Xena Warrior Mother Series Story 6
Legend of the Last Amazon-Part V
The characters of Xena: Warrior Princess, Gabrielle, and Argo and all other characters who have appeared in the syndicated series Xena: Warrior Princess, together with the names, titles, and back-story are the sole copyright property of MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures. No copyright infringement was intended in the writing of this fan fiction. The story is written only for fun, and no profit is being made. All other characters such as Tarren, the story idea and the story itself are the sole property of the author. The story cannot be sold or used for profit in any way. The story itself as well as the character created by the author may NOT be duplicated or archived without the authors permission. All works remain the copyright of the original author. These may not be republished without the authors consent. This story is a continuation of my first stories called SHE HAS MY EYES, ON THE ROAD AGAIN, NALAS GIFTS, HOME SWEET HOME, and Little Thief of Hearts You really MUST read those stories first. Otherwise you will be lost as to who some of the characters I have created are. This story contains some violence, no subtext, and the use or reference of corporal punishment. I will be putting that statement in all of the Tarren series whether it exists or not in that particular story. Please understand that this does NOT reflect on my personal beliefs or politics. I am just trying to stay true to the characters and culture of that period of history. Feedback is ALWAYS appreciated and I am most grateful to all that have written and will hopefully continue to write me with your thoughts.
Chapter 13 A Lesson for the Teacher
She lifted the child into her arms and placed the youngster safely on top of the fence behind the arena. "Are you Ok?" she asked, letting her eyes scan the childs body for the slightest injury.
The little girl opened her mouth wanting to share her version of the events that had taken place. "Yes Im fine Momma but I just ."
The warrior mother silenced her child with a scolding tone. "Not now Tarren." Xena turned and faced Gruella but glanced back at her daughter before moving further into the arena.
Tarren bit her lip and looked up at the warrior wanting to jump off the fence and join her mother in battle. Xena could sense the childs thoughts. She merely shook her head and pointed to the fence. "Dont you dare move!" she ordered in such a scolding tone that the child lowered her eyes.
The warrior mother nodded and took a few strides forward until she was face to face with the instructor. She glared at this stranger who had dared to threaten her child. "Let me just be clear on this. Were you about to just hit that little girl with a staff?" she asked through clenched teeth, motioning back to the small figure seated quietly on the fence.
Gruella let her eyes follow the form of the muscular warrior until their pupils locked. "Yes I was about to teach that youngster a lesson. "Who are you? And how dare you interfere," she growled.
Xena closed her eyes and shook her head. "Who am I?" It seemed that her identity was only hidden at the wrong moments. "Im her mother and I teach her all she needs to know." The warrior could feel the hair on the back of her neck standing up and the rate of her heartbeat increasing as she glared at the woman who would have brought harm to her child. "Gods I hope your name was at least on the list," she growled, before landing a hook punch on the womans jaw.
Gruella fell to the ground with an echoing thud sending a wave of murmurs through the watching crowd.
The warrior let the side of her boot tap the tip of a staff and the weapon obediently bounced into her hands. "You wanted to play with the staff. Well my daughter is not allowed to play with strangers but I am," she said with a long drawl.
Gruella got to her feet. She wiped a trickle of blood from the corner of her lip and smiled. "Well then perhaps it is you I should be fighting. Youre child is not trained well," she replied with a growl
The warrior butterflied the staff in front of her and then to her side showing all her great expertise with the weapon. "I dunno about that. She seemed to take your student down pretty fast and that kid was twice her size." She smiled. "And Ive taught my daughter something about manners and respect. Thats a lesson you obviously never learned."
Gruella seethed at the words and swung her staff full force to the warriors ribs. "Bitch!"
Xena merely kicked it away and smiled. "Oh come now. A big bad Amazon like you can do much better that," she purred, moving in circles around her opponent.
Gruella again swung her weapon accept this time the Warrior Princess vaulted in the air landing behind her. She tapped the woman on the shoulder and when the instructor turned brought the staff straight up her chin and across her side causing the Amazon to stumble to the ground.
Tarren smiled at the maneuver. "I did that move too Momma sort of," she mumbled, realizing there was no one around her interested in anything but the match.
Xena shook her head as she watched the instructor struggle to her feet. "Ya know if you dont show me something more, I may just have to let my very small child come over here and kick your ass," she whispered in a tone that only her opponent could here.
The warrior gave her evil laugh as she easily deflected each foot with one end of the staff. "I want you to know that I really am enjoying this but you are right. There is a lesson that needs to be taught here." She paused grabbing the Amazons foot in mid-air and holding it there as she spoke. "But what do you say I be the teacher and you be the student?" Her smile faded and her eyes became like two pyres burning with an intensity that could turn steel into ash. "School is now in session," she yelled. She dropped the instructors foot, swung her staff to the left and to the right hammering Gruella with one blow right after another.
Gruella did her best to block the strikes and counter but the warrior mothers skill and intensity was too powerful.
Ephiny arrived at the fence just as the fight was getting heated. All the young Amazons bowed their heads and moved to the side to allow the queen to watch. "This should be good," she said with a broad smile.
Gabrielle ran her hands along the top of the fence. "Arent you gonna stop this?" She gave the queen a gentle nudge. The young woman could see the warrior was not even slowing in her attacks. This stranger had committed the one offense for which Xena showed no mercy. She had threatened the safety of her child and that mistake came with a heavy price.
Ephiny shrugged her shoulders and smiled. "Nope!" She was just as eager to watch the Warrior Princess in action as everyone else was.
Gabrielle closed her eyes. "Ephiny!"
The queen frowned at her friend and kept her eyes trained on the match. "Relax Princess."
Gruella fell back and glanced over at the fence. Ephinys presence forced her to step up her efforts. Being defeated in front of the tribe was bad. Being beaten in front of the queen was a disgrace.
Gabrielle again looked to her regal friend. "Uh Eph you really should stop this," she warned, noting the crazed look in the warriors eyes.
It was apparent that if pushed too far Xena would kill this woman.
Ephiny frowned at her softhearted princess. "Are you kidding? I wouldnt miss this for the treasures of Artemis. Besides my secret weapon is letting everyone know shes here," she replied with a satisfied smile.
Xena waved the staff around in one hand occasionally throwing a kick as she playfully twirled the weapon in front of her. "Come on class isnt over just yet."
Gruella fell to the ground with every strike but wasted no time returning to her feet. "Im still here stranger." Her breath was becoming shorter and her hold on the staff loose.
The warrior mother could see her opponents stance was sloppy and her legs so weak they could be stirred with a spoon. It was time to end this. With a vault and an aerial kick she sent the already dazed woman to the dirt. Landing beside the fallen Amazon, Xena placed the end of her staff at the base of the instructors throat. "Schools over and you failed Yield," she growled, her eyes still a melting pot of fury.
The woman nodded her surrender as she panted for air. "I yield."
Xena tossed her staff to the ground and knelt beside Gruella. She reached out her hand for the stranger to take. "Now my little girl is watching this and I always tell her to treat her opponents with respect. So you will take my hand or I will break it," she said in low seething tone as she squeezed the womans palm to let her feel just how much strength was in her grip. " I really would like to break it, but that would upset my little girl and what upsets her really upsets me. Understand?"
Gruella bowed her head in defeat and the crowd of watching Amazons cheered.
The warrior ignored the sound of the satisfied onlookers and started back toward her daughter. After taking only a few strides away from her still seething opponent, she heard the sound of dozens of feet gathering behind her. The great warrior smiled and shook her head knowing what was waiting at her back. When she turned she was not surprised to see Gruella standing with 20 or so Amazon warriors eager to try their skill.
Gruella held herself steady with the aid of her staff. Her face was bruised and her body shaking but she was filled with a fury that kept her on her feet. "Still feeling so cocky stranger? she asked through quick gasps of air.
Xena took a deep breath and reached for another staff. "Oh well at least Ill keep Eponon off my back for a while," she mumbled, moving toward the pack of waiting Amazons.
Ephiny smiled at the interesting odds, but Gabrielle jumped into the arena. "Thats enough," she yelled holding her hands in the air.
All eyes fell upon her but none of the Amazons in the ring were quite sure who the misspoken blond was so they ignored her command and focused their attentions on Xena.
Little Tarrens eyes stayed glued on her mothers back wondering if she should offer some assistance to the warrior. However after remembering the edge in her mothers tone when she placed her on the fence with the order not to move, the child decided that she was already in enough trouble and that Xena could take care of herself.
The Warrior Princess glanced at the anxious bard and shrugged. "Sorry." She smiled wickedly waiting for her first victims to advance. "Ok whos first to be stupid," she called.
Gabrielle turned to the queen. "Eph thats enough. Stop this before its too late," she begged.
Ephiny motioned the princess to one side so she did not block the view of the event about to take place. "Relax Gabrielle Xena can take care of herself," she replied with a smile, wishing she could actually stand beside the warrior for this battle.
Gabrielle jumped in front of Ephinys view once again determined to have her words heard. "I wasnt talking about Xena. Shell send all youre Amazons to the infirmary."
Xena grinned and twirled her staff ready to give lessons to the entire tribe if need be.
Ephiny let out a long breath and stood tall holding one hand in the air. "Hold!" Her command forced every Amazon to straighten and drop their weapons to their sides.
Xena twisted her lips and stared at her own weapon. She looked at the regal stance of her Amazon friend and the now still warriors before her. "Eph I wasnt gonna hurt them too bad," she said with a wink leaning her staff against a tree.
The queen shrugged knowing there was a certain amount of disappointment in the warriors heart at being forced to walk away from such a challenge. "Sorry Xena but I need them in one piece right now." She motioned toward Gabrielle. "And ya know."
After hearing Ephiny announce the identity of the unknown champion, all eyes fell on the Warrior Princess and Gruella dropped to one knee. "My apologies to you Xena. I did not know that was your child," she said never allowing her eyes to meet that of the great warrior.
Xena eyed the submissive woman and allowed some of her anger to drain. "It shouldnt matter. You should not threaten any child. You should be teaching all your students to have respect," she said trying to control the anger in her voice. Realizing her words were wasted on this woman, she paused and looked back at the small figure waving in the distance. "Besides Tarren should not have been competing," she muttered. She glanced at all the warriors now bowing in her direction. "Knock it off get up" she growled, turning and walking back to her child who had been happily planted on the fence watching her mother fight.
The warrior mother came to sudden halt right in front of the child. "You young lady ."
Tarren smiled and patted her mother on the shoulder. "Wow Momma you really kicked butt," she said finding it hard to control her excitement.
Xena let out a deep breath and lifted the child off her perch placing her on the ground in front of her. She leaned down placing her hands on her knees as she scolded the little girl. "Thats not the only little butt Im gonna kick today. What were you doing fighting? I told you to stay on the fence young lady," she yelled, keeping the child positioned firmly in place as she spoke.
Tarren swallowed and aimed her wide-eyed stare at her mothers stern face. "Was I real naughty Momma?" she asked with a touch of remorse.
Xena thought about the recent event and sighed. "Yes No Im not even sure anymore," she replied, letting her head drop to one side.
The child watched the tip of her boot making circles in the dirt. "Am I gonna get my butt kicked too?" she asked, closing her eyes as if that would make the wrong response easier to endure.
The mother considered the question wanting to give it a moments thought before deciding. She looked at the trusting young face of her small daughter waiting patiently for sentence to be passed. Xena let out another long breath and smiled. "No youre not gonna bet your butt kicked." She paused and lifted the child into her arms. "I should have known better than to leave you by yourself," she replied, realizing Tarren was indeed to young to ever be left alone. As her mother, it was Xenas responsibility to always be there to show her daughter what was the right choice to make.
The little girl sighed with relief and shook her finger at her mother in fair imitation. "Yes you should have known much better than to leave me alone Momma."
Xena smiled at the little girls sudden attempt at a quiet repent. "Its Ok your butt is safe for the moment," she said with a grin. "Weve been here less than a day and everyone already knows youre here."
The child grinned as she remembered her mothers fight. "You too Momma."
Xena twisted her lips as she considered her now all too obvious presence. "Yup like mother like daughter."
Tarren smiled broadly at the comparison and Xena placed a tender kiss on the childs cheek. "Naughty Monster."
The youngster smiled and returned the gesture. "You did pretty good Momma," she said proudly as she watched the warrior wipe the excess affection from her face.
"Thanks baby. Im glad you were pleased." Xena took a few quick strides to extract herself from the arena. As she walked she cradled the little girl close to her shoulder for all to see. If people were going to know she was a mother then they were going to know she was a good one. The warrior would not deny her child affection or protection at any cost.
The child ignored the stares of the crowd much preferring to play with her mothers straps. "Did ya see me fight Momma?" she asked wondering why no compliments had been thrown her way.
The warrior nodded as she thought about the glimpse of her little girl taking down the tall teenager. "Uh huh." The response was as fast as the gentle swat the youngster got across her fingers for touching the forbidden leather. "Stop that," she scolded.
