Xena Warrior Mother Series Story 6
Legend of the Last Amazon-Part II
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, and 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 4 When All Else Fails
Ephiny rose early the next morning wanting to take one last cleansing swim before they walked out onto the dusty road. The amazon was trying to get her head straight. Her mind was racing with thoughts of the warriors daughter. She could not understand why the child would think she did not like her. After all, the amazon children loved their queen and her own son adored her.
The regent stripped off the last of her clothes and weapons and waded out to middle of the small lake eager to have the cooling waters soothe both her mind and her body. She relaxed against the still waves hoping Artemis would offer her guidance.
Tarren, hidden in the thick coverings of a tree above the waters edge watched the amazon floating in the lake. The little girl tried not to giggle as she put her latest experiment into action.
The child lay her small slender form quietly across a low branch. The mischievous youngster then took Xenas best hook and line and lowered it slowly to the ground letting it swing in mid air until it landed squarely on the small heap of clothes Ephiny had left behind.
"Come one come on I almost got ya," she whispered trying to hook the edge of the amazons skirt. "Got it," she giggled as she hoisted the item up and displayed it proudly on the branch above her.
After a few more trips with the hook, the child had successfully retrieved all of the amazons clothes and placed them neatly in the tree making it appear as if there was an amazon scarecrow living in these woods. The youngster smiled with satisfaction knowing this was her most complicated prank yet, but when she glanced to the ground the child noticed there was still a sword needing to be dealt with.
Xenas rule on swords was very clear and concise. Dont touch. No exceptions.
Tarren heard the words echoing in her ears as she lay staring at the blade below. "Hmmm well Im not gonna get my butt warmed for you Ephiny Theres gotta be another way," the child muttered.
A broad smile was a sure signal that the mischievous child had indeed thought of something.
After coming up with a strategic answer to her dilemma the youngster returned to camp feeling her work for that day was complete.
Back at camp
Tarren knelt beside Gabrielle and worked on her scrolls as the young woman prepared the morning meal for the traveling trio plus one.
Xena had found a shady tree to relax under and was busy sharpening her blade.
The child considered the advantage of the strangers absence. It was a good time for asking questions that might otherwise be deemed inappropriate by her mother. The youngster dropped her quill and cocked her head to stare at the bard, "Gabby how come you wanna go to the amazons so bad?"
Gabrielle remembered the childs words from the night before and decided the little girl was still somewhat insecure with the bards intentions. She wiped her hands on a cloth and sat beside the child as she spoke. "Well I guess its sort of a home for me Tarren. Every once in a while its nice to go back." The reply was soft and tender.
The youngster frowned and lowered her voice to a near mumble. "I thought you said me and Momma were your home."
The young woman smiled and ran her hand over the little girls head. "Well you are honey, but that doesnt mean I cant have friends too. Does it?" she asked, hoping the child could see the need for both.
Tarren considered the question. While she had become secure in the knowledge that her mother would always be there, Gabrielles presence was not so definite in her mind. "Well no...I guess not As long as you always come home to us," she replied, fighting the urge to forbid her friend from associating with anyone but her and Xena.
Gabrielle placed a gentle hand on the childs shoulder and using just two fingers on the side of the youngsters cheek, brought the little girls eyes around to face her. "Tarren I promise that I will always come home to you. OK?" she replied with a reassuring grin.
Tarren looked at her mother who gave her a serious nod to inform the youngster that the bards word should be good enough and not to push Gabrielle any further. "Ok Gabby If you say so," she replied with a shrug.
The bard kissed the childs cheek and grinned, "I do say so brat, but thank you for caring enough to ask."
"Youre welcome Gabby I ." The little girl looked at her mother once again who was still giving her the warning eye about trying to make Gabrielle feel guilty about the trip. She forced a wide toothy smile and waved at the warrior who just nodded.
"Uh huh Im watching you little daughter. Im watching you," the mother said with raised brow.
Tarren lost her smile and decided to return to her scrollwork rather than continue her line of questions.
Xena grinned as the little girl quietly returned to her studies. The warrior winked at her friend and brought her attentions back to her blade.
As the trio continued their chores their guest returned to camp wearing a smile and nothing but a smile.
Gabrielle dropped her pan at the sight of the naked woman. "Morning Eph," she stuttered, staring at the naked figure standing proudly in front of her.
Tarren bit her lip trying not to giggle at the naked amazon.
Ephiny stood tall, her chin held straight in the air, as she entered the center of the small camp.
Xena raised an eyebrow and let her blade drop just a bit. She grinned as she eyed her bare friend. "Uh Eph, we are not too formal here, but we do generally dress for morning meal," the warrior said with a chuckle, knowing that in Ephinys culture walking around bare was a sign of pride in ones appearance.
The regent glanced at the warrior. "In our village my appearance would be considered a compliment Xena. We are proud of our bodies. We are not embarrassed to show ourselves," she replied with a dignified nod.
Tarren thought about the womans words. It was still awful hot and the child didnt want anyone thinking she wasnt proud of her small body. The youngster dropped her quill and skidded to her mothers side. "Momma can I walk around bare too?" she asked starting to strip off her clothes.
Xena shook her head and grabbed the little girls hands before she was able to remove her britches. "No you may not walk around bare. You are not an amazon little girl," the mother replied, replacing the childs tunic and keeping a firm hold.
The child looked at Ephinys proud stance and kicked the dirt with her boot. "I wanna be bare too. Im proud to ya know," she yelled, once again trying to wiggle out of her tunic.
The warrior mother let out a quick breath and bent to whisper in the childs ear.
The amazon watched with amusement as the childs expression went from a stubborn glare to a wide-eyed stare and finally a look of fearful retreat.
After having her mother remind her what the few appropriate times for viewing a childs bare bottom might be, Tarren decided she was not as proud as she had originally thought. Especially when her mother ended her warning whispers with a because I said so, and an or else. Both statements were reason enough individually to behave but combined in one sentence they were like a sign from the gods to obey.
Tarren pulled her tunic down and lowered her eyes. "Yes maam," was all the little voice squeaked out before settling on the log beside Gabrielle once again.
The bard placed a gentle hand on the contrite childs shoulder feeling a bit of sympathy for the youngsters urge to be adventurous and daring. Tarren was not just a child but one that had been hidden from both the pain and pleasure of the world most of her life making every sight and each experience a first.
"Its Ok brat. Xena just doesnt want you to catch a cold," she whispered, hoping the little girl would accept such reasoning.
The child frowned knowing that her mothers warnings had indeed mentioned catching something if she removed her clothes but it was not a cold.
Xena glanced at her young daughter and moved in beside the amazon. She pointed to her too easily influenced child. "Uh proud Queen Ephiny. We do appreciate your err compliment...But could ya put some clothes on before I wind up chasing a naked kid through the woods?" she whispered, not wanting her daughter to hear the request and get any ideas.
The amazon nodded and let out a deep breath as she studied the state of her nails. "Well Xena Warrior Princess." This was a moment of titles. "I would love to accommodate you, but my clothes seem to have disappeared without a trace," the naked women replied wiping a stray leaf from her hair.
Tarren moved behind the bard not feeling comfortable with the odd way the amazon was now looking directly at her.
Xena turned and faced her child and let out a quick breath. She wiggled her finger motioning for the youngster to approach. "Uh Tarren come here please," she said quietly, pointing to the spot beside her.
Gabrielle was silent, awe struck by the sight of the casual pose her naked friend was taking.
The youngster nodded but took the shocked Gabrielle by the hand, dragging her friend along for added safety. "Yes Momma?"
Xena looked up at the sky and tried to remind herself what a beautiful sunny day it was. "Do you have Ephinys clothes?" the warrior asked in a parental tone.
The child fidgeted a bit as she let the toe of her boot make circles in the dirt. "No Momma," was the honest response
Xena folded her arms and circled her primary suspect. "Uh huh. Did you have anything to do with the fact that Ephinys clothes are missing?" she asked, having learned a while ago that her daughter answered questions quite precisely.
The child lowered her head wondering how her mother always knew how to ask a question in such a way that made it impossible to lie. "Well maybe," the little girl replied, wondering if anyone else would see the humor in the situation.
Ephiny let her head fall to one side as she glared at the youngster. "Figures," she mumbled.
Xena pressed her arms tighter against her chest and bent down a bit ignoring the amazons remark. "Maybe or yes young lady?" the warrior asked in a voice that was all too familiar to the child. Whenever young lady was at the end of a question the outcome was never good.
"Yes maam," the child replied, lowering her eyes. For the first time she realized her experiment might not be seen as important by all involved, especially by her naked subject.
Gabrielles eyes flew open as if waking from a deep sleep. "What did you do with the clothes Tarren?" the young woman asked, making no effort to hide her displeasure at the fact that the childs actions were inappropriate and embarrassing to some.
The little girl glanced around at the faces of the three adults. There wasnt a smile to be found, so the child pointed back toward the water but said nothing.
Xena rocked back on her heals and motioned in that direction. "Great Just great Now you will show us where you hid them," she ordered, grabbing the little girl securely by the scruff of her tunic and directing her toward the lake.
Gabrielle gave the child an equally stern look and added her finger to the direction.
Ephiny closed her eyes and followed trying to remain still unaffected by the childs prank.
Tarren walked quickly down to the water hearing her mothers footprints right behind her. The child could feel the warrior mothers angry glare on the back of her small head making her hesitant to even turn around.
When the group arrived at the place where the amazon had taken her swim, Gabrielle stood beside the warrior waiting for the revelation. "Well?" she asked, her voice filled with impatience.
Tarren smiled and pointed above to the tree limb that displayed the branches dressed in amazon attire. "Up there Momma," the child replied, deciding her mothers actions were more important than the bards at this moment.
Gabrielle covered her mouth at the sight.
Xena shook her head in utter disbelief. "Tarren." The name was spoken but even the child knew no response was really expected.
Tarren placed her hands behind her back and smiled broadly at her mother. "Funny huh Momma?"
Xena shook her head. "No not funny at all. So you can just wipe that smile off of your face young lady," was the rather loud reply.
"Uh oh young lady again. This is big trouble," the child thought as her smile disappeared.
The amazon stared up at her belongings and shook her head in disbelief. "How did you manage to do that without me seeing you?" Ephiny asked, making no effort to hide the fact that she was mildly impressed y the maneuver.
"Finally an admirer," the youngster thought.
