Xena Warrior Mother Series –Story 6

Legend of the Last Amazon-Part III

By Fantimbard



The characters of Xena: Warrior Princess, Gabrielle, and Argo and all other characters who have appeared in the syndicated series Xena: Warrior Princess, together with the names, titles, and back-story are the sole copyright property of MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures. No copyright infringement was intended in the writing of this fan fiction. The story is written only for fun, and no profit is being made. All other characters such as Tarren, the story idea and the story itself are the sole property of the author. The story cannot be sold or used for profit in any way. The story itself as well as the character created by the author may NOT be duplicated or archived without the author’s permission. All works remain the copyright of the original author. These may not be republished without the authors consent. This story is a continuation of my first stories called

SHE HAS MY EYES, ON THE ROAD AGAIN, NALA’S GIFTS, 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.


Part 3 –

Chapter 7 – Crossing the Line

The group had traveled most of the day and was now camped on the very outskirts of the vast amazon territory. However, they were still nearly a full day from the village. Xena decided to stop early and give the tired travelers a much-needed rest knowing they would surely arrive at their destination the next day.

Ephiny had gone ahead to search out the familiar markings of her homeland leaving the bard and the warrior to set up camp. It was obvious to both her friends that the Amazon was anxious to return home.

Gabrielle could not help but stare at the parchment nestled in the youngster’s private satchel. It had been there for a full day and Tarren had not even offered so much as a glance to anyone since she had announced her desire to draw a picture.

The young woman lay on her blanket beside the child, gazing at the small figure now napping snugly in a bedroll. She let her voice drop to a whisper as she spoke to the passing warrior. "Xena can’ t we just…."

The warrior made no attempt to hide her aggravation since she had answered this question before. She threw up a halting hand to stop her friend from finishing the question. "No we can’t Gabrielle!" Her response was filled with a bit of frustration and mild amusement at her friend’s insatiable curiosity

Gabrielle frowned at her companion’s reaction and let her head drop to one hand as she tried to think of a way to justify looking at the youngster’s drawing while the child was asleep. "But Xena maybe we could just…."

The warrior let out a deep breath as she unloaded the last of their belongings into the center of the camp. "Gabrielle if she doesn’t want to show us she doesn’t have to," the mother replied giving her sleeping child a quick glance before moving to the far side of the camp to attend to her horse rather than be harassed by the bard. She suddenly turned on her heals. "And don’t you dare wake her up. It took mean an hour to get that kid to go to sleep," the warrior warned before continuing on her journey.

Gabrielle again glanced down at the child napping peacefully. As usual the youngster cuddled her mother’s saddlebags as if they were some sort of rag doll or Xena doll. It was obvious the little girl saw them as a satisfactory replacement until her real source of comfort returned to hold her.

"You are so cute," the bard whispered letting her fingers drum gently on the side of the child’s blanket. She pulled the covers up closer to Tarren’s face as she continued to look at the object of her own curiosity.

Gabrielle allowed her eyes to scan the camp. Ephiny was still out scouting. Xena was busy rubbing down Argo, so with a shrug the young woman made her decision. "Oh one little peak won’t hurt anyone," she whispered to herself with a smile.

Using only the tips of her two slender fingers, Gabrielle carefully caught the edge of the rolled parchment and started to slide it out of the satchel. Much to her dismay as soon as she gave it a gentle yank, a loud clanking noise echoed through the air and the child’s eyes sprung open.

The youngster rubbed the sleep from her sight only to find Gabrielle holding the rolled parchment with its private drawing in her left hand just a few inches above the little girl’s satchel.

Tarren glared at the would-be thief. "Gabrielle?" she asked as if trying to make sense of the situation. Once the child realized what her friend was up to her voice filled with shame and shock at the sight of the familiar figure’s actions. "Gabrielle!"

The young woman smiled weakly as if about to offer an explanation that would answer all questions. However the child was not interested in the creative excuses of the bard.

Tarren sat up in her blankets, folded her arms across her chest, arched an eyebrow and called for the only source of justice she had ever known. "Momma!"

Xena heard the bellow and turned to see her now wide-awake child sitting stoically next to the pleading bard. "By the gods! Gabrielle did you wake her up?" the mother mumbled, taking a few strides to reach her child. She knelt beside her daughter and tasseled the youngster’s hair affectionately. "Hey what are you doing up monster? Did ya have a nightmare or something?" she asked, staring across the bedroll at her friend knowing she had played some part in the youngster’s early trip back from Morpheous.

Tarren shook her head and pointed an accusing finger at the bard. "No Momma. Gabby tried to take my picture." The words were harsh and full of conviction.

Xena’s jaw dropped a bit and she shook her head. She closed her eyes and rubbed her temples before looking at her friend. "She did huh. Is that true Gabrielle?" She saw the young woman was still holding tightly to the evidence and knew the child’s words were true. However she felt obligated to ask the question anyway.

Gabrielle just shrugged her response. "Uh…yeah…I guess…sort of."

The warrior ran her hand over the side of her own face and closed her eyes once again. "Gabrielle I thought we agreed that Tarren’s picture was Tarren’s picture," she hissed. The mother could not decide what frustrated her more, the bard’s invasion of the child’s privacy or waking the youngster up leaving Xena with the difficult task of getting her back to sleep.

Gabrielle mouthed a few words as if trying to come up with a reasonable explanation but no sound came out. She turned away from the dark gaze of her agitated friend deciding the warrior’s dissatisfaction could wait until later. The young woman let her soft green eyes meet the child’s Xena like blue stare.

"Gods just like her mother," the bard mumbled. She took a deep breath and smiled. "Honey, I just wanted a peak…You know to see what you were drawing…I wasn’t gonna hurt it," she said in a gentle and apologetic tone.

Tarren reached out her small hand and with a tug removed the rolled parchment from her friend’s hold. She ignored the thief’s words and turned to her mother. The youngster displayed two small pieces of metal tied at the bottom of her parchment. The pieces were so closely positioned that when moved too quickly the metal clanked together acting as an alarm.

"See Momma I set a trap…just in case someone tried to get into my treasure bag…Never thought it would be…Gabby." The little girl’s voice dropped to a tone that echoed the obvious betrayal she felt as she said the bard’s name.

The mother wrapped a gentle arm around her young daughter and eyed the child’s homemade alarm as she would any weapon in battle. "That was very clever Tarren, " the mother replied proudly, hoping to take the youngster’s mind off of Gabrielle’s attempted invasion.

Tarren smiled at the compliment. "Really Momma?"

The warrior looked over the way the trap had been set and nodded approvingly. "Yup. Really…I’m very impressed."

Tarren’s smile broadened as she basked in the glow of her mother’s praises. However after a moment she turned to Gabrielle and shook her finger. "Bad Gabby," the child admonished.

Xena bit her lip so as not to laugh at the youngster’s accurate assessment. She and her best friend were definitely going to have a long talk about practicing what one preached.

The young woman lowered her eyes a bit realizing that she had indeed been wrong. "I’m sorry Tarren. I shouldn’t have touched your things. I won’t do it again," she promised.

The little girl said nothing but merely looked away from the bard leaving the young woman feeling both guilty and ashamed.

Xena noted her friend’s broken expression and tapped her child on the shoulder. "Hey Gabrielle is apologizing. It’s not like you never did anything wrong and if I recall you have had to make more than a few apologies to her. How about acting like a big girl for Momma?" she whispered, hoping that offering the youngster a chance at a momentary status of greater size would soften her resolve.

Tarren poked her lip out and carefully shoved her parchment, satchel and even her mother’s rather large saddlebags under her blankets where they would be safe from prying eyes. "I’m not a big girl and I don’t wanna be a big girl. She tried to take my picture and I’m mad at her," she replied stubbornly.

Xena arched an eyebrow and glanced down at the pouting youngster. "Tarren I’m gonna remember this the next time you say you’re sorry for misbehaving," the mother replied sternly.

The little girl’s eyes went wide and she suddenly realized that she needed those words a lot and she needed Gabrielle a lot too. She bit her lip and gave a slight grin to the bard. "Ok Gabby I forgive you," the youngster groaned, offering her arms up in a quick hug to her sullen friend.

Tarren turned to her mother with an expression of childish dissatisfaction. "But I’m still not a big girl!" she complained.

Xena kissed the youngster’s head and smiled. "I know you’re not. That’s Ok little one," the mother replied with a true understanding that her child was indeed anything but big.

The little girl smiled happy to have her status and title reaffirmed.

Gabrielle sighed with relief. "Thank you honey," she replied kissing the child’s cheek. The bard started to get to her feet eager to forget her transgression. "Well I have scroll work to do."

Tarren caught her friend’s arm before the young woman could rise. "I forgive you Gabby but…." Obviously the youngster was not through with this conversation.

The child looked up at her mother who was still shaking her head at her friend’s actions. "Momma if I did something like that I’d get in trouble. How come you say I have to re…re…spect…other peoples stuff and nobody has to re…spect mine?" she asked, still holding her friend’s hand tightly.

Xena smiled broadly and looked at the bard knowing this was a very good question deserving a very good answer. "Tarren, I think I’ll let Gabrielle explain that." The mother sat down beside her child and waited to see if her chatty friend could talk her way out of this one. "Well explain Gabrielle," the warrior ordered, pointing to her waiting child

Gabrielle bit her lip and glanced over at the grinning warrior knowing she would get no further help there. She looked at the now asking eyes of the child she was helping to raise. The youngster was now waiting for an explanation of a double standard. "Well Tarren…I…We…I’m and adult and sometimes even grownups make mistakes, but it’s different than when kids do…sort of." The bard wiped the moisture from her forehead.

Tarren studied her squirming friend and again looked at her mother. "Momma when I’m a grown up can I be naughty too?" she asked wondering at what age one was allowed to break rules without fear of retribution.

Xena peered at her friend. "Thank you very much my sticky fingered bard," she groaned, knowing this was going to be a topic that forced her to use the ‘because I say so’ clause at some point.

The mother’s response to her child was fast and without question. "No you will not be allowed to break the rules. What Gabrielle did was wrong." Xena glared at her friend for a moment but then focused her eyes back on her child. "And just because she did something wrong doesn’t mean you should or ever will right?" The mother arched her brows to let the child know that imitation of any bad behavior was not something she would allow.

The youngster rolled her lower lip out for a show of her displeasure. "That’s not fair," she muttered.

Xena let out a quick breath and allowed her voice to drop low. This conversation was going to end now. "Well fair or not that’s the way it is," she replied stiffly.


The mother felt the throbs in her temples returning. "Because I said so. Is that enough of an answer for you young lady or do you need something more?" the mother asked in a no nonsense that’s all you need to hear tone.

The little girl opened her eyes wide and looked at the now serious expression on her mother face. "Yes Momma…I mean No Momma…That’s enough…more than enough…I don’t need anything more," she replied with a sigh, wondering why she was the one in danger of punishment when it was Gabrielle who had committed the crime

Xena nodded her head and let out a long tiring breath. "Uh huh I thought you’d see it my way," she said, angry with Gabrielle for starting this whole thing. Tarren got in enough trouble on her own forcing Xena to discipline her. She was now being forced to chastise her child just to pull her friend out of a situation the bard had created by being too nosy.

The child thought about her mother’s strong words and twisted her lips as if considering different ideas. "Then is Gabby gonna get punished like I would?" the child asked looking directly at her mother’s blue gaze.

Xena smiled and cocked her head to one side to look at her now frowning friend. "Ya know Tarren…I just don’t know. Gabrielle are you gonna get punished for being…a naughty little girl?" The warrior’s voice was filled with a mixture of amusement and question as to how good an example the bard was willing to set for the easily influenced child.

Gabrielle looked down at the wide-eyed child who was waiting to hear just how the justice system worked in this family. She groaned and glanced at her large smiling friend and shook her head. "Xena…I swear if you think…." The sentence was never finished.

A bit later…

Gabrielle sat on a small stump with her arms folded neatly in her lap as she sat facing the large willow.

Ephiny entered the camp and immediately noticed her friend in the familiar position that Xena had deemed a misbehaving child’s place.

"What are you doing?" the amazon asked leaning up against the tree smiling.

Gabrielle never took her eyes off the tree. "Oh me? I’m being punished for being naughty." The young woman’s response was quiet and filled with a certain indignation at the question.

The Regent closed her eyes and shook her head as if trying to pretend she had not heard those words spoken. "You are what?"

Gabrielle turned her head a bit to face her friend. "I’m setting a good example for Tarren," was the quiet and quick reply. "It was Xena’s idea." The last words were mumbled so low that the amazon could hardly understand them.

Seeing the two women involved in conversation, Xena walked over shaking her head. "No…I’m sorry Eph but your queen cannot play right now. She’s being punished for being a naughty girl. Aren’t ya Gabrielle?" she asked with a crooked smile. The warrior felt her friend’s embarrassing situation was fair payment for the aggravation she had caused as well as the scolding her actions had forced her to give Tarren.

The Amazon chuckled a bit at the image before her. "What did she do?" she asked, allowing her gaze to meet with the warrior’s, ignoring the smaller figure facing the tree.

Xena motioned behind her to the child sleeping soundly with a satchel and rolled parchment tucked under her arm. "Well she tried to peak at Tarren’s picture while she was sleeping and…Err I forget what happened Gabrielle?" she asked in her most innocent voice. The pleasure that Xena was deriving from her friend’s dilemma was becoming more and more obvious to all.

The bard frowned and her lips tightened as she recounted the unpleasant event. "And the little brat had a trap set so it woke her up when I touched it…OK?" She glared at the warrior who nodded her approval of the story.

Ephiny looked at Gabrielle in disbelief and then at the still grinning warrior. "Oh I see, so you tried to steal…."

Gabrielle turned suddenly on her amazon friend ready to defend her actions. She started to rise from her seat only to be lowered back down by a large muscular hand.

"Not so fast. I am sorry young lady but your time is not up yet, " Xena commanded with as harsh a stare as she could muster without letting go of a chuckle.

Gabrielle scowled at her large friend’s obvious sense of humor, but turned her attention to Ephiny as she spoke. "It was not stealing. It was peaking…just peaking," she defended, folding her arms firmly against her chest.

Ephiny winked at Xena and nodded knowing part of the bard’s sentence was this playful torment. "Oh…Ok and now I guess you’re paying the price for your err… peaking." The amazon covered her mouth to keep from chuckling.

Gabrielle said nothing but merely nodded.

Xena checked the fittings on her cuffs as she spoke. "Well it was either this or she had to explain to Tarren why a kid would be punished for stealing…I mean peaking…and Gabrielle wouldn’t," she answered with a slight arch of her brow.

The bard let out a breath and grinned at the amazon. "This was easier…believe me," the young woman said, realizing the situation was somewhat humorous and she had indeed gotten herself into it.

Xena motioned the regent back toward the center of camp. "Uh Eph come on…We really aren’t supposed to talk to her…Ya know she’s supposed to be thinking about what she did wrong," she stated with smirk. The warrior was truly enjoying this moment.

Ephiny nodded and offered the seated figure a low bow. "My Queen…We will talk of our upcoming arrival at the village when you have…finished being naughty," she said trying to maintain a serious tone.

The warrior turned away knowing if she took one look at the angry expression on Gabrielle’s face, she would burst into a fit of laughter.

The young woman glared at her regent and then her overly playful friend’s back. "Very funny. You are both very funny," she growled, wishing she had her staff nearby.

The two women started to walk away but were halted by the pleading tone of their younger friend. "Hey wait." The bard was determined to appeal to her large friend’s sense of dignity. "Xena Tarren is asleep. How long to I have to stay here?" she asked, not even trying to hide the fact that she was both tired of being teased and of watching the tree.

Xena shook her finger at the bard and sighed. She pointed to a small glass filled with sand to indicate when the time would be up. "Now Gabrielle I told Tarren you’d be there for an hour. It’s only been half that. You wouldn’t want me to lie to my daughter."

Ephiny could hear no more. Her laughter filled the air. "Yeah you might wind up sitting next to Gabrielle," she thundered, nearly losing her balance trying to control herself.

