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SHE HAS MY EYES
Swords clashed on the battlefield below them, and the sound of terror mixed with the smell of rotting flesh filled the air. Xena stood slowly brushing the dirt from her leather armor as she observed the battle from a distant cliff. Carefully the Warrior Princess backed down the hill to where her best friend was anxiously waiting, staff in hand, ready for the order to join the battle. "So are we gonna get in there and kick some warlord butt?" The young woman asked a bit too enthusiastically for Xenas taste. The great warrior adjusted the straps on her faithful mounts saddle and then quickly jumped on grabbing tightly to the reigns. Pursing her lips together in a slight frown she gazed down at the young girl, "No WE are not going anywhere. I am going to get a closer look and YOU are staying here." She said with a quick command. Gabrielle started to protest, but Xena quickly raised her hand in the air to silence the bard "Dont even start Gabrielle. This is not a bunch of bandits on the road, this is a WAR of swords." She said clenching her teeth as she stared towards the sound of the battle. Gabrielle said nothing noting that the warrior had already made up her mind, and knowing there was no changing it. Xena gave a quick nod and a crooked smile to her companion, "Dont worry, Ill be back soon!" Before the bard could say another word, the warrior sped off down the path leaving her young protégé standing alone and frustrated, twirling her staff at a threatening tree.
As Xena approached the field she could see that the warriors were Dracos men. That in itself made her blood curl. She said the name twisting her face in disgust. "Draco" The opponents were mercenaries of some kind. Xena could not recognize any of them, but she did note that with every blade that fell another of them was quickly slaughtered. They were outnumbered and out classed in this type of battle. The warrior considered her options and then an odd little voice in her head told her that this was a battle she was meant to join. After a moments thought the proud warrior, protector of innocents drew her sword and entered the fray. With one fast flash of her weapon she immediately deflected a blade from falling on a boy of not more than 18 summers. Smiling she kicked the attacking warrior in the chest sending him roughly to the dirt at her feet. Quickly she offered the boy a hand up and moved further into the field. In a manner of moments she was the target of every one of Dracos men. The great warrior smiled at the attention her sword drew knowing it was a compliment to her skill and reputation. Using all her warrior skills, Xena thrust her sword into each man that dared to cross her path. It was not long before the men that had remained were chased into the woods in a fast retreat. The Warrior Princess had turned the tides against Draco once again. She allowed a slight smile to pass over her face as she sheathed her blade behind her. The smile quickly faded, as Xena, for the first time, looked around at the great number of wounded and dying on the ground around her. They lay in puddles of there own blood mixed with that of their enemies in the high grass of some unfortunate farmers field. She shook her head at the pointless battle and quickly began nursing the wounded with what limited supplies she had at her disposal.
Xena finished bandaging the leg of one man and rose to help another. " How can I help?" A tiny voice squeaked from behind. Xena turned to see the bards eager face grinning up at her. The warrior sighed "I thought I told you to stay up there" she said pointing to the cliff." Gabrielle shuffled her feet a bit and lowered her head knowing that such a maneuver usually softened the Warriors stern look. "Yes but you never said for how long, besides Xena after all this time I would think youd know Im gonna follow." The bard said with all the authority she could muster. Xena gave her a stern look, which quickly faded into a soft smile "Yeah I guess I should know." she said with resignation. The warrior sighed and threw her young friend some shredded linen. "Start bandaging the wounds as best you can...Ill see to the more serious injuries." The young woman nodded and then hopped away eager to make a difference in the lives of these people. Xena shook her head in wonderment at her best friends untarnished view of the world. With all the death and blood that surrounded them, the young bard still was able to let her spirit glow. It brought a smile to the great warriors weary face.
As she surveyed the field once again, Xena caught sight of the boy whose life she had saved earlier. He was kneeling next to a bloody figure that was propped up against a tree. He was wiping tears from his face as he touched the motionless form. The warrior made her way over and crouched beside a fallen woman. "Satrina " she said her jaw dropping slightly at the sight of her old enemy. With a deep breath the warrior regained her stoic composure and knelt beside the woman. "Somehow I knew that cave in would not kill you." the warrior said with a voice cold and feral. The small figures eyes met the warriors and she smiled. "Xena Warrior Princess, we meet again...not under the conditions I would have chosen but still any battlefield we share is a good place to die." she coughed spewing blood into her own hand. Xena shook the words off and peered into an open wound in the womans midsection. The dark blood was slowly oozing out. The warrior reached down to examine it closer only to have the woman push her hand away, "No Xena!" she growled again coughing and gasping for air. "I know my time is done...I die in battle. It is all I ever asked from the Gods." The woman looked to the boy seated next to her and clasped his hand tightly "This is my brother Camos...He tells me you saved his life, and for that Warrior I am grateful. For THAT I owe you." She once again coughed, her words quickly losing force. Xena tried to silence her, but Satrina only waved her off. " Xena for my brothers life I owe you. I do not wish to leave this world owing YOU anything Warrior, so I will give you a gift." The warrior shook her head at the thought of accepting any gift this traitor had to give. She wiped her leathers and started to rise when the woman grabbed her arm pulling her back down. "Your daughter Xena...I give you YOUR daughter." Xenas face turned cold and Icy, as the muscles tightened around her jaw "I have no daughter Satrina...YOU know that!" The woman smiled oddly enjoying the warriors confusion, but then she continued. "Not that you know of Warrior Princess...That night you gave birth to a son.... You were half out of your mind with the herbs Id given you. I knew you would give the boy up and continue your warrior ways. I needed you to do that, but there was a second child that came to you that night...a little girl...for HER you would have dropped your sword. I couldnt allow that, so we left her...behind." Flames shot through the warriors eyes as she recalled that night, the pain of losing Borias, her son, the loss, again the pain. Without a thought she grabbed the womans throat. "What are you saying Satrina? That cannot be! Where is she? What happened to her?" The great warriors mind raced with questions and fears. Her eyes flared with anger and pain of the past. The woman groaned under the warriors tight grasp, and Xena released her. Gathering her composure, she tried to find her central strength and speak calmly. "What happened to the girl Satrina?" she whispered in a controlled tone. The woman smiled wickedly. "Nala that old Mystic you were so fond of...she took the baby and ran for the hills, last I heard she was in the village of Rasa. But beware Warrior that town has a bad reputation." The warriors thoughts flew in a thousand different directions and the woman could read her pain. There was a look of true remorse as she stared at the large frame of her former master. "Im sorry Warrior, truly I am!" She paused "Now Xena I have given you the girls life for my brothers, and I owe you nothing...nothing." With that final whisper the woman closed her eyes and started her journey to Hades side. Xena rose from the ground feeling her legs shake beneath her as she grabbed for a tree limb. Gabrielle, watching from across the field noted the warriors fumble and raced to her side. The bard grabbed her friends arm to steady her. "Xena what is it? Whats wrong?" the bard asked, concern filling each and every word. The warrior looked down at the dead woman and Gabrielles eyes followed. "Satrina" the bard mouthed. Xena looked at the sky and closed her eyes for a moment trying to regain her unassailable poise. "Gabrielle...I have a ...daughter" The bards mouth dropped open but no words came out.
