based on the early 1960's television series "Lassie"
DISCLAIMER: This is a work of fanfiction, not meant to encroach on any held copyrights of either "Xena:Warrior Princess" or "Lassie" in any of it's TV incarnations, movie versions, characters or anything of that order. In other words, I am a poor soul, so please don't sue me. I love both shows, I respect both shows, and this is all in good fun.
The three of them walked side by side along the dusty road. Tiny clouds of dirt and rock scuffled into the air, helped along by the restless boot of the smaller of the two women.
"It's so dry." Gabrielle complained. "How much farther until we get to your mother's? I can taste her home made stew all ready."
Her companion smiled and replied, "Not too much farther, I know of a shortcut that should shave some time off quite nicely."
A hard equine head butted her back and shoved her forward a few steps.
"I don't care that we're not supposed to go that way, it's faster." she told the insistent horse.
The golden mare snorted, then butted her owner again.
"Everyone's a critic." the warrior grumbled. "Funny...you don't *look* like my mother."
Suddenly Argo stopped dead still and stamped a hoof. It didn't take an animal oracle to know that she was effectively stating that the trail ended there for the Palomino. Or another way to put it might be, "Hell no, I won't go."
"Xena, maybe we should listen to her. She is a pretty smart horse..."
The mare lifted her head, ears so far forward the tips of her ears almost touched, and snorted indignantly.
"OK, OK, you're right; you're a *very* smart horse."
Gabrielle shook her head, "I can't believe it. I talk to her like she's a real person. How crazy am I?"
Xena gently rubbed Argo's favourite itchy place behind her ears, and then tenderly kissed the horse's nose. "You're not crazy at all."
Gabrielle muttered something about pots and kettles and the colour black and then noticed something on the horizon. "Xena, look! A storm's coming."
"That settles it." the warrior announced. "We have to take the shortcut now or we'll get caught in the downpour."
She regarded Gabrielle's bare middle and dryly added, "And you are definitely not dressed for the weather, my dear."
"Ha and ha."
Xena winked at her partner and then took hold of Argo's reins. "NO arguments; not this time, girl. Everything will be all right, you'll see."
The mare chose to follow the pair of women. After all, somebody had to look out after them. =======
The storm seemed to have a mind of it's own. In no time at all, tiny droplets of gentle rain turned into angry pelting torrents of freezing rain.
"All right, who pissed off Zeus?" Xena grumbled as she squirmed in her now drenched leathers.
"I'm not the one who couldn't find the Temple to leave an offering." the bard returned. "And I'm also not the one who wouldn't ask directions."
A thunderbolt lighted up the darkened sky as if punctuating Gabrielle's words. Xena gazed upwards and muttered, "I was not lost, I knew exactly where I was at all times."
Another thunderbolt cracked through the atmosphere.
"I'd stop arguing if I were you." Gabrielle grinned, swiping another strand of her wet hair from her face.
Argo tossed her head and pulled back, pleading for the two women to stop and turn back. She could smell the trouble ahead, why couldn't they?
"Whoa, girl. It's not much further."
"What's that?" Gabrielle asked, pointing to some ruins of a long abandoned shack.
"It must be the office of the mines that used to be here." Xena answered. "We'll have to skirt around this area; we don't want to...AHHHH!"
Her words became a scream of alarm as both she and Gabrielle plummeted down the abandoned well shaft to land in an unconscious heap many feet below.
As the ground gave way beneath them, Argo instinctively pulled back, hind legs digging deep into the damp soil in order to stop her owner's fall.
Unfortunately the reins broke.
With a snort of alarm, the golden mare inched closer to the hole in the ground and neighed down into the blackness. There was no answer. =========
Xena vaguely wondered why a hundred tiny beings were mining for gold inside her head. She willed herself to regain consciousness and then immediately wished she hadn't as a searing pain ran up her leg.
"Ouch. I guess we didn't skirt far enough around that old mine, eh?"
There was no answer, and Xena tried in vain to wake her partner, but she wasn't able to. It became very apparent that Gabrielle had to be taken to a Healer, and fast.
Trouble was, they were both trapped in a deep abandoned mine with no visible means of escape and Xena's leg was broken, making it impossible to climb out herself to go for help.
"I hate it when this happens..." she muttered under her breath, and then she heard a whuffing sound coming from above.
Looking upwards she saw a familiar silhouette outlined against the still stormy sky. Argo's head tossed, and she whickered in greeting.
"Argo!" Xena called up to her, "Go get help, girl! Gabrielle's hurt! Hurry!"
The golden mare tossed her head in understanding and backed away from the dangerous opening in the earth. Then she whirled on her hocks and cantered up a rise to stand facing the storm and smell the wind. The wind would tell her where to go... ===============
"Joxer the Mighty roams through the countryside..."
