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 author’s 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 stories called SHE HAS MY EYES, ON THE ROAD AGAIN, NALA’S GIFTS, HOME SWEET HOME, and Little Thief of Hearts You really MUST read those stories 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. Feedback is ALWAYS appreciated and I am most grateful to all that have written and will hopefully continue to write me with your thoughts.

 

 

Xena Warrior Mother Series –story 6

 

Legend of the Last Amazon-Part XIIIA

By Fantimbard@aol.com

 

 

Part 13

 

 

 

Chapter 38 – For Tarren

 

 

 

In the temple of Artemis…

 

 

Gabrielle pushed passed the familiar faces of Amazon warriors who only wished to offer their salute and allegiance to the queen, the leader, who had taken them into battle and on to victory.  However the confused bard would allow no one to block her path. She ignored all greetings and salutations pushing her way through bodies until she was finally able to free herself of the crowd and walk through the large gated doors that lead into the temple of Artemis. 

 

A sea of questioning eyes stared at the entrance to the temple unsure if any should follow the anxious bard inside. However, amidst the murmurs of bewildered Amazons the loud sound of a heavy metal door crashing closed answered all questions.

 

Gabrielle shut out the world of reality leaving her instead in a place of history and prayer. Once sure that she was finally alone, the young woman let out one long breath with such fervor it sounded as if she had been holding that single burst of air all her life and was only now letting it find safety in release. 

 

As the wind left her lungs, the bard’s body deflated a bit, dropping back and propping against the doorway making sure no other would follow into this place of solitude.  She pressed her back firmly against the cool metal of the door until the rivets of the heavy plated bolts dug into the bare skin of her arms. She did not move.  It was as if the confused young woman wished to feel the pain of the sharp edges pressing into her skin so the agony that ripped through her very inner being would be, if only for a moment, forgotten or replaced by a new sensation.

 

 

After a few moments of frantic inhales and exhales of air the bard stepped away from the entrance allowing her eyes to soak up all that now lay before her for this was actually the first time she had ever even visited this altar to the Amazon goddess.

 

Standing in the center of the temple was a large stone statue of Artemis holding a sword high above her head, pointing perhaps to the sun or her fellow immortals on Olympus. “Even their gods must honor a blade,” the bard murmured noting the edge of the stone weapon was tinted red with blood to show victory.  

 

Gabrielle flinched a bit as she recalled the smaller statue of the very same goddess she had knocked from a pedestal in the healer’s hut earlier in the day.  Her head felt the throbs of the memory as she recalled how the stone figure had shattered into a thousand pieces on the bare planking beneath her. The statue then, in the very blink of an eye, had appeared again, standing in perfect condition on the very pedestal that was its place. 

 

The bard shook her head trying to push the thought into a deeper and darker part of her mind. “Come on Gabrielle pull it together.  It’s just battle fatigue.  That’s all.  You’ll be just fine if you don’t let yourself fall apart,” she said in a self-lecturing tone hoping her own words would lend support. With a deep breath and a new resolve the young woman continued her tour of the temple.

 

Gabrielle smiled weakly as she glanced around the sacred chambers, now absent with worshipers but still filled with remnants of those that had sought refuge earlier.  “Hello,” she called, really only wanting to hear the sound of her voice echoing back, hoping it would offer her some feeling of comfort or familiarity.

 

 It did not.

 

Green eyes traveled the distance of the large entranceway before blinking and moving onto the main chamber. The windows were draped with heavy red ceremonial cloth.  Gabrielle ran her fingers over the surface noting that while smooth in appearance, the touch was prickly and unfavorable to many of her senses. She moved her fingers to the cooler, more comforting stone architecture.

 

The walls were painted with scenes of battles fought and won in the name of Artemis and many depicted bloody bodies lying at the feet of Amazon heroes. The traveling hand paused as the bard noted an all too familiar scene depicted in the storytelling dyes. She bit her lip and ran her hands in a caressing motion over a section of the cool wall that showed the glorious image of a Warrior Princess and a bard standing victorious over the fallen form of a once misguided Amazon. “Xena,” she whispered letting her head drop gently beside the painting as if wishing the warrior would sneak up from behind, as she often did, and speak some words of wisdom that would justify all that happened this day.

 

The warrior did not appear.

 

 

 

Gabrielle sighed knowing her friend was now bound to more precious things just as she herself was. She stared up at the images that told the story of Velasca, an Amazon who had killed queen Melosa, swallowed ambrosia, food of the gods hoping for a life of immortality and power.  Instead Xena had tricked both Velasca and the evil Callisto into a river of lava.

 

Gabrielle pulled her hand back when she saw the glowing eyes of her worst enemy painted on the wall as well.  Even a mere artist’s rendition of Callisto ripped at her already tattered soul bringing back the worst and deepest feelings of pain and regret. “Hope,” she whispered with a hard swallow remembering how she herself had aided in the death of her own evil young daughter. 

 

The bard blinked away tears and moved along the wall quietly still staring at the history told with pictorial accuracy. Her hand again paused, this time over the image of a small boy with golden hair tied with a single strip of leather.  “Solon,” she murmured, wondering if Xena even knew this portrait of her dead son existed in the temple. 

 

Gabrielle felt her fingers tighten as if trying to rip the image itself from the wall.  There was the echoing sound of an open hand slapping the cold stone.  The young woman wiped her eyes with the back of her hand and again looked upon the image of the boy standing in a horse drawn chariot heading toward the sky knowing this was the greatest tribute the Amazons would pay an outsider. “I am so sorry.  I know Xena thinks of you often and it hurts her that you are not here.” She shook her head as if trying to make sense of all that had happened in her life. “Oh Solon, she doesn’t think I know that but I do.  I can see it in her eyes when she looks at Tarren…and…sometimes no matter what she says…I think she still has not forgiven me for….” She sniffled a bit.  “I think of you too.  Did you know that?  I miss you too Solon.  I am so sorry I let it happen,” She lowered her head and the blond strands fell to one side. “I am so sorry,” she repeated thinking of all that had been lost in senseless bloodshed and death in the name of nothing more than vengeance or hate of someone or some thing. “Children hurt and dying,” she whispered as if those words were all that ran through her mind.

