Subtext, no. Innuendo, yes. Vegetarian subtext, most definitely. This is the third Fable we have written; it probably isn't necessary to read the first two, but it will make us feel good if you do. The main story is a fable. There are no homo sapiens in it, just a variety of animals who have different human characteristics. Comments, feedback, suggestions, etc. may be sent to email@example.com Just outside the town's tavern a crowd of children was sitting on the ground in a semi-circle, listening to a blonde young woman as she wove her stories. She told of gods and heroes, of great battles and timeless loves. Then she began to tell fables, stories where animals act the parts of people. Some of these fables she had heard from others, and some were her own invention. While she was telling one of her fables, about warrior chickens and horses and bears, some likely looking characters came stumbling out of the tavern. They stood listening to her tale for a few minutes, more to get their balance than because they were interested. Pretty soon the snickers started, then the mumbled comments. "Hey, little lady, aren't you the one who travels around with Xena?" the scruffiest one of the group asked. He leered at her in what he thought was a winning way. Gabrielle had been doing her best to ignore the men and concentrate on her story and the children listening to it. But at this comment she gave the heckler a Look; she hadn't been travelling with Xena for a few years without picking up something from her. The man nudged one of his friends and whispered, "Watch this." He raised his voice. "This story about chicken warriors, it's really the warrior princess. Can't you just see her, pecking around a farmyard, flapping her wings?" All the men were laughing so hard they didn't notice the dark-haired warrior who had come up behind them. "Now, boys," the figure purred. It was the purring of a lion before it attacks. The men stopped laughing and slowly turned around, all of them clumsily trying to hide behind their leader. "You're bothering the children. Why don't you sit down and listen to the story; you might learn something." She gave them a cold smile. Not hesitating a second, they all sat down quickly. They might not learn anything from Gabrielle's fable, but they had learned how to live for another day. They were still shivering from Xena's smile. Xena looked at Gabrielle and gave her an encouraging smile, a much warmer one than the men had seen. The storyteller smiled back. Then she began her next tale. The dark warrior leaned against the wall and crossed her arms. She hoped this little episode wouldn't show up in the next warrior chicken fable.
Violence, some; but less than in a typical television episode.
Subtext, no. Innuendo, yes. Vegetarian subtext, most definitely.
This is the third Fable we have written; it probably isn't necessary to read the first two, but it will make us feel good if you do. The main story is a fable. There are no homo sapiens in it, just a variety of animals who have different human characteristics.
Comments, feedback, suggestions, etc. may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org
Just outside the town's tavern a crowd of children was sitting on the ground in a semi-circle, listening to a blonde young woman as she wove her stories. She told of gods and heroes, of great battles and timeless loves. Then she began to tell fables, stories where animals act the parts of people. Some of these fables she had heard from others, and some were her own invention.
While she was telling one of her fables, about warrior chickens and horses and bears, some likely looking characters came stumbling out of the tavern. They stood listening to her tale for a few minutes, more to get their balance than because they were interested. Pretty soon the snickers started, then the mumbled comments.
"Hey, little lady, aren't you the one who travels around with Xena?" the scruffiest one of the group asked. He leered at her in what he thought was a winning way.
Gabrielle had been doing her best to ignore the men and concentrate on her story and the children listening to it. But at this comment she gave the heckler a Look; she hadn't been travelling with Xena for a few years without picking up something from her.
The man nudged one of his friends and whispered, "Watch this." He raised his voice. "This story about chicken warriors, it's really the warrior princess. Can't you just see her, pecking around a farmyard, flapping her wings?" All the men were laughing so hard they didn't notice the dark-haired warrior who had come up behind them.
"Now, boys," the figure purred. It was the purring of a lion before it attacks. The men stopped laughing and slowly turned around, all of them clumsily trying to hide behind their leader. "You're bothering the children. Why don't you sit down and listen to the story; you might learn something." She gave them a cold smile.
Not hesitating a second, they all sat down quickly. They might not learn anything from Gabrielle's fable, but they had learned how to live for another day. They were still shivering from Xena's smile.
Xena looked at Gabrielle and gave her an encouraging smile, a much warmer one than the men had seen. The storyteller smiled back. Then she began her next tale.
The dark warrior leaned against the wall and crossed her arms. She hoped this little episode wouldn't show up in the next warrior chicken fable.
We were walking along, enjoying the nice weather. Aquila and Billie were on the road in front of me. Or Aquila was and Billie was some of the time. Everything distracted her, and she had to investigate and explore whatever she saw. It took both of us to keep track of her. I guess it was a good thing that she talked all the time; at least we knew where she was when she was hidden by the tall grass or a bush! Except when she was asleep, the little chicken with the big lungs was only quiet when she ate ... and not always then. And she eats a lot for something that size. I've known horses that didn't eat as much as Billie. Aquila says she is still growing and that is why she eats so much. Maybe; but all that talking must take a lot of energy, too.
