The characters of Xena: Warrior Princess, Gabrielle, and Argo and all other characters who have appeared in the syndicated series Xena: Warrior Princess, together with the names, titles, and back-story are the sole copyright property of MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures. No copyright infringement was intended in the writing of this fan fiction. The story is written only for fun, and no profit is being made. All other characters such as Tarren, the story idea and the story itself are the sole property of the author. The story cannot be sold or used for profit in any way. The story itself as well as the character created by the author may NOT be duplicated or archived without the authors permission. All works remain the copyright of the original author. These may not be republished without the authors consent. This story is a continuation of my first stories called
SHE HAS MY EYES, and ON THE ROAD AGAIN. You really MUST read those first. Otherwise you will be lost as to who some of the characters I have created are. This story contains some violence, no subtext, and the use or reference of corporal punishment. I will be putting that statement in all of the Tarren series whether it exists or not in that particular story. Please understand that this does NOT reflect on my personal beliefs or politics. I am just trying to stay true to the characters and culture of that period of history. Feedback is ALWAYS appreciated and I am most grateful to all that have written and will hopefully continue to write me with your thoughts.
Chapter 1 - Mother in Training
Gabrielle swung her staff in the air, meeting her opponent head on, but the move was swiftly blocked, forcing her to draw back. Panting a bit, she repositioned her grip on her staff. Her stance changed in an instant as she struck out at her opponent, only to have the blow blocked again. This practice session was definitely getting out of hand. The young bard knew now was the time to step up her efforts to finish off the enemy with one good swipe.
Crouching low, she lured the figure before her into a forward lunge. Then, with lightning speed, the bard swept her staff at her opponent's feet, throwing the would-be attacker to the grass with a hefty thud.
"Ouch!" Tarren cried landing on her back.
Gabrielles grin from successfully employing the move, quickly became a sympathetic smile. She offered a helpful hand to the youngster, who gratefully accepted.
"Gabby, I am getting a little tired of winding up on my butt every time we go through this drill of Xenas," she whined rubbing her back to emphasize her pain.
The bard could only grin at the childs predicament having often landed in the same position while sparring with Xena.
It was Xenas wish that Tarren learn defense with the staff. The warrior expected the bard to join in teaching this skill. In fact, often Xena just instructed the pair about which exercise she wanted performed and told them to drill for an hour straight while she went off on her own.
"Well, youre blocking has gotten much better, Tarren," Gabrielle said. "Xena will be very happy to hear that. However, you must learn to stay focused on me - particularly on my eyes -- and not on my staff. If you had done that, you would have caught me crouching before that swipe and anticipated it. Remember, Xena just wants you able to block a blow," she said softly patting the childs shoulder.
Tarren nodded, "Yeah, I know . Wisdom before weapons and all that," the little girl moaned sarcastically.
The bard shook her head at the childs lack of enthusiasm for those words. "Come on, brat, we still have another half-hour to go. Pick up your staff," Gabrielle ordered, trying to contain her amusement.
Tarren reached down for the long stick that Xena had skillfully carved into a staff. Feeling the weight of the heavy stick in her hands, the little girl groaned, "Ah, come on, Gabby. Lets go swimming."
Gabrielle lowered her staff and sighed, "Tarren, you know what Xena said... an hour of drilling. That means a full hour of drilling. If we quit now, shell be angry . Besides, you need the practice. You know she doesnt like it when you dont follow through with what you start," the bard warned twirling her staff with an air of expertise.
The childs shoulders slumped in defeat. "Ok Ok lets go," she whispered readying her stick for action.
Suddenly, Gabrielle crouched into her fighting stance and swung the staff above Tarrens head. However, this time, instead of deflecting the weapon as instructed, the child moved to one side and swung her staff toward the bards back, knocking her slightly off balance.
Gabrielle quickly steadied herself. "Hey! What was that?" she snapped, waving her hands in frustration. "Xena said just defense. Where are you picking up the attack moves?" she demanded to know.
The child giggled as she circled the woman carefully. " I have many skills," she slowly whispered, letting her best imitation of the warrior fall on the bards ears.
Gabrielle impatiently ground one end of her staff in the dirt. "Look, you are only to use this to defend. That's all! So let's get back to the drill before Xena returns," the bard chided, her concern about the youngsters unwillingness to behave growing.
Tarren gave her friend a slight smile and moved back into position. "OK, I was just trying to have a little fun," she moaned.
The bard again raised her staff to attack. This time the child merely vaulted over her, landing easily behind Gabrielle. With a rapid swipe, she knocked the bards legs from beneath her. Gabrielle fell with a loud thud!
The child giggled fiercely, "Hows the view down there, Gabby?" the youngster said to the angry bard from whom a soft groan of pain escaped. Before the bard could reply, Tarren heard something whistling through the air beneath her.
The youngster turned just as the warriors staff struck her legs, toppling her. "Ouch!" she yelled as her backside collided with the ground beside Gabrielle. Xena stood above her two students, anger filling her dark blue eyes.
"What in Hades is going on here?" she yelled. "I leave you two alone for a little, while and your lessons turn into a school yard fight," she scolded peering down at the two forms reluctant to rise from the dirt. Xena shook her head and sighed. She reached down and yanked each victim up slowly by the ear.
First, the great warrior glared at her best friends face. "Ok, Gabrielle, I told you to drill only on defensive moves. So, why is she attacking?" the scowling warrior asked.
The bard wiped the dirt from her skirt as she eyed the child. "Well, I didnt teach her that! Your daughter has her own agenda for the drills today, it seems," she finished as she reached for her staff.
Xena took a deep breath and lowered her voice to a whisper, never releasing the struggling youngster while she addressed her friend. "Gabrielle, you are supposed to be in charge here. You are the adult. Make her listen to you," she demanded.
The bard threw her arms up, showing her frustration. "Xena, you're her mother. She doesnt listen to me the same way she listens to you! Maybe you should stick around for the drill," she whispered through tight lips.
Xena sighed and eyed her daughter closely. "I told you that the staff is all about defense. In a tone that sent a shiver through the child, the warrior stated, "You are to listen to what Gabrielle says and do it!"
Tarren kicked her staff hard with the toe of her boot, "Well, I dont want to play with the staff any more today. Its not fun anymore," she whined, casting a glance at her mothers constant stare. "Im hot, and I wanna go swimming."
Xena released the child. Nodding her head slowly as she glanced at the bard, she looked back to Tarren. "You dont want to play anymore today because its not fun? the warrior repeated through clenched teeth. "Well, Tarren, this is not play, and its about time you learned that! So pick up your staff and get into position. You have just earned yourself an extra hour of drilling," she stated. She gestured for Tarren to pick up the fallen staff.
The childs jaw dropped at the thought of an additional hour of staff drilling on such a hot day. Reluctantly, she reached down and grabbed the long stick and squatted into a defensive position.
The little girls eyes were filled with rebellion and frustration. She wanted some excitement and fun, but all she was getting was a long work out with a big stick.
Xena walked over to the bard and softly whispered something to her. Gabrielle nodded and lowered into her attack pose.
"Go!" the warrior, yelled.
The bard rapidly brought the staff down behind the childs feet, pulled and once again dropped Tarren to the dirt, with the youngster having made no attempt to counter the move.
Xena shook her head and sighed as she lifted the youngster to her feet once again. "Look at me," she demanded.
Tarren peered into her mothers piercing blue eyes.
"I want you to concentrate on your opponent. Forget that its Gabrielle. Imagine that she is a real threat to you. Can ya do that, Tarren?" she asked rubbing the childs head affectionately, in spite of her aggravation with her at the moment.
The girl nodded, glaring at the bard with new eyes. "OK, you are no longer Gabrielle.
You are now my enemy. All is fair then," she whispered with a slight grin and tightly gripped her staff.
The bard noticed the look in the childs eyes and gave Xena a quick glance. The warrior just nodded. "Tarren, remember, what I said. You are only to do a defensive drill. Gabrielle is the attacker," she warned.
The child frowned and nodded. Xena took a step back and waved her hand. "Go!"
The bard moved in with an attack from below, but Tarren easily jumped above her staff and moved back into a crouch, waiting for the enemy to try again. She smiled at the opponent who looked just like Gabrielle. She hoped her "enemy" would do something that left her open for a good thump.
Tarren anticipated the bards attempt to bring her staff to her side and blocked it. The little warrior followed that with two rapid moves. She jabbed the bard in the stomach and swiped her leg, sending her victim once again to impact the ground hard with a moan.
Xena angrily yanked the staff from Tarrens hands and reached down to offer her friend a hand up, "What did I tell you? You are not to attack! Apologize to Gabrielle for that stunt, right now!" the angry warrior yelled at the disobedient youngster.
The little girl sighed, not quite sure why she was being scolded for winning. "Im sorry Gabrielle," the child said dejectedly, never taking her eyes off her mothers angry stare.
After giving Tarren a warning glare, the bard nodded, as she tried to get her wind back in her lungs.
Xena stood over her daughter, staff in hand. "That move makes it another two hours of drilling. Do you want to go for three?" she asked sternly.
The child shook her head and looked longingly in the direction of the river. Xena could see that the youngster wasnt really listening to anything she was saying, so she decided a lesson was in order.
Xena waved Gabrielle back and handed Tarren her staff. "OK, you want to attack so badly, come at me but remember, I will not show you the mercy Gabrielle does."
The child took the staff with trepidation, noting the warriors glare.
"Get into position," Xena yelled.
Tarren fell back into the defensive crouch her mother had taught her. Going up against her physically certainly wasnt something the child wanted to do. She knew Xena was angry and would dump her in the dirt fast. The fun was definitely gone from this game.
"Attack!" Xena ordered but the child did not move.
"I said attack!" she yelled in a no nonsense tone leaving no room for question.
Tarren sighed and swung her staff toward the warriors midsection. Xena, who thumped the girl across the back of her legs, easily deflected the blow. "Come on, you can do better than that," the warrior taunted hoping to teach her daughter a well-deserved lesson. "You wanted to be the attacker."
Tarren rubbed the stinging spot where the staff had hit. She glared at her mother, arching her eyebrows in Xena style. She had had enough staff practice for one day, but she knew Xena was not about to let her off so easy.
"Attack!" the warrior demanded.
Again, the child moved lunging with her staff toward Xenas legs. The warrior merely vaulted up and landed behind her daughter. She swatting the girl meaningfully across the backside with her staff and then swiping her legs.
Gabrielle covered her eyes as the youngster fell, "Oooh, that had to hurt," she murmured trying not to feel the childs pain and humiliation.
Tarren slowly got to her feet refusing the hand of her mother to help her up.
Leaning on her staff, the warrior asked sternly, "Are you ready to go back to your defense drill now, or do you still think you should be the attacker?"
The impudent youngster shook her head and threw her staff to the ground at the warriors feet. "I dont wanna do this anymore," she yelled sending earth flying with a kick.
Xena did not appreciate her daughters tone or behavior. She was determined to make certain Tarren was taught a lesson. Glaring down at the youngster, she said stiffly, "Pick up the staff, Tarren. You will show respect to both your opponent and your weapon!"
The little girl did not move.
The warrior looked at Gabrielle and then back at Tarren and shook her head. Her tone became low and quiet, "OK, thats enough for you, young lady. You asked me to teach you the staff, but you seem to think this is just some kind of game. Well, its not. Our lives often depend upon being able to defend ourselves if were attacked." Shaking an angry finger at her child, she continued, "Until I think you understand that all of your lessons are over not just today, but every day."
The girl kicked her staff further into the dirt, "Fine," she said with a sulking tone, happy not to have to throw the long heavy stick around on such a hot day.
Xena again pointed to the staff. "Pick that up and bring it back to camp now," she ordered trying to keep control of her temper.
Tarren stared at the staff and then the angry face of her mother. Picking the staff up seemed like a very good idea. "I wanna go swimming," she said biting her lip as the warrior turned away.
Xena laughed wickedly throwing her free hand to the side of her hip, "Swimming? You are not going swimming, little girl. You are gonna go back to camp and just sit on your bedroll until I return. Then, you and I are gonna have a very long talk about your behavior today. Got that?" the warrior, yelled pointing the way back toward camp.
Tarrens eyes grew wide with realization that the trouble she was escalating by the minute. Yet, the hardheaded child kicked the dirt in front of her again. "But I want to go swimming! I dont wanna go back to camp," she whined, stomping her foot in the soil.
Xena took a long, deep breath, battling her sense of frustration.
The bard just shook her head, unwilling to intercede in this one.
"OK, Tarren, thats it," Xena said finally. "I wont tolerate this little temper tantrum of yours. Go back to camp and go straight to bed. There will be no swimming no fishing no playing just bed! And if I hear one more word out of your little mouth, I will put you over my knee right here and right now!" Bending down so her nose was within inches of her daughters, the warrior growled, "Do I make myself clear?"
The child swallowed hard and nodded complete understanding of what her mother told her.
Xena straightened up to her full height. After slowly drawing, holding and releasing a deep breath, she said, "Good! Im glad we cleared that up." Pointing toward the trail, she ordered, "Get back to camp, now!"
Tarren glared at her for a moment. Then, dragging the staff behind, she reluctantly headed back for the site and a daylight sleep.
As the parent watched her child stomp slowly back down the path, she sighed heavily and shook her head. Knocking herself gently in the forehead with her staff to vent her frustration, she moaned as her eyes met the bards, "What am I gonna do with her?"
Gabrielle stood next to her friend glancing back at the fading figure of the defiant youngster. "Well, she definitely has your little temper, doesnt she?" the bard said with a laugh to break the tension.
Xena turned and glared at her friend. Then, one side of her mouth pulled into a smirk, as she whispered, "Yeah, scary isnt it?"
The young bard was always impressed with the way Xena could handle Tarren. No matter how frustrated or angry the child tried to make her, the warrior always seemed to be able to reign her emotions in and remain parental. It was a softer side of Xena that Gabrielle was happy to see. She delighted in the thought that this little scamp could bring the great Warrior Princess to her knees with a gentle smile or a pouting lip.
"Maybe were just pushing her too hard with all of this, Xena. She is just a little kid," the bard said with a grin.
The warrior nodded, "I know how old she is, Gabrielle, but she asked me to teach her the staff. When we started this, I told her that this wasnt a game that becoming skillful at it would take a lot of work and training. We encounter too much danger on the road for her not to develop strong self-defense early, as much as I hate the necessity for it. I want her to learn to respect people and the things around her and to know the difference between self-defense and fighting. Obviously, she has not learned anything yet except how to act like a spoiled brat," the warrior finished in a low, even tone.
Gabrielle placed a reassuring hand on her frustrated friends arm. "Hey," she said smiling gently, "Shes just in one of her brat moods. She probably needs that nap. Let her spend some time alone thinking about what shes doing wrong. Shell come around."
Xena began to grin a bit, taking comfort from her friends words and look of confidence on her face. She hoped the bard was right. "By the way howd she get you into the dirt?" the warrior asked with a sly smirk.
Gabrielle quickly studied her feet, embarrassed by the youngsters ability to catch her off guard. "Err...well lucky shot, I guess," she said not meeting her friends eyes.
Xena picked up her staff and nodded at the bard, "Uh huh Well, lets see if I can get that lucky cause you still have a half hour's drilling left, my bard," she said falling back to face her youthful opponent.
Gabrielle smiled and crouched low into a fighting position, "Any time you are ready, my warrior," the Amazon queen said, ready for the attack.
All that was heard for a long while was an echo of sticks clashing and, eventually, the groan of Gabrielle finding her way into the dirt once again.
Chapter 2 Visions
Xena found a quiet tree to sit under after leaving Gabrielle to finish her exercises alone. Feeling the comfort of a fresh breeze around her, the warrior settled back and tried to relax. She reached into her saddlebag searching for Nalas diary.
With a fond touch of the cover, her hand released the lock and opened the book that was a clear path into the mystics thoughts. Xena had been reading the diary in small parts since Tarren had given it to her. She smiled as she ran her fingers against the old parchment in the beginning of the diary. The book was filled with a lifetimes wisdom.
Nala had been raised in a small village called Goden, reputed to be the only known settlement of mystics. The old village had a reputation for black magic, which the warrior suspected, was more myth than reality. She slowly flipped through the pages, scanning until a passage grabbed her attention
"The Princess I have joined with is a great force in nature. She has strength and power unlike any I have ever seen. She takes the title of Warlord now, but that is not her true path. This young woman is consumed with great pain that drives her wildly through her life. I must help her to realize all the good that is in her heart so that she may find her true path again. For she is the Chosen One and without her we all may be lost."
Xena was confused by the words. "Chosen One?" she whispered. "Chosen for what?" the warrior murmured as she continued to read on. The spot just beneath that entire passage was blank. It was the only blank spot in the entire diary. That too was a bit of a mystery to the warrior. Xena sighed and put the words aside as she read of a time much later:
"The Princess is with child. I think she carries two, but her heart is still too hard to allow the forces to change what must soon be. I fear that her demise as revealed in my vision will break her. Perhaps it is that break which will allow her to rebuild her life and take the path the Fates have chosen for her."
Xena wiped a tear from her eye as she thought about her old friends words. Never had she realized how the old mystic could see so deep inside of her and know the very core of the pain she felt. The warrior sighed heavily and stared up the heavens, thanking Nala in her thoughts for all this woman had ever been and done for her. Just as Xena closed her eyes, the exhausted bard dropped down on the grass beside her.
"What are you doing?" Gabrielle asked panting for air. Xena could only smile at her young friends tiredness, increased, no doubt, by the tension between her two friends and muggy afternoon heat. Xena was very proud of Gabrielles dedication not only to her own self- improvement but also to teaching Tarren.
The warrior again stroked the smooth feel of the book. With a voice soften by emotion, she explained, "Its Nalas diary."
The bards eyes lit up with excitement, and she slid closer to her friend. Xena had told her about the book, but this was the nearest she had ever come to examining it.
Noting Gabrielles obvious enthusiasm, the warrior handed her the book. The bard was awed by the way the parchment was so carefully bound into one solid form. "Amazing!" she whispered her eyes lighting up with interest. Every last page was filled with writing. Gabrielle was tempted to peak at the words inside but knew that would be an invasion of Xenas privacy, so she handed the diary back to her.
Xena smiled, "Would you like to hear an entry?" she asked with a sly grin knowing that was what the bard was hoping for.
Gabrielle broke into a big smile as she nodded enthusiastically, barely containing her impulse to jump at the thought.
The warrior shook her head at the impatient motion of her young friend and turned the pages until she found the spot she was looking for:
"Today, I bid farewell to my friend for what will perhaps be many years. Her world is crumbling, and the transformation has begun. She will now go through the hardest part of her life before she finds her new beginning. I take with me her daughter, the little Princess. I hope my friend can forgive me for not telling her of the babys existence, but there is no place in her life right now for this one. When she has found her way, I will call her back to me. Then, she can be the mother this young one will need. Until that time comes, I will keep the baby in safety.
