This is the fourth Fable in the warrior chicken saga. Reading the earlier ones will make the
authors happy but is not necessary to understand this one. Any feedback, comments, praise may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org "You never listen to me!" The young woman walking down the road drove her staff into
the ground with each step to emphasize her anger. "I guess I don't have any opinions
worth hearing," she said sarcastically, looking straight ahead. The taller woman, leading her horse and walking a few steps behind her fuming
companion, sighed and wondered how their simple discussion had blown up into this full-scale argument. "That's not true, Gabrielle, I do listen to you - most of the time," she
finished under her breath. "I heard that!" "Really? What did I say?" The blonde woman stopped walking and turned to face her friend. She really hadn't caught
the muttered comment but wouldn't admit it. When she saw the half smile on her partner's
face, most of her anger dropped away. She had to fight to keep from smiling herself. "This is ridiculous, Xena. I know it's not a matter of life and death, but I want you to take
my opinions seriously," she said. "I do," Xena replied earnestly. She was glad that the worst of this little rift seemed to be
passing. "You know I always listen to your views. All I said was that I thought you were
reading too much significance into something as everyday as dancing." Slightly mollified, although not completely convinced by Xena's earnest expression,
Gabrielle said, "But dancing does have a lot of hidden meanings. When people dance; how
they pair off; even why they dance, to appease some god or just to enjoy themselves." She
was getting wound up in her ideas again. On the verge of saying 'Yeah, yeah, yeah' and starting the argument all over again, instead
Xena said, "You're probably right. I haven't had time to think that much about it. So why
do you think dancing was invented in the first place?" Gabrielle smiled and turned to lead down the road. Xena fell into step beside her. 'Well,
another morning spent in our usual fashion,' she thought to herself. 'She's so easily
goaded, and she is beautiful when she's angry.' Xena smiled, making sure Gabrielle
couldn't see it. The blonde bard was happily discoursing on the history of dancing. Xena,
listening with only half an ear, was already plotting their next "argument."
Some alcohol consumption occurs. Teetotalers beware.
This is the fourth Fable in the warrior chicken saga. Reading the earlier ones will make the authors happy but is not necessary to understand this one.
Any feedback, comments, praise may be sent to email@example.com
"You never listen to me!" The young woman walking down the road drove her staff into the ground with each step to emphasize her anger. "I guess I don't have any opinions worth hearing," she said sarcastically, looking straight ahead.
The taller woman, leading her horse and walking a few steps behind her fuming companion, sighed and wondered how their simple discussion had blown up into this full-scale argument. "That's not true, Gabrielle, I do listen to you - most of the time," she finished under her breath.
"I heard that!"
"Really? What did I say?"
The blonde woman stopped walking and turned to face her friend. She really hadn't caught the muttered comment but wouldn't admit it. When she saw the half smile on her partner's face, most of her anger dropped away. She had to fight to keep from smiling herself.
"This is ridiculous, Xena. I know it's not a matter of life and death, but I want you to take my opinions seriously," she said.
"I do," Xena replied earnestly. She was glad that the worst of this little rift seemed to be passing. "You know I always listen to your views. All I said was that I thought you were reading too much significance into something as everyday as dancing."
Slightly mollified, although not completely convinced by Xena's earnest expression, Gabrielle said, "But dancing does have a lot of hidden meanings. When people dance; how they pair off; even why they dance, to appease some god or just to enjoy themselves." She was getting wound up in her ideas again.
On the verge of saying 'Yeah, yeah, yeah' and starting the argument all over again, instead Xena said, "You're probably right. I haven't had time to think that much about it. So why do you think dancing was invented in the first place?"
Gabrielle smiled and turned to lead down the road. Xena fell into step beside her. 'Well, another morning spent in our usual fashion,' she thought to herself. 'She's so easily goaded, and she is beautiful when she's angry.' Xena smiled, making sure Gabrielle couldn't see it. The blonde bard was happily discoursing on the history of dancing. Xena, listening with only half an ear, was already plotting their next "argument."
And the day started out so well. Our three adventurers were walking across a field. Or rather Ergo was walking and Aquila and Billie were riding on her back. They had got a late start that day. Since they had no place special to be, Aquila let Billie sleep as late as she wanted for a change. The yellow chick was definitely not a morning person.