Speaking of Aquila, there is someone I don't understand. She looks and acts tough; and I wouldn't want her chasing me. But I think she is kind underneath, if you dig deep enough. I mean, she took care of Billie when she was lost; and she rescued Billie's family. She didn't have to do that. Now the three of us travel together. I think she just needed the right kind of friends. She has lots of patience with Billie's chattering, too, which is surprising in someone who whacks first and asks questions later - maybe.
"Billie," I heard the black-feathered chicken call out. "Get back over here; I don't want you getting lost. I swear I'm going to tie a string to one of your legs so I can just pull you back." She sounded stern. Then Aquila looked up at me and winked.
Billie came bounding back from whatever she had been examining. She had a big smile on her face. Somehow she always knew when Aquila was serious and when she wasn't. I still hadn't figured out the older chicken's moods. She must have realized this, too, because she always made sure I knew what was going on, like winking at me just now.
Billie put a wing around Aquila's shoulders - that is not something everyone could do - and said, "I won't get lost; I usually know where you are and if I don't I can see Ergo she's so tall and pretty and stands out even in a field of flowers." That's one of the things I like about the yellow chick - she always tells the truth!
"Yeah, maybe," Aquila said doubtfully. "We'll be coming to a crossroad in a few minutes, and we need to go to the left. There is a town not very far where Ergo can get some new shoes."
"Good," I said. "I've had these shoes for a long time and they are getting worn down. My ex-farmer didn't believe in fixing anything until he had to. He thought he saved money that way, but it was uncomfortable for me." See what I mean about Aquila? She really does think of others; she just doesn't want people gushing over her.
As we got closer to the town, I could see the dark chicken's back getting straighter. It was almost as if she were expecting an attack; but why would she go there if that was the case?
Billie was walking beside her quiet friend, or hopping or jumping, she has so much energy. Oh, to be young. And talking, as usual.
"Is this town like the last one? I know we were there to save Joleo and that was a lot of fun especially when the tent fell down on the men - oh, I want to ask you what some of the words they used mean" (at this Aquila looked a little startled then relieved that her young companion kept on talking) "- and the crowd was applauding and the men were running around looking for him. The fair was fun what I saw of it I wish we could have stayed longer but I know we were on a mission. Will there be a fair in this town too or maybe a market? What's the name of this town and how do you know that we can get new shoes for Ergo?"
"The town is called Epah, and I know the blacksmith," Aquila said. Then she added, almost shyly, "It was his son I told you about."
"The calf you saved from the creek?" I asked before Billie could say anything. That's the first time that has happened.
"Yes. We'll get you shoes, Ergo; we'll probably have to stay the night with them, too. Then we can leave first thing in the morning." She started walking toward the town again.
Billie looked after her, then at me. "There is more to that story of saving the calf than she has told us," she said to me. I nodded. "Once we get to Epah, I will find out all about it; I'm sure everyone will be glad to tell me about Aquila's heroic rescue ... They probably made up a song about it even."
We started walking faster to catch up with our puzzling leader.
We caught up with Aquila just as we entered the town. I don't know what they made of us - a tall, dark-feathered chicken and a smaller yellow chicken walking side by side, and an old farm horse following behind - but I was surprised by the townsfolks' reactions. When they saw us, they either stared at Aquila or looked away quickly and tried to pretend they hadn't seen anything. And Aquila kept walking, looking straight ahead.
Even Billie sensed that something was wrong. This was not the hero's welcome she had expected for her friend.
"The folks in this town aren't very friendly, are they?" She said this so quietly I had to put my head down to hear it. "Why are some of them staring, especially the bigger animals ... and the chickens don't look at us at all ... haven't they ever seen chickens and horses travelling together before ... we are a little dusty from the road but-"
Aquila interrupted her (that's the only way to get a word in sometimes), "It's not you, it's me. I'm not really welcome here. But don't worry - nobody will bother us."
Just then we heard a shout and a good-sized bull came galumphing toward us. I hoped Aquila was right that nobody would really hurt us. When she heard the noise, she turned to face him, not moving a muscle. The bull came running up and managed to stop just in front of Aquila and Billie, who had moved a step or two behind her protector.
"I thought that was you when I saw you across the square I'm glad to see you how have you been you have to stay with us while you're in town my father will be happy to see you too I see you still have the ring he gave you." He finally had to pause for breath. I thought to myself - my god, now there are two of them who talk non-stop, and this one probably has bigger lungs than Billie!
Aquila took advantage of the pause to say, "I'm glad to see you, too. We came here to get some new shoes for my friend here. Do you think your father can fix her up?"
The young bull looked at me then for the first time, then he looked at my feet. "You sure do need new shoes. My father and I are the best blacksmiths in the region. We'll have you dancing in no time."
