Gabrielle's Fables 7 - A Day at the Fair ... and what it leads to
by Cassandra and Bik
Copyright notice: Even though we may believe that this should mean that everyone has the right to copy anything they want, other legalistic types disagree (and one of us - Bik - just passed the bar so we have to play nice. CONGRATULATIONS! We knew you could do it). The characters of Xena and Gabrielle belong to Renaissance Pictures, StudiosUSA and whatever manifestation they have assumed this season. All other characters and the story belong to the authors; and we love all our children.
Disclaimers: Mild hints at subtext in the Xena/Gabrielle vignettes before and after the main story. The fable depicts a loving relationship between two creatures of different species. If interspecies relationships are illegal in your part of the zoo, please avert your eyes.
Literary disclaimer: Too many to mention them all individually. Suffice it to say we mean no harm and have nothing but the deepest respect for all the giants of English literature. That sound you hear is mild laughter in the background.
Any comments, feedback, praise, constructive criticism may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org
For a change Xena and Gabrielle were staying in an inn. Even the most stoic warrior and dedicated sidekick need a softer bed than the ground once in a while. Besides, as Xena said as an excuse, Argo needed a little pampering; she had checked out the stables before deciding if they would stay at this inn or look elsewhere. Gabrielle, who was not quite as dedicated as her partner was stoic, was glad when it met with Xena's approval.
Since they were both tired after a couple of weeks of almost constant travel, they were content to sit at a table in an obscure corner and quietly eat their meal. Fortunately, the other patrons were too busy eating and drinking to have time to get into any arguments. Everything was going along nicely when the innkeeper rapped on the bar to get people's attention.
"Listen up, everybody," he said in a raised voice. The last murmurs died down and everyone looked at him, wondering what he had to say that was more important than their meals. "We're very lucky tonight to have a talented bard staying here."
Xena and Gabrielle looked at each other. Gabrielle whispered, "Did you tell him about me?" "No. Did you say anything to him?" Xena whispered back.
The innkeeper was continuing his introduction. "He has agreed to favor us with some tales of heroes and great deeds." "He?" Xena and Gabrielle both whispered at the same time. "So not to keep you waiting any longer, I present Euphonios!" He clapped and the rest of the audience joined in.
A young man of middle height took up his position in the center of the room and struck a pose, waiting for the applause to die down. He looked around the room, measuring his audience and deciding on what kind of stories to tell them. He didn't notice the two very attentive figures sitting in the shadows at a back table. He began to weave his spell. At least he hoped that was what he was doing. He hadn't been at this travelling bard thing very long and hid his nervousness behind a confident air.
An hour later he was accepting the praise of his unsophisticated audience, and the money they gladly gave him for providing them with some welcome entertainment. Gabrielle gave him some of their hard-earned dinars; more than Xena thought he deserved, but the bard believed in supporting the arts.
Later in their room the warrior princess commented, "He was alright, but not as good as you. It's too bad we have to leave in the morning or the two of you could have a contest." She grinned at her companion, knowing how competitive Gabrielle could be where story-telling was concerned.
The reddish-blonde, or blondish-red, bard was silent for a moment while she got ready for bed. "It's a big world, Xena. There's room enough for all the bards. Besides he is making a living going to different towns, telling stories. I don't have to do that; I have you." She lay down on the bed as she finished speaking.
Their eyes met. Xena blew out the candle and got into bed. The moon continued on its serene path across the sky.
"Where does she get all that energy?" Ergo mumbled. Since it was mid-afternoon and the sun was shining merrily down on them, she felt that was all the effort she could spare for talking.
Her companion, the dark-feathered warrior chicken, cocked one eye in the dusty gold mare's direction and smiled. "Weren't you young once and felt like kicking up your heels all day long?"
They walked for several seconds in silence before Ergo said in a wistful whinny, "I don't remember. It seems like I was always working on the farm. I can't remember just playing."
Before Aquila could reply, a high-pitched shout reached their ears.
"Hey! What's wrong with you guys why are you just dawdling along like a couple of old folks we'll be months crossing the field at this rate what do you want to do settle down here c'mon betcha can't catch me!"
The third member of this travelling roadshow was hopping up and down and waving her yellow wings at her friends. She had been chasing butterflies and generally running around and amusing herself until she noticed that she was leaving the others behind. She figured calling them old would get them moving - especially Aquila, who would never admit to any weakness.
Ergo and Aquila looked at each other. "Who is she calling old?" the dark chicken demanded.
"Not me," the horse called as she started running toward Billie.
Aquila looked relieved that Billie had cheered Ergo up, even if the little chick didn't know it. She started running too. When she caught up to the others, she found Billie running in and out of Ergo's legs while the horse tried to block her in. They were both laughing hard and enjoying their game.
Billie saw a flash of black feathers out of the corner of her eye. "You can't catch me either, Aquila," she yelled. She abandoned the horse's legs as being inadequate protection from a warrior chicken and headed for some nearby bushes. Her little legs had almost carried her to the safety of the bushes when she heard a whizzing noise. The next thing she knew she was tangled up in a bunch of branches and vines.
"No fair!" she protested. "You're supposed to catch me yourself not use your throwing ring what do you call it anyway you've never told us."
By this time the warrior chicken had come over and was releasing her latest catch. "What's in a name? I call it a ring; that's what it is." She patted the magic ring attached to a belt at her waist. "And I'll catch you any way I can," she mock glowered as she removed the last vine and patted her young friend on the back.
Ergo walked up, with a big smile on her face. "That was fun; we'll have to do it again. But not right away," she added hurriedly as she saw Billie about to take off again.
"Okay, Ergo, I don't want to tire you old guys out." She easily dodged the swat Aquila aimed at her.
Aquila smiled at her. "If you children are through playing, let's go in that direction." She pointed to their right.
The gold horse nodded, then got a thoughtful look on her face. "Call me slow, Aquila ..."
"I'd never do that," Billie interrupted. "You're the fastest horse there is ..." She would have gone on indefinitely if Ergo hadn't continued.
"... But you have been giving us directions for the last couple of days. Where are we going?"
The dark-feathered chicken put on her stoic face. "It's a surprise for Billie, and for you, too, Ergo."
"A surprise!" Billie exclaimed happily. "I like surprises they're always nice and fun what kind of a surprise is it how long until we get there let's get going maybe we should ride Ergo we could get there wherever there is faster," she happily burbled as they all began walking again.