The two warriors laughed loudly and the bard just seethed at the sound of their pleasure. Her concentration fell immediately to Xena who she had expected a bit more support from. "Oh laugh it up warrior. You just laugh it up. I’ll have my turn," she growled, letting her mind think of all the possibilities for such an event.

Xena acted as if a shiver ran through her body to show her friend the lack of fear she had for such a threat. "Uh huh."

The two smirking warrior’s were about to leave their friend to her solitude when they heard some rather unsavory grumbling directed at them.

"Pair of walking tree stumps…warriors. What a joke," the bard mumbled.

The two women stopped and turned around to face their seated friend.

Xena’s smile was gone as she looked down at the offensive bard. "Eph did you hear that disrespect? She even attacked out warrior status." she said with an evil grin.

Ephiny’s expression was equally sour. "Yes I did and frankly Xena I am hurt." The amazon was quickly learning the game of ‘taunt your best friend.’

Xena leaned up against the tree and sighed. "As if she is not in enough trouble as it is. I don’t know where we went wrong Eph," she responded with a dramatic wave.

The amazon threw her hands in the air. "Kids today. What are we gonna do with them?"

Gabrielle listened to the pair’s tirade of fun and said nothing. Attacking their warrior pride had brought this on so she knew she was going to have to suffer through it.

Xena glanced over at her fellow warrior. "Well I think she needs more tree time…What do you think?" she asked with a broad smile.

Ephiny nodded in agreement. "Definitely!"

Gabrielle jumped up from her seat. "Now wait a minute Xena," she growled.

The warrior just turned the hourglass over to start anew. "Anything else to say to us walking tree stumps Gabrielle?" she asked letting her voice drop to a low husky growl.

Gabrielle soon felt two sets of strong hands placing her back in her stump of honor.

The bard shook her head and bit her lip realizing she was not only outnumbered but out of luck.

Ephiny glanced down at the now silent Gabrielle and shivered at the sight of her friend’s expression. "Ooh Xena I would have someone taste your food for a while." She said in a near whisper, motioning back to the seething young woman facing the tree.

The two warriors started to depart when Xena stopped and glanced back at her best friend left facing a tree. "Ya think maybe I should just let her go?" she asked with a touch of regret.

The warrior considered the idea but then remembered the young woman’s earlier comments. She glanced at Ephiny and the two women chuckled, bellowing in unison, "Nah!"

Gabrielle eyed the sand in the hourglass and lowered her head into her hands. "Warriors!" she growled.


Later that afternoon…

After Gabrielle had been freed from her tree time, she paced around the camp occasionally smashing pans and kicking sticks in the dirt all the while glaring at both Xena and Ephiny in turn, daring either to speak a single word.

Tarren sat beside her mother watching the young woman’s rampage with a somewhat quizzical expression. "Momma?"

The warrior smiled at the youngster as she searched her saddlebags for her hook and line. "Yup!"

The little girl was anxious to go fishing but just as interested to know what the bard’s problem was. "What’s wrong with Gabby?"

Xena looked at her innocent child and then turned to watch as her best friend mumbled something unsavory under her breath as she emptied her bag in search of the gods know what. "Well she’s a bit unhappy. That’s all," the mother replied, winking at the amazon seated safely on the other side of the camp.

Tarren glanced at the bard once again. "Momma why is Gabby unhappy?" the child asked with genuine concern.

Before Xena could respond Gabrielle, who had heard the child’s question, answered for her. "I am unhappy because my best friend made me spend an hour…no more like two hours sitting in front of a tree," she whispered, trying to keep a cool and calm tone for the youngster’s benefit.

Xena closed her eyes tightly knowing her still seething friend was now behind her.

Tarren shook her head and stared up at the angry young woman. "But Gabby you sat in front of the tree cause you were naughty. You’re not supposed to be mad. You’re supposed to be sorry you were bad." The child lowered her eyes wondering if this was somehow her fault. "That’s what you always tell me when I get punished. Right?" she asked in such an innocent tone that it melted the bard’s anger like a sweeping wind.

Gabrielle shrunk to the ground in front of the child. "I say that. Don’t I?" she asked with a gentle smile.

Tarren nodded. "Uh huh…every single time."

Gabrielle shook her head and grinned at the little girl. "Well I meant it and you’re right. I shouldn’t be mad at anyone. I should just feel sorry for what I did to you and I am very sorry," she replied in gentle tone, reaching out to hug the youngster.

Tarren smiled and embraced her friend. "It’s Ok Gabby…I know how tough it can be to fight off those naughties. I’m not mad at ya for trying to peak at my stuff. I still love ya." The child was happy to let her friend hold her for a minute. "But don’t do it again," she warned with a wavering finger.

Gabrielle let her hand run tenderly down the child’s face. "Oh don’t worry. I learned my lesson," she replied with a serious stare.

The child smiled and returned to her mother’s side. Xena had to suppress a grin as the little one clung tightly to her side. Somehow the youngster’s words to Gabrielle sounded awfully familiar, but Xena was usually the one saying them to Tarren.

The warrior placed a gentle hand on her child’s head and got to her feet, grinning at the waiting bard. "So…err…we’re going fishing. See ya later…Ok?" The warrior was still testing the battlegrounds for traps.

The young woman moved up beside her friend and whispered. "You are so lucky you have that kid to protect you warrior."

Xena looked at her young daughter and back at her now smiling friend and lowered her eyes a bit. "I know…I’m lucky I have both of you," she replied with a sincerity the bard had never heard.

Tarren looked up at her mother and smiled approvingly at the words knowing how much it meant to her to hear such accolades after she had been deemed naughty.

Gabrielle tilted her head and grinned at the warrior. It was rare that such words were spoken so freely. "Thanks Xena," was all the baffled young woman could think to say.

Xena took her daughter by the hand and smiled at her friend before leaving the camp.

The bard watched as the pair headed out of sight. "Warriors! Just when you think you have them all figured out…." She shrugged and glanced over at her regent.

Ephiny sighed and bowed her head wishing she had her son there to protect her as well.


Down by the water….

Tarren sat beside her mother anxiously waiting for the next fish to bite. The warrior would give a tug on her line and pull out a large perch. Tarren would wait for a moment, give a tug on her line and pull out a large bass. The mother smiled at her child’s look of satisfaction at catching something of equal size.

"Very good. I guess the fish have finally figured out that’s a new pole." she teased, staring at the youngster’s string of fish.

Tarren cocked her head and grinned at her mother. "Well maybe…or maybe it’s just the bait I use Momma," she replied with a mischievous smile.

The warrior raised an eyebrow and gave the child a gentle nudge. "You’re using the same bait I am monster. Right?" Actually Tarren had opted to bait her own hook for a change.

The youngster shifted from side to side and wiggled her pole a bit. "Well… not exactly Momma."

"Oh really just what are you using little girl?" Xena placed her own pole to the side, leaned over her daughter and slowly pulled the child’s line from the water. Much to her surprise she found a small hunk of candy on the end of the hook.

"Tarren!" the mother scolded.

The youngster looked at her mother with complete innocence. "Yes Momma."

Xena dropped the line back in the water and stared at her young daughter. "You do not use confections for bait. You use worms," she admonished.

The child got a tug on her line and pulled out a large perch and displayed it proudly to the confused warrior. "Why Momma? Do fish have teeth that rot too?" she asked with a wide grin.

The mother lowered her head in surrender. "Tarren I said no candy today."

The little girl shook her head. "Nope Momma. You said I couldn’t have any candy today. You didn’t say anything about the fish," the little one defended.

The warrior groaned and yanked a large bass out of the water. "Yup that’s what I said," she replied in a near whisper. It was hard to defend yourself against your own words when they were repeated so precisely.

The child stared at the odd expression on her now quiet mother’s face. "Momma?"

Xena drummed her fingers on the edge of her poll as she concentrated on her line. "Yes Tarren." The mother’s response was quiet and just a bit subdued.

The child placed a gentle hand on her mother’s shoulder and let out a quick breath. "Am I baffling your mind again?" she asked with a bit of concern.

Xena chuckled and wrapped an arm around her young daughter’ slender waist pulling her into a hug. "Yes little one. You most certainly are."

"Sorry Momma," was the child’s sullen response.

Xena grinned and tasseled the little girl’s hair. "Don’t be. I like having my mind baffled a bit by you…once in a while," she replied, positioning the child on her lap so they could fish together.

Tarren grinned, happy that her actions were satisfying her mother. She placed her pole to one side and stared at a large hill just above the lake. It appeared that there was a meadow and trees on the top of the hill and that the water they fished from came from a stream somewhere in the cliffs above.

The child motioned to the point of a small cliff at the top. "Momma do you think we could dive off of that?" she asked with a happy sigh.

Xena craned her head up to observe the location. She shook her head.

"Nope…It’s too high and the water is too shallow," she replied without hesitation.

The youngster lay her head on her mother’s arm hoping to change the warrior’s mind. "But Momma wouldn’t you like to try? It looks like there’s an entire forest up there." The child was eager for adventure and this was a new place to seek it.

Xena could see the urge to explore in her daughter’s face and gently took hold of the little girl’s chin as she spoke. "Now I am only going to say this once. You may not climb the hill and you may not dive off the cliff. The cliff is too high and the water is too shallow. You could get hurt trying, so just forget about it." Xena paused and thought of her daughter’s past actions. "And Tarren whatever you’re thinking let me remind you of the outcome of your climb up Mt. Polis." She paused again and arched her eyebrows to remind her daughter of the unpleasant event. "If I have to find a Forgiving Tree around here I will," the mother said sternly.

The child sighed and returned to her fishing knowing exactly what those words meant. "Yes Momma," she grumbled.

Since the incident at the Forgiving Tree in Amphipolis, the warrior had made a point of saying that any tree she chose could be momentarily be designated as such a place. These words were to let the child know that no matter where they went there would always be a place mother ad daughter could share private conversations as well a place of retribution if needed.

Xena looked at the now quiet figure beside her and grinned. "Look if you behave yourself today, I’ll take you up the hill later and we’ll explore it together." The warrior had been somewhat interested to see what was up there herself.

Tarren smiled broadly. "You will?"

The mother wrapped her arms around the child and grinned. "Yeah...if you behave yourself and that includes being nice to Ephiny," she stated.

The child scrunched her lips together and shook her head. "Rather eat a rattlesnakes tale," she mumbled.

Xena let out a deep breath and shrugged her shoulders. "Suit yourself youngster…guess I’ll just have to see what’s up there all by myself. Hmm guess I’ll just explore all alone," she said quietly, arching her back and relaxing in the grass letting her line lay still in the water.

The child bit her lip and jumped on her mother’s stomach with a pounce. "No Momma I’ll be good…Please take me with you. I wanna explore too," she wailed.

Xena lifted the little girl to her side so as not to feel the full brunt of her weight in the center of her abdomen. "Well show me don’t tell me little girl," she answered, gently tapping the child’s forehead with her finger.

The youngster smiled and returned to her pole thinking of ways to show her mother she was indeed making at attempt to be good. "I will Momma." She was finding the task difficult since she wasn’t exactly what would be deemed good as opposed to bad when it came to the amazon.

Xena chewed on a blade of grass and grinned at the youngster who was now deep in thought. She sat up when she heard Ephiny and Gabrielle approaching from behind.

Ephiny nodded at her warrior friend’s acute hearing. "Heard us coming from how far Xena?" she asked.

The warrior waved a hand in the air and winked at her daughter. "I dunno. I heard Gabrielle tell you should have more respect for your queen," she replied with a chuckle.

The amazon’s mouth dropped open. "That was back at camp," she exclaimed, wondering how even the great warrior could hear that well.

Xena pulled her daughter closer and smiled. "Oh sorry Eph I didn’t mean to eavesdrop."

Tarren giggled and the warrior tightened her hold on the child. "Shh be nice," she reminded the youngster.

The bard ignored the chatter and knelt beside the child and smiled. "Hey you caching anything honey or is the warrior hogging all the fish again?" she asked with a grin, giving Xena gentle nudge with her shoulder.

Tarren proudly displayed her string of fish. "Nope I’ve caught as many as Momma."

Gabrielle’s mouth dropped a bit as she tried to count the fish on each string. "Ya know Tarren you may have a caught a few more," the young woman replied with a smirk still remembering the warrior’s taunts while she sat in front of the tree.

Xena moved her elbow to the side of her friend’s legs knocking the bard onto the grass with a gentle thud. "Yeah wells she’s cheating," the mother defended, giving her daughter a quick tickle. "Look what she’s using for bait?" the warrior announced with a crooked smile.

The bard gave the warrior a vengeful glare for the shove and pulled the child’s line out of the water. She saw the hunk of candy hanging on the hook and chuckled. "Candy? Gee I guess she’s catching all the youngster’s and…That means you’re catching all the old folks hey warrior?" she asked, poking her friend gently in the arm.

Xena thought about giving her friend another trip to the dirt but just shrugged. It was just too easy. The mother rubbed the little girl’s head affectionately as she stared at the bard. "Well Gabrielle why don’t you throw your line in and we’ll see how many talking fish we can catch?"

The child grinned at the idea and leaned into her mother’s side laughing at the image.

Gabrielle stood above the pair with her hands on her hips in mock frustration. She tapped the child on the head. "Hey whose side are you on brat?" she asked with a slight grin.

Tarren glanced at her mother and then the bard and shrugged. "My side…I think it’s safest that way," the little girl replied in a very serious tone.

Gabrielle and Xena both chuckled and started tickling the child once again.

The bard kissed the youngster’s head and got back on her feet. The young woman sighed and tapped her friend on the shoulder. "Xena are we going to search for those herbs you want or not? We’ll be getting to the Amazon Village tomorrow and you said you wanted your pouch full so…." She waved her hand in the air leaving the decision in her friend’s lap.

The warrior frowned and yanked her line from the water. "Yeah let’s do it now while there is still light. Come on Tarren," the mother called giving the little girl one final tickle. She got to her feet and reached down a hand for the youngster to take hold of.

The child shook her head and held tightly to her poll. "But Momma I’m not done fishing," she whined, eager to see how many more she could catch in her mother’s absence.

Xena let out a deep breath and with one swift move brought the struggling little girl to her feet. "Sorry little one but you know that you don’t stay alone," the warrior replied, getting a firm grip on the child’s hand.

Ephiny who had been standing quietly in the background leaning up against a tree stepped forward. "I’ll stay with her Xena. I mean… I’m not much use on a herb hunt anyway…I always pull out the poison ivy," the amazon said with a halfhearted laugh.

Xena looked at the puzzled expression on Gabrielle’s face and then back at Tarren. The warrior was not sure, if in light of recent events, this was such a good idea. "I don’t know Eph…Tarren can be…." The mother glanced down at the eyes of her young daughter. The child was obviously waiting to hear the rest of the sentence. "She can require a lot of attention." Xena felt that was the closest she could come to saying ‘trouble’ without insulting her own child.

Tarren glanced up at her mother and grinned. "It’s Ok Momma I don’t mind…I’ll be good…I promise." The child offered her most innocent stare.

Xena looked at the bard and shrugged hoping for a second opinion.

Gabrielle eyed the little girl carefully. "How good will you be Tarren?" the young woman asked, trying to read the youngster’s expression.

The child smiled and patted her friend’s arm. "As good as if we were having sloppy cheese sandwiches for supper." That was about as close to an oath as the child made.

The bard shook her head. "But Tarren we’re having fish for supper," she replied pointing to the large fish hanging on two strings.

The little girl scratched her head and then glanced up at Gabrielle. "Well I’ll pretend we’re having sloppy cheese and I’ll be good anyway." She looked at her mother and smiled knowing the final decision on all things was hers. "Maybe I can have some…candy later," she added with a wide-eyed stare.

Xena tilted her head and shook her finger at the child. "Uh huh. You just behave because you know it’s the right thing to do young lady and we will see about candy later," the mother replied, patting the youngster’s head gently.

The youngster bit her lip and nodded. "Yes Momma."

