Subtext Ė there is vegetarian subtext; one of us is and one of us isnít and we are friends. Prologue Xena and Gabrielle had made camp for the night. Gabrielle was keeping an eye on a large chicken cooking over the fire. Xena was sharpening her sword, as usual. A contented silence reigned, if only briefly. Gabrielle, having gone into philosophical mode, glanced over at Xena with a thoughtful look on her face. "Xena." "Hmm?" from Xena, without taking her eyes off of what she was doing. "Iíve been thinking." Slight eye rolling from Xena. "Xena, have you ever wondered what it would be like to be a chicken?" Xena, amused, looked over at Gabrielle. "No, Gabrielle, I donít spend a lot of time thinking about chickens, except maybe how tasty they are." "Iím being serious here. Think about it. One minute these harmless birds are clucking away, minding their own business, and the next minute Ė whoosh! Dinner. Our dinner. I mean, what is the point of their lives?" Her stomach rumbled. Xena reached over and took the cooked chicken off of the fire. She broke off a piece. Looking deeply into the blonde bardís hazel green eyes, she said throatily, "Breast or thigh?" Gabrielle, unable to pull herself away from the deep azure pools of her raven-haired partner, can barely murmur "Yes."
Other subtext, no; innuendo, yes.
Violence Ė not much.
Comments, observations, suggestions should be addressed to firstname.lastname@example.org
Subtext Ė there is vegetarian subtext; one of us is and one of us isnít and we are friends.
Xena and Gabrielle had made camp for the night. Gabrielle was keeping an eye on a large chicken cooking over the fire. Xena was sharpening her sword, as usual. A contented silence reigned, if only briefly.
Gabrielle, having gone into philosophical mode, glanced over at Xena with a thoughtful look on her face.
"Hmm?" from Xena, without taking her eyes off of what she was doing.
"Iíve been thinking." Slight eye rolling from Xena. "Xena, have you ever wondered what it would be like to be a chicken?"
Xena, amused, looked over at Gabrielle. "No, Gabrielle, I donít spend a lot of time thinking about chickens, except maybe how tasty they are."
"Iím being serious here. Think about it. One minute these harmless birds are clucking away, minding their own business, and the next minute Ė whoosh! Dinner. Our dinner. I mean, what is the point of their lives?" Her stomach rumbled.
Xena reached over and took the cooked chicken off of the fire. She broke off a piece. Looking deeply into the blonde bardís hazel green eyes, she said throatily, "Breast or thigh?"
Gabrielle, unable to pull herself away from the deep azure pools of her raven-haired partner, can barely murmur "Yes."
It was a warm summerís morning. A farm wagon carrying cages filled with chickens was going down the road. There was a commotion in the back of the wagon as the chickens in a cage close to the edge of the wagon were being jostled by one small chick who was squirming her way through the others so that she could see out.
"Mama, I canít see anything, and neither can Liza," she chirped.
"Billie, hand Liza to your father and you can stand in front of me," her mother said patiently.
Billie squeezed in front of her mother and stuck her head through a hole in the cage. "This is so much fun I didnít think I would ever get to leave the farm and see the world I always knew there was more to life than just the farmyard. Whatís that?" pointing in one direction. "Oh, and whatís that over there?" pointing in another direction. Billie was happily trying to look everywhere at once.
While Billie was leaning through a hole in the cage to get a better look at something, the wagon hit a bump and the little chick was bounced from her perch and landed on the road behind the wagon.
She was dazed for a few moments, and when she looked around, she saw that the wagon was out of sight, with only a little dust settling back onto the road. She picked herself up and started to hop down the road, but her little legs were no match for the wagon, and she was soon too tired to go on and had to stop and rest.
The sun had set, and Billie had long since given up any hope of catching up with her family. She was wandering randomly through the woods when she smelled something cooking. Looking in that direction, she saw a small fire and started walking toward it, thinking that whoever was there would help her.
Sitting by the fire, contemplating another solitary meal and sharpening her claws, was a tall, black-feathered chicken. She heard a rustling in the brush but didnít look up. She quietly unhooked the round, sharp, metal ring that was attached to a leather band around her waist and sent it whirling into the bushes. It neatly trimmed the top of the bushes and sent leaves and twigs flying in all directions. A startled squak followed by a dusty little, yellow chick tumbled out of the bushes.
