Sins of the Mother (2)

BY L. Crystal Michallet-Romero
Copyright © January 10, 2002 L. Crystal Michallet-Romero
All Rights Reserved

I'd like to give a big thank you to Sue Rice for getting through this difficult story and giving feedback. Big thanks are also in order for Bill the Semi-Bard for his awesome beta skill. Credit for the bunny scene goes entirely to Ambyrhawke Shadowsinger. If it wasn't for her initial suggestion, I might not have thought of putting this scene together.

Disclaimer:  See Part One
Extra Warning: As the main character was raised by Alti, I feel it's necessary to warn that this story deals with child abuse and molestation issues. It may trigger abuse issues for some. This story should be unpleasant for all readers, but to know Ari, it's important to know where she came from.

All Feedback Welcomed At:

To anyone watching the four women, it would seem that they had been traveling for many years together. But to the travelers themselves, there was a silent uneasiness that seemed to filter through the group. Although no one spoke openly of it, the tension was always near, threatening to escape.

Ari found it easier to keep to herself. Although she had seen these women so many times in Alti's magic pool, being with them in real life and understanding the dynamics of how they interacted was, at times, difficult. Ari never understood the slight comments that Xena and Gabrielle made to each other, and she could not understand why sometimes, her birth mother only had to glance at the blonde, and the bard would laugh hysterically. It was as if they shared a private form of communication which no one else could hear. Whenever Ari saw Eve join in the revelry, all she could do was watch and try to figure out what had caused the laughter.

Eve was an enigma. There were times when Ari felt an anger from the prophet. Sometimes, it felt as if Eve hated her, but why, Ari did not know. Sometimes, when Ari's mind was clear, she tried to remember back to the days before her mother, Alti, had died. Each time, Ari saw images of events replaying in her mind. Each were only blurs that came in incoherent patterns that neither made any sense, nor showed to Ari why Eve would sometimes be angry. For Ari, delving too deeply into the memories caused a blinding pain in her head, so rather than think too much about it, she would simply ignore the few times that Eve seemed angry and concentrate on other matters.

Ari would watch how the prophet acted around Xena. Their light and easy banter was not lost on Ari. Each time she saw Eve with Xena, Ari felt a stabbing pain deep within her heart, but could not have explained why it existed. All she knew was that each time she saw the warrior princess hugging Eve, or when she saw Eve sitting close to Xena, the older woman's arm laying over the prophet's shoulder as she held her youngest close, Ari felt a stab of envy. Each time her resentment toward Eve was quieted, Ari moved through the days as best as possible all the while paying close attention the new family dynamics that now surrounded her.

Even though Ari knew of Xena and Gabrielle's relationship, she was still amazed whenever Eve would address Gabrielle as her mother. As if they had always shared equal responsibility in raising Eve, the two women accepted, and Eve established them as her parents. Each time Ari tried to understand the relationship between the three, she found herself more confused and at the same time, angry because she was not included within the circle of three. But rather than voice feelings that she did not totally understand, she chose to maintain her distance, keeping her family at bay. Ari reasoned that at times it was easier not to delve fully into it, but rather to remain apart, yet always watchful in hopes of learning more.

During her entire life, Ari had grown up in a world by herself. Aside from Alti, and the occasional man who was brought back by the sorceress for blood sacrifices, the dark child never interacted with another soul. Because of this, she found it difficult to be surrounded by so many different personalities yet she did her best to get along and fit in with her new family.

“Can't you see the perfect beauty of it all?” Eve's voice was taking on that familiar, awe inspired quality, which Ari began to recognize as Eve's preamble to a sermon about Eli's miraculous gifts.

The two young women had stopped on the dirt road, each one looking in the direction of the open field. Eve's face held a serene smile, while Ari's slightly scowled as she stared at the two long, fuzzy ears that poked out of the underbrush. Near the entrance to the forest, Xena and Gabrielle stopped their horses and waited patiently for the two laggards.

“What?” Ari's impatience was unmistakable, “That rabbit?” Ari's disbelief was evident as she began to get irritated with her sister's so-called-lessons.

“Yes! Just look at it for a minute, see it's pure beauty, it's remarkable characteristics. Why, you can see how such a simple creature is a gift of Eli!” Eve's tone was filled with reverence.

With a slight frown, Ari gazed back at the wild rabbit. The taller one tried to see what her sister was talking about. Her brows were furrowed, eyes squinted until the strain of staring began to hurt.

“Bah! You are daft!” Ari finally snorted as she looked down at Eve from her higher vantage point on horseback. As if in agreement, Thanatos, her stallion, snorted as he shook his head, his black mane fanning out, then falling over his neck. The large black steed puffed air through his nose as he impatiently stamped, then settled back down under Ari's firm control.

“Ari, you're not trying hard enough. Just look at it, let a stillness fall over you and you'll see what I mean!” It seemed to Ari that Eve whined as she sat astride her short, white fat horse.

Ari stared again at the small animal in the field, it's ears twitched as if it knew it was being watched, then it moved further into the bushes. When it came out into the open clearing, the dark hair woman watched it for a moment. Unable to understand her sister's concepts, Ari just shook her head and turned to the woman.

“You're trying to tell me that a creature, that rabbit, was created by Eli and is a gift of Eli?” she asked. When Eve's smile formed, Ari shook her head again. “You are a loon! Next, you'll be telling me that the rabbit is Eli!” the taller woman snorted.

“Well…” Eve's voice trailed off into silence as she gazed lovingly at the creature who had become the focal point for her days lesson to Ari.

“Oh, Pa-lease!!” Ari gave freedom to her deep laughter as she shook her head in amusement.

“But if you think about it, it makes perfect sense! Don't you see, Ari? Eli served a higher power, and that higher power created us all. Doesn't it make sense that one ultimate being created everything including Eli? Even the creatures of the earth, could they not be shaped in the creators image, and be the representations of Eli here and now? Can't you see that such a peaceful creature is a reminder of all the goodness and love that is possible for us?” Eve tried to plead her case, but her confusing words only managed to increase Ari's already pounding headache.

Before Ari could respond to her sister, their argument was ended by the pop of a bowstring behind them followed by the distinctive whine of an arrow splitting the air. It arced gracefully through the air before striking home directly into the heart of the rabbit with a dull thud. The animal died before its blood stopped pumping. At the sound of rustling in the underbrush, Ari noticed a movement from her side and turned in time to see the bard nock a second arrow before letting it fly, sweeping through the air to land in the second rabbit. A high pitch scream escaped the creature before it fell to the ground with its hind feet twitching for only a moment, then it grew deathly still.

As Eve gasped in horror at the sight, Ari whipped her head around in time to see Gabrielle astride her horse, the bards arms still raised in completion of her shot. Ari saw the pride of success break across the bard's face before Ari looked back at Eve with a huge grin pulling her lips apart.

With a slight smile, she looked down at the horrified look on Eve's face as the prophet watched Xena riding out to collect the kill. “Nice shot, honey!” the older warrior called back to her soul mate.

“Dinner tonight, girls!” Xena's voice was filled with enthusiasm as she glanced at Ari, then Eve. The warrior princess beamed a smile at her daughters as she rode past them. For a moment, Xena looked confused when she saw Eve's devastated expression, but continued toward their dinner as a winged shadow circled high above the dead creatures. From up above, a screeching cry echoed in the wind. Xena glanced up with a scowl, “Get your own dinner!” she shouted up at the flying hawk. In an easy move, Xena jumped off of her horse, then collected the evenings meal, carefully removing the arrows before tying the dead rabbits to her saddle horn.

The bard was smiling proudly as Xena rode out to gather their evening's meal. When she glanced up at the girls, she saw Ari's smile beaming across her face for only a moment before the dark haired girl began to howl with laughter, her body shaking as her guffaws escaped her control. With a confused arch of a brow, Gabrielle glanced at Eve's pale face, the expression of sheer sadness.

“Mother! How could you!” Eve cried out to the bard.

“What? What did I do?” Gabrielle frowned as Xena returned to her side.

“BWAAAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!” Ari roared with laughter as she shook so hard that she almost lost her balance and fell out of her saddle.

“Xena, is every thing alright? Why is Eve angry with me?” the bard asked with concern.

Xena glanced back at her youngest daughter, her expression confused as she watched Ari fighting to stay in her saddle as she laughed hysterically while Eve sat astride her mare with a look of sorrow on her face. With a shrug of her shoulders, Xena turned her horse around and continued down the road. “Beats me, maybe it's getting close to her moon time,” was all the warrior offered as she lead the way down the trail.

“Are you two alright?” Gabrielle asked the girls as she pulled her horse along side them.

“Ooohhhh, e-everything…. i-is…. just grand! BWAAAHAHAHAHAHAHA” Ari's deep roar of laughter rang out as she turned her horse and caught up with Xena, her body doubled over in the saddle from fits of laughter.

“H-How could you!…Th-That poor r-rabbit?” Eve appeared on the verge of tears.

Gabrielle held a look of confusion as she glanced from Eve to the open field. As dawning settled in, a slight tinge of red covered the bard's cheek as a sheepish expression crossed her lips. When the blonde glanced at Ari, she covered her mouth to hide a smile as realization of what had been going on between the two settled in.

“I'm sorry, Eve. I thought you were pointing to it so that we would have dinner tonight,” Gabrielle offered with an apologetic smile, then slightly bit her lower lip to keep from smiling, or worse, joining in Ari's revelry. With a slight frown that managed to mask her smile, Gabrielle reached over and lightly rubbed Eve's bare arm.

“Eve, honey. I had no idea that you weren't pointing out our dinner for us,” she said to her daughter before a deep-set frown settled in. When Eve gave a weak nod, Gabrielle smile slightly, then sighed before she returned to Xena's side.

In silence, Eve moved to the end of the group. Still chuckling uncontrollably, Ari fell back from Xena's side until she was along side her little sister. As her body shook from laughter, she glanced periodically from Eve, to the two women who occasionally glanced back at Eve with concern. Whenever they looked at Ari, she hooted with laughter.
When they found a camping spot that Xena approved of, they all moved in their own directions. As was her habit, Ari removed the tackle from her horse, and brushed him down. When the stallion was settled, she took up the reins of the very fat horse that Eve rode while Xena groomed her lover's horse. In an easy silence, they both went about this chore without much thought. Only when the horses were settled, did Ari move to help the other's set up camp.

