Subtext Ė there is vegetarian subtext; one of us is and one of us isnít and we are friends. This is the second story in the warrior chicken saga. The first story is Gabrielle's
Fables: New Friends. It might help to read it first to make some sense
out of this story; or maybe not. Copyright notice: The characters Xena, Gabrielle, and all others from the television show Xena: Warrior Princess belong to Renaissance Pictures/StudiosUSA, and whatever other powers that be in the Xenaverse; no infringement is intended. All other characters belong to the authors and their imaginations. Disclaimers: "You made us WHAT!? CHICKENS!?" Xena could only stare at her bard companion. "Now take it easy, Xena," Gabrielle said, backing up a couple of steps. "These arenít your everyday farmyard chickens who do nothing but eat grain and lay a few eggs. These are fighting chickens who have adventures and right wrongs and fight for justice. And itís a fable so itís not really us, itís animals who talk and understand each other and act just like people. Besides I thought a change of pace might spice up my writing." Xena was staring off into the distance. "Iíd like to spice up something and itís not your writing," she muttered. She was trying very hard to maintain her stoic, warrior attitude and not laugh hysterically at the image of warrior chickens. "Xena ... " The chronicler of warrior fowl tentatively put a hand on her dark warriorís shoulder. Xena turned and looked at her uncertain expression. That was it; she lost it and began laughing until tears ran down her cheeks and she had to lean on Gabrielle. And Gabrielle was so relieved that her best friend wasnít really angry that she started laughing, too. It was several minutes before anything remotely resembling speech was possible for either of them. Finally, Xena stood up straight and wiped off the tears of laughter. "What was it with that part where Aquila would have raised one eyebrow if chickens had eyebrows? It wasnít really necessary to write that, was it?" Xena, said, raising one eyebrow and trying to look stern. Still smiling from their laugh session, Gabrielle punched Xena lightly on the arm and said, "It just seemed to fit in there. Itís little details like that that make stories more personal." Xena leaned over and whispered in her blonde bardís ear, "I can think of other ways to get personal."
Other subtext, no; innuendo, yes.
Violence Ė not much.
Subtext Ė there is vegetarian subtext; one of us is and one of us isnít and we are friends.
Other subtext, no; innuendo, yes.
Violence Ė not much.
Subtext Ė there is vegetarian subtext; one of us is and one of us isnít and we are friends.
This is the second story in the warrior chicken saga. The first story is Gabrielle's Fables: New Friends. It might help to read it first to make some sense out of this story; or maybe not.Comments, observations, suggestions should be addressed to firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright notice: The characters Xena, Gabrielle, and all others from the television show Xena: Warrior Princess belong to Renaissance Pictures/StudiosUSA, and whatever other powers that be in the Xenaverse; no infringement is intended. All other characters belong to the authors and their imaginations.
"You made us WHAT!? CHICKENS!?" Xena could only stare at her bard companion.
"Now take it easy, Xena," Gabrielle said, backing up a couple of steps. "These arenít your everyday farmyard chickens who do nothing but eat grain and lay a few eggs. These are fighting chickens who have adventures and right wrongs and fight for justice. And itís a fable so itís not really us, itís animals who talk and understand each other and act just like people. Besides I thought a change of pace might spice up my writing."
Xena was staring off into the distance. "Iíd like to spice up something and itís not your writing," she muttered. She was trying very hard to maintain her stoic, warrior attitude and not laugh hysterically at the image of warrior chickens.
"Xena ... " The chronicler of warrior fowl tentatively put a hand on her dark warriorís shoulder. Xena turned and looked at her uncertain expression. That was it; she lost it and began laughing until tears ran down her cheeks and she had to lean on Gabrielle. And Gabrielle was so relieved that her best friend wasnít really angry that she started laughing, too.
It was several minutes before anything remotely resembling speech was possible for either of them. Finally, Xena stood up straight and wiped off the tears of laughter.
"What was it with that part where Aquila would have raised one eyebrow if chickens had eyebrows? It wasnít really necessary to write that, was it?" Xena, said, raising one eyebrow and trying to look stern.
