Reindeer Games and Goddess Wings
By CATH, BARD
This is a sequel of sorts to a previously posted story called
The characters of Xena and Gabrielle and others belong in their entirety to Universal/MCA, Renaissance Pictures, and all the other powers that be. No copyright infringement is intended.
This story involves a loving friendship between two consenting adult women. If you are under 18 years of age or if this type of story is illegal in the state or country in which you live, please do not read it. If depictions of this nature disturb you, you may wish to read something else.
Song titles used in this tale (with only a few liberties):
1-All I Want For Christmas Is You (sort of)
3-Chestnuts Roasting On An Open Fire
4-Deck the Halls
5-Do You Hear What I Hear?
6-The First Noel
7-Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer
8-Home For the Holidays
10-It Came Upon the Midnight Clear
13-Let It Snow
14-Little Drummer Boy
15-Over The River And Through The Woods
17-Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer
18-Run Rudolph Run
22-The Twelve Days of Christmas
"Let it snow!" Gabrielle shouted as she gazed about the winter wonderland that was Northern Amazon Territory at Solstice. She spread her arms and stretched to encompass the known world...nay, to hug it to herself in boundless, exquisite joy. The young Amazon Princess from Potidaea was in love, and she didnt care if the whole village knew it.
She felt in the best of moods this Solstice eve, watching the snow as it came upon the midnight clear, creeping in with the billowing clouds. Bard and Warrior had made it home for the holidays to the territory of Gabrielles Amazon sisters, having survived more than a few harrowing adventures, which she faithfully recorded in her scrolls.
The Amazon village glowed with candles, lanterns, and occasional bonfires in the silent night. The smell of chestnuts roasting on an open fire wafted from the warmth promised by the village tavern, but Gabrielle wanted to be outside, her spirit expanding to announce her discovery to the very stars above.
Love had blossomed after two seasons on the road together
Several weeks had passed with no townsfolk in distress, no children to save from drowning, no giants threatening villages Gabrielle and Xena found a kind of rhythm and peace to their days, which blended together uncounted. The young woman strode beside the Warrior who casually guided her ambling mare, Argo, along the byways of Greece, heading further north. Their latest adventures drifted through the Bards mind as she ordered and embellished them for her scrolls. Distracted by the phrasing of a particular passage, Gabrielle almost kept walking beyond horse and rider; almost failed to notice the tinkling of tiny bells they sounded like silver bells.
"Do you hear what I hear?" Xena whispered, reining Argo to a halt.
"What are they?" Gabrielle asked.
"Jingle bells; peddlers bells."
"And since when do you know anything about peddlers? You hate to shop."
"Ah, but this peddler polishes swords and knows his way around a good jug of port. Plus, he can tell us if theres any trouble ahead. Id recognize those bells anywhere."
"Oh." Gabrielle wondered at her taciturn friends suddenly bright tone.
"Here he comes," Xena pointed in a general direction.
Peering over the river and through the woods, Gabrielle caught sight of the biggest, brightest peddlers wagon shed ever seen.
Xena leaned down from Argo and spoke in a voice filled with uncharacteristic mischief.
"His name is Cristamas, and hes just like Salmoneus, only worse. When I was growing up in Amphipolis, he used to come to town every Solstice and sell his wares. Lyceus and I gave him so much trouble We found out that hes colorblind cant tell red from green, blue from yellow." She grinned slyly. "Lets have some fun; see if we can get him confused."
"I dont believe what Im hearing, Xena. You actually want to tease someone?"
"Just for the fun of it?"
"Yeah. Whats wrong with that?"
Gabrielle stared up at the woman on the tall horse.
"Who are you and what have you done with Xena?"
"Hey, youre always saying I dont know how to have any fun Well, lets see if I can change your opinion. Cristamas is an old friend and its almost Solstice. Lets live a little."
"Wow, I didnt know you had any old friends Old enemies, yes. But old friends?"
"Ok, Bard, give it a rest." The Warriors smile belied the threat she directed at the woman staring up at her, wide-eyed. In that moment, Gabrielle glimpsed another Xena one without the stoic attitude and the weight of the world on her shoulders.
"I think I like this Xena, too," the Bard mused. "Maybe I can do something to make her stay awhile."
