Xena Warrior Mother Series Story 6
Legend of the Last Amazon-Part VII
The characters of Xena: Warrior Princess, Gabrielle, and Argo and all other characters who have appeared in the syndicated series Xena: Warrior Princess, together with the names, titles, and back-story are the sole copyright property of MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures. No copyright infringement was intended in the writing of this fan fiction. The story is written only for fun, and no profit is being made. All other characters such as Tarren, the story idea and the story itself are the sole property of the author. The story cannot be sold or used for profit in any way. The story itself as well as the character created by the author may NOT be duplicated or archived without the author’s permission. All works remain the copyright of the original author. These may not be republished without the authors consent. This story is a continuation of my first stories called SHE HAS MY EYES, ON THE ROAD AGAIN, NALA’S GIFTS, HOME SWEET HOME, and Little Thief of Hearts You really MUST read those stories first. Otherwise you will be lost as to who some of the characters I have created are. This story contains some violence, no subtext, and the use or reference of corporal punishment. I will be putting that statement in all of the Tarren series whether it exists or not in that particular story. Please understand that this does NOT reflect on my personal beliefs or politics. I am just trying to stay true to the characters and culture of that period of history. Feedback is ALWAYS appreciated and I am most grateful to all that have written and will hopefully continue to write me with your thoughts.
Part 7 –
Chapter 19 – Where is Tarren?
The warrior felt the weight of her cape weighing heavily on her back as she moved slowly through the wooded area. She looked from tree to tree closing her eyes to allow all of her senses to work together until she could smell and feel her daughter’s presence.
Xena stopped at the base of a large birch tree and took a long breath before calling. "Tarren I know you are up there and I want you down here right…."
Before the angry warrior mother could finish the sentence a small child jumped from the branches and into her mother’s arms.
Xena could feel her parental anger pushed to one side as she felt the youngster cling to her as if afraid that if she let go she would slide into an abyss.
"Momma you’re back. I didn’t think…you’d ever…come back and find me," she said, her voice low and shaky and her face filled with muddy tears.
The child’s tears flowed and soon turned into uncontrollable sobs.
The warrior dropped to her knees and wrapped her arms tightly around the shivering little girl. "Tarren, what happened?" she asked in a low and soothing voice.
The youngster bit her lip trying to think of the most honest and accurate response. "I was bad Momma." She paused. "I really missed you lots. I thought you’d never come back."
Realizing now was not the time to ask questions Xena closed her eyes and held the child closer. Her young daughter was shaking with fear and needed nothing at that moment except her mother’s unquestionable love. "It’s Ok Tarren Momma’s here," she whispered. "I’m back and I’ve found you so just relax." After a long moment she placed the little girl on the ground in front of her and studied the muddy faced child. "What have you been up to?" she asked wiping off a spot of mud with the edge of her thumb.
Xena nodded. "So I heard." She glanced at the bloody bandage on the little girl’s hand. Swallowing hard the mother immediately removed it. Seeing the wound she closed her eyes and took a deep breath. "I need to get this cleaned up, " she said evenly, knowing that it was indeed a sword wound as Shalia had said.
"I guess you’re real mad at me."
The warrior closed her eyes and tightened her hold. "I love you too," she replied in a steady and controlled tone. Those were the words that she felt in her heart and the ones she knew her frightened daughter needed to hear.
Crowds gathered close to the warrior as she carried the illusive child in her arms. The youngster had managed to hide from the entire Amazon tribe for nearly a day but Xena had found her child in less than fifteen minutes. The protective mother turned and with a glare warned the people back. Whatever had occurred in her absence was second to protecting her child from anything that might cause her further harm.
Ephiny had been in the middle of trying to get some facts from her princess when she saw Xena approaching with the child in her arms.
Gabrielle rushed beside her friend trying to see beneath the large cape. "Thank the gods you found her. Is she Ok?" she asked, her voice filled with concern.
The warrior did not pause but kept her strides steady and direct as she spoke. "Yeah she’s scared to death and has a…." She took a moment. "Sword cut on her hand but she’ll live." Xena kicked the door to the healers hut open and lay her child on the table.
Gabrielle followed her in closing the door on the outside world. She moved in beside the youngster and offered her hand but Tarren merely looked away.
The princess took a step back knowing the child blamed her for most of the events of the day.
The healer immediately moved past Gabrielle to examine the wounded child. She held the youngster’s small hand in her own. "A sword cut?" she asked in disbelief.
Tarren looked up surprised that her mistakes could be seen so clearly. The healer grinned a bit. "Oh child I have seen too many wounds to not recognize the slice of a blade. Someone has been playing with things they should not."
The healer threw her hands up in the air knowing Xena’s reputation as both a warrior and a healer.
The healer cleared her throat and motioned to the child’s hand. "Xena the cut. Do you mind doing the interrogation later?" she asked indignantly.
The warrior glanced back at the cut and nodded. She cleared her throat. "It’s not too deep but I’ll put a few stitches in just in case."
Xena ignored the words and gave the quiet youngster a quick pinch to ease the pain of her stitching efforts. "You know it will hurt a bit but not too much," she stated.
The child nodded. "Yes Momma."
The warrior mother looked at Gabrielle tossed the dirty bandages into a bucket and washed her own hands clean in a nearby basin of fresh water. "It’s not deep. She’ll be fine."
Gabrielle lowered her head and released her hold on the youngster. "Thank Artemis herself. Xena I…."
The warrior wrung out a small cloth to wipe the mud from the little girl’s face. "Not right now Gabrielle," she said with such force that the young woman took a step back.
It was quite obvious that whatever anger Xena had was aimed not just at Tarren but at the bard as well.
"Well Tarren. Tell me what happened," the mother said stiffly.
The little girl looked at Gabrielle and then lowered her eyes. "Is she staying?"
Realizing the youngster was not going to speak in her friend’s presence Xena reluctantly asked her friend to go. "Gabrielle, you better go deal with Mussona and Ephiny. I’ll deal with this," she said never taking her eyes off the dirty child.
The princess took a step forward wanting to explain. "Xena I…."
The warrior let her voice drop to as soft a tone as she could muster. "Gabrielle it’s Ok. We will talk later. Right now you have to deal with one thing and I have to deal with another. Later."
The young woman nodded in understanding and reached out a hand to touch the child but Tarren merely flinched away. "No."
With a heavy sigh the princess departed.
Xena ignored the rude exchange and stared at her naughty daughter as she finished her work. "I’m waiting for an answer young lady. What happened? How did you get a sword cut on your hand?" she asked tossing the now dirty cloth to the ground and folding her arms tightly against her chest.
Tarren bit her lip and swallowed staring at the clean bandage around her hand. "Gabrielle…."
The mother held up a halting hand. "No! I do not want to hear what Gabrielle did or did not do. Right now I want to hear what you did. You can start with my sword. I repeat myself. What happened?"
The youngster fidgeted a bit on the table. "Are ya sure ya wouldn’t rather hear about me being a Warrior Princess?" she asked hopefully.
Xena leaned forward dropping her hands on either side of her child as she spoke. "Do you think this is funny? It’s not! You are in a lot of trouble and if you know what’s good for you will just speak when you are spoken to," she scolded.
Tarren could feel the heat of her mother’s breath on her face. "Yes ma’am." She ran her fingers over the neatly wrapped bandage. "I took your sword nicked it…and tried to fix it with the whetstone," she whispered through a few tears.
The words pierced Xena’s mind like an arrow and she let her eyes drop to meet her daughters. "I want to make sure I heard that right. Say it again," she ordered.
The child picked her head up and took a hard swallow. "Momma…I took your sword...nicked it on a big rock and cut my hand trying to fix it for ya," she repeated, knowing her mother’s anger was growing with each word.
Tarren glanced at her now bandaged hand and nodded. "Uh huh. I’m Ok Momma but your sword…."
The mother leaned forward again and cut the child’s words off. "Did anyone else get hurt?" she asked, hoping there were no other participants in what she had decided was part of the warrior princess game.
"No Momma…nobody but the big rock, and me." she replied quietly.
The young Amazon nodded and sprinted away to retrieve the weapon.
The mother shook her head as she approached her now silent child. "Do you have any idea how much trouble you caused and how much trouble you are in?" she asked with controlled parental anger. "Do you no what could have happened to you?"
The child thought about the question and lowered her head. "Lots…I guess."
Xena stopped in front of the youngster and brought the child’s chin up with the tip of one finger. "You guess?" Look at me when I’m talking to you," she yelled.
Tarren immediately lifted her head and Xena could see the fresh tears falling.
"I’m sorry Momma. It just started with me playing Warrior Princess and then…."
This was the information the mother wanted. "Then what?" the mother asked sternly.
Again the youngster’s voice dropped to a near whisper. "Then…I took your sword."
Xena felt the frustration and fear building up inside of her. She took a few steps back and covered her face with both hands. After a moment she took a deep breath and began again. "Tarren I am not even gonna get started now on half the things I heard you’ve done. Right now I just want to know about the sword…Why did you take it?" she asked trying to remain calm.
The little girl bit her lip and looked up at her mother. "I can’t say Momma."
The warrior mother threw her hands up in the air. "You can’t say or you won’t say."
The child was quiet.
Xena could feel her thoughts wander to all the terrible things that might have happened. She had visions of her child lying in a pool of blood lifeless. "Answer me right now young lady!"
The youngster felt the salty drips running down her face and dropped her head forward. "I can’t Momma. I wanna but I can’t."
A knock at the door interrupted the conversation.
Xena gave her child a warning stare and allowed Shalia to enter with the sword.
The warrior stared at the small nick in the blade surrounded by a stain of her own daughter’s blood. The sight of the two mixed together filled her with a feeling of sickness unlike any battle scene she had ever walked through.
The warrior looked from the sword to her child and then opened the door. With a quick swipe Xena lifted the little girl into her arms and handed her to the young Amazon. "Shalia could you take her back to the cottage clean her up and stay with her until I get back?" she asked without waiting for a response.
The Amazon held the little girl tenderly in her arms and nodded.
Xena opened the door and motioned the young woman out ahead of her.
Ephiny had been deep in conversation but looked up when she saw the familiar angst in her friend’s face. Xena had started to move in a different direction than she had expected. "Where are you going?" the queen asked.
The warrior glanced at her bloody blade and closed her eyes. "I need to work off some energy…that’s all." She paused and turned back to her young daughter who was lying in Shalia’s arms. "Tarren when I get back to that cottage you better be sitting there quiet as a mouse. Got me?" she yelled.
The child gripped her friend’s arm and nodded. "Yes Momma," she whispered.
