Xena Warrior Mother Series Story 6
Legend of the Last Amazon-Part I
The characters of Xena: Warrior Princess, Gabrielle, and Argo and all other characters who have appeared in the syndicated series Xena: Warrior Princess, together with the names, titles, and back-story are the sole copyright property of MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures. No copyright infringement was intended in the writing of this fan fiction. The story is written only for fun, and no profit is being made. All other characters such as Tarren, the story idea and the story itself are the sole property of the author. The story cannot be sold or used for profit in any way. The story itself as well as the character created by the author may NOT be duplicated or archived without the authors permission. All works remain the copyright of the original author. These may not be republished without the authors consent. This story is a continuation of my first stories called
SHE HAS MY EYES, ON THE ROAD AGAIN, NALAS 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.
Chapter 1 New trails to blaze
Leaving Amphipolis had been hard on the trio, but the freedom and excitement their life on the road offered could never be replaced. After protecting a village from a small band of road bandits for nearly a week, Xena had made camp in a small meadow far from the dangers of the trail. The warrior and bard were tired from their battles and Tarren was bored with sitting in trees never allowed to do more than watch all the excitement. They needed a day of rest and relaxation.
"You really should be careful with that."
"I am careful."
"No you're not."
"Yes I am."
"You are acting like such a spoiled brat."
"I am not. I'm just having some fun."
"How many times do you have to hit the same tree?"
"As many as I can. That's the idea. Isn't it?"
"We really do have to go."
"Right now? Just give me a minute I think I get hit the branch of that really small tree way in the back."
"That's way too far away."
"It is not!"
"Yes it is. Now lets go."
Aim is taken. The pebble flies through the air and the target is hit squarely.
"Huh told you I could hit it."
"Very good! Now it's time to put the toy away and go."
"Oh Ok...Gabrielle you really no how to spoil a good time."
The bard tapped her foot on the ground to show her impatience. "Sorry Xena, but you are the one who told me that you wanted to be on the road again early. If you wanted to leave later in the day that would have been fine with me. I would have slept right along side Tarren. I didn't know you just wanted me to get up so I could watch you target practice with a little kid's slingshot."
The warrior sighed and placed the slingshot in her cuff. She had taken it from the still sleeping youngster to place a new vine band across the top so there was no danger of the brittle old one snapping and catching the child in the face. While Tarren was still fast asleep the warrior had decided to test it out to make sure it was both safe and of course still fun.
Ignoring the bards chastisement, the warrior took a few quick strides back to the campsite and placed the toy back in the hand of her sleeping child.
As the warrior mother attempted to close the youngsters fingers around the slingshot, a small hand tapped her on the wrist. "Was it fun Momma?" the little voice asked.
Xena shook her head and grinned at the now obviously wide-awake little girl.
"How long have you been awake?" the mother asked, gently running her hand along the youngsters cheek as she waited for a response.
The little girl smiled and yawned. "Only since Gabby said you were a spoiled brat Momma," the child giggled as she repeated the words.
The warrior turned and frowned at the now smiling bard, "Thank you very much Gabrielle."
The bard nodded feeling this was proper revenge for waking her earlier than was truly needed, "Oh you are quite welcome Xena."
Tarren yanked on her mothers armor trying to bring the warriors attention back to her.
"So was it fun Momma?" the youngster repeated, reaching her hands up to her mother wanting to be lifted into the warriors protective embrace.
Xena grinned and took the affectionate child into her arms and stood. "Nope!"
The little girl wondered how such a great toy could not bring complete happiness to any that held it. "How come Momma?"
The warrior glanced over at the bard and then back into the eyes of her young daughter and kissed the child gently on the forehead, "Simple Tarren because you weren't with me to make it fun."
Tarren grinned as she looked in the gentle eyes of her mother. This woman truly was not just her mother but also her best friend and guardian. "Will you teach me how to hit targets like you?" the child asked, still trying to push the sleep out of her words.
Xena tossed the little girl over her shoulder and started to move out of camp once again. "Yup! Just as soon as you are allowed off your bedroll...Two more days." The warrior sighed knowing her young daughter was hoping for an early parole from her week-long sentence in the bedroll.
The youngster mumbled under her breathe, "Might as well be a week."
The warrior glanced back at the bard and winked. She then turned her attentions back to the small form now pressed against her shoulder. Xena knew the now grumpy child was anxious to be released from the stillness of her bedroll, "I'm sorry little one. Did you just say you'd like another week?"
Tarren shook her head. "No Momma...I'm sorry two days will be just enough," the child replied anxiously, fearing the wrong words would earn her additional time in her blankets.
Xena nodded as she continued to walk. "Uh huh and have you finished all your scrolls?" she asked, glancing down at the suddenly quiet youngster, knowing the child was not yet done.
"No ma am," the small voice murmured burying her head in her mothers muscular arm.
Xena had taken to inspecting her daughter's scrollwork that she had assigned as part of her punishment for her many misdeeds while visiting Amphipolis.
She tapped the little girl gently on the leg. "Well how many do you have left?"
The child lay her head on her mothers chest and whispered, "I still have to write I am not allowed to tell lies and Momma loves me very much."
Xena grinned remembering the last scroll she had added in an effort to help Tarren realize just how much she truly was loved. "Hmm well you better have that last one done by tomorrow or you'll have to write it 200 times."
The youngster smiled, her voice was now filled with enthusiasm. "You want me to write Momma loves me 200 times? I will. I don't mind writing that one at all Momma."
The warrior mother chuckled. "No baby, just write what you've got and make sure you remember it. That last one I sort of like reminding you of myself." Xena grinned and kissed the little girls cheek. She hoisted the child higher in the air as she picked up her pace. "However, right now it's a bath for you little girl."
Tarren frowned and pushed her lower lip out hoping her best pout would get her out of the dreaded bath. She saw Gabrielle bringing up the rear with soap and towels in hand and the youngster tried to wiggle out of her mother's arms.
"Don't wanna bath!" The child moaned, struggling to be free from her mothers gentle but firm hold.
Xena paused and willingly placed her daughter on the ground beside her and glanced down at the child. "Think about it little one. Are you really going to run from me?" the warrior asked wanting to offer her daughter the opportunity to make the right choice.
The child looked up at Xenas face and could not help but grimace at the odd smile she was showing. Tarren thought about her mothers question and played out the scenario in her mind. Each time the vision started with the child running it ended with her still getting a rather lengthy bath.
Tarren shook her head and let her shoulders slump in defeat. "No Momma I dont wanna run from you." The youngster lowered her eyes and moved slowly toward the water.
Xena smiled and rubbed the childs head affectionately and pointed to a spot on the lake that she had chosen as a bathing area. "You have just shown great wisdom little one."
Tarren stood by the water as Gabrielle pulled out the vile tools of the ungodly act of washing such as towels and soap. The youngster frowned as she watched both her mother and the bard undress and slide into the water knowing full well that she was expected to be next.
Gabrielle grinned at the child standing on the shore with her small arms tucked neatly against her chest in silent protest. "Come on Tarren take your night clothes off and get in the water," the young woman ordered, waving her hand over the cooling stream to show the pleasure of the pool.
Xena merely sighed at her friends efforts and swam out to the center of the lake content to feel the cool water against her skin. "Still havent learned the difference between act and react. Have you Gabrielle?" the warrior mumbled, staring back at both the stubborn youngster and her now pleading young friend.
The bard sighed. "Please Tarren. You need to take a bath. I really dont want to have to chase you this morning."
The little girl heard the words as if they were a call to arms. The young woman had truly offered inspiration.
The youngster was lost in thought as she stared at her frowning friend soaking in the water. "There is no need for a bath. Momma is busy swimming and Gabbys not gonna chase me. I dont have to take a bath if I dont wanna and I dont wanna."
Tarren pressed her arms tighter against her chest noting that her mother was still quite busy swimming. She smiled oddly at the bard. "Nope! I don't wanna bath Gabby bye," she giggled, running from the water and far from the bard's reach.
Gabrielle let out a long breath as she watched the child sprint away. She turned and called to the warrior. "Xena this is your area. Tarren may not want a bath but I do." The young woman sat back in the water running the soap along her skin as she watched the child disappear from sight.
The warrior mother frowned and swam back to the shore. "I'll get her the little monster," the mother groaned as she reached for a towel and headed off in the direction of the small footprints.
Xena tracked the youngster to a grouping of three large rocks about 50 paces from the water. She leaned up against the side of one knowing her daughter had positioned herself carefully in the center. The warrior stared up at the sky wishing her child had a better concept of what the difference between a good idea and a bad idea was. Her voice was low and cool as she spoke.
"Ok Tarren here is the situation. You can come out on your own and be carried down to the water where your gonna get a bath or I can come in there and get you and you'll be carried down and then given a bath. Its up to you."
The child thought carefully about her options and then the small voice squeaked from beneath the rocks. "No big difference."
The warrior mother smiled. "Well I'd say the big difference is that if I have to come in and get you that before I take you down to the water I'm give you one good swat on your little bottom," she said stiffly, ready for either course of action.
Tarren quickly popped her head out and glanced up at her mother. "You never mentioned that part Momma. That makes a big difference." the child mumbled, climbing out of her hiding place.
The mother stared wearily down at her young daughter. "Oops didn't I? I am sorry Now which will it be?" she asked, lowering her voice to let her child know that she was not in the mood for this game of hide and find me.
The little girl smiled broadly hoping to show her repent. "I'm coming with you Momma."
The warrior grinned and lifted the run away child into her arms, "Well good, but ya know I think this time Ill just make sure you get all the way there myself."
The youngster groaned knowing that the bath was now an inevitable event.
Xena carried the little one down to the shore and smiled at her still soaking friend. She undressed the child and playfully tossed her in the water with a splash directly in front of Gabrielle. "I brought you a present."
The warrior smiled at her companion and jumped back in the lake beside her emerging daughter.
The bard chuckled as the little girl came to the surface with an expression that let all know she was not happy at the prospect of being bathed. "Thanks I think."
Gabrielle grabbed the soap and started the cleaning process working her way from head to toe. The youngster moaned and groaned but did not move knowing her mother was keeping a careful eye on the proceedings.
The bard smiled at her unhappy captive. "Ok you little brat youre getting clean whether you like it or not and my big warrior friend over there is gonna make sure you behave yourself."
Tarren glanced at her mother who gave her a stern look to let the child know she was indeed the guardian of this particular prison. The youngster settled quietly into the water for the familiar and still vile bathing ritual.
When Xena was finished with her own bath she tossed the soap to Gabrielle, got out of the water, and dressed, drying her dark mane with a small towel and a brush.
Having finally finished scrubbing the sulking but still youngster, the bard chose to linger behind and soak before leaving for the dusty trail. "Gods Xena do we really need to move on already? This is such a nice spot and we've been fighting dirty bandits for days. Why dont we just stay here today?" she moaned as she felt the tight muscles in her body relax in the soothing waters.
The warrior shrugged her shoulders knowing they had no real definite plans for the day. "Well I wouldnt mind a bit of fishing myself." Xena thought about it and glanced down at her young daughter who was now looking longingly at the center of the lake. "Ok youre next. Come on get out," the mother said wiggling her finger for the child to exit.
Tarren bit her lip and looked up at her mother. "Can I go swimming Momma?" the child begged eager for something other than lying in her bedrolls.
Xena was quick to respond, "Nope you're still being punished. Come on out."
"But Momma...." the youngster whined.
Xena placed her hands on her hips and stared down at the child submerging in the water. She pointed to a spot in front of her as she scolded. "Don't you dare but Momma me. First you give me a hard time getting in the water and now you give me a hard time getting out. Little girl if you know what's good for you you'll get your bottom out of that water right now."
Gabrielle sighed as she watched the sulking child obediently crawl out of the water.
"Wanna go swimming and I can't...bedroll...scrolls bottom hot not warm...cheese not sloppy...bath ." the child mumbled, wanting all her dissatisfaction over recent events to be recited.
Xena nodded as she listened to the youngster's ramblings. "Keep it up Tarren. It's very early in the morning and you're already getting a bad case of the naughties," she warned, wrapping the little girl in a towel and rubbing it up and down her body to dry her.
The Naughties was a phrase that the child had created to describe a string of small events where she was not really misbehaving but just not quite in the mood to do as she was told happily.
Little Tarren glanced up at her mother with her wide-eyed stare not realizing she had allowed all her thoughts to spill out her lips. "Sorry momma I don't want the naughties They just sort of come," she said quietly, giving her mother her best look of pure innocence.
Xena chuckled a bit as she carefully ran a brush through the little girls tangled hair.
"Well lets see if, just once, we cant make them go away before you get into trouble Ok?"
The child nodded and gave her mother her most mischievous grin. "I'll try Momma, but they're pretty strong ya know."
Xena let out a long breath knowing from experience just how strong they could indeed be. "Well you will let me know if you need my help. Won't you?"
The youngster swallowed knowing that her mother's version of help left her with no naughties but a sore bottom. The child considered her options and decided it best if she made them go away on her own. "Nope Momma All gone. They left...Nope no more naughties here," the child declared with a smile.
Xena looked at the bard who was so entranced by the entire exchange, she finally decided to exit the water herself.
