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This story is set just before the beginning of "The Greater Good"
Can I just say thanks to Kamouraskan for her helpful suggestions? Thanks, Kam!
Comments welcome: I'd love to know what you think.
What a day! Loads of things have happened to me today! Me and Anara went out to play in the fields where her pappa is growing corn. We played in it for a while, and made circles and shapes in it, but then Anara's pa came out and started shouting at us and shaking his fist, so we had to run away! She was scared - she's such a scaredy, cos of her pappa and all, but I laughed a lot and shook my fist at her like I was her pappa, and she laughed too in the end. It was funny.
Errr...what else happened today? Oh yeah...
Momma made me get up early so's I could look after Democritus while she did the washing down at the stream. Baby brothers are rubbish. They can't talk or play. And momma made me watch him the whole time! And I wanted to go out and play with Anara and the others, cos I heard that Philemon'd found a dead rat and we wanted to put it in the baker's shop and see if we could get Leah to scream cos when she screams - cos Philemon's heard her and he says it's true - her face goes all red and her eyes stick right out of her head!
But momma made me watch Democritus instead. Brothers! He never does anything - just lays there in his little basket and makes funny noises. I don't see why I have to watch him! But anyways, momma let me go play when she'd finished doing the washing, which was really good so I went to find the others, but Philemon had lost the rat when Leah had found him sneaking it into the oven and had boxed his ears good and proper! Anara said his face went all red and his eyes popped right out of his head when he started crying!
Wish I'd been there to see that!
Baby brothers are rubbish.
Anyway, that's when I found her. She was sitting in the tree and she was so high up that I had to bend my neck just so's I could see that far. The sun was in my eyes and I had to screw them up a lot too, so I couldn't really see her proper, but she was real pretty, I think.
I was playing hide and seek in the bushes and I'd found the best hiding place where the others would never, ever find me ever. And I sat there for ages and I could hear them calling for me to come out, but I wouldn't cos I wanted to win the game. They're always doing that to me - they pretend to give up, and then they catch me and sit on me in the road, and my momma shouts at me cos I go home all dirty. She says it's not what proper little girls should do. But I don't care, cos it's fun.
So I was sitting there, and giggling cos I knew they'd never find me ever, when the lady in the tree speaks to me. She says "You just sit tight, little one, and they'll never find you." And I was real surprised cos I hadn't seen her before then, and at first I wondered where the voice came from. It was kinda low and - I dunno, sounded like she had a cold or something, and it was coming from over my head. And that's when I looked up and saw her sitting in the tree.
"Who are you hiding from, my dear?"
"My friends. We're playing a game."
"Ah. A game where you have to hide. I know all about hiding. I could help you hide, so they need never find you again. Would you like that?" Her smile was real big - it was like her lips stretched out and cut her face in half, like pappa does when he cuts up the big melons that momma brings home from market sometimes. I like melons.
She talked to me lots. Grown ups never do that - they're always too busy. They say "Go away and play", or "Look after your brother" or "What have I told you about doing that?" Or when they do, it's always silly little baby talk, but the blonde lady, she talked to me lots and it was proper talk too.
She asked me my name, and I told her, and then she told me hers. And she kept smiling at me as she talked to me and she had the nicest smile. Nicer than Roan the healer, cos she had all her teeth still there, and they was sparkly white like the egg shells that our chickens make.
"Whatcha doing in the tree?"
"Waiting for a friend."
"Oh. My best friend is Anara. What's your friend's name?"
The tree lady smiled a big, massive smile as she said her friends name, and her eyes went all - I dunno. Sparkly like. "Xena." I think she must've liked her friend a lot, cos she sounded real funny the way she said her name and all.
"Where ya from?"
"A long way away."
"Where's a long way away?"
"Where my home used to be. But it's not there anymore; I have a different home now. That's why I'm waiting for my friend."
"Oh." She looked kinda sad for a minute, so I crawled out of the bush, and stood and looked at her. She was all smiley again then, and she waved at me to come up.