As Eve was laying out the blankets or rummaging in the forest for vegetation to add to their evening meal, Gabrielle made a deep pit for the fire. At the edge of the camp, Xena began to skin and gut the evenings dinner. Without needing directions, Ari rummaged through the nearby forest until she found the right wood for the fire.

The sounds of the crickets rose in the air, only stopping when Ari walked by. As she glanced on the ground looking for wood, she listened to the sounds around her. She could hear the distant voices of the women gathered around the camp fire. If she concentrated hard enough, Ari would be able to hear all of their words. But rather than expend this energy, she turned her thoughts away from them and continued her search through the dim light of dusk.

As her mind wandered over various thoughts, she ignored the setting sun until finally, Ari glanced up at the sky and noticed the different shades of colors that blanketed the once blue sky. With an intake of breath, she sighed as she gazed with wide eyes at the splendid colors of orange, yellows, and reds mixed in with the darker shades of blue. The sheer beauty of nightfall sent a surge of unfamiliar sensations through her. As she stared mesmerized at the sight, she felt herself sitting on the ground, the wood in her arms falling to the forest floor.

For a moment, Ari felt the oppressive emotions filling her soul. When she glanced from the darkening sky, she closed her eyes. With arms folded around herself, she willed the unfamiliar sensations to stillness.

Ari could not remember a day when she was not numb. But since her adopted mother's death, the numbness slowly subsided until all she felt were the overwhelming emotions. Only in the day time, when she was able to tease Eve, was she able to pull her thoughts away from the pain that was slowly consuming her senses.

At the sound of a twig breaking, Ari glanced up suddenly. She saw the familiar shadow standing nearby. After a moment of silence, the figure of her birth mother moved to her side.

“Ari?” Xena saw the young woman sitting in the darkness of the forest. Having been gone so long from camp, the warrior decided to check on her eldest. As the days passed, she had begun to notice Ari's uneasiness, yet was unable to detect its cause.

The girl glanced back at her, the surprise evident in her bearing. Careful not to scare her, Xena moved slowly forward. Through the light of the full moon, she noticed the confusion in the young woman's eyes. Kneeling by her side, Xena glanced over her daughter. Concerned that the young woman had opened her wound, she lightly examined Ari. Once she determined that her eldest was not physically hurt, Xena lightly touched Ari's forehead to test for a fever and felt a shiver run through the girl.

“Ari?” she softly spoke again as she watched the young woman lower her head, her shoulders began shaking uncontrollably as Ari silently wept.

“Oh, sweetheart, what is it?” Xena asked as she wrapped her arms around the strong shoulders. When no response was given, Xena simply held her close, rocked her softly as she spoke soothing words to her. When calmness returned, Ari hiccupped uncontrollably as she leaned into Xena's embrace.

“What happened?” Xena made certain to keep her voice low and neutral as she gently held the young woman.

“I-I…d-don't know… T-The…sky….i-it….” Ari shook her head as she tried to find her words, “the colors…t-there were so many!”

With a slight smile, the tall warrior sighed as she rested her chin against her daughters dark hair. Instinctively, she lightly touched her lips against the crown of Ari's head as her hold grew gently tighter around the slender body. As she held her daughter close, she felt a slight trickle of a tear escape her control.

Ever since she learned of her daughters existence, she could only speculate on what Ari must have endured under Alti's control. What little she heard when Ari was delirious and in a fevered state only enhanced the vivid images that her mind conjured up. Although she had managed to put a lot of the pieces together, Xena wasn't certain if she'd ever truly know the entire story surrounding Ari's upbringing. Yet Xena knew that the worst anguish her child must have endured was the total isolation in a world devoid of warmth and color.

While she rocked her daughter gently, she tried to think of a way to help the girl. When no easy solutions came to mind, she chose to simply hold Ari close, to whisper soft words of comfort as her eldest child fought with the new sensations that coursed through her mind. At this closeness, Xena was able to feel her daughters raw emotions. The warrior princess could sense the pain within Ari, yet was unable to find a way to help her.

With a sigh, the taller woman closed her eyes and inhaled deeply. When a faint, distinctly familiar scent reached her senses, Xena pulled away and looked down at her daughter. Ari's shoulder's no longer shook, her tears seemed under control. Brushing back the girls dark locks, Xena turned Ari's face up to her, then glanced deeply into watery eyes, examining the blue, dilated pupils before lowering her nose enough to sniff at Ari's lips.

Ari had not known how long her birth mother was standing nearby, or how long the taller woman had held her. All she knew was that awareness suddenly came to her, and that she was being held in Xena's arms. She vaguely remembered saying something, but wasn't really certain of her words. It was not until Xena pulled away and gazed into her eyes that Ari felt a sudden fear. As in the past when Alti acted this way, her mind told her to run, yet she felt unable to move. Instead, she remained frozen as Xena gazed into her eyes, then moved close to her lips. Only when the woman moved away, was Ari able to breathe again.

“You all right now?” she heard Xena ask in a soft whisper, a slight smile crossing her birth mother's lips.

After glancing around, Ari remembered why she was here, then began to quickly gather the fallen wood. Xena helped her to her feet, an arm wrapped over her shoulder. At the contact, Ari remained stiff backed as she allowed herself to be guided through the darkness.

“It's all right, we found a lot of wood by the camp. But this will also help,” Xena's voice was soft and soothing as they walked through the darkness. “Ummm….wait up here a minute, ok?” the tall warrior asked as she moved to the bottom of a tree.

She watched Xena examine the ground through the darkness before kneeling as she took out her knife from her breast armor and began to dig up some plants. When all the plants were in her hands, the warrior returned to Ari's side. As a smile crossed her face, the warrior wiggled her eyebrows as she held the plant out to her.

“This makes a wonderful tea, you've got to try it!” Ari's mother exclaimed as they made their way back to camp. “Do you like tea?” she asked.

“Yes…my m-mother….ummm…Alti, would make tea,” Ari mentally kicked herself at the slip. As if she hadn't heard Ari's words, Xena's arm never left her shoulder as she continued to sniff the plant. When they reached the outskirts of camp, Xena stopped her, then glanced at her face with a smile before reaching down and wiping the residue of tears from Ari's cheeks.

“How are you feeling?” Xena asked. “Better?”

With only a nod, Ari glanced down, her arms still around a few pieces of wood that she had picked up. At the closeness of the warrior, Ari felt filled with conflicting emotions. A part of her remembered the times that Alti had touched her in this way. She vaguely remembered the tenderness of Alti's word's as she softly touched Ari. Her mind tried to understand Xena's actions, but all this accomplished was a pounding in her head. Rather than think any more of it, she smiled slightly before following the taller woman into camp.

Gabrielle glanced at them with a brilliant smile before returning her attention to the meal that was hanging above the fire on a stick. The blonde reached into a leather pouch and removed some spices that she sprinkled over the cooking meat. As Ari took her place opposite the bard, she removed her sword and placed it next to her bedding before settling down next her pack. With a yawn, Ari stretching her long legs out as she watched the small blonde cooking the evening meal. Nearby, Xena made a clattering noise as she rummaged through her lover's cooking bags. Curious, Gabrielle glanced over at Xena, her brow arching when she saw the tall woman removing a round pot.

“For tea! I heard a creek nearby, I'm going to get some water,” the warrior princess explained as she turned to leave.

“I'll go with you and refill the flasks, mother,” Eve jumped up and began to gather together the water containers, then followed the taller warrior into the forest.

Alone with the bard, Ari felt suddenly uneasy. When she glanced up at Gabrielle, she took a moment to examine the woman, the way her short, golden hair shaped itself to her head like feathers. As the bard was bent over examining the dinner, Ari noticed Gabrielle's smooth white skin leading down into the skimpy bra top. Without much thought, Ari's eyes followed the line of smooth skin that disappeared into the shadow of her bra, while Ari allowed her imagination to run wild with thoughts of what remained hidden under the fabric.

Ari felt her heart beating rapidly. She could feel a heat crossing her cheeks as she envisioned the bard's pink, erect nipples. For a moment, she wondered if the woman's nipples were always hard and erect, or if they only hardened when exposed. As she began to envision gazing upon the naked blonde, she wondered what it would feel like to cup the bard's soft round breast mounds. To take a pink nipple between her lips and suckle the bard's sweet flesh. Gulping at the familiar sensations of arousal, the young woman felt herself lick her dry lips as her eyes remained on Gabrielle's exposed cleavage.

At the sudden movement of the bard, she glanced up in time to see Gabrielle staring right at her, the bards face slightly flushed as she moved to sit opposite her. As if attempting to set up a barrier, the bard crossed her arms in front of herself as she sat with a straight back, her green eyes never wavering from where Ari sat, the blonde's brows creased into a frown.

“Were you looking down my top?” Gabrielle's voice was stern, as the gaze of her green eyes never wavered.

“I-I…” Ari stammered as she felt the full anger of the bard. At the intense emotions from Gabrielle, Ari retreated into herself.

Suddenly afraid, Ari glanced away, her eyes closed as she drew her knees up, wrapped her arms around her leg's, and rested the side of her face against the fabric of her breeches as she closed her eyes in an attempt to disappear. She could feel Gabrielle's wrath smoldering. Unable to explain her own actions, Ari tried her best to understand why she was always getting into trouble, but could not find an answer for her own actions.

“So … do you like rabbit?” Gabrielle's voice softly asked a short time later, whatever anger that was once in her seemed to have disappeared.

Ari blinked for a moment, then lifted her head, and looked at the bard who now had her exposed cleavage covered by a leather jacket. For a few moments, Ari tried to detect if the woman was still angry at her earlier indiscretion. The bard gazed at her solemnly, the fire's flame danced within Gabrielle's green eyes. When it seemed that Ari would not answer, the bard smiled slightly as she shrugged and tilted her head.

“I guess I should have asked before hand. If you don't care to eat rabbit, we could find something else for you?” Gabrielle offered as she reached up and took the stick of meat from over the fire's flame.

For a moment, Ari was confused. In all of the time with Alti, what Ari wanted or preferred to eat was never questioned. She simply ate what was given and remained silent on the matter. If she ever questioned, or made a request, she was quickly dealt a strong blow that silenced even the stubborn part of her soul.

“I-I….” Ari stammered for a moment, then found the words she was looking for, “I have eaten rabbit.”

“That's good,” Gabrielle smiled as the sound of soft voices caught their attention.