Tarren was happy to explain the strategy she used to conduct her most important work. "Well ya see, I borrowed Mommas hook and line and sat on the branch. First I pulled up your skirt and then I lowered the hook ." Tarren looked at her mother and then the bard. Neither face was impressed with the innovative act. "Want me to get the stuff down Momma?" the youngster asked with a weak grin.
Xena shook her head and without taking her eyes off her young daughter tossed her chakrum above her head cutting the twine that had secured the skins to the tree. This released the clothes in a mound right into the waiting amazons arms.
Ephiny caught the garments in one hand. "Thanks." She looked around the area as if searching for something else. "Now wheres my sword?" she asked as she dressed.
All eyes once again fell on Tarren who just smiled innocently taking a few steps back as a precaution.
Xenas expression went from slight frustration to absolute disbelief. She took the little girl by the hand and knelt before her. Her voice became calm and quiet as she spoke, "Tarren you know the rule about swords. Did you take Ephinys sword too?" she asked, trying to contain her concern over the possibility.
The youngster shook her head vigorously. "No Momma. Im not allowed to touch swords," the child replied loudly.
Xena nodded and ran her hands over her face trying to remember if she had any herbs for headaches in her medicine pouch. "Ok Do you know where Ephinys sword is?" she asked stiffly.
The youngster did not hesitate to answer, "Yes Momma."
The frustrated mother looked at the bard hoping her friend would ask the next and most important question.
Gabrielle moved in beside the child and placed a hand on the childs shoulder. "Tarren where is the sword?" she asked calmly.
The youngster grinned at her own ingenuity. She quickly dropped to the ground and pushed away a small pile of carefully placed leaves and then removed a soft layer of dirt she had dropped from the tree. It wasnt long before the amazon saw the hilt of her sword being unearthed.
"She buried my sword in the dirt," Ephiny growled, staring from her prized weapon to the guilty parties parent.
Gabrielle suppressed a smile at the youngsters innovative thinking.
Xena shook her head and covered her mouth with her hand to hide a smile. The warriors frustration was replaced by relief that her child had not let her fingers touch the forbidden weapon.
Tarren moved in beside her mother and glanced up at the warrior. "Momma I never actually touched the sword. I promise," she stated, holding up her had as if offering an oath.
Xena grinned a bit and touched the childs cheek. " I believe you baby, but what you did was not very nice. Apologize to Ephiny," she replied, pointing to the angry amazon.
Tarren turned around and faced her victim offering her widest grin. "Im sorry Ephiny, but I was just playing."
The regent stared at her sword still covered by earth and growled, "Sorry? Sorry? Thats it?" The amazon was finding it hard to control her anger at the undignified location of her most prized weapon. "Xena do you just let her get away with everything?"
The warrior mother frowned not liking the implication that she did not raise her child well. She reached down and picked up the sword and handed it to her seething friend. "No Ephiny shell be punished," the mother replied stiffly, staring down at her naughty child.
Tarren groaned wondering why she never got in trouble for playing jokes on Gabrielle and Xena. The mother reached down and took the youngsters hand. "I for one have had enough of your practical jokes for a while young lady," she scolded.
Tarren looked back at the bard who nodded in agreement. "Me too!"
The warrior paused for a moment and then held out her hand in front of her daughter. "Lets have it."
The child stared at the empty palm wondering what her mother was asking for. "Have what Momma?"
Xena tilted her head and arched her eyebrows. "The slingshot."
The youngsters mouth opened and closed as if spring loaded. The thought of being without her most precious possession was beyond words. "Why Momma?" she cried.
The warriors voice dropped to a low and serious husky tone. "Because until you learn to behave yourself and have respect for other peoples belongings, its going to stay in my saddlebag. Now hand it over," was the command.
The little girl glanced at her toy. It was positioned neatly in her boot beside her chucks. She looked pleadingly up at her mother fighting back a tear. "But Momma ."
The warrior mother knew how much the item meant to her daughter and why, so it was difficult to take away from her. However she wanted the child to understand that other people placed just as much importance on his or her own valuables. "Hand it over right now Tarren," she ordered.
The youngster reached down into her boot and removed the toy. She placed a single kiss on her beloved slingshot before placing it in her mothers waiting grip. Tarren pushed out her lower lip in a distinct pout and pressed her arms tightly against her chest trying not to let the amazon see her emerging tears. She glanced up at her mother and Gabrielle and without a word turned and headed back to camp alone.
Xena let out a deep breath as she stared at the small toy in her hand. She shook her head as the sullen form departed. "Damn it!"
Ephiny looked at the crestfallen expression on her friends face and threw her hand s up in the air. "Thats it You take a toy away from her?" the amazon asked as she wiped dirt from her blade.
Gabrielle looked at Ephiny and back to Xena.
The warriors face was showing less and less understanding for the amazons situation. After all it was only a childish prank and she was making it sound like a civil war.
Seeing Xenas maternal instincts mounting, Gabrielle stepped in between the two women. "Eph what would you like her to do? Tarren apologized and shes being punished," the young woman stated hoping to avoid a conflict between these two friends.
Ephiny stood straight and pointed in the direction of the camp. "Artemis save me. If she were an amazon kid shed be over my knee right now," she yelled.
Xenas patience faded and she glared at the regent feeling the urge to protect her daughter even in conversation. She took a step toward the amazon letting the coldness of her glare be felt. "Well shes not an amazon kid Ephiny, but I think we have established that already. So just back off." The warriors words were cool and left no room for discussion. Xena glanced at Gabrielle and shook her head. "Im gonna go see how my daughter is," she growled, staring at the now quiet amazon.
The bard watched as her warrior friend stomped off leaving her with the task of explaining the facts of Xena to the stunned and now quiet regent.
Xena walked into the campsite. Seeing her small daughter lying on the blankets wiping tears from her cheeks, she approached the youngster and gently lifted her into her arms.
Ok no more crying. You were naughty and you know it," the mother quietly scolded.
Tarren wiped her eyes and nuzzled against her mothers shoulder. "I was just playing like I do with you and Gabby," she cried, noticing her mother still held the prized slingshot in her grip.
Xena wrapped her arms around the child and sighed. "I know baby but Ephiny doesnt know you and she really doesnt want to play much, so I want you to stay away from her Ok?" The warrior was determined to see that her child was not placed in harms way with so much as a misspoken word. At the same time she did not wish to risk her friendship any further with Ephiny. The best thing to do was keep them apart.
The child poked her lip out and nodded. "But Momma I want my slingshot back," the youngster moaned reaching out to touch the toy.
Xena pulled it away and shook her finger at the little girl. "No Tarren, you have to learn to respect another persons things. Putting Ephinys clothes in the tree and burying her sword in dirt was wrong," the mother declared.
The youngster sniffled and continued to pout. "When can I have it back?" she asked, realizing that no time limit had been set on this punishment. The child wiped her eyes and watched as her mother placed the slingshot in her saddlebag.
Xena got to her feet and grabbed her hook and line. "You can have it back when I think youve learned your lesson and not before." The warrior let out a long breath and looked down at the sniffling child beside her. "Now you can either stay here and sulk or go fishing with me. Up to you," she replied, kissing the little girl on the head and starting off down the path with her pole and hook in hand.
Tarren wiped her tears with her sleeve as she watched Xena depart.
The warrior mothers face was grim until she heard the sound of small boots chasing after her.
"I wanna come too," the little girl called, racing to make up the distance.
Xena smiled, turned and caught the youngster, lifting the child into her arms. "Are you sure? Youre not getting the slingshot back yet," she reminded the child
Tarren frowned but then just lay her head on her mothers shoulder deciding it was still the very best place to be. "Im sure. Momma will you take good care of it?" she asked, concerned it might be forgotten or stolen.
Xena smiled and wiped the childs face dry with the side of her thumb. "Ill guard it with my life little one," she replied softly.
Tarren grinned knowing her mother would truly let no harm come to her little weapon. However she thought perhaps a trade might be in order. "Momma Ya know you could give me back my slingshot and take away my big stick...I mean staff," she mumbled, hoping the warrior would see the wisdom in such an action.
Xena grinned at her childs tactical maneuver. This youngster would truly be a worthy opponent in any type of battle. "I could huh," she replied matter of factly.
The child smiled as she formulated the plan. "Yeah Momma. Id probably be real upset if you did that. Id learn my lesson much faster I bet," she declared, feeling the weight of the staff leaving and the smooth touch of the slingshot returning.
Xena nodded as if considering the idea, "You would?" She paused for a moment. "Well I wouldnt want that, so Ill tell you what Since you dont have your slingshot to play with, you and I will play with the staffs more."
Nobody out maneuvers a warrior princess.
The little girls mouth opened wide and her face went white. Why didnt her plans ever work out? "But ."
Xena stopped and stared at the child in her arms. "Anymore parenting lessons for me baby? I can always use help ya know."
The warrior mother smiled at the obviously perplexed child.
Tarren lowered her head back onto her mothers shoulder. "No Momma Im keeping my mouth shut. Youll just have to figure stuff out on your own."
The warrior mother kissed the little girl on the cheek as she headed for a good place to fish. "Ill do the best I can baby The very best I can."
Chapter 5 What Little Girls are Made of
After the familiar rituals of packing and moving had been performed the group was once again on their way. Xena was hoping to make the amazon territories in a few days, which meant they had to move faster.
As they entered the road Xena walked beside Gabrielle as Ephiny took the point. It was becoming increasingly obvious that the amazon was feeling a bit dejected and wanted some solitude. The warrior made no effort to pry feeling she and Ephiny had already strained their friendship enough for one day.
The bard looked back at the child walking a few paces behind. She was still holding the baby chipmunk from the night before in her hands. "How long are you gonna let her keep it? she asked, motioning back to the little girl.
The warrior turned her head a bit and smiled at the sight of her child cuddling with the little animal as she walked. "I dunno. I havent had the heart to tell her to let it go. I mean she named it little Xena," she stated proudly.
Gabrielle shook her head and tossed her hand in the air. "What are you talking about? She told me this morning that its name was little Gabrielle," she replied, glancing behind her once again.
The two exchanged a knowing look and turned to stare at the child playing with the furry creature.
Xena folded her arms in a familiar pose. "Tarren what is that animals name?" the mother asked pointing to the furry creature.
The youngster grinned and held the chipmunk up high in the air. "This is little Xena Momma. I told you that," she answered with a confused stare.
