Xena Warrior Mother Series –Story 6

Legend of the Last Amazon-Part IV

By Fantimbard

Chapter 10 – Welcome Home

Xena felt the muscles in her back tighten as she glared at the unwelcome visitors. She warned them back with a wave of her blade and a dangerous smile. "If you come in peace lower your weapons," she purred, already aware that this group’s visit was anything but peaceful.

The intruding Amazons held tightly to their swords and staffs ready for battle. They were dressed in skins as any other Amazon the warrior had ever met but something about them was different.

Standing firmly in the center of this small band of renegades was a young woman who, Xena could tell, by the tightness of her stance was the leader. Slim but muscular, she seemed to have great command over her fellow intruders.
This young Amazon kept a steady gaze on Xena as if deciding how much of a threat the leather-clad warrior truly was. "We have no fight with you stranger. Stand aside," she ordered, sliding her hand to one side to indicate the safest direction of retreat.

Xena shook her head and again smiled. "Sorry I can’t do that," she replied, twirling her sword to show the group her expertise with the weapon. "But if you turn and run now perhaps I’ll let ya live."

Tarren lay on the branch above watching the interaction with delight. This would be no real battle. Xena could take this group on all by herself if she had to and the child knew it. The youngster was counting the mistakes the invaders were making. After all, her mother had always told her that a real warrior never stopped to chat about a fight they just fought.

The warrior’s eyes grew cold and she glared at the leader hoping the wealth of her threat would be understood with that simple gesture.

Neither side moved.

Xena could not help but notice that these Amazons were all quite young. She did not wish to hurt them, but if her words and warnings were not enough to chase them off a fight was at hand.

The leader of the group took a step forward. "You talk a good fight stranger. Who are you?" she asked with a steady growl.

Tarren giggled a bit waiting for her mother to reply. This was always her favorite part. She leaned over the branch a bit trying to see the expression on the stranger’s face when the Amazon was given a response to her question.

The warrior took a step forward keeping her back protectively close to the tree she knew held her young daughter. "I’m Xena!" Her tone was low and threatening. "Who are you?"

Tarren watched the woman’s jaw drop and her face go white with fear as she heard the name of the infamous Warrior Princess spoken. "I am…Tyrell," she replied, trying in vain to keep her voice steady and calm.

Tarren nodded and settled back against the center of a branch that she had determined to be her stronghold. "Yup that’s the look…That’s my Momma," the child whispered proudly. She continued to eye her mother’s movement carefully.

Gabrielle and Ephiny exchanged glances when they heard a low mumbling in the group behind the leader. All seemed to take a step back simultaneously as the name ‘Xena’ floated through the band of Amazon ambushers with the same impact as a wave crashing against the form of an unsuspecting swimmer.

Tyrell could feel her grip on her people slipping. She turned her back on the warrior to face her band. "Enough! We were sent to do a job and we are going to do it. We are Amazon warriors not children," she said, her voice echoing in the trees. The words may have been loud but there was no impact of command in them.

Tarren looked down at the foolish stranger and shook her head. "That’s a big mistake lady. You should never turn your back in a fight…especially not on Momma." The little girl closed her eyes feeling a bit of sympathy for the fate of the young Amazon below.
A tap on the shoulder suddenly interrupted Tyrell’s ranting. The young woman instinctively turned only to be pummeled by a large fist. She fell to the ground with a loud thud.

Xena flexed her hand and shook her head as she glared at the young woman now lying in the dirt. "Stupid kid."

Tyrell was about to speak but the warrior’s warning glare silenced her. "Shut up already," she warned. Xena looked at the small band of renegades. "I think now would be a very good time for you to leave my sight," she said, hoping that her actions would dictate a retreat.

Tyrell knew that if she did not take control quickly her people might run forcing her to return home in shame. She got to her feet and stood toe to toe with the tall warrior. "No we fight!"

Xena tilted her head to one side allowing some of the air to drain from her lungs. She was not sure whether to be impressed with the girl’s bravery or awed by her obvious stupidity. "Maybe I hit her too hard," the warrior thought, wondering why this young Amazon would be stupid enough to get up after such a thump. She let out a long breath and twirled her sword once again this time letting her fingers caress the tip of the blade as she studied the now seething woman with the bloody nose standing before her. "Still need a fight huh?" she asked in a tone that was almost playful.

The leader nodded and Xena shrugged her acceptance of the young woman’s decision. "Ok." The warrior backed up to lessen the distance between she and her friends. "Hey if you really need a beating today who am I to deny you it?" she asked with mock sympathy.

Without further hesitation Tyrell raised her blade in the air. With a piercing yell she led her warrior’s into a charge against Xena and her friends.

The warrior laughed at the boisterous style of the attack. She vaulted in the air, her infamous battle cry, singing through the wind. She landed in the center of the attacking Amazons letting her blade swing in every direction. "Who’s first?" she asked, circling her blade around her, waiting for one of the attackers to have the courage to challenge it. When none stepped forward the warrior sheathed her blade deciding that it would not be needed to throttle this group of youngsters.

Gabrielle maneuvered her staff with great expertise bringing down two attackers and moving steadily onto a third.

Ephiny had her eyes trained on one, Tyrell, and when their swords clashed it was obvious that these two had met before.

Tarren watched the exchange, smiling as she saw how the warrior took down one attacker after the other with a kick, a punch or even an elbow. She smiled at the success of her mother and her friends wishing she would be allowed to join in the fun.

The youngster leaned against the nearest branch and sighed. "How come I never get to play too?" she muttered, knowing that was a question not even allowed to be mentioned in her mother’s presence without fear of a good swat just for the suggestion.

The child made herself comfortable and waited for the small battle to be put to an end.

Tarren knew her mother would soon tire of taunting the unskilled invaders. She could see the warrior was not really in full fighting mode. She was merely giving the strangers a taste of the dirt and kicking them around a bit to show them how truly outmatched they were.

A rustle in the trees across the trail suddenly broke the child’s concentration. She saw a dark figure with a bow in hand climbing onto a high branch. The youngster wasn’t exactly sure what this person was doing, but she did know that Xena always told her that in a fair fight you always showed your face.

Deciding that this stranger was not going to play fair, Tarren pulled a small rock from her pouch and readied her slingshot, praying to the gods for one good shot. She took aim and with a snap released the stretchy vine sending the stone flying through the air, hitting the hidden form squarely in the head.

"Ouch!" the surprised attacker yelped feeling the stone make contact with her temple.

Hearing the distant groan, Xena tossed her chakrum in that direction bringing the stranger and the branch she was perched on to the ground with a thud.

Tarren smiled proudly as she looked from her slingshot to the fallen woman now lying in the dirt. "Wow that was some rock," she said not realizing a chakrum had helped in this maneuver.

Realizing that the treed attacker was an assassin only increased the warrior’s efforts. Now swords were clashing more seriously. Playtime was definitely over. Xena pulled out her blade and swung her sword fiercely bringing down the last of the invaders. She turned an eye to her child to make sure she was still safe before moving back to aid her friends.

Tarren merely smiled and waved.

The mother shook her head. "Gods she thinks this is all for her entertainment," she muttered moving beside Gabrielle.

The bard knocked an attacker to the ground. "It’s always so nice to visit friends. Don’t ya think?" she asked the warrior.

Xena landed a sidekick in the midsection of an assailant and back fisted a second as she replied. "Yup…I’m just beginning to think we were not meant to take vacations Gabrielle."

The bard grinned as she twirled her staff in the air to warn off any further attackers. "Tarren?" she asked. The one word spoke of a shared concern and genuine love that the two had for the child.

Xena rammed three Amazons to the ground with the side of her sword and motioned to the trees. "Don’t worry she’s in the tree and loving every minute of this."

Gabrielle could not help but smile knowing she was, even in battle, a source of amusement for the child.

Ephiny was still locked in battle with a face that was all too familiar. Their swords fell against each other with purpose and threat in every clash. "This won’t change anything Tyrell," the regent growled.

The young Amazon raised her sword high attempting to swing her blade across the regent’s neck. "Yes it will. With you gone Ephiny all will be as it should be," she replied, trying to drive her blade forward with all her might.

Ephiny shook her head and swiped the young woman’s legs with her foot bringing her sword immediately to the intruder’s throat.

Tyrell reached for a knife in her cuff, but before she could draw it Xena stepped on the young woman’s hand.

"No I don’t think that would be very nice," the warrior growled, taking the dagger and tossing it into the brush. She pulled the woman roughly to her feet and grinned as she watched the remaining Amazons flee. "Well it looks like your friends don’t wanna play anymore. Why did you attack us?" she asked, keeping her sword wavering just below the stranger’s throat.

Ephiny placed a hand on the warrior’s arm letting her know it was not necessary to keep her sword on this stranger. "It’s Ok Xena. This is Princess Tyrell. She is eldest daughter of Queen Penela of the eastern tribes." She paused as she considered her words. " Her mother has made it clear that she does not wish the tribes to even speak of joining. I guess she sent this band of warriors to kill me, thinking it would put an end to all talks," she said in a somber tone, never taking her eyes off Tyrell.

Tarren swung playfully from the high branches watching the interrogation begin.

Gabrielle stepped forward and stared at the young stranger. "Why would you do that? Ephiny is trying to bring your people together better and stronger," the bard asked. She was confused why any Amazon would not welcome the concept of being joined in one nation again.

Tyrell spat at Ephiny’s feet. "One nation!"

Xena put a tight hold on the back of the woman’s neck. "Do that again and I may just forget you’re our guest, " she warned, letting her fingers close.

Tyrell grimaced under the warrior’s tight hold. Knowing she was now a disgraced captive she allowed her shoulders to slump and her muscles to go limp. She glanced at the bard and shook her head. "One nation? One people? Those are just words. We may all be Amazons." She glared at Ephiny. "But we are not all the same and we do not all wish to live under one ruler," she said, making no attempt to hide her hatred for the regent.

Ephiny could feel her own features tighten and her eyes growing cold as she listened to this mere youngster denounce the only hope of survival her people had. "Traitor…I should kill you," she said, steadying her blade to the woman’s throat.

Tarren coughed loudly to let her mother know she did not wish to sit in the tree any longer than she had to. She dropped to a lower branch waiting to be told she could descend. "Momma?"

That one simple word broke the anger and hatred that Ephiny was allowing to guide her sword. She took a deep breath and lowered her blade just enough to let the warrior know she did not plan on passing sentence on this criminal.

Xena glanced at the child and nodded her approval. She watched as the youngster skillfully made her way down to her mother’s side.

The child stared at the prisoner. "You really shouldn’t turn your back on someone in a fight," she said, folding her arms ready to offer her wisdom on the matter.

The warrior mother closed her eyes and shook her head. "Tarren you go wait by Argo. This is not something for you to watch," she said, motioning to the large war-horse grazing about five paces away.

Tarren kicked a large rock with the tip of her boot to show her dissatisfaction at being left out of the game once again. "But Momma I never get to listen," the child replied, letting her wide eyes drop to the ground.

Xena arched an eyebrow and stared at her young daughter letting her child know that such behavior in the midst of even a late battle scene would not be tolerated in any way shape or form. By the look on the warrior’s face Tarren was sure that her outburst was going to earn her a lengthy scolding on this very subject. "Do as you are told…Now!" The words were so precise and so crisp that the youngster nearly stumbled trying to comply.

Tarren swallowed hard and nodded. "Yes ma’am." She scurried to the exact location her mother had designated as the place she should be. The little one stood by the horse’s side hidden underneath the mare’s heavy neck. She poked her head out just long enough to see if her mother’s angry stare was still pointed at her. The child sighed with relief thankful that it was now aimed at the captive.

Xena held the struggling assassin in her grip like a fish fresh off the line. "Well Eph she was apparently sent to get rid of you. What do you want done with her?" she asked, thinking it might involve rope and tying the stranger to the back of her saddle.

Gabrielle glanced at Ephiny hoping her friend would chose wisdom over weapons. She could see the anger boiling in her just as she had seen it flow through Xena in battle.

The regent grabbed Tyrell by the throat. Seeing Tarren watching from the distance she loosened her hold. "Ya know if there wasn’t a little kid present I might just cut you in two, but I’m gonna let you go just for her." She motioned toward the child. "I want you to tell your mother and anyone else who is interested that the movement to join the tribes will continue no mater what happens to me…right Queen Gabrielle?" Ephiny motioned toward the bard to accept the use of title at least for the moment.

Gabrielle tried to stand a bit taller and take a more regal pose. "Uh…that’s Right. We will be working together to make the nation whole again," she replied, realizing her efforts might very well be useful in this endeavor.

Tyrell glared at Ephiny knowing that her failure to execute the head of the Joining Movement would be a mark against her warrior status in her mother’s eyes. She bowed her head slightly to show her respect to the three fighters for their expertise and the queen who had spared her life. With one last look at the trio she took to the trees and disappeared.

Xena sheathed her sword. "Well she’s a nice girl," she said with a grin.

Ephiny let out a long breath. "She was a nice kid until all this stuff started. Her mother is old and afraid of the changes that might take place. She has poisoned Tyrell’s mind," the regent replied.

Tarren fidgeted by the horse as the trio approached wondering what the conversation had been about and why the prisoner was being allowed to leave. Xena generally took even road tramps to prison if they were still standing after a fight.

Gabrielle anxiously moved beside the warrior concerned about the rest of their journey. "Hey do you think there will be more attacks Xena?" she asked, glancing at the child waiting nervously by the horse.

The warrior shook her head and studied the trees around them as she walked. "No I think the message has been sent that we are not such an easy target, but just in case nobody goes off alone" She paused as she reached her daughter. "And you young lady…." She pointed to Tarren. "Stay with me at all times," she ordered.

The child nodded feeling once again like she had been left out of an important battle.

Xena knelt beside the little girl and the youngster waited for the scolding to begin. The warrior smiled and carefully lifted the slingshot from its silver hook. "Ya know that was a really good shot. I might not have seen her in time if you hadn’t hit her with that rock," the mother said proudly, rubbing the child’s head affectionately.

Tarren grinned widely now realizing the treed woman’s demise had been a group effort. "Ya mean I helped?" She could barely hide her excitement at the thought.

Ephiny placed a gentle hand on the child’s shoulder. "You did more than help Junior. You saved my life and for that I am in your debt…Thank you," she said, bowing her head slightly to show her appreciation.

Tarren’s eyes went wide. Never before had she realized all the power one small pebble could have. "You’re welcome," she replied with a satisfied grin.

Gabrielle rubbed the youngster’s head and took the point of the trail beside Ephiny.

Xena could not help but smile at the way her young daughter basked in the glow of the compliments. She placed the slingshot back on the buckle and lifted the little girl into her arms deciding that was the safest place to have her. As they walked along the mother’s smile faded. "Tarren?"

The youngster grinned deciding this must be more praise. "Yes Momma."

The warrior let their eyes meet, so the child could see how serious her words were. "If you ever argue with me or hesitate to move like that again I’ll paddle your backside so long you won’t sit for a month. Understand?" she asked in a parental tone that meant business.

Well at least it wasn’t a very long lecture. "Yes ma’am," the youngster replied quietly.

The warrior mother nodded approvingly and kissed the child’s cheek. "That’s my little Monster," she said, knowing no further words were needed.