Still smiling from their laugh session, Gabrielle punched Xena lightly on the arm and said, "It just seemed to fit in there. Itís little details like that that make stories more personal."
Xena leaned over and whispered in her blonde bardís ear, "I can think of other ways to get personal."
After leaving Billieís farm, Aquila, the black-feathered warrior, had led her companions to a valley she knew of. There were lots of flowers and trees for Billie, who was young and still discovering the world, to enjoy; and there was good grazing for the third member of the little band, Ergo, the fugitive horse.
They had already been there for several days, and except for an occasional moment of abstraction, Billie had shown no signs of the homesickness which Aquila was sure the young chick must be feeling. They had only known each other for a short time, but Aquila was dreading the moment when Billie would ask to be taken back to her family. Even though her little accomplice ate almost as much as Ergo and talked incessantly, she had grown fond of her. The moody older chicken had learned that she didnít need to listen all the time, an occasional nod or peep was all Billie needed by way of encouragement. It wasnít until Billie had stumbled into her camp that night that Aquila realized how alone she had been. And Billie was right; adventures are more fun when you have them with someone.
Aquila was enjoying a quiet moment sitting in the shade of a tree while Billie was hopping about the meadow trying to count all of the different kinds of flowers. Ergo had wandered off and was grazing, keeping an eye on her two new friends, especially the little talkative one who didnít seem afraid of anything.
Billie, having realized that there were more flowers than she could count, ran back and plopped down beside Aquila. It felt good in the shade after being out in the sun for the last hour or so. It was late afternoon and the hottest part of the day.
"Gosh, Aquila, Iím so glad you brought us here; itís really pretty, and Iíve never seen so many flowers I canít count them all ... and the grass is so cool on my feet, not like the farm that was mostly dirt and straw ... Iíve never been happier!" A contented sigh.
A small smile crept over the dark chickenís face. She was happy, too, that her little friend was so readily pleased.
Billie squirmed into a more comfortable spot and brushed against the metal ring Aquila had at her waist. "Can I ask you a question?" she asked a little hesitantly. Billie liked her older companion, but she wasnít sure if Aquila liked her or was just tolerating her,and she didnít want to push her luck.
Aquila had been idly watching Ergo, who was ambling in their direction. The dull yellow horse had eaten her fill and was ready for some conversation. As the horse came up to them and smiled down at them, Aquila suddenly realized that Billie had asked her a question and was waiting for an answer.
She covered her lack of attention by saying, "I didnít catch what you said; I was watching how gracefully Ergo moves."
Ergo gave a small snort - she had never been called graceful; then she winked at Aquila. She had been guilty of not listening all the time to Billieís chattering, too.
"Iím curious about that ring you carry," Billie said, with a smile. She might be young and naive, but she knew that her companions werenít always listening when she talked.
"Where did you get it ... did you make it yourself? And how do you get it to come back to you after you throw it?"
Ergo chimed in, "Iíve been wondering about it, too; I bet itís a good story."
Aquila took the metal ring off her belt and twirled it. "I donít know how good a story it is, but alright," she said, a little thoughtfully. "I hadnít been on my own for very long when I saw a town full of animals a little ways off. I thought it would be nice for a change to have some good grain to eat instead of the stuff I had been able to find along the way, so I headed for it. There was a stream running beside the road, and I suddenly heard a high-pitched cry. I ran over to the stream and saw a calf half in the water; his front legs were on the bank, but he couldnít pull himself out. I looked around and saw a dead tree with a branch about to break off a few feet away from the calf. So I jumped up on the branch and it broke off and landed in front of the calf; he was able to use it to pull himself out of the water. He insisted on taking me to his father who was the townís blacksmith," she paused for a minute. "He gave me this ring he had made." She came to an abrupt halt.
"But how do you make it come back when you throw it?" this from Ergo.
Aquila just smiled. "Itís magic."
"Wow," Billie was suitably impressed. "Would you teach me how to use it?"
Aquila looked at her seriously, then smiled. "Maybe, when youíre bigger; weíll see."
