Xena Warrior Mother Series - Story 6

Legend of the Last Amazon - Part VIII

by Fantimbard



The characters of Xena: Warrior Princess, Gabrielle, and Argo and all other characters who have appeared in the syndicated series Xena: Warrior Princess, together with the names, titles, and back-story are the sole copyright property of MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures. No copyright infringement was intended in the writing of this fan fiction. The story is written only for fun, and no profit is being made. All other characters such as Tarren, the story idea and the story itself are the sole property of the author. The story cannot be sold or used for profit in any way. The story itself as well as the character created by the author may NOT be duplicated or archived without the author’s permission. All works remain the copyright of the original author. These may not be republished without the authors consent. This story is a continuation of my first stories called SHE HAS MY EYES, ON THE ROAD AGAIN, NALA’S GIFTS, 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 8 –

Chapter 24 – Learning the hard way

The day after the big one…

Xena emerged from the cottage early eager to start her young daughter on the path to redemption. She led the somewhat frightened child by the hand as they walked across the compound to the queen’s office.

Tarren carried her bag of treasures, holding tightly, in hopes they would offer her courage and strength. The little girl occasionally glanced up at her mother as if to make sure the warrior was still beside her. Xena gave the child’s hand a gentle squeeze to let her child know she was going to be with her the whole way.

As they reached the doorway to Ephiny’s office the youngster stopped and stared at the imposing building with guards posted on either side of the entrance. "Momma, maybe Ephiny is real busy and we should come back much later," she said staring in the large doorway.

The warrior mother shook her head and pointed up the stairs. "No I think she’s made just enough time to hear what you have to say, so get going." The mother had sympathy for her small daughter’s fear knowing the Amazons all must seemed quite large and a bit staunch from a small child’s place on the ground. She lifted the youngster at the waist and with no effort gave her a final boost those last few feet into the office.

The queen sighed and ran her hands through her light curls as she sat by a large table looking over maps of areas that had already been searched by the scouts. She was finding it hard to believe that even Amazons could disappear without a trace. No murder would take place on her lands and go unpunished. She felt her muscles tense as she thought of her still missing scout party. She closed her eyes. Her anger at their obvious disobedience had now turned to concern. "Damn it Solari…Where the hell did you go?" she mumbled not even noticing the warrior and child enter.

Xena cleared her throat to announce their presence and the queen turned her head. She and Ephiny had discussed the queen’s role in Tarren’s day and Ephiny had promised to give a stern lecture and a few angry glares before accepting the youngster’s apology. The queen looked up from her work and, forgetting her part in the plan grinned. "Well if it isn’t my two favorite tornadoes."

The warrior gave her friend a harsh stare and let her eyes point toward the small form now huddled beside her. "Tarren is here to speak with you Queen Ephiny."

Ephiny stared at the warrior’s twitching eye for a moment before she understood it was a signal. "Huh oh yeah right." In an instant the smile faded and the queen pressed her arms tightly against her chest. "Yes Tarren what can I do for you?" Ephiny glanced down at the child trying hard to maintain a stoic and harsh poise.

The child swallowed hard and widened her eyes at the sight. She never realized how tall the Amazon queen appeared until forced to stand in her judgment. "Uh…I…I…."

Xena gave the child a gentle nudge forward. "Don’t you have something to say Tarren?" she asked in a parental tone that said it was a statement and not really a question.

The little girl again swallowed hard and glanced up at her mother. "No Momma I don’t think so."

Xena arched her brow in warning and the youngster quickly decided that perhaps there was something she did want to mention to the queen. She took a deep breath and stared up at the stone cold eyes of the leader of the tribe. "I’m real sorry I busted your village up Ephiny." She reached inside her tunic and pulled out the red feather the Amazon had bestowed on her holding it high above her small head. "I understand if you want your feather back." The child’s eyes were filled with sadness at the thought of having to return such a prized item as this.

The stoic queen stared at the feather. Her expression grew a bit softer and she knelt in front of the child. "Hey now wait Junior. I gave you that feather because we are friends. I don’t throw my friends away just because they make a few little mistakes. I stick by them no matter what."

Xena frowned at the soft tone and overly forgiving words. She rolled her eyes. "Oh sure yesterday you said she destroyed the village and today it’s a little mistake," she thought to herself.

Tarren looked at the prized feather still in her grip. "Ya do?"

Ephiny grinned and took the feather from the child, tucking it neatly back inside the little girl’s tunic. "Sure what kind of friend would I be if I turned my back on someone just because they made a few mistakes." She smiled. "Not a very good one huh?"

The child grinned happy to have her feather back in its place. "No I guess not." She lowered her eyes. "But I did break your village," she said remembering her mother’s long scolding lecture on the subject.

Xena nodded to the queen as if giving her the signal to pursue this line of thought.

Ephiny chuckled at the child’s words and the warrior gave her friend a nudge.

This was not the way the warrior mother had planned the day.

The queen ignored the message and continued. "Well you didn’t bust it up any worse then your mother busted up my warriors, so I’d say you were just being a little Xena again. How can I not be angry with that?" She gave her larger friend a stare to let her know there were still a number of Amazons recovering from her bad mood.

Tarren glanced up at her warrior mother. "Momma you busted up Ephiny’s warriors?" she asked. This was news to her small ears.

The warrior frowned at the queen and then glanced at her child. It was time to restore order. "Never mind what I did youngster. This is all about your bad behavior young lady." Someone had to be the parental voice and keep the child in line. "So you just worry about giving out your apologies and doing what you’re told today," she said in a scolding parental tone that meant business.

Tarren lowered her eyes. "Yes ma’am." She turned back to Ephiny and smiled broadly. "So you’re really not mad at me huh?"

The queen ignored her larger friend’s glare and returned the smile. "Nope!" She scratched her head. "Now Eponon is a different story. You may have to clean all her feathers to get back on her good side," she warned, knowing how angry the weapon’s master had been.

The child giggled and immediately hugged the queen. "Thanks Ephiny."

The Amazon welcomed the soft embrace and smiled. She could just not bring herself to be angry with her small friend especially when she knew of the prank that had been played on the child and the price the youngster had paid. "You are quite welcome Junior."

Xena folded her arms and shook her head at her Amazon friend. "Yeah thanks lots Ephiny. Big bad tough teach em a lesson they’ll never forget," she muttered. The mother reached down for her child’s hand and leaned in closer to her friend. "Why don’t you just give her another feather too?" she said sarcastically.

The queen shrugged and reached a hand up to her bonnet. "Ok Xena I think…."

The warrior immediately pulled Tarren behind her and far out of reach of any gifts. "Don’t you dare," she warned.

Ephiny smiled and leaned back against her desk.

Xena let out a long breath, took the little girl’s hand and led her out of the office. She saw the smile on the child’s face and gave her a long scolding stare. "Ok Ephiny went easy on you because she’s your friend but don’t expect everyone else to be so forgiving." She paused. "You are being punished and I don’t want you to forget that."

The little girl could see how serious her mother’s expression was. "Yes Momma."

"Uh huh." Xena sighed and glanced at a parchment that contained the list of names of the Amazons the child had pelted with dough the day before. "Ok let’s go." She pulled the youngster along behind.

One by one the mother led the wayward child to a person on the list and each time the youngster would smile offering both dimples, reach out a hand of friendship to apologize, and then pull a flower out of her satchel as a peace offering. This last part of her act had even the angriest warrior tasseling the youngster’s hair or giving an all too forgiving smile.

The warrior mother frowned wondering where all the big tough Amazons were when you really needed one. Glancing down at the list she noted Gruella was the last of the pelted victims. She looked own at her waiting child and shrugged. "Nope that one deserved it," she mumbled, crumpling the parchment and heading toward the kitchen. "Come on you are going to work in that kitchen now and this time there will be no cute smiles or flowers," she scolded wanting her small daughter to learn from the mistakes she had made.

The child frowned but obediently closed her satchel to show she would not offer any more apologetic flowers. "Yes Momma."

The warrior nodded and motioned toward the kitchen where there were dough balls to be made.
Gabrielle approached the pair with a broad smile on her face ready to play her part.
"Good morning," she said with a wave.

Xena grumbled a bit dissatisfied at how easy the Amazons were being on her daughter.

They were not sending the right message to the youngster and the mother knew it.

"Morning. How was breakfast?" she asked knowing her friend had been up even earlier than the warrior for a change.

Tarren, however, immediately took refuge behind her mother’s legs rather than be forced to speak with the young woman she had called friend.

Gabrielle stretched out her arms and let her head fall back so she could feel the warmth of the sun on her face. "Very good." She glanced at Tarren. "As a matter of fact I had it with some of the Amazon children. They wanted me to tell them one of my stories so I got up extra early to do it."

Tarren bit her lip wondering why the bard was not trying to gain her attention like she always did. The young woman had not even tried to say hello to the child and Tarren certainly did not like hearing that her Gabby was telling stories to other children. She poked her head out from behind her mother. "Hello Gabrielle," the small voice squeaked in a polite fashion.

Xena winked at the bard knowing that they had hit the right cord.

As if hearing a far away noise that she could not explain, the young woman let her eyes drop a bit to the location of the sound. "Oh hello Tarren. I didn’t see you there." She smiled at the youngster briefly and again looked at Xena. "So anyway after I finished with the story and a big breakfast we all just sat around making pictures."

The little girl twisted her lips and waited for the bard to offer an explanation of these unacceptable events but it did not happen.

Gabrielle did her best to ignore the child’s obvious displeasure. "So Xena has Solari come back yet?" the young woman asked with a touch of true concern.

The mother glanced down at her obviously annoyed child and then back at her friend.

"Uh no I don’t think so. I have to drop Tarren off at Boralla’s kitchen and then I’m gonna head back over to Ephiny’s. I’m gonna help her map out the area we think Solari may have taken." She paused. "Eph won’t say it but I know she’s worried and angry. First Tyrell and now this."

Gabrielle nodded and looked again at Xena. This was not a topic to continue in front of the youngster. "So you’re off to Boralla's for breakfast?" she asked knowing that was not the case.

The child looked from her mother to Gabrielle wondering just how long her presence would go unnoticed by the bard turned princess. The little girl did not give her mother a chance to respond. "No we’re going around saying sorry." She ran the tip of her boot in the dirt and poked out her lower lip in a distinct pout. "You can come if you really wanna." Tarren felt her own generosity toward her traitorous friend was more than kind.

The princess rubbed her chin as if considering it and shrugged. "Thank you Tarren but I think maybe that I’ll go back to the school and tell the children a few more stories. They seem to really like them and appreciate the time I took to be there." She glanced up at the sky. "Yup! I have a bit of time before I am needed for any meetings or to finish planning the last of the feast."

The child’s eyes widened as her offer was flatly refused. She bit her lip and stared at her friend. This was the look the mother had warned against. "Ya mean ya don’t wanna come say sorry with me and Momma?" she asked in utter disbelief.

Gabrielle looked at the face of forgiveness and innocence staring at her and felt her insides start to buckle. She really did want to go with Tarren. The familiar gentle smile appeared. "Well maybe I could…."

Seeing the walls coming down, Xena gave her friend a gentle poke to remind her of the plan. "Maybe you could stop by later after your finished doing what you said you were gonna do." This was a subtle reminder.

The princess sighed and cleared her throat. "No I’m sorry Tarren but I can’t. I really want to tell stories to the children at the school. They really did enjoy it and they were so nice to me." The words were spoken but the bard’s heart was not in them.

Tarren lowered her head and shrugged. "Ok bye Gabrielle." She yanked at her mother’s arm now very eager to move on. Even working in the kitchen was better than this conversation. "Come on Momma we have dough balls to make."

The mother felt the little hands tugging but did not budge. "Uh no you have dough balls to make. I am not the one who pelted anyone with food." Xena motioned the child to take the lead heading toward the kitchen.

Tarren twisted her lips and folded her arms. "But Ephiny said you wrecked all her Amazons and…."

The warrior put one hand on her hip and pointed toward the kitchen with the other. "Move it," she yelled rather than offer explanation for why or how she had broken Amazons.

Noting the familiar arched brow and the now loud voice Tarren wasted no time skidding to a distant tree to wait for her mother.

Xena turned to Gabrielle. "Little Monster hears everything and that Ephiny." She let out a long breath. "Boy do I owe her a good one." She glanced at her quiet friend who seemed to be making an effort to look past the warrior to the child positioned safely behind a large oak tree. "Gabrielle you did just fine. I think you really taught her a lesson," she said softly knowing how difficult this was for her gentle friend.

The princess bit her lip as she watched the small form in front of her dragging her feet in circles around the tree. She motioned to the child with a wave of the hand. "But Xena look at her. She really wants to hear a story and I really want to be with her."

Xena shook her head. "No she has to learn a lesson here Gabrielle and apparently so do you. I do not intend to go through life with one of you crying because the other one isn’t playing nice." That was final.

The princess let out an exacerbated breath and frowned and the leather clad warrior.

"Easy for you to say. You’ve been giving and getting hugs and kisses from Tarren all week," she groaned remembering all the open displays of affection she had seen between the mother and child.

The warrior gave a glance toward the waiting child and nodded. "True my bard but I have also yelled, lectured, and spanked her. Do you want my job?" she asked with a smirk.

Gabrielle gave it a moment thought. "No thanks. You’re the Momma." What her heart said and what her lips offered somehow did not make sense. While she knew she would never be Tarren’s mother she did want to be more than she was but was not quite sure how or to what extent.

Xena grinned liking the sound of her newest title more and more. She patted her friend on the shoulder. "Then just hold out and let her come to you. I think it’s about time she apologized to you for a change." She again glanced at the now impatient youngster. "You made your apologies and she refused them. Now it’s time for her to see that her Gabby has other options."

Gabrielle took one last look at the youngster. She sighed wishing she could get one small hug before leaving. "Ok Xena you win. I’ll see you later." She turned and faced her friend and spoke with a bit of venom in her voice. "But this idea had better work."

The warrior nodded and waved the princess away. She watched Gabrielle depart. "Crumbles like a piece of bread," she mumbled. She sighed and walked over to her young daughter. Seeing the youngster’s sour expression she offered her hand in comfort. The little girl quickly accepted. "Something wrong Tarren?" she asked with a slight grin.

The child shrugged and concentrated on the ground beneath her. "No I was just sorta surprised that Gabrielle didn’t wanna come with us."

Feeling very satisfied with her plan Xena suppressed a smile. "Oh really…Are you sorry she didn’t?" she asked hopefully.

Tarren immediately stopped and looked up at her mother. Her eyes were wide and full of love. "No Momma…I really like it when it’s just you and me." She gave the warrior a quick hug to enforce that fact.

The mother patted the child’s back affectionately and swallowed hard. While she appreciated the child’s love greatly she had not intended to further the rift between her friend and her youngster. This seemed to be another plan going bad. "Ya do? Are ya sure Tarren?"

The little girl grinned and again laced her fingers in her mother’s hand. "Uh huh. I’m real sure Momma and now that I know Gabrielle has someone else to play with I don’t feel so bad leaving her alone."

The warrior covered her face with one hand and sighed. "You don’t?" she asked finding it hard to believe that one of her own plans could be so far off.

The youngster’s smile became almost jovial. "Nope now it’s just you and me Momma."

Xena rolled her eyes and looked down at her young daughter. "Why does this feel like it’s gonna be a very bad day? " she asked not really expecting an answer.

The child shrugged and leaned her chin on the warrior’s thigh as she stared up at her hero. "I dunno. I think it’s been a pretty good day so far."

"Umm-hmm." The mother frowned realizing so far all her small daughter had learned was that people would always forgive her mistakes while she would not be forced to forgive anyone else. "Oh no young lady…Your day is gonna get much tougher before I’m through." Not wanting to waste another moment she lifted the little girl into the air and took enough long strides to place her in the center of Boralla’s kitchen before another word could be spoken.

In the kitchen…

Seeing Xena enter with the reputed dough thief, the old cook immediately nodded to the warrior and glanced at the small child still hiding in the mother’s arms. "Well it’s the little dough snatcher. Shame on you Tarren," she scolded with a shaking finger.

Xena nodded approvingly at the action. This was more like it.

The little girl lowered her eyes to show her repent. "I’m real sorry Boralla."

The old cook shook her head. "That’s nice but sorry isn’t gonna replace those dough balls I lost." Her voice was stern and steady. "Is it?"

Tarren glanced at the mother who could not help but feel a twinge of sympathy for her youngster. The child bit her lip and turned back to the cook "No Ma’am."

Xena grinned at the old Amazon for playing her part so well. She placed the child on the ground beside Boralla. "Well Tarren I guess I should leave you here to do your work. I have to help Ephiny with some mapping but I’ll be back a bit later to pick you up." She leaned down and kissed the little girl. "You behave yourself and mind Boralla. She’s in charge. I don’t want to come back here and find out you disobeyed her. Got me?"

Tarren nodded and hugged her treasure bag tightly. "Yes Momma."

Boralla winked at the warrior and again glared at the child. "Eaten little thief?" she asked trying to hide a smile.

"No Ma’am."

Boralla pulled out a few pots and bowls. "Well I can’t have you starving while you work. What do you want?" she asked stiffly.

Xena held up a hand to stop a long order from being placed. "She’ll have oatmeal," she stated bluntly.

Tarren and Boralla both looked at the warrior and said in a voice of equal despair and unison. "Oatmeal?"

The mother shook her finger at her child. "That’s right. You are being punished. You are here to work not to enjoy a gourmet meal, so oatmeal will do just fine. Right Boralla?" She glanced at the Amazon for support.

The old cook coughed and cleared her throat trying to get back into her role as the angry cook. "Of course dry oatmeal it is," she said as if sliding the word through her lips. "It’s not like I have time for special orders anyway. Tonight is the Feast of Artemis."

Xena frowned knowing that meant there would be extra work that needed to be done. She only hoped that having Tarren to look after was not too much of an extra burden. "Boralla I forgot about that. Maybe I should bring her back tomorrow."

The old cook shook her head. "Nonsense I’ll need those dough balls for morning meal and this child will make them."

Tarren stood like a statue hugging that little satchel. She looked longingly at her mother as the warrior took a step toward the door. The sight of her obviously frightened child was enough to almost make the warrior remain but she remembered her own words of wisdom to Gabrielle. Tarren had to learn a lesson. So with a deep breathe the mother gave her small daughter one final look of warning. "Behave or else."

Tarren rubbed her bottom fiercely knowing full well her mother’s hand had made an impression that would not go away any time soon. Not wanting to encourage a repeat performance she nodded vigorously. "Yes Ma’am."

Xena nodded and kissed the little girl on the head. "Ok then Monster, I’ll see you later."

Boralla clanked pots together as she watched the warrior depart. She craned her neck out the door to make sure Xena had really gone for good and then turned to the little girl. "Had your little bottom tanned huh youngster?" she said in a softer and more sympathetic tone.

The child nodded and continued to offer some relief to the very sore spot. "Uh huh…the big one."

Boralla leaned on a table and stared down at the contrite child. "Oh poor thing and I’ll bet Xena has a pretty heavy hand."

Tarren considered the weight of her mother’s palm and nodded. "If ya mean does Momma give a good spankin. Well I’ll tell ya." She continued to rub the seat of her britches. "Ya sure don’t forget it for a real long time."

Boralla chuckled at the child’s lighthearted attitude about the state of her bottom. She motioned to a well-feathered seat. "Here youngster put yourself onto those feathers while I make you some breakfast."

The little girl happily lowered herself into the feather pillow and smiled at the tender feel of the soft cushion. She thought about the oatmeal and groaned. "Ya don’t haffta Boralla… I’m not too hungry anyways," she said trying to cover the sound of her rumbling stomach.

Boralla put her hands on her hips and leaned forward. "Really child. You are not hungry for my eggs bacon and Flappy Jackies." Her words were both inviting and enticing.

The child could feel her stomach grumble again. "But Momma said oatmeal and you said dry oatmeal and…."

