Summary: This is a prequel to Remember Me, a glimpse into the younger years that helped form the petite warrior and a look at the life Anull and Tazzlan create for themselves. While you do not have to read Remember Me to understand this story, it would add more to it if you have, which order you read them in does not matter.
Disclaimers: I do not own any of the characters of Xena: Warrior Princess. But seeing as they inhabit the same world as my characters, their paths do cross at times.
Warning: This story depicts living relationships between women, if this is offensive to you (you might be on the wrong site dear), or it's illegal where you live, or you are under age and your mom's going to freak that you are reading this, perhaps you should find another story. There is some violence (warriors people, remember) but nothing gory. No hot and heavy sex, sticky sweet, but no heavy panting.
All comments are welcome and you may send them to firstname.lastname@example.org .
December 5, 2009
I'm no bard, but I would like to tell you a story. My story. There are a great many other people who come and go through out, they are the moments and memories that make up my story.
I suppose I should start at the beginning, but that's kind of difficult. You see my parents; they were not exactly able to fill me in on my early days. What I do know was pieced together, requiring a bit of research on my part and a little enlightenment of a very dear and special friend. And that was when I discovered that curiosity is not all it's cracked up to be.
Shortly before I was born my mother, a generally kind woman from what I understand, got into some kind of altercation with a God. I don't know which God or what it was about. I never could find that out, but as the fates would have it the God punished her. No she was not turned to stone or turned inside out. Where is your mind? No, in fact she wasn't even touched at all. Instead the curse was put on me. When I was born people could only remember me for the day they met me. The next day I was a complete stranger to them.
My mother knew she had been pregnant and only knew me as her child for one day, my father as well. She remembered being pregnant but never knew what became of her child, it was a pain she bore her whole life. My father was a kind farmer who did not know how to be mean. Everyday they would find a sleeping infant in their home and not know how it got there. They took care of me and in the short span of a day began to love me. Life was confusing at first, as I got a little older I understood I needed to remain close to my parents in order to remain with them. I figured this out about the time I was beginning to walk and talk. You see they could not remember me, but I remembered them. Thank the Gods I have a good sense of direction, well all except for one. There were a few difficult times, but we managed to get through them all right.
Then not long before my fifth season I traveled with my mother to a near by town for a festival. It was less than half a day's journey away. I was all ready great at begging to stay with them for the day, so before sunrise I was taken along to the festival of something or other. When we got there festivities were already in full swing, it was very crowed and busy. You could smell all types of food cooking and musicians wandered through the crowd playing fanciful music. There were dancers, jugglers, bards and sword fighting competitions. I had never seen anything like it in my life and I couldn't get enough. Tradesmen were there from all over it seemed, selling their wares down every crowded street. I held to my mother's skirt as she visited each stall bartering for those items that really caught her eye. We ate in the town square where benches had been set up to watch the swordsmen. Everyone was laughing and cheering and having a good time.
Mother and I moved off to finish going through the market when a woman stepped into the arena. I didn't know there were women warriors and I could not move or look away as I watched the warrior gracefully pare and block each move her opponent threw at her. She was smaller than the man opposite her and wore much less armor, which seemed to allow her better and faster movement. She would use his own momentum against him and roll over his back coming up once again to have the advantage. By the time she was finally called the victor my mother was nowhere to be seen. I panicked, frantically pushing my way through the crowds to search every vendor's stall. People barely noticed me as I searched streets and shops alike. I went back to the square but could not see anything as my head barely met most people's belts. Pushing my way around the square I moved myself into an alley to think and catch my breath for it was catching in my chest as tears began to blur my vision. I was clenching and unclenching my fists in an attempt to regain control when I felt more than saw a presence near me. I made a quick swipe at my face and looked up to see the woman warrior standing beside me.
“What's a matter kid, you loose something?” She asked in a neutral tone.
I stared back at her and refused to let my voice crack. “Yes, my mother.”
She looked at me with an annoyed pity. “I don't think you're going to find her here.”
“I looked everywhere else.” I said starting to feel that tightness in my chest again.
“Why don't you just go home then.” She stated obviously.
“We're not from here, we rode in this morning.” I said a little too angry.
The warrior cocked her head and looked at me. “Then go to where your wagon is.”
I had not thought of that and felt a bit stupid just then. “I don't think I can find it.”
Letting out a deep sigh she gave me a half smile. “Why don't I walk you to where most of the wagons are parked then.”
A wave of relief washed over me as she turned to take me back to my mother. Reaching up I took hold of two of her fingers that were swinging on the hand by her side. She gave me a questioning look and I told her I didn't want to get lost again. Tightening the grip she lead me off to a field on the edge of town where all the visitors had their wagons. As we reached the field I remembered the tree where mother had tied our horse and wagon. Breaking free of the warrior's grip I ran between the other wagons to get to the tree on the far side. The warrior continued her easy stride behind me. By the time she reached me I was standing next to the tree completely numb. There was no wagon, no horse, and no mother.
The warrior looked around thinking I had probably gone to the wrong tree, but seeing all the other trees had wagons under them, she knew I was in the right place. I had been left. I just kept staring at the empty space. The woman took a few steps looking around then stopped in front of me. “Look kid I'm sure it was just a mistake, why don't I take you home.” I couldn't look at her; I could barely hear her for the roaring in my ears. She knelt down to look at me. “Just tell me where you live and I'll ride you there, I'm sure your mom just…” She could not finish the sentence because it didn't make any sense. Why would a mother ride off and leave her small daughter in a strange town.
I knew why and it had been my greatest fear. Everyday my parents would think I was some kid who wandered away from home and got lost, everyday they would assure me that they would find my parents or when I begged to stay with them they would allow it until I was ready to go home. I knew why mom had left without me; she figured I had just gone home. My limbs started getting heavier but my head was getting lighter. Before I could think I collapsed into the warriors arms.
The small warrior caught me and tried to wake me. When I didn't rouse she lifted me in her arms and looked around one last time. “I guess you are bunking with me tonight.” She carried me back to her campsite outside of town.
I awoke that night to the smell of fish being cooked. I was tucked into a bedroll lying near a fire. When I looked around I saw the warrior sitting across the fire watching me. The light from it made her hair look more like thick dark honey than the soft brown it was and her brown eyes seemed to look straight into me. I sat up and looked around, we were far enough outside of town to be completely alone but not so far that the occasional sound of merry making could be heard on the wind.
“I thought that might wake you up.” She said pointing to the nearly ready fish.
I got up and tidied up her blankets as best I could then looked around for someplace private. She looked down and I could see a small smile on her lips. Pointing behind her she told me not to go too far. I hurried off into the dark to relieve myself and figure out what I was going to do now. I did not have much time before the warrior would go to sleep and forget I existed.
I sat opposite the woman who handed me a fish wrapped in a leaf and a hard piece of bread. I waited for her to start eating then attacked my food not realizing how hungry I really was. She watched me and tried to contain a laugh. “So kid, what's your name?”
My mind floated back to almost a season ago when I had been helping my father bring in some firewood as he watched me struggling to carry my share of the load. “You sure are a hard worker Little One. If you're going to stay around here I need to call you something other than Little One. You don't seem to know your name so I'll just call you Anull. Do you like that?” I beamed up at him and nodded my head. For the first time I felt like I belonged to him, he had named me. All the years before that they had simply called me Little One. It only lasted a day, but for that one day I was my parent's Anull and I now had a name.
I tried to swallow a large piece of bread and speak at the same time, which caused me to choke. Finally I managed to get out “Anull”.
The warrior threw a waterskin at me and told me not to talk with my mouth full. As soon as I could wash everything down and get my breathing back under control I ask her name. She told me her name was Neela. “I watched you fight today, one day I want to be a warrior just like you. How did you learn to fight like that?”
Neela looked into the fire and gave me a half smile. “I didn't have much choice. As for you, I think you need to be taller than a sword before you can learn to use one. Pointy things are not something to mess around with. I'm sure by the time you grow up you'll want to be a mommy or something.”
I sat a little taller and got defensive; I did not like being told what I wanted. “I'm pretty good with a knife and one day I'll be even better with a sword.” I gave her a defiant look.
She looked at me for a moment, then faster than I could have ever imagined possible for a hand to move, she pulled a small knife out of her wrist guard and threw it above my head into the tree I was leaning against. I felt the hairs on the top of my head move as the blade hit its mark. “You've got to be really good kid to play the game I'm playing.”
I didn't know why she was trying to scare me out of being a warrior. I waited a moment then looked up and pulled the tiny knife out and turned it in my hands. It was just the right size for me. Much easier to handle than fathers knives he worked with. Nothing had ever felt so right to me before. I watched Neela for a moment as she tossed her fish leaf into the fire. “This is the best knife I've ever seen. Would you teach me to do that?”
Wiping her hands off on the grass Neela gave a chuckle. “It's not a toy and you should be..” She didn't finish that thought as I threw the knife back to her landing in the ground next to her foot. She stared at the knife no more than a finger width from her boot then looked at me.
“I thought you would like it back.” She just kept looking at me like she was trying to figure something out. “Oh, I kill the rats around the farm like that. But father's knives are bigger and harder to aim.”
Neela nodded her head as if I had asked her a question. “How old are you kid?”
“I'll be five when the snows come.”
