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The characters of Xena: Warrior Princess, Gabrielle, and Argo and all other characters who have appeared in the syndicated series Xena: Warrior Princess, together with the names, titles, and back-story are the sole copyright property of MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures. No copyright infringement was intended in the writing of this fan fiction. The story is written only for fun, and no profit is being made. All other characters such as Tarren, the story idea and the story itself are the sole property of the author. The story cannot be sold or used for profit in any way. The story itself as well as the character created by the author may NOT be duplicated or archived without the authors permission. All works remain the copyright of the original author. These may not be republished without the authors consent. This story is a continuation of my first story called SHE HAS MY EYES, and you really MUST read that one first. Otherwise you will be lost as to who some of the characters I have created are. This story contains some violence, no subtext, and the use or reference of corporal punishment. I will be putting that statement in all of the Tarren series whether it exists or not in that particular story. Please understand that this does NOT reflect on my personal beliefs or politics. I am just trying to stay true to the characters and culture of that period of history.
Sex - well I guess some is implied
|Chapter 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Epilogue|
On The Road Again
Chapter 1 Like Mother, like Daughter
Tarren hugged tightly to the tree as she cautiously sat on the branches high above hidden only by the thick of the leaves and her own desire not to be seen. The enemy below was close, too close, and her discovery would mean certain torture. The youngster pulled her legs in close to her chest trying, as Xena had taught her, to become one with the natural world around her. The sounds of the approaching footsteps sent a quick chill up the childs spine and she glanced down to the path below. Surely she had not been found. Moving ever so slightly forward she leaned over and caught sight of the approaching enemy poking through the brush in search of her. She could only smile at her own cleverness at choosing such a successful place to hide.
"TARREN! You better come out. I have a lot to do and I am not spending my morning playing hide and seek just because you dont want to take a bath," the bard yelled into the echo of the woods. There was no response.
Gabrielle angrily kicked the dirt in front of her knowing the child was somewhere in the trees above. She and Xena took turns seeing to the childs bathing, and every time it was the bards turn Tarren disappeared.
The bard looked up into the high branches, covering her eyes with her hand to block out the suns glare. "Tarren! If you are up in one of those high trees you better come down RIGHT NOW! If Xena finds you up there, youre really gonna get it. You know she told you NOT to climb them." There was no response, and the bards shoulders slumped in defeat. "Why do you only do this when its my turn to bathe you?" she whined.
The child smiled at the silly question. The answer was so obvious. She wasnt gonna run from Xena. She was young maybe, but no fool. Besides when she did try to hide from the warrior she was always found quickly, and the bath always then turned out to be more long and painful then usual. The youngster shuddered at the thought.
Tarren glanced down at the figure of her friend, noting the scowl that ran across the usually smiling bards face. The child did not want to get in trouble with Xena, but nor did she want to take a bath. "If I come down do I still have to take a bath?" the girl yelled hoping to make a deal.
Gabrielle looked above hearing the voice echoing through the treetops, but not able to see where the sound had come from. "By the gods that child must be sitting on the clouds themselves." the bard thought scanning the branches above her.
Tarren sat patiently waiting for a reply, taking a bite out of an apple hanging on a branch just above her. She smiled wickedly at the still searching bard.
There was the sound of another apple being pulled from a branch far above followed by a loud crunch. "Yes, you do have to take a bath!" said a low, husky voice from behind. Tarren turned her head just a bit to see the Warrior Princess standing on the branch beside her. "Xena!" she said with a weak smile. "How does she always know where I am?" the child thought.
The warrior glared at the youngster allowing a bit of her frustration to touch her words. "I told you to stay OUT of these high trees didnt I?" the large figure said sternly bending her head waiting for a response.
The girl lowered her head a bit not wanting to meet the warriors harsh gaze. "Yes!" was her simple and sullen reply.
Xena shook her head and tossed her apple to the ground below. "Well, this is your very last warning Tarren. If I so much as SEE YOU looking up at one of these big trees, youll be eating these apples standing up for a month. THAT is a promise from ME to you! Understand?" she finished in a parental tone. The girl nodded, knowing from experience that the warrior wasnt kidding.
Xena was torn between her anger at the childs disobedience and a certain pride at the agility, which allowed her to make it into such difficult positions with such ease. The great warrior eyed the girl for a moment, and then, looking down at her still searching friend below, suppressed a grin.
"Come on!" she said taking the child by the arm with a gentle tug. Tarren quickly placed a few apples inside her tunic, "Im sorry," she said with a weak smile. Xena just shook he head and sighed. "Well take the fast way down." With that the warrior grabbed Tarren by the waist and jumped from the branch somersaulting in midair before landing on the ground next to Gabrielle.
Xena held the struggling girl by the scruff of the neck, "Is this what you are looking for, my friend?" the warrior said, offering her find to the angry bard.
Gabrielle looked at Xena and then Tarren, "Dont tell me she was all the way up top again," the bard scolded.
