Tell Me, Gabrielle
The golden warhorse snorted and reared before she launched herself into a dead run. The warrior atop her enjoyed the thrill of the fast ride, the breeze tugging at long dark tresses, the horse's muscles stretching powerfully underneath her and the creamy white mane whipping her face. The early morning air was crisp and refreshing.
The girl's legs pumped furiously as she pedaled her bike along the sidewalk at breakneck speed, long black hair whipping in the wind. She was tall for her age, and dressed in a faded black, worn dress. Strapped to her back was a satchel. The wooden handle of a toy sword peeked out from under its flap.
The little blond scurried along behind, her short little legs carrying her as fast as they would go, but the distance between them was growing rapidly.
Rolling her eyes, the taller girl slowed her bike to a more leisurely pace.
"Sheesh, Gabby, when are you going to learn to ride a bike? It's no fun when I have to keep stopping for you," she said as the younger child came panting up to her.
"I told you they scare me", Gabby pouted.
"You're such a baby, Gabby, I swear. Come on, get up here on Argo. We've got to hurry!"
"All right," the blonde girl said doubtfully as her taller friend brought the bike to a stop to allow her to mount behind her. "But promise we won't take the short cut through the quarry today?"
Sina snorted. "Wimp!"
"Yeah right. I still got those scrapes from last time. And I got in major trouble for messing up my good new dress. Mom got really mad and I had to go to bed without any dessert. Tell me Sina, why don't you ever get into this kind of trouble with your mom?"
Gabby settled herself behind her friend, and the bicycle jerked into motion. With a yelp, the blonde girl threw her arms around Sina's waist, desperately trying not to slide off.
"First," Sina explained, "I don't have the kind of fancy dresses your mom makes you wear." Her disdainful sniff showed exactly what she thought of her friend's attire. "Second," she continued nonchalantly, "I get in trouble all the time. I just don't make such a great big deal out of it."
Sina clicked her tongue. "Alleyoop, Argo," she yelled as she sent the bike hurtling forward once more.
She laughed and yelled wildly. "Ayiyiyiyiyiyiyi!" Then she whinnied and snorted, lending her voice to Argo as she put her trusty wire mare into a gallop, pedaling madly.
"I wish you wouldn't do that," Gabby mumbled when she had regained her precarious balance after the sudden lurch.
"What, you wanna be late again?" Sina rumbled, and took the bike off the road into a jagged gorge.
Gabby sighed, defeated. She could have known that her big friend would not miss going through that scary place if she could help it.
"Ayiyiyiyi," Sina cried again, "I'm Xena, the mighty Warrior Princess. Nothing can stop me!"
She turned briefly to glance at Gabby, found her holding on for dear life, eyes squeezed shut in fear. She smiled a knowing little smile. "Where are we? What do you see? Tell me, Gabrielle," she said as she steered the bike around a large rock.
A small smile played around the younger girl's lips at the sound of the words. Her friend knew her so well! These words were what made her forget her fears, for they were her entrance into the secret world they had created for themselves. Her eyes remained closed, but her face relaxed as she turned her mind inward.
She became the bard, Gabrielle, traveling across the land with her friend and protector, Xena the Warrior Princess. Xena, that fabled hero of their dreams, who used to be an evil warlord but now fought only for good (and for a good-sized ice cream cone, if it was the right flavor. Xena had a definite weakness for vanilla fudge).
And while Sina, no Xena, maneuvered the bike, her trusty warhorse that is, with varying skill along the gravelly path, the bard at last opened her eyes and brought their world to life.
"This is a dangerous place," she said, her voice quivering a little from the many shocks sent up her spine as the bike jumped and skittered over the rugged ground. "They say that a family of ugly, people-eating giants live here. They take on the shape of rocks to fool bypassers, and jump out at them when they pass too close." She eyed a large boulder they were passing suspiciously, but it made no move to attack.
"What are we doing here?"
For a brief instant, the child Gabby was back, and she pouted a little. "We're here because you always think we have to take the shortest route."
The bard returned, and she added. "And because you thought we might give the monsters a hard time while we're here."
Xena ignored the reproach. "Okay. Tell me what's happening."
"We are making our way through Deathbringers's Ditch. Everything is quiet at the moment, but we know the infernal giants are hiding here somewhere." Gabrielle's eyes lit up as an idea came to her. "The terrain is treacherous, and you have to slow Argo to a walk so she won't hurt herself."
Xena grumbled at that, but she had to abide by the rules they had made. What had been spoken could not be undone. She reluctantly slowed their mount a little. When she glanced over her shoulder, she noticed that Gabrielle looked quite pleased with herself.
Xena reached back to draw her sword out of her satchel. "So, we make our way through this gorge. I have my sword drawn and scan the surroundings carefully." Steering Argo with only one hand was a little tricky, since the wheels tended to slide and skip over the larger rocks, but she was confident that the faithful warhorse would not betray her.
Everything was quiet, except for the scrape and clatter of Argo's hooves on the gravel as the mare carefully picked her way along the treacherous path. Xena gave the impression of being completely unaware of her surroundings, though the bard knew that in truth every one of the tall warrior's senses was alert and constantly on the lookout for danger.