Now they were making their leisurely way to nowhere in particular. >From her vantage point on the back of the pale gold mare, Billie was able to see quite a ways. Not that there was much to see; but that didn't keep her from commenting on what there was.
"There aren't any flowers around here and the grass is short ... it's not as pretty as where we were last week but the way the ground rolls and dips is nice. There's a lot of stubble too, why is that? The clouds coming up over the hill are pretty." Billie glanced over at her dark-feathered companion.
Aquila had been moody for the last hour or so. She kept looking around and sniffing the air, not quite sure what she was expecting. She seemed barely aware of the young chicken beside her. Billie sighed. It was nice of Aquila to let her sleep in this morning, but now she might as well be miles away for all the difference her presence made.
After several seconds of silence, Ergo finally responded to Billie's chatter. "They must have farmed this field last season. That's why there's all this stubble and no flowers. It's a good thing I got these new shoes; my feet would really be hurting otherwise."
Billie patted the horse gratefully. Then she had to grab the mane as Ergo came to a sudden stop and began sniffing the air, too.
The horse felt it first. A slight vibration under her feet. Then suddenly it was as if the earth had come alive, heaving and shuddering. Everything seemed to be moving at once but not all in the same direction - the ground, the hills, the trees. Ergo reared up on her hind legs, dumping her two riders on either side. Then she took off running. Aquila and Billie clung to the ground where they had fallen. After several seconds the ground stopped moving.
Aquila was the first to recover. She stood up shakily and felt the back of her head. There was a small bump where it had hit a pebble when she fell off Ergo. She took a step or two but stopped when she felt dizzy. She looked around slowly. The first thing she saw was a dazed Billie trying to sit up. The second thing she saw was that there was a rift in the ground several feet wide between her and her friend. She quickly walked over as close to the edge as she dared, and called to Billie. "Are you okay? Don't try to move too fast or you'll get dizzy."
Billie turned her head when she heard the voice. "What was that," she peeped, not sure that she wasn't still moving.
"It must have been an earthquake," Aquila answered. "I had a feeling that something was wrong; I guess that was it."
Billie managed to get to her feet and started to walk to her partner. "Stop!" Aquila shouted.
Surprised, she halted and looked at the dark chicken. "What? You don't want to be with me anymore?" she said, a little miffed that Aquila didn't seem to want her companionship.
Aquila looked exasperated. "It's not that. You were about to walk into a big hole in the ground." She pointed at Billie's feet.
The little chick looked down, gasped, and fell backwards onto her bottom - for the second time that morning. She struggled to get her breathing under control. This was even more exciting than their other adventures, but not as much fun. "I thought the earth was all one big piece how can it break apart like this?"
Aquila, who must have sat in on a natural history course sometime in her travels, said, "There must be a fault line right here, and when the earth started moving, it broke apart. Are you listening?" Billie had stood up and was looking around while Aquila was talking.
Billie smiled; she was starting to feel her old self again. "Fault? Whose fault; we didn't do anything we were just walking along not bothering anybody. How are we going to get across?"
When Aquila saw Billie's smile, she knew that everything would work out alright. "Nobody's fault. A fault in the earth. Sometimes things just happen and nobody is to blame. About getting across, it's too far for either of us to jump. But I think I see the solution coming now." And she pointed behind the other chicken.
Billie looked where Aquila was pointing. "Ergo!" she exclaimed.
If it was possible for a horse to look sheepish, then that is how Ergo looked as she cantered up to her erstwhile riders. When she got close to the rift, she stopped and shuffled her feet. "Sorry about dumping you guys," she mumbled. Aquila was looking stern, but she was on the other side of the fissure so it didn't matter.
Billie, looking sympathetic, said, "That's alright, it sure was scary when everything began shaking, I don't blame you for taking off."
Ergo smiled tentatively. She explained, "When I felt the earthquake, I just reacted instinctively; horses run off when Nature starts acting up." She looked across at Aquila, who had a small smile on her face and was muttering something about mighty war horses. "So what do we do now?"
Aquila spoke up, "My suggestion is that Billie gets up on your back and you jump across to me. The few feet shouldn't be a problem for you, Ergo."
