2003 Bardie Winner!

Most creative/Best Overall Casting

Disclaimers: All characters named or implied are from the Little House on the Prairie books and TV series or Xena: Warrior Princess. I don’t own anyone in this story!

Violence/Language: nope

Sex: This story depicts two women in a loving marriage raising three daughters that are their own. If that’s illegal where you live, you’re under age, or this offends you, why are you at the Academy anyway? Go Away! However, as the point of this challenge is to be true to the original premise of the show Little House on the Prairie, a chaste kiss is about all you’ll get here.

Thanks to my Beta reader for your editing skills and for your patience and support. Also, thanks to my cheerleader for continually encouraging me to write; you know who you are…

This is written with heartfelt thanks to Laura Ingalls Wilder, with whom I spent my childhood through the magic of her words. Oh, that mine could be so wonderful…






The scent of breakfast was filling the house as Gabrielle called up the stairs to her still-sleeping daughters. "Lila! Eve! Time to get up for school!"

Upstairs, the two sisters were comfortably snuggled under a thick down quilt that protected them from the winter cold pressing against the rooftop. "Mmmmmm, I don’t wanna get up," whimpered Lila.

Eve understood completely. "Why do we have to go to school today anyhow?"

"I don’t know. It’s not like Miss Odin’s going to give us any homework over the Solstice Holiday."

"Do you mean you’d wanna go if we were gonna get homework?"

"Well, sure. I wouldn’t want to get behind."

"Behind?! Like one homework assignment could cause that to happen…" Eve rolled on her side to face her sister, "You know, Lila, I worry about you sometimes."

"Girls, are you up yet? You don’t want to be late for your last day of school before the Winter Holiday."

"Oh, no! We wouldn’t want that to happen!" Eve whispered sarcastically.

Giggling, Lila sat up in bed and called out, "We’re up Mama!"

Gabrielle laughed quietly to herself downstairs. "I’ll just be you are…" she said to herself. Turning away from the stairs to the table, she resumed her conversation with the wide awake two year old sitting in a high chair. "At least one of my children is bright eyed this morning, aren’t you Ephiny?"

At that moment the door burst open with a blast of cold air. Xena entered quickly carrying an armload of firewood. "I tell you Gabrielle, either I’m getting old or the winters in Northern Greece are getting colder every year."

"You don’t really want me to comment on that do you?"

Laughing, she placed the last of the firewood by the hearth, and then spun quickly on Gabrielle, grabbing her around the waist to pull her into a huge, cold hug. "You doubt me? Just ask my nose!" With that Xena stuck her nose against her wife’s very warm neck, causing her to squeal!

"Xena! Stop that!" Xena only laughed louder as the pleas became more intense. "Really, Xena! I’m going to burn the breakfast!"

Finally relenting, Gabrielle was released, but only after surrendering a quick kiss. "Well, we wouldn’t want that to happen, now would we."

"Wouldn’t want what to happen, Ma?" Eve asked as she carefully descended the ladder from the loft.

"Oh, your Mama was just threatening to burn breakfast." Gabrielle poked her head back around the opening to the kitchen and stuck her tongue out at Xena in response.

Lila was following her sister’s descent as she joined the conversation. "Why on earth would she do that?"

"Nobody is burning breakfast!" Gabrielle ended the conversation as she sat fried ham and potatoes on the table. "Eve, get the plates and cups. Lila, will you get the biscuits? Honestly, Xena, sometimes I don’t know who’s the biggest kid in this house."

"I didn’t know it was a contest." Xena replied, waggling her eyebrows. This brought another round of laughter from the girls.

Gabrielle walked to the head of the table where Xena was sitting and lovingly ran her fingers through her hair. "Most days it’s no contest at all," she countered smugly before kissing Xena on the top of her head. With that she returned to the kitchen to grab the coffee and milk, laughing all the way.

Xena smiled as the girls took their places at the table. "So, are you girls ready for your Winter Break from school?"

"Are you kidding?" Eve exclaimed. "I can hardly wait for tonight!"

"Why? What’s happening tonight?"

"Ma!" both girls whined. "That’s not funny! Tonight’s Solstice Eve! Tomorrow morning we get to open presents!"

"Xena, stop teasing the girls so they can eat their breakfast." Gabrielle was the last one to sit down at the table, as usual. "And will you please take them into the village. It’s too cold for them to have to walk to today."

A gleam entered Xena’s eyes - the same one she always got when she was one step ahead of everyone else. "I already have fresh hay and blankets loaded in the back of the wagon," she answered, smiling. Turning her attention back to the girls she continued. "And I’m going to pick you girls up today too. It looks like there’s snow in the clouds and we still have to find a tree to cut down for the Winter Solstice."

"Okay, Ma!" they chimed together.

"What do you suppose we’ll get for Solstice presents?" Eve wondered outloud.

"Eve! It’s rude to ask a question like that!" Lila admonished her.

"Why? You wanna know don’t ya?"

"Of course I do," the admission causing Xena and Gabrielle to chuckle at their oldest daughter’s bluntness, "but that’s not what celebrating the Winter Solstice is supposed to be about. We’re supposed to be celebrating the shortest day of the year, which marks that we’ve made it halfway through the winter and are on the way to spring."

"I know that! But it’s hard not to wonder!"

"You know what’s harder than that?" Gabrielle asked, glancing at Xena.

