Gabrielle opened the Inn's front door and stepped out into the cold air. It felt good to be outside, out of the too hot and stuff inn. Stopping a few feet from the Inn's front door, Gabrielle looked around in amazement. During the short time she and Xena had been indoors eating, a soft blanket of snow had covered the ground. Everything around her was now pure white, the earth looking clean, pure and new. Thick clumps of snow clung to tree branches and steep piles gathered around everyday objects like fence posts. Her breath puffing out as white smoke, Gabrielle walkee further to see what other wonders nature had to offer her this night.
Spotting a steep hill, Gabrielle climbed it. Her boots slid in the slippery white snow and soon her bare legs were covered with the stuff. She dug her Amazon staff in to help her and soon she reached the top. She had only intended to come out for a moment, to cool off, but now she was beginning to feel the cold. Folding her arms across her chest, Gabrielle stared out into the night sky. It was black velvet sprinkled with sparkling diamonds. One star seemed to shine brighter and stronger than all the rest. "It's beautiful!" Gabrielle breathed. "Surely something magical will happen on a night like this!"
A second later she heard the faint sound of bells. Not loud, clear temple bells but tiny sleigh bells. Oddly enough, the sound appeared to be coming from the night sky itself! She peered up at the sky and soon spotted a moving object! It was a huge sleigh being pulled by some odd animals, but what was it doing flying? Before Gabrielle could utter a single word, the sleigh turned in her direction and came in for a landing. Once it had stopped moving, Gabrielle approached the sleigh. And sitting in the driver's seat holding the reins was none other than the God of War himself!
"So, what do you think of my new ride? Like it?" Ares asked, a bright red stocking cap on his head. Other than the cap, he was still dressed in his usual black leather. His dark eyes scanned Gabrielle up and down, noting her bare midriff, the snow on her now red legs, the white frost gathering on her eyelashes. "You know, you're going to get yourself sick being dressed like that in this weather."
"Ares, where did you get this thing? And what are those?" Gabrielle examined the huge sleigh. It was red with gold swirly patterns on it. Very eloborate. And the animals! Since she had started traveling with Xena three years ago, she had never seen anything like them. They had huge antlers on their head and big, beautiful eyes. Why, one even had a glowing red nose! Gabrielle sneezed then, and realized Ares was right! If she didn't go back in soon she would catch her death out here.
"I borrowed this rig from an uncle I got. He only uses it one night a year, if you can believe that!" Ares produced a fine red coat trimmed with white fur and handed it to Gabrielle. It even had a hood. "And the animals are reindeer. My uncle gets them from Lapland. With a touch of magic, they can fly. Really freaks them out at first but they quickly adjust. He takes good care of them but they need more practice pulling the sleigh for the Big Night coming up. Unk is too busy at the moment with other stuff, so he asked me to take them out on a practice run. Why don't you come with me?"
"Me?" Gabrielle asked, surprised. She had never expected Ares to ask her to go sleigh riding with him!
"Yeah, you. Why not? Surely you don't believe all those things Xena says about me, do you? So why don't you get in here and we'll go for a ride." Ares patted the empty seat next to him. "Hey, this is a rare oppurtunity, you know! Come along and I'll tell you all about my uncle that owns this sleigh. You can write it all down later if you want. He's not very famous, as Gods go, and most mortals never even heard of him."
Gabrielle turned and glanced back at the Inn with its cheery yellow-lighted windows. Soon Xena would come looking for her. She would have to decide quickly, because once Xena showed up it would be NO to riding in sleighs with Ares! Wearing her new coat, Gabrielle felt snug and warm so the weather would not be a problem. And she did want to hear that story! Just think, a Greek God no one had ever heard of! And one of Zeus' brothers, too! Wow!
"How long could one sleigh ride take, anyway?" Gabrielle said quitely to herself. She walked around to the other side of the sleigh and got in, sitting next to Ares. It sort of reminded her of sitting up front on a wagon. Then she remembered this sled could fly! She started searching for something to hold onto but could find nothing. There was just the seat. "Umm...Ares? Exactly what do I ...."
Before Gabrielle could finish her sentence, Ares flickered the reins and the reindeer took flight. Gabrielle was thrown back in her seat as the entire sleigh quickly climbed up into the night sky. The sleighbells on the reins and harnesses jingled merrily as they traveled along at an incredible speed. The night seemed darker up here and the stars brighter. In fact, the stars looked so close Gabrielle imagined she could almost touch them. But of course she couldn't. She settled back, confident she couldn't fall out, and listened as Ares told her about his mysterious uncle that lived at the North Pole.
Hours passed and Gabrielle lost track of time. She saw places she had never knew existed. In fact, they had traveled around the entire world in a single night. It seemed impossible to Gabrielle but Ares assured her it was so, and thus she believed him. The sun was starting to peek over the horizon when Ares landed the sleigh on the snowy hilltop. Gabrielle hopped out, her head still spinning with everything that she had saw. She just wished she could see all those places during the day, talk to the people that lived there!
"Ares, that was the most incredible experience of my life!" Gabrielle told him as she moved to stand next to his side of the sleigh. "Although I still don't understand why you asked me to go with you."
"Well, things in life are more meaningful when you share them with someone, so I thought I'd share this magical night with you. It's not often my uncle lets me borrow this thing, you know!" Ares replied. He gazed into Gabrielle's eyes and grinned. "Besides, you see me for who I am. Xena sees only what she wants to see. I admire your honesty, Gabrielle, even if we don't see eye to eye on everything. And maybe I like you."
"You do?" Gabrielle asked, amazed. She was even more startled when Ares leaned forward and kissed her. Then, in the blink of an eye, he and the sleigh were gone. And not a moment too soon!
"Gabrielle!" Xena called loudly as she charged up the hill. "Thank Zeus I found you! I searched and searched for you all night! Your footprints just ended on this hill and there were some other odd prints, too. Are you all right?"
"I'm fine, Xena. I just went on a little trip." Gabrielle explained as she started to make her way back down the hill towards the Inn. The sun was fully up in the sky now and the snow glowed brightly with reflected light. The excitement from the ride was beginning to fade and she was beginning to feel the affects of being up all night.
Xena glared at her suspiciously, eying the bright red coat with the white fur trim. She had never seen anything like it before...ever. "Where did you get that coat from? Who were you with and where did you go?"
Gabrielle fended off Xena's questions, saying she was too tired. Locking the door to the room, Gabrielle pulled out a fresh scroll she had been saving for a special occasion. She wanted to get the story of Ares' unknown uncle down while it was still fresh in her mind. If she waited too long, she would forget important details. She hoped a few people might read it and get to like the story. She started to write:
"Twas the Night before Christmas..."