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SHE HAS MY EYES
Xena had little idea just how much longer they would be remaining in the hills of Rasa, so she spent her days fishing and swimming with Tarren, trying to use the time to get to know her daughter better. The bard was content to sit on the water's edge writing of their adventure in her scrolls. They enjoyed their meals around a friendly fire. With the laughter and tenderness that Nala saw exchanged between mother and daughter, she was now sure that they would be bound together forever. The child had penetrated the warriors guarded heart and the warrior had found a way to guide Tarren to her. Nala was sure that all would be well until one day at the end of there third week together Persius and three villagers arrived in their camp uninvited.
Xena stood and unsheathed her sword as soon as she had sensed the approaching invaders. "What do you want here?" she asked steeling herself for a fight. The villagers armed only with small clubs took a step back from the obvious anger of the warrior. Persius stood face to face with Xena, his eyes never blinking from her form. He threw his hand in the direction of the mystic "We want HER!" he said pointing to the old mystic. The warrior smiled "Well so sorry, but you just cant have her." she purred. Persius looked straight into the eyes of the old woman "She is a blackness on this land and we will not have her evil spirit walking our sacred grounds. Be warned that after two sun risings, we will be back for her warrior. We will cleanse this land and you cannot stop us. Either you will hand her over or you will ALL suffer her fate." With those words Tarren jumped from her seat by the fire and charged toward Persius caught only by Xenas fast hand. She held the struggling child in her grip. "Taran thats enough!" she yelled finally throwing the child back onto the ground behind her and with a harsh gaze warning her to stay there. Gabrielle quickly moved to the childs side protectively placing her staff in between Tarren and the villagers. Xena quickly turned on Persius with clenched teeth and a wavering blade "Know this Persius. If any of your people come to this camp then I will kill them." There was coldness in her voice that made even Gabrielle shiver. The old man stepped back "You have been warned warrior." He said in disgust backing down the hill slowly. "So have YOU." she said fighting the urge to run her sword through him. Gabrielle stood next to her friend who, with a deep sigh, sheathed her sword. "You OK?" the bard asked noting the warriors tense muscles. Nothing brought out the warriors anger more than the thought of people she cared about being threatened. Xena nodded "I let my guard down. Thats why they got in here. That wont happen again." She said clearly chastising herself as she spoke. Gabrielle thought for a moment as she watched the men leave. "Xena these are simple people. They are really no different than the people of my own village of Potedia. I could go down there and talk to the villagers. I am sure that I could explain and..." The warrior shot her friend an angry glare "NO! its too dangerous and this is NOT Potedia Gabrielle. These people are blinded by their own anger and ignorance." The bards shoulders slumped at the way her friend dismissed her idea with no thought. "But Xena we could try...I could..." Xenas anger got the better of her as she faced the bard. It was a look that Gabrielle had seen before, and she knew that the warrior was struggling to control her darker side. "NO! you will not leave this camp sight understood?" She said glaring straight into Gabrielles sullen gaze. The bard nodded not even trying to hide the hurt she felt at her friends rejection of her idea. Gabrielle slowly moved back to the safety of the fire where she sat quietly lost in thought. Xena turned to the small figure on the ground behind her and with one hand roughly brought her to her feet. "That goes DOUBELY for you. You are not even to leave MY sight, and if you ever pull another stunt like that again, I swear I will take a switch to you. Now get to bed!" the warrior ordered pointing towards the bedrolls. The anger in the childs face was replaced by sadness as she eagerly made her way to her bedroll. The warrior stood straight and tall watching her go and then once again faced the path the villagers had come up. Xena was angry with herself. She had left her guard down and those men had gotten within striking distance of her daughter and her friends. She would never allow that to happen again. She took a deep cleansing breath and tried in vein to relax her flexing muscles. A soft hand gently touched her arm and she turned slowly because she already knew it was Nala. "You always did know just how to approach." she smirked. The old woman glanced at the young woman setting sadly by the fire and the child wrapped in her blankets hours before she should be and then faced the warrior. "Princess dont you think you were a bit hard on them?" The warrior turned away, not ready to allow her anger to be defused, "No Nala I dont. They both fail to understand the seriousness of this situation." Xena pointed to Gabrielle, "That one thinks she can ALWAYS talk her way out of everything. I cant convince her that there are some people in the world that are just not willing to listen." She paused and pointed to the bundled form. "AND that child is gonna get herself killed with stunts like that...of course that is if I dont kill her first." she said shaking her head. Nala allowed herself a slight smile. "Princess do not let your anger become your masque, not if it hides your true feelings from those you love most." With those gentle words the old woman wearily headed for her tent and a place to rest. The warrior could not allow herself the luxury of feeling guilty about the wounded feelings of her friends. Her first concern was to protect them and that meant there was work to be done. Xena spent the night fortifying the camp. She placed fallen logs at the base of all the trees and set snares to trap any that might dare come up the hill in the dead of night. By morning she was exhausted but satisfied that the camp sight was more secure. She glanced over at the two sleeping forms nestled by the fire and winced with some regret for the harsh words she had spoken in the heat of her anger. Hearing the warriors movement, Nala came out of the tent just as Xena was throwing more wood on the small fire. "Well Warrior you still set up a formidable defense." the old woman said with a smile scanning the area with her eyes. Xena stood and tried to rub the kinks out of her aching muscles. The warrior smiled gratefully for the encouragement. After so many years at her side in the dark days the old mystic knew the importance of a secure camp. "Nala Im gonna go down and catch some breakfast to feed these trouble makers. I wont be gone long." She placed a gentle kiss on the old womans forehead. "Thank You!" she whispered. "For what Princess?" the old woman questioned. "For everything youve done for Tarren and for me. You are one of the few people that ever understood me and cared for me anyway." The old woman nodded in understanding and the warrior headed down the trail to the water. Nala wiped a tear from her eye and slowly hobbled back to her tent to dress.