 

The bard’s shoulders slumped a bit and she moved away from the images of the past trying to concentrate on all that was now in her heart.  “Tarren.  I must help little Tarren.  I cannot lose her too,” she said with a sudden burst of tears streaming down her cheeks. With a few deep breaths she again moved on toward her objective.  “I must help Tarren,” she repeated feeling a bit of strength flow into her words as her muscles tightened around them.

 

Gabrielle had a purpose.

 

 

Walking along the side of the chamber allowing the smell of burning incense to fill her nostrils made the bard’s head sway as the sweet aroma enveloped her, but the sudden trance was broken by the sight of the very thing she was looking for, the Place of Asking.

 

Gabrielle knew from reading the scrolls that any Amazon was allowed to come to the sacred Place of Asking which was actually just a table placed right beneath an altar where one could offer their most prized possession in exchange for the chance to ask a favor from the goddess.  The bard herself had come to ask for such a favor and as a queen of the Amazons she expected her wish would be granted.

 

With a deep breath and a hard swallow the young woman started toward the altar to try and make her world right again. But before she could make half the distance her steps were halted by the sound of another voice already standing in the very place she herself wished to be.

 

Not wishing to be confronted or honored by another Amazon, the bard slid behind a large pillar before her own presence was detected.  It was there in the shadows of silence that she listened to another’s request to the goddess of the Amazons.

 

Green eyes peeked from the darkness and locked on a large familiar figure kneeling beneath the altar submissively.  Eyes widened at the realization of just who was speaking. “Eponon.”  The small figure fell against the hard pillar and closed her eyes as she listened to what should have been a private moment.

 

 

The muscular figure dressed in full Amazon warrior regalia kept her wounded arm carefully placed in the sling as she tried to find the words that were in her heart to share with Artemis.

“Look I know I’m in trouble for not staying with the centaurs, and I’ll bet you think that I’m hear to ask you to save my feathers. I’m not,” she explained, caressing her wound with her free hand as her usually frozen features softened in the quiet of her thoughts.

 

The bard smiled and shook her head knowing that the wounded Amazon warrior had returned to the village despite her own orders that she remain with the children in the centaur village. “Must have come back here and hidden in the temple,” the bard thought, realizing that the Amazon had doubled back to the village to guard the path of the fleeing children, ready to fight an army with one arm rather than run. “Warriors,” she whispered, feeling a new tear cooling her now burning cheeks.

 

The bard knelt down mistakenly allowing her boot to rub against the tiny grains of dirt on the planking. “Damn,” she murmured, knowing that all warriors’ senses were acute to sound.

 

The Amazon’s head snapped to one side. “Who’s there?” she yelled already angered by the mere thought of a possible intruder.

 

Gabrielle clung to the darkness holding even her slightest breath demanding that she become one with the shadows.

 

There was silence.

 

After a moment of scanning her surroundings Eponon shook her head an again turned to the altar deciding that it was only the wind from the trees making the sounds of intruders for no true Amazon would dare violate the Place of Asking while another was joined. 

 

 

With a quick cleaning breath Eponon repositioned herself closer to the altar wanting to make sure that her words were truly between only she and the goddess.  “So ya see Artemis like I was saying…this kid of Xena’s, her name’s Tarren and she’s real sick.  I know she can be a real pain in the ass and all but she’s basically a good little kid and someday she’ll be a great warrior or maybe even something more.”  She thought for a moment and smiled. “Xena loves that kid an awful lot and it seems only fair that she gets to keep her since ya know she lost her son and all.”

 

Gabrielle closed her eyes and pulled her knees in close to her chest, wrapping her arms tightly around them. “By the gods Eppy.  You’re here for Tarren,” she thought burying her head in her own lap so as not to have the sounds of her muffled tears heard by her Amazon friend.

 

 

Eponon fiddled with the feathers on her armband.  “The truth is Artemis I sort of like the kid myself but don’t tell her that.  She’ll want to trail after me and stuff and I’m not the best example for a kid.” She lowered her eyes. “I swear lots and well she’s got Xena and Gabrielle.” A slight smile. “You’ve never seen anyone dote on a kid like those two do.  Xena doesn’t think anyone notices how she looks at that kid, lots of pride…I mean sure she’s tough on the kid but only cause she has to be.  She’s her mother and a kid needs a tough mother in this world especially if you want a kid to stay on the straight and Xena’s not gonna let Tarren stray one bit…no ma’am.” A heavy sigh.” You can really see how much she loves Tarren and that’s real important for both of em…and Gabrielle…Well truth be told Artemis I never really liked the bard at first.  She’s not a true warrior and she talks too damn much sometimes.  I don't know how Xena or even Tarren takes it but...but…she’s taught me a lot and I have really come to respect her and value her as a friend and a warrior of her own way.”

 

Gabrielle held her breath waiting for the rest of this revelation to be revealed. “Please Eppy don’t say anymore.  I’m no warrior,” she whispered, biting her lip to control her growing angst.

 

Eponon picked her head up and the bard could see that her cheeks were wet with runaway tears.  The large Amazon wiped them away with the swipe of her thumb.  “Gods I’m bawling like a baby.  See what that kids done to me…damn pain in the ass little brat.  Ya see Artemis the kid is nothing but trouble so I think it best if you leave her down here with her mother where she belongs.  She’s real sick ya know.”  Again the streams of liquid made there way down the large Amazon’s face. “Damn it Artemis I’m an Amazon warrior and if you need another soldier to stand beside you then take me.  That is the life I chose and the moment of glory I live for but Tarren is just…She should get a chance to grow up and make other choices…So I’m askin you to help her…to make her well so she can have that chance.” 

