SHE HAS MY EYES
The characters of Xena, Gabrielle and Argo are the exclusive property of MCA/Universal. No copyright infringement is intended and no profit is being made from this story. It is merely an expression of gratitude to a cast and crew who have presented the public with a very well written and well-acted show. The story is welcome to be read by all, but no changes can be made without my permission. The story below contains no subtext, some violence, and a few tears if you are as easily moved by touching moments as I am. I do hope that you will enjoy it. Any and ALL comments would be welcomed and greatly appreciated.
Swords clashed on the battlefield below them, and the sound of terror mixed with the smell of rotting flesh filled the air. Xena stood slowly brushing the dirt from her leather armor as she observed the battle from a distant cliff. Carefully the Warrior Princess backed down the hill to where her best friend was anxiously waiting, staff in hand, ready for the order to join the battle.
"So are we gonna get in there and kick some warlord butt?" the young woman asked, a bit too enthusiastically for Xenas taste.
The great warrior adjusted the straps on the saddle of her faithful mount and then quickly jumped on grabbing tightly to the reigns. Pursing her lips together in a slight frown she gazed down at the girl. "No WE are not going anywhere. I am going to get a closer look and YOU are staying here, " she said, with a quick command.
Gabrielle started to protest, but Xena quickly raised her hand in the air to silence the bard. "Dont even start Gabrielle. This is not a bunch of bandits on the road. This is a WAR of swords," she said, clenching her teeth as she stared towards the sound of the battle.
Gabrielle said nothing noting that the warrior had already made up her mind, and knowing there was no changing it.
Xena gave a quick nod and a crooked smile to her companion. "Dont worry, Ill be back soon!"
Before the bard could say another word, the warrior sped off down the path leaving her young protégé standing alone and frustrated, twirling her staff at a threatening tree.
As Xena approached the field, she could see that the warriors were Dracos men.
That itself made her blood curl. She said his name slowly twisting her face in disgust. "Draco!"
The opponents were mercenaries of some kind. Xena could not recognize any of them, but she did note that with every blade that fell another was quickly slaughtered. They were outnumbered and out classed in this type of battle.
The warrior considered her options and then an odd little voice in her head told her that this was a battle she was meant to join. After a moments thought Xena Warrior Princess, protector of innocents drew her sword and entered the fray.
With one fast flash of her weapon she immediately deflected an enemy blade from falling on a boy of not more than 18 summers. Smiling she kicked the attacking warrior in the chest sending him roughly to the dirt at her feet. She quickly offered the boy a hand up and moved further into the field of battle.
In a manner of moments she was the target of every one of Dracos men. The great warrior smiled at the attention her sword drew knowing it was a compliment to her skill and reputation. Using all her many skills, Xena thrust her sword into each man that dared to cross her path. It was not long before the remaining men were chased into the woods in fast retreat. The Warrior Princess had turned the tides against Draco once again.
She allowed a slight smile to pass over her face as she sheathed her blade behind her. However, that smile quickly faded, as Xena, for the first time, looked around at the great number of wounded and dying on the ground around her. They lay in puddles of there own blood mixed with that of their enemies in the high grass of some unfortunate farmers field. She shook her head at the pointless battle and quickly began nursing the wounded with what limited supplies she had at her disposal.
Chapter One - The Past Returns
Xena finished bandaging the leg of one man and rose to help another.
"How can I help?" A tiny voice squeaked from behind. Xena turned to see the bards eager face grinning up at her.
The warrior sighed. "I thought I told you to stay up there," she said, pointing to the cliff. Gabrielle shuffled her feet a bit and lowered her head knowing that such a maneuver usually softened the warriors stern look.
"Yes but you never said for how long. Besides Xena after all this time I would think youd know Im gonna follow," the bard said, with all the authority she could muster.
Xena gave her a stern look, which quickly faded into a soft smile. "Yeah I guess I should know," she said, with resignation. The warrior sighed and threw her young friend some shredded linen. "Start bandaging the wounds as best you can Ill see to the more serious injuries."
The young woman nodded and then hopped away eager to make a difference in the lives of these people. Xena could only shake her head in wonderment at her best friends untarnished view of the world. With all the death and blood that surrounded them, the bard still was able to let her spirit glow. It brought a smile to the great warriors weary face.
As she surveyed the field once again, Xena caught sight of the boy whose life she had saved earlier. He was kneeling next to a bloody figure that was propped against a tree. He was wiping tears from his face as he touched the motionless form.
The warrior made her way over and crouched beside the boy and a fallen woman. "Satrina! " she said, her jaw dropping slightly at the sight of her old enemy. With a deep breath the warrior regained her stoic composure and knelt beside the woman. "Somehow I knew that cave in would not kill you," Xena said, with a voice both cold and feral.
Satrinas eyes met the warriors and she smiled. "Xena, Warrior Princess, we meet again Not under the conditions I would have chosen but still Any battlefield we share is a good place to die," she coughed, spewing blood into her own hand.
Xena shook the words off and peered into an open wound in the womans midsection. The dark blood was slowly oozing out. The warrior reached down to examine it closer only to have the fallen woman push her hand away.
"No Xena!" she growled, gasping for air. "I know my time is done I die in battle. It is all I ever asked from the Gods."
The woman looked to the boy seated next to her and clasped his hand tightly. "This is my brother, Camos He tells me you saved his life, and for that Warrior I am grateful. For THAT I owe you," the woman whispered, her words quickly losing force.
Xena tried to silence her, but Satrina only waved her off.
"Xena, for my brothers life I owe you. I do not wish to leave this world owing YOU anything, Warrior, so I will give you a gift," she said slowly.
Xena shook her head at the thought of accepting any gift this traitor had to give, so she wiped her leathers and started to rise when the woman grabbed her arm pulling her back down. "Your daughter, Xena I give you YOUR daughter," she mumbled, still holding the warriors arm.
Xenas face turned cold and icy, as the muscles tightened around her jaw. "I have no daughter, Satrina YOU know that!" she hissed.
The woman smiled oddly enjoying the warriors confusion but then she continued. "Not that you know of Warrior Princess That night you gave birth to a son . You were half out of your mind with the herbs Id given you. I knew you would give the boy up and continue your warrior ways. I needed you to do that, but there was a second child that came to you that night a little girl for HER you would have dropped your sword. I couldnt allow that, so we left her behind," she said, staring into the icy blue eyes of her former mentor.
Flames shot through the warriors eyes as she recalled that night, the pain of losing Borias, her son, the loss, and again the pain. Without a thought she grabbed the womans throat. "What are you saying Satrina? That cannot be! Where is she? What happened to her?" The great warriors mind raced with questions and fear. Her eyes flared with anger and pain of the past.
The woman groaned under the warriors tight grasp, and Xena released her. Gathering her composure, she tried to find her central strength and speak calmly. "What happened to the girl, Satrina?" she whispered in a controlled tone.
The woman smiled wickedly. "Nala! That old Mystic you were so fond of She took the baby and ran for the hills, last I heard she was in the village of Rasa. But beware, Princess, that town has a bad reputation," she said, with a weak smile.
The warriors thoughts flew in a thousand different directions and Satrina could read her pain. There was a look of true remorse as she stared at the large frame of her old master. "Im sorry warrior, truly I am!" she said pausing for a moment. "Now Xena I have given you the girls life for my brothers, and I owe you nothing nothing." With that final whisper Satrina closed her eyes and started her journey to Hades side.
Xena rose from the ground feeling her legs shake beneath her as she grabbed for a tree limb. Gabrielle, watching from across the field, noted the large woman fumble and raced to her side. The bard grabbed her friends arm to steady her. "Xena, what is it? Whats wrong?" She asked, concern filling each and every word.
The warrior looked down at the dead woman and Gabrielles eyes followed to the now still form. "Satrina!" the bard mouthed.
Xena looked at the sky and closed her eyes for a moment trying to regain her unassailable poise. "Gabrielle I have a daughter," the warrior said quietly looking into the eyes of her companion. The bards mouth dropped open but no words came out.
Chapter 2 The Hills of Rasa
That night the two friends camped on the road to Rasa. Xena had pushed them for an entire day and into the night never saying another word.
Gabrielle studied her friend and knew she was fighting a torturous battle inside, but she did not know how to help. Finally Xena had chosen to camp in a small quiet clearing about a days travel from their destination. Settling in front of the small fire, the warrior pulled her crossed legs in close to her leathered chest and stared in to the flickering flames, seeing images of her lost love and dead son. Her mind was filled with guilt and shame and a wonder of what her young daughter might look like. She felt here chest tighten as she considered how different her life would have been if she had only known.
Gabrielle quietly fidgeted with a quill and her scroll trying to make sense of her own thoughts, but the pain that emanated from her friend made it impossible to think. "Xena?" the bard whispered.
As if coming back from a very far away land, the warrior answered. "Hmm?" she replied, looking to her friend.
"What are you thinking about?" the young woman asked, settling in closer to the warrior.
Xena took a long deep breath noting the concern in her friends face. "I was thinking of Borias and how I lost him and then Solan Gabrielle if what Satrina said is true I will not lose this child too," she said, as if making a vow to the gods.
The bard put her arm on the warriors shoulder. "Well what will you do?" she asked, noting the pain in her large friends eyes.
The warrior shook her head and rubbed her temples. "I dont know my friend I just dont know."
The bard stared at the great warrior who had so many times saved her life. She decided a bit of gentle prodding was in order. "Xena, who is this Nala you spoke of?" she whispered, hoping the subject would open a door to the warriors private past.
A faint smile crossed the Xenas face at the image of her friend from long ago. She chewed on a blade of grass as she studied the bards anticipation of an answer.
"Gabrielle, a warlord has many resources in battle, and Nala was one of mine. She was what some might call a mystic and others might call well worse, but she was always my best confident and my mentor, until " the warrior said softy as her voice trailed off.
Gabrielle was hanging on every word anxious to know more of this one that her friend actually had trusted in those dark days. "Until what Xena?" the girl asked, begging for more information.
The warrior studied the flames and spoke to them as if they were her only true friends. "Until she saw my demise. Nala told me that I would fail in battle and lose all that I loved if I did not change my path. I didnt listen to her, and as she said I lost it all," Xena said, lowering her eyes at the painful memory.
Gabrielle said nothing, but merely caressed her friends arm hoping the touch would remind her that she was not alone. There was an unspoken understanding between the two companions and no more words were needed. Together they now stared into the flames remembering the past and thinking about the future.
Rasa was a small village hidden deep in the hills far outside Athens. The people of the village had a reputation for not welcoming strangers. As Xena and Gabrielle entered the center of town all eyes of these simple people quickly fell on them.
"I dont think they will be hosting a feast in our honor in this town," the bard said with a half smile, gripping her staff tightly.
Xena nodded as they strode through the town. "These people are said to burn strangers at the stake if they think them a threat to their privacy," she said, staring into the blank faces of the crowd.
The bard swallowed hard. "Great! Thanks for telling me that NOW, Xena," she chided, moving closer to the warrior.
By the time they had reached the center of town a circle of people had gathered around the two friends staring menacingly at these foreigners who had dared to enter their private world.
Xena pulled her sword from its sheath and with a two fisted grip moved it around in display for each of the villagers to view. "I dont like feeling closed in, so I would advise you all to move before I decide to clear my own path," she warned, through gritted teeth.
Hearing those words made the villagers each take a step back. However, one man, who Xena assumed was the leader, did not. An old man of more than 60 summers, wearing a dark robe and carrying what looked to be a scepter, stepped forward. "You are not welcome here strangers, go now while you still can," he yelled, raising the scepter in the air to show his great power over the crowd.
The warrior stood to her full height and brought her sword to the old mans throat. "Whats you name?" she asked, with a wicked smile never allowing the blade to waver from its mark.
"Why?" he asked, in a startled tone.
"Because I like to know the names of the people I kill," she growled, bringing the sword up to the side of his neck.
"I ...am Persius...Elder of this village. Who are you?" he murmured.
The warrior did not move but merely offered the information setting her steely blue gaze on the old man. "I am Xena and this is Gabrielle. We are just passing through your lovely little village looking for a friend, an older woman named Nala," she said quickly.
Gabrielle jumped a bit when she heard the word "witch" mumble through the crowd at the mention of the old womans name. There were gasps from the villagers and many people with children retreated to their huts.
Persius nodded his head. "We have heard of you, Warrior Princess, and we do not wish any trouble, only to be left in seclusion," he said trying to move away from Xenas blade.
The warrior slowly removed her sword from the elders neck and placed it in its sheathe. "Well Im glad to hear that Persius. I really wasnt in the mood to wash the blood from my leathers today," she purred.
Pushing Persius to one side, Xena took a position in the center of the crowd. She raised her voice for all to hear. "Now where is the woman Nala?" she yelled. There was no response. The warrior grabbed Persius by the tunic and twisted his body to face her. "Easy way or hard way old man? Where is she?" she asked, the threat in he voice clear.
The old man spat on the ground as he wriggled to get free. "If you seek her you seek evil in its purest form, warrior. She lives in the hills above, but only fools and profiteers dare to go there for she brings curses on the heads of all who do," he hissed
Xena dropped the man and smiled. "Hmm sorry to hear that. I guess you must have really done something to tick her off," she said with a grin.
The old man straightened himself up as the warrior turned to look towards the hills. "She and that wild child are a blackness on this whole village. Since they have been here our crops have been poor and our people have been ill," he said with obvious disdain.