"Getting two little girls to school on time that are busier talking than they are eating their breakfast," Xena finished. With that slight admonishment, both girls joined their sister in eating their breakfast silently.


Little House on the Grecian Prairie

By Goesome





Charles Ingalls or Pa – loving husband and father of 3 girls




Caroline Ingalls or Ma – devoted wife and mother of same 3 girls



Mary – Oldest sister and bookworm


"Little Bit"


Laura – adventurous middle sister and

original author of the Little House books



Carrie – the baby of the family


Also Starring

(in alphabetical order)



Willie Olsen – the Olsen’s son, a spoiled, disobedient mama’s boy



handsome school boy/liar



Nellie Olsen – Willie’s older sister and a spoiled, over-the-top b*tch;

Laura’s arch rival



Reverend Alden – gentle country reverend



Iolaus’ mother



Isaiah French – Charles Ingall’s best friend and Laura’s hero

(he taught her to spit!)



cute school boy and Autolycus’ best friend



Nels Olsen – kind village shopkeeper; parent of two children from hades

Marcus Bliss


Autolycus’ father



Harriett Olsen – Nels’ bossy, overbearing wife and overindulgent mother;

thinks she owns the town instead of the mercantile



Iolaus’ father



Doc Baker – kindly country doctor

Miss Odin


Miss Beetle – the pretty, soft-spoken teacher








A Solstice Miracle


The wagon pulled up in front of the one-room schoolhouse, its precious cargo heavily bundled in the back of the wagon. "Okay girls!" Xena announced as she brought the wagon to a halt. Climbing down, she walked to the back where the two girls were fighting to unwrap themselves from their mother’s over protectiveness. Laughing, Xena began helping them unwrap. "Now remember, I’ll be here to pick you up after school so don’t wander off. We have a tree to cut down," she noted, nodding her head toward the billowy grey clouds on the horizon, "and I want us all home before it starts snowing."

"Okay Ma," the girls replied through chattering teeth.

Kissing both of the girls on their cheeks, she ordered them out of the cold. "Here’s your lunches. Now, go on inside and get warmed up before class gets started."

"Bye Ma!" Eve called from the bottom step. "I love you!"

"I love you, too," Xena replied form the wagon’s seat. "Have a good day!" She waited until both girls were safely inside, then picked up the reins and headed for home.

Once the girls were inside, they removed their coats, mittens, scarves, and hats, hanging them neatly on the pegs in the entryway, then moving into the large, open room that was their school. At the far end of the room was the teacher’s platform. There was a chair and a desk for her to sit at; on the wall behind her was a map of the known world. Rows of long benches filled the space in between them and their teacher, Miss Odin. Along the backs of the benches were long, flat surfaces that served as desks for the students. To their left was a fireplace, already ablaze, easily warming the small room. Anxious to shake the chill that had followed them inside, both girls moved toward the fire to warm themselves.

Sitting on the last row nearest the fireplace were Autolycus and Iolaus. They were best friends and both a couple of years older than Lila; neither was a very good student. Without meaning to, the girls could easily overhear their conversation.

"I’m tellin’ you, Iolaus. He’s there! I saw him myself! White hair. Long beard. Glasses on the end of his nose."

"Let me get this straight… You’re tellin’ me that there’s a man on that old, broken-down farm on the far side of village that makes the Solstice toys for all the children all over the world."

"The good children," Autolycus interrupted.

"Right, the good children. And not only that, but he has some kind of magic that lets him deliver all the toys all over the known world in one night and that helps him get into folks’ homes with breakin’ nothin’."


Eve almost fell over she was listening so hard. She couldn’t believe her ears!

Iolaus examined his friend’s face skeptically, looking for a hint of the lie. Unfortunately, Autolycus was known as a gifted liar and it was nearly impossible to determine whether he was telling the truth or lying at any given moment. "Bah! You’re pullin’ my leg!"

"I am not! I swear it! Iolaus, I saw the old guy walking to the barn with an armful of toys! After he went back in the house I snuck a peek though a broken board in the back of the barn. There were toys like I’ve never seen! Too many to count!"

"Autolycus, there is no way that the man that makes the Solstice toys for all the good children in the known world lives outside of our village."

"Okay, I’ll prove it to you! Come with me after school today and you can see for yourself. He has to deliver all the toys tonight so he’ll be too busy to notice us anyhow."

"You’re on…"

"Okay, class. If you would all take your seats; Ares you can get out of the corner now. And next time, leave other people’s scrolls alone!"

"Yes, ma’am," he muttered on the way to his place on the bench by his sister, Callisto.

As Eve and Lila walked to their seats on the far side of the room, Eve whispered excitedly. "Did you here that? The man that makes the Solstice gifts lives right here in Olive Grove!"

"I heard that lie," Lila replied correctively. "Eve, there’s no way…"

"Now, I know you’re all excited about the Winter Solstice Holiday, but we have one more day…" Miss Odin spoke over Lila’s comment. But Eve didn’t hear a word she said. She was looking at the Solstice tree in the corner of the room and dreaming of a barn full of toys.


Xena split another log outside the back door of the home she and Gabrielle had built for their young family. Leaving the axe buried in the splitting log, she picked an armful of wood from the ground and carried it to the rick of wood she had by the back door. Once she deposited them on top, she turned back for another load. Pausing, she studied the clouds. She gathered the last of the wood hurriedly, grabbed her axe, and headed indoors.

