On The Road Again
The characters of Xena, Gabrielle, and Argo are all the property of MCA Universal. NO copyright infringement is intended. The story is written only for fun, and no profit is being made. The story itself as well as the character of Tarren are my creation and may NOT be duplicated or archived without my permission. This story is a continuation of my first story called
The characters of Xena, Gabrielle, and Argo are all the property of MCA Universal. NO copyright infringement is intended. The story is written only for fun, and no profit is being made. The story itself as well as the character of Tarren are my creation and may NOT be duplicated or archived without my permission. This story is a continuation of my first story calledSHE HAS MY EYES, and you really must read that one 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.
Chapter 1 Like Mother, like Daughter
Tarren hugged tightly to the tree as she cautiously sat on the branches high above hidden only by the thick of the leaves and her own desire not to be seen. The enemy below was close, too close, and her discovery would mean certain torture. The youngster pulled her legs in close to her chest trying, as Xena had taught her, to become one with the natural world around her. The sounds of the approaching footsteps sent a quick chill up the childs spine and she glanced down to the path below. Surely she had not been found. Moving ever so slightly forward she leaned over and caught sight of the approaching enemy poking through the brush in search of her. She could only smile at her own cleverness at choosing such a successful place to hide.
"TARREN! You better come out. I have a lot to do and I am not spending my morning playing hide and seek just because you dont want to take a bath," the bard yelled into the echo of the woods. There was no response.
Gabrielle angrily kicked the dirt in front of her knowing the child was somewhere in the trees above. She and Xena took turns seeing to the childs bathing, and every time it was the bards turn Tarren disappeared.
The bard looked up into the high branches, covering her eyes with her hand to block out the suns glare. "Tarren! If you are up in one of those high trees you better come down RIGHT NOW! If Xena finds you up there, youre really gonna get it. You know she told you NOT to climb them." There was no response, and the bards shoulders slumped in defeat. "Why do you only do this when its my turn to bathe you?" she whined.
The child smiled at the silly question. The answer was so obvious. She wasnt gonna run from Xena. She was young maybe, but no fool. Besides when she did try to hide from the warrior she was always found quickly, and the bath always then turned out to be more long and painful then usual. The youngster shuddered at the thought.
Tarren glanced down at the figure of her friend, noting the scowl that ran across the usually smiling bards face. The child did not want to get in trouble with Xena, but nor did she want to take a bath. "If I come down do I still have to take a bath?" the girl yelled hoping to make a deal.
Gabrielle looked above hearing the voice echoing through the treetops, but not able to see where the sound had come from. "By the gods that child must be sitting on the clouds themselves." the bard thought scanning the branches above her.
Tarren sat patiently waiting for a reply, taking a bite out of an apple hanging on a branch just above her. She smiled wickedly at the still searching bard.
There was the sound of another apple being pulled from a branch far above followed by a loud crunch. "Yes, you do have to take a bath!" said a low, husky voice from behind. Tarren turned her head just a bit to see the Warrior Princess standing on the branch beside her. "Xena!" she said with a weak smile. "How does she always know where I am?" the child thought.
The warrior glared at the youngster allowing a bit of her frustration to touch her words. "I told you to stay OUT of these high trees didnt I?" the large figure said sternly bending her head waiting for a response.
The girl lowered her head a bit not wanting to meet the warriors harsh gaze. "Yes!" was her simple and sullen reply.
Xena shook her head and tossed her apple to the ground below. "Well, this is your very last warning Tarren. If I so much as SEE YOU looking up at one of these big trees, youll be eating these apples standing up for a month. THAT is a promise from ME to you! Understand?" she finished in a parental tone. The girl nodded, knowing from experience that the warrior wasnt kidding.
Xena was torn between her anger at the childs disobedience and a certain pride at the agility, which allowed her to make it into such difficult positions with such ease. The great warrior eyed the girl for a moment, and then, looking down at her still searching friend below, suppressed a grin.
"Come on!" she said taking the child by the arm with a gentle tug. Tarren quickly placed a few apples inside her tunic, "Im sorry," she said with a weak smile. Xena just shook he head and sighed. "Well take the fast way down." With that the warrior grabbed Tarren by the waist and jumped from the branch somersaulting in midair before landing on the ground next to Gabrielle.
Xena held the struggling girl by the scruff of the neck, "Is this what you are looking for, my friend?" the warrior said, offering her find to the angry bard.
Gabrielle looked at Xena and then Tarren, "Dont tell me she was all the way up top again," the bard scolded.
The warrior folded her arms and nodded. Now, the child had two sets of eyes glaring down at her. "But she wont be going up there again. Right?" the warrior, asked with a smug look.
The girl paused and Xena landed a fast swat across her bottom to remind her of an earlier promise. "Ouch! Right! Right!" the child said, rubbing the sting of Xenas hand away.
Gabrielle threw her arms up in the air in frustration, "Tarren, I do not know what your problem is about taking a bath, but Ive HAD it. I have supper to cook, and I need to finish my scroll if I plan to enter it in the Great Bards Competition in Athens this week. I do NOT have time to play with you right now," she growled at the youngster.
The bard shook her head and with the flick of her wrist tossed Xena the linen towel and satchel containing all their bathing instruments. "YOU do it. I give up!" the bard mumbled and stomped off back towards camp.
Xena fumbled with the satchel and then scowled at the youngster. "You better not say one word! Not one single word," the warrior muttered pointing towards the bathing area below. Tarren lowered her eyes and headed down the path with an angry warrior a quick pace behind her.
When they reached the waters edge there was a small hot spring that Gabrielle had considered the ideal bathing area. Tarren looked into the water sighing heavily, not wanting to be immersed in the vile clean water.
"Do you get undressed, or do I undress YOU?" Xena purred, standing with her arms folded in controlled anger. Tarren swallowed hard and quickly removed her boots and clothing and unwillingly got in the water. "Hmm, too bad. I was sort of hoping youd give me a hard time just this once," the warrior chided as she lowered herself to the waters edge and began the task of scrubbing the girls arms with the bar of soap and a linen cloth.
"OUCH!" the youngster cried, jumping away from Xenas reach. "Youre taking my skin off," she yelled, rubbing a tender but clean spot on her arm.
"Stk. Stk. sorry!" the warrior purred motioning the girl to return to her place.
"Xena, are you gonna be mad at me all through this? Because, if you are, I think Id rather just stay dirty for a while, " Tarren whispered with an impish grin.
The warrior noted the familiar expression was the same that her brother Lyceus had used whenever she was angry with him. The thought of that memory softened her temper a bit. "I just want you to behave yourself, and you are going to apologize to Gabrielle!" the warrior warned.
The girl quickly nodded, "OK!"
Xena gave her a cold stare, and the child rethought her words. "I mean, yes maam!" she said with a mock salute.
The warrior had to suppress a grin. Maam was not a term she was used to, but, every once in a while she liked to hear Tarren use it just so the child was reminded of their positions in life as well as the importance of manners. Growing up in such solitude and without proper guidance, the girl was desperately lacking in good manners. The warrior nodded approvingly. "Good! Now get over here, and lets get you cleaned up," she said with a slight smile.
Tarren cautiously moved back to her spot near the warrior who once again began washing the child. This time, much to her childs relief, Xena gently caressed her arms with the cloth, leaving the skin where it belonged.
"Xena, why is Gabby in such a bad mood?" the girl asked as the large muscular hands scrubbed soap into her hair.
The warrior thought about the question and smiled at the childs idea of a bad mood. The little bard definitely did have a temper, and it had been flaring up a bit lately, more than usual.
"Well, I think she is just a bit anxious to enter this contest in Athens. Last year, she missed it because we were caught in a battle. She had been really excited about going, but we just didnt make it there in time. So, this year, she really wants to get there quickly. Its important to her to be recognized for something that shes passionate about."
The girl pondered the warriors words as Xena finished soaping her hair.
"Hold you breathe," the warrior said with a smile as she pushed the girls head under the water to rinse the soap out.
The child came up shaking her head and sputtering water. "I hate that!" she said pouting.
Xena merely shrugged, offering a sympathetic smile.
"Am I done?" Tarren asked watching the warrior put the soap back in its pouch.
"Yeah, I guess youre as clean as you are ever gonna get!" she teased pulling the dripping girl from the water.
"Then can we go for a swim or go fishing?" she begged with an eager smile, her voice filled with anticipation at the warriors response.
Xena glanced down and studied the grinning young face whose pleading eyes wanted a taste of adventure. She had to sympathize as she often felt the same urge to break free of constraints herself. "After the way you behaved this morning? Do you think I should take you swimming or fishing with me?" she asked in a slightly scolding tone.
Tarren settled back in the water shaking her head, sulking at the warriors words.
Xena bit her lower lip and then shook her own head. "I am such a softy. I dont know what is happening to me. Come on, dry yourself off, and well go catch breakfast."
In a flash the child was again out of the water, dry, and dressed.
"You should move that fast when its time to get IN to the bath, little girl," the warrior chided. Tarren tried to hide her grin, but Xena saw it. "Uh huh...Come on, lets go before I decide Im making a mistake." Soon the two were off for a morning of fishing and swimming full of freedom and laughter.
Hours later, the pair returned to camp laughing, and Xena holding a string of fish in her hand.
The bard glanced up from her writing. "Huh! I see you even took her fishing. Dont be too hard on the kid," Gabrielle said with a slight glare and an angry tone.
The warriors smile faded at the harshness of her friend. It was very unlike her to push for Tarren to ever be punished. If anything she was always the childs best defender.
"Gabrielle, Tarren and I had a very long talk, and I promise you things will be different. "Right, Tarren?" the warrior said elbowing the girl in the direction of the bard.
The child shook her head in confusion and then jumped a bit as Xena grabbed her by the back of the neck. That tight grasp shook her memories free. "Yeah right MUCH different!"
The bard shook her head. "Of course they will," she said in disbelief and returned her attention to her scrolls.
Xena gave the child a message with her eyes. Tarren moved closer to Gabrielle, sitting right next to her on the fallen log the bard had been using as a chair. "Youre not still mad at me, Gabby are ya?"
The bard looked into the face of the child whose eyes were now wide, and her lower lip curled in sadness. Gabrielle dropped her quill. "You dont really think that is gonna work on me do you? I taught YOU that expression to get around Xena." The bard stopped but not before catching an angry glare from the warrior. Gabrielle shook it off. "I mean A pouting face is not gonna get you anything, Tarren."
The child sat up, disappointed by the outcome of her efforts. She sighed, placing her hand under her chin. "OK, Gabby, if you dont want to be my friend anymore, I understand." the child said, kicking at the dirt.
Xena raised her eyebrows in disbelief at the girls obvious dramatics, but the bard swallowed hard and turned to the child. "Hey, just because Im mad at you doesnt mean we are not friends. You should know that!" she said with a stern shake of her finger.
The little girl turned to face the bard "HOW should I know that?" she whined, lowering her lip and widening her eyes even further than Gabrielle had thought possible.
It was that look that made the bards wall of anger crumble. "Come here, ya little brat!" she said reaching out her hands. "You know I love ya!"
The child quickly embraced her friend who squeezed her with all her might. "Im sorry Gabrielle," the child whispered.
The bard just cupped the youngsters face in her hands. "No big deal. Im used to being abused by much bigger than you," she said with a grin, eyeing the warriors grim face.
Tarren reached inside her tunic and pulled out an apple. She offered it to the bard, "Whats this?" she asked with a smile.
"A peace offering!" the child chirped.
Gabrielle looked at the warrior who hid a slight smile. "Gee, I wonder where you got the idea of FOOD for a peace offering," the bard laughed, hugging the youngster. She bit into the apple, and her eyes lit up in delight as the juices slid down her chin.
"Tarren, this is delicious. Are there any more we can take on the road with us?" she asked hopefully.
The girl nodded. "Yes but " The warrior stopped her with a quick glare of her blue blazon eyes. "But those are in a tree WAY too high for you to climb, Right, Tarren!" Xena said, slowly raising her eyes to meet those of the childs.
The girl reluctantly nodded. "Yeah, but there is a smaller tree down by the water, Xena. I can get those easily!"
The warrior knew she was right because she had seen the tree earlier in the day. She thought, for a moment and then nodded. "OK, go, but you stay out of the high trees, got it?" she said in a stern voice. The child nodded and quickly scurried down the path.
Xena then quietly slid over to Gabrielle and placed an arm around her shoulder, squeezing really hard. "Now my little friend, what is this LOOK you have been teaching Tarren?" she asked with a smile. The bard choked on her apple trying to wriggle free. Xena noted the sour expression on her friends face and released her. This was obviously NOT a time for play. The warrior sat down on an adjacent log and pulled her sword out of its sheath ready to run the stone along its edges.
"Dont even think about it!" the bard yelled. Xena placed the sword beside her and stood hovering above the young bard, "Thats it. Ive had enough! Gabrielle, you have been biting my head off for the last week. You even have Tarren afraid to go near you. We dont do anything right anymore. Now what is your problem?" she yelled, her voice full of frustration.
The bard dropped her quill and stood to face her friend. "Look, I have had to put up with enough of your bad moods to last a life time. I am trying very hard to get something acceptable written before we reach Athens. THAT is important to ME. I know YOU think its silly, warrior, but this competition means a lot to me," the bard finished angrily, dropping to her seat once again.
The warrior folded her muscular arms and studied her friend. She had never seen her so upset over something like this before. The warrior was angry at her friends accusations and sympathetic to her pain as well. She knelt beside her, contemplating her words.
"Gabrielle, I have NEVER once thought your stories were silly. I think you are a wonderful bard. You know that. I told you that we will make Athens in plenty of time for the contest," she said evenly.
The warrior was angry at her friends accusations and sympathetic of her pain as well. The bard covered her face with her hands, "Xena, Im sorry. I dont mean to be so snippy, but I need to know that people other than my friends and family appreciate my work. All I am asking for is a little peace and quiet for a few days," she said wringing her hands in frustration.
Xena sighed heavily. "Look if you want quiet then quiet is what you will have my friend," the warrior said gently as she returned to her place. She sheathed her sword and pulled out her saddlebags. She had been meaning to put a new strap on the front and now seemed like an ideal time for such quiet work.
The bard eyed her friend sadly. She had not meant to chase her away or to hurt her feelings. Xena was only trying to help, and she had pushed her away. Gabrielle searched for something to mend the rift, but for once the bard was short on the right words.
Tarren ran through the woods happy to be free of the constraints of rules and baths and any other thing that hindered her spirit from roaming free. The child headed toward the small apple tree down by the water where the promised apples hung.
When she passed the tall trees that Xena had found her in earlier, she stopped. "Hmm, seems a shame to make such a long walk all the way down to the water when I can make a quick climb right here and get what we need. What Xena doesnt know wont hurt ME," she whispered to herself with a giggle as she jumped to the lowest branch. Quickly she removed her tunic and tossed it to the ground. She then swung from branch to branch until she had reached the near top of the tree, where the largest nest of apples was hidden. Carefully she picked them one by one and tossed them to the ground below. She counted them as she picked. "6,7,8, 9 that should be enough to satisfy even Gabrielle," she said with a snicker. Tarren grabbed onto the nearest branch and began her descent with all the skill of a small warrior princess.
When she was half way down she reached for a branch that was too weak to hold even her slight form. It snapped and down she went, hitting the ground below with a loud thud.
The child shook her head and tried to rise, but there was a shooting bolt of pain in her right arm and she fell back to the ground. Glancing quickly over at her arm she noted a large gash. The child winced and cried as she felt all the air leave her lungs. She was tempted to call for Xena but then she remembered her warning about the tall trees and decided against it. The youngster looked at the gash on her arm. The blood was steadily flowing from it, and her shoulder ached at just the slightest movement.
Fear raced through the mind of the youngster as she again tried to stand up. She had to get cleaned up before Xena and Gabrielle came looking for her. Tarren picked up her tunic. The wounded child headed for the stream, where she carefully washed the bloody wound as best she could and tore off a piece of her undergarment to use as a bandage. She winced as she saw the blood soak quickly through the linen.
"I cant let them see this. Xena will kill me," she wailed, holding her shoulder. Tears poured from her eyes. Tarren painfully put her tunic on once again. With a splash of water, she wiped the dirt and tears from her eyes and hands. She stood, steadied herself a bit, and slowly headed back to where she had fallen.
Every movement of her body sent searing pain through the youngsters body as she picked up as many as the apples as she could with her good arm. She was no longer able to move her right arm from its position at all.
"I will not keep Gabrielle from that contest. I dont want her hating me," she cried to whatever gods guided wayward children.
Placing the apples inside her tunic she took a quick accounting of herself. Her face was clean, as were her hands. The sleeve of her tunic covered her bloody wound. She knew that she could not hide this from Xena very long and her demise was inevitable, but at least she could hold out until they reached Athens.
The child took a deep breathe and headed back to the camp, trying to place a smile on her face, but the bounce in her step was gone, and the innocence in her eyes was lost.
Tarren walked into camp and noted happily that the warrior and the bard were both deeply involved in their work. They were not even speaking to one another. Gabrielle was writing in her scroll, and Xena was sewing a piece of leather onto her saddlebags.
Noticing the youngsters approach, Xena gazed up and offered the child a friendly smile. "The great hunter returns. Did ya get the apples?"
Tarren grinned. As if showing the warrior the ease with which they were obtained, she reached in with her left hand, and one by one tossed the apples into the basket at the bards feet and then bowed.
The warrior nodded approvingly. "Very good," she said not taking her eyes off the small form in front of her. "What took ya so long?" she asked, still studying the girls stiff stance suspiciously.
The child knew that a barrage of questions would be a problem. She needed to sidetrack the suspicious warrior. Mustering as much attitude as she could and dropping the smile from her face, she replied in a cocky tone, "I sat under the tree for a while. Do I need permission for that too, warrior?" The child knew how Xena hated the use of that title.
"Excuse me? What is your problem?" the warrior moaned, startled by the girls smug response. Tarren quickly sat beside the fire, careful not to move her arm. If the warriors glance caught pain on her face, Tarren knew all would be lost.
The bard jumped up, waving her hands in the air. "Now, now, I think we are all just hungry. Its been a long day, so lets just have some dinner and relax. Im even putting my scrolls away for the night," the bard said, trying to ease the growing tension with a bit of diplomacy.
Xena sighed heavily and dismissed the childs attitude returning her concentration to her work.
Gabrielle handed Tarren a plate of food, which the child looked at with both hunger and confusion. If she didnt eat with her right hand, Xena would know something was wrong. She needed to pass on dinner quickly. This was not going to be easy.
"Fish again. Im sick of fish," she said, dropping the plate on the ground at the bards feet. That was that.
Xena dropped her saddlebags and jumping to her feet. Standing over the impudent child, she said, "I dont know what has gotten into you, but I wont have it! Now, you either apologize to Gabrielle for that remark, or you can just got to bed NOW without supper!" Her eyes never wavered from the little girls face.
The child gave her answer by scooting on the ground to her bedroll and quickly burying herself in the blankets.
Xena watched in disbelief, as did the bard. "Fine, suit your self," the warrior said in an angry whisper as she returned to her saddlebags.
Gabrielle stared at Xena, who just raised her hands in the air, offering no answer to the confused bard.
Underneath the blankets, Tarren shed a tear for both the pain she felt and the hurt she knew she had caused.
Chapter 2 Faith and Forgiveness
As the sun broke over the horizon, Tarren glanced over and saw the still sleeping forms of Xena and Gabrielle by her side. She had not slept much through the night. She knew that her bandage was soaked with blood, and she wanted to clean it before anyone else was awake. Slowly, she tiptoed out of camp and headed for the stream.
The warrior opened one eye but did not move from her place.
The child knew that the swelling on her arm and the size and the depth of the gash were bad signs. She shredded more of her undergarment to use as a bandage. Carefully, she wrapped the bandage around her wound once again and replaced her tunic. She tossed the blood soaked cloth into the water and watched it float way. She then sat there wishing she had never climbed that tree and wanting to just tell Xena that she was hurt. She wanted comfort. She wanted to cry. She wanted help, none was to be had at that moment. She would gladly accept her punishment from the warrior if it meant the awful pain and fear she felt would go away.