 

There was a long pause as the Amazon bowed her head and finished what the bard assumed must have been a silent prayer. Green eyes grew wide as Eponon removed her most prized bonnet full of feathers earned for every great deed know to Amazons and placed in carefully on the alter before her. “For Tarren,” she whispered. With just a slight bow of her head the proud Amazon turned took a few quick paces dropped to her knees and disappeared through a few misplaced floorboards.

 

Gabrielle waited until she was sure Eponon had made her way clear of the temple before removing herself from the darkness of the shadows.  Tears raced down her cheeks and to the point of her chin with no effort to deter them made. The young woman moved quickly tot he altar still hearing the echoes of the Amazon’s final words in her ears over and over. “For Tarren.”

 

Gabrielle stretched out her hand running the slender fingers over the top of a heavily feathered bonnet carefully positioned on the altar itself.  She smiled and caressed the neatly formed headdress knowing the depth of feelings needed to have made the Amazon part with her greatest pride. “Eponon you old softy.  Tarren is never going to believe you gave up your feathers just…just for her…” she said with a sniffle covering her eyes with her fingers hoping to hold back another flood of tears.  “Tarren will say it wasn’t a fair trade…all these feathers for one kid but we know different don’t we?” she whispered letting the tip of each finger rub the silky sides of the now priceless treasure.

 

The bard’s eyes wandered to the table before the altar.  This was The Place of Asking. Both the table and the large carved altar were covered with objects of value and use, weapons and armor of every type.  The young woman wiped a tear from her eyes knowing that these symbols of faith were offered to the goddess in trade for some wish for a miracle. Desperate Amazons had left behind these offerings with a prayer for a loved one possibly on the brink of making the journey to the other side. She wondered how many more had been left in the name of the warrior’s child. “Time to see what being a queen can really do,” she muttered even hating her own use of the title now. However, just this once the bard felt that she could use the position bestowed on her for something truly worthwhile, to save a life rather than take one.  The young woman gripped the front of the table and bowed her head slightly. “Artemis I call to you,” she said in a whisper like chant.

 

There was no response.  Gabrielle let out a long breath and shook her head. “I should know better than to expect the gods to honor their own customs,” she said with an almost vengeful tone. Her eyes traveled the length of the table she was now holding so tightly to and her expression softened as she continued to eye the never-ending array of gifts and offerings left in the name of love. “Why can’t they have the same faith in peace and love outside these walls?” she questioned sill gripping the table tightly.  She thought of Xena and young Shalia and of little Tarren and the blood she herself had shed this day and there was only question the bard could think to ask. “Why?”

 

The word like the shards of stone back at the healers hut resounded with the force of a thousand soldiers marching through a field of dry grass and the young woman fell back releasing the table covering her ears to again protect them from the painful screeches of amplified truth.

 

However this time an answer came.

 

A soft glow filled the room and the figure of the goddess appeared beside the bard. “Hello my queen,” she said with a simple but regal smile.

Gabrielle did not allow the appearance to take her by her surprise.  In fact she had had expected it even asked for it. Her cheeks turned red and her fingers tightened into fists as she turned to face one of the famed gods of Olympus.  There was a fire in her eyes never before present in the gentle bard’s heart. “Artemis I am not your queen,” she said with as much venom as she could muster.

Artemis raised a brow and her own voice became stiff and low. “But you were chosen,” she declared, wanting it known that this decision was final.

The bard shook her head and patted the top of her own chest. “Only I choose for me and I choose to walk away from that title.” She paused and stared at the goddess for a long moment. “I am not the one who should lead these people.” Her voice softened a bit as the green orbs locked with the mystical glance of an immortal. “Ephiny is now destined to be the chosen one and you know it.”

Artemis gave an odd little smile and began circling the bard. “Perhaps.” She paused and studied the now frail looking figure before her. “So be it! If that is your desire then you are no longer my chosen. Ephiny shall be queen and lead the people into tomorrow but what of you Gabrielle?  Where is you path?” she asked as if taunting the young woman to find an answer.

Gabrielle let out a long breath as she considered the question. “My path is with Xena and Tarren,” she replied without hesitation.

 

The goddess moved along the chamber glancing briefly at the offerings that had been left on the child’s behalf. “Maybe it is and then again maybe it is not?  Can you really be sure of where you belong Gabrielle?” She moved closer to the bard and her voice became a halting slither of words. “Your heart bleeds from the taste of one kill and your mind is being torn in a thousand directions just trying to decide which way you should run first. How do you know where you belong?” She again smiled oddly. “You say you are not a queen nor a warrior and I know you feel you have lost the bard inside of you, so what does that leave?” she asked, her arms folded as if awaiting the answer that might change the path of all.

 

 

There was an odd look of confusion in the bard’s eyes. “Nothing…I am nothing.”  Gabrielle replied in a near whisper swallowing hard at the thought of the empty vessel she had become.  She closed her eyes and took a deep breath trying to pull together all her strength. “No!  I am Gabrielle of Potedia and whatever my path is I know it is shared with Xena and Tarren so stop with your riddles and games,” she thundered with as much confidence as she could muster.

 

Artemis shook her head and took a step back. “Who are you trying to convince Gabrielle?  Me or you?” She sighed and shook her head realizing that the help she was hoping to offer was not being recognized as such.  “Very well…If you wish I shall not say another word.”

 

 

 

Gabrielle felt a chill run up and down her spine as she stared into the eyes of the goddess of all Amazons.  She held her chin high in the air trying to remain unaffected by the power that was flowing all around her. She began moving in a steady pace around the goddess afraid that if caught in one spot her feet would surely freeze. “Why Artemis?  Why all these games?  Why the deception?” She walked in a circle around the figure never letting her eyes drop pausing only to take a step closer to the goddess.  Her nose was nearly pressed against the face of the worshipped one. “You know it took me while to clear my head enough to realize what you had done but I figured it out,” she said tapping her blondness with the tip of one finger.