Ergo nodded. She bent down so Billie could get on. Then she walked back a short distance to get a running start. "Hold on tight, Billie, I'm going to start now." She ran toward the gap, and just when Billie, from her perch, thought they were going to fall in, she jumped and sailed gracefully across and landed softly so as not to jar her passenger. They came to a halt beside their leader.
Billie hopped down and ran to Aquila and hugged her. Aquila returned the hug, wrapping her long wings around the smaller chicken. This was the first time her friend had hugged her, and Billie was surprised and pleased almost to the point of speechlessness. Almost.
"I don't ever want to be separated from you again ... we were only a few feet away but it felt like miles ... It's so good to be back together. And, Ergo, I'd hug you too," she said looking at her rescuer, "but I can't get my wings around your neck ... I'll get you extra oats first chance I get, promise. Speaking of oats, all this excitement's made me hungry when's lunch?" She looked hopefully at Aquila.
The tall, dark, silent one laughed out loud. "I don't want to be separated again, either. About lunch, I don't know. I think we need to get away from this area; there may be more earthquakes. Let's head over to those hills. There's probably a stream nearby."
Ergo spoke up. "It will be faster if you ride. I promise I won't throw you again no matter how hard the ground shakes." She looked winningly at her companions.
Aquila and Billie just nodded. Ergo bent down, and the two chickens got on.
Ergo kept up a good pace, wanting to get away from the rift as quickly as possible. As they got closer to the hills Aquila had pointed out, the horse could smell water. She stopped when she got to the edge of the clear stream and let her riders jump off. All three of them took deep drinks of the cold water. Then Ergo began grazing on the soft grass along the bank.
Billie, having slaked her thirst, looked around for something more substantial to eat. She spied some bushes with ripe berries on them. She was hopping over to eat the berries that had fallen on the ground when suddenly two weasels came running out of the bushes, chasing each other. Billie let out a startled squawk as she dove back toward her friends.
When they heard the little chick's cry, both Aquila and Ergo looked up. The dark chicken quickly moved to catch her. Billie leaned against her friend's chest. She was thinking that it was a good thing that she had slept late since it seemed to be just one death-defying event after another today!
Once she got her breath, she said, "What are those things I've never seen anything like them before ... they're so short and fat and squirmy ... why are they acting like that, are they trying to hurt each other or are they playing. I just wanted to eat some berries my stomach must be completely empty and they came jumping out at me what are we going to do?"
Meanwhile the two weasels were taking turns chasing each other. They paid no attention to their audience. Aquila patted Billie on the back. "Those are crazed weasels. They act like that all the time. Just ignore them; they won't bother us."
The warrior chicken led her upset companion over to the bushes, picked off some berries and gave them to Billie. By this time the weasels had taken their activity downstream.
After lunch and a short rest in the shade, Aquila said, "We're going to need more filling food than berries. Let's see if we can find a farm in the neighborhood."
Both Billie and Ergo perked up at this, since one of them eats like a horse and the other is a horse.
"That's a good idea!" Billie had fully recovered from the shaking the earthquake had given her. "I'll get you those extra oats I promised, Ergo. This is a really nice spot with the river and the trees make it cool and shady and the berries were good too maybe we can come back here later when those crazed weasels are gone." She frowned at the weasels who were still frolicking some distance away.
Ergo had been looking around at the countryside; she said, "Which way should we go? I haven't seen any signs of a farm right around here, so it probably won't matter which way we go."
Aquila looked at Billie who was still frowning at the weasels. "Which way do you think we should go, Billie?"
Billie stopped frowning and looked at the dark-feathered chicken in surprise. This was the first time her older companion had asked her opinion about where they should go. Usually, Aquila just started off and expected the others to follow, which they always did. "I think we should go upstream and avoid those stupid weasels," she said, fluttering her little, yellow wings in their direction. "They sure are a nuisance ... the way they pop out of nowhere at you."
Aquila patted the younger chicken on the back. "That's just their nature. Don't let them upset you. Okay, we go upstream."
After a couple of hours of walking, following the stream, and staying in the shade as much as possible, the three friends saw a small farm in a clearing. They headed toward it. But the closer they got, the more confused they became. All of the animals seemed to be wandering about the farmyard aimlessly, except for the chickens who were all in a line and appeared to be dancing and singing. When they got closer, they could hear what the chickens were singing - cluck-cluck cluck-cluck cluck CLUUUCK, cluck-cluck cluck-cluck cluck CLUUUCK.