She looked at me suspiciously. “Five, huh? You don't handle a knife like a five year old.”
At that moment a yawn I had been trying to keep down finally managed to surface. “That's what my friend Di told me, I'll be five soon.”
“Your friend? What about your parents, when do they celebrate your birthday?” The humor had left her face and was replaced by skepticism.
My eyes were getting heavy and I didn't' want to talk about myself anymore. “They don't remember it, only Di does.” I leaned my head back on the log and closed my eyes.
Neela watched the child falling asleep and tried to make sense of what I was talking about. She was very suspicious of who I really was now. “Anull, who is your friend Di?”
I curled up on the ground ready for all the questions to stop, tomorrow would be a clean slate and we could start over again. “ She's my pretty friend.” I said before darkness finally closed in.
“Anull?” The warrior knew the child was exhausted and needed to sleep. There would be plenty of time tomorrow on their ride to the girls' village to find out just who she really was. She added more wood to the fire and wrapped her blanket around the sleeping child. Retrieving her throwing knife and cleaning it before placing back inside the hidden sleeve in her wrist guard, she reflected on just how natural the girl had handled the small knife. She laid down on her bedroll and wondered just what she had gotten herself into.
Sometime in the night I woke up and placed the warrior's blanket back on her. I did not want to give her any reason to throw me out at first light. I built the fire up again and went back to sleep. The next morning came very early as I was nudged awake by a booted toe. I looked up to see a somewhat bewildered and annoyed brown eyed warrior staring down at me and it all started again.
In all I managed to spend four seasons with the warrior. Each day convincing her to take me along. I would do all her cleaning and cooking; I made camp and collected firewood. My cooking wasn't that great, but I always had her tea ready first thing in the morning. I even took over the care of her horse Nemeses keeping her coat shinny. She would let me work with her knife, showing me how to improve my aim and throw. When my skills improved enough she gave me one of her throwing knives. It was like it had been made for me, but that night I placed it back in her wrist guard so as not to confuse her. I learned the sword at her hand along with reading and writing.
We were in a market one day and she bought me a short sword that was easier for me to handle as a way of thanks for tripping a guy, who was about to knife her in the back, thereby saving her life. My parents were gone and I never saw my friend Di again, but I didn't care because I had Neela. My life was one day at a time, but you would be amazed at what a person can do in one day.
Neela joined in a battle against the warlord Driaus to defend a small town. It was a fierce and bloody battle but in the end Driaus was defeated. I waited for Neela to return that night until it grew much too late. Setting out I found her on the battlefield among other bodies that had yet to be claimed. She was covered in blood; a deep gash on her left side had taken her life away. I brought Nemeses with a liter attached to her and removed Neela from the field. No one saw us, no one noticed the great warrior that had given her life for their freedom. I traveled through the night and the next two days to take her to her favorite hill by the sea. There I built a pyre and placed her on it, removing her wrists guards that still hid one throwing knife, I placed Charon's fare onto her cold lips. Putting the wrist guards with the beautiful intricate designs on them on my own arms and lifting her sword in a salute to the greatest warrior I had ever known, the woman who was my only friend, I lit the fire and sent her on her way. The pain was more than I could bear; once again I was completely alone.
Nemeses and I hid out in caves for a while until I could gather the strength to go on. Somehow loosing Neela was far more difficult than loosing my parents had been. I worked on the sword drills Neela had taught me and became an expert with the small throwing knife. I would catch my own food and try to keep to myself in the forests and caves we found. To earn a few dinars for buying supplies I would help out on a few farms, but I longed to follow in Neela's footsteps. I made my way back to the market where she had bought me my short sword and traded Neela's great sword for the match to my own smaller one. The smithy was a kind man and remembered selling the sword to Neela. He was sorry to hear of her death. Perhaps because he was a good man, perhaps because of Neela or perhaps because he could see the pain I was in having to give up this last part of my warrior, he gave me a set of throwing knives that neatly replaced the missing ones from her wrist guards. Her small knife I kept tucked inside my shirt on a strap I wore over my heart. I still wear it there today. I have never used it in battle, for it is a reminder of when my life began and who was responsible for the person I am today. Neela did not just teach me to throw a knife or wield a sword. She taught me kindness and goodness, patience and understanding, she showed me that there was no greater good than standing up for those who could not stand up for themselves. I owe her a great deal and each good deed I do, I do because of her.
I roamed the countryside doing what I could, but life on the road was not easy for a girl of only nine seasons. Some moons later I accidentally wandered into Amazon territory. Of course I had heard of Amazons! I didn't live under a rock; I was in a cave most of the time. Your distractions are only making this longer you know.
I was captured shortly after crossing their border and ordered off my horse. I marveled at the way my captors had dropped down on me from the trees and watched as others aloft were moving quickly through the system of branches the forest offered. My swords were taken and I was brought before their queen and questioned extensively. I apologized for my offense of trespassing and begged to be released to carry out my mission of continuing on in Neela's footsteps. A girl alone intrigued the queen especially one following the path of a fallen warrior. One of the guards over heard me speak of Neela's death and stepped forward, she had met the warrior and knew of her to be an honorable woman. It was decided that I would stay with the tribe and be taught the ways of the amazons.
This news did not sit well with me. These were a well-guarded people and finding a stranger amongst them each morning would be too difficult to explain. My swords were returned and I was put in a hut with a few other young girls that did not have mothers. They were nice enough, but I had grown accustomed to the company of someone much older and their childish games did not interest me. I had to find a way out. Free to roam the village I found my way to Nemeses, my only friend and one who knew me each new morning. I spent a long time brushing her down and cleaning her tack, simply for the comfort found in being near the animal.
Finally I wandered down to the practice field where several older girls were practicing their drills with a staff. I watched with excited wonder at their movements. There was no doubt that the thrill of fighting was in me. Further across the field two women were going through sword drills and I was drawn closer to them. As I passed the group of girls still practicing one of them said something to me and laughed. I paused then decided to keep going. She taunted me again and this time I turned to face her. She was nearly two heads taller than me and easily twice my girth. Her dark red hair was set off by the flush in her cheeks and when she laughed her green eyes were cruel. One of the other girls called her name, Blaine , and edged her on in her taunting.
I tried to remember Neela's words about making sure a fight was worth it and turned on my heel to leave. The large girl grabbed my arm and spun me around. “I was talking to you.” She eyed me up and down then scrunched up her face as if she smelled something foul. “What are you suppose to be dressed up as, a beggar warrior?” The girls laughed at their friends comment.
And I suppose I was quite a thing to look at. My clothes were well worn and tattered in places, I wore Neela's wrist guards that were too big for me and covered from my hand to my elbow. I wore my swords on my back in a special harness I had made myself. And my boots had holes in them. I was small for my age, skinny and my hair was an unruly mess.
Very quietly I asked the girl to let go of me. She laughed and yanked up on my arm causing a sharp pain to sear into my shoulder. “You don't walk on this field looking like that and not expect a challenge.”
I looked down at my feet trying to keep Neela's words in my head when the girl painfully jerked on my arm again. My eyes came up to meet hers and she stopped laughing. Before she could say another word I broke free of her grip, pulled my swords, knocked her staff away and had my blade at her throat. The other girls stopped laughing and backed away. The women who had been practicing heard the commotion and rushed over. The larger one pointed her sword at me and told me to drop my weapons. I did not move, but held the girls gaze as she began to sweat. The woman started to tap my sword away and I saw the movement out the corner of my eye. In one movement I stepped back knocking the woman's sword up and bringing both mine down on hers catching it in the tines on either side of my swords and wrenching it out of her hand. I quickly stepped back and pointed a sword each at both the woman and the girl. A crowd was beginning to draw near and the woman's friend was bringing up her own sword.
Before it could go any further I heard a light laugh off to the side. The queen's voice rose above the whispers. “Anull, I see you wasted no time making friends here.” She walked up beside me and gently put a hand on my arm. “Lower your weapons, no one is going to hurt you.” I spared the queen a side glance then looked at each of my tormenters one last time. Lowering my swords I took another step back. Sheathing my swords I felt the guard who knew Neela come to my side. The queen looked at the big girl and her captain of the guard. “ Blaine would you like to tell me what happened here.”
The girl looked at me with a sneer. “She attacked me.” I said nothing.
The queen looked down at me and regarded the girl again. “And you are telling me you did nothing to provoke it.”
As Blaine opened her mouth to speak she looked into the queen's eyes then quickly looked down, her voice grew timid. “We were just taking to her.”
The queen's lips pursed as an unhappy scowl crossed her face. “I see, one of your ‘talks'.” She turned to one of her guards. “Maya, would you take Blaine to Saran's hut and have her explain once again our beliefs on bullying. I will be there shortly.”
The guard escorted away the red-faced girl, and as they went I saw her glare back at me. Tomorrow really could not come fast enough.
Now the queen's attention was focused on her captain of the guard. “Nash, would you like to explain to me how a mere slip of a girl only nine seasons old managed to disarm my captain?”
The captain looked abashed, she lowered her eyes and took a quick breath. “No my queen, I have no excuse.”
Seeing her captain getting flustered the queen raised her chin to look her in the eye. “Don't get so upset Nash, we all have our unguarded moments. You should be glad to know that Anull here will be staying with us and learning the amazon way. She may be quick, but she needs focus and refinement. And I think you are just the person to teach her.”