That night the two friends camped on the road to Rasa. Xena had pushed them for an entire day and into the night never saying another word. The bard studied her friend and knew she was fighting a torturous battle inside, but she did not know how to help. Finally Xena had chosen to camp in a small quiet clearing about a days travel from their destination. Settling in front of the small fire, the warrior pulled her crossed legs in close to her leathered chest and stared in to the flickering flames, seeing images of her lost love and dead son. Her mind was filled with guilt and shame and a wonder of what her young daughter looked like. She felt here chest tighten as she considered how different her life would have been if she had only known. Gabrielle quietly fidgeted with a quill and her scroll trying to make sense of her own thoughts, but the pain that emanated from her friend made it impossible to think. "Xena?" the bard whispered. As if coming back from a very far away land the warrior answered "Hmmm?" What are you thinking about?" The bard asked settling in closer to the warrior. Xena took a long deep breath and looked at her friend noting the concern in her face. "I was thinking of Borias and how I lost him and then Solan...Gabrielle if what Satrina said is true... I will not lose this child too." The bard gently put her arm on the warriors shoulder. "Well what will you do?" The bard asked noting the pain in her friends eyes. The warrior shook her head and rubbed her temples. " I dont know my friend...I just dont know." The bard stared at the great warrior who had so many times saved her life. She decided a bit of gentle prodding was in order. "Xena who is this Nala you spoke of?" There was a faint smile that crossed the warriors face at the thought of her old friend. The Warrior Princess chewed on a blade of grass as she studied her young friends anticipation of an answer, "Gabrielle, a Warlord has many rescources in battle, and Nala was one of mine. She was what some might call a mystic and others, might call...well... worse, but she was always my best confident and my mentor, until..." The warriors voice trailed off. Gabrielle was hanging on every word anxious to know more of this one that her friend actually had trusted in those dark days. "Until what Xena?" the girl asked begging for more information. The warrior studied the flames and spoke to them as if they were her only true friends. "Until she saw my demise. She told me that I would fail in battle and lose all that I loved if I did not change my path. I didnt listen to her, and as she said I lost it all" The bard said nothing, but merely caressed her friends arm hoping the touch would remind her that she was not alone. There was an unspoken understanding between the two friends and no more words were needed. Together they now stared into the flames remembering the past and thinking about the future.
Rasa was a small village hidden deep in the hills far outside Athens. The people of the village had a reputation for not welcoming strangers. As Xena and Gabrielle entered the center of town all eyes of these simple people fell upon them " I dont think they will be hosting a feast in our honor in this town." The bard said with a half smile gripping her staff close to her. Xena nodded as they strode through the town; "These people are said to burn strangers at the stake if they think them a threat to their privacy." The bard swallowed hard. "Great! Thanks for telling me that NOW Xena" she chided moving closer to the warrior. By the time they had reached the center of town a circle of people had gathered around them staring menacingly at the foreigners who had dared to enter their private world. Xena pulled her sword from its sheath and with a two fisted grip moved it around in display for each of the villagers to view. "I dont like feeling closed in, so I would advice you all to move before I decide to clear my own path." the Warrior Princess purred through gritted teeth. With that the villagers each took a step back, all accept one who Xena assumed was the leader. An old man of more than 60 summers, wearing a dark robe and carrying what looked to be a scepter, stepped forward. "You are not welcome here strangers, go now while you still can." He yelled raising the scepter in the air to show his great power over the crowd. The warrior stood to her full height and brought her sword to the old mans throat. "Whats you name?" she said with a wicked smile never allowing the blade to waver from its mark.
"Why?" he asked in a startled tone, "Because I like to know the names of the people I kill." she growled bringing the sword up to the side of his neck, "I ..am Persius...Elder of this village who are you?" he murmured. The warrior did not move but merely offered the information setting her steely blue gaze on the old man. "I am Xena and this is Gabrielle. We are just passing though your lovely little village looking for a friend, an older woman named Nala." Gabrielle jumped a bit when she heard the word "witch" mumble through the crowd at the mention of the old womans name. There were gasps from the villagers and many people with children retreated to their huts. Persius nodded his head. "We have heard of you Warrior Princess, and we do not wish any trouble, only to be left in seclusion." The warrior slowly removed her sword from the elders neck and placed it in its sheathe "Well Im glad to hear that Persius. I really wasnt in the mood to wash the blood from my leathers today" the warrior purred. Pushing Persius to one side, Xena took a position in the center of the crowd. She raised her voice for all to hear.
"Now where is the woman Nala?" There was no answer. The warrior grabbed Persius by the tunic and twisted his body to face her. "Easy way or hard way old man? Where is she?" The old man spat on the ground "If you seek her then you seek evil in its purest form warrior. She lives in the hills above, but only fools and profiteers dare to go there for she brings curses on the heads of all who do." Xena dropped the man and smiled. "Hmm sorry to hear that. I guess you must have really done something to tick her off " she said with a grin. The old man straightened himself up as the warrior turned to look towards the hills "She and that wild child are a blackness on this whole village. Since they have been here our crops have been poor and our people have been ill." He said with disdain. At the mention of the child, Xena turned quickly on the old man nearly knocking him off his feet. "Tell me of the child" she ordered. Gabrielle touched her friends arm to calm her, and Xenas muscles loosened a bit nodding at the bard. "The young one runs through the streets of our village terrorizing our people. She has no respect for her elders. Even the old woman cannot contain her. She is evil."
Xena had not even swallowed that last word when she noted a large red object falling from the tree above and landing smack on top of Persiuss head. The old man yelped and covered his head but to no avail because another one soon followed. Soon there was a rain of large tomatos falling from the tree, all in the Elders direction. Each one hit its mark squarely. Xena looked up to the branches above and saw a small figure hidden in the tree, giggling as she pelted Persius with tomatoes. "Now thats not very nice is it Persius? " the child said with a mischievous giggle tossing another tomato at him. The wayward youngster laughed so hard she nearly fell out of the tree. "Get her!" the angry elder yelled wiping the red debris from his face. The village men moved quickly trying to scurry up the tree. "Whoops time to go" the child yelled. With a wicked smile she dropped the armload of tomatoes she had in reserve on the climbing villagers. Xena watched the exchange with bewilderment and amazement as the girl leapt from the tree in a quick Arial flip, taking off up the hill with the men in fast pursuit. "Xena drew her sword and grinned at Gabrielle "Lets go!" The bard smiled "Yup! That would be your kid all right Xena." she said chasing after the warrior.