I smiled at him. "That will be quite a feat since I can't dance now," I said and whinnied in amusement.
Billie was standing there, watching all this. I could see that she was getting ready to enter the conversation; she's never quiet for very long.
"You scared me there for a minute the way you came charging up to us ... so you're the calf Aquila saved from the creek she told us all about it, well maybe not all about it ... I'm glad to see a friendly face nobody else seems very happy to see us ... where's this blacksmith shop I've never seen one can I watch while you give Ergo new shoes? My name's Billie ... I'm trying to teach Aquila some manners but she still isn't good at introducing folks ... and our big friend is Ergo." Billie held out a wing to the bull.
He touched it with his right front hoof and smiled at her. "My name is Tuphe. Aquila never did talk much. Our shop is over this way; come on."
We headed for Tuphe's shop. Aquila had a smile on her face, the first one I had seen all day. I wondered if she was thinking what I was - who was going to win the verbal battle between Billie and Tuphe.
When we got to the blacksmith's, Tuphe went in and said something to an older bull who was working at the forge. The older bull finished what he was doing and came out to us. He smiled at Aquila.
"I wondered where my son ran off to so suddenly. You know you are always welcome in my home, Aquila. I see you have acquired some friends, too. So what brings you here?"
"Ergo needs new shoes," Billie piped up, not wanting to be out of things any longer. "And I'm Billie."
"Argus," the older bull said as he came over and looked at my feet. Before he could say any more, several big crows came swaggering in. Their leader looked at us arrogantly, then turned to Aquila and said, "The mayor wants to see you; he sent us to escort you to his office. Don't give us any trouble or you'll regret it."
Aquila was looking very relaxed and unconcerned. I knew this was a dangerous sign, that she was ready to fly into action; I didn't think the crows were smart enough to realize this, though. Before anybody could move, both Billie and Tuphe spoke, "What's this all about?" So their first contest was a tie.
Before either one could say any more Aquila yawned and said, "Alright, if the mayor wants to see me, I have no objections." Then she turned to Billie, "I won't be gone long; it's been a long day and I'm tired. I'll be back in a few."
She sauntered off, with the crows following and trying to act as if they were in control of the situation.
Once they had left, I asked Tuphe's father, "What was that all about? We just came here to get some new shoes for me." I was puzzled by how everybody was acting.
He looked at me and Billie, who was just as puzzled as I was. "Aquila must really like you to have come here. Did she tell you about the last time she was here?"
"She told us she saved a calf - he's grown since then, hasn't he," Billie said. Both Tuphe and his father smiled at that. "And she told us you gave her the metal ring she carries, but that's about all she said ... she's not much for going into detail." Billie looked hopefully at the blacksmith, waiting for the rest of the story.
"Well, she told you how she found Tuphe with his hind legs in the creek and his front legs on the bank, but he couldn't pull himself out?" We nodded. "Tuphe can tell you this better than me; he was there, after all." And he gave his son a smile.
The young bull took up the tale. "I was really scared. I had been calling, it seemed like forever, but nobody came. Then this black-feathered chicken suddenly appeared. I heard her call out to hold on a few minutes longer, that she would save me. I remember thinking that if I hadn't been so scared I would have laughed at the idea of a chicken being able to help me. Then I saw her jumping up and down on a rotten tree branch; it broke off and landed right in front of me and I could get my front legs around it and pulled myself out of the creek. I just lay on the bank, getting my breath, grateful to be alive."
"That was how we found them," his father continued. "Someone in town had finally heard his cries and given the alarm. Everybody went running to the creek and saw Tuphe lying on the ground with a tree branch right by his head and a black-feathered chicken standing over him. I ran over to my son to see if he was all right. The rest of the townsfolks must have thought that the chicken had attacked him or something. I heard someone say that it was Aquila, the free-range chicken. They had picked up sticks and rocks; I'm not sure what they were going to do. Fortunately, Tuphe saw what was happening and told everybody that the chicken had saved him by breaking off the branch.
"Aquila just stood there the whole time, not saying a word. I went over to her and thanked her for saving my son's life, and I insisted that she stay with us. She did, but just for one night. I practically had to force her to take the ring. I polished and sharpened it for her. I'm glad she still has it."
"But why does everybody else in town just stare or turn away?" Billie asked. "Once they knew they were wrong about her, you'd think they would be happy to see her."
"People don't think that way. They feel guilty because they assumed she had attacked my son. People don't like feeling guilty so they blame someone else. And Aquila has a reputation. Maybe the folks in town were wrong that time, but they might be right the next time. At least that's what they tell themselves," Argus said.
Billie was chewing on this when Aquila appeared in the doorway.
"Argus, we have to talk," she said seriously. "What's happened to this town?"
