Disclaimers: This non-profitable Xena story was inspired by the tale of Tarzan by Edgar Rice Burroughs. I do not own either story nor their characters. All rights reserved to their rightful owners. This was written for my own enjoyment, as well as anyone else that may be interested. It is not a crossover story but is an Alternate Universe story. A/N: This is an edited and reposted chapter.
Subtext?: It IS a love story so...most likely ;)
Cyrene sighed and shook her head as she washed the plates. They hadn't even been used, but they were filthy. When her daughter had come running through the inn with Toris in tow, they had all but knocked her over on their quest for trouble; tracking in muddy footprints all over the kitchen floor. She had been furious when they had weaved around her, shouting and squealing as they threw clumps of mud at each other, missing and hitting the clean plates instead. Cyrene herself had been caught in the crossfire and was standing with bits of dry mud in her hair.
She knew they had only been playing, but Xena was too much of a wild child for her own good, and more often than not, persuaded her brother to join in. Even little baby Lyceus crawled after them with hopes of joining in. But, Cyrene thought, she did behave when she was told and knew when she had to be punished.
She smiled as she passed the plate she'd washed to Xena and saw her daughter's tiny hands reach out. When she took the plate, Xena rested it on the surface to dry it. Cyrene could hear her mumbling incoherently under her breath; no doubt quietly voicing her dislike for her punishment as she stood atop a small crate beside her.
"How long do I have to do this, mother?" came Xena's tiny voice. Content that the plate was dry, she pushed it along to Toris who took it and placed it on the shelf overhead. She turned on her crate and made a face.
Cyrene looked down at her. Xena was only three foot in height but she was tall for her four years. Her long black hair was stuck up in places where the mud had dried, and the clothes she had given her new just the other day were now streaked with grass and mud stains. It had taken all she'd had not to groan when she'd first seen the sorry state Xena was in.
She pinched her daughter's dirty cheek, grinning as Xena pulled away in protest. "Until all the plates are washed, dried and put away. But even then you aren't going back out looking like that. You're going to have a bath."
Xena's big blue eyes widened. "But I don't want a bath!" she complained.
"Ha-ha, Xena!" Toris taunted, sticking his tongue out.
Xena grimaced. "Shut up, Toris! Mother, Toris is laughing at me!"
Cyrene frowned at them both and they fell silent under her glare. She sighed, resting her hands on her hips. "Xena, he wouldn't laugh at you if you didn't look as though you dived face first into a puddle of mud. Toris, you're eleven years old. You should know better than to laugh at others. Especially when you don't look any better yourself," she said and wiped her hands on her apron.
She turned her back on them and picked baby Lyceus up from where he was crawling across the floor, poking the muddy footprints with his finger. Cyrene frowned and pointed at the mess. "Toris come and clean this up. I'm going to put Lyceus in his cradle. When I come back in I better find this kitchen floor tidy, or else you're having a bath too."
Toris didn't like the sound of being forced into a bath. So, after placing the cup Xena had just dried into its normal place, he ran across the kitchen and grabbed the mop. Cyrene left the kitchen with a smile as Toris started swabbing the floor.
"It's your fault we have to do chores!" Toris accused bitterly when he was sure his mother was out of earshot. He dunked the mop into a metal bucket before slapping it against the floor to continue cleaning.
Xena glared, her forehead creasing into a frown. "It's not my fault! You told me to go into the farmer's yard!"
"Yeah, well…," Toris paused, realizing it was partly his fault they were in trouble. He scowled at her. "You didn't have to."
They made a face at each other from opposite ends of the kitchen and carried on with their duties. They remained silent for a while, both silently fuming over the fact that they were both in trouble. Xena continued to dry what her mother had left, while Toris made sure he didn't miss a spot on the floor. He and Xena knew all too well what happened when they didn't do something their mother told them.
Xena looked up and out of the window after she finished drying. The daylight outside was already fading, signalling the start of the approaching night. The orange sun was slowly dropping until it was only just visible over the treetops. Its light burst through the grey clouds in streams, almost as if a hand had enclosed over the sun itself, leaving the light to leak through the gaps between the invisible fingers.