When the two women returned to the camp, Xena glanced from Ari, to Gabrielle. She noticed her lover wearing a jacket on a night that was cool, yet not cold enough to warrant such garment. The tension in the air was evident, yet the expressions of Ari and the blonde gave no evidence as to what caused the strain. With only a smile, the warrior princess moved next to her soul mate, settled down before separating the flowers from the branches, being careful not to include the leaves. Once the flowers were separated, Xena began crushing the flowers and adding them to the pot of cold water, then placed it over the burning wood.

“Ummm….tea will be nice, what kind is it?” the corner of Gabrielle's lips turned upward into a smile as she cast Xena side long glances.

“It's Elderflower. I was surprised to see it growing nearby,” Xena answered as she sat back to wait for the water to boil.

The conversations were light and easy. When the tea began to boil, Xena smiled as she dipped a cup into the bubbling liquid then handed it to Ari. Taking a second cup, she dipped it slightly then handed one to Eve, then did the same for Gabrielle. For her own, she only filled it slightly, as she had with Eve and Gabrielle's. When Eve and Gabrielle took a sip, their faces grimaced from the taste, then they discreetly set the mugs aside without saying a word. Smiling at the women, Xena winked before she turned her attention to Ari.

Ari frowned as she made a face at the tea, her look of disgust visible. When she tried to put it down, Xena cleared her throat. “Drink it, Ari, it's good for you,” She insisted. Xena felt Gabrielle and Eve look at her at the same time. Without a word of explanation, she took her own mug and downed the small amount in one swallow. Once the tea was consumed, Xena continued to act as if she were drinking from her mug, all the while coaxing Ari to drink more of the healing herb. Once Xena was certain that her daughter's cup was empty, she smiled as she gave her an encouraging nod.

Gabrielle remained silent through the whole exchange. She knew that Xena would eventually tell her about the tea that she had just forced Ari to drink. As Gabrielle listened to Xena and Eve's light conversation, she began to cut the meat into portions and place them on plates. Then she handed each one to the girls first, then to Xena.

As Ari watched the bard handing a plate to Eve, a mischievous thought crossed her mind as she glanced over at her sister. After turning to Xena, she wondered if the warrior would care if she teased Eve a bit. Once she came to the conclusion that Xena had let her play with Eve in the past, Ari suppressed her smile, then reached over and removed the haunch of rabbit that was nestled next to the wild potatoes that Eve managed to scrounge up in the forest.

“You won't mind, will you?” Taking the rabbit meat, Ari took a big bite, then deposited it on her own plate along with the portion that Gabrielle had divided up.

“Hey!” Eve shouted.

“Ari!” Xena's voice was stern.

“Ari, if you want more, there's plenty here,” Gabrielle offered.

“What?” Ari was momentarily confused by the anger of her sister and mother.

“I'm only saving her from the pain of eating the representation of Eli!” Ari offered by way of explanation as she chewed on the tender meat. She had expected her sister to protest, but didn't think that the two women would become involved.

“I think you had better give her your piece of meat, Ari,” Xena ordered.

For a moment, Ari stared at Xena in hopes of understanding why she had become so angry. She noticed the steel blue eyes staring at her as if to bore a hole in her soul. The firmness of her mother's jaw line never wavered. When it seemed like her joke was lost to everyone, Ari merely sighed, then shrugged as she put the untouched piece of meat on Eve's plate.

As if it never happened, the four women resumed their meal. The light, easy banter of at least three of them flowed through the camp, but the eldest daughter was silent. When yet another idea came to Ari's mind, a wicked smile crossed her lips. She glanced at Eve and noticed that the prophet had eaten all of her vegetables, leaving only the meat. The young woman's expression was one of contemplation as she pushed the meat around on her plate.

In a teasing manner, Ari began to make slight clicking sounds with her tongue as Eve was staring down at the piece of meat. Hearing the sound, Eve looked up in time to see Ari's big smile as she chewed on her meat. With a sidelong glance at her little sister, Ari clicked again, then began to imitate a rabbit by wiggle her nose. At the look of horror on Eve's face, Ari smiled as she finished off the last bite of her meat.

The prophet looked from her own plate then to Ari's decimated meal. Continuing in her teasing, Ari wiped the remainders of grease from her lip as she leaned back against her pack; her eyes never wavering from the prophet. Then, as Eve's face paled in the glow of the campfire, Ari released a perfect imitation of the death cry that was heard from the rabbit as it died. At this, Eve turned from pale to green then pale again before she put her dish down and got up to run from the camp. With a somewhat confused expression, Ari watched her sisters retreating form for only a moment then reached over and removed the uneaten rabbit from her plate.

As she started on the rest of Eve's meal, she glanced over at Xena and Gabrielle in hopes of gauging their reaction. Xena remained impassive as she stared into the flames of the campfire. Gabrielle had her face turned away slightly, the back of her hand covering her mouth as her shoulders shook uncontrollably. When Ari realized that no actions would be forthcoming from the two, she shrugged her shoulders and devoured Eve's portion. Once her belly was full, she set the bones on her plate, released a burp, then lay down on her blanket. Using her pack as a pillow, she stared past the treetops to the multitude of stars in the sky.
The comforting sound of Xena sharpening her sword was the only thing that Gabrielle was conscious of. Once Eve returned, the two began to clean up the camp as Xena remained sharpening her sword. In silence, they moved around the sleeping form of Ari as they picked up the dirty plates and discarded utensil. Only when they moved out of camp did they speak softly.

“Are you all right?” Gabrielle asked as they washed the plates in the nearby creek. With only a shrug, Eve sighed. Understanding her unspoken frustrations, Gabrielle reached over and lightly patted the younger woman's shoulder. “Just hang in there, it will get better.”

“I hope!” Eve sighed as she shook her head. “I just don't understand her! Ari seems to like upsetting me and I don't know why she does it. Mother, sometimes it feels like she really hates me and I don't know why!”

“Yeah, I noticed that. There seems to be a lot of anger in Ari. But, you have to admit, you seem to be holding your own. I see you getting in a few of your own jabs every once in a while,” Gabrielle said as they gathered the clean plates together.

“Only because she's always tormenting me!” Eve snorted.

The blonde sighed as she lightly patted Eve's shoulder, then smiled. “I know, honey, just please be patient with her. It should get better,” Gabrielle offered sympathetically.

Eve remained quietly contemplative. Her brows creased in a frown as she stared down at the plates that they just cleaned. As if a great weight was upon her shoulders, she turned to Gabrielle. Eve closed her eyes as her soft voice called the bard's attention.

“I…ummmm…Gabr…ummm…mother?” The prophet's voice was filled with sorrow.

“Eve, what's the matter?” Gabrielle asked with concern as she set her chores aside and leaned closer to the young woman, her arm instinctively wrapped around Eve's shoulder. “What's wrong?”

“Gabr…mother, there is something I've never told about Ari,” Eve's voice was barely a whisper as she averted her eyes.

“What is it? Did she try to hurt you since being with us?” The tone of Gabrielle's voice suddenly changed to that of a she-wolf protecting her cubs.

“N-No…not since joining us,” Eve said as she closed her eyes, a deep sigh escaping her control. “It's about….w-what happened when they held me captive.”

At the pain of her words, the bard only nodded as she held on to the young woman. In hopes that her strength eased Eve's troubles, Gabrielle held firmly to her. The show of support bolstering Eve's words.

“They were going to…” Eve shook her head as she closed her eyes, then buried her face into the bards shoulder as she allowed her tears to fall. “S-She….would have…she wanted to….she…..” Eve couldn't finish her words as she wept openly.

With a deep sigh, Gabrielle closed her eyes as she gently held Eve. She remembered how Ari had touched and molested Eve on the battlefield, and she knew what would have happened had Ari not fought against Alti. If they had lost against Alti and Ari, Eve would probably not be alive…and neither would anyone else, the bard reasoned.

“Did Alti….hurt you?” Gabrielle asked softly, her eyes closed, as she feared what the answer would be.

Eve shook her head negatively as she pulled from the blonde's arms. Gabrielle reached up and lightly brushed at Eve's tear stained cheek. With a look of confusion, Eve gazed into the bard's eyes, then the prophet shook her head as the tears began again.

“No,” Eve's response was barely a whisper as she shook her head. “Mother…it was Ari.”

“A-Ari?” Gabrielle's mind swirled at this news. “But….Ari?”

Eve nodded as a frown crossed her face, the tears falling unabated.

“Oh, honey!” the bard pulled the younger woman into her arms. “I didn't know.”

“I-I couldn't tell anyone….I…didn't know how,” Eve whispered as her tears slowly subsided. “Ari would have…she almost r-raped me, mother. But Alti stopped her and now….everyday I see her … and remember what almost happened.”

“Oh, Eve, I'm so sorry!” The bard held her close, rocking her gently as her mind grasped what Eve had told her.

“Please, mama Gabrielle, promise me that you won't tell mother, please!” Eve whispered against her chest. At her request, Gabrielle sighed as she closed her eyes, then nodded acceptance of Eve's request.

Gabrielle knew her lover well, and was certain that this news would not go over well with Xena. As it was, the bard noticed Xena's reluctance to discuss anything concerning Ari. Gabrielle knew the conflicting emotions that were engulfing her lover and understood how it was tearing Xena apart.

On the one hand, Gabrielle knew that Xena was grateful to finally have her eldest daughter back. To know that the girl had not died along with her adopted family put the warrior princess's mind at ease. Yet seeing Ari as she was, the occasional bout's of temper, the reclusive nature, and even her tormenting interaction with Eve, was disturbing. The bard knew that knowing what had happened to Eve would only add to Xena's already heavy burden.

As she held Eve close, she silently vowed to keep this secret. When and if Xena ever learned about Ari's actions were completely up to Eve, the bard reasoned as she held the young woman close. Until that time, the bard would keep Eve's confidence.
The habit of sharpening her blade was a form of meditation more than anything else. Although Xena knew that as a warrior, it was always good to have a sharp sword, the single act of sharpening the metal, the echoing sound, helped her to stress down after a full day. As her mind wandered over a multitude of thoughts, Xena remembered the very first time she had begun this ritual.

She was young and filled with hate. With each swipe against the blade, she envisioned the faces of her attackers. She longed to have them in her grasp so that she could repay them for what they had done to her. As she began to sharpen her sword, she remembered replaying their attack in her mind. The feel of their hands, the foul stench of their breath as they forced themselves upon her and the excruciating pain of their violation was enough to keep her focused on the single chore. Only when she had finished and her blade was razor-sharp did she manage to stop her mind from focusing on the hideous memories.