The warrior folded her arms and nodded. Now, the child had two sets of eyes glaring down at her. "But she wont be going up there again. Right?" the warrior, asked with a smug look.
The girl paused and Xena landed a fast swat across her bottom to remind her of an earlier promise. "Ouch! Right! Right!" the child said, rubbing the sting of Xenas hand away.
Gabrielle threw her arms up in the air in frustration, "Tarren, I do not know what your problem is about taking a bath, but Ive HAD it. I have supper to cook, and I need to finish my scroll if I plan to enter it in the Great Bards Competition in Athens this week. I do NOT have time to play with you right now," she growled at the youngster.
The bard shook her head and with the flick of her wrist tossed Xena the linen towel and satchel containing all their bathing instruments. "YOU do it. I give up!" the bard mumbled and stomped off back towards camp.
Xena fumbled with the satchel and then scowled at the youngster. "You better not say one word! Not one single word," the warrior muttered pointing towards the bathing area below. Tarren lowered her eyes and headed down the path with an angry warrior a quick pace behind her.
When they reached the waters edge there was a small hot spring that Gabrielle had considered the ideal bathing area. Tarren looked into the water sighing heavily, not wanting to be immersed in the vile clean water.
"Do you get undressed, or do I undress YOU?" Xena purred, standing with her arms folded in controlled anger. Tarren swallowed hard and quickly removed her boots and clothing and unwillingly got in the water. "Hmm, too bad. I was sort of hoping youd give me a hard time just this once," the warrior chided as she lowered herself to the waters edge and began the task of scrubbing the girls arms with the bar of soap and a linen cloth.
"OUCH!" the youngster cried, jumping away from Xenas reach. "Youre taking my skin off," she yelled, rubbing a tender but clean spot on her arm.
"Stk.... Stk.... sorry!" the warrior purred motioning the girl to return to her place.
"Xena, are you gonna be mad at me all through this? Because, if you are, I think Id rather just stay dirty for a while, " Tarren whispered with an impish grin.
The warrior noted the familiar expression was the same that her brother Lyceus had used whenever she was angry with him. The thought of that memory softened her temper a bit. "I just want you to behave yourself, and you are going to apologize to Gabrielle!" the warrior warned.
The girl quickly nodded, "OK!"
Xena gave her a cold stare, and the child rethought her words. "I mean, yes maam!" she said with a mock salute.
The warrior had to suppress a grin. Maam was not a term she was used to, but, every once in a while she liked to hear Tarren use it just so the child was reminded of their positions in life as well as the importance of manners. Growing up in such solitude and without proper guidance, the girl was desperately lacking in good manners. The warrior nodded approvingly. "Good! Now get over here, and lets get you cleaned up," she said with a slight smile.
Tarren cautiously moved back to her spot near the warrior who once again began washing the child. This time, much to her childs relief, Xena gently caressed her arms with the cloth, leaving the skin where it belonged.
"Xena, why is Gabby in such a bad mood?" the girl asked as the large muscular hands scrubbed soap into her hair.
The warrior thought about the question and smiled at the childs idea of a bad mood. The little bard definitely did have a temper, and it had been flaring up a bit lately, more than usual.
"Well, I think she is just a bit anxious to enter this contest in Athens. Last year, she missed it because we were caught in a battle. She had been really excited about going, but we just didnt make it there in time. So, this year, she really wants to get there quickly. Its important to her to be recognized for something that shes passionate about."
The girl pondered the warriors words as Xena finished soaping her hair.
"Hold you breathe," the warrior said with a smile as she pushed the girls head under the water to rinse the soap out.
The child came up shaking her head and sputtering water. "I hate that!" she said pouting.
Xena merely shrugged, offering a sympathetic smile.
"Am I done?" Tarren asked watching the warrior put the soap back in its pouch.
"Yeah, I guess youre as clean as you are ever gonna get!" she teased pulling the dripping girl from the water.
"Then can we go for a swim or go fishing?" she begged with an eager smile, her voice filled with anticipation at the warriors response.
Xena glanced down and studied the grinning young face whose pleading eyes wanted a taste of adventure. She had to sympathize as she often felt the same urge to break free of constraints herself. "After the way you behaved this morning? Do you think I should take you swimming or fishing with me?" she asked in a slightly scolding tone.
Tarren settled back in the water shaking her head, sulking at the warriors words.
Xena bit her lower lip and then shook her own head. "I am such a softy. I dont know what is happening to me. Come on, dry yourself off, and well go catch breakfast."
In a flash the child was again out of the water, dry, and dressed.
"You should move that fast when its time to get IN to the bath, little girl," the warrior chided. Tarren tried to hide her grin, but Xena saw it. "Uh huh...Come on, lets go before I decide Im making a mistake." Soon the two were off for a morning of fishing and swimming full of freedom and laughter.
Hours later, the pair returned to camp laughing, and Xena holding a string of fish in her hand.
The bard glanced up from her writing. "Huh! I see you even took her fishing. Dont be too hard on the kid," Gabrielle said with a slight glare and an angry tone.