The warrior took a step closer. "I didn’t hear you young lady. You answer me so I can hear you," she scolded.
"Yes Momma," she replied loud enough for all to hear.
"Much better." Xena looked again at her sword and as if caught by the wind suddenly sprinted off toward the compound as fast as she could.
Ephiny looked at the youngster clinging to Shalia and sighed. "Youngster I guess I don’t have to tell you that you are in big trouble. Do I?"
Tarren wiped a tear away as she watched her mother running from her. "No." She lowered her eyes but then glanced up at the Amazon Queen. "Ephiny?"
The queen turned her head. "Yeah?"
The child’s eyes grew wide. "I’m sorry I broke your village."
Ephiny glanced at Shalia who was suppressing a smile. The queen crumbled the parchment complaints and shoved them in her cuff. "Yeah well…you better be sorry because you are going to fix it…Junior." Ephiny tapped the youngster on the leg.
Shalia winked at her exacerbated queen before carrying the youngster dutifully back to the royal cottage.
Xena vaulted over the fence landing beside the weapon’s master. "Eponon you have the list of warriors that have been begging to fight me? Bring them in." Her breathing was heavy and her muscles were tight.
Eponon clapped her hands together. This event might even pay off the debt of what Tarren had done to her. "Who first?" she asked pulling the parchment from her cuff.
The warrior mother’s eyes were wide and her jaw stiff. Her breathing slowed while her muscles flexed uncontrollably. "All of them!" She turned to her friend. "Tell them they have just one chance…right now…all at once but warn them that I am not in a very good mood."
It was only a matter of moments before she heard the sounds of more than 50 Amazons charging from different directions. The warrior moved quickly and without mercy bringing each attacker down one by one. Staffs broke in half and warriors flew to the side as Xena swept quickly through the crowd.
Back at the royal quarters….
Ephiny paced back and forth in front of her princess not quite sure what to say. "Gabrielle you should have waited for me to return."
The Amazon Princess sat straight in her chair. "There was no time. She was going to leave. The negotiations would have been ruined."
Ephiny leaned against the desk. "Mussona always plays these dramatic games of hers. She never leaves though. She was just playing with your head and you walked right into her trap."
The queen opened the shudder to a window and pointed to the village. "Gabrielle do you know what I do as queen?"
The princess shook her head. "Well I guess you lead armies and negotiate treaties like you are doing now."
Ephiny grinned. "Yeah but that’s not everyday stuff. I give out feathers to warriors that have earned a right of passage. I lead the hunts and practice with the children. I listen to complaints and try and solve family problems. In short my friend I am everyone’s mother, sister, teacher, and worst nightmare if needed."
Gabrielle lowered her head a bit. "I’m sorry Ephiny. I wanted to do the right thing."
The queen smiled and knelt beside the princess. "There is no right or wrong Gabrielle, but I would say that your promise to take care of Tarren came before a tantrum from a visiting dignitary." She paused. "Granted that the little monster acted like a spoiled brat the way she ran off and wrecked the place." She turned and looked at the now somber face of her friend. "The point is that as a leader you must always choose the most immediate priority. If Mussona was going to leave nothing you said to her was going to make a difference. However, what you said or did for that kid would have made all the difference in the world."
The princess nodded, finally understanding the wisdom of her friend’s words. "If I had followed my heart and stayed with Tarren then I would have been showing Mussona that her threats would not effect the person I am and how I conducted myself. Instead I let her bait me into an argument just so she could see my face turn six different shades of red." She let her head drop into her hands. "Now Tarren hates me…Xena’s gonna hate me and I told Mussona I’d shove my staff up her butt."
Ephiny chuckled a bit. "Gabrielle that I would like to see." She smiled and gave her friend a nudge. "Hey Tarren will get over it. She has bigger problems right now and I think you will find Xena a bit more understanding of the problems of leadership." She patted her friend’s hand. "It’s easy to be a leader Gabrielle but it’s much harder to lead. Understand?"
The young woman nodded. "Yes I think I finally understand a lot of things."
Ephiny ran her fingers across the edge of her desk. "Good…Uh Gabrielle for what it’s worth Amazon to Amazon I was pretty impressed with the way you stood up to Mussona." She grinned. "But don’t challenge her to a staff fight. She’ll kick your ass."
A loud commotion outside and the sound of Amazons running past the office interrupted the conversation.
Ephiny and Gabrielle immediately stepped outside and the queen grabbed the arm of a passing warrior. "What’s going on?" she asked.
The young warrior gave a quick bow to her queen. "Xena’s taking on the entire tribe," she replied, anxious to see the spectacle.
Gabrielle closed her eyes. "Holy mother of Zeus we better get over there."
Ephiny shook her head as she put her legs into action. "Yup like mother like daughter."
Back at the Arena…
Gabrielle covered her eyes at the sight as Ephiny came running up beside her. "Aries be damned," the queen spat, looking across a field littered with fallen Amazons.
The Amazon Queen leaned against the fence not quite sure whether to stop the fighting or join in.
However for once Gabrielle was sure exactly where she wanted to stand. She grabbed a staff and ran into the arena. She took a position behind Xena leaning her back up against the warrior and knocking approaching attackers to the ground.
The warrior turned her head slightly. "Well what are you doing in here?" she asked with a smirk.
Gabrielle waved her staff in the direction of two attacking Amazons and smiled. "Not that you need the help, but we agreed that as a family what one gets we all share, so if you are going to take on the entire tribe I’ll be sent to Hades before I let you do it alone."
Xena grinned happy to have her bard beside her needed or not. "Well then my friend let’s get the job done."
With those words spoken the two friends combined their efforts and skills watching each other’s backs and showing no mercy to any that would dare intrude upon them.
Gabrielle moved her staff to one side and knocked an Amazon to the ground. "Xena we need to talk."
The warrior kicked two opponents to the dirt with the side of her boot and pushed another away with the tip of her staff. "Now Gabrielle? Can’t it wait?"
The Amazon Princess continued waving her staff as she spoke. "No…I need to say that I was wrong. I told Tarren to wait again when I should have told Mussona to wait for Ephiny to return."
The princess paused and took a deep breath. "No Xena, she needed me and I wasn’t there."
Seeing that there were no more attackers the warrior paused. "Gabrielle she always needs you and you can’t be there at her beck and call."
The princess leaned on her staff. "You are. She never doubts you and you are always there when she needs you Xena."
Xena let out a long breath. "Gabrielle, first of all I’m her mother and she expects that from me as much as I expect it from myself." The warrior smiled at the words. "But what you just said was true. She needed me today and I should have been here. I made a bad choice too. Tarren always gets in trouble when I leave and I know that. I should have taken her with me or stayed behind." She paused and let out a quick breath. "The truth is I could have sent the scouts out with a map and they would have found the marked tree. I wanted to get involved and help as much as you did."
The princess smiled at her friend. "Well what do we do now?"
Seeing 10 more Amazons charging from behind her friend the warrior pushed her to the ground. "We duck."
Ephiny grinned as she watched the two friends standing side by side in battle against her own warriors. This would be a training exercise unlike any they had ever experienced.
Mussona, who had yet to depart, came up beside the queen. "What is this?" she asked, motioning to the battle in the arena.
Ephiny scratched her head. "Well Mussona this is a family discussion." She pointed to Xena. "And that is one very angry warrior mother."
Ephiny raised a hand as if to stop her but decided holding the gate open was the more polite thing to do. "What the hell. Let her get her high and mighty ass kicked," she said with a smile as the dignitary entered the field
Xena saw Mussona approach and warned her back with the wave of her staff. "Now would not be a good time to play?"
Mussona butterflied the weapon in front of her. "Afraid of some real competition Xena?"
The warrior grinned wildly and motioned her friend to step aside. "This ones on me Gabrielle." Xena smiled and again staffs clashed. Mussona moved to the left and the right but the fear and fury in the warrior mother’s eyes could not be matched by any small amount of skill.
The mighty queen soon joined the rest of the tribe in the dirt.
The warrior stared down at the queen. "Games over your majesty."
Mussona just stared at the warrior as if she was looking at a ghost or a god.
Xena ignored the expression as she and Gabrielle both looked around the arena at all the fallen opponents. The warrior let out a fast breath and started helping each one to their feet starting with Mussona. "Ok Queen on your feet."
The princess quickly crossed to the other side of the field and did the same.
The visiting queen laughed loudly and placed a friendly arm on the warrior’s shoulder. "Well Xena I would ask for whom do you fight?"
The mother closed her eyes remembering what brought her to this place. "For my daughter Mussona…I fight for my daughter," she said with a breath, picking up her sword and moving quickly out of the arena.
The warrior dropped to her knees beside a bucket of water dousing it on her face.
Ephiny came running over. "Xena…are you Ok?" she asked with a touch of concern for the one great warrior.
The warrior nodded and got to her feet. "Yeah I’m fine. I didn’t realize I had so many fans hear Eph," she said motioning to the fallen Amazons.
The queen waved her hand in the air. "Don’t be… they volunteered. And they’ve been egging you on pretty good." She folded her arms against her chest. "Besides I think you really made a great impression on our visitor," she said motioning to the dignitary.
Xena grinned slightly. "Thanks Eph."
The queen nodded and placed a friendly hand on the warrior’s arm. "Hey it’s Ok Xena. She’s a good kid."
The mother sighed and stared up at he sky. It was a beautiful day. "I know she is Eph but damn she picked up a sword…my sword."
After offering an apologetic hand to each woman and making sure the last of the Amazons had been tended Gabrielle joined Xena.
Mussona moved closer and Ephiny readied herself for a fight. Instead the visiting queen smiled at the trio and gave Ephiny a hardy slap on the back. "You know Ephiny, I like your people." She pointed to Gabrielle. That one has a big mouth but there is fire in her heart." She stared at the warrior. "Xena…I have never seen one fight with such skill and passion as you do. I bow to you Warrior Princess."
Xena returned the gesture. "Thank you Mussona."
The visiting queen bowed again and gave Ephiny a sideways stare. "Well Queen Ephiny…Princess Gabrielle I do believe we have work to do."
Realizing that Mussona would not be leaving made the princess smile. She glanced at Ephiny and sighed. "You and Ephiny need to speak right now Queen Mussona. I have some very important things to attend to for a while. Excuse me." She bowed and took the warrior’s arm leading her away in the hopes of having some private conversation.
Mussona folded her arms against her chest as she watched the two friends walk away. "You know I really do like your princess. She has a lot of guts." She grinned. "And that Xena…I’m glad she’s on our side."