Xena glanced at Ephiny and back at the now quiet youngster and let out a short breath. "Ok you can stay with Ephiny while we’re gone." She paused at let her voice drop to a more parental tone. "But Tarren you behave yourself. I don’t want to come back here and be told you were naughty. Do we understand each other?" she asked with the familiar raised brow of warning.

Tarren nodded and gave her mother a big smile. "Of course Momma." The little girl did her best to hide her mischievous grin.

The mother lifted the little girl in the air and kissed her squarely on the forehead. "You better not be fibbing to me little girl," she warned, placing the child on the ground and tasseling her hair. The warrior sighed and turned her attention to the amazon. "Ok Eph if you need us…yell…loud," she directed the amazon.

The regent gave a halfhearted wave as the pair departed with great trepidation.

Ephiny sat beside the little girl wanting to try and make amends for some of the trouble she felt her presence had caused. "Wow I though those two would never leave. They sure make a big deal over nothing. I mean we can sit here together and fish right?" she asked with a hopeful grin.

Tarren nodded trying her best to be what her mother would deem good. "Uh huh." The child looked up at the distant hill and the small cliff she had so wished to jump off.

Ephiny ran her hand over Xena’s pole and stared at the still water trying to think of something to say. She hoped to let the little girl know that she liked her before they reached the crowded village and her obligations directed her elsewhere. "So what are you catching?" she asked with a shrug.

The child considered all the trouble this amazon stranger’s visit had caused since her arrival but responded accurately and politely. "Fish."

Ephiny shook her head and closed her eyes trying to maintain her patience. "What kind of fish?" she asked with a forced smile.

The youngster could not help but notice how the amazon was trying to be nice, so she decided that a fair question deserved a fair answer. "Perch or Bass…It depends when ya yank the line. That’s what Momma says. Wanna try?" she asked, sure this action would earn her not only a trip up the hill to explore but the candy as well.

Ephiny smiled and swiftly tossed out Xena’s line. "Sure I would." She paused, thinking of ways she might impress the child. "As a matter of fact…I’ll bet I can catch more fish than even Xena," the amazon stated proudly.

Tarren’s smile faded. Nobody caught more fish than her mother did. It was unheard of and unappreciated.

The youngster tightened her little grip on her pole trying to remember the reason she was supposed to be good. "Nope Momma is the best at fishing. The youngster remembered her own hefty line. "But today I caught just as many…maybe even a few more," the child replied proudly.

Ephiny chuckled a bit. "Well that’s great Tarren. Everyone should have a lucky day," she replied, yanking a large perch out of the water. "Ok that’s one."

Tarren let her pole slide a bit. "A lucky day?" she asked, wondering what that expression should mean to her.

Ephiny shrugged as she competitively watched the water. "Yeah you know…When you do better on one day than you usually do the rest of the time. Like the way you’re catching so many fish today."

Tarren bit her lip and frowned. She had suddenly forgotten everything her mother had said about being good and why it was important to be nice to the rude stranger beside her.

Ephiny yanked two more fish from the stream. "Ya see kid. It’s all in how ya hold the line. You have to fool the fish into thinking they’re smarter than you are and then they take the bait and …yank" Another fish is pulled out of the water.

The little girl had heard enough. It was now time to show this amazon who was best at what and just how bait was really meant to be used. The idea was formulating and the trouble was brewing.

The little girl looked at Ephiny’s growing string of fish and forced a smile. "That’s great…Ya know I have to run back to the camp and get more bait. Ok?"

The amazon saw no harm in the request. "Sure. Do you want me to go with you?" she asked, ready to rise.

Tarren placed her small hands on the woman’s shoulders and pushed her gently back down. "No you stay here and fool your fish. I’ll be right back." She looked at the odd expression on the woman’s face and frowned. "Would you watch my pole while I’m gone?" she asked, somehow knowing the arrogant stranger would not refuse.

Ephiny smiled broadly honored by the request. "Sure Tarren, maybe I’ll even pull a few out for you while your gone." Tarren let out a short breath and grinned as she watched the amazon taking the bait. "That would be…great…You do that Ephiny."

The youngster walked off mumbling quietly under her breath. "Thinks she’s a better fisher than my Momma…Nobody fishes better than Momma…Lucky day? Gotta fool the fish…Take the bait. We’ll see who’s the fool."

Tarren ran back to camp to get the supplies she felt she needed to execute her plan. She then ran back toward the water. Hiding behind a small bush, the child could see the relaxing regent smiling as she tugged fish off of both lines.

The youngster grinned and slipped to the base of the forbidden hill. Putting aside her mother’s words of warning she started her climb. "I’ll be up an down before Momma knows I’m gone," she thought with a smile.

After a bit of an effort the child made her way to the top allowing herself a satisfied smile for the completion of the difficult task. "Well that wasn’t anything like Mt. Polis…Hmm why did that memory come to mind? Something Momma said…Ahh never mind." The child’s thoughts were too wrapped up in her latest experiment, as she called them, to be bogged down in old fleeting memories.

Tarren giggled as she looked over the side of the cliff. She could see the amazon starting to look around nervously, obviously wondering where the child had gone. The youngster smiled knowing this was going to be the best practical joke of all times. It would certainly be worthy of applause. "Just like pulling a fish out of the water," she snickered.

The child dropped the bag that contained the tunic and britches she had retrieved from camp. She started stuffing them full of leaves until the clothing was so fully packed it resembled a small headless child. She laced a large rock in the center for weight.

The mad little scientist chuckled as she approached the edge of the cliff with her project dragging right behind. It was time. "Perfect," she whispered, scanning her creation.

Tarren stood on top of a large boulder at the edge of the cliff and waved her hands wildly in the air. "Hey Ephiny. Watch me I’m gonna dive off the cliff," the child yelled.

Hearing a distant cry, the regent turned to see a small child high on top of the hill perched on a boulder near the edge of the cliff. "Tarren no!" she yelled.

Before the amazon could say anything more the youngster slid off the boulder out of sight.

Ephiny turned white with fear. "Tarren don’t. The water is not deep enough," she screamed, racing to the base of the cliff as fast as her legs could carry her. The regent, frantic with worry, paid no attention to her surroundings and stumbled on a rock bringing her to the ground with a hard thud. She could feel the pain in her ankle and new it was badly sprained

The child moved from behind the boulder just in time to see the amazon reach the base of the cliff. She smiled and yelled once again. "Watch me Ephiny." Without another word the little girl threw her stuffed twin over the side and watched as it hit the water with a splash sinking below the surface.

Ignoring the searing heat of her injury, the woman raced to the water’s edge still screaming. "Tarren don’t. You’ll get hurt!" She made a perfect dive to the center of the water swimming toward the very spot the stuffed child had landed.

"Tarren!" she screamed frantically as she dove below trying to find the small figure that had fallen from above.

In a matter of moments the amazon’s desperate cries of desperation brought both Gabrielle and Xena rushing to the water. Seeing Ephiny searching so furiously both women immediately jumped in, fearing the worst had happened.

Xena scanned the surface of the water. "Tarren!"

Hearing her mother’s yell, the child peaked over the side of the cliff. "Uh Oh!"

Tarren watched from above as Xena and Gabrielle joined in the search. Suddenly she was not quite sure if anyone was going to find this as amusing as she did.

The warrior mother made one long desperate dive and pulled up the leaf filled tunic with its rocky anchor. She examined it and looked to Ephiny for explanation.

The youngster could see the fear in her mother’s eyes turn to anger and she backed away from the cliff not quite sure what her next move should be. "Zeus if you’re listening. I wouldn’t mind some help with Momma right now," the child prayed, but there was no answer from any gods on Olympus.

Ephiny touched the empty tunic and fought back tears. "I thought she jumped off," the amazon cried, explaining how the child had been on top of the cliff and how she’d seen the body drop.

After hearing enough of the story to peace together what had taken place, Xena swam to shore and looked up at the top of the hill. "Tarren!" she yelled in a voice that was as menacing as it was filled with fear.

Gabrielle helped the injured Ephiny to the shore and watched as her leather-clad friend studied the cliffs in search of her child.

The youngster bit her lip and poked her head over the side. "Is that you Momma?" the small voice squeaked back.

Xena let her hands drop to her knees as she exhaled a long breath of relief. She took a moment to regain her composure before she answered. "Yes it is me," she replied making no effort to hide her parental anger.

Tarren swallowed hard as she listened to the venom in her mother’s voice. "Oh…You sound mad. Am I in trouble?" she asked, wondering if there was another way down from the cliff and if life with her grandmother would be as bad as she thought.

Xena wiped the water from her face and stared at her two friends. Gabrielle was so frightened that her eyes were filled with tears and Ephiny was even choking back a sob at the thought of what might have happened.

The mother took a deep breath and closed her eyes. "Yes! You are in a lot of trouble young lady. You are in so much trouble! You have no idea how much trouble you are in." Xena leaned against the side of the rocky hill and folded her arms tightly against her chest in an attempt to control her angst.

Tarren sat on a rock trying to decide what her next logical move would be, but she couldn’t come up with anything. "Another plan gone bad," she moaned. The child peaked over the edge again. "Uh…well… Momma if it’s Ok with you, I think I’ll just stay up here for a bit."

Xena removed her wet armor and tossed it to the ground. "If it’s Ok with me she’ll stay up there for a bit," the warrior repeated in a tone that spoke of a promised threat.

The warrior shook her head and tried to regain control of her heavy breathing.

Gabrielle moved beside her. "Xena what are you going to do?" she asked, wondering why the warrior was leaving the child alone in such a dangerous place for so long.

Xena unfolded her arms and glanced at her friend wiping a stray tear away from the young woman’s cheek with her thumb. Her tone softened a bit knowing the bard had felt the same rush of fear as she had when they thought Tarren had possibly drown. "Gabrielle I don’t want her climbing down alone. I’m just calming down a little bit before I go up and…get her."

The bard nodded in complete understanding.

Xena looked at the limping amazon and lowered her voice to a tone of genuine concern. "Eph are you Ok?" she asked, pointing at the woman’s foot.

The regent shrugged. "Yeah I just twisted it. I’m fine," she replied trying to pretend the pain did not exist.

The warrior let out a deep breath and looked again to the top of the steep hill that held her daughter. "Gabrielle go put some cold water on Ephiny’s foot. I’ll be back in a while," the mother said stiffly, grabbing a rock and starting her climb with great agility and speed.

The bard reached up and touched her friend’s arm before she could depart. "Xena remember she is just a little kid and you need to show warmth and understanding," she replied softly.

Xena gave her friend a crooked smile and nodded as she reached for the next rock. "Yup I’m gonna show her warmth Gabrielle…Oh yeah a warmth like she’s never known before. Warm that little backside of hers," the mother muttered shaking her head as she continued her journey. "Yup…lots and lots of warmth."

Tarren sat by a large rock staring at all the pretty trees on top of the hill. She was surprised to see there was even a small stream that ran down the side of the hill and into the water below. It would a beautiful place. "Maybe I could just live up here for a while," the youngster thought as she wandered through the woods.

While the child was busy contemplating the beauty of her surroundings, a husky voice from behind brought her thoughts to a quick halt. "I do hope you are enjoying the scenery."

Tarren could feel a shiver run up her back. She closed her eyes before turning around. When she made a half pivot to the direction of the angry tone she opened one eye and then the other. A weak smile was all she could offer to the very angry face of her mother standing stoically before her.

"Hi Momma…What are you doing up here?" she asked with hard swallow.

The warrior had her arms pressed firmly against her chest and her fingers drumming on the sides of her arms. She looked into the woods. "Guess!"

Tarren let her small boot make circles in the dirt. "You…err…came up to see all the pretty trees and stuff. There’s a nice field over there and a stream to fish and…." The child pointed to the far end of a meadow but her mother was not interested.

Xena pursed her lips and shook her head. "Guess again and this time get it right," the mother ordered.

Tarren let her shoulders sag a bit and she lowered her eyes under the cold angry stare of her mother. "You came up here to get me?" she asked, tapping herself gently on the chest.

Xena unfolded her arms and took a step toward the child. "That’s right. I came up here to get you and do you know why I came up here to get you?" she asked in a parental no nonsense tone.

This was a tricky question.

The child bit her lip and glanced up at her mother’s face knowing full well what the answer was. "Cause I shouldn’t be up here and ya didn’t want me to get hurt cause ya love me so much," she replied in a sullen tone.

Xena was a bit taken back by the accurate response. "Yeah that’s right, but you are leaving out a few details youngster," the mother replied, bending so low the child could feel the warrior’s breath on her skin.

"What details Momma?"

The warrior shook her head. "Well for starters I told you not to climb this hill. Didn’t I?" she thundered.

The child nodded.

Tarren tried to turn away from the scolding but a firm hand brought her quickly back into place. "And what the hell do you think that stunt you just pulled was all about?" she asked remembering the clothes stuffed with wet leaves she had pulled from the water.

"I was just playing," the child whispered.

Xena stood to her full height. "Playing? You were playing." The warrior paused and counted to 100 hoping to regain some focus on her frustration. "Well I’ve had it with your idea of fun. I warned you and you didn’t listen. Big surprise." She paused in her scolding again and took a deep breath. She pointed to the child. " Now you and I are gonna have a nice long private chat."

Tarren cringed knowing what those words meant.

The mother noted her daughter’s discomfort and nodded. "Yup, I know a certain little girl who obviously needs to be reminded of what happens when she doesn’t do as she’s told. I think this particular naughty child will spend a rather lengthy amount of time over her mother’s knee," she finished in a parental tone.

Tarren lowered her eyes at the thought of what was about to come to this poor misfortunate little girl her mother spoke of. "Uh huh…You mean me don’t ya Momma?" the child asked hoping it was just a very bad guess.

Xena shook her head in disbelief. "Yes I mean you. Do you see anyone else up here that fits that description young lady?" she thundered.

Tarren bit her lip and glanced around the area hoping another naughty child might appear. After careful scanning she realized nobody else was coming. "No ma’am."

Xena circled the child like a predator eyeing its prey. "Do you have any idea what you just did?"

The child shook her head and lowered her eyes.

The mother nodded and stopped in front of her young daughter. "Tarren I know I told you no more practical jokes. I also told you not to climb up this hill alone. Didn’t I?"

The youngster wiped a tear from her eye and nodded. "Yes ma’am."

The warrior threw her hands in the air "Then why did you do it?" she asked, hoping for an answer that would offer them both relief.

Tarren thought about the question but really didn’t have an answer. "I dunno."

Xena stood quiet for a moment as she gathered her thoughts. "You don’t know why you did it," she repeated with a weary smile. "Well you should know that Ephiny hurt her foot trying to find what she thought was you falling off the cliff. You should know that you scared the Hades out of me. And you should have something to say for yourself. Do you?" she asked, realizing that this very young child really had no clue what she had done.

The little girl glanced up at her mother’s large blue eyes hoping for a bit of mercy but saw none. "No Momma…I was just having…some fun." The child knew she had chosen the wrong word the minute after she said it.

The warrior knelt down in front of her child so the youngster could see the parental anger and frustration in her eyes as she spoke. "Fun? Tarren if you think what you did was the least bit funny you are sadly mistaken," she scolded.

The child could not even look her mother squarely in the eye knowing she would see nothing but disappointment and angst. "I’m sorry Momma," she replied in a near whisper.

Xena shook her head, got to her feet, and stretched out her hand for the child to take.

"Oh no little girl you are not really sorry, but you soon will be. Come on," she ordered, waving the large hand in front of the youngster.

Tarren hesitated for a moment and looked up at her mother with wide-eyed innocence.

Xena looked straight back at her. "Nope that look is not gonna work this time," she said, taking the child’s hand in her own and leading her into the woods.

The youngster glanced at the back of her mother’s boots as they walked. "Momma?"

Xena’s response was filled with determination but a bit softer. "Yes."

The child bit her lip and squeezed her mother’s hand tightly. "Does this mean that I’m gonna get a spankin?" she asked with trepidation.

Xena paused in her movement and looked down at the small figure holding so tightly to her fingers. "What do you think?" she asked with a sigh allowing her tone to become more controlled.