I must offer the little Princess a name. I choose Tarren for the friend that the Warrior Princess lost in battle. I know that loss caused her pain for I saw the tears fall as she carried the young woman back to camp. Perhaps with this name she will regain a little of the loss she felt for that friend. I will try to do my Princess proud in caring for her child."
Xena closed her eyes as she finished that last sentence. Tears slowly etched trails down her cheeks. The bard put her hand gently on the warriors arm. "This diary is truly a gift," she said touching the cover.
Xena nodded, "I was never aware she watched me so closely. She knew more about me than I knew about myself," the warrior whispered staring down at the book. Xena wiped her face dry and flipped through the pages towards the end. "Gabrielle, there, is something in here I want you to hear. It is one of Nalas last entries."
"I had the vision again last night. It was darker than usual, but I fear that only means my time is coming closer. I have thoughts of Goden, home of the mystic way. There is a great darkness that looms over my people. A disaster will befall them, and there is nothing I can do to stop it. I cannot risk taking the child to such a place. The Warrior Princess will be here soon, and I must be here to see her take her child in hand."
Gabrielles eyes closed, "What kind of disaster could wipe out her people? A plague or a warlord?" the bard asked, analyzing the mystics words carefully.
The warrior shook her head. "I dont know, but she did not return home because she was caring for Tarren. Gabrielle, I was thinking ."
The bard silenced her with a hand. "You were thinking that, since were not too busy right now, perhaps we could go check out Goden to see if our help is needed," she finished with a smile.
The warrior grinned at her friends obvious intuition about her thoughts, "Well, I know how badly you want to get to Potedia to visit your family. I will understand if you wish to miss out on this one and ."
The bard raised her hand again. "Oh no you dont, warrior! Not again! Potedia can wait. I am going to Goden with you. Dont even think of trying to leave me behind on this one," she warned.
Xena smiled and squeezed her friends hand gently, "How could I have even have considered it?" the warrior said playfully.
Shaking her head, the bard chided, "That is a good question."
Xena closed Nalas diary and put it back in her saddlebag. "Well then, in the morning we will head for Goden. But, in the meantime, I do think you skipped about a quarter candle mark of your drill," she said sternly pointing at her friends staff.
The bard frowned. "How do you do that? How do you know exactly when the candle mark is up?" the young woman groaned as she rose to her feet grabbing her staff.
"I have many skills, remember, my bard."
Gabrielle shook her head. "You know, Xena Tarren even sounds just like you now!" she said with a grin. The image of the childs earlier impersonation of her mother saying those words flashed in the bards mind.
The warrior chuckled as with a deep sigh the young bard returned to the clearing to complete her grueling drill routine. Xena smiled at her friends dedication and loyalty and rose to her feet, ready to return to camp. It was time to catch dinner, and perhaps also to give the youngster a second chance.
Tarren lay on her bedroll sulking. She couldnt sleep. She knew her mother was angry with her, but she did not like playing with the staff much anymore. It was no fun at all, especially since Xena would not allow her to attack.
The air was hot and hung heavily on the childs skin. She wanted to run down and jump in the river, but she knew the heavy price for doing so would be far greater than the joy of the momentary cool water against her skin.
She rolled in her blankets trying to block out the sun. As she studied the fire and the rest of the camp surroundings she hoped to find something to amuse her. At that moment she caught sight of the most precious item in all the camp, Xenas chakrum. The rule about this had always been clear, "DONT TOUCH!" This one thing her mother seemed to repeat daily, which, in itself, made picking up the forbidden object all the more tempting. There it was just sitting there its silver and gold metals reflecting the sun's rays.
"Now theres a weapon that would be fun to play with," she whispered to herself. She began crawling toward it on all fours, just to get a better look. Xena never let her even hold it, so this was the closest she had ever actually been.
Tarrens small hand to glided lightly over the smooth, cool surface of the metal and then caressed the sides of the sharp edges carefully avoiding getting cut. Her eyes filled with excitement as she reached to pick up the shiny object. However, before she could do, so, a large, muscular hand pulled it quickly from her sight.
"What did I tell you about touching my chakrum?" a loud, husky, voice scolded from above. The child swallowed hard, afraid to look up, knowing her mother was standing next to her. Very gradually, without saying a word, she retraced her steps back to her bedroll.
"I asked you a question, young lady, and Im waiting for an answer. You look at me when Im speaking to you, little girl," the harsh voice again yelled.
Tarren lifted her eyes to see the very angry face of her mother, Xena, Warrior Princess, staring down at her. Her blue eyes were filled with danger, so Tarren chose her words carefully, "Im not supposed to touch it but I was just looking at it Momma. I wasnt going to do anything with it," she whispered quietly.
The warrior shook her head, tossing her staff to the ground and pulling the child roughly to her feet. "You know what I said about swords and my chakrum! There is no just touching . There is no touching at all!" she yelled pulling the girl over to a large tree at the far corner of the camp.
Xena positioned the child to face the tree. Then, she pointed to a small knot in the center of the trunk. "OK, you need to learn how to remember things so maybe you need to practice concentrating more. You will face this tree and keep your eyes on that knot until I say other wise. You will not sit. You will not move. Do you understand that?" the warrior warned in an angry, low voice.
Tarren swallowed hard and nodded as she looked at the tiny knot in the tree.
Shaking her head in frustration, Xena stomped back to the fire to grab her fishing pole. "Dont you dare move!" she yelled as she headed for the river below.
Tarren stood there straight as she could, staring at the spot her mother had chosen. She eyed the knot with little interest but after a while started counting the grooves in the wood, just to pass the time.
Gabrielle returned to camp dragging her staff wearily behind her. Xena had worked her hard, and she was tired. As she scanned the camp with a yawn, she caught sight of the small figure staring blankly at a tree in the corner of camp. She shook her head and dropped her staff to the ground moving over to where the child stood. "What did you do now?" the bard asked with a heavy sigh.
The girl shrugged, "Touched the warriors precious chakrum," she replied with a pout. The youngster had been standing there, staring at the knot in this tree for nearly a candle mark, and her legs were starting to ache.
The bards bewilderment clearly showed on her face. Trying to understand this childs need to always go against the rules, she asked, "Are you crazy, Tarren? You know how she feels about you even looking at the chakrum. Whats with you?"
Tarren bit her lip. A tear dropped from her eyelashes and ran down her cheek, but she never took her eyes from the knot in the tree with 237 grooves. "I only wanted to play with it, Gabrielle. I wasnt going to hurt it," she sniffled.
The bards face filled with sympathy for this small adventure seeker. Tarren wanted so much to see and touch the world around her that she had been locked away from for so long. Everything was so new and exciting. But most of all she wanted to be just like Xena -something the warrior found a bit unnerving at times. Xena would never allow her daughter to become a warrior.
Gabrielle tenderly rubbed the childs cheek and shook her head. "The chakrum is not a toy to be played with, Tarren. Consider yourself lucky that your mother did not follow through on her threat and take a switch to you," the bard said quietly.
Just then, a large, muscular, figure holding a string of fish called, "Gabrielle, she is being punished. That means no talking," the warrior said evenly dropping the fish near the fire.
The bard sighed and returned to the campfire to prepare the dinner the warrior had just caught.
Tarren closed her eyes and allowed tears to fall at the still angry sound of her mothers voice. Apparently, this punishment was going to last longer than she thought. The youngster returned her gaze to the knot before her and once again started counting.
Xena filleted the fish with her usual speed and handed them to the bard to prepare. Afterward, she lay back and stared at the small figure staring at the tree in the far corner of the camp.
"How long are you gonna make her stay there?" Gabrielle asked noting that the childs muscles were starting to buckle a bit.
Xena shook her head. "I should let her stand there all night," she said with a grin, certain Tarren heard her.
The bard smiled, discerning that the warriors love for the youngster had won out over her anger.
Xena looked at her friend and hunched her shoulders with her palms up, indicating the bard was right on target with her assessment of the warriors feelings.
Grumbling, the parent jumped to her feet but took her time gradually making her way over to the tree. Leaning leisurely with one arm against the oak, she asked, "So what have we learned today?"
Tarren never took her eyes off the knot, but lowered her head a bit. Barely loud enough for even the warriors acute hearing, she muttered, "That I shouldnt touch your chakrum."
Xena nodded approvingly. "Good!" she responded, "Because this is your one and only warning about it, Kid. If you touch it again I will take a switch to your backside!" Then, in an even but tender tone, she said, "Now go get your dinner and get to bed," sending the child on her way with a fast swat to her bottom.
"Yes ma am" she whispered looking up at her mother with large, sad eyes.
"OK, cut the doe eyes. Youre off the hook," Xena said with a soft smile. She wrapped a loving arm around the youngster. As they moved back toward the fire, Xena asked with a simple grin, "Tarren, how many grooves in the knot are there?"
The child thought for a moment before replying, uncertain about why the warrior even cared to know. With a slightly puzzled look, she said, " 234 no 237 !"
Xena nodded and tightened her grip around the youngsters shoulder, hoping the child had learned something about focus from her confinement. "Time to eat," the warrior mother said as she handed her daughter a plate and then reached for her own.
Tarren finished her supper under the watchful eye of the bard. She ate all of the fish Gabrielle had prepared but carefully avoided touching the wild mushrooms the bard had found earlier. "Tarren, you need to eat your vegetables," the bard said pointing at the plate.
The child frowned. "Yuk! I dont like them," she groaned pushing them further away from the real food on her plate.
Gabrielle looked at Xena, who shrugged. The bards gaze narrowed, sending a warning message to prompt the warrior to intervene.
Xena quickly placed her plate down. "Tarren, just eat the vegetables like Gabrielle asked!" she whispered in the childs ear.
The youngster looked over at her mothers plate and noticed plenty of untouched mushrooms there as well. "How come you dont have to eat yours?" she protested pointing at the plate.
The warrior smiled and leaned in closer to her child. "Because nobody here is big enough to spank me if I dont," she quipped playfully. The youngster frowned at the evil smile on her mothers face and started slowly chewing on the vegetables.
Gabrielle watched the exchange with great dissatisfaction. Tarren followed Xenas lead on everything, so if the bard hoped to get that kid to eat vegetables, then Xena would have to set a better example.
The young bard picked up the warriors plate and handed it back to her. "Eat!" she commanded.
Xena glanced down at her friend in awe. "Excuse me?" she said starting to rise.
Gabrielle met her half way, not willing to accept any nonsense. "Look, vegetables are good for you, and you should eat them -- just like Tarren does."
Xenas face twisted in disgust at the suggestion the bard was making. She had not been forced to eat those vile things since she was a child, and she did not intend to be forced to now.
"Sorry, my bard, but Im a big girl, and I dont have to eat what I dont want to eat," she purred.
Tarren watched this exchange with great interest as she quickly swallowed the last of her mushrooms.
"Xena! Either you eat what I cook, or you can do all your own cooking from now on!" the bard yelled, never taking her gaze off the warrior.
Xena studied her friends face for a smirk or a smile but none was to be found. She did not want to eat the vegetables, but it was a far less price to pay then eating her own cooking. The warrior growled, picked up the plate, and slowly began eating the small mushrooms, rolling her eyes with every bite.
The bard nodded approvingly and returned to her own dinner. "Thats better!"
Tarren giggled fiercely at the expressions of displeasure her mother made as she swallowed. "Good arent they?" the youngster teased, showing her empty plate to the warrior.
Xena nodded and smiled at the child. "Oh well, if you like them so much, you can have more . Gabrielle?"
The bard reached into the pot and happily threw a large heap of vegetables on Tarrens plate with a grin. "Youre a growing little girl. You need to eat your veggies," Xena said with a smile.
Tarren groaned looking at the large portion of mushroom her big mouth had earned her. Xena winked at her daughter and together they raced to finish the last of the unbearable vegetables under the very watchful eye of a certain friend of theirs.
For a short while after being lovingly tucked in and kissed goodnight by her mother and hearing a story from the bard, Tarren reviewed the events of the very tiring day in her mind. Her legs ached from standing in one position for so long, and she was still a bit angry with Xena for punishing her.
As she drifted off to sleep, she knew what she wanted to do now more than ever to learn to use the chakrum. She wanted to prove to her mother that she could toss it as skillfully as the warrior. Definitely, the chakrum would prove to be more challenging to master than any staff. Soon, the youngsters face produced a wide grin as her dreams filled with images of her sending the chakrum whistling through the air, hitting bulls eyes on every target.
The bard looked over at the sleeping child, "Hmm, I wonder what that little grin of hers means," she said with a soft gaze.
Xena looked over at the small sleeping forms mischievous smile and chuckled, "Id say it means trouble."
The two friends sighed and then laughed at the youngsters ability to find mischief even in the land of Morpheous.
Chapter 3 Loving You
Tarren tried unsuccessfully to sleep. Her thoughts were all over the place. She could not seem to get her mind off that chakrum. As the sun had barely started to rise, she eyed her still sleeping companions. Gabrielle was snoring peacefully, and her mother was finding peace in her dreams. Tarren could not help but eye the shiny chakrum lying on the saddlebag beside Xena.
The youngster grinned mischievously as a plan formulated in her mind. Quietly, she removed the blankets from her form and reached for her satchel. Slowly, she emptied all her clothes under the blanket, patting them into what she hoped looked like her body beneath. Tarren eyed her creation with a grin and then placed her chucks underneath one side of the blanket for effect. Xena knew she often slept holding them, so this was a nice touch. Satisfied that her twin could now pass for her until she returned she crawled over and cautiously lifted the chakrum from its place.
Xena did not move a muscle, and for that the child thanked the gods. Within seconds the little princess was heading down the path towards the clearing for some great adventure.
Tarren studied the chakrum intently. She would only get one chance at this before having to return to camp, so she wanted to make it good. She started pushing large sticks into the ground in the field in front of her to act, as would be opponents. "Ok, you guys are the bandits," she whispered to the large sticks protruding from the ground.
Allowing her eyes to scan the entire clearing, she chose her marks with care. First, the chakrum would hit the large tree to the left and then the small boulder to the right before slicing down all the wooden stick bandits before her and returning safely to her hand.
The child smiled in satisfaction at her plan. "This is gonna be easy," she murmured. With all her might, she tossed the chakrum towards the tree, just as she had seen Xena do so many times. The youngster giggled with happiness as it hit its target. Then, much to her dismay, instead of ricocheting off the large rock, as intended, the chakrum bounced off a much smaller one. The weapon caught only one bandit before accelerating back towards her higher and faster than she thought possible. "UH OH!" she cried dropping to the dirt as the weapon whirled over her head and hopefully landed in the tree behind her.
Tarren let out a heavy sigh of relief and picked herself up off the ground. She had noted that the sound of the weapon had abruptly halted behind her, so she dusted herself off and turned to see where it had landed. What she saw was the angry face of her mother, who was holding the weapon straight in the air. Beside her stood the bard, whose eyes were filled with an equal if not greater anger.
Tarren tried to smile but could not seem to find it inside of her to do so. She knew she was in a lot of trouble and nothing she could say would change that. She considered running, but that was not really an option. So the child merely lowered her head and waited for the warriors screaming to begin.
But Xena said nothing. She placed the weapon at her side, where it belonged, never taking her fiery gaze off her disobedient child. Then, she reached down into her boot and pulled out a small knife and handed it to Tarren. Xena pointed to large tree just to the side of her. "Go, cut me a switch!" she ordered trying to control the pace of her strained breathing.
Tarren held the knife in her hands and looked up at her mother in disbelief. "Would she really follow through on that promise?" the child thought. Fear slipping through her small form. "But..." was all she could say before the warriors eyes closed in on her.
"Go, do it now!" she commanded still pointing to the tree.
Tarren looked to the bard who only shook her head, "Xena Ill see you back at camp," the bard said softly, obviously believing that the warriors choice of punishment was appropriate for this offense.
Sheepishly, Tarren looked into her mothers eyes, but found nothing but anger. "Yes, maam," she replied, barely able to utter the words that seemed caught in her dry throat.
The youngster stared at the small knife briefly but, bowing her head, walked over to the tree and cut the switch the warrior had requested. She then returned, handing both the knife and the thin birch branch to her mother.
After placing the knife back in her boot, Xena examined the branch for its usefulness. Next, she broke it in half. The shorter length would serve her hand better.
Tarren swallowed as she carefully watched her mothers actions. When satisfied that her instrument was worthy, the warrior mother grabbed Tarren by the arm dragging her determinedly to a fallen log. Xena lowered herself down and pulled in a long breath, holding it briefly before releasing it. Now, she was ready to do what she must. She positioned her daughter over one knee.
"Momma, dont!" the child begged, knowing that the threat of the past was now to become a reality of this moment.
Xena closed her eyes, calling upon her emotional strength. She glanced down at the small child who lay helpless across her knee. Again, the great warrior closed her eyes and took a deep breath. Reconciled to her course of action, she said, "Im sorry, Tarren, but you made this choice. Believe me, this is not something I want to have to do, but you just dont seem to remember what I say. This, I promise, you will not soon forget."
With that final word the switch fell against the childs breeches. The youngster cried out. That one thrash felt like 100 swats of the warriors hand rolled into one fall. Tears instantly fell down the childs cheeks as she struggled to free herself before the birch fell again, but the warrior pinned her in place easily and allowed the small branch to hit its target once again.
The little girl begged for a second chance. "Momma, please, no! STOP! I wont touch it again, I promise," she wailed, tears pouring out of her eyes. Xena heard the words, but knew they were not yet true.
"Not yet, little one," she yelled as the switch continued to fall. "But I promise you," she whispered through tightened lips, "Before Im through, those words will be as true as the pain in your backside." Xena did not pause any longer. She allowed the switch to fall steadily across her childs tender bottom for a dozen, firm strokes before she was finished.
Tarrens face was red and full of tears. As the warrior lifted her off her lap, the child quickly backed away out of her mothers reach.
Xena stared blankly at the girl and then at the switch in her hands, not wanting to touch either at the moment. The warrior eyed her daughter, but said nothing for a long moment. "Go back to camp and pack up. We are moving out in a few hours," she said in a low, broken voice.
Tarrens face filled with hurt and humiliation. She panted heavily as she sobbed, waiting for some sort of comfort.
Xena pointed back towards camp. "DO AS I SAY NOW!" she ordered jumping to her feet.
The child quickly sprinted towards the path leaving her mother alone in the clearing.
Xena lowered her eyes and snapped the switch in two, throwing it to the dirt and kicking it far away. She then lowered herself to the log once again, covering her face with her hands and allowing a few of her own tears to fall.