“And what did you decide?” the goddess asked with a quirky little grin.

The bard waved her hands in the air and allowed a sickly but satisfied smile to form. She pointed an accusing finger at the figure before her. “I knew it was all just too easy. In the time I have spent with Xena, I have seen many battles….” She lowered her eyes at the thought of the blood she had seen spilled. “Too many battles…and that fight was just too easy. The Argonians never really had a chance. Did they? You orchestrated everything.” The bard tossed her shoulders back and quickened her pace, widening her circle. “You arranged it so Ephiny found us on the trail knowing I would return if she spoke of peace and unification.” A look of disgust appeared on the young woman’s face. “You used me to bring the Amazons together again on a field of battle so they could defeat an enemy you allowed to divide them many summers ago.”  Her face grew cold and muscles tensed at the mere thought of the manipulation she had been made part of. “You used me to help you satisfy a 100 year old grudge of yours,” she growled.

Artemis opened her mouth to protest but then closed it and shrugged her shoulders. “So I did but it was not just to satisfy my own needs Gabrielle. It was to bring the Amazons together again so they could build as one nation, be as one people again,” she replied simply deciding that she had no need to defend her actions.  After all she was a god.

 

The bard let out a little wisp of air and shook her head. “And you do not care about the cost.  What of the Amazons that died like Tyrel.” She closed her eyes. “And Shalia was like a daughter to Ephiny and…and what about little Tarren? Is this child supposed to die for your satisfaction as well?” she asked with her teeth clenched and her jaw tight.

 

Artemis lowered her head a bit. “There are many unfortunate victims in a war Gabrielle.” She thought of Shalia and Reea and how the combined forces of one soul in two bodies had completed a circle of destiny. “But sometimes in order to make everything as it should be some must be sacrificed,” she replied in a near whisper mimicking compassion.

 

The bard moved forward as if ready to attack but instead stopped only a pace from her fate. “I do not accept that.  You had no right to manipulate us.  You had no right…”

Artemis held up a hand and the room filled with a blinding light that forced Gabrielle to move back against the wall covering her eyes to keep from being blinded.

 

“You forget I am a goddess.  I have every right to do anything,” the immortal thundered.

The bard spoke through the fingers that shielded her sight never allowing the power of the goddess to intimidate nor deter her. “No Artemis you had no right to interfere with me and my family. Because of you a little girl I love as much as if she were my own may die and Xena…would die with her.” She shook her head and her voice dropped to a near whisper. “There needed to be no war Artemis,” she seethed. “You could have disposed of the Argonians any way you wished but you wanted to see a savage and bloody battle to satisfy your own taste for vengeance because those many summers ago you were not there to protect the Amazons.  Could it be you feel guilt for not being there to protect those that lived by your name and trusted in you to protect them?” she yelled with such force that the final words echoed through the chamber.

 

The bard had cracked the very force that had held her in place.

 

Artemis shifted nervously and as quickly as it had appeared the blinding light faded leaving only two figures, two victims of battle facing one another. A look of genuine regret and pain came over the immortal one as she settled back against her own alter caressing the feathers of the bonnet left by one of most prized Amazon warriors. The voice was low and unsure of the words that followed. “But we needed the battle. The Amazons were drifting further apart instead of closer together.  These simple negotiations would have failed and a civil war would have destroyed what little was left of these people.  They needed to bond together as one and what greater way to do it than to face an old enemy?” she replied a bit defensively.

Gabrielle let her feet slide along the floor in slow easy steps as she spoke. “I have to wonder if you did this for them or you,” was the quiet but forceful statement.

The golden eyes of the goddess flew open. “What!”

Gabrielle felt no fear for she had lost nearly all she could lose. If her life was to be taken in the name of truth than it was a nobler way to die than with a sword in the hand.  There was nothing more this immortal could do to cause her greater pain than she already knew. “According to the legend the Argonians attacked the Amazons and the tribes scattered.  Why didn’t you help them then?” she asked forcing her harsh gaze on the now fluttering eyes of the goddess.

Artemis lowered her head and turned away so that the bard could see the nearly human appearance of guilt and regret in her eyes. “I could not.”

Gabrielle would not allow this to go unanswered. “Why? Why could you not help these people you swear to care so much about?” There was no running from the bard’s well-focused examination of the facts.

Artemis lifted the well-feathered bonnet into her hands and cradled it close to her heart. “When Reea chose to ignore the words of the book of knowledge I gave her…she set into action a course that no god could change.  You see Gabrielle you are all offered different choices though you don’t realize it.  If you take one road instead of another then your destiny can be altered.  Reea altered the destiny of her people and there was not another road to cross until now.  I just helped to make sure my Amazons took the right path this time rather than watch them destroy each other.  It is a great day. Isn’t it?” she asked in an almost pleading tone, still caressing the feathers of the headdress.

 

Gabrielle shook her head but had no venom left inside of her. “Is it?  You speak of Amazons dying for their goddess and their people…Perhaps that is the choice that they made but what of little Tarren?  She is just a child and cannot make that choice.” Now it was the bard’s tone that was pleading.

Artemis closed her eyes and shook her head. “That was an unfortunate event but the child interfered where she did not belong.”

Gabrielle moved beside the now weary immortal still noting the tenderness with which she held the Eponon’s offering. “Artemis Tarren went after her mother who you dragged into this game along with me.  I was just an easy pawn for you to move around.” She shook her head and gave a sick little laugh.  “Gods how stupid was I to believe that I could change the path of these people.  I went around spewing words of peace when you knew all the long that you wanted, no needed a war.”  She took a deep breath and her eyes fixated on the bonnet as well. “But not Tarren.  You will not have her pay the price of this game Artemis.  Help her. I beg of you.  No I demand of you.  Help Tarren,” she said through a wave of broken sobs.

