Griselda

The One Where Rachel Is Brave

 

They were walking towards Central Perk, when Phoebe suddenly stopped and started looking around, almost seeming to sniff the air.

 

"What's up, Pheebs?" said Chandler. "Unstable aura alert?"

 

"You can joke," said Phoebe, "but I'm sensing something really weird in the air."

 

"All I can sense is gas fumes," said Ross jokingly.

 

"Oh, you!" said Phoebe, sounding rather annoyed. "I'm telling you, I have this really strange feeling, and I think it concerns us. Maybe we shouldn't go to Central Perk tonight."

 

"Oh, come on," said Ross. "You can't expect us to use your feelings as the basis for making a rational decision. Stuff like that just doesn't happen. I'm going ahead, anyway."

 

He set off decisively, followed by Chandler and Monica. Joey hesitated and looked at Phoebe. "Come on, Pheebs," he pleaded. "It won't be the same without you."

 

Phoebe shook her head and looked mulish. "No. The feeling's getting stronger all the time. If you're smart, you'll stay with me."

 

"Well, I'm staying," said Rachel. "I've had enough of Ross in his Mr. Scientist mood."

 

"Come along, you guys," yelled Monica from the corner. Joey looked from one group to the other, agonised at having to make a decision, then waved. "I stay here," he said firmly.

 

"Great," said Phoebe. "Looks like we finally got our own gang. So what shall we do?"

 

Before either of the others could reply, they heard a strange noise from round the corner, like a shout. "Hey, what was that? Sounded like Chandler!" cried Joey, and he set off for the corner at a run, with Phoebe and Rachel close behind. But when they rounded the corner there was nothing to be seen, nor were their friends visible in Central Perk.

 

"Where did they go?" said Joey, and then, before the horrified gaze of Phoebe and Rachel, he disappeared into thin air. They barely had time to cry out when an invisible force seized them too, and they felt as if they were being pulled off their feet and stretched, while everything in front of them first gained a multicoloured halo, then disappeared into blackness. It was not painful, but completely disorienting, so that when their feet seemed to touch solid ground again, they staggered and clutched each other tightly.

 

When their vision cleared, they looked at each other in amazement, for their dress had changed completely, to something that Phoebe thought would be quite appropriate for a Hercules or Xena episode, but was completely out of place for modern New York – not that they appeared to be in New York now. Rachel was wearing a leather outfit over a short brown tunic, leaving her upper arms and knees bare; from a belt at the waist hung a pouch and – Phoebe blinked – what looked like a short sword. Phoebe herself was wearing a kind of shirt and trousers of coarse patterned cloth, and stitched hide shoes that looked crude beside Rachel's neat sandals, and from her belt hung a long  knife and a pouch. Even their hair had changed: hers was now tied back in a ponytail, while Rachel's had turned red, the way she had worn it for a while, and fanned out around her neck and shoulders.

 

"What in the world has happened to us?" said Rachel, almost in a whisper.

 

"I don't think we're in Kansas any more," said Phoebe. The buildings around them looked to be of adobe, mostly low, with wood fittings; some had signs outside that she could read.

 

"Where's Joey?" cried Rachel, sounding panicky. "Where are the others? Oh, Phoebe, what are we going to do?"

 

Phoebe gave her a comforting hug, though she felt a little unnerved herself. But she also felt strengthened by the knowledge that she had been vindicated: weird stuff did happen. She was looking forward to confronting Ross over this, when they found him.

 

"Let's keep calm," she said. "Ten to one they are somewhere around here. We just have to look for them. When we are all together we can figure out what happened and what, if anything, we can do about it. For my money, we have landed in the past somehow. Maybe, we'll go back after a while. At least, that's what the SF I read suggests would happen."

 

Rachel did not look very reassured. "But we've got weapons!" she wailed. "This could be dangerous."