I hated to see this person who was held in such high regard being perceived as weak because of me. I stepped up to the captain and lowered my head in a sign of submission. “Captain I am truly sorry. I have a tendency to act first and think later. If I had been thinking more clearly I would have never raised a blade against you. Neela always said I needed to be aware of what I was doing at all times. I have not mastered that yet.”
The captain caught the name and looked at the guard at my side. “Neela? Would that be the same Neela that you spoke to me about Kat?”
The guard nodded her head and placed a hand on my shoulder. “Yes, Anull here was her apprentice, but she was killed in battle and now the girl is on her own.”
Looking down at me again the captain's expression softened a bit. “I am sorry to hear that, I understood her to be a great warrior. Don't worry little one, we will train you. Where Neela left off, I will pick up.” The captain held out her arm to be taken as a sign of piece. “She must have been a great teacher, I've never had my ass handed to me by a child before.”
I took the offered arm and clasped it as best as I could, my fingers barely reaching half way around it. The queen announced there would be a party to honor the fallen warrior who produced such a fine protégé and would be missed by members of the tribe. She then ask Neela's friend to show me where the bathhouse was and to perhaps find me some new clothes. As the group broke up and went their separate ways I thought this would be a great place to live if only I wouldn't have to fight my way through each day. No, I needed an escape plan.
At the bathhouse I removed my old clothes and handed them off to Kat, knowing I would never see them again. I sank into the bathing pool and began scrubbing the road dirt off me. I had just finished washing my hair when, the guard returned with a skirt and top for me. I eyed the clothes with distaste and a bit of alarm. With Neela I had gotten use to wearing pants and a shirt, the amazon clothes looked skimpy and not very comfortable. Kat laughed at my reaction and said she could perhaps find something else for me later.
Kat sat and talked with me as I finished my bath, I got the feeling she might be my babysitter for the evening. We talked about Neela and how she had been like family to me. I got the feeling Kat admired Neela a great deal and was very hurt to learn of her death. Going on instincts I told Kat I needed to leave to continue on Neela's path, to follow the road she had laid out before me and asked her for help.
“You are asking me to go against the orders of my queen.” Kat said in sympathy to me.
“I won't stay here, I don't belong, I will find a way to leave or die trying.” I told her as I dressed.
Seeing the determination in my face and hearing it in my voice she reluctantly agreed to help me. After the party when things had quieted down I met Kat in the stable where she escorted me to the border. I only hoped she would not get into trouble. Then again who would remember me to give her trouble over.
Late that night we quietly rode out of the village and through the woods. At the border Kat handed me a map to show me where the amazon borders were. She offered me a welcome anytime I wished to return. Placing an arm over her chest she bid me farewell. I turned from the amazon land and let Nemeses take me away.
The amazon village taught me one thing; it was not safe to stay in one place for too long. I spent a few days wandering around, but continued to see the places Neela and I traveled together and I was consumed with pain and sorrow. I thought about my parents and the home I had there, it was a place I knew I did not belong. Turning Nemeses to the north I decided to leave my homeland behind.
Life on the open road is not easy for anyone. Dangers come in every shape and size at nearly every turn, but life for a child of only nine seasons was an even greater challenge. I quickly traded my Amazon kit for leather pants, a long sleeve shirt and a large cloak with a deep hood. I learned to hide my appearance most of the time and let the great war horse and the sight of my swords speak for me. Keeping my face hidden, all people saw as I passed by were my hands with the wrist guards, sturdy boots and two swords on my back that stuck through holes I made in the cloak. I became very good at listening due to my limited vision. I stayed off main roads as much as possible and traveled across open country and dense forests. My illusion worked most of the time. I avoided trouble like a dog to a bath; only engaging in fights when necessary or when Nemeses could not get me away fast enough, which was rare.
I learned to move through the treetops like I had seen the amazons do. I can't tell you how many times I fell while trying, so I learned how to fall without hurting myself. I would spend my days practicing with my swords and knives, tumbling, flipping and catapulting through the trees. I grew strong with a great sense of balance. The further north I went the more mountainous the terrain became and I liked it. I encountered fewer people in the mountains and learned the ways of the animals. They taught me the patience and stillness that Neela had tried to instill in me so many times. They taught me humility and respect and how to size up an opponent. I learned to use my senses to know the world around me and be aware of every little thing.
I traveled through lands that were beautiful and strange to me, and I loved every moment. I was a child of the world with a thirst for knowledge and a hunger for adventure. After two seasons of travel I came across a traveling caravan who went from town to town performing and telling fortunes. They found me to be a curious oddity and welcomed me to travel with them each and everyday. Latimier was the head of the group, a kind man who took me under his wing. I think I made him laugh. We had the same easy going manner, which was almost out of place considering the blades I carried. I joined their performances as often as I could talk them into it and earned dinars displaying my knife throwing abilities. Latimier taught me to play the pipes and lute, drumming came naturally to me and soon I was consumed with the love of music. It brought a peace and lightness to my heart I had not known before. I learned their language and loved listening to the stories of their homeland that lay even further to the northeast. There was a dark rich mystery to the place that called to me.
As wonderful as these people were to me, I did not allow myself to become too attached to them. I refused to love them or need them. Mine was a life that was new each day and love had no place in it. Seeing the blank look that held no recognition, or worse suspicion, was a pain I bore everyday. We traveled together for over a season until they brought us back to their homeland. The dark countryside filled me with a sense of adventure again. I had to know this land and discover its mysteries. With great reluctance I rode off into the night leaving my friends behind. I had tried to not love them, but as I rode away my heart was torn and I knew I could no longer stay with anyone ever again, life was simpler alone.
It was in this harsh land that I found my purpose. I became a protector for the poor and weak. For as much as I refused to let love touch me, I craved to help my fellow man and do good where I could. In a land where dark forces and the unknown held a fearful grip over everyday life, I was able to create a mystic of my own. I would ride to the aid of the defenseless on Nemeses and dispatch those forces that threatened the innocent. So a legend was born about a mighty black horse that fought against evil and villainy with an invisible rider on its back. At least they didn't think it was the horse wielding the sword.
I had become proficient at taking care of myself, could wield a sword with the best of men and had a deadly aim with a knife. When I had a need I could put money in my pocket by performing music, demonstrating knife throwing or doing aerial acrobatics. I found comfort in the dark forests of the mountains and would often run with the wolves, hunting and playing. The years went by and I came across a blacksmith who made the most perfectly balanced knives. Copying the design on Neela's wrist guards I had the smithy make me two dozen throwing knives with the design on the grip. After trying several times to get the order filled, I finally left a note stabbed to his workbench stating that half would be paid now, the other half in a week when I would return for the knives. Luckily he took the threat inscribed in the note seriously, since he could not remember receiving the order, and my knives were ready. His work remains to this day absolute perfection.
After four seasons of traveling this great dark cold land I was overcome with a desire to see my homeland again. I yearned for the bright sunny hills and warm ocean breezes, the crowded towns and quiet villages. I was ready to go home.
The summer before my departure a wolf pup was born who had become one of my closest friends and as I rode away from the land that had matured me into the warrior I had always wanted to be, a lone wolf looking for adventure joined me.
The ride home was a much different journey. I was now a seasoned fighter who had finally learned patience. In spite of being seventeen seasons old I had not managed to gain much height, my body however had become taunt and sculpted with muscles. I now enjoyed each day and held dear all that I saw. I could not tolerate injustice and willingly looked for those in need. When threats crossed my path I stood up to them. I did not enjoy killing and would only use that fatal force when necessary.
My friend Tash traveled along side me until something of interest caught her attention. Then she would race off into a forest or up a mountain chasing her own adventure. Later, sometimes a day sometimes a moon or more, we would always catch up with each other again somewhere down the road. I would never begrudge the wolf the same excitement that I myself had set out for so long ago. Tash never forgot that her friend was not far and she would seek me out again and again. For this I was always grateful.
Another season passed, but I finally made it home. Well, at least to the land of my birth. The only home I knew was in Nemeses saddle. We lived in the woods, never more than two nights in the same place, and as we crossed the land I discovered that thieves, warlords and villains were as common as daisies. Of course not all thieves were bad as I soon discovered.
Early one morning I came across a man sneaking his way out of a fortress of a building, shadowing his way along the wall until he came to a rope. I watched him take the rope and walk it out to its fullest, which conveniently happened to end by the side of a saddled horse. He tested the tautness of the rope then gave a great tug. Instantly the sound of several traps going off could be heard beyond the courtyard walls. Then something came flying over the wall landing in the thief's hands. Before I could stop him he was on his horse and away. Giving chase I followed him for several leagues letting him think he had lost me. It would be easier to catch him off guard. By evening fall we reached a temple of one of the muses, Terpsichore. Leaving Nemeses behind I edged my way closer to the entrance. Two priestesses came out of the temple as the man dismounted and asked if he had succeeded. I could not figure out why the muse of dance was encouraging thievery, wasn't that more Hermes realm? As the thief pulled a small bundle from his shirt I stepped forward swords drawn. “Hold it right there.”
The two priestesses looked shocked and said something about ‘not again', while the thief simply cringed and looked at me with annoyance. “I saw you steal that this morning, I'm afraid it's going to have to go back to its rightful owner.”