"Gabrielle, how much time do I have before lunch?"

Gabrielle was sitting at the table measuring Ephiny for a new coat. "About an hour, why?"

"That storm is coming in much faster than I thought it would. I think maybe I should go ahead and get us a Solstice tree."

"Oh, are you sure you can’t wait for the girls? They’ll be so disappointed they didn’t get to help you pick it out."

"I know, but I’m afraid if I don’t get one now we might not have one at all by the looks of those clouds." She bent over to tickle Ephiny’s cheek and then kissed Gabrielle on the lips, but didn’t pull away. Gazing into beautiful green eyes, she continued. "Besides, they’ll have tonight to make decorations with you. It won’t be much fun to make decorations if we have to hang them on the ladder!" Gently, she nuzzled her nose with Gabrielle’s and then kissed her on the forehead as she stood up. "I’ll be back by lunch. I spotted a tree last week that should be perfect."

"Do you need more than an hour before lunch?"

"Nah, that should be plenty of time."

"Okay, you be careful."

"Aren’t I always?" Xena quipped. Gabrielle aimed a disbelieving smirk at her wife. "Besides," she continued with a huge grin, "I can’t disappoint my girls!" Gabrielle grinned at her adoringly as Xena picked up her axe and headed out the door.



"I thought she was never going to stop for lunch! I’m starving!" Eve snatched the lunch sack from between them on the seat and began struggling with the tie their mother had secured it with.

"Here, give me that," Lila ordered as she took it from her impatient little sister, "before you spill our lunch all over the floor. And I don’t know what you’re complaining about; we’re eating earlier than usual."

"Do you think Ma would take us to that farmhouse to meet the toymaker?"

"Are you kidding? Ma would laugh you clean off this bench if she heard you say that. Besides, there’s no such thing. You know Autolycus would just as soon tell a lie as the truth!"

"But what if he’s telling the truth this time?!"

"Eve…" Lila tried to interrupt as she handed her half the sack’s contents.

Eve took her lunch, but ignored it completely. "Besides, he wouldn’t lie to Iolaus! Iolaus is his best friend!"

"He would especially lie to Iolaus because Iolaus believes him every time!"

"Iolaus believes who every time?" a voice interrupted. It was Callisto, Eve’s worst enemy.

"Autolycus," Lila answered. "He told Iolaus this morning that there’s a man that lives on the other side of the village that makes toys for all the good children in the known world and delivers them on Solstice Eve." This earned her a punch in the leg under their desktop from Eve. "Ow!"

Callisto ignored her exclamation and continued to invade their conversation. "I don’t have to wait for someone to deliver my presents. My mother buys me whatever I want for Solstice every year!"

"Your mother buys you presents, but that isn’t why you don’t get them from the toymaker," Eve muttered through gritted teeth.

Lila continued with her explanation before yet another fight could erupt between the two. "Anyway, so Autolycus told Iolaus that he would prove it to him after school."

"Lila!" Eve was frustrated with her sister, who never seemed to understand the importance of keeping information from Callisto. "You’d better eat or you won’t have time to finish your lunch!" Still speaking through her teeth, she betrayed her own irritation to Callisto.

"Maybe I should go with them."

"Why should you? You said your Ma buys you everything you want!"

"Aren’t you going?"

Eve knew Callisto had her. "Nah, our Ma is picking us up after school."

"Well then, I can go and tell you all about it," Callisto gloated brightly. Having completed her mission of irritation, she flitted off to the other side of the room where Iolaus and Autolycus were sitting.

"Do you have to blab everything?" Eve whined at her sister.

"What does it matter? All that’s going to happen is Callisto is going to follow Autolycus around in the cold looking for a man that doesn’t exist. She’ll probably catch a terrible cold and be sick the whole Solstice Holiday."

For a moment, Eve stared at her sister in amazement. Did her sister - quiet, polite Lila - actually trick Callisto? Had she actually set Callisto up to be sick for the holidays? As Lila continued to eat quietly, she gave no indication one way or the other.




Not too long after lunch Doc Nicklio came in the back of schoolhouse and asked if he could speak to Miss Odin for a moment. After a brief conversation, Miss Odin thanked the doctor and turned back to the class. "Students, it has come to my attention that there is a snow storm headed our direction. We’ll go ahead and dismiss early for the Solstice Holiday so you’ll have plenty of time to walk home before it hits."

This announcement, of course, was greeted with a rousing round of cheers. Quickly, the students began gathering their things and bundling up for the walk home. Eve hurried to the back ahead of Lila and already had her coat on by the time her sister joined her, having gathered up both their scrolls and quills. "Where are you going in such a hurry?"

"I’m gonna follow Autolycus and Iolaus to the toymaker’s house!" Eve exclaimed excitedly.

"Oh no you’re not! Don’t you remember what Ma said? ‘Don’t wander off; we’ll be in to pick you up after school gets out’."

"I know, but Ma thinks school is going to get out at the regular time! If we hurry we can get to the toymaker’s and back before she comes to pick us up!"

"We? What do you mean we? I’m not going with you!"

"Of course you are! I can’t just leave you here!"

"Yes, you can! I don’t want to get into trouble!"

"You wanna see all those toys don’t ya?"

Lila seemed to consider this for a moment. "Alright, I’ll go. But just to make sure you don’t get into any trouble. And I still think this is a big mistake."

