Toothgritter Finds a Home
by Bill the Semi Bard
It was a silent night. The two women leading the big golden mare were walking the snowy trail. Gabrielle was shivering. Xena wanted to shiver, but wouldnt let herself do so in front of her lover. She was maintaining her usual front of warrior cool. A lot more cool than usual tonight, actually, she thought wryly.
She eyed her small companion trudging dutifully along. "How you doing, Gabrielle?"
Under the thin cloak, all Gabrielle wore was her short green top and brown skirt. She hugged herself for warmth. "R-Right now some chestnuts roasting on an open fire would be great, but what do we get? Snow, snow and more snow! Whoever said let it snow and w-wanted a white Solstice should be boiled in his own p-pudding and b-buried with a stake of holly through his heart!" She sniffled. "Come to think of it, as cold as I am, being boiled in pudding sounds pretty good right now."
Xena was contrite. "Im sorry, honey. Guess we should have stopped at that last village instead of pushing on before dark. Guess were gonna have a pretty blue Solstice."
"As long as were together, how bad can it be?" The bard said softly and Xena felt her vision blurred by tears for a moment.
There seemed to be nothing else to say, so they plodded on in silence for a few more minutes, passing a small cross roads. In the distance away down one leg of the road, Xena saw a light from a small farm house. She eyed the grimly plodding Gabrielle again and was beginning to think about suggesting they ask if the farm people could let them in for the night, but she hated owing anyone anything. She was wrestling with her sense of pride when her sharp hearing caught a sound ahead and she perked up.
"Gabrielle! Do you hear what I hear?" The warrior grinned in spite of the cold.
"Wh-What?" The shivering bard was plodding along, head down; she looked up.
"Ahead of us! Over the river and though the woods! I hear silver bells ringing and someone shouting. Sounds like a fight!" She drew her sword. "Just what we need! A chance to warm up! Come on!"
In an instant she had swung aboard Argo and galloped forward across the snowy bridge.
"Great," the bard groused as she began to trot after the galloping Warrior Princess and clods of wet snow kicked up by Argos hooves flew back at her. "Being boiled in pudding sounds better and better. Sometimes I wonder why I ever left Poteidaia. I sure wish I was home for the holidays in Poteidaia, opening gifts wrapped with pretty paper and listening to the village little drummer boy band instead of in this gods-forsaken winter wonderland."
From up ahead came sounds of swords clashing and hoarse male shouts mixed with Xenas warcry and strangely, the faint sounds of small bells jingling as well.
Then came fast hoof beats around the bend and a gruff voice shouted, "Giddyup, Toothgritter!" Gabrielle gawked as a big man plunged toward her, carrying a bag and mounted on a large Reindeer. The man wore black armor and had a big, red, puffy nose, obviously swollen by years of overindulging in strong drink. He and his mount each wore a harness with small bells that jingled with each step they took.
The bard stumbled aside, but not fast enough, for a brush with the reindeers jingling shoulder spun her around and knocked her into the snow as the big beast whipped by.
Behind him came a shout. "Its that bandit, Rudolph the Red Nose, Reindeer Rider! He and his men robbed us!"
As she sat up dazedly, Gabrielle heard Xenas shout from around the curve. "Dont worry folks, Ill getcher stuff back!"
Before the bard could clamber to her feet, galloping sounds sped around the corner of trees and Xena mounted on Argo came romping toward her. Gabrielle was still in shock from her close call with the reindeer and couldnt seem to move as the big horse slid to a stop within inches of her. Hot steam blew out of Argos nostrils onto her as she did so. The stop was so sudden that anyone but the Warrior Princess would have been unhorsed.
"By the gods, Gabrielle!" Xena roared, swaying easily in the saddle. "Whatya tryin to do? Getcher self killed? Get outa the road and get up here! Theyre gettin away!"
Gabrielle glanced over her shoulder and saw the big man and the reindeer go pounding across the bridge she had just crossed and into the trees beyond. She swayed dizzily to her feet and staggered aside. "Go on, Xena. Ill just slow you down. Ill follow on foot "
The warrior looked worried. "Well, if yer sure "
"Go on, Xena " Gabrielle panted. "Ill follow in a minute."
"Well, okay " Xena still hesitated and Argo snorted as if in exasperation.
"Hurry up, honey " With an effort, the bard smiled. "Ya dont wanna lose him!"