The wagon drew closer and Gabrielle could see its strange, brightly colored decorations and mysterious symbols painted or carved on all sides. An old nag pulled it, seemingly without effort. She whinnied happily. (Gabrielle thought it was a happy whinny at any rate.) Argo answered.
Seated atop the wagon, with reins in hand, was a scraggly-bearded, pot-bellied man of indeterminate age. He could have been ancient, yet as he drew closer, Gabrielle noticed a youthful twinkle to his deep brown eyes and a ruddiness of cheek that hinted at a hearty nature. His garments immediately distinguished him as an itinerant peddler once of quality, but now faded far beyond their best years. Next to him sat a slender youth. The Bard guessed his age at about fourteen years. His blonde hair was unkempt and he had smudges of soot on his cheeks and at the tip of his nose. Gabrielle thought his eyes might be blue, but he kept them slightly downcast, so it was hard to tell. He wore a simple, heavy cloak and leggings the clothing of a peasant.
The old man tugged gently on the reins and the wagon stopped with a squeal and a creak just in front of the women.
"Hello, Cristamas." Xena greeted him casually, but her grin spanned ear-to-ear.
Cristamas stood and peered at the two figures in the road, like a bear on its hind legs trying to get a closer look. Then he slapped his massive thigh and sat down hard in the seat, slightly startling his horse, which jerked the wagon forward, throwing the boy off balance. The lad tumbled backwards through a curtain and into the depths of the wagon.
Gabrielle almost laughed at this comic introduction, but managed to keep a straight face. She looked up at Xena, who was also fighting back laughter.
"By all the gods on Olympus!" Cristamas boomed out in a rich basso profundo. "Its my old nemesis, Xena. What in Hades name are you doing here? I heard youd turned into a hero and went back home to live with your Mother." Gabrielle observed the peddlers wink and nod.
"Well, Im not here to rob you, so thats a start " Xenas voice held a teasing note.
"Then lets have a look at you." Cristamas eased himself off the wagon, tossing the reins to the young man whod clambered back onto his seat.
He approached and Xena slid gracefully from Argos saddle, meeting him halfway. They clasped forearms as old acquaintances sometimes do.
"I want you to meet a friend of mine, Cristamas. This is Gabrielle."
Gabrielle extended her arm, but Cristamas grasped her fingers and gallantly kissed the back of her hand.
"Pleased to meet you, Gabrielle. Id heard that Xena was traveling with a bard, but I had no idea it was a beautiful, young bard and a woman at that."
Gabrielle found herself thoroughly charmed; she felt a blush creeping up her cheeks.
"You didnt tell me he was nice," she whispered to Xena.
"Just wait until you try to bargain with him " the Warrior responded under her breath.
Cristamas heard them and laughed. He called out to his companion. "Rudolph, boy, anchor Pegasus, and get yourself down here. I want you to meet some old and new friends."
The lad tied the reins off to the wagons brake and leapt from his seat, staggering slightly as he landed. Gabrielle recognized the awkwardness of a teenager, having been one herself not long ago. The realization made her feel a little old.
Hesitantly Rudolph came forward. Cristamas wrapped an arm around his shoulders even though the boy was almost a head taller.
"This is my assistant, and faithful traveling companion, Rudolph. He hails from the far north, as you can tell."
And Gabrielle had to agree. The pale skin, white-blonde hair, and eyes bluer even than Xenas -- all indicated a foreign origin. The Bard had heard tales of the northerners even though she had yet to meet one, and Rudolph fit the description.
"This is Xena and her friend, Gabrielle."
"Hello, Rudolph," Gabrielle extended her hand and the boy shook it with a surprisingly strong and warm grip.
"Mam" Rudolph intoned deferentially, making Gabrielle feel really old.
When Xena extended her hand, Rudolph almost forgot to shake it, so in awe was he at meeting a Warrior Princess of such infamy.
"What say you to a drink and some trading?" Cristamas nodded toward his wagon.
"Im up for it," Xena replied.
Gabrielle fought to keep her jaw from dropping. "Me too," she managed to add.
An hour later, they had secured the horses, made camp, and were swapping tales. Several goblets of port helped Cristamas recall some of Xenas early adventures in Amphipolis, though Gabrielle suspected that the peddler embellished the Warriors youthful escapades. The Bard tucked them in her memory for future embellishments of her own and subtly pumped the old man for more information about her friend. Xena said nothing, refusing to incriminate herself by denying or agreeing with Cristamas, but Gabrielle sensed that she was enjoying the tales.