He twitched his mustache and smirked. “Well, if you insist.” And handed the wrapped bundle over to the older priestess.
“Thank you Autolycus, you have restored our temple.” The younger priestess smiled.
He gave them a slight bow and a smile. “The pleasure was all mine ladies, but you know there really is only one way to thank me.” The younger woman handed over a small money pouch. The thief clearly was disappointed with his fee and looked at me with a hesitant smile. “Hardly seems worth it sometimes.”
I lowered my sword on the priestesses but continued to point one at the mans chest. “Ladies I'm afraid you can not buy that from him, it's stolen merchandise.”
The older woman looked at me a little harsher than she had a moment ago. “That's right, stolen from us and now Autolycus has returned it to its rightful place.” She removed the wrapping to reveal the crystal blue stone of Terpsichore. I had never seen anything so beautiful up close before. The woman explained that their temple had been raided two moons ago and when Autolycus happened by several days ago he offered to get it back for them. I could see the man had envisioned a much greater reward for his efforts. Apparently so could the younger woman and asked if he would be joining their celebration.
Never have I seen a face light up so fast. “Now ladies that is what I call a reward.”
It was well known that the temple dancers when celebrating could categorize their movements as erotic. I was beginning to feel out of place. I resheathed my swords and watched the women hurry into their temple to reset the stone back in its place of honor. The thief kept an eye on me, waiting.
I had been wrong and admitted so begrudgingly; after all he was a thief. He twitched his dark mustache gave me a slight bow then turned to leave. Something was gnawing at my brain and I quickly stepped around the man to stop him. He seemed surprised at my speed, but smiled appreciatively. “A question for you then you may go and I will bother you no more.” He looked me up and down and with a smile and a nod indicated for me to proceed. “I watched you back there, you pulled on a rope and the stone came flying over the wall into your hands. How did you do that?”
A boastful twinkle came to his eyes and he tweaked his mustache again. “I'm afraid I can't divulge my trade secrets.” He tried to walk away, but before he could take a full step my dagger was at his throat.
“One question, one answer, then you leave.”
He swallowed nervously then smiled a bit weaker this time. “Well, when you put it that way.” He said eyeing the blade at his throat. I pulled it back, but kept it in my hand just for encouragement. “It's very simple really. I had snuck in two nights before and found the crystal, but getting to it would require a lot of noise so I studied the house and grounds then left to get supplies. The next night I snuck in again. Using ropes and pulleys I needed to create a diversion on the opposite end of the grounds so when the enclosure for the crystal broke it would be gone before anyone could get to it.”
I raised an eyebrow at him indicating more detail was needed. “When I pulled the rope it dropped a club onto a platter that held a stone, the stone flew across the grounds into a window breaking a large vase and toppling the pedestal it rested on into the courtyard below. That's the distraction.” He took great pride in describing his cleverness. “At the same time the rope was also connected to another rope on a pulley that ran in the opposite direction, this rope released a branch I had cut from a tree through the window on the upper floor, smashing the case causing the crystal to fall onto another platter, the weight triggered a spring, releasing the platter and sending the crystal flying out the window to me.” He smiled smugly and gave a nod of his head.
The idea intrigued me. “But how did you know it would land in your hands?”
“My dear girl, of course it would land in my hands, after all I am the king of thieves.” He gave me one last broad smile and a slight bow then cautiously began to move away.
“But…” I still did not have a complete answer.
“Timing is everything,” he said as he disappeared around the back of the temple.
I thought about this for a moment and realized just how cleaver a good thief had to be.
Another year passed as Nemeses and I traveled relearning the land. I thought about visiting my parents, but quickly decided against it, I let go of them from my life a long time ago and saw no reason to reopen an old wound. Besides when I hear the word mother, Neela is the person I think of. Mother, teacher, friend Neela was all these things to me and she was gone.
My life had settled into a routine and I went about living without giving it any thought. Some days Nemeses and I would find a lake and lounge around swimming and sleeping, playing and exploring. I liked making things out of the stray items I would find on the road; broken pottery, bits of metal, old horse shoes, rope anything I could put together and hang in the trees so when the wind blew a light musical sound would fill the air. I called my little musical instruments windsongs and left them scattered all over the countryside. On rare occasions a traveler moving through a desolate forest would catch the sound of this eerie music on the wind and hastily speed his journey along.
A few moons before I was to turn twenty we wandered into a small town, like so many we had been in before. To look at it, this small unassuming place did not look to be the setting for the most life-altering event of my life. But here was where I would come face to face with my greatest joy and worst nightmare.
I wandered around the town for a bit watching the people getting ready for a festival that would begin the next day. Not wanting to be around a crowd I headed out. Just outside of town I came across some dancers practicing for the festival. I stopped to watch for a while; there was one dancer that stood out from all the rest. She had long golden hair and bright green eyes and she moved with a grace I did not know was possible. I was distracted watching the girl and did not notice that some young men had approached the troupe until they began taunting them. Just as I was about to dismount and have a talk with them, the leader of the group grabbed the beautiful dancer by the arm and wrenched her around by the wrist. Before I knew what I was doing I had jumped in and kicked him to the ground and sent two others to the ground with bloody noses. As the bully got up and tried to lunge at me I sent him flying into a tree knocking the breath out of him. The small group of tormentors quickly ran away and I was left looking into the most amazing green eyes I had ever seen. I learned the girl's name was Tazzlan and actually blushed when she thanked me for my help. I stayed with the dancers for the rest of the day to ensure their safety and never took my eyes off the enchanting Tazzlan. And that was the beginning, I spent the next season with Tazzlan, seeking her out each day, befriending her and finding ways to be useful to her. Each day she would take to me very quickly and I would help her with her chores, play music for her to dance to or just entertain her with my many tricks. I knew I should be on my way, but each time I attempted to leave I would find myself back at Tazzlan's door and finding ways to keep myself in town. That year the little town of Aglean became a very safe place to live.
Once again I was happy, for almost an entire year. Not since Neela had I felt so complete around someone. And the instantaneous friendship Tazzlan felt for me each day made me feel almost normal. But then came the riddle and so began my nightmare.
I'm not sure what possessed me, maybe it was the idea of something new. I heard the Goddess Athena had put forth a challenge to any mortal to solve. So I decided to go to the temple and see what the Goddess had in mind. Riddles, she presented riddles. Now I was expecting something really difficult, I mean we are talking about the Goddess of Wisdom. But they were really easy and maybe no one had gotten them correct because they were looking for something else, something hidden. I mean come on: the road is air, night is day, no sight but sound, darkness leads the way, who am I? And they were all like that, so I answered them, all of them. What? What do you mean what, it's a bat. Anyway, Athena then gave me some harder riddles and I answered them, I guess a little too quickly for her liking. She kind of took off in a huff. I was feeling pretty good about myself and couldn't wait to see Tazzlan and tell her. The next day I was telling Taz about my encounter with the Goddess when the lady herself appeared. At the time I was too shocked to notice she remembered me, I was concentrating on a pissed off Goddess. She gave me another riddle and when I laughed and answered correctly, well it didn't improve her temperament. That's when the common sense part of my brain took a holiday and I made the ultimate mistake. I riddled the Goddess Athena. And she could not answer. So much for my being smart.
She was building up a good head of steam and I should have been paying more attention, but I turned to Taz and winked at her and she reached out taking my hand and giving me the sweetest smile I had ever seen. Athena saw something at that moment that neither of us realized and she gave a cold little laugh.
“So you think you are smarter than the Goddess of Wisdom, you're proud of yourself. You are enjoying besting me, you mere mortal. Then enjoy it and let it comfort you, for it will be the last one you know. You think yourself so smart, then she will live with it all the days of your life.”
I didn't have time to react before I heard Taz's scream turn into a screech and I felt feathers pulling against my hand. Athena was gone and so was Taz the girl. In her place was Taz the beautiful white owl. She fluttered around and screeching turned her head up to look at me then took off in the air. I was terrified and in shock, my entire world had just come to a crashing halt once again.
I demanded Athena's return but of course received no answer. Panicked I set out to find Tazzlan. I searched all day and all night to no avail. Sometime in the early morning I collapsed in the site I had been camping in for almost a year. Exhaustion and fear overtook me and I slipped into unconsciousness. When I awoke a few hours later I found a large white owl sitting on a low tree branch watching me. I didn't move for fear of scaring it away. A cold band wrapped itself around me as I looked into the most amazing green eyes I had ever known. “Oh Taz, what have I done?”
The knowledge that I was the cause of Taz's current state was more than I could bear. For once I didn't know what to do. I sat with my knees pulled up and my head tucked into them, beating myself trying to knock some sense into my addled brain. Then a soft head nudged at my shoulder. There was Tazzlan telling me to stop acting like a baby, get over it and get up and do something. Looking into those green orbs there was nothing else I could do but get moving and find a way out of this mess.
Let me just say that it is easy to look back and say that as someone who was themselves cursed by a God should know that this was not an easy thing to overcome. Hindsight, I'll say no more.
The town was very active when I passed through and I found out that one on the girls had not returned home and the town's people were forming a search party. I got Tazzlan's description from her mother, just a formality, and promised I would keep an eye out for her in my travels. Seeing the fear and pain of the woman tore at me even more. I quickly headed out for Athena's temple.