"Hey, watch it! You could hurt somebody with that thing," Billie protested. "What is it anyway? I didnít mean to sneak up on you but I smelled the food what is that youíre cooking it smells really good we were going for a nice ride in the country and I fell off the wagon I called and ran but couldnít catch up then it got dark and I got scared so when I smelled the food I remembered I was hungry Ďcause I havenít eaten since this morning." As if on cue Billieís stomach rumbled, accompanying the verbal deluge.
"Do you ever need to breathe?" the older chicken asked, rehooking her ring which had conveniently returned to her. She walked back over to the fire. "I guess I have enough to share, but tomorrow Iím taking you back to your family," she said, giving her talkative guest a bemused look and an ear of roasted corn.
Billie took the corn with a grateful smile and quickly ate the entire ear. The other chicken looked on, slowly eating her own ear of corn and wondered how something so small could eat so much. When she saw that her dinner guest had finished her own corn and was eyeing hers, she gave Billie the rest of her ear of corn. Billie gratefully accepted it and began to eat it. But she was so tired from all the excitement of her big day that she fell asleep before she could finish it.
The warrior chick picked Billie up and moved her closer to the fire, covering her with some leaves. Then she retired to the other side of the fire and lay down, musing over what a strange turn the day had taken.
The next day the two companions were walking down the road in the direction that Billie was sure the wagon had gone. Billie was chattering away happily, thoroughly enjoying her adventure and looking forward to being with her family again.
Suddenly she paused in mid-sentence and said, "I never told you my name; itís Billie. Whatís yours?"
The other chicken had to pause for a second; it had been so long since anyone had called her anything but "that damned free-range chicken" that she had almost forgotten her name. "Aquila." It sounded strange to hear her name.
"Aquila, thatís a pretty name. My sisterís name is Liza. Sheís my little sister. I call her that because Iím older even though sheís a little bigger than me. I guess some folks just grow faster than others. Why is that do you suppose? Oh, look! See that butterfly sitting on the flower." And Billie hopped over to take a closer look.
Aquila was thinking that it was a good thing that she didnít talk much anyway since she wouldnít be able to get a word in edgewise with Billie around.
After a few minutes of watching the younger chick playing tag with the butterfly, Aquila called out to her, "Come on, Billie, weíll never find your family at this rate."
Billie looked over and smiled. Seeing that smile, a warmth spread over Aquila, a feeling she thought was long dead in her. Billie ran back and they continued on down the road, with Billie commenting on everything she saw.
"Billie," Aquila interrupted her chatty companion, "do you know where they were taking you and your family and the others?"
"No, but it was fun Ďtil I fell off."
"Tell me everything that happened yesterday up to when you were put in the wagon," Aquila said seriously.
Billie was surprised and pleased that someone wanted to hear everything; usually others told her to keep it short.
"Well, first thing I remember I woke up ..."
"You can skip that part," the other chicken said hastily. "When did you first see your farmer yesterday?"
"We were all in the farmyard as usual, all the animals; pigs sure have a funny smell, donít they?" Billie paused and looked at Aquila but hurried on when she saw the frown on her face. "Then a stranger drove up in his wagon. He was really tall and kinda reminded me of a hawk, the way he looked at us. Our farmer came over and they talked for a while. I wasnít paying that much attention to them. The strange man had a paper he kept pointing to. Then they both walked over toward us and started picking up most of the chickens and putting us in cages in the back of the wagon. Our farmer didnít look very happy; he looked like he was going to cry; I didnít know people cried," she said wonderingly. "Then the strange man got up on the wagon and drove off. I thought it was great that I was going to see the world at last; Iíd always dreamed about going places and having adventures. But then I fell out and couldnít catch up. I sure am glad I found you because adventures are more fun when youíre with someone."
Aquila had seen this situation before. Billieís farmer was in debt to the other man, and the only way he could pay it off was to give him the chickens. The stranger probably had a big farm operation and didnít care about his livestock so long as he made a profit. Billieís farmer sounded as if he was a decent man and probably would be glad to have his chickens back. Aquila changed her plan without telling Billie. She would rescue all of the chickens and take them back to their farm, reuniting Billie with her family.