Xena frowned. "And if you rip my straps youre gonna get a good spanking. Is that enough and for you?" she asked sternly, wondering why the message had not been made clear already.
Tarren let her shoulders slump a bit. "Dont wanna spankin. No such thing as a good one," she mumbled now ignoring the straps completely. "I was asking about my fighting Momma," she replied in a near whisper. The disappointment at her mothers lack of praise was obvious.
Xena stared at the sullen form nestled in her arms and sighed. "Well if you want to know what I am most proud of, its the way you helped up your opponent after you won. That is a better skill than the staff little one," she said proudly, again offering the child an affectionate kiss.
The warrior mother returned the embrace as she watched Ephiny and Gabrielle approach.
The princess bard moved quickly beside the warrior and ran her hand over the little girls cheek anxiously. "Are you Ok honey?" she asked wanting to make sure that no damage had been done.
Tarren patted her gentle friend on the shoulder. "Yeah Im fine Gabby," she assured the young woman. The child held her chin up high and leaned her head against her mother. "Did ya see me kicking butt just like Momma?" she asked with an unmistakable pride.
Gabrielle folded her arms and nodded. "Yes I saw honey, she replied, giving her larger friend a sour stare.
Xena merely shrugged her shoulders. "What? What did I do?" she asked wondering which of her actions was earning her the angry bard look.
Gabrielle just shook her head. "Twins," she muttered.
Ephiny chuckled and gave the little girl a gentle pat on the leg. "You did pretty well Junior. You beat Gruellas daughter, Lexus, and shes got to be twice your size and age and ." The queen paused realizing she had made two mistakes. The first mistake being the mention of the childs obvious young age and the second being hoisting so many compliments on the little girls shoulders for a non-sanctioned fight.
Xena merely smiled and shook her head but Gabrielle folded her arms against her chest and aimed the angry bard stare at her queen. "Ephiny!"
The queen shrugged her shoulders. "Sorry I was caught up in the moment."
Dissatisfied at the attention being turned away from her, Tarren cleared her throat hoping to redirect everyones focus back her way. "Please continue Ephiny," she said politely hoping for more praise to be allotted.
Xena gave the youngster a gentle squeeze. "I think you got the message you little ham," she said wrapping her arms protectively around the child.
"No I didnt."
"Yes you did."
"No I didnt."
Before Xena could respond the queen interceded. "Wait!" She focused her attentions on the little girl keeping her pose regal and quite serious. "Tarren you did very well. I am impressed with your skills." This Amazon knew exactly what words to choose.
The warrior slid up beside her Amazon friend. "Hey how did I do?" she asked with a wink.
Ephiny tilted her hand from left to right to show her judgment was still undecided.
Xena frowned at her friends humor. "Thanks a lot."
The queen bowed her head slightly in response. She then tilted her head back to show Xena the presence of the smiling weapons master leaning up against the tree behind them.
The warrior noticed the unusually broad smile on Eponons face. "Whats got her so happy? She get another feather?" she asked with a chuckle.
Ephiny shook her head and again motioned toward the woman.
When Xena took a second look she noticed that Eponon was scratching a name off the list and stuffing the parchment carefully back in her cuff. She held up a single finger. "Thats one Xena," the weapons master mouthed.
The warrior frowned as the woman sauntered away. "And thats all youre getting you feather headed vulture," she yelled, sorry she hadnt at least gotten to cross Gruellas name off herself.
As if brought back to reality by all the conversation around her, the dazed child finally let her thoughts come home. She took a deep breath and smiled at the queen. "Thanks Ephiny!" she replied still trying to control her excitement at being told she had skills just like her mother.
Ephiny nodded, ignoring the annoying jabs in the side she was getting from her princess. "You are quite welcome Junior. Are you sure you dont wanna be a little Amazon?" she asked winking at her warrior friend.
Tarren held tightly to her grinning mothers neck and shook her head. "Nope Im a little Xena but thanks anyway."
The warrior mother chuckled and Ephiny nodded in understanding. "Youre absolutely right. Why should I ask you to take a step down Junior?" she answered with a crooked grin.
Tarren gave the queen an appreciative smile and the looked at her mother. She rubbed her small hands together. "So Momma whose butt do we kick next?" she asked ready for action with her partner.
Gabrielle frowned and let her eyelids lower. "Yup its just like seeing double," she grumbled, giving the warrior a glare that said fix this now.
Xena closed her eyes and repositioned the child to the other side of her shoulder. "Uh nobody As a matter of fact now would be a very good time to go have a very long talk about a few things including butt kicking," she said nodding at Ephiny and slipping past the frowning Princess Bard.
The child smiled and patted her mother affectionately on the head. "Sure Momma. What do you wanna know?"
Xena shook her head and picked up her pace before she could catch a glimpse of Gabrielles expression. "No baby this is one of those times where Ill talk and youll listen," she said firmly.
The little girl shrugged. "Ok Momma but it sure sounds just like all our other talks. Are you sure you dont wanna ask me anything?" she asked eager to offer her expertise.
The mother grinned and patted the little girls back affectionately as they walked. "Im sure, but I promise if I ever have a question youll be the first one I come too," she replied in a softer tone.
Tarren smiled and waved to the now distant Gabrielle and Ephiny as she and her mother departed. The now carefully protected youngster did not notice the angry Lexus watching from inside the fenced arena. She could not see the teenage Amazons glare or hear her growl. "Later little girl. I will get you later." The embarrassment the student had suffered at the hands of such a small child would not go unavenged.
Xena paced back and forth wearing down the grass in her path. The youngster who was seated comfortably on a tree stump watched quietly as her mother moved from side to side. She had chosen a small clearing on the outskirts of the village to have a private conversation with her daughter.
The warrior placed her hands up in the air. "Wait Im still thinking of just how I want to say this to you."
Tarren sighed and leaned back against a tree. Realizing this talk was going to take longer than most she stretched out her legs. "Oh Can I take nap?"
"No you cant take a nap." The warrior mother finally stopped and knelt in front of the child. "Ok first of all I do want you to show respect to your elders. However thats not the same as listening to everything that every adult tells you." She paused and took a breath. "The only grown-up you need to listen to at this moment is me. If Im not around Gabrielle is in charge." The warrior smiled sure she had made her words clear.
The child fiddled with the laces on her own boots wondering why she could never get them to stay tied. "What if you and Gabby are not around? Who do I listen to then?" she asked, giving the longer lace a yank.
The warrior nodded. "Youre welcome Monster. Now have I made myself clear on this?" she asked patting the childs leg.
The little girl shook her head and ran her hands down the front of her boots. "No Momma, cause if you and Gabby both fell in a hole You werent hurt or nothing but you were stuck in this hole and you couldnt vault out cause Gabby was too heavy and you didnt wanna leave her alone cause she hates holes and stuff." The child paused and took a deep breath before beginning anew. "Then Id have to ask some grown-up for help and I wouldnt know who to ask," she said now examining the laces on her britches noticing they too were a bit loose.
Xena dropped her face into her hands wondering why she had ever told that Momma fell in a hole story and hoping it would not haunt her for the rest of her days. However she had to concede that the child had a point. If by some freak of nature both she and Gabrielle were separated from Tarren for even just a moment, the child needed to know how to pick responsible people to help her.
The warrior lifted the little girl onto her lap. "Ok first of all I will always be close to you. I promise. Im your Momma and thats my job and you know how much I really love my work," she said kissing the child affectionately on the forehead.
Tarren smiled and nuzzled into her mothers side knowing that she was indeed the work her mother loved so much. "Uh huh."
The warrior looked up at the sky and closed her eyes praying this scenario never came to be. "However if something drags me a way for a even just little bit of time then Gabrielle will be there." She paused and glanced at the youngster. "But if while I was gone, Gabrielle fell in a hole because she was day dreaming instead of watching where she was walking then I guess youd need to find help." The mere thought of her small child needing to do such a thing all alone made the warrior mother cringe.
Tarren nodded as she motioned her mothers fingers toward the still loose laces on her britches. "So how would I know who to ask Momma?"
The warrior shook her head as she began lacing the youngsters trousers. "Am I gonna have to start dressing you every morning?" she asked giving the child a quick tickle.
The little girl giggled and gave her mother a stiff nod. "Yes you are Momma."
Xena did not know whether the youngster was serious or not but considering the disarray the little girl was in when left to dress herself the mother was considering the action. She brought her thoughts back to her daughters question. "Ok How do you know who to ask? Well let me see Do you trust Ephiny?"
The little girl thought about the Amazons most recent efforts on her behalf and nodded. "Uh huh."
Xena nodded in approval. "Good. Shes a good person to trust. I trust her too. What makes you trust her?" she asked, finally finishing the last of the lacing.
Tarren observed the neat bow at the center of her waist and smiled. "You do that really good Momma," the child said fingering the tips of the loops with her thumb.
The mother smiled and straightened the little one in her lap. "Thanks Ive had a lot of practice." She moved the little girl closer to her shoulder. "Now what makes you trust Ephiny?" she repeated.
The little girl gave the question some thought. "I dunno. Shes nice to me now and she didnt laugh at me when I got a spankin. She even came up and saw me in the tree and told me a secret." She giggled knowing her mother still wanted to know the secret. "And then she told me a story and gave me one of her feathers," she said tilting her eyes down and pulling out her tunic enough to make sure the prized item had not been lost. "Its just a feeling I get inside Momma."
The little girl lifted her tunic and examined her bare belly. "You mean I keep it in there?" she asked, moving her hand around the soft skin wondering which spot held this bit of wisdom.
Xena laughed and lifted the child higher in the air. "It doesnt matter where you keep it youngster. Just remember that you have it inside of you and if you ever need to call on it you can trust it." She thought about her words. Realizing Tarren was too young to have experience to draw on she added a simple form of discerning good from bad. "Baby you just look deep inside your heart and ask yourself the question Would Momma like me to play with this person? If your little gut says no then you dont ask them anything or listen to anything they say. Do ya understand?" she asked giving the child another tickle.
"Not really but Ill think on it Momma." The child paused. "Does this mean I dont have to listen to Gruella anymore?" she asked hopefully. "Cause my gut says she doesnt wanna play real nice."
The warriors eyes went cold at the mere mention of the instructors name. "Baby I dont even want you to walk on the same path as Gruella. Ok?" the question was stiff and filled with growing angst.
Tarren nodded vigorously. "Yes Momma. I wont listen to anyone but you and Gabby unless youre away for a bit and Gabby falls in a hole." The child paused. "Do you really have to be away without me?" she asked with a frown.
Xena closed her eyes and her smile returned. "Never for more than a little bit and never any longer than I have to be baby. You just remember Ill always come right back for you. Ill never be far. Thats a promise. No matter where you are I will always find you little one," she replied, giving her little girl a big hug and making a silent vow to herself to make sure the words she spoke were sealed with an oath to the gods.
Feeling enough had been said, Tarren jumped off her mothers lap and grabbed the warriors hand wanting her to follow. "Ok Momma thats enough talk. Lets go find some butt to kick." No matter how hard she pulled she could not budge the warrior.
"Momma can you help a little?"
"We are not finished yet."
"Why? I wanna go kick some more butt."
The warrior shook her head and reeled the small child closer. "Uh no ya see butt kicking is our next subject."
Tarren rolled out her lip and crawled back onto her mothers lap. "Rats."
Xena grinned knowing the child had hoped to slide past this topic. "Now first of all I dont like it when you say butt kicking. It doesnt sound very nice and it gets me dirty looks from Gabrielle, so from now on just say fighting or anything but that. Understand?"
The child frowned at the loss of her favorite words. "But I like saying it?" she protested.
The mothers brows arched. "Which do you like more saying those words or sitting down?" she asked patting the seat of the childs britches.
The little girls eyes grew wide at the obvious threat. "Ok Momma No more saying butt kicking." The child let out a quick breath. "But Ill be thinking it."
Xena chuckled a bit. She knew she had no way to control her daughters thoughts. "Well you just see that you think it to yourself little one."
Again the child sighed and jumped from her mothers lap, pulling at the large wrist of her warrior mother to follow. "Ok now we can go play. Right?"
The warrior again did not budge. She shook her head and again brought the youngster back onto her lap. "Nope we still have to talk about butt kicking I mean fighting. You are just a little kid and I dont want you fighting Tarren." The statement was adamant. She let out a long breath. "However I realize that there may be times when you are forced to defend yourself. That is the only time you are allowed to do so," she said with parental command.
Xena could feel the sweat on her brow forming. "Because you are just a little kid. Gabrielle and I are grownups and we only fight to protect ourselves or other people." That answer seemed adequate
"I wanna protect other people too," the child protested.
The warrior mother ran her hands through the youngsters mop of hair. "Maybe someday you will, but right now you will not fight unless you are left with no other choice. Do I make myself clear on that Tarren?" Xena was not in the mood to argue this point, as it was something she felt she had made clear numerous times in the past.