The warrior mother paused and gave the child a gentle hug. "Uh huh I thought they might make a run for it," she said with a nod. "Good job baby." Xena continued the task of dressing the struggling child when suddenly she heard a branch break behind her. She quickly placed the half-dressed youngster behind her and without a moments hesitation turned and tossed her chakrum in the direction of the unusual crunch.
A slim figure covered in leaves hit the ground as the branches above came crashing down. The warrior caught her weapon and then drew her sword moving toward the fallen spy.
The warrior mother snarled making sure her body always stood between her child and the stranger. "Get up!"
The lone figure moaned and groaned from the weight of the branches and then slowly arose from the rubble. The warrior kept her blade trained on her prisoner ready to strike at the first show of a threat.
As the slim form removed the last of the broken tree limbs from her arms and legs she picked her head up and growled, "Did you have to throw that thing so damn close to my head?"
Xena lowered her sword and smiled at the sight of the familiar face before her. Ephiny!"
Gabrielle and Xena sat in front of the fire as the amazon queen told how she had come to find them.
"So I had to go all the way to the other side of the territories to meet with the other tribes leaders. However, it may have been worth the trip if it brings us that much closer to joining the tribes together again." She paused and looked at her friends. "I heard you were heading this way and decided I would stop by," she moaned, rubbing a lump on her head caused by a falling branch. "Of course I should have known better than to try and make it a surprise visit."
Xena grinned slightly. "Sorry Eph."
The amazon waved her hand in the air to show her friend it was not a problem. "Nope I got just what I deserved for sneaking up on the Warrior Princess."
Tarren rushed over to the trio seated by the fire and tossed her boots in her mothers lap hoping a little assistance putting them on would earn her some time listening to the strangers story.
Xena looked at the pleading eyes of her child and just patted her lap motioning for the little girl to have a seat. The mother carefully pulled each boot on a foot as the youngster stared at the oddly dressed stranger who had dared to enter the private camp.
Gabrielle shook her head as she watched her amazon friend. "Gods Ephiny I am so proud of you. You are doing such a wonderful job."
The amazon grinned and bowed her head a bit making the bard blush a bit. "Why thank you my Queen."
Tarren eyed the stranger with interest. Ephiny was a tall woman. Not as big as Xena of course, but she wore some armor and carried a sword like the warrior. Her dress was strange, mostly scant skins and some odd jewelry and an armband similar to her mothers but not nearly as ornate.
The youngster listened to the conversation with interest as the bard handed the wide-eyed child a plate of food. Tarren took the plate but continued to stare at the stranger she had yet to be introduced to. The child chewed on her morning meal squeaking out words between bites. "Gabby I thought you were a princess."
Before the bard could respond, Ephiny turned her head to observe the small child who had dared to interrupt such a royal conversation. She gave the youngster an angry stare. "Didn't your mother ever tell you not to interrupt your elders little girl?" the amazon asked, wondering just who this child belonged to and why children were not reared in the rest of the world in such good fashion as they were in her village.
Tarren lay back against Xenas chest and shook her head. "Nope Momma says that if I have something to say I should just speak right up."
The warrior covered her mouth to hide a smile and Gabrielle grinned knowing that poor Ephiny was in for a very big surprise.
The amazon stared at the unruly child with dissatisfaction. "Oh really. Well your mother is not doing a very good job showing you your place child," the amazon scolded, pointing a warning finger at the small form.
Xena had remained quiet for this exchange and simply chose to pull the little girl in closer and wrap her large arms around her. Tarren looked up her mother with a sullen expression wondering if she had just again done something wrong to deserve this strangers immediate disapproval.
The warrior kissed the child's cheek gently and smiled to let her know she had not. "Its Ok baby," the mother whispered in the little girls ear.
Ephiny noted the affectionate exchange and raised her eyebrow in confusion. "Hey who is this little brat anyway? Some kid you rescued from a burning wagon or something?"
Tarren frowned noting the way the amazon called her brat did not hold the same affection as the way Gabrielle did. There was a definite difference in the tone and the child did not like it at all. She leaned back against her mothers chest and pulled Xena's arms tightly in around her to show the stranger just who belonged to who in this camp.
Xena winked at the bard to let her know that the pleasure of introducing Tarren to the visiting amazon would be all hers.
Gabrielle cleared her throat as if ready to make a long speech. She pointed to little Tarren and smiled. "Uh Ephiny this is Tarren. She's Xena's daughter...Solon's twin sister."
Ephiny looked at the bard and the nodding warrior and then to the angry child planted squarely in her mothers lap. After everything she had just said the amazon was truly hoping this was just a joke. "Daughter? Xena? Youre kidding right?"
The warrior frowned a bit at the surprise her friend was showing that she could indeed have a child. "Yeah Ephiny this is my daughter. Ya know the one that doesn't know her place. The one, whose mother doesn't teach her very well."
Xena was not about to let those words go without comment.
Ephiny swallowed and looked to Gabrielle for enlightenment. "I'm sorry...I didn't know...Wow your daughter. But how?"
The bard shook her head slightly to let the visitor know that small ears were not welcome at the telling of this particular story, so the amazon just stared at the child sitting so protectively in her mothers care.
Tarren looked up at Xena a bit confused by the strangers words. "Momma?" she asked, gripping onto the warriors wristbands.
Xena again kissed the little girls cheek. "Yes daughter," she replied loud enough to let the amazon know she was not kidding.
"Where is my place?" the child asked, wondering if she had indeed been misplaced at some point.
The warrior chuckled a bit and tightened her hold on the child. "Right here with me little one."
Tarren smiled at her mother and then glared at the now stunned amazon sitting across the small fire.
Ephiny let out a long breath and nodded at the youngster. "So you're Xena's kid?"
Tarren sat straight up to reply. "Yes I am. Who are you?"
The woman bowed her head slightly. "I am Ephiny, Regent of the Amazons youngster."
Gabrielle took a deep breath and shook her head eager to correct her friends mistake. "Actually, Tarren shes the Queen of the Amazon Tribe," the young woman stated.
"Only while you're gone," the amazon argued, giving the bard a sideways look.
The bard shook her head and turned toward the visitor. "Ephiny!"
Xena sighed sensing a familiar argument about titles approaching.
Tarren looked at her mother and then the two bickering women and frowned. The child decided to ignore the little spat. "Gabby what's a regent?" she asked, reaching out and tugging on her friends arm.
Gabrielle paused in her discussion with the amazon. She leaned in beside the child and grinned "Well It means Ephiny is the Queen in my place. She takes care of things because Im not there."
Little Tarren offered her friend a wide grin and nodded in complete understanding. "Oh I get it. Shes your sidekick."
Xena lowered her eyes and the bard bit her lip not wanting to turn and see the expression on the visitors face.
"Uh no honey. Ephiny is in charge of the tribe. She is the Queen." The young womans tone was so decisive that even Ephiny did not argue the point any further.
The child touched the bards face as if trying to gather information from the contact. "But you said you were a princess. How come youre not queen now Gabby?" the youngster asked, confused by all the titles being tossed around and wondering if she was ever going to get one.
The bard smiled and rubbed the childs head affectionately. "Because my life is with you and Xena." She tweaked the little girls nose eliciting a giggle.
The youngster stared at her gentle friend. "So then why does that woman keep calling you queen?" the child asked pointing at the visitor.
Ephiny got to her feet and stretched out her muscles tired of all this chatter. "Because I am the queen in her absence youngster."
The child frowned at the strange woman. "Didn't your mother ever tell you not to interrupt?"
Xena bit her lip and covered her mouth to hide a smile. She then glanced down at her daughter knowing she needed to be corrected. The warriors face was a mixture of parental frustration and amusement. "Tarren that wasnt very nice. Apologize to Ephiny."
The child said nothing.
Gabrielle gave the youngster a stern look. "Tarren you were told to apologize to Ephiny. We are waiting."
The child folded her arms against her chest and shook her head. "Not unless she apologizes first," the stubborn little girl replied.
Xena let out a long breath knowing the proud amazon would not apologize to a child. She let her voice drop to a serious level that she knew her daughter would recognize as a no nonsense tone. "Don't worry about someone elses bad manners. You just worry about your own little girl. Now I want to hear an apology right now," she scolded, staring down at he child sulking in her lap.
Ephiny frowned at the insinuation that she was both a sidekick and that her manners were bad but said nothing.
The youngster glared at the amazon deciding that this stranger was going to be nothing but trouble. "Ok I'm sorry but only because Momma and Gabby say I have to be," the child mumbled.
Ephiny stared at the youngster amazed that Xena would allow such disrespect from anyone none the less a mere child. "Well thank you very much."
The warrior mother let out a long breath and shook her head at the very backward apology the child had offered. "Ok monster back to your bedroll," she ordered, lifting the little girl off her lap and pointed toward the blankets.
Tarren dropped her empty plate on the ground and looked at her mother with wide eyes wondering what she had done wrong now. "Why Momma?"
Xena motioned to the bedroll in the distance. The tone in her voice said the discussion was now over. "Because you are not being a very good little girl this morning, so get going...right now."
The youngster looked sadly at Gabrielle who only shook her head to let the child know this was not one of those times she would offer any assistance.
Tarren kicked a rock with the tip of her boot rather than make any headway toward the bedding. "But I didnt do anything. I was just apologizing like you said," the child mumbled, staring at the all too familiar bedroll.
Xena got to her feet in an effort to show the youngster she was not kidding around. "Uh huh I said move it young lady," the mother said stiffly, giving the child a gentle swat on the backside to get her started in the right direction.
Tarren bit her lip as she very slowly started back toward the blankets never taking her eyes off the stranger who had dared to enter her private world uninvited.
The warrior mother frowned as she looked at the sullen child lying on the bedroll holding both the beloved saddlebags and slingshot tightly in her grip.
Ephiny lowered her eyes a bit knowing it was her intrusion that had caused the problem. "I'm sorry Xena. I didn't mean to hurt her feelings. It's just that if she were an amazon child she wouldnt dare ."
Xena silenced her friend with a stare. Her voice was low and subdued. "But shes not an amazon child Eph. She's my child. Please try and remember that."
Ephiny watched as the warrior walked over to the blankets and knelt down beside the child. She could see that Xena was quietly scolding the child but then the warrior leaned in closer and whispered something to make the child smile and before the encounter was over the little girl was being held in her mother's arms giggling.
In a matter of moments Xena walked over to small campfire where the bard and Ephiny were talking. She had Tarren seated happily on her broad shoulders.
Xena glanced at the child above her. "Gabrielle as long as we are going to be a bit delayed in moving out a day, this youngster and I are going to do a few drills with the staff and the chucks. Somebody has more energy than is good for them and we're gonna go take care of that right now. Right little one?"
Tarren smiled broadly at the thought of some private play with her mother and hoping she could talk the warrior into teaching her some new maneuvers with the chucks. Anything was better than being confined to her bedroll.
"Uh...Sure Momma...We can play with the big sticks too if you want," the child replied half heartedly, much preferring the small wands to the long staff.
"It's a staff Tarren ...It's called a staff."
"Oh Ok.... Sorry We can play with the staffs too if you want Momma."
Xena raised her eyebrows in surrender. "It's not supposed to be play ya know...You're supposed to be serious."
"Because it's important to be able to defend yourself."
Xena glanced at Gabrielle who shrugged. She then looked up at her daughters grinning face. It was time for a serious conversation. "Tarren what would you do if someone was gonna try and hurt you?"
"Call you Momma!" the child was quick to say.
Xena nodded. That was a good response but not helpful to her objective. "Well...what if I wasn't there?"
The child patted her mothers head. "Your always there Momma. Why wouldn't you be there?"
Xena let out a long breath hoping to make a point. "What if I was fighting 50 warlords off with my sword and couldn't make it to you in time?"
Tarren chuckled at the thought. "Only 50 Momma...you'd be there," the child stated proudly.
Gabrielle and Ephiny both smiled knowing that was indeed the truth.
Xena was desperate to make some headway. "Well then I dunno What if I fell in a hole running to get to you?"
The child tapped her chin with her finger trying to come up with a good answer. "Was it a deep hole Momma?"
Xena was having a hard time keeping up with the story that was now unfolding.
"What? No not really deep."
The child shrugged. "Then why don't you just vault out Momma?"
The warrior covered her face with her hands wishing she had chosen a different story. "Well Tarren, maybe when I fell in I hurt my leg and I'm having trouble standing."
This vision brought the youngsters lower lip out and a single tear down the child's cheek. The game of what if had suddenly turned from mere play to serious fear when the warrior unintentionally gave her daughter an image of her mother injured and alone.
Gabrielle frowned at the warrior who could not see the childs face who was seated high above her vision. The bard pointed up at the teary eyed and now silent child. "Xena!"
The warrior looked up and sighed when she saw her youngster's face. She brought the child quickly in front of her holding her closely. "What... Tarren what's wrong?"
The child cried, rubbing her eyes with the balls of her fists. "I don't like the part of the story where you got hurt Momma."
Xena shook her head and smiled trying to remind her child this was just a story. "But Tarren I didn't really get hurt. Its just a make believe story. I was only trying to show you...Tell you...."