The youngster looked at her mother’s face, which still seemed a mix of pure fear and controlled anger. It was at that moment she found her own answer. She tightened her hold on the warrior’s hand and lowered her eyes. "I think this is gonna be even worse than the worse spankin ever," the child replied with a tear, remembering her time under the tree in Amphipolis.

Xena let out a long breath and stared down at her small daughter. She knew the youngster needed to be punished but she also knew her child was now frightened. The look of regret in the youngster’s eyes melted the mother’s anger. She picked the little girl up and held her tightly in her arms sensing the child needed to know her mother still and would always love her. "Little one I would say that is the wisest thing you have said all day," she answered in a tone that was filled with both love and determination.

Tarren wrapped her arms around her mother’s neck and thought about the inevitable.

She had decided long ago that her mother basically offered two types of spankings. There were the Momma’s Mad and Momma’s Scared spankings.

The Momma’s Mad spanking basically meant Xena was angry because Tarren was misbehaving to the point of pure rebellion. Those were generally just a few meaningful swats on the seat of her britches. Then there was the Momma’s Scared spanking which meant that the child had done something to cause her mother great fear or worry over the little girl’s safety. Those were more serious offenses involving private chats and the use of bedrolls at supper for a while.

Tarren could see by the look on her mother’s face that for once the two were actually combined and she was in a lot of trouble

The child leaned against her mother’s shoulder grateful to be held. "Momma?"

Xena patted the child back gently as she walked. "Yup."

Tarren considered her limited options but would leave no possibility for a reprieve untried. "Have I told you just how much I love you today?" she asked with genuine affection.

Xena closed her eyes and shook her head at the youngster’s attempt at mercy. "Uh huh…No but it is so nice to hear, and I love you too." She paused. "But you are sill getting a spanking."

"Damn!" The little girl spat the word out before she even realized it.

Xena’s bit her lip and nodded as she tightened her hold on her child and picked up her pace for what she decided looked like a very good place to deem a Forgiving Tree. "Yup! After that I would say it’s gonna be a real good one too."

Tarren groaned and lay her head back down on her mother’s shoulder as the warrior came to a halt. Suddenly this joke was no longer funny.


Chapter 8 – The Meaning of Love


Back at camp…


As they sat by the small fire in camp Gabrielle placed cooling clothes on the amazon’s injured ankle.

Ephiny looked down the trail wondering what was taking Xena so long to carry one small child down a cliff. "They sure have been gone a long time," she declared.

The bard stared at the swollen foot and frowned. "Well Xena won’t come back until she’s sure Tarren is ready to return," she responded, wondering if she should use a heavier clothe.

The amazon leaned forward and stared at her friend. "What do you mean ready?" she asked as if confused by the word itself.

Gabrielle rung out a second clothe and placed it on top of the first. She studied her work proudly as she responded in a gentle tone. "I mean Xena will stay with Tarren after she’s been punished, hold her and explain everything she did wrong so she knows why she was spanked." The young woman smiled when she realized that if she wrapped a third cloth around the two she had just placed, her friend would be able to walk easier.

Ephiny jumped to her feet but feeling the weight and pain on the injured ankle shrunk back down again. "You mean she’s really paddling the kid?" she asked with a groan of agony.

Gabrielle shook her head at her unruly patient. "Could you please not move?" Her friend’s inability to stay still was agitating the young woman. "Well what did you think would happen Ephiny?" she asked, wondering just what kind of mother the amazon thought Xena was. The warrior mother would never allow such a dangerous action to go unpunished.

Ephiny let her shoulder’s slump a bit as she leaned her head in her hand. "I dunno. I figured she’d yell at her or make her write scrolls or face the tree or something…Like she’s been doing," the woman replied quietly.

Gabrielle smiled a bit and began bandaging her friend’s foot. "Eph, I told you Xena takes Tarren’s discipline seriously. I also told you there was a line and that when Tarren crossed it her mother reacted appropriately. In this case I’d say it’s going to be bedrolls at breakfast," she said with a gentle sigh.

Ephiny groaned. "What?"

Gabrielle sat beside her friend and tossed a few sticks on the small fire that warmed their camp. "Eph don’t worry. Xena loves that little brat more than life itself. She’ll do what she thinks is best." The young woman smiled. "They understand each other. Tarren even has it worked out into a system. Ask her," the bard replied, patting her friend’s leg gently.

Ephiny stared at the fire and frowned. "Yeah but…I mean…The kid was just fooling around. It was supposed to be a joke," she defended.

Gabrielle looked at her friend oddly. "Ephiny I don’t get it. Ever since you met Tarren all you’ve said is she needs a good swat. Now that she’s getting a spanking she actually deserves you’re defending her," she ranted.

The amazon glanced at her friend’s soft expression and smiled. "Well the kid already thinks I’m a harpy from Hades. I don’t want her thinking I wanted her…."

Gabrielle raised her hand to stop the words. "Ephiny, Tarren knows when she does something wrong and she knows what to expect when she does it. That may have been a joke to Tarren but I for one was not laughing and neither was Xena. She scared the Hades out of all of us and she could have been hurt." The bard pointed to her friend’s wrapped ankle. "You were… Look Tarren has to learn the difference between right and wrong and it’s her mother’s job to teach her. It has nothing to do with you…trust me." The young woman’s tone was soft and reassuring.

The amazon leaned back trying to relax knowing the words her friend spoke were all true. It was only a moment later she caught sight of Xena walking up the trail holding a sobbing child gently in her muscular arms.

Gabrielle let out a short breath and glanced at the sullen face of the warrior mother knowing how difficult it was for her friend to ever punish her child.

Xena quietly took the crying youngster that was clinging to her shoulder over to the bedrolls and stood her up. "Time for a nap," she said softly to the small figure rubbing her eyes with the balls of her fists.

The bard and amazon watched as the warrior mother removed the crying child’s heavier clothes and placed the youngster in her bedroll. Tarren grabbed her mother’s arm and Xena placed her large hand gently over it to let the little one know she wasn’t going anywhere. She rubbed the side of the child’s face with her thumb and offered the little girl her saddlebags which the youngster quickly hugged, burying her face in them to continue crying.

Xena pulled the blankets up to the child’s neck and gently kissed her daughter’s head before retreating to the small fire beside her friends. "How’s the foot Eph?" she asked, leaning over to observe the ankle.

The amazon paused for a moment not sure what to say. "It’s Ok …just a sprain…How’s the kid?" she asked, motioning to the small form a few paces away.

The warrior glanced at Gabrielle and then back to the sobbing child buried in blankets. "Well the kid has a very sore little bottom and is finding it hard to see the humor in her joke anymore," the mother replied in a low and distant voice.

Ephiny touched her friend’s arm. "Xena I’m sorry. I should have watched her better."

The warrior mother turned quickly as if awaking from a deep sleep. "No Eph! I’m the one who should apologize. I let her go too far before doing anything. Because of my daughter’s bad behavior you got hurt." Xena paused and closed her eyes. "I really appreciate the effort you made when you thought she was really…." The mother choked on the last words. "When you thought…she was ….in danger."

Gabrielle placed a gentle hand on her friend’s shoulder. "Hey are you OK?" she asked, knowing from the warrior’s broken expression that she was not.

Xena tried to smile. "No… Look I’m going for a walk." She glanced over at her child whose glassy gaze was staring right back at her. " If she needs me just yell. I won’t be far," she mumbled, getting to her feet and heading off into the now growing darkness.

Gabrielle watched as Xena walked away wondering if she should follow.

Ephiny leaned back and whistled. "Wow she takes it hard."

Gabrielle wiped a tear from her own eye feeling the pain for both of the people she loved most. "Yeah well sometimes I think she loves that kid…too much. It breaks her heart to have to punish her."

Ephiny looked up at the night sky and thought of her son. She grinned at her friend. "Well that’s all part of the package Gabrielle. As a parent you get to take the good with the bad. It’s never easy to punish your kid. Gods the last time I gave my son a few good swats on the hind quarters I cried myself silly…and don’t you ever repeat that," she warned, shaking her fist in the air.

Gabrielle smiled. "You’re secret is safe with me." She looked at the child in the blankets and then thought of Xena. "Eph maybe you should go to talk to Xena. You know mother to mother or something," she said with a shrug.

Ephiny looked at the crying child and the pleading face of her friend. "Artemis save me! Gabrielle has me poking my nose into other people’s business now…Ok maybe I should at that," she replied getting to her feet and limping down the path after her large friend.

At the water’s edge…


The amazon did not even attempt to make her steps soft. It hurt too much and she wanted her friend to know she was coming. As she cleared the path of trees, she could see Xena sitting on top of a large rock staring up at the hill she had just returned from.

"You really should stay off of that," the warrior said softly, never bothering to turn around.

Ephiny shook her head and smiled. "Yeah well I thought you might like to talk," she replied, moving beside her friend.

The warrior shook her head. "Nope! Why would you think that?" she asked with a frown, wondering why her friend had suddenly taking to meaningful chats.

The amazon shook her head and muttered, "I knew it."

Xena smiled realizing what or who had sent her down for conversation. "Gabrielle huh?" she asked with a grin.

The amazon leaned carefully against the rock and shrugged. "Who else?"

The two women exchanged a smile and Xena slid down beside her friend. "Well it’s Ok Eph. I’m fine," she said wiping her hands clean.

Ephiny’s face turned harsh. "No you’re not." Well she had made the long walk. She might as well go all the way. "Xena you are not the only mother that ever has to spank their kid. Stop hogging all the self pity," she warned, wondering if the warrior would hit an injured amazon.

Xena was a bit taken back by the statement. She had never truly looked at her feelings of remorse or guilt as self-pity. The warrior folded her arms tightly against her chest and gave the amazon a slight grin. "Really Ephiny?"

Ephiny let out a long breath grateful she was still standing. "Yeah really! You think I never had to paddle Xenon? Well I have more times than I care to think about. And I know it hurt me more than him." Ephiny shook her head as she thought of her distant son. "It’s a tough act Xena. The more you love them, the more you want them to turn out right and the tougher you have to be," she finished offering her friend a soft stare.

Xena nodded in agreement realizing for the first time that the amazon knew exactly how she was feeling. "Yeah you said it."

Ephiny smiled at the warrior for the firs time realizing just how much this child meant to her. "Look Xena, nobody ever said being a parent was easy. I’ve seen you with that kid. You are a good mother. Truth is you are one of the most caring mothers I’ve ever seen." She paused and considered her next words. "I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I know a more than a few amazon’s who could take some lessons. So just stop beating yourself up every time you need to act like that kid’s mother instead of her hero," she ordered.

Xena looked back at the hill and her voice became softer than the amazon had ever heard her speak. "It’s hard Eph. All that kid has to do is give me that look and I melt," she replied, shaking her head at the thought.

Ephiny new she had now entered a very private and well-guarded area of her warrior friend’s heart. It was a sacred place that perhaps no one Gabrielle and little Tarren had ever really seen.

"Her mother’s gift huh?" she answered, in a tone that promised respect and gratitude for the trust.

Xena nodded. "Yeah I guess so," she replied with a slight grin.

Ephiny’s tone went from gentle to stern as she spoke. "Well get over it! She needs you to be strong for her, so if you can’t do it for yourself then do it because you love her. and I know you do," she said firmly, placing a gentle arm around the warrior’s shoulder as she had seen Gabrielle do.

The warrior nodded knowing that strength was truly the key to everything. "Thanks Eph," she said with a smile.

The amazon shrugged. "Hey what are friends for?"

Xena nodded in agreement. "Ephiny?"

"Yeah Xena?"

The warrior smiled. "Take your arm off of me," she said in a warning tone.

The amazon quickly removed her arm and frowned. "I knew that was too much Gabrielle."

Xena grinned and cocked her head to one side to study her friend. "Ya know Ephiny after Solon died…a lot of things happened and I never got to tell you how sorry I was," she said in a serious and apologetic tone.

The amazon raised a halting hand. "Xena it’s the past. You were experiencing a pain I can’t even imagine. Like I said…we’re friends. We go on better and stronger than before," she replied in a strong and determined tone.

Ephiny reached out her arm and Xena smiled gripping it firmly in a warrior’s clasp.

The amazon smiled knowing many bridges had just been rebuilt. "Hey if you ever want to talk warrior to warrior or mother to mother let me know. I’m sure we can swap a few war stories from both battlegrounds," she said with a chuckle.

Xena nodded at her friend happy to have found another comrade in arms.


Back at camp…

Gabrielle sat beside the crying youngster still hugging the saddlebags. She touched the child’s cheek and wiped away a few of the many tears. "Well here we are again. I guess you got your bottom warmed…I mean hot huh?" she asked the sniffling child.

Tarren looked up at the bard panting and biting her lower lip. "Momma gave…me…a spankin and said I was a bad little girl. She said I can’t play anymore jokes anymore…and…I know she’s real mad at me," the child cried.

Gabrielle swallowed hard at the sight of the youngster’s red face knowing that the warrior’s words hurt more than anything did. "Well Tarren what you did was very wrong. You scared all of us. We thought we had lost you. That really hurt," she whispered letting her gentle hand run along the side of the child’s face.

Tarren gripped the saddlebags tightly. "I…was…just playing…I didn’t want to hurt anyone," she replied with a sniffle.

Gabrielle wiped a few stray hairs from the youngster’s face. "Well want to or not you did. Tarren you hurt us in here," she replied pointing to her heart. "And didn’t Xena tell you not to climb the hill?" she asked sternly, not wanting her friend to be deemed the bad guy.

"Yes," was all the child would whisper.

Gabrielle folded her arms together to show some dissatisfaction with the child’s actions. "Well then I’d say we all have every reason to be mad at you," she scolded, hoping to make the youngster realize how much everyone cared about her.

The little girl pushed the bard away and jumped to her feet holding only the beloved saddlebags. "So you’re mad at me too? I don’t want to stay where everyone is mad at me," she cried running quickly into the woods out of the bards reach and sight.

Gabrielle searched with her eyes but could not find the child. "Tarren!"

There was no response.

Ephiny limped slowly back into camp feeling more than satisfied with her new accomplishment. Seeing her frantic friend and the child’s empty bedroll she moved closer. "Hey what’s wrong?"

Gabrielle turned around and covered her face with her hands. "I have a very big mouth… Where’s Xena?" she asked in a hurried voice.

Ephiny grinned deciding if she should agree with the size of her friend’s mouth or not. "Still pondering the meaning of motherhood down by the water. Why?" she asked, scanning the area for the child.

The bard continued to search her surroundings. "Oh I said the wrong thing. Now Tarren thinks everyone is mad at her, so she took off into the trees. I better get Xena. Will you keep an eye out for her?" she asked in a pleading tone.

The regent nodded. "Of course…go ahead," she replied with the wave of her hand.

Gabrielle nodded and sprinted down the path.

Ephiny looked from one tree to another until she found one with small footprints beneath it. She sighed with relief and stared into the branches above. "Do you mind if I come up?" she yelled.

There was a pause.

"It’s not my tree," a small voice squeaked.

Ephiny carefully placed her wounded ankle on the trunk of the tree and climbed up to where the child was perched cradling the warrior’s large saddlebags.

Ephiny had to swallow hard at he sight of the small child’s sad tear stained face. "Well I guess you’re not too happy," she stated

The little girl looked at the amazon with watery eyes and shook her head. "Where’s Gabby?" she asked, wondering why the bard had stopped calling her.

The regent leaned against the trunk of the tree trying to get comfortable. "She went to get your mom," she replied with a sigh.

Tarren lowered her eyes. "She won’t come. I got a spankin and Momma’s real mad at me."

Ephiny covered her face to hide a grin knowing the warrior was in fact anything but mad at this child. "Oh and you figure that now she won’t come when you need her?"

The child wrapped both arms around the saddlebags. "Uh huh."

Ephiny let her voice drop to a gentle whisper, "Well did it ever occur to you that maybe she spanked you because you really scared her and that it’s because she cares so much about you that she’s hurting just as much as you are right now?"

The little girl sniffled and shrugged. "Why? I was just playing."