During the last few minutes, Ergo had been looking over at the other side of the meadow. Now she turned to the others and said, "I see some dust over that way. It looks like some wagons are headed in our direction."
Aquila quickly jumped onto the mareís back to take a look. "I think youíre right. Itís getting late so they will probably make camp soon; thereís a stream just over to the right and plenty of wood for a fire. Letís move back into the trees until we see whatís what. No point in taking chances we donít have to."
Billie reluctantly got up from her comfortable seat in the grass. Ergo bent down and the tired chick jumped up beside Aquila. The horse and her riders walked into the woods just far enough to be out of sight. They watched as the dust cloud got bigger; then several wagons and carts came into view. One of them had a cage on it, but it was still too far away for our three heroes to see if anyone was in it.
After several minutes of watching, they saw a man on the lead wagon stand up and signal to the others to form a semi-circle around his wagon. Once all the wagons were in place, the people got down and began making camp - some gathering firewood, others getting out pots and pans to fix dinner. It was then that Aquila, Billie, and Ergo saw what was in the cage, a bear, bigger than a cub but not fully grown.
Some of the men came up to the edge of the trees to collect firewood. Ergo, with Aquila and Billie on her back, moved a few steps farther back to stay out of their sight, but they still had a clear view of the campsite.
While most of the people were busy fixing their meal and setting up the camp, the man who seemed to be the boss and a couple of helpers went over to the cage with the bear. They carefully unlocked the cage door and let the bear out. It was then that the three watchers saw that the bear had a collar around his neck with a chain attached to it and to one of the bars of the cage. The bear seemed tame, but the men were taking no chances, keeping just out of his reach. The leader only had to give a command or point and the bear performed as desired.
Billie was very upset by what she was seeing. She turned to Aquila and said, "Why are they making that bear do those things? Is he their pet? And why is he chained?"
Ergo shifted her feet and said, "Heís a performing bear" as if that answered all Billieís questions.
Aquila could see that Billie still did not understand the situation. "Those men captured him and trained him to do those tricks. Heís not a pet, heís their livelihood." She said this as gently as she could to the young chick.
This explanation upset Billie even more. "But itís not right! We should do something about it."
"What?" Aquila said, a note of exasperation entering her voice. She hopped down off of Ergo. "What should we do? You see performing bears all the time at markets and fairs. And this one seems to be treated better than a lot of them; they arenít poking him with a stick or anything to get him to obey, just giving signals. And heís getting plenty of food; look, theyíre feeding him now."
This was quite a long speech for the dark, warrior chicken, and Billie wasnít sure how to respond. She just knew that they had to do something. She looked over toward the camp and saw the bossís two helpers carefully pushing some bowls into the cage for the bearís dinner.
Ergo turned her head to look at Billie, who was still sitting on her back. "Some bears like performing; they enjoy showing off their skills, and they get to see the world."
Billie could almost hear the shrug in the horseís voice. She jumped down and walked up to Aquila. "I didnít mean to criticize," she said, looking into Aquilaís blue eyes. "Iíve just never seen a performing bear before. I know we are only two chickens and a horse and there are a lot of people over there. We might as well go to sleep, too, since itís too late to do anything else today." Billie touched her friendís arm before walking over to settle down for the night under a bush.
Aquila watched Billie for a minute while she fussed with the leaves, making herself a soft bed. Then she and Ergo exchanged a look. Neither of them was quite sure how to take Billieís speech.
It was very dark; darker than Billie had ever seen. But then she usually slept all night, being a growing chick and all. It had been a struggle to stay awake while pretending to sleep and waiting for the others to fall asleep, but she had managed somehow. She was a chicken with a mission. She had to find out if the bear really was happy or not. She had slowly and carefully gotten up and snuck away from her two sleeping friends. And now she was stealthily making her way around the menís camp, heading to the bearís cage. She wished the moon was out; all sorts of strange creatures seemed to be lurking in the shadows. Fortunately none of them jumped out at her.