Desperation had settled in and I moved as fast as Nemeses could take me. Once at the temple I begged, pleaded, cajoled, offered myself in her place and promised undying obedience. When none of this worked anger began to take over. I tore the temple apart and dented a few temple guardians and maybe a priestess or two. I had some real anger issues back then. Leaving the ruined temple I quickly found Tazzlan near by. The hope in her eyes quickly vanished when she saw the fury emanating from me. Swallowing down the anger at her look of disappointment I reassured Taz that I would find a way to change her back. I wanted to take her home but she had seen the state of her parents, family and friends and could not bear to watch it each day. It was she that turned to the open road and took off. She stopped not far down the road and turned back to me waiting. I understood and quickly moved to follow her. Taz was the one to chose our life of travel and I followed her without question.
The next morning I awoke and felt my world starting to crash around me, again. I was alone in my campsite with Nemeses, there was no owl, there was no Tazzlan. Everything had happened so fast and I had not had time to let it all sink in. All I knew was that I was alone and so was Taz, somewhere out there and I would never see her again. That was the moment I lost it, anger and guilt consuming me. I tore at my skin and the earth, beating myself and tearing trees apart with my bear hands. Nemeses pawed the ground uneasily picking up my frantic behavior. Then it happened. The white owl flew in and landed beside me flapping her wings and cooing to me until I calmed down and focused on her. I looked down into the eyes that had the ability to look straight into my soul, those green eyes that I knew and loved for so long. Tazzlan was there with me and she knew me, remembered me, and a part of me took comfort in that. I reached out and she stepped onto my wrist guard as I held her close to me calmed by her gentle cooing.
Shortly after leaving Taz's village Tash caught up with us. She did not know what to make of the large white owl. Taz was as equally confused and thought I was in danger. She swooped down to attack the wolf that had bounded to my side. Now have you ever wondered just how sharp an owl's talons are? Personally I had never thought about it, but let's just say they could put my blades to shame. In an effort to protect both my friends I reached out and grabbed Taz by the talons as she flew in. I still have the scars to this day. It was a little tricky, but once everyone calmed down, introductions were made; blood cleaned away, arms bandaged. Lesson one; never underestimate the importance of a good leather glove.
And so began our journey and my quest to find an answer. We traveled and learned to work together as a team going from town to town helping wherever we could. She would scout ahead for us so we were very rarely surprised. Tazzlan could see that my help was needed and insisted that we seek to help those who could not protect themselves. I continued to search for an answer, a way of getting Taz her life back, but the more we traveled the closer we became, we learned to communicate with each other. And with great guilt I looked forward to each morning when Taz would come to me with the memory of who I was shining in her eyes.
As time passed we met a great many people along the road and became comfortable with our situation. And while we dealt with a great many villainous individuals, the majority of people were kind hard working folks. Fortunately there were the occasional characters that stood out above and beyond all the others.
Like the time we were riding to Polathia and saw a man surrounded by four grizzly looking thugs. He was trying to hold off his attackers with a short sad looking little sword. At first glance I thought he was the village idiot. His armor if you could call it that seemed to consist of bits and pieces of metal he had found and tied onto himself. What struck me instantly was the way he stood up to these ruffians and did not back down although I could see the fear in his eyes. I feared the man would be slaughtered right then and there so I slid off Nemeses and quietly made my way up behind his attackers. The rag-tag warrior saw me just as I came up behind them and was beginning to turn even paler thinking I was adding to his troubles when I gave him a wink and a grin then began cracking heads.
To my great surprise, by sheer bumbling idiocy the inapt warrior managed to get in some good blows. Quite quickly the bandits were rendered unconscious and I met Joxer. He called himself Joxer The Mighty although mighty what I never could figure out. His voice squeaked a little as he invited me for a drink at the tavern in town. I kindly accepted but couldn't help raising a questioning eyebrow as the self-proclaimed warrior rattled and clanked the entire way into town. The element of surprise was not in his favor.
I quickly found that in spite of his bumbling appearance and lack of skill with a sword, Joxer was a good man. He truly had a good heart, which I began to value far greater than any of his other abilities. We talked about traveling the countryside and the battles we had been in. He told me that on occasions he would go to the aid of his friends Xena and Gabrielle and fight by their side. I had heard of Xena of course and could only imagine the added work having Joxer by your side in a great battle would be. It was a pleasant afternoon and I was reminded again of something Neela had once told me, that courage does not come from a sword but from the heart.
One day Taz and I were enjoying some time at a secluded lake. I swam while Taz sailed overhead playing on the wind currents. Tash even joined us for a while and played with us in a game of tag. Even though Tash and I liked to rough house she was always gentle with Taz. As lunchtime rolled around Tash left to go hunting and Taz and I were once again left to each other's company. There was a grassy clearing on one side of the lake that stretched out for quite a ways before being swallowed by the forest. I laid out a blanket in the soft grass with bread, cheese, dates, grapes and nuts. Taz liked it when I would hand feed her grapes and nuts so I did as I lay in the warm sun and enjoyed the quiet.
After a short time I pulled out my pipes and began playing. The owl took the dancer to the sky where she could perform the most beautiful movements. These were rare moments for us and I was so caught up in the music and the dance of the beautiful bird that I almost did not hear the approach of someone behind me.
Sensing someone watching me I turned dropping my pipes and drew my swords. There a small distance away stood a woman. She was not what I would call beautiful, but perhaps one would say handsome. She held up a hand in greeting and began to approach me. Taz circled above her looking for any danger then gave me a screech that meant all was good. Sheathing my swords I raised a gloved fist and Taz landed on it to meet this strange woman with me.
The woman walked to us with an easy gait and pleasant disposition, somehow she seemed out of place out here alone. She asked if she could join us and could not seem to be able to take her eyes off Tazzlan. I do not introduce Taz to many people, but when I did she seemed to always have that effect on them, it was as if they knew they were looking at the most beautiful woman in the known world.
We sat and talked with the tall stranger. I know compared to me everyone is tall. We learned her name was Sappho and she was a poet from one of the smaller islands. It turned out to be one of the most pleasant days I could remember having. We ate and she recited poetry to us, I played my pipes and Taz nuzzled next to me relaxed and completely content. As Apollo's chariot slipped further to the horizon Sappho, our lovely friend who spoke so eloquently of love and the souls desires, bid us farewell and disappeared into the forest as quietly as she had appeared.
That night we made our camp on the lakes edge. A full moon made Taz appear silver as she glided across the lake stretching her wings to their fullest and enjoying the freedom of flight. I watched her make big lazy loops over the waters surface and was grateful she could still experience some joy in life. After she had her fill of wind in her face we settled down by the fire to a fish dinner I had caught and cooked while she played. To this day there are no riches in the world that compare to the sight of firelight dancing in those bright green eyes, the large eyes of an owl, the beautiful eyes of a girl. I sang her to sleep in order that I would not have to look into those eyes anymore. Guilt was eating away at me and the most beautiful sight in the world was becoming my most painful.
We were always on the road, staying in one place for no longer than was necessary. If we needed to stay somewhere for longer than a few nights I would find us a secluded campsite well away from others. Most jobs were quick, but planning to stop an army could take a little more time. And for the most part I worked alone, but would never refuse a helping hand or jump in when the odds were uneven. And this was how I met two of the most important people I would ever know in my life.
I had heard trouble was brewing in Thasaraus where a warlord by the name of Loaton was planning to sack the town for not paying into his security fee. I watched the town from the surrounding trees trying to figure out the best way of keeping the majority of the fighting out of the town. Tazzlan had flown out to find the approaching army and get a head count. There were between seventy to eighty men in Loaton's army and I knew a great deal of cunning would have to take place in order to defeat the gruesome mass.
Just as I was about to drop from the trees to head into town I spotted them coming around a bend in the road. The tall dark haired warrior led a beautiful golden palomino and appeared to be having a relaxing conversation with a smaller cute blonde. I watched the two with interest. The blonde smiled as she looked up at her taller companion and her hand movements made me think she was telling her friend a story. The warrior appeared to be enjoying the story and the easy pace of their travel, but I could see her eyes were constantly scanning the area around them, alert for any sign of trouble. They made their way to the inn where the smaller of the two went inside while the darker one stabled her horse. I had never met either one, but a name seemed to be tugging at the far corners of my mind. Sending Taz off to our campsite I made my way into town and to the inn.
Before I could make it inside I passed a couple who had just left the inn and over heard them talking. “I'm not saying everything is alright, but at least we have a chance with Xena here.” The man was telling his worried wife.
Xena, the name came to me now. I had heard the stories of how this woman who had been known as a destroyer of nations had turned her life around and now traveled with her companion, a battling bard, righting wrongs and fighting for good. Some still did not trust her, but her feats of good were becoming as legendary as her former evil past.
I made my way into the inn and found a table not far from where Xena and her companion were sitting. I quickly ordered a meal and feigned interest in people watching. Although the place was rather noisy I had no trouble overhearing most of Xena and Gabrielle's (as I immediately discovered her name) conversation. Their talk was interrupted by the arrival of their meal and the ferocity with which Gabrielle tucked in made me think she had not eaten in days. I dared to sneak a glance at the starved woman. Thinking it would be quick and go unnoticed I turned slightly and froze as I looked into lovely green eyes. They were so much like the ones I stared into each night that I could not bring to pull myself away. It was then I noticed the piercing cold blue eyes that were boring into me from her companion. I made a small laughing gesture towards Gabrielle's food and said “Doesn't get out much does she?”, giving them a small smile again I turned around as my own meal was set in front of me.