The three of them just stopped and stared as the line of chickens moved in their direction. Billie was totally mystified. She was beginning to think that she had fallen into that hole in the earth and all this was some really strange dream. If it was a dream, she wished she would wake up, and soon. They were watching the approaching chickens, almost hypnotized, when a clanging noise broke the spell - for Aquila and Ergo anyway; Billie was still fascinated.
A flop-eared donkey wearing a jangling harness, or rather mismatched pieces of several harnesses, ran up to them. "You're Aquila, the great warrior, aren't you?" he brayed excitedly. "I recognize you from the stories they tell about you. I'm a warrior, too," he said proudly. "Bohica the Brave, at your service." He tried to bow gracefully but tripped over his front feet and almost fell.
Aquila gave him the most fierce glare she had in her arsenal. Never one to suffer fools gladly, now she was even more anxious to get their supplies and leave as soon as possible. Meanwhile, Bohica had managed to right himself and was looking at the warrior chicken with a foolish grin on his face. He paid no attention to the glare he was receiving. When there was no reply from his hero, he continued, "Don't think that I spend all my time with these sheep and chickens. I travel the world, too, fighting for justice. I'm only guarding the farm while the farmer is away, protecting all the animals like us heroes do."
Aquila was a little put out that her Look had had no effect on this foolish creature. Ergo was snickering and trying not to laugh out loud at the donkey's speech. Aquila took a few deep breaths to calm herself, then she said, "That's nice. Well, maybe you can sell us some oats and corn, and we'll be on our way."
"Sure, anything for you, oh mighty warrior," the donkey declared. He turned and caught sight of Ergo for the first time. He stopped and stared with his mouth hanging open. Love had come into his life. Gathering what passed for his wits, he made a bow to Ergo and said suavely, "And what is your name, my pretty golden mare?"
Ergo, who had been laughing quietly at Aquila's predicament, suddenly realized that she was in trouble. The last thing she wanted was this ridiculous looking donkey giving her compliments. On the other hoof she couldn't just ignore him. Maybe if she treated him in a businesslike way, they could get the supplies they needed and get out quickly. "The name's Ergo." She looked at Aquila, who now had an amused look on her face, and said, "Let's go get the supplies now." She moved toward the barn quickly. Bohica clattered alongside her.
As they moved off, Aquila looked around for Billie. For the first time she wondered why the little chick had been quiet all that time. Billie wasn't there. All of the dark chicken's warrior senses went on full alert. She looked all around the farmyard without seeing her. Then she caught a flash of yellow out of the corner of her eye. She turned that way and saw her friend in the middle of the line of dancing chickens. They were leading her down the garden path.
Billie had been only vaguely aware of Bohica and his conversation with Aquila and Ergo. She couldn't take her eyes off the approaching chickens. The way they moved, so rhythmically, and their song left her almost senseless and unable to resist when two of them took her by her wings and brought her into their dance. She quickly got in step, and they moved away from her friends. She could see that they were going toward some pretty flowers. That made her happy; she always liked flowers. What's this song they're singing? Cluck-cluck cluck-cluck cluck CLUUUCK.
As the line moved, Billie got glimpses of their destination. She saw a rooster with a big, red coxcomb at the end of the path. He had a pot on the ground in front of him, and he would dip a spoon in it and let each chicken drink some. Billie asked the chicken in front of her, "Who's that and what's he giving us?"
"That's Chaunticleer," the other chicken answered. She had a beatific smile on her face. "You'll like him." She took up their song again.
The line kept moving, and soon Billie was at the front. She smiled at Chaunticleer as he handed her the spoon. She had taken only a couple of swallows when the spoon was knocked from her wings, and she heard Aquila's battle cry. It seemed to be echoing in her head. But then everything seemed to be echoing in her head at the moment; and there was a buzzing that she couldn't quite locate. 'I think I'd better sit down.' She wasn't sure if she said it out loud or not. Then she saw she was already sitting down. 'That's good,' she thought.
The warrior chicken had run as fast as she could when she saw where her little friend was heading. She knocked the spoon out of Bilie's wings, then she kicked over the pot, spilling the rest of the liquid all over the ground.
