Gabrielle shivered as she looked out the window. Nothing had changed in the last half hour since she had last looked. The winter storm outside was still blowing. The strong winds whipped the falling snow around in circles and it gathered on the frozen ground in deep snow drifts. There was a thick pile on the outer part of the window and huge icicles hung from the porch roof, some as thick as her leg. She wiped at the frosty glass, trying to see better but it did no good. The problem was not with the glass or her eyes; it was the storm. The snow was coming down so thick and fast that she could barely see three feet. Shaking her head, Gabrielle turned away from the window and moved back towards the roaring fireplace.
"Is it still coming down out there?" Xena asked as she poked the logs in the fireplace with a poker. The fire flared up and then settled back down. Xena sat on a chair next to the roaring fireplace. Ares sat across from her in another chair. They were both wrapped up in blankets.
"Yes." Gabrielle told them as she sat down on the empty chair between her two friends. She glanced at Xena and wrapped her blanket tighter around herself. "I don't understand this weather, either. Greece is supposed to have a mild climate. We never get snow here and now we have a blizzard? What's causing this freakish weather?"
"Just be glad we made it back here before this storm let loose." Xena told her. The Warrior Princess had a very good idea what caused this odd weather: killing off most of the Olympian Gods. Before they had controlled such everyday things, or they were supposed to anyway. Things had been OK that summer, when they had set up Ares on Xena's grandmother's farm. The house had been a wreck after sitting empty all those years. The walls had holes in them, the door fell off the frame from dry rot, the roof leaked everywhere except in one bedroom and the furniture fell apart at the slightest touch. Ares had been right when he said the God of War wasn't going to live there. But then he wasn't a God anymore. So they had spent a month living with Ares on the farm, giving him livestock and helping him repair the house. He even adopted a dog! So once he was settled in, the two women warriors had left. Xena had told him to stay put, as she might drop in on him again someday.
And now she and Gabrielle did. They had first noticed the change in weather when autumn arrived. The nip in the air had been a lot colder and stronger than before. It got dark earlier than it should and the sky was often gray. Lately the sky had been nothing but a low hanging mass of flat gray-white. And it had been so cold that their skinned turned red and parts of their body pinched.
"Xena? How long is this storm going to last?" Gabrielle asked her friend. "And when is the weather going to go back to normal? It’s been cold for three months already! I know this weather is normal in the North, but this is Greece! I'm getting tired of seeing gray and white all the time."
"I suppose in the spring?" Xena said as she took a drink of hot tea. "I think this is caused by all those Gods dying. I don't think there's much we can do about it right now except wait for the weather to clear up."
"But there must be something we can do!" Gabrielle insisted. She glanced at Ares.
"Don't look at me. I hate sitting in this shack and freezing even more than you do." Ares admitted to her. "And these fireplaces are a joke. They provide almost no heat and lots of smoke. And being stuck in this gloomy, dark house is no fun at all. After a while, I find myself talking to the dog!"
"You see, Xena? That's what I mean!" Gabrielle explained to her friend. "We'll all go bonkers being trapped in here for months without end with nothing to do! And I know how you are. You can't stand being in one place too long. You'll crack up first!"
"I aint gonna crack up." Xena said with a very sour expression. "I've been through worse. Besides, I got plenty to do."
"Like what?" Ares asked as he leaned closer to the fire. Darn these mortal bodies and their constant need for warmth!
"Like sharpening my sword." Xena carefully put down her empty tea cup and picked up her sword. Reaching into a secret pouch, she pulled out a piece of flint and stroked it along the blade. Loud screeching filled the air. "See?"
"Xena, if you sharpen that sword any more you won't have a sword." Ares said deadpanned. "This is what? The fiftieth time today and who knows how many times the previous days?"
Gabrielle sighed. They needed some type of group activity, something to keep them occupied and entertain themselves. But what? She glanced around the small farm house they were stuck inside and realized she could see very little. The place was so dark! The fireplace provided some light but very little. And the windows didn't help much at all since it got light late and dark early. Maybe a few more candles?
Then Gabrielle realized the thing she missed most was colors. She had no idea how people in the North could live through a long, cold winter with no colors. It seemed to her that all the colors faded from the earth with the first snowflake. If she could find some bright colors somewhere, bring them into the house, maybe it might be enough to cheer them up. But how? What could possibly still be colorful amid all this snow?