Gabrielle heard the rustle of the warriors boots heading away from the camp, and she quickly rose from her bed. She had to prove to Xena that fighting was not always the way. She had to try and talk to these people and make them understand. Quietly she grabbed her staff and ran down the hill, carefully avoiding the traps she knew the warrior had set. Tarren's eyes quickly opened as she watched the foolish bard head down the path. She did not want to get her friend in trouble with Xena, but she did not want her to go to the village alone either. She knew how mean the villagers could be. The sleepy child quietly rose from her blankets and grabbing a small knife with a red stone handle from the side of Xenas saddlebags climbed high into the trees above and headed for the village. When Nala came out of her tent moments later she immediately noticed the absence of both Tarren and Gabrielle. They were nowhere in sight. "XENA!" she cried with all the strength her fear could muster. Within seconds the large warrior sprinted into camp. "Nala! Whats wrong?" she cried reaching for the old woman as she slid to the ground. Nala grabbed the warriors armor as she spoke. "They are gone Xena, Gabrielle and Tarren. They must have gone to the village. Princess do not let harm come to them for this useless old woman." The warrior slowly lowered Nala to her seat "Dont worry Ill find them You just rest. Ill get them." she said with an angry hiss. Without so much as a breath the warrior jumped on Argos back and with a quick kick of her heals headed down the hill in a fast gallop.
Gabrielle entered the village slowly listening to all the sounds around her just as Xena had taught her. There was gentle murmuring coming from the people in the streets of the village. They looked on her with glancing eyes of surprise and fear. The bard found a place in the center of town with a small podium and she hopped up on it. "People of Rasa gather around. I bring you a message of peace." She said waving her hands to motion a crowd to form around her. "I am Gabrielle of Potedia, a village not much different from your own. My friends and I are camped in the hills above you and we mean you know harm. We are here only to help a sick friend and take with us a small child. Nala is not a witch. She is a good and noble soul and she only wishes to spend her last few days in peace. I ask you good people of Rasa, would you deny her that?" There was a gentle murmuring in the crowd and the bard seemed pleased by their gentle reaction, and she sort of wished Xena were there to watch her sway the crowd. Then a loud voice stood out above the rest. It was Persius. "So you dare to enter our village and try to poison the minds of my people girl. You are a follower of the witch." Gabrielle held up her hands in protest, "She is not a witch I tell you. She is just an old woman and she is dying." The bard screamed trying to be heard above the crowd. The old man raised his scepter, "We will not allow this poison to spread into our homes. We must cleanse this place. Take her to the place of fire and we will free ourselves of her evil tongue." Before the bard could speak the villagers were on top of her. She swung her staff and took out a few, but there were too many to hold back. Soon Gabrielle was an unwilling prisoner being dragged through the center of town by an angry mob.
Tarren watched from the trees as her friend was carried kicking and screaming to a large wooden post. Her hands were tethered above her head and her legs strapped to the post. A gag was placed in her mouth to keep her screams from being heard. The villagers all brought branches and sticks to throw at the young womans feet, and Persius smiled at the sight happily holding the torch in his hand. Tarren slowly stepped from branch to branch until she was in the tree directly next to Gabrielle. She tossed a small twig at the bard trying to get her attention. When the young woman turned she caught sight of the youngster perched carefully on a tree limb beside her. The bard shook her head furiously to warn the child away, but Tarren placed a finger to her mouth to silence her. Slowly the girl lowered herself from the tree holding Xenas knife carefully in her teeth. She edged her way behind the post and started slicing through the bindings with the knife until the blade snapped under the pressure. "UH! OH!" The child swallowed hard at the sight of the broken blade but continued to cut using the jagged edge of what was left. "Gabrielle I dont know whether I would rather deal with these villagers or face Xena now." she said, fear emanating from every word as she cut the final cord. The bard quickly removed the cloth from her mouth. "Move!" she yelled pushing Tarren safely behind her as they leapt to the ground. Persius caught sight of the escape and raised his staff in command "They are getting away. Get them both...burn the evil ones." He cried. Gabrielle reached to the ground where her staff was thrown and held it up in defense. "Tarren YOU stay behind me." she yelled as she skillfully maneuvered the staff keeping the villagers at bay. Tarren reached into her boot and pulled out her chucks and waving them menacingly in the air caught one villager on the jaw and a second in the groin making them both slump to the ground. The two friends stayed back to back trying there best to keep the villagers a safe distance until the help they knew was coming arrived. Soon enough there was the sound of hoof prints pounding dirt and then a cloud of dust filled the air. When the dirt settled to the ground all anyone could see was the Great Warrior Princess on a large Palomino racing towards the crowd waving her sword in the air, her white teeth gritted in an angry warrior cry. The horse stopped and with one quick snap the warrior vaulted in the air and landed right in front of Gabrielle and Tarren. "Somebody had a party and they did not invite Me." she mused flicking her swords at the villagers daring them to approach. Xena looked to her young companion and her child, "Are you two all right?" she asked with genuine concern mixed with controlled anger. They both nodded. "Good! now I want you both to get up on Argo and get out of here." she ordered. Xena whistled for the horse that quickly sliced through the crowd to her side. "What about you?" Tarren asked looking up at the warrior with great concern. "Dont worry about me. Ill be along when Im finished here." she said smiling at the approaching Persius. Gabrielle mounted Argo quickly. "No I wont leave you Xena." the child cried reaching out an arm to the stiff figure. The warrior had no time for sentiment. "YOU get back to camp right now and dont you stop for anything." she commanded lifting the child onto the horse and slapping Argo into a quick gallop once again. Xena waved her sword around the villagers watching as Argo took her friends to safety, "Now will this be the easy way or my way?" she purred hoping for her way. Without warning she reached out and grabbed Persius bringing her sword to his throat once again, ""Stk. stk. we must stop meeting like this. What will people say?" Quickly she placed her muscular arm in a lock around the old mans throat leaving the sword just below his chin. With a few solid kicks she cleared her way to the path up the hill. "Now dont you boys do anything foolish. I might not be as forgiving next time we meet." She said with an evil grin. With that the warrior threw the old man to the ground and disappeared into the trees.
