by Joseph Connell
Disclaimer: the usual spiel. I dont own Xena, Gabrielle, Eve, or the Northern Tribe. This is a piece of semi-funny, semi-angsty family fluff Im writing because Im blocked on all my other stories. I wont make or take any monetary profit off it. Im writing because I like to. No xex, no violence, a bit of cursing and pre-teen angst. Subtext if youre looking for it. Dont like any of that? The door marked Exit will take you to safer environs. If on the other hand you want more, write and tell me.
This one takes places several years after "Terror of the Northern Tribe." If you want to get picky about it, Eve is now older than her permanent teeth but a bit younger than most teenagers. You don't need to read the previous "Big Surprises" stories to understand this one, but it might help put things in perspective.
With thanks to Danielle Kearns, who provided the inspiration.
And off we go again .
I hear the storm approaching long before it actually arrives. The sound of her pony pounding to a stop on the hard earth outside our house, the loud muttering, and the audible stomping around have become familiar sounds of late. Wisely, I say nothing this time, letting nature take its course and allow the storm to build.
The buckskin flap over the entrance is torn asides and the tempest stomps in, with such vehemence I would normally find shocking in one so young were I not intimately familiar with her lineage. I wonder what occurred this time to ignite her fiery temper, but keep silent and refuse eye contact, focusing upon the scroll in my hands. I let her continue to pound around inside our small home, muttering colorful phrases to herself that I doubt she truly understands. It is only when she picks up an earthen jug and prepares to hurl it that I finally beckon the storm.
"Put that down and sit," I speak with undeniable authority. A brief glance up, meeting my daughters eyes and delivering a silent promise of consequences should she disobey me. I see her struggle between rebellion and obedience; I know one day soon she will make the telltale choice of open defiance, and thus signal her budding independence from her need of us. That shall be both the greatest and most heartbreaking moment of my life.
Fortunately, that moment does not come today. The child, my child (as I must sometimes remind myself) settles down and sits cross-legged before me. I make a final notation upon the scroll and set it aside, not daring to let go of the breath I had been holding. Looking up, I meet sky-blue eyes that are dark with a fury of emotions. Hurt and anger, as well as confusion and frustration are there. These are familiar sights, my child attempting to come to grips with this confusing world she inhabits, doing so with an impressive and expressive mind, yet handicapped by her all too limited experience. Tall and strong as she is, as able a rider and hunter as any of our tribe, she is still barely out of diapers, at least in my eyes. No doubt others see this differently. But my judgment, as both shamaness and more importantly as her mother, has prevailed to this point. No doubt this too shall change soon. I dread that day, more than any battle I have fought.
But that is for the future. I have more immediate concerns right then.
"What happened now?"
Eve stares at the ground and growls "Mommas bein a bitch."
I blink as if struck. Eve would curse all the gods, the game we hunt on the steppes, and even the rest of the tribe without thinking twice of it. Yet never before has she so accused either of us. It is all I can do to keep my hands still as normally I have reached out and torn an apology from the throat of any other who would dare say such things. At the very least, I would have cuffed her upside the head if she were just half a season older.
Rather, I quickly settle back and tell her calmly "That, among other things, is inaccurate. Your momma is not a female dog." Clearly, Eve is not of the mind to appreciate the nuances of vocabulary, her head snapping up and dark hair moving in waves.
"I dont care! Shes being a bitch to me!"
Sighing, I ask patiently "How, exactly, is she being a bitch to you?" The arguments have become common of late, whether it be over the cut of her clothing or the length of the ceremonies she takes part in as Princess. It is most often over the latter. Eve has grown more and more independent with each season since taking her first steps unaided, and while she has demonstrated enormous patience with any task given her, ceremony seems to be the one thing certain to utterly drain that patience dry in less than the count of ten. I can only hope this is the case now.
Eve presses her lips into a line for a moment, then looks back down, muttering something I dont quite catch. "What?"
"I said she wont let me go hunting."
"Because you want to go out alone?" Eves independent streak and growing wanderlust naturally chafes against the restriction of a Princess running off into the wilderness without at least a brace of the Guards accompanying her. She shakes her head. My brow furrows in confusion. She has gone out with small hunting parties before and never complained about it. It takes me a moment to think what could upset her so.
