Copyright notice: The characters of Xena and Gabrielle belong to Renaissance Pictures-StuiosUSA or somebody with more clout than we have. No copyright infringement is intended. The story and all other characters are ours. Handle them gently and return them to us undamaged.
Disclaimers: Some violence, but not much; we try to keep these fables light. Any resemblance to animals living, dead, or stuffed toy is purely coincidental. There are references to incidents that took place in earlier Fables; while it is not necessary to read those stories to enjoy this one, the authors will be giddy with joy if you do.
Other comments: This Fable, like all of the earlier Fables, while not written with children in mind, is suitable for the childlike of all ages. Since these are fables, the laws of the progression of time have been temporarily suspended. In other words, our three heroines don't age, or are ageless, or something like that. Also geography is whimsically changed to suit our purposes. That's why it is called -- Fiction!
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Gabrielle was humming to herself as she started the fire for their evening meal. She put water into a pot to boil; then she prepared the vegetables they had bought in a village the day before. As she dropped them in the pot, she wondered what Xena would find to add to the stew. Not that she really needed meat all that often - now that she had got more fully in touch with her spiritual side. But the warrior princess still felt that a meal without meat, or at least fish, was a meal wasted. The bard sighed as she reflected on her failure to uplift and inspire her partner.
Then she gave a startled yelp and nearly upset the cook pot when she felt a hand on her shoulder. Taking a deep breath to calm down, she turned to the new arrival. "I've told you not to do that when I'm cooking! One of these times you're going to end up wearing our dinner and then see how you like sneaking up on me. Why do you do it anyway?"
"Because I can." Xena gave her crooked smile. She knew Gabrielle could never resist it. The frustrated cook tried to stay angry; it was a losing battle.
"At least spare me the lecture that I should be more aware of what's going on around me. You know you're the only one who can sneak up on me." Turning back to the fire, the blonde stirred the vegetables simmering in the pot. "So what did you catch tonight - rabbit, deer?"
When there was no response from the returned hunter, Gabrielle turned her head. She saw a very unsmiling Xena looking forlornly at the cooking vegetables. Puzzled, Gabrielle asked, "Well, what did you catch?" She looked around but didn't see any of nature's bounty scattered around their camp.
Xena walked over and sat down on the other side of the fire. She said glumly, "I couldn't find anything - not a rabbit, not a squirrel, nothing. It's like all the animals just abandoned the area."
The blonde bard managed not to laugh at her companion's expression. "Oh, well; you'll have better luck tomorrow. It looks like you'll have to be a vegetarian for one night though." She gave the vegetables one last stir. "Dinner's ready; get your plate."
The disappointed hunter held out her plate and watched as Gabrielle dished up the vegetable stew. "That's enough," she said as she pulled her plate back after only a couple of spoonfuls. She poked at the mess with a spoon for a minute, then stoically began eating.
Gabrielle had to smile as she dug into her portion. Except for the sounds of eating, silence reigned in the clearing for several minutes.
Xena put down her empty plate, looked at her blonde partner, and said, "Tomorrow we find a stream with fish."
"Billie," Aquila said, interrupting the usual flow from her friend, "we've walked enough for one day. Let's make camp here."
With her mouth still open, the yellow chick looked at the warrior chicken and smiled gratefully. "Okay by me ... we have come a long way today and the sun's kinda hot on my head too .. how much farther 'til we get back to Ergo and the other horses I didn't think it was that far to Pei's marsh but we floated down the river to get there and I guess that was faster than walking ... this would be a lot easier if we could really fly or swim or if our feet were better for walking ... somebody wasn't paying attention or we would have been designed better."
Aquila patted Billie's shoulder. "Most chickens don't need to fly or walk very far. They don't roam the world helping folks." She tickled Billie as she said this.
Billie was laughing as she hopped away from the tickling feathers. "Hey! That's not how warrior chickens are supposed to act." She moved back a few more feet, keeping Aquila in front of her. The smiling, black-feathered chicken waggled a wing as if she would start tickling again. "So when do you think we'll get back to Ergo?" Billie changed the subject.
Aquila shrugged her shoulders. "I figure another two or three days. Come here and let me rub your feet. No, I won't tickle you any more." Billie was still looking wary and staying out of reach of the other's wings.
The two chickens settled down on some soft grass by the side of the stream they had been following for the last two days. After eating their meal, Aquila massaged Billie's feet until she heard her little friend quietly snoring. She laid her down gently. Then the free-range chicken looked around thoughtfully at the surrounding grass and reeds. Something Billie had said earlier had given her an idea. She got up quietly and began gathering what she needed.
Aquila got up the next morning at her usual early hour. Even as a fledgling chick (if you can imagine a warrior chicken as a fledgling), she had never been able to sleep past sunrise. She moved away from their camp to do her daily exercises so as not to wake Billie. Actually she could have done her exercises accompanied by a brass band and not waked Billie.