The reply was fast and simple. “I cannot.”

Gabrielle’s eyes shot open in disbelief. “Why?  You are a goddess. You can do anything. Right?”

Artemis placed a tender hand on the shoulder of her chosen and shook her head. “There is much you do not understand about we gods Gabrielle. There are limits for all of us.  We all have someone greater or…something greater to answer too eventually. The Circle of Fire protects your little Tarren and I cannot interfere…No god can.  It is forbidden,” she answered as if speaking from a sacred scroll.

 

The bard held her hands up in the air having heard all she wanted of mysteries and legends. “The circle of what?” she asked suspiciously.

Artemis rose from her place at the altar and carefully returned the bonnet to its place. “I cannot believe Eponon would give up her most valued warrior prize for this child.  These feathers represent her life as my proudest Amazon warrior.”

 

Gabrielle held her chin high as she met the eyes of the now approaching immortal. “Perhaps your Amazons know more of love and compassion than you give them credit for.  Maybe this one small child was able to crack open the hard cases fašade of stone you have them fashion themselves into in the name of being true Amazons.”

 

The goddess smiled tenderly at the young woman standing stiffly before her. “Perhaps Gabrielle but as I said there are many things you have yet to learn.  Stay here among the Amazons and all will be made clear in time.  This can be your home and your destiny. Now the people need a leader to speak of peace and of friendship among Amazons.”

 

The bard took a step back. “Still only amongst Amazon.” A look of disbelief. “Perhaps we both have a lot to learn Artemis but I will get my lessons with Tarren and Xena and that is the path for me. That is the life I choose.”

 

Artemis closed her eyes and nodded knowing this was not a decision that could be swayed. “So be it. But know this Gabrielle. Just as you have crossed over one path Xena’s destiny has already been chosen.  She and the child are intertwined.  What happens to one happens to the other now.  That was a choice the Warrior Princess made and her path cannot be changed now.  However you my chosen one can choose from many destinies.  It is all up to you.  But be careful Gabrielle for once you have chosen and taken the final step there will be no turning back.”

 

 

“I know where my place is.  It’s with Xena and Tarren.  Where they go…I go.”

“Be sure Gabrielle.  If you love them then be very sure for choosing a road with any doubt will harm them both.”

With those words the goddess vanished.

 

Gabrielle looked around waving her hand instinctively in the spot Artemis had just a moment ago stood. She let out a long breath and then stared at a statue of the goddess.  “I’m sure.”  There was doubt in the bard’s voice but she pushed away her thoughts reached into her pocket and pulled out her favorite quill.  It was the one that had been presented to her for winning the bard’s contest in Athens.  She placed it on the altar beside all the other offerings to the goddess of the Amazons and closed her eyes. “I don’t know what this circle of fire you spoke of is or if you meant it when you said you couldn’t help but if a humble gift in your name will sway you to help Tarren then here is mine.” She caressed the slender quill which she had come to enjoy writing her scrolls and in her diary. “I’d give up anything and everything to save the little one,” she whispered as she removed her hands from her prized possession for the last time.

 

Gabrielle lowered her head having felt her efforts on behalf of Tarren had really failed.  She made no effort to hold back her tears but instead welcomed the reality of their presence. “I’m so sorry Tarren.  I tried,” she mumbled. “I tried honey.  Please forgive me.”

 

There was the sound of a familiar figure clearing her throat from behind and the bard stood and turned to see Ephiny shifting nervously in the doorway.  “I’m sorry I didn’t mean to interrupt.”

 

Gabrielle sniffled a bit and tried to compose herself as she approached the true queen of the Amazons. “It’s Ok I’m done.” She took a step closer and let her eyes drop. “Eph I’m sorry for what I said about the Amazons.  It’s just that so much has happened and I need to figure it out.”

The queen placed a friendly arm of understanding on the younger woman’s shoulder and squeezed. “It’s OK Gabrielle.  You don’t have to explain anything to me.  I just wanted you to know that I am impressed…no proud…of the way you took charge and did what you had to help my people even though it went against your own beliefs.”  She stared at the blood on the bard’s skirt. “I’m sorry you had to….”

Gabrielle glanced down at he stain and closed her eyes.  “Say it…I had to kill...well I didn’t.  That man was not attacking me.” The bard recounted the tail as if retelling a bad dream. “ His back was to me but I was sure he’d kill Xena and Tarren.  I was just sure Xena wouldn’t hear him. Can you believe that?  I thought Xena would not hear something,” she said with a snicker. “So I took Penella’s sword and I dropped the point on his back and pushed as hard as I could.” Her voice became low and sad. “The thing is I was angry Eph.  I wanted to hurt him.  In that one moment I thought of all that had happened, of Shalia and Tarren and I just didn’t hesitate.  I pushed the sword through and I could feel the skin split and the blade move though his insides and just to make sure it did the job I gave it an extra little nudge like I’ve seen Xena do a hundred times.  Then he dropped to the ground and I saw Xena with her chakrum held ready as always to protect and serve.”

 

Green eyes wandered until they locked with the blue eyed Amazon. A slight shrug of the shoulders. “She would have gotten him Eph.  I didn’t have to kill him.  I could have clubbed him or drawn him away. I could have yelled out, or even just thrown a rock but I let my hate rule my thoughts and I killed in the name of it.  That Ephiny, is something I can never forget,” she said in a most solemn voice filled with pain and regret for a part of her she knew was now gone forever.

 

The queen swallowed hard feeling the pain emanating from her obviously self-tortured friend.  She had not realized until this moment the very depth of the agony the bard was feeling. “Gabrielle it was a battle.  You thought your family was in danger and you defended them.  You killed in the name of love. That’s it,” was the response of the maternal Amazon.