"My momma doesn't like me climbing trees." Momma always spoils my fun. Always makes me watch my brother when I want to play and climb trees. "Momma says little girls shouldn't climb trees."
"Then I suppose your momma would be very angry if you climbed this one, wouldn't she?"
"Uh huh." I chewed on my thumbnail - momma always slapped me when she saw me do that, but she wasn't here and I wanted to climb the tree.
"Do you want to climb this tree?"
"If your momma's not here, she won't know. Come on, little one. Come sit here beside me. I'll tell you a story while I'm waiting for my friend."
She was high up in the tree and I got frightened halfway up cos I never climbed that high before, but she laughed at me whenever I started crying and so I carried on until I got up to her. She sat me on the branch next to her and made me hold onto the trunk so's I wouldn't fall off. I didn't feel very safe though, and I was kinda scared a little bit, especially when I looked down. She laughed some more when she saw how afraid I was, and called me a big scaredy. Anara calls me a big scaredy sometimes, after the others have picked on me, and I hit her then and make her cry, cos it makes me feel better when she cries.
"I'm not scared." I said to her, and she laughed real hard so's I thought she might fall off the branch, and her long blonde hair was flying all over my face as she gave me a big yukky kiss on my cheek.
"Of course you're scared. You just don't know it yet. But you will."
I didn't really understand that - sometimes she said things that I didn't know what she meant, but she always smiled lots at me, so that was okay.
"Are you scared?" I asked her, as she scrubbed my face with the hem of my skirt. I think it'd gotten a bit dirty from climbing and crying and all, and I was pleased cos I didn't want her to think I was a big scaredy.
"No. I'm not scared. Wish I could be." I didn't understand that either, and I asked her lots more questions, but she got a bit fed up I think cos she stopped scrubbing my face and started bouncing up and down on the branch and making it all wobbly. I was scared again, and when I started crying and yelling out for my momma, the lady stopped and gave me a big hug.
"Ahh. Don't be afraid - I won't hurt you. I couldn't hurt a child. Look at you, all that lovely blonde hair hanging in curls down your back, and those big, big eyes. Such beautiful, innocent eyes. Do you know yet how dangerous innocence can be? No, you probably don't. Well, my little innocent one, innocence such as yours can save souls, can hold back the darkness. Can redeem the unredeemable."
I was still crying and she was squeezing me real tight, so it was kinda hard to breathe.
"You don't understand do you?"
"No matter. I do. So beautiful, so dangerous. Unchecked innocence can break the cycle of justice. Or retribution, if you will. Either way, they're both the same. But innocence can destroy them both - I've seen it happen. Did you know that?"
"No, I guess you don't yet. One day you might. So dangerous. But what's to be done about it?"
I stopped crying again, but she wouldn't let me down from the tree and rocked me and shushed me cos I was a bit upset cos I knew my momma would start to get worried soon if the others told her they couldn't find me. But the lady was so nice to me, talking and all, that I sorta didn't really want to go yet.
"Why are you hiding in the tree?"
"I'm waiting for my friend, like I told you, child."
"But your friend won't be able to find you if you're up a tree. Don't you want your friend to find you?"
"No. It's kind of like a surprise, you see. A little like the game you were playing with your friends. I'm going to play a game with Xena. The first of many, as a matter of fact."
"Games like I play with Anara an' Philemon an'.....?"
"Yes. Games like you play. The games that children play can be so cruel."
"We're not cruel when we play. We all like each other."
"Well, aren't you the lucky ones?"
"You're not gonna play any of them cruel children's games with your friend, are you?" I was a bit worried, and thought about some of the tricks the others had played on me, like the time they put a spider down the back of my dress, and the time they put muddy water in my shoes, cos they all knew my momma would yell at me and my pappa would get real angry at having to get me new shoes.
"Children's games? Oh no. Of course not. Xena and I have much more adult things to do."
Then she went real quiet for the longest time, and just sat there. Anyway, just as I was gonna go, she started to tell me about her friend Xena. She said she was the person who had ...what did she say? Affected her most. I didn't understand that either, but she said it was like the way my momma and pappa affect me when I'm growing up. She said her friend had made her the woman she was today. Her friend Xena sounds like she might be her best friend in the whole world. She said she owed Xena for all she had done for her cos she had made her strong .