Gabrielle brought the war-horse to a quick halt in the center of the camp. It had been all she could do to keep Tarren from jumping off and running back to Xena. Nala quickly embraced them both. "Thank the gods you are both safe." she said with tears filling her eyes. "Where is Xena?" the old woman asked. Before they could answer a husky voice from behind spoke, "Im right here." she said slowly sheathing her sword. Forgetting Xenas anger the youngster quickly ran to embrace the warrior who, much to the surprise of all, welcomed the child. "Xena youre all right" she cried grabbing the warrior around the waste. The warrior held tightly to her child for a moment and then tilted Tarrens head back to stare into her eyes. "Im fine." she whispered. "But YOU are in a lot of trouble little girl," her voice growing low. The child swallowed hard and thought about the consequences of her actions, but at that moment she didnt care. She once again clung to the warrior who just sighed and returned the loving childs embrace. Slowly she pulled the youngster away and pointed to the river. "You go wait for me down by the water. I want to talk to Gabrielle." she said with parental authority. Tarren bit her lip and looked over the bard who offered the child an apologetic smile, and then Tarren slowly headed to a familiar place in a small clearing down by the river.
Nala returned to her tent to rest knowing this was a private moment between the two friends. Xena folded her arms trying to contain the obvious anger that was inside her. She waited for Tarren to be out of ear shot before she spoke. The bard knew that she deserved the looks she was getting. She lowered her head ashamed of her own actions. "Xena Im sorry. You were right and I was wrong. I never should have gone down there." she said in a whisper afraid to look the warrior in the eye. Xena glared at her trying to choose her words carefully. "Now I know that you and I dont always see eye to eye on everything Gabrielle. Many times I have gone against my OWN instincts to try things your way and I have no regrets. However putting your life in danger and Tarren's just for the sake of foolish pride is just plain stupid and childish. Youre always saying youre not a child and that I dont trust you enough. Well today you surely didnt make a very mature impression on me at all." the warrior said facing the bard trying in vein to control the anger in her voice. Gabrielle could feel the tears welling but refused to give into them, "I just wanted to try and talk to these people. I had no idea Tarren would follow." Her gentle green orbs met the blue blazon glare of her best friend. Xena threw her arms up in frustration and paced around the camp. "So you just figured that after I told you both NOT to leave camp that what I said meant nothing to either of you." Xena folded her arms waiting for an answer, but none came. "Gabrielle do you realize those lunatics could have burned you at the stake? They probably would have if that foolish child hadnt cut you loose." Xena shook her head and continued to pace trying to get the image of her friend and child in flames out of her head. The bard let a stray tear fall down her cheek but quickly wiped it away. "Its my fault Xena, dont punish Tarren. She only came after me because she thought I was in trouble." She saved my life. You dont have to..." The warrior held up a hand to silence the bard. "Thats just it my little bard. I DO HAVE to. I dont want to, but I do HAVE to punish her. You see SHE IS a child and she does need to learn that what I say MEANS something. I cant have her breaking the rules whenever SHE feels they shouldnt apply to her too. Thats what I have you for!" Xena finished with a fierce growl staring down at the contrite bard. "Im sorry Xena." she whispered. The warrior stopped pacing and stared at her friend, "Youre sorry! Well you think about that Gabrielle. I mean I want you to REALLY think about that! Think about what might have happened to both of you because for a single dinar, my young friend, I would put you over my knee too, and I still might. The night is VERY young." The warriors tone was menacingly low. She shook her head and kicked at the dirt murmuring under her breath as she headed down the path to Tarren. Suddenly she turned and pointed her finger at the bard "When I get back my horse better have been rubbed down and cooled off." she yelled turning on her heal to deal with the next insubordinate child.