"Great! Now hurry up! We’ll have to keep up with Autolycus and Iolaus and they’ve already gone outside while you were arguing with me." Lila rolled her eyes, exasperated, as Eve grabbed her arm and dragged her outside.


Xena opened the door calling Gabrielle’s name. A dusting of snow was visible on her hat and coat. "What is it Xena?"

"The snow’s begun; I expect the storm won’t be far behind. I’ve already hitched up the team; are you sure you want to go into town with me?"

What Xena didn’t know is that Gabrielle had ordered a Solstice present for her at the mercantile and she had to pick it up today. "Yes, I need a few things if we’re going to be snowed in for a while," she lied.

"Can’t you just give me a list?" Xena asked, slightly confused. "I’m not sure we ought to take the baby out in this weather."

"The baby will be fine; I’ll bundle her up and she can ride back in the hay with her sisters. She’ll love it."

"Well, if you two are going, we need to leave as soon as you can get ready."

"Okay, just give me a minute." With that, Gabrielle began wrapping up the baby and then herself to head out the door to the waiting wagon.


"Ares, for the last time, stop following me!"

"Why? Where are you going?"

Callisto spun around, pointing her finger at her little brother’s nose. "I’m not telling you where I’m going! Only the older kids are allowed to go; that’s why Autolycus and Iolaus are going."

"Yeah, but Eve’s not that much older than me and she’s going."

"She’s probably going to get into trouble for going. Now, if you don’t sneak back to the house right now without Mother and Father hearing you come in, I’m going to tell them that you’ve been snooping under their bed for your Solstice presents."

"I have not!"

"It doesn’t matter whether you have or you haven’t; Mother will always believe me over you."

"That’s not fair!"

"That’s right, but that’s the way it is. That’s why I’m the big sister and you’re not!" Ares paused to consider that for a moment, but chose not to comment. "Now, go back to the house, don’t get caught, and don’t you dare tell anyone where we’ve gone." With that, Callisto spun away from him and hurried after Eve and Lila, barely noticing the snow flakes that had begun to fall.




"Hurry up, Lila!" Eve had a firm grip on Lila’s coat sleeve and was pulling her along behind her. "They’re getting farther ahead and if it snows any harder we won’t be able to see them."

"That’s what I’m trying to tell you! It’s starting to snow harder. I think we should go back."

"So do we!" a voice spoke from behind a spruce tree. Eve and Lila froze in their tracks. "And stop following us!" With that Iolaus and Autolycus walked into view, laughing hysterically.

"But Lila and I want to see the toymaker’s house, too!" The boys both looked shocked. Now Eve was amused. "Oh, come on. It’s not like you two were whispering by the fireplace this morning!"

"We weren’t whispering, but why were you listening?" Iolaus asked defensively.

"It wasn’t like I was trying to listen! But it’s awful hard not to with Autolycus blabbing about a barn full of Solstice toys!"

"Hey, I don’t… Did you hear that?" The crunching snow from someone’s footsteps abruptly halted.

They all waited breathlessly for a moment until Eve suddenly expelled a disgusted breath, rolled her eyes, and called out, "Come on out, Callisto!" There was no response. "Come on, I know you’re there!" A few heartbeats later Callisto showed herself from behind several large trees.

"How did you know it was me?"

"Who else would it have been?" Eve shot back at her. "You’re the only other person from school that knew!"

Now Autolycus was mad. "How did she find out?"

"Her!" Callisto and Eve shouted in unison, both pointing to Lila, who stood sheepishly between them.

"It doesn’t matter anyhow. We were just heading back."

"Liar!" Callisto blurted.

"No, really!" Iolaus looked toward the sky as he continued. "Look, I’m as interested in a barn full of toys as the next guy, but it’s really starting to come down." He paused to look at the girls, "We had just decided to head back when we heard you coming up behind us."

"It’s just as well. I’m cold and ready to go home. Besides, if we’re not at that school when Ma gets there to pick us up she’ll tan our hides!" Lila was obviously relieved at the idea of avoiding punishment right before Solstice Eve.

"The school? We weren’t going back to town. We were headed home" Autolycus nearly whined. He was already disappointed at having to give up on his joke so soon.

"Yeah, but it’s really starting to snow hard. I think we men should make sure these girls get back to the village safely."

"Men?" Eve questioned laughingly.

"Well, I for one would be happy to have two handsome gentlemen escort us back to town." With that Callisto stepped forward and grabbed Autolycus’ elbow as if he would be glad to escort her home. "When we get there we can get candy from my Father’s store."

This seemed to influence Autolycus in his decision a great deal. "I guess you’re right, Iolaus. It’s the polite thing to do. But I know a shortcut we can take that’ll get us there a lot quicker." And with that the five of them set out to return to the village.


"Ephiny and I will wait for you here. Go get the girls and I should be finished by the time you get back." Gabrielle was standing on the ground waiting for Xena to hand the baby to her. Mentally she noted that she should have enough time to hide Xena’s gift in her basket and select a few items that would seem plausible enough to merit a trip in the cold into the village.

"Okay, but don’t be too long. The snow’s getting heavier all the time. I think we need to hurry." Once Ephiny and Gabrielle were safely inside the doorway Xena left to pick up the girls from the school. She noticed as she pulled up that there were already a couple of other wagons in front of the building. Looks like I wasn’t the only one worried about the storm.