The brave chicken Ė she kept telling herself she was brave; it helped her to keep putting one foot in front of the other Ė finally reached the cage. Of course, she was small enough to slip between the bars, but she thought she should knock or something first. Unfortuantely there wasnít any place for her to knock so she cleared her throat and let out a tentative peep. When this didnít get any response, she tried again, a little louder. This got more of a response than she had planned when a dark form suddenly loomed up in front of her and a furry, brown arm made a swipe at her. Billie was so startled that she instinctively jumped back several feet.
"Hey!" she squeaked. "Itís not like Iím any kind of a threat to you Iím just a little chicken and youíre a big bear who do you think is gonna win that fight, huh, and I didnít come over here to be your midnight snack either, I just came to talk to you, so calm down." Billie had to stop to take a breath; she was still shaking from her narrow escape.
The bear was overwhelmed by this verbal flood and a little ashamed at his actions. But he had been suddenly awakened and had reacted without thinking. "Okay, Iím sorry, but you woke me up, and I just reacted. Iím awake now so say what you have to say and let me get back to sleep," the bear grumbled.
Billie thought that the bear was even more surly than Aquila had been, if that was possible. Maybe the others were right, and she should leave things alone. Then she remembered how hard it had been to stay awake and she hadnít snuck over here just to turn around and go back. So she slowly came a step or two closer to the cage.
"We were staying in the meadow and saw your caravan come along. I didnít know what was going on, I had never seen a performing bear before Ė this is my first time away from the farm and I havenít travelled much yet. My friends told me what you are; I said we should help you but they said you were being treated alright and maybe you liked performing. But I had to find out if you were happy; I couldnít leave without knowing. Oh, I forgot, my nameís Billie and my friends are Aquila and Ergo." While she had been talking, Billie had been inching toward the cage, and now she stuck her wing through the bars to shake the bearís paw.
The little chickís explanation surprised the bear, but not as much as the fact that Billie wasnít afraid of him. He carefully took the offered wing in his paw and shook it gently. "My name is Joleo. I didnít mean to frighten you, but it has been a long time since anyone has really talked to me. All the men do is give orders and talk about me not to me."
"That must be lonely," Billie said. She was now inside the cage. "Do you like performing? You get to travel around a lot and see different towns. Thatís something I always wanted to do, and now that Iíve met Aquila I have my chance."
The bear snorted. "No, I donít like performing. Your friends are right that Iím treated okay, but I miss my family. One day I wandered too far from home and some people caught me, and I ended up with these men who trained me. Now we go around to all the towns and people pay them to watch me perform. What I really want is to go back to my parents; I was still living with them because Iím not fully grown yet."
Billie was surprised at this fact; the bear had looked huge to her young eyes.
By this time, Billie was sitting on the bearís lap, and she reached over and patted his arm. "Donít worry, weíll help you get home again," making free with other peopleís help.
The bear asked, "Who are these friends of yours, and do you really think that they can get me away from so many people?"
"Aquila is a mighty warrior chicken and Ergo is a great war horse," Billie would have had her fingers crossed as she made this boast if she had had any fingers.
"Two chickens and a horse!" the bear exclaimed, unconsciously echoing Billieís earlier statement. "What can you do?" The hope that the bear had started to feel seemed to die on the spot.
Billie patted his arm again encouragingly and jumped to the ground. She turned around and looked him in the eye. "Aquila rescued my family; sheíll find a way to help you," she said with certainty. "Donít worry, Iíll see you later with our plan." And Billie smiled at him before turning and hopping out of the cage and into the darkness.
The bear settled back down to sleep, but it was a long time before he drifted off. He wondered if Billie and her friends could help him.
The next morning Aquila was up at dawn, as usual. She went off a little ways to do her morning exercises so as not to disturb Billie, who liked to sleep in. By the time the dark chicken got back, Ergo was awake and starting to look for some grass to graze on. Aquila went over and shook Billie to wake her up; all her friend did was mumble something, put one wing over her face and go back to sleep. Aquila shook her a little harder. "Come on, itís time to get up; rise and shine and all that. Breakfast is waiting." When all else failed, Aquila had learned that food usually worked with the bottomless pit. Of course, she didnít know that Billie had been up half the night.
This last statement brought forth more mumbling from the night wanderer and one half-opened eye. "Just five minutes more," she muttered.