"I was just playing." The old cook waved a hand of dismissal. "Your Momma may be the Warrior Princess out there." She pointed out the door. "But in this kitchen only Boralla is queen," she said proudly.

Tarren smiled at her friend. "Are ya sure? I mean I did take your dough balls," she said with a touch of remorse. Her mother’s harsh reprimand had made it quite clear that stealing them had been a very bad thing to do.

The old cook nodded and scratched her head. "Well you really should have asked me for them Tarren, but to tell you the truth I heard you put them to better use than I ever could have," she said in a whisper as if sharing a great secret.

The child’s eyes opened wide as she picked at a plate of bacon placed in front of her by a kind old cook. "I did?"

Boralla shrugged as she watched the child enjoy the first course of her breakfast. She chuckled as she noticed the small bacon crumbs forming on the little girl’s tunic. "That depends…Did ya get mean old Gruella?" she asked, wiping the crumbs away from the little girl’s shirt and placing a large napkin around the child’s neck.

Tarren smiled at the placement of her bib and nodded at her friend as she devoured the last of the bacon. "Uh huh three times." She held three small fingers in the air to illustrate. "But Momma said I didn’t have to say sorry to her cause Momma wasn’t real sure where she was or something…I guess."

The old cook laughed loudly knowing Xena had intentionally left the instructor’s name off the list. Gruella was not too popular with anyone. "Well then I’d say they were definitely put to very good use but don’t tell your mother I said that." She paused and shook a finger. "But next time ask me before you take something."
The child nodded knowing those last words were very serious." Yes Ma’am."

Tarren thought for a moment about the feast that had been mentioned. "Boralla what’s the feast of Artemis?" she asked as a plate of eggs was placed before her.

The old cook smiled broadly. "Ahh child that is the day we Amazon’s share a meal together as one family and thank Artemis for all the gifts she has bestowed upon us. It is a night of eating drinking and friendship child." She paused. "I understand that Princess Gabrielle has been planning it this year along with all her other work on the negotiations. She must be very tired."

The youngster shrugged not quite sure why the bard was always coming in so late or gone so long. "I dunno."

The old cook stared at the child for a long moment. "How is Princess Gabrielle feeling this morning? " she asked with noted concern. "I would expect she is a bit sore after such a hard work out."

The youngster frowned and lowered her head a bit. "Fine I guess. I dunno. Why?" the child asked wondering why Gabrielle had suddenly become everyone’s favorite topic of conversation.

The old cook cocked a brow. "Taking a staff to three strong teenagers for an hour is not exactly an easy exercise child," she replied with a smirk.

Tarren dropped the food in her hand and stared at the old woman. "Huh? What do ya mean she took a staff Boralla?" she asked now trying to remember if she had seen any bruises on her friend’s body. "Where would she take it and why and who?"

Realizing she had just spilled a secret the old cook quickly covered her mouth. "Oh Artemis feathers you weren’t supposed to be told?" She shook her head as she chastised herself. "Boralla you have a big mouth and Xena is going to kill you for sure," the old Amazon said with a slight frown.

Tarren leaned forward eager for more information. "Boralla please tell me what happened with Gabby. I won’t tell Momma you told me," she said in a pleading voice the old woman could not refuse.

The secret had been half spilled so the old cook decided she might as well empty the entire mug. "As I understand it Ephiny and Gabrielle selected three rather unruly young Amazons to spar with." She smiled knowing that these three really deserved what they got. Her voice dropped a bit lower and her eyes focused on the youngster. "And my child the word around this tribe is that those three took quite a beating for something they did to you." Her voice softened a bit. "I understand Gabrielle took quite a stand against them and made an example of your friend Lexus especially."

Tarren’s eyes went wide at this new information. "Lexus isn’t my friend," she replied quickly and adamantly. She thought of Gabrielle and how she had been ignoring her. "Gabby did that for me. Why?" This was a bit confusing.

The question was so full of concern and innocence that the old cook placed an affectionate hand on the child’s face. "Youngster you already know the answer to that question. Don’t you?" she asked.

The little girl lowered her eyes trying hard to fight her feelings. "But Gabby’s an Amazon now and she doesn’t play with me and…."

Boralla dropped her head into her hands. "Tarren my child, love is something that comes from inside your heart. We all make mistakes and hurt people we care about unintentionally. It’s part of being human. But when you love someone you see past all of that and forgive them because you share something inside here." She pointed to the child’s heart. "You have something with Gabrielle that nobody else can replace. That is why she did what she did…love youngster. She loves you."

Tarren swallowed hard and nibbled on a small piece of bacon. After careful thought she jumped off her soft pillow and started for the door with a very determined look on her little face. Boralla grabbed the small child by the back of her tunic. "Where do you think you are going?" she asked keeping a tight hold.

The child struggled to get free but the old cook was very strong. "It’s time to kick some Lexus butt. I’ll teach her to fight with my Gabby," she said as her feet danced nearly a foot off the ground.

Boralla smiled and lifted the child into the air placing her gently back on her soft cushion. "You do that youngster and I guarantee your mother will paddle you so long not even the feathers in that pillow will help your bottom."

"Another big one?" The child swallowed hard. The feathers weren’t helping that much now. "Well…I don’t want that to happen." She instinctively placed her hands over her still throbbing backside. "But I can’t let Lexus trick me, make me bust Momma’s sword, and then try and hurt Gabby too…I am a Warrior Princess ya know?" she stated proudly doing her best to arch a small brow.

The old Amazon smiled at the youngster’s use of title. "Look my little Warrior Princess people like Lexus always get there’s in the end. If you were to try and seek revenge not only would you get yourself in trouble again but you would insult Gabrielle."

The little girl bit her lip and considered the words. "I would?"

The old cook nodded. "Yes she feels she has taken a stand on your behalf. So you have to promise Boralla that you will not go within three paces of Lexus," she said sternly. "Trust me child, the gods will see that she gets what’s coming to her."

This was a tough call. After all Tarren was sure she was a Warrior Princess in training and she was the daughter of the great Xena and Lexus had raised her staff to Gabrielle. However when the child looked into the eyes of the old cook she knew that there would only be one acceptable answer. "Ok Boralla my gut says I can trust ya." She rubbed her stomach hoping it was the truth.

When the Amazon turned her head the child grinned wickedly. After all if one was a bit creative one did not need to get within three paces to seek revenge. The gods could always use a little help.

The old cook smiled, patted the little girl’s head and placed a fresh mug of cold milk in front of the youngster. "Good girl. Now drink that up and I’ll show you how we flip the Flappy Jackies."

Tarren grinned. She thought of Lexus for a moment and smiled but that idea would have to wait. The child guzzled her milk anxious to learn the mystery of how one could make food fly in the air without winding up standing in the corner.

Back at Ephiny’s office….

The queen walked around the table marking out all the areas the scout parties had been. She was determined to send out a search part for Solari but wanted to be as concise as possible about where the overly exuberant young warrior might have led her warriors. After all she still had no answers as to what or who had caused the death of Tyrell. She glanced at Xena. "Ya know I’m grateful you came back to help." However the warrior’s thoughts were obviously elsewhere. "And I’m sorry I just couldn’t bring myself to yell at Tarren. She looked so small and sorry and when she handed me the feather I just buckled." The queen frowned wondering just when that child had gone from being her worst nightmare to her best friend.

Xena leaned against the table as Ephiny pointed to another location on the map they had yet to search. "Huh…what? Oh it’s Ok Eph I understand. She has a way with people." She smiled at the mere thought of her child. "Damn kid went around handing out flowers and shaking hands. You’d think she was running for a magistrates office," she said with a grin and the shake of her head.

"Uh huh." The queen could tell her friend was now too distracted to be of service. "Xena do you think we should send the search party to Hades or Artemis?" Ephiny wanted to see just how distant her friend’s thoughts really were.

Xena stared out the window but blinked at the question. "Well Eph you’re the queen so you can send them where you want. Me I’d send them North." She turned and grinned at her friend. "Nice try."
"Ahh so you were listening!" Ephiny gave her friend a gentle nudge. "What’s wrong with you?" she asked noting the now sour expression on her friend’s face. "Don’t tell me you are still feeling bad about spanking the kid." Enough was enough.

"Nah it’s not that." The warrior shook her head. "I just really hate oatmeal."

The queen leaned on the table and closed her eyes. "What?"

The warrior sat on the edge of the table placing new markers on the map to eliminate the areas that had already been searched the day before. "Yup definitely somewhere up north. That’s where Solari took her band." She folded her arms and stared at the confused queen. "Look I told Boralla to give Tarren oatmeal for breakfast and I hate it as much as she does." She paused. "Eph I just want her to learn to take responsibility for her mistakes. I really don’t want to make her feel any worse than I know she already does."

Ephiny grinned and let out a long breath. It was good to see that her warrior friend was honest about her feelings and thoughts for the child. The queen enjoyed this new bond the pair shared. She only wished her own son were there to enjoy as well. "Look big tough and overprotective… I’m hungry. Why don’t we go over to that galley and feed us all something a little better than just oatmeal."

Xena grinned at the idea. "Yeah…Ok…maybe just a small pastry or something…nothing big or fancy. I mean Tarren is being punished so no sloppy cheese Ephiny." After the way the queen had buckled earlier Xena was not taking any chances on a repeat performance.

"Agreed no sloppy cheese…just something simple like pastry. I understand completely," the Amazon replied with a smirk.

The warrior shook her head at her friend’s humor and then the pair crossed the compound and entered the kitchen.

As Xena and Ephiny enter the kitchen…

Tarren was standing on a chair wearing a heavy linen smock over her body and an overturned pot on her head in place of a helmet. To the side of her was a large plate of unfinished food including eggs, bacon and a full stack of untouched Flappy Jackies. Not having noticed her mother and the queen enter, the child continued her task. "Ok bad Warlord Boralla surrender or I will attack," she yelled waving a large spoon above her head.

Xena stood speechless at the sight before her.

Ephiny ran a hand over her face and lowered her head.

There was silence and then from across the room the voice of an older and more mature adult replied from beneath a counter. "Sorry Warrior Princess but Boralla surrenders to no one. Fire at will."

The child giggled and without hesitation tossed a large egg across the galley and directly into the area where the voice had spoken from. A pair of large hands reached up from behind the counter caught it. "Ha sorry Warrior Princess Tarren but I caught it," she cackled.

Before the woman could finish her sentence five more eggs bombarded her and it became immediately obvious that these eggs had all hit their target.

There was a low murmuring from behind the counter. "Damn kid…daughter of…how did she…." There was silence and then a white napkin was waved in the air. "Ok Warrior Princess I surrender to your many skills," the old cook said with a chuckle.

Tarren jumped to her feet and raised her spoon in the air. "Nobody defeats the mighty Warrior Princess in battle, " she yelled triumphantly. The youngster turned and for the first time noticed the very angry face of her mother standing only three paces away. She swallowed hard. "Hi Momma." The child dropped the spoon to the ground and kicked it away with the side of her foot. She waved at the queen. "Hi Ephiny."

Ephiny wiggled her fingers at the child and then turned to her stoic friend. "Uh Xena I think Tarren did a bit better than just oatmeal," she said with a smirk before taking a few steps out of the warrior’s path.

The mother folded her arms and stretched to her full height. She stared at her small child and shook her head "Tarren I could…." She took a deep breath and pointed to the spot in front of her. "Get over here right now," she ordered.

The youngster slowly moved to the spot right in front of her mother. She tried to look up but the pot turned helmet slid over her eyes. "We were just playing Warrior Princess…I mean Warlord…I mean we was just playing Momma," she said quietly hoping to build an early defense for a game she knew her mother did not approve of.

The mother scanned the war torn kitchen and then looked down at her small child "Don’t say another word young lady," she replied through clenched lips.

Tarren started to speak until a long single finger was placed over her lips. "I said don’t say another word. If you know what is good for you and I know you don’t you will not say one single word," the mother said in a seething whisper.

The child nodded and closed her mouth. Just to be safe she placed her hand over it to make sure nothing accidentally slipped out.

Xena glanced at the smiling queen. "That goes for you too Ephiny," she hissed.

The warrior mother twisted her lips and tapped her foot on the ground. "Boralla!" The yell could be heard echoing through the galley.

The old cook rose from her hiding place. "Oh don’t bellow at me Xena. I can hear you just fine young lady." Those final words were spoken to remind the great Warrior Princess of the difference in their age and life experience. The old Amazon got to her feet and frowned. She removed the pot from her own head and started to wipe egg from her clothing. "Sorry Tarren, funs over. The party pooper patrol has arrived."

The warrior stared at he old cook not quite sure how to respond. "Boralla you were gonna…."

The old cook raised her hands in the air. "My kitchen and my rules Xena. I decided how the borrowed dough balls were to be repaid and it has been a long time since I got to face a worthy opponent in a good game of Queen of the Amazons." She winked at Tarren who was still holding a hand over her mouth. "That last maneuver was really nice kid. I never even saw that second wave of eggs coming."

Xena let out a quick breath and glanced at the youngster who she could see smiling underneath her small hand. She removed the child’s fingers from her mouth and shook a warning finger. "You were supposed to have oatmeal," she said quietly pointing toward the plate of extraordinary food.

The little girl bit her lip and held the plate above her head. "But…Boralla didn’t wanna make it and I was hungry so I just ate what she gave me. That is the polite thing to do Momma." Tarren picked up her breakfast plate and offered it to her mother. "Hungry Momma? I’ve already had a full plate. I can’t eat another one," she said with a two-dimpled smile.

Xena’s eyes grew wide at the offering. This was getting worse and worse. "You already had a full plate? You were playing Warrior Princess? Xena took the plate and placed it on the table. She held her arm straight out in the air pointing a lone finger to the door. "Out."

The youngster tried to glance up but the pot was still covering her eyes. "What Momma?" she asked unsure of what had been said. The pot helmet was also making it hard to hear.

The warrior grumbled and removed the pan from her daughter’s head revealing a grinning child.

Xena tossed the pot to the side and arched her brow. Her voice dropped to a low husky growl. "I would not smile if I were you little girl," she warned.

The child swallowed hard and the smile quickly disappeared. The mother removed the youngster’s smock and pointed to the exit. "Now you get your little tail outside right now before I…."

The little girl needed to hear no more. She waved to the old cook. "See ya later Boralla." Seeing her mother’s arched brow the child sprinted quickly out the door. "Yes ma’am."

Xena looked at he old cook and the plate of food and frowned. "Flappy Jackies too Boralla," she muttered walking out the door. "Thank you for all your help."

Boralla stuck her tongue at the warrior’s back. "By Artemis try and have a little fun," she mumbled. Her expression turned a bit sour when she glanced at her now smiling queen. "Yes your majesty. What can I do for you?" she asked half-heartedly.

The queen took a bold step forward. "How about some Flappy Jackies? I’m hungry."

The old cook shook her head. "Ephiny really. You’ll need to do extra sword drills for a week if you eat that." She smiled in a motherly fashion. "I have a nice healthy bowl of fruit for you."

The queen stared at a bowl of berries and other fruits that was placed before her. She slammed her fist on the counter. "Boralla I want Flappy Jackies. Damn it I am the queen you know." Her tone was demanding and authoritative.

The cook’s eyes went wide and she folded her arms against her chest and spoke in a scolding tone. "Ephiny I know perfectly well who and what you are but if you ever speak to me in that fashion again so help me I’ll take my staff to you. I was your mother’s friend and your grandmother’s. Don’t you dare presume that your title allows you to disrespect your elders."

The queen swallowed hard and lowered her eyes grateful they were alone. "I’m sorry Boralla. You are right. I apologize."

The cook nodded approvingly. "That’s better. Now sit down and eat your fruit and maybe Boralla will cook you one flappy jack." She paused. "Ya know I can’t play with you children all the time.

The queen sat down at the table and stared at the familiar bowl of fruit. As she took a bite she grinned a bit thinking of Little Tarren. "Wish I had that kid’s touch," she whispered

Chapter 25 – Mud and guts


Xena took Tarren by the hand and walked her to the outskirts of the village. When she felt she had moved a far enough distance to find privacy she turned and stared down at he nervous youngster. "Do you want another spanking already?" she asked point blank making no attempt to hide her frustration.
The child put her hands protectively over her seat and shook her head. "No Momma I didn’t want the first one." She paused. "It was the big one ya know?" The child wanted her mother to know that her greatest efforts in this area had not got unnoticed or been made without leaving behind a very strong impression on a very small and still quite sore little bottom.

"The big one." Xena shook her head and let some of the air drain from her lungs. This label made her grin a bit. "It was huh?"

"Yes ma’am it sure was the biggest one." She rubbed her backside gingerly just to show that the effects were and would be felt for some time. This particular lesson had been learned and she wanted her mother to know it.

Xena leaned against a tree and stared at her youngster confused by what her own reaction should be. "Tarren sometimes I swear I don’t know whether to hug you or put you over my knee and paddle you until we both run out of tears."

The child bit her lip and offered her arms up in the air to help make the decision easier.

Xena grinned and lifted the little girl into the air holding her in a big bear hug. "That’s cheating ya know?"

The child nuzzled against her mother’s chest. Cheating or not she was exactly where she wanted to be. "Sorry Momma," was the weak reply.

The mother sighed and crouched on the ground cradling the youngster on her lap. "Ok relax you got the hug this time." She paused. "Now would you please tell me how it is that I sent you into that kitchen to make dough balls as punishment for stealing and you wound up playing Warrior Princess with Boralla not to mention getting a better breakfast than I had." She shook a warning finger at the content child. "What were you doing playing at all when you know you are being punished?" Order and discipline needed to be maintained if the warrior mother was going to teach the youngster right from wrong in this matter.

Tarren fidgeted with her mother’s straps careful not to pull them just wanting to hold them and feel the cool buckles. "Momma you said to listen to Boralla and she said she wanted to play Warrior Princess…I mean warlord." She glanced up at her mother’s gentle expression. "I didn’t want to hurt her feelings Momma. I don’t think she has much fun when I’m not around," she said with a shrug.

The mother ran her hand along the side of the child’s cheek and grinned. "Well I doubt anyone has much fun when you’re not around Monster."

"Was I naughty again?" The little girl asked with a frown.

The mother shook her head. "No I guess I did tell you to listen to Boralla but I won’t make that mistake again." Her smile faded and her tone became serious. "However, you are being punished so all your fun has officially ended for the day youngster."

Tarren nodded knowing her mother was quite serious. "Yes Momma." She smiled. "Ya know I really like my punishment so far," she said with a wide grin. "Well not the spankin and scrolls and stuff. That’s no fun at all. But today’s punishment was lots of fun Momma."

Xena rubbed her own temples and sighed. She knew the child was just being honest in her statement. "I know and that’s the problem which is why that is going to change right now.

The child bit her lip and glanced up at her frustrated parent. "Momma am I gonna get another spankin?" she asked fearing the wrong response would set her already hot bottom on fire once again.

The mother wrapped her arms tightly around the child and grinned. "No you are not gonna get a spanking." She frowned at the mere thought. "It’s not your fault if you’re too cute for your own damn good."

The child sighed with relief but then shook a warning finger at her warrior mother. "Momma you said a bad word."

Xena arched a brow at the little finger being waved under her eyes. "And?"

The child drew the small digit back and placed her hands neatly in her lap. "And…I’m not gonna say it just cause you did since you’re the Momma and I’m the kid and I don’t wanna get in trouble."

"That’s a very wise choice on your part." Xena nodded approvingly. She smiled at the little girl’s look of contentment at being held in her mother’s arms and took a deep breath. The warrior hated being forced to act as the strict disciplinarian all the time. She knew how it felt to want to run wild and free and explore without boundaries. However, she also knew the outcome of such escapades and she was not about to let her small child get off on the wrong foot. Tarren was wild enough and the child definitely had a gift for getting into trouble. The mother considered her present circumstances deciding a little clarification was in order for both of them. She glanced at the little girl and grinned. "Tarren do you know why you are being punished the way you are today?" she asked hopeful the child understood even a small part of it.