The nights seemed to be coming quicker and colder as the days went on. She could already feel the bumps rising on her skin. She rubbed them unconsciously as she hopped down from her crate, moving toward the door leading out to the back of the inn. A quick look back over her shoulder told her Toris was muttering under his breath as he violently dragged the mop across the floor. He really didn't like mopping.
She opened the door and snuck out quietly.
At the back of the inn was a small garden; it was filled with stalls for horses of those who stayed at her mother's inn, hay stacks, an outhouse and other necessities to keep the inn running smoothly. It wasn't much, but it was home.
She ran to the fencing separating their inn from the farmer Eldridge's field and hopped up; sitting along the top, she ran her fingers through her hair. She frowned when they got stuck and clumps of dirt fell from her hair when she pulled them out. She snorted. She didn't mind the dirt or being muddy, but her mother hated the idea. She would throw her into the bath at the first sight of muck.
Xena straddled the fence, swinging her legs at either side as she watched the sun setting across the fields, painting the crops a crisp golden colour. Watching the sun setting was her favourite part of the day. The remaining rays seemed to shine their brightest, as though the sun itself was saying goodnight to her, right before disappearing to be replaced by its silver counterpart.
She stayed there long after the sun had gone. Regardless of how annoyed she had felt that she was in trouble, she felt an overwhelming sense of ease as she sat there. She closed her eyes, feeling the cool night breeze caress her face.
At that moment, her ears pricked up; a desperate scream breaking the silence. Her eyes flew open. Looking through the windows she could see her mother running into the kitchen, grabbing Toris as she ran to the back door; their joined panicked voices reaching new heights house. She watched, confused as the door flew open and her mother pushed Toris outside.
"Xena!" her mother shouted. Her head whipped around frantically until she found her.
Xena ran over, frowning. Why did she look so scared? She didn't have time to ask before her mother grabbed her and pulled her and Toris into a crushing hug.
As Cyrene pulled her children into a tight hug, crying as she did, it wasn't in comfort. There was no way this would end well. It was goodbye. A final goodbye. She felt the tears sting her eyes and roll down her cheeks as she pushed her children away from her, stroking their hair. Looking from one to the other she drank in their features, hoping that if she were to be spared, she would remember and find them. With one last kiss to each of their cheeks, she shoved them away.
"Go!" she cried, pointing over the hills. "Run. Run as far away as you can and don't stop. No matter what you hear."
Xena shook her head, clinging onto her mother with tears in her eyes. She tried to tuck herself into her mother's side to get closer to her. Why was her mother doing this? Didn't she love them anymore? "Mother, no!" she whimpered. "I don't want to leave you."
When the sound of banging sounded nearby the inn Cyrene pried her daughter's tiny arms from around her. Fear washed through her when she realized that she'd left Lyceus in his cradle, but she didn't hear him crying. Dread made her blood run cold. Turning back, Cyrene grabbed her daughter's shoulders and shook her hard, opting to scare the girl into action.
"Xena! You do as you are told. I said you have to run, now listen to what I say or I'll tan your hide!" she looked over at Toris and motioned for him to come over. The poor boy was frozen with fear and shock. "Toris? Toris! Take her and run somewhere safe."
With a stiff nod, Toris finally managed to make himself move and grabbed his sister's arm. But Xena fought against him as he tried to pull her away. "Come on, Xena! We have to go."
"No! I don't want to. Mother!" she screamed.
Crying, Cyrene kissed her hand and waved. "I love you!" she shouted to them as Toris finally managed to tug Xena into a stumbling run.
She felt something in her die as she watched their receding figures get farther and farther away. She broke into a sob knowing that this was the last time she would ever see them. "I love you," she whispered before turning to run back into the inn.
A high pitched echoing scream pierced the air, carrying over to them from the village. The sound chilled their blood and they froze upon the hill. Xena gasped, twisting to look down at their village. As soon as her eyes fell on the inn a sob broke from her and she felt as though her knees would buckle beneath her.