But what of Gabrielles contest? Tarren knew that her presence among the woman slowed them down and made them change their routes to slower but safer ones. She did not want to be the cause of ruining something that was obviously so important to the bard by slowing them down even more. Fighting back tears, the child sat by the water and held her shoulder.
"So do you want to tell me what last night was all about?" a husky voice from behind asked.
Tarren turned slowly and stared at the large, muscular figure of the Warrior Princess. She lowered her eyes and shook her head.
Xena crouched down beside her. "OK, suit yourself, but I dont want to see any more of it today. Do you understand me?" she said in a no nonsense tone.
The child looked into the warriors eyes and almost spoke, but held back her words and again just nodded.
Xena could see the pain in the childs eyes in that flash. "Tarren, if something is wrong, you have to tell me. I cant help you if you dont tell me whats bothering you," the warrior said softly, touching the childs head.
Tarren quickly got to her feet afraid the warrior would accidentally touch her arm. "Nothings wrong, Xena. Im fine. I just want to be left alone OK?" she said, sprinting towards the camp.
The warrior stood and looked after the running child with a puzzled gaze, "No its not OK!" she whispered to the wind that flew through her hair as she slowly headed back to camp. She could sense there was something wrong, but she wasnt sure what it was yet.
Tarren slowed to a walk as she entered the camp and was greeted by the smiling bard. She handed her an apple and grinned. "You must be hungry after missing dinner," the bard said with a smile.
The child took the food, grateful not to have to again explain a lack of interest in eating from a plate.
The bard smiled as she watched the child devour the food.
"Gabrielle, how far is it to Athens?" Tarren asked tossing the skeletal remains of the apple to the ground.
The bard looked at her, confused by the childs obvious urgency. "Well, I guess its about two or three days from here: Why?" she asked folding her arms in confusion.
The girl stammered a bit, walking away from her friend. "No reason; Just curious how much longer wed be on this road, thats all. I wouldnt want you to be late for the contest," the child said with a forced grin.
The bard nodded, "Oh No, thats not gonna happen this time. We will make it in plenty of time. I have Xenas word on that!" she said with conviction. Gabrielle started packing her things away and cleaning up the camp sight.
Xena quickly walked into view but merely passed by the pair without so much as a glance at Tarren or Gabrielle. She threw her saddlebags over Argos back and tugged at her reigns gently. "Come on, you two. Lets get going," she said, studying Tarren.
The child heaved her satchel onto her good shoulder and headed out onto the road. The youngster trying to keep a good distance ahead of her companions, so as not to be forced into conversation. She could not risk showing the great pain that she was feeling or the dizziness that was sweeping through her body.
"Xena whats wrong with her? I mean I know she can be a bit hard to handle at times, but this doesnt seem like her at all. Shes sullen and distant." The concern in the bard's face was obvious.
They had been walking for less than half the morning with Tarren staying at least 10 paces ahead of them at all times. Any time the warrior or the bard spoke to her, she just waved to them with a hand, never even turning around.
The warrior studied the childs movements carefully. She noticed the youngster barely moved her arms that her pace was not consistent yet she took faster steps any time Xena or Gabrielle tried to approach. "I dont know whats wrong but I am more than a little tired of playing guessing games with this kid. Tarren, stop!" she yelled tossing the bard Argos reins.
Xena took a few giant strides until she was staring down at the child. "OK, Tarren, enough is enough. First, you were a brat at dinner last night, and now you are treating us like we have the plague. We are not moving from this spot until you tell me what is wrong?" The warrior folded her arms stubbornly and waited for a reply.
The small face of the little girl turned slightly, and Xena could see the dry tears on her cheeks and the great pain in her eyes. Her normally soft face was red and flushed.
Xena fell to one knee and faced the child, dropping her voice to its softest tone, "What is it, Tarren? Tell me whats wrong," she said gently grabbing the childs arms to draw her closer.
The girl screamed in pain at the touch and fell backward, caught only by the warriors grip.
"Youre hurt!" the warrior yelled, staring into the eyes of her daughter.
Gabrielle tied Argo to a branch and raced to the side of the warrior. "What is it?" she asked, staring at the young girl.
Xena looked at the bard and then Tarren who now had fresh tears falling down her cheeks.
The bard reached out to touch her face "Whats wrong honey?" she asked as the child winced at the thought of a touch.
Xena stood and with a quick swipe lifted the girl into her arms avoiding the obviously ailing part of Tarrens body. "Gabrielle, get Argo and meet me down the path. There is a small clearing next to a stream where we will make camp."
"NO!" the little girl cried. She tried to free herself from Xenas arms but was unable to muster any great effort to do so. "We wont make Athens in time if we dont keep going," The youngster yelled.
The warrior looked at Gabrielle whose shoulders slumped at the importance the child had placed on their destination. She felt pangs of guilt rushing through her body for having made the contest seem so important.
Xena tightened her hold on Tarren and sprinted down the path.
"Well, little one, that may or may not be so, but right now you are getting a full examination by me whether you like it or not," the warrior said sternly.
When they reached the clearing, Xena placed the child gently down on some high grass. "Now, are you going to tell me exactly where the pain is, or do I have to find it myself," the warrior said prepared for either direction.
The childs sobs quieted a bit as she looked into the blue gaze of her friend and guardian. "Im sorry, Xena. I I...fell out of the tree and "
The warriors eyes flew wide open, and she silenced the girl. There was not merely anger in her eyes but great fear. "Which tree, Tarren? How far did you fall?" she asked trying to steady her voice, knowing that a fall from a very high tree could mean internal bleeding.
The little girl wiped the tears from her face. "The one you said not to climb. I guess I fell from a bit less than half way down," she cried lowering her eyes.
Xena tried to regain her composure a bit. She had to work fast. "Where are you hurt?" the warrior asked, running her hands up and down the childs legs and abdomen looking for any sign of damage.
"My arm and shoulder. Xena, I cant move my shoulder," the child whispered through a sob.
The warrior caressed Tarrens cheek and slowly removed her tunic to see the damage.
Gabrielle had just arrived, and Xena asked for the medical pouch. She took one look at the girls shoulder and knew it was dislocated. The great warrior cringed at the thought of the pain the child must have been experiencing. She quickly removed the bloody bandage and saw the deep gash still oozing blood.
"Damn, this will have to be sewn." Xena looked down at the frightened face of her daughter as she tried to control her own anger and fear. "Why? Why didnt you tell me you were hurt? Why didnt you let me help you?" she scolded, angered by the childs reckless act and foolish behavior as well as her own failure to recognize the injury sooner.
"I didnt want you to get mad at me for climbing the tree, and I didnt want Gabrielle to miss her contest because of me."
The bard fell to the ground beside the child. "Hey, stop right there! If you dont know that you are more important to me than any contest, then someone has definitely not been paying attention," she scolded.
Xena smiled at the bard grateful that she cared so much for the child as to put her own needs and desires away.
"Gabby, you said you wouldnt miss it for anything!" the girl whispered.
The bard shook her head, angry with herself for making such a big deal over the contest, "Tarren that does NOT include you. There are other contests, but there is only one you." She gently scolded, wiping the sweat from the childs forehead. The youngster shook her head in disbelief at the bards words.
Xena worked fast, gently cleaning the wound. She eyed the child as the bard started a fire. "Tarren, I wont lie to you. This is going to hurt. I can deaden the pain a bit with a nerve pinch, but youll still feel it some," she said in an even but tender tone.
The little girl nodded, knowing that Xena was worried. "Xena, are you mad at me?" she asked through her tears staring up at the leather clad form of her friend.
The warrior tried to smile. "What do you think?" she quickly replied.
Tarren nodded, "I think youre mad at me." the little girl whispered never taking her eyes off the great warrior.
Xena nodded in agreement, "I think youre right, but thats something we WILL discuss when you are feeling a little better. Right now all I care about is that you are well, ya got it?" she said wiping the childs cheek gently dry with her hand.
Tarren sniffled and nodded, knowing the warrior was fighting back her own tears as she looked at the open wound she was now ready to sew.
Gabrielle brought over a heated needle and thread.
"Gabrielle, hold her head," Xena ordered.
The bard dropped to her knees and took the girls head gently in her hands.
Xena offered the girl a stick to bite on before giving a swift pinch to a nerve to dull the pain. Then, she quickly blocked out the sounds of the sobbing child and the image of the bards worried face and sewed nine stitches neatly into the wound.
Gabrielle wiped the tears from Tarrens face and the sweat from her own brow as Xena removed the stick from the girls mouth.
"Done!" she said looking into the face of her child and caressing her cheek, knowing from experience the excruciating pain she was feeling. The great warrior kissed her gently on the forehead, and with a quick movement of her fingers removed the pinch that had dulled the youngsters pain. Tears flowed steadily out of the corners of Tarrens eyes, but Xena could say nothing more than "Its OK. Im right here with you."
Tarren nodded trying to hide the pain that she knew hurt the warrior to see. "Its OK, Xena. Im all right," she said her voice shaking with each word.
The warrior smiled a bit, "I know you are, little one...I know."
Xena rose from her spot and began mixing a poultice to place over the wound.
Gabrielle caught the eye of her friend, who motioned for her to join her by the fire. "How bad is it?" the bard asked with concern.
Xena continued mashing the herbs into a paste and shook her head. "Well, that wound is infected. She has a slight fever. If she had come to me when it happened..." the warriors words trailed off. "Gabrielle its going to be a very long night." She said evenly. "I have to set that shoulder NOW!" Xena said, swallowing hard at the thought of her next task.
The bard winced at the thought of the pain the child felt and would feel, and she could see the agony in the great warriors face as well. The bard placed a loving hand on her friends shoulder, and the warrior nodded in gratitude.
"Mix the white powder into a tea, and bring it over. We have to get that fever down and control that infection," she whispered.
The bard nodded and went to her task. "Are you sure you want to give her this?" the young woman asked knowing its effects could be strong.
The warrior nodded. "We dont have much choice Gabrielle," she said quickly.
Gabrielle quickly continued her task, finding it hard to find the right words to speak in the midst of all the suffering she knew both of her friends were feeling.
Xena knelt next to the child who was struggling to sit up. She placed a gentle but firm hand on her pushing her back down, "Stay put!" she said in a menacingly no nonsense tone. She then placed the paste over the wound and wrapped it carefully in linen bandage.
Gabrielle brought the tea over and handed the mug to Xena. "Tarren, you have to drink this all down," Xena said placing the small mug near the childs lips and holding her head up.
The smell of the vile mixture made the girl turn away. "No way! That stuff smells bad! Im not drinking it," she said pulling away.
Xena had no time to coddle her. "Look, you have to drink it! It will make you feel better," she said trying not to allow anger into her voice.
"NO!" the child said, as she pushed the mug away with her free hand.
Xenas patience was gone. "LOOK, you are going to either drink this on your own, or I am going to sit on you and pour it down your throat. One way or the other it IS going in. Understand?" the warrior, yelled.
Gabrielle quickly moved to the childs side and gently caressed her arm.
"Tarren, Xena just wants you to take this medicine so youll feel better. I know it smells bad, but I promise it will help you feel much better if you drink it. Please!" the bard, said with a gentle smile.
The girl was taken back by her friends pleading tone and slowly submitted to the mugs presence, drinking the contents without further protest.
Xena sighed and nodded at Gabrielle. "You still have that touch my friend," she whispered.
The bard nodded and kissed Tarrens cheek. "Thank you!"
Xena placed the mug to one side of her. "Im sorry, Tarren. Im only doing what I have to do to help you get better. I dont want to yell at you, but you have to do as I say. We cant play games now, OK?" she said gently wiping the hair from the youngsters face.
The child nodded. "Im sorry to be so much trouble, Xena. I know you sort of got stuck with me when Nala asked you to take me," the girl said with a quick yawn.
Xenas face went blank as she grabbed the childs tunic. "Tarren, I did not take you because I had to. I took you with me because I wanted to. I want you with me. I REALLY want you here with me! Do you understand that?"
The child held the warriors gaze for a moment and smiled. "Ya do?"
Xena nodded and caressed the youngsters warm cheek. "Of course I do. How could you think anything different?"
The child shrugged and then yawned again. The herbs were taking effect and this conversation would have to wait with others on the warriors agenda.
"Hey we both want you here. Right Xena?" the bard added placing a gentle hand on her friend.
"Right!" she said without hesitation.
Tarren smiled at the two woman seated next to her and then yawned again.
Xena took a deep breath and closed her eyes. "Tarren, I have to set your shoulder. Its OK if you want to yell out!" she said gently watching the little girls eyes blink in understanding.
The bard held tightly to the childs head once again.
Xena took Tarrens hand in her own, placing her foot cautiously under the little girls arm. She squeezed the childs hand lightly and smiled, allowing her blue eyes to lock with those of her daughters, and then with a yank pulled the shoulder back into place.
The child groaned in agony but never yelled out. Tarren never let her blue gaze break with that of her guardian. As the warrior lowered the girls arm gently to the ground, the childs eyes closed in blackness.
"Shes unconscious," the warrior said, wiping a tear from her face and eyeing the tears on the bards cheeks. "Come on, lets get a sling on that shoulder," the warrior said wrapping linen around the Tarrens arm to keep it from moving. The child only grimaced a bit but did not wake. For that both the warrior and bard were grateful. Gabrielle got cold cloths soaked in water from the stream and placed them on the Tarrens shoulder to bring down the swelling. Then the two friends who had traveled together for so long, watched and waited as the child slept.
Xena lay next to her daughter, wiping beads of sweat away with a damp cloth. Gabrielle sat beside her holding Tarrens hand so she knew that she was not alone, even for a second.
"Xena?" The warrior looked up at her friend. "Huh?"
"Are you OK?"
The warrior nodded. "Well, I dont know what bothers me more, the fact that she climbed those damned trees after I told her so many times not too, or the fact that she didnt come to me when she was hurt."
The bard nodded. "I was thinking sort of the same thing. How could she think my contest was something MORE important than her?" Are we doing something wrong?"
The warrior stood and stretched out her muscles a bit "No, Gabrielle, she is!" the warrior said thinking of the days events.
As the morning came, the eyes of the sleepy child opened. She saw the face of the warrior and bard looking down at her. "Good morning, sleepy head," Gabrielle said as Xena felt Tarrens cool forehead and sighed with relief at the absence of the fever.
Next, the warrior examined the wound and replaced the bandage. The child grimaced at the pain in her shoulder but was happy to find that now she could move it a little.
"It will be a few days before you can use that arm, so you better get used to being waited on for a while," the warrior said with a gentle smile.
Gabrielle offered the child some food that she happily devoured from the plate. Xena was relieved to see she was hungry. It was a good sign. The danger had passed. The girl started to rise, but once again Xena stopped her. "NO! Not you cant get up just yet, Tarren. You need your rest. We will stay here for a few days."
The child lowered her head in submission, but when Gabrielle went down to the stream to fill the water bags the child spoke. "Xena, I want Gabrielle to get to Athens. Please if we leave now we can still make it," the youngster pleaded.
The warrior looked at the child sympathetically. "Tarren, you are in no condition to travel right now," she said stiffly.
"Xena, I can ride on Argo. I dont want Gabby to miss this contest because of me. Shell hate me, Xena," she cried hoping to change the warriors mind.
Xena folded her arms and sighed. She knew that Gabrielle would never hate the child, but it was more important that Tarren realize that. "NO, Tarren, you have to rest, and that is the last I want to hear about it," The warrior said sternly.
The girls eyes filled with tears as she turned her face away from the warrior.
Xena knelt beside her and whispered, "Tarren, no one is gonna hate you for getting hurt. Gabrielle loves you."
The little girl said nothing. She just lay there staring up at the sky.
The warrior gently pulled the blankets up to cover the small form. "You stay put, got it?" she warned.
The girl blinked in understanding.
Xena walked towards the water where Gabrielle was filling the last of the skins and stared sadly down at her young friend. "Gabrielle, I want you to go on to Athens without us," the warrior whispered.
The bard turned quickly. "What? No!" Xena, its just a contest. I want to stay here. Tarren needs "
The warrior raised her hand to silence her friend. "Tarren needs to know its not her fault that you missed the contest. I felt guilty for months myself last year. Do you want her to feel that way too?"
The bard shook her head "This is ridiculous. There will be other contests. THIS is important not the contest."
Xena placed a hand on her friends shoulder. "Gabrielle, that kid wants to leave right now just so you can make it to Athens. I know you want to stay with her, but she needs you to go to Athens more."
The bard wiped a tear from her face and looked at her friend "OK Xena, if thats what you think is best."
The warrior embraced the bard gently. "Yeah, its best but you better win," the warrior warned.
The bard nodded "Ill do my best, my warrior," she said with a sniffle and headed back to camp.
The bard knelt down beside Tarren, "Well, since you are in such great hands here, Ive decided to go on to Athens without you two."
The girls eyes opened wide, both happy and sad to see her friend go. "You and Xena will just have to cook for yourselves for a few days," Gabrielle said with a slight smile rubbing the childs cheek.
Tarren smiled a bit, "Dont worry, I have plenty of apples."
The bard laughed and gently kissed the girls forehead before grabbing her staff and satchel and heading for the road.
Xena followed behind her a bit. "This is a safe road, Gabrielle. YOU stay on it straight into Athens. We will meet you there in 5 days."
The bard hugged the great warrior, "Yes, Mother. Now you two take care of each other," she said with the shake of her finger.
The warrior bowed her head slightly to her friend. "Well be fine, my Amazon Queen."
Gabrielle smiled at the use of the title and started on her way. Xena watched her young friend trot unhappily down the road into Athens.
Xena sat beside Tarren and once again added a cool cloth to the shoulder. "So how are ya feeling?" she asked in a soft whisper.
The child bit her lip. "IT hurts, Xena," she said without hesitation.
The warrior nodded and reached for another mug of tea. " I know it does," she said softly.
"It doesnt hurt enough to want to drink more of that!" the youngster cried pointing to the mug. The warrior gave her a warning glance, and the child quickly opened her mouth to accept the awful medicine.
"Good girl!" the warrior whispered as she lay down next to her child.
"Xena?" the child called.
"Huh?" the warrior responded.
The warrior said nothing, but just draped a protective arm over the youngsters chest and waited for her to once again enter the land of Morpheus.
Chapter 3 Consequences
As the days passed, the girls strength returned and she was able to walk around camp easily. She no longer had need of the sling Xena had made for her arm.
It was then that they resumed their journey towards Athens. They were camped a days ride from the city in a small clearing by a river basin.
While starting a fire, Xena eyed the restless child. With her arm completely healed, the youngster was anxious for adventure. The warrior smiled a bit as the child did back flips and practiced routines with her chucks. She was full of energy and, as always, looking for trouble. The warrior sighed. It was time to deal with things.
"Tarren come over here," she said in a stern voice.
This was something that Xena was not looking forward to, but felt a responsibility to go through with. She had no anger. She had only love and concern for her childs safety. Being on the road gain, meant the rules had to be obeyed.
The child turned and, noting the warriors sour expression knew that her time of consequence had come.
The warrior mother motioned for the girl to sit beside her. Xena took a deep breath. "We need to clear the air about a few things that have happened lately. First of all, I want you to know that youre here with ME now, because that is where I want you to be, NOT because Nala made me take you. Your home is with me now, Tarren. It is something I want. Do you understand?" she said tenderly.
The child nodded and lowered her head, remembering the words she had not meant to speak days before.
"However, you do seem to have a real problem doing what I tell you to do, and that, little one, IS a problem we must unfortunately deal with."
The warrior stood and wrung her hands together while she paced. "I made you a promise about what would happen if you climbed those high trees again, and I need to keep that promise now," she said with a slight touch of remorse in her voice.
The girl stood and tried to make a sprint for the trees, hoping that a delay would defuse the warriors decision.