Ephiny grinned as she watched the friends depart. "So am I Mussona…so am I."
As they walked across the now quiet compound Gabrielle tried to think of the best way to discuss all she felt and thought with her large friend.
For a moment the warrior’s thoughts had been clear but the reality of her situation came back to her when she again thought of the blade with the stain of her child’s blood on it. She felt the weight of a vacant blade in an empty hand and frowned. "My daughter took my sword, nicked it and cut her hand trying to fix it rather than come to me and tell me what she’d done…." The words were spoken as if to inform the world of something that all seemed to already know. However there was a sense of utter disbelief in every one spoken.
The princess nodded for she knew better than anyone did just what that action meant to Xena.
The young woman folded her arms as they walked. "So what are you going to do?"
The princess placed a gentle hand on her friend’s shoulder. "Xena she’s just a little kid…They make mistakes just like the rest of us. I made a bunch of them today believe me." She let out a quick breath. "Give her a chance to explain before you decide she’s taking the wrong path."
Xena shook her head. "Gabrielle there is no reason in Greece she could give me to excuse her even touching my sword and you know that."
The young woman nodded in agreement. "Yes but that’s not what I meant. You and I have talked about this before and I agree she should be punished, but I’m talking about the fear inside of you that she is out swinging a blade because she is starting down some dark path." She smiled as she thought of the youngster. "Xena you know Tarren, she makes friends with beavers…gives them all names, can’t bare to see a bunny snared. I just think there is more to the story then we know."
The mother rubbed the side of her temples. "Maybe but it will be her choice to share it Gabrielle," she replied grimly.
The princess paused for a moment. "Xena there is something I’ve wanted to talk to you about."
The warrior grinned and let her hands fly over her head. "Yeah well get me now because I’m feeling very chatty."
Gabrielle took a deep breath. "Look I know I haven’t been around a lot…."
The warrior held up a halting hand. "Gabrielle we’ve been over this. I thought about it and you were right…Not about standing Tarren up…That was wrong and at first I was mad at you…But you were right about needing your own space. Tarren is my daughter and I willingly give my life to her because I love the little terror. But I don’t have the right to expect you to share the responsibility the way you do."
"I want to."
Gabrielle wiped away a stray tear. "Yes and what I wanted to say was well…I’m not finding this whole vacation very relaxing and I wouldn’t mind if the three of us moved on."
The warrior smiled at her friend happy to hear her love and dedication was so strong. "We can’t do that. You promised to help Ephiny and to be honest with you I feel like there’s something strange going on here. This whole thing with runaway Amazons and then finding Tyrell the way we did." She paused. "I don’t know but my instincts say something is not right."
Gabrielle cocked her head to one side. "I thought you said you found nothing on the trail."
Xena nodded but kept her eyes trained on the heavens as if lost in another place. "We didn’t but I’ll feel a lot better when Solari and her group get back and say the same." She sighed. "So there will be no running away for you, me or Tarren."
The princess shrugged her shoulders and lowered her eyes. "Tarren and I have a few fences to mend. I shouldn’t have left her for anything this morning…I did promise."
The warrior placed an arm around her friend’s shoulder. "You were both wrong, but you thought you had to take care of your responsibilities as leader for the tribe at that moment. Tarren knew that. You didn’t just desert her. You asked her to wait and you explained why." She shook her head. "I must be raising a very spoiled little girl if she could not even give you a chance to return."
Xena gave her friend a nudge. "And what?"
The princess turned and stared into the familiar blue eyes of her best friend. "Xena, I was watching Tarren playing with some Amazon children the other day. They were all about six or seven years old." She took a deep breath. "Tarren looked about the same size as most and her features, her face...well she has such a baby face just like all the little ones do. Xena I don’t know what’s going on but that kid is no where near ten years old and I think we need to remind ourselves of that."
Xena swallowed hard at the words. "I know…I even asked Tarren how old she was and she doesn’t even know. It seems Nala chose not to celebrate birthdays for some reason." She paused. "Ya know sometimes I think Tarren is just getting younger and younger and then I realize that she is just acting more her own age. It’s like she was pretending to be ten for a long time and then she just stopped."
Xena let out a long breath and clapped her hands together. "Yeah I have some business of my own to attend to," she said with a heavy sigh.
Back at the hut…
The young woman took the child’s injured hand and gently wrapped a familiar silver bracelet around the youngster’s wrist. "I found this and thought you might like it back."
The child swallowed hard as she saw her prized gift returning. "But Shalia I…."
The Amazon’s soft gaze calmed the little girl. "You must have lost it by mistake and I am sure that it won’t happen again. Right?"
The small child ran her fingers over the double looped string of silver and nodded. "No I won’t ever let nothing happen to it again. I promise." She smiled happy to have this most prized item returned.
Shalia smiled. "Good."
Tarren fidgeted a bit as she waited for the door to swing open. "Do ya think Momma is still gonna be real mad?"
The Amazon grinned and shook her head. "No but I think she will be upset and very hurt and perhaps a bit afraid."
The little girl’s eyes grew wider. "My Momma afraid? Why?"
The Amazon leaned forward and lowered her voice to a soothing tone. "Tarren you are her child. She loves you with all her heart and her sword hurt you. She feels responsible."
The youngster bit her lip and shook her head. "But Momma didn’t tell me to take it. She always says I’m not even allowed to put my fingers on it. Momma didn’t do nothing wrong. I don’t want her to feel bad."
Shalia placed a gentle hand on the little girl’s leg and smiled. "I know Tarren but in her heart she feels that if she had not left you or if she had taken the sword with her that this never would have happened. Love is a strong bond Tarren, and between you and Xena it is double looped just as the bracelet on your wrist goes around twice. Your bonds are strong and when one hurts so does the other. Remember that."
Anxious to offer explanation on the meaning of life the child moved closer. "Well if you go by the system me and Momma have I guess that’s where she gives me a spankin that makes us both cry harder than ever before." She paused. "I figure since I touched her sword and wrecked the place Momma will give me the big one." She lowered her eyes. "She always said she’d ‘kick my little butt from morning till night’ if I touched her sword so I figure I’m in for a real good spankin." She bit her lip. "I still don’t know why anyone ever says they’re good ones when they sure don’t make my butt feel very good."
Shalia closed her eyes and suppressed a warm smile. "Oh I am sorry to hear that. Will she give you a chance to speak?" she asked not quite sure how this system worked.
The child frowned wondering just how ignorant her new friend was of such important proceedings. "Of course and then after it’s over we’ll trade sorries."
Shalia’s interest in the intricacy of the relationship grew. "Trade sorries? Explain?"
Tarren let out an exacerbated breath. "Ya know Momma says she’s sorry she had to give me a spankin even she says I deserved it and she’s my Momma so she’s gotta do Momma stuff and then I say sorry for what I did wrong." She paused a she jumped to the later part of the system. "I sorta like that part. It always makes me feel better."
Shalia leaned back and smiled. This truly was a system well worked out. "Then what?"
Tarren twisted her lips to one side as she considered the order of events. "Then Momma holds me until I’m done crying and sometimes sings me to sleep. I know she’s always there cause even when she’s still real mad she holds my hand or rubs my back and stuff."
"And then young Tarren?"
The youngster leaned over on her side ready to wind up the tail. "Well when I wake up Momma says it’s time to talk more. Sometimes she yells a lot and I have to listen to her tell me why what I did was naughty and stuff but I usually get a few more hugs and she always lets me sit in her lap and she never lets anyone tease me for getting a spankin. She’s real serious about that ya know?"
Shalia smiled at the way the love between these two was so actively displayed. "I am glad you feel each other’s love so deeply Tarren. That is a very good thing."
The child nodded and leaned back. "Uh huh…I told ya me and Momma share one heart. She says that means that we can’t ever be apart long cause we each need the other so much." She paused. "Didn’t you and your Momma ever go through this stuff?"
The youngster lowered her eyes. "That’s too bad Shalia. Isn’t Ephiny like your Momma now?"
The young Amazon grinned. "No not exactly. She adopted me into her house, which made me a member of her family, but she is not quite like my mother. She has cared for me and seen to my education and tried to be my friend, but we do not share the bonds that you and Xena do." She shook her head. "No I am afraid that can never be Tarren. I am a woman in the eyes of my people and expected to act as an adult."
The child frowned. "I always get in trouble if I try and act too big. Momma says I’m getting too big for my britches but I don’t feel them getting any tighter so I don’t know why she says that. But when she does I usually wind up standing in front of a tree or something."
Before the young Amazon could inquire why anyone would face a tree the door opened and Xena walked in.
Chapter 20 – The Fair Trade
Tarren swallowed hard but kept her mouth closed remembering what her mother had said about being quiet like a mouse.
Xena closed the door and stared at her child for a long moment before walking over to the table and pulling a chair out from under and dragging it across the room. She positioned it directly in front of the youngster and sat down so her legs enclosed the child’s thighs.
Tarren did not rise but merely glanced up at her mother to see that while there was no anger the warrior’s face was still filled with confusion and fear.
Xena motioned toward the bandage. "How’s the hand Tarren?"
The child shrugged and offered up the wrapping for immediate inspection. "It doesn’t hurt much Momma."
"That’s good." The mother took a deep breath and folded her arms against her chest. "Ok then let me start with this. You spent an entire morning tearing up this village and misbehaving."
Tarren kicked the tips of her boots together. "I was just playing Warrior Princess Momma," she mumbled.
Xena covered her own face with her own hands. "Did I tell you to speak?" she scolded.
"Did I ask you a question?"
"Then you don’t interrupt me. You’ll have your chance to say what’s on your mind but this is my time. Do you understand?" she asked sternly.
The child could tell her mother was quite serious. "Yes Ma’am."
Xena leaned forward and began again. "As I said you spent the entire morning misbehaving. I have only begun to hear about some of the things you’ve done and frankly Tarren I don’t know if I can stand hearing anymore." She rubbed the sides of her temples as she remembered the long list of complaints about the child’s attacks.
"But what I can’t understand, more than anything else, is why you would ever pick up my sword. Would you please tell me that?" the mother asked with a heavy sigh.
The child stared at her mother for a long moment not quite sure what her reaction should be. "Am I supposed to speak now Momma?" she asked in a near whisper.
"Yes you are."
The youngster shook her head. "I’m real sorry Momma. I can’t tell ya."
Xena dropped her head to one side. "Tarren you know you can tell me anything. We don’t have secrets. Why didn’t you come to me when you nicked the sword rather than risk hurting yourself?"