Before I could pick up my fork a rather large and horribly smelling man put his hands on my table and leaned over so his rancid breath was in my face. He made what I am sure he thought was a lovely proposition to me and then leered at my chest (probably in an attempt to find something there). I asked him to leave but he decided that he deserved a little grope first. Before he could blink I used my fork and dinner knife to pin his sleeve cuffs to the table, hooked a chair from the table next to me with my foot and slammed it into the back of his knees forcing him to sit. His hands were pinned to the opposite side of the table so it was quite a stretch for him and I slid my plate of food over so his face landed in it. The barmaid rushed over as I stood to leave. I gave her a dinar for the trouble and told her I had lost my appetite, as there seemed to be something in my food. Before anyone could say anything I was out the door and making my way around the inn, which is where I ran into one tall dark angry warrior princess.
She stepped in my path as I rounded the back of the building taking a short cut to the woods. “Nice trick.” she said as she crossed her arms over her chest.
“Someone should have taught him some table manners.” I replied trying to sound light hearted about it.
“You were staring at my friend back there pretty hard. I don't like it when people stare, especially when they stare at Gabrielle.”
“Yes, I'm sorry about that, I'm afraid she caught me off guard.”
Xena just stood over me looking down as one of her eyebrows shot up disappearing beneath dark locks. I learned a long time ago that for me it was always easiest to tell the truth. Usually it was so outrageous most people wouldn't believe me anyway. Of course that didn't mean I wasn't beyond editing a bit. “It's just that she reminds me of someone.” I looked for a response but she just waited for the rest of the story. “She looks a lot like a friend of mine.” Again I paused because in truth this really was hard to say. “Someone who's gone now but still haunts my dreams every night and day.”
I guess Xena could see the pain in my eyes as I spoke because she relaxed just a bit and gave me what could almost be a pitying look. “You're a warrior.” It was part statement part accusation.
I gave her a crooked smile. “Of sorts.”
“What are you doing here?”
“I heard about Loaton and came to defend the town.”
Just as Xena was about to question me the back door opened and there bathed in the warm glowing light of the inn was Gabrielle. “Xena what are you doing out here?” She noticed me and came over. She had a smile that softened her entire face just like Taz. I watched her approach and stop beside her tall friend. She was just a little taller than I am, but not quite as tall as Taz. I realized I was staring again. “Hi.” She spoke to me and I could take no more. I was not use to having my emotions so out of control.
Tearing my eyes away from the blonde I looked at Xena and took a ragged breath. “I have to go, I can't be here right now.” She seemed to nod to me in understanding and I started to take a step away then stopped suddenly and turned to Gabrielle again. “It is a pleasure to meet you Gabrielle, it truly is.” I started to go again but a small hand reached out lightly touching my arm causing me to stop.
“But I don't know your name.”
What harm could it do, I smiled, she would never remember it anyway. “Anull, my name's Anull.” I began to step away and looked back to the tall warrior. “They're bringing a war here tomorrow, best get some sleep.” And with that I turned and disappeared into the woods.
By the time I made it back to camp and got a fire going all I could see was a beautiful young blonde woman dancing around a stage so gracefully it took my breath away. I fell asleep with the dancer in my visions and my fingers lightly caressing soft white feathers.
The next morning Taz flew out to see how close the army was. I cooked a big breakfast since I had never gotten around to eating the night before. While I waited for Tazzlan to return I prepared Nemeses and checked all my knives, making sure everything was in its place. I carried two short swords on my back, two daggers in my boots, a dagger at my waist for all to see and two smaller ones hidden in a special sheath at the small of my back, and over two dozen throwing knives. Oh and I keep a few more hidden on my saddle just in case. Doesn't really look like it does it? I think I carry it off very well and it's not like you are going to argue with me on this now is it.
Taz returned to let me know Loaton and his men would be there by midday. I was feeling a bit more comfortable about the impending battle, after all there were now three to eighty; that about evened the odds. As midday grew near I sent Taz to the treetops to watch and stay out of harms way. I rode into town just as Loaton and his lot came charging in. There in a clearing that kept one side of the town open to the fields below stood Xena and Gabrielle, swords drawn, letting the fight come to them.
I galloped in and vaulted off the back of Nemeses onto the chest of a large dirty man who was waving a sword around. He had less teeth then sense and seemed genuinely surprised when I knocked him unconscious. Nemeses was making his way through the oncoming warriors and I gave a small laugh at the screams as the great war horse trampled several men who were not smart enough to get out of the mighty beasts way. He would stomp as many as he could then head back to camp.
At first I was caught up in the rush of battle but as the numbers started to lessen I enjoyed watching the tall dark warrior execute moves that were impossible for most people. Watching her in action was like watching a beautiful dancer and I could see Gabrielle had learned her moves from her partner. They made a great team. Slowly I made my way over to the two women who were guarding each other's backs. Xena cast me a suspicious glance then growled, “I was wondering when you were going to introduce yourself.”
I gave her one of my best smiles while hacking away at a sword that just kept coming for my neck. “I'm Anull, hope you don't mind if I join in on your little party here, it looked like so much fun I just couldn't resist.”
Out the corner of my eye I could almost see a smile starting to play on her lips. “Help yourself Anull, there's fun for all. What do you say we push this out a bit?” She gave a loud war cry then flipped herself backwards several yards behind a large group that was approaching Gabrielle's right side. I couldn't help chuckle and continued fighting off to Gabrielle's left.
Bodies were dropping at a good rate, so much so that some of the men decided it would be best to leave this town alone and find easier prey and they ran off in the direction they had come. Xena had her hands full as two large groups pressed in on her and Gabrielle. I looked up just as one of Loaton's men snuck up behind Gabrielle and raised his sword. She was busy fighting three men in front of her and did not know he was there. Without a second thought I sent one of my knives flying embedding it deep in his throat. Unfortunately he had managed to get so close that as he lost the grip on his sword it cut into Gabrielle's left shoulder. She took down two of her front attackers as she turned to see who was attacking from behind. I sent another knife to take down her third opponent. Gabrielle watched as the man at her back fell, a large amount of blood flowing around a small knife sticking out of his throat. I rushed over and pulled my knife from his throat and then quickly checked her shoulder. Everything happened so quickly that it seemed to stun the bard; she stood there looking at me in amazement. I gave her my best smile “It's just a bit of a scratch, you'll be fine. What say you we end this, I'm getting hungry.” And with that I grabbed my other knife from the shoulder joint of the man writhing in pain next to the two dead men Gabrielle had taken out and continued fighting.
It didn't take long to subdue the rest of the men and Xena left Loaton trussed up hanging from a tree for the local magistrate to deal with. She wanted to get Gabrielle back to the inn so she could tend to the nasty cut on her shoulder. Okay so it was just a tiny bit more than a scratch, but you have to understand Xena takes any injury to Gabrielle seriously. I was just about to disappear into the woods again when Xena was suddenly by my side. She's very good at that. She invited me to join them for a meal at the inn. I was very hungry and somehow I found myself unusually comfortable in the company of the tall warrior.
After Gabrielle's shoulder was stitched up we were treated to a big meal on the house for saving the town from complete destruction. We fell into easy conversation about traveling and I told them about the dark mountains I had at one time called home, they seemed to fascinate the small blonde. At one point in the evening Gabrielle got up and told stories for the entire inn. I admit I was as mesmerized by the bard as everyone else.
Xena had been watching me for a while and in a low voice asked, “So this friend of yours, was she a bard also?”
A sad smile came over me and I shook my head. “No, she was a dancer.”
Xena watched her bard for a few moments more, “You must miss her very much.”
I tried to swallow the lump in my throat, but it wouldn't seem to dislodge. “You have no idea.”
Gabrielle joined us after her last story and we talked for a while longer. I knew Taz was waiting for me so with some regret I bid them good night and walked out into the night. As I walked the road out of town I could feel a comforting presence near. I raised my gloved fist and was quickly rewarded when a large white owl landed on it. We ducked into the woods to leave Xena and Gabrielle behind, but not as it would turn out forever.
We continued our travels through the northern lands making our way south and to the coast. Tazzlan loved the ocean and I tried to take us there as often as possible. At night she would glide above the waves, sailing on the wind, free from all care. Myself, I wasn't that fond of sand in my boots and breeches, but if it made Taz happy I would endure anything. On the west coast we found a small village nestled below a forested cliff high above the sea. It was the perfect compromise, Taz could sail the waters below and I remained sand free atop the cliff. We got the nice breezes but not the smell. Oh oceans smell, you know they do, seaweed and fishy bits. Anyway, we found ourselves coming back here again and again.
Along the beach I would find driftwood and seashells of every size and shape. I collected them and began building great windsongs to string along the cliff. It was here that a plan began to form. Barely an idea at first, but the more I worked on it the stronger I became to see it through. I had thought a great deal about Athena's last words to me and finally knew exactly what she meant. See I was no longer gripped by the blinding anger that had consumed me for so long. And as if a fog had been lifted I could easily understand Athena's last message. So I began working on a design for my greatest windsong yet. I needed to find the perfect place to give my last gift to my beloved Tazzlan.