"Uh huh."


"Cause you said so Momma."

Xena scratched her head. This was not the answer she was hoping for. "Yeah but do you know why I said so."

The child nodded. "Uh huh."


"Cause I was naughty."

The warrior closed her eyes took a moment and opened them again. "Tarren what did you do that was naughty?"

The little girl lowered her head a bit at the memory. "I touched the sword. That was very bad," she replied.

The warrior nodded and slid to the ground still holding tightly to her daughter. She scratched the top of her head again and started anew. "Yes Tarren touching the sword was very bad and we talked about that last night but…."

"Yup got my butt kicked. It was the big one Momma." Some things just needed constant clarification.

Xena thought of a time in her life when she led armies into battle and her word was obeyed like the thunder of Zeus. Now this little waif had her desperate to explain the reason she was being punished. "Tarren I want you to understand why you are being punished today. Why what you did to the Amazons was wrong."

"Momma we already talked about that…after I got my butt kicked."

The warrior tilted her head to one side and let her voice drop to a huskier tone. "First of all I told you I to stop using those words." She shook a warning finger.

The youngster let her head drop onto her mother’s shoulder. "I’m sorry Momma sometimes I forget."

Xena felt the child cuddling her arm and did her best to remain stoic and parental. "Well next…time you…forget I’m going to give you something that will help you remember," she warned watching her stray hand rubbing the little girl’s back at the same time.

The little girl lifted her head and smiled broadly at the thought of a possible gift. "A pony?" she asked with enthusiasm.

The mother bit her lip and shook her head. "No a swat to your britches."

The child chewed her lower lip and opened her eyes wide. "Oh…I’d rather have the pony Momma," she muttered, now realizing this was not a conversation of presents.

Xena arched her brow and pursed her lips together. "Keep it up and I won’t wait for you to say it again."

Tarren swallowed hard. The fun was now over. "Yes ma’am." She lowered her eyes. "But I really would rather have a pony," she murmured.

The warrior shook her head and let out an exacerbated breath. "Youngster that moment of choice between the hug and the swats is coming close again," she warned.

This time Tarren did not wait for her mother to make the choice but merely threw her arms affectionately around the warrior’s neck and gave her a big sloppy kiss on the cheek. "There now you don’t have to choose Momma."

Xena tried to remain unaffected by the action but the youngster’s broad smile pierced her frustration. "Tarren one of these days that hug is not gonna save your little butt."

"My sloppy kiss?" she asked showing her dimples once again.


The child’s smile faded. This was a topic best to avoid at the moment. "Oh…err…Momma…wasn’t there something you wanted to talk to me about?"

Xena had to applaud the little girl’s quick tactical moves. She nodded as she considered that her small daughter had just for the second time in a few minutes saved herself from a well-deserved swat to the seat of her britches. "Yeah there is something I wanna talk to you about but you better pay attention this time because any more games and it’s the hand on the bottom instead of the hug. You’re getting a bit big for those britches again. Got it?" she asked in a no nonsense parental tone. The games were definitely over.

The child gave a gentle tug to her waistline noting that, if anything, it felt a little loose. However, she knew from experience, that pointing that out would at the very least have her facing a tree for an hour. "Yes Momma I got it and I’ll listen really good cause I don’t wanna get it."

"Mmmm." The warrior studied her child and sighed. "Tarren I want you to understand why you are doing things today." She flashed her eyes quickly waiting for the youngster to interrupt or answer with something cute. The child was attentive and quiet. "Huh…What you did yesterday was wrong." She again flashed her eyes waiting for a remark but the child just kept her wide baby blue eyes obediently trained on her mother’s face. Xena nodded nervously wondering just when the child might make her move and destroy her train of thought. "Ok so as I was saying you did a bunch of stuff wrong yesterday and today you are going around to try and make it right. That’s why you shouldn’t have been playing with Boralla. Do you understand?"

The child shook her head. "No Momma cause I only did what Boralla said to do and you said she was in charge."

The mother let out a deep breath at the honest and all too accurate reply. "I know but Tarren when you are being punished you are not supposed to enjoy it or have fun."

"Why not?" the child asked wondering why one should not make the best of anything.

The mother again rubbed her temples. "Because you are supposed to be learning something."

The child smiled. "I learned something Momma."

"What?" the mother asked hopeful for any small victory.

The youngster threw her shoulders back and held her chin up. "I learned how to flip a Flappy Jackie." She patted her own chest. "Boralla said I’m real good at it too."

"Nice very nice." The warrior covered her face with her own hand and ran it down to her mouth. "Tarren what did you learn about taking something that wasn’t yours?" she asked with a grumble.

"Oh that ...I gave her a sorry." The child shrugged her shoulders. "Boralla said I shoulda asked her first and I said I wouldn’t take nothing again without askin first then we had breakfast and she showed me how to flip the Flappy Jackies." She could not help but grin at this happy memory of an added skill. "It’s all in the wrist Momma. The first four went too high and hit the ceiling. Then I accidenal like tossed one over my shoulder and it hit the wall but I finally caught one before we started playing Warrior Princess," she explained proudly.

The warrior wanted to make an attempt to explain this to her daughter in a way that it might be understood hoping that the child would learn to act on her own instincts a bit more. "So you think that was a fair trade for what you did wrong?" she asked.

The little girl lowered her eyes. She had not considered it as a trade. "Well no but you did give me a spankin and it was the big one and you did tell me I wasn’t allowed to touch swords or take stuff that wasn’t mine while I was getting it." She paused. "Wasn’t that a fair trade Momma?" she asked hopefully.

Xena squeezed her temples between two fingers and grinned. This was going to take a lot of time. "Yes I guess that was a fair trade since it was the big one." She was learning more and more just how young her child really was and just what that meant. A new approach was in order. She needed to gear her thoughts to a smaller child’s thoughts. "However when you break something that’s not yours you should help fix it. Right?" She shrugged. "I mean that’s what I would do."



The youngster had not thought about this aspect. "Ya mean like the way I helped you fix the sword?" She smiled. "I liked doing that."

The mother ran a hand down the little girl’s cheek. "Why? That was a lot of work."

The youngster frowned at the warrior’s obvious lack of understanding. "Cause you’re my Momma and I love ya lots and it made me feel better about busting it."

Xena nodded hoping she was on the right path. "Why did it make you feel better to help. I could have fixed it alone if I had too." She paused. "Why do you think I made you help me?"

The child ran her fingers over her mother’s armor and shrugged. Her voice became a near whisper. "I dunno. I guess cause it was me that busted it."

The mother nodded and removed the little girl’s hands from her armor and held them in her own. "Good, now do you think that those dough balls you took just made themselves again or that Boralla had to spend extra time making them?" she asked desperate to keep the child’s attention focused.

The youngster grinned and again reached for the armor. "She didn’t make them at all again Momma. Boralla said they weren’t worth the bother so she gave out oatmeal instead." The child frowned at the thought of eating oatmeal.

Xena let her head fall back against a tree. To be so close and then have it slip through your fingers was tough. It was time to be the lecturing parent again. "Tarren the point is that because you took something that didn’t belong to you someone else, in this case Boralla and everyone who ate oatmeal, suffered. Is that fair?" she asked in a more scolding tone.

The child picked a bacon crumb from her shirt and shook her head. "No Momma I guess nobody should have to eat oatmeal."

Xena pointed her finger at the child. "Well if you had not taken the dough balls in the first place or Boralla had made you make the dough balls the way she should have then maybe nobody would have had to eat oatmeal," she said with a nod.

Tarren glanced at the sky and empty woods around her. Suddenly there was no easy answer to give to these haunting questions. "We…but…Momma…I’m just a little kid."

The mother grinned a bit at the last ditch attempt at youth as a defense. "Uh huh but you are a little kid that knows a fair trade when she sees one. Did you fix things the way you should have so it was a fair trade or did other people fix it for you?"

The youngster lowered her eyes. "I guess Boralla fixed it for me."

Xena nodded knowing she had made her point. "Yes she did and is that the reason I said you were being punished?" she asked in a parental no nonsense tone.

The little girl shook her head. "No Momma you said I was supposed to make stuff right."

Xena nodded. "And you played Warrior Princess and learned how to flip Flappy Jackies instead. Aren’t you ashamed of yourself?" she asked in a quiet but firm tone.

"Yes if you say so Momma." She picked up her eyes. "But there is still the big one and flipping Flappy Jackies isn’t easy work." Any defense was still a defense even if a weak one.

The mother ran a hand through her dark mane and let out a deep breath. "I’m sure it isn’t." She knew the child had at least absorbed a small part of the message. "Now then youngster I am going to take you over to Eponon and what are you going to do?"

"Fill in the mud hole I made," she said fumbling with a single strap.

The warrior forced their eyes to meet. "Why?"

The little girl smiled broadly. "Cause you said so and you’re my momma."

Xena tightened her lips and shook her head as she stared at the innocent smile on her small daughter’s face. "And why did I say so Tarren my dear little one?"

"Cause you’re the Momma." She patted her mother’s arm and smiled broadly. "And that’s all I need to know."

The warning was fast and firm. "Tarren!"

The youngster’s smile faded knowing her mother was not interested in playing. "And cause I’m the one who made the puddle and I should fix what I broke cause that’s a fair trade…but mostly cause you said so."

Xena grinned at the child’s words. A few months ago the little girl would not have admitted that her mother’s words were final, so Xena took even this small step as a step of some kind. "Well Tarren, if you want to learn to act like a real Warrior Princess then you will have to do much better at making things right."

The youngster gave her mother a quick hug. "Ok Momma. I’ll do better. I do wanna be the best Warrior Princess there is next to you that is."

Xena sighed hoping using this title was finally a good idea. "Close enough I guess." She picked the little girl up in her arms and got to her feet. "So you are going to fill in a mud hole that you made. You are not going to play. Do I make myself clear?" she asked wanting the rules plain and simple this time.

The child smiled happy to have the lecture over with. "Yes Momma…no playing just mud. I got it."

Knowing her child’s affinity for mud made the mother pause in her movements. "And that means no playing in the mud while you fill it either," she warned.

The youngster’s eyes widened and her lower lip rolled out. To be so close to an entire pool of fresh mud and not even to be able to jump in was surely punishment. "Ahh Momma."

Xena shook a warning finger and let her voice become low and husky. "Tarren I mean it. Don’t let me come back and find out you’ve been fooling around," she warned.

The child hung her head over her mother’s arm. "Yes ma’am."

The warrior let out a quick breath. Repetition was sometimes a mother’s only friend. "Ok so these are the rules for the rest of the day. You and I both know you are being punished and that means you are not allowed to play, so no matter who asks you to play you are not to do it. Do I make myself clear?" she asked sternly.

The child frowned hoping there might be a small loophole. "But what if…."

The warrior mother stopped the youngster before she could offer a scenario. "There are no what ifs. There are no exceptions. You are going to finish your work and return to the cottage as we discussed last night. That is that." The warrior’s words were stiff and straight to the point.

Tarren knew her mother meant real business. "Yes ma’am."

The warrior picked up her pace. "Let’s get going. You have work to do." She looked at the honest and innocent face of her small daughter and closed her eyes "Oh and my little princess charming you may have worked your cute magic on Ephiny and Boralla but there is no way you are gonna get off that easy with Eponon." She bit her lip considering whether even leaving Tarren alone with the angry weapon’s master was a good idea. "I just want you to fill in the hole you made and that’s all. Don’t do anything to make her any angrier than she already is."

Tarren wrapped her arms around her mother’s neck and lay her head down. She was happy to be in her arms even if only for a few minutes. "It’s Ok Momma I don’t mind this workin stuff," she replied with a shrug ignoring the warnings about the ticked off Amazon.

Xena grinned and gave the small child a sideways stare. "That’s because you haven’t done any yet."

The little girl rolled out her lower lip wondering if her mother thought it was easy keeping a 200-pound Amazon pinned in one spot with a few dozen eggs.

At the mud hole…

As the warrior approached the reputed mud pit she could see Eponon waiting impatiently under a shady tree. She nodded to her friend and then observed the puddle in question. The warrior put the child down and stood in front of the large pool and shook her head. "Tarren I can’t believe you did this," she said in utter disbelief as she waved her hand across the length of the murky trail.

The little girl eyed the bandage on her hand and then her mother’s stern face. "Well it sure wasn’t easy but if you push the trough just right…." She glanced up to see that her mother was anything but impressed or amused. She lowered her head a bit. "Sorry Momma."

Xena looked down at the small child and again shook her head. "Push the trough the right way," she muttered under her breath. "You better be sorry little girl because it’s gonna take you a long time to fill this," she scolded motioning toward the pool.

Tarren glanced at the muddy waters and then at Eponon. She gave the large Amazon a toothy grin but the weapons master just looked away. The child swallowed hard and glanced back at her mother. "I’m real sorry Momma." She ran her hand over the small linen bandage that covered her sword cut rather than face her mother’s sour expression.

The warrior noted the maneuver and dropped to one knee. She had examined the cut earlier and was satisfied that it was healing well but she had not considered the pain lifting a shovel might cause the wound. She took the child’s wounded hand in hers. "Does it hurt?" she asked with noted concern.

The little girl shook her head and wiggled her hand free. "No Momma it’s fine. I was just wondering how I can keep it clean like you said I haffta and still touch the mud."

Xena sighed and pulled a sack from her pouch. "I was prepared for that youngster." She placed the sack over the injured hand. "Now you are going to have to try to not use that hand as much. Ok?"

The little girl smiled and tried to make the sack into a puppet. "Sure Momma I’ll be real careful."

The warrior took a second look at the mud puddle and then her small daughter. The puddle was much larger than she had thought and Tarren somehow seemed much smaller. "Maybe I better do this. I don’t want you to open those stitches," she said with a deep breath.

The child tugged on her mother’s arm. "It’s Ok Momma. I can do it." The youngster offered up a wide smile to let her mother know she was serious. "If you do it then it’s not a fair trade cause you didn’t make it. I did."

Xena folded her arms against her chest and gave a lopsided grin. "Yeah well I’m your Momma so when you’re in trouble I’m in trouble. Your mess is my mess." She unfolded her arms and tapped the child on the nose. "It’s not the same in the real world Tarren but between us that’s how it is."

Knowing her mother had already made the decision to make things right for her, the child lowered her eyes. "But Momma you said you wanted me to do this so I could learn to be a better Warrior Princess." She bit her lip. "I wanna be a Warrior Princess like you. Please let me do it. I promise I won’t hurt my hand."

Xena glanced at Eponon who had been listening to the entire emotional exchange with dissatisfaction. "Are you sure Tarren?" she asked again glancing at the size of the youngster.

"Uh huh."

The mother ran her hand along the side of he child’s face and smiled at the way her daughter was now accepting her punishment. "Well Ok but if the hand hurts then you tell Eponon and she’ll come get me."

The child nodded. "Ok Momma." She looked happily at her muddy creation.

Xena quickly noticed the child’s overly anxious expression and leaned down. "And remember you are to put dirt in the mud not the mud on you. If I come back here and see those little boots or anyplace else on you covered with mud you’re gonna get a small one put right on top of the big one," she said tapping the child’s britches lightly

"Oooooh." Tarren’s eyes went wide at the coded message and the touch to her designated ouchy area. "Yes Momma." The small hands rubbed the tender spot once again. "No mud on my boots or nothin."

Xena tasseled the child’s hair. "Just see that what you say now is what really happens and remember no playing." The child nodded and Xena moved beside Eponon. "Eppy don’t let her work too much. Just let her throw a few shovels of dirt in and I’ll fill the rest of it later," she whispered.

"Old softy." The weapons master frowned. "She’s your kid Xena but if she was mine I’d have her fill the whole damn thing and then dig a few ditches in the field just for good measure." She frowned as she glanced at the small form standing eagerly by the mud.

Xena placed her large hand on her friend’s shoulder letting the weight of it lower the Amazon a bit. "You want to see how soft I am Eponon?" The warrior let her friend see the full extent of the Warrior Princess glare to let her know that she was anything but soft. "Remember she’s not yours so just make sure she does what she has to and you take good care of her," she warned.

Eponon threw her hands up. She was well aware of how protective Xena was of her child "Relax I was just kidding. She’ll be just fine," she replied with a forced smile.

Xena stared at her friend for a long moment to make her message clear and moved back beside the child. "Ok I have to go finish up with Ephiny and then I’ll come back and get you," she said kneeling beside the youngster.

The child lowered her eyes wishing her mother would stay. It was fairly obvious that the weapons master didn’t like her and the child knew it. "Bye Momma."

The warrior looked at the sad face and gave her child a quick hug to let her know her love was always present and available. "You just behave and I’ll be back before you know it."
She took one last look at her small daughter and the weapons master before heading back to the queens meeting room.

Eponon waited until Xena was well out of sight and moved slowly beside the child.

Tarren offered her best-polished smile but the weapon’s master only growled at the sight.

She handed the child a shovel. "Put your little bag down and get started."

Tarren glanced at her satchel and frowned. "It’s a treasure bag lady." She forced a smile. "You wanna see the feather Ephiny gave me?" she asked hoping to find something in common with this feather headed giant.

The large Amazon rumbled at the mere thought of this child being bestowed with one of the queen’s own feathers when she had done nothing to earn it. "No I don’t. I just want you to get started filling in that hole, or do you want me to go get your mother and tell her you’re not listening to me."

The child rolled out her lower lip placed her sack on the ground and shook her head. That would be a very bad thing. "No I’m listening to ya," she mumbled.

Eponon handed the child the shovel and grinned. "Then start filling."

Tarren took the large shovel and sighed at the weight. She paused before she got her first scoop of dirt. "Wait Momma forgot to give you a sorry."

The weapon’s master shook her head at the delay. "A what?"

Tarren leaned on the edge of the shovel wondering if all grown ups were so ignorant. "You know I’m supposed to say sorry for what I did."

Eponon frowned and folded her arms. "Ok go ahead but then no more stalling," she warned in a not so friendly tone.

Tarren cleared her throat. "I’m sorry I set a mud trap that you fell into and got you all dirty and full of feathers."

Eponon cringed at the memory. "Fine you gave your sorry. Now get started."

The child sighed at the Amazon’s failure to accept an apology properly. She pushed the shovel into the dirt and with a bit of effort managed to land the contents it in the mud. She smiled at the weapons master who did not return the look. "I got it in," she said proudly.

The large Amazon growled at the child’s attempt at friendly banter.

Tarren let her shoulders slump and again pushed the shovel in the dirt for another pile deciding that if she couldn’t talk she would hum.

Eponon watched the slow progress with great dissatisfaction. "That’s not how you do it. Give me that." She took the shovel. "I’ll show you."

Tarren took a step back and watched as the muscular woman heaved a heavy pile of dirt into the mud pool. "Wow you sure are strong. I’ll bet you lift almost as much as Momma could."

Eponon shook her head and handed the child back the shovel. "Nice try but your little smile and big eyes are not going to keep you from filling this hole kid."

The youngster frowned. Apparently compliments were no better received than apologies. "I don’t mind filling it. Momma says it’s the only way to learn to be a real Warrior Princess."

The Amazon shook her head at the thought but agreed with her friend’s imparted philosophy. "That’s right."

Tarren again pushed the shovel into the dirt and this time was able to maintain a pile nearly twice the size. She dropped it in and looked to her warden for approval.

Eponon nodded. "That’s not bad for someone so small."

Finally the child heard a word of encouragement. "Thanks."

The little girl decided a bit of conversation would make the time pass faster. "How’d you get so many pretty feathers?" she asked as she again repeated her shoveling task.

Eponon eased her muscles a bit. "I earned them," she stated proudly.


"By doing things better than other Amazons."

"Is that good?"

"Of course."

"Why?" the child asked. Her mother always said doing your best was good enough.

The weapon’s master frowned. "You want to be the best don’t you?" she asked confused by the question.

The little girl shrugged. "I dunno… I just wanna be like Momma. I think she’s the best."