The warrior soon realized she was now touching on the child's greatest fear and broke off her thought in mid sentence. She wrapped her arms tightly around Tarren and grinned.
The mother sighed. "Ok I'm sorry ...I fell in the hole but I just vaulted right out."
"Were you hurt?" the child asked with a sniffle.
"No I wasn't hurt."
"Did ya get the 50 warlords?" the child asked with a slight smile.
"Of course I got all 50 of them," the warrior replied matter of factly.
The child grinned knowing that the story had to end with her mother triumphantly saving the day.
"So then it's a good story Momma."
Xena grinned as she stared into the youthful eyes of her young daughter hoping for even just a small victory. "Yeah it's a good story baby. But Tarren I only want you to learn to use the staff JUST so you can protect yourself better in case someone should ever try to hurt you."
The child gave the warrior a wide-eyed look of innocence that made her mother smile.
"Why Momma? You'd never let anyone hurt me. Would ya?"
Xena glanced at the grinning bard and sighed. "No baby I wouldn't let anyone ever hurt you. Come on lets go play with the big sticks." Even a warrior had to know when to surrender.
"It's called a staff Momma."
Gabrielle and Ephiny chuckled as they watched the warrior heading down the trail with a small child on her shoulder's chastising her about watching out for big holes.
After the warrior and child were out of earshot the bard explained about how they had found Tarren and all the things that had occurred in the last few months.
Ephiny glanced at her friend and true Queen. "So is this what life is for you now Gabrielle?"
The bard smiled as she considered how her days were spent. "Yeah I guess it is."
The amazon was hoping her friend would return and help her to bring the tribes back to one nation. "Ya know we could always use our rightful queen back in the village if you are looking for a change."
Gabrielle shook her head and grinned at her friend, patting the womans hand to let her know her loyalty was appreciated. "Nope...I've got my place here with Xena and Tarren. That's where I belong."
Ephiny let out a long breath to show her disappointment, "OK...but you three could at least visit. Come back with me for a few days. Xena is always an amazing sight to the amazons...especially the young warriors, and you are the still the rightful queen."
"Eph YOU are the queen. I think I'll stick with being a princess. It keeps Xena and I on an even level." Gabrielle grinned at the thought of Xena ever bowing to her. "But ya know I wouldn't mind a visit. Let me talk to Xena about it."
The amazon nodded and gave her friend a long stare. "Ok...Now tell me about more about this kid. She can't be Solon's twin. She's way too young, but then again she does look just like him and gods she definitely has the warrior's eyes and disposition. It's a bit confusing." She tossed a rock at a tree trying to get her own thoughts straight.
Gabrielle added a few sticks to the small fire. "I know...Xena and I have been talking about that a bit ourselves lately. All I do know is that Tarren is Xena's daughter and a very special little girl. I love her Ephiny and I don't want to see her hurt, so be careful what you say to her," the bard warned, offering a gentle smile to show her friend that it was more than a request but not quite a demand.
Ephiny shook her head and started pacing around the fire. "Gabrielle I didn't mean to insult her. She's just a kid. In the amazon village she would not dare speak without being spoken too. Amazon children are taught the meaning of discipline from a very young age."
The bard chuckled as she tried to imagine Tarren living under such a strict regime. "Well both Xena and I believe that treating her as a person first and a child second is right. She is entitled to dignity and her thoughts are important to us Ephiny."
The amazon shrugged her shoulders and grinned. "Well you guys are way too easy on her. The kid has a little attitude problem...probably needs a good kick in the britches to set her straight."
Gabrielle smiled at her friends lack of perspective. Even Xena had never had such a one sided view of things. The bards words were soft but firm. "Eph try and remember just whose kid that is. When Tarren needs to be punished her mother takes care of it. I wouldnt push Xena. She is very protective of that child and so am I."
Ephiny put her arms up in surrender. "Uh huh. Ok but I still cant believe that the great warrior Xena is actually a mommy."
Gabrielle got to her feet and motioned for the amazon to follow hoping that a slight demonstration of mother and daughter together would show Xenas dedication and ability as a parent to the visitor.
The bard led she amazon to where Xena and Tarren were drilling. "Eph come with me. I want you to see something." The bard paused. "Oh and I wouldnt call Xena Mommy if I were you."
Ephiny chuckled. "Oh no. I have too much work to do to die now."
Down on the field...
Xena tried patiently to get her young daughter to demonstrate her skill with the staff. She knew the child had learned some of the maneuvers since the warrior had watched the youngster practice her forms. However using the staff as a tool for even playful sparring only made the child giggle and the warrior frustrated.
"Hold it up higher. Now when I come in to attack you hold it over your head to block," the mother instructed.
The child held the short stick her mother had carved just to meet her small size. "Ok Momma."
Xena lifted her staff in the air and brought it slowly forward. Tarren lifted her stick in the air as she casually noticed a large butterfly on the ground. Xenas staff tapped the childs stick lightly and the youngster dropped it to the ground. The warrior fell back and leaned on her staff watching the child now playing with the butterfly. The mothers words became stern because she wanted the child to focus her attention with the staff the same way she did with the chucks.
"Tarren you're not even trying. You need to hold the stick the staff as if you were really being attacked."
The youngster waved at the butterfly as it flew away and then stared up at her mother with a broad smile. "I am Momma, but it's hard cause I know you'd never hurt me."
Xena looked at the smiling face of innocence staring up at her and grinned. She put her staff down and knelt beside her daughter. The child immediately reached out and hugged her mother and the warrior could do little more than accept the embrace happily. "Ok monster Staff now and hugs later."
The warrior mother seated the child on her knee and pointed to the staff dropping her voice to a soft whisper. "Baby you do the forms perfectly, but when I ask you to spar you always back away. Why?" the warrior asked, wondering if she was pushing the small child too much.
Tarren quickly reached up and hugged the stoic warrior again. "I don't wanna fight with you. You're my Momma," was the innocent reply.
Xena smiled at the gentle words. "Well what if I get Gabrielle?"
The child giggled. "No she's Gabby."
Xena chuckled a bit; knowing this would be her daughters reaction. "Well Gabrielle likes it when you spar with her. As a matter of fact, she likes it most when you make her land in the dirt," the warrior said with a grin, remembering how her bard had referred to her as a spoiled brat earlier that morning.
The little girls eyes went wide with surprise. "She does?"
Xena thought carefully about the answer that she was about to give. It wasnt exactly a lie since the Gabrielle did like to know that Tarren was learning to protect herself. The warrior was just making a small assumption based on that idea that such an action would serve as proof that the child was indeed learning.
The warrior mother nodded. "Uh huh Of course she likes it. You see how many times I do it to her dont ya?"
The youngster nodded as she played with the straps on her mothers armor. "Yes Momma."
"Well I wouldnt do it if she didnt like it. Would I?" the warrior asked, hoping she was not digging herself into too deep a hole with the bard.
"No Momma," the child replied wondering how strong the straps really were.
The youngster pulled on one and noticed that it did not tear.
Xena quickly moved the little girls hand away. "Hey dont do that!" she scolded.
Tarren giggled at her mother and again reached for the strap.
Xena arched an eyebrow and let her voice drop. "Tarren I said no!"
The youngster started to turn and when the warriors concentration was refocused, the child reached for the strap ready to test its endurance once again.
However, the warriors quick reflexes caught the small fingers and Xena slapped the childs hand lightly. "Hey I said No. Dont do that. Youll rip it."
Tarren pushed her lip out to show her dissatisfaction. "I was just playing."
Xena shook her head. She could feel her resolve melt as she stared at the little girl rubbing the sting from her small hand. "I know, but you cant play with everything you touch or see Tarren and when I say no I mean no!"
The youngsters eyes went wide and she said nothing.
The warrior let out a long breath and took the little girls hand in her own and kissed it gently. "Better?"
The child grinned at her mothers gentle touch as the warrior caressed the slapped wrist.
"Uh huh It didnt really hurt Momma."
Xena collapsed her legs so she was now sitting on the ground with Tarren on planted on top of her. "Go ahead youngster. Pick me apart. Give me gray hair. I give up."
The child giggled as she made an attempt to tickle her mother.
The warrior responded by tossing the little girl over her shoulder and running her fingers across her legs. "Oh pick on your mother when shes down will you. Ill teach you."
Xena lifted the little girl to one side and let both her hands run up and down the squealing childs sides.
Tarren laughed loudly until the warrior gathered the child in her arms and stood placing a kiss squarely on the childs nose. "Back to the staffs little girl."
"Oh no not that," the youngster begged, grabbing her mothers straps once again.
Xena shook her head in warning. "Dont you even think about it. Rip one of those straps and Ill paddle you good."
"Would not," the child argued.
"Would to," the mother responded, twirling her staff skillfully over her head.
"No ya wouldnt," the child decided reaching for the forbidden leather.
"Wanna find out?" the mother asked, giving her daughter a raised eyebrow.
Tarren noticed the familiar eye movement, released the straps and smiled. "Nope!"
The warrior put the little girl on the ground and tasseled her hair. "Good choice monster. Now pick up your staff and lets get back to work."
The child grumbled a bit and just stared innocently at her mother awaiting her next instruction. Xena rubbed the little girls face with the side of her hand and smiled knowing this small child was not about to spar well with she or Gabrielle. "Well I guess sparring is out."
There was a long a pause as the warrior considered asking the youngster to pick a fight with a tree. She decided against it realizing Tarren had probably made friends out of most of them as well.
A strange voice called from the edge of the meadow Xena had been using for her drills.
"I might be able to help a bit. I've done a little sparring with the staff myself."
The warrior looked up and grinned at Gabrielle and Ephiny as they approached.
Tarren grabbed her mothers hand as the amazon moved closer hoping that this dream was really coming true.
Xena shook her head. "Ephiny she's just a kid. I don't want her fighting. I just want her practicing a few basic defense drills," the warrior replied, knowing her friends great expertise with the staff.
The amazon queen offered the warrior a quick smile and waved her hand to dismiss the mothers concerns. "Oh Xena I've taken time on the fields with all the youngsters in the village. I won't hurt her," she said with a smile, wishing to offer some assistance in putting this child on the right path.
The little girl stood patiently waiting for her mother to make a decision.
Xena thought for a moment and then looked down at her small daughter. "Tarren would you like to spar with Ephiny?" she asked, knowing the youngster would decline.
"Yes Momma," the child replied quickly, eager for any chance to thump the stranger who she felt had insulted both she and her mother.
Xenas eyes flew open. "Uh huh great," the surprised warrior replied. She moved beside the amazon and whispered in her hear. "Ephiny you and I are friends, but that is my daughter. Dont forget that. OK?" she warned, giving the woman a look into the depth of her eyes.
The amazon nodded in understanding. "Relax Xena I'm just gonna offer the kid a chance to spar with a real opponent. Ya know someone that doesnt tuck her in at night. Ill be like a tree. Ill hardly move."
Xena nodded and moved beside Gabrielle who looked on the entire turn of events with trepidation. "Err Xena do you think this is a good idea?" she asked, noting the strange smile on the little girls face as she eagerly waited for the joust to begin.
The warrior mother nodded. "Well Tarren needs to learn to control the staff and she doesn't want to spar with us, so maybe this will be a good experience for her," she answered not quite sure who she was trying to convince. "Look Im not gonna let anything happen."
Gabrielle let out a quick breath and shook her head, "Ok but just remember this was your idea."
Xena turned. "No it wasnt. It was Ephinys and you brought her down here."
Tarren glanced over at the two bickering women. She was getting a bit impatient for the fun to begin. "Momma?"
Xena paused in her discussion with her friend to answer her daughter. "Yes Tarren,"
"Can we start fighting or do we have to wait for you and Gabby to stop first?" the child asked with a smirk.
Xena folded her arms tightly against her chest and frowned at her child. "Very funny little one. You just mind your manners and worry about your opponent."
The child lowered her eyes under the scolding. "Yes maam."
Xena winked at her daughter and the youngster again smiled.
The warrior glanced at both the amazon and her young daughter and threw her hand in the air to signal the start of the match.
Tarren took her position opposite Ephiny with a renewed interest in sparring with the big stick. She gripped the staff in her hands tightly just as her mother had taught her.
Ephiny grinned and slowly circled the child. "Don't worry kid. I won't hurt you."
Tarren shook her head wondering if this stranger was going to talk or fight. "Thanks."
The amazon brought her staff slowly around to the child's side and Tarren back flipped in the air and let her small staff whirl through the air making contact with the strangers.
Xena smiled proudly at Gabrielle. "Thats my daughter!"
The bard gave her friend a gentle poke. "Yup she sure is warrior."
The amazon gripped her staff tightly and again circled the small child. "Well...well aren't we the little Warrior Princess?"
Tarren grinned appreciating any comparison that was made between she and her mother.
Ephiny moved forward trying to swipe the youngster's feet. Tarren again vaulted in the air, this time bringing her own small staff quickly across the amazons lower back with a thud.
Gabrielle looked at Xena who was still smiling. "Xena are you gonna let this continue?" the bard asked, noting the sour expression on the amazons face.
The warrior was pleased with her young daughters ability to defend herself even a little against such a worthy opponent. All the months of drilling had not been in vain. "Uh huh what? Oh just a bit more Gabrielle. Ephiny won't hurt her." the warrior mother reassured her friend. However she then immediately brought her concentration to the amazons maneuvers.