The child pressed her arms tighter against her chest and did not respond.
The warrior tried to make eye contact but the youngster merely turned her head away. "Tarren I asked you a question?"
Again the child said nothing.
Xena gave the little girl a quick swat on the britches. "Hey you answer me when I ask you a question young lady," she scolded.
This was definitely not a subject the warrior was going to play games with.
The little girl rubbed her seat and let her eyes drop but obediently replied with a sniffle. "But you fight and I wanna be just like you Momma." The words were filled with such love and devotion that the childs tears seem to fall with each one spoken.
Feeling her insides melting at the tender statement, Xena wished she could go back a moment in time and take back the little swat she had just delivered. She pulled the child closer to her and ran her hand along the little girls face. "I know ya do and Im flattered baby. But there are just some things you can do like I do and some things you cant." She paused as she considered the list of things she did not want her child to ever imitate. "Tarren, I want you to be a normal happy little kid and thats a tough thing considering the way we live." She paused again and gave the youngster a squeeze. "Besides if you were any more like me than you already are I think Gabrielle would lose her mind."
The little girl grinned, having visions of the bard chasing some shapeless form labeled Gabrielles mind around a campfire.
The child wiped her eyes with the ends of her sleeves. "Ya would?"
Xena leaned in a bit closer placing her open hand tenderly on the side of the childs face. "Uh huh. Remember you are my baby. I like taking care of you."
Tarren thought about her mothers words and smiled. The thought of being so special to Xena did indeed give her a warm feeling. However if one was not able to duplicate the efforts of ones hero then what was the point of having one. "But I still wanna be like you Momma," she said with conviction.
Feeling as if she were hitting a brick wall, Xena cupped the little girls face in her hands and smiled. "That doesnt mean you cant do everything else I do. Ya know I have many skills little one. Fighting is just one of them." She let her voice trail off a bit hoping to build the youngsters anticipation. "I was even thinking maybe I would start teaching you how to track like I do," she said letting her eyes gaze off into the distance.
The little girls eyes lit up at the thought of being given such a special gift. "Ya mean it Momma? Youre gonna teach me to track just like you."
"Yes I mean it That is if I hear you make a promise," the mother said sternly.
The child lowered her eyes a bit. "Ok Momma, I promise I wont fight unless you say I can or I dont have a choice," she replied, crossing her small fingers behind her back.
Xena nodded and got to her feet lifting the child into the air. "Good girl but dont think for a minute those crossed fingers mean anything. That promise still counts," she said sternly.
Tarren felt her shoulders slump until she felt her mothers gentle hand caressing her face. "So do you wanna be a happy tracker or a very unhappy fighter?"
The youngsters smile brightened offering new life to the warriors dark eyes. "Were trackers today Momma. Youre gonna be a tracker too. Right?"
"Of course!" Xena did not know whether she had made any headway or not. This was obviously a subject that would require many more conversations. "Ok then you and I will go tracking first thing in the morning. Deal?"
The little girl tilted her head and gave her mother her broadest smile. "Yes Momma. I cant wait. I wanna track just like you do."
Tarren smiled happy to have someone else take over the chore of figuring out which boot went on which foot. Mistakes like that were uncomfortable. "Its about time someone did," she said with a sigh of relief.
The mother smiled realizing for the first time that things like long laces had been a bit of a challenge to her child since they had bought new clothes and boots in Amphipolis. "If you needed my help why didnt you just ask me Tarren?"
The child shrugged. "I didnt wanna bother ya."
Xena tilted the childs head to face her and leaned in close. "You could never bother me. I love you and I really love helping you." She kissed the little girl on the nose. "So from now on those laces and boots will be a team effort Ok?" Her words were tender and soothing.
The warrior mother grinned and lifted the child into her arms. "Anytime Monster but from now on I want you to tell me when you have a problem or have a question. Dont make me find out on my own," she said in a soft and understanding parental tone.
The little girl nodded and let her eyes fall on the forbidden straps. "Oooh."
Xena merely had to give her child a warning glance. "Tarren."
The youngster smiled. "Just lookin Momma."
"Uh huh Just see that you look with your eyes and not your hands Monster," she warned as she finished straightening the childs tunic.
Before the mother could finish her task she heard a snicker in the trees above her. Without a thought she tossed her chakrum straight in the air. There was the loud crunch of a branch breaking in two and then muffled screams as four young Amazon warriors landed on the ground.
Xena took a deep breath and turned around as her chakrum returned to her hand. She placed it comfortably at her side and smiled. "Is there something I can do for you ladies?" she asked, placing her child safely behind her and examining the state of her own nails.
The four young Amazons stumbled a bit before getting to their feet. The first spoke. "We wanted to take on the mighty Warrior Princess but after listening to you talk to your brat like that, I dont think it would be worth the effort," she said with a chuckle.
Soon all four uninvited visitors were laughing.
Tarren reached for her chucks and jumped off the tree stump ready to approach the laughing foursome. "Butt kicking time," she muttered.
Xena caught the child by the waistline of her britches. "Hey do you remember any of what I just said?" she scolded, pulling the little girl back behind her.
Tarren glared at the four laughing warriors and retreated back to the stump feeling defeated without a chance at battle. "Yes Momma."
Another of the nameless Amazons stepped forward. "Yes Momma," she mimicked. She glanced at the now seething child. "By the Gods that one looks only a few summers out of diapers," she said with a loud belly laugh. She turned to her fellow warriors and grinned. "Hey guys maybe we better run now or the mighty Warrior Princess will give us all a spanking," she cackled.
Soon all four of the young warriors were laughing once again.
Xena pushed the child gently behind her. "No. Now remember what I said."
The same cocky young Amazon again stepped forward. "Well Warrior Princess why dont you just shut me up. I heard you were too much of a coward to take any challenges in the ring," she said with a growl.
The warrior could feel her heart racing and her blood boiling and she wished that her small daughter were anywhere else but there. "Yeah well maybe another time. Right now I dont have time to play. My daughter and I are sort of busy." Xena grabbed Tarrens hand and started to move away when the four women jumped in front of her blocking the path.
That was a mistake.
Again the lead Amazon stepped forward. "Oh thats right youre a mommy now and you dont like for your little girl to fight," she said reaching out a hand to touch the child.
Tarren tapped on her mothers arm and when the warrior turned she saw her childs usually bright face dimmed. "Im sorry Momma."
Xena kept her eyes trained on the four women awaiting their next bad choice. "Why are you sorry baby?" she asked, wondering why the youngster would feel responsible for this situation.
The child lowered her eyes. "Theyre laughing at you cause of me," she replied letting her head drop.
Xena reached over and picked up the little girls chin with a single finger. "Hey it doesnt bother me what they think. I only care what you think." She paused knowing her words were having little effect. After a quick breath the warrior lifted the childs head with the tips of her fingers. "Hey ya know what Monster?"
The child bit her lip and shook her head. "No what Momma?"
"I think its time."
Tarren smiled broadly and jumped into her mothers arms.
The four amazons did not hesitate again. They charged the warrior ignoring the proximity of the little girl.
That was another mistake.
Xena quickly tossed Tarren in the air and the child vaulted over the group landing on the other side of the battle.
After making sure her daughter was safe the Warrior Princess went to work. "Ok girls. Ive had just about enough. You want me to give you some bruises to show your friends. It will be a pleasure." She took the first attacker down with a back fist and the second with a punch to the jaw and a kick to the midsection. She laughed wickedly as each Amazon made an attempt at retreat. "Not so fast. This spanking is not quite over youngsters."
Xena didnt bother to draw her sword. She merely tossed one foolish young Amazon after another to either the left or right as if they were nothing more than rag dolls in her well trained hands. "You really should know better than to eavesdrop on a grown-up," she purred. She threw a back fist at one approaching warrior and the young woman slumped to the ground. "And never ever try touch my child, " she growled as she tossed the loud mouthed one to a large thorny bush.
Seeing her mother was outnumbered and feeling this was one of those choice moments little Tarren pulled out her chucks and tapped one of the women on the leg with the chain. When the Amazon foolishly turned, the child sent her well-trained wand across the chin and then swung it in a circle before landing it against the womans ribs.
Xena saw the maneuver and tossed her remaining playmates into nearby bushes before vaulting to reach the fourth.
She grabbed the already ailing woman and held her in one hand as she shook a scolding finger at her child. "What did I tell you about fighting young lady? Do I have to put you over my knee just to get you to do what youre told?" she yelled.
Seeing her help was neither needed nor wanted the little girl placed her chucks back in her boot and shrugged her shoulders. "You said I couldnt fight unless I had no choice Momma. There were four of them and only one of you." She lowered her eyes knowing her mother could easily defeat an army alone. "I just wanted to help ya the way you always help me
Xena felt her resolve melting as she stared at the sullen form of a very small child whose love for her was beaming through. "Gods she is just a baby," she thought.
The warrior mother swallowed hard, took a deep breath and tossed the now struggling young Amazon into the bushes to join her well-beaten friends. She leaned beside her child. "Well I guess its a good thing you were here because I really did need your help just this one time," the mother said with a smile, hoping the child understood this was not something that would occur again
The mother let her hand run across the childs face. "No Im not mad at ya and Im not gonna put you over my knee this time. But if there is ever a next time " Realizing the child understood the statement, the mother paused soaking in the gentle expression and innocence of her young childs eyes. "Well I guess this was one of those times neither one of us had much choice." She shifted her weight from one leg to the other and sighed before lifting the little girl into her arms. "But we really dont have to tell Gabrielle about this. Ok?"
The little girl nodded in agreement and hugged her mother as the warrior started to move away from the fallen Amazons. "Momma?"
"Can I say it just one more time?"
The mother let out a long breath. "Ok just one more and then never again. Got it?"
The child nodded and glanced back at the four women stumbling to regain their balance and dignity. "Me and Momma kicked butt," she crooned.
The warrior chuckled a bit and cradled the child closer to her. "Ok you said it and I do not want to hear you say it anymore. Now no more fighting."
The little girl nodded. "Uh huh." She smiled as she tightened her hold on her parent. "Unless someone else makes us fight," she mumbled.
Xena gave the youngster a gentle squeeze. "I heard that and I will be watching you."
The mother rubbed her childs back affectionately. "You are a naughty little monster ya know?"
The little girl grinned mischievously. "Yup I know." She paused as she considered the title. "But Im still your baby. Right?"
The question brought a soft smile to the warriors face. "Oh yeah. You are my baby."
Tarren sighed with relief and returned to her comfortable spot in her mothers arms. "Good."
Eponon was the first to arrive her face filled with concern. "Xena are you two alright?" she asked panting heavily.
The warrior nodded and motioned back toward the clearing behind her. "Oh yeah. I was I mean we were just having a friendly conversation when some uninvited guests dropped in." The warrior glanced at her child. "But no big deal me and my little partner here took care of them," she said with a shrug.
Eponon motioned her approaching warriors to the clearing. "Bring the attackers to me," she ordered. She smiled at Xena. "Just cant stop can ya? You just love to show off."
The warrior grinned knowing it was the time or place to trade barbs with Eponon.
When the four battered women were dragged before her, the weapons master demeanor changed. She pressed her arms against her chest and let her face grow cold. "So you four little warriors think that jumping my friend while she is sharing a private moment is the Amazon way. Wrong!" She glanced at Xena and then back at the four. "Since you like to jump so much well see if a few days of extra drills might improve your manners." She cocked her head to one side. "Solari take them to the infirmary. When the healer says they are fit send them back to me and well go find ourselves some real high trees to jump from."
Eponon tasseled the childs hair. "How many did you get kid?"
Tarren frowned. "Only one. I only started her Momma finished her."
Eponon grinned at this bit of information. "Really?" She reached into her cuff and pulled out the familiar piece of parchment and a quill.
Xena growled as she watched her friend make four dramatic scratches on the list before returning it to her cuff. She pointed at Tarren. "Ya know kid. If you keep going like this I may just have to get you your own list."
Realizing her humor might be a bit misplaced; Eponon swallowed hard and slowly backed away. "I was just kidding," she said deciding she had some things to do back at the village that needed immediate attention
The warrior mother glared at her friend as the weapons master made her way quickly back into the crowded village. "You are at the top of my list now Eppy," she mumbled.
Tarren tried to smile but the look in her mothers eyes said it was not worth the effort. "I dont really need a list Momma. I dont even know what it is, but if you dont want me to have one I wont get one."
Xena arched her brow and grinned. "Good thinking."
The child blinked and the warrior let out a long breath. "A list," she mumbled tossing the child playfully into air. "You just see that you stay off my list little girl," she said as she caught the giggling youngster in her arms. "Little monster," she whispered kissing her child tenderly and walking proudly back into view of the tribe.
Tarren walked out of the bath area still wrapped in the heavy towel her mother had placed around her. "Two baths in one day. Why am I being punished?" she grumbled with obvious dissatisfaction at being made forced to remain so clean.