Eponon grinned a bit at the way the child obviously worshipped her mother and the weapons master’s friend. "Well I can’t argue with you about that kid. She is the best."

Tarren smiled. Finally the two had found common ground. "I still have my feather ya know." She reached into her tunic and pulled it out. "See…I know it’s not like yours cause I didn’t do nothin better than anyone to get it. Ephiny just gave it to me cause we’re friends and I like having it." She placed the precious item aback in her tunic. "And it really is fun to try and tickle Momma with it."

The weapons master smiled at the image of the stoic warrior being tortured with a feather. She looked down at the small child shoveling the heavy dirt and shook her head. The youngster’s wounded hand would surely hurt if she kept this up. "Give me that shovel. I don’t want to be standing here all day," she said trying to act bothered by the use of her time.

The little girl arched her brow in fair imitation. "But Momma said I have to do it." She folded her arms against her chest.

"Yeah well Momma is not the one who fell in, so it’s my mud pool and I want to fill it myself." She started shoveling. "You just take a seat and I’ll be finished in a while."

Tarren scratched her head. She had not realized that there was a question of ownership involved. The child bit her lip and rubbed her britches. "Can I stand?" she asked with wide eyes.

The weapons master glanced back and noticed how the child tenderly rubbed the seat of her trousers. It didn’t take her long to figure out the problem. "Oh yeah sure…Wait a minute."

Eponon dropped the shovel and ran into the storeroom returning with two sacks of feathers. She placed one on top of the other and then lifted the little girl on top. "I figure knowing Xena that one sack would never do. "How’s that?" she asked taking pride in her own creation.

Tarren felt as if she were floating on air. "Good! Thanks Eponon."

The weapon’s master smiled broadly at finally being called something other than lady.

"It’s no big deal," she mumbled picking up the shovel and went back to work.

The child interrupted. "Eponon?"


"Will you tell me a story about how you got some of your feathers?" the little girl asked eager for someone to tell her a story. Since Gabrielle was no longer available the youngster felt starved for such a treat.

The weapons master smiled. "Are you sure you wanna hear them?"

The child nodded as she watched the mud become little more than a memory. "Sure." Her smile started to fade "But…Hey wait…Momma said if I don’t fill in the hole I won’t learn to be real Warrior Princess. I gotta fill it or it’s not a fair trade." She jumped off the cushions only to have a pair of large hands put her right back on top of them.

Eponon held the youngster in place easily. "Hold on! You’re not big enough to fill this hole and Xena knows it but I am and I’m gonna." She paused. "However, if you want to make a fair trade of it so you can learn to be real Warrior Princess like your Momma then I have an idea."

The youngster’s eyes widened at the thought. "What?"

The Amazon patted the child’s head. "Well first let me fill this hole and tell you how I got my very first feather and then we’ll work out the details."

Tarren sat back and listened to the dramatic tail of a well-earned feather as the weapons master filled the hole.

Back at Ephiny’s office…

Xena stared at the map putting markers in the still unsearched areas. "Well that should do it. That covers the entire Amazon territory. Solari must be somewhere up north in this area." She pointed to a small dense spot on the map.

Ephiny nodded in agreement and yelled for her lead scout. A young warrior with dark skin and long dark hair appeared. "Yes my queen."

"Sheloppa I want you to take a group here." She pointed to the spot on the map. "If you find Solari and her band in trouble then help them and send a messenger back." She shook her head. "If you find them in good health then toss her across a saddle and drop her at my door." Her voice was a mixture of anger and concern.

Sheloppa bowed her head. "Yes my queen. We will leave immediately."

Ephiny wanted to lead the group herself but her duties to her people and to her village forced her to remain. It was only in the most dyer circumstances that a queen would lead such a scouting mission. However, Ephiny cared for all her warriors as sisters and young Solari held a special place as her friend.

Xena stopped the young warrior with a wave. "Watch the trees and the ground carefully. If you see something strange strike first and ask questions later."

Sheloppa bowed her head knowing that any advice from the reputed Warrior Princess was a gift. "Thank you Warrior Princess."

Xena shook her head at the title. "It’s Xena …just Xena."

Sheloppa glanced at the queen who blinked and then turned back to the famous warrior. "Yes Xena, I will watch above and below." With those words spoken the head scout hurried out the door and the queen and warrior could hear the flurry of hoof prints as the search party departed.

Xena glanced at Ephiny. "Wanna go don’t ya?" she asked with a smirk.

The queen glanced at the map and then her warrior friend. "Yup but I am needed here. She sighed. "It wouldn’t look very good if the queen wasn’t present at the Artemis Feast." She grinned and let her head drop to one side. "You wanna go Xena?" she asked with a smirk of her own.

The warrior nodded. "Yup but I am needed here as well." She gave a crooked smile. "It wouldn’t look very good if my kid destroyed the Artemis feast."

The two friends laughed at the ties that now bound them but then Xena’s smile quickly disappeared and she again glanced out the window.

Ephiny allowed some air from her lungs to drain and moved beside the warrior. "Ok what’s wrong now?" she asked knowing her friend’s thoughts had been divided all morning.

She grinned a bit but her mind still a bit distant. "Oh nothing I was just thinking about how it feels to be needed." She ran a finger across the surface of her own hand. Have you ever lifted a shovel with stitches in your hand Eph?"

Ephiny stared at her friend and smiled. "Come on." She tugged on Xena’s arm.

The warrior mother feigned a look of surprise. "Where are we going? I thought you had to help Gabrielle with the plans for the Artemis Feast."

"Oh she won’t let me even look in the hall. She doesn’t want any help" She grinned. "However, you are not gonna be happy until you check that kid’s bandage and make sure Eponon is not boiling her in oil."

Xena let out a quick breath and tried not to smile. "Well I would like to make sure the bandage is staying clean and the stitches are Ok but that’s it. We are not helping. I already told Eppy to let her do only a little of it."

"Uh huh." Ephiny removed her headdress and armbands.

The warrior cocked a brow at the action. "What are you doing?"

The Amazon queen turned her head and frowned. "If you think I’m getting mud on my feathers your crazy."

Xena thought about protesting the idea of letting her daughter off so early and so easy but the truth was she had wanted to stay with her from the very moment she saw the mud hole and the look on the weapon’s master’s face. She grinned and followed her friend out the door ready to finish filling a very large mud pool.

Back at the mud…

Ephiny and Xena walked across the compound to the trail where the warrior had left her child in the care of the weapon’s master. When they arrived the mud pile was completely covered over and the youngster and Eponon were no where to be found.

Xena turned her head and scanned the area. Her eyes immediately locked on the side of a tree near the edge of the now covered pool where a familiar satchel, a small pair of britches and a neatly folded tunic hung. On the ground below was a little pair of unlaced boots. The mother gathered the items in her arms and stared at the queen. "What in the name of Hades is going on?" The mother again scanned the area. "Tarren," she called.

There was no response from the youngster but only the sound of a distant childish giggle coming from the woods in front of the pair. Xena grumbled a "C’mon." and walked through the woods until she was brought to a halt by the sight of a large group of warriors with their heads buried in their arms leaning against trees counting in unison. "Eight…nine…ten…."

Xena dropped her daughter’s belongings on a grassy patch and with Ephiny at her side moved over to the most familiar figure that was now up to 30 in her count. The queen tapped her weapons master on the shoulder. "Eponon!"

The weapons master’s shoulders slumped as she recognized the voice of her queen. She opened one eye out and let her head drop just a bit. "Hello Xena…Queen Ephiny."

Ephiny glared at her Amazon when she noticed the woman’s face was covered in a mask of mud. "What in the name of all the gifts of Artemis is going on here?" she asked with a touch of anger.

Xena was not wasting time waiting for a response. She ordered all the Amazon’s hiding their heads to show themselves hoping one would reveal her missing child. The warrior closed her eyes when she saw that each of the Amazons that lifted their heads from their arms had faces masked in mud. "Where’s Tarren?" she asked with a slight growl knowing somewhere close by was her nearly naked daughter.

Eponon shrugged her shoulders. "I dunno yet. We have to find her," she replied meekly.

Ephiny clapped her hands together and the Amazons came to attention immediately. She glared at he group one by one. "Do you mean to tell me that my best warriors lost this child again." She wiped a bit of mud from the weapon’s master’s forehead. "And what is this Eppy…Some new form of skin cleanser?" She peered at the group. "You know there are patrols to walk and scouting expeditions to prepare for. Perhaps some of you need double duty rather than joining in the feast tonight." She looked at Eponon. "What do you think Eponon?" she asked knowing her friend was the leader of this bunch.

The weapons master cringed at the thought. "I can explain my Queen."

Before she could answer a small child wearing nothing more than her underclothes and a body covered in mud dropped to a branch right above the queen. She dangled her legs over the side as she stared at the regal Amazon. "No Ephiny please don’t be mad at them. They helped fill the mud pile, so I said I’d teach them show them how I hid from them…Ya know like I did yesterday." She nodded stiffly and stared at the shocked queen. "It was a fair trade."

There was a familiar husky growl. "Tarren!"

The child turned her head and saw standing a few paces away a rather large muscular warrior who shared the same blue eyes. "Uh Oh," she said with a gulp. The youngster glanced over at her mother as if seeing her for the very first time. Her stubborn expression disappeared replaced by a rather contrite smile. "Oh hi Momma…you’re back fast. I figured you’d be back much later," she said swallowing hard.

Xena’s face turned from concern to utter disbelief as she stared at the small muddy creature that called her Momma. "Tarren what do you think…I told you not to…You can’t…." The mother could not complete one sentence without feeling her blood pressure rise.

Ephiny looked up at the little girl and then back at the weapons master. "Eponon you asked a child to teach you how to hide?" she asked in utter disbelief.

The mud faced Amazon shrugged and let her head fall slightly to one side. "I don’t know what happened. One minute I was watching her fill the mud and the next I was filling the hole, telling stories of how I got my feathers and covering my face with mud." She shook her head. "I swear the child cast a spell on me."

Xena stared up at her young daughter as she listened to the all to a familiar tail. "Come down here," she ordered.

The child held tightly to the security of the branch. "Why Momma?"

The warrior took a deep breath and her eyes went wide at the question. "Because I told you too." That should be reason enough.

The youngster bit her lip and shook her head. "But you sound real mad. If I come down am I gonna get a spankin?" she asked remembering her mother’s warning about the mud. She had expected to be cleaned and dressed before the warrior returned.

Xena stared at the ground for a moment and then glanced around at the group of Amazons waiting for her reply. She gritted her teeth and looked again at the child. "Tarren get your naughty little backside down here right now," she commanded. It was bad enough to have this conversation but to have it in front of the Amazons was too much.

The youngster held stubbornly to the side of the tree. "No Momma. I’m a Warrior Princess now…I don’t haffta come down." She paused and tried to gather a bit of courage in her shaky voice. It was time for negotiations. "Unless you tell me I won’t get a spankin."

Xena glanced at all the warriors that she called friends. "I would like to thank you all very much for the help you have given me today." With those words spoken the Warrior Princess vaulted in the air flipping easily onto a branch directly over her child. "Oh you are in real trouble little girl." She grabbed the youngster by the waist and vaulted once more to the ground placing the child on the ground beside her keeping a firm grip on her arm.

Tarren could not help but smile proudly at her mother’s agility. "That was real good Momma." She paused. "Ya know I was just teasing about being a Warrior Princess. I was just coming down all alone when ya got there, se said with a broad smile.

The warrior arched her brown and widened her eyes. The child immediately went quiet knowing this was the signal not to speak. "Uh huh I’ll bet you were. Let me see your hand," she ordered. The mother pushed her anger to one side to examine the wound.

The child presented the hand that still had the sack covering it. "I didn’t get no mud on it," she whispered proudly. "I was pretty good don’t ya think?" she asked hopefully.

"No I do not think you were pretty good!" Xena looked at the bandage and the cut thankful that neither had been damaged. She took a deep breath as she scanned the muddy youngster. "Tarren how much of the hole did you fill?" she asked wondering why she was covered in mud.

The youngster held up her fingers. "Three scoops."

Xena closed her eyes and bobbed her head up and down. "Three?"

"Uh huh then Eponon helped. The dirt was awful heavy and she’s real strong Momma. She told me some great stories about how she earned all her feathers. Then the other warriors came over and helped too and they got some really good stories too. When we were finished they asked if I could show them how to hide." The youngster motioned to her muddy form. "I had to do it Momma since Eponon didn’t want me to fill the hole. It was the only way to be a better Warrior Princess." She paused and took a short breath. "I got a feather every time they couldn’t find me. I’ve got five cause they never found me."

Xena glared at the now quiet weapon’s master. "You’d have her digging ditches if she were yours huh?" She repeated the Amazon’s earlier words through clenched teeth.

Eponon kept her eyes lowered and let her head drop against the side of the hard tree trunk.

Xena glanced down at her small child and opened her palm. "Give me the feathers."

Tarren looked at the colorful but muddy feathers in her grip. "But I earned them fair Momma."

Xena tightened her hold on the child’s wrist and leaned in closer. "Was that you talking back to me?" She lowered her head. "Because if it was I should warn you that you are already in very big trouble young lady."

The youngster realized for the first time just how very angry her mother was. This was serious. She immediately handed her the feathers over. "Yes ma’am. I really don’t need any more feathers than the one I have anyway," she replied, grateful that the little red one was now in her satchel.

Xena closed her fist around the plumes and shoved them into Ephiny’s hand. She motioned to the muddy Amazons standing silently around them. "They are your problem to deal with." She pointed a finger down at her small wayward daughter. "She is mine." The mother picked up the child’s belongings with one hand and with a quick swipe hoisted the youngster across her hip taking long angry strides toward a nearby stream.

Tarren waved to the group. "Bye guys. Thanks for filling the hole with me and telling me the stories. It was lots of fun."

Eponon smiled and waved but seeing the expression on her queen’s face stood at full attention.

Ephiny paced back and forth in front of her. "Alright you and your warriors are feeling so compassionate. Good. I have an assignment for you. I want Flappy Jackies and I want you to get Boralla to make them for me," she ordered a she paced around the group.

Eponon lowered her head. "Ephiny no not that. You know she’ll skin us alive for just going in there with mud on are bodies."

Ephiny grinned knowing it was the truth. She turned to her friend and let her voice become regal and authoritative. "Are you refusing an assignment weapons master?

Eponon bowed her head submissively. "No my Queen."

The queen smiled and pointed to the distant galley. "Then take your warriors and go get me my Flappy Jackies…Now!"

Eponon bowed and tilted her head to motion her warriors toward the kitchen.

Ephiny watched from a safe distance as her best warriors entered the kitchen and in moments each one was tossed roughly out a window or a door. Finally all she saw was the old cook standing on the steps shaking her head warning the group not to enter her domain again.

The Amazon queen sighed and walked back toward the village. "Oh well no Flappy Jackies today," she mumbled.

Chapter 26 - Repent

At the stream…

Xena took long strides until she reached the small stream on the outskirts of the Amazon trails.

The youngster lay limp at her mother’s side considering her current situation. She knew that failing to dismount her tree limb had only added to the trouble. However she was sure this was not a good time to speak.

When they reached the edge of the water Xena dropped the clothes to one side and lowered her small daughter to the other. "Don’t move," she ordered.

Tarren nodded. "Yes ma’am." She smiled up at her mother and wiggled her fingers in greeting but that only seemed to make the warrior’s brow arch higher.

Xena paced back and forth wearing out a spot in the grass. With each step she removed a piece of armor and tossed it to the ground until she was left in nothing more then her skiff. "Thinks this is still all some kind of game. She smiles and waves…gets feathers…covers herself in mud…says she’s training the Amazon’s to hide…She’s a Warrior Princess…Tells me she’ll stay up in the tree until I tell her…." The rambling stopped and the mother turned and faced her mischievous child.

Tarren swallowed hard and reached her arms up in offering of a hug but the mother just folded her arms across her chest and shook her head. "Not this time."

The youngster lowered her arms. "Wouldn’t this be a good time for a hug a Momma?"

Xena stared at the small form standing before her covered in mud. "Not at this moment."

Tarren bit her lip and waited patiently for some indication of what was to come. She did not have to wait long.

After removing her boots and tossing them over her shoulder the now quiet mother dropped to one knee grabbed the wayward child leaning the youngster over the muscular thigh. Before a pleading word could be spoken from the small form tilted over her mother’s leg the large palm of justice delivered a half dozen swats to the seat of the child’s under britches causing the youngster to immediately break into a wave of sniffles and tears.

When Xena felt her message had been delivered and the child had paid adequately for her infraction she lifted the child up tossed the muddy underclothes to the grass and carried the now bawling youngster into the center of the stream. With a scowl and a grumble the mother began the long arduous process of washing a body of mud without benefit of soap. The warrior’s expression remained stiff as she cleaned the caked mud from her young daughter using little more some balled up wet grass as a wash cloth.

Tarren lay in her mother’s hold as the warrior removed the muddy remnants of a playful outing. "You gave…me…a…spankin…." she said with a cracked voice as she held tightly to her mother’s arm.

Xena turned the child from side to side washing off mud on every limb and finally the little girl’s face. The answer was quiet and without hesitation. "Yes I did."

The youngster bit her lip and sniffled as the tears ran down her cheek. "But…but…I didn’t touch the sword or take nothin and I got the big one already."

Xena nodded as she continued to clean mud from the youngster’s ears. "Yup you got the big one and you just got the little one…Keep behaving the way you have been and it will be back to a big one again."

"But Momma…I …was being a good Warrior Princess and training the troops. How come…I…got a spankin?" she asked reaching beneath the water surface to run a soothing hand over her newly swatted backside.

Xena turned the child to face her. "Answer that question for yourself. You tell me why you got a spanking?" The words were serious but not without genuine love and concern.

The little girl bit her lip and reached down into the water to rub her stinging bottom once again. She felt sure she knew the answer but hoped that if she didn’t speak it out loud it would not be true. "I dunno…Momma."

Xena shook her head and stared at the small contrite child. "Tarren you know I told you that you weren’t allowed to play at all today and you were playing hide and find me with the Amazons." She responded in a parental no nonsense tone.

The weepy child rolled out her lower lip and widened her eyes as the tears continued to stream. "I was training…I wasn’t playing."

Xena did not want to go so far as to ruin the little girl’s fascination with her favorite game. However she would not allow the youngster to use a game as a means to escaping the truth. "Tarren you were playing and having fun and you know it," she said sternly.

The little girl wiped her eyes with the back of her hand. "Maybe…but I tried not to."

The warrior shook her head at the child’s second attempt at admitting her mistakes. "Are you supposed to have fun when you are being punished?" she asked point blank knowing they had covered this subject earlier.

"No Momma."

"Did I tell you not to get any mud on you?"

The little girl had a vague recollection of such a warning. "I think so. I forget."

"Well I don’t think you will forget again. Do you?" she asked with a deep husky tone.

The child rubbed her bottom and let tears fall down her cheeks as her mother scrubbed her dirty skin clean. "No ma’am."

Xena gave the child’s arm a gentle tug. "And when I tell you to get out of a tree you do not question me and you do not argue or try and bargain. You just move your little backside as fast as you can to do what you are told to do! Do you understand me young lady?" This was the most important thing to be made clear. Xena did not want to be on a trail in the midst of battle and have her small child dropping to the ground to play Warrior Princess with road bandits.

The child poked out her lower lip and lowered her head. She could not keep her tears from falling and her mother’s stare was a bit too much to endure. "Yes ma’am."

Xena drained some of the air from her lungs and hoisted the child over her shoulder. The child was as clean as she was going to get under the circumstances. "That will have to do until we get back to the cottage and can give you a real bath," she muttered, daring the youngster to complain about such an event.

Tarren said nothing but merely lay over her mother’s shoulder sniffling and wiping away tears wishing she could rub the spot where the little one had just met the big one.

The warrior mother placed her wet and naked child down on the grass and wrapped her leathers around the youngster to keep her warm while she picked up enough small pieces of dry wood to start a small fire. After she had started a flame she placed the still teary child in front of the burning amber to get warm while she washed out the muddy underclothes.