Tarren sighed realizing the glory was now over and it was back to being her mother’s baby again. After taking a moment to consider that position she smiled. She nuzzled in to the warrior’s arms enjoying both the comfort and closeness of her parent and protector.

Gabrielle walked beside the now silent Ephiny. "Hey are you Ok?" she asked with obvious concern.

The regent nodded. "Yeah I just never thought that it would come down to stuff like this. I mean there has been grumbling and angry words spoken but Gabrielle." Her voice became distant and low. "Amazons fighting Amazons? That is not what I want to see happen."

Gabrielle placed a comforting arm around her friend as they walked. "Ephiny Xena has always told me that making a war is a lot easier than keeping a peace. I agree with that, but I also believe that all the extra effort needed to keep a peace is worth it." She paused and moved in front of her friend. "Eph you are doing a great thing trying to join the tribes together again. It will bring unity, prosperity and most importantly it will keep the Amazon people safe. As one nation the tribes will not be such an easy target for the likes of the Romans," she finished, her words carrying a strength and power that her friend had never heard.

Ephiny paused. "You know Gabrielle you make it sound almost possible," she replied with a grin.

The bard smiled and waved her hand wistfully in the air. "I believe anything is possible if you work hard enough at it."

The regent came to a halt and faced her friend. "Then take your place as queen and make it happen," she replied firmly.

Gabrielle was a bit taken back by the force of the words but smiled kindly. "Ephiny you are the queen and you, if anyone, will make this happen for your people."

The Amazon sighed. "They are you’re people too," she stated, wondering why her friend always refused her rightful place.

Gabrielle considered the words and shook her head. "No Eph, The Amazons will always have a special place in my heart. I will always consider them family, but…." She motioned back to a warrior carrying a small child in one arm and holding the reigns to her horse in the other. "They are my people," she answered softly.

Ephiny nodded in understanding and smiled. "Even the horse?"

Gabrielle chuckled a bit. "Yeah even the horse. Argo and I have a very unique relationship," she replied with a smirk.

Seeing how the words saddened her friend made the bard give her a gentle nudge. "Hey that doesn’t mean I don’t want to help, but their can only be one queen Eph and that is and always should have been you. OK?"
The Amazon nodded grateful for the words of encouragement. "Yeah, but you are still a princess of this nation so if anything should ever happen to me, I want your word that you will take your place as queen." Her words were filled with a force that left little room for questions.

The bard was about to protest when she noted the now sour expression on her friend’s face. It was bad enough to insult these people by refusing an honor such as being their queen but to refuse this request would be as bad as spitting in her friend’s face and Gabrielle knew it. "Of course Ephiny…I will be honored to maintain my title as princess and should, not that it ever will, anything happen to you I will do what is best for the tribe," she replied, knowing the wording in the promise was just vague enough to leave her options.

The queen nodded. "Well then Princess Gabrielle you will be expected to help with these negotiations for as long as you are with us and I hope you and your people will stay for a while," she replied with a regal pose the bard wondered if she could ever master.

Gabrielle bowed her head slightly. "Whatever you wish my Queen," she said with a wink and a bad curtsy.

Ephiny let out a short breath and grabbed her friend by the arm. "Will you get up. Who the hell taught you how to do that?" she asked realizing her princess needed some polish on her royal etiquette.

Xena grinned as she watched Gabrielle being helped out of yet another failed royal bow.

Tarren looked over her mother’s shoulder at Argo and waved at the large horse that immediately whinnied in response. The child tapped her mother on the arm. "Momma can I ride on Argo for a while?" she asked.
Xena gave her child a rather quizzical look. "I dunno can you ride on Argo?" she asked, gently patting the seat of the child’s britches.
Even her mother’s very soft touch elicited an immediate yelp that resulted in the child caressing the still very sore spot. "Ouch!"

Xena grinned a bit and offered her assistance trying to rub the sting away. "Sorry…Well I guess that answers that question doesn’t it?" she said running the palm gently over the child’s britches.

Tarren poked out her lip and stared at the horse giving the matter careful consideration. If her mother’s past efforts held true the child wouldn’t be able to sit on Argo’s hard saddle for days. That was just not acceptable. While allowing the warrior to continue soothing her bottom with her motherly caress, the child leaned over the warrior’s shoulder and whispered in the horse’s ear.

There was whinny a pause and then two more whinnies.

Xena smiled at the conversation taking place between the mare and youngster.

Tarren leaned back on her mother’s shoulder and once satisfied that her sore spot had been placated enough, she again patted her mother on the arm. "Momma…Argo and I have it all worked out. Can I ride her?" she asked pleadingly.

The warrior stopped and placed the child on the ground. "Are you sure you wanna try? I am not spending the entire day rubbing your sore little bottom ya know," she informed the youngster with a crooked smile.

The child nodded. "It’s Ok Momma…Argo and I have it all worked out," the child repeated.
Xena looked around the trees to make sure it was safe before deciding to give the youngster a chance to demonstrate her idea. She reached for a bedroll and placed it in the saddle. "OK come on," she said with a sigh offering to lift the child into the high saddle.

Tarren shook her head. "Oh…No Momma I can’t ride there," she replied pointing to the hard leather and shaking her head vigorously.

The warrior glanced at her horse that seemed to nod in agreement.

Xena moved over to Argo and patted the horse gently. "Trouble maker," she moaned, staring right into the eyes of her mount. She then looked down at the innocent expression of her child. "Ok then how would you like to try and ride?" she asked, wondering what part of the horse looked soft enough to sit on.

Tarren looked from Argo back to her mother and folded her arms. "Turn around and we’ll show ya," the child answered eager to make it a surprise.
Xena glanced down at the smiling face of her child and grumbled a bit before turning. She heard a bit of shuffling behind her and then giggles. "Ok Momma we’re ready to go now," the child said with a chuckle.

When Xena turned again, the sight of her young daughter hanging upside down captured her. The small legs were wrapped tightly around the horse’s massive neck and she was swinging freely in the air as the mare moved slowly forward.

The warrior mother tapped the reigns in her hand and moved in beside the large animal. She rolled her eyes and took a breath before glancing at the youngster. "Tarren you can’t ride like that. It’s not safe. You’re legs will get tired and give out before I can count to 10," she informed the child while giving her mount a warning glare.

"Will not Momma."

"Will too."

The warrior crouched down so she was eye to eye with her stubborn child. "Ok this seems to be something you need to learn the hard way." She started the count. "One, two three, four, five, six…."

The youngster closed her eyes trying to concentrate on the muscles in her legs, which were quickly giving way. "Come on Argo we can make it past 10," she groaned, hoping the horse would offer her strength.

Xena smiled and positioned herself on the ground below the child. "Uh huh…Seven, eight, nine…." Before the mother could say 10 the small form fell like a sack into her waiting arms. "Ten…Well hello there. See what happens when you don’t listen to your very wise mother," she said with a smirk.

The little girl nodded and lowered her eyes in defeat as her mother pulled them both to their feet. "Yes Momma."

The warrior shook her head and gently tossed the little girl over her shoulder and again grabbed the reigns of her horse. "I guess you’ll just have to settle for riding me…poor kid," she said with a dramatic sigh.

The child smiled knowing her mother’s arms were really where she preferred to be, but the youngster did not want Argo to feel forgotten. She patted the horse on the head. "It’s Ok girl. We tried. Maybe later Momma will give me a ride with a much softer saddle,’ the child said quietly hoping her mother had indeed heard the request.

Xena brought the child back in front of her and grinned. "We’ll see how many gray hairs you give me today." The mother’s words were soft and tender.

Tarren gave her mother her most wide-eyed smile and Xena could not help but hug the little girl tightly. "Ok Monster we’ll figure something out," she said happy to be holding her child in her own arms once again. "We’ll figure something out together."

Later that day…
There were the familiar calls from the trees and then the familiar faces of Amazons dropped to the trail to greet their returning queen.

Both Eponon and Solari approached Ephiny and bowed their heads. Solari carried the formal headdress of the queen. It was a large bonnet filled with feathers and appropriate for the returning queen to wear as she returned to her tribe. She handed it to Ephiny as she bowed. "My queen you have arrived safely. We were getting worried," Solari said, glancing at the familiar and unexpected faces of her friends.

Ephiny took Solari’s arm in a firm warrior grasp. "It is good to be home." She placed the familiar headpiece in position and sighed finding comfort in its weight. "Well I had a few delays but I picked up a few old friends along the way." She motioned toward the now sleeping child in the warrior’s arms. "And I even made a new one…I hope," she said tentatively.

Solari and Eponon first moved to Gabrielle and again both bowed their heads. "Queen Gabrielle you have returned to us," Eponon stated proudly.

Xena chuckled a bit until she noticed Gabrielle was now giving her the ‘cook for your self’ glare. "What? What did I do?" she asked trying to sound innocent.

The bard grinned at the warrior and even gave her large friend a gentle poke to let her know she did not want this encouraged. She waved her hands in front of her as if trying to dismiss the formality of the greeting. "We’re just here for a visit so can we just leave it as Gabrielle OK?" she begged.

Ephiny let out a long breath and shook her head. "She still doesn’t want to be a queen," she informed the other Amazons. The queen gave her friend a long hard stare. "But she is still a princess and make sure everyone remembers that," she finished in a regal no nonsense tone.

Eponon and Solari both nodded and crooned in unison. "Welcome home Princess Gabrielle."

There was obviously no escaping some form of title. The bard turned a bit red but nodded. "Thanks guys…It’s good to be …home." Her words were a bit unsteady but heartfelt.

Xena did her best to hide her amusement at her companions discomfort but the expression on her face told Gabrielle that the warrior was enjoying this all a bit too much. "Later warrior…You just wait until later," she grumbled through a set of locked grinning teeth.

The warrior bowed her head a bit. "Yes my Princess," she teased, making even Ephiny chuckle a bit at the site.

Soon all eyes were focused on Xena.

Each Amazon bowed their head and shook the arm of the great warrior. "It is always an honor to see the great Warrior Princess. Welcome my friend," Eponon said grasping the warrior’s free arm tightly.

Xena returned the friendly greeting. "Thank you. It is always an honor to be welcomed by the proud Amazon people," she replied, winking at the bard to show her how a proper hello was made.

The group stalled in their conversation as Eponon and Solari studied the child in Xena’s arms who had been awakened by the loud conversation.

Tarren yawned and glanced around at all the new faces. She grinned and pulled a feather from the head of Eponon’s bonnet. "Oooooooh!" The child waved the bright red feather in the air trying to tickle her own nose with it.

Eponon stood speechless at the act of this unknown youngster. Among the Amazons feathers were a sign of rank and status. This small child had just demoted her.

Xena did not hesitate to remove the feather from the child’s hand with a gentle slap. "Hey what have I told you about touching other people’s things?" she scolded.

The child lowered her eyes and watched as her mother handed the feather back to the shocked Amazon. "Sorry Eponon. She can be a bit a…grabby at times," Xena said in an apologetic tone.

The mother glanced down at her now sulking child and shook her head. "Young lady you apologize for taking something that didn’t belong to you," she ordered in an angry parental tone.

The little girl opened her blue eyes as wide as she could and swallowed as she looked at the dissatisfied expression of the stranger holding a single feather in her grip. "I’m sorry," she mumbled, wrapping her arms tightly around her mother for protection.

Eponon did not know what to say or do. Only a queen could restore her feather and her status. She looked back at Ephiny who was finding it difficult not to laugh.

The queen sauntered over to her best friend and weapon’s master. She took the feather from the Amazon’s hand and placed it in her bonnet once again. "There no harm done. You’re still the one with all the feathers Eponon," she said with a slight grin. "Well accept for me that is," she stated with a smirk, reaching to her own bonnet and yanking out a small feather and handing it to Tarren. "Here Junior. I have lots of extras," she said loud enough for all to hear.

Tarren looked up at her mother for approval. "Can I have it?" she asked quietly remembering the slap on the hand she got for touching the last one.

Xena looked at the pleading eyes of her mischievous daughter and let out a gentle growl. "Yeah you can have it. But I better hear a real nice thank you for Ephiny," she replied, giving the little girl a gentle squeeze.

Tarren grinned widely and took the little feather. "Thank you Ephiny," she said as politely as she could.

The queen winked at Xena and tasseled the child’s hair. "My pleasure Junior," she replied taking her place at the front of the group once again.

Tarren played happily with her new treasure once in a while even trying to tickle Xena behind the ear with it. "Hee hee. Isn’t this fun?" she asked, moving the feather all around the warrior’s face.

Everyone could see how much pleasure the child was getting at annoying the great warrior, but some were confused by her lack of reaction.

Xena, for her part, stood stoically until she could take no more. She smiled and flipped the youngster upside down "Now are you done tickling me you naughty little girl?" she asked the giggling child.

Tarren tried unsuccessfully to reach her mother’s arms and pull herself up. "Yes…I’m done…I’m all finished," she replied, eager to be returned to her place of honor.

The warrior mother grinned and returned the child to the comfortable spot just over her left shoulder. "I thought you might be," she said patting the little girl’s back affectionately.

Tarren yawned and directed the feather towards her mother’s ear. Xena gave her a soft stare. "Youngster eventually its just gonna be you, me and that feather. I myself am having visions of a small naughty child being held securely in place by one big warrior and that little bitty feather tickling that naughty child while she begs for mercy," she warned.

The child paused for a moment and tried to picture her mother’s vision. Her eyes went wide when she realized it was a very accurate sight. She smiled broadly and stuffed the feather in her tunic, letting her head fall lazily back on her mother’s shoulder.

Xena nodded approvingly. "Uh huh…Smart little girl," she whispered. "Now go back to sleep Monster."

The child yawned and nuzzled into her mother’s arms. "Ok Momma," she whispered.

Xena knew the youngster was exhausted and wished that the group would just get moving again.

Solari looked at the frowning Eponon and then pointed to the child. "A wounded orphan?" she asked, wondering who this little one was and why Xena was carrying her.

Tarren’s eyes flew wide open. "Hey lady who are you calling an orphan?" she grumbled, wrapping her arms tightly around her mother’s neck, wondering if she would need to train every Amazon that she ever met.

Xena glanced down at the agitated child and grinned. "Youngster you watch your mouth. These are our friends and they don’t know who you are yet," she said in a soft but stern voice.

The child glanced at the waiting Amazons and frowned. "Well hurry up and tell them Momma," the youngster instructed, feeling an identity crisis approaching.

Xena patted her small daughter’s back and shook her head as she noticed Solari and Eponon’s eyes fly open as they heard the child address the warrior with a parental title. "I think you just did little one," she replied softly.

Eponon and Solari looked at one other and back at Xena. "Momma?" they repeated in unison as if afraid to even ask the reputed Warrior Princess such a question.

The warrior nodded wondering just how many of her friends she would have to beat up before they came to respect her new title as much as the old. "Yes my daughter," she stated proudly.

Tarren craned her neck so she could see right into the eyes of the now full-feathered Eponon. She arched her little brows and glared at the woman. "Yeah lady, that’s my Momma," the child growled, wanting to make sure everyone was clear on this fact.

Xena pulled the little girl back into position. "Tarren this is the last warning I’m giving you. Behave yourself and watch your mouth," she scolded, finding it hard not to smile at the youngster’s imitative look and sound.

Seeing that Xena was going into her protective mother mode and Tarren was going into her Tarren mode, Gabrielle stepped forward and rubbed the child’s head affectionately.