The warrior smiled at her friend and pointed to the chipmunk "Ya see Gabrielle its little Xena." The leather-clad woman rocked on her heals in an effort to taunt her friend.
Gabrielle frowned and stared at the child. "Tarren, I thought you said its name was little Gabrielle."
The youngster shook her head and reached into her pouch and unveiled a second baby chipmunk "Nope this is little Gabrielle. I have to keep her in my satchel cause she chases little Xena," the youngster replied with a smile, displaying her two animals proudly.
Xena turned away trying very hard not to laugh.
Gabrielle poked her friend in the ribs. "Dont even go their warrior. Deal with the problem at hand," she ordered, pointing to the two creatures the youngster had taken as pets.
The warrior mother let out a breath not wanting to perform her next task. "I know I know They have to go You sure you dont wanna tell her," the mother asked in an almost pleading tone.
Gabrielle shook her head, "Nope this is Momma stuff. Besides its my bedroll she keeps all her little friends in and I dont want to get on her bad side. I might find a big old bear in there one night."
Xena gave her friend an evil smile. "Hmm you might like that Gabrielle."
The bard poked her friend in the ribs a bit harder than usual. The warrior chuckled and handed Gabrielle Argos reigns. "Ok Ill tell her Momma stuff huh? Youre just a coward."
The warrior mother moved in beside her daughter and knelt. She stared at the two creatures lying happily in the childs arms and smiled. "Tarren baby its time to let them go," she said without hesitation.
The youngster shook her head. "Why Momma? Theyre not being bad and I wont put them in Gabbys bedroll again. I promise." Tarren looked over at Gabrielle as if trying to seal her vow with a glance but the young woman just shrugged and shook her head.
Xena ran her hand gently through her daughters hair. "Tarren its not that. Theyre wild animals and they deserve a better life than following us around living in your satchel. Dont they?"
Tarren glanced down at the pair of animals and then back at her mothers gentle eyes. "Do I hafta Momma?" the child asked, her eyes welling with tears.
Xena bit her lip but remained firm. She lowered her head a bit deciding that looking at the youngster right now would not strengthen her resolve. "Uh huh sorry."
Tarren handed the pair of chipmunks to her mother and watched as the warrior carefully placed them at the base of a small tree just to the side of the trail.
Xena saw the sullen expression on her daughters face as the child watched the small animals depart. The mother offered her a hand to hold, but the youngster shook her head and lifted her arms deciding this was one of those moments she needed a hug. Xena picked the little girl up and the child dropped her head sadly on the warriors shoulder.
The bard moved in beside them and rubbed the little girls arm. "Hey you did what was best for them. They need to be free," she said with a gentle smile.
The trio watched as little Xena scampered up a tree followed by a chattering little Gabrielle.
Xena rubbed her daughters back soothingly as she glanced over at the bard. "Gods Gabrielle even as a chipmunk you trail after me talking your head off," she teased.
The bard swatted the warriors arm. "Funny Well Im sure little Gabrielle will be the one who finds all the nuts," she replied remembering how many meals she herself had thrown together out of just wild berries and left over fish.
Xena shook her head. "Uh huh maybe but Ill bet little Xena will have to keep her from being eaten by a big bachae," the warrior teased, letting her voice drop to an eerie whisper.
Tarren listened to the exchange fearfully. At the mention of her two small friends being possibly put in danger, her eyes went wide and the child picked her head up to look directly into her mothers eyes.
Xena could see the tears forming and in a moment realized why. The warrior mother shook her head and hugged the child gently. "Oh Im sorry baby I was just teasing Gabrielle. I didnt mean to scare you. The chipmunks will be just fine," she said in a tone she hoped offered reassurance.
Tarrens lower lip quivered and her eyes began to water. "Momma, I want little Xena and little Gabrielle back," she cried.
The guilt of her misspoken words were now weighing heavy on the mother. "Tarren theyll be fine. Theyll both be fine. I promise theyll take care of each other," the warrior whispered, patting the childs back.
Gabrielle smiled at those words.
Tarren shook her head as she continued to cry. "But
of them Momma"
"I did a good job Momma."
Xena looked at the bard and shrugged not knowing what more to say. "Yeah you did a great job baby."
Tarren heard her mothers words and immediately stopped crying. "I did a great job Momma?" the youngster asked with a sniffle.
Xena wiped a stray tear off the childs cheek with the back of her hand and grinned happy to see her daughters tears cease. "Uh huh you did just fine," she replied proudly.
The childs eyes quickly dried and her smile broadened as she picked her head up to face her mother. "Then can I have a pony Momma?" she asked with a wide grin.
Gabrielle could not help but laugh out loud at the way the child had just neatly maneuvered her mother back to her favorite subject. "Yup your kid warrior."
Xena glared at her friend to let her know her idea of help was not appreciated.
The warrior mother let out a cleansing breath and grinned at her now smiling child knowing she had just walked into the youngsters trap. "No you may not have a pony you very naughty little monster you," she replied kissing the child on the cheek and placing her on the ground beside her.
The youngster took double steps to keep up with her mothers long strides. "Why not Momma? You said I took good care of them." Her voice was filled with conviction.
The warrior paused and looked down at the pleading and innocent face of her daughter. "First of all Tarren you had them for just one day and second its not very nice to trick your mother into feeling bad," she answered with a smile, patting the child on the head.
The little girl poked her lip out and widened her eyes, "But Momma ."
Xena leaned down and faced the child arching her eyebrows in a serious fashion even though she was not the least bit angry. "Save the look. The answer is still the same No pony No pony and no pony." She repeated it hoping it would save the trouble of having the child ask again.
The youngster lowered her head. Another battle fought and lost. "No pony?" she asked sadly.
The warrior shook her head and smiled. "Nope no pony." Xena looked at the bard and smiled. "How can I live with that face?" she asked, motioning toward the childs sad expression.
Gabrielle shrugged. "Well looks to me like you have no choice warrior," she replied with a grin.
Xena took the reigns of her horse back from Gabrielle and glanced down at her childs still pouting face. She hopped into the saddle and shook her head at the sight of her young daughter. "Well no pony but how about a ride on Argo with your poor mother?" she asked with a smile, hoping the youngster would accept the compromise.
The little girl tilted her head considering the offer. It was always better to retreat and fight another day than fall in battle. "Ok Momma," the child replied with a smirk.
Xena reached down and with the swipe of her hand brought the small child into the saddle, placing the giggling little girl in front of her. "Uh huh Somehow I thought youd settle ya little monster." Xena grinned and gently kicked the war-horse into a trot. "Ya know if you wanted to go for a ride all you had to do was ask me?"
Gabrielle watched as the pair trotted slowly ahead.
Ephiny saw the warrior approaching and merely stepped to the side not wanting to meet her friends eyes. She fell back and walked silently beside the bard.
Gabrielle placed a gentle hand on her amazon friends shoulder. "Whats wrong Eph?"
The regent shook her head. "Nothing."
Gabrielle felt the familiar warrior walls mounting and jumped in front of the woman bringing her to a halt. "Oh no Its bad enough I have to go through this with Xena. Im not going to be sandwiched between the two of you tree stumps. Now if I am your rightful queen then I order you to spill your guts," she commanded, hoping she was not stepping over the line or looking too foolish with this statement.
Ephiny cocked her head to one side wondering how Xena ever put up with such a nosy companion. "Ok Queen if you have to know everything Ill tell you, but save that rightful queen stuff. Even the leader of the amazons can not order someone to share their feelings. Those are private," she replied stiffly.
Gabrielle lowered her eyes realizing she had just done exactly what always annoyed even Xena, pushed too hard. "Im sorry Eph," she replied starting to move ahead to give her friend some space
Ephiny grinned and let out a deep breath as she placed an arm around the bard bringing her to a fast halt. "Where do you think youre going your majesty? You asked me and now you have to listen."
Gabrielle smiled and turned to face her friend hoping she could offer some assistance.
The amazon was silent for a moment but then slowly began to unveil her thoughts. "Well the kid thinks I dont like her and thats not true, and Xena is so angry with me that she wont even look at me."
Gabrielle smiled knowing that the warrior was not the least bit angry with anyone but herself. "First of all Xena is not angry. Shes just trying to keep you and Tarren out of each others path."
Ephiny looked up the trail at the mother and daughter riding atop of the war-horse. She could hear the gentle laughter as the child turned in the saddle to face her mother.
"Look Gabrielle. I have an entire nation of virtual strangers I want to bring together. If I cant even convince one small child that we should be friends, how will I ever convince many tribes of amazon warriors?" she asked letting the air in her lungs deflate slowly
The bards face was now soft and filled with consideration for her friends concern. "Eph I think youll find Tarren a much harder nut to crack than 1000 warriors," she replied with a soft smile. "But if you really do like her than why dont you just tell her that. Shes an affectionate little kid. If you like her then the chances are pretty good that shell like you Besides I think she already does."
Ephiny turned her head as if excited by the prospect. "Ya do?"
Gabrielle nodded and pointed to the youngster who was now trying to climb onto her mothers shoulders. She could see Xena pull the child back into the saddle with a thud and the little ones sour expression as the mother began to scold her for making such a dangerous maneuver while on horseback. Gabrielle smiled as the small child tried to playfully nip her mothers shaking finger and soon the scolding turned to tickling and the frowns turned to laughter once again. They were truly a pair to behold. One would never again be complete without the other.
The bard turned her attention back on her regent. "Ya see Eph. Tarren only plays with you if she like ya. So maybe thats why she played that joke on you. She does it to me all the time. You just have to learn to accept her for who she is and play along well up to a point."
The amazon shrugged wondering how much one had to endure. "What point is that?"
Gabrielle chuckled a bit considering her past experiences with the wayward child. "Its the point that Xena decides is too much. Believe me when Tarren reaches that time you wont have to ask me. You will know," she declared remembering the look on Xenas face when she brought her daughter down from Mt. Polis. It had been an expression of regret and determination and the outcome had left the child rubbing her backside for days.
Ephiny straightened up and raised her chin proudly. "Gabrielle I am an amazon warrior, regent, and queen I do not play with naughty children."
The bard shrugged her shoulders and smiled. "So then whats the problem?" she asked knowing her friends pride would not allow her to openly admit she was touched by the thought that the youngster might actually like her.
"None I guess," was the regal response.