Halting the team to the side of the building, Xena jumped down and jogged up the steps to the doorway. As she entered she heard a conversation already underway. "But I don’t understand, Miss Odin. If you let out school when you say you did, where are our boys?" It was Mr. Bliss, Autolycus’ father speaking. Standing beside him were Iolaus’ parents, Helen and Meleager.

"You let out school early?" Xena asked, suddenly as concerned as the others. "Do you know where Lila and Eve are?"

"No, I’m sorry. Doctor Nicklio came over and suggested that I might want to let the children out early because of the snow. They all should have been home by now."

"Maybe they went to the mercantile," Helen suggested. "After all, they have all their Winter Solstice decorations up."

Xena seemed relieved at the option. "Maybe. Gabrielle’s over there. I’ll go back and see if they’re there. If they are, I’ll send the boys to you; if not, we’ll be back to help figure out where they are."


Gabrielle had already secured Xena’s present and was chatting conspiratorially with Joxer when Xena burst through the front door of the mercantile. "Xena! You scared us to death! What on earth is wrong?"

"Are the girls here?" She looked from Gabrielle to Joxer. "Are they here with Callisto?"

"Why, no Xena. My children aren’t here either."

"Are you sure?" The urgency in her voice caused the other two to begin panicking.

"I haven’t seen them come in." Joxer turned to walk toward the staircase.

"Xena, what’s wrong. Why aren’t the children in school?"

Joxer called up the stairs, "Callisto! Ares! Are you up there?"

"Miss Odin let school out early because of the storm. She said they already should have been home."

"I’m here Pa!" Ares called down from the top of the stairs.

"Where’s your sister?" Joxer asked anxiously.

"How should I know?" This frustrated Joxer, but chose to ignore his sullen son. He turned back to the two worried women. "Where on earth could they be?"




"Come on girls! You gotta keep up!" Iolaus yelled over the increasing wind. He was holding Lila’s hand, although Autolycus had long-since freed himself from Callisto. Eve and Callisto were several paces behind the others now and were seemingly falling farther behind with every step.

"We’re trying!" cried Callisto. "You need to go slower! I can’t keep up!"

"Callisto, we can’t go slower! We’ll all freeze to death out here if we don’t keep moving!" Autolycus was truly beginning to regret his prank.

Iolaus paused for a moment to confer with Autolycus. "Do you know where we are?" he asked hopefully. It turned out the ‘shortcut’ Autolycus knew was not a shortcut at all.

Autolycus looked guiltily at the freezing girls and admitted, "No."

"I knew you were gonna say that." Iolaus didn’t seem mad, just disappointed.

"Look, I’m sorry! Okay? It was stupid of me to make up that lie."

"It’s a lie?" exclaimed Eve.

"I told you so," Lila taunted.

"Well, part of it is. There’s an old man that lives out there, but there’s no barn full of toys." He stared down at his shoes waiting to be yelled at.

"Autolycus, we know you didn’t mean for this to happen," Lila offered. "Let’s just all get home."

"Yeah! I’m tired!" Callisto was in full pout mode now. "And you’re not getting any candy," she added as she jabbed Autolycus in the chest.


There was a large group of people gathered in the schoolhouse now. Mr. Bliss and Iolaus’ parents were still there with Miss Odin, but now they had been joined by Joxer and Meg and Gabrielle. Xena had gone by the mill to get Hercules. They were just walking in as Marcus Bliss was beginning to yell at Miss Odin.

"This isn’t going to find our children!" Gabrielle yelled over the other voices.

"I agree," Xena added, taking charge of the conversation. "Now look, we’re all upset and worried, but yelling isn’t going to help. There’s no telling where our children have gone, but I do know that this storm is only going to get worse."

"Xena’s right," Hercules spoke, hoping to add calm to the panic. "We need to divide up into pairs to search for the children. I suggest we ring the bell and get as many able-bodied men in here as possible to help us look."

"Thank you, Hercules." Gabrielle seemed relieved to finally have a plan. "Will you ring the bell for us please?" Hercules nodded wordlessly before heading back outside. "Helen, I’m going to need you to watch Ephiny while I go with Xena."


"Absolutely not. I am not staying here while you go out to look for our two oldest daughters."

"Of course I’ll watch her." Helen may not have been brave enough to go out into the growing storm, but if Gabrielle was, the least she could do was watch Ephiny.

Xena realized she was outmaneuvered, so she simply pulled her wife into a hug. "We’ll find them, Gabrielle," she whispered.


"Callisto! You big crybaby! Keep moving!" Eve could barely keep up herself, but in spite of the fact that she hated Callisto, she didn’t want to see her die in a snow storm.

Callisto, on the other hand, was thinking only of herself. She was cold, her clothes and shoes were ruined, and she was hungry. On top of that, everyone kept yelling at her to walk faster. All she really wanted to do was stop and sleep. "I can’t!" she screeched.

"I’m tired, too! But we have to keep moving or…" Eve began to look frantically in every direction into a white curtain of snow. "Lila! Iolaus!" She was screaming at the top of her lungs. "Autolycus!" Then she waited; the howling wind was the only reply she got.