Ephiny glared at the child who had dared to make a strike at her back.
The youngster just grinned and twirled the staff playfully in the air and giggled. "This is fun!"
The amazon warrior sneered at the childs lack of respect for the art. "OK kid I think it's about time you learned a lesson in respect," the woman growled settling down into a serious fighting stance.
The small child looked at her new playmate oddly wondering why the stranger wasnt enjoying the game as much as she was. Tarren shrugged and held her staff in the air again ready for an attack.
However this time the amazon warrior swung her staff with some force at the childs side. Tarren reached out to block the move but it wasnt necessary since Xena's hand stopped the motion before it ever had a chance to make contact with the youngsters staff.
"I think that will be enough sparring for today. Thanks Eph" the warrior said with a grin, holding the amazons staff firmly in her grip. "Unless you are in the mood for a real workout with me," she offered, never allowing her smile to fade.
Tarren took up a safe position behind her mother's leg and peered at the now angry amazon.
Ephiny considered the offer but shook her head knowing Xena was better with both the staff and the sword. She had not come to fight with her friends and her own foolish pride was bringing her to that point. The amazon released her hold on the staff and sighed. "Sorry, I guess I got a bit carried away. The youngster handles the staff pretty well for a little kid."
Xena placed a hand on her friends shoulder and winked knowing the amazon had indeed held back all her natural abilities to give the child a chance to practice. "Thanks Eph."
The amazon nodded and turned to head back toward the camp.
Gabrielle watched as her friend walked off noting the heavy strides she was now taking. "Xena that was not a good thing. Was it?"
The warrior knew that an amazons pride was their greatest strength and greatest weakness. "Nope!"
Tarren looked up at her mother and the bard wondering what all the fuss was about. "Whats a matter? Didnt the lady like the game Momma?"
Xena smiled at the youngster. "Well to her it was not a game baby." The warrior knelt beside the small child. "You however did really well. I am very proud of you. I just wish you had not done so well on Ephiny. She's a proud warrior Tarren and having a kid get even one strike in is a bit humiliating for her."
Tarren lowered her eyes a bit and looked at the bard. "I'm real sorry Gabby. I didn't mean to hurt your friend," the child said, sensing this woman seemed very important to the bard.
Gabrielle grinned and tasseled the child's hair. "Don't worry about it honey. Ephiny is not hurt. She's just a little unhappy... She'll get over it...I hope." She touched the childs face, "Beside I agree with Xena. You did really well out there."
Tarren smiled and twirled her staff playfully. It was always nice to have Xena and Gabrielle say they were proud of her. However the youngster decided to drop her little staff to the ground and reach her arms up to her mother rather than play further.
Xena quickly brought the child into her embrace. "Whats this?"
Tarren buried her head in her mothers shoulder as she laced her hands around the warriors neck. "Hug time. Staffs later and hugs now."
Xena smiled at Gabrielle and squeezed her daughter tightly. "Hugs for you anytime little one."
Both she and the bard had noticed that since leaving Amphipolis, Tarren had become even more in need of affection than before. The child was always reaching out to one of them for a comforting hug. However what the youngster seemed to crave most was to be held tightly in her mothers arms, something Xena was most happy to do.
"So what are we gonna play now?" the youngster asked, feeling she deserved a reward for playing so nicely with the unfriendly stranger
Xena looked at Gabrielle and shook her head. "We are not playing little girl. We are practicing. IF you think this is playtime then maybe I should send you back to your bedroll since youre not supposed to be playing at all right now."
"Uh No Momma I wanna practice more," the youngster pleaded, deciding anything was better than more time in the bedroll.
Xena grinned knowing she had gotten her message across. "Ya do huh?"
The child smiled hoping to show some enthusiasm. "Yup Ill even toss Gabby into the dirt the way you say she likes."
Xena closed her eyes and quickly covered Tarrens mouth with her hand before any other secrets spilled out.
The bard who had been watching the amazon moving in the distance suddenly turned around and faced her large friend. "Xena!" The younger woman placed her hands on her hips and the warrior could see her friends face turning red with anger. "Xena, what did you tell her?"
The warrior hoisted the child over her shoulder and started to back away. "Sorry Gabrielle cant talk right now. I promised Tarren wed work with her chucks. See you later."
Xena smiled at her friend and then with a confused child in one arm and two staffs in the other she headed for a new, more private place to drill as well as have a long talk with her daughter about keeping secrets.
Tarren waved at the bard and Gabrielle forced a slight smile and wiggled her fingers at the departing child. "You can run but you cant hide forever warrior."
Chapter 2 Just the Way of it
That evening Tarren lay on her bedroll working on her scrolls while Xena sat talking with Ephiny and Gabrielle.
Xena had been mulling thoughts in her head since Ephiny had arrived. "So what is the chance of joining these tribes together again?"
The amazon queen let out a long breath. "Well the biggest problem is that there are so many leaders that no one person is willing to listen to the other
As a matter of fact Xena I had mentioned to Gabrielle before that if you guys werent busy
maybe you could visit the village." Ephiny glanced at Gabrielle who was waving her hands frantically in the air. "Xena everyone knows who you are and it could make a big difference," the woman said quietly, staring at her infamous friend while awaiting a response.
The warrior glanced at the bard who bowed her head slightly and smiled. "Well Gabrielle never mentioned this to me Ephiny. Did ya?" the warrior chided.
Gabrielle shrugged as she cooked the fish in the large frying pan over the fire. "Gee I was going to Xena but I was too busy looking for someone to toss me into the dirt. You know how much I enjoy that."
Ephiny glanced at her two friends oddly. "You two spend too much time on the road," she murmured.
Xena let out a long breath realizing her earlier words were going to be something that followed her for quite a while. "Oh well As long as you were busy doing something you enjoy then I forgive you Gabrielle," the warrior replied with an equally sly smile.
Ephiny listened to the exchange and shook her head. "So are you coming or not?" she asked point blank.
The warrior frowned, hating being held up as an example. She did not want people looking up to her. Xena felt she had made too many mistakes in her life to be considered a proper role model for strangers. The warrior glanced at he grinning bard. "Ok well visit, but no Warrior Princess stuff. Were just gonna visit as friends. Right?"
Ephiny nodded in agreement.
Gabrielle just smiled wondering if she had enough pull in the village to muster a parade in Xenas honor knowing just how much her friend loved attention.
Xena studied the bards odd expression and shook her head. "Dont even think about it," she ordered.
The young woman sighed wondering how the warrior could always read her thoughts.
Xena was about to say something to the amazon when a small voice pierced the air.
The warrior mother tilted her head to the side. "Yes Tarren," was the gentle reply.
The little girl grinned. "Im finished."
Xena smiled at Gabrielle and then motioned for the child to approach. "Well Ok then bring them over," she ordered.
Ephiny gave the bard a confused look. "Whats all this about?" she asked, staring at the small child approaching with an armload of scrolls.
Gabrielle leaned in close to the queen and whispered, "Tarren got in trouble and part of her punishment was to write down all the things she did wrong 100 times, so she wouldnt forget. I guess she finally finished it. Thank the gods. I dont think I could have taken another day with her lying in that bedroll."
The amazon rolled her eyes at Xenas idea of discipline but watched the exchange none the less.
The youngster handed her mother the scrolls and waited for judgment to be passed.
Xenas eyes scanned them all quickly and glanced up at the child. "Hey theres one missing," she grumbled.
Tarren pulled the final scroll from behind her back and giggled.
The mother tickled the childs side as she took the last parchment. "Youre not funny."
Xena put the scrolls down and faced the child putting on her most serious parental face. "Ok now young lady tell me what the scrolls say."
Tarren looked at Ephiny not grateful for her presence at such a private moment but then brought her attention back to her mothers gentle eyes.
"They say I will not tell lies I will not copy other peoples handwriting I will not go places Momma says I cant go and Momma loves me very much," the youngster recited, hoping she had gotten them all.
Xena grinned and pulled the little girl gently onto her lap. "Very good. Now do you think you can remember all of those?"
The child nodded. "Ill try Momma," the youngster replied with a smile.
"And if you should forget?" the mother asked in a low husky voice, wanting the child to know that this was not a game.
The child said nothing but merely rubbed her bottom to show she understood quite well the penalty for forgetting.
Xena smiled, rolled the scrolls up and handed them to Gabrielle. "OK then you can put that bedroll away until bedtime."
Tarren jumped up from her mothers lap. "Ya mean I dont have to stay in my bedroll anymore?" she asked with uncontrollable excitement.
Xena placed her hands on the childs face and grinned. "Nope Youve been given an early release because youre too damn cute for your own good that and the fact that I want to sleep tonight," the mother answered, grateful to see her child so happy.
Tarren reached out and hugged her mother tightly, "Well then can we go fishing and swimming and go play with the slingshot and
Xena grinned and covered the childs mouth to get a pause in the ramblings. "Not so fast Tarren pick one."
"Swimming!" she yelled starting to strip off her clothes.
Xena stopped the child just as she was getting to the bare essentials. "Ok well go for a swim, but I wanna tell ya something first. Were gonna go visit the Amazons for a bit," she said quietly, staring into the youngsters blue eyes.
Tarrens smile disappeared. She had hoped the stranger would be gone by morning. Now she was being taken to an entire tribe of Ephinys. "Why?"
Xena glanced at Gabrielle fearing the child might have this reaction after their recent visit to Amphipolis and Tarrens obvious displeasure with the visitor. "Well theyre our friends and we havent seen them in a while, so we want to go say hello," the mother replied.
"Theyre not my friends," the child muttered, staring at the stranger who she knew had brought these problems into her private world.
Gabrielle glanced at Ephiny who just lowered her eyes knowing this was partly her fault. The young woman moved beside the sulking child. "Hey they are your friends and youre gonna like them an awful lot."
Tarren shook her head. "No I wont. It will be just like Amphipolis. Ill be left all alone," she replied with a tear.
Xena lifted the half-dressed child into her lap. "Tarren nobody is gonna leave you alone. You will go where we go," she replied gently. The mother glanced at the sad eyes of her young child and tried to smile. "Hey monster ya know Gabrielle swings a bit of weight over there. You could have some real fun."
Tarren looked at the gentle face of the bard. "Do you really swing weights Gabby?" the youngster asked wondering how that might be fun for her.
The bard nodded trying to muster a royal pose. "Yeah I am the queen Tarren I might even be able to get some sloppy cheese sandwiches made," she said with a smile.
Xena glanced at her friend and shook her head feeling the young woman was going a bit too far.
Ephinys eye popped open and she smiled. "Oh really A minute ago you were just a princess."
Gabrielle gave her friend and fellow queen a warning stare. "Well NOW would be a very good time for us BOTH to be queens," she said through tightened lips, motioning to the youngster so her friend knew the reason for the change in titles.
The child leaned on her mothers shoulder but continued to look at the bard. "Really Gabby The way I like them made?" she asked with a bit of excitement.
Xena again shook her head again at the young woman, but the bard ignored her.
maybe. Id have to check with the acting queen over there," she replied, throwing a hand back toward Ephiny.
The amazon sighed wondering why everyone was making such a fuss over what the child did or did not want to do. She was a child and therefore should do what she was told without question. "Whats a sloppy cheese sandwich?" she asked, deciding even the name sounded a bit repulsive.
Gabrielle looked at her amazon friend and frowned, "Dont ask."
The child considered all the offerings that were being made to her and shrugged. She looked from one adult to the other. "Momma you promise you and Gabby will stay with me the whole time no matter what?"
The warrior mother nodded and gently caressed the side of the childs cheek. "Yup! You dont really think Id let you wander off and get in trouble again now do you?" she asked holding up her right hand for the child to see.
Tarren smiled and reached up to touch her mothers palm. "Is that for me to hold onto Momma?"
Xena smiled softly. "You better believe it monster. I want you with me at all times," she replied softly.
Tarren looked at her mother and Gabrielle and smiled. She could see that both women were truly concerned with her feelings and had no intention of leaving her by herself.
Xena took this as a sign that all was decided. "Well then its settled. In the morning we head for the amazon village. Ok?" she asked the still grinning youngster in her lap.
Tarren let her eyes lock with the stranger. She knew the woman did not like her and that her presence was somehow pulling Gabrielle away.
The youngster stared up into her mothers loving eyes. "Do I have choice?"
Xena could see that one glance at Ephiny had changed the youngsters disposition completely. The childs smile was gone and she was now once again sulking quietly.
Xenas response was gentle but firm, "Not really."
"I dont wanna go!" the child yelled, deciding at the last minute that she did not wish to share her mother or her Gabby with anyone.
Xena shook her head deciding the time for negotiations was now over. She let her voice become stern and parental, "Im sorry Tarren, but thats where we are heading."
The child lowered her eyes and moved slowly off her mothers lap.
The warrior watched the child heading back to her bedroll. The movement confused Xena. "Hey where are you going? I thought we were going swimming together."
"I dont wanna go anymore. Go swim with the amazon. Im going back to my bedroll," the little girl mumbled, kicking her blankets and dropping on top of them.