-----

 

Joey landed on his feet, but for a moment everything was spinning in front of his eyes and he had to shut them. When he looked again, everything had changed, even – he looked himself over – his clothes. He was wearing some kind of long shirt, belted at the waist. Apart from sandals, that was about it, and everything was even more beat up than his regular stuff. At least it was a hot day. He looked around: where were the others, and where was this? It looked like some little Mexican town from a Western movie, but he could read the signs. He could see one in the distance, The Gold Bosom: that looked promising. But, he thought suddenly, what was he going to do for dough? He had not started out with much, and even that might have gone, since he had no pockets. But there was some kind of pouch thing on his belt: opening it, he found a few small coins, all brown – he didn't recognise them, but he guessed they wouldn't get him far.

 

"Short of dough, Shamus?" came a deep, rather foreign-sounding female voice, along with a slap on the shoulder. "I buy you a drink, maybe?" Turning, he saw a large woman smiling at him, a rather muscly but not unattractive blonde, who was wearing a sword, it looked like. As he took her in, she peered at him.

 

"Say, you're not Shamus," she said in a puzzled voice.

 

"No, I'm Joey," he said, and flashed her his best grin. "But could I have Shamus's drink?"

 

The woman blinked, then smiled. "Well, if you're not Shamus, you look like you could be his brother … but younger and prettier. Come on, I buy you a drink anyways." She put her arm through his. "So, you're Joey, eh? Me, I'm Hanufa."

 

He grinned again. "So, how you doin'?"

 

Hanufa stopped dead and stared at him. She seemed to flush a little, and moistened her lips. "You know," she said, "Somehow I don't want a drink just yet, I think. I want … something else first."

 

"Fine with me," said Joey happily. "You got a room?"

-----

 

Olaf the Storyteller was sitting in Loud Lilina's over an early drink, just after she'd opened again following her afternoon break, and thinking of not much, as he liked to put it, when suddenly two guys and a doll walked in very slowly, as if they had never entered such a place before. In fact, this seemed quite a likely possibility, since they were all dressed up like Rich Hill folks, and at first he thought one guy and the doll belonged to the Patroma family, for they had that look about them, while the other guy resembled Avidius Tiro at first glance. This was so surprising that he took a moment to notice that they were not displaying any of the self-confidence that you would expect of such people, but huddled together, looking about and whispering. Finally Lilina spoke up. "Can I get you something, sirs and lady?" she said in a most polite tone, evidently thinking that they smelled like dough.

 

The guy who looked like Avidius Tiro said, "Well, ah, do you have any coffee?"

 

"Not something I ever hear of," said Lilina. "Beer, wine, mead, even spirits I can do."

 

"Beer," said the doll in a decided voice. "Beer is just what I need."

 

"But how are we going to pay?" Olaf heard the guy mutter.

 

"No problem," said the dark guy, who looked like her brother. "Look, there are coins in this purse, though I don't recognise any of them."

 

Then Lilina set the beers on the bar and said, "That will be three silvers," which indicated to Olaf that she took them for suckers, since this was gross overcharging, even for her best beer. The dark guy forked over three Lunars without complaint, so maybe she was right, at that. Then he and the other guy took the beers over to a table where the doll had taken a seat, after giving the stool a thorough wipe with her sleeve. She held up her hand and would not let them put the beers down until she had wiped the table also. "This place is filthy," Olaf heard her hiss at them, but they just shrugged. "Dirt is the least of our worries," said the dark guy.

 

Then they all took a pull, and made it quite clear by their expressions that they did not like it at all. "This is beer?" said the doll in a disgusted voice, loud enough for everyone to hear, as she slammed the mug down.

 

"My best," said Loud Lilina, sounding rather hurt. "Perhaps my lady would prefer wine?" she added, in a way that Olaf recognised as indicating that she might be about to blow. Clearly the guys recognised this too, for they hastily took another pull. "It kind of grows on you," said the dark guy, and the other nodded. This was clearly not his true opinion, but it calmed Lilina down. She leaned on the bar and looked at them.

 

"You're strangers in town?" she said.

 

"We are," said the dark guy. "In fact, we would appreciate knowing just where we are, for we arrived here in a way that I do not understand."

 

"You are in the city of Pavis," said Lilina proudly. "You are not related to the Patromas? You sure look like them."