Billie was thinking hard. She had spent the last hour trying to find out what surprise Aquila had for them. Despite all her best efforts, all the other chicken would say was wait and see.
Now they were walking through a forest, the two chickens riding on the calm former farm horse. Ergo was glad that their leader knew where they were going since she had never been in this part of the country before. And she was getting as anxious as Billie to find out what this glorious surprise was. She had asked a couple of questions during the brief intervals when Billie was taking a breath and preparing her next onslaught, but Aquila's asnwers had been confusing or cryptic.
"So," the yellow chick began again, "it's something you have to show us you can't describe it is that right you're taking us to wherever this surprise is it's not in this forest is it ... I don't see anything very surprising or fun here just the same old trees I hope you know where we're going so we don't get lost not that you could get lost, Aquila, since you've been so many places and know just about everything ... so how long until we get to your surprise I sure wish you'd tell us what it is please?"
The dark-feathered chicken would only smile at her young companion. "You'll find out soon enough."
"Aquila," Ergo said, as she came to a halt, "we're getting close to the edge of this forest. I can see a road up ahead and a lot of wagons and people all heading in the same direction. Should we stop here and wait for them to go by?"
Billie stood up and tried to see over the mare's head. Aquila put a steadying wing on her back and kept her from falling off. "What's going on where are they all going?" the little chick asked.
Aquila jumped down. "We'll camp here for the night and go on in the morning when the road should be clear."
"What about the surprise?" Billie was trying not to sound disappointed. "You mean we have to wait another day to find out ... Ergo won't be able to sleep tonight unless you tell us." She hoped to make Aquila feel guilty by bringing the horse into her argument.
The dark, moody chicken was amused. "Ergo won't be the only one who can't sleep. I have a feeling none of us will get any sleep unless I tell you. Those people are all going to a town a couple of miles down the road. There is a fair starting tomorrow. I thought we might go to it for - oh maybe a few minutes," she finished quickly.
Billie had an ecstatic look on her face; and Ergo was pretty happy, too. It was a few seconds before Billie could talk. "A fair! That's wonderful!" She grabbed her companion and hugged her tightly. Then she started hopping and talking. "I've only been to the one fair and we didn't get to see much of it because we were on a mission to rescue Joleo but what I saw was a lot of fun will there be magicians and jugglers ... gosh I can hardly wait I don't think I'll be able to sleep at all I'm so excited."
Aquila grabbed the excited chick as she hopped past and tried to calm her down some. "Yes, there will be jugglers and lots of magicians, but no performing bears for you to make friends with. Let's eat dinner and get to bed so we will be ready for tomorrow."
Ergo, pleased about the surprise, said to Billie, "Aquila's right. If you don't get some sleep tonight, you will be too tired to enjoy the fair."
The hyper chick took a deep breath. "Okay. Let's eat and get to sleep that way tomorrow will come faster."
The rising sun saw the three friends walking along the road. "So that's what a sunrise looks like," Billie commented. She was so excited about going to a fair that she had got up before dawn - something that had never happened before. She woke the others up so they could get an early start. Ergo was as eager as she was to get started, but Aquila took her time getting ready. The dark chicken couldn't help smiling at Billie urging her to hurry up, to move faster; usually she was the one doing the urging.
Billie continued, "It's pretty but I don't see why some folks have to get up early every day to see it and make a lot of noise about it too like roosters and wake everybody else up just to show off how early they get up ... it's sort of like a sunset in reverse and you don't have to lose any sleep to see a sunset ... but the air is fresh and cool now so maybe it's not so bad once in a while."
Aquila chuckled. "This is a big day for you. Not only are you going to a fair, but you see your first sunrise! Remind me to wake you up early more often."
The yellow chick turned to look at her, to see if she was serious. When she saw the smile the dark-feathered chicken was trying to hide, she relaxed. Today was a special day, but she didn't feel the need to rise and shine early every day.
Ergo entered the conversation at this point. "I can hear noise. The town must be just around this corner." She danced a few steps in her anticipation.
Billie started hopping, too, eager to experience life to the full.
"Hold it a minute, guys," Aquila said, trying to sound severe but failing miserably. Billie, caught in mid-hop, almost fell over. Ergo paused in her imitation of a foxtrot. They looked at their leader in frustration. "There will be a lot of people there. They probably won't pay any attention to us, but let's stay together so we don't get lost. And try to stay out of trouble." She was looking at Billie when she said this last. "The fair lasts all week so we don't have to see everything today; we can stay the whole time if we want."
When Billie realized that they could stay as long as she wanted and see everything, she looked like she was about to burst. She grabbed the older chicken and hugged her tightly. "Oh thank you! You're the best friend anybody could ever have and I don't know why folks think you're bad I guess they just don't know you the way we do thank you thank you." She released the warrior chicken, who took a deep breath into her almost crushed lungs, and started hopping toward her idea of heaven.
Ergo bent her head and gently nuzzled the gasping chicken. "Thank you for bringing us here. It will be fun for all of us; you'll see. Now we had better catch up with Billie." She pointed her head at the rapidly moving yellow ball.
The two of them started after the sprinter.
As they entered the town and the noise of the crowd hit her ears, Aquila remembered why she didn't like towns and crowds. She looked at her two companions and sighed at what she saw. They both had big grins on their faces and looked ready to plunge into the thick of the fair and not come out for days. Well it was her own fault, wanting to give her friends a treat. Her friends. She paused for a second and her beak twitched in a small smile when she realized that they were her friends, something she had never had before. Then she made a quick grab for Billie and pulled her out of the way of a big boot that kept on walking, oblivious to the disaster it almost caused.
Billie was oblivious, too, to the crushing fate she had barely avoided. She was trying to look everywhere at once. "There's so much to see!" she exclaimed happily. "It will take us days to see everything we'd better get started now come on." She had sighted a magician and was eager to watch him and figure out how he did his magic. Aquila took hold of one yellow wing and let the inquiring chick lead the way. Ergo followed. She figured it would take both of them to keep up with Billie; and also Billie would make sure they saw everything there was to see!
They spent the next several hours wandering through the fair, stopping frequently to watch the different shows. There were a number of magicians, and Billie insisted on watching all of them. She had even figured out how they did some of their tricks, but knowing how they worked didn't decrease her enjoyment.