Gabrielle and Xena trudged into the school hopefully. The silence of the waiting crowd told them that there was no good news to be heard. Doc Nicklio was by the fireplace checking over an obviously exhausted Joxer and a fussy Hercules, who had arrived only moments before. All of the other teams had returned now but Marcus and Meleager. Helen, glad to have had the distraction of babysitting Ephiny, was nonetheless beside herself with worry. As they began peeling off their snow-soaked coats, Reverend Eli stood at the front of the room. "Folks, I know that we have all been praying individually, but I also believe the One God honors our prayers when we pray together as one heart. Let’s bow our heads…"

The reverend had no sooner begun his prayer when the doors to the school flew open again, the wind spilling snow across the room. Autolycus and Iolaus tumbled through and dropped to the floor. Marcus and Meleager followed carrying Lila.

Xena and Gabrielle rushed across the room to gather their oldest daughter into their arms. After a reassuring hug, Gabrielle quickly began removing her daughter’s wet clothing. Helen knelt on the floor beside Iolaus, doing the same. Miss Odin brought blankets over to wrap the children in before being moved in front of the fireplace. Doc Nicklio was helping Autolycus, who was fighting to get the buttons open on his jacket; his numb fingers simply would not work. Exhausted, the boy was asleep before the doctor finished getting his coat removed.

By this time, Hercules had rushed outside to look for Eve. Joxer and Meg stood as still as statues, waiting for their daughter to walk through the door. Xena turned her attention from Lila, who was whimpering in Gabrielle’s arms to Marcus and Meleager. "Where’s Eve and Callisto?" she demanded.

"I don’t know," Marcus replied wearily. "They weren’t with the other children."

At this, Meg began to sob uncontrollably. She grabbed a nearby Ares and pulled him into a crushing embrace. "My baby! My baby!" she cried over and over.

Gabrielle looked up at Xena, her sad green eyes brimming with tears. "What are we going to do?"

"I’m going to go find them."

"I’m going with you," was Gabrielle’s immediate response.

"No, you’re not."

Carefully, Gabrielle laid an already sleeping Lila on a pallet in front of the fire. Then she stood to face Xena; she knew this was going to be a heated argument. Unfortunately, Xena intercepted her and began her argument first. "Gabrielle, listen." Tenderly, Xena took both Gabrielle’s hands in hers. "I know you want to go out there with me and look for Eve. I also know you’re more than capable of battling your way through the storm with me. But this isn’t about you; it’s about Lila and Ephiny…" This took Gabrielle by surprise. "Darlin’, one mother out in this storm is enough. The girls need one of us to stay here. They need one of their mothers to stay here. I need you to stay here so I don’t have to worry about three daughters while I’m out in the snow. Please." Gabrielle gave up wordlessly. She simply placed her cheek against Xena’s chest and allowed herself to be drawn into a desperate embrace.

Hercules, moving toward the couple, broke their silence. "I’ll go with you, Xena. I can’t abide by Little Bit being out in this storm."

"Thank you, Hercules." Xena nodded to her best friend over the top of Gabrielle’s head.

"Sure would help if we knew where to look for ‘em." Turning to Marcus and Meleager, Hercules continued, "Do you know where they were goin’ when then they got lost?"

Meleager answered first. "Nah, it was too loud to talk. We were lucky just to find them."

Hercules turned and looked at the three exhausted children sleeping in front of the fireplace. "Well, they’re gonna be out for a while, so they can’t tell us either."

"I know where they went."

Everyone in the room spun around to look at Ares.


Eve and Callisto were succumbing to the effects of the cold very quickly now. Their lips were blue and Callisto’s breathing was labored. She had developed a cough. Neither of them had felt their feet for hours and yet every step was painful. Finally, Callisto simply lay down on the ground, unable to go another step.

"Callisto! You have to get up!" Eve pulled viciously on her arm, but she didn’t budge. Her whining finally quieted, Callisto was unconscious. Unwilling to go on without her, Eve rolled her under the branch of a fir tree and curled up around her, trying to protect her from the savage cold.






"You WHAT?!" exclaimed Joxer.

"I know where they went."

"Well! Where?" screeched Meg, who was now holding him in a death grip at arm’s length.

"They went to that farm outside of town where that old man lives."

"Boy, why on earth didn’t you tell us this before?" his father asked, stunned by the disclosure.

"Because, Callisto threatened me! She said that if I told where they had gone that she would tell Ma I’d been snooping for my Solstice presents."

Meg gasped. "You’ve been what!?"

"No! See! That’s what she does!" declared a frustrated Ares. "She picks a lie she’ll know you’ll believe and threatens me with it."

Xena had suffered enough family politics. "Never mind that now, boy. Are you talking about the farm north of town with the giant barn?"

"Yeah," he said with a sigh. He was more frustrated that Callisto had once again managed to get him into trouble than with the fact that she was still lost in the storm.

Looking to Hercules with an unspoken command, Xena moved to bundle up again. Lovingly, Gabrielle pushed her hands away to help her button up her coat.

"Xena," Reverend Eli called. "Are you sure this is the right thing to do? Perhaps if you stayed here and we all prayed together…"

But Xena interrupted him. "Reverend, I’ll take all the prayers you have at this point, but I also believe the One God helps those who help themselves. They found the others by going out to look for them. We’ll find the other two the same way."

Joxer was moving to put on his jacket and ridiculously inappropriate hat when Hercules put a hand on his arm. "Look, Joxer, I know that’s your daughter out there and I know you’re worried about her, but I think risking two lives with this storm is plenty. I’ll look for her as if she were my own… I swear it."