"Hey, whadda ya think yer doin'!" the rooster yelled. "It took me all morning to find the right berries and crush them and make juice for our party. Who do you think you are anyway, interfering with our fun?"
Aquila was taken aback by this outcry. She thought she was saving them from a fate worse than death. Most of the other chickens had surrounded her and were glaring at her for spoiling their fun. A few were pecking disappointedly at the ground where she had spilled the juice. "Party?" was all she could manage to say.
"Yeah, party. Their farmer is gone all day so they wanted to have a little fun and show up that dumb donkey who thinks he's in charge. So they asked me to bring some juice since I have the fermented berry franchise for this area. Then you come along and upset everything," Chaunticleer said in disgust. He reached down to pick up his pot.
Aquila was still trying to adjust to this information. "But ... aren't you getting them drunk?"
The rooster stared at her. "Nah. They just drink a little juice, enough to feel good but nothing more."
Then Aquila pointed at Billie and said with a good deal of anger in her voice, "What about her? I don't think she's feeling anything right now, but when she wakes up, she will definitely not feel 'good'." Billie was lying on her back, her eyes closed and a happy expression on her young face.
The rooster looked at the body on the ground and back at Aquila. For the first time he took in whom he was talking to. He began to feel a little nervous. "She didn't drink that much," he protested. "It must be because she's so little she couldn't handle it. I'm sorry. Here, let me give you something to give to her when she wakes up. It should help." He smiled weakly. Then he reached into a bag he had on the ground beside him and pulled out some leaves and gave them to her.
Then he turned to the other chickens, "Well, ladies, it looks like the party's over. I'll be going now. Let me know the next time you need my services." He left hastily, not looking back.
Aquila looked at what the rooster had given her. When she looked up, she saw that the chickens were still glaring at her. "I'm sorry; I didn't know it was a party. I just saw that my friend was in trouble." Her voice trailed off. "You know, I saw some bushes right outside the farm with some berries on the ground around them. Maybe there's enough for you to finish your party," she said, with a half-smile.
The chickens who had not gotten any juice stopped muttering and took off for the bushes. Aquila breathed a little sigh of relief. She walked over to her sleeping companion, gently picked her up and walked to a tree. She laid Billie down in the shade, and sat down with her back against the tree. She knew she was in for a long wait.
Meanwhile, Ergo had been doing her best to discourage Bohica's advances. When she got to the barn, the donkey stepped in front of her, saying, "Let me hold the door for you, Ergo. What a lovely name for such a lovely creature." He gave her a subtle smile. To Ergo it looked like he was leering at her.
As she walked past him into the barn, she said, "I think you need to get your eyes checked."
Bohica brayed in amusement. "Beautiful and with a sense of humor. You have everything anyone could want in a mate."
"Everything but oats and corn. Where are they kept?" The golden mare was being businesslike. She hoped this attitude would discourage her admirer. "And I don't need a mate, at least not one like you." She thought that maybe the direct approach would penetrate the donkey's fantasy.
He just chuckled at this. "Playing hard to get, are we? That makes it more of a challenge, and we warriors like challenges." He tried to brush up against her shoulder, but Ergo was too fast for him and moved away before he could touch her.
"Those look like bags of grain over there," she said hastily. "If you want to be a help, you can take a couple of them outside for us." Ergo left the barn while Bohica was struggling to pick up a sack of grain, a pleased smile on his face.
When she got outside, the frazzled horse looked around for her two companions. She wanted to get the grain and get out of there quickly, leaving the mad donkey far behind. She saw Aquila sitting under a tree in the garden. Once she got close, she saw a yellow ball lying on the ground next to the black-feathered chicken. She looked more closely and realized that the ball was Billie. With a concerned look on her face, she asked Aquila, "What happened to her? Is she alright?"
The great warrior reached over and gently patted the little chick's forehead. "She'll be okay eventually. She drank some fermented berry juice before I could stop her. Now she just has to sleep it off." She looked tenderly at her impulsive companion.
"Blast!" Aquila looked up, startled; she had never expected to hear such an expression from the calm horse. "Sorry, but I was hoping to leave right away and get away from that ... that ... idiot over there." She pointed where Bohica had finally managed to get the bags of grain out of the barn.