She liked the jugglers, too. They were so sure-handed, even when they were tossing knives around. Except for one juggler. He never stopped talking, saying the stupidest things; and he kept dropping everything he tried to juggle. She felt sorry for him. But there was always a big crowd around him and he seemed to like it when all the people laughed at him so maybe it was part of his act. She hoped so; but she didn't stay to watch.
The acrobats were fun too. The way they balanced on chairs and tumbled and flipped each other and never seemed to get hurt. But what Billie found completely unbelievable was the sword-swallower. When they saw a man putting a sword down his throat, she put a wing on her own throat and gulped a few times. When he brought the sword back out without any of his internal organs attached to it, she was relieved.
When they stopped in their explorations for something to eat, which they scrounged from a stable down a quiet side street, she asked, "How can someone put a sword down his throat it hurts me just to think about it ... is the sword sharp and why doesn't it stab his stomach or something ouch! what a way to make a living ... people are sure strange."
Ergo looked up from her meal of oats and observed, "Once when I went to market with my former farmer I saw a man putting a lighted torch in his mouth. I thought he would catch on fire, but he wasn't hurt at all."
Billie looked at Ergo as if she had grown a second head. "You're making that up. I may be young, but I don't believe everything anybody tells me."
"It's true," the dusty gold mare protested. "If I were going to make up something, it would be more reasonable than a man putting fire in his mouth. You've seen that, haven't you, Aquila?" she appealed to the warrior chicken.
Aquila had been enjoying this respite from the crowds of people. She replied slowly, "I haven't seen that myself ..." "See," Billie said to Ergo. "... but I have heard about it from a lot of folks so there must be some crazy people who do it."
"See," said Ergo.
"Okay, I believe you," the sceptical chick said. "Hey, we've rested long enough we still have a lot to see ... I heard somebody say there were actors and they would put on a play this afternoon I wonder what a play is it sounds like fun we should go watch those actors play ... why can we understand people but they can't understand us?"
The last question caught both Aquila and Ergo by surprise. Aquila shrugged her shoulders, "I don't know. I never thought about it much. I suppose because people talk so much they don't have time to listen to other creatures. Unlike chatty yellow chicks who talk all the time and still hear what others say." She tapped Billie playfully on her head.
Billie nodded, satisfied at the explanation. "Come on things are happening and we're missing them." They prepared to dive back into the heart of the fair.
They never did see the play. By the time they found where it was, it was over for the day. Billie promised to come back the next day; she was curious to see actors at play.
Late in the afternoon the three adventurers stopped at a booth with a big crowd around it. Always curious, Billie worked her way to the front, with Aquila right behind her to see that she didn't run into any trouble. Ergo could see over the crowd so she stayed in the background and waited; it had been a good day but now she was looking forward to dinner and an early night.
The man behind the table was spinning a wheel. When it stopped, the two chickens could see that it was divided into a lot of sections and each section had a painted symbol in it. A pointer pointed at one of the symbols. When the crowd saw what symbol it pointed at, most of them groaned; a few cursed and left, their places quickly taken by others.
Billie looked at Aquila who could answer all her questions, "What's going on why are they giving that man money just to spin the wheel?"
The worldly-wise chicken smiled at how accurately Billie described gambling. "It's called gambling, Billie. The people are betting on which picture the pointer will be on when the wheel stops. If you think it will stop on the apple or the boat or whatever, you put your money on that picture on the counter. If it stops on the one you picked, you win; if it doesn't, he wins and takes your money."
Billie watched the goings on for a few minutes. Most of the people seemed to be having very bad luck; they never won. There was one man who had better luck, though; he won maybe two spins out of five. She looked up at all the people who were eagerly throwing away their money and shook her head in wonder. "People sure are silly. Let's go I'm bored."
When there was no reaction, she looked at her companion. Aquila had a thoughtful expression and was closely looking at the man spinning the wheel. Billie nudged her, "Aquila?"
The free-range chicken gave a slight start. She looked at Billie. "You want to see some fun?" she asked. "Come with me." She grabbed a wing and walked to the back of the booth.
They saw the back of the wheel; and they also saw a string going from a pump by the man's foot to the wheel. While they were watching, the man stepped on the pump and slowed the wheel until it stopped on a symbol nobody had bet on. They saw him bend over and gather in all the money on the counter. While he was busy scooping in his money, the former warrior went up to the string and started pecking at it. It only took a few seconds for her to break the string without the man knowing anything was wrong. She turned Billie around and they went back out front to watch what would happen.
Everybody had made their bets and the man gave the wheel a good spin. Then the two chickens saw his expression change to surprise and his right leg moving up and down. When the wheel finally stopped, several people in the crowd cheered and started gathering up the money they had finally won. The man who had been winning glared at the wheel spinner, who was looking a little sick.
Aquila led Billie back to Ergo. As soon as they were away from the gambling booth, the horse asked, "What did you do back there? And don't act innocent; I know you had something to do with those people finally winning."
"He was cheating them," Billie said indignantly. "He had a string tied to the wheel so he could stop it wherever he wanted to and Aquila broke the string so he couldn't stop the wheel serves him right if he loses all his money. Gambling looks awfully dumb anyway but it ought to be fair."
Ergo nodded happily. "It's been a full day, and none of us got much sleep last night. I say we go back to that stable and rest up for tomorrow's adventures."
The three tired fair-goers were meandering back to the out-of-the-way stable they had found earlier in the day. Aquila was quiet because she always was; and crowds bothered her. She was happy to give Billie and Ergo a treat, but she would be glad to be out in the countryside again. Ergo was yawning and looking forward to an early night; the excitements of the day had worn her out. Even Billie, the incessant chatterer, could only manage an occasional sentence in between her own yawns.
They were silent as they turned down the alley that led to their night's accommodations. A loud sniffle made them all stop and look around. Aquila, the sharp-eyed, was the first to locate the source of the noise. A chipmunk was sitting with her back to a rain barrel and her head in her paws. She was crying, but not softly. Before any of them had a chance to move or say anything, another loud sniffle rent the air.
Tenderhearted Billie immediately forgot how tired she was and hurriedly hopped over to find out what was making the chipmunk cry so hard. She reached out a wing and patted the tearful creature. "Hey, what's the matter? Are you hurt where's your family you aren't lost are you? We're just in town for the fair but we'll be glad to help you any way we can so tell us what's wrong ... do you want some water would that help? Aquila, get some water for her please." Billie was concentrating so hard on the sobbing chipmunk that she didn't realize that she had just ordered the fierce free-range chicken to fetch water.