At the mention of the child, Xena turned quickly on the old man nearly knocking him off his feet. "Tell me of the child!" she ordered.
Gabrielle touched her friends arm to calm her, and Xenas muscles loosened a bit nodding at the bard. "The young one runs through the streets of our village terrorizing our people. She has no respect for her elders. Even the old woman cannot contain her. She is Evil," he growled, staring into the eyes of the warrior.
Xena had not even swallowed that last word when she noted a large red object falling from the tree above and landing smack on top of Persiuss. The old man yelped and covered his head but to no avail because another object quickly followed the same path. Soon there was a rain of large tomatoes falling from the tree and all in the elders direction. Each one hit its mark squarely.
Xena looked up to the branches above and saw a small figure hidden in the tree, giggling as she pelted Persius with tomatoes.
"Now thats not very nice thing to say! Is it Persius?" the child asked, with a mischievous giggle, tossing another tomato at him. The wayward youngster laughed so hard she nearly fell from her limb.
"Get her!" the angry elder, yelled, wiping the red debris from his face. The village men moved quickly trying to scurry up into the branches.
"Whoops time to go!" the child screamed as she noted the attackers heading her way. With a wicked smile she dropped the armload of tomatoes she had in reserve on the climbing villagers and then jumped to the ground.
Xena watched the exchange with bewilderment as the girl leapt from the tree in a perfect arial flip, taking off up the hill with the men in fast pursuit.
Xena drew her sword and grinned at Gabrielle. "Lets go!" she ordered.
The bard smiled, "Yup! That would be your kid all right, Xena," she said chasing after the warrior.
The two friends sprinted up the hill and soon found a child of not even 11 summers facing off with three of the village men. She was smiling and taunting them up the embankment. When one advanced too closely she merely back flipped a step behind him quickly swiping his leg out from under him and landing him on the ground with a loud thud.
Xena smiled at the quick exchange and moved in to join the battle. The mischievous laugh of the youngster rang through the woods as she peered into the eyes of her next victim.
As the other village men cornered the youngster, the Warrior Princess announced her approach with her famous battle cry, easily flipping over all the men and landing to the side of the child. Pointing her sword at the villagers and waving it in an expertise of quick maneuvers, she growled. "Back off, boys, I hate to kill on an empty stomach," she warned.
Gabrielle tapped one of the foolish men on the shoulder with her staff and when he turned knocked him to the ground. Standing over him with a look of great frustration the bard placed both hands on her hips and wiggled her finger at him in warning. "It serves you right. You know you really shouldnt pick on a little kid like that," she scolded.
The child giggled as the man stumbled to the ground, and Gabrielle gave her a stern look. "Dont YOU laugh, you shouldnt be throwing tomatoes at people," she warned.
The child paused to consider her actions and again laughed, shaking her head at the silly bard.
Xena had to smile at her friend. Only Gabrielle would attempt to bring wisdom and reason into a fight like this. The warrior raised her sword as if to strike, and the men all quickly raced down the hill, the last with the help of the great warriors boot. Xena sheathed her sword and turned to the child, but the girl was already turning away.
"Thanks!" was all the youngster would say as she again headed up the narrow path of the hill.
Xena quickly stopped her with a commanding tone. "Hold it!"
The child halted and turned, and for the first time Xena looked into the childs face. She was quickly captivated by who she saw staring back.
Chapter 3- She Has My Eyes
The little girl had Xenas dark blue blazon gaze and the round baby face of Lyceus, the warriors long dead brother. Her dark hair, was a mop of unkempt waves just like that of Borias. She was a small, slender figure. Her tunic was made from a soft skin and fell loosely just below her waste. The long dark britches she wore were made from a soft cloth and her small boots, covered by well-tanned leather reached midway up the youngsters calf.
The warrior could only stare at the child wanting to reach out to her, but she pulled back, knowing it was not the right thing to do. The Warrior Princess gathered her composure and stood once again to her full height. "We are going up to see Nala. Shes an old friend of mine. Perhaps you could lead the way," she said with a wry smile.
The child shrugged with indifference and waved them to follow.
Xena nodded at Gabrielle and the three started their journey up the hill. "Whats your name?" the warrior asked with a grin.
The child observed her for a moment and then answered matter-of -factly. "Tarren Whats yours?" she asked carefully eyeing the muscular woman.
The warrior stared at the youngster. "Im Xena and this is my friend Gabrielle," she said pointing to the bard.
The child stopped and stared at the leather-clad woman. "You are the one Nala has been waiting for?" she asked, with youthful awe. Quickly the child regained her smile. "I thought youd be bigger," she said with a giggle.
Xenas smile disappeared and she glanced back at Gabrielle who merely shrugged her shoulders. "Yeah shes a real sweetheart, Xena," the bard whispered.
Tarren observed the exchange and pointed to Gabrielle. "That one has a big Mouth," the child said with a frown.
Xena halted Gabrielles response with a wave of her hand, and focused her gaze straight ahead as she spoke to the arrogant child. "Are you always so rude to people larger than yourself Tarren? You may one day find that actions like that could have dire consequences," the warrior warned, noting the sour expression on Gabrielles face.
Tarrens smile disappeared as she eyed the large muscular form of this strange warrior who had come to her home. The youngster stood firmly in place staring up at Xena.
"Look, warrior I can take care of myself. I dont have to listen to anyone, so save your warnings," she said, as she started to move far ahead of the pair.
The warrior took a deep breath to control her festering anger and nodded at the now distant child. "OK!" she murmured.
Gabrielle gently poked the stewing warrior in the chest. "Yup! The apple doesnt fall far from the tree. Does it My Warrior?" she chided. Xena glared at the bard with icy blue pools of fire, and Gabrielle took a step back. "Ok so maybe this is not the time for humor," the younger woman said with a weak smile giving her friend a little breathing room.
"NO its definitely not the time Gabrielle!" the warrior said with a scowl as they moved further up the hill.
The rest of the journey up the path was silent and suddenly without warning the child disappeared from sight.
Gabrielle looked at Xena with a half smile. "Well that was a surprise wasnt it?" the bard said shaking her head.
The warrior craned her neck to listen to the sounds of the woods around her. "We must be close. Thats why she took off. Shes going to warn Nala that we are coming," she said with a slight grin.
The two friends continued up the hill and the bard fumbled around wanting to ask the warrior a question. "Xena, I heard the people back there call this old woman a witch Whats all that about?" she asked, trying to sound unaffected by the words.
The warrior smiled and then put an arm on her friends shoulder. "I told you, Gabrielle, Nala is what you call a mystic. She has a gift of prophecy of sorts. Some revel in that gift while others fear it," she replied, trying to hide her amusement at her friends discomfort.
The bard nodded in understanding actually a bit excited at the idea of meeting a real Prophet.
As the two women reached the top of the hill, they entered an elaborate but seemingly empty campsite. There was a large cloth tent in the center of the dwelling that Xena was sure was taken from a warriors camp. Strange carvings and masques of animals hung from the trees all around the sight. Xena scanned the area, and nodded approvingly at the encampment. It was secured on all sides by a heavy thicket of trees accept for the one path they had come up and a smaller one that the warrior guessed lead to water. It was set up with the expertise of a warrior or one who traveled amongst them.
As Xena studied her surroundings, a voice from behind startled her into drawing her sword. "Still fast as ever, my friend. I knew you would come Warrior Princess," the voice whispered. Xena quickly turned around and found herself staring down into the face of an old friend, Nala.
Chapter 4- Nalas Wish
Gabrielle swallowed hard as she took in the appearance of this elderly woman. She was wrapped in a tattered shawl and using a short stick to lean on for support. Her gray hair and aged face matched the darkness of the forest around them. Around her neck was a simple gold chain with an odd little blue amulet in the center. It looked as if the color inside moved with every motion the woman made. It was as if a small bit of the sky itself was locked inside. "Amazing!" the bard thought to herself as she studied the piece.
"Nala!" the warrior cried falling into the small womans weak embrace. Tarren watched from behind not liking the exchange between the two old friends.
"Tarren come say hello to our friends," the old mystic yelled, motioning the child to approach.
The small figure only folded her arms in defiance and retreated back into the woods.
Nala sighed and her shoulders slumped a bit. "I am sorry my Princess but I think I have failed you. That one has a wildness that I could not control. It is good that you are here now, just as I willed you to be," she whispered.
Xena gave her a puzzled look and then started to introduce Gabrielle. The old woman smiled at the bard and threw her hand up to silence the warrior. "Hello Gabrielle. Xena, you need not introduce me to one that I already know in my heart," she whispered.
"Child, I am glad to see that the princess has found a true and faithful friend in you," the old woman said with a smile.
The bards face twisted. "How did you know who I was?" the young woman asked with surprise.
The old woman grinned and looked away. "Come, let us sit and have some tea my friends," she said, moving towards the fire.
Xena just smiled at the bards confused expression and offered Nala an arm to lean on. "Come children, we have much to talk about and not a lot of time," the mystic said quietly, motioning the pair towards the camp.
The three women sat by the fire just outside the large tent, and the old mystic studied the warriors face. She placed a withered hand on the Xenas arm, and the warrior placed her own on top of it, "I am sorry for the pain you have suffered the loss, and I am grateful for the peace you are now finding my friend," Nala said with a weak smile.
Xena nodded squeezing the old womans hand. "It is good to see you my old friend," the warrior replied. As Xena and the old woman talked, Gabrielle stared at the child who was swinging from branch to branch high in the trees above them. "What did you mean when you said we did not have much time, Nala?" the warrior asked, trying to hide her concern.
The old woman just smiled. "Xena, I am dying, my days here are short and we need to discuss the child, YOUR child, Warrior Princess," she said slowly savoring the sound of the words.
Xena swallowed hard and walked away from the fire. "So then its true Tarren is my daughter," she whispered, as if speaking only to herself.
The mystic nodded. "Yes my dear one, and I have kept her for you these years knowing that when your life was right, the fates would bring you back. That is why I called for you to return," she said. Xena once again gave the old mystic a puzzled look.
The woman cackled loudly at her old friends expression. "Now princess has it been so long between us that you forget Nalas gifts? Did you really think that battlefield you entered was just there for convenience or that evil Satrina would speak the truth on her own?" she asked with gentle laughter.
The warrior smiled and returned to her place next to the mystic. "Nala, I have missed you," she said touching the old womans arm.
The old mystic smiled. "And I you, princess, and I you," she said, gripping the warriors arm.
Gabrielle continued to watch the child flip through the trees. "How does she do that? I mean dont you worry about her falling?" she asked, with a touch of concern for the youngsters safety.
The old woman laughed. "Hmm it would be the best thing if she did fall just once. Perhaps it would teach her a little respect for the nature around her, a respect that the Warrior Princess understands well," she said, with a grin staring at Xena.
Xena nodded at her old friend and looked to the trees shaking her head at the disrespectful nature of the little girl above.
The old mystic studied the concern on the bards face and placed a tender hand on her arm. "Dont worry child. That little scamp never falls. Shes agile as a cat flying through Tartarus OR even a little Warrior Princess," she said, with affection studying the childs acrobatics high in the trees above.
Gabrielle playfully poked her friend in the arm. "Hey does she remind ya of someone?" the bard asked with a giggle.
The warrior said nothing, looking disapprovingly at the childs reckless maneuvers.
The old woman offered her guests each a mug filled with a mixture of a sweet smelling tea. Both women accepted it gratefully. The old mystic took a deep breath before she spoke. "Princess, I want you to know that when I took the baby from the tent so many years ago, it was only to keep that evil Satrina from killing her. I just wanted to keep her safe. It was not my intention to take her from you. I heard of your many conquests and knew your life was not yet ready for the child. I then heard of how you were taking a new path I felt it felt the shift in your spirit and knew it was time to bring you home to Nala," she said, softly gazing into the eyes of her warrior friend.
Xena allowed a small smile to cross her solemn face, and the woman continued.
Gabrielle looked at her friend. Xena was never one for long conversations, but the bard knew that there was great pain inside the heart of her friend. She was in a deep struggle to control and conquer it, so she was remaining more quiet than usual.
The mystic again spoke. "As I said my friend I am afraid I have failed you. As you can see the little one is wild, disobedient and disrespectful of everything and everyone. She lives by no code and by no rules. She was born with your spirit Xena It runs strong and deep, but she does not posses your discipline. I was just too old to teach her that, my friend," the old woman said, sighing heavily as she continued. "For that I am sorry, my dear one, but know that her heart is pure. Xena, her heart is as pure as the sun and full of love just waiting to be given. It is time for you to take your place guiding that little one down the right path," Nala said, softly hoping her words were penetrating the high walls of the great warriors heart.
The warrior looked at Nala and spoke quietly staring into the mug in front of her as if it held all lifes secrets. "Nala, you saved her life. You took care of her all these years. My dear friend, you did not fail me. It is I who failed you and HER. If I had only listened to your warnings, then maybe things would have been different for all of us," she said lowering her head as her voice trailed off.
The old woman patted her friends hand, "YOU have failed no one, warrior Do not dwell on the past my Princess. We cannot return to that time and place. It was not your time to change paths back in that day of darkness. Now you wish to add to your shoulders the guilt of leaving this child behind when you did not even know of her. Do not allow yourself the luxury of such guilt. It will neither serve you nor Tarren well." The old mystics words were hard and firm, and they silenced the great warrior. The bard was awed by the wisdom of this old woman, and by the way Xena seemed to take comfort in her words. She could easily see why Nala had meant so much to her friend.