When she found a good spot, she began her routine. All that jumping and twirling and fighting look easy, but it takes constant practice. This morning she pushed herself a little, going through her repertory of moves faster than usual. She wanted to be there when Billie woke up. She had a surprise for her. The former loner was smiling as she exercised. Who would believe that "that damned free-range chicken" could be nice to folks.
She was sweating a little as she walked back to their camp. Billie was still sleeping, but she was starting to mumble and turn over. These were signs Aquila had come to learn meant that Billie would be among the living soon. Not bothering to be quiet, although the warrior chicken always moved quietly, Aquila reached into the small sack she carried and got out some grain for their breakfast. She hoped Billie would like her surprise.
It was several more minutes before the yellow chick was able to pry her eyes open. Since she was lying on her side the first thing she saw were blades of grass. She sighed; it seemed that there was nothing else in the world but tall grass. She would be glad to get back home where she was taller than the grass. She stretched her wings and yawned and managed to sit up. Blinking her eyes at another day that might provide her with a fun adventure, she focused on her black-feathered friend. Aquila had been sitting patiently, waiting for Billie to wake up.
"Hi, Aquila," Billie smiled at her friend. "Have you been up long ... how do you do it, getting up early every day I mean ... oh is that breakfast ... thanks." She started eating the grain Aquila had got out for her.
Aquila watched her sidekick eating. When Billie had finished, the warrior chicken cleared her throat nervously. "Uh, Billie, you remember you said something yesterday about the sun on your head?"
Billie looked a little uncertain; she said so many things that even she didn't always remember what she had said. She nodded anyway. "Yeah, it's been hot especially in the afternoon."
Aquila continued, "Well, I made something last night after you were asleep." She reached behind her and brought out a small, conical hat made of reeds and prairie grass. "Here. It's nothing special but it should help."
Billie looked at the offering, then at the suddenly shy warrior. "I didn't know you could weave ... this is great! Now the sun won't bother me at all ... and my feet don't hurt either thanks for rubbing them but I'll sure be glad to get back to Ergo so we can ride more ... this walking all the time is for the people." She took the hat and put it on her head. "It fits just right ... how do I look?"
Pleased that Billie liked her gift, Aquila grinned. "You look like a chicken that's ready for anything."
Billie grabbed Aquila's wing. "Hey, let's go! Things are happening and we're missing them."
The fashionable chick set her new hat at a jaunty angle as the two companions started walking to meet whatever the day might bring them.
The sun was almost overhead when Aquila decided it was time for a rest. Billie was grateful and immediately plopped down by the stream they were following and dangled her feet in the cool water. She had been able to keep up a good pace all morning; she figured her legs must be just about as strong as the bigger chicken's after all this walking. She looked around to see where her friend was. The free-range chicken was standing very still, listening. Before Billie could say anything, Aquila walked up beside her and put a wing on her beak.
The warrior chicken whispered, "Billie, I want you to talk as if I'm still here. Just talk about anything you can think of; that shouldn't be hard!" She smiled slightly. "Someone's been following us most of the morning. I'm going to circle around and get behind whoever it is. If there's any danger, I'll yell. Do you understand?"
The little chick was surprised by what Aquila said; and a little upset with herself because she hadn't noticed anything. She would have to pay more attention to her surroundings in the future, she resolved. She nodded to show she understood her instructions.
Talking a little louder than she maybe needed to, Billie said, "By the time we get back to Ergo I'll be as good a walker as you, Aquila, maybe even better since I'm smaller so I have to take more steps to keep up with you not that you walk too fast for me but I'm glad we're taking a rest now ... the water is cool on my feet why don't you put your feet in the water too ... yeah that's right ... it feels good, doesn't it ... oh and this hat you made for me is great it keeps the sun off so I don't get as hot ..."
Billie's voice faded as Aquila moved silently through the grass. She had a good idea where their uninvited follower was. She made a wide circle and soon came up behind a snow leopard cub. She watched him for a few minutes as he stealthily stalked his way toward Billie's voice. When he got as close as she thought was safe, she suddenly called out.
The cub jumped, startled, and turned to see who had come up behind him. After all, he was the leopard; he was the one who snuck up on folks, not the other way around! He saw the black-feathered chicken he had been following glaring at him and holding a sharp, round weapon of some sort. The leopard could kick himself for not hearing her coming up behind him; he had been listening to Billie's voice and had forgotten to listen for other noises. Maybe his brothers were right and he would never be a good leopard. He swallowed and wondered what he should do now. Before any ideas occurred to him, there was an interruption.
Even though she was talking nonstop, Billie had been listening, too. When she heard Aquila yell, she went to investigate. It never occurred to her that there might be danger. After all her hero was there; nothing bad could happen to them while Aquila was around. She pushed her way through the grass and came upon the scene. She saw Aquila standing with her magic throwing ring poised, and a cat of some sort, mostly white with some black stripes. After looking from one to the other, she decided that introductions were in order.