Aquila raised an eyebrow, wondering when she had lost command of their little band, and went to get the water. When she returned a minute later, she found Ergo hovering over the scene. Billie was sitting next to the chipmunk who had her head resting on the chick's shoulder. The sometime-warrior chicken handed a cup to Billie, "Here's the water," she said. "Can she drink it herself or will I have to hold the cup for her?" She said this in as kindly a tone of voice as she could manage.
The chipmunk raised her head and started to reach for the cup when she saw who was talking. She froze. 'Well, at least I can still scare chipmunks,' Aquila thought to herself. She put the cup in the immobile paw. Turning to her friend she said, "Billie, tell her I won't hurt her. And to drink the water." She stepped back a couple of feet to give them room.
Billie put a wing on the other's paw and moved the cup to her lips. When she swallowed the water, the chipmunk felt better, but she stayed close to Billie. She had heard too many stories about the free-range chicken. Of course most of them had been made up to get the children to obey, but she didn't know that.
"Are you feeling better," Billie asked as she put the cup on the ground next to her. "Why were you crying so hard I'm sure whatever it is we can help you that's what we do help folks but today we were enjoying the fair I saw a lot of new things were you at the fair too did something happen to upset you oh my name's Billie and these are my friends Ergo and Aquila ..."
At this point Ergo whinnied softly, "Billie, be quiet for a minute and give her a chance to answer some of your questions."
Billie took a deep breath, smiled encouragingly at her new friend, and said nothing.
Now that she had the attention of her audience, the chipmunk sat up a little straighter. "Thank you for helping me," she said in her high-pitched voice. "My name is Julietta and I'm just so sad. I love Romy and he loves me, but my father has forbidden me to see him." She sniffled again.
To prevent another outburst of tears, Ergo asked, "Why doesn't your father like him? If you love each other, that should be enough for him."
Julietta looked up at the tall horse. "It's not that simple. Our families have been enemies for years. His great grandfather did something to my great grandfather - or maybe it was the other way around. Nobody seems to remember what really happened. But anyway we have been enemies ever since then." She sighed.
The yellow chick was sorting through all the questions that she wanted to ask. She finally settled on, "How did you and Romy meet if your families are enemies?"
Julietta got a dreamy, faraway look on her face as she remembered that fateful moment. "All the chipmunks were having a party, and Romy and some of his friends were nearby, talking loudly and trying to bother us. I was looking at them when Romy turned around. Our eyes met. We both knew we belonged together forever." She was silent for a moment.
Then in her everyday voice she said, "My mother pulled me away. I thought I would never see him again. But later that night I heard a voice calling my name - 'Julietta! Julietta!' I snuck out of my bedroom and went to him. He was easy to find because he was dragging a sack of crab apples behind him and making a lot of noise. They were a present for me." She smiled coyly.
"How many times have you been together?" Billie was busily thinking of ways to help.
The chipmunk sighed again. "Only three or four times, and then only for a few minutes. His family doesn't want him seeing me either. We were to meet here this afternoon, but he never came. That's why I was crying when you found me."
"I'm sure he wanted to come but couldn't get away from his family," Ergo sympathized. She had a soft spot for star-crossed lovers. "Where does he live? Maybe we can bring him to you."
Julietta looked at her rescuers hopefully. "He lives in the big hutch on the west side of town. You can't miss it."
"He's a rabbit?" Aquila had been quiet throughout the conversation so as not to frighten the chipmunk. But when she heard where the chipmunk's beloved lived, she couldn't help the outburst.
"Yes, and I love him!" Julietta wailed.
Billie hugged her comfortingly. "Don't worry, we'll bring him to you. Where do you want to meet so you won't be bothered?"
The relieved chipmunk hugged her back. "Tell him to meet me at our tree. He'll understand."
Aquila, meanwhile, was biting her tongue to keep from laughing as she tried to imagine the kind of romantic future a chipmunk and a rabbit would have.
A very few minutes later the trio of good-deed-doers were going off to find Romy and tell him where to meet his girlfriend. Julietta, after thanking them (even Aquila, though from a safe distance), had hurried off to the rendezvous with a happy smile on her tear-stained face.
Billie and Aquila were riding on Ergo to make better time. Two of them, anyway, didn't want the couple to be apart any longer than necessary. They hadn't gone more than a short street when Billie took to the airwaves. "That's so sad. If they love each other their families should be happy for them I hope Romy loves her as much as Julietta loves him and that he didn't come because he couldn't get away ... I sure hope we can help them and make everything right what do you guys think?"
The pale gold mare had been concentrating on following the chipmunk's directions. It took her a second to respond to the question. "I hope we can help, too. But it looks like we'll have to talk some sense into their families before anything can happen." She turned down a street and was relieved to see the edge of town; Julietta's directions had been a little complicated.
The fetcher of water sighed, slightly ruffling the feathers of the chick sitting in front of her. "Folks have to do things for themselves sometimes. Maybe they should go off together and let their families deal with it."
"But, Aquila," Billie protested, "they can't just leave home and their parents and everything not if they love them it's a big decision and maybe this will end the feud between their families if none of them can even remember why they're fighting they should stop and be friends and then they'll be glad to let Julietta and Romy be together ... gosh that is a big hutch I guess Romy's family must be rich how will we find him?"
Aquila surveyed the area. "Well, we could go up and knock on the door and ask for Romy. Or we could go see if that sad looking rabbit by the bush over there is the dejected lover."
Ergo looked around and spied the slumping rabbit and changed direction. To the sympathetic horse he looked like the poster rabbit for star-crossed lovers.
As they approached, they could see that he had a bottle half full with an orange colored liquid. He started to take a drink when he became aware that someone had invaded his morose solitude.
The sad-eyed rabbit looked up when he heard hoofbeats approaching. His indifference turned to surprise when he saw a pale gold mare looming over him. He was startled when he heard a high-pitched cheeping; he thought any creature that big should have a deeper voice. Then he saw that the cheeping came from a yellow chick sitting on the horse's back. He put his bottle down and cleared his throat.
"I'm sorry, I didn't catch what you said."
"She asked if your name is Romy." the horse replied because, as the sitting rabbit could see, the yellow chick was getting down off the horse. She was followed by a bigger dark chicken.
"Who wants to know," he asked.