Then it hits me. "Who, exactly, did you intend to go hunting with?" Again she mutters below her breath. "What was that?"
"I wuz goin go with Mich." Michraal is the wolfhound who has been Eves constant companion and guardian since she had learned to walk. On more than one occasion Eve had slipped away from us, only to be carried back into sight by her four-legged nursemaid, more often than not by her diaper or by the neck of her tunic. There were many among the tribe (myself among them) who were convinced there was more to the dog than met the eye. I was merely glad for her attentiveness.
Even so, the thought alone of Eve out in the wilderness virtually unguarded leaves me nearly shaking in my boots. "You know you cant go out alone " I begin as reasonably as my anxiety allows, only to have Eve interrupt.
"I wasnt going alone!" she insists.
"Michraal alone is not adequate guard "
"I dont care! Im goin!" She leaps to her feet, patience exhausted and ready to bolt. I myself am up and moving before shes even halfway to her turned, blocking her path with my far larger frame. "Get outta my way!" she snarls, foolishly trying to push her way past. Strong as she is I still outweigh her and have a good two heads of height over her. Plus I have a few choice moves Ive been careful to save for occasions such as this. Ive held back not out of fear that Eve would be injured, but that she would figure a way around whatever technique I employ. My daughter learns far too quickly for her own good.
Fortunately I am saved from this by the sounds of another new arrival outside the house. The hoofbeats are every bit as frantic as Eves own struggles become at hearing the sound. If this is any indication, the Princess must have exchanged more than just words with her Queen on the subject.
I manage to move my violently squirming and struggling daughter away from the door. The last thing I want is to give her the opportunity to slip away. Fortunately Eve is so busy trying to twist out of my grip she hardly notices. Ive learned to recognize the signs of impending panic. Like me, she will struggle all the harder when faced with an opponent greater than herself.
The flap is pulled aside, allowing Michraal to trot in first. He watches us struggle with disapproving eyes. No doubt he would just as soon finish this himself by jumping on the both of us. Fortunately, he knows his place when it comes to parent-child disputes such as ours. While hell tear into anyone who so much as lifts a finger in Eves direction, he has never raised more than a bushy eyebrow at myself or the Queen when it comes to knocking our child back into line. I suspect he often wishes he could join in.
He watches for a moment, then sniffs dismissively and moves aside to allow the second new arrival to enter.
The Queen enters, her bright hazel eyes uncharacteristically dark and stormy. Despite her advancing seasons, her hair retains it shade of flame-hued honey and her strength shows clearly through the elaborately sewn skins she wears. Shes taken to wearing the beaded headband worn by Cyane the Eighth, presented to her by the dead queens spirit, as a sign of her rank. She carries only her sais, despite her proficiency with the bow and staff.
Right then, she wears an additional mark on her cheek. It is too long and narrow to a slap, yet is clearly less than a full-fledged strike. "Xena," Gabrielle declares as she steps inside. "We've got a big problem." She looks up and sees us both struggling hard. Or rather she sees Eve struggling hard while I look on in with mild shock. Strident and heated as their arguments have been in the past, never had Eve gone so far as to actually hit Gabrielle.
"Ah, good," Gabrielle breaths, obviously relieved. "You caught her already. I was afraid she'd run off."
Eve takes advantage of my distraction and pulls free. Rather than making a break for it, however, she stands her ground between the two of us. She couldn't have fled even if it occurred to her, as Michraal had taken position by the door and look entirely prepared to tackle her had she tried.
"She didn't 'catch' me," our child snarls as if insulted.
"No." She looks between us all. "If I wanted to go, I'd be gone already." There is no is no doubting the sincerity in her voice, nor the underlying threat there. Still, I consciously keep myself from reacting to it. To do so might well be like tossing Black Powder onto a bonfire.
Gabrielle, by contrast, is not above answering. "Don't go making threats you can't follow through on, Eve," she growls, the tell-tale tremor of fear-born anger shaking her hands.
"Don't you go threatening to take my bow away! I'm a Princess, so I should keep my bow!"