Those memories had all but vanished many years ago. It seemed that by the time she had been ready to walk away from her army, the anger and hate that filled her soul had vanished. When she tried to find the baby that she had left behind, she felt an unspoken grief for what could have been. Just when it seemed that she had lost her way, she found Gabrielle. Even though the bard may not have truly realized all that she meant to the warrior, Xena was certain that had it not been for the small blonde, she might have gone off to die and would never been heard from again.

When the fires flame reflected off of her sword, she stopped her movements and glanced over at the sleeping form across the campfire. With a slight grimace Xena rose from her place with sword in hand and moved silently to Ari. For a moment she glanced down at the angelic features of the sleeping girl. Laying here like this, her features so peaceful, no one would have guessed the Ari was once the most dangerous woman in Greece or that she was under the control of a dark power, Xena thought as she glanced down at her daughter.

Xena noticed a slight family resemblance and wondered about the other features of the girl, which did not look like anyone in her family. Even if Xena had been able to remember her assailants, she knew that she would have never been able to detect which of them had fathered her first born. Despite this, she could not help but see a part of herself in Ari.

In the short time that she was getting to know her daughter Ari, Xena found her patience eroding more and more with each nasty antic from the girl. With a frown, Xena sighed as she knelt before the sleeping form. Even the way she viewed Ari showed how she felt, Xena thought to herself. With Eve, she saw a bright, clever young woman, but with Ari, she saw a continual prankster, a girl who had no formal manners and was incapable of carrying on a conversation with anyone but Eve. And even those conversations always ended in an argument with either Eve becoming frustrated, or Ari verbally lashing out in anger.

With a sigh, Xena laid her sword down and moved to Ari's boots and easily slipped them from the sleeping girl's feet, then turned her attention to the rest of Ari's clothes. She knew that the amount of elderflower Ari drank would make it impossible for her to wake. Hopefully, the tea would not only help with the withdrawal from the henbane that Alti had given her, but it would also help the girl have a solid nights sleep.

As she pulled the girl into a sitting position, she took a hold of her outer tunic and pulled the fabric over the girls head. When the bottom of Ari's under shirt rode up, Xena took the opportunity to examine the healing wound. She noticed the stitches' becoming tight as the flesh was well on it's way to mending.

At the sound from the forest, Xena glanced up in time too see the two silent forms entering camp. Both Eve and Gabrielle glanced at her, the questions evident on their faces. Shrugging, Xena lowered Ari's undershirt, then began to untie the string that held her pants up.

“Need some help?” Gabrielle offered as she moved to the other side of Ari.

“Wow, she is out!” Eve exclaimed as she returned the plates to the packs, then moved to her sleeping blanket.

“I have a feeling a certain tea is credited for this?” Gabrielle smiled as she helped remove the pants from the sleeping girl.

“Elderflower,” Xena answered her lovers unspoken question. “It will help her with the withdrawals from henbane,” she offered.

“Henbane! But that can kill!” exclaimed Gabrielle.

The warrior smiled grimly. “Not always; you of all people should know that, Gabrielle, after what happened to you when you got piggy and ate all of Icus' henbane-laced nutbread that time.” The bard colored faintly, uncomfortable at the reminder of her past indiscretion as the warrior princess continued. “Henbane is a very tricky herb. If given too much, it can kill, small amounts cause a slight high. The trick is to know the middle ground. Once you know that amount, you are able to have a mind-altering herb that makes any victim completely controllable. If used for many years, the personality of the victim is never allowed to exist. For as they are consuming the henbane, and coming off of the henbane, there is no room for any thoughts of their own…” Xena explained as a sadness crossed her face, “it's going to be hard.”

“What can we expect?” The healer in Gabrielle came to the for as she asked. “Will she be….violent?”

Xena's brows creased as she glanced down at her soul mate. With a shake of her head, she sighed, “I've heard that severe headaches and depression is what former long time henbane users undergo until the herb is gone from their system,” Xena explained.

“Mother, is that what I saw Alti putting in her drink?” Eve removed her outer garments, then crawled into her bedroll and watched them settling Ari in for the night.

Xena nodded as she took her daughter's blanket then covered her. “I wasn't certain until today when I smelled it on her breath. I don't know how long she was given the drug, so I'm not sure how long her withdrawals will be. The elderflower should help take some of the edge off. Tomorrow, I'll have to see if I can find some more, or something similar that can keep the withdrawal's a bit under control,” Xena's voice grew soft as she gazed down at Ari, “I just can't believe I didn't notice it before today.”

“Xena, you were concentrating on healing the wound. Anyone could have overlooked something like this,” Gabrielle softly said as she lightly stroked the warriors arm. Xena sighed and weakly smiled her large hand covering the bard's smaller one before she returned her gaze to the sleeping girl.

A part of her wanted to hold and protect Ari, yet another part of her wanted to keep the trouble-making girl at bay. Ever since they began to travel as a group, Xena saw the temper that was always boiling deep within the girl. Although Ari had not shown any signs of aggression toward them, the warrior was always worried that someday the girl would not be able to hold herself in check and someone would be hurt.

With a sigh, Xena reached down and lightly patted Ari's dark hair. As she gazed at the peacefully sleeping face, the dark warrior frowned. Aside from what she learned from Ari's incoherent words, what little else she knew was what Eve had told her. That alone was enough to tear at the very fibers of her heart. Not for the first time, Xena felt a stabbing pain of regret. 'If I had only listened to mother, if I had only kept the baby, then maybe….' Xena thought silently.

“Xena,” Gabrielle softly whispered close to her as her gentle hands rested on Xena's shoulder. “It wasn't your fault,” her lover softly soothed, “come, you need to rest too.”

Sighing, Xena nodded, then smiled at Eve. The young woman returned her smile as she mouthed 'good night,' before rolling over to sleep. Accepting her lovers touch, the warrior rose, picked up her sword, and returned to their bedroll. Once her weapon was secured, she undressed and followed the smaller woman under the cover. As if they were always meant to be like this, their bodies instinctively moved to each other, their legs easily lying entangled together as Gabrielle laid her head on Xena's shoulder. As the sounds of the night sang in unison with the crackling fire, the two lovers followed their daughters into a peaceful night's sleep.
Xena felt her lover's mood the morning they woke up and she noticed the lightweight, short sleeve shirt Gabrielle wore over her usual bra. With only an arch of a brow, the warrior wondered about her soul mate's silence and choice of outfits. As if a wall had been suddenly erected, Gabrielle remained apart from her.

Once they had gone through their morning rituals and were packed, they continued on their journey. In their customary positions, Ari and Eve followed at a discrete distance. When the warrior glanced over at her lover, she noticed the blonde's down cast eyes and knew that the woman's mind was racing faster than the beat of her heart. Filled with an inner patience, she remained silent, knowing that Gabrielle would speak when she was ready. For a time, she answered Eve's questions about Amphipolis, before they each returned to their silent thoughts as they continued on their journey.

As the day wore on, Xena was beginning to think that Gabrielle would remain in her silence. It was not until they were nearing the end of the day that she felt her lover move close to her. The horses walked at an easy pace, as their riders were relaxed in their saddles.

“Xena, there's something you should know,” Gabrielle's voice was low as she glanced over her shoulder before returning her attention to the road. Maintaining her silence, Xena listened attentively. “It's about Ari…or, rather, something that I caught her doing last night,” Gabrielle said.

“Does this have anything to do with you covering up on a warm day?” Xena asked as she cast a sidelong glance toward the blonde, 'not to mention your unusual silence,' Xena mused silently, keeping this thought to herself. Before returning her attention to the road she caught the crimson shade of red that crossed Gabrielle's face.

“Yeah,” the blonde kept her voice low enough for just their hearing. “Last night, when I was cooking I glanced up and caught her staring at me….and I don't mean, just a casual look either. It was a deeply intense look….it felt like she was undressing me and then devouring me with her eyes,” the bard shook her head slightly.

Xena felt a surge of anger as her protective jealousy took control. Before she spoke or acted, she allowed a sense of calm to cross over her as a sigh escaped her control. Glancing over at Gabrielle, she frowned softly as she reached over to take her lovers hand.

“Gabrielle…I'm sorry you were made to feel that way,” Xena offered.

“It's all right Xena, it's not your fault….I'm not even certain it's Ari's fault, but, I thought you needed to know. I mean, among all of the other…ummmm, things that surround her, this was something that you need to be aware of, just in case.” Gabrielle said as she lowered her eyes, concern clearly etched in her features.

“You're right,” Xena sighed as she remembered the time on the battlefield, of how Ari had mistreated Eve in front of both troops of warriors. Since that time, Xena had assumed it was caused by Alti's outside influences, but now that Gabrielle had this experience with the girl, the warrior was left with yet another thing to worry about with Ari.

“Hey, “ Gabrielle pulled her from her thoughts as she reached out a hand until Xena took it in hers, “Don't worry about it, I'm all right and maybe it was just innocent curiosity, I mean, this is her first time with different looking people,” the bard offered.

At her words, Xena smiled, then leaned over to the blonde, her lips brushing against Gabrielle's in a soft kiss. For a moment, they remained touching until she felt the bard's tongue pressing against her closed mouth. As Xena's lips parted to accept the silky smoothness of her lover's exploring tongue, she felt the familiar and wonderful sensations as her body responded. When they were finally able to break contact, the warrior smiled down into shining green eyes.

“Hey! You two should both get a room if that's what you have planned!” Eve's shout broke through their concentration.

Glancing back, Xena smiled as she shook her head while Gabrielle laughed beside her. Despite her words, Eve held a big smile, then winked at them. By Eve, Ari sat in silence, her eyes unfocused, as she seemed to stare right past them. With a sigh, Xena shook her head, then returned her attention to the road as she began to search for a place to camp for the night.
Some days were worse than others, Ari found. Today was not as bad as yesterday, she decided as she rode in silence. Thanatos seemed to know the right pace to take and followed to two lead horses at an easy pace. With half closed eyes, Ari was relaxed as she felt her body moving instinctively in the saddle.

Ari watched the three women in front of her and heard their soft conversation. Although they knew that Xena had no living relatives left in Amphipolis, it was decided that they would return there to take over the family home. With Gabrielle's sister living on the farm in Poteidaia, it seemed the likely solution was to travel to the warrior princesses home.