Tarren was sitting on the large rock where she knew the warrior had meant for her to go. She just stared at the water hugging her legs close to her chest for comfort. Xena came to the edge of the water and stared at her for a moment trying to drown out all the anger she had welling inside of her. She quietly sat on the rock next to her and sighed heavily. "Hi!" the warrior said staring out at the same calming waters. The child turned to her knowing there was a definite anger in the warriors voice. "Hi!" she said unable to meet the warriors gaze. "Your pretty mad at me huh? the girl asked without facing the warrior. Xena nodded, "Tarren you have NO idea." The warrior leaned back on her arms and turned to look at the girl trying to control her rage. "Tarren I know you followed after Gabrielle because you wanted to help her...but..." The warriors voice trailed off as she tried to clear her thoughts. The child just stared at her not quite sure what she was trying to say. "Even with all of that said Tarren, I still have to punish you because as good as your intentions were your actions were STILL wrong." The child stood "But I just wanted to help Xena. I didnt want to see Gabrielle get hurt. YOU would have done the same thing." The warrior nodded. "YES but I am a trained Warrior, not a kid Tarren." The warrior yelled in frustration. " I am grateful that you were able to help Gabrielle, but that doesnt change the fact that you went against everything I said. Neither one of you should have been there in the first place." The child folded her arms in a stubborn lock and sat on the rock refusing to acknowledge the warriors presence. Xenas anger began to resurface, but her tone became cool and controlled. "Tarren you should have come to ME when Gabrielle left. You could have been hurt or killed down there and THAT is just not something I could ever live with happening. I know its hard for you to understand right now, but you will just have to do what I say and trust that I know whats best. There are NO acceptions to that rule. Do you understand?" the warrior said in a no nonsense tone. The youngster said nothing, which only fueled the warriors anger even more. Xena stood reaching to her full height. She paused for a moment and stared at the child "Fine lets get this over with." she said with a mix of anger and remorse in her voice. Without any effort, the warrior pulled the child across her lap and keeping the thought of her recent insurrection in her mind began a steady cadence of whacks across Tarrens small backside. She knew she had to make a lasting impression. If there was ever a "next time" Xena might not make it in time to save her. The child grimaced and cried under the merciless hand that fell against her bottom. The warriors stroke fell hard and fast and the girl soon realized that what Nala had told her about the warriors anger and strength was true. She whimpered and cried each time Xena hit her target, but she did not beg her to stop. For even she knew that the warrior princess would not relent until she felt she was done, so the child decided to hold onto what little pride she had left. After what seemed like an eternity to the youngster, the severe castigation came to a sudden halt, and she was lifted to her feet once again by the strong arms of the warrior. The child rubbed the tears from her eyes with the cloth on her sleeve, and when she stared into the face of her warrior she saw something she had not expected to see. Xena had a string of tears streaming down her cheeks as well. The youngster was awed by the sight and forgetting her own pain, for a moment, reached over and wiped a tear off of Xenas face. The proud warrior looked into the gentle eyes of the sobbing child and swallowed hard. Without a word she stood and walked into the darkness alone leaving the child to deal with her humiliation privately. Somewhere deep in the woods the ex-warlord, former Destroyer of Nations, shed tears for the pain felt by the ones that she dared to love.
Gabrielle anxiously waited for Xena to return. It was getting late in the day and the warrior had yet to return. The bard wanted so much to make amends, but she wasnt quite sure how. She wanted to share her feelings with her friend, but for once Gabrielle was short on words. As a lone dark figure entered the camp, the bard smiled. She picked up a mug of fresh tea and offered it to the warrior who looked drained of all emotion. Her anger was gone, but so was her strength. The weight of the last few weeks was catching up to her. Xena took the mug gratefully and nodded at the bard never allowing their eyes to meet. Gabrielle spoke to the warriors back as Xena headed for the warmth of the fire. "Xena I really am sorry I didnt listen to you. I should have known better." Gabrielle said in a gentle tone. The warrior tried to smile. "YES you should have." she said without feeling. Then she caught sight of the bards reddened eyes and contrite manner and quickly remembered how many times Gabrielle had forgiven the warrior for her own misdeeds and mistakes. Xena motioned her friend over to the fire with a wave. The bard happily obliged. "Gabrielle I know your heart is always in the right place. I just wish your head would think twice before following your heart sometimes." Xena said with a smile gently thumping the young womans forehead with her finger. The bard smiled and nodded knowingly, "I know and Im gonna change. I swear Xena I wont think with my heart ever again." The warrior studied her young friend. "Dont you dare change one bit my little bard!" the warrior said with a smile taking the girl into her arms for a hug. "I like you just the way you are. Besides I just got you broken in, so dont you change a thing. Ya got it?" she said with a stern wave of a finger. The bard smiled happily wiping a tear from the corner of her eye. She reached down and handed the warrior a plate of cooked fish. They were wrapped in herbs and seasoned just the way Xena liked them "A peace offering." the bard said with a smile. The warrior glanced at the food and shook her head, "Leave it to you to make food a peace offering." she said with a quick grin. The bard giggled and hugged the big warrior allowing a few stray tears to fall. "Im so sorry Xena." The warrior placed a gentle arm on her shoulder, "I know you are." she whispered allowing Gabrielle to hold her for a short while. When the two finally broke away Xena noted that Nala was still resting in her tent. The warrior sat down to enjoy her food under the constant gaze of her young friend. Gabrielle poked at the fire with a stick "Hows Tarren?" she asked quietly hoping the question would not anger the warrior. Xena shook her head. "I dunno. Shell live through it. I left her down by the water. She needs to think about a few things I said alone for a while." The warrior was soon lost in the thoughts of the child once again. The bard nodded " Xena she saved my life. They were gonna throw the torch on the kindling when she cut my ties. She IS quite a little kid." Gabrielle said trying to mount a defense. Xena nodded in understanding. "Gabrielle its all right. Its not your fault she followed you. That was her decision to make, and she has to pay the price for that ALONE." The warrior said in a stern voice. Again the bard nodded but still poked at the fire with the stick. "I know but Xena you should have seen her fighting off those villagers. It was like having a small part of you there." she whispered finally dropping the stick in the fire. The warrior smiled slightly and studied the bards worried expression. She sighed heavily and then placed her food down on the ground. "Ill be right back." The warrior said heading back down to the water.