"Hi my name's Billie and that's Aquila my friend what's your name ... I've never seen a cat that color before it's real pretty all the cats on the farm where I grew up were gray or yellow and they weren't as big as you ... were you following us Aquila thought so that's why she wanted to find out who you are ... we'd be happy to have you join us we're going back to where we left our friend, Ergo ... she's a horse and I'll be glad to see her then I won't have to walk all the time." She paused and smiled expectantly.
The leopard cub could only stare at the talker for several seconds; finally he managed to blink his eyes a couple of times. He shook his head in an attempt to sort out all the information Billie had imparted. Finally he cleared his throat and said, "My name is Ter-Fredian."
By this time Aquila had walked over to stand next to Billie. She was still holding her throwing ring and scowling at the cub. In her deepest warrior chicken voice she demanded, "Why were you following us?"
Ter-Fredian looked down at the ground. He muttered, "I was only practising; I wasn't going to hurt you." He looked at the two chickens and tried to smile. The thought had popped into his head that maybe he could learn some survival skills from these wandering chickens. After all, he had just been practising stalking and had never intended to hurt them. Besides he was lonely; he hadn't seen anybody to talk to since he had left home. It was Billie's voice, in fact, that had made him try to get close enough to hear what they were saying.
Billie smiled back at him. "Ter Fridgin," she said a little hesitantly. "The names here are different from where we come from ... we're from Greece it's west of here a long ways because it took us weeks to get here and now we're going back there ... what did you mean you were practising, practising what?"
Aquila was trying hard to keep the scowl on her face; that wasn't an easy task when Billie was burbling along.
The leopard cub answered Billie, "I was practising stalking. And I'm a snow leopard, not a cat." He spat out the last word with contempt.
"A snow leopard!" Billie exclaimed eagerly. "I saw snow a while back, but it was on top of a mountain I'd never seen snow in the summer before ... what are you doing here there isn't any snow ... oh that's why you're mostly white to hide in the snow but why were you following us?"
Aquila decided to take charge of the situation. She saw that the cub was not a threat to them, and probably never had been. She put her ring away and said, "Let's go back to the stream. Ter-Fredian can tell us what he's doing here." She put a wing on Billie's shoulder and led them back to the river.
Once they were comfortably settled - with Aquila keeping the leopard in front of her just in case, Billie asked again why the leopard was following them.
After circling his ritual three times and finding some soft grass to sit on, Ter-Fredian began his tale. "I'm the youngest son in my family, and small. My brothers said I take after my grandmother's side of the family - when they weren't bullying me." His voice became a little harder when he said this. "My father would take me with him and try to teach me to hunt, but I could never do anything to please him. I could see he was disappointed in me."
By this time Billie, the sympathetic, had gone to sit beside the leopard and was patting his back with her wing. Fortunately, before she could verbalize her sympathy, he went on.
"Anyway, one day a couple of weeks ago my brothers were teasing me and saying I'd never be any good as a snow leopard. My father heard it and didn't say anything. That's when I decided to leave. I would go off into the world and show them that I'm a better snow leopard than they'll ever be!" He looked defiant for a moment. Then slumped down with his head on his paws. "But I found out the world's a bigger place than I thought," he continued in a quiet voice. "And it's a little scary when you're alone. That's why, when I heard your voices - or at least the little chick's since she seems to talk all the time - I wanted to follow you. Just for some companionship." He sighed.
"But I can't even scare chickens. Maybe my family's right. That I'll never be a good snow leopard."
Billie was still patting his back sympathetically; she wasn't sure what to say. Although this rarely kept her from talking since she figured if she said enough words at least some of them would be right. Just as she was opening her beak, she heard Aquila clearing her throat.
The free-range chicken understood the leopard's feelings. She knew what it was like to be on your own in the world. She had convinced herself that she didn't need anybody and was happier on her own. Then a lost chick stumbled into her camp one night, and she knew she had been lying to herself. Her real life hadn't started until she teamed up with Billie and Ergo.
"What's your name again? Ter-Fredian?" she asked. There was a slight movement from the cub that she took for a nod. "If you want to, you can spend your life trying to prove something to your family or to yourself. But it's a waste. I know. I had a reputation that other folks gave me, and I decided to live up to it. Why not be what others said I was?"
She paused for a minute, as if seeing her former life from the outside. "But I wasn't happy being that other chicken. When I met Billie, then Ergo, they saw something in me nobody else had. I decided to be myself and not worry about what others thought."
The cub had raised his head and was looking at the black-feathered chicken. He realized she knew what she was talking about. She went on before he could say anything.
"And don't feel bad about not scaring Billie." She smiled at her little friend who had been surprised at the long speech. "She's one of those rare folks who are born without fear. Fortunately for us warriors and hunters, they are few and far between."
Billie smiled back. "What do you mean I'm not afraid I don't like thunder and lightning and that earthquake scared me but mostly because I didn't know how I could get back to you with that big hole in the ground between us it's a good thing Ergo was with us ... why should I be scared of other folks ... just because they're bigger than me or stronger doesn't mean they want to hurt me ... when we first met you gave me food and helped me rescue my family ... most folks are nice once you get to know them."