"Aquila, you're back!" Billie exclaimed. "What did the mayor want with you .. we're not in trouble or anything, are we ... I've never been in trouble before except once or twice when I played tricks on my sister and then my mama just scolded me ... those crows looked mean but I know you can handle them -"
"Shush, Billie," I said. "Let Aquila tell us what happened."
Aquila gave me a quick smile, then turned to Billie. "No, we're not in trouble. They just wanted to 'warn' me." She looked at the blacksmith. "So when did that crow, Kaawak, become mayor? And when did he become so friendly with beavers?"
"The town chose him about a year ago. You remember how the creek floods every time it rains hard. That's why Tuphe fell in and you saved him. He doesn't always use good sense!" Tuphe grinned at this; his father smiled at him affectionately. "Anyway, that made us realize that we needed to do something about the flooding. Kaawak kept saying that if he were mayor he would get a dam built. That seemed like a good idea. He does own the mill so everyone figured he knows about business and how to get a good deal.
"So when he became mayor, he hired a bunch of beavers to build a dam. They started several months ago but haven't finished yet."
Tuphe broke in, "Don't forget about the taxes, Dad."
"That's right. The mayor said we would need money to hire the beavers so he raised taxes. Nobody minded then, but he's raised them two or three times since. He keeps saying that if we want the dam built right, we have to spend some money."
"But nobody can get close enough to see what the beavers are doing," the young bull said. "My friends and I wanted to watch them building it. It's always fun to watch other people work. But a bunch of crows and bluejays who work for the mayor and act like they're police even though they aren't stopped us before we got close and threatened us if we didn't go away. Some of the others, a couple of goats and once a dog, tried to sneak up on them; they wouldn't let me come along because I'm too big to sneak-" he laughed "- but the guards spotted them and chased them away. So we guess they're building a dam but we don't know for sure and the mayor and Nahr, the head beaver, are always meeting, usually late at night when nobody is around."
"How do you know that?" his father asked, startled.
"Koushaka told us. She's a cat and like all cats walks quietly and is up half the night stalking around the village. She hears a lot," Tuphe replied.
Billie had been listening raptly to this explanation. Which just proves that it is possible for her to be quiet for several minutes at a time! Now she looked around at Aquila and me. "Maybe we can find out if they really are building a dam and where your money is going," she said seriously. I think this life of adventure is growing on the young chick. Maybe she is more of a match for Aquila than I had thought.
The dark-feathered chicken looked at Billie and said, "You always have to stick your beak into other's problems, don't you? Well, this is one time I agree with you." Billie beamed when she heard what her friend said. Aquila turned to Tuphe. "Did the cat hear anything of what the beaver and Kaawak talked about?"
"No," he said. "They always meet in the mayor's mill and Koushaka couldn't hear over the noise of the mill wheel and the grindstone and she couldn't get too close because of all the mayor's bodyguards - cats and birds are never quiet when they get together, you know."
Our warrior chicken smiled darkly. "The mayor made a big mistake when he warned me. I didn't know there was anything wrong until then; we were just going to get shoes for Ergo and leave town. Now we'll see what we can do to make things right."
Billie and Tuphe both perked up at this statement. "What can I do to help?"Tuphe asked. "My friends and I will do whatever you tell us ... we'd all like to see Kaawak get what he deserves and those bluejays and crows who work for him are always lording it over everybody ... it will be fun to see them get their tail feathers clipped for once ... just tell me what you want us to do."
Not to be left behind, Billie started talking before he was finished. "I'm glad we're going to help Tuphe and Argus ... they're real nice ... and I know we can find out what is wrong and fix everything and then everybody in town will see how good you are, Aquila, and they'll be nice to you too ... so when do we start?"
The strong, silent chicken took a deep breath. I think she was getting overwhelmed by the two non-stop talkers. "First of all we have to find out what really is going on. Argus, you take Billie and Ergo to the tavern this evening; between the two of them they should be able to find out what the townsfolks are thinking and saying. Billie's good at getting life stories out of folks." She must have been thinking of how the little chick walked up to Joleo, the performing bear, and made friends with him.
"Tuphe, I want you to take me to Koushaka. After that, go see your friends and find out if they have heard anything more."
"What are you going to be doing," I asked. "Why don't you come to the tavern with us?"
"I'm not very popular here, and the townsfolks will be more willing to talk if I'm not there," she answered.
The blacksmith agreed. "I'm afraid she's right. Folks just aren't comfortable around her. But what are you going to do? You're not going to act on your own, are you?"
"No, I don't think Billie would like that," Aquila said with a smile. "I'm sure I can find something to occupy my time," she said innocently. Innocent for her anyway, which means she has some plan to shake things up.
The blacksmith turned to me and said, "It looks like it's going to be a busy evening, so let me have a look at your feet so I can start making the shoes and have them ready for you tomorrow."