When she got to the place where she left Tarren, she found the small figure lying on her stomach across a flat rock fast asleep. The still wet tears covered her small face and Xena felt a pang of remorse for being the cause of those tears. She gently shook the girl who opened her eyes slowly taking in the sight of the warrior. Xena again sat on the rock beside her "Mind some company?" she said. The child shook her head but said nothing. Xena unsheathed her sword and took a whetstone from her pouch and started rubbing the stone methodically along the edges of blade. The girl studied the warriors movements. "Why do you do that so much?" she asked with a sniffle. The warrior continued her task allowing a slight smile, "Well I need to make sure the edges are very sharp at all times. In a battle it can mean the difference between life and death. If it were not at its peak at all times then it could fail me at the wrong moment, and that would just not do. Now would it?" The child shook her head and stood next to the warrior trying to see into her eyes. She knew the anger was gone, but she was not sure what had replaced it. She lowered her eyes to the warriors boots "Are you still mad at me for going to the village?" the girl asked. The warrior stopped the grinding motion of the stone and placed the sword back in its sheathe carefully looking into the eyes of her child. "No Tarren Im not angry at you anymore. Are you still angry at me for spanking you?" the warrior asked with a hint of remorse in her tender voce. The child thought about it and nodded. Xena smiled. "Well at least your honest." The warrior reached out a hand and touched the childs cheek wiping away a tear with her caress. "Im sorry Tarren. Im sorry that I had to cause you so many tears." The girls eyes lowered a bit as she felt the warriors gentle gaze on her face. "Well Im sorry that I didnt listen to you Xena. I didnt mean to hurt you." Xena allowed a weak smile at the youngsters words. How strange that she would be able to read the warrior so well as to see the wound that was planted so deeply below the surface. "So are you sure your not still mad at me?" the child asked again. The warrior shook her head and opened her arms inviting the youngster to enter. Tarren did not waste any time before falling happily into her friends embrace. Xena wrapped her long muscular arms around the small figure trying to soothe her pain with her touch. Tarren noted the strong smell of the leather from the warriors armor and soon found comfort in the musty odor. She was grateful for the warriors affection, so she made no attempt at breaking Xenas gentle hold. Tarren asked one more time as she wiped her eyes, "Xena are you SURE you are not mad at me anymore?" The warriors eyes grew wide and she lifted the child away from her, "No I am not mad at you, but why do you keep asking me that?" she asked suspiciously. The girl nervously reached into her right boot and pulled out a red stone handle with a short jagged stump of a blade. Tarren handed Xena the remains of her knife and waited for her to explode. "The leather was pretty hard to cut...sorry." the girl said nervously taking a step back and holding her breath. The warrior studied the knife, or what was left of it, and then looked at the fearful youngster "You know this knife cost me 5 Dinars." she said with a stiff smile tossing the broken weapon in the water. "Id say it was worth every single one of them." Tarren slowly released the breath she has been holding and with a leap, jumped back into the warriors open arms. Xena squeezed the child tightly and then stood. "Come on lets go back to camp. I think Gabrielle is afraid that I killed you and dumped the body in the river." The youngster wiped away the last of her tears and headed up the path with the Warrior Princess beside her. "I guess your gonna be needing my bed roll at dinner for a while huh?" the warrior said with an evil smile . The child rubbed her backside and cringed. "For a long while." The girl said with a moan. The warrior gently rubbed her back and lifted her off the ground and into her arms content to carry her the rest of the way. "Well its your for as long as you need it Little One." Tarren leaned against her friends chest still feeling great throbs of pain behind her, "Thanks, I think." The child said with a slight grin. When the two Princesses arrived in camp Gabrielle came rushing over to hug Tarren. She squeezed her so tightly that the child had to beg for air. "Gabrielle you are choking me." she yelled. The bard kissed her cheek and again hugged her. The child looked up at the warrior. "Is she always like this?" she asked backing behind Xena a bit. The warrior smiled and patted the girls head, "Yeah but you get used to it after a while, sort of." Gabrielle took a step back throwing her hands on her hips in mock frustration, "I dont know if I should thank you or..." The girl quickly raised her hand, "Please Gabrielle Xena already covered OR...trust me!." The bards face filled with compassion and guilt and she again quickly pulled the child into another bear hug. "Xena help!" The youngster yelled grinning as she tried to escape the bards affection. The warrior shook her head and threw her hands up in defense, "Sorry kid but I wouldnt tangle with that one for anything." the warrior mused.