Xena caught her by the scruff of the neck and firmly placed her before her. "Now, trying to run away will only make it worse, Tarren," she said holding the child in place. "Come on," she said, pulling the small figure to a fallen log and dropping herself down. The warrior pulled the child over her knee. The youngster cried in protest and begged the warrior not to spank her.
Xena took a deep breath and shook her head, "Sorry, little one, but you had your chances. I am gonna leave my hand print on your bottom tonight, so you will never forget how your disobedience could have cost you your life. Your safety may not seem very precious to you, but it is very precious to me," she scolded. Then, her large hand fell swiftly and firmly.
Tarren cried as her mothers hand fell into a steady pattern of brisk slaps. Each time, the youngster gritted her teeth as the hand fell harder and faster. Once when she thought the spanking was over, Xena merely repositioned her and began anew, leaving the child sobbing under the unrelenting hand of the very determined warrior mother.
Xena cringed at the painful lesson she knew she had to teach her child about consequences. Yet, when she thought of what had happened to Tarren and what might have happened to her daughter, it only reaffirmed her need to continue. "It will be a month before this one even thinks of sitting, let alone climbing, those trees. She will never forget this. She will NOT make the same mistake again," she thought as she continued the punishment. When her hand had fallen in one final finishing WHACK, she gently lifted the youngster off her lap. Xena knew that the punishment had been harsh, but she needed to make sure Tarren understood that the road was not a place for playing games or taking unnecessary chances. If this child was to remain with her then disobedience was not an option.
There was fear and shame but no anger in the childs eyes as the youngster gently rubbed her tender bottom.
Xena met the blue gaze of the little girl without moving. "NOW, I will do this every day and every night until you get it through that thick skull of yours that YOU DO WHAT I SAY or you pay the price," she said, lightly tapping the girls bottom with the palm of her hand to emphasize the point.
The child winced in pain, and the warrior nodded with satisfaction, walking towards the fire and throwing a few sticks on.
"Good, Now, maybe we can now go an entire week without having this same conversation. And another thing, IF you are hurt YOU tell me that you are hurt, so I can help you, Tarren. No punishment I could ever give you should be worth risking your life over. I care about you, and I only want you to be safe. Have ya got that?" she finished with an angry command, trying not to show her own tears.
Tarren nodded and then slowly slid past the warrior and headed down to the stream to be alone with her tears. The warrior did not follow.
Night came soon afterward. When Xena decided it was time for the child to return, she easily followed her tracks down to the waters edge Shed found her blankly staring out at the water, just as she had done back at Rasa.
"Come on, its time for bed," she said with a stern but gentle tone.
The girl shook her head.
Standing beside her, the warrior noticed that the youngsters face showed the path of fresh tears. Although she knew Tarren had been crying throughout the day, Xena felt only a little remorse. She could not get the image of the greater pain she had seen in her childs eyes after having fallen from the tree. Xenas heart only raced when she remembered how the youngster had tried to cover up her injuries rather than admit her mistake. That memory brought a rush of fear and pain through Xenas mind that little could soothe.
The warrior mother placed her hands on her hips in determination. "Tarren, I said its time for bed NOW!"
The girl looked up, her eyes full of tears, and shook her head. "NO! I dont want to go with you. I want to stay here."
Xena could not help but wince at the girls uncontrollable sobs. She knew the child was tired and upset and in pain, so she lifted the youngster into her arms and headed back for camp.
Tarren struggled in protest, but Xena merely pinned her against her chest and headed for the camp.
When they arrived, she gently placed the sobbing girl on her bedroll and removed her boots. She then tossed a blanket over her and slowly walked away. Xena studied the child who lay on her stomach still crying into her blankets. She wished Gabrielle were here to offer the little one some comfort since the Xena was obviously the last person she wanted around.
Xena placed her bedroll on the opposite side of the fire, deciding that a little distance was best. She tried to sleep but Tarrens constant tears kept her from finding peace. After listening to the heart-piercing sobs for what seemed like hours, the warrior mother growled slightly to herself and jumped up from her blankets. She dropped them next to Tarren and positioned herself closely to the youngster.
With a gentle yank the great warrior brought the child next to her. The girl struggled to free herself. "Stop it," Xena whispered as she held the child in a gentle embrace. Soon the girls struggling ceased, and Xena wrapped her arms around the weepy figure. The child nuzzled in close to the Xenas familiar form, burying herself in the comfort of her guardians arms.
"What am I gonna do with you?" she whispered, kissing the childs forehead and stroking her back to comfort her. Soon, the crying stopped, and the youngster was asleep. Xena lay there singing a lullaby, hoping it would help her daughter find more pleasant dreams.
When the child awoke the next morning, Xena was no where in sight. Fear shot through her mind, afraid the warrior had tired of her and moved on. Seeing Argo still tethered to nearby tree, she relaxed a bit.
Moments later, the warrior sprinted up the path with a rabbit in her hands. "Good morning," she said slowly looking over the girl.
The child nodded and murmured, "Good Morning I thought you ...left,"
Xena dropped the food at the fire to cook and stared, confused, at the child. "Why would you think that?" she asked, raising an eyebrow.
The child shrugged and returned to her blankets trying to hide her tears.
Xena lowered her self beside the girl and folded her long legs in front of her. "Tarren, I told you that I would never leave you, and I meant it. You are stuck with me, kid. That is a fact although, right now, I am not too sure that is something that makes you very happy," she said gently, shaking the girls arm but eliciting no response.
With an unhappy sigh, Xena returned to her cooking duties knowing that the child was still sulking about the spanking she had given Tarren the night before. "So, how do we start this day, Tarren? With a smile or with more tears? I leave that up to you," the warrior said quietly without moving from her cooking task.
The child stood and rubbed her now throbbing backside and considered the words. She did not speak and only stared at her companion.
Xena shook her head in frustration. "OK, so its the silent treatment. Have it your way. You will find that I am better at that game than you are, and its still a long way to Athens."
The warrior cooked the meal and then offered a plate to the child, who leaned up a tree as she ate. Xena had to hide a smile knowing that pose was the result of her handiwork.
"Well, I dont want to go all the way to Athens without talking to ya," the girl whispered with a sulk as she picked at the food.
Xena nodded. "Well neither do I. It would make for a very lonely trip," she agreed leaning up against the tree next to Tarren to enjoy her meal.
"Besides I would really miss hearing your voice." Xena said with a smile.
The girl opened her eyes wide as she could and looked up at her mother.
"Save the doe eyes, kid. Im onto it already." she said with a grin.
But Tarrens eyes did not waver. Her expression was pure and truthful.
Xena glanced at her and sighed, placing her plate on the ground at her feet and leaning on one arm to face the child. "Tarren, I certainly do NOT enjoy punishing you. Believe it or not it causes me a lot of pain too."
The small figure looked into the eyes of her warrior friend and biting her lip whimpered, "Well I dont enjoy it either, but you sure ARE good at it," she said with a sniffle, rubbing her sore bottom.
Xena nodded and then placed a tender arm around her youngster. "Well, if I didnt do a good job, you might not think that I am serious about what I am saying, and I think we both know JUST how serious I really am, huh?"
The child nodded. "Oh yeah! Youre serious!" she said frowning at the thought.
Xena grinned, placing a loving hand on the girls head. "Well good, Im glad you understand me. What do you say we try to behave ourselves for a while then? I think we would both be MUCH happier."
The girl swallowed and looked to her friend "I always TRY," she said with a slight grin.
The warrior shook her head and tasseled the childs hair. "Ya do, huh?" The girl nodded "So you had no idea that you werent supposed to be in that tree, and you really did not think Id want to know that you were hurt," the warrior said, her voice low and serious.
The child looked away, " I just didnt think ."
Xena finished the sentence, "You just didnt think youd get caught, so that made it all right?" As she said it, the warrior remembered her own childhood misdeeds.
"I guess," the child said wondering how the warrior always knew her thoughts.
"Well, ya got hurt, Tarren, and ya got caught, and you paid a very heavy price for that. Do you want to pay it again?" she asked quietly.
The child shook her head fighting back tears at the mere thought of a repeat performance.
"Well I dont want to see you pay it again either, so BEHAVE YOURSELF and LISTEN to what I SAY," Xena said, carefully singling out the meaning of each word.
Tarren tossed her empty plate to the ground and looked to her feet. She was just beginning to realize how much trouble she had really caused. Not only had she broken her promise to Xena. She had caused Gabrielle to have to go on alone to Athens, and throughout everything Xena had stayed with her and cared for her as she had always promised. She now KNEW that Xena kept her promises ALL of them. Tarren looked up at her friend with a slight smile. "I messed up, huh?"
"YUP!" Xena said with a nod and a grin. "But youre a kid, so you are allowed to mess up once in a while. Its just my job to make sure you dont make a habit of it," the warrior said with a slight smile. She then pulled the child closer to her.
Tarren giggled and gave the warrior a friendly poke in the ribs, "OH NO, I cant see you ever letting that happen."
Xena shook her head: "NOPE!"
The youngster shuffled her feet and then stared up at the warrior contritely. "Im sorry Xena."
The warrior nodded approvingly at the childs repentance. "Well, thats a good start, but dont ever do anything like that again!" she warned reaching playfully for the child. Xena held her daughter for a moment and then kissed the girls cheek gently.
"I wont climb the high trees, and I promise Ill tell you if Im hurt," the child said slowly staring at the warrior for approval.
Xena nodded, "Good then lets just consider this a lesson learned the hard way and put it behind us." She said dropping the youngster gently to the ground.
"Now, come on, lets get moving. Gabrielle is waiting for us. We are gonna have to walk fast, unless YOU want to ride Argo," she said with an evil grin. The girls face went white at the thought and the warrior motioned her forward with a smile." I was just kidding. Lets go."
The girl sighed with relief and then picked up her satchel and bedroll and took her place next to Xena.
The warrior placed a gentle arm around her child as they started down the path into Athens.
The travel was long and hard, but Xena was proud of the way Tarren kept up. She enjoyed these peaceful moments with the girl. It gave her an opportunity to spend time alone with her, to talk with her, and to get to know her daughter better.
"Xena what are we gonna do in Athens?" the girl asked kicking up the rocks in front of her as she walked.
The warrior tapped Argos reins against her chest in thought. "Well, we could do lots of things. First, we are going to see how Gabrielle is doing in the bard contest. After that, we could go to the festival. I know Gabrielle is gonna want to go to at least a few plays." The warrior sighed heavily at the thought of sitting through her friends favorite form of entertainment.
"Whats a play?" the child asked noting the warriors displeasure at the words.
Xena shrugged. "Its where a bunch of people get dressed up and pretend they are something they are not for two long hours. They sort of tell a story, but its not usually very good. But dont you dare tell Gabrielle I said that," the warrior warned stopping and pointing a warning finger at the girl.
"I wouldnt do that Xena," the youngster moaned hurt that her friend did not trust her.
Xena smiled and rubbed the girls head. "I know you wouldnt. Im sorry."
The child shrugged it off the apology. "What about the athletic competitions you told me about. Can we go to those?" Tarrens eyes lit up at the thought.
Xena herself had wanted to attend those. Gabrielle had always despised the athletic events, but sat through them just as she did the plays. The warrior was pleased that Tarren shared her interest.
"Sure. As a matter of fact, that is something just you and I could do together."
The little girls grin widened. "Just the two of us. Promise?" she said with a smile.
"I promise!" the warrior nodded.
The child looked at the tall woman beside her with wonder. Tarren truly loved Gabrielle, but she relished any time she could spend alone with the warrior. Getting to know Xena wasnt nearly as easy as the bard. Never before had anyone shown her such attention and care as these two woman did. Xena had stayed with her even when she was hurt. Even when she punished her somehow Tarren could feel her friends pain at performing the task. The youngster knew Xena really cared about her. She was like a friend and a guardian all rolled up into one person. She played with her and cared for her and never let her feel anything could ever harm her. Nala was too old to play with her, so Tarren had spent most of her time playing alone. With Xena and Gabrielle she felt as though she had a real family and real friends. Xena stared down into the face of the child wondering what had her so deep in thought.
"What?" the warrior asked.
The youngster shook her head. "Nothing...I was just thinking about Nala and about you."
Xena stopped and knelt to face the girl. Her smile faded, and she touched Tarrens face in understanding. "Hey, if you ever want to talk about Nala or anything else, I want you to promise that you will come to me, OK?"
The girl nodded. "I promise, but you have to promise the same?" the child said with a smile.
The warrior considered the words and grinned. "OK, youve got a deal." She offered the girl her hand, and they shook on it, sealing their promise as friends do.
Just as they approached the final hill above Athens, Xenas head snapped around, and she quickly grabbed her sword. "Tarren, get into the trees!" she ordered.
The child knew the warning meant trouble, so with a quick vault she landed in the branches just above Xena.
Noting the girl had made it to safety, Xena readied her sword for what she had smelled was coming.
Sure enough, seven men dressed in warrior garb fell from the bushes ahead. They wore the symbol of a raven with a dagger through it on their helmets.
"Traiger," the child whispered from the trees.
Xena too recognized the symbol and waved her sword in warning. "So boys, is there something I can do for you, or did you just stop to pass the time of day?" she purred.
The tallest man stepped forward. He was a young, tall and muscular figure. He removed his helmet and a wave of blond hair fell to the sides of his face. "I am Rendan, son of Traiger. We claim this path as our own in the name of Traiger the Mighty, so lay down your sword in surrender."
The warrior smiled a bit, "Well, well, well; first of all I think you are a little out of your jurisdiction. This is not even close to Traigers territory. Second, well I just dont give my sword to just anyone. "
Rendan angrily put his helmet on. "Get her!" he yelled and his men quickly advanced. One by one the men fell to the ground at Xenas mercy. Tarren watched in awe of the warriors great skill.
Finally, the young Rendan was the only one standing, and he froze in place as Xena caressed his neck with her blade.
"Now, do you know who I am?" she asked.
The man nodded fully aware of the Warrior Princess and her reputation. "Well, then, you go tell your daddy that I would be very unhappy to hear that the people of this area were stepping over trash like you on their way into this fine city. Ya got that?" she purred.
Again he nodded noting how close the tip of her blade was to his throat.
"And one more thing! Tell him he should never send a little boy to do a grown warriors work. Now get out of here before I get mad," she said sheathing her blade. The young man reached down for his sword but the warrior stepped on it, "No, no, sorry, children should not play with such sharp objects. Ya might cut yourself," she teased sending him on his way with the side of her boot. The other men quickly followed after him leaving the road clear. The warrior shook her head as she examined the young mans blade and then threw it into the brush hoping that the boy would not die in some foolish battle trying to prove he was worthy of such a weapon.
Tarren laughed a bit as she watched the warriors running through the woods.
"What are you laughing at?" the warrior asked grinning a bit as she signaled the child to return to the ground.
With a quick leap Tarren landed skillfully next to Xena. "I dont know. It was sort of funny to watch."
Xena quickly grabbed the girls tunic and held her slightly off the ground. "Tarren, a fight, any fight, is never funny. A person could easily be killed. I dont want you to ever forget that. EVERY opponent should be met with caution and respect. It is always wisdom before weapons, Tarren. Cockiness could get you killed understand?"
The child lowered her eyes and nodded. "I didnt mean anything by it Xena," she said as the warrior released her hold.
Xena sighed and placed a gentle hand on the girls shoulder. "I know, I know. I just want you to understand that fighting is NOT a game. People get hurt and they die in fights, even as silly as this one."
The warrior wrapped an arm around her youngster and pulled her into a hug as they walked. "What am I gonna do with you?" she asked, knowing the child has no real clue what she was trying to tell her.
The girl shrugged and yawned, not having an answer for her warrior friend.
Xena noted the second yawn. She had pushed the girl too hard and long, and it was starting to take its toll. They were still a good three hours outside of Athens.
The warrior stopped and lowered herself down. "OK, get on," she said motioning the child to hop on her back.
"Im OK, Xena," the child yawned.
The warrior smiled. "Yeah, sure I know, up ya go."
With a quick jump the girl settled herself on Xenas back, placing her arms around the warriors neck. Xena could barely feel the extra weight of the childs form on her back as she walked.
"Xena?" she called as they continued at a quicker pace.
The warrior turned her head a bit. "No, you can not put a saddle on me," she said with a grin.
The child laughed at the thought, but continued with her question. "Why were Traigers men here?"
Xena stopped and tilted her head back. "How did you know who they were?" she asked with surprise.
The child yawned, "Well I heard them tell you, and I saw the symbol on their helmets. Nala and I were in their camp for a while a long time ago. Nala said that Traiger was an old friend of my mothers, which is why he took us in."
Xenas eyes grew wide. She tried to hide her discomfort at the thought of Tarren being in the warlords camp. True, they had been allies once, but never really friends. He was a figure from her dark past and not one she wished Tarren to know. Xena knew that the time to tell the girl who she was would now come upon her faster than she has planned.
The warrior continued walking. "I dont know why they were here, but the important thing is they are gone now, right?" she said trying to force a smile.
The child nodded sleepily happy to accept no answer as an answer. "Sure Xena, if you say so." The girl leaned her head on the warriors shoulder settling herself for the ride.
"Well, I say so!" she yelled hoisting the child higher in the air.
Tarren giggled loudly. "You are more fun to ride than Argo," she laughed. The great war-horse whinnied in protest. The warrior and the child laughed in unison as they headed into Athens.
Chapter 4 Athens
By the time Xena entered the Inn where she and Gabrielle had agreed to meet, Tarren was already fast asleep. Xena had simply placed her small form over one shoulder holding her in place with her arm.
The innkeeper eyed the sleeping child with a grin.
"Something wrong?" the warrior asked, not liking the way he stared at the girl.
"Uh no, I was just thinking how the young one must be exhausted."
Xena noted the sleeping girl with a quick smile and responded without a waste of emotion. "Shes doing just fine. Now do you have a room waiting for us? Its listed under Gabrielle of Potedia."
Quickly the small, stout man reached for a key. "Oh yes, the young lady said youd be coming. She left you a note."
Xena sighed and the cherub of a man handed the large warrior a parchment.
"Dear Xena, I went to do some shopping. Be back soon. Get some rest and take a bath BOTH OF YOU! Love, Gabrielle"
The warrior princess shook her head and placed the note in her cuff. "Shopping. It figures," she muttered with a slight smile and then headed up the stairs to the room.
There was a large tub in the center of their room already filled with hot water. "Well, well, my bard, you do think of everything," she said with a broad smile. Xena gently lowered Tarren to the bed. "OK, your rides over." The warrior stood stretching out the muscles in her back and looking longingly at the bath water. She tapped Tarrens leg gently. "Come on, wake up . Were here."
With a yawn and a roll the child merely repositioned herself into a fetal position on the bed.
Xena smiled. "Oh no you dont! Not just yet. I know you can smell that bath water."
The girl opened one eye cautiously. "Bath water?" she groaned staring up at Xena. She picked her head up lazily from the bed and eyed her muscular friend. "A bath, Xena. Do I have to? Havent I suffered enough?" the youngster whined.
"Yes, you have too," the warrior moaned mocking the childs groan.
Tarren quickly pulled the blanket over her head and tried to go back to sleep.
Xena shook her head. "OK, so its the hard way today why not?" Xena lifted the girl from the blankets and with a quick toss had her standing on her feet. "Now, do you want to take your clothes off or do I have to do it?" she asked an evil smile.
"Oh, I dont want a bath!" the girl groaned kicking her boots off and trying to slip under the warriors arm back to the soft pallet.
Xena caught her by the scruff of her tunic. "No, no, no, NOT again," she said with a flashing smile quickly pulling the childs tunic off of her. Tarren giggled, ready for the chase, and sprinted to the far side of the bed.
It had been a long trip, and they both needed some relaxation, so the warrior decided to allow them both some fun.
