Legal Disclaimer: You guessed it, the characters of Xena,
Gabrielle, as well as all others associated with the show belong to
you-know-who (MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures, in case you
don't). No copyright infringement was intended in the writing of this
The characters Sina, Gabby, and all others not directly associated with the show are mine, however.
This story cannot be sold or used for profit in any way. Copies of this story may be made for private use only and must include all disclaimers.
Violence: It's summer vacation. Nothing there to disturb the peace in the neighborhood... But add Sina, and a dark-eyed blonde, and what have we got? <GBG>
This is the tenth story in the "Tell Me"-Series. Originally, it was supposed to be part of Tell Me #9 (Battle Kicks), but I felt that one was best left the way it is now. It's not necessary to read that story before reading this one.
For Mayn, who, because of his dislike for horses, set in motion the chain of events which resulted in me writing "Tell Me, Gabrielle". And who has been griping about not being given credit - I guess he does deserve some! <G> Plus, he helped me through this one when I got stuck. Thanks, pal!
For comments, feel free to mail me at email@example.com. Any type of feedback is appreciated.
Homepage: Verrath's Book Of Tales
April 2, 2000
"... And then she told the others how idiotic they had positioned themselves."
They were on their way home after Gabby had picked Sina up from soccer practice, which had started up again a few days ago. Even though Sina had been yelled at severely by Miss O'Leary, her new coach (and what a shock that had been!), for abandoning her position as goal keeper, she was beaming. After all, she had seen and diplomatically pointed out a serious flaw in the team's positioning.
Sina related the events animatedly to Gabby, who, from her vantage point (and, truth be told, because she really didn't care much for soccer at all), had not been able to grasp fully what had happened.
"Only she said it like they weren't idiots at all. I could have told them all they'd done wrong, but Oleara said what I would have said in that weird way only grown ups have."
"And what way is that?"
"Oh, you know, the way grown ups have of telling you you're a dumbo without you really noticing because they use all these fancy words and stuff. It's kinda like when my mom says, 'Sina, the weather is gorgeous, so why don't you go outside and enjoy it?' I've been thinking about how she only seems to say that when she's having a bad day or something, and I realized that what she really means is, 'get lost, Sina, I can't bear having you around right now.'"
Gabby was silent, sensing troubled thoughts in her friend that the taller girl rarely let surface. But, as always, after a few thoughtful moments, Sina smiled, and shrugged them off.
"Anyway, even though I got yelled at, I think I did good today," she said, her face nearly split in half by a huge, pleased grin. Dragon O'Leary's cutting remark she had pushed firmly to the back of her mind. Oleara was a villain, and had to act the part.
Gabby giggled. "For a moment there, I could almost think you were getting to like Miss O'Leary."
Sina looked at her in outrage. However, it seemed she hesitated just a tad before replying heatedly. "Like her??? Dragon O'Leary? Are you kiddin'?"
Gabby giggled harder. "You coulda fooled me, Warrior Princess."
Sina cocked an eyebrow, warrior-style.
"I have many skills," she drawled.
Half a moment later, they were both giggling helplessly, Sina almost letting go of Argo's handlebar.
They had an hour or so before Gabby had to go to her clarinet lessons. (She had only recently graduated from an ordinary flute to the clarinet, and was quite proud of it. Although, it was terribly hard to produce a decent sound from the instrument. You had to purse your lips just so, and Gabby kept messing up. However, she was not about to admit defeat).
Thus, the girls headed towards Gabby's house, to while away the time with all the fun stuff Gabby had in her room.
"Gabby, look," Sina said suddenly, pointing. There, in front of that old villa that had been vacant since the old man it had belonged to had died the year before, parked a huge furniture truck. Broad-shouldered, burly men in red were unloading all kinds of stuff from it; chairs, a table, cupboards and wardrobes, a desk, and huge cardboard boxes that must be filled with heavy things, from the way the men groaned under their weight.
To the children, the old, stately house had always had a sinister quality to it, giving rise to a number of creepy stories about the exact nature of the demise, or lack thereof, of the old man who had lived there. Consequently, most of the neighborhood's children tended to quicken their step when walking past it, casting an anxious look at the closed shutters, wondering what kind of eyes were watching them.