Ter-Fredian had turned to look at her; he was fascinated by how long she could go without a breath. He figured even his father wouldn't have known how to deal with the non-stop talker.
Billie looked at the leopard; she continued, "Ter Fridun, you can travel with us for a while if you want ... the road is a lot more fun when you're with someone and Aquila can show you some of the things she's learned she's taught me a lot and I grew up on a farm not in a hunting family so I didn't know much about living in the world when I met her except I knew there were just so many wonderful things to see and do ... I miss my family sometimes especially my sister but I'm glad I left the farm 'cause I never would have met all the folks we have and had adventures ... I can tell you about them while we're walking along, Ter Fredyun ....."
Aquila interrupted, "Let's eat something now. You can tell Ter-Fredian all about your life later." She shook her head as she realized that Billie's babbling had become a part of her life too.
The leopard looked at his two new friends. "You can call me Fred."
They had been walking for a few hours. Billie had recounted several of their adventures to her new friend. When she told about their rescue of a performing bear, Fred understood what Aquila had meant when she said Billie wasn't afraid of anyone. He also realized that he was very lucky to have come across these two adventurous chickens.
Billie was describing the opulent home life of royal marsh ducks, which is why they were in that part of the world to begin with, when she broke off in mid-word. They all heard it at the same time - sounds of a battle ahead of them. They moved toward the noise quickly; although Aquila had one wing on Billie's shoulder to keep her from running ahead. The warrior chicken liked to know what she was up against before charging in.
When they were close enough to see what was going on, they paused and watched for a few seconds. They saw three wolves attacking a moose. The wolves were trying to surround the moose, but so far the moose had been able to hold them off with his antlers. Both Aquila and Fred knew it was only a matter of time before the moose tired and then the wolves would win.
Billie, who never saw things the way other folks did, cried, "Come on, guys, we have to help the moose!" She would have run into the middle of the fight if Aquila hadn't held her back.
Fred looked at the little chicken in surprise. He didn't like the odds (and he was a leopard), and he could see the warrior chicken didn't like them either. Then he saw the look on Billie's face - part concern and part determination, and he knew they would have to help the moose. He began to understand the hold Billie had on the older and wiser chicken. Without stopping to think, he let out a loud growl, the fiercest he could manage, and ran at the nearest wolf.
This surprised Aquila, who relaxed her hold on Billie. Able to get away, the fearless chick ran after Fred. By this time the leopard had reached the scene of action and was snapping and growling at one of the wolves who had turned to meet this distraction. The other wolves paused in their attack and turned to look at the interloper; this gave the moose the chance to catch one of them with his antlers and toss him several feet.
While all this activity was going on, and Billie was running as fast as she could to get into the middle of it, the warrior chicken moved into position. She aimed her throwing ring carefully and let it fly. It skimmed across the top of the grass, ricocheted off the backside of the wolf Fred was fighting, bounced off the top of the head of the wolf that was still facing the moose, just nipped the nose of the wolf that was recovering from being thrown and returned politely to its owner.
Startled yowls and yelps burst from the wolves. They looked around but couldn't see who had attacked them and then disappeared. With invisible reinforcements on the scene, the wolves decided to leave the moose for another day. They retreated. Or, as Billie later described it to Ergo, they ran off in all directions, whining.
Billie arrived in time to yell at the retreating wolves, "And don't come back!"
The moose looked at his rescuers. Astonishment was his first reaction when he saw the yellow chick. He couldn't understand why the wolves would run away from a chicken. Then he saw the snow leopard and figured it was he that had scared off his attackers. By this time Aquila had come up. She still had one wing on her magic ring and was looking around to make sure the wolves had really left.
Still panting a little from the fight, the moose turned to the leopard cub and said, "Thank you. I don't know if I could have fought them off alone." He got a puzzled look on his face. "Why are those chickens with you?"
Ter-Fredian replied, "Don't thank me; we all helped." He had seen Aquila's ring bounce off the wolves. "And they aren't with me; I'm with them, at least for now." He was feeling pretty good about himself; this helping folks could be fun. Maybe Aquila was right that he only needed to find out who he was and be that.
"Hi! Are you okay those wolves didn't hurt you did they ... oh, my name's Billie and that's my friend Aquila we've been travelling together for quite a while now and this is Ter-Fredian, but we call him Fred ... we just met this morning but we're friends already ... it was great the way you threw that wolf I hope they learned their lesson and won't bother you any more ... where are you going if you want we can travel together for a while ... we're going back to where we left Ergo she's a horse and we came east - we're from Greece - to find her family and we did then Aquila and I helped a marsh duck get back home and now we're going back to the horse camp ... what's your name?"
Aquila was used to Billie's style so she stood quietly until the yellow chick wound down. Fred had been staring at her, trying to see if she needed to breathe while talking. He was still unsure.
The moose took a deep breath, ignored most of Billie's comments, and said, "My name is Loo Yee. I am a reindeer, and I'm heading north to find a herd to join."