Gabrielle lowered her eyes at the sight. "Look Xena, Amphipolis took a lot out of her. I dont want to push her. We dont have to go to visit the amazons now. Well visit another time," she whispered with a soft smile.
Ephiny listened but could not believe what she was hearing.
Xena frowned and shook her head knowing how important this trip was to her friend. "No Gabrielle, its about time Tarren learned that not everything we do is just for her."
The warrior mother let out a long breath as she watched the youngster clinging to her blankets. She stood and walked over to the small form and lay down beside her.
"Hey I want to talk to you," she whispered.
Tarren rolled over and looked at her mother. "Yes maam," was the rather formal reply.
Xena grimaced at the childs response knowing the youngster usually only answered that way when she was in trouble. "Now you listen to me little girl. Gabrielle really wants to visit the village. Its important to her. She does a lot of nice stuff for both of us and I think we can do this for her without making her feel bad. Dont you?"
Tarren poked her lower lip out. "But I dont wanna," the little girl groaned.
Xena lifted the little girls chin with her finger and quietly scolded, "Young lady Gabrielle didnt want to fall off that horse you got on but she did. She cooks for you. She helps you with your scrolls and plays with you even when youre being naughty. Id be really disappointed to think you couldnt do this one thing for her."
The child bit her lip not liking the sound of her mothers dissatisfaction, "You would be Momma?"
The warriors face was stern but her eyes were gentle and understanding to the childs discomfort at entering yet another unfamiliar place. "Yes I would."
The little girl ran her fingers up and down her mothers arm. "You promise youll stay with me all the time?"
Xena smiled knowing the childs stubborn nature was fading away. "You just try and get rid of me monster," she replied kissing the little girl on the forehead.
"Ok Momma Ill be nice, but just for you and Gabby," she whispered, still seeing the amazon seated in the distance.
Xena kissed the youngsters cheek and then pointed toward the now quiet bard. "Good girl. Im very proud of you. Now I want you to go tell Gabrielle."
Tarren walked over to Gabrielle and placed a hand on her friends shoulder. "Its Ok Gabby. I dont mind going to the amazon village for a while as long as you wanna go," she said staring at Ephiny.
The bard smiled and took the little girl into her lap. "And will you be on your best behavior?"
Tarren looked at her mother not realizing that was part of the deal as well.
Xena arched an eyebrow to let the child know she was always expected to be on her best behavior even though she rarely was.
The child put aside all her plans of terrorizing strangers just long enough to answer, "Ok Ill behave as best I can as soon as we get there." Those last few words were spoken so low even the warrior did not hear them.
Gabrielle squeezed her tightly. "Thank you brat. I know we are gonna have a great time," she said glancing at the now silent amazon.
Tarren grinned at her friend and then headed back toward her mother grabbing the warriors hand and trying to pull her down to the water. "Come on Momma lets swim."
Xena lifted the youngster over her shoulder and started down toward the lake. "Well if youll excuse us I have a child that needs a good dunking," she said with a grin, gently patting the little girls back.
Ephiny watched the pair depart and smiled at Gabrielle. "By the Gods, Xena sure has changed," she said with a definite awe in her voice.
Gabrielle poked at the still cooking fish and smiled to herself, "Yeah Tarren brings out something very special in her."
The amazon nodded at the thought her large friend had found happiness, "Im glad."
"So am I."
"But what about you?" the woman questioned.
Gabrielle leaned back against a log and looked at her friend for a moment before speaking. "I cant explain it Eph but having Tarren around has helped me to deal with my feelings for both Hope and Solon and well she just fills in a lot of the gaps for both of us," she replied softly.
The amazon regent smiled happy that both her friends had found peace with their demons. Perhaps there was something very special about this child she had yet to see or understand.
After a full day of playful swim Xena returned with a sleeping child in her arms.
Gabrielle smiled at the familiar sight. "Hey its about time you two got back. Supper is ready," she said sternly, motioning toward the fish she had prepared.
Xena held onto her sleeping child and took a seat beside the amazon, grinning wickedly at her friend.
Ephiny just shook her head, smiled and took some food grateful for any well-cooked meal.
Gabrielle smiled as she handed her friends each a plate and Xena waved the fish under Tarrens nose hoping it would wake her. The child opened one eye and stared at the food.
The little girl reached her hand toward the warriors saddlebags where she knew the confections were hidden. "I'd rather have candy," she whispered.
Xena quickly slid the bags out of reach with her foot. "Fish now and maybe candy later," she said handing the youngster her plate to hold.
The child sighed and eased herself back against her mothers chest. "Fish now, candy later for sure?" she asked looking up at her mother with an innocent smile.
Xena looked at Gabrielle who giggled at the negotiations.
The warrior stuck a forkful of her own food in the childs mouth. "Fish now, vegetables now, later candy and then you go to sleep," the mother replied sternly.
Tarren heard the words and twisted her lips in thought. "Momma Fish now, vegetables never, candy for sure, and we both go to sleep," she answered with a giggle.
Xena sighed at the childs tactical eating style. "Young lady it is fish right now, vegetables right now, candy later if you behave. Then you are going to sleep, negotiations over," the mother stated with parental authority. "Vegetables are good for us," the warrior added with little enthusiasm.
Xena arched her eyebrows at the child to let her know the games were officially over.
Tarren shrugged trying to decide if she had gotten anything out of the dealings. "Yes Momma," she said biting into the fish and vegetables on her plate, making faces as the small mushrooms made their way down her throat.
Ephiny chuckled at the sight.
Gabrielle frowned at the amazon as she watched the little girls dramatic increase with each bite, "Oh good Eph. Encourage her."
When Tarren had finally finished the last bite she waved the plate in front of her mother to show it was empty.
The warrior smiled, bringing the saddlebags back over with her boot. "I get the hint go ahead."
Tarren leaned over and rummaged through the bags until she pulled out a large sack of confections. She took a piece out and dropped it into her mouth with a smile and handed the bag to Xena who did the same. Gabrielle and Ephiny each joined in the delight and soon everyone had a smile on their face. After a second piece had been distributed to all, Xena placed the bag back in the saddlebag.
"No more you'll get sick," she said sternly to the little girl who groaned as the bag of sweets was once again hidden.
The child moaned as the warrior lifted her off her lap. "And now its bedtime little girl...." the mother said motioning toward the bedrolls.
Tarren skidded over to Gabrielle and gave her a big hug. "Gnight gabby," the youngster whispered squeezing the bard with all her might.
Gabrielle welcomed the loving embrace and smiled. "Have a nice trip to Morpheous honey and save some of those dragons for me," she replied, giving the little girl a quick kiss.
Tarren looked at Ephiny and frowned. However knowing how particular her mother and Gabrielle were about manners, the child knew she would not escape saying something to the guest. "Gnight," the child mumbled before returning to her mothers side.
The warrior mother lifted the little one into her arms and carried her over to the blankets. She removed her daughters tunic and britches replacing it with a fresh nightshirt. Tarren kicked her boots away as Xena gently placed her young daughter in the blankets. She covered the youngster and kissed her on the cheek, "I love you monster," she whispered.
"I love you too Momma," the child replied with a yawn and a smile.
The warrior started to rise when a small hand reached up and grabbed her arm. "When are you gonna go to sleep Momma?" the little girl asked in such a pleading voice that even the amazon smiled.
Xena looked back at her two friends and then to her daughters wide eyes. "Right now it seems," the mother replied with a grin of surrender as she stripped off her armor and nuzzled herself beside the child.
Ephiny watched in absolute awe. "Artemis be called. I think I just saw Hades freeze over," the amazon groaned as she looked at the sight of Xena Warrior Princess cuddling with her child.
Later that night
Gabrielle had stayed up later than her companions adding a few ideas to her scrolls as well as some thoughts to her new diary. She looked at the sleeping amazon and then the warrior nestled with a small child under one arm. She grinned noting how both woman had their weapons placed precisely in the same position close to their sides, easy to be grabbed if their was trouble that needed their attention.
"Warriors" she mumbled. The young woman shook her head and yawned. She lowered herself into the warm blankets of her bedroll eager for some sleep. Pulling her covers closely around her neck she settled in for a peaceful journey to Morpheous.
Suddenly the bards eyes flew open and she jumped form the blankets screaming.
In a moment both Xena and Ephiny were both on their feet, swords in hand ready to defend their friend to the death.
"What is it?" the warrior yelled scanning the camp for an intruder.
The bard pointed to her bedroll and Ephiny slowly pulled back the blankets to find a small and quite harmless garden snake taking refuge in the womans bedroll.
Xena and Ephiny looked at the snake and then back at the bard. "Thats what made you yell my queen?" the amazon asked, trying to hide her disbelief.
"I dont like snakes crawling around in bed with me," the bard defended, rolling her eyes at the sight of the slimy creature.
Ephiny grinned and looked at the slightly agitated warrior. "Now how would a snake get into Gabrielles bedroll?" the amazon regent asked with a grin.
Xena nodded and looked down at her still sleeping child. It was amazing to all that the bards screams neither disturbed nor surprised the child.
The warrior placed her sword back on the ground and knelt beside the small form. "Tarren," the mother whispered.
The childs gentle breaths suddenly turned into heavy snoring.
Xena tapped the child on the shoulder. "Nice try. I know you are awake" the mother informed the youngster.
Tarren turned her head slightly and grinned at the warrior. "Hi Momma. Why is everyone up? Its late ya know. We really should get some sleep," she said starting to lay her head back down.
The warrior mother shook her head and lifted the youngster to her feet. "Not so fast little girl. Did you put that snake in Gabrielles bedroll?" she asked the child who had been previously convicted of this very crime.
Tarren looked at the angry face of the bard and then the questioning look of her mother.
"Maybe," she replied lowering her head a bit.
Xena glanced back at Gabrielle who covered her face with both hands.
"Young lady that is not an answer to my question. Did you or didnt you?" the mother asked again.
"Did I or didnt I what Momma?" the child inquired.
Ephiny leaned up against a tree eager to see how the mighty warrior handled this situation.
Xena stood up and gave her youngster a warning glance and spoke in a tone that said no nonsense would be tolerated, "Tarren you know exactly what I am asking you. Did you put the snake in Gabrielles bedroll?"
The youngster bit her lip and nodded. "Yes maam."
Xena let out a long breath and pointed to the snake. "What have I told you about doing that. If Gabrielle rolled over she could crush that poor creature," the mother scolded.
Gabrielle poked her friend in the arm. "Thanks for the concern warrior," she chided.
The warrior frowned. "Im sorry Gabrielle. Im still half asleep."
The mother turned her attention back to the child. "Well?" she asked, waiting for a response.
"Im sorry Momma," the child replied looking up at her frustrated parent.
"Uh huh," she answered motioning toward Gabrielle.
The little girl looked up at the bard and opened her eyes as wide as she could. "Im sorry Gabby. It was just for fun," the child whispered, trying to show some repent.
The bard let out a quick breath and grinned. "Its Ok Just keep your little friend out of my bedroll. Understand?" she answered giving the child a gentle tap on the cheek.
The youngster nodded and then looked back up at her still agitated mother. Xena shook her head and let out a short breath. She pointed at the snake still nestled in the bards bedroll. "Go get it," she said with a grin, sending the child on her way with a gentle swat.
Tarren reached into the bedroll and lifted the little snake up. She walked over to the nearest tree and released it back into the woods, "Bye Ephiny. Go back where you belong. Momma and Gabby dont want you hear," she yelled, as she watched the snake slither away.
The amazons eyes went wide. "Ephiny?" she asked, wondering why she had just had a snake named after her.
Gabrielle tried to smile. "Err well Tarren names everything. Its a real compliment. Right Xena?" the bard asked, looking to the warrior for help.
Xena nodded. "Oh yeah. I wish I had a snake named after me, " she replied with a chuckle.
The youngster returned to her mothers side and looked up at the warrior. "Ephiny went away. Shes going back where she belongs Momma. I dont think shell bother us again," the child said proudly.
Xena nodded and pointed to the bedroll. "Good now you get your little bottom back where it belongs and dont let me here another peep out of you until morning young lady," the mother replied sternly.
Tarren lowered her eyes and obediently crawled back into her bedroll. "Yes maam," she whispered.
The bard shook out her blankets and then made a bed she felt comfortable sleeping in while Ephiny returned to her own blanket mumbling something about snakes and spoiled brats.
Xena shook her head as she stared down at the very quiet figure in the blankets below her. She lowered herself to the bedroll and tapped the little girl on the shoulder.
The youngster turned around. "I didnt make a peep Momma," the child whispered.
Xena grinned and opened her arms pulling the youngster in close to her. "I know you didnt. I missed it. Go ahead peep all you want," the mother replied.
Tarren lay comfortably in her mothers gentle embrace happy she could appreciate a good joke. "Momma?"
"Yes baby," the mother answered in a gentle voice.
Xena smiled and glanced down at the grinning child. "Ill give you a peep," she mumbled, running her fingers over all the ticklish spots on the childs sides.
Tarren giggled wildly for a few moments and then was silenced by a gentle hug from her mother letting the child know it was now time to sleep.