Tarren ran quickly down the path afraid of Xenas wrath resurfacing. When she was far enough from the clearing, she stopped and ran her hands gently over her backside feeling the scorching heat emanating from it. Xena had not even offered her any comfort, and Gabrielle had walked away from her as well. Her mother had spanked her more than a few times with her open hand, but never before like this. "Is this chakrum of hers so important? More important than me?" she cried leaning up against a tree to steady her uncontrollable sobs.
At that moment Tarren felt like she was all-alone in the world. Her friend had deserted her, and her mother had sent her away when she needed her most. The child was confused and scared and desperate for a place of sanction where she could deal with her pain and humiliation. The youngsters tears fell to the ground.
She again started running but this time not towards camp. She wanted to be alone and far away from these strangers who had professed such a great love for her and then abandon her. She wanted to deal with her humiliation privately, but her mother wouldnt allow that this time.
Tarren ran down a side path leading only the gods knew where. Xena had often told her to never go down such paths because they often had drifters or outlaws on them, but the youngsters shame drove her down that road anyway. Letting her feet move as fast as they would take her, she ran and ran until her small legs were worn out. She dropped into an unfamiliar place at the side of the path. Burying herself in a large growth of tall grass, she hoped she had found a safe, quiet place to set her sobs free.
Xena slowly walked into the camp where a concerned Gabrielle greeted her. "Are you all right?" the bard asked placing a tender hand on her friends arm. The warrior shook her head. "I just took a switch to my daughters backside, Gabrielle. No, I am not all right," she said evenly, her voice still filled with anger and remorse.
The bard reassuringly patted her arm before she spoke, "You did what you had to do, Xena. We both agreed on that!"
The warrior nodded, knowing she did what needed to be done, although that did not make the task any easier to do.
"How is she?" the bard asked swallowing hard at the thought of the tears the little one was spilling.
Xena gave her a puzzled look. "You tell me. I sent her back here to you an hour ago," she growled scanning the camp for the youngster.
Gabrielles face went blank. "Xena, she never came back here," the bard said with concern.
The warrior took a deep breath and kicked the ground beneath her. "Well, if I felt bad about punishing her before, I sure dont now!" Xena said allowing her anger to grow as she whistled for her horse. "Pack up the camp. Ill go find her," the warrior said mounting Argo and galloping towards the trail she had just come from.
Tarrens eyes opened slowly as she heard the sound of large feet before her. She swallowed nervously, not yet ready to meet the angry in her mothers face. She quickly rose to her feet and turned, ready for the glare she anticipated would be waiting. Yet the face she caught sight of before her made her hastily pray to the gods that, if she blinked her eyes, Xena would be there instead.
Standing before the small, wayward child were four, large, dirty men eyeing her as if she was going to be their morning meal. They reeked of needing a bath, and their clothes were tattered and filthy.
Tarrens nose wrinkled at the odor. The child first grinned, then grimaced, at the thought of Gabrielle trying to bathe this group.
The youngster squirmed as one of the men yanked her up and then threw her roughly to the ground. "Shes a bit young, but Ill bet we can still fetch a few dinars for her in Rome," the largest man laughed as he eyed the little girl at his feet.
Tarren felt the thunder in her bottom come alive as she landed on the cold hard ground, but she tried not to let her tears show.
"Oh, look, shes crying," the second man laughed as he pulled the youngster to her feet. Tarren rubbed her bottom and lowered her eyes as the stubborn tears fell. The largest man noted her discomfort and laughed loudly. "Oh, whats the matter, child. Did you run away from home because your mommy spanked you?" he asked in a mockingly vicious tone. All of the men laughed at the childs obvious dilemma, which only made the little warrior princesss eyes, turn cold and angry.
She looked to her boot and sadly realized she had left her chucks in camp. "Dumb dumb dumb," she thought to herself. Tarren scanned the area looking for an escape means or weapon. Swiftly, she reached down and picked up a long tree branch from beside the road and held it like she was taught to hold the staff.
The four tramps threw up their arms in mock surrender. She began backing down the path. Two of them raced behind her, and in moments she was surrounded. Tarren swung the branch at the head of her first opponent knocking him to the ground. The other mens smiles faded fast as they drew their swords.
"Well, I think we better teach this small child some manners," one said, waving his blade above the girl."
Sorry boys, but thats my job!" came a low, husky, voice from behind. Turning, the child saw a large, leather-clad, warrior setting comfortable on a huge, white palomino. The girl had to smile at the sight.
Xena threw her chakrum, slicing the blades off the road tramps swords. She smiled wickedly and drew her own sword, vaulting from Argos back right in front of Tarren. With a quick hand she shoved the youngster behind her. "So, you guys like picking on little girls. How about taking on a big girl?" she purred.
The men quickly advanced. Xena kicked two of them to the ground and waved her sword at the third. "So, do you want to teach me some manners, too?" she said in a low voice, carefully waving her blade in front of each of them. The three tramps backed off, and Xena pointed to their fallen friend."
No .No boys, always take your garbage with you when you go," she said with an evil grin and pointed to the fallen man at the side of the path. The men lifted their friend to his feet and hastily ran down the road and out of the warriors sight.
Xena sheathed her sword and then slowly looked over her child, who dropped the stick in her hands to the ground.
"Are you all right?" Xena asked evenly.
Tarren nodded but lowered her head so as not to meet her mothers eyes and see all the disappointment she knew was there.
The warrior nodded her head slowly and reached for Argos reigns. "Good then, lets go," she said mounting Argo and lowering her hand down to Tarren.
The childs face went white at the thought of sitting anywhere, much less on the hard saddle, but the look on her mothers face told her that this was the price for not returning to camp as ordered. The youngster offered her arm to Xena and was quickly placed on the unrelenting saddle in front of her mother who tightly gripped the childs waist. Tarren silently let the tears flow from her eyes as Xena headed in a steady gallop back toward camp.
Chapter 4 Confusion and Understanding
When they arrived back at the camp, Xena dismounted and reaching up lifted the now ashen child from the horses back She knew the pain the girl was now suffering was greater than any she could feel at the warriors hand.
"Go, pack up your stuff," the warrior ordered in a steady but firm tone.
The youngster eyed her mother hoping for a word a lecture anything, but the warrior said nothing more. She did not scold her or yell . She was just silent. Tarren closed her eyes and slowly sucked in a deep breath, struggling not to let her tears start again. She began packing her things into her satchel.
"What happened?" Gabrielle asked noting the warriors heavy scowl.
Xena pulled Argos reigns to the far side of the camp and started filling her saddlebags as she spoke to the bard. "A couple of road tramps had her pinned on one of the side trails," the warrior said trying to control her anger at her daughters disobedience and her own fear at what might have happened.
Gabrielle gasped at the mere thought, "By the gods! She knows better than to go down those trails alone." She sighed, eyeing the small form out of the corner of her eye.
Xena slowed her actions for a moment staring at the youngster, critically. "Well, apparently she didnt think the warnings about the paths applied to her," the warrior cursed slamming her fist down on her bedroll.
Gabrielle rubbed the sides of her temples feeling a long headache coming on. "Xena you should talk to her."
The warrior shook her head and placed a halting hand in the air. "Gabrielle, right now, I am so upset, I dont think that would be such a good idea. I might just forget what a sore bottom that kid already has and give my hand the pleasure of making another impression. I need some time to calm down and make sure my next words to her are very clear and concise about the subjects at hand. Obviously, they werent before. Otherwise, she would not be having trouble sitting, and I would not be fighting tramps on side paths." The warrior scowled jumping up into Argos saddle. "Im gonna scout the path ahead to Goden while you finish packing. Wait for me here," she ordered giving an agitated glance at her child before nudging Argo into a trot down the path.
Tarren watched Xena go knowing that she was riding ahead mostly to get away from her.
Gabrielle quickly packed the remaining camp items and sat beside the sullen child as she rolled her blankets and tethered them to her satchel.
"How are you doing?" the bard asked evenly reaching for Tarrens shoulder.
The child pushed the gesture away and turned to face her friend. "What do you care?" she said her eyes filled with hurt from her friends betrayal earlier.
The bard took a step back. "What? Oh I get it. I was supposed to tell Xena not to punish you after you took her chakrum," the bard said angrily standing above the child. "Well, Tarren, you and I are friends, but I also made a promise to Xena to help raise you. That means that sometimes our friendship is put aside for the greater good. In this case, I happen to have agreed with your mother. You knew you werent supposed to touch that weapon, and you certainly knew you werent supposed to try and use it. You did it anyway! So, if Xena spanking your little butt keeps you from touching something that can get you killed, I am all for it!" she finished sternly standing right above the pouting youngster.
Tarren let the bards words soak in but didnt say a word. She merely threw her satchel over her shoulder and headed for the road.
Gabrielle gave the youngsters arm a yank. "I am not done talking to you, miss," the bard said, pulling the child back. Tarren was thrown off guard by her friends parental tone.
"You know all you ever think about is what something does to you. Did it ever occur to you how Xena feels every time she has to punish you? Did you maybe think that she was worried about you when she came back to camp and you werent here?" Gabrielle lectured, trying not to allow her tone to get above a gentle scolding.
The youngsters face was blank with confusion. "No of course not!" the bard ranted. She shook her finger at the smug child, "Well, Ill tell you! It hurts her, Tarren. It hurts her to have to hurt you. She does it because she loves you so MUCH that she doesnt want anything bad to ever happen to you. You are not old enough to understand that, but you should at least understand that she cares about you, and be enough like her to admit when you are wrong. And Tarren, today you were wrong very wrong," the bard scolded reaching for her own bag on the ground.
The contrite youngster lowered her eyes at her friends scolding tone. Gabrielle just shook her head and looked at the small, confused figure in front of her. With a sigh she gave into her heart. "Come here, brat," she whispered allowing the little girl into her gentle embrace. "Tarren, what is it going to take to convince you just how much you mean to both of us? We only want whats best for you. Dont you know that?" the bard asked allowing the youngster to lean her head on the young womans soft shoulder.
"Im sorry Gabrielle" was all she could whisper through her tears, and the bard smiled a bit pulling the girl forward, "I know you are, but I am not the one you need to tell that to," she said wiping the childs cheek with her fingers.
Tarren lowered her head. "She doesnt want to talk to me, Gabby. She doesnt care about anything but her chakrum. She didnt even "
Before the child could finish or the bard could respond, a husky voice from atop a large war-horse spoke, "Come on, you two. The road ahead is clear. I want make some time to Goden before nightfall," the warrior ordered stiffly, barely glancing down at her daughter.
Tarren quickly headed for the road.
The bard stared after her, wishing she could talk to Xena and wondering what it was Tarren was about to say Xena had not done.
The travel through the day had been quiet. Xena stayed mounted on Argo through most of the trip, and Tarren just walked along beside the bard with very little to say. Every once in while, the youngster would throw an eye up at the proud warrior sitting on the large horse, but Xena merely gazed down never saying a word.
They made there camp that night about a days travel from Goden.
Tarren picked at her supper quietly standing against a tree behind the bard who had been busy writing in her scrolls. She handed the plate back to Gabrielle having done little more than move the food around.
"Youve barely eaten anything," the bard whispered, her face showing concern as she looked at the youngster.
Tarren shrugged as she eyed the reflection of her mother's face in the flickering flames of the small fire. "Im not...real...hungry May I go to bed Momma?" she asked focusing directly at her mother.
Xena only nodded, and the child just lowered herself gently to her bedroll. The great warrior was busy running a stone along the sides of her blade but watched carefully as her daughter wrapped herself in her blankets burying her small face quickly in the covers. Xena sighed knowing she should speak to her, but her frustration about her childs actions had left her short on words or wisdom.
Gabrielle leaned over and pulled the blankets over the now sleeping child noting the dry tears on her cheek. She gently kissed her forehead and whispered, "Goodnight!"
Then, she returned to her writing. However each time Gabrielle put her quill to the parchment, her thoughts were dashed by the sight of the sleeping child and the sound of the warrior running the stone against her blade. Dropping her golden quill in angst she turned slowly to her large friend. "Xena, can I ask you something?"
The warrior shook her head wearily at the thought of a question, but nodded anyway, "Sure whats on your mind?" she said never halting the smooth grinding sounds of sharpening her sword.
"When you were a kid, did you get spanked?" the bard asked studying her friends face for an answer.
The warrior stopped her task and lowered her sword. "Yes, Gabrielle, many times," she said with a slight smile knowing where this was going. Gabrielle nodded knowingly, "Yeah, same here, but it was usually my father, not my mother. Hed paddle me, and Id go crying into the house. My mother would come find me and hold me until I stopped crying," the bard said with a gentle smile remembering that moment.
The warrior suppressed a grin as she returned to her sword. "Somehow, I find it hard to imagine you ever doing anything bad enough to get punished for, Gabrielle," the warrior chuckled.
The bard frowned. "Hey, I was a pretty wild kid, ya know?" she quickly defended.
Xena smiled. "Oh yeah, I can only imagine the Terror of Potedia," she teased looking fondly at the innocent face of her young friend. T
The bard frowned again, obviously considering how to put her thoughts, and Xenas smile faded. "Whats your point Gabrielle? All little kids get spanked when they misbehave, including that one," she said motioning towards the small form wrapped tightly in the blankets.
Gabrielle shook her head innocently. "I know that Xena Uh, I have no real point. I was just wondering ." she said with a grin.
The warrior saw at her friends smile and nodded suspiciously, "Uh huh!"
Gabrielle repositioned herself next to Xena and watched carefully as she sharpened her blade. She wanted to continue with the conversation, but didnt want to appear too obvious. "So what about you, Xena? Was your mother tough?"
Xena smiled a bit and looked at her friend. "Youre just not gonna be happy until we make this nasty little walk through my childhood, are ya?" she asked already knowing the answer.
As the bard shook her head, Xena chuckled, aware she might as well see where her friend was going with all of this.
The warrior lay her sword down in her lap and sighed. "Ok well, with 3 of us and no father around my mother had to be strong. I guess I gave her more trouble than my brothers did. I was always doing something I wasnt supposed to be doing, and, boy, my mother had a real no nonsense way of getting her point across." the warrior said with an evil grin remembering a few of those painful moments.
"But you knew she loved you, right?" the bard asked glancing from the fire to Xenas sleeping little girl.
The warrior raised an eyebrow and allowed her thoughts to drift to a time long ago. "Of course, I knew. When I got punished, I knew my mother was feeling my pain with me because shed always crawl into bed beside me and just hold me. Mother didnt want me to be alone. She didnt think I was awake, but I was. I always sort of wished she would say something but I knew ." The warriors words stopped cold, and she stared at the bard.
"Ok, Gabrielle, I get your point. I shouldnt have just sent Tarren back to camp. I should have been there with her and explained why I did what I did. I should have talked to her about taking off down the side path instead of shutting her out. I was just too angry and disappointed with her actions," the warrior whispered sheathing her sword and gazing at the sleeping childs small form.
The bard smiled with satisfaction at the skillful way she had just manipulated the great warriors thoughts.
"Ya know, I really hate when you do that," the warrior chided poking her friend gently in the ribs.
The bard only giggled and returned to her scrolls. "I know!"
Xena kept her eyes glued on her daughter. She sighed remembering the way she had felt when she was punished as a child and how she felt afterward as well, comforted in her mothers arms.
Later, while the bard slept quietly, Xena pulled the blankets up to cover her friend to keep the cold night air from penetrating. She then eyed Tarrens still form and knelt beside it. "I wonder some times if you even know what you mean to me, little one?" she whispered kissing the childs cheek gently and laying down beside her. The warrior wrapped her long arms lovingly around the youngster so Tarren could feel her presence.
The sleepy child opened one eye, "Momma?" she said wearily still half-asleep.
"Im right here. Go back to sleep, Tarren," she whispered as she kissed the youngsters cheek and wiped a few stray hairs from her eyes.
The child lay her head back on the warriors chest content to have her mother so close. The youngster blinked and tears ran down her cheeks. "I I didnt think youd...." Her voice faltered.
Xena pulled her in closer nuzzling her head against the youngsters face. "Shh Im sorry, little one. I should have held you sooner, but I guess I forgot how much a mothers touch means when you are a little one and feeling so alone . I promise I wont forget again," Xena vowed.
The child swallowed hard and the warrior felt a small hand reach out and squeeze hers tightly. "Im sorry, Momma I " she started to whisper but the warrior silenced her.
"Shh I know " Xena said. "Well talk tomorrow I promise. Right now, lets get some sleep." The little girl nodded and leaned into her mothers embrace.
Xena pulled the blankets neatly around them both and tightened her hold on Tarrens hand so the youngster knew that she was there with her feeling all of her pain and fear with her. She gently hummed a song in the childs ear, and the little princess quickly fell asleep.
The bards eyes filled with tears as she quietly watched the warrior lower her walls to mother her child.
Chapter 5 Apologies and regrets
The following morning Xena rose earlier than usual and headed for the top of a small hill over looking the clearing. She could easily watch over the two sleeping forms below from where she sat. The warrior watched from a distance as Tarren rolled in her blankets trying to get comfortable.
It was still quite early, not even sunrise, when the child opened her eyes and stood searching for her mother. She noted the large figure seated on the hilltop and sleepily started walking towards her. As she approached the great warrior she slowed her pace and then stopped waiting for Xena to see her.
The warrior tilted her head forward and nodded. "Youre up early," she said never turning her head but merely feeling the childs presence.
"I couldnt sleep anymore," the girl whispered, not sure if she was welcome.
The warrior studied the youngster and then reached out her hand motioning the girl to come closer. "Come here!" she whispered. "We have a few things to talk about, Tarren," she said, grabbing the childs blue eyes with her own.
The little girl bit her lip and moved slowly closer to her mother not sure if she was in trouble again.
Xena noted the distance and lowered her arm. "Tarren, its Ok. I dont want to hurt you. I dont EVER want to hurt you," she said with a whisper choking on the words.
The child slowly moved to the side of her mother and Xena gently wiped the hair from her face. "What am I to do with you?" she said with a sigh. "One minute, you are this kind, charming, little girl that I just want to hold in my arms forever; the next you are this rebellious little brat that disobeys everything I say. Still, all I want to do is hold you in my arms and protect you. Youve got me, Tarren. I cant win," Xena said quietly wiping the dust from her eyes.
Tarren lowered her head and whispered with true regret, "Im sorry Momma."
Xena reached out and gently pulled the youngster into a bear hug, and Tarren wrapped her arms quickly around her mothers neck. "I know Damn it, ya little brat. Dont ya know I love you, no matter how rotten you behave?" she scolded gently as she squeezed the child. "But sometimes, as an adult and as a parent, which I am quickly learning, I must do what needs to be done, even if its not what I wish to do." Xena held the child by the arms and looked into her deep blue eyes slowly wiping away the falling tears.