When he heard this, Fred transferred his stare to the moose. "You look an awful lot like a moose to me. What makes you think you're a reindeer?"
Aquila was interested in the answer to this question, too. She wondered if this moose was going to turn out to be another in the long line of odd characters they seemed to attract.
Billie asked, "What's a rain deer ... a deer that likes rain?"
"Not rain deer, reindeer," Loo Yee clarified.
Billie looked more confused.
The moose/reindeer went on, "I know I look like a moose. In fact I was a born into a moose family, but I never felt comfortable and knew I belonged somewhere else. Then one day it came to me - I was really a reindeer!" A glow spread over his face as he remembered that moment of revelation. Then he frowned slightly. "When I told other moose, they all laughed at me. Since nobody at home understood me, I left to find my true reindeer family. I've been heading north for a month now. I should be getting close." He smiled in anticipation.
Fred shook his head. Except for the delusion, it sounded a lot like his story.
Aquila had been keeping an eye out for lurking wolves. She said, "We all seem to be going the same way so let's travel together for a while."
The voice of authority had its effect, although the moose was surprised that the black-feathered chicken and not the leopard was the leader. They began walking. Billie eagerly hopped beside the moose, asking why he thought he was a reindeer. She hoped his explanation would tell her what a reindeer is. She was happy. She had met another new friend and was going to find out more about things in this wide, wonderful world!
Loo Yee gathered his thoughts, how to explain to others what seemed so simple to him? "Well, I've always been very friendly for a moose. When I was young, I wanted to play with other moose, but there never seemed to be anybody else around for me to play with. Then, after I grew up, I almost never saw any other moose. Whenever I would meet one and try to be friends, he would chase me off, telling me that real moose travel alone."
The would-be reindeer paused when he heard panting noises coming from near his hooves. He looked down at his new companions. The leopard and the bigger chicken were keeping up with him without any trouble, but the little chick was having her problems. He stopped and smiled at Billie.
"Little one, why don't you get up on my back and ride for a while? Here," he bent down invitingly.
Billie hadn't wanted to say anything while Loo Yee was telling his story, but she had had to hop faster than she liked to keep up. Ergo didn't walk that fast; she suddenly realized that the golden war horse (actually former farm horse) must have been pacing herself to Billie's speed.
She caught her breath. "Thanks you were going a little fast for me ... we've ridden a horse but this will be my first time on a moose." She took another deep breath.
Aquila came over; she had been just about to say something about the fast pace when Loo Yee had spoken up. The free-range chicken gave Billie a boost onto the would-be reindeer.
"Oh can Aquila ride too I bet she's never been on a moose before either this will be fun."
Loo Yee nodded, which caused Billie to bounce a little. "Sure, both of you chickens can ride. No problem."
Not sure she liked this casual attitude toward a warrior chicken, Aquila got on behind Billie. Moose are constructed differently from horses so there wasn't much for them to hang on to to keep from falling off. Aquila centered herself on the back and wrapped her wings around Billie to steady her friend
Fred asked, "So what did you do when the other moose wouldn't be friends?" He was curious how the moose had handled the loneliness of being on his own.
Loo Yee sighed and looked sad. "I was very unhappy. I knew I was meant for something more than that. Then I heard tales about deer that lived to the north that travelled in herds. They were called reindeer. It sounded like they were my kind of deer - friendly and wanting to be with each other. Some of the stories about them say they can run so fast that they fly. I'd like to see that!"
At this statement Aquila looked sceptical. Fred grunted in disbelief; no reindeer could outrun a snow leopard and he knew snow leopards couldn't fly. Billie was impressed; and she had her breath back.
"Fly ... I thought only birds could fly and not all birds because chickens don't do a very good job of flying I know ... if we could fly this going all over the world would be a lot easier but we might not have met Ergo if we could fly." She paused and thought about how different things would have been if Ergo had not been a part of her life. "I guess I'm glad we can't fly 'cause I really like Ergo she's fun to be around and she knows so much not as much as you, Aquila, but still a lot ... and if she hadn't wanted to find her family we wouldn't be here with Fred and Loo Yee so I suppose not being able to fly is okay ... but I'd like to see those flying reindeer too ... do you think there are any around here?" She looked up at the sky just in case one might be hovering overhead.
Loo Yee answered the last question. Like most folks who came up against Billie's verbal onslaughts, he needed time to sort out all she could pack into one sentence. "No, from what I've heard the closest reindeer herd is several days north of here."
What with hearing Fred's short life history, and fighting off the wolves, and listening to Loo Yee's hopes for a social life, the afternoon had passed quickly. The sun was getting close to the horizon. Since they had been making good time, away from the attack site, Aquila suggested that they stop for the night. Everyone thought this was a good idea, Billie going on at her usual length about how the excitements of the day had made her tired but she was glad to have met two new friends.
They found a good spot close to the river. Billie and Aquila jumped off the moose's back. Fred went off to find some suitable leopard food. Loo Yee began grazing. Aquila got out some grain for her and Billie from the small sack she had slung over her back.