The warriors smile faded at the harshness of her friend. It was very unlike her to push for Tarren to ever be punished. If anything she was always the childs best defender.
"Gabrielle, Tarren and I had a very long talk, and I promise you things will be different. Right, Tarren?" the warrior said elbowing the girl in the direction of the bard.
The child shook her head in confusion and then jumped a bit as Xena grabbed her by the back of the neck. That tight grasp shook her memories free. "Yeah right...MUCH different!"
The bard shook her head. "Of course they will," she said in disbelief and returned her attention to her scrolls.
Xena gave the child a message with her eyes. Tarren moved closer to Gabrielle, sitting right next to her on the fallen log the bard had been using as a chair. "Youre not still mad at me, Gabby...are ya?"
The bard looked into the face of the child whose eyes were now wide, and her lower lip curled in sadness. Gabrielle dropped her quill. "You dont really think that is gonna work on me do you? I taught YOU that expression to get around Xena." The bard stopped but not before catching an angry glare from the warrior. Gabrielle shook it off. "I mean... A pouting face is not gonna get you anything, Tarren."
The child sat up, disappointed by the outcome of her efforts. She sighed, placing her hand under her chin. "OK, Gabby, if you dont want to be my friend anymore, I understand." the child said, kicking at the dirt.
Xena raised her eyebrows in disbelief at the girls obvious dramatics, but the bard swallowed hard and turned to the child. "Hey, just because Im mad at you doesnt mean we are not friends. You should know that!" she said with a stern shake of her finger.
The little girl turned to face the bard "HOW should I know that?" she whined, lowering her lip and widening her eyes even further than Gabrielle had thought possible.
It was that look that made the bards wall of anger crumble. "Come here, ya little brat!" she said reaching out her hands. "You know I love ya!"
The child quickly embraced her friend who squeezed her with all her might. "Im sorry Gabrielle," the child whispered.
The bard just cupped the youngsters face in her hands. "No big deal. Im used to being abused by much bigger than you," she said with a grin, eyeing the warriors grim face.
Tarren reached inside her tunic and pulled out an apple. She offered it to the bard, "Whats this?" she asked with a smile.
"A peace offering!" the child chirped.
Gabrielle looked at the warrior who hid a slight smile. "Gee, I wonder where you got the idea of FOOD for a peace offering," the bard laughed, hugging the youngster. She bit into the apple, and her eyes lit up in delight as the juices slid down her chin.
"Tarren, this is delicious. Are there any more we can take on the road with us?" she asked hopefully.
The girl nodded. "Yes but..." The warrior stopped her with a quick glare of her blue blazon eyes. "But those are in a tree WAY too high for you to climb, Right, Tarren!" Xena said, slowly raising her eyes to meet those of the childs.
The girl reluctantly nodded. "Yeah, but there is a smaller tree down by the water, Xena. I can get those easily!"
The warrior knew she was right because she had seen the tree earlier in the day. She thought, for a moment and then nodded. "OK, go, but you stay out of the high trees, got it?" she said in a stern voice. The child nodded and quickly scurried down the path.
Xena then quietly slid over to Gabrielle and placed an arm around her shoulder, squeezing really hard. "Now my little friend, what is this LOOK you have been teaching Tarren?" she asked with a smile. The bard choked on her apple trying to wriggle free. Xena noted the sour expression on her friends face and released her. This was obviously NOT a time for play. The warrior sat down on an adjacent log and pulled her sword out of its sheath ready to run the stone along its edges.
"Dont even think about it!" the bard yelled. Xena placed the sword beside her and stood hovering above the young bard, "Thats it. Ive had enough! Gabrielle, you have been biting my head off for the last week. You even have Tarren afraid to go near you. We dont do anything right anymore. Now what is your problem?" she yelled, her voice full of frustration.
The bard dropped her quill and stood to face her friend. "Look, I have had to put up with enough of your bad moods to last a life time. I am trying very hard to get something acceptable written before we reach Athens. THAT is important to ME. I know YOU think its silly, warrior, but this competition means a lot to me," the bard finished angrily, dropping to her seat once again.
The warrior folded her muscular arms and studied her friend. She had never seen her so upset over something like this before. The warrior was angry at her friends accusations and sympathetic to her pain as well. She knelt beside her, contemplating her words.
"Gabrielle, I have NEVER once thought your stories were silly. I think you are a wonderful bard. You know that. I told you that we will make Athens in plenty of time for the contest," she said evenly.
The warrior was angry at her friends accusations and sympathetic of her pain as well. The bard covered her face with her hands, "Xena, Im sorry. I dont mean to be so snippy, but I need to know that people other than my friends and family appreciate my work. All I am asking for is a little peace and quiet for a few days," she said wringing her hands in frustration.
Xena sighed heavily. "Look if you want quiet then quiet is what you will have my friend," the warrior said gently as she returned to her place. She sheathed her sword and pulled out her saddlebags. She had been meaning to put a new strap on the front and now seemed like an ideal time for such quiet work.