Tarren looked at the leather-clad warrior, a bit confused by the cryptic statement, so Xena lifted the child into her lap cradling her tightly against her chest. "I want to say this so you understand it, so listen up. Tarren, I am NOT perfect. Believe me, I have made my share of very big mistakes. This being a Mom thing is still very new to me, and Im sure Ill make mistakes, but Im gonna do my best to be good at it. I promise you that I will always be there for you, Ok?" The warrior asked squeezing the youngsters shoulders tightly.
The child bit her lip and nodded.
Xena sighed and continued. "I dont like spanking you, Tarren, but I will do it each and every time you disobey me if I have to, no matter how much it pains either of us. Its because I want you to grow up the right way. Can ya understand that?" the warrior asked quietly staring into the eyes of her young daughter.
The youngster shook her head and the warrior smiled at her honesty, "Well, ya do you know that I love you, and I would never do anything to hurt you, right?" she whispered, hoping the child truly did know her heart.
Tarren thought for a moment and smiled softly, "Of course, youre my mom!" Xena closed her arms around the little girl.
"Thats right, Im YOUR mom, and that means something very special between you and me. Sometimes, that means that I have to act a lot like a parent and you have to be what you are, a beautiful, bratty, little kid." Xena chuckled rocking the youngster gently in her lap.
Tarren lowered her eyes, "Im really sorry I touched your chakrum," she said in a slow whisper.
The warrior took a deep breath. "I know you are, and Im sorry I had to spank you.
The girl lowered her eyes at the memory of her recent visit over her mothers knee. "Tarren, Im more sorry I sent you back to camp without talking to you. I should have let you hold onto me while you were learning such a painful lesson," the warrior whispered leaning her cheek on the childs face still rocking her gently.
Xena sighed and then quickly placed the youngster on her feet before her. "I have been giving things a lot of thought lately and it occurs to me that maybe you need a bit more structure than you have. Maybe I have to be a bit tougher on you," the warrior said with a heavy sigh.
The child swallowed hard at the thought of her warrior mother being ANY tougher than she already was.
Xena wiped a tear from the childs cheek. "Tarren, you remind me so much of me when I was small, and I cant allow you to make the same mistakes I did. Being on the road only makes it harder. Out here, a mistake can cost you your life. I cant afford to have you disobey me like you did running off down that side path. Those men could have killed you," she said sternly shaking the child a bit to emphasize her fear. "I dont ever want anything like that to happen again. Do ya understand?"
The child nodded and Xena sighed heavily at the now sullen form that stood before her.
"Tarren, I am gonna make some NEW, very definite rules for you, and you are going to follow them. There will be no arguments about it. You will do what I say because I AM your mother and I say so. Got it?" she scolded gently.
Tarren lifted her eyes to meet her mothers, and she slowly nodded that she understood. "Yes, Maam."
The warrior caressed her cheek. "But no matter how tough I have to be or how many times I have to punish you, I will always be there to hold you, and I will never ever stop loving you. Ok?"
The girl swallowed hard and grabbed the warriors neck holding tightly to her mother.
Xena closed her arms around the small form squeezing her tightly to show just how much she welcomed the embrace. The teary eyed warrior then pulled the child gently forward.
"Now, for starters you WILL drill with the staff just as I instruct you. WE will start with a half-hour and see how you do from their, but no more games and no more fooling around. That is one area that I will NOT play with you, Tarren. I want you to learn to defend with a staff for your own safety, and if I have to whack that staff across your butt every day until you take me seriously, then I will," the warrior said sternly.
Tarren nodded understanding that her mother meant what she said. The training was a serious matter to her and the youngster was going to have to endure it.
"Second, I have given it some thought, and Gabrielle and I are going to start schooling you in things we both think are important for you to learn."
The child groaned, and Xena suppressed a slight smile remembering her own feelings about school.
"Hey, you want to have many skills, right? Well, we are going to offer you a few more. I am going to teach you about the maps and the stars, and Gabrielle will handle the philosophy and reading stuff." The warrior said choking a bit on the last words.
Tarren shook her head as she whined, "But I wont have time to play or do anything else then."
Xena smiled and tasseled her daughters hair lovingly. "Oh, youll have plenty of time to find mischief, I am sure. Besides maybe with so much to occupy your time, you will stay out of trouble just a bit," the warrior mother said hopefully.
The child thought about it and sighed, "But I just want to spend time with you, Momma. Thats why I wanted to learn the staff, so YOU would teach me. Now you just give the drill to me and Gabby and leave. I love Gabby too, but ." The youngster frowned lowering her eyes.
Xenas heart sank a bit as the words hit home. She had been so focused on the drills that she had not even realized. Tarren had been missing her. Her daughter wanted to be with her. No matter how many times she had to punish her, this child still wanted to be with her.
The great warrior dropped to one knee. "Well, I promise you, little one, from now on you are going to spend so much time with me that you are gonna be begging for mercy. We will do the drills side by side all of us," she vowed carefully cupping the childs face in her hands.
The warrior shook her head and said with a crooked smile, "Hey, somebody has to watch you and be there to kick your butt when you step out of line, right?" She tenderly wiped the cheek of this youngster who looked at her with complete wonder and adoration.
Tarren grinned and jumped up into the warriors arms, and Xena held her tightly amazed at this childs unquestioning love for HER. The large warrior then placed the girl back on the ground shaking a single finger at her. "BUT you are still going to get the schooling," she scolded with a smile.
Tarren kicked the dirt in front of her and frowned.
The warrior shook her head at her daughters look of dissatisfaction and rubbed the youngsters shoulder gently before setting herself down once again and dropping her voice to a more serious tone. "And finally " she said pulling her chakrum from her side and holding it before her, "lets settle this subject once and for all."
She handed Tarren the chakrum but the child would not take it. "Its Ok hold it. Look at it Go ahead," she said quietly handing the weapon to her daughter.
The youngsters eyes lit up as she examined the beauty of the weapon in her hands in a way she had never had a chance to do before.
Xena had to smile at the glint in the little ones eyes at just the touch of it. She was truly a daughter of the Warrior Princess, and that could be a problem at times.
"Do you know why I punished you, Tarren?" Xena asked with a sigh.
The youngster looked at the warrior. "Cause I took your chakrum, and its important to ya," she said still staring at the weapon.
The warrior nodded, "Yeah, but thats only part of it. Tarren, holding a weapon, ANY weapon, brings great responsibility. You show such respect for your chucks because you know they were mine, and that means something to you.
"This weapon in your hands is very special to me and also very dangerous. It is not a toy, and it is not for you to touch. It is a tool - one that can both save lives or take them if need be. What you did down on the field could have cost you your life or your fingers had you tried to catch it," the warrior scolded.
Tarren took one last glance at the chakrum and handed it back to her mother.
Xena tossed it quickly at the dirt at her feet.
"That is not important to me, but you are. You could have been seriously hurt throwing that, and I will do everything within my power not to let that happen," she said sternly staring at her daughter.
Xena reached down, picked up her chakrum, and placed it quickly at her side. "Now, I know it fascinates you, and I know you just want to put your little hands on everything you know you are not supposed to because you are a kid and that is what little kids do," she said sternly.
"However ." The warrior stood to her full height and looked down at her daughter. "Just like naughty little kids do what they do, mothers do what they HAVE to do. SO, IF I EVER see you pull a stunt like you did by taking my chakrum or running down a side path alone again I give you my solemn oath as a warrior, that I WILL wear my hand raw paddling your little behind DO we understand each other, daughter?" the warrior asked in a no nonsense Warrior Princess parental tone.
The youngster looked up at the large, muscular figure of her mother and swallowed hard knowing that making that oath meant real business. "Yes, Maam," was all she could whisper as she protectively rubbed her backside with both hands.
Xena nodded hoping that she had made her point clear. "Good, because I dont ever want to see you hurt, Tarren. I love you, ya little brat. Dont ya know that by now?" she asked tenderly swiping the childs hair.
The girl smiled and lifted her arms into the air wanting Xena to pick her up.
The great warrior shook her head and lifted her daughter into her arms knowing that her punishment from the day before was still very much a sore subject. She still needed to be rocked, held, and told she was loved by the person who was most important in her life her mother.
"I love you, too, Momma!" she whispered in the warriors ear.
Xena kissed the youngsters cheek and slowly looked across the horizon. She held her small daughter allowing the childs tears to fall onto her broad shoulders and soothed her with a gentle caressing hand up and down her back, "Shh Shh little one. Your mother is here with you, now and always."
The great warrior watched the sun rise as she held her child tightly in her arms thanking the gods for the greatest gift they had ever given her.
When Xena returned to camp, she was still carrying the clinging child in her arms. The bard smiled at the sight knowing that the two had found peace with each other.
Xena slowly lowered the reluctant little girl to the ground. Tarren just leaned against her mother not wanting to leave her side. She did not want to break with the childs affections, but she could not get much work done with her attached to her leg. The warrior looked at the bard and shrugged not knowing exactly how to break from her childs need to be close to her.
"Tarren, Im gonna go for a quick ride. Do ya wanna come?" the warrior asked with a flashing smile.
The child took a step back shaking her head. "Err, no, I think I should stay here and help Gabrielle!" she said slowly backing away.
The bard giggled, and Xena saddled Argo for a morning run.
Tarren really wanted to go with her mother, but the thought of that saddle beneath her was more than she could bear.
Xena jumped onto her horse and with a quick smile and a warning look, she spoke. "Behave yourself!" she said pointing at her child.
Tarren nodded and grinned a bit at the playful chastisement. "Ill try!" she said with an impish grin.
The warrior mother shook her head, "Oh no youll do more than try, little one," she said with a stern look kicking at the war-horses side and headed for the open clearing to let her spirit run free.
Gabrielle stood beside the youngster, placing an affectionate arm around her shoulder. "Dont worry. Shell be back in a little while," she said with a soft whisper.
The child nodded and lowered her head, "I know."
The bard saw the still wet tears falling from her eyes and put a loving hand on the girls shoulder, "Hey, are you all right?" she asked.
Tarren wiped her eyes. "Yeah except for the fact that I dont think Ill ever sit down again, I guess Im Ok," she whispered as a single tear ran down her cheek.
The bard reached over and pulled the small youngster into an embrace. This poor little one had so much love to share and needed so much love in return. All she ever wanted was to be held. Xena tried to be there for her as much as possible, but it never seemed to be enough for Tarren. She always had one more hug in her to give. She could fight like a little Warrior Princess, be stubborn as a mule, and get into more trouble than five Joxers. Yet such an affectionate little one this child had turned out to be. The bard was saddened by the thought of all the years the youngster had spent alone without anyone to truly love her the way she needed to be cared for.
She tried to smile as she released the little girl.
"Hey, guess what?" the young bard said with excitement squeezing the childs shoulder.
The youngster sniffled, "What?"
"Its time for you to take a bath," the bard said with a smile, and the child started to pull away ready to run for the hills.
Gabrielle held her arm tightly. "Not so fast, scamp. You may find that some cooling water may be a bit soothing on a certain VERY tender little part of your body," the bard whispered with a quick smirk.
The struggling youngster froze and stared at her friend. A small grin ran across her face, and she grabbed the bards hand. "Come on, Gabby. Bath time . Lets go ."
Gabrielle barely had time to reach for the satchels before the youngster dragged her down to the stream. The bard smiled with satisfaction at her own cleverness. "Too bad this only works when the warrior throttles you," she mumbled to herself.
Chapter 6 A Time for Work and A Time for Play
Down by the river Gabrielle and Tarren happily splashed in the water. Tarren had succumbed to having her hair washed and taking a bath and now the rest of the time was spent simply enjoying the coolness of the river. Tarrens eyes filled with a small amount of relief as she noted that the cool water did indeed ease her suffering just a bit as long as she stayed in the water, so she was in no hurry to get out. The youngster splashed water at Gabrielle who in turn splashed her back, and the two giggled wildly as the water sprayed through the air.
Their innocent laughter and yelling was music to the great warriors ears as she approached the embankment. "Hey, you two, if we are ever gonna get on the road today, then youll have to leave the water," she yelled trying hard to hide her smile.
Gabrielle and Tarren both turned and eyed the warrior with a mischievous grin. They looked at each other exchanging smiles and then started swimming further and further away from shore until they were on the other side of the gentle river.
"Sorry, warrior, but its too hot to leave so early on such a beautiful day," the bard yelled.
Tarren grinned and ducked below the surface coming up taking long, even strides across the river.
Xena shook her head at the two arrogant children who lived under her watchful eye. "Ok, but if I have to come in and get you two, you will BOTH be sorry," she warned taking her armor off and dropping it to the ground.
"Well, Xena, I guess youre just gonna have to get wet, then," the bard said playfully aiming a puddle of water at her friend and smiling.
Xena removed the last of her leathers and ran out of sight.
Tarren and Gabrielle scanned the edge but the warrior was no where to be seen. They looked at each other with a bit of trepidation and angst knowing Xena was capable of many things. They had no idea what to expect.
"Gabby, maybe we should get out while we can," the child whispered nervously.
The bard nodded in agreement, and they started to move towards shore.
But before they could move more than a few steps, a large, muscular figure made a perfect dive from a small cliff far above, landing right in the water beside them. She grabbed each wayward girl by the ear. "Now, you werent gonna leave after I got all wet, were you?" she scolded as each girl tried in vain to free themselves from the tight grip the warrior had on their tender ears.
Xena brought them both tightly into her chest wrapping a muscular arm around each. "No, I didnt think so. Now, children, let me ask you a question. When Xena says its time to get out of the water, what to we do? Gabrielle, you first. You are my oldest after all," the warrior teased.
The bard held onto the warriors arm trying to break its vice-like grip unsuccessfully. "We get out!" she yelled begging to be set free. Xena nodded. "Very good!" she praised as she released the bard and turned to Tarren
"And you, little one?" she asked.
The youngster giggled wildly enjoying the game. "Uh, I forget the question," she said with a wild laugh.
Xena smiled and brought her free arm around and wrapped it tightly on the childs waist. "Remember now?"
The girl coughed a bit. "Yes! We get out when you say to get out," she cried as the warrior set her free.
Xena threw her head back in satisfaction, easing herself into the flow of the water. Gabrielle and Tarren started to move towards shore when the warrior stopped them
"Wait! Now where do you think you are going?" she asked pulling them each back.
"You said to get out of the water," Tarren said softly confused by her mothers words.
Xena smiled as the cool water ran down her arms. "Ah, little one, that was before. NOW Im telling you to stay in. After all, its too hot and a much too beautiful a day to head out onto such a dusty trail. Goden will still be there tomorrow. Right, Gabrielle?" she said with a grin staring at her friend.
The bard smiled at her friends decision to take a day off. It was unlike Xena to ever slow down when she had a destination in mind. However the last few days had been tough on all of them especially Tarren. Xena knew that a day of simple play together was perhaps just what the three companions needed.
Gabrielle nodded at her friend and winked, "As you say my warrior," she answered with a bow.
Xena smiled "Hmm, a little respect. Thats more like it!" she purred.
Tarren and Gabrielle stared at each other for a moment. Then, in a flash, the two friends jumped on top of the Warrior Princess trying to submerge her for a well deserved dunking. But the warrior was too fast and her attackers soon found themselves flying over her head landing with a splash behind her.
Xena laughed at their valiant attempt and waited for them to come to the surface, but they did not. Instead the great warrior felt a small tug at her feet before two pair of hands below the water pulled her under.
Tarren and Gabrielle came up laughing at their accomplishment and waited for Xena to come up so they could gloat, but she did not surface.
Gabrielle started playfully calling, "Xena Xena ." There was no response. After a few minutes the bard became frantic. Even the great warrior might have been caught under the river current.
Tarrens eyes went wide as the bard searched. The youngsters looked in every direction and then finally called out. "Momma where are you?" she screamed. The fear in her voice was enough to bring the warrior immediately to the surface.
"Miss me?" she asked with a grin, but the child angrily wiped a tear from her eye and headed for shore not wanting to play this game anymore.
Gabrielle splashed water at her large friend, "THAT wasnt funny, Xena. You really scared her. If she did that to you, youd be very angry," the bard scolded.
The warrior sighed looking a bit guilty for staying submerged so long. "Im sorry. Youre right. I thought shed know I was only teasing," she whispered staring at the small figure heading for the safety of dry land.
With a few quick, even strokes, the warrior swam up to Tarren gently taking her by the arm. "Im sorry, sweetheart. I was only playing with you. I didnt mean to scare you. Forgive me?" the warrior, asked staring softly into the youngsters eyes.
The child wiped the tears from her face and nodded, and Xena lifted her in the air above the water. Tarren only smiled a bit which was not the loud laughter Xena had hoped for. She really had frightened the girl, and that was something she had not meant to do. Xena brought the child down into her arms and hugged her close allowing the youngster to wrap her arms tightly around the warriors neck.
Gabrielle watched with a smile happy to see that the warrior could now be humbled so easily by this little imps affections.
Tarren looked at her mother. "Dont do that again," she scolded.
Xena smiled, "No, maam I certainly will not," she said with a fast smile.
Finally, as the child gave way to a giggle, Xena tossed her over her head hoping to resume the playfulness of the afternoon. The great warrior reached out into the water and, using her large muscles started swimming in even strokes the length of the river.
"Wait for me!" Tarren yelled eagerly copying her mothers smooth strokes.
Soon, the bard took up the third position and the three companions were swimming in absolute unison, at one with the world around them.
As the day slowly passed, the water play wound down, and the three left the water. Tarren was slightly assisted by the warrior throwing her small form over her shoulder. Gabrielle dried her hair and dressed happy to just lie on the shore enjoying the cool breeze.
Xena ran the brush through her own dark mane and then attended Tarrens tangled mess as the child struggled to get free. "Hold still before I give ya a swat with this thing," the warrior scolded at the anxious youngster.
Tarren immediately fell still fearing the warrior was serious.
Xena grinned and turned the youngster around and kissed her forehead. "All right, go lie down. Youre done, ya little brat," she sighed surrendering to the girls pouting face.
The child smiled and went to join Gabrielle on a blanket near the shore.
The bard gently poked her in the side. "Hey, youre still wet!" she moaned.
The youngster giggled as her mother lay down beside her. "So, Ill sun dry, right Momma?" she said turning her head to face the warrior who had comfortably placed her hands behind her head to relax.
Xena turned and winked at the bard, "Right!" she growled trying not to let the child see her smile.
The bard giggled and again poked the child. "You are such a spoiled brat," she whispered rolling onto her side and wrapping an arm around the little girl.
"I know!" the youngster answered with a playful grin. Tarren threw her arm around the warriors stomach and soon the three were tangled together in one large knot.
Xena opened one eye and looked at her companions with a smile and a sigh, "By the Gods! How did I ever get into this?" she murmured as she wrapped her large arm protectively around the two small figures beside her.