Ergo said, "If you are Romy, we have a message for you." She didn't say any more in case this wasn't Julietta's demon lover; she didn't want to spill the beans to the wrong rabbit.
"Yes, I'm Romy. If the message is from my father, I don't want to hear it. He's messed up my life enough today." The rabbit took another swig of his orange drink.
In her never-ending quest for knowledge, Billie asked, "What's that you're drinking does it taste good I've never seen an orange drink before ... we don't know your father so we don't have any message from him but we'd like to meet him so we could tell him how much you and Julietta love each other and he should stop feuding with her family and then all of you will get along and nobody will be upset about you and Julietta."
For several seconds all the poor rabbit could do was gulp for air. Then he grabbed the little chick and exclaimed, "How do you know Julietta?"
"Calm down," Aquila said, pulling his paw away from her friend.
"That's okay," Billie assured them both. "We met her in town she was crying because you never showed up and she told us to tell you to meet her at your tree that you would know what that meant why didn't you meet her?"
Romy's mood had been transformed from lethargic indifference to champing at the bit. "She wants to see me! Thanks for the message. I gotta go."
Ergo stopped him before he could get away. She felt that this eager desire to see his chipmunk was a good sign, but she wanted to know why he hadn't met her earlier. "Why didn't you meet her when she was expecting you?" Her almost but not quite accusing tone drew a look of approval from Aquila. If you can't keep your word, don't give it is how she felt.
His escape route cut off, the eager rabbit paused to gather his thoughts. "I wanted to go, but my father kept giving me chores to do, and he never let me out of his sight. I don't know if he knew we had a date or if he just wanted to make sure I never had a chance to go to my darling Julietta. Please! I have to go to her and tell her how much I missed her." He eased around the big horse and hopped off.
Meanwhile Billie had been investigating the rabbit's drink. She approached the bottle dubiously and sniffed. "Ewwww! What is this stuff? How can anyone drink it?"
Aquila came up to her and took a sniff. She smiled. "It's carrot juice, Billie. Rabbit's really like it, but I don't think it will ever be popular with chickens."
"Or horses," Ergo added. "Shouldn't we follow Romy and see that everything is okay?"
"Not to worry. He's making so much noise, he'll be easy to track," the warrior chicken said.
The three matchmakers set off after the rabbit.
While all this was going on, Julietta the chipmunk was waiting at "their" tree. She climbed up to the lowest branch so she could see farther. She sat for several minutes, musing on all her rabbit's good points. Finally she could contain herself no longer.
"Oh, Romy! Where can you be? A day without you is like a day without sunshine. Why don't you come, my own Romy?"
She paused in her lamentations when she heard a distant shouting.
"Julietta! I'm coming! Have you been waiting long, my precious Jewel? Don't despair; your Romy is coming! Juliettttaaa!"
As Aquila had said, it was easy following the crashing noises made by Romy in his hurry to get to Julietta. When they got close to the sacred tree, they stopped and watched the scene in front of them. They didn't want to get too close and interrupt the reunion.
Julietta was sitting on her branch, leaning down. She would say something, and Romy would hop up to answer her. On his last hop, she tenderly placed a carrot in his mouth. They both had adoring looks on their faces. The chipmunk climbed down, and she and her rabbit snuggled together against the tree.
After a while, the free-range chicken decided that they had had enough time alone. She signaled her companions to follow her. Ergo and Billie weren't sure if they should interrupt the tender scene, but, as Billie said - Aquila is always right.
Both Julietta and Romy looked up in annoyance when they heard approaching footsteps. They didn't have many opportunities to snuggle and resented being interrupted.
"What do you want now?" Romy demanded. "Can't you see we're busy?"
Aquila, not showing her surprise at this belligerent attitude on the rabbit's part, merely said, "Are you going to tell your families about this meeting?"
The chipmunk grabbed Romy tighter. She squeeked, "They mustn't know we met. My parents would be so upset." She started to sniffle loudly again. Romy patted her on the back in a protective manner.
"Maybe we could talk to them and convince them to let you be together," Ergo said in her gentle voice.
Aquila rumbled, "Or maybe you could elope and let them deal with it. You can't live your lives for someone else."
Everybody protested this suggestion - loudly and at the same time. The warrior chicken finally shouted over the din, "Alright! Alright. Forget I said anything." Looking at the would-be lovers, "What do you want to do - keep meeting in secret for a few minutes at a time?"
The rabbit and the chipmunk looked at each other. "No," they said together. Romy continued, "Do you think our parents would listen to you? They've been feuding for so long it's become a tradition for both of them."
Billie was quick to reassure them, "Sure they'll listen to us ... you two are nice so your parents must be nice too they only need to be told how much you love each other ... maybe they think you aren't really serious but we'll convince them."
Ergo agreed, "Yes, we'll talk to them. We know where Romy lives, but where do you live, Julietta?"
The chipmunk gave her usual complicated directions. When she was finished, and Ergo had a confused look on her face, Romy whispered to the horse, "I'll show you tomorrow; it's not really that hard." Ergo whinnied gratefully.
Since it was late, they agreed to wait until the next day to approach the warring families. Aquila, Ergo, and Billie left to go to the stables they were headed for earlier when they were sidetracked into being go-betweens.
Romy and Julietta stayed a while longer, wanting to delay the sweet sorrow of parting as long as possible.
The next day dawned bright and clear. It looked like it would be another wonderful day at the fair. Not that the three heroines of our story planned to see much of the fair; they had other plans.
As usual, Aquila was up with the sun. By the time she was ready to leave the stable, Ergo had one eye part-way open and looked like she might be conscious soon. Billie was still peacefully sleeping, a happy smile on her face. The excitements of the fair and the details of the tragical romance had tired her out more than usual.
Before leaving to scout around the town, the free-range chicken told Ergo to stay there with Billie until she got back. Looking at her young friend, she didn't think she would be moving any time in the near future. She slipped out of the stable doors on her reconnoitering mission.
She took her time, knowing there was no hurry. First she went back to Romy's hutch. She stayed out of sight and observed the various activities. It seemed that Romy was right that his father was deliberately giving him chores to keep him from having time to meet with Julietta. At one point she was close enough to hear their conversation, or rather the older rabbit's monologue as Romy didn't say anything only responding with long drawn-out sighs. The head of the family pointed out all the disadvantages of being a chipmunk, especially from that family. And he urged his son to find a nice girl rabbit and settle down and start giving him grandchildren. And so on, and so on. Aquila left as soon as she could without being seen.