Xena picked the child’s chin up with her fingertips. "You knew I was coming back Tarren and I am very mad at you now… much angrier than had you come to me and at least told me yourself what you’d done rather than trying to fix the blade."
The child opened her eyes as wide as she could to show her repent. "I’m sorry Momma."
The little girl shrugged not knowing what else to say. "Well...I’m sorry is all I got Momma."
Xena let her voice drop to a low and calm tone. "No Tarren…You can tell me why you took the sword."
The warrior mother picked the little girl up and stood her in front of her. "Ok then let’s get right to the heart of the matter." Xena closed her eyes and remembered back to the not so distant days when the only butt she had to kick was some warlord. Disciplining her own small child was another world and hurt her more than feeling a blade pushed through her own skin.
The child watched her mother’s stern eyes and knew exactly what those words meant.
Before the warrior could say another word Tarren quickly unlaced her britches dropping them to the floor and crawled across her mother’s lap. She took a deep breath and closed her eyes. "Ok Momma I’m ready."
Xena’s shoulder’s dropped a bit at the child’s actions. "What are ya doing?"
The little girl tilted her head back a little. "Aren’t ya gonna give me my spankin now?" She lowered her eyes. "I know I was real bad."
The mother swallowed hard at both the question and the admission. "Yes I am."
The little girl leaned her cheek against her mother’s thigh and opened her eyes wide. "So I was just helpin ya Momma."
The warrior shook her head wishing she could just hug the child and let all be forgotten. "Well don’t help. You are not supposed to. It’s…my job and when you help…It makes it harder," she said in a near whisper.
Tarren rolled out her lip and wrapped her arms tightly around her mother’s thigh. "Sorry Momma. Ya want to start again?"
The mother shook her head and looked down at the small form stretched over her lap. "No I don’t want to start again." Xena ran her hand across her own face and sighed. "Gods
Tarren why? You know better than to behave the way you did today and you certainly know better than to ever touch a sword," she said staring at the child over her lap. She was hoping for some sort of clarity that would help this one event make any sense.
Tarren bit her lip and buried her head in her mother’s thigh as she gripped the warrior’s leg securely. "I’m real sorry Momma." The tears were already starting to form.
Xena swallowed hard and then with a deep breath let her hand fall against her child’s bottom.
Tarren closed her eyes tightly fighting the urge to cry at the feel of her mother’s large palm falling.
The warrior mother took another breath and in a matter of moments her parental hand was falling in a slow and steady cadence of whacks across the youngster’s upturned backside.
Xena knew that after all her warnings about touching swords that this punishment would have to leave an impression the child would not ever forget. It pained the mother more to think about her small daughter’s tears than her own pain at being the one to cause them.
Tarren felt the salty water streaming down her cheeks and tried to ignore them but it was not long before her sobs echoed through the room as she tightened her hold on her mother’s leg. "Momma," she whimpered as she ran her small fingers along the familiar skin knowing the touch would offer comfort.
Xena closed her eyes ignored the weak plea and continued her duty while trying to keep her voice steady and serious. "Are you ever going to touch a sword again?" she asked, as her palm fell.
The youngster spoke through broken sobs. "No…Momma…I won’t," she cried hoping it would soon be over.
The parental palm fell faster and longer but never any harder.
The mother closed her eyes again as she repeated herself. This was something she needed to be very clear on. "Are you sure you won’t touch a sword again?" she asked, still continuing the steady cadence.
Xena’s bit her lip and lowered her eyes letting her own tears fall down her cheeks without making an effort to stop them. "And you will never ever behave the way you did today."
As the small naughty child felt the large hand of parental retribution falling against her bare bottom she cried uncontrollably. "No…I…promise…I…won’t again…touch… touch…take…again…Mommy."
In an instant the punishment was halted.
Xena stared at the small contrite child that was lying across her lap sobbing uncontrollably. She stroked the back of her young daughter’s head lovingly and closed her eyes. The warrior felt her own cheeks moisten. "You won’t ever touch a sword again will you?" she asked in a near whisper as she gently ran her hand across the youngster’s back and bottom.
Xena nodded and wiped away a few of her own tears as she continued to rub the little girls’ back. "Gods Tarren. Why?"
The youngster could offer no response. She held onto her mother for a safety and love that she knew was always hers for the asking. Her mother’s now gentle touch soothed her and she tried to respond. "I won’t do it again…Momma…I promise," the youngster wailed, holding onto her mother’s leg as if afraid to loosen her grip.
The mother ran her hands around the little girl’s body. "C’mere baby." Xena lifted the now well-spanked child off her lap and held her tightly in her arms. "I know you won’t," she whispered tenderly. "I also know there is something more than you are telling me," she whispered as she enveloped the youngster in her maternal embrace.
Tarren cried freely in her mother’s arms. She laced her hands around the warrior’s neck and buried her head in her mother’s shoulder. "I’m sorry Momma…I’m sorry. I didn’t…mean to break…your sword."
Xena swallowed hard and ran her hand soothingly up and down the little one’s back. She could make no more effort to keep her own voice from cracking. "Tarren baby, I don’t give a damn about the sword. I can find 10 swords just like it but there is only one you. Do you understand that? There is only one Tarren. You my baby girl are the most special person in the world to me and that is all I care about. That is why I don’t want you touching swords. Don’t you realize you could have been hurt badly or…." She choked on the words and rocked the sobbing child in her arms. "Never again Tarren…never."
Xena pressed the sobbing little girl’s face tightly against her chest. "I love you so much Monster. I love you so much. I just don’t want anything to happen to you. I won’t let it. I won’t," she whispered in her child’s ear as she held her protectively in her arms.
After a while Tarren’s sobs quieted and she nuzzled into her mother’s shoulder and with the help of a soft lullaby fell asleep. Xena undressed the youngster and placed her in the pallet, lying beside her stroking the little girl’s back and bottom tenderly hoping to offer a mother’s comfort to the chastened child. Every once in a while the small sleeping form would sniffle or cry and the mother would simply lean over and kiss her daughter’s cheek and wrap her arm tightly around her to let the youngster know her mother was and always would be close by.
There was a knock at the door and Xena reluctantly got to her feet wishing, for once, she had not dismissed the guard.
She opened the door and standing just outside was Shalia.
The warrior grinned knowing the young Amazon was there out of concern for both her and her daughter. She glanced back at the sleeping child and motioned the young woman to a seat by the warm fire.
Xena walked over to the bed and wrapped little Tarren tightly in a blanket and carried the sleeping form over to a chair across from the Amazon. She did not want to leave the youngster out of her hold so she decided to nestle her in her arms as she spoke to the visitor. "What can I do for you?" she asked, looking at the concerned face of the young Amazon.
Shalia noted the tears on the small child’s face and the way she even in sleep instantly wrapped her arms around her mother’s neck and burrowed into her chest.
The young Amazon observed the child’s actions with interest. "I just wanted to see how you and Tarren were," she said as if studying the pair.
Xena glanced down at the child and ran her hand over the youngster’s small face. She placed a loving kiss on the little girl’s cheek. "She’s fine. She’s tired and all cried out…My daughter did have sort of a long day." She let out a long breath. "Wrecking a village and terrorizing an entire tribe can be exhausting…I should know."
The Amazon looked up at the warrior and swallowed. "I guess she was punished with the big one."
Xena gave the young woman a quizzical look. After a moment she understood the use of the term and nodded. "Oh so that’s what she meant. Part of our system huh?" She closed her eyes and tried to hold her smile but it soon faded. "Yes Shalia Tarren got a spanking."
The mother cradled the youngster in her arms. "So am I." She repositioned the blankets and touched the child’s cheek tenderly again. The child fidgeted and buried her head to one side and turned leaving the mother free to cuddle her. "You know she really likes to be held like a baby sometimes," the warrior said with a grin as she rubbed the little girl’s back.
Feeling she had opened a door she wished to close the young woman made a fast
change of subject. "Xena, I mean no disrespect. I know what Tarren did
today was wrong and she deserved to be punished and you are her mother and.…"
Xena held up a halting hand. "Shalia relax. I know you care about Tarren and I appreciate that." She leaned back in the chair and the child groaned a bit. The mother immediately offered her hand into the blankets and the little girl ran the side of her face beside it and then tucked the large hand possessively beneath the blankets. Xena grinned at the child’s action but hen turned her attention back to her guest. "What’s on your mind?" she asked, knowing the young Amazon had not just come to chat about the child’s sore bottom.
Shalia shook her head. "I know why Tarren took your sword. I should have said something earlier but I promised her I wouldn’t." She took a breath. "Tarren said she would tell you on her own but somehow I sensed that was not true, so I went to find out why that might be." She grinned a bit as she remembered the expression on Lexus’s face when Shalia paid her a second visit that day. "I realize now that she felt she could not tell you. Xena, it is not because she wished to be bad or even to play with it."
The warrior mother sat forward eagerly trying not to disturb the sleeping child. "Why? Why would she touch my sword Shalia?" she asked in an almost pleading tone.
The warrior felt her muscles tense a bit. "A test of a blade? What in Hades is that?"
Shalia scratched her head and let her voice drop to a whisper. "Lexus and her friends told Tarren she had to test your sword or you might get hurt when the blade snapped in battle. They convinced her it was something she was responsible for as your daughter."
Xena’s eyes grew wide and her breathing slowed with this new information. "Oh really well tell me more about this test."
The Amazon could sense the warrior’s growing anger at those who would do something so cruel to her child. "They told her to hit the blade against the side a rock."
Xena’s face went blank. "And she did it?" She glanced down at her small child and ran her hand protectively over the innocent youngster’s chubby face. "Poor kid."
Shalia nodded in agreement. "Yes and they told her if the blade broke then it was a bad one. If it didn’t then it was a good one." She pointed to the small form. "Tarren just thought she was protecting you." She paused. "I think she would have told you Xena but Lexus made the child take an oath on your life. That is why she would not tell you."
The Amazon lowered her eyes. "Xena children can be most cruel sometimes."
"Yes they can but they forgot that this child has a very protective mother." She let her thoughts wander and then looked back at the Amazon. "Thank you Shalia. You are a very good friend to both of us."
The warrior grinned a bit and continued to cradle the child who was now sucking on all four fingers. "Shalia my little daughter here went through this entire village like a hurricane. She broke just about every rule she could and then she took my sword. Even if you had found out sooner her punishment would have been the same." She paused and placed a gentle kiss on the child’s cheek. "However, it means a lot to me to know that while her actions were wrong her reasons were from the heart."