The bard eyed her friend sadly. She had not meant to chase her away or to hurt her feelings. Xena was only trying to help, and she had pushed her away. Gabrielle searched for something to mend the rift, but for once the bard was short on the right words.
Tarren ran through the woods happy to be free of the constraints of rules and baths and any other thing that hindered her spirit from roaming free. The child headed toward the small apple tree down by the water where the promised apples hung.
When she passed the tall trees that Xena had found her in earlier, she stopped. "Hmm, seems a shame to make such a long walk all the way down to the water when I can make a quick climb right here and get what we need. What Xena doesnt know wont hurt ME," she whispered to herself with a giggle as she jumped to the lowest branch. Quickly she removed her tunic and tossed it to the ground. She then swung from branch to branch until she had reached the near top of the tree, where the largest nest of apples was hidden. Carefully she picked them one by one and tossed them to the ground below. She counted them as she picked. "6,7,8, 9... that should be enough to satisfy even Gabrielle," she said with a snicker. Tarren grabbed onto the nearest branch and began her descent with all the skill of a small warrior princess.
When she was half way down she reached for a branch that was too weak to hold even her slight form. It snapped and down she went, hitting the ground below with a loud thud.
The child shook her head and tried to rise, but there was a shooting bolt of pain in her right arm and she fell back to the ground. Glancing quickly over at her arm she noted a large gash. The child winced and cried as she felt all the air leave her lungs. She was tempted to call for Xena but then she remembered her warning about the tall trees and decided against it. The youngster looked at the gash on her arm. The blood was steadily flowing from it, and her shoulder ached at just the slightest movement.
Fear raced through the mind of the youngster as she again tried to stand up. She had to get cleaned up before Xena and Gabrielle came looking for her. Tarren picked up her tunic. The wounded child headed for the stream, where she carefully washed the bloody wound as best she could and tore off a piece of her undergarment to use as a bandage. She winced as she saw the blood soak quickly through the linen.
"I cant let them see this. Xena will kill me," she wailed, holding her shoulder. Tears poured from her eyes. Tarren painfully put her tunic on once again. With a splash of water, she wiped the dirt and tears from her eyes and hands. She stood, steadied herself a bit, and slowly headed back to where she had fallen.
Every movement of her body sent searing pain through the youngsters body as she picked up as many as the apples as she could with her good arm. She was no longer able to move her right arm from its position at all.
"I will not keep Gabrielle from that contest. I dont want her hating me," she cried to whatever gods guided wayward children.
Placing the apples inside her tunic she took a quick accounting of herself. Her face was clean, as were her hands. The sleeve of her tunic covered her bloody wound. She knew that she could not hide this from Xena very long and her demise was inevitable, but at least she could hold out until they reached Athens.
The child took a deep breathe and headed back to the camp, trying to place a smile on her face, but the bounce in her step was gone, and the innocence in her eyes was lost.
Tarren walked into camp and noted happily that the warrior and the bard were both deeply involved in their work. They were not even speaking to one another. Gabrielle was writing in her scroll, and Xena was sewing a piece of leather onto her saddlebags.
Noticing the youngsters approach, Xena gazed up and offered the child a friendly smile. "The great hunter returns. Did ya get the apples?"
Tarren grinned. As if showing the warrior the ease with which they were obtained, she reached in with her left hand, and one by one tossed the apples into the basket at the bards feet and then bowed.
The warrior nodded approvingly. "Very good," she said not taking her eyes off the small form in front of her. "What took ya so long?" she asked, still studying the girls stiff stance suspiciously.
The child knew that a barrage of questions would be a problem. She needed to sidetrack the suspicious warrior. Mustering as much attitude as she could and dropping the smile from her face, she replied in a cocky tone, "I sat under the tree for a while. Do I need permission for that too, warrior?" The child knew how Xena hated the use of that title.
"Excuse me? What is your problem?" the warrior moaned, startled by the girls smug response. Tarren quickly sat beside the fire, careful not to move her arm. If the warriors glance caught pain on her face, Tarren knew all would be lost.
The bard jumped up, waving her hands in the air. "Now, now, I think we are all just hungry. Its been a long day, so lets just have some dinner and relax. Im even putting my scrolls away for the night," the bard said, trying to ease the growing tension with a bit of diplomacy.
Xena sighed heavily and dismissed the childs attitude returning her concentration to her work.
Gabrielle handed Tarren a plate of food, which the child looked at with both hunger and confusion. If she didnt eat with her right hand, Xena would know something was wrong. She needed to pass on dinner quickly. This was not going to be easy.
"Fish again. Im sick of fish," she said, dropping the plate on the ground at the bards feet. That was that.
Xena dropped her saddlebags and jumping to her feet. Standing over the impudent child, she said, "I dont know what has gotten into you, but I wont have it! Now, you either apologize to Gabrielle for that remark, or you can just got to bed NOW without supper!" Her eyes never wavered from the little girls face.
The child gave her answer by scooting on the ground to her bedroll and quickly burying herself in the blankets.