The mighty warrior chicken was surprised that the promise of food hadnít had Billie popping up. "We donít have five minutes. The caravan is packing up and getting ready to leave. Weíll leave as soon as they are gone," she said.
It took a second for this to penetrate Billieís sleepy brain. When it did, she sat up suddenly and looked around. "Theyíre leaving? We have to follow them. I promised," she said.
"Slow down," Aquila said. "What do you mean we have to follow them; and who did you promise?"
Noticing the excitement at their camp, Ergo walked back quickly to see what was the matter.
Now that she was fully awake, Billie realized that she was going to have to do a lot of convincing to make good on her promise. She looked from Aquila to Ergo and back. "Well, you see, itís this way ... last night after you guys were asleep I snuck over to the other camp and had a nice talk with the bear his name is Joleo by the way and heís real friendly if you donít wake him up suddenly he almost had me for a midnight snack," she chuckled, then hurried into speech again when she saw the looks on her two friendsí faces. "But that was just a little misunderstanding anyway I asked him if he was happy and liked performing and he said he didnít that he was taken from his family and trained and treated okay but he wants to go home and I said we would help him." And she looked pleadingly at her companions.
Aquila was staring at her open-mouthed; Ergo couldnít believe what she was hearing. This little chicken had walked up to a bear and had gotten the bearís life history out of him.
"So you told him we would help him get back to his family, did you? And just how are we supposed to do that?" Aquila exclaimed. "There are three of us, one horse and two chickens just to refresh your memory, and there are how many of them?"
"I told him you would find a way, Aquila," Billie said in a small voice.
Aquila disgustedly kicked a pebble with her foot. "It canít be done. I canít save the world."
In a slightly louder voice Billie said, "You donít have to save the world, just one bear."
At this Aquila looked at Billie, then walked off a few paces and stared at the menís camp, which was being quickly packed on the carts. She stayed like this for several minutes, until the caravan had started moving. Billie and Ergo shuffled their feet and looked at each other uncertainly.
Abruptly Aquila started to stride off after the caravan. She turned her head and looked at the other two. "Well, come on. We canít rescue that bear standing around here all day."
It was late afternoon when the caravan arrived at a large village, with our bear-rescuers following at a discrete distance. A variety of stalls and booths were already set up and more were being set up every minute. The wagons with the perfoming bear stopped on one side of the town square and began to unload and set up a tent.
Aquila, Billie, and Ergo were carefully watching everything and everyone, trying to stay out of sight as much as possible; not that anyone paid much attention to chickens and horses wandering around town.
"Whatís all this?" Billie asked, wide-eyed. She had never been in a town before, and there was more activity and more things to see than she thought could be contained in the whole world.
"They must be going to have a fair. See all the different things for sale, and the musicians and actors," Ergo said eagerly. She had been to markets and fairs before, when she was still a cart horse, before Aquila and Billie had burst into her life. They had been brief moments of excitement in an otherwise pretty boring existence.
Both Billie and Ergo looked on the verge of getting caught up in all the activity and forgetting why they were there. Aquila, the single-minded, brought them back to the problem at hand.
"Have you two forgotten why weíre here? It wasnít my idea to free that bear, but weíre here so letís get on with it and not waste time sight-seeing."
Billie just gave her a look; as far as she was concerned time spent sight-seeing wasnít wasted. Then she got thoughtful. "There are a lot more people here; how are we going to free Joleo?"
Aquila looked over at the caged bear. "Itís too late today to do anything. The fair will start tomorrow; letís see how things look then." She looked at the little chick standing beside her, a trusting look on her face. "Donít worry, Iíll think of something," she said and smiled.
After walking around a little more to get the layout of the town, the three guerrillas found a stable down a side alley. They snuck in, found some grain and water for their dinner; then settled down in a dark corner to sleep. The other occupants of the stable had decided to ignore the strangers after Aquila had glared at them and fingered her metal ring.
The next day the fair started in earnest. There were a lot of things to see and hear, and Aquila had a hard time keeping Ergo and Billie focused on freeing the bear. She finally told the others to look around and see where the different streets went and what was the quickest way out of town. And to stay together and out of trouble! While they went off, she took up her position across the square from the bearís area and watched.