Gabrielle sighed wondering if anything had truly been resolved.
As the day wore on the group moved fast and hard trying to make up for lost time. It was getting late and they had not yet found a suitable place to make camp.
Gabrielle grinned as she watched Tarren walking a few paces behind her mother. Xena kept a careful eye on her small shadow. If Xena lifted her hand Tarren did the same. If the warrior stretched out her arms then so did the child.
The bard smiled at the youngsters desire to imitate every move her mother made.
Xena stopped suddenly and turned to face the child. Tarren smiled broadly at her mother. The warrior found it hard not to return the smile when she saw the love and innocence the little girls expression held.
She moved back a few steps and leaned down to face the little one. "Are you copying everything I do?" she asked, trying to act as if it were truly an annoyance.
The child nodded hoping it didnt bother her mother "Uh huh."
Xena smiled and reached out a hand to touch the little girls face. "Well I thought so," she replied lifting the small form into her arms with a gentle swipe. "Have you been behaving yourself today?" she asked, moving down the trail holding the little girl in her arms.
Tarren fidgeted with her mothers straps and lowered her eyes. "I think so Momma I havent heard anyone yelling at me," she mumbled, hoping that was a good sign.
The warrior grinned and nuzzled her head close to her daughters cheek. "Well then I guess you have been pretty good." she replied, winking at the bard.
Xena placed the child on the ground and reached into her saddlebag. When she removed her hand, in it was the prized slingshot. She handed the child back her toy.
"I guess youve learned your lesson. Youve been good all day, so Im giving this back to you. Now dont make me take it away again," she warned.
Tarrens eyes went wide and she hugged her mother. "Thanks Momma. I wont touch other peoples stuff. I sure have missed this," she replied, caressing the hand carved handle.
The warrior patted the child back and lifted her in again into her arms. "I know little one."
Gabrielle smiled at the exchange. She and Xena had discussed the incident earlier and decided that it was not really necessary to keep the beloved item more than a day. After all Tarren was used to a great deal of tolerance from both of them regarding her little jokes. The child had no friends her own age so Xena and Gabrielle each took their turn being her victim and playmate so she could have some fun. It was hard for the child to understand Ephinys reaction.
"She gets the toy back already?" the shocked amazon asked. "Why dont you just give her a present as well," the regent hissed, dissatisfied with the action. "Oh yeah Xena doesnt let her get away with anything just perfect."
Gabrielle grimaced a bit knowing her amazon friend still did not understand the way things worked in this family.
As they walked along the trail Xena playfully tossed Tarren over her shoulder.
The youngster kicked her feet wildly as the warrior pinned her in place. "Momma toss me in the air," she begged.
Xena walked holding Argo's reigns with one hand and her daughter with the other. "Sorry gotta hold onto my horse monster," she replied giving the youngster a gentle squeeze.
The child frowned at her mothers lack of obedience. "Ahh Argo won't go anywhere. Would ya girl?" the child asked reaching over to pat the big horse.
Argo whinnied in response and Gabrielle smiled at Ephiny. She pointed to the child slumped over the warriors shoulder. " I swear they both have longer conversations with that horse than they do me," she giggled.
Ephiny grinned at the words. "Thats because Argo doesnt talk all the time, she mumbled.
Gabrielle gave her friend a sour look. "You are getting to be just as funny as Xena," she groaned. The young womans smile returned when she realized that her amazon friends outer shell of steal might finally be melting a bit.
They both concentrated on the actions of the warrior and her child.
Tarren started yanking on her mothers straps and with a quick flip the warrior mother had the youngster by one foot dangling in the air. "What have I told you I would do if you ripped one of those straps little girl?" she asked in a stern voice.
The child giggled. "You said youd paddle me good," the child replied reaching her hands out to unlace her mothers boot.
Xena smiled and yanked her boot away leaving the child hanging in the air with nothing to play with.
Tarren swung back and forth trying to get a hold on her mothers leg.
Xena shook her head. "So you wanna play rough youngster Ok."
The warrior mother grabbed the child by both feet and slung her over to one shoulder so that the little girls legs were now dangling behind the warrior. She walked over to Ephiny and handed her friend Argos reigns. "Here Eph would ya hold Argo for me. This kid needs to be taught a lesson." The warrior mother displayed an evil grin.
The amazon took the reigns happy her friend was now speaking to her. She looked at Gabrielle who only smiled and pointed as the warrior took her place back at the front of the trail.
Xena brought the flailing youngster in front of her. "So you want to be naughty huh little girl?" she asked, tossing Tarren high into the air and catching her before she hit the ground.
The youngster giggled happily but wanted more. "Momma you can't throw as high as you used to. Are you getting old?" she teased.
The warrior frowned at the insult. She quickly tossed the child so high in the air Gabrielle had to crane her neck a bit to follow the path.
Tarren laughed wildly as she was caught in the arms of her mother once again "Better?" the warrior asked with a smile.
Tarren caught her breath and smiled. "Much Youre not old at all Momma!"
Xena chuckled and spun the child around in a circle letting her small feet swing free in the breeze. Their combined laughter mixed so easily with the sound of the wind that one would think it was just a natural a part of the nature that surrounded them.
After a few minutes the childs chuckles stopped and she tightened her hold on her mother. "I give I give...No more Momma," the small voice squeaked and the mother stopped the play, placing the dizzy child on the ground before her.
Tarren slumped to the ground with a thud and a smile. "Momma stop the world It's moving too fast," the child moaned trying unsuccessfully to get to her feet.
Ephiny and Gabrielle both chuckled at the sight.
Xena merely gave her friends a glance and reached a hand down to steady the youngster. "Are you Ok?" she asked rubbing the childs head gently.
Tarren nodded but then stumbled a bit. Xena picked the child up and the little girl happily nuzzled next to her mothers shoulder. "You seem awfully unsteady little girl. Have you been drinking ale when I wasn't around?" she teased, as she ran her hand up and down the childs back.
The little one chuckled. "Youre always around Momma. You have to be cause you are my Momma," she replied happy for that fact. She hugged the warriors neck and Xena patted her childs back gently and placed the youngster on the ground while she moved back to get the reigns from her friend.
"Thanks Eph. I think she's had enough," the mother said with a grin staring back at the child now leaning up against a tree.
"Anytime my friend," the amazon replied with a nod.
Xena returned the nod.
Gabrielle realized that this simple gesture had resolved the two friends earlier dispute. "Warriors" she mumbled, deciding understanding the silent code was not worth her effort. She glanced at the youngster and shook her head. "Gods Xena we have been moving so fast," she moaned pointing to a small child leaning against a tree trying to stifle a yawn.
The warrior glanced back at her daughter and let out a long breath. "I know shes tired, but were not close enough to a good camp area to call it quits," she replied, chastising herself for not scouting an area earlier.
Gabrielle again pointed to the child who had now yawned for a second time. "So what do we do with her?" she asked.
The warrior shrugged. "We do what we always do my bard," she replied simply.
The young woman smiled and took a step back to let her friend know she was officially on her own. "Uh huh
good luck warrior."
Xena smiled and tossed a grinning Gabrielle the reigns. "Luck has nothing to do with it my friend," she answered taking a deep breath and heading back to where her child waited.
The warrior moved up beside her daughter and leaned against the tree. "Do you know what time it is Tarren?" she asked in a quiet and soothing tone.
The youngster covered her mouth with both hands trying to hold back a yawn. "No Momma I dont know," she lied.
"Its nap time for you kid."
"Noooooo," the little girl moaned.
Xena tasseled the little girls hair. "Yup. Im afraid so"
The child let her shoulders slump a bit as she whined, "But Im not tired. I want you to throw me in the air some more."
Xena folded her arms against her chest and shook her head. "Another time baby I saw that yawns. Weve been moving pretty long and fast. Its Ok to be tired. Its nap time."
Tarren gave her mother a crooked smile as she glanced at their surroundings. "Uh well were not camped so I guess I cant nap sorry Momma," the child replied, trying to move back onto the trail.
Xena held out a halting hand catching the youngster by the arm. "You forget little one, I have many skills. I have a place for you to nap all picked out," she whispered.
Tarren kicked the dirt in front of her and moaned, "Ya do? But I dont wanna nap Momma."
Xena sighed and pointed to a small patch of grass just off the road. "No arguments youngster Come on lets get you undressed and into a warm blanket so you can catch the next ship for Morpheous," she replied with a wide grin.
Tarren frowned but moved to the spot her mother had pointed to mumbling all the way. The youngster slowly started tugging at one boot with no real effort. "Its stuck oh well I guess I cant take my clothes off...too bad." The child made another attempt to get past her mother only to be held by a much tighter grip.
Xena hoisted the child over her shoulder. "Always the hard way," she muttered, moving to a large rock where she quickly seated the little girl.
"Boots," the warrior ordered.
Tarren sat wiggling her feet in the air as she watched her mother give them each a gentle yank. They didnt budge.
Xena glanced at her daughter arching her eyebrows. "Tarren."
The youngster threw her arms in the air. "See Momma, I told you they were stuck. Guess well just have to keep going." The child tried to get up only to be gently pushed back down by her mothers large hand.
The warrior held each boot in one hand and stared at her child. "Well if you uncurl your toes theyll slide right off," she replied sternly.
The youngster stared at her small booted feet. "Oh well I like curly toes Momma."
Xena tapped her fingers on the sides of her daughters boots. "Tarren I am losing my patience."
The youngster frowned and straightened her toes allowing her mother to remove the boots.
"Well would you look at that Momma. They came right off just like you said."
Gabrielle watched the action with amusement knowing that if history held true Xena would be triumphant in the end but it would be a tough battle.
The warrior tossed the boots to the ground and motioned her hand to the sky. "Arms up," she ordered.
The child folded her small limbs tightly against her chest. "NO," was the fast response along with another yawn.
Xena knew the youngster was now truly passed the point of tired. She gently lifted the little girl up holding her at the waist so she was positioned upside down. "Ok cranky, then well just start at the other end," she replied with a frown.
It was time to call in the reserves. "Gabrielle if you please
The bard sauntered over with a wide smile. "Having a problem warrior?" she asked.
Xena held the squirming child tightly as she looked at her smug friend. "Help or hinder Gabrielle. Which is it?" she asked, deciding this was no time for a mutiny.
The young woman let out a breath knowing her part. "Ok you hold her and Ill pull."