Xena watched in disbelief, as did the bard. "Fine, suit your self," the warrior said in an angry whisper as she returned to her saddlebags.
Gabrielle stared at Xena, who just raised her hands in the air, offering no answer to the confused bard.
Underneath the blankets, Tarren shed a tear for both the pain she felt and the hurt she knew she had caused.
Chapter 2 Faith and Forgiveness
As the sun broke over the horizon, Tarren glanced over and saw the still sleeping forms of Xena and Gabrielle by her side. She had not slept much through the night. She knew that her bandage was soaked with blood, and she wanted to clean it before anyone else was awake. Slowly, she tiptoed out of camp and headed for the stream.
The warrior opened one eye but did not move from her place.
The child knew that the swelling on her arm and the size and the depth of the gash were bad signs. She shredded more of her undergarment to use as a bandage. Carefully, she wrapped the bandage around her wound once again and replaced her tunic. She tossed the blood soaked cloth into the water and watched it float way. She then sat there wishing she had never climbed that tree and wanting to just tell Xena that she was hurt. She wanted comfort. She wanted to cry. She wanted help, none was to be had at that moment. She would gladly accept her punishment from the warrior if it meant the awful pain and fear she felt would go away.
But what of Gabrielles contest? Tarren knew that her presence among the woman slowed them down and made them change their routes to slower but safer ones. She did not want to be the cause of ruining something that was obviously so important to the bard by slowing them down even more. Fighting back tears, the child sat by the water and held her shoulder.
"So do you want to tell me what last night was all about?" a husky voice from behind asked.
Tarren turned slowly and stared at the large, muscular figure of the Warrior Princess. She lowered her eyes and shook her head.
Xena crouched down beside her. "OK, suit yourself, but I dont want to see any more of it today. Do you understand me?" she said in a no nonsense tone.
The child looked into the warriors eyes and almost spoke, but held back her words and again just nodded.
Xena could see the pain in the childs eyes in that flash. "Tarren, if something is wrong, you have to tell me. I cant help you if you dont tell me whats bothering you," the warrior said softly, touching the childs head.
Tarren quickly got to her feet afraid the warrior would accidentally touch her arm. "Nothings wrong, Xena. Im fine. I just want to be left alone OK?" she said, sprinting towards the camp.
The warrior stood and looked after the running child with a puzzled gaze, "No its not OK!" she whispered to the wind that flew through her hair as she slowly headed back to camp. She could sense there was something wrong, but she wasnt sure what it was yet.
Tarren slowed to a walk as she entered the camp and was greeted by the smiling bard. She handed her an apple and grinned. "You must be hungry after missing dinner," the bard said with a smile.
The child took the food, grateful not to have to again explain a lack of interest in eating from a plate.
The bard smiled as she watched the child devour the food.
"Gabrielle, how far is it to Athens?" Tarren asked tossing the skeletal remains of the apple to the ground.
The bard looked at her, confused by the childs obvious urgency. "Well, I guess its about two or three days from here: Why?" she asked folding her arms in confusion.
The girl stammered a bit, walking away from her friend. "No reason; Just curious how much longer wed be on this road, thats all. I wouldnt want you to be late for the contest," the child said with a forced grin.
The bard nodded, "Oh No, thats not gonna happen this time. We will make it in plenty of time. I have Xenas word on that!" she said with conviction. Gabrielle started packing her things away and cleaning up the camp sight.
Xena quickly walked into view but merely passed by the pair without so much as a glance at Tarren or Gabrielle. She threw her saddlebags over Argos back and tugged at her reigns gently. "Come on, you two. Lets get going," she said, studying Tarren.
The child heaved her satchel onto her good shoulder and headed out onto the road. The youngster trying to keep a good distance ahead of her companions, so as not to be forced into conversation. She could not risk showing the great pain that she was feeling or the dizziness that was sweeping through her body.
"Xena whats wrong with her? I mean I know she can be a bit hard to handle at times, but this doesnt seem like her at all. Shes sullen and distant." The concern in the bard's face was obvious.
They had been walking for less than half the morning with Tarren staying at least 10 paces ahead of them at all times. Any time the warrior or the bard spoke to her, she just waved to them with a hand, never even turning around.
The warrior studied the childs movements carefully. She noticed the youngster barely moved her arms...that her pace was not consistent...yet she took faster steps any time Xena or Gabrielle tried to approach. "I dont know whats wrong but I am more than a little tired of playing guessing games with this kid. Tarren, stop!" she yelled tossing the bard Argos reins.
Xena took a few giant strides until she was staring down at the child. "OK, Tarren, enough is enough. First, you were a brat at dinner last night, and now you are treating us like we have the plague. We are not moving from this spot until you tell me what is wrong?" The warrior folded her arms stubbornly and waited for a reply.
The small face of the little girl turned slightly, and Xena could see the dry tears on her cheeks and the great pain in her eyes. Her normally soft face was red and flushed.