Shalia closed her eyes and nodded. "Tarren loves you very much." She tilted her head to one side. "What I do not understand is why she would do the things she did in the village knowing she would get in trouble."
The warrior stood and placed the youngster gently back in the pallet. "Sometimes, I find, Tarren needs to be reminded that I am around even when I’m not. She may even do things she knows will mean getting her backside paddled. Ya see Tarren knows it’s something only I as her mother can do so when she misbehaves, sometimes but not always, it’s her way of calling me." She let out a long breath. "That’s why she did what she did this morning because she knew eventually I’d come for her." She paused and considered her own wisdom. "My little girl deserved a good spanking Shalia and she got one and now she needs to be with me and she will be."
The warrior looked oddly at the young woman. "And you Shalia, for one so young, are wise in ways that I cannot begin to understand. You are a warrior but none like any I have ever known."
The young Amazon nodded. "I would like to tell you Xena." She reached into her cuff and pulled out a rolled parchment. "Please give this to Tarren. It was mistakenly left in the wrong place and I know she would like it back."
Xena took the rolled drawing and again gave the Amazon an odd stare. "Something tells me that there is more to that story then you are sharing," she replied, knowing she now held in her hand the child’s secret picture.
The Amazon lowered her eyes. "Perhaps but it is a beautiful picture and she should have it back. It is not quite finished yet."
Shalia grinned and shook her head. "No Tarren showed it to me,"
she said proudly.
Xena grinned knowing the words were true. There was something special about this young woman and she sensed it as much as her small child did. "Gods don’t tell Gabrielle that. She’ll cry like a baby. She’s been after a look at this for a while," she said with a slight chuckle.
The Amazon nodded in understanding. "Tarren will not show her or you because it is a gift for you both. Don’t you wish to see it Xena?" she asked.
The warrior twisted her lips as she watched her go. "Lexus huh?" she growled wishing she could seek the girl out right then and there. She returned to the pallet and her child and once again lay beside the youngster tucking the small form beside her and kissing her repeatedly until the child woke.
The little girl rubbed her eyes with the balls of her fists. "Aren’t you still mad at me?" she asked in a groggy voice.
The mother’s voice was still stern and a bit scolding. "Yes I am…I am still very mad at you because you were very naughty."
The child sniffled and rubbed her eyes. "Then why are you kissin me so much?"
Tarren sniffled again and rolled a bit so she was now staring into the loving eyes of her mother. "You’d want me to help you fix it?"
The mother’s response was without question. "Of course. I didn’t bust it you did. Besides since you are not allowed to leave this hut for a while, you and I are going to have little else to do but have very long talks and work on my sword."
Tarren let a few tears fall and again reached up and touched her mother’s face. "I’m sorry I took it Momma. I didn’t mean to be bad."
Xena lifted the child into her arms and wrapped her arms around her. "You weren’t bad Tarren. You were just very very naughty…even for you."
Tarren let her tears fall fresh again and clung to her mother’s side. "My…my…Mommy."
"Yeah that’s me." The warrior nuzzled her child close. "Little one the only thing brighter than the twinkle in your eye…." She waited for the response hoping the child would remember their code.
The youngster paused her tears long enough to glance at her mother. "…Is the smile on your face."
Xena smiled and positioned the child across her abdomen so she could once again offer a soothing touch. "Sleep little one. I am here with you…always."
A few hours…
Gabrielle returned to the cottage and smiled as she stared at the warrior sleeping with the child in her arms. Both had tear stained faces which made the princess nearly break down herself.
She nudged the warrior a bit. "Hey wake up…it’s nearly time for supper."
Xena stretched out her arm and carefully untangled herself from the still sleeping child. "That late?" she replied, rubbing her eyes while still caressing her sleeping youngster’s back.
The young woman smiled at the open display of maternal affection. "Yeah… I left strict instructions that you were not to be disturbed." She smiled. "Damned if they didn’t actually listen to me."
The warrior grinned as she rose from the pallet turning to make sure the child was still properly covered. "Well you are royalty my bard."
The princess grinned. "Warrior we both know that there is nothing on this world or beyond that can replace you in that child’s heart."
The princess sat and let out a long breath. "Ephiny told the cook to bring our supper here tonight," she said seating herself at the table.
The warrior yawned. "That was nice of her."
Gabrielle shook her head. "I don’t know. I sort of got the impression that she felt it was safer for the village if all three of us were locked in here."
Gabrielle shrugged it off knowing the words carried some meaning. "Xena what happened with Tarren?" she asked with a touch of concern for the two people that meant so much to her.
The warrior mother rubbed her temples and put her feet up on the table. "I gave my child a spanking she will most certainly never forget." She frowned. "I promise you that little Tarren will not be fast to even look at another sword for some time...not to mention take something that doesn’t belong to her without permission." She grinned. "I can’t promise about the dough balls attacks. We haven’t covered that yet."
The princess folded her arms against her chest and smiled. "Xena, you seem in a better mood than I thought you’d be in. Did you find out why Tarren took the sword?"
The warrior sighed and straitened her armbands. "Yup but not from Tarren. She wouldn’t tell me because she took an oath on my life," she said with a slight grumble. Remembering the way the teenagers had taunted her child was making her muscles tight once again.
Gabrielle’s eyes flew open. "What?"
Xena let her fingers drum on the table. "Look the reason Tarren took the sword was because a certain group of Amazon teenagers have been having some fun at my daughter’s expense."
"What do you mean?" the young woman asked with a frown.
Xena leaned forward as if revealing the secret to the treasures of Zeus. "They told her she had to test my blade by hitting it against a rock otherwise I could fall in battle," she said with a frown.
Gabrielle ran her hands through her blond strands. "And Tarren didn’t
want you to get hurt so…."
The warrior finished the sentence. "So she took my sword and tested it." Xena fell back in the chair. "Gabrielle if I had been here maybe she’d have come to me."
The mother’s eyes dropped and she let her eyes fall to the closed door behind her. "I know I sort of feel bad…."
The princess held both hands up in the air. "No you don’t warrior…No self pity…Tarren still took the sword when she knew she shouldn’t and think about what she did to poor Eponon and the entire village. No feeling guilty Xena." She took a long breath and shook a finger at her friend. "Tarren misbehaved and she was punished and I won’t sit by and watch you punish yourself for being a good mother. That kid is not allowed to touch the sword…period. We have been over this and agreed." Seeing that her friend was now grinning at her made the princess settle down a bit. "Tarren has to learn to know the difference between right and wrong even when she’s following her heart. There is No exception to that rule…Right?"
The warrior bowed her head and smiled. "Yes Princess Gabrielle."
The warrior’s eyes flared. "Hey I don’t get mushy."
The princess smiled a bit. "Yes you do. You’re just a big old leather bound stuffed Xena bear," she teased.
The warrior grinned and clapped her hands together. "Gabrielle it’s getting cold outside but I have no problem dragging your royal butt down to a nice cold lake for a swim."
Gabrielle threw her hands up in mock defense. "Ok sorry my mistake. It must have been another big tough Warrior Princess I saw cuddling on the bed."
The fun was officially over. Gabrielle tilted her head and smiled. "Relax I was just teasing you Momma bear. I think it’s very cute." She became still and her tone became a bit more serious. "As a matter of fact I think you are the best mother I have ever seen." She paused. "You do everything so damn good sometimes I just can’t believe it," she said a bit awed. "Nobody gets more love and attention that Tarren does…from you." Those last words spoken with a touch of remorse for the bard’s own absence.
The warrior wasn’t sure exactly how to respond to the compliment. "Thanks…I …love that kid a lot ya know?" Her voice was soft and she could not help but smile at the thought of her child’s wealth of love and dedication.
"I know you do." Gabrielle patted her friend’s hand and nodded. "So
how did you find all of this stuff out?" she asked hoping for a quick change
Xena moved her head from side to side. "The all knowing Shalia. That girl has her ear on everything that goes on around here. I like her though. She’s a good kid."
Gabrielle grinned knowing the soft-spoken young Amazon had broken through the warrior’s brick walls. "Yup we soft hearted types have a way with you. Don’t we?" she said with a smirk.
Gabrielle patted her friend’s arm to calm her friend. "Hey you’ve beaten up half the Amazon tribe already and right now I think Tarren needs you more. Give yourself a break warrior. I’ll take care of this," she said confidently.
The warrior looked from herself to the bard wondering how the petite woman felt she could appear more threatening to the teenagers. "You Gabrielle?"
"Yes me! I’ve been letting everyone treat me like royalty. It’s about time I acted like it."
Gabrielle nodded grateful for a chance to offer some aid. "I’ll be back in a bit." She grabbed her staff took a quick glance at Tarren before walking out the door determined to offer a fair trade.
A bit later…
Gabrielle stopped by Ephiny’s quarters and explained the situation. The queen’s reaction was immediate and blunt. "They did what?"
The princess nodded an affirmation that the story she had just old contained all the facts. "You heard me."
Ephiny jumped to her feet ready to race out the door. "I’ll kill them."
Gabrielle pulled her friend back down into a chair. "Look we have no proof. If we accuse them they’ll deny it and say we took Shalia’s word over theirs because she’s of your house or because Tarren is Xena’s daughter."
Ephiny shrugged and threw her hands up. "So fine then let’s give them to Xena. She’ll know exactly what to do with them." She smiled at the mere thought of the warrior’s idea of justice.
The princess sighed and shook her head. She was determined to offer some assistance to help make up for her part in all of this. "No! I think she needs to be with Tarren right now. Besides I thought you and I could handle it in a more royal fashion," she said tapping her staff.
Out in the arena…
Gabrielle and Ephiny walked out onto the practice field staffs in hand. All the students including the instructor bowed. It was a bit late for a match but when the queen made a request it was seen as an order.
Gabrielle and Ephiny nodded to all.
Gabrielle looked at Ephiny whose expression was a bit distant.
"Hey what’s wrong with you?" the younger woman asked.
The queen let out a long breath. "I just wish Solari and her scouts would return. I told them not to travel past our markers but I know my warriors."
The princess patted her friend’s back and smiled. "I’m sure they will be back soon…relax…This could be rewarding."
Ephiny grinned. "You are really looking forward to this. Aren’t you?"
Gabrielle shrugged trying not to seem overly enthused. "Well…I…want a chance to stick up for Tarren." She paused. "No little kid should have to worry about being teased like that by people they should be able to trust." She turned to Ephiny. "What if they had done it to Xenon?"
The queen’s eyes flared. Her centaur son had enough trouble living amongst the Amazons without adding this kind of torture. "You’re right. This could be very rewarding." Ephiny held up her hand and there was immediate silence. It was time. "Princess Gabrielle and I are looking for some sparring partners. You have to be good and you have to be tough."