The following morning Xena woke her companions early anxious to get an early start on the road. After a hot breakfast the warrior stood by Argo ready to toss the saddle on. She called to her daughter wanting her to place the childs secret bag of money in its hiding place.
Tarren glanced at her mother and then the stranger in camp and shook her head holding tightly to her bag of treasures that held the gold coins. Xena had yet to see anything more than a large sack of coins. She knew nothing of the contents and had not yet found a way to approach the subject. However she knew that she could not go on traveling with this load under her saddle forever.
Xena sighed at the stubborn child and then looked at Ephiny. "Uh Eph would you mind covering your eyes for a bit?" she asked her friend.
The amazon gave the warrior a confused look but turned away just the same.
When she was satisfied the stranger would not see the youngster handed her mother the large bag of coins which Xena wearily put on her horses blanket before placing the saddle on top.
"Sorry girl. It wont be for long. I promise," the warrior whispered to her faithful mount.
The horse whinnied in protest but allowed the added weight just the same.
Soon the trio plus one amazon acting queen were on their way again.
Ephiny stared oddly at the child as the group moved down the trail
"Gabrielle do you mean to tell me that Xena is really this little brat's mother?" the amazon asked, still trying to soak in all the events of the last day.
The bard frowned at her friends attitude. "Ephiny Tarren is a good little kid. She's just a bit ...well...wild...We have to keep a tight rein on her and Xena would not take kindly to you calling her a brat like that. I don't either," she warned.
Ephiny threw her hands up in surrender, "Sorry I just meant...Well I never saw Xena as the maternal type... After Solon ...Well you know what I mean."
The smiled as she watched Tarren slowly walking ahead of them hitting targets with her slingshot. "Yeah well things change Eph Things change."
Tarren decided to start gathering ammunition for her toy. Xena had told her to look for small round flat rocks.
"How's this one?" the child asked waving a pebble in front of her mother.
Xena glanced at it and tossed it away, "Too small."
The child immediately handed her another one, "This one?"
Xena again looked at the pebble and tossed it away, "Too big"
Before the child could hand her another rock the mother stopped and glanced down at the youngsters hands and noticed the child had a large sack of rocks ready to be inspected.
The warrior mother grinned running her fingers through the collection. "Tarren why don't you just let me see the bag?" she asked, reaching out her hand.
The child thought about it and nodded realizing it would take much less time.
Xena paused and went through the child's sack pointing out the good and the bad in the group. She then took a pebble and placed it in the slingshot and positioned the child in front of her.
"OK get your eyes on a target and pull the band all the way back. Don't let go until you're sure you've got it and then ."
The child released the band hitting the side of a tree squarely.
"Good you hit the tree," the mother said proudly.
The youngster frowned motioning to a large boulder on the side of the road, "But Momma I was aiming for the rock."
Xena shrugged her shoulders. "Oh well you were close. It tales a bit of practice. You and I will work on it later OK?" she asked the disappointed youngster.
Tarren smiled at the thought of being trained in this new art of weaponry by her very own warrior mother. "Thanks momma," she replied, offering the warrior a hug around the waist.
Xena returned the embrace and lifted the little girl over her shoulder.
Ephiny smiled. "Well she sure is an affectionate little kid. Ill say that," the amazon whispered, having thoughts of her own son.
Gabrielle saw the glassy look in her companions eyes and touched her shoulder. "Yeah well she didnt have many people to hug her before Just one very special old woman named Nala. Tarren needs all the love she can get now." The bard let her thoughts travel for a moment and then looked at the amazon once again. "Hey you havent said much about Xenon. How is he doing?"
The amazon smiled proudly. "Well hes gotten pretty big. Centaurs grow very fast. Right now hes staying with his grandfather in the centaur village." Her voice became somber. "With all the commotion going on with the tribes, I felt it was best."
Gabrielle nodded in understanding. "You miss him. Huh Eph?"
Ephiny gave her friend a look of surprise. "Of course I miss him. Hes my son. I would die for that kid," she replied without hesitation.
Gabrielle smiled and motioned toward the warrior in the distance playing with her own child, "So why do you think its any different for Xena?"
Ephiny swallowed hard and stared at her friend but could say nothing.
By late afternoon Xena had decided to ride on ahead and make sure the road was clear while she tried to find a good place to camp.
"I wanna come," the child yelled.
Xenas expression was worn but tolerant, "No Tarren."
The youngster folded her arms against her chest and moved in right beside her mother, who was busy tightening the cinch on Argos saddle, "Why not?"
The warrior mother dropped her head having said these same words 10 times in the last 10 minutes, "It might be dangerous Ill be back soon."
Tarren kicked the dirt with her boot and turned away, "No! I wanna go with you."
Xena grinned at the childs stubborn nature and rubbed her daughters head affectionately, "Im sorry you cant baby. You have to stay here."
The childs stubbornness was turning into a defiant tantrum. "No!"
The warrior mother shook her head at the youngsters now inappropriate tone, "Tarren do I sense those naughties coming back?"
The child cocked her head and stared up at her mother. The warrior had to bite her lip to keep from smiling when she noticed how the youngster arched her eyebrows to show her displeasure. "Maybe if you go away without me then they will come back," she replied smugly.
Xena grabbed Argos reigns and patted the horse gently. She then bent down and whispered to her little shadow. "And maybe if those naughties show up while I am gone Ill just have to tan your little backside when I do get back," she replied with a grin, giving her child a gentle swat on the bottom before jumping into the saddle.
The little girls shoulders slumped knowing she had just been defeated in battle. "But Momma, I wanna be with you," the child whined.
Xena leaned down and gave her daughter a gentle smile. "I know you do and I want you with me, but sometimes we have to be apart for a little while, and this is just one of those times .understand?"
Tarren shook her head. "No maam."
The warrior sat tall in the saddle and stared at he small child at her side. She dropped her voice to its lowest tone, "Well Im sorry you dont understand, but I have to go and I want you to behave while Im gone. Do you understand that?"
The little girl lowered her head and backed away from the horse knowing there was no chance of her being allowed to follow. "Yes Momma."
Xena leaned down and tasseled the little girls hair. She gave the bard and amazon a quick nod and looked back at the sad face of her young daughter. "Behave yourself youngster."
Tarren nodded and gave her mother the saddest pout she could manage knowing that it would have an effect.
Xena clutched her chest and smiled. "Ouch that was a good one."
The little girls eyes went wide with excitement. "Can I come?"
The warrior mother chuckle. "Nope! It wasnt that good," she replied, kicking at Argos side and heading off down the trail.
Gabrielle smiled as she watched Tarren anxiously look down the path as her mother rode away without her. Xena had left instructions that her companions and child stay behind while she rode on to make sure the road ahead was safe and to find a suitable campsite. It was a hot muggy day so Gabrielle was grateful for the rest.
"Look at her Eph." She pointed at the child. "Xena just left and Tarren is already waiting for her to come back. She just can't stand it when she's not here," the young woman said with a smile.
Ephiny glanced at the youngster and shook her head. "Huh, Xena a mother I mean a real mother...playing the part and everything Damn that will turn more heads than two centaurs climbing a tree," she rambled.
Gabrielle threw up a halting hand to defend her best friend. "Hey you know you'd be surprised. She's really a very good mother. She loves that little monster more than anything." Her voice became softer as she watched the child. "There is a very special bond between them Its more than just because theyre mother and daughter...Its like one fills a void for the other one. "Gabrielle smiled. "But I have to tell you that even Xena has to watch that kid every minute to keep her out of trouble," she whispered staring at the little girl still standing in the middle of the road looking longingly down the path her mother had taken.
Ephiny walked beside her friend. "And you?" .
Gabrielle grinned. "I keep them both out of trouble," she replied with a laugh.
Tarren turned and walked back beside the bard. "Gabby I'm hot. I wanna go swimming," the child whined still angry at her mothers departure.
The bard shook her head and rubbed the youngsters head. "Well maybe Xena will find water close by and we can camp soon," the young woman replied with a gentle smile.
The child kicked the dirt in frustration and moved paces ahead of the pair.
Ephiny raised her eyebrow at the childs behavior. "Little grumpy isn't she?"
Gabrielle grinned at the still frustrated child walking ahead. "Yeah she is. When we were in Amphipolis Xena made her take a nap in the afternoon, so she could stay up late while I told stories at the inn. Now every afternoon she gets like this because shes used to having a nap. Its a vicious circle."
The amazon nodded thinking once again of her own son and wishing she was with him.
Tarren eyed a large pool of mud on the trail ahead. Her eyes filled with delight at the sight. It looked cold and wet and quite comforting to one left without her mother.
The child pointed to the mud as she tugged her boots off. "Gabby look!"
The bards eyes flew wide as she raced to grab the youngster, but before she could Tarren jumped right into the center with a big splash.
Gabrielles shoulders slumped. "NO!" She looked at Ephiny whose expression was one of absolute amazement. The young woman stared blankly at the child sitting in the mud pool. "By the Gods Tarren, Xena is going to kill you...and me for letting you do that," she cried looking at the child splashing in the mud.
Tarren smiled and shook her head. "It's Ok Gabby. Momma likes playing in the mud. We do it at the river all the time. Besides if she had taken me with her this would never have happened, so its all her fault," she replied with a reassuring grin.
The bard took a parental pose reaching a hand to the youngster. "Well you do not play in mud with your clothes on young lady and certainly not in the middle of a trail," she scolded.
Ephiny leaned up against a tree and watched in delight as her rightful queen tried to get a rein on the little Xena.
"Get out of there this instant," the bard ordered.
Tarren shook her head not wanting to leave the coolness of the mud. "Don't wanna Gabby," the child replied laying back.
Gabrielles face filled with frustration. "Tarren my patience is wearing thin. I am hot and I am tired and I am not looking forward to explaining this to Xena. Now you get your little butt out of that mud right now," she demanded.
Ephiny chuckled when the child did not move and the young woman gave her regal friend a warning look to silence her.
Tarren grinned at the bard and submerged. She came up covered completely in mud and giggling wildly.
Gabrielles face went white with of shock and horror. "Tarren that's it. I may not be as big as your mother, but I can still put you over my knee and make your little bottom sting a bit," she growled in a tone the child recognized as closer to Xenas than her friends.
The youngsters smile disappeared. Gabrielle had never spanked her but had threatened to on a few occasions when the young woman was really angry. Tarren knew better than to push the bard past the point of testing her.
"Ok I'll get out," she murmured standing in the puddle.
Gabrielle nodded approvingly. "Good choice," she replied reaching out a hand.
Tarren moved to take the out stretched hand but before she could, Gabrielle lost her footing and landed headfirst in the mud right next to the child.
The little girls mouth dropped open as she watched her friend fall but then giggled loudly as the young woman steadied herself. "Gabby are you Ok?" she asked with a smile.
Gabrielle glared at the child. "You are in so much trouble little girl," she replied, wiping the mud from her face and arms.
Ephiny's laughter echoed through the forest as she stared at her friend in the mud.
Gabrielle moved her concentration from Tarren to her regent and acting queen, "Ephiny do you think it is so funny to leave your queen sitting in the mud?" she yelled, deciding for the moment title was needed.
The words ended the amazons laughter. "I'm sorry Gabrielle but you two are like a bad comedy act. Ill help you out," she chuckled offering her hand to the young woman.
The bard shook her head and reached for the amazons hand, but Ephiny slipped on the same spot and soon joined the pair in the middle of the mud pool.
Tarren laughed wildly as she splashed mud in the air happy to have company in the coolness of her muddy lake.
Gabrielle looked at the less than regal expression on Ephinys face and laughed.
"Well you know, it is sort of funny now Ephiny!" the queen chuckled.
The regent looked at the undignified gook covering her body and frowned.
"You pulled me in," the amazon accused.
Gabrielle shook her head. "I did not."
You did too," the regent replied, wiping the mud from her cheek.
Gabrielle grinned and tossed a small splattering of mud at her amazon friends face.
Ephiny wiped the mud from her eye and gave an evil smile to her queen.
"Rightful queen or not this is war Gabrielle!" she declared slinging a ball of mud at the bard.
Tarren watched the two women fight but moved out of the distance of being hit with their ammunition. The sound of a horses whinny and the sight of a warrior princess frowning down at the trio soon cut the laughter of the friends short.
"Uh Xena youre back. I can explain," the bard moaned, trying to crawl out of the mud.
Xena nodded as she leaned on her saddle. "Good I cant wait," she replied evenly staring down at the muddy trio.
Ephiny interrupted the conversation. "Actually I would be the best to explain."
Soon the two women started to argue and the warrior silenced them both with a two-fingered whistle. "Thats enough," she groaned, rubbing the sides of her temples.
The warrior mother pointed to her daughter who was still sitting quietly to the side of the pool happily floating in the mud. Xena dismounted and took a position a few paces away. "You, get out of the mud and tell me what happened," the mother ordered.
The child quickly crawled out of the mud and stood before her mother who was looking more than just a little annoyed by her childs condition.
Ephiny and Gabrielle climbed over each other trying to do the same but kept sliding back into the pool.
"Wait why are you asking a little kid to explain?" the amazon asked, finally making it to solid ground.