After stretching out all the clothes neatly by the fire, the warrior sat down across from the standing youngster. She folded her legs in close to her chest and twisted her lips in frustration. Somehow this day kept getting worse and worse and it was her friends who were helping it get there.

Tarren continued to let her tears roll down her cheeks and sniffle but said nothing. She did not wish to get into anymore trouble than she was already in.

After a calming moment the warrior mother called her child over. "C’mere."

The little girl’s eyes went wide and she turned to face her mother but did not move. "Am I gonna get it again?" she asked with a hard swallow.

The mother closed her eyes. Still this youngster had not learned to do as she was told. "If you are you’ll find out when you get here. Now come over here," she repeated in a gentle tone.

The child quickly skidded to her mother’s side. "Yes ma’am."

Xena stared at the contrite child draped in a leather towel for a long moment and then let out a long breath and opened her arms.

Tarren did not wait for a word to be spoken or verbal offer to be made. She quickly fell into the affectionate offering eager to have the comfort of her mother’s love.

The mother wrapped her arms tenderly around her child. Feeling the heat of the fire growing she tossed her leathers to one side and ran her hand gently up and down the child’s back as she listened to the muffled tears being spilled into her shoulder. "Ok enough crying." She kissed the little girl’s head and cradled her so the youngster could not hide in her shoulder. "Damn it Tarren. The last thing I wanted to have to do today was give you a swat," she chided.

The little girl sniffled and bit her lip. "There were six and that makes it a spankin not a swat," she replied feeling the heat of her mother’s hand from both the big one and the more recent little one.

Xena let her voice drop to a husky tone. "You are very lucky I didn’t bare your little butt and give a really good one," she replied still keeping her voice low and gentle.

The child rubbed her eyes with the balls of her fist. "Why Momma? I was doing good stuff."

The warrior mother pulled the child in closer. "You were not doing what you were told and you were not doing what you were supposed to do." She took a deep breath and shook a warning finger. "And young lady if you learn nothing else you will learn to do what I tell you to do and you will learn that there will be a price to pay when you do not."

Tarren grumbled remembering just how that price was paid. "But Momma it’s not my fault if I’m too damn cute for my own good. You said so yourself." Desperate times called for desperate measures.

Xena suppressed a grin and shook a warning finger at the child. "I also told you not to say words like that," she warned.

The youngster quickly covered her mouth and spoke through her fingers. "Sorry Momma I was just…Sorry."

"Uh huh." The warrior shook her head and leaned back in the grass taking the little girl with her. "What am I gonna do with you?" she asked the small face with the wide blue innocent stare.

Tarren shrugged not really having a fair suggestion.

Xena looked at the chubby cheeks with the now masked dimples and sighed. She used the side of her thumb to wipe away a falling tear. "You must think the whole world is against you…even me." She tried to consider how the world must look from the little one’s point of view.

The child considered the words and sniffled. "No not you Momma. I love you lots."

The warrior smiled at this child’s undying love. "Really?"

The little girl rolled out her lip and nodded. She wanted her mother to be sure of this fact. "Uh huh lots and lots Momma."

The warrior ran her hands through the youngster’s hair and closed her eyes. "Even though I had to give you the big one." Even Xena was starting to make it sound like a religious experience.

The child nodded her head vigorously wondering why grown ups made such a big deal out of everything. "Uh huh you’re my Momma and that’s Momma stuff. You know that. Besides I did take your sword and bust it up," she replied still feeling a touch of guilt.

"Yeah you did." The mother smiled and wiped some wet hairs from the child’s forehead. "So you love me even though I make you do scrolls and eat your vegetables and face the tree when you misbehave?" Xena wasn’t sure exactly where she was going with this but she knew she had a point.

The little girl was confused by any question of her mother’s love or methods. "Of course you’re my momma. That’s your job cause you love me."

"Yup I sure do love you little one." Xena again nodded hoping her own train of thought was doing something more than causing a dull ache in her stomach from the recounting of her duties as a parent. "So you still love me even though all I’ve done all day is yell at you, make you do stuff as punishment and then gave you another spanking?" She lowered her eyes for affect. "Ya know I’m pretty tough on you sometimes, so I thought maybe you were sorry you had me for a Momma," she said in a near whisper.

The little girl’s eyes welled with tears and her lower lip started to quiver as she made a vice like grip around the warrior’s neck. "No you’re my Momma and I love you. I don’t want anyone else. You’re not too tough. I was bad. You’re my Momma. I was just bad. I wasn’t supposed to touch the mud or play and I didn’t come out of the tree when you told me too. You’re a good Momma and I love you. I don’t want no one else to be my Momma." The small child hugged tightly to her mother as if afraid to loosen her hold meant to lose her.

Xena could feel a single tear rushing down her cheek ad closed her eyes in hopes it would discourage others from following. "Shh baby It’s Ok. I am your Momma and nothing will ever change that." She took a deep breath and nuzzled the little girl closer. "I’m all yours and you’re stuck with me." She sat up and cradled the now crying youngster in her arms.

Tarren kept a fist full of her mother’s dark mane in her hand and spoke through sniffles. "I like being stuck to ya Momma. I don’t ever wanna be unstuck."

Xena smiled and closed her eyes. "Monster, I like being stuck together with you too and I promise nothing will ever unstick us. Ok?" Perhaps this approach had not been a good idea after all. It had taken so long for the child to become secure in her mother’s love and presence that to test the youngster’s faith at this point may not have been wise.

The child nodded but kept her hold tight on her mother anyway. "My Mommy," she whispered possessively.

"Yeah your Mommy," she repeated softly. Wanting to get back to the subject at hand the mother tilted the child’s head back to face her. "But your mommy sees that when you think about it you know exactly what you did wrong today as well." She used the tips of her fingers to lift the child’s chin up. "You know what you did wrong today don’t you?" she repeated.

For a moment the sniffles stopped and the youngster’s eyes went wide. "That was real tricky Momma," the child mumbled. The little girl frowned realizing that in her flurry of concern over her mother she had inadvertently confessed more of her thoughts than she had planned. "Rats! Yes Momma I know," she replied quietly realizing she had been outdone by the best.

Xena reached over and took a tiny piece of cloth from her armor and wiped the child’s face and eyes. "Then you know why you got a spanking don’t you?"

The little girl rolled out her lower lip. "Yes Momma I was…naughty." She sighed. "I didn’t do what you told me to do. I’m sorry I just really wanted to play Warrior Princess with Eponon and her friends."

The mother grinned remembering her own days of childhood when she too would have given anything to play such a game with a group of trained warriors. "I know you did and we both know you did something wrong and you now know why your bottom is five swats more sore than it was before."

The little girl looked up and into her mother’s loving, blue gaze. "Six Momma. It was a six swat spankin." The child wanted her mother to know that each swat had its own painful meaning so the extra one counted quite a lot and should not be forgotten.

Xena nodded in understanding. "Sorry my mistake…six swats."

The child closed her eyes and lay her head back down on her mother’s chest. She thought about her mother’s words and again let a tear fall. "Momma?"


Tarren ran her small fingers along the edge of the cotton shift. "I don’t never want anyone else to be my momma but I understand if you don’t want me to be your baby anymore. I mean you could probably trade me in for another kid or something…one that listens to ya and stuff. I am lots of trouble and I do make you mad and cry and haffta give spankins when you don’t wanna." She bit her lip trying to hold back her own tears at the thought of her mother taking her to some place where parents traded their naughty children for ones that knew how to behave properly.

"Oh Gods Tarren." Xena gently placed the girl over one shoulder and wrapped her arms tightly around the small form. "Hey you are my kid…my baby girl and don’t you ever forget that. I wouldn’t give you up for anything in the entire world Monster. Don’t you know how much I love you? Don’t you know how much I need you? I couldn’t make it without you in my life little one. Remember you and I share one heart," the mother said through a cracked voice.

The little girl glanced up at he warrior. "I remember Momma." She noticed that tears were now streaming down her mother’s face. The child reached out a hand to wipe a few away with her small finger. "Are ya sure Momma?" she asked realizing she had again made her mother cry.

Xena closed he eyes and took a deep breath. "I have never been so sure of anything in my life and if I ever even think you are considering finding yourself another Momma that big one is going to look like a gentle swat. You got me youngster?" her words were as stern as she could make them but she could not help but smile.

Tarren sniffled and tried to smile knowing that this was her mother’s way of saying just how much love was inside of her. "I won’t never want another Momma. I love my real Momma lots and lots." She paused and lowered her eyes. "I’m sorry I didn’t do what I was supposed to do to make stuff right. I guess I’ll never be good Warrior Princess."

Xena ran her hands along the sides of the child’s cheeks. "Yes you will. You just need a little help. It seems that not everyone can get passed that little dimple smile of yours but I can, so from now on we are doing this together." She got to her feet and reached for the child’s now dry underclothes. "I am going to stay with you for the rest of the day and make sure you make things right."

The child raised her arms in the air so her mother could slip on the undershirt and tunic. "Ya will Momma?" she asked, excited just to have her mother’s company on such a dark day.

The warrior leaned the child over her lap and yanked on the little britches. "You better believe I will. There is a pile of arrows waiting to be stacked and that’s exactly what you are going to do," she said with a nod. The mother laced the britches and finally the boots tucked in the child’s tunic and looked her youngster over for one final inspection.

The little girl felt her waistline to make sure her britches were not getting too tight. She sighed with relief to find they were still quite loose. "Momma are ya still mad at me?" she asked tilting her head back and staring up into the eyes of her very tall mother.

Xena lifted the little girl into the air and started walking. She thought about the events of that day and sighed. "No I’m not mad at you. Tarren I wanted you to do these things so you learned a lesson about the right way to behave. I don’t enjoy punishing you but I’m your momma and I have to help you learn right from wrong." She paused and looked at the little girl in her arms. "How can I do that if everyone in the village plays with you when you are supposed to be thinking about what you did wrong?" she asked knowing it was a rhetorical question.

The child shrugged. "Sorry Momma I don’t know. That’s a tough question. I’m just a little kid and then sounds like Momma stuff again."

Xena grinned at the words and wrapped her arms around the little girl placing a gentle kiss on her cheek. "Yeah it’s Momma stuff alright and I wouldn’t have it any other way."

The child smiled and laced her fingers happily around the warrior’s neck. All of this affection was just what the doctor had ordered. "So what’s next?"

The mother frowned at the thought. "Probably a party if the Amazons had their way…but they don’t." She took a long breath and held the child closer. "So your mean old Momma is going to stay with you and make sure you stack those arrows."

The child gave her mother her best sloppy kiss and nuzzled in close to the warrior’s shoulder. "You’re not mean Momma." She opened her eyes wide. "You just love me more than anyone else does."

Xena paused and looked at the small child nestled in her arms. The simple wisdom that the youngster possessed amazed her. Everything the mother had been trying to explain in long lectures the small child had said in one sentence. She smiled and kissed the little girl and cradled her in the infant like fashion she knew the little one liked to be held. "Thanks baby, I do love you more that anyone could ever possibly imagine and I’m glad you know that."

Tarren shrugged wondering why this information seemed new to her mother when the child had been aware of it from the first day they had met. "Momma sometimes you baffle my mind too." She wasn’t quite sure what it meant but she did know that her own expression matched that of her mother’s when she had heard the words spoken before.

The warrior mother chuckled and swung the child in her arms as they walked. "I do huh?" She grinned. "Good that makes us even."

The little girl smiled but then grimaced a bit. "Momma?"


Tarren glanced around at the trees. You just never knew who was listening from where around here, so the child whispered in the words in her mother’s ear.

Xena gave a quirky smile. "You are spoiled," she said with a sigh.

The little girl bit he lip and opened her eyes wide. "But two spankins in two days is not a good thing. I know I was naughty but I got the big one and then the little one and…."

Xena grinned and placed a single finger over the child’s lips. She tossed the child gently over her right shoulder. "But you’re mine to spoil," she said with a raised brow and a grin.

The youngster let out a long breath of relief when she felt her mother’s soothing hand caressing the seat of her britches. She smiled with appreciation. "Thanks Momma."

"Uh huh." As the warrior continued her maternal rub she sighed. "You are quite welcome little one." She paused. "You just see that I don’t have to make it two in one day youngster," she warned knowing they still had a feast to attend.

The little girl’s eyes popped out just at the mere thought. "No…no…Momma…I’ll be real good and do everything you tell me. I promise." This was an oath that would not be broken.

Hearing what she knew was a sincere statement, the mother resumed the maternal caress of the child’s very well spanked bottom. "Good cause I’d be really unhappy if that happened."

The child swallowed hard at the mere thought of such an occurrence. "Me too."

The warrior mother nodded knowing that was the truth. "Ok then you and I will stack the arrows together and then we will go back to the cottage and finish this up."

The little girl tilted her head back. "You’re gonna help me Momma?"

Xena continued taking long strides as she spoke. "Yes I am."

"Why? You weren’t naughty Momma."

The warrior grinned as she remembered the field of fallen Amazons. "Because sometimes we all need a little help making things right Tarren and like I said before I’m your Momma so your mess is my mess. We’re partners." She paused. "But mostly because I love you and I wouldn’t mind having you all to myself for a while this afternoon so I’m anxious get this all over with."

Tarren grinned at her mother’s desire to spend time with her. This was turning into a better day. "Ok Momma if you say so. You’re the boss."

The warrior brought the child in front of her and kissed her on the cheek. "Yeah so I keep telling myself." She paused as she considered her own logic and the child gave a slight wiggle of her rear hoping for a lot more comforting.


The mother sighed at the maneuver of a tiny backside shifting in front of her. "Gods you really are spoiled," she said firmly before resuming her parental task with a crooked smile the youngster could not see. "Youngster you better be so good tonight."

At the end of the trail…

Xena sighed as she approached the place with the fallen arrows had been located. This was not something she was looking forward to. Tarren was so tired that she was already napping in her mother’s arms. The warrior mother felt the child had in many ways been punished enough, but she felt it was important that the youngster complete at least one task as planned.

However when the pair arrived at their destination the warrior found a well-stacked group of arrows. She stared at the arrangement in disbelief. "How in Hades…." Hearing the crack of a twig she looked at the stone wall that encircled the village. She watched as a single arrow was passed from one set of hands to another until it reached the stack and was placed neatly on the pile. This act was repeated several times. "Son of a…." She glanced at her napping daughter and restrained herself from finishing that sentence. "By the gods I don’t believe this." The warrior took a deep breath and gave the child a gentle nudge. "Tarren baby wake up."

The little girl’s eyes flickered open. "Huh…Oh hi Momma." She yawned. "I’m sorry…I fell asleep a bit but I’m ready to work."

The warrior grinned and placed the half-dazed child against a tree. "I know you are." She rubbed the little girl’s cheek. "But right now I want you to stay here and be real quiet."

The little girl wrapped her arms around the tree trunk determined not to disobey her mother again on this day. There was after all no reason to test her mother’s strength. She could still feel it echoing behind her. "I won’t move Momma," she whispered with a tired smile.

Xena grinned knowing the child was trying very hard to behave. "Good girl." The warrior moved quietly to where she had seen the pair of hands stacking arrows, and the next time the arms reached out to place an arrow on the pile Xena grabbed them and pulled the figure in front of her. "Hello Gabrielle."

The princess felt the tight hold of the warrior’s grasp and grimaced a bit. "Oh Xena hi…I…we…Uh...I heard that you had a little trouble and thought maybe…."

Xena smiled. "You thought maybe what?" The warrior kept a firm grip on her friend arm as she looked behind the long stone wall for the other culprits who had been passing the arrows secretly along. She shook her head in disbelief. "Ephiny! Boralla! Eponon?" She looked further down the wall and saw that nearly fifty Amazons were sitting in the line up waiting to offer their help.

The mother released her friend. She grinned a bit at the large group knowing they were only doing what they did out of care and concern for her child. She looked at Gabrielle. "Ok I appreciate that all of you want o help Tarren, but she has to learn to do this on her own so she is going to finish it all by herself," she stated firmly.

Gabrielle glanced at the seated queen and then took a step back motioning toward the stack. "Anything you say Xena. You are her mother." There was something in the bard’s voice that made that sound somewhat unimportant at the moment.

The mother folded her arms against her chest. "That’s right I am her mother!" She turned and called to her child. "Tarren!"

The youngster sprinted to her mother’s side and seeing all her friends sitting beside the wall waved. "Hi…What are ya playing?" she asked wishing she were not being punished so she too could join the game.

The mother let out a quick breath and brought her attention to the child. "They are playing a very naughty game called make Xena look like a mean Momma."

The little girl shook her finger at each of them. "Shame on you. My Momma is not mean. She’s just my momma and she loves me lots." She reached out and hugged the warrior’s legs to emphasize the point.

Gabrielle sighed and for the first time realized that perhaps she had been wrong to organize this little troop. It had only started as she and Ephiny and then Eponon wandered over and before they knew it there was a wall full of Amazons eager to lend a hand to help the little Warrior Princess.

Xena nodded approvingly and lifted the little girl into her arms. "That’s my girl. Now Tarren you and I discussed this. I know it seems tough but you and I are going to have to finish this stacking all by ourselves."

The child nodded and looked at the large neat stack. "Ok Momma."

The warrior placed the youngster in front of the high pile and affectionately rubbed the little girl’s head. "Are ya ready?"

"Uh huh."

Xena peered at Gabrielle. "Give me he next arrow please," she said with a slight frown. Of all people she had expected that her best friend would understand the importance of the child learning from her mistakes.

The princess smiled and placed the narrow stick in Xena’s hand. The warrior let out a deep breath but handed the item to Tarren. "Don’t touch the point. Hold it in the middle and place it on top of the stack." The mother watched each step carefully.

The small child dropped her head back and eyed the large wall of arrows. "Momma can I have a boost?"

The mother glanced at the small size of her child and the now tall stack and shook her head. "Oh yeah sorry." She lifted the youngster into the air and watched as the little girl placed the arrow in it’s proper spot.

The warrior nodded and placed the child back on the ground. "Ok Gabrielle where are the rest of them? Tarren and I will finish this ourselves."

The princess smiled broadly and folded her arms against her chest. "That was the last one Xena."

The warrior looked at he tall stack and then the queen who nodded in agreement. "What?"

Ephiny shrugged her shoulders. "Sorry…That was the last one. It’s all finished now." All of a sudden the queen was realizing this had not been a very good idea.

Hearing that Tarren had finished her task the Amazons sitting along the wall applauded loudly. This act was quickly silenced when Xena’s eyes flashed with anger and she glared at each of the cohorts. "That’s just great," she growled.

Tarren poked her head out and tugged on her mother’s arm. "Momma ya want me to knock it over again so we can make it right ourselves?"

The mother considered the thought but shook her head. "No baby it’s a nice idea but it just wouldn’t be the same." She lifted the little girl into her arms and gave the long line of Amazons one final stare of dissatisfaction. "Ephiny! Gods Eponon?" She turned gave her best friend a glare that said they would discuss his later and headed back toward the cottage where no one could interfere.

Tarren poked her head out from behind her mother’s shoulder wondering why the bard was not telling stories to the other children as she had planned. "Hi Gabby."

The young woman smiled at being addressed by the affectionate title. She wanted to reach out to the child but remembered how adamant Xena was about the plan so she merely returned the greeting politely. "Hi Tarren."

The child sighed and lowered her head onto her mother’s shoulder as they made their way back to the village. She ran her small hands around the warrior’s neck grateful for this one person’s unconditional love and attention.

Back at the cottage….

Xena sat at the table letting her fingers drum on the table as she watched her young daughter facing the corner. This was the final stage of the punishment for which the mother was grateful. The child had been standing there for no more than10 minutes before the mother called her. "C’mere Tarren."

The youngster turned and frowned at the warrior. "But Momma my hours not up. I’m still thinkin."

Xena grinned and patted her leg motioning for the little girl to join her. "I know but I want you to think with me now."