Gabrielle fussed over the chastened child, and the tired warrior slipped into Nalas tent dropping onto the extra cot with a thud. The old mystic turned her head to face the warrior. "Are you all right My Princess? she asked weakly. Xena considered the words, "Well the bad guys have been defeated for the moment , Ive secured the camp, reduced my best friend to a puddle of tears , and spanked my child. Yes Nala I would say it has been a full day." the warrior said with a heavy sigh. The elderly woman sat up on her cot. "My poor Princess, you put weight of the world on your shoulders, and you do not even share the burden with those closest to you. Well Nala has a cure for what ales you." The mystic reached under the bed and pulled out a wineskin and tossed it to the warrior. Xena smiled "Nala my friend you truly are a mystic of great talents." The old one nodded "I have many skills Princess." The warrior took a good long drink and then passed it to her friend who shared in the delight of the contents. Xena again drank from the skin and weeks of tension seemed to melt away. The old woman smiled and soon the two friends were laughing and once again telling stories of a time long ago.
Xena did not sleep much that night remembering the villagers threat. They would soon be past the second sun rising, and that could mean trouble. The old mystics health was declining rapidly, so the warrior did not like being far from her old friend. However she had to walk the perimeter occasionally to make sure there were no surprises in the middle of the night. As Xena stared at the sleeping forms of Gabrielle and Tarren she could only smile. She tried to imagine what life on the road was gonna be like with both of them. The thought of their presence brought both comfort and concern to the great warrior. As she sat there lost in her own thoughts she heard a faint whisper from the tent. It was Nala calling her name. She raced in knowing the old mystics time was very near. Xena kept vigil through the night just staring into the face of her old friend and mentor. The old woman lay on the cot, her labored breathe making it hard to speak. "Princess soon my time will come...very soon...love her Princess and let HER love you...Promise me!!" Xena nodded as a tear ran down her cheek. The old woman smiled and patted the warriors hand lovingly. "When will you tell her the truth my warrior friend? I know you ache to share the secret with her and call her daughter." Xena sighed at the thought. "When I feel that she can handle it. Right now it is more important that she know that she belongs with me than to understand exactly why. Things are changing so fast for her. I dont want to confuse her anymore than I already have." Xena paused for a moment gathering her thoughts. "Nala I have been meaning to ask you about Tarren's fighting wands. They are mine arent they? They are the ones I brought back from Chin." The old woman smile weakened "Yes Princess they are, and she knows that they belonged to her mother, so she guards them well. They are the only part of you she has ever held until now." Xena shook her head and smiled at the memory of her friend Lao Ma who had given her the chucks as a gift to teach her the fluidity and grace of movement. It was a fleeting memory but one she promised herself to give more thought to at a later time. Xena studied the face of her friend and whispered, "Have I ever told you how much you mean to me old woman? You were like a mother to me in my darker days. While my own mother turned away, you stayed beside me. Nala I can never repay you for..."
The old woman lifted a shaky hand to the warriors cheek, "I love you to Warrior Princess." she said stroking Xenas face gently. The warrior just squeezed the hand of the old mystic tightly knowing that no more needed to be said.
Tarren came crashing through the tent interrupting the solemn moment. Only Xenas fast reflexes halted the childs speed. "Tarren whats wrong?" she asked grabbing tightly to the shoulders of the youngster who was panting from lack of breathe. "Its...Its the villagers...Persius...They are coming up the mountain...Xena I can see the torches." Xena looked at Nala and smiled weakly grasping her hand for the last time. "Tarren you stay here with Nala." she ordered. The child quickly objected. "No I want to go with you...I can fight too." Xena took a deep breath to try and control her anger. She took the child by the shoulders. "Just because you can wield a weapon in form does not make you a fighter...YOU are still just a child Tarren and I want you to stay here with Nala. DO you understand?" the warrior said in a no nonsense tone. "The child looked up to her large friend. "But Xena..." the warrior silenced her with a glare and the child nodded knowing that the look in her eyes spoke of a promised threat if she continued. The youngster turned away slowly, disappointed at being left behind. Xena smiled and put a gentle hand on her head "Ill be back soon." She gave a quick glance of farewell to Nala and ran from the tent quickly mounting Argo. "Xena whats happening?" Gabrielle yelled running to the great steeds side " The villagers! " she growled reaching down for Gabrielles hand pulling her friend up behind her. The two sped off down the path to face the misguided mob of fools.
