin’ on her own. During my Princess Di escapade, it kept Gabs from whippin’ my butt. Pulled the heartstrings of King Lias so’s he kept me around. Best job I ever had, not including playin’ sidekick to the Dynamic Duo.
They prob’ly came from decent homes. Had talents to build on. Folks countin’ on `em to be somebody. Do great things. Joxer’n me? Ordinary clods tryin’ to go against our grain. Lucky enough to be in the shadows of extra ordinary mortals. See standards to live up to. Me `cause I looked like one of `em. Joxer `cause he wanted to be like one and with the other. Made us sad sometimes, fallin’ short, but not bitter or feelin’ sorry for ourselves. Joxer made his own luck. Didn’t care what others thought. Just kept pluggin’ away at bein’ a warrior. Makin’ the Dynamic Duo a threesome. Sniffin’ after Blondie.
Joxer’s hero worship did get on m’last nerve sometimes. But he’s the reason I got nerve enough to rise above what I’d been. Maybe he learned from me he was worth lovin’ just as he was. Honestly? I also kinda liked him when he tried to be like them. We got to see they had faults too, how hard they worked overcomin’ `em. Made the best of what they had. And you know what? That’s how they treated us. Showin’ it’s important to be “real” – true to the best of whatever you are. Bein’ with somebody who didn’t try to make you feel small.
That’s how it was with Joxer’n me. Acceptin’ our goofy qualities. Enjoyin’ we could break all those nice rules and nobody gave a hoot. Stumble around, pick our teeth, butt into stuff we had no business. Two broken-in shoes comfortable with each other. No bindin’ or needin’ a shine every day. Gabs was more fancy footwear. Somethin’ you’d get if you could afford it, but might pinch ya if you did. When he thought she’d died? Those years they was frozen? He lost that gleam in his eye. A lot of his swagger. That urge to keep stretchin’ for what’s outta reach. Made `im easier to live with, but not quite the man I took a hankerin’ to.
I knew they’d snatch `im away again. Or, more likely, he’d beg to go with `em. What could I do? Tell `im not to follow his heart? Too old and pitiful for one last adventure? Yeah, I grieved like a madwoman when I heard the news. Couldn’t believe Zena’s daughter was the doer. But you know what? At least it wasn’t some freak accident. Not by the hand of some scumbag stranger who didn’t appreciate who Joxer was or how much he’d be missed. He went out the way he wanted – a hero. Savin’ somebody he loved. People he loved at his side. Zena and Gabs mourned him enough for all of us. Will make sure Zena’s daughter remembers him the rest of her life. Maybe as inspiration for doin’ good.
As for me, I’m happy in this little house. I’m more a city girl anyway. Without Joxer, the country would’ve been way too quiet and borin’. I salvaged a few a his things from the tavern. That silly hat and homemade “armor.” A singed picture of the Dynamic Duo to look at when I miss `em. A fake Zena sword. Heh, I stand in front a the mirror sometimes pretendin’ I’m her at King Lias’ castle, slashin’ a dramatic “Z” through the air. Got a wooden shamrock too. Yeah, yeah, I know it’s called somethin’ else. Too hard to say, let alone remember. Virgil keeps Joxer alive for me too. My first kid and quite the bard himself. Forever tryin’ to improve my readin’ and writin’. Heh. I’ve learned more’n Virgil knows. I just like too much hearin’ `im tell his stories to me.
Speakin’ a which, remember when King Cleades was still a baby? My “Punkin?” I told `im a story one night about the stars. When I was a little girl I thought those little lights came from houses in the sky. Happy families inside around cozy fires. Little girls at every window gazin’ at the other lights. Him and me didn’t start out with that, but I promised things would be different for us. We were gonna be one those lights. Wasn’t quite what I had in mind, but I helped it come true for him. For m’self too, without needin’ to borrow a family from somebody else.
Know what’s weird? As a kid, seemed anybody could have one a those lights. Older I got, seemed to be everybody but me. Figured maybe you had to be “somebody” – special like Zena or Gabrielle. They taught me if I cared about me – even if I sold or gave my body too freely – I could still be my own woman. Then I got to be somebody else’s, at my choosing. A businesswoman, wife, mother, grandmother, friend. Or folks I didn’t ask latchin’ on to me, `cause they saw Zena in me even when I wasn’t pretendin’. Old as I am, makes me feel I could be anybody I want. Uh huh. Not so different from Zena and Gabs.
I remember Joxer gettin’ all hot’n bothered way back about somethin’ he said Auto told `im. That I couldn’t love Joxer `cause I’d never have loyalty toward any one man. Humph. Proved him wrong about that. I’ll still belong to Joxer when they throw dirt on me. Same as with the others I let shine in my window. Don’t get me wrong – Joxer defendin’ my honor touched me. I just didn’t get the big deal. What Auto said? Wasn’t so bad. Far as I see it now, there’s a lotta good in bein’ anybody’s girl.
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