I gave him a big smile when he said that. I had been quiet through most of our discussion, and I was beginning to wonder if everybody else had forgotten why we had come to this village. Not that I would have let them forget for long. When you do as much walking as I do, you have to take care of your feet.
After dinner, the three of us went to the only tavern in Epah. Billie was beside herself in her excitement and anticipation. She was riding on my back, and I was afraid she would fall off any second.
The blacksmith led the way inside. It was a good-sized room, with tables and benches scattered across the floor and more benches against the walls, and the bar along the wall opposite the door. There was only a small crowd of folks, but it was still early. We went over to an empty table. Billie hopped down onto a corner.
The place had gotten quiet and everybody was looking at us. Then a fox with an apron tied around his waist came over.
"Argus, I haven't seen you in here in a while. Who are your friends?" he asked with a smile.
"Hello, Fennec," the bull replied. "Since I have guests, I thought we would drop in for some of that good cider you make. The little one is Billie and the big one is Ergo."
"What about your dark-feathered guest?" the fox asked slyly.
"She was tired and wanted a quiet evening alone," I managed to say before the others could say anything.
The fox nodded and said, "A quiet evening, right."
All this time Billie had been looking around the tavern. I could see that she was about to burst into speech.
"This is a really nice place you have, Fennec ... that's your name, isn't it .. this is my first time in a tavern are they all like this ... everybody seems kind of quiet I thought there would be more noise maybe some singing and even dancing ... I guess everybody's just tired after working all day ... we walked a lot today ... that's why we came to Epah, to get new shoes for Ergo ... this is only the second town I've been in ... the last one had a fair going on it was real busy and we saved a performing bear ... this town is a lot quieter except when Tuphe came running up to us I thought he was going to run right over us I'm glad he and Aquila are friends ... I've never had cider before but I know if you made it I'll like it." She finally had to pause for breath and smiled at the tavern keeper.
I was getting used to the young chick's way of speaking, and the blacksmith must have been used to his son's constant talking, but the fox looked slightly stunned by the flow. He nodded silently and went back to the bar.
By the time Billie finished talking most of the others in the tavern were smiling, and they went back to their conversations. Fennec came back with our cider. Billie took a sip, then a longer drink.
"This is good," she said. "I'm glad we came here tonight." And she took another drink.
I took advantage of this to try to find out about conditions in the town, like Aquila wanted us to. "You must do a good business, being the only tavern in town. And the cider is good; we'll have to take some back to Aquila."
Fennec had been smiling, watching Billie. He said, "Business is alright. Nobody in town has any big complaint about things. It would be better if taxes weren't so high. Isn't that right?" He looked at Argus when he said that.
"Yes, but we are getting a dam for those taxes so it's worth it." The bull said this very deliberately.
Billie piped up, "The beavers working on the dam must give you a lot of business ... they must be hot and tired after working all day and need lots of your cider." Somehow Billie knows how to say the right thing to get folks to talk; I don't know if it is accidental or on purpose.
We heard the fox mutter under his breath, "Yeah, except they never pay, them and those bodyguards of the mayor."
Just then the door was pushed open. Several crows and bluejays strutted in, followed by three beavers. They went to the biggest table in the middle of the room. They noisily called to the tavern keeper to bring them something to drink.
Fennec made a face to the blacksmith, which they couldn't see, and went back to the bar.
The blacksmith leaned over and said in a low voice, "Fennec is a good friend. He's very honest, but he'll haggle you to death if you give him half a chance; he loves a bargain."
The blacksmith and I were carefully not looking at the occupants of the middle table. Billie, however, was staring at them, fascinated. I don't know if she is too young to be afraid, or if it is just not in her nature. She did make friends with Aquila, after all. One of the bluejays looked over at us, saw Billie staring at them and sneered at her.
"What are you looking at, blondie?" he said in a loud voice.
Billie frowned at this. I whispered in her ear, "He's trying to pick a fight; don't say anything." I hoped she could be silent for once.
The bluejay looked at his companions and grinned. "You're probably happy to see some real birds after travelling around with that broken-down chicken friend of yours. We haven't heard much about her lately. She must be getting too old to fight. She'll end up in someone's stewpot one of these days." They all laughed at this.
I could see that Billie was ready to take them all on, which was not why we were there. Argus got up from our table. He said in a mild voice, "It's getting late, and I have a lot of work to do tomorrow. Let's go home."
"Billie, get up on my back; we're leaving." I don't know if she heard me; she didn't move. I bent my head down to her and whispered, "Billie, stay focused on why we are here. Come on, we're getting out of here." This time she turned her head and looked at me. Then she got on my back, and we left the tavern. We could hear the crows and bluejays jeering at us as we walked down the street.
None of us said anything until we got back to the blacksmith's house. Once we were inside Billie jumped down. I could see that she was close to tears, but I soon realized they were tears of anger.