"So you want to do it this way, huh?" Xena carefully edged her way closer to Tarren who quickly vaulted over the bed. Xena nodded approvingly. "Very good, but not quite good enough." With a quick flip Xena flew through the air landing right beside the child. With a fast whip of her hand she had the girl nestled in her muscular arm.
The girl giggled as she struggled to get free. "Oh, still not ready to give up huh?" the warrior cackled.
Tarren shook her head, and Xena flipped the girl over holding her in the air by one leg. She then started to tickle the bottom of the childs foot.
Tarren screamed and laughed as the blood rushed to her head. While the youngster squirmed to get lose, Xena quickly removed her long breeches and tossed them to the side.
"I give up! I give up!" the child cried as the warrior started to tickle her bare legs. "Please Xena, Ill get in the tub. I promise."
Xena eyed her child who was now panting for mercy. "Promise?" the warrior, said with a wicked smile. The girl nodded and the warrior lowered her gently to the floor. "OK then, but you better be in that tub before I am," she warned as she started to remove her leathers.
Tarren smiled and with lightening speed removed her remaining clothes and made a large dive into the large tub splashing water all over the proud warrior. "Im in! the girl said with a playful grin.
The warrior turned a warning gaze on the laughing youngster as she wiped the water from her face. "So you want to play, do you?" she said in a menacing tone. The warrior removed the last of her clothing and jumped in the tub pinning the child up against the side of it with her muscular arm. She then began the torturous tickling once again, and this time closed an ear to the childs pleas for mercy.
Tarren cried in agony as the warrior held her in place running her fingers lightly along the childs arms and side.
"Bad girl!" Xena exclaimed playfully. "Now, are you gonna behave, or do I have to get tough?" she warned with a wicked smile.
The girl coughed from exhaustion and nodded hoping the warrior would let her go and she did.
Tarren quickly moved to the other side of the tub and glared angrily at the warrior who only smiled with satisfaction. "Thats not fair. You are much bigger than I am." The youngster pouted.
Xena shrugged her shoulders and smiled. "Ahhhh, well then maybe you should pick on someone you can handle next time."
The child folded her arms sulking at the warriors lack of compassion. Xena felt a little remorse for the elongated revenge. "OK, Im sorry. Come here."
The child hesitantly moved toward her large friend who gently pulled her closer. "Come on lets get clean before Gabrielle gets back," she said tossing a dry cloth on the childs head while she reached for the soap.
The girl pulled the cloth off and quickly soaked it in the water. When the warrior turned around she tossed it at Xenas head, and it landed with a SPLAT on the muscular womans nose. "You did not just do that?" the warrior said evenly removing the soppy rag from her face. The girl giggled and answered her warrior friend with a quick splash of water in the face. Xena nodded in understanding "OK, you asked for it, but no more mercy for you," she said with a grin. In moments splashing water and laughter filled the room.
As Xena and Tarren dressed, they eyed the room and noticed that the floor all around the tub was soaking wet. "Boy, Gabrielles gonna be mad at you," the girl said with a grin.
The warrior gazed down at the child. "Yeah, but dont worry. Ill see you share in ALL the glory," the warrior laughed.
The girl giggled as she pulled her boots on knowing that she would indeed share in the glory.
Xena brushed the water from her mane and then turned her attention to Tarren who was still trying to dry her hair with a towel. Xena seated herself in a straight back chair in the corner and motioned the child over. "Come here."
The girl stood in front of the warrior and allowed her to brush the wet tangles from her head. She leaned on the warriors chest a bit to steady herself. "Xena, can I ask you a question?"
"Uh huh," she replied still working on a mess of tangles with the heavy brush.
"How do you know when a person needs something?"
Xena paused at her task and studied the girl "What do you mean?"
Tarren thought about the question. She had been considering Nalas request to give Xena her diary when she "needed it most," but did not know how to KNOW when that was.
"Well, I mean how do you know when a person needs something -- like when you said Gabby needed to be left alone, or a person needs a hug?"
Xena smiled and continued her task. "Well that depends on the need and the person Tarren. Sometimes a person will tell you what they need, and other times you can tell from their body language. Like if someone is angry then its usually a sign that need to be left alone a bit. If theyre sad then maybe they need comfort. Theres no sure-fire way to know Tarren. You study people and do your best to do the right thing. Why do you need something?" the warrior asked with a questioning smile.
Tarren shook her head. "No, I have you and Gabby and my stuff. I guess thats all I need," she said lost deep in her own thoughts.
Xena smiled and caressed the girls cheek affectionately. She was happy to know that, in the short time they had been together, Tarren had come to accept both she and Gabrielle as her family.
The child stared into the warriors eyes for a long moment. "Xena is there anything you ever need?" she asked her voice filled with a childs concern.
The warrior thought for a moment. "Yeah I need that hug you mentioned."
The girl grinned widely and threw her arms around the warriors neck allowing her to squeeze the girl into a gentle bear hug. Tarren still had no clue as to when to give Xena the diary, but at the moment it really didnt seem to matter.
Xena paced around impatiently waiting for the shopping bard to return. She instructed Tarren to take a nap, which the child seemed reluctant to do.
"Im not tired anymore," she said lying on her stomach kicking her foot over the side of the pallet.
Xena shook her head in frustration. "Yes, you are. Just try to go to sleep."
The girl shook her head. "I did and I cant. Why dont YOU take a nap?" the youngster giggled.
The warrior stopped and studied the restless little form on the bed. "I know where this is going, and I am not taking a nap," the warrior said shaking her finger in the air as she continued to pace.
The child folded her arms under her chin. "Me neither," she said resolving herself to staring at the floor.
Xena threw her hands up in frustration. "All right, I will lie down with you until you fall asleep."
The child grinned in victory as the warrior placed her sword and chakram on the table beside the bed and then eased herself next to the child. Tarren nuzzled herself comfortably into the warriors side, and Xena smiled wrapping her muscular arms around her daughter.
"You are such a spoiled brat," she said teasingly ruffling the childs head.
The girl grinned widely but said nothing. Xena actually enjoyed these moments, but she really felt more comfortable when Tarren sought her out.
Within moment the youngster was asleep and Xena lay there stroking the girls head humming a song that brought back pleasant memories of her own childhood.
Gabrielle pushed the door open and barely made it in the room with all her packages spilling out of her hands. When she managed to find what she thought was the table she dropped them, but her aim was off and the bundles landed on the floor. "Oh Zeus!" she cried. As she started to pick them up she quickly noticed the two sleeping forms in the large pallet. The bard smiled at the peaceful sight and sighed happily. She then noticed the wet floor around the tub.
"XENA!" she yelled bringing the warrior quickly to her feet sword in hand. "What happened to this floor?" the small bard demanded arms folded.
The warrior angrily dropped her sword to the table. "Gabrielle you know better than to do THAT!" the warrior admonished.
The bard noted the warriors tense form and took a step back. "Sorry! Now please, tell me what happened to the floor in here?"
Tarren shook the sleep from her eyes. "I think the tub leaks, Gabby. You really should complain," the child whispered through her pillow. The bard gave a gentle nod to the youngster and a quick stare at Xena who was smiling with satisfaction at the childs quick thinking.
"Leaks, huh? OK, thats ONE possibility," the bard said suspiciously as she paced the floor scanning all the evidence. "OR someone could have had a water fight in here, but I know that the Warrior Princess would never allow that behavior at an INN, so the tub must leak." Gabrielle studied her warriors guilty face. "Well I better go downstairs and give that innkeeper a piece of my mind." The bard started towards the door, but was quickly halted by Xenas grip.
"OK, OK, so there was a small water fight," she admitted.
The bard playfully poked her in the ribs. "I KNEW it! she yelled triumphantly. Gabrielles frown turned into a scolding grin. "The least you two could have done is wait for me," the bard said with a smile hugging the warrior. "I have missed you both so much. How are Tarrens wounds?"
Xena smiled and sighed with relief. "We missed you too, and that child has amazing recuperative powers," she said with a grin returning the bards embrace. Tarren stayed wrapped in her blankets ignoring the sentimental exchange.
"Hey arent you even going to say hello?" the bard chided leaning towards the sleeping form. The girl made no sound or movement. Gabrielle folded her arms and then crawled on the bed next to the child. "Hello!" she said playfully swatting the childs bottom. Tarren jumped out of the bed quickly rubbing the still very tender spot. "OUCH!"
The bard looked to Xena who only shrugged. "Well, I wont ask if you and Tarren had a chance to talk about the consequences of climbing those trees or how important it is to tell us when she is hurt. Obviously you did," the bard said evenly.
Xena smiled wickedly and sat back on the bed. "Oh yeah, Id say we covered that point quite extensively." The girl glared at the bard whose face was now full of sympathy.
"Im sorry, honey. I didnt mean to hurt you," she said pulling the girl into a tender embrace. "Are you OK? Hows your arm and your shoulder?"
The little girl frowned a bit. "My arm and my shoulder are fine. Xena fixed them." She said proudly.
"But I dont have to sit on them! Xena fixed that too." The child groaned still cautious of another attack. The bard sensed her discomfort and offered her a gentle smile.
"Hey did you miss me?"
The child thought about it for a long moment and gave Xena a quick wink. "Just your cooking!"
Gabrielle poked her gently in the side. "You are as bad as she is," she said pointing to the reclining warrior with a grin.
Tarren smiled, "Im only kidding I missed ya, Gabby. I missed ya a lot." The childs words were filled with heartfelt emotion, and the bard hugged the girl for a long moment before releasing her.
"Good, because you two are not gonna get rid of me so easy again!" she said wiping a tear from her eye as she looked at the faces of her two friends.
Xena stood from the bed stretching out her muscles. "OK, thats enough of this mushy stuff. For once I AM starving. Lets go get something to eat, and you can tell us how the contest has been going.
The bard nodded and grabbed Tarrens hand to lead her to the tavern below.
Xena paused and looked at the plethora of packages the bard had accumulated in only a few days. She shook her head wearily. "Not on my horses back, Gabrielle," She whispered to the empty room as she headed after her companions.
Down at the inn Xena found a table in the back up against the wall. The instinct to always be prepared and watch for danger would always be with her. Gabrielle sat quickly, eager to tell her tales of the city.
Tarren just eyed the wooden chair and sighed. "Xena Id rather eat in the room."
The warrior grinned at the dilemma and offered the child her hand. "Come here, brat," she said affectionately reaching out her hand to the youngster. Tarren willingly accepted the warriors offer to sit on her softer lap instead of on the hard chair.
Gabrielle could only smile at the former warlord, Xena, Warrior Princess, acting so tenderly and caring towards this child.
The warrior caught the bards smile and twisted her lips in a slight frown. "Not a word Gabrielle. Not a word!" she said with a flashing smile.
Gabrielle threw her hands up in surrender knowing this was not something to tease her friend about.
The innkeeper came over and Xena ordered stew for all and a mug of ale for herself, and a mug of cider for the bard. She then smiled and asked for a mug of fresh milk for Tarren.
"Milk?" the innkeeper, said with a frown.
Tarren nodded in agreement. "Yeah, milk, Xena?" she said in disgust. Xena glared at both of them.
"YES, milk!" she ordered.
The innkeeper shrugged and turned to fill the order.
"Xena, I dont like milk," the girl whined.
"Well, you dont get any of it on the road, so you will drink it when we can get it."
The child scrunched her lips in a face of disgust, but said nothing.
Gabrielle patted the girls hand. "Hey, Xena is right. You need to drink your milk. Dont you want to grow up and be as big and strong as Xena?"
Tarren smiled and turned her head to study the warriors muscular shoulders. "I dont think milk is gonna do that for me, Gabrielle," she said with a mischievous grin.
Xena shook her head and smiled. "You are just so funny, little one," she said as she reached over to tickle her sides. Soon all three friends were laughing.
When the food and drinks arrived, Tarren eyed the milk cautiously. She decided it was best to leave it to sit for a while. "Hey Gabby, you sure you dont want some of this? You might grow a bit, too," she said teasingly.
Xena drank her ale trying not to let the bard see her grin.
"Very funny. Ya know, you even sound more like Xena every day," she said with a wry smile pointing a finger at the warrior. Tarren and the warrior exchanged a wink.
"Thanks!" the child, said simply before diving into the stew before her.
The warrior and bard merely gave each other a satisfying smile knowing that Tarrens relaxed nature was a sign that she was truly becoming a part of their lives.
Gabrielle talked for hours about the bard contest. She had made it to the final rounds and would be reading her story before the entire city in two days along with the other finalists. Xena nodded approvingly happy that her friends great talents were being recognized.
Gabrielle noted the full glass of milk on the table and pointed to it. "You havent had any milk, Tarren," she said with a frown.
"Im not thirsty," the child said leaning back against the warriors chest for comfort.
"Drink it," Xena whispered in her ear.
The girl frowned and took a sip of the vile mixture spitting it out as fast as she had swallowed it and coughing wildly. Xena patted her back as the bard wiped her face.
"Whats wrong?" the bard asked her face filled with worry.
Xena picked up the mug and sniffed the milk. It was sour probably a week old. She lifted the girl off her lap and stood to her full height, slowly walking over to the bartender and putting the mug down before him.
"I told you I wanted fresh milk," she said with a steady glare.
"Well, its the freshest I have. It wont kill the kid," he replied ignoring the warriors obvious anger.
Xena quickly drew her sword and pressed the tip to the mans throat, "Drink it!" she ordered.
The man shook his head. "I hate milk."
The warrior looked at his bony form. "Figures Drink it anyway, JUST for me! It wont kill you right, but I might," she purred.
The man reached for the mug and drank half the contents down gagging on it.
"No, no, no! Didnt your mother ever tell you to always finish your milk? Now drink!"
The man felt the point of the steel piercing his throat. So he quickly finished the milk and fell to the floor spitting it up as fast as he had drunk it.
Xena sheathed her sword and looked over at him. "Now, tomorrow I expect there will be fresh milk right?" she said with a smile as the man groaned behind the bar.
He quickly nodded to the warrior who smiled with satisfaction. "Good!" She returned to the table and gave the child a mug of cider to replace the bad milk.
The girls white face turned quickly into a smile as she drank down the sweet tasting cider.
Xena shook her head at the bard who merely offered her friend a knowing smile.
Xena and Gabrielle spent the day trying to follow Tarren around the city. She had never been to Athens and wanted to see and touch everything around her. The day ended with Gabrielles agenda, which much to Xenas dismay included a late play.
"Now Xena, I chose a play that I know you will like."
The warrior frowned as they entered the playhouse. The bard gave her a gentle poke in the ribs. "Hey, you promised to be open minded."
The warrior nodded. "OK, whats it called?" she said with a slight grin.
Gabrielle stopped and allowed herself a satisfying smile as she announced the title, "The Fall of Caesar."
The warrior nodded approvingly. "Hmm, maybe this wont be so bad after all."
Tarren watched the exchange wishing they could go see the games or be at the festival.
Gabrielle noted the childs dissatisfied look and unusual silence and gave her a warning glare. "And as for YOU, children are not usually allowed in these plays. I had to do some fast-talking to get you in here, so I want you to behave yourself and pay attention to the play, OK?" the bard finished.
The girl nodded. "Yeah unless you want me to meet you at the festival. I could make that sacrifice," she said hoping her eager smile would free her from the promised misery.
Xena shook her head and smiled wishing she too could be at the festival. "Oh no ya dont. If I have to go then you have to go. Besides, if you think I would ever let you run lose alone in this city, then you were drinking out of the WRONG mug at the inn."
The childs shoulders slumped in defeat, and the warrior could only smile.
Two hours later, a chatty bard and a frustrated warrior left the same way they had entered. In Xenas arms was the sleeping form of a youngster barely 11 summers. "Xena, I had no idea that it was a comedy. I swear," the bard argued. The warrior merely studied the child in her arms and envied her ability to sleep through most of the play without being noticed by the bard.
"Hmm funny thing is Gabrielle that I wasnt laughing at Caesars fall."
Gabrielle stopped and faced her friend. "Look it was a metaphor, a play on words."
Xena stared down at her young friends eager face. "Gabrielle, the entire play was about whether or not Caesar would fall off a chair."
The bard frowned and nodded. "OK, OK, so it wasnt the best play, but the next one will be better."
The warrior cringed at the thought of another, but held tightly to her promise to sit through a second one before they left Athens.
"Maybe we should ask a member of a younger generation what she thought of the play," the bard said with a smile poking at the yawning child in the warriors arms. "Come on, Tarren, be honest. Tell us what YOU thought of the play," the bard asked with a smile waiting anxiously for a reply.
The warrior stopped and placed the yawning child on her feet. Tarren looked at Xena and then the bard stretching her arms up in the air. "Oh I liked it, Gabrielle, but I would have changed it a bit to make it more fun," she said with a smile.
The bard pointed at the child. "You see, Xena, Tarren can appreciate the artistry, and she even has thoughts on improvements."
Xena frowned and shook her head in disbelief. "OK Tarren, how would you have made that play fun?" the warrior asked folding her arms tightly anxious for an answer.
The child again stretched out her arms and faced her friends excited to offer her suggestions. "Well, I kept thinking how much better it would be if Xena had flung her chakram at the left pillar just as Caesar sat down in the chair. It would have bounced off the pillar hit the back walls and then sliced the legs off the chair. Then Caesar would have fallen in the first act and we could have left hours ago."
The warrior laughed loudly and tasseled the childs hair, "Ya know, that might have worked, but it may have had to bounce off the right pillar to get all four legs."
The bard nodded her head frustration filling her young face. "OK, you two, laugh ALL you want."
Tarren touched the bards arm gently. "Well, Gabby, you said it was a comedy. Arent we supposed to laugh?" she asked with all the innocence of her youth.
The bard studied the youngsters eyes and giggled. "I give up on you two. You are both impossible," she said poking the childs side playfully. "Come on, lets get back to the inn. I am starving," the bard said with a wide grin.
The warrior smiled. "Of course you are, my bard."
Tarren stopped and lifted her arms up towards the warrior who only shook her head and smiled lifting the child into the air. "YOU are only gonna get fat and lazy if you keep this up," the warrior scolded.
"Oh, youd never let that happen, princess," she said smiling at the warrior who lifted her higher in the air. "Go higher!" the child begged laughing happily as Xena tossed her quickly into the air above catching her just before she touched the ground.
"Enough!" the warrior said sternly lowering Tarren to the ground. "Start walking or next time you carry me."
The child threw her hands up in surrender. "Ill walk ...as a matter of fact Ill run." With a quick sprint the youngster took off and vaulted in an arial somersault as she ran to the inn.
The warrior stopped and smiled at the childs acrobatic moves. "Where does she find the energy?" she said shaking her head.
The bard smiled. "Gee, I dont know. Could it possibly be inherited?" the bard giggled.
Xena shrugged her shoulders and grinned at her young friend.
As they continued their walk, the bards voice grew a bit more serious. "How are YOU doing, Xena?" she said studying her friend.
The warrior shrugged. "Me? Im fine," she replied evenly.
Gabrielle stopped her with a hand. "Xena, I know that what you went through with Tarren was tough. Seeing her hurt and all. Are you OK?" the bard asked with obvious concerned.
The warriors smile faded a bit. "Look Gabrielle, it happened. She didnt listen, and she got hurt. She got punished for that, and it wont happen again. Done over, finished," the warrior said with finality.
The bard nodded again. "Xena, its me you are talking to, remember?"
The warrior looked into the eyes of her best friend and placed a gentle hand on her shoulder. "Gabrielle, I am fine, really I am. I have it all under control. I promise," the warrior said with a smile.
Gabrielle nodded allowing her friend to hold her feelings inside. Noticing the warriors now sullen expression, the bard quickly changed the subject. "You know, you are really great with her."
Xena shrugged but the bard continued. "No, I mean it, Xena. You really are great with her. Look at that kid. She is happy and full of life, and she loves you. THAT is plain to see," Xena smile returned, and she looked down at her friend. "Thanks" was all she wanted to say or the bard needed to hear.