Xena looked from her daughters face to the amazon. "Simple. You will tell the story to protect Gabrielle...Gabrielle will tell the story trying to protect Tarren, but Tarren knows better than to lie to me," the warrior replied. The mother glanced down at her filthy child and sighed. "You'll tell me everything that happened... Right?" she asked looking down at a mud monster resembling her daughter.
The youngster nodded, "Yes of course Momma."
Xena folded her arms and stared at her daughter waiting for the story to begin, "Well?"
Tarren lowered her eyes and looked back at Gabrielle, "Ya see Momma, I was real hot...and I saw the mud and jumped in and Gabby got mad and she tried to pull me out. She fell in and Ephiny laughed and then she fell in and she said Gabby pulled her in, but she didn't...and then they started a really great mud fight and then you came." The child finished the tail with one long breath.
Ephiny looked down at the bard and grinned. "Well I have to admit, the little brat sure tells it like it is," she whispered.
Xena nodded at her daughter and looked at the Gabrielle and Ephiny who shrugged their agreement at the assessment of the events the child had recited.
The warrior mother shook her head and looked at her daughter. "And why did you jump in the mud young lady?" she asked, lowering her gaze to stare directly into her childs eyes.
The reply was simple and short. "I was hot Momma."
Xena took a deep breath and stared up at the sky and back at her muddy daughter.
"Tarren if you had a clean spot on you I swear I'd...." She took another breath before she spoke. "Youngster you get your little butt up ahead of Argo and wait for me, but don't you dare touch my horse with those dirty little hands of yours," she ordered motioning up the road.
The little girl nodded and pointed to her boots. "I have to get my boots and stuff Momma," she whispered.
The warrior looked at the childs legs and for the first time realized her feet were caked with mud but bear. "You don't have boots on!" the mother yelled slapping her own forehead in disbelief.
The child shook her head. "No Momma. You just bought me those boots. I wouldn't get mud on them...on purpose," she replied proudly.
Xena turned away and counted to 10 just as Cyrene had told her. " 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 ." She took a third and final breath and walked over and picked up the childs boots securing them to the saddle along with her satchel. The warrior looked at her two friends, shook her head and took a few strides back to her child. She let out a deep breath and lifted her muddy form into her arms.
"You can't walk barefoot. I'll carry you," she groaned as the mud oozed down her arms.
Tarren smiled at her mother and kissed her cheek leaving a muddy lip print. "Muds cold, isn't it Momma?" she asked with a grin, but the warriors blue glare said she did not appreciate this particular coolness.
The child noticed her mothers stoic expression and lay her head down on the warriors shoulder. "Did I do something wrong Momma?" she asked with an innocent stare.
"Yes you did something wrong!" she replied without hesitation.
Xena turned to Gabrielle and Ephiny who were awaiting instructions from their leader.
Xena shook her head as she looked at the pair covered in mud trying in vain to clean themselves off. "Ok my queens there is a lake about a mile up the road. I guess with all things considered we had better camp there." She pointed up the road. "I'm gonna take Tarren up ahead and get her bathed. You two bring up the rear but stay down wind of my horse," she ordered, noting that the women didnt smell too good for some reason.
Tarren glanced into the woods at a small creature that had just passed behind the bard and the amazon. "Look Momma its a stinky kitty," the child whispered, pointing to a small black and white animal that was settled by the now silent women.
Xena shook her head and turned to look back. "Whats a stinky kitty?" the mother asked with a slight frown.
The child pointed to the animal and Xenas face went white and she quickly jumped on Argo deciding there were some things much worse than a muddy horse. It was one thing to die for a friend it was another to suffer a fate worse than death.
Ephiny and Gabrielle watched as the warrior made a suddenly hasty exit with her child in hand. Tarren smiled and waved to the pair as they faded out of vision.
Gabrielle waved back wondering why Xena was finding Tarrens filth suddenly such an urgent issue. "I dont know what her hurry is Eph. That kid is going to be just as muddy no matter when she reaches the lake. Now she has to clean Argo too. I just dont get it," the bard muttered pondering her friends actions.
The amazon glanced to the side and noticed the same small creature Xena and Tarren had seen. Knowing how the bard felt about animals crawling too close by, she tried to motion Gabrielle slowly away. "Uh ya know we should get going," she whispered, gently pushing the bard forward.
Gabrielle stopped and faced her friend. "Hey whats your rush Eph. I am in no hurry to listen to Xena tease me about all of this," she replied motioning to her mud covered body.
Before the amazon could say another word the bard noticed a small furry black and
white animal moving right beside them.
The rightful queen of the amazons opened her eyes wide. "Skunk!" she yelled sprinting down the path hoping to escape the inevitable.
Ephiny covered her nose as she watched her friend take flight along with the now startled skunk. "You can run my queen, but this is one thing that is going to follow us no matter where we go," she moaned, walking up the trail trying to maintain as much dignity as a person covered in mud and smelling like skunk possibly could.
Chapter 3 One Step too far
Tarren splashed in the cold water as Xena washed the childs hair for the third time trying to get the last of the mud out. Her skin was raw from the warrior scrubbing so hard and she was getting a bit anxious since her mother had not said a word.
"Momma are you mad at me?"
Xena nodded her head. "Yes Tarren I am very angry with you," the mother replied.
The childs shoulder slumped, "Why I just wanted to cool off. You said mud was good for cooling things off."
The warrior sighed. "I meant fevers Tarren not children. You do not jump into a mud pool with your clothes on. You do not jump into a mud puddle at all," she scolded.
The youngster turned around and faced her mother, "But kids like mud. You said so yourself Momma," she reminded, giving the warrior her most innocent stare.
Xenas' eyes softened at the words being thrown back at her. "Ya know youngster it always amazes me how you seem to listen to me when it suits you," she chided.
Tarren bit her lip wondering to what extent of trouble she was in. "Am I gonna get a spankin Momma?" she asked holding her breath for an answer.
The warrior mother let out a quick breath." Do you think you deserve one?"
The child considered the question knowing there was no right answer. "I'm just a kid. How should I know?" she asked, lowering her eyes so her mother couldn't see her face.
Xena shook her head and lifted the childs chin. She was touched by both the innocence of the child and her honesty, "No you are not gonna get a spanking, but no more mud baths. You got it?"
Tarren's eyes grew wide with relief and she smiled, "Yes momma No more baths," she repeated.
The warrior grinned and dunked the child under the water. "I said no more mud baths There will be plenty of regular baths in your future little one."
Tarren frowned at the correction. "Oh yeah Momma, that's what I meant."
Xena sighed as she motioned toward the shore. "Uh huh." The warrior lifted the child above her head playfully. "Now were getting out. I think we've both had enough baths for one day."
The child patted her mothers arm. "Lets go swimming Momma."
Xena shook her head. "Nope youre taking a nap and I have to go see about Gabrielle and Ephiny."
Tarren struggled a bit wanting to go for a swim. "I dont wanna I like it in the water"
Xena held the youngster firmly under one arm as she headed for land. "Tarren!"
The youngster managed to slip free and would have swam away had it not been for her mothers warrior fast reflexes catching her by the arm. "I said nap little girl and I meant it. I think youve caused enough trouble for one day," she scolded throwing the child over her shoulder.
Tarren kicked her feet trying to be set free. "No Im still hot. Im staying here!" the child yelled.
Xena put the little girl down on a grassy spot by the edge of the water and shook her finger while she scolded, "If you dont watch your behavior with me young lady, Im gonna give you a very hot spot on your little backside."
The cranky child stood quietly deciding she wasnt as hot as she thought. "Yes maam."
Xena knew her young daughter was in need of a nap so she dried and dressed her child and positioned her near the small fire she had built. "Now you stay here and go to sleep," she ordered.
Tarren rolled in her blankets and pointed at the two lonely figures seated on the far side of the meadow. "Can I say hello to Gabby?"
Xena shook her head. "Nope! You need a nap and Gabrielle is not in a very good mood right now"
The child giggled a bit. "Why Momma? Because of the stinky kitty?"
Xena gave her daughter a blue eyed stare to let her know that she did not find the situation amusing. "Yup!"
Tarren inched her way closer to her mother as the warrior fumbled through her medicine pouch. "Is she mad at me Momma?" The question was filled with innocence and concern.
The warrior shook he head and smiled at the child. "Yeah just a bit, but shell get over it. Now stop stalling and go to sleep. I have to take some leaves over to them to help get rid of the smell"
The youngster kicked at her covers and Xena quickly smoothed them out. "Are you mad at me too Momma?"
The warrior mother kissed her daughters cheek and grinned. "No I cant be mad at you. Im your mother its against the rules. Now got to sleep you little monster."
The youngster yawned and rolled over trying for once to do as she was told.
The warrior moved to the other side of the small meadow where another fire had been built. She shook her head as she stared at the still dripping Gabrielle and Ephiny. The warrior stopped a good 20 paces away noting the shift in the wind was bringing the vile odor a bit too close for comfort.
Xena looked away so her friends could not see her nose wrinkle at heir closeness. "Did ya burn your clothes?"
The bard spoke through clenched teeth. "Yes and my favorite skirt I might ad," she replied folding her arms to show her displeasure.
Ephiny shrugged at her friends antics over some mere clothing. "Xena do you have the stuff?"
The warrior took a few more steps back and nodded. She tossed the amazon a small pouch of leaves.
Gabrielle looked at the pouch as Ephiny removed a handful of large dark leaves. "What is that for? she asked.
Xena knew this was not going to be an easy thing for Gabrielle to hear. "Uh well you have to rub those all over your body to get the stench out. It should be gone by nightfall I hope."
Ephiny grabbed some of the mint leaves and started rubbing her skin.
The bard held her nose and moved a few paces away from the amazon. "Gods Xena that is strong."
The regent glared at her queen and nodded. "Wanna know what you smell like now?"
Gabrielle shook her finger at the amazon. "No worse than you do!"
Xena held up a hand. "Hey thats enough out of both of you. I swear Id knock your heads together if you didnt smell so damn bad."
Gabrielle was quick to show her muscular friend the hurt in her eyes at such a statement. "Thanks
Its nice to know who your friends are Xena."
The warrior let her tone become softer as she spoke, "Look Im sorry but theres nothing else I can do. Use that on yourselves and the smell should be gone by nightfall. Youll be able to join us for dinner and sleep in your bedrolls by then."
The bard frowned and began the process of scratching her skin with the leaves.
Xena knelt down as she watched her friends rub their skin raw. "Look you two relax. I will catch dinner and do the cooking for you and Tarren."
Gabrielle cocked her head to one side and grinned. "Please Xena she really doesnt deserve such a harsh punishment."
The warrior nodded at he friend. "Very funny Gabrielle, Ya know this wouldnt have happened if you two hadnt decided to play warlord in the mud."
Gabrielle dropped her leaves, got to her feet and started to move closer to Xena. "We were not playing It just sort of well happened."
The warrior was quick to back off another 10 paces leaving a very hurt expression on her friends face. "Ok Whatever you say just stay right there."
The young woman returned to her seat and began scrubbing again.
Xena knew her motions had upset her friend. "Look Gabrielle Im sorry. I feel bad about this. Id come sit with you if I didnt have to take care of Tarren."
"You would?" the bard asked.
Xena grinned. "Sure I would!"
Ephiny held up a hand to stop the friends chatter. "Do you mind saving this reunion to a time when I want to listen to either one of your voices."
Gabrielle looked at he amazon and frowned. "Well excuse me. What is your problem Aside from the all too obvious one?"
Ephiny pointed to the child sleeping by the distant fire. "That kid started this whole thing," she yelled. "Your daughter jumped in the mud."
Xena nodded unsympathetically. "My daughter is a child and I would think that two grown women not to mention amazon royalty could handle her for a little while. What is your excuse for the mud fight your majestys?" she asked, tossing sticks on their fire.
"Actually it was a very pretty sight Queen Gabrielle and Queen Ephiny. You both set a wonderful example I might add."
Gabrielle fidgeted a bit, "You're not gonna let us forget this are you warrior?"
Xena shook her head and smiled, "Never my bard. This is valuable information."
Ephiny looked again at the sleeping child, "Hey what about her. This whole thing started because she misbehaved. You're yelling at us. What about the little kid? You let her off scot free?"
Xena looked back at her daughter and smiled, "Eph, first of all I decide when and if my daughter needs to be punished. Second, Tarren knows what she did was wrong and I'm satisfied with that. She is after all just a kid and they do love mud but then again so do some grown ups I know." she replied with an evil grin.
Gabrielle looked over at Tarren and shook her head. "Look at that little mud monster. She causes all this havoc and then falls right to sleep."
Xena nodded as she got to her feet. "Yeah well I better get back to that little monster before she gets into trouble." There was a pause. "Uhm Could you two do me a big favor?"
Ephiny shrugged eager to do something useful. "Sure what?"
Xena slowly backed away as she spoke, "Well the wind has shifted. Could you sort of move to the other side of the fire?"
Gabrielle picked up a stick and Xena took that as a good sign to depart.
The bard dropped her weapon and watched the chuckling warrior sprint away. "Thats right Xena run before a I come over there and give you a big hug," she yelled.
The bard shrugged as she watched her amazon friend methodically bathe in leaves. "Well you cant say it ever gets dull around here," she said with a smirk.
