It Happened One Solstice
Disclaimer: Xena, Gabrielle, Senticles, Minya and Argo belong to MCA/Universal. No copyright infringement was intended in the writing of this fan fiction. The story, such as it is, belongs to me. There's no violence, no subtext-hey, it's a Christmas (I mean Solstice) story. Ya know a time of Peace, Goodwill, Joy to all men (wannabe bards and all fanfiction readers). The poem, "Why Do I Love You" was written by Roy Croft.
"Yeah, lucky us," the leather-clad woman grumbled, "and we still have to go over the river and through the woods to reach the nearest town, not to mention half a foot of cold snowdrifts to trudge through." she continued to grouched. Unhappily leading the slowly plodding Argo along behind her, no longer able to go dashing through the snow on the mare's broad back due to a thrown shoe.
"I think it's beautiful. It's such a silent night, the snowflakes land without a whisper, as softly as down on a thistle. Just look at how they glisten on the crest of the new fallen snow. It's kinda like, walking through a winter wonderland."
"Wonderful," Xena mocked, turning her head to look at her companion. "Have you ever touched thistle?"
"Xena, where's your Solstice spirit?" Gabrielle huffed, spinning so that she was walking backwards, facing the grumpy warrior. "You're acting like some sort of scrooge!" she admonished, shaking a chastising finger at her frowning friend.
"Oh, it's most likely with Argo's missing shoe." Xena scowled at the bard, batting her shaking finger aside. How many times had her mother done that very same thing. Scolding her for some perceived misdeed. She knew when she was in for a lecture; each had begun with that finger rapidly wiggling up and down, 'Now Xena you know better, Xena why did you, Xena you're not a child anymore, Xena he's younger than you.' Gods on Olympus! She had gotten that finger in front of her nose so many times it was a wonder she wasn't known as the Cross-eyed Warrior Princess. "And what the Tartarus is a scrooge?" she asked.
"Well, a scrooge is someone who's grumpy, grouchy, crabby, surly, ornery, testy..."
"I get the picture all ready!" interrupted the grumpy, grouchy, crabby, surly, ornery, testy woman.
"...like you," finished the bard quietly.
Silently they continued their lengthy trek to the village of Kringle, startling a partridge and a pair of turtledoves from a nearby pear tree. Each lost to their own thoughts of long past Solstice eves. With their warm breath frosting in the cold air before them, they left nothing but their footprints to mar the sparkling beauty of the unbroken snow.
"Xena, do you hear what I hear?" asked the petite bard, tilting her head from side to side, trying to gauge the direction of the questionable sound.
"It's only the night wind singing through the trees, Gabrielle."
"Humph, I don't remember the wind ever sounding like that. Sounds more like jingling bells to me."
"Yes, well, you probably have snow packed in your ears." Argo snorted her agreement. "I saw you playing in the snow, making that snowman in the meadow."
"Ha Ha," Gabrielle glared at the golden horse, "and no one asked you!"
Just then eight of the strangest looking animals trotted from the concealing cover of the nearby woods. They were about the size of deer, with antlers that were branched in an L-shaped pattern, flat at the tips instead of pointy. Their fur was thick and a dirty brownish in color. A ring of white encircled their necks, as well as just above each hoof of their short-sturdy legs. The animals were calm, not at all startled by the presence of two seeming humans. They stood around, placidly nuzzling through the snow, trying to get at the grass buried below.
"Xena, what are they?" asked the bard curiously.
"Reindeer!? Xena, how do you know they're reindeer?" Gabrielle asked, giving the warrior a 'can't you can do better than that' type of look.
"They have reins hanging all over them! So that makes them reindeer, Okay!? Sheesh, Gabrielle, how am I supposed to know. I've never seen anything like them before tonight."
While they were quibbling, another "reindeer" trotted from the woods. It stopped momentarily, as if to take in the tranquility of the peaceful glad, then continued on into the opposite tree line, prompting the others to follow.
"Gabrielle?" Xena softly called, shaking her head and rubbing her disbelieving eyes.
"What?" she answered in an awe struck whisper.
"Please, tell me that animal did NOT have a red nose."
"Nope, it didn't. And it wasn't shining either."
They approached the gates of Kringle just as the snow quit falling. The moon gently broke through the clouds revealing what promised to be a midnight clear. The celestial orb softly cast its radiant beams on the peaceful world below.
"Wow, is that star bright!" Xena remarked, pointing to a star that out shone all the others shining in the night.
"I'll say," Gabrielle agreed looking up. "It has a tail even longer than that flying parchment thing of yours." She grinned mischievously; recalling Xena's many thwarted attempts to actually get the parchment to fly. "C'mon let's get Argo stabled, and see about finding a place to sleep for the night."