With a sigh, Ari lowered her gaze as her mind began to wander. She wondered why her new family initially became angry with her when she suggested that they simply remove the people in Poteidaia if that is where Xena wished to live. For Ari, it didn't make sense to live on land that was not desirable, and if someone held the land, then they should take it, she reasoned. But her words were only looked at in horror and although no one said anything to her, Ari could feel the tension from them for many days after. It was then that she learned that sometimes it was better to keep her silence and allow the other's to make the decisions.

'But then, that's what I've always done,' she absently thought to herself as her childhood memories replayed through her mind….
Ari could not remember how old she had been, nor did she remember how she got to the cold, dank cave. One minute she was spending a peaceful morning with her mother and father when the sounds of a horse reached them. They had little time to react. As her father rose to open the door, the loud bang of the front door slamming open shattered Ari's peaceful world.

The moment she saw her father falling backward, the side of his face sliced open as red liquid spurted from his neck, Ari's mind became frozen in time. At one point, she thought she heard her mother scream, but then the sword that the tall woman held, silenced it. Suddenly afraid, Ari began to cry and call for her mother as the strange woman lifted her sword and hacked at the two bodies until neither one could be distinguished anymore as once being human.

With a morbid glee, the stranger had lifted Ari from her seat and easily carried her small form from the home. As if she were nothing more than a sack of wheat, she had been thrown over the hard leather saddle and carried for what felt like an eternity. That was the last day that she had seen daylight or felt the sun on her skin. After that day, she was always kept locked away in the secret cave of her mother.

“You're afraid of me, aren't you, little girl,” Alti emphasized her words as she glanced down with a strange smile at Ari.

No longer able to cry, Ari stared up with wide eyes at the giant woman. Pleased by the fear in the child, Alti lightly chuckled as she moved to a basin of water and began to wash the dried blood from her hands and face. When she turned to the little captive, she smiled as she finished drying her hands on a cloth, then tossed it aside.

“You don't know me, little girl, but you're going to,” the deep, scratchy voice said. “You see, I know your mother….oh, no, not that woman you were with,” Alti added when she saw Ari's eyes grow wide. “I know your real mother, your birth mother, the one who abandoned you. Did you know that she left you like rubbish? But never fear; I have a great plan on how to get back at her and you're going to help me, little girl,” Alti's glance turned away and her eyes got a far off look as a smile crossed her lips.

“Ari, my name is Ari,” the small, imp-like voice spoke up for the first time.

At her words, Alti turned on her, the anger clear as her face turned into a scowl. “How dare you speak when I haven't given permission!” The giant shouted as she grabbed Ari by the hair, pulled her off of her feet, and held her scant inches from her snarling face.

“You had better learn that you obey me, you little beast!” Alti shouted as her giant hand wrapped around Ari's neck. For a moment, the child kicked her feet in the air, the pain in her neck brought a vision of lights before her eyes as the girl struggled to breath. Just when it seemed hopeless, Alti released her grip and dropped the girl to hard rock floor.

“Yesss. You'd better learn, little girl, that I am to be obeyed in all ways. I'm your mother now. I will care for you, and teach you,” the tall woman said as her voice grew suddenly soft. With a pleased smile she lifted Ari from the ground and lovingly carried her to the back of the cave. Alti gently laid the frightened girl on a pile of soft furs, then stretched out beside her.

“You see, little girl…Ari,” Alti smiled as she gently brushed the tears from the child's cheek. “From now on, you are my little girl. My daughter. From now on, you will do everything that I say without arguments, because you know what I will do if you disobey?” Alti asked as she lightly grasped Ari's small neck. With a gulp and a nod, Ari heard everything the woman said as numbness began to fill her soul.

“I know your mother, and you will learn when you are older that I love you more than she ever could. I will teach you to be very brave and strong, and I will show you what love is.” Alti's voice purred softly. “I will show you what it means to be my little girl, and you're going to never, ever disobey me or speak without my permission first, do you understand?” Alti's voice was seductively soft.

If it had been only her words, Ari might have believed Alti that day. But throughout the older woman's words, the adult size hands were moving over Ari, long fingers were making their way into the child's clothing until all Ari could do was retreat into herself until she found a safe place. Once in her dark, safe place, she cowered in the shadows of her mind. Her little arms pulled her knees up, wrapped her arms around her legs, and rested the side of her face against her knees as she closed her eyes to what was happening outside of her safe haven.
From that day forward, Ari learned to maintain her silence until it became a way of life. Throughout her mother's tutelage, she learned how to be a strong warrior. With her mother's guidance, she learned the meaning of love and passion, and through it all, she trained for the single purpose of one-day conquering the woman who had discarded her so easily.

Yet in the end, Ari learned that it was all a lie. The long forgotten memories of her adopted parents returned with a few spoken words from Xena. Since that day, Ari began to mentally reevaluate everything that her mother taught her. But those few times when Ari ventured to go against the lessons she had been taught, she learned that her ideas were not accepted. Although no one had physically hurt her for suggesting they take the land in Poteidaia, she could tell that she had spoken out of turn. Even when Xena explained that it was wrong to take what wasn't yours, Ari was confused. But rather than question further and make everyone angry, she decided to retreat into herself again, to hide once more in her safe place that no one could find.

“Ari?” Xena's voice pulled her from her thoughts. Glancing up, she noted the beginning of the setting sun. Still astride their horses, her new family looked back at her as if they had been waiting for some time.

“Hello, wake up!” Eve chuckled as she shook her head.

“We're going to make camp here, there's a lake nearby that we can bathe in,” Gabrielle explained as she guided her horse to an open clearing.

With only a nod, Ari trailed them to the camp. They each followed their normal routines. Once Xena and Ari had the horses groomed and settled in for the night, they moved to join the two other women in camp.

As Gabrielle laid out the bedrolls, Eve was rummaging in the forest for vegetation to add to whatever meal would be found for that night. Xena made a deep pit for the fire. as Ari collected the nearby wood. With the camp set up, Ari began to place the wood in the pit as the women's voice rose in an easy banter.

“We're going to the lake for a bath, care to join us?” Xena asked softly. The invitation was always offered, but Ari preferred not to have such intimacy. Instead, she only shook her head as she turned her concentration to setting up the fire. Using the flint, she easily started the sparks that would begin the campfire. While she fed the slight smoke, Xena lightly patted her shoulder, then followed the other two women down to the stream.

Careful not to be seen, Ari stood up and glanced in the direction that they had left. The distant sounds of their voices reached her hearing. With a tilt of her head, she closed her eyes and concentrated on the group. Only when she heard the slight splashing sounds did she release a sigh.

With a slight smile, Ari glanced up through the treetops. Somewhere in the distance, she felt the oppressive weight of the sky bearing down on her. The normal sounds of the forest around her were amplified until it felt like her head would pound. The physical closeness of her traveling companions sometimes felt stifling just as her surroundings were oppressive.

All of the emotions, which were happening to Ari, had never been felt before, so she didn't know if there was anything wrong. The only thing she was certain of was that her body craved for something, which she was not able to name. With this thought, the young warrior sighed as she glanced quickly around, making certain that no one had seen her weakness. Once she was assured of her secret, she smiled as she picked up some wood, and fed the fire. When it burned brightly, she stood and glanced around their camp, making certain that there was a large enough fire break around the flames, then she wiped her hands as she turned and made her way in the opposite direction of where the women went to bathe.

As Ari made her way through the darkening forest, she glanced overhead and noticed the various silhouettes of the tall tree branches. The numerous scents of the forest assailed her senses. In the beginning, when Ari first arrived in this world, she found everything around her intriguing. The bold images the myriad of colors around her fascinated and attracted her to the point of distraction, which was why her mother increased the amount of drug that was added to her drink and food. Once the added dosage took effect, Ari was able to maintain and focus on a task.

In solitude, Ari walked through the darkening forest. Her hearing was attuned to everything around her. She heard the distant night owl preening his feathers. Off in the brushes, a family of deer lay nestled in the leaves. Ari thought about their presence then reasoned a deer would be too much, even with four mouths to feed. So instead, she continued to search. When she heard a slight rustling, she froze in her steps, her senses were instantly geared for the prey.

With a slight smile, Ari took a tentative step forward as she removed her blade from her boot. Filled with an inner peace, she crouched down and slowly crept toward the small boar. The animal seemed to feel her presence as it released a slight snort, then looked upward, it's snout sniffing the air. Remaining frozen, Ari waited until she heard it moving in the shadows.

Ari had spent many years learning to harness her patience. In a crouching position, she sat with arms loosely hanging on her knees, knife held firmly in her right hand. When she felt her target near, she reached out with lightening quickness, her left hand gripping the hard tusks of the small creature while her right came down with the blade.

The smile came naturally to Ari. As she held on to the beast, her mind cried out for the exquisite pleasure that she felt as the animal struggled in her grip. With one quick strike, she slashed the animal's neck then waited as a slight squeal escaped from its throat and the sticky warmth of the blood, covered her hand.

For a moment Ari felt a blinding rage consumed her soul. From somewhere deep inside, she felt the build up of all her anger and frustrations boiling over in one quick moment. With eyes closed, she strove to still the storm of her soul. The deep guttural growl rose from her throat as she continued to bring the knife blade down upon her prey. All of her anger was put behind the blade of her knife as she lashed out blindly at an unknown foe. When the blindness of her rage was soothed, she sat staring at the mutilated head of the boar, it's body still intact.

In the darkness of the setting sun, Ari quickly cut off what remained of the animals head, then turned the boar over and began to cleanly gut the beast, tossing the entrails into the brushes in order that wild animals could partake of the meal. As she felt the warmth of the blood on her hand, she hesitated a moment, then reached her hand up and began to lick the blood off. For a moment, Ari found herself transported back to the cave where she and her mother lived. As the metallic taste crossed her senses, she remembered the times when Alti held a cup to her, the liquid within still warm as she had Ari drink of the entire juice. With a slight grimace, Ari glanced down at the carcass of the boar, then, with a inner shudder, she reached into the belly, cupped her hand in order that she could taste it's life force.

Blood was the life and soul, Alti would say. “When you drink their blood, you are drinking their strength. Never forget that, little girl,” Ari whispered softly into the night as she drank of the warm liquid, then glanced down at the animal. For an instant, she had a flashback to another time. She remembered taking the offered cup and holding it in her hands as she drank it completely while she watched her mother removing the dead man from their bed covers. When it was empty, she burped loudly, then wiped her mouth against her sleeve as Alti dragged the hollowed out carcass of the man from their dwelling.