Ephiny nodded in agreement as she smiled at her fellow stinkmate, "Well Gabrielle, Ive only been with you for one day. I cant wait to see what another one brings."
Gabrielle smiled as she began her medicinal rub down once again. "You may regret those words my friend."
Luckily the leaves had done their job and the smell had dissipated enough for the two women to rejoin the main camp by nightfall. It also ensured that Gabrielle did the cooking much tot he pleasure of all especially the warrior.
Gabrielle handed out the plates to her companions.
Tarren sleepily arose from her blankets and joined the others by the fire.
The bard smiled. "Look who's up,"
The youngster hugged her friend happy to see she had returned. "Gabby youre back and you dont stink bad anymore." The child sniffed the bards arm. "Well you dont smell like stinky kitty anyway. Now you smell like medicine. Yuk!"
Gabrielle considered her own odor and frowned. "Thanks Tarren."
The youngster placed a gentle hand on her friends shoulder. "Its Ok Gabby I still love you."
Gabrielle hugged the child tightly giving her a gentle swat on the backside. "No more mud!"
Tarren glanced over at her mothers blue stare and swallowed before answering. "Uh no Gabby me and Momma talked about it. Mud is best for fevers and when you have clothes off. You and Ephiny should remember that too," the child chastised.
The amazon glared at the youngster wishing someone would take charge of this child.
Gabrielle looked at Xena and grinned. "Oh I promise I will make sure I take all my clothes off before I go near any mud Tarren. You have my word."
The youngster shook her finger at the bard, "And stay away from stinky kitties too?"
Gabrielle once again looked at Xena who smiled and held her nose to define the childs vocabulary.
The young woman chuckled and again hugged the child. "Oh I will definitely stay away from stinky kitties honey. Anything else?"
Tarren glanced at her mother and then the fish on the plate. "Uh yeah gabby who cooked the fish?"
Gabrielle held back a giggle when she saw the warriors face turn cold. "I did honey. Uh I cooked the fish."
Tarren sighed with relief. "Whew for a minute I was afraid Momma had," the child replied.
Xena tapped her fingers on her leg as she tried to remember the joys of motherhood.
Tarren gave a glance to the amazon and then moved beside her now insulted mother. She nudged Xena's arm wanting to sit in her lap, but the warrior didn't budge. "Momma!" she yelled pleadingly.
"I wanna sit with you," she whispered.
The warrior locked her arms against her legs. "I dunno if I want you too after what you said about my cooking," she teased.
The child put a hand on her mothers head and patted it gently as if offering her sympathy and support," Its Ok Momma. You have lots of other skills."
Gabrielle and Ephiny both chuckled at the statement and the warrior playfully grabbed the child and pulled her onto her lap. "You are so lucky I love you monster. Nobody else would get away with an insult like that but you monster."
"I didnt mean to insult you Momma," she replied sadly.
Xena cradled the child close to her chest and grinned. "I know Im just playing with ya. You didnt insult me."
Tarren smiled and happily let the warrior bounce her from one leg to the other.
After a bit she handed the youngster her plate and started enjoying her own meal.
Ephiny watched the maneuver with surprise. She looked at Tarren skillfully try and maneuver the vegetables away from her meal and smiled. Xena did not even have to look at her daughter to know what she was trying to do.
"You can move them all you want, but the only way they are leaving that plate is going into your mouth little one," she announced while still eating her own food.
Tarren frowned and ate the vegetables dramatically once again acting as if they were poisoning her.
This time Gabrielle laughed as did Ephiny and Xena.
"Ok enough already...." the bard groaned reaching for the still partially full plate.
Tarren smiled and leaned back against her mothers chest comfortable to feel so close in the darkness.
Xena cradled the child next to her and leaned back against a tree. She drew her sword and began sharpening it slowly.
"If you want to keep them then you have to take care for them little one," the mother declared never taking her eye off her blade.
The child frowned and reached into her boot pulling out her chucks.
Xena handed the child a soft cloth and watched as the youngster started polishing them.
This was one task Tarren did not wish to imitate. The warrior insisted that the child polish the weapons at least twice a week. However it never quite went the way she hoped.
The youngster dropped the cloth and displayed her wands. "Im done. Youre slow Momma."
Xena glanced down at the unpolished wands and frowned. "You call that polished?"
The warrior mother placed her sword on the ground and picked up the cloth and then took the wands from the child. She used great force rubbing the metal until it was shining brightly.
She handed the child the wands and nodded before picking up her sword once again. "Now thats polished, " she declared.
Tarren nodded as she looked at her shiny chucks. "Yup Momma nobody polishes like you do," she replied, placing the beloved heirlooms in her boot.
Gabrielle chuckled at the familiar ritual and Xena winked at her friend to remind her that the child had not fooled her for a minute. The warrior was happy to polish the wands for the child, but even happier to let the little girl think she was getting away with something for a change.
Tarren just lay back against her mothers chest smiling as she watched the warrior sharpen her blade.
Ephiny noticed that the youngster didn't move a muscle. Apparently she was quite used to sitting there while Xena worked. "Amazing," the amazon mumbled to herself as she drew her own sword and started the same ritual.
Night came and Tarren was soon asleep in her mothers arms. Xena carefully placed her in her blankets and gently kissed the childs cheek.
The soft side of her friend she had never witnessed moved Ephiny.
The warrior took her blankets and lay them in the spot next to her child. Xena was settled for rest when Ephiny noticed the small figure quickly inch over to her mother, nudging the warrior until she was granted entrance right beside her. The mother sighed and looked over at her daughter.
"Comfortable?" she asked with a grin.
The youngster nodded and threw her arm across the warriors stomach.
Xena shook her head and lifted the sleepy child right beside her tucking her neatly under one arm. "If you are gonna keep doing this at least let me get comfortable," she whispered.
The youngster giggled and shook her head, so Xena tickled her until she let the warrior have her blankets and a bit of space.
"Now go to sleep," the mother ordered.
"Pony?" the child whispered.
The mother shook her head and smiled, "No pony. Sleep!"
Tarren frowned and moved back hogging all the space once again. "Pony," she whispered with a yawn.
The warrior mother gave her a gentle squeeze. " Sleep right now!" she said in a parental tone that made the youngster sigh. "No pony."
Xena smiled and Ephiny watched in awe as the two princesses fell asleep.
Later that night
Gabrielle once again slid into her blankets eager for a peaceful night. However it was not long before the young woman jumped out of her blankets screaming once again.
Ephiny again raced to her queens side, but Xena just leaned on her elbow and gave her daughter a gentle poke. "Young lady did you put a snake in Gabrielles bedroll again?"
The youngster yawned and shook her head. "No Momma."
Xena sighed with relief and turned her attention to the bard and amazon. Ephiny slowly removed the blanket to find a small baby chipmunk sleeping peacefully on the bards bedroll.
The warrior covered her face with one hand and tapped the child on the shoulder. "Tarren did you put a baby chipmunk in Gabrielles bedroll?" she asked, her voice filling with frustration over another interrupted nights sleep.
The youngster bit her lip and nodded, "Yes Maam."
Xena got to her feet and pulled the little girl up beside her. "I have had it with this game Tarren. No more putting creatures in Gabrielles blankets, and one more prank and Im gonna give you a good swat." she scolded to let her child know this time she meant business.
The youngster bit her lip lowered her eyes realizing that she had just been declared naughty once again.
The warrior mother pointed to the bards bedroll and the sullen child slowly walked over and picked the little chipmunk up and cradled it in her hands. She looked up at Gabrielle "Sorry Gabby," she whispered and then returned to her blankets still holding onto the little animal.
The bard looked at the warrior who just shook her head. "Oh dont give me that look Gabrielle. She has to learn that its not always play time ." The warriors words lost force as she retreated to her own bedroll.
Ephiny and Gabrielle returned to their own blankets and soon fell asleep.
Xena lay there staring down once again at the small quiet figure beside her. "Hey arent you gonna let that little critter go?" she asked, noticing the child was still holding the small animal.
Tarren shook her head. "No I want something to cuddle with and little Xena likes sleeping with me," she replied.
The warrior felt the knife of guilt pierce her heart as she heard the little creature referred to as little Xena. The mother leaned over and ran her hand along the childs cheek. "Hey I thought you were my little bed hog. Im not so sure I wanna share," the mother whispered softly.
The child turned around and looked up at her mother and then the chipmunk. "Cant she stay for a little while Momma? She has no where else to go," the child begged.
Xena shook her head and kissed her young daughters cheek. "Ok she can stay until tomorrow and then she goes back to the wild where she belongs
The youngster nodded. "Thanks Momma You still want me to be your little bed hog even though I was naughty?" she asked with a wide-eyed stare.
Xena lifted the little girl onto her chest and wrapped her arms tightly around her. "Hey you know I wouldnt be able to sleep without you monster."
Tarren smiled and kissed her mothers cheek and lay her head down on the warriors shoulder to sleep.
Xena grinned as she watched a small chipmunk take up refuge on her other shoulder.
"Little Xena" the warrior mumbled with a smile.
It was the middle of the night when Tarren popped her head up from the blankets. She stood ready to move, but Xena quickly grabbed her leg.
"Where do you think your going little girl?" she asked without opening her eyes.
The child paused knowing she had been snared by her mothers large hand. "I can't sleep. I wanna go for a walk Momma." she whispered.
Xena opened one eye knowing that the child was not going back to sleep now. She wearily sat up in her blankets and pulled the child onto her lap. "It's the middle of the night and you think youre going for a walk all alone? Tarren do you like using my bedroll at supper?" she asked with slight grin.
The child shook her head and nuzzled Little Xena.
"No Momma but Little Xena and me are not tired and everyone else is sleeping," she whispered.
Xena shook her head sorry that the day had not exhausted the child into slumber. "Ok I'll sit up with you until it's time to get up, but don't you ever think of wandering off in the middle of the night understand," she quietly scolded.
Tarren lowered her eyes and nodded. She snuggled in close to the warrior leaning against her chest as Xena stroked her head.
The child glanced over at the sleeping amazon and up at her mother. "Momma what's the Amazons like?" she asked.
The warrior thought about it for a minute. "Well it's like most villages...I mean everyone has their jobs, but the amazons are warriors Tarren. They always have been a very proud race of people."
Tarren frowned a bit. "Are they all like Ephiny?" she murmured.
Xena pulled the little girl closer and wrapped the blankets around her. "What do you mean?"
The child fidgeted a bit before answering "Well I don't think Ephiny likes me Momma."
The warrior gently caressed her daughters face. "Well Tarren she doesn't even know you yet. Give her a chance little one. YOU have not exactly shown her your best side today now have you?" she asked
The child shook her head. "I dunno. Do I have a best side Momma?" she asked staring up at the warrior for a judgment of her profile.
Xena kissed the childs cheek gently and pet Little Xena with her fingers. "To me every side you have is the best side, but if we're talking about strangers then I'd have to say that warm little smile of yours wins people over the fastest little one."
Tarren giggled, "It doesn't work on you Momma."
Xena grinned and tickled the childs side. "How do you know?"
The child shrugged. "Does it Momma?"
Xena wrapped her arms tightly around her daughter. "Tarren you don't have to have anything work on me. You are my daughter and I love you. You and I are part of each other. We are stuck with each other kid. We're in it together for the long haul baby."
Tarren smiled at the thought if being stuck together with her mother like a sloppy cheese sandwich. "What about Gabby?" she asked, hoping there was enough cheese to make all three stick.
"I'm sort of stuck with both of you." A voice from the blankets moaned lifting her head.
Xena waved her hand apologetically. "I'm sorry. We didn't mean to wake you."
Gabrielle grinned at her sly friend. "Give me a break warrior. Yes you did," she whispered.
Xena smiled and shrugged.
Gabrielle sat up in her blankets and yawned. "So what's this about anyone leaving?"
Tarren looked at her mother and then Gabrielle. Both women were waiting for some response from the now quiet child. "Well I was just wondering...Are you gonna leave us when we get to the amazon village. I mean if youre like a Queen or something are you gonna wanna stay there?" she asked, biting her lip and lowering her eyes.
Gabrielle looked at Xena and sighed finally realizing why the child disliked Ephiny and the idea of visiting the village so much. She placed a gentle hand on the childs face. "No of course not honey. The amazons are my friends Tarren, but you and Xena are my family. We stick together. Right Xena?" she asked staring into the gentle blue eyes of her dearest friend
The warrior nodded and smiled at the bard. "Like I said were stuck with her."
Tarren smiled broadly and reached up and hugged the young woman. "I dont mind be stuck gabby."
Xena winked at her friend. "I dont mind being stuck either," the warrior said softly.
Gabrielle wiped a tear from her eye finding it hard to believe that she was so important to these two people that filled her own heart.
Soon al three were nuzzled under one set of blankets, a very content child sandwiched in the middle with a small chipmunk in her hands
The amazon lay still allowing the youngsters private words to echo in her ears. I dont think Ephiny likes me.
The regent rubbed her eyes and swallowed hard as she prayed to her goddess. "Artemis help me. I dont want the kid to think I dont like her," she whispered so no one but the wind and the keen ears of a warrior princess could hear.
Continued in part two
Need I tell you people how hungry my little pet Ego gets? <G>
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