Rudolph kept to the wagon, listening intently from his distance, and occasionally bringing out more port. Xena and Cristamas quaffed several refills. Gabrielle didnt much care for port, but was too polite to say so and nursed her first goblet throughout the afternoon and into the evening.
As darkness fell, Rudolph built a small fire and made preparations for dinner. Gabrielle offered to help, but the boy just shook his head and smiled. Without a word, he made it clear that this was his chore and they were guests. Gabrielle backed off, but promised to help him clean up.
When Gabrielle rejoined Xena and Cristamas around the fire, she remarked at Rudolphs shyness. The peddler dropped his voice to a whisper as he told the story of how the lad came to be his assistant.
"Seems he lived with his fathers mother after his parents died in a blizzard, but when his grandma got run over by a reindeer he found himself an orphan at twelve and headed south in search of his fortune. I found him starving in a small village in Macedonia. Didnt speak a word of Greek back then. I couldnt leave the kid behind to live in the streets or, worse, get caught for stealing. So.. . Hes been good company and works hard. He understands Greek pretty well now, but he doesnt speak much of it yet. Somehow we communicate." Cristamas shrugged and offered a smile in Rudolphs direction.
The Bard and Warrior listened, casting occasional glances at the boy who looked back at them with a slightly goofy grin. Gabrielle had a difficult time believing that a reindeer would run over someone, but then she didnt really know what a reindeer was. She planned to ask about reindeer at the first opportunity to do so tactfully, out of respect for Rudolph.
A long silence prevailed as the three sipped their port and Rudolph served them a delicious rabbit stew, joining them around the fire to share dinner. When they were finished, the lad began to gather their plates. Gabrielle moved to help him, but he shook his head vigorously. "No, mistress" he said with a smile.
"Sorry, Gabrielle," Cristamas explained, "he wants to do it alone. This is his way of making you welcome."
Gabrielle thanked the boy and sat back down. She watched Rudolph go about his tasks, cleaning the plates with water hed heated by the fire. "Hed make someone a great wife," she thought wryly, but appreciated the boys kindness all the same.
"So, where are you headed?" Xena decided to get some news from the peddler.
"Antales, for the seasonal festival," Cristamas responded brightly.
"Ah Ive heard thats a great place for Solstice bargains." Visions of haggling for beautiful scarves, breast daggers, quills, and kitchenware danced in Gabrielles imagination.
Cristamas continued. "You could try to make it there before Solstice. Its the best place in the region to barter. In fact, the Solstice bazaar will last a fortnight this year. I cant stay that long, but I do have a great marketing idea for the time Im there. How does The Twelve Days of Cristamas grab you?" he asked with a wink and a nudge.
Gabrielle snorted with laughter; Xena just rolled her eyes. The more he talked, the more Cristamas reminded Gabrielle of their old friend, Salmoneus, but Cristamas seemed to lack the selfish streak that characterized the other peddler.
After Xena had milked the old man for more information about his travels and various encounters, assuring herself that no immediate threats or adventures awaited them in this area, she decided to start the game.
"Some peddler you are, old man. We sit here all evening and you havent shown us any of your wares."
"Hehehe I knew you couldnt resist." Cristamas gave the Warrior a good-natured punch to her shoulder and stood, swaying slightly. "Follow me, ladies." He gestured to the rear of the wagon, where Rudolph had already pulled down a gate and was hauling out cloth bags and carved boxes and unpackaged articles, setting them up for display.
Gabrielle almost ran to the wagon. Shed waited for this moment.
The wares on display did not disappoint. Excellent decorative pottery from Athens and Corinth crowded beside practical cookware and stone jars from smaller towns. Gleaming knives and daggers from the Spartan forges had their own special section. There was even a shelf for toys.
Gabrielles breath caught as she spied several carvings on that shelf.
"These are by Senticles! Id recognize them anywhere." Reverently she reached for the carved figure of a little drummer boy whose arms moved up and down toward the small drum at his waist when a lever at the base of the carving was moved from side-to-side.
"Wow! Senticles is so good at this," Gabrielle exclaimed, gently working the lever and watching the statues arms tap out a barely audible rhythm on the drum.