"Run, Rudolph, run!" The warrior shouted as she turned the horse to follow after the vanished man. "But it isnt gonna save ya! The reindeer hasnt been made that Argo cant catch!"
Xena and Argo thundered across the bridge and up the trail, leaving the bard behind. Gabrielle took a deep breath, then began trotting after them. "Maybe I shoulda kept Tobias insteada givin him to that couple and their baby," she pant-grumbled. "At least Id be riding right now "
Meanwhile, as they galloped around a curve, Xena shouted, "We should see him any second, girl " and the big mare snorted in excitement.
Suddenly the trail became a four way cross road, each arm of which plunged into trees and immediately curved away out of sight as well. There was no sign of the man and the reindeer and Xena pulled the horse up in the center of where the four trails met.
"Shit " she said softly and the horse snorted again. "I forgot about this cross roads. Now which way?" She dismounted quickly and began looking for tracks.
When Gabrielle came puffing up to the crossroads, Xena was casting back and forth examining the ground and looking more and more disgusted. As the bard came up, the warrior cursed. "Dammit, Ive lost the trail. Too many recent tracks through here! I cant tell which road that bastard took."
The bard leaned on her staff to catch a breath as Xena checked out each fork of the road. Finally she spoke. "Well?"
"No use. Ive lost it," the warrior growled, straightening up.
Gabrielle nodded. "Now what? Look aways up each road?"
"Yeah, but thatll put us even further behind " Before the warrior could finish her sentence, from the north fork of the trail ahead came a shouting. It seemed that someone was angry. The shouts were curses and it seemed that none of them were repeating either.
"Holy Zeus," the bard whispered, eyes wide as the invective went on. "Someone is NOT very happy. Should we check it out?"
"Might as well go that way as any at this point," Xena said, with a grin of appreciation at the diversity of the censorious output. She took Argos reins. "Come on."
As they came through the trees, before them the stream of curses continued to split the air, coming from an old woman sitting on the ground in the middle of the trail and shaking her fist.
As they came up, they saw hoof prints on the old womans clothing and Xena whispered an aside to the bard. "Hmm, looks like someones Grandma got run over by a Reindeer! Were on his trail all right." She bent and helped the old woman grunting to her feet. "You all right, maam?"
"Who did this to you?" asked the bard.
"I live in that farmhouse over there and I was going home when that jingle-jangling, red-nosed, whipper-snapper on his reindeer ran me down!" The old woman screeched. "No respect anymore for the elderly! What are the twelve days of Solstice coming to, Id like to know?"
"Did they keep heading down the trail, maam?" Xena asked, getting ready to mount Argo again.
"No! The ugly creep rode off into the woods toward that old abandoned farm with his jingle bells! Oh, if I were only twenty years younger, Id run him down and bounce a rock off his jingling head to teach him a thing or two about messin with old folks! By Hades, Id jingle bell ROCK him to SLEEP!"
Once assured that the old woman was all right and could make her way home, Xena and Gabrielle went into the woods. Following the reindeer tracks in the snow, they soon came to the farm, and it was right where the old woman had said it would be. The place was overgrown and run down, obviously not having been used for years. The house looked dilapidated, empty windows staring at the night like eye-holes in an old skull. The barn still looked in pretty good shape though. Leaving Argo in the trees, the two moved noiselessly forward in the soft snow, looking in all directions. Then Xena hissed at Gabrielle, and they froze. She pointed upward and they watched, as on the barn roof, a shadowy figure carrying a large bag moved carefully along the peak toward a chimney, and a slight jingling sound could be heard.
Xena whispered excitedly. "Look, Gabrielle! Do you hear what I hear? Do you see what I see? Up on the housetop with his jingle bells! Its Rudolph the Red Nosed, Reindeer Rider that we chased over the river and through the woods who made someones Grandma got run over by a reindeer!"
The bard murmured primly. "You mean the BARN-top dont you, Xena? And its who made someones Grandma GET run over by a reindeer, not got run over. We should always strive for correct use of language "
The warriors hiss was exasperated. "Get! Got! Barn top, HOUSE top! Who cares? Hes on the ROOF! Im gonna GET him and hes gonna know hes been GOT!"
"Yeah, but WHY is he on the roof?" Gabrielle was puzzled.
Xena groaned. "Whats the difference? You stay here and be ready if he tries to jump down and get away." Thus saying, she ran forward noiselessly to the open barn door.
"But why IS he on the roof?" The bard thought with frustration as she watched her lover go into the barn.