By the time everyone had finished eating, the sun had set. They all settled down to sleep.
The next day dawned bright and clear. The odd travelling companions went through their varied morning rituals - in other words, everybody got up, ate, and got ready for another day of walking. This time, Billie and Aquila started out riding on Loo Yee. The warrior chicken figured that with this help they might get back to Ergo and the horse camp in a day or less. Even if the moose left them later in the day to head north toward his "herd," riding now was a big help.
Billie was happily looking at the countryside, glad she could see it. She had seen it going the other way when they had floated down the river, but seeing it from this direction was different and new to her.
Before the chatty chick could take to the airwaves, their mount started asking Fred questions. Loo Yee had been surprised to find a snow leopard peacefully co-existing with a couple of chickens. A bigger surprise was that he had helped fight off the wolves. He wanted to find out what made this leopard cub tick.
"What's your name again, leopard? I know the little chicken mentioned it, but she said so much all at once I couldn't catch it all."
Billie bristled at this; all folks had to do was pay attention and listen to know what she said. Aquila and Ergo didn't have any problem!
"Ter-Fredian, but call me Fred," the cub responded. "I don't know how she does it. I've been watching and I don't think she even needs to breathe when she talks."
"Hey!" Billie protested. She heard Aquila, who was sitting behind her, laugh quietly. She had to smile. "Maybe I do talk a lot but I have a lot to say and Aquila doesn't talk much except when she has to so I have to talk for the both of us ... anyway I'll be quiet now and let you guys talk all you want." She closed her beak, folded her wings, and looked straight ahead.
Aquila leaned forward and whispered in her ear, "That's okay; I enjoy hearing you talk."
Billie felt a warm glow at this approval from her hero.
Realizing that they had the floor, without interruption, the moose and leopard resumed the conversation.
"What are you doing alone in this part of the country," Loo Yee asked. "Did you get separated from your family?"
Fred looked sad for a minute. Then he told the mixed-up moose the story of his life. When he got to the part where he had been stalking the two chickens, and they had turned the tables on him, he was feeling better. Everyone was quiet for a few minutes.
The reindeer/moose was thoughtful. It seemed that he and the leopard had a lot in common. Maybe they could travel together for a while, at least until he found his reindeer herd, since neither of them liked being alone. He decided to say something now.
"You know, Fred," he began slowly, "I like being with other folks, and you do, too. We should go north together. You need to go where there is snow in winter. We can find a reindeer herd, then decide what to do. Do you want to travel together for a while?"
The leopard cub was so surprised at this offer that he stopped walking for a few seconds. Then he ran and got in front of the moose and looked at his face. "Do you really mean that," he asked hopefully.
The moose nodded, bouncing his riders a little. "Sure."
After several more seconds studying the moose's earnest face, he turned and started walking again. "I'd like that," he said. "The world isn't so big when you're with others. We can help folks too, like those crazy chickens do. Get Billie to tell you about all their adventures. You won't believe it." He smiled over his shoulder at the chickens.
Aquila smiled back. She patted Billie on the back. "Go ahead, tell them some of our adventures. It may inspire them to try and do better!"
"As if anybody could," Billie exclaimed. "We're the best - you, me, and Ergo."
She settled herself comfortably and began talking.
A while later, the free-range chicken suddenly stood up and looked around. From her vantage point on the moose's back, she could see quite far. This movement made Billie stop in the middle of a story; she looked up at her friend. The sudden silence caused both Loo Yee and Fred to stop walking.
"What's the matter," the leopard cub asked. He was looking at the black-feathered chicken who seemed to be in full alert mode.
Aquila was looking off to her left. She could see movement in the grass. She got her throwing ring ready. Then she said, "It looks like those wolves from yesterday are back for more; and they brought some friends with them. They're coming from downwind so you two wouldn't smell them. Come on, Billie, jump down; let Loo Yee get in position to fight."
She took hold of the yellow chick's wing and the two of them jumped to the ground. Meanwhile Fred and Loo Yee were looking toward the approaching wolves; the leopard crouched to be able to spring at the attackers; the moose waved his antlers to let them know what kind of a reception he was planning.
Aquila, who had not taken her eyes off the wolves, still held Billie by her wing. "Stay close to me, Billie. We need to protect each other's back." What she really meant was that she intended to protect her little friend and keeping her close was the best way to do that.
The little chick could only nod. She would help Aquila all she could. She knew this would not be an easy fight. She tried to look fierce. Maybe Fred could teach her to growl; that would be nice.
By this time the wolves realized that their surprise attack was not much of a surprise. Throwing caution to the winds, they started running toward our intrepid band, howling. The three that had been routed the day before had picked up two friends overnight. Two wolves headed for the chickens and the leopard cub, leaving the moose and his antlers for the other three.