Ephiny smiled as she watched the event. Two grown woman, one the famed Warrior Princess and the other the rightful queen of the amazons pitted against one very small child and losing.
The bard tugged at the little girls britches. "Gods Xena shes holding onto them," she yelled letting out a pant of air.
Xena glanced down to see two small hands holding tightly to the waistline of her britches. "Tarren let go," she ordered.
The tired child shook her head and tightened her hold. "Theyre my britches and I wanna keep them," she replied kicking her feet.
Xena used one hand to hold the child and the other to keep the little legs from getting any momentum. "Youngster, I know youre tired, but Mommas patience is really wearing thin. Now let go of the britches," she yelled.
The little hands held tight. "No!"
Gabrielle could see the frustration in her large friend mounting. She knelt on the ground to face the little girl. "Honey, you are not going to be comfortable taking a nap if you keep your clothes on so lets get you all undressed and you can go to sleep," the young woman said in a near pleading tone, using her softest and most soothing voice.
The child pushed her lip out and the bard could see the tears forming. "No! No! No! My britches. I wanna a pony. Im not tired. Wheres my slingshot? Im getting dizzy Momma." The youngsters words were becoming hysterical and incoherent.
Xena gently turned the little girl over and placed her on her feet deciding she would have to find a different course of action.
The child no sooner felt her bare feet touch the ground then she slid past her mother and right up a nearby tree.
Ephiny could not help but laugh loudly at the youngsters fast maneuver. Her cackles earned two sets of glaring eyes that ended her chuckles.
Xena turned her attention to the branches above her. "Why you little monster. Youre in big trouble now," the mother scolded staring up at the treed child
Gabrielle shook her head and yelled up at to the little girl. "Tarren this is not the time or place for games. Now come down here," she ordered, finding it hard to muster the strength to yell.
The little girl sat perched in between two heavy branches. "Do I have to take a nap?" she asked, hoping for some negotiations.
Xenas face was stern and she did not even wait for the bard to respond. "Yes you do!"
The youngster moved back against the tree and smugly replied. "Then Im not coming down Ill live up here forever and boy will you miss me."
Xena twisted her lips and glanced and the smirking bard. "Ya know I think she does this just to get on my nerves
Are you giving lessons now?" she asked with an odd smile.
Gabrielle looked up at the treed child and grinned. " Keep insulting me warrior and Ill leave you on your own with this problem," she replied pointing above.
Xena shrugged. "Ok fine I can handle this," she replied motioning her friend to step aside.
Gabrielle bowed her head and moved out of the way to watch the warrior handle things.
Xena rubbed her chin as she considered her options. "Yup good thing I am a professional problem solver," she mumbled, staring above. The mother planted herself firmly beneath the tree. "Tarren if you dont come down by the count of five you are really gonna get it," she yelled in her most commanding parental tone
The little girl looked from the bard to her mother and bit her lip.
The youngster held firmly to her branches.
The child bit her lip wondering if her mother was serious. She removed her britches and tossed them to the ground hoping that would be a satisfactory compromise.
"You can have my britches now Momma," the child offered. Unfortunately they landed squarely on her mothers head.
The warrior frowned and removed the childs pants from atop her head and tossed them to the grinning bard. "Thats not good enough Three," she continued.
Gabrielle displayed the prized item in the air for the grinning amazon to see.
Ephiny twirled her finger in the air to show her friend the trophy did not impress her.
Xena grabbed hold of a branch as if ready to climb. "Four I mean it Tarren If I have to come up and get you boy are you gonna be sorry."
Tarren considered a hasty dissent until she noticed the smile on the amazons face. The child settled back in her branches deciding her mother must truly be bluffing. "No!"
The warrior heard the word and growled the final number. "Five!"
Gabrielle settled against the tree and grinned. "Well it looks like she out bluffed you."
Xena let out a quick breath and looked at her friend. Her eyes were wide and the blue waves were crashing against her lids. "Who said I was bluffing?" With one single vault the warrior mother managed to land on the branch right above her daughter getting a firm grasp on the youngsters arm.
The half-dressed child glanced up at her mothers harsh stare and smiled. "Hi Momma
I was coming down."
Xena took the child under one arm positioned like a sack of grain and vaulted back beside Gabrielle.
Tarren lay in a heap tucked tightly under her mothers arm. "I dont wanna nap cant have my britches want my slingshot Wheres grandma?" The exhausted childs words were making less sense and the yawns were becoming more frequent.
The little girl yelled and kicked her feet wildly in the air. "Put me down Wanna go down."
The warrior mother moved behind the thick of some trees and out of sight of an audience, deciding there was no reason her childs tantrum had to be displayed for anyone but her. She did not want the youngster embarrassed especially in front of Ephiny.
Xena glanced at her still struggling young daughter. "Tarren that is enough!" she scolded as the child kicked in her grip.
Tarren ignored her mothers words and kept fighting hoping for another chance at a higher tree.
Xena shook her head and delivered one meaningful swat to the childs bottom eliciting a loud groan and a stream of overly dramatic hard sobs. "Momma," the child cried, rubbing her backside with both hands.
The mother shook her head. "Dont Momma me. You were warned young lady," she said sternly, placing the crying child on the ground and keeping a firm hold on her arm.
The mother was frustrated at having to take such an action just to control the tired youngster. She knew the swat had left a sharp sting but also knew most of the Tarrens tears were a result of how tired and cranky her young daughter was.
Xena picked the little girl up in her arms and patted her back gently. "Ok relax. Im sorry bit you have to learn to behave yourself. I know youre tired, but we cant fool around like this in the middle of the road Tarren."
The child continued to sob uncontrollably making the warrior feel a bit guilty for having swatted the misbehaving youngster
The little girl gripped her mothers arm tightly as she cried. "I wanna I wanna ."
Xena caressed the crying childs head. "What do you want?"
Tarren sniffled and rubbed her bottom. "I want Momma."
Xena let out a fast breath. "Im right here Tarren."
The child nodded and continued to cry. "I know and you spanked me."
Xena shook her head and let her voice droop to its low and husky tone. The time for games and regrets was over. It was time to get moving and time for the warrior mother to regain control of the situation. She placed the sobbing child on the ground and shook a warning finger at her. "Well I warned you ." There was a pause and the mothers voice softened a bit. "Besides I only gave you one swat. Believe me you are asking for much more. Now come on we cant stand here all day Lets get your tunic off and then it is nap time for you," the mother said in her most commanding tone.
The youngster shook her head and wrapped her arms around her tunic. "No nap No pony," she mumbled in a stream of broken thoughts.
Xena took a deep breath and stared at her youngster. "Look I know youre tired. Im sorry you had to get a swat, but you needed it. I just want you to take a nap. You wont be comfortable in your clothes, so lets have the tunic," she replied, hoping the child would comply.
The youngsters sobs became harder and she gripped her shirt tightly. "No Momma. Dont wanna nap Momma. You spanked me."
Xena raised her eyebrows and tightened her lips. Her guilt for delivering the one swat had faded. "It was just one single swat Tarren Do you want me to remind you what a real spanking is?" she asked, clapping her hands together.
The little girls eyes met her mothers and she stood still. "No dont want that."
Xena shook her head and answered sternly, "Then behave yourself and take the tunic off."
The child let her tears continue to fall but her voice was at a near whisper. "No dont wanna nap Wanna play."
Xena could see the youngster was getting more irritable and less understandable with every sentence. She knelt down and seated the child on her lap. The child leaned her head on her mothers shoulder knocking her head repeatedly against the warriors stiff armor.
The anguished mother covered her face with her hand and looked at Gabrielle who was standing quietly in the distance ready to help any way she could. Xena glanced at he small form seated on her knee. "Ok Ive had enough Tarren. Get the arms up, or Ill show you the difference between a swat and a spanking right now Then youll take a nap young lady," she scolded in a no nonsense, dont push it any further voice.
Even the cranky child recognized the meaning in the tone and the seriousness of the threat. She immediately put her hands in the air and allowed her tunic to be removed.
Xena picked the little girl up and moved from the solitude and privacy of the trees. She tossed the shirt to the bard and placed the youngster back on her feet. "Thank you," she said in a quiet and controlled tone as she walked over to her horse to get a blanket.
The warrior had not even moved a pace away when she heard her young daughter sputter two heart wrenching words.
"Bad Momma," the child whimpered, standing on the patch of grass in only her undergarments, tears filling her eyes.
Xena swallowed and looked at the small child who she would give her life to please. "I know Im just awful I have trouble sleeping at night over how I treat you," she replied, knowing the youngster was over tired and not responsible for her words. She took a deep breath and moved on to get the blanket
Tarren rubbed her eyes with the balls of her fists and turned and hugged the now close Gabrielle. "I dont wanna nap Gabby. Im not tired. Momma bad," she muttered.
The bard knelt down and wiped a few tears off the little girls cheek "Yes you are very tired honey." She paused and looked at the warrior untying a blanket from the saddle. "I wish I had a Momma that loved me so much that shed stop in the middle of the trail just because she knew I was tired," the young woman said motioning toward the warrior.
The little girl sniffled and stared at her friend. "Ya do?"
The bard nodded. "Yeah and if I did, Id never want to hurt her feelings by saying she was a bad Momma just because she was trying real hard to do what was best for me. I think you hurt Xenas feelings Tarren."
The child bit her lip not sure what she had or had not said anymore, "I did?" she asked with a brand new tear.
The bard wiped a stray hair from the youngsters forehead. "Yeah you did brat. Your Momma didnt want to punish you honey. She just wants you to sleep for a while so youll feel better. Thats because she loves you," the young woman replied quietly.
"Was I naughty?" the youngster asked, lowering her eyes
Gabrielle shook her head. "Well not exactly Youre just too tired, but I know your mom feels pretty bad right now," she answered pointing to the approaching warrior.
Tarren glanced up at the expression on her mothers face wondering if there was truly hurt hidden there.
Xena knelt beside her child and wrapped the softest blanket she could find around the youngster. She then lifted her small daughter into her arms and motioned for the bard and amazon to start moving again. "Ok go to sleep Tarren," the mother whispered to the bundled child.
The youngster laced her fingers around her mothers neck and lay her head down on her shoulder. "Youre gonna carry me while I sleep Momma?" she asked never realizing that her place for napping would be in such a privileged position.
Xena smiled and kissed her daughters forehead. "Yup youre staying right here."