She smiled warmly at Xena as she recalled the lamb that Senticles had carved, the one whose mouth moved when its tale was pulled. Gabrielle owned such a lamb as a child and Xena had given her another last Solstice. The toy was special to the Bard, not just because shed had one as a kid, but because the Warrior remembered and cared enough to make it a gift.
When her eyes met Xenas, something sparked between them. Gabrielle felt her heart beat faster. The Warrior was gazing at her with genuine fondness -- perhaps more and her smile lit up the night. The Bard realized that her friend had gone back to memories of a better time this special evening. The port, the toys, the mere presence of a special person from a peaceful time in her past had made Xena young again, if only for a few hours.
Cristamas sensed a sale, and something else. The last time hed felt such a strong connection between two souls, the couple had been visiting his wagon to buy their wedding goods.
"I wonder if Xena is .and Gabrielle definitely is " Cristamas thought then shook his head in wonder as he looked back and forth between the two women. "Ill be damned. Maybe the Warrior has finally met her match."
"If you like Senticles, I want you to see a very special carving from the northlands," Cristamas offered in true salesman fashion. Its by Noel the Second, who was an even better woodcarver than his father, the first Noel, if I say so myself. Surely youve heard of the family Noel?"
Both women nodded in the negative.
Cristamas clapped his hands as if issuing a royal command "Quickly, Rudolph, the red-nosed reindeer! Fetch it will you? Run Rudolph, run," the old man teased.
Rudolph walked swiftly to the front of the wagon and reached under the seat for a latch that released the panel concealing a secret compartment on one side of the wagon the place where Cristamas stowed his most precious and expensive wares, concealing them from bandits.
Rudolph reached into the hidden compartment and lifted out a large object wrapped in layers of fine silk. Proudly, he carried it to the rear of the wagon where the women and peddler waited. With a flourish, he set it down and unwrapped it.
Gabrielles eyes grew wide as the intricately carved figure of a large deer was revealed, although it didnt exactly look like any deer shed ever seen the real deer in Greece. It didnt even look like the sacred hinds of the gods or the carvings in the temples of Artemis.
And at the tip of its nose was a small, polished red jewel -- most likely a precious ruby.
Even Xena let out a small whistle of awe. The deers antlers were such a delicately tangled lattice of fine wood that the Warrior realized she was in the presence of a true masterpiece. "Now thats a reindeer," she claimed with authority.
Gabrielles curiosity about reindeers was partially satisfied.
Then Xena decided to have some fun. She caught Gabrielles eye and winked, hoping her companion would follow the game.
Very carefully, Xena picked up the carving and studied it closely from several angles.
"What an interesting carving, and very authentic in most details, but about that nose " She shook her head. "I do believe its blue, Cristamas, not red," Xena argued her point good-naturedly. Her raised eyebrow let him know that she meant no harm.
The mischief was afoot; Gabrielle picked up right where Xena left off.
"Uh, uh, Xena. Youre wrong. Its white, Cristamas, right? A white nose?" Gabrielle teased as she reached for the carved statue. The old man looked confused for a moment, then remembered the children back in Amphipolis and how they teased about his colorblindness.
"Its red or my name isnt Cristamas. And thats a ruby there for the nose, not a sapphire or diamond."
Xena took the statue from Gabrielle and pretended to examine it more closely. "By Hades helmet, I do believe youre right. Its a red-nosed reindeer."
Cristamas laughed heartily. Rudolph didnt quite understand what was going on, but he got the feeling it was all in good fun.
"How much?" Xena asked as she handed the statue back to Rudolph.
"One hundred dinars," Cristamas replied without batting an eye. "Its magical too. Rubbing the reindeers nose makes any wish come true."
Gabrielle gulped. The carving wasnt something they needed. In fact, she was surprised that Xena even asked.
"Thats a fair price," the Warrior stated, shaking her head, "and Im sure youll make that or more at the bazaar. Its beautiful, but a little out of our range and Id rather you get what its worth." She winked at Gabrielle, who smiled with relief, then sensed that note of "something more" again another spark flew.
Rudolph had just started to slide the woodcarving back into its sack when Gabrielle reached for it. She looked steadily at Cristamas.
"May I just for luck?"