They pushed and prodded their way to the town square, which was filled with a multitude of rejoicing people. They had to stop and wait as eleven piping pipers and twelve drumming drummers passed by.
Exasperated with the delay, Xena grabbed the nearest villager. "What is everyone celebrating!?" she demanded.
"The long awaited birth of the New King," the hapless man yelled above the noise of the revelers, "Many villagers have journeyed from the furthest reaches of the kingdom, traversing field and fountain, moor and mountain, bearing gifts for the new babe," he explained. Xena released his arm and watched as he hurried after the departing crowd.
Standing back out of the way, half hidden in a secluded corner, Gabrielle spotted a little drummer boy, his cheeks streaked by the tracks of his silent tears.
"What's wrong?" she asked, kneeling in front of the child, gently wiping away the moisture.
"I have no gift to bring, not one that's fit to give our king," he whimpered.
Gabrielle looked at the small drum draped around his neck and the tiny stick he held clutched in each small hand. Lightly she tapped her fingers upon the drums surface, "Can you play?" she asked him. Smiling softly when he nodded yes. "Then let your gift come from the heart. Play a song, just for him." The child's eyes lit up at the suggestion and he rushed off.
With the passing of the marching musicians the streets cleared and they made their way unhindered to the stable. Gabrielle waited by the livery door, listening as the warrior quietly spoke to her equine friend, as she groomed and bedded the animal down for the evening.
"Finished?" she asked with a kind smile as her friend approached. At the warrior's affirming nod she held open the door. "Good, I'm starving!" she quipped good-naturedly.
Xena opened the tavern door and froze in place. Gabrielle, unable to see what had caught the warrior's attention, ducked in under her arm. The tavern was a beehive of activity. People were bustling around like a bunch of busy elves. Decking the halls with boughs of holly and stringing rows of silver bells, their face's all aglow.
"Happy bunch aren't they," Xena mumbled sitting at a back table where she had a clear view of the tavern. One man, standing under a sprig of well-placed mistletoe was pecking every woman who passed him on the cheek.
"I'll say," Gabrielle agreed, moving towards the fire. "Be right back." Carefully she avoided the cheek pecking man and his mistletoe.
Happily munching away on some small tidbit, Gabrielle returned carrying a tiny basket and two drinks. She handed one mug to Xena and placed the basket in the center of the table.
"What are these?" Xena asked lifting a warm dinar sized nut from the container.
"Chestnuts, they're roasting them on the open fire," explained the bard, popping another of the tasty morsels into her mouth. "C'mon, try 'em, they're really very good."
"Uh huh, and I'm supposed to take the word of someone who thinks squid is a delicacy," teased the warrior as she bit into the toasted nut. "Umm, not bad." Xena pulled the basket closer and started eating the small treats in earnest. She picked up her mug and took a hearty swallow of its contents, valiantly battling the urge to spit it back out again.
"What is this stuff!" Xena yelled, having to lift her voice over a group of people who began singing something that sounded remarkably like, 'O Solstice tree'.
"Egg what?" Xena raised a speculative eyebrow.
"Egg Nog, huh." Xena frowned at her cup, "be right back." She picked up the offending mug and made her way to the bar. Gabrielle watched as her friend talk to the barkeep for a few minutes, then had him add something to the cup. She took a tentative sip, nodding her acceptance. Turning she made her way back to the table where the bard waited, momentarily stopping to listen, and shake her head in bafflement at the crowd singing to a Solstice tree.
Gabrielle pointed at the mug in her friend's hand. "What did you have him put in there?"
"Port! Got a problem with that?"
"Nope, not at all. It is YOUR drink," Gabrielle said, suppressing a shudder. "Did you ask about a room?
"Yeah, I did. Seems there's no room at the inn. But the barkeep said we were welcome to spend the night in the stable."
As they were making their way back to the stable, Xena stopped in mid-stride, grabbing her companion's arm, bringing her to an abrupt halt.
"Xena, what are you do..."
"Look!" She pointed at a nearby roof.
Up on the housetop, standing next to the chimney was an elderly man dressed all in red. He had a beard as white as the new fallen snow, rosy cheeks, and a nose as red as that strange looking animal back in the glad. His belly shook like a bowl full of ambrosia when he laughed. Next to him sat a bag stuffed to over flowing with toys. The two women look at each other and smiled. This could be only one man. Senticles.
"Senticles! What are you doing up there?" They called in unison.
Startled upon hearing his name, Senticles lost his balance and down off the roof he came with abound. "Xena, Gabrielle, how nice to see you again." He reached up taking the helping hand each woman extended. "And how are you this fine Solstice eve?" he asked, brushing off clinging bits of snow.
"We're fine, Senticles. What were you doing up there?" asked Xena.
