Christmas Bells

A Solstice Miracle



Disclaimers: Ok... here's the legal BS... the characters of Xena:Warrior Princess do not belong to me. I have only borrowed them for a short time from the true owners, MCA/Ren Pics.

Language/Violence: Nope... not today. I kept this one clean. Yeah, it's hard to believe, but it is true.

This is a post FIN story.

Now... on with the show!

The blonde warrior, riding high atop her golden mare, reflected on the last six months of her life with a longing that bade her at times to walk into a war and never return. Her best friend was gone, only to return for brief visits in spirit form. It wasn't the same. Gabrielle was alone. A cruel twist of fate had seen to that. If she let her mind dwell on that fateful day for any length of time the tears would soon sting her eyes and she would cry out once again, "why?"

Unsuccessful at suppressing her loneliness, the bard's rosy cheeks glistened with spent tears. She cast her emerald gaze up into the mid-morning sky, "looks like snow, Argo." A sigh escaped her lips, her warm breath creating a tiny white cloud that dissipated quickly. "If I remember correctly, there was a village not too far from here, girl. A nice warm stable for you and a nice warm Inn for me... how does that sound?" Her reply came in the form of a head bob and small whinny. "Yeah, I thought you would agree." The bard smiled and pat the horse's neck lovingly. She drew her bearskin tight around her shoulders as the first flakes began to fall, "c'mon Argo, we need to pick up the pace," the bard looked up at the darkening sky behind her, "I don't want to get caught in a blizzard." The golden mare obeyed and changed her lumbering pace to a quick trot.

In less than a candle mark, Gabrielle had entered a village that she had not visited in many, many years. She rode slowly through the center of the village taking in the changes. The orphanage to her right seemed to have had a renovation since she had last been there. The faces of the children were different, 'they should be,' she mused to herself, 'it has been 28 years.' She gave a slight smile at the antics of the children as they ran through the falling snow with their arms outstretched and mouths open trying to catch every snowflake. The bard momentarily drifted back to her own childhood and her own reactions to the first snow of the season; it was the same as the children before her. She thought about how the first snow each year always held so much wonder for her. "Held," it no longer "held" anything. The wonder was gone. The wonder of life and nature left her the same moment her best friend did. She wiped away an errant tear, gave a small sniffle and moved on to the stables.

After handing Argo's reins over to the stable boy and offering him a tip to make sure that her horse was well taken care of, the bard made her way to the nearest Inn. It wasn't very large, but it was clean and the smell of food coming from the kitchen made the blonde's stomach grumble with a fierce need. Gabrielle checked her room and willfully made her way back to the dining area to give in to that need.

Gabrielle seated herself in a dark corner of the Inn as she waited for her food and scanned the other people milling about and eating. She noticed one young couple seated in the center of the room. The wife, who looked very pregnant, was knitting wool baby booties as they awaited their meal. The bard gave a small chuckle, 'I bet she'd even out eat me.' She glanced over to her right and in the far corner of the room hung a dartboard. There were three patrons taking turns at it, one of them a woman dressed in a long purple skirt with a green top, 'that one has got to be color blind,' the bard mused. 'She really needs to see a fashion consultant.'

Upon finishing her meal, Gabrielle decided to take a walk around the village to see how things had changed and to eventually check up on Argo. As she strode in the direction of the castle, she came upon a familiar corner. On that corner stood a sign that read "Senticles lane." A small smile crept across the bard's features, "by the gods... they named a road after him," she whispered. A deep sigh followed as she allowed her mind to wander for a moment in remembrance of the kindly old toy maker. The bard wondered if his home still stood or if there were any toys of his creation still around. She slowly retraced steps that she had taken over a quarter of a century before and stopped at number 42 Senticles Lane.

Gabrielle stood in front of the door for a long moment wondering what she would even say to whomever now occupied the toy maker's home. She raised her hand to knock on the old wooden door when she heard a myriad of voices inside the house. The door swung open, "hello."

The bard looked down at the owner of the strange voice, "Hi," she began. The little man was maybe three feet tall at best wearing green pants and shirt, a red hat with a white pom pom on its point and green shoes that curled upward at the tip. "Senticles used to live here... I was...."

The strange little man turned and looked back inside the house, "hey boss, there's someone here to see you."

Gabrielle was taken back this, but said nothing opting instead to see what was going on. She was gleefully surprised; Senticles stepped into the doorframe lightly stoking his white beard. He was clothed in red pants held up by red and white suspenders, shiny black boots and a white, button down shirt, "why Gabrielle... how are you?" he asked with a large toothy grin. The old toy maker reached out and quickly enfolded the bard in a strong embrace. "I'm sorry about Xena," he whispered before he let go and stepped back.