 

"No," said the dark guy. "I am Ross Gella, and this is my sister Monica, and this is Chandlabing."

 

Olaf had to use considerable will-power to refrain from laughing, and Lilina did not even try; she let out a great cackle. This seemed to burn up Chandlabing, but he did not protest.

 

However, the doll called Monica looked really mad. "I see nothing to laugh at," she said, with plenty of frost in her tone.

 

"Well, my lady, you have to take your laughs where you can find them in this burg," said Lilina. "Your parents must be real jokers, eh, mister Chandlabing?" and she cackled again.

 

"Oh yes, a laugh a minute," he said, pulling a face. "But enough of this sophisticated badinage. We need more information. Just whereabouts is Pavis, and what year is it, and all that?"

 

Lilina scratched her head. "I never pay too much attention to the year," she said, "and I do not know how to explain where Pavis is. Olaf, help me out here."

 

They all turned to Olaf, who had no idea what year it was either, but he wanted to be helpful. These people looked as if they had significant dough, a type he was always ready to help, and so he said, after a moment's thought, "The year I do not know, but I can tell you that Pavis is on the Zola Fel river, on the eastern edge of the Plaines of Prax, and we are now ruled by the great and glorious Empire of the Red Moon. Is this any help?"

 

The other two looked at Ross Gella, who shook his head. "I do not recognise any of these names," he said. "So we still do not know where we are, or when." They looked very down, so Olaf decided to play a hunch that he had been developing. "Do you know a person called Redfox?" he said. "She arrives here claiming to be from somewhere that no one ever hears of, although she can speak like us, just the way you are doing."

 

"No, we don't know Redfox," said Ross Gella. "But what you say is interesting. Please accept our hospitality and tell us more."

 

"You can have my beer," said Monica, pushing it across the table as Olaf moved over to them. Ross Gella looked at her reproachfully and signalled to Lilina for another, which Olaf heartily approved of, but he decided to take Monica's also, for she had really drunk very little of it and it would be a shame to let it go to waste. Then he began on the story of Redfox, which they listened to with much interest, but when he mentioned a healing spell Ross Gella stopped him.

 

"A spell?" he said. "You mean, like magic? You have magic here?"

 

"Certainly," said Olaf in surprise. "Do you not have magic where you come from?"

 

The other two shook their heads, but Ross Gella looked thoughtful. "We have stuff that you would think is magic," he said, and then he said to the others, sounding like a Sage, "Arthur C. Clarke said once, any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." Their expressions suggested that they heard this kind of stuff from him all the time and it did not impress them. "If you have spells that actually work," he said to Olaf, "we are a long way from home."

 

Just then, Olaf saw Hanufa walk in with a guy who looked very like Sweet-Talking Shamus, except that he was younger and not so experienced-looking. Hanufa was all over him, so Olaf could guess what they had just been up to. The strangers jumped up excitedly and hugged him.

 

"Boy, am I glad to see you," he said. "I  was afraid I was here on my own. Oh, this is Hanufa."

 

"Pleased to meet you," said Hanufa, looking at their finery in an awestruck way.

 

As they began to sit down together, Chandlabing smiled at the new guy and said, "How do you do it, Joe? You haven't been here two minutes, and already you've hooked up with someone."

 

"It's his only talent," growled Ross Gella. "Joey, where are Raychul and Feebee?"

 

"Well, they were right behind me," said Joey. "So I guess they're somewhere around here too, but maybe they will have changed the way we have."

 

"You will have a beer now, Joey?" said Hanufa. "It is what I like to drink myself."

 

"Sure," he said, and Hanufa ordered two. Olaf noticed that Monica was watching carefully as she paid for them, and seemed annoyed, muttering something to Chandlabing about their having been overcharged, but he just shrugged and said, "Let it go. We don't want any trouble, and it's not as if we're going to buy any more."

 

Hanufa brought the beers over and downed half of hers, the way she always did with the first one. Joey took a good pull at his also, and his eyes practically bulged out. "Wow!" he said. "That has a kick!"

 

Lilina, who had been looking at him appreciatively, growled, "At least some folks appreciate good beer. The next one's on me, Joey."