So having real, live people move in there was big news indeed! In fact, the villa looked less threatening already. That might be because of the way the unloaded furniture cluttered the porch, and people were crowding in and out of it, sometimes yelling at each other to work faster, or watch where they were going, as the case might be.
"What do you think they're doing?" Sina asked excitedly. "Think they're moving in?"
"Sure looks like it," Gabby said sagely. "I wonder who they are."
"Maybe they have kids."
"They seem to have a dog, or something, at least." Gabby pointed to one of the men carrying a miniature doghouse, and a basket with an assortment of squeaky doggie toys, brushes and blankets.
"Must be a small one though," Sina surmised.
They watched in silence for a while as the men unloaded various boxes stuffed to overflowing with all sorts of stuffed animals and dolls, each girl lost in her own thoughts.
Will their kid be our age? A girl, probably, with all the dolls. Is she their only child? Boy, those things sure look expensive. I'll bet they're pretty rich. Will she be in our school? In our class, even? Is she nice? Will she be fun to play with? I wonder what her name is, thought Gabby.
Oh great. Probably another of those snobbish sissies. Can we go now, thought Sina.
Bard and warrior, safely hidden from view by a large rock and the thick brush growing around it, watched the small group of people unload their wagons. They were travel-worn and dust-stained, the horses hanging their heads after who knew how many days of pulling their heavy burdens across Greece.
"I wonder who they are," Gabrielle murmured. "This village has been deserted for ages. I never thought that anyone would want to live in this place again, after.... after what happened here."
Xena made a noncommittal sound.
"Powerful neighbors," she remarked.
Which could be good or bad, depending on these people's intentions, the bard mused. But the warrior was right. Xena's own home village was a scant two days' ride away, and this hamlet sat practically on the Amazons' doorstep. Formidable protectors, if you knew how to deal with them. Implacable enemies, if you didn't.
Xena's glacier eyes followed the people as they started to get settled into their new home, her face, as usual, inscrutable.
They don't have the look of locals," Gabrielle ventured. "Do you think they may be from beyond Greece?
The warrior shrugged.
"It doesn't make much difference, Gabrielle. I don't care where they come from, as long as they don't cause any trouble."
The watched as a car pulled up, a fancy one, all shiny with lots of chrome that sparkled in the sunlight. The driver's door opened, and out stepped a tall, thin man with a balding head and a beak of a nose, looking aloof, and faintly bored.
Gabby could not help but think of a stork when he strode to the rear of the car to hold open the back door.
First out of the car was a little girl of about eight years, with golden hair and dark eyes. She looked regal in a black velvet skirt and white blouse, although she was a bit on the chubby side. A red velvet ribbon held the generous blond curls back from her face. A basket containing a white, fluffy something hung from her elbow. Gabby's breath caught as the furry bundle twitched, and formed a flat face with bulging eyes, black nose, and pink, lolling tongue. It was a Pekingese dog!
The girl caught sight of the two girls watching her, and stared back at them haughtily. For what seemed a long time, the three children just stood there looking at each other, three little minds churning. Then a woman climbed out of the car behind the strange girl, shot Sina and Gabby a quick look, and grabbed the child's hand.
"Come, Alice. You don't want to get yourself dirty in your good clothes," the woman said, and pulled the child after her. They both disappeared into the house. Alice's eyes, utterly expressionless, never left the two watching girls, until the door closed after her.
She stood there before them in all her splendor, clad in black leather skirt and a top that left her muscular abdomen bare. There was fire behind her, and the licking flames framed her in a red-hot, angry light.
The woman's blonde hair, reddened by the fire, fell in generous curls over her shoulders from underneath a strange, horned helmet, her dark eyes glittering dangerously. She did not speak, just looked at them with a small but not entirely benign smile etched upon her face.
Both the warrior and the bard stood enthralled by the beauty and menace emanating from the strange warrior.
"Who are you?" Gabrielle asked, awestruck.
"I am Callisto," the stranger replied. And then she turned around and walked straight into the flames!
Gabby looked thoughtful.
Sina's eyes gleamed with a wild light. She didn't like the new girl at all, for some reason.
They went on their way silently. After a while Sina said. "Who is she? Tell me..."