"How can they say things like that?" It was almost funny to see the little, yellow chick stomping around the room. "Aquila's not old and she's good, she helps folks and she doesn't say mean things about others and ... and ..."
The big bull reached down and patted her gently on the back. "Billie, calm down; you'll make yourself sick. Those are the bad guys and bad guys say bad things. Besides Ergo was right - he was trying to pick a fight with you. And remember this, when folks say things like that about someone, it's usually because they are afraid of them and are trying to build up their own courage."
Billie took a couple of deep breaths. Just then Tuphe came bursting into the house. "What's the matter?" he asked looking around at all of us.
His father answered him briefly. "The mayor's bodyguard insulted Aquila while we were at the tavern. Billie didn't like it."
"I didn't like it much, either, but I wasn't in the mood for stomped crow right then." I said, and whinnied at Billie who managed a smile in return.
Tuphe shrugged and said, "Okay, you can tell me more later. I talked with my friends and I don't think the rest of the townsfolks will be much help - nobody likes the high taxes but nobody is really suffering either I mean everybody has enough food and everything - and they all figure that once the dam is finished the mayor will take the taxes off and we won't have to worry about flooding any more which benefits everybody - the only complaint folks have is about his bodyguard but Kaawak keeps saying he has them under control." He scratched his head. "I think Fennec might help us - he doesn't say much but I know he doesn't think much of the way the mayor is running things."
"Where's Aquila?" Billie asked.
"I took her to Koushaka like she asked," the young bull said. "She said she wouldn't be back until late. The two of them had their heads together when I left them."
"Well, it's been a long day," the blacksmith said. "I suggest we all go to bed now. I'll leave the door unlatched so Aquila can get in when she gets back."
It was a few hours later, after midnight, when I heard the door opening and closing and quiet footsteps in the house. I whinnied softly to let her know I was awake. She came over to me and whispered, "Good, you're awake. We need to wake up the others, but don't put on any lights. I'll wake up Billie; you get Argus and Tuphe."
Several minutes later we were all sitting in the main room. Billie still looked half asleep. It was then that I saw that Aquila wasn't alone but had a cat with her.
Tuphe yawned. "Hi, Koushaka; this may be your time of day, but it isn't mine."
Billie walked over to the warrior chicken and hugged her. Aquila looked surprised. "What is that for?" she asked.
"I just felt like it," Billie said. "What have you been doing all this time?"
"I had Koushaka show me the best way into the mill; then I sent her off on a mission of her own. I had to wait quite a while for the mayor and the head beaver to show up. They finally did, and I found their conversation most interesting. It seems that most of the tax money is going into their own pockets and very little of it is going to building the dam. Also, the beavers want more of a cut. They argued about that a long time - which is why I'm so late getting back - and the mayor agreed to give them more but not as much as they want."
"Where were the guards," Tuphe asked eagerly. "Koushaka could never get close enough to hear anything."
The dark chicken put on an innocent air. "Oh, they must have been tired because they took a nap right after I got there. They were still sleeping when I left."
Billie laughed. "I knew you could take care of those birds."
The blacksmith entered the conversation. "How are we going to prove that the mayor and the beavers are stealing our taxes? Most of the town won't take Aquila's word for it."
Billie looked at him indignantly, but before she could say anything Aquila said, "I know they won't believe me, but maybe they will believe it when they see that there isn't any dam being built."
"What!" both bulls exclaimed.
"That's right," the cat said. She had been so quiet I had almost forgotten she was there. "Aquila sent me to take a look at the dam site. She thought I could sneak in after it got dark. After all, all cats are grey in the dark!"
"But you are grey," Billie said puzzled.
The cat and Aquila both just gave her an amused look.
"So, I circled around and came at the dam on the side away from town," Koushaka continued. "It took me a while to find the right spot, and I was beginning to wonder if I was even in the right area. Then I saw some beavers returning from town and followed them to their shelters. After they settled down for the night, I went over to the creek. The 'dam' is just a few rocks and tree limbs."
The blacksmith looked like he was going to explode. "Well, we'll just see what Kaawak has to say about that." He was switching his tail angrily. "I can't wait to get my hands on that cheating ... thieving ... Just watch what I'll do to him and all his bodyguards tomorrow!"
The next morning was stormy; the rain began just before dawn. We had finally got Argus calmed down. We decided that it would be best if he asked the mayor to show us what progress they had made on the dam.
We walked to the mill where the mayor had his office. Argus and Tuphe were in front, then Aquila with Billie by her side and me right behind them. As we passed the tavern, Fennec came to the door and watched us go by; then he followed us. By the time we got to the mill, there was a good number of townsfolk, curious to see what was happening.
"Kaawak , come out here," the blacksmith bellowed. "I think it's time we inspected the dam to see where all our taxes are going."