There were a lot of other performances Ė jugglers and magic shows were some of the more popular ones, but the performing bear always drew a big crowd. Aquila saw how they had the tent set up as sort of a stage and where everybody was positioned while the bear was performing. It wasnít long before she had an idea. Now all she had to do was find her cohorts and tell them the plan. Easier said than done.
She finally found them because Billie had gotten up on Ergoís back to see better, and it isnít every day that you see a little, yellow chicken sitting on a horse. They were watching a magician perform, completely oblivious to everything around them. Aquila had to resort to bumping Ergoís leg after several light taps had no effect. The horse looked down to see what had hit her and saw the dark chicken scowling at her. Looking slightly guilty, Ergo turned to follow Aquila who had started to walk off.
Startled at the unexpected movement, Billie let out a little cheep as she grabbed hold of the mane to keep her balance. "Where are you going? The show isnít over and I havenít figured out how he gets a coin out of those kidsí ears if thatís where money comes from why isnít everybody rich ... oops." She had caught sight of Aquila, her back stiff, and realized that in the excitement of seeing all these new things she had forgotten all about her promise to rescue the bear.
Once they were away from the crowds, Aquila stopped and looked at her companions. "If you have the time, I have a plan for freeing the bear," she said sarcastically. Then she saw the hurt look on Billieís face and softened her own expression. "I didnít mean that the way it sounded, Billie. I know youíve never seen a fair before, and I hope you enjoyed it. You too, Ergo." Ergo looked relieved; Billie smiled and hopped down next to her friend.
"Hereís my plan, and we will all have to do our parts for it to work." Billie and Ergo looked at each other and nodded eagerly. Aquila went on, "You see how they have the tent set up with the side rolled up to make a stage for the bear to perform."
"His nameís Joleo." This from Billie.
"Alright, for Joleo to perform, "she said, putting special emphasis on the name. "They just have a thin chain going from his collar to a pole behind him. What you need to do, Billie, is to untie the rope thatís holding up the side of the tent where the men are standing; when I see the tent start to fall, Iíll throw my ring and cut his chain. And, Ergo, youíll be around the corner, and when you see the tent fall, come running out, let the bear, Joleo," with a look at Billie, "get on your back and take off out of town. Weíll meet you on the road by that big boulder we passed yesterday."
"Thatís a wonderful plan, Aquila," Billie gushed. "And donít worry, Iíll get that rope untied in no time; Iíve always been good at undoing things."
Ergo, on the other hand, was looking a little uncertain. "When are you thinking of doing this, and whoís going to tell the bear?"
Billie piped up, "Iíll tell Joleo. Weíre friends."
Aquila said, "Billie will have to be the one to tell him because he knows her. And I was thinking of doing it this afternoon unless you want to spend another night in that stable." The other two shook their heads at that. "They should stop soon to eat; when they do, Billie can sneak over and tell the bear what we have planned. Then when they start the afternoonís show, we can get into position and start our own show." She smiled wickedly at the thought.
Ergo stamped a foot once or twice and finally said, "Just so Billie makes it clear to the bear that Iím a friend and he should keep his claws to himself. I donít need my back scratched that way!"
Billie patted Ergoís leg. "Heíll be so glad to be free he wonít hurt you; but Iíll tell him to be extra careful anyway."
Ergo looked relieved; she agreed to the plan.
The afternoonís show was about to begin, and a crowd was gathering in front of the performing bear tent. No one paid any attention to our three heroes as they took up their positions, ready for action.
The show began, and the bear was finding it hard to concentrate on his performance. When Billie had sneaked up to him during the break and told him about their plan, he almost crushed the chick in his excitement. Now he was just waiting and going through the motions. Aquila had decided that they would wait until she show was half over and the audience was watching closely before acting.