"No she is not an orphan just a very tired and very cranky little princess," she proclaimed, kissing the little girl on the cheek. She pointed to the now grinning youngster. "This is Xena’s daughter…Tarren."

The little girl reached out her arms and hugged the bard affectionately grateful for the added protection and support. "Thank you Gabby."

The young woman returned the hug. "You’re welcome honey."

There was a soft mumbling over the small group and all eyes turned to their queen hoping for an answer.

Ephiny chuckled a bit as she remembered her own reaction to the news. She also remembered that the child’s story was not for everyone and not to be told in front of Tarren. The queen waved a commanding hand in the air ordering her Amazons ahead. "Don’t ask, We’ll explain later," she whispered in Eponon’s ear.

The words were met with a slight bow and no further questions were asked.

Ephiny thought of the attack from Tyrell and started to move down the trail at a faster pace. She took Eponon by the arm and motioned her to one side. "We have a lot to talk about. I want to get back to the village. Did you walk or come by pony?" she asked, realizing with a quick scan of the woods that no horses were to be found.

Tarren yawned again as the group moved on. "Momma did someone say pony?" she asked with a sleepy smile.

Gabrielle grinned at the frowning warrior who just tightened her hold on her child as she spoke. "You must have been still dreaming a bit baby," the mother whispered, hoping to avoid this repetitive topic.

The youngster grumbled disappointed that there was not a pony to be seen. "Oh! Son of a…."

Xena paused in her movement. "Tarren!" the warrior scolded before the child could finish.

The child’s eyes flickered open. "Yes Momma? Sorry Momma …I was still asleep," she replied with a dramatic yawn.

The warrior looked at the grinning bard and started walking once again. "Uh huh well don’t you go swearing like that in your dreams either little girl, "she warned.

Gabrielle gave her large friend a nudge. "If you stopped doing it she would," she whispered, knowing that what Big Xena did little Xena copied.

The warrior folded her lips inside her mouth and leaned toward Gabrielle. "I told you I was trying. But she doesn’t have to do everything I do. I am a grown woman and a warrior," she stated proudly.

Gabrielle nodded and looked at the now wide-eyed child and winked. "Ok Xena, whatever you say. You are the boss. Right Tarren?" she asked knowing what the child’s response would be.
The little girl nodded vigorously to show her mother that this was something she had never doubted. "Yes Gabby, Momma’s the boss."

Xena noted the exchange and shook her head. "Uh huh." She looked at her small daughter and shook a warning finger. "I mean it youngster no more dirty words out of that mouth of yours. Got it?" she scolded, trying to remain as stoic as possible.

The little girl rolled out her lower lip and nodded.

The warrior noticed the familiar expression forming but raised her eyes as if unaffected. "Don’t even try it. I mean it. I really do. You’re gonna get it good if I hear another bad word out of your mouth," she continued to scold, her words losing a bit of their stiffness.

The child again nodded and sniffled at the scolding tone in her mother’s voice. "Yes Momma."

Xena heard the little sound and saw the wide eyes and felt her shoulders sagging a bit. "I mean it Tarren…I’ll…You’ll…Not one more swear or else." Xena stared at the face of her now sullen child and felt her insides turning to liquid. She leaned in beside Gabrielle once again. "Ok you win I’ll try much harder. Are ya happy?" she conceded, realizing that she was in a no win situation.

The bard smiled and patted her friend’s back. "That’s a good Warrior Momma."

Xena raised a brow at the title and grinned at the only person who really understood how much she had become just that. "Warrior Momma," she muttered, glancing at her still pouting child. "Ok no more scolding and no more pouty face. Give your clean mouthed mother a big hug Monster," she moaned, offering her daughter a soft smile.

The little girl’s eyes brightened a bit and she squeezed the warrior tightly. "Love ya Momma." The child could feel her mother’s heart beating faster as she said the words.

The warrior cleared her throat and closed her eyes as she returned the loving hug. "Yeah but only because I carry you around so much," she replied, kissing the little girl on the cheek.

The child bit her lip and shook her head. "No I love ya lots anyway just cause you’re my Momma. You want me to walk Momma?" she asked, hoping she would be allowed to stay in her place.

Xena grinned at the question and nuzzled her face in closer to the child. "No I like carrying you baby. So don’t get any ideas about walking away without me," she whispered with a crooked smile.

The youngster again hugged her mother. "I won’t Momma. I’ll always stay with ya," she replied happily.

Xena looked at Gabrielle and let her friend see just the corner of her lips rise. She then turned to Tarren. "You better stay with me Monster. I can’t make it without you…ya know?" she whispered in a sincere tone finding it hard to push away the lump in her throat.

Tarren cuddled in to her mother’s shoulder to reaffirm the fact that she had no intention of leaving this person, which she had declared to be hers. "I know Momma. We share the same heart. I remember," the child said proudly repeating her mother’s words from Amphipolis.

The warrior looked at the crowd of Amazons ahead of her and swallowed hard. This was not a place to break down and get all emotional unless she wanted to be challenged by every cocky Amazon in the village stupid enough to believe that the open heart she shared with her young daughter detracted from her skills as a great warrior.

Gabrielle noticed her friend was choking a bit and wanted to offer assistance with a quick change of subject. "Tarren I think maybe you should carry Xena for a while," she stated, giving the warrior a playful nudge.

Xena grinned appreciatively at the distraction. "Yeah…Err…I’d like that," she said closing her eyes to take final control of her emotions.

Tarren’s eyes popped wide open as she tried to imagine lifting her mothers armor none the less the rest of her in it. "Momma I don’t think I can do that…unless…Gabby helps." She chuckled, pointing a finger at the grinning bard.

The young woman had to smile. The kid was quick on her feet. "Well I don’t think just the two of us can do it but maybe if we get all the Amazons to help we can…."

Xena wrapped an arm around her friend so that her hand circled and covered the bard’s mouth. "Thank you both very much but I think I’ll just walk and carry my little girl on my own," she replied, winking at the grinning youngster. "However…." Xena released her friend and placed Tarren on the ground making sure the youngster’s hand was put right into Gabrielle’s. "Here hold her," she said with a wild grin.

The bard took the youngster’s hand and twisted her lips as she watched the warrior move beside Ephiny. She was whispering something quietly in the queen’s ear that Gabrielle could not hear. "What is she up to mow?" she asked the child who was also watching the exchange with interest.

Tarren played with her friend’s longhair as she waited for her mother to return. "I dunno but I don’t wanna be you right now Gabby," the child said with a smirk.

The bard looked at the youngster and grinned. "Thanks brat."

Xena returned and took Tarren once again. With a quick swipe she lifted the little girl easily onto her shoulder. "Ok thanks I’ll carry her and you can…."

Before Gabrielle knew what had happened four Amazons had lifted their princess into the air ready to carry her all the way back into the village in royal fashion.

Gabrielle struggled a bit but it was no use. She turned her head to glare at her friend. "Xena what did you do?" she growled, knowing this was all part of her friend’s idea of humor.

The warrior shrugged. "Me? Nothing…I just thought maybe that returning royalty should be carried into the village," she replied with a slight chuckle.

Gabrielle’s face turned red and she glared at her now smiling friend. "Xena I swear I’m gonna...Son of a…. "

The warrior waved a finger at the elevated bard. "Gabrielle! Watch your mouth. You are not only setting an example for Tarren." She motioned to the little girl in her arms. "But you are a princess and should speak with better form," she warned with a slight grin.

Gabrielle was about to respond until she saw the giggling child in the warrior’s arms waving a farewell. She settled back deciding this was not the time or place for vengeance or dirty words.

Xena watched with a heavy sigh as her best friend was ceremoniously carried off toward the village on the shoulders of four very strong and determined amazon warriors. She nodded at Ephiny who grinned realizing they both had better have someone watch their backs for a while.

Tarren giggled and again waved to her departing friend. "Bye gabby!"

Xena took a deep breath satisfied with her actions and then repositioned her child closer to one shoulder. "So youngster, you can’t carry me alone and Gabrielle has sort of been carried off, so I guess I’ll just have to carry you and you will just have to do something else for me," she said with a smile.

The child glanced up eager to do anything to please her mother. "Like what Momma?"

The answer was deadpan. "Stay out of trouble."

Tarren chewed on her lip as she considered the request. She reached for her mother’s straps and then thought better of it. She considered the feather tucked in her tunic but that wouldn’t help. "For how long Momma?" the child whined, already finding the time that had just passed too much to bare.

Xena grinned knowing the little girl was trying but just couldn’t seem to comply. "Forever," the mother replied with the dramatic wave of her hand. She would be happy to have one day but would gladly settle for one hour.

The child’s jaw dropped and her eyes opened wide. There were tears forming in the corners of her eyes and Xena could see she had gone just a bit too far with the request. Tarren wanted so much to please her mother that asking her to do something she couldn’t made the child feel like she was truly a disappointment.

"Ok…How about you stay out of trouble just until midday meal?" the mother asked kissing the child’s cheek hoping to see her familiar smile.

Tarren thought about it and continued to chew her lip.

The mother let out a long breath. "Until we reach the village?" she asked, determined to have some small victory.

The child lowered her eyes determined to be a good daughter. "Yes Momma." The small voice was so low and sullen that it was barely audible.

Xena let out another long breath and shook her head. She cradled the child in her arms and smiled. "Ok I guess you lasted longer than I thought you would," she said placing an affectionate kiss on her little girl’s forehead. "You just be you. That’s the best gift you can ever give me baby," she whispered softly.

The little girl sighed with relief grateful she could be herself again. She reached inside her tunic and pulled out the red feather and once again began tickling her mother’s face with it. "Ok Momma I’ll just be me," she said with a chuckle.

Xena grabbed the feather and flipped the child to one side tickling the youngster’s bare back. "How do you like it?" she asked, letting the feather run up and down the youngster’s skin.

Tarren giggled uncontrollably and the mother could not help but join in the laughter of her daughter’s innocent pleasure. She looked up ahead at the smiling face of Ephiny and the odd expressions of the other Amazons. "Yup I’m gonna have to whip half the village for this," she thought noticing the stares she was now getting. She shrugged her shoulders and let her concentration fall back on someone more important. "Oh well I can use the exercise," she muttered, returning to the feather torture her young daughter seemed to enjoy so much.

Eponon looked back at the playful pair walking behind and swallowed. She moved in closer to Ephiny. "My queen is that really Xena or have the gods sent her double," she whispered.

Ephiny chuckled at the question. The child had indeed added a new side to her warrior friend but she knew the old side was still there as well. "Well Eppy old friend why don’t you challenge her to a sword fight and find out?" she asked with a shrug.

The weapons master stood straight and glanced back at the warrior once again. This time Xena’s eyes were planted squarely her and she could see that in the deep blue gentle waters of her vision was still a lurking danger. "Uh no Ephiny. I think that would be a very bad idea," she replied with a shaky voice.

Ephiny glanced back at the now grinning warrior and winked. "I agree Eponon. That would be a very bad idea."


Back at the village….

As they walked into the center of the village, the still sleepy youngster glanced around at all the strangers now walking alongside their small group. The closeness and stares of the oddly dressed women frightened the child and she tightened her hold on her mother. She could not help but notice how each of these women was studying her just as closely as she was studying them.

"Momma why is everyone looking at us so funny?" she whispered, leaning in as close as she could to the warrior’s ear.

Xena felt the tip of her lip curl as she too noticed how all eyes were focused on her and her child. She thought about the best answer to give. "I guess they’ve never seen such a great slingshot buckle as the one the Tooth Goddess left you, " she whispered, not wanting the youngster to feel like such an oddity.

The little girl grinned and picked her chin up twisting her hip just enough to give all a better view of the prized item. "Well I can understand that Momma," she replied, giving a slight wave to the nearest fans.

The warrior mother smiled. "You are such a little show off." She shifted the youngster to her other shoulder. "Go back to sleep you little ham, " the mother mumbled, patting the child’s back gently.

Tarren yawned. She was indeed tired. Realizing that the group of peering strangers was only a few more admirers of one of her treasures, the child was content to resume her comfortable position on her mother’s shoulder and return to Morpheous to fend off the 50 waiting warlords.

When the honor guard entered with Ephiny the village filled with cheers.

Gabrielle sighed happy to finally be placed on her own two legs again.

The queen stepped on a singular tree stump in the center of the square and raised her hands to silence her people. "I am glad to be home and ever thankful to Artemis herself that I have brought such good friends back with me."

There was the sound of Amazon howls ringing in the air as Ephiny motioned toward her companions. She silenced the tribe again with another wave of her hand and moved back beside Gabrielle. "Look I have to meet with my tribal council and discuss a few things including what happened back on the trail," she grumbled, remembering how her sword had been forced to clash with a fellow Amazon. She took a deep breath and gazed at her friend. "Gabrielle I would like for you and Xena to join me at the meeting," she said in her most serious and authoritative voice.

The bard considered the request. She was anxious to do anything she could to help the tribes be reunited as one nation. The young woman glanced a few paces behind her. She looked at the warrior holding the now sleeping child in one arm. Xena was making a fair attempt at being pleasant while greeting an onslaught of strangers wishing to grip the arm of the famed Warrior Princess.

Tarren, for her part, remained fast asleep neither interested nor disturbed with the commotion being made by her mother’s presence.

Gabrielle closed her eyes and shook her head slightly. "I dunno Eph. We promised Tarren we would stay with her and she looks pretty spent to me."

Ephiny pursed her lips together and stared back at the small form in the warrior’s gentle grip. "Well bring her along. I’ll have a cot put in the adjoining room while the royal cottage is prepared," she replied with a shrug.

Gabrielle’s grin could not hide her admiration for such command. "Can you do that?"

Ephiny glanced at her nails and then the bright blue sky. "Remember I’m the queen. I can do anything and I am not about to get that kid mad at me again," she replied throwing her hands up in surrender. "I’ll just bet you’re sorry you gave up this cushy job."

The bard glanced back at her two friends and smiled. "Nope."

Xena pried herself away from the crowd trying to remain as polite as possible. She stood between the bard and queen hoping they would act as a wall between her and her admirers. The warrior mother adjusted her hold on her napping child and let her voice drop down to a low growl as she spoke to her friends. "Look I have shaken enough arms for one day. What are we doing? I want to put Tarren to bed."

Gabrielle let her fingers move a few stray hairs off the youngster’s eyes and the child fidgeted a bit at the touch. "Xena, Eph wants us to attend the tribal council meeting with her. She even said you could put Tarren in a cot in the next room while we discussed everything," she informed her friend, hoping she would agree.

Xena let out a quick breath and grinned at the queen knowing that such an action was completely against the rules. Besides the warrior neither wished to be confined to a room full of bantering Amazons or leave her youngster alone in a strange village. She placed a firm hand on the Amazon’s shoulder and shook her head. "Thanks Eph, but I really just came for the visit. Remember no Warrior Princess stuff. You and Gabrielle go ahead. I’ll take Tarren to our sleeping quarters and get her settled," she replied trying unsuccessfully to appear heartbroken at the idea of missing the big chat fest.

The bard glanced from Ephiny to Xena as if trying to decide where she was most needed. "Are you sure?"

Xena gave her friend gentle nudge toward the queen to help her decide. "Yes Princess…I’m sure," she replied with a sigh. "Now go!"