The old woman took a deep breathe and sipped slowly at her tea, and the warrior smiled at Nala offering as much affection in her glance as the bard had ever seen the warrior show.
Gabrielle wanted to break the eerie silence that hung over the air, so she asked the question that she knew was on Xenas mind. "Does she know who Xena is. I mean does she know shes her mother?"
The old woman shook her head. "No child, she knows her father dead and her mother long gone. It will be for you to decide when is the right time to tell her," Nala said, pointing a shaky hand at the warrior. The old woman coughed and leaned heavily on her stick for support.
Xena quickly dropped to her side and lifted a mug helping the old woman sip some tea. "Nala, perhaps you should rest," the warrior said, her face filled with concern.
The old woman shook her head, "Time is too short, Princess, and we have much to discuss."
Xena nodded and quietly sat beside the mystic and sipped at her tea.
"You will take Tarren with you when I pass over!" she said with authority. Xena nodded without question, and the old woman settled back and sighed. "And you will keep her with YOU as you travel your new path," she continued, studying her friends face for a response.
Xenas eyes traveled to meet Gabrielles soft emerald gaze. The bard only shrugged, not knowing what answer to offer.
The warrior knelt beside the old mystic. "Nala, the life I live on the road is a dangerous one, and with a child It would be very dangerous," she said slowly stumbling over her words.
The old woman halted her with the wave of a hand and spoke with a serious and nearly threatening tone. "XENA! That one is NO more able to live the life of a villager than you are. She NEEDS to travel your path. She needs her mother, Warrior Princess. She needs you, and after nearly 11 years with only Nala, she deserves that much! If you leave her behind somewhere then she WILL stray from the right path, I warn you, warrior," she yelled, with such force that the warrior fell silent.
Xena lowered her eyes chewing carefully on every word Nala had said. The mystic touched the warriors cheek wiping a tear from her friends soft skin. "I KNOW that you will protect her no matter where you go. It has not been an easy path for that one either, Princess, and she needs HER mother now just as much as her mother needs her," she whispered, pointing to the treed child who was now staring down at the trio.
The old woman stood and leaning heavily upon her stick for support moved about the camp adding more tea to the mugs of her friends. Her voice grew low and somber bringing an air of sadness to the gentle surroundings.
"We were not welcome in many places, so always we traveled. Always we moved. I am sorry to say Princess that Tarren has been in many a warriors camp as she grew. However, the men treated her as a little Princess. They taught her how to fight, and probably every foul word ever uttered by man or beast. It was years ago when I realized that she was starting to admire these killers not even knowing who or what they really were. That is why I pulled her away, and we moved here...far into the hills of Rasa," Nala said, returning to her seat and sipping her tea as she studied her younger companions.
A slight smile crossed the old ones faces. "Xena, she fights well for a little one youd be proud of her," the old mystic said with a grin.
The warrior cringed at the thought of her daughter living amongst the animals in a warlords camp. She was lost deep in the thought of it when Nala's voice brought her forward. "Dont worry, Princess She saw no death or blood only the camp I saw to that much," she said with finality.
Xena allowed herself a soft sigh of relief. "Thank you, my friend...again!" the warrior, said, once again watching the child above her.
The old mystic noted the warriors concentration on the child in the trees and leaned forward speaking in a gentle whisper. "Be warned my friend. YOU will need a very firm hand to guide that little one. ONLY the hand of the Warrior Princess is big enough, strong enough to reign that one in," she said, quietly touching the warriors hand. "So promise me Xena! Promise me that you will keep her with you and raise her!" Nala demanded.
Xena was quiet for a moment and then looked to the trees and caught the distant blue gaze of Tarren staring back at her. Their eyes locked for a moment and then the little girl just jumped from the branch as if wishing to fall to her death.
The warrior quickly leapt to her feet ready to catch the falling child, but just as she skidded into the dirt beneath her, the girl simply bounced up far above the warriors head easily catching onto a passing tree limb. The youngster laughed ferociously at the Xenas valiant attempt to catch her. Tarren loosened a rubbery vine from her ankle and smiled wickedly, as she jumped to the ground and strode passed the warrior.
"TARREN!" the old woman scolded, standing and facing the her friend apologetically, "I am sorry, Xena THAT is one of her favorite tricks She scares the Tartarus out of everyone with it," Nala said, shaking her head.
Xena scowled and bit her lower lip nodding at the old woman with complete understanding. There was a flash of relief and anger on the warriors face as she approached the child.
Tarren had pulled an apple out of a large wooden barrel near the tent and was sitting comfortably on top crunching away as she studied the large warrior woman.
"Thats quite all right Nala," Xena said, keeping a cold steady stare on the grinning youngster. Her voice dropped to a menacing whisper as she came face to face with the smug little girl. "Tarren and I will have a new understanding. She wont do that EVER again, and I wont take the hide off her," the warrior said, with a quick smile.
The little girl merely stopped eating her apple and tossed it to the warriors feet. She grabbed her fishing pole eager to walk away from the threatening tone of Nalas friend. "Going fishing, Nala," the youngster said, starting for the woods.
Xena quickly grabbed the childs arm. "Little one, I think what you really meant to say was, CAN I go fishing?" she said slowly.
The child glared into the harsh gaze of the warrior and noted the very firm hold she had on her. "OK, CAN I go fishing?" the girl asked mockingly repeating the Warriors words. Xena looked to Nala who nodded approvingly.
"Sure!" the warrior said releasing the childs arm. "BUT you better catch something," she whispered, flashing a devilish grin at the girl.
"I always DO!" the child grumbled, as she shuffled down the path to the river mumbling under her breath.
Xena shook her head and rubbed her aching temples. "MY daughter?" she asked with a grin.
Nala only nodded. "YOU have yet to make me that promise, Princess. Will you keep her with you and raise her well?" she whispered.
The warrior looked to Gabrielle who just smiled and blinked, and then Xena nodded. "Yes Nala, you have my word . I came here to see if I had a daughter, and now that I know I do, I will not leave her. It will not be easy, but she will travel with us. She will travel MY path," Xena said, with a slight grin. The warrior paused and then whispered to the old woman. "Honestly, my friend, I would not have had it any other way."
Nala reached out a hand to her warrior. "Good, my Princess. I rest easier with my time coming knowing that mother and daughter will be as they always should have been, together on the right path."
Xena sat down next to Nala saddened by the weakness in the womans voice. "Come Princess, let us talk of old times and I will tell you about the last 11 summer of Tarren, so you will have that to carry in your heart," the old woman said, with a smile.
Through the day and into the evening the two women shared stories filled with laughter and tears of adventures from a time long ago. Gabrielle looked on with wide eyes soaking up all the wisdom and experiences that sat before her in this simple clearing.
Tarren returned before dark with a string of fish and dropped them squarely on the warriors boots. "I always catch something," she said, with all the authority her small form could muster. She then turned on her heel and walked silently back into the woods.
Gabrielle covered her face with both hands. A shiver ran down her spine at the thought of the warriors possible anger at the youngsters actions.
But Xena only nodded and carefully picked up the fish placing them to one side. The great warrior then sighed heavily and stood. She was already nearly 11 years late, so if she was going to take charge of this situation, she was going to do it right away.
"Well I guess there is no time like the present," she said with a sigh as she followed in the direction of the youngster.
Gabrielle looked at Xena and suppressed a giggle, and Nala just waved her hand proudly at the warrior entering this new battlefield.
The Warrior Princess followed the child back into the woods and found her skipping stones in the river at the edge of a small clearing. Placing herself a safe distance from the girl she spoke with as much gentle command as she could muster. "Look I think weve gotten off to a bad start here, Tarren. I was sort of hoping we could be friends," the warrior said, with a gentle smile
The girl turned her dark blue gaze on the tall figure. "What for?" Tarren said defiantly.
Xena sighed heavily and stared at the pouting youngster. "Everyone needs friends, Tarren," she said quietly approaching the little girl.
The child barely glanced at her but just continued skipping her rocks. "Yeah well I dont need anything, so why dont you just hop on your big horse and ride off into the sunset, warrior," the child yelled, turning her back to the warrior.
Xena clapped her hands together in frustration. "OK I tried the nice approach Lets go a different way," the warrior said, nodding her head and biting her lower lip. She put her hands on her hips in a familiar show of strength. Placing the patented Xena stare on the child, she lowered her voice to its husky tone.
"OK Tarren Well ya see I think there is something you DO need. I think youve needed it for quite some time," she said, her voice turning menacingly low as she uttered the last words. "Im just sorry that its taken so long for me to give it to you," she said thinking about her long absence from the childs life.
Seating herself on the edge of a large rock, Xena, Warrior Princess quickly grabbed the puzzled child, throwing her roughly across her knees. She pinned the squirming little girl into the desired position with little effort. Without hesitation she began a swift and steady paddling, landing her large muscular hand repeatedly across the childs backside.
The little girl tried to break free, but the warriors grasp was stronger than that of an angry Titan. Tarren screamed with indignation and profanity at the leather-clad warrior, which only made this woman hit harder and faster. The cadence lasted until the child had spat out her last angry word and was silenced by the warriors authority.
When Xena felt the youngster had been properly introduced to the world of civil language she lifted her off her lap and stared at the now red eyed little girl who refused to let a tear stray from her welling eyes. Sternly she spoke waving a single finger within inches of the girls face. "Ok listen carefully cause heres how it works We are adults and you are a child You treat us with respect and we WILL treat you with respect . You dont and you and I wind up right back here," she said keeping a firm grip on the youngsters tunic.
The child sniffled a bit but said nothing, so the warrior continued. "AND dont get comfortable with the idea that things will change when I leave because when I do go YOU are coming with me. So you better get used to having me around, kid, because I am gonna be your best friend or your worst enemy for a very long time. Its up to you which it will be at any given moment Tarren," Xena said carefully.
With those words Xena released her hold on the naughty child. The warrior stood and looked down into the eyes of her daughter. She could see within them confusion, anger, pain and utter disbelief. The warrior rubbed her hands together as if cleansing them. "Now do we understand each other, Tarren?" she asked hoping she did not need to make herself any clearer.
The girl nodded and backed away a bit.
Xena sighed heavily and pointed towards the camp. "Good now get back to camp and help Gabrielle clean the fish, and then you can clean the fish smell off my boots," she ordered, remembering the way the child had carefully dropped them on her feet.
The child paused for a moment and the warrior moved in closer. "GO!" she yelled, and in a moment the youngster was scurrying down the path. Xena looked to the sky and sighed. "Help me!" she said, to whatever unknown force guided her life. Then she too headed back to the camp.
Chapter 5 - Xena, Warrior Mother
Xena silhouetted against the glow of the moonlight that filled the night sky. She looked up at the stars and took in the smells of the world around her.
Gabrielle walked up slowly behind her. "Dinar for your thoughts?" she said surprising the warrior enough to have her almost tag the bard with her fist.
"YOU know better than to sneak up on me, Gabrielle," the warrior scolded leaning heavily against a large tree.
Gabrielle lowered her head and apologized. "Im sorry, Xena, but you usually hear me from 50 paces away. What are you thinking about now?" she asked. The bards concern for her friend was evident.
The warrior studied the young woman and then said solemnly. "Gabrielle, how am I gonna raise that child? You know the life we live. You see how she behaves already. She needs SO much attention. How can I provide it? What if I fail her again?" the great warrior asked feeling the weight of a new responsibility on her shoulders.
Gabrielle nodded and then placed a gentle hand on the warriors arm. "Whoa! Warrior, you have not failed her at all. When you found out she existed, you came straight here to get her And whats all this "I" stuff. After all its not just YOU. Its US. I mean, I thought we were a team. That means Tarren will have both of us. You will not be alone and neither will she," the bard said softly staring at her friend.
The warrior smiled a bit. "How could I have thought otherwise?"
Gabrielle returned the smile and leaned up against the tree next to her tall companion. "Xena, ya know, Nala said that in the one day you've been here, youve managed to tame that child more than she has in 10 years. What is your secret, Warrior?" the bard asked with a grin.
The warrior thought for a moment and placed an arm around her friends shoulder. "Well Gabrielle, its all in knowing HOW to ask all in knowing how to ask, little bard," she said with a wicked smile.
The bard caught sight of Tarren entering the large tent. The child stopped for a moment and glared at the warrior before disappearing beneath the flaps. "OUCH! Did you see that look? She has your eyes all right and that LOOK is aimed right at you, Warrior," she warned, shaking her head.
Xena glanced at the child and smiled grimly at her friend. "I saw it," she said dryly.
"Ya know, Xena, perhaps all of this has been too much for her, and she is manifesting her anger at you as a central target for her misinterpretation of our intentions," Gabrielle said, with a wistful wave of her hand.
"Huh, where do you come up with this stuff Gabrielle?" The warrior asked trying to contain her amusement.
The bard gently poked her friend in the ribs. "Well its a thought!" she said with a laugh.
The warrior nodded. "Yeah I guess that could be it, OR it could be that she is mad at me for spanking her this afternoon," Xena said, casually gazing up at the stars.
The bard frowned at her own failed logic. "Oh, well I guess that could be it too," she said with a slight sigh. Both women exchanged a knowing smile, and the air was soon filled with gentle laughter.
The warrior stood and walked a few paces away from her friend and spoke in a voice barely above a whisper. "Gabrielle, I have a daughter!" It was the first time that either of them had really heard the words and knew their meaning.
The bard turned to look into the watery blue reflections of her best friend and companion. "I know Xena!" she said with a smile and hugged the warrior with all of her might. Both women turned their gaze back to the stars wondering how the Gods had just changed their lives forever.