The amazon smiled realizing that through all her encounters with this child she had never taken the time to really speak to her. She was quickly finding out just how truly young Tarren was. "Well to you it was playing, but I saw the look in her eyes when she was looking for you. She was really scared that something bad had happened to you," she replied in a gentle tone, hoping her words would calm the youngster.

Tarren moved to a lower branch so she could see this woman’s face. "You could see that in her eyes?" she asked somewhat awe struck.

Ephiny shrugged and motioned toward the child’s eyes. "Sure just like right now I can tell you’re real upset over getting your bottom swatted, but I’d say you’re just as upset over maybe…hurting your Mom," she replied as if pulling answers from the wind itself.

Tarren wiped her eyes with the back of her hand and moved beside the amazon. "How did you know that?" she asked with wide eyes.

Ephiny offered the child a cloth to wipe her face that the child accepted. "Well have you ever seen your Mom really mad at someone?" she asked, remembering the crazed look in Xena’s eyes when she fought in battle.

Tarren nodded as she wiped her eyes with the regent’s clothe. "Uh huh…Grandma."

The woman grinned and shook her head. "No I mean so angry that you thought she’d just explode," she exclaimed waving her hands in the air.

Tarren again nodded. "Uh huh. Grandma!"

Ephiny chuckled a bit and made a mental note to ask Gabrielle about Xena’s mother. "No Tarren, I mean like when she’s fighting bad guys," she explained.

The child nodded.

"Well that’s anger kid. She loves you and what I saw in her eyes was fear for someone she loved maybe being hurt or taken away from her." She paused and looked at the now quiet child. "Didn’t you see that?"

Tarren shook her head. "No I never really got to look at just Momma’s eyes. I know when she’s mad but I can’t see all that stuff you see. But I always know when I’m in trouble," the child replied remembering her mother’s different expressions. "I can see stuff in her face, but I’m not too sure sometimes," she explained, caressing the saddlebags.

Ephiny opened her hands as if she had just discovered the meaning of life. "Well ya see that’s your problem. You have to look deep in the eyes. That’s where all the answers are. That’s where people keep their secrets," she said in a near whisper.

Tarren grinned at this strange person. "Me and Momma don’t have secrets, but I’ll look anyway." The child paused. "How do you know so much Ephiny?" the child asked, curious where this well of wisdom could be found.

Ephiny glanced up at he sky and let out a breath. "Well Tarren believe it or not I have a little boy of my own, so I know exactly what your Mom is feeling right now. She feels really bad," the amazon replied with a blink of her eyes.

The child lowered head and frowned. "I know…Momma cries when ever she has to give me a spankin but don’t tell anyone. It’s a secret," she whispered.

Ephiny nodded happy to have earned the trust of little Xena as well on this strange day.

"You have my word junior."

The child gave the woman a quizzical look. "Why did you call me junior?"

Ephiny grinned and patted the child’s head gently, "Because you remind me so much of your mother."

Tarren smiled at the thought. She liked the idea of being compared to her mother.

The regent looked to the ground below. She could hear the sound of feet moving fast in the distance. "So are you coming down?" she asked.

The little girl shrunk behind the saddlebags and shook her head. "No…Momma’s still mad in me and so is Gabby. I think I’d rather stay here," she answered in a sullen voice.

The amazon nodded and started her decent.

The child stopped her midway. "Ephiny?"


The child looked at the stranger who had been her adversary for days. "I’m sorry you hurt your foot. I didn’t want you to get hurt or nothing," the child mumbled.

The regent paused for a moment and nodded. "I know…and for what it’s worth kid I’m sorry I gave you such a rough time the first day I got here…But don’t ever tell anyone I said that," she replied with a smile.

Tarren nodded and watched the amazon descend. "I won’t," she replied with a grin and a sniffle.

Ephiny leaned against the base of the tree making sure Tarren stayed safe. When she saw Xena and Gabrielle sprinting up the path she moved tot he side and just pointed straight up.

"Thank the gods," the bard moaned letting out a deep breath.

Xena looked up into the tree and shook her head.

Ephiny winked at the warrior. "Well Momma I’d say you have some unfinished business. Gabrielle what do you say I let you buy me a mug of Xena’s best port," the amazon said, leaning on her friend’s shoulder as they moved back to the fire.

Xena grinned and then looked back up at he treed child. "Tarren," she called quietly.

There was silence for a moment.

"Yes ma’am," a tiny voice squeaked from above.

The warrior let out a long breath but her voice remained calm and gentle. "Please come down here."

The child made no movement. "I don’t wanna."

Xena sat by the trunk of the tree and let her head drop into her hands. "Well I’m not climbing up after you, so if you wanna to talk to me you’ll have to come down," she replied not wishing to bring the child down from such a place twice in one day.

The youngster thought about it as she stared at her mother seated below. The child slowly descended to the ground until she was standing beside her mother still hugging the warrior’s saddlebags tightly.

Xena let her eyes scan the small form standing in nothing more than her underclothes hugging a pair of old saddlebags nearly half her size. She reached out her arms and pulled the little girl onto her lap wrapping her arms quickly around the child. "Little girl, you are going to catch cold standing there half bear," she scolded as she rubbed the child’s body hoping to make her warm.

The child lowered her eyes and dropped the saddlebags. "Sorry Momma."

The warrior walked over to the bedrolls and put the child down. She yanked a blanket from the ground and wrapped it tightly around her youngster before lifting the little one back into her arms and disappearing into the privacy of the dark woods. "Come on little girl. I think we still have some things to talk about," the mother said sternly.

The child merely lay her head down on her mother’s familiar shoulder as the warrior took long strides to a small clearing about 20 paces from camp. She found a large boulder to sit on and planted herself squarely in the center keeping a firm but gentle hold on her young daughter.

Xena sighed as she turned the child’s chin to face her. "Would you like to tell me what you were doing up in that tree?" she asked, letting her head lean back.

The little girl rolled her lower lip out and dropped her eyes. "I didn’t think anyone would mind. Gabby was mad at me and so were you," she cried.

The mother shook her head realizing she never should have left her child to walk down by the water. Ephiny was right. She needed to be stronger for Tarren. "Baby, nobody is mad at you." She paused and let out a long breath. "Youngster you better learn to tell the difference between love and anger," she scolded quietly, staring down into the wide-open eyes of her young daughter.

Xena repositioned the youngster closer. "Tarren when people really love you…I mean really love you a lot and you do something that scares them… They get upset but not because they don’t like you or anything, but because they love you enough to be worried about ya," she said in a softer tone, hoping to make the child understand.

Tarren lowered her eyes and leaned against her mother’s chest playing with the familiar and still forbidden straps. "Is that why I got a spankin?" she asked quietly.

Xena took the little girl’s hand away from the leather and held it her own. "Stop that," she warned softly.

The little girl bit her lip and the warrior could see the tears welling in her child’s eyes once again. She shook her head and kissed Tarren’s cheek. "You got a spanking because what you did was wrong and mean. You did everything I told you not to do. You knew you weren’t supposed to climb the hill. I even told you what would happen if you did. Didn’t I?" she asked sternly.

Tarren nodded remembering the warning. "Yes ma’am."

Xena shook her head at the contrite child. "And I also told you to be nice to Ephiny and not to play any more practical jokes. Didn’t I?"

Again the child nodded. "Yes ma’am."

Xena choked on the words as she held her child closer. "Well in case you didn’t notice you scared the Hades out of me. You scared Gabrielle to the point of tears and Ephiny got hurt trying to help you. Ya see she thought you were really in trouble Tarren and so did I and that is not funny." The mother brought the child around to face her so the youngster could see her eyes as she spoke. "Tarren don’t you understand? I thought I had lost you and that is not something I ever want you to think is a joke," she scolded, trying to control the growing lump in her throat.

Tarren looked into the eyes of her warrior mother trying to remember what Ephiny had told her about the eyes holding a person’s deepest secrets. The child could see the tears welling a bit and the bursts of angst and softness mixed in the deep pools of controlled emotion. Even when her tone was harsh the child could see the fear and love that filled her mother’s blue gaze. Xena was scared.

The child let her small hand touch her mother’s cheek as if to make sure this person was real. "I’m really sorry I made you cry Momma," she replied remembering her mother’s stray tears after she had punished her daughter.

Xena let out a deep breath and nodded. "I know you are and I’m very sorry I had to make you cry too little one, but I am not sorry I spanked you. You were very naughty and you deserved it. As your mother it’s my job to make sure you learn right from wrong. So if you ever do anything like that again…."

Tarren swallowed hard and let her small finger touch her mother’s lip. "I know a trip too the Forgiving Tree," she whispered, as if speaking of a sacred place.

Xena smiled at the way the child had adopted the use of the tree as a way to bring them together. "Yeah a trip to the Forgiving Tree," she repeated with a soft smile.

Tarren stared at her mother wondering why such an obvious joke would bring such great fear. "Momma were you real scared when you thought I was in the water?" the child asked reaching for the straps. Seeing her mother’s arched eyebrow she just pulled her hand back and opted to play with the arm cuffs instead.

Xena nodded at the youngster’s choice. She paused in her words trying to think of a way to make her very young child understand fear. "Tarren do you remember the story I made up to try and help you understand the reason we work on the staffs?" she asked.

The little girl thought for a moment and nodded. "Uh huh. That’s the one with the 50 warlords. You really kicked butt Momma," the child replied proudly.

The mother sighed. "Tarren it was just a story."

The child raised a small fist in the air. "So, you still kicked butt."

Xena shook her head knowing a long conversation on the use of that phrase was in order. "Ok I…err…kicked butt…in the story." Now it was time to get to the point. "Do you remember when I first told you the story. I said I fell in a hole and I was hurt?" she asked feeling the youngster’s grip tighten.

The little girl wrapped her arms around her mother’s neck. "That was a bad part of the story so we fixed it," she replied matter of factly.

Xena nodded hoping she was going the right way with this. "Yeah we did, but why did we fix it Tarren?"

The youngster buried her head in the warrior’s side making the reply a bit muffled. "Because I didn’t like it."

The mother pulled the youngster out of her hiding place knowing she needed to hear the entire story. "Why didn’t you like it?"

The little girl poked out her lower lip and let a few stray tears fall as she answered her mother. "Cause you were hurt and I didn’t like you being hurt."

Xena shrugged her shoulders. "But it was just a story. It wasn’t real."

Tarren bit her lip and started panting a bit. "But…but…it still scared me cause I didn’t like the idea of my Momma hurt."

Xena nodded and let the little girl seek refuge in the safety of her shoulder. "Well then maybe you can understand how I felt when I thought my daughter who I love with all my heart, was hurt." The words were soft and tender and sent out like a shooting star across the sky.

Tarren bit her lip and let her wide eyes meet her mother’s gentle stare. "You felt that bad Momma?" she asked, not liking the comparison at all.

The warrior nodded. "Yeah I did."

Tarren felt the pang of remorse and guilt growing inside of her as she looked at this woman who was her world. "Momma I’m real sorry I scared you. I didn’t want to make you feel bad," she cried latching on to the warrior’s neck and holding tightly.

Xena could feel the shivers run through the child’s body and ran her hand down the youngster’s back to soothe her. She was now sure she had made her point. "Shh…I know and I know you won’t do it again. Right?"

Tarren nodded. Her reply was fast and without hesitation. "No Momma!" She bit her lip and continued to study her mother’s face. "I was really naughty," she stated as if no one had noticed.

Xena cradled the child in her arms. "Yeah I know but it’s all over now," she replied with a slight grin, wiping the child’s tears with her thumb.

The youngster continued her oration. "And I got a spankin," she informed the one person who was well aware of that fact.

The warrior mother tilted her head and smiled. "Tarren… baby I know that. I was the one who gave it to you," the mother replied wondering why her daughter always had a need to go over these events as if to clarify everyone’s part.

The child nodded and let her voice drop to a whisper. "It was a good one Momma. It was a real butt warmer," the child answered rubbing her bottom gently with her hand.

Xena kissed the little girl’s cheek. "It was huh?"

Tarren thought about it and realized she had not paid her mother’s efforts proper homage. "Yeah…Do you mind if I still cry?" she asked, noting the echoing sting of her mother’s large hand heating this very sensitive place.

Xena picked the little girl up and positioned her gently over one shoulder. "No baby you cry just as long as you need to. I’ll be right here with you," she whispered rubbing her daughter’s back gently.

The youngster threw her arms around her mother’s neck letting her tears flow freely.

Xena sat very still holding the child gently running her hand up and down the little girl’s body to soothe her. "I guess I don’t have to tell you to never do anything like that again," she whispered, fighting back her own tears.

"No Momma," the child answered through a wave of sobs.

After a while the little girl picked her head up and just lay her head down on her mother’s shoulder. "Did ya… get scared… when Gabby told ya I went up the tree?" she asked with tears still streaming down her cheeks.

The warrior mother pulled a cloth from her cuff and wiped the child’s eyes and face. "Well yeah. All Gabrielle said was you were gone. Of course I was scared," she replied with a gentle and soothing tone. "I was really scared because I didn’t know where you were."

Tarren touched her mother’s hand as it caressed the child’s face. "Are ya mad at me?"

The mother shook her head. "No baby I’m not mad at you. I should have stayed with you instead of going for a walk," she replied kissing the little girl’s wet cheek.

Tarren’s eyes went wide and she watched her mother run the soft cloth over her cheeks. "Then I won’t get another spankin for scaring you again?" she asked.

The warrior shook her head and shuddered at the thought of having to go through this twice in one day. "No little girl I think the one I gave you before got my point across well enough. Of course I will expect you to cuddle with me for the rest of the night. I’m feeling sort of bad and I wanna keep you close. Is that OK?" she asked knowing the youngster needed to cling to her.

The child sniffled a bit but then smiled. "Sure Momma, but can I sit on your lap while we cuddle? My backside sure does feel more hot than warm," she replied now rubbing it fiercely.

The warrior grinned. "Uh huh, well you just remember that the next time you think of scaring your graying mother," she said getting to her feet with the child in her arms.

Tarren felt the throbs in her bottom and sighed. "I don’t think I could ever forget it Momma," she replied, touching her seat gently.

The warrior shook her head and placed a gentle hand on the tender spot hoping the maternal touch would offer comfort. "Monster I do love you," she said softly.

The little girl grinned. "Lots?" she asked wondering to what extent love was given.

Xena started back toward camp keeping her daughter wrapped tightly in the warm blanket. "Oh yeah lots and lots," she replied with a serious nod.

The little girl wiped away a few more stray tears and nuzzled in to her mother’s embrace. "I love you too Momma…lots and lots."

Xena heard the gentle words and paused in her movements to observe the small figure in her arms. "Can I have a hug and a kiss?" she asked with true sincerity.

The child reached up and squeezed her mother’s neck and gave her a sloppy wet kiss on the side of the cheek. "How’s that?" she asked with a giggle.

The warrior wiped the excess wetness away with her fingers and smiled. "Wet but worth it," she replied.

Tarren smiled and leaned over and whispered in her mother’s ear. "Momma can you…." The youngster whispered her words deciding that some things were so private between a mother and child that even trees shouldn’t be allowed to hear.

Xena grinned at the quiet request but shook her head. "Well…Later if you behave," she replied trying to regain some of her stoic tone back.

The child frowned at the delay. "But…."

Xena arched a brow that said further requests would result in receiving nothing later either, so the child said nothing more.

The warrior mother frowned when she noticed how silent her daughter had suddenly become. "Ya know I’ve been thinking you and I should have our own secret code," she stated knowing these words would interest the child.

The youngster’s eyes brightened. "Really?"

Xena nodded as she considered the idea. "Uh huh. That way whenever your feeling bad or I’m feeling bad we’ll use it to let the other one know." She paused. "That way we can help each other feel better without anyone else knowing," she continued, hoping such an idea would keep her child from running up trees as well.

Tarren smiled and struggled a bit in her mother’s hold, anxious for the secret words to be spoken. "What Momma? What’s the code?" she asked anxious to put it to use.