With a shudder, Ari blinked away the memories. Filled with disgust, she simply sighed as she closed her eyes and, like she had done as a child, she wiped her mouth against her sleeve. Once the memory was firmly locked away, Ari returned her attention to the evenings meal.

When it was cleaned, she took some vines and bound the pigs legs, then placed a thick stick into the binding in order that she could carry their dinner back to camp. Once she cleaned her knife on the underbrush and wiped the remaining blood from her hands in the dirt, she returned it to her boot sheath, then lifted the animal and began to make her way back to the camp fire.

Her footsteps cracked a single twig in the outskirts of the camp, which brought Xena fully alert. Eve stood watching her entrance as Gabrielle turned her attention away from some cooking fish, and looked at Ari curiously, the bards blond hair slicked back from her recent bath.

“Blessed Hades! Do you have to do that!” Eve exclaimed as she shook her head.

“What?” Ari was surprised by her sister's reaction as she carried the headless, gutted pig to the fire.

“You're so quiet, no one knows when you're coming back into camp!” the prophet exclaimed as she returned to her sitting position.

“She must get that from you, Xena,” Gabrielle smiled, a slight twinkle in her eyes as she glanced at her lover, then reached over and took the pig from Ari. “Ummm…we're going to have a nice dinner…and breakfast!” The bard exclaimed.

With only a slight smile, Ari turned, careful not to get her dirty hands near the bard, and made her way to the lake. The voices of the women grew softer the further away she walked. By the time she reached the water, their voices were replaced with the sound of the splashing water against the beach. After she washed the mess from her hands, she stripped her clothes off, then walked into the cold lake. By the light of the moon, she ducked into the water, used her hands to cleanse the days dust and smell from her hair and body. Then she remained sitting for a time, submerged to her shoulders in the darkness as she stared off at nothing.

At the coldness, she was reminded of a time from long ago. The darkness of the cave grew cold as the night fell over the land. Ari did not remember how old she was, but she knew that she was still small enough to fit into the tiny crevice in the back of the cave. As the sounds of her mother raged in the cavern, she maintained her silence and waited for the anger to abate. When Alti grew angry, it never seemed to matter who or what was the cause of her fury because Ari was always the one who received the blows. With a slight sigh, Ari lowered her gaze, her eyes unfocused on the darkness of the water that surrounded her. For what seemed like an eternity, she sat like this, her teeth chattering from the coldness until a sound caught her attention.

Ari turned at the noise. Xena moved from the shadows into a thin strand of moon light. “Are you all right?” the warrior princess asked as she stood on the beach near the younger woman's discarded clothes. Ari could only nod as she remained submerged, her lips slightly blue and her teeth chattered. “I brought you this, thought you might want to dry off,” the Greek warrior smiled as she held the clean towel up. For a moment, it looked like Xena was going to leave, but then she smiled as she crouched near the shore. Her gaze purposely away from Ari's submerged body.

“You know, sometimes its hard when you feel alone…” Xena's voice was soft as she smiled at Ari. “I guess… I just want you to know, you don't have to be alone.”

Ari remained silent. The coldness of the water brought a slight shudder to her as a chill was felt. With lips closed tightly against her chattering teeth, she remained motionless as Xena sighed softly, then stood up as she held open the towel.

When she realized that Xena was not leaving, Ari gulped nervously as she began to move from the water. With down cast eyes, she went to Xena's open arms and turned her back as the taller woman wrapped the towel around her. Surprised by her touch, Ari remained still as she felt Xena taking the towel and drying her back off, then the warrior turned her attention to drying Ari's shoulder length hair.

At the feel of Xena's fingers brushing through her hair, Ari sighed as she leaned into the older woman's touch. With eyes closed, the young woman allowed herself to be pampered as calmness fell over her. When she turned and faced the taller woman, Ari gazed through the darkness into Xena's eyes. For a moment, she thought she saw a tear in Xena's eyes, but it vanished as quickly as it appeared. Xena smiled down at her, then reached out and pulled Ari into a warm embrace, her arms circled around the wet towel that Ari now held up.

While in Xena's embrace, she felt her birth mother's hands gently rub her shoulders and back. Ari grew suddenly stiff at the warrior's touch. Her memories of the past flooded her senses. 'Alti only touched me like this when she wanted to be close,' Ari silently thought as her mind began to understand Xena's intentions. Then, as she sighed and willed herself to calmness, she allowed Xena's embrace to fill her senses. Just as she used to do with her mother, Ari began to feel her body betray her.

With a visible shake of her head, Ari pulled away from the woman. For a moment, she felt Xena's confusion but closed it out of her mind. Ari fought an internal battle that was never won as she tried to allow the repulsed part of her mind to control her suddenly aroused body. When this failed, she glanced up at her birth mother, her eyes trying to read the older woman's face through the shadows of the night. With no other thoughts in her mind, Ari leaned forward until her lips pressed against Xena's soft lips.

Before the kiss could deepen, she felt Xena's back stiffen as she quickly pulled away, the grip of her hands seeming to crush Ari's arms. Although the young woman could not see the expression on her birth mothers face, Ari felt the repulsion from the woman. Confused by her reactions, Ari turned away, her gaze lowered as she felt a sudden chill cross her naked form, the wind rustling the bottom of her wet towel.

“Ari, why did you do that?” Xena asked, her voice husky with anger.

“I-I…t-thought that is what you wanted,” Ari stammered as a heat crossed her cheeks.

Xena remained silent in the shadows, her body exuding….Ari was not certain what it was, but Ari felt it surrounding her, threatening to consume and destroy her.

“Ari….is that what … Alti would do?” the older warrior asked.

Ari nodded slightly, her gaze never lifting toward Xena's.

“For how long was Alti doing this to you?”

“Ever since….” Ari tried to remember, but found it hard to put a date on the first day that Alti had taken her into the cave. Embarrassed by it, Ari was unable to admit that it had begun on her first night. “M-Mother said…she said…t-that was how m-mothers show their…l-love,” Ari's voice was a half whisper, her brows creasing into a frown as the realization that she had done something wrong again, and now her birth mother was upset at her.

For a moment, Xena remained silent, her head bent as she seemed deep in thought. Then, surprising Ari, the warrior princess moved to her, her eyes filled with kindness, as her voice was soft. “Sweetheart, listen to me, what Alti did was wrong, and she is wrong. Mothers…mother's who love their children would never hurt them in that way,” Xena explained as she reached out and hesitantly touched Ari's damp hair. “Do you understand?”

Ari did not understand. Instead, she remembered all of the days when Alti had turned away and rejected her. She could remember the times when she was older, if she had done something wrong, how her mother would turn her love away and Ari was left alone to contemplate what she had done wrong.

“B-But…you came here, and would not leave?” Ari's confusion filled her words.

“You thought I wanted…? Oh, Ari, no! I only stayed to get you out of the water! I don't want you here all night, what with the way you lose track of time,” Xena explained. “Besides, the other's are waiting until we're all together before they eat dinner, and you know Gabrielle! It's taking all of her will power to wait until we're all together,” Xena's light and airy voice softly laughed as she cupped Ari's face with her hands.

“Do you trust me?” Xena asked as she forced Ari to look up at her face. With only an assenting nod, Ari maintained her silence. “Good, because I don't want you to ever think, or feel, that you did something wrong. You didn't, it wasn't your fault, but I promise you, mothers do not do that with their children! Do you believe me?”

Ari's only response was a weak nod as she felt a slight tear escape her control. With a tenderness that she had never felt from Alti, her adopted mother, Xena pulled her into a warm embrace. Her arms wrapped around the young warrior, and all Ari could do was bury her face in her birth mother's shoulder and sob.

“Ari, it wasn't your fault, don't ever doubt my love for you,” she heard Xena say as the spasms of pain seared her soul. When her bouts of tears were over, she gulped and closed her eyes as Xena pulled away. Ari felt Xena's soft touch as she gently wiped the tears from her eyes.

“Don't be too long, or they might eat your share of dinner!” Was all the Greek woman said before she turned to leave in order that Ari could dress.
When Xena returned to the camp, her expression was grim as she sat beside Gabrielle. At her stern expression, Gabrielle's concern was evident. With a deep sigh, Xena reached up and ran her fingers through her hair as she glanced around for Eve.

“She's just over in the bushes, she'll be back,” Gabrielle offered as if reading her mind. “Xena?”

As her mind ran over the recent events, Xena could only close her eyes as she leaned back. When she felt Gabrielle's arm around her shoulder, she leaned into her lover's embrace, her head resting on the bard's shoulder.

“Ari….” Xena tried to find a way to form her words. When no way to explain it became clear, she negatively shook her head.

“I found out that Alti had been…that she was….probably since the first day that she took Ari away,” the usually stern warrior was finding it hard to maintain her control as she tried to explain what she had learned. With a quick swipe at her eyes with her fingers, the warrior princess sat up and stared into the fire. By sheer will alone, she managed to stifle the tears that threaten to fall for Ari's lost innocence. As if always in tune with her unspoken thoughts, Gabrielle's expression turned to one of shock as her eyes suddenly grew moist with tears.

“Oh no!” Gabrielle exclaimed with a soft sigh as she lightly ran her fingers through her lover's dark hair. “But…how did you find out?”

“She tried to kiss me….she thought that was why I was there. Gabrielle, she actually thought that I wanted the same thing from her that Alti always wanted!” Xena frowned as she closed her eyes against the anger and sadness that filled her heart. Although she knew that her dark side was under control, she was certain that if Alti had still been alive, Xena would have no difficulties in killing the woman. But since Alti wasn't here, all she could feel was a deep and intense sorrow for the suffering and abuse that her first child had experienced at the sorceress hands.

“Did I miss anything?” Eve asked as she broke through the foliage. The young woman saw the somber expressions on her mother's faces, then frowned. While Xena continued to stare into the fire, Gabrielle gave her a weak smile, before she returned her attention to petting her lover's hair.

“Ok, I guess I did miss something,” she answered as she sat in her place on her bed roll. When neither woman answered, she merely sighed as she quietly waited for dinner.
Once Ari was assured of privacy, she dropped the towel as she searched for her clothes. As the cool night air brought shivers to her, she pulled her clothes on in an attempt to avoid catching a chill. When she pulled her britches up, her thumb lightly touched the stitches on her abdomen. Glancing down at the long, thin line, she felt it with her fingertips, the healing skin barely starting to pull the thread tightly. Almost every night, Xena checked the wound to make certain that it was healing properly and to gauge how long it would be before the stitches could be remove.