Not long after deciding my fate. I heard talk of a warlord named Matthiaus who was gathering men in order to attack the town of Sarapaus . I had been to this small town to the east a few times and remembered it fondly. I also remembered a perfect camping site that was secluded, hidden by a forest and ribboned with a stream. This would make a perfect setting for my final gift. And if I could save a town that I liked so well, all the better.
We made our way east and I gathered as much information about Matthiaus as I could. It was slow going for him, apparently he was not much of a people person and kept killing off some of the men he was trying so hard to build the numbers of.
I carried with me some of the best shells and driftwood I had found along the beach. Taz and Tash just looked at me like I was starting to go round the bend. We had several days head start on Matthiaus and I wasted no time getting started on the largest and most complex windsong I would ever build. I scrounged around the village and found any bits of metal I could. Only a few items had to be purchased like rope and buckets, but for the most part I made everything myself.
Taz would go off flying on her own each day and I would take advantage of the solitude to compose my music. The work was hard but it moved along quickly as I was determined to finish before Matthiaus arrived. What I had not counted on was once again running right into the path of one tall dark warrior princess and a beautiful blonde bard. It had been almost six moons since leaving them at that inn in Thasaraus.
Do you ever get the feeling that the inhabitants of Mt Olympus painted a target on you and they're all up there just taking turns and its just a matter of time before a lightening bolt hits the bullseye? Well that was my life and I was ready for my turn, my shot at the bullseye. I really did not need this distraction. They could not remember me of course, so that was in my favor. But one look in those wonderful green eyes and I knew I couldn't just ignore them. Little did I know what a persistent person Gabrielle was and what a suspicious woman Xena was.
Tash and I had been playing in the woods, my windsong was almost complete and I needed to spend a little time with my old friend. After throwing myself down a hill to see if Tash could keep up, we landed ourselves in the middle of the forest road, wrestling and having fun and right in front of Xena and Gabrielle.
Okay, the truth be told it was great to see them again. Xena had already drawn her sword so I sent Tash on her way to keep the animal safe. I quickly had to dispel the tension and get away without incident.
There's really only one way to confuse the daylights out of anyone; tell them all about myself. I told them about the curse on me, and that we had fought together in Thasaraus and that I was there to stop Matthiaus from destroying the small town up the road. I knew this would be my last battle and relished the thought of going into it with Xena and Gabrielle by my side.
I gave Gabrielle one of my knives so that hopefully when she saw the same design again she would know I was a friend. Now the trick to getting someone to lose their train of thought is just keep talking. Either they become so confused they give up or they become so distracted you can just disappear. Once again I felt that comfortable ease with the warrior even though I could see she did not trust me at the moment. No deception was needed. I had told them Matthiaus would be attacking in the morning and I knew without a doubt Xena and Gabrielle would be there. After refusing an invitation to dinner that would just be a long and tedious grill session I turned and walked away. I had already felt the sense of comfort wash over me and raised my fist allowing my dearest friend to land and give me a nuzzle.
The next morning I met up with Xena and Gabrielle in a field on the north side of town. There was little time for introductions before Matthiaus' army entered the field, but I did introduce them to the owl Tazzlan. The battle was par for the course and going our way until Matthiaus, acting on a desperate whim, tried to settle an old score with Xena. He tried to sneak up on Gabrielle and take her out from behind. A strong feeling of deja vu came over me as I sent two knives flying severing the tendons in his knee and ankle. At which point the battle was pretty much over.
Again I spent the afternoon with my two friends and enjoyed a good meal and an interesting conversation about why the two could not remember having met me. Time was of the essence now and I really had to get back to my project. So I bid them farewell for what I thought to be the last time and headed back to my clearing in the forest.
Tazzlan was there waiting for me upon my arrival and I quickly set about adjusting the last finishing touches to my masterpiece. You see this was to be the culmination of my entire life's work. Everything I had ever learned I put into my creation. From combat skills to music to dance to the manipulation of objects, everything I knew I brought together and presented it to Taz as a gift and to Aphrodite as a tribute.
I had put all my effort into building a great windsong that almost reached the treetops and was operated by the flowing water of the stream and the whimsical breezes in the air. In a declaration of my love for Tazzlan I would dedicate my masterpiece to Aphrodite. Putting my musical machine into motion I would dance for the love of my Taz. The plan was to show her how much I loved her then in a choreographed move with the windsong have it kill me. I knew this was the only way to release Taz from her feathery bondage. I would have one last night to spend with my love and then release both of us from our curses.
And it would have worked had a certain meddling warrior and nosey bard not stepped in. They had followed me back to my camp and interrupted my final preparations. Like I said Xena is very suspicious, she figured out Taz was not just an owl. It made me realized maybe they could help Taz when this was all over so I told them about her and promised they would meet her, the real her the next morning. It took a while to finally get them out of camp but I got my night alone with my Taz.
The next morning did not go quite as planned as my two meddlesome friends were back and had interrupted me at the most crucial part of my dance. Needless to say I was just a bit more than raging lunatic mad. And then the craziest thing happened, there was a bright light and a shower of pink sparkles and there before me stood Aphrodite herself. I was stunned, not because a Goddess had…, oh right, a beautiful Goddess had just appeared in front of me but because I was looking up into the face of my friend from so long ago when I was a small child. My friend Di who used to keep me company and look out for me and just be my friend.
Aphrodite gave me a conspiring wink about the same time I realized Gabrielle had called my name and could remember me. My curse was broken, it was Gabrielle whose love and kindness and big heart that found a way to break beyond what everyone else could not. I would have been happy but Taz was still an owl and that's when Aphrodite agreed to grant me my wish. I can't say I remember a whole lot after that. You see I was kind of dead or sort of dead or almost dead? It's a little confusing and I was there so don't strain anything trying to figure it out.
My limbo death status broke Tazzlan's curse and she was once again the beautiful girl I had fallen in love with. Our only problem at this point was that I was kind of dead. But this was Di's plan and with all things concerning Aphrodite love would be the answer. Tazzlan kissed my dead lips and it seared right through me. I felt as though molten lava was pumping through my veins. The next thing I knew I was looking into the most incredible green eyes I had ever known.
Gabrielle had remembered me, meeting me six moons earlier in Thasaraus and the moment I had saved her life. Xena on the other hand did not remember me at all, but Di assured me that after today she would always remember me and so would everyone else. I got the feeling that a few things in my life were going to change. My days of disappearing with the rising sun were over. I would not have the protective cover of anonymity any longer. And to be honest I was looking forward to it.
Any sadness I might have felt in saying good-bye to my friends that day was quickly pushed aside as Tazzlan wrapped me in her arms and kissed the breath right out of me.
A few days later we emerged from the forest to begin our travels together.
Weeks passed as we traveled the countryside coming to the aid of those who needed us. I began teaching Tazzlan how to handle herself in a battle since she could no longer take to the treetops for safety. She got good at throwing knives but was having trouble with a sword. So taking a cue from Gabrielle we started working with a staff and soon Taz could easily defend herself in a close combat. She was always by my side and would never back down from a fight no matter how dangerous it got. I was both proud of her and terrified at the same time. I could not bear the thought of losing her again.
Things were going along just fine for us, we were happy and enjoying life. But every once and a while I would notice Taz looking to the sky, feeling the wind on her face and longing to be up there playing on the breeze. It was one of these times that a plan came to me.
We had been camping on the edge of a meadow. It was early one morning and I awoke to find myself alone. I quickly looked around for my partner but she was nowhere in the camp. I noticed a movement further out in the field and made my way to the edge of the clearing to get a better look. There was Tazzlan dancing around, arms stretched out, wind blowing her hair and skirt like playful sails. Her features took on the look of complete happiness and she moved with the grace of a white owl, of a young dancer, of a woman at peace. I don't know how long I watched her mesmerized by the smile on her face, but it was then that the seeds of an idea were planted. I retrieved my pipes and began to play music to match Taz's movements. Without ever missing a beat she found me with her eyes and beautiful smile and together we became one, her dance my music our love.
That night as I sat with Taz wrapped in my arms watching the firelight dance in her bright green eyes I decided to lay out my idea to her.
“You were beautiful this morning.” I said brushing back a golden lock from her cheek.
She gave me a silly giggle, “What are you talking about?”
“In the meadow you were dancing and playing in the wind.” I noticed just an instant of sadness flicker in her eyes. “You miss it don't you?”
“Miss what?” She said trying to find something in the fire to occupy her attention.
She looked at me as her features softened to the point I thought she would cry then she gave me a little half smile. “I don't understand it, when I was a bird all I wanted to do was be able to dance again and now that I have arms and legs, I want to be back up in the air.” Quickly she looked down to our fingers that were entwined and resting in her lap.
The look almost broke my heart. “I'm sorry Tazzlan, this is all my fault.” With my free hand I reached down and lifted her chin until her eyes finally caught mine. “I can't make you fly the way you use to, but I remember watching you dance on stage and I would get the same feeling then as when I watched you fly over the waves and into the current. It was enchanting. I was wondering how you would feel about putting together a traveling troupe of performers?”
“Anull, your work..”