Tarren stood in the tent and gently rubbed her tender bottom and wiped a tear from her eye. She had waited all night to be alone so she could tend her wounded body and pride. She would never let that big warrior have the satisfaction of knowing she had made an impression on her. Nala smiled slightly at the sight. The child had not even seen the mystic enter the tent.
"Hits hard doesnt she my dear?" the old woman asked sitting on her cot.
The girl merely nodded and winced as she tried to sit on her own cot.
"Well then I guess you are lucky you did not make her angry," she said rubbing Tarren's head affectionately.
The childs face went white at the thought that the warrior could get angrier or hit any harder. "She is not one you wish to defy my child. She will give you her heart, her life in exchange for your loyalty, but she will give you your hide in exchange for your disobedience. I know her, child, so be warned," the old woman said with a weary smile.
The child spoke softly to the mystic, who was trying to settle into her cot. "Nala, she is the warrior of your stories?" she asked.
The old woman nodded.
"Why has she come here? Why does she want me to go with her?" the youngster asked leaning on Nala for comfort.
The old woman sat up and looked into the terrified face of one that she had cared for since birth. "Oh you are so young. You are just a baby, Tarren, and there is so much you need to learn. She will teach you child. You have heard me say this before. You KNOW that my time is short, child. We have talked of this Princess for many years. You always knew that one day I would send for her to take you to care for you. If there is any more to tell than that my child, then I am not the one who can tell it to you," Nala whispered, hoping Xena would not wait too long to tell the child who she was.
The little girl shook her head turning away from the old womans words. Nala reached out to embrace the youngster. "Tarren, I have always loved you, but I was never able to be the mother you needed. That woman out there is my friend and yours, and there is no one in this world that I would trust my precious one to accept to her. I know it is difficult for you to understand, but someday you will, child. I promise you, my dear, that someday all will be clear to you," she whispered gently to the now sobbing child.
Tears streamed down Tarrens face as she buried her head in the old womans chest. "Shh! You will have a whole new life filled with great adventure and love my child," Nala said soothingly.
Outside the tent a single tear ran down a great warriors cheek.
The following morning Xena rose before the sun. She looked over at the sleeping bard and smiled. thinking to herself, "Let her sleep, warrior. Youve put her through enough these last few days," she thought.
With a smile the warrior headed to the river for an early swim. She stripped off her leathers and jumped in ready to join with the quiet nature around her. The cool water felt good against her muscular form. Her quick easy strokes made her one with the water as she swam easily with the current.
Standing on the shore, she noted a small figure watching her. Xena swam towards her and jumped out of the water reaching for a cloth to dry herself with. "Good morning, Tarren," she said with a smile, drying herself as she spoke. The child nodded but said nothing and the warrior scowled. "Now that will never do. Try it. GOOD MORNING, XENA," the warrior said, slowly to emphasize the polite nature of the phrase.
Tarrens face twisted a bit, but she complied. "Good morning, Xena!" the child repeated dryly.
The warrior nodded. "Well the sincerity could use some work but not bad for a first try," she said with a grin.
Xena took a deep breath of the fresh air and smiled. "So do you want to go for a swim?" she asked.
The girl shook her head. "I cant, never learned," Tarren said staring up at the still dripping warrior.
Xena folded her arms tightly against her chest. "Never learned!" she said in disbelief.
The child again nodded. "Well who was gonna teach me, warrior? Nala cant swim," the girl chided, squinting her eyes to keep the sun out as she looked up at the muscular form before her.
"You come down here to fish and you cant swim? What if you fell in?" the warrior asked, concern in her voice.
The girl shrugged. "Then I drown, warrior," she said with a mischievous grin.
Xena shook her head. "Well that will never do, no no no! You will learn right here and right now. I will teach you," she said, in a no nonsense tone.
"Now?" the little girl asked.
The warrior nodded. "Yes now so strip down and get in," she ordered.
Taking it as a new and daring challenge, the child did as the warrior asked. Then without warning, Xena picked her up and threw her into the water, diving in right behind her.
The girl came up sputtering water and Xena held her to the surface. "Is that how you teach someone how to swim? You just thrown them in?" the angry little girl asked angrily to exit the river.
The warrior grabbed her arm pulling her gently back towards her. "Yes, lesson one is you must get wet," she said with a smirk.
The child shook her head and allowed a bit of a smile as she wiped the water from her face. "Well Im wet warrior," she said with a crooked grin.
Xena appreciatively returned the grin. "Lesson two is repeating lesson one," the warrior added, picking the child up and again throwing her across the water. However, this time the girl resurfaced on her own and managed to stay above the water. "Good!" the warrior praised, with a soft smile.
The child stared at the muscular woman. "SO who taught you how to swim, Xena a giant titan?" the youngster asked with a giggle.
The warrior bit her lip. "Lesson three, never talk back to the teacher, little one," she chuckled, and for a third time Xena tossed the child across the water. However this time Tarren did not resurface.
Xena called to her anxiously. "Tarren!" But there was no response. A look of terror covered the face of the warrior as she searched beneath the water.
Suddenly there was a break in the water behind her, and the child surfaced right on top of Xena. "Your turn!" the youngster said, with an evil grin. The fast reflexes of the warrior pulled the little girl quickly over her head and back into the water below. Once again she came up spitting out water and laughing.
The warriors face was stern. "THAT was not funny dont ever do that again!" she scolded. . The childs face went blank, and the warrior shook her head and gently tapped the youngsters cheek. "Come on, lets get you swimming," Xena said with a sigh.
The child grinned, and so did the large warrior.
An old woman and a young bard watched approvingly from the shore.
In a matter of hours Xena had Tarren swimming the length of the river easily. "Be one with nature, Tarren," she instructed. "Become part of the river. No matter where you are, you must become part of your surroundings," the warrior said as the girl reached for each wave, as it was a piece of her thoughts. Xena marveled at what a natural she was and how quickly she had learned to swim with such an easy glide of strokes. Finally as the sun came over head Xena called to the child. "Come on, thats enough for today. We better get back to the camp," she ordered, swimming towards the shore.
Tarren frowned at the thought of leaving her new playground so soon. "No, you go, Xena. I want to stay here and swim some more," she said, pulling away from the warrior.
Xena shook her head. "No, you dont swim alone. Tarren. Lets go NOW!" the warrior yelled in a no nonsense tone. That familiar edge in Xenas voice offered a quick reminder of the previous days occurrence.
"All right," The youngster moaned, as she reluctantly dragged herself from the water. Her face was once again full of indignation, but she dressed remembering Nalas words about both the warriors strength and anger. Tarren could still feel the throbbing in her backside that made sitting an almost impossible task, and she was not about to test this womans temper so quickly again.
Xena shook her head as she pulled her leathers on. "Tarren, it is not ALL play all the time!" Xena said, as she started to walk towards the camp. When she noticed the girl had merely leaned against a tree and was not following, she stopped in her tracks. "Dont even think about going back in that water alone little girl," she warned pointing to the large flat rock they had shared the day before.
The girl nodded swallowing the words hard and placing her hands behind her head, looking longingly out at the water.
Xena smiled to herself at the youngsters enthusiasm for a challenge, but then she returned to camp for a waiting breakfast and a welcome cup of hot tea.
"Well, it looks like we have a fish walking on land here, Nala." The bard said with an impish grin as she noticed the warrior entering the camp.
The bard smiled as she handed Xena her expected cup of tea.
The warrior smiled. "Well, my short swim was extended a bit with a few swimming lessons," she said with a sigh, as she sat before the crackling fire drying her black mane.
Nala edged forward leaning on her stick and smiling. "Yes, we saw. You do well with her, Princess. I see a look in her eyes I have never seen before. She trusts you and admires your strength. It is a good start, my friend," the old woman said with pride.
Xena nodded and flashed a smile. "Well, it was until I made her get out of the water. Now shes back to not speaking to me again," she said with a sigh.
The old woman coughed heavily and sat quickly grabbing her chest.
"Nala!" the warrior cried, rushing to her side.
"I am fine, my friend!" the mystic whispered.
Xena and Gabrielle helped the old woman to a seat and gave her some cool water. Her breathing soon eased. "I am better. Do not make such a fuss. Go eat your breakfast, warrior," the old mystic commanded.
Xena nervously backed off keeping a watchful eye on her old friend.
"Wheres Tarren?" Gabrielle asked, trying not to think of just how ill the old woman was.
The warrior shook her head. "Down by the river sulking," she said with a playful grin.
The old woman laughed quietly. "Be careful, my friend. That child can charm her way into anything. She has a gift of persuasion about her."
Xena smiled as she poked at the fish heating on the spit. "Well thats OK, Nala, because I am NOT easily persuaded," the warrior hissed.
Gabrielle sipped at her tea and nodded in affirmation. "THAT is for darn sure yup that s for DARN sure!" she said a bit louder than she had intended. The bard looked up to catch the ungrateful gaze of her friend. "Ugh sorry guess I got carried away a bit, Xena."
The warrior gazed carefully at her young friend, "You know, bard, there is a very cold river down there in case YOU need a swimming lesson too," she teased.
Gabrielle threw her hands up in the air. "No thank you Xena. I know how to swim youve seen me do it...Im just fine sitting right here, nice and dry," she said moving a little further from the warriors reach.
Xena gave her a devilish smile. "Well maybe later then," she said, slowly savoring each word.
Gabrielle grabbed her staff and stood. "Perhaps Ill go see how Tarren is doing," the bard said, smiling nervously at the thought of the warrior seeking revenge for her words. It was time for a hasty retreat.
As Gabrielle slowly approached the base of the water, she smiled taking a deep breath and soaking up all the beauty and peace that surrounded her. She found the little girl leaning up against a tree, her eyes, fixated on the water.
"Hi!" the bard said, in a bubbly tone.
The child turned and offered a half smile. " Hi!"
Gabrielle jumped over a rock and leaned against the tree along side the child.
"Well you seem to be in a sort of glum way. Whats up?" she asked, moving a stray hair affectionately from the childs face.
"XENA!" the youngster said, in a one-word answer that spoke volumes to the bard.
Gabrielle tried not to laugh. "Well that sort of says it all. Whats the problem?" she asked, in a gentle more understanding tone, remembering her own frustrations with the Warrior Princess.
Tarren turned and faced the bard who could not help but be captured by the gentle blue gaze of her warrior friend looking back at her through this childs eyes.
"Is she always so so tough?" the little girl asked, with a quick breath.
The bard giggled and placed an understanding arm around her young friend. "Well, sometimes but not always. On the outside shes the BIG Warrior Princess. She wants to protect us all, so she always needs to be in TOTAL control. Shes always so sure of herself really ticks me off sometimes," Gabrielle said, frowning at the thought. Then the bards voice grew tender. "But on the inside, Tarren, I have learned is a very gentle and loving soul. She has a great deal of affection to give. It is sometimes just too difficult for her to let her truest feelings show," she said in a whisper.
Tarren considered the words and rubbed her throbbing backside. "I dunno she seems to get her point across," the youngster said with a frown.
The bard tried not to smile but quickly embraced the girl rubbing her back gently for comfort. "Tarren, I know its hard to believe, but she does what she does because she cares about you. If she didnt then she would not even waste her time. Trust me, the Warrior Princess does not waste her time on many people. You have to be very special to get her attention. You just have to learn, as I have, that Xena has a certain set of rules and she expects? No thats the wrong word. She DEMANDS that you, err we follow them," she said, with a distant look trying to make sure she had gotten her thoughts straight.
The child shook her head not truly understanding all the bard had said, but she welcomed her soft embrace feeling genuine tenderness and love emanating from the young woman.
Gabrielle stood back and tasseled the girls wet hair. "Come on, make me look good. Come back to the camp with me and have some breakfast," the bard said, offering the child her hand.
Tarren stared at the friendship she was being offered for a moment. She then dropped her small hand in Gabrielles allowing herself to be led back to the camp and Xena.
Happily the bard strode in past Xena, who was more than a bit surprised at the bards ability to get the child to return so willingly. "Leave it to Gabrielle to bring the mountain to her," the warrior murmured, trying to hide her obvious amusement.
Gabrielle handed the child a plate, and the girl moved to Nalas side to eat.
The warrior studied Tarren's obvious discomfort for a moment and then tossed the youngster her neatly rolled bedroll. "You cant eat standing up forever," the warrior said with an evil grin.
The girl looked down at the offering and considered it. Her legs were getting a bit tired from standing so much, so she carefully lowered herself onto the soft furs. "Thanks!" she said, sighing with relief as she was finally seated.
"Youre welcome!" Xena said, trying to suppress a grin.
Tarren looked at Gabrielle who merely winked and smiled at her.
Xena noted the exchange and made a mental note to find out what happened between them down by the river. It might take a bit of torture, but the bard would spill her guts. Again the warrior smiled at the bard, but this time Gabrielle smiled right back.
After everyone had eaten, Nala called to Tarren. "Child, I have been bragging to the Princess about how good you are with your little weapons show her," she ordered softly.
Xena placed her plate down on the ground and looked at the youngster with interest.
Tarren stared at Nala who only smiled and nodded her head. "Show her, little one, show her."
Gabrielle moved in next to Xena for a better view smiling as she grabbed her muscular friends arm. The youngster looked at the warrior for some sort of approval before she moved. Xena sensed the childs reluctance. "Tarren, I would like to see if you dont mind?" she asked softly.