The two friends sprinted up the hill and soon found a child of no more than 11 summers facing off with three of the village men. She was smiling and taunting them up the embankment. When one advanced too closely she merely back flipped a step behind him quickly swiping his leg out from under him and landing him on the ground with a thud. Xena smiled at the quick exchange and moved in to join the battle. The mischievous laugh of the youngster rang through the woods as she peered into the eyes of the next man. As the other village men cornered the girl, the Warrior Princess announced her approach with her famous battle cry. "YIYIYIYIYIYIYI" Xena easily flipped over all the men and landed to the side of the child. Pointing her sword at the villagers and waving it in an expertise of quick maneuvers, she growled "Back off boys, I hate to kill on an empty stomach." Gabrielle tapped one of the foolish men on the shoulder with her staff and when he turned knocked him to the ground. Standing over him with a look of great frustration the bard placed both hands on her hips and wiggled her finger at him in warning, "It serves you right. You know you really shouldnt pick on a little kid like that." The child giggled as the man stumbled to the ground. Gabrielle gave her a stern look "Dont YOU laugh, you shouldnt be throwing tomatoes at people." The child paused and then again laughed shaking her head at the silly bard. Xena had to smile at her friend. Only Gabrielle would attempt to bring wisdom and reason into a fight like this. Xena raised her sword as if to strike and the men all quickly raced down the hill, the last with the help of the great warriors boot. Xena sheathed her sword and turned to the child, but the girl was already turning away. "Thanks " was all the youngster said as she again headed up the narrow path of the hill. Xena stopped her with a commanding tone "Hold it!" The child stopped and turned, and for the first time Xena looked into the youngsters face. She was quickly captivated by who she saw staring back.
The child had Xenas dark blue blazon gaze and the round baby face of, Lyceus, the warriors long dead brother. Her dark hair, was a mop of unkempt waves just like that of Borias. She was a small slender figure. Her tunic was made from a soft skin and fell loosely just below her waste. The dark breeches she wore were made from a soft cloth and her small boots, covered by a well-tanned leather reached midway up the youngsters calf. The warrior could only stare at the girl wanting to reach out to her but pulling back, knowing it was not the right thing to do. The Warrior Princess gathered her composure and stood once again to her full height. "We are going up to see Nala. Shes an old friend of mine. Perhaps you could lead the way." She said with a wry smile. The child shrugged with indifference and waved them to follow. Xena nodded at Gabrielle and the three started their journey up the hill. "Whats your name the warrior asked?" The child observed her for a moment and then answered matter of factly "Tarren...Whats yours?" The warrior smiled "Im Xena and this is my friend Gabrielle" she said pointing to the bard. The child stopped and stared at the woman, "You are the one Nala has been waiting for?" she said with youthful awe. Quickly she regained her smile "I thought youd be bigger" the girl said with a teasing laugh. Xenas smile disappeared and she glanced at Gabrielle who merely shrugged her shoulders. "Yeah I wouldnt mind taking a shot at her myself Xena." the bard whispered. Tarren observed the exchange and pointed to Gabrielle "That one has a big mouth." Xena halted Gabrielles response with a frown and the wave of her hand, and Xena looked straight ahead as she spoke to the arrogant child. "Are you always so rude to people larger than yourself Tarren? You may one day find that actions like that could have dire consequences." the warrior warned. The childs smile disappeared as she observed the muscular form of the warrior. She stood firmly in place staring up at Xena. "Look warrior I can take care of myself. I dont have to listen to anyone, so save your warnings." The insubordinate girl then started to move far ahead of the pair. The warrior took a deep breath to control her festering anger and nodded at the child. "OK!" Gabrielle gently poked the stewing warrior in the chest, "Yup! the apple doesnt fall far from the tree. Does it My Warrior?" she chided. Xena glared at the bard with icy blue pools of fire, and Gabrielle took a step back. "OK so maybe this is not the time for humor." she said with a weak smile giving her friend a little breathing room. "NO definitely not the time Gabrielle!" The warrior scowled as they moved up the hill. The rest of the way up the path the friends were silent and then without warning the child disappeared from sight. Gabrielle looked to Xena "Well that was a surprise wasnt it?" the bard said shaking her head. The warrior tilted her head to listen to the sounds of the wood around her, "We must be close. Thats why she took off. Shes going to warn Nala that we are coming."
The two continued up the hill and the bard fumbled around "Xena...I heard the people back there call this old woman a witch...Whats all that about?" The warrior smiled and then put an arm on her friends shoulder. "I told you Gabrielle Nala is what you call a mystic. She has a gift of prophecy of sorts. Some revel in that gift while others fear it." The bard nodded in understanding actually excited at the idea of meeting a real prophet. Soon the two women entered an elaborate but seemingly empty campsite. There was a large cloth tent in the center of the dwelling that Xena was sure was taken from a warriors camp. Strange carvings and masques of animals hung from the trees all around the sight. Xena scanned the area, and nodded approvingly at the encampment. It was secured on all sides by a heavy thicket of trees accept for the one path they had come up and a smaller one that the warrior guessed lead to water. It was set up with the expertise of a warrior, or one who traveled amongst them. As the warrior studied her surroundings, a voice from behind startled her into drawing her sword. "Still fast as ever MY Princess. I knew you would come Warrior Princess." Xena quickly turned around and found herself staring down into the face of an old friend.
Gabrielle swallowed hard as she took in the appearance of this very old woman. She was wrapped in a tattered shawl and using a short stick to lean on. Her gray hair and aged face matched the darkness of the forest around them. Around her neck was a simple gold chain with an odd little blue amulet on the end. It looked as if the color inside moved with every motion the woman made. It was as if a small bit of heaven itself was locked inside. "Amazing!" the bard thought to herself as she studied the piece. "Nala!" the warrior cried and fell into the small womans weak embrace. The child watched from behind not liking the exchange. "Tarren come say hello to our friends." the old mystic yelled, motioning the child to approach. The small figure only folded her arms in defiance and retreated back into the woods, " I am sorry my Princess but I think I have failed you. That one has a wildness that I could not control. It is good that you are here now, just as I willed you to be." Xena gave her a puzzled look and then started to introduce Gabrielle. The old woman smiled at the bard and threw her hand up to silence the warrior. "Hello Gabrielle. Xena you need not introduce me to one that I already know in my heart. Child I am glad to see that the Princess has found a true and faithful friend in you." The bards face twisted. "How did you know who I was?" The old woman only looked away, "Come let us sit and have some tea my friends." Xena just smiled at the bards confusement and offered Nala an arm to lean on. "Come children we have much to talk about and not a lot of time." The three women sat by the fire just outside the large tent, and the old mystic studied the warriors face. She placed a withered hand on the Princesss arm, and the warrior placed her own on top of it. " I am sorry for the pain you have suffered, the loss, and I am grateful for the peace you are now finding my friend." Nala said with a weak smile. Xena nodded squeezing the old womans hand. "It is good to see you my old friend." The warrior replied. As Xena and the old woman talked Gabrielle stared at the child who was swinging from branch to branch high in the trees above them. "What did you mean when you said we did not have much time Nala?" the warrior asked trying to hide her concern. The old woman smiled "Child I am dying, my days here are short and we need to discuss the child, YOUR child Warrior Princess." Xena swallowed hard and walked away from the fire. "So then its true...Tarren is my daughter." The mystic nodded "Yes my dear one, and I have kept her for you these years knowing that when your life was right, the fates would bring you back. That is why I called for you to return." Xena once again gave the old mystic a puzzled look. The woman cackled loudly "Now princess has it been so long between us that you forget Nalas gifts. Did you really think that battlefield you entered was just there for convenience or that evil Satrina would speak the truth on her own." The warrior smiled and returned to her place next to the mystic. "Nala I have missed you." The old woman smiled "And I you Princess, and I you." Gabrielle continued to watch the child flip through the trees "How does she do that? I mean dont you worry about her falling?" The old woman laughed "Hmmm it would be the best thing if she did fall just once. Perhaps it would teach her a little respect for the nature around us, a respect that the Warrior Princess understands well." Xena nodded at her friend and looked to the trees shaking her head at the disrespectful nature of the girl above. The old mystic studied the concern on the bards face and placed a tender hand on her arm, "Dont worry child that little scamp never falls. Shes agile as a cat flying through Tartarus OR even a Warrior Princess." She said with affection studying the childs acrobatics high in the trees above. Gabrielle playfully poked her friend in the arm "Hey does she remind ya of someone?" the bard giggled. The warrior said nothing, looking disapprovingly at the childs reckless maneuvers.