 

Olaf saw Chandlabing roll his eyes. "Every time," he muttered. "Every single goddam time."

-----

 

"Well, I don't think we're going to find them by walking around," said Rachel grumpily. She had accepted Phoebe's assurance that she could protect them in any trouble, but she still felt very uneasy in this place. Not only was it hot and dirty, the few people they saw kept giving them strange looks. One had even stopped and begun to say something, then looked closer, shaken his head, and walked off.

 

"Can you think of a better plan?" said Phoebe. "This place isn't so big. Surely we must come on them soon."

 

"They could be walking around just ahead of us," said Rachel disspiritedly. "By the way, have you noticed how people look at us?"

 

"Yes, as if they think we're people they know," said Phoebe.

 

Just then someone approached them who looked strange even by the standards of this place. She looked most like some weird Goth type, with very skimpy black clothing, a nose-ring and tattoos, but she had her head shaved apart from a mohican of blood-red locks standing up straight down the middle. Her arms were scarred and muscly, and she carried a sword.

 

"Is that you, Lucilla?" she said, peering at Rachel. "I thought for a moment it was Griselda, but you are too tall."

 

"No, I am not Lucilla, I am Rachel Green," said Rachel snappily. "I don't know Lucilla, or Griselda either."

 

"Well, you look very like them," said the Goth. "You must be strangers here. Anyone who has been here more than a day knows about Griselda," she added, in a way that suggested that she did not care for Griselda much.

 

"We certainly are strangers," said Phoebe. "We don't even know where we are, let alone how we got here."

 

"Why, you are in Pavis," said the Goth, acting rather surprised. "And what do you mean, you don't know how you got here?"

 

Phoebe tried to explain what had happened to them, with Rachel's help, while the Goth listened attentively. At the end she shook her head. "I heard that something similar happened around Griselda a while back. Perhaps she attracts people who look like her in some magical way; it would be just like her. So you are looking for your friends, eh? Maybe I can help: I can show you every eating house and bar in Pavis, if you think they might be in one of those."

 

"That sounds like a great idea," said Phoebe enthusiastically. "Thank you very much, miss -?"

 

"Call me Red Hot," said the Goth, "and it will be my pleasure," she added, with a strange smile that Rachel did not feel happy about; but she recognised that they needed any help they could get.

-----

 

Monica was finding it hard to conceal a growing sense of irritation. Ross's point that it was best to sit still and let Rachel and Phoebe come to them was fair, she supposed, but instead of discussing what they might do about their general situation, the guys seemed perfectly happy to sit around drinking the awful beer and chatting with the locals, of whom there was an increasing number. This seemed a popular bar with people of a certain kind. Nobody who had come in looked very respectable, and several carried weapons, like this Elsa from Adari, a hard-looking woman who was gazing at Joey in a very predatory way, ignoring the hostile glances that she was receiving from Hanufa. Naturally, Joey was having a great time. The fact that his female admirers were carrying weapons did not seem to bother him in the least, but he was mostly talking to a man everyone called Shamus, who could have been his older brother and evidently fancied himself as a lady-killer.  He certainly had a rough charm, but after intercepting one of Ross's glares, he had not tried anything on with her.

 

Joey and Shamus suddenly let out a great roar of laughter, in which Ross joined and then, rather less easily, Chandler. Without meaning to, Monica gave out a great sigh. A smallish dark woman sitting nearby leaned across.

 

"Don't be too hard on your menfolk," she said quietly. "They've had a bad scare, and they don't know what to do, though I bet they're racking their brains to think of something, at least Ross and Chandla are. It seems to me there's nothing you can do, in fact, except wait for whatever brought you here to take you back."

 

"You believe us, then?" said Monica, warming to her instantly.

 

"Oh yes," the other said. "When I was in the employ of the Patromas, the family that you and your brother so much resemble, I heard some very strange things. I am Hilda, by the way."

 

Monica held out her hand. "It's good to meet one sensible person."

 

Hilda took her hand and grinned. "Not as sensible as all that," she said, "or I would not be adventuring for a living. But it beats working as a tied servant, which is what I was."