Tarrens eyes filled with tears as she nestled beside Nala. " She doesnt think I can help." Nala gently rubbed the side of the girls face "No child, she just wants to protect you. That is her way of caring child...Cant you see the love she has for you?" The girl bit her lower lip as she realized just how weak Nala really had become. Tarren tried to smile. "Why would she love me?" Tarren said lowering her head. The mystic lifted the childs chin with one fingers and said in a near whisper "Oh little one... There is so much to love about you. There is so much you will learn..." The old woman coughed harder than she ever had, and Tarren held her tightly truly afraid of letting go. When she regained her composure the old one pointed to the wooden chest beside her cot. "All that I have is yours child." She reached around her neck and took the small blue amulet on the thin gold chain off and placed it gently around Tarrens neck. If you are ever in such great trouble that even the Princess cannot help you then break the glass and speak the sacred chant I shared with you. You remember dont you dear one?" she said as she wiped the tears from the little ones face. The girl nodded in understanding. "I remember everything you taught me Nala." she said choking on the words. The old mystic smiled, "Good little one. Say that chant and help will be yours. But child know that you can only call on this once, so use this gift wisely." she warned. Tarren touched the amulet gently and nodded in understanding. "Now as Nala said all I have is your accept for ONE thing. I want you to give my diary to Xena. She will feel the pain of loss in her own way just as you will my dear, so give it to her when you feel she needs it most. It is filled with wonderful memories of my life and yours Tarren. Both you and my Warrior Princess are deeply entwined in the pages. Promise me child!" The girls eyes filled with tears as she reached into the chest and caressed the large book with the odd golden lock on the side. The old mystic smiled softly and winked at the youngster "Only the Princess will know how to open it my dear one. Tell her that it is my gift to her. Tell her that Nala loved her just as she loved you and that I was proud to be her friend." The child grabbed the mystics hand. "I promise Nala!" Tarren clung to the magical book and could only watch in horror as with one last quick breath the old mystics hand fell limp. She was gone.
The great steed came to a screeching halt within feet of the mob. Gabrielle readied her staff and Xena drew her sword and pointed it at Persius "You must like my sword Persius you seem to enjoy its company. Now what do ya want?" she purred. The old man stood with all the courage of a madman. "We come to rid ourselves of that old witch and that wretched brat." Xena pushed the point of the sword in closer to the old mans throat. The bard quickly advanced. "Why dont you leave her alone...shes dying and the child is coming with us." she yelled defiantly raising her staff. The old man smiled slightly "WE know the old one is dying and we do not want her cursed spirit resting here. We will throw her outside of Rasa and burn her body into cinders. The child can burn with her as well. Evil spreads where evil dwells." he said raising his scepter in the air. One villager lifted a pitchfork at Xena and she quickly threw a front kick knocking him to the ground, never taking her sword off Persius. The old man stepped back "You cant get us all" he laughed. The warrior smiled devilishly "Hmm maybe not but I will be sure to take you Persius." With those final words the fighting started. Xena knocked the wind out of 3 villagers and then with the ring of her famous battle cry jumped over the mob attacking those who dared to follow Persius up the hill. The bard swung her staff with great expertise as one by one of the angry villagers hit the ground, but no matter how many fell there seemed to always be more pushing there way up the hill. Xena could only smile as a few villagers were caught in her traps and found they were hanging upside down in the trees. The warrior looked to the bard and they both knew that this mob would push there way too far up the hill. Persius was a madman, but these villagers were just ignorant followers armed with small knives, home made swords, and farm tools. Xena did not want to have to kill any of them, but she would to keep them from her daughter. She would send each and every one down into tarturus to save that child.
Tarren knelt by the body of Nala and wiped away her falling tears. "I know you asked Xena to do this, but shes not here. Ill do what has to be done Nala...Im not afraid. Im not a baby... Ill be just as brave as Xena would be if she were here." the small figure whispered to the now still form wishing the warrior would return. But off in the distance she could hear the villagers slowly making there way up the hill. Tarren gently stroked the wrinkled face of the old mystic and then quickly began her task. Using all the strength her 11 summers could muster, she pulled the large wooden trunk that Nala had kept all their possessions in out of the tent and dragged it into the woods far away from the camp. She emptied anything of value or importance into her leather satchel. She then picked up all Xena and Gabrielles belongings and put them in the safety of the same brush. Taking a deep breath she put the diary that she had held so tightly too inside her satchel as well. She then returned to the tent and looked again on Nalas body. Tarren touched the necklace the old woman had just given her and then placed it safely inside her tunic swallowing the tears that were forming in her throat. "Dont worry Nala ...Im gonna do this...I wont let you down." she whispered. Tarren made a large bed of brush and branches in the center of the camp and carefully placed 12 large rocks in a circle around the bedding. Wiping the sweat from her young brow she gently pulled the body of the old woman who had cared for her since birth into the center of the camp and placed her on the bedding. Tarren looked to the path. She could smell the torches and see the approaching villagers fighting their way up the hill. She had to hurry. Tarren ran over to the chest and pulled out a large ball made of the purest crystal and a small pouch filled with a dark blue powder. She placed the ball in Nala's hands and as she had been told many times, sprinkled the blue dust from the pouch onto the body and then onto the surrounding rocks. She took a torch from the fire and lit the circle of fire around the rocks. The small flames leapt into the air. "When the circle of life has burned out then the crystal shall light your way to eternity." The child chanted, remembering the words that the mystic had taught her.