This epic battle was chaotic. The wolves that attacked Loo Yee tried to come at him from different directions, but he kept turning and tossing his head to keep them in front of him. Whenever one of them would get too close, an antler would jab him, pushing him back. Getting frustrated, they became careless. One of them leaped at the moose; he was ready, catching him on his antlers and tossing him to land on his friends. It took the wolves a minute to sort themselves out and get back on their feet. They looked warily at the moose, who was pawing the ground and glaring at them, and considered their next move.
One wolf came at Fred; after all he was just a cub. A full-grown wolf should be able to handle a leopard cub. Unfortunately for the wolf, this cub had been influenced by the warrior chicken and her fearless sidekick. Fred growled low in his throat the way he had heard his father do it. The cub and the wolf circled each other, looking for an opening. Every time the wolf jumped at his adversary, Fred ducked out of his way, managing to scratch or nip his opponent. After a few minutes of this, the wolf had numerous scratches and small bites, but he had not been able to touch the leopard. He stood back, panting; where had that cub learned to fight like that?
The fifth wolf took on the two chickens. This will be easy, then I'll help the others, he figured. Smiling he sauntered up to them. When he was close enough, he made his leap. Aquila expected this; she moved out of the way and hit him a glancing blow with her magic ring as he flew over her. A second later she heard a dull thump, immediately followed by a startled squawk, then a high-pitched howl. She quickly turned around to see if Billie was alright. Even in the middle of a fight, she had to smile. Billie was sitting on the ground, the conical hat she was wearing had been pushed down over her eyes; she had both wings up trying to push it off her head. The wolf was rolling on the ground in pain. When he flew over Aquila, he landed on Billie's pointed hat which had hit him on his sensitive underside.
Quickly looking around, Aquila saw that all the wolves were uncertain what to do next. 'Time to help them make up their minds,' she thought. Aiming her ring, she sent it whizzing through the air. Somehow, it managed to ricochet off of all the wolves, except the one who had come in too close contact with Billie; he had enough problems. Once again the wolves looked around to see what had hit them. When they couldn't see anything, they were more unsettled. Their would-be victims were all prepared for more battle - even Billie who had finally managed to push her hat off and was looking around to see what she had missed.
Their leader made the executive decision that this was one moose they really didn't need. Calling to the others, he led the retreat. The wolf that had attacked Aquila and Billie was moving oddly as he brought up the rear.
Loo Yee and Fred were panting a little as they watched the wolves run away. Aquila helped Billie stand up. The yellow chick looked at her hat sadly; the point was pushed in a little and it had a general squat look about it. She held it out to Aquila as they walked over to the others.
"Look what that wolf did to my hat," she exclaimed indignantly.
The moose and the leopard looked at Aquila as she turned the hat around in her wings. Then they both laughed.
The moose was the first to say something. "So that's why the last wolf was moving so funny. I bet he won't be attacking chickens again any time soon." He laughed some more.
Fred was grinning as he went to Billie. "I'm glad we're on the same side. I wouldn't want to fight you when you're wearing that hat." He put one paw on her back and gave her a friendly pat.
Billie didn't see what was so funny - even Aquila was smiling. Oh well; she would get the warrior chicken to explain it to her later.
Meanwhile the weaving chicken had been examining the crushed hat. Now she looked at Billie, "I'll see if I can fix it. If not, I'll make you a new one. I wouldn't want you to be without your second strongest weapon."
Everyone knew what her strongest weapon was!
Billie nodded gratefully. The hat helped a lot to keep the sun off; she hadn't been near as hot since she had been wearing it. She still didn't understand all this talk about it being a weapon, though.
Aquila looked at the others. "I think we should move on. Those wolves won't be back, but there is no point in hanging around here any longer."
"That's a good idea," Loo Yee said. "Thanks again for helping me. Five wolves is more than I can handle by myself. Fred, I'm glad we'll be travelling together for a while. We make a good team."
"Yeah," the cub growled. He was feeling pleased with himself. He had been a little scared when the wolf had run at him; but once he had started fighting, he had felt calm and sure of himself. Just because he wasn't like the rest of his family didn't mean he wasn't a good snow leopard. Besides this helping folks was better and more fun than hunting anyway. "Maybe I can stay with the reindeer herd when we find it, as a guard or something. There are probably wolves there too." He looked hopefully at his moose friend.
Loo Yee smiled. "Sure you can. And if they won't let you stay, we'll find another herd. We're a team."
The free-range chicken, always impatient with touchy-feely moments, said, "Now that that's settled, let's go." She started walking.
Billie grinned at her back, then ran to catch up. The leopard and the moose shrugged their shoulders and followed.
"Hey, Fred," Billie called. "Can you teach me how to growl?" She looked at him eagerly.
Fred was dubious. "I don't know if you can do it. Leopards and chickens are put together differently. But I guess we can try. Alright it starts in your throat." He proceeded to give a growling lesson.
The little chick avidly watched, listened, and tried her best. To Aquila and Loo Yee, who just kept walking, it still sounded like peeping.
And so the rest of the day passed without incident.