 

"How did you get away?" asked Monica, intrigued.

 

"Well, it was Griselda who helped me …" Hilda began. "Why, there she is now."

 

Monica turned to see a very small red-headed woman enter the bar. She was dressed quite simply in a tunic and leathers, with some jewellery here and there, and she too carried a sword, although hers was notably short. She was extremely attractive, with a curious look of Rachel about her, but she was clearly in a bad mood, although she acknowledged various greetings in a queenly sort of way. After looking around, she came over to Hilda.

 

"I just heard that there is another lookalike of mine going about Pavis," she said. "Have you seen or heard anything?"

 

Hilda shook her head. "Absolutely not. But if you sit around here she is bound to show up, so why not sit down and relax and hear the amazing story that Monica here has to tell?"

 

Griselda smiled rather reluctantly and pulled up a stool. "It's all very well for you, Hilda. Nobody goes around impersonating you."

 

"Ah, but then I'm not famous," said Hilda, with a glint in her eye. "Just as well too, or the Patromas would be after my hide."

 

Griselda laughed out loud and shook her head. "Best to keep quiet about that. You never know who might be listening."

 

Just then Ross and Chandler jumped to their feet with glad cries of "Rachel! Phoebe!" To her immense relief, Monica saw her friends coming into the bar, accompanied by a strange-looking woman who wore her hair in a sort of red cock's comb on the top of her head. As she pushed forward to hug them, Monica noticed to her surprise that Rachel was dressed very like Griselda, while Phoebe looked more like the average person around here.

 

"Oh God, I'm so glad to see you guys!" cried Rachel, with tears in her eyes.

-----

 

"Very touching, I'm sure," came an angry voice, and they turned to see Griselda on her feet, hands on hips, glaring at Rachel. "But I have a word or two I want to say to you, miss Aims-to-look-like-me."

 

Rachel was terrified. She had never seen anyone look as fierce as this small woman whose dress was so very like hers, only rather better quality, and she felt quite unable to speak.

 

"Once before," said the woman, "I had this problem. Maybe I will have to deal with you a bit more severely than I did with the other, so that word gets out."

 

"I am not doing this on purpose," Rachel managed to stammer. "I found myself like this when I came here. I don't even know who you are."

 

If anything, this seemed to infuriate the small woman further. "Then why would you be dressed like that?" she snarled. "It's my style; everyone knows that."

 

"Griselda, you don't understand," put in a dark woman sitting near her. "These people – "

 

"Be quiet, Hilda," snapped Griselda, and Hilda stopped talking, though she did not look happy about it.

 

Griselda advanced a step, and everyone withdrew except Rachel and her friends.

 

"Look," said Ross, stepping forward, "we are not responsible for the way we look. Our clothes were changed into this gear when we got here."

 

"Shut it!" hissed Griselda, whipping out a dagger. "I have no quarrel with you others. Just let me deal with her."

 

"You'll have to come through me first!" cried Phoebe, pulling her knife and sinking into a practised-looking knife-fighter's crouch.

 

Griselda looked up at her. "Why do you look like Bella? What is going on here?" she almost screamed, then made a lightning move. The knife clattered to the floor and Phoebe clutched a bleeding wrist.

 

"I'm serious about this!" Griselda yelled. "Now step aside, you others. Don't worry, I won't kill her, just mark her a little."

 

"No way," growled Ross, taking one of his martial arts poses, while Monica stood next to him, her fists up, looking remarkably fierce, and Chandler and Joey took position beside them, scared but determined; even Phoebe fell in behind them, trying to wrap something round her wrist. Rachel felt herself tearing up at her friends' complete readiness to defend her, and told herself fiercely that she must stop being such a wuss. A sense of fury began to fill her – fury at the situation that they had been put in, for no fault of their own, fury at Griselda, who would not give them a chance to explain themselves. Remembering how she had dealt with Joey's obnoxious girlfriend Katie who would keep hitting people, she pushed between Ross and Monica and came nose to nose with Griselda, who seemed a bit taken aback.