The tired youngster fell to her knees watching the flames burn. Tarren heard Xenas battle cry and knew that the villagers were now entering the camp. The sound of the struggle was right behind her, but the child did not turn. Xena turned her head and saw the ceremonial burial circle. "Nala!" she yelled pushing Persius from advancing any further. All stopped at the sight of the child holding the torch over the body of the old mystic. Tarren stood and turned to face the Warrior Princess. The childs face was red and swollen with tears and dirt, but she did not stumble. She held the long torch straight out in front of her ready to bid her friend a final farewell. Xena felt a rush of tears and struggled to hold them back. She wanted to run to the girl and wipe away all the pain and sadness that filled her young face. She wanted to hold her and protect her from all the evil in the world, but she had to keep the villagers in place. She held her sword high daring them to step any further. The bard shivered knowing that Xena would surely strike down the first man who dared to enter this now sacred place. No one moved, and Tarren just stood there mouthing Xena's name wishing she would advance and knowing she couldnt. She wiped her eyes with her sleeve and then glared at Persius. "You wanted a witch ...well..." the child fumbled. "Well... she wasnt a witch ...she was just...MY friend...She would have been your friend too if you had let her, but she wasnt good enough for any of you." the distraught youngster screamed through her tears. The villagers all took a step back as a wave of shame started to run through the mob at the sight of this small childs suffering. Xena gave them all a warning look and then tried to move forward, but the child stopped her with a wave and a plea, "No Xena, PLEASE! Let me do this...Please! Let me do this!" she cried holding the warriors gaze. Xena stopped about six paces from Tarren, her eyes welling with sadness for her friend and her love for this little warrior. Xena placed herself between the youngster and the now silent villagers. Gabrielle looked at her friends with a growing sadness, but she kept her staff firmly placed in front of the mob. Tarren stared at the body of the mystic. The flames on the ceremonial stones indicating the completion of life were burning down. It was time to set Nala free. She looked once again to Persius, "She never hurt any of you. Many of you even came to her in the middle of the night when you were sick. She never asked anything of you. She helped you, and you treated her like dirt. WHY?" she whispered falling to her knees. There was a murmur over the crowd. Only Persius moved forward. "She was a witch ...a witch...pure evil, and she must not be allowed to rest here." The madman pulled a large knife from beneath his cloak and lunged at Tarren, but before he could ever make it past the path a cold piece of a warriors steel pierced his heart, and he fell to the ground never again to threaten the warriors child.
Tarren looked longingly at Xena wanting so much to run to her, but she had made a promise and she needed to keep it. Tarren raised the torch high above her head and through a masque of tears cried out, "You wanted a witch, you wanted a curse...Well then so be it." She reached to touch the crystal, but her small hand faltered and she just stared at the flame. Xena took a step forward and gently placed her large hand over that of the child. Tarren looked up into the eyes of her new Guardian who smiled softly at her gently wiping a tear from her cheek. "I cant do it Xena. I cant." she cried burying her head in the warriors arms. Xena grabbed the youngsters hand bringing her slowly to her feet. "From this moment on we will do it together. Do you understand?" the warrior whispered placing her free hand on the torch while holding Tarren with the other. The girl nodded and with two hands holding it tightly, the torch touched the crystal igniting it. Flames shot in every direction and Xena made a quick dive knocking Tarren to the ground and safety. They watched as the bedding Pyre caught fire. The flame grew higher and higher and then the crystal exploded into a fluid of colors that reached in all directions of the sky consuming all it touched. All looked on in wonder and some in fear as life stood still around them. With one final blast of brightness the colors filled the evening sky and then as quickly as they had grown, disappeared into a simple fire that sent the old mystic on her way. "Goodbye old friend." the warrior princess said choking on the words. The Princess looked down at Tarren who was now sobbing uncontrollably. The warrior stood up and with gentle ease lifted the small form in her arms and held her tightly, soothing her pain "Shh! Shh! Im here...Its OK...Everything will be all right. Im not going anywhere." she said as she rocked the child that was cradled in her arms. Tarren threw her arms around the warriors neck and burrowed her head in the leather armor finding comfort in the soft smell of the one who she knew would now watch over her. The villagers quickly retreated down the hill. Having lost their leader, they had lost their courage and their anger. After the last of them had retreated Gabrielle quickly ran to Xena, and the warrior offered the bard her arm. Gabrielle wrapped her hands around the waste of the great warrior and the child nestled in her arms and cried. Xena stared at the fire and then slowly began to sing a song of friendship and battle in memory of her dear Nala.
The following morning Tarren looked at the place where Nalas body had once been and wiped a tear from her eye. Xena walked up beside her and placed a gentle knowing hand on the childs shoulder and handed the girl her leather satchel. Xena knew that hidden inside that bag were all of the youngsters magical adventures of the past as well as all her dreams for the future. She hoped that one day she would share them with her. Tarren looked up at the warrior who smiled back and tasseled the childs hair "Its time to go" she said. The girl nodded and took her place beside Xena. "You know Tarren, Nala always told me that life begins anew with every step we take. Every journey, each adventure, and each new person that enters our lives is a new beginning." The warrior dropped to one knee and carefully cupped the girls face in her hands. "We have a new beginning ahead of us Tarren, and I want you to know that no matter what happens, no matter what you do that I will always be there for you. I will always love you." The child thought about what Nala had said to her in the tent, and then she hugged the big warrior knowing that she would never be alone again. "So now what?" she asked staring up at her guardian, not sure what the Xenas response would be. She offered the girl her hand and Tarren gladly accepted it, "Now we start our life anew together." and with that the warrior, the bard, and the little Warrior Princess started on there new journey together.
The End.... Actually it's only the beginning.