It was dark and musty smelling in the old barn, but that didnt stop Xena from spotting a ladder leading up to an open trap-door that permitted access to the roof. Moving to the bottom of it, she looked up through it to the night sky glimmering with stars. From above came a thumping and bumping noise as the man made his way across the roof and a sifting of dust came down. Grinning to herself, she was up the ladder and peering cautiously out of the hatch quicker than you could say Good king Wenceslas looked out, on the feast of Stephen, where the snow lay round about, deep and crisp and even!
However, as Xena went up the ladder, she was concentrating so hard on the noises from above that she was unaware she was being watched from a dark box stall, by four unfriendly eyes.
Looking out of the hatch, she saw the shadowy, faintly jingling figure moving cautiously along the peak with its back to her. Looking down, she saw Gabrielle crouching on the ground below, some distance away and waved. The bard waved back. Then ignoring her friend, Xena stepped out and approached the man from behind. Coming quietly up, she tapped him on the shoulder and was pleased when he started with surprise. "Okay, Rudy-boy! Dont move, I gotcha! You better come peaceably or Ill knock you right off this roof!"
Despite her words, the man spun around awkwardly and in doing so almost fell off of the roof himself! Ready to punch him out if he made a move, Xena was shocked! Instead of Rudolph the Red Nosed, the warrior saw a plump older man in a red suit trimmed with little bells. He had a white beard and a pleasant face which now gawked at her. After a moment he found his voice. "Well, deck the halls with boughs of holly! Is that you, Xena?"
The warriors voice squeaked. "Senticles? What in HADES are YOU doing here?"
The old toy-maker started to speak, but suddenly his feet went out from under him on the slippery roof and over-balanced by the large sack he started to fall, sounding like a clinking, clanking, collection of calliginous junk. Xena made a desperate lunge to save him, and grabbed an arm. However, her own boots slid on the wet surface and both of them plummeted in a long slide down the snowy roof toward the ground.
Desperately flailing, they shot off of the roof and in that moment of free-fall, Xena awaited the sickening crunch that she knew would come when they hit the frozen ground. However, they landed with a floomp in a snow-covered haystack someone had placed conveniently beside the barn and were buried deep in the damp hay.
At the same time from the barn, came a frantic jingling and the thump of hoofbeats, as out of the barn door came thundering Rudolph the Red Nosed, Reindeer Rider making good his escape with a bag of stolen goods!
However, he hadnt reckoned with the bard of Poteidaia. She stepped into his path with her staff and he halted some ten feet away.
"Get outa the way, little girl," the big red-nosed man shouted. "Or Ill leave hoof-prints up and down you like ants on a road-killed possum!"
Gabrielle raised an eyebrow in her best Xena manner. "Screw you and the reindeer you rode in on, Rudy!"
"Okay, stupid," the Reindeer Rider snarled. "Its your funeral. Giddyup, Toothgritter!" He kicked the reindeers sides and the big beast bugled and leaped forward.
"Not this time, Jingle Bells!" Shouted the bard, swinging the staff with all her might as she stepped aside.
Wheezing and floundering in the middle of the haystack, Senticles and Xena burrowed their way slowly toward freedom. As they went, Xena sneezed and gasped, "Senticles! What in Ha-Haaa-choo! Hades were you Hachoo! doing on that roof at night?"
"I c-came here to Haaaachoo! Practice my roof work " he replied with a sniffle.
"Well, you r-remember Hachoo that I was going t-to deliver t-toys every year to kids?" He wheezed.
"Y-Yeah, I guess "
"I figured Id better get used to Hachoo roof top work the next time Senticles is coming to town and I d-didnt want anyone to see me practicing, so I came to this old abandoned farm that my grandparents left me."
Xena yelped. "Well, thats just great "
"Sorry," he said contritely. "Dont be mad at me. I didnt know that bandit was going to come here "
"Huh? Oh, thats not what I meant," she sighed.
"Why did you yell, then?"
With a hiss, she pulled something from her knee. "I think I just found the damn needle in this haystack!"
When Xena and Senticles floundered out of the haystack, they found Gabrielle petting the big reindeer who was making a contented noise in its throat like a purring cat. "Hi, Xena. Hello, Senticles." Her voice was calm, unsurprised.