The child approached and after throwing on the usual padding crawled into her mother’s lap. "Don’t ya want me to think about what I did today?" she asked.

The mother shook her head as she herself recalled the events of the day. "No not really."

"How come Momma?"

The warrior scratched her head. "Somehow I think you would miss the point." She leaned back in the chair and the little girl nuzzled into her spot. The mother smiled and ran a gentle hand over the child’s head. "Tarren I don’t like punishing you. I just wanted to teach you that if you make a mistake you have to be willing to take the consequences."

The youngster sighed knowing it was again lecture time. "What’s a con..se..quence?"

Xena patted the child’s bottom. "That’s a consequence. It means something that happens because you were naughty."

The child swallowed hard and rubbed her bottom tenderly. "Don’t want another con…sequ…ence."

"No I would hope not." Xena rocked the little girl back and forth and let her voice become as quiet and soothing as possible. "Tarren do you know why all those people helped you today and weren’t mad a you?" she asked deciding a lesson of some kind would be learned.

Tarren shrugged as she played with her favorite straps. "Cause they’re my friends?"

Xena took the child’s hand in her own and smiled. "That’s right and they forgave you and even risked me getting mad a them just to help you."

The youngster considered the words and smiled. "Yeah that was sure nice of them."

Xena nodded as she gave thought to the action of her own friends. "That’s the way friends and family are for each other." She paused. "We help each other out and understand when someone makes a mistake…Sometimes we even help them fix their mistakes like people did for you today."

The child could feel her own stomach starting to ache. "Are we talking about Gabby again?" she asked noting the familiar path of conversation.

"Yes we are my smart little one."

The little girl lowered her eyes and fiddled with the warrior’s armor. "But Momma, I don’t think she wants to be my Gabby anymore. She plays with other kids now."

The warrior sighed, realizing perhaps her plan had been a bad one. "No Tarren, she just wants you to know that she needs to be treated with love and forgiveness when she makes mistakes just like you do. Lots of people would like to have a Gabby around so we’re pretty lucky to have her. She may not be perfect and she may make mistakes but so do we. She forgives us and she still loves us when we do. I think its about time you learned to show her some of that same understanding."

Tarren bit her lip. "I have missed her ya know."

Xena brought the little girl in closer and smiled. "I know."

The youngster rolled out her lip and held tightly to her mother. "I really don’t like it when she plays with other kids instead of me."

The warrior nodded. Maybe the plan was not half bad at that. "Why don’t you tell her that?" she asked softly.

The little girl shook her head stubbornly. "No she still breaks promises and fibs."

The warrior mother ran her hands through the child’s hair. "Tarren baby, I know you may find this hard to understand but grown-ups have lots of really important things to do sometimes. If we didn’t do them then the world might not be such a nice place for kids like you to live when you grow up. I believe, and so does, Gabrielle in working for a greater good."

The youngster had heard the words spoken between the pair but never found it worth asking about until now. "What’s that?"

Xena smiled knowing she was about to impart the most important lesson she herself had ever learned. "It means that sometimes we have to think of other people first and what’s best for the most amount of people and not just what makes us feel good." She paused. "Sometimes that even means we hurt ourselves or people we love accidentally just because we are trying really hard to do something that is best for a greater amount of people or the world."

This was hard for a small child to understand and Xena knew it.

"Oh so then what Gabby did was right?" the child asked wondering where she fit into the greater good plan.

"No baby it wasn’t right but sometimes you have to look at the reason people make mistakes."

"Momma did you look at the reason I was naughty?"

The mother sighed and tasseled the child’s hair. "Yes I did."

"Then how come I still go the big one and the little one?" the child asked with a frown.

"Because you deserved it and you know it." Xena shook her head. It was time to distinguish the difference between adults and children. "Tarren you are a small child and that means you get lots of stuff done for you. You like having stories read to you and you like when I carry you when you’re tired. Right?"

"Yeah I like that lots Momma."

Xena grinned at the youngster’s brimming enthusiasm. "Good. Ya see things like getting toys and getting tucked in at night are things little kids get because they are children and because they need to be taken care of. That’s fair. Right?"

Tarren knew this was a tricky question but she wasn’t sure what the trick was. "Yeah Momma I guess."

The mother patted the child’s leg. "Ok well when you are an adult there are certain things you get for being grown up. You have responsibilities and you have to think a lot about other people," she said in a gentle tone.

The little girl wrinkled her nose. "Hmm I’d rather be a kid."

Xena smiled knowing the child enjoyed her role in life. "I know ya would and that’s good. However, as a little kid that also means you have to do what you are told because I know what’s best for you. I make rules for you to follow because I care about you. When you don’t do what you’re told you either get in trouble or cause trouble and then I have to punish you because you need to learn right from wrong. That is also part of being a kid. Do you understand that?" she asked hopeful that she was being clear.

The youngster frowned it was obvious that their was not going to be a reconsideration of the spanking rule. "Yes Momma this sounds like the bad part of being a kid to me."

Xena nodded knowing it was the truth. "Yes well being a child is not easy Tarren. I know that. It’s tough to have people always telling you what to do and how to do it and then just when you think you can have some fun your mother comes along and tells you you’re not allowed to do it. Yup you have to be respectful and do what your told or you get your butt paddled. Right?"

The youngster frowned. This kid thing was starting to sound really bad.

The mother smiled at the child’s pouty expression. She cupped the little girl’s face in her hands. "But it also means you have people that love you an awful lot and would do anything for you. It means you never have to reach too far for a hug or to be held and that someone will always be there to love you and care for you," she said softly.

The little girl smiled. "Ya mean like you and me Momma?"

"Yeah just like you and me. It’s a tough life kid but I guess, I hope, it’s a fair trade for you."

Tarren reached up and hugged her mother. "Sure Momma I’d say it was a real fair trade cause I wouldn’t trade being your little kid for nothin even if I do haffta take baths and get the big one when I’m really naughty." She paused and then looked straight into her mother’s eyes. It was if she were walking through a door and seeing the warrior’s soul. She spoke in a very serious tone. "I love ya Mommy."

Xena closed her eyes and wrapped her arms tightly around the child. That new and more childish title kept popping up and each time it pierced the warrior’s heart like an arrow. "I love you too baby." After a long tender embrace the mother cleared her throat. " However Gabrielle is not a kid. Sometimes I even have to remind myself of that," she mumbled. "She’s an adult and she has a right to do things that other adult s do Tarren."

The youngster lowered her eyes. "Ya mean she doesn’t have to play with me if she doesn’t wanna?"

The warrior ran her hand along the side of the child’s face. "No it means…Tarren Gabrielle is learning a lot of new things about herself and that’s really important for her. And when she was acting as the leader of this tribe then she had to think of what was good for everyone and not just what was good for her or for you. That is the greater good."

Tarren fiddled with her mother’s armbands as she considered the words. "Would you have left for the greater good too Momma?"

Xena closed her eyes as she thought about the question. Such a simple thing to ask and yet the answer was so difficult. "No…Youngster you are my child and we are joined in a way that is very special. I could no more leave you behind than I could leave behind any other part of myself." She paused and stared at the small child seated in her lap. "My life has changed so much since I found you and for me the greater good is the responsibility and yes before you ask the privilege of keeping you safe and raising you well. That is my first and best responsibility to you, to me and to the world. Everything else comes after that now, but that is just between you and me." She ran a tender hand over the child’s face. "Gabrielle still needs to know what her path is Tarren and as her family it is our job to support her in her search and understand when she makes mistakes too."

"Momma is Gabby your friend?" the little girl asked.

Xena smiled at the question. "Tarren Gabrielle is more than my friend. She’s part of our family. Ya see, before you came along I was a bit lost. I was trying to get on a path that helped make things I had done wrong right again."

The child smiled broadly. "Like I was doing today Momma?"

The warrior shook her head at the comparison. "Well…no…yeah…sort of I guess." She took a deep breath." Anyway Gabrielle was the first person to ever have faith in me and she helped me to look inside myself and find a goodness." She sighed at the memory. "With her help I became a better person Tarren. She has stood by me through a lot and we have shared many things. I might not be the Momma you love so much if it weren’t for her. Ya see baby, Gabrielle was the one who showed me that loving someone was a very good thing." She grinned and touched the youngster’s nose with the tip of her finger. "So Gabrielle is my friend and my family and at times she has been my teacher too. I have a deep respect and gratitude for her that…." Realizing she had more than answered the child’s question she stopped.

Tarren cocked her head to one side. While she had often heard Gabrielle tell how much Xena changed her life and saved her from monsters and such the child had never heard her mother speak of the bard in such a way. "Momma do you love Gabby?"

The warrior grinned. "Of course I love her. She’s like my little sister Tarren."

The youngster shrugged her shoulders. "Oh well then if you love her Momma…I love her too."

Xena shook her head. "No Tarren this is one thing you can’t do just because I do it. It’s not like wanting to be a Warrior Princess or do stuff like I do. Gabrielle has real feelings and you have to search your heart and be honest with yourself and with her about how you feel."

The child could feel the warrior’s love surrounding her. She knew that her mother would never leave her behind unless she had no other choice. "I’ll try Momma. I mean I love Gabby in a way, but I’m not real sure how to talk to her anymore. "She paused. "Can I think on it?"

The warrior grinned and lifted the child in the air. "You do that and you think real hard because tonight is the feast of Artemis and it is a very important night to all the Amazons and Gabrielle has been working very hard making it special for everyone."

"I will Momma." She grinned a bit and let her dimples show. "So are we gonna play now?"

Xena shook her head. "No we are not gonna play now. You are going take your nap."

Tarren twisted her lips. "I don’t need a nap Momma. I’m not tired."

Xena lifted the little girl up and carried her to the pallet. "Hmm…I wonder why."

The child yawned and leaned against her mother’s shoulder as the warrior undressed her and placed her in the blankets. "Now you take a nap and when you wake up we’ll have our midday meal and you can do some of your scroll work."

The youngster pulled on the warrior’s arm and smiled. "And then?"

Xena grinned and gave the child a quick tickle. "And then maybe you and I will take a nice long walk together just the two of us. I don’t really think you wanna ride."

Tarren’s eyes grew wide at the mere thought of a hard saddle. "No Momma not ever again."

Xena shook her head. "The big one huh?"

"Uh huh and the little one too," the child squeaked.

The warrior placed her elbows on the side of the pallet.

Tarren stared at the tired expression on her mother’s face. "Momma you look like you’re having a real bad day. Do you feel Ok?" The child placed her hand on the warrior’s forehead not sure what is should feel like but knowing it was a method to test for illness. "Do ya need me to take care of ya?" she asked quietly.

Xena nodded and lay down beside the child. "Definitely."

Tarren frowned. "Are ya sick?" she asked with great concern


"Then what do ya want me to do Momma?"

The mother smiled and pulled the child in beside her. "You just be the little bed hog you always are and cuddle with me and I’ll be just fine."

"I can do that," the youngster stated proudly.

"I know you can. You’re very good at it," the mother said with a crooked smile.

Tarren burrowed deep beneath the warrior’s side eager to do her job well. "You really tired Momma?"

The warrior considered her own day and nodded. "Yes I am." She turned and faced the child. "Besides I’m not letting you go anywhere without me again and that includes Morpheous," she whispered placing a tender hand on the youngster’s soft cheek.

Tarren smiled and hugged the warrior mother tightly. "Momma?"

The mother adjusted the covers snugly around the child. "Yup."

The small child leaned forward and gave her warrior mother a wide eyed stare and another big hug. "I’m glad I’m your great good."

Xena returned the gesture and pulled the child closer. "So am I Monster."

The little one grinned and then pursed her lips as if lost in thought. "Momma you can be my great good too. Ok?" It seemed that was only fair.

The mother smiled and gave the child a gentle squeeze. "Thank you. I would consider that a true honor."


The warrior sighed wondering why naps always filled this child with questions. "Yes Tarren."

"What’s this Feast of Artemis thing we haffta go to?" the child asked, wondering if she would have to guard her clothes again.

Xena nodded. This was a fair question. "Artemis is the goddess the Amazons worship and tonight is the night they honor her with a big…well…party of sorts."

"Is it like Winter Solstice when the Santa comes?" the child asked eagerly.

Xena shrugged. She had never actually attended the feast before. "I guess sort of. It’s a celebration just like that but not exactly the same."

The youngster crawled on top of her mother and peered into her eyes. "Will anyone be coming with presents for little kids they love?" the child asked hopefully.

Xena turned on her side and suppressed a smile. "Uh sorry no."

The little girl frowned wondering what good a holiday was without presents. "Oh then I guess I won’t be getting any presents tonight huh?"

The mother made a valiant attempt at remaining stoic. "Do you deserve a present after the way you’ve behaved?"

"Well…I…That’s not a fair question to ask a kid Momma."

"Why not?"

Tarren rolled back on the pallet. "Cause it’s like snitching on yourself."

The warrior covered her mouth to hide her smile. "Well we wouldn’t want that, so I’ll just say that the only present you’ll be getting tonight is a soft pillow to sit on and if you misbehave in the least little bit at that feast you won’t have that."

"Yes Momma." The child sighed and rolled back into her spot beneath her mother. "Momma?"

"Yes Tarren."

"Can I still give you a present?"

The warrior could feel the small form nuzzling next to her. She placed a hand on the child that stretched down past her legs. "Tarren the best present you could give me is to stay healthy be happy…and behave tonight. Ok?"

"Yes Momma."

Xena smiled and again closed her eyes but after a minute opened them and glanced over at the small child lying next to her. "Tarren?"

The child yawned. "Yes Momma."

"Do you have a present for me?" the warrior asked wondering what it might be.

"Uh huh."

Xena smiled and leaned on her side eager for information. "What kind of present?"

The youngster giggled. "I thought ya didn’t want it."

The warrior tapped the child on the arm. "I never said I didn’t want it. I just said you didn’t have to give me anything. It’s not that kind of holiday."

The youngster yawned and slid deeper into the blankets. "Ok Momma."

Xena waited for a moment and then tapped the child on the shoulder again. "Tarren?"

The little girl was getting a bit frustrated by the constant interruptions in her nap. "Yes Momma?"

"So where’s the present?"

The child turned and patted the warrior’s head. "Sorry Momma but it’s not that kind of holiday. I’ll be your present though." Tarren yawned and turned away again.

Xena could hear the child giggling so she turned quickly and lifted the youngster high in the air above her with one arm. "So you think it’s nice to tease your poor tired mother?" she asked, tickling the child with her freehand.

Tarren laughed loudly. "No…Momma…I really do have a present."

The tickling continued. "Well then where is it?" I wanna see it."

"Have you been a good Momma?"

Xena cocked a brow and stared at the little girl. "You tell me."

"You do Ok." She giggled as the tickling again started. "Ok you’re a really great Momma."

The mother smiled wickedly and brought the laughing child back to her chest enveloping her in her arms. "So then where’s my present?"

The little one grinned. "I’ll give it to later. That way you have something good to wait for."

The mother smiled and cradled the youngster next to her chest. "I already have the best thing in the world to look forward to."

The youngster frowned, wondering if someone else had given her mother a present that she was unaware of. "What Momma?"

The mother placed a tender kiss on the child’s cheek. "You ya little Monster."


Tarren stood by the table running her quill across the paper. "I will not touch Momma’s sword ever again." She sighed as she repeated the sentence over and over again.

The warrior sat impatiently by the fire running the stone across her blade. "Are you done yet?"

The child shook her head. "No Momma, you said I have to do each of them 10 times today before I could play."

The mother frowned at the weight of her own words. "So how many do you have left?"

He child counted slowly. "Eight more on the sword."

The warrior nodded knowing this was the most important one. "Did ya get the one about Momma loves you?"

The child smiled and handed her mother the parchment. "Uh huh that’s what took so long. I changed it a bit."

The mother took the scroll and dropped her sword to her side. "Why did you do that? Now you’re gonna start all over again," she scolded.

The child lowered her eyes and kept writing as Xena read the scroll out loud.

"My Momma luvs me very much and I luv my Momma very much to"

The warrior looked from the parchment to the child and closed her eyes. "You’re Momma has a big mouth. Put that quill down and come over here."

The youngster dropped the quill and walked over to her mother. "Yes ma’am"

Xena knelt in front of the child and pointed to the scroll. "That’s a lot of extra work and I thank you for writing it." She opened her arms and the child immediately fell inside the welcoming hug. "Now then how about that walk?"

The youngster pointed to her unfinished work. "But I didn’t finish my scrolls yet."

The mother ran her hand over the child’s face. "Well I think you’ve done enough for today so lets get going. And put a heavy tunic on it’s getting colder outside."

The child frowned. "I don’t like the heavy ones." She scrunched up her face. They’re heavy."

Xena grinned at the accurate description. "Heavy or not you’re wearing it. I don’t want you getting sick."

Tarren pulled the heavy tunic from the clothing bag and dragged it on the floor until she reached her mother.

"Hands up." Xena removed the lighter tunic and replaced it with the heavier one. "There that’s not so bad. Is it?"

The child twisted and turned in the woolly fabric and nodded. "Yes."

The warrior lifted the little girl in the air and smiled. "I’ll tell you what. I’ll make you some new ones that you’ll like better, but in the meantime you where that. Ok?"

Knowing if she wanted to go out in the cool evening air she would have to where the tunic the child nodded. "Uh huh."

The warrior looked at the frowning child and shook her head. "There’s one more thing we need to talk about and I want to do it now."

The youngster struggled in the warrior’s hold. "Ahh Momma we’ve been talkin so much. I wanna go outside and take a walk together like you said."

Xena placed the little girl down in front of her. She felt this topic had been delayed long enough. "I know but this won’t take long. It’s about the sacks of money Tarren."

The child lowered her eyes and turned away. "What about them Momma?"

Xena let out a long breath knowing this was not going to be easy. She sat down at the table and pulled the little girl gently into her lap. "C’mere baby." She glanced at the now silent child making an effort to get comfortable. "Tarren I want to see what’s in the bags now." Time for discussion was over.

The little girl turned suddenly. "But Momma you said I didn’t haffta tell until I was ready."

The warrior corrected the child. "Actually I said you didn’t have to tell right away. I have given you plenty of time to come to me and you haven’t. We can’t keep dragging this around without me knowing what’s in there Tarren."

The little girl poked out her lip and pressed her arms against her chest. "You promised."

Xena shook her head. "Hey remember you are the one who keeps reminding me that you and I are not to have secrets. You have a secret picture and a secret treasure bag and that’s Ok because some things are just private. But if Nala gave you this money with the idea that I had to approve of you having it then it’s different. Did she?" The mother stared at the youngster waiting for a reply.

Tarren ran her fingers up and down the warrior’s arm never making eye contact. "Maybe."

The mother lifted the child chin with a single finger. "Maybe or yes?"

The youngster looked at her mother knowing she could not lie. "She said I had to keep our secret until you were ready and the money would help with the secret."

Xena covered her own face with her hands. "Tarren I am not gonna ask you to break your promise to Nala about the secret, but I am going to insist that you show me what’s in the bags."

Tarren felt her inside freeze. "But Momma."

"Get them…Right now Tarren," the mother ordered in a no nonsense parental tone.

The child folded her arms against her chest in Xena fashion. "No."

The warrior sat back in the chair and closed her eyes. "Youngster the time for discussion is over. I am telling you for the last time to get the bags."

Tarren looked at the serious expression on her mother’s face. She thought about her mother’s earlier description of a kid’s life that included doing what one was told or facing consequences. She felt the throbs in her bottom from her mother’s hand and lowered herself off the lap. "Yes Ma’am."

Xena let out a long breath grateful she did not have to act on her threat.

The little girl dragged her feet across the room and slowly returned with the large bag of coins and placed it on the table. "The little one is mine. Nala said I could keep it." This was the truth…almost.

The warrior shook her head. "Well I’m your mother and I decide what is best for you so go get it," she said sternly pointing to the child’s satchel.