She thought back to a few years before when she wasnít much older than Billie. She had lived on a large farm then where the chickens were kept in a big building and encouraged to lay as many eggs as possible. Aquila had simmered under this oppression until one day she rebelled and flew the coop, chasing the farmer around the yard in the process. She tried to talk some of the others into going with her, but they didnít trust her and were intimidated by her violence. From then on she had been on her own, chased by farmers and shunned by her own kind; until Billie had stumbled into her life. Aquila smiled at this thought.
That smile transformed her whole face, and Billie was amazed at how beautiful she was.
It was getting on to noon when Aquila and Billie approached the farm. Billie wanted to run right in and see her family.
"Theyíll be so relieved and happy to see me, especially Liza, thatís my little sister, did I tell you about her? Iím sure my mamaís been worried and I know they will be happy to meet you, Aquila."
Aquila stopped Billie from running into the farmyard. "Maybe we should check things out first. I just want to make sure that everything is alright and that your family is really here. Having got you this far, I donít want anything to happen to you," she said with a half-smile, not wanting to alarm her little companion.
Billie thinks this is silly but goes along to humor her; after all, she thinks to herself, she did share her dinner with me and she has gone out of her way to bring me back to my family.
They approached the farmyard stealthily, staying under cover of bushes and tall grass. When they got close enough, they could see all the chickens in large coops. Aquila saw a hawklike man putting out feed for them from a large bucket. "Nothing like a plump chicken to fetch a good price at market or my name isnít Kernel," they heard him say as he walked back to the house.
Billie looked over at Aquila, dismayed at what she was seeing. "Billie, I was afraid it might be something like this; thatís why I didnít want you just running in. Everything isnít always nice, but I wonít let anything happen to you and the others. Hereís my plan, but Iíll need your help."
As Aquila explained her plan to Billie she had also been surveying the scene. She saw a bleached-out yellow mare already hitched to a farm wagon and figured she can use that to transport the freed chickens back to their old farm. The god of chickens must be smiling on her to have laid things out so nicely for them.
They were just waiting for Kernel to come back outside to put their plan into operation. Suddenly there he was, striding across the yard. Aquila smiled in anticipation and pointed for Billie to go toward the chicken house. Once Billie had moved off, the warrior chick came out into the open and stalked toward the farmer. Her battle cry echoed across the farmyard. Billie, hearing this unearthly sound, paused for a second and looked back at Aquila. She hurried on to the chicken house.
The startled farmer looked around and saw Aquila moving toward him. An evil grin spread over his face as he realized who it was; he had always known that he would be the one to catch that damned free-range chicken. He started walking toward the dark-feathered enemy, looking for a sack or something to put her in after he caught her. The free-range chicken suddenly flew at him, her claws and beak poised for the attack. The farmer retreated, cursing the attacking whirlwind. "Damn chicken; when I get my axe, Iíll teach you a lesson!"
While all this was going on, Billie snuck up to the chicken house and pushed up the latch and opened the door. Everyone inside was surprised; they had heard the noises coming from the farmyard and wondered what was happening. Billie looked around for her family. She saw Liza at the same moment her mother saw her. "Liza!" "Billie!" was heard almost simultaneously. Her mother ran to her and hugged her tightly.
Billie finally broke away. "Hurry! We have to get out of here fast while Aquila is taking care of the farmer thereís a wagon already hitched to a horse weíll all get up on it and Aquila will take us back to our home so hurry up everyone and go!"
Once the others got over their surprise, they moved quickly through the door and ran to the wagon and hopped on. Billie made sure everyone was gone and then followed. When she got back outside, she paused to watch her new friend. She had never seen anything like it in her young life. The farmer kept backing up, watching the warrior chick who would fly up at him every few steps with her claws bared. He was so intent on watching Aquila that he was paying no attention to where he was going. The end came quickly, and Billie knew that Aquila had planned it this way. Taking one more step backwards, he tripped over a piece of firewood he had left lying about. He fell and hit his head on a rock. He just lay there, dazed. Aquila smiled with pleasure, knowing that Farmer Kernel wouldnít be bothering anybody for a while.
Billie ran up to Aquila. "That was great Iíve never seen anything so much fun so this is what adventures are like no wonder you like traveling around having adventures gosh!" in one sentence as usual.
Aquila turned to smile at her young companion. Was I ever that young she wondered. "Come on, we have to get moving. He wonít be unconscious forever. Did you get all the others on the wagon?"