The old woman offered her guests each a mug filled with a mixture of a sweet smelling tea. Each accepted it gratefully. " Princess when I took her from the tent so many years ago, it was to keep that evil Satrina from killing her. I just wanted to keep her safe. It was not my intention to take her from you. I heard of your many conquests and knew your life was not yet ready for the child. I then heard of how you were taking a new path...I felt it...felt the shift in your spirit and knew it was time to bring you home to Nala." The warrior allowed a small smile to cross her solemn face, and the woman continued. Gabrielle looked at her friend. Xena was never one for long conversations, but the bard knew that there was great pain inside the heart of her warrior friend. She was in a deep struggle to control and conquer it, so she was remaining more quiet than usual. The mystic again spoke. "As I said my friend I am afraid I have failed you. As you can see the little one is wild, disobedient and disrespectful of everything and everyone. She lives by no code and by no rules. She was born with your spirit Xena...It runs strong and deep, but she does not posses your discipline, and I was just too old to teach her my friend." The old woman sighed heavily and continued. "For that I am sorry my dear one, but know that her heart is pure. Xena her heart is as pure as the sun and full of love just waiting to be given. It is time for you to take your place guiding that little one down the right path." The warrior looked at Nala and spoke softly staring into the mug in front of her as if it held all lifes secrets. "Nala you saved her life. You took care of her all these years. My dear friend you did not fail me. It is I who failed you and HER. If I had only listened to your warnings then maybe things would have been different for all of us." she said lowering her head as her voice trailed off. The old woman patted her friends hand "YOU have failed know one warrior...Do not dwell on the past my Princess. We cannot return to that time and place. It was not your time to change paths back in that day of darkness. Now you wish to add to your shoulders the guilt of leaving this child behind, when you did not even know of her. Do not allow yourself the luxury of such guilt. It will neither serve you or Tarren well." The old mystics words were hard and firm, and they silenced the great warrior. The bard was awed by the wisdom of this old woman, and by the way Xena seemed to take comfort in her words. She could easily see why Nala had meant so much to her friend. The old woman took a deep breathe and sipped slowly at her tea, and the warrior smiled at Nala offering as much affection in her glance as the bard had ever seen the warrior show.
Gabrielle wanted to break the eerie silence that hung over the air, so she asked the question that she knew was on Xenas mind. The bard smiled weakly. "Does she know who Xena is. I mean does she know shes her mother?" The old woman shook her head "No child she knows her father dead and her mother long gone. It will be for you to decide when is the right time to tell her." Nala said pointing a shaky hand at the warrior. The old woman coughed and leaned heavily on her stick for support. Xena quickly dropped to her side and lifted a mug for her to drink some tea. "Nala perhaps you should rest." The warriors face was filled with concern. The old woman shook her head. "Time is too short Princess and we have much to discuss." Xena sat beside the mystic and sipped at her tea. "You will take Tarren with you when I pass over?" she said with authority. Xena nodded without question, and the old woman settled back and sighed. "And you will keep her with YOU as you travel your new path." she continued studying her friends response. Xenas face traveled to meet Gabrielles soft emerald gaze. The bard only shrugged not knowing what answer to offer. The warrior knelt beside the old mystic "Nala, the life I live on the road is a dangerous one, and...with a child...It would be very dangerous." The old woman halted her with a hand and spoke with a serious and nearly threatening tone. "XENA! that one is NO more able to live the life of a villager than you are. She NEEDS to travel your path. She needs her mother Warrior Princess. She needs you, and after 11 years with only Nala, she deserves that much! If you leave her behind somewhere then she WILL stray from the right path, I warn you." Xena lowered her eyes chewing carefully on every word Nala spoke. The Mystic touched the warriors cheek wiping a tear from her soft skin. " I KNOW that you will protect her no matter where you go. It has not been an easy path for that one either Princess, and she needs HER mother now just as much as her mother needs her." she said pointing to the treed child who was now staring down at the trio.