Next she went to Julietta's home. Despite the overly complicated directions they had been given, she had no trouble finding the place. All those tracking skills finally came in handy. The scene was much the same as at Romy's. Except this time it was the mother doing most of the talking. Julietta did say more than her beloved rabbit in response to the arguments against their union, but with no effect. She tried appealing to her mother's romantic side, but her mother kept coming back to the fact that she didn't want any daughter of hers mixed up with "that" family.
Aquila decided to return to the stable when she heard the mother chipmunk say, "Why can't you settle down with a nice boy chipmunk and start giving me grandchildren to spoil? There's that family on the other side of the field; they have a boy about your age ..."
All the way back the dark-feathered warrior chicken was wondering how she, of all creatures, had got mixed up in what looked to be a hopeless romance. Then she remembered Billie. And Ergo, who was turning out to be a sucker for true love. She shook her head.
When Aquila walked into the stable, Ergo was eating and Billie was yawning and stretching and removing bits of straw from her feathers. "Rise and shine," the early riser called out cheerfully.
Billie gave her a look (she had been practising). "I'll rise, but I refuse to shine until I've had something to eat," she declared.
Aquila supplied her with the required nourishment. For several minutes the only noise to be heard was that of food being eaten. Once her stomach wasn't sending up distress signals any more, Billie felt in the mood for talk.
"So, Aquila, Ergo said you went to have a look around did you find out anything I hope we can talk Julietta's and Romy's parents into leaving them alone ... if two folks love each other everybody else should be happy for them and not interfere and try to keep them apart ... has the fair started yet I guess we won't get to see much of it today since we have to help Romy and Julietta it's a good thing the fair lasts all week so we can see the rest of it later ... it won't take us long to fix everything, will it?"
The moody chicken had learned to let Billie's chatter flow over her, merely picking out the parts that she felt were important. When the little chick finally paused, she said, "I don't know if we can help. I went by Romy's hutch and then Julietta's home. Both sets of parents seem determined to stop this romance." She looked at the ground for a second; she thought to herself, 'Why don't they elope? That would solve all their problems.'
"Well, if we're going to do anything, we had better get started." Ergo gave Billie an encouraging smile.
Several hours later the three would-be matchmakers were taking a break and taking stock of the situation. Since the author who does most of the writing isn't into details, we will summarize the events of the morning. Aquila led them first to Julietta's house, thinking that maybe the chipmunks would be easier to convince. It had been agreed that Billie and Ergo would do the arguing since Aquila was not the one most sympathetic to thwarted lovers.
They talked first to Mrs. Chipmunk. When she realized she was being overwhelmed by Billie's lung capacity, she sent for reinforcements in the form of Mr. Chipmunk. He mostly resented their interference in the long-standing feud and wouldn't listen to any of their eloquent arguments. Finally he took Mrs. Chipmunk by her paw, pulled her inside, and slammed the door.
Only slightly discouraged, they went to Romy's residence. There they only saw Rabbit, senior; Mrs. Rabbit was busy taking care of her younger children. Their luck was just as bad here. They were told in no uncertain terms to go away and mind their own business; that he could look after his family without any advice from horses and chickens.
So they had found a quiet alley and were licking their metaphorical wounds and trying to think what their next move should be. At least Billie and Ergo were. Aquila felt she had come through the ordeal by parent unscathed and that the only logical thing to do was for the unhappy pair to elope. Life is only as complicated as you want it to be.
The former free-range chicken looked up at the sun and calculated the time. Her lips twitched in a smile. Maybe this will cheer them up some, she thought. Aloud she said, "I know things didn't go like we wanted them to. Why don't we take a short break from helping the rabbit and the chipmunk? That play should be starting soon. Do you still want to see it, Billie?"
The dejected chick perked up. "I had forgotten about the play! Oh, yes, we have to see those actors playing then we'll be all rested up and I'm sure we'll have lots of ideas for helping Julietta and Romy ... come on let's go we don't want to miss any of it!" She jumped up and grabbed the dark chicken's wing to pull her up and hurry them on their way.
The three eager patrons of the theater found the place where the play would take place without any problem. Many people were hurrying to it. This kind of entertainment didn't come to their town very often. The non-human part of the audience took up their places a little off to the side, out of everyone's way - and line of sight. Billie and Aquila were standing on a barrel to see all the action; Ergo was standing beside them.
The dark chicken had seen plays before in her wanderings. She had never seen the point of them. Why act out battles and exciting events when everyday life is exciting enough, she wondered. Then she remembered that most folks lives weren't quite as thrilling as hers! She looked at the friend who seemed determined to make her life even more exciting. Billie was staring at the platform that served as a stage, trying to memorize all the details. This might be her only chance to see a play and she wanted to remember everything about it.
"Why don't they start," she cheeped. She would have been hopping up and down except Aquila had put one wing around her shoulders.
Just then a tall man in a brightly colored robe walked to the center of the stage. He looked over the audience until every eye was on him and the sounds of the crowd had died down. Then he began to speak in a mesmerizing voice.
That day the troupe of actors would perform scenes from several different plays. They were saving up performing an entire play for the last and biggest day of the fair. What they were doing during the rest of the fair was dangling snippets in front of the people to increase their interest and ensure a large audience for the main performance.
Billie and Ergo didn't know this or care. They were totally immersed in the action on the stage. They cheered during battle scenes. They laughed at the human foibles exposed for everyone to see. They cried when the great hero died. They had a great time and were surprised when all the actors came on stage to take their final bows.
They waited for the crowd of people to leave before trying to leave themselves. Once again Billie was beside herself in her happiness. She recounted what they had just seen - all the scenes in detail; what the actors wore, how they moved. She didn't see how one person could play very different parts as they all had.
While she was chattering merrily away, Aquila was trying to remember if her life before Billie really was all that lonely. She was startled to realize that she hadn't had a life before Billie stumbled into her camp.
And Ergo was thinking.
"Billie, Billie." The warrior chicken waved her wings in front of the nonstop talker to get her attention. When Billie stopped in midsentence, Aquila went on, "You can tell us all about it later. Right now we need to leave. I'll help you down; grab my wing." They jumped down from their balcony seats and landed gracefully on the ground.
Ergo came out of her trance; she had got an idea from one of the scenes they had seen acted. "I have an idea about how we can help Romy and Julietta," she said.