The bard stifled a small sniffle at the mention of her friend, "thank you." She looked up at the old man in amazement, "Senticles, how is this possible? I mean..."

"Well," the toy maker began, "let's just say that I have the favor of a number of gods." Senticles let out a deep chuckle that caused his large belly to jiggle. "They liked my idea of giving away toys on Solstice Eve to children... mainly the ones at the orphanage." He motioned for the bard to step inside and closed the door behind her, "so they made a deal with me. I go around and do this for children all over the known world and in exchange they give me immortality and the means to accomplish my goals." Senticles took a deep breath and patted the bard on the back, "Gabrielle, I couldn't have asked for a better deal. This is what I have always wanted to do, and I love every minute of it."

"Senticles, I am so happy for you. What you are doing here is wonderful." The bard allowed her emerald gaze to drift around the room they now occupied. It was packed from ceiling to floor with toys of all sorts. Canvas bags and wooden crates lay strewn around the floor, also filled with toys. The bard wandered into the next room where various types of gifts were being wrapped in colorful parchment and topped off with bows made of red ribbon. She noted that all of the small men that resembled the one she met at the door. They were all seated around long tables either making toys or wrapping them. She turned to the white haired man behind her, "Senticles, are these elves you have working for you?"

"You know, everyone asks that." he whispered almost conspiratorially into her ear. He then straightened to his full height of only about 5' 6" and said, "no, actually they are Leprechauns. Excellent craftsmen, the lot of 'em."

"Really? I thought that Leprechauns were cobblers that had gold hidden away at the ends of rainbows." the bard grinned.

"That is all true. They also love children and that is why each and every one of these Leprechauns is here helping me."

"Senticles," Gabrielle turned around in awe of everything around her then let her gaze come back to rest on the white haired man next to her, "this is wonderful."

Senticles let out a small chuckle, "that twinkle is back in your eye, Gabrielle. Hey... since you're here and Solstice is only a week away, would you be willing to stay until then?"

"Sure, do you need help preparing?"

"I could always use more help, but that wasn't exactly what I was thinking." Senticles laid a warm hand on the bard's shoulder then went on, "if it weren't for you and Xena my dream of doing this would never have come true. I am marrying a wonderful woman named Martha on Solstice day and I would love it if you could attend and have Solstice dinner with us afterwards. What do you say?"

"Oh, Senticles, I wouldn't miss it for the world." the bard pat the hand on her shoulder, "so when do I get to meet the woman that has stolen your heart?"

An ear splitting smile worked its way across the toy maker's features, "she didn't steal it little one, I gave it to her... and I wouldn't have it any other way. And now if you'll follow me, I will take you to her."

"Lead on."

Senticles led Gabrielle down a short hallway and into the kitchen area of his home. Before they had even opened the door leading in, the smell of fresh baked cakes and cookies attacked the bard's senses. The bottomless pit that was her stomach growled in undisguised delight at the sweet smells that grew stronger as she entered the kitchen.

There, before her, taking a baking pan out of the brick oven, was an older woman with gray hair tied up into a tight bun. A loving smile stretched across the old woman's face when she saw her husband to be, "I've made your favorite... and who do we have here?"

"Martha, this is Gabrielle. The Gabrielle." he turned to the bard, "Gabrielle, meet Martha. My soon to be partner in crime."

"Martha, it is great to meet you," the bard held out her hand.

As the older woman took the bard's hand she frowned, "ooh child, you are chilled to the bone. Come on over and sit by the fire while I get you some hot cocoa to warm you up." Martha led the bard to a fireplace at the far end of the kitchen and motioned for her to take a seat at a small table that was positioned a comfortable distance from the fire. A small bouquet of daisies sat in the middle of the table.

"I'm fine really. You don't have to go to any trouble..."

"Nonsense." Martha quickly filled a mug with the steaming cocoa and handed it over to the bard, "be careful, it's hot."

"Thank you," the bard took a long whiff of the cocoa and felt her spirits rise even more. The scent caressed her senses and as she took a careful sip a slight moan of pleasure escaped her, "this is excellent. You must give me the recipe for this."

"We'll see." the old woman smiled, "we'll see."

As Gabrielle took another sip of her cocoa, she felt a small furry creature rub up against her leg. It was light tan with blue eyes and black tips on its ears, "and what do we have here?" the bard reached down to pet the cat, "I have never seen a cat like this before."

"It's called a Siamese. Senticles got him for me last Solstice when he was delivering presents in Ch'in. We named him 'Tobias' after your mule. And let me tell you," the older woman leaned in conspiratorially, "that cat is just as stubborn as any mule. The name fits him." She leaned back in her chair smiling. It was infectious to the bard.