The little girls grin widened as she reached into her left boot and pulled out a pair of "chucks." She never really knew what they were meant to be called, so she had just given them a name that some how seemed to suit their purpose. After all she always seemed to be throwing them in one direction or another, so chucking sort of came to mind.
The "chucks" were two intricately hand carved wooden wands fastened by a metal chain. The carving was ornate and had gold and silver inlays in the shapes of dragons. On the end of one side was a Chin symbol that Xena immediately recognized.
The warriors eyes flew open and she looked to Nala who merely smiled and nodded.
The old woman lifted her stick. "Begin child," she said
Tarren searched the area until she found a piece of cloth and then knelt down beside Xena. "Can you tie this around my eyes?" she asked.
Xena wrapped the cloth gently around the youngsters eyes and patted Tarren's back. "Too tight?" Xena asked.
The child shook her head. "No, thats fine, thanks!" she replied, moving away from the group.
The warriors smiled at the dignified manner the child was now maintaining.
With her eyes now blinded, the little girl moved a good 10 paces from the group. "I dont have a target, Nala," she whined, with disappointment.
The old woman cackled quietly. "Dont worry dear. Xena will provide one when you are ready," she yelled back, staring at the warrior.
Xena shot the old woman a gaze, but was quickly silenced by a wave of Nalas hand.
The youngster crouched into a natural fighting position and then with the snap of a wrist began a quick and easy maneuvering of the wands. They sailed through the air behind her back and above her head with great expertise. The child did gentle back flips followed by front and sidekicks easily continuing her drill.
Gabrielle watched in awe of the childs movements, and Xena carefully checked each move for the perfection that she knew was already there. A smile crossed the warriors face as she watched her child dance through the air gracefully.
Nala patted Xenas leg with her stick and tossed the warrior a large apple motioning her to throw it at the youngster.
Xena looked at the apple and the old woman and smiled wildly. "Ok!" she whispered. With all the strength she could muster, the warrior tossed the apple directly in the childs path.
Tarren, hearing the wisp through the wind of a foreign object, smiled and with a quick whip of the chucks caught the target dead center in mid air. The apple broke into a thousand pieces splattering all over the Warrior Princess and the bard. Having successfully hit her mark the child quickly fell back into a crouch and stood removing her blindfold. It only took her a moment to realize that Xena and Gabrielle were drenched in apple.
"Whoops!" the little girl said, stepping back from the warrior who had stood to wipe the debris off her leathers. Tarren slipped the chucks back in her boot and moved slowly away from the warrior.
The old woman laughed so hard she had to steady herself on her stick to keep from falling. "Excellent my child," she praised, through her laughter.
Tarren swallowed hard as she started to back further and further away. "Uhhh Im really sorry about that Xena Gabrielle I mean I had a blindfold on, so I couldnt see," the youngster said nervously.
The warrior silenced her with a raised hand. Xena glanced at Gabrielle who was still picking chunks of apple out of her hair. Within seconds the warrior and the bard began to laugh loudly. Xena reached out a friendly hand to the fearful child. "You were wonderful Tarren really I have never seen one so young maintain such control. I am proud of you," she said, softly staring at the girl.
Tarren felt a rush of pleasure run through her chest at those last words of approval the warrior had spoken. "Shes proud of ME?" the child thought to herself in disbelief.
The Warrior Princess quickly lifted the little girl off the ground in a bear hug, which ensured that the child too was now drenched in apple juice. "Little one, now YOU are part of this family, and you should know we share everything," Xena said with a smile, wiping the apple from the childs tunic as she placed the girl on the ground before her.
The youngster looked at the large muscular woman that stood grinning before her and smiled. Tarren let the toe of her boot make circles in the dirt nervously. "Well I guess this sort of means we should go swimming to get cleaned off. Right?" she asked, hoping for another chance to swim.
The warrior lifted the child easily over her head and ran towards the river. "Yeah but youre going in with your clothes on little girl," the warrior warned, as she tossed the child over her shoulder.
Tarren giggled loudly trying to protest the inevitable dunking.
Gabrielle joined in the laughter and was ready to follow, but her smile faded as she looked at Nala, who now had tears running down the side of her face. She knelt next to the old mystic. "What is it Nala?" she asked. The old woman placed a loving hand on the bards shoulder.
"I have never seen either of my princesses so happy. It brings great joy to this old heart," she whispered, through her tears. Gabrielle hugged the old woman, and Nala quickly dismissed the attention. "You go down to the water and swim too, my dear. Nala has work to do," she said caressing the bards soft cheek. Gabrielle nodded and quickly ran to the sounds of the splashing and laughter.
The old woman stumbled and grabbed her chest. Her face tightened in pain. "Not yet, my gods. Please, not just yet," she begged, to those above her. Soon the pain subsided and once again she thanked all on Mount Olympus for the extra time she was granted.
In the week that followed, Nala became weaker and weaker until she rarely moved around without assistance. The mystic had asked that Tarren take a bedroll and join Xena and Gabrielle under the stars rather than sleeping in the tent.
Reluctantly the child did as she was told, not really wanting to leave Nala alone.
Xena knew it was hard for the old mystic to push the child away, but she wanted her settled with her new life and her new family before she passed to the other side.
Luckily, it was not long before Tarren came to enjoy sleeping under the stars. It was peaceful and she enjoyed the games that Gabrielle made up to help her sleep. As they lay staring at the stars one night, Gabrielle and Tarren were lying next to each other playing a game connecting the stars above into the faces of different gods.
"Zeus! No Apollo!" the child yelled, pointing to a group of stars to the left of the bard.
Xena was lying comfortably next to Gabrielle trying to get to sleep. The warrior was exhausted from a long day of hunting and wanted nothing more then to head to the land of Morpheous.
The bard and the young child giggled loudly until the warrior finally growled. "Will you two go to sleep!" she ordered.
The bard looked at Tarren and the two went silent for a moment. "Tarren, I think Xena's upset because we didnt ask her if she wanted to play," Gabrielle said wistfully.
Tarren smiled knowing the bard was playing a new game called bait the Warrior.
"Well if Xena wants to play then I dont mind do you?" the child asked.
Gabrielle shook her head. "No, as a matter of fact, Tarren, I would welcome her experience and insight being she has had so many dealings with the gods herself," the bard taunted, knowing Xena was listening.
Xena opened her eyes and studied her companions. "Ya know you two are both asking for it?" she said stiffly.
Tarren giggled and ignored the warning. "So Gabrielle, tell me, how does Xena know so many of the gods?" she asked, leaning on one arm eager for information.
That was all the bard needed to launch into a story. She quickly leaned over to face the child. "Well one time Artemis..." she began, but before she could finish the sentence, the bard was silenced by a large imposing figure standing over her.
Tarrens smile slowly disappeared, as did Gabrielles.
"OK children, playtime is over and its time to tuck the kids in and go to bed," Xena said with a growl. "Tarren, pick your bedroll up and move to the other side of ME," she ordered, pointing the spot at her side.
Tarren stood. "But Xena I " she was silenced by the deep blue tired gaze of the warrior looking down on her. Quickly the child moved her bedroll to the other side of Xena and settled into sleep.
Xena nodded approvingly and then put her hands on her hips, scolded the pair in a parental tone. "Ok you two, listen up I am tired VERY tired and I dont want to hear any chatter from either one of you right now so BOTH OF YOU GO TO SLEEP!" she ordered in a Warrior Princess, no nonsense tone. A peaceful quiet fell over the camp, and the warrior returned to her own bedroll. She settled back into her comfortable spot satisfied that she has mastered the problem.
Glancing across warriors chest, Gabrielle caught Tarrens eye, and they exchanged a playful smile. "She sure can be grumpy when she doesnt catch anything in those traps of hers, Gabrielle," the child said, teasingly as she stared up at the stars.
The bard nodded. "You should see her if she doesnt catch any fish, Tarren shes Impossible," the bard replied, with the dramatic wave of her hands.
The warrior twisted her face into a cold frown and tossed her blankets to one side. "Ok thats it!" she warned, and with a quick leap the warrior rolled over and had Tarren pinned under her left leg, tickling her without mercy.
Before the bard could make a dash for the woods, the warrior grabbed her too and soon had her pinned under her right leg and began the same torture. The two girls laughed uncontrollably as Xena ran her fingers up and down their legs and arms until they squealed in agony.
"So are you two going to behave and let me sleep?" Xena asked never releasing her hold on either victim.
They both nodded and begged for mercy promising to be silent.
The Warrior Princess stood and returned to her blankets, eyeing her best friend and her child, as each crawled back to their bedrolls gasping for air. The great warrior smiled at the sight. "Good night, children," Xena said with a grin. Her words were only met with suppressed giggles and a soft grumbling.
Soon the only sound that could be heard in the camp was the loud laughter of an old woman that all had thought to be long asleep.
Chapter 6 Choices
Xena had little idea just how much longer they would be remaining in the hills of Rasa, so she spent her days fishing and swimming with Tarren, trying to use the time to get to know her daughter better. The bard was content to sit on the water's edge writing of their adventure in her scrolls. They enjoyed their meals together around a friendly fire. With the laughter and tenderness that Nala saw exchanged between mother and daughter, she was now sure that they would be bound together forever. The child had penetrated the warriors guarded heart and the Xena had found a way to guide Tarren to her.
Nala was sure that all would be well. Then one day at the end of their third week together everything changed.
Persius and three villagers arrived in their camp uninvited.
Xena stood and unsheathed her sword as soon as she had sensed the approaching invaders. "What do you want here?" she asked, steeling herself for a fight.
The villagers, armed only with small clubs, took a step back from the obvious anger of the warrior. Persius stood face to face with Xena, his eyes never blinking from her form. He threw his hand in the direction of the mystic. "We want HER!" he said, pointing to the old mystic.
The warrior smiled strangely at the old man. "Well so sorry, but you just cant have her," she purred.
Persius looked straight into the eyes of the old woman. "She is a blackness on this land and we will not have her evil spirit walking our sacred grounds. Be warned that after two sun risings, we will be back for her warrior. We will cleanse this land and you cannot stop us. Either you will hand her over or you will ALL suffer her fate," he hissed.
Tarren jumped from her seat by the fire and charged toward Persius caught only by Xenas fast hand. She held the struggling child in her grip.
"Tarren, thats enough!" she yelled, finally throwing the child back onto the ground behind her. With a harsh gaze she warned the child to stay there.
Gabrielle quickly moved to the youngsters side, protectively placing her staff in between Tarren and the villagers.
Xena quickly turned on Persius with clenched teeth and a wavering blade. "Know this Persius, if any of your people come to this camp, I will kill them," she threatened. There was coldness in her voice that made even Gabrielle shiver.
The old man stepped back cautiously. "You have been warned, warrior," he said in disgust, backing down the hill slowly.
"So have YOU," Xena said, fighting the urge to run her sword through him right then and there. Gabrielle stood next to her friend who, with a deep sigh, sheathed her sword.
"You Ok?" the bard asked, noting the warriors tense muscles. Nothing brought out the warriors anger more than the thought of people she cared about being threatened.
Xena nodded. "I let my guard down Gabrielle. Thats why they got in here. That
wont happen again," she stated, clearly chastising herself as she spoke.
Gabrielle thought for a moment as she watched the men leave. "Xena, these are simple people. They are really no different than the people of my own village of Potedia. I could go down there and talk to the villagers. I am sure that I could explain and " the bard began.
The warrior shot her friend an angry glare. "NO! Its too dangerous, and this is NOT Potedia, Gabrielle. These people are blinded by their own anger and ignorance," she yelled, louder than she should have.
The bards shoulders slumped at the way her friend dismissed her idea with no thought. "But Xena we could try...I could "
Xenas anger got the better of her as she faced her friend. It was a look that Gabrielle had seen before, and she knew that the warrior was struggling to control her darker side. "NO! You will not leave this camp site, understood?" she ordered, glaring straight into Gabrielles sullen gaze.
The bard nodded not even trying to hide the hurt she felt at her friends rejection of her idea. Gabrielle slowly moved back to the safety of the fire where she sat quietly lost in thought.
Xena turned to the small figure on the ground behind her and with one hand roughly brought her to her feet. "That goes DOUBLE for you. You are not even to leave MY sight, and if you ever pull another stunt like that again, I swear I will take a switch to you. Now get to bed!" the warrior ordered, pointing toward the bedrolls.
The anger in the childs face was replaced by sadness as she eagerly made her way to her bedroll.
The warrior stood straight and tall watching her go and once again faced the path the villagers had come up. Xena was angry with herself. She had left her guard down and those men had gotten within striking distance of her daughter and her friends. She would never allow that to happen again. She took a deep cleansing breath and tried in vein to relax her flexing muscles.
A soft hand gently touched her arm and she turned slowly because she already knew it was Nala. "You always did know just how to approach," she said stiffly.
The old mystic glanced at the young woman sitting sadly by the fire and the child wrapped in her blankets hours before she should be and then faced the warrior. "Princess, dont you think you were a bit hard on them?" she asked.
The warrior turned away, not ready to allow her anger to be defused. "No! Nala, I dont. They both fail to understand the seriousness of this situation," Xena said. The warrior pointed to Gabrielle. "That one thinks she can ALWAYS talk her way out of everything. I cant convince her that there are some people in the world that are just not willing to listen," she growled. The warrior paused and pointed to the bundled form of her daughter. "AND that child is gonna get herself killed with stunts like that of course that is if I dont kill her first," she said, shaking her head at the thought of the youngsters reckless action.