Aquila and Billie looked up at the horse. Billie looked a little guilty; she had forgotten all about them for the moment. "You do? That's wonderful!" she exclaimed, covering up her temporary amnesia with hearty praise. "What is it?" Her mind was only slowly coming back to the present.
"Well," the former farm horse was a little hesitant, hoping her idea would meet with their leader's approval. "You remember in that one scene where the only son dies and the whole family is crying and carrying on? Well," she went on before the chatty chick could say anything, "I thought we could tell Romy's and Julietta's parents that we had found them in each other's arms, and it looked like they had died of broken hearts because their parents wouldn't let them be together. Then their parents would be so sad at this tragedy that they would stop feuding. Then Romy and Julietta would come in and everyone would be happy and relieved that they weren't dead and their parents would give them their blessing. What do you think of it?"
The two chickens looked at each other. "It just might work," Aquila said thoughtfully. "Thinking their children are dead, might wake up those nitwits to thinking of their children's happiness instead of their silly feud. Of course they could elope," she finished, repeating her theme.
Billie nodded happily. "Yeah, and they'll be glad when they find out Julietta and Romy are alive and happy with each other. So what are we going to do first? Gosh this is just like the play isn't it fun?"
After some discussion of practical methods, their first move was to find Romy. They all felt that he would be willing to go along with the scheme, being such an aggressive rabbit. Then he could convince his chipmunk love that this was the only way they could end their families' feuding and be allowed to live their own lives together forever.
Aquila scouted around Romy's hutch until she saw him in the back garden, moodily nibbling on some lettuce. She signaled to him. She signaled him again. Finally she walked up to him and tapped him on the shoulder. The startled luncher nearly choked on the lettuce. He had been so lost in his thoughts that he hadn't noticed anything. Sputtering he protested, "What now? Since you talked to my father, he's been even more against my darling Julietta. So if you've come back to help, don't bother."
The free-range chicken had never had much patience with the chipmunk's and rabbit's situation, and Romy's attitude wasn't helping much. She glared at him for a minute, until she saw his upper lip twitch and he took a step or two toward his hutch and safety. Feeling that she had regained control, she said, "Come with me. Ergo has a plan for uniting you and that chipmunk." She turned and walked to where her friends were waiting.
Still intimidated by Aquila's glare, Romy followed meekly.
When they joined the others, Aquila said, "Okay, tell him your idea, Ergo." She stood aside and folded her wings.
The pale gold mare cleared her throat nervously; she wasn't used to being the center of attention. "Well, I got this idea from one of the scenes in the play we saw today. Your parents love you, right?" A nod from the puzzled rabbit. "And Julietta's parents love her?" Another nod. "So if they thought that the two of you had died of broken hearts in each other's arms because you had lost hope that they would let you be together, then they would feel guilty. They would realize what their family feud had led to. They would be sorry and stop fighting with each other. Then you two would come in, and they would be so happy that you weren't dead that they would let you and Julietta do whatever you wanted." She looked at Romy to see how he was taking her idea.
The thwarted lover had a gleam in his eye. "That's a good idea; I like it. Besides it will serve our parents right. Why should my Jewel and I be the only ones to suffer?" He was getting fed up with listening to his father's lame arguments against their union.
Ergo was glad he liked her idea, but wasn't sure about his reasons. Oh well. The main thing was to get the two of them together.
Billie had been restraining herself with some difficulty. Now she piped up, "We're glad you like it ... I hope you don't think we forgot about you because we went to the play ... we were working on it all the time that's why Ergo got this great plan ... we won't leave town until we've fixed everything for you and Julietta and got your families to stop their silly fighting since they can't even remember how it started ... they're acting just like people ... sorry I didn't mean that as an insult."
Ignoring Billie's threat to stay in this town, Aquila took charge. "Alright, Romy. You need to tell your chipmunk about the plan. Then the two of you go to your tree but stay out of sight."
"We'll tell your parents that we saw you dead, lying in each other's arms," Billie took up the scenario. "We will bring them there, and when they are crying and feeling all guilty and wishing they had you back, then you two come in. I know they'll be so happy that you aren't dead that they will gladly let you be together and everything will be wonderful. This is a really good plan, Ergo," giving credit where credit is due.
The dark chicken tried to keep a scowl off her face as she thought, 'I hope this works. I don't want to spend the rest of my life in this town chasing after rabbits and chipmunks.'
The eager rabbit was hopping up and down; it looked like a new calisthenics exercise to Aquila. Maybe she should add it to her morning routine. "Give me a few minutes to bring my sweet Julietta to our tree. I can't wait to see my father's face when he sees what his old-fashioned ideas have caused. Ha!" He took off down the garden path.
Ergo took a deep breath. "That wasn't quite the reaction I expected. But at least he's willing to try it. How long do we give him before finding the parents?"
"As fast as he's moving, he's probably at Julietta's by now," Aquila looked amused. She had decided she liked the belligerent rabbit, even if he didn't have any respect for her. "Let's give them a half hour. You and Billie can tell the chipmunks and I'll tell the rabbits. We'll try to get them to their tree at the same time. I hope this works," she finished.
"Of course it will work," Billie declared.
Having given Romy enough time for him to pick up his lady love and get to their tree, the peacemakers set out to bring the warring parties together. It didn't take Aquila very long to tell Romy's parents about the tragic scene in the woods and to lead them to it. She went a roundabout way to the rendezvous because she knew it would take Billie and Ergo longer to bring the chipmunk contingent. Not because they would be harder to convince, but because Billie could never do anything without lots of talk.
She had led them around the site a couple of times when, despite the sobs coming from Mrs. Rabbit and the muttered oaths from Mr. Rabbit, her keen hearing picked up the sounds of approaching chipmunks. Actually she would have known who it was if she had been hard of hearing. The loud wailing could only be Mrs. Chipmunk, bemoaning the loss of her favorite daughter. She thought to herself, 'Now I know where that little chipmunk gets her sniffling from. Like mother like daughter, I guess.'
She brought the Rabbits to the meeting place just as Billie and Ergo led in the Chipmunks. When the two male members saw each other, they started shouting at each other.
"You! What are you doing here?" "It's all your fault!" "My son ..." "My daughter ..." "If you were a better parent and could control your child, this wouldn't have happened. I warned her about your family." "My family! Your family is nothing but a bunch of social climbers. And what about that great grandfather of yours!" "My great grandfather! It was your great grandfather who started all the trouble!" They were both glaring at the other and getting very red in the face.