Xena looked down at the innocent young face of the person whose love and trust meant more than life itself. She smiled. "How about if the person hurting says "The only thing brighter than the twinkle in your eye," She paused and stared at her daughter’s innocent expression. "And the other responds...is the smile on your face." It was kind of corny but Xena could think of nothing else while looking at her child’s expression.

The little girl kissed her mother’s cheek and Xena wiped the last of the tears from the child’s face. "The only thing brighter than the twinkle in your eye," the mother quoted.

The little girl grinned and finished the sentence. "Is the smile on your face."

Xena tossed the child back over her shoulder. "Now that’s our secret code. When you’re feeling bad and wanna let me know sort of private or I’m feeling bad but can’t really talk we’ll use that. But remember it’s only for when we feel really bad, so don’t use it unless you have to. Ok?" the mother said quietly not wishing these words to be spoken in every village she ever walked through.

"Yes Momma," the child replied with a crooked smile, knowing how hard it was for the stoic warrior to speak such affections in front of strangers.

Xena hugged the child close to her and smiled. "Gods I love you Tarren. You are my little baby," she said in a gentle and motherly tone.

Tarren cocked her head to one side. "I am Momma?" she asked wondering where her title of monster and bed hog had gone.

The warrior’s response was without question. "Yes you are my baby!"

Tarren smiled broadly at the new label. Somehow being referred to as her mother’s baby made her feel closer than ever to the warrior. It seemed like such a special title. It was one that she knew only she could hold.

After arriving back in camp, Xena carried the little girl back to the bedrolls and wrapped a second large blanket around her so she would not feel the chill in the night air. The mother then carried her child over to the warm fire where Ephiny and Gabrielle were sitting quietly.

Gabrielle smiled at her friend’s soft expression knowing whatever had taken place in the privacy of the woods had brought peace to both she and Tarren. "Well I was beginning to think you two weren’t coming back," she moaned.

Xena smiled and placed the blanketed child on the ground in front of her. She pointed to Gabrielle and gave the youngster a gentle push forward. Tarren looked up at her mother and the warrior wiped a few more stray tears from the little girl’s face. She again pointed to the bard. Tarren shuffled forward holding tightly to her blankets.

The child stood before the bard whose expression was soft but stern. "Gabby, I’m sorry I scared you by playing that practical joke and I’m sorry I ran away from you. Forgive me?" she asked lowering her eyes.

The young woman’s eyes immediately welled with tears as she stared into the small face before her. "Yes of course I forgive you," she answered pulling the child into a tight hug. "But pull another stunt like that again and there may just be a line forming behind your mother to paddle that little butt of yours" she replied, keeping the youngster in a lengthy and loving embrace.

Tarren shook her head and smiled knowing that spankings were her mother’s territory. "I won’t Gabby," she replied, wishing to humor her friend.

Xena smiled broadly at the way Gabrielle accepted the child. No matter what Tarren put her through, her friend could always find it in her heart to love and forgive the warrior’s child.

Gabrielle gave Tarren a gentle kiss and the child quickly scooted back to her mother’s side.

Xena knelt beside the youngster and motioned toward Ephiny ho was sharpening her sword on the other side of the fire.

Tarren looked up at her mother and slipped her small hand into her mother’s palm.

"Ok little one I’m with you on this one," the mother whispered, walking hand in hand with the child until they reached the amazon.

Tarren looked up at her mother’s instructive eyes and then back at the amazon. "Uh Ephiny I’m sorry I made you jump in the water and played that joke on you and stuff," the child said so quickly Xena frowned.

The amazon nodded wishing she had the affectionate spirit that would allow her to reach out and embrace the child as openly as Gabrielle had. She merely placed her sword to one side and nodded at the little girl. "It’s Ok kid. I know your Mom did a good job teaching you the right and wrong of it. You are a very lucky little kid to have such a great mother ya know?" she replied, motioning up to the stoic warrior.

Tarren grinned at the amazon and then looked up at her mother. Without warning the child just hugged the surprised amazon and then returned to the safety of her mother’s hand.

Ephiny looked up at Xena and smiled. "Thank you junior," she replied softly.

Xena grinned at Gabrielle knowing somewhere over the course of time these two had found common ground. "Junior?" the warrior questioned.

Ephiny shrugged and returned to her blade. "Yeah well she is just like you," she replied winking at the child.

Tarren smiled and moved in closer to her mother.

The warrior mother nodded knowing that such a title and comparison pleased her daughter. "Yeah Eph. We’re like twins," she teased.

Xena glanced at the amazon’s still bandaged foot and looked back at her daughter. "Hey! What about Ephiny’s foot?" she asked, wondering why the youngster’s apology had come up short.

The child craned her head to capture her mother’s eyes. "Momma I already said I was sorry for that when she came up the tree," the little girl informed the surprised warrior.

Ephiny tried to wave off the child from continuing, but the youngster kept going.

Xena picked the blanketed youngster up in her arms and smiled at this new piece of information. "Tarren Ephiny came up the tree?" she asked, staring at her now beat red friend.

"The child nodded. "Uh huh." She reached into her blankets and pulled out the amazon’s cloth. "Here’s your clothe…thanks," she said, tossing it to the woman whose face was now covered with both hands.

Xena took a seat beside the fire and cradled her daughter in close. "So what did she say when she came up the tree to see you?" she asked, knowing this was now torturing her friend’s icy façade.

The little girl bit her lip and shook her head. "Sorry Momma but that’s private," she replied winking at the amazon.

Xena grinned at let her hands travel far inside the blankets. "Private huh I’ll give you private," she teased finding the child’s ticklish spot. After the youngster was giggling the mother stopped and just held her daughter gently on her lap.

Tarren glanced up at the warrior and grinned. "Ya want your cuddles now Momma?" she asked.

Xena lowered her eyes a bit as she felt the stares of both her friends on her.

"Cuddles?" the amazon asked with a chuckle.

Gabrielle was much more understanding. She shook her finger at Ephiny in warning. "Hey leave Cuddles alone."

The warrior nodded knowing this title would be with her for as long as she let these two women live. Which, she decided, may not be through the end of the night. It seemed fair. She did after all tease them both whenever moments presented themselves. However being the Warrior Princess and capable of whipping them both, she did feel a certain amount of restraint was in order.

Before she could warn her laughing friends off with so much as a glare a small figure planted in her lap spoke up. "Stop teasing Momma, " the child warned with all the authority she could muster. "It’s not nice," she admonished, staring at Gabrielle.

The bard immediately went silent, as did the amazon. Neither woman realized that the youngster might be effected by the taunts.

"Uh sorry Xena," Ephiny mumbled.

"Yeah me too. I’m sorry Xena," the bard echoed quietly.

The warrior smiled broadly and looked down at her small partner. She whispered something in the child’s ear that brought a broad smile to the youngster’s face.

"When?" the child asked anxiously.

The warrior nodded. "Bedtime," was all the mother would say.

Tarren accepted the answer as fair and nestled into her mother’s lap ready to offer her best cuddles. Xena opened her arms and allowed the youngster’s gentle embrace. "Baby I would say I am very lucky to have you to look after me," she whispered, still grinning wildly at her two very silent friends.

The child just smiled and nestled in her mother’s lap finding comfort in the familiar spot and looking forward to bedtime.



Chapter 9 – Legend of the last Amazon


Later at supper…

Tarren had dramatically piled three bedrolls one on top of the other before she wishing to be able to sit somewhat comfortably for the meal.

She glanced over at Ephiny waiting for the amazon to tease her in revenge for the bruised ankle, but the woman smiled and tossed the youngster her own blanket. "Here junior make it as soft as you can."

The youngster grinned in appreciation.

Xena had seen to Argo and returned to the fire. She shook her head in wonder when she noticed the tilting pile of blankets the child was sitting on. Still the frowning youngster wore an expression on her face that said they were not nearly enough.

The mother slid onto a log beside her child. "Hmm looks like you have a problem," she said, giving the center of the blankets a gentle nudge and watching the pile slowly collapse.

Tarren rolled out her lip not appreciating her mother’s idea of help. "Uh huh."

Xena grinned and winked at Ephiny. "Well would you prefer my lap Tarren?" she asked, patting her legs in offering.

The child poked at her mother’s firm thigh. It was muscular. She placed a few of the blankets on top of the warrior’s legs and then lowered herself onto Xena’s lap with a sigh.

The warrior tried not to smile realizing this was quite serious to her young daughter. "Better?" she asked, wrapping her arms around the child.

Tarren smiled and repositioned herself until she was comfortable as she could be under the circumstances. "Uh huh. Thanks Momma."

The warrior kissed the top of the little girl’s head. "You’re welcome monster."

Gabrielle moved beside the fire and offered all plates of food. "Well I hope you like this. We had a lot of fish today," she said with a wide smile. However, when the bard put a plate in front of Tarren the child declined.

"I don’t want any Gabby"" the youngster said sadly, turning her head into her mother’s side.

The young woman knelt in front of her placing a gentle hand on the child’s leg. "Why not? Do you have a tummy ache?" she asked with a touch of concern.

Xena felt the youngster’s skin but there was no sign of fever.

Ephiny turned and faced Gabrielle "A tummy ache? You guys really need to get out with adults more," she said with a sigh.

Xena ignored the comment and glanced down at her child "Tarren what’s wrong?" she asked, knowing her small daughter’s appetite could be consuming at times.

The child pushed her way closer into Xena’s side as if wanting to hide from everyone but her. "It hurts when I eat Momma," she whispered.

Xena frowned and lifted the little girl gently up onto her knee. "Where baby?"

Tarren pointed inside her mouth. "My tooth."

The warrior shook her head and covered her face with one hand. "Oh gods you really are rotting your teeth on that candy," she moaned. The mother took a deep breath and placed her hand on the child’s chin carefully tilting her head back. "Let me see."

The youngster obediently opened her mouth for inspection and Xena noted that one small tooth in the side was very loose. The warrior touched it and the child yelped and closed her mouth nearly biting her mother’s finger off.

"Sorry," the warrior apologized wondering if there was any skin left on her finger.

Tarren rubbed the side of her own mouth. "Its Ok Momma…It was an accident," she replied cautiously.

Xena nodded and glanced at the waiting bard. She reached into her medicine pouch and pulled out a large red leaf and again motioned for the child to tilt her head back. "Open," she requested, but he child covered her mouth with both hands.

Xena let out a short breath. "Open…I have to put something on it," she explained.

The child removed her hands and did as she was told. Xena smiled and gently rubbed a leaf on the surface area. Before the child could complain the tooth had been removed.

As she stroked the little girl’s back, Xena placed a small piece of cloth in the spot and told the youngster to bite down. "Are you Ok?" she asked, bringing the little girl in closer.

The child nodded.

Xena forced a smile and instructed the youngster to keep her mouth closed around the cloth until told otherwise.

The child nodded again. "Yech Momma," she gurgled.

Xena lay the child over her shoulder and glanced at the small tooth in the leaf. She arched her brows in confusion and put the object to the side for later examination.

"Ok let me see," the mother said, peering into the youngster’s mouth once again. "Well how does it feel?" she asked her young patient.

Tarren let her tongue slide along the inside of her mouth and smiled. "Funny…like something’s missing…But it doesn’t hurt anymore Momma," the child replied appreciatively.

Xena reached down and picked up the small tooth. "Well something is missing monster," she answered displaying the item.

The child shrugged paying no attention to her mother’s prize. "What?"

Xena dangled the object in front of her child. "Your tooth!"

The child’s face filled with excitement. "Hey that means the Tooth Goddess will come and leave me a present tonight. I have to put it under my blanket," she screeched, taking the small object from her mother’s hand.

The warrior grinned at her young daughter’s smiling face. "Tarren have you lost teeth like that before," she asked, remembering the few vacant spots with teeth just starting to grow she had seen in the little girl’s mouth.

The child held the tooth up in the air and giggled. "Sure Momma but don’t worry I’ll get another one. Nala said I have spares ya know," the child informed the group.

Xena nodded and ran her hand gently along the child’s face. "Tooth Goddess huh?" the warrior asked taking the tooth in her hand and examining it.

Tarren waited impatiently for the item to be returned. "Yup that’s where I got some of my treasures from," she explained.

Xena handed the anxious youngster the tooth and the child quickly ran to her bedroll and placed it under her blanket. "Ok now I’m all set," she announced patting the area to make sure it was in a good location.

Gabrielle could not help but smile at the child’s actions, but her smile faded when she noticed the strange look of concern on the warrior’s face. "Xena?"

The look the warrior gave her said they would talk about the subject later and Gabrielle nodded in understanding.

Xena took a deep breath and called to the youngster. "Hey no Tooth Goddess is gonna come if you don’t eat your supper," she warned.

Tarren skidded back to her mother’s lap and gently lowered herself down into position before reaching for her plate.

Xena grinned and glanced at Gabrielle, "Oh and make sure you get all the vegetables. The Tooth Goddess would like that," the mother advised.

The youngster frowned but did as she was told. There were some things that were not worth taking chances with and the Tooth Goddess, like her mother, was one of them

Ephiny chuckled every time she heard the words.

Xena motioned for her daughter to continue eating and turned to her laughing friend with a look of question. "What’s so funny?" she asked with a slight growl.

The amazon shrugged. "Oh nothing I was just wondering what the Tooth Goddess looked like. I’m thinking leather. Ya have to admit it is sort of funny Xena," she replied in a low voice so the child would not hear.

The warrior mother moved in closer and smiled oddly as she nodded at her friend. "Well maybe but my little girl doesn’t think so Eph," she whispered in a tone that warned any more laughter might result in an amazon hanging from a very high tree.

Ephiny’s face went blank. "Yeah right…err sorry Xena," she replied lowering her head and concentrating on her meal.

The warrior smiled at the bard knowing they were in for a very long night.


Xena watched as Gabrielle readied Tarren for bed.

"Hey Gabby what was the best thing you ever got from the Tooth Goddess?" the child asked with an inquisitive smile.

The young woman thought about it and gave the child a crooked smile. "Hmm…A rag doll…I think," she replied remembering the fantasies of her childhood. The bard kissed the little girl on the cheek and pointed to the warrior sitting by the fire.

The child did not hesitate to skid over to her mother and jump into the warrior’s open arms "G’night Momma," she thundered. The child leaned in closer and whispered in her mother’s ear. "You won’t forget will ya?" she asked referring to the whispered promise of earlier.

Xena ran her hand gently along the child’s face as she stared into the youngster’s round face and large blue eyes. "No I won’t forget. I’ll tuck you by myself in a bit later, so don’t fall asleep without me monster," she whispered in return.

The child nodded and was about to depart when the mother grabbed the child’s hand. "Ya know you’re going to sleep without a fuss…You ate all your vegetables…Hmm," she teased.

The child tilted her head to one side. "Of course Momma. The sooner I go to bed the sooner the Tooth Goddess comes. Don’t you remember?" she asked, wondering what her mother’s best treasure had been.

Xena thought back to her own childhood. Cyrene was usually too busy for such trivial things when she was growing up though Xena hand often played the part of Tooth Goddess for her younger brother. She smiled at the child’s logic. "Oh I get it, so you figure that if you’re real good now that the Tooth Goddess doesn’t mind if you were naughty all day?" she asked with a smirk.

The child’s smile faded and her tone become serious and filled with concern. "Momma do you think that the Tooth Goddess will know I got a spankin for being naughty and won’t come?" she asked, gripping her mother’s large hand for support on this important matter.

Xena grinned and picked the little girl up. "Baby I think that the Tooth Goddess knows just how pure your heart is and I promise you that she will come tonight. Besides, there’s no need for her to know about you getting a spanking. That’s private stuff between you and me. You do know mother’s and tooth goddesses talk. Don’t ya? " she asked winking at the now smiling bard.

Tarren’s eyes went wide at the thought. "Ya do?

Xena waved her hand in the air. "Uh huh."

The child leaned in closer to her mother’s lips hoping to gather more information. "What do you to talk about Momma?"

Xena shrugged as she studied the awe struck expression on her child’s face. "Oh just private stuff…ya know…sort of like the chats I have with the Solstice Santa.

"You know him too?" the little girl asked. This figure was one she had only heard rumors of but had never actually seen or received anything from.