The warrior allowed that they needed the rest and relaxation for some little voice inside of her told her this simple trip to Goden might turn into more than she expected or wanted.
That night, after they ate, Xena lay staring up at he stars lost in thought. Gabrielle was trying to get Tarren to fall asleep with a story, but it wasn't doing much good. Xena smiled at the bards persistence.
"Gabby, tell me another story about you and Momma," the child begged.
Gabrielle considered her options. "I swear Tarren I am running out of stories that you havent already heard," she said with a sigh. The bard sat beside the child trying to think of an adventure she had not already told. "I got one . Well you remember the story I told you about Princess Diana?"
The child nodded.
Gabrielle grinned as she started the tale. "Well, Xena was again called to the castle when Diana thought her father was dying. I was supposed to meet her in this tavern, but she never showed up. I met Joxer there instead and ."
The child stared at the bard. "Whats a Joxer?" she asked.
Gabrielle thought about how she could possibly describe the man. "Err, its I mean hes "
The warrior sat up and said with an evil grin, "Actually, Tarren, we have not quite figured that out ourselves yet."
The bard smiled and poked her friend in the ribs. "Joxers just a friend a very strange friend," the bard said nodding at the warrior who shrugged. The bard continued, "Anyway, he told me Xena had already gone to the castle, so I went there. When I got to the castle I found someone dressed just like Xena named Meg and ."
The child frowned. "Whats Meg? A warrior? A bard? A princess?" she asked anxiously waiting for a reply.
The bard looked at Xena, and the warrior chuckled at the corner she had worked herself into.
Gabrielle begged for help with those pleading eyes, and Xena could resist coming to the rescue.
"Tarren, we have to get up very early to get to Goden. I think youve heard enough stories for one night. Go to sleep," the warrior said gently.
"Why?" the child cried in protest.
"Because I said so," the warrior mother responded in an even tone.
The child frowned and yanked the blankets over her face.
Gabrielle sat beside the grinning warrior. "Thanks," she said under her breath. I have to remember to edit some of these stories for her," the bard whispered.
Xena smiled at her friend and then looked at the child, covered head to toe in blanket, and moved over to her crouching beside the small form. She slowly removed the blankets from the childs face. "Hey, I said you had to go to sleep. I didnt say you had to bury yourself," the warrior teased.
The youngster looked up at her mother. "But I cant sleep. Im not tired."
The warrior frowned and sat next to the little one allowing her to lay her head in her lap as she stroked her back gently. Xena then began to sing a quiet song of peace, and soon the child was fast asleep.
The bard watched in awe as the warrior sat there still rubbing the sleeping youngsters back. "That was beautiful. I wish youd sing more often," the bard said as Xenas eyes met hers.
Xena held the child close to her as she spoke. "Gabrielle, a song is like a story. When you feel the moment is right, you sing it," she said with a gentle grin.
The bard studied her friends anxious movements. "Youre worried, arent you...about Goden?"
Xena looked at the young friend who had traveled with her so long and knew her too well. "Yes but I cant say why. I just have a bad feeling about it. I cant explain it. Im hoping that we pass right through Goden, find out everythings fine, and can get back on the road again," she said.
The bard nodded. "Well, maybe its just that whole thing about Nalas vision."
The warrior frowned as she stared at the innocent face of her sleeping child. "Maybe," she said, although she did not sound convinced.
The bard knew the warrior had a great deal of respect for visions and did not take them lightly. So this one, from the old mystic who had predicted Xenas future so well, almost raised the hairs on the warriors neck as she thought about it.
"Uh, Xena, is all this superstitious stuff about Goden true?" she asked her voice a bit shaky.
Xena eyed her friend closely. "Gabrielle, are you afraid?" she asked with a slight smile.
The bard shook her head. "Of course not. Im a grown woman not a child like Tarren. Why would I believe that these silly stories are true?" the bard whispered staring up at the sky.
The warrior nodded her head. "Well, maybe because some of them are," Xena said with a blank stare.
Gabrielle swallowed hard at the thought of entering a place where there might be black magic and witches. "Ugh, ya know, I better get some sleep. We do have to get up early. Good night, Xena" she said looking around them warily as she slipped into her bedroll and pulled the blankets over her head.
The warrior chuckled a bit at her frightened Amazon friend. "Goodnight, Gabrielle."
Dawn came earlier than usual, it seemed. Xena was up and ready to go before Gabrielle and Tarren had ever opened an eye.
The warrior threw her saddle on Argo patting the Great War horses mane. "I know I should let them sleep, girl, but I want to get in and out of Goden fast," she whispered to the mare.
Then, Xena turned and gently shook each of the sleeping figures. "Rise and shine, little beauties. Its time to hit the road," she said. There was no movement. Xena eyed Gabrielle with an evil grin. She lowered her mouth to the bards ear and whispered," Get up or Ill take you for an early morning swim."
The bards eyes flew open, "No, No, Im up!" the weary young woman said throwing the blankets off and stretching out her muscles.
Next, Xena looked at the very still figure of her young daughter. She gave her a quick tassel. "Hey, come on. Time to get up, sleepyhead, she said gently.
The child moaned but did not make any signs of rising.
The warrior sighed in frustration. "Why is it always so hard to get you two up in the morning?" the warrior yelled to the bard and child.
Gabrielle smiled and said with a laugh as she packed her things, "Maybe we just dont like getting up before the sun does!"
Xena shook her head and picked the youngster up off the ground, blankets and all.
The sleepy child quickly opened her eyes. "A swim?" she asked with a smile lazily lying in the warriors arms.
Xena shook her head and replied, "Nope, YOU would enjoy that, but since youre still so tired, I thought Id let you ride Argo today."
Tarren immediately started to struggle. "No! No, Momma, please. Im awake. Please, I dont want to sit up there. Ill get up please," she begged.
Xena had just about reached the side of the horse when she gently lowered the child to the ground. "Hmm, well, if you are sure youre awake," she said with an evil smile.
The child nodded and sighed with relief.
"Well then, get moving," the warrior commanded gently sending the youngster on her way with a quick swat.
Tarren winced at the fall of her mothers large hand.
"Ouch!" the child yelped rubbing her bottom gently. Even through all her blankets, the sting was still very strong.
Xena suppressed a grin, as did the bard. "Oh, Im sorry. Is that spot still a bit sore?" the warrior chuckled, knowing full well that it was and would be for a very long time. Xena Warrior Princess was not one to do anything halfway.
The child mumbled something under her breath and started packing her things for the long journey.
Chapter 7 The Road to Goden
Walking towards the home of the mystics, they ate a cold meal of bread and cheese
Xena wondered what lay ahead. Gabrielle had looked a little pale this morning just at the thought of entering this place.
"Tarren, did Nala ever mention this village to you?" the warrior asked hoping for any additional information she could get.
The youngster slowly considered the words and nodded. "Uh huh!"
The apprehensive bard stopped. "What have you heard?" she asked staring at the child.
Tarren looked to her mother, then at Gabrielle. She could not understand why there was such a fuss over Goden or why the bards face was so white.
"Well, its where Nala grew up. Nala said when the mystics came from across the great waters they were chased out of every town cause people thought they did bad things. They moved around until they found Goden. The people in that village were real poor, and Nala said the mystics helped them in exchange for being able to make their homes there . Is that good?" she asked looking to her mother for approval.
Xena nodded at the youngsters story and with a quick flip tossed the child over her shoulder. "Perfect!" she said to the little girl now struggling and laughing under her mothers arm.
The bard merely bit her lip. "How did they help them, Tarren? I mean, did they use magic or potions or silly stuff like that?" she whispered trying to pretend like she was only half-serious.
The youngster smiled realizing her friend was a bit frightened. Tarren laughed wildly as Xena turned her upside down, but that did not prevent her from continuing her story.
"Well, Gabrielle, the way Nala told me, each year the mystics would choose one woman from the village to sacrifice to a god. That way they would always get a good harvest because it always pleased the god. They only did it once a year though because it took them a long time to find that very special woman that would FEED the god," she whispered evilly, emphasizing each word and waving her hands around as the bard did when she told her stories.
Xena smiled at the child dangling in her hand. This was quite a tall tale the youngster was telling.
Gabrielle was captivated by the words. "Err, why was it so hard to find this special woman?" she asked closing her eyes.
Tarren swung in the air trying to get a grasp on Xenas leg, but each time she did the warrior merely stepped back and laughed. "Well, you see, the people couldnt just give any old woman to the god. She had to be special. She had to be young. She had to be pretty. And most of all she had to be blonde, and there just werent many blondes in Goden. As a matter of fact, Nala said many times hunting parties went to other villages just looking for that ONE special blonde to make their sacrifice with," she said slowly.
The bards face went white as she repeated the words, "One special blonde . Excuse me, I have to go use the forest," she said running into the trees.
Xenas smile quickly faded at the sight of her now terrified friend disappearing into the woods. The warrior swung her daughter around to face her. "Oooh, thanks! I was getting dizzy down there. Lets do it again," the child said with a broad smile anxious for more play.
Xena put the little girl down in front of her giving her an angry stare. "THAT was not very nice!" she said in a scolding tone.
The youngster frowned and kicked the dirt with her boot, "But Momma, Gabrielle asked me to tell her."
Xena bent down and faced the child. "Tarren, either you tell her that was a nasty little story you made up and apologize for scaring her, or you will ride the rest of the way on Argos back," the warrior scolded.
Tarrens eyes went wide, and she backed away a bit. "But you said Im not allowed to lie, and I told the truth," she whispered bowing her head and shuffling her feet.
Xena lifted her child straight in the air looking deep into the little ones blue eyes for the truth. Tarren had never lied to her, and she wasnt lying now. "Are you telling me that THAT story you just told Gabrielle is something Nala really told you?" she asked studying the youngster.
The childs head nodded strongly. "Uh huh!" she said with innocent eyes.
The warrior shook her head and lowered her to the ground. "Great! Thats just great! Why didnt you tell me any of this before?" she scolded tossing Argos reigns to the ground as she watched her friend returning from the woods looking paler than before.
The child shrugged, "You never asked me about it," she said with a grin.
Xena knelt before her daughter and whispered, "Now Tarren, I want you to listen to me. I dont want you to say one more word about any of this to Gabrielle, got it?" she said gently tapping the childs cheek.
"Why?" she asked anxious to share more of the stories Nala had told her. She had never seen the bard so white before.
"Because I said so. Got it?" the warrior scolded.
The child nodded still not really understanding why there was such a fuss, but not wanting to get on the warriors bad side again so soon.
Gabrielle made her way over to the pair and tried to smile.
"Are you Ok?" the warrior asked with a bit of concern.
The bard nodded waving her off.
"Gabrielle, you are not gonna believe some fairy tale about sacrifices told by some little kid whose trying to scare you, are ya?" the warrior said with a broad smile.
Tarren started to protest, but the warrior quickly cupped her hand over the childs mouth. "Argo?" she whispered slowly gazing down at the youngster. The child shook her head wildly and the warrior removed her hand.
"Yeah...err Gabby, I was only teasing ya...sorry," she said with a forced grin.
Gabrielle stared at the little girl. "Oh! Thanks a lot, Tarren. Well, you just wait until you want ME to tell you another story or find yourself in more trouble with Xena than you can handle. Dont come running to me," the bard warned stomping down the road ahead.
Tarren looked up at her mother.
"Thanks a lot Mom!" she groaned.
Xena put an arm around her daughter. "Im sorry, kid. I promise I will set her straight as soon as we leave Goden. Right now, I need Gabrielle completely focused, and she wont be if she thinks someone is gonna mark her as the next sacrifice. Understand?" she asked tenderly as they headed down the path behind the angry bard.
The child shook her head, "No, but Ill keep my mouth shut if I can ride my favorite horsy," she said with a grin.
The warriors lips twisted, and she lowered herself to the ground. "Get on! Ya little brat" she said swinging the youngster onto her back for a fast ride into Goden.
Xena could only smile at the childs innocent laughter as she bounced happily in the air.
As they came to the end of the trail, the warrior noticed how all the trees had similar carvings of animals, just as Nalas camp had.
"What are they?" the bard asked, remembering the ones hanging from the old mystics trees.
"Warnings!" the warrior answered.
The bard readied her staff for action. "Great!" she murmured.
As the trio passed the last of the tall trees, they entered a small, prosperous looking village. The buildings were all carved from stone, and many had intricate designs on the door frames. Some even had gold inlay set into the carvings that sat outside the buildings. It was a very busy little place full of what appeared to be normal people scurrying around doing their work, while children played in the fields.
The bard smiled with relief. "Sacrifices you just wait until were alone you little brat!" she scoffed staring over at the youngster still mounted on the warriors back.
Tarren grinned widely as the bards color had quickly returned. "This place is beautiful. Look at the buildings, Xena. I feel like Im in a little Athens," the bard said waving her hand around at the architecture.
Xena nodded in agreement and lowered the child to the ground "I think you can walk from here," she said with a grin.
Tarren stretched. "Sure Thanks, horsy. Im gonna go look around," she said slowly heading away from her companions.
Xena grabbed her by the scruff of her tunic. "Not so fast, little one. YOU know better. Youre staying where I can keep my eye on you," she said sternly.
The youngster shrugged as she teased, "Sure, I know youd miss me while I was gone."
"Yup!" the warrior nodded. "I would, so dont make me have to go looking for you," she scolded giving the youngster her famed Xena stare.
The child only smiled and reached out her hand to her mother.
Xena sighed and took Tarrens hand in her own and headed deeper into the village. "Brat!" she whispered with a smile.
The warrior eyed the town and its people curiously. All this wealth for one small village seemed odd, and so did the villagers. Xena looked at the bard who was happily taking in the sights. She then looked down to her daughter and closed her grip tighter on the childs hand. The warrior did not know whether there would be trouble, but just in case, she made sure Tarren was never more than a few feet from her protection.
The villagers all smiled at the trio walking through the streets of Goden. Xena scanned the area looking for some sign of obvious danger, but she found none.
Gabrielle shook her head at the sight of the peaceful village. "Oh yeah, real dangerous place, warrior. A village filled with friendly farmers."
Tarren frowned at the bard. "Remember what Xena says, Gabby. Things are not always as they seem," she scolded trying to imitate her mothers tone.
The warrior nodded at the child. "Well, at least you listen to some of what I say," she said glancing down at the youngster.
Tarren raised her eyebrows and smiled. "I always listen!" she argued.
The warrior lifted her daughter into her arms.
"Yeah, then how come you never do what youre told?" she asked looking into the eyes of her little girl.
The child considered the question. "Well, you wouldnt want me to be perfect, would ya?" she whined laying her head down on her mothers shoulder.
Xena smiled and gently hugged the little one. "Nope wouldnt want that to happen," she murmured with a slight grin.
As they moved through the streets, Xena noted that the people were indeed friendly very friendly perhaps even too friendly.
One man offered the bard a flower and merely bowed and walked away. Gabrielle smiled, "Hmm, I could get used to this," she said sniffing the aroma of the flower.
When they reached the edge of town, Xena stared at a large, dark building set on top of a hill on the outskirts of the village. It was the only building not adorned with fancy inlays or gold. In fact it looked to be some sort of holy place. She stopped a boy in the street and asked him what that place was.
"Why, thats the old mystic temple." he said pointing up at the dilapidated old structure.
The warrior nodded. "The mystic temple?" she murmured and started up the hill.
Gabrielle stared at a small enclosure that looked to be some sort of merchants booth. "Uh Xena Id like to get some supplies we need before we find a place to camp unless we will be spending the night here? Gabrielle asked with a slight smirk.
The warrior shook her head. "No, I want to get out of here as soon as we check the place out. You go get the supplies, and well meet you at the edge of this road in an hour.
The bard nodded, "Ok, you two, go have your fun Mystic hunting. Ill see you in a bit," the young woman said, still not sure why the warrior was so skeptical about this wonderful place.
Chapter 8- The Mystics Way
Xena kept Tarren close as they entered the old temple. It was dark, and the walls were thick with cobwebs. The roof had many holes in it, and the entire building was in great need of repair.
Xena stepped inside cautiously. "Hello, is anyone here? she yelled.
Tarren gripped the warriors hand tightly as a small figure came from the darkness. An old woman wearing a ragged robe and carrying a long staff approached them. She looked to be more than 100 summers old Tarren thought. Her skin was leathered from the sun, and her eyes were black like the night sky. "Someone is always here, child," the old woman answered, her voice clear but fragile.
The old one stared down at the child and reached to touch her face, but the youngster backed off behind Xena.
"Sorry, shes just shy," the warrior said reaching behind her to pull the child forward.
The old woman laughed. "That is fine, warrior. We know all about the little one and you," she said softly, motioning them to follow her into the darkness. At that moment Xena was sorry that she had not sent Tarren with Gabrielle.
The Warrior Princess and her child slowly moved behind the old woman until darkness surrounded them. Then with a quick wave of the old womans hand, the room grew bright. Xena noted 11 other woman in the same garb and all about the same age sitting in a circle in the center of the temple.
Sitting in her seat and offering a chair to the warrior and child, the woman said, "I am Derma. You might say that I am the leader here, though each of us is part of the other and together we all make the one."
Xena carefully sat, and Tarren just stood behind her gripping at the warriors shoulder.
Derma smiled and said soothingly, "Child you do not need to be afraid. We are your friends. We will not do you any harm."
Tarren slowly moved forward and stood beside the warrior who motioned for the youngster to sit in the chair beside her.
Tarren looked at the chair and then at her mothers stare and cringed.
The warrior knew the gesture would be painful but did not want to insult these people. Having Tarren sit in her lap was not proper etiquette in this place.
Carefully, the child lowered herself to the wooden chair, but before she landed, Derma waved her hand and a soft pillow appeared on the girls chair. The youngster smiled as she felt the cushion beneath her, "Thanks!" she said with a wide grin.
Derma nodded, "You are quite welcome, child. You may take that with you when you go. I think you may be needing it quite a lot in your travels," she laughed.
The youngster sat. "Is that a vision?" she asked with an innocent frown.
The old woman laughed. "Perhaps or perhaps just a lucky guess, little one," she said with a gentle smile.
Xena noted the exchange with some amusement but wanted to get back to more serious matters. "I am here because " the warrior began, but Derma stopped her with the wave of a hand.
"Princess we know why you have come, but there is nothing you can do to save this evil place of Goden," Derma said looking to her sisters in the circle.
"How do you know who I am?" the warrior asked studying the silent faces of the other mystics. "We are the first. We are the Twelve Princess," Derma whispered slowly.
The warrior looked at her with confusion.
Tarren thought about the old womans words. "Xena, they are the first ones who came here over the great waters right?" the youngster cried her eyes filled with excitement.