Gabrielle grumbled at both her friend’s use of title and the easy way she was dismissing her. She took a decided step beside Ephiny glancing back at the warrior. "Fine but don’t expect me to bring you any reports on what we talk about warrior, " she declared, holding her head high in the air and marching off to the meeting hall alone.

Ephiny watched her go and rubbed the sides of her temples. "If anyone asks her to tell a single story I’ll kill them myself," she said, watching the wistful young woman marching away.

Xena smiled and lifted her child closer to one side. "Well Eph have fun. I’m gonna go have a nice relaxing bath and maybe even get a bit of shuteye," she replied with a wide grin turning and heading in the direction of the familiar guest hut. She paused and motioned toward the distant figure of her best friend. "Oh and remember Eph…If the princess gives you any trouble there are plenty of trees around for her to watch," the warrior said with a chuckle grabbing Argo’s reigns and walking away.

Ephiny smiled and nodded in complete understanding. She looked longingly in the direction of her warrior friend and shrugged. "I’m the damn queen and I don’t even get to take a bath and relax," she mumbled heading toward the hall for what she knew would be a long session.
Once out of earshot of her friends, Xena looked down at the small form in her arms and grinned. "Thanks Monster, you just kept me out of a very long and boring talk session," she whispered, kissing the little girl on the head.

The child’s eyes immediately popped wide open "You’re welcome Momma," she replied with a mischievous glint in her eyes.

The warrior tightened her hold on the youngster and twisted her lips. "I knew you weren’t asleep you naughty little one," she said reaching her hand under the youngster’s tunic to tickle the child’s bare flesh.

Tarren giggled wildly as she tried to free her self from her mother’s gentle but firm hold but nothing could stop Xena’s fingers from sliding up and down the child’s side. "I’m not naughty. I was just playing like I was asleep," the child wailed, trying to cup her two small hands over hold her mother’s traveling fingers to keep them from moving.

Xena gave a dramatic nod. "Uh huh." While still maintaining a stoic pose for all she passed the mother managed to let her fingers slide slowly up and down the youngster’s side. "Naughty…Naughty… Naughty," she crooned.

The child squealed in agony and delight. "I’m not naughty."

"You are to."

"I am not."

"Oh really." The warrior flipped the youngster over and reached her hand under the child’s tunic again and let her fingers move just above the flesh on the little girl’s back.
Tarren giggled and screamed as her mother’s slender fingers ran up and down her spine.

Xena let her voice drop to a low whisper as she pulled the squirming form closer. "Say you’re naughty or I’m gonna keep going," she said with a tight-lipped smile.

Laughing so hard she could barely breathe forced the child to surrender. "Ok Momma…You win…I’m naughty," she said, her face red from laughter.

Xena smiled with satisfaction and again twirled the little girl so the youngster was once again facing her. "Well I just knew you’d see it my way eventually...Naughty," she crooned, wagging her finger in mock dissatisfaction at the child’s admission.

Tarren poked out her lip and folded her arms against her chest. "Not fair. I wasn’t naughty. I was just playing," she whined, letting her head drop on her mother’s shoulder.

Xena could see the lip starting to roll out and a serious pout in the making. The mother thought that perhaps the teasing had gone too far. "Ok you weren’t naughty. I was just playing with ya Monster," she whispered, placing a loving kiss on the child’s cheek.

Tarren picked her head up and grinned happy to have her naughty status revoked and even more content at having out maneuvered her mother. "Huh I won! I got you to say I wasn’t naughty," she said with a chuckle, giving one slight tug on the warrior’s straps before burying her hand under her head.

Xena stopped and looked down at the grinning face of innocence. "Why you naughty little monster. I’ll teach you to outsmart your mother," she said with a smirk. She again started the torturous tickles. "Tug on my strap you naughty little girl," she whispered as she found a spot on the youngster’s side that made the child squeal with laughter.

The mother was about to begin her torture anew when a voice from behind interrupted.

The warrior turned her head slightly to find a young Amazon standing stiffly in place. "Ahem excuse me Princess Warrior…I mean Princess Xena. Warrior Princess Xena…."

Xena was captured by the sight of the slender figure of a young girl standing before her. She couldn’t have been more than 17 summers and while she was definitely Amazon by her appearance, her demeanor seemed a bit soft for a warrior.

The Warrior Princess sighed realizing that her child’s lessons on how to treat ones mother would have to wait a bit. She stood to her full height and merely tucked her squirming child at her side pressed gently but firmly between her strong arm and side.

Tarren moaned at the rather undignified position she was being forced to maintain. Her head was left facing away from the conversation while everything from the waste down was being displayed up front. "Momma please put me down," the child groaned kicking her feet a bit.

Xena grinned and tilted her head one side to speak. "Nope. You stay right where you

are. I’m not done with you yet Naughty. Now behave. We have company up here," she said with a grin, turning her attentions back to the young Amazon.

The youngster contemplated kicking a bit more but soon realized her mother had her at a terrible disadvantage and with a very sensitive area alone and unprotected. So the child lay limp hoping this stranger would depart soon so the games could begin again.

The young Amazon smiled slightly and bowed her head. "Hello Princess Xena. I am Shalia. I will be your attendant while you are here," she said quietly, again bowing her head submissively.

The warrior could not help but grin. There was a definite gentleness about this girl that reminded her of a certain bard she knew. "An attendant? I don’t need an attendant," she informed the young woman with a nod.

Shalia lowered her eyes. "I am sorry Princess Warrior…I mean…But my orders come directly from Princess Gabrielle. I am to serve you as I would our queen. Those were her words," she replied her head still bowed.

Tarren wiggled a bit. "What’s an att…end…ant Momma?" a faceless backside asked.

The warrior mother frowned and stared off at the distant meeting hall. She bit her lip and let her eyes close to mere slits as she realized that somewhere in that distant structure sat a grinning Gabrielle. "An attendant sees to your needs," the mother answered calmly, wondering what the best way to get even with her friend might be.

Tarren considered the answer. "Well I need a sloppy cheese sandwich," the little voice squeaked.

The statement brought Xena’s attention back to the people around her. Gabrielle would have to wait. "There will be no sloppy cheese and no need for an attendant," the warrior replied sternly, making sure both the baggage under her arm and the young woman before her understood.

Tarren groaned. "Not fair. I wanna have an att…end…ant."

Xena tapped the child gently on the bottom and grinned. "Don’t worry Naughty. I am going to personally attend to you in a minute. Now behave," she warned.

Tarren bit her lip and closed her eyes as her mother’s soft pat once again reminded of her stinging bottom. "Ouch!"

Letting her fingers drum gently on the sensitive area as if lost in thought, the warrior continued. "Shalia I do appreciate the offer but I really don’t need…." Xena paused when she noticed how the once bright and enthusiastic eyes had grown dark and sullen at the thought of not being able to fulfill her duties. She let out a long breath. "Ok maybe I can use a bit of help with a few small things," she said with a heavy sigh.

Shalia’s smile returned immediately and she bowed from the waist. "I am at your service Princess Warrior Xena," she replied with a bubbly enthusiasm that was a bit too familiar.

Tarren covered her mouth and chuckled at the way her mother was being addressed. "Can I get down now Warrior Princess Momma," she cackled. She did not wish to pass this opportunity to get a few digs in on her taunting mother.

The warrior gave the youngster a slight glance and again tapped the child’s britches eliciting a groan from behind her. "Quiet naughty. This young woman and I are having a private conversation," she replied, trying to soften her tone to ease Shalia’s discomfort.

Tarren stretched out her arms hoping that at least one hand could reach around her mother’s muscular arm and protect her already sensitive spot from further playful pats. "But I wanna get down. Please Momma," the child begged.

The warrior mother lifted the little girl in front of her and smiled. "Better?"

The youngster nodded and took a deep breath. "Yup but I’m not naughty and I still wanna have an atten…dant," she whined.

Xena shook her head and sighed. With a quick flip of her mother's wrist, the youngster found herself once again positioned like a sack of potatoes under her mother’s arm. The mother let out a deep breath and shook her head. "Still Naughty," she mumbled.

The warrior stared at Shalia and gave the situation some thought. "Ok Shalia you can be my assistant." The warrior smiled broadly as she considered the two problems currently before her. "Yes as a matter of fact one of your duties will be to tell me if you see this one…." She pointed to the squirming legs packed neatly under her arm. "Doing anything wrong…If you do then you come tell me right away. You can be my first official Tarren watcher. OK?"

Tarren frowned at the idea of having yet another set of eyes watching her every move. "Oh Momma," she groaned.

Xena gave the youngster a gentle squeeze. "Shh Naughty. I’m talking with Shalia now."

The young Amazon nodded. "Yes it will be an honor Princess Xena," she replied bowing her head once again.

The warrior held up halting hand. "Rule one…I’m Xena. Just call me Xena and this naughty little backside here…." She turned around again so the young woman could see the pouting face of a small child. "Is my daughter Naughty Tarren. You can just call her Naughty," the warrior said with a slight smile

Tarren was not happy at letting a perfect stranger in on their private game. "Momma!"

Xena covered her mouth and shook her head. "Oh I’m sorry baby." She turned to the now smiling Shalia. "I guess she prefers to be called Tarren," she said in a more serious voice.

Shalia’s smile broadened as she realized that the warrior’s reputation for being mean was false. She could see her gentle side shining through in just the way she played so attentively and lovingly with her child. "Whatever you wish…Xena."

The warrior could see the girl’s shoulders had relaxed. It was a clear sign that she was not nearly as tense as a few minutes ago. "Ok so the that should do it," the warrior stated, turning to leave.

Shalia followed two steps behind. "May I see to your horse…Princess…I mean Xena?" she asked with an eager grin.

The warrior looked to Argo who whinnied in approval of the young woman’s gentle demeanor. She considered all the work involved in rubbing down the horse and sighed. "You don’t have to do that ya know," she replied letting out a quick breath.

The young woman bowed her head. "It would be an honor."

Feeling a bit uncomfortable by the constant gesture, the warrior motioned the young woman to stand straight. "Shalia you need not be so…formal…no bowing."

Tarren frowned realizing she was missing all the good stuff from where she was positioned. "I wouldn’t mind if she bowed to me Momma," the child chirped.

The warrior’s tone became a bit more serious. "Tarren behave," she scolded. "No bowing Shalia," she said firmly letting her eyes meet with the young Amazons

Shalia blinked her eyes in understanding. "I would still like to help. I would consider it a true honor to attend…I mean assist the legendary Warrior Princess," the awe struck young woman said with a long drawn out breathe.

Xena covered her face with her free hand and shook her head as she thought of this girl’s obvious admiration. "I hate this kind of attention and Gabrielle knows it. That’s why she picked the gentle one. She knew I wouldn’t send her away," she thought.

The Warrior Princess removed her saddlebags and with a fast slide, the private cargo from underneath the saddle as well. She placed the bags of coins quickly in her bags making herself a promise to have that long overdue talk with her daughter about the contents of the sacks. The warrior took a deep breath and handed Shalia Argo’s reigns. "Thanks for the…help," she said, patting the side of the mares neck. "Take good care of her. I’m trusting you."

Shalia touched the leather straps as if they were made of crystal. "Yes, Your Princess…I mean Your …yes ma’am," she stuttered, leading the horse away.

Xena watched wearily as the young Amazon departed. "Ma’am? Gods have I gotten that old?" she muttered, considering the age of the young woman.

"Yes," a small bundle of child replied.

Suddenly remembering she had a small child still tucked to one side awaiting an attendant, the mother placed her large hand gently over the seat of the youngsters britches. "Oh I am huh? Well maybe we should just see if you still feel like that in a few minutes. What’s your name?" Xena asked with a wicked smile.

Tarren swallowed hard. She couldn’t see her mother’s face so she didn’t know if she was teasing or not. It was not worth the risk. "Naughty!" her response was without hesitation.

Xena started toward the cottage once again. "Uh huh. I just knew it!" The mother brought the little girl up into her arms. "Ya know what?" she whispered holding the now quiet child lovingly against her chest.

The youngster sighed realizing she had been outdone yet again. "What Momma?"

The warrior let her voice drop to a soft and tender whisper. "I love you even when you’re naughty my little Monster," she replied, realizing the child much preferred that nickname.

Tarren cocked her head to one side and stared at her mother’s affectionate expression. "I love you too Momma…I guess," she said, lowering her eyes, so her mother could not see her smile.

Xena stopped in her tracks and raised an eyebrow as she looked into the eyes of her pride and joy. "You guess?" she asked anxiously waiting for a reply.

The child winked and Xena shook her head. "Oooooh that was mean. Now you are gonna get it you naughty monster," she warned, trying to hide her relief at her daughter’s idea of humor. "Little girl we are gonna have a long talk about what is funny and what is not," she said in a more serious tone.

The child realized that her words might have actually had an impact she had not intended. "I’m sorry Momma. I love you lots. You know that. Don’t ya?" she asked, biting her lip.

Xena glanced at the wide-eyed stare of her small child and grinned. "Yeah I know you love me…I guess." It was time to turn the tables. "I guess you better say it an awful lot to convince me."

The child smiled and wrapped her arms around her mother’s neck. "I love ya Momma."

The warrior shrugged. "Well I sorta believe you," she said with an overly dramatic sigh.

Tarren frowned wondering just how hard her mother would be to convince. She reached up and placed her wettest sloppiest kiss on Xena’s cheek. "I really love ya Momma."

The warrior mother grinned as she felt the excess saliva sliding down her cheek. "Yup you must really love me a lot to do that," she said wiping the remnants away with the side of her finger.

The little girl nodded. "Uh huh. I do. Want another one just so you can be sure?" she asked, eager to offer more proof.

Xena stared at the innocent eyes of her young daughter and smiled. "Nope I’m sure but you can save it for me. I may need it later. Ok?"

Tarren shrugged. "Ok Momma as long as you know I love ya lots."

In an attempt to teach her daughter a lesson, the warrior realized she had unintentionally treaded into territory that was going to take some skillful tracking to get out of. "Yes baby I know. I love you too."

Tarren giggled wildly as the warrior tossed her playfully in the air. Soon all that could be heard was the sound of the youngster’s laughter and continued promises of just how sure she was that she really loved her mother.


At the stable…

Shalia walked into the stall with Argo walking obediently beside. Another young Amazon immediately came racing over to her. "So what was she like? Is she really nine feet tall? Do you have to polish her boots and armor every hour?" the amazon asked.

Shalia held her head high in the air as she patted the side of Argo’s neck. She let her eyes fall on the stocky form of her anxious friend. "Rellona she is not as the warriors have told us. She is strong but still kind. She did not even wish to be attended to," she said still awe struck by the thought.

Rellona’s jaw dropped. "Wow, so what are you doing with her horse?" she asked afraid to even touch the great animal.

Shalia smiled broadly. "Xena trusted me with her."



Chapter 11 – The Royal Treatment

There were, as always two guards standing outside the door to the cottage. They came to full attention as Xena approached the doorway. "Ok we won’t be needing any guards. I can take care of things," she informed the two women.

Neither Amazon moved at first but then one bowed. "I am sorry but Princess Gabrielle’s orders were that we stay here and make sure you are not disturbed," she said keeping her eyes in the air and her body at attention.

Tarren giggled at her mother’s sour expression.

Xena twisted her lips in dissatisfaction. "My my our Gabrielle certainly has been a busy little girl. Hasn’t she?" the warrior mumbled, entering the cottage.