Many hands were raised but after what seemed like careful consideration Ephiny picked Lexus, Galia and Teril. The very same three who had been so kind as to show Tarren how to test her mother’s sword.
Gabrielle smiled broadly at the trio. "Well girl’s this will be a private
match so you can join us just outside of the village in the meadow Ok?"
she said with a deep breath.
The three girls nodded proudly at being chosen for such a rare honor. Usually only the best of the full-grown warriors were ever given a chance to spar with the queen or even a princess.
The queen was starting to see the value in this plan as well. "Me too."
Out on the field…
Gabrielle and Ephiny removed their royal headbands and walked to the center of the secluded meadow. The queen was the first to speak. "Ok girls we want you to fight us like we were the enemy because we are not going to take it easy on you." She paused and glanced at the princess. "As a matter of fact we are going to be pushing you as far as we can, so feel free to act as you would in battle."
Gabrielle nodded and twirled her staff anxious to begin. "Yes we are."
Gabrielle’s eyes grew wide at the obvious arrogance of this young girl. She dragged the queen to one side. "Eph I want Lexus," she growled.
Ephiny shook her head. "What? That’s not fair…I’m the queen and I want Lexus."
The princess leaned on her staff and eyed the teenager closely. "Hey Tarren is like my kid in…a lot of ways and Lexus caused her a lot of trouble…I get Lexus and I’ll give you the other two," she whispered, deciding that was a fair exchange.
Ephiny thought about it and frowned. The other two looked so nervous and contrite. The queen wanted the troublemaker. "I don’t know. I have grown really fond of Junior. I’d like a shot at Lexus too."
Gabrielle was not sure whether to grin at her friend’s admission of feelings for Tarren or throw a fit over dibs on the teenager. "Ok…I’ll tell you what. Let me have first dibs on Lexus and then you can have her for a while and I’ll take the other two."
Feeling this was a fair compromise, the queen nodded. "Oh so we’ll keep trading. That sounds fair." She paused. "But don’t wear her out so there’s nothing left for me," she warned.
Lexus was the first to move. She rushed in with her staff hoping to poke the princess in the chest. Gabrielle swiped the staff away turned and knocked the girl easily to the dirt.
The princess smiled. "OOPS"
The other two teenagers moved on Ephiny. She shook her head, crouched and caught both attackers in the midsection flipping them over on their backs.
Gabrielle nodded approvingly at the maneuver. "Nice Eph!"
The queen shrugged as if it were too easy to make note of. "Thank you."
The three victims lay on the ground rubbing their bodies. This was not going to be as much of an honor as they had thought.
Lexus stepped forward and bowed her head. She suddenly realized that Shalia might have told Ephiny about their actions with Tarren. "My Queen …My Princess may we ask how long this training session will last?"
Gabrielle shrugged and twirled her staff. "Oh no longer than it would take to say…smooth the nick out of a well tested blade." The usually gentle green orbs grew cold as they fell on the teenager.
Ephiny raised her staff, as did Gabrielle. The queen pointed to the trio. "Ok youngsters on your feet. The princess and I need the practice, so just keep giving us all you’ve got."
The trio foolishly immediately tried to rush the pair.
Gabrielle and Ephiny joined their staffs together as if trying to hold them steady and as the girls approached lifted the staffs in the air bringing the long weapons down behind their young victims swatting them each straight across the backsides with the edge of the staffs.
Ephiny and Gabrielle both chuckled as the teenagers rubbed the sting from their bottoms. The two watched as the girls paused for a private conference.
Again Lexus stepped forward. "My Queen…My Princess…We have decided to yield to your great skill." Surrender was the objective.
Ephiny looked at Gabrielle who just shook her head. It would not be that easy. The queen took a step forward. "Oh no! There will be no yielding on this field little girl." Ephiny’s voice was cold and commanding. "You will stand and fight like Amazons. You will hold your heads high and you will fight. Do I make myself clear?"
Gabrielle was awed by Ephiny’s presence having only seen such command in Xena.
Lexus took a hard swallow and bowed her head. "Yes my Queen."
Gabrielle pointed at Lexus and motioned her away from her friends. "You are with me."
Ephiny motioned the other two over a bit and the sparring began once again. The fun was now over and the lesson was beginning. Gabrielle and Ephiny were very interested in doing some very serious butt kicking.
The princess twirled her staff in the air with great expertise bringing the young Lexus repeatedly to the ground. Each time Gabrielle would wait a moment and give the command. "Get up."
The teenager obediently obliged and got to her feet ready to take the next thud with as much dignity as she could muster.
Ephiny worked with the other two accomplices and as promised the queen and princess would trade off occasionally. However after more than an hour it was Gabrielle who had the privilege of sending Lexus for one final hard thud to the ground.
It was not that long before three teenagers learned a very painful lesson about picking on a certain warrior’s child.
Gabrielle helped the now ailing Lexus to her feet. "Go back to your mother. We’re done here, but just between you and me I have no pride in any Amazon who would pick on a child. That is not what being an Amazon means and it is not the quality I would ever want to see in a warrior. Do you understand?"
Ephiny motioned the other two to follow and stood beside her friend. "Well I’d say we got our point across wouldn’t you?"
Gabrielle twirled her staff as she watched the three teenagers rubbing their backs as they limped away. "Oh yeah Eph, I’d say we got our point across just fine." She paused and then smiled. "You know Eph you’re right it is good to be queen."
Ephiny chuckled at her friend’s words. "You’re the princess remember. I’m the queen."
Gabrielle shrugged and gave her friend a wink. "I was speaking metaphorically of course."
The queen smiled and bowed her head slightly. "Oh of course."
The two friends laughed and headed back toward the village.
Xena stood outside the cottage watching as the three young victims limped sheepishly back into town. She gave them each a glare to let them know she was watching which made them step up their pace. When they were nearly out of sight she shook her head and grinned. "Stupid kids."
Gabrielle walked over to the cottage and smiled at her friend. "I see you took care of things," she said motioning toward the three ailing bodies moving off in the distance.
The princess shrugged. "Uh yeah, Ephiny and I had a private little sparring match. They volunteered to help us." She grinned at the memory.
"Yup but I think there a bit wiser now," the young woman said with a slight smile.
"Thanks to you no doubt," the warrior replied with a smile.
Gabrielle nodded happy to have been of some good in this mess. "How’s the child with the bottom of fire doing?" she asked with a smirk.
The princess frowned knowing that meant she would be without coverings that night. "Little over dramatic isn’t she?" she asked trying peak inside the door.
The mother flexed her ailing wrist. "Nope!" She motioned inside the cottage. "Why don’t you go talk to her. Tell her how you kicked Lexus around. She’ll be your best friend."
Gabrielle smiled knowing Xena was testing her. "No, as much as I would love for her to let me in…I want it to be because she feels it’s the right thing to do…not because I took down some bully."
The mother nodded approvingly. As much as she wanted Tarren and Gabrielle to mend their broken fences she did not want it done as a result of the bard kicking butt. "Ok your call my wise little Princess."
The warrior motioned her friend inside.
The door opened and Gabrielle walked in. She dropped her staff and sighed at the sight of the youngster standing at the table piling blankets on an already high chair.
Xena glanced at the youngster. "I’m gonna go get my sword." She arched a brow. "You stay here with Gabrielle and we’ll finish our conversation when I get back."
Tarren gave her mother a wide-eyed look of innocence and then just nodded. "Yes ma’am."
Xena let out a long breath. "Gabrielle stay with her for a bit. I need a break."
The princess nodded and Xena walked out the door.
Gabrielle placed her arms behind her back and moved slowly beside the child seating herself in a chair in front of the uneaten meal. "Hey you haven’t eaten?" she asked seeing the untouched plates.
The child backed away from the young woman. "Momma said we were waiting for you and now we’ll wait for Momma I guess," she replied politely.
Gabrielle reached out her arms wanting to embrace the child but Tarren backed further away. The young woman lowered her hands into her lap. "So got a spanking huh?’
This was a conversation the child was willing to have.
Tarren nodded vigorously. "Uh huh Momma kicked my butt good. It was the BIG ONE," the child replied, gingerly rubbing the tender area with both hands. "But my Momma loves me lots." The implication was that she was the only one that did.
Tarren did not move away but made no effort to move closer. "Why I’m not an Amazon. Why would you care about me?" she asked biting her lip.
The princess could feel her heart being torn apart. "I love you because you are Tarren and that is all you need to know." She dropped her head into one hand and closed her eyes.
"Ya know I have been trying really hard to apologize. I’ve had just enough of this poor me stuff. I am sorry I haven’t been around enough, but Tarren I was needed somewhere else."
The youngster immediately backed away. "I needed you too," she whispered with tears streaming down her cheeks.
Gabrielle stood and tried to move closer but the child only moved away. In her efforts to get through to the child the young woman had inadvertently pushed her further away. "I know and I should have stayed with you and I’m sorry."
Tarren pushed chairs between she and her friend trying to maintain a distance. "Yeah you should have stayed with me like you promised me and Momma but you didn’t."
The princess shook her head and folded her arms against her chest as she spoke. If Tarren would not listen to reason she would at least listen. "Ok fine. I screwed up. I made a mistake. I admit that. But…that is no excuse for the way you behaved or for picking up weapons. Touching swords and chakrums is something you know is wrong to do." She paused. "You may have done it because you thought you were helping Xena, but the fact is you could have been hurt or you could have hurt someone else with that test," she scolded with more force than she had intended.
Tarren moved closer. "You know about the test?"
Gabrielle seated herself at the table and dropped her head in her hands. "Yes I know about the test and Lexus and everything else."
The princess picked up her head to face the child. "Xena told me."
The little girl’s eyes widened. "Momma knows too?
"How did Momma find out?" she asked suspiciously
The young woman grinned. "Xena has many skills."
That would be an acceptable answer.
The little girl lowered her eyes. "I let Momma down. She’s diss…apoin…ted in me again."
The princess leaned forward on the table. "No she’s not honey. She just cares so much about you that she doesn’t ever want to see anything bad happen to you."
Tarren wiped the tears from her face and moved toward the outer room. Her eyes had suddenly filled with anger and her muscles tightened as she pushed away from her friend. "No I don’t wanna count on you. You don’t keep promises. You fib. I don’t need you." She paused to wipe the tears away with her sleeve. "I got my Momma and I got Shalia now too and she’s gonna come with us when we leave. She’ll tell me stories and stuff the way you used to and you won’t haffta be bothered by me ever again." The child ran into the other room and Gabrielle could feel her insides melt as the tears fell rolled down her cheeks.