Xena fell to one knee and faced the child, dropping her voice to its softest tone, "What is it, Tarren? Tell me whats wrong," she said gently grabbing the childs arms to draw her closer.
The girl screamed in pain at the touch and fell backward, caught only by the warriors grip.
"Youre hurt!" the warrior yelled, staring into the eyes of her daughter.
Gabrielle tied Argo to a branch and raced to the side of the warrior. "What is it?" she asked, staring at the young girl.
Xena looked at the bard and then Tarren who now had fresh tears falling down her cheeks.
The bard reached out to touch her face "Whats wrong honey?" she asked as the child winced at the thought of a touch.
Xena stood and with a quick swipe lifted the girl into her arms avoiding the obviously ailing part of Tarrens body. "Gabrielle, get Argo and meet me down the path. There is a small clearing next to a stream where we will make camp."
"NO!" the little girl cried. She tried to free herself from Xenas arms but was unable to muster any great effort to do so. "We wont make Athens in time if we dont keep going," The youngster yelled.
The warrior looked at Gabrielle whose shoulders slumped at the importance the child had placed on their destination. She felt pangs of guilt rushing through her body for having made the contest seem so important.
Xena tightened her hold on Tarren and sprinted down the path.
"Well, little one, that may or may not be so, but right now you are getting a full examination by me whether you like it or not," the warrior said sternly.
When they reached the clearing, Xena placed the child gently down on some high grass. "Now, are you going to tell me exactly where the pain is, or do I have to find it myself," the warrior said prepared for either direction.
The childs sobs quieted a bit as she looked into the blue gaze of her friend and guardian. "Im sorry, Xena. I...I...fell out of the tree and..."
The warriors eyes flew wide open, and she silenced the girl. There was not merely anger in her eyes but great fear. "Which tree, Tarren? How far did you fall?" she asked trying to steady her voice, knowing that a fall from a very high tree could mean internal bleeding.
The little girl wiped the tears from her face. "The one you said not to climb. I guess I fell from a bit less than half way down," she cried lowering her eyes.
Xena tried to regain her composure a bit. She had to work fast. "Where are you hurt?" the warrior asked, running her hands up and down the childs legs and abdomen looking for any sign of damage.
"My arm and shoulder. Xena, I cant move my shoulder," the child whispered through a sob.
The warrior caressed Tarrens cheek and slowly removed her tunic to see the damage.
Gabrielle had just arrived, and Xena asked for the medical pouch. She took one look at the girls shoulder and knew it was dislocated. The great warrior cringed at the thought of the pain the child must have been experiencing. She quickly removed the bloody bandage and saw the deep gash still oozing blood.
"Damn, this will have to be sewn." Xena looked down at the frightened face of her daughter as she tried to control her own anger and fear. "Why? Why didnt you tell me you were hurt? Why didnt you let me help you?" she scolded, angered by the childs reckless act and foolish behavior as well as her own failure to recognize the injury sooner.
"I didnt want you to get mad at me for climbing the tree, and I didnt want Gabrielle to miss her contest because of me."
The bard fell to the ground beside the child. "Hey, stop right there! If you dont know that you are more important to me than any contest, then someone has definitely not been paying attention," she scolded.
Xena smiled at the bard grateful that she cared so much for the child as to put her own needs and desires away.
"Gabby, you said you wouldnt miss it for anything!" the girl whispered.
The bard shook her head, angry with herself for making such a big deal over the contest, "Tarren that does NOT include you. There are other contests, but there is only one you." She gently scolded, wiping the sweat from the childs forehead. The youngster shook her head in disbelief at the bards words.
Xena worked fast, gently cleaning the wound. She eyed the child as the bard started a fire. "Tarren, I wont lie to you. This is going to hurt. I can deaden the pain a bit with a nerve pinch, but youll still feel it some," she said in an even but tender tone.
The little girl nodded, knowing that Xena was worried. "Xena, are you mad at me?" she asked through her tears staring up at the leather clad form of her friend.
The warrior tried to smile. "What do you think?" she quickly replied.
Tarren nodded, "I think youre mad at me." the little girl whispered never taking her eyes off the great warrior.
Xena nodded in agreement, "I think youre right, but thats something we WILL discuss when you are feeling a little better. Right now all I care about is that you are well, ya got it?" she said wiping the childs cheek gently dry with her hand.
Tarren sniffled and nodded, knowing the warrior was fighting back her own tears as she looked at the open wound she was now ready to sew.
Gabrielle brought over a heated needle and thread.
"Gabrielle, hold her head," Xena ordered.
The bard dropped to her knees and took the girls head gently in her hands.
Xena offered the girl a stick to bite on before giving a swift pinch to a nerve to dull the pain. Then, she quickly blocked out the sounds of the sobbing child and the image of the bards worried face and sewed nine stitches neatly into the wound.
Gabrielle wiped the tears from Tarrens face and the sweat from her own brow as Xena removed the stick from the girls mouth.