The warrior leaned back and studied the condition of her leather straps. "Uh huh…So I guess you better be real good all the time. Huh?" she replied, hoping for a bit of influence.

Tarren thought about her mother’s words. Having good connections was important, and so were presents. However that was not really a reason to sacrifice ones way of life. "Well…I can’t do that, but it’s Ok Momma. I’ll love you no matter what you tell them," she replied with a look of pure innocence.

Xena shook her head and groaned knowing full well that she had just been out maneuvered once again. "Come here monster." Xena hugged her daughter tightly. "I’m just teasing. I’d never say a bad word about you and you know it," she stated without hesitation.

The youngster’s smile returned and she hugged her mother noticing a single tear running down the warrior’s cheek.

The child wiped it away. "Momma what’s wrong? Are you still feeling bad cause I got a spankin?" she asked with a hard swallow. The child knew how much it hurt her mother to punish her and sometimes, as the amazon had thought, that bothered the child as much if not more than the punishment itself.

Xena wiped her face dry and stared at the child seated so lovingly in her lap. This small person depended on everything she said and did and loved her no matter who she was or would ever be. "Of course I’m still feeling bad because you got a spanking, but I’ll get over it, so don’t think you won’t get another one if you misbehave like that again."

The little girl bit her lip as she felt the sting of her mother’s hand still ringing loudly on her bottom. "Don’t worry I won’t Momma," the child replied patting her mother on the head.

Xena nodded and kissed the child’s cheek. She wanted Tarren to understand how much she loved her, but she also wanted her to know that part of that love meant following rules and paying the consequences if those rules were broken. It was a tough world they lived in and to survive Tarren would have to learn this. No matter how much it broke Xena in two to see her daughter shed one tear, the mother would not hesitate to discipline her if she crossed the line and she wanted the child to know it.

The mother let out a long breath and was eager to end this subject in exchange for a more pleasant one. "Now then youngster just what do you think the Tooth Goddess should bring you?" she asked with a gentle smile, hoping the word pony was not mentioned.

Tarren thought about it for a moment and shrugged. "I dunno She always seemed to know what I like, so I trust her."

Xena kissed the little girl and then gently lifted her into her arms and carried her back to

the bedrolls.

Gabrielle covered the child with her blankets and smiled. "Goodnight Brat."

The child grabbed hold of her friend’s hand before she could rise. "Gabby can I have a story please?" she begged.

The bard looked at the child and shrugged. "Honey I don’t know if I have a good one at the moment. I tell you so many," she replied sadly.

The little girl looked at her mother and lowered her eyes. She really did want to hear a story. After all it had not been a very good day.

A voice walking out of the darkness and into the shadow of the fire spoke, "Well I have one if Tarren wouldn’t mind." Ephiny glanced at the little girl who grinned remembering how the amazon had joined her in the tree and had even offered her own bedroll at supper.

The youngster popped up from her blankets. "I don’t mind if nobody else minds."

The warrior smiled at the regent. "Well Eph I guess she’s all yours. But please nothing that will keep her up all night. I want to sleep tonight," she begged.

Xena kissed the little girl. "G’night monster. Don’t worry I’ll come back after the story is over," she said with a wink. She started to rise only to have the small hand pull her back down. "No Momma, you and Gabby listen too," she said in a pleading tone.

The warrior frowned knowing this would delay her plans for the evening. She looked at the grinning bard and lowered her eyes in surrender. "OK." Xena lay down beside the child who quickly nuzzled in beside her. The mother wrapped a protective arm around the youngster and nodded at the amazon to begin what she hoped would be a short story.

Gabrielle crouched on the blankets on the other side of the child and the youngster offered the bard her hand.

Ephiny grinned at the familial sight and then knelt beside the fire poking it gently with a stick. "Ok children." Xena arched her eyebrows at the title. Gabrielle just giggled a bit.

The regent’s smile softened and she moved in right beside Tarren. "This is a legend of my people junior. Are you sure you can handle it?" she asked as if preparing to reveal a great secret.

The child nodded enthusiastically.

The amazon smiled approvingly. "Well many...many summers ago… in the time of my grandmother’s grandmother the amazons were one great nation…one family of warriors… Not these divided tribes we are now," she said in a near whisper.

Ephiny paused remembering her dilemma with the tribes and Xena gave her a gentle nudge with her boot to signal her to continue with the story.

The amazon nodded and glanced back at the already wide-eyed child. "Well anyway in this time of the great amazon nation there was a mighty queen named Reea. She was the strongest queen in the land since she was the leader of the entire amazon nation. She was a great warrior, brave and was said to have the purest heart in all the land. Artemis herself had chosen Reea as queen." Ephiny’s voice trailed off as she thought of this time in her history. "There was peace in the land while she ruled and all my people were happy."

Tarren smiled at her mother and the bard enjoying the way the story was going so far.

Ephiny folded her legs together and moved in closer. "Reea wanted to see the nation grow even greater, so she wanted to increase the amount of amazons in every tribe. So in order for have more amazons…."

Xena gently kicked the regent in the leg to warn her against starting something the warrior was not interested in finishing at this moment.

Tarren had a puzzled look on her face wondering why Ephiny had stalled in the story and why she was now rubbing her leg. "Why would you need more Amazons?" she asked with a shrug.

Ephiny looked at Xena and sighed. She had not meant to go up this trail and now she needed a short cut back. "Well…we needed to build more huts and stuff so we wanted more amazons. There was a tribe of very strong men called the Argonians that had always helped us with building …amazon…stuff…" she replied, wiping the sweat from her brow.

Ephiny paused and glanced at Xena to see if the explanation was satisfactory. The warrior chuckled a bit at the ridiculous answer her friend had given but nodded her approval for the story to continue.

The child noted the exchange and frowned wanting to hear more. "And what happened next?" she asked impatiently.

Ephiny held her hand up in the air as if ready to begin anew. "Yes…well the Amazons and the Argonians had lived in this kind of understanding that they’d help each other out. It worked out well for many generations. But Reea wanted to bring the two tribes together. She wanted them to be one big…err…family, so she and the leader of the other tribe started talking about how this could be done."

Tarren shook her head. Once again she was being told how complicated grown-ups made the world. "What’s the big deal? Why didn’t one side just move to where the other side was and everyone could play nice together?" The child looked up at her mother. "Right Momma?" she asked with an innocent stare.

Xena nodded trying to get the image of Amazons and Argonians playing nice out of her head without laughing. "Yes that’s right baby," she said as quickly as she could.

Ephiny sighed at the interruption but continued. "Ya see Tarren that was the problem. The land that each lived on had been in there families for generations so neither side wanted to move. Many in both tribes were very much against this joining of …err…families." The amazon paused trying to remember why she had volunteered for this.

Tarren frowned at the hesitation. "Ephiny can we please hear more of the story?" she asked impatiently.

The amazon looked at Xena and Gabrielle who both shrugged. This new bard was on her own. "Sure…Well Reea was determined to do what was she thought best for her people. Being amazons warriors her subjects were going to do what their queen told them to do. However many of her regents asked that she visit the Hall of Honors and consult the Book of Artemis just to be sure…."

"What’s that?" the child interrupted.

Ephiny felt this was a fair question for a non-amazon. "Well that’s the place where amazons keep all there prizes and things that are important to the tribe," she replied.

The youngster smiled and pulled her treasure bag close. "I have a hall of honors. Got all my treasure in it," she said proudly, patting the side of the satchel.

Xena and Gabrielle smiled and regarded poor Ephiny who only wanted to continue the tale.

Ephiny stretched out her arms and reached for a water skin. She took a big gulp before continuing. "Well that’s good junior. Now can I continue?" she asked with a crooked smile.

The child shrugged. "Sure…I dunno why you keep stopping," the child replied quietly.

Ephiny glanced at Xena who just gave her a look that said volunteers are never turned away or allowed to question. "Soooo Queen Reea went to the Hall of Honors to consult the Book of Artemis which was kept safely locked in the Chest of Vision…This box was created by the goddess herself to protect the book. Ya see this book of parchments contained the entire history of the nation. It was very old and throughout the generations it offered the queen of the nation the wisdom to rule well." She paused. " It was a very special book Tarren," she said quietly.

The child did not hesitate to ask. "What happened to the book and the chest and Reea and…."

The regent held up a halting hand. "I’ll get to that if you stay quiet." She handed the child the water skin. "Here have some water. You look thirsty," she said watching the child take a lengthy drink.

Ephiny took a deep breath and continued "Well Reea as queen possessed the only key to the Chest of Vision. Only that key could open the box. Nothing else …even Artemis herself could not lift the lid without the magical key. It was made from solid gold taken from the very crown of Zeus. As queen Reea always wore it on a heavy chain around her neck. No other was even allowed to touch it."

The youngster fidgeted a bit in her blankets. "Why?"

The amazon smiled. "Because Artemis made the chest to protect the book and the amazons from anything and anyone including a god. It was a great trust that was bestowed upon the Queen."

The child shrugged. "Oh…I bet Momma could open the chest with her chakrum," the child offered, patting the warrior’s leg.

Ephiny grinned a bit. "Well you really do need the key Tarren. It’s not about strength."

The child frowned. "I still say Momma could open the chest."

The regent looked at Xena for help and the warrior sighed. She pulled the child closer to her. "OK…Tarren the key is magical, so I might not be able to get the chest open. Now let Ephiny continue the story," she said quietly. Xena smiled and motioned for the amazon to go on.

The regent cocked her head to one side and stared at her infamous friend. "Might not?"

Xena tasseled the youngster’s hair and grinned. "Well Eph it’s not like I ever tried to open it ya know," she replied with a shrug.

Gabrielle could sense a war of Egos coming on so she was quick to intercede. "I think Tarren would like to hear the rest of the story. I know I would," she said trying to control her excitement at her friend’s tale.

Ephiny looked at Xena and sighed heavily. "Ok Tarren...Queen Reea opened the Book of Artemis and after reading it realized history had shown it would be best if the tribes remained separate. However, Queen Reea wanted to make the change anyway. She felt the book of her ancestors was wrong so she ignored its wisdom and…."

The child sat up in her blankets and shook her finger at the storyteller. "Uh oh she was naughty," the child warned.

Ephiny gently pushed the youngster back into her blankets and turned to her two friends. "Does she always do this?" she asked, wondering how many interruptions she could take.

Both Xena and Gabrielle nodded.

Seeing the look of frustration on the amazon’s face, the warrior mother leaned in and whispered something in the child’s ear.

The youngster poked out her lip and folded her arms together but replied quietly to whatever had been said. "Yes ma’am."

Ephiny nodded in appreciation and continued. "Well Queen Reea told her tribe that the book of Artemis agreed with her decision and that the tribes would join immediately but…."

The storyteller was interrupted once again.

The child’s eyes went wide. "She fibbed!"

The youngster received a warning glance from her mother that said the story would soon end if she interrupted again. The little girl lowered her eyes and nuzzled closer to her mother. "Sorry," she squeaked.

Ephiny looked up at the night sky and closed her eyes. When she looked back at Tarren she could not help but smile. She placed a gentle hand on the child’s arm. "It’s Ok junior. My son does the same thing."

Tarren smiled at her new friend.

Gabrielle nodded approvingly realizing that the amazon was finally getting the hang of dealing with this child.

The regent sat comfortably beside her friends and started the story with a renewed sense of purpose. "Well the amazon people were not happy but as I said they were warriors and pledged their loyalty to their queen. And if both she and the Book of Artemis said this was what they should do, then this was what they would do," she said firmly.

The amazon waited for an interruption but the child just lay quietly in her mother’s arms obviously having been warned that any future outbursts would mean the story ended unfinished.

Ephiny smiled at Tarren and continued. "Well Queen Reea arranged a meeting with the leader of the Argonians. His name was Barlon and like most of the Argonians, he was very dark and tall. His skin was tight from the heat of the sun and his face was wrinkled a bit from the many summers he had ruled. But he wore the mark of leader and that made him very special to Reea."

Tarren bit her lip. "What was the mark?" she asked in a whisper, hoping a low voice would be allowed for questions.

The amazon waved a hand in the air before Xena could scold the child. "It’s Ok…Well Tarren all Argonians were marked with a tattoo…Uh a picture drawn on their arm of a sword. However as leader, Barlon had the mark of a sword being run through a large stone. It was a sign of great strength," she replied quietly.

The child nodded and grinned appreciatively at the amazon for the explanation.

Ephiny winked at the child. "Reea was asked to attend the meeting with Barlon alone. So even though it was against every custom the tribe had ever known, Queen Reea left her people alone. She went to the camp of the Argonians to meet with Barlon. When she arrived he greeted her with wine and food, but what she didn’t know the food had been drugged. Reea soon fell asleep not knowing what was about to happen," the amazon said in a near whisper leaning in close to Tarren to emphasize the coming danger

Gabrielle swallowed hard and peered at her friend "What was about to happen?" she asked impatiently.

The child giggled at the bard and then looked up at her mother. "Momma does Gabby have to go to bed without hearing the story if she interrupts?" the youngster asked with a mischievous smile.

The warrior arched an eyebrow at her friend. "Maybe." She was not setting a good example for the child.

The bard glanced at Xena and stuck her tongue at the warrior to show she was not interested in her friend’s high brows. She then turned to the regent and sighed. "I’m sorry Eph…I was just really into the story," she explained.

The Acting Queen and Regent covered her mouth to hide a smile. "Uh huh It’s Ok… Gabrielle," she replied.

Ephiny looked down at Tarren more interested in the child’s reaction to the story. "Ya see Tarren the Argonians had fibbed to the Amazons about becoming one people just like Reea had about what she saw in the Book of Artemis. The men didn’t want to be friends. They wanted to steal our lands and enslave my people," she said sadly.

"Bad men" the youngster mumbled.

Xena could feel the child pushing in closer to her side and Gabrielle felt a little hand tighten on her own. The warrior knew the youngster was scared and was hesitant about the story continuing.

Ephiny smiled at the child and nodded. "Yeah junior they were very bad men. While Reea was asleep, the men attacked the central village and the Amazons were scattered. They were lost without their queen Tarren, but they would not allow themselves to be taken as slaves, so every last one of them fought. Those that survived took their families from the home of their ancestors and started new tribes in faraway places." Ephiny waved her hand around the small camp. "Actually Tarren this very ground we sleep on was part of Reea’s village," she explained.

Tarren’s mouth dropped open and she crawled onto her mother’s shoulder for safety.

Xena frowned at the amazon knowing the youngster would surely have nightmares.

Ephiny ignored her and continued wanting the entire story to be revealed. "Reea awoke a day later and was greeted by the Goddess Artemis. Artemis had with the wave of a hand sent the Argonians to some far away place. They were never seen again, but it was too late. All the Amazons were already gone. Queen Reea was the only one left. She was the last amazon. Artemis chastised the queen for lying about what was in the book and…."

Tarren leaned over her mother’s head covering the warrior’s eyes. "Oooh she must have been really mad. Did Reea get a spankin?" she asked, knowing what behavior like that would get her if Xena were around.

The warrior gently lifted the child off her shoulders and back into the warmth of the blankets. "Shhh!"

Ephiny chuckled and scratched her head. "No Tarren …She sure deserved it but she was a bit big for that. However, when Reea asked where her people had gone Artemis refused to tell her. The goddess said that if she wanted to find them that she would have to search on her own." The regent paused in the story and studied the child’s face. "Ya see Tarren, Artemis told Queen Reea that she would not be allowed to pass to the great beyond until she found a person with a heart as pure as her own had once been to take the key to the Chest of Visions. That was her punishment. She had to spend eternity thinking about what she had done wrong and trying to make it right."

The youngster cringed at the thought. "That’s worse than watching the tree for an hour," she groaned.

Ephiny smiled. "Yeah I’d say a bit worse," she replied, winking at her warrior friend.

Tarren waited for more of the story but Ephiny said nothing.

The youngster leaned forward anxious for more. "So what happened to Reea?"