Xena steadied the child and pulled her back.
The old woman nodded. "That is right, little princess, but your mother does not quite understand what that means."
The youngsters mouth dropped at the mystics discovery. How did they know Xena is her mother?
The warrior looked at Derma and closed her eyes hoping the old woman could hear her thoughts.
The mystic nodded and waved her hand.
A good 20 paces away from the circle another light beamed on a small area filled with all kinds of toys and small contraptions of amusement.
"Child, much is over there that would interest you. Take whatever your heart feels closest to," she said motioning to the newly lit area of the temple.
Tarrens eyes filled with excitement, but she looked to Xena for approval before she went.
"Go ahead, but stay where I can see you," she said softly as the youngster ran over to the toys, rifling through each item.
"Thank you," the warrior said, and the old woman nodded.
"There are some things a child should not see or hear, Princess," she said with a slight smile.
Xena sat straight back in the chair eyeing the old woman. "Ok, tell me what I need to know," she said knowing there was no point in sharing her thoughts with those who could already see them.
Derma nodded, "The young one is correct. We are the first . We came to this land many years ago before the birth of your mothers mother we twelve. With us we brought families and hoped to find a place of peace where we could live our lives. We traveled far and long and were chased from everywhere we ever tried to settle. Finally, we found this place of Goden. The people were simple farmers and quite poor. We were welcomed at first " her voice trailed off.
"Please continue, Derma," the warrior said looking at the old woman with one eye and watching Tarren with the other.
"We shared our food our lives and even our wisdom. As the years passed, the people started to change. They became wealthy...prosperous and greedy. Goden became a very dark place. The villagers made sacrifices to a dark force that does not even exist, my friend. They created their own God, made out of solid gold, and offered the lives of the young in hopes of attaining even greater riches.
We tried to stop them from killing the innocent, but they would not hear us. My people were called evil and hunted down like animals. Soon, all of us were branded as witches and chased from the village. Some were even burned alive," the old woman said with a tear remembering a vision from long ago.
"Many left, like Nala, hoping to find a new and better life in another place. Others chose to hide their gifts. Now, we 12 are all that remains of my people in Goden. We are the keepers, the watchers. We built this place into the evil dwelling that it is, and we must stay here until its retribution," she said with a deep sigh.
Xena leaned forward studying the face of the mystic. "Nala mentioned a darkness in her diary. Are these people in danger? Is something going to happen? I came to help you... all of you, Derma," she said hoping her words held the meaning that she wished them to.
Derma nodded, saying, "Child, the darkness mentioned by Nala is something no one can stop. The earth will shake beneath this village and swallow all that is evil. The fates will purify all that has been tainted by blackness. We have told the people to leave this place, but they do not listen. We are only safe here in the temple because they know that, as 12, we can bring great force. Take your child and your friend and leave this place, warrior. Walk away and do not look back," the old woman said with a wave of her hand.
Xena thought for a moment. " If something so bad is going to happen, I cant just let an entire village of people die. I must get them to leave," she said jumping to her feet.
Derma stood and placed a gentle hand on the warrior. "Princess, do not try to walk amongst these people. You will find they are little of what they seem to be. They will not listen to you, and you will be in great danger," the old one warned.
Xena walked in a small circle considering the old womans words. "I have to try to help them see the error of their ways. I have to make them realize that they must go. I cant just leave them to die. They cannot ALL be guilty of the crimes you mention. What of the children?" she whispered looking at the innocent child who stood in a far corner fascinated by a stick of light that had no flame. Tarren waved the wand in the air playfully trying to get the light to vanish but it would not.
Xena hid a smile as she noticed the giggling childs efforts.
Derma touched Xenas arm and, searching her eyes, said with a smile, "You have a great heart, warrior. My granddaughter chose a good friend."
Xena stared oddly at the woman.
"Yes, child. Nala was my granddaughter. She is with me now. She is here with us all now. Can you not feel her?"
Xena sniffed the air and felt a slight chill through her body. "Nala!" she whispered.
Xena swallowed hard and looked at Derma. So much was gong on that she did not understand. Yet, she knew attempting to help the people of Goden was the most important thing.
"How much time?" the warrior asked trying to maintain a stoic composure.
The old woman shook her head. "None, child. I am sorry, but perhaps you can save those that the fates do not take."
Xena nodded to the old woman and waved to Tarren, "Come on its time to go," she said firmly.
The child stuffed the light stick in her tunic and left the other toys finding they were all too heavy to take with her on the road. However, she grabbed the pillow the old mystic had given her. "Thanks!" she said to the woman as she obediently stood beside Xena.
Derma eyed the amulet the child wore around her neck. "Young one, you wear the amulet of Nalas home land. You know it has great power. Use it wisely, child," she whispered.
Tarren smiled having remembered the same words that Nala had spoken when she gave it to her. The youngster caressed the amulet. "I will," she promised, heading for the door.
Xena raised an eyebrow wondering just what power the amulet contained and made a mental note to discuss the item with Tarren at a better time.
"Derma, thank you for your help. I wish I could ."The old woman shook her head. "Child, for many summers our fate has been sealed. When we are no longer needed, we will return to our home. But warrior, if you can save one innocent of Goden, then you will have saved them all. Do not worry about us. Guard that one," she said pointing to the youngster waiting by the door to leave. "She is a special one. She has many gifts, Princess. It must take all of your strength to hold her in place," the old woman said with a smile.
Xena glanced at her daughter fidgeting by the door anxious to leave the dark place. "All my strength and then some I do not always have," she said with a grin.
Derma nodded, "You are doing fine, Princess. Follow your heart. Let your love guide you, and you will never fail her."
The warrior let the words fall on her like a gentle breeze. She turned to thank the old woman but she was already gone. The light was again replaced with blackness.
Xena walked to the door and took Tarrens hand. "Come on, lets go find Gabrielle," she said with an odd grin looking back one last time before she left the mystics circle.
As they left the temple, Xena studied the large village before her and then looked at her daughter who was eagerly awaiting some excitement.
"What are you grinning about?" she said with a smile, rubbing the childs head.
"I was just wondering . Ya see, Nala said there is a cave here filled with nothing but crystals. She said it is up on top of the highest hill here. Can we go see it?" the little girl asked stepping in front of her mothers path.
Xena shook her head looking down at her little adventure seeker. "Im sorry but no, Tarren. We are here to help these people, not to explore. Besides, based on what Derma said, some sort of trouble may happen very soon, so I want you with me at all times, understand?" she said in a no nonsense tone.
The child shrugged and kicked the dirt in front of her, wishing she could go in search of treasures in the hills.
Xena was nervous about the unknown disaster predicted to come and really wanted Tarren and Gabrielle out of the village before nightfall. "Tarren, do you understand?" the warrior repeated in a stern voice.
The child said nothing, so Xena grabbed the girls ear for emphasis and asked, "Are we having a hearing problem, little one?"
"No, No, No! I heard you. I understand . I wont leave your sight. Ouch! Please let go, Momma!" she cried.
The warrior released her. "Good, because I dont have time to help you make use of that right now," Xena said pointing to the childs soft new source of comfort.
Tarren frowned as she remembered her sore bottom. "I dont need any help right now thanks!" the youngster murmured trailing after the grinning warrior.
Gabrielle entered the small merchants tent ready to do some pretty sharp haggling. They needed some bread and cheese and other supplies, but dinars were hard to come by so haggling was always in order. She carefully picked up the items on her list and took them to the counter, figuring no more than 20 dinars for everything. She grinned at the small, dark man behind the counter ready for the fight.
"How much?" she said with an attack plan in mind.
He smiled at her and then studied the items. "I would say 20 dinars, yes?" he asked with that still wide smile.
Gabrielle drew back a bit and handed him the money. "Ok, yeah that sounds right, I guess," she said lost in confusion at the fairness of the prices. The puzzled bard took her bundles and slowly left the merchants place shaking her head.
Walking onto the road, she was met by Xena and Tarren. "Boy, these people are acting strange. I just got all of this for 20 dinars without even a haggle, and everyone keeps smiling at me. Its giving me the chills. What do you say we get out of here? This place looks pretty safe to me," the bard said loading the packages onto Argos saddle and handing the reigns to Xena.
The warrior nodded as she scanned the streets for one person not wearing a sickening smile. "We are gonna leave. I want you and Tarren out of here right now. Well push on and set up camp. Afterward, Im coming back to talk to the elders of this friendly little village."
"What? Why?" the bard questioned.
Xena tugged at Argos reigns. "Ill explain as we go," she said with a scowl wanting her friend and child away from any and all danger.
"Hey, we could camp on top of that big hill over there," the child said hopefully pointing to the hill where the crystal cave was said to be.
The warrior glared at her, "Ya know I was wrong. I can always find time to help you make use of that pillow." Xena growled grabbing the childs arm and drawing her menacingly closer.
Tarren swallowed hard staring at the piece of large fabric in her arms. She quickly shoved it in her satchel, No...no thats Ok. You are VERY busy, and I was just kidding, Momma," she whispered nervously, hoping that parental title would earn her a pardon.
Xena nodded releasing her firm hold on the child. "Uh huh thats what I thought," the warrior said with a nod. She motioned the youngster to move ahead of her where Xena could keep her in sight yet out of ear shot while speaking privately to Gabrielle.
Chapter 9 A Debt to A Friend
As they walked, the warrior shared her experiences of the old mystics with the bard. "Look, I need you to look after Tarren. I want you two to set up camp and stay there tonight. Dont leave for anything," Xena stressed.
The bard looked at her with some concern. "Xena, whats going on? I mean what do you think is going to happen?" she asked.
Xena shook her head as she lead Argo down the trail out of Goden. "I dunno, but I dont want you two anywhere around it if something does happen. I need to try and get the elders of this town to listen to reason...to listen to the mystics and leave this place."
The bard nodded then, touching the warriors arm, said softly, "Look Xena, if what you are saying is true, there may not be anything you can do."
Xena sighed heavily, "I know, but I have to try, dont I?" she said staring at the young bard.
Gabrielle nodded, "As always, you do what you have to do, warrior. Dont worry, Ill look after Tarren until you get back, but remember our deal you better come back," she said shaking her finger at the warrior.
Xena smiled and, placing a gentle hand on her friends shoulder, said with a broad smile, "Dont worry, Ill be back." She let her eyes fall on the small figure skipping rocks on the trail ahead. "I have to come back," she murmured.
Gabrielle set up camp at a location Xena chose just 2 miles outside of Goden. The warrior wanted her companions far away but not so far that she could not get there quickly if she was needed.
As Gabrielle prepared the evening meal, Xena saddled Argo readying for her trip back to Goden.
Tarren slowly nudged her way up to the warrior and stared up at her as she tightened the cinch on the horses saddle.
"Whats wrong?" Xena asked staring down at the sad face of her child.
The youngster lowered her eyes and said softly, "I dont want you to go. I want you to stay with us."
Xena sighed and dropped to one knee. "Look, Tarren, I have to try to help these people. I may not be able to, but its something I must at least attempt to do. Can you understand that?" she asked rubbing her hand affectionately against the youngsters cheek.
The child shook her head and whispered emotionally, as she stared at her feet, "No, you help enough people. Let them help themselves. I dont want anything to happen to you."
Xena picked the child up in her arms and smiled, realizing that her life no longer belonged to her alone. "Tarren, I promise you that I will be back. I promise you that I will never leave you. Now have I ever lied to you?" the warrior said tickling the youngsters side.
The child giggled and lay her head down on the warriors shoulder, "No, I guess not," she whined.
Xena dropped the girl gently to the ground, "Well then, sweetheart, you have nothing to worry about, do you? I will be back as soon as I can. While Im gone, I want you to mind Gabrielle, got it?" the warrior scolded gently.
Tarren looked up at her mother. "Why cant I come with you?" she asked
Xena shook her head, "Because I have to take care of these people, and if I have to worry about you, that will make it harder. So you stay here, got it?" she said fondly patting the childs cheek.
Tarren nodded and watched her mother quickly mount Argo.
Gabrielle came to the childs side and, with her arm across Tarrens shoulders hugged her comfortingly as they watched the warrior gallop off.
Xena paced before the line of men who called themselves the village elders. She shook her head furiously at the stubbornness of the group. "Look, whether you believe the mystics or not, it cant hurt to vacate the village for a little while just to be sure," she yelled slamming her fist down on the table to emphasize her point.
A thin man donning robes of gold stood wearing the patented toothy smile of Goden. Xena thought how nice it would be to just wipe one or two of those big grins off their faces. "I am Trelas, leader of these fine people. We appreciate your concern but we are at peace with the god of Goden. We have nothing to fear here," he said waving his hand to emphasize the gold adornments in the room. "We prosper because we honor our own god. We do not need to fear his wrath," Trelas said in a soothing tone.
Xenas frustration was reaching its peak. There was no monster to slay or warlord to fight. If she was to save these people she had to do it with words, and that did not come easy. She wished that the bard were at her side speaking in her place.
"At least allow me to take the children to the safety of the forest for a few days," she said softly hoping she could appeal to a love for family.
Trelas looked at the fellow elders and shook his head. "Children belong in the arms of their parents, not in some strange wood. We will see to their safety, but we do thank you for your concern," Trelas said quietly once again smiling broader than the warrior could stand. She threw her arms up in frustration and left the Hall of the Goden Elders trying to think of a way to at least get some of these people to safety.
As the evening came and the dinner plates were put in a pile, Tarren stared at the fire thinking of her mother and the town of Goden. Gabrielle had been readying herself to take the dirty dishes down to the stream when she noticed the child was unusually quiet. Sitting beside her and wiping the girls hair from her face, the bard said, "Ya know, Xena always comes back, Tarren. Thats why shes Xena . Dont worry so much."
Tarren nodded, " I know I still wish we were with her."
Gabrielle sighed and said with a slight frown, "Me too!" Then, she jumped to her feet; "Look, I have to go wash these dishes. When I get back, I promise I will tell you a really great story. By the time I finish, Ill bet Xenas back in camp."
Tarren nodded and smiled at her friend. "Hey, Gabby, ya wanna go to the Crystal Cave first?" she said hoping the bard was not aware of Xenas ruling on the subject.
Gabrielles smile quickly faded, "Tarren, you know what Xena said about the cave OFF LIMITS You better keep your little butt right here in this camp if you dont want Xena using it for target practice again!" she scolded.
Tarren threw her arms up in surrender, "OK, it was just a thought," she murmured slipping onto her bedroll.
Gabrielle eyed her for a moment and grinned, "Look, I promise that AFTER all of this stuff is said and done, I will try to talk Xena into stopping by this cave, OK?" the bard said softly.
The child quickly smiled and nodded.
Gabrielle picked up the dirty dishes. "OK then, Ill be back in a few minutes. YOU stay put! she ordered and headed for the stream.
Tarren watched as her friend dropped out of sight. Her thoughts were torn between the safety of her mother and a driving desire to visit the crystal cave Nala had spoken of so many times. Nala had said that every inch of the cave was made of the purest crystal and that one could actually feel the presence of those they loved inside. Tarren lay there thinking of the vision and suddenly got to her feet, grabbed her satchel, and with one last nervous look towards the bards direction, headed back to Goden, her mother, and the crystal cave.
Xena worked rapidly. Even if she couldnt convince these people to help themselves, perhaps she could save the children. At the very least, she had to try to do this for herself for them for Nala. She owed her old friend at least that much.
The warrior slipped into bedrooms and play areas, pulling the youngsters quietly into the woods. "We are playing a game," she whispered to each child. The winner gets a wonderful prize." The eager children seemed enthused by the idea of such a challenge.
She led them all to a meadow a mile outside the village, hoping it would be far enough to keep them safe. One small boy of about 12 summers tugged at the warriors leathers. She knelt beside him.
"What of the festival of Goden tomorrow? We must be there for the ritual, or the god of Goden. will be angry," he whispered.
Xena stared into the innocent eyes of this boy before her and was quickly reminded of her own child. "Whats your name, little one?" she asked with a smile. Xena noticed that the boy wore a large gold ring on his tiny finger that she could only guess had been a gift from a father or grandfather.
"Hetran" he said proudly.
Xena nodded, "Well, Hetran, I promise you that you will be back in time for the festival, if that is your gods wish," she said hoping that was not a promise shed break.
The boy smiled broadly at the warrior, and she had to appreciate his genuine friendliness. As she caressed his small face, she thought of the villagers. How arrogant these people had become to create a god so that they themselves could worship in the name of profit, and yet how loving the children seemed to be. Xena patted the boys shoulder in hopes that she was truly doing the right thing.
As the last child was brought into the meadow, Xena explained the game. "Ok, everyone, listen up. The object of this game is to hide out in the woods so no one can find you. Now your parents and even the elders are playing with us, so they will use all kinds of tricks to get you to come out. Dont let them fool you. The game is not over until I call you all out and declare a winner," she said waving her hand signaling them to hide. Quickly the children scattered into the surrounding woods.
The warrior sighed again hoping she was doing the right thing, knowing the anger and worry she would feel if someone took Tarren from her. As she looked towards the dark village, she could see the torches in the center of the town. The angry parents were looking for their children. Now was the time for Xena to face the mob.
Gabrielle returned to the campsite with a pile of clean dishes and a freshly scrubbed frying pan. She hummed a tune as she placed the items in her pack. "Tarren!" she called her eyes quickly scanning the camp. Not seeing the child, the bard stood with her hands on her hips and fear racing through her. "Tarren!" she yelled but there was no response.
Gabrielle kicked the dishes she had neatly piled and reached for her staff. "I cant believe she would go off after everything we said to her," she murmured heading down the same path back towards Goden cursing all the way.
As the young bard made her way down the dark trail, three men with torches stopped her. They were dressed in what appeared to be gold ceremonial robes, but unlike the others of Goden she had met, they were not smiling.
"Excuse me, I am looking for a little girl about 10," she said with a forced smile.
Each man looked at the other. "We seek our children as well," the smallest man said eyeing the young woman carefully.
Gabrielle stared oddly at the man, wondering what he meant. "Had all the children disappeared with Tarren," she wondered.
The small man held his torch closer to the bards face, and she jumped back from the scorch of the heat.
"She bears the golden hair. THAT is why our children have been taken. SHE is the one the elders spoke of. We have not satisfied the gods with our choice of sacrifice. SHE is to be the one given to the god of Goden," he yelled.
Gabrielle took a few quick steps back and readied her staff for action, but the three men moved on her all at once. Even the bards fast swings could not hold them back. Her staff fell quickly to the ground.
The men grabbed the young blonde and headed back toward Goden. "Ya know, my hair really isnt blonde its more of a red," she said squirming to free herself from the grip of her captors.
The men said nothing but merely pulled her back toward town.
"Look, I have to find this little girl. She could be in great danger," she yelled struggling to get free. Her concerns fell on deaf ears for these men would not listen to her pleas.