Chapter 21…When Things Get bad
Xena knocked on Ephiny’s door and the queen granted her entrance with a crooked smile. "Hey Xena how’s Junior doing?"
The warrior stretched out her arms as she took a seat at her friend’s table and accepted a mug of ale. "Well accept for having a very bad case of I can’t sit down she’s Ok."
Ephiny glanced at her friend. Seeing the expression on sadness on her face made her feel for the great warrior. "How are you doing Momma?" she asked, hoping her friend would see the title as a compliment this time.
The mother groaned and took a sip from the mug. "Yeah I sure did," she said sadly.
The response was familiar but of a different time. "That kid needs her mother’s hand to guide her. Only the hand of the warrior princess is big enough and strong enough to guide that little one."
Xena paused at the repetition of an old mystic’s advice. "What did you say?"
Ephiny cocked a brow confused at the warrior’s reaction to a simple statement. "I said the kid needs you to guide her."
Xena stared in the mug and then placed it to one side. "Oh for a minute I thought you said something else…something Nala had said to me," she replied with a shrug.
Xena smiled at the mere thought of her old friend. "The old mystic I told you about…never mind." Her smile faded and her eyes turned more serious. "It’s tough being so hard on Tarren. She may be wild but she has such a soft heart."
The warrior drained her mug and smiled. "Me neither."
Ephiny chuckled and finished her ale. Her expression soon turned to one of concern and agitation. "Solari and her group are still not back from scouting their area," she stated bluntly.
Xena sighed and shook her head. "Damn! I’ll bet she went past the Amazon markers."
Back at the cottage…
Xena returned to the cottage to find Gabrielle fast asleep on the pallet. The young woman’s face was turned to the wall so the warrior could not see the dry tears on her cheek. "Guess that was quite a work out my friend," she said covering the princess with a heavy blanket.
Tarren was working on her picture in a far corner of the room. When her mother entered she merely glanced up and then lowered her eyes not quite what sure what words to speak in defense of her most recent actions. Now that she was aware that her mother knew about the test the child was sure she would be in twice as much trouble for not sharing the information. This was not turning into a very good day at all.
Xena sat in the straight back chair and displayed her still nicked but blood free sword. "Put your picture away and come over here" she ordered.
Tarren rolled her parchment and placed it in her satchel and then walked to her mother’s side. "Yes ma’am."
The warrior placed the weapon to one side and gently touched the little girl’s cheek with the side of her hand. "First give your mother a hug," she said with a soft smile.
The youngster reached her arms around the warrior’s neck and squeezed as hard as she could. "Yes ma’am."
Xena returned the hug, lifted the little girl off the ground and walked outside the cottage so as not to disturb her sleeping friend. She sat down on a bench and child leaned her head on her mother’s shoulder. The warrior mother placed a water skin in the youngster’s hands and held her sword in front of her. "Now this is gonna take a while. I’m gonna move the stone in nice even strokes across the nicked part of the blade. When it gets too hot you give it a squirt of water. Go it?" The words were calm and gentle. She had to hide a smile at the child’s obvious discomfort at being so close to the forbidden blade once again. However Xena felt it was important for Tarren to not only take some small part in fixing what she had broken but also learn respect for other people’s things.
The child nodded happy to help her mother. "Yes ma’am."
Xena shook her head at what she had now counted as the third use of such formal title. "Ok stop with the ma’ am stuff. I understand why you did what you did and I appreciate the fact that you were worried about me, but that doesn’t change anything Tarren. You are never to touch swords and if you ever need a reminder of that I’ll be there to give it to you," she said tapping the youngster’s bottom gently. There was a part of her that wanted to thank the small youngster for making such a grand effort on her behalf but to do so would be allowing the child to believe that there was ever an acceptable circumstance for holding a sword. That the mother would not do.
Xena put the sword down and patted her lap. "C’mere Monster."
Tarren looked at the offer tentatively knowing while her mother’s lap was large it was also quite muscular. Noticing the way her child was subconsciously rubbing the seat of her britches the warrior grinned a bit reached behind and picked up a horse blanket placing it neatly on her lap. "Uh…better?"
The little girl grin appreciatively and happily took the place of honor in her mother’s lap. "Yes Momma."
Xena smiled at the youngster’s obvious enthusiasm to be close to her. "You really do love me huh?" she asked staring into the large adoring eyes of her child.
Tarren nodded vigorously. "Of course! You’re my Momma."
Xena’s expression turned soft but serious. "Ok then tell me from in here." She pointed to the child’s heart. "That you won’t ever touch my sword again."
Xena grinned at the youngster’s attempt at a loophole. "Well then I guess I’d just have to vault out and get it myself." She tapped the youngster’s chest again. "Besides if I go in the hole what makes you think I’d leave you all by yourself up top? Baby you’d go in with me." She shook a finger. "Now then I want you to give your promise and I want it to be from the heart Tarren."
The child lowered her eyes. "I promise I won’t never touch a sword but…." She lowered her head. "Unless…." The child stared at her mother. "Momma I can’t promise that I’d never help you if you needed it. If you were tied up or something and needed someone to drag you your sword so you could escape then I’d haffta do it even if it meant…." She rubbed her backside again. "I’d get the big one and you’d be real mad at me." She paused and lowered her head. Her voice dropped to a near whisper. "I’m sorry Momma but I couldn’t just do nothing if you was in trouble. I don’t wanna lose you." The last words were filled with such tenderness that even Xena could not debate them.
The child sighed with relief. "Can I ask a question?"
Xena continued her sharpening and nodded. "Of course."
The child leaned in close to her mother’s shoulder and watched as she methodically ran the stone up and down. "Why are swords bad?"
The mother considered the question and grinned. "Baby swords are just weapons. They are not good or bad. It’s how they are used that makes them good or bad."
"Well you use your sword to help people. Doesn’t that make it a good sword?" the youngster asked letting her eyes follow the movement of the stone.
"Using my sword became a way of life and it took a long time to turn my sword from bad to good." She ran her hand gently across the youngster’s cheek. "I don’t ever want that to happen to you, so I don’t even want you touching swords. Understand?"
Tarren nodded but then lay her head down on her mother’s shoulder. "But Momma ...I could never be that bad."
Tarren picked up her head surprised her mother did not know the answer. "Cause you’d kick my butt if I was." She rubbed the seat of her britches fiercely to emphasize the point.
Xena smiled kissed the little girl on the cheek and returned to her sword. "You’ve got that right little girl." Her smile broadened as she looked at the eyes of a small child that would offer her love without question or doubt. "Yup you sure do have that right."
Tarren grinned innocently at her mother and somehow in that expression the mother saw a gentle peace that told her this child would never live by the sword as she had. "Ok Monster we have work to do…squirt."
The mother wiped the water away with the slide of a hand. "Uh huh why don’t I believe that?"
The child giggled and Xena locked her arms around Tarren in a gentle embrace. "Partners?"
The mother let her large blue eyes fall on the child’s smaller ones. "Then promise me you’ll always come to me when you have a question. I won’t ever laugh or get mad…just promise you’ll come to me please."
As her mother continued her work the child considered the offer of asking anything.
"Momma I have a question."
Xena smiled happy the little girl would keep the promise. "Already huh? Ok ask little one."
Tarren grinned and patted her mother’s shoulder. "Where do baby ponies come from?"
The warrior’s face drained of all color. "Do you really wanna know…now?" she asked, hoping this was a conversation that could wait 10 or 20 years. She did not truly feel the child was old enough or mature enough to handle the truth yet.
The child chuckled knowing that for some reason the subject made her mother pale. "Well not really. I already know."
Xena took a deep breath. "Where?"
The mother sighed with relief. "Very good…that’s where they are…squirt…."
The child grinned and again sprayed the water. "Momma?"
"Are there…err…any pony farms around here," the child asked with a halfhearted interest.
Xena was so relieved at not having to explain where ponies came from she was not really following the youngster’s train of thought. "I dunno Tarren."
The child dropped her head in front of her mother. "Momma can I have a pony?"
The warrior stopped her work and stared in awe at her young daughter. "Tarren as naughty as you’ve been today and as sore as your little bottom is are you really gonna ask me for a pony?"
Soon water was dripping down the warrior’s face once again. "Please tell me you did not just do that?" she asked as she again wiped the wetness away with the side of her hand.
The child giggled and dropped the skin to the ground. "OOPS sorry Momma…bad aim."
Xena tossed her sword on the ground and wrapped her arms around the laughing child. "I’ll show you bad aim you little Monster," she said tickling the little girl’s sides. The hands ran up and down the youngster’s skin until her face was red from laughing. Xena smiled. "Are you gonna improve that bad aim of yours?"
"Yes momma," the child replied with a giggle.
Xena wiped her face dry again and released the child. She leaned back and the youngster lay her head on her mother’s shoulder as the warrior concentrated on the blade.
Xena grinned sure she knew what the next question would be. "Yes you and I are still going to have a very long talk about what you did to the Amazons." She paused and then gave the youngster a raised brow. "Thought I forgot that huh?"
The little girl frowned knowing her retribution in this matter was far from over. "I knew you wouldn’t forget about me Momma. You never forget stuff," she replied with a halfhearted smile. She paused and bit her lip wanting to ask another question. "Do you ever wish we had a place where we could go home to?"
Xena turned and looked at the little girl for a long moment. "What do you mean?"
Tarren fidgeted a bit in her mother’s lap not wanting to let her mouth get her in any more trouble than she was already in. "It’s just that we’re always going to other people’s villages like grandma and now here. Do you ever wish we had our own home?" She paused and lowered her eyes. "Cause I don’t really like it here."
Xena let out a long breath. She knew that Tarren had nothing but a rough time since arriving at the Amazon village and Amphipolis had not been much better. It was hard for the youngster to adjust to being around new people when she had spent so many years away from society. The warrior tilted her head to one side and smiled softly. "Tarren, our home is under the sky. It doesn’t really matter where we are as long as we’re together. Don’t you like living that?" This was a question Xena always was afraid to ask.
Hoping to add her own visions to her child’s’, Xena gave it some thought. "Mmmm let me think. I’d like a place I could do my sword drills without having to leave you behind." She hated leaving the child alone but that was one place she could never take her. "Of course there is something else I’d want it too have." She gave the youngster a quirky grin.
The little girl’s eyes grew wide with interest. "What Momma?"
Xena smiled broadly. "Oh just a nice big bathtub to scrub you in," she replied with a wicked smile.