"Wheres Rudolph?" Xena was in a hurry. "He got away? I better get Argo "
"Calm down," the bard smiled and pointed. "Hes not going anywhere. Should be waking up soon." Stunned, Xena looked and saw that the big bandit was unconscious and tied up on the snow on the other side of the reindeer.
"Holy Zeus, you got him! Good job, Gabrielle," said the warrior warmly.
The bard blushed. "Thank you." She turned to the toy maker. "How have you been, Senticles? I think youd better mount some spikes on your boots if yer gonna be doin this in the future."
"Ive been fine, since you two straightened out the king " The older man scratched the reindeers nose, causing another purr-like sound from its throat. "But you seem to know everything Ive been doing. Are you a seer?"
"Sometimes," she grinned, "but I didnt need to be cause I could hear everything you were both saying while you were shouting and sneezing your way out of that haystack!"
"Oh, of course," he smiled. He continued petting the reindeer who snorted and pushed his nose against him. "He certainly IS friendly, isnt he? Toothgritter is his name?"
"Yep, and now that weve caught his rider, hes gonna need a good home. You could probably use him to help you deliver toys next year."
"Say, that might not be a bad idea. I wonder if he could pull a sled or something " Then his face fell. "But dont you want him for yourself?"
"No," said the bard softly. "I already gave away my donkey Tobias to someone who needed him more than I do. The same goes for Toothgritter I think you should take him, because you have a place to care for him "
Senticles pursed his lips. "Thank you, Gabrielle. Maybe I will at that. Would you like that, Toothgritter?" The reindeer made the purring sound in his throat and butted against him again, causing the older man to grin with delight through his beard.
Meanwhile Xena was peering closely at the big red-nosed bandit. "Gabrielle, whats that hes tied up with? We didnt have any rope."
"Oh, I had to improvise. I used Toothgritters reins. The bard explained. "He didnt really need them. He obeys voice commands. Hes very friendly for a bandit reindeer."
Xena began chuckling.
Gabrielle was puzzled. "What is it?"
"Looks like you tied up Rudolph the Red Nose with his own rein, dear!"
Later, with Rudolph turned over to the local magistrate and Senticles gone home riding on Toothgritter, the two friends lay in the loft of his barn, staring out of the open hay mow door into the night sky. They were bundled together in their blanket, with the soft hay beneath and around them keeping them warm. Below, Argo munched contentedly in the box stall.
Xena whispered to Gabrielle. "Well, this has been quite a Solstice Season, hasnt it? Last week we freed a kingdom from the evils of a misguided king, made an old toy maker happy, helped an orphanage and a couple with a baby. This week we catch a bandit, get a reindeer a home with someone who will love and care for him and find this sweet place to sleep free for as long as we want during the winter."
"Yep. Not bad," the bard agreed.
There was silence for a moment, then Xena spoke. "Just one thing, sweetheart," she sounded troubled.
Gabrielle raised herself to look into Xenas face. It was dark in the barn loft, but she could see a glitter of tears in her friends eyes. "What is it, honey?"
"Im sorry all I could get you for a Solstice gift was that old toy wooden lamb. You deserve so much more."
"I loved the lamb, but All I want for Solstice is you, Xena " whispered the bard as she cupped her lovers cheek. "YOU are the greatest gift I could ever get."
"Oh, gods, Gabrielle " choked the warrior. "You are a gift to ME, too "
They kissed gently and hugged tight for a moment, then lay back wrapped in their blankets and gazed up into the blue dark full of crystal lights and the faint steam arose from their breaths into the night sky. And as it came upon the midnight clear, the two lovers held one another and watched one especially bright star that shown down with love and joy to the world.
Just a note: There was no Christmas in Xenas time, because as we all know, Christmas is the celebration of the Christ Mass and even though Jesus may have been born (See the second season Ep, A Solstice Carol) even if he was, there was no Christmas as of yet. As well, there was certainly no Saint Nicholas. So I have arbitrarily changed the word "Christmas" with "Solstice" and "Santa Claus" with "Senticles" whenever these two words are used in Carol Titles. I hope that will suffice.
1-All I Want For Christmas Is You
3-Chestnuts Roasting On An Open Fire
4-Deck the Halls
5-Do You Hear What I Hear?
7-Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer
8-Home For the Holidays
10-It Came Upon the Midnight Clear
12-Jingle Bell Rock
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
19-Santa Claus Is Coming to Town
22-The Twelve Days of Christmas
23-Up On the Housetop
Other Carols I have used in this story:
Joy To the World
Good King Wenceslas