What did she say again? "She made me who I am - without her, I wouldn't be. I owe her so much."
"She gave me a purpose. She created me."
"Did you help to make her too then?" Anara had helped me to make bread one time with momma in the kitchen and we had lots of fun that day. The lady started laughing again.
"No, not yet. But I intend to pay her back, very soon now. That's why I'm here. Always reward those who help to make you, little girl. Never leave a debt unpaid."
We was sitting in the tree, and I was looking at her clothes - I'd never seen clothes like them before, and she laughed when I asked her if I could wear clothes like her one day. But then I heard my momma and my pappa shouting for me, and they sounded real angry and I got scared again cos I hate it when they shout at me. They shout at me all the time, for getting all muddy or this one time I ripped my dress and another time when Roan the healer found me hiding in her herb cupboards and they just shout at me all the time! And it's not fair cos they never shout at Democritus! So I got real scared so I asked the lady not to say anything until they'd gone, and told her how they yell at me and each other all the time, and how I wished I didn't have to live with them anymore.
"I wanna be a big lady like you, so's I don't hafta see my momma and pappa at all. I wanna grow up so's I can be like you."
The lady went all funny then, asking me if I loved my momma, and asking me all about my family. I felt kinda sad for her when she said that she didn't see her momma or pappa no more, and I hugged her which she seemed kinda funny about, like she didn't like it. But I hugged her anyway, cos I wanted to and I thought it might make her feel better. Anara sometimes hugs me when I cry cos of the other kids or my momma, and I always feel better then.
"So where's your friend now?"
"She's off - doing good. The good Xena. That's what she does."
"Oh. Is she nice, your friend?"
"Nice? Hmm. I suppose that depends on what you mean by nice. She's very pretty......"
"Is she as pretty as you?"
I liked it when she laughed, cos her head went all the way back and her neck looked like a swans, all long and white and stretched out. She laughed lots when I asked her that, and I laughed too cos the sound she was making was so nice and made me wanna laugh too.
"I think she's prettier. Almost as pretty as you, my pretty little one." She hugged me and gave me a really sloppy kiss on my cheek and I kinda liked it, even though I don't normally like it when people kiss me. Apart from momma, who kisses me when she tucks me into bed at night, but only when pappa's not home. "So pretty.......what will the world do to an innocent like you? Xena tries to save such innocence, but it's really quite futile. You see, you can't escape the darkness. No-one can. I intend to prove that, one way or the other. There's no escaping your past."
It was getting late now, and my momma was out again looking for me. I could hear her voice all high and she was kinda sniffing, and I told the lady I had better go before my momma got real upset. She looked all sad again and said that it'd been nice meeting me, and that I should love my family while I still could, and that she'd be passing through again very soon, as soon as she had met with Xena, and did I want to talk with her again when she did? She said she could teach me things that my momma and pappa couldn't teach me if I wanted. She said - what did she say again? Oh yeah - innocence like mine mustn't be allowed to grow unfettered, but needed to be shaped and moulded. Well, I sure thought she was a fine lady cos she knew lots of words that I didn't, and my momma never did neither and I bet she could probably write her name too!
I wondered if that'd be one of the things she'd teach me.
So I climbed down the tree, and momma was real pleased to see me and she gave me a real big hug, and shouted at me lots and then hugged me again. And I tried to tell her about the lady in the tree, but at first she didn't believe me until I told her Xena and the lady's names. Then she kinda went a bit funny, and went to get my pappa to fetch the village elders. Her eyes were all round, like they are sometimes when my pappa shouts at her, and I think she might've been scared. I think my pappa was too and he's never normally scared.
Anyway, that's all for now, diary. I'm gonna go to bed now, cos momma will be coming up later to make sure I'm asleep. The lady said she's coming back next week and I wanna see if I can find some leather to make a dress like hers. I think she's great, and I wanna grow up and be like her.
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