The child felt the warm of the blanket and the comfort of her absence of constricting clothes as she curled up in her mothers strong arms.
"Im sorry I was naughty."
"Its Ok I know your tired baby."
"Youre a really good Momma and I love ya lots," the child whispered as she tightened her hold on her mother.
Xena smiled and closed her eyes thankful to know the little girls love was still intact. "Thank you baby. Thats really nice to hear. I love you lots too. Now go to sleep. I want you wide awake when we get to camp. Otherwise I have to play with the slingshot all by myself," she replied with a soft smile.
Tarren yawned and touched her mothers face with her fingers. "Oh but Im still not tired Momma."
"I wanna play with my slingshot."
"I wanna swing in the tree."
"I wanna pony I love my Momma." The child yawned twice and let her head drop.
Xena grinned, tightened her hold as she cradled her little girl until she was fast asleep in her arms. "Your Momma loves you too," she whispered, kissing the sleeping youngster gently on the cheek.
Gabrielle moved up beside the warrior. "Is she out?" she asked, glancing at he curled up form.
Xena nodded. "Faster than a speeding arrow."
Gabrielle kissed the little girl and smiled at her warrior friend.
Ephiny watched this family in awe and envy. "Gods I am such a fool," she whispered, realizing for the first time the love she was now witnessing.
Chapter 6 A Jokes a Joke
It was late by the time the travelers were able to make camp. Tarren had slept the entire trip in her mothers arms and was wide-awake by the time evening came.
The bard was busy working on her scrolls and Ephiny was sharpening her sword with Xenas extra whetstone.
The child was confused by the strangers action since she had only seen her mother perform this task.
The warrior finished rubbing down Argo and walked causally into the center of the camp. "Well Im gonna do some hunting. Ill be back in a bit with supper," she announced looking at the size of her growing family.
Tarren had been busy playing with her slingshot but dropped the toy to the ground at the thought of joining her mother. "Momma can I come? You showed me how to set a snare." The child was anxious to spend time alone with the warrior.
Xena placed a gentle hand on her childs shoulder and shook her head. "Im sorry but not this time. Its late and I need to move fast. The last time I took you with me you named every animal I got in my sights and we wound up having berries for supper." The warrior grinned at the fleeting memory.
The child bit her lip and smiled. "Well everyone has a name Momma But I promise I wont tell you the foods names if you dont wanna know," she offered.
Xena smiled and let the side of her hand caress the childs cheek. "Maybe when youre older you can hunt with me again, but right now I want you to stay here and behave yourself." the mother replied, kissing her daughters head and moving out into the woods.
"I can set snares too," the child mumbled as she watched the warrior depart alone.
Ephiny eyed the youngster. "Look kid Its no crime Setting snares is easy but catching something in them is tough work. Youre just a little kid. You dont have to catch anything. Thats why you have a mother She needs to take care of you." The amazon nodded knowing she had just eased the childs concerns.
Tarren frowned at the words. While she was quite happy to have her mother take care of her and indeed hated hunting she did not like the implication that she couldnt catch something if she did set a snare. She was after all the daughter of the warrior princess.
The child bit her lip and grabbed her slingshot and her mothers saddlebags and stomped off toward the woods.
Gabrielle did not have to look up from her scroll to hear the small boots departing. "Hold it." The young woman placed her quill down and looked at the now sulking child. "Where do you think youre going?" she asked in a tone that said not as far as the child had hoped.
Tarren glared at the amazon and shuffled her feet as she stared at the dirt. "I wanna go play with my slingshot over there." She pointed to a break in the woods that led to a small clearing.
Gabrielle had heard the words her amazon friend had spoken and knew they had done nothing but make the already disappointed child more frustrated. "Ok You can go, but you had better stay where I can keep an eye on you. Dont make me have to look for you," she said sternly.
The little girl nodded and stomped off down the trail
Gabrielle watched the little princess sulk away. She looked at the amazon and sighed.
Ephiny could feel her friends eyes on her back, so she turned. "What? I was trying to make the kid feel better," the woman defended, realizing that the child was now insulted.
The bard moved her long hair behind her neck with one swipe of her hand. "I know that but she thinks you just told her she wasnt good enough to catch anything. You hurt her feelings Eph," the young woman replied softly knowing her friends intentions had indeed been good.
The amazon shrugged and lowered her sword to the ground. "Well maybe I should just keep my mouth shut. Nothing I say to that kid seems to work. I just keep digging a deeper hole," she groaned.
Gabrielle smiled at her friends obvious concern. "Hey stop trying to treat her like an amazon kid and start treating her like a small person Try and think how Xenon would feel about something before you say it," the young woman replied softly, hoping the comparison would make things easier for her friend to understand.
Ephiny nodded remembering how her son had great difficulty with certain amazon ways. "Yeah Ok Ill give it a try." The amazon grinned as if a new type of understanding had just come over her.
Later that evening
Xena returned to camp with four game birds. She handed them to the bard who smiled. "Well the mighty hunter has done well" she cheered, thinking of the joy of not eating fish for one night.
The warrior smiled at her friends obvious delight. "Well it is a bit easier to hunt when there is not some little character behind you breaking branches to warn the animals away ." She replied with a grin. The warrior scanned the camp. "Where is my little branch breaker?"
Gabrielle frowned and pointed to the spot the child had said she would be. "Shes sulking over there. She wasnt happy at being left behind," the young woman answered with a shrug.
Xena let out a long breath and shook her head. She looked to the spot to where the bard had pointed but the child was not there. "I should have let her come. I sort of missed her anyway Tarren," she called, moving further into the woods.
There was silence.
Xenas face grew frantic with concern as she called the child again "Tarren!"
This time the small figure emerged from the brush with a smile. The youngster still had a slingshot in one hand and the beloved saddlebags in the other. "Youre back Momma."
The warrior sighed with relief. "Yes I am and where have you been? Didnt you hear me calling?" Her tone became scolding when she realized that in that one brief moment anything could have happened to her daughter.
The child lowered her eyes. "Im sorry Momma. I was playing with my slingshot in the woods. I came as soon as I heard you," the youngster replied, knowing she had worried her mother with her absence.
Xena paced back and forth trying to get a reign on her anxiety. "Uh huh You know you are not allowed to leave camp alone Next time you stay where someone can see you or you wont be allowed to leave your bedroll. Do you understand?" she asked trying to erase the memory of her sudden fear.
The child nodded noting the scolding tone in her mothers voice. "Im sorry Momma."
Xena looked at Gabrielle. "Im gonna go wash up and maybe take a swim," she said through tightened lips, walking to the stream at the foot of their small camp.
The child placed her slingshot down and dropped her mothers saddlebag near her bedroll. She glanced at the bard and amazon and then sat quietly beside her friend.
Gabrielle was a bit angry with the child for wandering off but didnt feel her own added scolding would do any more than bring the contrite child to tears. The young woman placed a gentle arm around the little girls shoulder. "Hey did you hit your targets?" she asked hoping a change in subjects would help.
Tarren never took her eyes off the movements of her mothers muscular form. "Not like Momma does," she mumbled. The child was still feeling the sting of her mothers scolding.
Xena sat on a rock unlacing her boots. She closed her eyes shaking off the wave of fear that had passed through her when the child had not immediately answered her call.
"I swear that child is gonna give me gray hairs yup long dark gray hairs She climbs trees when I want her to take a nap She runs into the woods alone never listens to a word I say unless it suits her Kids like mud Momma! Always in trouble Names every animal I get in my sights," she rambled as she looked back at the small figure in camp staring at her.
Xena looked at the wide blue eyes and the innocent stare of her child and was instantly reminded of their first close encounter back in the hills of Rasa. She smiled when she recalled how the youngster had informed her that she had never been taught to swim. The warrior had spent an entire morning teaching her so that she did not have to worry about the child drowning. It was the first time she had ever seen Tarren smile or heard her laugh.
In only a few months the little girl had changed so much. She had gone from being a withdrawn unruly child to an affectionate and fairly respectful youngster. Although she did still manage to find her way into trouble everywhere she went the warrior mother knew it was not in her daughters heart to be bad.
"Shes just a child Xena A very small child a baby my baby so young but how young?" Xena thought remembering her brothers words once again.
The warrior let out a long breath and grinned at the thought of her daughters love. The youngster had added something so special to her world that Xena could not imagine how she lived before she found the child. She glanced up at the small sullen figure once again and smiled. "Hey I am not waiting all day. Are you coming or not?" she yelled.
Tarrens eyes grew wide not having realized she had been expected to join her mother in
a private swim.
She looked at Gabrielle for reassurance. "Well go on. You dont want her going in without you," she said patting the little girls back.
Tarren smiled broadly. "Im coming. Wait for me Momma," she yelled. The child quickly scampered down to the waters edge and the bard watched as the warrior helped the youngster remove her clothes and then tossed the child playfully into the water.
"Lesson one get wet," Gabrielle could hear the warrior say.
The bard chuckled and got to her feet deciding a fast swim might be a great idea. She dropped her quill and looked at the stoic amazon. "Hey how about coming down for a swim Eph?" she asked with a grin.
Ephiny continued sharpening her blade. "Thanks but I think Ill pass. You go," she replied with a grin. The amazon did not want her friend feeling obligated to keep her company.
Gabrielle sighed wishing her friend would loosen up and join in. Realizing it was not going to happen, she shrugged her shoulders, quickly removed her clothes and ran down to the stream to join in the play.
Ephiny watched with a smile as the trio splashed in the water. She was almost tempted to join them. "No I am an amazon warrior regent and acting queen. I do not play splashing games in the water," she chastised, returning once again to her more dutiful sword sharpening.
After a while, Gabrielle returned to the fire followed by Xena who had Tarren playfully tossed over her shoulder. They were having an ongoing argument over something that sounded as if it were quite serious to both.
Ephiny listened with interest eager to hear the outcome.
Xena placed the youngster in front of her as she spoke. "You are so naughty."
"I am not," the child moaned.
"You are too and I should spank you."
"No you shouldnt."
"Yes I should and Im gonna."
"No youre not Momma."
"Yes I am."
"No youre not Momma."
"Youve got just one chance to say it, or Im gonna paddle you good."
Ephiny had a look of concern wondering what offense the child had committed now. Gabrielle just casually returned to her place by the fire ignoring the familiar exchange.
"No I wont say it," the child argued.
"Ok but Im sitting down Tarren." The warrior planted herself on a log by the fire.