Gabby's face lit up, as it always did when her friend asked a story of her.
"You know, I'll just bet she's some queen from a distant land..."
She went on to tell about how Callisto was the queen of a tribe of fierce warriors way up in the north. She had been forced to leave her homeland when an evil usurper had chased her from the throne, and had vowed to get revenge. Even now, she was gathering those who still supported her in a secret place. She planned to lead them into glorious battle for the throne as soon as they were ready to march.
It was a good, strong story, but something didn't sit quite right with Sina. She just could not fit this fierce but noble 'Warrior Queen Callisto' to the girl they had just seen. For now, though, she held her peace. After all, Gabby could be right. Sina herself, of course, would not have been able to think of a better story anyway.
So she just said. "Hmm, that horned helmet looks a little silly on her, don't you think?"
Gabby rubbed her nose. "Well, I heard that's what warriors from the north wear... but I suppose she only puts it on when she plans on doing battle. She doesn't want to ruin her hairdo."
"Makes sense," Sina said reasonably.
A few days later, Gabby's mom handed Gabby a card.
"I found this in the mail for you today. It's from the little girl that moved in down the street the other day, Alice Parker. I think she's having a get-to-know party, and all the kids on the street are invited."
"Cool," said Gabby. "Do you think Sina can come, too?"
"I don't know, honey. Why don't you ask her if she got invited?"
"What do you mean, you didn't get one? Why wouldn't she invite you, too?"
"Because I don't live where you rich people live," Sina said darkly. "I don't wanna go to a dumb party anyway." She pouted.
"Maybe she'll let you come. She has to. You're my friend."
"I don't like her," said Sina flatly.
"You don't even know her," Gabby protested.
"Why don't you just come along? I'm sure she must have overlooked you, because you don't live on our street."
Sina muttered something unintelligible, and probably not very nice.
"Oh, all right," said Sina finally. "But not for her sake."
"What's she doing here?" Alice asked, staring down her nose at the tall, dark-haired girl in Gabby's company. "I don't think I invited her.
They were standing in the entrance hall of the big ancient house, where a butler - a butler!!! - had led them after opening the door for them. It was sort of weird to be standing on the inside of the house that had been the object of the better part of their childhood horror stories, but actually it looked almost... normal. Huge and fancy, perhaps, but normal.
Alice had been called from a back room to greet them. The little Pekingese was running in circles around her, yipping shrilly for all he was worth. A murmur of children's voices and laughter was coming from that room. It seemed the party had started already!
"I brought her because she's my friend," Gabby said stoutly. "I thought it would be okay... It's a get-to-know party, isn't it?"
Alice looked at them for a while, considering. At last she said, "Okay," and turned to walk back into the house, expecting them to follow.
Which they did.
Sina pulled Gabby's sleeve and whispered, "I don't wanna be here."
"Oh, come on," Gabby whispered back, "let's at least go see who all is here."
Sina shrugged and followed, a sullen glower on her face.
That glower darkened when they entered the large room that had been decorated prettily for the party. Pink and pale blue ribbons hung from the ceiling and around the two big windows on the far side, and matching balloons were strewn about. The whole thing looked utterly disgusting. Even the toys scattered across the room matched the candy-cane colors.
"I'm gonna throw up," Sina murmured. Gabby cuffed her with an elbow, and got a baleful glare in response.
A number of kids were gathered in the room; Gabby knew most of them by sight, as they lived in her neighborhood. Some of them, however, went to a different school, so she knew little more than their names.
There was Jock, and Emily (with her Teddy, of course), of their closer friends, and several kids from their class. Two children, obviously brother and sister about her own age, Gabby had not seen before. These turned out to be Alice's cousins, Bess and Michael
"There's cookies on the plate over there, and iced tea in the pitcher," Alice told them. "Help yourself. We'll have Wieners later on, and a chocolate eating contest. Antoine will be here in a bit to play some games with us." Her smile did not quite reach her eyes, and died when she looked at Sina.
Gabby shook her head incredulously. She had never in her long, long life seen two people dislike each other on sight. You just never stopped learning!