"Ares is right! This place is dark and drab. What we need to do is make it bright and cheerful! It'll lift our spirits and we'll all feel better. Plus it'll give us something to do." Gabrielle told them, excitement in her voice. Her mind whirled as she tried to figure out exactly how to do it.
Ares laughed. "It'll take a God to fix this place and I'm currently without powers, so I guess that means we just lucked out."
"I wouldn't say that." Xena glanced at Gabrielle with a smile. "She's good at things like this. She's thought up some pretty amazing things in the past and sometimes just simply talked her way out of problems. I think it's the bard in her. If she says she'll think of something, I'm sure she will."
"Well, I just hope it does not involve me doing physical labor or going outside because I am NOT doing either!" Ares proclaimed loudly as he crossed his arms over his chest. His tough attitude did not last long and he was forced to hide his hands and arms under the blanket once more. He was convinced if it got any colder in this place he would be able to see his own breath!
After finishing their meal, the three retired to the bedroom for the night. Piling all the blankets on the bed kept them warm. The next morning Gabrielle was the first one to wake up, bright sunlight shining on her face. She carefully crept out of bed and moved over to the nearby window. Peering out, she was amazed! The blizzard had finally stopped and everything was covered by a thick blanket of clean white snow. It was so beautiful!
And there amid the thick field of snow was the answer she had been looking for.
"It's perfect!" she breathed.
Gabrielle turned around and looked at Ares sleeping in the bed. If her idea was going to work, she would need his help. Walking back to the bed, Gabrielle decided to wake him up. She reached out and shook his shoulder. "Ares, get up!"
Ares opened one eye and peered at her. "What?"
"I got an idea and you're going to help me with it." Gabrielle explained as she tried to pull him out of bed. Of course, her tugging on his arm did little good. He was just too heavy to move! "Now get up!"
"Can't it wait until later?" he yawned and rubbed his eyes. "It's nice and warm here in bed. I think I'm going to stay here all day. Yeah, that's a good idea!"
"Ares, you are NOT going to stay in bed all day! That's not good for you, trust me." Gabrielle told him. "You'll feel much better after you get outside and the cool air clears your sleep-filled head."
"OUTSIDE? I'm not going out there!" Ares yelled and promptly threw the blanket over his head.
"What?" Xena screamed, awakened instantly by Ares' loud protest. The Warrior Princess reached for her sword on the nearby nightstand, missed and tumbled out of bed onto the floor. She landed with a huge crash, taking the blankets with her.
"Hey! Give those back!" Ares complained as he glared angrily in Xena's direction. "Stop hogging all the blankets. A man can freeze to death in this place."
"Well, since your blankets are gone, why don't you come outside with me, Ares?" Gabrielle asked. "It'll be fun!"
Ares glanced at Gabrielle suspiciously. "What do you want me to do?"
"Just chop down a tree and bring it into the house." She told him with a big smile. She thought her idea was great! Xena and Ares were bound to love it!
"What?" Xena's head appeared above the bed and looked in Gabrielle's direction. She rubbed the back of her head and winced. "Don't forget to tell him to chop it up into firewood first."
"No, Xena. This tree isn't going to be for firewood! It's to brighten up the place!" Gabrielle explained happily. "It's our new project! We'll chop it down, bring it inside and then decorate it! We'll put candles and ribbons and stuff on it. It'll look great!"
Ares rolled his eyes. "And to think I'm stuck here with you."
Gabrielle went into the closet and pulled out Ares' black hooded cloak. She held it out to him.
"All right, I'll get up but you owe me for this." The ex God rolled out of bed and put his cloak on. Then he followed Gabrielle to the door. He paused and glanced back at Xena. "Why doesn't she have to go outside?"
"Because Xena has to figure out how to make the tree stand up!" Gabrielle told him as she pushed the outer door open. It took all of her strength, as a deep snow drift was just on the other side. But she managed and they squeezed out. They closed the door behind them, leaving a startled Xena by herself.
"How the heck am I going to do that?" Xena asked the empty room.
Gabrielle trudged through the knee deep snow until she reached the barn. Going in and checking on the animals, she pulled a big ax from its resting spot. Handing it to Ares, she led him over to the tree she had seen from the bedroom window. It was a pine tree, just a few feet taller than Ares. Its trunk was not too thick yet, so she thought he would be able to chop it down easily. She knew the hard part would be dragging it back through the deep snow.
Ares looked at the tree and then at Gabrielle. "You're serious? You really want me to chop this tree down and take it into the house? Then we're going to decorate it?"