Xena stood at the edge of town as the angry mob approached headed by the elder Trelas. "Where are our children, warrior?" he asked pointing an angry finger at Xena.
The warrior unsheathed her sword as a warning not to approach. "I have taken them to safety, and, if all stays well, they will be returned to you unharmed," she said holding the sword out in front of her warning the crowd away.
Trelas stepped forward. "How dare you . The god of Goden will curse you for your actions here," he condemned.
The warrior nodded and purred, "Ill just take my chances with that. The important thing is that your children will be safe and that is all that matters to me now," she yelled whistling for Argo.
Just as she mounted the great horse, she looked down at the crowd of anxious men and woman who she guessed were the parents. "Im sorry, " she whispered, as she rode off into the darkness hoping to make it back to Tarren and Gabrielle quickly.
Chapter 10 The Day The Earth Moved
As she galloped down the path, Xena noted the flames of torches ahead of her. She could make out four figures, and one was a struggling young woman with blond hair. "Gabrielle?" she whispered as she drew her sword and headed for the group.
The warriors angry battle cry sung through the air as she dropped from her horse in front of the men. "Well well Gabrielle, what have I told you about entertaining young men. Its one at a time, young lady," she said waving her sword at the men.
The bard swallowed hard, "Gee, I must have forgotten. Guess I should say goodnight, then," the bard whispered trying to break her grip with the hands that held her.
Xena kicked the three men to the ground and leaped onto Argo, pulling the bard up behind her.
"Wait wait... we must give her to the God of Goden, or our children will never be returned," the small man in the golden robes yelled as the warrior and bard rode away.
"Wheres Tarren?" Xena asked as they galloped out of sight.
"I dunno. She took off when I was doing the dishes. She was worried about you . I think she went to find you or perhaps to go to that crystal cave."
The warriors face went white at the thought of either event. "Ill kill her!" the warrior growled.
The bard nodded "Wait in line warrior," she said with equal anger.
Xenas mind filled with terrible thoughts of her daughters fate. Had her need to help these strangers placed her child in danger? The warrior shook her head trying to stay focused. " Stupid little kid," she murmured biting her lip to hold back the well of emotions inside of her as she kicked Argo into a faster gallop.
Tarren had watched Xena ride off on Argo and happily noted that her mother was safe. She then felt that a little time for exploring was in order. She knew that Gabrielle would have already figured she was gone. So she already knew she was gonna get it from Xena. Therefore a trip to the crystal cave seemed a small thing to ask of the gods.
The youngster climbed to the top of the highest hill above Goden, just where Nala had told her the cave was. She searched through the brush until she found a small opening in the side of the hill and crawled inside. When she stood, the sight that was before her made her eyes grown wide with excitement. The cavern was filled with crystal all shapes and all colors, just as Nala had told her. Everywhere she looked was another glimmer of the naturally cut glass.
"By the gods!" she whispered as she ran her hands along the wall. Instantly, she pulled her hand back as she felt the pain and saw the blood. The beautiful crystal was quite sharp and had left a small cut on the palm of her hand. Tarren eyed the wound with a frown, "Now, Im really in trouble," she whined knowing the wound was going to stand as clear evidence that she should never had gone to the cave. The child sighed and pulled a small piece of linen from her bag and wrapped her palm tightly. Then, she eyed the caverns floor, which was covered with loose crystals.
The youngster smiled and quickly selected two of the nicest ones she could find. "Xena and Gabby will love these," she whispered. She threw the crystals into her satchel wishing she could go further into the cave to explore but knew she was already in a lot of trouble and didnt want to make it any worse, if that was even possible. She sighed and headed for the entrance.
Just as she approached the small exit, the ground beneath her began to shake and the crystal above began to fall. Tarren covered her head with her satchel trying to protect herself, but in moments she was knocked to the ground and pinned beneath a large, colorful piece of quartz. The child screamed as she felt the pain of its weight shoot through her body. She looked toward the opening through which she had entered the cavern, but it was now gone, sealed with dirt rocks and heavy crystal. The youngster coughed as she used all of her strength to try and break free, but the earth continued to shake and the crystal continued to fall until most of her now still little form was covered in rocks, her breath quickly taken by the blackness of the cavern.
Argo reared up nearly tossing the warrior and bard to the ground. Xena jumped off and dragged the bard with her. "Hit the dirt." she cried, and the two friends fell to the now shaking earth beneath them. Argo reared up again and then raced off down the path. Xena watched after the mare, knowing her instincts would lead her to safety.
Xena thought of Tarren and tried to stand, but the constant shiver of the world around her kept even the great Warrior Princess on her back. Then, as quickly as it started, it just stopped. The world was once again still.
Xena jumped to her feet and helped the young bard to stand. "Are you all right?" she asked concerned for her young friend.
The bard nodded and looked wearily at the warrior. "Xena what was that?"
The great warrior shook her head, " I dont know, Gabrielle. I would guess that it was the catastrophe the mystics spoke of."
Xena whistled hoping the faithful mare would return but there was no sight of her. She whistled again, and Argo quickly trotted back to her side.
The warrior looked her over quickly, making sure she was not injured and then hopped into the saddle with Gabrielle right behind. "Come on, we have to get to Goden and find Tarren," the nervous warrior cried.
Xena and Gabrielle rode through the village of what was once Goden. The finely chiseled buildings were now nothing more than rubble. The earth had swallowed the houses and altars at which these people had prayed to their god. Xena scanned the entire village and saw nothing, but destruction. There was not one living soul left on the streets.
"Tarren!" the warrior mother yelled, but there was no reply. Xena and the bard looked at each other as a small band of children came from the meadow their young faces in shock at the destruction. Xena looked to the heavens and then the faces of the youngsters. She had not been able to save the village, but at least the children had survived. In a glance, Xena assured herself they all appeared to be unharmed.
She motioned the bard down. "You stay with them and look for any survivors. Im gonna find my daughter," the warrior said with a careful whisper, fear rushing through her body at the thought of her little girl being anywhere around this dark destruction.
She looked to the high hill where the child had said the crystal cave was and kicked Argo in that direction.
Chapter 11 The Warriors Daughter
The youngsters eyes flickered open. She winced feeling the great weight on top of her. She could move only her arms. Everything else was firmly pinned beneath rock and crystal. She cried as she felt the pain in her leg and saw the blood oozing from small cuts all around her arms and felt warm trickles down her forehead. She knew she was hurt, but she also knew Xena would come.
She reached for her small satchel pulling it out of the debris and searched inside for the small light stick the old mystics had given her. It lit the cave up like a small fire, and the youngster was grateful for the comfort of the light, "Xena!" she whispered holding tightly to the little stick as a tear ran down her cheek.
The warrior followed Tarrens tracks until she had found the opening to the cavern. She noticed that the small entrance was sealed with rock and crystal. "Tarren " she groaned leaning against the rubble. The anxious warrior began throwing heavy stones and rocks to the side, not caring where they landed. "Dont worry, baby, Im coming. Your mom's coming," she yelled, tears running down her face.
As the hours passed, Tarren slipped in and out of darkness. She caressed the small blue amulet around her neck knowing that if she broke it, help would be hers, just as Nala had promised.
"No, Xena will come. She always comes for me," she cried to the echoing tavern that sent her words right back to her. She looked to her left and saw an image of the warrior and the bard digging through rocks. She shook her head not sure if it was real. "Momma! she yelled reaching for the ghostly image, but before she could touch it, it disappeared. The youngster felt the pain rush through her legs again and she screamed in agony, "Momma, I want my mother!" she yelled with all the force her weak and teary little body could handle.
Xena felt a rush of pain as the words echoed in the chambers of her mind forcing her to fall back.
"Momma, I want my mother!"
The warrior grabbed her heard with both hands and fell back a little.
"Tarren, Im coming, little one. Hold on!" she yelled as she used all her rage to pull at the rubble.
Gabrielle came running up behind her and without asking immediately understood what had happened. "Xena!" she whispered but the warrior did not hear her. She touched her friends arm, "Xena."
The great warrior turned on her, anguish contorting her face.
Gabrielle had only seen her friend show such fear once before. "We are gonna need more help," the bard carefully whispered.
The crazed warrior stared at her friend for a moment. "More...help?" she repeated as if coming back to her senses for a moment. "Fine, Gabrielle, you go find help in this den of Hades. I will not leave my daughter. I will not lose my daughter...the way I lost Solon," she screamed, tears racing down her face as she dug.
The bard looked down at the warriors hands and noticed the blood that now stained her palms from pulling at the sharpened crystal.
Gabrielle dropped beside her friend knowing what she was doing was dangerous even for her. She pulled at the warriors hands and screamed, "STOP!"
Xena eyed her young friend but said nothing.
"Let me bandage your hands. You must rest for a few minutes, or you will be no good to Tarren. Ill keep digging," she said through her tears as she tugged at her friends arm.
The great warriors rage subsided, and for a moment the bard thought she would listen, but with a quick scream the warrior pushed her friend to the side and began digging with a new found fervor and strength.
Gabrielle watched in horror as her best friend slipped out of her reach in a maddening effort to free her daughter from what promised to be many feet of sharp crystal and heavy boulder. The young bard could do nothing more than drop to her side and dig with the same fervor and pain.
"Thank you," the warrior whispered swallowing hard as she eyed her friends equal efforts.
"Hey, were family, right? What happens to one happens to all. Besides, that little brat means a lot to me too," she said with a tear.
Xena paused long enough to hug her friend and then began the digging anew.
Tarren felt a coldness pass through her body and then once again saw an image. This time she saw Nala standing in front of her, leaning on that old familiar stick. "Child, why do you not call upon the amulet to save you?" she asked.
The youngster reached out her hand, wanting to touch her old friend. "No Nala, Xena will come. Shes my mom, and she always comes for me. I wont break the crystal. My Momma will come," she cried as the image of the old mystic stood before her.
"Shh, shh. Sleep my little brave princess. You are right, your mother will come for you. Rest easy, little princess." With those soft words the image of Nala faded, and the child fell back into blackness.
Gabrielle and Xena dug for hours, seeing no end in sight to the solid path before them.
"Princess," a voice from behind called. Xena turned and saw the old mystic, Derma, standing before her.
The warrior quickly got to her feet. "Derma, Tarren is inside. How can I get her out?" she begged, hoping the old woman could help.
The mystic smiled and touched the warriors bloody hands. "The little one has the power to get herself out, warrior, but she refuses to break faith with you. She will not free herself because she knows that you will come for her," the old mystic whispered touching the warriors arm gently.
Xena looked at Gabrielle and then at Derma, puzzled by the words. "What do you mean she can get herself out?" the warrior asked trying to control her growing frustration.
The old mystic smiled slightly, "The amulet she wears. Nala gave her the amulet of Opus. It is a very powerful gift of my people. If she breaks the crystal and says the chant, then she can find freedom, but she will not."
The warriors eyes filled with pain. "She must. I cant get through the rock fast enough. She must break the crystal," Xena whispered.
The old mystic shook her head, "Do not allow anger to cloud you thoughts, Princess. The little one loves you too much, and she has faith in you. Nothing will break that faith." She said taking a step towards the cavern entrance.
Xena paced nervously trying to regain control of her mind. "Derma, I know you can read my thoughts. Can you send my thoughts to her?" the warrior asked calmly.
The mystic nodded and took the warriors arm.
Xena closed her eyes and sent her thoughts to Tarren, "Break the crystal, Tarren. Please!" she thought, hoping the youngster would hear her.
Inside the cave the child opened her eyes and again caressed the small blue stone and shook her head as the thoughts that filled her mind. "NO!" she screamed. "My mother will come for me!" she cried.
Derma released her hold on the warrior. "Her love and faith are too strong warrior. You must save your daughter, for she will not break faith with you and save herself."
Xena closed her eyes and swallowed hard.
Gabrielle jumped to her feet. "How? How can we save her? There must be another way...another entrance something?" the young bard said grabbing at the old mystics robe anxiously.
Derma touched the young womans cheek. "So much love for the little one. That is good," she said with a smile.
Derma then turned to the warrior and pointed a weak finger at her. "You are the Chosen One. You saved the innocent children of Goden, just as was foretold. By breaking the cycle of the evil, all is now, as it should have been. Do not fear my princess, we will not leave you alone with this pain. We will help you free the child," the mystic whispered.
The warrior smiled for the first time in what seemed like an eternity.
Darkness was falling and Xena was getting more worried about Tarren with every passing moment.
The old mystic took a step back, and with the wave of her hands the other mystics appeared.
Gabrielle watched in awe at the magic that was being performed right in front of her. "By the gods!" she whispered leaning on Xena.
The old mystic formed her sisters into a circle. "Warrior, my oldest sister has crossed over, so we are now only 11. We must be 12 to have the gift, so you must join us in the circle. You must complete us, so we can be one," she whispered, offering the warrior her withered hand.
Xena nodded and without hesitation joined the circle of what was now 12.
"Princess, clear your mind of your painful thoughts and use your heart to guide you. THAT is your greatest strength. Allow our thoughts to join with yours so that we may all become the one," Derma commanded.
Xena nodded at the old woman, closed her eyes and took a deep breath.
Derma nodded approvingly as she too shut her eyes and then yelled to the heavens.
Chapter 12 - The Magic of Love
"As it was in the beginning, so it is now. We the 12 are as one, and we join our hands to become the body, the soul, the heart of all that is or ever will be. WE call upon the power that links us as the one to enter us now to save this child," Derma chanted.
The bard watched as a circle of light slowly formed around the 12 woman. They were like links in a chain each melted into the other ones hands. Soon, it was hard for her to tell where Xena started and the old mystics stopped. The bright light grew into a great force and then with all the power of Zeuss thunder, the light shot out in a straight arrow and burst the rock at the entrance into a thousand pieces knocking Gabrielle to the ground.
When the bard stood, the mystics were all gone, and Xena lay still on the ground. As the dust settled Gabrielle rushed to her fallen friend. "Xena!" she cried shaking her friends still form.
The warrior opened her eyes, shook her head and rose quickly to her feet. She touched the hand of the bard. "Are you all right, Gabrielle?" she asked.
The bard nodded, always amazed at the strength her friend possessed.
The warrior rushed to the entrance and entered the cavern, followed by the bard
Within moments, Xena found the small form of her youngster buried beneath a pile of crystal and rock, "Tarren!" she whispered.
The childs eyes flew open and her tears turned into heavy sobs as she weakly reached out to touch her mother. "Momma, I knew youd come!" she cried.
"Tarren," the anxious warrior repeated, taking the youngster gently into arms cradling her head in her lap.
Xena kissed the childs bloody forehead and tried to soothe her daughters shivering body with her gentle touch. "Let me get you out," she whispered, and the great warrior started removing the heavy objects that pinned her.
Immediately, Gabrielle joined her, and together they removed the last piece of quartz from the childs leg. Tarren screamed in agony as they removed it, "AHHHHH!"
Xena quickly caressed her cheek. "Shh, shh, its Ok. Im here," she whispered, knowing her touch would ease the youngsters fear.
Xena looked at Tarrens wounded leg with concern. As they removed the final bit of debris from the childs body.
Gabrielle dropped beside the little girl. "Gods, are you all right, Brat? We were so worried about you," she cried hugging the youngster with all her strength.
Tears ran down the little ones cheeks as she looked at her friend, "Sorry I left ya, Gabby," she whimpered staring at the bard.
Gabrielle only wiped the tears from the little girls cheeks. "Shh, later!" she whispered and again she hugged her.
Xena noted the exchange with a soft smile. "Gabrielle, we are gonna need Argo. Can you get her?" she asked gently rubbing her hand along Tarrens arm.
The bard nodded and ran out of the cave.
Xena knelt beside her daughter and stared into the face of the one who had her heart.
"Why, Tarren? Why didnt you break the crystal?" she asked gently grabbing the childs face with her hands.
The youngster swallowed hard and tears ran down her face. "Cause I knew youd come. You always come. I knew youd be here," she said her eyes filled with love and faith in the woman who knelt before her.
The warrior wiped a tear from her own eye. "You did, huh?" she said with a simple grin.
The child only nodded, and the warrior kissed her forehead gently and with as soft a swipe as she could lifted the girl into her arms and carried her out of the cave.
Xena mounted Argo with Tarren still in her arms. She held her tightly not wanting to ever let her go again.
Gabrielle retrieved the girls satchel, and they headed for the nearest stream they could find atop the hill.
For the first time Xena and Gabrielle could see the amount of tiny cuts on the youngsters arms and legs. The gash on her head was small but not deep, and Xena was grateful that it would not need stitching. Tarrens leg was sprained, and her foot was probably fractured. "This will need a small splint," the warrior whispered, and the bard brought over two small but heavy sticks.
With the expertise of the greatest healer, Xena deadened the pain with a pinch and wrapped the ankle with bandage sandwiched tightly between the two sticks. Tarren winced in pain and tears fell quickly from her eyes. Xena noted all the small cuts again. Each would have to be cleaned, and that would be painful and take time.
"Gabrielle, take your clothes off," the warrior commanded.
The bard looked at her with confusion. "What?" she asked with a grin.
Xena shook her head as she removed her armor and leathers and then slowly removed Tarren's tattered tunic and boots. "We have to get her into the water, so we can clean all the cuts," the warrior chided.
Gabrielle stripped off her clothes, and together they floated the small child out into the water. Xena and Gabrielle slowly began washing each wound as the child bit her lip trying unsuccessfully not to cry. "No, enough! Dont do anymore," the youngster begged.
Xena closed her eyes and looked into the face of her daughter. "Tarren, sweetheart, I have to get all the small pieces of crystal out to clean the wounds. I know it hurts, and Im sorry. Ill be as careful as I can, but I have to do this," she whispered rubbing her hand on the childs cheek.
For the first time Tarren noted the bloody wounds on her mothers hands.
"What happened to your hands?" she cried.
Xena shook her head having forgotten about her own wounds. "Its nothing," she whispered softly. "Now, lay back and try to relax, OK?" she said soothingly as she continued the arduous task of removing 100 tiny shards from 100 tiny cuts.
When they were finally finished, Tarren had a large bandage on her head and a splint on her foot. Xena looked over the youngster and thanked the gods she had been so lucky to only have such minor injuries. Gabrielle pulled a fresh tunic and trousers from the satchel to cover the childs open wounds. As the youngster lay quietly by the water, Xena wiped the tears from her face, and cradled the girl in her arms lovingly, hoping her caress would ease the pain and fear she knew the youngster felt.
"I was real scared, but I knew youd come, Momma," she whispered as she sipped at a familiar mixture of healing herbs with a vile odor.
Xena tenderly kissed the childs forehead. "I know you were, little one. Im sorry I didnt get to you sooner. Im sorry I ever left you," she groaned fighting back her own tears.