As for herself, she did not quite know what to make of the new kid. Alice was a tad too aloof for her liking, but maybe she would be more open once she got to know them better. Some kids were that way. Sina had been a regular terror when she first moved here. No one had wanted to be friends with Sina back then. But that was another story. She was okay now, mostly.
Antoine turned out to be Alice's nanny - a nanny! - who had prepared a few games; boring kid stuff, in Sina's opinion, but of course her schooled warrior features betrayed nothing of her true feelings.
"Lighten up," Gabby muttered to her as they were dodging a blindfolded Jock's clumsy gropes. "You look grumpy enough to scare the bedbugs!"
"What are you talking about?" Sina whispered back. Her face was, of course, the very picture of joyful enthusiasm.
Thankfully, the games were done soon - Sina ended up winning quite a few of them, and she was the undisputed champion of the one Alice called "Journey to Greece" where you had to grab a chair before the music stopped, only there was always one chair less than there were kids. She had not enjoyed herself. Not one bit. Although she admitted getting a savage glee from the fact that Alice had ended up losing to her more times than she had won.
"I'm glad you're finally liking it here," Gabby said to her brightly after they had finished the last round and Sina had received yet another gaudy plastic toy for a prize. "Most of the kids here are really nice."
"I'm not enjoying myself," Sina protested grumpily. "I'm having a terrible time."
"If you say so," said Gabby, and proceeded towards the dinner table, where hot Wieners and potato salad were waiting for them. Sina followed her. She wasn't hungry, either, by the way.
In no time at all, the twelve children present were gathered at the oblong table, seated on elegant, high-backed chairs. Some of them were small enough to have difficulties looking over the tabletop; two dozen short legs dangled underneath it.
But any discomfort this might have caused the smaller ones among the children was forgotten when they each had a steaming wiener and a generous helping of potato salad on their plate, and a glass of homemade lemonade, too! This was life!
Anyone who has ever been at a children's party will know that such an event can never be a quiet affair; squeaky giggles, less than pretty noises, slurps, and snorting laughter echoed through the large room, accompanied by the metallic scraping of spoons on plates.
It was shortly after Alice's cousin Bess suggested a sort of game that involved everybody freezing in mid-move, when everybody was laughing because they had managed to catch Gabby with the spoon poised halfway inside her mouth (which, truth be told, was not very hard to do), it was shortly after this that disaster struck.
"Stop!" yelled Emily, whose turn it happened to be, and the room went still.
Everybody, except for Jock. Now, you need to know that Jock had been in the process of drinking from his glass of lemonade, the glass tilted way back because he was thirsty after polishing his plate. Just before that fateful command, he had started to suspect that there was something wrong with the drink. Indeed, the liquid burned like something he wasn't allowed to say, way down deep in his throat.
But he had been laughed at so many times today, and he was determined not to be laughed at now for moving when the game forbade it, so he bravely let the rest of the lemonade slide down his throat, tears stinging in his eyes. God, this stuff burned! So intense was the pain that it cut off the flow of air into his lungs, and he felt himself go weak with sudden panic.
And in that hush, when no kid wanted to be the first to move, poor Jock could keep it up no longer. The glass fell from hands that went to a suddenly way too narrow throat as he wheezed and coughed, tears of pain now streaming freely from bloodshot eyes. Moments later, his chair toppled, and he fell over backward clutching his throat and moaning softly.
If possible, the silence in the room deepened, the mood going from excited tension to shocked surprise. Antoine was by his side in no time, with a glass of water. She was speaking softly to him while the children silently gathered in a semi circle around the pair. Alice, Gabby noticed, had a sort of hunted look in her eyes and was biting her lip. Sina's eyes were narrowed to slits, as she scanned the scene to determine what was happening. She looked every inch the Warrior Princess, thought Gabby fleetingly.
But concern for their friend got the better of her, and she approached the nanny to ask timidly what Jock's trouble was.
Antoine helped Jock to sit up and gave him some water, which he gulped down greedily. Then she straightened, and looked at each of the children in turn.
"Somebody put black pepper in his lemonade," she said slowly, menacingly. "A lot of it."
The semi circle of kids unconsciously widened a little. Antoine was a tall, somewhat plump woman with dark hair, and in that pose, hands on hips and that frightful glower, she looked ready to eat every one of them alive.