When all three had finally arrived to the inn, they returned to their table in the back. Xena had placed a pillow from the room on Tarrens seat, so they could both enjoy their meals in greater comfort. The warrior noted that the innkeeper was not as pale as when she had left him. She smiled a bit remembering the mans discomfort.
He quickly brought over two ciders and ale for the warrior. "Yes maam, there will be fresh milk in the morning," he said without even being questioned.
The warrior nodded approvingly as the man gave an apologetic stare to the child and moved on.
As the three companions started their meal, a familiar face entered the inn and made his way over to the table. "May I join you ladies?" Xenas eyes met his and they were locked in a moment that only they two shared.
"Hercules," she said with a soft smile.
Gabrielle jumped to her feet and hugged the large muscular man making it hard for him to break free.
Xena merely stood and slowly strode over taking his hand. "Its good to see you," she said staring into his eyes.
"You too," he said kissing her hand. "So, may I join you?"
The warrior nodded, "Of course."
Hercules pulled the chair out for the Warrior Princess to sit and then placed himself in the empty chair across from her. He eyed the child whose stare had been with him since he had kissed the warriors hand. "Who might you be, pretty one?" he said with a smile.
Tarren observed the man noting all his muscles and knowing full well who he was. Even only being a child she knew that somehow this man was a threat to her time with Xena, so she did not respond.
Xena gave her a gentle poke. "Tarren, introduce yourself."
Again the child said nothing but merely finished her food and sipped at her cider.
The warrior sighed heavily. "Hercules, this is Tarren," she said with obvious pride.
The large man studied the deep blue eyes of the child closely and then quickly looked at Xena.
She shook her head slowly as if to tell him all would be explained later.
Hercules smiled and offered his hand to the youngster. "Well, Tarren, it is a pleasure to meet you."
The bard frowned at the unmoving child. "Tarren, you are supposed to shake his hand. Its a polite way of saying hello," the bard instructed glancing at Xena.
The child looked at Gabrielle and then at Hercules, but did not offer her hand. Instead she folded her arms tightly against her chest to let him know that he was no friend of hers.
"TARREN!" the warrior scolded.
Hercules waved her off. "Its OK, Xena," he said pulling his hand back.
The warrior stood and grabbed the girls wrist pulling her from the seat. "No, its definitely NOT all right. Excuse me, please," she said politely as she dragged the silent girl up to the room.
The door flung open, and Xena pushed the child ahead of her slamming the door behind her. "What was all that about? You know better than to behave that way," she scolded.
The child locked her arms firmly against her chest. "I dont like him," she whispered.
The warrior shook her head. "You dont even know him, Tarren. How can you not like him?"
The girl said nothing. "Fine, well like him or not, he is a friend of mine, and you ARE going down there to apologize to him," Xena ordered. The child shook her head, "NO!"
The angry warrior searched the room with her eyes trying hard to control her festering anger. She yanked the child to the nearest corner of the room placing a chair facing the wall. "Fine, then you can just sit here and think about that for a while. If you change your mind, then let me know, but if you dont, then you better not move from this chair until I say so. Ya got it?" she ordered in an angry parental tone.
The child flinched as she was pushed down into the hard wooden seat and reminded once again of a harsh sting in her backside. She swallowed hard but would not allow herself to cry in front of the warrior.
Xena studied the stubborn child sitting in the corner unwavering. The warrior shook her head. "Fine, sit there all night!" she cursed as she left the room and returned to her friends.
When she was sitting alone in the dark, one tear strayed from the childs eyes, but she did not know if it was from the pain of sitting or the fear of losing her friend.
Xena returned to her seat with a deep breath. "Hercules, my apologies. I dont know whats gotten into her."
The large man shook it off. "Its OK, Xena. She should be weary of strange men, and to her thats what I am."
Gabrielle nodded. "Xena she just needs a chance to get to know him thats all," the bard said with a quick smile.
The warriors muscles eased a bit as she considered her friends words. "Perhaps, but I will not tolerate that behavior for ANY reason," she said with an authority no one would dare challenge.
Hercules leaned back in the chair and watched his friend and lover. This child had changed her. He knew there was more to the story, and he was anxious to hear it. As the hours passed the three friends shared their recent adventures.
"So Im supposed to meet Iolaus in three days just outside the city. I just passed through to see the competitions," Hercules finished as he sipped at a mug of ale.
Xena nodded in understanding. "Well, we were going to attend those. Why dont you join us?" Their eyes met once again.
"Id like that," he said with a sly smile.
The bard caught the tender exchange and yawned, "Its getting late. I think Ill head up to the room." The warrior smiled at her friend thankfully. "What do you want me to do with Tarren?" the bard asked as she stood.
The warriors smile faded as she considered the many things she wanted to DO to Tarren at that moment. She frowned, angry that the child had chosen to painfully sit alone in the room rather than apologize. "Just put that stubborn child to bed. Ill deal with her in the morning," she said shaking her head.
The bard smiled. "Stubborn as a mule. Yup, wonder where she gets that from?" Gabrielle said with a grin as she headed up the stairs leaving Xena and Hercules alone to laugh at the comparison.
Gabrielle entered and found a small figure sleeping in a chair in a far corner of the room. She shook her head. "Come on you stubborn little princess. Its time for bed." Gabrielle lifted the girl out of the chair and gently placed her on the bed removing her boots and tunic.
The sleeping youngster rolled on her side and the bard threw a blanket over her and kissed her forehead whispering, "I dont know whats going through that mind of yours kid, but you are walking on some pretty dangerous ground here." Gabrielle gently shook her head and then headed for her own bed to sleep.
The girl opened one eye and then quickly closed it never saying a word.
Xena and Hercules strode through the town hand in hand as she quietly explained about Tarren and Nala.
"So the Warrior Princess has a daughter. I think that is wonderful," he said with a grin.
Xena nodded. "She can be a handful, but shes a good kid, most of the time," she said with a smile not even trying to conceal her obvious pride in the child.
"I would expect nothing less from her," he said with a grin.
The warrior stopped and kissed the gentle lips of the man who had once freed her from her evil past. She looked into his eyes aching to share with him all the feelings that ran deepest inside of her. "Ya know, its good to have an adult around nothing against Gabrielle, but someone who understands what I feel. I dont know what I feel..." she whispered pulling away from his embrace.
Hercules took her hand and gently kissed it. "Xena, your whole life has been turned up side down. Allow yourself some time to adjust. Stop being so hard on yourself. Tarren is with you. Shes not going anywhere. You have a lifetime to share with her. Dont try to fill years into each day. Just be yourself. I think you will find that it is all she needs or wants from her mother."
The warriors eyes softened. "The gods must have sent you here tonight because I can think of no greater comfort than to have you here with me right now," the warrior said caressing his large arm.
Hercules took the woman into his arms, and for once Xena was happy to feel the safety of someone just as strong as she was. She was happy to be able to lean on him if only for a night.
The following morning Tarren awoke and saw Gabrielle still fast asleep and snoring as usual. Xenas bed was still made, so she knew the warrior had never returned to the room.
The child jumped out of the bed and ran over to shake Gabrielle awake. "Gabby, Xena s gone. Wake up! Something happened to Xena!" the girl yelled trying to control her angst.
The sleepy bard shook her head. "Huh, Xena? What are you talking about, Tarren?" the bard asked in a sleepy tone.
The anxious child gave the bard a yank pulling her to her feet. "Hey!" the bard yelled, not happy to be taken from the comfort of her pallet.
The child pointed to the empty bed. "We have to go find Xena. She could be hurt."
Gabrielle smiled wickedly at the thought and then quickly sat on the bed covering her face with her hands trying to bring her senses to full alert. She pulled the child close to her and placed a gentle arm around her. "Uhh, Tarren, calm down . Xena is fine, I promise you. She just spent the night, err, talking with Hercules. They are very old friends and had a lot to talk about."
The girl studied the bards face and tried to make sense of the mixture of emotions she saw. "All night! She talked to him all night." The youngster yelled in disbelief.
The bard nodded, "Well yeah, old close friends do that sometimes," she muttered inwardly cursing Xena for leaving this in her lap. Just then the door opened and a rather content warrior walked in the door.
Gabrielle crossed her arms and glared at the large muscular figure, as did Tarren. "Well good morning to you both!" Xena said with a smile noting the sour expressions on her friends faces.
Tarren said nothing, but merely dressed.
Gabrielle shook her head, "Tarren go downstairs and tell the innkeeper to send breakfast up here please."
The child looked at the bard and saw something she had not seen before, true anger. She lifted on her boots and slid passed the warrior without a word.
Xena fell into the chair that was left in the corner. "I know, I know I should have told you that Id be gone," she said with a slight smile.
The bard silenced her with a wave. "NO Xena, I am a big girl. I know where you were, but Tarren is just a little kid and she didnt. I really wasnt up to giving those details. Thats your job. When she woke up and saw that you had not been back all night, she was terrified that something had happened to you. SHE doesnt understand, and I am not sure she should have to at her age, Xena," the bard lectured. She then turned on her heel leaving the warrior to ponder the words and her own actions.
Xena rose from the chair and slowly made her way over to her pallet. She sat beside the stewing bard and bowed her head in regret. "Gabrielle, Im sorry. Ya know I never even thought about it. I should have said something to her, but I really needed some time to myself."
The bards tone softened as she gently placed her hand on the warriors arm, "Look, I know and you know, but she doesnt. I told her you spent the night talking to Hercules. I think she bought it, but she sure was not happy about it."
The warrior raised an eyebrow and smiled, "Talking? Thats the best YOU could come up with?"
The bard grinned, "Well, I wasnt expecting a birds and bees talk at dawn, Xena. Besides, I dont think she would handle the truth very well. You should have seen the look "talking" got."
The warrior paced around the room rubbing her arms in frustration. "Ill speak to her. Its my fault. I never should have left last night without finding out whats eating her anyway."
The door opened and Tarren walked in once again passing the warrior and heading for her bed. "The food will be up in a little while, Gabrielle," she said settling on her bed.
"Thanks, Kid," the bard said with a smile. Gabrielle started to dress and Xena sat on the edge of Tarrens pallet pulling her gently towards her. "Come here. I want to talk to you," she said in a near whisper.
The child stood before her, but she refused to look at the warrior.
Xena wiped the stray hairs from the girls eyes as she spoke. "Look, I owe you an apology. I should have told you that I would be out all night err talking with Hercules. Im sorry that I scared you. I never meant to do that."
The girl lowered her head a bit at the sincerity in her friends voice. The warrior gave her a gentle shake. "Hey, do you forgive me?" she asked lifting the childs chin with one finger.
The girls eyes weld with tears. "I thought something happened to you. I thought you were hurt or..."
The warrior silenced her with a gentle embrace feeling pangs of remorse for her actions. "I know, I know. Im sorry, little one. I promise I will not go anywhere again without telling you first, OK?"
The child held tightly to the warriors neck and nodded.
"Xena pulled her forward and with a small piece of cloth from inside her armor, wiped the tears from the girls eyes.
Gabrielle watched in awe at the way Xena could so quickly touch on the childs emotions and know exactly how to offer comfort. There was a total trust between them that the bard would have never thought possible.
"OK then, so what do you say that we start this day brand new. Ill behave myself, and YOU will behave yourself. No more rude behavior, young lady, understand?" she said in a stern tone.
The girl nodded. "Im sorry about last night, Xena," she said with a slight grin.
The warrior smiled, "So am I, Tarren. So what do you say, today we go to the games and just put it behind us, OK?"
The girls eyes widened at the thought of the games, and she again embraced the warrior. The three shared a quiet breakfast.
Gabrielle was dying to ask Xena about her night with Hercules but knew it would have to wait.
The warrior could see the anticipation in her friends face, so she teasingly tossed her a wicked grin.
Tarren raced ahead into the street anxious to get to the games with Xena. "Ill meet you two back here in three hours and we can go to the festival," the bard said keeping pace with the warrior.
Xena smiled and asked mockingly, "Sure you dont want to come to the games?"
The bard shook her head, "Hmm, watch a bunch of large men throwing things and beating each other up? Nope, I do that for a living. I can miss it."
The warrior smiled and placed a gentle hand on her friends shoulder. "OK, but NO MORE shopping, got it?" she warned with a finger.
The bard frowned, "But Xena, there are things we need."
The warrior gave her a firm look. "Gabrielle, I do not know how we will even take what you already bought with us. No more enough ... done, OK?" she ordered.
The bard nodded unhappily. "OK, I wont buy anything. Ill just look," she said with a slight grin. The warrior shook her head knowing that was an impossible task.
As the three friends walked down the street, Tarren was stopped suddenly by the sight of Hercules. "Good morning, ladies," he said with a broad smile and a bow.
Xena blinked her eyes slowly in greeting. "Good morning," she purred softly. Tarren took a step back.
"So are we ready to go?" he asked. Tarren looked quickly at Xena for an answer. "Hercules is gonna join us at the games," she said with a smile. Tarren backed off behind Gabrielle. The warrior looked puzzled by her movements. "Tarren, come on, lets go, or we are gonna be late. You dont want to miss the start do you?" Xena said with a confused grin.
The youngster lowered her head. "I decided Id rather go shopping with Gabrielle," she whispered never letting her eyes meet the warriors gaze.
Xena lowered herself before the child and held her arms gently. "Hey, youve been wanting to go to this for a week. You were all excited about it this morning. Why the sudden change of heart?" she asked in a gentle but firm tone.
Gabrielle placed a caring arm around her shoulder, and the child was grateful for the touch.
Tarren quickly raised her eyes up and glared at Hercules.
Xena caught the stare and stood placing her hands on her hips. "Tarren, we discussed this already," her voice again filling with frustration.
Hercules moved forward. "Maybe I better go on alone," he said sensing the childs discomfort at his presence. Xena shook her head "NO! Tarren is going to the games, and she IS going to behave herself, right?" the warrior commanded in a no nonsense tone.
Gabrielle stepped forward, "Xena maybe it would be better..."
But the bards words were cut off with a glare from her large friend. "Right?" Xena repeated staring down at the sulking child.
The child nodded reluctantly and looked up at Gabrielle who sighed and grabbed Tarrens hand. "Well as long as this is a party, I may as well tag along. Nothing like a good stick throwing," the bard said trying to resolve herself to missing another days shopping. However it seemed that Tarren needed her more at the moment, and that was more important.
The warrior nodded at the bard grateful for her support and still confused by the childs actions. "Lets go," she said giving the youngster a quick glare before walking up ahead to join Hercules.
Tarren said nothing, but like a little soldier followed the pattern of footsteps she was ordered to follow.
Gabrielle tried to figure out what the childs problem was before she got into real trouble. "Tarren, hes a nice guy. What do you have against him?" the bard whispered.
Tarrens eyes held back tears as she watched Xena and Hercules laughing and holding arms ahead of them. "Xena promised me that we would go to the games, just the two of us, but ever since he has been here that is all she seems interested in."
The bard threw her head back in understanding. Tarren was jealous of Xena spending time with Hercules instead of her. The bard chastised herself for not realizing it sooner and leaned beside the girl.
"Hey, just because Xena is enjoying the company of an old friend for a few days does NOT mean she does not love you, Tarren. Nobody can take your place."
The girl shook her head and gripped the bards hand even tighter. "Gabrielle, Xena is the one that told me that a promise is like a persons marker. When I broke my promise about climbing the trees she punished me. She didnt keep her promise about the games, so why should I believe anything she says is true? She wants to be with him. Im just someone she got stuck with."
The bard started to protest when the warrior called them forward. "Hey, you two, you better move it or we really are going to be just in time for the closing ceremony," she said with a broad smile.
Tarren broke her grip with the bard and moved quickly passed Xena and Hercules straight through the gates of the arena.
"Xena sighed heavily, "Shes asking for it, Gabrielle. She is really asking for it," the warrior said to the bard with frustration as she watched the child silently slip through the gates.
Gabrielle started to speak when Xena heard the opening announcements and grabbed the bards hand pulling her quickly through the gates. "Come on. We are late."
Tarren sat next to Gabrielle far from Xena and Hercules. She refused the warriors offer of a pillow, content to suffer with the pain of the hard surface rather than accept a gift. Xena tossed it to the ground at her feet. "Fine! Well, if you are feeling that comfortable, then maybe I didnt make as much of an impression as I should have I can remedy that quickly, Tarren," she warned Xenas voice becoming a threatening parental whisper.
The girl merely glanced at her and again said nothing. They were half way through the events, and Tarren had no interest in the company or the events.
Gabrielle knew that the warriors frustration was building and things were gonna get worse if she didnt do something soon. "Xena, what do you say that you and I get some refreshments for everyone." They already had drinks in front of them that no one had even finished, so Xena stared at the bard confused by her request but understanding that she wanted to talk to her alone.
The warrior stood stiffly. "All right!" She pointed her finger at Tarren menacingly. "BE NICE!" But before either woman could rise, the gentlemanly Hercules sprung to his feet. "Now ladies, it is a gentlemans job to see to a ladies needs." He quickly sprinted towards the refreshments leaving a frustrated bard wondering why he always had to be so nice at the wrong times.
"OK, so what do you want to talk about?" Xena asked the bard directly. The bard tried to direct her eye towards the child without Tarren noticing. "Gabrielle, are you OK is there something wrong with your eye?" she asked with a bit of concern cupping the bards face with her hands and looking into her friends eye.
"No, no, my eye is just fine. I just wanted to ." She arched her neck repeatedly motioning again towards the girl.
"Is it your neck?" the warrior asked feeling the bards skin for a bruise until Gabrielle slapped her hands away. The frustrated bard gave up on discretion. "I want to talk to you about " but before she could finish the sentence Hercules had returned with the drinks. "By the gods he has to be fast too," the bard murmured under her breath.
Xena shook her head in confusion. "Gabrielle, we will talk later," the warrior sternly said not happy at her friends idea of a joke.
Xena smiled at Hercules and accepted the cool drink he offered. Gabrielle accepted hers and smiled, "Thanks, you really know how to come through ALL the time, big guy," she said with a grin. Hercules smiled at Gabrielle with a bit of confusion and handed the final mug to Tarren who refused it.
"Im not thirsty," she said staring up at the large man.
Xenas dark gaze fell upon her. "Tarren, when someone goes to the trouble of getting you a drink, you accept it and thank them, even if you do not wish to drink it,"" she said sternly using all her greatest efforts to control her anger.
Hercules knelt in front of the child hoping his friendly gesture would lower her wall of hatred for him. "Its gonna get so hot here today that your gonna welcome this cool drink, little one. Youll even want to bathe in it," the friendly man said with a smile.
Tarren nodded, "Oh really! Well then, thank you," she said sarcastically taking the drink. "If thats true, then please allow me to return the favor and cool you off now."
Gabrielle could not move fast enough to stop what she knew was coming. With one quick flip of Tarrens wrist, the son of Zeus stood drenched in cold water. "And dont call me little one," the child ordered dropping the mug at his feet.
The bard buried her head in her hands shaking her head.
Hercules merely smiled, and wiped his shirt dry.
Xenas eyes flared with an anger even the bard had never seen. She grabbed Tarren roughly by the wrist. "Thats it!" she said with a finality that possessed a threat and a promise.
Gabrielle stood. "Xena can we talk before you go?" the bard begged, but the warrior just shook her head. "No Gabrielle, there is nothing you can say. Just stay here," the warrior commanded.
The bard sighed as she watched the warrior drag the child off. She sat down and stared oddly at Hercules. "She really is a good kid once you get to know her," she said tilting her head with a grin. He nodded trying to smile. "Im sure," the large man said still drying his tunic.
Xena s anger carried such force that, by the time she had reached the exit of the arena, she had lifted the youngster under one arm and was taking quick stomping strides toward the inn. When she reached her destination, she entered the room dropping the girl on the first available bed. The warrior mother quickly removed her wrist armor and took a deep calming breath.
"OK, so you dont want to be nice. You dont want to be polite. Tarren, you asked me how I knew when a person needed something. Well it is quite obvious to me by your behavior that you, young lady, need a very fast lesson in manners, and I am going to give it to you right now."