Gabrielle takes a threatening step forward, fists and jaw clenched tight. "Well you're not acting like a Princess right now, are you? More like a spoiled brat. And brats don't deserve "
Eve of course refuses to back down or even take the smallest step back. "Yeah? Try it!" They're practically nose-to-nose now, Eve needing to tilt her head only slightly to meet Gabrielle's eyes. Even Michraal was become affected by the free-flowing tension between these two, his hackles rising and a small growl of fear and excitement issuing out. I decide to put an end to this before he ends up tackling one of us.
"ENOUGH!" I bellow, shocking all in the room in the room to silence. Even Michraal tenses and cringes slightly in surprise. Its good to see I can still quiet a room when the situation demands. Stepping between the two antagonists I force a distance between them. They continue to glare at each other all the same.
"Now," I begin, taking my increasingly familiar role of mediator. "Let's all take a breath and look at this calmly." I look into the eyes of both and hold them for a moment. "Understand?" This last is directed at Eve, who looks ready to continue shouting. Rather she looks down at her feet once more and nods.
"Good," I breath, relieved. This has become such a common scene of late that the reversal of roles between Gabrielle and myself that I barely notice it anymore. Its not something I like thinking about.
Rather, I put my mind to dealing with the problem at hand. "Eve," I say in a deathly calm voice. Even the air seems to hang on my words. "You know you are still too young to go hunting on your own." Whatever she might have said to this dies in her throat, as my eyes brook no argument. "As Princess of the Nation you have a responsibility to set an example for your sisters. That means you follow the rules as they're laid out for the entire tribe. That means you dont go throwing temper tantrums in public. Nor do you go tearing off simply because you arent allowed to do something." I take one step closer, holding her still with my gaze alone. "And that especially means you don't go hitting the Queen!" At this, both Gabrielle and Eve go from looking defiant and furious to confused.
"Wha ? Xena she never what ?" Gabrielle stutters, taken aback. Eve is equally surprised and far more vocal.
"I didn't hit momma!" Turning to Gabrielle she demands "I didn't, did I?" Gabrielle only continues to look confused. Eve turns back to me and says "See? I didn't!"
Gods help me but I nearly believe her, save for the evidence before me. "And I suppose that slap-mark on her cheek was because she was trying to pull your bow?"
"Er " Gabrielle quietly growls, indicating something along those lines. Im not sure which of us is the more embarrassed by this admission.
"You're joking," I sputter after a moment.
"Uh, well " I wish for a moment there was an artisan nearby, so I could immortalize the look of shamefaced annoyance the Queen wore right then.
"It uh it wuz kinda my fault," Eve adds quietly. "See, we wuz talking about hunting during practice, an I said I wanted to go out but only with Mich, cause Im old enough "
"You are not old enough," Gabrielle interrupts, finding her voice once more.
"Im nearly twelve winters. Thats as old as the others." She puffs her small chest up proudly, conveniently overlooking how she is still a few seasons short of that age.
"The Scouts are allowed to go on their own at twelve, not Princesses!"
Eve looks ready to explode at this, so I quickly put the conversation back on track. "You were talking at the archery range, I take it?"
"Yeah. Anyway momma says I cant go "
"I never said that "
" an she tries to grab my bow "
" I said she had to go with Ricca and two Guards "
" while I wuz tryin to re-string it "
" and I didnt grab her bow. I saw the binding near the notch was flayed, so I tried telling her "
" an the next thing I know, the binding breaks while shes poking at it "
"The da blasted thing chose that moment to snap and caught me on the cheek!"
"Like thats my fault?"
"Its your bow. Its your responsibility to be safe with it."
"I was safe with it. Nobody told you to go pokin at my stuff!"
"Well you should have listened to me instead of pulling away like that. You could have lost an eye!" Gabrielle insisted.
"Ha!" our daughter, the proud little Princess, sniffs and folds her arms.
The two combatants turn and face each other once more. "Youre acting like a brat!" Gabrielle declares, her teeth showing.