After a few more minutes the bard had warmed up enough that she shrugged off her bearskin and turned to drape in on the back of her chair. As she turned back, she motioned towards the flowers gracing the table, "where did you find daisies in the middle of winter?"

"Oh, I grow them myself... indoors. It takes a special knack to do it." The old woman winked at the younger one. She rose and walked around the bard, "now if you don't mind, I would like to see this magical tattoo of yours."

"Sure," the bard stood and turned her back to Martha, "but it is nothing really. I mean it's pretty... and huge, I mean it takes up my whole back and part of my leg, but..."

"No, child. This dragon is breathtaking and magical." The old woman allowed her hand to hover over the multi colored dragon, "the magic is still there. You just need to believe in it."

"There is nothing to believe in, Martha. This dragon won't bring my friend back." The bard's mood became somber instantly.

The old woman looked over to the toy maker imploringly. Senticles looped his thumbs into his belt and walked over to the bard, "I was wondering, Gabrielle... I have to go visit the children at the orphanage. I usually have one of my assistants go with me to scribe, but I really need all the hands I can get to finish with the preparations for Solstice Eve. I was hoping that you could take his place."

"Of course I would."

A short time later, Gabrielle and Senticles had finished their trek through deepening snow and found themselves in the orphanage with a multitude of children lined up waiting to sit on the toy makers lap to tell him their wishes. Not all of the children were from the orphanage, the bard realized, many were village children that had been brought by their parents for a chance to meet the old toy maker.

The bard couldn't help but to find herself elated as she watched the children take their turns. Some were loud and wanted the entire known world to know what they wanted for Solstice and some were a bit more shy and whispered in his ear. The lively smile never left the old mans face as he was genuinely enjoying his time with the children.

As Senticles finished with the last child, the bard went over to him, "that was incredible. The joy on their faces..." the bard found herself lost in thought for a moment, "so what do we do now?"

The toy maker looked up at the bard, "Gabrielle, there is still one more wish I need to hear." Senticles patted a hand on his lap, "have a seat little one and tell Senticles what you want for Solstice."

The bard reluctantly seated herself on the old man's lap, "I um..."

"C'mon, out with it."

"I want my friend back," she whispered as she wiped away an errant tear that had begun its solemn trek down her cheek.

Senticles patted her reassuringly on the back, "the children have put a song together for me and they want to perform it." The bard nodded her agreement, "good. They are waiting for us in the choir room."

As soon as the bard and toy maker entered the room the children began...

Here comes Senticles

Here comes Senticles

Right down Senticles Lane

Vixen and Blitzen and all his reindeer

Pulling on the reins

Bells are ringing, children singing

All is merry and bright

So let's give thanks to Solstice cheer

'Cause Senticles comes tonight...

For the third time that day, Gabrielle's mood lightened. She could not help but be caught up in the song that the orphans had lovingly put together for their favorite toy maker.

Two days later...

Gabrielle was returning to the small Inn after taking Argo out into a large corral behind the stables to exercise her a bit. The bard came upon two women tacking up a sign next to the door of the Inn. "What are you putting up?"

"Oh, hi there." began the taller of the two, "we are holding a Xena Convention in memory of the Warrior Princess. We have been doing this all over Greece since we heard about her death."

"What do you do at the convention?"

"We have various bards tell stories that they have heard and some read directly from scrolls that were written by the Battling Bard herself." The woman became slightly excited, "we actually got the bard Virgil to recite at one of our conventions. It was..."

The bard cut her off, "when will it be held?"

"Two days after Solstice. Will you be attending?"

"Yes. I would very much like that. As a matter of fact I... I would like to tell some of my own stories."

"Great! My name is Dalia and this is my sister Dienera."

"My name is Gabrielle..."

"The Gabrielle? The Battling Bard of Potadeia? Xena's best friend?"

The bard took and released a long breath, "yes."

Noting the bard's pain, Dalia's voice took on a quiet calm, "I truly am sorry for your loss. We do this because we have all felt it. She may be gone, but we refuse to allow her to be forgotten. At these conventions we celebrate her life... and yours."

"I appreciate that." The bard gave a slight smile. "Until two days after Solstice then."

"Until then," Dalia said.

The following day, Senticles showed Gabrielle around his stable of reindeer, "This one is Dancer," he began as he walked the bard through the long building, "Dasher, Comet, Blitzen, Prancer, Donner, Vixen and Cupid." He turned to the bard who was completely awestruck, "I named him after Cupid because it was he who enchanted the reindeer."

"They can really fly?"

"Yes they can, little one. That is how I get around... here, let me show you my sled."

On their way to another, smaller, building, the bard couldn't help but notice a small black and white birdlike creature that waddled as he walked, "Senticles, what is that?"