With the door closed and the world safely locked away, the mother playfully tossed the child on the first empty pallet she saw and stretched out her muscles. "Ya know I’ve been carrying you all afternoon?" she informed the child with a grin.

Tarren lay on the bed with her head leaning on her hands as her feet kicked in the air. "Momma…You said I wasn’t heavy, but I guess that was weeks ago…before you got old," she said, glancing up at her mother waiting for a reaction.

The warrior paused in her exercises and looked at the smiling face of her child. She playfully reached for the little girl who rolled quickly onto the floor and under the pallet. "So you still wanna play huh? Ok but when I get my hands on you I’m gonna…."

There was a knock at the door and the warrior frowned. She glanced under the pallet and smiled. "You just hide under that bed youngster. I’ll be right back to deal with you," she said giving one final swipe at the small figure before getting to her feet.

Xena opened the door and was met by Eponon. She grinned and stepped outside the cottage closing the door behind her to chat privately with her old friend. "Well I figured you’d show up eventually but I thought I’d at least have chance to get my boots off before this started," she said with a smirk.

The weapons master showed the warrior her open palms. "What are you talking about? I just came by to say hello," she replied, with an innocent smile.

"Uh huh." Xena folded her arms and shook her head. "How long is the list?"

"What list?"

The warrior tilted her head and leaned up against the door. "Eponon, every time I come here you have a list of Amazons who want to challenge me to a fight. Now how many are on it this time?" she asked wearily.

The weapons master pulled a small piece of parchment from her sleeve and glanced at it. "Uh well…I dunno…maybe 30 so far."

Xena’s eyes grew wide at the thought of so many in such a short period of time. "Well forget it. The answer is no," she said stiffly, waving one hand below her waist to show she meant business.

Eponon let her shoulder’s slump. She had always enjoyed watching Xena knock some sense into the young warriors. "Why?"

The warrior mother opened the door and motioned her old friend in. She pointed to a pair of small boots sticking out from under the bed. "That’s why," she replied with a tilted grin.

"Ahh yes the feather grabber," the weapon’s master replied with a slight frown.

The warrior cocked her head to one side. "She’s a good little kid Eppy. Tarren is just a bit too rambunctious at times," she said with a shrug. "But she’s really a great little kid. She fishes almost as good as I do and she’s been practicing with the staff…sort of…and she has a warm heart…." Xena paused realizing she was bragging on her child again. She cleared her throat and straightened up. "Sorry."

Eponon shook her head. "Don’t be Xena. I like her already. She’s put a real smile on your sour puss."

The warrior grinned and glanced at the little boots still sticking out from under the pallet. "Maybe you just need to be formally introduced," she said proudly, slowly making her way over to the bed.

Eponon suppressed a smile as the warrior softened her step and with one quick slide pulled the empty boots out from under the bed. "Got ya!" The mother stared at the vacant shoes and grinned. "Why that devious little…." Xena dropped the footwear to the floor and shook her head wondering where the child was now hiding. "Have I mentioned that her favorite games are Hide and Find Me and Give Momma Gray hair?" she asked with a slight chuckle.

Eponon laughed and stood beside her grinning friend. "Well after witnessing that maneuver I guess the rumor is true."

"What rumor?"

"That child is truly your daughter."

"Yup it’s true. Tarren is my little girl," she replied with all a mother’s pride

Hearing the muffled conversation from the other room, the child knew her mother had fallen pray to her trap. Tarren giggled and moved away from the door to explore her new surroundings. She whistled at the sight. "Wow this is better than Amphipolis," she whispered.
The cottage was quite large. It had multiple rooms including a small dining area, a bathing room and large sleeping area. The walls were even decorated with strange symbols of figures in battle. The youngster wandered into a small room in the back and was awed by what she found. It was a body of water encased in the ground like a giant indoor lake. It was nearly 20 paces long and just as wide.

Tarren fell to the floor and let her hand run through the warm water. "Wow for swimming inside!" she exclaimed, quickly stripping off her clothes and jumping in with a loud splash. The child bobbed up and down in the water before starting to swim. She found a small platform on the edge that would be perfect for diving. Soon she was doing somersaults into the water. "Weeeeeeee!" The yell could be heard through the cottage walls.

Hearing the loud noises and laughter from the distant room, Xena and Eponon rushed to

the bath area.

Xena sighed with relief when she saw her small daughter happily splashing in the water. "Did I mention how much she likes to swim?" she asked the frowning weapons master.

Eponon nodded as she watched the little girl spray water in every direction. "Yup that’s your kid alright," she said dryly.

Xena gave her an odd look. "Why does everyone say that when she’s acting like a wild bachae?" she asked, wondering if the comparison was a compliment or an insult.

The weapons master merely grinned and shrugged her shoulders.

The warrior grumbled a bit. "Hmm maybe we should put your name on that list," she said taking a few steps toward her waterlogged child. She crouched down and motioned the child to the edge. "Tarren I didn’t know you were so anxious for a bath," the mother said leaning her head on her hand.

The little girl’s eyes closed just a bit. "Huh? Momma this is too big for a bath…It’s for swimming inside," the child informed her ignorant mother.

The warrior shook her head and smiled. "Tarren this is the royal cottage. The bath is big because important people stay here," she said loudly so that Eponon could hear the words.

When the youngster suddenly realized that she was sitting in bath water the pleasure of the warm water caressing her skin was no longer appealing. Tarren quickly decided that she was no longer in the mood for swimming. "Oh…In that case I’ll get out Momma."

Xena gently pushed the youngster back in the water. "Not so fast. You’re in there, so we might as well get you bathed," she said clapping her hands together as if looking forward to the task.

The little girl rolled out her lip and arched one eyebrow to show her displeasure. "Ahh Momma…Do I haffta?"

The warrior returned the patented stare and grinned. "Yes you haffta," she replied, imitating the youngster’s whining. The child splashed some water in her mother’s direction and the warrior gave her child a warning look. "Hey I’m still dressed. Don’t splash me," she warned.

Tarren grinned mischievously and again splashed a bit of water her mother’s way. This time Xena stood to her full height and placed her hands on her hips as she spoke. "Little girl I mean it. No more splashing. Do you understand?" she scolded.

The child nodded and settled back in the big tub. "Yes Ma’am."

Xena pointed to the Amazon leaning casually in the doorway. "Good…Now say hello to Eponon," she said quietly.

The little girl rolled out her lip and folded her arms against her chest as she stared at the lady who had referred to her as an orphan earlier that day. "Hi," she muttered.

Eponon wiggled her fingers in greeting and grinned as she stared at the pouting face of the small child floating in the water. "Yup with that look on her face she would have to be your daughter."

Xena let out a long breath and delivered one more scolding stare to her child before turning to her friend. She cocked her head toward the door to signal a retreat. Before leaving she turned to the child. "You stay right there…and don’t think I’ve forgotten where we left off you little monster." She paused. "Oh and then there is that splashing you gave me…Boy are you gonna get it when I come back," she said with a smirk and a wink.
The child smiled broadly knowing her mother would soon return to play.

Once outside the bath area the warrior let her voice drop to a more serious tone. "Look Eponon do me a favor…Tarren has a tendency to…Well she gets in trouble and she asks lots of questions and I want to make sure she doesn’t get in any real trouble or cause any wars," she said as quietly as she could. "So it would be best if those that don’t know her just sort of keep a safe distance for a while."

Eponon held up a hand. "Say no more Xena. I’ll put the word out. However I think just saying she’s your kid will do the trick too," she replied with a sigh of disbelief.

The two warriors clasped arms once again. "It’s still no huh?"
Xena grinned. "Yeah it’s still no."
Eponon let out a long breath. "Ok I’ll pass the word," she said with a frown dragging her feet out the door.

Xena let her own shoulders slump a bit at the thought of not having the list to entertain her. However when she thought of her small daughter she smiled. She turned on her heals anxious to return to the bath area.

When she arrived Xena, stared at the child sulking in the corner of the tub waiting for the unwanted bath to begin. The warrior stripped off her own clothes looking forward to a relaxing bath after such a long dusty trail. After a swift dive and two short strokes the warrior went under and emerged right at her child’s side. "Now then where were we you little monster," she whispered, eager to play with her child.

The youngster merely shrugged and Xena could see the little one’s playful nature was gone. The mother lifted the child into her arms and rubbed the little girl’s face affectionately with the back of her hand. "Well what’s wrong with you? A few minutes ago you were so brave you were calling me old."

The youngster wiped the drips of water from her other’s face. "I don’t wanna bath Momma."

Xena shook her head and smiled at her child’s attempt at pouting her way out of the unwanted cleaning. "Oh poor baby. Stk. stk. stk.…Well I’m sorry but old Momma is gonna give you one…her way," she purred, hoisting the child in the air and tossing her into the center of the tub with a splash.

The youngster came up chuckling. "Do it gain Momma!"

The warrior reached to the floor of the bath area for a cloth and some soap and then dove under the water resurfacing underneath the giggling child. "So you thought you were being funny leaving those little boots there for me? You thought it was cute when you were being naughty? You even splashed me with water while I had my leathers and armor on. Right?"

Tarren heard the events retold and somehow did not seem to think they were as funny in her current situation. "Sorry Momma," she mumbled.

The warrior mother lathered up her hands and ran them quickly through her child’s hair making the waves into one long soapy point. "Sorry? What are you sorry for? I loved every bit of it," she answered with a grin. The warrior considered her words. "All accept the splashing part. Do that again while I have my clothes on and I’ll give ya a good swat," she added with a nod.

Tarren glanced at the woman rubbing the soap through her hair and smiled. She could not help but hug her mother for always loving her and accepting her. "Thanks."

The warrior shrugged as she played with the child’s soapy hair. "For what?"

The youngster leaned her chin on her mother’s stomach and opened her blue eyes as wide as she could. "For being such a great Momma," the child replied without hesitation.

Feeling another emotional moment coming on, Xena just smiled. "Well thank you for being such a wonderful daughter and for recognizing a great mother when you see one," she replied softly kissing the little girl’s soapy face. She continued to play with the youngsters hair until the soap had it twisted in one straight arrow. "By the gods my daughter is a unicorn," she moaned.

The child felt the point at the top of her head and laughed.

Xena smiled and tossed the little girl over her shoulder playfully and submerged in the water until all the soap was gone from the youngster’s hair. The two resurfaced with the child laughing loudly. The warrior could not help but chuckle at her daughter’s contagious laughter. With a deep sigh she handed the youngster the soap "Here baby hold this. I have some real work to do now," she grumbled, looking behind the child’s ears. "You have things growing back here," she teased, examining the back of the little girl’s head.

"I do not."

"You do to!"

"I do not Momma!"

"Uh huh. There are families of something making camp back here," the mother teased, running a cloth thoroughly around every spot.

The youngster turned trying to figure out a way to see her own ears. "Let me see," she begged.

The warrior shook her head and continued her cleaning task. "Nope you would just name them all and wanna keep them," she replied giving the child a quick tickle. She grinned as she got down to the serious task of scrubbing the dirty child clean. Tarren floated freely while her mother worked. "Oh you just relax Tarren. I’ll do all the work. I wouldn’t want you to help by staying still," she said with a slight grumble.

The little girl smiled. "Ok Momma I won’t," she replied rolling off her mother’s knee and submerging into the water.

The mother frowned as she let her hands search beneath her for the missing child. "Me and my big mouth," she mumbled. "Tarren get up here," she yelled in a tone that was all business.

The child immediately popped up in front of her mother.

Xena twisted her lips a bit surprised by her child’s sudden obedience. "Hey would you…."

Before the warrior could finish the sentence the child let out a mouth full of water spraying the warrior in the eye. "Got ya Momma," she yelled laughing so loud she started coughing out her words.

Xena wiped the excess drips from her face and pulled the little girl close enough so she could pat the child’s back to soothe the coughing. "Ok calm down. You are really funny. Now relax and take a deep breath," she said softly, watching as the youngster’s pants turn into easy breaths. She tilted her head to one side and stared at the small form settled in her arms. "Ya know youngster I have tanned your misbehaving little behind enough times where one would think you’d be just a tiny bit afraid of doing something like that to me. Aren’t you?" she asked with a look of wonder.

The child eased back against her mother’s arms and smiled. "Nope!"

Xena let out a long breath actually relieved her child was not the least bit intimidated by her size or status as a warrior. "Why is that?"

The little girl considered the question and tapped her finger on the side of her head as if trying to push the answer out. "Cause you’re my Momma! I know you love me lots and you would never let anyone hurt me. You wouldn’t even give me a spankin unless I was real bad." The child paused and continued to tap out the answer on the side of her head. "I know it makes you really sad when you do haffta swat me, so I know you wouldn’t do it unless I was really naughty. I figure since you’re my Momma and you love me that you gotta do Momma stuff sometimes like baths and vegeterribles and stuff like that. Giving spankins is only Momma stuff ya know?" the little girl stated, finally deciding she was tired of tapping her head.

Xena smiled at the small face that seemed to hold so much innocent wisdom. "Yeah well I’m glad you know that baby. You are right youngster spankings are only momma stuff and I would never do it unless you really needed or deserved it." She paused and closed her eyes but a stray tear still fell. She lifted the child into her arms and hugged her close. "I’d never let anyone or anything hurt my baby," she said as if taking an oath before the gods themselves.

There was that word again. Tarren could not help but smile at her mother happy to have her analyses confirmed and to be called her ‘baby’ once again. She reached up and kissed her mother squarely on the cheek.

Xena floated with the little girl snugly in her arms. "What’s that for?" she asked touching the spot where the gift had been bestowed.

The little one just gave a soft smile and whispered. "Cause I like being your baby."

Xena felt a lump in her throat forming. The hope of maintaining a stoic pose in Amazon territory was now gone. "Well I like having you as my baby..…" Mother and daughter let their blue eyes lock for a tender moment and then the warrior mother smiled and tilted her head to one side. "But you’re still gonna get it for spitting that water at me," she said evenly, hoping to offer her little girl some more play time.

The child made a slight attempt at escape but was caught with ease by the warrior mother’s fast reflexes. Xena grinned and flipped the child upside down grabbing her feet and tickling them as she watched the little toes wiggle with delight. She then brought the youngster quickly back to the surface. "Bet it’s hard to laugh under water," she said with a smirk.

The child laughed and coughed until her face was again beat red. "Ya can’t Momma…Let’s do it again," she begged offering her feet freely.

Xena shook her head and lifted the little girl tenderly into her arms. She rubbed her back trying to calm the still laughing and panting child. "No Monster, that’s enough. You’ve had it for a while." She stared into the face of her child and smiled. "Ok back to your bathing."

The child pursed her lips together so that Xena could see the small wrinkles form right below her lip. "No no no…You gotta catch me Momma," she yelled, breaking free from her mother’s loose hold and jumping out of the tub.

Tarren giggled as she ran in circles around the large bathing hole, hoping her mother would give chase. "Come get me Momma," she begged.

Xena waited a moment and then vaulted from the tub, playfully chasing the youngster but making no real effort to catch her. "Oh when I get my hands on you…Boy you are in trouble," she teased, reaching out a hand and tapping the child’s head to show how close behind she was.

Gabrielle sauntered into the bathing chamber only to be nearly knocked to the ground by a naked child taking refuge behind her. "What is this? You two have been here for how long and the royal quarters already looks like a waterfall," she scolded, looking at the water dripping from every wall.