Nala allowed herself a slight smile. "Princess, do not let your anger become your masque, not if it hides your true feelings from those you love most," she whispered. With those gentle words the old woman wearily headed for her tent and a place to rest.
The warrior sighed as she watched her old friend go, but she could not allow herself the luxury of feeling guilty about the wounded feelings of her companions. Her first concern was to protect them, and that meant there was work to be done.
Xena spent the night fortifying the camp. She placed fallen logs at the base of all the trees and set snares to trap any that might dare come up the hill in the dead of night. By morning she was exhausted but satisfied that the camp was more secure. She glanced over at the two sleeping forms nestled by the fire and winced with some regret for the harsh words she had spoken in the heat of her anger.
Hearing the warriors movement, Nala came out of the tent just as Xena was throwing more wood on the small fire. "Well, Warrior, you still set up a formidable defense," the old woman said with a smile, scanning the area with her eyes.
Xena stood and tried to rub the kinks out of her aching muscles. The warrior smiled gratefully for the encouragement. After so many years at her side in the dark days the old mystic knew the importance of a secure camp. "Nala, Im gonna go down and catch some breakfast to feed these trouble makers. I wont be gone long," she said, placing a gentle kiss on the old womans forehead. "Thank you!" Xena whispered.
"For what, Princess?" the old woman asked, confused by her friends show of emotion.
"For everything youve done for Tarren and for me. You are one of the few people that ever understood me and cared for me anyway," she said, quietly staring at her old friend.
The old woman nodded in understanding and the warrior headed down the trail to the water. Nala wiped a tear from her eye and slowly hobbled back to her tent to dress.
Gabrielle heard the rustle of the warriors boots heading away from the camp, and she quickly rose from her bedroll. She had to prove to Xena that fighting was not always the way, and that her ideas were worth listening too. She had to try and talk to these people and make them understand. Quietly she grabbed her staff and ran down the hill, carefully avoiding the traps she knew the warrior had set.
Tarren's eyes quickly opened as she watched the foolish bard head down the path. She did not want to get her friend in trouble with Xena, but she did not want her to go to the village alone either. She knew how mean the villagers could be.
The sleepy child quietly rose from her blankets and grabbing a small knife with a red tone handle from the side of Xenas saddlebags climbed high into the trees above and headed for the village to join Gabrielle.
When Nala came out of her tent moments later she immediately noticed the absence of both Tarren and Gabrielle. They were nowhere in sight. "XENA!" she cried, with all the strength her fear could muster.
Within seconds the large warrior sprinted into camp. "Nala! Whats wrong?" she asked, reaching for the old woman as she slid to the ground.
Nala grabbed the warriors armor as she spoke. "They are gone Xena, Gabrielle and Tarren. They must have gone to the village. Princess, do not let harm come to them for this useless old woman," she begged.
The warrior slowly lowered Nala to her seat, "Dont worry, Ill find them. You just rest. Ill get them," she said, with an angry hiss.
Without so much as a breath the warrior jumped on Argos back and with a quick kick of her heals headed down the hill in a fast gallop.
Gabrielle entered the village slowly, listening to all the sounds around her just as Xena had taught her. There was gentle murmuring coming from the people in the streets of the village. They looked on her with glancing eyes of surprise and fear. The bard found a place in the center of town with a small podium and she hopped up on it.
"People of Rasa gather around. I bring you a message of peace," she yelled, waving her hands to motion a crowd to form around her. "I am Gabrielle of Potedia, a village not much different from your own. My friends and I are camped in the hills above you and we mean you no harm. We are here only to help a sick friend and take with us a small child. Nala is not a witch. She is a good and noble soul and she only wishes to spend her last few days in peace. I ask you good people of Rasa, would you deny her that?" she asked, hoping the people would listen.
There was a gentle murmuring in the crowd, and the bard seemed pleased by their gentle reaction. The bard wished Xena was there to watch her sway the crowd.
Soon a loud voice stood out loudly above the rest. It was Persius. "So you dare to enter our village and try to poison the minds of my people, girl. You are a follower of the witch," he screamed, waving his scepter in her direction.
Gabrielle held up her hands in protest. "She is not a witch, I tell you. She is just an old woman, and she is dying," the bard cried trying to be heard above the crowd.
The old man raised his scepter in the air. "We will not allow this poison to spread into our homes. We must cleanse this place. Take her to the place of fire, and we will free ourselves of her evil tongue," he commanded.
Before the bard could speak the villagers were on top of her. She swung her staff and took out a few, but there were too many to hold back. Soon Gabrielle was an unwilling prisoner being dragged through the center of town by an angry mob.
Tarren watched from the trees as her friend was carried kicking and screaming to a large wooden post. Her hands were tethered above her head and her legs strapped to the post. A gag was placed in her mouth to keep her screams from being heard.
The villagers all brought branches and sticks to throw at the young womans feet, and Persius smiled at the sight happily holding the torch in his hand.
Tarren slowly stepped from branch to branch until she was in the tree directly next to Gabrielle. She tossed a small twig at the bard trying to get her attention. When the young woman turned she caught sight of the youngster perched carefully on a tree limb beside her, the bard shook her head furiously to warn the child away, but Tarren placed a finger to her mouth to silence her.
Slowly the little girl lowered herself from the tree, holding Xenas knife carefully in her teeth. She edged her way behind the post and started slicing through the bindings with the knife until the blade snapped under the pressure. "UH! OH!" the child whispered, swallowing hard at the sight of the broken blade. She continued to cut using the jagged edge of what was left of the knife.
"Gabrielle, I dont know whether I would rather deal with these villagers or face Xena now," she said, fear emanating from every word as she cut the final cord.
The bard quickly removed the cloth from her mouth. "Move!" she yelled, pushing Tarren safely behind her as they leapt to the ground.
Persius caught sight of the escape and raised his staff in command. "They are getting away. Get them both burn the evil ones," he cried.
Gabrielle reached to the ground where her staff was thrown and held it up in defense. "Tarren, YOU stay behind me," she yelled, as she skillfully maneuvered the staff keeping the villagers at bay.
Tarren reached into her boot and pulled out her chucks. Waving them menacingly in the air, she caught one villager on the jaw and a second in the groin making them both slump to the ground. The two friends stayed back to back trying their best to keep the villagers a safe distance until the help they knew was coming arrived.
Soon enough there was the sound of hoof prints pounding dirt and then a cloud of dust filled the air. When the dirt settled to the ground all anyone could see was the Great Warrior Princess on a large Palomino racing toward the crowd waving her sword in the air, her white teeth gritted in an angry warrior cry.
The horse stopped and with one quick snap the warrior vaulted in the air landing right in front of Gabrielle and Tarren. "Somebody had a party and they did not invite Me," she mused, flicking her swords at the villagers daring them to approach.
Xena looked at Gabrielle and Tarren. "Are you two all right?" she asked, with genuine concern mixed with controlled anger. They both nodded.
"Good! Now I want you both to get up on Argo and get out of here," she ordered.
Xena whistled for the horse that quickly sliced through the crowd to her side.
"What about you?" Tarren asked, looking up at the warrior with great concern.
"Dont worry about me. Ill be along when Im finished here," she said smiling at the approaching Persius.
Gabrielle mounted Argo quickly. "No I wont leave you, Xena," the child cried, reaching out an arm to the stiff figure.
The warrior had no time for sentiment. "YOU do what your told. You get back to camp right now, and dont you stop for anything," she commanded, lifting the child onto the horse and slapping Argo into a quick gallop once again. Xena waved her sword around the villagers watching as Argo took her friends to safety.
"Now will this be the easy way or my way?" she purred, hoping for her way.
Without warning she reached out and grabbed Persius bringing her sword to his throat once again. ""Stk. stk. we must stop meeting like this. What will people say?" she mused, quickly placing her muscular arm in a lock around the old mans throat leaving the sword just below his chin.
With a few solid kicks she cleared her way to the path up the hill. "Now dont you boys do anything foolish. I might not be as forgiving next time we meet," she said, with an evil grin. Xena threw the old man to the ground and disappeared into the trees.
Chapter 7 Actions and Reactions
Gabrielle brought the war-horse to a quick halt in the center of the camp. It had been all she could do to keep Tarren from jumping off and running back to Xena.
Nala quickly embraced them both. "Thank the gods you are both safe," she said, tears filling her weak eyes. "Where is Xena?" the old woman asked.
Before either could answer, a husky voice from behind spoke. "Im right here," she said slowly sheathing her sword. Forgetting Xenas anger, the youngster quickly ran to embrace the warrior who, much to the surprise of all, welcomed the childs touch.
"Xena, youre all right!" she cried, grabbing the warrior around the waist.
The warrior held tightly to her daughter for a moment and then tilted Tarrens head back to stare into her eyes. "Im fine," she whispered. "But YOU are in a lot of trouble, little girl," she said, her voice growing low.
The child swallowed hard and thought about the consequences of her actions, but at that moment she didnt care. She once again clung to the warrior who just sighed and returned the loving childs embrace. Slowly she pulled the youngster away and pointed to the river. "You go wait for me down by the water. I want to talk to Gabrielle," she said, with a stern parental authority.
Tarren bit her lip and looked over at the bard who offered the child an apologetic smile. The child slowly headed to a familiar place in a small clearing down by the river.
Nala returned to her tent to rest knowing this was a private moment between the two friends.
Xena folded her arms trying to contain the obvious anger that was inside her. She waited for Tarren to be out of ear shot before she spoke.
The bard knew that she deserved the looks she was getting. She lowered her head ashamed of her own actions. "Xena, Im sorry. You were right, and I was wrong. I never should have gone down there," she said, in a whisper afraid to look the warrior in the eye.
Xena glared at her trying to choose her words carefully. "Gabrielle I know that you and I dont always see eye to eye on everything. Many times I have gone against my OWN instincts to try things your way, and I have no regrets. However, putting your life in danger and Tarren's just for the sake of foolish pride is just plain stupid and childish. Youre always saying youre not a child and that I dont trust you enough. Well, today you surely didnt make a very mature impression on me at all," the warrior said, facing the bard, trying in vain to control the anger in her voice.
Gabrielle could feel the tears welling but refused to give into them. "I just wanted to try and talk to these people. I had no idea Tarren would follow," she whispered. Her gentle green orbs met the blue blazon glare of her best friend.
Xena threw her arms up in frustration and paced around the camp. "So you just figured that after I told you both NOT to leave camp that what I said meant nothing to either of you," Xena yelled, folding her arms waiting for an answer but none came.
"Gabrielle, do you realize those lunatics could have burned you at the stake? They probably would have if that foolish kid hadnt cut you loose," she said, shaking her head as she continued to pace. Xena tried unsuccessfully to get the image of her friend and her child dying in flames out of her head.
The bard let a stray tear fall down her cheek but quickly wiped it away. "Its my fault. Xena, dont punish Tarren. She only came after me because she thought I was in trouble. She saved my life. You dont have to " the bard started to say.
The warrior held up a hand to silence her friend. "Thats just it, my little bard. I DO HAVE to. I dont want to, but I do HAVE to punish her. You see SHE IS a child, and she does need to learn that what I say MEANS something. I cant have her breaking the rules whenever SHE feels they shouldnt apply to her too. Thats what I have YOU for!" Xena finished, with a fierce growl staring down at the contrite young woman.
"Im sorry Xena," she whispered.
The warrior stopped pacing and stared at her friend. "Youre sorry! Well, you think about that, Gabrielle. I mean I want you to REALLY think about that! Think about what might have happened to both of you because for a single dinar, my young friend, I would put you over my knee too, and I still might. The night is VERY young," the warrior growled, her tone menacingly low.
Xena shook her head and kicked at the dirt murmuring under her breath as she headed down the path to Tarren. Suddenly she turned and pointed her finger at Gabrielle. "When I get back, my horse better have been rubbed down and cooled off," she warned, turning on her heal to deal with the next insubordinate child.
Tarren was sitting on the large rock where she knew the warrior had meant for her to go. She just stared at the water hugging her legs close to her chest for comfort.
Xena came to the edge of the water and looked at her for a moment trying to drown out all the anger she had welling inside of her. The warrior quietly sat on the rock next to her daughter and sighed heavily.
"Hi!" the warrior said staring out at the same calming waters.
The child turned to face her friend, knowing there was definite anger in the warriors voice. "Hi!" she said, unable to meet the warriors gaze. "Your pretty mad at me, huh? the girl asked, looking back to the water.
Xena nodded. "Tarren, you have NO idea," the warrior said, leaning back on her arms. She turned to look at the girl while trying to control her rage. "Tarren, I know you followed Gabrielle because you wanted to help her but..." the warriors voice trailed off as she tried to clear her thoughts. The child just stared at her not quite sure what she was trying to say.
"Even with all of that said, Tarren, I still have to punish you because, as good as your intentions were, your actions were STILL wrong," Xena said quickly.
The youngster stood. "But I just wanted to help, Xena. I didnt want to see Gabrielle get hurt. YOU would have done the same thing," she said anxiously.
The warrior sighed heavily. "Yeah, but I am a trained warrior, not a kid, Tarren," she said in frustration. "I am grateful that you were able to help Gabrielle, but that doesnt change the fact that you went against everything I said. Neither one of you should have been there in the first place!" she yelled.
The child folded her arms in a stubborn lock and sat on the rock refusing to any longer acknowledge the warriors presence.