The child did not struggle or squirm but merely submitted to the lesson at hand.
The youngster gritted her teeth and winced just a bit with each fall of Xenas hand. However, the pain she felt from the warriors quick castigation could not be matched by the pain she, felt for the friend she felt she had already lost.
Xena paddled the child until she heard the muffled tears of the little girl give way. It was then that she knew that the child had been reached. Her message had gotten through loud and clear. She quickly brought her daughter to her feet.
"Now I dont know what your problem is, but I have had ENOUGH of it. As far as I am concerned, you can stay in this room until we are ready to leave Athens. I have never been so disappointed in you as I am right now, Tarren!" she yelled, her voice breaking trying to fight back the emotions she felt at having to once again punish her child. "Dont you dare leave this room!" she scolded as she got to her feet.
Tarren looked away ignoring the pain of Xenas message. "You broke your promise," she said through broken sobs never daring to face the warrior.
Xena stopped at the door and stared back at her small daughter.
The child turned quickly and Xena could see the streams of tears that ran down her small cheeks. "It was just supposed to be you and me at the games. Thats what you promised. Just the two of us, and then you brought him." The youngster cried slowly crawling up on the bed seeking comfort in her satchel of belongings that lay on top, wishing that Nala were there with her.
The warriors shoulders slumped as she remembered the promise she had made on the road about the games. Xena felt a deep remorse for having broken her word. The warrior was confused and for once not quite sure how to respond. She looked back at the girl and watched the way she held onto that satchel. She had broken her promise. In fact she had not even remembered it. Xena just stared at her daughters sobbing figure lying on the pallet. A part of her wanted to take her in her arms and seek forgiveness for the promise not kept, but another part of her thought that the child needed to learn a much greater lesson without her. She saw how tightly the youngster held her chucks in one fist, and she knew what she was thinking, what she was wishing for, and Xena was wishing for the same thing. "Im sorry," she whispered, not even sure the child had heard her.
The warrior then slammed the door behind her and stood outside the wooden barrier listening in angst as the childs sobs turned into a steady flow of hysterics. Xena slumped against the door not wanting to leave her child, but having no great words of wisdom or guidance to offer at that moment.
Gabrielle came racing up the steps, but hearing the child crying and seeing her friends face, knew she was too late. The bard slumped up against the same door and listened to the youngsters sobs. She had to fight her own tears and urge to go in and hold the little girl.
Xena motioned her away with a broken whisper, "Let her be Gabrielle. She needs to learn Why does she always choose the hard way?"
The bard noticed the tears streaming down her friends face and decided delay was no longer an option. "Xena, we need to talk now!"
Xena stood wiping the wetness from her face. "Gabrielle right now I dont want to talk to anyone. I need to be alone."
Before the bard could utter another word, Xena quickly sprinted down the stairs and into the streets of Athens. Gabrielle considered going after her, and she considered going to Tarren. Yet the young bard felt at a loss for she knew neither would listen to her now. Slowly Gabrielle slid to the floor covering her face to hide the sadness she felt piercing at her very being.
Tarren wiped the tears from her face as she packed the last of her things in the satchel. Xenas words echoed in her mind, "I have never been so disappointed in you as I am right now." The child bit her lip at the pain that shot through her at the thought of those words.
She looked at the giant tub and smiled as she recalled the great water fight that she and Xena had just days before.
She looked at the bards staff carefully leaning up against the wall and shook her head. "You really should keep that with you more, Gabby," she whispered.
Then this small child slung her heavy bag over her shoulder and vaulted out the window leaving only a small piece of crumpled parchment behind for her friends to find. She was sure Xena would be happier without her, and Gabrielle always had her scrolls. Tarren wanted to find someone who would be there just for her. She wanted to find her mother, so she set out for the Warlord Traigers camp hoping that he would tell her where she was.
After a few hours had passed, Xena returned to the inn and found the very sullen bard seated quietly in the corner sipping at a mug of port. She lowered herself beside her friend.
"You dont drink Gabrielle," she said noting the near full mug. The bard looked up into the blue eyes of her friend and mentor. "Yeah, well, maybe I should start," she growled sipping at the mug and twisting her face into an expression of disgust.
The warrior shook her head, "I dont think so!" she warned sliding the mug out of the bards reach.
"Hey, give that back! Youre not my mother. If you want to be someones mother, there is a kid upstairs who needs you now," the bard yelled waving her hands in the air.
Xena swallowed hard at the angry words of her young friend, and Gabrielle was immediately sorry she had spoken so harshly. The warrior started to rise out of her seat when the bard gently pulled her down. Seeing the tears on her friends gentle face made even the great warrior crumble a bit.
"Xena, Im sorry. I didnt mean that. Its just that you and Tarren ." her voice quickly trailed off. She released the arm of the warrior and just buried her head on the table. Xena sighed as she sat back down.
"Its all right Gabrielle," she said soothingly touching the girls arm. The bard looked up and faced her warrior with a slight smile. "We seem to cry a lot, dont we," the bard whispered, wiping her eyes.
The warrior nodded gently rubbing the head of her friend. "Too much!"
Gabrielle straightened herself up and focused on the warriors eyes. "Xena, we need to talk about Tarren."
The warrior leaned back in the chair feeling the pain welling up inside her again. "OK, whats on your mind?" she said with a slight smile.
"Xena, you have to talk to her. You must make her understand what she means to you."
Xena shook her head. "Gabrielle, I have told her many times, but nothing I say seems to sink in. I am failing her."
The warriors frustration was starting to show. Gabrielle placed a hand on her friend. "Xena, you guys were doing great until Hercules came," the bard whispered hoping the words would not anger her friend.
Xena laughed a bit. "Gabrielle, that poor man has done nothing but beg that kid for a smile, and all he has gotten in return is a bunch of nasty stares and an unplanned bath."
The bard giggled a bit remembering the look on Hercules face when Tarren hit him with the water. "She sure does have a little temper, doesnt she?" the bard said with a smile.
The warrior nodded in agreement, but then her smile faded. "Look, theres something I think you should know. Tarren..." Before the bard could finish, the warrior waved her hand and finished for her. " Tarren is jealous of Hercules, and angry with me because I broke my promise about the games!" Xena said evenly.
The bards mouth dropped open. "You knew! Then why didnt you say anything?"
Xena lowered her eyes and sipped at the bards drink. "Gabrielle, I told Tarren that if she ever had a problem or needed to talk, that all she had to do was come to me. I cant always change the world to suit her needs, and I certainly cannot have her acting like a spoiled brat every time she does not get her own way. I tried to give her every chance to tell me how she felt. I tried to talk to her. I gave her every chance to do the right thing, but she is determined to always learn the hard way. I am not an oracle, so IF that is the choice she makes, then that is the choice I have to deal with," the warrior said with finality.
Gabrielle shook her head in disbelief. "I thought I had the key to all the problems," the young bard said, slightly dejected by her lack of contribution.
Xena placed a gentle hand on her friends arm. "Hey, you supply many answers. I know how hard you tried to convince Tarren to be nice. I also know how hard you tried to keep her out of trouble. Besides, I never would have realized what her problem was if I had not had such a good teacher these last few years," Xena said with a wink.
Gabrielle smiled. "Thanks! So what are you going to do about it?" The great warrior leaned back in her chair again and sighed. "I dunno. Nothing I do seems to get through to her. Tarren has to learn to trust me. She has to know how important she is to me. I cant coddle her every time she feels a bit threatened by someone I spend a day with. Then shell never feel secure with herself or in her place with me. But she is right, I made a promise, and I broke it, and for that I am more sorry than she will ever realize," the warrior said lowering her eyes.
The bard thought for a moment and then spoke in a tone just above a whisper. "Xena, I dont think its just the promise or the games. She thinks that you dont want her around."
Xena sighed heavily placing her arms on the table in front of her. "Gabrielle, how could she possibly think that I wouldnt want her with me? I have told her countless times that I do. Am I failing her that badly already?" the warrior said with a frown.
The bard shook her friends arm roughly. "No, Xena! Dont even think like that! Tarren is just a little kid, and she is trying very hard to find a place in our lives. She is just scared. Xena, you are so worried that you are doing the wrong thing with Tarren that you are ignoring everything you do right. Dont you see the way that kid looks up to you? She follows behind you just happy to be with you. She watches you with absolute awe, and its because you have done so much right with her that she is so afraid of losing you. Tarren loves you, Xena."
The warrior smiled a bit gazing down at the bard. "When did you get so wise?" she said with a grin.
"I think its the company I have been keeping these last few years," the bard said gently. The warrior shook her head and the bard smiled and took her friends hand knowing the remorse she was feeling. "Hey, dont be so hard on yourself. You are right. Tarren has been acting like a spoiled brat since she got here, and that was not right either. She needs to learn the hard way sometimes, just like someone else I know," the bard gently scolded. "You are both so stubborn that neither one of you has the good sense to tell the other one how you feel," she continued, trying not to let her own frustration show.
The warrior smiled at the bards restraint. "Well, thats what we have you for," she said with a quick grin.
The bard smiled poking her friend gently in the ribs.
Xena laughed at her friends new found smile and stood. "Well, I for one am through playing these games. That child and I are going to have a very long talk, and for once she IS going to listen. Her voice was filled with a new determination and strength as she started up the steps. "Hey, you be nice," the bard called after her.
Xena offered her a sheepish grin. "I am always nice."
Xena entered the room and her heart sank when all she saw was any empty pallet with a small piece of crumbled parchment. The warrior scanned the room and grabbed the note.
"Dear Xena, You have Hercules and Gabrielle. I need to find my mother, so I will have someone too. Im sorry I let you down. Please tell Gabby I said goodbye, Tarren."
Xena crumbled the note in her hand and ran to the window scanning the street, but the child was gone.
"Gabrielle!" she yelled as she sprinted down the stairs holding tightly to the note.
The bard quickly came running to the warriors side, keeping pace with her as she ran through the inn. "What is it? Whats wrong?"
Xena handed her the note and headed for the stables.
Gabrielle went white as she read the parchment. "Xena, where are you going?" she asked, her voice shaking in fear of the words she had just read.
"To get my daughter," the warrior said gritting her teeth. She did not wait for help. She did not even wait for Gabrielle. The Warrior Princess mounted Argo and took off in the only direction she thought the child might head towards Traigers camp. If she thought him as a friend of her mothers, then she would go there. With a quick kick of Xenas heels, Argo burst out of the stable into the streets of Athens with an angry warrior on her back.
Tarren walked quickly up the hill outside Athens where Xena had met Traigers men. She followed their tracks, just as Xena had taught her. She knew that if anyone could help find her mother than it would be Traiger. Xena needed Hercules, and she was only in the way, so, with tears in her eyes, she pushed on hoping to find a mother she never knew. She wondered what would happen if she did find her. Would this stranger even want her?
It was not long before, two large men jumped out of the woods and stood before the small figure.
"Well, look what we have here," one tall, overweight warrior said with a toothless grin.
The girl stood as straight as she could. "Im here to see Lord Traiger," she said trying to hide her fear and stay focused on her mission.
The toothless soldier dropped to one knee. "Come to join up, have you child?" he said with a belly laugh reaching for the youngster.
The girl sneered at the joke and pulled her chucks from her boot. "Maybe!" she whispered and then with a quick whip at his groin she brought the large warrior crumbling to his knees. "Maybe not!" she said with a smile.
The other man started to laugh at his large friends demise. "Oh, Traiger must see this for himself. Come on kid. Ill take you to him." The man bowed his head and allowed the child to walk ahead of him, staring at the fallen form of his friend with a smile.
When they entered the camp, the soldier left Tarren and walked into the largest of the tents that surrounded them. It had been many years since she had been in such a camp, but Tarren recognized the tent he entered as belonging to that of a Warlord.
Within a few minutes the soldier returned followed by a much older man. The warlords face had many scars most likely from sword fights. He wore an armor full of gold and silver plates and a long soft robe trailed slowly behind him. He glanced down at the child who swallowed hard at the amount of men in the camp now surrounding her. He studied her. "Do I know you child?" he asked with curiosity.
Tarren held her chin out. "Im Tarren. Nala and I stayed with you."
He cut her off. "Of course, little Tarren," he yelled tossing her up in the air with ease. "Hows that old mystic? he said with a wide smile.
The child lowered her eyes. "She died."
Traiger lowered his eyes for a moment too. "I am sorry child. She was a good one. One of the few So what brings you here, and why is one so small traveling alone?"
The child glanced up at the man, her eyes unsure of his true nature. Xena had told her to not always believe what she saw before her was real. She did not know if this warlords friendly pose was real or not, but she had little choice and no where else to go.
"Well, Nala told me that you knew my mother, and I was hoping you could tell me where I could find her," she asked quietly, hoping the other men would not hear her request.
The man shook his head in disbelief and motioned for the girl to enter his tent. The girl did as she was asked and once inside dropped her heavy satchel on the floor.
"Can you tell me where my mother is?" she asked hoping for a quick response.
The mans expression turned a bit cold, "Tell me child, have you been alone since Nala died?" the warlord asked, prying for information.
The child shook her head. "No, I was traveling with a friend, Xena, but "
Traiger fell to his knees and grabbed the childs tunic and laughed. "YOU were with Xena. Does she know where you area?" his once friendly tone now filled with venom.
The girl shook her head wildly, fear filling her small body. "No, I ran away. I want to find my mother. Will you help me or not?" the child stammered, taking a quick step toward the opening of the tent.
Traiger laughed loudly walking around the tent, considering her words. "I do not know why you would seek THAT one. She is pure evil. She never even wanted you. However, child, you will not have to look for her. I promise she will seek you out quickly enough. I assure you. I am only sorry that my needs are such that I must make your reunion short," he finished.
Tarren considered his words and felt her face filling with tears and her heart filling with hatred for this man. She knew he was not her friend.
Traiger eyed the youngster carefully. "You see, I need to make use of your presence here, but that is the way of the true warrior. You should know that," he said with a quick grin. Tarren knew that whatever he was talking about was not good. She tried to run out of the tent only to be stopped roughly by two guards. Reaching into her boot, she pulled out her chucks. She knocked each man in the head and ran past them, hoping to make it to the trees. However the large group of soldiers quickly surrounded her. She nervously waved the chucks in the air hoping to keep them all at a safe distance. "Wisdom before weapons." Xenas words echoed in her mind. She was outnumbered, and she knew it. Surrender was the wisest choice.
Traiger laughed at the sight of this small child. "Little warrior, there is no place for you run and no one for you to run to. Throw down your weapons before someone hurts you or you hurt yourself," he laughed.
"OK!" she yelled, tossing the chucks spinning quickly in the air knocking Traiger in the head. The youngster smiled as her target was hit her target.
As a trickle of blood dripped down his face, the angry warlord took a few quick paces toward the child and backhanded her across the face sending her reeling backward. "I tried to be nice. I tried to be your friend, but you want your mother so much, then so be it. You can share her fate. Throw her in the pit," he commanded.
One of the huge warriors lifted the girl off the ground and carried her kicking and fighting to a deep pit outside the camp. The soldier pushed the heavy grate that covered the opening of the pit away and dropped the girl into an oblivion of darkness.
Traiger wiped the blood from his head and picked up the childs weapons studying them. He called for Rendan, his son to join him in his tent. Tossing the chucks on the table he instructed his son, "Xena will be coming into camp to get that child. I want every man we have circling the outer perimeters of the camp. I want Xena taken. She will no longer interfere with my plans," he said with a smile. "Not while I have her daughter," he laughed.
The Warrior Princess jumped off of Argo and studied the tracks before her. She saw where Tarren had stopped and the two men had joined her. After a brief scuffle, the girl had left on her own with one of the men, the footprints showed.
Xena noted an ailing body to the left of the road and smiled a bit at his demise. She reached over and roughly pulled the groaning warrior to his feet. "What happened to you friend?" she said with a steady force.
The man eyed the warrior but said nothing. With a quick pinch to the neck she lowered him to the ground.
"OK, I have just cut off the blood to your brain. You will dies in 30 seconds if you dont start talking. Now, tell me what happened to you," she ordered.
The man choked as he spoke, grabbing at his neck for breath. "Some little kid came looking for Traiger. She whipped out these sticks and knocked me off my feet."
The warrior suppressed a grin at the image of her child taking this large man down. "Where is she now?" Xena demanded.
The man choked again. "Teril took her to the camp," he groaned gasping for more air.
Xena removed the pinch and then knocked him unconscious with a quick punch, rolling him into the brush. "Damn foolish little kid," she muttered as she mounted her horse and headed towards the camp.
Tarren lay in the darkness feeling the cold mud all around her. She looked up at the bars above. She knew there was no way to climb up. The wet mud walls had nothing to grip onto. She tried in vain to vault up, but her reach was not high enough. After expending her last bit of energy, she lay down in the cold mud. She buried her face in arms wishing that someone were there for her. She thought of Xena, but knew that she was wishing for something that would never be.
Traiger was pacing around the camp, barking out orders of attack when he heard the sound of groaning men and bodies falling. He looked into the woods ahead of him. There was an eerie silence and, all at once, a sound he had not heard in years cut through the air, sending a shiver of fear through his body, "YIYIYIYIYIYI." It was the battle cry of the Warrior Princess.
Xena was coming straight through his camp. As if in slow motion, to emphasize her anger, the warrior thrust her sword into the crowd of men, cutting down each warrior who raised a sword against her. With fast blows from her arms and kicks from her mighty legs, each attacker was soon knocked to the ground. She circled the camp before disappearing into the woods once again.
"Get her! Find her, you useless fools!" Traiger yelled ordering his greatly diminished troops to give chase.
The warlord angrily returned to his tent, cursing each man under his command, but when he entered his tent, he met the Warrior Princesss blade. She held in her hands, the chucks that she knew were Tarrens. Keeping her sword pointed straight at Traigers heart, ready to thrust it straight through if he spoke the wrong word, she growled through clenched teeth, "Where is she, Traiger?"
The warlord tried to steady his voice. "Now Xena, is that any way to greet an old friend?" he said, moving around his tent, trying unsuccessfully to escape her blade.
Xena pressed the sword to his skin and blood trickled out. She observed the fresh cut on his forehead. "Well, old friend, thats a nasty bruise. Whered you get it?" she purred. The warlord said nothing, so the warrior pushed the blade in more.
"That brat of yours did it!" he yelled.
Xena smiled wickedly. "Well, where is that brat of mine, Traiger? So help me, if she has so much as a scraped knee, I will kill you," the warrior said evenly, her voice lacking all feeling.
Traiger backed to the edge of the tent. "Kill me, and you will never find her, Princess."
Xena smiled strangely as she watched the cringing warlord. Her eyes were crazed with anger and fear for Tarren. She had been in this situation once before with Solan. The mere thought of that brought back such pain and anger that she could barely control her rage. "Sure I will, Traiger. Ill go man by man until one talks. After youre dead, nobody will really care about the kid anyway. So, one last time, where is my daughter?"
The warlord felt the point of the blade pushing forward and threw his arms up in surrender. "All right! Shes in the pit outside the camp."
Xenas eyes flew open for she knew what the pit was. She had used it often enough herself in her darker days. Rage rippled through her muscular figure, and she grabbed Traiger by the neck. "You put a little kid in the pit!" she growled.
He struggled for air under the great warriors grip. "I had to. She attacked my men trying to escape. That little kid is dangerous."
The warrior shook her head in disgust and neatly tucked the chucks in her armor and pushed the man forward. "Come on, great warlord. Lets go get her." Xena roughly pushed Traiger out the opening she had made in the back of his tent, easily slipping past all his guards.
When they reached the location of the pit, Xena knocked the warlord out cold with the butt of her sword. Xena quickly lifted the grid off the hole and looked down into the darkness. "Tarren, " she called, but there was no response. The warrior jumped into the pit and sat beside the now still form of her child. "Tarren," she cried gently shaking the girl.
The childs eyes opened slowly. "Xena what are you doing here?" she asked weakly.