 

Gabrielle ignored the words of comfort and allowed her thoughts to wander. “I wonder if he had a name?” she asked never expecting an answer.

 

“Who?”

“The man I killed,” the bard replied sadly.

Ephiny grabbed her friend roughly by the shoulders giving a gentle shake. “Gabrielle listen to me. He was an Argonian, a creature from another time and place.  Artemis sent them all to their god. If you had not taken his life he would have been sent to the very same place by another or Artemis herself.  That was a decision of the gods not yours.”

The bard pulled away covering her face with her hands and pushing the tips of her fingers against her forehead. “That doesn’t change anything Eph. They were living creatures and as bad as they were they were fighting for what they felt was their survival.  Maybe they didn’t understand that we were not a threat…I don’t know.  All I know is that there is blood on my hands that I’ll never be able to wash off. I killed Ephiny and in that one moment when I pushed the sword into this back I felt something I never thought possible…satisfaction.”

The queen bit her lip and took a deep breath but her voice became deep and authoritative. “Gabrielle you need to let this go right now or you’ll destroy yourself.”

Tears again gathered at the corners of the bard’s eyes as she let out a wave of uncontrollable sobs. “Eph I think it’s too late.”

 

Ephiny quickly enveloped her friend into her arms wanting to protect her and take away the pain that was obviously too much for such a gentle soul to bare. “It’s OK Gabrielle. “  She hugged her friend close.  “You need to forget.  I know it’s hard but you need to put it behind you and move on. It just takes some time.”

The bard clung to the queen’s shoulder as if hanging on to the only thing that offered true warmth. “I can’t Ephiny,” was the quiet reply.

 

“You must.  You are a queen and….”

 

That was the one word that severed the bond. 

 

Gabrielle took a step back and her eyes, which were still watered with tears filled with rage for two words that had led her away from her true path. “Don’t you get it?  Don’t you hear me? I am not an Amazon.  I don’t want to be some tree hugging Amazon whose only thoughts are of how or when to kill my enemy.”

 

The queen’s eyes opened wide at the description of her people’s lives. “Stop right there Gabrielle.”

The bard’s words became cold. “No you stop.  You stop trying to push me into being something I don’t want to be.  I am not your chosen one.  I am not an Amazon Queen so for the love of the gods stop calling me it.”

“You need to rest Gabrielle.  You don’t know what you’re saying.  You’re tired and…”

“Oh I know what I’m saying Queen Ephiny.  I’m saying that if I had never met you, never come here, none of this would have happened so as far as I am concerned the Amazons have been nothing but a very painful part of my life which I intend to cut from my existence right now.”  She ripped the beaded arm bans from her biceps and tore the necklace of sisterhood from her throat tossing them both at Ephiny’s feet. 

 

The queen felt the muscles in her arms tighten but she closed her eyes and took a deep breath to control her anger. “Look you an I can continue this another time.  Right now Tarren and Xena need you. Xena sent me to find you.  Tarren is stirring a bit…she even spoke.  I don’t know what it means.” She could not help but cringe at the look of hurt and betrayal she was seeing in her friend’s eyes. However she continued feeling that something needed to shake her friend from this rally of self-pity and self-deterioration if even only for a short while. “They both need you right now…not some broken down remnant of you but the woman, the bard, the person that they can depend on in their time of battle.”

Hearing the words about the possibility of Tarren waking was almost too much for the bard to bare.  She wiped her eyes. “I knew Xena wouldn’t let Tarren die…you’ll see.  That kid will be up and in trouble in no time,” she muttered to no person but to an invisible room of voices she was now sure were always watching her.

Gabrielle headed for the door but stopped in her tracks realizing that her friend would not follow.  She could not bare to turn and face the friend she had just insulted and hurt so she spoke from a distance and without turning. “Ephiny.”

 

The queen stared at the broken beads of friendship strewn across the floor a few falling in between the planking as if they were nothing more than grains of dirt swept away.  “What!”

 

The bard could feel the anger in the queen’s words and knew this was no time to face this moment. “I’m sorry about Shalia.”

The queen swallowed hard realizing she had not yet allowed herself to think of her ward.  Her words were stiff but sincere. “Thank you…and thank you for seeing that she was laid out in the royal hut.  That meant a lot to…me.”

 

Gabrielle closed her eyes wishing she could go back another moment in time and take back the harsh cruel words that had come from her broken thoughts rather than her deepest heart. “Ephiny we’ve lost enough of our best today.” She thought of Tarren. “We won’t lose anymore…not today,” were the final words.

Ephiny turned to address the young woman, ready to face the demon that was destroying the gentle soul of her friend but Gabrielle was already gone.  She turned and with a heavy she began picking up the stones that remained intact.

 

 

 

 

 

Back at the cottage…

 

Gabrielle raced past names and faces ignoring all touches and voices in an effort to return to her place.  She raced into the hut sure she would see Tarren’s eyes open and that mischievous little smile already at work trying to explain her way out of trouble with Xena.

 

However as the door slammed behind her all the bard saw was the still distraught warrior mother cradling the still unconscious child in her arms as she hummed a song the young woman had never heard before.  It was a lyric that seemed dedicated to Tarren and the bard had to wonder if Xena just sang the words straight from her heart with such melody or had actually had taken the time to write this song.  Somehow the bard knew the latter was not the case.  Xena’s voice only found song when it felt something.

 

The warrior did not turn but just closed her eyes for a moment. “Hi.”

 

Gabrielle swallowed hard as she inched closer tot he pallet. “Hi.  How is she?  Eph said…”

Xena repositioned the child closer to her shoulder and paced a gentle kiss on the youngster’s cheek eliciting a jerky movement but no sound.  “She’s fighting Gabrielle.  My kid is a fighter and she will not let this beat her,” she said turning her head so the bard could see the tear stained cheeks on the usually stoic face of the warrior princess.