Xena had saved her life and Ari was still amazed whenever she thought about it. Ari's adopted mother had inflicted the wound on her and if it had been Alti's choice, Ari would have died that day. With an audible sigh, the young woman shook her head as she pulled her melancholy thoughts away from the battle that had taken place less than a few months ago. With the towel, she finished drying her hair as she made her way back toward the warmth of the campfire.

The women were gathered around the campfire, their low voices grew silent when she entered the light. Xena's smiled up at her before turning her gaze to the fire's flame. Eve was snuggled next to Xena's side, the older warrior was gently running her fingers through Eve's hair, while Gabrielle was on the other side. When she saw Ari, Eve pulled away from her mother and moved to her own bedroll.

At this scene, Ari felt an anger threaten to consume her. She felt her jaw firmly set as a frown crossed her features. As her mind conjured up images of Xena's love for Eve, she felt an inner turmoil slowly boiling deep within her.

“Ah, there she is! Just in time, Gabrielle was about ready to eat your share,” Eve chuckled as she took the offered plate of meat and fish from the bard, a slight giggle escaped her control. With only a slight frown, Ari glared at Eve as she took her place on her bedroll.

“Hey! I wasn't going to eat Ari's share…well, not yet anyway,” the bard protested, then winked at Ari who was settling herself by the fire. At the bard's words, Ari felt her anger disappearing, a slight smile escaped her control.

“Don't let them tease you,” Xena's easy going smile seemed to radiate as she reached over and slightly stroked Ari's arm.

With downcast eyes, Ari smiled slightly as she took the offered food, the smell of the meat made her mouth water as the aroma sent a pleasing feeling to her senses. As the savory scent wafted in the air, she took a piece of the meat and bit into the juicy texture. At the instant flavor, her eyes closed as she allowed the tender, succulent mixture of meat and spices to roll over her pallet. When she opened her eyes, she noticed Xena's wide smile watching her. The bard was leaning back against her soul mate, a pleased smile on her face as she watched Ari in silence. When the young woman glanced sideways to Eve, she noticed the young prophet shaking her head.

“You are so easily pleased!” Eve exclaimed.

“HEY! What does that mean?” Gabrielle protested.

“Aw, mother….you know what I mean,” Eve shrugged as she turned her attention to her older sister.

“It's good,” Ari shrugged her shoulders as she continued to devour the meat.

“Haven't you ever had pork before?” Eve asked as she ate her food.

“Yes, but not like this,” Ari licked the drippings from her fingers before taking another chunk of meat. “This is wonderful!”

“Thank you, it's just some herbs I found in the area. Just a matter of packing the inside of the meat, and sprinkling it over while it's cooking,” Gabrielle proudly smiled.

“Ummm…. Amazing….my mother never put anything on the food….and if she did, it never tasted this wonderful!” Ari said through chewing as all of her attention was focused on the food, rather than the slight looks that the women gave Xena at Ari's words. With an impassive expression, Xena kept her gaze on her dinner as she ate her food.

Later, when the meal was complete, Gabrielle and Eve took the dirty plates and cups to wash in the lake. Taking the advantage of their solitude, Xena stood up and moved to sit by Ari. “Let me have a look,” her firm voice did not allow for any arguments.

“I am fine, it is healing fine,” Ari tried to protest.

“Why do I have to go through this every time?” Xena's voice was soft as she smiled at the younger woman. “Look, I've seen more of you than just your abdomen, so don't be so shy with me. Come on, I just want to make sure it's healing properly,” she stated as she reached for the bottom of Ari's shirt, then lifted it slightly.

Ari only shook her head as she leaned back, allowing the warrior's touch to gently poke and prod at the wound. “Oh, yeah, it's looking nice, if I do say so myself,” Xena smiled as her glance turned to the younger woman's features. “Doesn't hurt, does it?”


“Good, because if it does start to hurt, or feels warm….” Xena lowered Ari's shirt as the women were returning from the stream.

“Yes, I should tell you right away,” Ari returned her gaze to the flickering fire light while Gabrielle and Eve returned to their places by the fire.

“Who's up for a story?” Gabrielle asked, her eyes purposely falling on Ari. With a slight nod and a shy smile, Ari ducked her eyes for a moment, then glanced back up at the bard.

Of all the things that happened, she looked forward to nights when Gabrielle was in the mood to tell a story. Since arriving in this land with her mother, Ari had never heard such tales. In fact, as they swept across the land, it was Alti's intentions to cleanse the land of all bards. According to Alti, bards were only good for spreading insurrection, and that was the last thing that they needed in their plans to wipe out every opposition in their path. Although at the time, Ari never understood the purpose of a bard, after knowing Gabrielle, she found it hard to believe that words alone could cause the troubles that Alti warned of.

With wide eyes, Ari sat staring at the bard. As if by watching the movements of her mouth, the expressions in her eyes, and the movements of her hands, the young warrior kept her eyes on Gabrielle. In a melodic voice, the bard began a tale of a land far away. She spoke of a king who was searching out a child who was destiny to rule his kingdom. When the tale began to take a quicker pace, Gabrielle's eyes seemed to grow distant as she weaved the pictures with her words. A few times, the blonde said something, which brought slight laughs from Xena and Eve. Confused, Ari would simply glance at them, not quiet sure of what was so funny. But rather than dwell upon it, she simply allowed herself to be pulled deeper into the story. When it was complete, Ari's brows furrowed in confusion.

“The end,” the bard finished with a flourish, then gazed around at her appreciative audience. Eve clapped softly, Xena smiled and Ari stared at her with an arched brow, the confusion clearly etched in her features.

“Something wrong?” Gabrielle's smile never wavered as she glanced at Ari.

After a moment of thought, Ari asked, “So the baby was going to take his kingdom, and the king adopted the baby?”

“Yes,” Gabrielle smiled as her gaze turned back to the fire, a relaxed sigh escaped her control.

“If the baby was going to take his kingdom, why didn't he kill it?” Ari's brows furrowed.

“Because….” Gabrielle's ever-patient voice began, but was cut off by Eve's slight chuckle.

“Oh, for goodness' sake! Because the baby was going to inherit his kingdom!” Eve shook her head as she rolled her eyes. “Don't you get it? The king had no heirs, so he adopted the baby to raise as his son! The baby would be the next king when his father died! Zeus, were you raised in a cave, or what!”

Ari felt a crimson heat coarse her cheeks as she lowered her gaze in shame from her sister.

“Eve!” Xena's tone was deep as she was about to scold her youngest. Before Xena could say anything, Ari cleared her throat, and spoke up.

“As a matter of fact, yes.” Ari's words brought silence around the campfire.

“What?” it was Eve who spoke up.

“Not everyone was raised in the lap of luxury! You asked if I was raised in a cave, and the answer is, yes.” Ari's hate-filled gaze turned to her sister. The shock and surprise evident in the younger woman's eyes, her lips slightly parted at the realization of her earlier outburst.

“Oh….I-I….” Eve stammered, then leaned slightly forward. “What was it like?”

“Eve!” Both Xena and Gabrielle spoke up at the same time, Gabrielle shook her head negatively while Xena glared at the young prophet.

“What? I was only wondering,” Eve defended, then turned back to Ari.

Ari's eyes squinted as she turned away from the penetrating glance of her sister. Gulping down a lump in her throat, she pulled her knees up, wrapping her arms around her legs. Her chin resting on her knees as she stared into the fire.

“What is the other place like? Was it another universe?” Ari heard Eve's soft words.

With a sigh, Ari closed her eyes for a moment, then opened her eyes to stare off at nothing. From somewhere in the distance, she heard a voice that was very much like her own, yet did not feel as if it was hers. Before she knew it, the words came pouring from her lips as an image returned to her mind.

“It was not another place, but someplace in between and it was always cold,” Ari began as she remembered the icy coldness of the cave. “There wasn't anyplace in the cave that was warm, not near the fire or under the fur covers, nothing kept the coldness out and all around, there was only silence and the wind.” She closed her eyes as the vivid memories returned once more.

“Outside of the cave, there was a rock trail that cut through the fog, but I never saw where it ended, and I was never allowed to step on it until the last day when she took me out, but I was blindfolded, so I never saw where it went. I only knew that it was the trail that she left on. Sometimes, when I was very young and mother was gone for a long time, I would worry that she might never come back, and then I wouldn't know how to leave….b-but she always came back… eventually, I would hear the sounds of her feet on the rocks.” Ari found it hard to continue as her memories relived those many times that the sorceress had returned. Always filled with a bloodlust, the older woman would search for Ari, hold her down, and take her without saying a word. Only afterwards, when they would lay under the covers together, did the woman speak softly to her.

“Why didn't you ever try to leave?” Eve's voice pulled her from her dark thoughts. Opening her eyes, Ari gazed into the prophet's questioning gaze. As her mind tried to come up with an answer that Eve would understand, Ari turned away as she held her knees even closer.

“Eve!” Xena's voice grew stern.

“I'm just wondering why she didn't try to get away. If she knew about a trail, why not go down it while Alti was gone?” Ari was certain that Eve was voicing a question that they all wondered at in silence.

With an inward sigh, Ari kept her gaze firmly on the fire's flame. As the hues of orange and red licked upward, she remembered the vivid images of the various men who had tried just that. Once Alti had brought them back, had her pleasure with them, and had them pleasure themselves with Ari, Alti would drain them of their life force. The few who tried to escape….the fog would come and encircle them, devouring them until all that was left were their bones. Shuddering at the thought, Ari returned her gaze to her sister.

“Why did you let her keep you prisoner for so long?” Eve's voice, although soft, held an accusing quality.

Ari felt her emotions raging deep within her. With a frown, she glared at her sister as the implications filled her soul. Realizing that Eve blamed her for being under Alti's control, Ari's hands turned to fists as she tired to control the intense feelings. Blinded by these sensations, Ari closed her eyes tightly against the tidal wave of anger that threaten to spill out of her control. When Ari was able to open her eyes, she deliberately stared into the fire as she felt her soul being consumed by rage until finally, all she could do was lash out at her sister. Like a poisonous snake, she struck before anyone saw her move.