The slightly off pitch voice was almost swallowed by the rising wind but Joxer was undaunted. Singing away, he accented the key phrases with the occasional thrust of his sword, miming the story of the song as he walked along.
Finally he stopped, put his sword back into it's scabbard and took out a map from his pack. Perusing it he spoke out loud to himself,
"Now where is Amphipolis again? It should be right...there." he pointed to a spot on the map, then looked around him for a familiar landmark. Finding none he looked at the map again and then made a face.
"Good one, Jox." he muttered to himself, and turned the map around so he was looking at it correctly. "Great. Just great! How long have I been following an upside down map?"
A loud whinny found it's way through the howling wind and reached the would be warrior's ears.
"That's funny." she said as he put the map away. "That sounds a bit like Argo."
Striking up his song again he put his head down against the sheeting rain and wind and struck out in what he hoped was the correct direction.
"Zeus this is getting bad!" he cursed to himself. "That pounding rain is starting to sound like pounding hoofbeats...AHHH!"
He looked up just in time to see Argo bearing down on him, looking for all the world as if she was going to run him down in his tracks.
Defensively he threw his arms in front of his face and yelled, "WHOA!" silently saying a prayer to Hades that his death would be painless. Run down by one of your best friend's horse. How lousy an ending would that be?
It was a few moments before he realized he was not dead and standing at Charon's Dock. Cautiously he peeked between his fingers to see a very drenched and...was that an irritated look?...Argo regarding him.
"Hi Argo." he said, suddenly feeling very foolish. "Where's Xena?"
The mare snorted, tossed her head and stamped her front right hoof. Whinnying in earnest she half reared and the turned away from him. She trotted a few feet away, then doubled back, half rearing again and calling out.
"What's that, girl? They're in trouble? They need me? AT LAST! I'll save you two! Come on Argo, there's no time to waste!"
The would be hero ran to a nearby rock, leaped upon it, catapulted into the air fully intending to make a heroic leap to Argo's back, and fell on the opposite side of the horse to land on the soaked ground.
If horses could laugh, Argo did quite gleefully.
Joxer picked himself up off the ground and wiped the mud from his face as best he could.
"So we walk." he shrugged. "You horses are too tall anyway."
Argo nickered low and then turned and trotted off down the road, Joxer jogging behind.
Argo led her friend directly to the site of the accident. Unfortunately she had forgotten that this particular human was often more trouble than he was help, and in his eagerness to get to where his friends were he, too, fell down into the mine shaft.
Argo rolled her eyes.
From the depths of the shaft the sounds of pummeling could be heard and Joxer's cries of, "Ow! OW! Hey I TRIED to help!" were heard above the din of the storm.
There had to be *real* help around here somewhere. Once again, the heroic mare trotted off in search of assistance.
Time was running out. =============
The group of three Amazons shielded themselves as best they could against the fury of the still rising storm. Now small branches were being ripped from trees and it was becoming very evident that this was not going to let up soon.
"Tell us again how much fun this trip is gonna be?" Solari yelled to Ephany.
"We promised we'd be there!" Ephany shot back with a grin. "Are you saying we should break our word?"
"No, she's saying we should have worn warmer clothes!" Eponin chuckled.
"All we have to do is get across that river," Ephany pointed ahead, "and then it's a short way to Amphipolis. Now come on and quit your griping! It's just a little Spring storm!"
A tree flew by them, ripped out by it's roots.
Nobody could think of a snappy comeback.
When they got to the river bank things went from bad to worse. The bridge was washed out, and the once peaceful winding river was now a raging torrent of rapids. To attempt to swim it would be suicide, and there was no other way across.
"Now what?" Solari asked. For once Ephany couldn't think of an answer.
Suddenly from the other side came a familiar whinny and they looked to see Argo rearing on the far bank as if pleading for them to follow her.
"We can't!" Ephany called to her. "We can't get across the river! It's too dangerous!"
The mare knew her friends were too small to get across. They needed her help as much as she needed theirs. Making up her mind what to do, Argo gauged the flow of the water, adjusted for drift and then jumped into the raging water.
She was not truly prepared for how strong the current was, and went further than she had planned before she could find a rhythm and make it across.
Branches slammed into her body, tearing chunks of golden hide and causing grunts of pain, but she swam on. Even when the cold water made her legs go numb she willed them to keep on pumping, keep on moving...had to...get..to..the other... side...
Finally she emerged from the river, her coat soaked, her head hanging low and her legs weak from the impossible swim. She stumbled towards the three women and choked on the water that had gotten into her windpipe.