 

Gabrielle was not sure what to say or do.  She wanted to reach back in time and change things she had said and done but she could not. Her voice became low and cracked from the weight of the words she spoke. “Of course she’s a fighter Xena.  Look who her mother is,” she said forcing a lump down her throat as she took in a huge breath of air.

 

The warrior closed her eyes and nodded. “Yeah look who her mother is,” she replied sadly feeling the weight of he own guilt at not being there to guide her young daughter.

 

The bard felt the silence hanging over her like a rain cloud ready to burst.  With one quick step she rushed forward dropping to her knees beside the bed speaking in a rush of tears and broken ramblings.  “Xena I am so sorry for what I said.  I didn’t mean to hurt you and I never wanted anything to hurt Tarren…I love her so much and ….”

 

The warrior mother placed a gentle hand on the bard’s shoulder and silenced her friend. “Shhh Gabrielle it’s Ok. Everything is going to be Ok,” was the calm and almost too lucid response.

 

Gabrielle dropped her head on the pallet wrapping her arms tightly around both Tarren and Xena as her tears fell. “Xena lets leave here.  As soon as Tarren’s well.  Promise me we will leave here,” she begged wishing she could crawl up beside her large friend and hide in the crux of the muscular arm just as Tarren often did.

 

The warrior gave her friend a gentle squeeze and let out a quick breath. “I promise. If that’s what you want Gabrielle then we’ll go as soon as…as soon as Tarren is better,” she replied wishing the little girl would again say something even if was just some gibberish word about a Stuffy.

 

 

Through a haze of sniffles and hidden sobs the bard remained in the embrace of her family needing and wanting to hold and protect them while she felt the life rushing through each as one force. She pulled her head back just a little turning enough to watch as her friend sat clinging to the wooden frame of the large pallet never letting her eyes blink from the small form of little Tarren. 

 

This was the great Warrior Princess Xena not brought down by an arrow but reduced to a vessel of fear by the possible loss of her only living child.

 

Gabrielle bit her lip as she tried to think of a way to touch the pain of her closest friend and offer some comfort as she was surely expected to do. Her eyes narrowed as they caught sight of a large binding of parchments nestled underneath Xena’s arm.

 

It was Nala’s diary. 

 

 

 

The bard felt her brows wrinkle as she noticed how the warrior caressed the smooth skin binding of the large book with the side of her thumb with the same rhythm and tenderness she did the child’s hand.  The touch was soft and loving and protective. “I see you’ve been reading Nala’s diary again?  Did you find anything…helpful?” she asked wondering what had brought the mystic’s memoir out of the saddlebag and into the warrior’s hold.

 

 

A blue eye glanced down at the diary and then back tot the figure in its true focus.  “I was reading to Tarren. She always wanted to hear some of the stuff in the diary so I just read her a bit.” The mother snapped her head around suddenly. “Did you know that Tarren’s first word was Momma,” she said with a proud smile. It faded replaced by an immediate from.  “She called a gruffy old dog of Nala’s Momma.”  She shook her head. “Because I wasn’t there,” she said each word dripping with regret.

 

Gabrielle placed a tender hand over the warrior’s fingers making sure to cup both Tarren’s and Xena’s in the grip. “Hey that is not your fault Xena.  You didn’t know. You have to accept that and…”

 

This was the same weight of guilt that had been an issue with the warrior since she had found her daughter.

 

 

 


The watery soft gaze changed to a cold blue stare turned on the bard and the muscles of the warrior’s face grew tight her fingers gripping the old diary with such force that the binding was starting to buckle from the pressure.  “No I don’t have to accept anything,” she growled. She held the book out in front of her for her friend to see.  “Do you see this book?” she yelled

 

Gabrielle nodded. “Yes Xena I see it,” was the quiet reply as she noted the intricate locking mechanism laced on the diary to keep prying eyes out

A tear raced down the mother’s cheek as she closed her eyes and released her crushing grip on the diary.  “This book is all I have of my little girl’s life Gabrielle.  I wasn’t there when she spoke her first words or took her first steps.” She paused and forced the lump in her throat back down to her stomach. “ I’ve read all about it but I wasn’t there for her when she needed me then and I wasn’t there when she needed me...here” 

 

Gabrielle’s voice became soothing. “You didn’t know Xena.”

”Do you think that makes it all right?  Do you think that makes it easier? Tarren is my child and I have failed her from the moment she took her first breath.”  Her words began to break up.” I thought…I thought I was taking her down the right path…that we were doing the right thing….” She wiped her eyes dry as she again let her eyes lock on the figure of her only child. “But Gabrielle I left her.  I should have stayed with her and I left her behind.” She shook her head. “In my heart I knew it was wrong to go but I went anyway because I’m a warrior and that’s what I do. Right? I kill and it’s easy for me.”

The bard shook her head. “No not right. You did what was best for the…greater good Xena.”

“No.  She is my greatest good now.” Xena stared at her friend with an eye-piercing look that spoke of a parent’s devotion and regret. “Gabrielle she is my child. If I do not stand for her first who will?  If I do not protect her and care for her then who will? I am her mother and that means this life was entrusted to me to watch over and care for before any other…and I failed her.”

 

Gabrielle could see her friend had tears in her eyes and was using every essence in her being to try and holster her emotions. “But Xena it’s not your fault….”

 



There was a sick little laugh and the eyes again studied the tired and confused bard. “Not my fault…then whose is it?” She glanced down at the book and her voice dropped to a near whisper.  “Nala wrote all about everything Tarren ever did in here.  Gods I’ve reread it 1000 times and still it doesn’t replace the feel of holding my child if only for a moment or just hearing her laugh.”