The inn was in flames; the roof engulfed by a raging fire that snaked its way down to swallow the rest of the building. From where they were he could see the rest of the village houses and shops had been set alight; the black smoke billowing into the air to create a thick veil of choking death. Shadows of people were running around desperately in and out of houses. Their merged shouts and screams of fear shook Xena and she wanted nothing more than to run back and find her mother.
"What are you doing? Xena, we can't go back. Come on!" Toris said, trying to tug his sister into motion again.
Xena pulled against his grip but he was too strong for her. "But mother!"
Toris frowned at her with tears glistening in his eyes. He glanced at the fiery village briefly and his lip trembled. "She told us to go, now come-"
"Hey! You on the hill! Stay where you are!"
Both children abandoned their arguing and looked down the incline. Racing up toward them were two men clad in leather armour they didn't recognize. As they headed toward them, Xena wondered if these men were coming to help them. But when one pulled out his sword and the other aimed an arrow their way, she realized they had come to hurt them. She froze on the spot, too frightened to move. Her knees began to shake and she started to cry.
With a violent tug, Toris yanked his sister toward him, lifted her onto his back and started running. He didn't look back, even when the arrow whizzed past their faces. Xena held on as tight as she could, bouncing from the jagged movements. She tensed her tiny hands around his neck, burying her face into his back.
"Why is this happening? Why do they wanna hurt us?" she cried.
"I don't know," he said, his own voice quaking. "They're bad men," Toris replied, ignoring the angry shouts from the soldiers.
They could hear them getting closer and closer. Xena could hear her brother starting to panic. As if realizing they wouldn't be able to outrun them, Toris paused for a second and turned to his side and headed for the trees. Running became harder for him with his sister on his back. He tripped continually as he treaded over exposed tree roots and had to duck to avoid getting snagged on the vines that hung from the hefty canopies.
"They've gone into the forest!" she heard one of the bad men say just outside the treeline.
As they delved deeper into the trees, the soldiers' voices became distant. Thinking they had a chance to get away, Toris unclasped his sister's hands and slid her down his back, taking her hand instead.
"C'mon, Xena," he said as he forced them into a run.
Xena could feel her little legs start to ache and burn. She cried as she attempted to keep up with her brother's rushed pace, tripping and stumbling over roots, rocks and the slippery moss that covered ground.
With an aggravated cry, Toris kicked a rock, sending it flying toward the fallen tree that blocked their path. It was too large and thick to climb over, and there wasn't any visible way through around it.
A rushing sound nearby alerted them to a small river that ran through the forest. Stepping close to a small rise, Toris looked down and saw a steep V shaped valley filled with rushing water below; the waterline peppered with fallen branches and sharp looking rocks that jutted through the surface. Xena saw him swallow before he stepped back and glanced around. Xena decided to look too, but she felt herself slipping down the soft soiled edge.
Panicking, Toris tightened his hold on his sister and pulled her away with an irritated warning. She fell to the ground and cried when she fell over, slicing her knee on a jagged rock protruding out of the ground.
"Stop crying!" he shouted angrily, making her cry harder.
"I want mom!"
Toris gritted his teeth, opting to shout again, but his sister's cries broke him and he crumbled too. Falling next to her he scooped her into his arms and cried. "I'm…sorry, Xena," he apologized in between sobs as he rocked her in his arms. Xena buried her face into his shoulder and grabbed his shirt as she cried into it.
"I think they went this way!" a voice called. "I can hear them."
"They won't get away!" another laughed scornfully.
Upon hearing their approach, Toris gasped and pulled his sister to her feet. Xena watched as he cringed when the blood from her cut trickled down her leg. But there was nothing they could do about it now.
Glancing around quickly, Toris pointed to a sturdy looking tree with a thick canopy. It was easily climbable, but it hung over the river. He started pushing Xena toward it. "Get up there, Xena. Climb up until I can't see you." he said.
Xena looked up at the tree and felt her lip quiver. "But it's too high."
Toris grabbed her and carried her to the tree, forcing her onto a low branch. "C'mon, Xena! We've climbed trees hundreds of times, some higher than this one. Climb!" he whispered harshly as the sound of heavy footsteps and branches breaking grew nearer.