Tarren paused and the mother arched a brow. "Tarren if I have to say it one more time there will be no walk and you will be rubbing that bottom of yours more than you already are," she warned, hoping the child would, for once, do as she was told.

Tarren kicked the floor with her boot and reluctantly returned to her treasure bag and retrieved the small bag as well. She placed it on the table and let her eyes drop as Xena pointed to the bags. "Go ahead and show me what’s inside," she said sternly, wanting the youngster to unveil what belonged to her.

The child took the small bag and emptied it on the table.

The warrior’s eyes grew wide when saw more than 50 old gold coins each worth at least 300 dinars lying on the table. She stared at the little girl. "You have been carrying this around with you all this time. Do you have any idea what the wrong person would do to you if they knew you had this?" she asked shuttering at the mere thought.

The child shook her head and started placing the coins back in the small sack. "It’s mine. You said I had to show you and I did."

The warrior took a deep breath and placed her large hand over the coins and the child’s hand. "You just hold on there a minute."

Tarren paused and the warrior looked in the larger bag, which much to her dismay contained ten times as many of the same gold coins. "Nala what did you do?" she asked the air around her, shaking her head at the thought of the old mystic. She could not believe that her old friend would not see the perils of a small child carrying such wealth.

Tarren rolled out her lip at the tone her mother used regarding Nala’s gift. "She saved everything Momma. She just wanted to do something for us so she saved all the money she ever made," the child said with a tear.

Xena sighed and removed her hand from the coins and allowed the little girl to place the coins back in the small sack. After a long breath she pulled the child back on her lap. "We need to talk about this Tarren."

The youngster again folded her arms stubbornly against her chest. "Big bag is for surprise and little bag is mine." She was more adamant about this than the warrior had ever seen her.

The mother shook her head. "Nobody is trying to take away what’s yours Tarren, but you are not old enough to be spending that kind of money and it is not safe to carry this much of it around."

Tarren gripped the small bag tightly against her chest and ran her hands along the small blue amulet she wore around her neck. She felt another tear fall. "But Nala gave it to me. I don’t want it to go away. I wanna keep it with me. She gave it to me. I don’t wanna lose it Momma. Sometimes I forget what she looked like and…."

The warrior wrapped her arms around the small child and held her close trying to calm her. "Shh hey it’s OK…Relax we’ll work something out. You go put the small bag back with your treasures for now, but if I see it so much as one coin come out of there just once I’m taking it away." That was final.

The child nodded and skidded over to her treasure bag to return the sack before her mother changed her mind.

Xena stared at the larger bag and shook her head. "Nala what was on your mind? What kind of surprise was this all about? Why didn’t you just tell me? Tarren can’t handle this and you knew that better than me." The words were spoken with the knowledge no answers would be given from anyone but Tarren.

The small child rushed back to her mother’s side and reached for the large bag only to have her hands pulled away. "Uh not so fast. This bag I am gonna hide and then we are going to bury it somewhere safe until you are ready to tell me this big secret."

Xena moved to the side of the pallet and shoved the bag under the mattress. "Now until we can find a good place to bury it you are not to touch it. Do I make myself clear?"

The little girl swallowed hard as she watched an important part of the big plan disappearing. "But Momma what about my promise to Nala?"

"I’m sorry Tarren but until you are ready to tell me what that promise was the money will stay hidden. I am not going to allow you to get in gods know what kind of trouble carrying that around." She paused and tried to make her thoughts clear. "Tarren you are just a little kid and there are some things you just can’t do alone. Nala should have known that."

The little girl stared at the mattress knowing her time would soon be up. "Yes Ma’am."

Xena shook her head and knelt beside the child. "Look I only want to do what’s best for you. I know Nala meant well but she was really old Tarren, and I don’t think she realized what she was asking of you and how dangerous it could be."

The child bit her lip and ran her fingers over the amulet. "It’s not true Momma. Nala knew lots. She was really smart and she knew exactly what we all needed."

The mother could feel her small child’s pain. "What baby?

The child could sense her mother’s hurt at being left out of this secret. "I can’t tell you now Momma."

The warrior sighed. "Well then I’m sorry too, but the money gets buried."

The child swallowed and nodded knowing she was not going to change her mother’s mind. "Yes Momma."

Xena could see the disappointment in the youngster’s eyes. She took the child’s hand. "Do you still want to go for a walk with me?" she asked realizing she was now not very popular.

Tarren shook her head. "No Momma. I think I’d rather finish my scrolls," she replied quietly.

The warrior mother closed her eyes. "Ok…I’m sorry you feel that way but if that’s what you want then go ahead." She motioned to the table that held the parchments.

The child walked slowly back to the table fighting back tears. She picked up her quill and quietly began writing once again.

Xena stared at the small form and swallowed hard. Tarren had never refused a chance to spend private time with her. The mother glanced at the teary eyed little girl wondering what the old mystic had made her promise that could be so important.

There was a knock at the door.

Xena welcomed the intrusion for a change. She opened the door only to be met by Shalia.

"Hello Xena." The Amazon looked past the warrior at the sullen child. "Hi Tarren."

The little girl barely looked up from her scrolls. "Hi."

The warrior motioned the young woman in.

Shalia glanced over at the somber child. "Is this a bad time?" she asked not wanting to intrude.

The warrior took a deep breath. "No my daughter is just behaving like a spoiled brat again…nothing new."

The little girl bit her lip and shook her head. "I am not."

Xena turned and faced the child. "Tarren I suggest you get back to your scrolls," she said sternly. It was quite obvious that the warrior was hurt by the child’s rejection.

Shalia looked at the warrior and her child as if studying an experiment. "Xena is there something I can do to help?"

The warrior nodded appreciatively. "Yes you can stay with her while I go for a walk alone." She turned and gave her daughter one last offering look hoping she would want to join her but the child only turned away.

Xena shrugged her shoulders. "Fine suit yourself." She looked at the young Amazon. "Thanks. I’ll be back in a bit."

The warrior moved out the door and Shalia walked over to the child. "Tarren you hurt your mother’s feelings. Why?" The words were spoken in a scolding tone.

The youngster bit her lip and looked up. "I didn’t wanna hurt Momma. I really wanted to go for a walk with her but I can’t. I gotta hurry Shalia before she buries it."

The young Amazon knelt beside the child. "What are you talking about Tarren?"

The child dropped her quill and immediately hugged her friend. "I need help Shalia or everything is gonna be real bad."

Tarren showed her friend the picture for the second time and revealed her entire secret to the Amazon and Shalia covered her face with her hands. "Oh Tarren why didn’t you just tell Xena? I am sure she would understand. It is a beautiful thing your Nala did for all of you."

The youngster shook her head. "No I promised Nala that I wouldn’t tell Momma."

Shalia placed the parchment down and held the little girl closer. "But Tarren you are just a baby. I know that and soon your Momma will too. Nala could not have really expected you to do this alone."

Tarren stared at her friend for a long moment. "How do you know so much stuff Shalia?"

The Amazon grinned. "Some things are very clear to see if you look for them Tarren."

The child frowned at the quizzical answer. "What am I gonna do Shalia? Can you help me?" she asked hopefully.

The young woman shook her head. "No I am sorry. I wish I had the power to but I think Ephiny might be the one to ask."

Tarren smiled at the idea. "Yeah she already knows part of my secret and she is a queen." She paused. "Will you keep my secret?" she asked with a pleading stare.

The young woman nodded. "Yes on one condition."

"What’s that?"

Shalia pointed out the door. "I will keep your secret if you go apologize to your mother."

Tarren lowered her eyes. "I didn’t mean to say nothing bad to her. I just wanted to do something nice like Nala said Momma needed." She considered her own words and reached under the mattress for a second parchment. "Ok Shalia I’ll say sorry to Momma."

Shalia smiled and took the little girl by the hand and led her out of the hut and into the woods. She walked until she caught sight of the Warrior Princess leaning against a tree tossing her chakrum in circles. She pointed to the sullen figure. "I think this is a time for many hugs Tarren," she said softly.

Tarren looked up at her friend and smiled and then sprinted in the direction of the warrior.

Xena heard the small footprints and turned. "What are you doing here?" she asked stiffly.

The child lowered her eyes. "I wanted to say sorry. I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings Momma. I’m sorry if I did. I know you’re just taking care of me and doing Momma stuff by hiding the coins and I really do wish I could tell you the secret but I made a promise and…."

Xena silenced the child with a raised hand. She glanced down at the youngster and knelt in front of her. "Well what do you say we trade sorries? I didn’t mean to get you so upset. I just want to do what’s best for you baby. That’s all I ever want."

Tarren smiled. "I know Momma. It’s Ok."

Xena picked the little girl up in her arms and held her tightly. "I love you Monster."

The little girl wiped away a tear. "I love you too Momma…lots."

The warrior smiled and continued to hug the child for dear life. "Lots and lots?"

Tarren lay her head down on the warrior’s shoulder. "Uh huh and lots more."

Xena gave the child a kiss on the head and swung her in a circle. "Hey how did you find me?" she asked wondering if that mark on her boot made her that easy to find. She shook her head knowing the child would not dare travel this far into the woods alone.

The youngster grinned. "Shalia found you real easy."

"Shalia?" She looked around the woods. "Where is she?"

The child pointed back to where her friend had stood but the young woman was gone.

The warrior raised her brow. "She sure is a quiet one isn’t she? Even I didn’t hear her go or come for that matter."

Tarren yanked on her mother’s arm. "Can we still go for our walk?"

Xena smiled. "Yes we can still go for a walk." She lifted the little girl into her arms and then hoisted her on top of her shoulders. "Comfy?"

The youngster bit her lip, realizing there were obviously varying degrees of comfort at this time. However being with her mother made it all worth while. "Uh huh."

"Then let’s go." Xena patted her daughter’s leg as she started into the woods. She glanced back one last time at the spot the Amazon had been standing. "She is definitely quiet. There is something very strange about that girl," she thought. The warrior’s suspicions were now aroused. The mother pushed the thoughts out of her head and stared at her up at her young daughter. "Hey what’s that in your hand?" she asked pointing to the parchment.

The child smiled proudly. "It’s your present."

Xena grinned at the thought. "Oh so there really is a present for me."

"Of course Momma."

"Can I see it?"


Xena sat down on the side of a boulder and placed the child on her knee while she unrolled the parchment.

Inside was a child’s drawing of Xena holding a very long sword of fire in one hand, and Tarren in the other. The mother smiled at the way child held a sling shot with what appeared to be a large rock ready for action. Walking in the background reading a scroll to Argo was Gabrielle. Xena shook her head at the positioning of her best friend but knew this was to something to be brought up.

"Tarren baby this is beautiful." She kissed the little girl. "Is this what you’ve been working so hard on?" she asked remembering the secret drawing.

The youngster smiled broadly at her mother’s obvious satisfaction with the gift. "No Momma that’s still a surprise. I did this one a little while ago. I was just saving it for a time when I was really bad. I was gonna give it to ya after I busted your sword but it didn’t seem like a fair trade. It’s just a picture."

Xena looked down at the drawing and then at her small child. "I think you are right. It’s not a very fair trade. This picture is worth 1000 old swords," she said again glancing at the drawing.

The youngster opened her eyes wide at the thought of something she drew having such value. "It is?"

The mother wrapped an arm around the little girl "Oh yes it sure is."

"Why Momma?"

Xena’s voice was as tender as it was touched. "Because you drew it for me and that’s a very special thing and because of what it says down there at the bottom." She pointed to a few poorly scribbled words

The youngster looked at her own writing and read it out loud:

"For my Mommy cause I luv ya lots. Yur Tarren Monstr."

The little girl smiled at her mother.

The warrior carefully rolled the parchment and stuck it safely beneath her armor. "I am gonna keep that with me all the time," she said proudly.

Tarren hugged her mother happy to have someone who would love her and understand her forever.

Xena lifted the little girl back on her shoulders. "Come on youngster. If we want to have our walk we have to move. Gabrielle will have our heads on a stick if we’re late for the feast."

The child twisted her lips as she tried to imagine the gentle bard having that kind of strength or ability. As she sat contentedly on her mother’s shoulder’s the child’s thoughts wondered. She sighed hoping that Ephiny would save Nala’s dream.

Chapter 26-a –The Feast of Artemis

Later at the Feast…

Gabrielle stared out over the large hall. All of the decorations were in place and the food had been placed on the tables. It was good to see all of the Amazons assembled in one circle as a family rather than seated at tables determined by rank and stature. "Well it was a lot of work but it was worth it," she thought as she glanced across the hall.

The princess smiled when she saw Xena seated next to Ephiny discussing something she was sure involved slicing and dicing something or someone. Little Tarren was seated, as usual, in her mother’s lap the child’s eyes were wide with awe as she hung on every word her mother spoke.

Gabrielle smiled to herself as she watched Xena lean over and for no real reason and without a care for who might see kiss the little girl on the cheek and nuzzle her closer. "Yup! There’s nothing like having your family together for a nice quiet meal. Yeah to be together for no other reason but to give thanks for all the gifts the gods have bestowed upon us," she said with a smile as she turned and left the hall to get the last of the ceremonial scrolls ready.

Seeing her younger friend departing the warrior got to her feet. "Tarren you stay here and talk to Ephiny. I need to speak to Gabrielle for a bit," she said rubbing the child’s head affectionately.

The little girl looked up at her mother and then down at the hard wooden chair. "But Momma…."

Seeing the child’s dilemma the queen spoke up. "Uh Tarren…You know maybe you could keep me company while your Momma is gone," she said pushing herself away from the table enough to offer her own lap.

The youngster glanced at the offering and then at her mother who nodded her approval. "Go ahead. I won’t be long and I promise I’ll bring something…." She leaned in close so she cold whisper in the little girl’s ear. "Soft to sit on."

The child smiled and slid carefully into the queen’s lap. "Please don’t be too long Momma."

The warrior bowed her head slightly. "Yes ma’am."

Xena placed a hand on Ephiny’s shoulder to thank her for the gesture and her Amazon friend just shrugged. She was actually happy to hold the youngster for a while since she was feeling the absence of her own child so much. "Go Xena, Junior and I will be just fine."

The mother shook a warning finger at the little girl. "You behave or nothing soft comes your way Monster," she warned

Tarren swallowed and nodded in understanding. "Yes Momma. I’ll just sit here and talk with Ephiny. That’s all I’ll do." She offered her mother her widest and most innocent smile.

The warrior grinned and kissed the child on the head. "You just see that you behave." She winked and headed out the door to find Gabrielle.

Tarren could not help but be awe struck by the sight of the entire tribe sitting in a circle around more than one hundred tables joined to form a sign of unity. She let her eyes scan the tables that held the bounty of food. There were large turkeys and honey-glazed hams in the center. To the sides of the large meals were huge bucket like bowls of mashed potatoes, corn, and many colorful types of unidentified food the youngster was sure would be deemed vegetables. She wrinkled her nose at the thought of what the strange new food, she was sure her mother would heap on her plate, might taste like.

The youngster leaned back against the queen’s chest. "Ephiny when can we eat?" she asked, hoping sitting with the queen would speed things along.

The Amazon grinned knowing her small friend could smell the aroma of the many foods filling the air around them. She herself was finding it hard to resist the temptation to snack but as queen she was duty bound to set an example for the tribe. She smiled at the little girl. "I’m sorry Junior but this is the Feast of Artemis so we have to wait until the ceremony is over before we can eat."

The child frowned and fiddled with the queen’s armbands knowing Ephiny would not swat her hand as her mother might for pulling too hard. "How long does that take?"

"Too long," the Amazon muttered as she thought of the lengthy speeches. She glanced at the youngster and then the food and let out a long breath. "Basically this is a time when we thank our goddess Artemis for giving us all the good things in our lives Tarren."

The child looked at the food wondering what good it was to have if you couldn’t eat it. "Like what?"

That was a fair question.

Ephiny scratched her head. "Well I would have to thank her for the health and well being of my people, my son…." She smiled at the thought of Xenon and hoped he were thinking of her at this time. "And for all my friends." She stuck a finger in the youngster’s stomach. "That means you too."

The child smiled broadly. "Me?"

"Yes of course you. We are friends aren’t we?" the queen asked with a smirk.

The little girl nodded but then lowered her eyes before she responded. "Yeah but I didn’t think you’d wanna thank anyone for me after I busted up your village."

The Amazon grinned. "Well stuff happens Junior, but friends are important to have. They fill in all the gaps in our lives."


The queen rubbed the back of her neck realizing this might take a bit of explaining. "They make up for what we are missing. Right now I miss my son and having you here with me makes me feel much better about that. It makes it…." She paused and gathered her thoughts. "You make me smile the same way he does and that’s a very special gift so I am very thankful for your being here and for us being friends."

The little girl smiled. She was happy to be of service to her regal friend. "Well I’m glad we’re friends too Ephiny. I’d get in a lots more trouble here if we weren’t," she replied in a very serious tone.

The queen chuckled as she thought of the past events. Melosa surely would have had this child caged. "Yeah well I’m glad you feel that way Junior." She wiped a few stray hairs away. "You know you really do need a haircut."

The child quickly placed her small hand over the queen’s mouth hoping her mother was not in earshot. "Shhhh don’t let Momma hear ya say that. I don’t want one and she keeps saying I’m gonna get one."

Ephiny grinned knowing the child’s time with the growing mop of waves was not going to last. Xena would not wait until the youngster’s vision was impaired before cutting it. "Well I won’t say a word. Ok?"

"Thanks." She again looked at the food and sighed. "So does everyone have to say what their thankful for or just you cause you’re the queen," she said hopefully.

Ephiny leaned back and the child nuzzled a bit closer. "Actually Tarren everyone here." She waved her hand around the room. "Will offer their thanks to Artemis before we join in the feast."

The youngster swallowed hard. She looked at a room filled with what she was sure was a million Amazons. "Everyone?" she asked with a groan.

"Yup every last single woman and child." She suppressed a smile. "I know it seems like a lot but everybody has stuff to be thankful for. Don’t you think everyone should have a chance to say what it is?" the queen asked with a grin.

The child shrugged. "Yeah but…Can’t we just write it down and read it after we eat?" she asked, eyeing a bowl of sweet yams.

"Sorry no can do kid. The idea is to thank Artemis for her gifts and then join in the feast as a way to honor her." She let her head drop a bit. "Don’t you have things to be thankful for?"

Tarren tapped the tip of her chin as she considered the question. "Yup my Momma."

Ephiny chuckled at the fast response she knew the child would give. "Oh well that doesn’t surprise me. I’m thankful for her friendship myself. Anything else or anyone else you’re thankful for?"

This time the youngster took a bit longer to think. "Well there’s you and Shalia and Eponon and Boralla, Grandma and Nala and Uncle Lyceus." She turned and faced the queen. "Can I still be thankful for them if they’re not here anymore?" she asked not wishing to leave anyone who was or had been important in her life out.

"Sure you can." The queen took a deep breath. "Is there anyone else that maybe you forgot?"

The child scratched her head. "Oh yeah Argo. I love Argo and someday Momma’s gonna teach me to ride." She sighed. "If I can ever stay out of trouble that long," she muttered.

The queen sighed knowing of the troubles that her princess had been having with the child. She let her voice drop to a maternal whisper. "Tarren tonight is a time of friendship, family and forgiveness. Is there someone you think you may have accidentally left off your list of people to be thankful for."

Again the child scratched her head and closed one eye to think even harder. "Nope."

The queen closed her eyes. "Are you really sure there’s not a certain storytelling blond princess that you might want to mention."

"Oh ya mean Gabby?" The little girl shrugged. "Yeah sure I’ll be thankful for her too. I just forgot."

Ephiny sighed with relief. She did not want to see any of her friends hurt especially on this sacred day. "Could you not forget later and maybe even put her closer to the top of the list to make her feel better."

The child shrugged her shoulders again and smiled. "Sure I don’t mind where I put her."

Ephiny shook her head deciding she was going to say an extra prayer for Xena for having to deal with these two in this obviously difficult situation.