"For a pretty bard, and true friend of the Warrior Princess? Of course." Cristamas nodded and Rudolph handed the statue to Gabrielle. The blonde closed her eyes and made her wish, then gently rubbed a fingertip over the smooth surface of the red jewel. With a very deliberate motion, she extended the carving to Xena.
"Your turn, Xena. Make a wish."
Xena started to frown. "Gabrielle " She tried her familiar growl of chastisement. But the Bard would not be put off.
"Nope, even warriors must have wishes at Solstice," Gabrielle said, staring directly into the hypnotic blue eyes of her companion, daring her to refuse. Truth be told, Xena found Gabrielles sea green eyes held a magic of their own that night. Without further protest, she reached toward the carving and rubbed a callused thumb across the reindeers red nose.
"Did you remember to make a wish?" Gabrielle teased.
"Thats for me to know and you to find out."
"By the gods, theyre flirting!" Cristamas thought. He was too old and experienced to blush though.
As the evening wore on, the peddler showed his friends splendid treasures gathered from throughout the known world. Gabrielle found everything fascinating, and Xena found her companions fascination absolutely charming. But with all the looking, neither woman found anything they particularly wanted to own.
Rudolph yawned, excused himself, and climbed into the wagon to get some sleep.
Finally, Cristamas rubbed his head thoughtfully and decided to show them one more item -- something he suspected might have a special meaning and would perhaps earn a sale. He was a peddler after all.
With flourish, he ventured once again to his secret compartment and withdrew a tiny object, wrapped in silk as the reindeer had been. When hed settled back by the fire, he withdrew his final treasure from its wrapping. Gabrielle gasped as he held out a tiny, exquisitely carved silver charm designed to be worn as jewelry on a chain about the neck.
Cristamas handed the charm to Gabrielle. She took it carefully and began to study it by the firelight. Xena moved closer to her companion, captivated by bards intensity as she considered the figure.
Closer inspection revealed the nude likeness of a beautiful, muscular young woman. The statues long hair flowed across her shoulders, framing a gentle, lovely face. She attempted modesty by the strategic placement of her arms over her breasts, as if unwilling to release something precious. Her pose and expression were that of one yet familiar with innocence. With trembling fingertips, Gabrielle turned her over. She noticed wings gracefully extending from the young woman's shoulders. The wings wrapped her softly from behind, following her exquisite contours, and extending the length of her body. The artisan had created an illusion that made the wings almost translucent.
Captivated by the beauty of the statue she now held up to the firelight, Gabrielle could utter only one word. "Wow."
Xena gave voice to their mutual questions. "Who is she? Where did you get the talisman?"
Cristamas paused mysteriously. "Ah, where I got her is my secret, but she does tell a story, doesnt she? You see, " he whispered conspiratorially, focusing on Gabrielle, "she is a very modest goddess who, if she ever chooses to unfold her arms, will spread her wings and fly."
"Shes beautiful, isnt she Xena?"
"A fine piece of work. And a lot easier to wear than that magical reindeer." Xena flashed the crooked smile that Gabrielle loved.
The bard spent several more minutes contemplating the winged goddess, then handed it back almost reluctantly.
"How much?" she asked with trepidation, thinking it might make a lovely Solstice gift for Xena.
"Shes priceless, of course, but I could let her go for oh fifty dinars."
Gabrielles heart fell. Fifty dinars was a fortune to the two women. Even if they had the money, she knew better than to spend it on a piece of jewelry.
"Well " The Bard thought for a moment about bargaining, but a quick glance at Xena changed her mind. The Warrior was shaking her head with the obvious "we cant afford it" gesture Gabrielle had come to know in their time on the road.
"Maybe wed better look at some frying pans," she offered. Xena nodded in the affirmative.
After haggling for an excellent frying pan and getting Cristamas to throw in a small stewpot for half price, Gabrielle yawned.
"All this shopping and bargaining has worn me out," she said as she stood and stretched. She excused herself and headed for her bedroll at the other side of the camp. Soon the gentle snoring of the two young people drifted across the small clearing Gabrielle tucked beneath her sleeping furs and Rudolph from inside the peddlers wagon.
Cristamas and Xena both remarked on the how modern youth lacked the stamina for Solstice. Then they spent more time reminiscing about better days in Amphipolis over another goblet of port. Finally, they headed for their respective sleeping areas.