The child squirmed behind the bard as the equally bare warrior reached a hand around her friend in a half-hearted attempt to catch the youngster. "C’mere you little sea monster."

The little girl ducked. Seeing her imminent demise she made a last ditch effort for help. She threw her arms around the bard’s waist and held tightly. "Save me Gabby. Momma’s gonna …Yuk…make me take a bath," she groaned.

The young woman winked at her large friend and placed a protective arm around the child. "Oh so you want me to save you from the big bad warrior. Huh?"

Xena leaned up against the wall waiting for the bard to choose her side.

The child smiled broadly at her mother sure she had just found a comrade in arms. "Would ya Gabby?" she asked pleadingly.

The young woman nodded. "Oh sure I’ll save you brat…I’ll save you for myself," the bard replied. She wrestled the child to the ground tickling the youngster until the little girl was on the floor laughing uncontrollably and begging for mercy. Gabrielle kissed the giggling child and got to her feet. She glanced at the warrior and then at the chuckling youngster and shook a warning finger. "Listen up you two. I’m looking forward to a nice peaceful bath…So no funny business," she said sternly, shaking her finger at each of them in turn before moving to the side of the battle to undress.

Xena let her eyes drop to the child now at her feet. "Will ya look what someone left lying around," she said with a chuckle, hoisting the youngster into the air and together jumping back into the water with such vigor that a wave of water covered the still dressed bard.

The young woman glanced at her now soaked attire and growled. "Xena! Thank you very much."

The warrior mother floated peacefully in the tub with her child at her side. "Oh you’re quite welcome. Thank you for my attendant and the guards," she said letting her friend know there was a score that had yet to be settled.

Gabrielle grinned knowing her actions had irritated her friend. "Shalia is a sweet girl. You didn’t hurt her feelings did you?" she warned, realizing the warrior could be a bit harsh at times.

Xena said nothing at first wanting Gabrielle to wonder for a moment. However, seeing the growing angst in her friend’s face she finally replied. "No I was nice."

Gabrielle sighed with relief. "Thank the gods."

The warrior considered the young Amazon. "Ya know Gabrielle that girl…Shalia…She doesn’t look like any Amazon I’ve ever seen. She’s so…gentle and I dunno. Whose house does she belong to?" she asked, curious as to just what part of the tribe this softhearted youngster had descended from.

Gabrielle stood on the side of the tub wrapping her hair into a bun. "Actually she’s a member of Ephiny’s house. She wandered in here one day a few summers back. Eph says she was nothing but a skinny scared little girl. She took her in and made her part of the tribe."

Xena nodded at her regal friend’s actions. "Well she doesn’t strike me as much of a warrior," she replied.

Gabrielle sighed. "Eph says she has tried to teach her the ways of the weapons but the girl has no desire to fight or do harm." She paused. "Ya know you don’t have to wield a sword to be useful Xena. Shalia helps with Xenon and teaches the younger children. I do hope you really were nice to her because she was really excited at the idea of even meeting you."

The warrior rolled her eyes remembering how the young Amazon had addressed her. "Gabrielle I only meant that the Amazon people are all warriors. It must be hard for the kid to fit in and yes I was nice to her." She turned to her floating child. "Wasn’t I nice to Shalia Tarren?" she asked with a grin.

Tarren’s eyes lit up realizing her opinion was now required. "Sure Gabby, Momma was real nice to that lady. She was even nicer when the lady called her Princess Xena and bowed to her and stuff," the child replied, hoping she had gotten all the facts straight.

The bard turned her head suddenly. "Xena you made her bow and call you Princess," she yelled.

Xena threw her arms up in defense. "No my little storyteller isn’t sharing all the facts," she said, giving the grinning child a quick glare. "I told her not to do any of that stuff. I even trusted her with my horse," she exclaimed, hoping that had not been a mistake.

Gabrielle sighed with relief. "Sorry…The way Tarren said it I thought…Sorry."

The warrior waved her hand in the air. "It’s Ok the way my darling little girl told it I know exactly what it sounded like and so did she… I’ll bet," she said, playfully grabbing the child by the waist.

Tarren smiled and tried to lower her eyes. "I didn’t do nothing Momma."

The warrior looked at her daughter and smiled broadly. "Uh huh…Now I do believe that for being so naughty you have a good tickling coming to you." She held the squirming child to one side as she ran her fingers up and down the youngster’s body occasionally flipping her in the air to find a new sensitive spot.

Tarren laughed uncontrollably. "Ok I give up. I won’t run again Momma," she yelled finding it hard to laugh and speak at the same time.


The child nodded.

"You’ll be good?"

The youngster’s face was red from laughter. "Uh huh."

"Really good?"

Again the child nodded. "Uh huh."

Xena let her fingers continue to travel as she looked into the glassy eyes of her smiling child. "Ok but if you’re fibbing you’re gonna be sorry," she warned.

Tarren nodded in understanding and the warrior released the giggling child ready to resume the bathing task. The child took a deep breath to regain her composure and then splashed her mother with a face full of water before racing for the edge of the tub once again. Before she could exit a pair of familiar hands pushed her gently back into the water.

The youngster looked up and saw the face of her greatest allie turning sides. "Oh Gabby…I thought you were on my side," she whined.

The young woman grinned as she lowered herself into the water all the while keeping a firm hold on the child’s arm so she couldn’t run. "Nope…not when it comes to baths. I’m on my side." She motioned the little girl toward the waiting warrior. "Xena I believe this is yours," the young woman said with a smile, handing the child back to her mother.

Xena smiled politely. "Why thank you Gabrielle. I was looking for that."

The bard waved her hand in the air. "It was my pleasure Xena."

Tarren stuck out her tongue and wrinkled her nose. "Yuk I can’t stand it when you two are so nice to each other," she said.
Gabrielle grinned and moved out of the battlefield so she might find a spot to enjoy the luxury of the large tub. "Poor baby."

Xena looked down at her child and frowned. "So splash your mother with water twice…Run away when you promised you’d stay still…Why you little fibber. I told you you’d be sorry," she said with a slight grumble.

Tarren smiled at her mother hoping to soften the warrior’s stoic expression. "It was just fun Momma."

The mother shook her head. "Fun for who?" she replied with a wicked grin.

Xena hoisted the child over her shoulder and sat on the edge of the tub. She brought the squealing youngster across her lap. "Ya know Gabrielle there’s only one way to get this spoiled little brat clean," she said easily pinning the small form in place.

The bard lay back in the water allowing the warm liquid to moisten her dry skin as she floated freely. "What’s that?" she asked, leaving her eyes closed as she pondered the meaning of existence.

Xena reached for the soap and cloth and raised her brows. "Start at the bottom and work your way up the top," she replied, putting the soapy rag right to work cleaning the struggling child.

The bard laughed as she watched the youngster fight diligently to be freed from her mother’s tight hold. Xena’s grip was viselike, something the child knew from much less pleasurable experiences over her mother’s lap. After a few attempts at escape the little girl surrendered to the undignified cleaning. "Not fair," she mumbled.

The warrior mother smiled as she ran the cloth down the child’s back. "Who said life was fair youngster?"

Tarren kicked her legs and flailed her arms but it was useless. She was caught.

Like a doctor working on a patient the warrior reached for each tool as needed and called each out as she put it to use. "Soap…Washcloth."

Tarren continued to struggle as her mother scrubbed her back and legs.

The warrior ignored the child’s movements but offered some friendly advice. "Youngster you are not in the best position to fight. One more kick and I might forget you are over my knee to be bathed," she teased.

The little girl went limp deciding there was nothing else to do but endure the torture of being made clean. She thought of the traitor who had gone over to the other side in time of need. The youngster lay her hands in the water as if deciding to behave throughout the rest of the ordeal. But seeing Gabrielle grinning in the distance she mustered a good enough position to splash the unsuspecting bard with a large wave of water. "Got ya Traitor," she said with a giggle as she watched the young woman wiped the water from her face.

Xena chuckled a bit happy her child had found a new victim. "Tarren be nice," she said with no real effort at making those words sound convincing. After all Gabrielle was still on the warrior’s personal list of things to do as well.

Having had her peaceful moment shattered, the bard stood in the water. The gentle smile passed away from her face. "Why you little...Xena do you want me to bathe her for a while?" she asked eager to offer assistance making sure the youngster had every speck of dirt removed.

The warrior grinned as she continued her task. She could see by the look in her friend’s eyes that she was more interested in a little revenge than a little cleaning. "Sure I find the perfect system and then you want to take over. No thanks…I’m almost done anyway," she replied, flipping the youngster over to work on the child’s arms.

Gabrielle twisted her lips and again lay back in the water hoping to find her peaceful thoughts once again. "Well if you need any help just call. I’d be happy to help scrub her," she said with a broad smile.

The little girl watched her mother’s face as she gently caressed the little girl’s skin with the soapy cloth making sure to get every spot but never rubbing too hard. "Momma?"

Xena ran the soft sloth across the child’s neck and nodded. "Yup."

Tarren smiled softly and reached up to touch her mother’s cheek. "You’re not old."

The warrior mother shook her head and kissed the child’s forehead. "Thank you baby. I was beginning to wonder," she replied with a tender touch.

Tarren grinned and Xena gently lowered her back in the water to remove the soap. The youngster came up in the center of the bath grinning from ear to ear.

The warrior sighed and tossed the now dirty cloth to the floor behind her. "Ok your done."

The child clapped her hands at the sound of that news. "Can I stay and swim?"

Xena let out a short breath. "Maybe later but right now its nap time for you," she ordered, pointing toward the room with the pallets. "Besides if I were you I’d stay away from Gabrielle for a while," she said glancing at he bard who was lying in the water floating like a shark waiting for its prey to come close enough to be eaten.

Tarren glanced over at the now smiling bard and shrugged. She pushed out her lower lip. "Momma I’m not tired."

Xena picked the stubborn little girl up and jumped out of the tub. "Maybe not, but I am so I need you to take a nap…now go," she said, pointing the path to be taken.

The little girl glanced at the bard hoping for some help. "Gabby?"
The young woman’s jaw dropped at the thought. "Go to bed," she said with a slight frown. "The brat splashes me and then wants me to help get her swim time," she mumbled, watching as the now towel wrapped warrior and child left the room. She lay back in the water wondering if she should have offered just a little defense for the playful scamp.

Xena lifted the child onto the bed and reached into her saddlebags for a heavy nightshirt.

The seasons would be changing soon and the warm weather they were enjoying would soon be turning to cold nights.

After dressing the now yawning child in the gown, the mother gently tucked her into the blankets of the largest pallet. "Go to sleep."

The child grinned. "Is this our bed Momma?" she asked, realizing the room contained four more large pallets.

The warrior let out a quick breath wondering if this child would ever sleep alone again. "Yes I guess this is our bed," she replied kissing the little one tenderly on the cheek.

Tarren again glanced at the other pallets and chewed on her lower lip. "Momma are you sure you wanna share with me?" she asked, realizing she did require more room and her mother might be more comfortable alone.

Xena shook her head and ran her hand along the side of her daughter’s face. "Are you trying to get rid of me you little bed hog?" she asked softly.

Tarren frowned. "No Momma. I just wanna make sure you don’t wanna get rid of me," she answered, hoping that was not the case.

Realizing the child was still a bit frightened being in this strange village, Xena lay down beside her allowing the youngster to cuddle in close. "Are you kidding? I could never fall asleep without you hogging all the blankets. I wouldn’t no what to do with myself, so don’t you get any ideas about leaving me all by myself here," she said with a quick nuzzle.

Tarren smiled broadly and buried her head in the crux of her mother’s arm and chest. "Don’t worry Momma I would never do that. You need me too much," she declared.

The warrior nodded and ran her hand up and down the child’s back hoping to help her find her way to Morpheous faster. "That’s right I do. Don’t you ever forget it." She kissed the little girl once again." Now go to sleep," she whispered.

The youngster lifted her eyes and let out a quick breath. "Yeah I know…You’re tried of me and I have to take a nap," she grumbled.

The mother chuckled at the way the child had rewritten her words. "No I’m not tired of you. That could never happen. I’m just tired baby. You take a nap now and when you wake up we’ll take a walk around the village. Maybe we can even get the princess to get us a decent meal," she replied with a wink.

Tarren grinned and touched her mother’s nose trying in vein to fight back another yawn. "Ok Momma I’ll try and go to sleep…." Another yawn. "But I’m not really tired ya know?" Her smile became a bit lazy and her eyelids closed just a bit.

Xena smiled. ‘Uh huh I know." She handed the youngster the saddlebags knowing the moment the child held them she would close her eyes. The little girl took one more deep breath and snuggled up around the giant leather bags. In a matter of minutes Tarren was fast asleep.
"Glad you weren’t tired," the mother whispered, covering her with a blanket and kissing the child’s forehead.
Seeing the child lying in the warm blankets so quietly with her small arms wrapped tightly around the saddlebags made the great warrior sigh. "You are my baby and don’t you ever forget it," she whispered, before taking a deep breath and returning to the bath area.


Back at the bath….


The warrior dropped her towel and jumped back in the warm waters.

"Sleeping?" the bard, asked, leaning against the side of the tub soaking up the cleansing water.

Xena began washing herself as she spoke to her friend. "Oh yeah…I’m surprised she made it through the bath. The poor little kid is exhausted. I think we pushed too hard today," she said clearly chastising herself.

Gabrielle let her green eyes meet her friend’s blue gaze. "Yeah I know. I’m sorry."

The warrior shrugged. "Hey it’s not your fault Gabrielle. It was my decision to make it here today."

The bard moved closer to her friend letting her hand skim slowly over the top of the still water. "Well I know you came here for me and …well…thanks."

Hearing the words of gratitude only frustrated the warrior. "Gabrielle we are partners, friends, family…You have to stop feeling like you’re wanting or needing something is second to anyone else. You went to Amphipolis when you didn’t want to. You help take care of Tarren…Come on give yourself something without feeling guilty," she said firmly.

Gabrielle leaned back in the water a little surprised by her stoic friend’s words. "Hey when did you get so sensitive?" she asked with a smirk.

The tall woman disappeared beneath the water and emerged right beside her friend wearing only a smile. "I dunno…Must be the company I've been keeping. Do you think I can get rid of it?" she asked with a wicked grin.

The bard tilted her head to one side and smiled. "Nope! Face it Xena you are now a warm caring human being. Get used to it…Mommy." She chuckled at herself for having been brave enough to say the word that all others were thinking but too scared to speak.

Xena’s face went blank and she arched her brows somewhat surprised by her friend’s wish to die so young. She grinned and moved menacingly toward the young woman. "Oh Mommy is it? So you wanna play rough too…huh…Well the last time I looked behind your ears your majesty they looked pretty dirty. I think you need mommy to help you clean them," she growled, flashing her eyes as she got a firm hold on her friend’s arms.

The bard struggled slightly. "Xena don’t even think about it. I am a grown woman. I can clean myself thank you," she replied, trying to break her friend’s grip.

The warrior only smiled. "Oh really well I don’t think you can. Besides you called me mommy and now I feel like I have to act like one," she said with a look of playful vengeance in her eyes.

Xena let go long enough to reach for a fresh cloth and the soap. Gabrielle tried to make a run for it but the warrior’s reflexes were too fast and she caught the young woman before she could escape. "Come here Princess." She smiled as she held her squirming friend in place. "Now let’s just see those ears."