When the time seemed right, Billie began to work on the knot in the tent rope. She was pecking and pulling away but not making much progress; and the show was getting closer and closer to the end. Finally in frustration, she poked her beak hard into the knot, and to her surprise it began to unravel; it startled her and she fell over backwards as the tent began to come down. Aquila had been getting worried at how long it was taking Billie, but when she saw the rope give, she quickly let fly with her metal ring. It sang through the air and neatly cut the chain that kept the bear in place. Ergo, waiting around the corner, saw her cue and came running through the crowd. She stopped in front of the tent just long enough for Joleo to jump on her back. Then they took off out of the square and out of town, with Ergo hoping that the bear would remember to watch his claws.
Meanwhile, the crowd was applauding and cheering loudly; they thought it was all part of the act. The tent flap had fallen over the bearís handlers, and over a little yellow chicken too, but only one creature noticed that. The men were struggling to get out from under the tent, and Billie, in the dark and not sure which way was the way out, was hearing a lot of new words; she would have to ask Aquila later what some of them meant. Suddenly an arm reached under the tent, grabbed her, pulled her out into the light and dragged her down an alley. Behind them they could hear the shouts of the men looking for their bear.
Once they were out of town, Ergo came to a stop and the bear got off. She was still a little nervous around the bear who was so happy to be free that he didnít notice that his rescuer had moved a few feet away.
"We are to meet the others a little ways down this road, by a big boulder," Ergo said, a slight whinny in her voice. "So we should keep walking; we donít want to get caught now."
"Walking? I could fly, Iím so happy!" Joleo exclaimed.
The bear went down the road, skipping and running; Ergo trotted along a few paces behind.
They hadnít been at the rendezvous very long when Aquila and Billie came along. As usual Billie was talking nineteen to the dozen. When they got close, she ran up to Joleo, who bent down to pick her up and hug her, being more careful this time not to crush her.
Ergo said to no one in particular, "I guess the plan worked."
Billie, from her perch in the bearís arm, said, "You should have seen the looks on the menís faces when the tent fell on them they were so surprised and the crowd was yelling and clapping and I got tangled up in the tent too but Aquila pulled me out and we got away and it was so exciting I could barely get my breath," and she just smiled at everybody.
The bear looked at her little friend and said, "You did a good job of untying that knot."
"I have many skills," Billie said proudly.
The dark-feathered chicken was getting a little impatient at this love feast and finally interrupted to say, "We need to get out of sight of the road; and I need to get that collar off the bear." She started to walk off toward some trees. The others followed, only slightly subdued.
Once safely in the trees, Aquila set to work cutting off the collar. With her sharp ring it didnít take very long. When it fell off, the bear picked it up and threw it as far away as he could.
Billie asked Joleo. "What are you going to do now? If you want, you can stay with us and have adventures."
"Iíve had enough adventure for a while! I just want to go back home and see my parents and brothers and sisters and live a quiet life. I donít think life would ever be quiet around you, Billie."
At this, Ergo gave a small snort. Aquila, who had been standing expressionlessly, relaxed a little; she was secretly glad that they would not be adding another member to their merry little band. She said to the bear, "Do you know where your family is, how to get home?"
"Sure," he answered, "itís just on the other side of those hills. We never travelled very far from where they caught me, and I always knew which way was home even if I couldnít get there." The bear was shifting from foot to foot. "If you donít mind, I think Iíll leave now; maybe I can make it before dark."
Billie hadnít realized that Joleo would be leaving them so soon. She was beginning to realize that a life of adventure meant meeting new people and then saying good-bye to them. The anxious bear went over and sat down in front of Billie. "I canít thank you enough for helping me; it isnít everyone who is brave enough to make friends with bears Ė we sort of intimidate most folks. Donít ever change." For once the talkative chick couldnít say anything; even with tears in her eyes she smiled and gave Joleo a big hug.
The bear put the chick down, got up and walked over to Ergo. He reached out a hand to pat the horseís neck, paused and smiled, "Donít worry, Iíll be careful with my claws. Thanks for giving me a ride; you make a good friend."
Ergo muttered, "Any time," and nuzzled his paw.
Joleo turned to where Aquila was standing. He may have been a big bear, but he knew he was out of his league when it came to the moody chicken. He wasnít sure if he should shake her hand or not, so he said, "Thank you for freeing me, and thanks a million for getting that collar off; I think I hated it most of all. You three make a good team."