A whole bunch of crows and bluejays came out of the mill and spread themselves in front of us. Then the mayor came out, a sleek, fat crow - I could tell that he never got up hungry from a meal.
The mayor looked at the crowd and smiled. "What's all the noise about? It's raining; they won't be working today anyway. Let's wait for a nice day. Besides it should be finished soon, and we will have a dedication ceremony then, with lots of food and drink for everybody. So go home before we all get soaked."
"You're afraid to take us out there because there isn't any dam," Tuphe said, loud enough for everyone to hear. "And you and those beavers have been keeping all the taxes for yourselves!"
When they heard this, some in the crowd, led by Fennec, started to come closer. Several crows and half a dozen beavers I hadn't seen before moved to stop them.
The mayor just smiled again and said, "The young are so easily influenced. I can make a good guess as to who has been telling you these lies. You should know better than to believe anything Taquila tells you."
When I heard this, I knew someone was going to have a lot fewer tail feathers at the end of the day! Aquila stepped out in front of the two bulls, but didn't say anything.
Tuphe said, "Yes, Aquila heard you and Nahr talking about dividing up the taxes. And I believe her," he shouted. "But it was Koushaka who saw that there is no dam being built."
"Koushaka, that vagabond," the mayor scoffed. "Two of a kind! The good people of Epah aren't going to believe them over me, are you?"
Then I heard a voice behind me saying, "Maybe we should take a look at the dam. We don't want to pay all that tax and then get flooded out anyway." More folks in the crowd were murmuring and some of them started to head to the dam. That was when the mayor gave a signal and his guards and the beavers moved in on us.
I heard Aquila call out, "Ergo, keep the beavers back; I'll take care of the rest!"
That was when things got really exciting. There are advantages to being a horse - you're big and you have strong hooves that pack a kick whenever a beaver gets too close, as a couple of them found out the hard way. I was busy with the beavers so I only caught an occasional glimpse of Aquila and Billie. The warrior chicken looked like she was enjoying herself. She probably was.
Aquila had let out her battle cry first thing. It's a chilling sound. The crows tried to surround her, but she was moving too fast for them. I kept seeing black feathers flying through the air, and I knew none of them were from our black-feathered warrior! After a few minutes I heard a whistling sound and knew that she had thrown her round whacking ring. The air was filled with feathers and loud cawing.
Meanwhile, Billie was fighting off a number of bluejays. I guess they thought she would be easy to take care of. But she was still mad at their insults of Aquila in the tavern last night. She had picked up a stick and was swinging it around, keeping her attackers back. Then she plucked a gone-to-seed dandelion and blew the white flower in their faces. While they all were coughing, the yellow chick charged at them. They were standing on the edge of a puddle, and somehow when it was all over the bluejays were in the mud and Billie was standing over them, still holding her stick. I was impressed.
Seeing that I wasn't watching them, the beavers made a break for it and ran out of town. When I realized this, I took off after them. I heard loud footsteps behind me and looked back to see Tuphe running, too. He, his father and Fennec, the tavern keeper, had been making sure that no one else in the crowd would join in to help the mayor.
"They're heading for the dam," I heard Tuphe call out. And sure enough as I came around a curve I could see them trying to get across the creek at their 'dam.' It must have been raining upstream because the creek was already out of its banks. I stopped on the edge and Tuphe caught up with me. While we watched, the water washed away what little the beavers had built and washed the beavers downstream, too.
"It's going to flood the town again; we have to warn them." Tuphe sounded anxious.
"Maybe not," I said. "If we can push that rock ledge into the creek, it should divert most of the water into that field."
The bull looked where I was pointing; his face brightened. We both ran over there. With the two of us working as hard as we could it didn't take very long to get enough rocks and boulders into the creek to stop the flooding.
After taking a few minutes rest, we went back to town.
It was quite a sight. Everybody was still standing around the mill. The crows and bluejays were all huddled together, being guarded by some dogs and sheep. I saw with satisfaction that the bluejays were covered with mud and that most of the crows had lost some of their feathers.
But the best thing was Argus standing on the bank by the mill wheel. Three or four bedraggled beavers were lying there; and while we watched another one was picked up by the wheel and deposited at his feet. Then another one got the same ride. "That's all of them," he said. "Let's get them over there with the others."
Tuphe went to help his father. I went off to find Aquila and Billie. As I walked by the crows, I saw that the mayor - probably the ex-mayor now - was looking very dejected. Then I saw that he had lost more feathers than any of the others. I couldn't help laughing. That will teach him to get names wrong!
It was late afternoon before Argus came home. Aquila and I had spent most of the day listening to Billie describe the great battle. It got more exciting and epic with each telling, until I was beginning to wonder if we had been at the same fight. Aquila just sat and smiled; once in a while she would ask a question that would set Billie off into even more detail.