"Xena let me go before I have you thrown in the royal brig," she screamed, using all her strength to try and break free.

The warrior held he in place easily. "Oh do ya think they have one that could hold me?" the warrior asked with a smirk.

Gabrielle let her shoulder’s slump realizing they did not. "No"

"Me neither," the warrior replied with a chuckle.

The bard became quiet and Xena picked up her cloth ready to repeat this procedure for the second time in one day. "Now then about those ears," she moaned, glancing behind her friend’s head.

Realizing she didn’t have enough fight in her to even attempt an escape from her friend’s vengeance Gabrielle settled into the water.

Xena dutifully scrubbed the young woman’s ears. "Stk. stk. stk.…What is it with you two? Do I have to do inspections on both of you now?" the mother asked with a dramatic sigh. "A warrior’s work might be done when the fighting is over but I guess a warrior mother’s work is just never done," she said with a wicked grin. Xena chuckled at her own insight and released her royal friend. "Well you’ll pass…I guess," she said, dropping the dirty cloth n the bard’s head.

Gabrielle nodded and ran her hands though her wet strands of hair. She tossed the dirty cloth at the warrior. "Thanks Xena…I really appreciate you helping me bathe…I mean I really appreciate it so much that I thought I’d help you now," she yelled, splashing a large wave of water at the warrior who immediately returned the splash.

Soon the two friends were laughing and splashing so loudly that the royal guards came rushing in.

"My Princess is everything alright?" the guard asked nervously.

Gabrielle turned beet red and made an attempt to hide her naked form behind the now smiling warrior. "Uh well…." She looked at the satisfied expression on her friend’s face and frowned. She pointed too Xena. "Actually this warrior was attacking me. I was about to subdue myself her but since you have arrived you can do it," she ordered, trying to muster the same command she had heard Ephiny use.

Xena folded her arms behind her head and floated comfortably in the water. "That would me a big mistake," she whispered never letting her smile fade.

The bard folded her arms against her chest and again looked at the two bewildered guards. "You heard me. Take her to the dungeon and lock her in big heavy chains," she ordered, glancing over at her friend for a reaction.

There was none.

The two Amazon guards glanced at one another and then the reputed Warrior Princess floating in the water. They knew that these two were friends and this was a playful prank of some kind but they could not refuse any direct order from a princess. "Yes your majesty." they responded in unison, moving slowly toward the water.

The bard grinned wondering just how far she should let this go.

Xena yawned and stood up in the water stretching her arms up. "OK Gabrielle it’s not like you don’t have a few hundred more Amazons if I break these two," she said flexing the muscles in her arms waiting for the guards to make a move.

The bard bit her lip realizing that Xena was not about to play nicely. "Ok enough...I was just kidding. We were just having some fun…Relax…You can go," she said waving her hand toward the exit.

The two Amazon guards let out a simultaneous breath of relief and left happy that this would not be their day to die.

Xena glanced over at her friend and shook her head. "So you wanted to know if an Amazon Princess beats a Warrior Princess huh? Well just for that I think we should have a look at your feet," she said with an evil smile.

Gabrielle’s eyes flew open and she started backing away. "No Xena not the feet. I’m sorry. I swear I was just kidding. I won’t do it again. Please not the feet," she begged.
Xena arched her brows and let her voice drop to a husky tone as she approached her friend. "Oh yes…The feet!" she declared. The warrior’s expression was a mixture of determination and amusement.

Trying to regain some sort of stoic composure the bard cleared her throat and spoke stiffly. "Stop Xena! I’m not kidding! I will call the guard and…."

Xena rolled out her lip and shook her head as she took a breath and submerged. "Go ahead call Princess," she said before disappearing below the surface.

Gabrielle looked around below her but saw nothing in the dark tub. There was not even a ripple in the water to signal her friend’s position. "I will call Xena…I will…Xena?" She continued to scan the water nervously knowing the warrior was somewhere below her.

Before the bard knew what was happening she was suddenly pulled beneath the surface replaced by a large warrior holding only a pair of struggling feet before her. "Now let me see where did I put that soap?" she wondered watching the air bubbles rising to the surface. She tickled the young woman’s foot with the tip of one finger and when the bubbles started to rise to quickly she brought her friend back to the surface.

Gabrielle came up coughing and panting for air waving her hands at her large laughing friend. "I hate when you do that," she groaned.

Xena backed away from the bard’s flailing arms and smiled. "Yeah I know but Tarren loves it," she replied with a soft smile that the mere thought of her young daughter seemed to bring.

Gabrielle tossed the well-soaked cloth at the warrior’s head but Xena merely caught it mid air. "Whoops ya missed."
The bard gave the water a hard splash. "Tarren is just a child and just like you…The poor kid," she mumbled, wondering if the youngster would ever become a bard.

The large warrior’s eyes fly open and her mouth drop a bit. "What was that?" she grumbled, wondering what was wrong with being like her.

Gabrielle swallowed hard realizing it was really not want she had meant to say or at least the way she had meant to say it. "I meant…I meant…Oh I give up kill me now Xena," she begged, putting her hands up in surrender.

Xena considered the idea but then smiled and tossed the wash cloth back at her friend deciding the young woman had been a good enough sport to let the comment slide. "You’re lucky I’m in a forgiving mood bard or I’d be bathing the rest of you right now," she said with a crooked smile.

Xena lay back in the water to relax and Gabrielle sighed with relief happy to do the same. "So how was the council meeting?" the warrior asked closing her eyes. "I figured you be gone all day," she said with mock disappointment.

Gabrielle frowned remembering how brief the meeting had indeed been. "Short!

The minute Ephiny told them about the attack…Sheloppa rode out with a hunting party to make sure there were no stragglers hanging in the trees. There will be another meeting later and Eph really wants you there," she said, glancing at her now peaceful friend.

Xena did not even open an eye. "Nope!"

"Why not?"

The warrior mother glanced toward the room that held her sleeping child. "Gabrielle this is all about negotiating to bring the Amazons together as one tribe. I understand that is an important thing, but I don’t need to be there as some symbol. I need to be with Tarren. I promised her that I would not leave her alone here and I mean to keep that promise." She paused and smiled. "I even told Eponon to forget about the list," she said with a smirk.

Hearing that the "list" had been done away with made the bard ‘s eyes widen. "But you love crossing off the names yourself Xena."
"Uh huh but I love my daughter more."
The bard smiled happy to hear her friend actually say the words. "You’re right"

The warrior nodded with satisfaction. "Yes I am."

Gabrielle lowered her eyes a bit realizing she too had made a promise. "I should stay with her too."

Xena looked at the sullen face of her dedicated friend knowing the young woman was torn between her desire to be with Tarren and her need to experience something new and exciting. She shook her head. "No you should be with the council. They can use your level headed thoughts and your style of wisdom." She paused in her words when she noticed her friend was now smiling broadly. "Don’t let it go to your head Gabrielle," she groaned realizing her compliments were making her friend blush. "You just go…Tarren can survive without her Gabby for a few hours," she said with a crooked grin wondering why only a small child and Joxer ever called her friend that.

A small figure dragging a blanket was standing in the doorway wearing an oversized nightshirt and carrying a large pair of saddlebags. "No I can’t!" The voice was groggy but firm.

Xena did not even bother to turn her head having heard the child moving toward the room moments earlier. "Yes you can," she replied with command.

The youngster wrapped her arms tightly around the saddlebags and moved closer to the water. "No I can’t!" she repeated.

Xena looked at the broken expression on her friend’s face and turned to face her child. "But you will…Now get back to bed or I’m giving you another bath," she warned.

Knowing how much the youngster despised bathing made the words bring a slight smile to the bard’s face.

The child rolled her lip out and shook her head. "Can’t sleep. There’s too much noise," she grumbled, realizing that she was not going to get her way in this matter.

The warrior mother swam to the edge of the large tub and leaned on the floor looking up at her child. "I’m sorry Monster. We’ll be much quieter. I promise. Now turn that little tail around and get back in your pallet," she said with a flick of her wrist.

The little girl rubbed her eyes and shook her head. "Why do I need a nap Momma?"

Xena realized her time for a relaxing bath had just passed. She jumped out of the water and began drying herself with a towel. "Because you are tired and because I say so," was the parental response that was the final answer to all questions.

The little girl hugged her saddlebags tightly and rolled out her lip in a distinct pout. "Don’t wanna take a nap and don’t want Gabby to go away," she whined now focusing her look on the bard.

The warrior mother let out a deep breath and raised a hand before the bard could answer. She knelt down and wrapped the blanket tightly around her child. "Now you and I have talked about things like this. Gabrielle can be very helpful to these people and that’s a good thing." She looked over at the bard and winked. "Now we can’t go hogging her all the time. Can we?" she asked, lifting the small child onto her knee.

"Yes we can. We can hog the bed and we can hog Gabby," the child replied stubbornly.

The young woman chuckled a bit and decided there were some things more important than baths. She got out of tub and reached for a towel. "Honey I won’t be gone long. I just need to help some people learn to play nice together. That’s what Xena would do. Isn’t it? So that must be the best thing to do. Right?" she asked, knowing that if a comparison to the warrior were made the child would feel trapped.

The youngster glanced at the soft expression on her friend’s face and then at the warning eyes of her mother and let her shoulder’s slump. "Yeah I guess so," she answered not quite sure how she had been out maneuvered.

The bard placed a tender kiss on the child’s head. "Thanks brat, I knew you’d understand. Don’t worry I won’t be gone long and we’ll be together at the banquet tonight."

Tarren’s eyes brightened and Xena’s turned cold. "Banquet?" the pair asked in unison the bard found a bit eerie.

Gabrielle reached for a robe and nodded. "Yes there is a royal banquet tonight to celebrate Ephiny’s return and to honor us." Her usually gentle green orbs fell directly on Xena and her voice became a bit stiffer. "And you and Tarren are both goingNo arguments." The young woman placed her hands on her hips ready for a fight.

Xena opened her mouth to protest, but she could see by the look in her friend’s eyes that it was pointless. This was obviously something that was very important to Gabrielle and she was not about to ruin it. "Ok we’ll go to the banquet," she mumbled with a slight frown.
Gabrielle smiled at the ease with which she had accomplished her task. "Thank you Xena," she replied suspiciously.

The warrior grumbled. "You’re welcome." She looked at her now grinning daughter and pointed toward the outer rooms. "What are you smiling about? You’re on your way back to bed," she declared, turning the child’s shoulders to face the exit and giving her a gentle push. "Come on ya little Monster."

The youngster tilted her head back so she could look up into her mother’s eyes. "Momma how come I have to go to bed if I don’t wanna?" she asked as she made the size of her steps so small the warrior nearly tripped over her.

The mother let out an exacerbated sigh having tired of answering this question daily. "Simple…because I say so and that’s enough. You take a nap every day because I say so. You ask me every day and I tell you the same thing every day. Because I say so. Does that answer your question?" she asked in a parental tone.

Feeling that was hardly an adequate response the child shook her head. "No!"

Xena grinned and lifted the little girl over her shoulder. "Well it will just have to do. No more stalling young lady. You are going straight back to bed and you are taking your nap. Do I make myself clear?" Her voice dropped to a huskier level as she spoke.

Tarren felt her small form go limp as she lay over her mother’s broad shoulder. "Yes Momma." she replied sullenly.

Gabrielle tossed on a skiff and offered the hoisted youngster a friendly hand. She followed as the warrior carried the child back to the sleeping quarters. "Hey you need a nap brat. Remember you are a going to royal banquet tonight and you’re gonna be up late," she said hoping the thought of the part would make the child’s smile return.

The child merely shrugged as her mother delivered her to the pallet and once again tucked her into the blankets. "Big deal,’ she mumbled, wondering why she should get excited over dinner with more strangers.

Gabrielle seated herself beside the warrior as Xena pulled the heaviest blankets she could find over her child. "It is a big deal," she exclaimed, eyeing the warrior who had positioned herself in the pallet beside the youngster offering her arm as a familiar place of comfort for the child to rest. She looked at Xena and tilted her head. "And both you and your mother are going to be on your best behavior. That means no fighting, no breaking anything or anyone." She looked at Tarren sternly." No throwing foods…No rude remarks, and no complaining about the food. Got it?"

The child frowned. "Doesn’t sound like much fun to me," she muttered.

Xena grinned and the bard gave her friend a gentle nudge hoping she would not encourage the child. "Xena!"

The mother ignored her friend and let her hand travel down the side of the child’s face and whispered something in Tarren’s ear eliciting a slight chuckle.

Gabrielle frowned at the action and gave the warrior another poke. "Hey are you two listening to me?"

The mother and daughter smiled at one another. "Yes Princess Gabrielle," they replied in perfect unison.

Xena smiled broadly and Tarren laughed at the look of indignation on the bard’s face.

Gabrielle fought hard to suppress a smile. "Oh ha ha. You two are very funny. You just see that you behave tonight," she said giving the child a quick tickle.

Tarren giggled and rolled to one side hoping for a little protection from her mother. She glanced up at the gentle eyes of her parent and frowned. "If we’re all gonna be up late how come I’m the only one that needs a nap?" she asked.

Gabrielle chuckled a bit and stared at Xena. The warrior was about to respond when the little girl placed a small hand in the air to cover her mother’s mouth. "I know cause you said so Momma," the child replied, covering her head with the blankets and retreating under the large saddlebags.

The warrior mother looked at the youngster and shook her head. "Spoiled little brat." She removed the saddlebags and tossed them to the floor.

Tarren’s eyes opened wide wondering why her beloved companion had been taken away. "What did you do that for Momma?" the child asked with a look of horror at her second favorite sleeping aid being taken away.

The warrior moved over on the pallet and pulled the child under her arm. "You don’t really need them if you have the real thing sleeping right next to ya. Do you?" she asked with a slight grin.

The child smiled and nuzzled into her place. "No Momma. I don’t need them if you’re staying," she answered, wrapping the warrior’s arm over her small form.

Gabrielle let out a short breath and tapped the child on the arm. "Move over," she ordered, deciding a nap was not such a bad idea at this particular moment.

Tarren’s jaw dropped at the words. "Gabby you’re staying too?"

The young woman slid beside the grinning child and yawned. "Yeah well you are not the only one that walked here, and I didn’t have the Warrior Princess over there carrying me," she said taking the little girl’s hand in her own as she settled in beside her.

Tarren could feel the closeness of her mother’s presence beside her and the comfort of Gabrielle holding her hand. She let her head drop to one side and sighed. "Maybe naps aren’t such a bad thing after all," she thought.


Chapter –12 - A staff meeting

Hours later the trio emerged from the cottage and walked across the village. Gabrielle was greeted with bows and Xena was met with awe struck stares of Amazons just wishing to come up and grab her arm to see if she was real.

The warrior smiled faintly and gave a nod to strangers that greeted her as she walked. "Gabrielle I don’t know how much of this I can take," she moaned.

The princess tilted her head and snickered at the words. "Oh you love it."

Xena let her voice drop to a defensive tone. "I do not."

Tarren held tightly to her mother’s hand as they walked. She listened tot he conversation quietly wondering what the argument was about.

Gabrielle paused in her steps and faced her large friend. "Yes you do. You have the entire tribe sitting at your feet afraid of your every move and you love it," she declared, waving her hand in gesture of every person with her eyes glued on the great warrior princess.

The warrior stood straight and bobbed her head a bit. "I do not like people being intimidated by me," she growled.