The dark chicken looked at him for a second, then broke out in a big smile, "Yes, we do, and youíre welcome. Now go, your family will be happy to see you."
"You can say that again! If youíre ever in the area, stop in; you will always be welcome as far as Iím concerned." And with a last wave and a smile, the bear started off for home. He was so happy he was skipping and even dancing.
After Joleo was out of sight, Aquila turned to Billie, who had a far-away look on her face. "Weíre not that far from your familyís farm, Billie; we could be there by midday tomorrow if you want to see them."
Billie looked eagerly at Aquila, "Could we? I would like to see them; I didnít know we were this close; you donít mind?"
The dark warrior smiled at Billie, "Of course I donít mind. We can make camp on the other side of the trees and get an early start in the morning." She hoped she had not made a mistake offering to take Billie home, but her companion had looked so thoughtful when Joleo had talked about going back to his family.
The next day they did start out early, early for Billie anyway. It was late morning when the three came to the path that led to Billieís old home.
"Your family is just down there," Aquila said. "Ergo and I will wait over there in the shade by the creek. Be back before sundown so we can find a good place to camp. Have a good time with your family." And she patted her friend on the back. Ergo just looked uncertain at the situation.
"Gosh, Iíll be glad to see my folks and Liza," Billie burbled. "Iíve missed them. Iíll say hello for you guys. See you this evening." She took off down the path.
Ergo wasnít sure what was going on; was Billie coming back? She hoped so because she really liked her chatty friend; if it were just she and Aquila travelling together, there would be lots of long silences. There were times when she really didnít understand these chickens. Horses were much easier to know; they said what they meant and meant what they said; no hidden meanings. She sighed and thought to herself ĎI guess it takes all kinds.í
It was late afternoon and the sun was getting closer to the horizon. Aquila had spent most of the afternoon pacing or staring off into the distance. She knew Billie was not coming back; adventures are nice for a change but not for everyday. But she had told her friend that they would wait until sundown, so she waited. As the sun began to touch the horizon, Aquila got up on Ergoís back to see farther. She began to absentmindedly rub the horseís coat. After several minutes of staring toward the farm, she thought she saw a yellow speck moving toward them. Ergo saw it too and started to walk to the path. Aquila tried not to get her hopes up; maybe Billie was just coming to say good-bye.
In a few minutes they came together. Aquila jumped down from Ergo; Billie ran up to her and hugged her, taking the dark chicken by surprise.
"So, howís your family? Did you have a good visit?" she managed to get out.
"Theyíre all fine they missed me especially Liza but they all kept talking about people and things I didnít know anything about and they didnít seem interested when I tried to tell them about our adventures, all the things we saw at the fair and saving Joleo, they seemed upset that I was friends with a bear and they didnít sound too happy about you either; they said you were a bad influence but how can you be bad when you help folks? Anyway my parents wanted me to stay and I thought about it, mostly for Lizaís sake, but I donít fit in there any more maybe I never did; I belong here with you two." Billie paused for breath.
Aquila smiled and put her arm on Billieís shoulder. She felt more relieved than she wanted to admit.
Ergo bent her head and nuzzled the young chick. "Iím glad you decided to stay, too," she said happily. There would be no long silences for the foreseeable future!
The two chickens got up on the horse. They headed back up the path away from the farm. Ergo turned her head to look at her riders. "If I am going to do all the walking, Iíll need new shoes."
Gabrielle finished writing on her scroll. This writing game is harder work than people think, she said to herself. Coming up with a story, then finding the right words, and hardest of all was making up names for the characters. Oh well, it was all worth it when people said how much they liked her stories. She looked over at her inspiration who was lying on her bedroll looking up at the stars.
"I donít see how you get a bear out of those stars. You must have snuck some henbane when I wasnít looking. I still say it looks like a dipper." Xena looked at her companion and smiled at the look on her face.
"Youíre always so practical, Xena; you need more imagination."
"Thatís why Iím the warrior and youíre the bard. Come over here and Iíll show you some imagination."