I cut off her interruption before she could get her mind too wrapped around a rejection of the idea. “No Taz hear me out. My work will continue, I will always help where I am needed, but I want there to be more to my life, to our life than just fighting for the greater good. What is the point of fighting so hard to improve other people's lives when our own is unfulfilled? I use to travel with a performing troupe and I know how to make one work. Taz those were some of the greatest times of my life.” Her eyes never left mine as she sought out to see if I was serious. “Taz, you were born to dance and make people happy. And while I use to think I was born to be a warrior, I have come to realize that I am more than just a fighter. I want to create something, with you, something beautiful and fun..”
I would have gone on spouting even more sentimental rantings but fortunately Taz saved us both by flipping me onto the ground and kissing me until I found myself in desperate need of air. So she was agreeable to the idea, oh she was agreeable all night long.
We began seeking out talent everywhere we went. As we found willing and able performers we began putting together our troupe. Taz choreographed all the dances and was responsible for pulling together a cohesive and entertaining show. We managed to collect a little group of twelve performers. We shared the work of keeping an outfit like ours running, and as far as performing, you name it and we did it. We traveled the country performing and protecting.
Gabrielle even wrote a couple of plays for us. Yes, we would run into Xena and Gabrielle from time to time. We would do a little kicking bad guy butt and then listen to Gabrielle spin a story and watch Taz dance the night away. These were great days.
The seasons went by and life on the road became more and more hectic. Our little troupe had grown and was in great demand. Keeping up with the schedule was beginning to ware on us. One day I was watching Taz work out a new routine. She would always find a quite place away from everyone so she could concentrate on her work. I would always find her and just watch from a distance. One of my greatest joys was watching Taz dance, and when she was creating something new the excitement within her infected me as well and filled me with warmth. But on this day I watched Taz go through the motions, working each one to perfection until she had finished her piece. There was no smile, no sparkle, she simply twitched her eyebrows as she did so often to acknowledge that something was done and then walked away.
This may not seem like much to you, but to me it was like watching a ship at sea with no wind in its sails. It was devastating. I realized Taz was not happy the way she use to be. Somewhere along the way it had all gotten to be too much, too complicated, too demanding, too consuming.
Now I have had an unusual life and it has taught me a great many lessons: analyze and access quickly then act being one of them. But the most important one is that Tazzlan's happiness is above all. It's more important than the air I breathe because it is the air I breathe.
That night I asked Taz to come away with me, to walk away form The White Owl Troupe and start a new life, a new adventure. She began to protest until I took her chin in my hand and looked deep into her eyes. We had been happy for so long with our performing, but now I could see there was something else Taz was in need of. As I wiped the tear away that had spilled down her cheek I asked, “Tell we what you want, what do you need?”
Taz smiled as she looked up at me and answered, “You.”
The next morning we gave charge of the troupe over to Darius and Pauline. They had been among the first to join us and were our closest and most trusted friends, they cared deeply about the troupe and would run it well. We left quietly and followed the road to where ever it would take us next.
Somehow we found ourselves back in a clearing beside a stream in the forest outside the town of Sarapaus . My great windsong was still playing its whimsical music and I found myself dancing in its arms once again. Only this time I danced with my Tazzlan by my side. We had returned to the place of our beginning.
It was a bittersweet homecoming, for now there was only the two of us. Age had taken Nemeses away from me and Tash settled down with a family of her own in the Pindus Mountains . There was no white owl to flit about, no impending siege, no meddlesome friends, and no death wish. Just Taz and I alone where this phase of our life had all began. And that was all we needed, the peace of each other alone and together. This was all we would ever really need. We renewed our faith and commitment to each other and worshiped each other body and soul. We created new music to entertain the forest creatures and renew our spirits. By the time we left to resume our life on the road we were happy and light hearted once again.
We now traveled performing, just the two of us, and fighting for the greater good, side by side. Life was good once again.
You know warriors are never meant to grow old. It was something I had never considered before. But I have to tell you waking up every morning on the cold hard ground takes its toll. Now I have lived outdoors for so much of my life that I truly do not remember what it was like living in a house, but watching Taz trying to work out the stiffness from her joints each morning was causing me to think that maybe there was something to be said for those soft warm beds with a roof over them to keep out the rain and walls around them to keep out the cold biting wind.
This idea had been dancing around my head for a while when I realized we were not far from our favorite spot near the sea. I decided to take us to our cliff that overlooked the blue waters below. Tazzlan knew exactly where we were heading and a renewed jaunt could be detected in her step. This gave me new confidence in my plan. In all the years Taz and I have been together she has never asked for anything, well nothing major, I mean she's not a palm tree you know. But she would never ask for something that would change our lives completely. Which is odd because I seem to have no trouble asking.
Arriving on our cliff was the most natural thing in the world for us, it felt like coming home and that's when I knew the time had come. Taz was dancing around and enjoying the breeze, she was the most beautiful sight I had ever seen. Noticing the intent look on my face Taz stopped and stood before me with concern in her eyes.
There was a lump in my throat and I swallowed a few times to clear it, then taking Taz's hands in my own I forged ahead, “Tazzlan I love you more than anything in this world, we are a part of each other and in this life or the next I never want to be separated from you. I love our life together and I want to build you a home right here and spend the rest of our days living and loving and sharing. Tazzlan would you settle down with me?”
Yeah, I think I actually shocked her with that one, don't think she saw that coming. She just stood there with eyes bugging out and her mouth hanging open. She stood there a long time; okay well it seemed like a long time. I was starting to get worried.
She let out a sharp breath and tried to say something. Her mouth was moving but nothing was coming out. Just as my nerve was giving out on me Taz snaked a hand behind my neck drawing me to her and kissed the breath right out of me. Have I ever told you I love the way she answer's my questions.
Finally letting me up for air Taz searched my eyes for the truth that was always there for her. “I will settle down with you, I will travel the road with you, my home is where ever you are.” She smiled down at me and we kissed again long into the afternoon. Taz had the sweetest smile and twinkle in her eye when she finally broke away. “So, this house, it would have a big soft warm bed in it, right?”
I began work the very next day clearing the land where our house would sit looking out over the waves. The closest village to us was at the bottom of the cliffs nestled in a cove by the sea. It would take almost half a day to get to it, having to wind your way down the gently slopping cliffs. We made the trip one day to pick up supplies and tools for building and to get an idea of exactly whom our neighbors would be.
Laurias is a quaint village that bustles with the business of every fishing town. The people are nice enough once you break through their skepticism and doubt. And soon Tazzlan was making friends everywhere she went, people don't warm up to me quite as quickly, I think it might have something to do with all the weapons. We were able to send word out with a traveling merchant to let Darius and Pauline know of our plans and encouraged them to come perform for our neighboring village whenever they found themselves in the vicinity.
With great enthusiasm we settled into the difficult task of clearing the land for the house and a garden. There was a sizable stream that ran behind our clearing through the woods and it was here that we established our camp. Those first few nights would find me submerged in the cool water wondering just what in Tartarus I was doing.
I was not getting cold feet. How can you say that, how can you even think it? After all I had been through to be with Taz. No it wasn't that, it's just I had never built a house before. I don't know anything about houses. I was just feeling a little in over my head. I mean it wouldn't do to build Taz a house and then have it fall down on top of her.
We had been working for less than half a moon when one bright sunny afternoon we heard the familiar rumble of a caravan. I looked up to see Darius leading a parade of wagons and performers; our old troupe had come to our rescue. Pauline leapt from the first wagon to tackle Taz in a bear hug while Darius rode up to me with a grin that could blind Apollo. It had been a long time since we had seen our old friends, so we did the only thing we could, we had a party!
That night as Darius and I sat by the fire watching Taz and Pauline dance with the other performers I could not help feeling the greatest sense of family I had ever known. I was engulfed in a warm fuzzy feeling and it was not just from the wine. Okay, maybe it was, we had been drinking rather steadily all afternoon, all evening and all night. Yeah, I might have been drunk. We were all drunk, but it did not take away from the sincerity when Darius offered the help of the entire troupe to build our new home.
Our little cottage went up faster than I could ever imagine possible and when the troupe performed down in the village Taz and I joined with them just like old times. Before long our house was finished and the troupe pulled stakes and headed out, but not before I made them promise to return once a year so we could all perform together in Laurias. Some of you may know of it as the White Owl Festival. Yeah, our party got a little too big for just us and now we celebrate old friends and new.
Taz and I still perform in the village every now and then. She sings of our adventures and I play music for her to dance to. My windsongs dot the cliff sides creating perfect harmony with the crashing waves and the call of the seagulls. I still roam our little corner of the world, protecting the people I have grown to know and care for. But in the end, every night I find myself in a big soft warm bed wrapped around a beautiful blonde with the most amazing green eyes I have ever known.
So this is my story. It might seem a little different to you than most. It has had its moments. And perhaps there are parts I would change if I could, but out of all of it there is really only one part that counts.
Well, that's it folks, thank you and good night.
Woah, woah, woah, settle down. Yes that's it. What do you mean ‘what part counts'? Have you been listening at all? Did you not understand the words that were coming out of my mouth. Just tell you what it is? I have been telling you, I've been telling you all night! Taz, there you are, please love, take me home, I can't work like this, maybe I should have just knifed them instead. Next time we do this your telling a story, I'll knock any roudy heads. After all why change a good thing.
Return to the Academy