The next morning, Warrior and Bard escorted the peddler and his assistant part of the way to Antales, ensuring their uneventful and safe passage through the most dangerous part of the journey.
With fond and hearty farewells, Gabrielle and Xena turned toward the Northern Amazon territory, where they planned to spend the Solstice.
A few days later
Gabrielle helped her Amazon sisters deck the halls of their village with boughs and candles in preparation for their Solstice revels. Xena had joined a hunting party and brought back several deer (but not reindeer) for the evenings feast. They had enjoyed the celebration then headed for their hut. It was Solstice eve and both women sensed a warmth and wonder that neither could express, but they knew that, somehow, they had to be alone to share it.
After Gabrielle stoked the fire in the tiny dwellings fire pit, she hauled out quill and scroll and sat cross-legged before the blaze, writing away. Xena sat across from her, performing the usual evening routine of repairing her weapons.
"Pretty paper," Xena remarked, finally taking a break from the sharpening strokes that honed her sword to a fine edge.
"Whats that?" Gabrielle hadnt been paying attention, so caught up was she in describing their latest encounter with the peddler and recording new revelations from Xenas past.
"I said, that scroll paper is particularly pretty."
"Oh, thanks. Cristamas gave me some as we were leaving. You know for helping them safely on their way." Gabrielle shrugged. Though they never expected compensation for their services, the Bard wasnt above accepting a gift especially with blank scrolls so hard to come by.
Xena barely concealed her grin. She loved the contradictions in her Bard noble selflessness of the crowned Amazon Princess combined with the joyful, innocent greed of the young girl whod stolen away from Potidaea that night to join a warrior headed for who knew where. That was Gabrielle.
"And I love her for it " Xena thought. Then, she paused to think about that thought. "Yes, I love her. Love. Gabrielle." Xena had stopped sharpening her sword mid-stroke. "When did that happen?" she almost asked aloud.
"What?" Gabrielle thought shed heard the Warrior Princess mumble something.
"Oh, just thinking "
"Are you sure youre all right, Xena? If I didnt know that you were the strong, silent type, Id say you were talking to yourself just now."
Gabrielle grinned. Their eyes met. Xena smiled back. A new blaze was kindled.
The Warrior put down her sharpening stone and sword, crossed the room, and knelt beside the Bard. In her hand she held a small, silken bundle. Her expression was almost shy as she offered it to Gabrielle.
The Bard knew instantly what it was.
"No Xena, but you shouldnt have how did you?" Gabrielle stammered out a barely coherent sentence as she unwrapped the statue of the winged goddess.
"Cristamas and I did a little horse trading after you went to bed. Hes a pretty nice guy after all, and remembered a time when he was down on his luck in Amphipolis. Cyrene Mom helped him out. He offered it to me for a price you wouldnt believe, even with all your haggling skills.
"Its beautiful," Gabrielle whispered, tears in her eyes.
"Here, lets put it on."
Xena helped her to her feet, then stood behind her and fastened the talisman about Gabrielles neck, noticing not for the first time that the bard possessed a rather lovely and enticing nape. Before she realized what she was doing, Xena placed a gentle kiss on the back of that neck, tasting the sweet and salty warmth as she lingered there.
She started to draw away, wondering at how her young companion might interpret the gesture, but Gabrielle moaned softly and bowed her head clearly inviting further kisses. The Warrior willingly obliged.
Finally, when it seemed that she had stopped breathing and her world had become only this room and Xena, Gabrielle slowly lifted her head and leaned back into the strong arms that waited for her. They stood silently for awhile, then Gabrielle turned in Xenas embrace and gazed up at the beautiful countenance of the woman who would be her lover in a few short moments.
"Somehow a frying pan feels like a totally inadequate present in light of this,,,," She reached down and fingered the statue that now graced her bosom.
Xena laughed gently and whispered to the young woman in her arms. "All I want for Solstice is you, Gabrielle, but we really needed that frying pan too." She leaned down and took the gift that Gabrielle offered with her lips.
The soft trembling of anticipation coursed through each womans body as they moved toward the bed, and the night became forever.
And that, gentle reader, brings us back to the beginning of this tale. The Bard and Warrior are in love, its snowing, and they both got the wish they wished on a certain reindeers nose.
The End, and Happy Solstice to One and All