The smaller man’s shoulders slumped forward as the fatigue he wore on his face bled into the rest of his body. Gratefully, he nodded and began removing his coat. "You’re an excellent cook, Joxer. Maybe you could go back to your kitchen and make something to feed this hungry mob." It was as gentle a way as Hercules knew how to tell Joxer he wasn’t strong enough to go.

"You be careful out there," Gabrielle whispered emotionally.

"Aren’t I always?" her wife quipped for the second time that day, trying to appear much more upbeat than she felt.

Gabrielle laughed briefly, and then gave way to the tears she’d been fighting. "I can’t lose both of you."

"Hey, don’t you go giving up hope yet. You heard the Reverend. We have to have faith." Xena gently kissed away Gabrielle’s tears. "I’ll be back. And Eve will be just fine. I promise." Hercules nodded as he waited by the door, causing Xena to break their embrace, kiss her wife briefly, and then turn to stride out into the snow.


From under heavily laden tree boughs, Eve began to hear tiny bells tinkling in the wind. Then she felt two strong hands grab her, pulling her out from under the branches. She was too tired to argue or even worry about who had her. All she knew was that suddenly she was wrapped in a warm blanket in the back of a sleigh with Callisto curled up right beside her.


Xena and Hercules plowed through snow that was thigh deep on both of them. They had been out in the blizzard for over an hour and both of them were exhausted. Finally, Hercules stopped in his tracks and pulled on the rope connecting them. "Xena!" he yelled over the roar of the wind. "We have to go back!"


"Xena, we’re both exhausted! We need to go back and rest!"

"Then go back if you need to rest!" Xena wasn’t really angry at her best friend’s exhaustion; she was angry with her inability to find her daughter and Callisto.

Fortunately, Hercules understood this. "Xena, even if they could hear us calling them over the wind, I think we’re going around in circles! Look!" He placed his hand on a charred log of wood that was still standing, too stubborn to give in even to a lightening strike. "It’s the lightening tree! We’re on the edge of the village!"

Xena looked up with dismay. He was right. They had been going in circles.

"Come on Xena. We need to go back while we still can!"

Reluctantly, she nodded her agreement.


The doors to the schoolhouse opened with the fury of the wind. The exhausted best friends stumbled through the doors and collapsed, unable to go any further.

"Xena!" Gabrielle was instantly on her feet running to her side. She helped pull her over to the fire while others helped Hercules.

"I’m so sorry," Xena rasped. "I’m so sorry. We tried so hard…" And with that Xena drifted into unconsciousness.

Gabrielle jerked off Xena’s wet clothing and wrapped her in a blanket, holding her in her arms while she slept.




Eve floated out of a heavy slumber to awaken in a warm and cheerful room. Her wet coat and shoes had been removed and she was carefully tucked into a pallet of warm blankets in front of a huge roaring fireplace. She was completely comfortable and was just about to give back into sleep when she heard, "Look who’s awake!"

Rolling her head away from the fire, she found the bluest eyes she’d ever seen except for her Ma’s. They were twinkling with laughter and were framed by gold rimmed glasses. "How are you feeling?" the voice continued.

"Um, thirsty," she admitted.

Almost instantly a cup of water appeared before her, held by one of the biggest hands she’d ever seen. She reckoned it was as big as one of Hercules’ hands. "Here, sit up so you can drink this better." She felt another hand reach beneath her, helping her sit up. Once she was sitting up the blankets fell away and her hands were free to take the cup. Raising the cup to her lips, she drank greedily until she began to sputter. "Slowly, little one. Slowly."

With an effort, Eve slowed her efforts to quench her thirst, then handed back the cup. "Thank you, sir."

"My, my… And manners too." There was a joy in his voice that made Eve feel bubbly inside. "Are you hungry?"

Eve answered with an enthusiastic nod. "Well," he continued, "let’s see if your friend wakes here in a minute or so. If not I’ll fix her something later and you can eat without her."

"Okay." Eve was still trying to figure out what had happened and was feeling more than a little disoriented. "Where I am?"

"You’re in my home."

"Where’s your home?"

"About three miles North of Olive Grove."

"North of…" Suddenly it all made sense. This man had white hair and a white beard and glasses. "We were coming to see you!"

"I suspected as much."

"You did?" Eve was amazed.

"Of course! Nobody else lives out this way. Why else would two little girls be out lost in a snow storm on this side of town?"

"Two little girls?"

This surprised the old man a great deal. "Yes, I only found two of you. Why? Were there more?"

"Yes, sir. We were with my sister, Lila, and two boys from school."

"My! Well, I only found the two of you. I’m sure the others made it back to town safely," he assured her.

"I sure hope you’re right," she replied worriedly. "We got separated ‘cause Callisto couldn’t keep up and I didn’t want to leave her behind."

"That was a very brave thing to do considering the storm you were in."

"Brave or stupid, considering she’s never nice to me."

A wonderful, melodious laughter rumbled up from his round belly. "What’s your name child?"


"Well, let me tell you something Eve. It takes much more courage to be kind to your enemies than it does to be kind to your friends. That means you may very well be the bravest person I know."

"Gosh! Really!"

"Absolutely. It doesn’t look like your friend… Uh, what’s her name?"


"Well, it doesn’t look like Callisto is going to wake up any time soon. What say you and I have an early breakfast? Then, if there’s anything left, we’ll wake Callisto up and she can have her breakfast." He winked as he said it, making Eve giggle in spite of her worries. The thought of Callisto having to eat her leftovers was the funniest thing she’d heard in a long time.