The old woman stood and leaning heavily upon her stick for support moved about the camp adding more tea to the mugs of her friends. Her voice grew low and somber bringing an air of sadness to the gentle surroundings. "We were not welcome in many places, so always we traveled. Always we moved. I am sorry to say Princess that Tarren has been in many a Warriors camp as she grew. However, the men treated her as a little Princess. They taught her how to fight, and probably every foul word ever uttered by man or beast. It was years ago when I realized that she was starting to admire these killers not even knowing who or what they really were. That is why I pulled her away, and we moved here...far into the hills of Rasa." Nala returned to her seat and sipped her tea as she studied her younger companions. A slight smile crossed the old ones face. "Xena she fights well for a little one...youd be proud of her." The warrior cringed at the thought of her daughter living amongst the animals in a warlords camp. She was lost deep in the thought of it when Nala's voice brought her forward. "Dont worry Princess...She saw no death or blood...only the camp...I saw to that much." Xena allowed herself a slight smile. "Thank You my friend...again!" she said as she once again watched the child above her. The old mystic noted the warriors concentration on the child in the trees and leaned forward speaking in a gentle whisper. "Be warned my friend. YOU will need a very firm hand to guide that little one. ONLY the hand of the Warrior Princess is big enough, strong enough to reign that one in." She touched the warriors hand. "So promise me Xena! Promise me that you will keep her with you and raise her!" Xena was quiet for a moment and then looked to the trees and caught the distant blue gaze of Tarren staring back at her. Their eyes locked for a moment and then the little girl just jumped from the branch as if wishing to fall to her death. The warrior quickly jumped to her feet ready to catch the falling child, but just as she skidded into the dirt beneath her, the girl simply bounced up far above the warriors head easily catching onto a passing tree limb. The youngster laughed ferociously at the warriors valiant attempt to catch her. She loosened the rubbery vine from her ankle, and smiling wickedly at the warrior, jumped to the ground. "TARREN!" The old woman scolded, standing and facing the warrior apologetically "I am sorry Xena...THAT is one of her favorite tricks...She scares the tautreus out of everyone with it." Xena scowled and bit her lower lip nodding at the old woman with complete understanding. There was a flash of relief and anger on the warriors face as she approached the child. Tarren had since pulled an apple out of a large wooden barrel near the tent and was sitting comfortably on top crunching away as she studied the warrior. "Thats OK Nala" Xena said keeping a cold steady stare on the child. Her voice dropped to a menacing whisper as she came face to face with the smug youngster. "Tarren and I will have a new understanding. She wont do that EVER again, and I wont whip the hide off of her." The warrior said with out flinching a muscle. The girl merely stopped eating the apple and tossed it to the warriors feet and grabbed her fishing pole. "Going fishing Nala," she said starting for the woods. Xena quickly grabbed the childs arm "Little one I think what you really meant to say was, CAN I go fishing?" The child glared into the harsh gaze of the warrior and noted the very firm hold she had on her. "OK, CAN I go fishing?" the girl said mockingly repeating the warriors words. Xena looked to Nala who nodded "Sure" the warrior said releasing the childs arm. "BUT you better catch something" The warrior flashed a devilish grin at the girl. "I always DO " the child said cockily as she strode down the path to the river mumbling under her breath. Xena shook her head and rubbed her aching temples. "MY daughter?" she said to Nala who nodded and then smiled. "YOU have yet to make me that promise Princess. Will you keep her with you and raise her well?" The warrior looked to Gabrielle who just smiled and blinked, and then she nodded. "Yes Nala, you have my word.... I came here to see if I had a daughter, and now that I know I do, I will not leave her. It will not be easy, but she will travel with us. She will travel MY path." She paused and then whispered to the old woman, " Honestly my friend I would not have had it any other way." The old woman reached out a hand to her warrior. "Good my Princess. I rest easier with my time coming knowing that mother and daughter will be as they always should have been, together on the right path." Xena sat down next to Nala saddened by the weakness in the womans voice. "Come Princess let us will talk of old times and I will tell you about the last 11 summer of Tarren, so you will have that to carry in your heart." And through the day and into the evening the two women shared stories filled with laughter and tears of adventures from a time long ago. Gabrielle looked on with wide eyes soaking up all the wisdom and experiences that sat before her in this simple clearing.
Tarren returned before dark with a string of fish and dropped them squarely on the warriors boots. "I always catch something." she said with all the authority her small form could muster. She then turned and walked into the woods silently. Gabrielle covered her face, a shiver running down her spine at the thought of the warriors anger, but Xena only nodded and carefully picked up the fish placing them carefully to one side. The great warrior then sighed heavily and stood. She was already 11 years late, so if she was going to take charge of this situation, she was going to do it right away.
"Well I guess there is no time like the present." she said as she started in the direction of the youngster. Gabrielle looked at Xena and suppressed a giggle, and Nala just waved her hand proudly at the Warrior entering this new battlefield.
The Warrior Princess followed the child back into the woods and found her skipping stones in the river at the edge of a small clearing. Placing herself a safe distance from the girl she spoke "Look I think weve gotten off to a bad start here Tarren, I was sort of hoping we could be friends." The warrior said with a gentle smile. The girl turned her dark blue gaze on the tall figure. "What for?" she said defiantly. Xena sighed heavily and approached the pouting youngster. "Everyone needs friends Tarren." The child barely glanced at her but continued skipping rocks. "Yeah well I dont need anything, so why dont you just hop on your big horse and ride off into the sunset warrior." Xena clapped her hands together in frustration. "OK I tried the nice approach...lets go a different way." The warrior nodded her head and bit her lower lip, putting her hands on her hips in a familiar show of strength. Placing the patented Xena stare on the child, she lowered her voice to its husky tone, "OK...Tarren...Well, ya see I think there is something you DO need, and I think youve needed it for quite some time." Her voice turned menacingly low as she uttered the last words "AND I came a very long way to see you get IT." Seating herself on the edge of a large rock, Xena Warrior Princess quickly grabbed the puzzled child, throwing her roughly across her knees, pinning the child into the desired position with little effort. Without hesitation she began a swift and steady paddling, landing her large muscular hand repeatedly across the childs backside. The girl tried to squirm away and break free but the warriors grasp was like that of an angry Titan. Tarren screamed with indignation and profanity at the leather-clad warrior, which only made this woman hit harder and faster. The cadence lasted until the child had spat out her last angry word and was silenced by the warriors authority. When Xena felt the youngster had been properly introduced to the world of civil language she lifted her off her lap and stared at the now red eyed girl who refused to let a tear stray from her welling eyes. Sternly she spoke waving a single finger within inches of the girls face, "OK heres how it works...We are adults you are a child...You treat us with respect and we WILL treat you with respect.... You dont and you and I wind up right back here." she said as she kept a firm grip on the youngsters tunic. The child sniffled a bit but said nothing, so the warrior continued. "AND dont get comftorble with the idea that things will change when I leave because when I do go, YOU are coming with me. So you better get used to having me around kid because I am gonna be your best friend or your worst enemy for a very long time." With those words Xena released her hold on the naughty youngster. She stood and looked down into the eyes of her child. She could see within them confusion, anger, pain and utter disbelief." The warrior rubbed her hands together as if cleansing them. "Now do we understand each other?" The girl nodded and backed away a bit. The warrior sighed heavily and pointed towards the camp. "Good...now get back to camp and help Gabrielle clean the fish, and then you can clean the fish off my boots." she said sternly. The child paused. "GO!" Xena yelled and in a moment the child was scurrying down the path. Xena looked to the sky and sighed heavily "Help me!" she said to whatever unknown force guided her life, and then she headed back to the camp.
Xena silhouetted against the glow of the moonlight that filled the night sky. She looked up at he sky and took in the smells of the world around her. Gabrielle walked slowly behind her "Dinar for your thoughts?" she said surprising the warrior enough to have her almost tag the bard with her fist. "YOU know better than to sneak up on me Gabrielle." The warrior sighed and leaned heavily against a powerful tree. The bard lowered her head and apologized. "Im sorry Xena but you usually hear me from 50 paces away. What are you thinking about now? The bards concern for her friend was evident. The warrior studied the bard and then said solemnly, "Gabrielle how am I gonna raise that child? You know the life we live. You see how she is already. She needs SO much attention. How can I provide it? What if I fail her again?" Gabrielle nodded and then placed a gentle hand on the warriors arm. "Whoa! Warrior you have not failed her at all. When you found out she existed, you came straight here to get her. And whats all this "I" stuff. After all its not just YOU. Its US. I mean, I thought we were a team which means Tarren will have both of us. You will not be alone and neither will she."
The warrior smiled at her friend "How could I have thought otherwise." Gabrielle returned the smile and leaned up against the tree next to her tall companion. "Xena ya know, Nala said that in the one day you've been here, youve managed to tame that child more than she has in 10 years. What is your secret Warrior?" the bard asked with a grin. The warrior smiled and placed an arm around her friend. "Well its all in knowing HOW to ask...all in knowing how to ask little bard." she said with a wicked smile.