Ephiny’s voice dropped to a low and serious tone. "Well that’s just it Tarren, the legend says that she was truly the last of her amazons and that Reea searched for her tribe in every part of the woods and on every mountain, but could not find them. There were even rumors in some small tribes of her being seen walking in the woods carrying the key in her hand…Actually junior it is said that even now, all these many years later, Queen Reea walks these very lands searching for one to give the key to. "

Tarren let her mouth stay open so long that Xena gently pushed the child’s chin up to close it. "Wow! What about the chest and the book?"

Ephiny stretched out her legs and shrugged. "My tribe has the Chest of Visions in our own Hall of Honors. It is one of the most prized possessions we have, but without the key it can’t be opened so all of the secrets and wisdom of the Book of Artemis are lost forever."

Tarren leaned forward and touched the amazon’s hand as if consoling her. "So how come you don’t go looking for Reea and get the key?" she asked.

The Queen of the Amazons smiled and touched the child’s cheek gently. "It’s just a legend Tarren. As much as my people could use the help of the Great Book right now, we’ll just have to survive without it." Ephiny tilted her head and stared into the soft blue eyes of the youngster. "My grandmother once said that Queen Reea appeared to her and that she was even still wearing the gold key on her neck, but she did not offer it to my grandmother…so I guess Reea felt her heart was not pure enough…I dunno." By the time the amazon had finished the story her friends could see that the tale had taken its toll on her.

Tarren jumped up from her blankets. "Zeus that sure was a great story Ephiny. Thanks" the child stated, offering the amazon a quick hug before returning to her now grinning mother.

Ephiny closed her eyes and got to her feet trying not to let a tear fall let a tear fall. "You’re welcome Junior," she replied with a controlled breath.

The youngster leaned back and folded her arms deciding to give the matter some thought. "Maybe when we get to the village we can go find Reea and ask her for the key so you can read your book," the child suggested.

The amazon grinned at the idea. "Maybe we can Tarren." She paused deciding that perhaps a more realistic gesture was in order. "I’d be happy to show you the Chest of Visions in the Hall of Honors if you like," she said with a smile.

Tarren’s eyes went wide at the thought of such a privilege. She looked up at her mother hoping for approval. "Please Momma."

Xena kissed the little girl’s head and placed the child in the blankets. "Only if you stay quiet now. Or have you forgotten about the Tooth Goddess coming," she teased.

The child suddenly appeared concerned. "Yeah I did. Got to get to sleep now. G’night Gabby…G’night Ephiny," the child whispered leaning on her mother’s leg comfortably.

The amazon smiled happy to have been included in the tender farewell. "Goodnight junior," she replied moving to the far side of the camp.

Gabrielle looked at Xena wondering if she was going to follow. "Coming?" she asked.

The warrior mother glanced down at the child using her leg as a pillow and nodded. "Yeah I’ll be along. I’m just gonna make sure she gets to sleep," the mother replied with a shrug.

Gabrielle waved and moved to the other side of camp to join Ephiny.

The warrior looked at the face of her young daughter and sighed. "Stop pretending you are asleep. I didn’t forget," she moaned.

Tarren’s eyes popped open and she smiled at the warrior grateful that her mother kept all her promises.

Gabrielle slid beside Ephiny who was seated on a log in front of the fire. "That was a great story," she said with a broad smile.

The amazon had been lost in thought until her friend spoke. "What? Thanks…Actually it wasn’t just a story…Reea was my ancestor Gabrielle, so the story means a lot to me," she replied watching the flames of the fire burst in the air.

Gabrielle warmed her hands on the flames and tilted her head to one side. "And you shared it with Tarren. Eph that was so sweet," she answered, touching her friend’s shoulder.

Ephiny shook off the touch and got to her feet. "Yeah…I did," she replied, turning and walking into the darkness.

Gabrielle watched as her amazon friend disappeared into the night to find peace in her solitude.

Xena rubbed the little girl’s back and hummed a soft melody until she was sure the child was asleep. "Happy trip my little one," she whispered, kissing the youngster gently before rising and walking over to the fire.

Gabrielle moved over allowing her larger friend some room to sit. "What were you doing that took you so long?" she asked with a slight frown.

Xena shook her head. "Nothing…just keeping a private promise. Where’s Eph?" she asked scanning the camp. " I really wanted to thank her for telling Tarren the story."

The bard tossed a few sticks on the flame and shrugged. "I think she needed to be alone for awhile. You know how those warrior types are. When they feel an emotion other than anger coming on…run and hide…You know the type," she replied with a smirk, giving her friend a gentle poke.

Xena returned the poke with a little bit more force. "Very funny."

Gabrielle grinned and glanced at the sleeping child. "She sure does love a good story," she chimed.

"Hmm wonder where she got that from," the warrior groaned.

Gabrielle grinned, happy to contribute something to the youngster’s imagination that did not involve thumping someone.

Xena moved over to the blankets and pulled out the tooth the child had hidden. She walked back to the fire and handed it to Gabrielle. The bard examined it closely in the light of the fire. "Wow a baby tooth?" she asked in disbelief.

Xena nodded and pointed to the small figure sleeping in the blankets. "Yeah and she has a mouth full of them," the mother replied.

Gabrielle looked at the tooth and then back at her friend. "Gods Xena what’s going on? How can Tarren be that young?" she asked with disbelief.

The warrior let her chin fall onto the palm of her hand as she considered the question. "I don’t know but Lyceus said all would be revealed in time and that it was a good thing, so we’ll just have to wait and see. She is so young Gabrielle," the mother replied staring at the soft round face of her child.

Xena watched the youngster for a second and then just shook the thoughts off. "In the meantime my friend we need to get out little wands out if we are going to play tooth goddess tonight," she declared getting to her feet.

"Gods I forgot," the bard exclaimed. "Any ideas?"

Xena smiled. "Yeah one!"

The Following Morning…

Tarren woke and immediately reached under her blanket. Just as she had thought the tooth was gone and its place was an object in a very carefully wrapped cloth. Inside was a silver buckle with a hook on it. The metal had been completely flattened and a design similar to Xena’s chakrum had been etched around the edges.

The child’s eyes went wide at the sight. She glanced over at her mother, who much to her surprise was still fast asleep, as was Gabrielle. Ephiny was seated by the fire polishing the hilt of her sword.

The child quietly arose from the blankets and walked over to show her prize to her new friend. "Look!" She opened her hand and displayed the buckle.

Ephiny grinned and eyed the precious gift. "Wow that is really beautiful…Looks sort of like your Mom’s Chakrum on the edge," she whispered knowing that would please the youngster. "I guess it must be to hold that slingshot of yours," she continued, realizing the child had not yet figured out the item’s purpose.

Tarren’s mouth opened wide at the idea.

Xena had taken her silver hair buckle, which had been in her family for generations and hammered it smooth into a belt buckle. She fastened a small hook for the slingshot to hang from. With the bard’s help she etched the design of her chakrum along the edges and that polished it smooth. It truly was a work of art.

Tarren ran her small fingers over the item as if it were made of glass and might break if not handled with extreme care. "Ya think?"

Ephiny stared at it for a moment and looked at the bright-eyed child. "Yup I’d say you’d slide the buckle through your belt and put your weapon on that hook…just like your mom," she stated with great authority.

Tarren smiled at her friend and then looked back to her sleeping mother and frowned. "She sure is lazy this morning," the child moaned, tempted to pounce on the warrior to wake her. Remembering the events of the day before, however, made her think better of it.

Ephiny could see the child was anxious. "Uh…well I think she was up late talking to the …Tooth Goddess about you," she replied, wondering when she had been weaved into the web of this fictitious figure.

Tarren bit her lip nervously hoping her mother had kept her word and had not mentioned just how much trouble she got in.

The amazon grinned as she ran the cloth over the hilt of her sword once again. It had to be perfect for her return to the village. Regent or Queen, she was in charge and that meant a lot. "Yeah but don’t worry she only said nice stuff."

The child sighed with relief and looked form the silver buckle back to the two sleeping women. "But I wanna get dressed, so she has to get up," the child muttered.


The child threw her hand back toward her mother and the bard and frowned. "Momma and Gabby make me take baths and I’m not supposed to take them alone," she replied, letting her head drop with disappointment at the delay of displaying her new treasure.

Ephiny looked at her two sleeping friends. She sighed knowing how late they had both been up working on the child's gift. She sheathed her sword and offered the child her hand. "Promise not to give me a hard time and Ill give you a bath," she said with a crooked smile.

Tarren thought about the offer. A bath with no fuss was not exactly a small favor, but she really wanted to wear the buckle. The child looked back at her sleeping mother and let out a long breath. "Ok it’s a deal but don’t tell anyone I went quietly."

The amazon smiled and took the child’s hand. "You have my word junior," she replied with a chuckle.



Xena opened her eyes and immediately noticed her young daughter gone. She scanned the camp and jumped to her feet when she did not see the child. The warrior poked the groggy bard with the tip of her boot. "Get up. Tarren is gone," she growled, wondering what it would take to get the youngster to obey her warnings about staying in camp.

The two women started searching the outer area until they heard the sound of splashing and laughter coming from the water below. Covered by the brush, the pair peaked out to see a small child being bathed by a laughing amazon as the youngster demonstrated her acrobatic abilities vaulting from the woman’s shoulders.

Xena shook her had and smiled seating herself on the ground. "Big tough Amazon huh?" she whispered.

Gabrielle yawned and settled in beside her friend. "Yup as big and tough as a certain Warrior Princess I used to know," she teased.

Xena frowned. "Hey I think most people that meet me would say I’m still big and I’m still tough," she warned.

Gabrielle nodded and threw her hand back in the direction of the giggling child. "Uh huh accept you can be brought to your knees by a certain little kid," she replied with a smile.

The warrior grinned knowing this was not a point she could argue. She took one more look to at the water to make sure her daughter was indeed being well looked after deciding even a momentary baby-sitter was greatly appreciated.

Xena shrugged. "So you wanna go fishing with me?’ she asked.

The bard nodded. "Sure why not. I’ll see if I can catch one of those rare and exotic talking fish you mentioned," she said with a giggle.

The two friends walked back to camp laughing.

Tarren stared up the hill she had climbed the day before. While on the one hand it brought back some rather still quite painful memories on the other, the hill was a very unique place. It was filled with trees and streams and had a vast meadow. It seemed somehow untouched and pure.

The youngster stared at the amazon lying comfortably on the shore.



"Who owns all this?" the child asked motioning up the hill and around the water.

The amazon thought about it. "Who owns it? Well I guess that if you are asking who it belongs to…The answer is my people. Why?" she asked with curiosity.

The child shrugged. "No reason…I was just wondering if they really needed all this stuff," she said, pointing to the trees.

Ephiny sat up and eyed the youngster. The child was definitely thinking of something devious. "Ok junior what’s on your mind?" she asked sternly

The child considered her options. Sometimes secrets had to be shared with someone and it could not always, unfortunately, be ones mother.



The trio continued in their travels. Xena knew they would arrive in Amazon village by the end of the day.

Tarren proudly displayed her new buckle with the slingshot hanging from it. "Momma do you like my new treasure?" she asked for the hundredth time.

Xena tugged on Argo’s reigns and yawned for the hundredth time. "Yes baby. I think it’s beautiful. It’s a true work of art," she replied winking at the bard.

The child moved up a bit closer. "Does it remind you of something?" she asked pointing to the design on the edges of the buckle.

Xena glanced at the bard and grinned. It was Gabrielle who had come up with the idea for the hook. After watching the child imitate Xena so much she knew it was the one thing she would love most. "Uh…Hmm...Let me look at it again." Xena paused and turned kneeling down to stare at the silver buckle. She looked at it for a long moment.

The child was getting impatient. "Well?

The warrior glanced at her chakrum and ran her finger around it and then did the same to the buckle. "Well ya know it does sort of look like you wear that slingshot like I wear my chakrum …And ya know that design sort of looks like the same on as on my weapon. What do you think?" she asked as if wanting a confirmation on this new discovery.

Tarren tried to act surprised at her mother’s words though she had waited all morning for the warrior to say them. "Well maybe a little bit…If you say so Momma." The child grinned at her mother and the warrior tossed the child playfully over her shoulder.

"Yes I do say so!"

The warrior glanced back at the amazon and bard trailing a good 10 paces behind. She then brought her daughter gently in front of her. "Tarren would you mind if I ask you a question?" Xena was not quite sure how to ask, so she opted for the direct approach.

"No Momma…I don’t mind," the child replied tempted to play with the forbidden straps once again.

The warrior smiled at the innocent look of love in her young daughter’s eyes. "Do you know...how old you are?" she asked quietly. It was in her previous night’s discussion with the bard that she realized that the topic of age and birthdays had never come up before. She had never in fact asked or told Tarren about her birthday.

The child’s smile disappeared. "Don’t you no Momma?" she asked lowering her eyes.

The warrior mother threw her head back to dismiss the question. "Well yeah…sort of…I know how old you should be but I just wanna know if you know."

The child reached for the warrior’s straps and frowned. "Does it make a difference to ya Momma?" she asked, concerned that her own lack of knowledge would bother her mother.

Xena kissed the little girl’s forehead and tapped the child’s hands away from the straps. "No baby…I just wanna know so I can take care of you right that’s all," she replied gently.

The child let her head drop on the warrior’s shoulder. "You do fine taking care of me Momma," the child reassured her.

Xena smiled. "You don’t know do you?" she asked sadly.

The child shook her head. "I asked Nala once and she said I was just a tiny spark in a big flame. She said I was only a baby and I couldn’t understand stuff." The child paused and reached for the straps once again. "Nala said I was real special and I didn’t need to have birthdays all the time like other kids," she said sadly. "Momma I never had a birthday party like you did," she mumbled.

Xena was so saddened by the way the topic had taken the smile from her daughter’s face that she did not have the heart to scold the youngster for pulling on her straps again. She forced a smile. "Well Nala was right. You are special…very special, but when your birthday does come we are going to have a very big party," the mother announced.

The little girl glanced at her mother’s eyes to confirm the statement. "No matter what Momma? Even if I’m naughty?" she asked wanting to make sure she covered all bases.

The warrior mother kissed the child’s forehead. "No matter what baby!"

Tarren smiled and thought about a party wondering just when that day might be since Nala had never even told her what day her birthday was. She made a mental note to ask her mother at a more private time.

The warrior held her small daughter tightly running her down the small of the youngster’s back

Gabrielle glanced at Ephiny who had been silent for most of the morning. "Hey are you Ok? You’ve been quiet for a long time even for you," she said with a half smile.

The amazon nodded but her thoughts were still distant. "I’m fine. I was just thinking about getting home. I’m anxious to see my son. I wish he wasn’t at he centaur village." She glanced at the child in Xena’s arms. "I miss him!"

Gabrielle patted her friend’s arm "I know you do Eph," she replied softly.

Ephiny grinned appreciatively at her friend. "I’ll be glad when this meeting with the tribes is over and I can bring him home. In the meantime I guess I should be thinking of what to say to the other queens and regents that will be arriving. I am glad to have you and Xena with me on this Gabrielle. It means a lot," she stated emphatically.

The bard shrugged. "Hey we’re all family Eph. You know that," she replied with a smile.

Ephiny nodded and was about to respond when she paused and stared straight ahead. Gabrielle barely had time to breathe as she noticed Xena had dropped Tarren behind her and was positioning herself in a fighting stance.

"What is it?" the bard asked glancing from one to the other.

With one swift move, Xena tossed Tarren up a tree. "Go!" she ordered, and the child scrambled to a high branch even though she would rather stay at her mother’s side.

This was a topic that was not even open for discussion. Just the mention of the idea earned the youngster a look that promised a painful reaction if she so much as continued the topic of conversation.

Xena drew her sword, as did Ephiny.

Gabrielle readied her staff knowing that her warrior friend’s keen senses must sense danger.

In a matter of moments a dozen amazons dropped from the branches to the path before them.

At first Gabrielle smiled thinking they were of her tribe coming to welcome Ephiny home. However Ephiny’s sword was as stiff in her grip as was Xena’s. These were not friends, but who were they and what did they want.

Continue to Part 4


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