The child yawned as she nuzzled into her mothers side, wanting to feel the comfort of her familiar leathers near her. "Not your fault, Momma I knew youd come for me," she said with one last yawn before heading off to the land of Morpheous.
Xena wiped her eyes and hummed a gentle tune as she rocked the child, and Tarren quickly fell asleep in her mothers arms.
The bard motioned for the warrior to join her by a large rock about 10 paces from the water's edge. "Lets see them! " Gabrielle said firmly.
The warrior sighed. "Its nothing Gabrielle. "Theyre fine," the warrior lied.
The bards face grew angrier. "Look, you are not indestructible. Let me see them now before I get rough with you," she chided, motioning for the warriors hands.
Xena smiled at her young friends concern and offered up her hands for inspection.
The bards jaw dropped at the sight. There were many small cuts in her hands, and two large gashes in one hand that needed stitching right away. "Xena!" she cried.
The warrior shook her head as the bard reached for the salve from the medical kit and slowly stitched the open wounds. The warrior closed her eyes not allowing a single groan to escape her. She did not want Tarren to know her pain.
When she was finished, the bard wrapped clean cloth around the wounds. "Now, dont you go pulling those off," she admonished, and the warrior bowed slightly and headed back to Tarren.
The childs eyes flickered open. "Momma!" she called still half asleep.
Xena dropped to her side "Im here. Im right here" she whispered soothingly bringing her body close to the childs so she could feel her warm touch. "Did you see Nala?" she whispered as her eyes opened and closed.
Xena looked at Gabrielle, and the bard shrugged.
"Nala said youd come, and I knew you would. After all, your not just my mom you are Xena, the Warrior Princess," she said with a broad smile as she headed back to sleep.
The warrior shook her head wondering just what had really happened in that cave. She eyed her daughter for a moment making sure that she was now deep in the place of dreams.
"Gabrielle what happened to the children of the village?" the warrior asked jumping to her feet as if only in that moment being brought back to the reality of the entire situation.
The bard knelt beside her and glanced lovingly down at the child. "I dont know. One minute they were there, and the next they were gone. I looked everywhere, but I couldnt find them."
Xenas face went blank and she whistled for her mare. She leaned down and kissed the cheek of her daughter, "You stay here with Tarren. Im gonna go find them. This is no place for a kid to be wandering alone," she said stiffly.
Xena looked down at her child, reluctant to leave her even for a few minutes. However, she knew that Gabrielle would care for her, so, with a final glance Xena kicked the side of the great war-horse and headed down the hill into the village.
Chapter 13 The Chosen One
As the warrior slowed the horse down to a walk, she surveyed the landscape with her eyes. It was different. Everything was different. There was no longer rubble where buildings had fallen. There was no evidence that the city had ever existed.
In the distance, she saw an old man farming a small piece of hard ground. She rode quickly toward him. When she was reached him, she slowly dropped off her horse.
"Sir," she said trying to get the old mans attention.
When he turned, he offered the warrior a gentle smile, "Yes, what can I do for you?" he said leaning heavily on his hoe.
Xena eyed him strangely. There was something familiar about him. "I was just wondering I was looking for the village of Goden and a large group of children," she said in a steady voice.
The man looked puzzled by the words and shrugged, "Goden! By the gods, theres a name I have not heard since I was just a small boy. There is no Goden anymore. Not since the earth opened up and swallowed it nearly 60 summers ago," he laughed.
Xena shook her head. "What?" she whispered, finding it hard to accept the words. She then noticed on his hand a large gold ring that she recognized immediately. It was the one she had seen on the little boy only that morning. "What is your name, sir?" she asked quietly.
He smiled again and went back to his work, "I am Hetran, and this village is called Xenithia. It honors the memory of the brave warrior that saved the children of our village those many years ago," he said with a smile.
The warrior took a few steps back not sure what to think or say. She nodded at the man mounted Argo, and headed towards the Temple of Mystics, but the building was gone. She stood in the place where the building had been and closed her eyes.
"Derma, you said someone was always here. Please, come to me," she whispered.
Soon, Derma appeared. "Yes, child, we still watch over this place until the last of our people has crossed home," she said quietly staring at the warrior.
Xena shook her head and pointed to the old man in the distance. "Please explain. What happened here?" the warrior asked.
The old mystic smiled, "Child you were the Chosen One. YOU broke the cycle of evil when you saved the children. I told you if you saved one innocent, then you saved them all. Those children grew into farmers and merchants and honored the gods and the land. They became what they were before and were always meant to be simple people.
Now all the souls of Goden rest well, and peace is once again restored to this place. The darkness is no more. Go now, Princess. Take your loved ones, leave this place, and do not look back. Your job here is done, and the little one is calling for you," she said pointing to the hill.
Xena nodded not fully understanding what had happened in this strange village. The warrior took the horses reigns and nodded at the old mystic, "Thank you for saving my daughter," she whispered.
Derma raised her hand and said, "Princess, it is you that saved her. It was your heart, your love that gave her strength and faith, and then your love that moved the mountain. You needed to learn that there was no true safe place for that child except within your heart. Her safest place is truly with you, no matter where you travel warrior. She needed to test her faith in her mother, to know that you would always be there for her. You were, Princess, and you always will be Keep her close and have faith!" she whispered before fading into the winds.
Xena smiled, "I will...believe me I will!" she said to the empty space before her as she mounted Argo and headed for the hill where Gabrielle and Tarren waited.
Xena carried Tarren in her arms as they made there way to the edge of the village that was once Goden. The warrior explained all the old mystic had said to her as they walked.
"So, are you saying that all this never really happened?" the bard asked with a puzzled look as she yanked gently at Argos reigns.
Xena looked at the small form cradled in her arms and shrugged, "Well, Id say it was real enough for me," she whispered.
Tarren smiled at her mother, "Well, I say none of it ever happen, and since it didnt happen, then nobody can be mad at me for going to the cave," she whispered, hopeful that her logic would be sound.
The warrior looked at the bard, and they both laughed. "OH yes, we can!" the two friends said in unison.
The child frowned, "You mean Im gonna get in trouble," she whimpered.
The warrior nodded without hesitation, "OH YES! BIG TIME, little one big time," she said kissing the youngsters forehead and smiling at her friend.
The child frowned at the thought of further consequences, but at the moment all she really cared about was that she was with her friends and safely in her mothers arms. "So what else is new?" she said with a grin wrapping her arms tighter around the warriors neck and digging her head into the familiar place she often slept.
The trio traveled through the day wanting to put as much distance as possible between them and the place once called Goden. Xena lay Tarren down by the stream to check her bandages while Gabrielle set up their camp many miles from Xenithia.
Xena examined the small wounds along the youngsters arms dabbing them gently with a cloth. The child glanced up at her, "Are you mad at me?" she asked hesitant of the warriors response.
Xena thought about it for a moment and smiled, "Now, why would I be mad at you?" she asked quietly continuing her task.
Tarren bit her lower lip and continued, "Well...for going to the cave when you told me not to I guess."
Xena picked her head up and considered the thought, "Hmm that could be a VERY good reason to be mad at you all right. Or maybe it could be everything that happened as a result of you going to the cave AFTER I told you not too," she said stiffly giving the child a quick flash of her blue eyes.
Tarren swallowed hard and tried to smile, "Yeah, that could be it too So are you ...mad at me?" she again asked slowly.
Xena examined the small cloth in her hands and then looked at her daughter. "Tarren, when I thought that I had lost you, every possible emotion ran through my mind and my body. I felt a rage and fear that I didnt know could exist even in me. And then when I saw you were alive and held you in my arms, all I felt was relief and love for the most precious thing in my life. SO, no, I am NOT angry with you. I should be, but Im just too happy to have you back," she said with a grin.
The child smiled at her mother sighing a breath of relief, "Whew! Good I thought you meant it when you said I was in trouble."
The warrior cocked her head and grinned at the youngster, "Oh, you ARE in trouble lots of trouble BUT Im not angry at you," she said with a smile.
Xena started to examine the small splint.
The child frowned, "But you cant punish me, Im wounded," the child whined folding her arms in a pout.
Xena rubbed the youngsters cheek gently, "Oh, I know, and Im gonna take care of you so you get well," she said softly.
Tarrens smile returned, but the warriors smile then faded. "So, Ill just wait until youre all better, and THEN, boy, are you gonna get it GOOD!" she warned slapping her hands together to make her point. "I am very patient that way, ya know," the warrior said with a slight grin.
Tarrens shoulders slumped "But Xena Momma you might be waiting for months," she said with a weak smile.
The warrior stood shaking her head, "Nah, youll be up and in more trouble in a week. You have my recuperative powers, dear," she said evenly.
The child sighed, "Great, Ill be able to stand just in time to not be able to sit!" she groaned.
Xena frowned a bit and rubbed the girls head gently. "Oh, dont take it so hard, little one. It will give you something to think about during this long recuperative period. Maybe when that fateful day comes, youll actually understand just WHY youre being punished, and just how much you are really loved," the warrior said staring down at her daughter.
The child frowned, and Xena shook her head and smiled. "Now, come on, my wounded little waif. It looks like Im your horse for at least a week, so lets get going.
The youngster looked up at her mothers face. It was filled with love and concern, and Tarren knew that nothing could deplete. "OK, horsy, if Im gonna have to ride you, then I want a soft saddle," she said with a grin reaching up to climb on her mothers back.
The warrior chuckled, "Yes, my princess. Ill see what I can do," she whispered as she headed back towards the camp.
Xena gently lowered the child to her bedroll, and Gabrielle handed them each a plate of food fresh from the fire. Tarren placed it to her side not really too hungry. "Im not very hungry, Gabby," she said trying to get comfortable.
Xena reached over and elevated the childs foot and placed her pillow behind her head and then handed her back her plate. "Eat!" she ordered dropping down beside the youngster to make sure she did.
Tarren picked at the food and then slowly began eating it.
Gabrielle looked at Xena, who only shook her head, "Tarren, you need your strength to get better, so you must eat," the bard ordered.
"I dont want to get better too fast," the child whispered staring at her mother and thinking of THAT fateful day Xena had mentioned.
Xena glared at her daughter letting her know that a week was not really that long a period of time, and it might be best if she behaved herself. The youngster quickly got the message and started devouring her food.
When she had finished enough to satisfy her companions, she eagerly reached for her satchel and looked deep inside for the treasures she had hidden there days before. She pulled out two pieces of beautifully carved crystal and handed one to each Xena and Gabrielle. "I wouldnt want you guys to think I wasnt thinking of ya while I was in the cave," she said with a sly grin.
Xena examined the crystal with a smile. It was cut perfectly to size. Each groove seemed to meet the other with meaning.
Gabriel held hers up to the light and noticed how the colors of the late sun shone through giving a rainbow effect to the small rock. The bard leaned over and kissed the youngsters cheek, "Thank you, Tarren, its beautiful."
Xena stared at the crystal for a long moment and then ran her hand gently along her daughters face. She had tears in her eyes, "Yeah its just beautiful . Thank you, little one Uhh I need to go for a walk," the warrior said quickly grabbing her saddlebag and heading out into the woods alone.
Chapter 13 Nalas Most precious Gift
The bard watched her friend depart with sadness.
"Whats wrong, Gabby? Didnt she like it?" the child asked with trepidation.
Gabrielle pulled a blanket over the youngster. "No, Tarren, she loved it. You know Xena. She doesnt like it when people see her get all mushy," she said looking towards the path her friend had taken.
The child nodded and lay back yawning, "Look, Im gonna go chat with the Princess. Will you be Ok?" she asked with a gentle smile.
Again the youngster yawned. "Yeah, Ill be fine," she said with a slight grin.
Gabrielle quickly headed after the warrior. She found her seated on a rock near the water staring at the crystal that was a gift from her daughter.
"Ya know, I find it amazing that this little kid can have such faith in me, Gabrielle," she said without turning her head.
The young bard just sat beside her silently. "Ya know, I almost lost her in there I almost didnt make it " she choked as tears fell freely down her cheeks.
The bard wrapped her arm around her large friend, bringing her close. "Shh, you did what you always do Xena. You did the impossible and brought out the most in all of us. Tarren is fine just let it go." And for the first time since the young bard had known the great warrior, she cried freely in her arms, shedding tears for the people she loved and the loss she almost faced.
The young bard held her best friend tenderly letting her know that nothing she ever faced would be something faced alone.
After a short while Gabrielle returned to the camp, leaving the warrior to sort through her own feelings, as she needed. For a while she just sat staring out at the waters. Xena then closed her eyes and pulled Nalas diary from her saddlebag and quickly flipped through the pages until she found the entry about Goden. Her eyes went wide as she noticed the once blank page below the entry was now filled with writing a new entry! The ink on the paper looked only days old. Xena examined it with great wonder as she read the words,
"My princess has accomplished all she was meant to do. I feel sadness for the pain she suffered, but it was something that had to be. I knew that she would rise above all to do what she must and be who she was meant to be. I see in her now a peace and a love that I have never seen before. The little one and she are now bound together forever. There is no place she can go where the child will not follow. The Princess just needs to know that this great love the child has for her is not merely a gift, but is a part of her path. She cannot stray from it, and the fates will not rob her of it. I hope she knows that Nala will be with her always."
Xena slowed as she spoke the last words and then stared up to the sky closing her eyes as she spoke, knowing the dead could hear her thoughts. "Thank you, Nala, for ALL of your gifts," she whispered, feeling the tears falling slowly down her cheeks once again.
That night Xena sat staring up at he stars, her eyes never closing. Tarren had crawled up beside her as soon as she lay down to sleep, and Xena was happy to hold her close. She wrapped her arm protectively around the youngster and drew her in next to her so as to let her know she was right beside her. Xena knew that the ordeal in the cavern had left the child more terrorized than she even realized, so she vowed not to let her out of her sight for quite some time.
Gabrielle poked at the fire and stared at the child. "Ya know, that little kid sure showed a lot of guts. I dont know how I would have handled being locked in that cave," she said in a soft whisper.
Xena stroked the childs back gently and felt her hold tighten at the thought. She nodded to the bard. "I was just thinking how she waited for me to come for her instead of breaking the crystal. Gabrielle what if I hadnt made it? What then?" she whispered staring into the soft green eyes of her best friend.
The bard placed a gentle hand on Xenas arm, "But you did make it, and youll always make it. Its part of who you are Xena. I should know. Youve always been there for me," she said with a soft smile.
The warriors face brightened, and she squeezed the bards hand. "And I always will be."
Gabrielle swallowed and again looked at the child, "Ya know, she has a lot of faith in you, Xena. As far as shes concerned, you can move Olympus off the mountain all by yourself. She really loves you. That is such a special gift you have. Dont ever let her forget how much she means to you too," she said wiping a tear from her eye.
The warrior pulled the bard in next to her and hugged her. "I wont hey, you two are my family. I dont want either one of you to forget how much you mean to me," she said squeezing the bards shoulder.
A tear ran down the young womans cheek. "I know, Xena," she said hugging her large friend.
"Are you two ever going to stop all this mushy stuff," a small voice whispered from a blanket beside the warrior.
Xena and Gabrielle stared at the now wide-awake child that was cradled in Xenas arms. The warrior frowned and the bard giggled. "Well, we did not mean to keep you awake your highness," the warrior said bowing her head slightly
The child shook the sleep from her eyes. "Well, now Im awake, so you have to play a game with me," she grinned.
The warrior sighed heavily, "No games tonight, little girl. You need your rest, so go back to sleep," she scolded gently.
Tarren shook her head. "Im awake now ...I cant sleep unless you sing me a song."
The bard smiled and crawled into the bedroll next to Tarren. "Yeah, sing a song, Xena," she said hoping for a soft melody.
Xena stared down at the two figures of the ones she loved most and shook her head. "Ok, I can tell when Im out numbered."
Tarren grinned wildly and repositioned herself, burrowing deeply in the warriors side.
Gabrielle merely lay there peacefully looking up at the stars.
Xena sang a song of friendship, trust and love, and watched closely as the young bard and her small daughter fell asleep.
In the morning Gabrielle packed up the camp under the direction of young Tarren, "Gabby get my satchel! Gabby get my boots!" the child ordered.
The bard waved a warning finger at the child, "Remember, Tarren that day will come when the splint comes off," she warned.
The youngster giggled happily as she watched her friend do her chores.
Xena was busy saddling Argo when the young bard approached. "So where are we off to now?" the young woman asked.
Xena smiled "Well, I believe you were very patient about waiting for a trip to Potedia to see your family, my bard, so that is where we are going."
The young woman bowed her head slightly; "My family is right here, Xena. Seeing Potedia can wait. Right now, I think its more important that we head for some place where we can ALL relax and heal. I think thats Amphipolis," Gabrielle said quietly.
The warrior stopped her movements when she heard the name of her village mentioned. She had been considering heading home. With everything that had happened in the last few months, Xena felt a real need to return home and seek out her own mother.
The bard had sensed that and was again sacrificing her own needs for that of her friend. "Hey, I dont want..."
The bard threw up a halting hand to silence the warrior. "Well then, its settled Amphipolis it is no arguments," she ordered.
Xena nodded, "Thank you." she said softly. and the bard merely winked and returned to her packing.
When they were ready to travel, Xena hoisted Tarren onto her back and headed out on the trail "Ya know, Momma, I could ride Argo. You dont have to carry me," she said with a grin.
The warrior shook her head, "No, little one, I want to carry you," she said with a smile.
The youngster grinned at the bard and shrugged, "Ok, then lets go, horsy," she said with a smile, patting her mothers head.
The warrior laughed tossing the youngster gently up in the air.
"So where are we going?" the child asked as she got comfortable for her morning ride.
"Amphipolis the place where I grew up. Your gonna get to meet my mother, your grandmother," she said with a wicked smile.
The bard giggled, "Oh, that should be a real interesting combination," the young woman said trying to imagine Tarren and Cyrene in the same room.
Tarren thought for a moment trying to decide if this was a good thing or not. "Well good, Id really like to hear about ALL the stuff YOU did when you were a kid," the youngster finally said with a mischievous smile.
The warrior stopped and stared at the bard, who only shrugged her shoulders. "Gabrielle, are you so sure this is really such a good idea?"
The young bard smiled, "Shes your daughter, warrior," the bard said with a giggle.
Xena looked back at the face of her child and smiled as the grinning youngster. "Yup! She sure is SHE sure is, my bard," Xena said with a pride as the trio headed for Amphipolis, home of the Warrior Princess.
I hope you enjoyed reading this story as much as I did writing it. It is the third in this ongoing series with young Tarren. Please look for the next story of this happy trio called, Home Sweet Home. Feedback is always appreciated, so please feel free to write with your thoughts and ideas. By Fantimbard@aol.com
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