The bard caught sight of Tarren entering the tent . The child stopped for a moment and glared at the warrior before disappearing beneath the flaps. "OUCH! Did you see that look? She has your eyes all right and that LOOK is aimed right at you Warrior." The bard warned shaking her head. Xena glanced at the child and smiled grimly at her friend.
"I saw it" she said dryly "Ya Know Xena perhaps all of this has been too much for her, and she is manifesting her anger at you as a central target for her misinterpretation of our intentions." Gabrielle said with a wistful wave of her hand. "Huh, where do you come up with this stuff?" the warrior said trying to contain her amusement. The bard gently poked her friend in the ribs, "Well its a thought!" she said. The warrior nodded, "Yeah I guess that could be it, OR it could be that she is mad at me for spanking her this afternoon." she said casually gazing up at he stars. The bard grinned. "Oh, well...I ...guess that could be it too." Both women exchanged a knowing smile, and the air was soon filled with gentle laughter. The warrior stood and walked a few paces away from her friend and spoke in a voice barely above a whisper, "Gabrielle, I have a daughter!" It was the first time that either of them had really heard the words and knew their meaning. The bard turned to look into the watery blue reflections of her best friend and companion "I know!" The bard smiled and then hugged the warrior with all of her might. Both women turned their gaze back to the stars wondering how the Gods had just changed their lives forever.
Tarren stood in the tent and gently rubbed her tender bottom and wiped a tear from her eye. She had waited all night to be alone so she could tend her wounded body and pride. She would never let that big warrior have the satisfaction of knowing she had hurt her. Nala smiled slightly at the sight. The child had not even seen her enter the tent. "Hits hard doesnt she my dear?" the old woman asked sitting on her cot. The girl merely nodded and winced as she tried to sit on her own cot. "Well then I guess you are lucky you did not make her angry." she said rubbing Tarren's head affectionately. The childs face went white at the thought that the warrior could get angrier or hit harder. "She is not one you wish to defy my child. She will give you her heart, her life in exchange for your loyalty, but she will give you your hide in exchange for your disobedience. I know her child, so be warned." The child spoke softly to the old woman settling into her cot. "Nala she is the warrior of your stories?" she asked and the old woman nodded. "Why has she come here? Why does she want me to go with her?" Nala sat up and looked into the terrified face of one that she had cared for since birth. "Oh you are so young. You are such a baby Tarren. You have heard me say this before. You KNOW that my time is short child. We have talked of this Princess for many years. You always knew that one day I would send for her to care for you. If there is any more to tell than that my child, then I am not the one who can tell it to you." The child shook her head turning away from the old womans words. Nala reached out to embrace the youngster. "Tarren I have always loved you, but I was never able to be the mother you needed. That woman out there is my friend and yours, and there is no one in this world that I would trust my precious one to accept to her. I know it is difficult for you to understand, but someday you will child. I promise you my dear one that someday all will be clear to you!" Tears streamed down the childs face as she buried her head in the old womans chest "Shh! you will have a whole new life filled with great adventure and love my child." she said soothingly. Outside the tent a single tear ran down a great warriors cheek.
The following morning Xena rose before the sun. She looked over at the sleeping bard and smiled and thought to herself "Let her sleep warrior. Youve put her through enough these last few days." With a smile the warrior headed to the river for an early swim. She stripped off her leathers and jumped in. The cool water felt good against her muscular form. Her quick easy strokes made her one with the water as she swam easily with the current. Standing on the shore she noted a small figure watching her. She swam towards her and jumped out of the water reaching for a cloth to dry herself with "Good Morning Tarren" she said with a smile drying herself as she spoke. The child nodded but said nothing and the warrior scowled "Now that will never do. Try it. GOOD MORNING XENA." the warrior said slowly to emphasize the polite nature of the phrase. Tarrens face twisted a bit, but she complied. "Good Morning Xena!" she said dryly. The warrior nodded, "Well the sincerity could use some work but not bad for a first try." The warrior took a deep breath of the fresh air and smiled. "So do you want to go for a swim?" The girl shook her head "I cant, never learned." Xena folded her arms tightly against her chest. "Never learned?" she said in disbelief. The child again nodded. "Well who was gonna teach me warrior? Nala cant swim." The girl chided squinting her eye to keep the sun out as she looked up at the muscular form before her.
"You come down here to fish and you cant swim....What if you fell in?" The warrior asked with some concern in her voice. The girl shrugged. "Then I drown?" Xena shook her head. "Well that will never do no...no...no! You will learn right here and right now. I will teach you." She said in a no nonsense tone "Now?" The girl asked. The warrior nodded. "Yes Now...so strip down and get in." The warrior ordered. Taking it as a new and daring challenge, the child did as the warrior asked. Then without warning, Xena picked her up and threw her into the water, diving in right after her. The girl came up sputtering water and Xena held her to the surface. "Is that how you teach someone how to swim?" the girl asked ready to exit the river. The warrior grabbed her arm pulling her gently back towards her. "Yes, lesson one is you must get wet." The girl shook her head and allowed a bit of a smile. "Well Im wet." se said. Xena appreciatively returned the grin. "Lesson two is repeating lesson one." With that Xena picked the child up and again threw her across the water, but this time the girl resurfaced on her own and managed to stay above the water. "Good! " the warrior praised with a soft smile. The child grinned "SO who taught you how to swim...a giant titan?" The warrior bit her lip "Lesson three, never talk back to the teacher," and for a third time Xena tossed the child across the water but this time Tarren did not resurface. Xena called to her "Tarren!" but there was no response. A look of terror covered the face of the warrior. Suddenly there was a break in the water behind her, and the child surfaced on top of her. "Your turn!" The girl said with an evil grin. With a quick flip of her wrist the fast reflexes of the warrior pulled the girl over her head and back into the water below. Once again she came up spitting out water and laughing. The warriors face was stern. "THAT was not funny...dont ever do that again!" she said scolding the child. The girls face went blank, and the warrior shook her head and gently slapped the girls cheek. "Come on lets get you swimming." she said with a smile. The child grinned, and so did the large warrior. An old woman and a young bard watched approvingly from the shore.
In a matter of hours Xena had Tarren swimming the length of the river easily. "Be one with nature Tarren." she said. "Become part of the river. No matter where you are you must become part of your surroundings." She said as the girl reached for each wave as it was a piece of her thoughts. Xena marveled at what a natural she was and how quickly she had learned to swim with such an easy glide of strokes. Finally as the sun came over head Xena called "Come on thats enough for today. We better get back to the camp." Tarren frowned at the thought of leaving so soon. "No you go Xena I want to stay here an swim some more." she said pulling away from the warrior. Xena shook her head "No you dont swim alone Tarren. Lets go NOW!" The warrior called in a no nonsense tone. That familiar edge in Xenas voice offered a quick reminder of the previous days occurrence. "All right" she said with a scowl as she reluctantly dragged herself from the water. Her face was once again full of indignation, but she dressed remembering Nalas words about both the warriors strength and anger. She could still feel the throbbing in her backside that made sitting for meals an almost impossible task, and she was not about to test this womans temper so quickly again. Xena shook her head as she pulled her leathers on "Tarren it is not ALL play all the time!" Xena said as she started to walk away. When she noticed the girl had merely leaned against a tree and was not following, she stopped in her tracks "Dont even think about going back in that water alone" she warned pointing to the large flat rock they had shared the day before. The girl nodded swallowing the words hard and placing her hands behind her head, looked longingly out at the water.