"Youve done that before Momma."
With one quick swipe the warrior had the child lying over her lap. "I put you over my knee."
"Been here before Momma."
The warrior was losing patience. "Ok wise one I am now about to raise my hand
Hmm maybe I should drop your
Tarren turned suddenly covering her backside with her hands for fear it might be attacked.
"No momma dont. Ill say it."
Xena paused in her actions and waited. "Well then?"
The youngster grumbled a bit as she spoke. "OK youre the best swimmer in the whole world."
Xena smiled and patted the girls bottom gently. "And?"
The child chuckled. "And you are the best Momma in the whole world too." She really didnt mind making either statement since the child felt both were the truth. However both Tarren and her mother liked to play the game called whos bluffing who? The youngster unfortunately usually lost.
Xena lifted the child up and seated her on her lap. "Well its about time you noticed little girl," she replied with a nod.
The warriors evil smile was a perplexing sight to the child. "Momma were you really gonna spank me?" she asked with a grin.
Xena chuckled and kissed the youngsters cheek "No of course not baby, but I bluffed you pretty well huh?" There was that evil smile again
The little girl folded her arms tightly against her chest and frowned. "Damn!"
Xena looked at the youngster oddly. "Ahem however if I hear you swear again you will most definitely get to feel my hand on your bottom young lady," the mother said sternly.
"Ooops! Sorry Momma, it slipped out," the child replied covering her mouth with her hand.
Xena gave the little girl a gentle poke in the stomach. "Well slip it right back in and leave it there," she ordered.
"Yes maam," the child replied wondering if there would be more to the lecture.
Xena shook her head and kissed the little girl on the cheek. "Go change your clothes ya naughty little monster." The mother gently lifted the youngster off her lap and pointed to the bedrolls where the dry clothes had been placed.
"Yes Momma," the smiling little girl answered, obediently trotting off to change.
Ephiny sighed with relief grateful the child had not gotten into any trouble. "Gabrielle is it always like this?" she asked
The young woman placed the last of her dry clothes on and smiled. "Uh huh pretty much but I wonder where Tarren hears those bad words." The bard brought her concentration from the amazon to the warrior.
Xena stretched out beside the fire and smiled. "Uh huh I know. Ill talk to her about it later Gabrielle." The warrior grinned knowing her young friend was still staring at her. "And I will try and watch my language around her, Ok?"
Gabrielle nodded approvingly and got to her feet. "Well if were gonna have a proper feast tonight well need some berries. Im gonna go pick some," the young woman said with a smile, reaching for a small sack.
"Hey Ill give you a hand. Berries I can pick." the amazon offered sheathing her sword.
Xena stretched out her legs and closed her eyes. "Well I caught dinner so Im resting," she informed the pair.
Tarren came running over pulling on her boot. "Gabby why dont you split up and see who gets the most? Ya know like a contest." The childs voice was filled with excitement.
The bard smiled knowing how the child liked games.
Ephiny grabbed a sack and nodded. "Well Im always up for a competition." She winked at the bard to let her friend know she would be defeated.
Gabrielle shook her head to inform Ephiny that she would come out the victor.
Tarren watched the two women and frowned. The child pointed in the direction she had been playing with her slingshot earlier. "Good you go that way Ephiny," she directed with a smile.
The youngster pointed in the opposite direction. "Gabby, you go that way."
Xena glanced up at the child. "What about you monster?"
The little girl plopped comfortably on her mothers midsection and patted the warriors arm "Who me? Well someone has to keep an eye on you Momma," she replied with an innocent smile.
The warrior grinned and yanked the child beside her tickling her into a giggle. "Oh thank you for watching after me baby."
"Youre welcome," the little girl laughed.
Gabrielle looked at Ephiny feeling the air of competition flowing in her veins. Without another word the two teams departed.
It wasnt long before there was a loud yell.
Xena jumped to her feet and drew her sword.
She listened to the sounds around her but all she heard was an angry line of cuss words that made Xena wish she could immediately cover little Tarrens ears.
The child chuckled a bit which made the warrior wonder just what had happened and to who. Xena grabbed the youngster by the hand and quickly moved in the direction of the rambling swears. About 50 paces from camp she found an amazon warrior hanging upside down in a tree caught in a large snare.
Xena looked around the area but saw no sign of danger or intruders so she carefully cut the woman down. "Are you alright Eph?" she asked still searching the area with her eyes.
The amazon stretched out her back and growled. "Yeah I just put my foot right in it."
Xena looked around but found nothing unusual. Her thoughts were now of Gabrielle "We should do a scan of the perimeter to see if whoever set this is still around, and we should go find Gabrielle." The concern on the warriors face was evident.
Tarren covered her mouth but could not control her laughter any longer.
Xena and Ephiny stared at the child now rolling in the dirt giggling.
The two warriors looked at each other but it was Ephiny that spoke. "No she couldnt have?"
Xena picked up a piece of the rope she had just cut and nodded. "Oh yes she could and with my best rope too," the mother answered sheathing her sword and glaring at her child. "Tarren! she yelled forcing the child into her look of complete innocence.
"Yes Momma," she replied obediently.
The warrior took a deep breath and counted to ten. It didnt work. She was still mad as hell. "Did you set this snare?" she asked her young daughter.
The child looked at the amazon and then her mother and shrugged. "Me Momma? Im just a little kid. I couldnt catch anything especially something that big" she grinned, pointing at Ephiny.
Xena knelt down and went eye to eye with the child. "Look into my eyes youngster. Do I think this is funny?" she asked with a scowl.
Tarren stopped smiling and took a good hard look at her mothers angry expression. Nope no humor there. "No Momma you dont think this is funny at all. Do ya?"
Xena nodded in agreement. "No I dont, so you answer my question. Did you set that snare?" she asked, her voice filled with anticipation for what she knew the answer was.
The little girl lowered her eyes. "Yes Momma."
Xena covered her face with her hands and lowered her eyes.
"Momma I ."
The warrior shook her head. "No not another word out of you. Not one single word," the mother scolded.
Ephiny grinned a bit at the childs expertise in setting the trap but said nothing. "Well break my sword in two I dont believe it," the amazon whispered.
The warrior got to her feet and turned to her friend. "Eph I am so sorry," she apologized
Ephiny waved her off. "Its Ok. I sort of asked for it I guess," she replied with a smirk.
Xena nodded appreciatively and turned her attention back to her little hunter. She grabbed the child by the wrist dragging the now worried youngster back to camp.
Ephiny watched them go. She decided to hang back a while and give Xena some time alone with her child. "Not bad kid, not bad at all," the amazon mumbled as she gathered the warriors rope.
Once in the privacy of the camp, Xena came to a fast halt. Holding Tarren securely by the wrist, she bent her naughty child slightly past her leg and delivered one lightening fast swat to the seat of the childs britches to let her daughter know she was neither amused nor impressed by the way she chose to demonstrate her skills.
The youngster winced from the feel of the warriors heavy maternal hand but bit her lip and stared up at her mother knowing better than to say a word at this moment.
Xena looked down at the child who was trying to quietly maneuver her hands behind her to gently rub the sting from her seat.
The mother paced back and forth in front of the contrite and sniffling little girl. "I dont know what you think you were doing young lady, but that was not funny, she scolded, pointing back toward where the amazon had been caught. "Ephiny could have been hurt and you just ruined my best rope. I have had it with your practical jokes." She paused and took a deep breath. "I am past my limit. Now you are going to apologize to Ephiny and I swear Tarren just one more stunt like that and I will tan your little backside so you cant sit for a week. Do you understand me?" she scolded, bringing her eyes down to face her childs, so the youngster could see she was not kidding.
Tarren bit her lip and nodded. "Yes Maam."
Xena let out another breath and nodded. "You and I are going to have a long talk about this later young lady, but right now you are going to spend some time thinking about what you did," she said in a cool but controlled tone.
Tarren wiped her eyes with the back of her sleeves but still opted for silence.
Xena looked around the camp and finding what she wanted again took the child by the wrist and led her to a tree. She pointed to the center of the trunk and then placed a small log on the ground. "Sit down" she ordered. Xena had found that placing the child in front of the tree was much easier on both of them if the youngster were permitted to sit.
The child did as she was told.
The mother shook her finger at the seated youngster. "Now you sit there and you dont move from that spot. You dont speak. You dont turn around. Do you understand me young lady?" she scolded.
The youngster wiped a tear from her eye and nodded "Yes maam."
The warrior let out one last breath and walked away murmuring something about rope amazons and snares.
Ephiny walked back into camp and watched the child seated in front of a tree sniffling but very quiet. "Hey whats she doing?" The amazon was a bit confused at the childs location.
Xena pulled out her sword and examined the blade. It really didnt need to be sharpened, but she needed to sharpen it anyway. "Shes being punished," was the fast and steady response.
Ephiny let out a burst of air. "Look Xena its OK I did sort of ."
The warrior held up a halting hand to let her friend know that her understanding was appreciated but her interference was not.
The amazon got the message when she saw the coolness in her friends eyes that said this is my child and I will handle it. "Ok well I guess Ill clean those birds for Gabrielle. Im not to sure I want to go out in the woods alone anymore," she said with a simple grin.
Xena frowned at her friends lighthearted attitude. She could have been hurt and she knew it. The warrior did not want anyone to give her daughter the idea that these jokes of hers were a good idea when it involved the chance of hurting someone. Xena sighed as she started to sharpen her blade. Every once in a while the mother would glance back at the child to see she was still there and still safe.
Gabrielle returned to camp smiling with a basket full of berries sure she would be declared the winner.
She looked at the stoic faces of her two large friends and then the child now crying quietly in the corner and lowered her head. "I cant leave you people alone for an hour ." The young woman groaned. She moved toward Xena. "What happened now?" she asked motioning toward the little girl seated in front of the tree.
The warrior mother paused in her sharpening and frowned. "My daughter used my good rope which is now no longer my good rope and set a snare and caught our friend Ephiny in it," she replied, returning her attention to her blade.
The bards eyes flew open and she moved beside the amazon looking for an injury. "Wow Eph are you alright?" she asked with genuine concern.
The regent shrugged. "Yeah Im fine The kid was just proving she could catch something, so she caught me," she answered with a slight smirk.
Xena stared her amazon friend wondering why she had suddenly decided to start defending Tarren.