 

"Will you quit bullying?" Rachel yelled and kicked her as hard as she could on the ankle. With a cry of pain Griselda dropped her dagger and fell. There was a gasp all around, and then Red Hot, who was near the front, began to laugh. Understanding came to Rachel, and she rounded on her. "You set this whole thing up, you bitch!" she shouted, and drove both fists as hard as she could into Red Hot's stomach. Taken by surprise in the middle of her laugh, Red Hot collapsed to the floor, gasping for breath. By now almost unable to see for rage, Rachel pulled her sword, squared off with her hands clamped on the hilt, and screamed, "Anyone else want some?"

 

"No swords!" yelled the fat woman behind the bar, and others repeated it, while her friends called urgently, "Rachel, it's okay," and "Calm down".

 

Then Hilda came forward and gently unlaced Rachel's fingers from the sword-hilt. "No need for that," she said calmly. "No one here will do you harm."

 

"I wouldn't be so sure of that," growled Griselda from a stool, where she was sitting nursing her ankle and glowering at Rachel. "Just wait till I get this healed," and she began muttering to herself.

 

"No, Griselda, I cannot let you do this," said Hilda. "You are not giving these people a chance to explain themselves, but there is clearly magic involved. This must be why they all look like people here, and my belief is, they came the same way Redfox did."

 

Before Griselda could reply, two big women wearing swords stepped forward, grim-faced. "We stand with Hilda here," said one. "No one hurts Joey or a friend of his." One or two other women stepped forward also, and there was a murmur round the bar that seemed approving.

 

Griselda looked thoughtful, and then nodded. "Okay," she said, and stood up easily, as if she'd never been kicked. "What you say does indeed sound possible. I had forgotten Redfox. So, I apologise. Here, you that looks like my cousin Bella, I can fix that wrist for you."

 

Phoebe came forward hesitantly, and Griselda took hold of her wrist and muttered over it as she had over her own ankle. A smile spread across Phoebe's face. "Wow!" she said. "I like this place. How do I learn to do stuff like that?" This caused some laughter, which died away as Red Hot got to her feet, evidently still in pain. "I notice no one cares about my stomach," she growled.

 

"No, and why should we?" snapped Hilda, as she turned on Red Hot. "I believe Raychul here has it right: you brought her and Griselda together deliberately, hoping for a fight. Now quit it, or we'll all take a hand, eh?" The other women grunted agreement, and Griselda said lightly, "I might even get involved myself." Red Hot scowled, spat on the floor and pushed her way out.

 

Griselda stepped up to Rachel and held out her hand. "No hard feelings," she said, with a smile. "That was neatly done, and I especially owe you for belting out Red Hot. I've been wanting to do that for a long time, but we don't fist-fight much here."

 

"I couldn't do it again," Rachel admitted, taking her hand. "I was just so angry." Getting a close look at Griselda, she realised how small she was – somehow she seemed able to project a bigger impression of herself – and also how attractive, with very blue eyes that were now looking at her gravely. After a moment, Griselda gave a little laugh, released her hand, and said, "Anger helps sometimes. You want a drink?" Behind her back Monica made violent gestures suggesting that this was not a good idea, but Rachel ignored her. She had no wish to risk offending Griselda, now that they had a chance to be on good terms. "Why not?" she said. "A little wine, perhaps?"

 

Once they were all settled down again, Monica looked around in dismay. Griselda and Rachel were chatting easily, Phoebe and the guys were the centre of attention from most of the rest of the bar, who were vocally admiring their bravery – everyone was having a good time except her. Someone patted her on the knee. She turned to see Hilda, looking sympathetic and holding out a small mug.

 

"Try this," she said. "It tastes a lot better than the beer." Monica sampled it cautiously and found it to be a quite drinkable wine.

 

"You looked good in there," said Hilda. "You must love Raychul very much, to be ready to fight for her like that."

 

Monica smiled. "We have been best friends since we were kids," she said. "But I'm glad I didn't have to fight, in the end. Wasn't Rachel amazing?"