The women weren't much better. In between their tears, they accused each other of various failings as mothers. They both kept repeating that they had warned their offspring not to get mixed up with the other's suspect family.
None of the grieving parents seemed to notice that there were no bodies lying around. They were too busy pointing paws and accusing the others.
Ergo and Billie were staring at the scene in open-mouthed consternation. This wasn't how it was supposed to be. Aquila was fingering her magic ring and measuring ricochet angles. She wondered if she could get them all with one throw.
Meanwhile Julietta and Romy had been happily snuggling and anticipating their golden future together when their parents had come to their senses and given their blessing to the beautiful union of rabbit and chipmunk. They were so engrossed in each other that it was a few minutes before they became aware of the uproar going on in the vicinity of their sacred tree. They quietly went closer to see what was going on, hoping that their families were already comforting each other.
What they saw dismayed them. Far from being joined in their grief, the two sets of parents had taken the feud to a new level.
The little chipmunk clung to Romy and whispered, "What are we going to do? They'll never let us be together now."
Romy hugged the light of his life and thought for a moment. Then he looked at her anxious face. "Trust me," he said. Then he stood up straight, took Julietta's paw and walked into the clearing.
Aquila noticed them, because she noticed everything. But nobody else did. After a minute Romy opened his mouth and shouted over the din, "Hey! Be quiet!"
The battling families turned on what they supposed was an interloper in their private argument. Then they saw Romy and Julietta, very much alive. The mothers ran to their children and tried to pull them away but the couple held tight.
Speaking calmly, Romy said, "Now that I have your attention, I just want to say that we are tired of your meaningless fighting. Julietta and I love each other, and we are going off together and live our own lives. Maybe we will let you know where we are in a year or two."
Their parents were gasping for breath. They never expected anyone to talk to them like this.
Julietta was looking with unadulterated admiration at her hero. She had been secretly proud of his bravery when he had not been intimidated by the free-range chicken. But she had never expected him to take such a courageous stand against his father. She added a couple of more lines to her list of his many qualities.
Romy smiled at his Julietta, "Come, my own, my sweet." He took her paw tenderly and they left for their new life.
Aquila tapped Billie on her shoulder; she nodded to Ergo. The three former matchmakers left quietly.
Later that evening back at the stable, Ergo was shaking her head. "What went wrong? It seemed like such a good idea."
Aquila, in one of her rare comforting moods, said, "It was a good idea. And with any other folks it probably would have worked. Those two families have been fighting so long, they don't know how to do anything else. And in a way it did work out. Romy and Julietta will be very happy together and that wouldn't have happened without your plan."
The tender hearted horse looked happier. Maybe in a strange way her plan had worked.
Billie had been quiet ever since they left the disagreeable scene. It hadn't been at all like the play they had seen that afternoon. Another new experience for her.
The dark-feathered warrior went over and sat next to her young friend. "Do you want to see more of the fair tomorrow? We can stay as long as you want."
Billie looked at her gratefully. She knew how much Aquila disliked crowds and towns. "You know, I think I've seen all I want to ... we did see a lot the first day all the magicians and that man who puts swords down his throat ugh ... and I'm glad we did get to see the play it was the best thing here ... so we can leave tomorrow. Unless you want to stay and enjoy the crowds." She poked Aquila in the ribs.
The not always serious chicken reached over and started tickling Billie. "No, that's alright. We can leave tomorrow. Where do you want to go next?"
Ergo had ideas on this point. "Why don't we go east? I was talking with one of the horses staying here, and he was telling me about where he was born. It reminded me of some of the stories my mother told me about when she was growing up." She paused and added, "But maybe I've already had too many ideas for one day."
"Oh, Ergo!" Billie exclaimed. "Your idea was good ... it was those chipmunks and rabbits who were too dumb to see it ... and Julietta and Romy are happy together at last ... so why don't we go east, huh, Aquila?"
"Fine with me," their sometime leader responded. "There are mountains on the way. We might even see snow on them - in the summer."
Billie smiled eagerly. You can't keep a good chicken down for long.
Early the next day the travellers had left the town behind and were walking down a road. A small stream gurgled a few feet to the left. As they came around a bend in the road, they saw a man walking alongside the stream.
"Spot!" he called. "Spot! Where are you? Come here, boy. Here, Spot! Where could that dog have got to?"
A barking was heard a little ahead of them.
The man started walking faster. "Spot, is that you? What are you doing there? Out! Get out of the dam, Spot!"
Billie stopped and looked at the activity. She shook her head. Our three friends kept walking east.
It was a couple of days since their stay at the inn. Xena had been more thoughtful than usual. Of course that also meant she was more silent than usual. This gave Gabrielle even more of a chance to exercise her amazing lung capacity.
"Gabrielle, I've been thinking," she said suddenly, interrupting the bard in the middle of rehearsing one of her favorite stories.
The startled story-teller kept walking with her mouth open for a second. (They were walking along a road going from one of the many nameless villages in the Xenaverse to another.) She snapped her mouth closed before Xena could say anything about her trying to catch flies. Before she could get her brain to working in this new direction, the thoughtful warrior went on.
"You remember that bard at the inn back there?"
Gabrielle nodded. She decided to amplify this by saying, "Yes, of course I remember him. I remember other things about that night too." She got a dreamy look.
Xena glanced over at her, noting the look. That wasn't the response she had expected, but, hey! whatever made her companion happy. She continued, "Yeah, well, what I was thinking is all his stories ended with a moral of some kind. And I was wondering because you never give a moral at the end of your stories, not even the fables .... and how you ever came up with a warrior chicken I'll never know!" She protested at an old grievance.
Gabrielle came back to the present. "My stories have morals. I believe that people hear what they want to from the stories, and different people get a different lesson from the same story. They get out of it what they bring to it. I'm not getting too deep for you, am I?" she asked sweetly.
"Nah," the dark-haired warrior said. "That's why I wear boots."
"Very funny, ha-ha," the philosophical bard said. "Maybe you should tell the stories. I'm sure you could beat the moral into your audience. And what's wrong with my warrior chicken anyway?"
"Nothing at all," Xena said quickly. "But I think the horse is getting all the good lines."
Argo looked complacent. That was how things should be in a perfect world.
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