With a fearful look at her brother, Xena nodded. She reached up and grabbed onto a branch. She winced in pain as her open cut rubbed against the rough bark, but she pressed on. Her brother's encouragement spurred her on until she was high enough in the trees that the leaves covered her.
Once Toris knew she was safe, he started climbing up behind her. That was until one of the men grabbed his shoulder and tore him from the tree.
"Oh, no, you don't!" the man cackled wickedly.
Toris cried out in pain as the soldier punched his cheek. He shouted and thrashed, flailing his hands and feet about against the soldier, hoping to hurt him in anyway so he could escape. But the soldier was too burly and laughed, swatting him away as though he was a mere insect.
The soldier caught his wrists in one hand and grabbed his hair, yanking his head back with the other. "Where's the girl?"
Toris remained silent, refusing to answer the question, but Xena could hear his trembling cry from where she hid. The other gazed around, his eyes staring down the shaft of the arrow he held taut in his bow. He was looking for her.
"C'mon, boy, don't be a hero. They don't last long."
Toris spat at the man and earned a swift backhand to his face in return, the force knocking him over. As he tried to lift himself, the soldier pressed a foot against his back. Toris cried out in pain under the weight, but still didn't reveal Xena's whereabouts.
Xena gasped, moving back on her branch. She felt helpless as the man stood on Toris, pressing his foot harder and harder into his back. She watched in horror as the man lifted his foot and instead kicked her brother in the side in frustration, sending him flying a couple of feet away. He landed on his back looking up at her. Their eyes locked for the briefest of moments before the soldier came back over to deal another kick.
Unable to keep quiet any longer watching the torture, Xena felt herself slip as a racking sob broke from her chest.
"There she is!" shouted the other with the bow.
Both men looked up at her. Laughing, the one with the sword plunged it into Toris's chest in one swift motion, twisting it. Xena felt the air leave her as the sword dug into her brother's chest. He stared up at her, his mouth open and eyes wide with shock, before he choked and his eyes finally closed. When she could breathe again, she released an ear piercing scream that shattered the silent forest air, the sound reverberating off the trees. Both men clamped their hands over their ears, cursing.
With a cruel smile, the man with the bow aimed for her in the trees. Panicking, Xena tore her eyes from her brother's unmoving body and climbed higher into the trees. The arrows shot past her, making her jump. She shuffled along the thick branch she was on until she was at the end, hanging over the rushing water. Frozen with fear, Xena held onto the branch as tight as she could. Right up until the arrow slammed into the wood centimetres away from her fingers.
The shock made her lose her grip and she felt herself slip. Her stomach fell as the ground started to rush toward her. With one last desperate attempt, Xena clamped her hands around whatever she could hold onto as she fell. The rough vine she grabbed offered her purchase, but it also left her open and vulnerable to attack as she hung there suspended above the surging river.
Crying, she started climbing up. When the arrow dug into the branch above, slicing the vine, the last thing she heard before falling into the unforgiving, icy water was cruel laughter.
The next thing she knew, the water was fighting her, pushing her down under the frothing surface. She tried to remember what she had been taught when Toris had tried to teach her how to swim and she started pushing her arms and legs. But the current was too strong. It constantly dragged her under, deafening her and silencing her desperate cries; filling her with icy cold water that burned her lungs and throat instead.
As she felt herself pulled along, she clawed desperately at anything; the sides, the pointed rocks, but all that slipped through her fingers was more water. Suddenly, she felt the water shallow and her feet touched the rocky bottom briefly. She was finally able to rise out of the water and gasped, choking out the water that had filled her mouth. But before she could recover, the water pushed her over the shallow edge and she found herself falling again. She closed her eyes, bringing her arms forward to protect her face as she fell head first into a rock-strewn pool and darkness claimed her.
The sound of rushing water was what woke her. Her head and eyes felt too heavy to lift and she moaned in pain. Still, she tried to move and turned slowly onto her side. When she did, an acidy taste rushed up her throat and she bent over, letting the water gush from her mouth. She choked back the tears she felt form after she'd finished and fell back onto her side again.