The warrior grinned and gave the youngster a gentle push to get her moving toward the bedroom area. "You are not being punished Tarren. Tonight is important for Gabrielle. Its a big party and she wants us to get all clean and dressed up. After that staff fight we both needed another bath Monster."
Xena nodded as she tapped the child on the head. Thats right
remember that," the mother warned, guiding the little girls shoulders into the sleeping quarters.
The child looked up at her mother and grinned. "You too Momma."
Xena shook her head. "Oh is that right? She let her fingers fall to the childs side and gave the youngster a quick tickle. "Naughty."
Tarren giggled and skidded into the large sleeping area. "Im not a Naughty Im a Junior baby Tarren Monster, "she said proudly.
The little girl giggled with delight. "Higher Momma," she cried as the warrior caught her over one arm.
With a tender kiss the mother placed the little girl gently on the pallet. "Sorry little one but its time to get dressed and ." Before the warrior could finish her statement she noticed that the place on the large bed where she had left her clothing was now vacant. "Where are my clothes, my armor ." She looked further. "Even my chakrum and sword are gone," she growled, scanning the area for any sign of an intruder.
Tarren rolled over on the pallet to see the crime scene for herself. "Momma my britches, slingshot and chucks are gone too," she said biting her lip wondering who would dare steal her most prized possessions.
The mother looked down at her youngster and patted the childs head soothingly. "Dont worry baby. Well find everything," she said with obvious anger for whoever had dared to invade their privacy and steal their personal belongings. "I promise you that." She scanned the cottage once again and this time noticed a rolled parchment sitting on the table in the center of the room. Placed neatly beside it were folded linens that Xena recognized as Amazon ceremonial clothes.
The warrior took a quick stride toward the table. "She wouldnt dare," the warrior growled, reaching for the parchment.
Xenas eyes grew wide and she crumpled the edges of the parchment in her hands. "Tarren there is only one person I know who would ever dare to do something so sneaky and down right cruel," she said with a grumble.
The small child tapped her mother on the hand. "Who Momma?"
The warrior twisted her lips tightly together. "Gabrielle!"
The childs eyes flew open as if having been just told the Solstice Santa was a mere myth. "Gabby?" The child found it hard to believe that their gentle story telling friend could ever be sneaky.
Xena bobbed her head up and down as she tightened her hold on the parchment. "Thats right Gabrielle. You better learn now Tarren. Sometimes people are not what you think and they will do stuff to surprise ya," she muttered.
Tarren pushed her lips to one side and shook her head. "My Gabby?" she repeated as if not sure she had heard it right the first time.
Xena glanced down at the look of disbelief in her daughters eyes and sighed. "Yes your Gabby. This parchment is a note from our very best friend Gabrielle," she replied with a sour expression.
Tarren smiled eager to hear a kind word from the friend she had not seen all day. "What does it say Momma?"
The warrior took a seat in one of the straight back chairs beside the table and the child crawled happily into her mothers lap as if ready to be told a story.
Xena unrolled the parchment and read it once again out loud.
Dear Xena and Tarren,
Relax nobody took your stuff. Its safe and well hidden. Tonight is a celebration of peace and friendship. You will need no weapons or toys to play with or keep you safe. I have therefore placed these items in a very safe place. Dont worry youll get your stuff back later. Now since this is a very special occasion I knew you wouldnt mind dressing in Amazon regal fashion just for me. I have taken all the clothes so you really have no choice. I cannot wait to see you in your fancy gowns and remember you are both to be on your best behavior That means no butt kicking. Love Gabrielle <Princess Gabrielle>
Tarren looked up at her mother and frowned. "Is she allowed to write butt kicking Momma? Can I write it too?" she asked eager for a quill.
Xena gazed up at the ceiling as she considered the written words of her best friend. "What? No you cant write butt kicking." She let her fingers roll on the edge of the wooden table as she thought of the former bard turned royal pain in the butt. "Well Princess Gabrielle seems to think she can make us bow to her," she muttered.
Xena was lost deep in thought as she considered her options of vengeance. "Hmm What Tarren?"
The child fidgeted a bit on her mothers leg and leaned against her chest so she was looking her straight in the eye. "Is Gabby allowed to take our stuff like that now? You said stealing is naughty," she said, remembering what the results had been when she had taken her mothers chakrum without permission.
The warrior could feel the hairs on the back of her neck standing up as she considered a way to explain the difference between stealing and manipulating. "Well Tarren its not exactly stealing but no matter what you call it No Gabrielle is not allowed to take our stuff and taking it was very naughty."
Xena smiled wickedly as she apparently considered the idea. She looked down at her youngster and wrapped her arm around the little girl. "No but she sure deserves something doesnt she?"
Id get a spankin if I even touched your sword."
Xena stood the little girl up and started pacing the room. "Yeah you would so dont go taking lessons from that very naughty Gabrielle," she warned, pausing long enough to shake a finger at the child.
Tarren frowned at the uneven scales of justice in the world. She let out a short breath as she picked up the small white tunic and held it up in front of her. "Momma do I have to wear this?" she asked biting her lip and dangling the cloth in her mothers path.
Xena paused in her movement and brought her thoughts back to the present as she eyed the garment. It was a sleeveless gown with gold bullion trim running round the edges. The mother shook her head at the flimsy material. "No you dont," she replied, deciding that nobody was going to tell her or her child what they should and should not wear. She glanced down at her own set of attire and frowned. It too was fitted with gaudy gold lacing and trim, everything she hated and Gabrielle knew it.
Tarren tugged at her mothers towel and the warrior turned again to face the youngster. She knelt down in front of the confused child. "Yes Monster you tugged?"
The little girl let her head drop on her mothers shoulder and the warrior placed a protective arm around her. "Umm-hmm Momma what are we gonna wear to supper?"
Xena let out a long breath and smiled. "I guess we are not going. That will show Princess Gabrielle she cant push us around," she said with a devilish grin.
Xena looked at the waiting eyes of her mischievous daughter knowing the child had an idea. She was torn between her desire to teach Gabrielle a lesson and her responsibility at being a good parent.
Well it couldnt hurt to listen. After all Gabrielle had literally stolen their possessions and Tarren knew that was a bad thing. The warrior returned to her seat and lifted the youngster into her lap once again. "Ok Junior Baby Tarren Monster lets hear whats on your mind."
The little girl smiled and whispered her thoughts into her mothers ear deciding that a plan was best told in private.
Xenas eyes went wide but after a moment she shared the same mischievous smile as her young daughter and the plan was underway.
On the way to the banquet
Xena held Tarrens hand as the pair walked proudly across the compound to the dining hall. Amazons nodded to the warrior who simply returned the greeting. She leaned in closer to her daughter. "Tarren I cant believe Im doing this," she whispered, trying to hide her embarrassment.
The youngster giggled with delight. "Why Momma? You said it was just what Gabby deserved."
The warrior sighed remembering her own words. "Yeah well its not Gabrielle Im thinking of right now youngster its us," she replied, pulling the child in closer beside her.
Xena thought about her best friend and twisted her lips into a smile. "Yeah Im sort of anxious to see Gabrielle myself and for her to see us."
As Xena and Tarren approached the dining hall the royal guard raised their staffs in the air to announce Xenas entrance.
Gabrielle and Ephiny stood along with everyone else in the hall as a sign of respect to the legendary Warrior Princess.
The Princess Bard smiled, anxious to see her friends dressed in the clothing she had personally selected for them.
Ephiny stood beside her friend at the royal table high on a platform in the center of the hall. She leaned in closer to her. "You know if I were you Id hide under the table until were sure Xenas not gonna kill you for stealing her clothes."
Gabrielle waved her hand in dismissal. "Ephiny Xena is a reasonable person. I didnt steal anything. I just sort of hid it so I didnt have to try and convince her reasonable side to wear those clothes. Youll see shell see I was right and shell thank me for it."
Ephiny grinned as she took in the sight of the muscular warrior and the smaller version standing beside her. "Nope, Id say your choice of attire was definitely unsatisfactory to Xena and Tarren. But I must say I myself like the look they went for." She paused and took a deep breath. "But on the bright side I dont think shes gonna kill you."
The crowd immediately applauded and cheered the new arrivals.
Xena smiled and held up a halting hand. "No please No applause. My daughter decided that it would be most appropriate to honor our Amazon friends by entering in this fashion." She looked directly at the cherry faced Princess Bard and smiled. "And I couldnt agree more."
Xena saw her friend in motion and just smiled as she tightened her hold on her childs hand. "Oh no we agreed were in this together. You and me little partner," she whispered, allowing the child to seek some refuge by motioning her behind.
The warrior smiled and pushed the child behind her once again. "Little ham," she mumbled.
Gabrielle pushed through the applauding crowd yanking two linen covers from occupied tables as she did. "Excuse me but I will be needing these," she said with a slight growl as she shoved Amazons to each side to obtain the items.
Ephiny waved her hand and motioned for the naked pair to join her at the royal table.
Xena caught sight of the approaching Princess Bard and took a step forward as if agreeing to the invitation.
With more strength than either knew the petite blonde possessed, Gabrielle pushed the warrior and her child out the door and all the way to the privacy of a few bushes outside the hall. "No I dont think so," she growled. She handed Xena a cloth and then wrapped one around Tarren making sure it was securely fashioned.
Xena wrapped her garment tightly around herself happy to be covered once again.
Gabrielle glared at the pair but let her eyes fall on the smiling warrior. "Ok what is the big idea?"
The warrior winked at her daughter. "What are you talking about Gabrielle? We were honoring our friends. You heard the applause," she said motioning to her own muscular form. Xena could see that her friend had gone from mildly irritated to absolutely furious with that one sentence.
The Princess Bard poked her finger out. "Look warrior save that crap Why the bare body bit?" she asked, trying to control the anger that she knew was consuming her expression.
The young woman drew her finger in and let out a deep breath. "Ok I admit that perhaps I should have checked with you about the clothes Xena but
Xena folded her arms tightly against her chest. "But?"
Gabrielle rolled her eyes. "Ok I should have asked you but I knew youd say no."
The warrior threw her arms in the air. "Well what does that tell you Gabrielle?"
The young woman took a step back and looked away. "It was for one night. One night without your sword, chakrum and armor."
Xena was about to defend her outfitting when a small voice interceded. "We want our stuff back," the child demanded, folding her small arms against her chest in fair imitation of her mother.
Xena merely smiled and shrugged her shoulders. "Yeah we really do Princess."
Gabrielle glared at her warrior friend and then the child. "Oh I get it you two figured that if you showed up like this that Id tell you where everything was. Well forget it No armor, no britches and no weapons or toys," she yelled.
Gabrielle jumped in front of the pair placing her hands up in surrender. "Ok Ok ." she growled, reaching down again pulling the cloth tightly around Tarren. She shook a warning finger at the smiling child. "Now you leave that there. So help me show me your bare butt again and Ill give it a swat," she warned.
Tarren frowned at having her body concealed once again. She looked up at her mother who shook her head and grinned to let the child know she would not allow such a thing to happen. Before the warrior could speak the Princess Bard turned on her. "And dont you think I wouldnt swat you too Warrior," she said, her eyes filled with a fire Xena had never seen in her gentle friend before.
The warrior arched an eyebrow and Gabrielle folded her arms against her chest. She knew she was in a no win situation. "Fine you want your stuff back. Its all in a nice neatly folded pile in the wood box behind the cottage...Go get dressed." She pointed to Xena. "Be a big Warrior Princess." She pointed to Tarren "And you be a little Warrior Princess." She glared at both of them "But you both get back to that cottage and put some clothes on before you catch your deaths Now move it before I have a guard escort you," she growled in such a serious tone that even Xena was a bit surprised.
Gabrielle turned on her heals and headed back to the hall. "One night just one night," she mumbled as she walked away.
Xena looked down at her child and let out a breath. "Well Id say we taught her a good lesson," she said quietly.
Tarren nodded realizing this offense would have no tree time either. "Gabby sure is mad Momma."
The warrior shrugged as she recalled her best friends final expression. "Uh huh. She sure is."
Tarren grinned and looked up at her mother. "But we are getting our stuff back," the child said loudly.
Xena grinned and lifted the little girl into her arms hoping to offer some additional warmth, "Yup it was a good plan Monster," she said kissing the little girl on the cheek.
Tarren smiled broadly grateful that one of her plans had finally worked out well. "It was wasnt it Momma?"
The warrior cradled the child close to her and moved back toward the cottage. "Yes it was you little ham. Now come on lets go get dressed before you do catch a cold."
A bit later
Xena and Tarren retrieved their belongings, dressed and returned to the dinner. Again the guards bowed and raised their staffs in the air to announce the Warrior Princess.