Whoever had played this prank on the poor boy certainly hadn't expected it to turn out this seriously, and all children were relieved when the little boy eventually recovered, and got to his feet asking for more water.
"Who did this?" asked the nanny. For some reason, her gaze went directly to Alice, who looked slightly uncomfortable, but had her lip stuck out in a gesture of defiance.
The blonde child raised her hand to point. Everything seemed slow-motion to Gabby from that point on. Up went that hand, forefinger extended. Pointing straight at... Sina.
"She did it," said Alice, and the words rang like bells of thunder in Gabby's mind. "I saw her."
A soft gasp went through the assembled children as gazes turned on the accused.
Too stunned to speak at first, Sina's jaw went slack. She just shook her head mutely. Gabby felt like somebody had hit her tummy with a hammer.
"Are you sure, Alice? Did anyone else see this?"
Any response Sina might have been working on was lost when Bess, Alice's cousin spoke up.
"I did, I saw her do it."
"But I..." Sina stammered, and broke off, a stubborn look that Gabby knew only too well appearing on her face. The dark-haired girl had been in too much trouble already for her to show any sort of weakness in its face. She was a warrior, after all.
Now Antoine turned to Sina, looking stern. "That wasn't nice at all, and he could easily have gotten hurt. You know that, don't you?"
Sina met the woman's gaze with flashes of glacier blue lightning. And then, without a word, she turned and stomped out of the room. The Pekingese who had been curled up in a basket in the corner jumped up and followed her to the door, yipping and snarling at her feet.
Gabby's mind raced. She did not know what to think. Sina wouldn't have... ? Or would she? She had done all these naughty things before... In any case, Sina was her friend, and it seemed she needed her now.
With a last glance at Jock, who by now looked none the worse for his experience and was already scanning the dinner table for more wieners, Gabby followed the little Warrior Princess outside.
She found Sina sitting cross-legged on the sidewalk, chin resting in one hand, and the other scraping a stick across the pavement in small patterns.
"Hey," Gabby said softly and crouched down beside her.
For some time, Sina made no reply, just continued drawing little circles in the dust on the pavement.
"Fat lot of help you were," she said at last, acidly.
"Well, it's not like I had a whole lot of time to do anything," Gabby retorted. Then she said more softly, "Did you do it?"
"So now you're believing Alice, too? I thought you at least would stand by me." Sina still refused to look at her friend, preferring to wallow in her somber mood.
"I'm here, right? I just want to know what happened. And you haven't answered me."
"Wasn't me," Sina said dully.
"I never lied to you about the bad things I did."
"What about the incident with Mrs. Castor's waterhose?"
Sina grunted. "I don't wanna talk about that!"
"Well, I never denied doing something. But I swear I had nothing to do with this. I swear. He's my friend, too."
"I know," said Gabby softly. "I believe you."
Now at last, Sina did look up at her friend. Her eyes were glittering. She blinked them a few times before getting to her feet.
"Can we go now?"
As they headed down the street side by side, each holding on to Argo's handlebar, Sina said, "So, do you still think Callisto is a noble Warrior Queen from the north? Tell me..."
Gabby laughed, relieved to feel the tension melt away between them. "Maybe not."
The village lay in heaps of rubbish as the marauding army finished its gruesome work on the last of the villagers. Fire was already dying among the houses, few of them had more than one or two walls left standing.
"I don't wanna die!" a woman screamed, cradling a small infant in her arms as she wandered aimlessly through the ruins that had once been her home, her life.
"Kill them all!" a soldier yelled as he raised his sword.
"Help! My baby!"
"Run, woman!" a man, running past her, cried. "They're trying to kill us all!"
The blonde leader of the army appeared before them, an evil sneer on her face. "Trying? I think we're succeeding."
Then, as the soldier was about to finish his filthy task, Callisto stopped him." Stop! Let her live. You, old crone. Tell the world what we did here. Let them know what devastation awaits anyone who defies me."
"Who are you?" the trembling woman asked.
"I'm Xena, Warrior Princess!" And her maniacal laughter sounded through the ravaged village.
Sina nodded in satisfaction. "Yup, that's a lot more like it. And you left out that silly helmet, too."
And they continued on down the road in companionable silence.
Return to The Bard's Corner