The princess smiled broadly and wiped some imaginary dust from her friend’s shoulders. "Yes you do Xena," she whispered in such a mocking tone that she knew it would only further irritate the warrior.

Tarren jumped in front of the bard deciding she had been left out of the family squabble long enough. "Gabby what does int…im…idate mean?"

Gabrielle glanced down at the child and grinned. ‘"It means your momma like to have people afraid of her even when they don’t have to be," she replied, patting the child’s head affectionately.

Xena shook her head and placed her eyes firmly on her child. "I do not like intimidating people Tarren."

The child chewed on her lower lip and thought about the many people she had watched scatter from a mere glance of her mother’s eyes. Xena always smiled at the sight. "Yes ya do Momma," the little girl answered, hoping honesty would still be the best policy.

The warrior mother glanced over at the grinning bard and then at her child. "You little traitor," she said with a chuckle, lifting the child playfully over her shoulder and delivering a gentle swat to her britches. "I just wish I could intimidate you two once in a while," the mother groaned, wondering at what point she had lost her edge and let these two get so close as to know her so well.

Tarren lay happily over mother’s arm as they walked. "Nope…Sorry Momma."

Gabrielle shook her head as she continued her stroll. "Not a chance warrior."

Xena shook her head and smiled content that her best friend and child were not frightened of her. Tarren ran her hand down the side of her mother’s sheathe and up the grip of the legendary blade as she was carried. "Wow," she whispered never before having felt brave enough to even caress the heavy hilt. Just touching it gave her a feeling of pride.

Knowing her daughter was up to something, Xena stopped and pulled the child in front of her. "Hey what are you doing back there that you shouldn’t be doing Monster?" she asked, in a slightly accusing tone.


"Uh huh…I’m gonna start calling you Naughty instead of Monster if you don’t start behaving yourself."

The child frowned at the mere thought. "No Momma. I’m a Monster."

Xena grinned at the child’s proud admission. "Well then stop touching what you know you’re not supposed to touch…Naughty."

The little girl’s eyes dropped. "Momma!"

Xena shrugged her shoulders. "I was just trying it on for size," she replied.

The little girl lowered her eyes and let her shoulders slump.

The warrior could see that the child was quite serious about her title. "I was just teasing Monster," she said kissing the youngster’s hand. "But don’t touch things you are not supposed to touch," she warned.

Tarren smiled preferring the title she felt she had earned. "Yes Momma."

The youngster fell happily against her mother’s shoulders once again and merely eyed the fascinating blade of the great Warrior Princess.

Ephiny walked across the compound, her face serious and even a bit pale.

The warrior placed the child on the ground and started to walk toward the queen.

Tarren’s eyes were caught by an event going on in a small fenced area just to the side of the village. She started to walk toward the action when, without even turning, the warrior mother caught her by the seat of her britches. "Oh no… You stay right here Naughty."

The little girl folded her arms across her chest. "Momma I was just looking. I wasn’t naughty."

The warrior grinned and glanced down at the now irritated child. "Ok… Tarren you stay right where you are…Better?"

The little girl realized that with or without the change of title the message was the same. "No not really."

Gabrielle looked at the approaching Amazon. "Eph what’s wrong?" she asked making no effort to hide her concern.

Ephiny put her hands in the air. "Oh nothing… I just got messages from three of the four queens. They have agreed to meet here for a meeting in less than a weeks time," she said, wondering if she could keep her mid-day meal down.

Gabrielle sighed with relief. "Eph that’s wonderful. So what’s the problem?"

The queen closed her eyes trying to regain her regal pose. "It’s only wonderful if I can hold this place and myself together. "She paused and stared at he trio. You guys weren’t planning on leaving early were you?" she asked nervously.

Gabrielle looked at Xena who merely waited for the bard to answer on her own. "No Eph, we are staying just as long as you need us."

The queen sighed with relief. "I am grateful for your loyalty my friends. I wish my own tribe were so loyal. Solari tells me that since I left three young Amazons have disappeared," she said her eyes filling with angst.

Xena’s attention was immediately captured. She held tightly to her daughter as she considered her friend’s words. "Are you sure they ran away Eph?" she asked.
Ephiny shrugged." My best trackers searched the area and found nothing. It’s pretty obvious that these kids did not want to be found. There was no sign of a struggle. They just vanished."
The warrior allowed her thoughts to wander as she considered the missing youngsters. Perhaps it was just something in her warrior blood that made her feel that something was just not right. She dismissed the factless notion deciding that she would not intrude on her friend’s command. She had more important things to deal with at the moment.
Tarren tried to loosen her mother’s child on her britches with the use of both hands but Xena merely lifted the child into the air allowing her to dangle at her side.

The queen smiled at the playful action. "Well the three that are gone were members of a small group of young warriors who don’t want this meeting to take place. I figure they must have headed east to try and join Queen Penela’s tribe. I sent a few of my warriors to get them." Ephiny threw her shoulders back and straightened her stance. "Those youngsters are coming back here whether they want to or not. I will not have my own tribe torn apart by a few arrogant children," she said firmly.
Xena nodded in understanding. Well if you need help just let me know," she offered.
Ephiny grinned. "I will remember those words my friend."
The warrior nodded. "I said need not want Ephiny," she said with a smile. "So if there is a war to fight or a lost child to track call me, but if you want me to talk about who gets what piece of land…forget it."
The queen continued to grin. "Oh don’t worry Xena. You’re my secret weapon. I wouldn’t pull you out of the arsenal unless I really needed you."
Gabrielle covered her mouth to hide a snicker. "Secret weapon," she mumbled, having visions of Xena tucked neatly beside the tribal bows and arrows.
Xena smiled weakly at both of them and then returned her attention to her still grumbling child. With a quick flip she brought the little girl back to her feet. "Have you had enough yet?" she asked the sulking child.
Tarren nodded but tilted her head up just enough so her mother could see how her eyes had widened and her lip had curled.
Xena merely shook her head in response. "No!"

Ephiny eyed the sullen child.

The youngster kept staring off in the distance at the Amazons gathering in the small training arena. She knelt beside the little girl. "So junior have you found something that interests you?" she asked, knowing what the object of the child’s desire was.

The youngster stared at her friend and nodded. "Uh huh but Momma won’t let me look," she replied giving her mother the best pouty face she could muster.

Xena rolled her eyes and glanced over at the grinning bard. "It was you that taught her that look if I remember correctly."

The bard shook her head. "Oh no…I may have drawn a small picture but she has mastered it into an art form Xena," she replied with a grin.

Ephiny smiled and moved beside the warrior letting her voice drop to a near whisper. "Xena it’s just a staff competition for the kids and some of the younger Amazon warriors. She won’t get it any trouble."

The warrior grinned at those words. "Ephiny you have no idea where that one. "She motioned toward her daughter. "Can find trouble."

The queen and the princess both offered their sullen faces to the child’s and Xena knew she was out numbered.

Tarren glanced up at her mother. "May I please go watch Momma?" she asked as politely as she could.

Xena looked at the pleading eyes all around her. "Yeah go ahead, but you see that pole at the end of the fence." She pointed to show the object to which she was now referring.

The child glanced in that direction and nodded. "Yes Momma."

The mother kept her eyes trained on the youngster as she continued to motion in that direction. "Well I want to see you sitting thereno where else. Do you understand?" she asked in a parental tone.

"Yes Momma."

She hugged her mother and then the bard and was about to leave when she returned and offered the queen a quick hug.

Ephiny smiled wondering just when she had allowed herself to become so affectionate.

Tarren ran in the direction of the cheers and knocking staffs. When she arrived she made sure to plant herself squarely on the fence where her mother had instructed she remain. She turned and waved to the group.

Xena waited until the child was settled before she turned her attention back to Ephiny.

Tarren watched two Amazon children fighting with the staffs and giggled a bit at their lack of skill. "Nope not holding it high enough. The one on the left is gonna get knocked down," she said quietly to herself.

Sure enough the small staff swung and the child to the left hit the ground with a thud.

The youngster watched as another pair of youngsters maybe seven summers old took their place on the field and again she pre-announced their mistakes accurately. However this time the warrior child spoke a bit too loudly and her tiny voice was heard by many including the instructor.

A large woman wearing a half dozen feathers in her headband approached the youngster. "I don’t know who’s child you are and why you are not dressed for competition but since you have so much to offer with your mouth perhaps you would like to try with the staff," she said in a bit threatening.

Tarren looked back to see that her mother and Gabrielle were now deep in conversation with Ephiny. "Me? I dunno if Momma would like that," she said glancing back at the warrior once again. "I’m not really allowed to play with strangers."

The Amazon threw her chest out and placed her hands on either side of the child. "I am Gruella, head trainer." She said proudly. "You let me worry about your Momma little girl. You just get your tail down here and pick up a staff," she ordered.

The youngster did not hesitate to move. She was after all always being told to listen to her elders. Tarren slid off the fence and picked up a small staff. She entered the ring and smiled at the little girl just her size that was now facing her.

The Amazon child glared back and tightened her grip on her staff.

Tarren just shrugged happy for a new playmate even if this particular one had a bit of a sour disposition.

The little Amazon swung her staff and Tarren grinned, merely stepping to one side and swiping the legs of her opponent. She watched as her new playmate landed in the dirt.

Tarren smiled and offered the little girl her hand to help her up.

"What’s that for?" the fallen Amazon child asked.

The warrior child shrugged remembering her mother’s teachings about sparring. "My Momma says you should always help your sparring partner up to show there are no hard feelings," she replied offering her hand to the other child.

The Amazon youngster accepted the hand and retreated to her place on the fence.

Gruella frowned at the arrogant child’s actions and sent another Amazon child in to take the loser’s place. "Bring up the eight year olds," she ordered, deciding it was time to face this small youngster with some older children.

The instructor watched with dissatisfaction as the little stranger again sent her student into the dirt and again offered the fallen child a hand and a friendly smile.

In a matter of moments Tarren had managed to defeat all the small children Gruella had determined to be in her age group as well as the youngsters in the 12-year-old class.

Gruella paced the yard wondering who this child was and why she had never seen her before. She called to one of her older students wanting to make an example of this small stranger. "Lexus!"

A teenager of about 14 summers sprinted to the instructor’s side. "Yes mother."

Gruella glanced at the small child twirling her staff playfully in the ring and then back at her daughter. "I want you to go in there and teach that little brat some manners," she ordered.

The girl looked at the child standing in the arena and shrugged. "But Mother she’s just a little kid. She can’t be more than seven summers. I could hurt her," she said still staring at the playful child.

Gruella glared at her daughter. "Are you questioning me youngster?" she asked as if ready to strike her if she disobeyed

The girl took a step back and bowed her head submissively. "No Mother." The Amazon girl stood tall ready to accept her instructions without further question.

Gruella folded her arms across her beefy chest and nodded. "Then get in there and show that little stranger we do not appreciate her humor."

Lexus swallowed hard but sprinted to the center of the arena as instructed.

Xena listened carefully to the plans that Gabrielle and Ephiny were making. She offered her advice as little as possible not wishing to be roped into the negotiations if her skills were truly not essential.

Ephiny knew her friend’s skills included negotiating peace treaties. She also knew that the Warrior Princess had, with the help of the bard’s scrolls, become legendary throughout Greece and the Amazon tribes. "Xena I really would like you to be present when the leaders arrive," she said knowing that such a presence could be of great influence.

Gabrielle glanced at her friend already knowing what the answer would be/

"Ephiny you can’t bring a nation together with impressions. You have to make this work on the facts and only the facts. Build weak foundation now my friend and anything you build will not last…." her voice trailed off as she noticed that Tarren was no longer seated on the fence.

Gabrielle saw her friend’s words of wisdom turn to a face of worry. "What’s wrong?" she asked, touching her friend’s arm

The warrior motioned toward the fence. "Naughty is at it again." She glanced at Ephiny. "Oh she can’t find any trouble over there can she Eph?"

Gabrielle glanced over at the crowd. "Oh she probably just moved closer or something…Relax Xena," she said, knowing she herself was not believing the words she spoke.

Feeling that her child was in trouble, the warrior mother shook her head and started toward the arena. "Uh huh you relax Gabrielle. I’m gonna go find her."

Gabrielle and Ephiny took a position behind the determined warrior mother.


Back at the arena…


Tarren looked at her tall opponent. "Hi I’m Tarren. Who are you?" she asked staring up at the teenager.

Lexus silenced the little girl with an angry stare. "Quiet we do not speak during a fight youngster."

Tarren shrugged and waited for Gruella to wave her hand for the sparring to begin.

The child sighed now tiring a bit of the stick play.

The hand went down and the match began.

Lexus swung her staff quickly over the youngster’s head and Tarren blocked noting the full force of the blow.

She dropped her staff to one side and took a step forward. "Hey that could have hurt if I didn’t make it," she yelled wondering why nobody in this group ever smiled.

Lexus smiled and moved in on the youngster once again. "That’s the idea child."

Tarren frowned and stepped to the side letting her attacker move right past her.

"You’re not playing nice," she said, repositioning her self into a more serious position. She swung her staff left and right and turned finally making contact with her opponent’s legs nearly knocking the Amazon off her feet.

There was a mumbling in the crowd of onlookers.

Lexus’s face turned red with anger as she swung her staff to the child’s feet.

Tarren gave the teenager a fair imitation of Xena’s playful smile and then vaulted over the attacking staff landing behind the girl. She tapped the teenager on the shoulder with one end of her staff and when Lexus turned, this small child poked her in the gut and knocked her in the chin landing the teenager in the dirt.

The child held her staff at the teenager’s throat and did her best to imitate her mother’s deep voice. "Yield."

Lexus nodded and lowered her head in shame at being sent to the ground by a little girl.

Tarren removed the staff and smiled deciding it was best to forgive and forget. She offered the girl her hand, but Lexus merely scoffed at the gesture and got to her feet.

The teenager could feel the fire of her mother’s eyes and knew that the worst of her day had yet to come.

Tarren felt her shoulder’s sag as she noticed that no one else was coming out to play with her. She dropped the staff to the ground deciding it might be a good time to find her mother and Gabrielle.

Gruella picked up a staff and approached the youngster blocking her from leaving the arena. "Perhaps you should spar with me a bit before you go. That will wipe the little smile off your face. I promise," she growled.

Tarren glanced at the large beefy woman. This Amazon was big and she looked pretty mean, not what her mother would consider a suitable playmate.

The child tried to move past the woman but Gruella blocked her at every attempt. Finally the little girl paused and glanced up at the instructor. "Excuse me but before we begin I was just wondering…Are you gonna try and hurt me?" the child asked wanting to be exactly clear on this stranger’s objective in this new game.

Gruella nodded her response. "Oh maybe just a little bit youngster."

Tarren swallowed hard and took a step back toward the fence. "That’s what I thought." She paused and considered her options. The little girl thought about her chucks but decided that was not a fair idea either. There was only one thing left to do when faced with an opponent that was too big to handle alone. "Momma!"

The yell rang out like an alarm calling the troops into action.

There was a sudden hush over the crowd and then a familiar battle cry sang through the air. Before another word could be spoken one very angry Warrior Princess vaulted in the arena landing between her child and the still approaching Gruella.

Gabrielle closed her eyes as she watched the events unfolding. "By the gods this is going to get ugly."


To be continued…

Don’t forget to Feed my pet Little Ego….J

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