"YES!" Gabrielle grinned at him. She looked around and realized it really wasn't too bad out here after all. It was cold, yes, but the severe cold they had earlier was gone. There was now just the deep snow. And everything looked very pretty, especially how the snow stuck to all the trees.
"This is the most craziest thing I ever heard of!" Ares told her. "And I suppose next you'll want to be tying Xena's chakrom to the top of the tree as a decoration!"
"That's a very good idea! Thank you, Ares!" Gabrielle patted him on his muscled arm. "See? You're getting this decorating idea already!"
"Stand out of the way." After waiting for her to move, Ares swung the ax at the tree trunk. He was surprised it was so hard and tough. Hmm....it had always looked so easy when that half-brother of his had chopped down trees this way. He knew if Hercules could do it he could do it, too. So he kept at it until the tree crashed to the snow. Of course, by that time all the snow that had been piled on the tree's branches was on top of Ares! He brushed snow off his hair and turned to face Gabrielle. "You satisfied now?"
Gabrielle giggled. She thought Ares was cute all covered in snow! It even clung to his dark lashes. She walked over to him and brushed snow off his shoulders. "Come on, lets drag this tree into the house!"
The two each grabbed a part of the trunk and started to drag it through the deep snow. It was slow moving, as it was hard walking in the deep snow, but they made it. Ares pushed the door open wide and they hauled it inside. They saw Xena had cobbled together some strange contraption and Ares placed the tree in the middle of it. They held their breath for a moment but the thing worked and the tree stayed upright. After a few minor adjustments, Ares had the tree standing straight. He felt rather proud of himself and he stepped back to admire his handiwork.
"So, there's a pine tree in the house." Xena stated as she stared at it. Her blue eyes followed the wet trail from the tree to the outer door. "And snow all over the floor."
"Now we decorate it!" Gabrielle proclaimed as she hurried into the kitchen and came back with candles and candlestick holders. "We'll tie these to the tree!"
Each person took several of the candlesticks and tied them to the rich green boughs of the tree. Then the candles were inserted into the metal holders. Next Gabrielle pulled out some red ribbons from a dresser drawer and they tied those on. They were, of course, tied in big bows! Gabrielle then eyed the shiny chakrom at Xena's hip and Ares snickered. He knew what was coming next and wanted to see how Gabrielle would persuade Xena to part with her favorite toy!
Xena sensed it and glanced from Ares to Gabrielle. "What? You two cook up some scheme while you were outside?"
"We just thought your chakrom would make a nice topper for the tree." Gabrielle told her bravely as she inched a tad closer to Ares, just in case.
"You want to hang my chakrom on the tree?" Xena said, amazed. "That's the most craziest thing I ever heard. Besides having a tree in my living room, that is."
"Oh, come on Xena!" Ares walked up to her and held out his hand. "The silver and gold colors will look nice on the tree! Besides, no one can't get through all that snow. Trust me! People will just have to stay where ever they are until it all melts. We'll be safe enough here."
"Yeah, I suppose you're right." Xena unhooked the chakrom from her belt and handed it to Ares. "But you better not loose it!"
"Geez, Xena! It'll be right here on the tree!" Gabrielle took the chakrom Ares handed her and got some rope ready. She figured she could just tie the chakrom's wavy centerpiece to the tree's top. She stood on her tip toes and stretched her arms out but the tree was just too tall! Suddenly strong arms wrapped around her waist and lifted her up higher and higher. Before she knew it, she found herself sitting way up on Ares' shoulders with a perfect view of the tree top. She carefully reached out and tied the chakrom in place. She clung to Ares' hair and hoped she wouldn't fall!
"Hmm....I got to admit that does look pretty good." Xena said as she started to light the candles on the tree. Soon the room was aglow from the dozens of candles on the tree and it was just in time, too, as the sun had already set for the day. The wind started to howl and soon new flakes of snow was striking against the window panes. "It gives the room a nice cheery glow."
"Definitely looks good." Ares agreed. "Very good."
Gabrielle watched Xena relax in the chair. The Warrior Princess munched on a bowl of roasted nuts as she admired the tree, totally ignoring her best friend. Gabrielle clung to her precarious perch, fingers wrapped in black hair. "Umm....Xena? How do I get down from here?"
"Not my problem." Xena muttered through a mouthful of nuts. Now why did Gabrielle think Ares had not been referring to the tree?