"Done!" she said looking into the face of her child and caressing her cheek, knowing from experience the excruciating pain she was feeling. The great warrior kissed her gently on the forehead, and with a quick movement of her fingers removed the pinch that had dulled the youngsters pain. Tears flowed steadily out of the corners of Tarrens eyes, but Xena could say nothing more than "Its OK. Im right here with you."
Tarren nodded trying to hide the pain that she knew hurt the warrior to see. "Its OK, Xena. Im all right," she said her voice shaking with each word.
The warrior smiled a bit, "I know you are, little one...I know."
Xena rose from her spot and began mixing a poultice to place over the wound.
Gabrielle caught the eye of her friend, who motioned for her to join her by the fire. "How bad is it?" the bard asked with concern.
Xena continued mashing the herbs into a paste and shook her head. "Well, that wound is infected. She has a slight fever. If she had come to me when it happened..." the warriors words trailed off. "Gabrielle its going to be a very long night." She said evenly. "I have to set that shoulder NOW!" Xena said, swallowing hard at the thought of her next task.
The bard winced at the thought of the pain the child felt and would feel, and she could see the agony in the great warriors face as well. The bard placed a loving hand on her friends shoulder, and the warrior nodded in gratitude.
"Mix the white powder into a tea, and bring it over. We have to get that fever down and control that infection," she whispered.
The bard nodded and went to her task. "Are you sure you want to give her this?" the young woman asked knowing its effects could be strong.
The warrior nodded. "We dont have much choice Gabrielle," she said quickly.
Gabrielle quickly continued her task, finding it hard to find the right words to speak in the midst of all the suffering she knew both of her friends were feeling.
Xena knelt next to the child who was struggling to sit up. She placed a gentle but firm hand on her pushing her back down, "Stay put!" she said in a menacingly no nonsense tone. She then placed the paste over the wound and wrapped it carefully in linen bandage.
Gabrielle brought the tea over and handed the mug to Xena. "Tarren, you have to drink this all down," Xena said placing the small mug near the childs lips and holding her head up.
The smell of the vile mixture made the girl turn away. "No way! That stuff smells bad! Im not drinking it," she said pulling away.
Xena had no time to coddle her. "Look, you have to drink it! It will make you feel better," she said trying not to allow anger into her voice.
"NO!" the child said, as she pushed the mug away with her free hand.
Xenas patience was gone. "LOOK, you are going to either drink this on your own, or I am going to sit on you and pour it down your throat. One way or the other it IS going in. Understand?" the warrior, yelled.
Gabrielle quickly moved to the childs side and gently caressed her arm.
"Tarren, Xena just wants you to take this medicine so youll feel better. I know it smells bad, but I promise it will help you feel much better if you drink it. Please!" the bard, said with a gentle smile.
The girl was taken back by her friends pleading tone and slowly submitted to the mugs presence, drinking the contents without further protest.
Xena sighed and nodded at Gabrielle. "You still have that touch my friend," she whispered.
The bard nodded and kissed Tarrens cheek. "Thank you!"
Xena placed the mug to one side of her. "Im sorry, Tarren. Im only doing what I have to do to help you get better. I dont want to yell at you, but you have to do as I say. We cant play games now, OK?" she said gently wiping the hair from the youngsters face.
The child nodded. "Im sorry to be so much trouble, Xena. I know you sort of got stuck with me when Nala asked you to take me," the girl said with a quick yawn.
Xenas face went blank as she grabbed the childs tunic. "Tarren, I did not take you because I had to. I took you with me because I wanted to. I want you with me. I REALLY want you here with me! Do you understand that?"
The child held the warriors gaze for a moment and smiled. "Ya do?"
Xena nodded and caressed the youngsters warm cheek. "Of course I do. How could you think anything different?"
The child shrugged and then yawned again. The herbs were taking effect and this conversation would have to wait with others on the warriors agenda.
"Hey we both want you here. Right Xena?" the bard added placing a gentle hand on her friend.
"Right!" she said without hesitation.
Tarren smiled at the two woman seated next to her and then yawned again.
Xena took a deep breath and closed her eyes. "Tarren, I have to set your shoulder. Its OK if you want to yell out!" she said gently watching the little girls eyes blink in understanding.
The bard held tightly to the childs head once again.
Xena took Tarrens hand in her own, placing her foot cautiously under the little girls arm. She squeezed the childs hand lightly and smiled, allowing her blue eyes to lock with those of her daughters, and then with a yank pulled the shoulder back into place.
The child groaned in agony but never yelled out. Tarren never let her blue gaze break with that of her guardian. As the warrior lowered the girls arm gently to the ground, the childs eyes closed in blackness.
"Shes unconscious," the warrior said, wiping a tear from her face and eyeing the tears on the bards cheeks. "Come on, lets get a sling on that shoulder," the warrior said wrapping linen around the Tarrens arm to keep it from moving. The child only grimaced a bit but did not wake. For that both the warrior and bard were grateful. Gabrielle got cold cloths soaked in water from the stream and placed them on the Tarrens shoulder to bring down the swelling. Then the two friends who had traveled together for so long, watched and waited as the child slept.