The next day dawned brightly. Our four friends awoke in their own fashions and got ready. Billie was the last to wake up; she had ignored all the bustle of their camp as long as she could. Yawning and stretching, she looked around her. She saw her hat, all fixed and as good as new. She picked it up and looked at it closely. Then she looked over at Aquila, her surprisingly talented friend.
"You fixed it ... when did you do that ... it looks perfect thanks you're the best friend anybody could have." She put it on the side of her head and walked around their camp.
"No problem," Aquila muttered. She watched Billie with a smile.
After a few minutes, the little chick became aware that Loo Yee and Ter-Fredian were getting ready to leave. As usual she hadn't realized that they would be parting company with her new friends so soon. She consoled herself with the thought that they might meet again sometime in the future.
"Are you guys leaving already?"
When he heard Billie's question, Fred looked at the yellow chick. He waited for her to start talking again; when she didn't, he was surprised. But then it was still early; maybe she wasn't up to full strength yet. "Loo Yee thinks we should go north from here; that's the shortest way to the reindeer herd he says." Then the leopard cub smiled. "You look really cute in that hat, Billie."
Billie was a little uncertain at this compliment - should a warrior chicken's sidekick look cute? Oh well, she would worry about that later. "Thanks ... and I'm glad you and Loo Yee will be travelling together ... adventures are a lot more fun when you have them with friends, isn't that right, Aquila?"
The free-range chicken nodded. She thought to herself that sometimes it is the friend who supplies the adventure!
Fred shuffled his paws for a few seconds, then he looked from Billie to Aquila. "I want to thank you both. From now on I'll just be myself and not care what others think. You know, I think I'll like helping folks. Thanks for everything."
Billie walked up to Fred and they gave each other a hug. Then Fred held out a paw to the black-feathered chicken who took it in her wing and shook it.
"Good luck with the reindeer," she said. "I'm sure they have never met a pair like you two before." Fred smiled back at her.
Loo Yee, who was getting anxious to leave, spoke up. "Thanks for your help with those wolves. I'll never forget how that one wolf was walking after he ran into Billie! If you're ever in this area again, just look for a reindeer herd, and you'll find us." He looked at his leopard friend, "It's time we were leaving."
After saying good-bye again, the moose who wanted to be a reindeer and the snow leopard headed north. Billie's parting advice was ringing in their ears - it's a great world and there's so much to see; enjoy it!
Aquila and Billie continued following
the river west. Aquila said they should be back at the horse camp and Ergo in
a few hours. This cheered Billie up.
It was only a couple of hours later that the scenery began to look very familiar to Billie. She even thought she could see a tree off in the distance.
"Aquila, is that a tree if I squint it looks like a tree ... that's where we met Ergo's uncle isn't it I hope so we've been walking long enough we should be there by now ... will Ergo and the rest of the herd be there waiting for us or do you think they got tired of waiting and are off doing whatever horses do ... if they aren't there what will we do wait for them to come back ... this is awfully big country we could get lost trying to find them ... I hope Ergo is there I've missed her and not just because I've had to walk all the time ... oh! Is that dust? Is someone coming toward us?" She hopped faster.
Aquila could make out the figure of Ergo in the dust cloud, but she had let Billie keep talking, knowing the chatterer had to stop on her own. Now she sped up to keep up with her eager companion.
In a very few minutes Ergo, who had been watching for the last two days for any sign of her chicken friends, came to a stop in front of them. She had a big grin on her face. "Am I glad to see you. It's seemed like years since you left. What's that on your head, Billie?" She bent down and nuzzled both of them. Billie rubbed her face; and even Aquila patted her head. They were all glad to be back together.
"It's great to see you, Ergo, we really missed you ... I know you wanted to stay with your family but you would have been a big help in our adventures ... we have a lot to tell you ... oh thanks," Billie said as Ergo bent down and she and Aquila hopped on the horse's back. "All about Pei and how marsh ducks live you won't believe me but it's all true and then on our way back we met a leopard and a moose and fought off some mean wolves I'll tell you all about it ... how did you get along without us?"
As Ergo walked back to the horse camp she was smiling. Now things were back to normal! "We had some adventures, too, while you were off having fun."
A week after parting from Aquila and Billie, Ter-Fredian and Loo Yee were close to reindeer country. They had become good friends, learning a lot about each other. They had been walking steadily for a few hours when they decided a break would do them good. They began to chase each other; the moose/reindeer would wave his antlers and the leopard cub would growl and run around staying just out of the antlers' reach. It was a game they had played several times before. They both enjoyed it.
Being busy with their game, they didn't notice when half a dozen reindeer scouts came upon the scene. The reindeer stopped and watched for a few minutes.
One of the reindeer said, "They seem to be playing or something. But that's nothing like our reindeer games. What are a moose and snow leopard doing playing together?"
They watched a while longer. Then the leader said, "Let's go see what Plays-with-leopard and Plays-with-moose are doing here." The reindeer scouts headed toward the pair.
The leopard and moose became aware of the approaching reindeer. They stopped their game and turned to face their future together.