Gabrielle nodded in understanding and glanced over at the confined child. "Well how long has she been there?" she asked the quiet warrior.
Xena kept her eyes trained on her blade but responded immediately in a quick and quiet tone. "An hour or so I gave her a good swat too." the warrior replied wanting the bard to know that she was quite serious about this.
Gabrielle sighed and looked at her frustrated warrior friend wishing she could say something filled with wisdom. She knew that her friend was blaming herself for the childs actions since the youngster imitated her every move and it was she who had taught the child to make a snare. "Xena dont you think thats long enough?" she asked, hoping to bring the family back together again.
The warrior shook her head. "No I dont. Thats why shes still there Gabrielle," the mother replied stiffly, realizing the bard was about to make a flimsy attempt at a defense.
"Ive had it with these jokes of hers. One of these days someone is gonna get hurt. It might even be Tarren. She is going to learn right now that I mean business about this," she declared, trying not to allow her words to lose force as she glanced at the back of her childs head.
Gabrielle looked at the warrior and frowned. "Ok have it your way Xena." She picked up the berries and moved to the fire to prepare the meal.
Xena glanced at her amazon friend who was captivated by the sight of the sullen child. She looked at the bard who was trying to concentrate on her cooking but also watching the youngster.
Xena shook her head and dropped her sword on the ground. "For the love of Zeus."
She got to her feet and in a few strides stood beside the child. "Come on you have an apology to make and then you and I are going to have a long talk," she said sternly reaching a hand down for the child to take.
The youngster took her mothers hand and Xena could feel a little shiver in the little girls body. Her eyes were red from crying and she had tears still running down her cheeks. Xenas frustration melted instantly. She seated herself on the log beside the youngster and gently lifted her onto her lap. "Ok we talk first," she said softly, wrapping her arms around the little one.
Xena cleared her throat and tried to regain her stoic and parental composure. "Now then you were very naughty," she whispered, using a cloth to dry the childs face.
"Yes Momma" the little voice whispered cuddling against her mothers shoulder.
Xena shook her head and tightened her hold on the little girl, nuzzling against her head. She closed her arms around the child. "Ya know this isnt fair. You were naughty and I feel bad," she said with a slight grin wondering why it always worked out this way.
"Im sorry Momma," the child cried burying her head in the warriors chest. Xena could feel the gentle sobs.
The mother lost her resolve and caressed the little girls back "Ok so you were a little naughty and you got in trouble and youre not gonna do anything like that again. Right?" she asked hoping to end with a short lecture.
The youngster nodded. "No Momma," the little girl replied running her hands around her mothers neck and holding tightly.
Xena kissed the little girls cheek and hugged her tightly. "Its Ok monster I love you." She paused and said what she felt needed to be said. "But I meant what I said before Tarren. One more nasty practical joke like that and you and I will be having a private chat under a Forgiving Tree
Do we understand each other?" she asked rubbing the little girls back soothing away her tears.
Tarren sniffled a bit. "Yes Momma I wont do it again," she promised.
Xena dried the last of the tears and sniffles with the edge of her thumbs "Ok then little girl lets dry your eyes."
Tarren clung to her mother for a long while needing to feel the warmth and safety of her love. "Im real sorry Momma," the child murmured, wiping her eyes.
Xena glanced down into the soft innocent stare of her young child and let out a long breath. "I know you are baby, but Tarren one of these days an apology is not gonna be enough. Someone could get really hurt as a result of a bad joke. Its good to have fun and jokes are Ok too, but there is a definite line to cross and you have crossed it." The mother paused trying to consider her next words. "There is a right way and a wrong way to do everything baby and that includes how you have fun. You cant have fun at the expense of other peoples safety. Its wrong and I wont allow it. Do you understand?" she asked the small face staring up at her expecting all the answers of the world.
The child looked at her mother with glassy eyes and shook her head. "Not really Momma." The childs honesty never ceased to amaze or impress the warrior.
The mother sighed. "Well do you understand what happens if you do something like that again?" she asked hoping to keep it simple.
Tarren did not hesitate to answer. "Yes Momma that I understand."
Xena kissed the little girls head and hugged her. "Uh huh I figured you might get that part."
Tarren smiled and ran her arms around her mothers neck wanting to feel close and protected by the one she loved most.
The warrior accepted the affection happily. "Ok you can hug me later. Right now we have business to attend to," she said sternly. Xena picked the child up and moved back toward her friends. She stood the youngster in front of Ephiny who was seated near the fire.
"Go ahead," she said, motioning toward the amazon.
The youngster hesitated for a moment but with a gentle nudge from the large figure behind her spoke. "Im sorry I set the snare and caught you," she said quickly, glancing back up at her mother to see if that was sufficient.
Ephiny grinned a bit. "Its Ok If I had been paying better attention to my surroundings I wouldnt have been caught off guard like that. Actually kid you set a pretty good snare."
Tarren looked at her mother and back to the amazon. "Ya mean it was good?" she asked with a broad smile.
Ephiny smiled at the child for the first time since they had met. "Yeah well you did catch something pretty big. Didnt you?" she asked with a nod.
Tarren grinned a bit and again turned to face her mother who was not smiling.
The youngster quickly turned back to the amazon realizing this was not supposed to be her moment of glory but of repent. "But anyway Im still sorry I did it, and I wont do it again." She finished looking up at Xena for approval.
The warrior nodded. "Thats more like it. Now then you go work on your scrolls until supper," she said quietly, pointing toward the childs waiting parchments.
Tarren frowned at the thought of studies. "Yes maam." She obediently picked up the work the bard and warrior had prepared for her and set off to find a private spot to work.
"Little monster," the warrior mumbled sitting beside the amazon. She stared at the woman for along moment before she spoke. "You set a pretty good snare kid?" The warrior mimicked. "Thanks Eph if she catches you again dont expect me to cut you down," Xena said with a sly grin.
Ephiny smiled "Nope Xena from now on Im gonna stay on my toes, " she replied.
The warrior nodded. "Uh huh Thats what they all say," she replied with an evil grin.
Ephiny paused wondering how many had been victimized before but soon both women were hard at work making their blades sharp.
Gabrielle stared at the pair and shook her head. "Warriors," she mumbled and again turned her attention back to the pleasant aroma of the roasting birds.
After finishing a portion of her scrollwork the youngster dropped the heap beside the bard. "Gabby can I have a piece of parchment to draw on?" she asked quietly.
Gabrielle smiled at the youngsters choice of a more satisfying and safer form of amusement. "Well sure honey. What are you going to draw?" she asked in a near whisper in case it was a gift for Xena.
The child shrugged. "I dunno Ill have to think about it I guess." Her tone was so serious the bard had to make a real effort to not reach out and tickle her.
Gabrielle handed the youngster a large piece of parchment and gently rubbed the childs cheek with the side of her hand. "Have fun."
Tarren smiled at her gentle friend and walked over to her mother who was still busy sharpening her blade. She flopped down beside her with a loud thud. "Momma I wanna draw a picture. Can you give me something to draw with?" she asked, leaning on her mothers arm.
Xena stopped her motion and glanced at the child. "A picture huh ." The warrior had to wonder if the child was designing some form of new trap. She grinned at the thought. "Well how about a piece of bark?" she asked, placing her blade back in its sheathe.
The child nodded not sure what the bark would do but happy to try anything that might suit her purposes.
Xena removed a burning bark from the fire and using her prized boot knife carefully carved it down to the size of a small quill. "Here baby give that a try," she said softly, handing the child the tool.
Tarren rubbed the edge of her parchment with the bark and smiled at the way the dark line soaked into the paper. "Thanks Momma," she whispered, as she started to walk away.
The warrior mother held up a halting hand. "Wait a minute."
The child turned wondering if her plans had already been unearthed through some kind of mother daughter mental link that she was unaware of. "Yes Momma," the youngster replied softly.
"Arent you forgetting to hug your mother?" Xena asked with a waiting grin.
Tarren smiled most happy to oblige the warriors request. "Sorry Momma" she replied dropping the parchment to the ground and pouncing into her mothers lap, throwing her small arms around the large figure and squeezing with all her might.
Xena grinned at the childs enthusiasm and affection. She hugged the little girl, kissed her and rubbed her back as the youngster sat in her lap. "Now that is more like it little one." she whispered patting the childs bottom gently. "Now then you go draw your picture," she said giving he little girl a big hug and kiss before sending her on her way.
Tarren got to her feet picked up the parchment and settled herself in a small private corner to begin her project in secret.
By the time supper was ready the little girl was still quietly drawing.
Gabrielle moved beside the warrior. "She sure has been busy on that picture."
Xena glanced over at the child and sighed. "Yup!"
The bard poked the warrior gently in the side. "Shes been so quiet Xena. Maybe we found something for her to play with that will actually keep her out of trouble. She could turn into a great artist."
The warrior looked at her friend and chuckled. "Uh huh you just keep going with that thought Gabrielle." Xena looked at her youngster and grinned.
The child noticed she was now being watched so she carefully rolled up her parchment and tucked it away in her satchel. Tarren passed by her mother and smiled innocently. "Hi Momma. Can I have some candy?" she asked with a wide grin.
Xena shook her head. "Nope supper is ready. Were gonna go get washed up, so you go get the clothes." she replied with a wink.
Tarren frowned and walked over to the saddlebags to retrieve the requested items.
Gabrielle and Xena both stared at the rolled up parchment sticking out of the satchel.
The bard was the first to speak. "So Xena what do you think shes drawing You me Argo What?" she asked keeping her eyes on the private item.
Xena considered the question and answered with a slight grin. "Trouble I think shes drawing trouble Gabrielle."
Before the bard could respond a small hand tugged on the warriors arm. "Momma Im hungry. Can we go wash now? I wanna eat. You wouldnt want me to starve would ya?" the child asked with a mischievous grin, lifting her tunic to show how she had little meat on her bones already.
Xena smiled, got to her feet and lifted the little girl high in the air. "Nope I would not want that to ever happen," she replied with a smile. The warrior placed the giggling child over her shoulder and started down to the water leaving the bard to ponder her friends words.
Gabrielle got to her feet and shook off the thought. "Trouble from drawing a picture? Nah!"
Continue to Part 3
I hope everyone is enjoying this saga. I should let everyone know that it will be my longest story of the trio yet, so please be patient. Ill get the new additions done as fast as I can. However remember my little pet Ego is still a hungry little girl. <G>
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