The warrior shook her head, lifting the girl into her arms, thankful she was alive. "That is what I am supposed to ask you," the warrior said vaulting into the air and landing on the ground above the pit. Xena placed the filthy child on the ground and quickly looked over her nervously searching for any wound. She wiped the mud from the childs face and saw the large bruise forming on the side of her cheek.
"Who did that to you, Tarren?" Xena asked, trying to control the fury building inside her toward the man who dared to harm her child.
But Tarren had been down there for hours, and her eyes were having trouble adjusting to the bright light. "Xena, I cant see you," she cried, blocking the sun weakly with her arm.
The warrior studied their surroundings looking for a safe place to tend the child. Quickly she noted that Traiger was gone.
Xena knew that in moments there would be an army before them.
To soothe Tarren, she told her, "Relax. Close your eyes and let them focus for a while." Gently, she wiped the tears from the youngsters face.
The child opened her eyes blinking steadily at the warrior "Better," she said in a weak whisper grabbing onto Xena to steady herself.
The warrior held the child securely by the arms and peered into her face. "Tarren, who did that to your face?" she asked caressing the wound.
The child lowered her eyes. "Traiger!" she said a tear falling down her cheek.
The warriors eyes filled with a flame that nothing could extinguish. She looked at the girl lovingly, angry with herself that she had not there to block that blow. "Tarren, can you make into the trees?" the warrior asked.
Tarren smiled a bit and shook he head, ashamed by her lack of ability. "Im sorry, Xena, but this is one time when I dont think I can."
Knowing the girl was weaker than she had even thought, the great warrior looked directly at her. "Its OK. You just stay behind me. Dont move for anything, OK?"
Tarren stared into the blue eyes of her large friend, and then her glance dropped to the warriors side. Seeing the familiar sight of her weapon, the girl eagerly reached for her chucks. "No, Tarren! Not this time!" Xena said sternly, pushing her small hand away. The warrior stood to her full height and pushed the girl safely behind her.
Xena pulled out her sword keeping her back to the trees and Tarren behind her. She heard the men approaching. Before the first one reached her, she whispered to the small figure leaning behind her, "I love you, Tarren."
The child looked up, but before she could respond, Xena was already caught in a battle with the first swordsman. As each man approached, the great warrior cut him down with a slice of her sword or a kick.
Tarren knew that her presence so close to her friend was keeping the warrior from using all her skills. So, using what little strength she had left, she slowly climbed into the trees behind her and collapsed into blackness on a high branch.
Xena noted the movement and shook her head in awe, staying in position until the girl was safely hidden. With bellowing laughter the Warrior Princes then vaulted into the center of the band of men quickly knocking bodies in every direction.
One man tried to climb to the tree that the child had found refuge in, but the whistle of Xenas chakram was the last thing, Rendan, son of Traiger, ever heard.
The warrior fought man after man, not sure just how many more would come. Traiger had an army, but she would take them all on to save her child.
Her smile quickly broadened as she heard the sound of familiar hoof prints pounding the road. Men started falling at her feet without her lifting a sword. Some flew threw the air while others roughly skidded to the dirt. Xena looked across the battleground and saw Hercules and Gabrielle fighting their way into the battle. She smiled to her friends, and, sounding her warrior cry again, vaulted through the air and landed in front of Traiger.
He raised his sword, but she blocked it so easily. He threw a punch, but she tossed him to the ground with a thud!
Lowering her sword, Xena smiled at him coldly. "I told you if you had hurt my daughter that Id kill you. Now Im giving you a fair chance to go for your sword," she growled. The man threw his arms up in surrender, and she sighed in disgust at his fear. "Traiger, you always were a coward!" she said picking up her sword and turning to walk away. Her thoughts were now only of Tarren. But, just as she had turned, the coward picked up his sword and made an unsuccessful lunge at the warrior.
"Xena, behind you," the bard screamed, running towards her friend.
The warrior turned just in time to thrust her blade into the garbage that fell at her feet.
Hercules and Gabrielle managed to chase the remaining warriors deep into the woods, and Xena stopped for a moment to thank her friends before racing to the tree limb where Tarren had found shelter. The warrior climbed into the tree and gently carried the child down.
Gabrielle came rushing over. "Is she OK?" she asked scanning the child and noting the large bruise on her face.
The warrior nodded at the bard who, despite all the mud covering the youngsters body, hugged her anyway.
Xena merely kept a gentle gaze on her and caressed the side of Tarrens wounded face. "Just exhausted," was all Xena would say, a tear falling down the warriors face.
Hercules tapped Gabrielle on the shoulder. "Come on, lets make sure those guys find their way out of Greece," he said smiling carefully at Xena.
The bard knew that he wanted to leave the warrior and the child alone. So, with a fond glance at her friends, she took a place behind Hercules on his large horse and rode off.
"My bag, Xena. I want my bag," the child cried.
Xena nodded and retrieved the girls satchel from Traigers tent and then whistled for Argo. She mounted the great war-horse while still cradling the weak child in her arms. With a quick whistle the horse trotted in the direction of a nearby stream.
When they reached the waters edge, Xena removed the mud soaked clothes from the girl and carefully placed her in the cooling waters.
The childs eyes finally opened wide, and she smiled at the warrior.
"Its about time you came back," Xena said with a slight grin wiping the mud gently from the small form.
"Always a bath," the youngster replied with a smile.
The warrior returned the smile. "Yeah always a bath," the warrior laughed.
When Xena was tending to the bruise on her face, Tarrens eyes locked onto her friends. "Xena, why did you come?" she asked with tears streaming down her face.
The warrior bit her lip gently wiping the wound. "How could you think I would not come after you?" she asked sternly.
The girl shrugged. " I didnt think you really would care that much."
The warrior swallowed hard. " Well, if thats what you think, little girl, then you are not very observant. Tarren, I dont know how to make my feelings more plain to you. YOU are the most important thing in my life now. When I read that note and new you were gone ." Her voice trailed and she grabbed the girls face gently for emphasis her emotions. "Why did you run away just because I spanked you?" the warrior said evenly.
The girl shook her head. "No, because you needed Hercules, and I was just in the way. I wanted to find my mother so we could both have what we needed - someone who would be there for each of us. I didnt want to be a burden to you like I was to Nala."
The warrior dried the girl hair with a towel and wrapped her in a large cloth placing her gently on the grass. "YOU are not a burden, Tarren. I WANT to be the one there for you because I love you. Dont you know that by now?" the warrior said in a soft but firm tone.
The child shrugged in confusion.
Xena paced around the small clearing in circles, trying to consider her options. Tarren knew Xena was angry that she had run away, but it was more than that! The warrior turned and faced the child. There was a tear running down her cheek that she quickly wiped away.
"Tarren, you can be a pain in the butt sometimes. You are always getting in trouble. I feel like I have you over my knee every other day lately, and you have a lot to learn about respect and patience," the warrior said slowly, as she leaned beside the child.
The girl lowered her head at the chastisement. Xena took the childs face lovingly in her hands.
"But you have a soft heart and a gentle spirit, and your laughter fills me up like nothing else ever could. I wouldnt have you anywhere else in the world, but right here with me. I need you in my life more than you will ever really understand.
"I love Hercules. He has done many wonderful things for me. I love Gabrielle like she was my sister, and I would die for each of them. But nobody can ever be as special in my life as you are. There is a place in my heart that belongs just to you. Nobody will ever take that away," Xena whispered gently, staring into the blue eyes of the youngster, hoping she was listening to her.
The child rose from the ground wanting to dress. She was confused, and Xena knew it. The girl pulled the dark long breeches on and threw the tunic over her head and faced the warrior. "Will you always come for me, Xena?" she asked, staring at the warriors muscular form.
Xena smiled and nodded, taking the youngster into a quick embrace. "Yes I will, little one, through Tartarus and back, if need be. But you better never run away again," she said shaking her finger at the girl.
Tarren smiled up at her friend. "I wont. I promise," the child said again hugging the warrior. After a few moments Xena realized that it was time to make things clear for both of them. She sat down on the grassy ground and lowered Tarren into her lap. The warrior sighed heavily trying to choose her words carefully.
"Do you realize what could have happened to you today? You could have been killed, Tarren!" the warrior said anger flowing through her words.
The girl shook her head and buried herself deeper in the warriors arms. "Im sorry I caused you so much trouble, Xena," she said lowering her eyes and sniffling away tears.
The warrior sighed and rubbed the girls face gently. "Hey, you are worth the trouble. I know I should have paid more attention to you, and I should have not broken my promise about the games. I am so sorry about that, Tarren. But that is no excuse for your behavior either, Tarren. You cannot act up every time things are not as you want them. You have to know that you can come and talk to me and tell me how you are feeling. We may not always agree, but acting like a spoiled brat is not going to get you anything more than what you got. I am NOT sorry I spanked you, and if you ever act like that again "
The girl threw her hands up in the air. "I know, I know. Please dont say it," she said rubbing her bottom wearily. The warrior laughed a bit and her soft voice turned more serious.
She wrapped her arms tightly around the child not wanting to let go. Xena then pulled out the girls chucks and handed them to her. "You keep them, Xena. I dont want something that belonged to a mother who never even wanted me," she said with a gasp, leaning her head on the warriors chest.
Xena hugged the child and swallowed hard. "Oh, she wanted you, Tarren, and she still wants you," she said quietly.
The girl looked at her with total confusion, and Xena wiped the wet hairs from the girls eyes as she spoke. "Let me tell you a story. A very long time ago, I was in the land of Chin. It was in a very dark time in my life, and I did a lot of bad things. Then I met a person who became my friend. She even saved my life. Her name was Lao Ma. She taught me about focus and healing and many other things that I want to share with you when you are older. She tried to help me get my life on a new and better path, but I was not ready to change." The warrior paused and then continued.
"We did not part on the best of terms. I had not learned how to change my path, so I left."
"Before I went, she gave me these as a gift." The warrior caressed the chucks and placed them lovingly in Tarrens lap. "She told me that they would teach me the fluidity and grace of motion and perhaps open all the doors to the peace and tranquillity I needed."
The childs mouth opened as she stared at the warrior, but she did not say a word.
Xena swallowed hard as the tears fell down her cheeks, and she looked down into the eyes of her daughter and caressed the youngsters face as she continued. "I worked with these for a long time, but they were not as deadly as a sword nor as fast as my chakram, so I just kept them as a remembrance of an old friend who had saved my life.
Then, about 12 years ago things started happening." The warrior choked and she could feel the childs grip growing tighter, begging her to continue. Xena nodded knowing there was no turning back. "I was carrying a child. I was still a warlord but I was carrying a child."
"The father, a good man named Borias, knew that our lives needed to change because there were things we did that a child should never see. I couldnt understand that. I was still too consumed with hate to let go, and, because of that hatred, he died. He died trying to reach me when he felt I needed him most."
Tears now fell steadily down the warriors face. She made no effort to stop them or control them for they were tears for all she had lost, and they needed to fall.
Tarren carefully wiped them away one by one. Xena gently repositioned her child closer to her body, and the girl nuzzled in next to the warriors shoulder to hear more of the story.
"So, on that same night that Borias fell, I gave birth to a son, Solan. I had a servant girl tending to me at the time. I thought I could trust her, but she was evil. I guess... I guess I made her that way. I dont know." The warrior sighed heavily and looked into the innocent blue eyes of her youngster. "She drugged me heavily with herbs for the pain of the birth and I guess to keep me from seeing what was going on around me. Its all such a blur. I was lost and confused. There was a lot of fighting going on around me. So when she said we had to go, I looked into the face of my son and followed, never looking back. I wanted him safe. I never knew that she had left behind something so VERY precious to me," Xenas voice faltered a bit. "You!"
Tarrens eyes filled with tears and wonder. "YOU? YOU are MY mother, Xena?" the child whispered in disbelief.
The warrior nodded and wiped her own wet cheeks dry. "Tarren, I am sorry. I never knew you were even born. Nala took you away to keep you safe. If I had only known, I would have laid down my sword down and been with you and Solan always."
The confused child laid her head back down, anxious to hear the rest. "What happened to my brother?" she asked with a shaky voice.
The warrior could feel the shivers running through the girl and wrapped her arms tighter around her, hoping it would offer warmth and comfort.
Xena again swallowed hard, stroking the childs back lovingly. "I left him with good people to raise him, and he died. He died because my enemies found out he was my son," she cried.
Xena lifted the child off her lap and stared at her. "Thats why I didnt tell you, and thats why we cant tell anyone else right now. I need to keep YOU safe. When Solan died a part of me died with him, and I thought that I would never feel so alive again. When I found out about you . My heart just filled Tarren, I could never bare to lose you the way I lost him. I could never live with that. I would give my life, my soul, to protect you. YOU are MY daughter. You are part of me. Do you understand?" she whispered through her tears.
The girl nodded absently thinking about all Xena had said. Tarren looked at the chucks and shook her head in disbelief. "Youre my mother?" she asked again. The warrior nodded not sure how the child was taking this. The girl stood breaking away from the warriors gentle hold. She turned away and faced the water and Xena stood closely behind her, not sure if her touch would be welcome.
Then the warrior spoke softly. "Hey, its OK if you are not thrilled with the idea. I wouldnt blame you if ." Before she could finish her sentence the girl turned and embraced the great warrior, allowing years of anticipation and tears to fall from her eyes. "YOURE MY mother!" she cried.
The warrior lifted her easily into her arms, cradling her close to her heart. "Yes, little one, I am your mother!" she said holding the youngster tightly, vowing never to let harm come to her. Xena smiled through her tears as her heart filled with a mixture of relief and joy at the childs reaction to her revelation.
After many hours of talking the two started back towards Athens. Tarren had many questions, and Xena tried to be patient answering as many as she could.
"Does Gabrielle know?"
Xena smiled. "Of course!"
The girl walked in quiet contemplation, and Xena said nothing allowing the child to come to terms with this herself. "Does this change anything Xena?" the girl asked staring up at the warrior.
Xena shrugged, "Well I hope it will change things for you. I hope you will come to realize that you have a very secure place in my heart and in my life that no one else can ever have," she said with a smile.
The child grinned. "Will you teach me to fight with a sword like you?"
The warriors face went blank. "NO! But I WILL teach you how to stand at every meal if you ever even pick up a sword," the warrior said with a grin.
"You already taught me that!" the child said with a painful frown. "Will you teach me how to throw your chakram?" she asked eagerly.
The warrior again smiled. "Maybe some day when you are older, but in the meantime, if you so much as touch it, I " The girl stopped her with a dejected look.
"I know meals standing up I remember," she said absently touching her aching backside.
Xena laughed and tasseled the girls hair "Good! I am glad we understand each other so well."
The child had just about given up. "Well, will you teach me to defend myself with the staff?" the child asked quickly.
The warrior shrugged. "Maybe, if you can behave yourself for more than one day!" she said with a slight grin.
"Ahh, come on. If I could defend myself better, then you wouldnt have to worry so much about me getting hurt on the road."
The warrior considered the argument. "Ill worry anyway, and you WILL run for safety WHEN there is trouble, but I guess there wouldnt be anything wrong with you learning a few new skills," she said sternly.
Xena knew that she would not be able to contain the childs eagerness to attain skills for long, so if she taught her the staff, then perhaps she could teach her a discipline and respect for things around her. Amazon children used a staff from the time they could walk. While she would never allow Tarren to become a target, she did want her able to defend herself in the event she was ever caught off guard. The chucks were a good weapon but not much defense, and it was defense that concerned the warrior most.
"Tarren, I know you have a lot of questions, but slow down a bit. We have a lifetime to talk. I promise you," she said with a smile a bit exhausted by the entire day.
The child sensed the weariness and merely reached out and embraced her mother who welcomed the hug with a new relaxation and ease.
"Whats that for?" the warrior asked.
The girl just shrugged, "You looked like you needed it."
Xena smiled and lifted the child quickly into her arms.
"Thank you for coming for me and for telling me who you who we are," the youngster said with a wide grin.
The warrior rubbed the childs head and placed her back on the ground. "You are quite welcome, little one," she said gently.
Tarren bit her lip and reached down into her left boot pulling out the chucks. "Do you want these back? They are yours?"
Xena eyed them and shook her head. "No, you keep them. They are a gift from your mother, remember? You learned to use them with more grace than I ever did. That is something I am very proud of. But remember, Tarren, its always wisdom before weapons," she said with a stern look.
The child nodded and placed the chucks back in her boot happy that they truly now were a gift from her mother. "I would like to practice with you, if you dont mind," the great warrior said staring proudly at the girl.
Tarrens eyes opened wide. "You would?"
The warrior nodded. "Of course! Perhaps there are a few things I could teach you, and a few you can teach me. Maybe I will find some of that peace I never found."
The little girl smiled at the thought of teaching Xena anything and then her smile quickly faded. "Will I always travel with you or will you leave me behind the way you did Solan?" the child asked quietly.
Xena stopped struck by the words. "NO Tarren, my path may not always be easy, and I will not be easy on you because of that. But you and I will walk the same path together, no matter where it leads us," she said with finality, leaving no doubt in the childs mind that Xena would never leave her behind.
The girl smiled widely, and they continued walking. "Will you ever tell me ALL about your past?" the youngster asked, walking backwards in front of the warrior.
Xena stopped again, poking the girl playfully in the stomach pushing her into motion. "Maybe someday when we are both MUCH older," the warrior said, thinking of gray hairs and canes.
The child shrugged it off and then let her mind fall into deeper thoughts.
Xena studied her for a minute "Yes, another question, my Little Princess?" she said with a slight bow and a questioning smile.
"Am I gonna get in trouble for running away, for going to Traigers?" the girl asked her expression filled with great concern.
The warrior laughed at the question but did not slow her pace. "Oh yes! Definitely!" she said loudly.
The girl cringed and rubbed her throbbing backside. "Great! I wont sit down for the next month as it is," the child said with a sad sigh fearing the inevitable. The warrior smiled again. "Im not gonna spank you, Tarren. Frankly, youve worn the muscle in my hand down. It needs to rest for at least a week, so Id appreciate it if you could stay out of trouble that long," the warrior chided. "Besides, no spanking I could give you would be severe enough for what you did," she said with an evil grin trying to look angry.
The girl swallowed hard. "Why dont I believe that?" the child said in a shaky voice.
The warrior considered the statement and giggled a bit at the childs newfound wisdom.
"Then whats my punishment gonna be?" she said with concern, knowing the warrior had a very imaginative way of addressing these things.
"Well, I think, that considering you scared the wits out of me and nearly got yourself killed," she said in an angry but controlled tone, "that you should have the most severe punishment I can think of."
The girl closed her eyes in contemplation of the coming sentence, and Xena smiled at the sight.
"You are going to spend each and every day confined to my company. YOU will go everywhere I go and do everything I do, and dont go crying for mercy because there will not be any this time," she said with finality.
The child looked at the ground and then at the warrior and smiled. "Whatever you say, Mother," she cried running into the warriors open arms.
Xena let the word sit on her mind for a while, knowing that she would have to keep Tarren from using it as much as possible for her own protection. But for now, for this moment, she wanted to hear it again and again and again!
Xena mounted Argo and lowered her hand down to Tarren "Come on. At this rate we will never get back before nightfall!"
The girl thought for a moment staring at the hard saddle. "Are you kidding?" she said feeling the throbs of pain and knowing the warriors handprint was forever emblazoned on her bottom.
The warrior reached behind her and pulled out her soft fur bedroll, patting it firmly on the saddle in front of her. She then reached her hand down again, and the child gladly took her place gently in front of her mother.
"How fast do you want to go?" Xena asked wrapping one arm around the child. They approached an open field overlooking Athens. Tarren turned to her mother. "How fast can you make her go, Mom?"
The great warrior smiled. "Thats MY daughter," she said with a wicked smile kicking Argo gently into a quick gallop. Xena laughed wildly as the wind whipped through her hair feeling the freedom of the nature around her.
Tarren screamed in equal delight leaning her head back against her mothers chest and stretching her arms out like a bird to feel the speed of the air flowing through her. She had no fear because she had total trust in the woman who held her so tightly.