Again all stood accept for the Princess Bard. Gabrielle remained seated letting her head lay in the open of her palm. "Whoopee Xenas here," she mumbled. However when her eyes caught sight of the warrior and her child her eyes lit up and the corners of her lips turned skyward. She jumped to her feet applauding the approaching pair.
Xena looked elegant but uncomfortable wearing the long white flowing gown with matching gold armbands. Tarren kept a firm hold on her mothers hand feeling more than a bit embarrassed with the unfamiliar attire.
Gabrielle raced forward to meet them grabbing Tarren and smothering her with so many kisses the child backed away trying to hide behind her mother.
"By the gods you look so pretty. You are so adorable I could just eat you up."
The child struggled under all the wet kisses. "Gabby not in front of all the Amazons," she whispered.
The Princess Bard grinned at the childs innocent smile and managed to plant one more kiss before the youngster hoisted herself into the safety of her mothers arms. "Save me Momma."
Xena tucked the child under her arm. "Be nice," she whispered, realizing it was a bit insulting to her friend to have the child run from her affection.
Gabrielle glanced at the warrior and lowered her eyes. "Im sorry. I should have
The warrior nodded as she tightened her hold on the struggling child. "Yeah you should have but its Ok Just this once. Next time ask me."
The child giggled and Xena playfully tossed her over one shoulder eager to be seated and out of the center of attention. "Come on pretty girl lets go be proper ladies."
The trio approached the table and Ephiny nodded at the warrior. "I just cant decide how I like you better Xena," she said with a crooked grin. She tapped her finger on her chin. "Nope I definitely like you better ."
The warrior placed her hand in the air and glanced at her attire rolling her eyes. "Thanks I think Ill stick with clothes Eph."
A small hand tugged on the warriors arm. "Id rather go bare if I have a choice."
Gabrielle and Xena eyed the small form. "You dont," they said in unison.
Xena winked at her friends. "Yup but just for a little while."
"How long?" the child asked with a smile.
The mother let her head move from side to side as she considered the question. "Oh say until your bath is done."
The childs jaw dropped and her eyes flew open. "Hey Another bath? But I dont wanna another bath. I had two today," she whined.
The mother grinned as she straightened the side of the youngsters dress. "I know and you look so cute that I decided we should do it every day at least twice."
Tarren bit her lip and shook her head." Every single day Two baths every single day Oh Argo drop ."
The mother waited for the words to be finished but the child covered her own mouth before the last word had escaped.
The youngster pursed her lips and narrowed her eyes. "Momma you re not very funny."
The warrior tasseled the childs hair. "Look Ill tell you what. As long as were taking baths and being so clean you can swim in the tub for a while after Ok?" She did not know how long this bath routine could be kept up but she saw no harm in adding a little sport to it.
This was permission the little girl had been waiting for. "I can?"
Tarren stared suspiciously at her mother. "No tricks No third bath."
Xena smiled as if considering it and then shook her head. "Nope you behave while you take the baths and you can swim after."
The child considered the offer. She knew she had no real say in the matter so anything she got out of the negotiations was a gain. "Ok Momma its a fair trade."
Xena smiled and wiped a few stray hairs from the childs face. "Im glad you think so."
Tarren grinned but squirmed a bit, not enjoying the feel of her new attire. She reached her hand underneath the tunic finding familiar comfort in the cool metal of the small metal wands pressing against her side.
Xena sat carefully in her own seat making sure the chakrum was also properly placed and well hidden.
Gabrielle studied them both for a minute. She wondered why each of her companions was fidgeting so much in their seats. After watching them for a moment she shook her head and suppressed a smile. "Ok you two put them on the table before you hurt yourselves."
Xena gave her friend a quizzical look but placed her chakrum on the table beside her. "Look ya just never know when youre gonna need something like this," she said in defense.
Gabrielle nodded. "Yeah The salad might attack."
The warrior frowned. "Funny."
Gabrielle pointed to Tarren and motioned her finger toward the table. "You too."
The warrior looked at the child who was staring up at the ceiling. She gave her friend a look of confusion. "What are you bothering Tarren for. She didnt do anything ."
The Princess Bard shook her head and leaned over to look the little girl in the eye. "Tarren I said on the table please."
The youngster smiled at her mother and reached under her tunic. With a little tug at the waistline she pulled out her chucks and placed them on the table beside the chakrum.
Gabrielle smiled and removed both items from the table. "Uh huh what big Xena does little Xena copies."
The mother glared at her friend and then her child. "Tarren you were supposed to leave those at the cottage," she scolded.
The little girl bit her lip and pointed to the chakrum on the floor behind them. "You did it too."
Xena stared the small face of innocence and then the two weapons on the floor. She let out a long breath deciding this was not the time or place to have the Im a warrior youre a little kid discussion again. "Tarren."
The child lowered her eyes a bit waiting for the long scolding to begin but there was none.
When she looked up again she was greeted by her mothers gentle smile.
Gabrielle shook her finger at both of them. "Youre both naughty."
The warrior gave her friend a crooked grin. "Look whose talking you little thief."
Gabrielle opened her mouth and closed it realizing this was not a subject she wished to pursue.
Xena nodded at her friends choice of silence. She reached over and pulled the little girl on her lap. "Come on Monster. If were both naughty we might as well sit together." She paused and stared back at the childs weapons. "Tarren how did you manage to hold those chucks up underneath the dress?" she asked remembering the difficulty she herself had with the chakrum.
The child shrugged. "I just stuck them in my waist?"
"Tarren what do you mean your waist? Youre wearing a dress you dont ." Her brows arched and she stood the little girl up in front of her. "Lift the dress up," the mother ordered.
The child yanked the soft cloth up and over her head revealing her britches and boots. "See Momma I stuck them in my waist," she replied pointing to the area by her lacing.
Xena pulled the dress down and shook her finger at the youngster. "Tarren I told you to take your britches and boots off," she scolded.
The child planted herself back in her mothers lap and folded her arms against her chest. "I didnt wanna. I felt like I was dressing for bed and its not bedtime."
The warrior grinned at the stubborn expression on the childs face. She too hated the loose feel of the cloth they were wearing. However she had made it clear that once they had decided to wear the dresses all other clothes were to be left behind. "Tarren you do not wear britches and boots under a gown," she said sternly.
"Because you dont and because I said not too."
The child glanced up at her mother and stuck her little hand down the side of the warriors gown. "But youre wearing your leathers. Whats the difference Momma?"
The warrior caught the small extremity and gave it a gentle tap. "Stop that." She lowered her head so that only the youngster could hear her words. "How did you know I was wearing my leathers?" she asked. She had purposely gone to a separate room to dress so she could wear them unnoticed.
The little girl tapped her boots together. "Easy Momma. You were too happy when you came out wearing the poofy gown so I figured you must have kept the leathers on."
Xena smiled sheepishly and glanced over at her frowning friend. "Kids."
Gabrielle listened to the exchange doing her best to look angry. "Yeah kids and their mothers too."
Xena shrugged and brought her attention back to the little girl. "You are very naughty and Im very angry with you," she scolded, trying to maintain some parental pose. It was hard.
The little girls smile faded and she let her chin drop to her chest. "Sorry Momma. I didnt think it was wrong if you were doing it too."
Gabrielle let her fingers drum on the table as she waited for the warrior to offer her response.
Xena let out a long breath and wrapped her arms around the child. "Yeah well I guess I was naughty too."
"Wanna go stand in a corner together Momma?"
The warrior grinned and kissed her little twin's cheek. "No maybe later baby. Right now I think we just better sit here and be real quiet."
The warrior tilted her head back and could see the sour expression on her friends face. "Gods its gonna be a long night," she moaned.
Gabrielle winked at Tarren to show the child that she was really not mad at either and in fact quite grateful that they had worn the clothes that they did.
The child winked back and then patted her mothers arm gently hoping to soothe the warriors angst. "Its Ok Momma. You were naughty but I still love ya."
Xena grinned. "Thank you."
Ephiny stood and raised a mug to the assembled crowd. The room became silent. "I have many honors tonight. My first and foremost is the return of our old friends and family Gabrielle and Xena." Ephiny smiled at Tarren. "And we have a new member of our tribe as well
the little princess you see planted on Xenas lap is her daughter Tarren and she saved my life. So welcome her not only because of who her family is but because she is my friend."
Tarren smiled at the Amazon knowing they were now truly friends.
Ephiny cleared her throat and continued. "And I am also grateful that soon we will have a meeting here in this village that may one day lead to our people being joined in one great nation again."
The room echoed with cheers and filled with applause.
Xena caught site of Gruella and Lexus seated at a table in the back of the room. She arched an eyebrow and stared at the instructor who merely bowed her head.
Tarren noticed her mothers look and focused her eyes in the same direction. Seeing Gruella and the teenager who had refused her hand of friendship staring at them she got to her feet. "Now can we kick butt," she said with a little growl taking a step off the platform.
Xena frowned and quickly pulled the little girl back onto her lap. "I am not fooling around with you Tarren. Say that just one more time and I really am gonna kick your little butt," she said sternly. She gave the child a quick yank forcing her to face her. "You will behave yourself. Do you understand me?"
Tarren dropped her elbows onto the table and sighed. "Ahh Momma."
The warrior let her voice drop to a lower and more serious tone. "Dont you Ahh Momma me little girl. We had this conversation and if we have to have it again I promise you that it wont be nearly as pleasant. Do you understand?" she asked, hoping her message was getting through.
The youngster nodded in complete understanding and dropped her eyes to her lap. "Yes maam."
Xena nodded and placed her daughter back in her own chair as the meal was being brought out. "Good now lets just forget about butt kicking and everything else accept having a nice meal with our friends," she said placing a tender hand on the childs shoulder.
Tarren stared at Lexus and back at her mother and nodded. "Ok Momma
If you say so." The last words were lacking in conviction.
Xenas response was firm. "I do say so."
Gabrielle listened to the all too familiar exchange and smiled at her large and obviously frustrated friend. She glanced down at the child and whispered. "Remember Tarren these are our table manners Just like Amphipolis."
The little girl frowned expecting a great deal of dainty polite conversation. "Great. First you take my stuff I have to wear this." She pointed to the linen tunic. "And I cant even say ." She glanced at her mother who gave her a warning stare as she rolled her fingers on the hard table. "I cant say what I wanna say and now I have to eat like a bunch of ." The child again looked at her mother whose warning stare had not yet disappeared. "Amazons some party."
Gabrielle shook her head and leaned over the sulking child. "Hey this will be fun Youll see," she replied, patting the little ones hand.
The child looked at her friend out of the corner of one eye. "Sure Gabby fun."
Just as she was considering a run for the door, the childs eyes went wide as a stuffed pig was brought to the table along with bowls of mashed potatoes, yams, corn, sauced apple, and a variety of pies. "Yummy!"
Xena chuckled as she made a plate of food and placed it in front of her now salivating daughter. "Are you sure youre hungry?"
"Yes Momma Im very sure." Tarren was quick to observe that while she was holding a utensil in her hand, many of the Amazons ate with their fingers while some chose the utensils. However, there was no dainty conversation and napkins in laps were not to be seen. She smiled and tossed her spoon to the side eager to eat like her new friends.
Before her fingers could touch the plate Xena grabbed one hand and Gabrielle the other.
The mother shook her head and placed the spoon back in her daughters small hand. "Oh no youngster
You eat like you always do
with a spoon." She closed the childs fingers around the utensil.
Tarren pushed the spoon around the plate making greens run into meats. "But you said to eat like them" She motioned to the Amazons. "And theyre eating with their fingers Momma."
Xena closed her eyes and took a deep breath. "Not all of them. Besides what have I told you about manners Tarren?"
The child felt her shoulders slump. "You dont care about anyone elses but mine."
The warrior mother sat back in her chair and pointed to the childs plate. "Thats right so put those little fingers back on the spoon and eat your supper," she ordered.
Tarren scanned the room watching as grown women wiped away errant juices with the backs of their hands. She stared at the plate of food in front of her and pushed her spoon into the pile of sweet potatoes. "Yes Momma."
After a long night a large meal and a lot of conversation, Xena carried the sleeping child back to the cottage. After undressing Tarren and placing her in the pallet the warrior sat down beside her youngster. "Well arent you the little party animal," she whispered, leaning in beside the child and placing a gentle kiss on her forehead.
A knock at the door interrupted the tender moment. Xena offered the visitor permission to enter and Shalia stood in the doorway. "Hello Xena. Ephiny told me you brought your child back to the cottage to sleep. She thought you might like for me to sit with her while you returned to the party."
Xena shook her head. "Thanks Shalia but I better stay here. If she wakes up and Im gone shell get upset." She ran her fingers over the sleeping childs face.
Shalia nodded in understanding. "Oh well if she does wake up I could send a guard to get you. Otherwise Id be happy to stay with her. Queen Ephiny mentioned something about an old challenge."
The young Amazon nodded. "Yes."