Aquila looked at the donkey, then back to Ergo. With a supreme effort she managed not to laugh, and her lips barely twitched in a smile. All those years of self-discipline were finally paying off. "I'm sorry, Ergo, but Billie won't be in any shape to travel for a few hours. You'll have to handle that donkey warrior on your own. I can't leave Billie by herself," she said sweetly.
Ergo looked suspiciously at Aquila; then she let out a sigh that came straight from her heart. "Alright. But he is not coming with us, no matter what. You can think up some way to keep him here. A broken leg maybe?" Ergo brightened at the thought.
Bohica was trotting over to the love of his life when he caught sight of the ecstatic look that her last thought had given to Ergo's face. He felt like the time he bumped into an oak tree and a rotten branch fell off and hit him on the head. Stunned. Unfortunately for him, he kept moving forward and once more tripped over his own feet. This time he fell flat on his face. He looked up in time to see the object of his passion walking away from him. Hauling himself up and brushing off the grass and dirt, he ran after her.
Despite her best efforts, Ergo couldn't shake her gallant wooer. She felt like she had walked a hundred miles in the last two hours in her vain attempts to elude the donkey. No matter how blunt she was in responding to all his flowery compliments, he would not take the hint that she did not want to have anything to do with him.
They were at the far end of the garden. Ergo knew that Aquila was watching them - and probably laughing, too. Whenever she could spare a thought in that direction, the weary mare reviewed different ways to make the chicken pay for leaving her to this fate. She had stopped her wanderings for a few minutes to rest her legs, and she looked to where Aquila and Billie were. She thought she saw some movement from the yellow body on the ground. This gave her hope that her ordeal by idiot would soon be over.
Bohica had caught up to her again and was talking in that irritating voice she had come to hate. "Don't keep fighting this great love we have, my precious; it's too strong. I felt this immortal bond between us from the first second I saw you. I know what is bothering you," he smirked at her. Ergo shied away, startled at the weird expression on his face. "You think I'm just a donkey. But I'm a great warrior. When we travel together, you'll see my bravery." He struck what he supposed was a heroic pose.
This was the last straw as far as Ergo was concerned. She never wanted to be seen again in the company of this deluded sap. She turned on him and shouted in his smiling face, "It's not because you're a donkey that I don't love you! It's because you're a jackass, you nitwit!!!"
Bohica was so startled by this outburst that he jumped back several feet and bumped into the trunk of the tree he was standing under. The vibration caused a beehive to sway and a number of bees flew out to see what had disturbed their home. Seeing a donkey leaning against the tree, they dove at him and began stinging.
Bohica the Brave danced around, trying to avoid the bees. "Ow! Ouch! Ow! Hey, guys, it was an accident!" he protested. "That's enough. Hey! Ow!" He ran into a field and jumped into a pond. As he ran past her, Ergo's tail sort of casually flicked out and hit one of the bee stings on his rear end.
Ergo felt lighthearted as she trotted over to Aquila and Billie.
Billie had managed to get her eyes open. She was looking at a very blurry Aquila. "When did you grow another head? Oooooh, am I dead?" she goaned.
Aquila was rubbing the back of her moaning friend's neck. "If you were dead, you wouldn't feel this bad. Take it easy. You'll feel better in a while."
The little chick groaned again and closed her eyes. "How can something as good as berries make me feel this bad?" She thought about putting one wing over her eyes to block the light but didn't have the strength.
Aquila was being supportive. "Try to sit up. I have something for you that should make you feel better." She helped Billie sit up. Billie felt as if everything was going around in circles, but her friend's hand on her back kept her from falling over. "Come on, Billie, open your mouth. If you chew on this for a while, you'll feel better."
Billie felt too bad to resist so she opened her mouth and took what Aquila gave her. She started chewing. She had never realized before how much noise chewing made in her head. After several minutes she did feel better. Everything had stopped spinning; and this time when she looked at Aquila, she had only one head. Billie felt relieved.
Ergo was relieved, too, that Billie was recovering. She wanted to be long gone before her luckless suitor came back. "Now that you're feeling better, I think we should be going. We don't want to overstay our welcome."
Billie wanted to look surprised but it hurt too much so she said, "Why can't we stay here tonight? Nobody will mind. We don't take up that much room."