Xena lay next to her daughter, wiping beads of sweat away with a damp cloth. Gabrielle sat beside her holding Tarrens hand so she knew that she was not alone, even for a second.
"Xena?" The warrior looked up at her friend. "Huh?"
"Are you OK?"
The warrior nodded. "Well, I dont know what bothers me more, the fact that she climbed those damned trees after I told her so many times not too, or the fact that she didnt come to me when she was hurt."
The bard nodded. "I was thinking sort of the same thing. How could she think my contest was something MORE important than her? Are we doing something wrong?"
The warrior stood and stretched out her muscles a bit "No, Gabrielle, she is!" the warrior said thinking of the days events.
As the morning came, the eyes of the sleepy child opened. She saw the face of the warrior and bard looking down at her. "Good morning, sleepy head," Gabrielle said as Xena felt Tarrens cool forehead and sighed with relief at the absence of the fever.
Next, the warrior examined the wound and replaced the bandage. The child grimaced at the pain in her shoulder but was happy to find that now she could move it a little.
"It will be a few days before you can use that arm, so you better get used to being waited on for a while," the warrior said with a gentle smile.
Gabrielle offered the child some food that she happily devoured from the plate. Xena was relieved to see she was hungry. It was a good sign. The danger had passed. The girl started to rise, but once again Xena stopped her. "NO! Not you cant get up just yet, Tarren. You need your rest. We will stay here for a few days."
The child lowered her head in submission, but when Gabrielle went down to the stream to fill the water bags the child spoke. "Xena, I want Gabrielle to get to Athens. Please...if we leave now we can still make it," the youngster pleaded.
The warrior looked at the child sympathetically. "Tarren, you are in no condition to travel right now," she said stiffly.
"Xena, I can ride on Argo. I dont want Gabby to miss this contest because of me. Shell hate me, Xena," she cried hoping to change the warriors mind.
Xena folded her arms and sighed. She knew that Gabrielle would never hate the child, but it was more important that Tarren realize that. "NO, Tarren, you have to rest, and that is the last I want to hear about it," The warrior said sternly.
The girls eyes filled with tears as she turned her face away from the warrior.
Xena knelt beside her and whispered, "Tarren, no one is gonna hate you for getting hurt. Gabrielle loves you."
The little girl said nothing. She just lay there staring up at the sky.
The warrior gently pulled the blankets up to cover the small form. "You stay put, got it?" she warned.
The girl blinked in understanding.
Xena walked towards the water where Gabrielle was filling the last of the skins and stared sadly down at her young friend. "Gabrielle, I want you to go on to Athens without us," the warrior whispered.
The bard turned quickly. "What? No! Xena, its just a contest. I want to stay here. Tarren needs..."
The warrior raised her hand to silence her friend. "Tarren needs to know its not her fault that you missed the contest. I felt guilty for months myself last year. Do you want her to feel that way too?"
The bard shook her head "This is ridiculous. There will be other contests. THIS is important not the contest."
Xena placed a hand on her friends shoulder. "Gabrielle, that kid wants to leave right now just so you can make it to Athens. I know you want to stay with her, but she needs you to go to Athens more."
The bard wiped a tear from her face and looked at her friend "OK Xena, if thats what you think is best."
The warrior embraced the bard gently. "Yeah, its best...but you better win," the warrior warned.
The bard nodded "Ill do my best, my warrior," she said with a sniffle and headed back to camp.
The bard knelt down beside Tarren, "Well, since you are in such great hands here, Ive decided to go on to Athens without you two."
The girls eyes opened wide, both happy and sad to see her friend go. "You and Xena will just have to cook for yourselves for a few days," Gabrielle said with a slight smile rubbing the childs cheek.
Tarren smiled a bit, "Dont worry, I have plenty of apples."
The bard laughed and gently kissed the girls forehead before grabbing her staff and satchel and heading for the road.
Xena followed behind her a bit. "This is a safe road, Gabrielle. YOU stay on it straight into Athens. We will meet you there in 5 days."
The bard hugged the great warrior, "Yes, Mother. Now you two take care of each other," she said with the shake of her finger.
The warrior bowed her head slightly to her friend. "Well be fine, my Amazon Queen."
Gabrielle smiled at the use of the title and started on her way. Xena watched her young friend trot unhappily down the road into Athens.
Xena sat beside Tarren and once again added a cool cloth to the shoulder. "So how are ya feeling?" she asked in a soft whisper.
The child bit her lip. "IT hurts, Xena," she said without hesitation.
The warrior nodded and reached for another mug of tea. " I know it does," she said softly.
"It doesnt hurt enough to want to drink more of that!" the youngster cried pointing to the mug. The warrior gave her a warning glance, and the child quickly opened her mouth to accept the awful medicine.
"Good girl!" the warrior whispered as she lay down next to her child.
"Xena?" the child called.
"Huh?" the warrior responded.
The warrior said nothing, but just draped a protective arm over the youngsters chest and waited for her to once again enter the land of Morpheus.
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