Gabrielle could feel the tears streaming down her face as she watched her friend caress the large book.   “Did you know she used to ask Nala every night where her Momma was?” she asked glancing at the child and letting her tears run free.  “I wasn’t there to hold her or tuck her in at night or make sure she ate those vegetables she hates so much.” A slight smile. “She really hates those damn things Gabrielle.  She calls them vegeterribles.”  Her voice became low and the tears now ran freely down the sides of her face.  The large hand wiped the eyes dry with a single but slow swipe. “No Gabrielle I wasn’t there and I should have been.  It is my fault. I should have been with Solon and I should have been there for Tarren and now I have failed both of them.” The warrior slid further onto the bed beside her daughter and wrapped her arms around the small form drawing her as close as she could to her own body. “But your momma is here now baby girl and she is never going to leave you again.”

 

 

The warrior hugged the book tightly and stared at her best friend.  “No Gabrielle my child an I will never be apart again,” she said in a tone that sent chills down her friend’s back.

 

Gabrielle swallowed hard and reached out to touch the warrior but Xena pulled away. “Xena you need to rest. I’ll stay with Tarren if you want to lie down or go for a walk.”

The warrior shook her head. “No…it’s Ok…I’m not leaving her Gabrielle.  No matter what I will not leave her ever again.

 

The bard’s face was filled with concern for her friend’s odd and distant manner. “I want to help Xena.  I need to help,” was the plea.

 

The begging tone in the bard’s voice softened the warrior’s stance and she forced a weak smile.  “Ok…Why don’t you go get us some food?  I want to get some more broth down her if I can.  She needs he strength.”

 

Gabrielle swallowed hard at the sight but knew that at this particular moment she was as much an intruder in this place as was anyone else who might enter. She got to her feet and nodded. “Are you sure you’ll be Ok?” she asked not eager to leave the cottage but anxious to do anything that might ease the pain of the ones she loved.

 

Xena started to hum a lullaby as she rocked the sick youngster in her arms. “Uh huh we’ll be just fine,” was the immediate reply as she tucked the youngster into a tight corner just beneath her shoulder caressing the soft skin as she hummed.

 

Gabrielle closed her eyes and choked on her words.  “Ok I’ll get the broth and be right back.”

 

 

There was no response just the continued sound of a mother’s song for her child.

 

With one last glance the bard walked out of the hut and into the village. Her vision changed so that all who had once stood before her were now ghosts figments of a life of long ago.  She could not feel their touch or hear their words.  The only thing in her mind was broth.  That was what was needed and that was what she was determined to get even if she had to kill again.

 

 

 

 

The outside world had quieted down but inside the royal hut another battle still raged.

 

As soon as the bard departed the humming stopped and Xena whispered to the little girl in her arms. “I know you can here me.  I know you can feel me.  I feel you inside of me,” she whispered touching her own chest with the palm of her hand. “Tarren I know you’re lost and it’s dark and your scared but if you follow the sound of my voice and the feel of my heartbeat you’ll make it back.”

 

There was a slight jerk of a small muscle.

 

 

Xena sat quietly beside the bed watching the still form of her child.  “That’s it baby.  You just come to momma.” Tarren’s breathing was so slow that Xena had to keep her head on the child’s chest just to be sure there was a steady rhythm of motion. “Come back to me little one.  I need you so much.  Come back and let me take care of you…please. Everyone misses you so much.” She stared at the door knowing that outside that barrier was a tribe of Amazons and one bard that loved this small child and wished nothing more than to offer they are prayers and thoughts.

 

The warrior ran her large hand over the warm brow of her daughter hoping the cool cloth would offer comfort.  She took a deep breath and her voice became tender and soothing. “Tarren, I know you are in there and I know you can hear me, so listen to Momma Ok.”  She paused to try and regain her words.  “I can’t make it without you.  I don’t want to even try.  You are the bright light in my darkness youngster. Please do not leave me.  Do not leave me little one,” she begged allowing her free hand to run gently down the child’s arm.

 

Xena could see the youngster fidget a bit again so she was sure her words were being heard somewhere.  “That’s right baby you fight.  You fight your way back here to me.  Where you go I go and where I go you will always be.  You have my heart little one.” She thought about how the child had changed her life. “No Tarren you are my heart. Do you understand that?  My life was so empty until you filled it up.  There was a dark spot that you made bright.” She felt another tear race down her cheek. “Do not leave m now.” The words gathered force and filled with a mixture of emotion. “Fight damn it.  You get back here with me where you belong.  Do you understand?  Do you understand?” she yelled letting her head drop to the child’s side.  She made no effort to hold back her sobs but instead just moved further onto the pallet and wrapped her arms tighter around her daughter.  “I’m sorry baby.  I’m sorry I yelled at you. I’m sorry I didn’t stay with you.  I’m sorry I wasn’t there when you needed me.  I will never leave you behind again.  You have my word.  Just come back to me Tarren please.” She closed her eyes and looked toward the ceiling. “ I’ll give anything if you come back to me.”

 

There was no response from the child and no further movement.

 

The warrior glanced at the diary in her hold and her face turned red with anger at the very object that represented her own absence and the years she had missed with her child.  Using the very essence of the strength in every muscle Xena threw the book against the wall. “No more yesterday,” she thundered watching as the binding broke in half and a bright blinding light suddenly filled the room.

 

Xena jumped quickly from the bed grabbing her sword with one hand and her chakrum with the other. Holding them both high in the air, she stood protectively in front of her young daughter waiting for the source of the light to appear. “Show yourself…Ares?” she growled sure this was a moment he would try to take advantage of.

 

 

However the form that stepped from the center of the glow was no muscular male god.

 

TBC

 

 

Hello everyone.  I know this is short but Legend is taking me a bit longer to finish than I had planned and I am involved in some other writing projects at the time.  I appreciate all the e-mail and the patience J The next installment will finish Legend and then it is on to some new and slightly different adventures.  So here is one chapter from part 13.  I hope you enjoy.

 

Fantimbard@aol.com