"Whew, I'm not used to that much talking," the blacksmith rumbled. He poured some milk into a bowl and put the bowl on the floor. Then I saw that Koushaka had come in with him. I had wondered what had happened to the cat. She hadn't been around for the morning's stirring events.
Billie perked up with these additions to her audience. "You were gone a long time ... I wanted to go look for you but Aquila said the town had a lot of things to decide and we would just be in the way ... what did you talk about, will you have a new mayor ... Hi, Koushaka, you missed out on a good fight, we sure taught those crows and bluejays a thing or two and the beavers won't be going for any long swims for a while ... it was my first fight, I think I'll keep this stick as a souvenir."
The cat looked up from her milk. She had that look on her face which cats have when they know something you don't. "It was raining. I don't go out in the rain. Besides I knew you could handle the situation," she said, and went back to her milk.
Aquila laughed out loud at the baffled look on Billie's face. "So what was decided," she asked.
"First, Kaawak is no longer mayor. That's no surprise, but you'll never guess who is mayor." He looked at us expectantly. We just looked back, knowing he was going to tell us anyway. "Okay, Fennec was chosen. We know he is honest, and everybody figured we needed someone who can drive a hard bargain. Nobody has ever got the best of Fennec.
"Then we had to figure out what to do with the beavers. We decided to let them build a real dam, since we've already paid for it. But this time we will watch them. Tuphe volunteered to supervise their work. This dam should get built in record time.
"Finally, the mayor and his guards. We told the guards to leave Epah and never come back, if they know what's good for them. We decided that the ex-mayor will have to grind all our grain at his mill for free until he has paid back everybody's taxes. It seemed like the fair thing to do."
Aquila stretched. "It sounds like everything has worked out alright. I know you've had a busy day, but we did come here to get shoes for Ergo. I would like to leave tomorrow, so--"
I smiled at her gratefully. I hadn't forgotten about my shoes, but I was afraid that everyone else had.
"The shoes are ready, I just need to put them on. Let's go to my shop, Ergo," the blacksmith said.
Billie headed for the door ahead of us. "Can I watch? I've never seen a horse get shoes before ... it must take a lot of skill ... I hope it doesn't hurt but Ergo's looking forward to it so it mustn't ... don't worry I'll stay out of the way ... gosh there are lots of big tools in here ..." Her voice faded away as she walked into the blacksmith shop. Argus and I followed her, shaking our heads.
The next morning, Billie, Aquila, and I got ready to leave the blacksmith's house. My new shoes felt good on my feet; they were the best set I had ever had. Bright and shiny, too.
When we got outside, we saw that the whole town was in front of his house. Fennec, the new mayor, walked up to us. He cleared his throat. "On behalf of the entire town of Epah, I want to thank you for exposing Kaawak and his schemes." Then he looked at me. "Ergo, we are doubly grateful to you because you blocked the creek and saved the town from being flooded. Tuphe told us what you did." I sort of ducked my head and looked modest.
Billie was staring at me. "Why didn't you tell us about it?" Before she could say any more, Aquila put a wing on her shoulder to quiet her.
The new mayor reached behind him and picked up a garland of flowers. He put it around my neck. "Please accept this with our thanks. All of you" - he was looking at Aquila while he said this - "will always be welcome here. Consider Epah your home." The crowd burst into cheers, with Tuphe the loudest. We made our way slowly out of town; everyone wanted to thank us personally. It was so different from our entrance two days ago!
Once we got away from the town, I could look at the flowers around my neck. "Do you think these flowers go with my new shoes?" I asked the others.
Aquila rolled her eyes and kept on walking. Billie, who had been hopping along beside me, stopped and looked at the flowers closely.
"I think they look very nice on you ... they give you an air of distinction." We continued down the road. "Why didn't you tell us you blocked the creek and stopped the flood and saved the town ... that would be a really great ending to the story of the battle ... you'll have to tell me all about it how did you block the creek did you use trees ... Let me have all the details ... did......."
Xena went over to Gabrielle who was brushing Argo and talking softly in her ear.
"I'm glad you two are becoming friends," the dark warrior said, putting a hand on Gabrielle's back. "I know she understands me when I talk to her, but she seems to understand you, too."
"I was practising a story on her; I think it is one she would like," the storyteller answered.
Argo whinnied, as if in agreement.
Xena sighed. "More warrior chickens? You are not going to make me feel guilty about eating an occasional chicken, no matter how many chicken fables you write."
Her partner smiled at her. "I know better than to try to change your eating habits. This story was mostly about a great war horse. Mostly." She finished brushing Argo
They walked back to their camp arm in arm. "What do you want for dinner," Xena asked. "Chicken or rabbit?"
"Does it matter?" Gabrielle spoke softly. "It's dessert that's important."