"Yes," was all she could gasp out as Aquila grabbed her wing and pulled her over to the wagon.
"Get up on the seat; Iíll talk with the horse and tell her where we want to go." She jumped up on to the horseís back and started talking with her. The horse agreed to take them back; she didnít care much for her farmer either and was glad to see him get his comeuppance. They all headed off to take the others back to their home.
Just outside the gate to their farm, Aquila stopped the horse and told the others to hop down. All the chickens, including Billieís family, eagerly jumped off the wagon and ran back to the familiar farmyard. When their farmer heard all the commotion, he came out of the house; he could hardly believe his eyes and didnít know what to make of it all.
Billie looked around for Aquila and saw her still sitting on the wagon. It wasnít until this moment that Billie realized that Aquila wouldnít be staying. She also knew that she wanted to stay with her brave friend more than anything else. In that moment Billie went a long way toward growing up.
Aquila was fiddling with the horseís harness, unhitching her from the wagon when she became aware of someone standing beside her. She looked over and saw Billie with a pleading look in her eyes but for once unable to say anything. "Yes?" she said, and would have raised one eyebrow if chickens had eyebrows.
Suddenly Billie was no longer at a loss for words. "Please, Aquila, let me come with you. We worked together as a team real well, didnít we? And Iíve always wanted to have adventures and see the world I know there are so many wonderful things out there and I want to see all of them and I wonít be any trouble to you and I can be quiet whenever you want me to be so what do you say, huh? Can I come with you pleasepleasepleasepleeeeese?" She was hopping from foot to foot in her excitement.
"How can I refuse such an offer, especially the part about being quiet whenever I ask," Aquila said between laughs. "Donít worry, I wonít hold you to that part, at least not very often. Now go talk with your family. You wonít be seeing them again for a while."
Billie grinned happily at Aquila. She went off to find her family and tell them her decision; she knew she would have to talk them around, but then talking was what she did best.
Aquila looked after her thoughtfully. In the short time that she had known her talkative little friend, she had come to realize how lonely her life had been before. She would miss her. But she also knew that hers was a hard life, never knowing where her next meal would come from or if she would survive the day. This was no life for Billie, but Billie would have to learn this for herself. Aquila knew there was a valley not very far away where there would be lots of flowers and trees. She would take Billie there and then, in a few days when she got homesick, she could bring her back here to her family. And everything would be for the best.
It turned out not to be as hard as Billie had thought it would be to convince her family to let her go. Billieís family had always seen that she was a little different, not your average farm chicken, so they reluctantly agreed to let her go. But she had to promise to come see them whenever she was nearby. The hardest part was saying good-bye to her sister, they had so many fun memories. Finally Billie started walking back to Aquila, turning every few steps to wave to her family.
Billie wiped away the last tear as she came up to the wagon. Aquila had gotten the horse unhitched and was sitting on her back talking to her.
"Hey, Billie, are you ready? It seems this horse doesnít want to go back to her farm, either, and wants to come along with us. What do you think?" Aquila said this more to take Billieís mind off her family, knowing that Billie would go along with whatever she decided.
"Sure, thatíll be great; we wonít have to walk all the time." Billie hopped up onto the wagon then onto the horseís back.
"Speak for yourself," the horse said under her breath. Then she looked back at the little chick and couldnít help but smile at her enthusiasm.
Billie asked, "Whatís your name? My nameís Billie and this is Aquila."
The horse thought for a minute. "I guess itís Ergo. Whenever my farmer, ex-farmer, wanted me to move, he would always say ĎErrrrrrrrrr, go.í"
Alright, Ergo, letís go," called out Billie.
Xena, dressed only in her shift and lying on her blanket, looked over at Gabrielle who was busily writing on a scroll. "Itís getting late, Gabrielle, come to bed," she said, patting the bedroll next to her.
"In a minute; Iím almost finished with this story," she replied.
"Is it another one about us?" Xena asked, having resigned herself to being the hero of all of Gabrielleís stories.
"Sort of," Gabrielle said, smiling as she thought of Xenaís reaction when she read this story. She wrote for another minute; then laid the scroll and her pen down, before joining her companion.
As they walked away from the farm, Billie turned to Aquila and asked, "Why are we crossing the road?"