The old man turned in the direction of the bard's pointing finger, "oh, that is called a penguin. They are indigenous to the frozen lands of the North where I am going to be moving my base of operations. He was picked up by a schooner that had gotten lost in a fog beyond the Norse lands and they brought him back with them. I'm taking him home in a few days."

"He can't just fly back?"

"Penguins can't fly. They love to swim though." The toy maker chuckled. He drew open the double doors to a large shed. There inside, two Leprechauns were busy cleaning up and polishing Senticles' sled for the upcoming journey. "Ahhh, and there she is."

The bard walked around the large red sled in complete awe. She noted the heavily padded leather seat and large rear cargo area for the toys. "This is incredible."

"Yes it is. Gwenevere, the Celtic goddess of the hunt, gave it to me along with the deer that Cupid enchanted."

Solstice Eve morning found Gabrielle helping Senticles and his Leprechaun helpers load the sleigh. Senticles had produced a large red velvet sack that he had said was a gift from Aphrodite. The sack was bottomless. It could handle any amount of toys that were packed into it and never bulge or break. It fit perfectly into the rear of the sled. Senticles had also told the bard that it didn't matter what order the gifts were placed into the bag. The correct gift would always magically appear in his hand.

Gabrielle made many trips from the house to the sleigh carrying boxes and sacks full of toys and other gifts. One such box was marked "Atlantis." The bards curiosity was piqued and she examined the gifts within before placing them in the sleigh. There were multiple pairs of leather pants and shirts, some rather large cod pieces, a whip and a cat-o-nine tails. She ventured further, not realizing that Senticles had come up behind her smiling. The bard pulled out two metal rings attached by a short chain, "these are pretty small for shackles," she mumbled.

She was startled by a voice behind her, "those are called handcuffs. They have some... um... kinky people in Atlantis."

The bard turned as she stood up, "I thought Atlantis was lost?"

"Not lost, little one. They just don't want to be found. They are very self sufficient, they have no crime and as long as no one knows where they are... no wars."

"Sounds good. Feel like dropping me off there?"

"No can do, Gabrielle. However, if it were possible I would take you along for the ride of your life, but my sled is weighed down this year with more gifts than ever before. And it's all because of you and Xena." The old man laid a reassuring hand on the bard's shoulder, "this may be somewhat bittersweet for you, Gabrielle, but you should know that your actions in Japa were not in vain. With the defeat of Yodoshi I can now deliver presents to children in need there. I know that it is difficult for you, but some good did come out of it."

"I know that it did. But you are right, it is difficult for me. The Fountain of Strength made Xena's spirit strong, so she can visit with me from time to time, but it's not the same."

"I know it isn't. If it is any consolation to you, know that if there was anything I could do I would."

"Thank you." the bard straightened herself and looked around, "we have a lot more presents to pack."

"Yes we do, little one. Yes we do." The old toy maker's eyes twinkled as he watched the bard go back to work loading the sleigh.

The time finally came for Senticles to climb into his sleigh. His eight reindeer were harnessed up and ready to go. He looked down at the bard and lightheartedly scolded her, "now you go get some sleep, young lady. I don't deliver presents to anyone who stays up waiting for me."

"Will do, Senticles. I'll even leave out some cookies and milk for you. I'm sure you'll need it."

"I could always go for that." Senticles snapped the reins and yelled out, "on Dasher, on Dancer, on Prancer and Vixen. On Comet, on Cupid, on Donner and Blitzen."

The bard watched as the large red sleigh began to move. Her breath caught as, two by two, the reindeer became airborne bringing the sled along with them. "By the gods," she gasped.

Gabrielle awoke Solstice morning, earlier than she normally would. The sun had just begun to rise, "it's way too early," she mumbled groggily. She repositioned herself in an attempt to get more comfortable when out of the corner of her eye she noticed a large package near the unlit fireplace. She allowed her sleep laden eyes to focus on the package for a moment then became giddy, "ooh, I wonder what he brought me." She allowed her gaze to drift over to the table and noticed that the cookies and milk had been finished off.

The bard swung her legs over the edge of the bed and padded across the room to the large box, "I wonder what could be in there?" She tried to shake the box and noticed that it was rather heavy, 'well I guess that goes without saying, it is almost as big as me.' She swallowed hard and began the process of unwrapping her gift. After the colorful parchment had been completely removed she worked on opening the top of the box. As she unfolded the last flap, she peered inside to see a pair of cerulean orbs staring back at her accompanied by a large grin that reached from ear to ear. "Xena!!"

The warrior stood from her cramped, cross legged, seated position, "it's about time you opened up the box, I've been sitting here for candle marks."

The End.

Merry Christmas!

Disclaimer: I have no idea who wrote "Here Comes Santa Clause," but it certainly does not belong to me..

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