Xena glanced down at her sleeping child and placed her saddlebags in the childs reach. She leaned down and gave the little girl another kiss and pulled the blankets up around her. "You behave yourself Monster. Momma has to go teach Ephiny a lesson," she whispered. She glanced at the young Amazon and grinned. "Thank you Shalia. If she wakes up or calls me dont hesitate to bring her over. I dont want her thinking I left her here alone."
Shalia smiled at the obvious love the mother had for her child. "Dont worry. I will take good care of her until you return."
Xena ran her tongue around the outside of her lips and clapped her hands together. "Well thank you. Now I do believe your queen needs to be taught a thing or two about challenges."
The warrior moved out of the cottage and back toward the dining hall.
Shalia sat in a chair beside the bed and ran a tender hand over the little girls hair. "Sleep little one. You are safe."
After only an hour the child rolled a bit and allowed her small hand to search the other side of the bed for her large bedmate. Finding it empty her eyes popped open. "Momma?" she yelled letting her eyes scan the cottage.
Shalia moved in beside the youngster. "Its Ok. She went back to the banquet for a while. Im staying with you while shes gone." The words were gentle and soft and soothed the nervous child.
Tarren eyed the stranger carefully and hugged tightly to her saddlebags. "I want my Momma," she said quietly looking toward the door.
The young Amazon stood and offered the child her hand. "Well youre Momma did say that if you called for her that I should bring you right over. You wanna go."
Tarren nodded and accepted the womans hand. Her skin was a bit cold but soft to touch. "Uh huh."
Shalia reached for a heavy blanket and wrapped it around the youngsters small form before lifting her into her arms. "Ok lets go," she whispered in such a gentle tone that the little girl immediately relaxed in her hold.
Tarren rubbed the sleep from her eyes and yawned as they moved out of the cottage. The child was still gripping the heavy saddlebags. She had to admit the petite Amazon was stronger than she appeared. "Who are you?" she asked, blinking her eyes a few times as she tried to regain some focus.
The young woman grinned. "I am Shalia. Do you remember? We met the other day."
Tarren thought for a moment and smiled. "Oh yeah youre the att en dant. Momma said I couldnt keep you."
Shalia chuckled at the childs words. "Well yes I guess thats what I am," she replied, pulling the blankets up around the little girl.
Tarren yawned again as they approached the entranceway to the hall. Both could hear the loud commotion and laughter coming from inside. When they entered both could see Xena seated at a table in the center of the room. Seated on the opposite side of the table was Ephiny. In between were empty mugs of dark port.
Gabrielle saw Shalia enter and moved quickly beside her. She looked at the sleepy child bundled in blankets "Hey what are you doing up?" she asked giving the child a gentle kiss on the forehead.
Tarren immediately pointed to the large warrior who was carefully eyeing her opponent as she emptied a mug of port with one long swallow.
"I want Momma," The child groaned.
Gabrielle smiled at Shalia. "I guess you must have made quite an impression on tall dark and leather over there. First she trusted you with Argo and now Tarren," she said with a wink and a smile.
Shalia bowed her head slightly. "Princess Gabrielle it is only my desire to be of service."
Gabrielle frowned at the use of title. She liked this girl and she wanted her to feel comfortable in her presence. "Shalia relax. Please just call me Gabrielle. I really appreciate your keeping an eye on these two for me," she said motioning toward the staunch warrior planted in the distance and the child lying impatiently in the young Amazons arms. "They mean a lot to me."
Tarren glanced at Shalia and back at Gabrielle. "I want Momma," the child demanded.
Gabrielle let her hand run down the youngsters face. "Well honey shes sort of relaxing right now Can you ."
The child shook off her friends touch and stared into the eyes of the Amazon. "Shalia will you put me down please," she whispered.
The young Amazon immediately lowered the child to the ground. "Of course Tarren."
Gabrielle grinned as she watched the little girl move toward her extremely occupied mother dragging her blankets and saddlebags behind her. "This should be good," she said with a smirk.
Xena glared at Ephiny. "So you still think you can out drink me Queen Ephiny. You look like youre ready to fall off that chair of yours now," the warrior said calmly staring at the glassy eyed expression on her friends face.
Tarren moved quickly to the table still pulling her blanket and saddlebags beside her.
Xena was about to lift her mug when she saw the small figure approaching. There were a few snickers and laughs from the group of onlookers but Xena merely smiled and opened her arms for the tired little girl to enter. "Hey what are you doing out of the pallet Monster?" she asked, wrapping her arms around the sleepy child.
The youngster nuzzled into her mothers shoulder and again yawned. "Wanted you so Shalia brought me here," she replied, staring at the odd expression on Ephinys face.
Xena let the side of her thumb caress the childs cheek. "Missed youre old Momma huh? Well Ok I guess Im about done here anyway." She pointed to Ephiny. "You see Queen Ephiny over there is gonna go to sleep by the time I count to five."
Tarren watched the large Amazon and waited as her mother counted. "One
Before five was said Ephinys head flopped forward caught with lightening speed in the cup of the warriors hand. "Five Oh Eponon Solari I think its time her Royal Majesty went to bed," she crooned as a group of warriors moved in to aid their queen
Xena smiled as she watched them go. She glanced down at her child and grinned. "Well now it seems like there is a certain little girl that should be well on her way to Morpheous by now." She got up from the table keeping a careful hold on her child. "Come on youngster its time you went back to bed."
Tarren frowned as she tightened her hold on her saddlebags and buried her head in the blanket so as not to meet the stares of the strangers in the room. "Are you going to bed too Momma?"
Xena looked at the large crowd and then her child. "Yup Im coming with you."
The groans of disappointed Amazons filled the room. Each had hoped to challenge the warrior.
Xena turned and raised a hand in the air. "Sorry but Tarren says its time to go to bed and I always do what my daughter says," she said loudly. "Besides theres not one of you in here who could even out drink
my friend Princess Gabrielle."
The young womans eyes flew open. "Xena I dont drink," she growled as the warrior made it to the doorway.
Xena smiled and placed a firm hand on her friends shoulder. "Its Ok Gabrielle they dont know that." She chuckled as she heard the crowd cheering Gabrielle into the competition.
The warrior smiled to herself as she left the hall. "Huh lets see her talk her way out of that one Thatll teach her to swipe my stuff," she muttered.
The Amazon Princess looked at Shalia and then pointed out the door. "Will you make sure those two get back to the cottage I cant believe even Xena can drink that much port and be so unaffected." She paused. "In the meantime I have to find a way to turn this into an eating contest."
Shalia nodded and sprinted out the door easily catching up to Xena and Tarren. The warrior heard the approaching footsteps and smiled. "Well Shalia if Gabrielle had not sent you after us I would have thought she didnt care."
The young woman grinned. "She only wishes to make sure you are safe. Shes afraid you may have had too much ."
Xena sized up the small woman. "To drink Well shes right I did but not enough to keep me from getting me and my little one here to bed." She let her eyes scan the small woman now walking beside her. "And I guess you figure on protecting me?" she asked with a wry smile.
Shalia chuckled at the idea of defending the famed Warrior Princess. "I hope not. I am not very good with weapons but perhaps I can just keep you company back to the hut."
Xena nodded at the young womans honesty and lack of familiar Amazon bravado. "Good enough
We always enjoy good company. Dont we Monster?" She ran her fingers over the childs face.
Tarren fidgeted a bit in her mothers hold. "Uh huh."
Xena merely kissed her child and held her tighter. "Stk.
Shes really tired. Arent ya baby girl?"
Xena stopped long enough to bring the blankets closer to the childs face. "It is so past your bedtime."
The child let her mouth close around the tips of her fingers. "Yours too Momma."
The mother grinned at the sleepy child in her arms. "Ya know youre right. Good thing you came and got me."
"Uh huh." The child yawned and glanced over at the Amazon walking quietly beside them. "Thanks Shalia."
As they approached the cottage Shalia paused knowing her assistance had not really been needed. "You are quite welcome Tarren. It was nice to spend some time with you," she said with a gentle smile that the child was only used to seeing on the bard.
Xena opened the door but turned to the young Amazon before entering. "Shalia Thank you for staying with her," she said quietly.
But the words were spoken to the dark night air. The young woman had already disappeared into the night.
The warrior shrugged and moved inside. "Well shes a quiet one."
Xena placed the child tenderly back in the pallet. "Ok you little Junior Baby Tarren Monster Get to sleep now," she said giving the youngsters bottom a gentle pat before covering her in blankets.
The child rolled to one side and swatted the mattress. "You too Momma."
Xena tossed her attire to one side and changed into a skiff before hitting the pallet with a loud thud. "Ahhhh Believe me youngster I hadnt planned on anything else."
The little girl opened her eyes and bit her lip. "Momma?"
"Can I have a drink of water?"
Xena looked over at the little girl and grinned. "You waited for me to get in bed before you asked didnt ya?" she asked with a smile.
The child shook her head innocently. "No Momma I just got thirsty now."
Xena gave the little girl a quick tickle and jumped off the pallet. She walked over to the table and poured a mug of water and handed it to the child. "Here ya go."
Tarren took a few sips and returned it to her mother. "Thank you Momma."
Xena looked at the mug, which had hardly any water absent from it. "Uh huh you are welcome." She returned the mug to the table and again dropped into the pallet. "Gnight monster."
Tarren grinned. "Gnight Momma." The little girl nuzzled beside her mother. Sniff sniff. "Whats that smell?" she asked wrinkling her nose.
The warrior grinned. "Port...err...adult grape juice."
The child took another whiff and shook her head. "Can I have some?"
Xena let her head fall to one side as she stared into the face of her little girl. The child would do anything the warrior did and Xena knew this was something she needed to be careful of. "Nope."
"Youre not an adult."
Tarren considered her size. "Can I have it when Im bigger?"
The warrior grinned at the thought of her daughter growing tall and strong. "Well that depends baby."
The child was eager for the conditions needed to smell as bad as her mother. "On what?"
"Do you think youll ever get too big for me to spank?" she asked with a smirk.
The child scanned her mothers large muscular form and her own much smaller size. "No Momma."
Xena grinned happy that this was a question she would not have to address for many many summers. "Well then you answered your own question baby."
Tarren frowned. "But Momma I wanna ."
The warrior rolled over on her side and again faced the child. "Tarren baby
Momma is very tired. Can we just cut to the end this one time and let me say because I say so. You can give Momma big hug and then we can both go to sleep."
The child looked at the weary expression in her mothers eyes and sighed. "Ok Momma but just this once," she warned. She lay her head down on the pillow considering the obvious side effects of drinking this adult grape juice when there was a tap on her shoulder. The child rolled back around to face her mother. "Yes Momma...I didn't say a word. I was just thinking it."
Xena smiled as she let the end of her finger slide across the tip of the childs nose. "I know but you forgot the big hug part."
Tarrens eyes grew wide realizing she had shirked a very important responsibility. She jumped on the warriors abdomen and threw her arms around her neck squeezing with all her might. "Sorry Momma. Hows that?" she asked with a mischievous smile.
Xena grimaced at the poisoning of the youngsters legs but after a little repositioning and a deep breath again smiled. "Much better. Now I can go to sleep," she said tucking the child securely under her arm and pulling an extra blanket over her. "Yup my own little bed hog," she mumbled
Tarren eyed the now dozing mother and sighed. She tapped the warrior on the shoulder. "Momma?"
Xena emerged groggily from her sleep and stared at the little girl. "Yes Tarren?"
The child bit her lip. "I need to go use the woods."
Xena glanced at the child in disbelief. "Are you sure?"
The youngster thought about it. "Yup Im sure Momma."
The warrior shook her head and grinned. "Gods you better not be teasing me little one," she said reaching for her boots. "It couldnt be all the water you just drank," she mumbled.
Tarren shook her head as she watched her mother lacing up her boots. "Nope Im sure Momma. I gotta use the woods right now." There was a definite sense of urgency in the childs voice.
The warrior mother sat on the edge of the pallet and smiled. "Ok lets go. Put your boots on." She turned around to find the child was now fast asleep. "Of course." She gave the youngster a gentle poke. "Tarren Tarren baby. You said ." She looked at the peaceful expression of the sleeping child and grinned. "Ok you win." The warrior chuckled as she unlaced her boots and tossed them to one side before returning to
the comfort of the pallet. "Naughty."
The little girl immediately threw a hand across her mothers chest and nuzzled closer. "Momma are ya ready to go?" she asked.
Xena let her fingers drum on her chest as she heard the now wide-awake voice. "I thought you were sleeping. I took my boots off. Are you now telling me you have to go?" she asked with a slight frown.
"Uh huh. I always had to Momma. I was just waiting for you."
Xena again tossed the blankets to the side and pulled on her boots. She turned every once in a while to see that the child was still awake. When she had finished the last of the lacing she motioned the youngster to rise. "Come on lets go."
The child stared at her mother oddly. "Where Momma?"
"You said you had to go to the woods."