The warrior could only smile at the childs ecstasy at the rush of the movement beneath her. Xena thought she was the only one in the world who could appreciate that feeling, but now there was another, another that she could share it all with.
Gabrielle waited anxiously after seeing Argo race into the stable. Tarren came charging into the room full of smiles. The bard opened her arms and embraced the child carefully looking over the wound on her face. "Are you OK?" she said holding the youngster. The girl nodded enjoying the bards affection for a while. "Wheres Xena?" she asked looking out the door." The child released the bard. "Shes saying goodbye to Hercules," the child said with a smile. Gabrielle studied the youngsters face. She was glowing with excitement. "So are you sure youre OK?" she said putting a cold cloth on the bruise on her face.
The child lay on the bed and folded her legs in a twist. "YUP! Im fine," she said whistling.
The bard sat on the edge of the bed. "So I guess Xena really chewed you out about what a stupid stunt you pulled?" the bard said sternly.
The child nodded, but her smile did not fade. There was a mystery in the girls eyes, and Gabrielle was dying to know what it was.
"So what else did you and Xena talk about all this time you were gone?" she asked pressing the cloth closely to the wound.
"Nothing much really...mostly about how much shopping youve done," Tarren said with a giggle.
Gabrielle smiled "You know you are in a pretty good mood for someone whose in as much trouble as you are," she chided.
The child smiled again. "Hmm, you are right, Gabrielle, but then again Im always in trouble, so I might as well enjoy it." This was more than the bard could stand.
"You think youre so funny dont you. Well, lets see if you think this is funny." The bard quickly started tickling the youngster, who cried and laughed in one loud moan. "Ill get it out of you one way or the other," she sneered as she continued. "Hey, hey stop it, or I will tell MY mother," she cried in delight.
The youngsters words froze Gabrielle in motion. The bards eyes filled with joy and tears and she grabbed the girl "Thank the gods she told you. Are you OK?"
Tarren stood and smiled at her friend. "Sure. It seems a bit strange to think about it, but, hey, my moms Xena Warrior Princess. Why wouldnt it be OK?" she asked.
The bard nodded and hugged the small figure. "Why indeed, little one...why indeed." Gabrielle again brought the child into her arms, and this time they both allowed a few tears to fall.
Tarren was grateful to have found her mother, but just as happy to have also found a good friend like Gabrielle.
Hercules stood by his horse staring at the warrior. He kissed her gently on the lips. "Next time," he said with a smile.
The warrior shook her head "No, not for a while, Im afraid. I owe whatever is in my heart to Tarren right now. She needs me, and I need her. There is just not enough left at the moment to give to someone else...even you," she said touching his arm tenderly.
"Well, we will have our time. Children grow up eventually."
The warrior nodded in agreement "Yeah, but Im not too anxious to push this one into that," she said with a smile.
He nodded understandably and gently caressed her face. "I can wait," he said, reaching for her face with his hand wanting to have their lips touch one last time.
Just then Tarren came racing into the stable, startling the pair.
The warrior shook her head and smiled. "Timing. I have to teach her about timing," she whispered to herself.
The girl was motionless for a moment, and then Xena waved her over.
"Hercules is leaving. Dont YOU have something to say to him?" she asked in a parental tone.
The girl looked confused at the warriors words. and then Xena wrapped a gentle arm around her neck, giving it a little squeeze. "Oh yeah...Im sorry I acted so rudely to you and dumped the water on you at the arena. "Hows that?" she asked looking up at Xena.
The warrior grinned and rubbed the childs head "Everything up to HOWS THAT was fine," she said with a crooked smile. Hercules got on one knee and faced the child. "Well, I do appreciate the apology. I hope we can be friends one day, Tarren," he said with a grin.
The child looked up at the warriors soft gaze and then at the muscular man and extended her small hand towards him, "Sure!" she said with a slight smile.
The large man looked at Xena with surprise and shook the childs hand. "Friends then!" he said, and the girl nodded. He winked at his Warrior Princess and mounted his horse. After a quick wave and a smile, he headed out of Athens.
Xena watched as he rode away and sighed a bit at the sight knowing that they would one day all be together again. She then looked down at Tarren and placed a tender arm on her shoulder. "THAT was very good. I am very proud of you for accepting Hercules friendship. It means a lot to me," she said turning the girl to face her.
The child shrugged. "Well, the way I see it, if hes your friend, then he should be my friend too right?" she whispered.
The warrior nodded, "Right!" She then picked the child up and tossed her in the air, and the girl giggled in delight and begged to be thrown much higher.
Tarren and Xena waited patiently as the last of the bards gave their oration. Gabrielle had told a wonderful story about how Xena had saved the souls in the Elysium Fields from the evil and restored order in the world.
The warrior frowned. "I wish just once shed tell a story about something other than me," she whispered to Tarren.
" Xena, thats just Gabbys way of telling you how much she thinks of you," the girl said frowning at the warrior for her lack of understanding.
The warrior eyed the child. "Well, arent we the wise little oracle today?" she said with a sly wink genuinely impressed by the youngsters innocent wisdom. The great warrior knew how the bard felt about her, but she had never viewed the scrolls and her stories as a true expression of those feelings.
Tarren gave her an odd look. "You really should listen more," she said in a slightly chastising tone. "Oh yes, maam," she said with a bow making the child giggle. The two fell silent as the judge moved to the front of the stage to announce the winner.
Gabrielle sat behind him with the other finalists eyes closed and fidgeting in her seat a bit.
Xena had to smile at the bards obvious discomfort at being told she had to wait. It was something Xena knew well that Gabrielle was not good at.
The judge unrolled the scroll that lay before him. "Our winner of the Athens Great Bard Competition is Gabrielle of Potedia," he said clapping his hands motioning her to approach the podium to address the crowd and accept her award.
The young bard wiped tears from her eyes as she accepted a small golden quill and a parchment that declared her the winner.
Xena and Tarren jumped to their feet clapping loudly and whistling far above the sounds of the other spectators.
Gabrielle motioned with her hands for everyone to sit and then pointed a finger at the two Princesses giving them special instructions to calm down.
When all was quiet, the bard was silent for a moment and then staring out at the auditorium filled with faces she spoke quietly, "Ya know I have been telling stories since I was a little girl. Its just something I have always loved to do, so I want to thank you all for giving me this award. It means a lot, but not nearly as much as I thought it would."
The hall filled with gentle murmur and Xena and Tarren stared up at the stage in confusion at Gabrielles lack of excitement.
The bard continued, "I had very worthy competition here, and I am honored just to have stood beside these people," she said pointing to her fellow bards on the stage.
Again the crowd applauded and again she silenced them. She looked at the golden quill and then her award scroll and choked a bit. "However, I have learned, most especially, in recent time that life is about so much more than just telling stories. It so much more important to be a part of the story than to JUST be the person telling it. With your indulgence I would like to tell you about two friends of mine who have taught so much.
A few weeks ago, this very young friend of mine was hurt and didnt want to share it because she was afraid I would miss this competition. Can you imagine this child wanting to risk her life just so I could find a bit of satisfaction with myself?
For a while I was angry with her and myself. I kept asking myself what I had shown her to make her think that her safety, her life, could ever be compared to a mere story or any competition. Then I realized that I must have made this look VERY important, much more than it ever should have been." The bard stopped and wiped tears from her eyes. "I even got really angry at her for hiding from me when it was time for her to take a bath. She does NOT like taking a bath, but most kids dont," the bard said with a quick grin again wiping tears from her eyes.
Tarren watched in awe, biting her lower lip as her friend continued.
Xena was so caught up in the speech herself that she barely noticed when the child slid into her lap and leaned her head against the warriors shoulder.
The crowd laughed at the image, and Gabrielle took a deep breath and continued. "I got angry at this kid for being what she should be, a beautiful vibrant child chasing after every breath with pure and complete energy. I got mad at her for being a kid, and for that I am so sorry Tarren," the bard cried tilting her head and staring down at the child.
"So, while she was out experiencing life with all its pain and suffering, I was writing about grand adventures. I was looking to be recognized by strangers while my friends, my family, were living life without me. Those are moments that I can never have back, but they are also the moments that I intend to never let slide by me again. I want to be part of this childs life for as long as she wants me to be, and no story I tell or applause I receive could ever match that desire. I only hope she can understand now, what it took me so long to figure out .
"The gods give us gifts to share with those closest to us, so we can make the lives of the people around us better. We, as people, are merely guardians sent to treasure and protect the talents bestowed on us. True gifts, I mean the things worth dying for, are found in the people we love and care for. I hope Tarren knows that I consider HER presence in my life such a gift, and that there is nothing I would ever place above guarding it."
The bard lowered her eyes and tried to regain her composure before she continued. The crowd applauded loudly, and the child shook her head as a tear fell down her cheek. She turned to Xena, "I dont understand," she cried hugging the warriors neck for security.
The great warrior patted her back gently. "Shes giving you a gift Tarren. Remember, you told me, this is Gabrielles way of showing us how she feels," Xena whispered to her daughter.
The child wiped her face dry and let her eyes fall back on the bard who once again silenced the crowd. "Well, I better keep going. It is not too often that I have such a captive and willing audience," she joked. The crowd laughed and yelled for more.
"My other friend well, you all know her Xena, Warrior Princess. I guess I DO talk about her a lot, but only because I am so proud of her, so in awe of the fact that she is my best friend. Every story I tell is about her.
"She complains a lot about that because she doesnt like being singled out as the good person for the hero she really is.
"Xena has taught me about living pure and true, breathing the air, and feeling the lust for life thats in my heart. She saw in me something untouched, and she helped me bring it alive. Nobody else could see it, but she did.
"I have watched her fight the evil and risk her life for the innocent. She has offered her life to save mine countless time, but I have also seen her risk her life for a stranger, and lovingly give her life over to a youngster that needed her love and guidance most.
"She is gonna kill me for getting all mushy up here and using her name next to the L word so much, but thats a chance Im willing to take."
Gabrielle paused and caught the blue teary stare of a tall muscular figure sitting proudly in the front row holding her child. "Her shoulders are broad enough where she carries the weight of her own life plus that of many of the rest of us. I have never met anyone with more honor and dignity that dedicates their life to the greater good.
"Everyone knows that Xena was once a warlord, but what people dont know is how she lives with the pain of those days inside her heart. She wont let it go, and I watch her rip herself up with guilt sometimes. It tears ME up just to watch because I KNOW that the friend that walks beside me every day is not the same person that she remembers. The one she cannot forgive. I hope one day she will realize that.
"Not many people know this because she doesnt let many people see it, but Xena has a gentle soul. She helped me find myself, and she is my best friend, and there is nothing in this world that can ever change that. I owe her so much, and I hope she knows how much she means to me, even if I cant always find the words to say it. Imagine that, Xena -- ME, not knowing what to say," the bard laughed, the tears now steadily falling down her cheeks.
"These two people I have mentioned are my true family. I love them both with all my heart. I would give my life for them, but since that is not required well, not today, anyway Id like to dedicate my award to them. Its not much to give in comparison to what I get from both of them every day, but maybe it will remind them how much I really love them both.
"I want to thank you all for you patience and your faith in me. I hope I am truly worthy of the trust youve bestowed in me. Thank you!"
Gabrielle held her scroll in the air, and the crowd jumped to their feet applauding wildly for the young bard who had just shared the story of her life with them.
Xena jumped to her feet clapping her hands together, proudly fighting back the urge to shed tears in public, but one stray tear still managed to get away. The great warrior paid little attention to it as she clapped even louder for her friend. She was so immersed in the moment that she did not even see Tarren run to the stage. Before Xena could reach out a halting hand, the child has already sprinted up the steps and run into the arms of the waiting bard.
Gabrielle wrapped her arms around the child and swung her in the air, laughing loudly at the girls wild approach. She held her in a long embrace and nodded to the warrior whose gentle wink answered all questions that ever needed to be asked.
The camp was set up in familiar style. They had only left Athens a day ago and already Gabrielle felt like she was home again.
She placed her bedroll carefully next to the fire she had just made. Tossing a few sticks on it the young bard took a good long breath of the fresh air around her.
She would miss the great city of Athens and all the challenges it offered, but she was happy to be traveling again. Gabrielle was now eagerly looking forward to the next adventure she and her friends would share.
"Oh Zeus!" she cursed staring at the large pile of packages Xena had left in the center of camp for the bard to "attend to." The warrior had dumped them in a large heap rather unceremoniously, making it clear that anything she could not carry was not going any further than this camp sight.
The bard studied the pile trying to think of new and inventive ways to pack. Surely Xena wouldnt mind a few of her silky cloths under Argos saddle. After all, it would only make it softer on the horses back. Laughing quietly to herself, the bard started sorting through her bundles, carefully stashing items any place the warrior might not think to look.
It was nearly dark and Xena had not yet returned. She had asked for some time alone to practice her sword and be with her thoughts, so she had taken off towards a small clearing hours ago.
Tarren had gone down to the water to fish although it seemed she too wanted time to herself.
Gabrielle smiled at the thought of her two weary warriors, but her smile was quickly lost when Tarren came tramping into camp dragging a large string of fish behind her. The youngster dropped the great haul in front of the bard with a heavy sigh. "Dinner!" she announced flashing an impish grin.
"For how many days?" the bard laughed. "Tarren, why did you catch so many fish?" she asked looking at the child with a smile slowly counting the great number of fish before her.
The girl only shrugged. "Xena said to catch enough, so you didnt go hungry. Is that too much?" she asked with an innocent stare, truly concerned that she had not properly fulfilled her task.
The bard noted the childs frown and shook her head wrapping a friendly arm around the girl. "No, no that will do just fine. I am actually very hungry tonight, and I will make sure that Xena eats whatever we dont," she said with a sly grin.
Tarren smiled with satisfaction at the bards words. Xena rarely let her go fishing by herself on the road, so she wanted to make sure she did a good job filling the warriors order. "Wheres Xena?" the child asked scanning the camp.
"Shes still practicing," the bard said picking up the smelly fish and wishing the warrior would return so she did not have to clean the fish.
"Im gonna go find her," the youngster said with a smile and a quick jump.
Gabrielle grabbed Tarrens arm pinning the child in place. "Not so fast. You know the rules. Xena does not want you around when she is practicing, and she needs some time to herself right now, so youll just have to wait here until she gets back."
The child lowered her eyes and her smile faded, "But Gabby I want to talk to her. Its important. I dont want to wait," she said kicking the dirt with the toe of her boot.
The bard shook her head, "Oh no! Dont even try it," she said seeing the sad pouting face routine starting to surface. The bard dropped to her knees and began the unpleasant task of dealing with the fish. "Yuk!" she groaned as she ran her hands across them.
Gabrielle turned to ask Tarren for some help, but the child and her satchel were gone. The young woman stood and looked slowly down the path to the clearing, knowing exactly where the youngster was heading. "Youre gonna get in trouble Tarren!" the bard yelled, but the child was long gone. Gabrielle shrugged with dissatisfaction. "Little scamp," she murmured, as a gentle grin replaced her scowl.
Tarren followed the warriors tracks as best she could. Xena often covered over them just so she couldnt be found, but Tarren was doing her best to follow her. She held tightly to her satchel and its precious contents.
When she reached the edge of the clearing where she thought Xena was, she found it was empty. "Whered she go?" the child whispered looking to the horizon. As she started to turn around a large hand covered her mouth and drew her roughly back.
"What are you doing here?" the warrior whispered in the youngsters ear releasing her from her firm grip.
Xena tapped the blade of her sword in the palm of her hand waiting for an acceptable reply. "Uh, well, I missed you!" the girl said with a quick grin.
Xena nodded folding her arms against her chest. "Uh huh! And what IS the rule about my sword practicing?" the warrior asked sternly as she leaned up against a tree.
The girl lowered her head. "Im not allowed to come around because you need to practice without distraction, and I could get hurt," she said slowly repeating a speech she had heard the warrior give her many times.
Xena glared down at the child, "Please do not tell me that you ALREADY need me to give you another quick reminder about what happens when you do NOT listen to me!" the warrior mother said in a parental no nonsense tone.
Tarrens voice filled with disappointment at her mothers scolding, and she shook her head indicating that she would prefer no such reminder. The girl quickly started to walk back towards camp.
Xena smiled a bit at the childs obvious displeasure and studied her for a moment. "Wait!" she commanded. "I was just about done anyway," She said with trying to soften her tone as she sheathed her sword.
Tarren turned an eyed the large warrior as she motioned for the girl to return to the spot directly in front of her. "Really, it can wait. I should go back to camp," the youngster said nervously afraid that she was about to once again about to feel her mothers wrath.
Xena grinned at the childs obvious trepidation. "Come here!" she said softly pointing to the ground before her. Slowly the frightened youngster advanced until she was standing before the muscular form.
Xena sighed and stared down at the child with confusion, noticing for the first time that Tarren was carrying her satchel. She pointed to it with a flick of her finger. "We are not running away again ARE we?" she said with a husky laugh.
The little girl shook her head. "No, I just wanted to " Her words faltered, and she fell silent before Xena. Her mothers displeasure at her arrival had taken all the excitement out of the youngsters intentions.
Xena shook her head and crouched to face her daughter knowing that the childs courage to speak up had been silenced by the warriors admonishment. "You wanted to talk to me about something?" she said gently.
The child nodded, not picking her head up enough for the warrior to even see her eyes.
Xena planted herself on the ground and gently patted her leg signaling the child to join her. The youngster gently lowered herself to the warriors familiar lap.
"OK, now what is it that was so important that you would risk your hide by coming out HERE?" Xena said with a smile pushing the childs wavy locks from her face.
Tarren tilted her head and grinned at the warrior knowing that the warriors anger was gone. "Maybe I just wanted to see my mother," she answered slowly never taking her flashing blue eyes from the warriors face.
Xena gazed at the child, trying to determine if she was being sincere or just trying to get out of the trouble she was in by using the, "I miss my MOM" routine.
The warrior patted the girls cheek gently. "OK, well, here I am, so what do you need Tarren?" she said gently.
The youngster reached into her satchel and pulled out Nalas diary and handed it to Xena. "Actually, Mother, I was hoping it was something you needed," she whispered, lowering her head a bit waiting for the warriors response.
Xena ran her hand over the familiar book with the odd golden lock and shook her head. "Nalas diary? I thought she had left this behind years ago." The warrior said staring at the nervous child.
Tarren shook her head. "No, she wrote in it lots. She said she wanted me to give it you when you needed it most except I was never really sure when that was. Nala said it was her gift to you because she was proud to be your friend." The child finished as if reciting a speech she had practiced in her mind 1000 times.
Xena closed her eyes and ran her hand again over the familiar book allowing her fingers to touch carefully upon the puzzle lock that confined all the old mystics secrets. Within seconds the lock opened and the cover popped up.
The warrior smiled and then eyed the child that sat on her lap. She gently reached up and kissed the youngster on the cheek. "Thank you, little one. This is just what I needed," she said hugging the child.
Tarren smiled at Xenas obvious satisfaction at receiving the gift and started to rise.
"Hey where are ya going?" the warrior asked pulling her back down into her lap.
"Well I figured you needed to be left alone with Nalas diary," the girl said a bit puzzled by the warriors expression.
Xena closed the book securing the lock with a snap. "Nah! That can wait. Right now what I really NEED is to spend some time with my daughter," she said stroking the childs arm tenderly.
Tarren quickly leaned against her mothers chest happy for any chance to spend time with Xena. "Will you ever read me whats in the book?" the youngster asked with a mischievous grin as she settled herself against the warriors shoulder.
Xena put her large arm protectively around the small figure and smiled, "Maybe some day my little one. Maybe some day."
If you enjoyed my story, and I hope you did, Please look for the next adventure of this trio called Nalas Gift. I would truly appreciate any and all feedback about my stories, so please fell free to e-mail me comments, critiques, or thoughts. It is appreciated. Please e-mail Fantimbard@aol.com
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