Tarren frowned and again sprayed the warrior with water quickly jumping from her mother’s lap to make a run for safety.
Xena wiped the water from her face and jumped to her feet. "Ok that was no accident. Now you’re gonna get it you little Monster." She chuckled as she chased the little girl around the hut. It was a matter of moments before the warrior mother had the youngster giggling in her hold.
Tarren paused in her pleasure only long enough to watch a shooting star pass overhead. She closed her eyes and made a wish hoping that there was a god on Olympus that would answer her prayers.
The mother pulled a heavy nightshirt over the child. "Ok we took care of the sword. Now as to the rest of your punishment little girl…."
The youngster’s eyes grew wide. "There’s more Momma?"
The mother nodded. "Yes and you knew there would be." Tarren I can’t believe you would take dough balls from Boralla without asking and then pelt the poor Amazons with them." The warrior bit her lip to hide a smile at the thought.
The warrior’s words were gaining parental steam. "Well then since they were not yours and you took them. It’s stealing. Do I make myself clear?"
Realizing she had been caught on a technicality the youngster folded her arms in her lap and lowered her head. "Yes ma’am."
The warrior nodded approvingly at he child’s wise choice not to argue the definition of the crime. "And you set a mud trap and feathered poor Eponon." This time Xena had to stare at the ceiling to hide her grin. "That was very bad. You were very naughty to do that and you are going to be making apologies tomorrow…lots of them."
The child lifted her eyes and gave her mother a wide-eyed stare. "Ya mean trading sorries?"
The mother lifted the little girl onto her lap. "No you only trade sorries when two people do something wrong. This time it’s only one sorry…yours." She lowered her voice to a gentle but stern tone. "We’ll start with Ephiny. You will apologize to her for wrecking her village and if she has any further punishment as queen you’ll take it."
The child swallowed hard. "I will?"
"Yes you will." Xena shook her head realizing the youngster was not comfortable with anyone but her mother disciplining her. "Don’t worry she doesn’t," she confessed. "But I think she’s really mad at you. She might yell at you."
Tarren bit her lip and hugged her mother already afraid of the next day’s event. "Will you be with me Momma?"
Xena could feel her insides melt a bit. "Yeah I’ll be with you." She cleared her throat trying to regain some parental authority. "However, you will then finish your round of apologies before you start your work."
Again the child gave her mother a wide-eyed stare. "Work Momma?"
Xena leaned back on the pallet bringing the child closer to her chest. "That’s right. Just like you helped fix my sword you are going to help fix everything else you broke or took. You will help Boralla make dough balls, you will stay with Eponon while you fill that mud hole and then you will stack the arrows you knocked over."
The child swallowed hard at what sounded like another very bad day. "And then Momma?"
Xena wrapped her arms around the child and kissed her on the cheek. "Then little girl you will come back here and stand in that corner." She pointed to a corner in the cottage. "You’ll be thinking about how you spent your day and why. And don’t worry I will be watching you."
The child let out a long breath wondering if this list would ever end. "And then Momma?"
The mother pointed to the rolled parchments on the table. "Then you will start writing your naughty scrolls. You know them. You write 100 times each. ‘I will not take what is not mine.’ ‘I will not throw dough balls at the Amazons’….’I will never ever touch a sword again’…’My Momma loves me very much,’ and ‘Gabrielle loves me and I should talk to her."
As if letting out the last breath in her body the child dropped he head on her mother’s chest. "And then Momma?"
Xena smiled and kissed the little girl on the cheek. "If you want a story I think you should ask Gabrielle. I know she wrote one just for you."
The youngster folded her hands on her chest and dropped he head beneath the blankets. "I can live without a story for a while Momma."
Xena let out a breath and placed the saddlebags in the child’s reach. "Tarren I am not going to push this right now. I know you have not had a very good day and tomorrow isn’t looking all that much better, but I promise you that we will talk long and hard about you and Gabrielle. I will not have you two acting like this."
Xena pulled them away. "I know you heard me youngster."
The mother frowned at the stubborn child. "Ok then…Give me a big hug and get to sleep."
The child reached up and squeezed her mother and the warrior held her child tightly. "G’night Monster."
Tarren bit her lip as she stared at the rolled parchment on the table. "Momma can I have my picture?"
Xena reached over and grabbed the precious scroll and handed it to her child.
Tarren tucked it neatly beneath the covers. "Can I ask another question Momma?"
The warrior grinned knowing she had asked for this. "Yes but make it short. You’re supposed to be sleeping."
The child twisted her lips and lowered her eyes. "If ya take something and break or tear it in two can it be fixed just like new?"
The mother lowered her head down to the pallet. "Tarren did you break something else?" she asked sternly.
The little girl shook her head. "No Momma…I was just wondering if you tore parchment or something if it could be fixed up?"
Xena studied the child’s expression and shook her head. "Some things can be fixed and some things can’t. If parchment tears there is really no way to make it like new. It can be patched but you will always see the tear. Why?" She was still suspicious.
The mother watched as the little girl snuggled into her blankets ready to sleep.
"G’night Tarren." Xena hummed a little tune as she waited for the small child to drift off to Morpheous. The youngster held tightly to her mother’s hand until her thoughts wandered in the land of Morpheous. The warrior mother waited until she was sure the little girl was asleep and then walked outside to where she knew the bard was waiting.
As soon as Xena left the cottage the still wide-awake child reached under her blankets and pulled out her picture. She examined it closely for a patch or a sign of a tear but there was none to found. She let out a short breath happy that the gods had decided to restore her drawing to its full form. The child placed it carefully under the mattress and smiled ready to return to Morpheous and a battle with 50 warlords.
"So how did it go with Mussona?" the warrior asked as she approached her friend
The princess was leaning against the hut staring up at the night sky. She turned to the warrior. "Good. I think we can depend on her support. You really impressed her with way you handled everything in the arena."
"So did you." The warrior smiled. "You’re the one with the heart of fire."
Gabrielle cleared her throat and turned away not wanting her friend to see her tears. "Yeah well I impressed her by having a big mouth. I nearly blew the entire negotiation and I can’t even get one small child to talk to me." She paused. "Gods Xena what did I do wrong? It wasn’t so long ago that you and I stood under a dark sky just like this wondering how Tarren would effect our lives.
Xena could not help but smile at the memory. "Yeah well she’s effected it alright." She flexed her hand. " I don’t think I have any feeling in my palm anymore."
The princess shook her head. "Tarren spoke her heart Xena and you can’t
be mad at her for that. You may be able to control her actions but her feelings
are her own and we both know that."
The warrior took a deep breath realizing for the first time that her friend was truly devastated by Tarren’s rejection. "Gabrielle she’s just a little kid and a stubborn one at that. Give her a chance to get over all of this and she’ll be calling for her Gabby again."
The young woman sniffled. "I hope you’re right. I never meant for this to happen."
The warrior patted her friend on the back. "I know and it’s not just
your fault. It’s mine too. I let my daughter get away with too much sometimes.
She’s so used to having her way that she throws a tantrum when she doesn’t get
it." She folded her arms against her chest. "Well that ends now. Tarren
has a lot to do tomorrow to make up for what she did today. I will not
have my child acting like a spoiled brat and leaving other people to
clean up her mistakes. She is going to make her apologies and make things
Gabrielle could not help but feel for the already confused youngster. "Gods Xena do you have to? The poor kid already got a spanking she refers to as the big one."
The warrior frowned at hearing the words repeated. "Yes I do have to. Tarren needs to learn responsibility. It will be tough but she’ll learn a valuable lesson." Xena tilted her head. "The big one? It sounds like some religious experience," she said with a smirk.
Gabrielle closed her eyes and attempted a smile. "I think to her it was just that."
Xena took a deep breath and leaned up against the cottage. "Well that’s the price she paid for her mistake, and if she steps out of line tomorrow she’ll get it again. I’ve had it with her little pranks…playing warrior princess…Gods!"
The princess wiped a tear and smiled. "Oh that is so cute."
"Gabrielle are you trying to help or not?"
The princess stared at the tips of her boots. "Xena you know she only plays it because she wants to be like you. You should see the way she walks behind you and smiles when you hold her. You are hers warrior. There is a big no trespassing sign on your back and you can’t even see it."
Xena grinned a bit at the vision. "Yup and she’s mine…but I’ll still give her a good spanking if she steps out of line again."
Gabrielle shook her head as she considered the action. "I know you will and I also know Tarren will still love you and run after you with hugs if you do. Me she’ll never speak to again no matter what I say."
The warrior was lost in her friend’s pain. While she could force Tarren to behave politely, she could not force her to open up and accept Gabrielle again. The child needed to find out just what she was losing before she decided she didn’t want it anymore. "Maybe you should give little Tarren a taste of her own medicine."
"What do you mean?"
Xena let out a long breath. "Look she’s been acting like a spoiled brat when it comes to you and she does it because she knows you’ll always cave in. Why don’t you try acting mad at her for a bit and see if that doesn’t turn things around."
Gabrielle shook her head. "Oh I couldn’t do that Xena."
The princess tilted her head to one side. "Because she gives me that look and I just want to hug her and hold her and…."
The warrior tossed her hands up in the air and took a step away. "Gabrielle that’s exactly what I mean. You cave in."
The young woman fidgeted a bit. "Are you sure?"
The warrior shrugged never truly sure of her child’s reaction. "No but I won’t have you two torn apart like this and it’s the only idea that I have at the moment so it’s worth a try."
"Ok I’ll try."
"You’ll what?" the warrior asked taking a step closer.
Gabrielle smiled a bit. "I’ll do it. I’ll be miffed."
"What?" the warrior asked stiffly.
The princess shrugged. "OK I’ll be very displeased."
The young woman kicked the dirt with her boot. "Ok I’ll be mad."
The warrior nodded approvingly "Good and if she give you the look?"
"I’ll look the other way."
Xena relaxed beside her friend. "Very good. Maybe next time she’s bad you can spank her," she teased. That was not something she would ever let anyone else do…not even Gabrielle.
Xena grinned and watched the stars. "Momma stuff. I sure do like when she says that." There was a true sound of contentment in the warrior’s voice.
The young woman gave a serious smile as she leaned in closer to her large friend. "Being her Momma."
The warrior mother glanced at her friend. "It’s the one true thing that guides my life now Gabrielle." She looked up at the stars again and smiled happy to have found her path.
Out in the woods far away…
Do I need to tell my readers how hungry Little Ego can be? She is eagerly awaiting your food for thought so to speak. J Please remember to write with your thoughts. Fantimbard@aol.com
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