The child nuzzled deeper into the warm blankets. "I did? Oh well I dont have to go anymore."
Xena placed her hands on her hips and stared at the child burrowing into the soft pallet. "You dont?"
Xena bent over and went eye to eye with her daughter. "You are sure?"
The child closed her eyes and considered it. "Nope dont have to."
Xena mumbled something under her breath as she yanked her boots off and again tossed them to one side. Before getting comfortable she turned to the child one last time. "You are sure you dont have to go?"
Tarren yawned and nodded. "Uh huh."
Xena lay down in the bed and relaxed her shoulders and after a moment closed her eyes.
The word cut through her like a knife in butter. "Momma?"
The warriors eyes popped open and without a word she got out of the pallet pulled on her boots and lifted the youngster into the air. "Come on Monster."
The child rubbed her eyes as she was carried toward the door. "Where are we going?"
Xena tossed the child over her shoulder. "To the woods."
Tarren shook her head. "But I dont have to go Momma. I just wanted another drink of water."
Xena shook her head and headed out the door into the cold night. "Yeah well now I do have to go and since I wanna sleep tonight were not coming back until you have to go as well."
The child shrugged and lay limply over her mothers shoulder. "Grown-ups," she mumbled as they entered the woods.
The following day
Tarren was happy to be given a chance to wander the village alone. Xena was still out cold and Gabrielle was busy helping Solari make plans for the arrival of the royal guests.
The small child couldnt help but notice the way people pointed at her and stared. With a shrug and a skip she found her way to the kitchen and peered in the door wondering how a kid got something to eat around this village.
Ephiny spotted the child looking longingly into the galley and walked up behind her. "Hey Junior I didnt recognize you with your clothes on," she said leaning against the door.
The child giggled a bit as she remembered her bare appearance the night before. "Hi."
Ephiny looked around the compound but caught no sight of Xena. "Let me guess youre hungry, and since you are wandering around without your big body guard Id imagine the warrior is still asleep."
Ephiny covered her mouth to hide her smile. "Well err so youre hungry. Lets see if having all these feathers and being queen can get you something to eat." She motioned the child to enter the large structure.
Tarren smiled at her friend and walked into the kitchen. "I am sorta hungry."
The cook looked like most of the Amazons, muscular and with the scant clothes but she was older probably 60 summers but she wore more feathers in her headband than even Ephiny did.
The queen entered with Tarren at her side. "Boralla"
The older Amazon bowed her head. "My queen I am honored."
Ephiny smiled and placed her hands on her hips. "Knock it off. Youve known me since I was born and youve never bowed to me or called me anything but Ephiny. Dont confuse me now."
The older Amazon grinned. "Well I like to perform for company," she said with a silly grin.
The queen shuffled her boot on the floor. "Thanks Boralla this is my friend Tarren. Shes Xenas daughter. Do you think you could scare something up for her to eat?"
Boralla stared at the small slender child. "I would say so. It looks like the child is half starved. Ill fix her up." She gave the youngster a quick poke in the stomach. "Not an ounce of meat on her."
Tarren covered her belly with both hands protecting what meat she did have. "Hey."
Ephiny grinned wondering whom in this pairing she should worry more about. "Ok then I leave her to your care." The queen shook a warning finger at the child. "Now youngster you have your meal and then go find your mother. I do not want her tearing my village apart thinking someone took you prisoner," she said with a crooked smile.
Tarren bit her lip. "That would be very bad."
"Yes it would."
Ephiny looked at the old cook. "Make her whatever she wants," she stated firmly. She patted the child on the head and left. "See ya later Junior."
Tarren waved her farewell and glanced at the large cook. "Im hungry and Gabbys not around to make me anything." The child felt an explanation of her presence and the extent of her hunger was in order.
Boralla pointed to a stool at a nearby table "Ok child crawl up there." She watched as Tarren made her way tot he top of the high chair. "What would you like to eat?"
The little girl smiled broadly as she remembered Ephinys order to give her anything. "Have you ever made a sloppy cheese sandwich?" she asked with a mischievous twinkle in her eye.
The old cooks face went blank. "No and Ive made everything." She paused and waved her hand around the room. "I have cooked every meal and slapped the bottom of just a about every Amazon in this village." She frowned. "Sloppy Cheese Theres no such thing child."
Tarren shrugged. "Oh well I could tell you how to make it if ya want Its sort of a family secret but if you dont wanna try ."
Boralla leaned down on the table placing her elbows against the child arms. "Ok youngster you share the secret and Ill make it."
Tarren grinned and began to reveal the mysteries of fine dining.
Back at the cottage
Xena rubbed her eyes a she stepped out into the sunlight. Her special concoction of herbs made the throbs in her head easier to deal with but nothing lessened the brightness of the sun glare. "Gods forgive me Ill never drink that much port again," she muttered.
She glanced across the compound looking for Tarren. "I tell her not to leave and of course she leaves anyway." The mother spotted Ephiny in the distance and called to her.
Ephiny grinned and sauntered over to her obviously ailing friend. "Have you seen my wandering child?"
The queen nodded and stared at the warriors face wondering why her complexion was so healthy and her eyes so full of life. "Yeah as a matter of fact I left her over in the kitchen. I even told Boralla to make her anything she wanted."
The warrior sprinted toward the kitchen with Ephiny at her side, but by the time they arrived all that was heard was a cackling old Amazon and a giggling small child.
The warrior took a deep breath and entered the galley. Her face grew pale and her eyes closed when she saw the cheese dripping from the ceiling, the walls and every nook in the floor.
Both the youngster and the old cook were chewing on hunks of bread covered in cheese.
"Tarren child that was the most fun Ive had in a long time," Boralla said with a wide grin.
The child took another bite and let the cheese drip onto her tunic. "Good arent they Boralla?"
Ephiny eyed the kitchen and shook her head as she stared at the still stunned warrior. "Let me guess a sloppy cheese?"
"Xena frowned and shook her head. "Yup a sloppy cheese." She moved through the wreckage. "Tarren get your naughty little behind out here right now," she yelled.
Ephiny grabbed a slice of bread and soaked cheese off the stove. "Hmm not bad."
The youngster jumped to her feet and skidded to her mother. She licked the cheese from her fingers as she looked up at the warrior. "Hi Momma err I didnt know you was up."
"Dont you hi me young lady." The warrior mother gave her daughter a stern look and bent to make eye contact. "Uh huh and you would know I was up if you had stayed in the cottage the way you were told to," she scolded. "Why did you leave without me?"
"The little girl lowered her eyes and paused in the pleasure of her meal. "Im sorry Momma but I was hungry and you were real tired. Gabby was gone and you didnt wanna get up so I got dressed by myself and decided to get my own breakfast. I just wanted to let ya sleep." She paused. "I wasnt gonna do nothing else. I was gonna bring you back some food to," she said quietly fighting back a sniffle.
The warrior could feel her scolding tone turning inward realizing that her own indulgence the night before had kept her from being there when her daughter needed her. That would never happen again. She dropped to one knee and smiled. "You were huh?"
Xena wiped some stray cheese from the little girls cheek. "Im sorry Monster. I guess Momma had a little too much fun last night."
The child glanced at her mothers now soft expression. "Are ya mad at me?"
Xena reached out her arms and hugged the child. "NO baby Im not mad." She looked around the kitchen. "But we are gonna clean this mess up youngster."
Boralla jumped to her feet now realizing who was standing in her kitchen. "Warrior Princess its an honor to have you in my humble galley."
The warrior got to her feet and waved the old cook off. "Oh knock it off Boralla. You know better than to call me anything but Xena."
"Thank you Boralla." Xena smiled and grabbed a hunk of bread and cheese. She glanced down at her child. "Ya know Tarren this is better the way you make it."
The youngster grinned. "Can we take some to Gabby?"
The mother shrugged. "Sure."
Boralla placed a hunk of sloppy cheese and bread on a plate and handed it to the child. "Here youngster go give the princess a treat."
The old cooks leaned over and pinched the little girls cheek. "No thank you Tarren. You come back and see old Boralla any time."
The youngster smiled at the invitation. "Ok."
Tarren grabbed her mothers hand and started to pull the warrior forward. "Ok lets go find Gabby."
Xena grabbed the youngster by the tunic. "Uh no
Ephiny will give the food to Gabrielle. You my cheesy little child now need another bath."
The childs eyes went wide and her shoulders slumped. "Another one? Momma Ill be so clean you wont know me."
The mother chuckled a bit and affectionately rubbed her daughters face. "Ill know you trust me."
The child leaned up against the warrior and gave her the best pleading smile she could muster. "But I wanna say hello to Gabby Pleeeeeeze."
Xena ran her hand along the childs face and grinned. "Alright just one quick hello and then its to the tub for you."
Tarren sighed and took the plate from Ephiny. She sprinted toward the hall where Gabrielle was working on the arrangements for the visitors. "Come on hurry up," she yelled to her mother and the queen.
Ephiny stood tall. "Hey I can handle my drink Xena."
"Uh huh I watched Solari and Eponon help you handle it all the way back to your quarters," she said with a chuckle.
The queen frowned at the mention of that moment. "I was just tired. I didnt get a nap like you did." She paused. "Like I said I can handle my wine."
The warrior noticed how pale her friend had suddenly become. "Yeah?"
Ephiny grabbed the sides of her temples. "Ill stop yelling if you will."
The warrior grinned grateful for her special recipe for hangovers. "Im not yelling Eph."
The queen lowered her head into her hands. "Thats what I was afraid of."
Tarren rushed into the office where a frowning Gabrielle sat glancing over a dozen scrolls spread across a large table. "Ok so we put the southern tribe over here and the leader of the Northern Nope cant do that. Theyll kill each other," she muttered letting her head fall on her hand.
Tarren rushed in bringing such a force of wind with her that all the scrolls blew on the floor. "Gabby!"
The Princess bard made an attempt to catch the scrolls before they hit the floor but the wind took them and they blanketed the ground. "Tarren you know better than to run in like that," she yelled.
The child stopped short and her smile quickly disappeared under the unfamiliar scolding tone of her friend. "Sorry."
Gabrielle looked up and saw a small form holding a plate of sloppy food and lowering her eyes. "No Im sorry honey. I didnt mean to yell at you. Its just these scrolls are driving me crazy." She moved over tot he child and placed a tender hand on the little girls cheek.
The child swallowed and looked up. "Can I help?"
Gabrielle wrinkled her nose and smiled. "Yeah give me whats on that plate." She took a second look at the food. "What is on that plate?"
The child stood straight and proudly announced. "Sloppy cheese."
Gabrielle nodded and made a mental note to add clean kitchen to list of duties to be performed. "Well what a treat for me and Ill bet you made it yourself too." The youngster moved in slowly and the young woman could see the child was speckled with cheese. "Has Xena seen you?"
The child shrugged. "Uh huh."
The bard took a bite of the sandwich and smiled. "Bath right?
Tarren sighed at the thought. "Uh huh but maybe you could come help and it wouldnt be so bad."
"Oh honey Im sorry but I cant. I promise Ill spend time with you later."
The childs face was so saddened by the thought of her friends absence that Gabrielle tossed her quill on the table and reached for the little girl. "I havent been around much have I?"
Tarren let out a quick breath and studied her boots. "Nope but its Ok your busy."
Gabrielle placed her hand on the side of the childs face and smiled. "I didnt mean to get so angry last night. Im sorry I said Id swat you. You know I wouldnt have right?" She had to lower her head to try and catch a glimpse of the little girls eyes.
Tarren fiddled with the scrolls and leaned on the desk. "Yeah its Ok Gabby. Youre not my Momma so I didnt believe ya anyway."
Gabrielle stared at the child not quite sure if she was happy or saddened by those words. Before she could respond Solari raced in panting for air. "Princess we have trouble Where is Queen Ephiny?"
The Princess bard moved the child to the side and stepped forward. "Out taking a walk. Why whats wrong?"
Solari took a few deep breaths. "The leader of the northern tribe and her regents have just arrived."
"Today, but there not supposed to be here for a week." Gabrielle gathered her scrolls and raced out the door leaving Tarren alone with a half-eaten sandwich.
The child stared at the plate and lowered her eyes. "Bye Gabby," she mumbled.
Gabrielle sprinted out of the office practically running over Ephiny. "Leader
here." Her words were sandwiched between pants of air.
The queen shrugged. "I know I expected it. Thats Musona. She favors surprise attacks, surprise inspections and I figured surprise visits."
The Princess Bards eyes flew open. "Well you could have told me Ephiny."
The queen folded her arms and rocked back on her heals. "Well I would have if you ever took your nose out of the damn scrolls."
Gabrielle moved in closer to her friend. "Hey someone has to get organized."
Ephiny felt her temper flare. "Look Gabrielle not everything is planned on paper. Sometimes you have to just go with it."
Xena smiled at her Amazon friend. "Yeah Ephinys right Gabrielle. Just get in there and dazzle them with your charm but first you might want to wipe the cheese off your mouth."