Xenas anger began to resurface, but her tone became cool and controlled. "Tarren, you should have come to ME when Gabrielle left. You could have been hurt or killed down there and THAT is just not something I could ever live with happening. I know its hard for you to understand right now, but you will just have to DO what I SAY and trust that I know whats best. There are NO exceptions to that rule. Do you understand?" Xena asked, in a no nonsense tone.
The youngster said nothing, which only fueled the warriors anger even more. Xena quickly stood reaching to her full height. She paused for a moment and stared at the child. "Fine, lets get this over with," she said, with a mix of anger and remorse in her voice.
Without any effort, Xena pulled the child across her lap and keeping the thought of her daughters recent insurrection in her mind began a steady cadence of whacks across Tarrens small backside. She knew she had to make a lasting impression. If there was ever a "next time," Xena might not make it in time to save her.
The child grimaced and cried under the merciless hand that fell against her bottom. The warriors stroke fell hard and fast and the little girl soon realized that what Nala had told her about the warriors anger and strength was true. She whimpered and cried each time Xena hit her target, but she did not beg her to stop. For even she knew that the Princess would not relent until she felt she was done, so the child decided to hold onto what little pride she had left.
After what seemed like an eternity to the youngster, the castigation came to a sudden halt, and she was lifted to her feet once again by the strong arms of her large friend.
The child rubbed the tears from her eyes with the cloth on her sleeve, and when she stared into the face of her warrior friend, she saw something she had not expected to see. Xena had a string of tears streaming down her cheeks as well. The youngster was awed by the sight and forgetting her own pain, for a moment, reached over and wiped a tear off of Xenas skin.
The proud warrior looked into the gentle eyes of her sobbing child and swallowed hard. Without a word she stood and walked into the darkness alone, leaving Tarren to deal with her humiliation privately.
Somewhere deep in the woods the ex-warlord, former Destroyer of Nations, shed tears for the pain she felt for the ones that she dared to love.
Gabrielle anxiously waited for Xena to return. It was getting late and the warrior had yet to return. The bard wanted so much to make amends, but she wasnt quite sure how. She wanted to share her feelings with her friend, but for once Gabrielle was short on words.
As a lone dark figure entered the camp, the bard smiled. She picked up a mug of fresh tea and offered it to the warrior who looked drained of all emotion. Her anger was gone, but so was her strength. The weight of the last few weeks was catching up to her.
Xena took the mug gratefully and nodded at the bard never allowing their eyes to meet.
Gabrielle spoke to the warriors back as Xena headed for the warmth of the fire. "Xena, I really am sorry I didnt listen to you. I should have known better," Gabrielle said, in a gentle tone.
The warrior tried to smile. "YES, you should have," she said, without feeling. Xena quickly caught sight of the bards reddened eyes and contrite manner and shook her head as she remembered how many times Gabrielle had forgiven the warrior for her own misdeeds and mistakes. Xena motioned her friend over to the fire with a wave. The bard happily obliged.
"Gabrielle, I know your heart is always in the right place. I just wish your head would think twice before following your heart sometimes," Xena said, with a smile gently thumping the young womans forehead with her finger.
The bard smiled and nodded knowingly. "I know and Im gonna change. I swear, Xena, I wont think with my heart ever again," she said quickly.
The warrior studied her young friend. "Dont you dare change one bit, my little bard!" she said with a smile, taking the young woman into her arms for a hug. "I like you just the way you are. Besides I just got you broken in, so dont you change a thing, ya got it?" she said with a stern wave of a finger.
Gabrielle smiled and wiped a tear from the corner of her eye. She reached down and handed the warrior a plate of cooked fish. They were wrapped in herbs and seasoned just the way Xena liked them. "A peace offering." the bard said with a grin.
The warrior glanced at the food and shook her head. "Leave it to you to make food a peace offering," Xena said with a quick smile.
Gabrielle giggled and hugged the big warrior allowing a few stray tears to fall. "Im so sorry, Xena."
The warrior placed a gentle arm on her friends shoulder, "I know you are," she whispered, allowing her young friend to hold her for a short while.
When she finally broke away, Xena noted that Nala was still resting in her tent. The warrior sat down to enjoy her food under the constant gaze of her young friend.
Gabrielle poked at the fire with a stick. "Hows Tarren?" She asked, quietly hoping the question would not anger the warrior.
Xena shook her head. "I dunno. Shell live through it. I left her down by the water. She needs to think about a few things I said alone for a while," the warrior whispered, her thoughts once again turning to that of the child.
The bard nodded. "Xena, she saved my life. They were gonna throw the torch on the kindling when she cut my ties. She IS quite a little kid," Gabrielle said, trying to mount a defense.
Xena nodded in understanding. "Gabrielle, its all right. Its not your fault she followed you. That was her decision to make, and she has to pay the price for that ALONE," the warrior said, in a stern voice.
Again the bard nodded but still poked at the fire with the stick. "I know but Xena, you should have seen her fighting off those villagers. It was like having a small part of you there," she whispered, finally dropping the stick into the fire.
Xena smiled slightly and studied the bards worried expression. She sighed heavily and then placed her food down on the ground. "Ill be right back," the warrior said, heading back down to the water.
When she got to the place where she left Tarren, she found the small figure lying on the flat rock fast asleep. The still wet tears covered her small face, and Xena felt a pang of remorse for being the cause of those tears. She gently shook the little girl, who opened her eyes slowly taking in the sight of the large woman.
Xena again sat on the rock beside her. "Mind some company?" she asked.
The child shook her head but said nothing.
Xena unsheathed her sword and took a whetstone from her pouch and started rubbing the stone methodically along the edges of blade.
The child studied the warriors movements. "Why do you do that so much?" she asked with a sniffle.
Xena continued her task allowing a slight smile. "Well, I need to make sure the edges are very sharp at all times. In a battle it can mean the difference between life and death. If it were not at its peak at all times then it could fail me at the wrong moment, and that would just not do, now would it?" she asked staring at the youngster.
The child shook her head and stood next to the warrior, trying to see into her eyes. She knew the anger was gone, but she was not sure what had replaced it. She lowered her eyes to the warriors boots. "Are you still mad at me for going to the village?" the child asked.
The warrior stopped the grinding motion of the stone and placed the sword back in its sheathe, carefully looking into the eyes of her daughter. "No, Tarren, Im not angry at you anymore. Are you still angry at me for spanking you?" the warrior asked, with a hint of remorse in her tender voice.
The child thought about it and nodded. "Yes!"
Xena smiled. "Well at least your honest," The warrior said, reaching out a hand and touching the childs cheek to wipe away a tear with her caress. "Im sorry Tarren. Im sorry that I had to cause you so many tears," she whispered.
The girls eyes lowered a bit as she felt the warriors gentle gaze on her face. "Well, Im sorry that I didnt listen to you. Xena, I didnt mean to hurt you," she said, staring into the eyes of her large friend.
Xena allowed a weak smile at the youngsters words. How strange that this child would be able to read the warrior so well as to see the wound that was planted so deeply below the surface.
"So are you sure youre not still mad at me?" the child asked again.
The warrior shook her head and opened her arms inviting the youngster to enter. Tarren did not waste any time before falling happily into her friends embrace. Xena wrapped her long muscular arms around the small figure trying to soothe her pain with a gentle touch. Tarren noted the strong smell of the leather from the warriors armor and found comfort in the musty odor. She was grateful for he friends affection, so she made no attempt at breaking Xenas gentle hold.
The youngster asked one more time as she wiped her eyes. "Xena, are you SURE you are not mad at me anymore?"
The warriors eyes grew wide and she lifted the child away from her. "No, I am not mad at you, but why do you keep asking me that?" she asked suspiciously.
The little girl nervously reached into her right boot and pulled out a red stone handle with a short jagged stump of a blade. Tarren handed Xena the remains of her knife and waited for her to explode. "The leather was pretty hard to cut sorry," the child said, nervously taking a step back and holding her breath.
The warrior studied the knife, or what was left of it, and then looked at the fearful youngster. "You know this knife cost me 15 dinars," she said with a stiff smile tossing the broken weapon into the water. "Id say it was worth every single one of them," she said softly.
Tarren slowly released the breath she had been holding and with a leap, jumped back into the warriors open arms. Xena squeezed the child tightly and then stood. "Come on, lets go back to camp. I think Gabrielle is afraid that I killed you and dumped the body in the river," she teased.
The youngster wiped away the last of her tears and headed up the path with the Warrior Princess beside her.
"I guess youre gonna need my bedroll at dinner for a while, huh?" the warrior asked with an evil smile.
The child rubbed her backside gingerly and cringed. "For a long while," the youngster said with a moan.
The warrior gently rubbed the childs back and lifted her off the ground into her arms, content to carry Tarren the rest of the way. "Well, its yours for as long as you need it, Little One. Im not going anywhere without it or you," she said quietly.
Tarren leaned against her friends chest still feeling great throbs of pain behind her. "Thanks I think." the child said with a slight frown.
When the two Princesses arrived in camp, Gabrielle came rushing over to hug Tarren. She squeezed her so tightly that the child had to beg for air.
"Gabrielle, you are choking me," she yelled. The bard kissed her cheek and again hugged her. The child looked up at the warrior. "Is she always like this?" she asked, backing behind Xena a bit.
The warrior smiled and patted the little girls head. "Yeah, but you get used to it after a while, sort of," she smirked.
Gabrielle took a step back throwing her hands on her hips in mock frustration, "I dont know if I should thank you or "
The little girl quickly raised her hand in Xena fashion. "Please, Gabrielle, Xena already covered OR...trust me!" she pleaded.
The bards face filled with compassion and guilt and she again quickly pulled the child into another bear hug.
"Xena help!" the youngster yelled, grinning as she tried to escape the bards affection.
The warrior shook her head and threw her hands up in mock defense. "Sorry kid, but I wouldnt tangle with that one for anything," the warrior mused.
Gabrielle fussed over the chastened child, and the tired warrior slipped into Nalas tent dropping onto the extra cot with a thud.
The old mystic turned her head to face the warrior. "Are you all right, my Princess?" she asked weakly.
Xena considered the words. "Well, the bad guys have been defeated for the moment, Ive secured the camp, reduced my best friend to a puddle of tears, and paddled my child. Yes Nala, I would say it has been a full day," she said with a heavy sigh.
The elderly woman sat up on her cot, "My poor Princess, you put weight of the world on your shoulders, and you do not even share the burden with those closest to you. Well Nala has a cure for what ails you."
The mystic reached under the bed and pulled out a wineskin and tossed it to the warrior.
Xena smiled. "Nala, my friend, you truly are a mystic of great talents," she said, taking a quick drink.
The old one nodded. "I have many skills, Princess."
The warrior took another good long drink and then passed it to her friend who shared in the delight of the contents. Xena again drank from the skin and weeks of tension seemed to melt away. The old woman smiled. Soon the two friends were laughing and once again telling stories of a time long ago.
Chapter 8 A Mystics Gift
Xena did not sleep much that night remembering the villagers threat. They would soon be past the second sun rising, and that could mean trouble. The old mystics health was declining rapidly, so the warrior did not like being far from her old friend. However she had to walk the perimeter occasionally to make sure there were no surprises in the middle of the night.
As Xena stared at the sleeping forms of Gabrielle and Tarren, she could only smile. She tried to imagine what life on the road was gonna be like with both of them at her side. The thought of the youngsters added presence brought both comfort and concern to the great warrior.
As she sat there lost in her own thoughts she heard a faint whisper from the tent. It was Nala calling her name. She raced in knowing the old mystics time was very near. Xena kept vigil through the night just staring into the face of her dear friend and mentor.
The old one lay on the cot, her labored breathe making it hard to speak. "Princess, soon my time will come...very soon love her, Princess, and let HER love you...Promise me!" she begged.
Xena nodded as a tear ran down her cheek, "I promise Nala," she said gently.
The old woman smiled and patted the warriors hand lovingly. "When will you tell her the truth, my warrior friend? I know you ache to share the secret with her and call her daughter," the mystic whispered.
Xena sighed at the thought. "When I feel that she can handle it. Right now it is more important that she know that she belongs with me than to understand exactly why. Things are changing so fast for her. I dont want to confuse her anymore than I already have," Xena said, pausing for a moment gathering her thoughts.
"Nala, I have been meaning to ask you about Tarren's fighting wands. They are mine, arent they? They are the ones I brought back from Chin," she asked.
The old woman smile weakened. "Yes, Princess, they are, and she knows that they belonged to her mother, so she guards them well. They are the only part of you she has ever held until now," she whispered, touching the warriors hand.
Xena shook her head and smiled at the memory of her friend Lao Ma who had given her the chucks as a gift to teach her the fluidity and grace of movement. It was a fleeting memory but one she promised herself to give more thought to at a later time.
Xena studied the face of her friend and whispered. "Nala, have I ever told you how much you mean to me, old woman? You were like a mother to me in my darker days. While my own mother turned away, you stayed beside me. Nala, I can never repay you for "
The old woman lifted a shaky hand to the warriors cheek, "I love you too, Warrior Princess," she said, stroking Xenas face gently.
The warrior just squeezed the hand of the old mystic tightly knowing that no more needed to be said.
Tarren came crashing through the tent interrupting the solemn moment. Only Xenas fast reflexes halted the childs speed.
"Tarren, whats wrong?" she asked, grabbing tightly to the shoulders of the youngster, who was panting from lack of breathe. "Its Its the villagers Persius...They are coming up the mountain...Xena, I can see the torches," she said quickly, trying to catch her breath.
Xena looked at Nala and smiled weakly, grasping her friends hand for the last time.
"Tarren, you stay here with Nala," she ordered.