"Yeah? Well, youre being a "
I clear my throat, killing the argument dead. Neither turns to face me, though I can see Eve fairly shaking from her infantile rage. Shes always been the stubborn sort, growing more and more so by the day, and she already out-stripped most of the rest of the tribe in her skills with the staff and bow. I admit to myself that she would likely be all right hunting with only Michraal by her side. Not that this exempts her in the slightest from her responsibilities.
"I think we're all a little embarrassed here, yes? And that might be affecting our judgment here, right?" I look between them. "Right?"
Gabrielle colors ever so slightly, while Eve looks over at the wall. "I'm not embarrassed," she growls. The trembling of her lower lip and the tightness in her shoulders betrays her however.
Rather than pursue this I decide to put the entire matter to a rest. "Gabrielle is Queen here, Eve. That means you can't shame her by acting in this manner, especially as you will rule here one day yourself."
"Maybe I don't want to be Queen here." Her constant objections and arguments with nearly everything said to her have also become a common occurrence. I ignore this and press on.
"Nevertheless you are also still too young to go running off into the woods alone." I hold up my hand to silence the inevitable objection. "Michraal is not adequate companion for you during a hunt. You know that as well as I do, so don't even try arguing it. And whether you want to be Princess or not is immaterial right now. You are, and so you must set an example for the rest.
"So, I propose this: tomorrow you can go hunting with me. Michraal will come along, but otherwise this will just be the two of us. Agreed?"
They both look at me. Gabrielle's expression is one of slight disapproval, but otherwise mollified, while Eve is openly suspicious. "What's the catch?" she asks.
"That first you repair your bow, then finish today's and tomorrow's lessons in history and crafts before dinner, then so to Argus, Amber, and Diamond after dinner." Normally I would see to the horse's needs during the day; fortunately I had been otherwise side-tracked reading through several of Gabrielle's scrolls.
Eve sighs but, amazingly, doesn't argue with the conditions. "Do I haveta muck the stalls as well?"
She salvages her pride by pretending to consider this, scowling and tapping one foot for a few counts before nodding and saying "Agreed." Turning a bit shyly to Gabrielle she asks "Er, where's my y'know ?"
"Its on Amber's saddle. I didn't want to leave your bow just lying there on the range."
"Thanks." She turns to leave without another word, only to be stopped as I call out.
"One more thing."
"What?" our daughter sighs, looking at the ceiling with a long-suffering gaze before turning back.
"You apologize to your momma." Eve moves into Gabrielle's waiting arms without hesitation, shaking ever so slightly from her internal of war of pride against shame. Gabrielle in turn holds her gently, communicating through touch where words would be inadequate.
"Its okay, little one. Really." I hear her soft words spoken into the dark hair of our daughter. Callisto might have brought this miracle she holds about, but she is no less Gabrielle's than mine. Moments like this are all the proof I and the gods would ever need.
"S sorry," Eve finally manages to get out.
"Its all right Eve," Gabrielle assures her, kissing her forehead again before pulling away. "Now go collect your bow and do as your mother says." Eve nods and moves out the door, gesturing for Michraal to follow. The wolfhound gives us what passes for a reassuring glance as he stands and shadows her steps.
Now its Gabrielle's turn to move into my arms. "Oh, gods, Xe " she groans, drained. "I was scared she'd that she'd already run off "
"I know, love. I'm scared of the same thing." I hate admitting it, but there it is.
Gabrielle pulls back. "What are we going to do?"
I look out the door for a moment and suggest "Find a solid piece of leather for a leash?" I nearly laugh at Gabrielle's shocked expression.
"Xena! You can't be serious."
"Why not?" The slight curve of her lips is my only warning.
"Because you know she'd just chew right through it in under a day. Now, a solid pair of chains on the other hand "
I'm laughing before she finishes, the image of Eve knawing through a strip of leather like Michraal too comical to resist. Soon I'm laughing so hard it begins to hurt, and I have to lean on Gabrielle for support. It proves infectious, leaving Gabrielle shaking as well.
"Hey!" Eve's voice drifts towards us through the window. "Quit telling jokes about me!"
We sober a bit, though our smiles remain. "She's going to be great, isn't she?" I ask the Queen.
There is only confidence in her voice. "Yes, Xena, she is."
End Until the next one
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