The young woman wiped her mouth and Ephiny chuckled. "You two are like bookends Thank you very much."
Ephiny nodded as she noted the Queen of the north approaching. "Welcome to our village Musona. It is good t see you again," she said with a slight bow.
Musona returned the gesture and eyed the other two women with interest. "And you Ephiny. I hope you do not mind that I have arrived a bit early." Her entire demeanor was a bit condescending and snobbish.
Ephiny grinned and waved a hand in the air. "No I have already arranged a camp for you on the outskirts of the village. I now you prefer your privacy."
"Very good Queen Ephiny. I am impressed."
"Why thank you Queen Musona."
Xena frowned at all the chatter and started to turn. Ephiny grabbed the warrior by the arm. "Please allow me to introduce some guests." She motioned to the bard. "This is Princess Gabrielle."
Musona smiled and tilted her head to one side. "Ahh the queen that gave over her throne."
Gabrielle smiled and attempted a bow. "Yeah thats me, but I gave it over to the one who always should have been queen Ephiny."
Ephiny grinned and motioned to the warrior. "And this is Xena the Warrior Princess."
For the first time Musona bowed her head completely below the waist. "A legend is amongst us. This is truly an unexpected honor."
Xena glared at Ephiny but tried to remain polite. "Thanks."
Gabrielle glanced at her warrior friend. She knew how she hated all this attention. "Uh look why dont I show you where the camp is and then we can have a meal and talk."
Xena shook her head and looked around the compound wondering where her daughter had wandered off too. "Tarren." She walked into the hall where Gabrielle had been working and found the child seated at an empty table with her elbows planted firmly
on the table.
The mother sighed and moved beside the child. "Hey whats wrong with you?"
The response was fast and simple. "Nothing."
Xena knelt beside the little girl. "Come on. We share our secrets remember?"
Tarren lowered her eyes and suddenly reached out her arms and gave her mother a big hug. "Gabby said she was gonna spend some time with me and then she raced out. She didnt even finish her sloppy cheese."
Xena looked at the half-eaten sandwich and sighed. "Im sorry baby. One of the leaders showed up early and Gabrielle had to do some real important work."
The child sniffled as she climbed onto her mothers leg. "Arent I important work Momma?"
Xena lifted the child into her lap ignoring the cheese. "Yes you are very important work baby, but the truth is you are my important work. Gabrielle has other things to do right now."
The little girl sniffled at the words. "Are you gonna do other things too Momma?"
Xena stood and lifted the child into her arms. "Nope first Im gonna split that sandwich with you because if Gabrielle doesnt know good food when she sees it thats her loss." She paused and gave the child a quick tickle. " Then you are getting a bath."
Tarren grinned and pushed her mothers hand away. "Noooooo."
The warrior continued the tickling hoping it would cheer the little girl. "Yes! And then if you behave well get Argo and go for a good run and do that tracking I promised you. How does that sound?"
The child managed a huge smile and she hugged the warrior tightly. "I love you Momma."
Xena smiled and kissed the childs head. "I love you too baby Now lets eat that sandwich before Gabrielle realizes what she left behind."
Chapter 15 Trackers
Xena brought Argo to a halt and slid out of the saddle. She tethered the great horse to a tree reached up and lowered her daughter to the ground beside her. "Come on Monster this looks like a good spot."
The child grinned eager to begin the tracking lessons. "Ok what are we tracking Momma?" She slapped her little hands together in anticipation of the hunt. "Warlords, bandits, what?"
"Sorry youre just tracking me." The warrior smiled as she pulled her knife from her boot and seated herself on a large rock on the side of the trail. "Ill show you Cmere." She motioned the little girl to approach.
Tarren moved beside her mother and watched as the warrior made a very small X in the bottom of her leather boot. "Now than youngster that mark is our secret
Just yours and mine. Theres nobody else in this world that I would do that for."
Tarren observed the small notch and shrugged. "Why Momma? Nobody can even see it."
Xena grinned and shook her head realizing her young daughter did not understand the significance of the action. "You just pay attention Monster." She pointed to the ground and placed her marked boot in the dirt. Once sure there was a deep enough impression she removed it. "Now whos print is that?"
Tarren frowned at the silly question but looked at the print to appease her warrior mother. "Yours Momma."
"How do you know?"
"I just watched you make it."
Xena closed her eyes wondering if the youngster was being flip or just truly did not understand. "Are you being naughty?" she asked with a crooked smile.
The child shrugged. "I dunno. Im never really sure."
The mother groaned and pointed to the track. "You see that little spot in the corner."
The child got down on her knees bringing her eye within inches of the mark. "Uh huh Thats the X you just made Momma."
Xena smiled and patted the childs head. "Thats right and now whenever you see a boot print with that mark on it you will know its my print right?" She paused. "Then you can follow me. Get it?"
Tarren smiled finally understanding the rules of the new game. "Oh yeah
Thats smart Momma." The child thought for a moment and then dropped to the ground waving her feet in the air. "Mark mine now so you can always find me."
The mother placed the knife back in her boot and she pulled the little girl to her feet. "First of all I dont intend to ever have you that far away Second of all I could find you if you were walking on your hands, and third I already did."
The warrior smiled "The day I found you."
"I got new boots since then Momma."
"I know and I marked them all Tarren."
Again the child dropped to the ground and tried to bring her boots to her eyes. "Where? I dont see nothing."
Xena grinned. "Its there and you are not supposed to see anything." She lifted the child by the waistline and started walking.
With a flip the mother tossed the child over her shoulder. "Lets just say I wouldnt want you playing with it."
Tarren wiggled her feet in front of her mother. "Please Momma."
The warrior shook her head and placed the youngster on the ground taking her hand. "Nope Im the only one who knows the mark and Ill never tell anyone just like I know youll never tell anyone my mark."
Xena stopped let out a quick breath and turned the child around. The youngster lowered her eyes and the mother merely picked the chin up with the tip of her finger. "You young lady are behaving like a spoiled little girl and if you keep it up
." The warrior paused when she realized that the child was taking the scolding a bit more seriously than she intended. She sighed and knelt in front of the child seated the youngster on her knee. "Cmere Naughty." With a yank she removed one of the childs small boots and displayed it in front of her. "Ok ya see that circle on the very tip of your shoe?"
Tarren eyed the spot closely and when she was sure she had spotted it smiled broadly.
"I see it Momma."
"Good thats my mark on you and I better never see you so much as touch it."
Tarren stared at Argo as she spoke. "Now you use what I told you about that mark to track me," she said.
"Thats easy." The child turned around but the warrior was already gone.
Tarren scratched her head and looked to the path. She could see many tracks that her mother had taught her were those of wild animals. "A Deer Uh A bunny Argo ." She spotted a faint print of a boot with a small X and grinned. "A Momma." The child headed in the direction of the tracks sure she would find her mother at the end. But the prints ended suddenly in a field of high grass. The little girl looked out into the field not quite sure how to follow.
"Momma," she whispered.
A husky voice from behind responded immediately. "Its not as easy as you thought is it?"
Tarren turned to see her mother leaning against a tree.
The little girl moved up beside her and shook her head. "No its awful hard once you leave the dirt. I didnt know which way to go," she replied sadly, feeling as if she had failed.
Xena nodded and placed a tender hand on the childs shoulder. "Its Ok baby. Tracking takes lots of practice. Making the mark on the boot was just so you could find me easier. Now when the trail ended I could have gone to the grass or I could have gone to the trees. How do you think you could tell?" she asked lifting the little girl into her arms.
The child looked around and shook her head. "I dunno Momma. I guess Im never gonna be a tracker just like you." The eyes lowered and the lip rolled out.
Xena wrapped her arms tightly around the little girl. "Hey I dont want to hear you talking like that. Tarren you cant learn everything fast. Some things take time and thats a good thing." She paused and ran her hand down the childs cheek. " It means we get to spend lots and lots of time practicing together."
Xena motioned to the nature around her. "Do you know why you couldnt find me after the tracks ended?"
"Uh huh because youre Xena Warrior Princess and the best hider in the entire world," she stated proudly. "And youre my Momma."
The warrior chuckled and shook her head. "Why thank you for the praise Monster. It means a lot coming from you, but the part I like the best is where you remind me that Im your Momma." She rubbed the smiling childs head. "But if Xena Warrior Princess is going to share secrets with her daughter than her daughter is going to have to pay attention."
Xena took a deep breath and again waved her hand in the air. "Ok Tarren you didnt find me because you were only using your eyes. You need to you use your nose. " She rubbed the childs nose. "Youre ears and ever other sense you have as well."
The little girl gave her mother a blank stare indicating she was still confused.
Xena pulled her closer. "Ok what do I smell like?" she asked.
The child smiled proudly sure she knew that answer. "You smell like Momma."
The mother grinned. "Ok what does Momma smell like?" she asked, pointing to the familiar and always forbidden straps.
The child took a whiff and wrinkled her nose. "Adult grape juice."
The warrior smelled her leathers realizing that they needed an immediate cleaning after last nights party. Right now even Gabrielle could track her just by the strong odor. "Oh yeah well thats good but what does Momma normally smell like?"
Tarren scratched her head and thought about the musty odor she had come to associate with being cradled in her mothers arms. "Leather."
Xena nodded approvingly. "Good so you think maybe you might try and smell leather when you are looking for me?"
"Uh huh but right now Id sniff for grape juice. It would be easier."
The warrior grinned. "Im sure it would be." She took another whiff of her leathers and shook her head. "As soon as we get back these are getting washed."
Tarren giggled. "Maybe you should take another bath Momma."
The fingers ran up the childs side. "I intend to but I also intend on bathing you again at the same time."
The mother let her fingers continue the tickles until her daughter had laughed herself out of breath. "Dont give me the Ahh Momma. You opened your little mouth and now were gonna wash youre little body."
The childs shoulders sagged. "Not fair. I didnt have grape juice."
The mother took a whiff of her daughter. "Nope you smell like the candy that you used to have hidden under the mattress."
Xena nodded and smiled at her young daughter. "Thats right Naughty. Do you still wanna argue about that bath?"
The youngster shook her head. "No Momma. Lets get back to tracking," she said with a broad smile.
The warrior nodded. "Uh huh good idea. Now what about those ears of yours. You think maybe you should listen to see if Im making noise?" she asked, hoping to give her child as many advantages as possible."
Tarren shook her head. "Nope. You dont make noise Momma."
The mother smiled. "Well I will just for you." "If you hear a twig snap or see a leaf fall where am I?"
Tarren considered the position. "In the tree?"
"Good girl." She gave the youngster an affectionate hug. "Youll be a great tracker." She pointed to the high grass and made an indenture in one spot showing how the once tall grass flattened. "Ya see what a foot step does to the grass?"
Tarren nodded and stared at the field. "It makes it flat."
"Yup! So if you see marks like that in the grass it means someone has walked through it."
Tarren smiled at the patience and gentle tone with which her mother spoke. "I got it Momma. We can track now."
Xena grinned at the eager face of her young child. "Ya know baby this is really gonna take a very long time to learn. You just remember what I teach you bit by bit and thatll be just fine."
Tarren frowned wondering just how long school would last before she could be just like her mother. "Ya mean Im not a tracker yet?"
Xena shook her head. "Nope just a very promising trainee."
The little girl again frowned. "But I wanna be a tracker like you now."
The warrior mother smiled and pulled the child closer. She did not want to discourage her desire to learn or mislead her into believing the skill came easy. "I know but if I taught you too fast then we wouldnt be able to come out here and do this stuff together. I kind of like teaching you stuff. You wouldnt want me to rush it would ya?" she asked lowering her eyes for the childs benefit.
Xena smiled and kissed the childs cheek tenderly. "Well maybe not that long but well
see how ya do. Ready to try and find me again?" she asked knowing the small child was eager to achieve some success. Xena had every intention of letting the little girl find her easily this time.
The warrior placed the youngsters hands over her eyes. "No peaking Count to five and find me Ok?"
Xena grinned at the small form cupping hands over her eyes and like the wind again disappeared.
Tarren counted in her head and when she reached five uncovered her eyes and began the hunt. She carefully followed her mothers prints to a tree but after listening for a moment realized that her mother had merely paused there or gone up and come right down. She caught sight of a fresh track and started moving in that direction.
A twig snapped and the child turned from the familiar tracks deciding her mother had deviated from the original plan. She moved toward the sound deep within the bush and sprang into the brush eager to surprise her mother. "Found ya," she yelled pouncing into the thick covering. "Gotcha Momma."
The figure lying in a pool of blood beaten and battered reached out her hand and grabbed the child. Tarren struggled to get free but the womans hold was tight. The Amazon whispered somehing in the youngsters ear that made the childs face turn white with fear.
To be continued
Yes folks part five has finally arrived and I am working on part six now. Please remember: Never Feed the bears and ALWAYS Feed My Little Pet Ego.
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