"Well, I was umm, trying to get in. You see the children they umm, hang their stockings by the fireplace, with great care I might add, and I umm, fill them with gifts for the children to find on Solstice morning," he stammered in way of explanation for his nighttime activities.
"That's very noble of you, Senticles, but why were you trying to sneak in?" Xena wondered. Confused as to why he just didn't use the door.
"Because the door was locked and they don't know who I am. I like keeping my identity a mystery. Do you know what would happen if they knew that I was coming to town? I've gotten scrolls upon scrolls from children asking for toys, so many in fact that I had to make a list and check it twice. Then I had to go back and determine who's been naughty and nice."
"And if you've been naughty, what do you get?" asked Gabrielle, looking at Xena with a wicked gleam. Xena glared at the bard.
"A good lump of this shiny black rock I found. I call it coal." He held up a specimen for their inspection. "Fortunately, most of the boys and girls have been good this year."
"Well, far be it for us to keep you from your quest," said Xena. "Let's go, Gabrielle, before you find trouble."
Wishing them a happy Solstice, Senticles turned with a jerk and dusting the snow off of his beard, went straight to his work.
In the stable the bard tossed and turned, keeping the warrior awake.
"Gabrielle, what is your problem?" Xena asked, annoyed
"I can't sleep, Xena. I keep thinking about Solstice eves' when I was a child. The other kids would laugh and call me names, never letting me join in their Solstice games. Wish I had some of that coal of Senticles' to give them."
"Gabrielle, try not to think of that now. Do you think any of them are going to go down in history? I don't think so. Now why don't you lay back here," she drew the bard down with her, "close your eyes and let the doves cooing from the rafters on high sing you to sleep." Xena began humming an almost forgotten Solstice song from her own childhood. When the bard's breathing deepened with sleep, Xena quietly went back to her bedroll.
Gabrielle awoke well into the morning. She glanced around, knowing that she was alone. Xena, no doubt had been up and about for hours. She stood dislodging a folded note that had been placed on her blanket. The front of it read simply, Gabrielle.
With trembling fingers the bard opened the missive. Inside, written in Xena's bold script were the words the warrior found so hard to speak:
Why Do I Love You?
I love you,
Not only for what you are,
But for what I am
When I am with you.
I love you,
Not only for what
You have made of yourself
But for what
You are making of me.
I love you
For ignoring the possibilities
Of the fool in me
And for laying firm hold
Of the possibilities for good.
Why do I love you?
I love you
For closing you eyes
To the discords-
And for adding to the music in me
By worshipful listening.
I love you because you
Are helping me to make
Of the lumber of my life
Not a tavern
But a temple;
And out of the words
Of my every day
Not a reproach
But a song.
I love you
Because you have done
More than any creed
To make me happy.
You have done it
Without a word,
Without a touch,
Without a sign.
You have done it
Just by being yourself.
Gabrielle patiently waited for the warrior to return, knowing it wouldn't be long. Argo's stall was empty so she was probably having the mare fitted with new shoes. She went to her satchel and removed her Solstice gift to Xena. Carefully she unwrapped the intricately braided whip. The very same one she had traded to Minya for a frying pan. Now it seemed like such a petty thing to have done. But at the time, she remembered, it was the only thing she could think of to do. Her way of striking back at the warrior for using her scrolls. And Xena had seen right through her excuse of needing the pan in order to cook their food. Gabrielle shook her head ruefully. They could always make a spit, after all, they had many times in the past.
Xena quietly open the livery door, not wanting to disturb Gabrielle if she was still sleeping.
"Hey, your awake," she said, seeing the bard sitting on her folded blanket.
"Yeah, I am." She walked up to her friend, enveloping her in a heartfelt hug. "Thank you," she whispered. Gabrielle couldn't prevent the few tears that escaped down her cheeks. "I love you, too."
Xena returned the hug, wrapping the bard within her strong arms. Reaching up she gently wiped away Gabrielle's tears with the pad of her thumb, "Please don't cry, Gabrielle."
"I'm sorry, I just..." Gabrielle faltered, at a loss for words. "Here, I have a Solstice gift you, too." She handed the wrapped bundle to the warrior.
Xena unwrapped the gift and stared, "Gabrielle, this looks just like my old whip."
"Does it? Imagine that."
"But where did you..."
"Xena, I'm a bard with many skills. Let's just leave it at that shall we."
Xena looked at Gabrielle for a long serious minute, trying to decide if she should pursue the subject. "Okay," she acquiesced, "Thank you."
"Your welcome, now why don't you take me over to the tavern and feed me."
"Hmmm, want some more of those roasted chestnuts and egg nog, huh?"
"Actually...no, I was thinking more along the lines of fatted goose and fruitcake."
Together the two friends stepped out of the stable, ready to take on what the new day had to offer.
It Happened One Solstice
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