Trusting those warrior instincts completely, Gabrielle allowed herself to relax a little. The thought of man-eating monsters masquerading as rocks was not a pleasant one, especially when boulders and rocks of considerable size were strewn all around you. But she was certain that no disgusting denizen of Deathbringer's Ditch could best her fearsome fighter friend in battle.
The path wound through a narrow canyon of jagged cliffs, topping a slight rise at its end where a monstrous contraption stood. It was made of a strange, yellow metal, and sat on a set of large wheels that seemed to be able to propel the whole affair forward. A curious extension carrying some sort of huge mechanical gripping device protruded from its front. Up on top of the thing was a little cubby that held a seat, a panel with switches, and a few levers, made for a much larger bulk than their own, and obviously used to manipulate the apparatus in some way.
"What is that, Gabrielle?"
The bard rubbed her nose thoughtfully. "It looks like a giant siege engine. Those man-eating brutes must be planning an attack on the town! We've got to stop them, Xena!"
"Right, Gabrielle. Let's go check it out."
"But, Xena, don't you think we should go on and warn the villagers first? We have to get there anyway, and we don't want to be late. If we warn them now, we can come back later and get a closer look at that thing, while the townspeople can start building up their defenses."
"Yeah, but if we can sabotage this thing now, they won't be able to attack at all. Come on!" She slid off Argo's back, leaving Gabrielle no choice but to follow. The bard told the mare to stay put (though, seriously, why Argo would listen to her remained a mystery), and went after her friend, who was scaling the side of the huge yellow monstrosity.
"You stay down there and keep watch," Xena told her. Thinking that was probably a good idea, Gabrielle complied.
"Drat. It's locked," the warrior muttered when the door to the cubby wouldn't budge. She rattled the handle, then tried to force it open with her sword, but to no avail.
Gabrielle looked around nervously. So far, there seemed no sign of the giants. "Come down from there, Xena! We have to get going. What if this thing goes off?"
Xena paused in her examination of the door to look at the bard. "What do you think this does? Tell me, Gabrielle."
Gabrielle considered the contraption. "I suppose they roll it up to the town wall, then this claw thingie up front is used to pick the villagers off the balustrade when they try to defend the gate. I suppose they just drop them into carriages they take along for the purpose. Pretty devious."
"You're right. So maybe if I just tried to disable the claw thingie... I could cram something in there so it won't close..." Xena muttered softly to herself as she groped around the top of the machine in search of some way to disable the apparatus.
Out of the corner of her eye, Gabrielle saw movement. Something was coming up the slope towards them.
"The giants are coming," she cried, pointing.
Xena's head whipped around, blue eyes widening. Quickly, she considered their options.
"Better for them not to see us here," the warrior rationalized as she started to climb down from the machine. "That way, they won't know something is wrong until the siege engine malfunctions. Let's get out of here!" She landed neatly on the ground, and jumped up onto Argo's back.
"Finally, you're talking sense, Warrior Princess," the bard said as she scrambled up onto the horse behind the warrior. A click of Xena's tongue, and they were off.
They headed for the mouth of the gorge towards the path that would take them into the town. Suddenly there was a jolt. Xena hissed a filthy curse as they were suddenly headed down the steep decline off to their side.
"Look out Xena, we're going the wrong way," Gabrielle cried.
"I know, dammit, I know. Argo's out of control, I can't stop her! The giants must have spooked her. Hold on, it's gonna be bumpy!"
Hold on she did, but they were cruising down the gravelly hill faster and faster. She was thrown about roughly by the erratic jumps of the frantic horse, while Xena vainly tried to calm the animal down.
"Aaaaaahh look out!"
"It's no use Gabrielle! We're going doooooowwwwwwnn!"
It was only a matter of time before Argo's knees buckled. The world started to spin out of control, and bard, warrior, and horse tumbled in a tangle of flailing limbs down the slope, followed by a huge cloud of dust.
The dust settled around them as they ground to a stop at the foot of the hill.
Xena was lying flat on her stomach, trying to decide if the ache in her bruised backside was worse than the burning pain of the raw and torn skin along her thighs where they had scraped across the gravel. Her eyes stung and her nose tickled with dust. She finally decided that it was the bruise to her ego that smarted the most.
Slowly she raised her head. Her eyes came to rest on a pair of shiny black boots covered in a light layer of dust. Slowly, her eyes traveled up a pair of dark trousers, past a club tied to a belted waist, coming to rest on a scowling, bearded face. This was not good.
Cursing roundly, Gabrielle extricated herself from underneath the fallen bike. She dusted off her dress, and winced as she tried to put weight on a twisted ankle. "Xena, I swear, next time you-" She broke off when she became aware that they had company. She gulped.
Xena slowly got to her feet, and grasped her sword that had miraculously landed close by her side.
He stood head and shoulders taller than the warrior, and he wore the dark blue uniform of a police officer.
"What are you two doing here? How many times have I told you that this is private property?"
Mighty Xena drew herself up to her full four feet, and glared at him defiantly. "My name is Xena. I'm a warrior. We're on a dangerous mission," she said importantly.
"Well, Sina, last time I caught you two here you promised not to tresspass again if I didn't tell your parents. This time I'm afraid I'm going to have to be more strict with you."
The church bell chimed eight. School was starting, and once again they were going to be late. Gabby looked down at her own tattered dress, and back at the officer. She sighed.
They were definitley in trouble. Again.
The End. Maybe.