Xena smiled and returned to camp to a waiting breakfast and welcome cup of hot tea. "Well it looks like we have a fish walking on land here Nala." the bard said with an impish grin as she handed Xena her tea. The warrior smiled "Well my short swim was extended a bit with a few swimming lessons." she said with a sigh as she sat before the crackling fire drying her black mane. Nala came forward leaning on her stick smiling "Yes we saw. You do well with her Princess. I see a look in her eyes I have never seen before. She trusts you and admires your strength. It is a good start my friend." Xena nodded and allowed a flashing smile. "Well it was until I made her get out of the water. Now shes back to not speaking to me again." The old woman coughed heavily and sat grabbing her chest "Nala!" the warrior cried and rushed to her side. "I am fine my friend!" Xena and Gabrielle helped the old woman to a seat and gave her some cool water. Her breathing eased "I am better. Go eat your breakfast warrior." Xena nervously backed off keeping a watchful eye on her old friend. "Wheres Tarren?" Gabrielle asked trying not to think of just how ill the old woman was. The warrior shook her head "Down by the river sulking." she said with a playful grin. The old woman laughed quietly. "Be careful my friend. That child can charm her way into anything. She has a gift of persuasion about her." The great warrior smiled as she grabbed at the fish heating on the spit. "Well thats OK Nala because I am NOT easily persuaded." Gabrielle sipped at her tea and nodded in affirmation. "THAT is for darn sure....yup that is for DARN sure!" she said. The bard looked up to catch the ungrateful gaze of her friend "Ugh sorry...guess I got carried away a bit Xena." The warrior gazed carefully at her young friend. "You know bard there is a very cold river down there in case YOU need a swimming lesson." Gabrielle threw her hands up in the air "No thank you I know how to swim...youve seen me do it...Im just fine sitting right here, nice and dry." The warrior gave her a devilish smile. "Well maybe later then." She said slowly savoring each word. Gabrielle grabbed her staff and stood. "Perhaps Ill go see how Tarren is doing." The bard smiled nervously at the thought of the warriors seeking revenge for her words, so it was time for a hasty retreat.
As Gabrielle slowly approached the base of the water she smiled as she took a deep breathe and soaked up all the beauty and peace that surrounded her. She found the girl leaning up against a tree fixated on the water "Hi!" she said in a bubbly tone. The child turned and offered a half smile " Hi!" Gabrielle jumped over a rock and leaned against the tree along side the child "Well you seem to be in a sort of glum way. Whats up?" she said moving a stray hair affectionately from the childs face. "XENA!" she said in a one-word answer that spoke volumes to the bard. Gabrielle tried not to smile. "Well that sort of says it all. Whats the problem?" she asked in a gentle more understanding tone remembering her own frustrations with the warrior princess. Tarren turned and faced the bard who could not help but be captured by the gentle blue gaze of her warrior friend looking back at her through this childs eyes. "Is she always so...so...tough?" The girl said in a quick breath. The bard giggled and placed an understanding arm around her young friend. "Well, sometimes but not always. On the outside shes the BIG Warrior Princess. She wants to protect us all, so she always needs to be in TOTAL control. Shes always so sure of herself...really ticks me off sometimes." Gabrielle frowned at the thought, but then the bards voice grew tender. "But on the inside Tarren, I have learned is a very gentle and loving soul. She has a great deal of affection to give. It is sometimes just too difficult for her to let her truest feelings show." Tarren considered the words and rubbed her throbbing backside "I dunno she seems to get her point across." The bard tried not to laugh but quickly embraced the girl rubbing her back gently in comfort. "Tarren I know its hard to believe, but she does what she does because she cares about you. If she didnt then she would not even waste her time. Trust me the Warrior Princess does not waste her time on many people. You have to be very special to get her attention. You just have to learn, as I have, that Xena has a certain set of rules and she expects, no thats the wrong word, DEMANDS that you, errrrr ... we follow them." The child shook her head not truly understanding all the bard had said, but she welcomed her soft embrace feeling genuine tenderness and love emanating from the bard. The young woman stood back and tasseled the girls hair. "Come on, make me look good. Come back to the camp with me and have some breakfast." The bard started walking and turned back to offer the child her hand. Tarren stared at it for a moment and then took it allowing herself to be led back to camp and Xena. Happily the bard strode in passed Xena who was more than a bit surprised at the bards ability to get the child to return so willingly. "Leave it to Gabrielle to bring the mountain to her." The warrior thought trying to hide her obvious amusement.
Gabrielle handed the child a plate and the girl moved to Nalas side to eat. The warrior studied Tarren's obvious discomfort for a moment and then tossed Tarren her neatly rolled bedroll, "You cant eat standing up forever." The warrior said with an evil grin. The girl looked down at the offering and considered it. Her legs were getting a bit tired from standing so much, so she carefully lowered herself onto the soft furs. "Thanks!" she said sighing with relief as she was finally seated. "Your welcome!" the warrior said trying to supress a grin. Tarren looked at Gabrielle who merely winked an eye and smiled. Xena noted the exchange and made a mental note to find out what happened between them down by the river. It might take a bit of torture, but the bard would spill her guts. Again the warrior smiled at the bard, but this time Gabrielle smiled right back.
After everyone had eaten Nala called to Tarren. "Child I have been bragging to the Princess about how good you are with your chucks...show her." Xena placed her plate down on the ground and looked at the youngster with interest. Tarren looked to Nala who only smiled and nodded her head. "Show her little one, show her." Gabrielle moved in next to Xena for a better view smiling as she grabbed her muscular friends arm. The youngster looked at the warrior for some sort of approval before she moved. Xena sensed the childs reluctance. "Tarren I would like to see if you dont mind?" she said softly. The girls grin widened as she reached into her left boot and pulled out a pair of "chucks."