Her whole body ached but she didn't know why. She blinked rapidly as the sunlight burned her sore eyes and she moaned again, looking away. As she glanced around to take in her surroundings she saw she was lying of a pebbly side close to the shallow edge of the river. Following it up she saw a high waterfall; the water gushed over the side, rushing down to create a foamy pool beneath. Around the top of the waterfall were trees on either side. They acted like a covering as the leaves reached over to each other and their branches entwined. After a quick glance around she noticed she was surrounded by thousands of thick trunked trees that went on for far stretches of distance until she could no longer see.
Looking up, she winced and reached back to touch her head. Her fingers came away dripping watery red. She was…bleeding? Why was she bleeding? She glanced around again. Where was she? She tried to stand but found her little legs were too weak and she crumbled to the ground again, her body too heavy to move.
She looked at her fingers again and found herself staring intently at them. Her mind was hazy, her memory foggy and unclear. As she laid there she tried to remember anything. But as she searched her mind for answers she drew a blank. She panicked. What was her name? She had a name didn't she? She closed her eyes as her breathing became faster and she felt her chest constricting and her head throbbing.
Xena! A shrill voice cried in her mind.
Her eyes flew open and she found that the sky had darkened. Had she fallen to sleep? She tried moving again and found it a little easier and less painful than before. Xena. Was that her name? The voice had screeched it in her mind and it had sounded familiar. She tried the name. A warm feeling tingled her lips as the name passed through them. She felt her heart quicken in her little chest. Yes, it felt right. That was her name: Xena. A growling nearby stopped her from raising to her feet and she looked over to where the sound came from.
In the shadow of the trees she saw a pair of eyes staring at her from within the darkness. Something in her mind told her to stay put, even though she wanted very much to run away from whatever lurked within the trees. She stayed there, not breaking eye contact until finally, it stepped out. A black paw first then the rest of the body; the wolf slinked out from her hiding place and slowly stalked over to where Xena was, never taking her eyes from her.
The wolf was black with a single white streak that started at her left eye and ran along her strong body, until it stopped at the very tip of the tail. The wolf's ears were pricked up and pointed in her direction. Xena made no sudden movements as the animal skulked around her, sniffing at her body. More than once she felt the wolf's wet nose tickle her arm and she tried not to react in case she scared or alarmed her.
The wolf stepped back and instead of attacking her like she thought she would, the wolf continued to stare at her curiously, tilting her head as though she was thinking. Careful and slow, Xena lowered into a half crouch and raised her hand, reaching out to stroke the wolf. She saw the wolf's eyes watching the hand carefully and saw her raise a little to a standing position. Scared she might have overstepped her luck, Xena started to retract her hand.
But the she wolf stepped forward cautiously until Xena felt her fingers brush against the coarse fur of her ruff. Smiling, Xena allowed herself to sink to her knees. She winced when a rock rubbed against the cut on her knee. At her moan, the wolf bent her head to look at the wound and licked it.
A sound from the trees caught the attention of both her and the she wolf and they looked to where she had come from. More wolves left the trees. Some looked hesitant and unsure, but there was one that made Xena's insides turn cold. The pure snow white wolf broke through the pack, his ears back, tail straight and he growled deeply through bared teeth as he approached.
Scared, Xena whimpered and curled in on herself. She shook noticeably as he moved toward her, his growl becoming deeper and angrier with every step. She waited for what would eventually come. She realized she was probably their food and they wouldn't feel any remorse in killing her. But she didn't want to die. She cried and hid her face, not wanting to watch her death.
Another growl joined the other, catching Xena's attention. She looked up and saw the she wolf standing protectively over her, growling at the other. Frightened but curious, she watched as they snapped and snarled at each other until the icy stand-off melted and the white wolf barked before he strode away, disappearing into the trees once more.
Some of the wolves left with him, but a couple stayed behind looking unsure. They stayed close by while the she wolf bent her head to Xena and sniffed her before licking her face.
Once the wolf had moved, Xena lifted herself to her feet. She stood there unsure of what to do as the wolf began to walk away and joined the others standing nearby watching. She considered going a different way, but when the she wolf glanced back at her and barked, she had her answer.
Forcing herself into a painful hobble, Xena followed her new family.
All comments/reviews and feedback are welcome and appreciated :)