Tarren was once again staring longingly at the tables of food when Shalia sat quietly beside her. "Ephiny you are needed to see the scrolls now."

The queen sighed at having to perform such a mundane and repetitive task as reading the scrolls. She glanced at Tarren. "Sorry Junior, but it look like you’ll have to find another horse to ride until your momma comes back."

The youngster grinned and eagerly reached her arms out to Shalia who smiled and slid the little girl into her lap. "I will be happy to watch Tarren until Xena returns," the young Amazon said with a smile.

Ephiny stood and grinned at the pair. She could see how easily the youngster cradled into her young ward’s arms. It was only a matter of moments before the child had her arms wrapped affectionately around Shalia’s neck and was talking her ear off about everything she was thankful for.

The queen let out a quick breath. "Kids," she muttered as she left the hall.

Tarren waited until Ephiny was out of sight and then reached for a biscuit. "Shalia I’m hungry. Lets go get something to eat."

The young woman pulled the small hand back into place. "No Tarren. This is the night of Artemis and that means we must have patience and show our respect to the goddess." She closed her eyes in a silent prayer of thanks to the guardian of Amazons.

Tarren leaned her elbow on the table and rested her head in her hand. "Yeah I know we gotta say all the stuff we’re thankful for," she replied without enthusiasm.

"That is true and have you thought of what you wish to say."

"Uh huh Ephiny asked me and I told her." She patted the young woman’s arm. "Don’t worry you were right up at the top with Ephiny." The child tilted her head to one side. "But Momma is first of course."

Shalia nodded her thanks at being mentioned. "Of course." She ran a finger down the little girl’s nose and the child giggled. "And what of Princess Gabrielle?"

This was a topic that was hard to escape. "Gabby…Well she’s on the list too. I forgot the first time but I won’t forget again and I promise to put her before Argo." She bit her lip. "Please don’t tell Argo."

Shalia shook a warning finger. "Little Tarren I am surprised at you. I know what is in your heart and that you love Gabrielle quite a lot. Why do you not share these feelings with her and mend the wounds on this very sacred day?"

The child’s smile faded. "I dunno how. I told Momma I was thinkin on it and I am." She paused. "It’s not so easy to talk to Gabby anymore."

Shalia ran a soft hand around the youngster’s face. "You will find a way when you let your heart open up and speak what it truly feels my little friend."

"I’m still thinkin." Tarren shrugged as she stared at the bowl of mashed potatoes placed only an arm's length away. She ran her tongue around the outside of her lips. "Mushed potatoes is my favorite ya know?"

Again the finger of warning was waved. "Do not even think of putting your hand in that bowl Tarren. It would be the wrong thing to do and your mother would not be happy."

The youngster rolled out her lower lip and dropped her head on the table. Xena had surely given her enough warnings about the consequences of misbehaving at the feast. "I won’t touch nothing," the child said with a sulk.

Just as Shalia was about to respond Eponon dropped with a thud into the chair beside the pair. "Shalia, Ephiny said you are to join her for the reading of the scrolls."

The young woman started to protest but the weapon’s master held up a halting hand. "And she said if you argued I was to carry you there." She cleared her throat. "Her exact words were that girl is a member of my house and it’s about time she started acting as a member of my family." She chuckled at her own imitation of the queen. "I think you better move it. You know how she hates the scrolls."

Shalia nodded and without asking deposited the small child gently in the weapon’s master’s lap. "Fine I shall go to Ephiny and you Eponon will see to the care of Tarren."

Before the weapon’s master could protest the younger Amazon held up a hand. "That is an order from a member of the queen’s house and family." She smiled and tasseled the child’s hair before leaving the hall.

Eponon scratched her head and let her fingers drum on the table as she stared at her new responsibility. "So kid what’s new?"

The youngster sighed at being handed over to yet another lap. "Nothing much. What are you thankful for? Besides all your feathers." That was an obvious thing.

The weapon’s master grinned. "Well for one thing I’m very thankful that I don’t have to sit next to Gruella this year. She eats like a pig."

Tarren giggled and soon the weapon’s master had a broad smile on her face. "I am thankful for many things kid, but Artemis knows what’s in my heart so I don’t feel the need to say it out loud. How about you?"

The youngster sighed. "My Momma of course and lots of people." She was not going to get started on the order she placed Gabrielle in again.

As the two friends were talking a large Amazon sat down in the chair beside them.

Tarren glanced at the stranger and frowned. "That’s Momma’s chair," she said quietly.

The Amazon shrugged and kept her place in the seat.

Eponon gave the chair a gentle kick. "Lorel you heard the kid. It’s her mother’s chair."

The Amazon faced the weapon’s master and growled. "So I’m keeping it warm for her Eponon."

Tarren leaned in closer tot he stranger. "My Momma likes her chair cold lady," she said with a hint of a Xena growl.

The weapon’s master had to smile at this small child’s show of both loyalty and guts. "You heard my little friend Lorel. Move your feathers out of Xena’s chair or I’ll move it for ya."

Lorel’s face went white. "Xena’s chair?" She looked at the child. "And your Xena’s child?" Apparently both had a reputation. "I ‘m sorry I just wanted to sit while I waited for my family to arrive." She slid to the next chair over.

The youngster glanced at Eponon and then the stranger. "It’s Ok Momma won’t mind if the chair is a little warm."

Lorel nodded thankfully at the child but glared at Eponon. "I would not offend the Warrior Princess Eponon but you I could care less about," she growled.

Tarren watched as her current bodyguard’s expression turned to ice. "I wouldn’t mind if you fell into a tar pit you featherless little chicken," she replied with equal venom.

Fearing that something bad was about to happen with her in the middle Tarren pulled on the weapon’s master’s arm until she had her attention. Eponon glanced down at the child. "Yes Tarren?"

The little girl let her voice drop to a whisper. "Uh you don’t like her do ya?"

Eponon shook her head at a fleeting memory. "Actually we were once best friends."

The youngster’s eyes grew wide. "Oh and what happened?"

The weapon’s master leaned back and relaxed a bit. "We had a bad fight and that was that."

"What was the fight over?" the child asked eager for information.

Eponon waved a hand in the air. "I dunno it was a very long time ago."

The little girl scratched her head. "Maybe you shouldn’t talk to her if you can’t play nice." She thought about how Xena would handle this. "If I talked to anyone like that I’d wind up in my bedroll before it was even dark."

The weapon’s master sat back in the chair and folded her arms against her chest. "Fine I won’t talk to her." She pointed at the other woman. "Just ask her to give me back the feather she borrowed."

The child slid from the large lap and walked over to the stranger. She leaned in close and whispered in Lorel’s ear. "Eponon wants the feather you took back."

Lorel turned her head and stared at the child. She kept her voice low and steady. "What I didn’t take any feather from her. She said I could use it for the party years ago. Tell her Eponon shouldn’t say things that she doesn’t mean," she replied, motioning the youngster back toward the weapon’s master.

Tarren moved back to the other side. "Eponon Lorel said you shouldn’t lie like that."

The weapon’s master’s eyes lit with fire at the idea of being called a liar and in front of this child. "You go tell Lorel I said…." Eponon leaned in and whispered in the child’s ear and the youngster’s eyes grew wide. She turned to the Amazon. "I can’t say that Momma would give me the big one again for sure."

Eponon frowned at her messenger’s inability to repeat her sentiment. She glanced over at her former friend. "Ok then just tell her I said she needs to behave better or she’s gonna get in trouble." That would have to do with such young ears present.

The child shrugged and once again moved next to Lorel. "Eponon said you’re bad and you should stop it or she’ll kick your butt."


Gabrielle and Xena walked toward the hall and were soon met by Ephiny and Shalia.

Seeing the queen was on edge about the reading of the scrolls the princess placed a hand on her Amazon friend’s arm. "Relax you’ll do fine. Just remember that the spirit of your words is one of peace."

Xena nodded in agreement. "Yeah but hurry it up will ya I’m hungry." She glanced at Ephiny. "Uh Eph if you’re here whose watching Tarren?"

The queen shrugged. "Relax I left her with Shalia," she said still thinking about the scrolls.

Xena folded her arms across her chest and pointed to the younger Amazon. "You mean that Shalia."

Shalia cleared her throat to remind Ephiny of her presence. "It is not a problem Xena. I left Tarren with Eponon."

Gabrielle looked at Xena and the warrior closed her eyes. "Eponon? Oh no that’s like leaving hot flint next to a pool of Greek fire." She sprinted into the hall but it was too late.

Tables were overturned and pieces of broken chairs were everywhere. Amazons were tossing Amazons from one side of the table to the other.

Ephiny covered her face with her hands and then took a deep breath before yelling at the top of her lungs. "Stand at attention!"

Hearing the order of the queen made the room grown quiet. Furniture was dropped and food that had been flying through the air landed without further movement. Amazons everywhere stood straight and tall as their queen walked past them and inspected the food stained bodies and walls.

Xena slipped through the room to the place where she had left her small daughter hoping the crazed Amazons had not trampled her child. "Tarren…Tarren!" she called anxiously.

There was small voice from under the table. "I’m doooown here Mooomma."

The warrior crouched beneath the table and found a small child kneeling before a large pot of mashed potatoes a spoon full still yet to be swallowed.

She wiggled her fingers in greeting as she continued to eat the potatoes.

"Oh Tarren." The mother sighed with relief and reached under the table lifting the little girl in her arms. She took a napkin from the table and wiped the reluctant child’s face clean. "Are you Ok?" she asked looking for some sign of a bruise or injury.

The little girl nudged the cloth away and smiled. "Yes Momma I’m fine but I’m still hungry."

Gabrielle came rushing up beside her warrior friend followed by Ephiny and Shalia. The princess was the first to speak. "Is she Ok?" the young woman asked, making no effort to hide her concern.

Xena let her head fall against her child’s and again sighed with relief. "Yeah she’s just fine." She looked around the room. "But this place isn’t."

Ephiny placed her hand on Gabrielle’s shoulder. "I’m sorry Gabrielle. I know you worked very hard to make this special."

The child could not help but notice the sadness in the bard’s eyes at the sight of the damaged decorations and disheveled Amazons.

Xena glanced at her child wondering if she had somehow played any part in this reign of destruction. "Tarren do you know what happened in here?" she asked with a slightly arched brow.

"I didn’t do nothin Momma." She placed her hand up in oath. "It was just the feast. Everyone was real hungry I guess."

"Uh huh." The warrior nodded as she wiped a small piece of mashed potato from the little girl’s chin. "Especially you who likes mushed potatoes so much. Right?" she asked with a slight grin.

The youngster licked her lips and fingered her mother’s armor. "Yes Momma but I didn’t bust nothin. I swear I didn’t." The tiny voice was filled with genuine sincerity.

The warrior chuckled. She knew that the small child had no direct part in breaking anything. "It’s Ok Monster I know you didn’t."

Ephiny shook her head as she looked around the room. "Well I guess Artemis won’t be too thrilled with us this year," she grumbled kicking away the remnants of a broken plate.

The youngster leaned over her mother’s side and stared at he queen. "Why Ephiny you said the feat was about saying thanks. Can’t ya say thanks without being clean and stuff? I mean that is what ya said," the child stated.

Ephiny placed her hands on her hips and nodded. "Yeah I did say it didn’t I?" The queen glanced around the room at her staunch warrior tribe and shook her head. "I just can’t believe this." She let her voice rise to a scolding tone as she addressed the room. "We are a tribe...sisters…family and this is how you all act. I am ashamed."

Her angry words were quickly drowned out only by the sound of two chuckling warriors standing a few paces away.

Ephiny’s eyes flared and she pushed her way through the crowd to find her weapon’s master and an Amazon named Lorel seated on the floor laughing. They were handing drinks back and forth and grinning when the queen approached.

Ephiny placed her hands on her hips and glared at he pair. "You two? That’s how this started. Get on your feet. I called for attention and that means you move it," she yelled.

Eponon and Lorel struggled to their feet.

Tarren leaned over and whispered in her mother’s ear. "Uh Oh someone’s gonna get the big one and it’s not gonna be me." She grinned but then glanced at her mother. "Is it?" It was good to be sure of these things.

Xena patted the youngster’s back affectionately. "If you had nothing to do with this mess than you have nothing to worry about so just be quiet Youngster," she replied quietly not wanting to interfere in Ephiny’s actions.

Tarren bit her lip as she tried to remember how the first of the food started flying. It would be a good idea to get her story straight just in case questions came up later.

Ephiny paced back and forth in front of her two Amazons. "You two hot heads haven’t even spoken to each other in nearly five summers. Now you’re just sitting on the floor laughing like fools. What do you have to say for yourselves before I lock you up."

Eponon stepped forward and bowed her head. "I am sorry my Queen. It was my fault."

Lorel stepped in front of her friend. "No it was my fault my Queen."

The two old friends started squabbling over who would take the blame and the queen threw her hand up in the air to silence them. She moved over to Xena. "Would you mind taking those two out to one of your forgiving trees for me?" she asked half seriously.

The warrior grinned and repositioned her child over her shoulder. "Uh sorry but they’re not my kids. They’re yours."

Tarren pulled on Ephiny’s arm. "Wait don’t punish them Ephiny. They’re friends now and you said that’s what Artemis wanted…Everyone to be friends and get along and forgive stuff. Right?"

The queen looked at the small face of innocence nestled in the warrior mother’s arms and let out a long breath. She glanced at Xena. "Does she always remember everything you say to her?" she asked with a smirk.

The warrior rubbed the youngster’s back tenderly and kissed her head. "Yeah but only when it suits her," she replied giving the child a quick tickle.

Ephiny ran her hand over the side of the small child’s face and turned to her princess. "Gabrielle, I leave this up to you. It was your hard work that was destroyed."

The princess shook her head. "No Eph I don’t want that responsibility."

The queen shook her head and let her voice become deep and serious. "Sorry but like I said the other day you have to lead as well as be a leader." She pointed to Eponon and Lorel. "You decide their fate."

Tarren bit her lip and stared at her friend hoping the gentle bard she once knew was somewhere beneath the Amazon title. The young woman looked at the child’s pleading eyes and smiled. "I agree with Tarren. The Festival of Artemis is about love and family and giving thanks, so I think we should do just that." She looked around the room. "Although it might not be a pretty sight we’ll honor this day as a family."

Xena stepped forward eager to offer assistance to her best friend and the Amazons. "I think I might have an idea how we can improve things a bit."

Gabrielle grinned knowing her leather-clad friend was always full of surprises. She waved her hands. "Work your magic Warrior Princess."

Xena smiled whispered in her daughter’s ear and placed the child on the ground.

The youngster walked over to Eponon and Lorel. "Ok you two are in my troop," she said proud to have been given two big ones to command.

Eponon scoffed at the idea, as did Lorel.

The youngster bit her lip and turned to her other. "Momma what do you do when the troops won’t listen?" she asked with a sad little frown.

Xena folded her arms against her chest and glared at the two amazons in question. "You call me," she said stiffly.

The pair of still grinning warriors looked at their queen who only nodded. "You heard her. You two are in Tarren’s troop which fall sunder Xena’s command so I’d move it."

The two Amazon’s looked at one another and then their small leader. "Ok Tarren what do you want us to do?" Eponon asked with a sigh.

The child folded her arms against her chest in fair imitation of her mother. "That’s Warrior Princess Tarren to you peasant," she stated proudly.

The warrior turned her head and spoke in a warning tone. "Tarren remember your manners," she warned.

The child twisted her lips and let her shoulder’s sag a bit. "Yes Momma." She pointed to the pair. "Ok you can just cal me Princess Tarren."

Again the mother’s husky voice was heard. "Tarren!"

The youngster lowered her eyes. "Yes Momma." She waved her hand at the two large women. "Come on I’ll show you what Momma wants done."

Gabrielle and Ephiny both chuckled at the sight of the small child leading the two large muscular Amazons away.

The mother grinned knowing that once out of earshot they would be calling her Warrior Princess Tarren once again. "Ahh serves them right," she said with a chuckle. Xena gathered all the warriors into action and within an hour there was a large bonfire of burning furniture in the center of the compound. Blankets were placed around the fire and a large circle of Amazons sat under the stars ready to give thanks to Artemis.

Gabrielle smiled at her warrior friend as she took a place on the ground beside her. "You are a genius Xena."

The warrior stretched her arms in the air. "Yes I am."

The princess chuckled at the reaction. "Gods and you tell Tarren she’s a ham. I wonder where she gets it from."

As the two friends laughed, Tarren came up beside her mother chewing on a turkey leg Boralla had given her. She waited tapping a foot impatiently. The mother sighed and pulled a cushion from behind her back and placed it on her lap and the child happily slid into her favorite spot. She saluted the warrior. "The troops are all done Momma. Can we eat now?" she asked taking another bite from the turkey.

Xena removed the food from the child’s hand and again reached for a cloth to clean the youngster’s face and hands clean. "It looks like you already started and you’re gonna wait with everyone else little one."

The little girl lowered her eyes and forced a pout as she watched the food being pushed out of reach. "But Boralla gave me that. She said I’m too skinny." She opened her eyes wide. "I’ll starve Momma."

The mother let her fingers run along the child’s stomach. "I dunno I think there’s a bit of meat there." She tickled the child and the youngster giggled wildly until the warrior settled her down by placing her over her shoulder and rubbing her back. "Calm down this is supposed to be serious event."

The child played with the warrior’s hair. "Ok I’m serious Momma. Can we eat now?"

The mother smiled at the little girl and shook her head. "No Monster we still have a ceremony to listen to and everyone gives their thanks."

The child dropped her head to her mother’s shoulder wishing she had been left alone with the bucket of mashed potatoes a bit longer. The youngster leaned her head over the side of her mother’s arm and looked at Gabrielle. She wiggled her fingers and the young woman grinned and clasped the child’s hand in her own.

Tarren smiled broadly because when the princess took her hand away the youngster found a large biscuit in her small palm. Gabrielle placed a single finger over her lips to let the child know it was a secret.

"Thanks Gabby," the little one whispered.

The princess nodded and the warrior winked knowing full well what had just transpired. However she was not about to interfere in any glad tidings between these two.

The princess got to her feet. "I better go help Ephiny or we’ll never eat," she said with a grin walking off to the queens quarters for the second time that night.

Xena nodded to her friend and waited until she was sure the child’s biscuit had been secretly devoured. "Uh Tarren have you decided what your thankful for?" she asked wishing she had made time for this earlier.

The little girl swallowed fast. "Uh huh."


The response came with a big hug. "You Momma…and Gabby and Ephiny and…."

Xena smiled as she listened to the child ramble off the list. All that needed to be heard had been heard. It was a start. She now knew that in the child’s heart there was still a very special place for a certain bard.

Meanwhile in the far away woods past the Amazon markers…

Sheloppa searched through the brush looking for any sign of the scout party or her fellow warriors. It was dark but they were now looking with torch determined to look as long as needed. As she poked her sword through a bush she heard a heavy clank. Drawing away the brush she picked up a heavy helmet with a sword slash across the top. She glanced at it for a moment as if trying to absorb the horrible meaning of what she was seeing and holding in her hands. Her eyes scanned the area and she backed out of the brush. "Warriors fall back," she ordered.

Gruella who had volunteered to join the group stepped forward. "Fall back but why?"

She stared at he helmet in the warrior’s hand and her face also went white.

A heavy mist started to fall around them and there was the sound of something like wolves baying in the distance.

Sheloppa forced the helmet into a young warrior’s hands. "Take this and go. Hurry back to Ephiny and stop for nothing. No matter what you hear do not stop."

The young Amazon jumped on her horse and headed in the direction of the very distant village.

Sheloppa stood beside Gruella.

The instructor held her sword high in the air as the Amazons formed a familiar circle of defense. "You know what’s coming warrior?"

Sheloppa nodded. "Yes Gruella…I know what is coming." She held her sword high. "Evil!"


Yes folks it’s time to feed the hungry Little Ego again. Please remember to feed her quality food. Ego likes to hear what you liked about the story. So feed Little Ego well…She’s waiting. J


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