She never really knew what they were meant to be called, so she had just given them a name that some how seemed to soot their purpose. The "chucks" were two intricately hand carved wooden wands fastened by a metal chain. The carving was ornate and had gold and silver inlays in the shapes of dragons. On the end of one side was a Chin symbol that Xena immediately recognized. The warriors eyes flew open and she looked to Nala who merely smiled and nodded. The old woman lifted her stick "Begin child!" Tarren searched the area until she found a piece of cloth and then knelt down beside Xena. "Can you tie this around my eyes Warrior?" she asked. Xena gently wrapped the cloth gently around her eyes and patted Tarren's back "Too tight?" The girl shook her head " No thats fine thank you." The warriors smiled at the dignified manner the child was maintaining. With her eyes now blinded the girl moved a good 10 paces from the group. "I dont have a target Nala." she said with disappointment. The old woman cackled quietly, "Dont worry Xena will provide one when you are ready." The warrior shot the old woman a gaze, but was quickly silenced by the wave of Nalas hand. The girl crouched into a natural fighting position and then with the snap of a wrist began quick and easy maneuvering of the wands. They sailed through the air behind her back and above her head with great expertise. The child did gentle back flips followed by front and sidekicks easily continuing her drill. Gabrielle watched in awe of the childs movements, and Xena carefully checked each move for the perfection that she knew was already there. A smile crossed the warriors face as she watched her child dance through the air gracefully. Nala patted her leg with her stick and tossed the warrior a large apple motioning her to throw it at the youngster. Xena looked at the apple and the old woman and smiled widely. With all the strength she could muster, the warrior tossed the apple directly in the childs path. Tarren, hearing the wisp through the wind of a foreign object, smiled and with a quick whip of the chucks caught the target dead center in mid air. The apple broke into a thousand pieces splattering all over the warrior princess and the bard. The child quickly fell back into a crouch and then stood removing her blindfold only to see Xena and Gabrielle drenched in Apple. "Whoops!" the child's said stepping back from the warrior who had stood to wipe the debris off her leathers. The child slipped the chucks back in her boot and moved slowly away from the warrior. The old woman laughed so hard she had to steady herself on her stick to keep from falling. The child swallowed hard as she started to back further and further away. "Uhhh Im really sorry about that Xena.....Gabrielle... I mean I had a blindfold on, so I couldnt see." The warrior silenced her with a raised hand. Xena glanced at Gabrielle who was picking a chunk of apple out of her hair. Within seconds the warrior and bard began to laugh, and Xena reached out a friendly hand to the fearful child. "You were wonderful Tarren...really I have never seen one so young maintain such control. I am proud of you." The girl felt a rush of pleasure run through her chest at those last words of approval the warrior had spoken. "Shes proud of ME?" The child thought to herself. The Warrior Princess quickly lifted the girl off the ground in a bear hug, which ensured that the child too was now drenched in apple juice. The warrior tasseled Tarrens hair. "Little one now YOU are part of this family, and you should know we share everything." Xena said with a smile wiping the apple from the childs tunic. The girl looked up at the large muscular woman that stood grinning before her and smiled. Letting the toe of her boot make circles in the dirt nervously she said, "Well...I ...guess this sort of means we should go swimming to get cleaned off?" The warrior lifted the child easily over her head and ran towards the river. "Yeah but youre going in with your clothes on." The warrior yelled. The child giggled loudly trying to protest the inevitable dunking. Gabrielle joined in the laughter and was ready to follow, but her smile faded as she looked to Nala who had tears running down the side of her face. She knelt next to the old mystic "What is it Nala? The old woman placed a loving hand on the bards " I have never seen either of my princesses so happy. It brings...great...joy to this old heart." Gabrielle hugged the old woman. Nala quickly dismissed the attention. "You go down to the water and swim too my dear. Nala has work to do," she said caressing the bards soft cheek. Gabrielle nodded and quickly ran to the sounds of the splashing and laughter. The old woman grabbed her chest and her face tightened in pain "Not yet my gods. Please not just yet." Soon the pain subsided and once again she thanked all on Mount Olympus for the extra time she was granted.
In the week that followed Nala became weaker and weaker until she rarely moved around without assistance. The Mystic had asked that Tarren take a bedroll and join Xena and Gabrielle under the stars rather than sleeping in the tent. Reluctantly the child did so Xena knew it was hard for the old mystic to push the child away, but she wanted her settled with her knew life and her new family before she was gone. Luckily, it was not long before Tarren came to enjoy sleeping under the stars. It was peaceful and she enjoyed the games that Gabrielle made up to help her sleep. As they lay staring at the stars one night Gabrielle and Tarren were lying next to each other playing a game connecting the stars above into the faces of different gods. "Zeus! No Apollo!" the child yelled pointing to a group of stars to the left of the bard. Xena was lying comfortably next to Gabrielle trying to get to sleep. The warrior was exhausted from a long day of hunting and wanted nothing more then to head to the land of Morpheous. The bard and the young child giggled loudly until the warrior finally growled "Will you two go to sleep!" The bard looked at the child and the two went silent for a moment. "Tarren I think Xenas upset because we didnt ask her if she wanted to play." Tarren smiled knowing the bard was playing a new game called Bait the Warrior. "Well if Xena wants to play then I dont mind...do you?" The bard shook her head, "No as a matter of fact Tarren I would welcome her experience and insight being she has had so many dealings with the gods herself." Xena opened her eyes and studied the bard. "You know you two are both asking for it." Tarren giggled "So Gabrielle tell me, how does Xena know so many of the gods?" She said leaning on one arm eager for information. Well that was all the bard needed to launch into a story. "Well one time Artemis ...." She began but before she could finish the sentence, the bard was silenced by a large imposing figure standing over her. Tarrens smile slowly disappeared as did Gabrielles. "OK children play time is over and its time to tuck the kids in and go to bed." Xena said with a growl. "Tarren pick your bedroll up and move to the other side of ME." she ordered. Tarren stood. "But Xena I..." She was silenced by the deep blue tired gaze of the warrior looking down on her. Quickly the child moved her bedroll to the other side of the warrior and settled into sleep. Xena nodded approvingly and then putting her hands on her hips and said in a parental tone "OK you two listen up.... I am tired...VERY tired....and I dont want to hear any chatter from either one of you right now...so BOTH OF YOU GO TO SLEEP." she yelled in a warrior princess no nonsense tone. A soft quiet fell over the camp and the warrior returned to her own bedroll. She settled back into her comfortable spot satisfied that she has mastered the problem. Glancing across warriors chest, Gabrielle caught Tarrens eye and they exchanged a playful smile. "She sure can be grumpy when she doesnt catch anything in those traps of hers Gabrielle?" the child said teasingly staring up at the stars. The bard nodded. "You should see her if she doesnt catch any fish Tarren...shes impossible!" The Warrior twisted her face into a cold frown and tossed her blankets to one side. "OK thats it!" With a quick leap the warrior rolled over and had Tarren pinned under her left leg and was tickling her without mercy. Before the bard could make a dash for the woods, the warrior grabbed her and soon had her pinned under her right leg and began the same torture. The two girls laughed uncontrollably as Xena ran her fingers up and down their legs and arms until they squealed in agony, "So are you two going to behave and let me sleep?" she asked never releasing her hold on either victim. They both nodded and begged for mercy promising to be silent. The Warrior Princess stood and returned to her blankets eyeing her best friend and her child as each crawled back to there bedrolls gasping for air. The great warrior smiled at the sight. "Good night children!" Xena said with a grin. Her words were only met with supressed giggles and then a soft grumbling. Soon the only sound that could be heard in the camp was the loud laughter of an old woman that all had thought to be long asleep.
She Has My Eyes continues in Chapter 6