Aquila had a bland expression as she said to Ergo, "Are you sure you feel like traveling after all the walking you did today?"
Ergo gave her a look and said, "Don't worry; you'll get yours someday." Then she turned to Billie. "You can ride on my back. We'll make the sacks of grain into a nice, soft bed for you, and you won't even know you're moving. What do you say?"
Billie didn't know why Ergo wanted to leave so badly, but she supposed she had a good reason. She leaned on the older chicken and stood up. "Okay, but if I feel any motion, we're stopping."
They walked slowly back to the barn. With a fair amount of maneuvering Aquila and Ergo got the sacks of grain on the mare's back. Then they got Billie settled securely. Ergo's sigh of relief turned to teeth grinding when she heard the unwelcome braying, and Bohica came clattering into the farmyard.
The donkey was even more ridiculous looking than before. His pieces of harness clanged together noisily; he was dripping water from his recent swim in the pond; and he had several welts from the bee stings. However, his fantasy view of the world was intact.
"Hi, guys! Are you leaving already? Just a minute, and I'll get my stuff together and come with you. You can help me fight for justice and protect the weak." He puffed out his chest proudly.
Ergo looked at Aquila. "Well, great warrior chicken?"
Aquila sighed. It had been funny watching Ergo trying to avoid the silly donkey all afternoon. Now she had to pay for her fun. "Bohica -"
"Bohica the Brave," Ergo whispered.
Aquila started again. "Bohica the Brave, I think you're needed more right here. Look around you. All the animals are just walking around aimlessly. They have no direction; no one to tell them what to do. And the chickens! Half of them aren't even in the farmyard; they're over by those bushes eating berries. They need someone like you who can organize and keep everything running smoothly and protect them. This is where you belong."
Bohica looked around him. Aquila was right. These animals needed his protection and guidance. And she had called him Bohica the Brave! He wouldn't disappoint her.
The flop-eared donkey leaned toward Ergo. "Are you sure you can get along without me?"
While the mare was sputtering and trying to pick one of the dozen responses that had popped into her head at the same time, Aquila spoke up. "We'll manage somehow."
Bohica nodded happily. He knew that Ergo really did like him because she was so overcome with emotion at leaving him that she couldn't talk. He smiled winningly at his lady love who, fortunately for her digestion, had already turned away and didn't see the smile.
Bohica set about his task of running the farm. "Everybody, get back where you belong. You, chickens! Get back in here. You shouldn't be out there anyway. Hey! Hey! Is anybody listening to me?"
Ergo walked quickly down the road away from that funny farm. She slowed down when she heard a weak protest from the invalid on her back. Aquila was walking beside her.
"But you still owe me."
It had been a good day for the two wandering adventurers. No highwaymen to convince that they should find another line of work. No villages to defend from the odd warlord. No bored gods who were looking for a little amusement.
Gabrielle and Xena were lying on their bedrolls side-by-side, looking at the stars. They had had a dinner of fish, which Gabrielle had cooked in a frying pan that Xena had not yet used as a weapon. Everything was cleaned up and packed away. And they were just relaxing before going to sleep.
They had thoughtful expressions on their faces. At least one of them did (guess which one).
"Xena," a reflective voice spoke out of the darkness.
"Yesss?" This was a slightly wary voice.
"Does it ever seem to you that the events of our lives are all sort of pushed together? I mean, when you look back at things, is it like they all happened in a short time instead of spread out over years?" The bard sounded as if she really wanted to know.
There was a pause before Xena answered. "We remember the exciting things in our lives. In a year we won't remember today because nothing happened, but we will remember fighting off those thugs three days ago. All the battles, all the rescues get merged into one memory. Personally, I would rather have a lifetime of days like today."
Gabrielle sat up and looked at her partner. "Xena, you're a philosopher!" There was surprise in her voice.
"Hey, I'm no Socrates," the dark warrior protested. "But just because I'm good at beating people senseless doesn't mean I can't have a thought once in a while."
Gabrielle lay back down and pointed at the sky. "What do you think that bunch of stars over there looks like?"
Xena reached over and gently put a hand on the talker's mouth. "Gabrielle, enough thinking for one night. It's time for practical knowledge."