Her nostrils distended and red from the effort she stumbled once, twice...then let her front legs buckle and she laid down on the river bank and let the darkness come.
Argo opened her eyes as she felt strong arms massaging her body, and heard her friend's voices willing her to wake up.
Calling on strength known only to the desperate, the mare lurched to her feet and shook herself all over.
"Something must be wrong." Ephany said. "For Argo to be all alone, and to get to us like that. Something must be very, very wrong."
Argo tossed her head and whinnied loudly, looking back across the swollen river and trotting to the bank. She called again as if in challenge to the storm.
"Do you think she wants us to ride her back across?"
Eponin asked, not believing the words that she had just spoken.
"Yeah right." Solari laughed. "She's just gonna lie down and..and..."
Argo was lying down to make it easier for them to get on and Ephany was the first aboard.
"Smart horse." Eponin commented, then ran to also leap onto the mare's broad back.
Solari shrugged. "Sure, why not?" and made it three.
The storm had miraculously subsided along with a good deal of the whipping wind. The current was still strong and incredibly fast, but with the added weight and balance of the riders, Argo felt the return trip might be easier.
With a grunt of exertion the mare once again entered the freezing waters and struck out for the opposite bank. The wounds on her hide stung as the waters hit them, and now her other side was injured by debris and rocks as she gamely struggled against the torrential river.
Wisely the women dismounted as soon as they were able to, and helped Argo out of the water, fully intending to let her rest.
But Argo knew there was no time for that. Her friends were in trouble, and these Amazons were the ones to rescue them! She nickered and head butted them until they figured out what she wanted (why were humans so dim sometimes?) and then they once again mounted her and they headed back to the abandoned mine at a ground eating gallop. =============
"The storm is dying out." Xena whispered to Gabrielle as she cradled the injured bard's head in her lap. "Hang on, Gabrielle...we'll make it through this. You know we will." Tenderly she leaned over and kissed the bard gently on the forehead.
"Sure we'll make it!" Joxer said. "Our whole lives are in the hands..uh, hooves...of a horse! How can we fail?" he sarcastically threw a stone.
"Well if *somebody* hadn't fallen down the mine shaft we'd be out by now!" Xena hissed.
"Hey I'm not the one who did this in the first place." Joxer defended himself. "I just.."
"SHHHH!" Xena held up a hand. "Do you hear that?"
"Hoofbeats! It's Argo, I'd know her hoofbeats anywhere! Here girl! We're down here!"
The hoofbeats came to a safe distance away and then all were relieved to see the faces of Ephany, Solari and Eponin peering down into the hole.
"Having a bad day?" Ephany quipped.
"More than you know!" Xena called back up. "Gabrielle's hurt badly! We've got to get her out!"
"Gotcha!" came the response, and the rescue effort began in earnest.
It wasn't easy, but with Argo's great strength (and some rope Eponin just happened to have on her) all three were pulled from the abandoned mine shaft and their wounds attended to.
It turned out that Joxer had fallen on his head so he wasn't injured at all.
Xena's leg was set, and she and Gabrielle were helped up onto Argo's back for the final short trip to Amphipolis and Cyrene's Inn. ========
When Gabrielle finally opened her eyes to see her friends and family staring down at her she felt foolish for a moment. What had happened?
"Did I fall and hit my head?" she asked, smiling through the pain.
"Something like that." Xena said with a warm smile. "Well tell you all about it when you're better. Rest now."
"Yes, rest." Cyrene seconded, laying a cold cloth across the bard's brow. "You had quite the adventure! Good thing Argo was there to save you." she gazed at her daughter with genuine love. "There to save all of you."
"Argo?" Gabrielle asked, her curiosity peaked. "What did Argo do?"
"What did she do?" chimed in Joxer, "she just came and got me, that's all!"
Everyone shot him a look and he fell silent.
Ephany continued, "When you and Xena fell down that mine shaft, she came and got help. When Joxer got in trouble too, that's when she came and found us."
"She crossed a raging river...twice!" Solari cut in.
"and brought us to you to save your lives." Eponin finished.
"Argo did all of that? Really? But she's a horse! That's not usual for horses to do...is it?"
"Rest now, talk later. Now all of you... out of here! Shoo! Let her rest!" Cyrene chased them out of the room.
Xena hobbled out to the stable and entered her horse's stall. She lovingly stroked the golden coat, and flinched at the wounds the mare had acquired as she had come to their aid.
"Unusual for horses to act as you did?" she whispered to her equine friend. "Yes. Unusual for you? Just another day, huh girl?"
Argo sighed happily and took the apple offered to her.
Whether or not her actions were considered 'usual' by humans, she didn't care. She only knew she had to help her friends; because that's what you do for people you love.
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