In the back of her mind, Ari thought she heard Xena's voice. Rather than stop to listen, Ari deliberately bunched up her fist and hit Eve directly in the face. Before the prophet could react, Ari was on her, her body straddling Eve as her fists slammed into her sister's face. As a coursing red blindness of anger blanketed her senses, she fought like a cornered beast.

Nothing mattered to her. Not the sound of Gabrielle's pleading, nor the women's hands that had pulled her from her sisters prone form, not even the occasional blows that Eve managed to return affected her rage. It was not until she felt a sharpness against her neck that she felt a paralyzing fear.

“Ari, I said stop it!” Xena shouted as the pain began to course in Ari's head. “I've just cut off the flow of blood to your brain, and unless you get control over your passions, you will be dead, do you understand me!”

For a moment Ari contemplated her birth mother's words. As if nothing else mattered, she thought of not answering in order that Xena's touch could end the misery of life. Before she could even respond, Xena slammed her fingers into a different part on Ari's neck, releasing the blood back into her brain.

Inhaling deeply, Ari reached up and grasped her neck. Her pants for air sent a searing pain through her lungs. When she finally sat up, Eve was crying in the arms of the bard, the prophets face battered and bruised, her lip and nose bleeding.

“Keep away from me! Please…don't… let her touch!” Eve cried out as she clung in desperation to Gabrielle, her eyes glazed over as if reliving a nightmare.

“Eve, it's ok now, sweetheart, you're all right now. Ari has stopped,” Xena offered as she knelt in front of Eve.

Filled with an anger that Ari had never seen before, Eve pulled away from Gabrielle and launched herself onto Ari's prone form. With wild slaps at her face and a few punches to her torso, Eve lashed out at her older sister, “I hate you! Do you hear me, I wish you had died!”

“Eve! For the god's sake, don't say such things!” Xena pulled her youngest daughter off of Ari in an attempt to halt the attack.

“No, let me go! I hate her! She was going to rape me! If it hadn't been for Alti, she would have!” Eve explained through tears of rage, then turned her venom on Ari, “I hate you!” She screamed out, her words meant for her older sister.

At Eve's outburst, Xena turned on Ari, the expression of disbelief clear. “Ari? Y-You were going to…” The words choked in the warrior's throat.

But at Xena's unspoken question, all Ari could do was momentarily look away, then glance back up at her birth mother, the shame evident in her face. As if struck by a mortal blow, Xena's eyes filled with tears of hate as she stared down at Ari, her fists flexing as she inhaled deeply, her jaw firmly set.

Seeing her birth mother like this, Ari turned away. Although she had not looked at her, Ari felt like even Gabrielle hated her. It was as if the only family she had ever known had suddenly turned on her, and this dug deeply into her soul.

In silence, the girl rose slowly and gathered up her bedroll. For a moment, she tried to decide what to do. Although she knew that she was no longer wanted, Ari didn't know where she could go. With her mother dead, she had no place to go, and no one to return to. Realizing this, she clutched her bedroll in her arms and turned away from the camp.

Without saying a word, Ari moved to where the horses were tethered and laid her blanket out. Not bothering to remove her clothing, she only shrugged the blanket around her shoulders and huddled against a tree trunk. Occasionally she glanced back at the lighted campfire, but no one moved to her, and she realized that no one would be coming to ask her to return to the warmth of the fire. This only confirmed her deepest fears of being all alone in a world that did not want her. Huddled into a ball, she allowed her tears to fall as she tried to think of what she would do next.
Gabrielle had only a moment to catch the whole scene before they were pulling Ari from Eve. Although she knew what Ari had almost done, hearing Eve scream it out as she rained blows upon her sister surprised the bard as much as it had surprised Xena. Still in tears, Eve wept as she clung desperately to the bard once the two older women managed to pull her from on top of Ari. Before Gabrielle was able to say something to the oldest girl, Ari had gathered her bedroll and disappeared into the darkness.

“Xena?” she called up to her soul mate. Xena remained frozen in place, her hands bunched into fists as she watched her eldest daughter's retreating form.

“Xena!” the bard screamed and finally got her lover's attention. As if pulled from a fog, Xena turned and glanced down at her. “Xena, come here!” she ordered in a no-nonsense tone. She then forced her stunned lover to sit and hold Eve close. Once assured that her surrogate daughter was being taken care of, Gabrielle rose and made her way to Ari.

When she moved into the darkness, it took only a moment for her eyes to adjust to the shadows. At the slight sound from near the tree, she turned and made her way to the tree's trunk. Huddled in the darkness, Ari had her blanket firmly around her as she was curled into a fetal position.

“Ari?” Gabrielle was careful to not frighten the girl. When she was close enough, she reached out and tentatively touched the Ari's shoulder.

“Ari, are you all right?” she asked as she moved next to the girl.

“Go away!” was all she heard as the girl seemed to withdraw further into her blanket.

“Ari, please, let me help you,” the bard's tone was soft, but her words were determined as she moved to sit next to Ari. For a moment, Gabrielle was trying to think of what her next move should be. As she reached out, she lightly brushed her fingers through Ari's dark hair.

'If she was a child, I'd take her in my arms,' Gabrielle thought as she lightly touched the girls soft cheeks and felt the wet tears. Although she knew that Ari was an adult in age, she could not help but see her as a child. With a tender smile, she reached down and pulled the girl into her arms. For a moment, she felt Ari's resistance, but then, the young woman settled against her, her head resting on her bosom as Gabrielle wrapped a protective arm over Ari's shoulder.

“She h-hates me n-now…” Gabrielle heard Ari choke through her tears.

“Honey, you scared her. She's just remembering what happened when Alti forced you to keep her captive. In time, Eve will be able to forgive,” Gabrielle explained.

“N-not Eve…Xena, she hates me now,” Ari hiccupped softly as she seemed to curl into Gabrielle's embrace, her body seeming to find a place of safety in the bards embrace.

“No, Ari, Xena loves you….she loves both you and Eve. I think she was just … overwhelmed by it all. She doesn't hate you! You are both her daughters, she could never hate either of you,” Gabrielle assured. “And … do you want to know something else?”

Filled with curiosity, Ari glanced up at her through the darkness. With a slight smile, Gabrielle looked down at the shadowed features. “I love you too, I love both of you and it tears at my heart to see both of you hurting.”


“Yes.” The confidence remained firm in her voice as she pulled the bedroll around the girl and held her close. At this touch, Ari snuggled back down, her head resting on Gabrielle's shoulder as the strength seemed to leave her body. After a moment of thought, the bard spoke softly to Ari.

“Do you remember that day when you tried to hurt Eve?”

At her question, Ari grew still. As if deep in thought, she sighed before reaching up and rubbing her forehead. The move indicated an impending pain in her head. Before Gabrielle could calm the girl, Ari shook her head negatively.

“I-I…don't know. T-Too many things in here….I think….” Ari's voice grew silent for a moment, before she continued, “I-I think I hurt a lot of people … b-but … I don't know why,” she explained, then her voice turned into a soft whisper.

“S-Sometimes….I-I don't know why….I just….I mean….I don't know,” Ari finally gave up trying speak.

“What do you feel, Ari?” Gabrielle asked after a moment of thought. “Tonight, when you attacked Eve, what were you feeling? Were you thinking about anything?”

Ari remained silent, then sighed as her voice sounded distant, “I-I…don't think of anything, I just feel…it feels like there is too much…and it's suffocating me….and I hate it….I want it to stop…to leave me alone……I don't know,” Ari shrugged as she lowered her head in shame. “It feels like there is too much….”

“Anger? Rage?” Gabrielle stated the girls unspoken thoughts when it seemed like Ari could not find the right words.

“Anger…yes, and…Rage.”

After Ari confirmed the bard's words, Gabrielle felt another tidal wave of tears bursting from the girl. Filled with sadness, the bard pulled her close as she softly stroked her cheek. At her touch, Ari clung to her tightly, her arms reaching around the bard's waist as her tears fell unabated.

“Shush, sweetheart, it's all right, you're all right now,” Gabrielle whispered softly as she felt Ari move from her shoulder, to lay her head on her lap. “You're all right now, no one can hurt you anymore,” she whispered as she softly stroked her hair.

“Xena loves you….and so do I, and believe it or not, I'd bet that Eve loves you too. Someday she will understand what happened,” Gabrielle promised as Ari's tears continued to fall. After a moment of thought, Gabrielle smiled as she alternated between stroking Ari's hair, and rubbing the girls shaking back.

As if sensing his mistresses' sorrow, the large black stallion moved toward them. With a slight puffing of air, he brushed his muzzle against Gabrielle's shoulder, then lowered his head to sniff at Ari's hair. When assured of her safety, Thanatos remained standing near them, as if to offer his protection.

“How about a story?” Gabrielle asked Ari as she lightly scratched the stallion's dark chin before he pulled away. With only an assenting nod of her head, Ari softly said, “Y-Yes….”

At the girl's predictability, the bard smiled as she began to tell the story of the god, Thanatos, his twin brother Sleep, and their mother, Nyx, the Goddess of night. She spoke of the gentle, Thanatos and how with his brother, Sleep, they would ease the pain and suffering of the mortals. As the stallion remained steadfastly beside them, occasionally nuzzling against Gabrielle's offered hand, the bard told the story of the beasts namesake to both the girl and her beloved horse.
With only a sigh, Ari closed her eyes as she remained lying with her head on Gabrielle's lap. As the bard's fingers were stroking her hair, the woman's comforting words were soft. Although Ari felt an unfamiliar calmness fill her, Ari's memories continued to replay within her mind. While Gabrielle's softly melodic voice told her a story, she felt the familiar coldness seeping into her.

Unlike Gabrielle's human and warm touch, the touch of her mother, Alti, was always cold. Just the feel of Alti's fingers caused a chilling effect to sear through her soul. When Ari could take no more of the memories, she closed her eyes tightly in hopes of closing them out. She fought with all of her strength to focus on Gabrielle's words, yet found herself losing a never-ending battle….

'Blame this on, Xena,' she remembered Alti saying as her bony fingers sought to both torment and please the little girl under her control. 'And be angry, little girl, be very angry because your furious passions will be my gift to Xena!' Alti said with tenderness, before a demented laugh escaped the sorceress and echoed throughout the cave. The chilling effect of this laugh was etched within Ari's mind and replayed itself over and over even while the bard's soft words lulled her into a soothing calmness.

The End?
(No, not really. But it is the end of this particular story, SOTM(2): Passions.
More stories will be forth coming about Ari and her new family.)

Part Three: Whispers


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