"So tell me, Eve, what on earth were you children doing out in a snow storm?"

"Well, sir…"

The man stopped his cooking preparations and held up one hand to stop Eve’s thought. "Please, call me Senticles."

"Okay, Mr. Senticles." He started to correct her again, but decided to let her go on with her story. "Autolycus - that’s one of the boys in our school - said that you’re the man that makes Winter Solstice toys for all the good children in the world. He said he saw into your barn and that it was full of toys!"

"Oh, he did, did he?" This brought another great laugh from the man as he heated a skillet up on the stove.

"Yes, sir… I mean, Mr. Senticles. He said he saw you carrying toys out there and after you left he sneaked out to the barn and looked in from the back side." Eve continued to rattle on with her story as Senticles made their breakfast. When it was finally ready they moved to the table to eat.

Sitting in the middle of the table was the most beautiful wooden horse Eve had ever seen. It was a miniature rocking horse. The horse was unpainted golden wood, but the rocking slats, saddle, and bridle were painted in wonderfully bright red and blue and green colors. The whole thing was varnished to a glorious shine. "That’s beautiful!" Eve whispered.

"Thank you. I made it myself."

"You did?" Eve seemed to consider this a moment. "You are the toymaker! You deliver the Winter Solstice toys!"

"No child," he said with a twinkle in this eye. "I make toys; that’s true enough. But if I made all the Solstice toys, don’t you think I’d be a bit busier tonight?"

Eve analyzed that statement carefully, looking from Senticles to the rocking horse and back again. She finally decided it was a good argument. "I s’pose that’s right."

"Good. Now, eat your breakfast and then we’ll get a little more sleep. By the time we wake again the storm should have passed."




Zena awoke in Gabrielle’s arms. In spite of that, she knew something was very wrong. She laid there a minute trying to figure out what it was. Then, suddenly she knew. It was the noise. Even lying in a room full of sleeping people, there was no noise. "Gabrielle. Hercules, wake up." She began stirring around to get ready to go outside.

"What’s the matter?" an exhausted Gabrielle mumbled, rubbing her eyes.

"The storm’s over."

That announcement brought a great deal of commotion to the room. The men began bundling up to resume the search. The women began picking up bedding and made to straightening the place. Just as they were dividing into search teams the door swung open. The room was flooded with light. Everyone looked toward the blinding white, unable to see anything but brightness.

"Ma? Mama?" a small voice said.

Gabrielle recognized it immediately. "Eve!" She and Xena both lunged forward, unsure of their daughter’s welfare and the miracle of her return.

Callisto passed them on the way to her own parents, whining all the way. "Mother!"

Gabrielle scooped her daughter up into a crushing embrace, followed by Xena, who embraced both of them. "Mama, is Lila alright?"

"Lila’s fine," Xena replied as Gabrielle began to inspect Eve from head to toe. "What happened out there? How did you get back to town?"

"Mr. Senticles found us."

"Mr. Senticles?" Gabrielle interrupted. She looked past her daughter for the man who saved her child’s life to see only sleigh tracks in the snow.

"Yes, ma’am. He found us in the snow and took us to his house. His hands are as big as Hercules’! We rode in his sleigh and he fed us breakfast." In their joy, the crowd around her began to chuckle at her excitement. "He has a full white beard and white hair, just like Autolycus said! He’s a toymaker!"

Her anxiety melting away, Xena was immediately amused. "A toymaker?"

"Yes, and he had the most beautiful little rocking horse on his table. I’d give anything to get that for my Solstice present!"

"Maybe we can go over there after this snow melts some and see if he’ll let me buy it from him," offered Xena, who would have given her prodigal daughter just about anything at this moment.

"That’s okay, Ma. He told us it wasn’t for sale when Callisto said her mother would buy it from him." Eve couldn’t help but grin at the memory of Callisto being told ‘no’ by someone. "He said it was already spoken for by someone very special."

"Well, at the very least we need to visit him to express our gratitude for pulling you out of the snow. It’s been a long night… Gabrielle, let’s get the girls loaded up and go home."




It had taken the better part of the morning for Xena and Hercules to help the horses struggle out to their farm pulling the wagon. As they topped the hill they paused. The snow that had been such an enemy to them the night before had decorated their land in a blanket of white. The untouched snow made their home look like a brilliant wonderland.

"It’s beautiful, isn’t it," offered Gabrielle, breaking their silence.

"It certainly is," agreed Xena, who turned to look over her shoulder at her family in the wagon. "Almost as beautiful as the four girls in my wagon." This brought an eruption of giggles from the girls and beautiful blush from her wife.


Hercules offered to stable the horses so they could get the girls out of the cold. The women tromped through the door, shaking snow from their boots. The house was cold, so Xena immediately moved to start a fire in the fireplace, while Gabrielle headed to do the same thing in the cook stove. However, they both froze in their tracks after Lila closed the door. Behind the door stood their Solstice tree, completely decorated, with presents underneath. The children squealed with excitement while Xena and Gabrielle just stared at each other.


"I don’t know, Gabrielle."

Their confusion was interrupted by a shout from Eve. "I knew it! I knew it was him!"

"Knew it was him, who, Eve?" asked Gabrielle.

In reply, Eve turned around, a small wooden rocking horse in her hands. "I knew it was Senticles all along!"

The End

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