 

Hilda grinned. "The bravery of ignorance," she said. "Griselda and Red Hot are the two toughest fighters in Pavis, you know. But it was bravery nonetheless." She peered at Monica. "You don't look too happy."

 

"I just want to go home," said Monica. "We could be a lot worse off here, I can see that, and it would be nice to get to know you, but it's not home!"

 

Suddenly Phoebe jumped up. "Ooh, ooh, I'm getting that feeling again," she cried, "Guys, get together, or we may be scattered all over New York."

 

Slapping Hilda on the shoulder and saying "Thanks for everything," Monica ran to Phoebe. "Bye, Griselda," cried Rachel, "Wish I could stay," and then, as they all clung to each other, the amazed faces of Lilina's customers began to whirl round them and then disappeared in blackness. After a long moment, they landed with a bump, back on the corner near Central Perk and in their normal clothes again, as they saw when they opened their eyes. It was now nearly dark. "Oh, thank God!" cried Monica, and burst into tears. They had just finished calming her down when Rachel said, "I want you guys to know that you are the best … the best …" and then she broke down and had to be comforted too.

 

"Well, Rach, you were pretty impressive in there," said Ross. "That is the closest I have ever seen to a genuine old-style battle rage."

 

"I wish we could have stayed longer," said Phoebe wistfully.

 

"No, you don't!" cried Monica. "No, she doesn't!" she yelled at the sky. "I want to stay here where it's safe."

 

"Okay, nobody move and nobody will get hurt. Just hand us your money," said a voice, and they turned to see themselves half-surrounded by three punk kids with knives.

 

"The hell with that!" yelled Rachel, charging straight at one swinging her long-stringed purse, which got him in the eye and made him jump back, and then turning and kicking out at another. Her eyes alight, Monica threw a fist at this one and hit him hard on the shoulder, sending him staggering away. "Wahoo!" yelled Phoebe, and went for the third with her hands in claws and her teeth bared, but he was already running, and so were the other two a second later. Delighted with their success, they high-fived each other, while the guys and various onlookers applauded.

 

"That was great, Rach," said Ross, "but foolhardy. You've got to be more careful; you must practise unagi."

 

"Unagi, hell! Do you know who I downed back there in Pavis?" said Rachel. "Only the two toughest broads in the whole damn town, so Griselda told me. I am the greatest!" She did a little dance of triumph, twirling her purse.

 

"Yes, sweetie," said Monica. "That's what Hilda told me too. But you took them by surprise, and those punks too. You can't always rely on that."

 

"Okay," said Rachel, calming down a little. "But I'm gonna take martial arts lessons. I am so ready for it now."

 

"Yay!" cried Phoebe. "I'll join you."

 

"Me too!" said Monica enthusiastically.

 

"And you'll all take showers together afterwards, right?" said Joey.

 

"Joey!" they all cried, and Rachel held up a fist. "You want some of this?" Joey pretended to cower away, and they all went over to Central Perk, talking happily

-----

 

In Loud Lilina's, those left behind looked at each other glumly.

 

"Damn," said Griselda. "I was really coming to like that Raychul doll." She drained her mug and banged it down with what seemed like unnecessary force.

 

Hilda said, "And I liked Monica."

 

"And I liked Joey," sighed Hanufa, and Elsa, Lilina, and all the other women in the room sighed too.

 

"They were all good kids," said Shamus. "A bit green, mind."

 

"Green!" cried Griselda. "They were positively viridian! I doubt if any except Feebee had held a weapon before in their lives. But they were game, and that Raychul surely made her play, didn't she?"

 

They all nodded or said, "Sure," but with less conviction than they might have done.

 

"She took you by surprise," said Shamus. "She'd never have downed you otherwise."

 

"She was bigger than you," said Hanufa. "That gave her an advantage."

 

"Anyway, you're much prettier than she is," said Olaf.

 

Griselda chuckled. "Yeah, yeah, yeah. You don't need to worry; I am not too bothered about losing to one lucky kick. And wasn't it great to see Red Hot fold up? Let's have another round on that." Laughing, they downed their beers and lined up at the bar

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Griselda

 


© 2002 Oliver Dickinson
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