The child quickly objected. "No, I want to go with you I can fight too," she moaned, with a childish pout.
Xena took a deep breath to try and control her frustration. She took the child by the Shoulders. "Just because you can wield a weapon in form does not make you a fighter YOU are still just a little kid, Tarren, and I want you to stay here with Nala. DO you understand?" the warrior asked.
The child looked up to her large friend. "But Xena "
The warrior silenced her with a glare, and the child nodded knowing that the look in her friends eyes spoke of a promised threat if she continued the argument. The youngster turned away slowly, disappointed at being left behind.
Xena smiled and put a gentle hand on the little girls head. "Ill be back soon," she said quietly.
The warrior gave a final glance of farewell to Nala and ran from the tent quickly mounting Argo.
"Xena whats happening?" Gabrielle yelled, running to the great steeds side.
"The villagers!" Xena growled, reaching down for Gabrielles hand, pulling her friend up behind her. The two sped off down the path to face the misguided mob of fools.
Tarrens eyes filled with tears as she nestled beside Nala. "She doesnt think I can help," the child whined.
Nala gently rubbed the side of the girls face. "No, child, she just wants to protect you. That is her way of caring for you Tarren Cant you see the love she has for you?" the old woman asked.
The little girl bit her lower lip as she realized just how weak Nala really had become. Tarren tried to smile. "Why would she love me?" she asked, lowering her head.
The mystic lifted the childs chin with one finger and answered in a near whisper. "Oh, little one There is so much to love about you. There is so much you will learn "
The old woman coughed harder than she ever had, and Tarren held her tightly truly afraid of letting go.
When she regained her composure the old one pointed to the wooden chest beside her cot. "All that I have is yours, child," she said reaching around her neck, taking the small blue amulet on the thin gold chain off, and placing it gently around Tarrens neck.
"If you are ever in such great trouble that even the Princess cannot help you then break the crystal and speak the sacred chant I shared with you. You remember, dont you, dear one?" she asked, as she wiped the tears from the little girls face.
Tarren nodded in understanding. "I remember everything you taught me, Nala," she said choking on the words.
The old mystic smiled. "Good, little one. Say that chant and help will be yours. But child, know that you can only call on this once, so use this gift wisely," she warned.
Tarren touched the amulet gently and nodded in understanding.
"Now as Nala has said all that I have is yours except for ONE thing. I want you to give my diary to Xena. She will feel the pain of loss in her own way, just as you will my dear, so give it to her when you feel she needs it most. It is filled with wonderful memories of my life and yours, Tarren. Both you and my Warrior Princess are deeply entwined in the pages. Promise me child!" the old mystic cried.
The little girls eyes filled with tears as she reached into the chest and caressed the large book with the odd golden lock on the side.
The old one smiled softly and winked at the curious youngster staring at the odd lock. "Only the Princess will know how to open it, my dear one. Tell her that it is my gift to her. Tell her that Nala loved her just as she loves you and that I was proud to be her friend," she said weakly, reaching for the child.
Tarren grabbed the mystics hand. "I promise, Nala!" she cried, through a wave of tears. The little girl clung to the magical book and could only watch in horror as with one last quick breath the old mystics hand fell limp. She was gone.
The child fell to the mystics side. "Dont leave me Nala. Please dont leave me alone. Dont go," she cried, grabbing at the old mystic's shawl for comfort.
The great steed came to a screeching halt within feet of the mob. Gabrielle readied her staff, and Xena drew her sword and pointed it at Persius. "You must like my sword Persius you seem to enjoy its company. Now what do ya want?" she asked.
The old man stood with all the courage of a madman. "We come to rid ourselves of that old witch and that wretched brat," he yelled, pointing up the hill.
Xena pushed the point of the sword in closer to the old mans throat, and the bard quickly advanced.
"Why dont you leave her alone shes dying and the child is coming with us." Gabrielle yelled defiantly, raising her staff ready for an attack.
The old man smiled slightly. "WE know the old one is dying, and we do not want her cursed spirit resting here. We will throw her outside of Rasa and burn her body into cinders. The child can burn with her as well. Evil spreads where evil dwells," he said, raising his scepter in the air.
One villager lifted his pitchfork towards Xena and she quickly threw a front kick knocking him to the ground, never taking her sword off Persius.
The old man stepped back. "You cant get us all," he laughed.
The warrior smiled devilishly. "Hmm, maybe not, but I will be sure to take you, Persius," she purred. With those final words spoken the fighting started.
Xena knocked the wind out of three villagers and with the ring of her famous battle cry, jumped over the mob attacking those who dared to try and follow Persius up the hill.
The bard swung her staff with great expertise. One by one, the angry villagers hit the ground, but no matter how many fell, there seemed to always be more pushing their way up the hill.
Xena could only smile as a few villagers were caught in her traps and found they were hanging upside down in the trees. The warrior looked to the bard and they both knew that this mob would push their way too far up the hill. Persius was a madman, but these villagers were just ignorant followers armed with small knives, homemade swords, and farm tools. Xena did not want to have to kill any of them, but she would do it to keep them from reaching her daughter. She would send each and every one down into Tartarus to save that child.
Chapter 9- Farewells and Fond Memories
Tarren wiped her tears and knelt beside the body of the old mystic. "I know you asked Xena to do this, but shes not here. Ill do what has to be done, Nala Im not afraid. Im not a baby, ya know Ill be just as brave as Xena would be if she were here," the small figure whispered, to the now still form of the old one. Tarren wished the warrior would return, but off in the distance she could hear the villagers slowly making their way up the hill.
Tarren gently stroked the wrinkled face of the old woman and then quickly began her task. Using all the strength her nearly 11 summers could muster, she pulled the large wooden trunk that Nala had kept all their possessions in out of the tent and dragged it into the woods far away from the camp. She emptied anything of value or importance into her leather satchel.
She then picked up all Xena and Gabrielles belongings and put them in the safety of the same brush. Taking a deep breath she put the diary that she had held so tightly to inside her satchel as well.
She then returned to the tent and looked again at Nalas body. Tarren touched the necklace the old woman had just given her and then placed it safely inside her tunic, swallowing the tears that were forming in her throat. "Dont worry, Nala... Im gonna do this I wont let you down," she whispered.
Tarren made a large bed of brush and branches in the center of the camp and carefully placed 12 large rocks in a circle around the bedding. Wiping the sweat from her young brow, she gently pulled the body of the old woman who had cared for her since birth, into the center of the camp and placed her on the bedding.
The youngster looked to the path. She could smell the torches burning and see the approaching villagers fighting their way up the hill. She had to hurry.
The little girl ran over to the chest and pulled out a large ball made of the purest crystal and a small pouch filled with a dark blue powder. She placed the ball in Nala's hands and as she had been told many times, sprinkled the blue dust from the pouch onto the body and then onto the surrounding rocks. She took a torch from the fire and lit the circle of powder on the rocks watching as the small flames leapt into the air.
The youngster closed her eyes and spoke the words the old mystic had taught her long ago. "When the circle of life has burned out, then the crystal shall light your way to eternity," the child chanted slowly as she watched the flames burn.
Tarren fell to her knees when she heard Xenas battle cry. She knew that the villagers were now entering the camp. The sound of the struggle was right behind her, but the child did not turn.
Xena pushed Persius back as they made their way too the top of the hill. Xena scanned the camp quickly and saw the ceremonial burial circle. "Nala!" she yelled, shoving Persius to the ground at her feet.
All stopped at the sight of the little girl holding the torch over the body of the old mystic.
Tarren stood slowly and turned to face the Warrior Princess. The childs face was red and swollen with tears and dirt, but she did not stumble. She held the long torch straight out in front of her ready to bid her friend a final farewell.
Xena felt a rush of tears and struggled to hold them back. She wanted to run to the little girl and wipe away all the pain and sadness that filled her young face. She wanted to hold her and protect her from all the evil in the world, but she had to keep the villagers in place. Xena held her sword high in the air daring any man to step further.
The bard shivered knowing that Xena would surely now strike down the first man who dared to enter this now sacred place.
No one moved, and Tarren just stood there mouthing Xena's name wishing she would advance and knowing she couldnt. The youngster wiped her eyes with the end of her sleeve and then glared at Persius. "You wanted a witch well " the child fumbled, dropping again to her knees. "Well she wasnt a witch she was just MY friend She would have been your friend too if you had let her, but she wasnt good enough for any of you," the distraught child whispered, through her tears.
The villagers all took a step back as a wave of shame started to run through the mob at the sight of this small childs suffering.
Xena gave them all a warning look and then tried to move forward, but Tarren stopped her with a wave and a plea. "No Xena, PLEASE! Let me do this Please! Let me do this!" she cried, holding the warriors gaze.
Xena stopped about six paces from Tarren, her eyes welling with sadness for her lost friend and her love for this little warrior. The great warrior placed herself carefully between her daughter and the now silent villagers.
Gabrielle looked at her friends with a growing sadness, but she kept her staff firmly placed in front of the mob just in case someone dared to move.
Tarren stared at the body of the mystic. The flames on the ceremonial stones indicating the completion of life were burning down. It was time to set Nala free.
The little one looked once again to Persius. "She never hurt any of you. Many of you even came to her in the middle of the night when you were sick. She never asked anything of you. She helped you, and you treated her like dirt. Why?" she asked, unable to get to her feet.
There was a murmur over the crowd. Only Persius moved forward.
"She was a witch a witch...pure evil, and she must not be allowed to rest here." The madman screamed, pulling a large knife from beneath his cloak and lunging at the little girl. Before he could ever make it past the path, a cold piece of a warriors steel pierced his heart, and he fell to the ground never again to threaten the warriors child.
Tarren looked longingly at Xena wanting so much to run to her, but she had made a promise and she needed to keep it.
The child raised the torch high above her head and through a masque of tears cried out. "You wanted a witch, you wanted a curse Well then so be it," she said slowly, reaching to touch the crystal.
Her small hand faltered and she just stared at the flame.
Xena took a step forward and knelt beside her daughter, gently placing her large hand over that of the child. Tarren looked up into the eyes of her new Guardian, who smiled softly at her wiping a tear from her cheek. "I cant do it, Xena. I just cant," she cried, burying her head in the warriors arms.
Xena grabbed the youngsters hand bringing her slowly to her feet. "You dont have to Tarren. From this moment on we will do it together. Do you understand?" the warrior whispered placing her free hand on the torch while holding the child up with the other.
The little girl nodded gratefully and with two hands holding it tightly, the torch touched the crystal igniting it. Flames shot in every direction and Xena made a quick dive knocking Tarren to the ground and safety. They watched together as the bedding pyre caught fire.
The flame grew higher and higher and then the crystal exploded into a fluid of colors that reached in all directions of the sky consuming all it touched. All looked on in wonder and some in fear as life stood still around them. With one final blast of brightness the colors filled the evening sky and then as quickly as they had grown, disappeared into a simple fire that sent the old mystic on her way.
"Goodbye, old friend," the Warrior Princess said, choking on the words. The Princess looked down at her daughter who was now sobbing uncontrollably. Xena stood and with gentle ease lifted the small form into her arms and held her tightly, soothing her pain. "Shh! Shh! Im here Its Ok .Everything will be all right. Im not going anywhere," she said, as she rocked the youngster cradled in her arms.
Tarren threw her arms around the warriors neck and burrowed her head in the leather armor, finding comfort in the soft smell of the one who she knew would now watch over her.
The villagers quickly retreated down the hill. Having lost their leader, they had lost their courage and their anger.
After the last of them had retreated Gabrielle quickly ran to Xena, and the warrior offered the bard her arm. Gabrielle wrapped her hands around the waist of the great warrior and the child nestled in her arms and cried softly.
Xena stared at the fire and then slowly began to sing a song of friendship and battle in memory of her dear friend, Nala.
The following morning Tarren looked at the place where Nalas body had once been, and she wiped a tear from her eye.
Xena walked up beside her and placed a gentle knowing hand on the childs shoulder and handed the little girl her leather satchel. Xena knew hidden inside that bag were all of the youngsters magical adventures of the past as well as all her dreams for the future. She hoped that one day Tarren would share them with her.
The child looked up at the warrior who smiled and tasseled the little girls hair. "Its time to go," Xena said.
The youngster nodded and took her place beside Xena.
"You know, Tarren, Nala always told me that life begins anew with every step we take. Every journey, each adventure, and each new person that enters our lives is a new beginning," Xena said, dropping to one knee and carefully cupping the girls face in her hands.
"We have a new beginning ahead of us, Tarren, and I want you to know that no matter what happens, no matter what you do, I will always be there for you. I will always love you," she whispered.
Tarren thought about what Nala had said to her in the tent, and she hugged the big warrior knowing that she would never be alone again.
"So now what?" the little girl asked, staring up at her Guardian and friend, not sure what Xenas response would be.
Xena offered the youngster her hand and Tarren gladly accepted it. "Now we start our life anew together," The warrior said with a grin. The little girl smiled and Xena lifted her into her arms. Gabrielle came quickly to her side and touched the youngsters arm and smiled. With one quick glance back, the warrior, the bard, and the little Warrior Princess started on their new journey together.
I want to thank you for reading my story. I hope you enjoyed it. I have always felt that Xena was robbed of too much with the death of Solan, so I decided to give her something back. I feel it adds a new and interesting dimension to the characters lives. I hope you agree. This is only the first of many excerpts involving these three travelers, so please look for the next chapter called,
"On "The Road Again."
Please feel free to e-mail me with your comments. Thank You.
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